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totally top five: 2020

You ever spend at least five or six minutes a day staring into the middle distance and trying to process that we’re all living through like, three to five global catastrophes simultaneously? And then get up and put your clothes on and go to work anyway? Oh yeah of course you have that’s what 2020 was all about.

I know that, functionally and realistically, absolutely nothing is going to change between December 31, 2020 and January 1, 2021, but holy shit am I be glad to close the door on this shitshow of a year regardless.

My attention span went to hell this year, amongst other attributes, and I pretty much ceased watching or reading anything after about… August? I did continue to listen to new music as without it I die, but everything else was just a barren field of nothingness. My Goodreads year-end roundup felt particularly pointed this year, but what can you do, right?

ANYWAY, here’s my top five for the year. Just the one list, categories be damned.

Orville Peck was my most listened-to artist this year. Crystal gave me Pony at the start of the year when she did her annual comb-through of all the year-end lists; I was hooked from the jump and I stand by everything I said about it in January. Peck’s voice is so easy to listen to even though it’s deeply emotional and there’s something really magical about his arrangements. I’ve loved everything he’s done this year as well — the cover of “Smalltown Boy” is one of my favorite pieces of music from 2020 and “No Glory in the West” just absolutely kicked my ass across the prairie — and I also have to blame and thank him for really opening me up to country music this year. I had, obviously, moved away from my youthful “everything but country” attitude to music, but the algorithm responded to my listening habits and offered up a ton of new music I wouldn’t have necessarily been interested in before because it was country or country adjacent including some new legit favorites like Colter Wall and Evil and Sunny War.

Sarah Henstra’s We Contain Multitudes is still really the only piece of media I consumed this year that really fucked me up emotionally in exactly the way I like to be fucked up emotionally. My Goodreads review is still right on and what I said in May here still stands as well. This is just a really lovely story with characters it’s easy to care about and get invested in with complex life experiences that complicate how they relate to one another. I’ve bought, I think, almost ten copies of this book for other people since I finished reading it and if that’s not a ringing recommendation, I don’t know what possibly could be.

I joked earlier this year that since Crystal had decided to attempt to claim her Canadian citizenship, I was going to try to get into The Tragically Hip so that I could be adequately prepared for whatever it meant to live with a Canadian, but it turns out that they’re great and I was just missing out all these years. (Not that I necessarily assumed they weren’t good but like, you know… Canadians, right?) I would start listing the favorites I’ve accumulated here, but there are just too many to be honest. I do have a favorites playlist but it is incomplete, so tread with that in mind. Truly, RIP Gord Downie, and thanks for the boss tunes.

Letterkenny ended up being one of the only media experiences we had this year and I still stand by every word I said about it in March. Just thinking about it can make me laugh and we’ve held off on watching the new episodes specifically because we want to have something to look forward to. Crystal and I had a long conversation the other day that meandered over a bunch of media and it ultimately came down to the idea that not enough weird shit is getting made. Everything is a remake or re-adaptation or a sequel and I know we’ve all been screaming about that for more than a decade at this point, but it’s nice to watch something like Letterkenny that is weird and funny and has a big heart too.

As previously discusses at length (kinda), I watch hockey now! Again! Regularly for the first time since I was a youth. This was an exceptionally weird season in which to get invested in sports of any kind and by the end of it I had attached myself to thirteen teams (seven “primaries and six “auxiliaries” because I certainly cannot do anything normally) and several of those teams went to the playoffs, some of them deep, and one of them all the way to the Cup final! Which was rad, but also sucked because they lost, though it was tempered by my enthusiasm for the finals being between teams from non-traditional hockey markets! Anyway, I think cishet men should be banned from talking about sports where other people can see it, but otherwise I’ve been having a spectacular time and can’t wait for the new season even though having it happen under the current conditions of the world also terrifies me. The grueling mechanism of capitalism, etc etc.

      

Happy New Year! Here’s to high hopes and low expectations for 2021! I hope this year treats you kinder than the last and I hope you’re kinder to yourself than you ever have been before. I love you! Be safe!

totally top five 2019: listening

I listened to so, so much good music this year and I have been SO EXCITED to talk about it that some of these blurbs have been in draft for literal MONTHS. Also, I urge you to remember that I have spectacular, diverse taste in music and you should listen to me!!


King Woman, Created in the Image of Suffering – This is 38 minutes of heavy, haunting, artful doom metal and it rules. Kristina Esfandiari is so unbelievably talented and you can hear pain and growth and struggle and escape and reconciliation and it’s beautiful and heavy and cool as hell. This was the first thing I listened to and loved in 2019 that made me feel like I was experiencing something I never had before, like it was the ground floor of something brand new to me that will only get better from here. “Utopia,” “Deny,” and “Shame” are my favorites, but I cannot stress enough how good it is as a complete album and how it’s incredibly satisfying to listen to that way. My only complaint is that I didn’t hear it sooner.


Billie Eilish, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? – This was probably my most surprising album of 2019 because I am old and crotchety and sometimes do that thing where I refuse to try something because there’s Too Much Hype and I Am An Asshole, so I am grateful to whatever Spotify user put “Bad Guy” on a playlist dedicated to tempo changes because otherwise I might never have heard the album at all. It’s another one that works as a whole, but I usually end up just queuing my favorites because I am fussy that way — “bad guy,” “you should see me in a crown,” “all the good girls go to hell,” “when the party’s over,” “my strange addiction,” “bury a friend,” and “listen before i go” — and also because they still form a kind of neat, cohesive sound without the songs between. I’m both wildly jealous that a teenager is so talented and also wildly excited to see what she does as she makes more music.


Christine & the Queens, Chris – Crystal does this thing at the beginning of the year where she looks at a whole bunch of year-end lists of music and then listens to a little bit of each album and sends me the ones she thinks I’ll like. (This is the most tender, romantic thing anyone has ever done for me. And the JOY and GLOATING PRIDE she radiates when she gets a selection right? Good lord, how it feeds my egomania.) This was one of the first she sent me at the start of 2019 and I was immediately so into it. It’s so dance-y and throwback-y without feeling like a derivative retread of the music it’s echoing. It’s great in English and French. (It might actually be even better in French. Don’t tell anyone I said that.) And it feels sparkling, enliveningly queer, which just completely fucking rules. The obvious standout here is “Girlfriend” which feels like… Gay New Wave Debbie Gibson? And “Feel So Good” — OH MAN, SO GOOD — but I also love “Doesn’t Matter” and “The Walker” and “Make Some Sense”. This got me through the rough early months of 2019 and it really continued to shine even after the snow melted.


The Damned Things, High Crimes – This album is so god damn good and, like their last, has a kind of old school hard rock-metal feel with that kind of… slinky thing that fell out of favor and I missed immensely. (Seriously, listen to “Storm Charmer” or “Keep Crawling” – they make me feel like an extremely horny teenager again. It’s great.) “Something Good” is super catchy and fun and repeat-worthy. “Young Hearts” has a great middle-of-the-song breakdown AND great sort of falsetto call-and-response echo in the chorus. The guitar work is spectacular top to bottom and nobody else is slacking either. “Let Me Be (Your Girl)” is fucking great – “I don’t need to mean the world / I just wanna be your girl / I don’t need to have your heart / I just wanna leave a scar” – and also has a boss guitar solo. This is an album I listen to from beginning to end most of the time and I am never disappointed by a single song, but they also work as singles, popped out individually, and make a great addition to a playlist, which you know is one of my most beloved pasttimes and thus a very serious compliment.


Frank Iero & the Future Violents, Barriers – This was hands down my most listened to album of 2019 and Frank was my most listened to artist of the year in general (He changes his band name every time he makes an album! Because he’s an artist!) and I just really loved it in a way that is hard to articulate because explaining why you just really, really love something is hard.

