2019 Recap

February 16, 2020 ☼ Year Recap

I really don’t mean to publish this post as we near the halfway point of 2020’s first second month, but what can I say, life tends to happen and things get re-prioritized. For example, I brought no less than 5 books to my parent’s house for Christmas with full intention of reading all or at least some of them, but instead I ended up beating Shovel Knight for the third time, building some Legos, and generally making merry. I think I read one short story.

But! I won’t let de-prioritization hold off this post any longer! So I’m pleased to welcome you to the now-annual list of Things I liked in 2019. This list is pretty general media-focused, but I’ll throw in some curveballs here and there just to make sure you’re awake.


Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium

Every year I think I struggle to form a ranking of the games I liked most. This is not because I’m unable to put numbers next to items in a list, but because I don’t often play a lot of games in the same genre. I sample around and will latch onto a specific game in a genre, but don’t necessarily dive deep on finding more stuff like something I already like. I say this to then say that, unless you are trying to rank the best of what a genre has to offer in a given year, it’s really hard to extract what makes any two games alike enough so that they can be rated against each other.

Except in the case of Disco Elysium, simply the best game of the year and surely one of the best games of the decade. This game is so good that I’ve started a whole podcast dedicated to the damn thing. So if you want to hear why I like the game so much in more words than the ink I’ll spill hear, listen to that.

As a short version though, I’ll say that Disco Elysium is the most well-written, well-realized game I’ve ever played. More so than any game ever, Disco Elysium has fully pulled me into its world. It contains nuance and subtlety that most games can only dream of, is emotional without being cloying, and in general feels so sure of itself and is able to feel like it is actually offering something to the world we live in.

Never have I finished playing game and so fully had the words of it stick with me. A line at the very end of the game may have fundamentally reframed how I view the world. This may be par for the course for A Good Book, but what Disco Elysium does is start to sketch out what a videogame could be, like what it really could be if we stopped caring about all the stuff that bogs games down. And at the same time, it’s still a damn videogame, and for that I love it all the more.


Beach Bum

The Beach Bum

I feel like if I’m talking about drug-addled characters at the center of a plot, I’d be remiss to not mention one of my top five movies of the year, The Beach Bum. Something something neon soaked” something something, but what makes me still think fondly of this movie is, for as outrageous as it is, it feels real. It feels as if everyone’s emotions and ideas are amplified, magnified, and externalized - laid out for the audience to see.

I think about it now and my mind bleeds through all the scenes from the movie in the same way Moondog moves between random bars in Florida. It’s a pastiche of an ideal-not-ideal life that we see every lie of, yet keep cheering for Moondog anyways.


Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds

Not to be confused with the by-the-numbers RPG that came out this year The Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds is a game about the inevitable end of the universe, told through a repeating 20 minute timeline. What the game does exceptionally well, and better than probably any game in a long time, is that it truly captures the feeling of exploring” something.

I spoke about this a bit on Bad End some episodes ago, but the time loop here functions to allow the game to be incredibly deep for the time loop’s duration. The effect is that, as you explore, the game feels totally thought through. You can follow your hunches and ideas and thoughts and will likely find some gold at the end of a rainbow. You fly around, explore literal nooks and crannies and secret doors and passages and generally weird space shit, and that whole time find yourself in awe at the majesty of the solar system the game takes place in. And that’s exactly it, a system that you can full explore and interrogate.


A Short Hike

A Short Hike

While we’re on the topic of exploring in games, I’d be more than remiss not to bring up the absolutely staggeringly beautiful game A Short Hike. Now listen dear reader, I usually hate cloying emotional games, and every single signal coming from what you may see of A Short Hike from the outside totally looks like that.

And to a degree, it is. BUT. BUT! Whereas in other games a sappy sentimentality is the point, A Short Hike’s emotional beats are delivered with expert pacing and grace. Never slathers it on too think, and never to thin to lose the thread. The effect is that the whole world just feels like a nice place to be for a few hours.

BUT ALSO - A Short Hike, again unlike games it is superficially similar to, feels amazing to play. The mountain metaphor in indie games is beyond played out at this point, but by offering your character a ton of different traversal options in addition to probably the best feeling third-person flight controller ever, it’s a mountain you actually want to summit because you know how good it will feel to fly down.

