As is my annual wont, I’ve collected and curated lists of my favourite consumed media from the year. All listed alphabetically, unless otherwise specified.
My favourite albums of 2018
Freedom by Amen Dunes
I guess I’ve been out of the loop by not listening to (or being aware of) Amen Dunes before, but this album grabbed me and kept twisting all year. Sounds desperate and struggle-y but joyful and determined at the same time.
7 by Beach House
Nothing new from Beach House here, but a standard-issue Beach House album is still miles better than almost everything else.
God’s Favorite Customer by Father John Misty
I’ve always been hit and miss(ty) with FJM, with the last album a few years ago only offering up a couple of songs I liked, but this one went a little beyond that and kept luring me back.
Nearer My God by Foxing
I went from feeling like I should like Foxing’s last album and not, to assuming I wouldn’t like this one but then totally getting into it.
With Animals by Duke Garwood & Mark Lanegan
I remain a sucker for Mark Lanegan’s voice no matter what he does (he also guested on Neko Case’s album below) but this dark, brooding, electronic-tinged collection des dirges became my go-to focus/chill music this year.
Pissing Stars by Efrim Manuel Menuck
Speaking of electronic-tinged, this dronier, lighter (in musician count, if not in subject matter) offering from the Godspeed You! Black Emperor member swings from soft to intense to nuts in the space of a song.
Kin by Mogwai
Because I’m Dan and this was Mogwai.
I’m Bad Now by Nap Eyes
Probably less catchy than their sophomore album, but also more mature. They continue to blend elements of bands I don’t really like into something I love.
Hell-On by Neko Case
Neko Case, goddamn hero. Putting out an album after all the personal trauma she went through is remarkable; that it’s this good is amazing. Or maybe that’s what made it possible? Either way, the chorus of “Winnie” might be the most thrilling few seconds of any album this year.
Messeducation by St. Vincent
When you’re an Annie Clark-level genius you can take one of the best rock albums of last year and turn it into an album of stripped-down piano renditions that often sound like they’re sung by an unstable cabaret singer, giving it this whole other layer of broken-down, surging fragility that maybe only her voice could manage.
My favourite songs of 2018
- Amen Dunes . “Miki Dora”
- Beach House . “Pay No Mind”
- Boy Genius . “Souvenir”
- Car Seat Headrest . “Famous Prophets (Stars)”
- Neko Case . “Winnie”
- Father John Misty . “Mr. Tillman”
- Foxing . “Lich Prince”
- Duke Garwood & Mark Lanegan . “L.A. Blue”
- Albert Hammond Jr . “Dvsl”
- Laura Jean . “Girls On The TV”
- Efrim Menuck . “A Lamb In The Land Of Payday Loans”
- Mitski . “Washing Machine Heart”
- Mogwai . “Donuts”
- Nap Eyes . “White Disciple”
- Parquet Courts . “Total Football”
- Pusha T . “If You Know You Know”
- Saba . “BUSY / SIRENS”
- St. Vincent . “Pills (Piano version)”
- US Girls . “Incidental Boogie”
- Young Fathers . “Turn”
My favourite movies of 2018
I have all but abandoned my film obsession of past years, and as such
can only offer the following nine films (versus my usual ten) which I would even consider for barely scraped together a best-of list. Note that I haven’t yet seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, BlacKkKlansman, The Death of Stalin, A Fantastic Woman, Free Solo, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, If Beale Street Could Talk, Isle of Dogs, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, A Quiet Place, Roma, Shirkers, Sorry to Bother You, A Star Is Born, Three Identical Strangers, or a host of others.
I’m a sucker for Paul Greengrass’ style and have always admired how he handles volatile topics, but I still wasn’t sure how this one — about the slaughter of dozens of kids in Norway by a right-wing nutter a few years ago — would come off. I needn’t have worried though.
Avengers: Infinity War
It’s difficult to thread together story lines and characters from a dozen different superhero movies into a coherent, entertaining flick, but the Russo Brothers did it again. Even if it did take 2.5 hours.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Almost as much gimmick as movie — choose-your-own-adventure is something Netflix can entertain where others can’t — but it works within the frame of Black Mirror’s underlying thread of technological dread. Great soundtrack too.
