Year end lists

It’s the End of the Year as We Know It: THE COMICS OF 2012

Our round-up of 2012’s best pop culture continues to run off the rails of the originally planned schedule. But fear not, the final piece, on the year’s best music, will be with you in time to change your NYE playlist accordingly. In 2012, I read more comics than in any other year of my life, thanks to Comixology’s endless stream of sales and the truly excellent Canada Water library. I developed such an addiction to comics podcasts (between the industry analysis of House to Astonish, the close reading of Kieron Gillen’s Decompressed, iFanboy‘s chatty quickfire reviews, and Mindless One’s SILENCE!, in many ways its scrappy British cousin) that I’ve recently had to cut back. Moving to London meant I saw what my girlfriend describes as my ‘comics friends’ far more, hitting up the ever-wonderful Thought Bubble and owning its dancefloor with them.I’m more immersed in comics culture than I’ve ever been. …And yet, coming to write this, I find myself with a rather thin list of actual comics which came out in 2012.Buying cut-price digital issues on Comixology – plus monthly splurges on Amazon – has forced me into reading older material and collections. It means I’ve finally got past the first trades of The Invisibles, Sandman, and a wealth of other stuff I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t read before, but I’ve also dropped off buying monthly issues almost entirely. If I wasn’t a tradewaiter (non-comics people translation: someone who doesn’t read their comics monthly, in issue format, but waits for the bi-annual-ish ‘trade paperback’ collections) before, I certainly am now. However, it also means I haven’t read any further into Journey into Mystery, my favourite comic of last year, than I had at the time. It’s very nearly all available in trade, though, so I’ve got a wonderfully condensed period of high adventure, deep thinking and, if the internet is anything to go by, big emotions ahead of me. And it’s not all bad: regular trips to the library have furnished me with handsome editions of the first five Locke & Key volumes. It’s a story about the Locke family and their ancestral home, Keyhouse, beginning with a father’s murder and blossoming out from there. The titular keys (and nominal locks) each come with their own magical power, and a matching metaphor.In truth, despite being written by Stephen King’s son, Locke & Key‘s nearest relative is probably Buffy. It transitions deftly between tense thriller/well-drawn ensemble drama/experimental formalism/pure horror throughout, but the draw is always the characters. The series’ scope has widened, drawing in more of the family’s history and pushing towards the fantastical, as it reaches its climax but it stays anchored to the human stories of Tyler, Kinsey and Bode Locke. It all concludes next year (five more issues, or one more collection) – catching up is highly recommended. Meanwhile, the Comixology model has produced Double Barrel. Playing with the format rather than the form, the Brothers Cannon have developed a monthly digital comics magazine, centred around an ongoing story from each, but also drawing in essays, mini-comics, and how-to’s. Both stories are solid, with Kevin Cannon bringing smoother art to the Arctic pirate space adventure story Crater XV and Zander Cannon delivering my favourite story in Heck, a modern slice-of-life riff on Dante’s Inferno.Without the constraints of print, each chapter can be as long or short as it needs to be, but for just $2 (and dropping below $1 after a month) Double Barrel is the most interesting bargain in the modern comics landscape. I think overall, I’ve settled into the reading rhythm that’s best for me, grabbing #1s digitally (year’s best? Hawkeye, which promised a modern blueprint for superhero comics) and then using them to decide what I’ll pick up six months later.It gives series more room to breathe. For example, the first couple of issues of Saga – the much-anticipated return of Brian K Vaughan, a writer who must shoulder a large part of the blame for my comics habit – were good, but failed to blow me away. But returning to it in trade form, I found it rich, complex and … worth writing about in depth, basically. Living up to what people had been saying about it in the first half of the year, the first volume of Prophet made for an intoxicating read. The art shifts as constantly as the world, with little touchstones serving to link up the style of each artist: The dense alien landscapes intended to be pored over. The inventory panels stolen straight out of a videogame. The tactile gnarliness of it all.Meanwhile the story, which jumps between a number of John Prophet clones I never quite learned to tell apart, is either some higher-level narrative magic, or nonsensical. But really it’s all just an excuse to join Prophet (the one with the tail, or the one with the mohawk, or the one that’s dead inside his robot bodyguard) as he journeys through a mad, inventive, beautifully rendered world.Some of the experiences you, the cosmic tourist, can expect to enjoy – falling from the sky in the pink womb of a protective star skin; sharing a post-coital cigarette with your vagina-faced alien lover; watching the stars from the shoulder of a curled-up fetus planet. Morrison’s Batman run has been a regular feature on these end of year round-ups since I started doing them, and Batman Incorporated is shaping up to be a fitting end to his extraordinary run. The story has embraced Batman’s entire history, even the bits fans normally wince at, but it’s now been running for long enough that it can mine its own past. All the pieces are being brought together. Dozens of Batmen of all nations, and as many interweaving subplots, all battling the forces of evil in the form of Leviathan.The shadowy organisation’s even shadowier leader was revealed to be Talia Al Ghul, Batman’s onetime lover and father of his son, presently Robin and potential Devilbatman of the future. With that, the whole epic saga has […]