That said, the run of “Moto Pop” into “Medicine Square Garden” into “No Love” is one of the most fucking,,, masterful pieces of music I’ve experienced in a long time. It honestly causes me PHYSICAL PAIN that it is so good and that I will never create anything remotely comparable!! It is best listened to EXTREMELY LOUD while you are INTENSELY FOCUSED and the fact that it’s all on side 3 together so I can sit too close to my turntable and go far away inside of it all at once… Magic. (“Police Police” is a solid finisher there too, so don’t let me undersell it.) And GOD, the jangly guitar at the beginning of “No Love” has made me roll around on the floor more than once out of sheer joy.

I cannot stress enough that the album as a whole is so fucking solid that I almost always listen to it in its entirety. I’ll be like, “Oh, I want to hear “Fever Dream” (the phrase “ventricle taste test”… it haunts me) and I’ll go to the album on Spotify and I’ll listen to that track and then I’ll be like, “Well… while… I’m… here…” and then start it from the beginning. And then I usually go back and listen to “Fever Dream” again and then the “Moto Pop”-“Medicine Square Garden”-“No Love” trimuvirate and then, honestly, I frequently go back and start the album again. (This sounds like a lot, but I listen to music all day at work and most of my evenings. I have time to obsess. It’s great.) “24K Lush” is a great gut punch of a finisher too.

When we saw them in July in Denver, I did not expect to cry at all. I didn’t even bother to take a guess at a song that might make me cry, that’s how unlikely it seemed! But then I just started HEAVILY WEEPING as soon as “24k Lush” started and then continued all the way through “Great Party,” so hideously that guitarist and extremely nice dude Evan Nestor handed me a bottle of water. I am… an all-time champion of behaving ExTREmelY NORmallY in public and also sometimes slow to absorb just how deeply something has gotten embedded in me. This album got its claws in and hasn’t let go yet.


Honorable Mentions

microwave, much love   cavetown, lemon boy   let’s eat grandma, i'm all ears
littlest man band, better book ends   jon walker, impending bloom   ghost, seven inches of satanic panic


Previously

2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17 | 2018

totally top five 2019: watching

Let’s talk about some stuff I watched in 2019 now, yeah? Yeah!


Man, I LOVED Umbrella Academy. I liked it when we watched it initially, but we’ve rewatched quite a bit since and it’s just grown on me even more. I like that it’s a little dumb — as all ‘superhero’ properties should be — and that it doesn’t really look or sound like anything else I’ve seen recently. I like that it’s a story about a family surviving against the odds of their shitty upbringing under deeply suspect circumstances and having to reunite both because of and in spite of those circumstances and all the great ways that allows the characters to interact. I love all of the characters here, even the bad guys, and found myself surprisingly emotionally attached in the kind of fictional environment where I don’t normally do that. I’m interested to see where it will go in season two!


Rhett & Link put out a three part documentary [ONE | TWO | THREE] about a trip they took to their hometown to return to some of the places that inspired their new book, The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek and it was charming as hell. I like Good Mythical Morning for a variety of reasons — gross food! spicy food! great guest interactions! the crew! the comedy! the LAUGHTER! — but one of the things I like the most is the fact that it is extremely clear that Rhett and Link have been friends for an unbelievably long time and are still laughing at each other like they did when they were kids. Their friendship is palpable and that makes the chemistry of the show so, so much better because they know both how to play off of each other and how to play together off of other people. Seeing them in their hometown was very sweet and it was nice to see them so emotionally reflective on what they’ve done together and how important that youth is to it.


I haven’t truly binge-watched something in a long, long time. Not since before I started working full time in 2014, so when I sat down at my desk at home while in a hideously hard, bad mood and hit the second episode of Roswell, New Mexico on Netflix (I had watched the first shortly after it aired, but then like, life, you know?) I didn’t expect to finish it and then watch the next eleven in a row without any breaks except to pee. I mostly watch things in hopes of having a good time, but I also really like to FEEL things while I’m having fun and this just hit all the marks for me. Everyone is so, so beautiful and there is so much remarkable emoting. The dialogue is fun AND human AND emotionally resonant without ever hitting eye-rolling melodrama. Both the emotional and plot stakes are pretty high and the characters react and respond to them in ways that feel appropriate and real. It has a gay character! A bisexual character! There’s same-sex sex! And it made me care about straight romance because the characters are so likable! And I am deeply, deeply amped for season two.


Call Me By Your Name broke me in such a wonderful, satisfying, lovely way that I am still thinking about it often. I said quite a bit about how much I loved it previously, but the longer I’ve lived with it, the more deeply satisfied I am with it. It’s such a beautiful love story, such a beautiful coming of age story, such a beautiful heartbreak story, and it’s absolutely wildly lovely to look at, too, dreamy and summery and nostalgic. A near-contemporary period piece with great music and beautiful people and a lovely story with a deeply profound narrative moral that is spoken aloud, right out loud, for the people watching who are likely to need it the most. Such a lovely gift of a movie.


The Haunting of Hill House really emotionally destroyed me this year in a way I did not expect and also really enjoy thinking about. I loved the characters and the movement through time and the spooky and gruesome elements and the beautiful and terrifying house and that, at its heart, it’s a story about family and the ways that we sometimes inflict indelible damage on one another without ever thinking we are being callous or cruel. I really liked this one right from the jump and I stand by those things I loved: the gripping, creeping tension of it and the way the familial relationships tangled and stretched. It was also so beautifully designed and lit and shot — that long take during “Two Storms,” GOSH — and I hope the team behind it makes something else I can love again. Soon.


Honorable Mentions

unicorn store   tuca & bertie   rocketman   good omens   captain marvel


Previously

2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17 | 2018

totally top five 2019: reading

I read 42 books in 2019! Let’s talk about the ones I liked the most, yeah? In no particular order!


Drew Magary’s The Hike was the absolute weirdest book I read in 2019 and I had such a great time doing it. It was one of my three favorite things in June and I’ve been babbling about its weirdness since I finished it. It really helped me realize that the things I like most in the world are often things that are allowed to just be weird without extensive reasoning. The Hike sets up the rules of the universe as it goes and never forces itself into an explanation. It just is and I really love that about it. The biggest reason it’s on the list, however, is that I have been totally unable to stop thinking about it. I think about it whenever I am confronted by the idea of crabs, obviously, but it also just pops into my head randomly and I get that nice, satisfied feeling you have when you bump into an old friend and that’s got to be sign of a book I really loved.


Mary Renault’s The Charioteer was really beautiful and stunningly written with the kind of concision and delicacy that makes tiny motions into unbearable romantic (and sometimes erotic!) gestures. I had a lot to say about this one when I finished it and I stand by everything I said. It has beautiful writing and engaging characters and a lovely, painful sense of melancholy that didn’t feel hopeless. I was so invested in this book that I actually left my house under false pretenses while we had someone staying with us so that I could sit somewhere quiet for thirty minutes and finish it. If a willingness to abandon your loved ones in order to read isn’t a sign of a good book, I’m not sure what is.


Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August absolutely kicked my ass intellectually and emotionally and I would not have had it any other way. It was one of my favorite things in May and thinking about the book makes me feel completely unhinged in a way that I love. (If I think too hard about the conceit, my head starts to hurt, but I kind of like it.) It was one of the books I thought the most about this year after I’d finished it. The world North creates is brain-breaking for me, but also really engaging and interesting, and I still can’t believe how much I loved spending time with Harry and his friends. Her writing is beautiful and Harry is a wonderful narrator and also, to reiterate, the line “He enjoyed toying with me, and, in my way, I enjoyed being toyed with.” is still one of the horniest things I’ve ever read.


C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince Trilogy was so, so, so unbelievably good and fun and satisfying and an unbelievably good distraction while we were dealing with a family medical emergency. These books had the ability to drag me away from fear, anxiety, frustration, even sobbing misery, and to put me into a completely different place where I could just focus on a story and disappear into it until I had to deal with real life again. I read these really, really fast — all three in less than a month — and they make a really nice, solid set with a nice-sized story and a really satisfying arc. I love these characters and she even managed to engage me with the political maneuvering of the “actual” “plot” of the story behind the romantic entanglement and extremely good sex. Also, it’s the only thing I read this year that inspired the text message, “THIS IS WHY I AM ALIVE ON THIS EARTH!!!!!!” and that’s hard to beat.


Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name was so good that as soon as I had finished it, I went to Ebay to order a hardback copy to put on my Favorite Books Shelf. The characters are incredible, the atmosphere is dreamy and sensual, and the writing! God! Infuriatingly good. Like most of the people I know who read and loved it, I, too, wish he had quit while he was ahead re: where to land the ending, but even when I look back on it now, I don’t actually feel like it disappointed me in any way. This felt like being seventeen and in your own head about your feelings, constantly convinced that you are the only person who has ever felt this way, except if your seventeen-year-old thoughts were really beautiful and articulate and also taking place in a breathtaking version of Italy that probably doesn’t actually exist.


Honorable Mentions

philippe besson, lie with me   sj goslee, how not to ask a boy to prom   jessica knoll, luckiest girl alive   kj charles, band sinister   amy spalding, the summer of jordi perez


Previously

2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17 | 2018

totally top five 2019: stuff & things

Hey look, it’s that time of year! When a bitch shares their love! Every song you hear! Seems to say! Spend your money! May your shopping dreams! Come true!

OR!

Here’s the first of four posts about stuff I loved in 2019!

a gray, white, and black graphic saying totally top five 2019: stuff and things

  • The Vint & York glasses in Cranberry Splash Ritzy that I wore almost all year and made me feel the most like myself any pair of glasses ever have.
  • This Casemate Glitter Case for my iPhone.
  • This heated electric throw that basically kept me alive through the early months of 2019.
  • This cheap, warm, and very comfortable Amazon Basics Puffy Coat.
  • I bought this mechanical keyboard for work and this mechanical keyboard for home and now typing on any keyboard without Cherry MX Blue switches feels a little bit like torture. I came for the clicky sounds which, idiotically and inexplicably, encourage me to write more, but stayed for the reduced effort needed for typing and the corresponding reduced strain on my hands.
  • I would be remiss if I didn’t include skiley.net which lets you look at your Spotify stats any time you want instead of just when Spotify wants to send you infographics at the end of the year.
  • This countertop ice maker which is a counter hog and pretty loud, but makes really good ice very quickly and enables my Stok Chocolate cold brew habit.
  • I’ve got to extol the virtues of the NARS Powermatte Lip Pigments for the second year in a row because I really never wear anything else anymore! We added a few to the collection in 2019 — we’re up to nine now: American Woman, Don’t Stop, London Calling, Somebody to Love, Spin Me, Starwoman, Under My Thumb, Vain, Wild Night — and every single one is amazing.
  • I am not a video game person, which I am sure I have said before and will say again, because I’m not competitive, but I also just don’t care about games enough to learn how to actually play them. Thankfully, untitled goose game has a very simple set of mechanics and no stressful metrics for success, so I get to enjoy non-competitive mischief like the rest of the internet.
  • This Elizavecca Hair Treatment that makes my hair super soft, but not greasy or weighed down.
  • 1 Million and, more specifically, mixing 1 Million with Alien.
  • PODCASTS! (Okay, so, I know technically you LISTEN to podcasts and so that’s where this should go, but there was way, way, way too much good music in 2019 for me to sacrifice a spot to something I only barely tapped into, no matter how much I enjoyed it. Also, by ‘podcasts,’ I just mean My Brother, My Brother and Me so feel free to read this number as ‘The McElroy Brothers’ instead, if that makes you feel better.)
  • All the stuff that I said about live music last year was pretty true this year, too! I didn’t get to see as many people live because life is about… balance? I guess? But we did see Ludo reunite again AND My Chemical Romance’s return and when you get to see one of your favorite bands play together for the first time in seven and a half years, that’s a pretty good year.

  • Previously

    2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17 | 2018