Nobody Likes You When You're 33...
Day job and pandemic bullshit aside, I've been thinking more and more about the fact that I've been doing this for 10 years, and wondering if I am where I should be. After Virtua Ongaku 4, working alongside so talented artists, I came to the realization that I don't "belong" in the nerd music scene, but I'm still happy with what I'm doing.
I don't cover Megalovania on guitar, or have the wherewithal to throw together a rap based on the latest anime for the sake of SEO.
I've always liked performing and songwriting first and foremost. I want to make the songs that enrich OTHER people's lives; the ones to cover, the ones to mosh to, the ones that you can nod along to. Being a musician's musician ain't a bad place to be so long as you're revered.
As far as everything else goes... COVID hasn't really affected us... yet. My mom was furloughed from her job, but she got paid for it, and I've been working the whole time since my day job is construction. It's been weird to be in this kind of liminal state where you KNOW everyone else is locked in, but you've still had to be able to move around freely.
2020 was a year on hold, and while I hate putting something off, those in charge were hellbent on making sure the damn thing stuck around as long as possible.
Still, looking back and writing this recap of the year, turns out I still did a LOT. I played three virtual concerts (MizuConnect, Virtua Ongaku and Megaplex Online), hosted panels, worked on games, but even that it all felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Hopefully this year, I can keep coming up with new ways to
HARDCORE NERDCORE PUNK ROCK TO RELEASE THIS YEAR!!!
"Hardcore Nerdcore Punk Rock" is the upcoming "Road Mix/Greatest Hits" album celebrating 10+ years of me doing this thing. Mostly I'm doing it so I can have an album to sell at cons where you can get all/most of the songs I played in one piece, and because I want these newer versions to reflect all the lessons I've learned since starting.
Here's the dope ass cover made by HellBreakfast:
The tracks so far include redone and remixed versions of some live show staples like "Status Quo Radio", "Thrash Panda" and "Fuck Terfs (But Don't Have Sex With Them)"
Loved the cover art so much I made a MTG card out of it:
MOST RECENT SONG THAT WASN'T A REWORK OF AN OLDER SONG:
This is a song about my DnD Character, Oi!, the punk drow monk that I play on RPG Pals Club.
This went to my Patrons three days ago, but here's the backstory I wrote for him that's on my character page:
Every night, as he’d check on the prisoners in their quarters, Oi noticed something odd developing. It started off innocently enough: a captive would bang out a beat on their walls to a satisfying rhythm, but then others started joining in. Eventually one of them fashioned a guitar and bass out of some enchanted webbing and various bits of wood. It was crude, but it was incredible how it all came together, and the drow became enamoured with the sound this new device made.
Normally it was Oi’s job to keep these people in line, but the longer and longer these midnight musicals went on, the more sense it all seemed to make to him, where each part contributed to a greater whole for the sake of improving, not on the behest of of an authority.
Then they started singing.
They sung about their pain, they sung about their feelings, they sung about those from the surface they had missed after being brought down to the underdark. Each night, a different tune of loss and hopelessness, joy and respite, fond memories and lost loves. While most drow would revel in such pain, Oi only asked them this:
“Could you do it faster? And louder?”
For a while, the band of captives acquiesced to Oi’s requests.
The music filled him with an energy he'd never felt before; he could move twice as fast, lift twice as much and when he was on, um, "personal" duty, he, uh, ahem, provided much better “service”.
While the prisoners didn’t mind so long as Oi didn’ cause them any trouble, they still longed for the lives on the surface world.
“You know,” said Pubrin, a half-elf bard from Waterdeep, “I used to be part of a band before I was captured and brought down here. If you let us out, I can reunite with them and you can join us.” The offer, while incredibly tempting to Oi, was bittersweet: the Underdark was all he knew, and he had heard that most surface dwellers despise the drow.
“I’m sorry,” he said with a frown, “but I'm not sure I can make it out there.”
To which Purbin replied, “Have it your way”
The next night, there was no music.
This continued on for at least another week. With each night of silence, Oi could feel himself slipping more and more; his mind was always somewhere else, his body not quite working right, as if it were only a puppet. The high priestesses kept scolding him on his shoddy work and he knew if this kept going on, he could be executed or worse, relegated to clean up duty.
