Top 5 Albums of 2016

-by Dylan D

I don’t think there’s any question that 2016 was a huge year for the music industry. Many beloved musicians who haven’t been seen in a while came out of hibernation and displayed new styles and even personalities; it’s the versatility that was so interesting. These are the five albums I just couldn’t keep out of my headphones this year.

 

5. Awaken My Love! – Childish Gambino

awaken_my_love

Truth be told, I’m not that huge of a Childish Gambino fan. When my friend told me that his newest and heavily awaited album departed from his past style of Hip Hop and Rap, I was interested. How do I describe “Awaken, My Love!”? Awaken is like a psychedelic funk album fused with soulful vibes.

The tracks can take to you to a peaceful place; or if you want you can just play them in background like I’m doing right now while writing this piece. Some of the sounds feel like sounds you’d hear in a 70’s or 80’s song and are pretty cool to hear. Gambinos new album wasn’t my favorite of 2016 but it was damn good. My only critique is his voice is almost always edited to a different pitch, it would be nice and less distracting to have him sing normally. Some great music on this album.

You’ll always be Troy Barnes to me Donald.

Favorite Track- Redbone

 

4. 4 Your Eyez Only – J Cole

4_your_eyes_only

Much like with Gambino, I’m not that big of a J Cole fan. But in order to prepare for Eyez, I listened to his previous work, 2014 Forest Hills Drive and I must say he has some good tracks under his belt.

4 Your Eyez Only started out as nothing special to me, but as I kept listening I kept hearing new things to enjoy. Cole has some interesting sounds here like pianos and violins mixed in with some good beats. But the real star of the show here is the lyrics.

Damn. Cole jumps from a variety of topics like the rapping world, his life and possible/probable(?) soon death. He talks of love and what the meaning of it is, consumerism and how the meaning of Christmas has been destroyed. Finally, the last track is for his daughter to listen to in the case of his death.

I’m not that huge into rap, I can only take so much talk of drugs and women, but I’ll make an exception for J Cole; 4 Your Eyez Only proved to me there’s more than meets the eye, or in this case, ears.

Favorite Track: She’s Mine Pt. 1 and 2

3. Starboy – The Weeknd

starboysingle

Obviously this would be here, my review of Starboy was the first article ever posted on PlayingWithThoughts. I won’t repeat myself so I’ll keep it brief. I guess for some weird reasons I want to dislike Starboy. The new hair, the new style and vibes of The Weeknd; it’s all so new. And I’m not afraid to call Abel a sellout either. Yet I’m still a fan of his; and I still like the sounds he’s created on Starboy.

Just like last year on Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd had me absolutely addicted to some of the eardrum-pounding songs on this album. With Behind the Madness I listened to literally every song multiple times, with Starboy I listen to a majority. It’s a little less this time around, but the quality is still there. If you want my more in depth thoughts, check out my review.

Favorite Track: Party Monster

Blond – Frank Ocean

frank-ocean-blond-compressed-0933daea-f052-40e5-85a4-35e07dac73df

Not gonna lie, I wrote that bit on hibernation in the intro just for Frank. HE’S BACK!

Blond is not just an album, it’s an existential crisis. In fact, when I think of Blond I think of the good 20% of audio that’s not even conventional music, but conversations or just short and bizarre. I don’t know what the hell is going on in Franks life (who does?) but it all bubbled up into some of the deepest songs produced this year.

Frank covers themes of time and how it keeps on getting faster and slipping out of his hands. As always he speaks about nostalgia, being a kid. He covers the painful isolation he feels and how he cannot relate to his peers. He also speaks of one topic I don’t hear many musicians sing about: living an idea from another mans mind. The latter two topics really stuck with me and made me question love and my very self identity. Am I who I am because I want to be like this or other people shaped me as I grew up to be what they want? Don’t get me wrong, good entertainment doesn’t have to be so meaningful, but it’s so much more interesting when it leaves you with giant questions like that.

Frank has done it again; I personally can’t wait for his fourth studio album which is expected around 2023.

Favorite Tracks –

Pink and White (purely for the AMAZING sound)

Seigfried (for the meaning, listen to those lyrics!)

1. Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper

chance_3

Chance is my newest favorite musician and I couldn’t have asked to get into his music at a better time. After being gone for three years I listened to all his music just a couple months before Coloring Book hit.

On 10 Days I listened to a whiny self-assured punk (no offense) sing of how he didn’t need school and being suspended would be to his benefit. Not only did I love the ‘F-ck you school’ lyrics but I absolutely adored most of the songs on the album for their sound.

On Acid Rap I listened to a now successful rapper who is doing collaborations with Childish Gambino and other big stars. He goes cray here, singing about drugs, drugs, success, and drugs. No but seriously Chance brings up serious topics like how his mother doesn’t look at him the same anymore due to his drug use. Damn.

And Finally on Coloring Book I listen to a man who’s grown up, who has a daughter now, who I’m assuming is cooling it with all the drugs. Like Frank, Chance speaks of time, but also of people changing and how many of his friends died due to street violence in Chicago. This album defined my summer and the freedom I felt after my first year of college.This album actually convinced the Grammys to allow free music to be eligible for an award! That’s impact. Every song on Coloring Book is jam packed with different vibes and I love each one. Chance has created a perfect trilogy and it only makes me wonder how he’ll continue.

Favorite Track: All Night (so short but phenomenal sound)

Here’s to more great music in 2017, thanks for reading!

 

 

The Last Guardian: PS4 [Review]

-by Dylan D

No Spoilers

When I first picked up “Shadow of the Colossus” a couple years ago; I thought I mistakenly bought my copy online from the wrong country. I was baffled by the foreign language and subtitles. Fast-forward to today and I am utterly obsessed with the fantastic and mythical realm that Team Ico has created with Sony; the fictional language, air of mystery and beautiful landscapes remind me why I play video games: to get lost. It’s been seven long years of development but finally the newest game from the geniuses at Team Ico is out. This game along with last weeks Final Fantasy XV had some unbelievable hype to live up to; now we get to see if former does.

tlg

I’m a weak man. After personally waiting four years I broke the day before release and checked out some review scores (no actual details of the game). I saw the expected 8’s and 9’s, hey even a couple 10’s, but wow was I shocked at the number of mixed reviews (6’s and 7’s). Of the Team Ico trilogy, the newest entry had the most critical review scores. Needless to say, I was scared.

When I first popped in the game my fear immediately faded. Even if the gameplay itself was lacking I knew that Team Ico still put their hearts and souls into it, and that’s not something you can say for a lot of game developers in today’s day and age. The environments were familiar but this time even more breathtaking. I skipped out on a PS3 so jumping from the original PS2 versions of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus to The Last Guardian was unbelievably pleasing. Other familiar elements showed up: the fictional language, the climbing, the puzzles. What was I scared of again?

The Last Guardian makes one of the best first impressions I can remember in recent history; the story is interesting, the mechanics are unique and the scenery is stunning. Unfortunately after the first two hour honeymoon-phase, trouble arises.

tlg1

The unnamed boy feels floppy when you aren’t simply running. The game explains it’s basic climbing mechanics but I never felt like I fully had control. Something as basic as descending down a ledge always required a specific button combination and camera angle. The camera itself has been cited as the games main problem. It’s not the actual camera but the tight corridors combined with Tricos huge size that causes the camera problems. And then there’s our buddy Trico…

For the first half of the game I observed Tricos behavior and I see where some people could complain. He’s slow and doesn’t always listen to your commands. At first I was going to defend this from a story perspective: Trico is a massive wild animal, why would he constantly submit to the will of a tiny kid? He has a mind and will of his own and he’ll sniff or scratch whatever he wants before he listens to you. The director of the game, Fumito Ueda, intended for this so it could build the relationship between the player and Trico. While I wholeheartedly love his ambition I can’t help but feel Trico was slightly underdeveloped. However, since the game lasts between 10-15 hours on your first go, Tricos lack of listening might drive you crazy like it did me.

If you don’t have patience then you will surely not enjoy The Last Guardian.

boy_riding_trico

It’s because of those problems that I feel The Last Guardian overstays it’s welcome just a bit. When I was in the latter half and felt like the credits could roll any minute, Trico made me wanna yell out like Charlie Brown.

