2021 consumption: a look at some stuff I liked

SO we grind to the end of another year, and I appear, like some kind of obnoxious groundhog, ready to dispense my wisdom. If, by “wisdom” you mean “half-assed picks of Stuff Which Was Pretty OK In This Terrible Year”.

I’ll insert a caveat here: like, well, everyone, this year has been a struggle for me. We’re rolling toward the third instalment of 2020 and increasingly I find that concentration takes a kick in the nuts for every COVID variant found. A lot of the plans I had made at the beginning of the year haven’t come to pass because I’ve either lacked the bandwidth to execute them, or because I’ve been so goddamned tired. I haven’t read as much as I would have liked, and I haven’t listened to as much music as I’d hoped. There’s been a bit of persistent fog around through the year and it’s made it difficult to do anything than just exist, sometimes.

But that’s ok. There’s always next year.

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

Music
After last year’s computer meltdown, I thought my music woes were over.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

What is it they say? Men plan, God laughs? Something like that. Anyway, the digital library I’d carefully shepherded through multiple computer meltdowns went tits-up because the media I had it on was only meant to be a stand-in until I bought a new NAS. Aforementioned computer meltdown put the kybosh on a new NAS, and so something like 15 years of careful ripping and tagging disappeared in a riot of disk clicking and inventive profanity.

Sooooo. I’m back at the beginning as far as my portable library goes. I shudder to think how many things I had in there are exceedingly unlikely to ever turn up on streaming services. I lament the COUNTLESS HOURS spent in anal tag correction and decent ripping – fuck you, DIY scene and your rotting CD-R “releases” – but as with everything I suppose it’s onwards and upwards. It’s put a fire under me in terms of getting my honest-to-god-physical-media listening setup properly finished, though not enough of a fire under me that I’ve actually finished it.

Regardless, there’s a lot more physical media in my future.

This past year though? If you ask me I’d say that my listening has been pretty desultory. Same as last year.

However, my Last.fm account suggests otherwise: it’s currently sitting at almost 195k scrobbles, which means that I listened to almost 11k tunes this year. That’s more than last year (9400) and way more than the 6300 recorded in 2019. I assume that listening to a bunch of pop compiles probably skews the data a little.

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

Click this link for zoomed-in nerdery.

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

  • I’ve listened to 1722 unique artists, 17% of all artists I’ve ever listened to.
  • I’ve listened to 2004 unique albums, 13% of unique albums I’ve heard overall.
  • I’ve listened to 9219 unique tracks, 11% of the unique tracks I’ve heard, ever.

The first two figures are down on last year, though the track percentage is up, so I suppose that’s something.

2021’s top 20 albums by tracks played:
The Kinks: The Anthology 1964–1971; Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe: Candyman Original Motion Picture Soundtrack; The Pentangle: The Time Has Come 1967–1973; Otis Redding: Pure Southern Soul; The Beatles: Let It Be (Super Deluxe edition); Various Artists: Totally Essential Rockabilly; T-Bone Walker: The Complete Imperial Recordings 1950–1954; Steeleye Span: A Parcel of Steeleye Span; Pink Floyd: The Wall; Tom Waits: Rain Dogs; Zior: Before My Eyes Go Blind – The Complete Recordings; The Kinks: Something Else (Deluxe edition); SEGA Sound Team: Yakuza 0 Soundtrack; Akira Yamaoka: Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack; Fleetwood Mac: Tusk; Various Artists: This is Trojan Dub; Akira Yamaoka: Silent Hill 3 Original Soundtrack; Radiohead: KID A MNESIA; Various Artists: Traditional Folk Songs of Japan and Roy Budd: Get Carter Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

(Click the links to hear the albums.)

A bit of a change from last year, it seems. Soundtracks and compilations look to be the dominant type of album I’ve listened to over the past year, and their large numbers of tracks (the Kinks compile especially) tend to overstate their position. Only six albums could be considered studio albums as you’d normally define them, and the rest fall into the soundtrack or compilation side of the ledger. I’m not complaining, though: good music is good music, however it’s presented.

My listening habits have changed a little in the past few months as I’ve been taking part in a project to listen to all the albums listed in that 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die book. I’m still a massive snob, and think the book’s a bit of a wank, but I’ve found it a reasonable tool for ensuring I try to listen to something different each day. I’m still under the first hundred, and you can read my dubious takes here on my profile. If you’re interested, you can also join in the listening fun (?) by joining my group – that way you’ll be served the same albums as me on the same days.

Unfortunately, I didn’t organise myself enough to supply anything to this year’s Cyclic Defrost best-of list. Hopefully next year will be different. Still, check out this year’s list – there’s some amazing stuff on there.

Here’s ten albums I dug this year in no particular order. You’ll notices that there’s a bunch of instrumental stuff on here: I guess this wasn’t very much a time for words with music.

There’s more than that that I liked this year, but it’s hard (without the missing library and goddamn metadata) to keep tabs on what came out when. Suffice it to say that this list reflects my mood for the year: a bit quiet, a bit inward directed. That Hahn album in particular is shockingly good, so if you were to check out anything on there – and they’re all worthy listens – I’d give that one a spin.

Gigs
Did I even go to any gigs? Fucking hell, if it wasn’t for my crossing gig I wouldn’t ever leave the house. No, I didn’t go to any gigs. I watched some online – I recall there being an Ed Kuepper one, and a couple of ACO livestreams – but in person? Nope, my anxiety level’s waaaaay too high for that.

Podcasts
I don’t normally write about podcasts in these things, but given that there’s been a commute (about 40 minutes per day in total) on school days with the crossing gig, I figured they were worth mentioning given that they’re how I tend to pass that driving time. (When I’m not dodging animals on the road, that is.)

I’ve listened to mostly fact-based podcasts this year, as before. I’ve been a longtime listener to the Long Read podcast from The Guardian as it tends to provide a deep dive on interesting (and appalling topics). Similarly, the ABC’s China If You’re Listening provides plenty of great context to our continuing shitfire with that nation, though previous series have ably canvassed the problems inherent with Trump, the US and Russia. For slightly less measured investigations in historical fuckery I turn to Behind the Bastards, a podcast that provides multi-episode examinations of history’s real deadshits. It’s often not a Fun Time, but it rarely fails to angry up the blood. See also: Jake Hanrahan’s clutch of illuminating podcasts, which cover little-reported conflicts, the bullshit inherent in megacorps and, of course, Qanon.

Crime stories have taken a particular position in my schedule this year. Bad Women: The Ripper Retold is a great examination of the stories of Jack the Ripper’s victims, and aims to provide a more fulsome portrait of the women beyond “murdered prostitute” thanks to host/author Hallie Rubenhold‘s research. I also regularly listen to Naked City, an Aussie crime journo’s collection of tales, and Morbid, a more enthusiastically – sometimes annoyingly so? – presented take on cases. But most of my crime listening has been dedicated to the curiously hamfisted (yet appealing) Casefile, with its anonymous host and occasional ockerisms.

Magic(k) remains an interest of mine, though my listening has fallen away in that regard this year. I began by attempting to catchi up with both Rune Soup and What Magic Is This? though I seem to have drifted away from both of those. Why? Well, the former appears to have some worrying tendencies, and the latter tended to skirt the line between information and annoyance with too much irregularity for my liking. Consequently, when I do listen for esoteric stuff, I tend to head towards Glitch Bottle or The Ancient Wisdom Salvage Yard. (I should probably be doing more reading and just do the work in this realm, rather than listening to people who’ve done the work.)

I’m not a regular listener to book podcasts, but have enjoyed Fuckbois Of Literature, Backlisted and Should You Read Before You Die. They put pages in my ear and none of them are too precious about books: it’s refreshing to hear someone say that there’s a better Pynchon to read than Gravity’s Rainbow, or that you should give some Meaty Tome the arse. Refreshing.

Books
Same as with other years, I made a big plan a the beginning of 2021 in the hope that it would inform my reading path. It was purposefully OTT, and while I failed miserably in comparison to what I’d listed, I think I went OK considering… well, everything.

(I am looking at spinning this TBR list into its own page: I’ve noticed some things crop up time and again, and it would make sense to have somewhere to list the cool stuff I eventually want to pursue.)

It’s not much but it’s honest work.

Through the year I read 46 books, covering about 13,000 pages. Curiously, these numbers are about the same as those attained in 2019, proving that 2020’s through-the-roof levels of reading seem to have been a one-off. I consciously chose shorter books for the most part – around 250 pages – because I was worried about bogging down and losing the will to read.

I also appear to be choosing more enjoyable books this year – my average score was 4.3, up on last year’s 4.2. I certainly felt as if I were reading a lot more memorable stuff this year, though maybe that’s because it felt like a big achievement to actually complete anything this year?

Taking notes and writing reviews was a big thing for me this year, though I didn’t do as well as I would’ve liked in that regard. Still, you can check out this post for reviews – some just one-liners, I admit – of everything I read this year. Hopefully you’ll find some stuff on there that piques your interest: I would absolutely love it if people read The Dressmaker, Fata Morgana or The Wanderer because of what I’ve written.

I’ve also made a decision that 2020 will be the last year I use Goodreads to track my books. There’s a bunch of articles like this which explain some of my logic, but largely it’s because I’ve felt it’s become pretty toxic, and seems to be filled with people leaving reviews which will continue their dripfeed access to advance reading copies, rather than out of a desire to let people know whether a text is worth your time. Poking about, I’ve decided that I’ll use LibraryThing to catalogue my books (after killing my CLZ usage following their move to subs-based software) and will record and review on TheStoryGraph. The latter features a lot more granular review options, and I have tended to like the book suggestions more on there. I’ve also signed up as a librarian there, so I will undoubtedly be tweaking metadata behind the scenes, except this time it’s being done for people without the resources of Amazon behind them, so it feels a little more… noble?

Anyway. Books are good, hey?

Movies
This year I seemed to work through a number of film series on my path to 110 films. Through the winter we knocked over all of Jackson’s Tolkien movies, which stood up to viewing surprisingly well. Chewed through all of the Matrix films in the lead-up to the newest one (which I thought was fuckin’ great), and somehow rewatched Predator and The Evil Dead. Also ploughed through the Godfather series (HOLY SHIT YOUNG AL PACINO) because Eve hadn’t seen any of them, and so we had to because they’re only some of the best films in history.

(Well, some of them are some of the best films in history. Even with the reediting, the third is still the relative in the attic.)

With 2021 being what it was, I only saw one film in theatres: The Dry, the Eric Bana crime film that also appears to feature the best work by John Polson in some time. It was a fully masked screening, but something inside gave me big yeah nah vibes throughout, so everything else I saw at home.

(Honestly, in the case of the alarming amount of Japanese exploitation films I watched, this was probably for the best.)

Stuff from this year that I enjoyed?

  • Candyman – not the same as the others, but a bold revisitation.
  • Last Night In Soho – an amazingly-made addition to the weird British film canon.
  • Dune – ha ha he’s still called Duncan Idaho. Looks great though.
  • Titane – Proof that Cronenberg doesn’t have a lock on body-horror and violence.
  • No Time to Die – a fitting end to Craig’s run as 007.
  • The Matrix Resurrections – Sad Keanu gets his own film!
  • Don’t Look Up – not as solid as previous efforts, but still worthwhile.

What did I enjoy the most this year, though? Well, this thing came pretty fuckin’ close.

I like to imagine Steve Albini on waterslides.

You can check out my diary at Letterboxd. There’s “witty” reviews in there, somewhere.

TV
It’s understood, I imagine, that when I say “TV” I’m not actually referring to TV, yes? I’m mostly referring to stuff that was found on a streaming service somewhere, because free-to-air TV LOL.

Like pretty much everyone, I inhaled Squid Game this year, and while I’m keen for the prospect of more – apparently they’re thinking about it? – I’d be worried that it’d fuck up the show that seemed to me to just work. I was similarly enthusiastic (though admittedly it took a little while longer to click with me) over Netflix’s Midnight Mass, which was essentially a Stephen King series he hasn’t gotten around to writing yet. There were twists in both shows, but my whole lapsed-Catholic background meant that Midnight Mass felt more familiar than I would’ve liked. I’m not sure either particularly stuck the landing, but they seemed eminently enjoyable to me, and I’d be up for a rewatch.

I continued the task of watching all the episodes of The Simpsons available on Binge, and we’ve just hit the HDTV period of the show so must be up to season 20 by now? Somewhere like that. It’s interesting revisiting the show, because it’s informed so much of the way people interact, reference-wise, but it’s also fraught with danger, because HOLY FUCK some of this stuff hasn’t aged well. It’s certainly a rude awakening to realise how much stuff in here – racism, homophobia and transphobia – is problematic, and decidedly crappy.

A bummer, for sure.

Games
I wrote a fairly comprehensive thing earlier in the year about what I’d been playing. You can read that here, though there have been some changes.

Key among those is that I’m no longer going to play Destiny 2. I’d played it on PS4 earlier, but given that (until recently, at least) more recent expansions were available on Microsoft’s Game Pass, I jumped back in and even paid for a couple of seasons. The problem is largely that the mechanics are addictive while the story doesn’t grab me: I felt like the amount of busywork involved to rank up, to get better gear was ludicrous. I also figured that jumping off before the next expansion was a good idea, because I wouldn’t be invested in it. And frankly, between the remasters (can you believe I’ll actually be playing the Mass Effect series for the first time?) and decent new releases, there’s enough to keep me occupied.

I’ve also now been able to nab a PS5, so things I’ve put on the backburner because they were grinding my PS4 to death can be jumped into. I can’t wait to get into Deathloop and the Demon’s Souls remake, but the QOL upgrades to God of War might also see me revisit that before the next instalment drops.

Despite my D2 addiction, I appear to have completed 25 games this year, somehow. True, this is less than last year’s amount, and it’s also true that a load of these may have been on the shorter side, but it’s felt good to get through some stories. I replayed the Bioshock series and was reminded at how well those games work, even if there’s occasional holes you can drive a script truck through. I enjoyed some walking/fright simulators – Maid of Sker, Dark Pictures: Man of Medan and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs – and replayed Dishonored and the Metro series of games, though I must admit I still have to finish the most recent one. (It didn’t grab me, and I hate feeling like I’ve left something undone.)

This, however, was probably my favourite game of the year. It’s so bitchy and moreish.

If only dead me looked that good.

I certainly hope that I’ll make more of a dent in my current-gen pile this year. Who knows, maybe Cyberpunk 2077 will be in a playable state soon?

And of course…
This year has been difficult for everyone, I know. That’s perhaps why I place so much worth on these silly end-of-year posts: they provide a sense of landmarks for a year that has proven temporally inconsistent. I can put my finger on a notebook and say well hell I read that book two months ago whereas the news and general pace of life seems to be at once terrifyingly quick and taffy-setting slow.

Bad things have happened this year. There’s been deaths and health scares. Things planned haven’t gone to plan, and there’s a distinct feeling that we’re missing a chunk of our lives. It’s like a calendrical K-hole, and it’s not over yet. But in amongst that all, there’s been good times. For me, there’s the smiles of the kids I help across the road, and the sense of quietude I get from looking at the hills across the way from our back lawn. But most importantly, there’s this:

Dress like a Soprano and eat wedding cake for dinner: I recommend it.

Marrying Eve was the best thing to happen this year. We had the legal minimum of people there, and we had a nice lunch after, followed by naps and cake for dinner. Do shit that makes you happy, because you’ll be dead soon enough – I guess that’s the maxim I am trying to live by these days.

Hopefully this wordy entry comes across as a testament to the things that made me happy this year, with Eve at the top of the list.

Until next year, then.

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

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