The year of 2020 is over and it is finally time to bring an end to my end of the year lists.
This list represents all that was beautiful in 2020. Whether it was a pure form of artistic expression or a well-crafted product, I believe that the following 5 releases deserve to be celebrated.
These are the 3 questions I asked myself when I made my picks:
- What review score did it receive?
I have a review scale for a reason. If one release gets an 8/10 and another release gets a 9/10, I likely preferred the release that got a 9/10.
- What type of art/entertainment release was it?
If a movie trailer got an 8/10 and a musical album got an 8/10, the album will have a much greater chance of being chosen since it is more artistically significant. I’m sure you could guess what I would pick between a movie poster and a 15 hour long video game.
- How substantial was the release?
Continuing on from the previous answer, this also affected how I viewed the release’s artistic significance. However, it is slightly deeper and more complex than merely answering what TYPE of release it was. Answering this question meant I had to take into account how MUCH the release had to offer (which is unrelated to the AMOUNT of content). For example, a 30 minute musical album packed full of interesting ideas has more artistic significance than a 60 minute musical album which is vacant of interesting ideas.
So without further ado, let’s kick this list off…
The Henry Stickmin Collection
All of the previous games remastered with a brand new game to cap it all off. ‘Henry Stickmin’ is a point-and-click, choose-your-own-path game series that focuses on choices and consequences. It may be a little inaccurate to describe it as a “choose-your-own-path game series” since most choices consist of 3 fail states and 1 pass state (that being said, there are sometimes branching paths). But failing has never been more fun than in ‘The Henry Stickmin Collection’.
What makes ‘The Henry Stickmin Collection’ such a blast to play through isn’t a top tier combat system, a strong cinematic experience, AAA production values, dozens of hours of content, or an extensive number of game modes including various forms of multiplayer and co-op. In fact, ‘Henry Stickmin’ has none of these things. But ‘Henry Stickmin’ does have all of the heart in the world. It has hilarious fail states (the game makes great use of the “fail state” concept – I always wanted to fail in every possible way before succeeding), funny yet charming characters that you end up caring for… a lot (Charles and Ellie are the greatest), and an absurd amount of creativity and passion.
‘The Henry Stickmin Collection’ is a love letter to video games and entertainment culture because it genuinely cares about FUN! We don’t always need media to be challenging or philosophical or political… sometimes, it can be an escape from all of that. For a little while, the world around you can disappear in favour of the world on your screen – a world that is an absolute pleasure and joy to be inside of. Games don’t have to be these big things with hundreds of features, costing $100 before you even buy an $80 season pass. They can just be ‘Henry Stickmin’… because it isn’t always about AAA quality or “1 million side missions on your mini-map” quantity. It’s about heart and passion… and ‘Henry Stickmin’ has those in spades.
Link to the review:
(Re)Actions by Willy Hooker
Mesmerizing repetition of the opening of “Night Shift” sets the atmosphere for the album to come
“Stay Home” sounds like a military commander barking orders about human decency due to its strong forward rhythmic drive and lyrical content
Swirls of Earth’s elements blossom through auditory gatherings on “(Interruptions)”; beautiful guitar is layered over a chaotic underbelly for a mostly calming effect
“The Plunge” kicks off with rhythmic evenness before making way for an expressive guitar part (the strict rhythmic oneness of the introduction pulls attention to the emotion of the rolling guitar part in its hammer-on/pull-off style by contrasting constancy and fluidity)
“On the Porch” is probably the most novel song on the album due to the many ways in which it strays away from Will’s previous work in both approach and execution – a pleasant surprise
The anxieties of isolation are brought to the forefront on “Face to Faceless” – a terrifying yet enchanting song that flows, circulates between feelings of drowning and flying
Each component of “(Syncopations)” simultaneously exists separately from and co-exists with each other component – listen to this song over and over and focus on individual tracks, and how two (or three, or four) tracks endlessly intertwine and untwine… interesting and fun to do
“The Pessimist / The Optimist” is the most transcendent song on the album: a meditation on the good and bad in life, sculpted into instrumental and lyrical content that is a powerful reflection of emotion, establishing the importance of art as a form of communication (the communication of ideas, emotions, etc.) – we are one, the culmination of all things good and bad – no more taking things for granted – heavenly vocals at the end underline the divinity of our lives
“(Atomization) / Ode to Maggot Brain” is a continuous compression & de-compression of the songs that came before it, traversing the many states and emotions examined in previous songs and offering responses to questions unanswered – a pure expression of feeling
“Avril 14th / Blame Game” – the closings credits to a wonderful album and a fantastic cover in its own right
‘(Re)Actions’ is Will’s best album yet in many ways – the instrumentation, vocals, lyrics, concepts, and production are as good as ever.
