An annual tradition, in which I dump out my categorized & ranked consumption for all to see. Everything’s listed alphabetically unless otherwise noted.
My favourite albums of 2017
Turn Out The Lights by Julien Baker
Even if it wasn’t quite as powerful as her first album – so much of that power came from how stark it was, whereas this has undergone more/slicker production – it’s still more intense and beautiful than most artists can manage.
Hug Of Thunder by Broken Social Scene
Ever the mixed bag of songs from the various members, it’s a typical BSS album (as much as there can be such a thing), which means it’s likely good enough to make my list.
Luciferian Towers by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
I’ve loved this band for a long time, and have adored all their albums, but this might be their best. It’s at least their best since the world-shaking Shake Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. The multi-part “Bosses Hang” is a masterpiece.
Near To The Wild Heart Of Life by Japandroids
There’s something to be said for bands who can put out album after album after album of straight-ahead, high-energy, drum and guitar rock, and for it not to sound tired. Side note: it’s even better live.
DAMN by Kendrick Lamar
Me and everyone else, right? There’s a reason why so many people have this on, even atop, their year-end lists. Twenty years from now people will still be talking about this, and using the label classic. It was a classic the day it dropped.
Every Country’s Sun by Mogwai
Any year Mogwai releases an album will be a year they make my top ten. The best journeys are the ones you can’t predict, and I’m guessing no one in the band could have predicted what their music would sound like in 2017 (given how different it is than their earliest stuff), but it’s still rough and vital and intimidating.
S/T by Rainer Maria
Their last album – Disaster Keeps Us Together, which I really liked — came out in 2006, and the band broke up shortly after. I didn’t know they’d reformed until I heard this album had been released, and I honestly didn’t expect much…but it was tremendous. It is tremendous. I’ve listened to it, start to finish, a dozen times since it came out.
Hot Thoughts by Spoon
As relentlessly catchy as Spoon albums tend to be. Just writing that title track’s name has it stuck in my head completely.
Masseduction by St. Vincent
Somewhere there’s a bubble chart with “innovation” on one axis and “talent” on the other and the size of the bubble is “catchiness” and Annie Clark is a big fat circle in the top right corner.
Out In The Storm by Waxahatchee
In the same vein as the Rainer Maria album, I haven’t been able to stop listening to this one. There’s not a single bad song on the album. It’s a little crunchier than her last album, and I especially like the demo version of each song that comes with the deluxe version. A little less polish actually makes them each better, but whichever version you choose this was one of my favourite offerings of the year.
Honourable mentions: Feist, LCD Soundsystem, The National, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Wolf Alice.
My favourite songs of 2017
- Julien Baker . “Turn Out The Lights”
- Big Thief . “Mary”
- The Black Angels . “Comanche Moon”
- Broken Social Scene . “Protest Song”
- Feist . “Any Party”
- Girlpool . “Soup”
- Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Bosses Hang (parts I, II, and III)”
- Japandroids . “Arc Of Bar”
- Kendrick Lamar . “HUMBLE”
- Mogwai . “Don”t Believe The Fife”
- The National . “Carin At The Liquor Store”
- Rainer Maria . “Lower Worlds”
- Rural Alberta Advantage . “Wild Grin”
- Spoon . “Hot Thoughts”
- St. Vincent . “New York”
- Stars . “The Wanderers”
- Vagabon . “Alive And A Well”
- Waxahatchee . “Silver”
- Siobhan Wilson . “Whatever Works”
- Wolf Alice . “Don’t Delete The Kisses”
My favourite movies of 2017
I’ve been SUPER slack on movies this year, which means I haven’t seen any of Blade Runner 2049, Call Me by Your Name, Florida Project, Jane, John Wick Chapter 2, The Meyerowitz Stories, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri yet. I would expect any number of those to penetrate this top ten, so consider this a temporary list.
I really thought I’d hate this movie, given the trailer, but I ended up really liking it. Slick, entertaining, kind of sweet. Good soundtrack too.
The Big Sick
This was a surprise. I watched in on the flight home from Paris at Lindsay’s urging, expecting only light, cute comedy. I like Kumail Nanjiani from his role on Silicon Valley, but I didn’t know much about him, so this autobiographical story was interesting and poignant and funny and caught me off guard. Great chemistry with Zoe Kazan too.
