I remember back in 2016 when David Bowie died and some other bad stuff happened and then Trump got elected, we all looked to the sky and shouted a collective “CURSE YOUUU, 2016!!!” That seems hilarious and adorable now that we’ve got 2020 nearly under our belts. What an absolute nightmare slog of a year.
Even speaking as a person of relative privilege, living in a smaller area and as of yet untouched by the worst of things, it has been a difficult year of isolation and anxiety. The worst of it won’t be over when this year officially ends, but the hope exists that next year will be a more positive one in the end.
The restrictions of the year allowed some of us to consume a lot of music and media (toddler time notwithstanding), and there were definitely some bright spots on this front in 2020. Also some not-so-great spots, but that’s the kind of bad that you almost want to have in your life, because it gives you something to harmlessly craft lame jokes about.
Given that we didn’t actually write anything all year (until about two weeks ago), here is a brief wrap up of things that we liked and things that we loathed in this year that was the 2020-est.
I listened to too many podcasts this year, due to the constant barrage of bad news and I cannot recommend the practice of listening to them. They served as the audio version of doomscrolling while I was driving and could not doomscroll safely. I suppose if I had to give any props to podcasts, they would be the always-reliable New York Times podcast The Daily and any of NPR’s host of news podcasts. I realize that I primarily listened to American news, which is lame and sad, but the election was a huge attention-suck this year and I could not look away.
When not listening to podcasts in the car, I turned to a lot of great music instead. The mighty Metz returned with Atlas Vending, one of the strongest albums of their career. They’ve managed to expand their sound in both directions, infusing more hooky melodies while also somehow ratcheting up the overall intensity. Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud wound up being one of my favourite non-noisy albums of the year, featuring songwriting so stunning and affecting that it made me wonder why I hadn’t paid more attention to this artist in the past. My honorable mention artists for this year’s albums include new work from Katie Dey, Protomartyr and my beloved Deftones, whose Ohms album wound up being solid enough overall to almost make up for the uneven Gore.
Deftones managed to disappoint me this year too, don’t worry. The much-hyped White Pony 20th anniversary remix album, Black Stallion, turned out to be inconsequential and forgettable at its best, laughable at its worst. Outside of the Purity Ring remix of “Knife Prty”, I’m not sure that any of the mixes are worth repeat listens. The new IDLES record, Ultra Mono, felt like a disappointment as well, lacking its predecessor’s effortless blend of wit and hooky rage. Ultra Mono felt like a band trying very concertedly to accentuate the elements of their sound that everybody talks about loving, and missing the mark. It’s okay, but the political statements sometimes feel cringe-worthy and clumsy, and the jokes never seem to land. Some fun riffing to be found, but overall a letdown.
I realize that I saw very few of 2020’s films, primarily due to the evening fatigue that comes with parenting. A three hour movie? When I could be sleeping? Fuck that. I did see some films from this year and last that I enjoyed, though. Loved Parasite, like most people did. Enjoyed that last Tarantino film and had fun with Midsommer (which is no Hereditary, but then again, what is?). More often than not, movies have been falling into the in-one-ear and out-the-other category, where I enjoy them in the moment but very few are making an impact on me. Remake of The Invisible Man? Sure, I’ll have fun with that. But don’t ask me about anything that happened in that movie, other than a couple of funny character deaths. The last movie that I actually saw in theatre? The las Star Wars movie. A bad movie, btw.
After it won its boatload of Emmys, we returned to Schitt’s Creek to see what all of the fuss was about. We had watched the first season, but had fallen off of it for some reason. It’s as good as everyone says it is. A true achievement. They are the kind of characters that any other show would have rendered unbearable, but in the hands of this gentle CBC comedy, they become quite strikingly loveable. A show so well written and well performed feels rare even outside of Canada. It’s really something and I’m happy to have taken in a series that winds up being so unabashedly touching and positive in a year that has otherwise been so dismal.
But you know what isn’t unabashedly touching and positive? Video games. I played a lot of video games this year, and that means that I spent a lot of time shooting things and blowing things up. My life got fairly completely devoured by Destiny 2 for a good chunk of 2020, after I found out that it was (largely) free-to-play (which it still is, but less so… if that makes any sense…) and downloaded it to see what it was all about. It’s more like a drug habit than a video game, and I advise you to steer clear of it and its admittedly often thrilling mix of FPS gunplay and… uh… costume collecting. Go for something more straightforward like DOOM Eternal, which is a follow up to 2016’s DOOM sequel/reboot. It’s just as dumb and violent as the last one, but it adds an extra layer of strategy to the gameplay that I initially hated and now truly enjoy. It’s gross and stupid, though, and I’m stupid for liking it so much.
