Song Of The Day: Midlake – Meanwhile…

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Good news for fans of ornate folk rock – Midlake are back with a brand new album set to come out in March of next year.

The Denton-based band’s fifth, For The Sake of Bethel Woods, is out via ATO Records/Bella Union on Friday, March 18, 2022. “Meanwhile…” is the first single off the upcoming album and the reason for the otherwise unrelated screencap above – hey, any excuse for a Twin Peaks reference. And one more bit of good news – that gum you like is going to come back in style.

Check out the lyric video for “Meanwhile…” below.

Film Review: Artificial Gamer (Chad Herschberger, 2021)

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by Nash Bussieres

In Artificial Gamer, Dota is described as Basketball meets Chess – and there’s merit in that. But it’s more like if in your basketball/chess game, you and everyone on the court also got a gun. Dota is a mechanically intensive, heavily strategic team game of mutually assured destruction. Every character in play has abilities and powers that can have devastating consequences and completely shift the tide of battle if used perfectly. So the question posed by Artificial Gamer is an inevitable one: would a computer be able to play Dota more perfectly than a human?

The answer – if you were to ask your average Dota player – would be “obviously no.” Dota is a 5-on-5 team game where players take turns drafting characters, all with unique abilities and attributes, to form a cohesive squad. Your goal is to take down your enemy’s base called “the ancient” (Dota stands for Defense of the Ancients) by coordinating attacks on your opponents’ team and marching forward. You collect gold for killing your opponents and small computer-controlled swarms of enemies that are spawned in waves. Gold allows you to power up your character through buying items with the goal of becoming so powerful that your opponent can’t defend any longer as you waltz into their base and claim victory. It’s very much a war of attrition – even the fastest games can take over 20 minutes to complete.

So that’s the real rub here, a game this complex with this many variables in a real-time setting doesn’t immediately seem like it’s ripe for the taking from our eventual robot overlords. In fact, AI that plays Dota has existed since its inception as an in-game tutorial. And the AI teams, called “bots”, are incredibly bad; even on the hardest setting new players can easily overcome computer controlled opponents.

This concept of not only competent AI, but powerful AI in Dota being a laughable idea in the eyes of the wider community serves as the main narrative of Artificial Gamer. It follows the journey of OpenAI, a company who sets out to make a bot strong enough to beat any Dota team – even the world champs. We first see it take on Dendi – the best player in the world at the time – one-on-one and demolish him. But one-on-one Dota isn’t really the draw; it’s a team game and the complex decisions, coordination and human intuition needed to perform at a top level is completely incongruent with what is needed in a single player game. So can OpenAI do it?

The majority of the film focuses on the trials and tribulations of OpenAI as they try to get their bot ready to fight in time for The International 2018: the Dota world championships. There they will play exhibitions versus real human teams and attempt to prove that their bot can hang with the best. It’s a visually engaging story with lots of fascinating illustrations and fun graphics and is edited in a way that (mostly) nails really difficult segues and topic shifts without feeling too jarring or compartmentalized. The lack of a main narrator and an occasional inability to truly describe the concepts being talked about in laymen’s terms can make it a bit dry if you don’t already have at least a casual understanding of Dota, machine learning or both. The film is built up to The International as if it were to be the climax of the story, but this grand battle happens an hour in and turns out to only be a stepping stone in a much longer journey, which in turn hurts the pacing of the last third of the film.

Compelling and endearing interviews from the team at OpenAI do a lot to emphasize how much the current field of artificial intelligence and machine learning is a wild west; no one knows if anything is actually going to work or how it will work or when it will work. Spending this amount of time and energy on a project that has an unknown chance of success is unforgiving work and you can easily see the toll it takes on the team despite their determination.

Ultimately, Artificial Gamer is a deeply human story about a team of passionate and desperate pioneers trying to accomplish something they’ve been told is impossible. If you’re a fan of Dota or of machine learning in general you’ll get a lot out of it, but your eyes might glaze over a bit from time to time if you’re completely uninitiated.

Concert Review: Arlo Parks, September 28, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

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While live music has been making its return over the last several months, here in Toronto we’ve been much more cautious about jumping back into it. Sure, there’s been a few shows here and there, but up until just this month, indoor shows have been (understandably) pretty rare and concerts from international touring acts even more rare, with a large amount of acts choosing to postpone or outright cancel their Toronto dates. With all that in mind, it was indeed a pleasure to see British singer-songwriter Arlo Parks make her way to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre last night for her first ever Canadian show.

Following an energetic set by openers Michelle, Arlo Parks made her entrance, almost running onto the stage, her arms outstretched as if she were pretending to be an airplane (a move she would return to a few times throughout the night). With a soulful sound that has more than a hint of trip hop influence and personal sounding yet relatable lyrics, the songs off of Parks’ debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams translate quite well to the live setting. An assured performer, Parks had the crowd on her side from the get go and, for her part, also seemed quite stoked to be playing before the fairly packed house (or at least as packed as regulations will allow … which, to my mind, was still pretty packed).

Midway through the show Parks commented on the positive vibes in the room, noting that she felt “very welcome” in Toronto. But really, how could she not feel that way? Aside from the fact that she put on a great show, I think people were also just really happy to be at a show – any show. After more than a year and a half without much in the way of real concerts, a lot of people in this city are pretty hungry for live music. In fact, as I looked around and surveyed the audience, I noticed some pretty young faces in the crowd and wondered whether some of them might have been experiencing their first real show. If so, definitely not a bad way to start things off.

Song Of The Day: Sincere Engineer – Trust Me

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Chicago pop-punk/emo band Sincere Engineer‘s just released sophomore album Bless My Psyche is a solid collection of songs dealing with themes of self-doubt and ennui. To some, that might not sound like the most fun listen, but one of the major strengths of Deanna Belos’s songwriting is her ability to write honestly about such feelings while still making it all sound rather uplifting and yes, quite relatable to many.

Opening track “Trust Me” starts things off with Belos belting out, “I need, I need, I need, I need help/And I yell, I yell, I yell “How do I stop this?”/’Cause I keep, I keep, I keep doing this to myself/And it’s coming down, it’s coming down like a faucet.” It’s a strong opener to a strong album. Check it out.

Bless My Psyche is out now on Hopeless Records.