2018 consumption: a look at some stuff I liked

Well shit.

I guess we’ve reached the point where, traditionally, I put up a post detailing what it is that’s taken my fancy in 2018. It’s become a bit of an annual thing, and far be it from me to disappoint the couple (?) of people who might nose through this thing in its entirety. So here we are: my wrap up of what’s been taking up my time.

Relatively accurate, though he swims more than I do.

Previous versions are herehere, here, here and here if you need an introduction.

Music
Once more, my Last.fm account has recorded what I’ve been listening to. Currently, it’s around the 170k songs played mark, which means in 2018 I listened to slightly less music than I did in 2017 – around 7000 tracks (instead of 9000). This feels about right: I have been a bit preoccupied with other things, so the amount of music I’ve listened to has lessened a bit.

Using LastWave allows me to show you what that looks like in a fancy-pants graph format. Feel free to click in to find names of bands that you may not know, but are (mostly) worth listening to.

The listening seemed to remain more consistent than last year’s version, and it seemed that other than the first third of the year, I would go through periods of listening to less and then having a holy shit, music! moment and crank tunes back up again.

Partially I suspect this on-again, off-again approach is because I’m in a bit of a holding pattern at present: I’m currently trying to catalogue the stuff I have on disc, and I’m trying to correctly tag the stuff that I’m sourcing digitally, so it feels like there’s a lot of busywork going on. (Though I’ve discovered Yate and it has changed my life, OCD Mac users.)

It’s also perhaps me subconsciously getting freaked out by the fact that I’ve got to pack all this shit up for a move within the next year, so there’s a feeling of impermanence and fidgeting that makes me less inclined to sit through stuff in huge chunks.

(Additionally, I’ve been listening to a lot more metal and ambient stuff, so the lowered track count could conceivably because I’m jamming 20-minute doom epics into my earholes. Maybe.)

SATAN.

Statistically speaking (thanks) these are the salient points gleaned from the past year of listens:

  • I’ve listened to 1605 unique artists, 22% of all artists I’ve ever listened to.
  • I’ve listened to 1776 unique albums, 15% of unique albums I’ve heard overall.
  • I’ve listened to 6791 unique tracks, 10% of the unique tracks I’ve heard, ever.

This is interesting: I’ve listened to less music, but covered more artists. That’s a pretty good trade, I guess: the ground covered is increasing, even if the play count isn’t.

2018’s top 20 albums by tracks played:
Yasuaki Shimizu: Music for Commercials; Ramones: Anthology; Thom Yorke: Suspiria: Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film; The Smiths: Louder than Bombs; Swans: White Light from the Mouth of Infinity/Love of Life; The Cramps: Songs the Lord Taught Us; Tactics: The Sound of the Sound Vol. 1; Various Artists: Worldwide Organization of Metalheads Against Nazis II; Khruangbin: The Universe Smiles Upon You; Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica; Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace; The Cure: Mixed Up + Extras; Dean Hurley: Anthology Resource Vol. 1: △△; Swans: Soundtracks for the Blind/Die tür ist zu; Chris Isaak: Silvertone; Various Artists: Worldwide Organization of Metalheads Against Nazis; Metallica: Master of Puppets; The Cure: Boys Don’t Cry; Khruangbin: Con todo el mundo and Beach House: Bloom.

(Most of these links will take you to a page where you can hear the albums in question. Except for the very few that don’t. Erm.)

2018’s top 20 artists by tracks played:
The Cramps, Khruangbin, Swans, Yasuaki Shimizu, The Cure, The Smiths, Ramones, Beach House, Riley Lee, Thom Yorke, Metallica, The Bronx, Crow, Lawrence English, Spencer P. Jones, Tactics, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Ketil Bjørnstad & David Darling, Miles Davis and Philip Glass.

Some things change, come remain the same. Some older favourites – Crow, The Cure, The Smiths – remain in rotation, while newer (for me) discoveries also crop up: Khruangbin being a notable example. Some albums appear in the top list because they’re practically endless or feature a lot of tracks (Hello, Tactics. Hello Swans remasters!) which means the shorter ones that are up there (SilvertoneSongs the Lord Taught Us) are really getting some heavy attention to hold their own.

Though it’s not really reflected in my stats, I’ve listened to a lot more metal of late than at any other point. I’ve also been enjoying it a lot more. I mean, I was already pretty into it, but this year has been much more of a nail-studded gauntlet kind of year overall, so I guess it makes sense.

I once more submitted a top five to Cyclic Defrost’s yearly roundup, despite not actually getting around to reviewing anything for them. (I’m hoping to rectify that in 2019.) But rather than just skimp with five, here’s, oh, I dunno, several things that came out in 2018 that I thought were Pretty Good:

OK, I guess that’s more than several. But still, they’re good.

What did I think was my favourite album? Well, I’m not particularly sure. There’s lots of stuff I liked, but for sheer bravado, it probably has to be A Laughing Death in Meatspace, the debut from Tropical Fuck Storm.

Naturally, there’s talent to burn here: an amalgam of The Drones, Harmony and High Tension. I keep saying that the album sounds like the Drones doing a Byrne/Eno album, though that sells it too short, really. It’s paranoid and danceable and the sort of thing that makes you want to play guitar and give up playing guitar in equal measure.

We took a trip to Melbourne recently to watch the band play a live soundtrack to the Coen brothers’ No Country For Old Men and it was a fucking killer. I’ve not been lucky enough/able to tolerate crowds well enough to see them playing a more typical rock gig, but fuck me, they can play. Probably not a surprise given the pedigree, but you know – it’s nice to go into something expecting a good time and end up having a great one.

As predicted in 2017’s wrap-up, I sourced a lot more of my music in 2018 from Bandcamp. Even though the search engine is pretty fuckawful, I love the place. It’s where lots of OOP stuff turns up again, and it’s where money goes (mostly) to the artists. I’m discovering a lot of things over there, and having a lot of fun pursuing circuitous genre pathways (vaporwave, deathpunk, doom metal, dungeon synth, etc etc) to places I’d not thought of going before. There’s zero gatekeeping, and plenty of music that can be had for free, if you’re unable to pay. It’s nice.

(My collection is here, should you wish to friend me/listen to a metric fuckton of stuff. I’m trying to add brief reviews to albums, but there’s a lot of ’em so it may take some time. Add me as a friend, though, if you’re on there. I’m always keen to hear what you recommend.)

I went to a bunch fewer gigs than I would normally. I did see a couple of great shows – William Basinski at Carriageworks, Convulsing (and others) at the Bald Faced Stag and TFS’s live scoring session, as mentioned above – but I was a bit of a live hermit. I’d like to rectify that in 2019, but for the first time in years I’m also not too fussed if I don’t. I’ve reached the point where I’d rather my enjoyment of shows be something of a happy accident, rather than a rigorously planned event. (There’s been too many $60 tickets turn into no-fun pumpkins due to expectation. Fuck that, frankly.)

Even though I’m seemingly listening to less of it than in previous years, I’m still enjoying music. I’m trying to write more of it, and I even made a stab at recording some of it this year, too. See?

(Admittedly, most of the time spent making this thing – it was a record-quickly thing for a games-themed album from a Facebook group – involved me trying to figure out how the fuck to drive Logic, and it’s derivative as fuck but it exists which is a bit of a first. A concrete thing is a good thing, I guess. Now I just have to make more good concrete things.)

Not pictured: first night pants-shitting fear.

I also had one of the best musical experiences I’d ever had earlier this year. I was chosen to take part in a couple of performances of Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail. I wrote about it here, and I urge you to read it, even if you read nothing else I link to in this bloated recapitulation of the year’s interests: it was one of the most profound things I’ve done. I met some cool people (and some stellar talents, frankly) and it made me realise that I just have to work harder at this stuff. I like learning, and when I’ve received the correct posterior irritation, I can actually do some cool stuff.

So I need to do more cool stuff.

Over the next year I’m hoping to write more stuff. To work more on my guitar and shakuhachi. And to continue on my path towards proper composition. I can’t say that I’ll stop fucking about with effects pedals – because let’s face it, they’re too much fun – but I am determined to make more of a mark, even if it’s only for myself.

Books
As I intimated in 2017’s recap, I figured that Dave Graney’s Workshy might be my first book of the year. And lo, it was. And it was a pretty good start to a year that was apparently – by design – going to be a bit more focused than previous years.

So many epics in one go was probably a bit ambitious.

What I’d planned was a list of books that would see me right for the duration: something that would guide my reading path for the year and give me a bit more structure. Did I follow it? Did I fuck. I did cross a fair bit off the list (I mean in terms of actual titles rather than general hand-waving suggestions of genre) but I also read a lot more comics than I’d intended to this year. But hey, I also managed to read through at least two books – doorstops both – that I’ve been lugging around for over 20 years apiece.

Somehow I read more pages while reading fewer books than I did last year. Odd. By the end of the year I had read 42 books, covering 14,376 pages – almost 2000 more than in 2017.