I hold Christopher Nolan in such high regard that I’ll watch anything he makes, and this one, while a big departure from his more sci-fi and effects-laden offerings of late, didn’t disappoint. Big, sweeping war epic, without very much combat at all – I don’t think we ever actually see the enemy fire a gun – with the now-well-known implications looming just out of sight.
Mystery, family comedy, horror, biting social commentary… I expected a comedy from Jordan Peele, but not necessarily this. I hope Get Out ends up being a landmark movie that kicks off more of these, whatever they are.
I Am Not Your Negro
A documentary of sorts, assembled out of old footage of 60s/70s activist and intellectual James Baldwin interspersed with current-day footage, making it painfully and embarrassingly clear how the lessons he tried to impart 50 years ago still haven’t found enough ears.
The coming-of-age genre is so tired, but this one – free of cliché, full of real drama and humour and friendship and difficult family relationships – felt so true and lovely I could hardly stand it. Remarkable that it came from a first-time director.
Taking a HARD turn from the other X-Men movies was a good choice. Marvel’s characters, and the X-Men especially, are compelling because they’re so flawed and vulnerable, and this movie played to that strength. A sick, run-down Wolverine. A senile Professor X. Dark, bloody violence, which was always missing from the X-Men movies. Rough, but worthwhile.
Big, dumb, fun movie from Steven Soderbergh, so it was infused with his famous style. As much style as there can be in a redneck heist flick, anyway. Adam Driver couldn’t quite manage a Virginia accent, but he was just great.
A Swedish import we saw at TIFF this year, The Square was a hard skewering of a bunch of things: postmodern art, marketing, empathy, and fundraising, for example. Ruben Ostling is making a real name out of making people feel uncomfortable.
Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi
I don’t get why so many people are furious about it. It was as funny and impressive-looking as The Force Awakens, but had the darkness and overall plot thread of Empire. The Finn storyline was a little weak – I don’t think they quite knew what to do with him – but it was still one of the most entertaining things I saw this year.
My favourite TV shows of 2017
I know I’m likely missing out by not watching Twin Peaks, Big Little Lies, Alias Grace, Dear White People, The Leftovers, The Good Place, Better Call Saul, Rick And Morty, The Americans, or Better Things, but I only have so many hours in the day.
It’s hard to know whether the new episodes will live up to the other seasons — it dropped yesterday and I haven’t had a chance to watch them — but given the remarkable strength of the former episodes, I have no reason to think it won’t be among the best things I watched all year.
I had high hopes for this one given it’s directed by David Simon, and it didn’t disappoint. Long, slow builds. Deep looks. Texture, style. Rawness and grime, just like 42nd Street of that era really had.
Game Of Thrones
This shortest season so far felt rushed and clumsy compared to the others, but it’s still the one show I get psyched for watching in real time. And now I have Lindsay hooked.
A brutal western series (full of, oddly enough, a largely British cast) with a twist: a town populated mostly by women. Merritt Wever, long one of my favourites from her stint on Nurse Jackie, is exceptional here. The entire 7-episode season leads rather obviously to the climactic battle, but what a lead-up it is.
The Handmaid’s Tale
The series had a lot to live up to, given the source material, but I think they nailed it. In a horribly disturbing, this-seems-a-little-too-possible way. That horror was tough to square with the fact that it was shot in Toronto, including a short scene in Bonjour Brioche where we eat breakfast most weekends.
Last Week Tonight
Week after week John Oliver turns out irreverent, insightful commentary on a topic that needs investigating, even (especially?) if he does it with satire and extreme absurdity. He makes me not even miss Jon Stewart.
The second of two period pieces related to hunting serial killers we watched in the last few months. We’re not quite done this one yet, but any series that can make me feel empathy for the Unabomber must be doing something right.
David Fincher + serial killers = sign me up, post haste. A genesis story for the behavioural sciences unit around which is centered my beloved Silence Of The Lambs, but also a style-heavy and engrossing string of procedurals.
I’ll be honest: I haven’t even watched the new season yet. I’m just assuming. Even if it’s bad it’s better than virtually everything else on TV.
I didn’t think I’d like the first season but I did. I wasn’t sure I’d like the second season but I do. I still hate the 80s, but these kids somehow make it tolerable.
