Stuff of the Year 2020

A list of joyous things in an unjoyous year

December 27, 2020

Unjoyous? Is that a word?

I would like to skip the introduction because you know what this year has been.
The thing is, even without That C, this year would’ve still been transformative for me. I’ve moved across the Atlantic Ocean. It still doesn’t feel quite like I’ve moved over here, having only been here for 3-4 months. It feels like… a haze. Part of that is that this whole year is a haze. I genuinely looked up some of the things I’d seen and read this year (yeah, I keep a list—it’s literally for this blog) and was surprised at some of them, having entirely forgotten their existence.
I’m not alone in expressing a sense that this year just… evaporated like mist while also lasting a decade. Every day melts into sludge. Every day becomes the other, every event the same. I’ve had an extra weird time of it, because for me… summer never ended. I moved to California when it was hot summer weather and now it’s December and it’s Mild Summer Weather. I look outside, I walk outside, and summer never ended. I’m stuck in a time-loop, forever trapped to be home and looking at a monitor. It is a new home, yes, but it is still merely another home.

Anyways, I’m not here to dwell on the negatives. The following is a list of things I’ve seen, watched, played, read or otherwise come into contact with throughout the 2020, that I enjoyed for some reason or another. It is structured somewhat chronologically, but only loosely so. I can guarantee that you won’t be interested in every entry on this list so feel free to skip and jump around, but know that every entry here is here because I enjoyed it.


Shut Up and Sit Down – YouTube Channel and Website

I’ve known about Shut Up and Sit Down for a while, as that boardgaming review channel on YouTube, but this January I spent a substantial time watching a bunch of their reviews (I was (almost) jobless at the time), and they are all just enjoyable pieces of entertainment on top of being great, insightful reviews. I don’t have a lot more to add, they’re just a delight. Even with a cursory interest in board games you should pay attention to this channel.


Get Your Wish / Something Comforting – Porter Robinson – Music Singles

Porter Robinson released 3 singles of his new music project early in the year, with the album coming early next year. These are the first two, which released pretty closely after each other.

Overall, I’m a little mixed on it all. He’s clearly making exactly the type of music he wants to make now and for that I’m happy, but it’s not quite the style I want from him the most. He has doubled down on lyrics and traditional song-writing a lot more, and while it’s good, it’s just not the nostalgically infused EDM I was hoping for.

Still, it’s pretty good, and I can acknowledge that without reservation, and I have listened to it a fair bit over the year.


Notion – Productivity App

Notion is a productivity app, and a bit of an odd fit in here. But after using and disliking Evernote for at least 4 years, switching to Simplenote and finding it a bit too constraining, Notion was like unfolding of a flower. It is beyond a doubt the greatest productivity and task management tool I have used yet. It is insanely simple at its core, yet astoundingly flexible and robust, while also keeping a clean and inviting interface. I have slowly restructured every type of note I had from shopping lists, reading lists, world building notes for writing, blog notes, daily planners etc, into this one place.

It is a productivity tool I want to use; I enjoy opening it, which is the most heart-warming recommendation I can give.


Disco Elysium – ZA/UM – Video Game

The words I wrote about this game early in the year were more negative than I am on this game in general. I adore this game for what it does to choices and player agency in storytelling. But a lot of people were already talking about that at the time so I wanted to offer a unique perspective.

This is a phenomenal game, about a town and the people in it, in a rich, grossly dense world full of detail and grit and heart and soul and dread and humour.

It has probably the greatest writing of any video game? It is also carried and uplifted by that writing into something extraordinary, something celestial. It is above the world.

Cursed Problems – Alex Jaffe – Design Talk 

This is a game design talk. And it’s definitely the best game design talk I saw this year. Might be one of the greatest game design talks in a long while. It talks about design problems in a way I’ve never seen articulated before, and describes so succinctly why game design is so difficult. It straight up says some problems in game design are, by definition, impossible to solve, and then proceeds to give solutions on how to mitigate them instead. It’s a rather miraculous talk I’ve been thinking about ever since.


Corridors of Time Puzzle – Bungie – Community ARG in Destiny

It feels weird to talk about this now, after everything that happened with Destiny in the fall, but when this was happening, it consumed me for a week.

