Three Seniors Recognized in Student Review Contest

The New York Times held its 4th Annual Student Reviews contest, drawing a record 1,964 submissions. Three Belmont Hill students were awarded honorable mentions for their written critiques. From the pool of entries, the New York Times named 10 winners, 13 runners-up and 32 honorable mentions. The articles must be less than 450 words and are open to all categories of creative expression reviewed by the New York Times: books, video games, music, movies, theater, TV, fashion, architecture, dance, art, restaurants, hotels, and technology. Below are the reviews by Belmont Hill seniors Thomas McEvoy, Shane Rockett, and Jack Vander Vort.
The Subject of Unfair Scrutiny
Album Review of  “Suncity” by Khalid
by Thomas McEvoy ’19

On October 19, after fierce anticipation, some twenty agonizing months after the release of “American Teen,” twenty-year-old Khalid Robinson, known for his distinctly soulful, melodic, and effortless sound, released “Suncity,” his first official extended player. Containing just seven songs and running a mere twenty-one minutes, the EP, slower in tempo than much of Khalid’s earlier work, underwhelmed some. In truth, though, after the Georgia native’s meteoric rise to stardom, anything short of perfection was sure to disappoint, so one should treat the EP’s mixed reviews as a natural, if unfair, reality. While “Suncity” reaches certain familiar territory, touching on Khalid’s connection to El Paso, the project merits praise for probing uncharted waters by offering a heavy dose of monologue and the spoken word, diving into Latin pop, and weaving separate songs together through a shared message.

While “9.13” and “Salem’s Interlude” consist entirely of plain speech, sometimes slow and unsure, but other times fluid and aimless, even “Motion,” “Better,” and “Suncity,” contain segments of conversation or monologue, lending the project a more personal, intimate feel. “9.13,” for example, which rehashes Khalid’s reception of the Key to El Paso in September, delivers just twenty-four words, containing a hint southern drawl: “The people of El Paso, Texas proudly present / The key to the city, to Khalid Donnel Robinson.”

The EP’s titular track marks Khalid’s first step into Latin pop. Featuring Empress Of, the song begins in Spanish, and fluctuates between upbeat and more tempered rhythms throughout. Referring to a “city of sun” throughout, the track reminisces about a place where Khalid “left his heart,” pleading “Llévame ciudad de sol … Donde dejé mi corazón.” Perhaps an allusion to his high school years in sunny West Texas, the “ciudad de sol” represents a ideal the singer has lost, a symbol akin to Gatsby’s green light. Ultimately, in “Suncity,” Khalid undertakes a commendable departure from his artistic comfort zone.  

Finally, Khalid twice masterfully threads a common theme through two separate songs. On “Vertigo,” following an echo-based rhythm, he bemoans a sense of uncertainty, saying “I go blurry when I’m thinking / Is it me or vertigo?” Shortly thereafter,  “Salem’s Interlude” echoes similar sentiments, touching on anxiety and fear of failure: “I feel like I’m not always in the correct direction.” Then, on “Motion,” backed by slow drumming, Khalid tells of an idyllic love affair: “I’m in love with the moment / See me floatin,’ see me glowin,’” and on the very next track, he again refers to a seemingly flawless romance, this time claiming, “Nothing feels better than this.” Perhaps most obvious to the listener, the two songs share a verse: “Now, left, right, left, right / Take it back bring it side to side…”

Fresh Tracks in a Classic Genre
Video Game Review of “Alto’s Adventure”
by Shane Rockett ’19  

In a world of increasing workloads and decreasing downtime, today’s inundated masses are encouraged to find time for meditation, serenity, or a little fun. “Alto’s Adventure” will provide players with all three.

