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2010 round-up

Listomania: 2010 in One Hundred Sentences, Pt 2

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] Disclaimers: these continue to be non-numerically ordered, except occasionally. Very much continued from Part One: 50. Cee Lo Green – F*BOING!!!* You (Single, August 19)…But not by this, which achieved the rare feat of gaining all the popularity it deserved.49. Lost – ‘The End’ (TV: Series 6, Episode 17)Far from perfect, but it was the culmination of six years waiting, and it delivered in at least a few ways.48. Taskmaster #1 (Comic, Marvel)A perfectly-structured comic with a sense of humour, about memory and the silliness of supervillians.47. Super Meat Boy (XBLA Game, Team Meat)Tender meat crashes against hard-as-nails levels, again and again and again.46. Robyn – Indestructible (Single, December 15)The best Robyn song of a year of great Robyn songs, paying off a mild acoustic version into full-on electropop heartbreak.45. Mystery Jets – Serotonin (Album, Rough Trade)Which has faded for me a little with time, but remains a fantastically well-sculpted piece of work.44. ‘The James Franco Project’ (Article, New York Magazine)As this list probably shows, 2010 was the year I discovered profiles of celebrities; also how fascinating James Franco is.43. House to Astonish (Podcast)Perhaps the most particular pleasure on this list: two blokes analysing and chatting about the world of comics.42. Christina Aguilera – Woohoo (Single, May 18)One of the excellent (and in this case ridiculous) tracks – of which there are a few – on Bionic, in case featuring Nicki Minaj and childlike euphenisms.41. Xiu Xiu – Dear God, I Hate Myself (from Dear God I Hate Myself)Proving that any emotion, pushed far enough into melodrama, can be unexpectedly catchy pop.40. N-Strike Night Finder EX-3 (Nerf Gun)There have already been a couple of late nights defined by these ridiculous, hilarious toys.39. Super Crate Box (PC Game, Downloadable)Apply large range of weapons to rapidly approaching enemies in a 2d platforming landscape; only held from Spelunky-esque greatness by its brevity.38. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Music Video, dir. Spike Jonze)Arcade Fire continued work on winning me over on this album with… a Spike Jonze sci-fi-inflected suburban teens video? 37. Big Boi – Sir Luscious Left-Foot (Album, Def Jam)Continues to defy my every attempt to write about it: top-end, foot-stomping, inventive hip-hop.36. Kylie – All The Lovers (Single, 28 June)2010 was the year I got why people fancied Kyle: All The Lovers definitely helped.35. Invincible Iron Man: Stark Disassembled (Trade Paperback, Marvel)A story of which Stark spends 90% unconscious on the floor of a school’s basement has never been so thrilling.34. Crystal Castles with Robert Smith – Not in Love (Single, December 6)Putting a heartbeat in the frozen chest of the Crystal Castles machine.33. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (Album, DFA Records)The one album of this year (that I was able to get into) that still felt bigger than me, and probably always will.32. The Redletter ‘Attack of the Clones’ Review (Youtube Video)Not as good as the original Phantom Menace review, perhaps, but still observant and inventive enough to (almost) justify the films’ existence.31. Lady Gaga – Alejandro (Single, May 18)Gaga drawing from a slightly different, more Euro-centric set of influences and screaming my name in Spanish.30. @kanyewest (Twitter Account)I’ve had to break it off, now, but this was amazing fun – Kanye sharing his passion for rugs, and begging our forgiveness – while it lasted.29. Nicki Minaj – Your Love (Single, June 1)Ms. Minaj has been one of this year’s most interesting cases, and Your Love is the perfect debut single28. PunisherMAX: Kingpin (Trade Paperback, Marvel)Really, deeply horrible stuff, with the odd dirty laugh, in the fine tradition of the Punisher.29. Gameboys From Hell (Article, Rock Paper Shotgun)How I came to meet and love Solium Infernum, but also an unusually compelling game-diary in and of itself.28. Standard Fare – Fifteen (from The Noyelle Beat)The year’s best song about that paedophilic gray area known as 15-years-old.27. Belle & Sebastian – I Didn’t See it Coming (from Write About Love)Write About Love didn’t quite find my heart this year, but a lot of its songs did, and this climbed straight to the top of the pile.26. Come Dine With Me (TV, Channel 4) Which I watched everywhere, with everyone, inspiring a multitude of emotional responses, all year long. 25. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring (Album, Wichita)Didn’t go quite as far as I wanted into EMO, but is still a fantastic album.24. Mystery Jets – Flash a Hungry Smile (from Serotonin)Being a bit embarassingly frank and earnest about sexual urges, whilst whistling, is what Mystery Jets should always sound like.23. Hot Chip – One Life Stand (Music Video, dir. Peter Serafinowicz)Equal parts hilarious and horrifying.22. Blur (360 Game, Bizarre)Probably the most consistently underrated game of the year; that Bizarre are non-existent is tragic.21. Katy Perry – Firework (Single, October 26)Actually kind of standing in for the joint impact of this and Teenage Dream, which were slow burners in my affections but both worked perfectly.20. Perfect Dark (XBLA Game, 4J)It’s pretty surprising, given my lack of nostalgic attachment to the original, how well this stands up 10 years on.19. ‘Roger Ebert: The Essential Man’ (Article, New York Times)Which was a pretty heartwrenching way of learning the year’s gaming boogeyman was ill18. Belle & Sebastian, Birmingham Symphony Hall, 06/12/10B&S + Orchestra + Musical Storytelling as Support = Best Gig of the Year17. The Divine Comedy – At the Indie Disco (from Bang Goes The Knighthood)A great gimmick to build a song around, perfectly observed.16. The xx – Islands (Music Video, dir. Saam)A perfect, neat conceptual video of an endlessly looping, slowly changing three-second dance: this is my bag, baby.15. Robyn – Dancing on My Own (Acoustic, BBC Live Lounge)Should’ve been on the final Body Talk, to complete the cycle of acoustic/dancefloor versions of singles, and because it is best.14. Ellerbisms (Webcomic)Which ended with a classically Ellerbisms emo-sweetness earlier this year.13. Daisy Owl (Webcomic)Which ended, completely without warning earlier this year.12. Kermode & Mayo’s Film Reviews (Podcast)Which have owned the vast majority of walks I’ve taken this year, and […]

