• I got sucked into the pandemonium of "The Hunger Games"

    The highly anticipated sequel “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” comes to theaters on Nov. 22 and I am excited. Actually, I am beyond excited. 

    I never planned to get sucked into the pandemonium that surrounded "The Hunger Games” series. But once all my friends started talking about it, I decided to cave and read the book series. I was quickly consumed with the story line and even found myself visualizing myself in the arena. Katniss and Peeta became everyday conversation topics and I started referencing the book at family dinners. After finishing the first book, I went straight into “Catching Fire.” I stayed up into the early morning hours to finish the second installment of the series. After I closed the back cover, all that I could think was, "I am so ready for this movie to come out."

    Now that November is finally here, I can count down the days until I am sitting in the theater, letting the wonder of “Catching Fire” wash over me. 

    These are the top five things I am looking forward to seeing in the sequel.

    The arena 

    The arena in the first movie was awesome, but “Catching Fire”’s arena will be outrageous. This time around, Katniss finds herself on a circular island in the midst of a constant stream of danger, such as a rain shower of blood and lightning striking every hour. The scenes from the book give the movie sequel the chance to have a breakthrough cinematic moment with its visuals.

    Past victors

    The sequel’s plot revolves around these crucial characters, who all range in age and skill and provide a chance for newcomers to take to the big screen. With an arena filled with victors — who are all skilled in survival and know what it takes to kill — Katniss and Peeta will have to prove they have what it takes to defeat some of their own. I am most excited to see the portrayal of athletic District 4 victor Finnick Odair and the elderly Mags.

    The victor’s weapons 

    Each district has a specific weapon that its people use well. We’ve already seen Katniss shoot a bow and arrow and Peeta camouflage himself. In “Catching Fire,” we should be prepared to see tridents, electrical wire and other new weapons in the arena. 

    The clothes

    Katniss, the Girl on Fire, received her title for her extraordinary costumes and independent personality. In “Catching Fire” I hope to see more bright colors and avant garde styles, especially when it comes to Katniss’ wedding dress.

     

  • Music at the Texas Renaissance Festival

    While everyone in Austin is busy talking about Fun Fun Fun Fest, there is another festival going on in Texas. Sandwiched in the northwestern outskirts of Houston, the Texas Renaissance Festival is full of deliciously greasy food, all the beer money can buy and thousands of costumed patrons, from children to adults. Ren Fest may lack the big, fancy stages and thrashing metal bands of FFF Fest, but the musical acts are a particularly big draw for a lot of attendees. These are the best musical acts I saw in my weekend at the Texas Renaissance Festival. 

    The best act in the whole festival is without a doubt Circa Paleo. This troupe of musicians is very talented and extremely precise with their live shows. They play a mix of traditional gypsy music and ancient folk melodies, while also throwing in a few tunes that are recognizable to modern ears, like Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and the Game of Thrones theme song. I saw them twice throughout the day, and their sets were pretty varied. At one point during the band’s second performance, all of the band members grabbed a percussive instrument and had a tribal drum breakdown. The group plays music that is great to listen to, and it's performed in a method that is at times more akin to rock musicians than forest-wandering bards.

    Tartanic was a bigger crowd-drawer than Circa Paleo, most likely due to the fact that they are kilt-bearing men playing bagpipes. They always put on an entertaining show, mostly because of the Ty Pennington-meets-Ryan Seacrest leading man of the group. But the band is reluctant to vary their set much. It’s been very similar the past few years at the festival. Newcomers will be entranced by the group’s eccentricities, but yearly festivalgoers can only hope for a little change next time.

    The trio Saxon Moon had their debut at the festival this year, and for being around acts that have been regulars for nearly a decade, they did a great job. Comprised of two men with stringed instruments and one eye-patched drummer, they play an array of Scandinavian and Mediterranean folk tunes. The group seemed a bit daunted by the expansiveness of the Texas Renaissance Festival — it’s the biggest of its kind in the country — but they kept up well and fit right into the atmosphere. 

  • Playlist of the week: Week 9

    In this weekly feature, I make a playlist of some of the best and most important new songs from the week before. Each track is supplemented with a short commentary, giving a reason to check them out.

    Mutual Benefit – “Advanced Falconry”

    The first true LP from Mutual Benefit is one of the most pleasurable listens of the year. It doesn’t cover much new ground, but the record’s warm atmosphere and sleek production creates easy listening to the nth degree. “Advanced Falconry” appears in the middle of the album’s cycle, and its lush strings, folky guitar and light vocals create a beautiful accompaniment to this fall season. 

    Arcade Fire – “Normal Person”

    Arcade Fire’s uber-hyped Reflektor finally arrived, with a somewhat mixed response from fans and critics. It’s agreed that the band is as great as ever, but the album’s drudging length and sometimes unsuccessful experimentation left it from reaching the status that it was destined to be. Either way, it’s still a great record, and “Normal Person” is one of the most rockin’ songs the group has ever put out. It’s the closest Arcade Fire will probably ever get to heavy metal.

    Swearin’ – “Watered Down”

    The second album from this Philly-based indie punk-rock group continues where their album first left off, making a great 90s sounding rock album. “Watered Down” is a fun track that evokes feelings from a previous generation. From the album cover to the vocalist’s lethargic voice, Swearin’ is a Gen-X group that just happens to have come around a decade or two later than expected. 

