Top Albums of 2017 – Part 2

EOTY 2017 Albums

10. Elbow | Little Fictions

I wish more people listened to Elbow. Guy Garvey’s voice is so unique and their textures are always very interesting. This album is a great addition to their already great discography.

9. LCD Soundsystem | American Dream

LCD Soundsystem famously broke up back in 2014, but then James Murphy discovered he had more he wanted to say through the band. So they reunited and released a killer album with some more great LCD SS tunes. And it’s 69 minutes long. Yeah, he had more to say alright.

8. Mogwai | Every Country’s Sun

I’ve been a Mogwai fan for awhile and listened to each of their albums as they came out. This one is a great throwback to the hard guitar rock of their early 00’s albums. Plus, it gets a boost because I saw them live this year at First Ave and they were spectacular.

7. St. Vincent | MASSEDUCTION

Annie Clark is back with a bawdy, modern pop album that is clearly her most personal work yet. The songs are complex compositions of excess and simplicity. From a disjointed song about pills to a sad ballad about a burned out friend on Christmas, Clark doesn’t shy away from her demons.

6. Grandaddy | Last Place

Gone for 11 years, Grandaddy reunited this year to release this album. It’s like they never left! This album is a wonderful gem that tackles issues of love lost and moving forward.

5. The XX | I See You

I love The XX and this album might be the culmination of their sound. A crystallization of the dreams of the first two albums. Jamie XX brings his sampling acumen into play and gives the songs a dance edge that really works for them. On Hold is a highlight for me.

4. Hammock | Mysterium

Hammock’s albums always make my lists. This is another lush and beautiful entry in their catalog, inspired by the death of a family friend. This is a requiem and it’s amazing.

3. Sufjan Stevens, et al | Planetarium

A few years in the making, this album is a recorded version of a live show that Sufjan Stevens and friends performed awhile back. It’s a concept album based on the solar system and features lyrics by Sufjan. It’s a little overstuff, but has some really lovely passages. I have given it plenty of spins this year.

2. The Clientele | Music for the Age of Miracles

Yet another band returned from hiatus when The Clientele release their first album in 7 years. They picked up right where they left off with beautiful, hushed songs of wonder and an impressionistic view of the world. I’m so glad they are back.

1. Slowdive | Slowdive

 

The mother of all comebacks! Slowdive released their first album since 1995’s Pygmalion this year and it might just be their best album ever. The songs are perfect, the voices are amazing and the shoegaze sound is completely intact. I fell in love with this album on the very first listen and went back to it many times this year. Long live Slowdive!

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Top Albums of 2017 – Part 1

EOTY 2017 Albums

25. Bjork | Utopia

Bjork is back! This is a romantic, almost giddy album of “being in love” songs. And it’s pretty great.

24. Phoenix | Ti Amo

Phoenix makes really great dancey album and this latest one doesn’t fail in that respect either. A great collection of quick hitting tunes clocking in at a brisk 36 minutes.

23. Beck | Colors

My favorite Beck albums are Sea Change and Morning Phase, the sad ones. So this album is good, not great in my mind. I love, love the song Dreams. The rest is just not my cup of tea.

22. Spoon | Hot Thoughts

It’s been three years since Spoon’s last album, so it’s pretty great to have another quality release from these guys. They just have a great style and attitude to their music.

21. Iron & Wine | Beast Epic

Sam Beam got back to what made Iron & Wine great right out of the gate: beautiful acoustic songs on a small scale. It’s a great little album.

20. The National | Sleep Well Beast

This is a great guitar album, which is becoming a rarity these days. Lots to love on the latest from Matt Berninger and company.

19. Feist | Pleasure

Feist has been on a 6 year hiatus of sorts, so when this album was announced I was really happy that she was recording again. It’s a sad album that feels very personal.

18. Wolf Alice | Visions of a Life

I loved Wolf Alice’s first album. Here they get a little more experimental, eschewing a cohesive album style in favor of trying some new sounds. Dreampop, punk and 80’s pop are all here. Not everything works, but I love Don’t Delete the Kisses so much.

17. Stars | There is No Love in Fluorescent Light

Stars is such a great band and this is probably their best album in the last 6 years. It’s danceable and happy with a ting of sadness underneath, which is pretty much the band’s calling card.

16. The New Pornographers | Whiteout Conditions

The NP are back with their best album in years! Great harmonies, prickly lyrics and fun arrangements featuring synths and hooks. Carl Newman and Neko Case are awesome.

15. Mew | Visuals

For some reason I keep expecting Mew to break up since they’ve undergone some personnel changes in the last few years. But Visuals shows that they still have some edge and some new ideas.

14. Derek Webb | Fingers Crossed

I need to write up some long-form thoughts on this release. It’s musically gorgeous and lyrically heartbreaking. Derek loves writing riddles and letting people untangle them. Here, he pulls no punches as he articulates his loss of faith and love. Beautiful art out of shocking pain.

13. Slow Meadow | Costero

It’s another beautiful release from Slow Meadow, full of ambient keys and strings that are tilted towards classical music. I have spun this many times while walking or reading.

12. Broken Social Scene | Hug of Thunder

How about a comeback from a 7 year hiatus with maybe your best album ever? That’s what BSS just did. Hug of Thunder is a wonderful group effort that is equal parts political record and friendly jam session.

