The best of everything from 2016

As in previous years, I’ll just smash all these lists together for simplicity’s sake. All lists are in alphabetical order, unless otherwise noted.

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My favourite albums of 2016

I haven’t yet listened to the new ones from A Tribe Called Quest, Honeyblood, Kaytranada, Leonard Cohen, or Modern Baseball, but this is what I’ve liked so far this year. I’ll probably change my mind entirely by the spring.

My Woman by Angel Olsen

So much more mature and evolved than her last album, adding some fuzzy rock and punk to all that country torch, with the result feeling so much more plaintive and driven. Like Julien Baker last year, Angel Olsen sounds so much more beaten down by the world than you might expect.

IV by Black Mountain

Big, space-agey rock. It shares a number and name with Led Zeppelin’s biggest legacy album, and while it might not carry the weight to make it a similar classic, it was a largely overlooked powerhouse for 2016.

I Had A Dream That You Were Mine by Hamilton Leithauser w/ Rostam

While there’s a bit too much sameness as the album goes along, standouts like “A 1000 Times”, “The Morning Stars”, and “In A Black Out” are strong enough to outclimb most of the rest of the year’s offerings. I think I still prefer The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend as whole parts, but this is an interesting side/combo project.

iiidrops by Joey Purp

Usually taking a back seat to Chance The Rapper (who has the best guest spot on the album, name-dropping Ta-Nahisi Coates and lamenting dead iPhone batteries) but here using a killer combination of catchy melody, solid flow, soul samples, and thoughtful lyrics, Joey Purp had maybe the biggest surprise album of the year.

Thought Rock Fish Scale by Nap Eyes

These guys don’t sound like they’re from Halifax, really. They sound like they’re the reincarnation of Velvet Underground, if VU never got into the hard drugs and stayed a little more upbeat. And were from, you know, Halifax. I listened to this, and their previous album Whine Of The Mystic, heavily all year.

Skeleton Trees by Nick Cave

Sometimes raw emotion pours itself out into an album, and this is that. Written after (about? for?) the death of his son, the trademark Cave darkness takes on a new depth here. Still manages to be catchy/punchy though.

Positive Thinking by The Pack A.D.

I like that there are no surprises in a Pack A.D. album. You know what you’re getting. You still feel pummeled by it though. “Yes, I Know” is the standout here, but top to bottom it’s an enjoyable, solid album.

Cardinal by Pinegrove

Another surprise, this time swinging much more to the folk-ish side of things. Catchy, and the kind of thing you can listen to at home with your hipster friends (done) or in the car with your mother (also done). Side note: this is another one featuring pretty sharp lyrics…not a few minutes into the album the singer’s already referred to his “solipsistic moods.”

Ugly Cherries by PWR BTTM

Power-pop-punk played by a band who label themselves “aggressively queer” — this was the best straight (so to speak) up rock and roll album of the year. There are lots of great songs here, but “West Texas” has a special place in my heart. It makes me wish there’d been a gay storyline on Friday Night Lights.

Testarossa by Yoni & Geti

Maybe the most complex album on this list. It’s so thoughtful and earnest, but also feels slippery and hidden. I have a distinct memory of listening to it start to finish in the KLM lounge at Schipol airport in Amsterdam while waiting for a connection, and feeling more excited and at peace. Not many albums pull me back to a place like that.

Honourable mentions to the new ones from Danny BrownBlonde Redhead, Joe Budden, Regina Spektor, and The Men.

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My favourite songs of 2016

  1. Adam Torres . “Juniper Arms”
  2. Alejandro Escovedo . “Horizontal”
  3. Black Mountain . “Space To Bakersfield”
  4. Dandy Warhols . “Doves”
  5. DTCV . “Histoire Seule”
  6. Frightened Rabbit . “A Lick Of Paint”
  7. Hamilton Leithauser . “In A Black Out”
  8. Joe Budden . “Uncle Joe”
  9. Joey Purp . “Girls@”
  10. Kendrick Lamar . “Untitled 02”
  11. Lucius . “Born Again Teen”
  12. Mitski . “Your Best American Girl”
  13. My Father’s Son . “Dying”
  14. Nap Eyes . “Lion In Chains”
  15. Pack AD . “Yes, I Know”
  16. Parquet Courts . “Dust”
  17. Pinegrove . “Old Friends”
  18. PWR BTTM . “West Texas”
  19. Radiohead . “True Love Waits”
  20. Rogue Wave . “Memento Mori”
  21. Schoolboy . “Ride Out”
  22. Seratones . “Choking On Your Spit”
  23. Tindersticks . “Hey Lucinda”
  24. Wye Oak . “Better (For Esther)”
  25. Yoni & Geti . “Allegheny”

