Some things I loved in 2017
A bunch of the good stuff that filled up my year. Very nearly 10,000 words of it, at that!
If you wanna play along, most of the songs mentioned here are on my “favorite songs of 2017” playlist on Spotify, in the same order they are written about below.
One of the favorite Austin bands of my youth, Knife In The Water, released new music for the first time in about 15 years. That new album is Reproduction and it’s one of the best albums of the year — it’s haunting and unlike anything else in music right now and this band should be so much more famous than they are. Also highly recommend catching up on their entire back catalog as well as seeing them live if you ever get a chance — they are truly captivating.
More good stuff from Austin artists:
Bill Baird — “You’re Someone Else”
Dale Watson + Ray Benson — “Nobody’s Ever Down In Texas”
Molly Burch—“Please Be Mine”
Spoon — “Can I Sit Next To You”
Willie Nelson—“Delete and Fast Forward”
Bruce Robison — “Long Time Comin’”
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears — “Wasted”
John Wesley Coleman III — “Jesus Never Went To Junior High”
Growl — “Passerby”
Sweet Spirit — “The Power”
Mobley — “Tell Me”
The Golden Boys — “Better Than Good Times”
OCs — “Memory of a Cut Off Head”
After much deliberation reflecting on a great year for tunes I’ve determined that my numero uno favorite album of the year is Big Thief’s Capacity. It is great all the way from tip to top but if you want the perfect summary of what makes it so special I particularly recommend “Shark Smile.”
I’ve barely been able to listen to the absolutely heart-crumbling Mount Eerie masterpiece A Crow Looked At Me — Phil Elverum’s transparent journal of mourning his life partner and the mother of his daughter. The song “Real Death” is so particularly haunting and beautiful and will stick with me for the rest of my days on earth.
For all the talk about how music this year would be great because of how people would be protesting Donald Trump, there really wasn’t a lot of great political music — but I did love “War Is Coming (If You Want It)” by my beloved Car Seat Headrest.
Goddess Bless Diet Cig and the hope they give me for the kids these days. Their day party show at Farewell Books (RIP) was the best show I saw at SXSW this year by a mile and “Tummy Ache” is a perfect anthem for girls this year. “I don’t need a man to hold my hand but that’s just something you’ll never understand!”
I was never really much of a Directioner, but the Harry Styles solo album was really solid and “From The Dining Table” is particularly sweet. I really like Harry’s whole sweet, mature, femmey vibe and I truly hope the kid’s a star for many decades.
A truly shocking number of excellent covers of many of my favorite songs by some of the most beautiful voices in music right now: Rogue Wave’s “Let My Love Open The Door,” Hollie Cook’s gorgeous version of “Superstar,” Angel Olsen singing “Tougher Than The Rest,” Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett singing Belly’s “Untogether,” Phosphorescent’s topically poignant “This Land Is Your Land,” Feist doing “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” Sky Ferreira’s breathy “Easy,” Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer doing “Not Dark Yet,” Lyla Foy’s cover of Teenage Fanclub’s “Baby Lee,” Lydia Loveless doing Bieber’s “Sorry,” Micah P. Hinson doing the bluegrass classic “Lover’s Lane,” The Blow doing a cute “Greatest Love Of All,” Chris Stapleton doing Willie’s “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning,” Beck’s take on “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” Japandroids’ version of Talking Heads “Love → Building On Fire,” Laura Marling singing Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” HAIM singing Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much” (!), the incredible Jon Batiste, Leon Bridges, and Gary Clark Jr. collaboration on “Ohio,” Harry Styles doing “The Chain,” Dan Auerbach’s cover of “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” and my girl Miley Cyrus covering Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.”
SZA. Is anyone else more excited about the rest of their life just because it means they’ll get to listen to every new thing SZA releases for decades to come? Ctrl is transcendent.
I’ve been a big fan of Selena Gomez’s music for a few years now — she gets lumped in with a bunch of indistinguishable tween pop gals but is actually much better and more fun. She exudes a slutty whimsy that makes you want a pink bubblebath. “Bad Liar” is a GREAT pop song that uses its Talking Heads sample very well.
The best music video of the year? Clearly, it’s Charli XCX’s “Boys.” Duh!
Whyyyyyyyy aren’t more people talking about how Bell Biv Devoe released new music this year, and that music features queens SWV, and it’s VERY GOOD?!?!? I’ll remember a lot of songs from this year but this is the only one I’m sure will be played at my wedding someday: “Finally.”
My mom used to describe some of the music I liked as being “songs by cute boys with vague accents whose lyrics seem like they’ve been translated by Google” and three of my favorites from that group put out new music this year: Sondre Lerche (Pleasure), Jens Lekman (Life Will See You Now), and Herman Dune (a little single called Crazy Blue).
I love a good duet! There were TWO really good ones featuring Angel Olsen, who happens to have my favorite voice in current music times: “Stranger’s Kiss” with Alex Cameron, and “Heartstruck (Wild Hunger)” with Hamilton Leithauser.
Calvin Harris enlisted Frank Ocean and Migos for his biggest song this year, “Slide,” and it’s exactly as good as the combination of those two sounds like it would be (that is, very good).
I bought Tim Darcy’s album because I loved “Tall Glass of Water” so much and I couldn’t stop listening to it on repeat. To be totally honest none of the other songs on the record reached out and grabbed me like this one did, but if this song is the only thing Tim Darcy ever did I’d still wanna shake his hand.
I devour every song by Japandroids and Cloud Nothings whenever they release new music, and both bands dropped great albums in 2017: Near To The Wild Heart Of Life is one of Japandroids’ most intense albums ever, building manic energy from top to bottom, while the Cloud Nothings released their chillest and most fragile record Life Without Sound. I’ve always lumped these two bands together as they are among very few boy-fronted rock and roll bands doing it right in the aught-teens, but they’re both growing up and apart, and I can’t wait to hear where each of them goes next.