It was interesting to make myself read more ‘classics’ in 2018, particularly given that I’d had a bit of a ridiculous fixation (thanks, arts degree) with reading only Worthy Literature for such a long time. I enjoyed the ones I read – a lot more than the first time I’d read them, in some cases – and found having them broken up with manga and books about Soviet bus stops was a Good Thing. I discovered that Don Quixote is way crueller (and features more barfing) than I’d expected. I found my love for Moby-Dick remained untarnished by the years. I finally read that Marquis de Sade bio (and found he was as much a dick as I’d thought). I enjoyed a different translational take on Homer’s Iliad. I learned that that Errol Flynn bio was fuckawful. And I finally ploughed through the ur-hipster tome, Infinite Jest – and found that I really should’ve read it 20 years ago.

(When you’re in your 40s and have made efforts to Deal With Your Own Shit, Wallace’s torrent of words seems a little empty and a lot sad.)

I read a lot more about Batman than I’d intended, and more than enough Clive Barker tales about Pinhead than one person needs. It was fun to make inroads on some manga I’d been wanting to get through for ages (Akira and Oishinbo are both ripper!) and a joy to discover books like The Beauty and The Night Ocean.

The list remains incomplete. There’s some tantalising stuff on there, and I’m sure some of them will make it on to the 2019 list, so I’m pretty excited with the books I have in store.

There’s a reason that the place we’re building in the middle of nowhere has a room just for books. Comfortable seating, maybe a stereo, and a whole lot of books.

You can check out Goodreads’ version of my year over here, but I think this is the most salient detail.

I haven’t written as much in 2018 as I would have liked, but that’s OK. It’s been a busy fucking year and so having a bit of breathing room with the old alphabet isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Movies
It was a good year for movies, once again. According to my Letterboxd account, I injected 323 movies into my eyeballs, and rendered the result in one-line snark.

Criticism in action.

That’s 79 fewer movies than I watched in 2017. I mean, it’s pretty ridiculous that I watched enough movies to almost make it a daily occurrence, but I do put my lower numbers down to the fact that I finally pulled the plug on Mubi this year.

I wrote about that over here, so check it out if you want more in-depth reasoning, but suffice it to say that it wasn’t ringing my bells any more. It originally – for a couple of years – had been a great place to discover films, but for me the quality had slid a lot of late. Lots of repeats, lots of absolutely fuckawful French comedies. So nah, no thanks.

I did see more movies than usual in the cinema, though, which was a pleasant surprise. I saw more current release films than I normally would, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed some of them. Mandy was a completely Cagean trip into a metal hellscape. Game Night was much more fun than a studio comedy should be. Hereditary was just the right amount of horror silliness.  Halloween (apart from a particular substory – you know the one) was a lot of fun (and our screening featured the frankly wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis beforehand). The Old Man and the Gun made me want a film about Tom Waits, bank robber. BlacKkKlansman was incredible (with a brutal final scene. Incredibles 2 didn’t disappoint. Climax was jaw-droppingly intense (and something I need to see again). Lots of good stuff.

Again, what’ve you done that’s been any good since Mechanical Animals?

I did watch a bunch of shitty horror films, including the whole Hellraiser cycle (again), which doesn’t improve on repeat viewings. Also terrible was The Nun, which I checked out after ploughing through all the associated Insidious and Annabelle films, some of which were good, but more of which were feh.

I did catch up on some stuff I’d been avoiding for a while. In particular, I saw both Isle of Dogs and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The latter, particularly, has shot into a favourite position for me, which is saying something because I take the existence of Bottle Rocket as a personal fucking insult. Though Dogs may be a little too fetishistic for me to wholeheartedly embrace it, the story about love and a hotel was too endearing to resist, and yes, I was wrong to have waited so goddamn long.

The Suspiria reimagining was probably my favourite film of the year. Certainly, it’s the only thing I went back to the cinema to see again. I’m keen to get a copy so I can watch it again: it’s so relentlessly grim and almost too much that I can’t help but love it. I rewatched the Argento trilogy after I’d seen it, and while I get how important the original is in the scheme of horror (and for its strong design) I still don’t love it. Certainly nowhere near as much as the version that features Tilda Swinton being effortlessly Tilda Swinton.

OK, so I might have lied. Suspiria has some last-minute competition. The Favourite is neck-and-neck with it for the top spot. I need to see it again, but there’s something about its comic claustrophobia – and the fact that it’s a woman-led evisceration of the mechanics of rule – that make it absolutely irresistible. Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are fearsomely good in this thing, and I think it’s one I’ll be coming back to for a long time. Delightfully arch.

A badger?

So that was the year in films: not as busy as 2018, but way more enjoyable. I guess not having the pressure of expiring viewing windows is a good thing?

Games
Though it felt like I spent less time gaming in 2018, I actually played seven more games – 39 in total – than I did in the preceding year. This makes me feel pretty good, because it means that I’m not feeling quite as hidebound to the backlog as I might’ve done previously, even as I crossed a bunch of games off the list.