11. Julien Baker | Turn Out the Lights

Julien Baker is turning into a pretty great voice in the music scene. Her Elliott Smith-style approach is so lovely and her personal, emotive lyrics are sung with such passion you can’t help but start to feel her feelings with her.

Top Films of 2017

EOTY 2017 Film

As in years past, I didn’t watch a ton of movies. I have a long list of 2017 films that I really need to see and many of those will probably end up on this list. The movies that I did go out to the theater to see were the big genre movies that I’d been anticipating: comic book and sci-fi movies. So I’m intentionally leaving this “top ten” list short so I can save room for the movies I haven’t seen that I anticipate may gain entry once I’ve seen them. I’ll add my watchlist at the bottom of the post and you can tell me which ones I should prioritize.

7. The Lego Batman Movie

Forget Ben Affleck, Will Arnett is great as the titular character in this hilarious movie. It’s a lighter take on The Dark Knight that we haven’t seen since Adam West and Burt Ward were running around in the 60’s. It pokes fun at the long history of the character and also has a warm heart under the wild action. I loved it.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

A great second entry to the series that focuses on fathers, biological and figurative.

Read my full review here.

5. Thor: Ragnarok

Taika Waititi was hired to direct a 3rd Thor movie after the 2nd one largely failed to land with audiences. Waititi’s comedic sensibilities were on full display here as the movie was almost a parody of itself while also propelling the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward. The action was goofy fun and the side characters were all great. The villain Hela was perfectly portrayed by Cate Blanchett. I hope she’s back for Infinity War! I had a great time with this movie.

4. Wonder Woman

I consider Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to be a complete debacle. But it did introduce Wonder Woman to the film universe and she was the best part of that movie. In her solo film, things only got better. The story was great, the action was amazing and the heart was warm. Chris Pine was perfect as the hotshot pilot who quickly took a backseat to the more-powerful Diana and sacrificed himself for victory. Great, great movie. Then it was basically back to business as usual for Justice League. *sigh*

3. Spiderman: Homecoming

This may be the first Spider-Man movie to actually get Peter Parker perfectly. By making it all about a smart high-school clown who gets in way over his head, it connected with the audience in a way many of these comic book movies never do. It was warm, super funny and full of action. The plot device of making the villain also his crush’s dad made for some really great scenes. Tom Holland is so great in this and I love seeing Martin Starr getting work in Hollywood. Freaks and Geeks forever!

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I don’t have much more to say on this one. It’s great and I want to rewatch it again as soon as possible.

1. Logan

Logan was crushingly good. I wish we got more comic book movies like that, that break down the genre into it’s sparest parts and create a story for adults. The themes of failure, death, fatherhood and masculinity were very well done. In some ways, Logan was being Luke Skywalker before The Last Jedi came out. He’s a once-powerful hero who has seen so much pain and loss that he want to retreat and live out his days away from the action. But when the need is great and things get personal, he is forced decide what his place is in the conflict that he’s partly to blame for creating. Hugh Jackman is amazing here and so is Patrick Stewart. It’s a visceral, violent neo-Western packaged as an X-Men movie. I hope that Disney’s acquisition of the film rights to the X-Men won’t quash future movies like this one. In an epoch when comic book movies come out almost monthly, we need these unique deconstructions to mix up the formula and demonstrate what kind of stories can be told if you tear up the templates.


My Movie Watchlist

Here are some movies that I am looking forward to seeing that I just haven’t gotten to yet. Any suggestions for what I should put at the top of the list?

  • Baby Driver
  • War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Coco
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Alien: Covenant
  • John Wick: Chapter 2
  • The Shape of Water
  • It Comes at Night
  • Okja
  • Kong: Skull Island
  • Dunkirk (how have I not seen this yet?!)
  • IT
  • The Lost City of Z
  • The Big Sick

Top Television of 2017

EOTY 2017 TV

Television continues to be a haven for creative minds to flex their muscles and craft some very compelling narratives. It was honestly hard to rank the shows I’ve enjoyed this year and I left a few off that were quite good. But here’s my list.

10. GLOW (Netflix)

I was surprised by this show. It’s super fun, a little campy and has a lot of heart to it. It’s a great drama with some great performances from the ensemble cast. Lots of complicated characters that your really start to like and root for in the end. And Mark Maron was really, really good.

9. Game of Thrones (HBO)

Oh Game of Thrones, you vexed me this year. Last season was so, so good as the show moved beyond the storylines of the source material and capitalized on the freedom that afforded them. This year, it seemed like they might not know how to land the plane on such a short runway. There were some great visual spectacles, but some creative choices felt really contrived and implausible, like the characters forgot who they were for awhile. Don’t let us down, GoT!

8. Last Man on Earth (Fox)

This show continues to be a totally absurd joy to behold. They continue to slowly tease out some of the PTSD elements of surviving the apocalypse while also letting these insane people bounce off each other in increasingly bizarre ways. I love it.

7. Better Call Saul (AMC)

The definition of slow-burn drama, Better Call Saul paid off some of the 2-years-in-the-making stories this season in some really gripping episodes. I don’t really like courtroom dramas and this season had some scenes that had me on the edge of my seat.

6. Legion (FX)

Noah Hawley brought us the Fargo TV show on FX a few years ago and now he brought us a bonkers show about a 3rd rate X-Men character. This show had its ups and downs, but the highs were so, so good. This show can be anything: horror, action, heist, comedy, Wes-Andersonian drama, anything. Great casting and a wild villain made it a great first season. More please!

