2017: A Best Of List in Perspective
Every year since I was in high school, I’ve published some kind of list of my favorite discoveries throughout the year. This year, I’ll talk about my favorites but also how my consumption habits have changed. It’s important, and when my great-great-great grandchildren read this years from now, I want them to understand what was happening in 2017.
The way that we find art has changed every single year. At one point, most people relied on word of mouth to hear about the art that would suit them best. Then, they looked to magazines and newspapers. Then it was blogs. Then, the social media universe with all of its videos, tweets, and Instagram stories.
And now, we turn to Artificially Intelligent robots that recommend things to us based on our listening and viewing habits.
And that’s not all. The trust I have in the reliability of my sources has changed as well. It used to be that I’d see a recommendation from a random person online and I’d check out whatever they were writing about. Now, I ignore most of those, and I have a very small groups of friends and family (under 6) and I’ll watch or listen to anything they recommend.
Why is it this way? Other than the fact that there’s just so much more art to choose from, we’ve divided ourselves into tiny micro cultures. It’s why the Best Of Lists this year are more diverse than they’ve ever been before, or at least that’s how it seems to me. Ask me for my favorite genre 10 years ago, and I would’ve said Pop/Rock because that happened to my favorite section in the record store. In 2017, I can be much more specific. The internet has allowed us to curate and find our own path, rather than tread on the one paved by Sam Goody or Tower Records (which was an awesome store).
Music in 2017: AI Cultivated Playlists
We’ll just have to admit, right off the bat, that we live in a playlist culture. There was a culture of listening to full albums a few years ago but that’s in the past, thanks to online streaming services curating music that robots know we’ll enjoy. I’ve still been into some great records throughout the past year, but it’s the singles that have left me enlightened.
One realization I’ve had is that I don’t really listen to ambient music anymore. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my attention span has shortened due to our fast-paced media culture or if I’ve just outgrown it. It’s the same with punk emo music. I’m leaving the door open for any type of music to return to my tastes in 2018, but this is what I’ve noticed for now. I also listen to less jazz than I used to, though I still enjoy it.
A few singles, artists, and albums that have changed me this year:
- The Outfield by The Night Game. Spotify says this is my most played song of the year. This is one of two singles that the band has on Spotify and they toured with John Mayer this year. Martin Johnson, the lead singer of the Night Game, was the frontman for Boys Like Girls, an emo rock band from the 2000s. It kind of sounds like the band The Outfield (which is the name of this song). Or perhaps the police. Gotye sings on the chorus. The chorus, by the way, will stick to you like honey. Their other song on Spotify (Once in a Lifetime) is also great. Johnson’s voice has changed completely and it’s full of beauty.
- Sky Trails and Lighthouse by David Crosby. Crosby blows my mind. He’s 75 years old and has put out two amazing albums in the last couple of years (2017’s Sky Trails and 2016’s Lighthouse). The song “By the Light of Common Day” goes down as one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, and you’ve got to hear both Crosby’s version (produced by Michael League of Snarky Puppy, who also contributes to the vocals, guitar, and album’s production… as well as Becca Stevens who co-wrote the tune). Stevens and Crosby sing together on the beautiful title track on Sky Trails. The rest of the songs on both releases are just gorgeous and inspired. It’s the type of music to listen to while driving. And you should probably listen to Becca Stevens’ version of By The Light of Common Day, alternatively called The Muse on Becca’s album Venus.
- DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. I enjoyed every single song on this. I think he goes into the category of Radiohead, in the sense that he never seems to release a bad album. The visual accompaniment that we get from his music videos is also wonderful.
- Tank and the Bangas NPR performance. This was particularly inspiring because I try to make my live performances have somewhat of an arc. It’s always nice when an audience member tells me they went through a range of emotions in a short period of time. That’s how I feel about the Tank and the Bangas set. It was funny, introspective, sad, and inspiring. To feel that range of emotion in one 15 minute performance is a blessing.
- Little Fictions by Elbow. An album for songwriters. It just makes me wonder how Guy Carvey comes up with all of his ideas. How he got this way. And what I can do to catch up.
Movies & TV
As one might imagine, my selections this year come from the vast streaming universe, mostly from Netflix which has managed to create a collection of absolutely stunning shows. I’ve found that I’m less into shows that leave you with well-designed cliffhangers, and more into shows that make you binge due to the great storylines. I imagine this also has to do with the shift from week-by-week television to an entire series available at once. With week-to-week TV, you need the most memorable cliffhanger possible, even if it means sacrificing the story… but no longer. And I’m cool with that.
- There’s no question that Netflix’s Big Mouth grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. It’s kind of a combination of Family Guy, South Park, The Wonder Years, Doug, Modern Family, Full House, and an after school special. The cast is impeccable and my favorite character changes each time I watch the show (it’s currently Missy). The show is about puberty, and it can get a little uncomfortable. My recommendation is watching the first episode’s intro (before the credits). You’ll know if the show is for you. Then, watch the first 3 episodes. You’ll probably watch all of it, and then tell all your friends. Also, there’s a song in almost every episode, and they’re all extremely well constructed. I love this show more than most animated adult-swim like shows because the characters are all totally lovable. Also, Maya Rudolph and Nick Kroll steal the freaking show.
