Some of the various things this year that moved me the most.
Easily the album that meant the most to me this year, though I’m struggling to put into words why that is. It’s partly her use of greek mythology, maybe. Or it’s her voice. Or the curiously ethereal music. It inspired a game (I stole a couple of lyrics to build the story around).
Broadcast & the Focus Group: Investigate Witch Cults of the radio age.
I’ve been a bit slow to really get excited by hauntology, but this is pretty special. Ghost music from a future that never came.
Richard Skelton: Landings
I’d been aware of Richard Skelton for a while, but every time I went to his website it seemed all his releases were out of stock. This is the recent reprint of the music and writings he (I think) started Sustain-Release with. It’s a gorgeous thing – a large paperback book and a CD wrapped in really high quality paper. All tangled up with memories of his late wife and rooted in the Pennines. It reminds me heavily of Alan Garner; the landscape and the ghosts.
Warpaint: The Fool
Definitely the best thing Craig’s ever introduced me to. The video above maybe explains part of the appeal – the way it hints at far more than it ever gives away – but for me it was that gig at stereo that really won me over. And I’m sure it was a once in a lifetime thing. Getting to see a band who are just on the cusp of breaking through is pretty special.
Sonically it’s the bass that really makes the album for me. The dreamy vocals, light-touch drums and textural guitars are pretty great, but the bass just continually surprises me. I’ve never heard anything like it, and it turns these dreamy pop songs into something far more exciting, more vital than you’d ever expect.
Alan Garner: Thursbitch, The Owl Service
Having read Elidor and the two Brisingamen books as a teenager, I finally got round to checking out some of his more critically-acclaimed books (Red Shift as well as these two) this year. I started with The Owl Service, and he instantly became one of my favourite authors. It’s the spare poetry in his prose:
he is hurt too much she wants to be flowers and you make her owls and she is at the hunting
…it just sends chills down my spine. The way he uses the landscape to channel ghosts and loves. And good as The Owl Service is, I think Thursbitch probably took a greater hold on my imagination. The sense of place is just so strong. And it heavily inspired my own work this year.
Jeff Vandermeer: City of Saints & Madmen
Vandermeer’s city of Ambergris is easily the most vivid, entrancing (fictional) location I visited this year. His incredible descriptions of fungi, graycaps, an underground world feared and little-understood just captured my imagination completely for a good couple of months. The first book’s the best, I think. Shriek’s very good too, but I found Finch a disappointment; it gave too much away, told all of the graycaps’ secrets. And in doing so, it made them normal, understandable. What made the first two books so remarkable was that there were no explanations, only conjectures. Finch more or less threw that approach out the window. It failed in the same way that, in seeking to explain the universe, science generally only succeeds in making it more mundane. City of Saints & Madmen also inspired a game.
Octavia E. Butler: Seed to Harvest (the Patternmaster series)
I came across Butler in an article on Janelle Monae, which drew Butler in for similarly being a black, feminist, science fiction author. I love feminist science fiction, so tracked this down. It’s a collection of the four Patternmaster stories, but the one which really blew me away was the first book: Wild Seed. It’s an account of two immortals, a man and a woman, and it’s the most powerful depiction of domestic abuse I’ve ever experienced. The sense of being utterly trapped, of having no way out, is completely suffocating. And a perfect example of the kind of thing feminist science fiction can do so well.
Catherynne Valente: The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden
A gorgeous collection of stories within stories within stories… I’ve got In the Cities of Coin and Spice waiting for me on the bookshelf, and can’t wait to open it.
(this series of videos is hilarious, and largely representative of how a typical minecraft game will go, well, until things get weird, anyway) Most people’s game of the year, and for good reason. RPS’ group write-up is as good a place as any to start. Some pictures of my main single player world:
The most perfectly-crafted, outright beautiful platformer I played all year. I’m getting increasingly tired of all the rote metroidvanias the indie scene seems determined to produce, but this was something else. And the music!
Not a good game, exactly, but according to Steam, I’ve played this more than any game other than Plants vs. Zombies. The racing’s kind of fiddly, and the music’s rubbish, but that enormous expanse of continent you get to drive around in just kept calling me back. It’s a game that seems to constantly hint at something incredible, but never quite musters the confidence to fulfil it’s ambitions. Limited as it is though, I’ve driven so many miles in this game…
Crawl Stone Soup
I’m utterly terrible at this, but it’s my current roguelike of choice. I’m playing a Spriggan Enchanter because that’s meant to be the easiest race/class to win with, but I’m lucky if I even make it to the Ecumenical Temple in most games.