2019 consumption: a look at some stuff I liked

So here we are again.

I remember not to answer the phone, though.

Once more, it’s the point of the year where I write a usually-lengthy post about the things I’ve enjoyed this year. I write a bunch of stuff about the cultural bits and pieces I’ve consumed through the year and figure out what was good and what wasn’t, in the hope of providing something of a portrait of my entertainment consumption over the past twelve months.

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

Music
As ever, my Last.fm account has kept a close eye – when it’s working – on what I’ve been listening to through the year. It’s sitting at the 175,000 tracks played mark, which means I played something like 6300 tracks this year, give or take, compared to 2018’s 7000. For the second year in a row, I listened to fewer tracks than in the year before – the second-lowest amount of listening since I began scrobbling – but again this makes sense: this year has been a year of fairly complete upheaval and I’ve felt a bit meh about music at times.

Yes, I am an egg.

Feeling meh about music is a pretty shitty way to feel, I’ll admit, but sometimes it felt like there wasn’t a lot of time for music. So much to do, and so little concentration to dedicate to the sort of stuff I’d love to listen to.

I chucked the info into LastWave to give you a visual account of the musical ebb and flow of the year. Click the caption to zoom in.

As you can see, there’s definitive peaks and valleys across the year – moments where I listen to nothing before I perk up again and give stuff another whirl. Generally speaking, the bits where I’m listening to more music coincide with moments where long car trips were involved, or when it was work deadline. (I tend to listen to a lot of music to focus while I’m sending a magazine to print, and there have been a lot more Sydney to Blayney car trips this year in the lead up to the completion of our new house.

My plan to catalogue the stuff I have on disc, continues. Obviously, there’s a bit of a kink in the proceedings at present as everything’s in a fucking box, but I’m hoping that a new permanent home and slightly neater arrangement will spur me into action. Maybe. I’m hoping to upgrade the house NAS at some point through 2020 so that I can store the music there in order to stream to speakers and AppleTVs throughout the house without requiring my computer be on at all hours. 

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

  • I’ve listened to 1509 unique artists, 18% of all artists I’ve ever listened to.
  • I’ve listened to 1757 unique albums, 13% of unique albums I’ve heard overall.
  • I’ve listened to 5674 unique tracks, 8% of the unique tracks I’ve heard, ever.

Statistically, I’m contracting slightly, but expect this to be rectified with the coming year: there’s a lot more car trips and a lot more time to fill, and I’m hoping to use music to do so.

2019’s top 20 albums by tracks played:
Caleb R.K. Williams: Selected Works; Ramones: Anthology; Yasuaki Shimizu: Music for Commercials; Bobby Previte: The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró – The Definitive Recording; The Rolling Stones: GRRR!; Olivia Neutered John: Complete Castration; Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest; The Budos Band: The Budos Band V; Flux Information Sciences: Private/Public; The Walker Brothers: My Ship is Coming in • The Collection; Yo-Yo Ma: Six Evolutions – Bach Cello Suites; Various Artists: Midday Moon; Dethklok: The Dethalbum; from tokyo to honolulu: World Geometric; Various Artists: John Barleycorn Reborn; Max Richter: Sleep; Aram Bajakian: Music Inspired by The Color of Pomegranates; Erik Satie: Satie: Piano Works; Johann Sebastian Bach: J.S. Bach – 3 Sonatas and 3 Partitas, BWV 1001-1006 and Jonathan Bree: Sleepwalking

(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. Ahem.)

2019’s top 20 artists by tracks played:
Caleb R.K.Williams, Johann Sebastian Bach, King Crimson, The Budos Band, from tokyo to honolulu, Ramones, Tom Waits, Johnny Jewel, Einstürzende Neubauten, Yasuaki Shimizu, Aram Bajakian, 𝕬𝖚𝖋𝖍𝖔𝖈𝖐𝖊𝖗, Bobby Previte, Charles Mingus, The Rolling Stones, The Cure, Olivia Neutered John, Bill Callahan, The Caretaker and Ekin Fil.

This list is a pretty good one, I reckon. There’s some old favourites – The Cure and Einstürzende Neubauten, Tom Waits and Charles Mingus – and some new discoveries. There’s old enthusiasms (King Crimson) and new neatness (𝕬𝖚𝖋𝖍𝖔𝖈𝖐𝖊𝖗). A couple of the artists (R.K. Williams, Johnny Jewel, Bach, Ramones and the Rolling Stones) are in the list because the albums I listened to a handful of times had lengthy track lists.

