Staff picks is a monthly round-up of what staff at the Capital City Weekly and Juneau Empire are reading, watching and listening to.
With 2018 coming to a close, this batch focuses on a few of our favorite things from the year that was.
Favorite things we watched in 2018
Ben Hohenstatt, arts and culture reporter, “Sorry To Bother You” (Movie): This is a dark comedy from Boots Riley of preposterously underrated rap collective The Coup. Riley’s directorial debut is one that will stick with you. The not-at-all subtle critique of big business focuses on a young telemarketer adept at code switching — in this case sounding like a Caucasian man, on the telephone. Somehow, the telemarketer finds himself embroiled in one of the most bizarre, upsetting conspiracies I can recall seeing on screen.
Alex McCarthy, reporter, “Creed II” (Movie): What is it about boxing movies that makes you amped up? What is it about Rocky movies that makes you tear up? I don’t know, but I felt a lot of things watching this. Ivan Drago returns in a fashion that’s both heart-pounding and heartbreaking. Movies like this don’t win awards, but this was definitely the most intense movie-watching experience I had this year.
Ben Hohenstatt, arts and culture reporter, “The Good Place” (TV show): This feel-good sitcom blends existential quandary with some of the sharpest writing and inventive visual gags around, and the show constantly re-inventing itself in Season 3 did nothing to tarnish its sterling reputation. Since it’s a major network TV show, its seasons are available to stream on a bunch of platforms if you need to catch up.
Favorite things we listened to in 2018
Ben Hohenstatt, arts and culture reporter, “No Dogs Allowed” by Sidney Gish (Album): The full-length Bandcamp album from a 20-something Boston college kid is improbably my favorite album of the year. The pop chops are undeniable, and “No Dogs Allowed” will absolutely get stuck in your head. It sounds amazingly clean for a self-release, and it’s overall a witty, upbeat effort from a songwriter, who I have to imagine will join the likes of Car Seat Headrest and Frankie Cosmos in making the jump from buzzed-about digital releases to a big label.
Mollie Barnes, reporter, various singles from The Band CAMINO: I wonder who loves this band more, me or Taylor Swift? She added their song “Berenstein” to her Spotify playlist “Songs Taylor Loves,” but I listened to them for 54 hours this year and “Berenstein” was my top played song of the year, according to my Spotify Wrapped data. Their song “What I Want” is good for scream-singing in the car after a bad date.
Mollie Barnes, reporter, “The Greatest Showman Soundtrack” by various artists: It’s just. So. Catchy. Zac Efron, please rewrite my stars?
Alex McCarthy, reporter, “Twin Fantasy” by Car Seat Headrest: It’s fascinating to track the development from songwriter Will Toledo’s Bandcamp releases to the songs he’s making now that he has a full band. This album, released early this year, is a remake of an earlier album of his, but reimagined with a vast, explosive sound. The songs are long and often feel like two or three songs in one as they move from phase to phase. The joyous and morbid “Bodys” is probably my favorite song of the year.
Alex McCarthy, reporter, “Wide Awake” by Rayland Baxter: Simultaneously nostalgic and fresh, this 10-song album goes quickly. It’s got hints of Americana and contains fairly dramatic swings from harder rock to quiet melodies. “Amelia Baker,” is the centerpiece, as it cycles from haunting to hard-pounding and culminating in a memorable guitar solo.
Favorite things we read in 2018
Ben Hohenstatt, arts and culture reporter, “The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed” by Shea Serrano (Non-fiction): Despite the unwieldy, serious title, “Rap Year Book” is far-from academic. It combines humor with genuine insight and thoughtful analysis of an art form that’s become the dominant force in popular music. I saved reading it for my ferry ride from Bellingham, Washington, to Juneau. It was too enjoyable, and I was done toward the end of Day 1.
Mollie Barnes, reporter, “Turtles All The Way Down” by John Green (Fiction): I haven’t ventured back into young adult fiction since I interned for a children’s imprint in New York in 2015, but this was a great way to get back into it. Green is one of my favorite authors, and like his previous bestsellers, this book feels so true. It gets into the cringey details of what it’s like everyday for people living with OCD, including the strange cleaning habits they might develop. I read this in Greece this summer on the beach, but thankfully I had my sunglasses on to hide my crying. It’s definitely a tearjerker, but not quite as bad as “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Mollie Barnes, reporter, “A Review of the Delirious New Diet Coke Flavors” by Caity Weaver in GQ Magazine (news article): I haven’t laughed so hard from reading in a long time. Diet Coke is near and dear to my heart, so this hilarious review of the five new flavors the Coca-Cola Company unveiled this year really stood out to me. She even includes reviews of what they taste like once they are flat. A must read for any Diet Coke fan.
Alex McCarthy, reporter, “The Cartel” by Don Winslow: It’s a few years old by this point and it’s been talked about extensively, but this was the best book I’ve read in years. It’s a brutal and human look at Mexican drug wars told from all sides. It’s reminiscent of “The Wire” in its devotion to accuracy and character development. It stuns and entertains right up until the final words.