Listomania: 2010 in One Hundred Sentences, Pt 1

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] My latest experiment in making end-of-year lists a little more interesting, for everyone involved. One hundred short(ish) sentences on the years best … well, anything. I never can confine myself to one medium very successfully, a fact to which this website is testament. Arranged in little to no particular order, except when there’s a reason. 100. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Film, dir. Edgar Wright)Not Scott’s finest hour (or Wright’s) but merely not-screwing-up makes it one of the best films of the year.99. The Indelicates – Flesh (from Songs for Swinging Lovers)At least briefly my song of the year, for its absolute brutal beauty.98. The Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (from The Suburbs)Arcade Fire would have to work pretty hard to get me to fall for this new album: Sprawl II, being another best-of-year prospect, worked harder than that.97. Batman & Robin #13 (Comic, DC)One of the best issues of the greatest fun I’ve ever had with a superhero.96. Inception (Film, dir. Christopher Nolan)Lots of moving parts and head scratching: the year’s best-designed puzzle.95. Sleep is Death (PC Game, Jason Rohrer)I love it just for existing: a game of telling stories and endless lo-fi possibilities.94. Big Boi – Fo Yo Sorrows (from Sir Lucious Left Foot)The first teasing appetiser which got me all excited for Big Boi’s solo debut.93. Panique au Village (Film, dir. Stephane Aubier & Vincent Patar)You know how sometimes you see films on a whim of a lazy Sunday afternoon, and sometimes they’re insane genius?92. Rihanna – Rude Boy (Single, February 22)Female all-powerful sexpop: mm, my favourite!91. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii Game, Nintendo)Like a blackhole, it sucks you in, time is compressed: on the other side lies a new world of twisty beauty.90. The Social Network (Film, dir. David Fincher)Which I still haven’t seen twice, otherwise it’d probably be my favourite of the year and I’d have written a 2,000 word post on why.89. Die Antwoord – Enter the Ninja (Single, August 9)If only for Danny Stoker spitting the “my life’s like a videogame” lines at every opportunity.88. Vampire Weekend – Giving Up The Gun (Music Video, dir. The Malloys)Pop-surrealism, tennis, RZA and a Jonas Brother… you wanna watch it now, don’t you?87. Night & Day (Short Film, Pixar)In which Pixar play to their masterfully efficient storytelling skills, and present, essentially, an update Chuck Berry cartoon.86. Phonogram: Singles Club #7 (Comic, Image)Because sometimes you just have to go howling into the night. 85. Gorillaz – On Melancholy Hill (Single, July 26)In which Gorillaz strip away most of what makes them Gorillazy, and reveal a pure reverberating heart.84. Green T (Restaurant, Lichfield, UK)The all-you-can-eat philosophy applied to an actual fantastic menu of freshly-cooked Chinese food.83. Robyn – Indestructible (Music Video, dir. Ljunggren & Vitali)Gets sex more right than any video/film/etc I’ve ever seen.82. Example – Kickstarts (Single, June 14)Given the last thing I liked of Example’s was 2007’s Don’t Want To, I was totally blindsided by this shard of perfect pop music.81. Halo: Reach – Beta (360 Game, Bungie)I’ve still only played the Beta, but that month of four maps and three game-modes gave me more fun than most entire games.80. Sleigh Bells – Treats (Album, N.E.E.T./Mom & Pop)…Which, when pressured last night, I named my Favourite Album of the Year.79. Lost – ‘Dr Linus’ (TV, Series 6 Episode 7)The last time Lost was ever truly great.78. Kate Nash – Mansion Song (from My Best Friend is You)It’s been a great year for songs that make me feel uncomfortable about being male, and for good reason.77. Super Scribblenauts (DS Game, 5th Cell)The cause of a couple of entirely welcome sleepless nights of wondering ‘what if you tried…?’.76. Neil Young’s Greendale (Comic, Vertigo)Bundling together a load of stuff I have no interest in, swiftly solved by Cliff Chiang’s art.75. LCD Soundsystem – I Can Change (Single, June 26)Pathetic in the all the right, searingly honest ways.74. Robyn – U Should Know Better (from Body Talk Pt 2)The second best song this year to feature Snoop Dogg.73. Stacja De Luxe (Bar, Gdansk, Poland)If you don’t like the idea of drinking cocktails in a converted Polish petrol station, well, you’re dead to me.72. Four Lions (Film, Dir. Chris Morris)Thought very deeply about, and humanised the terrorist threat … and then blew it up.71. Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1 (Comic, Marvel)Probably the most fun you can have with 22 pages of drawings of guys in their pyjamas. 70. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (Soundtrack, Various)The best soundtrack in a year of great soundtracks…69. Inception (Score, Hans Zimmer)…and the best score.68. Los Campesinos! (Gig @ The Rainbow, Birmingham, 1 March)The only gig that’s ever left me excited enough to follow the band to Northampton the next day.67. The Expendables (Film, dir. Sylvester Stallone)Perhaps the greatest comedy film of the year.66. Solium Infernum (PC Game, Cryptic Comet)Boardgames aren’t cool; screwing your friends over is cool.65. ‘The Gastronomic Logic of No Puddings’ (Blog, Lunch & Dinner Made Me)Made a no-pudding tragedy into something clever and funny that only Dan could/would have written.64. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (Album, Polydor)Which got overshadowed by Treats, its younger sexier cousin, but was the Right Thing To Do Next for Crystal Castles.63. Lady Gaga & Beyonce – Telephone (Music Video, dir. Jonas Akerlund)Self-consciously Gaga’s ‘Thriller’: any possible self-inflation was undercut by the brilliance of the cigarette sunglasses.62. Big Boi feat. Vonnegutt – Follow Us (Single, July 20)Just another fine cut from Big Boi’s album that works even better standing alone.61. Atta Girl (Club, Island Bar, Birmingham) Girls-only music + Phonogram posters + free veggie cakes + hugging the DJ at the end = best clubnight ever.60. Lara Croft: Guardian of Light (XBLA Game, Crystal Dynamics) Tomb Raider used to encourage you to yell at Lara; this encourages you to give your co-op buddy a dead arm. 59. My Chemical Romance – Na Na Na [Na Na Na Na Na] (Single, 7 November)If you don’t pump your fist in the air at the beautiful […]