The hype was real. A vehicle for propelling ahead the MCU, but also a visually striking and clever extravaganza.
Call Me By Your Name
Such a lush, emotional, honest love story. It left Lindsay and I both very tingly afterward. It also made me want to move to Italy immediately.
A straight procedural with an ending we all know — Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon — that was somehow riveting, thrusting us right into these claustrophobic and disorienting compartments. Damien Chazelle is quickly becoming one of my favourite directors.
Our favourite film by far at this year’s TIFF, Girl was an intense examination of puberty, transition, and obsession. It was also a masterclass in performance by a first-time actor.
Last year we watched an HBO miniseries that made us feel sorry for the Unabomber. This year we watched a movie that made us feel sad for Tonya Harding. Really good use of the present-day interview method, and some absolutely staggering performances from Margot Robbie and especially Allison Janney.
The Kindergarten Teacher
Still on the topic of obsession, Maggie Gyllenhaal nailed it in this small, quiet film about a teacher fascinated by the innate talent of a student, with threads of regret, maternalism, and ennui running throughout.
Again, no surprises with the story here, but gets bonus points for being extra-relevant in a time when the press is under direct attack by the sort of politicians who recognize it as a potent defense against totalitarianism.
My favourite TV shows of 2018
Granted, we haven’t watched The Deuce season 2, Handmaids Tale season 2, or Mr. Robot season 3, nor any of Atlanta, Sharp Objects, Better Call Saul, or The Americans, and we barely started Barry.
Maybe the best analysis of puberty, combined with the most LOL-worthy moments of any show I watched this year. Very extreme at times, but always kind of sweet and silly in the end.
Pulpy and over the top, but the pivot into an attack on Trump-style capitalism and cronyism is an interesting one. And anything with that cast, pulpy or otherwise, is worth watching.
The Good Place
Cleverly hilarious, but also a thoughtful examination of philosophy, humanity, good vs. evil, merit, attraction, the idea of soulmates, Ted Danson dancing, and Janets.
We watched the first four episodes of this at TIFF and got hooked on the story and Sam Esmail’s style. (So many staircases!) We signed up for Amazon Prime largely so we could finish watching the season when it came out.
We just started watching this while on Christmas vacation. The characters, the dialog, the fashion, the style, the locales…we were captivated right from the get-go. Sandra Oh’s a national treasure.
Last Week Tonight
Consistently the funniest and most insightful show on TV.
Making A Murderer
Somehow I was just as sucked into season two as season one, even though nothing really happened. I figure it was force-of-nature Kathleen Zellner.
Still and always, a bundle of huge, uncomfortable laughs mixed in with tech/business stuff that hits a little too close to home sometimes. Jared is straight-up one of my favourite characters on television.
Wild Wild Country
An absolutely bonkers tale of a cult taking over a mass of land in Oregon, the townspeople who fight back (but who don’t come off nearly as well as they think they do) and a power-hungry second-in-command who sends the whole thing spinning off the rails. High, weird drama.
An blend of documentary and recreation of events stemming from CIA experiments with LSD in the 1950s. I don’t usually love it when shows blend the two styles but it worked here. Technically this aired in December last year but I didn’t see it until 2018, so.
My favourite books of 2018
I definitely did better this year, reading seven books, vs. three last year (and none at all the year before). Listed in the order in which I read them.
Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded by Simon Winchester
I’ve had a lifelong curiosity about massive disasters, so I picked this up at a used bookstore in Halifax last Christmas and read it in January. Can’t say it was a masterpiece but I learned a lot.
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
An impulse buy from Book City, I read this on one trip to Ottawa and back and felt better-armed for having done. It’s helpful and instructive to recognize the warning signs of encroaching tyranny — it’s not some well-marked monolith that appears suddenly — in these times. I’ve read too much about the rise of fascism in the 1930s to feel at ease right now.
