Music Monday: SongPop Review

Title: SongPop
Format: iOS
Developer: Fresh Planet

Think you know music? Put it to the test in the song trivia game SongPop. Players go head to head identifying the titles or artists from song clips. The more you play, the more songs you unlock—everything from standard genres of rock, pop, and rap to more specialized lists such as Ultimate 90s, industrial, and TV themes.

My Thoughts:
I’ve been playing this game for over two months and I’m completely addicted. A round only takes a couple minutes, perfect for sneaking in between activities, while waiting for something, or during TV commercials.
With most challenge games I’ve played, my friends or I get bored with them. SongPop, however, gives plenty to keep you playing. First, mastery of playlists takes quite a long time. Each time you earn a star, more songs are unlocked. Second, even if you lose, you earn a coin—winners get three. With those coins, you are able to purchase new genre playlists. Third, you can start matches with random players. So if your friends ditch out, you can still play.

I love that the playlist options aren’t only super mainstream options. I listen to a wide variety of music. When it’s only radio songs, I get bored. SongPop has lists for specific decades going all the way back to the 1950s, electronic and dance music, new wave, industrial, and tons more. Every so often there are free promotion playlists. For example, there was a free Pitch Perfect playlist when the film was released to theaters.

While I love the game, there have been a few annoyances. Sometimes the load times are long, and occasionally it will almost freeze on a load screen. Usually, I turn the screen off and come back a few minutes later. That works 90% of those situations. In the early days of my SongPop exploits, the music would infrequently not play while the challenge was in progress. Clearly, that makes it impossible. However, that hasn’t happened in ages—I assume one of the updates. Lastly, it will sometimes take two or three presses for the game to realize I’m hitting the button. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it can be the difference between winning and losing.

Despite the flaws, I am so addicted. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s free on the App Store. Do it. See if you get addicted too.

Find SongPop online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | App Store | Google Play

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect

Title:  Pitch Perfect
Rated:  PG-13
Genre:  Comedy, musical
Director:  Jason Moore
Writers:  Kay Cannon (screenplay), Mickey Rapkin (book)
Stars:  Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Ben Platt, Adam DeVine, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins
Rating:  4 Stars

Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an aspiring DJ who wants nothing more than to move to L.A. and start paying her dues. But her professor father is making her give college, and the college life, a shot, on-campus club required. Beca reluctantly joins the Barden Bellas, an all-girls a cappella singing group.

Barden Bella leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) is determined to make it to the finals using their signature methods:  perfect looks and a song repertoire of famous female hits. But after last year’s disastrous showing, the recruits are anything but perfect.

Can Beca remix Aubrey’s thoughts and tired playlist to beat the rival a cappella group, The Treble Makers?

Pitch Perfect TV spot

My Thoughts: 
I went into this film with low expectations. It looked like a Glee rehash, and I am no fan of Glee (though, some of their mash-ups are wonderful). Pitch Perfect just slaughtered those low expectations.

While the competition and romance plot lines are a bit clichéd, the actors make it fresh and entertaining. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and Brittany Snow have some fantastic comedic lines. There’s also a great cameo from Christopher Mintz-Plasse, in which he pokes fun at Glee.

The soundtrack was also much better than I expected. I feared hearing all my least favorite pop songs that had been overplayed during the year or two before the film’s release. Granted, there was one of them—Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”—but for the most part, it was music I loved. When Yeasayer’s “Rome” came on, I froze in shock. Good thing there wasn’t any dialogue happening then. Other great tracks include “Chelsea Dagger” by The Fratellis, “No Diggity” by Blackstreet, “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, and “Don’t Move” by Phantogram.

Pitch Perfect music video: "Starships" performed by Mike Tompkins, Pitch Perfect cast, and fans

Pitch Perfect is a fun, comedic film. It has a heart, but never gets too serious with itself. I highly recommend it.

Find Pitch Perfect:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Redbox

Music Monday: My Least Favorite Christmas Songs

These are the songs I dread hearing every year. And yes, I heard them this season before writing this post, unfortunately.

1. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

First of all, her voice drives me up the wall. There are very few songs I like sung by children or with strong vibrato. This has both.

Then she knocks Tinker Toys. Nope. Not standing for that. I loved building toys, despite the fact I was terrible at building things.

