Area 11 at The Mash House, Wednesday 20 July 2016

Around the household we’ve been listening to Area 11 since the Yogscast featured the instrumental section between “Vectors” and “Euphemia” as part of the theme music for their Minecraft videos. (Curiously, in the original version of their album All The Lights In The Sky that I bought on iTunes in 2013, that section is at the end of “Vectors”; if I play the album on Spotify now, it comes at the start of “Euphemia”. The two tracks flow into each other seamlessly, but I wonder why the track division has changed.)

Their first album was amazing, easily one of my favourites of 2013. They put out an EP and toured the UK towards the end of 2014, but the timing didn’t work out for me to catch them live. Earlier this year we caught wind that they were going to be bringing out a new album, and touring again. This time, the timing worked out perfectly: they played The Mash House in Edinburgh on Wednesday 20 July, right in the middle of Alex and Fiona’s school summer holidays. With me still flying to Edinburgh for work every other week, it was easy for me to line up a business trip and bring the two of them with me as well!

Fiona and I have been to a variety of concerts over the last year, but The Mash House is by far the smallest venue we’ve been to. Alex was with us for Imagine Dragons back in February as well, and this was smaller than anything he has experienced too. The Mash House is accessed from a small door down a tiny alleyway just off Chambers Street. There’s a bar at the front of the house, and a 250 person capacity suite further in. It wasn’t full, and we were able to get a good position just four or five heads from the stage. Alex is 180cm tall now, so he had a good view. Fiona is still a fair bit shorter, and she had to weave around to see everything. I’m not sure if I was the oldest person in the crowd (again), but I certainly wasn’t far off.

Opening act Milestones were good. In the break before Area 11 came on, Sparkles* wandered from the back of the room to the stage a couple of times to check the setup, looking very serious and concentrated. (In promotional photos he often wears a stern frown; I think because otherwise he’d be mistaken for an adorable teddy bear.)

Area 11 at The Mash House

  1. Override [C]
  2. The Contract
  3. Watchmaker
  4. Versus
  5. In the Blind
  6. Homunculus
  7. Processor
  8. After the Flags
  9. Angel Lust
  10. Dream & Reality
  11. All the Lights in the Sky
  12. Heaven-Piercing Giga Drill

Encore:

  1. Tokyo House Party

Now, Alex can be quite sensitive to loud noise, and he isn’t generally a big music fan. Live music is mostly take it or leave it for him. But by the end of this gig he was jumping along to the beat, and pumping his fists in the air with a great big grin. I loved it, too. I particularly appreciated the sound engineering that allowed Jonathan “Kogie” Kogan’s bass to shine through. At first listen, Area 11 are very heavy on vocals and guitars, but when you go listening for it, the bass is amazing.

Mixed Media, Wednesday 3 August 2016

Fiona and I recently watched Ghostbusters and Finding Dory in the cinema. Ghostbusters was fun, but it spent too much time paying homage to the original. What I’m really excited for is where they go next, now that they’ve got a great set of characters teed up, and have got all the introductions out of the way. Surely there is going to be a sequel.

As for Finding Dory, it’s both a sequel and a homage to Finding Nemo. It’s the same plot, remixed with different themes for a different protagonist. Despite trusting Pixar and director Andrew Stanton to deliver a beautiful, fun, and emotionally rich film, I hadn’t been looking forward to it. If Fiona hadn’t been so eager, I wouldn’t have made a cinema trip to see it. And I did enjoy it! Just as Dory stole the show in Finding Nemo, Hank the octopus septopus steals the show here. The two seals struck a curiously wrong note, though. In a film whose core theme is about kindness and emotionally supporting people in need, it was unsettling to see their constant bullying of a smaller, weaker, weird-looking seal being played for laughs.