ALEX’s Best of ‘10: All Day

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] Just/a/position: The Why of Girl Talk’s All Day All Day has gotten a lot of attention here at Alex-Spencer&Friends. Just yesterday, it received its own poem. We’ve looked at its finest moments. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the link is being passed around to those of our number who haven’t yet experienced it. (You can get it free, so there’s really no excuse.) It’s a thousand parties given voice, on the run from the law. Right now, it’s possibly my favourite album of the year, despite actually only being actually one single song. Despite actually being two-thousand other songs. It’s the best pre-party record of all time… So, it’s brilliant, okay? Miles has already dissected the highlights (just fyi, this post is going to be deeply in conversation with his, so I recommend going and checking it out if you haven’t already) and concluded that the appeal is “more simple than any ‘What is Girl Talk saying with this combination?’ nonsense”, which is fair enough. All Day is a hell of a feet-mover and hip-shaker, and that might be all you need to know. However, as is my wont, I’m going to be contrary. Miles has done the how. I’m having a think about the why. The mash-up form, as it appeared in the early ‘oos, is something I’ve never really ‘got’. They seem, to me, like a (post-)modern equivalent of novelty hits. Hearing two completely contradictory bands next to each other is played for laughs, right? It’s just novel to have Beyonce duetting with Kurt. It seems to encourage the idea of ‘real music’ over ‘guilty pleasures’. Isn’t it funny when the proper musicians stoop down to the level of popstars? This is all personal preference/prejudice, remember. And I can see how it could maybe show a song through a new filter, maybe reveals some of the shared foundations and dirty tricks pop pulls across all of music. I’ve just never heard one that makes me feel that way. But then there was Girl Talk. All Day does seem to make an argument for a continuum of pop in which all genres are equal. First of all simply by the sheer mass of songs and types of songs it is made up of. This creates a universe within the album, a patchwork of hundreds of songs. But more key is how it uses them: that patchwork is an entity completely separated from most of the songs that comprise it. Songs are used more like samples in early 90s hip-hop, where they created a backdrop to the raps and squeezed fresh life out of long-dormant songs. Or like in DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing where an entire album is built out of (largely unrecognisable) scraps. And it does all this as a celebration. There’s no sneer on the face of All Day. The secret origins and histories of its component parts occasionally inform the joy of listening to it, enhance or change your reading of it. Rude Boy is one of my favourite songs of 2010, but I’m not familiar with Waiting Room. So, the idea of Rihanna as the vocalist of Fugazi means little to me. Not so Miles. But I like hearing Rude Boy, in any situation. All Day does the basic curation thing that sampling tends towards: this is good stuff, or interesting stuff, or the good bit of a song where the rest fails. The timeliness, I reckon, is a big factor in our obsession with this album. It dropped a scant month ago, right as we entered this period of reflectiveness. It’s as good as any way of gauging the music landscape right now, and squeezes absolutely everything you could need in an end-of-year roundup into less than an hour. Not that the majority of the samples are from the last year so much as it offers a history of everything it’s taken us to get to this point – from XXX to Willow Smith. And that history suggests a possible present. A musical world that could exist, right now. If only. A world where pop is equally informed by old-school hip hop and old pop music? That’s world I’d take, every time. All Day does all the other stuff that mash-ups and samples can do, with added finesse. Occasionally, two songs running alongside one another offer a laugh – Dancing in the Dark riffs against All The Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom by N.E.R.D. is just funny. But it also makes Springsteen sound that little bit more epic. Or it puts a popular song through a new filter: putting Bad Romance against Aphex Twin brings out that dark side that I think a lot of casual Gagaites like myself want more of from the Lady herself. But that’s just hinted at in a momentary snatch that leaves anticipatory saliva on the lips. And that’s just one aspect of it. On one level, it’s a joke. On another, maybe it’s a ironic self-aware dissection of pop, rap, and everything else it assimilates into its mass. On another, it’s about putting a 19 year-old Kylie fronting a heavy-metal band. But mostly importantly… another uninteresting thing about the traditional mash-up, one song playing against another, is that they tend to rely on you liking at least one of the songs. At its very best, Girl Talk takes songs you don’t like and somehow makes something great of them. That’s not a mash-up, that’s alchemy of the highest order. Mash-up making meaning? That’s just a bonus. Great rap over your favourite songs. It’s magic. Get your damn hands up. About the author: Alex Spencer‘s interests include: anythingwhich is ambitious/stupid enough to countas heroic, if only to himself. He is looking forreaders with a gsoh and who enjoy longwalks and pretentious music-journalism.

DAV’s Tech 2010 Overview

[You have selected: David Inkpen] Merry Xmas, one and all of Alex’s festive (synonym: drunk) readers. While you are inevitably sipping on some form of alcoholic beverage, waiting for Doctor Who to come on and playing with your new aquistitions from some distant relative you’d forgotten exists (and to whom you’re pretty sure you have no blood relation), I present to you my addition to this mighty blog. My topic is that which the lucky (or unlucky) ones of you will have unwrapped this morning and are currently wrapping your head around. Technology. 2010 has been a very interesting year for new tech and I will discuss but two of the newcomers to the field here on this, the 200th birthday of Alexandros Rhizos Rhankaves, Greek poet and statesman (d. 1892). First, Evil Corp. USA (aka Apple)’s flagship product – the infamous iPad. iPadWith prices starting at a lovingly overpriced £429, the iPad is literally nothing more than an oversized iPod Touch. Boasting the same processor, memory, storage capacity and operating system as the only difference between the two devices other than the £250 disparity in price (£499 for 32GB iPad vs. £249 for 32GB iPod Touch) is the fact that the iPad is missing the camera. Oh, and the size. Don’t listen to what people say: size does matter. It matters in the way that, for what is effectively a portable device, the iPad is extremely unportable. iPad users’ can often be found sitting on trains, cradling their love in one arm while trying to type website addresses on its non-haptic screen with one hand, or crouched over the table in front of them with the device laying flat. Contrary to what adverts may suggest, it is not a breeze to use but rather has the ergonomic ease of walking straight into a gale-force wind. Of course, you could always buy the keyboard for the iPad, creating a perfect stand for your device and allowing you to type with two hands. It’s the obvious accessory to buy your iPad-endowed friend. But in the end, you’re left thinking… haven’t I seen this before? You do have to hand it to Apple though; they have sparked a market for this kind of device. Not to be left behind, every electrical company under the planet (exaggeration) has produced their own emulation of the iPad. Nothing overly spectacular has come of this yet. This is still a product in its infancy, only time will tell if the campaign to get a tablet for every child will succeed or whether the skips of 2011 will be filled with Apple’s legacy. The Kinect“A-ha!” thought the evil scientists at Sony, “Nintendo will cower in our shadow for we have created a superior controller! Gone are the days of people only being able to play motion-controlled tennis games on the Wii! Once again, we will control the market!” “Oh shit” thought the evil scientists at Sony, when Microsoft announced Project Natal, which would later become the Kinect. The Kinect is the coolest thing to come out of the gaming sector in a long time. Sure it’s a little laggy, but who cares when it’s doing effectively what would people would be burned for witchcraft for not 10 years ago. Sure there’s no games that I would buy for it, but that’s not the point. The Kinect is what it is, and what it is, is what butter was to sliced bread. Sliced bread was good, it was great, it was the best thing ever. But it needed something more, just a small addition to make it that perfect complete package that we all know and love. Now, I’m not saying that the Xbox is sliced bread. Far from it. I’m saying computers are sliced bread (albeit sliced by a blind, dyspraxic hamster). The Kinect, thanks to the developers releasing a SDK for it, have given nerds everywhere a toy to play with. A toy which will help you, oh lowly user, do what you have dreamed of doing since 2002: So that’s it. Merry xmas and peas on earth (as the card to my cousin, with an image of some peas on a mound of soil, states). About the author: David Inkpen is a man with serious brandprejudices. Luckily, as far as this site is concerned,they are the right prejudices. Like Sam Lewis, heis a handsome member of The July Days. Unlike Mr.Lewis, he has his own, sadly undernourished, blog.

