The Sunday Magazine: My Favorite Non-Perfume Things of 2016

As we enter the final week of 2016 it is a time for lists of all kinds. I am no different and my year-end perfume lists will appear towards the end of the week. I’m also going to remember 2016 for some non-perfume things and in this last The Sunday Magazine of the year I thought I’d share those.

Favorite movie: Arrival– There was so much for the geek in me this year; Deadpool, Rogue One, Captain America Civil War, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I had a veritable smorgasbord in front of me of these kinds of movies. The one which has stuck with me since seeing it has been Arrival which is about a couple of scientists trying to communicate with extraterrestrials who have just landed. Themes of how we communicate intertwined with how we fear have stayed with me since leaving the movie theatre. I also said it when I wrote about it but Amy Adams performance is beyond brilliant because there are so many nuances she must communicate wordlessly none more so than her final hug. If she does not get nominated for an Academy Award for this performance I will be very surprised.

Favorite Album: “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” by The 1975– This is a band and album that snuck up on me. As I’ve mentioned I like looking back at the number of plays on my iTunes list. This was my most played new album of this past year. Ever since I downloaded it in March there has not been a week where I haven’t listened to it. It is a pastiche of so many 1990’s influences that I think that is what draws me to it along with the lyrics. “She Lays Down” is an amazingly insightful song about addiction and depression. Despite the material, I am always moved by this song and I’ve listened to it over 150 times this year. The 1975 exist on the perfect knife edge of indie and pop; I hope they never fall off.

Favorite Single: Cheap Thrills by Sia ft. Sean Paul– My song of the summer of 2016. Sia cuts loose with a song extolling the joy of dancing the night away which is what summer is all about. It is still in heavy rotation because I don’t want to admit the summer is over.

Favorite TV Show: Game of Thrones– This was the same choice as last year but I can say what the producers had to contend with in Season 6 was more difficult. For the first time, they had to forge ahead beyond the written words of George RR Martin. Which was a change for me because over the first five seasons I knew what was coming. In Season 6 Game of Thrones upped the ante with more epic visual storytelling culminating in the final two episodes of the season; “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter”. The former had an epic battle that would have done any major blockbuster proud. The difference for me is there were characters I had invested in over the books and episodes who were in real danger. By the time it was resolved I realized I had leaned forward for most of the final half of the episode. The latter has an opening twenty-minute sequence done with very little dialogue along with an ever-ratcheting increase in tension. The moment of release is cataclysmic in many ways. At this point I am happy to let the TV show take me to the end of the journey Mr. Martin started because they haven’t missed a step yet.

Favorite TV Performer: Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live– This was the year Kate McKinnon’s star went supernova as her impersonation of Hillary Clinton throughout the Presidential election was spot on. Her comedic timing with Alec Baldwin who portrayed Donald Trump was a highlight. She is also a MVP throughout the broadcast as every sketch she is in seems funnier. She is the reason I stay up late on Saturday night.

Favorite Book: Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip– The Hero’s Quest has become so codified the early going of every fantasy book can begin to seem the same. With Kingfisher author Patricia McKillip delights in turning this conceit on its head and shaking hard enough to empty its pockets. Modern technology exists next to traditional fantasy ingredients. It made me laugh while making me realize writers need to send the Hero’s Quest off the rails more often.

Favorite Spirits: Barrel-aged Gin– Gin is usually distilled and bottled fairly quickly. This year I discovered two versions in which the gin was aged in barrels after distillation; Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat and Russell Henry Dark Gin. The basic gin from both companies is unique in its own right but the additional aging in barrels adds off-kilter depth. I’ve enjoyed using these in my favorite gin cocktails like Aviations or Bee’s Knees but they shine best when used in a dry martini as the vermouth seems to interact with the wood spectacularly.

Favorite Wines: South African Walker Bay Chardonnays– I’ve been down on Chardonnay and the cynicism with which they have been made especially by the large American producers for years. Over the summer, I realized that in other parts of the world they were doing it without the cynicism. I tried a trio of South African chardonnays from the Walker Bay region; Ataraxia, Newton Johnson, and Hamilton Russell. They all share a crisp apple quality before heading towards a creamy finish. These are balanced, nuanced chardonnays and I had forgotten how nice that was to drink.

These are what brightened 2016 for me outside of the perfume world.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Sia

There are many success stories where people talk about how they went to Plan B after Plan A had not worked out. There is a different version of this story currently happening within popular music. Australian-born singer Sia Furler now known only by her first name, Sia, had modest success as a singer as Plan A. Eventually she would transition to Plan B as a songwriter for others. Only to have one of those others show how dynamic her voice is and she has now come back to Plan A while continuing Plan B.

Sia was born in Adelaide and for many years was in a band called Crisp. When the band fell apart she began to record solo albums. She also moved to London at the same time. From 2000-2010 she released four albums. The track “Breathe Me” off of her album “Colour the Small One” was the song used over the series finale montage of the HBO series “Six Feet Under”. That was what sent me to the internet to find out what that song was and who did it. I discovered a singer who was largely unknown but sang these engaging lyrics seemingly influenced by multiple musical genres. I expected her star was going to rise. Except it never really did, which was when Plan B arrived.



While working on her fifth album “We Are Born” in 2009 she was approached by Christina Aguilera to write some ballads for her. Three of those songs would make it on to Ms. Aguilera’s album “Bionic”. Even though Sia was still working on Plan A she probably didn’t realize Plan B had arrived. “We Are Born” was again moderately successful but it would lead to Sia to retire from the studio as a singer and to fully embrace being a songwriter for others.

She would become one of the most sought after songwriters out there. It would reach its peak with her providing the song “Diamonds” for singer Rhianna to record. One of the way songwriters like Sia work is they will record a stripped down version of the song to give to whomever they are providing the song for. In 2011 she wrote a song for Katy Perry named “Titanium” which was supposed to be produced by David Guetta. She supplied a demo track of the vocals and was likely off to write another song. As Mr. Guetta worked on the song with Ms. Perry she decided it sounded too much like her previous songs and decided against doing it. Mr. Guetta still believed in the song and looked for a different vocalist to take the lead. Until he realized that demo track by Sia was the lead he was looking for. He would release “Titanium” with Sia’s demo vocal included. It became a giant hit. It also propelled Sia back into Plan A.

She un-retired and returned to the studio to release 2014’s “1000 Forms of Fear”. If “Titanium” was giant, the first single “Chandelier” was even bigger. It is one of those rare pop songs which was everywhere while also being respected for the artistry. It was a top 25 mainstay on many year-end lists of the best songs of 2014. Now the singer was equivalent with the songwriter in levels of success. Plan A and Plan B had come together as one.

Sia has continued to flourish in both parts of her career. She released a follow-up album to “1000 Forms of Fear” in 2015, “This is Acting” which was equally well received. Concurrently she wrote hits for Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Celine Dion among others.

It is a rare story to be sure but one to watch move forward with appreciation for the person behind it all.

Mark Behnke