Recent Things Wot I Like

I remain confused as to what I’m gonna be doing with this blog.  Indeed, I remain confused about what I’m doing on the internet, as a general rule.  I turn 43 at the end of this week and I am feeling old and uncool and yet I’m also feeling that I don’t have to care anymore about trying to appear cool, because it literally doesn’t matter.  This is not the place you go when you want to know if something’s cool.  This is the place you go when you’re curious as to what’s going on in my brain.

So maybe, now that Tumblr is gonna die a very quick death in a few weeks, and Twitter is, well, Twitter, and Facebook is rapidly becoming a place for kid photos and Twitter screenshots, maybe this here site will become what I originally always meant for it to be:  a blog.  Blogs aren’t cool.  But I’m gonna be 43 and I’m not cool, either.  My hair is grey and I’m overweight and as an adult and a parent I am far more involved in the state of the world than I ever thought I’d be, and because the world is fucking insane* I overindulge in various media and medications, both recreational and non-, because otherwise I’d be in a padded room muttering about emoluments.

So let’s get cracking, then.  

I have finished Red Dead Redemption 2 and I don’t know how to talk about it.  It’s gonna get its own post, for sure.  But the short version is akin to something I said on Twitter the other day, that it feels less like a game that I played and more like a show that I binge-watched obsessively for 2-3 weeks – not all of it was fun, but it was engrossing as all hell, and the feeling of the world is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced from a game.  For those of you that are my parents (i.e., you don’t watch TV), it’s also sorta like being wrapped up inside a huge novel and then emerging afterwards and not knowing what day it is.  

Here are other things I am in the middle of enjoying, because I feel obligated to spread positivity:

I was gonna start working on my Books of 2018 post, and then I started reading this book, and HOLY SHIT everything changed.  If nothing else, I urge everybody who is reading this post to go to their local bookstore, find a copy of this book and read the preface.  I dare you to not buy the book immediately afterwards.  Tommy Orange is a major talent with an incredible voice, speaking in a language that none of us know as well as we should.  

https://www.stereogum.com/2023673/the-1975-a-brief-inquiry-into-online-relationships-review/franchises/premature-evaluation/

I don’t know if I’m gonna do a Music of 2018 post, if only because my music listening habits have become far more idiosyncratic than I can manage and I have no idea how to take stock of everything I listen to anymore.  Hell, I haven’t even written about my headphones, which are without question the best headphones I’ve ever used in my entire life.  And, again, I’m old and the music that’s popular these days makes me feel even older.  Anyway.  The 1975 are a band that I probably shouldn’t like, but I’ll be goddamned if this song isn’t kicking my ass all the way around the block.  For a bunch of 20-something British blokes, they’ve got some serious balls making an album this strange – while also including absolutely gut-wrenching anthemic singles like the above.  

*this is maybe the most appropriate metaphor for what it feels like to be alive right now*

Weekend Recap: Beatles / Murakami / RDR2

Re: the new 2018 stereo remix of The White Album

It’s never been my favorite Beatles album.  Lots of great songs on it – especially from Lennon, which I’ll get to later on – but there’s also a fair amount of stuff I tend to skip over.  Even though my first exposure to the White Album was at summer camp at least 30 years ago, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve listened to “Good Night” all the way through, and that’s because I also can’t physically sit through Revolution 9 without getting anxious.

I feel compelled to back up for a second and give some context here.  Feel free to skip this little mini-bio, though it’ll hopefully explain where I’m coming from.

I am a Beatles nerd, though I would never in a million years consider myself an expert.  (At some point I need to get my hands on one of those coffee-table books that detail every single recording session, because there’s tons of fun trivia in there that I still don’t know about.)  I am a devoted fan of everything from Rubber Soul onward, and my favorite album at any given moment is either Revolver or Abbey Road.  When the stereo (and mono) CDs came out on 9/9/09, I took the following day off from work and binged.  (Also played a fair amount of Beatles Rock Band, I believe.)  I took a deep dive into those new releases with my kick-ass headphones and suddenly heard a ton of stuff I’d never noticed before.  And while my ultimate ranking of albums didn’t end up changing all that much, I did gain new appreciation for pretty much everything.   (Also, for whatever it’s worth, I found that the mono remixes were far better than the stereo remixes, if only because the stereo remixes were still very much hard-panned, making them distracting to listen to over headphones.)

I’m a nerd also in the sense that I tend to approach their albums with this weird sense of reverence, as if the albums were sacred texts meant to be studied, as if they were caverns of knowledge in which I have to entomb myself inside.  I never just pop on a Beatles album; I isolate myself from the rest of the world, put on serious headphones, and dive very, very deep.

Anyway, these new 5.1 surround-sound stereo mixes are something else entirely, and I adore them because they sound like what my memory of Beatles songs sound like – they are suddenly and quite vividly three-dimensional.  In the same way that “Getting Better” on the new “Sgt Pepper” suddenly sounded extraordinary, I have to give props to the new mix of “Birthday”, which is a song that I normally skip over at every opportunity, because it is dumb as hell.  In this new mix, however, it fucking rocks the fuck out.  Do yourself a favor and listen to what happens after the drum break following the first verse:  the gigantic E chord that comes in after that break sounds absolutely enormous.   (Hell, go back and A/B the old stereo mix with this new one, too:  it’s still a completely different animal.)  It’s the sort of jaw-dropping sound where you can just tell that the engineers went “holy shit, that sounds AMAZING” when they played it back.  And the whole album sounds like that.