“Tomboy” by Princess Nokia. Look, if you thought me, Summer Anne Burton, wasn’t going to include this rap song about being sexy with “little titties”on my list, you don’t know me at all.
A few bands that have been around for years released the best work of their careers this year: I absolutely love the clever lyrics + dreamy pop melody + very important spelling of “Dreams Tonite” by Alvvays. “This Year” by Beach Fossils is so pretty and sunburnt. The Mountain Goats’ “We Do It Different on the West Coast” feels like an instant classic to me. “Darling” by Real Estate is a great example of how this band has reached Peak Real Estate, meaning it’s perfect cooking music IMO. I’m more into the new Slowdive than I was ever into Slowdive before, which is wild to admit — listen to “Slomo” and tell me you don’t wanna go on a very long and hilly bike ride with it in your ears.
Not quite the “best work of their careers” (a high bar!) but the new Belle & Sebastian EP is great. I especially like “We Were Beautiful.” See also: New Broken Social Scene! New The Go Team! New Helium! New The Shins! New Ted Leo (“Can’t Go Back” is especially my jam)!
I honestly can’t really believe that Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” was released this year, it feels like it’s been in our lives since we were born, since before we were born maybe, like it’s always been part of parties and dancing and twitter jokes. Raindrop! Drop top!
I love a good “husband and wife duo” and Tennis is my current fav: “In The Morning I’ll Be Better” is an incredible showcase of Alaina Moore’s gorgeous voice and an important reminder that I’ll never be a singer.
Although they weren’t the most important Twin Peaks of the year, “I Don’t Wanna Miss You” is such a fucking jam, and my #1 “mixtape song” of the year (IMO one of key qualities of truly great mixtape songs is a generous use of second person).
Lots of good stuff from our girl Lorde this year, but my favorite was the Chromeo remix of “Green Light” which is best listened to at full volume, late at night when you’re sleepy but loopy and maybe a little bit high and you’re ready to dance around your living room in that big bouncy arms-waving way you can only do when you’re sure no one’s looking at you.
Let’s be real, “I’m The One” by DJ Khaled (with Bieber, Quavo, and Chance) is that song you’re always hoping to hear when you turn on pop radio. It’s almost enough to get me to “the club” just so I can wreck the floor with my girls to this one. Also featured heavily in that same club night of my dreams: “Say My Name” by Tove Styrke, “Passionfruit” by Drake.
Shamir completely transformed his sound with his new album Revelations and even though his older stuff was great too, I’m so excited by his versatility and now I’m just excited to see what happens NEXT. My favorite song is “Float.”
The last song Guy Clark ever wrote was “Cheer up Little Darling” for Angaleena Presley, and it’s one of his most beautiful songs ever in my opinion. Miss you, Guy.
I was so pleased to see Jay Som get the love she so deserves this year with the excellent album Everybody Works making it near the top of many best of lists. An incredible songwriter who kills live and is at the very forefront of what I think might be the best time for women in rock music ever?
The performances in Twin Peaks: The Return were almost as good as the show itself, and most fitting and touching performance at the Bang Bang Bar was The Chromatics doing “Shadow.”
Chance The Rapper and Jeremih’s second annual Christmas album, Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama, Rewrapped. Just pure joy.
This year Team Love Records released an outlaw country album from over 40 years ago by a now 72-year-old cowboy from Austin named Billy Stoner and no I am not making this up and yes it’s great, just listen to “Separate Ways” which has been stuck in my head for 11 months and counting. Go on ahead and read more about Billy and the album if you’re as intrigued as I was.
Spotify tells me my most played song of the year was Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut To The Feeling” and I’m proud — it’s a perfect pop song.
I feel like we’re in an incredible renaissance for a diverse breadth of female-fronted bands and female songwriters. Just a few of the many smart, honest, feelings-wringing songs by women that I loved this year: “One Of These Days” by Bedouine, “Girlhood” by The Preatures, “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Sheer Mag, “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” by Hurray For The Riff Raff, “Flower Glass” by Hand Habits, “Night Shift” by Lucy Dacus, “123” by Girlpool, “I Don’t Feel So Alive” by Gabriella Cohen, “Don’t Delete The Kisses” by Wolf Alice, “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B, “Recording 15” by Shannon Lay, “Minnesota” by The Courtneys, “Same” by Adult Mom, “Long Way To Go To Die” by LP, “Used To Love” by Chloe x Halle, “If You Met Her” by Palehound, “Road Head” by Japanese Breakfast, “Wash Up” by Bridget Kearney, “Tonight” by Dude York, “Oh Baby” by Colleen Green, “Always This Way” by Laura Marling, “Postcard” by First Aid Kit, “Want You Back” by HAIM, “Death by Chocolate” by Soccer Mommy, “Out There” by Lomelda (who is also responsible for one of the best shows I saw this year when she opened for David Dondero at Cactus Cafe and blew my anklet socks off), “I Want You” by Band Practice, “Running” by Bully, “Appointments” by Julien Baker, “Less Than Perfect” by The Spook School, “Further” by TOPS, and “Never Been Wrong” by Waxahatchee.
The new Randy Newman album is very good — I’ll defend Randy against all people who think he’s just the cheesy Toy Story guy until the day I die. I literally can’t listen to his song about grief, “Wandering Boy,” without deep weeping.
I can’t figure out which Blondie song “Spotted Gold” by Stef Chura reminds me of, but it’s a good one. This song makes my whole body roll and shake!!!
Every year since we first started hanging I get lots of favorite songs via my friend Alex Naidus. This year the one he sent my way that has been in near-constant rotation ever since is this beautiful ode to jealousy: “Charlie’s Lips” by The Molochs.
Not sure that the relationship between an original song in a film and how much the movie moved me has ever been as direct as “Mystery Of Love” by Sufjan Stevens in Call Me By Your Name. I mean, just, gosh?
“Crying About The Planets” by Ratboys reminds me of Pavement which you should know, if you know me, is one of the best compliments I could bestow and not one I would hand out to most bands.
Lil Yachty always makes me smile and “Forever Young” (with Diplo) keeps up a great tradition of incredibly sweet, cornball, feel-good songs by rappers which are titled Forever Young (see Jay-Z).
Don’t let anyone tell you “new country” is bad, it’s actually often very good —yes sometimes there are bad things (hello, all music genres) — here’s some proof: Nashville’s Margo Price has a song called “Pay Gap” that’s a beautiful feminist protest song.
Conor Oberst has been the most important musician in my life / deep in my heart since I was 18 years old, and he continues to make songs that crawl right inside my heart and set up camp. On his latest Salutations, which is a redux of the songs from 2016’s Ruminations, my standout is the sweet and rollicking singalong anthem “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out,” a tribute to Oberst’s favorite East Village bar and drinking with friends (one of his trademark topics).
Bless Charly Bliss for keeping my 90s riot grrl dreams alive. Just listen to “Black Hole” and try not to want a new nose piercing and home-bleached hair. See also (!!!!): Great Grandpa’s “Teen Challenge” +“Heartache” by The She’s.
This Francis and the Lights song, “May I Have This Dance,” sounds so much to Peter Gabriel to me that I like to just basically pretend it’s Peter Gabriel featuring Chance the Rapper, which seems fun
Three random songs I could not find it in myself to write anything in patricular about, but which were too good to leave off my year end list:
Doug Tuttle — “Can It Be”
Langhorne Slim — “Alligator Girl”
Dan Auerbach — “Never In My Wildest Dreams”
Usually I’m more of a songs person than an album person, often plucking one or two tracks from any given record that will stick along with me through many years of lovey mixtapes and road trip soundtracks — but in the case of The War On Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding, the whole album blends together so perfectly that I can’t pick a single song from it. The whole thing was made not for mixtapes, but to be listened to on repeat during nights of deep drinking under starless, cloudy skies.
America Bless Lana Del Rey and “Summer Bummer,” which makes me wanna make out with a cherry sno-cone while wearing a wet t-shirt in the back of a rented convertible in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
The Florida Project. One of the best movies I’ve ever seen about poverty, but/and a total and complete joy. Brooklynn Prince is the most believable and empathy expanding yung-actor since Victoire Thivisol in Ponette (1996).
Timothée Chalamet’s performance in Call Me By Your Name. I’ve never seen a boy ingenue capture the tricky balance between paper-thin-skin vulnerability and sexual power like Timothée Chalamet in this movie. It’s such a relief to see a movie about sex and longing that begs you, pouty-lipped, to shuffle off any sense of shame.
A number of great films from first time feature directors who I can’t wait to see decades more movies by: The on point satire of Get Out directed by Jordan Peele. The quiet, warm beauty of Columbus directed by Kogonada. And Lady Bird, which was just jammed full of intensely personal and yet somehow also universal human moments.
The scene where Adam Sandler and his daughter sing their original song, “Genius Girl,” in The Meyerowitz Stories. One of my favorite movies of the year was from one of my most beloved (but consistently inconsistent) directors, Noah Baumbach. The movie featured a few dozen funny, affecting, sharp moments and great performances from everyone involved but my favorite part was the adorable duet between Good Dad Adam Sandler and his teenage daughter played by Grace Van Patten. Heart expanding! P.S. I loved this movie before the reckoning came for Dustin Hoffman, and now it’s just another beautiful thing marred by a man being a monster — a damn shame.
The art direction and costuming in The Shape Of Water. I loved this movie, in no small part because of how incredibly beautiful it was at every turn. The bathtub, the boiling eggs, the green and gold colors, the dresses, the lighting, the old musicals, Sally Hawkins’ butt — my gosh.
Four of my favorite documentaries, ever. All released in one year. Jane, I Called Him Morgan, Gilbert, and Kedi. Respectively, these documentaries are about:
- Jane Goodall’s remarkable early work and the beautiful footage of her captured by her first husband Hugo Van Lawick.
- The life, marriage, and death of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan (and the power of forgiveness).
- The surprising, complicated humanity of Gilbert Gottfried, plus laughing at Nazis.
- Semi-wild cats in Istanbul and the people who love them.
Together, they do what much my favorite non-fiction does by building incredible, surprising empathy for people and animals who I wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to know.
The chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver in The Last Jedi which was a chaotic mess of about six movies packed into one but damn, this particular storyline crawled under my skin like nothing I’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie.
Kristen Stewart’s haunting performance in Personal Shopper. I didn’t know quite what to make of this mysterious, quiet film but I do know that it stuck in my chest, and that KStew is incredibly fun to watch and unlike anyone else on screen. My boyfriend says she’s the new James Dean and I think he’s right.
A fantastic local Austin film coming soon to a Netflix near you: Mustang Island. Set in a Texas beach town shot beautifully and semi-ironically in black and white, and dotted with hilarious performances by the entire cast — especially local favorites and real-life married couple Lee Eddy and Macon Blair. Like a good dark chocolate bar, this movie has just the right blend of sharp, dark bitterness and real, unfiltered sweetness.
Y’all… I think Coco is my favorite Pixar movie?!? I need to see it again and I’ll always have a place in my heart for Wall-E’s first 45 minutes but… Coco is magic. It’s so beautiful and sweet and funny and sad and I cried so, so, so much. I’ve always loved the Dia de los Muertos tradition and Disney really did it such justice here.
Taika Waititi as Korg in Thor: Ragnarok. Very fun superhero movie, but the director’s own turn as the voice of Korg was the scene-stealer for me. PLEASE: let’s get a full Korg movie in the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip. Not a perfect movie, but it made me laugh so hard. Tiffany had the funniest comedy performance of the year, and honestly was approximately 20 times funnier than the next funniest comedy performance of the year — whatever that might have been, who even knows or cares? I’m so excited to watch Ms. Haddish in every movie she ever appears in from now until my death.
Some exciting and fun movies that weren’t masterpieces but which had so many moments I loved that I want to mention them: Baby Driver, especially Ansel Elgort’s choreography. Logan Lucky, especially the key use of John Denver. Okja, especially the bankrolling of a big film with a solid animal rights message.
Season 2 of The Good Place. Although I absolutely loved the first season of this show, I was fairly skeptical that if it could keep it up, especially following a big novelty twist during the season finale. I’m excited to report that the cast and crew of what has become my favorite show on television wildly exceeded my expectations, and Season 2 has been clever, touching, strange, funny, and genuinely delightfully surprising at every turn. I just really love this show — I’d be hard-pressed to name a favorite character or episode, but shoutout to D’arcy Carden’s Janet, an extremely relatable robot.
I Love Dick’s “A Short History of Weird Girls,” one of the most daring and challenging and fun and weird episodes of TV I’ve ever seen, though it was part of a show with lots of flaws (and lots of highlights, too).
My friend Michelle Flanagan and her friend Smaranda Luna made a really funny and weird and moving and imminently watchable series of digital shorts called Patti and Marina. There are six episodes and they’re less than five minutes each so you have no excuse not to watch them and discover incredible new talent before anyone else knows about them. ❤
Sean Astin as Bob Newby in Stranger Things, season two. BOB FOREVER!!
The Papyrus sketch from Saturday Night Live. SNL writer Julio Torres has been the MVP of the show for awhile now (Melania Moments! Wells For Boys!), but he reached digital shorts perfection with this Ryan Gosling sketch on the font choices of Avatar. It’s the funniest thing that’s been on the show all year, and I’m very happy that Papyrus hate has come to the mainstream (fuck Papyrus).
The Jeong Kwan episode of Chef’s Table. Kwan is a South Korean buddhist monk who cooks vegan temple food (no animal products, no onions, no garlic) that some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs and food critics have celebrated as among the best food they’ve ever tasted. This episode of a show that I love but sometimes struggle with (because I don’t really like watching people butcher animals) is both inspiring and relaxing. Kwan has patience and a measured, instinctual cooking style that makes me want to read recipes less and taste more in my own kitchen, and watching her (as well as seeing her beautiful surroundings) lowers my blood pressure. It’s a beautiful episode that shows just how much can be done with plant-based food.
Two very, very different but both incredibly exciting and creative shows fronted by female comedians who I admire and featuring a variety of incredible guests: Sarah Silverman’s I Love You America and At Home With Amy Sedaris. Watch them and love them —especially Sarah’s extremely honest monologue following the revelations about her friend Louis CK, and the Cole Escola’s recurring gorgous + hilarious drag housewife on At Home.
A lot of things about The Deuce but especially the performances of Dominique Fishback as Darlene and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy. They’re fearless and overflowing with charisma and vulnerability and strength, and I’m so pleased to see such nuanced portrayals of sex work on prestige TV.
Omg, American Vandal! It took me awhile to take the recommendation because “it’s like Serial but for dick graffiti” made me think this show would just be over-the-top and silly but it turned out to be subtle, sharp satire and also weirdly kind of touching? I was especially blown away by the cast of mostly unknowns who kept the saga of who drew the dicks feel real — by the end I was actually genuinely invested in knowing the truth.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I recently saw some criticism of one the things I love most about this show — Midge Maisel’s parenting (or lack thereof). The Amazon original follows the career of a newly separated single Jewish mom who’s trying to start a comedy career in New York City in the 1950s. Her parents have a little bit of money, so she’s lucky enough to be able to leave her kids with them while she goes to work full-time at a department store and tries performing as a stand-up most nights. The critiques I saw — that Midge is “a bad parent”— are technically probably true but to me, they just make the show stronger. Women in this era didn’t have a choice between being a good mother and having a career. Midge chose the latter, something we’ve watched fathers do on TV since it was first invented, and her kids are FINE. They’re hangin out with grandma! Besides, the show is thankfully not really about whether Midge Maisel is a good enough mother — it’s about whether she’s a good enough comedian.
Cole Sprouse as Jughead in Riverdale. This ridiculous show keeps me asking “why am I watching this?” every week and yet, I continue to tune in. Why? Mostly because everyone on screen is insanely attractive and charismatic — especially grown up Suite Life twin himself Cole Sprouse as Jughead. Sprouse is responsible for a nationwide cry of“Just checking, he’s how old? Oh, 25 — sweet! 👅 👅👅 👅👅 👅” and we’re all the happier for it.
David Lynch as Deputy FBI Director Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks: The Return. I found the new season of Twin Peaks at turns excruciatingly unfulfilling, disorienting, delightful and warm, dumb, sharply witty, and shocking. I hated it and loved it. But one of my favorite things about it was seeing Lynch indulge some of his goofiest impulses, including using a lot of himself as an actor as Cole, casting himself opposite beautiful actress (and his friend and collaborator) Chrysta Bell, hamming up Cole’s hearing loss, etc. I loved it! There’s something so fun and great about watching Lynch in such a classically straightforward comic relief role right smack dab in the middle of this deliciously infuriating puzzle of his own making.
Dear White People, episode five. Directed by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, the Netflix show (which improves on the promising movie it was adapted from) really had its turning point in episode five, which centered on the black college activist Reggie and the fallout from a party where a gun is drawn on him by a campus police officer. I loved (and cried during) Marque Richardson’s vulnerable, aching performance in this episode and throughout the series and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this show progresses in season two.
Girls: “American Bitch”. Holy fuck this episode, a duet between Lena Dunham and Matthew Rhys, is difficult and so, so smart and no one else could have made it. Ms. Dunham pisses a lot of people off (sometimes rightfully), but at its best Girls featured some of the smartest writing I’ve ever seen on TV and I’ll really miss it.
Great year for Margaret Atwood: I absolutely loved both The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace. They’re very different shows, although both are about what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal society. Handmaid’s is nearly unbearable — tense and sad and difficult in all of the ways it should be, to the point that I often watched episode while curled fully into the fetal position. While Alias Grace, which hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention, is actually sort of thrilling to watch — although Grace suffers, you also sense that she has found a way to accumulate a sort of dark raw power in a world where she has none and it is, dare I say — exciting.