Once I got past the initial hump of Person of Interest’s first season, I’ve been storming through the episodes. I’m almost at the end of season 3 now. I’m finding it especially interesting in the light of recently having read Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence, because the accidental emergence of AI is what drives the entire arc of the show. (It might look like just another altruist vigilante action show, but it’s actually science fiction.) The book’s academic themes and scenarios are still fresh in my mind, and I’m finding more depth in the show than I think I otherwise would. The downside is that I get impatient when they do a number-of-the-week episode that doesn’t move the big plot forward.

That big comic books haul from a few weeks ago? Here goes:

  • Wolverine (2013): Hunting Season and Killable. Lovely classic action superhero artwork from Alan Davis. Story: meh.
  • Wolverines: Dancing with the Devil; Claw, Blade and Fang; The Living and the Dead, Destiny. Mostly filler. Albeit with lovely visuals from a variety of artists. The art style changing from issue to issue kept things fresh.
  • Captain Marvel (2014): Higher, Further, Faster, More; Stay Fly; and Alis Volat Propriis. First two books are great, third one suffers from having to show just a single slice of a Marvel crossover storyline (The Black Vortex), and feels disconnected as a result.
  • She-Hulk (2014): Law and Disorder and Disorderly Conduct. Brilliant. Witty and full of superheroic antics, but without a constant sense of violence being the only option. In fact, Jennifer Walters being a lawyer makes it her least preferred option. Her desire to be accepted as a professional for her law practice makes this the kind of low-powered, relatable superhero story I love. I also adore Javier Pulido’s take on her, which is much more cartoonish and athletic than classic hyper-muscular sexualized She-Hulk. Not as obviously comedic as Howard The Duck and Squirrel Girl, but quite in line with their quirky and irreverent attitude to the Marvel universe. Want more of this.
  • Manhattan Projects vol 1. Intriguing supernatural alt-history, spinning off lots of ideas around what might have happened if the Manhattan Project was a nexus of paranormal investigation and engineering. Very dark. Not sure if I’ll continue with the series.
  • Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale. Skottie Young’s art style reminds me of the loose and flowing art style of 1980s-era European comics like Robbedoes (Spirou). The storyline is I found bit take-it-or-leave-it.
  • Spider-Gwen: Most Wanted. It’s OK. I’m not really feeling it.
  • Silk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon. Liked this a lot, especially Stacey Lee’s artwork.

Mixed Media, Saturday 9 July 2016

I watched The Fall on my flight to Edinburgh this week. It’s a visually stunning film, and I wish I’d watched it on a bigger screen than my iPad Mini. It would have looked amazing on a big TV screen, and even better in the cinema.

At the end of the documentary Daft Punk Unchained on Netflix, I found myself slightly unsettled by the fact that Random Access Memories is three years old. Not so much “huh, I would have guessed it was 2014, not 2013”, but more a case of “huh, 2013 seems like quite a long time ago now.”

Season 1 of Ash vs Evil Dead was fun, but although Bruce Campbell’s character Ash Williams is supposed to be coarse and self-centered, the show doesn’t always stay on the right side of ironic. Horror comedy is hard to pull off well. This mostly succeeds. Not sure if I liked it enough to seek out season 2 when it arrives.

Oh, and I’ve finally got to the point in season 1 of Person of Interest where it has pulled me in. I think it was in episode 15 (“Blue Code”) that I felt the characters — especially Detective Fusco — had reached a critical mass of back story and complexity, and I was starting to care about what happened to them next; and also about what happened to them before. I’m one episode from the season finale now, and there’s a lot of mystery still left to uncover. I can see myself jumping straight into season 2 when I’m done.

I had a ticket to see Twin Atlantic in the Kleine Zaal of Paradiso on Tuesday 28 June, but the band had to cancel the gig because of illness. I hadn’t even heard of them until last month when Scott tipped me off about them, and I noticed they were playing Amsterdam. Since then, I’ve been listening to their album Great Divide a lot, and I had been super excited seeing them in such an intimate venue. Unfortunately, they have rescheduled the gig for Tuesday 19th July, when I’ll be in Scotland. :sadpanda: At least I’ll be seeing Area 11 while I’m over there.

