I like stuff. Like books, clearly, but also other stuff. Here's a list of my favourite music, film, and TV from this year.
Song: Hey Jo - The Districts
This also happened to be the number 1 song on my Spotify Wrapped this year. The Districts are one of my favourite bands to begin with, and they released their 4th studio album You Know I'm Not Going Anymore back in March this year. The lead single, Hey Jo, is an energetic, wild ride of a song that instantly got me pumped for the album.
The Districts have evolved on their raw, distorted sound and added crisp, intriguing production to their music, which is showcased in this 4th album. Hey Jo is perfect example of that, moving seamlessly from subdued, seething lyricism in the opening verse into crushing drums and an anthemic chorus led by lead singer Rob Grote's infectious howling.
The album was a great companion to rock out to a pandemic with, even though the pandemic also cancelled their tour and their show I had tickets to see. Hoping to see them in 2021 so I can hear this album live finally.
Album: Heaven To A Tortured Mind - Yves Tumor
I knew nothing about this artist until I heard Gospel for a New Century on Hype Machine. After that I listened to the entire album. Then I listened to it a few more times. Every time I listened to it, I gained more appreciation for it as a body of work.
Heaven To A Tortured Mind could be categorized as post-industrial neo-psychedelic hypnagogic pop music. I don't know what any of those things are though so I won't categorize it as such. What I do know is that Yves Tumor made some amazing music on this album. It's definitely experimental—each song features diverse instrumentals and unconventional composition. But it's also very catchy, pop-inspired music at it's core.
The album opens with it's powerful lead single Gospel for a New Century, and over the next few songs Tumor plays the role of a tortured rockstar, exploring love and loss in an emotional soundscape, culminating in a two-part crescendo of Romanticist and Dream Palette—my favourite songs on the album. Dream Palette consists of Tumor singing alongside featured vocalist Julia Cumming, frantically searching for each other among drums, fireworks, and a discordant piano, finally reaching harmony and, together, posing an essential question to themselves, and the listener:
Floating through, what feels like
A declaration of love
Our hearts are in danger
Tell me, is this fundamental love?
A feeling, you deserve
A stare you, you've seen before
Our hearts are in danger
Tell me, is this confidential love?
I don't know what it means, but it sounds really fucking cool.
This kid has got the Midas touch. Every song he touches turns to gold. He's got a great voice, and his rapping and lyricism are top-notch also. His sound sits somewhere in a space between the sing-rapping of Drake and the alternative R&B vibe of Miguel or Khalid. And he deserves to be a big as any of those artists within a few years.
Excited for more Col3trane in 2021, which will hopefully include a debut album.
I don't have much to say about 1917 because it's simply an exhilarating cinematic experience. The movie only gets better with the quality of your audio-visual setup. I was fortunate to watch it in theatres, in IMAX, and it was incredible. If you watch it on your phone or something, it's not going to be the same experience.
The story is forgettable—it's a World War I movie about two soldiers delivering an important message across enemy lines. It's impact lies in the single-shot format utilized throughout the entire film. The camera is always focused on the two protagonists; this provides an intimate view into their world and it completely immersed me in the movie.
I'm sure it took an incredible amount of direction and technical achievement to produce a movie like 1917—I've never seen another film like it. The cinematography was top-notch and I'm a sucker for good cinematography.
Documentary: No No: A Dockumentary
No No: A Dockumentary is about the life of Dock Ellis, an MLB pitcher from the 1970s, who is known for pitching a no-hitter while high on LSD. I went in assuming this would be an off-beat documentary centred around Dock's infamous game, but it turned out to be much more.
The documentary provided a surprising examination of the cultural climate in the 1960s and '70s; the politics, the racism, the hippie movement, and baseball. They did a great job capturing the world that Dock Ellis lived through during his baseball career. Dock's life also turned out to be fascinating. He was a larger-than-life personality and his life took many twists and turns. He was able to turn around a hard dependence on drugs and alcohol and become a counsellor in his life after baseball; helping adolescents and the incarcerated with their own substance use disorders. He was able reach hundreds of kids with his words and his story, changing their lives and improving his community, before his death in 2008.
No No: A Dockumentary was a great documentary about a really interesting person. It was a vibrant and playful film accompanied by a '70s inspired soundtrack—a fitting portrait for a man who never quite wanted to fit in.
Director: Bong Joon Ho
After watching Parasite, I wanted more Bong Joon Ho. During quarantine back in the spring, when my roommate and I were both spending every day at home, we decided to rip through Ho's entire filmography.
I love his original stories and willingness to approach difficult or strange topics that don't often get screen-time. He's also great at building tension and suspense in his movies; they've all been wildly entertaining so far.
My favourite, besides Parasite, was Mother. It was crazy.
Limited Series: Chernobyl
Chernobyl was an amazing 5-part HBO series which came out in 2019. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series last year, so I'm clearly not alone in my praise for this show. I loved the portrayal of tension between scientific truth, bureaucracy, and politics. The nuance and realism was captured so well. The final episode is the highlight of the series, elevated by Legasov's impassioned speech at his trial. It was a remarkable example of the simultaneous power, and danger, that truth holds.
Show: Ted Lasso
As we all know, 2020 was an absolute dumpster fire of a year. Even though watching World War I movies and shows about nuclear disasters is fun, sometimes you just want to watch something a little more lighthearted. Ted Lasso started out as a series of commercials for NBC to promote their coverage of the English Premier League a few years ago, with Ted Lasso played by Jason Sudeikis. It was picked up last year by Apple TV and made into an entire show with basically the same premise (just with a lot more Apple products in it now).
Despite the show's bastardized origins as a commercial piece of garbage, it's actually really funny. It's easy to watch and cheerful, and Sudeikis does a great job at playing the most warmhearted and genuine character I've ever seen on TV.
I highly recommend watching it for anyone dealing with sadness, stress, ill-health, poverty, hemorrhoids, autocratic dictatorships, religious persecution, or existential crises stemming from the threat of super-intelligent AI robots taking over the world.
Or just if you're bored.
Episode: 407 Proxy Authentication Required - Mr. Robot
This was an absolutely jaw-dropping 56 minutes of pure emotion.
Mr. Robot has probably been my favourite show over the last 5 years and this final season was a treat to watch. Director Sam Esmail has focused on cinematic excellence throughout the series and he hasn't been afraid to experiment with interesting ways of telling Elliot's story. From single-shot episodes to '80s sitcom parodies, Esmail's creativity is why I fell in love with this show. This episode was aired in its entirety with no commercial breaks, something I'm sure Esmail had to pay for, reflecting his commitment to artistic integrity in his work, and Mr. Robot in particular.
407 Proxy Authentication Required is delivered like a Shakespearean play. It actually has title cards breaking it up into 5 acts. The theatrical tone is amplified by the original musical score (produced just for this episode) and the cinematic aspect ratio. From the acting, to the cinematography, to the story, it's a flawlessly executed episode of television.
The episode also contains probably the biggest story reveal of the entire show, revolving around a crucial detail of Elliot's life. It's a tragic and powerful moment that was delivered with an incredible performance by Rami Malek.
Watching 407 Proxy Authentication Required was incredible and made watching the entire Mr. Robot series worthwhile, even though it was already.