3 More Wonderfully Weird Music Genres

So, while glancing at the last months worth of articles, I noticed a trend of pessimism that needs to be curtailed.

To that end, I’ve decided to delve deep into The Archive and provide a continuation of my exploration of bizarre and brilliant things going on in music. Let’s not waste time and get right into the fun bits.

All-Female Metal Tributes

I was born and raised as a metalhead. My parents fed me a steady stream of the Hair Metal they grew up with like KISS and Poison as well as Hard Rock (all Metal’s common ancestor) like AC/DC and Aerosmith. However, as I grow older, I’ve noticed a problem with Metal; despite how many girls I know that love it, the only time you see women in the genre are on the questionable and often exploitative album art.

Apparently, some lovely ladies agreed that this was wrong and took it upon themselves to take a few extraneous Y-chromosomes out of the sound by forming all-female tribute bands dedicated to some of the greats of Metal. Some notable bands in the genre include Judas Priestess, Hells Belles, and my favorite on the basis of the name alone; Vag Halen.

It’s no mistake that this is the first genre I cover in this article after verbally tearing Meghan Trainor a superabundant sphincter last week. It seems that many female artists are forgetting that feminism is NOT narrow-minded self-interest and nursing a superiority complex. We need more people in the world that actually care about adding to the scope and range of voices heard in media. And that’s why I love this genre.

It’s also why I love…

Queercore

In much the same way that the above mentioned all-female metal tributes were born from women being excluded from the Metal scene, so to was queercore (aka; homocore) born from the inherently homophobic vibes of 80’s hardcore punk and created an alternative for those being excluded that enjoyed the sound.

Bands and artists in queercore use the same naming conventions as our AFMT friends above. Only instead of feminizing existing bands and songs, they ‘gay them up’ as it were. This results in bands like Youth of Togay, Cockwind, and Gayrilla Biscuits.

My favorite though has to be Black Fag – who not only donate the proceeds from tours to charities in the gay community but also do the best cover of T.V. Party I’ve ever heard.

Chap-Hop

And you thought this was just going to be politicized tribute bands…

You know what my beef is with modern mainstream rap? The class is gone. Back in the day, rap and hip-hop were fun and happy, even as they talked about serious issues. Old school rappers in the 80’s and early 90’s would still brag and boast, but did so with an air of dignity. Basically, rap forgot how to be a gentleman.

Leave it to the British to remind us how to be classy.

Chap-hop is the combination of modern rap and that distinctly British men’s fashion trend; chap. The result is a sound that blends rap-style production with a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a 1900’s photograph and coats it in hilarious boasting lyrics about stereotypically gentlemanly things like tea, mustache grooming,  and playing cricket.

Chap-hop has bled into another odd subculture, steampunk, and you can find many chap-hop artists like Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, Poplock Holmes, and Professor Elemental performing at conventions.

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3 Games For Pen-and-Paper RPG Fans That Are Bored With Dungeons & Dragons

Now, don’t let the title of this article mislead you. I have nothing against Dungeons & Dragons as a game. There’s a reason why D&D and its various spin-offs, knock-offs, and tributes have endured for so long among hardcore gamers. It really is that good and there’s just something satisfying about creating/playing your own unique story.

But, let’s be brutally honest. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life. A person needs new experiences to stay psychologically balanced and retain mental plasticity; learning new skills and interacting in and with fresh environments is key to our well being.

To put it in layman’s terms, you can only eat so many Oreo cookies before you start begging for a Nutter Butter.

To that end, here are three Pen-an-Paper RPGs that I’ve personally played that I would argue were just as much fun – if not more so – than D&D.

Spycraft

Given how many books and games came up when I searched for this, I’m amazed there haven’t been more copyright disputes.
Source: Wikipedia

You’d be surprised just how much a change of setting can be refreshing. With so many RPGs being Fantasy or Sci-Fi oriented, it’s nice to see one set in something that approximates the modern world.

Spycraft is not a huge departure from D&D in terms of rules; it still utilizes the d20 system and has similar rules regarding stats. So players making the transition won’t be too lost.

What’s nice is that the setting forces a more “cerebral” style of gameplay. Regardless of the Dungeon Master’s intent, it’s surprisingly easy (at least, in my experience) for a D&D campaign to devolve into hack-and-slash, kick-in-the-door, barbarism. In Spycraft, the setting of covert ops and tactical espionage tends to lead one into thinking with strategy in mind – stealthy infiltrations, high-stakes negotiations, black hat hacking and the like. And this is reflected in game with the use of Stress Damage during emotionally draining missions.

