Friday, January 12, 2018

Best Music of 2017

  1. Big Thief - Capacity 
    • The more I listen the more I think it's a masterpiece.  Her ability to write poems that tell stories, and to sing them in such unique (but pleasant) rhythms makes me really appreciate the music.  "We may each want something different from music — when melody and memory tell a tale, I'm in. And right now, no one does it better for me than this band." -Bob Boilen
  2. Benjamin Clementine - I Tell a Fly
    • I prefer his 2015 album, 'At Least for Now', but this one is still pretty darn good.  A good mix of poetry, jazz, pop, and interesting vocals.
  3. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. 
    • I was expecting a more typical hip-hop / rap album when I started checking him out, but I was impressed at the depth of the sounds, and I can't deny that some of those rhythms are pretty awesome.  Sometimes I feel like his piano, bass, and drum sounds channel some of the best parts of Radiohead.  
  4. Arcade Fire - Everything Now
    • Not their best album, but it ages well with repeated listens.  A few of their tracks are a fresh sound from them that I really dig.  And props to them for rounding out an excellent catalog of albums at this point.
  5. The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
    • Their prior album is probably still more classic than this one, but this one is really enjoyable on first listen.  
  6. Julien Baker - Turn Out the Lights
    • Reminds me a bit of the lead singer from the band Wet.  Also her sound reminds me somewhat of Neil Young's 'Le Noise' album from a few years back.  Some raw emotions, and some haunting lyrics.  I enjoyed watching her Tiny Desk performance -- she's super talented.
  7. Slowdive - Slowdive
    • Chill
  8. Valerie June - The Order of Time
    • When you've consumed enough 'Alabama Shakes' and 'Black Keys' but you still want that sound, she really hits the spot.  
  9. Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness
    • I found her deep but soft voice and acoustic guitar arresting, but I did slightly tire of the album as I made my way through it.  Could be clutch on the right kind of day / location though.
  10. SZA - Ctrl
    • Love a couple of the songs, but can't get behind it as a whole album.
  11. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked at Me
    • Death is real.  If you needed to know that this is a good album to teach you that.  
  12. Jay Som - Everybody Works
    • Fun throughout. 
Old Standbys
  1. Bjork - Utopia
    • Doesn't come close to her last album, 'Vulnicura' (one of my favorites of the last decade), but it's interesting.  I haven't had the patience for it yet but I may someday.  
  2. Sufjan Stevens - Planetarium
    • It's kind of cool, but I can't get through the whole album
  3. LCD Soundsystem - american dream
    • I need something more from them on this comeback
  4. Beck - Colors 
    • This is one of his "fun" albums.  I tend to prefer his not fun albums these days.  
Good Songs for a Playlist
  1. Moses Sumney - Lonely World 
    • He has one or two other decent songs on his albums as well
  2. Bottle Tree - Open Secret 
    • I love the sound of this song with all its world beats and percussion.  I wanted to like the album more but could only get behind a couple other songs
  3. The xx - I Dare You
    • Whatever
  4. Charlotte Gainsbourg - Deadly Valentine
    • Not a great album, but big bonus points for sounding like a Royksopp song.  

Earbuds

Now that we have entered into the new frontier of wireless headphones and lightning connectors, I find myself struggling to find the perfect headphone.  Somehow it feels like with all these new options and technologies there's more for me to be fussy about.

For the past 6 or 7 years my go-to has been the Bose MiE2 in-ear headphones.  I used to love them.  Finally!, unobtrusive headphones that would comfortably stay in my ear, have great sound quality, and convenient functionality & iPod controls.  These were a game-changer for me in terms of allowing me to rock out, listen to audiobooks, scriptures, do house-chores more productively, be on long conference calls, etc., all while looking super cool like this dude.

The only problem (at first) was that after scrunching these things up in my pocket and using them all the time they would eventually fray and/or stop working.

Bose was awesome about replacing them for me even when they were out of warranty.  By my count I've replaced 3 or 4 sets of their headphones with different variations / upgrades each time.

Then the iPhone 7 came out a couple years ago which has been my most challenging iPhone relationship to date (no big leaps forward from prior models, no more headphone jack, and just the sense that at this point in the iPhone cycle I shouldn't still need to stress about keeping the batteries charged all the time and manually plugging it in each night like some 20th century schmo).  I was willing to be a lightning port adapter, or at least be a dongle supporter.  The problem is that 1) the dongle, besides adding a little unwanted bulk, also causes the Bose headphones to occasionally short out in my experience, and 2) the industry hasn't seemed to have caught up with lightning ports.  I was searching on a monthly basis for a good lightning port headphone.  They're supposed to have truer sound, which is nice, but not if the only way to get them is through some boutique retailer (e.g. Audeze) or some small-time shop (e.g. Libratone) where I still have to shell out for them and I have no idea how comfortably they're going to fit; especially when I've grown so accustomed to the Bose StayHear tips.  I don't know why Bose hasn't jumped on board with them yet.  But given that they haven't I feel like I have to make a choice, especially since my most recent pair is once again frayed and I don't feel great about returning them yet again for a purchase I originally made back in 2010 or so.

So now I either a) go down the rabbit-hole of lightning cable options where I probably won't like the way they fit, or b) explore bluetooth options.  (I should make clear that I'm not willing to look at over-the-ear headphones as I'm not interested in looking like a DJ or a ski bunny.)  Frustratingly, what I've learned on the bluetooth front is that the Apple AirPods don't seem to have much good competition in terms of integrated functionality or even in the fit/comfort or sound categories.

After weighing all my options I decided to go with AirPods and leap into the wireless future.  Here's what I have to say about them after about a month 5 months of using them.

One of my favorite product ads in a long time. [Commercial]
Pros
  • Wireless - No more excruciating wire mishaps where the slack catches on a door handle and yanks them out of my ear.  And now I can distance myself from my iPhone without interruption (like when I'm following a recipe or using the torch light to help me to kill ants or stuff like that)
  • Good Sound
  • Stability is better than I originally thought -- the regular Apple headphones have always easily fallen out of my ears which used to annoy me like no other, but what I've found with the AirPods is that the lack of wires / weight makes them stay centered in your ear and not get tugged around, so they tend to stay in place
  • Phone call audio is great on both ends
Cons
  • Lack of functionality - Limited to engaging Siri by double-tapping, or pausing by pulling an earbud out of my ear.  The problem with both of these things is that 1) I don't really want to talk to Siri any more than I have to, and 2) when I pull an earbud out of my ear I often don't have a great place to put it, and also the technology that is supposed to keep it paused by recognizing that the earbud is not enclosed in an ear often gets confused by my hand or my shirt pocket and resumes playing.  Some of this functionality is supposed to be addressed in iOS 11, which I look forward to.  [UPDATE: I CAN NOW DOUBLE TAP THE LEFT EARBUD TO PAUSE MUSIC WHICH DOESN'T SOUND LIKE MUCH, BUT IS A HUGE IMPROVEMENT.]  
  • Spotty bluetooth - It's mostly a smooth connection but on average a couple times a day I either get occasional short skips in songs or it pauses.  (I'm really tired of not having steady music playing experiences.  It's stuff like this that occasionally makes me want to go all the way back to a walkman or something.) [UPDATE: THE BLUETOOTH HAS BEEN MUCH MORE RELIABLE THAN IT WAS AT FIRST.  STILL NOT PERFECT THOUGH.]
  • It's one more thing I need to charge (which was probably my biggest gripe with the Apple Watch, and the main reason why I returned it).  Thankfully it holds a charge very well, and it also recharges very quickly.  I usually recharge my case every 2-4 days or so and I'm good.
  • The sound quality is amazing for what they are, but I do miss the slightly better quality of my old Boses.  
  • I don't love the feel of the cool, hard plastic.  I would prefer silicone tips.  
  • The immaculate white floss-holder-like AirPod holder picks up tons of lint and scuffs in my pocket.  
  • The 'find my AirPods' functionality is pretty lame because 1) it only works on the earbuds themselves, not the case, and 2) every time I've kind of needed it the earbuds have been offline, so I get a message that my AirPods will make a noise when they're back online, which is never.  
After 5 months of using them, overall I'm very satisfied with them.  I like that I can pause them and keep them in my ears and still occasionally get by with just keeping them in my ears without feeling rude (like with a cashier or something).

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Best Films of 2016

Only a year+ late.

Below is my ranking and some brief write-ups of 2016's best movies along with their current domestic grossing ranks in parentheses. (NO SPOILERS)


Top Movies
  1. La La Land (19) - This movie had me singing the songs, laughing in my chair, wondering what was going to happen, wondering what the ending meant, downloading the soundtrack, and it just generally made me happy.  I don't get what all the negativity was about.
  2. Arrival (29) - This was a great discovery on a long flight.  My mind was doing circles on itself until it literally blew up.  Renner!  Although Val didn't love it quite as much, and accused me of being predictable on what movies I will like.  
  3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (1) - I enjoyed the texture of the film and that it took some risks with the plot.  I liked the deeper exploration of the Force.  The more I think about it, however, the weirder and more pointless the Forest Whitaker character is.  (Great opening sequence.)
  4. Moana (11) - I don't think I've seen the entire movie yet, but have seen and heard enough segments to count for having watched it several times.  The drawings / colors are really pretty, and some of the music is excellent (though the more popular songs wear on me after a while).  The 'Know Who You Are' scene with Moana and Tika face to face is one of the most beautiful scenes of the year in my opinion.  
  5. Hail, Caesar! (89) - Another good Coen Brothers installment, but not their best.
  6. Florence Foster Jenkins (94) - Val liked this more than I did.  It was fun, and well acted; just not interesting enough to keep me riveted for the whole movie.
  7. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (12) - Enjoyable watching as a big group on a family vacation, but otherwise not really my cup of tea.
Halfway Through Watching
  1. Jason Bourne (15) - So far it's been fun, but not great.  My biggest disappointment has been Tommy Lee Jones as the CIA director -- I find myself more interested in his pronounced face wrinkles than in his conviction in the role.  
Haven't Watched Yet
  1. Zootopia (7)
  2. Manchester by the Sea (69) - I was about to set up this movie on VidAngel, but my mom told me it's really stupid, so I guess the Academy got it wrong.
  3. Finding Dory (2) - We caught about 10 minutes of this in the theater before making a disgraced exit through the aisles with scared kids.  (Don't trust the grandparents when they say the movie is not scary.  They're technically right, but dark theaters and loud speakers just change the playing field a bit for youngsters.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Best Films of 2015

Of the 2015 (the year, not the number) movies I have watched thus far, with only one exception I was very pleased with all of them.

Below is my ranking and some brief write-ups of the year's best movies along with their current domestic grossing ranks in parentheses. (NO SPOILERS)


Top Movies
  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1)
    • It brought back the feel of Star Wars without us having to try to convince ourselves that the magic was still there, which the 2nd trilogy only achieved in episode 3.  The new characters and story-lines introduced have me excited for the subsequent episodes.
  2. The Martian (8)
    • Mostly just very fun and beautiful to watch.  But it also forced me to think about separation, human contact, and endurance.  Not a movie that I'm dying to see again, but I had a blast experiencing it the 1st time.  
  3. Inside Out (4)
    • A really fun exploration in psychology.  
  4. Two Days, One Night [2014] (197)
    • Technically a 2014 movie out of France, but I couldn't get my hands on it until 2015 so I'm including it here.  A simple story, but with very high stakes.  The acting was great, and it had me on the edge of my seat at times.
  5. Still Alice (102)
    • Somewhat similar to 'Two Days, One Night'.  A sobering movie about alzheimers.  
  6. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (57)
    • I won't be sad if this doesn't become a series.  
No Thank You
Jurassic World (2)
Avengers (3)
Ant-Man (13)
San Andreas (19)

Maybe on an Airplane
Furious 7 (5) - Although, the fact that my brother now owns and swears by all 7 of the movies in the series has me second-guessing myself.
Hunger Games (7)
Spectre (10)
Mission Impossible (11)

Ranking of Non-2015 Movies Viewed During the Year (Informational Only)
  1. Gattaca [1997]
    • A great futuristic sci-fi film; and a lot of fun watching the likes of Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman in their nascent primes.  
  2. Into the Woods [2014]
    • A great way to watch a Sondheim musical in the comfort of your own home.  The 'Agony' song was one of the funniest scenes I watched all year.
  3. The Adjustment Bureau [2011]
    • Watched this while I was on a Matt Damon kick after watching 'The Martian'.  It's kind of a genre-bender but I got credit at home for it being a romantic movie, so I was happy. 
  4. Big [1988]
    • It has some great scenes but it ends a little too awkwardly.
  5. The Imitation Game [2014]
    • It was helpful to learn about Alan Turing but the movie didn't succeed in making me appreciate his genius, or in stretching me intellectually.  I mostly came away with learning about his quirky personality, some stuff about cracking the Nazi code with Keira Knightley, and the challenges of being homosexual in the 50's.  I would have preferred that the movie exhibit more focus, and perhaps pull off something more clever with the Turing test or something.  
  6. The Theory of Everything [2014]
    • The comments above apply here as well, only to a greater degree.  The acting yes, was stupendous, but I came away feeling hollow about Stephen Hawking's life, and never really getting the chance to appreciate his genius -- only allusions to it. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Best Films of 2014

A pretty good year for movies I'd say.  Several months after watching it I'm still super high on Interstellar.  I want to buy it on iTunes but my wife says it costs too much.  But then when I try to Netflick it she says she doesn't want to watch it a 2nd time.  What can I do?!

Below is my ranking of the year's best movies along with their current domestic grossing ranks in parentheses.

Top Movies
1. Interstellar (16)
2. Boyhood (100)
3. The Wind Rises (146)
4. Hobbit 3 (6)
5. X Men (9)
6. The Trip to Italy (159)

Movie I Haven't Yet Seen But Excitedly Plan to
The Imitation Game (36)

Movies that Perplex Me as to How People Can Say that They Like Them, and that I Haven't Yet Brought Myself to Watch
Planet of the Apes (11)