This game feels so good to play that, after beating it, I just kept playing. I found more secrets, I did other side quests I missed, I climbed up the mountain and flew off of it at least five more times. The game just perfectly captures a single space, and lets you enjoy being in it.


Pikuniku

Pikuniku

A bit of a theme this year for me was games that are confidently what they are”. I think it can be common in a game for it to become unsure of itself and start tacking on ancillary bullshit to feed a perceived deficit, with the cumulative effect being that the whole thing feels muddy.

Pikuniku isn’t that. In fact it’s the total opposite. It is 100% sure of what it is, and just lets players ride that out. It’s kind of hard to sell someone on Pikuniku, because 1) It looks pretty boring tbh 2) The name is weird 3) A story driven platformer” is a tagline that died in 2009. I don’t even remember what sold me on finally playing it.

But play it damn it. Play it if you like Paper Mario-esque humor. Play it if you like games with fun and strange characters. Play it if you liked all the mini game stuff in Night in the Woods. Play it if you want a really tight 2-3 hour game. Play it because I liked the game so much my wife made me this:

Ernie


Stripe

Stripe API

Going to zag for a second and mention something else I really learned to love and became a loud advocate for in 2019, and that’s THE STRIPE API BAY-BE. I was in charge of implementing a pretty complicated subscription and license model for some software at the company I used to work at, and damnit if Stripe hasn’t thought of basically everything. This whole thing is a total joy to use, and in a world where all software seems totally broke, Stripe seems to be one of the few lights of companies doing it right”.

I think a testament to how strong this product is in general is that, if you search for Stripe related help in Google, 99% of the time you’ll find an official documentation page that talks about your use case. Contrast this with Firebase, where if I search something I see 5 different docs pages that all say different things (some outdated), 10 different stack overflow answers that all conflict with each other, and an open bug report on Github. I <3 You Stripe API.


Clubhouse

Clubhouse

Okay hell yeah so now we’re going to go into some software stuff (don’t worry more games in a bit). If you know me you know I love me some productivity tools and software tools in general. I look at product hunt probably everyday to see what’s new, sign up for random apps that disappear in a week, etc. I do it because I’m just interested in see the ways that people are trying to solve specific problems in software. I enjoy looking and interacting with UI paradigms. Clubhouse I found in a similar way, but because I was frustrated with most bug tracking programs. They were either too enterprise-feeling or too light. Clubhouse strikes a perfect balance in the middle where it feels like the nimbleness of something like Trello meets the enterprise aspirations and success of a tool like Jira. AND it’s free for small teams! And it’s getting a documentation platform! Hell yeah.


Roam

Roam

Speaking of interesting new software, this thing came in right at the end of 2019 and it’s already been a bit of a game changer in my life. I don’t really even know how to properly describe Roam as to say it’s a tool for thinking”. Others might call it workflowy on steroids. At its core, it’s a writing tool that allows you to easily create new pages inline with what you’re currently writing so fast you don’t even think about it. It’s similar to how tiddlywiki works. However, the amazing feature is that it also maintains back references of that reference you created, whether you directly linked it or not. This means that say, if in this post I wrote the word games” and then in some other post actually created a page for the word games”, it would automatically find this page and section and link it in. It’s subtle and doesn’t feel like some seismic reimagining of what it means to write, but instead it feels like someone just turned the oven to the exact right temperature for a perfect bake. I highly recommend checking out some videos on it, as they will probably do a better job explaining the tool than I can.


Eliza

Eliza

Going to start bridging back to games with a game that is software-adjacent thematically. I’m not usually one for visual novels, nor am I someone who generally likes Zachtronics games (though I do like them in theory), so my affinity for Eliza is surprising. What Eliza does have though is an interesting premise, and as someone also in the software industry (and startups), a premise that really resonates with a lot of what I perceive in my own industry. In a lot of ways it feels like one of the first honest post-Social Network pieces of media about Silicon Valley that approaches a lot of the complexity of what it means to work in and around that industry, and analyzes it with a measured hand that is not patronizing, not dismissive, not satirical, and not overly dystopian. On top of this the writing is just so damn good. For anyone interested in seeing what it’s like Working In Software Now, I highly recommend picking this up.


Devotion

Devotion

Don’t let the story of this game getting banned and made more or less unavailable be the first and last word on this game. Devotion is one of the most affecting horror games that has been made since Amnesia and in many ways feels like what that vein of horror can do” in a way Amnesia and it’s imposters ever bothered to interrogate. It’s about a family falling apart and staying together, about how social structures and bonds push us past where we want to go (and then some). It’s also possible to still find and play this online, so I recommend you seeking it out before it disappears completely.


Pilgrims

Pilgrims

When Apple Arcade launched last year we bascially got every hyped-about indie game for the past 5 years dumped on us at once. I don’t think this was a good thing, and think that, even if these developers/publishers got nice checks to finish their game, if nobody actually played the game, what’s the point? It wasn’t like we lived in some time where good games were hard to find — I’m already swimming in good games with my own Steam backlog, Epic Games’ freebies, and Xbox Game Pass, that the idea of now having ~20 MORE high quality games is great, but I’m never going to play most of them.

One game though that DID stand out for me was the game Pilgrims by Amanita design, who generally make great adventure games (Chuchel, Machinarium, Samorost). Pilgrims takes a really compelling core mechanic that is sort of card-driven battler meets narrative storylets, and tells a concise, focused story that manages to feel much bigger” than it actually is in the best way. Add on top of this multiple routes to victory and a story system that has subtle nuances that can give rise to novel scenarios, and you’ve got a great recipe for a game that feels fully grounded in its own design space but feels novel and exciting in ways that you wish it was 10x its length.

I’d really love to see a follow up to this game, because I think the core system is strong enough and would be well-suited to a variety of different themes and settings!


What the Golf

What the Golf

The other standout Apple Arcade game for me was one that I totally initally dismissed because it, from the outside, seemed really one note. Sure, it’s a golf game where your golfer is the ball instead of you…whatever” Funny, but seemingly not worth the time of day beyond that first joke.

BUT OMG THIS GAME SLAPS. The golfer-as-ball is very much there and part of the game, but what isn’t totally obivous is how the game takes that initial idea and runs with it, where every subsequent level and joke feels better than the last and all of a sudden you’re trying to make furniture rotate around a planet to hit a lamp on a moon and the golf” aspect of the game becomes totally ancillary.

It’s like Dyad by way of Bacon (Philip Stollenmayer, not just the meat), where each level has the uncanny ability to feel more clever and more funny than the last. It’s definitely the funniest game I played in 2019 and am staggered by in additon to the humor, how much just solid gameplay is in this unassuming package. I love it.


Anno 1800

Anno 1800

On the opposite side of the complexity train we’ve got the years in the making followup to the much loved (but much…old) Anno 1701, Anno 1800. And man this game is amazing. If you’ve ever wanted a city building game that has that old-world charm” (think fields of wheat, cozy taverns, horse drawn carriages), this is the beans. The core system of the game is simple enough, where you basically build buildings that are able to leverage the production of a certain resource and then have another building turn that resource into a usable material/food/item. What this means is that the game feels less about trying to optimize your city, meaning you don’t get that subtle judging” from a game like Cities Skylines, Planet Coaster/Zoo, but instead the game seems much more focused on delight and aesthetics. Yes, there is still resource balancing and things can go bad, but so much of it just feels like pure joy to play. It’s not only fun to build your towns/cities/but it also just innately feels good.

One thing I haven’t yet done for this game that I really want to do is the co-op multiplayer. Essentially players can take cooperative control of a single civilization, and both, in real time, work to build up the city. Because Anno also has a lot of exploration in it, this means you can have a player focused solely on domestic affairs while another player focuses on trade and naval warfare, and then switch off, and so on.


Troika

Troika

One big thing for me in 2019 was starting to get into some of the OSR (Old-School Revival) tabletop RPG stuff. Though I’ve only picked up a few things, what I really like about this genre is something about the aesthetics of stats and tables. I think 5e DnD is still super cool (and definitely has a lot of tables), but the sort of sparseness of a single character, some background text, and some numbers seems to tickle the imagination for me in a way that I’m only now cluing into. It’s like ASMR, but triggered by when I look at a combat resolution table.

Troika is part of this, in a way. But what Troika does outside of scrating that itch is that this thing is fucking wild and brimming with crazy inspirational ideas. I told a friend recently that I don’t feel like I’m creative enough to play Troika”. Consider their description of a character archetype:

Dwarfs are known for being the finest artisans of the million spheres. Give a Dwarf a rock and they will make gold, give a Dwarf a boulder and they will make a Dwarf. You were supposed to be the finest expression of Dwarfy craftmanship, a true masterpiece, a brand new Dwarf like those made by the old masters, but you were deemed imperfect and abandoned.

It’s also put me onto the illustrations of Dirk Detweiler Leichty, who, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the first fantasy/creature artists I’ve seen in a long time who’s work feels wholly new and not connected to some lineage of Geiger of Tolkien-ism. I backed his tabletop book Super Blood Harvest as well, and am looking forward to picking up Silent Titans as well.


Air, Land, and Sea

Air, Land, and Sea

Like most boardgames I end up picking up, it starts with a glowing review from Space-Biff. The game arrives at my door and I see if it lives up to the promise (it always does). However, some games, even for how exceptional they are, end up staying on the shelf (or, as Pax Pamir 2e has done, been in the stack of games on the floor next to my desk). This is in part because I live in a small Brooklyn aparment where any measure of table space is a luxury, so bigger things only come out on trips to places with larger tables.

This means generally that small box games tend to reign supreme in the household in terms of table time, and none has wore the crown in 2019 stronger than this powerhouse game. I’ll spare the details of the game and instead point you to the linked review above, but what I will say is that Air, Land, and Sea, is the best head to head two-player card game I’ve ever played. Not just from pure feeling”, but from the depth of strategic possibility that exists in a hand of only six cards. I’ve played the game probably 30-50 times now, and I’m only starting to grasp what it means to play the game well. To note, this also isn’t because the game is complicated! The rules are really simple, and no card has any abilities that require close reading or multiple passes.

It gives me a lot of the same feelings as one of Tichu, one of my other favorite games. That a hand of cards represents not a predestination, but a possbility space for you to play in. Especially with how cards can be feigned, moved, and rearranged, each round of Air, Land, and Sea feels equal parts smooth, challenging, and interesting.


Undaunted: Normandy

Undaunted: Normandy

I guess we’re talking war-ish games now huh? And if that’s the case, I have to bring up Air, Land, and Sea’s big Uncle, Undaunted: Normandy.

First off, I’ve got to let you know that, conceptually speaking, I like wargames. I love looking at something like War in the East or Fire in the Lake or Virgin Queen and imagining how fun they would be to play. But then you actually play them and it so often feels like the games are less concerned with the player experience of play than they are with their own simulations. It’s a similar feeling to that Sid Meier quote of making sure the player is having the fun not the computer,” because wargames are so often guiding a simulation. Which, fine, this is what they are meant to do and I’m sure I’ll eat my words eventually, but again, getting something like this to the table is near impossible because of this barrier of both time, burden of knowledge, and space.

So what if you could have a wargame-ish thing that delivered in part on your idea of wargames, without being really all that wargame-y? I think you’d get something like the spectacular Undaunted: Normandy, a WW2 game that can provide all the tension and tactical manuerving of a larger wargame, but distilled into a much more approachable affair with a smaller playtime and a generally much more palatable ruleset.

I’ve loved every round of this I’ve played, and love how, with so few pieces, it can effectively put both players in a headspace of a tactical engagement that is satisfying to navigate with as little friction as possible.


Radio Comander

Radio Commander

I’ll bring up one more war-ish thing before moving on, which is the innovative game Radio Commander. It’s worth saying I’ve not actually played this game, but from watching a lot of videos and reading a fair amount on it I’ve got a pretty good sense of what it’s about, but my point lies mainly with how I think its mode of intereaction is so smart.

The premise of the game is that you’re a…radio commander, and are giving units to troops actually in battle at a time when information is muddy at best. As such, you’re trying to instruct your units on where to go based on your best guess of the current combat situation. You have to rely on reports from your troops to know where things actually stand, but all the complexity of a battle gets in the way of this. People can be hard to hear, people can get lost, people can simply over-compensate and lie.

It’s such a compelling way to reframe a wargame that becomes less about the combat itself and more about how combat happens at a logistics level. I know a lot of the community around this game wishes the game was more of a lot of things, but to see where the future of wargames is headed I think one need not look further than what Radio Commander is starting to approximate.


MTGA

Magic the Gathering: Arena

Let’s move from literal war to metaphysical war. To spellslingin’ wizards and creatures. Magic the Gathering: Arena came out of beta this year, and, for the first time in about 10 years, I’m finding myself playing a lot of Magic. Even then, I’m playing the game more deeply” thant I did 10 years ago. Back then I was playing Magic Online (also my first experience of Magic — I had not, until a few weeks ago in 2020 as I write this — ever owned physical Magic cards or played Magic physically), which felt like a sort of stand in for physical play, a clealry inferior experience.

But MTGA is special. Far beyond a stand-in for the physical game, MTGA delivers, possibly for the first time, a proper represenation (in any form) of the core conceit of Magic: that of dueling wizards summoning creatures to their command from the vaired planes of existence. Not only this, but this is also full” MTG. Card sets are synced to physical releases, the same rules apply, etc. This is MTG, just digital.

As you play cards, 3D versions of some spells and effects will appear on the screen, ornamenting and imbuing play with a physicality that the physical game is not able to do. You literally see your planeswalker appear on the map, you see a giant’s hand wipe the board clean, you see a massive cleave attack your character. The game feels more tactile than the physical version, more immediate and more dangerous.

And the thing also just feels good. Hats off to the development team for the game as well, because the game not only looks amazing, but feels amazing to play. The small touches of sounds, the subtle animations — the whole thing is at once as approachable as it is complex. It makes me want to play it more. In fact once I finish writing this I’m going to play some more.


Seventh Continent

The 7th Continent

Speaking of cards, lets talk about one of the greatest games to come out in 2019, the card-driven exploration game The Seventh Continent.

You’ve probably never heard of this game, and I don’t say that to be a hipster asshole. The game was intially funded on Kickstarter in 2015 (another KS boardgame success rasing over one million dollars — this hapens so often now it’s not even exceptional anymore). The KS copies were distributed only to backers, meaning that the game never hit retail. There was a bit of coverage after players got their copies, but, with the game now essentially impossible to get, players with their copies kept to themselves. It’s hard to advocate for a game if people have no ability to play it.

And then the same thing happened in 2017 where they Kickstarted again, again raising seven million dollars, and getting games out to people in 2019, and again no retail. Having missed the first Kickstarter, I went all in on this one, making my complete set of The 7th Continent the second most expensive thing in my boardgame collection. And all this on a bet — given the general lack of coverage, I wasn’t even sure it was going to be good.

But… dear god. I’ve never played a game that so perfectly captures the feeling of adventuring. But not even in a Mage Knight or Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective kind of way — it uses a novel system akin to RPG skill checks that makes it feel like you can truly interact with the world and watch it give back to you. I don’t want to spoil this game at all, but on the starting island” of the game, you’re tasked with getting off the island. My wife and I had played the scenario two times before, and done it the same way the first two times, but this third time we failed a specific skill check, totally cutting off that path of progression. In other games this would spell failure, but it forced us to re-explore the island and find a different way off of it. And we found one! We found a totally different path we had overlooked before becuase we were focused on something else!

As another aside, I’ll quote this person from BGG on this game (specifically its art) and why it makes the game special:

Me and my partner set off as a pair ready to face the dangers of the island, and after several hours burning through our precious cards exploring a dead-end we found ourselves in a predicament: we needed to eat and we needed to do it quick. I began to apply my years of board-game knowledge and tried to meta the game to beat it. I decided we needed to go North because that was the direction that best fit our end goal, and counting up the number of action-markers vs. the number of cards left in our deck it was the best shot we had at making it against a ticking clock. My partner, however, after starring at one particular piece of our map for several silent minutes said, These marks look like animal tracks, let’s follow them East, maybe we can hunt whatever it is.”

This was the crossroads: the moment that would seal my imagination in this place for far longer than I had thought a board game could. I told her it was just card art, set dressing to make the forest painting in that space look more interesting, and that mechanically, going North brings us closer to our goal. Nothing in the game told us to follow those marks, there was no inspect” action associated with them so they meant nothing. She ignored me, and followed the tracks. That led to more tracks. That led to a patch where she, after scarring away a particularly violent vulture, found a hunting ground just quick enough to save our lives. I was awestruck.

It was a small moment, and one that, in retrospect, seems to follow common sense, but the game offered a choice that only yielded results once I stopped treating it as a game and started to treat it as an adventure. The hunting grounds my partner found only got found because she, as someone who rarely plays games herself, saw an opportunity devoid of any pretensions that all games share some kind of fundamental structure. What I saw was action-icons, more backtracking, more wasted time between us and the next short blurb of story. What she saw was animal tracks and maybe a hot meal. I saw a printed exploration game, she saw an adventure on an uncharted island.

