Another year, another list of the stuff I liked the best. All listed alphabetically, unless otherwise noted.
My favourite albums of 2019
While I’m behind and haven’t yet fully processed the latest releases from Amanda Palmer, Better Oblivion Community Center, Big Brave, Big Thief, Brittany Howard, FKA Twigs, Mark Lanegan, The National, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Pedro The Lion, Tallest Man On Earth, or Wilco, I could still put together a pretty solid list of new albums this year:
Schlagenheim by black midi
This band sounds unlike anything I’ve ever heard, any they look twelve years old. I don’t love all of the songs on this album, but what I love I love, and the rest I can just appreciate.
Destroyer by Black Mountain
Not quite as epic as IV, but as with all of their albums it gets better and better with each listen.
Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Ray
I was pretty sure I hated Lana Del Ray until I heard this. It’s so catchy and clever.
Are SING SINCK, SING by Kevin Doria & Efrim Menuck
This sounds a lot like Efrim Menuck’s last solo album and all his other work, so it wasn’t a long run for me to like this too.
No Home Record by Kim Gordon
I did not see this coming in Kim Gordon’s solo debut. It’s like someone laid her breathy Sonic Youth vocals laid over heavy trap beats. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s like. It misses almost as often as it hits, but when it hits, it hits big.
All Mirrors by Angel Olsen
An evolutionary step from Olsen’s torch-ish past to sweeping orchestral arrangements and soaring gut-punch vocals. Maybe the best album opener of the year too.
Act Surprised by Sebadoh
A throwback from an old favourite, Sebadoh came in hot with more of the same…and it was as good as always.
The Center Won’t Hold by Sleater-Kinney
Annie’s Clark’s production made this into something entirely unexpected, revealing that all band members are equal but some are more equal than others. It was the band’s biggest departure, and ultimately its undoing. But what a beautiful swan song it was.
Father Of The Bride by Vampire Weekend
Probably the most on-repeat album of 2019 for me, a low-key-romantic concept album with enough catchy hooks for two full releases.
Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten
An evolution like Angel Olsen’s in distance traveled, but unalike in method — this is stripped-down, electronic-tinged rawness.
Honourable mentions: Skylight by Pinegrove; In The Morse Code Of Brakelights by New Pornographers; Patience by Mannequin Pussy.
My favourite songs of 2019
- Angel Olsen . “Lark”
- Better Oblivion Community Center . “Dylan Thomas”
- Big Brave . “Holding Pattern”
- Big Thief . “Contact”
- black midi . “Western”
- Black Mountain . “High Rise”
- Bob Mould . “Send Me A Postcard”
- Bonnie Prince Billy . “Building A Fire”
- Corridor . “Domino”
- Jonathan Personne . “Comme Personne”
- Kevin Doria & Efrim Menuck . “Do The Police Embrace?”
- Kim Gordon . “Hungry Baby”
- Lana Del Ray . “Mariners Apartment Complex”
- Mannequin Pussy . “Drunk (Part 2)”
- New Pornographers . “Colossus Of Rhodes”
- Sebadoh . “Fool”
- Sharon Van Etten . “Seventeen”
- Sleater-Kinney . “The Dog / The Body”
- Vampire Weekend . “We Belong Together”
- Young Thug . “Sup Mate (feat. future)”
My favourite movies of 2019
Granted, I have not yet seen Us, Knives Out, Parasite, Booksmart, Marriage Story, Dolemite Is My Name, 1917, or Uncut Gems.
I did myself a disservice watching this on a plane TV, but I still found myself lost in it. I plan to watch it on a bigger screen, but it still warrants inclusion here.
The big conclusion to the big Marvel franchise was every bit the spectacle promised. Also: Fat Thor.
A welcome return to an old TV favourite. It took me some time to get back into the rhythm of the dialogue, but god it was good to see those characters again.
A lot of critics felt it lost the spirit of the original Esquire article from which it sprung, but speaking as someone who was in the debut audience at TIFF, it hit the emotional mark. No dry eyes.
The master. The masters. Avengers assemble, indeed.
John Wick 3: Parabellum
Nothing new or exceptional about this installment in the John Wick series, except maybe the ways in which people die. Still a ridiculously stylish, ridiculously entertaining two hours. I eagerly await #4.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Tarantino flexes his muscle of texture and revisionist-history storytelling (amidst bursts of violence) once again.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
I liked Homecoming plenty, but this might have been even better. I was a fan of the Tobey Maguire version, but this is shaping up to be my favourite Spider-Man incarnation.
Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker
Not a critical favourite, and maybe one of the weakest of the back-six Star Wars films, but on sheer emotion alone, this lifelong fan rates it highly.
They Shall Not Grow Old
A stunning re-visualization of old WWI footage, first shown on the 100th anniversary of the end of the war but released widely this year, brought new life to an old story that must be understand anew.
My favourite TV shows of 2019
I still haven’t seen the latest seasons of Mr. Robot, The Man In The High Castle, Black Mirror, Barry, The Deuce, or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but with that said, here’s the best of what I did watch:
On a matrix with sweetness on one axis and profanity in the other, Big Mouth is in the top right corner. And one of the funniest — probably produces more LOLs per minute than any other.
Terrifying, gripping, enthralling, crazily true to reality. Maybe my favourite thing on TV this year.
The Good Place
As it heads toward its finale in 2020, this remains a cute, smart delight.
Season two wasn’t quite as wonderful as season one, but it was still a treat. The two leads are just magical.
Last Week Tonight
Still, and always, the smartest and funniest show of its kind on TV right now.
The yellowcake face makeup was entirely unnerving, but it didn’t change the texture, tension, or intrigue.
From out of nowhere came this dark looping fiesta of weirdness, Natasha Lyonne’s charm, and perfect supporting characters.
Maybe a nostalgic entrant in the top ten as the final season wasn’t the strongest, but still — what a series.
I didn’t read the graphic novel. I did see the bad movie. This new show — set in an alternative current-day timeline and tackling white supremacy head-on — had me hooked.
When They See Us
I vaguely remember this story being in the news when I was a kid, but Ava DuVernay’s masterful telling of the Central Park Five’s story was intense and infuriating and heartbreaking.
Honourable mentions: True Detective; Stranger Things.
My favourite books of 2019
Embarrassingly, I read only one new book all year. I mean, I probably over-counted last year’s total in that I hadn’t finished the Michael Lewis book at the end of the year, so I could claim that one. But whatever. Life was busy and most of my reading is on screen, not paper.
Banker Builder Blockade Runner by Pat Lotz
This story of early Halifax and the Bank of Nova Scotia’s very first cashier, from a little independent NS press, was peak home province for me this year.
My favourite podcasts of 2019
Come for the engaging, enlightening stories about design and architecture. Stay for Roman Mars’ voice.
Against The Rules
Michael Lewis’ podcast about the role of the referee in today’s society. Not just sports (though the series does start with a discussion about NBA referees) but language, law, and so on.
The Anthropocene Reviewed
In which author John Green reviews two things specifically related to our human-shaped epoch per episode and rates them, Amazon-like, on a scale of 1 to 5. Example episodes: “Teddy Bears + Penalty Shootouts”; “Tetris + Seed Potatoes Of Leningrad”; “Hawaiian Pizza + Viral Meningitis”.
The Office Ladies
Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey bring their goofily adorable friendship to a podcast with behind-the-scenes looks at each individual episode of the American Office series.
My favourite Canadian politics podcast featured a foul-mouthed gay liberal journalist from Nova Scotia and a foul-mouthed pregnant conservative journalist from Alberta. Sadly Justin Ling is leaving the podcast so I’m not sure where it’ll go in 2020, but it sure was fun up ’til now.
A narrative podcast featuring Kelly Marie Tran which does an amazing amount of storytelling with script and soundtrack alone.
Consistently my favourite investigative journalism podcast.
As much as I poke at Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, this podcast remains one of the more entertaining things on my phone.
The first two seasons (about the downfall of Richard Nixon and impeachment of Bill Clinton) were fantastic and instructive, but the third season took a left turn and told the story of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Very different, but extremely interesting.
This American Life
My favourite meals of 2019
In chronological order.
I’ve been to most of this London restaurant’s outposts now (two on this trip alone!) but this might have been my favourite, a solo climb up the face of a 14oz ribeye.
A Rake’s Progress, Washington, DC
Lindsay and I went to this restaurant in our DC hotel with her friend Shannon, and it killed. Food aside, our server was some sort of angelic being sent to help us eat.
There’s a reason Toronto Life rated this their favourite new restaurant in the city last year. It lived up to the hype: the steak was phenomenal, but the griddled corn flatbread floored us.