So context: In Destiny, a huge, strange, jig-saw puzzle appeared without warning. It wasn’t even obvious it was a jig-saw puzzle because to get the pieces, every player had to go to a specific point in the game world and take a screenshot, which then had to be coded into a spreadsheet to figure out which pieces that piece was connected to. This jigsaw puzzle was several thousand pieces huge. It took a week of a very dedicated community to solve. It was insanely cool to see it unfold, as players realized what was going on and began to help and test out things and eventually aided in the gathering of pieces and solving of a giant, strange puzzle we didn’t know where led to.

The reward was so-so, but the experience itself was an example of Destiny’s community at its prime.


XCOM 2: War of the Chosen – Firaxis – Video Game (expansion)

Continuing my trend of playing XCOM content years late, last time I played vanilla XCOM 2 when War of the Chosen was released, now I played War of the Chosen… several years after. I also modded my version of the game to allow for more customization and smoothing on some of the game’s odd interface, which was a fun way to jump back into the world of XCOM.

The Broken Earth Trilogy – N. K. Jemisin – Book Series

I read the first entry in this in 2019, and ran through the other two in the beginning of the year. While the first one was incredible, but the series really comes together with book 3. It just brings the entire thing, from the insanely grandiose, epic scale, to the core of the story of a mother trying to find her daughter, to an ideal of a climax that is far, far more than the sum of its parts. All three books were nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula awards and the last book won them both, and reading them makes it very clear why. They are immaculate, and a straight classic on arrival. These books will be remembered for a long time in Fantasy.

Skiing in Italy As The Corona Virus Broke Loose

This is not really a thing. I just wanted to explain my experience with Covid as it struck Europe. I was on the last team ever to go skiing in Italy, for 2020. The day we left Italy, the country shut down. We were transported to a different airport in France to get home because the Italian ones didn’t operate anymore. Denmark, which I got home to, shut down a couple of days after. It was pretty crazy. It was a pretty good way to realize that this was serious now, in a way it hadn’t felt before.


The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula LeGuin - Book

This is a classic of Science Fiction. I don’t know if I have a lot to say about it. It’s great. I’m glad I read it. The introduction alone (where she talks about the purpose and goal of sci-fi) is fascinating and thought-provoking. It’s not what I expected. I knew about the three-gender thing beforehand, but I hadn’t expected it to be a story as focused as it is.


Community – Dan Harmon and others – TV Series

This was some pretty good quarantine viewing. Community is a slightly old sit-com that does show its age a little bit already, and it has its ups and downs, but its highs are so high they literally (as in physically) transcend the genre of sit-com. They have episodes where they go so high-concept in their ideas its incredible, turning the entire show into a documentary, or a western or a family drama, and they stick it and own it in a way that just works.


Persona 5 Royal – Atlus – Video Game

Already wrote about how this was the perfect quarantine game. I needed this game so much in April. After an initial burst where I played it almost nonstop for several weeks, I took a break and didn’t finish it until August, but it was a great companion through the difficult times of waiting I had to do in late spring.

Royal doesn’t fix all of Persona 5’s problems, but it adds another couple great dimensions onto its world and has a great couple of new characters and a refined combat system that was a joy to dig back into. The new ending chapter was a neat and surprising addition and it still has the greatest Persona combat song, so hey.


HavenDanger / The Game BakersSoundtrack / Game

This game and soundtrack didn’t come out until December but it’s this early because of how I discovered it, which requires some explanation by itself.

Steam did a bunch of neat online festivals where you could download a bunch of demos for indie games, as you would play at a convention. It was pretty neat to take a couple hours and play some demos of games you hadn’t heard of. But the most surprising moment came not because of the game itself, but because of the music.
I’ve been a fan of Danger since 2017, and he’s among my favourite electronic dance-y music composers right now. So when I booted up this game, from the creators of Furi (before I knew that), and it began playing this intro movie, I noticed the music immediately. It starts pretty easy with a synth and a 4-4 kick drum, but the other drum fills and especially the voice-like synth, made me think it sounded familiar... “This drum sound is Danger-esque?” I literally said. “That’s interesting. Who made this?”
And then the movie ends and it drops the Danger logo in the bottom and I lost it. Danger was going to make the full soundtrack to the game!?!

