Favorite Song: The Replacements – Answering Machine

A beautiful thing about the Replacements was, that they went through different styles of punk music but with a spirit that fit their legacy: trying things out and trying to have fun and trying to avoid rules, even those hiding in the anarchist punk movement. Playing pop and glam cover songs during a show full of hardcore punks to piss them off is a beautiful thing because it shows that dogmatic rules on what is and isn’t punk were counter to what the scene actually wanted to be.

The Replacement’s “Answering Machine” is the perfect example how melodious punk really was (and still is). And how much emotion it could convey. It’s teenage angst perfectly distilled in 3 1/2 minutes. Admitted, The Replacements where in their 20s when they released “Let it be” in 1984 (and their harder punk style had been softened a lot) but a song about how difficult it is to put raw emotion into a letter or – worse even – on the silly little tape of an answering machine is basically every 80s and 90s teens woes.

I also want to mention “Androgynous” which is a beautiful love song about two people who love each other.

It’s a little bit sad reading lines like “kewpie dolls and urine stalls will be laughed at the way you’re laughed at now”, when nearly 40 years later, today’s trans rights are being threatened with – of all the things – a weird disturbed horror scenario where trans women roam bathrooms to attack cis women. But maybe that’s just the weird, off-putting hurdle we have to get away with (soon, please)? Eh, I could live without those hurdles, honestly.

As to not end on such a super bummer note, here’s an adorable cover of the song by my problematic face Miley Cyrus, punk icon Joan Jett and punk icon Laura Jane Grace. What a holy trinity of not giving a fuck right there!

Favorite Song: Willy Mason ‘Outwit the Devil’ – I can’t, I am not smart enough!

In my fantasy, this song is the older, nerdier brother of Laura Mvula’s catchy “Church Girl“-song (which has the line “how can you dance, with the devil on your back”) and given that Willy Mason even dances in the devastatingly charming music video makes me believe that these two songs are soulmates, destined to be tied together as the two songs that will guide you through the Summer of 2021.

The song is beautiful, even without its little sister. It’s the kind of cute, slightly sinister ballad about evading the devil that will come for you because in a moment of weakness you made a deal and now you have to get out of it, clear your soul, make things better. Although, to be quite honest, it is unclear via the video, whether it actually was supposed to be “outdance the devil.”

It’s coincidentally also a great song for the game “Mundaun” which is about a sinister contract with a devilish creature that you as the player have to undo. And no, I have no idea why so many things in my pop cultural life are currently revolving around the devil, it’s surely a coincidence and has nothing to do with the pact I made with that strange looking fellow on that crossroads in March …

Anyways, Mason will release a new album soon (just like Laura Mvula), so get on it!

Lets Play Mundaun: A Swiss horror folk tale that is everything I ever wanted

Michel Ziegler’s and Hidden Field’s gorgeous game “Mundaun” has been my biggest surprise of the year when it comes to horror games, so far. Set in the isolated municipality of Mundaun, somewhere after the first world war, we play as the lovely and kind Curdin who comes back to Mundaun after his grandfather died in a barn fire. Well, guess what, this is a horror game, so the fire was no accident and there is a big old curse on grandpa but also the entirety of Mundaun. Since Curdin is just a super nice bloke, it’s up to us to find out what happened and lift the curse.

Play the Game yourself and get it on Steam or for your Playstation. FYI: I played it on the PC and it played smoothly and without any glitches or hiccups.

Mundaun is entirely hand-drawn and looks gorgeous. If you go on the Steam page of the game, you’ll find some amazing videos of how Michel Ziegler did his research and how he adapted actual houses, art and a gorgeous church to the screen. Admitted, it took me a while to get used to the slightly crude drawing style and the sepia tones but they fit the game’s atmosphere which is always a little bit oppressive, like it’s not just the mountains looming over you. And they offer some moments of true beauty (and horror).