GOOD THINGS I BOUGHT:
Fancy SimpleHuman trash cans for my kitchen, back porch, cat litter room, and bathrooms. SimpleHuman makes very good trash cans like this one that are significantly more expensive than you would normally spend on a trash can. “It’s a fucking trash can!” you might be saying. But god, just think about how many annoying things there are about any given trash can you use multiple times a day, and now imagine those things not being annoying and instead the simple act of throwing something away (or recycling, or filling up a little under sink compost/scrap bin) being sort of weirdly pleasant???? It’s your life and I don’t know about your priorities, but mine are, like, finding a way to make every moment the best version of that moment — and these dumb things helped.
You: “Perfect video games don’t exist.”
Me, an intellectual: “Pet the pup at the party, by Will Herring”
You: “I’ll never speak again”
Paine’s Balsam Fir Incense. Big incense head right here and let’s be real: most of it doesn’t do much. I mean, it smells good when you light it or walk past it, but it doesn’t leave a lasting scent in your home or mask gross smells unless you burn it 24/7 in your hippie thrift store for 30 years. But this stuff is different. The smell is strong — don’t get it if you don’t like a very woody fir smell — and it really dominates any space its burned in for hours. I use it after tossing old leftovers or cooking something stinky, and also when I’m high and just want everything to feel vibesy.
A bunch of vintage furniture and house stuff from Chairish, the most addictive shopping app I’ve ever encountered. It’s like browsing through a really good high end LA flea market from the comfort of bed. Dangerous! But sometimes you find deals: I got this mirror which was made from an old farmhouse window for under $100 and the wonderful and strange cat table was a local seller who gave me a deal on it.
Philips Hue lightbulbs. Without replacing any of our light fixtures, the colorful Hue bulbs make our house’s light feel like it’s exactly our own. In our bedroom, I used a photo of the sunset at Peter’s dad’s cabin in Wisconsin to bathe the room in orange and blue, our living room glows pink, and in the front room right now I’m staring at a dark green Christmas tree lit up next to a deep red lamp. These are definitely an investment but they have an extremely high VORB (value over replacement bulb).
Hanging plant pots from FunctionPottery on Etsy. These are very cute pots! We have one on our front porch with a lovely dangly succulent in it and it makes me happy every time we pull up to the house.
Cruelty-free and vegan ~beauty~ faves:
Lush Big shampoo is the only shampoo my hair likes but I only use it once a week and then I use R+Co Death Valley Dry Shampoo in between, Overtone color conditioner keeps my bright hair poppin’ between appointments (and you can rinse with hot water!), Lush Happy Hippy shower gel smells so good in the morning, Pixi Glow Tonic is the best tonic/toner I’ve ever used (and I’m a tonic addict), First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream is an intense hydrator that my skin drinks like a thirsty puppy (all their face stuff is good, too), Rinse Bath and Body Co Peppofoot moisturizing stick is the only product that touches my feet, R+Co Twister Curl Primer is what I put in my hair while it’s drying, Verb Strong Hairspray is what I use on the rare occasion that I actually style my hair, John Masters Organics Sea Mist is what I use when I’m too lazy to style my hair but I want it to look wavy/beachy (also it smells amazing), I’m a natural deodorant hippie and my fav is Real Purity Roll-On. And MAKEUP, my pretty! (all cruelty-free companies, vegan products): I ❤ my MOTD brushes, Too Faced poreless primer + their peach perfect setting powder (which smells like peaches!), Becca highlighter, Too Faced love flush blush (my fav is Justify My Love), Tarte sweatproof mascara, Stila liquid eyeliner for black and Urban Decay Heavy Metal glitter eyeliner for fun, Anastasia Beverly Hills brow pomade, Too Faced melted matte lipstick (esp Mrs Roper, my #1 lip color), and Kat Von D’s everlasting lipstick (esp in (shudder) backstage bambi). As for my palettes (I love them so): Stila lip+cheek, Kat Von D Alchemist Holographic highlighter, Karity Just Peachy eyeshadow, Urban Decay moondust eyeshadow for unicorn vibes+ my fav of favs, UD’s super-bright Electric! Whew.
I got a fairly well-reviewed gel foam mattress topper this year, my first ever mattress topper, and immediately realized this thing was the secret of the hotel comfort I’ve been missing at home my whole life. Oops! If you’re like me and you’ve never had one, get thee to a place that sells mattress toppers.
Way too many pairs of shoes from B.A.I.T. footwear, an all vegan vintage-inspired boutique that supplies 80% of the things I wear on my feet. I get compliments on these shoes all the time, they’re ridiculously comfy, they’re not heinously expensive (everything is relative), they come in every pretty color, and many of my pairs have lasted me years. My boyfriend just got me two pairs for Christmas because he knows what’s good.
Cheap linen overalls. I bought a couple pairs of these in different colors and I wear them approximately every other day — when I’m cleaning the house, going to pottery class, running errands, or doing yard work. They’re comfy and actually pretty cute too and you won’t mind getting them dirty. I feel like I see my future in these linen overalls: no more constricting waistbands, no more itchy fabrics, no more dry cleaning — just soft linen and happiness.
Eyelash extensions. OK listen. I’ve never gotten a manicure, pedicure, facial, massage, or any other kind of spa treatment. For nearly two decades I even cut and dyed my own hair (I’ve finally outgrown that). I’m allergic to spending money in this way, and yet… one day I found admiring how beautiful I looked when I applied fake lashes for a night out, and on a whim I looked up reviews of local eyelash extension joints and scheduled an appointment at Haute House. Ever since, I’ve been going every two weeks. These appointments are definitely a luxury, and I’ve thought a dozen times about canceling them to save money and time — but what’s the right price for feeling wildly beautiful every morning when you roll bleary out of bed? On top of that, my lash gal Eleanor is funny and kind and beautiful and has great taste in movies, and so I keep going, and I keep feeling real pretty.
