Friday, 2 January 2015

Quite Possibly the 2014th Years End Review You've Read This Week

Urg, it's that time again. For some reason I feel it customary to write some manner of year end summary / review thing. But I have to admit I've been putting it off somewhat. It's not that I haven't really had the time, it's just that, for me personally, this past year has been absolutely fucking AWFUL. So it's kinda hard to maintain the whole cheery "look at all this cool stuff" vibe when being confronted with the start of a new year only makes you wonder if, having barely scraped through the last one, THIS will be the year when you finally kill yourself.

This is why I'm no fun at parties. New years are like birthdays: only celebrated by those who actually have a future.

Still, despite having a full on breakdown I suppose the year wasn't entirely bereft of tawdry consumption, so let's have a look at some of that and just pretend that I didn't bring up the whole inevitable self-termination thing, shall we?


MUSIC

I guess it's actually been another good year for music. Much like last year I  don't seem to have bought in much J-Rock, but there's been some bloody good Metal type stuff crop up on the radar.


One of the early higlights of the year was my introduction to Tengger Cavalry. A sort of fusion of Black Metal and Chinese / Mongolian folk music. It's REALLY good stuff. What's funny is that we have plenty of European bands combining metal with traditional instruments with nature and folk tales for inspiration, but you don't often think about doing that sort of thing with some of the actually INTERESTING corners of the world. Or at least in places where not everybody is white. Seriously, sometimes it's like they decided to call it Black Metal just to be ironic. Really, the only problem with Tengger Cavalry is that the chances of ever seeing them live are gonna be pretty slim, what with the cost of tram fares to china and back. Still, go check em out.

Holy shit, you can buy them on freaking AMAZON now? You really have no excuse.

Following up in the so called "proper" music stakes (no, I don't know who get's to decide this either. I am however willing to bet it involves a greater amount of beard & lack of sunlight than even I can manage) we come to Necro Deathmort.

And before you ask, yes, I totally got into this band on the simple basis that they have the best name EVAR.


It's kinda tricky to describe these guys as their discography is somewhat eclectic. There's the heavy doomy stuff that puts me in somewhat in mind of a slower, less harsh Axis Of Perdition, possibly with a touch of The Sontaran Experiment. Then there's the Martian Cartography album and similar stuff which is like a cross between Ulvers Perdition City and the Bladerunner soundtrack.

Which is a weird way for me to describe it because I don't even HAVE the Bladerunner soundtrack. But there's that touch of distopian 80's sci-fi that's kinda impossible to describe any other way.

So a mixture of heavy doomy electronica and... less heavy but still pretty doomy electronica I guess? It's proper good though, and bizarelly I find that even their heavier albums are pretty good for chilling out too. Also, they're called NECRO DEATHMORT. Did I mention that?

The third act comes in the form of Blue Stahli. Who are apparently making some really good goth / industrial / rock type stuff.


I picked these guys up from a video game, oddly enough. But whilst he has a bloody good album available, what I found particularly interesting was the other 3 albums in the Antisleep series of soundtrack work he'd done for various things. A little bit more varied, but all still pretty rocking. It's like the perfect soundtrack to play Shadowrun to. I'm looking foward to when he finally releases a new full album though, as the sheer density of remixes does make the rest of the discography feel a little impenetrable.

But I can't leave off this section without mentioning a rather odd surprise highlight.


Yeah, this is a little... different. I picked this CD up for like a quid or something on ebay, purely because it was called Dinosaur. I knew nothing more about it than that. What it turns out to be is some soundtracky / relaxation type music mixed in with various jungle type nature sounds for the sort of CD you'd normally buy in a shop that sold incense and crytals. Only in addition to the birds and stuff these's also DINOSAURS roaring and stomping about. It's actually very relaxing.

FILM & TV

Hmmm.... It's not really been a brilliant year for the visual media to be honest. I mean, sure we had the new Godzilla film in cinemas. But that was shit.

Of course there was the new Doctor Who series on TV. But then that's pretty much all I manage to write about these days as it is, so it feels a little churlish to bang on about more here. Suffice to say it was generally quite good, but not without issues. And they really need to do something about this odd fixation on spoiling things at the last minute so you have hard time remembering all the genuinely good stuff.

Good idea for a monster there, they should use that sometime. But nevermind. The 86431st thing I hate about Clara is....

I picked up a few more of those Marvel films on DVD over the course of the year, but I'm not really convinced any of them count as real highlights, as I've not exactly been overcome with the urge to watch many of them again. Thor 2 was okay I guess, but not really great. And Winter Soldier was good, but not as messianicly brilliant as some corners of the online community would have you believe. I should probably include the caveat that I only actually got around to watching Guardians Of The Galaxy last week though, and that WAS good. So I guess we'll have that one then.


Seriously though, you better hope that the new Star Wars movie does Star Wars this good. It's like whilst all the characters have roughly comparable equivalent in A NEW Hope, they're ALL also Han Solo. Back when he shot first. Maybe I'll do a full write up on that theme some time, who knows?

Other than that the main thing I've been watching this year are Paleontology documentaries. Because whilt my life may not be particularly rock and roll, I can at least try for rocks and fossils. Of these I think I'll pick Dinosaur Secrets as a highlight.

I need to put a bit more work into writing up my grand unified theory of Dinosaur Documentaries at some point, but I think this one balances the central themes of spectacle and informativeness quite well. Although, whilst it's nice to see some paleontologists speaking with some real passion and excitement about their field they could probably have done with a bit less coffee before conducting the interviews as things do get a bit borderline hysterical at times. But least you're never stuck yelling "CITATION NEEDED" at the screen all the time like certain other series I could mention.

 *cough eatingbabieswithdinosaurs.

READING

Reading-wise, I'd say that this year has pretty much been ruled by Terry Pratchett.


It's funny, but reading Discworld novels is in many ways a lot like trying to travel at lightspeed. Whilst it may be theoretically possible, in reality you will only ever find yourself approaching the target goal. Until finally the library shelf requirements continuous exponential increases cause your wallet to collapse into a singularity.

Or something. Point is I'm not actually even convinced that he'll stop writing them once he's dead. It's more than just Pratchett becoming like the literary Tupac. I think that's probably Tolkein anyway. It's more like there's a cosmic gradient from some unknowable higher level of reality which 2nd hand copies of Dicworld novels flow down, and won't actually stop until everyone has a six foot high stack of tatty paperbacks about comedy wizards.

I don't mean to imply this is abad thing by anymeans. I mean, I have six foot stacks of old Star Wars novels, and I know which of the two I'd honestly prefer.

What's been interesting about the whole experience has been, if you'll forgive the terminology, how bad some of the early books actually were. And I don't mean they're BAD bad. Just that, in retrospect, they're not quite the works of unadulterated genius that I fuzzily recalled from my childhood. They're still funny and entertaining, but somehow not quite as tight as I remembered, or indeed what came later. Because unlike all the other huge piles of fantasy books you tend to accumulate these are ones where you can really feel the writer grow and improve as they progress. You know, rather than just repeat the same story over and over again in a string of increasingly unnecessary trilogies? It's a refreshing experience to say  the least.

So, just to be crystal clear on this point, I'm not saying that Terry Pratchett has ever been a bad writer. I'm saying that he's a writer who keeps improving. Scary thought, huh?

GAMING

Gaming is going to be a tricky ctegory to pin down this year. Normally it's just a question of looking at a pile of green boxes and deciding which one gave you the least embolisms. But this year I've mainly been doing my gaming on PC. Which means Steam and Humble Bundle. Which means I haven't the fucking foggiest clue what games I've even bought, let alone played, as they're all buried under a sixteen mile long list of random stuff I have no recollection of ever seeing before, let alone actually getting. But the many and various problems with the Steam & Bundle approach to gaming are a subject for another post.

There's certainly one game that I do want to recommend though, and that's Fossil Fighters on the Nintendo DS.


After trudging through Pokemon Y last year I was honestly shocked at just how much better this game was, despite being several years older. And it's not just that the gimmick is Pokemon, only with Dinosaurs. No, it's that the combat in Fossil Fighters is ACTUALLY INTERESTING. When you really stop to think about it, the actual battles in a Pokemon are the least relevant parts of the game. It's all about metagame decisions, specifically those related to making your Pokemon twice the level of any opponents the game throws at you. Even the whole elemental strength resistance thing is largely secondary to just having the biggest Pokemon. The closest you got to having a strategically interesting match was on the maybe 3 occasions where you actually get to use more than one critter at the same time. In fossil Fighters ALL combat involves a team of 3, with different positions in the line up having different effects and advantages for different creatures. Sure, power leveling one or two dudes will always help, but it's far more interesting to try and build different teams to use different strategies. Plus the level caps are a lot lower than in Pokemon, meaning you'll often not want to use your most powerful dudes but rather try and get some use out of the XP you'd otherwise be wasting.

In short it encourages VARIETY. Plus it let's you beat the shit out of a giant evil space monster with a Baryonyx. Which is not something you can say about many games to be fair.


So, there we go. Some highlights of stuff from an otherwise terrible year in pretty much every other respect. Still, looking on the bright side things do have a tendency to always just get worse, so I'm sure it'll seem better in hindsight assuming I live that long.

 "Happy" New Year?