MILES: The Ten Best Moments on All Day, in Chronological Order

[You have selected: Miles Bradley] The Ten Best Moments on Girl Talk’s “All Day”, in Chronological Order Girl Talk’s All Day [which can be gotten here for free] is better than Night Ripper but not as good as Feed the Animals, which is okay because Feed the Animals is the best party record of all time, making this the best pre-party record of all time. These are the ten best bits (cf: Tom Ewing being much smarter than me), in order of appearance, because while Girl Talk specifies that All Day is supposed to function as a single piece, it is (as with any of his ADD mash-up masterpieces) all about the little moments: 1. Jay Z’s Can I Get A… vs General Public’s Tenderness– You know, that song from the end of Clueless. Makes Jay’s complaints about gold-diggers sound more like a plea for genuine affection than a misogynistic rant against girls who’ll only give it up if you’re paying their bills. Essentially the climax coming out of the breakdown – “Where is your tenderness? Your tenderness? – Can I get a fuck you?”. That juxtaposition is very, very pleasing.2. Beck’s Loser vs Wale’s Pretty Girls – on one level, a joke (Pitchfork’s review read it this way): Wale is not the biggest rapper in the world and is perhaps not in a position to be as openly obnoxious as this (“Ugly girls be quiet, pretty girls clap like this”) so “Loser” sets up his rap as some sort of ironic selfaware dissection or perhaps just Girl Talk calling him on his shit. On another level, it’s a good verse set to a great beat. There’s just something joyous about when that guitar loop drops in. SOY UN PEREDOOOOR.3. Rihannah’s Rude Boy vs Fugazi’s Waiting Room – That bass line is powerful. Even if you’ve never heard “Waiting Room” you can’t help but think you recognise that bass line because it’s so damn good. Meanwhile Rihanna’s taking a sub lyric and giving it a dom vocal performance, so the whole thing is pleasingly sexy in a switchy way, especially when partnered with the aggroswagger of the music. Much like Paul Morely’s observation that the best thing about Can’t Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head is the idea of Kylie fronting New Order, the idea of Rihanna being the vocalist of Fugazi is pretty thrilling.4. Beastie Boys vs Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life – Everyone partying all at once, while on the run from the law. 5. Lil Wayne vs New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle – The intro to Bizarre Love Triangle isn’t a million miles away from a sped-up and scratched take on the one-note bassline from A Milli. One of the best rappers going in over one of my favourite songs. Simple.6. Twista vs U2 – Twista is not a fantastic rapper, U2 is not a great band. And yet somehow this is stirring, and anthemic and sets Twista’s promises to uh, you know, “make you wet” as a thing of world-saving life-altering importance. Bono should only ever sing wordless vocals.7. Rye Rye vs Rage Against the Machine – In a choice between our world and one where Rage Against the Machine is fronted by a 19 year old woman who can actually rap, I’d take the other every time. Even if there was some weird catch, like, in the alternate world men had to sit down to pee. It’d be worth it.8. N.E.R.D. vs Bruce Springsteen – I don’t even know. It just makes a lot of dumb sense.9. Drake vs Flock of Seagulls – Stadium rap, meet stadium rock, I think the two of you are going to get along very, very well. I really like fast hip-hop and Drake (who I’m quite fond of) has too many too slow beats, so it’s nice to hear him over something quicker and easier to dance to.10. Jay-Z’s Dirt Off Your Shoulder vs Modern English’s Melt With You – Isn’t this where we came in? Modern English soften things up and speed things up. That little breakdown is such a wonderfully odd moment with the ME gents gently cooing while Jay does the bit about how he’s internationally recognised but still true to his roots. But again, really, it’s more simple than any “What is Girl Talk saying with this combination?” nonsense – it’s a great rap run over a great instrumental. And you can dance to it. Other micro-highlights include the deployment of Phoenix’s ever joyous 1901, two second snatches of Diva and Whip My Hair and the very beginning of The Rapture’s immortal House of Jealous lovers thrown around a similarly short snatch of Usher’s OMG. Girl Talk: Everything all of the time and always brilliant. Even when sampling Ke$ha. About the author: Miles Bradley is headed towards becoming, at leastin my head, the 21st Century’s foremost man of letters.The question/answer sessions on his Tumblr are almostunnecessarily beautifully written and pretty consistentlyinsightful. The rest of his blog merely collects everything that’simportant about the internet and packs it, Archivist-style, intoone convenient space. He is also my favourite ever dancer.

ALEX’s Best Of 2010: A Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] Looking back at the end of a year, it’s always music that takes the lion’s share of attention. That’s because it’s easy to look back on a period soundtracked by a single album; it’s easy to hear a single so much it’s driven deep into your brain. (More or less the same way that books monopolise places: that beach where I finally read The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier & Klay. Train journeys and road trips easily become monuments to favourite reads, and re-reads… But that’s a story for another time.)Point is: Films, and especially games, don’t get the same treatment. That’s a lot to do with their inherent nature (similar to my conclusions after a Summer With No Games). They are, respectively, a quick burst/an extended period of sitting in a dark room. There’s not much to hold onto, memory-wise. Except: Solium Infernum was the soundtrack to my spring. For a good three months, it permeated the majority of my thoughts as I slipped off to sleep. It dominated living-room conversation (and so, like the album your neighbour constantly turns up to obnoxious volume, probably seeped into defining that period for the annoyed non-players in my house too). There are a lot of reasons for this. To help explain them, I should probably lay out exactly what Solium Infernum is. A multiplayer board game, except with computers and mice instead of dice and sunshine-faded cardboard. To look over someone’s shoulder, the game appears completely harmless. Just some pieces, dragged across a map, and a lot of numbers. Except that it’s a game about politics and in-fighting, which makes it even more fitting for the time it defines, probably. It’s a game set in Hell. Solium Infernum gives you very little story. It gives you a beginning, one familiar to any player versed in our cultural past, from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Dante’s L’Inferno; Gaiman’s Sandman to… er, Sandler’s Little Nicky. Over in Hell, Satan got bored, decided he was about due a holiday, and abdicated the throne. You’re cast as one of the many demon lords who’ve decided they’d like a piece of this pie for themselves.From there, you have to make it up yourself. Which you do in turns, slowly gathering resources, moving units, and threatening your fellow demons in an attempt to gather as much prestige as possible. So you advance across empty wastelands, take fortresses and monuments by force and carve up the Unholy Land between yourselves.It’s an incredibly slow game, especially when played with others. It relies on email, meaning the progress of a Solium Infernum game can be agonising. On a good day, you’ll get to play twenty evenly-spaced three-minute turns, in which you can perform two actions. More realistically, on a day where at least one player actually has a social life, it’s more like one turn the moment you wake up, fifty impatient checks of your email, and one in the early hours when the last player finally gets in and thinks to check their inbox. This can be absolutely agonising. It’s also the defining feature of the game. Because it undermines the rules of what a game is, in terms of time. Those twenty three-minute bursts replace one two-hour session. This moves it closer to the territory of pop music, the repetition that gets the listener hooked. And Solium Infernum is all hooks.Because, ultimately, the game relies on one universally appealing thing: the opportunity to screw your friends over in increasingly torturous way. Everything is carefully placed so you have to be – at best – mean, or – more likely – incredibly sneaky to win. This isn’t a game about battles: to get into a scrap with your neighbour, you have to initiate a Vendetta, either by provoking them with insults, or forcing them to provoke you by refusing your perfectly reasonable requests for half their resources. Which sounds very complex, and to certain extent it is. But quickly the desire to succeed drives you into the rhythm of covert diplomacy, dodgy deals, and mind-games. Not success as in winning, but as in scoring another hit. The moment that, in the game, you pull out of a deal, leave your ‘ally’ suddenly alone with four other rivals, and run off with all the equipment they lent you. The moment that, at your computer, you laugh maniacally until you catch yourself and think, am I actually evil? Which is unique, as far as I can tell: Milton might have used the epic form to create sympathy for the devil, but Solium Infernum borrows from the tradition of Theme Hospital to really force you into that pantomime-villain role. I’ve never been one for role-playing games: it all feels too much like silly play-acting, whether you’ve got a controller in your hand or are sitting round a table in a cloak. Solium Infernum pushes role-playing into your life. The game doesn’t really exist in those three-minute bursts. The game lives in the moments between: the scheming emails and texts, guessing at plans over a drink and, best of all, seeing the friend that you completely irreversibly screwed over last night weeping into his breakfast cereal.It’s not unreasonable to say that Solium Infernum made me a worse person for those three months. I’d suggest it gave me a harmless medium to enact my cruel pranks and be really hilariously mean to my friends. But, then again, that would imply Solium Infernum is totally harmless, wouldn’t it? About the author: Alex Spencer isn’t evil. Honest. Just ask his mom.He may have punted a kitten off a bridge that once,but there were mitigating circumstances. He bears thebadge of being the least cool person writing for thiswebsite right now not as a burden, but with pride.…Ooh, shiny badge!

SAM LEWIS: 2010 – A Glass Half Empty

[You have selected: Sam Lewis] Sam Lewis continues his look back across the year that kept him down, betrayed him, and forced my sorry self into his life. Part One – A Glass Half Full – was published yesterday. So where the hell were you? A Glass Half Empty: New York is Killing Me – Gil Scott-Heron Of course, 2010 wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. For all the fantastic music and film that seemed to arrive all at once, it certainly had its fair share of downsides that will dominate any historical narrative to come. For those who know me, I can’t stop banging on about Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here. It’s a deeply personal portrait of a man who was heralded as a voice of a generation, but disappeared off the musical radar for 16 years due to frequent jail sentences. Although the album clocks in at just under half an hour, it still manages to get more emotions (both positive and negative) into it than some artists do in their entire careers. The scope of feeling expressed and the atmospheres created by Richard Russell’s excellent production makes this a really satisfying listen. If Empire State of Mind paints New York as a picture of bright lights and inspiration, New York is Killing Me sketches the city as a hole of excess and dirty living. Mr. Scott-Heron voices the experiences of an altogether different class in New York compared to Mr. Carter and Ms. Keys. Its a reality defined by the drug and crime culture of New York, something that cannot be empirically diagnosed (“Bunch of doctors come around/don’t know that New York is killing me”) yet is very real for those living it. The distorted hand claps and gospel chantings echo the archetypal sounds of the New York streets, but Russell’s production strips it down to something less positive, more run down. The term “underdog” has never had so much meaning to me as it has in 2010. Tuition fees are increased as education continues to be considered in economic terms rather than its personal and cultural value. Haiti is left on the brink of civil war after the international media circus up and left once it had sucked the newsworthiness out of the situation. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, sparked a worldwide manhunt based on accusations of sexual assault, despite thousands of people still out there waltzing around wanted for worse crimes. It all seems so one-sided, so unjust. I’ll be the first to admit these are starry-eyed and cliché judgements. Many of these reflections are because of the stage I’m at in life. This year the responsibility has become mine to actually make something of what I’ve got. Entering the big bad world, everything seems huge in scale. I grew up thinking that everyone older knows what’s going on, what problems there are and how to solve them. I’ve only been out of education for six months and it turns out that, somewhat obviously, no-one actually has a clue. Its a free-for-all with predecided winners and losers. But whatever ends up happening, 2010 has been a time that will define the rest of my life. Thankfully, I’ve got a great soundtrack and collection of films to accompany it. People don’t seem to know how good they’ve got something until its gone. Well, let’s break the mould and celebrate 2010 for how good it’s been. Choose one of the great records or films that came out this year and let’s make the most of it, yeah? About the author: Sam Lewis is an angry, angry man who,if the prophecies prove true, will watch theworld burn. His constant rages against thecorporate machine cannot currently be foundanywhere else online but you can see himfrolicking in the snow with his bandmatesover at the July Days website.

