Best Songs of 2019

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These are the songs that represent this year for me and which is why there are 51 ranked here. Within you will find a few jazz selections from the London jazz scene that is destroying right now (Kokoroko, Theon Cross) and a nu-jazz epic from The Comet is Coming. There are sad leaning hip hop songs (Future, Young Thug, Dave) next to the next wave of rappers (Rico Nasty, Dreezy, DaBaby, Denzel Curry, NLE Choppa). There is a whole wave of experimental dirges sung by women that created some of the best music of the year, from FKA Twigs’ industrial pop to Caroline Polachek’s distorted yet bouncy electropop. Lana Del Rey features heavily with her stone-faced sadness; as does Big Thief’s folk songs that cut you with surprise aggression. There’s also plenty of white boy indie rock, to be sure, I mean Vampire Weekend and The National and Bon Iver and American Football released albums this year, all of which were good. There are no blurbs for each song this year. I’ve gotten a bit behind and I’ve got to write up my best of the decade lists as well. I’ll attach videos to those songs I think you don’t know so you can explore them for yourselves. Thanks for reading and be sure to check some of these out and let me know your favs.

51. Dave “Psycho”

50. Kokoroko “Uman”

49. Tree & Vic Spencer “Cognac and Beer”
48. Future “Krazy But True”
47. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ “Cold”
46. Fetty Wap “History”
45. Big Thief “Cattails”
44. Dawn Richard “jealousy”

43. Sharon Van Etten “Seventeen”
42. James Blake (feat. Andre 3000) “Where’s the Catch?”
41. Carly Rae Jepsen “Julien”
40. Dreezy “Chicken Noodle Soup”
39. Future “Shotgun”
38. Lana Del Rey “Next Best American Record”
37. Charli XCX (feat. Haim) “Warm”
36. Polo G (feat. Lil TJay) “Pop Out”
35. Mark Ronson (feat. YEBBA) “Don’t Leave Me Lonely”
34. Vampire Weekend (feat. Danielle Haim) “Hold You Now”
33. Theon Cross (feat. Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia) “Activate”
32. DaBaby “Suge”
31. Denzel Curry “SPEEDBOAT”
30. Taylor Swift “Death By a Thousand Cuts”
29. Bon Iver “Hey, Ma”
28. Cherry Glazerr “Wasted Nun”
27. Yola “Faraway Look”

26. FKA Twigs “Cellophane”
25. Sleater-Kinney “The Dog/The Body”
24. Sacred Paws “Shame on Me”

23. The National “I Am Easy to Find”
22. Sir Babygirl “Haunted House”

21. NLE Choppa “Camelot”
20. Theon Cross “Radiation”
19. Pom Pom Squad “Cherry Blossom”
18. Thom Yorke “Traffic”
17. Maxo Kream “8 Figures”

16. Carly Rae Jepsen “Want You in My Room”
15. Soccer Mommy “yellow is the color of her eyes”
14. Lana Del Rey “Cinnamon Girl”
13. Kirk Franklin “Love Theory”
12. Sharon Van Etten “Comeback Kid”
11. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ (feat. Splurge) “Mood”
10. Emily Reo “Strawberry”

9. Young Thug “Just How it Is”

8. Big Thief “Not”

7. Rina Mushonga “Narisc0”

6. FKA Twigs “mirrored heart”

5. The Comet is Coming “Birth of Creation”

4. American Football (feat. Hayley Williams) “Uncomfortably Numb”

3. Caroline Polachek “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”

2. Lana Del Rey “Venice Bitch”

1. Vampire Weekend “Harmony Hall”

 

Top 25 Albums of 2018

25. Sidney Gish, No Dogs Allowed

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The humorous and quirky folk album I wish Courtney Barnett would have put out this year.
24. Pusha T, Daytona

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He should have made it a couple tracks longer and took out the Kanye verse, but the back to back to back of “Hard Piano”/”Come Back Baby”/”Santeria” is undeniable.

23. Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth

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It’s hard for any non-jazz aficionado to comment on jazz and from what I understand Kamasi Washington is not a favorite amongst those in the know. What I know, however, is that Heaven and Earth is a beautiful and epic and complex album that I find equally stunning and frustrating–if that’s not a perfect description of jazz, then I don’t know what is.
22. Joey Purp, Quarterthing

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Joey Purp is still underrated, even after Quarterthing. He’s playing on the same sort of experimental fields as Vince Staples and Kendrick. He’s got the bars to match just about anyone. He should be bigger. There are a couple of songs that don’t really work for me on Quarterthing, but the strength of the rest of the album makes it worth returning to over and over again.

21. Pale Waves, My Mind Makes Noises

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Hailing from England, Pale Waves’ indie pop is filled with an 80s tinge with tales of forlorn love to low key electronic vibes.
20. Saba, Care For Me

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I’m a sucker for the kind of hip-hop Saba makes: the beats are quieter and more eclectic, the lyrics are thoughtful, and the bars are filled with technical precision. In Care For Me, Saba opens up chronicling his cousin’s death, a theme that repeats throughout the album as Saba reflects on the violence of his community. It’s not an overly serious album though, Saba’s too talented for any of this to feel like a bummer, instead it walks that line that hip-hop often does–audacious songs about tragic circumstances.
19. Half Waif, Lavender

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I like to think of Half Waif’s music as electronic dirges—they’re somber, often sad songs, made electronically as singer Nandi Rose Plunkett belts out poetic lyrics over soft beats and adds vocal effects. It’s as if Imogen Heap spent time in a rock band (which Plunkett did), giving those production effects a more grounded feel. 
18. Mitski, Be the Cowboy

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Mitski’s latest is assured and almost operatic in the way she’s able to bring a sense of drama to her music. These are composed rock songs, featuring piano bits, distorted guitar riffs, pounding bass lines, and the occasional orchestral movement.
17. Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs

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One of a slew of shorter, more experimental rap albums that appeared as a gift from God amongst several rap marathons (looking at you Migos, Drake, Meek Mill). Sweatshirt is one of the best in the game and his experimental side has him exploring new depths. 
16. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

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From the “Dreams and Nightmares”-esque “Get Up 10” to the clever “Bartier Cardi” to the SONG OF THE SUMMER “I Like It”, Cardi delivered a complete album that manages to be greater than the sum of its singles. She’s a technical talent with a real pop sensibility, combining the two for a layered and fairly consistent album.
15. Camp Cope, How to Socialise and Make Friends

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At times aggressive and at times naked with emotions, Camp Cope run the gamut, addressing anger at the sexist society and working through personal tumult. Singer Georgia Maq’s voice makes the album, gnarling when necessary and tinging with desperation at other moments.
14. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, and Alchemist, Fetti

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A short and low key album that tonally hits all the right notes. Gibbs and Curren$y show off their technical skills over Alchemist’s distorted and drowsy beats. 
13. Krimewatch, Krimewatch

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An album that finishes within 15 minutes, Krimewatch is filled with enough fury and diversity that you don’t even take a second to reconsider it. Every piece of hardcore and punk is here, from gang vocals to breakdowns to furious undecipherable lyrics. With songs that are half in Japanese, the band is inherently political in the way it breaks all the norms. It’s a bolt of immaculately crafted anger.
12. Future, Beast Mode 2

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Something about working with Zaytoven brings out all the heart in Future, someone whose never particularly candid about his personal feelings, instead masking himself in gluttonous and mind-numbing activity. Zaytoven brings out all the pathos over nine tracks. 
11. Iceage, Beyondless

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Iceage’s continues to evolve from their original post-punk sound to 2014’s alt-country punk, to this album which adds all sorts of musical ideas, including horns and goth vibes. Each step is a step forward and Beyondless is moody and unconventional, the sort of experimentation you could see being referenced for years to come. 
10. Soccer Mommy, Clean

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Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Alison spends most of Clean singing through gritted teeth, restraining the emotions and self doubts kept within. Her guitar quietly strums, most of the focus on her voice, serving as lead instrument as she conveys exasperating moments such as the realization “I guess I’m only what you wanted for a little while” or the defiant “I’m not a prop for you to use when you’re lonely or confused”. Of course, Alison also has points where songs build into rock grooves and beyond restrained into full-fledged emotion. There are impeccably crafted songs and melodies here, delivered with all the angst you would want in an album like this.
9. Car Seat Headrest, Twin Fantasy

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A rerecorded version of this past album, I’m including it because I had never listened to it before. Will Toledo might be the greatest pure songwriter in indie rock right now. They’re complex and intricate, catchy and melodic and filled with interesting ideas both musically and lyrically. 
8. The Carters, Everything is Love

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Many found Jay-Z and Beyonce’s album underwhelming, lesser than the sum of its parts, but I found it utterly listenable. Beyonce reigns here at times reducing perhaps the greatest emcee ever to a bit part as she goes off. Of course, HOVA is playing on his heels here, he’s the one who’s made the mistakes, but he gets in some good verses too. This is one that perhaps feels minor in the sagas of each of these artists, but it’s one I’ll continually return to. 
7. Vince Staples, FM!

