American Reactions to Snow

In the winter, it is snowing. There are four different ways to react to this in America:

  1. Never leave bed and weep to yourself the entire time, thinking the world is ending. (You are from the south.)
  2. Don’t go outside, but smile and enjoy your day off. (You are from the mid-west.)
  3. Play in the snow, but spend most of your time shoveling because you know it’ll suck tomorrow when it ices over. (You are from the east coast or Seattle/Oregon.)
  4. You BBQ outside. (You are from New England or any state bordering Canada.)

Agree/disagree? Which number are you?

Nightwish’s Imaginaerum: A Review

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I am an unabashed fan of Nightwish, both old and new. I have no problems with Anette (in fact, I love her), and I keep my distance in regard to all the Tarja drama that happened years ago. I appreciate and love the old Nightwish for what it was, just as I appreciate and love the new Nightwish for what it is. There! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about their new album, Imaginaerum.

The digital version of this album fell into my lap this morning. They have this amazing bundle in their record label’s online store and the moment I saw it I knew I had to have it. I’m a huge fan of lithographs, black t-shirts, and instrumentals. Plus, and this was probably the biggest pull for me, we got the digital version of the album a month before it released in America. That day just happened to be today. The best part is they let us download FLAC versions. I’m a bit of an audio snob at times, and that overjoyed me. I’ve listened to the album all day.

The first thing I do when I have a new CD in my hands is to open something to drink/munch, set the CD to play all the way through once, and just listen. This album was no exception. I purposefully only ever listened to Storytime, their first single, so the entire thing was new to my ears: a very wise decision. There’s not much more interesting than being taken on a musical journey for the first time. The true test to great music, of course, is how well it holds up. Nightwish’s music is amazing and different from their first EP to this masterpiece, each one unique. Imaginaerum does not disappoint. It feels epic, and the transition between each song is well-placed. Each song has its own distinct style and mood to it, but at the same time they all blend together seamlessly to tell a weird, fantastical story. I’ll go through each song, then give a small summary at the bottom.

