Reportage

Greendale Saved

It’s just a silly TV show. Some gags and some chucklery once a week by a smart and talented cast and crew.

So why has news that Yahoo! has saved my beloved Community from the brink of extinction yet again filled me with such elation? Is it because Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna are returning to run things? Is it because Donald Glover seems to be finding his smile again after a year of touring and expressed a willingness to bring closure to the story of Troy Barnes? Is it because one half of the prophecy contained in a throwaway line from Season 2 will be fulfilled? Yes to all, but also more.

Community has always been, in many ways, a show about failure, about characters who couldn’t function, or gambled and lost as they stumble back to solid ground. The victories, when they come at all, are tiny and fleeting, a truth mirrored by the show’s history. Renewals tempered with shorter episode orders, no scheduled premiere dates  midseason hiatuses. When it did make the air it was put in a punishing time slot facing down the Chuck Lorre twin-ratings-behemoth of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, two shows it could never really compete with because it was too busy gleefully jumping up its own ass. It almost seemed poetic that the show would die brushing its fingertips trying to reach the improbably prophesied sixth season.

But for those of us who love the show, who really love it, with the sort of all-encompassing passion usually reserved for Whovians or Browncoats, the show speaks to us because we recognize the struggle. Maybe we gambled and lost, too. Maybe we took the long way around to discovering why we’re here and what we’re supposed to do. As Jeff Winger says to the Dean after his bout of insanity while producing a TV commercial for the school, “We’ve all been there. Which is why we’re all here.”

And there will be many who bemoan that the show was never the same after the “Gas Leak Year” of Season 4, and the losses of Chevy Chase and Donald Glover. That it never regained its spirit even after Harmon returned, that it felt tired and out of ideas and should be left to die. And they can feel free to lean back with their arms folded and a smirk on their mugs. Yesterday I might have agreed with them, but it would only be to soften the loss I was feeling. From now until next spring, I just don’t have it for them. This isn’t refusing to let go of a notion the show may have outgrown, I don’t think Harmon’s the sort to do something he didn’t want to do, even if it was to honour the fans. If he didn’t think he had any stories to tell, he would walk. It’s a silly little TV show, but despite everything going against it, it’s still kicking. And so are we.

Darkest timeline averted, Human Beings.

A Letter to Donald

‘Bino,

I woke up from a mid-morning nap following an overnight shift to a phone blown up with texts and tweets alerting me to the spontaneous listening party you’d announced for your upcoming album in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods park.  I was a little shocked, as far as I knew you were still filming your episodes of Community, but with enough time to throw some clothes on and head down, I didn’t want this to be another of those “Cool things that happen in Toronto that I take for granted and don’t go to.”

There were only about fifty people or so when I showed up, standing around a kid with a pair of amplifiers. I foolishly thought attendance might actually stay at those levels, and that maybe I could tell you some of these things in person, but within fifteen minutes the crowd had swollen to around 200. As the crowd grew and 5.00 came and went the kid with the amplifiers started to look nervous, and it occurred to me it was wholly possible we were about to be trolled by a local crew of kids taking the opportunity to promote their shitty mixtape.  But then you showed up, no fanfare, pushed through the crowd to the picnic table, sat down, plugged your phone into the speakers and started playing the album*.

Aw, dammit. I thought. He’s on his art school bullshit again. I can’t lie, Donald. I’d been concerned. You first hinted at restlessness on the ROYALTY mixtape, so news that you were leaving Community (where I first became a fan) was disappointing, but not surprising. But that short film you made last summer (which I admit I didn’t even watch) caused some eyebrow arching, and then there were your Instagram notes last month. So when you strolled up without a word, I started to wonder if I was willing to hang with where you were going.

By the time I left Bellwoods, though, I was back on board, not from anything you did, per se, but from what the crowd did.

Toronto is…we can be a weird town. Superior yet love-starved. Many in that park seemed to think they’d be getting a concert of some sort, despite your earlier tweet to the contrary. A few climbed nearby trees to catch a glimpse of you. When you’d played what you wanted to, you stood up and answered questions from the crowd for half an hour. When a second person asked you if you were going to do any stand-up, a few of us groaned and you chuckled and mentioned someone had already asked that and moved on to the next question.

