Dark Companion Records

Dark Companion Records

On this episode we connect the dots between Cardiacs, Robert Wyatt and Greg Lake. All paths lead through Annie Barbazza and her label Dark Companion Records. The commitment to audiophile recording values and the true open-mindedness of progressive music makes this artist and this record label, very much worth your time.

Tim Smith receives Doctorate from Royal Conservatory of Scotland: https://youtu.be/Zr9SZVHjFT0

Folly Bololey performed live: https://youtu.be/Tt18LIAGNys


PODCAST LINK: http://mpomy-escape-pod.com/2021/01/14/dark-companion-records/

Welcome back to the MPOMY Escape Pod podcast. My name is Michael Pomerantz and I am your host. A few bits of housekeeping first:

Since the last podcast there have been I think two additional videos posted on the YouTube channel. They are covers for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy and also Fleetwood Mac Gold Dust Woman. You can check those out by going to YouTube and searching for “mpomy escape pod.” While you are there, please leave a like and subscribe to the channel and tell your friends about it. Emily’s vocals are characteristically awesome and I’m doing more experimenting with producing so I’m anxious for you all to check it out.

That being said, it’s been a good long break here and we’re going to be getting the podcast back up to speed with probably a little more emphasis on music and a little less on video games, although my interest there hasn’t waned.

Also, I want to explore tech and procedures for home recordings and collaboration. I’m working on trying to do Ableton projects the same way I used to work on Google Docs, where people in different physical locations (different studios) can have full access to production on a project whenever they want. This has caused me to learn about “Splice,” which is a cloud based music collaboration platform that works with Ableton and a few other DAWs. I’m only just starting to experiment with that, and it’s supposed to be pretty much “set it and forget it,” all working in the background, but we will have to wait and see if that is actually the case. So, there will be more discussion of that and certainly more home music production, both with Emily and soon with others who are outside my quarantine bubble.


OK, let’s get to some music discussion. I want to share with you what I have learned about the artist Annie Barbazza and the label Dark Companion Records. Ms. Barbazza was born in Milan, is only 27 (can that be right?) and has already had a pretty amazing journey as both a musician and, unless I’m very much mistaken, a music business professional. As best I can tell, she is either THE boss or one of the bosses of the Italian music label Dark Companion Records. I haven’t looked at Italian corporate records, but I’d be willing to bet that she founded this label, which has already been around for a few years now. And did I mention she’s 27.

Her identity as a musician is much more obvious. Her Facebook page identifies her as “musician” and says nothing about the record company. Her wikipedia page notes that she is a drummer and singer. She has a few releases under her own name, including a couple acoustic covers records and now one album of originals, which was released late last year on Dark Companion. I haven’t spent enough time with the album, called “Vive” to have a lot to say, but I can say a lot about some other music that Ms Barbazza has contributed to, including the record that was my favorite release of 2019. Old news I know, but news I’ve wanted to talk about for quite a while. So let’s start 2019. My favorite record of that year.

The way all of this came onto my radar was when, in 2019, Barbazza’s Venn digram intersected with THE POND – that peculiar universe that grows out of music by and related to the band CARDIACS. Ahh, Cardiacs, I shouldn’t get started. Cardiacs is now a big deal for me, pretty much the biggest deal. And the music is so odd that I’m not sure how to broach the topic directly in the context of this podcast. Maybe this is where it begins – with just this side mention.

Here’s a short version – Cardiacs is a British rock band from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s that came at punk and ska and rock and pop with a Zappa-like musical genius that inhabited the body of Tim Smith. He composed with such ecstatic joy and abandon that nothing like it has been heard before or since. Sadly, Smith was left paralyzed in 2008 when he suffered a heart attack that deprived his brain of oxygen. The community of musicians and music fans who had already formed a cult around Smith’s music drew together even more tightly as we prayed for Smith to somehow recover. Although he did not, there was a recent change in status whereby we, the fans, learned more about Tim’s condition, struggles and day-to-day life. Following this opening up, he received an honorary doctorate in music from the Royal Conservatory of Scotland in 2018, which he accepted in person – the ceremony is available on YouTube and I will put a link in the comments. Countless loved ones were in attendance and it was a profound moment of recognition for this amazing, though not well-known musical revolutionary. In 2020 Tim finally succumbed to his condition. He was 59.

I never got to see him live, but once I started to understand his music, once I could make sense of this other-worldly talent, I realized no music was more important and more affecting to me than this. One could do a whole senior thesis on just one song by Tim and Cardiacs. It seems the majority of people who actually “like” Cardiacs music also feel as though there is no finer music. All or nothing. I fit into this category. Cardiacs is my most favoritest band. So we’ll put a pin in that for now and get back to Annie Barbazza.

A good place to start with this part of the story is with a musician who is, in some ways, the polar opposite of Tim Smith – talking about Gregory Stuart Lake, late of King Crimson and the supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer – that Greg Lake. I suppose there are some commonalities. You can say of Lake and Smith that they are both Brits, although from different generations, but that they both possessed a significant degree of musical talent and were both well-loved by those with whom they worked. As to the style of the music? Well, that’s really where the divergence comes in.

In Lake you have an underachiever (sorry) who was very much in the right place at the right time, but always too overshadowed by his collaborators. His skills in lyrics and composition are significant, but I wonder if he would have enjoyed the same success without the collaboration of such bona fide revolutionary geniuses as Kieth Emerson and Robert Fripp. That’s a conversation for another time, but perhaps in recognition of Lake’s good fortune, it seems that he took it upon himself to mentor and promote younger artists. This is how he got to know Annie Barbazza. No surprise that he would have some affinity for an aspiring Italian progger since Italy gave such tremendous support to early 70’s prog when many audiences still just wanted to hear the Blues.

So the story goes like this – Lake has decides in 2013 or thereabouts, that he was going to revisit some of his greatest songwriting, but in the most stripped down way possible. Just acoustic versions with guitar or piano, to highlight the song’s DNA. As the project is just starting to together, with arrangements being completed and the artist gathering a head of steam, tragedy strikes. Lake is stricken with the cancer that will eventually take his life. By all accounts he undergoes great hardship between 2014 and December 2016, but he never gives up on this project. While clearly not well enough to perform himself, Lake nominated one of his pupils to take the reins, explicitly instructing her to carry on his legacy. NO PRESSURE OR NOTHING.

That was, of course, Annie Barbazza and the album is entitled Moonchild, and, I have to say, it sounds quite a bit more intense when you know the backstory.

I don’t want to get too into my personal assessment of Greg Lake’s professional output. The fact that he is not one of my favorites takes nothing away from the extraordinary success he achieved as a musician and, I guess, as a mentor. I just never really think about the guy that much. And when I do, I think about how Fripp moved on from him in King Crimson, although, in fairness, Fripp moves on from everybody in King Crimson. I also think about the excess of ELP, which got out of control and started to take away from the musical output. As a super-group, ELP went on too long. Emerson in particular had the blessing of both Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. There is not a more potent combination of affirmation that any musician could ever ask for, but I don’t think Emerson could quite handle it. His creative juices dried up long before he took his own life in March 2016, just nine months before Greg Lake’s death.

So with that excess in mind, and the sort of slow and tragic decent of ELP, I can’t help but contrast the way-too-short musical career of Tim Smith. ELP came to produce music as a commodity, especially in the 80’s and beyond. That concept appears to be completely unknown to Tim Smith and his acolytes. Not just with Cardiacs, but throughout the artistic family tree (which is vast) there appears to be a complete aversion to doing what’s popular, fashionable, accessible, listenable. It’s not just rock in opposition. At times Cardiacs is downright combative and disturbing.

(TARRED AND FEATHERED?)

But fear not! For we have Annie Barbazza to bridge the gap. We fast forward to the years following Lake’s death, including the release of Moonchild on Lake’s label in 2018. In the meantime, Dark Companion becomes a haven for the aging British progger. Hey – you got a skill of being able to make it work with one of these old white dudes, why not try again? Who picked who, or how Dark Companion has gotten its roster of artists is unknown to me, but it is through that young label that I discovered John Greaves.