  1. Storytime – The single, and the one everyone who follows them has already heard. It’s a strong start with strong drums and guitar opening the CD. Anette’s voice is light and pulls everything together. The instrumentals don’t kick in until a little bit later, but when they do it makes what is a rather fast-paced song feel more grand. The instrumentals are a tad longer on the album version, and I feel that’s for the best. Its beat is nearly poppy, but the heavy guitars definitely absolve it of that; this is accessible rock at its finest. The lyrics are playful and easy to understand. It’s obvious why this was the first single.
  2. Taikatalvi – Definitely the shortest song at only 2:35, but one that really surprised me when it started. It feels much like a creepy lullaby. Marco’s voice – he’s the sole vocalist in it – manages to be gentle yet when he sings certain parts, it takes a turn for the more sinister. Definitely not a lullaby you’d let your baby listen to, but the piano and ticking in the background make for an interesting song. This, to be honest, is probably my least favorite song on the disc. It’s interesting, and I’m a huge fan of Marco’s voice, but I feel like it had a bit more potential it could have attained. I actually wonder if just leaving it as an instrumental may have been a wiser choice.
  3. Ghost River – Okay, I apologize in advance if I gush a little here. I think Ghost River may be becoming my favorite song on the CD. Marco and Anette’s voices blend so damn well, and the beat is intoxicating. It’s also probably the “weirdest” song on the album, both lyrically and musically. It starts off with some great guitar work and transitions into a pretty traditional verse…and then the bridge happens. Marco and Anette bust out some fast and repetitive lines, playing with the chorus, throwing it back and forth. Marco’s growling is back, which is an automatic plus for me. The instruments gradually get more noticeable and by the second time the chorus comes around it’s one loud growling fest backed by some beautiful guitar and choral notes. The children’s chorus toward the end of the song makes musical sense, but I question if it was necessary. The song felt good before it. It doesn’t take anything away, but I wonder if it really adds anything.
  4. Slow, Love, Slow – Wow. Wow is really all I had the first time I heard it. My jaw dropped, in fact. It’s so jazzy. I’m an avowed enemy of jazz music; well, okay… maybe that’s a little too far. But it has to be really, really good jazz for me to like it. Some of my favorite artists have come up with jazzy songs and I hate them. This one, though? Pure gold. Anette’s voice is more suited to the style than I thought it would be, and the lyrics are…well, they’re smooth. Very sensual. I think this is supposed to be the song where the boy in the movie is falling in love with his lady. The piano is delicate and the bass is to die for. Everything, even the saxophone (I can’t believe I’m typing this), is just rich and slow. I wouldn’t call many songs this, but it definitely earns the adjective “luxurious.”
  5. I Want My Tears Back – When you hear the first line of this song, you may go “what?!” It’s kind of short, in your face. The title is thrown right in your face and it catches your attention; perhaps not in the good way. As it progresses, though, it gets a lot better. The lyrics really strike an interesting chord. I’m interpreting them as someone looking back on their life and going ‘no, not yet; I need to regain my childhood innocence. What happened to me?’ I’m still not a huge fan of the chorus, but it really grows on you. It’s so catchy and seems almost reminiscent of 80s retro to me. Anette’s voice is soft and gentle, a good contrast with the heavier guitars. The beat will have you jumping in your chair, if you’re prone to such things. It’s not the strongest, but it’s definitely a good song in its own right.
  6. Scaretale - Okay. This song actually kind of creeped me out the first time I heard it. Chanting children, dark strings and almost dissonant orchestra lead this song off, tapering into a gentle, quiet moment of respite. Then everything starts to build slowly, starting with more strings. The choir makes its presence known, then finally the guitar and drums appear. The first two and a half minutes of this song are what many would classify as “classic Nightwish.” Anette finally enters the scene and she is creepy. It’s utterly amazing. She twists her voice, sounding both like a little kid at some points and a twisted woman at others. Marco jumps in a little over half-way through the song, playing the part of a demented ringleader for a circus. It’s so unique. This is, in my opinion, the most original song on the CD, and I absolutely love how weird it is.
  7. Arabesque – The first of two (yes, two) instrumentals. Within the context of the movie, I imagine it’ll make a bit more “sense,” so to speak, but it certainly lives up to its name. It feels very Middle Eastern to me, with steady drums and horns warbling at the right moment. The choir in here is particularly well-placed. I can imagine riding through a quiet desert night on a flying carpet, or dodging others in a crowded ancient marketplace to this song. It builds with intensity very nicely, and it’s great background music.
  8. Turn Loose The Mermaids – One of the closest you’ll get to a “ballad” in this album. Anette’s voice and the gentle, simple piano is more center stage for the first 3/4 of the song, then it quickly crescendos into a beautiful earful of harmonies (still all Anette) and finishes with some wonderfully Celtic strings. I admit, the first time I heard this song I didn’t like it but after a few plays, it really began to grow on me. In a CD full of such rich and grand songs, this is a very nice and perfectly placed palate cleanser. It’s simple and uncomplicated.
  9. Rest Calm – This song has my favorite lyric. The moment I heard it, I was utterly captivated: “You are the moon pulling my black waters.” It starts off strong, and stays rather heavy the entire way through. Marco and Anette offer more of that amazing blending they do so well; both have their ‘metal voices,’ as I like to call it. The chorus immediately calms down for a near-chant, before letting the guitars and orchestra take center stage again. The song pulls back and forth, much like the moon in the previously quoted line pulling the music from “opulent metal” to “soft chanting.” There’s a lovely guitar solo in here, too. A very dynamic song.
  10. The Crow, The Owl And The Dove – Marco wrote this song! It’s…surprisingly soft. Very commercial. Despite this, it actually fits very well. The lyrics are an interesting take on not wanting anything other than to feel innocent and know the truth again. It’s very metaphorical, and I think this song in general probably has the strongest musical lyrics. The musical portion is, as I said, very commercial. I definitely wouldn’t call it “poppy,” but it’s probably one of their poppier songs. I would also almost call this a duet, given how they trade lines and sing together softly. The acoustic guitar and deep drums really bring this song to the next level. Some songs give me certain feelings, and this is one of them. It feels like a dream. A comfortable, slow dream.
  11. Last Ride Of The Day – After the sweet melody of the last song, they come back with something closer to what I’ll again refer to as “classic Nightwish:” heavy guitar/drums, dramatic chorus, and belting vocals from their singer. I love, love, love Anette’s voice here. She does the soft verses very well, and as soon as the bombastic (yes, bombastic) chorus builds back up, she belts with the best of them. This is a fast, fun song. I think this would be a fantastic next single.
  12. Song of Myself – Tuomas always writes a very long symphonic metal piece for each album, and this one most certainly doesn’t disappoint. We clock in at just over 13 & 1/2 minutes, and it is the most unique one he’s written to date. I personally feel that no lengthy symphonic metal piece will ever top “Ghost Love Score,” but I also have a deep emotional connection with that song. That said, this one is different. The others had highs and lows, soaring orchestral moments playing with the choir and guitars. The first half of this song has that. About halfway the song, everything shifts gears. The music slowly ebbs away, choir chanting and drums pulsing until there’s nothing but the piano is left. This transition is exceptionally strong, in my opinion. The last half of the song is a spoken poem, written by Tuomas in the style of (and I think in homage to) Walt Whitman’s poem with the same title. I wasn’t expecting this, and it really caught me off guard. The choir and guitar occasionally let a small chord or two float to the surface, but the poem is the main focus. It’s very…sad. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up a few times. There’s something raw, regretful about the words. It’s spoken by multiple people: an older man, a young man and woman, a child. Every time I listen to it, my heart feels heavy. It’s pleading with the listener to go back to their roots and forget the world around them: to just feel for no reason at all. It has the same emotional impact as GLS does on me, but in a different way. It feels less like a journey to an imaginary place, and more of a grounding in reality. It’s poignant.
  13. Imaginaerum – Instrumental number two! A very classic instrumental, too. This could easily be on the score to any movie…which works, because I imagine this will be in the Imaginaerum movie. Tuomas did not compose this one; he let Pip Williams (the main orchestral composer for their last two albums) translate the entire album into one sweeping outro. There’s really not much to say about this one, as it is essentially just a gentle combination of all the previous songs, at times gliding along the slow woodwinds and at others, rich strings send the song flying among the clouds. It’s a beautiful ending to this album.

