Sunday, 5 February 2012

Stuff Done Since July 31st 2011

Books Read

I started reading Middlemarch by George Eliot. That was September, and I still haven't finished it. I haven't read a book written prior to 1900 for about four years, so it's taking a while. People in Eliot's time spent a lot more time sitting in parlours reading and a lot less time playing Skyrim. I spoke about this with someone who reads a LOT of books (and has never played a video game), and he said it took him years to finish Don Quixote, so I probably shouldn't worry. Anyway, Middlemarch is great, and Eliot lived a fairly interesting life.

I took a break to read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is probably his best novel. The premise is that everything humans worship has a physical form, is a "god", and that America's old gods, the gods carried to the new world by its earliest people, are being challenged by the new gods, the acne-faced, wire-smoking young god of computers and the terrifying metal-toothed god of cars. Gaiman's a great author, who has a beautifully simple turn of phrase, using very few words to say an awful lot. It is amazing how few authors have his ability to create tangibly believable magical worlds just by calmly stating what is going on.

I read some more Middlemarch, and now I've taken another break to read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewsky, which is amazing. It's a cross between the most terrifying horror novel you will ever read and a satire of academic criticism (w***er alert). The pages look like this:




Places been

I went to Prague in November after spending October stocking up on gloves, woolly tights, camping socks and those little clicky gel pad things you put in your pockets. It was warmer than the UK.


Gigs attended

In Prague, I saw SEPULTURA, who do thrash metal. They were extremely good, but everyone's allowed to smoke indoors in the Czech Republic and I had been walking round all day and drinking many pints of Czech ale and got a headache, which is both non-metal and lame. The venue was the concrete Soviet cube, and everyone took it totally seriously.

Way before that, in October, I saw Wheatus. I love Wheatus. I bought their first three albums, which is more than can be said of 95% of everyone who bought their first. They were playing because back in March, "Teenage Dirtbag" (yes, that Wheatus) got to number 160-something in the charts, which is higher than it had been for a while, and Brendan B Brown (my second ever celebrity crush after Goran Ivanisevic) tweeted about it, which made a load more people buy it, so eventually it got back into the UK top 40 for a week, and got played on that Radio 1 show where they do the charts. I have no idea what it's called, I listen to Radio 4.

Anyhoo, this made them just popular enough that they could book the O2 Academy Islington, which is probably smaller than most people's middle-school assembly halls. I went with Legily, who I used to listen to Teenage Dirtbag with back when we were 13 (and Brendan was 28, "Teenage" Dirtbag my arse), and it was such a sweet gig because a bit of modest viral fan activity resulted in this really touching re-union. They took requests, and when they finally played Teenage Dirtbag, they brought all 3 of their support acts back on stage and everyone sang.


A couple of weeks after that I saw Tori Amos. I love her, I embarrassingly, ardently love her and I honestly believe that if I were marooned on a desert island with nothing but Tori Amos to listen to I would be happy, mainly because no-one would be there to throw stuff at me to make me stop singing.

Seriously, if I could sing like her I would never talk. Just sing.

The official reason I love her because she is such a gobsmackingly gifted musician and relentlessly creative composer who never stops pushing herself in new directions, can play two pianos at once (in stilettos), has made recordings with with Trent Reznor, Maynard Keenan and Robert Plant. The real reason is because I'm not very good at communicating and I find her music cathartic because it expresses what cannot be explained.

She's become more cerebral in recent years, and though I'll never miss her live if I can help it, I do wish I'd seen her when she was doing this.

That said, her two shows last Autumn were magnificent. Her last album was a collection of variations on classical themes (a song-cycle, music buffs), and she was touring with a string quartet. She re-arranged her back-catalogue (as she does every tour, man she's awesome) for the quartet, and they played pizzicato versions of songs from the late 90s that were originally heavy/dance/ambient/industrial tracks. Amazing.

Here she is playing Suede at the Albert Hall, shot by someone who was sitting a little closer than me, and yet still behind someone with bigger hair. The original is here.


You see why I try not to talk about her.

A week later I saw Devin Townsend play twice. Now Devin is almost up there with Tori and Mike Oldfield for me. He's a west-coast Canadian metal musician, and the reasons I like him are similar to the reasons I like Tori. He has the most incredible voice, Ocean Machine: Biomech is my favourite album of all time (even more than Tori's Under the Pink and Boys for Pele) and he does walls of sound like no-one since Spector, but probably the most awesome thing about him is that despite producing this incredible, intense, heart-burstingly powerful music, he doesn't take himself seriously at all.

