Beltway white men know best

From the way Willie Geist and “Morning” Joe Scarborough said “identity politics” yesterday morning you’d think they’d recited a passage from Mein Kampf. Identity politics, they aver, prevent the Democratic Party from coalescing around “a single issue” or “one candidate”; instead, the party is associated with “the afflicted” and “victims.” After all, Scarborough reminded the panel, weren’t Bill Clinton and Joe Biden warning the party in August 2016 that white voters were slipping away? Continue reading

Entertainment That Got Me Through 2017: #4, competitive fighting games (part 2 of 3: Street Fighter V)

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It’s been a hard year. I saw exactly one film in theaters, my favorite albums weren’t as phenomenal as my favorites in years past, and I can’t leave my phone in my pocket for one hour without the discourse shifting to the President’s tweets, another beloved celebrity being exposed as a sexual assailant, or some other Hell. So over the next twelve days, I’ll be counting down twelve pieces of entertainment that kept me sane in 2017.

Note: So this #4 entry will be long, and it will be six stories split across three games. I’ve already done Smash 4. Today, I’ll be telling the two biggest Street Fighter V stories. In a few days, I’ll finish with Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Just a note that I’m not quite as expert a spectator for Street Fighter as I am with either iteration of Smash. My fandom is a work in progress, as made somewhat obvious by my focus here on the game’s two biggest titles.

4. Competitive fighting games

Fighting games are simply unbelievable. And though ball is life, following fighting games has been far more rewarding as a hobby this past calendar year. Perhaps best thought of as an advanced system of rock-paper-scissors mechanics rewarding you for being a yomi level above your opponent, what you are watching as you witness top players doing their dance becomes easy to understand even if you fail to grasp the more technical aspects of just what they’re doing. And the word that best encapsulates watching these people? Hype.

The tension of two people dueling, constantly trying to outguess each other, is insane, and the release of coming out on top is infectious, extending to the viewer. Though fighting games’ closest very popular analogy might honestly be tennis (regrettably, the team-based competitive video games that make the bigger bucks are actually boring as fuck), that’s obviously a slow burn. But like in tennis, the storylines that tie into one-on-one showdowns are legendary.

Speaking of legendary, Evo. Let’s begin there.

Punk & Tokido

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After nearly committing suicide in March of 2016, the next December NuckleDu won Capcom Cup, finishing off Street Fighter V‘s first season by bringing home $120,000 at the age of twenty years old. It was perhaps the most impressive tournament victory by an American in the history of the franchise as a competitive game. And it was a thoroughly touching note to go out on.

As we entered season two, NuckleDu remained a top contender, but an even younger American found his star rising as we headed into the next summer. Punk, then only eighteen years old, brought home a whopping $150,000 from ESPN’s ELEAGUE invitational.

But there was a more important prize. Even though its top prize, not quite 38 grand, fell well over one hundred thousand dollars short of the biggest winnings of the year to that point (and over two hundred thousand short of the eventual biggest winnings), Evo 2017 far dwarfed the other tournaments in importance. Evo is the biggest name in the fighting community, the sort of stage people dream of winding up on when they buy their sticks.

And Punk’s dominance was terrifying. He tore his way to grand finals, not only staying on winners side by not dropping a set, but not dropping a game. Not only did he 3-0 both Kazunoko and Itabashi Zangief on the big stage in top 8 – his Karin being broadcast on ESPN 2 all the while – but the day before he’d soundly taken down two legends, the American Justin Wong and one of the five Japanese gods of Street Fighter, a demon that had given Punk trouble when they played friendly matches: Tokido. Remember that name.

(Evo 2017 Street Fighter V winners quarters: Punk vs. Tokido)

Going into his first Evo (!), Punk was the hottest topic, no question, and suddenly he was poised to be the first North American ever to win its main event long before you could legally buy him a drink. This young black man known for his pride and antics, who brought his mother who was rooting for her son with every inch of herself to Evo, seemed as good a representative as any to show the contrasts between the American fighting game community and the ones in Japan and Korea.

But while we awaited the coronation, another player came to define the top 8 much more. To that point, Punk had only played six games. But Tokido, who made it into top 8 on the losers side by beating HAITANI the previous day, dazzled everyone by beating Kazunoko, sitting Capcom Cup champion NuckleDu, and, each in tense last game situations, Filipino Champ and Itabashi Zangief.

Punk was caught for a quick interview after his Winners Finals victory over Kazunoko. Asked who he thought he’d end up facing for grand finals, he answered Tokido. Asked if was going to win this thing, he faltered. Most competitors would pump themselves up by announcing to the world their impending victory. But Punk was unsure if he could take down Tokido, even though he already had. Anyone else? Free. Tokido?

In that respect, Punk was probably on the edge of his seat watching the losers bracket sort itself out. He nearly didn’t have to face the murderface, but Tokido made his way to the losers side of grand finals.

(Evo 2017 Street Fighter V losers eighths: Tokido vs. Filipino Champ)
(Evo 2017 Street Fighter V losers semis: Tokido vs. Itabashi Zangief)

But still, Punk had a cushion. Having made it through winners, Punk would need to lose two consecutive sets to fall out of the double elimination bracket. He’d need to beat Tokido just once. He had two chances.

But it suddenly felt like he didn’t have any. The bracket was quickly reset, Tokido sometimes even breaking from his murderface image to throw some friendly taunts Punk’s way. And after that reset, not only would Tokido execute a perfect round, he’d unnecessarily finish a game in the flashiest way possible: the Raging Demon.

Before long, Tokido himself stood in Akuma’s Raging Demon pose, triumphant. Punk choked back tears. The fighting game community across the world consoled him, and though it’s uncertain if he will ever be as in front of the meta as he was in early 2017, it’s true that this loss could be just the beginning of an immensely satisfying arc.

(Evo 2017 Street Fighter V grand finals: Tokido vs. Punk)

Not unlike the arc of Tokido! Though North America has never taken the prize, Tokido had never won Evo, either, and it was a title that he’d come close to but had eluded him. Oddly, the community wasn’t sore that their fellow American came up short. The consensus seemed to be: this wasn’t what we wanted, so why does it feel so right?

While being interviewed by Gootecks, Tokido was asked if he wanted to say anything to the people back home, and he stopped in thought, perhaps possessed by sudden, overwhelming inspiration, and decided to take it another direction entirely.

