rust and dust

What’s this? TWO POSTS IN ONE MONTH?

Well, look: I’ve gotta start shaking the rust off now that we’re approaching year-end season. I’ve got Top 10 Lists to write! (That reminds me, I’ve gotta try to fill in the gaps in my spreadsheets!)

In any event, here I am. And there you are. And so let’s begin.


Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon, or maybe I’m just trying to be realistic about money and time, but there’s not a hell of a lot that’s jumping out at me in terms of big releases before Christmas. Borderlands 3 had been one of the games I’d been looking forward to, but I rented it and found it stale. (Of course, I checked out right at the moment that most of the reviews say that it starts to pick up (i.e., once you leave the first planet), but that’s a lot to ask.)

Basically, this Friday’s release of Outer Worlds is it, as far as my gaming energies will be concerned. I’m apathetic towards Call of Duty, I’m actively avoiding Death Stranding, and I’m a bit wary of Shenmue III. But Outer Worlds looks like it’s gonna scratch my itch for a deep sci-fi RPG. (Early reviews are calling it Fallout in space, and that’s pretty much all I needed to hear.)

There are certainly some indie games that I’m sure I’ll be excited to try, though for whatever reason indie games tend to not show up in release-date lists. Cases in point: I recently rented both Indivisible and Trine 4, and they are both excellent, and I will most likely buy them when they inevitably go on sale.

Oh, and I’m finally playing Return of the Obra Dinn. That is a hell of a game! I have no idea what I’m doing – the gameplay loop is somewhat obtuse – but I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. As far as the time manipulation / murder mystery / catastrophe at sea / radically minimal graphic design genre is concerned, it’s aces.

I’m also having this weird dilemma common to multi-platform users where I’m torn between what system to play on. I tried the remaster of Planescape: Torment on Xbox last week, and found it quite enticing. (Plus: Achievements! Yes, I still give a shit about them!) And then I considered getting the game on Switch, because portability. And then I remembered that I already own the game on iOS, and if portability is truly an issue then I can play it on my phone if my iPad is too much to deal with.

So I’m an idiot, in other words. But you knew that already.


As far as reading goes, Goodreads says I’m at 78 books out of 80 (I decided to revise my goal a few months back, since I’d easily sped past my original goal). Not everything I’ve read lately has been all that great, but considering how strong the year has been overall, I suppose it’s OK to hit something of a lull. To put it another way, my Year In Reading post will be a lot more detailed than anything else I might put up.

I think that’s all I’ve got for the day. I know it’s not much, but it’s something. And since I’ve been dealing with some unusually wild depression issues of late, I’ll take whatever I can get.

A view from the sidelines

First thing’s first: I bought one of those new iPads, and a keyboard to go with it, so now I can use my personal email again during daylight hours without having to type with my thumbs, which is a thing that I hate. I can also write here, too, without too much concern over my job monitoring my internet usage. I can even sorta get back into social media, which I have mixed feelings about.

Does that mean that I’ll write here more often? Who knows?

I’ve been in a rough way for the last month or so, and as I tend to do during these periods, I’ve been turning inward. There’s been some personal things going on, and while they’re mostly resolved at this point, I’m still trying to get a grip on things. I’m also still adjusting to some slight changes in my medication; mostly I’m just feeling exhausted, and while some of that is the medication, some of it is just being a parent, and quite a lot of it is the news.

Have you watched the news lately?

Re: the news – look, I try REALLY hard to keep my social media feeds as non-political as I can. If you’re reading this and disagree, then at the very least you should know that I still bottle up at least 95% of my news-related thoughts, so the stuff that does make it out is because if I don’t write something my head will explode. I really do try to be sensitive about this stuff. My various social media feeds are almost entirely political, because it would appear that I’m not the only one losing my mind.

Look: I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating that we are in a super-strange period of time right now, and it’s only going to get more and more fucked up between now and next November – and that’s assuming that we as a country (and, indeed, as a planet) actually make it to next November without completely falling apart.