5. American Vandal (Netflix)

My wife and I watched a episode of American Vandal on a whim and we were both immediately drawn in by this crazy thing. On its face, it’s a parody of Making a Murderer, Serial and The Jinx but with phallic graffiti, yet it’s really a lot deeper than that. As the show goes on, we laugh and shake our heads at these high schoolers taking the crime so, so seriously. In the end, there’s a real heart to the show and a theme of truth and identity that is fascinating. Recommended.

4. Narcos (Netflix)

Narcos is Netflix’s not-so-secret weapon show. The fact that it’s bilingual makes it have a board appeal to audiences around the world. The fact that it’s a great show to boot is amazing. After the demise of the main character of the first two seasons, the show is forced to pivot to new foes and new heroes in season 3. As such, it turns the spotlight on some “little guys” in the drug war and makes itself really, really interesting. The drug war didn’t end with Escobar, it just transformed into something even harder to nail down.

3. Stranger Things (Netflix)

Stranger Things is back and it is still great! The characters are awesome and the new, bigger story is great. I have a few issues with the plotting (and with episode 8’s detour), but I still have so much love for this series and it’s characters. See my bigger review for more thoughts. 

2. The Good Place (NBC)

The Good Place is so, so good. If you haven’t watched season 1, I can’t recommend it enough. For a comedy with lots of visual and verbal humor, it poses a lot of philosophical questions and lets them linger. After the finale of season 1 changed everything, season 2 became a surprising examination morality and eternity. The whole cast is amazing and makes the headiness of the show extremely fun and approachable.

1. Mindhunter (Netflix)

Mindhunter was apparently made with people like me in mind. I love David Fincher’s films and Zodiac is one of my favorites. Fincher produced this series and the directors tore pages out of his directors handbook to craft it. The acting is superb and the prickly nature of the story only serves to amplify the tension as you watch. Oh, and Cameron Britton’s turn as serial killer Ed Kemper was chilling in its execution. It’s a slow, slow burn of a show that gets under your skin. And it’s a great workplace drama. There really are agents who have to live in the world of horrific murder and then go home to their families at night and try to disengage from their work. This show humanizes these people and forces us to consider the possibility that people who seek out this work may be more like their suspects and prisoners than they are willing to admit. In a way, it comes closer than any show has to filling the Mad Men shaped hole in the TV landscape. Best show of the year.


Honorable Mentions

  • Master of None (Netflix) – just missed the cut
  • Fargo (FX) – a slightly less compelling season that usual
  • Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access) – a bit messy, but interesting modern take on Trek
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 – The Return (Netflix) – some good episodes, some forgettable ones
  • Silicon Valley and Veep (HBO) – spun their creative wheels a bit this year
  • The OA (Netflix) – weird and addictive
  • The Orville (Fox) – way more enjoyable than it should be. In a lot of ways it’s the more Roddenberry-esque Star Trek show
  • The Walking Dead (AMC) – having a tough time keeping it together, maybe Rick should die soon
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) – another good season
  • Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime) – we’re about halfway through and really enjoying this one

Top Albums of 2016 – Part 2

eoty-albums

Onward to my top ten favorite albums of the year!

10. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

It sure seemed like Bon Iver was breaking up a couple of years ago. Justin Vernon even said as much at various times. But the truth was that he had another album in him, a very different album. Here, Vernon moves even further away from that cabin in the woods and into a dystopian, electronic future where cryptic lyrics and numerology are scattered around his strained falsetto. I think this album is a grower, but it hasn’t put its roots down too deeply for me yet.

9. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

Still one of the most musically talented indie artists today, Andrew Bird’s albums are master courses in the art of layering and writing. There are many lovely melodies here and his violin prowess never fails to impress. “Capsized” is a great single and “Roma Fade” is probably my favorite track.

8. The Album Leaf – Between Waves

The Album Leaf have returned. After letting the band lay rather dormant for a few years, Jimmy LaValle dusted it off and recorded this gem of an album. Leaning more toward the ambient side of the spectrum rather than pop, there is a sense of comfort and purpose here. It’s been in my rotation since it dropped in August. A great autumn record to be sure.

7. Minor Victories – Minor Victories

What makes a good super group, anyway? When you take members of bands you like and put them together, will they sound like one of their original bands? Or something different? Minor Victories features members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors, so that should give you an idea of what to expect. It’s a shoegaze affair with great vocals and interesting guitar work. I discovered them sometime in the spring and have returned to the album often, finding new things to like each time.

6. Wilco – Schmilco

Jeff Tweedy can’t or won’t slow down and we’re all the better for it. With the grinning title Schmilco, I thought this would be a bouncy, goofy album. There’s definitely fun to be had, but overall this is a sad Wilco album. Nice melodies, nostalgia and a lo-fi production plan make the album feel intimate and wonderful.

5. Hammock – Everything and Nothing

Hammock is a mainstay on my EOTY lists. I just love this band and their approach to music. On Everything and Nothing, there’s a sense of dissonance to go with the lush beauty of their walls of sound. This is an album I listened to many, many times this year, sinking further and further into the sea of sound they produce.

4. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness

After a 5 year absence, Explosions in the Sky are back with a full length record! As expected, it’s an epic journey through crushing guitars and pushing/pulling rhythms. I agree with those critics that said this is their best album since 2003’s now-classic The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. I sincerely hope that we don’t have to wait another 5 years for the next album!

3. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Soundtrack

I want to live inside this music. The perfect backdrop to the creepy happenings in Netflix series is this dark synth-filled tapestry that Dixon and Stein created. Evoking the scores of many great 80’s horror films (especially John Carpenter), they strike all the perfect tones and work hand-in-hand with the Duffer brothers to complete their vision for the show. The title theme music is a wonderful entry point into this analog universe.

2. David Bowie – Blackstar

It’s pretty rare that an artist is able to write and release his own eulogy ahead of his/her unexpected passing, but Bowie did that this year. He released Blackstar on his 69th birthday. He died two days later. He had been fighting liver cancer for months, but that fight was done in private. He recorded the songs of this album as his health allowed and he clearly knew the end was near. These songs are windows into the mind of a dying artist and a rarefied genius. The music video for the song “Lazarus” is breathtaking and heartbreaking and the lyrics of the album’s closer, “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, are a brilliant coda to a brilliant life.

1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

New Radiohead! I wrote a longer review of this one when it came out, so I won’t prattle on too much about it. It’s great and depressing and uplifting and everything a good Radiohead album should be. I spun this album a lot this year and never got old.


What did I miss? Did you have a favorite album that I didn’t mention?

Top Albums of 2016 – Part 1

eoty-albums

I thought it was a pretty great year for music releases this year, but 2016 will probably be remember most for what the music industry lost. The deaths of a few iconic musicians in the last 12 months were hard to grapple with. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jones were some of the all time greats and they will be fondly remembered through their wonderful music.

Anyway, here is part 1 of my top 25 albums of the year! Check back soon for the top ten!

25. Citizens & Saints – Through a Mirror Dimly

This electro-pop worship band has never disappointed me with their energy and creativity while also imbibing their songs with good theology. This album dials back the energy a bit and leans into the more somber tone. The members of this band were involved with Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which sadly imploded a couple years ago. These songs reflect some of the lament and doubt that grew out of that sad situation, but always turn towards Christ and the hope the gospel brings.

24. Lisa Hannigan – At Swim

Lisa started out as an integral part of Damien Rice’s music before spinning herself off into a solo act. Her voice is extremely lovely and her folk arrangements, while not as raw as Rice’s, are well crafted and satisfying. At Swim is another nice entry in her growing discography.

23. Gungor – One Wild Life: Body // Spirit

Michael and Lisa Gungor dreamed big with this project: effectively a triple album released over the course of about 1 year. They brought some politics, some liturgy and some struggles to the table and created a sprawling piece of art. Not every song is a winner, but when they hit they hit hard.

22. Conor Oberst – Ruminations

The Bright Eyes moniker has been dead for 5 years now, but Conor Oberst has been releasing music steadily since then under his own name and as part of some other bands. Ruminations was recorded live in the span of only 48 hours as Oberst was wintering in Omaha following a health crisis. It’s raw, somewhat bleak and very personal.

21. Weezer – The White Album

It’s crazy to think that this is Weezer’s 10th album! It’s also their 4th self-titled LP. They’ve been experiencing a creative renaissance of sorts over the last few years and this album continues that trend. It’s “good Weezer” and it was a great summer album this year.

20. Cloud Cult – The Seeker

Minneapolis-based Cloud Cult joined the crowd-funded album trend this year, raising support to release The Seeker, their 10th album. Fans obliged and the album dropped in February accompanied by a feature film starring Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother fame. I haven’t seen the film yet, but the album has a lot to like and doesn’t deviate too much from the established Cloud Cult sound. Which is a good thing.

19. Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere

Thrice is back. After breaking up in 2012, the band members kicked around other projects to varying success. Frontman Dustin Kensrue had a gig as the worship pastor at Mars Hill in Seattle. When that church imploded, Kensrue decided to reform Thrice and they recorded this album in short order. You’ll find themes of faith and culture, but also politics here as the band comments on the state of the union.

18. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

I love Jimmy Eat World, but I haven’t been blown away by an album of theirs in ten years (not since Futures). And frankly, their last two albums were big disappointments. With Integrity Blues, they seem to have gotten back to basics a bit and recaptured some of the magic of their early catalog. I like this album more every time I listen to it.

17. Polica – United Crushers

When a great Minneapolis band releases an album that references semi-famous Minneapolis graffiti, I like before I even hear it. Fortunately, Polica’s album is easy on the ears too. With a protest song bent to it, the album still oozes cool with the dark arrangements and the vocal work of Channy Leaneagh.

16. All Sons and Daughters – Poets & Saints

This Christian band decided to take a trip to inspire their new album. They visited various European cities and read the works of the various Christian writers who called those cities home. Working off those manuscripts, they wrote an album that is full of history and theology, but also the singable choruses they are known for. Worship leaders, like me, appreciate the effort.

15. James Blake – The Colour in Anything

Blake’s music is perfect for autumn, sparse and minimal melodies with piano and electronic elements beneath his wavering vocals. With guest appearances by Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean, this might be his best album to date.