Oi still tried to remember the music, grasping on to whatever fragments of song that had filled him such vigor before, but it did not have the same effect. Lying on the dirt floor he called a bed, he closed his eyes and sang the remnants of ballad of the city Purbin called home.
As he fell asleep, he could hear not only the chords of the makeshift instruments and the beats of the upturned buckets, but the hustle of the city and the pounding of hundreds of feet on cobblestone. Turning his head up, he could no longer see the rugged stone ceiling of a cave where the laborers were forced to call their quarters, but a wide open sky.
The air was fresh.
The people kind.
And no one to tell him what to do.
Purbin awoke from his usually frenzied slumber with the sound of his cell door being ripped open. Oi was there in the doorway, covered in sweat and his Mohawk in shambles atop his head.
“We’re leaving tonight.”
FAVORITE SONG I MADE THIS YEAR: "First Day Of Spring"
Sometimes I just flex on a track with little things I want to do, like "Hey, I should make it all about seasons like some kind of theme" and "add synth" and "be new wave". This was during a portion where I learned to stop hating my voice so much, and I'm really proud of what I was able to do with the song. Granted, it didn't get as much pick up as I wanted, but it's a formula I'm comfortable with: Nerdy Reference But Earnest.
I'd Rather Not- Oscar did 9/11, everyone moved down to Florida, RuPaul has a fracking pipe in my master bedroom, and every drinks paint thinner. HOW DID THE LORE GET DUMBER?
Taste Of Dragons- Some of my friends from the 3000 Brigade started a gaming podcast two years ago, and since they knew I did music, they asked me to compose an intro and other incidental bits.
3000 BRIGADE BECAUSE IT'S A REGULAR THING I DO AND IT'S NOT TECHNICALLY A PODCAST BUT I DON'T KNOW WHERE TO PUT IT
So the 3000 Brigade show was very wonky this year because EVERY CON WAS CANCELLED BECAUSE OF COVID.
Or rather, all of the worthwhile cons were cancelled.
Despite the 3KB being a stage show, we were able to get some digital things going on, aided greatly by the fact that Taste Of Dragons started upping its social media output.
I'll let you all know if anything else I worked on comes out on YouTube, but we're stretching things a little bit while we see what 2021 brings.
OTHER COOL SHIT I DID:
I HOSTED A PANEL ABOUT WRESTLING MUSIC AND VIDEO GAMES
Robbie Russel, a friend of mine who worked at Harmonix and Nerdcore Rapper Hero Mega Ran at PAX East 2020. That was really cool, and that whole convention was a great last hurrah before... everything else. Also, Pat Baer was kind enough to make a cameo.
If you want me at my most "me", then check out this panel.
I also finished up my music for Retromania Wrestling, which since last year has 3 new wrestlers: Warhorse, Matt Cordona (former Zack Ryder) and Brian Meyers (fomerly Curt Hawkins), a story mode and all new menus.
It also has a release date of February 26th, 2021!
Yeah, this also happened! I covered Ninja Sex Party's "3 Minutes Of Ecstasy" as part of a cover album that was spearheaded by Insane Ian, and elder statesman in the world of comedy music. I first saw him hosting Magfest Versus at Momocon and I've been following him ever since!
TREND I LIKED THE LEAST: A Pandemic Showcasing Just How Awful Capitalism Is For A Society To Handle Any Kind Of Problem
WHERE THE FUCK DO I BEGIN?
The pandemic would have been WAY more manageable if the lockdowns were so half assed and we were paid the equivalent to stay home. Want more money? Then essential businesses can hire more workers, and "small business owners" can be paid a stipend based on their personal take home.
Suspend rent, suspend bills, hit the pause button for a few weeks.
BUT NO! The Landlords need their money, the CEOs need their record breaking profits, the machine of capitalism demands blood, since having a "functioning society" gets in the way of that whole "number go up" thing.