A Trtl travel “pillow” (really more like a very complicated and comfortable neck blanket?). I travel for work a lot these days and I’ve never been a neck pillow person but found myself really wanting a better way to sleep in flight without days of pain following — enter Trtl. I was the victim of an Instagram ad and when it arrived, my boyfriend laughed openly at how silly this thing looks. And yet! It is in wildly comfortable, much more portable than a fat stuffed pillow — now I never fly without it.
All of the thrift and record store finds we could fit in a suitcase in Duluth, Minnesota. A very good town for shopping, especially at the gorgeous Chester Creek Books and Antiques, which is basically heaven (read: a jumbled, packed to the rafters antique and bookstore housed in an old church flooded with light — we spent at least three hours there and I could have easily spent three more). We ended up having to check an extra suitcase on the way home, but it was so, so worth it.
Luna Tigre’s Tomato Candle. I love candles! Luna Tigre, an Austin soy candle company, has beautiful packaging and the tomato scent is my absolute favorite, though I’m eyeing this amber + teakwood wood wick for my next buy.
My BFGF pillow. Quite possibly the most important piece of art in our house. Lisa forever.
GOOD NEW BOOKS:
Disclaimer: I didn’t read a lot of new books from 2017! I mostly read old things, plus a lot of stuff on ye olde internet (see below). But here are some books that came out this year that I did read and that I loved a lot.
Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders. To be totally honest I am about 2/3 of the way through this right now but holy shit I love it so much. I’ve seen it get mixed reactions from people I know who’ve read it, which I totally understand because it’s weird as hell but that’s exactly what I love about it. I’m actually doing that thing where I’m reading really slow because I don’t ever want this strange, beautiful, heady book to end.
Dreaming The Beatles by Rob Sheffield. Just delightful — I’ve been recommending this book everyone I know that has been through a Beatles phase (most people I know). Rob is appropriately, delightfully hyperbolic and this book told me so many Beatles stories I didn’t know. It was also a fun reading experience because every couple pages I’d stop to find the song he was writing about and listen to it — really listen to it— before moving on. A great way to rediscover the biggest band that will ever be.
This Is Really Happening by Erin Chack. Full disclosure: Erin is my colleague and friend and I love her a lot. But I’m telling you regardless this collection of essays, ostensibly for young adults but really for everyone, is funny and brave and sweet and you’ll read it in a day but it will stick with you forever.
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen. Full disclosure part two: Annie is my colleague and friend and I had the pleasure of editing her first ever piece for BuzzFeed. I also had an opportunity this year to moderate a panel at the Texas Book Festival with Annie and Carina Chocano, and it was such a pleasure to talk to two incredibly smart, incisive writers about pop culture, celebrities, and the impact representation has on women. Annie’s book — a collection of essays about the female celebs who’ve managed to break through the rules we usually set for women’s behavior — should be required reading to understand how the way we engage with and how we feel about celebrity images can help us understand our own relationships and what forces are working for evil and good in our society. I especially loved the chapter about Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy, which is excerpted at BuzzFeed.
All The Lives I Want by Alana Massey. Last disclosure (this is becoming a pattern I guess): I know Alana! She’s great! And so is her book, which is also a collection of essays about celebrities, but this one with less of an academic lens and more of a personal one. Alana tells her own stories through her relationship with the stories of celebrities, and it’s a fascinating tale that’s such a blast to read I finished it in just a few days. Winona forever.
A few new cookbooks I loved:
- The Smith + Daughters Cookbook (That Happens To Be Vegan) by Shannon Martinez and Mo Wyse. This tofu scramble recipe changed my life!
- Vegan: The Cookbook by Jean-Christian Jury. Possibly the most visually beautiful cookbook on my entire overstuffed cookbook shelf.
- Hazana: Jewish Vegetable Cooking by Paola Gavin. I bought this on a whim at the Jewish Museum in NYC and although I am not Jewish, I am completely smitten with Gavin’s interpretations of traditional dishes.
- Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables by JoshuaMcFadden. This book got a ton of deserved praise this year. It’s not all vegan, but I’ve used it a lot and I can recommend it to anyone who loves cooking (and beautiful cookbooks).
- Vegan Cheese by Jules Aron. My #1 fav of the FOUR vegan cheesemaking books I own (don’t talk to me about my problem).
- Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts For Everyone by Clara Polito. Speaking of problems, the biggest one I have with Clara’s book is that I don’t have enough excuses to make very beautiful cakes.
GOOD NEW THINGS IN AUSTIN:
People ask me a lot about what it’s like to be back in Austin after five years in New York because Austin has changed so much. And it really has! Some of those changes make me sad — pinata stores and punk venues that I grew up with are closing at an alarming clip. But there are good changes too, and some of them are already some of the best things about the city I love. Some things that happened in Austin this year that make me happy:
We opened a new Austin Central Library that is, I think, the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen??? It’s a place for community to gather, for kids, for teenagers (literally, there’s a teen zone), for getting lost, for trying technology, for finding your boyfriend’s old zine in the zine library, for sitting on a roof and reading. It’s big and bright and full of books. I’m so happy it’s part of my town.
The new, refurbished AFS Cinema opened blocks from my house, and the Austin Film Society (and backer Richard Linklater) really outdid themselves — the two theaters are beautiful places to watch a movie and the programming is out of this world amazing. My boyfriend and I have gotten miles out of our annual AFS memberships, seeing free-for-member movies ranging from a screening of Hal Ashby’s The Landlord with Brandon Harris speaking about Bed-Stuy to a gorgeous print of Black Orpheus (which I had never seen and immediately became one of my favorite movies ever). AFS also happens to be an organization run mostly by women that supports local filmmakers with all of the profit the cinema makes. It’s been heartwarming and exciting to see the theater packed for arthouse revivals and documentary new releases, and I can barely contain my excitement for the inventive, edifying schedule every time it’s released.
Kinda Tropical is a new bar in Govalle that sells, well, kinda tropical food (plantain fries! warm bread and oil! rice bowls!), bodega goods, beer, plants, and good vibes. It’s got the Austin necessities such as a dog friendly patio and a cool mural and it’s a woman-owned business. Given the location and slight bougieness, KT is definitely a sign of gentrification but it does seem to genuinely and warmly embrace its Latinx neighbors, many of whom can be found on the barstools inside on any given night.
Chulita Vinyl Club. Although CVC was founded while I was away in NYC, I first heard about it at Cheer Up Charlie’s in the spring and just hearing a description of what it was made my heart sing: “an all-girl, all-vinyl club for self-identifying womxn of color in the context of providing a space for empowerment and togetherness.” On top of the feel good vibes of empowering women of color in a space traditionally dominated by dudes, these ladies spin an incredibly rich and playful variety of records from soul to tejano, twee pop to punk rock. I love them, y’all!
Veggie Heaven is back! The beloved campus area asian vegetarian joint owned by the Chen family closed while I was in NYC and it was one of those things that made me feel like the Austin I’d return to wouldn’t ever really be the same. Then right around the time I appeared back home, so did a relocated Veggie Heaven on West 5th St. And importantly, they still have “Protein 2000,” a dish consisting of battered and fried vegetable proteins soaked in a sweet brown sauce served with broccoli and rice… and quite possibly the most addictively tasty plate of food this mouth has laid lips on.
The Long Time. While I was away, someone literally did the ‘field of dreams’ thing and created a gorgeous sandlot baseball field on some land a few miles east of Austin. Obviously, I came! All summer long, The Long Time holds Sunday afternoon baseball games featuring local and visiting baseball teams dressed up in full gorgeous uniforms, live bluegrass music, free drinks, a taco truck, sno-cones, babies, so many cute dogs running free, lots of sun dresses, and, yeah, duh, ME. One of my favorite places to be.
GOOD THINGS FROM THE INTERNET:
“TO OBAMA WITH LOVE, AND HATE, AND DESPARATION” BY JEANNE MARIE LASKAS. After Trump was elected, I found myself angry every day, but not really sad. I was just furious. I think reading this article — three days before one of the most grotesque humans on earth was sworn in to lead our nation — about the stories and pleas and Barack Obama received in the mail for eight years of his own presidency, was the first time I cried for the United States of America’s future. These letters tell the story of this country well, and reading them was precisely when my anger turned to sadness.
“SPEAKING OUT AGAINST HARVEY WEINSTEIN” BY LUPITA NYONG’O. It feels sort of strange to say I ‘loved’ so much writing about sexual trauma, abuse, harassment, and rape. I expected this year to be hard for political reasons, but didn’t anticipate reliving my darkest intimate moments and grappling with feeling such overwhelmimg anger and distrust of, well, men. And yet: these stories that we had all pushed to the back of our throats? The rage that was kept low in the pit of my stomach instead of bursting out of me? It turns out it finally has some power. The reckoning has been messy and painful, but it’s also been empowering. Lupita writes so well in her NYT editorial of the shame and self-silencing that she put herself through. As dark and infuriating as her story is, knowing she felt safe enough to write it gives me so much hope.
“THE NATIONALIST’S DELUSION” BY ADAM SERWER. A lot of time in 2017 has been spent talking about how not to cover the humans who vote for an incompetent monster to lead our country — Adam Serwer did the best job all year of showing us how to write about the dark truth of American voters.
“TAG YOURSELF AS AN UGLY RENAISSANCE BABY AND WE’LL REVEAL WHAT KIND OF DRUNK YOU ARE” BY ANJALI PATEL. My favorite BuzzFeed quiz of the year, by a mile.
“SEEING MY BODY WITH FRESH EYES” BY ASHLEY FORD. Ashley is a friend whose writing I admire. I loved this essay for her open vulnerability and honesty, and for these actual real life #relationshipgoals.
“WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO LOVE OLIVER SACKS” BY BILL HAYES. I loved Sacks’ writing and this reflection is just a beautiful picture of love and genius. Full of little snippets of dialogue that paint such a sweet, interesting portrait of a great, complicated person and a great, complicated love. “I am glad to be on planet Earth with you.”
“IF EVERYONE ATE BEANS INSTEAD OF BEEF” BY JAMES HAMBLIN. A smart, convincing, well-researched explanation of the environmental impact of everyone’s obsession with eating animal flesh and why you should stop! Stop!
“JONI MITCHELL: FEAR OF A FEMALE GENIUS” BY LINDSAY ZOLADZ. Joni Mitchell’s Blue has been my favorite album since I was a tween and it’s so clearly a — maybe the—masterpiece of songwriting, yet I’ve found myself in innumerable conversations with men who’ve expressed to me that they just don’t “get” Joni, that she’s overrated, that her voice is annoying, etc.. I loved reading Zoladz’s examination of Joni’s story, of her talents, and of how and why she is often condescendingly propped up as a token female genius. I loved the smart, bold conclusions in this essay reaches. “Should women chuck all those words and ideas out the window and look for new ways to talk about and value the art they make?”
“LOSING IT IN THE ANTI-DIETING AGE” BY TAFFY BRODESSER-AKNER. “Weight isn’t neutral. A woman’s body isn’t neutral. A woman’s body is everyone’s business but her own. Even in our attempts to free one another, we were still trying to tell one another what to want and what to do.”
“YES, THIS IS A WITCH HUNT. I’M A WITCH, AND I’M HUNTING YOU” BY LINDY WEST. “The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your legacy. The cost of being Harvey Weinstein is not getting to be Harvey Weinstein anymore. We don’t have the justice system on our side; we don’t have institutional power; we don’t have millions of dollars or the presidency; but we have our stories, and we’re going to keep telling them.” Thanks Lindy.
“25 SONGS THAT TELL US WHERE MUSIC IS GOING” FROM THE NYT. This was such a great feature packed with beautiful writing about interesting music, and it looks (and sounds!) cool as fuck too.
“HOW I NAVIGATE THE OVERWHELMING WHITENESS OF AUSTIN” BY DOYIN OYENIYI. One of the arguments I had most often in 2017 was about how we engage meaningfully with criticism of things we love. I think it’s incredibly important to be open to thoughtful disapproval, especially when it comes from people who have, by nature of living in an oppressive society, a different experience than you. That’s why I loved this essay by Ms. Oyeniyi about the difficulty of living in my beloved hometown as a woman of color. She also offers practical and fun proactive suggestions for how to find the best of Austin’s diverse culture even if it is shamefully pushed to the side by overwhelming whiteness.
“THE MEN YOU MEET MAKING MOVIES” BY SARAH POLLEY. There were so many beautiful pieces written by women in response to / because of the great reckoning. Many of them are about the trauma and pain of being a victim, but there are also the stories that are about work and how the patriarchy and predation have shaped the careers of women. Among those insights one of my favorite pieces was Sarah Polley’s look back at her own career.
“OUR MOTHERS AS WE NEVER SAW THEM” BY EDAN LEPUCKI. I love pictures of my mom in college, and this essay was the best explanation of why (plus it’s packed with gorgeous photos).
“ON THREE LOVE SONGS AND HOW MUSIC IS MORE THAN JUST A SOUNDTRACK” BY ALEX NAIDUS. I might be slightly biased since Alex is my favorite person to talk about music with, but this essay really captures what it’s like when an album crawls into your brain and won’t go away.
“THE SANDY HOOK HOAX” BY REEVES WIEDERMAN. Heartbreaking but essential to understanding some of the darkest places people’s brains take them.
“CAT PERSON” BY KRISTEN ROUPENIAN. The short story that lit up the internet has been subject to many rounds of praise, backlash, backlash to backlash, backlash to backlash’s backlash, etc — I’m just here to affirm that I thought it was fucking great. What it does is brings to life a feeling often felt and rarely spoken of: bad sex that is not abuse but that molds up your heartparts because you did it out of fear, pity, willful obstruction of the clear truth, and even laziness.
“TED LEO IS LIKE YOU” BY MICHAEL TEDDER. Just an incredibly vulnerable and special interview with a very special man who gives me hope.
“PLEASE STOP COMPLIMENTING ON MY BODY” BY BEANIE FELDSTEIN. Beanie expressed something I have felt many times as people took some accidental weight loss as an invitation to let me know that they are looking at my body and have opinions about it, which is something I’d truly rather not know, ever, even if it’s true.
“ALT-WHITE: HOW THE BREITBART MACHINE LAUNDERED RACIST HATE” BY JOE BERNSTEIN. This story got a lot of rightful attention for its solid reporting on how Breitbart brought white supremacy to the mainstream. However, the small detail that most stuck out for me were the details about a handful of leftist Twitter media type pseudo feminist ally bros who had cozied up to Milo Yiannopoulos out of a deep shared hatred of women — especially former Broadly editor Mitch Sunderland tipping off Milo by asking him to “please mock this fat feminist.” This preceded the formal outing of Louis CK et. al. as abusive pricks but was the beginning for me of a long half year of coming to terms with the reality that I don’t trust any man I don’t know (nor many of the ones I do).
“THIS SLED DOG CAN’T HAVE PUPPIES, BUT SHE CAN RAISE CHICKS” BY SOPHIA WIEDERMAN AND BLAIR BRAVERMAN. One of my favorite pieces on BuzzFeed was a longform non-fiction comic essay, a genre there really should be more of all over the internet. Also it’s about interspecies friendship!
“THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO CHANCE THE RAPPER” BY MARK ANTHONY GREEN. We need more actually inspiring famous people in our lives, and if anyone is ready to be that Actual Real Live Idol, it’s Chance.
“A COLLEGE STUDENT ACCUSED A POWERFUL MAN OF RAPE. THEN SHE BECAME A SUSPECT” BY KATIE BAKER. Horrifying but important investigative work by my incredible colleague Katie. Read this story to understand what many rape victims actually face when they choose to report.
“HOW TO NOT GO ON A DIET BECAUSE YOU DON’T FUCKING HAVE TO” BY JASMINE PIERCE. I love Reductress so much and this is exactly the kind of piece they get so right —in a way it’s just “affirmation as article” but sometimes you fucking need affirmation ok? Oh and tell Katie to shut the fuck up.
“ON FINALLY WATCHING ‘GIRLS,’ A DIFFERENT AND BETTER SHOW THAN I’D BEEN LED TO IMAGINE” BY JIA TOLENTINO. I loved this thoughtful piece about a show I watched and mostly loved, by one of the best cultural writers working right now. Jia does a great job of examining both the show and the societal response to the show, and breaks down both of those things to their corest core. Really smart.
“WHEN FOOD IS JUST NUMBERS, I NEVER WIN” BY ARIANNA REBOLINI. I love my friend Arianna’s personal writing so much, and she wrote a ton of great work this year but this one really struck a chord with me personally.
“DWAYNE JOHNSON FOR PRESIDENT!” BY CAITY WEAVER. Caity is one of the best non-fiction writers of our generation and she writes about The Rock’s pop culture dominance and political aspirations in precisely the way he should be written about — with authentic delight at his overwhelming charisma, plus a generous pinch of absolute terror for our future.
“IN THE MAZE” BY DAYNA TORTORICI. Another one of the best things written about the reckoning. A lengthy essay that to me does the work of actually intelligently explaining what some women meant when they expressed that they would be willing to trade the comfort or protection of a small number of innocent men for the true empowerment of women. Some women who tweeted as much experienced backlash and vitriol I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but Tortorici expresses what I think they were trying to say beautifully and convincingly. “But just as true, and significantly less consoling, is the guarantee that some will find the world less comfortable in the process of making it habitable for others.”
“YOU MAY WANT TO MARRY MY HUSBAND” BY AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL. Quite possibly most inspiring and heart expanding true love story I’ve ever read.
Thank you to people who made great music and movies and wrote thoughtful things this year.
Y’all got me through.
Here’s to 2018.