[And since we’re on the topic, here’s my take on it. 45 is going to continue to act deranged and psychotic because nobody that he listens to (i.e., (Fox News, Mitch McConnell, his cabinet, Rudy, etc.) is going to tell him to shut up. He’s no longer committing crimes behind closed doors; he’s openly asking China to help him get dirt on the Biden family from the White House lawn. And he’s going to continue to act recklessly because as long as he’s President, he can’t be indicted or arrested or anything. So let’s get real here: there will not be a peaceful transition of power if he loses next November. (This, of course, assumes that next November’s elections will be on the up-and-up, which is a dangerous assumption to make.) It’s going to get much worse before it gets better, if it ever does get better.]

Now, more than ever, it is imperative on us to be kind to each other. I know I have some friendships that have been in a weird sort of limbo for a while now, because I’ve been so inward-facing for so long that I’ve kinda forgotten how to reach out. (And, also, there’s been a lot of self-directed depression-inducing issues that make me feel like I shouldn’t reach out, that me reaching out would do more harm than good.) I’m working through that stuff, and I have no right to ask you to be patient with me. I mean, we’re all going through some stuff, I get it.

Anyway. I’m alive and I love you and I’m trying to get better.


Media consumption continues, as per usual. Still reading like crazy, still having trouble staying invested in the games I’m trying to play. Fully caught up on The Good Place, which I should’ve been watching already. I feel less and less motivated to write about this stuff, though, because… who cares? I’m not sure I still care. I have this blog because I’ve had a blog in some form for almost 20 years, and not having a blog makes me feel like I’m missing an arm or something. But I’m having trouble feeling like it’s as necessary as it used to.

I’ll try, though, if for no other reason that the need to justify the iPad purchase.

Thanks for your patience.

Distraction as Action

It’s that day again, that day where I do everything I possibly can to distract myself from what today actually is. Not because I’m capital-F Forgetting, but because I can’t NOT forget. I literally work across the goddamned street from it. I had to take some anti-anxiety meds just to leave the house today and go to work. I know very well what today is, and what happened, and the truth is that I’ve had some lingering PTSD from it ever since. Like a lot of us have. I know I’m not the only one.

What I’d really like to do – what I’ve been aching to do ever since I started playing it – is to write about Control, which is thus far my Game of the Year. Two big things are keeping me from it, though; for one, I’ve hit some sort of difficulty wall where every single mission I’m playing is just a bit too difficult. For another, I want to slather my eventual write-up with screenshots, but they haven’t yet added a Photo Mode (although I believe that’s coming shortly).

Instead, let me at least link to this really good video essay about Control and Haunted Houses (with a bonus appearance by House of Leaves):

Control is the main reason why I haven’t given Gears 5 a fair shake; I’ve dabbled here and there but I don’t want to get caught up in it before getting as close to the end of Control as I can. (I peeked at a walkthrough and while I’ve still got a bunch of side missions to do, I appear to be at the end of the penultimate story mission.) Gears certainly looks gorgeous, to be sure; but again, its combat rhythm is wildly different from Control, and playing both at the same time means I will get progressively worse at each.

Oh – yeah – so my 6 year old has a youtube channel, and he would love it if you subscribed.

Domino Voss!

So the other day I wrote here about this song lyric that’s been running around in my head for the last year or so, which is really more of a neurosis than a lyric; in any event, I’ve been doing a lot more thinking about it. Hell, I even spent most of my last therapy session discussing the whole idea – because fundamentally, the idea is borne of social anxiety, though obviously a bit more intimate than that – even if the idea itself isn’t strictly limited to romantic partners. The idea of reciprocal feelings is invested in every friendship, every parent/child relationship, every long-distance internet pen pal. Do I matter to you the way you matter to me? It’s the sort of question where you might not even be able to trust the answer, if you were given one.

In any event, one of my internet pen pals posted a meme of an apologetic fuckboy, and I realized: oh shit, that’s me. She wasn’t referring to me specifically (at least, I don’t think she was), but it’s pretty much what I used to be and how I later tried to make up for it. And so now I feel even worse, because my sincere attempt at righting a wrong (or a series of wrongs, to be honest) is really just a walking cliche.

So, yeah. I don’t think I was this obnoxious, but I certainly didn’t realize that this is what my apology(ies) looked like.

I’m gonna go bang my head against the wall for a little bit, now.

synchronicity, reciprocity

A curious thing has just happened, for the second time. I’m at my desk at my office, doing miscellaneous busywork, and somewhere in the back of my mind I start thinking about this particular lyric concept. As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been trying to write an album for the last 4 years and I’m still stuck, because I’m at the point where I need to start writing lyrics, and lyric writing has always been the most difficult part. In any event, this idea pops into my head and it’s so strong and so resonant with what I’ve been thinking about lately that I feel compelled to write it down. And so I go to open the GoogleDoc where I keep of all the random lyric fragments that pop into my head, and I see that the very last thing I wrote – which was months and months ago – are the exact same words that I was about to write down. Which are also identical to the thing I wrote before that, which was almost a year ago to the day.

So, clearly, this is a thing I need to develop. The reason why I haven’t is because even though this idea is something that clearly strikes a chord with me, I have absolutely no idea if it’s good. When it comes to the music part of a song, I can usually immediately tell if something I improvised is worth developing further. But with words… I have no confidence. This idea could very well be brilliant; it could just as easily be the sort of thing a stoned college freshman thinks about at 3 in the morning. Hell, it’s probably something I myself thought about as a stoned college freshman at 3 in the morning; I’m sure I could dig up my old notebooks and find something similar to the thing that’s currently still haunting me.

Anyway, after all this time, I still don’t know if the way you felt about me is the way I felt about you.

the creature awakens

[Insert standard intro apologizing for long delay, explain that everything continues to be terrible, make flippant joke about how the news keeps getting more and more depressing, then quickly segue into how because everything sucks, it becomes more and more important (and also more and more difficult) to allow yourself the opportunity to escape), and how time is short, and if you’re reading or watching or listening or playing something that isn’t working for you, you have permission to move on to the next thing.]

BOOKS:

One of the only things I’m looking forward to at year’s end is a full recap of all the books I’ve read this year; I’ve certainly put down my fair share of books that simply weren’t working for me, but I’ve also finished a lot more books than I’d ever anticipated. And quite a few of the ones I’ve finished are excellent.

Wanderers, Chuck Wendig. This was supposed to be the big behemoth of the summer, a 900+ page modern quasi-retelling of The Stand. It works, for the most part, and for a 900+ page book it moves very quickly. It’s also a bit forgettable, and some of the characters, while entertaining, could be completely removed from the story and literally nothing would change.

This is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone. I am a sucker for the epistolary novel, and this is one of the better ones. Two enemy spies in a time-travelling war leave love notes for each other.

In The Valley of the Sun, Andy Davidson. A gorgeously-written monster story, but to what end? I mean, the prose in this book is fantastic; it’s just that the story never quite goes anywhere, and there’s not much pushing the action forward.

Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid. I genuinely loved this, and I think the only thing stopping me from loving it even more than I already do is that I’ve never had a reason to give a shit about Fleetwood Mac. There are a lot of familiar tropes here, but my favorite is probably the one rhythm guitarist who hates everything and everybody and is also the one guy not getting laid while everybody else in the band is neck-deep in ass and grass and coke and paranoia.

Mindhunter, John Douglas. Much like the Netflix series that it spawned, this works best when it’s focused on the work. The various asides about the author’s personal life are distracting and pointless and unnecessary, just like they are in the show. Everything else is lurid and riveting and horrifying.

FILM:

The wife and I don’t get to the movies as often as we used to, and when we do it’s either something family friendly or it’s something Marvel / Star Wars related. So it was a real treat to be able to go to the local fancy dine-in movie theater with reclining seats and see Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. It’s been a few weeks since we watched it, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I don’t know if that means I liked it or not; it’s a bit of a shaggy story, and it’s one that is more than content to meander and soak in all of QT’s indulgences, right up until the wildly insane final 30 minutes or so. Is it my favorite QT film? No, probably not, but it’s not like he’s ever made a clunker.

