Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 | Yearly Favourites

Once again it is the end of the year and it's time for my yearly favourites round-up. These are my top 5 albums, TV shows/seasons, and books that I've enjoyed the most this year.

Albums


The Life and Times of Scrooge by Tuomas Holopainen
Scrooge McDuck is the theme of the album, the character from the graphic novels that are wildly popular in Holopainen's native Finland. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece of composition. Anyone familiar with Nightwish's music will hear some of its influence, as to be expected from Holopainen's role in both. As someone wholly unfamiliar with Scrooge McDuck, The Life and Times sounds like what would happen if you took a Nightwish album, stripped it of metal elements, and added more classical and cinematic score features. It has quickly joined my collection of both favourite 2014 albums and favourite study albums. 
Favourite tracks: Into the West, Dual & Cloudscapes, Cold Heart of the Klondike, A Lifetime of Adventure

Wolves by Rag'n'Bone Man
Although I'm not usually a blues fan, something about Rory's voice instantly captivated me. Rag'n'Bone Man is everything that I like about the dark bluesy style of music - he has a fantastic, rich voice with deep lyrics and background instruments that don't drown him out, with songs that are guaranteed to stick with you long after you've listened to them.
Favourite tracks: No Mother, Guilty, Lay My Body Down, Life In Her Yet

Strange Desire by Bleachers
Strange Desire is by far one of my most played albums of the year. There is little I don't love about the record and it is one of the most flawlessly executed albums I've heard yet this year. Bleachers hearkens back to the rock music of the 80s and early 90s with its layered vocals and the equal attention to making both good lyrics and good instrumental sections. It's a fun pop record that I turn on nearly every time I'm in my car.
Favourite tracks: Wild Heart, Rollercoaster, I Wanna Get Better, Reckless Love

Goddess by Banks
Goddess was the album I was most excited about its release this year. Half of the album had previously either been on an EP or drip-released, but many of the remaining songs were a bit different from her usual moody R&B and delved more into an acoustic style with non-distorted vocals. Goddess is an incredible album, especially as a debut, and as Banks gains more popularity I can only hope that her future releases maintain the same quality as her current work.
Favourite tracks: Goddess, Waiting Game, Brain, Drowning, Beggin For Thread, Before I Ever Met You

Hozier by Hozier
Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Bryne released his debut self-titled album following a year of slowly building success with two EP releases. Hozier combines soul, gospel, blues, rock, and folk together to complement Hozier's haunting, soulful voice. Lyrically, Hozier tackles some complicated issues, setting his debut apart from others in the genre. Although I don't usually enjoy soul/blues-tinged rock musicians, Hozier's voice quickly captivated me and his hooks stay in my head for days.
Favourite tracks: Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene, Jackie & Wilson, Sedated

TV Shows


Sherlock, Series 3

After being on hiatus for two years, the third series of Sherlock was met with frantic anticipation and plenty of tears from the Tumblr fandom. Although it was vastly different from the previous two series, it was a good change. There was more character development in nearly every character and the audience was able to better see what makes Sherlock the way he is -- we get glimpses into his childhood and more family moments with Mycroft and their parents. Molly grows more of a spine around Sherlock, Anderson is made likable, John gets married to Mary (a fantastic new character), Lestrade's name is mixed up on more occasions, and most importantly, a certain famous somebody returns. There were lots of surprises and comical moments and sad moments and overall it was a fantastic season.



Hannibal, Season 2
I cannot rave enough about this show. I was a little nervous because season 1 was so amazing that I thought season 2 couldn't get any better, but I was so wrong: season 2 topped season 1 in every single way. The premiere episode was a little slow as it reassembled the pieces of what happened since the end of last season, but every episode after that was even better than the one before it. Bryan Fuller and his team are some of the most creative people in the business and it shows in every single episode down to the details, like the small touches on characters' outfits, the features of the sets of the offices and homes, and the overall colour palette (which has been likened more than once to a dark version of a Wes Anderson film). I don't want to say too much without giving anything away, but needless to say everything about this show is brilliant and I cannot wait to see the third season next spring.



Moone Boy

Chris O'Dowd co-produces and costars in this adorable and hilarious comedy set in west Ireland about a 12 year old boy named Martin who has an imaginary friend, Sean (played by O'Dowd). Martin is the youngest in the family of five kids and the only boy, which contributes to many hilarious and awkward moments. His best friend Padraic is one of my favourites characters out of any sitcom and he has his own imaginary friend as well (though he's not quite as charming as Martin's). It's silly and adorable and can easily be watched in one afternoon.

Orphan Black, Season 2
This conspiracy thriller/drama focuses on Sarah Manning, a street smart twentysomething trying to find an escape from her life. Throughout the show she discovers clones of herself, each with their own unique personalities and lives. Tatiana Maslaney plays every clone so perfectly that I often forget there aren't 11 different actresses playing the characters. The second season picked up right where the first season left of and does not slow down the entire 10 episodes. Orphan Black is one of the most intriguing shows I've ever seen and with the huge cliffhanger at the end of the season, I am nearly counting down the days until season 3 premiers. 

Luther
While Luther's premise isn't inherently original - a psychological crime drama revolving around DCI John Luther, a man who cannot separate his personal life from his work - its writing, pace, and execution are superbly done. Few American shows that I know of would take such huge risks with the main characters, nor would they delve so deeply in a character's thoughts. Netflix released the third series on instant play this year, and while I thought it wasn't quite as good as the first two series, it was nonetheless as intriguing and suspenseful, and it finished on a surprisingly satisfying and happy note.

Books


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This was the first of Adichie's books I had read, but I loved it so much that I read all of her others as soon as I could get my hands on themAmericanah is one of the most thought-provoking and beautifully written novels I've ever read. Despite it being work of fiction, the author wove in her own Nigerian background to tackle issues of race and relationships in the modern world. Other reviewers have wrote that they didn't feel Adichie completely addressed each of these topics and while I agree, I preferred it this way. Each section of the book showed which area the main character, Ifemula, struggled with the most at that point in her life, which gave the narrative a realistic feel.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
And the Mountains Echoed is Hosseini's third and most recent book, and it is, like his past two, one of the most moving books I have ever read. True to Hosseini's form, this book follows several different characters that are all connected by family or friends. Unlike his previous two, however, every chapter is from a different character's perspective, instead of switching between only two or three people. What I loved so much about Hosseini's work, And the Mountains Echoed in particular, is how he deals with the individual struggles of people and what it means to be human. Every emotion is explored in depth by the characters and each chapter shows the good and bad that are in everyone. Ultimately, Hosseini shows how fragile and yet how strong humanity is in a beautiful way.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
J.K. Rowling again adopted her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, for the second entry of her Cormoran Strike series. This time private detective Strike and his assistant Robin tackle the case of the disappearance and eventual murder of novelist Owen Quine, who wrote a highly inflammatory novel just before vanishing. Much like The Cuckoo's CallingThe Silkworm is not a particularly fast-paced novel but is nonetheless highly engaging and hard to put down once started. Instead of taking a thriller approach, Rowling uses the 450+ pages to draw up 3D characters that the reader is able to identify and sympathize with. With how good the first two installations have been, I am highly looking forward to more Cormoran Strike novels in the future.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is Marra's first novel and it is one of the best debuts I have ever read. It reminds me of Hosseini's work in that it is set with a real-life war in the background and observes the actions of the ordinary people caught up in the catastrophe. Constellation is set during the Chechan wars and is written from the perspective of several characters: a failed doctor, the eight-year-old daughter of a kidnapped man, a skilled surgeon, the surgeon's daughter, and a Soviet informer. What starts out as a simple case of survival becomes more complex as the book progresses and the motives of each character are made more clear. The plot is simple but the characters are so dimensional and Marra's writing style so beautiful that it was an enjoyable experience to read rather than feeling like just a plot to follow.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
The only show I have ever seen Mindy Kaling in is The Office, in which I found her character very irritating, so I wasn't expecting to enjoy her book very much. To my surprise, I fell in love with her personality after just the intro. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me is one of the funniest books I have ever read and is full of not-so-great-but-hilarious life advice, stories of her career in show business, and comical yet true observations about things like the women in rom-coms and how to be a best friend. Although it is yet another memoir/life observation of yet another celebrity, this one made me laugh harder than any other and after reading it, all I want is to be Mindy's best friend.



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