It’s the End of the Year as We Know It: THE GAMES OF 2012

Sorry, the running order has already slipped, due to yesterday being a lovely day of family, friends, and boardgames, but here’s today’s scheduled Games article. Comics should be with you tomorrow. It’s been a big year for games, in about every conceivable way. Between the rise of Kickstarter, and the continuing flood of Humble Bundles and its ilk, it’s not hard to look at 2012 as a year that awealth of alternative approaches opened up to game developers.But looking at the industry – which also spent a lot of the year showing its ugly side – isn’t really my forté, or that interesting. It’s not about the machine, it’s about what it produces. On to the games! Probably the most ‘important’ game of the year is Thirty Flights of Loving, which introduced a bit of fresh vocabulary to the medium in its hard cuts and hypercompression. Over the 20 minutes it lasts, the game jumps around non-linearly, squeezing in enough story, world and character for your average blockbuster. It’s not a game I fell in love with, but it is a useful game, the kind you can expect to see name-dropped endlessly in articles about game narrative from now on.Dishonored‘s narrative is much more traditional, telling Dunwall’s story with a mix of cutscenes, overheard conversations and level design (graffiti, audiologs, books, bodies, etc). The real story, of course, is in how you played it – leaping rooftop to rooftop, freezing time and possessing rats; switching cups of poison and hiding under tables to watch the outcome; silently dispatching roomfuls of men and leaving their unconscious bodies on top of chandeliers.It’s not quite the machine for memorable anecdotes I’d hoped for, but partly that’s down to how I played, strictly sticking to a set of rules I’d assigned myself – never get spotted, never kill (with the exception of those who framed me for the murder of the Empress). It meant I found myself restarting at the slightest provocation, getting into sticky situations becoming a nuisance rather than a chance to improvise with the excellent toolbox the game grants you.It made me realise how much I love games which force me to live with my actions and mistakes – more on that later.Halo 4. Now there’s a game I didn’t expect to see on this list.I’ve played every game in the Halo series, now six installments deep (not including last year’s remake). Together, I’ve probably devoted more time to it than any other series in videogaming (and therefore probably more than any other hobby full stop).The game picks up, two games later, where Halo 3 left off back in 2007, with Bungie handing over the reigns to first-time developer 343. It wasn’t too promising, especially once I heard about the CODification of the multiplayer, introducing levels and points and perks, abandoning Halo’s trademark simplicity.And then the chatter came through the wire. Twitter suddenly blossomed with praise, throwing around phrases like “ballet” and “finely tuned” and expressing their surprise at just how good it was.On paper, Halo 4 shouldn’t be as good as it is. There’s nothing particularly original on offer – the opening of the singleplayer campaign, at least, is so structurally similar to the 2001 original it could be a remake. It even trims off some of my favourite features – multiplayer minus my beloved Invasion mode, and the rather-good Firefight has been replaced. But most damningly, there’s not even a good control setting, or even a customisable one.And yet everything somehow feels fresh and elegant. Both the visuals and handling are satisfyingly chunky, delivering on the promise of Halo at its best. Maybe it’s just down to streamlining the experience and turning all the dials to 11 – in multiplayer especially, where respawn time is erased completely, and weapons and vehicles are thrown into each level with careless abandon.I don’t know, it’s just an utter joy, and I need to play more. Now.One of the great pleasures of having spent so much time with a game’s predecessors is being able to really appreciate the various tiny changes – in the case of Halo 4, take the way the singleplayer campaigns provides with much more limited ammo. You can see why it was changed – it forces you to constantly switch around your arsenal – and it’s a satisfying process of discovery, even if you disagree with some of the changes.It’s a similar story with Spelunky, an Xbox Arcade remake of possibly my favourite PC game ever (and the other contender for the game I’ve spent most time spent playing). I love that there’s no ‘restart’ button, encouraging you to live with the consequences of getting stung by a scorpion in the first 10 seconds of a game, which really focuses the point of the game. The in-game encyclopaedia, as much it offends my inner Spelunky purist, is rather smart, and I love the way the Tunnel Man asks for items rather than/as well as cash to dig his shortcuts, which adds a sprinkle variety and narrative to your encounters with him.Mostly, though, I can feel how the distribution of monsters, damsels-in-despair, and traps has changed. They’re laid out more densely, which upsets my play style a little – and means letting a boulder loose can get you in a lot of unintended trouble as it steamrollers shops, shrines, and damsels – but ensures levels never get boring, especially with the addition of all the new monsters and secrets.The removal of end-of-level scoreboard is the change that hurts most. It always helped lend a sense of progression to a session of bashing your head against Spelunky‘s unforgiving world, and was tied neatly into the game’s physical levels.But, really, Spelunky is such a complete, rounded concept to start with that it doesn’t really matter, and the port is responsive and pretty. Plus, one of the changes is the ability to switch out all the Damsels for pugs, which eliminates pretty much any criticisms I could raise.FTL picked up many of the same […]