“Just one thing I want to say. Fighting game…is something so great.”

That was simply too much for commentator James Chen, the weight of the entire weekend crashing down on him in that one moment.

MenaRD

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$250,000. Capcom Cup, the conclusion of a yearlong circuit, is, Evo aside, the most prestigious title in Street Fighter, and its enormous cash prize, this year’s $250k being the biggest-ever prize for a fighting game tournament, making it even more desirable.

Especially with previous champion NuckleDu dropping out for personal reasons, Tokido and Punk entered the tournament as favorites, but last year’s Capcom Cup had seen some early exits by some of the most dominant players, most notably Tokido, Justin Wong, and the reigning Evo champion Infiltration all going 0-2.

But Punk’s instant exit from the winners bracket was a little unfair. Nemo, winner of the last chance qualifier, was clearly far better than his seed. And though Punk put on a show, taking down Brolynho, Mago, and Xian, he fizzled out against Moke, dropping his last set of Saturday and missing out on top 8.

An entire section could be dedicated to Nemo, who had decided that winning a last chance qualifier tournament was simply easier than qualifying by participating in the circuit and then finished in an astonishing third place. His 3-1 whupping of Itabashi Zangief in losers quarters produced the most iconic moment of the tournament.

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But the story of the tournament came through the winners bracket. Tokido, for his part, played the role of favorite shockingly well for such a volatile game. He beat Ricki Ortiz (last year’s second placer), Gachikun, Bonchan, and Yukadon all in 3-1 sets to advance to winners finals with little incident.

But the other side of winners was more fraught after Punk’s early loss. We’ll focus on a Birdie player named MenaRD, an 18-year-old from the Dominican Republic. He was a solid player, for sure, but his best result at a premier was two months earlier at SCR, and still only good for a fourth place finish. Still, he beat his fellow teen, Punk, and he was a player on the rise.

His bracket was anything but easy. His very first opponent was Xian, winner of 2017’s first premier tournament, Final Round XX, and although he’d had less success in the latter half of the year, he was as decorated a Street Fighter player as any, winning Super Street Fighter IV at Evo 2013.

But Mena held his own. The first game looked lost until an absurd comeback in the final round sent him up, but the set was back and forth.

It came down to a final round.

(Capcom Cup 2017 Winners Top 32: MenaRD vs. Xian)

Mena’s next opponent was about as decorated. Kazunoko came in third at Capcom Cup 2016 and was the Capcom Cup 2015 champion. He had some strong recent results at premier events in Asia along with a third place finish at Evo 2017, and he was always a threat to perform at any event.

This was more commanding. After Mena went up 2-0, Kazunoko began to pick steam and took three straight rounds (nearly making it four and evening it up 2-2), but Mena put an end to it.

(Capcom Cup 2017 Winners Top 24: MenaRD vs. Kazunoko)

But his next opponent would be the most prolific yet.

Daigo “The Beast” Umehara is the most notable fighting game player of all time, the winner of several Evo titles and the hero of the fighting game community’s most famous moment.

And though Daigo’s very best days were behind him, he’d always be a threat to make deep runs into bracket, and he actually won a premier event, Esports Festival Hong Kong, in August. And after Nemo had just shocked the bracket by taking down Punk, Daigo annihilated Nemo 3-0.

If all that wasn’t daunting enough, Guile is a pretty bad matchup for Birdie.

The winner between the Street Fighter legend who had seen the very most and one of its very youngest stars would make top 8 on the winners side.

It was another back and forth set, with Mena overcoming Daigo’s projectiles to force a deciding game five.

(Capcom Cup 2017 Winners Quarters: MenaRD vs. Daigo)

In fact, in a bad matchup, Mena had made things look really hard for Daigo.

A day passed, and Mena’s next opponent before Winners Finals was Itabashi Zangief, who had a pretty darn consistent 2017 with solid results but no wins, most impressively getting fourth at Evo.

…Itabashi Zangief was not a problem for Mena. He handily won 3-0.

(Capcom Cup 2017 Winners Semis: MenaRD vs. Itabashi Zangief)

Mena had been tested to his limits by Daigo and Xian, but running into the reigning Evo champ in winners finals was different.

As he had become accustomed to in recent months, Tokido brought out measuring tape to make sure his chin was the optimal distance from the display.

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It was a classic set. Despite Mena convincingly taking the first three rounds and making things look incredibly hard for Tokido’s Akuma, Tokido barely scraped his way forward to win an insane set.

If the rest of the tournament had been anything else, this 3-2 set, going down to the last round, would be its highlight. Tokido staving off Birdie’s pressure to clutch it would be the biggest moment of Capcom Cup 2017.

(Capcom Cup 2017 Winners Finals: Tokido vs. MenaRD)

But this was not Tokido’s story. Not this time. Not again.

(Although I do recommend that set just as much as I’ll recommend the grand finals.)

In fact, everyone was beginning to suspect that it was Nemo’s story. After beating Infiltration to win the last chance qualifier and then beating favorite Punk, his loss to Daigo just begat another incredible streak: Dogura, Didimokof, Bonchan, Problem-X, Itabashi Zangfief, and finally Moke before making it to MenaRD in losers finals.

With his handshake offering to Itabashi Zangief already blowing up Twitter, it felt like destiny that the last chance qualifier might actually take the tournament.

No.

MenaRD won in a stupid quick, brutal 3-0 thrashing, even landing a perfect. He beat his chest, knowing he’d have another chance at the Evo champion.

(Capcom Cup 2017 Losers Finals: MenaRD vs. Nemo)

And this was the story: the new kid versus the guy who’d been around forever. Just as Evo had been.

Their winners finals set and their grand finals would be an instant classic. To anyone who might ever want to dip their toes into top level competitive Street Fighter, the Tokido/Mena sets are a perfect entry point.

Tokido came out swinging, going up 2-0, notably snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the second game’s first round by finishing in style with Akuma’s Raging Demon, just as he had in Evo’s grand finals.

Down 2-0, Mena began to feel the frustration.

Mena managed a win, but even after climbing out of a 2-0 deficit, he found his tightest position yet.

So down 2-1, down a round with none of his own, and with Tokido still in losers bracket, it looked like this.