Needless to say, I’m very happy with my purchase. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second instrumental CD in January, to see how the songs feel without some of the great vocals in the forefront. If you’re a fan of Dark Passion Play, you are going to be utterly blown away by the transformation. It’s clear as day that Tuomas has gotten more comfortable writing to highlight Anette’s vocal strengths, and that she and Marco are much more willing to blend their voices. Combined with the – in my opinion – much richer orchestral backing and heavy reliance on guitar/drums throughout most of the disc, this is easily going to be replayed to the point that my husband may break my speakers so I have to use my headphones.

To those who still feel that Nightwish “sold out” with the advent of Tarja leaving and Anette joining, I will say this: try it. Listen to it. Borrow it from a friend. Give it a shot! This isn’t the Nightwish you still cling to, but it’s certainly less metal/pop and more symphonic than their last offering. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you give it a chance.

Also, I hate rating things with numbers and scores, so I’ll rate it a “love” out of “love.”

/opinion off!

Noms: Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge!

I’m a big fan of the delicious dessert known as fudge. It’s rich, smooth, and has the uncanny ability to be both flaky and creamy…just like good pie crust! Thick, yet flaky, and utterly delicious. For years I yearned to learn how to make fudge, but watching the fudge-makers down the Shore (yes, I lived in Jersey for a while) and in candy shops frightened me a little. They had these huge vats; the fudge needed to be ribboned; it all looked pretty complicated, even to me. About a month ago I finally decided I had had enough. It was time for me to make fudge! After some digging around, I found a recipe that I tweaked to my liking and just went for it. As the old saying goes, nothing ventured is nothing gained.

This recipe is fantastic. It takes ten minutes or so before you toss it into the fridge overnight. That’s IT. I was wary the first time I tried it, but good lord it was fantastic. It was flaky when I cut it, held its shape when it was in pieces, and definitely melted into your mouth. It’s also extremely peanut buttery, something I am a huge (huge) fan of. I’m the kind of person who prefers some chocolate with my peanut butter, provided both are of a good quality! For this recipe, everything I personally use is either all natural or organic. The hubby found some great organic sugar and I refuse to eat anything but natural peanut butter. I also doubled it from the original one I found and changed the ratio of peanut butter. So here is what I consider the easiest legit fudge recipe! (None of that ‘microwave everything and stir for a while’ crap.) Click on ze links for a few demonstrative pictures.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (the good stuff)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 8 teaspoons (about 2 ⅔ tablespoons) butter
  • 1 cup (or more) smooth peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
  • LARGE saucepan – needs to be big, because when it boils it’ll really puff up.
  • 9×9 square baking dish, lined with buttered parchment paper

Directions:

  • In large saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa, milk, butter and salt.
  • Over medium-high heat, and constantly stirring, cook until at a rolling boil. I prefer a wooden spoon for the whole process…less likely to take away heat.
  • Once boiling, cook for one minute – constantly stirring. You don’t want the sugar to stick to the bottom of the pot.
  • After one minute, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. The mixture will sizzle and maybe even pop at you, but that’s to be expected. Just be careful!
  • Stir in peanut butter and beat with a wooden spoon until completely combined. It’ll thicken up and darken as it cools a little. Depending on the consistency of your peanut butter, it can take a few minutes for it to be completely mixed in.
  • Pour into the lined, buttered baking dish and cover with plastic wrap. Chill at least overnight.
  • Cut into pieces, and enjoy!
Delicious Fudge

Click for full size!

Can, or should, voice actors/actresses be a selling point?

This is a response to an interview/article, which can be read here! Nothing but respect to the person who wrote it, but I disagree vehemently.

Why do I disagree so strongly? Let’s go on a journey together. The tale of a gamer who learned she was very, very wrong in regard to voice acting in video games.

To start, let me say that I am a hardcore roleplayer. The obvious conclusion you can draw there is that I’m also an RPG fan. BioWare in particular has been a favorite developer of mine for years, starting with Neverwinter Nights. That said, for years I was against the idea of a voiced player character. I felt like Knights of the Old Republic got it right: you could imagine whatever voice you wanted and that really helped you shape your character. When BioWare announced Mass Effect and touted their voiced player character, but with choices, my mind was blown…and not in the good way. I was terrified. How dare they take my character away from me and give them a voice I may not like? Voices in games like Final Fantasy, where you don’t have a choice in the overall story is fine, but to take a character whose story is supposed to be mine? I was quite displeased.

I stuck with KOTOR and linear games with little choice or little character voicing (Final Fantasy, Morrowind/Oblivion). I wasn’t really into sci fi video games, anyway. So whatever! Dragon Age: Origins came out, with a non-voiced PC. I was ecstatic and preordered it immediately. Picked it up, played the ever-living crap out of it. I was super pumped for the next installment – until I discovered they were adding voice to my character. I proceeded to walk around, proclaiming it would be “Dragon Age Effect” and how I was so very disappointed that they were adding in one of the main reasons I never touched Mass Effect.

In the end, my love for the Dragon Age universe and faith in BioWare’s fantasy writing won out. When the demo was released, I promised to give the game one “final shot” to convince me to buy it. The combat looked too “console-y” and they were voicing things; I was more than a little skeptical. The opening cut scenes popped off my screen; the combat was actually better animated; I actually liked the voice acting of my character. I preordered it that night.

I have played Dragon Age 2 more than Dragon Age: Origins at this point. I feel a far deeper connection with Hawke than I do with the Warden. The world became more alive when I was able to actually see my character talk and react with more than just a line of text. It was an eye-opener for me. Shortly after my second or third play through, BioWare announced their sequel celebration: everyone who bought a copy of Dragon Age 2 would get a free copy of Mass Effect 2! Even then, I figured I wouldn’t want to play it…but it was a free game. Who turns down a free game?

My spring was full of a lot of free time. I got bored one day and decided: hell, I’m going to play Mass Effect 2. Even if I don’t enjoy it, I’ll manage to sink a day or two with some good old fashioned explosions. Win-win in the “won’t be quite as bored” category. Didn’t bother playing the first one, since I knew the gist of it: bad guys were trying to destroy the galaxy and I stopped them with big explosions in space. I already knew the big opening scene “surprise” that awaited me, so I wasn’t really expecting to be drawn into it much. (Spoiler: the Normandy blows up and Shepard dies.) Within an hour, I was hooked. I had an epiphany, much like the one during the DA2 demo: I actually liked my character’s voice. It was drawing me into the universe and game in a way I never thought possible. Her reactions to things pulled reactions from me. When she yelled at someone, I was pumping my fist behind the keyboard.

I beat Mass Effect 2 in short order, and immediately – immediately – bought/downloaded Mass Effect. I had to see what came before this. The Asari who talked to my Shepard on Illium, the Rachni Queen; who was that? What decision was made? I personally didn’t find any of the romance options intriguing enough to go for, so I decided to “stay loyal” to Kaidan. I didn’t really know who he was, but I figured if there was an option to stay loyal…well, there was probably a good reason for that. I had to know who he was. I felt a need to see what brought about these “plot flags.” I played Mass Effect nearly without stopping. I was pretty much full-blown addicted (seriously: see my tweet chronicling my attempt to actually play it without stopping). After I beat ME1, I loaded up ME2 and imported that Shepard. My Shepard: paragade with a protect-my-crew-at-all-costs violent streak. Savior of the Council, appointer of Anderson, seducer of biotic lieutenants. I had already seen ME2′s opening. I was expecting nothing different this time around; I was so very wrong.

I cried. I already knew what was coming, the entire overall plot of the game I was about to play, and I cried when my Kaelia Shepard got spaced. There was a connection to this character, this Commander of the Alliance, that I had never had before in a video game. Sure, I loved my Warden, my Exile, my Revan; but none of them had grabbed my attention like Commander Shepard.

Why have I just spilled my gamer guts in the name of showing how I came to realize that hating voiced player characters was very wrong? Because it shows how deeply I disagree with the article linked at the top of this post. Voice actors more than just enhance a game. In games that are fully voiced, the actors who bring these roles to life are the game. To say that voice actors can’t or shouldn’t be given the same treatment as traditional actors is, frankly, ludicrous to my mind. If I ever meet Jennifer Hale at a convention, I’m going to have my female Commander Shepard shirt in hand and I’m going to squeak like a fan girl as I ask her to sign it for me. I’ll ask for a picture together. I’ve specifically looked up other games in which she’s voiced characters so I could hear more of her work. I am far from the only person to do so, either. Her immense talent and drive to bring Commander Shepard to life ignited a truly fierce love for the female version of that character. It’s such an intense attachment that the final installment of the franchise is getting a “femShep” trailer and showcasing her on the box. Voice acting clearly is a driving force in games.

This video on the official EA YouTube channel showcases perfectly how important voice actors are to some games. You could easily switch out the in-game scenes for clips from a movie or TV show, and the in-studio shots for behind the scenes footage – you’d think it was just a movie/TV trailer that highlights the actors. That’s a rather common thing in the film industry these days: trying to tout names and introduce new faces to the audience in advance. Why would voice actors deserve any less recognition or “star power” than their cohorts on screen? They have just as much talent and clearly love what they do. Video games are an integral part of my life and to me, the actors who take these characters and breathe life into them are possibly the most important element in a game. They make you laugh, cry, and get angry for them. Good writing can make a game amazing (NWN, KOTOR, and DA:O certainly proved that); but superb voice acting can take that writing and elevate it to a new art form. Truly interactive art.

So I disagree. Excellent voice actors can, and should, be stars.

(Usual disclaimer: all the above are my own opinions and no one else’s!)

Guy Love [Mass Effect Style]

Slightly altered lyrics to the lovely song from Scrubs, found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lL4L4Uv5rf0.

[Shepard]
Let’s face the facts about me and you: a love unspecified.
Though I’m proud to call you “Chocolate Gar,” the crowd will always talk and stare.

[Garrus]
I feel exactly those feelings, too… and that’s why I keep them inside.
‘Cause this “Gar” can’t bear the world’s disdain, and sometimes it’s easier to hide than explain our…

[Shepard and Garrus]
Guy love, that’s all it is.
Guy love, he’s mine, I’m his!
There’s nothing gay about it in our eyes.

[Garrus]
You ask me ’bout this thing we share,

[Shepard]
And he tenderly replies,

[Garrus]
It’s guy love

[Shepard and Garrus]
Between two guys.

[Garrus]
We’re closer than the average man and wife,

[Shepard]
That’s why our matching armor says Gar and Sheploo

[Garrus]
You know I’ll stick by you, for the rest of my life.

[Shepard]
You’re the only man who’s ever ripped my armor off!

[Garrus]
–Whoa, I just patched up a bullet hole.

[Shepard]
There’s no need to clarify,

[Garrus]
–Oh no?

[Shepard]
Just let it grow more and more each day.
It’s like I married my best friend,

[Garrus]
But in a *totally* manly way.

[Shepard and Garrus]
Let’s go!
It’s guy love, don’t compromise!
The feeeling of some other guy, holding up your heart into the sky…

[Shepard]
I’ll be there to care through all the lows.

[Garrus]
I’ll be there to share the highs.

[Shepard and Garrus]
It’s guy love,
Between two guys.

[Shepard]
And when I say, “I love you, Garrus,”
It’s not what it implies.

[Shepard and Garrus]
It’s guy love: between two guys

Bromance at its finest.