Remedy’s Control, John Williams, and More!

A promo image for Pokemon Masters

Welcome to What’s the Buzz, where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. This week’s entries come from: Bryan O’Donnell, Laura Stewart, Eduardo Otero, Hawk Ripjaw, and Jason Sheppard.

Bryan: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard released their 15th album, Infest the Rats’ Nest, on August 16. It’s the Australian group’s second album of the year, and the two albums couldn’t be further apart in style.

While Fishing for Fishies, released in April, featured a bluesy feel with lots of harmonica and three song names including the word “boogie,” Infest the Rats’ Nest is a full-on thrash metal album and proves the true depths of the band.

This variety in style isn’t really a surprise, as King Gizzard has well established that it can dabble in just about every corner of the musical universe—from blues to jazz to psychedelic rock. And some of their previous albums (especially Murder of the Universe) feature elements of metal.

At first listen, Infest the Rats’ Nest seemed slightly monotonous to me, but the more I listen to it (my recent mood has made listening to cranked-up metal music very appealing), the more I like it. Also, I was fortunate enough to attend the group’s Chicago performance last Saturday, in which the new tunes really shined.

Infest the Rats’ Nest kicks off with perhaps the album’s strongest track, “Planet B.” Sounding like it could belong on a Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica album, “Planet B” is in-your-face, loud, and surprisingly catchy for a metal song. As with much of the album, the song paints a bleak picture of the world today, warning us “There is no Planet B. Open your eyes and see.”

It’s followed by the excellent “Mars for the Rich,” which was outstanding when I saw it live and is one of my favorite tracks from the album. Six-plus-minute “Superbug,” about a super virus that destroys humanity, helps cement the album’s identity. The second half of the album, starting with “Venusian 1,” tells the story of a crew escaping a destroyed Earth, looking for a new planet to inhabit. Things do not go well, as the crew burns up in a ball of fire.

After which, Infest the Rats’ Nest ends with the crew going to hell. The closing song “Hell” provides a rocking send-off with signature King Gizzard guitar solos and a killer change-up thrown in at the end before singer Stu Mackenzie barks “Fifteen infantry paratroop into the propylene new scene. Hell’s where they wanna be. Infest the rats’ nest.” The song almost seems to end abruptly after the change-up—will this story be picked up on a future King Gizzard album?  And is it possible we’ll get another album as soon as this year? (They released a total of five in 2017 after all.)

Considering they are in the middle of a massive worldwide tour, I’d venture that we’ll only get two this year—but I wouldn’t put it past them to sneak another album in by the end of 2019. King Gizzard is blowing up right now, and for good reason: They’re one of the most exciting and adventurous bands releasing music at the moment.

Eduardo: Arceus knows I had been waiting for Labor Day weekend like a trainer longs for a cave’s exit after the millionth Zubat encounter.I guess Dialga heard my plight because not only is the long weekend finally here, but the new free-to-play Android and iOS game—Pokémon Masters—just launched too.

Fans had been waiting for the mobile game—developed and published by DeNA—for some time now and were even excited enough to crash the servers shortly after launch—but don’t worry, I’ve been able to play just fine.

The game features your typical male or female protagonist in an adventure across the brand new region of Pasio. In Pokémon Masters, you’ll build a team of sync pairs: classic trainers from past games and regions, battling alongside their trusty Pokémon partners. The goal is to explore the new setting and compete in the region’s own Pokémon Masters League.

I like the idea of collecting different sync pairs and building a team. The battles are fought in real time, 3-on-3 style, and they’re as beautiful-looking as they are fun to play. Being a fan since the beginning, it’s been cool to see classic sync pairs featured in the game like fan-favorites Red and Charizard, Blue and Pidgeot, Brock and Onix, as well as Misty and Starmie. There’s also some I didn’t expect like Mina and Granbull, or Sophocles and Togedemaru.

As far as I’m able to tell, it is in fact free-to-play. But if you’re feeling like that rich dude with the Furfrou in Pokémon X and Y, you can also dish out some cash to get more sync pairs or level up faster.

News regarding events and content are still coming out, so I expect the fun to last a while too—considering how long it was announced for and the obvious care that the developers seem to have put into it.