Greaves is a Welsh progger, a bass player that I didn’t know about. His CV is impressive, including Henry Cow and other acts that are part of the Cantebury prog scene in the 70’s. One guy that Greaves collaborated with back in the day was Robert Wyatt – now we’re getting somewhere. Wyatt I knew through my internship at the old record label Rykodisc back in the day. Ryko was reissuing Wyatt’s early work, but the naive me of the late 90’s was not able to digest Wyatt’s genius at the time.

I couldn’t detect any of the soaring synth work or heavy guitar melodies that was the hallmark for the particular flavor of prog I favored back then. Well, shame on me, because one of those records was something called ‘Rock Bottom.’ This 1974 release is pretty fantastic. Definitely proggy, but also intensely original and emotional. There is a sincerity that cuts through the pretentiousness of prog from that same era. Anyway, Rock Bottom must have had quite an effect on Barbazza and Greaves because they collaborated on this 2019 re-interpretation / appreciation of the Wyatt record. They called it Folly Bololey after lyrics that appear on the record and, in the interest of making a bigger sound that really emphasizes the original work’s compositional genius, they recruited the North Sea Radio Orchestra, which is a direct outgrowth of Cardiacs world. The NSRO is helmed by Craig Fortnam who is a Tim Smith disciple/collaborator/friend. Fortnam’s composing and arranging has the hallmark of gentle grandeur that lurks within much of Cardiacs’ flamboyant recordings. The charts he prepared as musical director for Folly Bololey transform the original, a modest masterpiece, into this powerhouse of art and energy that just sounded so good to my ears. I was absolutely knocked on my ASS. It doesn’t hurt that prominent Cardiacs alum and keyboard genius William D. Drake also appears on Folly Bololey as part of the NSRO.


So I went NUTS for Folly Bololey, and I still can’t stop listening to it! It’s been like two years. But, the even more important thing that came from listening to that record, more important than discovering the original and learning to appreciate that as well – all good, but the MOST important part was discovering Dark Companion records, which released Folly Bololey as an NSRO title. If you think of a boutique label as a curator of sorts, Dark Companion is offering a pretty special selection. Let me read from the manifesto:

    “The aim of Dark Companion is to gather together musical excellences from the most various fields, from all the countries and release artifacts both records and cds, entirely handmade and individually numbered. From Songwriting to folk, from contemporary classics to real jazz, from experimental to classical music from both western and eastern cultures. 

    We want The Dark Companion to represent the musical research

    The sound is everything.

    We do believe that “klang" is the centre, so we spend all our energy to ensure our records, both vinyl and cds, have the most vibrant, realistic, high-end sound quality possible. Nothing can match the energy and soul that moves a live gig. So some of our records are recorded live with no overdubs or tricks, but using the best microphones and technology in order to give the listener a real audiophile experience.”

If that doesn’t push your buttons a little bit, then I don’t know how big a fan of music you are. This ethos recalls a time gone by, when we thought about things like half-speed mastering, diamond needled turntables and the warm glow of tube amplifiers which cost as much as a new car. I remember buying records produced by Eno because I knew they had THAT sound. Like and OBJECTIVE assessment of quality.

And perhaps it is the power of suggestion, but after all this time, I do trust my ears to filter out the bullshit. So, even though I am streaming these recordings, they still have an extra sweetness and fidelity. And, if you think about it, they had better. This is the central claim of the label, so all the music geeks and audiophiles are on alert to be extra persnickety. But the Dark Companion stuff I have heard so far all passes this lofty test, even when streaming. Just think, the business model is to elevate expectations, which makes it harder to meet and exceed them. That’s some chutzpah, but the content is that strong.

You can hear it Folly Bololey and Barbazza’s recent solo record and on Paul Roland’s Lair of the White Worm.

(PLAY EXCERPTS)

So, I would say all of this merits your further attention. Check out Dark Companion records. Even though they want you to buy the vinyl, you can also get all the digital goodies on Bandcamp, which is just the best “website” ever. The extreme democratization of the music industry is so great when you know WHERE TO LOOK! New music is just a click away.

Also, for the Folly Bololey experience, with the petit orchestra jammed into what looks like someone’s living room, there is an extraordinary YouTube of the entire show, featuring all the known associates, including Barbazza, Greaves, Fortnam, Drake, Fred Frith and the whole NSRO which includes a young guy on vibes wearing a Tool t-shirt. Link is in the show notes.

Thanks, as always for tuning into the Escape Pod. Always room for more in here when people are looking to, even if just for a moment, escape the hellscape of the Trump era and COVID-19. Love to you all. Tweet me @mpomy and I will see you next time in the Escape Pod.

Gold Dust Woman (Fleetwood Mac cover)

All vocals by Emily Beck.

This was recorded at home between December 30, 2020 and January 1, 2021. Guitars are Les Paul Special and Frankencaster. Bass is Music Man Stingray. Analog instruments went through Line 6 HX Stomp to Soundcraft Signature 10 board. Board went to MacBook Pro and everything was mixed, arranged and produced on Ableton Live 10.

Video was produced with Adobe Premier Pro 2020 on January 2-3, 2021.

Thanks for your love and support!

A Guitar God and a Soft Rock Favorite

Here is a short meditation on the genius of Lowell George, and in particular his influential slide playing. Songs excerpted in the pod for the purpose of commentary and discussion include the following (in order of appearance):

  • Allman Brothers — “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” (Live at Fillmore, 1971)
  • Little Feet — “Crack in Your Door” (Little Feet, 1971)
  • Bonnie Raitt — “Spit of Love” (Fundamental, 1998)
  • Frank Zappa — “No Waiting for the Peanuts to Dissolve” (You Can’t Do That Onstage Anymore, Volume 5, 1969)
  • The Meters — “Just Kissed My Baby” (Rejuvenation, 1974)
  • Little Feet — “All That You Dream” (Live in Holland, 1976)
  • LIttle Feet — “All That You Dream” (The Last Record Album, 1975)

Thanks so much for listening and be sure to tell you r friends about the Mpomy Escape Pod podcast. Listen to the audio version of this essay on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.


It is difficult for me to view anything by Little Feat without focusing through the lens of Lowell George. The sound of his guitar and vocal is just such a signature. And his slide playing on songs like Fat Man in the Bathtub has had such a tremendous impact on me personally. That guitar sound was not just big for me, but actually a bit of a pivot point for electric slide playing in rock music. Lowell basically took us on the next big step in popular electric slide playing. For white rock guitarists, it was Duane Allman and then everybody else. Duane was the only one who didn’t sound like he was imitating someone else.

[DON’T KEEP ME WONDERING SNIPPET]

Even monsters like Mike Bloomfield, Peter Green and Jimmy Page couldn’t do it. I think Mick Taylor was the only one who came close to establishing a real signature sound during the generation when the influence of Blues music became more mainstream in the late 60’s.

But then we fast forward into the mid 70’s and Lowell brings out that compressor pedal and changes everything.

[CRACK IN YOUR DOOR from LITTLE FEET from 1:20]

There are undoubtedly a bunch of YouTube videos that discuss how Lowell George got this sound and the role that the compressor pedal played in making that happen, but I’m not interested in going into that now. Suffice to say that the technique can be approximated and we see a TON of that with guitarists Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder, who both learned their tone directly from Lowell George. The fact that Lowell didn’t survive long enough to see that pile of money that Bonnie Raitt made playing guitar the HE taught her is really too bad.

[SPIT OF LOVE from FUNDAMENTAL from 1:45]

But Lowell George was a man of excess. He died of a drug overdose in 1979 at age 34. He was a big man, but not big enough for these appetites apparently. You can see him sweating through the Little Feet sets in Rockplast videos (THANK GOD FOR ROCKPLAST) and others on Youtube. His weight ballooned to over 300 lbs at the time of his death.