It’s the End of the Year as We Know It: THE FILMS OF 2012

I suspect that 2012 was a really exceptional year for film, if only because the list of films I regret missing in cinemas – The Raid, Skyfall, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Dredd, Sightseers, Silver Linings Playbook, Moonrise Kingdom, Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild – is far longer than the list below, and I was more than happy with the year of films as it was. For me, though, 2012 was all about Joss Whedon. Three out of the dozen times I made it to the cinema this year were down to Whedon, who released two films (of the three it looked like we might be getting at the start of the year, boo hiss Much Ado). One of them was the year’s biggest grossing; the other was my personal favourite experience in a cinema all year. We’ll get to the latter in another post, but (Marvel’s) Avengers (Assemble) was exciting because of the amount of influence and money it seems to be putting into the hands of one of my favourite directors – but also because it’s a truly great blockbuster, one which inspired me to write 3,000 words back in August. Six months on, what I remember about it most is: -Containing a whole bunch of moments which caused my jaw to drop – the helicarrier, Black Widow kicking guys in their heads, the vast majority of the final action scene. -Being a great and colourful introduction to a sprawling family I want to spend more time with – probably the way in which Avengers is truest to the (very best of) its source material. -Geoff being absolutely wrong about Hulk, something we fight over in pubs to this day. He argues Hulk is treated too lightly, with too much comic relief given over to this monstrous being. But of course, Mark Ruffalo is the best Hulk ever, including the pencil-and-ink one, and it’s a totally Whedon thing to get that the Id isn’t a completely bad thing. Denying a whole part of you – the funny bit, the sexy bit, the bit that likes to dance – is where the sickness really starts (for all people who haven’t taught The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde to an A-Level English class, now would be the time to go and reread it). There are maybe some continuity issues with the previous film, but for me these films are so much about stripping these characters back to their core metaphors and letting that interpretation run rampant for two hours that it doesn’t matter too much. Oh, and it of course absolutely stomped all over the highly misleadingly titled Amazing Spider-Man, which had thirty seconds of great fight scene and Emma Stone in high socks. How it compares to that Other Superhero Film of the Year, Dark Knight Rises, I sadly can’t answer, as I still haven’t seen it – something which owes a lot to the deflated reaction that followed its incredibly hyped release, and a conversation with Tim ‘Person of the Year‘ Maytom in a Camden pub in which he described trucks of cash being driven up to Chris Nolan’s front door in a borderline threatening manner. As seems to be the official line on it, Brave wasn’t Pixar’s best, but it was still a non-Cars Pixar film, and therefore pretty great. It took a standard-issue fantasy setting and set of tropes, along with a rather broad sense of humour, and made something beautiful (though it was out-prettied by the accompanying La Luna short) and engaging, with the rare achievement of fight scenes that had me rooting desperately for the good guys. Also, it was yet another reminder that the combination of sweeping scores and parental relations in a cinema can put a very big lump at the back of my throat. “THIS DECADE’S THE MATRIX,” the poster screamed. The chorus of early reviews roughly concurred. I went into Looper thinking it might be my film of the year, which is never a healthy expectation, and given that, it handled itself very well. Looper is a neat package – a smart concept, neatly executed, and full of neat moments I won’t spoil here. It’s set in just the right kind of sci-fi world, one that is rarely pushed in your face, but rather gives you the pleasure of hunting through the background details and piecing together a history of the future yourself. It toyed with other film’s visions of the future, but found its own identity in the wide open spaces that surrounded the futuristic city. There’s also a full essay on how cleverly it presents and contrasts Willis and Gordon-Levitt’s firearms, to characterise the differences between them and to help define the plot, and what we can all learn from that. But that’s a story for another time – and besides, what’s most important, more than how stylish and smart it was, is that how surprisingly emotionally involving Looper was. Watching it the week after Brave, its climax matched that film in the ‘nearly making Alex cry’ stakes. Beyond that, I’m finding myself having to score the release schedules to remember what I actually saw. Young Adult was a downbeat, volume-turned-down follow up to Juno from Cody/Reitman, swapping that film’s primary colours caricature for something more muted and aching. Something a bit more adult… but not quite grown up. It was great, and just the right level of tough, and deserves a spot on everyone’s DVD shelf. Cosmopolis left me cold despite taking the approach to sci-fi I described above, and despite the great line-up of talent involved. Seen on a whim, Red Lights was very pleasant, if unspectacular, company for two hours. American (Pie: The) Reunion left me wandering around Tesco’s feeling strangely desolate about growing up.