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This album is short and anything but sweet, playing like a radio station in the middle of summer. Like a lot of Staples’ past work it takes the idea of summer and haunts it with the reality of his life in Long Beach. It’s fun, it’s aggressive, it’s clever, and it’s real. 
6. Snail Mail, Lush

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On its face there’s no way to really describe what makes Snail Mail so special, it’s pretty straightforward lo-fi indie rock. Part garage, part singer-songwriter crafted in someone’s bedroom, it elevates all of its descriptors with little moments that soar into magical songwriting heights. 
5. No Name, Room 25

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No Name has always shown a talent technical precision, rising as a spoken word artist before veering into hip-hop. Room 25 maintains her talents as a rapper, but elevates her sound by showing off a newfound knack for great melodies. She’s definitely matured and comes off more aggressive, exploring new ideas with poignant poeticism. 
4. Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer

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Monae dropped the metaphors on Dirty Computer, speaking for herself in a poignantly political and personal album. In the past her ideas have overcrowded one another, making for exhausting albums with huge highs; here she’s able to hold them all in tension, showing off her aptitude at bars, pop melodies, and funky grooves. 
3. The Beths, Future Me Hates Me

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Hook-laden guitar pop from New Zealand. The Beths are talented songwriters in a thriving genre but truly stand out because of their delightful almost choral arrangements they put in their songs. This is summer music at its finest. 
2. Black Panther: The Album

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This is basically a new Kendrick album which means its vibrant, creative, and aggressive, using a diverse spread of artists to not only capture the feel of the movie, but to create bonafide jams. It’s cinematic, taking cues from the film itself and features Kendrick as a through-line in an album that includes features from: ScHoolboy Q, Vince Staples, SZA, Swae Lee, Jorja Smith, Mozzy, Future, James Blake, Jay Rock, SOB X RBE, etc… You can’t beat that. 

1. Idles, Joy As an Act of Resistance

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I’ve heard this album discussed as “snowflake oi”, combining the insult thrown at sensitive progressives with an aggressive subgenre of punk music. That fits, as Idles advocate aggressively against racism, homophobia, and sexism in the midst of an album that’s aesthetically not too different from the Sex Pistols. Punk is a genre that’s attracted neo-Nazis and has long been a boy’s club, Idles fight against those notions, using the idea of joy to cut through the hate. 

Best Movies of 2018

The year in movies had several themes running across them that we are actually able to neatly fit into our current time and place. First, the failure of men in their positions of power and influence, something reflected in the rise of the #MeToo movement, which has seen the fall of multiple powerful figures who have taken advantage of those they were in charge of leading. In Widows, Shirkers, and Roma women must survive the mistakes and the intentional abandonment of the men in their lives, scraping by in a world whose powerful have screwed them over. Minding the Gap follows the lives of children whose fathers abused and left them behind, asking what it takes to break the cycle they find themselves in. Those movies find empowerment in showcasing the scrappiness arriving from these difficulties.

 

Elsewhere, the powerful are mocked in The Death of Stalin, Zama, and The Favourite, exposed as power-hungry individuals whose desires for personal gain outweigh that of patriotism. With a president on the verge of being charged for corruption, who refused to release personal tax records, is persistently lying about his own achievements, and followed by a rotating circus of subservients trying to get in his good graces, this satirization of the powerful feels particularly prescient.

 

Have yet to see (in order of how likely they are to make my list): If Beale Street Could Talk; Cold War; Let the Sunshine In; Madeline’s Madeline; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; A Star is Born; Mary Poppins Returns; Bodied; Mandy; The Old Man and the Gun; Wildlife; The Hate U Give; Ralph Breaks the Internet; Bad Times at the El Royale
15. Lean on Pete

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This movie has been described as the anti-Black Stallion; a film that upends the horse hero worship that’s present in the midst of so many horse movies. Any time this movie starts feeling sappy it twists itself into fits of existential dread (some literally made my jaw drop), beating you again and again like you’re Job and the devil and God are currently engaged in making bets over your soul. Like that story, there’s grace here too and when it comes it’s the breath of fresh air you desperately needed. 

14. The Tale 

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A movie for our era that was missed by many because it was bought by HBO and is only playing there for now, The Tale offers a surprising amount of inventiveness in telling a story of horrific abuse. This story is in fact director Jennifer Fox’s own story to tell, blatantly digging into the details of her own life and things she misremembered from her childhood. It’s a tough watch, but one in which Fox uses the film medium and her own experience as a documentarian to examine personal histories and how we distort reality to fit into easier narratives. 

13. Shoplifters

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 Hirokazu Kor-Eeda is one of my favorite filmmakers. He creates small portraits of families, depicting their struggles, joys, and the events that bond them and tear them apart. In Shoplifters he uses this idea to kind of question the idea of family, bringing together a ragtag group of poor and desperate individuals and showing the ways in which humanity can come together. In the film’s final third he questions a lot of what we’ve bought into in the previous portion, blurring the line between what we think about this family and other larger ideals we may hold. 

12. Shirkers

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A deeply personal documentary that slowly unveils itself across its hour and a half runtime, Shirkers follows Sandi Tan and her history in Malaysia as a stalwart counter cultural young filmmaker. Her movie Shirkers, is hyped as the film representative of  a small but growing youth movement in the country. When the film is lost due to influences (mostly) out of her control, she does an inventory on what it meant to her at the time, what was lost, and where her life headed from there. There is spoiler-ish content in this doc, so I won’t get into everything that happens, but it’s an excellently scored, reflective, and haunting at times documentary. 

11. Happy as Lazzaro

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A quiet little film that’s also one of the most twist-laden movies of the year. Alice Rohrwacher uses Lazzaro, a young man whose innocent perspective glides him through the world to comment on a world where the haves only seem to be increasing what they have over the have nots. 

10. Game Night

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The biggest surprise of the year is the Jason Bateman/Rachel McAdams venture that for some reason decided to base an entire movie around the concept of game night and absolutely crushed it. The film is kind of a satire of The Game (again, why did they decide to make fun of a movie released 19 years ago!?), with Bateman and McAdams thinking they are a part of an intense game, when in actuality they find themselves interacting with a real-life drug gang, using their skills to try to save Bateman’s brother (played by Kyle Chandler). This confusion makes for comedy gold with McAdams legit giving one of the best performances of the year and somehow proving herself to be the greatest working comedic actor. This thing should not be this good, but throw in a wonderful performance from Jesse Plemons as a bitter neighbor whose been excluded from game night and the charm of Billy Magnussen (Ingrid Goes West), Sharon Hogan (Catastrophe), Kylie Bunbury (Pitch), and Lamorne Morris (New Girl) and you’ve achieved greatness.

9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Another total surprise is this movie, the seventh Spider-Man film in 16 years, that managed to not only be the best of that bunch, but one of the best superhero movies ever. Into the Spider-Verse uses groundbreaking animation techniques that blur the lines between old-school cartoons and 3-D effects to make something that looks like a comic book. It features Miles Morales, the second most famous version of Spider-Man, grounding him in a New York that is vibrant and lifelike, before throwing him into a Spider-Man story that features multiple mentions of the multiverse while never feeling convoluted or confusing the stakes. It’s both funny and touching, stuffed with jokes and reverence for the comics that have come before it, it’s the kind of movie that Disney/Marvel might be able to make if the $$$ weren’t clouding their vision.