My favorite Beatle has always been Paul, even though – or perhaps because – he is a cheeseball who writes extraordinarily beautiful melodies.  The Beatle that I feel the closest kinship with is George, because he – like me, when I was in bands in college – was the youngest, and while he was an incredible songwriter in his own right, it’s awfully hard to fight for album space when you’re competing with Lennon/McCartney (and this is also how I felt trying to write songs for those bands back in the day).  This being said, I’d also have to say that the White Album contains the best overall collection of Lennon-penned songs.  I mean, yes, “I Am The Walrus” is probably my favorite John song in the whole catalog, followed very closely by “Come Together”, but it’s hard to beat “Dear Prudence”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Cry Baby Cry”, “Yer Blues”, “I’m So Tired”, “Julia”, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…” in terms of sheer consistency.

I have not yet given the bonus material enough passes to offer any definitive statement on them, beyond that they sound fantastic and they’re super-fun for someone like me, who likes to hear how these “sacred texts” originally formed and evolved.  (As an example, they include Paul noodling around and then finding that little “Can You Take Me Back Where I Came From” thing that follows “Cry Baby Cry”.)

I can only hope that they go back and give this deluxe stereo treatment to everything else.  Especially Revolver, because holy shit I can only imagine what “Tomorrow Never Knows” will sound like.

Re: Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami

I used to be a huge Murakami fan, and then “1Q84” came out and disappointed me so much that I started to reconsider if I actually liked the stuff I used to like.  I didn’t know if it was the translation that was off, or if it was the actual text, but it felt like a thousand pages of nonsense, interspersed with surprisingly and shockingly juvenile attempts at erotic writing.  I have continued to buy his stuff but I very rarely feel motivated to give it a proper go.  That said, I have this enormous backlog and I feel obligated to get through it, and I’d heard enough positive things about KC that I figured it was finally time to give it a shot.  And, well, I’m not yet finished with it, but what I’ve read thus far has been excellent.  I’ve come to realize that part of what annoys me about Murakami is how utterly passive his main characters are; everything happens to them, they never go out and make any decisions on their own.  That still happens here, to a certain extent, but at least it’s justified by what’s happened to the main character before the book begins; without spoiling anything, his passivity makes a bit more sense.  I don’t know if it will stick the landing, but then again, in a book this surreal it’s hard to say what the ending should be.  To put it another way, I’m still invested in what’s happening and I’m willing to see it through the end.

Re: Red Dead Redemption 2

I have some complicated feelings about RDR2, the long-awaited sequel to one of my favorite games of all time.  On the one hand, quite a lot of it is incredibly tedious, and when compared to other open-world games that the original inspired (i.e. The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed Origins / Odyssey), it feels almost antiquated in terms of quality-of-life stuff.  On the other hand, it is staggeringly beautiful and almost begs you to play it while “in character”; the slow pace and tedium is a deliberate choice by the designers to make you feel like you are inhabiting the actual persona of Arthur Morgan.

And, of course, on the third hand is the knowledge that this game was built under extreme crunch conditions for quite a lot of its staff, and there’s a guilt that accompanies my purchase, because my purchase equals acceptance of harsh working conditions.  It also doesn’t help that all that extra work is absolutely shown on screen.  The attention to detail in this game is simply extraordinary.

I’m still somewhere in Chapter 3, which means I’ve got at least another 40 hours left to go.  I’m sure there’ll be a few quality-of-life patches between now and then, too, which may address some of the weird bugs and glitches (not that there’s been a lot, mind you, but there’s certainly a fair share).  So I’m not quite ready to get into how I’m feeling about it, especially since I’m still figuring that part out.

But I will say that it’s engrossing and beautiful and overwhelming, and in these troubled times we’re living in, it is very much what I need right now.

Everything All At Once

I’ve got some nerdy stuff to talk about – that’s what this blog is for, after all – but I also just want to give a shout-out to my 5-year-old son, who has been racking up some significant cultural milestones this summer.  In the last 2 weeks alone, he’s watched E.T. and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure with us, and he’s now on his 2nd Choose Your Own Adventure book (from my own personal childhood stash, I might add).  He starts kindergarten right after Labor Day.  Everything is happening too quickly.


Music:  Lots of good music out lately, and there’s three albums in particular that have been kicking my ass all over the place – The Beths, “Future Me Hates Me” (turns out the whole album is great, not just “Happy Unhappy“); Louis Cole, “Time”; and Bad Bad Hats, “Lightning Round.”


