The Best of The Best
2019 may have had its up and downs when it came to almost anything in the everyday news, but it was also full of a bunch of great stuff. I wanted to do this post to share some of my favourites from the year with you all to give you a chance to catch up on some awesome TV, movies, music & podcasts you may have missed. So, without further ado...
Favourite movie of the year: Joker
Honourable Mentions: Avengers Endgame, El Camino, The Irishman
2019 has been a pretty solid year for movies, and my absolute favourite has to be Joker. For a movie that I was pretty sceptical about beforehand, it absolutely blew me away. Of course, the performance from Joaquin Phoenix is at the centre of it all - I almost want to call it a career best performance, but the has had so many, it's too hard to choose. The movie itself needs no introduction, and I'm sure almost all of you out there have seen it - if not, be sure to pick up on home release!
Worthy runners up include the incredible Avengers Endgame - just purely for what it managed to achieve in tying up the storylines from 20+ movies over the course of a decade. It is also a visual spectacle, with an awesome performance from RDJ. Two huge Netflix movies; The Irishman and El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, were also two favourites of mine. The Irishman, while admittedly too long, it features amazing performances and it is amazing seeing Joe Pesci back on screen. El Camino, whist maybe not as appreciated as much by everyone, is a worthy follow up to Breaking Bad, and Aaron Paul, is in incredible form as Jesse Pinkman, a role he was born to play. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywaker is also a notice omission, and whilst I absolutely LOVED it, I don't think I've had enough time to process how much just yet.
Favourite TV show of the year: Succession (season 2)
Honourable Mentions: When They See Us, Unbelievable, The Wticher
As far as TV goes, there has only really been one candidate for me, and that is Succession. The moment I watched the first episode (after Kerry, my wife, had watched it), I was hooked, and the first two seasons were binged in no time. For those unaware, Succession is a dark comedy drama, that follows the Roy family (imagine the Murdochs), and their media empire. It has a whole cast of amazing characters - it's a bit like Game of Thrones set in the modern world, but with less violence and more politics. Season two ends on such a massive cliffhanger, and season three is already my most anticipated TV of 2020.
When They See Us & Unbelievable are two amazing true crime dramas both to come to Netflix this year, that both feature an amazing cast, and harrowing stories - that must be seen to be believed. While I haven't finished it at the time of writing, I'm also really enjoying The Witcher on Netflix. It's a bit like Game of Thrones on steroids, featuring a great performance from Henry Cavill. The final season of Game of Thrones is missing from this list, mainly because as much as I enjoyed it - it was just way too rushed for me to be 100% satisfying. I've also seen The Mandalorian - but that isn't released in the UK until next year, but it is INCREDIBLE.
Favourite artist/album of the year: Sam Fender/Hypersonic Missiles
Honorable Mentions: The Menzingers/Hello Exile, Dave Hause/Kick
This was a tough choice, because two of my favourite artists, The Menzingers & Dave Hause, released new records this year. As good as they both were, none of them caught my attention as must as the debut record, Hypersonic Missiles, from Sam Fender did. From the moment I first heard the single, Hypersonic Missiles, I knew that he was good, but it wasn't until he released the track The Borders, that it took it to another level. That is the single best track I've heard from a UK artist in years, and a song hasn't caught my attention so much since I first heard The '59 Sound by The Gaslight Anthem.
Hello Exile by The Menzingers is a worthy follow up to the stellar After The Party, with particular highlights being Anna, and Strain Your Memory. Kick, by Dave Hause is an exceptional record, that showcases his talents, and how much he has grown as an artitst since his brother Tim has came on board.
Favourite podcast of the year: Finding Drago
Honourable Mentions: The Storyteller: Murder Most Foul, Triple Hopped, Bad Batch
Now, I don't even know if this podcast was strictly released in 2019, but I only discovered it this year, and I do know that it is absolutely incredible. Finding Drago is an investigative journalism podcast that starts as one thing, and ends as another. I don't want to say too much about it as to spoil the events, but it starts as a journey to find the author of a Rocky IV sequel novel named Drago: On Mountains We Stand.
As for the runners up, Storyteller: Murder Most Foul is a true crime podcast set here in Aberdeen, telling an absolutely horrible story, yet a story that needed to be told. Triple Hopped is a podcast all about craft beer in which each episodes the host talk about a certain type of beer, or a certain brewery. Bad Batch is the latest podcast to come from the team behind Dirty John & Dr Death, Bad Batch tells the story of a bunch of patients who were offered a miracle cure, yet were all rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
So there you have it, my favourites for the year. I would have liked to have maybe included books and games too, but I don't think I read a single book all year, and I didn't play enough games that blew me away to justify making a list.
What were your favourites? Let me know in the comments below.
The Punk Rock Kings Of Philly
I'm not very adventurous when it comes to new music. I'm usually pretty set in my ways; listening to the same artists, the same playlists & the same songs. However every now and then, one of those artists will lead me to discover a new one. And that's exactly what happened a couple of years back.
It all started with Springsteen.
My obsession with The Boss that has lasted for most of my adult life, steered me in the direction of exploring Springsteen's New Jersey routes. This led me to The Gaslight Anthem and they, in turn, led me to guys like Dave Hause and Chuck Ragan. Spending most of my time listening to these guys, who still remain a staple of my everyday listening, Spotify would start suggesting new bands to me such as The Bouncing Souls, Against Me! and The Menzingers. Now, while I'd heard of The Menzingers before, I'd never actually listened to them. So after a quick listen of their most popular tracks on Spotify, I sat up, and slowly began to take notice of this band. Before long, I'd listened to everything that was available on Spotify - but what really grabbed my attention was 2012's On The Impossible Past.
On The Impossible Past
The Menzingers 3rd studio album, On The Impossible Past, is where this band really got their hooks in me. Now, I came to this album four years late, so I'm not really sure what kind of hype there was surrounding it at the time. But for me, it's hard to imagine that it didn't blow everyone away on release, because I think if I were to create a list of my favourite albums of all time, this would easily be in the top five, probably even my top three.
The album opens so strongly with three catchy, high energy tracks in Good Things, Burn After Writing and singalong anthem The Obituaries before slowing things right down with Gates - four tracks that really set the bar for the quality of this record. The real high points of the album for me are the tracks Mexican Guitars & Casey, which are still two of my most favourite Menzingers songs to date. Mexican Guitars is a nostalgia-heavy song that seems to deal with the loss of an old friend, and looking back to better times when they were learning guitar on their Mexican Stratocaster's together:
"I'm on cruise control and the radio was on
They were playing that song
That we both learned on our Mexican guitars"
This song instantly hooked me - the passion in Greg Barnett's voice was so clear on the first listen, that I knew this was going to be a favourite. Similar can be said for Casey - another track that seems to deal with nostalgic memories of an old friend:
"Me and Casey
We used to get drunk before we did the dishes
Oh, every evening
Me and Casey
Used to get high and listen to our boredom"
Again, Greg's vocal delivery is so powerful and combined with the catchy lyrics - Casey became an instant favourite for me. These are then followed up by I Can't Seem To Tell, and Freedom Bridge - two tracks that round the record off perfectly.
For me, this is the perfect punk rock album; the ultimate mash-up of energetic, aggressive pure punk & singalong, hooky melodies full of raw emotion. It is easy to see why this is one of the most critically acclaimed punk albums of all time.
The follow up to On The Impossible Past, Rented World, doesn't quite hit the same heights of its predecessor for me. It was always going to be a huge task for The Menzingers to deliver a follow-up record of such high quality - but don't get me wrong, it does have its moments. The opening track I Don't Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore, which is my favourite track on the album, is absolutely incredible. It's an extremely dark & powerful opening track, and the emotion in Barnett's voice is there for all to see:
"I won't lie no more about where I've been
And I won't pry no more
Over the people that you're hanging with
You're the only lover that I ever missed
Ever been hopelessly in love with
Look at this tangle of thorns
I don't wanna be an asshole anymore"
The album hits a few other highs with tracks such Rodent, Where Your Heartache Exists, The Talk & Hearts Unknown - all of which wouldn't look out of place on On The Impossible Past. Whilst Rented World doesn't quite hit the heights of its predecessor it is still a pretty damn good record overall.
Lookers & After The Party
Lookers is still a mainstay of my everyday listening and has a place in several of my Spotify playlists. And despite On The Impossible Past being my favourite Menzingers record overall, I think Lookers is my favourite track. Check out the video for it below.
With the release of Lookers came the promise of a new album, and that's exactly what came next. On October 27, 2016, The Menzingers announced their fifth studio album, titled After The Party would be released on February 3, 2017.
Now, if On The Impossible Past was nostalgia-heavy, then After The Party takes it up a notch. The incredible opening track Tellin' Lies sets the tone for the album as a whole, repeatedly asking the question "Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?" The first five tracks on this record make for really strong listening with the incredible Lookers, along with Midwestern States and Charlie's Army being particular highlights.
This continues with House On Fire, Boy Blue and Bad Catholics but things really step up again with the tenth track, Your Wild Years.
The second last song on the album is the title track, After The Party, a track that just about pips Lookers to my favourite overall Menzingers track. After The Party works as a follow up to the record's opening track, Tellin' Lies and tells the story of a couple who are struggling to figure out where to go after their college years. But despite the troubles the face, when the partying is done, and it's time to grow up - they stick together.
"Everybody wants to get famous
But you just want to dance in a basement
You don't care if anyone is watching
Just as long as you stay in motion
We put miles on these old jean jackets
Got caught up in the drunk conversations
But after the party, it's me and you
After the party, it's me and you"
It's hard to listen to this song and not get drawn into it. I used to think that Brian Fallon (The Gaslight Anthem) was my favourite vocalist out there but the sheer amount of pure, raw, emotion that Greg Barnett can get across in his vocal delivery is incredible. Just as I do with Your Wild Years, I get chills every time I listen to this track. It even has an awesome video - check it out below.
For me the album is a real return to form for The Menzingers and the heights of On The Impossible Past - it's a sort of spiritual sequel to it with a return of the nostalgia-heavy hooky melodies and catchy singalong lyrics. And whilst After The Party may not be as strong overall as On The Impossible Past, it is a record that would easily have a spot in my top ten list.
I think it's clear from this that I'm a sucker for nostalgia, and it's true; I love old movies, I love old video games and I love old music, so naturally, I was going to connect with a bunch of these songs on some level. I think it speaks volumes, that for a band that I'd only discovered a few years ago - two of their albums would make my top ten of all time list. If you want to hear for yourself just why I love The Menzingers so much, then check out my Menzingers playlist on Spotify.
I can't wait to see what they do next ?
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