8. The Death of Stalin

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Who could have predicted that a comedy about 50’s Russian politics could be the most politically poignant movie of the year? But that’s the world we currently live in; a world where wealthy men bumble about making decisions based on their strange whims. Armando Iannucci has long satirized our political systems with The Thick of It; Veep; and In the Loop, and here he continues his streak, offering a screwball take on the filling of the power vacuum upon Stalin’s death in 1953. Simon Russell Beale and Steve Buscemi lead a star studded cast in a film bursting at its seams with jokes.

7. Roma

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Alfonso Cuaron’s deeply personal tale of growing up–a tribute to those who raised him in middle class Mexico amidst personal and political turmoil. Roma is told from the perspective of Cleo, a Mixtec housekeeper played brilliantly by Yalitza Aparacio who helps hold her employed family together, just on the fringe of being a part of the family as they experience a quiet turmoil. Roma is beautifully photographed by Cuaron himself, capturing life in Mexico–the small Oaxacan villages, the family home, New Year’s parties, the class warfare, and Cuaron’s main passion: the movies. Roma features a transcendent specificity, focusing on specific moments that must have existed in Cuaron’s mind for years, while capturing humanity in all its complexity.

6. Minding the Gap

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Bing Liu’s debut documentary is the culmination of years of casually videoing his friends as they skate around his rundown town of Rockford, Illinois. The film captures skateboard culture with mastery, as Liu skates around himself, camera in hand. But it’s the desperation that Liu is able to capture in his friends and in his own story that makes Minding the Gap such an astonishing work. As each character gets a chance to tell their story, rhyming patterns of brokenness–both humanity’s and America’s–appear. Liu directly confronts his own past and the futures laid out for his friends while drawing a tattered picture of working-class American life.

5. The Favourite

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Yorgos Lanthimos’ fourth feature is a rip-roaring period comedy about two women (Emma Stone, in her best role yet and Rachel Weisz), vying for the influence of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, playing the most powerful woman in the country with a toddler’s temperament). What results is a hilarious, yet cruel and twisted power struggle between these three women and the lower level parliaments trying to keep the country afloat. Does anyone have the country’s best interest at heart or is politics all a fickle struggle for personal gain? This is a prescient question for our modern era, one that Lanthimos has deliciously and gorgeously executed.

4. Zama

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The most deadpan piece of comedic work this year, in which Lucrecia Martel satirizes colonial Argentina (at least I think that’s what’s going on here) with long expressionless takes and sly jokes as lead character Don Diego de Zama attempts to get himself transferred out of the country. The film devolves into an almost Apocalypse Now sort of madness with Zama entering into a journey to find a dethroned leader’s brother, before ultimately succumbing to an apathy that’s been haunting him all along. I still don’t fully understand everything that Martel is trying to say here, but it’s the sort of movie that’s so picturesque, visually complex, and stuffed full of droll jokes that I could watch it back to back to back and never get bored.

3. Eighth Grade

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Bo Burnham’s debut captures the awkwardness of junior high almost too perfectly; using in a set of cringe-inducing scenes and moments that flared my personal social anxieties. Underneath the terrifying representation of being a teenager figuring out their place in the world is a kindness, grace, and unrelenting love for the film’s lead Kelsie (played to perfection by Elsie Fisher). Without this tenderness the film falls completely flat, luckily Burnham treads that line and executes an ending that leaves me weepy just thinking about it. Gucci.

2. Burning

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The title is an apt description of the pace of this film which slowly burns to its grand conclusion. It’s a foggy movie both on screen and in the way it plays with truth and what we read into things. I’ll admit, I bought into the movie’s hints at what’s going on a bit too much, it was only after leaving the theater and conversing that I realized I may have been duped, like Jong-soo, into wanting a grander story–an economic and romantic justice that was never there.

1. First Reformed

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These lists are arbitrary and in the end the number one should be something symbolic–ceremonially representing the year. That’s what First Reformed is for me; there are days when the hazy beauty of Burning or the sweet overflow of emotions that is the ending of Eighth Grade hang around in my memory, arguing their case for being #1–but they don’t capture 2018 in all its desperation the way that First Reformed does. Tackling faith and doubt and what it means for personal despair to collide with a world increasingly on the brink of destruction. Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Toller, a character that will be referred to for years to come, a Presbyterian minister of a historic church with minimal attendees, nearly swallowed by a neighboring megachurch. A conversation and the subsequent actions of a concerned partitioner send Toller further into the brink of despair. In a year that featured children being separated from parents, more people turning their back on refugees, and more environmental warnings than ever before, it’s easy to wonder if God will punish us for what we’ve done. What is our response to an overwhelming evil? Is violence a justified means toward justice? In the end does God wrap us in grace as we lament the world? These questions lay heavy in my heart throughout the year and First Reformed cut right to my core, doing what art does at its best.

Honorable mentions: You Were Never Really Here; Black Panther; Mission: Impossible – Fallout; Support the Girls; Skate Kitchen; Widows; Blindspotting

Top 18 Podcasts of 2018

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Of all the arbitrary lists that I do in this season, this feels like the most arbitrary of them all. Podcasts used to be more straightforward, but in the current podcast boon, coming up with a best of list feels stupid. There are plenty of shows here that released 50+ episodes that were each an hour and a half, while there are others that released a one-off season of 6 episodes that were only a half-hour. That’s a difference of over a hundred hours; but they both appear on lists of the best podcasts. Some shows are improvised, others meticulously scripted. Some I’ve listened to for 7+ years, while others produced something that will only exist for this year. At certain points they’re barely the same medium.

This being said, I’ve decided in the future to change up the way I do this. Maybe I’ll only include new shows (either to me or brand new). Maybe it’ll be only doing the best episodes (though this takes a meticulousness that’s difficult to maintain). Either way, this exercise has become too futile to continue beyond this year, so enjoy this list in its finale.

Here are the best podcasts of the year:

18. Culture Kings – One of my favorite shows of the year that dually hurt itself by moving to three episodes a week, while also losing co-host Carl Tart along the way. Co-hosts Jacquis Neal and Edgar Momnsplair are a great duo, but I am personally oversaturated with podcast content and can barely keep up with one episode a week let alone two.

17. Caliphate – An intense and informative journalistic look into Isis, featuring interviews with current and former members. It’s worth listening to in order to expand an understanding of the ever-ubiquitous Middle East. There’s also a kind of surprise twist at the end of this that I was not expecting.

16. Spontaneanation – Paul F. Tompkins continues to release improv gold, his ability to introduce audiences to a diverse group of young comedians is one reason alone you should listen to it.

15. The Watch – The Watch is as much about keeping up with pop culture as it is about Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald’s friendship which goes back a decade before they started podcasting at Grantland. The conversations they have and their ability to catch each other’s references is any pop culture nerd’s dream.

14. Threedom – The Scott Aukerman, Lauren Lapkus, Paul F. Tompkins Stitcher Premium collaboration was the most inevitable thing to happen in comedy podcasting and it actually lives up to the hype quite well. It’s a general chat show, where the hosts goof around for an hour, but is earned by their past repoire. Will it work for those unfamiliar with the three of them? I’m not sure, but I found myself smiling in public quite often while listening.

13. Rob Has a Podcast – Rob Cesternino seemingly increases podcast output every year, making close to an episode a day about reality television and pop culture happenings. He’s consistently great (I’ve been a listener since he started the podcast in 2010) and it feels absurd to try to rank what he does in comparison to other shows on this list. If you like reality TV shows like Survivor and Big Brother he’s offers an essential blend of humor and strategy that you have to check out.

12. Future Perfect – Dylan Matthews introduced me to the concept of effective altruism–using Moneyball style logic to solve the world’s problems–through this podcast, a newsletter, and a segment of programming on Vox, opening up a whole new world of insight for me. Future Perfect the podcast presents out-of-the-box ideas that have proved highly effective for solving world problems (cooling the planet, the border crisis, animal cruelty, etc…) but have not been implemented. These are fascinating thought experiments, ones that with enough organizing could be the way of the future.