“Uhh, okay?  Thank you? For not answering my question? Appreciate it!” the guy hollered. And all I could think was Wowww, you know what?  Fuck youguy. He owes you nothing. And that was when it all sort of clicked in for me. You don’t owe me anything either. If I’m sad the antics of Troy and Abed will be shortened this year, tough shit for me. Would I really turn down the chance to run the ship at my own show if given your choice?  No, I wouldn’t. Neither would anyone else.

As for the ‘cry for help.’ Instagram notes, I watched your Breakfast Club interview where you explained that part of what inspired it was just feeling alone and lost, like damn near every other twentysomething butting their heads against the promises of history.

“Everybody stunts on Instagram. Nobody shows their buddy’s funeral, nobody wants to be vulnerable. People thought I was crazy because I was honest. That was it,” you said.

That honesty is what always drew me to your music, that willingness to admit fear that always causes “real heads” to get their backs up and start calling people “soft.”  Like Kanye said, “We’re all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” He was never supposed to be the last.

When I was in journalism school my second writing course was on various styles of column writing, personal essays, shit like that.  For my first workshop submission, I wrote about something extremely personal that was going on with my family. I was older than most of my classmates, who I’d only known for five months by then. You could feel the air getting sucked out of the room as they read it. But I just threw it all out there because I couldn’t stand the idea of restraint, felt like all of our work work would suffer if we weren’t willing to go all the way with it. I’ve grown somewhat more diplomatic in how I deploy the truth in the subsequent years, but I still believe what I did in that class: that any art that means anything has to leave it all on the table. Your willingness to do that, rawer than how Kanye or Drake or even Eminem do it, is unlike anything I’ve heard in hip-hop, and is still so exciting to me. It’s like being 12 years old and listening to De La Soul is Dead for the first time, just being enthralled and anxious and confused all at once.

So what I guess I’m trying to say is do your damn thing, Donald, whatever that thing might be. If you want to write, write. If you want to make music, make music. I might not love everything you do, but you’ll always make it worthwhile to check in.

Best,

Jordan

ps: That “rainbow, sunshine” song? The one that sounded like Jhené Aiko sung a hook?  It’s a goddamn monster.

*Because the Internet, out Dec. 10.

 

Coming Down

This will be a story about two things, poorly organized.

It’s been about two weeks since I gave my manuscript the final read through and sent it off to my editors. My eyes stung, my body reeked, my brain frayed on sugar and caffeine overdose. Almost bankrupt from the work shifts I’d given away to write it. Two weeks on my finances are still kind of dicey. It could be another six to eight months before I see a dime from the thing, if not more. It’s almost enough to make a man wonder why he bothers.

Almost.

People have constantly asked me throughout this process, But aren’t you excited?! I am but I’m not. The 18 months I proposed, researched and wrote this book were a time of intense personal loss, on a few different levels, not the least of which was the breakdown of my six-year relationship, compounded by the loss of the woman who saw me through that breakup and made sure I stayed above water. There are lessons of self-sufficiency to be found there, I’m sure, but I don’t care to excavate them today. Suffice to say, I learned the hard way what most writers already know: any project may turn into a collaborative process, but in the thick of it, it’s just you, the screen and the words. And in my case, a dead man.

That’s been the strangest part of all this, now that I’m “over the mountain,” as it were.  I spent large portions of every day with this guy in my head, listening to his music, researching his life, reading what people who knew him had to say. I don’t need to do that anymore. I need to let him go. And I’ve started to, but I kind of already miss him.

After I mailed the draft in, I got nine hours of sleep, went to work for a quick shift and tended to the business of cleaning my sty of an apartment after weeks of neglect. I had Songza on for accompaniment, I think it was an 80’s party playlist. Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” came on. I was hungry, so I took a moment to eat some yogurt and take stock of what I’d done and what still needed cleaning. And I don’t know, something about the breeze coming in my window, realizing I’d gotten enough of my life back to actually clean the house, Joe Jackson reminding me we’re all young but getting old before our time… I felt something resembling pride in my accomplishment. It didn’t matter who was supposed to be there when I finished,the point was finishing.

