My Best of 2015

Music

It could be my advancing years or the death of my brain cells, but I am increasingly unable to decipher one musical style from another, unless the piece of music was recorded in the twentieth century, or does not have the ‘pop’ tag attached to it. We live in eclectic times, or rather we live in times where nothing knows what it is anymore. In 2015, music refined its genres to a t, then killed those genres, put them in a blender, pounded them to a mortar of neo-whathaveyou’s served in disposable tubes. Album titles were named to reflect the confusion: White Men Are Black Men Too (Young Fathers), Sometimes I Sit Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (Courtney Barnett), A Shapeless Pool of Lovely Colors Suspended in the Darkness (Smurphy), The Album about Nothing (Wale).

The-album-is-dead. As iTunes sells you single tracks off of them devoid of the concept of why an album is an album to being with; Spotify streams you just about anything you want it to, You Tube plays every imaginable music video ever made, and then we’re wondering why the artist -paid to make the art -has died. Video killed the…reality killed the…the great technological disruption killed the…Oh-a Oh-a.

The year 2015 has had its great musical moments, I must acknowledge that. Kendrick Lamar pulled from spoken-word and abstract jazz to make an opus about what it’s like to be black in America. It worked. Bjork turned to experimental electronic music to help her cope with the open wound of her divorce. It worked. Chance The Rapper subsumed his talents into a full-band soul-gospel-jazz odyssey about being in love with life. It worked. Sufjan Stevens stripped back all his orchestral indulgences and tried making a devastatingly direct record about family and loss. It worked. Adele made another record about heartbreak and pain and unrequited love. It really worked. Everything worked. From tempests of swirling arpeggios to the beautiful, beautiful melodies of Benjamin Clementine crooning what must be the most underrated masterpiece of the year. But, it was still difficult for me to pick an album that I liked from beginning to end, save for a handful.

Of course I realise that I am way too old not to feel my face for anyone, or dance as groovy as Drake on Hotline Bling, but some things about me remain the same. The lyric always wins. I take my hat off to the alternative rock offerings of The Maccabee’s Kamakura and Wolf Alice’s Soapy Water, two songs that have earned my respect for their lyrical beauty. Thank you for your poetry.

Albumsben-clem
1. 25 ADELE
2. My Love is Cool WOLF ALICE
3. At Least for Now BENJAMIN CLEMENTINE
4. Every Open Eye CHVRCHES
5. Chasing Yesterday NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS
6. Fading Frontier DEERHUNTER
7. Carrie & Lowell SUFJAN STEVENS
8. Simple Songs JIM O’ROURKE
Songs
155287
1. Kamakura THE MACCABEES
2. Soapy Water WOLF ALICE
3. Sedona HOUNDMOUTH
4. Leave a Trace CHVRCHES
5. King Kunta KENDRICK LAMAR
6. Chess PETITE NOIR
7. Sprinter TORRES
8. Marvin Gaye CHARLIE PUTH
9. Habibi Galbi A-WA
10. Pretty Pimpin KURT VILE

I woke up this morning, didn’t recognise the man in the mirror/Then I laughed and I said, “Oh silly me that’s just me,”/ Then I proceeded to brush some stranger’s teeth/But they were my teeth, and I was weightless/Just quivering like some leaf come in the window of a restroom…. Then Saturday came around and I said “Who’s this stupid clown blocking the bathroom sink?”/But he was sporting all my clothes/I gotta say I’m pretty pimpin…. All he ever wanted was to be a man/But he was always a little too cute to be admitted under marbles lost/He was always a thousand miles away while still standing in front of your face KURT VILE

Films

From the colourful sandstorm return of the Mad Max franchise to the art-house gems of world cinema, 2015 has once again given me a year enriched with familiar thespians and foreign languages. The best dialogues, again, came to me in subtitles, proving that the best directing, writing and filmmaking is not necessarily made in a Hollywood studio. It was certainly a year of powerful stories: A father trying to give his son a proper burial after salvaging his body from being burnt in Aushwitz; teenage sisters struggling to break out from cultural constraints imposed on them by their conservative family in their small Turkish village; the human side of a poet’s court litigation in Maharashtra state, India; a wife’s unexpected return from a concentration camp in post-war Berlin; the turbulent tale of child soldiers in an African civil war; the uncovering of a child abuse scandal in Boston; a transgender girl tearing down Hollywood looking for the man who broke her heart; a retired orchestra conductor discovering while on holiday that what still awaits him, in the twilight of his life, is youth.