11. Good Food – I jumped on board with Good Food after having attended an event they put on. Host Evan Kleiman brings on what is really a spectacular slew of guests and segments surrounding food news and interests. Kleiman is a warming host whose experience running restaurants and industry involvement add to her natural public radio cadence.

10. Yo Is This Racist? – I always thought this show, which features Andrew Ti answering listener voicemails as to if something is racist or not, sounded interesting, but they released episodes five days-a-week and if you’re learning anything about me from this list, it’s that I just don’t have time for that. When the show consolidated to once a week and added Earwolf rising star and Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ alum Tawny Newsome, I knew it was time to dive in. Ti and Newsome have quickly gained chemistry, using comedic chops and their life experiences to offer advice at navigating our increasingly multicultural world.

9. The Weeds – The Weeds was another show that made the jump from two episodes a week to three during the busy political season of this year’s midterms, forcing me to filter through episodes by topic every couple of weeks. Nonetheless, their rotating crew of policy obsessives continue to offer intelligent policy and political analysis that’s way more academic than your average pundit.

8. Done – I’m almost always searching through various podcast databases, looking for the next big thing I can sink my teeth into. Rarely do new shows capture my attention as quickly as Done did when I started listening to it earlier this year. On its face, it’s a slew of comedy podcast cliches: two hosts invite a guest comedian on to discuss some previously decided thing–in this case things the guest is done with. Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney have such great chemistry (another radio cliche) that despite easily falling into all of these podcast traps the show has become one of my favorites. Katz and Kenney easily shift back and forth between sincere opinions about their very New York comedian lives to playing elevated characters of themselves that mock their very New York comedian lives. When you listen to podcasts, you begin to fall in love with the ways certain people say things or phrases they often go to, listening to Betsy Kenney wryly say “now listen here, honey” has become one of those things for me.

7. Embedded – Embedded only existed for a few short seasons this year, but the seasons they released, about Donald Trump and coal country, were must listens to understand the context of our modern world.

6. Slow Burn – Season two of Slow Burn jumps forward a few decades from the Nixon controversy to examine the Clinton impeachment. I may be biased because I was young enough to experience the entire saga, without fulling understanding what was happening, but to hear the layers peeled back by the people involved all these years later was, in a way, thrilling. Slow Burn tells the story through a modern lens, a much different cultural landscape than the mid-90s, questioning Clinton’s actions through 2018 liberal wokeness which is much less forgiving than the 90s. I wish host Leon Neyfakh had spent even more time examining his own personal feelings, but Slow Burn managed to create an entertaining, questioning, and essential piece of podcasting this year.

5. Halloween Unmasked – The Ringer may have created a new genre of podcast in its unpacking of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Across eight episodes host Amy Nicholson discusses the influential horror film, its making, its themes, and the obsessive following it’s inspired over the years. It’s the best new use of the serialized podcast format, digging into a movie like an Empire Magazine retrospective. It’s cultural introspection at its very best.

4. Comedy Bang Bang – Scott Aukerman seemed to rely on bringing in new voices to his character-driven comedy show this year, an almost necessary step to keep the show fresh. This allowed up and comers like Shaun Diston (Rudi North!), Edi Patterson (Bean Dip!), and Ego Nwodim to create new favorites that we will hopefully be able to enjoy for years to come.

3. Doughboys – Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell survived another year! The duo often jokes about quitting the podcast or eating themselves to death, but has managed to continue making their hit podcast. I choose to listen to this podcast Friday mornings and consider it an absolute treat every time I listen, smiling while driving into work. Their banter, puns, and review of chain restaurants bring me so much joy.

2. Serial – After season 2 flopped (I think it’s good, but just didn’t keep up with people’s expectations of it, lucky for those people there’s more than a slew of true crime available for them now), it was interesting to think about where Serial would go next. It launched podcasts and the true crime genre into major popularity. After a couple years off, we now have season 3, a work that’s at least more important (if not better) than its first season. Exploring the justice system, Serial tackles a rotating cast of stories, each highlighting the amount of injustice that exists with American courts. It’s a capital F FEAT in journalism and maintains the highest levels of storytelling capabilities even if I had to motivate myself to listen to it at times (it’s a pretty crushing show).  

1. Good Christian Fun – I don’t think there was any other podcast I had as much fun listening to in 2018 than Good Christian Fun. Hosted by Kevin Porter (Gilmore Guys) and Caroline Ely, two Christian-ish hosts dissecting all the worst (and occasional best) bits of Christian culture from the past to the present. They are typically joined by a guest comedian to discuss the topic, getting their “Guestimony”, where the guests discuss their experiences with religion. The whole show often whips back and forth between frank discussions of religious experience to hilarious discussions about the topic at hand with interspersed segments lead by Porter’s knack for cheesy puns and apt control over the soundboard. The guest intro to Amy Grant’s “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” is the most ingenious use of the podcast format in the last two years, apologies to Serial’s invesgative look at the US judicial system, this song is comin’ HOT.  

Top 50 Songs of 2018 pt. II

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Check out numbers 26-50 here

Listen to the top 50 here (only on Apple Music, sorry Spotify bros)

25. “The Omen” by Camp Cope – Camp Cope’s “The Opener” got a lot of attention for its rip-roaring take on the gender politics buried in the indie rock scene that they occupy. It’s a worthy song, but my favorite Camp Cope bits are the slowed down ballads that allow singer Georgia Maq to show off her gnarled sorrow.

24. “NICE” by The Carters – This song’s chorus (maybe more aptly described as a braggadocious refrain) runs through my head just about every other day, where I wish that I had just one-percent of the swagger that Jay and Bay do. And those Beyonce verses?! Oooh-weee.

23. “Happy Unhappy” by The Beths – This is kind of a stand-in for The Beths entire album which is a fantastic piece of guitar pop. “Happy Unhappy” is the most easygoing of the bunch, freely flowing from the opening’s “ohoh–ohohs” to the way Elizabeth Stokes so easily moves across each word, her voice prancing like a dance sequence in an old Astaire musical. It’s enchanting.

22. “APESHIT” by The Carters – The Carters introduced their collaborative album via an “APESHIT” music video set in the Louvre. It’s an anthem, celebrating their dominion over the kingdom that is pop culture in 2018; they strut about, blowing off the Super Bowl to take over a truer venue of cultural cache. The best part of it all is that Beyonce plays emcee here, reducing Jay Z to the role of Takeoff in Migos–a hypeman whose name you always forget.

21. “Cold War” by Cautious Clay – Just a gorgeous bit of alt-R&B from an underrated artist whose career feels on the brink of success. Watch out.

20. “When I’m With Him” by Empress Of – Pop songs with singer-songwriter flare, Empress Of’s best song is endlessly listenable, one of a few on her latest album to feature her singing bilingually.

19. “Never Recover” by Lil Baby & Gunna (feat. Drake) – It feels like Drake’s style takes over the Young Thug-inspired Soundcloud trap that people loved about Drip Harder–maybe I’m drawn to this song because of that or maybe Gunna and Baby were able to bring the best out of Drake. Regardless this is a jam.

18. “Me & My Dog” by boygenius – Between her Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus joint collaboration and my relistening to Stranger in the Alps across the beginning of the year, Phoebe Bridgers is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists. She takes the lead here as a part of what is probably the best supergroup of all time, offering her melancholy up for us to indulge in–it’s beautiful.

17. “Love is a Wild Thing” by Kacey Musgraves – I thought a lot of Golden Hour was hit or miss, but ultimately quite enjoyable. There was no greater moment than “Love is a Wild Thing”, an initially quiet and catchy piece of pop-country.

16. “Roaches” by Maxo Kream – Distorted pianos really had their moment in hip-hop this year, as did Maxo Kream, a kind of old-school Houston rapper. His album, Punken, is filled with stories about being poor, surrounded by and participating in violence, and coming to terms with his past. “Roaches” tells the story of growing up in cockroach infested homes, while simultaneously mourning this new world that’s becoming harder for him to understand (he takes a few shots at mumble rap). It’s Maxo’s knack for storytelling, backed by that distorted piano, that makes this song shine.