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The idea of Mena taking the tournament after being put in that position seems ridiculous.

But after coming back from that, he rode the wave to reset the bracket. He got the hell up out of his chair…

…before getting right back in it. He still had more to do.

Despite the reverse 3-0, Mena’s momentum didn’t overwhelm Tokido, and the set was still tense.

But it wouldn’t come down to a game five like the other two sets. It was on the precipice of going there, but suddenly it was finally over.

(Capcom Cup 2017 Grand Finals: MenaRD vs. Tokido)

By far the two best players that weekend had played a three set classic, Mena losing 2-3 before winning 3-2 and 3-1. The second season of Street Fighter V’s second season came to an incredible end, and the eighteen-year-old from the Dominican Republic was rushed by his fans, immortalized, and so much richer.

It remains a mystery if he’ll be able to become a regular at the top level like Tokido, or like so many of the names he took to win it all.

But that was a question for later. For now, he had won a prize that would make any of them jealous.

___
(previously)

#12: Doki Doki Literature Club
#11: Riverdale
#10: 4:44
#9: 
The Young Pope
#8: Life Will See You Now
#7: Super Mario Odyssey
#6: Better Call Saul
#5: The Wicked + The Divine: “Imperial Phase”
#4: competitive fighting games (part 1: Smash 4)

Worst Songs Ever: Rupert Holmes’ ‘Him’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Rupert Holmes’ “Him”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #6 in April 1980.

This blog has a fascination with the jeremiads of snubbed white men and their despondent guitars. Rupert Holmes will be the last I cover for a while. After several listens, it’s clear “Him” should have killed the genre if not white men. “It smells like Salem cigarettes,” my buddy Hector remarked this afternoon when I announced my pick. The singer-songwriter of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” knows what men do to quash their sorrows. Just as his giant #1 smash in late 1979 summed up a decade in which men and women, newly liberated from the erotic shackles of their parents’, accepted the Madison Avenue ad man’s valuation of themselves as a generation of unusual self-absorption, “Him” offers the ruminative aftermath, theoretically. Continue reading

She’s got herself a universe – ‘Ray of Light’ at twenty

Happy birthday to Ray of Light, Madonna’s shrewd attempt to position herself as an older woman whose newborn conferred Wisdom and Experience. The other day I remarked that the production – mostly by William Orbit but Marius de Vries and longtime collaborator Patrick Leonard get credits too – is the aural equivalent of the sleeve’s aquamarine backdrop. It’s like a soap bought at a high end resort hotel store: delicious, sure, but your body sweats it off in hours. This was said about Ray of Light at the time: her voice, strengthened by coaching, was stiff if not inflexible on otherwise strong material like “Mer Girl” and “Drowned World” (I still giggle over Rob Sheffield’s comment on the latter: “She enunciates the word lovers as if she’s never met any”). Perhaps the ubiquity of those awful Victor Calderone remixes in gay clubs was an attempt at redress. There was a sense in which Music and its return to dance floor insouciance was the Real Comeback; I thought so, despite liking ROL a lot. Now I can barely listen to most of Music‘s non-single filler while ROL boast her most bewitching album tracks after Erotica, as my list below acknowledges.

So, accept the plaudits, girl. Orbit’s dense rhythms, many of which with faint psychedelic tints, complement your vocal melodies; he’s got unexpected instrumental filips too, like the harsh guitar on “Swim” and the piano line on the chorus of “Sky Fits Heaven,” the best of the album’s spiritual plaints. Savor Ray of Light. Appreciate Oprah’s mom dancing to a live performance of the title track.

1. Skin
2. Sky Fits Heaven
3. Swim
4. Candy Perfume Girl
5. The Power of Goodbye
6. Drowned World/Substitute For Love
7. To Have and Not to Hold
8. Ray of Light
9. Nothing Really Matters
10. Frozen
11. Mer Girl
12. Shanti/Ashtangi

Worst Songs Ever: Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #2 in July 1986

Kenny Loggins, everyone agrees, could drive on a highway; everyone agrees he knows about “zones”; but “danger” is as foreign to him as One Direction is to Thomas Jefferson. Thanks to a proven record in the eighties of sending movie themes into the top ten, Loggins became Columbia Records’ pick as vessel for the Giorgio Moroder-Tom Whitlock composition that became the Top Gun soundtrack’s lead single. It worked: at the peak of the Tom Cruise-Kelly McGillis flyboy epic’s popularity in the summer of 1986, “Danger Zone” easily soared into the top two. Continue reading

‘Black Panther’ a valentine to Afrofuturism

(WARNING: Spoilers included. Also, I’m unfamiliar with the comic).

Although it hews closely to the expectations of the average Marvel property—secret identities, tortured villains, the scrappy sidekick, a final confrontation between the purported hero and the purported villain—Black Panther is a singular viewing experience. Its Afrofuturist sheen encompasses Grace Jones, Public Enemy, and Kendrick Lamar. It sports a trio of powerful women who save the hero’s ass several times. It explicitly calls out the CIA for poisoning the development of this tortured villain. With the help of editors Michael B. Shawver and Claudia Castello, writer-director Ryan Coogler has created an adaptation of a beloved comic that has the look of a Broadway production but the attitude of a wise-ass Netflix sitcom. My audience was alive to it.

Continue reading

Stronger than the universe: A Bee Gees miscellany

Treating myself to a Bee Gees weekend I pretended it was spring 1979 and the party’s still going.

1. Dionne Warwick – Heartbreaker
2. Al Green – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
3. Barbra Streisand – Woman in Love
4. Andy Gibb – I Just Want to Be Your Everything
5. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton – Islands in the Stream
6. Rufus and Chaka Khan – Jive Talkin’
7. Diana Ross – Eaten Alive
8. Yvonne Elliman – If I Can’t Have You
9. Jimmy Ruffin – Hold On to My Love
10. Robin Gibb – Boys Do Fall in Love
11. Barbra Streisand – What Kind of Fool
12. Celine Dion – Immortality
13. Nina Simone – Please Read Me
14. Percy Sledge – I’ve Gotta a Message to You
15. Billy Corgan – To Love Somebody

Singles 2/3

A strong week — lots of 7s and 8s, one given to a British duo whose single sounds like Fever Ray re-imagined by giddy adolescents. Certainly I was more disposed to like Adam and the Levines’ attempt at restraint and the otherwise blah Kali Uchis and Daniel Caesar’s Tricky-and-Martine intertwining.

Click on links for full reviews.

Let’s Eat Grandma – Hot Pink (8)
K. Michelle – Crazy Like You (8)
iKON – Love Scenario (7)
Mist – Game Changer (7)
Daniel Caesar ft. Kali Uchis – Get You (7)
BLØF ft. Geike Arnaert – Zoutelande (6)
Hop Along – How Simple (6)
Bazzi – Mine (6)
Kojo Funds ft. RAYE – Check (5)
Jason Aldean – You Make It Easy (5)
Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton – Say Something (5)
Maroon 5 – Wait (4)
Russell Dickerson – Yours (1)

Worst Songs Ever: Lukas Graham’s ‘7 Years’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Lukas Graham’s ‘7 Years’
PEAK CHART POSITION: # 2 in April 2016.

Among many noxious ideas that capitalism encouraged is the corporate anthem: songs appropriated by bureaucracies to give the proles a lift. Now, I doubt Lukas Graham set out to write a song appropriate for a human resources fair at the Ramada Inn Airport West, but the Danish band came up with “I only see my goals, I don’t believe in failure,” thus making themselves into the purveyors of soundtrack music for the fair’s opening monologue. Brief but maudlin in a vulgar way, “7 Years” is made worse by the knowledge that Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa had taken a similar piece of post-City of Angels pasta fazool called “See You Again” to the top of the American chart several months earlier; their stranglehold on the Billboard Hot 100, I’d imagine, encouraged promoters to play the hell out of “7 Years” in spring 2016. Continue reading

Entertainment That Got Me Through 2017: #4, competitive fighting games (part 1 of 3: Smash 4)

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It’s been a hard year. I saw exactly one film in theaters, my favorite albums weren’t as phenomenal as my favorites in years past, and I can’t leave my phone in my pocket for one hour without the discourse shifting to the President’s tweets, another beloved celebrity being exposed as a sexual assailant, or some other Hell. So over the next twelve days, I’ll be counting down twelve pieces of entertainment that kept me sane in 2017.

Note: So this #4 entry will be long, and it will be six stories split across three games. First, Smash 4. In the next few days, I’ll post my entries for Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. Melee.

4. Competitive fighting games

Fighting games are simply unbelievable. And though ball is life, following fighting games has been far more rewarding as a hobby this past calendar. Perhaps best thought of as an advanced system of rock-paper-scissors mechanics rewarding you for being a yomi level above your opponent, what you are watching as you witness top players doing their dance becomes easy to understand even if you fail to grasp the more technical aspects of just what they’re doing. And the word that best encapsulates watching these people? Hype.

The tension of two people dueling, constantly trying to outguess each other, is insane, and the release of coming out on top is infectious, extending to the viewer. Though fighting games’ closest very popular analogy might honestly be tennis (regrettably, the team-based competitive video games that make the bigger bucks are actually boring as fuck), that’s obviously a slow burn. But like in tennis, the storylines that tie into one-on-one showdowns are legendary.

Relive some moments with me.

ZeRo

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Not long before the fifth season of Smash 4 kicked off with Genesis 5, ZeRo announced his retirement from the game just after being officially ranked #1 for the fourth consecutive time. In retrospect, he had an interesting year marked mostly by consistency and not by enormous wins. Though he boasted a considerable number of top level first place finishes, the very most prestigious tournaments of the year eluded him.

ZeRo was a top level Brawl player, but his place in the community shifted dramatically when Nintendo released Smash 4 and the community shifted games. He began by winning a startling 56 tournaments in a row from November 2014 to October 2015, not even dropping a set until tournament #56. Part of that was becoming the Evo 2015 world champion without losing a single game.

But then in late October of 2015, on tournament #57, Nairo became the first person to win a tournament over ZeRo. ZeRo would remain dominant (while Nairo would remain a top three player, it would be quite a while before he won his next tournament with ZeRo present), but Genesis 3 would be his last ultra prestigious win – possibly excepting The Big House 6, Nairo Saga, and a few other S tier tourneys. Both marking the end of his dominance – or at least that particular level of dominance – were a broken finger that put him on a hiatus between that February and May and the rise of Ally, a longtime Smash player whose Mario suddenly became ZeRo’s most difficult matchup. Ally beat ZeRo to win Get On My Level 2016 and Smash’N’Splash 2, and Ally would take that momentum to become the Evo 2016 world champion.

But despite not winning again on the biggest stage, his relentless consistency, not to mention his big wins at Genesis 3 and The Big House 6, again gave him the #1 spot. But something was amiss. He ended his 2016, and Smash 4’s second season, with a loss at ZeRo Saga, failing to break The Curse, the phenomenon that the player each 2GG event was named for never won. He lost to Ally in winners, but after Ally was eliminated it felt not just doable but inevitable that ZeRo would claw it back.

Until he ran into a sixteen-year-old Mexican boy and got absolutely bopped. MkLeo would go on to win the tournament over Larry Lurr in a ten game classic. The next month, 2017 would kick off with MkLeo winning Genesis 4, establishing himself as perhaps the future of the game. ZeRo finished third behind Leo and Ally.

Lest my storytelling mislead you, ZeRo still held on as the #1 player in Smash 4’s third season (the first half of 2017) and fourth season (the second half). In fact, in the third season it wasn’t particularly close: Leo easily finished second on Panda Global’s rankings, but after his loss at ZeRo Saga, ZeRo proceeded to defeat Leo for the next twelve sets in a row. Season four was much closer, with ZeRo not securing his first place over Salem until the very last tournament, but a ruthless string of wins during August and September more or less secured his spot.

Throughout the year, 2GG held tournaments – their various “sagas” – to qualify for the 2GG Championship at the end of the year. ZeRo won a preposterous five out of ten of them. A tournament in 2017 still felt instantly less legitimate if ZeRo wasn’t there, and it wasn’t difficult to memorize a full list of players who had taken a set off him.

But the most important tournaments eluded him. Genesis, that most storied of still-active Smash tournaments, had him come up just short, making an incredible run through the losers bracket after being upset in pools by Brood before falling to Ally. 2GG’s Civil War, so-named for ZeRo’s rivalry with Ally, saw ZeRo fall at 49th (easily his worst-ever placing) after losing to Xzax in pools and then losing in an insane set with Luhtie. He failed to capitalize on GameTyrant Expo’s pot bonus, falling to Darkshad in pools and making a huge losers run only to finally see his streak against MkLeo finally snapped (but more on that later). A potential threepeat at The Big House was set back by a 3-0 at the hands of Cosmos, and another great losers run was cut short by yet another 3-0, this time from Marss. Though he won 2GG’s third season finale, Nairo Saga, he struggled at their fall finale, MkLeo Saga, falling to WaDi and then to Mr.R. He came just at short at the 2GG Championship, too, but again, more on that later.

(2GG Civil War Top 64 Losers Bracket: Luhtie vs. ZeRo)

But most notable in this trend was the biggest stage in the world: Evo 2017. Smash 4 was given a championship Sunday slot, and this top 8, taking place in the Mandalay Bay Arena, was broadcast on ESPNU and Disney XD. Though so many upsets plagued the weekend, ZeRo was untouchable, marching through the winners bracket. Even when Larry Lurr went up 2-0 against him in the winners finals, it felt inevitable and looked easy when ZeRo won three straight games to advance to the winners side of grand finals.

(Evo 2017 Smash 4 Winners Finals: ZeRo vs. Larry Lurr)

After Nairo fell out of top 8, it not only felt like no one could beat ZeRo, it felt like no one could even challenge him. He seemed destined for his biggest win in over a year if not his biggest win of all time.

Enter a guy who hadn’t won a major tournament since 2013, back when everyone was playing an entirely different game. In fact, his surprise victory at Apex 2013 was his only other tournament win.

But Salem, while not regarded as a top ten Smash 4 player, retrospectively made sense as a threat. He was either the second best or the outright best player with Bayonetta, unquestionably the best character in the game. In late 2016, he became one of the only players ever to double eliminate ZeRo at Collision XIV, but Bayonetta had been nerfed since then. A young player named CaptainZack had since taken over as the premier Bayonetta, but aside from ZeRo’s win, the other story at Nairo Saga was Salem’s losers run. After losing in pools to JK, he plowed through an absurd number of sets to make it to the losers side of grand finals: TLTC, Horse, quiK, Twi, Mr.R, Tweek, KEN, Elegant, Ally, Nairo, and MKLeo. ZeRo won the first set of grand finals over Salem, but it ran all five games and was an incredibly defensive, long, mentally draining set. Many spectators were not fans.

(2GG Nairo Saga Grand Finals: ZeRo vs. Salem)

Salem made it to top 8 through winners, but as Evo 2017 kept unfolding, he still wasn’t on anyone’s mind, especially after he lost to Larry Lurr in winners semis.

Then he beat KEN. Then he beat Tweek. Smash Twitter was nervous, as not only would a ZeRo/Salem finale be slow and less immediately exciting, but the length of their sets would likely set back the already-behind-schedule Evo finals.

But Salem took his revenge on Larry Lurr, and only then did the thought occur that perhaps this was the player with the best chance to challenge ZeRo.

As a spectator, I frequently have found myself rooting against ZeRo, mainly because every victory over him is so great that it’s like witnessing a little piece of history. But I found myself resigned, deciding that I’d be satisfied if someone could simply make him sweat. I decided I’d be happy if Salem could simply take it to game five.

Then I decided I’d be happy if he could bring it to last stock.

Then I decided I’d settle if he reset the bracket.

Then I wanted a game ten.

I got it, and grand finals thus far had been everything everyone had feared it would be. The affair took nearly 45 minutes. The maximum number of games possible were played. Whichever player got a lead early dictated the pace, forcing the other player to approach.

And though Bayonetta was the best character, she had never won a major tournament. And it looked like she still wouldn’t. Salem, on his final stock of the tournament at high percent, still hadn’t taken ZeRo’s first of two in the last game. Though Bayonetta infamously can get early kills, we hadn’t seen any of that in grand finals.

Salem finally evened up the stock count, and then it happened. I melted.

(Evo 2017 Smash 4 Grand Finals: Salem vs. ZeRo)

The crowning moment of ZeRo’s career had been snatched from him. Salem, clearly not used to being a winner, seemed confused and slightly disturbed by his victory more than anything else. Salem would nip at ZeRo’s heels for the rest of the year, barely missing out on unseating ZeRo from his throne at #1, but the slight advantage in the prestige of his tournament victories was notable.

Bayonetta continued to be a thorn in ZeRo’s side over his last half year as a competitive player, and her progressively more pronounced presence in the meta was likely a factor in him losing his passion for the game.

But if the most important moments in 2017 for Smash 4 involved ZeRo’s defeats, why am I choosing his story?

Well, every now and then something happens that reminds ZeRo of why he works so hard to be the best, and why he loves the game.

Last February, several Japanese players were flown out for Frostbite 2017 as part of an ongoing effort to better internationalize the Smash 4 competitive scene. Japan’s scene is particularly fun for some of their players’ mastery of characters America hasn’t sufficiently explored. Shuton placed fifth as Captain Olimar and Some placed ninth playing Greninja.

But it was Tsu’s Lucario that ended up being the story of Frostbite 2017. His run began with him upsetting Tweek, and then in bracket he’d take close victories over Tsu and Kameme, reverse 3-0’ing the latter, before entering top 8 on the winners side. There, he would take out Salem before running into none other than ZeRo in winners finals.

Important to understanding this is understanding Lucario as a character. Though he’s not considered one of the best Smash 4 characters mainly due to his poor recovery options, he’s always stressful to face because along with the universal rage mechanic increasing knockback as one takes on more damage, he builds aura, increasing the damage and knockback of his moves even further. So even when Tsu had been losing, the crowd had taken to screaming in these situations, knowing that things could be evened up at any second.

Notably, Diddy Kong, ZeRo’s main, was unable to kill Lucario before his aura became a huge problem. Despite controlling the entire first game, this exact problem saw Tsu stealing a win. ZeRo switched to Cloud, a character much better equipped to face Lucario, and got destroyed before pulling out a surprise Captain Falcon. The pick got people excited, especially when ZeRo took the first game, as he’d never brought the character out in tournament and bringing it out this far into bracket was crazy. But Tsu closed out the set, and the audience went wild. The character rarity, the Cinderella story from Japan, the humble personality behind Tsu, and Lucario’s exciting style had made him a crowd favorite. Tsu moved to the winners side of grand finals.

(Frostbite 2017 Winners Finals: Tsu vs. ZeRo)

Despite losing the first game in losers finals to Nairo, ZeRo made it back to grand finals to face off against Tsu once again.

And if ZeRo vs. Tsu in Frostbite 2017 grand finals was the only competitive Super Smash Bros. you’ve ever seen across any of its games, you could frankly do a lot worse.

Despite losing the first game, ZeRo quickly figured out how to exploit Lucario’s recovery and won the next three games to reset the bracket. It was exciting still, sure, but one had to wonder if the ending was about to be anticlimactic.

But ZeRo took his opportunity to have a five minute break, because his hands were shaking like crazy. This wasn’t as easy for him as the last three games made it look.

Down 1-0, Tsu had lost four straight games and had to show that he could still compete and put more fear back into ZeRo. What came next was absolutely ridiculous.

What had been an exciting grand finals suddenly seemed like an epic. As the Smash community does, Keitaro compared the moment to the appropriate Dragon Ball Z moment. On what could have been the last stock, Tsu did it again to bring the tournament to its deciding game.

The crowd, the commentators, the competitors, everyone was firing on all cylinders and it became clear that no matter what happened, this was a defining moment for Smash 4, perhaps the game’s very peak. This January, ZeRo claimed he no longer had passion to push himself anymore, but this was the sort of set where it was clear that ZeRo knew why he loved this game, why he wanted to be the very best.

If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend the whole grand finals! If not, I have this video time stamped for you to watch the last stock.

(Frostbite 2017 Grand Finals: Zero vs. Tsu)

Almost finishing the tournament with an up-smash and again being one aura sphere read away from winning, Tsu recovered after being thrown off the stage and ZeRo caught him during his landing lag to win the tournament. Despite knocking down a crowd favorite and winning the tournament like most people probably thought he would, everyone was on ZeRo’s side, enamored with what they’d just seen. Minutes later, he’d give an interview, out of breath and still releasing pent up stress. It might not have been the biggest tournament he’d ever won, but it still might have been the crowning achievement of his unparalleled career.

MkLeo and Elegant’s quarter four finishes

leo

Elegant was a perfectly fine player. But even though he was the unquestioned best Luigi player, was ranked #25 in the world, and had made respectable top eight showings at Abadango Saga and the recent Nairo Saga, he was never thought of as a threat to take a major tournament. He was the sort of person that, say, a tournament organizer might seed to play Ally in pools.

But GameTyrant Expo 2017 – a new event held in Vivint Smart Home Arena (home of the Utah Jazz) that would have the highest prize pools of the year for an open tournament in either Smash 4 or Melee ($30,000! $12,000 to the winners) – would change Elegant’s legacy forever. Set to go up against the Evo 2016 world champion early on, Elegant was mostly expected to put in work in his leg of the losers bracket.

But a funny thing happened. In a riveting, last hit set, Elegant took winners finals of his pool over Ally.

(GameTyrant Expo 2017 Pools: Elegant vs. Ally)

Surprisingly, his bracket after that was somewhat easier. Though NAKAT, Samsora, and ANTi are incredible players, none had the resumé Ally did, and none felt like a hopeless road block on Elegant’s path in winners. Even still, he beat all of them 3-0, not just making top 8 on the winners side for his first major tournament, but making winners finals. The game he dropped to Ally had been the only one. The thought of him taking a tournament of this magnitude still felt a little unthinkable, but Elegant was playing out of his mind.

But sitting on the other side of winners finals? MkLeo.

During the first half of 2017, MkLeo had been ranked the #2 player in the world by a comfy margin, but he immediately struggled heading into the second half, not only failing to win a single major in the US (although he took one home in Mexico at Smash Factor 6) but falling to 65th at Evo, the biggest event of the year.

But no one could really be surprised when he made a big run. A 2-0 over eventual #37 JK, a 3-0 over eventual #16 Komorikiri, a 3-1 over eventual #2 Salem, and a 3-1 over eventual #10 Mr.R sent him into winners finals, and it was honestly pretty standard.

However, he was the first opponent Elegant had to face that felt like it might be out of reach.

But Elegant came out like he was born for this, giving finger guns to the camera and dabbing on his way to the stage doing an imitation of his character of choice for the culture. He wasn’t nervous. He was thrilled.

And during the first game, he showed why he was already a favorite of highlight reels. His gimps offstage to take stocks early and his shoryukens gave him an early lead against Leo’s Marth. Leo played well, though, and while Elegant took game one, it wasn’t completely convincing.

To Leo, apparently, it was. He switched from his Marth to his Cloud. Elegant was an expert against the character, using Luigi, one of the game’s best offstage characters, against Cloud, despite all his strengths one of the game’s most vulnerable offstage.

And it looked like people were right to be suspicious of Leo’s counterpick. Taking only 58 damage himself, Elegant sent Leo all the way to 88 percent on his last stock. Until Leo reminded everyone of Cloud’s huge comeback potential, first finding a great spike and then simply abusing his character’s ability to put on crazy damage, all while keeping himself from being forced offstage. Leo stole game two.

But another close one with a great offstage gimp finish left Elegant to stand up in excitement. But even if Elegant was on set point, it felt unbelievable, unsustainable. So each game felt like a must-win, and it felt like Leo had swung the set back to his favor when he took the advantage late in game four. And then he tried to finish it by hitting a limit cross slash offstage.

But Elegant hit his tech, softly landed against the bottom of the stage, and cycloned to finish the set. It was unbelievable. He pumped his arms. He went on his knees in the fetal position. He buried his hands in his face.

(GameTyrant Expo 2017 Smash 4 Winners Finals: Elegant vs. MkLeo)

MkLeo went down to losers finals, where he would face ZeRo. It looked like ZeRo would be making his way to grand finals, considering he had a live twelve set streak against Leo. The smart money was on ZeRo to beat Leo again and then bulldoze Elegant.

But this wasn’t just Elegant’s story. It was Leo’s, too.

After nine months of failure with his Marth and then his Cloud, MkLeo went for a throwback option: Meta Knight, his original main. He defeated ZeRo in a convincing 3-1 set and made his way back to Elegant for the grand finals.

