Last year I wrote a blog post very much in this vein. I remember it being one of the blogs I most enjoyed writing as it gave me the time to remember so much of the awesome music, films books and culture I devoured during the year.
My taste in pretty much everything is eclectic to say the least. I’m more than happy to have a playlist with some Taylor Swift and Beyonce mixing it up with Mastodon and Slipknot. If a film has subtitles, more the better for it, but hey we all love explosions right. Except when Michael Bay does it. Fuck you Michael Bay. In terms of literature over the past year I have read anything from the Game of Thrones novels to biographies to a study of the year 1913.
I’ve learned as I’ve grown older to try my hand at anything, as being close minded doesn’t do me any favours. I’m glad I have done so, as it’s opened up so many more worlds to me to enjoy.
ANYWAY. Diving right in.
2014 was the year I went over to the dark side and started using Spotify Premium, which inspire of it heralding the death of aspiring musicians trying to make a buck or two… is AWESOME! Every day I get to listen to music I wouldn’t normally come into contact to. So here are some of my favourite songs I’ve listened to this year.
Lana Del Rey – ‘West Coast’
When LDR first exploded onto the scene, I honestly couldn’t understand the hype. Admittedly I thought she had a unique look and sound, but nothing more than that. However, upon hearing the opening toms beat their rhythm on this track I was hooked. The track couldn’t be cooler if it was a picture of James Dean, smoking a cigarette with the ‘Hefe’ filter cranked up to the max.
Sun Kil Moon – ‘Carissa’
I stumbled across the American folk trio Sun Kil Moon on a compilation of some of the best artists so far in 2014. They more than justified their inclusion on such a list with their album Benji. The song ‘Carissa’ stood out in particular for me. The sparse acoustic guitar plays out behind mournful lyrics describing the pain a family experiences after the death of the titular Carissa.
Beck – ‘Morning’
I first came across Beck in an episode of Futurama. In it he was described as ‘a musician-poet who transcends genres even as he re-invents them’. Yep, that seems about right. Since discovering him through that brilliant cartoon, I’ve learned to see Beck as equally as brilliant. Each album I listen to seems to reveal more about him as an artist, yet makes him even more inscrutable. The only common ground appears to be their excellence. On his latest outing, ‘Morning Phase’, the second track ‘Morning’ has been the song that wakes me up since I first heard it.
Mastodon – ‘The Motherload’
Mastodon are the Atlanta-based prog-metallers that have well and truly taken Metallica’s metal crown. Steadily releasing mind-bendingly complex and deep metal albums, their magnum opus was this years ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’. It’s a rare breed of band that manages to make progressive metal accessible to a wider audience. ‘The Motherload’ is a all out assault on your ear drums. The rattling of the snare drums weave in between the thrum of the bass and the duelling guitars to create a wall of sound that knocked me down when I first heard it, and still does.
Taylor Swift – ‘Blank Space’
So here’s the deal. Until recently I saw TS as just another tween pop star from America, rolled out from Nashville. She sings well enough but I’m just not the target demographic for what she produces. Challenged by a friend to give her latest outing ‘1989’ a listen I submitted. I’m trying to be less of a judgemental person these days, and this would be a great exercise showing how much I’d grown. However, I was not expecting to find the album one of the standout releases of the year. No kidding. It is a brilliant slice of pop. Filled with the echoed synths that wouldn’t be out of place on a HAIM record, but at no point feels patronising, something that a huge deal of contemporary songs are guilty of. Now I’m no die-hard fan (YET!) but I can see that ‘Blank Space’ is Taylor taking aim and knocking down those who have built her up to be a man-devouring psycho cliche. A thoroughly brilliant, catchy track. I’m definitely a converted Swifty now (that’s what we call ourselves you know.) I am now very aware that this TS related paragraph has taken up more space than the previous entries combined. So I’ll stop now.
The War on Drugs – ‘Under the Pressure’
Driving across America, top down on the convertible, sunlight glinting off your Rayban Wayfarers. When I hear this beautiful, epic of a song, that is the image I cannot help but imagine. This song nearly tops 8 minutes, but at no point feels overdrawn. Imagine it as a more ethereal take of Bruce Springsteen. This is the hardest song and album I’ve had to think about over the past year, as it’s truly one of introspection. It represents the best of what music can do to an individual, it makes you turn inwards to feel, and understand yourself better.
Honourable mentions: Taylor Swift – ‘Style’, The 1975 – ‘Medicine’, Kendrick Lamar ‘i’, Beyoncé – ‘7/11’, Foo Fighters – ‘I Am A River’, Aphex Twin – ‘aisatsana ’, Jamie T – ‘Turn On The Light’, You Me At Six – ‘Room to Breathe’, Paolo Nutini – ‘Iron Sky’, Black Label Society – ‘My Dying Time’, Lana Del Rey – ‘Once Upon a Dream’, Katy Perry – ‘Dark Horse’, La Roux – ‘Cruel Sexuality’.
Dishonourable mention: Chris Brown – ‘Loyal’. Not proud of this, as the artist is a colossal ass-hat, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the song. Gets me so hyped at the gym. I’m sorry. I’ll go.
I could go on and on (I probably have already) about the music I experience throughout the year. This was just a brief snapshot of the highlights of my year. I’m going to pop a link to a playlist on Spotify so you can listen to them (except the Taylor Swift ones). ENJOY!