15. “I Like It” by Cardi B (feat. Bad Bunny, J Balvin) – Cardi was back at it again this year, not only proving she could rap, but also proving she could once again take over the culture, notching herself a bonafide song of the summer with her Latin-flared “I Like It”. Using Tony Pabon’s “I Like it Like That” as the basis, she comes in horns a blazin’, gets two fantastic Spanish verses from Bad Bunny and J Balvin, and proved she’s a star.

14. “Bartier Cardi” by Cardi B (feat. 21 Savage) – This was the first post-”Bodak Yellow” song I heard and I thought it was even better than her original hit. Critics didn’t appreciate it as much, but I appreciate the wordplay at work here, even if by the end of the year her Offset puns aren’t quite as charming. Add to that a verse by 21 Savage, whose low droll is one of my favorite voices to hear guest on a song and I couldn’t help but fall for it.

13. “Kings” Dead” by Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake – There’s no better opening line in a song this year than Kendrick’s “me miss with that bullshit, you ain’t really wild you a tourist” in this star studded track originally released on the Black Panther soundtrack. It was so good that Jay Rock included it on his album, released later in the year. I’m going with the Black Panther version because I first heard this version and because there’s a cinematic sense to it that elevates the song’s internal stakes.

12. “God’s Plan”/”Nonstop” by Drake – Honestly, the only reason these two are placed together is because I somehow missed putting “Nonstop” on this list and didn’t want to have to go back and fix the whole thing. Regardless, both of these fit the bill as the Drake singles that did well, but not as well as his others (“In My Feelings”/”Nice For What”). I personally prefer both of these, each of which features Drake at the height of his game. Say what you want about his talent or his lifestyle, but he has a flow I could listen to for about half as long as his albums are (which is a long time).

11. “No tears left to cry” by Ariana Grande – I get the “thank u, next” hype in all it’s meme-y self empowerment and the way Grande paid tribute (?) to 00s rom-coms in the video for it, but it’s Grande’s sincere ballad that really does it for me. She combines her powerhouse vocal abilities with pop sensibility and when both are fully utilized they show her at her best.

10. “It’s Okay to Cry” by SOPHIE – SOPHIE begins this song slowly, telling the story of a relationship gone wrong, with quiet chaos verging in the background. It’s a story filled with great pain, but tenderness (“Just know whatever hurts, it’s all mine”), by the time the song fully explodes, it’s as if the tears SOPHIE has been sanctioning have finally broken through. IT’S OKAY TO CRY might be the line we all need to hear most.

9. “So Afraid” by Janelle Monae – Monae is the queen of melding genres together, using pop, R&B, hip-hop, funk, and rock to tell elaborate stories. There were a lot of great moments in her latest album, Dirty Computer, that make use of those genres, but it’s two slowed down ballads that most affected me. Here she sings over a slowly strummed acoustic guitar, before an electric guitar soloing in the background rises to the front as she sings “I, oh, I, I’m afraid, afraid of lovin’ you”.

8. “Pristine” by Snail Mail – I really don’t know what it is about this song (and really Snail Mail generally), but there’s something utterly perfect about it. It’s a pretty straightforward guitar-lead indie rock song, but everything comes together with such excellence that it became one of the best songs of the year, incessantly in my playlist.

7. “Night Shift” by Lucy Dacus – Dacus chooses to open her album with what feels like a closing opus. “Night Shift” is a six-minute plus epic about self-sabotaging tendencies and trying to move beyond a first love. It ends exactly as you’d hope it would, with Dacus belting out “You’ve got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift” as guitars chug along, pushing her past her former amor.

6. “Ghost Town” by Kanye West – When ye was first released I actually thought I really enjoyed it. What was actually happening was the album was short enough that I kept hearing “Ghost Town” and it made me think I really liked the whole thing. The album is okay, eventually Kanye’s perspective becomes so frustrating that it kind of diminishes the rest of the production. “Ghost Town” however, holds up as a transcendent piece of music. From PARTYNEXTDOOR’s surprisingly prescient opening to Kid Cudi nailing his “I’m just trying to make you love me” line to 070 Shake making herself ye’s MVP, entering into the fray and absolutely delivering.

5. “In the Evening” by Half Waif – Half Waif’s electronic dirge absolutely drips with sorrow. Is there a truer line post-breakup than “Don’t expect me to be happy to see that you’re happier than me, I don’t owe you that”? Oh this song’ll gut you regardless of your relationship health.

4. “Back For More” by Justine Skye (feat. Jerimih) – A singer that got almost no buzz at all but whose song is one I returned to nonstop. “Back For More” is the best R&B song of the year, catchier than just about everything else you’ll hear.

3. “Persephone” by Sidney Gish – A quiet little track at the back end of Gish’s debut album, it’s full of conviction, softly plucked strings backing Gish’s soft-spoken wordplays and quips about Greek gods that are at first innocuous, but take on a quiet weight to them.

2. “This is America” by Childish Gambino – Much has been said about this song, as it took over the zeitgeist upon its post-SNL release. The images of its music video drew some criticism and ultimately Glover was accused of ripping off Jase Harley’s “American Pharaoh”. That being said, I (obviously) enjoy Glover’s song immensely. It’s a highly politicized jam with a pure danceability juxtaposed against a dark undertone of Glover’s views of black life in America. It’s a song full of contrasts, between money and poverty, success and violence, the American dream and the America we live in.

1. “I Like That” by Janelle Monae – It’s kind of a minor song on Dirty Computer, but it’s one I find continually affecting. Dirty Computer is Monae’s first foray into personal songwriting, having spent the last two albums spinning intricate tales about robots and forbidden love, she finally lays herself bare, expressing who she is without the metallic metaphors. “I Like That” is all about finding confidence in oneself, within it she tells two stories, one from her past where a classmate mocked her for her lack of style and her haircut, and the one she is currently telling where she’s “a little crazy, little sexy, little cool”. This is also about Monae coming to terms with her sexuality, finding the confidence and freedom to express it. Ultimately it’s a song that I find the most enjoyable listen, it’s touching, it’s catchy, it’s one that lifts me up whenever I hear it–and for those reasons, it’s the song of the year.

Top 50 Songs of 2018 pt. I

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50. “June” by IDLES – In a year that featured another Mount Eerie album about his wife’s passing, it’s “June” by IDLES that might be the most gut wrenching song of the year. Reflecting on what is was like to lose his daughter during childbirth, lead singer Joe Talbot sings a punk ballad that you need to mentally prepare yourself for before listening.

49. “Stay Down” by boygenius – I’m not sure the video game references really work here, but man this is peak Julien Baker, backed by Dacus and Bridgers to amplify the passion.

48. “C’est La Vie No. 2” by Phosphorescent

47. “Sober to Death” by Car Seat Headrest – Following the classic Car Seat Headrest song format–slowly mumbled verses lead into a brash chorus, before the song repeats lyrics, fading out. It’s something singer Will Toledo, the internet’s rock & roll king, has effortlessly mastered.

46. “How Simple” by Hop Along

45. “WIFI Lit” by Future

44. “Push Me to My Limit” by Rae Morris

43. “Get Up 10” by Cardi B – Cardi opened up an album that had no right to actually be good with a “Dreams and Nightmares” level intro. She goes all in here, showcasing her talent for bars and wordplay while silencing all doubters with an oomph.

42. “Skin” by Soccer Mommy – Indie rock is being dominated by young women with guitars perfectly constructing complex rock anthems. “Skin” is the best track on Soccer Mommy’s debut album, there were very few moments better than the way Sophie Allison sings“Falling in to myself / You’re still in my skin / I just wish you also felt like this”. It’s the classic rock mantra, filled with all the angst of forlorn love.

41. “One Trick Ponies” by Kurt Vile – Vile’s stoner folk never really works for me across a hold album–just too much hazing noodling. But Vile can sure craft an album opener– 2013’s “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” is one of the best songs of the decade and 2015’s “Pretty Pimpin’” is up there. “One Trick Ponies” shows Vile as chill as ever, his voice gentle, like a breeze on a summer day.

40. “Testify” by Kamasi Washington – Washington might be the jazz musician indie rock populist of the moment, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get quite avant garde. “Testify” features him at his gentlest, offering a beautifully sung ballad in the midst of he and his band’s complex jazz work.

