Best of 2014: 40 – 31
40. Marvel’s Female Led Books [Comics]
My relationship with comics is a roller coaster. I go through waves of reading tons of books, getting burnt out and then reading nothing at all. 2014 was a year where I did not read many comics. DC Comics, my longtime favorite publisher, has shit the bed the last few years, and it disheartened me to the whole medium. There are great things out there, but I had to walk away from it all for awhile. Despite not reading the books, I still keep up with general comic output and news. Marvel Comics and the amount of female led books that they are producing has impressed me. Strong books like Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk are helping to lead the way in putting female characters in equal position with male ones. The comic industry, and especially the big two publishers, has lived in a bubble where adolescent male power fantasies have driven their properties. It has improved in recent years, but still needs a lot of work. I am happy to see a company with so much pop culture clout making an effort to showcase women in their world without leaving them as eye candy on the side.
39. OlliOlli – Roll7 [Video Game]
I miss Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. When I got back into video games in 2014, it was a genre that was noticeably missing. As a skateboard game with a set of directional based tricks, OlliOlli shares some similarities with Tony Hawk. However, the indie title creates its own unique stamp through a change in controls and simple but fun level design. Gamers looking for a great skateboard game with solid play mechanics have no need to look further than OlliOlli. You can read more thoughts from me here.
38. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Francis Lawrence [Movie]
The Hunger Games’ movie franchise surprised me. I read the books before the films came out, and I was not impressed. With the release of the movies, I forgot about my complaints with the books and found myself swept up in the world. The settings and characters were excellent, and the movies stripped out a lot of unnecessary elements. With Mockingjay Part 1, I was skeptical that I would enjoy it. Splitting books into multiple movies feels like a money grab and irks me to no end. Though I still have problems with the movie split, I thought the film was successful in many ways. Read more of my thoughts on it here.
37. Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me! [Music]
Laura Jane Grace made headlines throughout the music world when she came out as a trans woman a couple years ago. It was awesome to see the singer of a band like Against Me! telling her story openly. Against Me! is a band that I loved early on, fell out of love with and then started to enjoy again in their latest releases. Leading up to the release of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I was worried that the album would get swallowed up in the story of its lead woman and the music itself would be disappointing. My worry was misplaced. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the group’s strongest album in a long time. Filled with excellent melodies, great hooks and tons of raw emotion, Laura Jane Grace pours herself out in each song. It is powerful. It is catchy. It showcases the awesome potential of a band that has struggled to find itself over the years. I am glad to see Against Me! back in top form.
36. Live in Milwaukee 10/4/2014 – Twenty One Pilots [Live Music]
One of my regrets in 2013 was keeping Twenty One Pilots’ album, Vessel, off of my best music list. Part of me felt that I should be embarrassed listening to the group, so I hid the album in my honorable mentions instead of ranked higher on the official list. The album was great, filled with catchy beats, bizarre yet fun lyrics and a lot of crazy. In 2014, I had the chance to catch the band live on tour. It was amazing. The level of energy and passion that the members put into the show was incredible. They played an excellent mix of songs from the last album along with older stuff that hardcore fans would recognize. The lights and set were flashy and engaging. The band had great stage presence. They switched up their look, moved around extensively and had some awesome moments in and on the crowd. I have been to a lot of live shows in my life, and this one ranked very high. If you are a fan of the band, do not miss seeing them. If you do not know Twenty One Pilots, check out their excellent album from 2013. It deserved more recognition from me than it got.
35. Count Your Lucky Stars [Music]
Though some music outlets over-hyped a false “emo revival” to write articles and get page hits last year, fans of the genre know that great music has been coming out of the scene for years. Count Your Lucky Stars is an excellent example of a label that has been putting out quality emo bands since its inception. Based out of Michigan, the small label had an excellent year of releases in 2014. CYLS released albums from Two Knights, Free Throw, Brave Bird, The Great Albatross, Hightide Hotel, Kittyhawk, Perfect Future and Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate) alongside great splits from Mikey Erg, Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers, Annabel and Dowsing. The label focuses on a particular style of music, but contains bands and sounds that cover a wide range within that framework. CYLS is one of the most consistent labels around and their prices are great too. For fans of the genre or excellent music in general, be sure to check the label out.
34. The Babadook – Jennifer Kent [Movie]
From first time writer and director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook was a horror movie that sprung out of Australia and garnered great word of mouth after its release. The praise is well earned. The film focuses on a mother who struggles with how to handle her son, a young boy who is adamant that a character from one of his books is real. The movie shows its Japanese horror influences while maintaining its own sense of style and atmosphere. It is both parts psychological thriller and monster movie. The pacing and camera work is excellent, creating a sense of tension and unease throughout the whole movie. For a first time writer and director, The Babadook is an awesome start. I look forward to more from Jennifer Kent.
33. The Jackbox Party Pack – Jackbox Games [Video Game]
Early in the year, Jackbox Games released Fibbage. The concept is simple. Questions pop up with a blank to fill in. Players each enter a lie that will convincing trick their opponents. Each player picks what they think is the correct answer, and the game rewards points for having your lie picked or choosing the correct answer. After several rounds, the player with the most points wins. It is an easy game that is even more accessible by having players use their phone to play. My weekly game group blazed through all the questions over several weeks. We had a blast and did not want to stop despite how late the night got. When we ran into repeat questions, we awaited a promised expansion. Instead of expanding Fibbage, Jackbox Games released The Jackbox Party Pack later in the year. Along with Fibbage XL, the Party Pack contains You Don’t Know Jack 2015, Drawful, Word Spud and Lie Swatter. The last two games are throwaways, but the rest are tons of fun. You Don’t Know Jack is an updated version of the classic comedy trivia game. Drawful takes the concept of Fibbage and puts it into a game where players must draw pictures. They are simple concepts that provide hours of fun. I have never laughed so hard playing a video game with friends. Whether playing on the PS4, Amazon Fire or any of the other places the game is available, the use of phones as controllers makes it easy for everyone (non-gamers included) to pick it up and have a blast.
32. The Leftovers – Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta [Television]
I was a huge fan of Lost from beginning to end. Unlike many, I had no problem with the last season and enjoyed the fact that the show did not resolve every mystery. Since then, I have been waiting for Damon Lindelof to create something that captures my attention in the same way. In 2014, Lindelof brought The Leftovers to HBO alongside the author of the book, Tom Perrotta. The show opens showing random unconnected people disappearing without warning. It then cuts to three years later when the remaining world is still dealing with the disappearance of two percent of its population and no explanation as to what happened. It is a large concept that narrows its focus to a single town and a particular family dealing with life after the “Sudden Departure.” In the first season, Lindelof and Perrotta take time to set up the characters and introduce a lot of different elements, none of which get resolved by the season finale. For some, that may be off putting. For me, I am in love with the suspense and mystery. I enjoy large stories that take time to unfold and reveal themselves. I am hooked. The intrigue and potential for the characters and audience to never fully understand what has happened is as interesting to me as the idea of laying out everything by the end of the larger tale.
31. Negative Qualities – Single Mothers [Music]
Those who know me well can attest to my love of Touché Amoré. A few years ago, the lead singer, Jeremy Bolm, started a record label called Secret Voice. Its initial release was a four song 7-inch from the band Single Mothers. Having never heard the band, I trusted in Bolm’s taste and pre-ordered the album without hesitation. I loved it. Single Mothers is a Canadian punk rock band with a noisy, dirty feel to it. After the release, the singer, Drew Thomson, quit to pursue other things. With a few years and some solo material behind him, Thomson rejoined the band and began recording new material. Released in October of 2014, Negative Qualities took the style from the band’s earlier works and expanded on it for their first full length. When I listen to the album, it reminds me of a noisier, punk rock version of The Hold Steady. The lyrics and vocal style feel straight forward and unencumbered. It is a cool contrast to the fuzzy, loud guitar riffs that are woven behind it. The album has so much energy and emotion throughout. It pumps me up and reminds me why I love music. I do not know how long this band will be around, but if Negative Qualities remains the main output, their legacy will be a strong one.