This year, I’ve read a total of two books.
Debbie Macomber’s Mr Miracle was an excellent and necessary reminder of how to pack a detailed emotional narrative into something uncomplicated and keep it localised, while a read of High Fidelity was inevitable given the constant comparisons between Nick Hornby and some of my works in progress (honestly I think they’re both flattering and utterly unfounded).
So what about the other 50 books? It can’t all have been mental health development and dayjob, can it? Well. Here’s my review of everything else I consumed this year.
Best video game: Mass Effect Andromeda. It’s a slow start, and a bit Bioware-by-numbers (obvious character tropes, gorgeous skyboxes, no advancement in character facial animations since 2009, unfinished side-stories). Special mentions go to Crusader Kings II for rolling yet another tiny piece of DLC to keep me playing until six in the morning.
Best films: Logan, Blade Runner 2049, T2 Trainspotting. I guess I’m getting the right kind of early-early-middle-aged or late-late-young, because all three of these hit my nostalgia bones just right. Logan, Deckard and Renton are all revisiting their own pasts, while the movies they walk across revisit the cinema of the past.
Maybe all that therapy I’ve been through this year has me obsessed with retrospection.
Special mentions go to Guardians of The Galaxy Vol 2, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and Thor: Ragnarok for being nice self-contained action films that didn’t try too hard or do too much, and to Okja for making me almost give up pork forever (I managed a few months).
Not-so-special mentions for Wonder Woman, Justice League, and The Last Jedi. At least they tried. Even nostalgia couldn’t hold The Last Jedi in my heart for longer than it took to leave the cinema.
Best city: Berlin.
Best rail network: Berlin.
Best huge pile of breakfast cakes: Berlin.
Best European rock and metal bars: Well, you get the idea.
Best TV: Legion was absolutely brilliant. Strong representations of first-hand mental health experience, a compelling and intoxicating narrative, and a cast without a single weak link. The fourth season of Peaky Blinders has me a little worried that it’s turning into Sons of Anarchy with flat caps, and somewhere between the both of those is the brilliant Taboo.
Iron Fist was a weak set up for Marvel Defenders, and Marvel Defenders wasn’t all that good because it had Iron Fist in it. 13 Reasons Why might have started conversations about teenage suicide, but it did so with a shotgun, not a scalpel, and added more to the zeitgeist of fandom and style than to any ongoing mental health discourse (citation: most of tumblr).
Star Trek: Discovery is being held together by Anthony Rapp and Jason Isaacs, and not much else. It is an ugly ship, in an ugly universe, with a crew that talk about their feelings too openly and who can’t move for all the Chekov’s guns around them.
Conversely, The Orville is brilliant. It isn’t a comedy, despite what Seth MacFarlane might want you to think. It’s a science fiction drama, with a cast that behave like actual people would, rather than like only over-written characters with the weight of a canon behind them do.
American Gods, Inhumans, The Gifted and The Punisher are all trying to do something different, while The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow are still running in place.
Blue Planet II was beautiful but went on a bit, The Handmaid’s Tale was horrific but went on a bit, and Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams suffered from the same problem that some of Philip K Dick’s original works did.. great openings, strong concepts, but ambiguous and unsatisfying conclusions. The one with the train was great though.
Best New Album: Wolves, by Rise Against. In the current social-political climate, a band rooted in protest run the risk of losing their teeth, running out of steam, or turning into cliché. Not Rise Against. Wolves successfully blends their hate-free passion for a better world with a self-aware reflection on the passage of time, and their place in the world as a movement, and counter-establishment establishment.
Fuck, there’s that nostalgia again.
Nu-metal mainstays Papa Roach and pirate-rock glam merchants Alestorm both put out perfectly enjoyable more-of-the-same albums in Crooked Teeth and No Grave But The Sea, while Avicii tried and failed to do the same.
The supposedly final album from Linkin Park was a bit of a let-down. It failed to fit expectations based on their back catalogue (I’m trying really hard to not say “it wasn’t metal enough”) and fell short of the more mainstream vocal genres that it was trying to break into. Chester Bennington’s suicide was one of the most heart-breaking events of the last year, and while it enriched an understanding of the band’s earlier releases, it did nothing to raise the quality of One More Light, like the deeper resonance that was fed into Blackstar when David Bowie died.
I suppose that while David Bowie knew he was dying, Chester Bennington’s condition was more permanent and ongoing, unlikely to change on an album-to-album basis. I’m heartbroken that they’re both gone, and ashamed of the discredit I threw on the emotional credibility of Linkin Park over the years.
Best Live Show: Tarja Turunen at Manchester Academy. I’ve been in love with her voice since I first heard “Sleeping Sun” from her days with Nightwish. Tarja has made some bad decisions, had some tough breaks, and put out a few weak albums, but she is an absolute force, and never stops for bullshit or rest. At the time I said I’d punch a baby or sell a kidney just for the chance to collaborate with her on something. As long as the baby is fictional, I think that still stands.
(hed) Planet Earth put aside the performative aggression that so much nineties nu-metal was founded on, and showed honesty about what it’s like to carry on that kind of character as your middle class kid is going to kindergarten. Eluveitie did an excellent job of breaking out their extensively new lineup at Islington Assembly, which has amazing sound design for a space that looks and feels like a school hall.
The technical prowess of 46 & Tool (A Tribute to Tool) was so spot on that they became a little boring. Cover bands and tribute bands need an edge, a hook, a reason why you’re not just listening to the original albums at home. 46 & Tool are all amazing instrumentalists and consummate performers, they’re just too good.
Each year I wonder why I do these. It’s a very specific and selfish thing to share with a global audience… Look at me world! These are my likes and dislikes! Worship me! …but I think maybe it helps figure out the year that has passed, and put it in a memorable context of media consumption, both for the writer and reader.
Pretentious? Don’t ever doubt it.
There’s lot of reflection and nostalgia in the things I’ve enjoyed this year, something that is probably encouraged by all the inward-looking that my therapy has provoked in me. That’s my review of myself right there- inwardly analytical, and reassuringly nostalgic.
I am so ready for the long overdue bubble of optimistic fiction or “up-lit” that many have been predicting for 2018. When you feel like you’re living in a dystopia (you’re not!), dystopian fiction can become a little dry and pointless. I am ready for happy endings and hope.
Oh, and I finally started watching Rick & Morty this year.