These lists are deeply personal. They can never be objective. Just like the stories in a novel or the lyrics in a song, we are all moved by what resonates in us most. The intangible feeling that a film’s ending leaves in us, a plot that we recognise from a parallel universe, a triumphant victory that we yearn for, the memory of a loss we’ve never had, the bliss of getting lost in a fantasy world, the joyous shower of laughter. Films are the stories of our other lives performed by our other selves. The collaborative work of the finest artists and scientists, projected through the finest art form of our time.

These were my favourite films this year:

1. Son of Saul (Hungary)
2. Mustang (France)
3. Timbuktu (Mauritania)
4. Court (India)
5. Phoenix (Germany)
6. Amy (documentary feature)
7. Girlhood (France)
8. Mad Max: Fury Road
9. Spotlight
10. Beasts of No Nation
11. Tangerine
12. Labyrinth of Lies (Germany)
13. Theeb (Jordan)
14. 99 Homes
15. Southpaw
16. The Assassin (Taiwan)
17. Creed
18. Youth
19. The Walk
20. Mistress America
21. Tu Dors Nicole (Canada)
22. Difret (Ethiopia)
23. The Martian
24. Sicario
25. Bridge of Spies

 phoenix_ver2

“We mustn’t linger. It’s easy to get lost in memories…” World of Tomorrow

Books

The album may be dead, but the novel is alive and well. And this has been a very good year for reading. Ever since August I haven’t stopped talking about Marlon JamesA Brief History of Seven Killings, one of those exquisite novels that come along every few years or so, beginning its march towards the hall of classics. It went on win the Man Booker Prize in October, the best novel to win the Booker in a long time. Turn your lights down low, The Singer may have said. This is a book you are not likely to forget.
“That’s what happens when you personify hopes and dreams in one person. He becomes nothing more than a literary device.”
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is big, emotional and trauma-packed. It is a story of self-inflicted agonies, intense male friendships and shared depravation. It toughens and saddens. It is not a happy story, just a real longing for “a place where beauty was so uncomplicated.”
“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
The Fishermen, Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel, is laced with Aristotelian tragedy and African folklore. A good and noble-minded man shows hubris and is brought down by the gods for it. “My children will be great men, “he says, “they will be lawyers, doctors, engineers.” And with that arrogance he invites fate to plot another life for him…but you would know that already since the novel opens with one of the most convincing opening lines of the year, “We were fishermen: my brothers and I became fishermen…”
“My brother and I were roosters. The creatures that crow to wake people, announcing the end on nights like natural alarm clocks, but who, in return for their services, must be slain for men’s consumption.”

51r7deroPbL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

My top books this year:
  1. A Brief History of Seven Killings MARLON JAMES
  2. A Little Life HANYA YANAGIHARA
  3. The Green Road ANNE ENRIGHT
  4. The Fishermen CHIGOZIE OBIOMA
  5. Physical ANDREW McMILLAN (poetry)
  6. The Year of the Runaways SANJEEV SAHORTA
  7. My Struggle Book 2: A Man in Love KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD (first published in 2013)
  8. A God in Ruins KATE ATKINSON
  9. Revolutionary Iran MICHAEL AXWORTHY (first published in 2013)
This I remember from long ago. Putting in a videotape into a VCR. It was a Top of the Pops, Christmas Special, 1985. I can still sing every word to the biggest hits that year: Tarzan Boy, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Like a Virgin, Careless Whisper, Take on Me, Money for Nothing, Last Christmas, St. Elmo’s Fire, You Spin Me Round Like a Record. I wasn’t as old as you may think. In fact I was very, very young. But I remember well when it all started. It was the year my father took me to Kenya Cinema to watch Rocky IV and Rambo. And we rented Witness and The Goonies from the video library that was all the rave then. And I was reading stories of adventurous children by Enid Blyton, in a beautiful, peaceful, warm and humid coastal town.

My best of 2015 is appreciating the wealth of all these years, and the art that has come through to us; some changing, some staying the same. The rejuvenating power of words and music, a space I seek everyday with renewed insatiable yearning, just like a young lady, still an ingénue then, sang thirty years ago, because “you make me feel, yeah you make me feel, shiny and new...”

Happy 2016.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s