39. “All For You” by Years & Years – There were quite a few pretty good alt-R&B albums released this year, several of which are on this list. Years & Years is a British synthpop group who has their foot firmly planted in indie rock while eliciting comparisons to a boy band like One Direction.

38. “I’m Not Scared” by Tomberlin

37. “Party For One” by Carly Rae Jepsen – Carly Rae released another one-off that slowly crawled its way up the best songs of the year. Though it wasn’t as good as last year’s “Cut to the Feeling”, “Party For One” is another saccharine single that leaves you eagerly anticipating her next full length.

36. “Disconnect” by Basement – I randomly threw on Basement’s new record one Friday and surprisingly and instantly fell in love with Besides Myself’s opener, “Disconnect”, an encapsulation of the melodic joy one can find in new wave pop-punk/emo. I need to hear this song played live, legions of fans shouting along with the chorus: “My prodigal son / what have you done? / Return while there’s something left.”

35. “SGL” by Now Now

34. “Missing U” by Robyn

33. “Stick” by Snail Mail

32. “Television” by IDLES

31. “Playinwitme” by KYLE (feat. Kehlani) – KYLE’s songs could easily be too sweetly sincere, veering toward the edge of corniness, but I find this duet between he and Kehlani to emit so much joy that it overcomes my most jaded thoughts.

30. “Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like To Die)” by Pale Waves – Ooh we, Pale Waves, who typically create indie-pop songs with 80s vibes, abandon synths for an acoustic ballad about the death of singer Heather Baron-Gracie’s brother. It’s just as heart wrenching as you would think.

29. “It’s Been a Rough Year” by Carb on Carb

28. “Another Lifetime” by Nao – Opening with highly affected vocals, the bass and drums kick in like a punch to the throat letting Nao howl her critiqued commitment toward her amour.

27. “Out the Window” by Confidence Man – Confidence Man are an indie-pop synth group from Australia. They create songs that are tongue-in-cheek, almost silly at times. When a choir singing “sunshiiiiiine” kicks in toward the end, it’s both cheesy and beautiful.

26. “Hate the Real Me” by Future – Future’s songs are filled with tales of excess drinking, drug use, and sex, yet are rarely filled with any of the celebrating typically associated with these acts. Here, in a rare moment of vulnerability, he lays himself bare, perhaps offering insight into why his escapades masquerade such melancholy. In the midst of his vices he admits he “hate[s] the real me”, repeating in a chorus that he’s just “tryna get as high as I can”. It’s a sad song that you can only hope leads him to some place of comfort.

Top 10 Dishes I Ate in 2018

This is a new exercise for me, but one I’ll likely continue as (or if) my interest in food and dining continues to grow. These are all dishes I ate for the first time while dining out in 2018.

10. Chilaquiles – Anepalco, Orange, CA

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The famed dish from the famous Mexican brunch bar lives up to its reputation. These chilaquiles are packed into a large sort of hockey puck–fried tortillas not so much as stacked, but melded together and surrounded by specked chile sauce. The whole thing seems completely unnecessary but is absolutely perfect.

9. King steam dumplings with pork & vegetables – Myung In Dumplings, Buena Park, CA

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Myung In’s Buena Park location is one of many, originating in Koreatown and famous for a Parts Unknown episode where Anthony Bourdain declares it one of the best Korean style dumplings he’s ever had. That was argument enough for me and a couple of work trips were set, their wang dumplings are ground pork stuffed into large pillows of dough–don’t underestimate my use of the word pillow here. It’s delicious and immensely satisfying to bite into this ball of fluff, finding your way into savory ground pork, wetted by soy sauce. To cap off the experience, these are eaten by hand–maybe the most perfect finger food ever.

8. Al pastor mulita – Ponchos Tacos, Fullerton, CA

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Two factors contribute to this dish making the list: 1. Poncho’s newly opened up in a convenient spot on my way home from work, offering $1 tacos in its first week, and 2. This is the first mulita I’ve ever had. Mulitas are a cross-pollination of a taco and a quesadilla, coming together to make a chilled out version of a quesadilla, with all the grittiness of a taco. Poncho’s features a rotating spit of al pastor at all times and handmakes their tortillas. Their mulitas hit the pleasure centers that are evoked by melted cheese oozing out of a warm tortilla without losing the integrity of the ingredients–pork, onions, guacamole, cilantro. It’s a neat little dish that condenses buffet eating into one essential order.

7. Turnip curry – Kabab Hut, Rocklin, CA

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After initially ordering all meat dishes at Guddu Haider’s one-man show in Rocklin, Haider began recommending various vegetable dishes to add. Eager to try (and eager to please), having recently tried out a couple of turnip recipes in my own kitchen and wanting to maintain an in-season ethos, I went with the turnip curry, an item not even on the menu. Kabab Hut gets a lot of buzz for its fish curry, which came out sizzling and was excellent, but the last minute addition is what stuck with me the most. It was like a sweet and creamy version of baba ganoush, with all the complex spices that come from a curry. A few weeks later I attempted my own version, it was nothing like I consumed here–how could it be–but it was pretty good.

6. Peach donuts – Donut Man, Glendora, CA

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Donut Man’s stuffed fruit donuts are the perfect encapsulation of what California donuts can be, stuffing fresh fruits into an extra large (and excellent) glazed donut, until adding another slice would collapse the whole thing. I’ve been trying to have one of Donut Man’s peach donuts for years, but each year the hyper-seasonal offering has been so limited I’ve been timed out of it. This year I made sure to keep tabs on peach season and was able to snag one, boy did it live up to the hype.

5. Birria burritos – Burritos La Palma, Santa Ana, CA

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For Anna and I’s birthday this year we did a taco sampling of North Orange County, hitting up three taco spots across one afternoon. Burritos La Palma had the unfortunate placement of being the last spot on the list, when their packed mini burritos seemed least appetizing. The quality still managed to stand out and I later went back to sample their famed birria burrito. This is the heartiest burrito you may ever eat–stuffed with birria, a Mexican stew, which makes sense. It sort of neglects Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat balance principle in favor of putting a warm, satisfying feeling in your stomach.

4. Pho with bone-in braised ribs – Sup Noodle Bar, Buena Park, CA

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I sampled a couple of the classic pho spots in Little Saigon this year and really enjoyed them, but it was Sup Noodle Bar’s fusion-y pan-Asian food that captured me most. Featuring a broth that simmers for 10+ hours and braised ribs served on the bone, protruding from the bowl like a trophy honoring you for ordering so well (this resulted in the best Foodstagram I took all year, see above). These sorts of fusion-y hip spots can feel pretty gimmicky, but Sup transcends this with really great food.

3. Jackfruit Tacos – Todo Verde, Los Angeles, CA

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One of the most flavorful tacos I’ve ever had comes from this vegan pop-up, in which chef Jocelyn Ramirez creates the Mexican staples she grew up with using all vegan ingredients. It’s perhaps a glimpse into the future, in which vegan and vegetarian fare transitions from fringe health stores into the multicultural landscape that makes up California, offering up flavorful and sustainable replacements. If these tacos are any indication, there’s a lot of exciting stuff yet to come.

2. Al pastor/Fish tacos – Taqueria El Zamorano – Santa Ana, CA – The winner of the birthday taco extravaganza, El Zamorano rises above by packing the most flavor in what are pretty simple and straightforward tacos. The al pastor is juicy, featuring pineapple bits that make it my go-to taco order and the fish taco is perfectly battered and fried, topped with cabbage and a creamy mayo sauce as the Lord intended.

1. Negi Shio premium tongue – Manpuku BBQ, Costa Mesa, CA

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A cook-it-yourself Japanese BBQ spot that offers premium tongue as its specialty. The Negi Shio comes with large chunks of salt and onions spread across its exterior and has its own portion of the menu that serves as an instructional guide to best prepare it over the grill. After studying fervently, my wife and I dove in, grilling to an imperfect medium rare before biting into the layers of savory umami and coarse salt. The beauty of the rock salt sitting there–like a mountain in the distance–trying to figure out how to prepare it, and then watching the fat render as the meat browned was my favorite experience in eating out this year.

