Dune

When I made my list of favourite movies of 2021, Dune (imdb | rotten tomatoes) made the cut. I mentioned that I’d never read any of the books, even though my dad loved them. I decided to change that, and bought — and read — a copy of Dune (goodreads) in February. It was pretty good too — a dense little sci-fi switch-em-up amidst nonfiction.

I also grabbed the second and third books in the series — Dune Messiah and Children Of Dune — for later. Maybe they’ll be a palate cleanser when I finish The Lynching (goodreads) in a week or so.

Wine Girl

Book #3 down, and I’m not even out of January. The latest was Victoria JamesWine Girl (goodreads) which was a very compelling but tough read. I thought it would be more about wine; it ended up being more about her very difficult childhood and experiences — both brutal and educational — in the restaurant industry.

As for what’s next, I’ve decided to switch it up a bit and finally read Dune, which my dad was a huge fan of. I watched the (new) movie with him while I was home at Christmas, and it made me want to delve into the real thing. Given the length and density I reckon this will slow my rate somewhat, but that’s okay.

The second symphony

Near the beginning of the pandemic I backed a new kickstarter project by someone I’ve followed on Twitter for quite a while named Matt Brown. I used to listen to mamo, a podcast he co-hosted. I know he lives in Toronto, maybe even roughly the same area as me. I know we’ve traded tweets a few times. I know he works for TIFF. He’s in that sphere of people I feel like I know, but we wouldn’t recognize each other on the street. Or he wouldn’t recognize me, certainly.

Anyway, he launched a kickstarter to self-publish a collection of essays about Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie I very very much liked. I backed it, and the book arrived in the fall of 2020. Because I’ve been sucking so hard at reading I left it in my living room, not in the study with the rest of the books, a victim of my best intentions to read it “next” despite my throughput being zero.

But this year, with my love of reading feeling renewed — I’ve now finished two books in three weeks, as many as I’ve read in the past two years combined — I’ve read Brown’s book The Cinema Of Survival this week and really liked it. You can read reviews and buy it here, or buy it non-Amazonly here.

[A side note: I’ve never really embraced Goodreads, but it made me think of an earlier book-sharing site which Amazon bought and folded into Goodreads called Shelfari. I don’t know why it popped back into my head, but it did.]

.:.

Cover photo from the kickstarter page

Cover photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Berks!

After several years of reading few books, if any, I’m making an effort to get back to it instead of spending endless hours reading only feeds & tweets.

Since wine seems to be my current obsession, I’m leveraging that to keep up my momentum. I’m currently reading The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace (link), and have a few more — Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson (link), Wine Girl by Victoria James (link), and Wine & War by Don Kladstrup (link) — lined up. I might even break open Wine Folly (link) for reference a few times, as I’ve also signed up for WSET level 2 and plan to go for level 3 after that.

Or maybe I’ll alternate wine books with others…I have plenty of non-fiction, and a few fiction, in the backlog of books sitting patiently in boxes in the study while we think about how we want to redesign it.

This isn’t some I-must-improve-during-COVID thing, mind you. I don’t buy into that. I just forgot how much I miss reading books, and am figuring out that the perpetual social scroll isn’t always the most helpful activity. Plus, Lindsay’s voracious appetite for books lately has inspired me (and, probably, shamed me just a bit) so I’m easing into it, tentatively aiming for a book a month this year. Wish me luck.

.:.

Cover photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

All shows must die

More than eight years ago, when brother #2 was visiting, he saw an ad for a new HBO show that got him really excited. It was a TV version of a book series he’d been reading for years, but I’d never heard of. The book series was called A Song Of Ice And Fire. The TV show would be called Game Of Thrones.

It quickly became my favourite show. Not the best, mind you — it was always only high-production-value fantasy escapism — but my favourite. I’d anxiously await new episodes, re-watch every new episode the next day, and consume reviews, critiques, and podcasts about it. I ended up reading the books, and — once the show caught up and passed the books, and diverged from them to a yet-unknown degree — felt the same mild thrill of discovery as everyone else watching.

It ended last night, obviously, with more of a whimper than a bang. The last two seasons, as have been well-documented, felt rushed and absurd, given neither the room to breathe nor the grounding in brute reality afforded the earlier seasons. I still felt compelled to watch, and was engrossed in every second, but it didn’t resonate with me, didn’t affect me the next day. No character was developed in these final two seasons, and ultimately the characters were what drew me in.

That said, if they decide to make a spin-off series about Robert’s Rebellion, I’m cancelling all of my Sunday night plans for three months.

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2018

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

  1. Amen Dunes . “Miki Dora”
  2. Beach House . “Pay No Mind”
  3. Boy Genius . “Souvenir”
  4. Car Seat Headrest . “Famous Prophets (Stars)”
  5. Neko Case . “Winnie”
  6. Father John Misty . “Mr. Tillman”
  7. Foxing . “Lich Prince”
  8. Duke Garwood & Mark Lanegan . “L.A. Blue”
  9. Albert Hammond Jr . “Dvsl”
  10. Laura Jean . “Girls On The TV”
  11. Efrim Menuck . “A Lamb In The Land Of Payday Loans”
  12. Mitski . “Washing Machine Heart”
  13. Mogwai . “Donuts”
  14. Nap Eyes . “White Disciple”
  15. Parquet Courts . “Total Football”
  16. Pusha T . “If You Know You Know”
  17. Saba . “BUSY / SIRENS”
  18. St. Vincent . “Pills (Piano version)”
  19. US Girls . “Incidental Boogie”
  20. 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.

22 July

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.

Black Panther

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.

First Man

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.

Girl

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.

I, Tonya

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.

The Post

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.

Big Mouth

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.

Billions

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.

Homecoming

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.

Killing Eve

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.

Silicon Valley

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.

Wormwood

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.

Toqué, Montreal

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.

M’eat, Toronto

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.

Taiko, Amsterdam

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.

Ekstedt, Stockholm

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.

Burdock Auko

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

  1. 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.
  2. Yelling “Pa’lante!” along with Hurray For The Riff Raff at the Opera House.
  3. Short rib and well-aged Ontario reds at Brian & Mandy’s place in Niagara.
  4. Celebrating my brother’s upcoming career move with Dom Perignon.
  5. Watching a play written, directed, and performed by women in Dublin the night before Ireland voted yes.
  6. Lying in the grass in St. Stephen’s Green with Lindsay on a perfect day.
  7. Walking the beach in Pugwash after T&K’s wedding, not knowing how badly my face was getting sunburned.
  8. Dinner with my mom and a bunch of extended family during a quick visit to Toronto.
  9. Celebrating my mom & dad’s 50th wedding anniversary at the farm, surrounded by friends & family.
  10. The day my contractor told me he was done renovating the kitchen and bathroom.
  11. Tasting whisky and artisanal chocolate outside on a patio at SF MOMA.
  12. Having my ass kicked by St. Vincent at the Sony Centre.
  13. Seeing GY!BE play the “Sad Mafioso” portion of “East Hastings” live at The Phoenix.
  14. Meeting Nils Edenloff from the Rural Alberta Advantage at a cheese & beer tasting.
  15. Slipping into a Beach House trance at the Sony Centre.
  16. Lunch on the patio at Two Sisters in Niagara on the Lake, the perfect remedy after a stressful drive.
  17. The day Kramer first came up the stairs to hang out with us.
  18. Every moment we spent in our suite at the Conservatorium hotel in Amsterdam.
  19. Lindsay, Tess, and I devouring Bubbies (mochi ice cream treats) in a loft in Gothenburg.
  20. Meeting a Constantine at a friend’s poetry reading.

.:.

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo from the Loop Gallery site

I wanna be your

Thursday night we braved the mid-November snow and went west, arriving at the Loop Gallery on Dundas just in time for readings from the latest installation in Vallum’s Chapbook series. Lindsay’s friend and collaborator Zach was one of the readers, from his latest poetry collection Ladybird Bug Boy.

Also reading — sort of — that night was Steve Lambke, a local musician and member of The Constantines, one of my all-time favourite bands whose song “Hyacinth” is on my best-songs-of-all-time list. I introduced myself and told him I’d seen him open for …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead at The Horseshoe back in 2001. And then I think we both felt old. Anyway, Lambke was there to read, to his own music, from The Weave: A Work In Progress by Thurston Moore and John Kinsella. Yes, that Thurston Moore: guitarist for Sonic Youth, who also has an entry (“Theresa’s Sound World”) on my list of best songs of all time. Tenuous third link: Thurston Moore figures in the lyrics of one of my favourite Sleater-Kinney songs, “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and S-K also have a song (albeit a different one, “Turn It On”) on my all-time-fav list.

Anyway, after the event four of us grabbed dinner across the street at Enoteca Sociale. We shared chicken liver mousse w/ apple preserve & grilled focaccia, some cheese, and some salumi. For mains I had the orecchietti w/ butternut squash, prosciutto & fried sage; Lindsay had the special, a hazelnut and ricotta pasta in mushroom broth. For dessert I had a chocolate terrine w/ salt and olive oil; Lindsay had cannoli.

It felt like a Honda tauntaun ride across town to get there, but what a fun evening.

.:.

Cover photo from the Loop Gallery site

Cover photo by j.s. clark, used under Creative Commons license

“Welcome, Point Break.”

It’s been a weird week. I was so sick that I didn’t go to work Monday. I probably shouldn’t have gone Tuesday either but I had a pile of meetings, and I really wanted to see Lindsay speak at an Akimbo event at 401 Richmond that night. I’m so glad I did — her presentation was so on, and it was really interesting to learn more about digital curation — but that plus dinner pretty much did me in.

Dinner, our last together for a week and a half, was at Byblos, which we loved our last time out, though it might have been a bit rich for 10pm:

  • Lamb Ribs w/ dukkah + buttermilk sauce + carob molasses + red chili schug
  • Tuna w/ jalapeño dressing + radish + squid ink chips + green schug + avocado
  • Short Rib Kebab w/ chemen + truffle tatziki + pine nut dukkah + oregano
  • Mejadra w/ lentil + hung yogurt + fried shallot
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/ halloumi + tahini + yogurt

By the time I got home I was almost comatose, and my body regressed into a state of uberSick. I spent Wednesday in bed, and most of Thursday as well. Then Friday morning, as I was feeling better and getting ready for work, I pulled a muscle in my back. I sometimes strain my back when I stay in bed too long — like, say, when I’m sick — but it’s pretty rare that I actually hurt it like this. I spent Friday hobbling around work like an old man and then came home.

My back’s slowly getting better, as I’ve been trying to mix in some relaxation with intense work catch-up. During my downtime I’ve been watching the winter Olympics and catching up on TV shows and movies I know Lindsay wouldn’t care to see.

I knew Fargo: Season 2 (imdb | rotten tomatoes) featured completely different actors from season 1, but I didn’t know the thread of connection among two of the characters. Just as quirky and violent (moreso, probably) as the first season. Season 3: get in my Netflix queue!

I’d been told Thor: Ragnarok (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was a ton of fun, but from the trailers I couldn’t figure out what it was. It seemed to be about arena fighting but, y’know…Ragnarok. Norse Armageddon. Did not compute. Anyway, it makes sense now, and I laughed all the way through it. Thor’s such an absurd character that full-on humour was a great way to take things.

Speaking of Armageddon, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what Brawl In Cell Block 99 (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was going to be: pretty much what it said on the tin. I just didn’t expect…that. So much dry savagery. I really wish I’d seen it with a Midnight Madness audience at TIFF. That would have been something.

Another superhero movie that took a new tack, one I also liked, was Spider-Man: Homecoming (imdb | rotten tomatoes). A reboot of the reboot of the…original reboot, I guess, this one played for a generation that knew the Marvel movies, not the comics, and it worked nicely. Different pace, and much funnier than the Andrew Garfield version. (Also: no sooner do I finish watching Fargo than Mike Milligan shows up in Spider-Man.)

Between all of this, and a lot of work, I finished reading my uncle Jim’s book A Short History of the American Revolution (amazon). Back in November when I was in Philadelphia for work, I had a chance to tour the new Museum of the American Revolution. I was speaking there that night (on a totally unrelated topic…we just happened to be using the venue) and did a little research about my family’s history to share during my speech. I’d forgotten about this since I first read it years ago, but Jim summarized it himself in the book:

Today farmers who wrestle a living from the thin soil of Cumberland County in Nova Scotia trace their ancestors to New York State and the exodus when the British finally left the United States.

Of course, ancestry.ca didn’t exist when Jim wrote this book, so I was able to dig a little deeper into history. That digging, and hearing the museum’s director speak about misconceptions and hard truths about the revolution, sparked an interest to re-read Jim’s book, and re-educate myself about the war. There’s so much myth and legend built up around the revolution — being at the museum and re-reading the book reminded me how different the reality was. Also interesting: I’d never connected the dots before between the Cornwallis who famously surrendered at Yorktown to the Cornwallis famous — and more recently, infamous — in Halifax. The former was, I believe, the latter’s nephew.

I still have crazy amounts of work to do today, and my back’s definitely not back to normal yet, so the weekend continues to be weird. Seriously, all I want is a quiet week.

.:.

Cover photo by j.s. clark, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2017

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

  1. Julien Baker . “Turn Out The Lights”
  2. Big Thief . “Mary”
  3. The Black Angels . “Comanche Moon”
  4. Broken Social Scene . “Protest Song”
  5. Feist . “Any Party”
  6. Girlpool . “Soup”
  7. Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Bosses Hang (parts I, II, and III)”
  8. Japandroids . “Arc Of Bar”
  9. Kendrick Lamar . “HUMBLE”
  10. Mogwai . “Don”t Believe The Fife”
  11. The National . “Carin At The Liquor Store”
  12. Rainer Maria . “Lower Worlds”
  13. Rural Alberta Advantage . “Wild Grin”
  14. Spoon . “Hot Thoughts”
  15. St. Vincent . “New York”
  16. Stars . “The Wanderers”
  17. Vagabon . “Alive And A Well”
  18. Waxahatchee . “Silver”
  19. Siobhan Wilson . “Whatever Works”
  20. 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.

Baby Driver

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.

Dunkirk

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.

Get Out

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.

Lady Bird

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.

Logan

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.

Logan Lucky

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.

The Square

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.

Black Mirror

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.

The Deuce

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.

Godless

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.

Manhunt: Unabomber

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.

Mindhunter

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.

Mr. Robot

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.

Stranger Things

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.

Barrafina, London

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.

Tagide, Lisbon

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.

Actionolite, Toronto

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.

OMAW, Toronto

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.

Buvette, Paris

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.

  1. Seeing Japandroids at Danforth Music Hall with Lindsay, one of the highest-energy shows I’ve ever witnessed
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Being a proper German tourist, lifting a giant dunkel and eating apfelstrudel at Schneider Brauhaus in Munich
  5. Getting a fresh, warm pasteis from Pasteis de Belem, the original Portuguese custard tart, and finally understanding the hype
  6. Drinking 40-year-old port with the owner of Winebar do Castelo in Lisbon after an epic tasting session
  7. Hosting a friend’s quarter-centennial celebration in our building’s party room and, later, our loft
  8. Playing frisbee at Bramble Lane
  9. Tasting wine on a perfect summer day at Benjamin Bridge, looking out over the Gaspereau Valley
  10. Exploring the demoscene at Execute! From Scene To Screen, part of the Vector Festival
  11. Sitting on our balcony at the Hockley Valley Resort, celebrating our friends’ wedding and my 42nd birthday
  12. Eating and drinking on Pearl Morissette’s farm as they celebrated their tenth anniversary
  13. Ninja-ing our way out of a garden after being trapped outside of L’Orangerie museum in Liège, Belgium
  14. Standing in an ancient Roman cave, where Taittinger now ages their champagne
  15. Standing in front of Hanne Darboven’s work with Lindsay at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
  16. Singing along with Stars at The Great Hall
  17. Sitting in 8eleven Gallery after-hours, drinking Blood Brothers beer, talking about…everything
  18. Being beautifully destroyed, once again, by Mogwai
  19. Singing along to “Frank, AB” with the Rural Alberta Advantage and everyone else in the Danforth Music Hall
  20. 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