This tweet put it best:
TREND I LIKED THE MOST: Aggressively Leftist Video Games
There was never any lockdown. There was just middle-class people hiding while working-class people brought them things.— JJ Charlesworth (@jjcharlesworth_) October 14, 2020
Sadly these games didn't stick AS long with me as the ones in my Top 5s below, but "Tonight We Riot" and "Treachery In Beatdown City" are two INCREDIBLY unique indie titles that have aren't afraid to upset the status quo in regards to how political and what kind of politics games can feature.
"Tonight We Riot" is a game in which you lead a workers rebellion. Not as a lone hero fighting opression, but as a collective movement. It ends up playing like a side scrolling beat 'em up version of Pikmin, which works well for the theming. Also it's VERY cathartic to see all sorts of modern day misery makers meet their demise, as you fight the police, billionaires and their bootlickers trying to keep worker down.
"Treachery In Beatdown City" has been in the works for a VERY long time, but it's a labor of love that like "Tonight We Riot", also puts a unique twist on the side scroller brawler. In the middle of an encounter, you can pause the action to set up combos to deal more damage and keep your opponents off their rocker. The main theme of the game is "Gentrification Really Sucks, So Let's Punch It In The Face", where you'll fight mostly preps, gentrifirers and cops. Sometimes you might give a guy a bad look and they'll say FUCK YOU LET'S RUMBLE, and that person just so happens to own Harmonix.
Not complete though, as a heads up.
FAVORITE SONG OF 2020: "WAP" by Cardi B. feat. Megan Thee Stallion
There was A LOT of good music this year, (see next category), but when I think to a song that brought me the most joy, it wasn't the song itself.
Don't get me wrong, "WAP" is really fun, and Cardi's delivery with Megan's flow elevate all the silliness, and the beat is fun, but knows to stay out of the way.
I still don't know what Kylie Jenner was doing there. I think she might have been in the group chat and showed up?
But, what made this song the BEST is how it single-handedly it destroyed Ben Shapirio's credibility. Yes, the has devolved art into a thing to consume to stake your claim in the culture war, but COME ON.
Don't get me wrong, sex isn't everything in a relationship, but again I say: COME ON.
When you show your ass THAT much that the memelords turn against you in full force, and then have the audacity to double down, you're no longer "Ben Shapiro, Conservative Intellectual" (which was a BS claim anyway), you're "Ben Shapiro, THE GUY WHO DOESN'T KNOW HOW VAGINAS WORK"
TOP 40 SONG I HATED THE LEAST: Actually Pop Music Was Really Fucking Good This Year, But I Gotta Give It To "Blinding Lights" by The Weeknd
I was going to give it to Machine Gun Kelly's "My Bloody Valentine", but The Weeknd just continues to impress with how his music can put me in a very specific mood.
With Blinding Lights, I imagine myself desperately driving down a neon-lit Miami highway as I try to put a shitty night behind me and cruise on to the next disaster.
In a way, COVID is responsible for this song sticking around as long as it did, since protocols prevented people from meeting as often, so that screwed up the recording industry as well. Regardless, I've been very optimistic about pop music this year, now that we have a new batch of songs I'm enjoying, and The Aquabats! came out with a new album! (see below)
"WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME ABOUT THIS SOONER?" AWARD: Fortnite
Hey, you know Fortnite? That game that has been and will be fucking everywhere for at least the next couple of years?
Turns out I really like it's gameplay loop.
With numerous quests to complete alongside the battle royale gameplay, there always feels like there's something to do.
Yes we can talk about the seedy monetization and how it popularized battle passes, but A. I've been going infinite for a while, and B. I'm a grown ass man screw you.
Also Meowscles is my vibe creature (aka "what white people mean when they say Spirit Animal").
Thrash Panda is still my furson-
OLD GAME OF THE YEAR RUNNERS UP:
5. Portal 2 (Xbox 360 BC)- Portal 2 has A LOT more story than its predecessor, leading you through an interesting mystery about the history of Aperture Science, but unfortunately has a lot more game, losing the short-and-sweet, lighting-in-a-bottle the first game had.
4. Chroma Squad (PC)- A tactical strategy that doesn't seem like anything special, but it has a lot of Tokusatsu (Power Rangers, namely) references and a very DIY sheen over the whole presentation, which is always a plus in my book.
