2020 consumption: a look at some stuff I liked

It’s that time again? Shit.

I mean…

I suppose this year hasn’t exactly been kind to my interpretation of, y’know, time, so it’s not a surprise that this has crept up on me. Anyway, for the benefit of me and the dick-pill spambots that flood my comments section, I guess it’s time to chunk out some words about things I liked this year.

As ever, I’m a bit uncertain as to why I do this. It feels like a bit of an indulgence, but I suppose it does allow me a bit of breathing space to look back at the year through the prism of entertainment and formulate some thoughts about it. Whether they’re any good is still up for debate, but before we get too deep in the ontological weeds, let’s get on with it.

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

This year seemed a bit of a weird one for me, musically. I feel that I haven’t listened to as many things as I would have liked to. I also have (in the past week) become aware of how much I’m tethered to my computer in terms of listening: my Mac shat itself and so I have no real way of accessing my library of Bandcamp music. (Yes, I could use the app but FUCK THAT I WANT DATA.) So perhaps it might end up that I go back to my acres of CDs and, y’know, listen to physical media. How novel.

Looking at my Last.fm account gave me a bit of a rude shock though. It keeps track of whatever I listen to digitally, and it seems to be sitting on just over 184,000 tracks. That means I’ve played somewhere in the vicinity of 9400 tracks this year, which is an increase compared to the 6300 I heard in 2019, and the 7000 I heard in 2018. I have no idea how this has occurred, though maybe it’s due to not listening to quite so many super-long ambient tracks this year? I’m uncertain.

Here’s how LastWave interpreted the past year of tunes.

Click here to enlarge if you want to judge more fulsomely.

As you can tell, it seems that I did the bulk of my listening at the beginning and end of the year. Weirdly, I listened to less stuff at the period where I was mostly at home, which is the period I would’ve thought was busiest. I guess it goes to show one’s own observations are inherently flawed, eh.

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

  • I’ve listened to 1786 unique artists, 19% of all artists I’ve ever listened to.
  • I’ve listened to 2087 unique albums, 14% of unique albums I’ve heard overall.
  • I’ve listened to 7512 unique tracks, 10% of the unique tracks I’ve heard, ever.

Statistically speaking, I’m growing. This could be because I’m casting a broader net than I used to, but it could also be a function of the fact that I just listened to so much stuff in the past three months.

2020’s top 20 albums by tracks played:
Various Artists: Nuggets; Swans: Various Failures; Pink Floyd: 1967-67 Cambridge St/ation; Yo-Yo Ma: Six Evolutions – Bach Cello Suites; Birchville Cat Motel: Chaos Steel Skeletons; The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street; Morphine: At Your Service; Pink Floyd: 1969 Dramatis/ation; John Zorn: Locus Solus; Jeroen van Veen: Tiersen: “Pour Amelie” Piano Music; Various Artists: John Barleycorn Reborn; Various Artists: We Bring You A King With A Head Of Gold; Various Artists: The Forme to the Fynisment Foldes Ful Selden; Glenn Gould: Bach: The Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (1981 version); Glenn Gould: Bach: The Goldberg Variations BWV 988 (1955 version); Various Artists: Hail Be You Soverigns, Lief And Dear; Various Artists: Do The Pop!; 13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators; Simon Rattle: Mahler: The Complete Symphonies and Jerrah Patston: Sounds Like Rain.

(Click the links to hear the albums, mostly.)

In terms of albums and artists, that’s a bit of a shake-up. I suppose my basic bitch mode is showing this year: I seem to have gone back to some old standbys for the most part, perhaps indicating that comfort-listening was the order of the day. The albums, as ever, are skewed by the fact that a lot of the list are just long, long albums or compilations (the garage rock comps and the Pink Floyd collections are examples of this) or by the fact that they’re things I listened to a lot: the warring versions of Glenn Gould’s takes on The Goldberg Variations being something that was surprisingly constant.

It’s still nice that there’s a couple of double-take entries in the artist list, though: Sleaford Mods and Devo definitely haven’t showed up there before, and while I’ve listened to a lot of Birchville Cat Motel over the years, I’m uncertain if I’ve listened with as much concentration as I did this year.

