Category: reviews Page 1 of 2

just finished Data and Goliath, by Bruce Schneier, for this month’s Austin Computer Book Club meetup. it was eye-opening and kind of horrifying, but pragmatic, interesting, and more timely with each passing day’s headlines ?

just finished Anna Burns’ Milkman. haven’t enjoyed a book this thoroughly in a long time. the unique style might not be to everyone’s taste, but I fucking loved it. the story, the style, the characters, the insights… every page was a delight. a masterpiece. ?

Best of My 2018 Music

Time once again for my annual best-of music review! Each year, I pick my ten favorite new albums of the year, where “new” means new to me, not necessarily released this year. Any albums I bought in the calendar year are eligible for the list, regardless of when they were released.

Here are my 2018 selections, in alphabetical order by artist (I pick the top ten, but I don’t order them further than that). A playlist of all these albums is on Spotify.

Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really FeelTell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett – An oddly weak opening track is followed by another solid album from this amazing singer-songwriter. Her collaboration with Kurt Vile wasn’t my bag, so I was glad her solo material returned to the clever lyrics, rocking songs, and Australian accent that made her debut one of the best of 2015. And no surprise that she sounds as good live as she does on her records. (concert pic)

Neko Case, Hell-OnHell-On, Neko Case – Another repeat artist on the list, Ms. Case gets the hat trick following her last two albums’ appearances (Middle Cyclone in 2009 and The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You in 2013). I’ve only seen her live at ACL Fest, but will rectify that in February at Bass Concert Hall.

Lucy Dacus, HistorianHistorian, Lucy Dacus – The repeats continue with Lucy Dacus’ second full-length album. More down-tempo than the one that was a best-of just last year, this one took a little while to grow on me. But the lyrics and her voice are as good as ever. I already have tickets to see her again (the day after Neko Case, as it happens).

Hop Along, Bark Your Head Off, DogBark Your Head Off, Dog, Hop Along – Their sound and lyrics as distinctive as ever, this band is becoming a real favorite. They put on a great show, and this is every bit as good as their previous album (a 2017 best-of). I also picked up their 2012 release, Get Disowned, which I found to be more of a mixed bag (see “Best of the Rest”, below). (concert pic)

Janelle Monáe, Dirty ComputerDirty Computer, Janelle Monáe – Finally, a debut artist on this year’s list. I’ve liked her music since 2007’s Metropolis, and really appreciated the concept albums she’s put together. But they also all have some low spots, and I rarely find myself listening to them in their entirety. Her latest is less concept, and more consistent throughout, in my book. We saw her at ACL Fest, and her show was fantastic. (concert pic)

Metric, Art of DoubtArt of Doubt, Metric – Following 2012’s Synthetica (a best-of that year), 2015’s Pagans in Vegas was good, but didn’t crack the top ten. Despite a late-in-the-year release, I’ve really enjoyed this latest from the Canadian indie-rockers. Here’s hoping they headline their own darn tour and stop opening for other, lesser bands (Smashing Pumpkins, pshaw).

Moving Panoramas, OneOne, Moving Panoramas – And here, at last, is a brand new (to me) band making it’s top-ten debut. This is an Austin-area group that opened at a Wye Oak concert I saw late last year. The dreamy, chill synth-pop makes this album the kind where particular tracks don’t really stand out, which in their case is not a criticism. They have new music coming out early in 2019 (One was released three years ago), and I can’t wait to hear it. (concert pic)

Nervous Dater, Don't Be a StrangerDon’t Be a Stranger, Nervous Dater – Another debut artist, this is just a fun, rollicking indie band. Perhaps their Bandcamp bio puts it best: “A Brooklyn band that is the music equivalent of finding out aliens are real but the documents are covered in T Bell fire sauce.” Or perhaps not.

Soft Science, MapsMaps, Soft Science – The last brand-new artist in this year’s best ten, with a really lovely sound. Somewhat shoe-gazey, but with propulsive rhythms that keep you nodding along, rather than nodding off. I’m looking forward to what else this band gives us, and I’ll be digging in to their back catalog while I wait.

Speedy Ortiz, Twerp VerseTwerp Verse, Speedy Ortiz – Last, but hell no not least, here’s another band making their third appearance in my annual best-ofs. First was Major Arcana on my 2014 list, then Foil Deer in 2017, and they just keep getting better. I also got to see their consistently great live show again this year. (concert pic)

That’s it for my ten favorite “new” albums of 2018.

And then there are all the rest of the albums. To complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut, ordered not alphabetically, but in the best mixtape order I can manage. This “Best of the Rest” (minus the song from the 1992 Curve album) is also a playlist on Spotify.

  1. A Beginning Song – The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
  2. Act My Age – Dream Wife, Dream Wife
  3. Wish You Dead – Curve, Doppelgänger
  4. Go Loving – The Joy Formidable, AAARTH
  5. Never Giving In – Jenn Champion, Single Rider
  6. Become the One – Goldfrapp, Silver Eye
  7. Little Girl Blue and The Battle Envy – Skating Polly, The Make It All Show
  8. It Probably Matters – Interpol, Marauder
  9. Fire Drills – Dessa, Chime
  10. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino – Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
  11. Singer’s No Star – Waxahatchee, Great Thunder
  12. Cake – Wussy, What Heaven Is Like
  13. You of All People – Wye Oak, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
  14. Buenas Noches, Desolación – Julieta Venegas, Algo Sucede
  15. Ben Franklin’s Song – The Decemberists, Ben Franklin’s Song
  16. Bummertown – Lola Tried, Lola Tried
  17. Jeannie Becomes A Mom – Caroline Rose, LONER
  18. Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes – The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl
  19. Patricia – Florence + The Machine, High As Hope
  20. Night – Zola Jesus, Stridulum
  21. Let It Go – The Black Ryder, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride
  22. Vulture – She Keeps Bees, Dig On
  23. Kids On the Boardwalk – Hop Along, Get Disowned
  24. Tea-Soaked Letter – Anna Burch, Quit the Curse
  25. Miracle – CHVRCHES, Love Is Dead
  26. Medley (The Hermit/The Flame Still Burns/Gold and Green/Living in the Country) – Ace of Cups, Ace of Cups

– saw band live this year
– link to concert pic


Past years’ bests: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

just finished The Sisters Brothers, a book I liked so much the first time that I not only intended to reread it, I actually did! Just in time for the movie to be gone from theaters, lol/sob. but what a great book, I enjoyed it as much as I remembered. ?

finished The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Another gripping & masterfully written story from an author I like a lot, though for me, imagining the railroad as a literal underground construction didn’t add as much to the story as I’d expected.

just finished Godless. set in the Old West, it’s an intense, gripping 7-episode miniseries with a fantastic cast of characters (and a lot of guns). recommended.

finished reading God Save Texas, by Lawrence Wright. I enjoyed the mix of history, personal anecdotes, and political analysis. some of the stories cast recent events – in Texas & the US more broadly – in an interesting, some-of-this-ain’t-all-that-new light. ?

finished Functional Thinking by Neal Ford for yesterday’s @atxcompbookclub. I found juggling examples in several different languages to be more work than it was worth, but as an intro, background, & argument in favor of functional programming, it nailed it. ?

heard the first episode of this new podcast, Everything Is Alive, via 99% Invisible. “an unscripted interview show in which all the subjects are inanimate objects”, funny & clever.

finished reading: The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. I really enjoyed this modern telling of The Iliad story, which I knew broadly but have never read. This is so well written, evocative, with superb characterization. highly recommended. ?

book review: Under the Lights & in the Dark, by Gwendolyn Oxenham. I thought I’d like it, but I loved it. I recommend this compelling, inspiring (but not pollyannaish) collection of stories not just to soccer fans, or women’s soccer fans, but to anyone. fantastic. ?

Next was a title that’s been on my list since the 2011 Tournament of Books, where it got to the semis. This opening round review is a good one.

book review: Next, by James Hynes: really enjoyed this. I think I would have even if I weren’t so familiar with much of the setting (a bright, hot day in downtown & south Austin), but that was a bonus for sure. (and what a final act!) ?

“And I’m not in favor of the “nice sandwich” approach to criticism. Fuck the nice sandwich. Fuck the false balance of “impartial” journalism. I just didn’t like it and it didn’t move me.”

holy cats, a barnburner of a judgment indeed. GOD I love the ToB.

we decided to watch all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars tomorrow, & with the The Post last night, we did it! (MoviePass ftw.) no award predictions but my favorites were Get Out, Shape of Water, & Lady Bird.

book review: The Book of Joan, by Lidia Yuknavitch. a literary sci-fi apocalypse story with interesting ideas and moving scenes, undercut for me by some suspension-of-disbelief breaking aspects & a few gory moments ?

this is hilarious, down to the sponsors: a limited series (with short episodes) Onion parody of true-crime podcasts like S-Town: A Very Fatal Murder. (just two episodes there but they’re all published on iTunes, et al)

movie review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – we were so excited when we first saw this trailer, then so disappointed to see the critics’ reviews. finally watched it tonight, and it was a lot of fun! (weird to see Littlefinger as a good guy, though) ?

Best of My 2017 Music

Time again for my annual best-of music review! Each year, I pick my ten favorite new albums of the year, where “new” means new to me, not necessarily released in 2017. Any albums I bought in the calendar year are eligible for the list, regardless of when they were released.

Here are my 2017 selections, in alphabetical order by artist (I pick the top 10, but I don’t order them further than that). A playlist of all these albums is on Spotify.

Charly Bliss, GuppyGuppy, Charly Bliss – I don’t recall where I first heard of this fun, energetic little pop-punk band. The vocals and the songs themselves remind me a little of early Cardigans, which is a good thing. The AV Club agrees, calling this album “ebullient, addictive, and an instant classic”.

Lucy Dacus, No BurdenNo Burden, Lucy Dacus – What a voice, and a set of just excellent songs to showcase it. Troublemaker Doppelgänger is one of my favorites of the year, right up there with the very best songs in my library. I saw her and her band indoors at Stubb’s, it was a great show. (concert pic)

Diet Cig, Swear I'm Good at ThisSwear I’m Good at This, Diet Cig – I’ve been waiting for the first full-length from this dynamic duo since I put their EP and single on last year’s list, and it didn’t disappoint. Neither did their opening set in Nov. ’16 or their SXSW show at Waterloo. Don’t miss a chance to see Diet Cig live. (concert pic)

EMA, Exile in the Outer RingExile in the Outer Ring, EMA – Another brand-new artist for me, and a powerful one. A look over the song titles will tell you this isn’t light party music: “I Wanna Destroy”, “Blood and Chalk”, “Aryan Nation”, the list goes on. It’s good, hard, somewhat genre-defying music.

Hop Along, Painted ShutPainted Shut, Hop Along – Another new band, with a solid album of clever, well-crafted indie songs. It took a listen or two for the singer’s voice to grow on me; now it’s my favorite part of their sound.

Juana Molina, HaloHalo, Juana Molina – I’ve been a fan of hers for years (her last album was a best-of in 2013), and this is another good addition to her catalog. Experimental, melodic, and lighthearted, it’s also good music to have on in the background while reading or coding.

Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 3Run the Jewels 3, Run the Jewels – The first RTJ album I’ve really gotten into (thanks to Sound Opinions, I think), and it’s just fantastic. Their set at the ACL Music Festival was good, even though we didn’t know all the songs from numbers 1 and 2.

S, Cool ChoicesCool Choices, S – I discovered this year that a singer from the now-defunct Carissa’s Wierd has been making solo music under the short (and difficult to search for) name “S”. Quiet, poignant, lovely songs. She performed the entirety of this album live in her hometown of Seattle as a farewell to this project, but unfortunately our trip there missed it by like two weeks.

Speedy Ortiz, Foil DeerFoil Deer, Speedy Ortiz – Speedy Ortiz’s clever, literate lyrics and inventive noise pop have been a favorite for a while (their last album was a best-of in 2014). I’d seen them on Waterloo’s SXSW stage then, but was glad to have the chance to see a full show this year. (concert pic)

Waxahatchee, Out in the StormOut in the Storm, Waxahatchee – Their previous album, Ivy Tripp (see the track from that one below), was good, but their latest is a big step forward. A little uneven, but with a standout like “Silver”, and a memorably great show at Mohawk, this was an easy choice for this year’s best-of. (concert pic)

That’s it for my ten favorite “new” albums of 2017.

And then there are all the rest of the albums. To complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut, ordered not alphabetically, but in the best mixtape order I can manage. This “Best of the Rest”, minus the Lola Tried song and the Grateful Dead live tracks (from bootlegs I dug up for shows that we saw live), is also a playlist on Spotify.

  1. Wiseblood – Zola Jesus, Okovi
  2. Not A Problem – S, im not as good at it as you
  3. Never Start – Middle Kids, Middle Kids
  4. In My Feelings – Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life
  5. Favorite Transgressions – Sleigh Bells, Kid Kruschev
  6. The Space Program – A Tribe Called Quest, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
  7. Let Me Out – Gorillaz, Humanz
  8. Should I Stay Or Should I Go – The Clash, Combat Rock
  9. Wide Awake – Deep Sea Diver, SECRETS
  10. Dangerous Days – Zola Jesus, Taiga
  11. Hello Sadness – Los Campesinos!, Hello Sadness
  12. Stranger To My Happiness – Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Give The People What They Want
  13. Simulation – Tkay Maidza, Tkay
  14. San Marcos – Lola Tried, Popsicle Queen
  15. Summer of Love – Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
  16. Rubin & Cherise – Grateful Dead, 1991-06-09 – Buckeye Lake Music Center
  17. New Speedway Boogie – Grateful Dead, 1992-06-28 – Deer Creek Music Center
  18. Althea – Grateful Dead, 1994-07-29 – Buckeye Lake Music Center

– saw band live this year
– link to concert pic


Past years’ bests: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

if you already have a Roku, Apple TV, internet TV, whatever, this is ancient news. but: this Roku LEGIT improved our lives, 35(+?)%

summer of Miyazaki #15 (& last): The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) – Ghibli, not by Miyazaki, but such a beautiful film. a favorite

summer of Miyazaki #14: The Wind Rises (2013) – another we hadn’t seen. good, if slow. without knowing the history, somewhat over our heads

summer of Miyazaki #13: From Up On Poppy Hill (2011) – we hadn’t seen this one before; it was interesting. a well-done romantic melodrama

summer of Miyazaki #12: Secret World of Arrietty (2010) – book adaptation, like Howl’s; good story & characters in another interesting world

summer of Miyazaki #11: Ponyo (2008) – Little Mermaid adaptation some fun moments, but it’s too simple, even juvenile, to be a favorite

summer of Miyazaki #10: Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – one of our favorites, with all the great characters, magic, & themes you’d want

summer of Miyazaki #9: The Cat Returns (2002) – a stretch since he didn’t write or direct, but a favorite years ago; still really cute & fun

summer of Miyazaki #8: Princess Mononoke (1997) – a classic, but sprawling storylines & an ambiguous ending made it not my favorite tbh

summer of Miyazaki #7: Spirited Away (2001) – masterpiece of mood, character, & action [watched Fri.; out of order w/Mononoke but it’s next]

summer of Miyazaki #6: Porco Rosso (1992) – wasn’t sure if we’d seen this before; we hadn’t. it’s great: funny, charming, & exciting

summer of Miyazaki #5: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) – the very 1st Miyazaki movie we ever saw, & still a favorite. Phil Hartman as Jiji!

summer of Miyazaki #4: My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – just imagine if you’d never seen this & watched it the first time with no spoilers

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