While my metal consumption has increased, I’ve largely been listening to more formless stuff this year: stuff that’s droning, or more ambient. Not quite as much dungeon synth as last year, but nor as much harsh noise, either. I guess the formlessness – or the dreaminess of it – seems to fit in with the state of flux I’ve found myself in this year.

2019 was another year where I failed to put any reviews in for Cyclic Defrost. I keep intending to, but I never get around to it because I’m a slack fuck, obviously. But they did request a top five from me for 2019, so I made some selections and submitted them. You can read them over here. Mine are pretty neat (or so I like to think) but the others are great, too.

Of course, those weren’t the only new albums of 2019 that I thought were a bit of orright. I listened to a bunch of things, and so rather than just limit it to the five mentioned, here’s a couple of others.

What did I think was my favourite album? Well, more than anything I think it was the sonic joy that SUNN O)))’s pair of albums, Life Metal and Pyroclasts brought. Both of them are suffused with a warmer glow than most of their earlier work, and were a delight to experience. Droning goodness.

As per previous years, I’ve been buying more music on Bandcamp this year than ever before. Partially this is because of physical limitations – I don’t have enough space to let many more new albums in without pushing old ones out – but partially it’s because I like the feeling of contributing more directly to artists for their work. Sure, it’s an imperfect system – that search engine still fucking sucks – but Bandcamp’s gathering of obscure weirdness, coupled with its higher pay rates to artists, makes it one of my favourite places on the internet. (Even if I keep buying too many discographies to humanly listen to.

(My collection is here, if you wish to befriend me on that platform. I’m always looking for new recommendations, and hopefully you can find something cool in my hoard.)

There were only a couple of shows I went to through the year. Two of them stand out, though. First, there was a trip to the Opera House to see Dirty Three play. I wrote about it here and it eclipses pretty much everything else I saw this year except for the three-and-a-half hours spent in the company of Yo-Yo Ma as he played Bach’s solo cello suites in full. It was gruelling – all those Suzuki method kids were dead by the end – especially given the quality of the seats in the SOH, but the clarity of tone and the sheer ability needed to pull the task off were jaw-droppingly brilliant.

I need to go to more shows. I wonder if living out of Sydney means I’ll make more of an effort to go in for stuff. I’m not entirely sure it will, but maybe I’ll be better at planning in 2020. Maybe. Certainly, I’m hoping that my new home in the middle of nowhere will be more conducive to making music: I’ve some excellent new horrifying pedals that need to have a good run.

Books
According to my planned pages, I didn’t do so well this year. Or so I thought. See, I looked at the list I wrote (with the ones I’d read off it crossed off) and thought I’d been a bit of a failure.

Do better, Luke.

But it turns out I’m not a failure, as the eleven books I wiped off the list is the same number I canned from 2018’s plan. So I’m holding steady in that regard, even if I’ve not read as much of the planned books as I’d hoped.

I did read more books overall in 2019 than in 2019 though: 46 books instead of 42. This means I turned – virtually or not – 15,316 pages instead of 2018’s 14,376. While this is an increase, it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be, so hopefully 2020 can be the year of powering through stuff, while still enjoying it.

There was some great stuff read, though. I found Crime and Punishment‘s Ready translation to be more compelling than my original read. Queneau’s Exercises in Style was a delight, as were books about the creation of moonshine and the handling of snakes. I rejoiced in 007’s whining about his breakfasts, was horrified with a tale of pianistic woe, and chased an invisible foe across the era of Luther. I felt at home in a perfectly-rendered London, and read a whopper of an airport tome set in Japan while travelling through Japan, which was perhaps the best way to do it.

In terms of graphic novels/manga/comics/whatever you want to call them, I went pretty well this year. I finished the complete run of the mammoth 100 Bullets tale of conspiratorial bastardry, which was something I’d always wanted to read. I finished the run of Oishinbo which had held over from 2018, and was sad when there was no more of it to consume.  I also began reading Deadman Wonderland, continuing my attempt to learn a bit more about manga. It’s not so satisfying as Azzarello and Risso’s epic, but it has its moments, alongside terrifying amounts of fanservice. There’s another couple of volumes to go before I reach the end of that one, but perhaps I’ll move on to something a bit more respectable, such as Lone Wolf  and Cub, say, for my next all-in funny pictures read.

(Having said that, The Walking Dead has finally finished, so maybe it’s time…)

You can check out Goodreads’ version of my year over here, but here’s a sort of sublime-ridiculous graphic that best encapsulates the year. (Aside from a picture of rising damp, which was (until very recently) the defining quality of my bookshelves in the old flat.)

As length obviously is an indicator of quality, we can conclude from this chart that Shogun is better than Infinite Jest.

2020’s reading will be a bit different: with the move to the country, there’s finally enough space to have a reading room, and have all the books in one place, something I’ve longed for for a long time. However, because moving fucking sucks I have ensured that I am in no rush to unpack: I would rather have it done right than fast, especially as I have visions of cataloguing everything as I go. (I know.)

So, I’ve packed myself a box (or two…) of books to last me until it’s all finished. Here’s one:

Not pictured: lid that the movers busted to fuck. Much like my couch.

There’s a bunch of different stuff in there: treatises on randomised creation of music, myths, grumpy old man lit, sick burn old woman lit, esoterica, weirdness, and medieval bullshit. Books on how to play guitar and how to meditate properly. And Proust. So hopefully I’ll be covered for most interests. I’ll knock up another to-read list for the year in a bit, but suffice it to say that I’m a bit excited. Though the possibility of choice paralysis is still here, it’s at least reduced to the size of one box. (OK, two.)

I’ve not done a whole lot of writing for my own sake this year. There’s been stuff that’s come about as a result of work, and a couple of reviews for Netgalley in exchange for advance texts, but that’s it. I don’t feel particularly good about that, but I also am trying to not be so hard on myself about that: it’s been quite the year, and capacity has often been lacking. I hope quite = clarity from now on.

Movies
So, here’s another place where I was down on the preceding year. I watched 223 films – or 379 hours – through 2019, beginning with the awful realism of Bros: After the Screaming Stops and ending with the Scrooge-as-cunt recent adaptation of A Christmas Carol. If you’re keen, you can check out my year in films or my diary, both at Letterboxd, which is also the home for my terrible collection of one-liner reviews.

My viewing habits tended towards the disposable this year, so it’s no surprise that I seem to have watched more horror films (and US horror films, at that) than anything else.

There were some films made in 2019 that I really enjoyed, though. The third entry in the John Wick franchise did exactly what I wanted, while setting up the next chapter, while Zombieland: Double Tap and The Dirt did exactly what was expected of them: provide mindless fun. The Deadwood film and El Camino, the filmed continuation of Breaking Bad, both scratched long-held itches, though I felt the examination of Jesse Pinkman’s story was a lot more successful than that of Swearengen and company – or felt like something new, at least.

I enjoyed Joker despite myself – I admired how it looked and thought Phoenix was great, though the director’s comments mark him as a fuckstick of the first water – and felt Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood was a delightful reimagining of a specific time as buddy comedy, at least until the horrific violence just before its end.

BROS. (Not Bros bros, but BROS.)

The Lighthouse was something I deeply enjoyed, though I found it lacking in narrative terms. It was kind of like David Lynch’s Jeffries-in-a-teakettle mode filmed a particularly wet version of Talk Like A Pirate Day, but the look was absolutely intoxicating and forgave all flaws. I also had a lot of time for Midsommer, which is likely my movie of the year: between the layered imagery, the Haxan Cloak-but-not soundtrack and the lights-on horror of the piece, it was an impressive work I couldn’t look away from.

There’s two films I’d like to single out for special mention. Both of them happen to be Japanese.

First, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. I’ve loved this film since I first saw it on VHS years ago, but recently had the opportunity to see the remastered version on the big screen. Seeing it the way it was meant to be seen was magical: it’s a bold work, full of colour and life, with stellar performances. I’ll be rereading Mishima’s work again this year, I suspect, as well as picking up a copy of the Criterion blu-ray. It’s a proper masterpiece, to be honest, and the chance to see it projected was one I’m thrilled I had.

Secondly, I was able to spend an evening in the company of Roger Pulvers, as he presented a screening of his film Star Sand, based on his novel. While the film was not my favourite of the year, it was lovely, and I found Pulvers, in his willingness to discuss the work in the Q&A session which followed, generous and enthusiastic. It was a great night, and reminded me how smaller-scale films – Star Sand was created in a short time with very little cash – can be just as rewarding as big epics. It’s an excellent meditation on aggression and responsibility, and well worth your time.

I don’t know – perhaps I liked the screening because it reminded me that I’m not too jaded to be excited by an interaction, however fleeting, with someone of real ability.

I’ll be interested to see how the new house impacts films. I’m sure there’s lots of things which won’t make it to rural NSW for release – but hopefully decent streaming options (and a well-stocked NAS of films) will ensure I up the number of films I get through in 2020.

Games
In terms of the number of games played, 2019 was a bit of a wash. I crunched through only 16 games, which is less than half the number completed in 2018.

Yeah, it blows. But I did get to meet The Loaded Dog, so there’s that.