SAM LEWIS: 2010 – A Glass Half Full

[You have selected: Sam Lewis] Sam Lewis takes a looks back over the year he opened his heart to cinema, bought a lot of albums, and throw his lot in with my sorry self. In traditionally unusual fashion, he’s done it in two halves. Check back tomorrow for the second installment. 2010 has been a strange year. As a LibCon government clashes with social groups, 80’s fashion becomes the norm and a nostalgia for over-produced electro-synth music thrives, 2010 has been dubbed either “our 1968” or quipped as “the 80’s called: they want their decade back”. I disagree. All these constant references to the past irritate me. 2010 has had its own character, both culturally and politically. However, I’m still left feeling bewildered. On the one hand, 2010 has seen one of the most consistent streams of good music and film releases in years. Meanwhile, I’m troubled by my dawning realisation that this world is a far more complex mess than I could ever have comprehended. So, when reflecting on 2010, I’m torn. These are confusing times; only with the power of hindsight will 2010 have any kind of solid definition. To illustrate my dilemma, I have chosen two tracks released this year that offer polar opposite perspectives. One is a knees-up celebration, the other a desperate cry for help. Between them they represent what I’ve loved and had to endure in 2010. A Glass Half Full: Empire State of Mind – Jay Z feat. Alicia Keys A highly-charged tune singing the praises of New York that has everyone on the dancefloor with their arms around each other belting out the chorus at the top of their lungs. If you haven’t heard it, it’s a bit like For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, with the ‘fellow’ being New York. I can see why it’s so popular. Alicia’s soulful sucker-punch chorus is used like a secret weapon, delivering euphoria every time. Instrumentally it’s a constant tease, hooking you in ready for that big chorus before taking it away again at the last moment. Jay Z’s style gels nicely with this. He’s the guy who knows that he has something you desperately want, yet smugly enjoys holding it back just to see you squirm. Not a bad thing; it’s flirtatious, with those on the receiving end loving it. Overall, a real feel-good pop tune. 2010 has been a great year for music for me. I can’t remember the last time that I looked back over the music I’ve accumulated over the year and found that most of it was released this year. In his celebration of the post-punk era, Simon Reynolds writes: “As I recall it, I never bought any old records. Why would you? There were so many new records that you had to have that there was simply no earthly reason to investigate the past… There was too much happening right now.” When I first read this, I didn’t get it. The idea of only buying new releases was alien to my 16-year-old self. Now I understand Reynold’s sentiment. 2010 has seen a huge range of new and exciting music released across a range of genres. I can’t even scratch the surface here, but my personal favourites include Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here, Pantha Du Prince’s Black Noise and Bonobo’s Black Sands. I still have a huge list of stuff I haven’t got round to getting. New releases from Liars, Kanye West, Dels, Big Boi, Konono, Aloe Blacc, The Jim Jones Revue… The list goes on and on and on. (To illustrate this point further, all the other contributors to this here blog will have their own excellent recommendations for you to check out.) Not only has 2010 been exceptional for music, it has also seen a fantastic stream of film releases. I’ve been to the cinema more times this year than I can remember. There has hardly been a film that I wasn’t prepared to ditch all other plans to go and see. The biggest blockbusters have been worthy of their praises; Inception proved that audiences aren’t as dumb as Hollywood thinks they are, Toy Story 3 concluded a great trilogy and The Social Network managed to make a story of hateful characters bitching and moaning about rights to some computer programming compelling and entertaining. My personal favourite film of the year is The Secret in Their Eyes. The best films for me are the ones where you leave the cinema exhausted from having had your attention, thoughts and emotions drained out of you. The previous films did this, but The Secret in Their Eyes did this and then some. I still drift into day dreams thinking about it; the themes of unrequited love, justice (both socially and politically), loneliness, betrayal. It’s dark and the build up of suspense is great. It also contains one of my all time favourite chase scenes in which the protagonist and his companion frantically track down the suspected murderer through a rammed Argentinian football stadium. The scene is uncut for nearly ten minutes, but the tempo is so well balanced that you barely notice. As with all things, pace is the trick. Even if you can’t be bothered for all the film-lover hyperbole, it’s simply a great thriller. A definite personal highlight of 2010. About the author: Sam Lewis is a bundle of polite enthusiasm andoptimism, as articulate with words as he isinarticulate with his hand gestures. He is a cogin the July Days machine, but doesn’t yet have ablog to call his own. Sources suggest that mightjust change, come the Year of Our Lord 2011.

ALEX’s Best Of 2010: Belle & Sebastian, Live

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] Birmingham Town Hall Symphony Hall, 6/12/10 The ‘call to arms’ is one of pop’s most common tropes. From P!nk to Pulp, Gaga to MCR, making yourself the carefully-styled face of the disenfranchised is a sure-fire way to sell more posters. But this is Belle & Sebastian. If ever a group of people was put on this earth to give freaks and literary geeks a rallying point, they all met in Glasgow in the mid ‘90s, formed this shy indie band, and produced quiet, sad, pretty songs for quiet sad people: not necessarily so much pretty. They’re just not like the other boys at school, everything screams, as loud as it dares. Looking around at the crowd produced a wide range of cardigans and specs. There were a lot of shoes which spent their entire lives under very close scrutiny. So, of course there was going to be an orchestra. Of course it was going to be sitting down in the Symphony Hall. The support act was always going to be a comedian telling a musical story about a kid and his quiet dramas and struggles at school. It was a Belle & Sebastian concert, it was always going to be different. It was just a gig. Of course there were going to be songs I didn’t know. A lull in the middle of the set. People dancing to the old classics. Of course, every single one of those dancers was a standing individual in the aisles of a completely sat-down hall. So when little groups got up, you noticed. And, providing you’re me, you smiled an irrepressible smile. Of which there were plenty. The gig wasn’t just a call to arms, it was a call to feet. The entire show was geared towards gathering a load of introverts in one room and getting them involved, getting them on stage and – most importantly – getting them dancing. I’m pigeonholing B&S fans here, for effect. But putting awkward types into a room which actively discourages standing up and moving (not to mention the frowning security guards) and working really flipping hard to make them dance? It couldn’t help but feel like an outreach programme. The clichéd jaunts into the crowd became something different. Not sweaty union or challenge, letting everyone touch their hero. Instead, a friendly hand on the shoulder, pushing the boundaries of our polite comfort zones just a little. Marking this out as our space, as the self-monikered ‘Uncle Stuart’ told us it was. And the more human they were, the more Stuart forgot lines or they fluffed between-song banter, the more it felt like a coming together, a celebration of shared awkwardness. Unlike the two boys in the orchestra who stood up to do an impromptu dance to the last couple of songs, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get involved: I didn’t dance. Honestly, I really meant to. I was just waiting for that perfect last song, which never came. Of course it didn’t. After all, it was just a gig. About the author: Alex Spencer is a pop-cultural omnivore. He isalso a culinary omnivore, but has never eatena pig’s heart. He hopes this doesn’t make him acoward or hypocrite, but suspects it might. He livesinside his head, with three dogs, and a Pikachu.

