BEST OF 2020: Dan’s still here, and [GASP] actually liked some stuff?

Best of 2020

Goddammit.

I wasn’t supposed to be doing any more writing. As I mentioned in last year’s wrap-up post, I don’t particularly care for this medium anymore. But, in case y’all missed it, 2020 was pretty garbage. For roughly 3/4 of the year, I’ve been spending inordinate amounts of energy just to stay afloat — to exist. So even though I vastly prefer the video medium, that shit takes about 3x longer to put together than your garden variety written post, and that’s a 3x increase in energy and effort that I do not have right now, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.

Still… FUCK. I still don’t really like writing. Or, maybe…

Maybe it’s broader than that. Maybe — as my relative lack of activity on the site last year might suggest — it’s just that I’m less and less inclined to try and criticize other people’s creations. Particularly in 2020. Because let’s face it: anyone who made a thing, period, during this hell year, deserves a goddamn medal. Put out an album? That’s awesome. Finished writing a book? That’s pretty damn cool, too. Shit, man, I’ll even give a high-five if you put together a grilled cheese sandwich. (And will probably enjoy that creation the most, to be honest. But that’s beside the point. If your creative juices flowed for long enough to complete any sort of project in 2020, I applaud you.)

I had… maybe not high hopes, but hopes, at least… for some projects of my own in 2020. Few, if any, of them actually came to fruition. But do I care about missing the mark on them? Honestly, not really. I think the theme of the year was “recalibration.” We’ve had to recalibrate our whole sense of what’s “normal” as COVID’s been ravaging the world, so it’s only in keeping that these hopes and expectations for the year should be adjusted along with it.

And since March, my hopes and expectations have been reduced to a grand total of:

“Just fucking survive this.”

So again, if you made anything in 2020, you’re light years ahead of me, and who would I be to try and play favorites with your thing, versus that girl’s thing, versus that other guy over there’s thing — any and all of which amount to more than I could force myself to do on roughly 95% of my non-working days this year. When I wasn’t at the hospital, the bar on my “getting stuff done” meter was set at “literally just continue to exist.

And I managed that, more often than not, with music playing a supporting role, rather than a lead, in my day-to-day life. I listened to some stuff. I even liked some stuff. But that stuff was never do-or-die for me in this whole survival game. Metal can be challenging, and more often than not, what I needed to get me through was comfort food — often, comfort food other than music.

So, in lieu of a traditional “Albums of the Year” post — Sorry, I’m still averse to awarding “Best” designation to anything. Like as if IT ME, ARBITER OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND EXACTLY HOW GOOD IT ALL IS. Fuck that. — I’ve decided to list a few of those other things that helped me survive 2020. Some of it’s media related, some of it isn’t, but everything below managed to bring me joy during this most-fucked-up of years, and helped me come through it all standing on both feet.

And hey! Lucky you, there’ll be a list of metal albums I enjoyed at the end, too. Hooray! Feel free to skip on down to that part if you don’t care for my ramblings about non-metal stuff I liked. Here goes!

Parasite won all the “big awards” at the Oscars

Pretty on-brand move for me to be all “I don’t like playing favorites,” and then immediately feature a news item that is literally about playing favorites. Whatever.

Parasite (2019)

But, I loved the shit out of director Bong Joon-ho’s latest masterpiece, and just about everyone I know that saw it — casual and serious movie fans alike — did, too. Typically, that… means next to nothing in terms of a movie’s award-getting odds! But this year was different. Parasite won Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and International Feature, and Bong proceeded to get DRUNK.

It doesn’t feel like all that happened in 2020. It feels like an entire lifetime ago.

Moved to a new apartment!

This was a much-needed move. The walls in my old place were paper thin — not great when the next-door neighbor with whom you share a wall has a husky puppy that never shuts the fuck up. Plus, with the place being pretty tiny, we had just about run out of room for all of our Legos. Now? We have actual walls and an entire room for the Legos.

LEGO released “Pirates of Barracuda Bay” and I became five years old again

Look at this fucking beauty. Just look at it.

Technically, my “getting back into LEGO” phase predated 2020, but hooooooly hell did this year kick it into overdrive. When you’re stuck at home not-doing-stuff, LEGO becomes a kind of therapy. And while there were a ton of really killer sets — like this one, this one, oh and this one, to name a few — that scratched my itch throughout the year, none did so more perfectly than “Pirates of Barracuda Bay.”

When I was a kid, LEGO’s Pirate line was second only to its Castle line as my favorite set theme. Neither has been active in almost a decade, so to see this set released on the world — adapted from a fan’s creation, no less! — brought me a kind of joy I wouldn’t have thought possible in 2020. Seriously, I made a sound I didn’t know I was physically capable of making when it was announced. This thing was a big deal for me.

The Last Dance reminded me that the ’90s Chicago Bulls were friggin’ awesome, even if Michael Jordan was/is kind of a dick

Speaking of things I loved as a kid, the Chicago Bulls! My family moved to Chicago in Summer 1995 — just before the Bulls infamously won 72 games out of 82 in the season, en route to their fourth championship. There was no way to live out there and not get swept up in that team. 25 years later, I can still name every single player on the roster.

The ten-part Last Dance documentary series isn’t about that season — rather, it focuses on the 1997-98 season, when the Bulls won their sixth championship, before being unceremoniously broken up via trades and retirements — and it’s not really about the team. Rather, it’s an extended feature on Michael Jordan, told from his perspective and with all footage approved for use by him. (Make of that what you will.) There’s lip service paid here and there to other key role players on the team — Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, head coach Phil Jackson, etc. — but it’s really Jordan’s show.

In the end, I’m of two minds about the series. Throughout, Jordan openly admits to being, pretty much maniacally competitive, to the point of hazing and even sucker punching his own teammates if he felt they weren’t pulling their weight. (Which most of those interviewed acknowledge, more or less, that they knew was “part of the job.”) He also had final sign-off rights on basically everything here, so who knows what actually went down, vs. what may have been carefully edited to protect his image. All that said, the game footage reminded me just how friggin’ untouchable that team was when it was firing on all cylinders. It was escapism of a non-fictional variety — back to a time when I didn’t understand contract negotiations, off-court drama, or anything beyond “BALL GO IN NET.”

There’s definitely a duality to enjoying The Last Dance; you have to accept the series’ (and its protagonist’s) negative qualities going in, in order to enjoy its positive ones. And ultimately, in this hell year of hell years, it was sometimes nice to accept the faults, turn the brain off and watch one of the best teams ever at making BALL GO IN NET do just that.

Got a smoker and made a whole bunch of meat!

Title basically says it all. For my birthday in August, my girlfriend bought me a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker, which I’ve since proceeded to have a shitload of fun with. Cornish hens, chicken wings, baby back ribs, pork butt… you name it. There was something oddly relaxing about the process: figuring out your dry rub, choosing your wood chips, actually maintaining the smoke session — sometimes for up to 14 hours, depending on how big a cut of meat you’re working with. I already liked grilling, but smoking has taken my enthusiasm to a new level.

So naturally, I decided I’d start 2021 off by following a mostly pescetarian diet. Oh well… I guess smoked salmon is the next frontier.

Logged 135 hours in — and finally beat — Breath of the Wild, three years later

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the first game I bought for my Nintendo Switch in 2018, as it should be for anybody who buys a Nintendo Switch in any year. Unfortunately, it was just the first of many Switch games I bought that year, so after an initial 10-12 hour run through the game, I moved onto the next thing, and then the thing after that, and just… never came back.

Until this summer. I needed an escape, and the expanse of Hyrule offered just that. In a year that’s made a habit of introducing new restrictions and impositions on our lives — all necessarily, I’d add; this isn’t me belly-aching about any of it! — it was nice to travel to a world where anything and everything felt possible. Could I climb that mountain? Swim to that faraway island out in the middle of the ocean? Attempt to take on that Lynel despite only having four heart containers? Some of these decisions might be better-advised than others, to be sure, but in Breath of the Wild, to paraphrase Jason Schreier’s Kotaku review of the game, the answer to everything is “yes.” And I badly needed that this year.

From introduction to ultimately defeating Ganon, I spent 135 hours in Hyrule, and I’d gladly do it all over again. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.

Arsenal won England’s FA Cup

For better or worse, Arsenal is my favorite European football club. Rooting for Arsenal over the last 15 years has been… mostly okay, but with increasingly diminishing returns over the past several years. (Mostly due to chronic contract mismanagement and poor player recruitment.) It felt like the 2019-20 season was going to be the club’s rock bottom — they spent most of it hovering between 8th and 12th places in the table, and for large stretches played some of the most listless, uninspired football I’d ever seen.

Then the club switched managers, bringing in former team captain Mikel Arteta to steer the ship. And while there’ve been some growing pains — the club’s still making questionable player moves, and now occupies 11th place in the table midway through the current season — they gelled enough under Arteta to finish last season with a major trophy, knocking out perennial powerhouses Manchester City and Chelsea en route to an unexpected FA Cup win. A nice and wholly unexpected development.

Biked and/or ran more than 2,000 miles in the calendar year

At the start of last year, I decided to set a cardio goal for myself: run, bike and/or elliptical more than 2,000 miles over the course of 2020. Aside from a bit of a hurdle — a month or so of not being able to do much of anything due to gyms shutting down while it was still pretty cold outside — I managed to hit the goal midway through December, thanks to the new stationary bike my girlfriend and I bought for our house. (Not to mention a good bit of outdoor riding on the 20-mile trail around Harrisburg, once the jitters of literally just setting foot outside had subsided.)

Taught Penny how to give kisses

This is Penny. She’s a very good girl and knows lots of tricks. However, her mom (my girlfriend) had spent much of Penny’s upbringing actively teaching Penny not to give dog kisses — a teaching that basically shorted out my brain. So, Dad (me) spent much of this year teaching Penny how to give kisses, which she’s now pretty good at! Particularly when there are snack rewards involved. Not too shabby undoing five years’ worth of un-teaching in a single year!

And finally, some metal albums Dan liked!

  • Anaal Nathrakh – Endarkenment [listen]
  • Boris – NO [listen]
  • Dark Forest – Oak, Ash & Thorn [listen]
  • Envy – The Fallen Crimson [listen]
  • Green Carnation – Leaves of Yesteryear [listen]
  • Havukruunu – Uinuos syömein sota [listen]
  • Inexorum – Moonlit Navigation [listen]
  • Ironflame – Blood Red Victory [listen]
  • Judicator – Let There Be Nothing [listen]
  • Lör – Edge of Eternity [listen]
  • Christian Muenzner – Path of the Hero [listen]
  • Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism [listen]
  • The Ocean – Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic [listen]
  • Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi [listen]
  • Pallbearer – Forgotten Days [listen]
  • Paradise Lost – Obsidian [listen]
  • Sepultura – Quadra [listen]
  • Sodom – Genesis XIX [listen]
  • Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? [listen]
  • Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still [listen]
  • Undergang – Aldrig I livet [listen]
  • Wake – Devouring Ruin [listen]

No particular order there. And yeah, sure, there’s a ton more albums out there that aren’t on here. Good for them, too.

Thanks for reading. Keep up the fight. You’re doing great. We’ll see you — maybe even actually see you… you know, in-person! If/when in-person seeing becomes a thing we can do again — later this year.

Keep it survive-y,
-Dan

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