Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Best of Everything in 2015

Best Book: ‘Misbehaving’ – Richard Thaler. ‘Between The World And Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I’m reading currently, is getting the most plaudits, and it is good. Thaler’s ‘Misbehaving’, which recounts the history of behavioural economics, has stuck with me more though. Based on Coates’ book, that’s probably very white of me.

Best Album: ‘My Love Is Cool’ – Wolf Alice. It seems sort of wrong to give best album to this over Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. ‘… Butterfly’ sounded like Album Of The Year the first time I heard it, but the problem is I haven’t really listened to it that much since. In contrast, for a while there I couldn’t stop listening to Wolf Alice’s album, and that’s why it gets the nod.

Best Song: ‘King Kunta’ – Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick gets best song though. ‘ … Kunta’, with its strong beat, is the first track that will pop into my head when I think about music in 2015.

Best TV Show: ‘Mad Men’. My favourite show of the past ten years came to a satisfying end, with all of the main characters ending up in places that made some sort of sense for them.

Best Film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is more my favourite film of 2015, rather than what I think is the ‘best film’. I doubt that this will be a serious contender for any Best Picture gongs. But it was the best Star Wars movie for 30 years, and had me all revved up afterwards for the next instalment.

Best Comic: ‘Sex Criminals’ – Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. I almost gave this to ‘Saga’ for the fourth year in a row, but I enjoy ‘Sex Criminals’ just as much, so I’ll give it to that instead. It’s a very funny (and very dirty) series.

Best Sporting Event: National Rugby League Grand Final. I did almost pick the Cricket World Cup final, which fulfilled one of my life dreams to see Australia win a cricket World Cup in person. The final though wasn’t particularly memorable in its own right, whereas the NRL Grand Final between the Broncos and the Cowboys definitely was, to the point where people were wondering if it may have been the best grand final ever. The last ten minutes – which saw the North Queensland team score the tying try just as the siren sounded, miss the conversion that could have won it, and then win the match in extra time in any case – was definitely the most intense ten minutes of league I’ve seen. 

Best Sportsperson: Stephen Curry. Bill Simmons called Curry’s first 20 games this NBA season – which his Golden State Warriors won all of – the best 20 game streak by anyone in the history of basketball. His numbers, particularly his three-point shooting, were all insane. Already the best shooter ever, and there has never been another player quite like him.

Best Website: Grantland. Sadly missed.

Best Post: AFL Club Songs Ranked By Ambition and Boastfulness. Read this and you’ll never listen to some AFL club theme songs in the same way again.

Best Twitter Feed: Titus O’Reily. I do like his clever one-liners about AFL and cricket.

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 116

FILM: The New Yorker interviews an author who has recently done a whole lot of research on ‘Star Wars’

FILM: And again on ‘Star Wars’ – who are Rey’s parents? (Spoilers in the article for the new 'Star Wars' flick.)

MUSIC: The most common names in songs. ‘J’ names are popular.

FOOTBALL: Evidence for the case that passing is more important to winning in the National Football League than rushing.

FILM: The top 100 grossing movie stars in the US of all time. Check out the average box office take of #3.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Wooden Finger Five – December 2015

5.Blackstar – David Bowie

It took about fifteen years but, with ‘The Next Day’ album and this track, David Bowie has finally got his creepy goth elder statesman act right. It is one of those ten-minute long patchwork tracks, which Bowie of course has done himself before with ‘Station To Station’. Unlike that classic track ‘Blackstar’ doesn’t really go anywhere much, but it seethes, and that keeps the listener going through its longer-than-usual duration. Just before writing this I have heard his next new track ‘Lazarus’, which clocks in at six minutes itself, making me wonder if Bowie is going back to the 1970s style of only having seven or eight tracks on an album.

4.One Million Bullets – Sia

Despite generally appearing on radio stations I don’t care for I’ve always kind of liked Sia, with her early track ‘The Fight’ getting a fair amount of plays on my old iPod. She’s had bigger hits since then, but her new track ‘One Million Bullets’ may be my favourite of hers since then. The chorus – ‘Under your moonlit gaze/I know I’d take one million bullets for you babe’ – could be seen as more cheesy than powerful, but it makes the neck hairs slightly stand up for me. I hope this one becomes an anthem for her, though it also sounds like one of those tracks that clocks in at No. 35 or so on the charts, and then because of nostalgia, is treated more fondly ten years later.

3.To The Top – Twin Shadow

I heard this song when I recently played Telltale Games’ excellent, and quite funny, ‘Tales From The Borderlands’ series. Each of the five episodes had a credit sequence a couple of scenes in with a relatively recent track playing over it, and the choice of music was great. James Blake’s ‘Retrograde’, for example, turns out to work really well for the desolation of space.

Even better though is the fourth episode’s use of Twin Shadow’s ‘To The Top’, which I hadn’t heard before, and could have believed was a lesser-known ‘80s power ballad. It plays over one of the funniest sequences in the series, which is the cast doing a slow walk towards a spaceship. It’s the type of scene that has played for laughs before, such as the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie, but this is better. But it’s hard to explain its amusement value if you haven’t played the game itself, so I’ll just add that you should play the game, and then it’ll be hard to think of this song without thinking of that slow walk credit sequence.

2.Sentimental Wilderness – Bop English

This year’s album by Bop English, a side project to a band that is not that well-known in the first place, is great. Every track gets me actually listening to it, which is what my favourite albums do. Each track also has a slightly different style, with ‘Sentimental Wilderness’ recalling the late-‘60s folk-rock songs, both with its finger-picking and verboseness. Its beautiful what-sounds-like-the-chorus (but it only occurs once) is the highlight.

1.Fight The Start – The Kilians

In the past couple of weeks I decided to look into which were some recommended European indie bands, starting with French bands, and then German bands, and then Spanish. I heard some really good stuff, but the track I’ve played over and over again is ‘Fight The Start’ by German band The Kilians. It had a British indie rock feel to me, with the lead singer’s voice reminding me of Jamie T and Miles Kane (although the video clip made me think they were going for The Strokes – whatever, it sounds like the kind of track NME would usually go mad for). It’s fun, it’s vital – it’s also nine years old – but oh well, I’m still happy I found this catchy little track.

Other tracks by German indie bands I recommend: ‘You Don’t Have To Shout’ by The Robotic Klaus, ‘Ein Kompliment’ by Sportfreunde Stiller, and ‘Chemicals’ by The Notwist. For French bands I recommend Stuck In The Sound’s ‘Tender’.