But even in that short career, he left an extraordinary legacy, mostly through Little Feet. I mean, Waiting for Columbus is like Frampton Comes Alive, or Live at Leeds or Seconds Out. That was an absolutely definitive live record, though highly produced, that had ALL the hits and found the band at its creative peak.

I didn’t have a strong feeling about Little Feat when I was learning guitar and I barely knew who Lowell George was, except that he had died young and that his band’s songs were on the radio all the time. Especially Dixie Chicken. To me it was like Lynyrd Skynyrd — dumb Southern Rock. Obviously the only dumb one in connection with that opinion about both Little Feat and Skynyrd was me. But I was young then and I’m a lot smarter now.

And then, of course, I found out Little Feet wasn’t really southern rock (at least not like Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers), but really a band from LA. More surprising was the fact that Lowell George, who co-founded and fronted Little Feet was an ex-associate of Frank Zappa.

If you go back to the era of Zappa’s band when Lowell George played guitar and sang, you can tell it’s him, but the music is still all about Frank, as it always was. This taste is from You Can’t Do That on Stage Volume 5, Disc 1, track 21 — No Waiting for the Peanuts to Dissolve. Lowell takes the first solo in this live jam from Miami in Feb 1969:

[No Waiting for the Peanuts SNIPPET YCDTOSAv5 from start]

But the more I listened to Little Feet, the more I realized that LA / avant Garde vibe is sneaking around in there. The song arrangements are a little counter-intuitive, I mean imaginative at times, more decorative than traditional blues. Once Little Feet got that New Orleans vibe, that was pretty much it. That’s the sound of that band, even though they are not one of the countless amazing musical act to come from that hallowed city.

And if we’re going to talk about Lowell George’s associations and New Orleans, then we need to highlight the Meters. The consulate New Orleans house band, The Meters (or sometimes The Funky Meters) were a more ‘lettin’ it all hang out’ version of Booker T and the MGs. Younger, more brash and showy in their musicianship, but the same basic idea. And Lowell worked with them on Robert Palmer music like “Sneaking Sally” which is way funkier than is should have been. More importantly, Lowell George’s SIGNATURE slide shows up on “Just Kissed My Baby” from the 1974 Meters record ‘Rejuvenation.’ That groove is one of the funkiest things you could ever hear anywhere.

[Snippet of JUST KISSED MY BABY from 2:30]

Lowell was smart to embrace the Meters sound in terms of commercial success. During his short career he (and Little Feet) probably outsold Frank Zappa by a wide margin. Of course, he also earned a lot more than the Meters, but that’s another podcast.

And that brings me to the Little Feet song that I just love the most and it’s been a thing for me for years. I must have heard this track under some very special circumstances to make me like it so much, but I don’t remember any of that. I just know that I love this tune. It is from the 1974 Little Feet album titled “The Last Record Album” (like The Last Picture Show). The second song on side one is “All That You Dream” and imagine how shocked I was that this long lost musical innovator, this consort of many geniuses, didn’t even write my favorite song from his band’s repertoire. Well, he didn’t.

The song is written by the second guitarist, Paul Barrere, and the keyboard player Bill Payne. The studio version also features Linda Rondstadt on vocals, which may account for a lot of the appeal. The vocal hook that the song is built around is so catchy and I will talk about that in a second.

But I may never have given this one a seance glance if it hadn’t been for that slide guitar, I have a real weakness there. As long as I live I will never hear enough of that compressed to within an inch of its life Stratocaster with the slide bar on the left pinky. The Waiting for Columbus version of the song really features more reasonable and adult contemporary sound from that guitar, but on this one bootleg, it sounds like all hell is about to break loose. Listen to the jam at the beginning, featuring some nice lead by Barrere, and then the way Lowell’s guitar comes in to introduce that amazing vocal hook. This is from Holland in 1976.

[Snippet]

Of course, the most special thing about the song (my love of slide guitar notwithstanding), is the incredible vocal hook. It is something more akin to Fleetwood Mac or the Eagles rather than Frank Zappa or The Meters. But for me, those soft focus vocals from the 70’s will always have a special place since so much of the music I grew up with featured refrains that aspired to this catchy-ness. Here’s the studio version to calmly wrap up this episode. Thanks so much for listening and I will see you next time in the Escape Pod.

The Road Warrior (1981) – Pt. 1: Jesus the Warrior

In the latest episode of the MPOMY Escape Pod podcast, I am joined by dear friend David Cardegna to discuss a ten minute snippet of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. As expected (and hoped for), the conversation went everywhere, so I’ve broken this down to multiple episodes.

You can listen tot he podcast anywhere, including on Apple and Spotify.

Thanks so much for listening and for your support. Please subscribe and tell your friends. There is always room for more folks in the Escape Pod.

Video Game Roundup

Apple reduces (some) developer fees, Roblox announces IPO, Google Stadia may never be good, but cloud gaming is coming regardless. Plus some techno breaks courtesy the Launchpad app from Amplify.

For more video game business news, check out NYU professor Joost van Druenen on the Prof G podcast and follow @Joosterizer on Twitter.

Thanks so much for taking a ride in the Escape Pod!

Listen on AppleSpotify and everywhere else you listen to podcasts.

I’m the last person that should give anyone financial advice, but between my time in crypto and my new-found love of video games, financial tech and news has become something of a hobby. So, without further ado, here are some stories from the past week that interested me

— —

Apple has announced that developer fees will be cut in half for smaller developers that sell their apps on the Apple App Store. Currently the fee is 30%, which means that if I am developer and I have either an item for sale in the App Store OR if I’m selling ,an item in-game, Apple gets 30% of every dollar. Starting on January 1, 2021, if the developer makes less than $1million per year n the App Store, that fee will go down to 15%.

The App Store is where Apple is most vulnerable to regulation and anti-trust scrutiny. The app market is so consolidated that Apple has amassed the power to engage in very anti-competitive practices. A lot of this has been in the new lately because of the dispute between Epic (Fortnite) and Apple. Fortnite refused to pay the fee and Apple deplatformed the game. As much power as Epic has (Fortnite is a massive world-wide success for many years now), it is nothing compared to Apple. So if the biggest customer can’t fight back, it would seem that regulation is a fait accompli.

Apple’s move can help displace some of the bad feelings about their de facto monopoly, but it does nothing to settle the dispute with Epic, since Fortnite revenue is WAY beyond the $1 million cap. Good PR move for Apple, but I’m not sure what effect this will have. I did hear an interview with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) of MN who is looking to have a lot of influence in the Biden administration, even if the Senate retains a Republican majority. She is writing a book about anti-trust and appears to be burnishing her credentials in anticipation of the growth industry of anti-trust regulation. That’s going to be a hot area over the next ten years.
— —
Google Stadia has arrived at my house and I am pretty impressed. It came with a pretty legit game/pad controller, very similar to what I have for the PS4. It also came with the current generation Chromecast. I was skeptical at first because the idea is that you don’t even have to download the game. The actual code of the game lives not on your device, but in the cloud. So it’s as if the gaming console is in another location and there is a long wire (called the Internet) just connecting your TV as a screen to see the information that off-site game console is pumping out.

And it’s not like that off-site console is really very far away. Google has now peppered the world with enough data centers that the physical distance between the computer that is running your game and the screen and controller you use to play that game is not excessively long. It’s still miles away, to be sure, but the decentralized design spreads out the labor.

In the meantime, them gaming experience has been pretty good. There is more lag than what I see with the PS4, but it’s not enough to turn me off to the platform, and I’m expecting improvement.

This is a much better model, if it can be made to work as well as an in-home console, because it gives Google a recurring revenue model (something Sony has to grasp for with Playstation), which also means a smaller up-front investment for the consumer. There is added convenience as downloads and updates are all handled off-site and without the need for consumer intervention or wait times.