Books:  I’ve been getting lots of reading done, too, and most of what I’ve read lately has been great.  I’d mentioned a few posts ago that I had been flipping around between 5 or 6 different books, unable to get stuck in any of them; well, I got out of that rut, somehow, and I’ve been on a roll.  Here are the highlights of what I’ve finished since June:

  • Phenomena, Annie Jacobsen.  This is a thoroughly researched and quite absorbing history of the US Military’s research into ESP and psychic abilities.
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North.  Without question, one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, and certainly one of the more unique takes on the time-travel genre.
  • The Book of M, Peng Shepherd.  One of the more fascinating apocalyptic novels I’ve read in a while, with a deeply affecting ending.
  • The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Tremblay.  Home invasion, doomsday cults, weird synchronicity.  Disturbing and tough.
  • 84K, Claire North.  After reading Fifteen Lives, I decided I’d read whatever she writes.  This is a bit more avant-garde in its prose than I was expecting, though that’s not a knock against it; it’s still very affecting and the weird prose rhythms actually do a remarkable job of conveying the speed of an inner monologue.
  • The Price You Pay, “Aidan Truhen.” Aidan Truhen is somebody’s pseudonym, and I’ve read more than one rumor that it’s actually Nick Harkaway, who is one of my favorite authors anyway.  Regardless, this is very much like a Jason Statham “Crank” movie, but in novel form, and it’s hilarious and completely insane.
  • Vicious, V.E. Schwab.  Kind of a Flatliners vibe to this one, though that’s only barely scratching the surface.
  • Roadside Picnic, Arkady Strugatsky   This has been on my to-read list for a while, and I think I ended up buying it because Amazon had it on sale.  In any event, this is a seminal work of Russian science fiction, and as such it’s quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
  • The Third Hotel, Laura Van Den Berg.  I’m not sure I fully understood this book, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t a fascinating read.
  • Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin.  I think I read this in about an hour, and the title is accurate.
  • Joe Hill, Strange Weather.  I think I prefer his shorter fiction to his novels.  All four of these are pretty terrific, though “Aloft” is almost certainly my favorite.
  • The Marsh King’s Daughter, Karen Dionne.  Just finished this yesterday.  It’s a much smaller story than I thought it would be, but that doesn’t diminish its power; it’s a ferocious and captivating story.

Games:  I had been playing around with No Man’s Sky NEXT, but I got stuck on a shitty planet with no resources and I probably have to start a new game, which I’m not looking forward to.  I also spent an hour or so last night playing God of War NG+, and it’s hard for me to accept that GoW only came out 4 months ago, because it legitimately feels like it’s been 10 years.  (That game is still really goddamned good, by the way, and NG+ is a perfect reason to revisit it.)

That said, there’s really only one game that’s been taking up space in my brain of late, and that would be Dead Cells.

The word “rogue-like” makes me itchy.  I’m not attracted to difficult games, especially games where death sets you back all the way to square zero.  I’m kinda over the retro art style that has pervaded the indie scene for the last 5 years or so.

And yet Dead Cells is one of my Game of the Year contenders without even a moment’s hesitation.  I loved it so much on Switch that I ended up buying it again on Xbox, if only because I had a feeling I’d be better at it with the X controller.  And I am!  (I’ve now managed to get past the Concierge on both systems, and if that’s as far as I end up getting, I suppose I can live with that.)

I don’t really know where to begin with this game.  I feel like I’m lacking the proper vocabulary.  The subtle gems of sublime game design that I’m picking up here – for all I know, they may be incredibly obvious to the veteran player.  But for me they are all new, and so they are blowing my mind.  I tried to imagine what this game would be doing to a much younger version of me, one still getting into gaming and who had better hand-eye coordination – would this game still be important?  Would I appreciate it?  Because right now I’m torn between stopping this post and pulling out my Switch and firing it up, or falling down another rabbit hole of Spelunky, or also further examining the other excellent 2D platform-vania games currently taking up space on my Switch memory stick – OwlBoy, Hollow Knight, Iconoclasts.

I don’t know enough about the genre to know if the things Dead Cells does are truly innovative, or if they’re simply iterative of what’s preceded it.  To my untrained eye, then, it feels positively revelatory; it’s a retro-feeling game that does a ton of smart, subtle things.  Yes, the levels are procedurally generated, which is smart because you’re necessarily going to have to run through them over and over and over again, but they’re also – somehow, magically – paced similarly, which is to say that even though the map is always random, you will eventually become familiar with each map’s style to anticipate what lies offscreen.

And because everything is randomized, including (eventually) your starting weapons, you end up giving yourself different goals.  And if I start the game with shitty drops, I know my time is better spent just farming cells and then hauling ass to the next checkpoint if I’m running low on health, rather than scouring every nook and cranny.

I know I’m not very good at the game yet, because I often need to replenish my health, and I’m sure that very skilled players will eventually beat the game without taking a single hit.  It’s fine, though.  I’m OK with not being good.  This is one of the few games I’ve played where I’ve been motivated to get better, instead of feeling endlessly frustrated and quitting outright.  (I’m never going to get into the Souls games.  It’s just not gonna happen.)  It’s a perfect game for the train, and it’s just as enjoyable on a big-screen TV.  If you haven’t picked it up yet, get it.