2014 was a standout year for film. I honestly can’t remember a better year in which films of such a high calibre were released. For the sake of the reader, I have agonisingly narrowed my best of list down to four choices.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
This is taking the number one spot. I couldn’t not have it as my top film of 2014. I walked out of the cinema desperate to see it again. It is a enthralling blend of the comic and the tragic, all shot in Wes Anderson’s iconic style – the seemingly never ending tracking shots through long corridors, or across the alpine landscapes of the fictional country Zubrowka. One of the greatest scenes of the film involves a chase down a bobsleigh run. Not only does Ralph Fiennes put in a star turn as the joyous M. Gustave, as do many of the other stars dotted throughout this wonderful picture, Christopher Walken especially. It is unconventional, but therein lies it’s charm. Time and again you will watch it and time and again you will discover more ways in which to love it.
The Lego Movie – Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Everything is awesome! And everything WAS awesome in this film. When I first saw this film was in development, I thought it was the death of cinema. Finally, even cherished childhood toys, the fountain of so much creativity was now up for sale to the highest paying studio, ready to be packaged up and thrown at cinema goers for a cheap, cynical buck. How wrong I was. It is a sublime blend of slapstick, clever word-play and sheer childlike happiness. However there lies a deeper message about how creativity should not be stifled by mass consumerism. ‘YEAH RIGHT, IT’S ONLY ABOUT SODDING LEGO’ I hear you cry. Just watch it, and you’ll see the message. If not, hey, just enjoy it for the laughs, and there are plenty of those to keep you going!
Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy
While 2014 has been the year of the McConaissance, and rightly so, there has been another actor who for me has displayed some serious acting chops I’ve never seen before. I’m referring to Jake Gyllenhaal and in particular his performance in the deeply disturbing Nightcrawler. I’ve always viewed him as a good actor, however in this performance he does what I feel makes a good actor great. He made me forget I was watching him. For the time I spent in the cinema I was transfixed by the odious, slimy yet completely charming man, Lou Bloom. The film explores the darker side of what goes into getting our news, a swipe at the news system that feeds our desires to see the sordid, the depraved and violent. Chilling to watch, but to engrossing to turn away. Gyllenhaal deserves the Oscar, with no reservations.
Guardians of the Galaxy – James Gunn
Seeing the trailer for this I exclaimed “huh?”. Then I sighed, seeing that after milking Iron Man et al for all they were worth, we were now going to be treated to the back catalogue of Marvel. But, like the Lego Movie above, I was proved very wrong. Whilst the bigger franchises involving already well known characters, GotG is allowed to express itself in a much fuller sense, as frankly, I’d never heard of Star Lord until the opening scene, and I’d venture not a great many other people had either. It has been compared to Star Wars, and whilst not entirely a fantastic analogy, it does have the feel of a space epic that could go much further if given the right director and support. Not tied down to conventional planets, I’m looking at you, Earth, there is a sense of fun and freedom that lets these guys do what they want how they want. Chris Pratt, usually seen being hilarious on Parks & Recreation is the ideal lead. Witty, likeable but not the conventional hero. He is, let’s face it, a bit of a douche sometimes. Combined with arguably the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard, it all makes a non-stop joy ride from start to finish.
I’ve been ashamedly lax during 2014 when it came to reading. My newly discovered Spotify meant that my time was unfairly devoted to music. Not sorry though, see above for the fantastic education it gave me!
When I did get the chance my reading was varied any immersive. Here’s a look at some of the pages I turned in 2014
A Song of Ice and Fire – A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, George R. R. Martin
Like a vast number of others, I came across this series from the TV series (no need to say how good it is, everyone knows by now). I was really taken how engrossed I became so quickly with these novels. Not since I read War and Peace had I felt like that. Now I’m not comparing those novels in terms of quality, as in my option W&P is the greatest novel ever written. However in terms of the desire to read as much as humanly possible, as quickly as possible, my reaction was the same. My reading of this saga is currently is on hiatus. I enjoy watching the TV series for the suspense I feel every episode. I feel that by reading the books ahead of the series I would ruin some of the great moments I’ve experienced. The benefit of this is by going through the books, I get to enjoy just how more richly the text illustrates George R. R. Martin’s vision of Westeros. I can’t understate how much I am looking forward to picking up these books again.
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
A harrowing, honest and truly stark picture of modern warfare. Set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway draws on his own experience of that conflict to guide us through one man’s struggle with the reality he is part of. The book is a juxtaposition of the beauty of nature and the cold mechanisation of modern war. As Hemingway writes, you can almost smell the pinewood forests, feel the wind blow through your hair, tread the rocky ground underfoot. You also hear the click of the metal bolt of a rifle, the whistle of the round cutting through the air, man being rent apart my explosions. This was a tough read for the burden it places on the reader. Hemingway finds a way of writing as if you were the only person his book was intended for. You are force to confront the grotesque position that war puts men into. Yet in it’s darkest pages, there is still beauty to be found, however hard that is to imagine.
1913: The Year Before the Storm – Florian Illies
In the centenary year of the beginning of The First World War, hundreds, if not thousands of books were newly published documenting every aspect of one of the defining conflicts of human history. However, a fascinating, and perhaps under-looked topic is the years preceding the conflict. It is a tragedy that the youth of the early 20th century were sacrificed across the battlefields of France, Belgium, Russia and further afield. This book takes a look at the richness of cultural achievement that was going on, right up until the beginning of the war. Freud and Jung were battling over the better method of psycho-analysis. Future dictators of the right and left in the form of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin lived within a few miles of one another in Vienna. Artists sought to redefine what art could achieve in the form of Cubism, one of the boldest artistic movements of the 20th century, at least in terms of the schools it preceded. This book is phenomenal for many reasons, if anything, it shows the tragedy of the progress, the wonder and inspiration that the Great War so tragically curtailed.
Well. That’s me done for now. I hope you enjoyed only a small part of the journey I went through this past year. I want to try blogging a bit more in 2015 as it occurred to me that it’s one of the positive outlets I have for expressing myself, short of twitter rants!
Here’s hoping we all have a wonderful 2015! 🙂