I’ll be spending the next week going into all the good smelling reasons 2020 didn’t entirely stink. But for the readers of this column I also like doing a list of my favorite non-perfume things of the year. This year the list is heavy on that which helped me deal with my quarantine more enjoyably.
Favorite Book: Long Bright River by Liz Moore– I read a lot this year but this was the first new book I finished in 2020. It still resonates with me emotionally. The story of two sisters whose paths have diverged and the Philadelphia neighborhood they grew up in is amazing. It isn’t an easy read, but it is an honest one with a mystery which drives the narrative.
Favorite Comic Book: Swords of X– I used to spend too many summers tied up in a months-long story across all the X-Men titles thirty years ago. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until Jonathan Hickman followed up his reboot of the franchise last year with Swords of X. An old-fashioned throw down as the mutants must battle for the fate of the earth with their own special swords. Great escapist fun.
Favorite Album: Women in Music Part III by Haim– The sisters gave me an album I’ve listened to a lot. They are continually evolving their sound and subject. This album seemed more personal than the previous ones. That’s from a band that didn’t shy away from that in the past. Here it felt like we reached the soul of the matter.
Favorite Single: Rain on Me by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande– When I needed to dance it out this year it was this track I queued up. When pop divas are confident enough to give each other the room to do what they do best you get a single like this.
Co-Favorite TV Show of the Year: The Queen’s Gambit– I didn’t sit in a movie theatre this entire year. What it meant was the streaming networks gave me the main source of my visual entertainment. The Queen’s Gambit followed the trend of unlikeable protagonists who seek redemption. Actor Anya Taylor-Joy sells the story of a chess prodigy’s climb up the ladder in the 1960’s. This has incredible acting, authentic chess, and the best fashion of any show on television.
Co-Favorite TV Show of the Year: The Mandalorian– I already wrote about what a perfect piece of Star Wars the first season was. Inexplicably Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni oversaw an even more meaningful and better second season. Each episode fed into the next one with no slow teases or slow fuses to what we knew had to happen. They knew a better story was to be had when you just go to the punchlines quickly. This series is becoming the hub which unites every Star Wars fan across generations. I can’t overstate what a gift that is.
I’m going to touch on this when I get down to the perfume things of 2020. This blog and the readers of it also kept me going this year. Especially the small group of readers I think only visit to read this specific column. I just like to write about the things I enjoy. That there is an audience who also enjoys it makes it satisfying. Thank you for reading.
It is a different summer when I think of the music I have been listening to. In a typical year, my mega summer playlist would have been on constant shuffle. I looked at my stats and it has been over three weeks since the last time I cued it up. This summer has been less about a song of the summer than a group of four albums which have helped provide the contours for this year.
One of those is Haim’s “Women in Music Part III” I spent a whole column on it a few weeks ago. But I find the songs “Don’t Wanna”, “The Steps”, and “Gasoline” add some pop to the summer days.
I have always felt Taylor Swift was underestimated as a songwriter. It is easy to dismiss her because she seemingly aims her music at a younger demographic. It wasn’t until a few different musicians decided to do acoustic versions of her songs that the smart lyrics became evident to me. Underneath the cotton candy was a woman with something to say. The recent album “Folklore” is her attempt to do that without the glitzy pop trappings.
She shows off her ability to capture the current zeitgeist. Nowhere does that come out than in “epiphany” which is about the frontline workers dealing with the pandemic. I find it uplifting there is a real feel of the enormity of the job we are asking these people to do. Through the album there is a three-song story of a love triangle from each participant’s perspective. “cardigan”, “august” and “betty” form a tale of summer lovin’ with the sweet and bittersweet on display. This is a great piece of musicianship which reminds me there will be a world of emotion to return to. For now I’ll let Ms. Swift invite me to hers.
My final two are full bore dancehall discs. Even by myself I just want to dance and swing my arms around. Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa both dropped their latest just as things closed down. Both women harness the energy of dance floor beats from past time. Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” goes right back to the era of 1970’s disco given a new spin. She doesn’t look down upon disco she exalts it. The first single “Don’t Stop Now” had a little time to rule the dancefloor. The rest of the songs are just as hook laden and fun.
Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica” has the song which I think would’ve ruled the roost in a normal summer; her duet with Ariana Grande “Rain on Me”. For all that Gaga has embraced other musical forms her return to what put her on the map shows it is where she thrives. “Chromatica” slips into gear with the first track “Alice” and then accelerates from there. Her other collaboration “Sour Candy” with K-Pop girl group Blackpink is another standout. “Chromatica” reminds us no matter how far Gaga moves away from the dance floor she is just one step away.
I hope you are finding some music to lift your spirits this odd summer.
Disclosure: I purchased all the music reviewed.
In the half a decade I’ve been listening to popular music there are two things which have never changed. Good lyrics paired with a great hook are an equation for a great song. The test for that is always after I hear something for the first time what manages to linger with me after the sound is turned off. Is it a clever turn of phrase or a bass line to die for. One band which regularly gives me both is Haim. Their new album Women in Music Part III is full of these moments.
Musicians and the way they release new material is becoming something different. For Haim they had released six videos of the 16 songs on the album every few months starting a year ago. That first song “Summer Girl” is the three sisters who make up the group walking the streets of LA shedding their winter clothing followed by their own saxophonist. It felt like their take on Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”. When I read they had given him a songwriting credit for the track I realized it was intentional. I knew it was going to be an eclectic album if this was the first song.
Each new video showed a band playing with genres. I mentioned it as my favorite single of 2019 when “Hallelujah” came out at the end of the year. It is based on Alana Haim’s loss of her friend along with the bond between the sisters. The emotion of this song would be replicated in multiple tracks on the album as each sister opens up about their own personal tribulations. Each of these tracks come from a genuine place of emotion as each woman finds her voice to speak about it.
One of the best tracks is “Man From the Magazine” where in a very folky Joni Mitchell-esque way they skewer the misogyny they deal with. This album is full of tonal shifts from track to track. That they don’t come off gimmicky probably speaks to the respect the sisters have for the genres they are working in.
I know we are in a time where sitting down and listening to sixteen songs by one artist seems quaint. The beauty of queuing up Women in Music Part III is you’ll hear a self-shuffled playlist from a single artist.
Disclosure: This review is based on a copy I purchased.