October by China Miéville
It took me over a year to read this — I kept pausing to read other books — as it’s so dense, despite Miéville’s narrative skill. I can say this: it’s as gripping as the tale of ten months of hundred-year-old Russian political intrigue can be made to be.
Disrupted by Dan Lyons
The story of a late-career writer who got wrapped up in the latest tech boom (and called bullshit on the whole thing) this book reminded me of my own experience — albeit as a much younger employee — in the dot-com boom 18 years ago.
Child Of God by Cormac McCarthy
God, Cormac MCarthy books are bleak. But God, do I ever love them.
Around The World In 80 Wines by Mike Veseth
This was a gift from Lindsay that made me want to quit my job and become a wine + travel writer. I learned a bunch too, like why a lot of famous Port producers have British names.
The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
Any Americans who are actually concerned about the safety, soundness, and good functioning of their country and government shouldn’t read this book. Or, you know, maybe they should.
My favourite meals of 2018
Man, we ate well this year, but surprisingly more so abroad than in Toronto.
One of the best tasting menus I’ve ever experienced, and maybe the best wine pairings too — there’s a reason why Toqué is one of the best restaurants in Canada.
Taste at Rustic, Dublin
One of a pile of amazing meals we had in Dublin, this Japanese-influenced place followed a visit to a lovely wine bar, and came out of nowhere with sticky pork and chicken karage and Wagyu beef and the like. There was also a cocktail called the Three Sisters so good I ordered it twice.
Chapter One, Dublin
We ducked into this Michelin-starred restaurant for lunch, and had one of the meals of our lives. The food was stellar, the wine pairings immaculate, and the service impeccable to the point of being absurd.
Maison Publique, Montreal
In what was effectively our goodbye to Montreal and Lindsay’s old neighbourhood, we made our final trip to this favourite restaurant. They sent us off with a bang, top bottles of Canadian wine, and ice cream with sparklers.
Alexander, San Francisco
After a conference in San Francisco I had a solo meal at the chef’s bar at Alexander’s in San Francisco. The kitchen kept sending over fun little treats like Hamachi and scallop crudo, the steak was phenomenal, and the Sommelier led me down more than a few intriguing paths.
Treadwell, Niagara on the Lake
On a quick jaunt down to Niagara I introduced Lindsay to this place, my favourite in the town. It was a spectacular meal; we had such trouble deciding between dishes we ordered extras, and my pork dish was mind-blowing.
A new addition to our neighbourhood this year, this place uses an entire animal at a time. They also, we learned on our first visit, prepare it perfectly: our steak was outrageous. So were the duck tataki, beef carpaccio, venison tartare…and on it went.
We spent a good chunk of our brief time in Amsterdam this year at this long, luxurious, Asian-inspired meal. There was a dish called a cappuccino of cepes (aka porcini mushrooms) that was absolutely otherworldly.
The first Michelin-starred stop on our Scandinavian trip started with diced reindeer heart boiled in just-melted butter and poured into a taco, and it only got better from there. The hay-flamed beef was one of the best bites of anything I’ve ever had. All the wines were impeccable. Astonishing.
SK Mat, Gothenburg
After traveling west to Gothenburg we had a full eight-course tasting menu for Lindsay’s birthday, along with her dear friend Tess, at another Michelin-starred joint. We had the premium wine pairings too, obviously, so by the end of the meal things were a bit hazy, but I remember a particularly good Grenache Blanc.
Honourable mentions: a visit to Jacobs & Co. where I tried a 1929 Don PX; 400 Coups in Montreal where our adventurous wine orders led to the sommelier pouring us several bizarre digestifs; our second-to-last visit to Maison Publique in Montreal with Sara & Mark; an unreal breakfast at Meet Me In The Morning in Dublin; and Lindsay’s first visit to Patria.
My favourite (new) beer of 2018
Listed in chronological order. To the great surprise of no one who knows me, my list was dominated by sours, porters, and stouts.
Le Trou du Diable Le Coq
Boxcar Social’s bottle list is always good for a few finds, and I’d somehow never tried this TDD sour before. Among all the other great beers we tried that night, this one stood out.
Lake Inez’s bottle list is similarly impressive, and this sour aged in cab franc barrels blew us away during an equally impressive LI meal, offsetting the spicy dishes perfectly.
Dieu du Ciel Péché Termopilas
As with last year, one of the best beers I drank all year came from a little grocery store in Montreal, in the annual Péché Mortel variety pack. This was like a lighter, more subtle version of the standard Péché, and almost as perfect.
Thornbridge Brewery Cocoa Wonderland
I tried this near-perfect porter whilst sitting in a little booth at Against The Grain in Dublin, noshing and playing board games with Lindsay after a museum adventure.
Oast House Toasted Walnut Bourbon Porter
I’ve always had a fondness for Oast House’s browns and porters, but this one was killer. The toastiness tamped down the bitterness of the walnuts which usually turns me off, and the bourbon barrels did the rest.
Blood Brothers Black Hand
I was kind of surprised I’d ever had this one before given how much I love Blood Brothers, but I guess maybe I’d tried all their other stouts while somehow missing this one? Regardless, this one’s an amazing example of a simple yet well-executed stout.
Rodenbach Caractère Rouge
Back on the topic of amazing bottle lists, we have The Wren and their deep, wide list. Lindsay and I often share bottles so we can sample more, and one of the best of the year was this special variant of her favourite, Rodenbach.
Gueuzerie Tilquin Stout Rullquin
And now, the ultimate beer list: at Akkurat in Stockholm they have a bottle list the size of a phone book. We delved deeply, and found an aged vintage of the original Gueuze Tilquin, but because it’s been one of my favourite beers for many years, I didn’t include it here. But almost as good was this sour stout collaboration between Tilquin and La Rulle.
AleSmith Hawaiian Speedway
Having travelled across Sweden to Gothenburg, we found ourselves at a cool little spot eating delicious doughy pizzas and picking beers off what might have been the best pound-for-pound draft list I’ve ever seen. This tropical stout was just the best of an amazing lineup I sampled over two days.
Four Winds Pomona
The list ends where the list began: the Boxcar Social Summerhill bottle list. Lindsay and I grabbed this big bottle of sour while we waited for some Yeah Yeahs pizza to come sliding through the wall. It was gorgeous.
My favourite moments of 2018
- Seeing Frightened Rabbit with Mike & Heather on their 10th anniversary tour of The Midnight Organ Fight. Just months, it turns out, before singer Scott Hutchinson took his own life.
- Yelling “Pa’lante!” along with Hurray For The Riff Raff at the Opera House.
- Short rib and well-aged Ontario reds at Brian & Mandy’s place in Niagara.
- Celebrating my brother’s upcoming career move with Dom Perignon.
- Watching a play written, directed, and performed by women in Dublin the night before Ireland voted yes.
- Lying in the grass in St. Stephen’s Green with Lindsay on a perfect day.
- Walking the beach in Pugwash after T&K’s wedding, not knowing how badly my face was getting sunburned.
- Dinner with my mom and a bunch of extended family during a quick visit to Toronto.
- Celebrating my mom & dad’s 50th wedding anniversary at the farm, surrounded by friends & family.
- The day my contractor told me he was done renovating the kitchen and bathroom.
- Tasting whisky and artisanal chocolate outside on a patio at SF MOMA.
- Having my ass kicked by St. Vincent at the Sony Centre.
- Seeing GY!BE play the “Sad Mafioso” portion of “East Hastings” live at The Phoenix.
- Meeting Nils Edenloff from the Rural Alberta Advantage at a cheese & beer tasting.
- Slipping into a Beach House trance at the Sony Centre.
- Lunch on the patio at Two Sisters in Niagara on the Lake, the perfect remedy after a stressful drive.
- The day Kramer first came up the stairs to hang out with us.
- Every moment we spent in our suite at the Conservatorium hotel in Amsterdam.
- Lindsay, Tess, and I devouring Bubbies (mochi ice cream treats) in a loft in Gothenburg.
- Meeting a Constantine at a friend’s poetry reading.
Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license