GAMES:

I’m in that zone where I’m kinda done with everything, or else I’ve hit a wall with everything.

I finished all three side islands in Dragon Quest Builder 2, and now there’s one last building for me to build and I just don’t give a shit anymore. As much as I appreciate the guided experience it gives (unlike, say, Minecraft), it’s also very tedious and clunky and the energy system is a huge pain in the ass.

I also finally dinged level 30 in Division 2 and I continue to tinker around in the final gauntlet before the endgame, and I really just wish the game was slightly better balanced in order to solo it without too many problems. I get that the game is meant to be experienced online, but I don’t know anybody else who plays it, and the game is mostly OK to solo except for the final wave of every mission, where I inevitably wipe out and have to do the whole goddamned thing again, until I quit.

As money continues to be tight I’ve resolved to use my Gamefly account more aggressively, and so while I’ve rented a bunch of notable titles, nothing seems to stick. The new Fire Emblem… is a prettier version of a genre that I’ve never been able to get into in its earlier iterations; Age of Wonders Planetfall is a very pretty Civ-esque type of game that feels clunky with a controller; Wolfenstein Youngblood looked promising but it kept overheating my Xbox One X multiple times; Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 just felt janky and shitty, and I turned it off before it could disappoint me any further.

And that’s basically it, as far as I’m concerned.

being in a band

some thoughts on a sunday evening (and revised on a monday morning):

I just put on the song above – Elder is a band I like, but haven’t really thought about in a while, and I saw that they had a new album out, so, why not give it a spin on my good headphones while I’m already a little artificially zoned out anyway – and the thing is, this song just freaked me the fuck out. Here’s why: it sounds A WHOLE FUCKING LOT like the band I was in back in the mid-to-late 90s.

Like, I’ve never really heard anything ever, in my whole life of listening very intensely to music, that sounds like a band that I was in, especially when the difference in years between the two things is literally half my age. Now, of course, I’ve been in bands where it’s obvious who we tried to sound like; I’ve just never heard another band doing what we did, 20+ years later.

More specifically: I play guitar a lot like one of the guitarists in this band, and the other guitarist sounds A LOT like the other guitarist in my old band. and the rhythm section sounds, well, you guessed it. And we used to get super stoned down in the basements of Ludlow Street and jam like this for HOURS and then we’d go back to the drummer’s apartment and then continue to get stoned and listen to what we just did.

I mean, Jesus Christ, the fucking hi-hats are clipping in the mix at around the 8:00 mark, which makes it sound EVEN more like a taped rehearsal in a dingy basement with a shitty Shure microphone.

tl:dr; I thought this was my old band.

Anyway, this sorta got me thinking about a bunch of things. For one, it brought me right back to the time frame that this stupid album that I’ve been not working on for 4 years is supposed to take place in. All sorts of memories came flooding back, most of them… well, most of them are complicated, if I’m being honest. There were good times, bad times, and also quite a lot of weird times. It’s difficult to explain.

RELATED TANGENT: So I’ve started getting the ball rolling on putting the old album (“Untrue Songs”) onto modern streaming platforms. I might even be able to announce it this week? Keep your eyes and ears peeled.

BUT it also got me wondering what it would be like to be in a band again. I mean – I’m 43 years old, I live in the suburbs, and while I’ve played with other people in recent years I haven’t been in a capital-B BAND since 2007. That ship has sailed. It stopped being practical to pin my hopes and dreams of financial stability through being in a band about 10 years ago.

I’ve been starting to think about being in a band again a lot, recently, at least in less abstract terms that I’d been thinking about it ever since Henry was born. There’s been some music I’ve been obsessing over lately that, in addition to being the exact sort of sound I’ve been itching to hear, also sounds a lot like the sound of a band I’d like to play in.

And as much as I like having creative control over the music I write, I’m also reluctantly accepting the fact that it’s much easier for me to meet self-imposed deadlines when I’m collaborating with other people.