I managed to put in only one review for Cyclic Defrost during 2020. It was for Howard Stelzer’s most excellent epic and is worth your attention. (The album, not the review, though the review is OK too.) I also supplied a couple of potted reviews for their end-of-year list, so click here if you want to see what my top five albums of the year were, along with a bunch of other stuff.

Some other albums I thought were a bit of all right this year were:

A lot of those are Bandcamp releases. You can check out my collection on that platform here. Given how shitty this past year has been for musicians, please consider buying music from artists’ pages on Bandcamp, as they’ll receive a much healthier slice of your funds there as opposed to most other places, short of slipping a fiver into their pocket while they’re at the bar.

What was my favourite album, though? That’s easy. It’s this one.

I gave it mad props in the Cyclic Defrost list, but suffice it to say that Jerrah Patston’s debut album is one of the most lovely things I’ve had the good fortune to hear. There’s a bit of background to be found in this video, and it’s worth watching. His songs are simple and direct, and echo his interests: cricket, water, pipe bands, friends. I normally listen to stuff made for grumpy fucks by grumpy fucks and it’s absolutely imperative, I found this year, to occasionally blow that shit out with some absolutely honest music. Patston is nothing if not honest: there’s no artifice, just a delight in the music and the words. It’s innocent in a way that you sometimes forget music can be, and I honestly encourage you to listen to the album, even if you ignore every other link on this page.

Unsurprisingly, 2020 wasn’t a good year for going to shows. The fact that I lived out of Sydney undoubtedly helped with the decreased number of shows I attended, and the pandemic took care of the rest of any possibilities. I can only think of two shows I went to this year: Orville Peck at the Spiegeltent during the Sydney Festival, and the launch of Jerrah Patston’s album in Springwood a couple of months ago.

Orville played exceptionally well, with the only drawback being the high level of fuckwits in the crowd. It’s rare you see a Nudie Suit and veil worn with such panache, and Peck’s band absolutely fucking worked it but the amount of super-loud fuckheads in attendance was remarkable. I suppose this is what happens when gigs start at 10:30PM.

Jerrah’s gig was a real treat. I’d been feeling down and almost didn’t go, but I figured it was as close as a gig with a mate playing (Sam Worrad was backing Jerrah and I had promised I’d go) was going to get, so I sucked it up and went. It sounds hyperbolic, but I haven’t had as much fun at a gig in a long time, even if I was masked and distanced from everyone else. It was a warm, friendly performance featuring a guy who was more thrilled to be on stage than pretty much anyone I’ve seen. It was a proper feel-good experience in this dismal year, and I felt lucky to have caught it.

As with previous years, I made a list to serve as a guide for my reading plans through 2020. I certainly did a lot better with crossing off things through the year: it’s amazing how a pandemic can encourage you to read more.

Yes, there’s still a bunch on the list, but I read fucking Proust so gimme a break.

Through 2020 I read 79 books (or 81 if you count the omnibus of Ira Levin books as individual titles) and covered just over 30,000 pages. By page count, it’s the biggest year for me since I’ve been using Goodreads, even though there have been a couple of years where I read many more books. In 2019, I read 46 books with half the number of pages covered, so 2020 was a lot bigger by most measures.

Curiously, I think being more selective about my reads has reflected on my enjoyment level, as the average score was 4.2 stars, another high tide mark. Certainly, I felt much better about reading than I have in previous years, and I made real inroads on my to-read list. I finished all of the much-missed Clive James’s unreliable autobiographies. I finished The Walking Dead. Most notably, I completed Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time which gives me the right to be even more of an insufferable booktwat than before, I guess. It was a bit of a slog at times, but it does feel like a real achievement.

My Goodreads year in review page can be found here, while my 2020 reading challenge (with reviews linked if you click the covers) is located here.

All that reading and listening comes at a cost, though, and last year it was movies that bore the brunt. I only watched 83 films, which is the lowest number in years, and well under half of what I saw in 2019. Naturally, I didn’t see much in the cinema thanks to COVID-19, but I did take in a couple of newer films: Enola Holmes and Bill & Ted Face The Music were two that provided a much-needed brain holiday. I also watched way more opera than I imagined I would have – a complete Ring cycle and a couple of Glass epics – thanks to the Met’s streaming series, which proved a welcome escape.

You can check out my year in films or my diary, both at Letterboxd, where I write “funny” one-line reviews.