It was a year for older titles, it seems. The most use my Xbox had was working my way through older titles that were made playable under Microsoft’s backwards compatibility scheme, something I’m pretty grateful for, because it’s meant I’ve been able to get into some games I missed the first time around, like the Dead Space series, and the frankly dazzling Red Dead Redemption – a game that was one of my favourite experiences of the year, hands down. (Even before I got to the bit where you face off against Sasquatch.)

(Admittedly, it also made it possible for me to play through all the Call of Duty instalments I’d been missing, so I guess it’s been a mixed blessing at best. )

So what did I actually get through? Amongst others, I played a FPS love-letter to Soviet Russia and monochrome colonist nightmare. A disappointing cheerleader-led slice-’em-up. A compelling tale about mental illness. I neck-shanked people in both 1860s London and ancient Egypt. I fought beasts from hell and beautiful tedium, both parts of the Mirror’s Edge saga, a metric fuckton of undead holidaymaking dickbags, and a bunch of smaller games that don’t make the list as I didn’t technically complete them.

Still fresh, this one.

Three games I particularly enjoyed last year, though. The first was probably predictable, given my previous whip through the rest of the series: the reboot of God of War, which exists purely to remind people of what AAA games can do. It was a ridiculously enjoyable ride, apart from some niggling bolt-ons, and I’m intrigued to see what happens with the inevitable sequel.

The second? I’ve already mentioned it above: Assassin’s Creed Origins. A neat game that eschewed a lot of what I’d come to think was necessary in an AC game, and which treated the people of its setting remarkably well. I love Egypt and this game was like catnip – apparently the only game I’ve spent more time playing since I’ve had a PS4 is Yakuza 0 and we all remember how fucking crazy I am about that. So that’s a pretty good rep.

The third game is perhaps the most predictable: Yakuza Kiwami. It’s the remake of the first game – presumably because it was easier than porting from the PS2 code – and it delivered pretty much everything I’d hoped, including endless avenues for bicycle assaults. It’s the sort of thing that I’m probably predisposed to enjoying, but I was surprised how much fun I found it, and how close to its original version it was: a good sign for the handling of ports of the third, fourth and fifth entries in the series to the current-gen platform.

AW YEAH GIVE ME THAT STUFF RIGHT IN MY VEINS.

Between those three? I can’t really choose. I know that they’re not all 2018 games, but they’re some of the best fun I’ve had while gaming, and so that’s where my pics lie. I couldn’t choose which one came first, as they’ve all different things to recommend them. But I am glad that I had a chance to play them – and that my gaming seems to be slowly shifting away from pile-reducing duty to something I choose for enjoyment’s sake.

Probably as it should be, really.

So.
Despite feeling that I’d actually achieved a lot less in 2018, it seems that I did more in some areas. Perhaps because I wasn’t trying so hard? There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m damned if I’ll take it on board as that’s something I really don’t do very well.

LOOK AT ME I’M COPING!

Which is probably why I’ve spent a lot of the past year dealing with stuff that needed to be dealt with. Anxiety, mostly, which went from being a fairly constant background hum to spikes of absolutely crippling intensity at some points. (If you haven’t had a panic attack in a Hooters car park, have you really lived at all, anyway?)

So yes, I’ve worked on a lot of stuff. And it’s tiring. Self-care – that dreaded phrase – is a tiring thing. But y’gotta do it. And by you I mean me, because despite how much other people can help (and without the aid of Eve things would be way shittier in a stay-home-and-forget-humanity kind of way… well, the bad way you can stay home and forget humanity) the only person who can fix your shit is you. And it’s always harder than you think, and it always feels stupid and grinding.

A Long Way Down.

But it’s worth it. Because my quality of life is improving, and I’m a long way away from where I was a year ago, even. I honestly wonder how I survived some times earlier than that, frankly.

The good thing about 2018, though, was showing me that if you stick it out, you can get good stuff. We planned – torturously at times – our house in the country, which starts construction really fucking soon. (This year we jetpack out of Sydney, likely for good, and the relief will be palpable.)

I got to experiences all these creations I’ve written about here – music, film, gaming, literature – through the year, and I got to work on some of my own. I played as part of a guitar orchestra in some brilliant performances of a great composition. I started working much more seriously on my own music. And I won the community prize in an art competition for a photograph I took. That’s it up there – my old boots in the foreground and me in the water.

I guess the way you get to things that’s far away and nebulous is by doing the work. By showing up, even when you don’t feel like it, and moving forward inch by inch even when you feel like you’re moving backwards. That’s what 2018 was for me.

And after all that? I guess 2019’s gonna be all right, as long as I keep on breathing.

Always judging. 

Seems about right.

If you made it this far, who the fuck are you?

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