It just recently came out in December, and I haven’t had time to play the game yet, but I couldn’t help myself and listened to the full soundtrack anyway. Indeed, Danger made a video game soundtrack. Man, I did not expect what I wanted from Danger was him making something positive and upbeat. He’s always done dark and stormy stuff, but this is bright and hopeful, yet still with that Danger(ous) drive and amazing production. It’s atmospheric and spacious and wonderful. My favourite soundtrack of the year.


A Short Hike – adamgryu – Video Game

This game came out last year. It’s a short game, only takes an hour or two to complete, but it is an absolute delight for that time. It is literally a short hike up a mountain, but the way it moves and feels is a joy. You play as a little bird who can get feathers to jump and climb and glide around which turns the motion of hiking into more of a run, yet it retains the natural exploration and feeling of discovery. Everyone you meet on the road is a joy, it has such delightful characterization with very simple dialogue and it is by far the most wholesome experience you can find for 5$.

The K-pop Korner

I ain’t gonna spend text space defending or explaining K-pop. I did that in May. This korner is just here to introduce some of the stuff I found in the meantime. I keep up less than I did then, but here’s a list of k-pop songs I’ve enjoyed since May:

ReacttotheK – YouTube Channel

Last thing in the K-pop Korner: This is a YouTube channel of classical and jazz music students reacting to K-pop. They bring a musical understanding that I’m very much lacking, and it’s often entertaining to hear them explain what’s going on, and react to K-pop's... weirder choices! Also, if you wanna see two people get SUPER EXCITED about modal mixture then go no further. (I only cursorily understand modal mixture, but MAN THEY’RE EXCITED ABOUT IT!!)


The Last of Us Part II – Naughty Dog – Video Game

Boy. Woof. This game is hard to talk about, even now. It is a hard game to play. It is an unpleasant game to play. Yet, it is also astonishingly well crafted and I couldn’t tear myself away from it. I had to play it in chunks because of how grim it gets, but I am also the type of person who appreciates a story going dark.

There was so much discussion on this game and I’m honestly still a little conflicted on where I land on it. It’s tremendous and savage, it does maybe struggle to find a purpose for itself and yet it is so effective at what it is. I do not find it as needless as some do, though, and it is worthwhile and powerful.

It’s also a hard game to talk about without spoiling it, but I’ll say that the second half is incredible, and I do not think it was superfluous.

Titanfall 2 – Respawn Entertainment – Video Game

Waay late for the party on this one. Always knew I should play this. I had unfortunately been spoiled on the conceit of that mission (I only have myself to blame, spending this long time), but it is nevertheless an extraordinary campaign experience with some of the finest shooter mechanics and level design ever made.


A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine - Book

This was a surprise. I had seen it getting the Hugo and Nebula nomination, but I was actually headed for the bookstore to buy another book, which they didn’t have, so I got this instead. I had few expectations, but this book wowed me like few others have recently. It’s a political intrigue sci-fi novel about a new diplomat arriving at the empire to find a slew of secrets left by her predecessor. The world is intensely detailed and fascinating, and the characters are so effective even with very little story time. I’m very excited for the sequel in March.


Signs of the Sojourner – Echo Dog Games – Video Game

Man, this game.

This is a deckbuilding roguelike about communication and dialects. I’ve only played it once, but that playthrough has continued to haunt me. You get a set of cards with symbols you can communicate with others with, as long as they have matching symbols. That’s easy in places close to home, but the farther you travel, the stranger ways people talk, and you have to get accustomed to their way of speaking. Yet, your vocabulary (deck) is limited, so by learning new symbols you forget your old ones, and slowly over time, your language changes.

And coming home again, and realizing you’re unable—physically unable—to talk to your childhood friend, is devastating. It’s hauntingly simple and a beautiful piece of design, told entirely through a cleverly used mechanic.

I’m not sure I will play it again, but it has stuck with me more and more ever since I did.

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective - Space Cowboys - Board Game

This is an old boardgame that seems to have had a bit of a quiet revival with a series of new rereleases in the same format. It's the best detective board game in existence, as it is a game that genuinely plants you in the shoes of the detective and gives you the entire city of London to try to solve the case, to tackle in any way you want. It was a great family game, and it's incredibly flexible and enjoyable, even for people with little board game experience, because it is fundamentally an experience about talking about a mystery--the board is just a facilitator for conversation.
(If you wanna know a bit about how this kind of detective game works, you can check out my FDG talk on Detective games, which is very applicable to this game, despite the talk mostly being about video games.)