Details have trickled in over the last couple of weeks. A cover design, a release date, a listing on the publisher site [you can find all these details on the recently redesigned page for the book, just click ’33 1/3 Donuts’ above]. Currently my editor’s looking at the manuscript, she’ll send it back to me hacked to shit with ideas on how to make it better, I will spend a month rewriting based on her suggestions and then my tiny little hype machine will kick into high gear, and I’ll really be in trouble, because eventually someone’s going to ask the [reasonable] question, “Who the fuck is this guy, and why does he get to write about Dilla?!” And I don’t have an answer. I’m told most creative types, especially writers, live with the anxiety that we’re all just frauds and one day someone will realize it and tell the world.

Neil Gaiman has lived with this anxiety. Despite winning multiple awards for his writing, building a career that’s endured over 30 years and proving he can write everything from films to children’s books to comics and radio plays, he still worries that one day someone will knock on his door, confiscate his notepads and force him to get a real job.  He discussed this fear in a speech he made to the 2012 graduating class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. He put everything he knew about trying to build a career in the arts into those 20 minutes, and of course it went viral online, eventually being collected in a slim volume designed by Chip Kidd called Fantastic Mistakes. Knowing Gaiman was stopping in Toronto as part of his “Last Signing Tour” a mere five days after my draft day, the speech, with its dedication to everyone wondering “Now what?” [which I most certainly was] it seemed like a suitable item for him to sign [since I’d forgotten to bring my copy of Sandman #1 back from my parents’ house].

The first time I met Gaiman, I told him about being 10 or 11 years old and stumbling across an interview of his on the old TVOntatio show Prisoners of Gravity, and how I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever seen, and started reading Sandman shortly afterward. His stories changed my life; where books like Dark Knight Returns or Arkham Asylum left a marked impression on me, Sandman didn’t have any of the nihilism those books did, there was always a humanity and optimism in them, something that spoke to me then like it spoke to me in his latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (no lie, my favourite thing of his in years. No shots, just personal taste). Four years ago, he’d seemed genuinely touched by the story, looked up and smiled, then shook my hand, something I hadn’t seen him do much with the other people in line.

When I saw him a couple weeks ago, he was personable, if a little weary, and I launched into an off the cuff monologue about why I was having him sign the speech, and my book coming out, and how I took the advice to ‘make good art” very seriously, considering the circumstances surrounding my book’s inception (great fun watching his publicist try to piece that one together, as the woman I used to date was standing next to me in line). And for the second consecutive time, he paused, looked up at me and offered his hand, pen still threaded in his fingers. I think this means we’re best friends now.

Last Holiday I was speaking with a friend who’d recently separated from her husband and told her that for the first time in my life, I really didn’t know what the next 12 months were going to hold, for any of us. Most of the time, we go through our lives with at least a small degree of certainty: X and Y will remain married, you will live in this certain city, work at this certain job, etc. At the end of 2012, I couldn’t speak to any of that. Relationships were ending, careers were changing, people were moving. I had no idea what the gameboard was going to look like a year from then. Almost 3/4 through this year, I have even less of an idea. The book’s in, it could be the start of the career I’ve always wanted, or it could be some footnote on my life, a cool thing I did once.I probably don’t need to know that right now, which is rare for me, and extremely liberating. All I need to know right now is that trying to make good art and trusting my instincts is what got me here, and continuing to do the same is what will see me through.

You can read or watch the “Make Good Art’ speech here.

One Step Inside

A couple of weeks ago I got the following text from the lovely and talented Joyce Vogler, who I used to work with at the store and is now studying art and being generally wonderful at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

If that ain’t a dream assignment, I don’t know what is.  Here’s a young woman, seeking to actively engage in the art of rap and culture of hip-hop [“good stuff from the 90’s,” specifically] .  I grabbed my weathered copy of Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists off of the shelf, just to make sure I wouldn’t gloss over anything in my enthusiasm.  It was an intro-level playlist, I admit, but illustrated some of the best the music’s had to offer over the last thirty-plus years.  The whole exercise was a pleasurable one, reminding me what I loved about the music I’ve dedicated so much thought and energy to.

And then, this.