In the role of a young shepherd boy named Alto, players will find themselves snowboarding after their runaway herd of llamas down a snowy mountain. Instantly, the player will be impressed with the artistic effort placed upon the graphics of both the trail and the mountainous backdrop. While the game exists essentially in 2D, the extra love bestowed on graphic design creates the illusion that the structures and mountain range are actually three dimensional. While impressive as a piece of art, the game itself is a relatively unoriginal concept. The endless runner genre is overplayed, but outstanding graphic design brings a fresh take on a classic style of game.

Through scenic visuals of an unnamed mountain village (in the Italian Alps? Or is it Peru?), the player will ride, earning points for each llama found and hearing a satisfying ding for every coin collected. Bold players will be rewarded for landing backflips with a speed burst, but land anywhere other than your feet and Alto will tumble through the snow before sitting silently, judging the player for recklessly endangering him and his llama-catching cause, and forcing the player to restart the run.

Players are given sets of three objectives to consider while they carve through the endless mountain trails. Upon completion of all three, the player is rewarded with another trio. With the completion of enough goals, the player will unlock Alto’s friends in the form of playable avatars. In addition to the new characters, the game revitalizes itself with randomly generated weather patterns, as well as the rising and setting of the sun. A skilled player may begin a run in darkness and ride well through the day, silhouetted against the background of a rising sun.

Above all else, “Alto’s Adventure” captures the true essence of snowboarding. By providing users with a flowing, smooth journey over rolling hills and through dense forests, the game simulates the experience of a recreational snowboarder. Alto and company breeze by the tipis of the elders, waking them and fleeing as the old-timer mounts their llama and threatens the rider with a menacing stick. By casting the elders as something to be escaped, the game encompasses the thrill of youthful rebellion that has characterized snowboard culture for decades.

Through the eternally cathartic sound of a snowboard carving fresh snow, and a relatively simple gameplay, “Alto’s Adventure” effectively allows users to clear their mind and just enjoy the ride.

New Orleans in a Nutshell
Restaurant Review of Commander’s Palace
by Jack Vander Vort '19

If you imagine going out to eat in the 1800s at a fancy southern restaurant, you’d likely picture something that resembles Commander’s Palace. Commander’s Palace masters the blend of upscale creole cuisine and traditional Louisiana culture. Tucked away in a wealthy New Orleans neighborhood and operated in an eye catching turquoise and white, southern style house, managed by a friendly and well dressed staff, and dressed in old fashioned yet classy decor, restaurant goers are immediately introduced to the unique experience at Commander’s Palace.

The required dress code for men calls for a long sleeve button down shirt, no tennis shoes and no denim, but most men were wearing white and blue seer sucker suits and most women were wearing formal dresses, some with fancy hats. This combined with the jazz band that walked around from table to table, playing a song at request, made it feel as if I was transported back to the late 1800s, when Commander’s Palace first opened.

I went for brunch, and although my expectations were high, I was still impressed by the quality of the food. I ordered the pecan roasted gulf fish as my entree and the creole bread pudding souffle as my dessert. Both dishes were modern interpretations of traditional creole recipes, and both left me wishing I could devour more. The fish was coated perfectly so that there was a crunch, but it didn’t taste fried. My favorite part of the fish, however, was the bourbon corn sauce, which was sweet but not too sweet, and packed with incredible flavor from the bourbon. The bread pudding was unlike any dessert I have had before, as the souffle itself was sweet and the whiskey sauce added gave a savory flavor to the dish which blended together to perfection. While the food was truly special, it was the ambience that made the meal so memorable.

New Orleans is unlike any city in the United States, and for that matter the world because of the blend of cultures. While I was there I wanted to experience as much of New Orleans as I could, and Commander’s Palace gave me exactly what I was hoping for and much more. It's a city that seems aged and modern at the same time, both sophisticated when in fancy neighborhoods but also a wild west feel in the French quarter. In New Orleans I saw influences from countless cultures, and it's hard to understand what drives them all. Commander’s Palace in this way is a microcosm of New Orleans. I don’t really understand the driving forces behind it and the culture that makes it so unique, but I’m certain that I really like it.
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