2011 – twelve months, twelve songs

The pre-New Years blogfest didn’t quite go as planned, thanks to the intrusion of pesky real life, and my own stupidity in underestimating the effort required to read and summarise an entire years’ worth of film reviews. I move into a flat in London tomorrow – an event aligned so neatly with the start of the new year I’m finding it difficult not to self-mythologise, but also meaning I won’t have broadband for a little while, but I’ve got a few end-of-year articles I’m hoping to polish and put up here. Watch this space, but for now enjoy this month-by-month account of the year in music (and double your fun with this YouTube playlist, featuring all 12 songs).JANUARY Kanye West – All of the LightsOr, how I discovered that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had been my favourite album of 2010 all along, I’d just never listened to it. Running some beautiful strings and piano into big, punch-to-the-face beats, punctuated with those horns, there is always at least one thing going on. All of the Lights also features some of Rihanna’s finest work (and, in the video, the most I’ve ever understood why the entire universe fancies her) alongside a great segment owned by Kid Cudi, and appearances by Fergie, Charlie Wilson, John Legend, Tony Williams, Alicia Keys, La Roux, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Alvin Fields and Ken Lewis. It should be a mess but Yeezy, in full 21st-Century-Brian-Wilson mode, stitches it all together perfectly to make an instant classic that would soundtrack the climax of every house party for the rest of the year.FEBRUARY Kimya Dawson – Walk Like ThunderFrom music that sounds best at 2am coming through a stack of speakers, via a wall of human flesh that’s screaming a rough approximation of the lyrics, to headphone music for those 2ams spent alone. Walk Like Thunder is a 10 minute epic that fully earns its length. The listener is trapped in a confessional booth with Kimya’s voice and sparse atmospheric music, only blooming out at the very end into an Aesop Rock cameo. It’s pretty blunt, lyrically, but I’d venture that’s the point – people do everything they can to avoid talking about death, and maybe that should change.MARCH Rebecca Black – FridayAm I being contrary? Well, maybe a little. (I briefly considered including Swagger Jagger instead, playing the same role). But I’ve genuinely got a lot of joy out of this song over this year – some of those lyrics are genius in their banality, if your mind is pitched just right, and it’s sweet-natured enough, and I think it’s unfairly become a byword for rubbish pop. Rubbish pop is mediocre, and the mind-blowing literality and creepy older rent-a-rapper of Friday is not that, by any yardstick. This goes out to all those 344,303 dislikes on YouTube – grow up, it’s at least pretty good.APRIL Childish Gambino – BreakJanuary, redux. All of the Lights was so good it stretched into two of my favourite songs of the year – this is a remix, kind of, but it’s so much more than that. It’s in a relationship with the original, definitely, referring back and twisting its lines, but picks something new out of it – a sort of melancholy sweetness – like a friend telling you the answer to one of those Magic Eye puzzles. And then Mr Glover does his thing, dropping some nicely dense lines thick with reference, wordplay and an almost unhealthy interest in Asian women in a way that reminds you that in his other life, Donald is a well-loved comedian and writer. The meeting of those two simple ideas – cartoony rap and confessional emoting – would spark a love affair that lasted all year.MAY The Weeknd – House of Balloons/Glass Table GirlsThe most important thing I heard all year. 2011 was the year I really got into hip-hop and R’n’B, and Kanye and The Weeknd (and Miles “Strong Opinions” Bradley’s Tumblr) are probably equally responsible. It’s already pretty obvious that the three mixtapes The Weeknd released this year will be leaving grubby pawprints all over pop for some time to come. (Plus, last night Christopher “Mancrush” Sparrow pointed out to me that it should be pronounced The Weakn’d. That kind of hidden-in-plain-sight wordplay would pretty much guarantees The Weeknd a place on this list.) I’m not specifically thinking about this track here, mind – anything off of House of Balloons is good with me. Less than than individual songs, it’s the aesthetic choices, and the trail of thick gloomy atmosphere it leaves, that have stuck with me.JUNE Emmy the Great – A Woman, A Woman, A Century of SleepAnd Emmy returns from the wilderness semi-unrecognisable, having shed some of the folkiness and acerbic one liners in favour of grander sounds and more obscure lyrics. It’s all a bit rather more grown-up, and you sense that, in another life, this is the year Emma Lee Moss would have moved from short stories to writing novels. That’s rarely something I mean in a good way, but the razor-sharp confidence of Emmy Mk 2 makes for something fully the equal, and opposite, of all the old material.JULY Drake – Marvin’s RoomBy this point, the year’s ruling aesthetic was official set – moody late-nite R’n’B/hip-hop full of loneliness and isolation and unpleasantly irresponsible drinking. Marvin’s Room is simply a fine example of that. It employs beats that sound the way H.R. Giger’s industrial/organic artwork looks, mixing straightforward rap verses with sung choruses which stretch out Drake’s voice into something quivering and completely separable from the rest of the sounds. Meanwhile, snippets of phone conversation flit in and out, repurposing the skit tradition into something that fits the post-Weeknd aesthetic.There’s something about its deployment of the n-word that I’m not fully comfortable with, and the slow-motion repeat of the bridge is only just on the right side of being silly, but Marvin’s Room provides a stylish bridge between House of Balloons and the Chris Rock guest appearance on My […]

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 […]

