Mmm, hoverbikes

Mmm, hoverbikes
u/fab1an from r/stablediffusion

This week, we're talking:

  • lost albums 
  • imaginary videogame consoles
  • secret corporate emojis

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This Week’s Stories

The secret history of Charli XCX’s Brat

Charli XCX’s excx-ellent new album Brat is probably the most talked-about album in music right now, a striking return to form from an artist who has refused to stay in one place very long anyway. But it also seems to directly evoke her mythic, never-released third LP, XCX World. Originally recorded in 2016 as a collaboration with the late electronic musician Sophie, and strongly evocative of the hyperpop music of that era, XCX World was plasticky, upbeat, experimental, and hedonistic — a striking lunge into the avant garde early in Charli’s career. 

After it was leaked, the album was scrapped, as Charli has suggested, by her label. She continued to buck against label constraints and the very concept of mainstream pop music  throughout her 5-album Atlantic deal, climaxing with the release of 2022’s major pop play Crash. In the years since, she’s distanced herself from that record, coyly asked for a link to XCX World on Twitter, played the LP before shows, and finally, with Brat, penned a sort of spiritual sequel to it, updating its themes and ideas and including a direct, and shattering, ode to Sophie. It’s a skeleton key for better understanding the artist’s career, as well as the way her new album feels simultaneously like a leap forward and a homecoming. 

More from XCX World: 

  • XCX World: Charli’s Lost Era [link]
  • Brat memes [link]
  • Fan compilation of XCX World [link]
  • “can someone send the link to xcx world???” [link]

The only good AI art is bad AI art

AI has already threatened our most accomplished artists; now it has begun to threaten our least accomplished. A new “crappy MSPaint” workflow posted on Reddit’s Stable Diffusion board shows that not even doodling is safe from the impersonations of AI. It’s the latest in a series of AI scribbling and sketching tools:

  • Stable Diffusion, the open-source image generator, has Controlnet tools that can turn stick figures into blandly professional art or renders; the old response is that the “before” drawing had more personality [link]
  • Some SD users have trained their own intentionally wack Loras (a file that teaches the model about a style or character) to draw things like bad Gokus for them [link]
  • It’s hard to fake the character of amateur art, although you can try by lowering an image generator’s step count or toying with other quality settings — even then, frustrated AI guys have occasionally told each other to just “draw it yourself” [link]

The MSPaint workflow is an alarmingly close translation of the wobbly, expressive feel of an image traced by a human-held mouse. Soon after marveling at this creation, the subreddit collapsed into drama over Wednesday’s release of Stable Diffusion 3, which is creating less intentional mutations.

More slime:

  • An older “shitty drawing Lora” that threatened to “put 6 year olds out of work [link]
  • The PS2 filter from March was another demake [link]

Hollywood finally understands video games

The horror-flick goliath Blumhouse productions revealed their first slate of video games last weekend, and, while your response to them will probably vary depending on how in the bag you already are for low-stakes horror stuff, it marks an impressive entry to the medium. With titles ranging from the beginner-friendly Fear The Spotlight to the meta Simulation, they seem based on a canny understanding that one of the primary vehicles for horror consumption today is watching streamers play indie horror games. Rather than paying a kingly sum for the next Five Nights At Freddy’s, Blumhouse seems to be gambling that they can grow it on their own. 

Hollywood has legendarily misunderstood games, retrofitting mechanics into bizarre live-action adaptations (see: Doom, Prince Of Persia, Max Payne). But Blumhouse follows the games-first mentality of Annapurna studios, whose interactive imprint has quietly become a seal of quality in the indie-game space, rather than A24, who is taking a typically auteurish bent by collaboration with Hideo Kojima on a Death Stranding adaptation. Perhaps the most promising upcoming output from any of them is Blumhouse’s own Project C, a collaboration between interactive-film wunderkind Sam Barlow and yes-David’s-son Brandon Cronenberg.

More horror: 

  • Full Blumhouse Games trailer [link]
  • Fear The Spotlight trailer [link]
  • The Scarily Profitable Hits of Jason Blum [link]

We ate the tape on E3

One strange annual tradition of the video-game universe is the flood of trailers released over the course of the first week or so of June. This year, some 15 hours of conferences unveiled 100+ new promotional clips of games. We dug through the piles of hero shooters and cozy games to find a few titles that stood out:

  • Capcom’s intriguing action/tower defense hybrid Kunitsu-Gami looks like one of the show’s few really new concepts — though you’ll need to watch a “gameplay deep dive” to understand what the hell is going on. It’s out soon on July 19 [link]
  • Will S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 turn down the more blockbuster-y path of the Metro games, or preserve the weird flavor of its original shooter/horror/RPG formula? We’ll find out September 5 [link]
  • UFO 50, a collection of 50 games from an imaginary lost console, is the latest work by Spelunky creator Derek Yu (and a dream team of collaborators). It’s out September 18 [link
  • Metaphor: ReFantazio continues to look like the best 2024 RPG that isn’t DLC. It’s out October 11 [link]
  • The long-delayed Metal Slug Tactics preserves the pixel-perfect look of an arcade legend. It’s out in Q4, but there’s a demo [link]
  • Wanderstop looks like cozy-game pap — except that it’s by the subversive game designer Davey Wreden, whose previous two efforts laid eggs in the brains of everyone who played them. It’s out “soon” [link]
  • Airframe Ultra is an Akira-sliding left-turn from Videocult, who developed the cult classic Rain World; it sends players hurtling through a PS1-looking post-apocalypse on sick air-bikes. No release date yet [link]

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Z, Playmaker, Vol. 2

I have to cite my sources on this one: the rap critic Paul Thompson declared Z’s Playmaker, Vol. 2 “mixtape of the year” on X, which was good enough for me to give it a spin, and it hasn’t left my rotation since. This is a grassroots effort — the mixtape has, at present, single-digit listens on YouTube — but it’s a phenomenal LP, Z’s textured rhymes toying with dozens of different hooks as the beats warp and shift beneath his flow. While Z’s diction and playful storytelling nod to indie rap, the only thing in this backpack is a truly absurd quantity of basketball references. With repeat listens, that album title starts to seem load-bearing. Here is an almost conceptual record about the the idea of bouncing back, of tossing a dime as cleanly as you could’ve before the ankle injury. Mavs in 7. [Clayton]

Chum Box



  • Whenever a video AI guy finds a new potentially viral oddity, others try reproduce it; the latest mini-trend in this unpleasant corner of the web is drinking gasoline [link, and a more popular Vin Diesel one]
  • This Sora video of a shark surprising people sitting on a beach reveals new depths of strangeness on almost every viewing — but it’s the shark’s extremely positive vibe that keeps us returning [link]
  • How had no one else done a good read of contemporary AI technology against the Victorian panic-dreams of ETA Hoffman yet? [link]
  • This week, the New York Times learned about slop, EX’s 2023 word of the year. [link]


  • Ikea, which inspired the popular Roblox horror game 3008, is opening a store in Roblox. Employees will be paid £13.15 per hour [link]
  • In other Roblox news, Filipino Catholics are using the platform to create more inclusive, queer-friendly spaces [link]
  • The intro to Space Rangers 2 is unfiltered 2004, with chugging riffs, sub-Syfy character design, and a truly incredible Schwarzenegger-esque VA performance [link] [via]
  • This mod maps Ryan Gosling’s voice from Blade Runner 2049 to the entirety of Cyberpunk 2077 [link]


  • David Lynch’s first film project in years is a strobing, beatific music video with frequent collaborator Cystabell [link]
  • A New Yorker article details Kanye’s acquisition, and subsequent destruction, of a Malibu mansion by Pritzker-winning architect Tadao Ando [link]
  • acid_farts bong-rip Sphere ban reversed; Phish fans rejoice [link]
  • This article, ostensibly detailing the recent underperforming stadium tours by The Black Keys and Jennifer Lopez, goes much deeper, detailing an entire industry at a breaking point [link]


  • Starring The Computer is a bewilderingly comprehensive compendium of every appearance by every computer in every TV show and every movie ever [link]
  • This powerfully scornful video digs deep into the AI-upscaled remasters of True Lies and Aliens [link]
  • No notes [link]

The Internet

  • In lieu of custom emojis, Microsoft Teams has some truly deranged official stickers, including “a hammerhead shark in a business suit hanging his head in shame, with the caption ‘we got sued’” [link
  • You’ll be happy, in some ill-defined, pre-conscious way, that you viewed this video of a wobbling souffle [link]
  • Disney has its own alternate cultural canon in China, headlined by LinaBell the mercurial fox [link]

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One last thing

Is Chucky a queer icon?