2019 Things I Loved

So 2019 is over. I enjoyed quite a few things, but I didn’t write about them all. Movies, music, a show or two, video games, what follows are my thoughts on the things I enjoyed a lot in 2019 here in short fun blips. I should note I won’t be including things that everyone has talked about and everyone saw or had an opinion about (like Rise of Skywalker or Avengers) unless there’s things I think never got brought up or if that piece of media got underappreciated or certain aspects of it I never saw getting discussed.

Video Games

Look, I already said pretty much everything I needed to say about Pathologic 2 without managing to spoil the craziest, deepest, darkest bits that crawl into your soul and leave you rambling for days. Just go try it, game of the year, maybe a contender for my top 5 at this point. And that’s good enough for me to put it in this list when I know so many readers won’t touch this one even though they absolutely should try it. Enough said.

Apex Legends was a special time. A fantastic release that blew everyone (including Respawn) out of the water. Apex Legends and the darling days of its launch experience are a towering achievement to the notions that (seemingly) good development practices and care spent on a game can create instant success stories that don’t always need massive amounts of marketing or walled off content to be relevant, successful, and good. Apex also stands out as the moment in which “ship first, fix later” methodologies for games didn’t matter. Other games released in recent memory like the troubled development of Anthem or the disastrous product support process of Fallout 76 are slowly becoming a norm when they shouldn’t. Apex shipped in a “ready state”, but had plenty of problems too. It crashed constantly for PC and console players. It had multiple instances of cheating issues. And it made its fair share of missteps across its first year. And yet, Apex’s free-to-play cost, active community managers, and steady stream of updates won over its fans despite launching in a technically semi-broken state. The innovations were grand, the game felt fresh, no one was completely expecting it, and Respawn actually went on to fix things. If ever a “ship now, fix later” game exists, Apex Legends is the case in point why those types of experiences don’t need to end up badly (but please, finish games more before shipping them Bethesda/EA/BioWare).

I’m glad this game is still going strong, but it’s safe to say lifestyle games with season passes that require you to play them practically every day to get your money’s worth are things I’m starting to grow very weary of. I had the freedom to enjoy every ounce of the first season and a half of Apex Legends but once I wrapped up college and grabbed a full time job again, I wanted to play different games and that means not really getting to be a part of this “have and have not” virtual economy. Apex is still fun, it’s still good, and I hope in a year’s time it’s still going strong and there’s some really cool Titanfall event happening that reveals the announcement of Titanfall 3. I’d be back in a flash for that.

A Plague Tale shares a lot in terms of narrative and thematic strength with that of Life is Strange in the same sense that Ian Danskin explained in his video. One half of A Plague Tale stands in contrast to the other. The first half of the game is this exploration of awful disasters that plague and outbreak can have on people. The other half is this wild romp of a time that leans into some of the absurdities that are already present when the game begins. If you told me ten years ago that the future of video games would include such amazing things as insane rat horde technology, I wouldn’t get it. But as it stands, the almost anime-level things happening at the game’s climax somehow fail to bother me. They’re entertaining. Also like Life is Strange, this game never does anything without an ounce of earnestness from its developers. The voice acting (phenomenal French voice performances, by the way), the heart-aching music, the time spent developing its characters and their relationships, the uh…fight at the end, all of it, done with care and earnestness from a studio that’s been making a bunch of licensed video games and that one game (ReCore). Unlike Life is Strange, the back half of A Plague Tale doesn’t threaten to devour or erase the experiences in the first half of the game and utilizes its establishing emotional core to carry you with gusto into the grand finale. Great stuff, all in a historical setting that really feels inspired by a certain point in French history.

Right before I got to Sekiro’s very late stage fights (I’m looking at you Demon of Hatred), Sekiro’s biggest flaw going for it was its abandonment of fashion customization and the pains of progressing the game’s various upgrade trees (you either have to grind a lot and/or progress further in the game to unlock the item types that you can now grind for). Some of those late stage fights are kinda frustrating, a little too tough for my book, but on the other side of the coin this game has easily one of the best Souls boss fights in the series history. Fans have been waiting since Dark Souls 1 for this type of “realistic” swordplay that allows players to stop every attack and vice versa without being able to rely on holding a block button or one-parry-win being a gateway to massive damage. And boy did that wait pay off. One of the great things about experiencing a series like the Souls games or essentially tracking a developer’s releases over time is being able to see the iterative and various design elements become focused or uniquely honed. Dark Souls offered a plethora of these minutia design elements that FromSoftware are now turning into interesting reflections and commentaries on their own previous designs one or three games ago. And that’s something increasingly hard to come by in video games these days outside refining a formula to attract the masses in the way an Assassins Creed game does. Instead, FromSoftware’s iterations are letting us take one element from a Souls game and hyper focus it. I really look forward to seeing them continue this formula. Bloodborne showed the idea had legs, and Sekiro proved the legs are capable of running when necessary.

Draugen’s a neat little experience that originally looked like it was going to be just another run of the mill Amnesia game but set in a small Scandanavian coast town. Part of me really loved that monstrosity that the game appeared to be in teaser trailers, part of me would still enjoy it. But getting a Firewatch-esque tale done on a budget that’s a little bit more psychological instead of the grounded elements of Firewatch was enjoyable and interesting. It’s a pretty game too, waiting for you to discover it.


So I should get out of the way that I wound up covering most of the albums I listened to this year and really enjoyed. You can find my thoughts on them in the links and they honestly all deserve to be in this list but let’s just save the time by letting my reviews there speak for themselves and not re-treading it all. Those albums were Anjunadeep 10, Solarstone’s third LP in the morse code series, BT’s Between Here and You, Vintage & Morelli’s Hymn to the Night, Xilent’s We Are Dust, and All Hail the Silence’s Daggers. What follows are other albums I listened to in 2019 but maybe haven’t reviewed yet or I never got around to it.

So my review of this album isn’t out yet but BT’s (technically) third album this year is something strange and unique. It’s perhaps the most unique and new direction he’s taken since This Binary Universe, the most minimalist album he’s made ever (?), which is something unexpected but welcome from the multi-instrumentalist creator. It feels like a rare case of the artist wanting to maybe isolate the many different components normally included in one piece of music that make up BT’s numerous works over the years. It makes for a harder expedition to find granular details in what is otherwise “simplistic”, but it also makes for maybe the most open and emotionally raw music BT’s put out there. Because of the usual course of BT not telling too many tales and the album’s more or less instrumental nature, we’re left just feeling. This album has a lot of feeling and emotional spaces he hasn’t explored in music before, and it makes for an expedition I still haven’t quite figured out how to grapple even after five or six listens.

Madeon’s works were never really enthralling to me as he seemed like one of the many talented electronic artists out there really making the most out of taking the electronic music world and adapting it as an instrument. But someone using it to make stuff that more or less feels like that version of pop music while occasionally paying homage to the club music past wasn’t originally enthralling for me when Adventure was around. I had nothing against it, it just wasn’t my jam. But a friend was all excited about the album, and “All My Friends” was catchy. I found a few standout tracks on the album (Dream Dream Dream, All My Friends, Nirvana/Mania), but more or less found it a bit more interesting than the stuff Madeon had done up to this point. The gospel inspirations made for a good fusion with Madeon’s blistering, genre-spanning indie EDM music. But then I caught Madeon’s album tour live and…let’s just say these EDM artists spending more time creating tools and means to perform music that they create is something we’re seeing the incredible fruition of this decade with the likes of Madeon, Porter Robinson, Puppet, Haywyre, and more. Madeon’s music takes on an entirely different shape, length, and scope when played live. If you get the chance to experience this labor of love live, I can vow with honesty that it’s an experience built to enthrall you in all the fun and theatricality it comes with. But the music performance and its variations from the album are what really shine through as champions more than the pretty sights of it all. Tracks like “Heavy with Hoping” are vastly superior in those contexts and “Mania/Nirvana” is wild. I practically want a live album of his show instead of the actual release. Definitely worth more of a listen than Armin van Buuren’s newest….thing. It’s great seeing creators like Madeon and Porter shaping the realm of popular EDM music, may they continue this well into the future.

Altered State is another trance pilgrimage we’ve been waiting for just as Escape was back in 2016. I saw Hydra perform back in February on my birthday for an open to close set at Sound Bar in Chicago. Several tracks from the album were sneaked into that six hour set. They were great, very Thrillseekers / Hydra as usual. If you haven’t experienced Thrillseekers before, now’s a fantastic time to get involved, this is a trance DJ who’s been working on honing his craft and developing this musical style for seeming eons at this point reaching a point of fruition that has permitted us two of his first albums in the span of just a few years, several of these works spanning that very time frame. If you’re a trance fan and haven’t heard of Thrillseekers, we’re sitting in a perfect time you didn’t even know about yet. Get to knowing what The Thrillseekers offers. Altered States is one of the finest examples of an undiluted trance album, reaching straight for the heart of the emotive and physical air that the genre breathes with each pulse. I realize this is all waxing poetic, but The Thrillseekers deserves the love. And you deserve its love. It’s as simple as that.