Hippos also are not friendly creatures. The only hippos you should be asking for are Hungry Hungry Hippos, of the plastic variety.

2. The Christmas Shoes

This is the most depressing Christmas song.

Some people find it meaningful and beautiful. This is what I hear:
--They procrastinated on buying her a gift, so she might die before you get back
--Give me money!
--This has been a depressing holiday season. . . let’s spread it around!

In tracking down the above video, I just learned that it’s also a movie. I believe a movie or written story of this could be very moving or profound, but somehow I doubt it.

Here, listen to Patton Oswalt discussing why it’s so bothersome:

I stumbled upon this today and I can’t decide whether to hate it or love it.

This is a song from 2004 that sounds like stereotypical 90s Euro pop—weird, right? I cannot deny my love of the 90s Euro pop scene, but still, the lyrics are worse than most.

Help me decide!
Is this so bad it’s good, or just plain terrible?

Movie Review: Butter

Title:  Butter
Rated:  R
Genres:  Comedy, Satire
Director:  Jim Field Smith
Writer:  Jason A. Micallef
Stars:  Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Ashley Greene, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Hugh Jackman
Rating:  4 Stars

After winning 15 years in a row, master butter carver Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) is forced to step down and let others have a shot at butter fame. Understanding this as a personal shot at the Pickler family status, his wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner) enters the refrigerated room and begins her butter quest.

But our young narrator and main character, Destiny (Yara Shahidi), becomes a sticker in Laura Pickler’s side. After being bounced between comically horrible foster families, Destiny finds a stable home with Ethan and Julie (Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone). They encourage her to find a hobby she likes, which just so happens to be butter carving, something she is a bit of a prodigy at.
This butter battle boasts contenders from butter carving groupies, to a stripper (Olivia Wilde), to a good ol’ car salesmen (Hugh Jackman). Expect satire, manipulation, and farcical levels of competition.

My Thoughts: 
Set in Iowa, this quirky comedy takes full advantage of its Midwest setting. From the Iowa State Fair to the odd assortment of characters, the script felt genuinely Midwest to this Minnesotan. And while the accents weren’t perfect the whole time, I can tell you that my Minnesoooootan accent comes waves, so it didn’t particularly bother me.

You can't have a State Fair or butter carving competition without getting religious or polical

The casting decisions were great. Jennifer Garner plays the controlling wife in that wonderful way we’ve seen before (think of her character in Juno, but harden her heart a bit). Ty Burrell plays his fumbling dad routine with a little more seriousness injected. Olivia Wilde hits the mark as an extortionist stripper. Mostly the actors play variations on what I already knew them for, with the exception of Wilde and Hugh Jackman, both wonderful and surprising roles. This was also my introduction to Yara Shahidi, who did an excellent job portraying Destiny.

I recommend Butter to those looking for something quirky, as well as to fans of other Midwest comedies, such as Drop Dead Gorgeous, Juno, Fargo, and Grumpy Old Men.

Find Butter:
Facebook | Amazon | Redbox

Music Monday: The Faint Concert and Doomtree Blowout 8

Back to back concert nights! This is my heaven. Concerts are one of my favorite things, especially if they are at a small-ish venue—which they were! Both took place at the famous First Avenue.

The Faint: 12-13-12
The Nebraska electro-dance-rockers killed it, as they always do, while on tour for the deluxe release of their album Danse Macabre. It was a feast of thumping beats, heavy-hitting electronic sounds, and colored lights. I spent my evening in the pit. If you want a lot of movement and sweat, this is your place. Within two or three songs you could end up in every section of the pit. The movement is amazing—if you don’t mind relinquishing control, anyway. I ended up facing away from the stage several times, and it is almost impossible to hold your ground. I also walked away with quite the number of bruises. But don’t worry, everyone is nice. They’re sustained from bumping into each other. And those that fall get lifted back up immediately.

If you want to get a sneaky workout that doesn’t feel like work, definitely keep an eye out for their next tour.