I’m intentionally leaving this review ambiguous and more about how it made me feel as a player instead of specific gameplay and story detail. I firmly believe The Last Guardian is a game everybody should play at least for an hour in their life; it’s a very unique virtual adventure that should satisfy something in every gamer. From a gameplay perspective it’s nothing special, in fact it’s a headache 60% of the time. The story and scenery though are quite enjoyable and dare I say stunning.

Was The Last Guardian worth the time and trouble of a seven year wait? Absolutely not. If you get over that sad fact, you’ll still have a decent game that has something to offer everyone.

6.5/10

+ Scenery is amazing

+ Story

+ Unique puzzles

-Trico

– Floppy body and climbing physics

– Tutorial prompts throughout the entire game

The point of this review was to give a vague outline of The Last Guardian. I’m not done talking about the game though. My next posts will be filled with details and spoilers and speak of the design of The Last Guardian. Thanks for reading

Recommended Price to Wait For: $40

Dragon Ball and Innocence [Essay]

-by Dylan D

Dragon Ball is easily one of the biggest anime franchises of all time, and for that one of the biggest franchises in the world. Goku’s adventures span multiple manga series, anime series, movies (sadly a live action one), action figures, posters and so on. While I’m constantly updated on the current happenings of the Z fighters thanks to one of my best friends; only one adventure in the series kept me hooked until the end, the original. Since the fourth anime series titled Dragon Ball Super is finally coming to the United States next month; I think it’s appropriate to look back on where it all started.

dragon-ball

I was twelve at the time. My parents argued a lot, screaming and the usual. I would hope for the best everyday. Not only that but I was bored with day to day life. School and tests, all that stuff seemed so irrelevant. I grew up on stuff like Pokémon and One Piece so I knew the world was huge and full of stuff to be explored, but here I was trapped in a desk doing times tables. Anyway, one day I was at Borders book store (it’s sad to say Borders is just a memory now). As a kid would normally do, instead of looking at boring old books I wandered off into the DVD section. There I saw a bright blue package holding Season 1 of Dragon Ball. I knew about Z, but not the original. In fact I thought it was a prologue made after Z. I begged my dad to get it for me and when we got home I locked myself in my bedroom, popping the first disc into my PlayStation 2. I was then absorbed into one of the best fictional worlds ever.

A charismatic deep-voiced narrator introduced me to Son-Goku, a kid not much older than me who lived in the world I wished I did. Living in the middle of the forest, Goku’s biggest worries were exploring and catching dinner. I guess my twelve year old self subconsciously imagined himself as Goku. So when Goku went on an adventure so did I.

The reason I prefer Dragon Ball to the other series is its simplicity and tone. There are no multiple deaths to be undone with the dragon balls, aliens aren’t the enemies until much later, and the fighting is slower paced with weapons and fists and the occasional energy attack. There’s also a lot of comedy, which is awesome. I think this is what hooked me in so much as a kid; the stories were easy to understand and I could laugh along the way.

dragonball-original-487038935

Where I live; the innocence of a child doesn’t last too long. Some of the other boys in my eighth grade class would talk about smoking, drinking and the sorts, meanwhile I just wanted to be a kid who watched cartoons and played outside. Everybody wanted to grow up so fast and I just wanted adventure. I guess that’s a con of living in New York; there are no green fields to run around in, just concrete.

I looked at Goku through my TV screen and saw the definition of innocence. There’s a scene early on where Goku is taking a bath with the help of his older partner Bulma. As if needing an assistant for a simple bath wasn’t enough, it’s revealed that Goku doesn’t even know what genders are. He also assumes that everyone would have a tail just like he does. The crazy thing is Goku has lived in isolation ever since his grandfather died; he embodies innocence with his lack of social awareness.

With simple plots and an innocent fun loving character to project yourself into, it’s not hard to see why a kid yearning for adventure would love Dragon Ball. It has great writing, one of the best English dubs of all time and memorable music. Like a fine cheese or wine, Dragon Ball has aged into something that gets better every year. It reminds us through Goku that even the biggest legends start off in small footsteps; it’s an epic saga that shows us what it means to be innocent. Let’s be honest, it inspired us all to get into that trademarked pose and scream for a Kamehameha beam.