How To Fall In Love With A Song

Hey everybody.  I’m back at work for the first time in a week and I need a break from thinking about our treasonous president, so come with me as I recap some non-political stuff.


I just returned from my first trip to the West Cost; 3-4 days near Seattle, with some near and dear ex-Brooklyn friends.  Sincerest apologies for not telling everyone else that I know in the Seattle area that I was in town – this was a very quick visit (and also a birthday gift for my wife) and we just didn’t have the time to schedule anything beyond what we’d planned.  (And judging from Facebook, I apparently know a lot more people out there than I thought!)  All that being said, I adored Seattle, and I want to go there again.  As soon as my body adjusts to the time change, that is.


I want to start a new mini-feature here.  I’ve gone on and on before about how Spotify’s weekly Discovery playlist sometimes knows me a little bit too well, and so I’ve decided to catalog those specific songs that I immediately fall in love with and listen to a thousand times in a row.  (I’ve also started compiling a separate playlist with those sorts of songs, but one thing at a time.)  In this instance, the song in question is “Happy Unhappy” by The Beths.  I am obsessed with this song and I need to break down why.

I’m not particularly fond of this lyric video, so I’d rather just have you close your eyes and put on some very good headphones and crank that shit up and then steer you to the following perfect moments:

1st:  the guitar production is pristine.  Also, the guitar arrangements are glorious.

2nd: in the chorus, the way the bass hangs on the 1 instead of the 4 at approximately 0:53 – it adds a wonderful propulsion and tension.

3rd: they’re from New Zealand, and so any word with a long “o” has a particularly wonderful shape to it – “own”, “stone”, “tone”, etc.

4th:  I’m not necessarily one for lyrics, but I love these lyrics.  Especially the ambiguity of the line “so I could forget you / like I really want to”.  Her delivery of the entire song is excellent.

5th:  Listen to the harmonies and the interlocking guitar lines after the solo (at approx 2:31).  I LOVE THAT KIND OF SHIT.

Finally:  There’s this little weird snare hit right at the end (2:58) – most likely a happy accident that they decided to keep – and I adore it.


I don’t know if I’m doing to do a Top 10 Games list this year, but if I were, I’d like to note that The Crew 2 is my current front-runner for 2018’s Most Pleasant Surprise; it’s essentially Forza Horizon with a lot of quintessential Ubisoft touches, but if you turn off the insipid dialogue and put on your own tunes, and just select events from the menu rather than driving over mostly barren landscape, it’s very nice.  I’m playing it on the X, and two things are also immediately apparent:  (1) this game is gorgeous, and (2) it has some of the most remarkably fast loading times I’ve ever seen, especially in an open-world game.


By the way, the addition of Groups on the X is WONDERFUL.  It’s basically the same thing as the Folders option on the PS4, albeit slightly less elegant, but it makes sorting out my backlog a hell of a lot easier.  (I should add that I have an 8TB external hard drive on my X, which is why being able to sort out 200+ games into custom groups is very, very necessary.)


Oh, and before I left for Seattle I started getting back into Ni No Kuni 2 on the PS4; I’m finally at the point where I’ve started doing some of the city-building stuff, and it’s quite pleasant.  I think Henry is a little too young for it, but it’s also pretty accessible; I might try to get him involved as I continue along.


Also: I’ve been playing the shit out of Switch lately.  Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is super-fun, and that one has gotten Henry’s attention, especially as the controls are pretty simple.  This actually is much better experienced in hand-held mode, as opposed to docked; some of the puzzles require touching objects, and using your finger is far more intuitive than the weird motion-control reticule thing on a TV.


And finally, I apparently beat my 2018 Goodreads challenge a short while ago.  I did kinda purposefully set the number low (to keep myself from feeling unnecessary pressure), and the current number includes books that I haven’t yet finished.  So I haven’t officially crossed the 35-book threshold, though I should be there shortly.

OK, that’s the news.  Good morning!  Good afternoon!  Good night!

How The Hell Is It June Already

There are any number of reasons why it’s taken me so long to get back here; none of them are terribly interesting.  Suffice it to day that sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day; and sometimes, when there are, those hours are best spent taking a nap.

I will say this, even if it sounds corny:  I am trying very hard to only put positive stuff out into the world.  And sometimes that means not saying anything at all.  I know I’d said not too long ago that this blog might turn into something a bit more LiveJournal-y, but to be honest I think I’d rather keep that stuff between me and my therapist.  I don’t want to use this space to whine or complain; it’s not fun to write, and I’m sure it’s not interesting to read.  So I’m gonna try to… um… not do that.

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It’s been almost a month since I’ve been here, so let’s dust off the cobwebs and get up to speed.

BOOKS:

In my last substantive entry I wrote that I was halfway through volume 3 of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive.  I finished it shortly thereafter, and I’ll say this for it:  the series is great, but it’s also exhausting, and I’m probably not going to re-read anything before volume 4 comes out.