LISTS AND LISTS AND LISTS…

As I might’ve mentioned, oh, two or three hundred times by now, it’s basically the end of 2009/the decade/time. To celebrate, some lists of Good Things, and, where the inspiration strikes me, a bit of explanation. Top 5 Albums of 2009#5 Horrors – Primary Colours(People are talking about this as, yay, Horros reinvent themselves as good. But I actually quite like Horrors mk.1. Still haven’t given this the time it deserves, but enough to recognise, if I do give it what it deserves, it will be probably one of the most long-lasting likes on here. So ludicrously tasty and thick sounding: thanks new sound system!)#4 Karen O – Where The Wild Things Are(Still a little unsure about the film- more on that later – and haven’t listened to this since seeing it. Beautiful, but probably the most likely record to get kicked off the list, retrospectively. Realise now I never linked to my Redbrick review.)#3 Emmy the Great – First Love(This year’s largest sufferer of ‘love-the-band-but-I’ve-heard-the-songs-enough-by-the-time-the-album-comes-out’ syndrome. Will, no doubt, rediscover at some point, like I did this year with Dan Le Sac/Scroobius Pip’s Angles.)#2 Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor(I’m probably wrong but, my favourite Wolf. It is, as I learnt this summer, great runnning material, really determined stuff; though, thanks to my limited stamina I’m not that familiar past the first half an hour.)#1 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz(I’ll write something huge on this at some point, no doubt. YYYs have been by far my biggest band this year- in both gig and album, but I haven’t had a proper Think about them since 2007ish.)Top 5 Games of 2009 #5 Wii Sports Resort(Screw you, Borderlands! A more pop choice, for the sheer family-uniting powers it has brought to bear this holiday. And I’m still interested in exploring its single player modes…)#4 Batman: Arkham Asylum(Was tight. Did tights right.)#3 Time Gentlemen Please(For making me laugh more than anything else this year. A perfect year would’ve provided me with Brutal Legend, to make a pure comedy Top 5; drop Batman and everything on here has provided more laughs than your average Apatow film, in one way or another. Oh well, no year is perfect, right?)#2 Red Faction: Guerilla(Second-biggest laughs provider. A game about revolutionary freedom-fighters/terrorists blowing up builds not funny? Wrong.)#1 Spelunky(This one has definitely got more coming. Not that there has been a lack of writing already. Haven’t touched it much since Autumn, but it’s left its mark. No doubt I’ll buy the upcoming 360 version too.) Top 5 Films of 2009#5 Let The Right One In(Beautiful, creepy, Swedish. Still annoyed I missed this in the cinema, but it’s possibly the film that’s held my mind for the longest#4 Inglourious Basterds(Provided I’m actually right about it. Recently found Tarantino’s introductory speech for it, and am a bit concerned about my reading. Although, death of the author and all that, does it really matter?*)#3 The Wrestler #2 Milk(As my girlfriend put it last night: “Why are all the films you like the ones that make me cry?”)#1 Up(More than any other, this is the one that made me realise how are hard, and rubbish, lists are. I forgot this until a quick Google. It’s the only film I’ve seen twice this year, and it genuinely held up. I think pretty much everything has been said by now- it’s surprisingly heartbreaking at the start, loses it a bit here and there, but still has a lot of the year’s best moments. Even the action-hero bit at the end doesn’t feel forced, and genuinely worked. Wouldn’t bother with 3D though.) This one was, surprisingly, the hardest to cut down. So much extra stuff that I really loved this year- I guess it’s easier to give yourself to something once. Pending a second viewing, Where The Wild Things Are might have a shot at knocking, I dunno, Inglourious Basterds off the list.All in all, it hasn’t been a year where I’ve cared much for the contemporary. I do love the YYYs album, but haven’t visited it as much as I would’ve had it come out in, say, 2006. And I have, as usual, struggled to keep up with the cinema, while discovering stuff like the Coens’ back catalogue. Probably played more TF2 than any other (non-Spelunky) game this year. In the case of gaming, money’s probably an issue. One free game, one that cost me £1.99, two I had on rental and a Christmas present. Hey, I started the Moneyless Gamer for a reason. Musically, new was even harder than contemporary. My favourite albums are almost all by bands I already knew and liked before. Even though, when I’ve got my Music Editor hat on, we get a constant stream of new into our inbox, and people are raving about this and that, I’m falling behind. Looking at Top Album lists for inspiration, I feel passed-by. Such band names! Crystal Stilts? Neon Indian? They sound like futuristic versions of bands I like. Can these really have come out without my noticing?. And bands I remember hearing about a few years back, when I couldn’t keep my nose out of the NME/blogs. Wild Beasts. Future of the Left. Bands I’ve tried with, and nothing’s happened. Bands I like who I didn’t even know had new stuff out. Sonic Youth. Gallows. Perhaps I’m just getting old.