My favourite books of 2017
Okay, fine, I only finished two, but October by China Miéville is a bit of a slow read. I can only remember so many Russian names at one time.
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
Probably my least favourite Michael Lewis book, but still interesting. It’s about two friends – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – who essentially invented the field of behavioural economics, and the dissolution of that friendship. Inspirational for its study of genius, but a touch sad for its reminder of how genius rarely gets along with other genius for long.
No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein
This was rushed out in the wake of one Donald J Trump becoming president of the United States, as if to give voice to the collective Canadian wtf. I blazed through it in a few days, but even a month after its release it seemed woefully dated, as Trump and his clown car of a cabinet trundled, ablaze, down the road of absurdity.
My favourite meals of 2017
Listed in chronological order. Note: I hit Maison Publique so many times in the winter that I can’t even distinguish my visits, so I’ve left them off, but not for lack of deliciousness.
I visited this killer tapas place with my CEO and a colleague during a short visit to London. I don’t even remember looking at a menu so much as just asking them to bring us what was good. They did, and we loved it all.
Le Filet, Montreal
On my last visit of the spring to Montreal we hit up Le Filet, in the shadow of Mont Royal, and ate a meal that had us freaking out the whole night: Hamachi, Wagyu, maple-glazed smoked duck, cavatelli w/ foie gras + veal cheek, and a transcendent bottle of Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Pinot Noir.
Enoteca De Belem, Lisbon
Our first dinner in Lisbon was a truly superb find: a cozy little spot (only 5-6 tables in the place) with a well-curated wine list, and a relaxed feel. The whole menu – tiger prawns, lamb, desserts, the various wines – was terrific, but the grouper was sublime.
A Cevicheria, Lisbon
While we sat in Lisbon’s best beer bar, we did a quick search on our phones to figure out where we should eat, and this place popped up. We’re glad it did too – after a short wait, which we spent outside drinking giant G&T’s and talking with another couple from Toronto – we had an utterly delicious tasting menu. I can’t even remember a single thing we ate. I just know it was incredible.
Speaking of incredible, we splurged on this place for our last meal in Lisbon. By far our fanciest of the week, it was also probably our only real departure from seafood – we ordered foie gras, quail, veal & duck instead. The view of the river at night didn’t let us forget where we were though.
We had only the briefest of visits here, on an odd weeknight, as we were on our way to see an exhibition nearby, but we had an exceptional meal. Actinolite isn’t about large portions or overdoing it – it’s small, simple, natural flavours, and they nailed it. We resolved to visit again.
This place had a slightly weird (read: Ossington) vibe and inattentive bar staff, but the food made up for it. Especially the jambalaya formed into little black balls, the scallops in coconut cream, and the Nashville hot chicken.
Lake Inez, Toronto
Lake Inez, on the other hand, has already seen a return visit, given its proximity to us, but mostly because of our standout first visit. We met CBGB here for dinner one evening, and left raving about the place. Starters, mains, the vibe, the beer list…honestly, I’ve never even looked at the wine list because we’ve found so many rare beer bottles that pair perfectly.
Our first dinner in France ended up being pound for pound (Euro for Euro?) our best of the trip. We sat at the unassuming bar of a cramped, dark (read: Parisian) restaurant and shared a simple but beautiful meal, and settled into a week in France.
Les Crayeres, Reims
Our chateau in Champagne featured a (two) Michelin starred restaurant, but we didn’t eat there, opting instead for the more relaxed (but still spectacular) bistro down the hill. We did eat breakfast in the main building, however, and it might have been one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. That’s right: breakfast. There weren’t even meat or eggs or vegetables of any kind, just fruit and pastries and preserves and so on. The food, the setting, the service: immaculate, all.
Honourable mentions: both visits to Jacobs & Co, dinners at Byblos and Opus, a work dinner at Daisho, and brunch at The Sparrow in Montreal
My favourite (new) beer of 2017
My source for this list is Untappd, and I’m sure I forgot to log some, but that’s to be expected when you consume enough beer to make a top twenty list possible. Listed chronologically.
Dieu du Ciel! Péché Mortel Bourbon
Hard to believe, but one of the best beers I tasted all year was purchased at a tiny local grocery store in Montreal. All the deliciousness of Péché Mortel but with sweet, sweet bourbon.
Brasserie Dunham Oro Zuur (Batch 01 – Mosaic)
Lindsay and I shared a bottle of this sour at Vices & Versa in Montreal right before I had to fly back to Toronto. It’s nice to have easier access to Dunham’s stellar lineup when visiting Quebec.
Bellwoods Weft & Warp (2017)
We had this sour aged in Chardonnay barrels for the first time at The Wren, one of many outstanding bottles (mainly sours) we’ve shared there over burgers.
Cascade Brewing Noyaux
For my birthday Lindsay booked a table at King Taps, which turned out to be not at all the kind of place we were expecting, but the beer lineup made up for it. For a birthday treat she bought us this amazing bottle from Oregon’s Cascade.
À La Fût Co-Hop V – Rouge de Mékinac
A cold bottle on a sweltering day, put back in the tiny basement of Pub BreWskey in Montreal, this tasted like a local variant of Rodenbach. The bartender recommended this one, and she wasn’t wrong.
Russian River Brewing Consecration
Another bartender recommendation, this time in Philadelphia, in the back bar of Monk’s Café. I asked for a sour, and got a serious one in this Californian wild ale.
Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
My first sip of this suggested that it was much too sweet. My second sip was better. My third, and every thereafter, slowly brought me around to realize that this was a stunning barrel aged stout.
Brouwerij Rodenbach Alexander
Also in Philadelphia, but an entirely different bar experience than Monk’s. Brü was loud, crowded, and mostly slinging crap beer, but if you dug down their list they had some tremendous stuff, like this one from Rodenbach. I drank it while drunk conference attendees bumped into me and spilled drinks on my menu and I didn’t even care that much.
Tatamagouche Brewing Jitney
A surprise late in the year, my brother had procured a few cans of this from a local NS brewery and kept them for me, and wow…a near-perfect dry-hopped sour.
Omnipollo Nua Pecan Mud
I usually publish this on Dec 30th assuming I won’t have any better beer in the final 36 hours of the year. This year I was wrong. Lindsay and I split a small bottle of this at Stillwell, and a small bottle was all we needed. It smelled and tasted like this incredibly rich chocolate/pecan cake. Absolutely stellar.
My favourite moments of 2017
Tough to narrow it down this year, but here’s my best guess. In chronological order.
- Seeing Japandroids at Danforth Music Hall with Lindsay, one of the highest-energy shows I’ve ever witnessed
- After being shut out of Péché Day at the Dieu du Ciel brewpub, finding a special Péché Day 4-pack at – of all places – the Metro next to Lindsay’s Montreal apartment
- After eating lunch at Aqua Shard in London I used the facilities, and enjoyed the best view of London I’ve ever seen whilst standing at a urinal
- Being a proper German tourist, lifting a giant dunkel and eating apfelstrudel at Schneider Brauhaus in Munich
- Getting a fresh, warm pasteis from Pasteis de Belem, the original Portuguese custard tart, and finally understanding the hype
- Drinking 40-year-old port with the owner of Winebar do Castelo in Lisbon after an epic tasting session
- Hosting a friend’s quarter-centennial celebration in our building’s party room and, later, our loft
- Playing frisbee at Bramble Lane
- Tasting wine on a perfect summer day at Benjamin Bridge, looking out over the Gaspereau Valley
- Exploring the demoscene at Execute! From Scene To Screen, part of the Vector Festival
- Sitting on our balcony at the Hockley Valley Resort, celebrating our friends’ wedding and my 42nd birthday
- Eating and drinking on Pearl Morissette’s farm as they celebrated their tenth anniversary
- Ninja-ing our way out of a garden after being trapped outside of L’Orangerie museum in Liège, Belgium
- Standing in an ancient Roman cave, where Taittinger now ages their champagne
- Standing in front of Hanne Darboven’s work with Lindsay at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
- Singing along with Stars at The Great Hall
- Sitting in 8eleven Gallery after-hours, drinking Blood Brothers beer, talking about…everything
- Being beautifully destroyed, once again, by Mogwai
- Singing along to “Frank, AB” with the Rural Alberta Advantage and everyone else in the Danforth Music Hall
- Far and away the best moment of my whole year: getting the message from my brother letting me know my mom’s cancer was in remission
Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license