And in the intervening time I’ve also read:

  • Agents of Dreamland, Caitlin Kiernan
  • Black Helicopters, Caitlin Kiernan – I’d read Agents last year, and remembered loving it, and wanted more of it because it was so short.  Black Helicopters has nearly the same cover art, and so I thought it was a sequel; it’s not, and the two books are only very tenuously related.  You can read them in a few hours, for whatever it’s worth.
  • The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt – I thought this was going to be a collection of horror stories; it’s not.  But it’s still very good, and certainly there’s more than a few stories that got under my skin.
  • The Outsider, Stephen King – Tangentially related to his Bill Hodges trilogy, this is more of a supernatural mystery novel than anything else; it’s also much better than the Hodges books, and largely devoid of his usual tics and mannerisms.
  • Dead On Arrival, Matt Ritchel – Great premise, super-shitty writing.
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro – I don’t know why it took me so long to get to this, but I did, and it’s great.  It didn’t necessarily knock me over the way it has for friends of mine, but it’s still a marvel.
  • The Thief, Fuminori Nakamura – A very short philosophical meditation on pickpocketing, power, and fate.  Illuminating, though slight.
  • Clockwork Boys / The Wonder Engine, T. Kingfisher – I’m not sure what prompted me to pick these up; I’m not sure I’m going to finish them.  It’s almost as if the author conjured up an unlikely band of misfits based on standard fantasy tropes and then decided to write fan fiction about them.

MUSIC:

My last post made a loose promise that I’d start livestreaming from my basement the next time I started writing music.  Ha ha ha ha ha, no, that didn’t happen, and it’s probably not going to until I re-learn how to use all my software.

I am listening a lot, though, which is usually a good sign that I’m going to start working again.  Spotify’s Neo-Psychedelic Rock playlist is really, really good.  The new Neko Case is also really good, as is Oneohtrix Point Never, Wooden Shjips, Ryley Walker, and Stephen Malkmus.  However, I’ve mostly been listening to Peter Gabriel, now that most of his catalog is back on Spotify.  I’ve been wanting to do a cover of “Digging in the Dirt” for 25 years, and I’m only now starting to get an idea of how to approach it.


GAMES:

I’m gonna be honest – I’m a mess right now, game-wise.  I have a backlog that is too intimidating for me to deal with, and an attention span that can only handle about 30-45 minutes at a time, and shooters are starting to feel distasteful again.  I picked up OnRush and Vampyr, and they’re both very conceptually interesting, though somewhat rough around the edges… and I’ve been dabbling in DLC for Assassin’s Creed Origins and Far Cry 5, and I’m not necessarily feeling those…

The one thing that I have been playing – and enjoying quite more than I ever expected to – is Yoku’s Island Express, which is a 2D platformer that uses pinball mechanics.  It is lovely and charming and gorgeous and totally the sort of whimsical escapist adventure that I need right now, and I cannot recommend it enough.  I liked it so much that I bought it for both my X and my Switch – it’s a perfect handheld game, and it’s also beautiful on a big TV.

I don’t have any E3 predictions to offer up, and there’s only a few things that I’d like to hear are coming:

  • release date for Psychonauts 2;
  • the existence of Portal 3;
  • any news whatsoever on whatever Rocksteady Studios is working on; rumors point to a Superman game, which, meh.  But I’m willing to check out anything they’re working on, if only because their Batman games are so phenomenally good;
  • and also Diablo 3 on Switch.

a plan, of sorts

Lots of good new music out today.  Lots of good music from all over the place in my head.

I’ve been thinking that I need some sort of external motivation in order to finish this recording project.  When I’m left to my own devices, I tend to get sidetracked.  So I’m contemplating setting up some sort of livestream – probably on Facebook – and putting on a sort-of impromptu songwriting / jam session / performance / workshopping thing.  Even if nobody watches it, it’s something that could hold me accountable.  And if someone does watch it, then, hey, you get a world premiere of whatever it is I come up with.

This may happen as early as next week, so, look out.

self-care for the self-aware

 

In these troubled times, it’s important to take time out for self-care.  Self-care comes in many different forms.  For me, lately, one of those methods has been to do some serious heavy-duty organization of my digital media.

Last night, I spent almost two hours curating smaller playlists out of my gargantuan “Favorites from the Spotify Discovery” playlists.  While I appreciate that Spotify’s algorithm knows me so well, it’s made my “best-of” playlists untenable; until last night I’d simply been putting my favorite tracks into a mega-list for each year, and by year’s end I’d have 150+ songs, and so when I’d start a new list for a new year I’d stop listening to the previous year, and so there’s dozens of songs that I’ve kept that I haven’t had a chance to really absorb.  This is nonsensical, I know, but you have no idea how nice it is to know that all the weird space jazz that Spotify feeds me can live in one readily identifiable place.

There’s a lot that I don’t miss about my high school / college / post-college years, but one of the things that I do miss quite terribly is that back then, it was very easy for me to carve out a solid chunk of hours to obsessively listen to music.  I don’t have that luxury any more; my commute is too short, I can’t listen to music at work, and my evening hours are hit-or-miss.   There were a few moments last night while I was in the midst of this curation session when I’d say to myself, ooh, that’s an album I want to spend some time listening to, I’ll get to it later… and then I’d realize, wait, when exactly is “later”?

