The best of everything from 2014

Rather than write a bunch of separate posts I’m smashing everything together into one gigantic lump. All lists are in alphabetical order unless otherwise noted.

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MY FAVOURITE MUSIC OF 2014

I am so massively behind my music-listening for 2014 that this is probably missing something…I haven’t had a chance to listen to the new albums from Allo Darlin’, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Fear Of Men, Jolie Holland, Mogwai, or Owen Pallet yet, and there’s a decent chance one of those would bump their way onto this list. But for now, these are my favourites.

Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything by A Silver Mt. Zion

Year after year, album after album, the various permutations of this band (and their Godspeed You! Black Emperor parent) turn out the kind of deep, dark, contemplative, explosive music that al other post-rock bands emulate.

Morning Phase by Beck

It’s Sea Change redux, and I am super-okay with that.

Glass Boys by Fucked Up

One of the few bands (along with Cloud Nothings) still carrying the torch for melodic hard rock.

The Halls Of Wickwire by Cousins

The only album all year that got binge-listens out of me. “Body” and “Mess” both ended up on my best-songs-of-2014 playlist, and a couple more probably could have too. Weird side note: I’m, like, 30% convinced I once took a creative writing course at Ryerson with the drummer Leigh.

Age by The Hidden Cameras

Featuring an excellent first half, and a second half that goes way off the disco rails until recovering at the final song. Mid-album hiccups or not, the five good songs continue the Cameras’ trend of making the best power-pop on the go.

Lazaretto by Jack White

Not as good as Blunderbuss, but still good enough to land on this list. The best song — “High Ball Stepper” — doesn’t even have words…just whoops.

Do Not Engage by The Pack A.D.

Raw, messy, stripped-down garage rock has been done many times, but there’s something about The Pack A.D.’s method of it that still feels vital. It’s not ground-breaking or innovative. It’s just smash-mouth guitar and drums.

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by Pharoahe Monch

Well, this is unexpected. Rap ended up on my radar this year, and Pharoahe’s concept album was recommended. It’s ambitious and catchy and spastic and troubling and a cri de coeur all at once. In that way it’s not unlike any of the Godspeed or Silver Mt. Zion stuff I’ve been listening to for a decade.

RTJ2 by Run The Jewels

Part of the reason rap (good rap) finally resonated with me is that I tuned into the fact that it’s the new punk music. With the political climate in the US this year, the anger and resentment in rap sounds not unlike angry working-class British kids in the 70s and 80s.

Seeds by TV On The Radio

These guys keep picking up rock and roll by the throat and dragging it up the evolutionary ladder. The whole album felt completely new and yet totally familiar from start to end.

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MY FAVOURITE MOVIES OF 2014

I can’t really declare this as the list. Not yet. We’re just so far behind on our movie-watching this year that we haven’t yet seen Boyhood, Starred Up, The Babadook, Life Itself, Citizenfour, Blue Ruin, Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Snowpiercer, Birdman, Force Majeure, Frank, Wild, Grand Budapest Hotel, A Most Wanted Man, Omar, Top Five, Locke, The Imitation Game, The Immigrant, Foxcatcher, Under the Skin, Cold in July, John Wick, Listen Up Philip, Night Moves, or Interstellar, so my list will be updated like crazy in the coming months.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. The Drop
  3. Gone Girl
  4. Guardians Of The Galaxy
  5. Live Die Repeat: Edge Of Tomorrow
  6. Ned Rifle
  7. Selma
  8. The Skeleton Twins
  9. Willow Creek
  10. X-Men: Days Of Future Past

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MY FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2014

No shocks here. I feel like we’re pretty much right down the middle of the critical lists so I’ll just list them alphabetically. I don’t think I’m alone in putting together a list without a single show from a big US or Canadian network. I also don’t think I’m alone in being hugely disappointed by the final seasons of The Newsroom and Sons Of Anarchy.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

An outstanding final act to one of the best TV series of all time.

Game Of Thrones (HBO)

Year after year, I find myself excited for every single episode, even though I’ve already read the books.

Homeland (Showtime)

This year recovered nicely from the mess of last season, though it turned almost too action-y for an episode or two there. Still, their once-best character had become a weight around their necks, and the series looks to have found new life.

House Of Cards (Netflix)

This show didn’t introduce us to binge-watching, but it may have perfected the process. Kevin Spacey’s time doing Shakespeare at the Old Vic has come in handy.

Mad Men (AMC)

There is no more textured, styled, and crafted show on TV. To keep watching these people, and one man especially, on the verge of self-destruction for so long is a quiet thrill.

Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)

The show focused less on Piper’s love life this season and more on prison politics this year, which was a welcome shift. The best part of each episode is the infusion of backstory to help color a character’s current, or even past, actions. Morello’s backstory episode was one of the most heartbreaking things I watched all year.

Sherlock (BBC)

The format takes some getting used to — it’s easier to treat it as 9 30-minute episodes rather than 3 90-minute episodes, I find — but the performances are just so on: Cumberbatch as the manic, Freeman as the depressive, all else as the comic relief and dramatic tension.

Silicon Valley (HBO)

Who’d have thunk it: HBO made the best half-hour comedy of the year (though New Girl was close). It was a funny series all along, nicely excoriating the valley mentality, until it peaked (see what I did there?) in episode 8. That finale, “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency”, was simultaneously the crudest and cleverest joke on TV all year.

True Detective (HBO)

This show has been discussed, dissected, and interrogated a thousand times already. I have nothing to add, except that I’m excited for season 2. I love the concept of moving from story to story with new characters but similar formats. I just don’t know if they can recreate the alchemy. They have an incredibly high bar to get over.

Walking Dead (AMC)

The gory deaths and shambling piles of disgusting are just window-dressing. This is a show about humans under incredible pressure, not so much from walkers — as the show explained, pretty much everyone left alive is a badass now — but from each other.

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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2014

Which is to say, the only books I read in 2014.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Brutal, beautiful, poetic. Not unlike the country we live in, the country it’s about. There are images drawn in this book that I’ll never forget.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I admit to being biased — I am deeply in love with the author — but this is an impressive story of how to succeed by working your ass off and scaring yourself.

Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

I bought this right after watching the (surprisingly good) film. In truth, what Marcus Luttrell went through was even more brutal than the film portrayed. The most gripping part for me, though, was the account of his Navy Seal training. It provides context for how he survives his post-combat ordeal, but it was also a fascinating look inside how they separate elite warriors from great ones. The anti-liberal tirades get a little boring after a while, but the guy’s earned the right to vent at whoever he wants to.

Curse Of The Narrows by Laura MacDonald

I started reading this on December 6th of last year, the anniversary of the Halifax explosion. I picked it up and put it down into the new year, finally finishing it in January. I’ve read many accounts of the disaster but this was the most expertly conceived, and detailed in explanation of the aftermath.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Recommended to me by my writing instructor several years ago, this sat on my shelf for the longest time. I wish it hadn’t. It was brilliant. Almost like a much softer, more grounded Slaughterhouse Five.

Anchorboy by Jay Onrait

I read this on the flights to and from Halifax. It’s really just a collection of funny anecdotes from Onrait’s career as a sports anchor, but it was damned funny.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

I remember this book sitting on my dad’s bookshelf years ago, but never read it. The latest Ebola outbreak spurred conversation between CBJ and myself, and he mentioned that he read this — and that it scared the crap out of him. I bought it the next day, and read it in a weekend. And now I am sufficiently crapless as well.

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Astounding. The best sci-fi writers couldn’t have made this story up. I would have preferred a little less focus on the family and a little more focus on the science & circumstances, but it’s remarkable nonetheless.

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THE BEST MEALS I ATE IN 2014

I’ve never tried a list like this before. It’s by nature incomplete since I couldn’t possibly remember all the great meals Nellie made just for us this year, and have therefore chosen to only include out-of-home meals. Even then, I’m sure I’m missing a few outings, but here are the ones that stick in my mind. In chronological order:

Jacobs & Co.Toronto

I’ll say it again: this is the best steakhouse in Toronto. Way back in January I went with a former vendor (so, sans Nellie, which I paid for) who didn’t believe my hype. They proved him wrong.