Find The Faint online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube

Doomtree Blowout 8: 12-14-12
Every December, the Doomtree crew gathers for a huge concert event, generally spanning several nights. This year was Friday through Sunday, a 21+ night, 18+ night, and an all ages night. Doomtree is comprised of my favorite rap/hip-hop artists, making this one of the easiest traditions to take part in. Even the act of purchasing tickets has become a staple, as the age restricted nights sell out super quick. Usually the place is packed by the time we arrive, but the rap concert gods smiled on us this year—we were right up front AND, more importantly, NO blizzard and NO freezing rain when we left. Two years ago, the Blowout coincided with Snowpocalypse. Let’s just say we never want to repeat that driving experience.

There was a lot of energy and camaraderie at the show. One of the highlights for me was hearing the song The Wren for the first time live. It’s a favorite that I’ve been waiting years to hear. Most of the night there was very little overall movement in the crowd. But then P.O.S. played “Get Down”. . . and everybody did.

Doomtree has a couple upcoming shows, and Dessa is about to head out on a US tour.  

You can find out more about the upcoming shows and everything Doomtree online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube

Music Monday: The 6-ish Christmas songs I Can Still Listen To

I spent a fair amount of today running errands and Christmas shopping. You know what that means. . . I heard A LOT of Christmas music. I’ve been pretty burnt out on holiday music for the past few years. That’s partially from choir, where we started holiday music shortly after the school year began. And also, the fact that I knew several people that wanted to, in my opinion, overkill it.

So here are the songs and artists I can still enjoy this season.

1. “Last Christmas” – Wham

I love this song. It’s so perfectly 80s. This is the one Christmas song that I hope to hear when suffering through the overly decorated halls while shopping. Of course, this song isn’t full of cheer or have the classic Christmas feel, so I have yet to hear it while shopping.

2. Anything by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

These guys are legends. They gave the old repetitive tunes a rock makeover. And what can I say? I like my holiday cheer with a little edge. And 80’s rock metal hair. And a fiery light show.

3. “Carol of the Bells”

This is just one of those songs that I will always love. Though, I do love the wordless versions best.

4. “Celtic Carol” – Lindsey Stirling

I love Celtic influenced music. And if you haven’t heard of Lindsey Stirling, get on that. She’s a magnificent violinist. Plus, she makes violin dubstep. Need I say more?

5. “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

I honestly have no idea why I still like this song. It might have to do with the chord progressions, but I don’t know enough about music theory to pinpoint the exact draw. There hasn’t been a version that I haven’t liked. So enjoy this highly nontraditional version by Family Force 5.

And last, but not least. . .

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas

The classic Tim Burton musical, stop-animation, children’s film about Halloween and Christmas meeting. I listen to this soundtrack all year long. And we can thank the genius Danny Elfman for all those songs that perfectly capture the film. Here is the most Christmas-y of the bunch.

What holiday songs do you love? Or hate?

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

Title:  Rise of the Guardians
Rated:  PG
Genres:  Family, Adventure, Fantasy, Animated
Director:  Peter Ramsey
Production Company:  Dreamworks Animation
Writers:  David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), William Joyce (book)
Stars:  Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Jude Law
Rating:  4 Stars

When the evil Pitch, aka Boogie Man, begins to attack the children of Earth, the Immortal Guardians must fight back to protect their innocence. Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Sandman use their unique abilities to preserve the children’s belief. The Man in the Moon appoints Jack Frost as the newest Guardian. But will his mischievous ways do more harm than good? Can they stop Pitch from starting a reign of fear?

My Thoughts:
On the surface, this is a children’s fantasy adventure film. But there is plenty for adults to love too. Classic characters are revamped. Santa, who goes by North, is given traits of Eastern European/Russian warriors. The Easter Bunny is Australian, complete with boomerangs. The Tooth Fairy is a cross between fairy and hummingbird. The Sandman is made of glittering golden dust and communicates by dust images rather than words. And then we have Jack Frost, a mischievous kid who just wants to play with other kids. All of these clashing personalities adds up to a lot of unexpected humor and action.

This is also a story of finding out who you are. “What’s your center?” as North asks Jack. In the beginning, he doesn’t know; Jack can’t even remember his childhood. But his quest of discovery ultimately helps him in the battle with Pitch.

Dreamworks Animation does a fantastic job as well. The animation is gorgeous and covers wildly different scenes. From stark arctic landscapes to the lush underground warren. The best animation for me was the dream dust and the nightmare dust, especially when they competed.