Anyway.  I know it’s ridiculous, but I sorta have to do this organizational stuff in order to streamline my creative process.  My new computer arrived last week, and it’s awesome, and everything works the way it’s supposed to, and now I have to accept the fact that I haven’t done anything creatively as far as music goes in far, far too long.  (Hell, I need to remember how some of my software actually works.)  And I know that the first few times I sit down to start composing, I’m gonna be rusty and turn out some stupid shit.  But rather than beat myself up about it, I need to make sure that I’m showing up to my sessions in a good mood, and that means I need to listen to inspiring stuff.  And so while it’s fair to say that this could be seen as a highly contrived excuse for procrastination, it’s also productive and useful.


Similarly, I spent a very satisfying hour last week sorting my PS4 Pro’s game library into folders – Sony Exclusives, PS VR, Indies, Multi-Platform.  I sincerely hope that Microsoft lets me create folders for the X, someday; they sorta do this already, in terms of how you can sort your library, but it’d be nice to be able to further customize those categories.

Look, I know this is a super-ridiculous thing but I love it and it makes me very happy.


So last week I took a much-needed (though not terribly satisfying) staycation, and I played a bunch of stuff.

1.  Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.  I’d gotten this on PS4 last year, got stuck, and then forgot about it; but I figured I’d give it another go on the X – I was, if nothing else, curious to see how the X shaped up to the PS4, and the developer happened to mention that if they sold a certain amount of units, they’d be donating a certain amount of their proceeds to certain mental health charities, and that felt like a worthwhile thing to contribute to.  So, yeah – this game is fucking amazing, and it looks extraordinary on the X, and I’m really glad I finally finished it.

2. Yakuza 6 / Ni No Kuni 2.  You couldn’t pick 2 more different games to start playing at the exact same time, but here we are.  Of course, these have been put to the side because of God of War, but I’ll get to that in a sec.  I really like both of what I’ve played of these two, so far, though, and I hope to get back to them in a bit.

3.  Far Cry 5.  So I’ve beaten 2 of the 3 sub-bosses, and I’ve done a fair amount of side stuff, and I’m honestly not sure I need to 100% this.  When I’m goofing off and exploring, it’s fine; when I’m paying attention to the story, everything sucks.

4.  God of War.  Well, look – this is gonna be the main thing I’m playing until I finish it, and even then I don’t know that I’ll want to put it down.  It’s an extraordinary experience on nearly every level.  This is the clear frontrunner for Game of the Year until Red Dead 2 comes out later this year, and the bar for RDR2 is very, very, very high.  I don’t really want to talk about it until I’m done with it; it needs its own post.  Just get it and play it and enjoy it and love it.  And also hug your children.

Weekend Recap: Staking My Claim

I feel like too much of my idle time is spent being annoyed with social media.  It’s impossible to quit, even if the recent Facebook privacy bullshit makes my blood boil.  And I’m getting bored of myself telling everyone I’m taking a break.   There’s nothing more annoying than logging into Facebook with the sole express purpose of telling everyone that I’m taking a Facebook break, especially since my “breaks” tend to last about 45 minutes.

So, then, I think I’ve finally started to get a handle on how I want to deal with social media.  Which is to say:  I’m gonna start posting here more often (or, at least, as often as I can), and probably only here; this blog gets pushed to my FB and Twitter and Tumblr (which I think I still have?), and so I won’t necessarily vanish, but that’s gonna be about it.

So it’s gonna get a bit more LiveJournal-y around here, is what I’m trying to say.  Be warned.


So the boy turned 5 on March 31st, and then he promptly had the flu for the next 5 days, and so last week kinda just fell apart.  Both my wife and I had been teetering on the edge of coming down with it, too, though I think it’s over now.  His fifth trip around the Sun can only get better from here, right?  Let’s hope.


Now that the basement is back – and better than ever – I’ve been rearranging my music area.  The big news is that I’m getting a brand-new iMac delivered next week, while I’m home on a mini-staycation.  This means that, at long last, I can finally start getting back to work in earnest.

I’ve been re-listening to the stuff I recorded back in 2015, when this album was really getting started (gasp – has it really been three years already?), and while some of it has gone a bit stale, I’m still really happy with quite a lot of it.  And so to be able to return to it with working equipment and a fresh attitude in a really pleasant environment is basically a dream come true.  This is all I’ve wanted since we moved out to the ‘burbs in the first place.  Believe me, I will be Instagramming the shit out of my work space once the computer is set up and ready to go.

I can’t begin to tell you guys how often I’ve considered giving up and just throwing the demos up on Soundcloud or whatever.  I’m really happy with this stuff but I’ve been so frustrated in my inability to finish it, whether it’s making the formal transition from demo to actual recording, in a real studio with real musicians and a real engineer, or even just finishing one (1) goddamned set of lyrics that don’t make me gag.  I don’t think I can afford to bring a full band into the picture, but ideally I’d like to send my finished tracks to a producer I know for a proper mix – I may have to raise some funds for that, but we’ll get there when we get there.  The point is – it’s been three years since I started this thing, and I still like it.  So I’m gonna get it out there.


