The best of everything from 2015

As with last year, rather than write a bunch of separate posts I’m putting all these lists together. All are in alphabetical order unless otherwise noted.

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MY FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2015

I haven’t listened to the new ones from Dead Weather, Unwound, Waxahatchee, or Wolf Alice yet, but as of right now this is my top ten. Be forewarned: I will almost certainly edit this list by April.

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

It took me a while to really warm up to this one — it carries more funk and soul than its predecessor. After a while I came around, and realized that Alabama Shakes might be investing a new little niche here.

Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker

No. No album by a 19-year-old should sound this broken, this world-weary, this real. This good. Just…no.

Depression Cherry by Beach House

Like all their albums, I couldn’t tell you the name of any one song, but the thing as a whole is like a beautiful (slightly) abstract painting. Also: amazing to listen to if you need to concentrate and zen out.

Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

I listen to a lot of post-rock, but no one can touch GY!BE as king of the operatic, bombastic, crunching instrumental soundtrack of our impending doom and/or nirvana.

Art Angels by Grimes

I should not like this album as much as I do. The pitched-up vocals and Taiwanese rapping and drum machines and general dance-iness should drive me nuts. And yet I keep on listening to it, over and over and over and over and over.

Momentary Masters by Albert Hammond Jr

I never cared for The Strokes, nor most of the members’ solo projects, but this one is catchy from start to finish. Even the misbegotten Dylan cover somehow appeals.

How The Spark Loves The Tinder by Monk Parker

Stark. Tremulous. And…old-timey, I guess? I mean, c’mon…there’s more than one song featuring a musical saw. I feel like I’m in the Ozarks when I listen to this.

Summertime ’06 by Vince Staples

I know everyone was all about Kendrick Lamar this year, but I listened to both albums back-to-back and Summertime ’06 just felt so much more vital to me. I get that To Pimp A Butterfly is a good album, but in my mind it suffered for being directly compared to this underdog, and not showing well.

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens

Beautiful, and thoroughly haunting, especially when you realize he’s singing about — and to — a dead parent.

The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

A rock opera crossed with an epic Hobbit-esque journey. This is almost too much of a slog, given the length and the raggedness of Titus’ music, but moments of brilliance and raw emotion save it.

Honorable mention: Painted Shut by Hop Along, Into The Air by Cold BeatTo Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, High by Royal HeadacheNo Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney.

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MY FAVOURITE SONGS OF 2015

Offered without comment.

  1. Alabama Shakes . “Miss You”
  2. Albert Hammond Jr . “Side Boob”
  3. Beach House . “PPP”
  4. Dr Dre . “One Shot One Kill (feat. Snoop)”
  5. Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’”
  6. Grimes . “Scream”
  7. Heartless Bastards . “Tristessa”
  8. Julien Baker . “Rejoice”
  9. Kendrick Lamar . “How Much A Dollar Cost”
  10. Monk Parker . “Sadly Yes”
  11. Partner . “Hot Knives”
  12. Royal Headache . “My Own Fantasy”
  13. Sleater-Kinney . “No Cities To Love”
  14. Sufjan Stevens . “Fourth Of July”
  15. Titus Andronicus . “More Perfect Union”
  16. U.S. Girls . “Sororal Feelings”
  17. Vacation . “I Wish I Could Be Someone Else”
  18. Waxahatchee . “Breathless”
  19. Winter Passing . “Fruits Of Gloom”
  20. Wolf Alice . “Bros”

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MY FAVOURITE MOVIES OF 2015

As usual, we use the last few days of the year, and first few weeks of next year, to catch up on all the best movies. Blame Hollywood — they release everything critically-acclaimed after August. That means we haven’t yet watched ’71, 99 Homes, A Most Violent Year, Beasts of No Nation, The Big Short, The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Carol, Creed, Dope, The Gift, Going Clear, The Hateful Eight, Inside Out, Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, Mississippi Grind, Mommy, Phoenix, The Revenant, Room, Slow West, Spotlight, Spy, Steve Jobs, What We Do In The Shadows, or While We’re Young, so this list is woefully incomplete. That said, here’s the top ten as of right now:

Ant-Man

Marvel made a movie to match its hero: smaller, subtler. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas were unlikely primary players in a superhero movie, but that just added to the off-kilterness of the movie. Plus: Michael Peña.

Ex Machina

A worthy addition to the robot-ethics, what-is-consciousness-anyway? pantheon of films. The interior of the set is so stark, so claustrophobic as to make the actual robots seem warm and soulful. And Oscar Isaac is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors.

It Follows

A clever, original horror movie which is also an allegory for promiscuity. But mainly a very creepy horror movie. Nellie couldn’t sleep for a few nights after this one, and looked very warily at anyone who appeared to be following her.

Mad Max: Fury Road

You wouldn’t think a Mad Max film would make this list, but wow…what a movie. Relentless action, a bold return to practical effects (with CGI supplements), welcome feminist themes throughout…a thinking person’s bad-ass action movie.

The Martian

Formulaic, sure, but it’s just done so well. Gripping, funny, engaging, charming, and a great escape for what’s a surprisingly long running time.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Again — not one I would’ve expected on the year-end top-ten list. There’s no secret weapon here; it’s a standard-issue M:I movie…which is to say, highly entertaining. At some point Cruise will have to stop making these, but for now: carry on, Mr. Hunt.

Sicario

The best of our TIFF selections this year. The back third suffers a little, but the first two acts are among the best I’d seen all year. The shootout scene at the border crossing was immaculately executed, Emily Blunt was outstanding, and the political undercurrents give it more depth than a standard procedural.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Getting over the bar set by the prequels wasn’t hard. This probably isn’t even a great movie, but it’s a great Star Wars movie, and Star Wars means a lot to me, so here it is on the list. Judging by the critical reviews, I don’t think I’m alone in my reasoning here. 38 years ago Episode IV sent Hollywood down a bad path by creating an over-reliance on special effects, which drifted too far into CGI at the cost of its own soul. Hopefully Episode VII manages to change how studios make big sweeping stories, and make them feel human again.

Trainwreck

Suffers a little from the Judd Apatow disease (that is: it runs about 20 minutes longer than it needs to) but Amy Schumer’s charisma and Bill Hader’s charm keep you right in this one. So does LeBron James, surprisingly.

Where To Invade Next

Not exactly great filmmaking — not Moore’s best, even — but so hopeful that I just had to like it. Plus, seeing a rough cut with the director (and several of the stars) in the crowd gave this one some added weight which might not carry into other venues, but it was one of the few highlights of our TIFF this year.

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MY FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2015

Apparently we should be watching Better Call Saul, Bojack Horseman, Fargo, Master Of None, Nathan For You, Show Me A Hero, Transparent, and UnREAL, but we aren’t yet. And I just started on Sense8 so I haven’t formed an opinion quite yet. I did, however, form an opinion about season 2 of True Detective: that it sucked. It sucked even more in retrospect than it did in the moment. Here’s what I did like this year though:

Daredevil (Netflix)

This series, like the Affleck film, had all kinds of potential to go wrong. It didn’t. It found the dark edge it needed, it cast Matt Murdock perfectly, and the surrounding characters (especially Fisk) are all excellent.

Game Of Thrones (HBO)

Still the series I get more psyched about weeks in advance, and this year they strode ahead of the books into unfamiliar territory, which only makes me look forward to it that much more.

Hannibal (NBC)

Unlike last year my top ten list includes a show from a major American network. We came to Hannibal late, else it would have been on my list every year it aired: both leads were stellar, and it’s so visually stunning. Though how a show this violent could be shown on American network TV I’ll never understand.

Homeland (Showtime)

Season 5 got them back to the spy craft basics: subterfuge, politics, ambition, patriotism, leak morality, distrust, cold war echoes, and so on. It was all over the place, but expected us to keep up, and for the most part it was fun — not bludgeoning — to do so.

House Of Cards (Netflix)

The weakest of the three seasons, but still gripping and binge-worthy. I still clear a weekend for this show.

Jessica Jones (Netflix)

This one came out of nowhere. I like how Marvel, as with Daredevil, gives us characters more powerful than humans, but not near-god Avenger types. Jessica is so flawed and so vulnerable that her struggles seem more relate-able than, say, Iron Man’s.

Mad Men (AMC)

I know the final season dragged in parts, but that ending made it worth it. Funnily enough, though, the enduring final image of the series for me was of Peggy, strutting down the hall with a box of her stuff, pornographic octopus painting under her arm, sunglasses on, cigarette dangling from her mouth, with a fuck-you grin.