And also: playing music with other people is fun. I miss it.

some good things

I’m OK. You OK? I mean, everything is nuts, yes, of course, but there’s also some good things, too. I’m holding onto the good things. Here are some of them.

Stranger Things – We binged Season 2 last week to get caught up for Season 3 and my god, this show is still amazing – if for no other reason than it’s one of the few shows (or, really, any media) where PEOPLE SAY THE THING THAT NEEDS TO BE SAID AT THE RIGHT TIME.

Fleabag – speaking of binge-ing, the wife and I watched this until 1 in the morning the other day, which is a thing we hadn’t done since before our kid was born. It’s one of the most extraordinary shows I’ve ever seen; perfectly cast, perfectly written, perfectly performed. I will basically now watch anything that Phoebe Waller-Bridges gets her hands on. And what a fantastic treat to get to see Andrew “Moriarity” Scott again! Hard to pick a favorite episode out of basically 12 perfect episodes but the dinner party that opens Season 2 is absolutely spectacular.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – I’m sure that everyone has at least one game that’s considered an all-time classic that they’ve never been able to get into. For me, the most notorious of these would almost certainly be Resident Evil 4, which for the rest of the world is one of the greatest games ever made. I couldn’t get more than 5 minutes into it without loathing it. (And it’s not for lack of effort – I’ve tried to get into it several times, on several different platforms, and each time I give up because I hate it.) Anyway, I bring this up because until last week, BotW was also in that category; I’m not sure I’d even beaten the first shrine before getting frustrated. (It’s entirely possible that the survival/crafting elements are what turned me off, not to mention the extreme fragility of every weapon; it also probably needs to be repeated (because I’m sure I’ve said this a million times) that while I had an Atari 2600 and my younger brother had a Sega Genesis, there was never a Nintendo console in my house until the Wii, so I don’t have any nostalgia to fall back on.) In any event, something finally clicked for me this week and now I’m hooked. I get it now; I understand the game’s rhythms. (And it’s also made stuff like Skyrim and the upcoming Witcher 3 port totally superfluous; if I need an amazing open-world game to take with me on the train, this is the one right here.)

The Outer Wilds – I’ve had to take some time away from this game recently, but that hasn’t stopped me from being in love with it. Here, read Kotaku’s Jason Schreier on it.

Forza Horizon 4 – I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: this game is pure joy. And the recently released Lego DLC is so much fun. If it’s been a while since you’ve fired it up, give it a spin. And if you’ve never played it, well, get on that shit. I’d call it my favorite driving game of all time, sure.

The Quartet

There’s been some remarkably good stuff happening in the indie scene, folks.

Observation. The elevator pitch for this game – think 2001, but you play as HAL – is fantastic, and the gameplay is wonderfully unique and refreshing (even as it seems directly inspired from the video camera hacking sequences in Watch Dogs). Two things hold this game back from being a true GOTY contender: (1) some of the puzzle solutions are woefully obtuse, and (2) at a certain point in the story, it stops making any coherent sense. I suppose a minor (3) would be that you, as the onboard HAL (in this case, your name is SAM), would appear to be dreadfully stupid, since finishing a relatively straightforward task can take lots and lots and lots of trial and error. But at the end of the day, I was too entranced by the idea and the vibe to be too bothered by these criticisms; playing as the AI of a space station is just a really cool concept, and for the most part it’s executed quite well.

Void Bastards. I’m not generally one for rogue-likes, and if a first-person shooter is gonna hook me it needs to have a really good hook. So let me cut to the chase: I’m COMPLETELY HOOKED on this game. Rock Paper Shotgun describes it as “What if Bioshock, but without story?” and that’s not necessarily that far off the mark; I’m not even particularly sure what the story is, but I do know what my motivation is as a player, and I love the short-and-sweet loop of looking at the star map, picking a ship to board, planning my route through the ship, and then looting the hell out of everything. Given that my attention span these days is relatively short, this game is perfect – I can be in and out of that loop in 20-30 minutes and I’ll have accomplished something worthwhile. I’m not one of those people who needs everything to be ported to the Switch, but if there was ever an ideal case for a Switch port, it’s this game right here.