It was amazing.

The game feels like an adventure in a way so many games try to be but fail to do. If you can find a copy (they now sell a core base set) I HIGHLY recommend picking this up because I believe it is one of the most amazing boardgame experiences I’ve ever had (and I’ve not even fully beat it yet!).


Little Women

Little Women

Let’s talk about movies for a bit. Little Women is great — in fact, in a rare show of affection after leaving a theater (most movies get a contemplative nod or an it’s okay” at best), I said that Little Women is a perfect movie”. I don’t mean to say that Little Women is the best movie or even that it’s now my all-time favorite, but that, Little Women so effectively achieves everything it strives for and then some.

I think this movie should be shown in film classes and discested, taken apart and put back together to show the stuff of a film and how it happens. I do wish I had some more critical take on the film to balance out my total delight at this thing, but I have none. I loved this movie and expect to watch it over and over again until the end of time.


The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Let’s be critical then a bit for another movie that came out this year. Something interesting about The Lighthouse is that I so rarely feel like the conversation on the film is actually about the film. Instead it’s about the two main actors and what they did in the film, or about the director and the how of the film (they actually just built a lighthouse).

Rarely people actually seem to engage the film itself, and I think this is, in part, that it feels in a lot of ways barely like a film. Whereas Little Women stretches it’s plot and characters against the tapestry of time and growth and understanding, time barely seems to move at all or affect anyone inside the world of The Lighthouse. Dafoe’s character even makes mention of this a few times, that it’s unclear how much time has actually passed, casting aside the audience’s want to project a linear timeline onto the film’s events just because a film happens in linear time.

As such, The Lighthouse becomes a collage of ideas, a collection of scenes that happen to exist next to each other and share some similar qualities. Their order is arbitrarty and ancillary, and what matters (if anything), is contained inside the scenes themselves.

And in this light, The Lighthouse delivers in spades. Every scene is imbued with a spectral magic that elevates the film from what could have been a rote, stoic tale of duty to something that veers more towards VanderMeer’s New Weird. Every time you see a new scene you have to ask what will happen this time that upsets the order of things”. And every scene spirals deeper and deeper, to where what may have seemed strange an hour ago now feels normal.


Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

And then we’ve got Uncut Gems. As a Good Time Stan, this was one of my most anticipated movies of the year and I’m happy to see it meet every expectation I had for it. Adam Sandler’s casting for the lead role is perfect (I think about a line from the most recent season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel where a famous stage actor asks Suzy Who is the greatest dramatic actor? Who is the greatest comedic actor?” and the answer to both is Charlie Chaplin), and I’m pissed he got no Best Actor Oscar nom for the role.

Two other observations on the film that I think go unnoticed. 1) It’s a sports film! From the outside it’s easy to see it as a sort-of standard drama movie, but this thing has way more in common with something like The Mighty Ducks or Creed than it has with run-of-the-mill drama films. It also tweaks this model a bit in that, instead of some series of wins and losses culminating in The Big Game/Fight/etc., it essentialy starts with the stakes set about as high as they can go and the rest of the movie is Howard trading on equity and promises towards this goal.

And 2) It’s a period film! It’s so subtle in how it does this as well that this has gone almost wholly unnoticed. Outside of the the championship game that sets its time period, it’s easy to overlook all the other touches that firmly cement it in time. Things like the big” person at a club being The Weeknd and his posse including Trinidad James (both popular around the time the film was set, but not so popular now). Rich Homie Quan plays for one of the background songs. It’s easy to see a period piece in something like Little Women, and easy to collapse a 100 year timespan into a single film (i.e., the distinct ruffling pattern of a dress may have had changes in style, but, in 2019, we lack the nuanced understanding to place a piece of clothing in the 1860s vs. 1830s). It would have been easy to just make the film set now”, as 2012 was only seven years ago, but for Uncut Gems to so firmly cement itself in 2012 and include all the touches to make that time seem so different from ours is astounding.