14. S U R V I V E – RR7349

Stranger Things arrested the cultural moment this summer and it launched a formerly-unknown band to internet fame. SURVIVE is a synth-wave band and some members contributed the score to that show. Their band work is similar, but more propulsive and crunchy. Listening to it stoked up my interest in this genre and I spent plenty of time searching around for me!

13. Amiina – Fantomas

We haven’t had new music for Amiina since 2010! Originally a string quartet, they’ve expanded their sound (and roster) into a diverse collection of unique instruments over the years. Their music is a wonderful collage of textures and melodies. This album just continues to prove that they are very, very talented.

12. Phantogram – Three

It’s kind of amazing that Phantogram’s sound is produced by only two people! Their music is a mutation of trip-hop that has a lot of energy and pop to it. Their single from this album, “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”, was a great radio play this year.

11. M83 – Junk

M83 is coming off their most successful album to date with 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. There’s a sense that Anthony Gonzalez wanted to deviate from that pillar a little bit with this year’s album Junk. It’s not as radio-friendly, for sure, but there are some real jams here and I appreciate that they didn’t just clone their hits.

Top Television of 2016

eoty-tv

I thought it was a great year for interesting TV shows this year. Many established shows had stand-out seasons and some new, compelling shows made their debut. As the medium evolves, limited/anthology/miniseries have become a new form that can really pull viewers in. I enjoyed quite a few of these types of series this year, so I’m splitting this list into my top 5 limited series and my top 1o-ish regular series! Here we go!


Top Five Limited / Anthology / Miniseries

the-x-files-text-logo

5. The X-Files (Fox)

They decided to make more episodes of one of my favorites shows ever: The X-Files. Rather than order up another 22 episode season, they made this a limited run “event series”, which was probably a good call. This set of episodes was more “miss” than “hit”, though we did get a new classic with “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”. Beyond that, it felt tired and didn’t satisfy as much as I hoped. They left the door wide open for more story later, so we’ll see what comes of it.

4. Channel Zero – Candle Cove (SyFy)

SyFy ordered a horror anthology series based on an internet genre called “creepypasta”. Their first choice was a story called “Candle Cove” about a kids TV show that causes some very scary and violet happenings in a small town. The vibe was very skin crawling and the mystery was compelling throughout. It’s hard to do suspense/horror well on TV, but they did a great job on this one.

3. The Night Manager (BBC/AMC)

John Le Carre’s spy novels have provided some rich source material for movies in the last few years. Why not a slow-burning TV miniseries? This story of a hotel manager who gets embroiled in an operation to take down a crime kingpin was intense. The fact that they got A-listers like Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie made it fantastic as both actors nailed their roles. Great, great series.

2. 11.22.63 (Hulu)

I read the Stephen King novel this year that the series was based on and I fell in love with it. I new the adaptation couldn’t live up to the greatness of the novel, so I tempered my expectations for watching it. And that was the right decision. Still, it’s a great story and they did a great job bringing it to the screen. James Franco did well with his character and Sarah Gadon was great as Sadie. If you’re interested in a story about a guy going back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination, read the book first and then check out the series.

1. American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (FX)

This series got a LOT of press in the early part of the year and for good reason. Almost every cast member was amazing in their difficult roles (and they nabbed a bunch of Emmys to prove it). Culturally, the issues raised by this trial (and the writing on the series) became very relevant again this year. Race, gender roles, distrust of police, injustice in general, it’s all there. I loved this series, from the writing to the directing to the acting.


Top Ten  Eleven Television Series

11. Atlanta

Honestly, I haven’t watched all of the first season, but I’m tacking this show on here because it is pretty fantastic. It’s got a bit of a Louie vibe, which is great – meandering stories that focus on the characters as their experiences serve as social commentary. Donald Glover is just brilliant as the brains behind this show.

10. Preacher (AMC)

AMC needed another prestige drama on Sunday nights and decided to go back to the comic book well. With Preacher, they adapted a beloved book in a creative way. Basically, season one was a prequel of sorts to the book. Jesse Custer was perfectly cast and the supporting characters were a joy. You never know what this show is going to do next and that’s a very good thing.

9. Detectorists (Netflix/BBC)

I found this absolute gem of a show on Netflix this year. It’s like a melancholy Christopher Guest movie about a small town chapter treasure hunters and the people who love them. Mackenzie Crook is known for his role in the original UK version of The Office and he is the brains behind this delightful show. Gorgeously shot and scored, it’s a comfortable and enjoyable British comedy with a low cringe-factor.

8. Silicon Valley (HBO)

HBO’s lineup of Silicon Valley, Veep and Game of Thrones is one of the best in the business. I love Veep, but I loved Silicon Valley more this year. The guys keep trying to make it the biz and getting tangled up in the nitty gritty all the time. The frustration is so uncomfortable and real. And, of course, the supporting characters chemistry is amazing. More please.

7. Luke Cage (Netflix)

Marvels’ Netflix show to watch this year was Luke Cage (Daredevil S2 let me down a bit). With Luke Cage, a brand new vibe was so great to see. From the setting to the actors to the soundtrack, this show had an identity all its own. It did black culture in Harlem in a way that was organic and real. And once again, a strong supporting cast made it great.

6. Narcos (Netflix)

In season 2, Narcos upped the stakes significantly by depicting the years that Pablo Escobar was on the run, ending with his final downfall. It was violent, gritty and engrossing. The terror of his reign was on full display, but also the questionable tactics of those who wanted to stop him. It looks like the show is headed for a major reset in season 3, but I’ll be there.

