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Threepenny Thursday – The Best of Alex Mauer

26 Sep

I have to finally cop to this one. I’m not embarrassed or anything, but this man’s music has been doggedly clinging to the top of my Most-Played Tracks Ever List for a very long time. Acknowledgment must finally be made! Alex Mauer manufactures glistening, deadly earworms in the glow of an 8-bit laboratory, and they’ve taken over my brain!


Gaze upon his beanie/fro combo and DESPAIR

He’s a chiptune artist – which is a musician who synthesizes electronic music through the sound chips of “vintage computers, video game consoles, and arcade machines” – and his particular brand of aural alchemy is truly magical.

For me, and for anyone from my generation, this stuff is nostalgic to an extreme. Sure, hearing the Super Mario Bros. theme might remind you vaguely of your childhood, but the pure digital sound itself, without the melodies you recognize and remember, works more subtly. Alex Mauer’s songs sound like the themes I remember from Zelda and StarTropics and Contra, but are actually spectacularly well-composed original pieces that were never part of any game. I guess that kind of opaque sense-memory is more potent of a brain toxin for me, because it triggers memories that are crazy detailed.

But, even if you’re somehow not me (a baffling question at any approach), and this music doesn’t unlock a deeply emotional connection to the sparkling ether of your past, don’t worry. If you enjoy songs that are smart, memorable, and realize-you’re-still-humming-it-four-days-later catchy, then Alex Mauer’s your man. Listen I know I get ass-kissy but either I’m this guy’s exact ideal audience, or there really is something more than meets the ear going on here. I’ve linked and detailed some choice bleeps and bloops below for your delectation.

“OJ Finds The Real Killers”

Best track title of all time? Yes?

This song absolutely rips. It’s like a training montage from an NES game that takes place on the moon. I get notes of giant robots, low-flying stunt aircraft, and slow-mo shots of a bat cracking into a baseball. It was used as the score for an episode of PATV, where the salty rogues of Penny Arcade faced off in a climactic ping-pong battle with their bitter rivals, the villainous developers from Bungie Software. And if you don’t think ping-pong can be epic: you’re wrong.

“The Bear”

Richly melodic and as heartwarming as a gulp of hot cider on crisp autumn evening. I think I would have pictured a giant scruffy kodiak lumbering around in the forest even if this track hadn’t been called “The Bear”. Dat plodding beat.


Mauer is incredibly prolific, and when you listen to more of his work you notice that crackly percussion, strange time signatures, and complex melodic layering become commonplace. This song is a perfect example of that style, which seems to be his bread and butter. I found this track to be more of an acquired taste, but it’ll sneak up on ya. You’ll wake up humming it in a fortnight and go “What the hell is that?”

Classic Mauer.

“Tickle Bee”

Again this guy with the incredible aptitude for track titling! I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more adorable thing in my life. It’s snuggly and tickly and fuzzy. The chorus climbs and falls like a feather trailing up and down your spine; I dare you not to giggle. It’s the bridge section that I really dig, though, with peanut-buttery bass and a honey-glazed melody.

“Blast Gaiden”

Bar none, my favourite. I don’t know what it is about this song, but it’s burrowed into me. Like a botfly, only way less horrifying and much more soothing, euphoric, and transportive. So, nothing like a botfly actually.

Every element of this song connects with me: the wavering throb of the bass, the soft syncopated rhythm, and the way the melody and bass line sway together and intersect for a gorgeous moment at the chorus before parting again. Seriously, I could go on inventing unctuous metaphors for this song all day. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s stolen my heart. I don’t think there will ever be a time in my life that I won’t love this track.


I give the music of Alex Mauer the most enthusiastic 5 out of 5 Jeff Goldblums possible. If you enjoy well-crafted digital music, and especially if you’ve ever played a video game, you might just be a hero with an 8-bit heart, even if you don’t know it. And I just revealed it to you.

That’ll be 45 bucks.

5 jeffs


Threepenny Thursday – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

13 Dec

The world of Middle Earth is one that is near and dear to my heart, probably even more so than our own. Our world kinda sucks in comparison: they have the Shire and dragons and magic and the Elves. They have Ents, and wizards! We have AIDS and suicide bombers and Chris Brown. Kind of a no-brainer.

Of course, they also have Dark Lords and hideous Orcs and murderous Wraiths. You take the bad with the good, you know? That was pretty much my attitude when watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. There were parts of it that didn’t quite work for me, but on the whole it charmed the hair right off my feet.

For our recently-thawed readers, a quick synopsis: a stunted hippie lives a peaceful (if slightly humdrum) existence comprised mostly of smoking weapons-grade tobacco, until a homeless man forces him against his will to embark on a life-threatening quest. So, basically, it’s an episode of Scooby-Doo.


The production design is truly incredible. Richard Taylor and the WETA team have outdone themselves. The costumes and makeup are spellbinding, with intricate detail and impressive variety. The early scenes in Erebor do an incredible job of creating a lively, vibrant, and glorious culture for the race of dwarves, which is balanced against the pale and wriggling goblins scampering along the creaky wooden walkways of the Misty Mountains. The representation of each different Middle-Earthican culture is distinct and full of flavour, and I couldn’t get enough of any of it. My eyes were like Bombur drooling at an endless banquet table. And speaking of eyes, there’s lots to say about the visuals.