3. Horizon Chase Turbo (Switch)- When people say "This game saved my life", they mean an emotional experience that got them through hard times, but Horizon Chase Turbo saved my life by being short, quick nostalgic fun while I was on a job site where I had to monitor valves over night every 10 minutes.
2. Later Alligator (PC)- SmallBu, the duo responsible for the adorably surreal Baman Piderman, bring their animation antics to a PC minigame colection that sells every joke with a bouncy sense of style, set to a soundtrack by 2Mello, who was also responsible for 2064: Read Only Memories.
#1 OLD GAME OF THE YEAR: Yakuza 0
This game is so fucking cool.
I've heard rumblings about how insane the series gets, but now that it's making its way onto the Xbox, I was finally able to dip my toes into the water and let me tell you, this game was very much my jam.
You play as two Yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, and the story has you switch between them as you unfold a real estate conspiracy in the fictional metropolis of Kamurocho, Japan.
The story has lots of little twists and turns but none of that matters to the how right the game feels on some kind of primal level. Combat is designed so that no matter what fighting style you use, every hit and signature move (dubbed "Heat Moves") will have you go "OH FUCK YES!". Even during instances when you run into multiple combat scenarios in a row, the moves offer just a slight enough variation to keep things from getting boring.
Between major story missions, you can do a variety of side missions, and in between those are a bevy of side distractions for you to take part in: pool, darts, slot car racing, casino gambling, mahjong, shogi, and SO much more that make the city more interesting to be a part of than as just a hub to do missions in.
Even in smaller interactions, the writing kept we wanting to poke around more because it's my favorite kind of humor: Complete Bullshit Presented With A Straight Face. During the main game, you're a hard faced yaukza solving all your problems with brutal violence, but during the side stories, you're a hard faced yakuza solving all your problems with brutal violence, who is also helping a guy in a jacket cross a bridge, or helping a man propose to his wife by finishing a crossword puzzle.
The game is regularly on sale for the PC for a steal, and it's part of Xbox Game Pass, so there's no reason to continue to put of playing through any of the games.
NEW GAME OF THE YEAR RUNNERS UP:
5. Coffee Talk (Switch)- I played this game snuggled up in bed before I went to sleep, and only played one night per night, which set the perfect vibe for this game about making people comfy in a version of Fantasy Seatttle while Lo-Fi Hip Hop plays in the background.
4. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PC)- This game is a delight to watch
via GrandPOOBear's Fallmania, and now that more content is being made
per season, the game is interesting enough to follow up with on occasion for a few rounds, especially now that every level has some kind of variation that can be thrown in, so it's improved a lot since release.
3. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 (Xbox One)- Holy shit, they got it
right, and though the game added mechanics from later games, it gets by
on being a solid update of the first two titles, which is really what
everyone wanted all along.
2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)- Yeah, it's a basic bitch option, but this game kept me in touch with my friends when we were still at least 3/4-assing all this pandemic shit, so for that, the game deserves kudos as one of the most important games of the year.
#1 NEW GAME OF THE YEAR: Hades (Switch)
Yes, it'll top a lot of lists this year, but that's because everything in this game works to its advantage.
Rouge-likes may be a dime-a-dozen, but since you play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, God of the Dead, that means you are immortal, and the fact that you can and will die has been factored into the story, as a botched run suddenly becomes a new opportunity to advance the plot and learn more about the denizens of the underworld.
Once you master the snappy combat, everything else becomes a welcome challenge, with you taking on more hindrances with the Pact of Punishment, dealing with less optimal boon builds, and trying to manipulate things so you can get those last few minor fates.
Even when combat gets stale, and you're pushing on until that next time you beat Hades himself, the writing is so well developed, giving you juuuuust enough to chew on until you come back the next run, and every line of dialogue is delivered with personality that typical gameplay dialouge becomes interesting enough to slow down and read.
ANNUAL REMINDER I SHARE A BIRTHDAY WITH MC BAT COMMANDER
NOW WITH A NEW ALBUM, "KOOKY SPOOKY! IN STEREO!!!"