5. Westworld (HBO)

HBO is trying to plan for a post-Game of Throne world. They thought Vinyl would be a net tentpole, but that show was terrible. Westworld had a long and winding road to the screen as production was stopped and started a couple of times. In the end, a challenging first season set the table for a fascinating world. With their Memento meets JJ Abrams Mystery Box approach, they gave their viewers the task of untangling the story and gained a following. Now that that’s over with, they’ll need to move the story forward. I’m in.

4. Last Man on Earth (Fox)

It’s kind of amazing to me that this show is now in it’s 3rd season! Usually Fox kills my favorite shows before they get this far! Last Man on Earth is amazing in how it uses the apocalypse to make a silly show instead of misery porn (The Walking Dead). This year, they incorporated a PTSD narrative to ground themselves a bit, but they still lean heavily on the quirks of their players and Will Forte’s juvenile foolishness. My wife and I both love this show.

3. Black Mirror (Netflix)

Black Mirror returned this year to a new home at Netflix. The new set of episodes was a little bit scatter shot, but it still had all the elements that make this show so amazing. In a year when it seemed like the real world was an episode of Black Mirror, these stories reminded us that things could be much worse. Also, with the episode “San Junipero”, they gave us a story that actually contained some hope (and great music). No other show makes you think quite like this one.

2. Game of Thrones (HBO)

This was the season that fans had been most interested in from the very beginning: the one where the show finally pushed past the books in terms of storylines. Everything from here is uncharted and unexpected. Clearly the showrunners were ready for this and the pace of the action ticked up. As they move the chess pieces into position for the final game over the next couple years, nothing is certain and that injects a new energy into a show that didn’t even need it.

1. Stranger Things (Netflix)

For me, the year belonged to Stranger Things. This completely original Netflix show from The Duffer Brothers was everything I love. Cool story, great visuals, amazing (completely amazing) cast and incredible music. It had heart, goosebumps, thrills and comedy. It had kids riding bikes at night through the woods. It was the show we didn’t know we needed until we got it. I watched the series twice I loved it so much. I can’t wait for season 2 and I have to believe that the Duffer Brothers will be in high demand for the big screen soon!


What did I miss? What was your favorite show of 2016? Any recommendations?

Top Films of 2016

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As the era of “Peak TV” rolls on, the movie industry has lost a step. For me, I go to the theater for blockbusters that I think get a boost from the big screen. For the more independent films I enjoy, I wait to stream them later or see them second run. That’s just the way it is. But I did see quite a few good movies from 2016, so here are my top ten favorites!

10. X-Men: Apocalypse

First Class was excellent. Days of Future Past was good. Apocalypse was okay. With a stellar cast (again), you’d think that the stakes and the story would have been able to play up to their strengths, but it was a struggle. Oscar Isaac was under-served for sure and Lawrence/Fassbender/McAvoy just didn’t carry it. Franchise boredom? I am interested, however, to see if they push forward with the young generation they introduced here. What I really want is a proper Dark Phoenix saga.

9. Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers’ new movie was one of their screwball comedies, this time centered on old Hollywood. It was a bit scattered, but very, very funny with plenty of standout performances. After getting a lot of enjoyment out of the podcast “You Must Remember This”, which is all about old Hollywood, this movie was even cooler for me.

8. Zootopia

Lately it seems like the Disney Animation films have been even better than their Pixar sisters. While Pixar has leaned into sequels, Disney Animation has crafted some brand new and interesting stories. With Zootopia, they brought some nascent cultural talking points to the big screen along with colorful characters, action and funny gags. The kids enjoyed it and we adults mulled over the themes for a long time.

7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

What a surprisingly brilliant film! Taika Waititi is a genius and the cast of this film, particularly the young Julian Dennison, was amazing! Cast in the mold of a Wes Anderson movie, Wilderpeople has adventures, big laughs and plenty of heart. My wife and I fell in love with it quickly. Waititi’s next project is Thor: Ragnarok and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

6. Sing Street

John Carney is back, 10 years after making one of my all-time favorite movies: Once. Here, he presents a semi-autobiographical story of a misfit teenager with a crumbling family who forms a band to impress a girl. It’s a coming of age story with fantastic music and an amazing cast of young actors. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and I highly, highly recommend it. Especially if, like me, you were once a teenage musician.

5. Doctor Strange

I never got around to writing a full review of Doctor Strange, but I thought it was great. A somewhat cookie cutter origin story with predictable beats was redeemed with great performances and staggering special effects. It was a coup to get Benedict Cumberbatch for this role and he knocks it out of the park. Plus, Strange’s journey from being a great doctor who was completely self-absorbed to a mystic who was willing to suffer eternal defeat to save others had a lot of gospel in it.

4. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Oh man, this movie. It kind of came out of nowhere for me. Essentially a big “bottle episode”, the construction of the story and claustrophobic/panicked feel of this one evoked Alfred Hitchcock to me.  Winstead and Goodman were incredible in their roles and the mystery didn’t just take over the story (like sometimes happens in these Abrams-verse movies). If you haven’t seen this one, I highly recommend it.

