Installing the C.H.A.D. Module

Also: Xbox 360 avatars, Oneohtrix Point Never, and horses are back.

Installing the C.H.A.D. Module

EX is a research report about where culture is headed. You can learn more here. This week: demise reports exaggerated, universes merged, and icons remembered.

1. Mass celebrity die-off reported on YouTube

Hey, did you hear that Clint Eastwood died? “The death happened a few minutes ago,” according to the channel Deceased Actors Hollywood. And if it didn’t happen then, it definitely happened yesterday, on Sept. 4, on July 13, or on March 7. There was corroborating reporting from a channel named “Latest News • 1.5M views • 2 hours ago” as well.

There’s been a lot of dark news from Tinseltown lately, much of it arriving in the last five minutes. Virtually every movie star is being reported dead by outlets such as Highlights from Hollywood, Who died today, World’s Legends, and Military News. Paralyzed with grief, the writers of these virtual obituaries have turned over their work to ChatGPT, leading to long maudlin passages about blocked arteries that “painted a grim picture of a ticking time bomb.” Most of these channels have comments disabled, no doubt out of respect.

The conspiracy-minded among us might see foul play in this wave of celebrity deaths — and suspect that the same faceless international entities flooding YouTube with AI-generated fake science videos have simply found a new type of bait for the very young, very old, or very gullible. Skeptics might further observe that this is just the conversion of an ancient internet prank into a content assembly line. But you will never see such wild fancies platformed by a respectable outlet like Deceased Actors Hollywood.

2. Oneohtrix Point Never considers his legacy on Again

The arrival of a new Oneohtrix Point Never album has always felt like a smoke signal for the cyborgian freaks of the void, beckoning anyone who spends their time neck-deep in Max/MSP or Supercollider to tear themselves away from their monitors for a moment and listen to something new. Like 2020’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, his latest LP, Again, looks both forward and backward, a "speculative autobiography" that press materials liken to 2015's Garden of Delete in its exploration of the artist's unique development as a musician. The record's first single, "A Barely Lit Path," opens with the vocoder-inflected vocals that pervaded Magic Oneohtrix Point Never before launching into orchestral instrumentals that capture a sense of grandiosity reminiscent of "Chrome Country," the track that closed out 2013's R Plus Seven.

It's an apt time for OPN to attempt an ambitious retelling of his artistic journey. Very few artists have had the same trajectory as OPN's Daniel Lopatin, a musician who helped pioneer vaporwave back in 2010 before winding up as one of The Weeknd's producers a decade later. Each of his records captures a self-contained concept: 2011's Replica was an atmospheric collection of Blade Runner plunderphonics made with a Juno-60 and an SP-555; 2015's Garden of Delete constructed a dark world characterized by adolescent rage and digital, metal-inspired guitar tones; 2018's Age Of foreshadowed his entrance into the mainstream, featuring what is arguably his first conventional "pop song" in "Black Snow." It's a vast amount of ground for Again to cover, but if any musician has the techno-wizardry required to do such a project justice, it's Lopatin.

3. Conner O'Malley laughs in the face of a nauseating future

When the comedian Conner O'Malley released "Endorphin Port" in 2021, it felt like he'd hit on something prescient. The video is a lampooning of reckless, empty-headed technophilia filtered through O'Malley's manic, porn-fried and bro-brained persona, complete with laughably low-fidelity 3D animation and After Effects prankery. Then, when the world needed Endorphin Port most, it disappeared — until recently, when O'Malley announced the launch of the site. O'Malley told Vulture he plans on using the site to host experimental projects that don't fit anywhere else, allowing users to purchase indefinite access to paid content a la carte. Some projects — like "Jeremy Chat," a chatbot presented not as AI but as "the world’s first fully synthesized human consciousness on the computer" — will remain free for visitors to view or use.

O'Malley has been a savant at using new technological tools for weirdo comedy since the age of Vine, during which he made a name for himself by verbally accosting finance guys in sportscars, becoming only more unhinged over time. Between gigs as a writer on How to With John Wilson and Joe Pera Talks With You, O'Malley has satirized NowThis Instagram videos, infiltrated superPAC Zoom meetings, and pioneered new creative frontiers for the selfie stick. It's no wonder that he's set his sights on AI and VR, reflecting the unbridled chaos of the TikTok and Meta Quest era back to his viewers.

