I am apparently not in the musical consumption mainstream. I still love sitting down to a meal of an entire album instead of singles. I keep my playlist of favorites from the year still, but I love albums.
This year, I’m trying to avoid albums by artists I’ve called out in previous years, so even though they were great, no New Pornographers (but go listen anyway).
This post might grow as I listen to things from the year this week, but here’s my list of favorite albums of the year!
In no particular order:
Archimède: Fréres: They’re French, sing in French, and write super poppy songs you’ll sing along with even if you don’t understand a word they’re saying.
Nakhane: Bastard Jargon: Nakhane has a voice you can’t ignore, gorgeous and magnetic. It’ll pull you in, hold you close and then break your heart.
SUSS: SUSS: Like William Tyler, SUSS are writing soundtracks for movies that don’t exist, for sweeping desert vistas and alien cowboys. They make perfect music for deep work.
Killer Mike: Michael: This album is deeply personal and has the first hip hop song to ever make me cry.
Film School: Field: This band speaks to my early 2000’s indie soul. Fuzzy guitars, catchy tunes, and… just got get lost in it.
The Beths: Expert in a Dying Field: The Beths are new to me this year, and I’m sad it took me this long to discover them. They’re cute without being cloying, with amazing harmonies and very clever lyrics. Strong Dean & Britta or The Submarines vibes.
The Rural Alberta Advantage: The Rise & The Fall: I think this band invented Stadium Folk. It’s acoustic AND epic and you’ll probably love it.
And an honorable mention to Rubblebucket, who I discovered this year, but the album I fell in love with was last year’s Earth Worship, especially Geometry.
And another for Skinshape, who released one of the dreamiest songs I’ve heard in a long time, The Ocean. The whole album is great, but that song is just so old school dreamy soul, I think I listened to it on repeat for at least two days.
I wish you happy listening on this final week of 2023 and a thousand great musical discoveries for 2024!
I’m going to put my thoughts about Squid Game below my list of other things you should check out, but first… if you liked it, here are some shows I think you’ll like!
Alice in Borderland (Netflix) – The acting and backstories in Squid Game are better, but I liked the premise and WTF factor of this more.
Doom Patrol (HBO Max) – It does for superheroes what Squid Game does for survival horror. It’s superheroes taken to their ridiculous end state, and I love it.
Sweet Home (Netflix) – Fits the “what am I watching” vibe, and the backstory mechanics are similar. Also REALLY loved the characters in this show. Lots of monsters and gore.
3% (Netflix) – Same kind of dystopian capitalist end game feel.
Midnight Mass (Netflix) – Not at all the same genre but the tension and unease felt very similar.
Sky Rojo (Netflix) – Again, not at all the same genre, but the over the top violence and sometimes uncomfortable absurdity is similar.
30 Coins (HBO Max) – It’s just weird. Very weird.Enjoy!
Now, if you haven’t watched the show yet, stop here, because I won’t be able to contain myself and will spoil a lot of things.
This is your final warning…
Ok, this is your final warning.
On with the spoilers…
I couldn’t stop watching it, and once it was over, I kind of hated myself for sitting through the ending. All the death, all that he went through, all the character development, his chance to finally make things right for his family and his Ronald McDonald ass turns around at the last minute to what, do it all over again?!
The end felt like a cheat to leave the door open for season two, when, now that they have the mechanic of the game, they could start over every season with new down on their luck characters and go to town killing them with ridiculous playground game set pieces.
I try not to invest too much in shows or get disappointed when they don’t go the way I want them to, and I think that’s a little bit of what’s happening here. I wanted a resolution for Gi-hun, for what felt like actual growth as a person throughout the game to pay off and make him better… and it didn’t.
I don’t even have anything pithy to say about 2020. Everyone’s already said it, and everyone knows it, so it doesn’t need to be said.
But, on the bright side, a lot of great music was released this year! Every year, I keep a playlist of songs I like that were released that year. It’s a good way not to forget something that I liked, and I can always go back and cherrypick songs for my annual roadtrip playlist, or rediscover albums I’ve forgotten from past years’ lists.