CarismaToronto

This has become a neighbourhood regular for us, but one meal stands out: celebrating Nellie’s job promotion, we asked for a special bottle to go with my lamb and Nellie’s steak. Our server pulled one of his favourites, the 1997 Dante Rivetti Barbaresco Bricco De Neueis Riserva. Since that night he’s always recognized us, and I’ve always trusted his recommendations implicitly. That wine, the food, the service…everything came together as it so often does there: simple, perfectly executed Italian.

CarnevinoLas Vegas

This was probably the most expensive meal we’ve ever eaten. But it was also one of the best steaks, and one of the best meals, we’ve ever eaten. And what’s Vegas for, if not to spend money? Plus, bonus points for great music.

CampagnoloToronto

We attended a couple of wine-related events at restaurants this year, and usually the food at such things is mediocre at best. But this event, put on by Tawse for their wine club members to introduce their new Redstone wines, was outstanding. Not just “good for an event like this”, but some of the tastiest food we ate all year. What makes it all the more impressive is that the kitchen was serving the same thing to a room of ~60 people at the same time.

BazaarMiami

Certainly the most adventurous meal I ate all year, this was an event put on by a vendor at a Miami conference at which I’d spoken the day before. My friend T-Bone and I had to explain what we were eating to the couple sitting next to us — their midwestern diet consisted mostly of various forms of bratwurst and cheese, so things like salmon roe, dragon fruit ceviche, bone marrow, churrasco, jamón ibérico, etc. really confused them. Terrific cocktails too.

Pretty much every mealBat Lake

Grilled ribeyes, seafood feasts, chardonnay verticals, smoked pork shoulders, charcuterie, vintage sparkling…every visit to our friends’ cottage is an extravagant affair where we try to one-up the previous visit with food and drink.

EDNAHalifax

In a rapid-fire weekend of eating and drinking with friends back on the east coast, our brunch at EDNA after an epic night of beer sampling not only saved us, but stood out as the most memorable meal. It was also one of the coolest places we’ve ever tried in Halifax. I see it becoming a mainstay for future visits.

RauDZKelowna

We ate well all up and down the Okanagan on our trip there this past fall, but RauDZ hurdled the bar on our very last night there. There was nothing particularly fancy about the meal — they just cooked everything perfectly is all. The saffron risotto was the ideal introduction. My duck was among the best I’ve ever eaten. The sides, simple local vegetables, were shockingly flavourful. The wine pairing, a Pinot from a winery we’d visited just hours before, was a perfect match. I declared it the best meal I’d eaten all year. I still stand by that, but had I known what I’d be eating for dinner 24 hours later I’d have at least paused for thought.

HawksworthVancouver

Hawksworth may have cost twice what RauDZ did, but that’s probably to be expected at the #1 restaurant in Vancouver. The food was both adventurous and precise, especially our starters. And when there’s a rack of lamb special, you share that shit. Worth every penny.

PatriaToronto

We’d never really jumped into the big Spanish restaurant trend (quickly followed by the lo-fi, then hi-fi, Mexican trend) in Toronto, but a work event at Patria had me wanting to return. When I took Nellie we simply placed ourselves in the capable hands of the staff: chef chose our meal, and our server chose the pairings. It worked out incredibly well, especially considering there wasn’t a “traditional” table wine pairing to be had.

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THE BEST BEERS I DRANK IN 2014

The great thing about an app like Untappd is that I can (and do) record every beer I drink. To the best of my recollection, these are the best beers I tried for the first time in 2014…I didn’t include perennial favourites. Sadly, I don’t have an Untappd-equivalent app for wine the way I do with beer, and so don’t have a similar list.