Parasite

Parasite

Parasite is a special film. I think for the previous films I mentioned they all operate in a sort of mode that permates the film. Uncut Gems is anxiousness and paranoia. The Lighthouse is fear and unknowingness. Little Women is delight and sadness. But Parasite is kind of…. everything. It is, at times, the funniest movie I saw in 2019. The scariest movie I saw in 2019. The most dramatic. The most distrubring. The most satirical. Etc. It has a life to it that can make other films seem totally 1D in comparison. Not only this, but it balances these moods perfectly. No thrust of the movie dominates the narrative but instead they all work in concert together. In a sense it is genre-less. In another sense it’s the perfect example of every genre.

Watching it feels like what you go to the movies for, to laugh, cry, be scared, be challenged, be happy. The fact it just nabbed the Oscar for Best Picture (first time a foreign film has ever done this!) is also helping to give this film a second life beyond its initally limited release, which is great because, if I want to point to what a movie can be in 2019, I’d point to this film.


Mimeophon

Make Noise Mimeophon

Let’s talk about sound! I mentioned last year that I was getting into modular synthsizers and this year that has fully come to fruition. I’ve got a small rack that houses basically one voice, but, as is the case with modular synths, I’m finding infinite possiblites of mixing and remixing the same components to make some new.

One module that came out this year that I’m in love with (but don’t have yet!) is Make Noise’s Mimeophon, a stereo delay module that can also act as a million other things. It’s beautiful, sounds great, has great patch inputs, and has some novel ideas (like the Zone system) that make tweaking it impossibly fun.

I’m still discovering modular stuff, but have way more of a grasp on the space than a year ago and can’t wait to get a Mimeophon in my rack!


Bose Soundwear

Bouse Soundwear

Other sound thing — this stupid neck speaker. I love it. My wife got it for me as a present and it’s one of those things I would never get for myself, but now that I have it I can’t imagine a day without it. It’s exactly what it says on the tin, a speaker you basically hang around your neck, but what it feels like is what matters, and what that is is that it feels like you are able to both exist in a space and walk around, but have your music/phone/whatever still near you.

It has made wearing headphones now feel like a commitment or a journey. Otherwise I just throw this thing around my neck and turn on some music and am able to listen easily to music while working, doing the dishes, etc. I know it sounds ridiculous but believe me this thing is a game changer.


BIG

BIG by Matt Stoller

Okay some small eratta and we’re out of here. In 2019 I started to subscribe to some more newsletters that I’m finding are giving me old school blog roll vibes for their interest and variety of topics. One big one that I’ve fallen in love with is Matt Stoller’s newsletter on monopolies, BIG. It’s a great newsletter that provides a lot of insight into areas of big business that I know very little about. Not only that, but Stoller writes with a certain style that smells a lot like a person who goes around and says well, actually…” but with the sensitivty that that same person wouldn’t normally have.

The culmulative effect is of someone just eager to share with you what they know about and are discovering, and just as you are learning it feels like he is as well. Subscribe here.


Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas Interview

It’s kind of annoying that I can’t figure out when this interview was published, but even if it was in 2018 I feel like it has been in the back of my mind for the past few years. There is so much to glean from it around work, life, living, collaboration, etc. that I find myself recalling portions of it constantly. Anyone who has ever collaborated with someone on a creative project can surely admire and respect this:

Do you remember the moment that sparked your idea for the frontpack?

I was asked to contribute something to the fall collection. The inspiration for the frontpack came to me five seconds later. I got out my red ballpoint pen and a piece of paper, and drew a sketch. My design was accepted without many alterations or discussions. No ever-changing instructions, no endless conferences: this efficiency is what makes our collaboration so pleasant. Miuccia and I didn’t even discuss the frontpack face to face, our exchange of voice memos sufficed. I’m not telling you this to show off. You wanted to understand why I work for Prada. I know the history and mythology of the company, which is why I have an easy time extrapolating what it is they want from me.


Savorsmiths

Savorsmiths Chips

My dad literally worked at Frito Lay when I was younger and would often bring home black garbage bags full of chips of all flavors. This to say that I’ve loved chips since I was young and have sampled their many delights. And I thought I had tasted all there was to a chip, until I discovered this bougie-ass chip brand Savorsmiths that produces insane flavored chips. Discovering and tasing the Bubbly and Serrano Chili” flavored chip felt like discovering Animal Collective in my first year of college after only haved listened to pop-punk for most of my teenage life. Big Recomend.


Whew! Thanks for trucking through this whole thing. Again, I totally recgonize we’re already deep in 2020, but I hope you found out about some new stuff here that you’ll check out!

Thanks for reading!


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