I normally don’t do a TV section, but I recommend you seek out Midnight Diner and the Netflix-made follow-up Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. It’s a faintly magical realist drama set in a Shinjuku backstreets diner and it proved a most remarkable oasis in the hubbub of 2020. Honestly the best thing I’ve watched since the final Twin Peaks series.

Gaming perked up in 2020 as well, as I managed to work through 34 games. I revisited the F.E.A.R. series for what I think was the third time, completed the Saint’s Row games I hadn’t played (without realising I should’ve just stopped when I finished the second entry), and finally got around to playing a From Software game by completing Bloodborne. I began a playthrough of the Gears of War series, which has proved pleasingly full of muscle-bound awfulness (I’m up to the fourth game now) and I even played a game where you, uh, romance Colonel Sanders.

Believe it.

Gaming has obviously provided a bit of an escape from things being a bit worrisome this year, and no title was better at that than Ghost of Tsushima. It was the Assassin’s Creed Japan that I’ve been waiting for for years, and it let me escape for a couple of hours into the fields of an older landscape, something I sorely needed.

(There’s a recap of a lot of gaming stuff to be found here, should you be interested.)

I looked back at my 2019 recap and say that I’d said the year had been an enormous punishment.

I know, right?

2020 has demonstrably been worse for the world. I mean, between precarious working situations, a global pandemic (and the assorted governmental ineptitude that goes along with it) and general anxiety, it’s been a fucker of a time to live through.

Until mid-year, I thought I had it pretty lucky: we’d moved out to the country, and were pretty isolated from a lot of what was going on. My anxiety had remained on a fairly even keel – admittedly after so many years of therapy it’d be a concern if it wasn’t – and I’d been trying to get more routine into my life. Things were going pretty well, and then we lost my best mate, Harry.

Silly old man, both of them.

In a year of bad things, this was the worst. Harry had helped me get through some really hard times, and I truly loved him. He was sick and didn’t get better, and now he’s resting under a weeping cherry tree in our front yard, where we’ll plant catnip when the weather’s better, so his brother can go out and roll around like an idiot when the tree’s in bloom. Losing Harry was the low point of the year and though I know it was right for him, I had a very hard time making sense of it. I’m still not really OK with it: I suspect I’ve probably just filed a lot of it away, or have stuck it under the mental bed. But his brother Thurston is still here, and I remind myself that he’s never really known life without Harry, so we try to ensure he feels good, too.

Pets, man.

The fact we still have pets – two cats and (now) a dog, Jessie – is a blessing, really, as it’s easy to take for granted the pleasure and companionship they offer. They’re really a boon to life out here: it just sucks that that has to end.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I’ve also landed a part-time job as the lollipop man at a local primary school. It’s a bit of a Jim Jarmusch-scripted experience, but it’s also one of the most profoundly satisfying things I’ve ever been a part of. Twice a day, every school day I prepare the crossing and don my hi-vis atrocity of a uniform and ensure some tiny people get to and from school safely. I get waved at by truckies, greeted by mothers and fathers, and receive thank-you letters and stories from kids. Honestly, I feel pretty lucky to have parts of my day where I can do a specific thing that offers such demonstrable rewards.

More or less. There’s greater numbers of cattle trucks at my work, though.

I never would have pictured myself as a stop sign wielder, looking after little kids but it’s funny how things turn out. I’ve yet to experience a winter on the crossing, which may temper my enthusiasm somewhat, but I feel a lot more like a fit in out here, now. It’s a good result for an area where you’re still considered a blow-in until ten years has elapsed.

(If the happenings of a country crossing appeal, might I suggest following Crossing Today? It’s on hiatus during the hols, but will be back in term time 2021.)

I didn’t do anywhere near the amount of things I had expected to do this year, but I think that’s true of everyone everywhere. I’m hoping that I am able to make more music (and work on learning how to play better, particularly with regard to the shakuhachi) over the coming year, but I’m also working on being OK with not reaching that aim if that’s what happens. 2020 forced me to address how I deal with things that don’t go to plan, and while it’s been bumpy it’s been doable. As ever, there’s no way I could do any of this without Eve: she has been the support and the inspiration that I’ve needed through the past shitshow of the year. I am very, very lucky to have the life I have, and while parts of it are sometimes disappointing, she never is.

Until next time, then.

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


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