Outer Wilds. I read a preview of this game a while ago and it sounded amazing; more specifically, it sounded like the exact sort of game that I want to play right now, which is to say it’s a No Man’s Sky sort of exploration game but with a very carefully crafted universe and a story you gradually uncover as you explore each planet, instead of just mindlessly traipsing through zillions of algorithmic ejaculations. And then I completely forgot the game’s title, and I worried that I’d either imagined the whole thing or that it was a very real thing that I would completely miss because I’d forgotten the damn name. Thankfully, the game was released yesterday and all the glowing reviews immediately reminded me that this was, in fact, the game I’d been looking for. I’ve only been able to spend about 30-40 minutes with it, so I’m still a ways off from being able to talk about it in detail. I’ll say this, though: it makes a remarkable first impression. I imagine I’ll be switching between this and Void Bastards for the foreseeable future.

A Plague Tale: Innocence. Of all the games in this foursome, this is the one that came out first, and which, sadly, I’ve spent the least amount of time with. What I’ve seen of it is really rather stunning – the comparisons to the companionship of The Last of Us seem right on the money – and I do want to get back to this when there’s nothing else on my plate.

Nothing Doing

Yes, I know. I KNOW. It’s been a minute. Since my last post, I’ve been a little bananas. My wife broke her foot; I caught a ridiculous chest cold that I’m still trying to shake; work has been… well, work; and the news has been, well, the news.

On the bright side, despite all of this insanity, I’ve somehow gone about two weeks without needing to take any Ativan. So that’s something.

But the larger point remains – I’m frazzled and fried, and I’ve not written anything here because I can’t seem to concentrate on anything for more than about 5 minutes. And that includes writing blog posts about not being able to concentrate on anything for more than 5 minutes.

So let me get to the business here before I run out of steam:

BOOKS: I’ve completed my 2019 Goodreads challenge, which was to finish 40 books. It’s not yet June. Despite all of the craziness above, I can get books read. Here’s what I’ve finished since my last update, along with the summaries I jotted down in my googledoc:

  • Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry. Beautifully written but very slow. Also, turn-of-the-century New York City sounds like a goddamned hell on earth.
  • Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Brennett. Very much like Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, but a bit more crass. (Also, for whatever reason, I’m having trouble remembering this book now that it’s been a few months.)
  • The Force, by Don Winslow. A hard-boiled masterpiece. If even a fraction of the grift and corruption described in this book is true, we are well and truly fucked.
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid. Short, very creepy, with a very sudden and jarring ending. I’m not sure this worked for me, though it’s very well-written.
  • The Devil Aspect, by Craig Russell. An above-average thriller with a hokey title, and a good twist that I probably should’ve seen coming.
  • The Power, by Naomi Alderman. Absolutely fantastic; consider the patriarchy smashed.
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra. One of the best books I’ve read this year; superb.
  • Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1), by James S.A. Corey. As far as sci-fi space opera goes, this is pretty goddamned entertaining. I’ll want to read a few more books before deciding to watch the show.
  • Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi. This much-hyped novel more or less lives up to it; it certainly takes me back to my teenaged years, for better or worse.
  • Melmoth, by Sarah Perry. I haven’t yet read Essex Serpent, but it’s on my list. This was engaging and creepy, though it didn’t quite go anywhere.
  • Normal People, by Sally Rooney. Intimate and marvelous.
  • Blood Standard, Laird Barron.
  • Black Mountain, Laird Barron. Hard-boiled and fun as hell. I’ve read a few of his more cosmic horror-type books before and they never quite clicked for me, but these absolutely sucked me in.
  • Exhalation, by Ted Chiang. Maybe not as transcendent as his first collection, but this is still among the best philosophically-minded sci-fi ever written.
  • Freshwater, by Awkaeke Emezi. Fascinating and beautifully written portrait of a woman with multiple personalities.
  • Lanny, by Max Porter. A very strange, beautiful, ethereal dream.