One possibility which I’m hoping Google can get right, is the YouTube integration. Youtube is Google’s biggest brand and a healthy chunk of YouTube content relates to video games. Will Stadia integrate in a way that allows streamers and YouTube creators to go make a long-standing home on Stadia? Too hard to say at the moment, but the potential is there.

— —
The Roblox IPO is very exciting. If you don’t know, Roblox is an online gaming platform that emphasized community and connection over game design and graphics. It is a tool for building and hosting games games which look, well, blocky. The characters are more like Lego figures than actual humanoid beings. But the interactivity is so slick and seamless that it really doesn’t matter.

Roblox is a place with thousands of games you can play for free with people from all over the world. The games are diverse, but many of the most successful titles have extraordinary depth in terms of the virtual geography, and the ability to engage in a variety of activities on a competitive basis. For every successful video game out there, someone has tried to make a Roblox version, and some of them are pretty good. More importantly, some of them are wildly popular.

Over the past several months, the most popular games have been life simulators where players form families, get jobs and houses and basically just play grown-up. There are some very good car games, shooting games and even a skateboard sim that I enjoyed for a bit.

The one bad thing about a lot (most?) of these games is the fact that, although everything is free to play, the advantages gained from spending money on the in-game economy (Robux) goes directly too the heart of the games’ competitive features. In other words: free0-to-play, but pay-to-win.

That’s not a great model for players, but if you are REALLY into one of the many games on the platform, the micro-transactions needed to stay competitive don’t feel too burdensome. Also, as proven by the impending IPO, these micro transactions are a proven model for revenue and growth. The platform will have to find ways to innovate to keep the shareholders happy. I don’t think it can just be left to the developers, because the whole Roblox community is a walled-garden. If the contours of that garden remain static for too long, the platform will undoubtedly become stale.
— —
I guess the fact that COVID isn’t going away any time soon is leading to a little more movement in the video game economy. It could also be that my interest is stimulated because EVERYTHING is new to me right now. Either way, I’m interested in the platforms, delivery methods, marketing, etc.

After playing just on mobile for a while, I was gratified at the similar use of downloads and free to play on PS4. Here, I had thought that everything was buying a physical disc, CDROM/DVD whatever. Glad to know how wrong I was. I’ve thought a lot about the difference between gaming on a console, which is designed to do one very big task at a time, and playing on my MacBook Pro — which is designed to do a few big things or a ton of small things all at once.

It’s no surprise that gaming on a PC that is not a dedicated gaming machine, provides a pretty lackluster experience. At the same time, I like being in front of my computer. The paradigm has ben my son’s gaming, which is a lot of Roblox, which works exceptionally well on computer. I have learned the basics of keyboard gaming: which buttons work for direction and picking things up and what the mouse does. I understand why a lot of people prefer that mode of gaming, and I’m sure most. Use PCs that are designed with that task in mind.
So, here I am, liking the PC gaming experience, but with no good way to play PC games on my laptop with SSD. I can’t start downloading massive files via Steam or Epic, even though this platforms work on Mac.

And then Stadia came along and really legitimized the idea of cloud gaming for me. Stadia actually works on my MacBook Pro without too much glitchy ness or lag. The issue with Stadia is that there aren’t many free games. Talk about a carefully curated ecosystem. They need more choices ASAP.

So now I am looking for other cloud based gaming platforms that really require almost nothing more than a decent internet connection. That’s when I discovered my.games, from the same people that have brought us mail.ru. That’s some serious muscle, although not the kind of muscle that has a lot of influence in the US. My.games could change that.

It’s a cloud-based gaming platform that can now be downloaded onto windows computers and will provide a premium gaming experience with the user needing to own dedicated hardware and without downloading monstrous files. This is like Stadia, but the number and type of game is in a different universe. God knows what the Russian spyware will do to your computer, but the whole thing is incredibly predictable. This is an instant replay of the move to cloud music, which came just before streaming movies. I guess those shiny DVDs and blu-rays don’t do for people. They definitely don’t do it for me.

Now, to me the my.games interface looks a lot like an Android emulator I have tried. That emulator theoretically turns my MacBook into an Android phone or tablet and makes all the games and other apps in the Android ecosystem available. That increases the number of games you can play on a Mac exponentially in no time. I’m practice, however, I’m not that impressed. There port is having to do too much work, so the benefit of the lightweight Android software is quickly lost.

Despite this similarity of appearance, my.games is much more like Stadia and less like android. (Parenthetically, it is NO coincidence that Apple’s new M1 chip for the new version of my MacBook are designed with the goal of unifying Apple’s mobile and Mac operating systems. If this tech existed now, I wouldn’t have to download a damn emulator). The main difference is that the big working part of the game — the code that makes it look so pretty and do all the things it can do, that big chunk is somewhere else — not on any of my hardware. That’s the Stadia model and that what this Russian outfit is doing — My.games. With the Android emulator, large portions of the game need to be downloaded, just like it would be on your phone.

Just to put this into some perspective — a game like PUBG on a console is a download of over 80GB. An a phone or tablet, that gets cut all the way down to about 4GB, with the rest of the game being remote. Google Stadia has PUBG also. Download = zero. That’s the magic trick.

my.games currently has about 60 free-to-play games (with in-game purchases) and another 45 games that require payment to access. Prices are MUCH lower than what you find in the Playstation online store or on the paying part of Google Stadia. In both of those places, games can easily get into the $60-$80 range and beyond. My.games selections go from .99 up to $25, but none of these are known titles. The real quality is in the free-to-play catalog which looks like it includes a lot of console quality RPG, shooting and action games. Two titles in particular (Warface and Skyforge) are available in the same form on PS4, also free-to-play. This appears to involve some high-end European distribution deals for Chinese games that have quality and depth but not a strong reputation in the US.

Interestingly enough, while I was looking up info about my.games, it’s website remained unavailable. Not a good look for a company owned by the conglomerate that dominates all internet in Russia. “Site can’t be reached.”

News reports indicate that my.games, despite their non-functioning website, will soon be moving outside Europe (seems like that has already happened) and will be available on a variety of platforms, including Mac — still waiting for that one.

The point is that this s clearly where the gaming industry is going. COVID has sped everything up, but the cloud gaming experience is already here and spreading faster than VR and self-driving cars.

Neil Young Archive II (Preview)

Neil Young is a BIG part of why I love music. Listening to and collecting his work, and seeing his remarkable performances, became a template for how I would approach musical genius. Now, with the impending release of his second Archive set that will cover his most vibrant, creative and turbulent period, I give a preview of what will be on the ten-disc release, and also reflect what makes “Shaky” Neil so vital and why this brief period of his massive catalog is so extraordinary.

As always, thanks you so much for joining me in the MPOMY Escape Pod!

Listen to the podcast on Apple and Spotify.

Reissues vs. New Music

Let’s hear it for the old guys who kicked our asses when we were younger! Sure, new music by Bruce Springsteen and Buddy Guy and Neil Young and Steve Hackett and David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler (all my heroes!) just doesn’t hold a candle tho their prior work. It’s fucking understandable. I mean that’s a pretty high bar. And I give the new stuff a chance, but it just lacks the urgency and immediacy of what we got when these artists were young and hungry.

There are exceptions. Bob Dylan’s latest material knocks me out just as much as his old stuff. No lie. Lindsey Buckingham too. The music is so simple, but it seems to never sound derivative. It’s never a question of recapturing that old glory. It’s always looking forward.

So you want to look back to your glory days? I’m a huge fan of the archive, the official bootleg. The unalloyed “hot ticket,” warts and all. This is how I became nuts about music. I learned from a cousin who would go to see Peter Gabriel on multiple nights, even if the show was largely the same both nights. That inspired me to start collecting bootleg recordings, so I could analyze the difference between Pink Floyd playing “Careful with that Axe, Eugene” on a Friday in August to them playing the same song on the following Saturday. I put up with a lot LOW fidelity enjoying those fan-made recordings.

