2016 consumption: a look at some stuff I liked

WELL HERE IT IS. Once more it’s time for a recap on what I did during the year, stuffwise. Previous versions are here, here and here, if you need an origin story.

Once more, I’m unsure who would actually read this all the way through, given the self-indulgence herein, but don’t worry – I’ve found an image that reflects both the world’s 2016 and my thoughts on writing the thing.

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Take that, ya lousy fuckin’ year. And you too, ya lousy fuckin’ typing guy.

Before we begin, though, a caveat: as for pretty much everyone, 2016 has been a trial of a year. There’s been lots of changes happening across the year, with lots of different stresses. Among others, I’ve moved house – I’m typing this in a room which has about a hundred boxes waiting to be unpacked, stacked taller than me – and with that level of change has come a sense of diminished capacity. Of some kind of fatigue.

This year, I’ve read less, heard less, and it annoys me. I feel as if I’m not making the most of the many things on offer, that I’m losing ground on the wonderful things I have waiting to be experienced. Fear of missing out? Maybe. But it’s also I guess an admission of regret, as I really do enjoy discovering all the things. So I guess this roundup is in some small way an exhortation to see more, hear more, do more – to enjoy more – in the coming year.

(In case this post doesn’t give you enough me, go and check out my other consumption project, 575 Reviews. There’s a site here, though it is probably easier to just follow on Instagram. It’s like a much less wordy version of what goes on here.)

Music
So this year I’ve listened to a lot less music, it would seem. I’m still sending my play data to my Last.fm account, and according to that my playcount is now at something like 152,000 songs since I’ve been a member – that’s about 9000 more than last year, which is not a huge increase given how much I normally hear.

(There has, however, been an upswing in my musical filing. 2016 is the year that I became serious about cataloging my collection, and is the year that I successfully got all my classical stuff entered into my Collectorz database. Eventually everything will be in there – a handy tool given the amount of secondhand store browsing I do. NO MORE MULTIPLE COPIES OF VANGELIS ALBUMS THANKS.)

With the help of LastWave, I’ve been able to resurrect the graph of what I’ve played, and when. (I know you’ve missed it!) Click to embiggen this cromulent visualisation. It’s worth noting that the data it’s polling may be flawed, so it may not be wholly accurate, but it’s relatively true to form – you can see where it takes a dip in the middle of the year and starts coming back in December.

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River o’ tunes.

Thanks again to this page, here’s some listening facts about my past year-o-hearing.

  • I’ve listened to 765 unique artists, 13% of all artists I’ve ever listened to.
  • I’ve listened to 1119 unique albums, 11% of unique albums I’ve heard overall.
  • I’ve listened to 6587 unique tracks, 11% of the unique tracks I’ve heard, ever.
  • The bulk of my music – 82% – comes from outside my top 25 artist list.
  • Most of the albums I listen to – 96% – aren’t in my top 25 album list.

Last.fm have also started creating their own reports for users for the previous year. Even though it doesn’t contain all the data for the year (they’re generated on December 1, for some reason), here’s mine. Apparently I listen to most music on Tuesdays, and I tend to listen to more music at midnight than any other time. Hmmm.

(I’ve put a Chromecast Audio on my oldschool stereo in my reading nook, so I’m hoping that I’ll be enjoying more stuff – and recording more scrobbles – over the next year.)

2016’s top 20 albums by tracks played: Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs: Flatt & Scruggs: Seven Classic Albums Plus Bonus Singles; Xiu Xiu: Plays the Music of Twin Peaks; Akira Yamaoka: Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack; Peter Sculthorpe: Peter Sculthorpe Complete Works for Piano; Akira Yamaoka: Silent Hill Original Soundtrack; Queens of the Stone Age: …Like Clockwork; The Smiths: The World Won’t Listen; The Cure: Three Imaginary Boys; Ed Kuepper: Lost Cities; Bee Gees: Their Greatest Hits: The Record; Built to Spill: Untethered Moon; Prince: The Hits/The B-Sides; The Drones: Feelin’ Kinda Free; Cliff Martinez: The Neon Demon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack; Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto: The Revenant Original Motion Picture Soundtrack; John Zorn: Locus Solus; Synergy: Matsuri; Bernard Herrmann: Psycho (two versions!); Disasterpeace: It Follows and Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner.

