27Jan2016 1830: Ancillary Epilogue
So the Ancillary series did come perilously close to shitting the bed in the final fifty pages. The author blantantly wanted to wrap up the plot with a deus and a machina and then not write a fourth book (and a fifth, and a sixth...). She wanted out to write something else, and I can't blame her but I also feel a little hurt. The light whodunit elements of the first two books were nowhere to be seen, replaced by The Big Idea, but The Big Idea isn't even resolved by the final period. I wasn't prepared for such a definitive ambiguous ending after 2.75 books of decisive action. You can't fix the way the world is within the context of a trilogy, mostly, but the last chapter just gets bored and wanders away and then we get a hasty denouement. You should still absolutely read these books but be prepared.
Pop a cold one and settle on the porch. [The Yawpers - Burdens] is going to get your boots tappin' with a straight-down-the-middle country rouser. Also the song is about a seventeen-year-old with burdens so HA.
[Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Sundry] begins with a tune like a Sega Genesis cartridge running through a grinder, brings in backing vocals by Sinistar, and then drops all that in favor of an Enya song. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith hates you.
I listened to [Your Friend - Heathering] twice and still couldn't find something to grab on to. I compare all these songs to things I've heard before, decades and genres and iconic bands, but Heathering is slipping through cracks in my mind. There's aimless ambient in here, and a sad folker, and the relentless high-pitched synth discord of that song in Hotline Miami. It gives me vertigo.
[Petal - Sooner] oh shit are the Cranberries back? Is Cranberries a genre now?
[Cicada Rhythm - Dirty Hound] is an aggressively traditional Appalachian love duet.
Their spelling warned me long before [Lymbyc Systym - The Erratic Shift]'s synthy tynes entered my ears. It's a Sega Saturn game's menu music sped up to 2x and nobody presses start for four minutes.
20Jan2016 1900: In Spaaaaaaace
Hahaha oh man I totally spaced on last week's post. Wednesday came and went, and then Thursday I went to a Rifftrax of Starship Troopers, and then Friday I realized and was like "oops too late". Because I've been in space and space is more important than making fun of music.
Kerbal Space Program finally hit 1.0 last fall, after years in beta, and furthermore was on Steam sale over the holidays. I finally bit the bullet and have been playing it pretty much nonstop. It's hit our game group like Burnout Paradise did, despite being resolutely single-player. We're making great use of Steam's broadcast feature, watching each other build and fail to launch. And sure, you can go to the moon or whatever, but this game is so much more. It feels genuinely good to get a rocket into orbit and then back to the ground. It feels better to commit atrocities.
Quiet moments between rocket launches are filled with the Ancillary series. Let's just get this out of the way: there's no time travel. Other than that, this book is extremely my jam. There's humans who want to be AI! AI who want to be human! One AI who wishes she were a spaceship! A galactic empire based on Imperial China! And the main character's native language is grammatically gender-neutral, which is rendered in English as default-female pronouns for everything. It's almost a murder mystery before it reveals the murderer halfway through and turns into an exploration of all sorts of human augmentation. It's written so well that some characters identified only by a number have more personality then the entire cast of Three Body Problem. Read These Books. Unless this latest book shits the bed in the last fifty pages, this is the best scifi I've read in a decade.
[Mike Krol - Neighborhood Watch] hurls itself headlong into the messy world of 90s lo-fi...weirdpunk? Stuff like the more experimental Beck or Butthole Surfers or the little one-hit wonders that feasted on the corpse of grunge. It's distorted, it's insubstantial, and it's brief.
[King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Bone] may have the best band name this week but it's wasted on a twittering flighty 60s pop song. I haven't heard this much flute since marching band.
[Porches - Hour] is a restrained synth pop song, a few keyboards with 80s samples echoing inside a vast room. But he also tries to rhyme "hour" with "about her" so fuck this guy.
[Promised Land Sound - She Takes Me There] isn't the explictly Christian country-folk song that the band name promised me. This is by far the longest song of the week, but it's also a pleasant mellow Beatles B-side. They could be singing about a girl or about drugs and their life is pretty alright. Just like the Beatles.
There are conga drums, intrusive saxophones, a violin section, and a manic energy to the mopey vocals of [Birthmark - Find Yourself]. This is like a Flight of the Conchords parody of self-actualization songs. Eventually it collapses into cacophony.
[Derek Pope - Serena Williams] had a real danger of ending up like [Migos - Hannah Montana], but where that song had a grimy gangster vibe Derek Pope brings a falsetto slow jam. It doesn't lean on the Serena comparison -- that's mainly to sell the single -- but it does try to rhyme it with "fellas". I'm frowning so hard right now.
[Benji Hughes - Freaky Feedback Blues] isn't blues at all. Or, rather, it's the 70s mellow funk/pop that liked to pretend it came from the blues.
It's rare that a band I already know about shows up on this list. Thao is definitely not an "up and coming" artist -- she's been here for year. [Thao & the Get Down Stay Down - Nobody Dies] still has Thao's disaffected arythmic delivery and the guitar distortion in the background. Are you down with the Get Down Stay Down? It's not as good as [Bag of Hammers] but few things are. Mostly this alerts me to the presence of a new album that I should go buy.
06Jan2016 1800: Life is Strange
There's a map in my room, on the wall of my room, and I had big big plans for the holiday break. I was finally going to work through my backlog of TellTale games, squeezing each idle hour to render its sweet sweet adventure juices. But first I wanted to play through Life is Strange because I'd heard so much buzz about it.
2015 was an amazing year for games all-around. If you like video games, something came out in a genre you adore and it was great. Everybody won! One theme that I found interesting was outside companies coming into the adventure rennaissance and one-upping the established players. David Cage's overwrought button-pushers have a distinctive style that nobody had copied until Until Dawn ate his fucking lunch. Until Dawn makes good on the potential of branching storylines and consequences that Cage always gets halfway to incorporating. The setup of a slasher movie in a remote mountain cabin is simplistic, but it accommodates the player's decisions to the point that everybody could die or everybody could survive. I haven't heard of a game being that flexible in its narrative with such expensive production put into every possibility.
Similarly, TellTale reinvigorated their brand a few years back with the stellar Walking Dead at the height of Walking Dead Mania. They've used that formula of largely-predetermined-plot with player-choice seasonings ever since. Then developers Dontnod showed up and bit their style to make Life is Strange, an incredible leap forward in story, style, and interaction. Mechanically your character can rewind time, so all the dialogue trees you navigate can be instantly rewound to explore another branch. The bedrock of TellTale games is that decisions are irrevocable and affect future story branches, but it's great to be able to sample both sides of the coin before committing to a course of action. Thematically Dontnod took some Mean Girls and smashed it into some Butterfly Effect and set it loose in the Pacific Northwest. Stick out the petty high school drama of episode 1 and somewhere in the middle of ep2 you are confronted with the full power of their armed and fully-operational scifi soap opera. By the end they've blown past Butterfly Effect and are reaching eagerly for the mindfuck of Primer, but always grounded and surrounded in the great character work they spent hours developing. The plot worked on me, hit me to the point that I got depressed after the finale and didn't feel like playing any other story games for the remainder of break. I cannot recommend Life is Strange more highly.
So fuck it fly me to the moon. I need something silly for a few weeks to recover.
As of press time Google has not updated their list of singles for me to poop on. To tide you over you could listen to previously-featured artist Courtney Barnett and her full punkabilly album, now doubly-recommended by annual tastemaker Bad Machinery.