A Lonely Ghost Burning: Compilation Curation

I’ve posted on here before about my music website, A Lonely Ghost Burning. Initially an unsuccessful reviews outlet, I decided a few months back to drastically change the format, and I’m excited about how it is turning out. Pretty much paralysed with fear about how people will perceive it, but excited nonetheless.

Instead of reviewing the under-the-radar albums, EPs and demos that I think deserve extra exposure, I am now putting together free, downloadable compilations featuring tracks from these records. It’s not a revolutionary concept, but it does place the emphasis on the music itself which is exactly the way I believe it should be.

I’m two releases in, and have persuaded an array of hugely talented artists/bands to get involved. It is early days, and adequately promoting the project is a task I am still getting to grips with, but I believe there is scope for success. The feedback received thus far suggests so too, although it only mildly helps to quell the terror of people arriving on the website. Not that I have anything but complete belief in those featured, you understand, but purely because I’m concerned about how people will react to my own role in the project. I’m sure many will be familiar with the following sequence of events;

“I’ve done well here. I want people to see this.”

“Oh shit! Oh shit! People are seeing this!”

Cue mild hyperventilation.

My own insecurities aside, if, like me you have a thing for distinctive vocals, the second collection, released earlier this week, may just be for you. Titled ‘Beautiful Songwriting’, it features music from Isobel Anderson / Gar Clemens / Hollie April / Natalie Evans / Race To The Sea / New Born / Hana Zara / David Ronnegard / Down Like Silver / Aphir / Vienna Ditto.

ALGB 002 (Cover)

The compilation is available for download, free of charge via the website – http://alonelyghostburning.co.uk/algb-002/

The first release was an alt/punk collection featuring music from The Radio Reds / Save Ends / White City / The Uprising / Ghost Thrower / The Hard Aches / Colour Me Wednesday / Tiger Bell / Sweatshop Boys / Zero The Hero / Rivals / Little Big League / Mixtape Saints / The Hallingtons / Summerhill.

Cover Art

This is also available for download, free of charge via the website – http://alonelyghostburning.co.uk/algb001/

If either of these sound like your cup of tea, please do take a look and have a listen – it would be great to hear what you think!

Creative Writing: Vocal Affects

I am currently in the process of restoring life to A Lonely Ghost Burning (a music website I’ve been running, then ignoring for about a year now), but before the project got rolling, I had initially intended for it to be focussed solely on interesting vocalists, as it is they who really get me excited about music. This is a poem I wrote at the time to try and somewhat abstractly explain what the site was going to be about. I never really used it for anything in the end, but having just stumbled across it again, I thought I’d post on here.

That song,
It’s special.
There may not be a perfect explanation as to why,
But it moves you.
The voice.
THAT voice.
Waves of natural talent,
They must emanate from the soul.

One line in particular,
You wait for it with bated breath.
The words.
THOSE words.
They break your heart.
They fill you with hope.
They make you believe.

The combination.
THAT voice.
THOSE words.
They cry to be heard.
Again,
And again,
And again.

Here’s as perfect an example as one could wish for…

Video Game Thoughts: Sepulchre (2013)

by Jamie Downes

Developer – Owl Cave

Genre – Point-and-Click (Horror / Thriller)

Released – 2013

Price – Free!

Before diving head-first into this write-up, and without intending to falsely claim any amplitude of influence on the matter, I just wanted to articulate a quick appeal to any potential readers who may look upon non-casual video games as an activity for an alien community that they are automatically outcast from. That is to say, if your usual method of story consumption is via books, film or TV drama, please do not be afraid to give the humble point-and-click adventure game a chance – when done this well, it is simply another way of presenting a story, one that is close enough to the other mediums to be familiar, but distinct enough to warrant your attention in its own right. The context in which I proceed to discuss Sepulchre may admittedly elude you, so here is the link to freely and legally download the game. It will take 30-60 minutes to complete, and saves automatically upon your exiting the game, should you wish to take a break.

Onwards…

It’s a wonderful thing when an activity you have long enjoyed, but more recently begun to question, is once again demonstrated to still possess the qualities that endeared it to you in the first place. Written and directed by Ashton Raze (Richard & Alice) with art provided by the preposterously prolific Ben Chandler (more good-looking games than you could shake an exceedingly large, but surprisingly lightweight tree at), Sepulchre is a traditional point-and-click adventure game that, most crucially, is developed by a team with unequivocal confidence in their vision. To go into details about the story is to unnecessarily give too much away – indeed, it is a game best enjoyed with minimal prior knowledge of what is to come – but suffice to say it is a Lovecraftian tale where the creepy, mysterious atmosphere is not just built, but maintained. The competence of the writing, attention to detail in the dialogue, calibre of voice-acting and superb efficacy of the soundtrack (courtesy of Jack de Quidt) are all major contributing factors, as is the avoidance of common mistakes found in many a supposedly serious game, namely, ridiculous inventory puzzles, forced, inapposite humour and breaking of the fourth-wall. In a genre that has too often relied on goofiness to get by, the developers deserve a great deal of admiration for being so clearly and unusually unabashed about taking their works seriously.

My, what the guys and girls at Daedalic could learn from such a cognisant creation as this. I name Daedalic specifically, not because I think them as the worst exponent of the genre – although ‘A New Beginning’ is certainly a near unvanquishable contender for the title of ‘Worst Commercial Adventure Game Ever Released’ – but because they have seemingly become the modern standard-bearer, and in some quarters, had their games lauded as amongst the greatest of all time. Evidently, I disagree strongly with anything even remotely approaching this level of praise, yet having been so apathetic towards many of the well-received titles of recent years, particularly those developed by the aforementioned company, it does lead one to question the possible presence of either nostalgic obstinance, or at the very least a certain jaded disposition.

On the very basis that it is as immensely compelling and enjoyable as the great titles of yore, Sepulchre has made it that much easier to confidently refute both notions. Indeed, it suggests nostalgia to be more of a diaphanous eye-patch than the back-to-front double-layered woollen headscarf it is often claimed to be; that while the games from a previous decade are often looked upon more favourably when it comes to comparisons with modern efforts, it’s not because of a blind yearning for days past, but because the best of those classic titles were, and remain, for the most part, simply better. Owl Cave have delivered one of the magnificent exceptions that will hopefully help to instigate more of its kind.

If there is a caveat, it is perhaps that the gameplay is very much on the simple side, although an absence of intelligent puzzles is undoubtedly preferable to the inclusion of the obtuse, poorly integrated variety that artificially extend the playing time of other titles. On that note, the game will likely take those familiar with the genre no more than half-an-hour to complete, and those less familiar not much longer than that, but in spite of its modesty in this respect, Sepulchre still has the feel of a commercial effort, and is more memorable and diligent than contemporaries clocking in at many times its length, and many more times its development cost.

I wrote a somewhat similar piece to this a little over a year ago regarding another free independent effort, ‘Chance of The Dead’, a game which despite my genuine praise, was undoubtedly of the style that propelled adventure games to mainstream recognition in the early nineties. In contrast, Sepulchre is less a creation with fans of the genre in mind, more a game that simply uses many of the the strengths of the medium to create a satisfying experience for anyone who enjoys being immersed in a good story. It has reaffirmed my own dwindling belief that point-and-click adventures are still a relevant form of video game, and more importantly, of storytelling. Whether you are hoping to rediscover your passion for the point-and-click adventure, or keen to uncover the joys of the genre for the first time, playing Sepulchre is as good a suggestion as I can make.

Rating: 5 / 5

Sepulchre is available to download free of charge from the developer’s website.

Film Thoughts: Flight (2012)

by Jamie Downes

Director – Robert Zemeckis

Stars – Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly

Genre – Drama

Length – 138 min

If an airline pilot is under the influence of drink and drugs when his plane suffers a catastrophic technical failure of which he has no control, but uses his professional prowess to miraculously save the lives of over a hundred passengers, is he a hero?

Such is the question that Robert Zemeckis’s film about an alcoholic pilot could, and arguably should have pondered, no doubt instigating heated debate amongst audiences in the process. Instead, Flight is a more personal narrative, that while frequently gripping, is often too focused on driving home the destruction caused by an already established addiction, rather than intelligently exploring the impact of the incident itself.

Flight resides in a fittingly dark space for the most part, but at times, it’s as if those involved in developing the story relied too heavily on booze themselves, with the inclusion of John Goodman’s eccentric drug-dealer threatening to turn the film into something resembling a semi-serious British underground flick, the like of which generally star Vinnie Jones. An apparent attempt at comic relief, Goodman only serves to break immersion and soil the serious tone present in his – thankfully, commonplace – absence; supporting actress Kelly Reilly’s visit to her drug supplier on the set of an adult-movie early in proceedings, another bawdy and unfunny attempt at humour that not only doesn’t fit with the scenes around it, but also demonstrates a complete disregard for subtlety. It must be said that this ‘in-your-face’ attitude isn’t just confined to the jarring comedic endeavours either, with the film not averse to bludgeoning its message home rather than carefully timing its power-punches for the greatest impact.