Only two albums are shared between this year and last: QOTSA’s …Like Clockwork and The Smiths’ The World Won’t Listen. The difference between 2016 and the year prior is that this year seems driven by soundtrack listens: a lot of these albums are here because they feature a lot of tracks on them, rather than because they were continually played. (Though I suppose this indicates an increased cinematic interest through the year.)

Flatt & Scruggs, Akira Yamaoka, the Bee Gees and Peter Sculthorpe all appeared because the albums mentioned are long-ass platters. The Cure came out again for the same reason as Miles (also aided by my read-through of Lol (LOL!) Tolhurst’s memoir), and Ed Kuepper had heightened time on the stereo thanks to a good gig, and an even better album.

Without a doubt, Xiu Xiu’s take on Twin Peaks‘ soundtrack was my favourite album of the year. It takes Badalamenti’s work and suffuses it with even more claustrophobia than you thought possible. It’s dark and addictive and I am kicking myself that I never saw it done live.

(Notable mentions go to Aram Bajakian‘s stupidly good albums based on obscure film and jazz work, and The Caretaker’s ridiculously brilliant Everywhere at the end of time. There’s a couple more over on the Cyclic Defrost 2016 picks page. I didn’t get to write for them much this year but am hoping that will change with 2017.)

2016’s top 20 artists by tracks played: David Bowie, Ed Kuepper, Bernard Herrmann, The Cure, Akira Yamaoka, Led Zeppelin, The Smiths, Coil, Tom Waits, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Peter Sculthorpe, Built to Spill, Ryuichi Sakamoto, The Drones, Xiu Xiu, Synergy, Miles Davis, Queens of the Stone Age, Jeff Buckley and Black Sabbath.

This is a bit different than to last year: there’s only three artists (Led Zeppelin, The Smiths and Tom Waits) in common with the list. Miles Davis came back into rotation as I reripped my collection of his albums, and Black Sabbath received a bit of a goosing because I caught them on their farewell tour. Bowie, of course, received a lot of plays and rightfully takes the premier position because of his death. (You can see what Bowie songs I like, and why, here, if you’ve a mind to.)

My gig of the year, out of the very few I went to, was Dirty Three at the State Theatre. It was everything I hoped and more.

I’ve been using Bandcamp as a tool more, lately. In an effort to reduce physical clutter, I’m figuring that downloads where more cash goes to the artist are a good idea. You can see the stuff I’ve bought on the platform over here: it’s worth noting that there’s a load of vaporwave stuff there because some producers made their entire discographies available for very little money.

For a place with a terrible search engine, Bandcamp is an amazing tool for album discovery. It’s also somewhere where a lot of artists are reissuing their older, OOP stuff – and are paid more for it than elsewhere. It’s a place that made me think more about making my own music, to the extent that I took a couple of courses through the year to help with production. 2017 will be the year I properly start learning the piano, as well as redoubling my shakuhachi and computer music efforts.

Hopefully there’ll be some kind of output for you to hear by this time next year.

Books
Well, these were down. No two ways about it. According to Goodreads, I read 36 books, or 9057 pages’ worth of text. That’s four books (and 2000 pages) fewer than in 2015, and that year was my worst to date. At this point, I’d have to go back to 2008 to find a year where I’d read less.

Sigh.

I was a little cheerier to note that I’d actually exceeded my reading goal for the year – 26 books – but but then I figured that if we were going to be real about that I should probably discount the Preacher trades I read as a refresher before I caught the TV adaptation. That takes me down to 25 books so… shit. However, I did review them all, so that’s something.

(For the record, Alex Kerr’s books on Japan were good (the second less so, though), and I really liked some feminist Aussie sci-fi, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, Peter Carey’s My Life As A Fake, and thought Randolph Stow’s The Suburbs of Hell – another brilliant find courtesy of Text Publishing – was tops. I also got to read a book written by a friend of mine, so that was a nice early-on treat, too.)

Here’s an infographic (cranked out by Goodreads) about my reading. There’s some interesting stats on there – books I read range from being so popular that they’re read by 889k other Goodreads readers, to so unpopular that only two other souls have ventured in – and it reminds me that I read Hebridean Sharker this year, so it’s not all bad.

(It also reminded me I read Morrissey’s List of the Lost, though, so it’s not all good, either.)

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What I have done, though, is read more poetry this year than in previous years. This is an improvement, I feel. And so, rounding out the book section? Here’s WCW’s This Is Just To Say from 1934.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Mmm, Poundy.

Let’s hope the next year sees more of everything written: input and output both. I certainly feel lesser when I’m reading less.

Movies
What this year has been good for is movies. According to my Letterboxd account, I’ve watched almost 300 movies this year.

Three hundred movies. 

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Wait, what?

By comparison, in 2015 I watched 59 movies, 42 in 2014 and 29 in the last half of 2013, the year I first began recording my viewing.

I’ve been making an effort to watch more movies I have on DVD, as I’m trying to get rid of the format (or to rip ones that I can’t find streaming) in order to minimise the amount of space they take up. But the biggest reason for the change is  my subscription Mubi, a streaming service. It’s a simple idea: a curated list of movies is put online, with a hard expiry date: each film is up for 30 days before it expires.

This works a bit better for me, because faced with a world of choice like Netflix (which I did use a bit more this year, thanks to Stranger Things and Luke Cage) I tend to prevaricate and not watch anything. Mubi solves that by playing into my OCD tendencies: there’s a limited amount of time to watch something, so I better watch it.

What’s good about it, though, is that it’s opened me to a world of things I wouldn’t have seen, otherwise. I don’t know that I would have sought out a nine-hour Filipino familial epic – nor would I necessarily watch one again – but it was exposure to something outside my usual bailiwick and for that I’m glad. I’ve seen films about Mexican wrestlers, about football in the Middle East, about Egyptian homosexuality, about war crimes and fantasies and completely depressing shit, and I like to think it’s made me think about things I wouldn’t have, otherwise.

I’ve made a list of what I’ve watched since I became a subscriber – almost 200 films in six months – here, and I’ll do the same for 2017. (There’s three or four films I saw on Mubi that weren’t in the Letterboxd system, mind.)

Using the service also means I’ve been able to see a bunch of films I’d wanted to see but hadn’t, for whatever reason, like the frankly spectacular work of Powell and Pressburger – my god, Black Narcissus! – or some of William Klein’s stuff.

You can get a free month of the service (and I get a free month tacked on to my account) by clicking here. If you’re interested in world film, and about watching stuff that you won’t see at the local cinema (or without pricy film festival tickets) then it’s a no-brainer. I hope that the upcoming Australian streaming solution, OzFlix, proves just as rewarding.

This year I also began to hate-rewatch the whole James Bond series. A couple of years ago I reread all of Fleming’s Bond stories… well, it was a Real Bad Time. So I figured I’d rewatch the films and get them out of my system. The beginning of that is here, though there’s more instalments to come. Think of it as Mystery Science Theatre 3000 but for the world’s most obnoxious spy.

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Pictured lecturing an actual rocket scientist on how rockets work.

Those posts are here. Eventually other movies will make it in, but until I get through the doldrums, it’s mostly 007 and his state-sanctioned dickery.

(As mentioned elsewhere, I listen to a lot of podcasts, but if you’re into films you should really get into You Must Remember This, which has had excellent episodes on lots of studio system topics, including the anti-Communist shitshow.)

I did go to the actual movies a bit this year, too. Nowhere near as much as I’d like, but more than last year. There were the usual suspects: that Star Wars flick, The Hateful Eight, and Don Cheadle’s ambitious (yet flawed) biopic of Miles Davis. But there were also some surprises – like the sweetly sad Florence Foster Jenkins, the second-string Cohen reds-under-the-bed, Hollywood love-letter that was Hail Caesar, for example.

(I’m pretty sure Channing Tatum is designed by Tom of Finland.)

But the surprise for me was a movie I saw just the night before writing this: Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s my film of the year. Adam Driver (who I’ve come to appreciate from shotgunning all but the last season of Girls this year, and from this TED talk (I know…)) plays a poet/bus driver in the titular New Jersey locale.

I really dig Jarmusch’s work, but this one seems more – whole? – than some of his other films. It’s painterly, and has a love of light that’s engrossing. I didn’t think I’d ever use the word delightful to describe a Jarmusch film, but here we are.

I guess that’s what happens when you rope Method Man into a film which features William Carlos Williams’ poetry, and make a bulldog a major character. It’s sweet, a little sad, and has a delightfully minute focus which makes me want to work on my own projects. I guess a film that can do that must be kind of special.

Games
As with most of the other things I’m into, gaming kind of suffered this year. I didn’t get through nearly as much as I thought I would, or as I wanted to. I bought myself some new gaming hardware as a carrot for happier times, and promised myself that outside of installing and patching games I might buy, I couldn’t play it until I was in my new place.

Nine months later I’ve been able to set up that same hardware. And what am I doing on it now? Playing Uncharted. Again. Because we all know about my desire to follow lore with order (hey? hey?) and so I’m playing the remastered trio before I tackle the fourth (and apparently final) Uncharted game.

(Well, not on the Xbox One: I’m playing Titanfall, when I can get onto a server that still has people on it now the sequel has come out. That and Trials HD because apparently I value frustration and punching myself in the face.)

I did have some great experiences with gaming though. I put a cap on Borderlands 2 and the delightful Tales from the Borderlands series,  I deeply enjoyed – and was frustrated as hell by – The Witness, I replayed all of the games in the Prince of Persia reboot series (and love/hated them as much as I thought), discovered that the GoT adaptation Telltale made was pretty ace, and got my dudebro card thanks to Battlefield: Bad Company.

(I also told Dante’s Inferno to fuck right off.)

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But the thing that I enjoyed most this year – even though it’s short – was Firewatch. It may be the game I’ve liked the most this year. It’s certainly as close as the world will get to a Me Simulator, as it’s basically Fat Guy Walks Around Being A Smartarse: The Game. Yes, it’s pretty much a walking simulator. Yes, it’s got quite a limited story. But in terms of creating a mood and providing a world that seems brilliantly real, it’s ace.

Honourable mention time: I really, really liked Virginia, even though it’s shorter than Firewatch. It scratches an X-Files itch, and while it couldn’t live up to the hype, it was amazing.

There’s been plenty of other games I’ve played that I haven’t written about, due to slackness. I’m still wading through Diablo III because I approach it in tiny morsels. I’m playing through the Saints Row series slowly (because there’s only so much dildo-induced beatdowns you can take at one time), I’m stomping demon arse occasionally in the gloriously successful latest chapter of Doom and I’m slowly working through a backlog of console titles which include The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV. There’s a lot on, and hopefully more writing to come from it.

Next year, though? That’s gonna be all about the two new Yakuza games coming. Between those and a new Oxbow album in April, I figure the year’s already ahead on points.

If you’re looking to add me to a gaming friends list, I’m on Steam, the PSN and the Xbox. My thoughts on games can be found on this part of the site, too.

So.
That’s it. I guess I did get through a lot of things in some respects, but it feels like I haven’t. I’m hoping that the next year brings, if not more actual completion of stuff, a greater feeling of satisfaction.

So, let’s see what 2017 offers. Less upheaval and more time to read, listen and watch with a clear mind, hopefully. Maybe I can do more productive stuff when embracing my inner Bangs.

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Until next year, then.

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