Sometime this morning a video of Lil Reese, an 18-year-old rapper from Chicago signed to Def Jam and a crewmate of Chief Keef [he who does not like] started exploding the rap webs.  In the video, Reese appears to be arguing with a young woman [the mother of his child, according to some reports] who asks him to leave her home [though it’s unclear whose home it is]. He pokes her, she smacks his hand away. He shoves her, she rushes up in his face, where he proceeds to unload on her with punches.  Once she’s knocked down, he continues to kick and stomp at her head while her friends scream in the background.  As onlookers do nothing and the cell phone cameraman keeps it all in the shot.

I’m not running a news site here, so I’m not going to post the video because frankly I don’t want it here in my ‘house,’ but it’s on Miss Info’s site [with the appropriate tone] for anyone who wants to see it.

Forgetting for a moment that the kid beat the shit out of a woman, adding a layer of awesome sauce to this whole disgusting mess is Reese’s complete and utter lack of remorse, or even awareness about his actions, tweeting: The haters tryna see a mf Dwn lol Dey gotta b broke and bored wanna upload sum shit from years ago damnn we winnin it’s 2 late… #3hunna  [Notethe tweet seems to have been deleted in the hour I’ve been working on this post].

What are we to make of this, then?  If Joyce chooses to continue her studies in the culture, how do I explain/defend this?  Does it have to be?

Look, I’m a rap fan since nine-years-old, I’ve had plenty of practice navigating the thorny dialogue about violence and misogyny in the music, but I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t for a moment believe the reprehensible actions of a foolish kid speak for or should reflect on the culture as a whole. As some have pointed out, back in August Pitchfork reported cops charged John Paul Pitts, the frontman of something called Surfer Blood with domestic battery and no one started pointing the finger at indie rock as the culprit.

But. But. I also don’t think there were a crew of plaid-shirted, knitcaps on Twitter  defending Pitts’s actions. But check out the search results on Twitter for him, or even in Info’s comment thread on the original story.  You’ll see a surprising amount of people looking to defend or justify kicking a woman in the faceRepeatedly. One person doesn’t reflect the culture as a whole, no, but when a surprisingly large segment of the culture seems to empathize…the tried and true argument starts to show its cracks.

How odd that this hits the same week Kendrick Lamar’s much hyped major-label debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city hits the shelves, to near universal acclaim, due in no small part to his portrayal of a kid trying to avoid the street life who can’t avoid the drugs, guns and botched home invasions that run throughout it, whether he’s personally involved with it or not.  It should be a good week for hip-hop, but I can’t help but wonder if for every Kendrick, Childish Gambino, or Big Sean, there are a dozen regional acts owning the streets [and thus, the culture’s conversation] that saw that video on World Star and went, ‘yeah, I get that.’

Almost twenty years ago Tupac Shakur, no stranger to explosive outbursts of violence himself, released a song with the following lyrics:

And since we all came from a woman
got our name from a woman and our game from a woman,
I wonder why we take from our women,
why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
time to heal our women, be real to our women.
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies.

That complexity, that contradictory nature, that the same dude who was spitting on reporters and flipping the bird from an ambulance gurney following a shooting could still write lyrics pleading for better treatment of women is what made him such a compelling artist.  And without that flipside to the rapper posturing, what are we left with?  And how much longer will it stay something I want to be a part of?

The PFG Social Club: Refused @ The Sound Academy, 7.23.2012

I wouldn’t blame you if you had to double take at that title, friends. When have I ever given you the impression that anything other than the boom-bap has a place in my heart?  But it was not always that way friends.

To this day, there are only two albums I have ever purchased essentially “sound unheard.”  I just bought them because I read a good review in a magazine or heard something about them.

  1. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…
  2. Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come.

And both of those albums have never fully left my rotation in the fifteen-plus years I’ve owned them. Given the band’s unwavering…uh, refusal to reunite, I’d resolved myself to the fact that Refused were just one of those acts I’d have to mis out on and enjoy their music in retrospect.

However, as I continue to learn, friends, age changes a man, and the lads in Refused reached a point in their lives when maybe, perhaps, it was time to acknowledge that there continue to be thousands of people who adore and are inspired by that last album, and to just suck it up and accept that people love them and would kill to see them play live again.  As they said in the official statement announcing the reunion:

We never did “The shape of punk to come” justice back when it came out, too tangled up in petty internal bickering to really focus on the job. And suddenly there’s this possibility to do it like it was intended. We wanna do it over, do it right. For the people who’ve kept the music alive through the years, but also for our own sakes.

