Screamin' at home, and at phones, we all hurtin'
Freakin' ya soul, like the pack, we all herb
Pay me to feel with the funk, we all need ya
Mixin' the feel with the facts, we all hurt
— Isaiah Rashad, All Herb
I like stuff. I decided to recognize the stuff that I believe is the best stuff out of all the stuff last year. I did this in 2020 and I've done it again this year.
This is a list of my favourite music, film, and TV shows from 2021.
Song: slowthai — feel away(feat. James Blake & Mount Kimbie)
I immediately fell in love with this song the first time I heard it.
Slowthai is a new artist for me; he uses a blend of hip-hop with more familiar British (his home country) genres like grime and punk. He experiments with all of these sounds on his 2021 album Tyron, of which feel away is the 2nd last song.
Feel away feels like slowthai's approach to a love song. In this case, it's like the love is lost already. The piano refrain is melancholic and ethereal; echoing away throughout the whole song. It evokes the feeling of losing something, like something is slipping away.
The bridge by James Blake in the 2nd half of the song is beautiful and haunting. As the beat breaks back in, Blake sings:
I'll leave the dent in my car
To remind me what I could have lost
Again, it's about losing something. The aftermath of having something important taken from you. It could be a relationship, a friend, a pet, or your favourite coffee shop closing down due to economic hardship. No matter what it is, songs like this have a way of reminding us about these things.
Even the outro by Mount Kimbie is really cool and fits perfectly with the song. Just an excellent composition all around.
Album: Isaiah Rashad — The House is Burning
Shoutout to Cautious Clay who made this a tough decision with the release of Deadpan Love this year. It's an amazing record and was definitely a close second.
Isaiah Rashad hasn't released an album since 2016. He's barely released any new music in that time. I first heard him via Civilia Demo, his EP from 2012. It's an incredible debut album. I instantly fell in love with his melodic, laid back style of hip-hop. His cadence is finely tuned and so easy to listen to. Rashad doesnt place much importance on enunciation...but if this is mumble rap then it's the best mumble rap out there.
The House is Burning is so well done. Rashad has perfected his sound on this album. Each track is different but as a body of work its got everything. Rashad can carry a song by himself, but he selected some great featured artists for most tracks on the album. A good example is Lil Uzi Vert's verse on From the Garden, one of the album's standout tracks.
My favourite track is RIP Young though. It's got a beat that needs to go an a diet and a really catchy chorus. It also showcases Rashad's impressive lyricism. He might not be easy to understand sometimes but his verses are pure poetry.
Artist: The Blue Stones
The Blue Stones are a two-piece rock band hailing from Windsor, Canada. With only a guitar, drums, and two mouths, The Blue Stones manage to make some really dynamic, catchy rock music.
They released their sophomore album Hidden Gems in 2021 and it was one of my most played albums last year. It's a follow up to their first studio album from 2018, Black Holes. I'm giving them artist of the year because both albums are stellar.
I think it'd be easy to criticize their sound as repetitive. Every song from this new album would've fit perfectly fine on the last one. Even though their sound hasn't evolved significantly, there's something to be said for consistency. I was happy to get 10 more tracks from a band I already loved with the release of Hidden Gems.
If they don't do anything different on their next album though...might be time to add a 3rd band member.
Film: Sound of Metal
I'm not exactly sure what the rules of my annual awards list should be. I technically watched Sound of Metal for the first time in 2020. But I've watched it a bunch of times since then, including this year. And yesterday.
Sound of Metal is a superb film. It's about a recovering heroin addict named Ruben who plays drums in a metal band with his girlfriend. Ruben, played by Riz Ahmed, starts to lose his hearing and he has to figure out a way to cope with this burgeoning disability.
Director Darius Marder did an amazing job bringing this original screenplay to life. Sound of Metal presents a realistic and eye-opening view of what deafness is like. Ahmed's performance was outstanding; he's become one of my favourite actors in recent years.
The sound editing is incredible and adds so much to the experience. In fact, Sound of Metal won the Oscars for Best Editing and Best Sound last year. It was also nominated for Best Picture, which it definitely could've won.
Documentary: Coded Bias
Coded Bias is a documentary about modern technology and the biases that are imbued within technology. In particular, it looks at the racial bias present in facial recognition. It also exlores how software and algorithms are being used more and more to make decisions about us across all aspects of life. It was really eye-opening. The stark difference in accuracy found in popular facial recognition services against women and people of colour was astounding. It's so surprising that these major tech companies like Google and Amazon would release these services without checking for such obvious biases.
The film was really well done. It explores a range of topics and has interviews with experts who are active in these debates about facial recognition, widespread surveillance, and algorithmic bias.
Coded Bias was an illuminating film that I learned a lot from. It definitely made me think about how much control we are ceding to these algorithms and the people who develop them.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
I've loved every movie by Denis Villeneuve I've seen. Arrival, Sicario, and Blade Runner 2049 are all fantastic...great stories with great cinematography.
His latest movie, Dune, was released back in October. It's the latest attempt to make a film adaptation for a book that's been notoriously hard to adapt. I think Villeneuve did a decent job all things considered. Dune was a visually stunning movie, especially in IMAX.
Limited Series: The Serpent
Netflix has produced some pretty fantastic shows and movies the past few years. The Serpent was a co-production between Netflix and the BBC; it's an 8 part limited series released last April.
It's based on the actual story of serial killer Charles Sobhraj, who drugged and killed tourists in Thailand during the 1970s. It's suspenseful, engaging and super creepy. Extra creepy when you remember that it actually happened.
It's a must-watch for anyone that's not planning a trip to Southeast Asia anytime soon.
Show: The Sopranos
I'm still not done The Sopranos but I'd be kidding myself to say this wasn't the best TV I've watched all year. I'm a little late to the party with this one (the final episode aired in June 2007) but it was better late than never.
Despite the show's age, the themes and story-lines hold up surprisingly well today. It's a classic mob drama told with a modern lens, aware of the Godfathers and Goodfellas that came before it. Mixing mafia crime and family drama, The Sopranos is a show that finds deadpan humour embedded in its realism.
But the show is propelled by the excellent casting and the performances of every lead character. James Gandolfini is Tony Soprano—he commands the role of a mafia boss succumbing to the pressures of his responsibilities. It's really entertaining TV.
Episode: High Maintenance — Cruise (S03E09)
High Maintenance is a really unique show. It's kinda an anthology—each episode explores different lives of people living in New York City. It's a very modern, very progressive look at life today.
The only thing that loosely ties the stories together is The Guy...the nameless protagonist who bikes around the city delivering weed to the people in the show. Some episodes feature him more than others, but in general his life is not really the focus of the show.
I loved the final episode of season 3, Cruise. It wasn't especially better than any of the other episodes, but it had a bit of everything. My favourite part is the last 10 minutes of the episode, which felt like an homage to bicycling in the city. It ends with The Guy biking home at night overlaid with a monologue from the famous poet and NYC tour guide, Speed Levitch. Levitch is also featured in a few different scenes in the episode.
As an avid city biker myself, I appreciated the tribute. Biking through a busy downtown is an immersive mix of chaos and order. All your senses are saturated by the buzz of the city as you cruise through it.
I suppose if I had an essential goal on the cruise right now, it would be to exhibit the fact that I'm thrilled to be alive and to still be respected. I suppose the soulful or the Buddhist out there might ask, 'Why do you need respect from others? The thrill to be alive, that's your own business. You can do that in your living room.' But that's not what the cruise is for me. The cruise is about the searching for everything worthwhile in existence.
I mean, I will appreciate the beauty of a flower, and then likewise, I will stand exhibitionistic and have the flower appreciate the beauty of me. Well, that's how I feel about cruising right now. And I would say having a quote, unquote, 'intimate love affair' with a flower is far more psychotic and riveting than having an 'intimate love affair', quote, unquote, with some of the banal creatures of the human race. Although I'd be into that too.
— Speed Levitch, The Cruise
Cruising through 2021 was a ride in itself. But the cruise is about searching for everything worthwhile in existence. Let's keep searching.