Top 10 TV Shows of 2018

The bubble that was peak TV seemed to burst this year, to the point that Elizabeth Olsen, a movie star, played the lead in a show on Facebook Watch–a show that people actually really liked! Honestly, I don’t know how to watch a show on Facebook Watch and I didn’t really have time to figure it out, though it sounds intriguing.

It was an overwhelming year in television and not necessarily in a good way, as I struggled to make a top ten that I felt really comfortable with. TV was broader than ever, but perhaps not better. This year lacked new seasons of my past faves like Fargo; True Detective; Big Little Lies; Stranger Things; Nathan For You; Veep; and Catastrophe. It was top heavy (as you’ll see) and filled with a wide range of shows that range from 10-minute episodes to an hour; fiction and nonfiction; one-offs; and series conclusions. The TV landscape is still exciting and continues to be groundbreaking even as this year was exhaustingly disappointing.

NOTE: I am only two episodes into Killing Eve and enjoy it, if I do end up loving it a lot, I will update this list to reflect that. 

Also: I only include seasons that were completed in their entirety and have indicated the season I have ranked next to the show–this just makes the most sense to me.

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10. Barry, s1 – Bill Hader stars as a regretful assassin whose zest for life is slowly awakened when he accidentally becomes part of an acting class. The show doesn’t shy away from playing at the darkness necessary for Hader’s Barry to live the life he leads, even as he– quite sympathetically–tries to leave it. The show’s got some great LA-centric humor, as well as what might be the funniest line read of the year: Barry’s oblivious and casual take on Alec Baldwin’s famous “Coffee is for closers” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross.

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9. AP Bio, s1 – Today’s network comedies are mostly shams, filled with broad jokes and an overstuffed laugh track that just can’t compete with the raunchy freedom of cable. Yet AP Bio manages to create edgy comedy, maintaining the unlikability of its lead Jack Griffin (played by Glenn Howerton) pretty much from start to finish. His sociopathic tendencies as a failed philosophy professor forced to teach high school biology never really stop even as the show creates sweet moments with his students and coworkers. It’s a fine balance, but one that AP Bio pulls off. It’s a smart and tonally tight show that was thankfully (and miraculously) renewed for a second season and one that I can’t wait to keep watching more of.

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8. Survivor: David v. Goliath – Now in its 37th season, Survivor cranked out one of its best this year. Featuring an initially terrible theme, it surpassed any chance of being held back by its incessant need to categorize every contestant, instead getting by with a cast of compelling, strategically minded players.

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7. Queer Eye, s1, s2 – The surprise cultural unifier of the year, Queer Eye took our need for sincere kindness in the midst of chaotic rage to the highest of heights. It’s a touching show about getting your life back together, but does so through a prism of empathy, with the gentle ribbing of Jonathan Van Ness mocking your hairstyle for good measure. The second season’s premiere is probably the best episode of television to come out this year, showcasing the Fab Five’s grace toward religious institutions that have hurt them in the past. Tissues abound.

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6. Joe Pera Talks With You, s1 – You couldn’t have predicted that the quietest comedy of the year would come from Adult Swim, a channel largely known for buzzing and disgusting cartoons made for late night viewing, but this is television in 2018. Joe Pera plays a version of himself, a muted yet enthusiastic and socially awkward individual who takes pleasures in small-town life and all of its quirks. It’s subtly funny and enjoyable in a way that brings low-key satisfaction.

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5. Big Mouth, s2 – A show that I wholeheartedly do not recommend, but that took me less than a week to plow through. Nick Kroll has again created the sweetest and most poignant show about being a teenager, filtering it through the dirtiest lens you could probably imagine. 

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4. Succession, s1 – The Ringer hype train convinced me to jump on board this Adam McKay produced HBO show about a wealthy family dealing with their CEO’s health issues and who in the family should succeed him. When I say ‘dealing’, I should clarify it’s more like bumblingly plotting against one another as a group of advantaged one-percenters are wont to do. The show also features a cleverly crass insult ratio that rivals Veep, offering itself as the surprise funniest show of the year.  

Three way tie for 1st: The Americans; Atlanta; The Good Place 

I couldn’t decide between three shows that I felt each had brilliant seasons, so I’m cheating and putting them all at number one.

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The Americans, s7 – One of the greatest shows of this decade wrapped up with some of its best work yet, making the most of Elizabeth and Phillip’s relationship by pitting them against one another in a season that leaps forward in time from the ending of season 6. All of the show’s central conceits eventually do build to their crescendo but pay off in a way that’s so fitting of The Americans. So much sorrow, so much regret.

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Atlanta: Robbin’ SeasonAtlanta’s second season is somehow weirder than the first, taking season one’s most off-kilter moments and blowing them into full-on episodic experiments. Paper Boi landed firmly in the limelight in this second season as he navigates depression and his rising fame. Bryan Henree Tyree continues to play him with pathos and charm, notching one of the best TV performances of the year. Meanwhile, Earn continues to flop about each of his relationships, trying to get by while inflicting just a little self-sabotage every step of the way.   

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The Good Place, s2 – The Good Place jumped into its second season head first, having just completely upended the entire show’s conceit with its season one twist ending. This allowed the show’s creators to play around with the format in ways I’ve never seen before. Each episode brought entirely new expectations and somehow the creators were able to keep their balance on the comedic treadmill that is The Good Place. This is truly groundbreaking television. 

Honorable mentions: Salt Fat Acid Heat; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; Homecoming

 

 

 

 

2018 Midterms Guide to Guides

Hey you, procrastinator!

The midterms are tomorrow and you need to vote, rather than opting out and pleading ignorance, here are some guides for you. NOTE: These lean heavily on information relevant to Southern Californians and then more specifically North Orange County folks.
For prop info: 
Ballot.fyi – Creative and semi-humorous bipartisan explainers.
KCET Ballot Brief – Bipartisan explanations in written form and short 1 – minute explainers. 

LA Taco Voter Guide – A little more partisan, but deeper explanations regarding the propositions.
State Government:
LAist Voter Game Plan – Bipartisan looks at those running for state office (like Attorney General, etc…). Doesn’t have everything but is informative.
LA Podcast Voter’s guide – Has a specific perspective, but cuts through a lot of the BS in giving you who they think you should vote for.
Just for you!
KPCC Voter’s Edge – Enter your address and it will give you information about all of the races specifically for you.
For my Fullerton friends: 
Fullerton Observer – Has transcripts of debates, outlines positions by those running for local government.
Early October issue: Covers those running for Fullerton city council
Early November issue: Covers OC Board Dist. 4.
Flip through other recent issues to find some other local elections info. https://www.fullertonobserver.com/services
Now that you know, go vote!

Burning Questions for “The Sandlot” Prequel

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It was recently announced that 20th Century Fox will be making a prequel of The Sandlot, bringing in David Mickey Evans, the original writer/director, to show us what happened before Scott Smalls first moved into a small neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. The Sandlot is a perfect film, drenched in early 60s nostalgia, covering the most nostalgic sport and is about nostalgia itself, capturing the magical ways in which legends of youth are born. There’s no better movie out there about that feeling of summer.

It’s easy to get angry about the franchising of things that you once held beloved as a kid and you know there’s no way this movie will actually be any good, how could it?

That being said, it will give us the chance to answer all those burning questions we didn’t know we had about the movie. Like Star Wars Episode I hopefully it will leave no room for mystery, recklessly explaining each and every part of its universe with a strange focus on galactic politics.

Here are five burning questions we have from the first one that we hope get answered in the prequel:

  1. Where does Ham’s misogyny come from?

One of the most popular scenes of The Sandlot is Ham’s confrontation with Morris, a rival bougie Little Leaguer. They trade insults for a while before their argument culminates in what the movie considers the ultimate blow: You play ball like a girl!

In 2018, this line probably doesn’t get through, it’s needlessly controversial while really only offering laughs to 6-year old boys who watch the movie and exclaim GOTCHA! at that line (Read: me).