This year’s playlist is the longest since 2015, clocking it at almost exactly 18 hours. 2015’s was almost 24 hours. Here’s 2020’s playlist in all its glory. Enjoy!
And if you want to see past years’ lists, they’re here:
Jen wasn’t feeling well, so I made dinner tonight in between work things. It worked, but it got me thinking about how much easier life is when you have a pantry of staples you can throw together to make something yummy.
Tonight’s recipe was a Mexican-inspired pork stew. Measurements are going to be difficult, but here’s what I rummaged from the kitchen:
2/3 of a frozen pork loin
2 big russet potatoes
2 medium yellow onions
2 glugs of dark soy sauce
2 large dried ancho chilis
2 cans of Rotel tomatoes and chilis
4 cubes of chicken bouillon
2 big glugs of white whine
4 cloves of minced garlic
A bunch of random spices like cumin, dried cilantro, onion powder, etc
Aaaaaaand, here’s what I ended up putting together with all of that:
Chopped up the onions and potatoes
Soaked the ancho chilis and chicken boullion cubes in 6 cups boiling water for 10 minutes
Sauteed the onions in some olive oil until they started to brown
Added the garlic
Deglazed the Instant Pot with the white wine and let it simmer a bit.
Added the potatoes, tomatoes and chilis and the pork.
Poured the liquid and chilis over everything in the Instant Pot, put the lid on, sealed it and turned it on to the Soup setting.
Since the pork loin was frozen when I put it in, I quick released it when it was done, then pulled the pork out and cut it up into cubes. I put the pork back in the Instant Pot for 10 minutes to make sure it was cooked, and then served in a bowl topped with some sour cream.
It was delightful.
All of that to say that making dinner tonight I was struck by how easy it was to throw dinner together because I had the pantry staples to make dinner happen. Having things like dark soy, ancho chilis, canned tomatoes, etc made it possible to make dinner without it being an ordeal. It’s so much fun to have all these “toys” to play with!
So, get yourself some dark soy sauce and dried chilis, then play around!
I did one of these earlier in the summer, so this one will be a little shorter. I was sick for a while, and we had to evacuate for a hurricane, so I’ve watched a bunch of stuff.
Bahubali 1 and 2: On Netflix. Two of the highest grossing movies in Indian history. They’re both gorgeous, and because I have no background in the underlying mythology, completely insane and inscrutible. Highly recommended just for the sheer spectacle of it.
The Spy: On Netflix. This kind of developed into a theme the past couple of months. Sasha Baron Cohen plays a spy who infiltrates the Syrian government. Saying more would spoil it, but it’s compelling and heartbreaking. The acting throughout is amazing.
Our Boys: On HBO. Another based on a true story, around murder, retaliation, mistrust and politics. Heartbreaking, tense and frustrating. Very worth watching.
Operation Finale: On Prime. About capturing Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley are great in it.
Mindhunter Season 2: On Netflix. Another one of those anxiety-ridden shows. I wish they’d left out the bit with the son and spent more time on BTK, but I’ll still anxiously await the third season.
That’s not everything I watched, but I started several shows and kind of sputtered out on them, or have forgotten them, which might be worse. I am thrilled that The Great British Bake Off (cough, sorry) Baking Show is back and it’s still perfect. I wish there were more competition shows that could feel that fun.
I’ve been a fan of Jason Kottke’s Media Diet posts forever and decided it’s time to start my own, because I consume so much, I forget what I’ve seen, what I like and what to recommend to folks. So, consider this the first in what will hopefully be a series of “stuff Kevin’s watched so you can watch it to” posts.
Crawl (might still be in theaters?): I saw this on vacation with my kids, my brother, his wife and daughter. It’s a great summer scare, and lots and lots of alligators. Rating: B
Black Spot (Netflix): If you like Twin Peaks, but wanted more procedural elements and 99% more French, and a little less David Lynch, this is the show for you. Set in an isolated small French town in the mountains next to a huge forest, there’s spooky creatures in the woods, personal drama, weird murders and compelling characters. Rating: B (I think the show needs to pick whether it’s supernatural or a police procedural… it’s not enough of either to be an A)
American Gods Season 2 (Starz): I caught up on this one with a free preview week on Prime (it’s great – if there’s only one show you want on a network, get the 7 day free trial of the channel on Prime Video and binge it, then cancel). This is one of the most beautifully produced things I’ve ever seen on television and watching Ian McShane and Orlando Jones chew through that beauty, stealing every scene they’re in, is a joy. Rating: B+ (it’s a little uneven)
The Deadwood Movie (HBO): You should read this profile of David Milch before you watch the movie. This is a loving (well, what Deadwood thinks of as loving) farewell to one of my all-time favorite shows. The characters are all older, a little worn down, calcified or fading, and I couldn’t think of a more beautiful send off. It’s gorgeous, and the last 2-3 scenes are beautiful. Rating: A
The Boys (Prime): The antidote to OD’ing on Marvel and DC. More Watchmen than Spiderman. Rating: A+
Undercover (Netflix): It’s a Flemish cop show based on a true story about an undercover operation against one of the largest MDMA producers in Europe. Lots of fun. Rating: B+
The Mechanism Season 2 (Netflix): Brazilian show, also based on a true story, about fighting large scale government corruption. The second season moves a little slower than the first, but the last three episodes are worth the wait. Rating: B+
Big Mouth (Netflix): Gross, juvenile (it is about puberty) but ultimately sex-positive and kind of joyful. One of the funniest things I’ve watched in a long time. Rating: A+
Blown Away (Netflix): It’s The Great British Bake Off, but glass blowing. It’s way better than I thought it would be, and the contestants are all great characters. Rating: B
Taco Chronicles (Netflix): Short light series about tacos! Each episode concentrates on a different variation and you’ll definitely learn something. Rating: B+
Street Food (Netflix): It’s Chef’s Table for street food and just as good. Just turn on subtitles and the original language, or it’s hella confusing. Rating: A
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh (OMG, it’s a book!): I know, I’m as shocked as you are. This is a short book, but beautifully written and compelling. It’s got old myths, old gods, young men, old women and one of the most satisfying relationships I can remember in a book. Rating: A+
There you go, my first media diet! I’ll try to do these more regularly so they’re not this long. Happy viewing (and reading)!
The family just did our big annual road trip to see my family in Northern VA. That meant over twenty hours on the road. I almost always create a new Roadtrips playlist every year (first in iTunes, then Rdio, now Spotify). This year’s was a little different since I let the kids add songs to it… and they did (for better or worse). We didn’t end up listening to it on the big drives, but it was great for our trips around town with everyone in the van.
We mostly listened to podcasts. This year, I created a new playlist in Overcast of things I’ve been meaning to catch up on, or that I know the kids like. It worked great, especially since I limited all of those podcasts to only the 5 most recent episodes. It kept us from getting too many episodes of the same podcast in a row, and kept me awake since I never knew what was coming up next.
I had to skip podcast series where you have to have listened to all the episodes to know what’s going on, so no Limetown.
Here’s what we listened to, along with my recommendations (1-5 stars):
The Cut on Tuesdays: 5 stars. You never know what you’re going to get with the one. It could be an interview, or a fun story about “bad” dinner parties (my favorite episode), or a story about the history of birth control.
Revisionist History: 5 stars. Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast is now in its fourth season and it’s great. Super thought-provoking and great storytelling.
Scene on Radio (The Seeing White season): 5 stars. We only listened to the last four episodes of the season, but it’s amazing. It’s a great introduction to the history of whiteness, its power over the systems that run our lives, and some hopeful ideas on how to fix it. It’s like a podcast of Dismantling Racism and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Everything is Alive: 4 stars. A really silly concept: that everything is alive, so let’s interview them, but it turns into some mind-bending, funny, and touching conversations. I especially like the elevator one.
Every Little Thing: 4 stars. There’s some heavy stuff in this playlist, but ELT isn’t one of them. Audience questions get turned into explorations of things you never thought about. It’s always educational and fun.
Lore: 4 stars. You know about this one already, right? Scary stories haltingly told.
Sawbones: 3 stars. The kids love this one. It’s hit or miss for me. Some episodes are great and hilarious. Others just don’t work for me.
Solvable: 3 stars. Solid interviews with people changing the world. A little dry, but worth listening to.
There you go. Hopefully that helps your end-of-summer roadtrips a little more pleasant. Enjoy!
I’ve written these for a few years now (I could have sworn I wrote one last year, but I guess I didn’t), and I think this is the first year that it’s been harder to pick out albums than some great songs. I think Spotify may have finally broken me of my “listen to the whole album” rule since it’s easier to just fire up a playlist or daily mix than go find an album to listen to.
But, I still have my favorite songs of the year list (I’ve embedded it below) and though it’s a little smaller than previous years, there’s still over 12 hours of music in it that came out this year.
Before I get to the albums, the song of the year for me is definitely Goldfrapp’s Anymore. No, really, it’s amazing. So sexy and fun and danceable. You should listen to it a million times.
There’s been a trend for a few years now of releasing a bunch of singles to streaming services before the album gets released, and some of my favorites this years were really just EPs, so I think they should have their own section.
Serengeti: Kaleidoscope – Reminds me of The Submarines in the best possible way. Groovy, fun, and ripe for multiple listens. Bonus points for some lovely muted trumpet on Is It Too Late.
Her: Her Tape #2 – Weighing in at 17 whole minutes, they pack a whole album worth of goodness into it. This one kind of snuck up on me, with several songs showing up in various daily mixes until I listened to the whole thing. It’s beautiful, especially Swim, which will make you dance.
Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapés – Another great down tempo album from Ghostpoet. It’s like the best of Massive Attack with some modern hip hop.
Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator – Folksy, old school, clever, silly and a lot of fun… all without being cloying or annoying. It’s just… good.
New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions – I don’t know how they do it, but this band feels like it gets bigger with every album. I keep thinking their sound will get old or stale, and it absolutely doesn’t. One of my all-time faves that just keeps getting better.
Big Thief: Capacity – Kind of like if Beach House, Luna and Emma Pollock teamed up for a really sad and lovely country album. Gorgeous songs and amazing lyrics.
The Dears: Times Infinity Volume Two – The Dears should be bigger. Everyone should love The Dears. You need to listen to them. A little TV on the Radio, a little of a lot of other things, always good.
Widowspeak: Expect the Best – Dreamy, fuzzy, and ethereal. I love this band unconditionally and they can do no wrong. This album is as good as all their others, and that’s saying a lot.
Said the Whale: As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide – Is it wrong to love pop? No. No it isn’t, especially when it’s this good. Also, it’s even less wrong when the band is Canadian for some reason. So, yeah, just listen. You’ll like it.
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice – This is way more grown up than her last album, and that’s alright, I guess, though I absolutely lovedSometimes I Sit and Thing, and Sometimes I Just Sit. I’m alright with growing up, I guess.
The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding – Mostly for the song Holding On which feels like a huge 70’s rock callback, but is also just a great song. The rest of the album is fine too, really.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones: I’d heard of them, but never listened until they were coming to Savannah for a show and a bunch of my friends gushed about them. Now I’m sad I missed the show, because this band is great. I listen to them in the kitchen (unapologetic revival soul is perfect baking music).
Big Sam’s Funky Nation: Another concert-related discovery. These guys played Revival Fest this year and blew the doors off. Their albums are good, but their live show is insanely great. If you ever get the chance to join Funky Nation, you should rush to renounce whatever citizenship you need to in order to get in.
Flunk: I should have heard of this band before this year, because they’re in my wheelhouse. They’re a perfect trip hop throwback, a little like Portishead, and I could listen to them all day at work.
There you go, my musical 2017. Enjoy the playlist below, and here’s to an acoustically pleasing 2018!