Ballast Point Victory At Sea (with ghost peppers)

The stand out for me from this year’s Cask Days. This is a perfect porter which happened to be infused with the world’s hottest pepper, resulting in a kind of burn I’ve never felt before. I don’t mean that it was the hottest burn I’ve ever felt, but rather that it burned in a pleasant way that didn’t affect the flavour. All the heat was in the back of my throat and not on my tongue. I couldn’t really describe it. But it was tremendous.

Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin

I had this in Las Vegas, while Nellie and I sat on the patio at the Todd English P.U.B., keeping dry under the overhang of a Daniel Libeskind crystal structure. We had many beers that day; this oatmeal stout was my favourite.

Founders Porter

In New York for work, I grabbed a quiet hour or two at The Ginger Man, one of the top beer spots in Manhattan. I used two flights to cover every porter and stout on their (rather considerable) list, and this classic porter was my favourite. The New Holland Dragon’s Milk Stout was a close second.

Gueuzerie Tilquin Oude Gueuze Tilquin (quetsche)

Knowing my fondness for Gueuze Tilquin, our friends Steph & Jeff brought two bottles of it back for me from a road trip. We shared the larger bottle, with Quetsche (plum), on my birthday. It was outstanding. What amazing friends.

Indie Ale House Fallen Idol

Sampled during a visit from one of the Murphy Girls, she and I both fell for this sour whilst devouring some of Indie’s fried chicken.

Nickel Brook Cuvée 2013 Reserve

At the very end of our second night — and second consecutive visit to Brother’s Beer Bistro in Ottawa — our server had to go deep into the beer list to find something which would catch my fancy, and he found it with this spicy, bourbon-y, almost gruit-y reserve. I could still taste it (mostly in a good way) when I woke up five hours later.

Sawdust City X Bar Hop Blood Of Cthulhu

Another Cask Days debut. Not quite as stellar as the Ballast Point fireball, but pretty badass nonetheless. And bonus points for the Lovecraft reference. It was hilarious to listen people try to figure out how to order it.

Silversmith Knuckles of ‘Frisco

Sometimes, when you’re in wine country, you need a beer. Such was the case after a long morning of sampling wines through the Niagara peninsula, when we stopped in at Silversmith to buy some brews. Without sampling I took a bottle of their latest nut brown ale; we tried it later that night and I immediately regretted not buying more. It tasted as good as Black Oak’s nut brown, my favourite of the style.

Trou Du Diable Volo 25th Anniversary Ale

Just after Cask Days we retreated to Wvrst for some food, wherein Adam and I felt compelled to keep drinking great beer. We began pulling bottles from their collection, including this beautiful sour ale. Felt special. Certainly cost special.

Wellington Chocolate Milk Stout

My favourite at this year’s Session Toronto beer festival. Granted, I’ve fallen hard for milk stouts of late — last year Tom Green’s milk stout collaboration with Beau’s was my favourite at Session — but this one had extra complexity. There’s a bottle of it ageing in my wine fridge right now.

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MY FAVOURITE MOMENTS OF 2014

It’s totally arbitrary and almost certainly incomplete, but these are the moments I’ll likely remember from 2014.

  1. Nellie drinking bubbly right from the bottle on her birthday
  2. Watching Canada win another gold medal in men’s and women’s hockey
  3. Setting down inside the Grand Canyon in a helicopter
  4. Le Rêve at the Wynn Theatre in Las Vegas
  5. Watching Montreal beat Boston in game 7, at our friend Steph’s place, while drinking Gueuze Tilquin
  6. Meeting my new nephew
  7. Not one, but two extraordinary sunsets at Bat Lake
  8. The view from the rooftop bar at the Viceroy Hotel in Manhattan
  9. The Okanagan Valley
  10. While on vacation in BC, seeing a big male killer whale swim toward our boat and dive right underneath us
  11. My first experience at Cask Days
  12. Breathing a sigh of relief when we knew there’d be no more mayor Ford
  13. Watching Bob Dylan play “Lovesick”, with my dad
  14. Surprising our friend Carolyn in line for brunch in Ottawa
  15. My family’s farm, every single time
  16. Last-minute (literally) addition: New Year’s Eve at Bat Lake.

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

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