What we can hope the prequel offers is a more enlightened view on these gender dynamics, diving deep into the misogyny of the early-60s. What sort of toxic masculinity was pounded into Ham at an early age? What were the consequences of this? Was it generational or just a sign of the era? And what is so wrong with bobbing for apples in the toilet?

2. How was the s’more invented?

Ham gives Smalls a cooking lesson after he misunderstands the term S’mores, believing that Ham is asking him whether he wants more of something rather than the tasty campfire treat that combines roasted sticky marshmallows with crunchy graham crackers and sweet Hershey’s chocolate.

But where do S’mores come from? Why are they named that way? Wikipedia doesn’t offer much etymological insight, so why not have The Sandlot prequel give it to us? The movie already has given us the biggest S’mores pop culture reference that exists, why not dive all in?

Now here’s my pitch:

The scene is set. It’s the 1860s. The camera focuses on a young man sitting at a campfire on the Western Frontier. We hear two individuals talking in the distance. The young man eavesdrops.

Woman: Now listen Porter, I really think if you throw these ingredients together they will work. There’s a deep sweetness to chocolate that when combined with a flamin’ ‘mallow will meld together in perfect tasty goodness.

Man: There’s no way that would work, woman. Absolutely not.

Woman: Here, try it. Put it between two grahams like a sandwich.

Man: Nope, nope, not gonna do it!

(The woman puts it in his face and he’s forced to take a bite).

Man: Oh well golly me, this is delicious!

The young man at the fire turns around.

Young man: Can I try some?

Woman: Here take some.

The young man eats it. A huge smile comes across his face.

Woman: Would you like s’more?

Young man: Yes, I would love some more, because I’ve already had some.

Woman: Hey, s’more, that’s a great name, maybe that’s what I should name my recipe! S’mores!

Young man chews on s’mores, while the man sits thinking. The man quickly gets up and grabs the young man.

Man: C’mon boy let’s go! (Whispering) This recipe is delicious. If we take it into town and tell them we made it we can get rich and famous!

Young man: But Papa, we didn’t make it, Ruth did!

Man: Oh be quiet boy! I don’t care what little baby Ruth said or did. One thing you must always remember is to never let women have their due. If they come up with a good idea, take it as your own. Never let them rise up the ranks. Find ways to reinforce this patriarchal society where we believe that women’s talents are not worth valuing. If you compare them to men, only do it as a joke or insult! And make sure to pass this along to your children and children’s children! Got it?

Young man: Well okay pops.

/END SCENE.

3. Who is Smalls’ birth father? 

Smalls’ birth dad is not in the picture, he instead has stepdad Bill to look out for him. Bill is great for providing sarcasm in the midst of injury (“He kept his eye on the ball”) or plopping a giant steak on an injury, but we need a movie where we get to know Smalls’ real father.

His real father, is, of course, Dr. Indiana Jones, adventuring archaeologist professor, who is well established to have had an on again off again fling with Smalls’ mother (played by Karen Allen). In Indiana Jones canon we know that Jones has a son with Meredith Smalls (nee Ravenwood), as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gleefully let us know that Shia Lebeouf is a product of their passion.

What they never showed us is that Meredith had a second kid with Indiana before remarrying–Scott Smalls.

It’s easy to see the similarities between Smalls and Indiana– when Smalls builds up his toy sets you can see the ingenuity of Indiana on display; where Indiana has to escape falling boulders and the plots of Nazis, Smalls creates intricate erector set designs.

If Indiana had been involved in the life of Smalls, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken so long to get the ball back from Mertle’s yard with Smalls taking a lesson from his adventuring dad, retrieving his own artifacts of sorts. Now that’s something that Bill could never give him.

There are other little hints in the film about Smalls’ birth father.

Take the scene where the boys are running from the pool after Squints kisses Wendy Peffercorn. You can’t really it hear it, but Smalls is just kind of talking to Bertram.

He tells him: I hate snakes.

Bertram: What?

Smalls: I just really hate snakes.

Bertram: Okay cool Smalls.

/End scene.

Or what about the moment where everyone is throwing up after putting too much chewing tobacco in their mouths? You can’t really hear it over all the vomiting noises, but Smalls makes a remark to Yeah Yeah:

Smalls: Bad dates

Yeah Yeah (having just vomited, exasperated): What Smalls?

Smalls: Must’ve been bad dates.

Yeah Yeah: Yeah yeah Smalls, you idiot. It was totally the dates.

/End scene

So you can see they already hinted at this connection throughout the movie, building it up for a prequel with the laser-like focus of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a really cool sense of planning on the creator’s part and I can’t wait to see what else they do with it.

4. How did Mr. Mertle go from baseball star to junkyard owner?

It’s hard to separate fact from fiction regarding Mr. Mertle in The Sandlot. Squints really does a number on his character, painting him as an ill-intended and grouchy junkyard owner who trained his dog to be an overly aggressive mongrel and may or may not have covered up the death of a child. Squints overeager telling of this story is a perfect part of the film, underlining the wild legend making that occurs in childhood, but when the backstory is unveiled it seems almost too much to include across one prequel. It turns out Mr. Mertle is not the anti-baseball curmudgeon of legend, but is, in fact, a blind former baseball star who personally knew Babe Ruth.

Let’s unpack this a little bit. Mertle, played by James Earl Jones, is black, which means he never would have played with Ruth in the major leagues. Now, history suggests that Ruth desired to play integrated baseball and barnstormed across the country, facing off against players from the Negro League. So it is possible that Ruth and Mertle would have faced off and may have even been friendly, though things would not have been pleasant for Mertle during that time due to the explicit racist policies ingrained into this country’s fabric.

Mertle makes the claim that he would have broken Ruth’s record, which is a little unclear. He can’t be referring to the single-season home run record of 60 that Ruth had hit, because The Sandlot takes place one year after Roger Maris had broken it. He must be referring to the all-time home run record of 660 that Ruth had at the time. That’s a really bold claim, either Mertle had already hit hundreds of homers in his career or he felt cocky enough that he could maintain record-breaking pace throughout his career. This is further complicated by the segregation that took place at the time, where Negro League stats were not seen as valuable as the MLB (and are still not, see Josh Gibson).

If we enter into this story when “baseball was life”, where Mertle is one of the best baseball players, friendly with Babe Ruth, and then gets knocked blind by a fastball only to go on to be a junkyard owner, we’re looking at a major tragedy. You must, of course, take Squints at his word that Mr. Mertle was a junkyard owner and that the whole story wasn’t fabricated.

Let’s take a look at this film description we have going (there’s some deep pathos here, I think we’re looking at an Oscar run)

When James Mertle gets signed to the Pittsburgh Crawfords, it seems like nothing can go wrong, he’s a big hitter with a wide smile that can compete with the best of them. Even the legendary Babe Ruth stops by to watch Mertle compete in his glory. After a stray pitch forces Mertle to go blind, he must figure his way through a world that seems increasingly against him. All seems lost until his brother gives him a junkyard to take care of. Mertle must oversee the yard while defending it from a racist crime syndicate and bigoted police force who will do anything to take down a black-owned business. When he adopts a young puppy to be his guard dog, everything changes… 

There it is! You’re welcome Academy (and we’re not just talking about the popular award here).

5. Was Hercules ever in love?

The only love story in The Sandlot involves Squints’ pervy obsession with the lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn (truly one of the great love stories of our age). But surely there must be more romance to be found in this story?

Every story has got to have a love interest and I am curious about Hercules. He must have been in love at some point; he must have experienced the tingling sensation of a crush in his life, of young puppy love. As we find out more and more of his story these details will unfold.

Maybe he fell in love with a prim and proper Pomeranian, whose owners didn’t love it hanging out with a dirty street dog a la Lady and the Tramp. Maybe he met a rowdy street dog that was his equal a la Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco. Maybe he sneaks out of the house and knocks up a neighbor dog whose owners are going through a divorce a la Beethoven’s 2nd.  Maybe his love gets in a fight with a wolf, catches rabies and is promptly shot in the backyard a la Old Yeller.

There are many classic dog love archetypes we can base this story off of, but a sequel just simply will not be satisfying without knowing if Hercules ever loved someone!

 

Those are my 5 burning questions for The Sandlot prequel! What questions do you hope they answer? Let me know in the comments below.