This isn’t to say that a good D&D game can’t force players into mental gymnastics or that a bad Spycraft game can’t be thick as manure and only half as useful, but it’s nice to have that guiding hand sometimes.

Eclipse Phase

Yes, there are mentally enhanced octopuses in this game. Yes, you can play as one.
Source: DriveThruRPG.com

The promise of the future is both exciting and bleak. Leave it to the post-apocalyptic world of Eclipse Phase to catch both ends of that.

Yeah, the various colonized worlds are mostly toilet bowls of full slime and privacy is a thing of ancient history. But we now have Morphs – designer bodies built for specific tasks that people can download their consciousness into making us effectively immortal (as long as you have cash). What’s more, everyone has what amounts to a wireless internet connection in their heads that lets them use social media to run highly accurate background checks on everyone INCLUDING the authorities resulting in a system of law enforcement where everyone polices everyone. Sounds pretty badass!

The coolest thing about Eclipse Phase to me though was it’s rejection of the d20 system in favor of a percentile or d100 system. Basically, the massive bag of dice of varying shapes that most tabletop role players keep are simplified down to two 10-sided dice that can represent a value of one to one hundred. Every task has a percentage of failure/success based on difficulty that’s modified by your set of skills and experiences and your success is determined by whether or not you roll above or below that threshold. It’s much more simple to grasp for newcomers to the Pen-and-Paper RPG genre.

Paranoia

“Oh, for the love of – Really, Dave? You couldn’t last, like, 30 seconds?”
Source: Wikipedia

Who could have guessed that the dystopian world of 1984 could be so full of wacky hijinks?

This, again, comes down to that change of setting I mentioned. There aren’t too many RPGs out there that are INTENDED to be played for laughs. The goal of Paranoia isn’t to complete an epic quest or bring down a corrupt system; you’re just trying to force your friends to die in the most hilarious ways possible to ensure your own survival and win Big Broth – um, “Friend Computer’s” love and approval while trying not to get caught doing anything questionable.

Growing up, I remember so many people manipulating the rules of D&D with homebrewed monsters and items in the name of comedy (I distinctly remember one campaign including a “Belt of Masculine/Feminine-kind” that permanently swapped the gender of the wearer and then immediately loses its power to revert them back). It’s nice to see a game can be just as much goofy fun without the DM having to bend the rules backwards to do it.

The Agent’s Summer Enjoyment Assurance Kit

Here in New Hampshire, we recently had a stretch of rather sudden hot weather and are only now getting some much needed cooling rain. As such, it’s time to start planning for summer.

Now, I shared my preferred summer activities previously here at the archive. However, I failed to touch on how much fun could be had a la carte. We all get the urge for an impromptu adventure once and a while. As such, you need to have your necessary gear together for just such an occasion.

So, in this week’s topic, I’ll be sharing my summer survival kit for maximizing fun this season.

Item #1: Your Bank Account

Dolla dolla bills, ya’ll.
Source: Century Products LLC

It’s never a good idea to travel without cash on hand. You never know when you may travel farther than expected and need to fill your gas tank or get the urge to stop by that burger shack you’ve been thinking of checking out.

Most people keep a written record of their purchases and deposits, but it’s a good practice to get into to check your account balance – either online or at an ATM – before every trip just to be on the safe side.

Item #2 Utility Kilt (With Optional Sporran)

#ScottishnessIntensifies (yes, that is me)

It’s hot. Like, really hot. You don’t want to wear jeans and shorts are only a mild improvement.

As stated in my very first article, I’m a proponent of the Utility Kilt. They’re comfortable, functional, and stylish (I get tons of compliments on my style when I leave the house). They also allow breathability to the parts of the body most likely to be bound in multiple layers of clothing.

What’s more, most “Utilikilts” sport exterior pockets that hold more than the average pants pocket and are more comfortable; no more car keys jabbing you in the hip.

Still not enough storage space for you? You could get a satchel bag, but that’s a lot of uncomfortable pressure on your shoulder. Why not compliment your new kilt with a sporran (that leather pouch that hangs in the front of the kilt). They’re surprisingly inexpensive and look awesome.

Item #3 Baby Powder

Now when you say you’re going to the powder room, you can mean it.
Source: Electronic Products

Okay, let’s get into hygiene.

In happens every summer; you start sweating hard in the sun which causes your nethers to chafe under the combination of heat, moisture, and friction.

There’s a simple answer to the problem that your mom was using on you as a babe – baby powder.

Baby Powder (or, failing that, pure cornstarch) works by absorbing moisture. Dusting a healthy dose on your undercarriage helps to protect against groin chafing and the most dreaded of all summer time faux pas – Swamp Ass.

Item #4 The Multi-Tool

If it’s good enough for those pseudo-survivalist guys on T.V., it’s good enough for us, right?
Source: Tech On The Side

It’s the one thing that I will carry with me at all times year round, but gets the most use in the summer – my trusted, carefully maintained, well-honed, multi-tool.

You don’t really need a complicated, fancy multi-tool like the a Leatherman either. All you need are a few basic essentials to help you on your summer frolics.

Going camping? You’ve got a pen knife for cutting rope and preparing food. Invited to a party or a cook-out? You brought your own bottle opener. Rebuilding your favorite [insert prized possession here]? Most multi-tools have at least two screwdrivers and a set of pliers.

It’s the right tool for any job… or any joy for that matter.

Three Christmas Songs I will Never Get Tired Of

Last week, I gave you a short list of songs that manage to suck the Christmas joy out of me every time I hear them (and as we all know, sucking out joy is ‘Disney Evil’).

So in an attempt to lighten the mood, it’s only fair that I look at the other end of the spectrum.

These are songs that have stuck with me long enough that they’ve become a yearly tradition and I can’t call it Christmas until I’ve heard them at least once.

Snoopy’s Christmas (Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron) – The Royal Guardsmen

I actually know a number of people who don’t like or even hate the Peanuts comics and T.V. specials. But, for me, they were a formative part of my youth. They were the earliest cartoons I remember seeing.

Even ignoring the nostalgic comfort of the image of Snoopy boldly flying his dog house into battle, the story behind this song reflects what the holidays are all about in a microcosm; two people pitted against one another putting aside their affiliations to remember that they are both human (or canine as the case may be) and kin. And even though they know that they will likely meet again as enemies, they can forget their animosities for at least one day.

This song serves to remind me that we have the ability to seek out and obtain peace, effectively restoring my faith in humanity.

The Little Drummer Boy – Various Artists

This one would have to make the list regardless how I constructed it.

Sadly, in these more conservative times, I feel this song falls by the wayside due to its religious connotations and people fearing that they may offend someone. But if you look past that, you can see the true touching nature of this little carol.

The titular boy is practically destitute and has no gifts to offer; all he can do is play a small song on his drum. But that little kindness is still felt and cherished. During a time known as ‘The Season of Giving’, wouldn’t you want a song that reflects that spirit so well?

For my money, the best versions of The Little Drummer Boy focus mostly, if not exclusively, on the percussion for obvious reasons and get more powerful and booming near the end as the boy, “[plays his] best for him.” That said, I have yet to find a single one of the over thirty covers of this song I don’t like.

Wait, Justin Bieber covered it with Busta Rhymes?! NOOOOOO!!!

The 12 Days Of Christmas – Straight No Chaser

What would ‘The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ be without a few good laughs?

Leave it to Straight No Chaser to take some of the most tired and overused Christmas anthems (plus one stray Chanukah song and a one-hit wonder from the 80’s) and breathe new life into them by creating a medley of hilarity.

The humor here is subtle. By combining so many staples of Christmas music, they satirize the way many of us feel during the holidays whenever those carols play – every song just fades into one another creating a big bland mess of sound.

Props to you, Straight No Chaser for saying what we’re all thinking in the most creative way possible.

Bonus: Santa Claus and His Old Lady – Cheech & Chong

It’s not music, but it just feels wrong to leave my most important and favorite Christmas audio tradition out of this list.

If you can’t laugh and slacker comedy pioneers Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, you have no soul and I can’t help you – close your browser window and just walk away.

This little recorded anecdote between the two most famous stoners in the history of comedy covers Cheech’s attempts to explain the story of Santa Claus to Chong because he, “[doesn’t] know too many local dudes.”

The humor comes from the fact that Cheech is attempting to explain the story in the only terms they can understand – putting it in the context of a sub-standard urban community like the one they live in. When you realize that, you also come to realize that every culture on earth has been doing the same thing for thousands of years.

Thanks for the Christmas cheer, you two. May your tree not be the only green you have this year.

Fun and Games: A Brief Look at Three Indie Games

It seems like it’s been some time since I did an in depth review of a game I’ve been playing. The only problem is that I don’t feel I’ve played any game thoroughly enough to do a proper review (Translation: I’m still trying to get used to the new work schedule and just haven’t had the energy to do a proper playthrough).

So instead, I’ve decided to take a quick look at a few games that have held my attention lately. I may revisit them for a proper review later, but I hope that for now, this will have piqued a few interested minds.

Amazing Princess Sarah

“Sure, I’m burning the flesh off my hands holding her, but don’t I look awesome.”
Source Indie DB

You would think that a game where the focus is on an impossibly well-endowed female protagonist would set off my knee-jerk feminist alarms. But I had to play this when I heard that the main gameplay mechanic involved using the bodies of your defeated enemies as slapstick weapons.

Surprisingly, for a game predominantly occupied by ridiculously proportioned ladies, Amazing Princess Sarah is quite forward thinking. It subverts the classic Knight/Princess/Knave story by making the “damsel in distress” a man (your father the king, no less) and making both the hero and villain female, showing how women are just as equally capable of great good and terrible evil as men. It’s a rare example of true gender equality.

Gender politics aside, I love the mechanic of using fallen enemies and environmental objects as thrown weapons – each with different effects that encourage you to plan how you use them lest you be forced to rely on your painfully weak sword.

Sadly, the game feels unfinished. The character sprites are roughly animated, movement controls feel stiff, the music cuts out at odd moments, and the difficulty curve climbs at an almost unfair pace.

Still, it might be worth playing just to say that you role-played as a medieval European cousin of Wonder Woman who can toss a fire elemental away like a dirty Kleenex.

Robocraft

Wait, are you sure that’s a ‘robot’ and not a mobile docking station.
Source: Robocraftgame.com

If you ever wondered what the Gummi Ship sequences in Kingdom Hearts would be like with multi-player, this might be the game for you.

Robocraft is one part territory control themed shooter and one part creativity toy. Fighting against other players online will earn you various types of currency to build better robots and research new parts for them. There are plenty of choices for robots that roll like tanks or fly like drones.

One interesting mechanic was the choice to have localized damage on the robots. You can chip away at chunks of an enemy’s armored chassis, knock out its turrets, or disable its propulsion to make it an easy target. This was an unexpected breath of strategy in what could have been a standard shooter.

The only trouble is trying to build a robot that works exactly like you want it to. You’ll likely spend hours tinkering with designs and going back and forth between building and testing until you have a tank that doesn’t roll over when you turn or an aircraft that doesn’t filp around uncontrollably.

I still think this game has loads of potential and I look forward to playing it some more in the future.

Mark of the Ninja

It may not be the focus, but it wouldn’t be a ninja simulator without the occasional assassination.
Source: ingame.de

The problem with ninjas in video games is that they rarely act like the masters of stealth that history made them famous for being. Thank goodness then for the nameless hero in Mark of the Ninja.

This game is based entirely around stealth, subterfuge, and infiltration. In fact, the game rewards you for not going on a Stallone/Schwarzenegger murder spree by giving huge point bonuses for not killing enemies (this is a rare game where the points actually matter) and punishes you for leaving bodies behind to give away your presence.

The animated cut-scenes are beautifully done. One of my corespondents called it’s smoothness and grittiness reminiscent of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack.

Unfortunately – as is the case with many stealth-centric games – if you get spotted, you may as well just reset from the last checkpoint because you wont survive. And even if you do survive, you’ll wish you hadn’t since you just ruined your score.

This is probably my favorite of the listed games here and possibly one of the best stealth games ever made.

Cool Things for You To Do This Summer

 

There’s much more than beach bumming out there.
Source: iMediaConnection Blog

Summer Has Officially started for me this week. And that means… more traffic at the fast food joint I work at so I have to work longer hours with less time for fun stuff.

Still, I manage to find time for a little R&R between the day job, continuing work searches, and this blog and I thought that I would share a few with you help you entertain yourselves this summer.

Geocaching

Take your childhood memories of playing Hide and Seek and doing scavenger hunts and imagine them with a high-tech twist.

Around the world, there are small hidden boxes called Geocaches. These caches have been expertly disguised with only a set of GPS coordinates gathered on a global data base as a mark of their existence.

With a GPS enabled device like your smartphone, you can track down these Geocaches, take one of the objects out of the cache, and place one of your own in its place in the world’s largest treasure hunt. If your lucky, you may find an object with a Travel Bug, complete with a code that lets you track where it’s been (I once found a key chain from the Hard Rock Cafe in Singapore that traveled up the west coast before hopping to New York and then to me in New Hampshire).

Info on the rules can be found on the official website. It’s good fun and it gets you out of the house to exercise. Just be careful to not let non-players (muggles, as they are referred to) see you mucking about with the cache.

Make a Weekend Project List

Sometimes, a person just needs to do something more constructive than plow through a summer reading list. To that end, here are some resources for cool projects to work on in your down time.

For the more macho among us, The Art of Manliness often posts DIY projects and “Manly Skills” geared around outdoorsmanship and the golden age of the noble gentleman. I, myself, have made and used the site’s natural fork slingshot.

Grant Thompson, better known on YouTube as The King Of Random, offers a constantly updating laundry list of cool projects and life hacks to entertain and help you out in a pinch. The most impressive in my mind is the massive “Solar Scorcher” that he made out of the screen from a rear projection TV.

Lastly, for all of the culinary wizards out there, take your cookery to the next level at Pimp That Snack. This site has recipes to recreate your favorite food in titanic proportions such as “The Creme de la Creme” giant Cadbury Creme Egg.

Look for Curio Stores and Thrift Shops

This is a favorite pass time of mine. I like to keep track of odd stores and frequent them to see if I can find any useful bric-a-brac.

Your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store is a good place to start. After all, Macklemore taught us the power of the thrift shop.

But you should also keep an eye open for antique stores and gift shops that may carry odd things that could peak your interest. You’d be surprised what you can do with a few up-cycled knick knacks.

 

The Agent’s New Years Wish List

It’s that time, again…
Source: ColoringGuru.com

It’s, once again, the time of year that we all begin to look back at everything that has transpired for the last 364 day and reflect on our victories and our defeats in hope of improving things the next time around. It’s when we resolve to make ourselves better to boost the quality of our lives.

Naturally, I have my own things that I wouldn’t mind seeing in the coming year. So join me as I look forward and present my wishes for 2014.

I Wish…

… that the governments of our nation would just legalize gay marriage and marijuana across the board so that we can focus on other issues that we haven’t made a clear decision on as a majority just yet.

… that Johnny Depp would take a break from film or, failing that, take a role that DOESN’T involve him acting like a lunatic in heavy make-up and/or a goofy looking hat so he can focus on doing something good and I can go back to liking him.

Seriously, it’s always hats and make-up with this guy.
Source: Actors.co.ke

… that Netflix would stream more high brow films in order to edify movie lovers. Plus, I just want to watch Naked Lunch whenever I want.

… that, for just once, YouTube didn’t throw a temper tantrum over copyrights and just let the copyright holders speak to the person or persons running the offending channel if they have a problem.

… that Nintendo would make a data storage alternative to the tiny SD cards they use now; preferably a 1 TB external hard drive like the one I use for my notebook. It would also be nice if it could also store Gamecube game data as well.

… that Leviathan, Squigly’s parasitic dragon from Skullgirls, was real and living inside me so that I could always have intellectual debate when I wanted it and someone to help hold my projects steady when I’m playing in the workshop.

Admit it, you’d love to have a posh voiced, fire-breathing dragon that can sing opera for a BFF.
Source: Skullgirls Wiki

… to luck into a big voice acting deal once I get some free time to work on my demo.

… for all of my friends who are still in college to graduate with higher honors than me.

… for all of my friends who have already graduated from college to have better luck getting a lucrative job in their field than me.

… for my parents to find an end to their financial and work place stress – especially if it means screwing over the people that have been screwing them over harder and faster than they did.

… to find a good large scale printer for an affordable price so I can do freelance posters and graphics on the side.

… that absinthe was better for you and more affordable.

It’s the black licorice flavor; I’ve learned to love it.
Source: Men Daily

… for the continued strength of character to not go on a gaming shopping spree during the big Steam sales.

… to find more people who enjoy b-grade movies just to laugh and riff on them.

… for everyone in my family to play Cards Against Humanity and laugh without worrying about offending anyone. In fact, let’s extend that to the whole world.

… that I could find a way to shut my brain off and go to sleep at a reasonable hour so I’m not hyper-actively up until 2 AM either writing or playing Team Fortress 2.

… for an endless supply of mint tea to calm my jangled nerves.

… for a quality espresso machine so I can make Dirty Chai.

Chai tea. A double shot of Espresso. Pure Genius.
Source: PureWow Los Angeles

… that there was an Online Independent Emmy Award because traditional television is fading away and those people on Blip.tv and YouTube deserve to be recognized better.

… for inspiration to come to me easier and sooner so I never have to rush a new blog post out the night before ever again.

… for a terrible fate to befall Justin Bieber. Nothing lethal mind you, just humiliating and hilarious. For example, a lug nut from the wheel of a speeding semi suddenly flying off and lodging itself up his nose.

… that Dr. Steel would make a comeback and show Dr. Horrible how a REAL musical mad scientist rolls.

drsteel_enlist

Seriously, You guys have no idea how awesome this guy is.
Source: Wired.com

But, most of all, I wish…

… that all of you would share this with your friends and tell me what your wishes for the new year are. Also, I wish that your wishes come true… unless you wish for something stupid like the end of the world or something.