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My favourite movies of 2016

This has been my least-busy movie year in some time, so I still haven’t seen Hell or High Water, Moonlight, Don’t Think Twice, Manchester by the Sea, The Nice Guys, Doctor Strange, Tower, The Witch, La La Land, The Fits, Green Room, 13th, Gimme Danger, Queen of Katwe, Paterson, Lo and Behold – Reveries of the Connected World, Hail, Caesar!, Loving, Midnight Special, Jackie, or The Witness. I can’t even make it a top ten list — these five are the only really good films I saw this year. Expect this list to be heavily altered by the spring.

The Arrival

So nice to have thoughtful, challenging sci-fi in theatres: an interesting look at language and memory, with overtones of militarism and geopolitics, all wrapped up in an alien story. Terrific performance from Amy Adams too.

Birth Of A Nation

Not without its flaws, not the least of which was the director’s past spilling out onto newspaper pages just before the film opened TIFF, but still a significant, important, fairly gripping epic story. Kind of like Braveheart set in the American south.

Captain America: Civil War

The Marvel universe keeps hitting semi-regular home runs with the Captain America and Avengers installments. This third Cap was no exception — essentially another Avengers film, with all the same quick dialogue and fun action, these are smarter than an action movie has a right to be.

Prevenge

My favourite from this year’s TIFF, this was the story of a woman whose fetus instructed her to murder people. Darkly funny, with brief moments of savage and disgusting violence…somehow this wasn’t part of the Midnight Madness program.

Rogue One

A worthy addition to the Star Wars set, Rogue One had great visuals, excellent action, funny droid dialogue, and enough tie-ins to episode IV to satisfy any Star Wars nerd. I’m glad they can continue telling this story in decent films.

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My favourite TV shows of 2016

I hereby acknowledge that I haven’t yet watched any of Westworld, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Better Things, BoJack Horseman, Luke Cage, Documentary Now!, Rectify, or the latest season of The Fall but this is what I did watch and like:

Billions

Any chance to have Paul Giamatti, Damien Lewis, and Maggie Siff all in the same place is fine with me. Sometimes the drama gets wound a little too tight, and sometimes not enough actually happens in an episode, but it’s still enjoyable for all the masterful scenery-chewing.

Black Mirror

So amazing. So unsettling and captivating and cool and disturbing and thrilling and insightful. There’s a reason why TIFF screened a few new episodes of it at this year’s festival — it’s operating at the level of top cinema.

Game Of Thrones

Still my only must-see show. Still the one I get excited about weeks in advance. It’s the only show for which I watch the after-show. I have Game Of Thrones beer from Ommegang aging in my wine fridge right now. I get panicky at the idea that there are only a handful of episodes left. Please, please, please don’t go. Please. Arya forever.

Last Week Tonight

Just as Jon Stewart left us, John Oliver arrived. But he could curse, and suffers no commercials. Hallelujah. These long-form rants are funny, pointed, and so necessary in a Trump-ish world. Sorry Trevor Noah, but this is The Daily Show now.

Masters of Sex

Still somehow compelling despite its soapiness — I give credit to Lizzy Caplan. I keep getting sucked back into this time and again. Even sideline characters who should mean nothing to me at this point are interesting, and the set design makes me miss Mad Men.

Mr. Robot

Season 2 was kind of a mess after the bad-ass arc of season 1, but it was still excellent. The whole show behaves like a buggy, maybe-hacked piece of software. I’ll take a sub-par Mr. Robot over just about any other season of TV.

Stranger Things

Seriously, I hate the 80s. Like, so much. But I loved this show. The kids, the music, the ridiculousness of it all, the D&D…it was more fun than is reasonable to pack into eight episodes. Bravo, Netflix. More like this!