We feel that you deserve it and we hope the feeling is mutual. [via]

So there was never any doubt that I was going to be at one of their two dates here in Toronto.   The show itself was phenomenal, the band was whipcrack tight and played all of the songs from TSOPTC that I would have wanted to hear, and some I never thought I would [Tannhauer/Derive as a show closer?  Really?! Amazing] as well as earlier tracks that I admit I didn’t know but sounded awesome.  For me, my love of Refused starts and ends with that last album.

But I can still feel your confusion, friends.  How does a Swedish punk band work its way into the heart of a lifelong, dyed in the wool hip-hop fan?  Because The Shape of Punk to Come is a deliberate attempt to disseminate revolutionary ideas while putting back into the music all the things that decades of self-seriousness and mainstream co-opting took out of it:  Fun. Sex. Danceability.  I knew it the first time I heard album opener ‘Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull‘ and heard frontman Dennis Lyxzen yelp, ‘One mooore time, OW!‘ like the Godfather of Soul calling to the band for hits. The Shape of Punk to Come is, without question, the blackest punk record ever made.  If I ever doubted it, watching Lyxzen mash-potato his way across the stage, swing his microphone and do the old ‘Mic Stand Kick‘ move as his band bludgeoned the crowd with six-stringed ferocity, of course this would be one of my favourite albums.  The best moment I had during that entire show, one of those ‘this is something I will need to cross of my life list’ moments was being able to shout Woooo! during ‘New Noise.’ Rare and wonderful indeed is the punk song that demands that of you.

Check out a clip of the band ripping apart “Refused Are Fuckin’ Dead” below. Forgive the glass wall that cuts through the shot but well, Daddy doesn’t do general admission anymore.

What’s Beef?: Summer Jam Edition

New York rap radio behemoth Hot97 held its annual Summer Jam concert in East Rutherford, NJ last night, featuring a bill of expected performers like Rick Ross and J-Cole, as well as up and comers like A$AP Rocky and Azealia Banks.

One person who did not appear was the advertised headliner Nicki Minaj.

It would seem that earlier in the day, Hot97 morning show host [and PFG hero] Peter Rosenberg took the side stage at the event to introduce Kendrick Lamar and plug a concert ticket giveaway. This is what he said:

So, people took to Twitter, it gets back to Nicki, it gets back to her label boss Lil Wayne, and then this happens.

Luckily, the show had unannounced appearances by Nas [who was going to perform with Nicki] and Lauryn Hill [who was going to perform with Nas] so the crowd didn’t wild out too badly and things didn’t end up going south.

I’ve been thinking about this all morning, and I kind of find it fascinating because it calls a bunch of things into question.

Judging from Rosenberg’s comments this morning, his criticism didn’t have much of anything to do with Nicki herself, but the creative direction she’s taken since she hit the major labels: the David Guetta guesting, Lil Kim-wig jacking space Barbie of Starships and Superbass instead of the lyrical beast that killed Hova and Kanye on Monster and held her own with Eminem. He’s entitled to that opinion, and there are probably a lot of people who were fans of Nicki from way back who wish she would get back to her roots. He’s allowed to not like her recent output, but the criticism that it’s ‘not hip-hop,’ is where things get troublesome. Yes, Starships is a dance track produced by the studio cabal that’s been making hits since the days of the Backstreet Boys. In clear ‘genre definition’ terms, it is not a rap song. But that doesn’t meant it’s not hip-hop. I, and other followers of the culture, put a lot of weight on the idea that hip-hop is first and foremost about being true not just to the realities of the streets, but to an artist’s own reality as well. Is Earl Sweatshirt not hip-hop? Is Cee-Lo? I’d say both are as hip-hop as you can get. If Nicki wants to get some of that Black Eyed Pea money, she can. It’s not rap, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hip-hop.

Still, while I disagree with the philosophy behind Rosenberg’s argument, he makes a valid point when he says if Nicki was that mad she should have just hit the stage and rapped her ass off. I’ll take it one further: to me, the real hip-hop thing to do would have been to just hit the stage and call Rosenberg a punk motherfucker, big herself up and be done with it. Hip-hop ain’t a game, but sometimes you have to play it like one.