Making A Murderer (Netflix)

I’m barely a few episodes into this and I’m hooked. Don’t tell me what happens.

Mr. Robot (USA)

Another one that came out of nowhere. I had no idea what to expect, but the first five minutes of the series had me completely hooked. Strained the Mr. Robot plot device for too long, and got a little too out-there at times, but good twists and an excellent lead can take you a long way.

Walking Dead (AMC)

I’m certainly feeling less interested in this show each season, and they almost lost me a couple of times this year, but they still manage to pull me back in. Realistically, as long as Nellie’s obsessed with this show, I don’t think I could stop watching it if I tried.

Honorable mention: Narcos, Orange Is The New Black, Silicon Valley.

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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2015

None. Not one. Isn’t that sad?

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THE BEST MEALS I ATE IN 2015

As with last year I haven’t bothered including anything home-cooked, even by friends who can cook the shit out of a meal. These are in chronological order.

Café Amelie, New Orleans

We ate very well on our trip to New Orleans (how could you not?) but my favourite meal was probably in this quiet courtyard, covered by trees, surrounded by happy Mardi Gras crowds, and featuring an absolutely outstanding shrimp, corn, and cajun spice penne.

Rose & Sons, Toronto

This had been on my to-try list forever, and it didn’t disappoint. Just high-concept comfort food: fried chicken, mac & cheese, onion rings, cornbread, and good wine.

Markthalle Neun, Berlin

Yeah, sure, while in Berlin we also ate at FACIL, which has two Michelin stars, but my most memorable meal was when we inadvertently stumbled into Markthalle Neun, which is kind of like St. Lawrence Market, in search of a small brewery. We found it, drank their tap list, and gathered food from around the market for our lunch. I bought something called Berlin Balls and ate them with Heidenpeters’ pale ale, and it was just the best.

Our friend Matt @ Maison Relaxio, St-Joseph-de-Sorel

I know I said I was leaving home-cooked meals off this list, but our friend Matt made this one, centered around burgers made of pork and beef and stuffed with motherfucking goose confit, at a big cottage north of Montreal. Paired with all the stellar wine and beer we had acquired in the previous 24 hours, it was a memorable meal in a birthday trip full of them.

Salle À Manger, Montreal

Speaking of that birthday trip, this meal was the following night. Our numbers had swelled from 10 to 16, and Nellie had arranged dinner at this cool spot in the Plateau. We ate family-style, and I lost track of the courses, though I do remember — and will never forget — the entire roasted suckling pig. I ate a lot of it, paired with an outstanding Loire cab franc our friend Kaylea had picked out. We destroyed some people that night, and our friend J-P ate the pig’s face. Epic.

The Chase, Toronto

I’m not really much of one for seafood, but this place does it right. I ate there on someone else’s dime, thank goodness, and was more than impressed with the octopus/chorizo appetizer and the halibut for two, not to mention the wine selection and the service.

Every Time I… pop-up, Toronto

Our friend Adam jointly held a pop-up dinner (he was the chef) on Dundas West back in August, with the pairing centered around cider. Cider’s not exactly my thing, but the food was good, and one course — the smoked perch croquette — was one of the very best things I ate all year, and was strong enough to make this list on its own.

Rasa, Toronto

Any time T-Bone and I get together for dinner, it’s going to be someplace good. She picked this one on Harbord, and every single dish was top-notch. I think I would have enjoyed it even more if they’d air-conditioned the place and I hadn’t sweat to death.

Alo, Toronto

I’d read good things about Alo, but hadn’t managed to get in until Pearl Morissette invited people to a tasting of their new California wines. The wines were, in fact, terrific, but so was the food. So much so that we’ve already made plans to go back in January.

NAO, Toronto

For years Jacobs & Co. has been the king of the steakhouse in Toronto, but after two visits to NAO we now see them as 1 and 1a. Our second time there, when we could try more variety in the menu and the sommelier (who remembered us) offered up three outstanding off-menu bottles for us to try, NAO was solidified as a new favourite in the city.