As a fan of old Genesis, I did NOT want to hear them play watered down version of their old songs as they got into their dotage. And the new music, while much of it was quite good, was in no way anywhere near the calibre of what they created previously.

So, for me , the answer is the Archive release. And so many of my favorite rock artists have done it so well, including Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, King Crimson, (NOT Genesis BOO!) and even Neil Young.

Take a look at what’s on the box set
-four terrific years of music making
-lots of stuff we’ve never heard before

Tuscaloosa, AL; Feb 1973
-four months after Danny Whitten died.
— concert sounds good — pretty together
— Time Fades Away seems to straddle both periods — The Tonight’s the Night content, which is darker. It’s almost like an unraveling is happening in real time, in front of an audience. The drummer had to be replace, Neil had trouble with his voice, Crosby and Nash had to come and kind of bail him out at the end of the tour.

When that tour ends, Neil assembles the Santa Monica Fliers, which is basically a combination of the Stray Gators (Harvest band) and Crazy Horse, but with young Niles Lofgren replacing Danny Whitten.

This is such an amazing period of music, and the whole thing is problematized by the fact that we have to look BACK on it. No one but the people on the record and the people in the audience really got to see this play out in sequence. As ever, the music industry was fraught with peril and the result was an album of stunning importance (Bitches Brew level importance) was not released until almost two years later. Remember that his entire TEN DISC box set only covers four years. So, that two years is an eternity.

Reprise (record company) decision not to release the record looks pretty bad in retrospect. And when it was finally released in June of 1975, it didn’t serve up the success of Harvest and was seen as a failure.

Neil Young definitely didn’t see it that way. He ha to fight to get the record released and once he succeeded in that, Young began one of the most productive and successful periods of his career. As a result of Tonight’s the Night, Young crystalized the second incarnation of Crazy Horse — Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank Sampedro. That band changed music forever under Neil’s guidance, starting in earnest with Rust Never Sleeps.

But in terms of transformational songwriting, in both music and lyric, Tonight’s the Night cannot be touched. It is without question the finest Neil Young record. The rawness of the emotion, the sincerity and directness of the guitar and piano and everything else you hear on that record is mind-blowing. It can be a hard listen, depending on your mood, but there is an unmatched richness and texture to everything in there, and I swear you don’t need to know about all the backstory to understand just how good the record is. You just have to listen to it.

— —
But now we get this detailed insight into the music that came before and after that pivotal moment. That’s really the moment that made Neil Young the legend. It was the dawn of a second act that had such a monstrous and profound impact on me. Made me want to play guitar, made me a music freak.

So let’s see what all is gonna be on this thing.

Mandy (2018) – extreme psychedelic horror

Is it in the splatter / revenge genre with a b-movie budget, or is it ‘High Art?” YES! Mandy is such a wild ride and has so many fascinating features to discuss. Join me in the Escape Pod to break down just a bit of the modern horror masterpiece.

Listen to the podcast on Apple and Spotify.


I finally saw Mandy, which was released just two years ago. It feels like it was much longer, because the meme-worthy incarnation of Nicholas Cage seems like it has been a thing for much longer than just two years. And yet, I associate this version of Cage (over the top, scenery chewing, b-movie) with this particular film, an unrated, itself over-the-top gore fest that may have Lovecraftian elements and also features a blood-soaked Cage looking exceptionally deranged for a very large part of the film. I feel like those images of him have been roaming the internet for a lot longer than two years.

More recently (2019) Cage has starred in the Color Out of Space, which came up hot on my Lovecraft radar, although I haven’t seen it yet. Based on posters for Mandy and Color out of space, I assumed they were part of a set – The Nic Cage cosmic horror series or something. I figured Cage was now the muse for some aspiring cosmic horror film auteur and I could expect loads of these B-grade masterpieces. As it turns out, that’s not the case at all.

These two movies are emblematic of Cage’s recent career trajectory, but it’s not as if he’s JUST doing cosmic horror. His full embrace of camp is recently evidenced by Cage landing the title role in an upcoming Joe Exotic series. Cage works incessantly and seems to have top billing in almost everything he does. These are not movies that end up on Oscar short lists, but, on the whole, they seem to make money and give younger and independent filmmakers a chance to work with a living legend.

And despite the similar poster art, Mandy, which I knew nothing about, is not at all related to Color Out of Space, which is based on a Lovecraft story with the same name.

But let’s linger on the poster art for a second, because it is not just marketing, or I should say it’s more than marketing in the same way that a gatefold 2-LP cover is more than just a way to protect two twelve inch wax discs. The art is part of the product presentation and gives the audience an expectation that will, hopefully, enhance the experience that the artwork provides. Sure, you can listen to the record and get maximal enjoyment without ‘experiencing’ the cover art, but you are missing out on part of the art-form. Yes, it’s all one product, but there is a sweet spot, which in some ways is the purpose of this blog/podcast where the items that were specifically designed and created to earn money can also find a way to communicate, perhaps even on a massive scale (by going viral), something beyond just the need to put up great numbers.

The better analogy, and the more obviously conscious source material for the Mandy poster, are those VHS covers from the horror section in our local video stores from 30 years ago. This is a key era, though very brief, in the history and evolution of cover art, so let’s take just a second. First, you have to acknowledge that even before COVID, the video store experience was long gone. For those of you who don;’t remember, or are too young, these were purpose built stores that, even in the suburbs of Philly where I grew up, had the feel of a used book store. The boxes, like old books, were constantly being picked up and moved around as more titles came in. For the most part they were empty, but the images on the boxes, especially for the horror titles, were often extraordinary and sometimes disturbing. Boxes for movies like “I Spit On Your Grave” and “Faces of Death” promised something so subversive and obscene, if only you could ever find a way to actually watch the video.

And that’s the big difference with even the most extreme heavy metal cover art from the same era. There was so much great stuff in that class too: Iron Maiden (shout out to Eddie!), Megadeth, DIO and Judas Priest, just to name a few. But note the difference. No matter how much weed you smoked, these LPs didn’t have images beyond album art. You put on the record and you get sound only.

Not so with the horror and sci fi titles in my video store. Whatever was on the cover MIGHT ACTUALLY BE DEPICTED – if – I was daring or stupid enough to watch the movie. I might actually get to see that image come to life, or at least that was what my 13-year-old self thought.

The artwork the accompanies Mandy is not nightmare fuel by any means, but it is you first visual experience of the movie, unless you’ve seen publicity stills. And the visual aspect of Mandy is its most important attribute. Unlike the lurid images from the video store, there is a haze and lack of clarity with the Mandy poster. It make me ask whether this film is going to be a b-movie splatter fest or whether it is going to be art.

The answer, of course, is yes.

So, as to the cover – the basic plan appears to be, like the early and iconic Star Wars poster, sort of a trailer/still that just shows a lot of the characters from the movie. The use of red/purple/pink hues, as well as the Mad Max like image of Cage in the middle of the iconic pyramid/triangle really makes the image stand out. Unlike the cover for a lot of 80’s horror, where the artwork OVER-promised and the movie UNDERdelivered, with Mandy – this is EXACTLY what the movie looks like.

The era of VHS artwork is now completely ended. Scrolling through your Netflix choices, no matter how gleefully gruesome the image might look, is just not the same as being in that musty store, with that smell, and holding the box for “Chopping Mall” and wondering if the movie really featured anything like the gore fest depicted so vividly on the cover.

Should we actually talk about the movie now? Yes and no. The first thing that hits me when I hit play is that this movie features one of the great prog-rock masterpieces for its opening credits. No less than King Crimson’s elegiac ‘Starless’ from 1974. It’s an epic without peer and many Crimheads would swear it is the best composition from any era of the band’s storied history. I might be one such head. So, ‘delight’ does not begin to describe my reaction. HOW COME NOBODY TOLD ME! I mean, it’s one of those things that would (ON ITS OWN) be enough to get me to watch the movie even if I knew nothing else about it or was otherwise DISinclined to watch.