Instead, she walked. After already being in the building. After already being paid. Scrolling through her Twitter, it seems she’s filing this under ‘R’ for ‘Respect.’ I mean, I can see that you don’t invite someone to your house only to shit on them, but let’s not pretend that Nicki was showing up out of the goodness of her heart. She got her money. You’re on top, people are going to take shots. You don’t make your fans eat it cause you got your feelings hurt. If Rosenberg’s comments are the worst thing anyone says about you this week, you are living a charmed life, my dear.

Conversely, Funkmaster Flex [never known for holding his tongue] took to the decks between performances and had some choice words of his own on the night’s events.

So. Let’s recap that:

-“If you lost the streets, it’s your fault.” TRUE.
-“If you don’t go Gold, it’s your fault.” TRUE.
-“We ain’t fuckin’ with commercial rappers no more.” FALSE.

-“I am dedicated to tearing you down!” COME ON, YO.

It’s nice that Flex is standing in solidarity, and I love it when he goes off as much as anyone else, but he cannot honestly think that his station will be getting out of the commercial rap game [‘commercial rap’ being as dubious a term as ‘the real hip-hop’]. Hot97 is not some little boutique station, and Flex ain’t Senor Love Daddy, he’s an employee of a giant multi-national Communications Conglomerate, and they like commercial rap. They need it. Just as much as YMCMB or Mindless Behaviour or any other of these 106 & Park acts need Hot97. Everyone’s going to have to play nice eventually, that’s the business reality.

One last item of note is a tweet and reply on Minaj’s Twitter feed between her and YMCMB colleague Jae Millz.

Now that’s…just a whole pallet of racial and gender issues packed into one tweet, that perhaps should be broken down by people smarter than me [Jay Smooth, where you at?]. While I think this is about the last goddamn thing that needs to have race brought into it [and Rosenberg has more than paid his dues and earned his stripes in the NY hip-hop community], it makes me wonder how often some of these artists, especially female artists, get frustrated by criticism from male fans and haters. When Rosenberg talks about the ‘real hip-hop’, he’s talking about a decidedly masculine hip-hop, something Nicki hasn’t been interested in for years. Something to think about.

At any rate, it’s unfortunate that an incident between too affluent individuals had to play out in public at the expense of fans who are mostly less affluent, and may have saved for months to make that show because they wanted to see Minaj. You want to do right, Nicki? You’re talking about a future NY make-up show? Let people swap their Summer Jam ticket stubs for admission to the new show. If this is about respect, give your fans the respect you feel you were robbed of.

The PFG Guide to iPhone Apps, Vol. 1

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Douchebag got an iPhone and now he thinks he’s an authority to talk to me about apps? Vain, much?

It’s presumptive to assume that after less than a week of usage, I have anything to tell y’all about what apps are worthwhile. Few things in the tech sector get more press than app guides.  But, while I don’t have the experience edge per se, what I am is thorough, people.  I bought a $50 App Store Card the day I bought the phone and promptly hit the Internet to look at what came with the highest recommendations. Some are obvious, some seem to still be on the come up. Those are the ones I’m gonna shout out here.

Viddy [Free]: Touted as a sort of ‘Instagram for Videos,’ this service seems to be amassing users at a frantic pace.  Other apps like Keek already give users the option to post short videos [read, 15-30 seconds] but Viddy’s design and interface has the same slick appeal as its photographic colleague, down to the vintage filters you can put on your videos.  The orientation grid being a face with eyeline is a nice touch, too, and perfect for keeping your face centered filming yourself.

SloPro [$1.99]: Seems silly at first, but the few videos I’ve taken with SloPro have been both impressive and at times creepy.  The hook is this: when you film anything with your phone, it records at 30 frames-per-second.  So when you slow it down, it looks like everyone’s doing the robot.  SloPro records the video at double the framerate [on the 4S only], so that when it gets slowed down, it looks smooth and fluid.  Been trying to get that perfect shot of you and your friends walking slowly down a hallway?  SloPro’s the tool to use.  Note: there’s a free version, but it’s useless. You can’t save your videos, and a watermark appears across them after you finish recording. So if you want it, drop the two bucks and save yourself the irritation.