Why so? Well, stress levels were up for a large part of the year so I didn’t feel good spending as much time gaming as I otherwise might have. And to be honest, when I’m stressed, concentration is a difficult thing – I tend to zone out, which certainly isn’t conducive to getting through some of the behemoths I like to play. Added to that is that some games – hello, Destiny! – made me kind of resent gaming.

So what did I play that I enjoyed? Well, Burly Men at Sea was better than its name (which takes some doing), and though kinda broken, Fumiko was very much My Kind Of Thing.  I revisited some of the Silent Hill games, which I’d been meaning to do for some time, a visit which left me sad over the end (I guess?) of the franchise, and wishing for some decent next-gen ports of the games.

It’s like she’s known me all my life.

 

The other reason the number of games is down is because I managed to get through some fucking huge games, frankly. I mean, I played Assassin’s Creed: OdysseyFar Cry 5Far Cry New DawnDying Light and Dying Light: The Following in fairly rapid succession, and those are all enormous games. For some sense of perspective, AC: Odyssey soaked up somewhere north of 200 hours of my time. The others weren’t as involved, but took a large chunk of time to play through as well. The happy thing (for me, at least) is that I thought these games were greatAC: Odyssey may well be my favourite of the series, and FC5 was enough of a refinement of a familiar formula that it kept me captured in a way Far Cry Primal did not.

I guess the key thing about games this year is that I mostly spent time playing stuff I loved rather than stuff I hated. Mostly. That makes up for not making quite as large a dent in the backlog as I’d like.

So.
I’m fairly certain this write-up isn’t as lengthy as last year’s, but I’m OK with that. 2019 has been pretty good, in parts, but it’s also been an ENORMOUS PUNISHMENT in others. There’s been lots of problems crop up – and be dealt with – that I honestly don’t think I would have been able to handle in years past.

One thing that I’m pleased with is that my work on myself has continued. Anxiety is an absolute fucker of a thing to deal with, and I’m continuing to work through it. Each day holds the potential for failure, and being all right with the occasional moment of mental fuckery is part of the trip. I have lots of people who will help me in this regard, should I ask, and I’m much better at short-circuiting the sort of bullshit spirals that formerly would hobble me for extended periods of time. It’s still not great, occasionally, but part of what I’ve learned over the years is that it’ll continue to be not great, but that is, inevitably, transitory.

That’s right, I am HANDSOME BUDDHA now.

On the other hand, there were a lot of great things about 2019, and a lot of things that I’m thankful for. The cats. New amps. Crock-Pot Bolognese. Battle jackets. Challenging exhibitions. Good mates. D&D games. New cars. Above almost all is the fact I was able to go to Japan again – with Eve, on her first time – and to experience the country again. Travelling reminds me at once of what a homebody I am, but how much I really like getting into new places, and revisiting familiar ones. It was the last big trip we’ll be taking for a while, but there were so many great moments – catching up with friends, eating wonderful food, and spending moments in moss-covered temples and busy crosswalks, each as meditative as the other – that I’m smiling even thinking about it.

Just hanging out with our role model.

The biggest thing that’s happened in the past year is that our house was finally built. And we’re in it. We’ve survived the building and the moving – including an extortion attempt by the movers – and the (almost complete) setting up of the house without murdering each other.

(As someone who DESPISES the idea of moving outside my own comfort zone, this is a BIG DEAL. True, I’ve moved somewhere close to where I grew up, but as someone who never thought he’d move out of Sydney after arriving back there, two decades ago, it’s still a world of New Stuff To Deal With. But I’m enjoying it.)

We’re now living somewhere a couple of hours outside Sydney, in a house we planned. With luck, we’ll both be able to continue to work from home indefinitely, which is excellent as this place is one where I love being. It’s on a large rural block, and is quiet enough to allow focus on important things and important people. I’m also super grateful that I was able to make this move with Eve: she has certainly been crucial in the positive changes in my life of the past couple of years, and there’s nobody I’d rather be in a remote house with.

Didn’t seem like it would ever happen, but this guy finally got his other eye. Sometimes things work out OK. 

It’s been a year of changes, and our time in Sydney was done. Being a transitory year, it’s unsurprising that I’ve not been as involved in the creative world in 2019 as I’d’ve liked, with regard to both creation and consumption. But sometimes circumstances mean that I can’t be, and so that’s fine. Instead, I’m trying to approach the things I engage with, the things I do, the people I want to hang around with my full attention. I figure it’s better to do less and appreciate it more, because otherwise it’s just a numbers game. And let’s face it: cheesy as it sounds, I’d rather have solid memories than a blank backlog, any day.

Until next time, then.

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

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