TIM’s Top Cinematic Experience of 2010

[You have selected: Tim Maytom] Art feeds the soul. Trite, I know, but true. With music that I connect with, this experience arrives in a rush of nigh-religious euphoria, a shivering electric high that shoots up my spine and makes me feel like I’m levitating. With films, I can tell I’ve had a truly meaningful experience because I leave the cinema with my head abuzz with ideas. Something in the film will spark of part of my brain, and I’ll rush home and start writing almost straight away. In 2010, for all the wonderful films I saw, only one triggered this kind of reaction. Inception was a mind-twisting masterpiece, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World was a multi-layered pop-culture brainsplosion and Toy Story 3 turned me into a blubbering heap of manly weeping before lifting me up again, but in 2010, my heart belonged to The Brothers Bloom. The Brothers Bloom wasn’t widely seen in the UK (or the US for that matter, where it was released over a year earlier) but it’s sort of a tough film to sell to a wide audience. It follows the exploits of Bloom (Adrien Brody) and Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), two con artist brothers, alongside their “fifth Beatle” and explosives expert Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi, once again playing mute), who are looking to steal the fortune of an eccentric heiress who has lived at home her whole life, played with effortless charm and enthusiasm by Rachel Weisz. Of course, things don’t go quite to plan, and there are double crosses and unexpected twists a-plenty. So far, so standard fare, right? However, the whole film takes place in a world not unlike that constructed by Wes Anderson in his films – a sort of timeless, hyper-real universe where characters cross the Atlantic by steamer, rather than jet, and children still wear their crisp white Sunday best to church. This sort of filmic universe created by director Rian Johnson (of the equally brilliant and underseen Brick) mirrors the tone of the film quite appropriately, because The Brothers Bloom is a film about films, or more accurately, a story about stories. From it’s opening flashback, with narration in verse, the film draws attention to the way we consume stories, and the way we use them to define our lives. Stephen, the older brother and brains of the operation, constructs his cons “like dead Russians write novels, with thematic arcs and embedded symbolism and shit” and the whole film plays with the ideas of life becoming fiction and vice versa. For all those critics who broke down Inception into a metaphor for filmmaking, The Brothers Bloom offers an examination that is both more overt and subtle. Rachel Weisz’s Penelope talks of deciding what sort of story she wants her life to be, while Bloom has grown tired of being a character in the tales his brother weaves. The idea of agency within someone else’s story is picked apart as characters struggle against their roles and try to find their own path, and when you take a step back and think about them as characters in a film, the whole thing takes on a metatextual flavour that wrinkles the brain quite effectively. Of course, the film isn’t just a clever examination of the human instinct to search for narrative. It’s also a fantastic caper film, the sort of good-natured romantic adventure that you rarely see nowadays. The timeless atmosphere reinforces the feel that it’s a throwback to an older Hollywood, as does the choice of actor. Brody and Weisz are both established character actors (Weisz has come close to breaking through, but even with The Mummy series, never really convinced as a straight-up blockbuster love interest) who you wouldn’t normally attach to such lightweight fare, but they bring a classic charm to the film, and both seem to be having great fun. Brody displays a hangdog charm and desperation throughout, convincing as someone who can only truly be himself when he’s playing a part, and as for Weisz…well, if there is another actress out there who can make the audience fall as quickly and completely in love with a character as Rachel Weisz, I’m not sure I want to know. She manages to balance Penelope’s naiveté with her fierce intelligence and array of skills (Penelope collects hobbies, from break dancing to karate to card tricks) while still selling the central love story between her and Bloom. Mark Ruffalo continues to be dangerously charismatic in everything he does, and Rinko Kikuchi shows some impressive comedy chops as Bang Bang, playing the deadpan snarker of the gang despite not saying more than 3 words in the whole film. So what secured The Brothers Bloom so firmly into my heart and soul? I can’t say for sure – it’s that unknowable alchemy of context, state-of-mind and art all at play, but I can say that I went in with high expectations and it still managed to surprise me with how much I enjoyed it. I’m a sucker for postmodern, metatextual shenanigans, for a well-executed caper and for the kind of stylised world that The Brothers Bloom weaves around you. The soundtrack was understated and unique, the plot was twist-filled without descending into incomprehensibility, and the tone manoeuvred from physical comedy to heart-breaking tragedy without ever succumbing to mood whiplash. More than anything, it is a work of charm, both in direction and performance. In the film, Stephen notes that “the perfect con is one where everyone involved gets just what they wanted”, in which case The Brothers Bloom has pulled the wool over my eyes completely. About the author: Tim Maytom is a man of style and taste, though –I suspect – not wealth. This is a great travesty as,being one of the English language’s finest and mostarticulate nerds, he deserves the world. Give himyour attention, if not your money, at