See ya later 2014. Now that the new year is upon us, I felt it was time for a belated retrospective of things I like. These are all things that have nothing to do with what I report on for Humanosphere. There is a Portland, Maine bias, because I live here and think it is the best city in America. Anyway, here is my un-Humanosphere best of list:
- Best Song: Two Weeks by FKA Twigs
The debut LP from FKA Twigs is among the best albums in 2014. Her debut single, “Two Weeks,” is the most straightforward on the album and this year’s best song. The rise of each chorus augments her clear vocals that manage to move between notes in a seemingly effortless manner. It is a pop-structured song on an album the eschews pop. It many ways it is the antithesis of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” The fact that it can occupy the same space as Swift’s music while standing in opposition to her aesthetic makes “Two Weeks” more powerful. That aside, it is just a plain good song.
For other top songs from 2014, here is a playlist I put together with a few friends to track our favorites throughout the year. We are limited to what is available on Spotify, but it captures a good majority of what we liked.
Have a listen here.
- Best Album: Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs
The release of this album was my first introduction to the Philadelphia-based War on Drugs. This album was love at first listen. I saw recommendations to give it a try and ended up spending a full day with it on repeat. Adam Granduciel’s songs channel a Springsteen-like sound that builds a sort of trance with simple drum beats, hard-to hear singing and full guitars. For me, it is pure Americana and best enjoyed on long drives. There are albums that are have stronger sections of songs, but none are consistently good from start to finish.
Runner Up: Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels
I am not much of a hip-hop and rap fan. But this is a darn good album. The opening few tracks of this album are relentless. The run closes with the finishing verse by Rage Against the Machine’s Zac de la Rocca on “Close Your Eyes.” However, it is “Early” that is the most prescient track as Big Mike opens by rapping about a run-in with the police. Given all the events in the US this year involving racial injustice, it struck a nerve.
Honorable Mention: St Vincent; Mac DeMarco; Sylvan Esso; Alt-J; FKA Twigs; James Vincent McMorrow; Sharon Van Etten; Jenny Lewis; Royal Blood; Swans; Flying Lotus; The Antlers; Foxes in Fiction
- Best Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I am a sucker for Wes Anderson films and he just keeps getting better. The best at the form right now are the ones who are able to create new worlds or set scenes that take the audience by the hand for an adventure. Anderson succeeds at this time after time. (Michael Bay is an example of what film looks like when it does not guide, but forces people into the story.) The caper-like film includes the usual set of melodramatic characters that are touching and humorous.
Note: I have yet to see some of popular favorites according to movie critics, like Boyhood, Birdman and Ida. There is a chance my pick might change. Nevertheless, Grand Budapest Hotel is great.
- Best New Beer: The Substance by Bissell Brothers
Technically the beer made its debut at the end of 2013, but in a matter of months the small Portland, Maine brewery was struggling to keep up with the demand for its American Pale Ale (which I tell people is more of an IPA). The beer is brimming with hops that come across in both the smell and taste. It is a part of a new wave of beers in the East Coast. For years the West Coast was well known for hoppy IPAs. Now the East Coast is taking a crack at it with its distinctive style that is the result of newer brewing techniques.
Pro tip: skip the lines at the brewery and wasting time finding what stores are selling Substance and go to one of the dozen or so bars/restaurants in Portland that serve the beer on tap. Get one and then give another great Maine beer a try.
- Best Restaurant in Portland, ME: Central Provisions
There are just too many good restaurants in Portland, Maine. For such a small New England city there just should not be so many great choices. That is not a complaint, just an awe-filled observation. With so many choices, only one can rise to the top as the best. To me, that honor goes to Central Provisions. I’ve now had brunch, lunch and dinner there and it delivers dish after dish from pasta to cornbread to its now-famous tuna crudo. It is no mistake Bon Appetit called it one of the best new restaurants in America. The tapas-style dishes are easy to share, delicious, filling and do not break the bank.
Honorable Mention: Eventide
- Best Goal (soccer)
- Stephanie Roche
Just watch it. Yea, RVP and James had some brilliant goals at the World Cup. This goal from Roche is just beautiful.
- Best Coffee Shop: Four Barrel - San Francisco
House roasted coffee? Check
Pour-over station? Check
Wide variety of coffees? Check
Excessive use of wood? Check
Hipster vibe? Check
Hog heads? Check
Standing tables to drink coffee outside? Check
I managed to visit some of the best coffee shops in Seattle, SF, LA, Boston, New York and elsewhere this year. In each place I make it a priority to visit new coffee shops and find the best coffee. I managed to hit a lot of the big names in SF, but stumbled into For Barrel and was blown away. First and foremost, I had one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. As a bonus, it has super nice staff and an aesthetic that appeals to my taste.
Honorable Mention: Stumptown (because you can get their cold brew on tap), Intelligentsia (Question: what is better than a bar and coffee shop all in one?) and Elements (Answer: A bar, coffee shop and bookstore!).
- Best TV Show: Black Mirror
Technically it did not come out in 2014. The only thing produced this year by the groundbreaking series was its Christmas Special. However, the British show that is oft-compared to the Twilight Zone recently came to the U.S. via Netflix streaming. I gave it a try because it kept appearing in my recommendations. It is a deep commentary on the relationship between people and technology, particularly tools similar to social media. Episodes range from minor tweaks on the present to a dystopian future. All left me questioning my own assumptions about future of technology and the ways that it is already have an effect on my own life. All seven episodes are very good. The show really flexes its muscles when an episode that seemingly is about voyeurism is turned on its head at the very end, thus forcing the audience to entirely rethink what was previously a foregone conclusion.
Honorable Mention: The Affair and True Detective
- Best Concert: tUnE-yArDs with Sylvan Esso opening
The music of Merrill Garbus is energy-filled on each of her three albums. Her best songs feature layered drum beats and vocals to create a chorus out of seemingly nothing. It comes through recorded, but Garbus really shines when performing. Her ornate staging in her recent tour dropped the horns for additional vocalists to form her backing band. Choreographed dancing and new arrangements of songs created a captivating performance. Making even better was the fact that one of this year’s best new artists, Sylvan Esso, were the opening act. I was already a fan of songs like “Play it Right” and “Coffee,” but hearing them live and other tracks like “Hey Mami” won me over. The unique vocals by Amelia Meath were all the more powerful as she danced along to the duo’s songs and the crowd danced along.