He spent four nights last year in London, playing each of his recent four-album cycle on consecutive nights. The middle (and heaviest) two I went to go and see. Addicted, which proves that metal can be euphoric and played in a major key, was prefaced by an hour-long slideshow of Devin's handsome face super-imposed on pictures that ran the entire gamut of pop-cultural tastelessness, from ABBA to the Muppets to Star Wars to Britney. The slideshow was accompanied by pop classics such as the Vengaboys (yes, those Vengaboys, children of the '90s!) and the aforementioned ABBA before the man appeared and everyone started moshing.



Things done

I went paintballing. I can see why companies do it as a team-bonding exercise. I went with a group of friends, and though we started out as a disorganised rabble, by the end of the day we were flanking like... well, not proper soldiers or anything, but at least multiplayer FPS characters. At the end I looked like I had been on ghastly '90s children's gameshow Fun House.


That gross little blob in the middle of that is a bruise. I had an enormous one on my arm as well, but I'm not posting it because my mum reads this blog, and I don't want to dispel her adorable notion that I am a responsible adult.

In August I went to the Isle of Wight Garlic Festival, which was absolutely enormous and featured hardly any garlic. I suppose it's a chance for local artisans (read: people who knit egg-cosies) to sell their wares, but really, two kinds of garlic and a meagre selection of garlicky cheese was not enough. Maybe for some people, but not me. I eat garlic cloves like people with a sense of smell chew Polo mints.*


TV shows watched

I used to be a film person who subscribed to Empire magazine (for an account of why this relationship ended, please see this post). This was back in the days when I had a VHS player in my bedroom and could go to a charity shop and come back with five films for the same price as a cone of chips, while I could only afford a few video games a year.

Now, I can afford more video games (as well as knowing enough about them to adequately predict which ones I'm going to enjoy before I buy them). I don't know whether it's a symptom of the fact that I now spend far less time reading up about films I might enjoy, but films these days just don't seem as good. It's true that they're going through a difficult period in which they're trying to battle both piracy and the bang:buck ratio of video games, but I am finding fewer and fewer reasons to go to the cinema, unless it's to see old movies at the Prince Charles (douchebag alert).

TV shows are more reliable. If you see an episode, and it's good, the rest are probably worth watching too. Since July, I've watched a lot of South Park (as ever), and series 4 of The Wire, which is as good as everyone says it is. I got the complete Red Dwarf for my birthday, and I am greatly enjoying watching it through again. Although there's a distinct correlation between how much I like an episode and the number of costume changes Rimmer has (aah Rimmer), everything about the show is worthy of the deepest affection, from the complete disregard for logic (especially in matters relating to time-travel and holograms), to the chemistry between the two leads.



I've recently been coerced into watching Bevis & Butthead. It's pretty stupid. However, I appreciate a) the fart jokes and b) the music video commentaries. Surely the most entertaining thing you can do with a music video is make fun of it?

Games played

Skyrim, Tomb Raider: Chronicles, the Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider Trilogy, the Uncharted trilogy and probably some other stuff. Uncharted is great, but what can I say about it that hasn't already been said? Probably that as a Tomb Raider fanatic, I think I'm qualified to say that everyone who compares the puzzling/platforming to Tomb Raider is smoking some kind of silly weed, and that Uncharted should really be judged on its own merits. A comparison does both a disservice.

It's like how everyone compares Tori Amos to Kate Bush. They are both female and play the piano, ergo they're both pretty much the same. This reasoning only perpetuates because there aren't that many female solo piano players in the pop/rock charts. Comparisons between Nathan and Lara only occur because there aren't that many mythologically-orientated action/puzzle/platformers. Honestly, if you started saying all male four-piece guitar bands or all linear first-person shooters were pretty much the same you'd have the authors of misogynist monthly Q magazine or the OXM chucking spit-balls at you until you admitted that yes, Chris Martin and Robbie Williams are better frontmen than Jimi Hendrix.

Here's Tori talking about the phenomenon back in the '90s. She's like the Nathan Drake of vagina-rock.


Stuff published on GodisaGeek that I haven't mentioned on Well-Rendered

Nice link there Mary, nice link.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin is a game where you can discuss manliness with faeries. I review it here.

Dan Pinchbeck designed Dear Esther, a game which explores interactive narrative, without being overly concerned with anything else. I interview him here.


Happy new year kids.

*I really do have Anosmia.


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