    Polica – “Trippin”

    Electronic R&B group Polica’s second LP recently serves as an extension to their debut. There isn’t much new experimentation going on, but the formula that worked well the first time around is applied once again, by combining rhythmic electronics with Channy Leaneagh’s improved voice. “Trippin” is a classic Polica track, full of unintelligible lyrics and a dance club-ready beat.

    Arcade Fire – “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)

    While the entirety of Reflektor might not have lived up to expectations, there’s no doubting that the record consists of some of the group’s best songwriting to date. A standout on the album is the second half’s “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” which fulfills their conceptual ideas while also creating an emotional powerhouse of a song. Its chorus is cosmic, heavenly and catchy as hell.

    M.I.A. – “Bring The Noize”

    Everyone’s favorite female rapper is not named Niki Minaj, she’s named M.I.A., and she had a new album drop recently. M.I.A. calls the album her most spiritual work yet. The tracks are focused on Hindu gods and beliefs, but that’s not the first thing to come to mind when her music starts playing. “Bring The Noize” is a fast party-thumping anthem, and is full of characteristic M.I.A.-isms. 

    Gesaffelstein – “Aleph”

    Completing this playlist is a song from French-producer Gesaffelstein’s first LP. After gaining some cred after working on the incredible Yeezus, the producer put together a record full of sound-ripping electronic music. The Yeezus relations are easy to catch, with much of the music on this album sounding highly industrial and hard. The record’s excessive length isn’t easy to get through, but it’s an interesting listen in this post-Yeezus era of music. 

  • Fun Fun Fun Fest, Day three: Festival fatigue, Cloud Nothings and tearing up to Daniel Johnston

    By the third day of Fun Fun Fun Fest, I was suffering that typical strain of festival fatigue. I had a slow start to my day and finally trudged through the gates around 3:30 p.m..

    First stop was the Yellow Stage, where the Air Sex Championships were in full swing. While there were still a fair amount of attendees, it was the emptiest I had seen the tent all weekend. Go figure. People making tender love to air on a stage can only be entertaining for so long, so I soon skedaddled over to the Blue Stage. 

     

    Electronic guru XXYYXX drew a diverse crowd, from the college bros in Hawaiian shirts to ladies clad in Slayer leggings and even Ukulele Guy, whom I saw at several different shows, strumming along and dancing. The set started strong – the crowd was dancing, the speakers were bumping and the good vibes were flowing. Unfortunately this roll soon sputtered out of steam. The music lost its groove and I heard the Black Stage calling my name. 

    I admit to not knowing much about Cloud Nothings prior to seeing them at FFF. I’ve read the name on lots of buzz sites and concert bills, but had yet to actually listen to their music. Needless to say, the move from Blue to Black was a good one. Cloud Nothings’ noisy punk shook me loose from my festival fatigue. I happily rocked my head along all the way to the end of their set. With my batteries recharged, I wandered over to the Orange Stage.

    Washed Out started their set late, which was consistent with many other acts at the stage. The mood was, well, washed out. Washed Out himself (a.k.a. Ernest Greene) noticed the stagnant ambiance and told the crowd to get moving. Luckily the tunes got groovier and the audience did too. 

    My night’s hands-down highlight was seeing Daniel Johnston on the Yellow Stage. Even after spending nearly the entirety of my life in Austin, I had yet to take one of the several chances I’ve had to see this legend play. There are few festival experiences I’ve had that I cherish, and this was one of them. From hearing “True Love Will Find You In the End” to a cover of The Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” and finishing the night with an a cappella sing-along to “Devil Town,” it was a show that I’ll always remember. As the tent emptied, fest goers cried and hugged each other. I myself may have teared up just a little baby bit, or maybe it was just the stars in my eyes. 

  • Fun Fun Fun Fest, Day two: Chromatics, Deerhunter and M.I.A.

    The highlight of day one was being head butted during the No Age show. So day two could only get better. I arrived at the festival later in the day, mostly looking forward to the headliners. 

    I walked to the Blue Stage first to hear Portland electronic-band Chromatics. They sounded spot on, a good portion of the crowd swaying along to the dreamy electronic beats. The music seems best suited for driving in a car with Ryan Gosling and lots of neon lights, though. I’m not sure if Chromatics is really a memorable festival act. 

     

    After taking a much needed snack and bathroom break, we sat down to listen to a small portion of Television’s set. The band maintained some of the punk rock sound that made them famous in the `70s, and many of the bands there must’ve been excited to play on the same bill as seminal New York rockers. Bradford Cox of Deerhunter chatted excitedly before his set about using the same amp as Television, and finally one of the sets we’d been waiting for all weekend had arrived. 

    Cox took the stage in normal clothes (he is known to wear a dress on occasion). The whole set was the band just having fun and jamming. I was happy to hear “Revival” and “Desire Lines,” and the closing with “Back to the Middle” was all a super Deerhunter fan could ask for. We figured there would be a small exodus away from the stage since Deerhunter and M.I.A. fans don’t exactly overlap completely. We managed to push ourselves closer to the stage in anticipation of Fun Fun Fun Fest’s pop princess.

    After a short wait and some set changes, M.I.A. took the stage. The bass shook our entire bodies from the ground up. The lights flashed and she danced and rapped about in glittering gold. There seemed to be some sound issues, and it was hard to hear her singing during the show. A dozen or so audience members were brought on stage twice, once during “Bad Girls.” At some point near the end, M.I.A. and her dancers started throwing small objects at the crowd. We had no idea what it was until they exploded all over us in bright colors. The crowd surged forward for Paper Planes, covered in colored paper and ecstatically happy. 

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