I only wished that the end battle was a little longer with more action. The end becomes less about the Guardians, and more about the children. There’s nothing wrong with that in general, but I felt they pulled back on what I was there to see—which was the battle between Pitch and The Immortal Guardians.

I should also note that this isn’t really a Christmas film. It is set around Easter, albeit a snowy Easter. And Jack Frost tends to make the landscape a bit icy and snowy. So if you’re hoping for a Christmas movie, that just happens to have other mythical characters, that’s not what you’re getting. Think of this as more of a superhero movie, like an Avengers filled with childhood myths rather than comic book heroes.

High recommendations for fans of Dreamworks Animation, animated adventures, reimagined fairytales/myths, and kid’s movies that appeal to all ages.

Find Rise of the Guardians 
Online | IMDB 

Don’t forget to check out the book it’s based on!
The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce

What did you think of Rise of the Guardians?

Music Monday: AWOLNATION’s Sail and Alien Abduction?

First off, let me introduce Music Mondays. This is where I will talk about concerts, songs, albums, and general music things. I may even throw in some playlists from time to time.

Now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s get down to my current song obsession:  “Sail” by AWOLNATION from the album Megalithic Symphony.

First off, I could listen to the instrumental of this ALL DAY! It’s the perfect chill electronic with a little kick to the beat that would fit in with most of my daily happenings.

Aaron Bruno’s vocals sound a tad bit like a scratchy yelling. With another singer, it could’ve been terrible, but with Bruno, I don’t even want to imagine a ‘softer’ vocal experience. So much emotion comes through that harshness.

©Red Bull Records

The music video reflects the darker tones of the lyrics and droning electronic sound in the background. Bruno’s character is paranoid and trying to escape from. . . something. From the green light, which I can only assume is some sort of biometric scanner, the floating lights in the sky, and Bruno’s eventual ascension into the sky, I call aliens.

But the white sky lights look like football field lights. So, who knows, maybe they’re just the stereotypical mean jocks playing a terrible trick on a mentally unstable man. I mean, that green light could totally be from one of those fancy electronics I remember Sharper Image having a decade ago.

Seeing how AWOLNATION also has this mockumentary and trailer for the fictional Lost Signal that uses the song in the background as well as some commonalities to the music video. . . it’s probably aliens.

©Red Bull Records

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube
Buy “Sail” or the entire Megalithic Symphony album
iTunes | Amazon | Amazon MP3 | AWOL’s Online Store

Your verdict? Do you like the song? Are the video’s villains aliens or mean and tricky humans?

App Review: Smule Magic Piano

Title: Smule Magic Piano
Format: iOS
Developer: Smule, inc

Ever wished you could play the piano? Well Smule’s got you covered. With Magic Piano, users can play songs by tapping the on-screen lights. Choose anything from Beethoven’s Für Elise, to Coldplay’s Clocks, to the Legend of Zelda themes song. User’s can also share their renditions with the Magic Piano community, as well as listen to those of other user’s.

My Thoughts:
Like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Magic Piano simplifies a musical instrument for us who are less musically inclined. In this app, as long as you are somewhat in rhythm and in the vicinity of the dot, you’re doing fine. And even the dot proximity can be turned off so that you can hit anywhere on the screen.
I find the experience rather relaxing. I enjoy rhythm and music games, and my usual fair are much more difficult. So I can zone out while I play this and still unlock achievements.

However, I have run into a couple glitches. About every other time the achievement/goal box pops up, it doesn’t go away and the close box button doesn’t work. The only way I found to get rid of it is to close the program. The other has to do with not counting songs towards an achievement. That being said, the app has been out for less than a month on the iPhone.

Some great things: a weekly free song, ability to earn “Smoola” (the in-game currency) through simple tasks, like watching an ad, and Solo mode, where you can create your own freestyle music.

Overall, a very entertaining app for music lovers. I recommend it, with the cautionary statement towards glitches, but I’ll assume those will be taken care of with updates.

Now, enjoy Smule’s video of a small rodent playing Magic Piano on the iPhone against a cat on the iPad.

Find Smule online:
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube | Google+

What do you think of Smule’s Magic Piano? Or Buddy vs. Penny? Tell me in the comments below.