3. Star Trek Beyond

While JJ Abrams was busy helping reboot another “Star” franchise, Star Trek soldiered on with a 3rd entry in the new series, but things didn’t go smoothly. Lots of internal problems led to restructuring the writing/directing team. Eventually, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung were the writers and Justin Linn of Fast and Furious fame took the directors chair. The result was a great Star Trek movie that is built on the chemistry of this young cast. It’s optimistic, fun, action-packed and a joy to watch. I loved how they handled the death of Leonard Nimoy and paid homage to franchise history. I’m hopeful for the future of this franchise with Simon Pegg in the fold and this cast (sadly, minus Anton Yelchin).

2. Captain America: Civil War

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a recurring problem with presenting worthy adversaries for their heroes to fight. With this entry, they pitted the good guys against each other! Based on a well-known comic event series, this movie did a great job of making the central argument as a difficult philosophical question that even the audience had trouble taking sides on. So while the stakes didn’t seem terribly high as the action unfolded, we still cared about everyone involved. And the airport scene is still one of the best action set pieces the MCU has put together.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

What can I say? This movie was amazing. I had tried hard to avoid any discussion or spoilers for this one and I’m glad I did. There were so many surprises that put big smiles on my face. And some moments that made my jaw drop. It is the best looking Star Wars movie ever, without a doubt. And I loved that they matched some of the characters looks to the 1977 looks of Episode IV. It had just enough connective tissue to the core saga, but really stood on its own as a great story. K2SO was an amazing character and totally stole the show. And the music throughout was astoundingly good, using the John Williams leitmotif templates but venturing out into original territory perfectly too. It depicted the complexity of war and politics and rebellion very well, making it quite relevant. I so badly want to watch this and Episode IV back-to-back. Actually, I just want any excuse to see this movie again.

Top Albums of 2015 – Part 2

Albums part 2

10. Pacific Gold – Sing My Welcome Home

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If you listen to “worship” music at all, you’ll find that you’ve got your pop-worship songs and you’ve got your rebooted hymns. A lot of times, neither subgenre is very compelling, but I gravitate towards the rich lyrics of hymns with interesting music as my favorite. Pacific Gold (previously known as Wayfarer) is a California outfit that imbues hymns with a Beach Boys-esque sheen that’s really quite something. Their arrangments are very, very fun.  And that cover art is something else too!

9. Josh Garrels – Home

I’ve listened to Josh Garrels before, but I’ve never been struck by any of his albums until this one. Garrels’ voice is fantastic and the songs he’s written for this album are extremely poignant and arresting. I’ve learned and played a couple of these for our church and gained an even deeper connection to them through the performance.

8. Gungor – One Wild Life: Soul

Gungor are probably one of the more musically talented “Christian” bands right now. After taking a bit of time off to grow their family, they returned with the first in a series of LPs. This one, called “Soul”, has some really great tunes on it. Then you reach the end and are presented with the song “Vapor” and it’s a beautiful, beautiful moment.

7. Passion Pit – Kindred

This was a great summer album. Passion Pit is known for their electro-power-pop sound and the soaring vocals of lead singer Michael Angelakos. This is their 3rd album and may be their strongest overall. And the lead single “Lifted Up (1985)” is a total jam. Just a very fun, hooky album.

6. Wilco – Star Wars

The coolest thing for bands to do these days is to drop new albums without warning. Radiohead has done it. Beyonce has done it. Now Wilco got in on the act, springing this quixotic collection on the public and giving it away for free! It’s a fun, off-kilter jaunt of an album that the band clearly had a lot of fun putting together. Naming it “Star Wars” and putting a painting of a cat on the cover are just two examples of the gleeful weirdness.

5. Low – Ones and Sixes

It was good to have Low back in my life this year. I didn’t love their 2013 album all that much, but this one grabbed me right away. The chilling, thunderous resonance that Sparhawk and Parker conjure up is so lovely. And I’ve really fallen in love with the song “No Comprende”.

4. Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

I think Death Cab had their “back to the shack” moment (copyright Weezer) this year. Ben Gibbard experienced upheaval in his personal life over the last couple of years after he and Zooey broke up and founding DCFC member Chris Walla left the band. “Kintsugi” is the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery in a way that preserves the cracks for all to see. The band re-emphasizes their knack for creating good guitar riffs (that have been missing for a few years) and creates their best album Plans.

3. Chvrches – Every Open Eye

I love this band. Their first album was great from front to back. There was some worry as to whether they could keep the momentum going for a sophomore album, but they hit this one out of the park too. It’s another gem. Lots of cool beats and melodies with Lauren Mayberry’s astonishingly vibrant vocals leading the way. They’re one of the best bands going right now.

2. Mew – +/- (plus/minus)

Full disclosure: this album’s ranking was definitely influenced by the fact that I was able to see them live this fall – and they were outstanding. Mew crafts some of the more unconventional arrangements you’ll find with choppy guitar riffs and intricate drumming. Then you’ve got the sky-high falsetto vocal lines. This album takes all of those things and explores some new territory too. After the show, I spun this album until it was dizzy. I particularly like “Water Slides” and the crushing chorus specifically.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Yeah, the year belonged to Sufjan Stevens. After dabbling in the spectacle that was Age of Adz and the wild circus of the Christmas albums and tour, no one knew where Stevens would go next. Maybe he didn’t either. Then his estranged mother died and he was consumed by the event. His grief gave birth to this haunting and beautiful album. Full of loss, regret, longing and hope, it’s his most blatantly personal work in a career filled with questionably fictional story songs. I’ve found that once I start listening to it, I almost have to play it out to the very end. The journey of the album is vivid and compelling. I find that the albums I really fall in love with are the ones that are born out of an artist’s story. And I fell in love with this album.

Top Albums of 2015 – Part 1

Albums part 1

2015 was a banner year for music in a lot of ways. A bunch of my favorite bands all managed to put out records this year and many of them were very good. Like in years past, I’m putting together a list of my favorites with some quick thoughts on each one. Here we go with part 1!

25. Metric – Pagans in Vegas

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Metric remains one of the best bands out there and this album didn’t deviate much from their established formula. I felt like it lacked that indelible song that many of their albums feature, but still a great effort from Emily Haines and company.

24. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?

This is really the first Hotchip album that’s stuck with me longer than a couple of spins. It’s got a great vibe a couple of jams that got stuck in my head for sure. Now I feel like I have to go back and give some of their past albums another chance. Maybe I do like this band!

23. Slow Meadow – Slow Meadow

One of my favorite bands is Hammock, who didn’t release an album this year. Instead, they actually started a little record label and put out this album by a new band called Slow Meadow. The music palatial and gorgeous. Soft vocal and string melodies float above droning guitars to create an emotional tapestry. Check them out.

22. Bjork – Vulnicura

Bjork returned this year with a break-up album. She had recently split from her longtime partner and these songs were composed out of that sense of loss. The result is an album that relies on organic strings paired with electronic beats and is reminiscent of her late-90’s work.

21. Citizens & Saints – Join the Triumph

As the worship leader at Hiawatha Church, I try to find worship music that’s actually good and worthy of inclusion in our Sunday gatherings. It’s often a difficult quest. Citizens & Saints were once involved with Mars Hill Church before it fractured and they continue to make good worship music. This album is another collection of electro-pop songs that contain theologically sound, Gospel-centered lyrics. We’ve done a couple of their tunes and will probably adapt more in the future.

20. Beach House – Depression Cherry

Beach House actually put out two albums this year, but I fancy this first one a bit more. Their reverbed arrangments, guitar effects and the lovely vocals of Victoria Legrand combine into quintessential dream pop.

19. EL VY – Return to the Moon

Does this qualify as a supergroup? EL VY (like the plural of “Elvis”) is comprised of The National’s Matt Berninger and Menomena’s Brent Knopf and actually does sound like a mashup of the two bands’ sounds. I really like the resulting vibe and the title track from this album is a fun jam.

18. Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves

Well look who decided to show up. The last time Modest Mouse released an album was… 2007! This year, they picked up where they left off with another slightly overstuffed album of tunes that don’t stray too far off the reservation. To me, it doesn’t touch the greatness of their previous work, but it’s nice to have the zany Isaac Brock back in our ears.

17. Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Sea

2011’s “My Head is an Animal” was a surprise hit for this Icelandic pop rock band which yielded a few radio hits like “Little Talks”. They’re back this year with more cool jams with dueling vocalists. The lead single “Crystals” is a very good song.

16. Original Mark Edwards (OME) – Distortion

Full disclosure, Mark Edwards is a good friend of mine. He decided to try Kickstarter this year and funded this album, which is very good. Incorporating influences from the Beach Boys, David Bowie and Radiohead, he produced a set of songs that has something for everyone. You should get it. 

15. Sandra McCracken – Psalms

McCracken has been putting out good albums for a number of years, but she really outdid herself this time. Penning a collection of songs influenced by the book of Psalms in the Bible, Sandra captured the spirit perfectly. Unlike many worship music people, she doesn’t shy away from the sadness and pain that Christians experience – she leans into them and lets them direct her towards God. It’s a truly beautiful album.

14. Ben Folds – So There

Ben Folds has become a sort of quirk-pop godfather in recent years, emphasizing his musical proficiency and pulling younger musicians into his eddies. Here, he embracing the collaborative nature of music by partnering with yMusic on some great tunes. He also includes an actual concerto that he wrote. It’s his best work since “Rockin’ The Suburbs”. And I’m in love with the cover art.

13. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

Brittany Howard and her band burst onto the musical stage in 2012 with a fantastic debut album that featured awesome guitar work and a powerful vocalist without fear. They’re back this year with a stellar sophomore album that really propelled them into the national spotlight. Just listen to “Don’t Wanna Fight” and you’ll hear a band firing on all cylinders.

12. The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

You know what’s crazy? This is the first Decemberists LP since 2011! And they’ve still got it. The theatrics of their earlier album have (rightly) been pulled back a bit in favor of just featuring good songwriting and arrangement. I wasn’t as caught up in the songs as I was on their previous album (The King is Dead), but you’d be hard pressed to find more literary songwriting than what Colin Meloy pens. The band also released a nice little EP late in the year! I guess they’re back!

11. Dustin Kensrue – Carry the Fire

Kensrue fronted the band Thrice, did some solo stuff, became a worship leader at a megachurch, left the church as the ship started to sink, recorded this new solo album and is now putting Thrice back together. What a wild, symmetrical arc! With this album, Kensrue pulls from his experiences as a husband and father to great effect. I love how he weaves the romantic and mundane moments of married life into the song “Back to Back”. I’m glad he’s still making music.

Look for my top ten in Part 2!