2012 has been a great year - got some seriously good gaming in all year and had a great Winter Carnival - definitely the best so far. Unlike previous lists from me, my fiancee doesn't fit into this list, but the wedding is scheduled for the fall! Thanks to all the regular readers of this and my other blogs and have a great 2013!
10) Death - Spiritual Healing album
When I was a kid, I had a dubbed copy of Leprosy, their second album and I really didn't know what to think of it. It was metal, but dark, and death metal as a term wasn't really solid yet. It sounded like they were going beyond the current metal trends - rougher vocals and more intricate material, but it didn't click with me at the time. Fast forward to earlier this year and I picked up Death's third record, Spiritual Healing as I had been listening to their first two efforts - Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy - very regularly, finally absorbed in what I had heard for so many years was a fantsatic band, even if the line-ups changed with every record. I knew Spiritual Healing was considered a landmark record and I wanted to listen to it if only to see what everone had been talking about for years. It's probably the first prog-death metal record and one that was so ambitious that it fragmented the band at the time (for like the third time, but whose counting) and after, Chuck Scholdinger would just work with studio musicians. It's a great record front to back with scales and riffs galore and subject matter that goes beyond the gore and to much more varied topics like drug addiction, mental disease and genetics. It has become my favorite Death record and given me an incredible respect for Chuck who really did - maybe more than any other death metal pioneer - open the doors to bringing other musical sounds into metal. Rest in peace, Chuck.
9) Viaje Skull and Bones cigar line
I'm a huge fan of Viaje's stuff and its my go to brand at my local cigar shop - Blue Havana. This is the line I most enjoy from them - and its killer. Almost all the cigars in this line up are full-bodied and full of spice like black pepper and white pepper and hints of leather and wood smoke. The MOAB and FOAB are my go-to's and have a extremely varied palate with heavy oak, cedar and a wide variety of spices with a earthy and vegital finish that tapers to nice dried fruit notes. They retain a full bodied power all the way through, unlike a lot of their contenporaries who can start off strong and powerful and get the average palate reeling, then settle into a lull of mildness - which is absolutely not for me. They are actually more powerful than most people seem to prefer - which is great for me, because they are always there. Price isn't on the cheap side, but there isn't a cigar that has the same notes, so its really a moot point. It's a killer line and what I really think are some of the best cigars out right now.
8) Clarks Weavers
I'm a big shoe guy and I own a ton of Clarks Wallabees, Desert Treks and Desert boots, but never owned a pair of their Weavers - a 1960's original that just a few years back finally got reissued. For a while, I kept hoping to find a pair in person to snag and no Clarks store anywhere carries them - just botique shops and unfortunately none of those around me had any. Well, this past winter I was in Atlanta and the Clarks store there had a pair of the Concepts collab Weavers and I just fell in love with the silouhette. It's like a mocassin version of the Wallabee and just as comfortable.
7) JTS Brown 100-proof bourbon
I do a bit of drinking at the cigar shop on Fridays, to get the weeks worres off my mind and relax and this has become my go to burbon. I use to drink a lot of Knob Creek, Maker's Mark, Bullet and Old Weller (which I still like) but this has taken the top spot - and it's a $20 bottle. I found out about it talking with the scotch guy at Binny's by my place, just talking shop and I mentioned I was drinking more burbon, but was totally unimpressed with the small batch stuff that has been coming out lately, like Few. He laughed, said most of it was garbage, sold without any sort of aging and he brought up Buffalo Trace and JTS Brown aas some of the better 'under the radar' burbons. All I knew about JTS Brown was that it was what Paul Newman's character from The Hustler drank - which is suitably bad ass, but didn't tell me anything about it. Turns out, its a surprisingly rich and balanced burbon at 100 proof - no bitter aftertaste or sour notes, just a hit of pepper on the front end than mellows to a smooth carmel and oak aftertaste. It's a burbon you can drink for sipping or mixing - though the later is just for wussies. I probably drink a bit too much of it, but I really don't care - its just so good.
6) Russell Wilson and The Seattle Seahawks.
What an awesomne year for this team. First off, Russell Wilson is a godsend - a perfect fit into a team that really needed a great QB. The year started slow but by the end of the season, they were just brutally demolishing teams, beating their last three oponents 150-30 - a staggering total for this young team. I'm hrd pressed to remember a Seahwaks team that looked this good. The playoffs this year were a bonus - I'm so excited to see what happens next year that I almost didn't care what happened in the playoffs! I'm very eagerly awaiting the 2013 NFL season.
5) Marshall 2203KK amplifier
I've been searching for a thrash metal amp for years that really hit home with me. I've had a few and still have my Laney AOR Pro Tube 100 that I bought for more thrashy stuff - strange thing about that amp is that it does killer blues tones when you turn the gain stages way down and also gets a unique distorted drive for punk and hardcore but not really the thrash sound I wanted to achieve. This amp does it without any frills and may be one of the most underrated amps I have ever played. The Kerry King signature model Marshall JCM800 2203KK is a 4x KT88-driven, 100-watt JCM800 head with an added section for dialing in Kerry King's tone (mid heavy EQ) and a noise gate which is surprisingly effective. Earlier this year, I started listening to a ton of Slayer again and that raging guitar sound from Reign in Blood is just so bitchin', I had to get something similar. And this head definitely does that tone and so much more. It's not got a lot of headroom, but I never play clean. It's an angry thrash machine and the sound that booms from those KT88's is just so bassy and thick and massive. This is by far the best Marshall I have ever played.