The Pointe, Tofino
I could point (get it?) to any one of many meals we ate at this restaurant in The Wick during our stay, but the one that stands out is the tasting menu on our final night.
Black + Blue Steakhouse, Vancouver
We were aiming for a simple meal but it turned out to be a pretty involved dinner with a mind-blowing Wagyu and a lobster pasta intermezzo just for shits and giggles.
Le Club Chasse et Peche, Montreal
I suggested this place for a group dinner in Montreal, and everyone now thinks I’m some kind of foodie savant.
This 2 Michelin star destination was impressive in every way. Almost overwhelmingly so, frankly, but definitely the kind of creative meal we won’t soon forget.
Cherry Circle Room, Chicago
Back in our Chicago hotel we had our second big meal in two nights, in a very cool room, with very cool cocktails, and very delicious food.
This place had been open down the street from us for a few months before we finally popped in. The tasting menu didn’t have a single weak point, and once again, a flatbread (bannock, this time) might have stolen the show.
The Ostrich Club, Halifax
An impromptu dinner out with the brother, at a place I’d never heard of in the Hydrostone. It ended up being fantastic. I even got to try a wine varietal I’d never heard of — Petite Arvine.
My favourite (new) beer of 2019
Listed in chronological order. I admit, my beer intake is falling off sharply as I prioritize wine more and more. I should probably have a favourite wine of the year list, but haven’t yet found a reasonable way to track + rate everything I consume. (I’m not sure such a beast even exists.)
Fairweather Brewing Beki
Eastbound always brings in guest taps, often sours, and this was the best of the lot.
Dark Revolution Black Magic + The Wild Beer Co Millionaire
Two absolutely standout stouts at a newish beer joint in London
Aslin Beer Company Sorbet
On a drop-in trip to The Partisan in Washington DC I had this milkshake IPA for lunch. Not normally the style that would show up on my best of the year list, but this one nailed it.
De Struise Black Damnation XXVI / Froggie
The next day I was back at The Partisan and had this insanely dark, heavy Russian Imperial stout. It took me about an hour to drink.
Mikkeller Recipe 1000 (Chardonnay)
A bottle of strong ale aged in Chardonnay barrels, shared with Lindsay and Tess at Mikkeller’s Øl & Brød restaurant in Copenhagen.
Bokke Vlierbloesem (2017)
A rare, special bottle of (unofficial) Lambic, again shared with Lindsay and Tess in Copenhagen.
BrewDog Abstrakt AB:20
An insanely strong, flavourful, barleywine we shared at BEER loves FOOD in Amsterdam
Rainhard Brewing Dark Fire
Part of the reason I love working at Boxcar Social is the random beers on their list, like this stellar stout.
Blood Brothers Captain Howdy
This was another crazily intense imperial stout that got better with a bit of age.
My favourite moments of 2019
- Finding a quiet little London wine bar for lunch in between conference sessions
- Appearing before the Canadian Senate
- Hanging out in the gorgeous Uris library at Cornell
- Shit-talking Malcolm Gladwell while he walked right behind us in Washington DC
- Sharing a bottle of Bokkeryeder with Lindsay & Tess in Copenhagen
- Watching the Raptors come back to win game six against Milwaukee, to reach the NBA finals for the first time
- Sitting in Riverdale Park on a perfect sunny day, eating a picnic and drinking beer with Lindsay’s brother
- Watching Anderson .Paak at Echo Beach just as a crazy fog bank roll in
- Watching the Raptors win their first NBA title
- Walking on the beach at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino
- Seeing grey whales, sea lions, otters, harbour porpoises, and a bald eagle in one afternoon in Tofino
- Enjoying the peace and reuniting with an old friend at Mike & Heather’s cottage
- The first time Kramer rubbed against my bare legs
- Tasting verticals of Hidden Bench reds with Laura
- An ever-so-brief lunch amidst the mountains afforded by a quick work trip to Banff
- Drinking vintage champagne and eating French fries in the middle of an afternoon in Chicago
- The first time I nailed the tasting portion of my intro wine course exams
- When Sasha Velour hand-jived to a Le Tigre song at the Danforth
- Semi-awkward musical confession time with Stars at the Crows theatre
- Singing a bunch of 80s songs (for some godforsaken reason) along with my brothers and their partners at the farm at Christmas time
[Cover photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash]