Previewing The Birthday Massacre’s “Superstition”

A couple of days ago, a five-minute video featuring 30-second samples from each of the 10 tracks on the upcoming The Birthday Massacre album Superstition, which releases on Nov. 11 (pre-order from iTunes), was uploaded to YouTube. You can check out the preview here:

Here’s what I took from the preview of each of the album’s 10 tracks, to the extent that you can take anything out of some random 30-second excerpt from a song:

01. Divide (0:00)
This song reminds me quite a bit of Down, the second track on TBM’s last album that’s probably my favorite thing they’ve ever done (it’s not an exaggeration to suggest I’ve probably listened to Down over a thousand times). The sound is different – Down is more hard-driving – but the lyrics seem similar, both thematically and structurally. I’d like to hear more. At the tail end of this snippet there’s a lyric “…rising up away from the Earth” that takes me right back to some ‘80s synth pop one-hit wonder that as I write this is driving me insane through my inability to properly recall it. To this mystery song I say: I will find you.

02. Diaries (0:30)
The lyrics that are in this snippet are a little weak: “Close your eyes | You’re dreaming, so am I. You know I can’t stay here and I won’t pretend | All that begins never comes to an end.” I won’t pass too much judgment on this until I hear the whole thing, but at first blush it feels like this could be a “skip track” candidate like One Promise turned out to be on their last album. 

03. Superstition (1:00)
When I first heard this I swore TBM was covering Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Seriously, listen to this and replace the lyrics with “I come home in the morning light | My mother yells when you gonna live your life right…” It’s almost perfect. I want to hear the rest of this song, but I’m going to be entirely unable to shake the vision of ‘80s Cyndi Lauper when I listen to it. It’s definitely distracting, but there’s no way to know yet if that’s going to be good or bad.

04. Destroyer (1:30)
Destroyer seems to be the obligatory “monster voice” track that TBM has been busting out sparingly on its recent albums; the sound apes the monster-voice parts of Lover’s End from the band’s second album, Violet. It’ll probably be cool, but it feels like the kind of sound you could’ve called for this album the minute it was announced as being a thing. That’s not a slam; this type of thing is one of the band’s signature sounds, and they always make it work. I’m looking forward to this track.

05. Surrender (2:00)
This is one of my favorite of the 30-second previews; somehow it reminds me of Always  which ranks highly on the list of my favorite TBM tracks that I’ve never actually compiled. 

06. Oceania (2:30)
This feels like one of those songs that I’m not going to love, but it’s not going to be a track-skipper either. It sounds like a lot of the other things they’ve done, but from this little sample anyway there isn’t a hook that made me want to stop and listen to it. In fact, although it’s the sixth track in the album it’s the 10th out of 10 snippets I’ve written about for this particular post; I just kept glossing over it while thinking about the other samples. I’m quite interested to know how I’ll feel about this song after listening to the entire thing in the context of the complete album a few times over. Because I’ve just written five times more about this than I did about the immediately preceeding track, which I told you I liked quite a bit.

07. Rain (3:00)
This is going to be the first single from Superstition, and the band has already teased that a video is coming. They also released an instrumental-only track of Rain as one of the promos for its PledgeMusic campaign that’s supporting the album. You can listen to that here:
…and there was another teaser from the campaign that featured some of the behind-the-scenes work on the vocal mixing for this track, which you can also find on YouTube, here:

…so hearing a bit of all of that coming together in the final track is pretty cool. This should be a good song.

08. Beyond (3:30)
I can envision playing this song a ton, and I will say right now that I’m probably going to like singing along to this song in my car. I’m not really sure what else to say about it beyond that.

09. The Other Side (4:00)
This is an interesting track to me in that it seems to have the melodic-to-more hard-driving transition that would have made me guess this was going to be Superstition’s monster-voice track, only without evidence of the monster voice. After listening to it a few times, it sort of reminds me of their Red Stars track from Walking with Strangers — which is good because I think Red Stars is one of the band’s best songs.