Luttrell’s debut album feels like the end result of the influences we’ve seen in the past five or six years in house music moving the sub-genre heavyweights of deep house, tech house, and techno all into the one new king of interesting new stuff in house music: “melodic techno.” Luttrell’s debut album isn’t some masterstroke, and it feels like there’s less interesting things going on than Lane 8’s first two albums (the undoubted early-adoptive champion of the genre), but Luttrell has managed to make some of the most fascinating sounds in this arena. Chugging basslines with weird vocal blurps on Layover. Quiet Even Dark has a wonderful stringed chord progression with a lovely vocal loop. Still Dreaming is a dazing heavy stomper (an oxymoron of a description that befits the album wonderfully). And Luttrell even managed his own version of an anthem with Out of Me. It’s a delightful time.

So I’m cheating a little with this one. The score and soundtrack for Into the Spider-Verse came out in late 2018 alongside the movie but this film and its score and accompanying soundtrack took such a rapturous hold on my heart that it deserves to be talked about some, which I didn’t do much of during my breakdown of why Into the Spider-Verse was so special to me. I’m willing to give Daniel Pemberton just as much credit as the rest of the components of Into the Spider-Verse for why it was so good. This score is superb and its use of motifs deserves to go into textbook 101 for building themes for superhero films. Simplistic and refined while managing to build a visceral electronica and hip hop blended influence into those themes, this score is special in ways that words will never do it justice. You just have to experience it with the film and revel in it on your own.

Films / Television

Wow. I haven’t been this upset something’s been cancelled in…ever. I missed the boat on Firefly when it was airing and became a fan years later, so things felt a bit more complete and a little less “unfair” to me when watching it. And technically I did not catch Tuca & Bertie right around release time. But after steadily going through the season this past December, starting from the show’s ludicrous and unhinged approach to all things real and wild to the show’s more colorfully dark explorations in the later half of the season, I cannot think of a show we need more of than this one. It’s phenomenal, honest, able to cut past so many narrative whiplash experiences at times through really well thought out development, animation, fantastic acting, and perhaps the strongest weapon in a comic’s arsenal: Timing. It took a short stroll through this show for me to realize I want more of anything Lisa Hanawalt dreams up in the future.

For a brief amount of time I was almost considering Doctor Sleep to be my favorite film this year. I was never the biggest fan of The Shining but definitely will never forget the lengthy cold winter night my brother and I spent watching it on TV in our house’s basement on that old big CRT television as we eeked to understand what was happening in that cold quiet hotel mansion. It was unforgettable and incredibly haunting. But even as a passing fan of The Shining and its strengths, Doctor Sleep is a fantastic beast of a horror film. It doesn’t escape some common horror filmmaking tropes, but does its best to let its one true jumpscare be at the service of relieving insanely dense tension that has built up. And let it be known: The tension near this movie’s climax is a nice big thick cloud you can cut with a butter knife. The acting is great, the story isn’t about shaping out too much more of this universe, but has a nice modernized action element to it and tries to add depth to the characters on screen instead. The end result is a truly wonderful horror experience to sit through during the cold, dark of winter. It may not be about as much as The Shining might be, but it’s certainly tapping into some visceral chords superbly well.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a movie teeming with character dramas of monstrous proportions. Literally. It was my favorite movie this year through its insane experience on the big screen, its fierce dedication to maintaining the human drama strengths of other Godzilla films while paying as large a homage to the “people in suits” days of Godzilla in full scale as we can in this modern day. It also does its best to work with the setup that the Godzilla 2014 film gave us and really takes it to interesting places as a result. It’s in this very dedicated effort that King of the Monsters became a wondrous thing to behold on the big screen, a soap opera conflict between a fictional legend and its all time nemesis blown up in full scale. The human element of the story is about looking to the ghosts, enemies, and traumas of our past and using them as the answer to saving our futures in a way that won’t destroy our world, all with the emotive core of a giant. It’s something wondrous, and it’s fascinating to see how the world just didn’t seem to care about this movie. I don’t know if it has to do with our over-technical, over-action-ed out hollywood minds, but King of the Monsters is better than you might think it is. And it’s worth checking out.

And that’s it. I might get around to actually reviewing some of this stuff (definitely will be reviewing BT but I’m definitely not mentally “there” yet), but I’d recommend you go check these out for yourself and get your own opinions on them. I just like writing mine out. I don’t think I’ll be doing any decade retrospectives, reflecting back like that is good for making your own horizon waypoints.



Business admin graduate with a passion for games and music.

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