The gameplay is diverse, easy to adapt and a lot of fun. You have different ways to interact with the world, you can fight with different weapons (don’t worry, this is no shooter, so it’s just a few to chose your own fighting style) and you can even cook coffee which usually offers a great moment of zen.

Mundaun is an open world environment that is not too overwhelming but invites you to explore, level up (yes, that’s an option and it’s fun!) and solve puzzles, fight folklore monsters and take the story further.

Swiss folklore makes for a unique story

The story itself should be especially unique for non-European players since it is deeply embedded in Swiss fairy tales and folklore where devils can take on any form, animals might talk and humor is always part of a deal with the devil. The storytelling is stellar in Mundaun with every single detail adding to either the world or explain more about the story. Everything you find, hear and read has its place and makes it all the more enjoyable putting together all the pieces to solve the mystery. I would also wager that this makes a replay quite worthy since it will be interesting to see how the game’s storytelling puts everything into place when you know where it’s headed.

Opposed to many other indie horror games, you actually get to meet people and interact with them and be happy: not everyone dies a horrible death immediately after they met you (looking at you, Amnesia, Outlast and Resident Evil). The people of Mundaun are eccentric but not annoyingly so and provide plenty of charm and humor to the game.  

Well-earned scares and plenty of beautiful enemies

Oh, but I was also mentioning monsters, wasn’t I? At the beginning I wasn’t sure whether the monster design really worked for me but since we don’t just get one enemy design slightly differing in size (something that horror games really like to do), we get a whole diverse range of weirdos who want to harm us in different ways. Each and everyone moves and acts differently which is a genius way to make sure that there’s a scary monster for everyone. Personally, the beekeepers took 20 years of my life but chose your own nightmare fuel.

Speaking of scary stuff: Mundaun is not just diverse when it comes to gameplay options and enemies but also when it comes to its atmosphere and scares. From sound effects, to a (gorgeous) soundtrack to creepy cutscenes, shadowplays up to horrifying imagery – Mundaun managed to scare me over and over again because it knew how to divert expectations, surprise me at the right time and create tension. It’s exemplary on that account because it is just as scary when you try to evade creepy hay monsters as when you follow shadows and sounds in the tight corridors of a bunker.

Last but not least, let me tell you why I don’t just like but love Mundaun: it has heart.

It makes a difference and it is noticeable when the writers/developers of a game really care for each and every character, when the protagonist doesn’t just act out of fear or purpose but out of kindness and when the humor is not sarcastically mean-spirited but offers actual release from the oppressing atmosphere of a cursed mountain village with charm and wit.

I loved Mundaun to bits and I can’t wait to revisit it at some point to discover new details and try out different ways to play the game.

If you want to see me bumbling, laughing and shivering through Mundaun, here’s the start of my Lets Play.

Pop goes: Laura Mvula ‘Church Girl’ could be your Summer jam

I LOVE LOVE LOVE a musical evolution. I only recently mused how impactful Laura Mvula’s “Make me lovely” was for me and here she is with the amazing single “Church Girl” with the absolutely genius line “how can you dance with the devil on your back”.

Also, that suite is one big David Byrne-moment and I love it

Ok, so can we talk about this song? That Prince meets Janet Jackson dance glitter bomb? It’s basically a song about shedding self doubts and limitations and free yourself. According to Mvula, she wrote it after she started to realize that her self image was too tied up with the things that happened to her and the things she did. It’s actually quite transcendal how she talks about it (read it here).

“Church Girl” is the second single after the equally fantastic “Safe Passage” and leads the way to the album release for “Pink Noise” which will come out July 2nd.

I secretly hope that those jackets will become bigger and bigger with every single.

Nation of Language: Synthful pop for melancholic hours on the dancefloor

Listening to Nation of Language’s album “Introduction, Presence” and then hearing that they are from Brooklyn is like eating something amazing and hearing that it’s fried: of course it is, of course they are. The debut album of the band (which was formed in 2016) is a lovely ode to 80s dreamy synth pop, the kind for the 80s kids with impeccably starched shirts, sharp eye-liner and a cloud of sexy melancholy surrounding them at all times. The kind that dances like they’re caught inbetween time and space and the kind that you imagine only drinks wine from intricate silver cups.

I also love that of course the bass player Michael Sue-Poi is the only one who smiles in the video because bass players are the only ones who are allowed to break the melancholic 80s vampire character of any wave band on stage and in music videos, that’s like, the law.

Honestly, I am kind of obsessed with this, the lyrics that are full of rain and broken hearts, those sad gazes over to someone who left you or never even stayed to begin with. Those clean synths (Aidan Noell hitting the keys like early Depeche Mode), those incredibly warm vocals (Ian Richard Devaney who also nails the charismatic lead singer dancing) and those luring beats.

I am not quite sure the album works as a complete album because it gets a teeny bit repetitive towards the end but this might dissolve once you listen to it a few times more until you find those gorgeous details in each and every song that sometimes take their time to emerge.

However, each song is an amazing single, the melodies and incredibly catchy choruses are a sight to behold. I am quite sure you can dance through the whole album without missing a beat. Nation of Language are absolutely mesmerizing if you love 80s synth and guess what* – I do.

*chicken butt

(Dream) Pop goes: girl in red is an amazing fountain of indie bops

Ok, so now that my headline told everyone that I am an old person, I can swoon openly for Marie Ulven aka girl in red who writes and produces gorgeous pop songs that are dark, catchy and just the right kind of music to enjoy on the dancefloor but also on on your own on lonely walks, long nights or while you’re baking something because it’s the pandemic and everyone bakes and it’s much more fun with music in the background.

Hopefully, I don’t sound condescending when I say that girl in red makes music I wish I had when I was a teenager. I love the pure joy of mixing incredibly boppy tunes and lyrics that cover teen (well, to be honest also kinda universal) anxieties, hopes and dreams. When I listen to songs like “bad idea” or “i’ll die anyway”I am back on my bed, furiously writing in my diary and cutting out band pictures from magazines to put on my wall.

She’s amazing, tell me you can watch this video without being absolutely charmed when she discovers the spider’s web.

The sheer variety of girl in red‘s songs (without losing what makes her unique) also makes you giddy of what’s to come. And as much as I love the dark & sad songwriting school of young indie pop artists, I truly adore that girl in red has this whole optimistic, airy vibe that puts a spring in your step.   

You know those people who at some point say music is not what it used to be? Well, thank god for that because music nowadays is amazing and I feel like there’s a lot more freedom to explore different genres, themes and directions to express yourself and that’s truly beautiful. Just like girl in red‘s music.

Favourite Songs: Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’ ‘My Blue Suit’

I adore love songs that can be about more than romantic relationships. The absolutely gorgeous, sad, moving, timeless “My Blue Suit” is the kind of song that might be about someone giving their all to their partner as well as about a parent seeing so much potential in their kid and loving them because they still can be and do everything and everything is ahead of them, a future full of wonders and big emotions and whirlwinds. Especially when it comes to surrendering everything, this does remind of many parents who give up so much to let their kids have a better life.

You know, I read so many stories about people coming to America and working double shifts and safe every penny, so their kids could go to college. There is a bittersweet episode in “Master of None” (yeah, I know but it is a good episode) about parents and their “ungrateful” kids who got all the chances and then turned out to be Comedians and get arts degrees. It’s funny but also moving because often, you only realize later how hard it was for your parents (but also: if you had abusive parents – fuck them).

Anyways, this song makes me feel all the feelings. It’s the kind of song that will hit you like a brick with all the emotions, memories and whatever you read into the lyrics. Also: I would love to have a well fitting blue suit.

Songs from the Inbox: Nuns of the Tundra – Heavy stuff, mates

In Germany, we have the wonderful description of music that throws a punch: “was’n brett” (what a plank – yeah, it translates poorly). Nuns of the Tundra throw punches, planks and riffs right at you. Nuns of Tundra are from Bristol and describe their philosophy as “loosen hips and blow off faces” – how rude.