10. Trinity (4:30)
This is an instrumental-only snippet, the only one of the 10 previews in this sampler to not include vocals. Awesomely, this sounds like it’s been ripped straight from the Blade Runner soundtrack (listen to the end title theme for Blade Runner) and seems to perfectly encapsulate the heavy ‘80s influences that run through most of what The Birthday Massacre has done with their music (and which you can hear repeatedly in nearly every track of this album — I’ve only mentioned a few of the ways this pulled me back to that era as I listened to this sampler. Seriously, it’s in just about every track). I’m very intrigued by this and will be curious to hear the entire track — I’m definitely wondering if there are lyrics or if this will end up being a purely instrumental piece (I could Google this and get an answer, I’m sure, but I choose to not find this out until the album drops on Nov. 11).

Overall this feels like it could be a strong album; as a followup to Hide and Seek from 2012 it’s got its work cut out for it, to be sure, but other than Diaries there doesn’t seem like there’s a particularly weak song in the bunch. I’m very much looking forward to Superstition’s Nov. 11 release date, and I fully expect to listen to that on a constant rotation — and not much else — between then and Dec. 13, when I’m going to have my first chance to see TBM in concert in Minneapolis. 

Coding with Swift

When Apple shocked everyone and announced Swift at its Worldwide Developers Conference this past June, I shared in the excitement that surrounded the language. I watched Apple’s sessions on Swift and it seemed as if the language was something I could understand and probably even code with. After I made my way through the session videos, I posted on Facebook that I could see in my head how Swift worked and that I was excited to try and build things with it.

As per usual, I put this off for months. Until tonight, in fact. I don’t know why. I just didn’t know how to start. But today I had an idea for a project — I’ve been using this little web tool from Raven Software to build URLs for tracking goal conversions in Google Analytics for BSU’s online news stories. I have a spreadsheet where I’ve been building 10 different URLs for each story I post; it’s not a complicated process but it’s pretty detail-oriented (since you can’t have typos) and with the workflow I’ve set up it takes me about five minutes each time. But consider that I’ve built enough of these packages for enough stories already this year that I’ve spent a total of about two hours just building these URLs — this is basic string concatenation, and it’s something that could be easily done programmatically with the push of a button. Today it finally occurred to me that this was my entry point for learning Swift.

So I did it. And I now have 87 lines of code in a Swift playground that will take a hard-coded URL with a hard-coded value for the URL’s Campaign Content argument and run a series of loops to build 10 URLs. I’m pumped; the code is sloppy (I’m using four different loops with different sets of variables where I should be using one loop with three arguments passed into it that runs four times, for instance) and I still need to take the next step of learning how to take that working Playground code and put it into an Xcode project so it’ll actually run. I also want to build a UI for it so a user can enter the starting URL and the Campaign Content variable and pass them into the program, rather than having those hard-coded. But the code works.

There are lots of ways I probably could have gone about this — I could have done something with Google’s scripts to create these URLs and then dump them directly into a Docs sheet, for example — but this way I’m building actual MacOS software, which is something I’ve wanted to do since OS X came out in 2001.

I never could seem to adequately wrap my head around Objective-C, but so far Swift works for me. I want to finish this and figure out what to build next. This is so cool.

Destiny: Three Weeks In

This week marked the third week in the life of Destiny, Bungie’s new social shooter for whatever your favorite video game console happens to be. I have been playing since launch day on Sept. 9 and in general, while the game certainly isn’t without its flaws, I’ve enjoyed Destiny quite a bit. This is a massive game that is part of what will hopefully be a massive franchise, so plenty of people have written about it so far; for the most part the things I think works are in line with what plenty of other people think works, and the things I think are frustrating have been ranted about almost ad nauseum in various corners of the Internet. So there likely won’t be much new here other than the fact that I wrote it. 

What works
• It’s a shooter that is challenging to me but doesn’t make me feel that I have to be a spectacular player in order to be successful (up to a point; more on that later). The entirety of the main storyline is soloable and the strike content that has in-game matchmaking is straight-forward enough that random groupings of three people can tacke all of it, so you can experience the main story by yourself. Part of the reason I’ve enjoyed this game so much is that it feels accessible and the cool stuff feels achievable (mostly).

• Visually the game is pretty great. The effort Bungie put into things like the skies is tangible and makes the game better. The four enemy races are all very cool and seem to be well thought-out. The enemy ships, despite the fact that you don’t actually fight them, all have personality — watching Hive tombships pop out of a wormhole, deploy a bunch of bad guys and then vanish into another wormhole is one of my favorite sights in the game. It’s one of those fun details that don’t add anything to the way the game plays, but add a *ton* to the way it feels. It’s one of those things that world builders don’t have to do, but when attention is paid to those kinds of details it makes everything else better. 