The Night Manager

I know I’m cheating here a bit with a miniseries, but suck it, it’s my list. This contained more action, intrigue, character development, and twists than most series twice the length. Tom Hiddleston was great, but so too the rest of the cast — especially Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, and Tom Hollander.

The Night Of

So much terrific substance here: John Turturro’s feet, the cat, Bill Camp’s Detective Box, and all of the Riz Ahmed. Seriously, get this guy in/on more stuff. But even outside of him, it was terrific stuff. I just wish James Gandolfini had lived to see it through.

Silicon Valley

Still the funniest show on TV. The RIGBY “dictionary patch” from episode one this year was brilliant, the kind of thing that just enters the zeitgeist. So many terrific comedic actors, and a seemingly endless supply of valley bullshit to draw from.

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The best books I read in 2016

Okay, so I only read three books this year — but that’s still three more than last year.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Read in a single morning whilst lying in a hammock on a beach in Costa Rica. Surf, sand, and outrage at the unfairness of the financial system. Just the way vacations should be. I’ve already started his newest one.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

I bought this within minutes of finishing the movie Everest, and read 2/3 of it that night, into the very wee hours. I wish I’d read it years ago when my dad first bought it. Gut-wrenching.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

This was given to me partially as a joke, but I like Junger’s stuff so I didn’t mind. Wasn’t exactly memorable though. I read the whole thing on the flight to Kigali and gave it back to the original owner when I returned to Toronto.

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The best meals I ate in 2016

A bit more geographic variety in this year’s list. Listed in chronological order.

Alo, Toronto 

My second visit after a wine-tasting dinner, this was a full tasting menu affair, and confirmed for me that Alo is currently the best restaurant in Toronto. How something as simple as a bread course could be mind-blowing just shows the level at which they’re operating.

Breakfast at Kura, Costa Rica

It wasn’t fancy. It was just amazing. Fresh fruit, banana muffins, homemade bread with fresh jam, and coffee filtered through something that looked like a sock, old-school. That it was next to the most beautiful pool view I’d ever seen didn’t hurt.

Modern SteakCalgary

Sitting by myself, at the bar, at this restaurant in a part of Calgary I’d never seen before (or since) while all the other conference attendees were at some rodeo, I had a tremendous bacon starter and an exceptional steak, and a hell of a quiet, good time.

Eigensinn FarmSinghampton

It was transcendent the first time. It was even better the second time. Not enough words.

Heaven, Kigali

Truth be told, the food here — while slightly exotic — was only better-than-average (that said, my kuku paka was pretty damned tasty). But eating it overlooking the hills and lights of Kigali put it on this list.

Bocata, Montreal

Kind of a panicky, last-minute decision after flailing desperately for options over the course of an hour, this was a lucky stumble-in down in old Montreal. The kind of place where you occupy a teeny corner of a drafty old room, read the menu off a chalkboard, and then fall into course after delicious course and count your blessings as you rub your belly.

Buca Yorkville, Toronto

It’s been on everyone’s Toronto top-ten list for ages, but I’d just never made it there. And Christ, was I missing out. Definitely one of the best, and most adventurous, meals I’ve ever had in Toronto. Add to that the stunning room and ace service, and this has to be right up there with Alo for destination meals in the city.

Maison Publique, Montreal

Trip #2 to Montreal this year saw visit #1 to Maison Publique, a wonderfully cozy, friendly room with uber-French food and an uber-Canadian wine list. It’s since become a regular visit when in Montreal, and feels like my living room. God, I love it.

Carisma, Toronto

I’ve been here half a dozen times, but the last time might have been the best. The burrata and calamari (frequent orders) were somehow better, the pasta was tops, and the Sangiovese my guy recommended was mind-blowing. Sometimes the perfect comfort dinner makes the list, y’know?

Hawksworth, Vancouver

I stopped for lunch on my way to a meeting, sat at the bar, and ate a killer goddamn burger and fries with a glass of Freemark Abbey cab sauv and put the whole thing squarely in my lunch hall of fame.

Honourable mention: the garam masala duck breast at Pukka; the 1946 Don PX at Cava; the octopus starter from Charcut in Calgary; the bombas at Patria; the pork buns from some random dim sum food truck in Montreal while I’ll probably never find again.

