2020 was a pretty incredible year for quality albums. We’ve sailed through ninety eight other examples of this fact in the past few weeks. Yeah, I know, did I do a top 100 this year? No, I did a top ninety nine because I’m freaking gangsta. Hmmm, imagine if I’d remembered to list Ariana Grande’s last album? It might have cleaned it up a bit. Ah well, no harm no foul. If you’re wondering, it would have finished arooooooouuuuuuuund… 74th. Despite the raised competition though, despite a high placing on 2020’s list being more difficult than in most recent years, there was still only ever really one record that I ever really imagined finishing top.
070 Shake is Danielle Balbuena, a 22 year old Brooklyn native of Dominican decent who has stealthily being climbing up the Necessary Evil chart in recent years. Her unmistakable, tranquil voice that seems to have been digitally uploaded from the uncanny valley and wears the scars of the distorted transition, had obviously been used recently to add certain sparkle to hip-hop tracks that nothing else was ever going to be likely to be able to do. She appeared on Pusha T’s Santeria,the 37th best album of 2018, offering a haunting and seemingly otherworldly Spanish language segment that the listener assumed would have taken all the talent of producer Kanye West to make sound quite so idiosyncratic and mystifying, not realising that was just what Shake’s voice sounded like. West was similarly enchanted by Shake as I was- as anyone would be, enough to have her guest on two tracks from his own (unfairly maligned, really freaking good) solo record that year, the twelfth best album of 2018, on album highlight Violent Crimes and of 2018 highlight Ghost Town(the 13th best song of the year).
Yeah, that’s right, I review games now! Whadda ya make of that, huh!? I know what you were previously thinking. “This guy, Alex?” You mumble to yourself through bounteous saliva trigged on your thirsting lips brought on by even the mention of my name, “He’s out every night poontang pie eating, his life is all passion, pain and dragon slaying, he wouldn’t even have time to sit alone in his room covered in Doritos dust, slamming down Pepsi Maxes as he twiddles his analog sticks”. Well, guess what ladies and gentlemen? I’m even cooler than you previously thought!
Three things: Firstly, yes, I do play video games, but at a much slower and infrequent rate than, say, the lead game reviewer at IGN. My PS4 is 99% utilised as a way to explore ancient ruins and domesticate live dodos in ARK while playing online with a friend* I bought The Last of Us pt 2 the day it came out in June, and finished it roughly a week ago. It’s my game of the year because, basically, it’s the only game I had time to play this year.
(*if that friend’s reading, I’ve not forgotten that we still need to visit the grasslands in order to hunt pelt to wear to allow us to investigate the mountains, I’ll have time to get to it soon, I promise!)
Secondly, that age old stereotype that I’ve just lazily referred to is based on an archaic Boomer presumption about gamers that dates back to the 80s. Back then, playing games meant sticking 126 floppy disks into your Amstrad CPC 464 and sitting through roughly 72 hours of loading time in order to glance at perhaps an illicitly digitised cleavage in Leisure Suit Larry. Of course these people deserved to be mocked and scorned! Playing video games was purely for children and neeeeeeeeeeeeeerds back then, but now those children have grown into childish adults in a culture that strongly discourages letting go of childish things. In 2020, the average age of a video game player has been said to be as old as 35, while remaining a chief interest of actual children. Now, video games aren’t just a silly pastime for socially awkward preteens struggling with the dangerous sexual enfeeblement of puberty. Video games aren’t just now the biggest entertainment business in the world, but also capable of being legitimate and emotionally affecting pieces of art.
Thirdly, much of The Last of Us pt 2 and the critical response to it seems to still be lost in that debate of the artistic legitimacy of video games, which really shouldn’t still be an open issue. Guys, Majora’s Mask was released 20 years ago!! Many reviews get wrapped up in declaring how this is now proof that games can be considered art, that this is the (sigh) ‘Citizen Kane of video game‘, a lasting monument to the possibilities of the entire form. Then there was an even greater backlash that near unanimously declared that TLOUp2 was actually the worst thing ever, because it doesn’t work as a movie, because they didn’t like plot choices, because decisions didn’t make sense, because, seriously, who is this woman??, and many more. It has meant that what I originally considered to be a somewhat lukewarm explanation of why I liked the game, with dozens of caveats, has actually become a lot more defensive of people’s reasons for hating it that I deem illegitimate. Yeah, there was also the usual sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and transphobic nonsense, which I’m not sure I need to explain the invalidity of.