The colour palette was interesting, with many bright and vivid tones. Much of the landscape and sets looked like splashes of high-definition paint; very helpful in enhancing the “fantasy” aspect. There was a lot of orange, though, enough that I actually noticed it, which is less than ideal. The 3D was put to excellent use, and in the end I was glad it was filmed that way (I’ll also be very interested to see how it pans out in 2D). But the giant elephant in the room is the framerate: while most films are shot at 24 frames per second, The Hobbit was shot at 48, which is normal practice for TV shows. Even if you hadn’t heard anything about it, you’d watch the first three minutes of the movie and know that something was off. What my friend Duncan described as the “soap opera effect” is very evident; people seem to move overly quickly, and the lighting is sometimes unfortunately reminiscent of daytime TV. It doesn’t look the way we expect movies to look, and it is definitely jarring at first. Thankfully, once the adventure begins proper, the cinematography begins to favour wide-angle panoramas and sweeping landscape shots and this effect is less noticeable, and by that time your eyes have adjusted anyway. Again, it’ll be fascinating to see how different the movie looks at a “normal” framerate, but for now I’m keeping an open mind. I can see this being much more of an actual evolution in how movies are made than something as gimmicky as 3D, and if that’s true, the bright and cartoony world of The Hobbit is a great argument for early adoption.

Performances are stellar across the board, especially Martin Freeman as the eponymous halfling, whose stuttering charm makes it hard to imagine the character being played any other way. The company of dwarves manage to be individually distinct and memorable – a true testament to the gargantuan effort put into their design – and we meet some fun new characters as well, from the animal-loving Radagast to the terrifying Orc chieftain, Azog the Defiler (who looks like he’d be comfortable wielding a red lightsaber). A few familiar faces return as well, and unfortunately feel kind of shoehorned in; but I’ll leave that up to you to judge. Except for one small role, which LOTR fanatics and Flight of the Conchords fans alike will witness with squealing glee.


Everything else I can think of is spot-on. The action is exciting and well-choreographed, the sound design is fantastic (with the ring of dwarven hammers and some stone-giant fisticuffs leaping readily to mind), and the music is stirring and memorable. Which reminds me – there’s singing! Everybody sings, and they sing lyrics straight from the novel, which soothed my cynical soul and dazzled my heart with warmth and charm.

If I had to shorten this review to a single sentence, it would be this: Do not watch this movie expecting it to be like The Lord of the Rings. It isn’t, and to put it simply, the differences between that trilogy and this one are exactly the same as the differences between “The Hobbit” novel and the LOTR books. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a colourful, fun-filled family fantasy adventure (albeit with a few decapitated goblins) and should be enjoyed as such. Gandalf is a handy exemplar: gone is the brooding, scowling, deep-voiced Mithrandir from LOTR, who carried the weight of terrible dread on his shoulders. In The Hobbit, we see a clever, spry wizard with a twinkle in his eye and a quip on his lips. The essence of his character – wisdom, steadfastness, intelligence, hidden power, etc – is kept intact, but Sir Ian imbues him here with a sense of whimsy, which is true to the book and to the spirit of the film as a whole.

I’ll close by shushing the ill-informed, who bleat that they shouldn’t have stretched “The Hobbit” into three films. Having just re-read the book for the billionth time, I’m here to tell you that there’s plenty in there, more than enough to comfortably fill three films; and if you don’t trust this team to handle it well, then feel free to suggest a different one. After beginning this unexpected adventure with Bilbo and Co., I could not be more excited to visit this world two more times, and I have no doubt that Peter Jackson, WETA, the cast, and everyone else will continue to do both the source material and the audience the justice that they deserve.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gets a solid block of Jeffs for its fantastic design, courageous presentation, and fabulous execution. It’ll be a very gloomy Christmas indeed if you miss out on this awesomely fun adventure.

5 jeffs

Threepenny Thursday – Upcoming Reviewsapalooza!

11 Oct

Remember my First Annual All Hallows Eve Ex-Spook-Aganza Retrospective 2011? Well, punch my pumpkins – a whole ‘nother year done gone by, and it looks like we’re just about due for a second spooky salvo of horror movie reviews!

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing the lineup yet, but rest assured that my selections this year are, pretty much across the board, much more modern and much more visceral than last year. We’re kicking it up a notch, baby. By 2022 these things won’t even be reviews anymore, just one bloodcurdling elongated typed-out scream.

This little note is to let you know that Threepenny Thursday is hereby suspended for the remainder of October to allow for each flick to be properly enjoyed and analyzed. The Second Annual All Hallows Eve Ex-Spook-Aganza Retrospective 2012 will drop at witching hour this Wednesday, October 31st – and then we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming (assuming, of course, we haven’t gone completely mad in the interim).

See you soon, terrorphiles! Looking forward to sucking your blood eating your brains  murdering your entire family sharing these fun film experiences with you!