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THE BEST BEERS I DRANK IN 2015

Using Untappd makes it easy for me to look back and find the best (new) beers I try each year. I need a similar app for wine. And whisky. And maybe coffee. Anyway, these are the ten best, in the order I drank them:

Heidenpeters Pale Ale

In Heidenpeters’ little stall in the back corner of Berlin’s Markthalle Neun, I found my favourite pale of the year. Hopfenreich, which we visited later that day, was a cooler place with far more beer, but this was just such an unexpected surprise.

Oast House Coffee Milk Stout

I had this at C’est What right after we got off the plane from Berlin (it seems to be our go-to place, post-flight) and probably needed the coffee as much as I needed a beer. Coffee stouts and milk stouts are two of my favourite styles; Oast House pulled off the combo.

Black Oak Cinnamon, Rum Soaked Raisin Vanilla Nut Brown Ale

I drank this one sitting at Bar Volo, with Nellie and brother #2, watching the rain pour down around us. It sounds more like a cake than a beer, but Black Oak makes one of the more reliable nut browns out there, so layering in a few treats just put it over the top.

Sawdust City Until Tomorrow Ingrid

One of my two favourites at this year’s Session festival, this was a sour barrel-aged cranberry Saison. Better than it had any right to be. Pale red tint, hence the rather rude acronym. Added bonus: the Sawdust City guys there were hammered, and decided to sing “O Canada” on stage.

Side Launch Syrah Vice

My other favourite at Session, this was a hefeweizen aged in Tawse Syrah barrels. So Side Launch’s wheat (which I love) aged in barrels from Tawse (which I love)…pretty sure this one was destined to be on my year-end list.

Vanderghinste Oud Bruin

I honestly don’t even remember what brought me to Beerbistro on a Friday night — normally it would be too packed in there at 6pm. Looks like we were taking down some Belgians though, and this was one of the best sours (or, Flanders red, to be specific) I’d ever tried.

Oast House Biere De Mars

A bottle we’d brought home from Oast the weekend before, and a stellar farmhouse. Oast, by the way, is the only brewery to make my list twice this year.

Stone City Devil And the Deep

My favourite from this year’s Cask Days 2015. I ended up drinking a lot of sours (all the stouts and porters seemed to be sold out) but this was the best of the lot. Stone City has really impressed me so far.

Viven Smoked Porter

A random grab from the LCBO’s winter release, this one was a classic example of a porter. Very lightly smoked, despite the name.

Tatamagouche Dreadnot (Rum Barrel-Aged)

Shared this with both brothers at brother #2’s house last week. We tried a lot from Tatamagouche, one of the newer Nova Scotia craft breweries, but this imperial black IPA was the best of the bunch. I wish I’d had time to pick another one up to bring back to Toronto. It would age nicely, I imagine.

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MY FAVOURITE MOMENTS OF 2015

Obviously I can’t remember them all, but this is my best guess at my twenty favourite (non-work) moments from 2015, in chronological order.

  1. Standing on the frozen Bat Lake during a New Year’s Day snowstorm
  2. The gold medal game at the World Juniors
  3. Watching Lundi Gras parades from the Avenue Pub balcony
  4. Singing along with the Treme Brass Band at d.b.a. on Mardi Gras
  5. Watching The Hip play Fully Completely in its entirety at the ACC
  6. Sitting on the Bier Markt patio the day the no-smoking law took effect
  7. A black-tie dinner at the historic Tempelhof airport in Berlin
  8. Looking at Istanbul from a boat on the Bosphorus
  9. Discovering what kokorec is after I’d already eaten two of them
  10. Finally seeing Rush in concert, and especially seeing them play “Losing It” live for the first and only time
  11. Drinking a beer on my buddy Joe’s boat in the middle of a lake
  12. Watching Jon Stewart end his Daily Show show run, dancing with his crew to “Born To Run”
  13. One night at Maison Relaxio
  14. Going to church in Montreal (aka Dieu Du Ciel brewery on Sunday morning)
  15. Drinking craft beer on a tall ship in Toronto harbour
  16. Playing bocce by headlight
  17. Seeing the Rheostatics reunite to honor the Group Of Seven
  18. Jose Bautista’s homer and subsequent bat flip
  19. Drinking half a bottle of Crown Royal Northern Rye whiskey with my brothers sitting around brother #2’s kitchen
  20. New year’s eve. Hasn’t even happened yet, but I’m calling it.

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

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