As soon as we start talking about the actual movie, the key description, for the plot anyway, is that it is impenetrable. Most revenge stories are not depicted in what I would call a realistic manner, but Mandy really chucks it out the window. The fantasy elements do not mean that there is no plot. It’s a revenge story – so that’s the plot. But it’s really the style that takes center stage. So we don’t ask how we got here, or why any of this is happening. There is an unspeakable act of violence against the title character and her boyfriend Red (played by Cage) has an opportunity to mete out some extreme justice.

But, oh that style!

Look. There is a subjective line between annoyingly pretentious high art and a glorious defiance of dominant conventions. Many of the greatest filmmakers, like early Coen brothers, sneak in the unconventional and discomforting stylistic elements into a delicious treat – makes the medicine go down smooth!

But there are always those who want to destabilize your world view. To make you question your place in the cosmos and the nature of reality itself. That’s a heavy burden to take on, frought with risk. But, as a friend recently pointed out, sometimes you get the casting of 4’2” Billy Curtis in High Plains Drifter. Young director Clint Eastwood may have thought this was an artistic flourish that nodded to absurdist and new wave art, but the gimmick doesn’t land and we’re just left feeling like it’s exploitative. Yes, it’s destabilizing when you see it, but it adds nothing to the sweep and aura of the film.

On the other hand, when you look at all the decorative nonsense crammed into Raising Arizona, you can argue, as a viewer, that everything is doing something valuable in there. I may not know what the intention behind each flourish, but there is a continuity leaving me with the feeling that these “gimmicks” are in the service of a completely realized work of art. Of course, Raising Arizona is that rare movie where almost everything works. Most movies I’ve seen can’t make that claim.

Mandy’s most immediate referent is the only other film by director Panos Cosmatos. Beyond the Black Rainbow was released in 2010 and presents a stylistic vision that overshadows its own performers and plot. The appearance is sumptuous with color, lighting and texture all on the table to create mood. Despite its artistic achievements, Black Rainbow never broke through. I found it by chance on a streaming service and just assumed it was some drug-fueled experimental genius from the 70’s.

Mandy’s use of the revenge paradigm means that you can do all sorts of wacky stuff without loosing the very simple, very familiar plot thread. In this way, the revenge genre is not only enthralling, but somewhat user friendly for the artist.

The next big difference between Mandy and Black Rainbow is Nic Cage. Yes, he is a force of nature, big and fearless on the set. But there is also a tone of experience that he brings. While he doesn’t seem too worried about becoming a filmmaker himself, he has made SO many films that there is no question he knows the business, knows what it takes to get a film made. In a way, he is the new, ‘old Hollywood,’ and having him anchor something as ‘out there’ as Mandy smooths the road a great deal. Cage is the ringer. Everyone in the cast and crew bows down and he repays them with massive generosity and genius.

And he goes off. I get the impression that director and star made some kind of bet to see who could go off more, who could bring more insanity to the screen. I’m not sure who won, but they both did great. The moment Cage’s character begins to understand the depth of his loss is a scene of screaming anguish in a gaudy bathroom with warm but harsh lighting as Cage, in a t-shirt and tighty-whities, pours a large amount of vodka down his throat and all over his wounded body. It’s lit like no other scene in the film – all the soft pinks and purples are eliminated as the stage is set for an orgy of blood and revenge which can’t just come out of nowhere.

So, this bathroom scene is the pivot point between the first half of the movie, which is all about foreboding and tension-building, and the second half of the movie where everything, including humanity and reality are chucked right out the window.


The rest of the film doesn’t disappoint. Each act of vengeance is its own set piece, including the sword fight where chainsaws are used instead of swords. When Cage confronts the primary antagonist Jeremiah Sand we get the additional element of script and dialog to amplify the moment. Linus Roache, who plays Sand, talks in interviews about portraying the hypocrisy and withering cowardice of the overcharged male ego, but he really doesn’t have to say a thing. It’s plainly obvious what this character is about (especially in the Trump era), perfectly positioned as the psychotic religious cult leader whose penchant for LSD has turned his whole murderous belief system into a REALLY bad trip.

The legendary Bill Duke appears to help Cage get kitted out for his epic odyssey of revenge. You can’t help but remember Duke in Predator talking a little revenge to Jesse Ventura’s corpse:

“who ever got you, they’ll come back again. And when he does, I’m gonna cut your name right into him.”

So you can say “what is Bill Duke doing in Mandy?” I say he’s connecting us to Predator and a whole different generation of action / horror movies, but he’s also one of only a handful of people who has more gravitas than Cage. Duke’s endorsement of Cage’s revenge plan is important because he’s seen the shit go down, as a character in his only scene in the move, but also, undoubtedly, as an actor. Another pro. Another survivor. There is something about Duke’s strength which makes you believe that a mere mortal can defy a maelstrom of pure evil and come out at least looking like his humanity is intact. This may not be Cage’s fate at the end, but it makes for a weird kind of pep talk to get us ready for the blood and torture that is about to be unleashed.

(Excerpt starting at 1:10:00)


It is a bit wrong to make an audio-only podcast discussing this movie. So much of what happens is both visual and indescribable. There is a graininess to some of the images that makes the film feel like a real exploitation flick from the 70’s. The lighting, and overall use of color is so bold and so effective.

But the cool thing about this scene with Bill Duke is that it relies, just for this interim part of the film, between tragedy and revenge, it gives us script. First of all, Bill Duke’s character is called Caruthers. That takes me right to Scatman Crothers’ incredible performance in The Shining as Halloran. There is so much genius in Kubrick’s work that we sometimes overlook his flaws. The inclusion of a magic negro trope (right down to, and including, the character’s tragic death) is such a flaw. That element adds nothing to The Shining and it shouldn’t be there for a variety of reasons. That’s a subject for another podcast, but I like to think that, even though Bill Duke’s character spells Caruthers differently, that there is a connection between the characters. Certainly both performers are well known for their bald heads, and you can hear the Mandy script take a cheeky shot at that when Red says to Bill Duke – I’ll get out of your hair. It’s a cheap one, but I still love it.


Mandy is the promise of Black Rainbow realized. All the style and panache is now well grafted onto a basic (i.e. easy to understand) revenge movie. As much as Mandy has white knuckle action, it is also remarkable for its patience. If anything, Black Rainbow can be a bit slow, but this isn’t an issue in Mandy. All the lingering over style and lighting and framing is in the service of building tension. If it appears as self-congratulatory at times, that is because the congratulations are well-deserved. Cosmatos seems to be a filmmaker primarily interested in making a film that he himself would enjoy. In Cage he seems to have suitably anarchic and insightful fellow traveler and I am hopeful they will collaborate again. If not, then Mandy, which is so much, will have to be enough.

Miles Davis – Dark Magus

I’ve been waiting to do this one for a while. It’s the third song/side from Miles Davis “Dark Magus,” live at Carnegie Hall in 1974. This is the psychedelic funk at it’s finest, and I get way into the minutiae al the way to the triumphant finale. p.s. No YouTube for this one, but you can listen to the podcast on Apple or Spotify.

Thanks for checking into the Escape Pod!


This is such a wonderful and disturbing album. It’s right near the end of Miles electric 70’s chapter. Just a few months later he went into retirement that proved temporary, but no one knew that at the time. He probably would not have survived without that break.

To a certain extent you have to mine the depths with these albums and you have to be patient. Once this became the Al Foster era, things got looser and crazier. There is even more emphasis on improvisation and incorporation of rock music ideas.

The version of the band on Dark Magus, which is a performance from Carnegie Hall from March 30, 1974, is Foster on drums, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey and Dominque Gaumont on guitars, Dave Liebman and Azar Lawrence on saxes, Mtume on percussion, Michael Henderson on bass, and Miles on trumpet and keyboard. There is no piano or keyboard player on this set like there is on ‘In Concert’ from another New York show in September of 1972.

