Spotlight on The Great Nordic Sword Fights

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You see a portal open above you, one made of glitchy patterns of various colors. You crawl through and explore a world that resembles a broken PS2 game. In front of you, a low-polygon version of Morpheus from The Matrix quaking in terror while pointing his gun in your general direction. You have entered the world of the strange, the uncomfortable, the surreal.

You have entered the world of The Great Nordic Sword Fights.

The Great Nordic Sword Fights is an experimental director duo made up of visual artists Kristel Brinshot and Ricky Johnson Jr.. They have made everything from music videos, to web-based promos, to random acts weirdness. If you’re looking for an act that can provide something you’ve never seen anywhere else, look no further.

Okay, what do they make?

In terms of the music videos they’ve worked on, there’s always this trippy little gem. Take a look at the video set to “Personal History” by Alpine Decline.

Or, if indie rock isn’t your thing, maybe take a look at what they imagined for “Cadillac Dreams” by Birdy Nam Nam.

For a look at their original short films, It’s hard to go wrong with BEACH BUMS. Just a bunch of surfer dudes looking to catch some waves. Take a look.

Cool! So where can I find more about them?

You mean like who they are or what inspires them? Well, that’s a little tricky. These two don’t seem very interested in talking about themselves on their own time. Their official site only contains links to their contact info, social networking pages and where to watch their work. And even on their social pages, the biographies don’t do much to provide insight.

But there is one thing that might scratch that itch. A tiny bit of research led me to an article from Los Angeles I’m Yours, where they interview Kristel and Ricky about their work and what motivates them.  It’s worth a read.

Alright. Anything else I should know?

Well, there’s one more thing. They made a video game. For a single, “Girl Behind The Glass” by the electronic group Groundislava, they essentially made an interactive version of one of their music videos you have to download it from the band’s site, but it’s definitely worth a look.

That about covers what I know, but I only showed you a small sample of what they’ve done. I definitely recommend you check out their Vimeo and YouTube pages and do some exploring. There are few out there that do what these two do, and they deserve all the credit in the world for what they’ve put out.

Spotlight on Adult Swim Games

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Note: Those of you who read my “Discovery” article on Ghostly International should know that this is the continuation of that category. However, in the interest of self-explanation (and the desire to sound less pretentious), the category is being renamed “Spotlight”. Enjoy!

In a couple of past posts, I’ve mentioned [adult swim], a comedy network that shares channel space with Cartoon Network. They’re no strangers to the indie scene. Independent and experimental music is used regularly in the network’s promotions and packaging, and they even have a annual series of free downloads dedicated to highlighting some of these musicians. For the world of indie video games, they have a different approach. The publishing business.

[adult swim] Games focuses on finding independently developed games and using their connections to publish the games on various platforms, including Steam, the iOS and Android app stores and even their own website. They then use their position as a TV network to advertise these indie games to mass audiences, producing (often animated) commercials to air on breaks. On one occasion, they even went so far as to produce a full-length, live-action trailer to accompany a game’s release.

They’ve published a number of titles over the past couple of years. Let’s take a look a of few of them.

Retro Throwbacks

Games such as Super House of Dead Ninjas and Volgarr the Viking fit this category nicely. Defined by 16-bit graphics and a brutal difficulty, they harken back to the days of trial and error and memorizing passcodes in front of your Super Nintendo.

Mobile Games

Here you’ll find arguably the publisher’s most popular titles, the Rainbow Unicorn Attack series.

Not your thing? Me neither. Maybe Major Mayhem is more your speed!

Or how about my personal favorite, Monsters Ate My Condo!?

And… Everything Else!

Super Puzzle Platformer traps you in a Tetris board and challenges you to survive.

Soundodger mixes the music genre with a “bullet hell” style.

And Jazzpunk… Well, I still don’t know how to describe Jazzpunk (although, I did try).

I have a lot to respect for [adult swim] Games. This is a company that could have easily (and rightfully) focused on publishing games based on the network’s popular shows, but they instead do something really cool for the indie game landscape. Curating unique and interesting games and helping the developers get the exposure they deserve.