4) Brooklyn Roasting Company - Bespoke and Peru blends
A friend of mine in NYC sends me coffee from time to time and this past year, he sent me four pounds from a roaster I had never heard of - Brooklyn Roasting Company, from the same guy who founded Brooklyn Brewery. For most boutique coffee, I find that there is a definite push towars more fruit and floral tastes which are just not my thing. Brooklyn seems to get it right for me - complex flavors like caramel, wheat, chocolate and molasses that make their coffee just fantasticly suited for my palate. The Bespoke and Peru blenads are my favorites right now and my Saturdays are all the better with them.
3) Fausto series cigar by Tatujuae
This is the top of the list of my favorite cigars - a full-bodied masterpiece that keeps its strength all the way through and based off of the T110 blend that turned heads a few years back as a friends and family only powerhouse cigar. Luckily for me, Blue Havana has a great selection and their humidor has two older boxes of Fausto's with about a year of age on them and two newer boxes with less age and more punch. It's the best of both worlds for me. It's definitely a strong cigar, but all the flavors are evenly balanced and there is no lingering note that does not blend in with the rest of the palate. With age, the cigar mellows a bit and the cedar and wood flavors comes out more in the smoke with leather, carmel and dry earth on the finish. The younger cigar has a cinammon note that blends in nicely with a heady mix of leather and oak with roasted almonds present on the finish with some light vegital notes. Complex and wonderful.
2) Blue Havana Cigar Shop
There are few places one can go these days to actually get good conversation from a dirverse group of people you wouldn't normally be friends with. Bars seem to have either become pick up spots or sports bars for the young and boisterous, and any sort of private club or group by its very nature tends to be insular. Blue Havana is one of those places where you can go in, pour your self a drink (BYOB), light up and talk with everyone from construction workers and contractors, to federal defense attorneys to Cuban missionaries to Emmy-winning former ESPN staffers to ex-cops to bikers, punks, suburban dads and me. It's probably my favorite place to go to when I need to relax and get my mind off things, but also my favorite place to socialize and I am not what you would call a social guy. There is a tremendous amount of ball-busting and joke telling and a thick skin helps, but you won't find a better smoking room in all of Chicago. Certainly not one with this kind of clientelle.
1) Apple Ipad 64GB with Retina display
Now I'm somewhat addicted to old technology, preferring LP's to CD's and certainly physical copies over digital distribution. Hell, I have even seriously considered getting a laserdisc player on more than one occasion. But this thing is absolutely the most killer new technology I can think of. Not only is it lightweight and easily portable, its a powerhouse in terms of processing and display. Movies look HD. Games look HD. Even youtube looks great! It took me a while to get use to it - most of the time, I would grab my laptop for email or to check forums, now, I rarely grab my latop at home unless I need to write up a lengthy blog post. With the Netflix ap and the McTube ap, this thing can keep me entertained for hours. It's so easy to keep handy and check a forum or site when I have a few minutes. I've been an Apple convert for a few years now, and products like these are exactly why. I have yet to hear a cross word from anyone who owns one - and ou certainly won't hear one from me. It's my favorite piece of new tech in my life by a long shot.
Completely ridiculous 1cc run of Ultra, which, if you have ever tried it is brutally hard. Really, I can't ever see myself getting to the thrid stage of this without completely focusing on this and stopping progress on any other game, quitting my social life, locking myself in my room and playing nothing but this game for like a year.
I'm finishing up the 2012 Best of the Rest list and that post will be up shortly, and hopefully an update on the dates of the 2013 Winter Carnival - which will be sometime in the spring this year.
Ninja Gaiden - much like one of my NES fav's Castlevania - is a tough menorizer and a fantastic old school game. Part II never grabbed me and by the time part III came oiut, I was onto other things. This race is one of those great youtube moments from a couple Let's Players - namely the inimitable ProtonJon and khead161. It's a fun race and they just demolish all three games - while playing on original hareware - which is a rarity and totally appreciated. No dissapearing sprites or glitches and just (for the most part) fluid play and funny commentary. Unfortunately, not complete, but still a good run through the first two games. Perfect for a lunch break at work.
This score is certainly not as troubling as it could be, but it marks the point at which I am starting to really learn and enjoy this game. I have been playing with quite possibly the worst ship for scoring in Sinnosuke, so I'm gonna change that up and start working on score soon. Once you get use to the mechanics of the game, survival is pretty easy - I made most of this progression in one day - but scoring is where all the difficulty comes from. You have to build up your multiplier and for each stage, there is a stage multiplier that is directly related to how many medals you collect - so huge scores are all about milking each stage for the most medals possible - which takes a lot of skill. Typically, I'm not a huge fan of bullet cancelling/bullet reflection games, but this one is pretty damn good.