MUSIC. It’s a wonder that I’m able to absorb any of the music I’m listening to these days, especially since I don’t get to listen as often as I’d like. But there’s some good stuff out there, even for old farts like me.

GAMES. I’ve been playing, like, a dozen things all at once on pretty much every system I own, though I seem to have hit difficulty spikes in most of them all at the same time. There are two smaller games, though, that deserve mention, if only because they feel quite special:

  • Observation (PS4), which is essentially 2001, but you play as HAL. Reminds me a bit of the camera hacking bits in Watch Dogs, which coincidentally are my favorite parts of those games. I’m only an hour or so into it, but I’m really impressed. A very important word of caution, however – if you are in any way affected by strobing effects or other similar visual glitches, I’d recommend staying away from this until they patch it. I’ve never before been sensitive to that stuff until this game; it’s overly aggressive in that regard.
  • A Plague Tale (X), which is like The Last of Us, but with some basic stealth and lots and lots of rats. Again – I’ve only given it an hour or so, but I’m really impressed by what I’ve seen.

That’s all I’ve got time for today, folks. Hope all is well.

CONTENT OVERLOAD

This was the weekend of CONTENT, and because I hate spoilers, I’m going to start this post with a table of contents. Feel free to skip to whatever relevant section you want; I will try to be light on spoilers whenever possible, but sometimes there ain’t nothing you can do.

  1. Endgame
  2. GoT
  3. Lemonade
  4. Games

*****

(1) Endgame. Look, I could nit-pick the movie to death. The moment you introduce time travel / time manipulation, you’re asking for trouble. I knew from the moment Doctor Strange gave up the Time Stone at the end of Infinity War and told Iron Man that “this was the only way”, referring to the one reality out of 14M possibilities in which the good guys win, that there was going to have to be some sort of time travel shenanigans, and that’s essentially what Act 2 of Endgame is. And to the film’s credit, they discuss the paradoxes of time travel pretty thoroughly (though they use films, not books). But look – that’s besides the point. The movie was fun as hell, and for a project this massive to be able to get wrapped up this well, I mean, what else could you possibly hope for? (I, for one, was so happy to see the Captain finally have his dance.)

I have larger issues with the MCU as a whole, and that could probably get its own post at some point, if I ever got around to it. None of the films are bad, even though there are some clunkers (i.e., Thor 2), but none of the films are amazing, either. They’re fun, and they’re enjoyable, but they’re also somewhat forgettable. Does this matter? Probably not – Endgame will destroy every single box-office record by the end of next week, more than likely – but it’s just… I wish the films had more personality. I have no doubt that, as a stand-alone film, Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man would’ve been a thousand times better than what we ended up getting. But I also know that Edgar Wright’s film-making style is so distinctive that it would absolutely stand out like a sore thumb when placed alongside the rest of the MCU. Doctor Strange was visually stunning but the script was basically Iron Man redux. I can only hope that in the years to come, Marvel lets its filmmakers have a bit more leeway when it comes to directorial vision. (And more than anything else, I’m also very curious to see what the Russo Brothers do next.)

If you’d rather read an actual critical take on it, I highly recommend this MZS piece.

*****

(2) Game of Thrones. I don’t want to be “that guy” who shows up in your timeline being all “I don’t watch GoT”, which is why I’m quiet about it. But I don’t watch GoT. I tried reading the first book and got bored, and I watched the first few seasons of the show but it didn’t do anything for me. (The last episode I watched was the episode before Joffrey got what was coming to him.) That being said, I emerged from my basement/man-cave just in time to see Arya strike the death-blow, and that was pretty awesome. My wife was sobbing, and I genuinely had to ask – “are those… good tears?” And she laughed and said “my favorite character just killed the bad guy, of course these are good tears”, and so I’m glad that went well.