So yes, I will try watching Dragon Ball Super on Toonami this January. If by some chance I don’t like it enough to stick around; oh well, at least I have Dragon Ball

 

No Man’s Sky and the Power of Expectations

-by Dylan D

Admitting fault

I was deluded. I was naive. I was silly. I thought there was something like an infinite video game that could produce infinite entertainment. I often joke around with my friend and co-writer Vinny Q by saying “No Man’s Sky” is one of the worst games of all time. Now as the year is coming to close I want to discuss the whole fiasco. No Man’s Sky isn’t a terrible game, it was simply human nature that ruined the reputation of the product.

nms2.png

There are reports of lies and dishonesty on developer Hello Games’ part. Now I wasn’t one to keep up with every single article, interview and piece of news on the games development; but after a little research it’s easy to see that the game isn’t exactly what was advertised. Each spaceship isn’t entirely unique, there are no giant space battles, and most painfully; you can’t run into your friends. I’m not going to say they were blameless however. Shipping the game in it’s original state was a dumb idea. Sony is as fault too for marketing this game as a AAA blockbuster and Game of the Year contender. In reality it should have been shown off as what is it: an indie game about exploring, nothing more and nothing less.

Can you really blame us for getting hyped up?

Come on: it’s space and we’re video game lovers; of course we’re going to get excited! Parallels to Star Wars, Alien, Mass Effect and other beloved space fantasies were inevitable. Those examples I listed above all have one thing in common: a destination. They wanted to make you see and feel certain things while you get to the end. No Man’s Sky is too big and too pointless to make you feel anything at all. You just drift around from planet to planet asking yourself “what should I do?”

25423055996_a7d9cf37cb_b

It’s like the chicken and the egg. Did the developers get us so excited that we had unreasonable expectations for the game? Or were we expecting too much from the get-go? If we were, then it’s easy to see the stress the developers were under. Hello Games still claims that the product available to us is their original vision.

This is all not to say that No Man’s Sky isn’t impressive. Graphically it’s gorgeous and Hello Games did deliver on the planet sized planets. Ignoring the archaic inventory system and other gripes I had with the game; flying in my ship above the surface of a planet and scoping out the best places to land was kind of fun. But that’s where it ends. To me No Man’s Sky is nothing more than a technological marvel and a good first impression.  So where does that leave me?

A potential edit

Just like how my imagination overhyped No Man’s Sky; I’m going to use it to imagine a better parallel version of the game. Instead of going for the feeling of infinite, I think Hello Games should’ve shot for just one solar system. Get rid of the planet sized planets concept too, imagine there were eight planets and each were roughly half the size of say a Grand Theft Auto game, still impressive right? Now fill those planets with important and interesting people who give you intergalactic sidequests and cool optional loot. And of course, add online. I think with these changes we’d have the 10/10 game we were all looking for and not the 5/10 we all got.

nomanssky_monolith

We’re people

The biggest thing Hello Games forgot is that we are human. Not only does that explain our insane expectations, but it also explains why the number of players dropped over 60% within a few days of launch. There is no such thing as infinite entertainment for humans. We get bored of watching the same movie too many times, that’s why we strategically plan out our next viewings of our favorite TV shows. Hell, some people even get bored of one another, just think about divorce. How were we expected to play an infinite video game? Infinitely?

The silver lining

It may be hypocritical since my copy of the game is still collecting dust on my shelf, but No Man’s Sky can still be a decent game to play. I imagine it being the perfect game when you don’t want to actually focus on a video game and just keep exploring.

Even though they certainly bent the truth a little bit, Hello Game’s dedication is there. There are constant patches, mostly small but some huge which add a couple of the long lost features that were promised to us.

The time where No Man’s Sky overtook the gaming world is over. It’s time to wash away the biases we may have towards the game and look at it for what it currently is. If we just kept our expectations in check I think we all would’ve enjoyed No Man’s Sky just a little bit more.

 

“Starboy” – The Weeknd [Review]

– by Dylan D

I’ve been following Abel Tesfaye on his journey as The Weeknd only a few months before his second studio album “Beauty Behind the Madness” released late last year. Though it hasn’t been too long, I’ve been endlessly fascinated with The Weeknd and his dark and personally engrossing style. The truth is Abel’s becoming one of the biggest celebrities in the world, many people love him. But there is vocal group stating that he’s betrayed his old style found in “Trilogy”. “Beauty Behind the Madness” launched the star into a sort of Dark-Pop vibe, and now with his third studio album “Starboy”, he seems to be doing it again. Just look at this quote from the title track:

“You talking ’bout me I don’t see the shade
Switch up my style I take any lane”

The real question is: did he once again successfully change styles?

starboysingle

After listening to “Beauty Behind the Madness” roughly twenty-five times (no exaggeration) I can safely say that “Starboy” isn’t as big of a change as advertised. If anything, Abel’s taken a step backwards to his original darkness.

The first song is the title track, “Starboy” which is a great song in reality, but because of the constant repetition of it on the radio I grew weary  quickly. Thankfully the next track, “Party Monster” is an utterly fantastic song describing the typical Weeknd lifestyle; partying with too much alcohol, drugs and regret. Then the second best transition of the whole album occurs, “Party Monster” blends wonderfully into “False Alarm”, which was released early with the title track. “False Alarm” is the essence of the entire album; it is dark, so dark that Abel literally screams louder than he has in any other song, but it also has a hyped-up pop vibe.

The best transition then brings us to “Reminder” a light song which feels like the aftermath of “False Alarm”. The transitions on the album are so fantastic it feels like one big song.

1280_theweeknd_album_twitter

I won’t go through every track individually, as the album is his longest in his career. Instead I’ll describe the overall feeling of the album as a whole and what the rest of the songs bring to it individually.

Unfortunately, if you’re an early Weeknd lover and hated “Beauty Behind the Madness”; I don’t think you’ll find more than a handful of songs to enjoy on “Starboy”. After the songs I listed above comes back the brighter pop-feel and some tracks actually seem like love songs which is the complete opposite of what The Weeknd was known for. One thing I need to note is that the pop isn’t like last time. The beats you hear in songs like “Starboy” and “A Lonely Night” feel 80’s inspired, like something you’d hear in “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City”.

The album then fades back into a bit of darkness with appearances by Kendrick Lamar and Future, but by the very end of it comes quite possibly the nicest song Abel has produced: “I Feel it Coming”. This song defines the change of not just his style, but him as a person. No more is he socially poisoning girls like in “The Birds” (on Trilogy); here he is thinking beyond sex and into friendship, more specifically love. Abel has grown and quite possibly learned from his mistakes. With his inventive “Starboy” music video he shows the ‘new him’ killing his old self. I think it’s time we welcome him.

As a long time fan, I’ll admit The Weeknd has certainly changed lanes, but that’s no problem at all. Life wasn’t meant to be lived by doing the same thing continuously; Abel is having fun with his new found fame, wealth and values. As long as he doesn’t keep bragging or putting others down like he does in the title track, why shouldn’t we give him a chance? I need more time to think if I prefer it over last years “Beauty Behind the Madness”, but “Starboy” certainly didn’t let me down.

8/10

+ Exciting

+ A fusion of both his past darkness and pop

+ 80’s vibe

The Weeknd has done it again. While I think an album this long came maybe a little too soon after his previous, and that he should’ve spent more time on it; I can’t think of any real complaints here. It didn’t blow my mind like his previous albums, but every song is catchy in it’s own way and some definitely rank in my all time favorites. After “Starboy” I certainly look forward the Abel Tesfaye’s future work.

 

 

 

Introduction

– by Dylan D

I believe the desire to be heard is common in most people. Whatever your passion may be; sports, movies, video games; you probably know a lot about them. After a while, whenever you partake in that hobby it becomes more than a simple enjoyment. You start to analyze until you know every nook and cranny and then you form a strong opinion; at least that’s how I am.

Playing With Thoughts is my platform to express these opinions. I’m producing these articles for multiple reasons and I hope readers come back for those same reasons. Maybe you want to know if a certain movie is worth your time and money. Maybe you want to read some heartfelt pieces of nostalgia. Maybe you’re just curious about one of our writers “Top 5 Sports Moments”. Either way I hope you enjoy your time on Playing With Thoughts.

Thanks for stopping by.