For your consideration, here are the music, movies, games, and experiences that stood out for me in 2013.
This year I wrote reviews for almost 60 albums, and that doesn’t even represent all the albums I bought and listened to. Most of those were written in the last few months, and I’m making it a goal (seriously this time) to review 2014’s releases as I buy them. As usual, picking my favorites is difficult, but here are some that demanded many repeat listens. In 2014 I’m looking forward to new releases by The Lawrence Arms, Against Me!, Off!, The Menzingers, Motion City Soundtrack, and Taking Back Sunday.
Bad Religion – True North
The Night Marchers – Allez! Allez!
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Masked Intruder – Masked Intruder
This is technically a 2012 release (it came out on Red Scare Industries last year and was re-released by Fat Wreck Chords in February) but I’d be dishonest if I didn’t include it as one of my favorites of this year. Pop-punk perfection.
RVIVR – The Beauty Between
Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True
Saves the Day – Saves the Day
Into It. Over It. – Intersections
various artists – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute
The Last – Danger
- The World’s End sountrack: A great collection of britpop and like-minded genres. Blur, Pulp, Suede, Sisters of Mercy, etc. Get the deluxe (UK) version so as to get the full complement of songs.
- AFI – Burials: I haven’t given it enough listens, but it’s their darkest, most melodramatic album in a decade.
- Best Coast – Fade Away: Super-catchy indie pop musing on the uncertainties of adulthood. I should give it some more spins.
- Doyle – Abominator: All murder, all guts, all fun.
- Adolescents – Presumed Insolent: Sharp tunes, personal subject matter, biting social commentary. Punk!
- Coheed and Cambria – The Afterman: Descension: A massive sci-fi epic soundtracked to some of their best material since Good Apollo Vol. I
- Laura Stevenson – Wheel: Lovely, just lovely.
These tunes rocked my socks all year long. Some artists from my top albums couldn’t be included because their tracks weren’t on Spotify (RVIVR, Adolescents, The Atom Age).
In 2013 I went to about 30 shows and saw over 45 different acts. Here are some of the highlights:
Rocket from the Crypt (3 times)
- June 8th at the Ink & Iron festival in Long Beach
- August 30th at the Del Mar racetrack
- October 31st at the House of Blues San Diego
You can read my gushing about Rocket here. Suffice to say I was over the moon when they reunited, and as soon as they announced SoCal dates I was on it. They got the plug pulled by one of the Stooges’ sound guys during their final number at Ink & Iron, but they made up for it with a great set at the Del Mar racetrack and a full-on Halloween event at the House of Blues, their first Halloween gig in 8 years. As a bonus I got turned on to the Creepy Creeps (and through them, The Mummies). The best part, though, was meeting new friends who all share a love for Rocket and related bands. Over the last few months I’ve been introduced to backyard North Park movie nights, Cantina Mayahuel, and the Whistlestop, all thanks to friendships forged at Rocket shows.
The Night Marchers (4 times)
- February 22nd at The Satellite in L.A.
- February 23rd at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach
- February 24th at the Casbah in San Diego
- October 29th at Bar Pink in San Diego
As with Rocket, and as I’d done with Hot Snakes last year, I followed The Night Marchers around on every southern California date. It’s always a super fun time in a room full of Swami fans, and the new tunes are great.
Alkaline Trio (3 times)
- April 26th at the House of Blues San Diego
- June 9th at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco
- October 27th at Soma San Diego
They’re still one of my favorite bands, and I hardly ever miss a show. Xtine and I saw them together in SF this year, continuing a tradition we’ve tried to carry on for the past several years.
Saves the Day – October 13th at the Irenic
For my 33rd birthday I saw Saves the Day at a small church in North Park. There was a really good vibe in the room, with everyone singing along to favorites old and new. As a bonus I got turned on to Into It. Over It.
TSOL – October 18th at the Shakedown Bar
It was another big year for superhero and sci-fi movies, and though I enjoyed many of them, upon end-of-year reflection they’re not the ones that stuck with me the most. Instead, Disney seems to have owned my theater attention this year. There are still a handful of movies that were on my “want to see” list that I didn’t get to, mostly sequels that I’ll probably catch on HBO or Blu ray (Hangover III, Fast & Furious 6, Kickass 2, etc.). I’ve still got time to catch Anchorman 2.
The World’s End
12 Years a Slave
Saving Mr. Banks
- Oblivion – I really enjoyed this one, including the twist ending which I only partially saw coming.
- Star Trek into Darkness – Yeah, it’s got a lot of the same problems as the first one. You know what? I loved the first one. And I liked this one a hell of a lot too.
- Man of Steel – Overall, liked it a lot, but way too much CGI destructo-fest in the final third. I realize two brawling Kryptonians are gonna knock a lot of stuff down, but for a while there it felt like a Michael Bay movie.
- Gravity – Man, eff outer space.
- Ender’s Game – Visually very impressive, but everything in the plot felt too convenient. “Congratulations, Supreme Commander Twelve Year Old! You just won a fight against your middle school bully. Here are the keys to the Space Navy and this Death Star superweapon we neglected to mention until now.”
- Thor: The Dark World – Cool and fun, but Eccleston was underused.
- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – A superior sequel in pretty much all respects. I’m actually kind of invested in this story now.
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Like last year’s Unexpected Journey, I was torn on this. I was less distracted by the hyper-realness this time around, there was less out-and-out silliness, and the dragon was cool. But there’s still a lot of padding going on, and action sequences stretched out to ludicrous length. Evangeline Lilly’s elf character seems interesting, but Legolas is shoehorned in purely as fanservice. There are still scenes in which it would not seem out of place to have Daffy Duck bouncing around in the background, such as the over-the-top CGI sequence where Legolas bounds along on the heads of dwarves rushing down a river and basically skateboards on an orc in defiance of most laws of physics.
As usual, I’m about a year or so behind on video games. I tend to get invested in one game and spend a lot of time on it until I’m 100% done before moving on to another one. Hence there are some titles here that are from late 2012 that I didn’t get to until recently. I just started Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag yesterday, so expect it to show up on next year’s list.
Technically a 2012 game, but I didn’t get to it until 2013. 343 industries had big shoes to fill when it took the Halo IP over from Bungie, and they could easily have phoned in a clone of one of the prior games. Instead they made it their own, raising the bar on graphics, lighting, and movement while coming up with new and interesting threats for Master Chief to fight, cool new weapons to use, and new environments to do battle in. I look forward to their future installments, which will undoubtedly require me to get an Xbox One.
Far Cry 3
Another late-2012 title, definitely deserving of the accolades it received. Being an Ubisoft game, it’s not surprising that it feels like Assassin’s Creed reimagined as a FPS. The open-world island environment is awesome, and being able to take out pirates and slavers using whatever methods you wish is a sinister delight. I enjoyed luring tigers into the enemy bases and watching the carnage through the scope of my sniper rifle.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Speaking of Far Cry 3, if you’re a FPS player then you must play the stand-alone expansion Blood Dragon. This is a retro-futuristic game in which you play as Sergeant Rex Power Colt, the most badass soldier ever to be voiced by Michael Beihn. Part Rambo, part Robocop, he tears his way through a cyborg army using increasingly overpowered weapons in a quest to kill a rogue colonel and rescue the sexy doctor lady he just nailed. The game is pure ’80s laser-infused testosterone, down to Rex’s nonsensical one-liners, side quests to retrieve VHS tapes, and 8-bit cutscenes. The affair culminates in your acquiring the ultimate weapon, the Killstar—literally, a shuriken that fires an insta-killing laser beam—and riding a titanium-plated cyber-dragon as you mow down an entire base of enemies. Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.
Mass Effect 3: Citadel
Mass Effect 3 was my favorite game of 2012, and the Citadel DLC offered one last romp with Commander Shepard and the Normandy crew. While ME3 itself was dark, concerned with an impossible struggle against a force systematically wiping out all sentient organic life, Citadel is a jaunt in which Shepard goes it mostly alone to track down an identity thief, then throws a party for his surviving shipmates. It’s great to reconnect and cut loose with characters like Jack, Wrex, and Miranda, ending with a big group photo that puts a happy footnote on an otherwise gloom-heavy story.
It took me a while to get into Infinite, but once I did it became the game I couldn’t stop playing. In fact I only finished the existing DLC yesterday. At first I disliked the ending, as I usually feel multiverses are a cop-out for writers who want to have their cake and eat it too, but in Infinite the multiverse angle is used in service to a game-changing plot twist, one that does what a real twist should by illuminating much of the story that preceded it. The floating city of Columbia, with its 1912 steampunk angle and American exceptionalist ideology, proves a delightfully dystopian playground and a good foil for the underwater city of Rapture from the first two games, which had a 1940s art deco style and was obsessed with an objectivist philosophy. Its open spaces and dizzying heights contrast with the claustrophobic, leaky Rapture. Once you get the hang of it, sliding around on the skylines like a roller coaster becomes second nature, and knocking enemies off the edge of the city using the Undertow vigor becomes a gleeful act. Elizabeth is truly a companion character, one who doesn’t toss herself in front of bullets at every opportunity (indeed, she can’t be hurt) and actually helps you by scrounging up money, health, and ammo, and bringing in useful items and environment objects through inter-dimensional “tears”. I’m eagerly awaiting the second chapter of the Burial at Sea DLC, which takes place in Rapture and which is rumored to feature Elizabeth as the player character.
I didn’t go to any big events this year like last year’s Comic Con or One More Disney Day, but I did have a great time on a few out-of-town trips.
La Grande, Oregon
In February my bestie Rikki and I went to visit our mutual friend Jeff in La Grande, Oregon, a city of 13,000 people located 3 hours from the nearest airport. He’d been up there working with salmon, you see, and we were on a mission to convince him to rejoin civilization. It didn’t exactly turn out how we planned, since he’s now in western Australia working with sawfish, but we had a good time. We visited a frozen mountain lake, went to the Oregon Trail Museum (it’s exactly like the computer game), and drank local craft brews. Of course, being me, I found the stash of college students’ used CDs in the local used bookstore and proceeded to loot it for treasures from the ’90s, like Veruca Salt and The Crow soundtrack.
March found me in Seattle for a wedding, so naturally I dragged my parents and siblings along to the EMP Museum and the Seattle Aquarium, then took off on my own to hit every independent record store in town in the span of a couple hours.
June brought a trip to San Francisco to see Alkaline Trio with Xtine. Naturally I had to hit all the Amoeba and Rasputin Music stores, including those over in Berkeley where our friend Teri was living. We hit the goth clubs and the Pyramid brewery, and I ventured up and down half the city on foot, culminating in me hoofing it up and over Powell Street with my luggage in tow, trying desperately to find a cab since I’d forgotten to get exact change for the bus.
The Queen Mary
I found myself on the Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor twice this year, at the Ink & Iron festival in June and again in September at Xtine’s behest, as she was attending a vampire LARP event with her SF crew. We hit Disneyland, of course, as we always do. I slept on the floor, pretended to be a ghoul, and enjoyed some immensely entertaining people-watching. Xtine wore a wedding dress and her character got married to Dracula, which I assume is pretty boss if you’re a vampire.
Busch Gardens Tampa
A business trip earlier this month took me to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, with a side trip to the Florida Aquarium. I fed a giraffe, held a sloth, and rode some awesome coasters. It was exciting getting to experience another theme park, especially one I’d never been to, and I hope to be able to visit some more out-of-state ones in the future.