While coronavirus threatens our lives and livelihoods, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine have become the new norm. Suddenly, our nation is filled with people asked to stay home and cut off most casual interactions with the world outside. In this environment, the art, hobbies, rituals, and entertainments we love have become ever more vital to our mental wellbeing. As a new, and (hopefully) limited new series on Lewton Bus, Isolation Nation aims to give our editors and contributors space to talk about the things that are giving them a little comfort in this isolated world, for your social distancing entertainment.
Ryan Roch – In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind (Failure)
This column is about what we are relying on as things grow ever more stressful, and I am leaning on this music. The pioneers of space-rock, known for dense and meticulous production and mixing and complex composition, Failure were founded in L.A. in the nineties, put out 3 groundbreaking records1, then disbanded shortly after their masterpiece Fantastic Planet was released. They’ve reformed in recent years, and have released two incredible albums (The Heart Is A Monster and the one I’m writing about in this piece) in that time. In all honesty, this isn’t the first time this band has helped me through rough patches. When I began college, I watched my family dissolve and faced a lot of personal struggles with my own mental health. The music of Failure was one of the few things that I could rely on to ground and center me, despite the fact that they’d dissolved as a unit about 5 years before that time.
While I was obviously an easy mark for their reunion record, I have to admit that this most recent outing actually took me a few tries to really click into. That’s due in no small part to the fact that it wasn’t originally released as a full-length, but in four EPs, which evolved during production to fit the framework of a singular album. However, over the past 4 months, I’ve had time and solitude to dive deep into the soaring melodies and harmonies, the ass-kicking bangers, the stripped down grooves, and hauntingly beautiful arrangements of this truly dynamic and impressive collection of songs. At this point in their career, I can easily say that Ken Andrews, Greg Edwards, and Kellii Scott are not, like so many reformed and still-touring groups of the 90s, grasping at the emergent glory of their salad days as alt-rock astronauts. They’re at the pinnacle of their powers as musical craftsmen. During this period of social-distancing and self-imposed isolation, their lush and pristine aural presentations, and evocative and enigmatic lyrics focused on post-modern technological solopsism have been the perfect salve for my own rampaging anxieties. While the world seems ever-ready to tear itself into a new dimension of absurdity, having music this dense and interesting to wrap my mind around is a real comfort. And while it was released in 2018, I think these lyrics from the wonderful “The Pineal Electorate” really help me to sum up the insanity I feel I’m subjected to from the worst corners of our culture, on a daily basis. So I’m gonna let the boys from L.A. play me out while I flip the record back to Side A.
“Everyone will get what’s coming soon
A paragon Kruger and Dunning
We all did this
The pineal electorate electrocute switch has left twisting off into space sideways”
David Hoh – “Bet Against Me” (Watsky)
I’m back with another Watsky song that I listened to while at work. This time it’s from the 2014 album All You Can Do, which I listened to in full while waiting on video to render. It’s one of my favorite albums of his, featuring artists like Anderson .Paak (also one of the album’s producers) and Stephen Stills. The last three tracks are like a triptych proportional to a religious experience. I do recommend listening to the album. This week I’m highlighting track 3, “Bet Against Me”. It’s a pump-up track for the times. More than ever before, really.
All You Can Do is chock-full of creative experimentation, and this is no exception. Between the verse and the chorus, there’s an excerpt from his father (clinical psychologist, Jungian analyst and poet Dr. Paul Watsky, seen on the album cover as a younger man), reminiscing on his anxieties and nihilism during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It speaks to this assured fear of doom… that occurred nearly 58 years ago. It ties in to one of the themes of the album: George Watsky reflecting on his personal history as well as the history of his ancestors, how all the lives and struggles and sacrifices that came before resulted in him, now. Here, and trying to make it all worth something.
“I’m playing with the house’s money now.”