In the course of getting my workspace set up, I stumbled across some hilarious photos/headshots that must’ve been taken in the late 90s, and MAN.  I have some thoughts.

So there’s a couple things to point out here.

  1. As I’ve probably mentioned here, this album that I’m working on is inspired by a somewhat traumatic re-read of my college and post-college diaries.  And those photos that you see here are, in fact, from that very same time period.  All the neurotic insanity that I was scribbling down on a super-shitty word processor was coming out of the dude in the photos above.  This is hilarious.
  2. I keep joking that it’s only taken me 42 years to finally figure out my look, but it’s absolutely goddamned true.  The doofus in the pictures above had absolutely no idea how to look good.  I never truly felt comfortable in my own skin and clothes and outward presentation until very, very recently, and it’s weird to see these photos and barely recognize myself in them.
  3. I’ve spent most of my last few years of therapy sessions talking about this period of my life (1993-1999), because it’s where, for lack of a better term, the most stuff happened to me.  The best stuff, the worst stuff, the most inane stuff, the weirdest stuff, the scariest stuff, the most heartbreaking stuff.   (My life before college was tumultuous, as is everyone’s, but it wasn’t particularly noteworthy, and it’s been relatively drama-free since 2000, when I met the woman who would become my wife.)  And it just kills me to think that during this era, I looked like that.

*sigh*


Not much to report on the book front.  I’ve been re-reading the first two books of Brandon Sanderson’s “Stormlight Archive” series because I haven’t yet read the third, and even though I like them they get a bit long.  You’d think that I’d be able to re-read these books a bit faster, since I’ve already read them, but instead I’m kinda just putting it off altogether.  It is what it is.


Finally, a few words about Far Cry 5.

I’m around 22 hours into the campaign; I’ve beaten 1 of the 3 sub-bosses, but I’m mostly just screwing around with the world itself and doing everything I can to avoid actually dealing with the story.  This is one of the few times where I’m actually quite grateful that this open world is so stuffed with things to do, because it makes the avoidance of the narrative that much easier to handle.  So while I’m only a third of the way into the campaign, I’ve found dozens of underground bunkers and collectible items and weird side missions, and that shit is great!  So much fun.

But my god, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so compelled to keep playing a game that is so unrelenting in its narrative awfulness.  There’s so many other directions this game could have gone, and it annoys me to no end that they went in this particular direction instead.  To be fair, it definitely has that “over-the-top” Far Cry vibe, but it’s not rooted in anything that is relevant to this moment in time, which is frustrating if only because it has so many relevant things in it.   (There is a side mission that involves you recovering what could only be “the pee tape”, though why it’s in a cult outpost in rural Montana instead of a Russian hard drive in a well-protected safehouse is… well, who knows.)

Whatever; this is the game we’ve got.  Being angry at it because it’s not telling the story I’d like it to tell isn’t fair.  And yet to take it on its own terms is madness.  Nothing about the story makes any sense.  Nothing about this fictionalized Montana, where literally everyone who isn’t a cult member has a stash of heavy weaponry and an underground bunker and yet are wildly impotent in the face of danger, makes any sense.  Any activity that requires talking to a non-player character is frustrating and awful and ridiculous.

AND YET IT’S SO PRETTY AND THE NON-LINEAR STUFF IS SO GOOD.

There are two somewhat spoiler-heavy articles that I’ve read recently that articulate my problems with the game better than I ever could.  And honestly, now that I’ve had the ending spoiled for me, I feel a little better in how I approach the game in the first place.  Anyway, if you’d like to know what I’m dealing with, and you don’t mind INCREDIBLY MAJOR SPOILERS, I heartily encourage you to read the following:

The Final Post of 2017

1. Since finishing up my Books of 2017 post, I ended up finishing 3 more:

  • Denise Mina, “The Long Drop”, which I’ll give a B; it’s a fictional retelling of a true event (i.e., the events leading to the hanging death of Peter Manuel, a brutal serial killer in Glasgow in the 1950s).  Quite absorbing and dark, and also GODDAMN those people can drink.
  • Mohsin Hamid, “Exit West”, which earns an A; a beautiful and melodic love story as seen through the eyes of refugees, and also there are magic doors.
  • Patty Yumi Cottrell, “Sorry To Disrupt the Peace”, which gets a B; I don’t know how to describe this book at all, except it’s a remarkable look at mental illness from the mind of someone who probably doesn’t realize that they are incredibly mentally ill.

And now I’m reading Daryl Gregory’s “Spoonbenders”, which is long enough that it’ll almost certainly end up being my first finished book of 2018, and which can probably best be described as a book version of The Royal Tenenbaums, but about a family of psychics.

2.  Due to a sudden and unexpected influx of Amazon gift cards, I, um, bought a 55″ 4K HDR TV.  It is not the best 4K HDR TV one can buy, and indeed the transaction happened so fast I didn’t even have time to properly make sure I was getting what I actually wanted (I probably should’ve waited to do some actual research), but it was (a) available and (b) cheap and (c) it showed up on Tuesday.  So that happened.  Now I just need a decent sound bar and my gaming room will be complete.