Incidentally, we are so fortunate to have these single-night-of-music recordings from one of the greatest musicians in history. I realize they are produced, but they still offer a pretty accurate snapshot of where Miles was at before he went into ‘retirement.’

I was introduced to this era of Miles through the last ‘official’ recordings, released as Agartha and Pangea. They are both from February 1, 1975, and when you know this is the end, it is hard not to hear the pain and sadness which must have gone into the decision to step away. The music, like all albums from this particular period of Miles’ life, is challenging and rewards the listener with some deep emotion. The substitution of Sonny Fortune instead of Liebman and Lawrence on sax is an improvement over an already favorable situation.

But let’s get back to Dark Magus. There is no question that you hear a lot of the pain and difficulty Miles is experiencing. I imagine that the keyboard is there to compensate for some of the trouble he is having now with trumpet. Bob Dylan would pull the same stunt in the last decade, opting for keyboard as the guitar proved to be too much of a strain. And you can hear that strain in a lot of Miles’ trumpet work, not just on this record, but from all the live shows in this era.

And yet, there are moments in this set where it all falls away and you hear a sound so strong and demonstrative that there is only one human being who could have played those notes like that.

The most obvious choice to listen to on this beefy set is the second side of the first lp – Wili. The song / side titles are simply the Swahili words for one, two, three and four. Wili means two.

Michael Henderson, who struggled at times in the 1971 band with Kieth Jarret and Jack DeJohnette, lays down one of the funkiest bass parts you’ve ever heard. The tone and the feel, matched with Al Foster’s wide open playing suggests such a monstrous jam to come. And believe me, it’s a good one, but for me it doesn’t match the intensity suggested at the outset. Give a listen:

—play first minute of Wili pt1

That is some skanky intro. Miles comes in with these disruptive chords on his synth. But the drums and bass just keep chugging along with that skank. The problem is that they can’t get back to that vibe and the jam ends up being a bit draggy for me in the second half.

The next tune, however, is the one where I want to go through and detect every turn and trick because it is 25 minutes that could be the best of the best, a culmination of all that Bitches Brew promised and threatened, and also a testament that needs to stand for a bit. By shutting off the fountain for a while, Miles is ensuring that the music of this end point will get extra scrutiny. Scrutiny it deserves.

So, we go to Tatu, which would have been Side three of the double LP set (and which is the Swahili word for three). This is loosely based on songs that have elsewhere been titled “Prelude” and “Calypso Frelimo.” Both of these can be found on other live albums and compilations from this era. I will confess that I didn’t know that when I first prepared this essay, but I also think that is part of the point. By not otherwise identifying these songs, we are forced to deal with them as individual units. And I think that’s the right approach, because these are not the COMPOSITIONS the Miles is known for, now that we are a few decades down wind from his passing. Instead, these are the improvisations that he is known for, and the way he activated his band to rise into a high plane of existence where the music in his head could finally become real. That’s what is very special about this era.

Miles had done this with live records before – the ‘At Fillmore’ album was another double LP set where each side was one continuous song – in that case the titles are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. A posthumous release of the same album came out in 1997 has the actual titles and track divisions, meaning that you don’t have to listen to the whole 25 minute track, if you just want to hear Bitches Brew, for example. A later release of Dark Magus breaks up the sides also, but does not use the actual names of the “songs” to identify the breaks.

By the way, I’m referring to time (minutes and second) in this essay. These times relate to the later version of Tatu, which is split in two. This is not how I go tot know the song, but this is the the version I have for reference. So if you are following along, that’s how to use the time references.

Anyway, I’m discussing this as if it is ALL made up on the spot, because that is essentially what is happening, but as we begin, know that this jam is somewhat based around themes from Prelude and Calypso Frelimo, maybe also Big Fun/Holly-Wuud. I really can’t say for sure.


So Miles starts this off, on keyboard playing a theme that I think is basically the song “Prelude,” but it doesn’t really matter. It’s simple enough so that audience and band alike can follow the “narrative” without knowing the “song.” At 1:40 Henderson basically takes over on bass. And this is easier for a guy who has been in the band for several years now. He holds up to create some early drama. Whether that’s his idea or Miles conducting his band, I don’t know (there is apparently no video), but it works great.

Pete Cosey is soloing with his array of effects through the first couple minutes here and you can really understand why Miles was so totally knocked out by this guy’s playing. It’s pretty close to that jam with Jimi he never got to have, but with even more effects and mayhem.

It’s a monster of a solo (sometimes with effects that make you forget you are listening to a guitar, but it doesn’t actually move the band from one place to another. Rather than big narrative shifts (which are reserved for Miles himself), this is a chance for the bandleader to relax and enjoy his lead guitarist’s amazing skills. So Cosey has a great amount of space to work in, but to me these jams, which are frequent in this era, tend to sometimes feel a little static. That being said, there is some hooping that sounds like it could be coming from the horn section. So even though the drums and bass are keeping things cool (after all, there is a long way to go), the guitar’s intensity is built to a dynamic crescendo with some help from the band. Again, hard to know if this is Miles directing traffic or if this is more of a spontaneous phenomenon without video.

Around 6:37 it sounds like Cosey is wrapping up, even throwing in his own version of some Miles-like riffs with the sinister wah-wah. Miles comes and bails out him / cuts him off with some keyboard hits. This pushes the jam to a new place, that’s the power of Miles. It also signals a transition is coming.

Break at 7:30, with a tease to go back, but really a much needed breakdown. This is the lower depth and volume where you can explore. Cosey writes his finale on the fly by using the space that Miles is giving him for the transition. But at this point things take a very different turn.

The exploration comes courtesy an incredible double sax solo, and this is just such a successful and satisfying turn of events where the two horns are able to pull off this trick where they had to solo together. It is at times almost like delay that is so dramatic and effective on Bitches Brew. Miles urges them on with sinister side-eye synth chords, which then breaks us all the way down (10:32) to some major chord comping from the rhythm guitar. The bass is relegated to a single note on rhythm. It’s an amazing effect. I believe the major chord comping is Reggie Lucas (or Gaumont? Anyone?), who must have had one of the hardest jobs on stage as second banana to Cosey. Cosey uses all the effects and has all the big solos. What is rhythm guitarist to do?

There is a great effort to keep everything in this nice, quiet and cool space, but it keeps threatening to go too far. It is such a sweet groove, but the band is restless. A little more synth at 13:50, descending as if to tell everyone to stay chill. Miles seems to be coming down the stairs on his synth with the intention of entering the ring and doing some damage.

This leads to some additional hype and setup from the sax and an enforced break at 15:31. Sax suggests we may be entering more relieved moment, relating back to the rhythm guitar’s major chords, but Pete Cosey storms back after the break to dial to up the evil.

This is the moment Miles’ trumpet can finally make its very first appearance of this jam. Whatever unknowable monstrosity Cosey can call up on guitar, no matter how deranged and soul destroying, it is nothing NOTHING compared to the power and glory with which Miles enters the fray. The last 90 seconds of this track culminates Michael Henderson and the rest of the string section laying down the Sly Stone-esque groove, and it is supreme. But nothing so perfect can last. And we move to the second part of Tatu. A little over six minutes to go.

The band pauses and Miles returns to the DX7 and there is some noodling followed by a simple chord progression that appears to be an “A” part, that matches with a hurried “B” in a different key. (I think this relates to Calypso Frelimo, but also maybe Holly-Wud – any help out there? Also, this back and forth reminds of how an earlier band used to play Masqualero live in 69-70) So the band can vacillate between these very different sounding feels and play together but also have a ton of space to improvise. And nobody can occupy that space better than Pete Cosey. He drops another doosey with lots of organ to urge him on.

Meantime, even during the hurried part, Reggie Lucas rhythm guitar continues to suggest the quiet part which they get back to at 2:45 of the Tatu Pt. 2.