Flight is saved from crashing and burning however, by the talents of its lead. The Man – Denzel Washington, if you prefer – carries the film with the kind of assured and believable performance one expects from him, his unlikeable alcoholic offering just enough heart to make the audience always cling to hope for eventual redemption, even if the thread they hold becomes dangerously taut at times. Reilly also deserves a mention. While this wasn’t her story, the actress’s fine portrayal of a vulnerable alcohol and heroin addict attempting to get clean in the face of temptation and provocation deserved greater respect than the script eventually gives; her casting aside from the story told, certainly too premature.

While far from perfect, if you can ignore the forced, unwelcome attempts at humour and heavy-handed direction, and forgive the missed opportunity to more assuredly split opinion on a fascinating moral dilemma, Flight is still a good film. The shame of it is, that it could have been a great one.

Rating: 3 / 5

More info on Flight

Fiction Thoughts: In Hero Years…I’m Dead (2010)

by Jamie Downes

others

Author – Michael A. Stackpole

Genre – Superheroes, Action, Noir

Length – 325 Pages (Kindle Edition)

In Capital City, the superhero-laden setting of Michael A. Stackpole’s In Hero Years…I’m Dead, the opportunity to oppose a villain in a pre-planned crime is auctioned off to super-powered residents whose subsequent success or failure drives a socially popular and financially lucrative ranking system; prestige, endorsements and a legion of fans awaiting those at the top. Yet while this concept is fascinating in itself and an excellent backdrop for a superhero story, the execution is such that the novel simply becomes ever more of a chore to read the longer it goes. The disappointment of a shamefully underdeveloped plot is exacerbated by the confusion caused by the often random introduction of far too many indistinguishable characters, and even more so by their being referred to in a wildly inconsistent manner; the protagonist alone switching between what at the very least seemed like half-a-dozen different names. This, combined with a prosaic writing style that is poorly edited, means there is little to recommend ‘In Hero Years…’ beyond the under-utilised basic concept, one which could undoubtedly have seeped intrigue at every turn had it been penned with greater plot-focus and page-to-page creativity.

Rating: 2 / 5

More info on In Hero Years…I’m Dead

Story From A Song Challenge: Day 3

Each weekday throughout May, I am selecting a song and attempting to write and post a short story inspired by either its atmosphere, emotion or lyrics. Go here for day one. Today is my first attempt at penning a fable. 

The Heron and The Fox
Inspired by: Laurence Made Me Cry – All That Patience Brings

 

A heron, large and magnificent, but newly parted from his mother’s side, landed in a lake in search of his first meal alone. After a while, he was approached by an egret who asked whether he’d had any fortune in his quest for food.

“Not yet,” replied the heron, “but surely it is only a matter of time before a number of tasty morsels find their way to my beak.”

“What right do you have to be so sure?” asked the egret.

“Dear friend, my mother is the greatest hunter to ever grace these lands. Her prowess is admired by all who know her, and she hasn’t once exited either river or lake without a full belly, even if it took her many hours of waiting to achieve success.”

“Then I need not wish you good luck, only good eating,” said the egret, before flying off for pastures new.

Unbeknown to the heron, a hungry fox had overhead this exchange, and was now monitoring the situation with great interest from behind a nearby tree. She knew that the bird was far too dangerous a prospect while it was strong, but were it to remain unfed as she suspected, her chances of a sizeable meal would increase significantly.

For two days, in-between her searches for other sustenance, she returned at regular intervals to check on the heron, who always stood statuesque in the same spot he had landed. As nightfall fell three days on from the heron’s landing, she seized her opportunity to tackle the bird and drag him from the water.

“I am a failure,” began the heron dejectedly, too weak to struggle as the fox pinned him to the ground. “An embarrassment to my mother. For three days I stood in that lake, and for three days I went hungry.”

“Of course you did,” said the fox with a prideful grin. “That’s no lake; you’ve been standing in flood-water!” And with that, she beckoned over her cubs for a welcome meal.

Patience is folly, without sufficient intelligence and endeavour.

My review of the album this song appears on can be found at the following link – http://alonelyghostburning.co.uk/2013/02/21/laurence-made-me-cry-the-diary-of-me/

Story From A Song Challenge: Day 2

Each weekday throughout May, I am selecting a song and attempting to write and post a short story inspired by either its atmosphere, emotion or lyrics. Go here for day one.

Where Are You, My Faith?
Inspired by: Cayetana – South Philly

_

Top down, cool air cascading against her face and a long, straight and most importantly, empty road extending all the way to the horizon. Just how Jessie liked it. She’d spent more Sunday afternoon’s blazing this trail than she could remember, pumping out tunes on the stereo or contemplating the nuances of life. Today was different, however. Today she had company, and while she would generally do whatever was necessary to stop others from intruding on her Sunday ‘me-time’, she’d had no moral choice in the matter on this occasion.

That morning she had returned home early from Sunday Service. She’d assured her parents when moving states that she would continue to go to church – felt that she owed them that much given her choice of career- but not reneging on that promise was becoming harder each week. The day’s service had been even more contrived than usual and she simply hadn’t the fortitude to see it through. Still, she’d only promised that she would attend, not that she’d stay until the bitter end. As it had turned out, her increasing disillusionment with God had come at just the right time. Her ahead of schedule return to the two-bedroom flat she shared had come as a surprise to both her flatmate, Beth,and to the girl’s boyfriend, Brian who was in the process of beating her to a bloody pulp. She’d suspected violence for months, but until now she’d never had any concrete proof. Beth always denied it, of course; too scared and too confused to seek help, no doubt. This particular hammering looked worse than anything she might have blamed on disagreements with gravity or covered with cheap make-up. The guy had made a run for it when he’d spotted Jessie, near tripping over his own feet to escape – clearly has some sense, she’d thought.

Having spent the next hour doing her best to tidy Beth up and trying in vain to get her to go to the police, she’d decided that she couldn’t leave the vulnerable girl alone with the threat of her ‘Love’ returning to finish the job he’d already made a decent fist of starting. Even if the Beth wouldn’t help herself, Jessie sure as hell wasn’t going to let her die at the hands of some wannabe body-builder jacked-up on steroids.

So, here she was, driving on a Sunday afternoon as she always did, but with an unwelcome intrusion on her thinking time. The morning’s events had left Jessie with burning questions regarding the faith she was becoming so confused by, and she felt that she needed her long, lonesome drive more than ever. “Are we answerable to God?” she asked aloud, “Or only to each other?” She waited patiently but there was no hint of a response from her passenger. For that she was thankful; perhaps the extra body in the car was not going to prevent from thinking through her problems after all. Was it fate that she’d grown restless with her faith; that she’d returned home early the one time it was imperative that she did so? And if that was the case, did it mean that their was a higher power, directing her towards her destiny? She pondered this undisturbed for the remainder of the journey, and by the time she pulled over, miles from anywhere of note, dusk settling in, she was feeling no less undecided.

After guzzling from a bottle of tepid water, she vaulted over the driver-side door before slowly walking around to the back of the car, knowing what awaited her would lead to the biggest decision of her life. “Time to go for a walk,” she said as she opened the trunk. Brian screamed as she grabbed hold of his ear and pulled him out onto the road. She hadn’t bothered to gag him, but his hands were tied together, as were his feet. If he’d been refreshingly quiet throughout the drive, he was making up for it now, shouting at the top of his lungs as she half carried, half dragged him across the deserted, dusty grasslands that extended away from the road as far as the eye could see. The chances of anyone hearing his anguish was remote, but Jessie still wished he’d shut-up; she had more thinking to do. Should she spare the man’s life? Or was this an opportunity to save sweet Beth from the monster’s vile clutches for good? Perhaps that was her God-given destiny.

When she felt they’d walked far enough, Jessie dropped her prisoner to the ground.
“What are you gonna do to me?” he snarled. “You ain’t got no weapon on you.”
It was true, she wasn’t carrying a gun. Or a knife. But four-years of mixed-martial-arts training was enough for one to know how to finish someone off. Kicks, strikes, holds – there were a multitude of ways she could kill the now defenceless man in front of her without the need for man-made implements. I just need to use the tools that God gave me, she thought. An innocuous enough phrase for most, but for Jessie it proved to be a trigger; the sign she’d so hoped to receive.
“I think you will soon believe me when I tell you that I do not need a weapon to end your life,” she replied calmly, before planting the laces of her boot onto the side of his head with as much force as she could muster. He hit the ground, but she picked him up and repeated the same deadly move. After five of them, he was just about unconscious, after maybe ten, fifteen, twenty, he was as good as dead. She dropped to her knees, pulled him up for the final time and locked her arm around his neck to remove any final scraps of life that may have been clinging to his limp, pathetic body. As she stood up, brushed herself down and began walking back to her car, she realised that her faith had never been stronger.

My short review of the demo this song appears on can be found at the following link – http://alonelyghostburning.co.uk/2013/01/08/cayetana-demo/