[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.

Advertisements

Very happy to announce – 6 years too late, perhaps – that “Untrue Songs” is now available on Spotify and other streaming platforms. I know it’s on Youtube and iTunes; it very well may be on Tidal and Amazon, too, if that floats your boat.

I’m a little stressed out. My money situation is, shall we say, not good. I’m terrible with money anyway, but it’s kinda really bad right now, what with debt and the repayment of loans that contribute to further debt, etc. So, for real, if you can, go check out Untrue Songs on your digital platform of choice and maybe I’ll be able to buy a very small coffee at the end of the next fiscal quarter.

BOOKS: I’ve been on a kick recently of short weird horror fiction, which has been quite fun. If you like such things, I heartily recommend Nathan Ballingrud’s “Wounds”, which is utterly fantastic – his other collection, “North American Lake Monsters”, is also quite good. Also, Paul Tremblay’s “Growing Things” is excellent and especially fun for people who’ve read his other novels; there are some neat connections in these stories to those novels. And, well, the story “Notes from the Dog Walkers” might be my favorite bit of meta-fiction that I’ve read in the last 10 years.

GAMES: As per usual, I’m having trouble staying engaged in anything. I had been pretty excited about finally getting into Breath of the Wild, but it still gets a bit obtuse at times and I feel wildly underpowered everywhere I go. But I will give a quick shoutout to Slay The Spire, which is one of the best rogue-like card combat games I’ve ever played (and which makes dragging my Switch around that much more worthwhile). Also, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is just as fun as the first one while also being a hell of a lot more accessible and having a bunch of necessary quality-of-life improvements over the original. Finally, Etherborn is a super-trippy puzzle-platformer thing that feels like moving around in an Escher drawing.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: