There are few things more alarming then the sudden realization that you’ve become desensitized by something that was a constant worry, an adrenaline-inducing rush, or a simple unadulterated joy. Then again, this is what powers change, renewal, and some times, regression. So, with that off-kilter note, in this year-end review I will collect a few items where the old is new, the new is again old, and rings of retro is drawn around the world. Onward with the never-ending sushi conveyor belt…
In some sense, I take quite a negative/evolutionary approach to my music collection - whatever survives rounds of deletion regimes becomes a “favorite song”; and favorite album is simply one that escapes the Trash Can onslaught with the most number of tracks intact. That happens to be alt-J’s This Is All Yours and Anamanaguchi’s Endless Fantasy (which was actually out 2013) this year. The entire method, of course, leaves a systematic imprint on the collection: potential run-ins with music that I can’t immediately relate to, and was merely to confused/ambivalent about which to press the delete button. Be that as it may, both these albums contain real gems. alt-J’s cover of “Lovely Day” (Bill Withers) actually threw me back to dig up the original. They are polar opposite takes on the same tune – one nonchalant, idealistically ignorant while the other passive-aggressively defiant – each distinctly the product of their times. Another good track on the same album is “Every Other Freckle”, which would sound immediately familiar to anyone who has listened to their first album.
During SxSW 2014, one of the highlights that I didn’t detail (after rightly realizing the probable lack of general interest) is Anamanaguchi’s set at the Karma Lounge. Let’s just say that “moshing” with chiptune/anime nerds is a strangely civil affair where your personal bubbles interfere to the extent of a Venn diagram of the agreeable topics between the Democrats and Republicans, even if the music is going at a ludicrous-speed and 120 dB. Relative to the other 20 odd tracks on Endless Fantasy, “John Hughes” actually proceeds at a conservative pace, if you can believe it. But it did motivate me to read about the late director and re-watch Home Alone. With Christmas fast-approaching, that’s not even a remote stretch.
The oil prices are crashing (and Richard Branson wants you to believe OPEC is dropping prices because they need to starve renewable technologies of cash). CDC fears perpetual ebola (and scientists are still talking about the semantics in “gain-of-function” as it applies to genetically boosted uber viruses). The ocean off Maine is so warm that blue crabs from Maryland now live there (let’s not forget that Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon line and therefore THE SOUTH). So what else could you be doom and gloom about? After shedding the above external fears, you can turn to the internal dichotomies of human nature! It’s elementary, my good chum. I reviewed the Watchers of the Sky this past April during HotDocs. I still wholeheartedly recommend it. To summarize – it is about genocide, how we never learn, and have apparently shown little capacity to change in the 20th century even while some keep hoping we do. If you’re not already shuttering your DVD collection from a tsunami of tears, at least refrain from watching it with your whole family during the holidays while the neighbors’ kids are carolling outside the door. That would be a HUGE buzz-kill. Compartmentalize your ability to empathize and “festivate” (which would go perfectly well with a genocidal Dalek on a T-shirt), then watch.
2014 marks the first time I heard the term black hole and “white hole” used simultaneously in a scientific context. How? Apparently, back in 1964, someone thought that if it’s impossible to exit a black hole, somewhere there must also exist another “-hole” that is impossible to enter. And thus the white hole was born. Putting aside the fact that such a description would be preposterously scandalous if read in Einstein’s time, for 50 years everyone thought that even black holes were only theoretical. Now that we know they are not, physicists have been on the trail of black holes’ illusive white counterparts, and ideas abound as to how to find/create such a spacetime oddity. Among others, one idea popularized by the show “Strip the Cosmos” claims that a wormhole connects a black- and white-hole together and finding/maintaining one would finally satisfy our sci-fi fantasy of traveling faster than the speed of light. Unfortunately, the show then went to great lengths to describe how to build two gigantic balls in order to maintain a wormhole – too weird. At the other, SLIGHTLY more mathematically sound end of the spectrum, two physicists suggest that black-holes could basically invert and turn into a white-hole. Look, I didn’t make any of this stuff up. I merely reorganized the flow to make it a more interesting read. If at any point you have the slightest doubt that I’m simply cobbling together terminologies to saturate PM with smut and politically incorrect play-on-words, I would only say that 1) you might not be wrong, and 2) science is much more colorful than most people would allow.
Disclaimer: I haven’t played Dragon Age: Inquisition.
For most people that would probably have been enough information to disregard this paragraph. But not only is Dragon Age not the lone, popular, heavy hitter this year, it would also be quite useless for me to recapitulate what has been said the umpteenth time elsewhere. What I will recommend is Divinity: Original Sin. Developed by Larian Studio from Belgium, DOS has been the most interesting daily time-sink I’ve crawled-out-of if only to step right back into the quicksilver 8 hrs and 2 meals later. Sure, DOS has a somewhat compelling story. Yes, there is character development, skill-tree progression, dialogue depth, humor, all that jazz. But that’s where BioWare really shines. DOS’ isn’t visibly great in those dimensions compare to even Dragon Age Origins. It is, however, a turn-based, stats-driven, hands-off RPG in the truest sense. Basically, if you believe in punishing tactical chess matches where you are almost always out-numbered and out-gunned, then this will be a Christmas treat. While the game softens toward the end, the steep learning curve at beginning to mid-game was the real selling point. There are two games in recent memory where scouring the land and constructing plans simply to level-up was absolutely necessary – this, and Dark Souls. You see, the game opens and leaves you alone just as quickly. You are the wildebeests that feeds itself to the lion pride every 2 minutes as you attempt to move about on a big map. And surprises are aplenty: standing in water? Instant death by electrocution; covered by toxic sludge? Instant death by chemical explosions; far away from the Boss enemy and behind a smoke screen? Instant death by crushing due to teleportation of the 800 lb invisible Boss above your head. The ever-so-faint hope of victory while you stare down the last drop of blood in your last surviving character can be maddening. Add to this the fact that character death (at least early on) is practically permanent, you can rightly question how this game is ”fun” if not only in the sadistic sense. But if we look back to the golden days: NES’ Ghosts and Goblins was categorically unfair; DragonQuest 7 on PlayStation almost turned me into a volcano in the opening battle; and let’s not forget the Demon/Dark Souls games. These are no more chances to earn nerdy bragging rights than they are a projection of the never ending, revolving nature of fashion/trends. So, support an indie game company and give it a shot. And get your TV/PC an insurance policy.
That concludes the lecture for 2014. Have fun doing none of the things I recommended!