- Ozark. Jason Bateman showed his prowess both as a serious actor and as a director. And any time Laura Linney is on the screen, it makes me remember that she is one of the best working actresses in Hollywood.
- I saw Get Out at least 3 times, which is a big deal for me (someone who rarely sees any movies, let alone the same movie 3 times). I watched it with a number of different friends and family and found something new to enjoy every time.
- Stranger Things 2 was worth the wait. My only complaint (spoilers) is that Eleven doesn’t really team up with the rest of the gang. In fact, she hangs with Mike for about 11 seconds. That, and the second to last episode was a departure I could’ve done without.
- Handmaid’s Tale was scary and brilliant. Scary because it’s so relevant. Brilliant because… well, same reason.
- American Vandal was an interesting idea that was executed really well. I’ve never seen a mockumentary style show where the characters are not in on the joke at all. One of the most unique shows I’ve seen in a long time.
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This didn’t come out in 2017 but it seems to be the year people were turned on to it. I watched it on a plane and was totally taken. It’s a funny but touching story about a kid who runs away from his foster parents and encounters some really interesting situations along the way.
- Wild Tales. Also didn’t come out in 2017, but it’s basically a bunch of short stories about justice and revenge. The opening clip is available online if you look in the right spots. It’s weird, interesting, thought provoking, and hilarious, all at once.
- Mark Manson’s Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. It will make you think about what truly deserves your mindshare, and what truly doesn’t.
- More Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo. Reading pages and pages about creative process is hit or miss, but when you have a lineup of the best songwriters in the world, it becomes more than palatable.
- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. Not from 2017, but this is the year I read it and digested it. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. It’s a framework I’ve learned to live by and it’s made a gigantic difference to my health.
- While I haven’t gotten through all of it, Tim Ferriss’ new book, Tribe of Mentors is an interesting concept – the same well crafted eleven questions get asked to some of the world’s top performers.
- The James Altucher Show – specifically, the episodes where interviews Tiffany Haddish and Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day). Tobolowsky has an amazing way of telling stories and expelling wisdom. I felt smarter and more in touch with myself afterward.
- I listen to Back to Work with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin every week. It’s not for everyone, but I’ve been following Mann for over a decade and he has given me some amazing ideas that have become staples in my life (movies, tv shows, and productivity systems/tools).
- Pod Save America is also a show I listen to whenever there’s a new episode. In a world that gets increasingly more scary and depressing, this podcast really does save me.
- Sodajerker on Songwriting. There’s something about these interviewers that brings out the most amazing responses from songwriters. It gets really geeky, which is pleasing to a music nerd like me. Best episodes I heard were from Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), Glen Ballard, and Me’shell Ndgeocelo.
- I also really enjoyed Cortex with CGP Grey and Myke Hurley. I especially enjoyed their most recent episode, State of the Apps, where they break down their most used iOS and Mac apps. It got me into Ulysses, which is a great app for writing.
- Twenty Thousand Hertz. A brilliant concept: a podcast about all the random sounds in the world. I listened to their episode on the sounds of an airplane, and how the sounds may contribute to a fear of flying. They recommended noise cancelling headphones to deal with flying anxiety, and the cans I got changed my life.
Apps & Purchases
- I got a Microsoft Foldable Keyboard. It fits in my pocket and expands into a full bluetooth keyboard so I can write and do more intensive work on the go directly from my phone. Kind of life changing.
- My Sony MDR1000x, which are the most amazing noise-cancelling headphones. When I wear these on a plane, it blocks out most if not all of the jet engine noise, so I can just chill and listen to music or podcasts. They’re not cheap (around $300) but they have made flying a million times more enjoyable for me.
- Even though I technically paid for it 4 years ago, I still get a ton of mileage out of Omnifocus. I actually switched to Todoist for a month because I needed something cross-platform and ended up returning to Omnifocus. It’s not for everyone, but if you understand how GTD works and you have a busy life with a lot of tasks, this will set you straight and help you get work done and meet deadlines. The Lamborghini of task managers.
- Marpac Sound Generator Dome. This basically has a very loud fan inside of it that produces white noise and the volume is adjusted by changing the amount of air that passes through the holes in the dome. I live in a really noisy part of town, and this helps me get to sleep when the clubs outside are pumping their jams.
- Paprika Recipe Manager. If you enjoy cooking and using recipes, you need this. You can grab recipes off the web and it’ll parse them and string out the ingredients and directions. You can then scale the ingredient quantities based on the amount of servings needed, and create a grocery list automatically organized by aisle. Now if only grocery stores would keep everything in the designated aisles. It took me forever to find feta cheese the other day because it was in the deli, not the cheese aisle. There’s a Mac and iOS app.
My resolutions for next year are to finish more books (whether that’s on audible or on the kindle or in print), and to listen to more full albums. I bet there’s a lot of great stuff that I missed. I definitely did not skimp on the podcasts though. I also feel like I need to watch less TV and see more movies. I still haven’t seen the ones that people are calling the best of the year. But it will happen. I also want to listen to more instrumental music.