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The best beer I drank in 2016

This is why I pay for an Untappd supporter membership: to be able to download my full beer consumption list. For the ones I remember to log, anyway.

Mackeson XXX Stout Milk Stout

No charming story, just a bottle I picked up at the LCBO and tried at home. Fantastic stuff though.

Trou du Diable L’Ours (#10) Sour Ale

One of a number of bottles (mostly sours) downed in an evening at Boxcar Social, which has become one of the more reliable bottled beer venues in Toronto.

Burdock BUMO Saison Farmhouse

A very special treat, Burdock’s first collaboration with Pearl Morissette winery, a saison/rosé hybrid brought over by friends before the latest Session beer festival.

Sawdust City 1606 Barrel-Aged Raspberry Stout

The best beer at this year’s Session festival, it was strong but well-balanced and well-integrated. Sawdust City killed it at Session.

Brauerei Fahr Fahr Away Hefeweizen

My favourite of the many beers I sampled in the warm sun on The National’s 8th Ave rooftop patio in Calgary: an out-freaking-standing hefeweizen.

Folly Flemish Cap Farmhouse Ale

My first visit to the new(ish) Bar Hop introduced me to an outstanding Folly flemish sour. I don’t know how Folly pulled this off…I wouldn’t have expected to find one of the best examples of this style I’ve ever encountered on Peter Street in Toronto.

Birrificio Del Ducato Mikkie = Cattivella Creme Brulee Stout

I had this during a quick stop at an old Amsterdam favourite, BeerTemple. As big and heavy and sweet as it sounds. As delicious too.

Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Barista Belgian Chocolate Quad

Put down at the Café Gollem in Amsterdam whilst sharing the bar with a cat who lives there and drinks his water out of a Westmalle glass. It should have been overwhelmingly sweet, but it wasn’t.

Birrificio Del Ducato Chrysopolis Lambic

Yet another amazing beer sampled in Amsterdam, this time at Craft & Draft, and the second from this Italian brewery. It was one of the best sours I’ve ever tried. Incredibly strong and sour, but so so good.

Le Saint Bock Harvest Ghosts American Brown Ale w/ Bhut Jolokia Pepper

The second beer I’ve ever had with ghost pepper in it, and this one was almost as good. Such a well-balanced brown, and with all that heat in the back of the throat, just makes it a special combination. Granted, I tend not to log all the beers I drink when in Quebec, so this will have to represent la belle province on my list.

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My favourite moments of 2016

It feels a little weird to write this given a major event this year, which I’ll talk about in my next post, but here goes:

  1. The time in, on, and around the pool at Kura Design Villas in Costa Rica
  2. Spending an entire morning in the hammock on the beach at Latitude 10, also in Costa Rica
  3. Ziplining through the Costa Rican jungle canopy
  4. Sabering open my first bottle of sparkling at Bat Lake
  5. Cheering throughout the Raptors’ best-ever playoff run
  6. As is often the case, standing in the Session beer festival in the middle of Yonge/Dundas square with a killer beer and good friends
  7. Dodging the sun on the rooftop patio at the new(ish) Bar Hop with Andrew & Denise
  8. Visit #2 to Eigensinn Farm
  9. Coming face to face with two families of gorillas in Rwanda
  10. Watching the resident cat drink from a Westmalle beer goblet at Café Gollem in Amsterdam
  11. Seeing the brushwork in the Vermeers up-close at the Rijksmuseum
  12. Alex, the bartender at the impressive Craft & Draft in Amsterdam
  13. Watching The Hip’s final concert in our friends’ back yard
  14. Sitting on the Patria patio with my brother Tim in a t-shirt, even in early October
  15. The Jays sweeping the Rangers
  16. Finally returning to the Dieu Du Ciel brewpub
  17. Sitting in the tiny garage-like tasting room at Blood Brothers after hitting a bunch of art galleries
  18. Talking Canadian wine with the staff at Maison Publique in Montreal
  19. Stumbling upon both kinds of Gueuze Tilquin at Pub Pit Caribou
  20. Freezing my way through the MLS Cup final, even though Toronto FC lost

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Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

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