Atlanta Season 1 – Donald Glover and others – TV Series

After discovering what a delight Donald Glover is on Community I went to Atlanta, where… you might think he’s less of a delight, and he’s definitely not as “cheerful” but he still shows his comedy chops while layering it onto a surreal and real and poignant rendition of the world.

You’re never quite sure how literal to take this show, yet it so rarely breaks into outright impossibilities that you are forced to take all the absurdities at face value, which works in its favour. The surreal become the real, and you realize that what you might think is surreal is in fact, perhaps, the most real thing this show can say.

Stormlight Archive Book 1 (+ some of 2) – Brandon Sanderson – Book Series

After reading some pretty phenomenal sci-fi and fantasy books, sometimes I’m just in the mood for something I know what is.
Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive is nothing revolutionary. It’s Epic Fantasy, done with Sanderson’s style of writing and character. I don’t want to just diminish it by saying it’s “functional”, because that makes it sound worse than it is, but it is very much a story where you know what you’re getting into. It has ancient civilizations and epic battles and heroic warriors and sly villains and forgotten magic. It is a good one of those, though, and that was what I wanted at the time.


The Prince – Madeon – Music (Single)

Madeon’s album from December last year was a little off what I wanted from him—a little too poppy, a little too soft, and not enough like Imperium.
And then he goes and drops a single out of the blue that’s exactly what I want from him. This has quickly shot up as my favourite Madeon song. From the drum explosion in the beginning to the great synth and the stellar production, this song is just so solid.

Tenet – Christopher Nolan - Movie

I actually got to see this in theatres because Denmark was a functional country when it came out. It’s not Nolan’s best movie but its still a pretty good cinema experience. As much as he was being shitty about forcing folks to go to a cinema in a pandemic, this movie does benefit from the big screen. The action sequences are spectacular and constantly make you wonder how they filmed them. At the same time, Nolan seems to have disregarded everything he doesn’t want to bother with about character motivations and coherent plot and I can’t exactly say that it makes for a better movie, but it does make it distinctly Nolan.


Crusader Kings 3 – Paradox Entertainment – Video Game

The fact that this is Crusader Kings 2 with a more sensible interface is enough to make this one of the best all time strategy games ever made. That they leaned further into the role-playing and character work of those games only exacerbates that, because it was what CK2 was best at anyway.

I haven’t played it as much as I’d have wanted, because I got distracted and moved country, but just the few stories I got from what I played are phenomenal and I can’t wait to see what this game is going to be in the future as Paradox add more complexity and variability to its simulation.


Hades – Super Giant Games – Video Game

I remember hearing a story of Super Giant’s development philosophy on this game. After making a complex turn-based tactics game in Transistor and a weird mythological basketball game in Pyre, they wanted to go back to their roots and just make a game about “hitting some shit”.

And boy, did they. This game is so clearly a culmination of everything they learned in their past three games. It is so obvious how well they took their experience of combat from Bastion, of world from Transistor, and storytelling from Pyre, and characters from all three, and made a game that hits every single aspect it goes for with perfect execution. It’s kind of an unbelievable game in how well it does absolutely every element of its design. The constantly evolving story, the clever narrative design that constantly rewards death and failure while also rewarding success and perseverance.

I knew this game was going to be good, I had high expectations, but this good? I'm not sure I was quite ready for that. Seeing it sweep the awards at the moment is no surprise to me: It is insane how strong of a game this is.


Spelunky 2 – Mossmouth / Blitworks – Video Game

It is such a shame that Hades surprise released right as this game did. It definitely hurt it. Where Hades is a continuation and exploration of roguelites and what they can be, Spelunky is a refinement of a much older design. It is as harsh and unforgiving as Spelunky was, as mysterious and full of secrets, as unpleasant in death and as uncaring about mistakes. Hades is just a much more approachable game. Yet, Spelunky has something special. I haven’t gotten very far in Spelunky 2 yet, but that’s fine. I still plan on playing it more in the future, and am looking forward to discovering its secrets for myself. I can tell already that it is a game that will be just as rewarding to master as the first one.


Among Us – InnerSloth – Video Game

I didn’t actually play much Among Us in general, but it is here just because of the impact it made. I don’t normally list events that didn’t impact me directly on here, but this game’s pervasiveness was special. Every single day, every single hour, you could turn on a stream of someone playing this game, and it was almost universally engaging to do so.

The peak was naturally AOC playing it live in October, but even without that, this game became something truly engrossing in a way that flies in the face of all conventional logic: It’s a really simple game with just functional graphics that don’t look much of a step above a flash game, with janky netcode, and it was released 2 years ago without any marketing. And yet it, for a long while, was the biggest game on the internet. This game, more than many others, showed us the power of the internet in these distanced times.


Apricots – Bicep – Music (Single)

The second single release for the upcoming sophomore album by Bicep. I like their first album but it’s not fully ringing all the bells for me (but it did lead to the Four Tet remix of Opal, that song is a masterpiece), but this song—and to a lesser extent the previous single Atlas—is phenomenal. The best electronica single of the year. I am very excited for the album in January if they can keep this level of quality throughout. I frequently just go back and listen to this song, after just having it stuck in my head for half a day.

Gideon the Ninth + Harrow – Tamsyn Muir – Book Series

Another Nebula and Hugo nominee, and strongly recommended by a friend. Necromancers in space is the pitch, but it’s really what it does with it that’s special. I had not predicted the first book to essentially be a closed room murder mystery that reminded me of Danganronpa of all things, yet told through an exceptionally sharp character of Gideon who is phenomenally entertaining. Each other character introduced is spectacular and larger than life and a great evolution of the relationship between Gideon and Harrow over the story.

The second book was a lot harder to get into, because of some spoiler-y things which causes it to be a very different story told in a very different way. And at first I was put off by this and struggled to get through it.
I still don’t think it works as well as Gideon on the whole, but the ending does really pull the entire story together in a way I had not expected and does feel rewarding and fulfilling.


The Good Place - Michael Schur - TV Series

I don't remember if I watched season 1 and 2 in 2020, but I definitely watched season 3 and 4 here.
What a great show. Just a phenomenal, funny show about huge topics brought into a light-hearted and compassionate environment through some amazing characters and fantastic writing.
It starts with Eleanor realizing she has gone to Heaven by mistake, but at the end the show is in a completely different place. Every season upends its own formula and status quo and creates something new in its place.

Blaseball - The Game Band - Fake Fantasy Sports?

The genre there is strange because Blaseball is really its own thing. Imagine if fantasy sports were about a fake league of baseball--excuse me, blaseball--which is kinda like baseball but just with... black holes. And crows. And hotdogfingers. You see, it's a simulation of a baseball-like with unreal players and unreal powers, where the randomness and strange properties cause some truly fascinating games.
Visually, it's all just text, though, so it might seem a bit hard to get into, but the game really shines because of the community storifying the events that happen into something great. If you're curious, go watch Quinns' video on it, as it explains it better than I can.

I got into it a bit late, as we were just about to fight the ultimate blaseball battle against the peanut god for the octopus god (yeah, this gets real weird), and then Blaseball went on hiatus, but I'm excited to see where it all goes next year.

Destiny 2: Beyond Light – Bungie – Video Game (expansion)

There was a lot riding on this expansion. As a follow-up to the somewhat disappointing Shadowkeep and a very up-and-down year in Destiny, as a start of a new announced trilogy of expansions, as the first expansion in the “new” Destiny of removing old content and sunsetting weapons to make room for something new, this expansion had to deliver something in its wake.

It didn’t succeed all the way, it has some problems, but it is pretty damn good. Europa is an incredible destination, the post-campaign storytelling was (and continues to be) solid and the new gear and activities are fun to play with.

And then, there is, of course…

The Deep Stone Crypt – Clovis Bray (hah, uh, Bungie, actually) – Raid

The raid of the new Destiny expansion gets its own category this year. You know why?
Because holy fucking goddamn hell Christ fuck shit boy damn son what an experience. Playing this raid blind, with everything you DO in that thing, was sooooo good.
I won’t spoil this because I know some people who’re reading this haven’t played it yet and I wanna take ‘em through it (you know who you are), but just… wow. What a homerun of a raid. Both a great showcase of some great mechanics design that is some of Bungie’s finest while also creating a raid experience that is beyond and unlike any other. I had never expected us to do what we do there.


