Skylarking – A Retrospective

Hit XTC in the great album project, and I was fucking shocked I have never ever done this record. So here is an out of season retrospective.

Hard cut to college.

One of the things about going through college is that your realize you don’t know shit about shit. And I don’t mean in whatever subject matter you are choosing to spend your life on. I mean about life. Just shit. You don’t know shit about shit.

It took me time, but I learned to just let others take the wheel. Show me some shit I wouldn’t know about otherwise. So, one day I am in a CD Warehouse with the newly formed college crew. I had a big drive coming up to visit my girlfriend (now wife) over New Year’s, so I had some money to spend on CDs.

I was looking for blind picks. Some shit I wouldn’t normally do. I walked out with four random CDs. Skylarking was one of them.

I didn’t listen to it until the drive. I put it in and got this:

I remember yelling outloud in my car by myself, “Are they fucking using birds and insects and shit as beats?”

I was hooked from the second it started. This became an album I recommended other people. Was in constant rotation for the rest of college.

And god damn does this shit hold up. Holy shit, I can now say this is the best thing XTC ever did. And that is no slouch. They got some great shit.

Pastoral pop music. Like other artists have done things that are sort of similar, but nothing with this kind of scope. That’s my biggest takeaway from my latest relisten, the fucking scope of the thing. They knew what they wanted, they didn’t care how much work it took to get there.

The songcraft here is unparalleled. Andy, et al have the clear idea of being the people’s band. Singing for the workers proletariat. We have a meditation on nature, seasons, and human struggle through it all.

And its impressive. Every single song is sharp. The album has a full arc. And behind it all, the steady hand of Todd Rundgren. Supposedly he and Andy Partridge butted heads constantly. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise. I wonder who he fought more with Andy or Steinman.

I think I keep coming back to this record because of the raw emotion of it. Or at least, my version of raw emotion. I think alot of people point to something that is overly luxuriating in sadness like emo etc.

I think a record like this is much better at expressing its chosen emotional landscape than any sad bastard caterwauling. Here we have something completely unique. A band devoting their all on a type of sound and hitting the target right on point.

Take something like Earn Enough for Us. Classic workers struggle song, mixed with love, and fitting right into this sort of pastoral seasonality vision that this album has.

And every song is like that. Hitting its topic deadon, but finding a way to blend in with the rest of it. A soulshattering listen.

A brief interlude for the elephant in the room. Modern releases of this album include Dear God at the end. Don’t get me wrong. I love everyone’s favorite atheist anthem as much as the next guy, but it only barely fits with the suite here. I think the actual album track listing and closer makes more sense.

Overall, what we have here is a fucking album. It’s records like this that makes me give other band’s efforts a hard critical view. Look if you aren’t coming out to make a skylarking, why did you get out of bed.

It’s this kind of record that should push shit forward. Be this ambitious. Try something fresh. Do something original. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but you can be rewarded (I feel like I have said this).

4/4 – A masterpiece. Another album I wish I could wipe from my mind just to hear it again for the first time. A record I will be taking with me to my grave.

Well done XTC. Well done.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – A Retrospective

A poster for Tobe Hooper's 1974 horror film 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' starring Gunnar Hansen. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)

Horror movies were banned in my house growing up. Full stop.

I think the scariest movie we were allowed to watch was Ghostbusters. That’s it.

I didn’t watch legit horror movies until friends discovered The Evil Dead franchise. Those were the first real horror movies I ever watched.

Well, cut to senior year, and I was starting to dive ass deep into pretentious film. I would complete the dive at college, but this was like, climbing up the ladder sort of (bad analogy).

I one day realized that I was in fact 17, and could, in fact, go rent stuff. So, I went to my local rental place Slick Sam’s Video (RIP), and picked up (on VHS mind you) The Shining, Night of the Living Dead, The Thing, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in one weekend. Watched them all.

And don’t get me wrong, they are all fantastic, but the one that is the most personal for me is Texas Chainsaw.

Now, I am never going to match the eloquence other people have bestowed upon this movie, especially not Joe Bob Briggs’ masterpiece essay on this film. Ill just cover why it is a guaranteed rewatch for me every year.

First, I think its the craft. For being a film made on three dollars and a quarter bag of weed, it is fucking SHOCKING how much talent is in this film. Like, consider the first time you are brought into the house. Just an incredible series of shots on something that clearly was a lucky find, dressed up on the dirt cheap.

I think Tobe Hooper’s skill carries this film a long way.

Next, I think it is our villains. Don’t need super powers, or zombies, or demons. I think what gives the film its grit is that we are dealing with people off the grid. It’s easy to say rednecks, but its not even just that. It’s people who are shut off. For whatever reason, society pissed them off enough to where they are now living in their own other world.

On reflection, this is probably the real reason I keep coming back to this movie year after year. These people…sure they are a caricature. Leatherface in his mask. The hitchhiker already strung out. But….

To be honest…

It’s not too dissimilar from people I know and have known back in the really rural parts of the world. Out there it is easy to disassociate. To think the world has gone to shit and you might as well fend for yourself by any means necessary.

I never saw anyone hanging up coeds on hooks. But, I definitely have been to a few houses and met a few people that….I looked at once and tried to get the hell away from.

Ok, lets get to the masterpiece.

The last 10-15 min of this movie is just perfect. Pitch perfect in every way. Again, a ton of real estate put here. But, got damn.

Look I have seen some dark shit these days. I’ve been to the far corners of weird ass intense cinema. That dinner scene combined with the ending is among the best craft I have seen executed of all time.

Don’t need a fucking jumpscare. Marilyn Burns’ is building all the atmosphere you need for this whole scene to come together.

Given everything that happened with the production of this movie, I can’t believe they pulled this off. We all know the dance at the end and the hysterical laughing, but it is the dinner scene that is the best.

4/4 – And you don’t need me to tell you that. If you haven’t seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, why the fuck are you reading this. Go watch it now. Pay for it. With money. You will not be disappointed.

One final thought. This is now a full fledged franchise with multiple films, video games, merch, etc. The gas station and the house are now fucking restaurants.

That is the worst thing that could have happened to this film. Makes it cheap. This film is as good as any other masterpiece film on the planet. Fucking watch it. Got damn.

Baldur’s Gate 3 – A Review

[Editor’s note: SPOILERS throughout. Go play the game. It is the game of the year, possibly the game of the decade.]

This one has been a long time coming, and I wanted to fucking complete the shit before I wrote the review. Well I did. Poopsocked it and got the game done.

For fullest context, the road to getting here is the tale of two paths converging.

I am old enough that I played the fucking shit out of Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate. That game was especially big in the summer. I talked about it in the3 blog, but it was amazing to go experience all the game had to offer with a group of other online numbskulls. In fact, CRPGs (as the nerds call them) have been a big part of my gaming history. Played just about as many as I could get my hands on. Eventually the genre faded away. Or I should say, my life got busy and the games weren’t as popular as I remember. I moved on to MMOs and what not.

Enter Larian studios. A wise man hipped me to the existence of Divinity Original Sin II, and I fucking love that game. I got the 200+ hours of game time to prove it. Like I wrote in that original blog, the fucking game’s mechanics were just stellar. Being able to solve problems in a million different ways made every playthrough an astonishing experience.

So, I have been hyped for Larian doing Baldur’s Gate 3 for a long long time.

Yep. They fucking did it. You don’t need me to tell you that. Everybody has been sucking this game’s dick.

Lets focus on why this was going to be the match made in heaven from the jump. The biggest thing Larian brought to the table was gamecraft. In terms of options and opportunities to solve a problem, this has all of that from Divinity OS II and more.

Having trouble with a fight? Maybe come in through a different door. Maybe that’s all you need. Maybe stealth in and leave bombs on the ground before the fight starts. Maybe separate your party and have them come in different angles.

Or talk your way out of it. Or sell your soul a bit to skip the fight. There is a million options to solving your problem.

Larian is the master of setting up these battles for you to figure your way out of. There is one battle in particular that I had planned on writing about in detail, but I can’t bring myself to spoil it. It’s a battle that you don’t even have to see. Can totally beat the game and miss out on it. Its at the bottom of one specific quest chain. And its so fucking hard you have to bring everything you have to bare all at once. Way harder than the last boss. And its fucking hilarious, and challenging, and fun.

This is Larian at its best. Making you think, work for it, and still have fun.

And all of that may feel really familiar to those who played Divinity OS II. What they changed is everything else.

Holy shit did they fix their writing. Divinity OS II never had the best story or dialogue. But I guess hiring a bunch of telltale’s staff after that company got the axe will do that.

In these types of games, there are usually companion quests to take you on side journeys to learn more about who is on this adventure with you. In this game, each of the character’s arc is fully woven into the story with the resolution usually directly dependent on how the game ends.

In fact, it must have taken the whole team of writers all of the time in the world to figure out how to weave these arcs beautifully throughout the game’s 3 acts. Each of the decisions you make along the way doesn’t just impact the end but how you are seen throughout the game.

And none of that stuff on the page would work without the voice acting cast….

The decision to have a full voice cast is a choice. The game is big…and its long. Much longer than anything else like it. And every single part is acted out. From randoms on the streets of Baldur’s Gate to the voices of every animal you see (if you have animal speaking).

It brings life into these characters. And the voice actors fucking sell it. They are swinging for the fences here and it pays off. I haven’t been this connected to a story in a long time.

I am usually the king of skipping a cut scene. Of blasting through anything that takes me away from gameplay. Here, I am savoring all of it.

How the fuck is the game this stable. Over my 60 hours so far, my game crashed ONCE. ONCE. I have alt tabbed. Ive just left it running. I have beaten up this thing and I can’t get it to crash. Or lag.

Even in Baldur’s Gate where you are surrounded by shit. I haven’t dropped frames, experienced glitches. Nothing. Smooth as fuck.

And the score. Oh man. Clearly learning from all the recent fantasy elements and putting it together, we have something that has a very very…high adventure kind of feel.

Overall, we have something extremely special here. I have beaten it once, but I am going to beat it again and again. I’m already planning out my next runthrough.

This is the kind of thing I have been waiting for. A game that will just reward time and time again. That it is impossible to see everything the first time.

It’s like going on a vacation to a place where you know you want to get back there as soon as you can.

Oh and one other thing. For anyone complaining about microtransactions, you better fucking buy this game. $60 and Larian gave you more value than you can possibly fucking imagine. No extra charges, no bullshit.

Cause Larian isn’t out here to make money. They are out here to make video games. There is a difference.

4/4 – But this is totally different than my last 4/4, which only time can really tell on. This thing is built to be talked about for years to come. When people put out their best games of all time list, they will put this thing on it. Guaranteed.

Woah, did I do this whole review and not really spoil much. Can’t have that. Lets end strong.

© Church of the Holy Flava 2016 - 2021