3.  I still don’t know if I’m gonna do a Games of 2017 post.  I’m looking over what I played this year and despite other people saying that this was the best year in games since 2007, there’s only a handful of games that I can say are worth a damn.  Or maybe it’s just me.  I played a lot this year but I don’t know that I enjoyed very much.  I still can’t get into Breath of the Wild, which is probably heretical to admit, but there it is.  If I had to round up a top 5, it’d probably look something like this:

  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • What Remains of Edith Finch
  • Gorogoa
  • Super Mario Odyssey

There’s a ton of stuff I didn’t finish, and there’s even more stuff that I never even got to.

4.  Similarly, I don’t think I’m going to do a Music of 2017 post, but for wildly different reasons; I got turned on to a ton of amazing music this year, but I can’t necessarily say I listened to all that many new albums.  My Favorites from the Spotify Discovery playlist is at least 150 songs deep, though.

5.  And I didn’t watch nearly enough TV or film to even bother pretending to make lists for those things.  I think I can safely say that Baby Driver was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in years, and the best shows I watched were DarkStranger Things 2Legion and… hmm… I’m forgetting something, I know it.  (I only made it 3 episodes into Twin Peaks.)

This is almost certainly my last post of 2017, and given that I’m restless, I may end up doing a redesign over the next few weeks or so.  In any event, here’s hoping you had a lovely holiday, and I hope you have a much better 2018.  Indeed, I hope we all do.

Stuffed and Bloated

My brain is full.  I don’t mean that in an “I’m so smart” sort of way, but rather that I feel unable to consume any more media.

As an example:  I finished reading Little, Big the other day, which I very much enjoyed even if it was somewhat exhausting – and which puts me at 46 books read in 2017 – and ever since I put it down, I’ve been unable to get into a new book for more than 15 minutes.  I started reading the first volume of Crowley’s Aegypt series, but couldn’t get into it.  I thought maybe I could start reading Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, except I realized I couldn’t remember what had happened in the first two books, and in the prologue he mentions a side-story that he published that takes place between volume 2 and 3, and I figured I might as well start over from the beginning.  One of my “to buy” books was suddenly on sale, but after only two chapters of The Essex Serpent my mind started to wander.   I figured why not go back to the classics and finally read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and while it’s fun to narrate that book in my head with a whiskeyed noir voice, I found myself getting confused by the plot almost immediately.  I think it’s my brain, not the book.  (I don’t necessarily need recommendations, either – I mean, my to-read list on my Kindle is almost 12 pages deep.)


I’m still undecided about doing my year-end recaps.  Several reasons for this:

  • I’m feeling very lazy;
  • I’m just busy enough at work to make the proper amount of concentration a bit dicey;
  • My music list, which should be the thing I pay the most attention to, is a complete mess;
  • All of my spreadsheets – with the exception of my books – are incomplete and I don’t know where to begin in terms of fixing them; and
  • Let’s be honest, the biggest reason why I’m avoiding this is because recapping 2017 just kinda sucks.  This year sucked.  My mom was in the hospital for at least half of it; the Trump administration gave me a low-to-mid-level anxiety attack pretty much every day of the year; and my general anxiety and depression levels have been starting to get a little out of whack, to the point where I’ve had to up my medication dosages.  I’ve basically taken a vacation from creativity; instead of making music and finishing this album, I’ve imbibed a little bit too much and eaten too much junk food.  I’ve spent way too much money, and I’m angry at myself for spending money, and I end up spending more money to make myself feel better.

So maybe I’ll just do quick Top 5 lists of the relevant stuff and then leave it at that.  That’s doable.


I finished Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and I enjoyed it very much – I’d put AC:O right up there alongside Brotherhood and Black Flag as a high point in the franchise – and now I don’t know what to do with myself.  I’m sorta playing Wolfenstein 2, and I have to tell you – there’s a lot of discourse out there about whether it’s actually deserving of all the praise it initially received, and there’s some people who are skeptical about how the game was marketed – given that punching Nazis is cool again – but I haven’t really seen anybody talk about how batshit ridiculous the game can be.  I don’t know how far into the game I am yet but the stuff I’ve done – and the stuff that’s happened to me – and the places I’ve visited – are completely fucking insane, and keep in mind that in the first game you shot Nazis on the fucking Moon.  The stuff that’s happened to me already makes that sound tame by comparison.

My son and I finished Super Mario Odyssey, and we also finished Lego City Undercover, and that was maybe the most fun I’ve had playing games all year.  He loves it.  Every time we do something cool he gives me a big high-five and jumps up and down.  Now I just need to find something else for us to play; I have a few things lined up but to be honest he’s kinda content to keep going back into Lego City and mess around, which is fine with me.


My wife and I watched Dark on Netflix last week.  I’m the wrong guy to make a “Best TV of 2017” list, since I don’t watch all that much, but I loved it.  It’s gotten a lot of comparisons to Stranger Things, but I think that’s a bit off the mark – it’s more like a time-travelling art-house hybrid of LostTwin Peaks, and Hannibal.  If you decide to watch it – and I think you should – keep the audio in the original German and use English subtitles; the English overdubs are distracting.