Song Of The Day – Funkorama (LP version) by Redman

From the single ‘Funkorama’ (1996)

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Essential Listening: Best of the NTS Guide To…

It’s a contradiction of sorts, streaming albums (once, again, thank you Bandcamp) in their entirety feels very old-fashioned. The rationale is a cleaving to analogue snobbery – lifting just one or two songs from an album feels cheap, egregiously so if you’re just dumping them into your digital music library unordered, which I used to do abundantly in my less enlightened years. You’re not serious about music if you consume this way.

Due to my refusal to delete anything, I have a large music library full of duplicates and errant tracks which I’ll never willingly listen to again. Now that I only listen to albums and themed playlists (I have over three hundred of these), I’ve become Yasser Arafat in a way – I’ve buried too many bodies in the desert over the last twenty years and forgotten who’s there. Having some guilty pleasures, eighties Fleetwood Mac, say, in amongst hundreds of thousands of songs is acceptable. Other pratfalls can be reasonably blamed on teenage hormonal dysfunction destabilising my brain. Take rave techno from such luminaries as DJ Fuckface for instance, imbued with a piercing monkey-sound riff, no less, it’s so terrible you have to laugh at this past iteration of yourself.

What I find nightmarish is not having bad songs, I know they’re there, but the shock that someone else somehow finds out what terrors I’d forgotten about. Getting caught owning the immeasurable vapidity of Razorlight, Kula Shaker, Hard-Fi, Keane or that fucking song by Toploader would be an episode so humiliating that it would challenge my belief that I don’t have the constitution for suicide. Having any of Moby’s brazenly cynical mid-nineties advertising campaign friendly cultural appropriations should rightly see you ostracized. As should anything by Justin Bieber or Deadmau5, oh, and that cunt who wears a marshmallow helmet, or is that twat and Deadmau5 the same person? There’s that song by Deacon Blue with the cringe chorus that mum and dad used to have on rotation when I was a kid. The only way I’ll purge it from memory is through a serious head injury, Alzheimer’s, or, well, death. Or, leaving the worst to the last, any song by Coldplay. Y’know, stuff that’s so hideously earnest and offensively bland that I’d happily live with increases in deforestation, child poverty, Dylan Mulvaney memes and global warming if it means never hearing any of it again. Not even Limmy’s rationally hatred filled forensic dissection of James Corden’s butcher job of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (in dedication to Prince, a better tribute would’ve been smearing dogshit on his headstone) assisted by Coldplay is sufficient justification for it existing.

Any measure that can further bury said forms of shame or deflect suspicion as to your ownership is to be celebrated. To wit, curating playlists with a defined theme or genre takes meticulousness and knowledge. It’s a discerning labour and connotes taste. Think of John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity when he alphabetically orders his vinyl collection and his wee mate happens to stop by and give him a hand. That’s the right way, but a romanticized one. We live in age of bombardment by so many mediums, throw in the imposition of work and family commitments, and many of us would feel guilty for using the sheer amount of time to be that anal about almost anything.

We could all do with help diversifying. The NTS Guide to series does the legwork for you by focusing on the hyper-specific, where other worthwhile musical wormholes, whether it be YouTube, podcasts, mixes, even other NTS shows, do not to this degree. Still curious of what specific musical enclaves in other countries or niche genres have to offer? Only got two tracks (or let’s be real here, none) in that Korean rap playlist, you’ll have dozens after you listen to an episode focusing on that very genre. Afterwards, nobody will ever happen upon your music library, look at your esoteric playlists, and assume that a search for “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel will return a result. Maybe you’ll even reach the point where you don’t suspect yourself of owning it.

Fittingly, in this digital age, there are so many of episodes of these NTS guides and not enough waking hours that I haven’t listened to them all (I only started last week). So I’ve selected five that have really stood out so far. Much love to NTS and those responsible for collating them.