• The game’s music is outstanding. I have been tempted to buy the soundtrack on iTunes and I just need to do it. It sets the mood well, especially in combat, and there is a ton of variety. 

• I haven’t played two of the game’s three classes, because I’ve been having so much fun with my warlock. The tech-magician has just worked for me; there’s nothing more fun than jumping off a high point in the game, gliding over a group of bad guys, looking down on their heads and dropping a huge magic bomb on them while still in the air.

• The way the Cabal heads explode when you hit them with precision damage. 

• This isn’t really something that “works” but it doesn’t fit under “what’s frustrating” either, so I’ll put it here — the game’s famously awful story really hasn’t bothered me that much. I kinda bought into one of the first lines of dialogue in the game from your Ghost, “…there will be a lot of things you don’t understand”, knowing that the game was going to evolve over time through expansions and additional content. Some of the things that have come out about the final year or so of Destiny’s development have been interesting, to say the least, and I’m curious to know where things go and how Bungie builds on what’s obviously a very small first step they’ve taken with this game.

What’s frustrating
• The enemy AI and the invisible fences that keep them contained to certain parts of the map often doesn’t make much sense. You can bait enemies into chasing you to a flight of stairs, for instance; you can run to the bottom of the stairs, and they’ll stop in the middle and turn back, returning to their defined playground rather than chase you. Given the shared-world nature of this game this is probably to prevent people from training bosses out of certain zones into the open, but once you figure out that monsters won’t chase you past a certain place it becomes easy to plan ways to exploit this to win certain fights. It turns a number of boss confrontations from intense firefights into simple duck-and-cover midranged shootouts that are legitimately difficult to lose.

• Leveling past the actual “cap” of 20 — the highest level you can attain by gathering experience points — is somewhat frustrating since it’s entirely gear dependent, making you completely at the mercy of drops or long farming grinds. Granted, this makes individual upgrades, when they come, pretty significant as they are a stat boost and can actually level up your character.

• Once you hit level 20, the difficulty curve of the missions varies wildly and in completely unpredictable ways. For example, as a level 23 character I can smash the level 20 daily heroic mission, and a friend of mine and I two-manned a “heroic” difficulty level 22 strike mission that you typically play with three people, but the level 24 Queen’s kill-order missions are a recipe for horiffic and repeated death. 

• Visually there’s not too terribly much distinction between your starter gear at level 1 and your level 20 gear. In games like World of Warcraft, you can look at a character immediately and say “that person has cleared Black Temple many times.” In Destiny, there’s not that immediate “wow” factor when you see another player’s gear. Blizzard got it right in WoW by focusing on helms and shoulders as the visual focus for different tiers of gear (although transmogrification eventually made this less important). Destiny tries some of this, but the only gear that really stands out is the exotic-quality stuff — and you’re limited to wearing one piece of exotic gear that can come from a random world drop or be purchased flat-out from a vendor. So there’s very little way to look at a character and have some sense of where they’ve progressed in the game. There are some raid weapons in Destiny that are unique, but only your primary weapon shows on your character when you’re in the Tower so if you’re like me and your coolest piece of gear is an exotic secondary weapon, nobody sees it unless they inspect you anyway.

• Getting repeatedly one-shotted in the Crucible is the exact opposite of fun. I typically don’t like PvP, but at least when I played WoW I felt like it was possible to be competitive in places like Arathi Basin or Alterac Valley (but I always absolutely hated Warsong Gulch). I’ve never felt like anything but a moving target in the Crucible. 

Overall, though, I have to say that I still am very much enjoying the game. I love that it’s set up in such a way that I can come home for lunch and spend 45 minutes running patrols while I eat a sandwich and feel like I’ve accomplished something meaningful toward a long-term goal. And although I have historically hated replaying content once I’ve cleared it, the shooting mechanics in this game are so fun that the repetitive nature of the content hasn’t burned me out yet. I’m definitely looking forward to the two expansions, although I wish we didn’t have to wait until December for the first one.