The Queen's Gambit / Chess – Netflix – TV Series / Board Game?

I’m going to lump a couple things together here. Everyone and their mother suddenly heard of The Queen’s Gambit (I too, recommended it to my mom lol), so I’m not going to spend long on it, other than to say how much I appreciate how complicated they make Beth Harmon in a very short amount of time. She is never just anything, never just a chess player, just an alcoholic, a woman, a genius, a wreck, a friend, etc. but is all of those things, and you can feel her struggle with defining herself while knowing she’s different throughout.

But what I really want to talk about is Chess. This was a bit of a Year for Chess? Queen’s Gambit compounded this, for sure, but Chess has been quietly exploding in the online streaming space with big tournaments on twitch, with the natural conclusion of PogChamps 1 and 2, a for-fun tournament with invited non-chess streamers brought on to learn the game and play amongst each other. I didn’t catch much of the first, but watched a lot of the second iteration (and rooted for Hafu, of course).
But this led me down a rabbit hole of watching chess streamers, like Hikaru, Levy, Anna Rudolf, and especially, Agadmator, who’s a bit of a legend in the YouTube chess scene. He reviews and explains games, both current and historical, and goes through them with a wonderful dry wit and care that is infectious. He never emotes much, but he clearly loves what he’s doing and loves chess as a game and just wants to talk about it at every turn.

This also made me reinstall Really Bad Chess on my phone, which I’m still terrible at, but it’s still fun.

Haikyu!! – Production I.G – Anime

After the realization that The Queen’s Gambit is a sports anime in western clothing, I wanted to watch more sports anime. (What? That association is perfectly logical!) And Haikyu!! is pretty much the top recommended sports anime at the moment, so I went to watch some high school boys play volleyball.
It’s a sports anime through and through, you know what you get. But man, it is indeed a well crafted one.

It’s doing the anime thing I love which Queen’s Gambit was unwilling (and didn’t have time) to do, which is go in detail with the mechanics, tactics and strategy of the game, which leads you as a viewer to become much more invested in the actual play, too.
This is one of my favourite traits about anime, and this show throws no punches. I learnt a lot about volleyball tactics from this show, for sure. The characters are insanely stylized and sharp, to the point of being caricatures sometimes, yet they consistently ground them by spending time fleshing them out and playing volleyball with them.


Cyberpunk 2077 – CD Projekt RED – Video Game

Another complicated one that requires some context. I skipped and avoided most of the marketing for this game as I knew I was going to play it—as they had developed my favourite game of all time. So I also inadvertently avoided both the ludicrous hype and the intense backlash against this game during its marketing campaign.

And now that it’s out, this game really seems to be a product of ambition and ignorance. From the transphobic marketing to the shitty crunch and the consistent delays and the game still being in this absolutely unfinished state—they really bit off far more than they can chew with this one, huh.

It isn’t original, as its mechanics can be summed up as a Fallout-like in a GTA-style world with some Deus Ex immersive sim mechanics and some good storytelling and characters. And it's also a very janky one of those.
The bugs are one thing—they’re bad but they can get patched. The completely flat and non-existent traffic AI, the complete lack of cosmetic options in world other than some (frankly limited) clothing options, the passable driving and just-above-average shooting (which is combined with some good hacking abilities), and a just… too… dead world and flat soundscape, the inconsistent dialogue, the odd animation pauses, and the numerous other minor issues, all make for a game that feels like a very missed opportunity.

And yet, I’m still enjoying this game. When this game is good, during the best quests and strong side-missions and intimate character moments, it shines so well you can tell these people made The Witcher before this.
This game isn’t as edgy as it pretends to be, and it is at its best when it accepts that. The side quest about a man accepting religion to forgive himself of his sins, and the capitalist media machine trying to exploit it. The crime noir story of a suspended cop struggling with lost family.
None of these stories are surprising or upending of the form, but when they work they work, and support some of the best characters CDPR have made. I’m still not finished so my final opinion can still change, but I am still looking forward to playing it more.


Program Music III – Kashiwa Daisuke – Music (Album)

It’s a strange experience being a Kashiwa Daisuke fan. You have to contend with the fact that there can go several years while you hear nothing, and then suddenly he dumps something on you that’s nothing like anything he’s done before.