The band consists of Tom (bass), Daniel (guitar), Finn (drums) and Troy (vocals and guitar). Their older tunes are heavy stoner rock probably inspired just a tiny bit both by Masters of Reality and the Desert Sessions. In fact, “Signs of Blood” is a fantastic little song that sounds like Josh Homme tried to write a Sparks-song – and it works. I am kind of obsessed with it.

From the three songs of the upcoming album “The World’s Gone Crazy and So Have I” the band let me pre-listen, I particularly enjoyed “Gods and Wine” even though I am an atheist and don’t drink alcohol, so the song has to be good, right? It’s leaning a lot more towards metal and dips less into the sandy desert but it works, especially when they lean into the “heavy” part of metal. I love myself a good wall of noise to drown out the news, am I right.

Their new album will be released on March 19th and since no one can go on concerts currently, I recommend buying the album instead to support them.

(C’est la vie? More like c’est la heavy – *drum roll)

Review and Lets Play: The Last Campfire is a soothing game for the lonely

At first glance, The Last Campfire looks and feels like many other cute, well-designed puzzle games that aim at both kids and adults alike. You play as Ember, a lone and seemingly lost creature trying to find their way through a mysterious world and help other Embers on their way. However, after a while, you notice how the themes of loneliness, sadness and being stuck without being able to help oneself emerge from every single, lovingly designed corner of the game. But more than that, Ember emerges as a being of incredible tenderness and empathy, helping where they can and being guided by the soothing voice of Charlotte McBurney who most people might know from the amazing but not-at-all-suitable-for-kids game “A Plague Tale”.

The developers Hello Games tried to combine inspiration from 80s kid’s shows and movies that – despite being aimed at kids – had some darker aspects to them. In an Interview with Eurogamer, Sean Murray says “We always talk about films that we’ve grown up with like ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Dark Crystal’, and we were saying pretty much every British kids TV show in the 80s had some weird edge to it.”

Now, The Last Campfire is a lot less dark than any of those movies, so parents can relax. There are darker themes and some morbidly cute skeletons but overall the game is both visually and thematically like a soft version of the referenced material. However, when it comes to the story and the underlying themes, it really hit a nerve with me. Maybe it was/is the pandemic but it felt nearly cathartic to help stranded and stuck Embers and release them. Even more than that, it moved me incredibly whenever a newly released Ember would state that they would join us later because they needed more time.

Some even outright refuse to get help. I imagine that this is a wonderful lesson for kids (and for adults). You can offer your help but you don’t have to force it on people. Some people need time or need to find other ways to get out of whatever troubles them. At a time, when pretty much everyone suffers from some sort of emotional and mental fatique, depression, burn-out and whatnot, this is a lovely message to give. And the game feels strangely comforting because you know, all those Embers will eventually find their way.   

I absolutely loved the game and I am not too proud to admit that it made me cry towards the end. Oh, and the puzzle are great as well. Did I mention that this is a puzzle game?

Favorite Song: The Staves ‘Good Woman’ – inhale, exhale, feel the warmth

Ooooooh, that low hum, that sweet low hum and then a song that has a bit of Fleetwood Mac and then a little more and then the production throws in a bit of background conversations because this is somewhat escapism, a warm Summer day, you’re going out of your house, there’s people (everyone is vaccinated) and you look great and you feel good and you strut your stuff.

The lyrics hint at my favorite sort of break-up song which is the one that’s beyond the tears and the sobs and has worked its way straight through the realization that you will get through this because you haven’t lost a thing, you’re still good and your heart is strong and you are magic, baby.

The Staves are from England (miss you, England) and they are an indie folk trio of sisters and their current album (which is the 5th studio album) was just released under the name “Good Woman” and having heard a few songs from it, it’s a beautifully produced, very airy, light album that will carry you a while on dark days.