Paul’s feelings are frighteningly relatable, and have been for the past four years. But there’s something hopeful in them, too. In 2016, my dad helped calm me down during one of my very fun, democratically elected episodes, by relating his own parents’ similar fears from roughly the same time as Paul’s anecdote. My dad was a baby at the time, but he told me of the bleakness my grandparents felt in the wake of the JFK assassination. The early 60’s were a terrifying, confusing time, but all that amounts to ancient history to me.
Sometimes I have to remind myself of that in order to see the small light peeking through this cave of crap: that I am merely one more adult with hopes and dreams and plans, on the highway of history, where similar adults faced similar threatening stop signs arbitrarily manufactured by a few heartless cretins. George Watsky isn’t peacocking and acting tough in this song. It’s the truth. His own father was sure he was going to die. That everything was going to end. And it didn’t. So now George is here, advising that you only bet against him if you like to lose. I hope that someday we too can wake up and be amazed.
Alfredo Marquez – Smash Brothers Melee
Melee is a twenty year old game. A game from a much simpler world. Plagued by bugs and exploits never fixed, never balanced, fast as reflexes can get, the unlikely game found in its imperfections it’s true potential. I still play it on a cathode ray tube tv like god intended. Some days I do wonder how much I like it because of nostalgia, and how much of it is that the game really is that good.
Never when I play it, though. When I play it i am reassured that Melee is indeed sick and if it wasn’t good, we made it so.
Speaking of twenty years; there is an old Melee in-joke about the year 20XX (borrowed from the post-apocalyptic Megaman X games) that says in that year the game will be so optimized that everyone will play Fox (the perceived best character in the game) and matches will be decided by who’s got their controller in the Player One port. The joke started as a dig on what was then thought of as the homogenization of the game, as it was becoming clear only a few characters were viable in the limited stage selection that the competitive scene deemed fair for tournament play. What occurred was quite the opposite: restriction allowed the game to grow into a thing never conceived of by its makers. Nintendo has pretty much disavowed the scene, and Melee has become one of the oldest e-sports with a passionate community, that has shown time and time again just how far they’re willing to go for the sake of a twenty year old kids party game.
I bring this up because it seems oddly fitting that just a few days ago in the year 2020 – a year that feels as appropriately dystopian as the proverbial 20XX – a guy who goes by Fizzi released an add-on he’s been working on for six months to grant Melee a seamless online mode via emulation. This is not the first thing the Melee community has managed to engineer to circumvent the technical limitations of the game. Not by a long shot. But it is definitely the most impressive. Nintendo’s own online mode for its latest release is completely useless at a competitive level, which makes this accomplishment even more impressive.
The quarantine shutdown has left people with very limited options in terms of sports (those being Nascar, Marbles or video games), but Melee as an e-sport has always been dependent on local play. Tournaments are organized by bringing large amounts of CRT tvs, often crowdsourced by the fans through great effort, and online tournaments were limited to nearby players as the old (also fan-made) online system lacked the potency of this new one. As of this week players from all over the world can play in peace and harmony, closing the social distance through a twenty year old kids party game. Melee just keeps on keeping on. Melee is sick.
Shannon Hubbell – Fringe
Given how much hot, boiled garbage J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman have been responsible for over the years, it’s kind of nice to see them make something, well, nice! I’m way late to the party with their television show Fringe, but better late than never. It’s weird, funny, utterly devoid of irony, and filled with all kinds of wonderful science-fictional silliness. I mean, the opening credits are just a long list of awesome things.
But we’re not just talking nerdery here. The cast is terrific2 and the father/son relationship between Walter Bishop (John Noble) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) is wonderfully complicated and often very sweet.
Also, Joshua Jackson is so dreamy in this that I’m questioning my sexuality.
That’s it for this week’s edition! We hope you enjoyed it and found some new direction to point that endlessly turning cranium of yours. We also hope you’ll check back as we publish new pieces in this regular column, and give some inspiration back to us in the comments!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay happy.