And finally, to bring things back to something not stupid, I truly loved Jamie Loftus’ short-run Podcast series My Year In Mensa. It is a smart, funny, sad, and infuriating glimpse into both self-anointed geniuses and toxic online culture. To be honest, it made me kind of re-examine some of my own online behaviour circa around 15 years ago and feel lousy for having also once been a part of a hive of bitches. Things were a little different then, but it was still a lame way to be.
2020 is a year where I constantly found myself saying, “I don’t have time for this.” That sentiment continues right into this very blog post but, hey, when your friend asks you to contribute, you just say yes. In the interests of efficiency and not boring you to death, let’s get straight to it.
Things I liked:
1. “Watching” a series by watching the first episode and then reading on Wikipedia what happened in all the subsequent episodes. Or better yet, don’t watch at all, and just read the whole thing on Wikipedia! It’s an enormous time-saver, and you don’t feel that pit of despair when you get to the end of a series and realize you’ve wasted so many hours of your life on garbage. Case in point: I didn’t even know there was a new Invisible Man until I read Mark’s contribution above. I just “watched” it on Wiki. Took me two or three minutes!
2. Wikipedia. While we’re talking about it, and while we’re on the topic of things we like, I will once again attest that Wikipedia is one of the only truly worthwhile reasons for the internet to exist. Wikipedia is the largest repository of easily understandable knowledge ever conceived of by humans, and is far more encompassing and unbiased than the old Encyclopedia Brittanica I used to read for fun (yes, I did that, and yes, it was fun). I donate money to Wikipedia multiple times a year, which is probably the highest praise you can give in a terminally capitalist world.
3. Synthesizers. They make beautiful sounds, they reward exploration, they are music without ego or the cult of personality, and they make me forget about how fundamentally easy it is for humans to manipulate other humans. Analogue synthesizers are relatively “pure” by human standards, just electricity running through a few circuits and out to the diaphragms in my headphones. Time to make music is the best reward you could give me, and synthesizers make that time blissful and uncomplicated.
4. Kind people. Being cynical or exploitative or solipsistic is the easiest thing in the world. Selfishness is the most boring thing in the world. Those few who are generous and honest in spite of our massive societal inertia in the other direction are rare and more valuable than anything else. I love you.
Things I hated:
1. Brands. There was a time that pop culture was uniformly ridiculed by all my friends. Sometime between Adele and Drake, things really reversed. Pop culture is cool again. I hate it. Artists that don’t make their own music aren’t artists. People who are more image than artist don’t deserve your attention. Treating yourself like a brand is profoundly stupid. Manufactured authenticity is inauthentic. I hate it all. The best meme of the year was Doomer Zoomers making fun of Milennials. They’re right. You should be made fun of.
2. Overwork. Work is the best. I have the best job in the world. But doing that job seven days a week from 9:30am to midnight is horrible and destroys any sense of meaningfulness, fun, edification, or pride I have in the job. I’m grateful to be employed, and grateful for the hard work of all the others in my institutions, but things aren’t OK. Our current circumstances have revealed that things were broken before, and have become intolerable now. It’s time to re-read Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness.
3. That we’re not living in William Gibson’s world, specifically the world of the “present” that he crafts in Agency. If you didn’t know, William Gibson’s last two books have been prescient, fascinating, depressing, insightful, and strangely uplifting. These new books, which are being adapted into a TV show by a company that paid 1.2% in tax this year, owned by a billionaire who will pay $0 in income tax this year, are worth your time in their book form. The newest one, Agency, imagines a world where Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and an AI emerges to save us dipshits from our own humanity. It’s a salve, especially when viewed from the perspective of the other timeline in the book, a farther-future Earth that has been ravaged by the mistakes in our real present. Like those survivors of the “Jackpot”, I also long for things to have gone differently. You should read The Peripheral and Agency, and lament our species’ current trajectory.
@Jay do you have any specific synth recommendations? new or old.