Rocket Man [Free, ad removal for $1.99]: If you’re a transit rider in Toronto, you need a TTC app.  Previously, I’d used Red Rocket, which cost $2.99 and worked great on my iPod touch, but seems to have stopped updating after iOS4, which is unfortunate.  What is fortunate is that Rocket Man actually makes it easier to locate and select favourite stops. Just ping them on the map and the app tells you the route number and time of arrival.  One strike: I wish it was easier to read a list of stops on any given route.  When I’m in an unfamiliar part of the city and want to know how far down my stop is, Red Rocket presented all the stops in a list; Rocket Man plots them all on a map you have to tap individually.  Not the end of the world, just a minor gripe.

TonePad [free, Pro for $0.99]: TonePad is a silly little app that turns your screen into a grid of dots.  Swipe your finger across the screen and some of the dots light up and play tones.  With a click of a button you can shuffle, flip or rotate the tone pattern, making for new musical discoveries.  All the music made on TonePad [by me anyway] ends up sounding like ‘Selected Ambient Works’-era Aphex Twin, but there ain’t nothing wrong with that. The Pro version adds the ability to make ringtones out of your songs, which is a nifty feature.

TuneIn Radio [free, Pro for $0.99]: One of the things people like to hate on the iPhone for is the lack of radio receiver, which seems silly but I admit was something I kind of liked about my Android phone. But, with one app download, not only do you get a local radio receiver, you get streaming radio from around the world.  The app allows you to set presets, has a sweet ‘Car Mode’ with a stripped down version of the controls on giant buttons for people who want to listen while driving, and keeps stats of your data usage on both Wi-Fi and Cellular networks, so you can be sure you don’t blow your data plan.  A great app from top to bottom.  I recommend you add WEFUNK Radio from Montreal immediately. The Pro version nixes ads and lets you record streams.

Photosynth [Free]: What the hell, an app from Microsoft running on iOS?  a good app from Microsoft running on iOS? I was as surprised as you are.  Photosynth is basically just a photo-stitcher, like the feature you find on most digital cameras these days. You take multiple photos in succession, the software ‘stitches’ them together and you get panoramic shots. Like this one.

Now that’s just something I did quick-likes [close inspection reveals the lines on the road don’t line up perfectly], but you can see the potential.  What’s even cooler is that you can stitch in all directions, it’s totally possible to create 360-degree shots in all directions, provided you keep the edges of the frame line up, something the app assists with very nicely, snapping the next photo automatically when it’s approximately lined up.  User control is still needed to make it as smooth as possible [I had to crop the above shot to get rid of the jagged edges along the top] but it’s a really, really cool program, cheap as free. Note:  while the app’s free, you’ll still have a pop-up asking you to make Bing your default search engine every once in awhile. I haven’t found it problematic yet.

Zombieville, USA [$0.99]: I have to mention this one, if only because of the story attached.  Up very late a few nights ago, I saw a section on the app store for zombie-themed programs.  Since I love the undead as much as anyone, I had a look through it.  Unfortunately, since I’d been irritated by constantly being asked by my laptop if I really want to download the apps I was buying, I turned off the feature that asked for my password before completing the transaction.  Therefore, when I went to scroll down using my trackpad, I did it while the cursor was hovering over the ‘BUY’ button for this game.  So, I bought it on accident.  Luckily, it’s actually a pretty good game. You basically run along a darkened street, fighting off zombies with guns and melee weapons, scrounging in abandoned houses for ammo and money to buy upgrades. Sometimes you’ll find other survivors to help you out, sometimes you’ll find a car or helicopter to mow down zombies for that level. As you progress, zombies get more durable and survival becomes narrower.  The controls are super tight and sufficiently simple, the violence goofy but satisfying and the action deceptively intense. I mean look, it’s no Infinity Blade [or even Scribblenauts, my favourite game for the iPhone currently], but if I had to buy something on accident, I’m glad it was this. There’s also a sequel, also for $0.99

So that’s it for now, friends.  Now that I’m officially a fully immersed member of the Cult, and with the WWDC a few short weeks away, I’m sure tech talk will pop up more frequently on here, but I’ll do my best to keep it to a minimum. Besides, it’s time I started doing something cool with this technology, instead of just talking about how cool it is.

Any apps you think I should know about? Holler at me in the comments.