(GameTyrant Expo 2017 Smash 4 Losers Finals: MkLeo vs. ZeRo)

After one of his crowd-pleasing offstage finishes, Elegant took game one and looked poised to win the tournament, but Leo countered by taking the next two, despite a misfire by Elegant making game three incredibly tense. Then Elegant made a big play to send it to a game five situation.

He got the shoryuken and stood up, on the verge of immortality.

And he had Leo at death percent on game five. Elegant was seriously poised to take the tournament. To keep his hopes alive, Leo had to go offstage, Elegant’s playing field of choice, with a hail mary limit cross slash.

Despite Elegant nearly ending the tournament a few times, Leo hit it, sending grand finals to a second set.

The second set was as exciting as the first, going back and forth, with Elegant sporting a bit of showmanship by pointing out fellow top player MVD after winning on his favorite stage. But once again Leo went up 2-1 and brought Elegant down to tournament stock with a ridiculous up-B into spike sequence. Elegant had to make something happen.

And so he did.

Going into a final game, Elegant went up nearly a whole stock, again looking ready to take the tournament. But Cloud’s sheer killing power can never be counted out.

After taking the first stock, Leo won nearly every exchange and finished the tournament.

(GameTyrant Expo 2017 Smash 4 Grand Finals: MkLeo vs. Elegant)

Elegant and Leo’s meeting at GTX was another three set classic with a David and a Goliath that came down to a deciding game, very reminiscent of Tsu and ZeRo at Frostbite 2017. It was made even more special by the characters’ abilities to take stocks dizzyingly quickly.

But unlike Tsu, who has shown up in top 8 here and there but never again had a tournament-defining performance, Elegant would soon put up another showing that matched the greatness of the tournament he came so close to winning.

And funny enough, once again, the other player who defined that tournament would be MkLeo.

Two months later, the 2GG Championship arrived. It had been built up to all year across ten tournaments. Nineteen of the best players – most notably ZeRo, MkLeo, and Salem, the three odds-on favorites to win the tournament – had qualified and been sorted into their groups.

Elegant was not among them.

There were twenty spots open for the 2GG Championship, but the last would be determined by an open tournament, the last chance qualifier. Most expected to win was Mr.R, then ranked #9 and just barely denied qualification.

But Elegant met him in winners semis and won 3-2. In grand finals, he’d meet Cosmos, another player who had experienced an ascension that season and who would soon be ranked #17. Elegant lost the first set but claimed the second, getting a spot in the 2GG Championship.

But his group was especially difficult. ZeRo was expected to bulldoze through the group, and he did. While Elegant took a game to make it a respectable 3-1, the set was never in question. ZeRo would go on to take all three of his group sets, winning the group and advancing to championship Sunday.

Realistically, the best Elegant could hope for would be making it to the five player playoff round by placing second in the group. To do so, he’d have to beat some highly ranked players, #15 Fatality and #6 Larry Lurr.

First up, Fatality. It went okay, I guess.

(2GG Championship Groups: Elegant vs. Fatality)

He then would go on to beat Larry Lurr, beating his fellow Southern Californian and absorbing all of the home field advantage at the SoCal event.

(2GG Championship Groups: Elegant vs. Larry Lurr)

He made it out of groups and into the playoff round, but he had to place top three out of five, a tall order considering the other players were Salem (then ranked #11 but clearly about to be ranked #2 for the season), Nairo (ranked #3), Dabuz (ranked #4), and Ally (ranked #5).

He began by going up against Salem, who, again, was a favorite to win the entire tournament.

It, uh, went pretty well.

(2GG Championship Playoffs: Elegant vs. Salem)

Next he was pitted against another crowd favorite, the explosive Nairo. This set would go to game five, and he’d nearly accidentally kill himself at the worst possible time by misfiring offstage (I screamed very loudly when this happened).

But he finished a tense set and set his playoff record to 2-0 in an instant classic, popping off with every part of his soul.

(2GG Championship Playoffs: Elegant vs. Nairo)

But losing to Dabuz left things in question. In fact, he needed to pull out a win against Ally in order to move on at all.

But a win would put him on top of the playoff group.

If Elegant/Nairo was a classic, Elegant/Ally was something even greater (it’s almost a shame all these wonderful individual sets just happened to be part of something greater). The former Evo champion had been having a down season, although one that would still be good enough for #14 in the world.

Ally wasn’t as much a fan favorite as Elegant or Nairo, but one would find that hard to believe watching his sets and seeing his flashes of brilliance suddenly manifest. Ally pulled off a downright play-of-the-year contender to come from behind and force a game five.

Elegant, on a game that would decide whether he would win his group of five or be eliminated from contention, stepped up.

In a last stock, high percent finish, he traded with an up-smash, flew into the air, and immediately went to the floor to get dogpiled by thrilled onlookers. Elegant had made it from the last chance qualifier to championship Sunday.

(2GG Championship Playoffs: Elegant vs. Ally)

But he was seeded to play KEN, the best player in Japan. KEN was a master of Sonic the Hedgehog, a notoriously bad matchup for Luigi.

But Elegant studied the matchup hard over the night, and in long, back and forth set, the two went to a deciding game five. And as sometimes happens with Sonic the Hedgehog on the screen, the game began creeping toward time.

But it was Elegant that was playing for the clock, flipping the script. After time was called, he leapt up, hopped exuberantly and collapsed in front of the display, sobbing.

(2GG Championship Winners Quarters: Elegant vs. KEN)

Lightning would fail to strike twice, and Elegant would lose to Salem in winners semis before losing to Dabuz again in losers quarters, but Elegant had placed fifth and pocketed $2,000 at a tournament in which he wasn’t even expected to be amongst the twenty competitors. All in the same tournament, he had taken sets off players that would be eventually ranked #38 (Fatality), #17 (Cosmos), #14 (Ally), #10 (Mr.R), #8 (KEN), #7 (Larry Lurr), #3 (Nairo), and #2 (Salem).

The hometown hero, he’d fuel the crowd, popping off into the sky and onto the ground, infecting everyone with his jubilance at his unexpected ascent. He was everyone’s favorite story of Smash 4’s biggest ever event.

But he wasn’t the most important story.