Program Music III is both that and not.
It is the third in his now series of “Program Music” albums, which started with The Best Song in the World, so I have some attachment to this, as you might tell. Program Music II was quite a departure sonically, abandoning his electronic glitchy assemblages for a purely acoustic album, so when he dropped a teaser a week before this album’s release, with 1 minute of eclectic glitches and jumps, and announcing that it was going to be one 51 minute long track called “sons”, I had trouble physically sitting down from excitement.

I sat down and listened to it on the Saturday morning it released, and what an experience it was.

It’s… so much.

It lasts 51 minutes but it does not feel like it. Those 51 minutes go by fast. There is so much happening at every minute—it’s constantly shifting tempos, genres, moods.
This album—this one song—answers the question “What style of music?” with “Yes”. But it’s not done as a joke.
Before this album, Kashiwa Daisuke has made piano music, post rock, glitch-hell, electronica, pop, orchestral, jazz(?), a neoclassical glass-breaking masterpiece, and a host of oddjob remixes in so many genres and styles. And this album, this one 51 minute symphony is all of them. He even added some new genres he hasn’t done before! (I won’t spoil it because honestly when that drops I almost lost it. I genuinely started laughing).

It’s not so much traditional album as it is an Experience. It almost fuses into itself, I have trouble keeping it apart, while each part is also entirely distinct and unique. Because there are no defined songs (and few genuine easy breaks where you could imagine it cutting into a new song), it feels organic and alive.
It opens strong—probably his easiest and most accessible opening yet—and for that alone I’ll tell you to go listen to it. But beware that this is not album you can casually put on in the background. It demands attention. And if you do not give it, it will become incomprehensible.
I need to give it some more listens until I can say whether it is more successful than Program Music I or II, but at least, I’m happy that Kashiwa Daisuke is back to messing with his music again. It has been a long time since I’ve felt him truly do that.
And this is definitely an album I’ll happily accept into the Kashiwa Daisuke canon, much more easily than I did “9 Songs”. It is undoubtedly incredible. And worth listening to, just to see what music can be when the one making it does not know constraints.

(Bonus!) Fuser – Harmonix – Video Game

I’ve only played this for a couple of days, and I wanted to end with the entry above, but FUSER is too good to omit. It’s a game about being a DJ, where you can drop stems from songs (think, the drums, or the guitar, or the vocals) and mix it with stems from other songs. Have you ever wanted to listen to the drums from Take On Me with the guitar from Killing in the Name Of and the strings from Call Me Maybe, while Smash Mouth is singing All Star?


Well, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Actually I do, because the joy of this game is more than just that. It removes all the hard parts of mixing music and hones in on the fun of lining up a killer bassline right into a drumfill as it flushes in the chorus. And when it works, it feels like magic.

Here's a little remix of "Happy", in a way you haven't heard it before:


2020 was a Hell of a Year (yes, both meanings there), but I'll finish this with some cool things I did, if you're interested:

  • I moved to America and started what is quite literally my dream PhD study at the exact university I wanted. It turned out to be a little different in reality as I haven’t actually studied at the campus yet, but I’m still here, and it’s wild to think that it worked out. That I actually made it over here in this fucking year.
    This year was dominated by that move. I applied in January, so it has quite literally been my entire 2020 focused on how and why and whether I was able to start studying and moving across the Atlantic.
  • I also played a bunch of Majora’s Mask and wrote about it, a series I then seemingly abandoned as soon as I moved to America. It wasn’t fully intentionally, I have brought the saves and everything over so I could continue; it just… didn’t happen. I wasn’t as motivated to do it, I think.
  • Other than that, I wrote not a lot on the blog, but what I wrote I’m pretty happy with. From an essay on drinking and Disco Elysium, to a long one on K-pop, to this piece about Outer Wilds, which was a thing I said last year I didn’t know how to write about, and it’s honestly one of my favourite things I’ve written.
  • I then also wrote twice (here and here) about living in America for the first couple of months. I’ll probably continue that series in the next year as hopefully things will start to open up and I can actually… experience… America a bit more.
  • I also did a talk on Detective games at FDG, which you should go check out! I’m pretty proud of that paper and the talk is not bad, either (although it’s online and I stuttered quite a bit, but it’s okay).

(Yes, the top image is of rain in California. One of the 4 days since I've gotten here where it has rained).