4. A madeleine episode for the Gamerscore generation

Image credit: @plasticityyyy

Consider the image above a litmus test: If you recognize even one of the characters depicted, then the Xbox 360 probably played a significant role in your gaming life back in the late 2000s. The console's lifespan was defined by games like Gears of War, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Halo 3. It also introduced the Xbox Live suite of services, which included the ability to add “friends,” text and voice chat functionality, and Gamerscores. This is likely why a picture of the console's built-in profile icons (pictured above) is such nostalgia fuel today; the 360 enabled more social features than its predecessor, allowing it to keep up with a gaming landscape that was skewing more and more towards online matchmaking. Nostalgic tweets, memes and old viral videos that refer to the 360 era tend to center around the platform's tools for social interaction.

In retrospect, the 360 icons stand apart from others due to the wild range of characters and illustration styles they represent. (One can only imagine that the "dog" icon placed so high on this community-made tier list because it's the only one that's based on a photograph — otherwise, it's clear that the "beanie kid" icon is superior.) The renewed popularity of the icon set could be a response to one of two things: a) the Y2K nostalgia gripping certain parts of the internet or b) the pervasive skepticism around social platforms like Meta, whose avatars are barely more capable yet much more devoid of personality when compared to what the 360 had on offer.

5. How many Call of Duty “universes” are there?

Last week, the Call of Duty Twitter account advertised this year’s installment with the odd claim that “Zombies infect the Modern Warfare universe for the first time in #MW3.” For the CoD faithful, this is a matter of deepest corporate lore; for outsiders, it’s like reading a transcript of dogs barking. Here are the facts:

  • Zombies or Nazi Zombies is a cooperative horde mode that appeared in Treyarch-developed CoD games beginning with World at War in 2008, a time when America couldn’t get enough of zombies.
  • Zombies continued as a mode in Treyarch’s CoD: Black Ops titles, which took place in their own “universe” separate from Infinity Ward’s CoD: Modern Warfare titles. Various one-off titles like CoD: Ghosts had their own timelines as well.
  • Although it shipped with the Black Ops games, Zombies had its own what-if canon with alternate dimensions, magic, aliens, and multiple timeline reboots. To really understand it, one must look to the fans, one of whom wrote, “This is the most batshit insane plot to anything I've ever seen lol. It's like someone hit the ‘random page’ link on Wikipedia 200 times.”
  • The new Modern Warfare reboots that introduced bimbo Ghost take place in a new shared CoD universe that favors the Blops timeline. Modern Warfare 1-3 (2007-11) are thus their own orphaned timeline, and Modern Warfare I-III (2019-23) are in an integrated timeline that includes all new CoD games, Warzone, and (debatably) the old Black Ops games.
  • The end of the Zombies storyline in Black Ops IIII (sic), “Tag ver Toten,” played the multiverse card and reset itself, seemingly joining the big integrated CoD universe. This DLC was released in 2019, a time when America couldn’t(?) get enough of multiverses.
  • The comic book-y Zombies storylines were once isolated from the main games; their increasingly close ties to the mainline plot are signs of CoD’s increasing wackiness and Fortniteification.
  • A proper Zombies mode still has never shipped with a game with Modern Warfare in the title — until the release of MWIII in November. Presumably this is the reason that the integrated CoD universe, which old heads might call the “Black Ops universe,” is billed as the “Modern Warfare universe” in the tweet.

This will all be on the test!

6. Armand Hammer point, as always, forward

You could easily get lost in Armand Hammer's discography. The duo of Billy Woods and Elucid have released seven albums in the past decade, as well as 17 solo LPs. Any individual one of these is its own labyrinth, a culture-blasted funhouse of fractured loops, shards of guitar and skeletal percussion, presided over by two emcees who rap every verse like it’s their final will. It's hard to feel like you've ever really absorbed one of these LPs — every listen reveals some new theme threaded throughout like poison through a sewer system. As soon as you've got a trace, they put out something new.

Today's new double LP We Buy Diabetic Test Strips has the air of a definitive statement, bringing a spacy live-band together with a roster of underground stalwarts, like El-P and JPEGMafia. But this is no crowd pleaser; all of those elements collide in strange, noisy ways. Boom-bap fans lured in by 2021’s Alchemist collab Haram will find little to hold onto.

If you want stasis, look elsewhere. Woods' collaboration with Kenny Segal earlier this year, Maps, was a funny, wise-ass travelogue with a yawning apocalyptic vision at its center, and the same may be true of the duo's work as a whole. The only way out is through, stalkers traversing a Zone of sound one pebble at a time. They treat hip-hop not as the final form of pop music, capable of subsuming everything into one stadium-filling whole, but as the final form of experimental music, drawing shards of ideas into conjunction with each other and using the sounds that ensue as warp cells.

Chum Box

That’s it for this week. This October, let’s all unlock zombie ghost.