I loved their first album, All The Lights In The Sky, so much that I feared the only was was down. Although there are some parts of Modern Synthesis that haven’t grabbed me yet, there are four splendid rock songs that leaped out at me right from the start: “The Contract”, “Versus”, “Watchmaker”, and “Red Queen”.

Saga continues to be magnificent.

Farewell to stickers

The anti-glare coating on my MacBook Pro (late 2013 model) has been wearing off. It started at the top of the screen, around the camera, but over time an area right in the middle of the screen became affected as well. (The area that overlaps the trackpad when the case is closed.) I brought it along to the Apple store this morning, and they immediately took it in for replacement under the relevant Quality Program. The Quality Program isn’t shown on Apple’s list — you have to take your machine to the store before they will check if it’s covered. Apparently the program only runs until October, so if you have a retina screen whose anti-glare coating is delaminating, should should get moving.

Unfortunately, when they replace the screen, I’ll also lose the stickers I had built up:

After finishing at the Apple Store, I went to the American Book Center to see if I could find volume 6 of Saga. They didn’t have it in stock, but they did have a massive stock-clearing comic book sale on, with boxes of excellent titles on offer for €7.50 each, or 3 for €20. I kinda went bananas, and picked up:

  • Captain Marvel (2014) vols 1, 2, and 3 (Higher, Further, Faster, More, Stay Fly, and Alis Volat Propriis) by Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez, et al.
  • She-Hulk (2014) vols 1 and 2 (Law and Disorder and Disorderly Conduct) by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, et al. (She-Hulk’s appearance in Howard The Duck made me want to read more about her.)
  • Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale by Skottie Young and Jake Parker
  • Wolverine (2013) vols 1 and 3 (Hunting Season and Killable) by Paul Cornell, Alan Davis, Mirco Pierfederici, et al.
  • Wolverines (2015) vols 1, 2, 3, and 4 (Dancing With The Devil, Claw, Blade and Fang, The Living and the Dead, and Destiny) by Charles Soule et al.
  • The Manhattan Projects vol 1 by Jonathan Hickmand and Nick Pitarra

This was on top of vols 0 of both Spider-Gwen and Silk which I had picked up in Edinburgh last week. Uh, so, yeah.

Mixed media, Sunday 26 June 2016

I binged on season 1 of The Expanse this week. (Only 10 episodes in season 1, so a pretty small binge, as these things go.) It’s been a while since I read the books it is based on, and I only had thumbnail sketches of the main characters left in my memory. The cast brought them vividly back to life again. Steven Strait as Jim Holden is too earnest (and keeps reminding me of Kit Harington), but Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala and Thomas Jane as Miller are subtle and excellent. Even though there was a lot of action in these first ten episodes, it felt like a lot of it was setup just to peel back the first layer of the onion. I’m looking forward to season 2.

I also watched The American, which was gently paced, elegant, beautifully filmed, but ultimately dull. That was okay, though. I was feeling tired that evening, and wasn’t looking for anything splashy. I did keep getting distracted by George Clooney’s fabulous sunglasses (the Zegna ones) because they’re gorgeous. The whole film felt like a fashion show, with Clooney modelling one understatedly elegant outfit after another. Also watches.

Paradox is a film I saw a couple of months ago, but forgot about at the time. I did enjoy it, though. The budget is low, and the performances aren’t special, but I’m a sucker for a tightly plotted time travel story, and this is a good one.

Friday was a garbage fire of a day, but it was brightened by the release of DJ Shadow’s new album, The Mountain Will Fall. It starts off with a few strong tracks, but the rest of it might take a while to grow on me.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl continues to be funny and adorable. The last two chapters in this volume are the cross-over with Howard The Duck, which I’d already read in that book’s volume 1, but it was fun to see it again. Chip Zdarsky and Ryan North’s absurdity-loving writing styles are terrific natural partners.