Staff Picks: Best of 2014, by The Damn Beast

Finally we’ve come to the last post in Staff Picks Week: mine! I wasn’t entirely sure of doing a Best Of post at all for this site, but it turned out to be a phenomenal success, and I’m very happy that it was done. Every post written by the WIGS staff was insightful and fun to read, and after this we’re back to our usual programming.

Oh and the site is totally different now. How about that?


2014 was a weird year for me in terms of pop culture. While I fell in love hard with some stuff, I was extremely surprised to see that I couldn’t even add a Movies section to this post. I could not think of a single 2014 movie that I loved enough to write something about it (that wasn’t already written in the staff’s posts). I loved Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Days of Future Past, The Maze Runner, Big Hero Six, and a few others, but none of them gave me the giddies I’ve had in the past. 


TV

Conversely, and like I could’ve never imagined, TV gave me a lot to be happy about. Let’s go through it.

BoJack Horseman

The off-kilter animated sitcom by Netflix, came as a totally casual recommendation from WIGS writer Game_Brains. He hadn’t even finished it when he told me to watch it, and I saw it in about two days (I don’t ever binge TV shows). Something in this show resonated hard with me; maybe it was the cynical asshole main character, the top notch voice acting, or the Hollywood setting that gives writers chance to lampoon LA culture in great ways.

I didn’t laugh with BoJack as much as I laugh watching South Park or Futurama (though when I did, I laughed hard; Vincent Adultman is hysterical), but this show was working with many more ambitions than just being funny. It was a character study. It was intensely emotional and extremely complex. The ending to the eleventh episode, titled “Downer Ending”, left me feeling cold and sad for days. The last time that happened was with South Park’s “You’re Getting Old”. One thing is making you sad like Futurama has done a million times; another one is feeling like a piece of your soul was thrown out in the cold.

A lot of it seemed unnecessary and weird. I never really understood the whole anthropomorphic animals dynamic; it lent itself for some great background gags, but never had any impact on anything; interesting choice, but I didn’t understand it. Still, I will defend BoJack Horseman until I die.

Community


After the (comparatively) terrible fourth season, I was ready to give up on my favorite comedy of all time: Community. I was so surprised when I saw the first episodes when the year began and like night and day I recognized the show I loved immediately.

Suddenly the show had returned to its cleverness, the writing was complex again, the meta stuff never got too out of hand (with one exception in “Re-Pilot”) and most of all: it was very, very funny again.

“Basic Intergleuteal Numismatics” quickly became one of my top 5 episodes of Community. Every fucking joke hit the mark, the Fincher spoofs were spot-on, and it ended on a big, big shocker that reminds us that this show can go from cartoon to real life in one line of dialogue. It was only thirteen episodes, and the finale left a bit to be desired (I’m glad we’re getting a sixth season), but throughout, I was given a chance to remember why I love this show. From the emotional simplicity of “Cooperative Polygraphy” to the explosive meta concept of “Geothermal Escapism” (where one of my favorite TV characters ever left the show), season five was near perfection. If 3 and 2 weren’t actually perfect, this would be the best.

House of Cards

There isn’t much to say: I watched the first season and the first episode of the second of House of Cards (I’m still making my way through it). If you knew me you’d know how crazy that is. I never thought I’d be into a show like this, but the writing is so incredibly sharp, the acting so nuanced and powerful, I was glued to the screen.

Game of Thrones


Nothing new here. Everyone knows I love Game of Thrones, even more than I love the book series. Season 4 covered my favorite part of the first five books and did so having to work with some huge challenges Martin set up for D&D, and came out triumphantly in the end without any major stumbles. There were details I didn’t like at all (the Magnar of Thenn was just awful), and some arcs that could’ve been handled better (Bran’s, in general), but otherwise this was a perfect re-structuring of the story of which Martin began to lose control.

The big scenes were done phenomenally well. Joffrey’s wedding, Tyrion’s trial by combat, the Battle for the Wall, Tyrion’s retribution, Jorah’s exile. All of them were either as I imagined them, or much better represented (the trial by combat worked me even worse than the Red Wedding, and I never thought it was possible).

Season 5 starts in just a few months, and I’m going ape thinking about it. Finally the story is moving farther than the books. I’m happy because I’ve begun to lose faith in seeing The Winds of Winter in 2015 or even 2016.


Games


Towerfall: Ascension


It’s strange when you discover a new love out of nowhere. Generally it’s the stuff you anticipate the ones that make it to your favorites. With Towerfall: Ascension, it was almost surreal. I was in a friend’s (actually, again Game_Brains’) home with a couple of other friends. He had downloaded some cool sounding game for free on PS+. We played one round and immediately recognized it as the greatest fucking thing of all time.

It’s ridiculous how many hours I’ve spent playing Towerfall’s multiplayer (and I haven’t played the single player campaign; not once). This game defines the concept of less is more when it comes to game design. The multiplayer dynamics are so incredibly well balanced and the matches so quick and intense, it’s ridiculously addictive. This game is the reason why every time I had a gaming night at home, people wouldn’t leave until 6AM. Yes, we’d play some other stuff, but it always started—and eventually returned to—Towerfall.

So refreshing. It’s Smash Bros, perfected.

If you have a PS4, and you’re not playing Towerfall: Ascension with friends, you have no reason to pick one console over the other. You might as well own the XB1.

The Wolf Among Us

I played the new Game of Thrones TellTale game when it came out and it completely crushed my face with a dagger. I cannot wait to see how that story continues, but as far as 2014, I was also head over heels for The Wolf Among Us. This game, which appears to be tailored made for me, including many of my favoritest things—narrative gaming, noir, werewolves, plot twists, and more—perked up my early 2014.

I loved playing through every intense episode and being left waiting for what was coming next. Episodic gaming was a new thing for me, and this game worked it really well into my life. I sincerely hope I get a second season.


Five Nights at Freddy’s




Another obsession that came out of nowhere. A friend sent me a YouTube link to watch “THE SCARIEST GAME EVER”. I was fresh out of PT and Outlast, and thought no other game would be a problem.

Five Nights at Freddy’s puts me under a ridiculous amount of tension, more than any point-and-click game has any right to, and that is why I have nothing but respect for Scott Cawthon, whose brain I'd love to pick. He managed to create something huge out of a tiny brick. I had never seen minimalist gaming work so well. This game, and the equally good sequel, are brilliantly efficient in every aspect, from the limited gameplay dynamics, to the storytelling.

The mysterious plot behind Freddy’s Pizzeria is the reason why my YouTube suggestions page is full of Fazbear recommendations. I’m crazy over the discussions and theories going on in the increasingly massive fanbase. For someone who is new to success, Scott sure knows how to market his work and work his audience. I hope he finished the Freddy’s trilogy, and moves on to something even more awesome.

Music



Devin Townsend

My all-time favorite musician released not one, not two, but three full-length albums this year, each of them entirely different from the others (oh and two of them have my voice somewhere in the mix). I still don’t know which one I liked best, because all three have their highlights (I’m leaning towards Sky Blue), all I know is that not one of them came close to disappointing me. I still jive with every decision he does musically, and Devin really earned some time off. I hope he takes it, because he’s a machine.

I wrote a full review of Casualties of Cool, an album I adored despite not being something I’d normally listen to. “Flight” and “Bones” are the standout tracks thanks to their powerful, moving melodies.

Sky Blue is Devin at his most and basic Devinest. It combines the energy and soaring choirs of Epicloud and Addicted with more poppy sensibilities for a long album that never stops being enjoyable. My favorite tracks are “Forever”, “Before We Die”, “Universal Flame”, and the original mix of “Fallout” with Devin on lead vocals. Of course I have nothing against Anneke’s, but Dev’s power in those melodies is matched only by . . . well, Dev. In “Kingdom”.

Dark Matters stood next to Zitloid The Omniscient as a worthy sequel, which is a pretty big deal because ZtO is fucking phenomenal. My favorite tracks are “Deathray” (mandatory mosh slamming crushing fun), “March of the Poozers” (a Devy brand anthem), and the epic “Earth”. Also, well, “Dimension Z” because I sang in that one.

I’m hoping against hope here, but I really wish to see him again live sometime soon. His was the greatest concert I’ve ever been to.

Ylvis

This was the year I discovered Ylvis, a band that became famous for being stupid with the single “The Fox”. Though that song was decidedly fun, it wasn’t until I listened to more of their songs that I really started to love them, and eventually became a fan. They have the sense of self-awareness The Lonely Island (another band I love) has, and they make me laugh as much, only Ylvis is much, much superior musically speaking.

They’ve covered every goddamn musical genre there is, from party hip hop (“Pressure”), power ballads (the awesome “Stonehenge” or “Jan Egeland”), dubstep  (the hilarious “Someone Like Me”), smooth jazz (“The Cabin”), folk (“Mr. Toot”) and obviously that weird synth-pop thing they did with “The Fox”. All of their songs are different—something I sadly can’t say about The Lonely Island—and entirely unpredictable; you can’t guess what the “story” is going to be about in any given song because even when you think they’ve reached the limits of their weirdness/imagination, you find out they really, really haven’t.

Also the pranks from their Norwegian TV show are fucking hysterical. This was by far my favorite.

Opeth


So many discussions about Opeth’s new direction. Though I loved Heritage, it’s still my least favorite Opeth album and not really because it’s not heavy (Damnation is in my top 3 albums) but because it didn’t feel as passionate and ambitious as any of the other ones, with only tracks like “The Devil’s Orchard” and “Slither” standing out.

The new album, Pale Communion (which I hate to admit is the only one I haven’t bought) was a step in the right direction for me, coming closer to the top-shelf stuff that makes me call Opeth my favorite band. Though I was scared by the first single, “Cusp Of Eternity” when I heard it the first time (the vocal melody wasn’t doing it for me), after a million listens I was grooving with it hard. It’s not the Opeth I fell in love with, and I’m not sure I would love it if it wasn’t for my history with the band, but it’s still one of the greatest things I heard this year.

The beautiful and strange “River” is my favorite song and definitely ranks high in my all-time Opeth chart. “Eternal Rains Will Come”, “Elysian Woes”, and “Faith In Others” are also highlights, though I also really enjoy listening to the ultra prog “Moon Above, Sun Below”.

Opeth can do no wrong, and I’ll probably love anything they work on next, but I’ll be this guy and echo the opinion that I really would love to hear some new death metal stuff, though I’ve made peace with the fact that we’ll probably never get that again.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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