Entirely parallel to Elegant’s journey was MkLeo, who since his win at GTX had been playing like himself. Despite a ninth place at Fire Emblem Saga, he won IBP Masters and Canada Cup 2017 through winners and, while failing to break the curse by winning his own tournament, came close and placed third at MkLeo Saga.

No competitor came into the 2GG Championship with more momentum.

But he was placed in the same group as fellow favorite Salem.

And he began the tournament by being obliterated by the Japanese Olimar player, Shuton. After that 3-0, the Japanese Rosalina player brought him to the brink of elimination before Leo pulled out a close 3-2 win.

(2GG Championship Groups: Shuton vs. MkLeo)
(2GG Championship Groups: MkLeo vs. Kirihara)

And finally, as everyone had anticipated, he would go up against Salem. Leo had looked uneasy.

Not even half a minute into the set and any unease went away and shifted to any player that was not named MkLeo.

(2GG Championship Groups: MkLeo vs. Salem)

Despite a rough start, Leo advanced to Championship Sunday without having to go through the horrifying playoff group, sending Salem there instead.

He’d begin Sunday with a close 3-2 set against Abadango, again having trouble with one of the present Japanese competitors.

(2GG Championship Winners Quarters: MkLeo vs. Abadango)

But no one would remember that.

One might have imagined his success in his last meeting against ZeRo, the losers finals set at GTX where Leo maybe surprised ZeRo with his Meta Knight, was a fluke that ZeRo and his coach Pierce had figured out.

Not so. ZeRo looked more lost than ever.

Leo not only won every game, he only lost one stock.

No one had ever beaten ZeRo as convincingly in his entire Smash 4 career.

(2GG Championship Winners Semis: MkLeo vs. ZeRo)

If Elegant had taken down Salem, we’d have gotten a repeat of GTX in winners finals, but it was not to be. Instead, Salem secured his spot in the top three and took a game off Leo.

It turned out Leo had controller problems, and the game was somehow close despite that. Leo commandingly took the next two.

It looked like Salem might be able to bring it to a deciding game five. He could not.

“YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!”

(2GG Championship Winners Finals: MkLeo vs. Salem)

Leo was on the precipice of winning the biggest cash prize in the game’s history.

But ZeRo managed to make his way through KEN, Dabuz, and Salem to make his way back to Leo. But after getting so run over, could ZeRo win two sets in a row?

Retrospectively, this grand finals will always be remembered as a turning point for Smash 4. A tournament in the offseason a week later aside, this would be the last competitive Smash 4 ZeRo played before his retirement. Would he got out on top, or would this be a passing of the baton to a likely heir?

Despite how quickly Meta Knight could crumble ZeRo, his adaptations were working. In a close game five situation, ZeRo managed to reset the bracket.

(2GG Championship Grand Finals Set 1: ZeRo vs. MkLeo)

After this, a group of players – Nairo, Ally, Elegant, and more – came over to give ZeRo support and advice. Leo mostly waited for the next set.

It continued to be close, but it didn’t go to game five. ZeRo had one last great moment.

But Leo took the crown.

(2GG Championship Grand Finals Set 2: MkLeo vs. ZeRo)

At the time, I was struck that perhaps my favorite competitive Super Smash Bros. Brawl moment of all time also featured ZeRo in a Meta Knight/Diddy matchup, but with the characters reversed.

About a month after the 2GG Championship, ZeRo announced his retirement, and now, over two months later, MkLeo is comfortably in the lead to gain the title of the #1 player in the world, winning Genesis 5 and Evo Japan without dropping sets.

And his biggest steps along the way in 2017 were taken with Elegant, who was named the #11 player in the world not long after all this.

Everyone is still adjusting to competitive Smash 4 without ZeRo, and the lack of near-monthly 2GG tournaments contributes to this uncertainty. But really, ZeRo’s dominance aside, what always made Smash 4 exciting was that it felt like people could have breakout performances at any time.

As we face what might be an era of domination by MkLeo, Elegant’s stories are the best ones to remember just how hard unexpected competitors come for the throne in Smash 4.

___
(previously)

#12: Doki Doki Literature Club
#11: Riverdale
#10: 4:44
#9: 
The Young Pope
#8: Life Will See You Now
#7: Super Mario Odyssey
#6: Better Call Saul
#5: The Wicked + The Divine: “Imperial Phase”

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound: The best of the Bee Gees

If you were too young to own Saturday Night Fever and its attendant singles, then Mickey Mouse Disco compensated. My fifth birthday present was the first album I owned, and I can still hum “Macho Duck” and “Welcome to Rio” and remember their Fisher Price rhythm section doing that four on the floor beat. Continue reading

In it for life: Superchunk and Migos

Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive

Kicking off with a title track whose ironies zoom past on first listen because euphoria and irony make for strange bedfellows, the Chapel Hill quartet’s eleventh album dedicates its euphoric zoom to channeling the idealism and energy of youth into a fecund middle age. And what tempos! “Cloud of Hate” clocks in at 1:13, “Lost My Brain” at 1:36 – Jon Wurster’s drumming is practically a third guitar. Irony is a useful strategy for biz lifers and record company execs like Superchunk: 2013’s I Hate Music reaffirmed their commitment to a life of modest gains and punishing gigs at which Spain and St. Louis look the same. And because they’ve been around a while they know life is long: Reagan Youth are back, armed with Twitter accounts, and they don’t mean the young punk anarchists. Key to Superchunk is what Al Shipley called Mac McCaughan’s “helium yelp,” a signifier of adolescent vitality strengthened by the experiences of adulthood but without the bitterness.

Migos – Culture II

In the old days buffets compensated for their lack of sanitation with plenitude. Most good hotels have abandoned the concept of throwing a couple steamers full of corn in the cob, to be opened with a linen napkin wrapped around the handle. Migos approach the double album problem with similar elegance. Listening to it in one go is folly; listening while coming in and out of the office is the ideal experience. Discrete elements – the sax sample in “Too Playa,” guitar in “Narcos,” the smooth early nineties West Coast vibe complemented by Takeoff’s weed-rusted pipes in “Made Men”  – don’t so much cohere as bait. On my tenth listen I couldn’t distinguish Culture II from its fleeter predecessor, which on Spotify is the point — McLuhan was right! Grab a plate, a set of silverware, and chow down.