Now Miles will play the happy little keyboard chord progression with tuned percussion to back him. This is another classic Miles cool vibe that’s mellow and atmospheric as anything he played throughout the 60’s. The tuned percussion is really the attraction here, but the keys, guitars and drum vibe are getting so tasty as we get hyped for a major helping of trumpet. No one can set up an entrance for himself better than Miles. In some ways this is the same trick as in the first half, but there is even more strength and confidence this time. It’s almost like all the hard work for this track is over and now Miles is going to take everyone out for happy hour. You can picture him stalking he stage as the horn snaps at each member of the band and audience. The blues he leaves us with is transcendent and I just want it to go on forever.

Arena Battle Games - to relax you!

On this episode of the Escape Pod, I discuss Raid: Shadow Legends and AFK Arena, both of which present a compelling and calming arena battle experience. Get lost in the game economy and a rainbow of currencies to help you level up the legendary heroes!

[listen to the podcast on Spotify or Apple, and watch on YouTube.


OMG these games are so annoying! This is the third time I am starting on this piece. First I just wanted to talk about Raid, because it is more of a marketing effort than a game, but it’s glossy and has some charm. Then I started talking about tappers, which doesn’t really work with Raid, but is appropriate for this other game AFK: Arena. Despite that somewhat cheeky title, this is a lovely and simple game that I find enjoyable and relaxing. So, now, on the third try, I’m going to talk about both, and particularly in contrast with the some of the other online games I’m playing, where there are vast virtual worlds to explore.

OK — what do we have here? First Raid: Shadow Legends. (This is not to be confused with a first-person shooter that I played for a little while on AppleTV, which is called Shadowgun Legends. Raid is not a first person shooter and it doesn’t involve any kind of large scale virtual world. Instead, Raid is a turn-based arena fighter, where you build a team of characters. The game is comprised of hundreds of characters with varying traits. The ‘action’ of the game occurs in these arena battles, against an AI, or against other players, depending on what type of progression you are trying to achieve. There is GREAT artwork for the appearance of the characters. The arenas are nothing to write home about, but the animated action you see during the bouts is pretty terrific.

The main WORK of the game, however, takes place outside the arena, in a town square type scene where you can manage your resources before and after your battles. The action is really in the resource management. Battles can be carried out on your behalf by the AI if you want to just watch your characters thrash about with varying degrees of success. Attack decisions vary by the skill the character employed and the opposing character against whom the skill is deployed.

As with pretty much every free-to-play game I have tried, Raid is enjoyable at the beginning because you can take advantage of the relatively easy rank-up process and amass a decent amount of resources out of the gate. This isn’t just good because it’s satisfying. It also teaches you how to use the myriad different types of in-game currency. In other words, you can’t properly manage resources without knowing how they work, what they’re for and which are the most important/valuable. Later on, the necessary resources for upgrading characters and gear becomes much harder to come by, unless you start paying. But if you don’t mind slow progress, the game is pretty fun for a freebie.

IN-GAME ECONOMY
Before I get to AFK Arena, which has a similar philosophy and economy, I want to touch on this issue of in-game currencies. This is a common feature with these free-to-play games and, for me, it was incredibly daunting. It seemed like i would have to learn an entirely new language just to have a chance to thrive in the the game’s economy.

Let’s go back to my Real Racing 3 experience. This is a racing game that goes all the way back to 2013. You can amass a ton of the regular currency, but that doesn’t always get you what you want in the game. Most of the really fancy cars can only be purchased with a ton of the premium currency, which is harder to come by. In the past couple years Real Racing has added a third type of currency, but that’s it for now.

The different types of resources in Raid are almost too numerous to count. There is primary currency, used for upgrades and some purchases at the market. There are rubies, which are the premium currency that the game wants you to buy with actual USD. There is a special coin for taking part in PvP matches, there is also energy that is required to enter campaign matches vs the AI. There are time-limited tournaments which each have their own currency that is then redeemed for other currencies, resources and artifacts. Artifacts are their own type of currency in that they work as gear or equipment for the characters and enhance their ability, but also work together as various sets that, when properly matched based on the character’s abilities and affinities, can add an additional boost in the battle arena.

There are so many other resources that act as special currencies having specific enhancement functions. The ‘tavern’ is where you can rank up, which means that special brews are available to speed up the process. The brews come in a variety of flavors to match the character’s affinities. There are also tomes that are extremely hard to come by and offer the quickest way to level up. And by the way, this is not an exhaustive list and there are parts of this game I haven’t even unlocked yet.

The characters themselves are also a form of currency because the lesser characters are routinely exchange or ‘sacrificed’ to level up the stronger characters. This is a good place to talk about the characters, which is my favorite part of the game. Raid is splashy and attractive and the character design is top notch. I think it uses the Unreal engine, even though it is not really an action game. Also, there are a ton of characters. There are over 475 that I know about and more that remain hidden. Each character can be viewed 365 degrees and the small versions that do battle in the arena are a delight to watch. The quest for more powerful, rare and unique characters is what drives me to keep playing.

AFK ARENA

This is a good point to take a look at a related but also very different game, AFK Arena is serious, despite it’s casual sounding name. As someone who didn’t know this until recently, AFK is gamer-speak for ‘away from keyboard.’ I only learned this recently from watching hours and hours of YouTube gaming videos with my 8-year-old son. I still don’t know if OP is ‘on point’ or ‘over powered’ but usually both seem to work. Anyway, sorry for the aside.

As the name would suggest, AFK ARENA has things that happen in the game when you are not playing it. This is a well-established model. Tapping games allow you to gain resources just by tapping the screen. Many (probably most) of these games eventually level up to the point where the tapping is automated, meaning you can earn resources while NOT playing. Ahhh, the sweet smell of passive income.

The inclusion of passive or idle income in AFK Arena is the biggest difference with Raid. In almost every other aspect they are very similar. AFK has a seemingly endless selection of characters, each with their own strength, attributes and affinity. Whereas the Raid characters have a pleasing animation, the AFK characters are beautifully rendered, but still very two dimensional, and very static. When they fight, the movement is Monty Python-esque, but you can still watch hit points and ultimate talents and everything else we expect to see in an area game.

To make up for the much lighter graphics load, AFK Arena gives each character and detailed backstory that locates them in the mythology of the game. I find this to be incredibly endearing since the more developed characters stay with you for a while. Also, the stories and even fighting depictions include some humor. It’s all very delightful.

Like Raid, AFK offers a long progression in campaign mode that gives your heroes the experience to keep enriching your team and leveling up. Instead of head-to-head contests, the PvP aspect is played out on leaderboards. I don’t even know if that classifies as PvP, but it does give the dedicated player a chance to special rewards by beating his fellow players.

There is also a team aspect for both games, but I haven’t sufficiently progressed in either one to really understand how they work. I am part of some cooperative network of players in AFK, but it’s more me following prompts and allocating resources rather than actually knowing what’s going on. IN raid, I haven’t even touched this part the game yet.

RELAX AND ENJOY

I look at both of these games as super casual. They both present an engaging resource-management scenario wrapped in some Dungeons and Dragons type style. The battles themselves are not even necessary (I automate half my battles in Raid and all my battles in AFK), although they are both enjoyable to watch. The real success is the interface of rewards, currencies, incentives and progression requirements that are designed to keep you play and get you paying. And even if you don’t pay, those interfaces still offer a satisfying experience. Progression slows down dramatically as you consider whether it’s worth it to pay for this kind of entertainment.

I was surprised that I got hooked on these games and ended up taking a genuine interest. My video game awakening is quite recent, despite my advanced age, and the idea of a big virtual world to explore (like in Fortnite and PUBG) has been a big part of that. These games, on the contrary go nowhere. But there is still exploration. The artistic and economic designs are so varying and detailed in how they work and fit together that playing both of these has still helped me escape the everyday.