You can find more games published by [adult swim] by visiting their website, Steam page, iTunes page, and Google Play page.

Discovery: Ghostly International

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One of the things I set forward to do with this blog is to give newcomers an entry point into the world of independent art. Not necessarily the end-all-be-all guide (I’m certainly not enough of an expert to qualify for that), but simply a place where one can learn just enough to be sent on a trail that will show them more. The trick is knocking over that first domino, then watch the rest fall. And so, I write the first entry in what I call “Discovery”, a periodic spotlight on an artist or distributor.

Inaugurating this new category is an independent record label, a champion of the underground music culture: Ghostly International.

A Brief Introduction:

Founded in 1998 by Samuel Valenti IV and Matthew Dear, Ghostly International has become widely know for it’s unified aesthetic and it’s eccentric tastes. The company wears many hats, from clothing to decorative art, but is most prominent as a music publisher and record label. It designates it’s catalog of music into two different categories: avant-pop, experimental music with pop sensibilities, and SMM, an intentionally meaningless acronym signifying the calmer, more ambient instrumentals.

Some Key Artists:

Matthew DearCo-founder of the label, and the musician behind Ghostly’s first single: “Hands Up For Detroit”, Matthew Dear has had no shortage of fans over the years. This avant-pop producer is definitely one of the most distinctive artists on the label. When one of his songs come up, you’ll know it. Take a listen.

Tycho– No one describes Tycho’s work better than Ghostly themselves, quoting his profile on the label’s site: “As Tycho, Scott Hansen blends swirling melodies into vaguely triumphant arcs that crisscross between stuttering beats and vocal samples, creating rolling sonic landscapes that extend into the horizon.” His work is ambient, calm and melodic, painting idealistic images of tranquility with each track.

School of Seven Bells This one’s pretty hard for me to write about, for reasons that will soon become apparent. But this is one of my absolute favorites from the label, and there was no way I could do a post about Ghostly without mentioning this act. School of Seven Bells was a trio (later duo,) consisting of guitarist/producer Benjamin Curtis and sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. Quoting the profile on the label’s site: “School of Seven Bells’ music is full of tensions—Curtis’ gentle guitars wrap around jagged beats; silky vocals hide behind grumpy, alien synthesizers—but the resulting songs are effortlessly cohesive, and insidiously catchy.” Claudia would later leave the band in 2010, making Seven Bells a duo act until, tragically, Benjamin Curtis lost his fight with T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma at the end of 2013.

Still, the band doesn’t seem to be done quite yet, as plans have been announced to complete and release a new album already well in progress before Curtis’s untimely passing. In any case, this is strong, passionate stuff that I highly recommend you take a listen to.

Com Truise A persona of producer Seth Haley, Come Truise’s work is, for me, the very definition of neo-retro. 80’s nostalgia is an instant reaction to his heavy use of bass and synthesizers, but it’s all handled with a modern spin. The result is a style of music that’s unique and appealing. As a staple of Ghostly’s lineup, you’ll have no problem picking his work out of the catalog.

Where to Start:

Whenever I’m looking to discover new music, I find it best to look for compilation albums. These can act as great entry points, introducing you to a large number of artists, so you can decide if you want to listen to more of their work. One of the reasons I’m starting with Ghosly is because they provide plenty of these.

In 2009, Ghostly collaborated with long-time licencor, comedy network [adult swim], to release the album Ghostly Swim, which can be downloaded from the channel’s website for free! In fact, Ghostly has made a number of compilation albums free for download, including a “best of” album from 2012 and a couple of unreleased content collections. If you’re willing to pay a bit of money, you can try either of the Idol Tryouts albums. I’ve also found the 2010 primer, We’ll Never Stop Living This Way, to be good purchase. $10 for 30 tracks is a good deal in my book.

Once you find an artist you like, look into them a little more. Find out which other labels they’ve been signed to and what else that label offers. Find out which other acts they may have been associated with. Finally, just keep your ears open. Once you start following the trail, you may be amazed at what you’ll find.