Listen to Willy’s music here:
Link to the review:
Dream Away (Sleepy Asmr Songs) by WhispersRed ASMR
In previous reviews of ASMR content, I noted ASMR’s inherently musical properties. If music is defined as the intentional structuring and organization of sound (or lack of sound) for artistic purposes, then ASMR fits quite nicely into this definition. ASMR is akin to minimalism and reductionism in terms of both form and content. Therefore it is not surprising that an ASMRtist would venture into more standard musical territory at some point.
With ‘Dreams Away’, WhispersRed combines some (mostly) standard original compositions with some standard ASMRtistry. There is an ASMR approach taken to the composition and production as bare-bones songs are recorded to sound soft and distant. And I certainly don’t mean that in a bad way. Ultimately, I think that these choices are both intentional and suitable to the compositions at hand. With more conventional albums, I would criticize the repetition and uninteresting structures. But this isn’t a conventional album. Repetition is commonplace in ASMR. Not just commonplace, but expected. Repetition is a vital ingredient to ASMR success.
When it comes to ‘Dreams Away’ and its compositions, I think that WhispersRed manages to tread that fine line between being criticized as music and being criticized as ASMR. Taken as music, it is problematic. Taken as ASMR, it isn’t the greatest. But as a combination of both, it is remarkable. The lines are so blurred that I still haven’t decided at this point of the review whether I want to categorize this work as ASMR or as music. However, I have definitely decided that this is a truly great work. WhispersRed is more than just an ASMR piece or a reductionist piece. It infuses both ideas convincingly.
Link to the original review:
Link to the re-review:
I Disagree by Poppy
Poppy blends a multitude of various musical styles together in a seamless and creative way. She takes her influences and sculpts them to fit her musical mold and the result is as impressive as it is fun to listen to. Bubbly pop, heavy metal, hardcore breakdowns, Beach Boys style verses, Marilyn Manson fanfare, an epic closer… Poppy achieves it all with flying colours.
Link to the review:
Dark (Season 3)
Take note Hollywood and television writers / executives, this is how you write a sci-fi story. This is how you create a living, breathing world full of interesting characters. This is how you write an ending.
Leading up to season 3’s release, I re-watched the first 2 seasons with my spouse (it was her first time watching the show). While a lot of the mystery had disappeared on the second viewing, it felt more rewarding as I was able to pick up on a lot of things that I wasn’t able to the first time around (mostly due to the fact that I knew the twists so I knew what kinds of clues to look out for). Even though I rated season 2 quite highly (an 8/10), I felt like I underrated it quite a bit. After all, very few shows match the vision and execution of ‘Dark’. Especially its fantastic second season. Re-watching the show made me wish that I had given the show’s second season a 9/10 and placed it on my end of the year list for 2019.
Admittedly, I found season 3 disappointing on my initial viewing. I appreciated and enjoyed a lot of what they did: the depiction of its post-apocalyptic world, the importance of Claudia in undoing the knot, the symmetry of Adam and Eva, the scenes from 1888 and subsequent years (the scene in which Jonas murders his mother is terrifying, as he begins to look and act more like the Adam we know), “The Origin”. However, there was a lot that I wasn’t a fan of as well: the Tannhaus story-line felt a bit too forced, the quantum world that Jonas and Martha enter towards the end gave me ‘Interstellar’ flashbacks, the ending dinner scene felt awkward and unnecessary, the way that the loop was broken didn’t make sense to me.
But then I re-watched the third season with my spouse (I watched it alone the first time since she was gone the weekend it came out). And yet again the show managed to make more sense the second time around as the connections between people, places, and things became more obvious. I wouldn’t say that all of my questions were answered but being able to go into the third season again with an open mind and a willingness to take it for what it was helped in my overall understanding and enjoyment of the show’s final season. The Tannhaus story-line felt like a natural conclusion to the story’s themes, the quantum world towards the end was executed far more brilliantly than in ‘Interstellar’, the ending dinner scene was a nice way of summarizing the outcome of the events that we have witnessed as well as hinting that the old worlds exist in some ghost-like manner in the origin world, and the way the loop was broken still didn’t make sense to me. Seriously, I don’t understand how Claudia managed to avoid acting in the way that she always had. If she can discover the loophole this time around, doesn’t that mean she would have discovered it every other time as well?
That being said, getting hung up on every little detail would be missing the point of the show. The show’s brilliant creativity should be commended. Sure, there are faults. But unlike creators such as Nolan, ‘Dark’ does not collapse under the sheer weight of its ambition. Instead, ‘Dark’ upholds its ambition through its execution. It is exemplary in its building of character in order to instigate an emotional and philosophical reaction in the viewer. It uses its sci-fi elements to strengthen the human elements, telling a story that is only possible through a depiction of the unbelievable.
In summary, ‘Dark’ season 3 serves as a fantastic closer to a brilliant series, cementing the series as my second favourite show of all-time (behind the one and only ‘Twin Peaks’).
Link to the review: