Year End Reviews

2016 in Review: Ricky’s Favorite Shows

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Chvrches

2016 is now closing. What a year. Anyways, here are some of my favorite shows of the year, because you care deeply about my opinions.

Suede, Primavera, June
Anytime you can see your favorite band in one of your favorite cities in the world in the summer time, you just gotta do it. This Suede show was a hit fest from beginning to end and set the bar high for the rest of the bands playing Primavera.

Here’s my song by song review.

Daughter, Primavera, June
The girl from Daughter breaking into a smile halfway through a serious song because the entire crowd was singing along warmed my heart so much I might have died.

Hall & Oates, June or July, Toronto
Hard to find a better band to enjoy live on the lawns of the Molson Amphitheatre on a crisp summer night. It’s been too long since they last came around.

Vince Staples, SXSW, SPIN party
This guy was hilarious and the Spin party was it’s usual awesomeness with free booze, good sun and a stellar lineup. I definitely remember him being funny and it made his set pretty good.

El Conjunta Nueva, SXSW
Anytime you have a chance to see a Mexican band singing hard rock mariachi covers of modern pop songs while dressed up in Luchador costumes, you gotta do it. Also, they were playing in between wrestling matches featuring actual luchadores, so yeah it was pretty memorable. Only in Austin.

Estelle, SXSW, McDonalds Loft
Estelle played the McDonald’s party. Free fries, free booze and Estelle singing “American Boy.” What more can you ask for? Also, the discovery that Estelle actually has more good tracks was pretty inspiring.

Everything NXNE
Haha jk.

LCD Soundsystem, Primavera
LCD Soundsystem came back fast and furious this year and their show at Primavera was just an amazing show and a great party. A very swift reminder of just what a really great band sounds like live. Perfect festival show for a perfect festival band.

Gary’s Review of 2015

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Year End Reviews | Leave a comment

‘Tis the season again: of logically recounting the past year in hope of repeating the highs and avoiding the lows, of reminiscing the joys with a feigned ignorance to the pains, and of displaying the vast expansion of one’s life experiences egotistically a la expanding theory of the Universe. These are some typical reasons why people write year-end reviews. And of course, such a piece of non-technical literature would be on the menu if it is ones “job” to populate the internets with content. The idea of being read has always bothered me somewhat – which is counter-intuitive given that my “job” is to publish and share scientific findings that the tax-payers bought with their GST. Yet reading about science, even when one is technically versed, is categorically different from doing science. I’ve always thought of my line of work as expeditions. The Castilian crown did not own the Americas simply because they funded Christopher Columbus, and even if pragmatically true that ownership is empty and pointless. The excitement and the possibilities lies within the discovery itself, and you have to be there for the experience. With that opening, here are some of the things that I’ve found interesting this year that you might consider experiencing yourself next year, spoiler-free.

Meru Expedition, Garwhal, India

Meru
Imagine in your mind’s eyes a shark’s fin – of the Spielberg variety instead of the “Chinese delicacy” kind. If in the next moment when a gleaming shark’s fin becomes 6 kilometres tall, made of granite sheets and nestled amongst other intimidating monstrosities where Himalayan Gods supposedly dwell doesn’t conjure adjectives such as extreme, then climbing to the top of said fin should. Meru is that peak in the Indian Himalayas after which this documentary is named. Of course, plenty of people have climbed to higher peaks such as Everest. There has even been a BBC documentary where physicians climbed to the top (no pun meant) to conduct experiments on themselves. But while such documentaries are often ultimately about the end goal and roping in the journeys merely out of convenience, Meru is on a different wavelength altogether. Set to music the likes of Trentemoller and Explosions in the Sky, it focuses more about THE struggle, of being human (and alive), more than other themes. Unlike how I approach most documentaries, I was quite insulated from this film other than its name when I saw it. Half way through the film, I gave up caring about whether these elite climbers would ever scramble to the top of the fin at all after two attempts. Not because it’s a trivial and narrow pursuit (it isn’t more or less so than improving your golf game), or because their passion seemed a millimetre-grip away from a death wish. It’s because long before the penultimate step to the apex, the film has already conveyed the climbers’ sensibilities and their will to push on to continue doing something they truly enjoy. If the film compels you to become an extreme/elite climber in 2016, it would be an accident. What it should instill in you is a sense of purpose.

image

Fallout 4
If I were you, that purpose would be to finish this game and the myriad of post-apocalyptic situational tragicomedy it offers, pronto. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite measure-up to its absurdly prophetic and polished predecessor from 2008, and it may never do so due that infinite multiplier factor called nostalgia. But what Fallout 4 does well is fill an void left by Bethesda’s lack of commitment to fully push the boundaries, with a very familiar and very pretty Fallout-3-slash-Skyrim remake. Instead of DC after the scourge of nuclear fire, you get a shell of a New England centuries after its ruins smoldered of gamma rays. That backdrop and the 7 years of development alone should have made this a completely novel environment to experience. But we get the same species of flora and fauna and pretty much the same driving motive to the main story: missing family member. To be fair, aspects of the new game could be seen as innovative – such as the ability to treat small portions of the Fallout environs like giant Minecraft spaces to build and plan spaces to call your own. However, it isn’t an enjoyable nor (thankfully) a necessary part of this Fallout. It could be that I am wedded to the old schemes and simply dislike/dismiss the new additions as mere baubles, but I shudder to think there is anyone who finds it fun to be the mayor of 10 separate towns that consists of 20 half-witted AIs each. Because it’s inefficient and practically pointless, the Settlement additions are more distracting than anything else. Fallout games are filled with enough minutia to manage that there really should have been an overall central management system GUI at one point to allow focus on the real gems – the stories – which thankfully are still just as interesting as before. Personally, I felt that the difficulty levels were toned down slightly – the trepidation of walking into a supermutant camp on Survival difficulty (esp. early game) just isn’t the same if you knew it’s possible to fall-back on the easy gifts that the game bestowed automatically upon you early on. Having said ALL of the above, some of the themes developed in the game can still cook your brain until the next one is out, by which time we could all either be living it in real life, or in virtual reality.

Jessie Ware
If anything could be an indication that I find much of Jessie Ware’s music worth listening to, consider that I haven’t put that many songs from the same album into my working playlist since Dry The River’s Shallow Bed in 2012 (which you may not like either, but that’s besides the point of this review). My talent at describing music is as terrible as my lack of faith in humanity after the white/gold or blue/black Dressgate phenomenon, so  here are two.


SanDiego_Skyline_JohnBahu_1280x642_downsized

San Diego
I wasn’t sure if I am actually allowed to review a city – then I remembered that we can and do review everything. So I’m going to introduce you to San Diego, California based on a 5 months test trial. The sunny weather (that you may have overheard from the overly tanned personal trainer in LA) is completely true. For a tropical destination, it also has very few mosquitos (trust me, I’ve lived in Taipei, and I know how bad it can be…). San Diego, however, is without a shadow of a doubt the laziest, most laid-back city I have ever lived in. The logic of living here is so completely reversed from what I’ve grown accustomed to on the east-coast that at times it felt surreal and almost artificial. The police will give you a ticket for running too fast to a seminar, but it’s totally OK for cars to make U-turns almost anywhere unless explicitly forbidden. Droves of senior cyclists pass by your apartment while 20-something students pack the bus, too lazy to walk the 10 minutes to the university. It’s December but you’re still able to hang out on the balcony for hours at a time in shorts. Going to another neighborhood that’s within sight involves hitting the bottom of a valley then ascend up a tree-less hill, overgrown instead with succulents, all done in a car/bus because you could never consider walking while cars scream pass at 50 mph. There would be so many people surfing that you feel a societal pressure to join in. But as soon as you don a wettie, pick up your board and walk down to the beach (even while a complete noob) you are automagically a local. Surfers will ask you for conditions, tourists will ask you for directions, and bus drivers will ask you to stay away from the line because your board may inconvenience someone. What does one need to do in Toronto in order to be instantly recognized in the same way? In short, it has been a few magically confusing months, but it is surprisingly and pleasantly fun.
From the Himalayan peaks to the Pacific beaches, from Spanish Kings to surfer dudes – hopefully you’ve found something interesting above to enjoy. Happy New Year!

Year in Review: Favorite Tracks!

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Lots of good tracks this year, so if I was to make an imaginary two disc compilation of my favorite tracks of the year and give it to people to download and burn on to cd’s here is what would be on it!

I have written a blurb on each track.

CD1
01 – Caribou – Can’t Do Without You
Caribou put out one of the best records of the year, this is one of the best tracks off of it.

02 – FKA twigs – Two Weeks
May have usurped Grizzly Bear for my favorite track called “Two weeks”. No one ever writes a song called “Three weeks” for some reason and obviously, Barenaked Ladies own “One Week”

03 – Bad Bad Not Good – Can’t Leave The Night
Toronto trio’s third album featured this amazing instrumental. BBNG’s best experienced live so just turn off the lights, turn this one really loud and then pour beer on your living room floor to mimic a live show atmosphere.

04 – Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
This is song sounds like Canadian Richard Hawley according to Vik

05 – Jessie Ware – You & I (Forever)
Jessie Ware put out probably the best pop album this year. You could of picked a bunch of songs off this album and it would fit nicely. Reminds me of the glory days of 90’s pop without the horrendous fashion of the time.

06 – La Roux – Sexotheque
Not sure why she named herself after a thickening agent, but La Roux’s second album was another one in a long line of extraordinary pop records released this year. I am disappointed she didn’t seem to catch on as much as she did when her debut rolled around a mere five (!) years ago.

07 – Belle And Sebastian – The Party Line
B&S released one song this year (AFAIK) and it was perhaps a glimpse into their new synthy danceable sound. I am excited. I bought tickets for their show while in Budapest. Not sure how much that cost my company in roaming fees but I’m sure it was worth it.

08 – St. Vincent – Digital Witness
St. Vincent is the current queen of indie pop. Her new album once again, redefines what the St. Vincent sound is and with choreographed shows featuring highly organized costumes, I feel like the St. Vincent experience is only going to getting started. This track is one of the tracks of the year.

09 – Calvin Harris – Pray To God (feat. HAIM)
somehow Calvin Harris went from singing “the girls” to becoming one of the biggest DJs and producers in the world. While his music is quickly veering towards “samey”, there is no doubt when he makes it hit, it is spectacular. Pray to God combines sounds like an 80’s power ballad on whatever drugs the kids are taking these days.

10 – Royksopp & Robyn – Do It Again
A great example of how people from different countries can get along. Norway’s Royksopp and sweden’s Robyn collaborated on a EP this year and as is all things Robyn it is quite a treat.

Picture break

11 – Tennis – I’m Callin’
If some people in my company can provide as consistent an output as Tennis does every year, I would be so happy. Tennis music is summery, vibrant and makes you want to get on a boat.

12 – Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys
The Wizard turns 26 in 2015. The power glove is 26. Some people on this email thread are not even 26.

13 – Lykke Li – Never Gonna Love Again
Lykki Li put out a spectacularly sad and amazing record this year. This is just one of the many tracks off it. I wonder if Jian Gomeshi listens to this track.

14 – TOPS – Outside
This Montreal band released a stellar sophomore record this year and this tune is best imagined as a romantic montage in a 80’s era John Hughes era featuring Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Matthew Broderick and also a bunch of really stereotyped minor characters.

15 – La Sera – Summer of Love
I remember first time I saw La Sera at SXSW a few years ago, I was all excited because the girl from it used to be in Vivian girls. But then a few minutes later, I was like ‘who are Vivian girls?’

16 – Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Body Electric
I don’t know who she is, but Paul and Gary really like it. When Gary said he was going to see them at SXSW, I thought he meant the rapper that James Franco’s character was based off of in Spring Breakers.

17 – Sharon Van Etten – Every Time the Sun Comes Up
I just realized I committed myself to writing a lot more then I intended.

Part 2:
01 – Jungle – Busy Earnin’
This English collective sounds like a a band from another time and their lead single would do well as a theme song for a 70’s Cop show staring OJ Simpson

02 – Kasabian – Eez-Eh
Kasabian are like celery. People either love them or hate them with passion. I think people were pissssed when they headlined glastonbury. Despite all the resentment that they receive, even the naysayers would have to agree – they are a helluva live band. 48:13 was a record they wrote exclusively for Glastonbury and Eez-Eh was a single clearly designed to jump and down to. so listen to it and jump up and down in your home.If anything, do it for cardio.

03 – Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You)
Pretty much the song and dance move of the year. They and Pusha T played my open bar birthday party for free on the island this year as well, so really nice guys. Actually, Vice hosted that party but whatever.

04 – Temples – The Golden Throne
Every year there seems to be a UK band that listens to a lot of 70s music that comes to the forefront. This year, it was Temples Where will they be next year? Probably bagging groceries. Still, glory!

05 – The War On Drugs – Red Eyes
Boo boo beep boo

06 – Alvvays – Archie, Marry Me
1a in terms of song of the year.

07 – Parquet Courts – Bodies
Their music reminds me of being in college, which is weird, because I went to University and not college. How come they only have college rock and not university rock? Probably because people in university are too busy studying.

08 – Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me
Cleveland’s had an up and down year, for the ups, Lebron came back and the new Cloud Nothings record. For the downs, it’s still Cleveland.

09 – Run The Jewels – Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)
Including this song means I’m keeping it real. What are the odds that Zack de la rocha would be on one of my best of’s? Next year: Derek Whibley

10 – Spoon – Rent I Pay
Spoon has managed to keep sounding good all these years, their Horseshoe show was one of my favorite NXNE highlights and a really good use of my media wrist band.

Picture Break:

11 – Ex Hex – Waterfall
I caught on to Ex Hex way too late. This isn’t a TLC cover.

12 – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Eurydice
I’ll always remember the POBPAT for blowing up a speaker and starting a fire at this one bar at SXSW.

13 – TV On The Radio – Ride
42

14 – I Break Horses – Faith
It’s rare to see a Swedish band not be on Labrador records or be Robyn, so we should all appreciate the appearance of I Break Horses on this compilation. Meatballs.

15 – Warpaint – Disco-Very
Warpaint used to be the band that former IT girl Shannon Sushamananya was on, but since they ditched her, their music has improved dramatically. Full Ewing theory in effect here.

16 – James – Moving On
I’m equally ecstatic and horrified that this song is on a Scotiabank or RBC commercial. Hopefully this will entice them to visit our city one more time.

17 – The Horrors – I See You
The Horrors have come a really long way from back when they were merely a joke on the show The Mighty Boosh. Every release from them brings forth a new sound and this shoegazey track is just another example of how much they’ve grown since Sheena is a Parasite was released.

Gary’s Year-End Review 2014

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Year End Reviews | Leave a comment


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…

Songs/Albums
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.

 


Documentary
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.

 


Science stuff
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.

 


Game
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!