*****

(3) The thing about being a Spotify junkie is that you end up missing things that aren’t on the platform. And while I certainly have nothing but respect for Queen Bey, I haven’t listened to any of her music, ever. So it was more out of curiosity than anything else that I turned on Spotify over the weekend and saw that Lemonade was finally available. And so I decided to give it a little spin and see what’s what.

The short version: I need to give the album a few more spins before I can assign it a numerical value between 1-10, but, I mean, godDAMN. This is not the kind of music I generally listen to, but I’ll gladly give her the benefit of the doubt.

I remember being 8 years old (or thereabouts) and putting a cassette of Sgt. Pepper in my boombox and being sort-of gobsmacked that even though I’d never heard the album before, I somehow knew all the words and the melodies. I’m not going to say that listening to Lemonade 3 years after the fact was the same kind of experience, but it is kinda hilarious to recognize certain lyrics as cultural moments – which is to say, I now know where “Boy bye” and “Becky with the good hair” comes from.

There is apparently some argument as to whether Beyonce can be rightly called a visionary genius if she has 50+ people writing her songs for her. On the one hand, I get that argument. But she’s not a singer-songwriter, and never claimed to be, and my impression of modern pop music (as a 43-year-old white guy who hasn’t listened to pop music in at least 20 years) is that authenticity isn’t necessarily what’s important right now. And whether she writes her own lyrics or not isn’t the point – nobody has that voice, and she sings the absolute fuck out of these songs.

(Speaking as a lapsed singer-songwriter: I don’t have any problem with collaboration. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a complete set of lyrics that I was actually proud of, from top to bottom, and if I had the budget to hire the best lyric writers in the business, you’d better believe I’d hire them and pay them double. This is why I still haven’t finished the album I’ve been working on for the last 4 years, by the way.)

*****

(4) I’m in a weird place with games, as per usual. I played a little bit of the new Mortal Kombat – and I don’t know what to say beyond (a) it’s a stunning package, and (b) I am utterly terrible at it and am very glad I rented it. More of my focus has been on my Switch, actually – I’d loaded up the Switch before my vacation a few weeks back and did some of the Captain Toad DLC, as well as some of the new Yoshi game, which is adorable as h*ck. But this weekend I was getting sucked into Hob and Steamworld Gilgamesh. (I’d gotten Hob on PS4 a while back but never gave it a proper look; I’m definitely going to give it a runthru when I finish the Switch version, because the Switch version is graphically janky as hell.)

Hob is an indie-feeling third-person adventure/puzzle/light combat game, with incredibly obtuse signposting. It is very easy to get lost, sometimes to the point of frustration, because the map is arguably the worst map in the history of maps. But it’s also incredibly satisfying when you do finally figure something out, and that’s part of the game’s tension. I like it!

The new Steamworld game is also pretty neat, as far as card-based turn-based RPGs go. I’m barely 10 minutes into it but it’s the sort of game I could see myself playing on the train and then realizing I missed my stop about 20 minutes too late.

Also: the new AC:Odyssey DLC is amazing – seriously, go pick it up if you’ve been away for a while.

It’s so amazing, in fact, that it’s sidetracking me again from replaying RDR2, which is something I’d been wanting to revisit for a while. My first playthrough felt very rushed – I know I missed a lot – and I wanted to stretch my legs with it a bit. I had AC:O in the back of my head while I was playing it the first time, though, and the difference in feel between the two could not have been more pronounced. In any event, if you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend Film Crit Hulk’s deep dive – it says basically everything I’d been wanting to say about it, but better.

Finally, I think I’ve been away too long from Division 2. I still really like that game, but I’d had to put it down when I went on vacation and even though I’m somewhat close to the end of the story, I feel like I’m wildly underpowered, and at this point it’s hard to find other players at my level willing to do co-op story missions and such.

*****

I’ve read some AMAZING books of late – too many to condense here. I’ll be doing a major book post soon-ish, though.

And I’m also contemplating doing a 5-10-15-20 thing (see Pitchfork) because it’s a fun writing exercise and I’m curious to see what my albums for those specific years would be.

Anyway! That is all.