All-in-all, it seems like you really can’t go wrong with Pokémon. The music in the game is solid and brings the nostalgia that’s come to be expected of any game in the franchise, the battles are fast-paced and engaging, the variety of sync pairs (65 as of right now) is exciting, and the titular pocket-sized companions look great.

At the time of this writing, I haven’t been able to dive into Pokémon Masters deep enough to gauge for myself how successful it’ll end up being. But if you’re one of the fans anxiously waiting for the new “core series” Nintendo Switch games coming out in November, this will probably do for now. I feel like it will for me.

Jason: John Williams compilation albums have seen many incarnations over the decades, however, many of them are assembled and performed without the legendary composer’s involvement. So it is a treat when not only Williams grants his approval to a compilation collection, but when he himself is inspired by a performer the way he has inspired so many others and decides he would like to be a part of it.

Acclaimed concert violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was so inspired by the music of Williams, she is featured on the composer’s newest compilation Across The Stars (released Aug 30). When Mutter knew she wanted to release an album performing many of the esteemed composer’s most loved works, Williams decided he wanted to be there every step. This album is a true collaboration in every sense of the word.

Recorded at the Sony Pictures’ Scoring Stage in Los Angeles this past April, Mutter, Williams and a 70-piece orchestra (The Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles) dove back into the Williams catalogue and chose many of the composer’s most beautiful works  such as “Yoda’s Theme” from The Empire Strikes Back, The Theme from Schindler’s List and most recently, the lovely “Rey’s Theme” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Also included are playful renditions of “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter and the beautiful “Luke and Leia” from Return of the Jedi (most recently heard in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.)

Some lesser known cues appear as well such as the “Theme from Sabrina” and “Night Journey’s” from Dracula. An emotional highlight of the album is Mutter’s solemn performance of “Remembrances” from Schindler’s List, originally performed by Itzhak Perlman in 1993. “Remembrances” is a heart-wrenching piece for anyone to perform, yet Mutter brings a level of skill and tenderness to her rendition which will move the listener to tears.

Of course, the title track “Across the Stars” (from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) is also remarkable and once more proves that no matter the quality of a film, if Williams is the musical narrator, your mind and spirit will be affected in ways you never expected.With the amazing Anne-Sophie Mutter bringing new life and heart to Williams’ music, that is now more true than ever. The big question now: will we hear her gifts this December in the music for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? After listening to Across the Stars, one most certainly hopes so.

The cover of Across the Stars features Anne-Sophie Mutter playing violing in front of a large profile of John Williams' face

Hawk: Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment has spent three console generations meticulously crafting daring narrative concepts and exciting gameplay ideas. They defined a genre with Max Payne, wrote a clever love letter to Twin Peaks with Alan Wake (and even structured it like a TV show), and took the TV concept further by literally shooting a season of footage to accompany the time-bending Quantum Break. Control is one of the developer’s most ambitious and exciting titles yet, and my rare decision to pre-order it from Amazon has paid off.

Control features the Federal Bureau of Control, an organization devoted to studying and containing forces which defy the laws of reality. Player character Jesse Faden, hungry for answers to questions leading back to her childhood, finds herself at the bureau’s headquarters, The Oldest House. Upon entering, she comes across the Director, who seems to have committed suicide with his gun.

Immediately, she starts hearing echoes of his voice and is told she has been unceremoniously been appointed the new Director. The gun, a transforming entity of its own, has chosen her. She’s just in time, as The Oldest House has been locked down on account of an invasion of an evil force dubbed The Hiss. The Hiss has possessed hundreds of employees of The Oldest House, turning them into mindless hostiles, and it must not escape the confines of the facility.

Control is weird, and I love it. The storytelling is wonderfully stingy with explanations, introducing bizarre concepts and terms with a sterile and stoic approach that feels in line with the cold bureaucracy of the organization. In-game fonts and signage have a distinctly ’60s feel and contribute to the sense of conspiracy. There is a steady drip-feed of weird characters (an apparently omniscient janitor named Ahti is one of the best characters of 2019). The mood is foreboding and ominous, with brief interludes between missions featuring a camera panning up towards an endless wall as sparse raindrops fall from an encroaching darkness. That said, there’s a good amount of weird humor as well, with some very funny and easy-to-miss jokes in memos and files scattered around the world, such as a documenting banning “Any objects considered iconic representations of an archetypal concept (e.g. rubber ducks or ketchup bottles).”

Remedy has a deep and endearing love for David Lynch, chiefly evidenced by Alan Wake but extending into their other works. Control has shades of both Lynch and Lovecraft and the balance of menace and weirdness is perfect. Objects of Power that imbue Jesse with new abilities are introduced through amusingly low-fi videos shot in live-action, and the way the live action intermingles with the game’s graphics contributes to the bizarre cosmic mood.

In terms of the gameplay, Remedy wastes little time in making you feel like an absolute god with a ridiculously cool telekinesis ability giving Jesse the ability to throw nearly any object in the environment at enemies, even tearing pieces of concrete and rebar from the environment when nothing else is available. The action scenes are literally explosive and dense with particles and details that caused occasional but significant framerate drops on my launch PS4. The controls for the shooting and powers, however, feel perfect. Watching the game without playing it makes the telekinesis power look more complicated than it is, but actually playing the game is surprisingly intuitive. The combat is extremely fast-paced and challenging, requiring constant moving and dodging, and getting into a flow of flinging items around and dodging counterattacks is deeply satisfying.

I have played and loved every single one of Remedy’s games, and Control is yet another slam dunk so far. The storytelling is some of their most interesting yet, the presentation is impossible to look away from, and the combat is polished to near-perfection. I can’t wait to see what else I find as I trek deeper into The Oldest House.

Jesse jumps to the right while firing a gun in Control

Laura: Growing up in my hometown of Swansea, Wales, sludgy stoner rock is a staple part of my diet, with local bands such as Acrimony and Taint providing the soundtrack to my misspent youth (and a couple of ex-boyfriends come to think of it). Yet, it still surprised me to hear Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs playing on Radio 6 on a regular basis.

It’s not hard to see why though. Pigs⁷ are currently one of the finest live acts around with an intense live show which blends metal, punk and rock together into a relentless performance. With a strong identity and songs already created, the question with King of Cowards, the album released late in 2018, was how the band could manage to capture the immediacy of their show onto a recording? The answer was…perfectly.

From the first track (‘GNT’) Pigs⁷ set out their six track album in a way which pushes guitar reverb wizardry and sonic effects to the front of the mix. The resulting emphasis is that the recordings focus on the bands musicality, tight rhythms and head-nodding grooves, a wise production move which captures their live sound. This is The Sex.

Standout ‘Cake of light’, the album’s shortest track, provides a perfect summary of the album; dark, full of humour and thick with superb, heavy, musicianship. Don’t bother trying to understand the lyrics, even though they do carry the weight of gluttony, lust, pride and the rest of the deadly sins with them, the wonder of this album is how Pigs⁷ have not only managed to keep their sound after their debut album Feed The Rats but how they’ve managed to focus it into something leaner. Making their songs much shorter, they still envelop the listener in this doomsday sounding, primordial ooze filled pool. I’m pretty sure if you were to fall into into the pool you’d end up mutating into two very different but feral creatures.

The record may be a more focused effort, but Pigs have lost none of their psychedelic dexterity in the process: billowing tempos make for a trippy sense of time and slippery guitar lines trick the senses. Most of the Pigs⁷ songs feel like a gut punch and a fuck you to anything that stands against you, embracing the inner beast and taking a bite out of the world. Songs like ‘A66’ and ‘Thumbsucker’ feel like you’re running up an endless hill but you never get tired, you’re so determined to finish this endless race up the hill that you just sprint up that 45 degree incline and just power through everything—rocks? dry bushes? heat? wind?—nothing’s stopping you. Even though the seven deadly sins do pop up from time to time, the main thematic behind this album isn’t as satanic as one would think. There are shades of Black Sabbath, Killing Joke and Sleep, while Matt Baty’s vocals echo Lemmy’s sorely-missed emphysemic rasp. The slow burns, bone-on-cave-wall drums and sludgy riffs aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but as howls into the void go, the Pigs are alright.

Those our are recommendations this week. What are yours? Let us know in the comments!

Written by TV Obsessive

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