Best of List

Best of 2016: Music & TV

In the age of social media (read: barrier-less entry to digital publication), our end-of-year world is overran with a bevy of bovine best-of lists that subjectively say nothing about music or art. I have often considered forgoing the practice. But truth be told I am a man of traditions and patterns. Since 2010 I have been making such subjective lists and cannot turn back now.

But I do promise to simplify.

This year, I’m talking just music and TV. (If you find yourself curious about the books I’ve read this year, however, follow me on Goodreads (Goodreads is still a thing, right?)).

Top 5 Records

2016 was a weird year for mainstream music. Rock was fueled primarily by mega-bands from previous decades (Blink 182, Green Day, Metallica), hip-hop spent its social currency on Kanye West drama, and pop-music decided to just wait it out for a new Taylor Swift album. Beyonce, I suppose, did something interesting with pop music, but there isn’t much else to hear. Where mainstream music failed, indie-music (used here as a sweeping genre) and new independent artists (across all indie-music genres) soared.

Almost weekly, there was a new artist or band or group making waves. Car Seat Headrest, Big Thief, Julien Baker, Margaret Glaspy, Kevin Morby, Nice As Fuck, to name a few at top of mind.

With Apple Music and Spotify and Amazon Music and now Pandora Unlimited — streaming services becoming commonplace for the listener — there’s little excuse to miss out on all this great new music. But these tools don’t make keeping up any less overwhelming. In fact, having access to everything, I find, makes it worse. At the end of the day, you have to find what works for you — those albums that connect from start to finish and demand repeat listens — and fit in the other stuff when you can.

So what are my favorites from the year? There are many reasons that the following list of albums stood out to me as “favorites” (originality, longevity, boldness) but the best metric is this: I refused to delete their files from my phone. (more…)

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Best of 2015: Music, Film, Literature

Oh hey there. Let’s jump right in.

Music

2015 was a fantastic year for music. Adele and Taylor Swift reminded us that people still buy music and that pop stars still exist. Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and a host of other streaming services pushed the discussion of “music as a commodity” centerstage. Despite where opinions settle, I think we can all agree that our streaming discussions were well overdue (and on two fronts: people paying for their music again and artists getting fairly paid for streaming).

NOTE: Amazon Prime’s streaming service (Amazon Music) is the industry’s best kept secret. It’s by far the best streaming service. Comes with your Prime account, you can download thousands of records, listen to them offline. Why is no one talking about this?

Every year I have artists and their releases that I look forward to, but this year there were some out-of-left-field albums that no one saw coming. Leon Bridges and Sufjan Stevens’ masterpiece, for instance, rocked (and rolled) almost my entire musical year.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Someone once told me that art should look different every time you see it. I think the same can be true for music, where you hear something different every time you play it. Stevens’ latest hits the proverbial mark. Borrowing from Gregorian chants, from 70’s folk, from his own catalogue — Carrie & Lowell is lyrically transparent, musically restrained, and almost perfect. Make no mistake, people: Sufjan Stevens made a masterpiece.

There are instances, such as in “The Only Thing“, where the track is just begging for a rhythm section (i.e., bass & drums), but we don’t get it, and it’s the right choice. “The Only Thing” is about despair, about barely holding on with just a glimmer of hope. Sure, you can sing about depression with a backing band, but it wouldn’t fit here. Stevens isn’t trying to be flashy, and he’s not making anthems, what Stevens is doing is splitting open his chest and singing therapy.

As someone who’s had a similar (not exact, but similar) upbringing as Stevens, I latched onto this record like a child to his mother, and it brought me comfort many times over. Can someone with a glossy childhood enjoy this album? Of course. But who actually had a glossy childhood? (more…)

Best of 2014: Music & Film

Another year, another best-of list. One of these days, when I’m old and gray, I’m going to show these lists to my grandkids and prove to them that I was at, one time, relevant with pop culture. They’ll say, “What’s a blog, Grampa Kev-bo?” I’ll say, “What?” They’ll say, “What’s a blog, Grampa Kev-bo?” And I’ll say, “What?”

You get the idea.

As for now, I’m happy to report that I still have my hearing and that I am loving 2014 music and film. Up first: here are some of my favorite albums and tracks from the year. Some you probably know, maybe a few you don’t? Give them a listen and let me know if any resonate with you.

Music

Kevin Morby-Still Life

Kevin Morby is my new favorite singer-songwriter. I’ve been obsessed with Still Life, his latest effort, for a few weeks now. The range of this record is amazing. From minimalist acoustic/drum tracks (see below), to fuzzy reverb layers, to clean 70’s pop, to indie folk, this album has a bit of everything, and it executes it well.

In reviews, I try to stay away from easy artist comparisons. Hardworking musicians, like Morby, deserve complex criticisms. That said, Kevin Morby is the brilliant lovechild of Nick Cave and David Bazan, though was raised by his god parents in the 90’s in a sailboat off Santa Monica by Beck and Lou Reed. That’s what he sounds like. Got it?

SBTRKT-Wonder Where We Land (more…)

Best of 2012: Books. Movies. Musics.

Another year. Yayyyyy. I’ll think I ‘ll just get to it.

Movies:

For the record, I don’t see a lot of movies. At least when they come out. Either way, here are some I really liked.

MV5BMTc3MjI0MjM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTYxMTQ1OA@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_Argo

It’s insane. Ben Affleck is one of the best directors in Hollywood. Who’da thunk it?

This movie wasn’t perfect but it was still pretty close. John Goodman and Alan Arkin were enough to make the movie for me. The last hour left me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

MV5BMjM1MzMzOTA3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTE3NzA1OA@@._V1._SY317_Skyfall

Is there anything worth saying that hasn’t been said? Probably not.

My personal favorite aspects of this film though? There was too much to like: The skyscraper assassination/fight, Javier Bardem’s introduction monologue, Q, and of course the 1965 Aston Martin DB5.

Still, what was up with that scorpion scene?

imagesSafety Not Guaranteed 

This movie really flew under the radar. I absolutely loved it. It may even go as far as being my “favorite of the year” (Though I’m a sucker for 007).

Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza are absolutely incredible in this film. The “campfire-song” scene between the two of them is beautifully shot, not to mention the song itself was quite impressive. If you haven’t, go see this film now!

MV5BMTM3MDUzMDQwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDk1NjM4OA@@._V1._SY317_Sleepwalk With Me

This fun little film was produced by the This American Life crew, and was written, directed, and starred by Mike Birbiglia, who inspired the true events in the movie.

It’s not exactly a “pro-marriage” movie, but I don’t think it’s necessarily “anti” either. Just be aware that it paints marriage in a funny light. (I wrote a blog on this type of thing already here)

Despite my reservations on that topic, it is still a film worth viewing. It’s quite hilarious and very heart-warming.

MV5BMTk4ODQzNDY3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODA0NTM4Nw@@._V1._SY317_The Dark Knight Rises

Any body who doesn’t have this movie in their end of year favorites is just lying to themselves. Get over your expectations! This movie rocked. Was it the best in the trilogy? No. Does that make it a bad movie? Of course not.

Christopher Nolan delivered just enough to cement his trilogy among the greats. With that being said, I do hope that Nolan returns to a smaller scope in whatever his next film is. The grand scale moments of TDKR are definitely enticing, I can’t help but enjoy the more human aspects of all his films a bit more.

Still, that airplane scene at the beginning? The Bane-Batman fight sequence? The cat burglar? That Ending? Too good.

Music

51kdATs+Y7L._SL500_AA280_Matthew Perryman Jones- Land of the Living

This is such a great record. For a full review, check out American Songwriters take on the album here.

It’s dark, swoony (is that a word?), uplifting, deep, and poetic. Stones From The Riverbed is probably my favorite; his eerie chanting of “the stones from the city wall are pulled from the riverbed,” give me chills every time. Waking Up The Dead is worth mentioning as well. It PUMPS ME UP MAN.

51uehPYp-eL._SL500_AA280_Dirty Projectors- Swing Lo Magellan

It took me a little while to jump on the Dirty Projectors band wagon. But once I did, I was curious as to what took me so long. This album is absolutely wonderful. It’s surprisingly catchy and could be easily categorized as a pop record; though I would never fully agree.

The hooks are unmistakable and the lyrics are positively thought-engaging. Sometimes the production work is a bit too “purposely messy” for me, and I could use a bit more main vocals from the female side of the group. Still, it’s great. The title track is wonderful, Impregnable Question is probably better, and The Socialites is my favorite. The album closer, Irresponsible Tune, feels like it comes straight out of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. 

51uCk8LoGtL._SL500_AA300_The Gaslight Anthem- Handwritten 

This was a Spotify favorite for me, and then I finally gave in and bought it. In the midst of indie mania (I’m not excluding myself on this i.e. Dr. Dog & Dirty Projectors) it’s hard to find bands that can still simply just… you know… rock?

Gaslight can rock and they do it well. Frontman Brain Fallon’s songwriting is just getting better on each record. You can almost sense the confidence he has in his craft. I’m sure records like this aren’t for everyone these days, but man, if you need something to keep you awake on a long drive, plug in Gaslight and turn it up. My favorites: Here Comes My Man, Too Much Blood, National Anthem. 

51o+P0uSdfL._SL500_AA300_Dr. Dog- Be The Void

I love this record for the same reason I love the Dirty Projectors: every song offers a unique sound and each sound holds it’s own weight.

Sadly, Void was my first real introduction into Dr. Dog. I tend to get turned off by some indie people you find on “best-of” lists year after year. Finally I put my guard down and picked up this record after a close friend recommended it.

Get it now! It’s one of the few records that literally get better as each song plays. As soon as you think it can’t get better, it does. It was hard to pick favorites, but I did. Check out: Big Girl, Vampires, Warrior Man. 

51waS91VgdL._SL500_AA280_Lovedrug- Wild Blood

Wild Blood was a great turn around After Lovedrug’s last weeiiird album. There were a couple other records I wanted to mention here, but I thought I’d end with Lovedrug since they probably wont get a lot of love on other lists.

Yes, the Lovedrug guy is in love. At some points, this record is almost too cute. As a Lovedrug fan, I never thought I’d say that. Still, it’s a great album and a very worthy mention. Check out: Wild Blood, Dinosaur, Anodyne.

Books

Love_Does2Love Does- Bob Goff 

Yes, it’s a Christian book. Turns out, it’s a really good Christian book. I love the emphasis: “be available.” The stories in this book make you laugh, tear up, and shake your head. In terms of conventional faith books, it’ll take you outside your comfort zone.

There is no formula, no big plan. Goff just says that love does things. It’s available. It’s Jesus.

232324Platform- Michael Hyatt

It’s exactly what the cover says. A step-by-step guide on creating on online platform. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to start a blog, launch a product, or simply find out more about social media.

Obviously, it hasn’t turned me into an online success, but that’s ok, there’s always next year. (I’m still working on that whole ‘be consistent’ thing)

Once you read the book, plug in to his podcast This Is Your Life. It’s a good way to keep motivated and inspired on the ever present empty page.

9780307888907_custom-566a7991b87d68a3881514af980c49cca6095091-s6-c10The Start Up of You- Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha

I actually just finished it today. Not just for those with an entrepreneurial mindset, but also for those curious on how to cultivate a career in today’s ever changing market. The main idea? Treat your life and career as a start up venture. It’s actually a cool concept.

Hoffman is the guy who co-founded LinkedIN, so a lot of the advice is to go on to LinkedIN. Nonetheless, there are nuggets of wisdom in here I wouldn’t have found anywhere else that made it worth the read.

If you’re not into these business books, I can’t guarantee you’ll like it. Though I do think the idea of “personal beta” is a concept everyone could use to better their lives. Check it out!

781998The Screwtape Letters- C.S. Lewis (1942)

I didn’t read as many new books as I was hoping to this year (thank you Calculus) so I thought I mention an older one.

This is a classic. It took me a few chapters to buy into the story (demons writing letters to each other) but eventually, like all of Lewis’ work, I fell in. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the book. For instance, I’m not sure if demons write letters…. but there are ideas that can and should change your life.

My greatest takeaway? Don’t miss the present. It’s God’s gift to us and we are all prone to miss it. Some focus on the past, others (like myself) worry too much of the future. Today, this moment, is a gift.