Dust To Dust: The NTS Guide To Ambient Americana

Ry Cooder and Bruce Kaplan were obvious choices to start given the brief, but the rest of two hours allows you to drift into thoughts of driving through the desert at dusk in a convertible to the next stop on your dive-bar crawl, as the Peyote begins to take effect, with soothing bucolic lap steel, string and synth arrangements acting as the perfect tone for the experience. Just no hallucination of bats please.

Le Guth Amháin – Unaccompanied Singing From The Irish Tradition

The Dubliners Ronnie Drew’s brilliant spoken word version of The Dunes offers proof that the best folk music comes from great hardship and the raw honesty of the spoken word. A hour long episode of this stuff simply isn’t enough. Giving a speech in public is a terrifying prospect to me, but just being up there and doing spoken word is akin, in performing terms, to doing The Full Monty.

Post Punk In Dub

The abrasive audacity of punk is a virtue, and encourages a cutting through of the fucking bullshit and getting down to what’s necessary, adding Jamaican dub when you can. I only mention this as I was listening to this episode when reading a communication issued by work encouraging us to needlessly use pronouns in our email signatures. I was flirting with the punk approach to this, adding some spice, identifying as a stunted (mostly) hairless Wookie. But this isn’t practical or focused like adding dub baselines, and is only likely to see you ostracized as a fucking nutjob. We live in a time where we have more freedoms to express individuality or contrarian views in some ways and less in others. Punk and post-punk existed in a time where a sense of humour and self-deprecation encouraged solidarity through difference. This millennia does not. What a pity. Better to keep quiet and figuratively roll your eyes and reminisce about another time than dare step out of line in this.

Smooth G-Funk Volume 1

Given the output of Snoop, Pac, Too Short or anything released by Death Row Records, you’re half way to a decent selection. Everybody has “Regulate” by Warren G and Nate Dogg, right? There is a negative on this one, you may need to do some digging as there’s no playlist. But Shazam held up well here. Thankfully, if you do get stuck persistent Googling has all the answers. In a moment of impatience while searching I did think “fuck the economic consequences to the working people, increases in automation can’t came quickly enough”. Quite frankly, these are treacherous thoughts for a Union member and Champagne Socialist and far more shameful and damaging than listening to crap music.

Wackies 1977-1986

Some of the best music ever, full stop. This one also gave me a wee boost to my aficionado status when I realised I already had most of these. No “Mango Walk” was a surprise, and should definitely be sought out.

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Song Of The Day – You’re History by Shakespear’s Sister

From the album “Sacred Heart” (1989)

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Song Of The Day – セックスファンタジー by t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者

From the album ‘現実を超えて’ (2014)

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Signalis – a gorgeous dystopian creepshow

Not to disparage Uncharted – Legacy of Thieves Collection on the PC (it did get me through the misery of the Christmas and early January period) but I found it far too cheesy and a bit too easy to offer a gaming experience that was memorable or of substance. Certain games direct you, even carry you with them and both Uncharted games were in that vein. They do have a lot of things going for them; lush graphics, exotic locations and beautiful scenery, ostentatious vehicle chase sequences, glib quips, dying a certain way references the final scene in Thelma and Louise, both leant on ludicrous mythologies based extremely loosely on historical fact that were enjoyable for being so unashamedly far-fetched, to surprisingly challenging combat (but only if you pick the crushing setting).

Gameplay and stories filled with fortuitousness was likely a conscious choice by the developers and writers. There’s a subset of gamers out there who don’t want an experience that could potentially irritate or dishearten them. Basically, a Dark Souls type game that builds a sense of dread with grotesque creatures, desolate landscapes, nihilistic narratives and various outcomes, where the immutability of the difficulty (hard, basically) increases the tension, as you know mistakes are not forgiven, there’s no respite from threat, boss fights are perpetual and save points are not abundant. Fuck up and die in Uncharted and you lose no progress.

The best thing I can say about Uncharted is that it acted as palate cleanser (in that I could think about my ASDA shop while playing it) and because it made my mind wander it made me want to be gripped by a Dark Souls 3 or Sekiro again. So, I was faced with a choice, finally get round to letting Elden Ring consume my life but swallow the compromise of having to play it at low to moderate settings on my ancient GTX 980ti to get a good frame rate – because greed in the graphics cards business is threatening to destroy PC gaming – or play something less demanding while I wait forlornly for graphics card prices to drop to a level where I feel I’m not getting mugged off like some cunt.

Being stubbornly patient – Elden Ring will have to wait until the system is upgraded, it deserves as optimal an experience as possible – I was left game hunting. Because I hate shopping around for anything I just pick games that are highly recommended on Steam. Fortunately, with Steam this approach is safe. A community of gamers will always tell you if something is, or isn’t, worth your time or money.

The reviews for Signalis were stellar and richly deserved. It may be a 2D platformer, but there’s so much good going on here, it mixes the beautiful with the macabre, dystopia with fantasy, Nietzsche’s affirmation of the self when set against quasi-religious dogma and nihilism, Japanese and German languages, manga aesthetic with retro 8-bit graphics, dream sequences and esoteric riddles with sudden changes from third person to first person perspective.

You crash land on a planet, your human companion has disappeared, then, searching for her you find what appears to be a facility over a mining operation. Fragments of testimony and lore as to what happened can be collected, but nothing about Signalis is definitive.

All the references are clear and well chosen. You have the feeling of claustrophobia from Alien, Silent Hill’s sinister zombie disease and horror survival schtick, the character’s journey in Signalis is reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and there are parallels with the game’s progress and the movie The Descent, as the further you descend into the facility the more squalid, grotesque, creepier and unhinged things become.

A futuristic setting, with the colonization of far-away planets and neurotic humanoid Replikas (of which your playable character is one, you learn other models require psychological manipulation with groupthink and fetish items), mixed with puzzles that utilize quixotic forms of antiquated technology sounds an odd mix, but trust me, because you’re that engrossed by surviving and discovering “the facility” and just hoping to reach some kind of resolution amid all the existentialism and angst, you never think ‘oh come on, that’s bollocks that’.

How you progress is mostly linear and at most stages can be played at a pace to suit yourself. It makes any changes of tempo more jarring, when the game leaves you no choice but to act and think quickly. The levels are a series of rooms, which you have to explore for clues to solve puzzles that open up the next level or area of the level, or give you necessary weapon upgrades to advance. While not all rooms pose a threat, the quiet ones in concert with an eerie drone soundtrack instills a sense of dread at what’s waiting behind the next door. Will the zombie bastards ambush you from underneath the floor? When doubling back (and there’s quite a bit of this) will one of the zombies you aced earlier reanimate suddenly? Will that room you’ve yet to explore be pitch black and you don’t yet have the flashlight or have it equipped to see what lurks? There also multiple possible endings, and this is decided by a number of variables; how long your playthrough takes, how often you heal, talk to NPCs and how much combat you engage in.

No game is perfect, but my quibbles with Signalis are minor. You can only carry six items at one time, be it weapons, ammo, collectables that open rooms and special ability upgrades. This is good in a sense, as it increases the challenge and forces you to prioritise inventory and plan ahead, but I found it slightly annoying that certain very small items, say a key, or a ring, took up the same carry space as a fuck off shotgun. And one bit of advice, if you select the survival combat setting you have to ration your ammo and you use it diligently. I learned the hard way, while it is enjoyable to blast and burn the zombies, it’s best to leg it past the weaker slower ones where possible, as using too much (or any) ammo on them can easily leave you short when faced with a boss.

Ultimately, it’s this stuff that matters most when judging games, does it test you and therefore hold your attention? I have yet to play a good game that doesn’t. Does it surprise you? Does the art design and gameplay leave a lasting impression? Signalis checks all these boxes, that it also has a sui-generis story filled with enough ambiguity to encourage the Madeleine McCann question will always be preferable to a Tomb Raider knockoff riddled with exposition. Okay, maybe that was disparaging.

My first playthrough on the survival setting of Signalis took roughly eighteen hours, that’s under half the length of time I took to play both Uncharted games. But at £16 compared with £40 for Uncharted, it was Signalis that proved real value for money.

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