Friday, January 2, 2015

Greg's Favorites of 2014


It's that time again!  Time to blow the cobwebs off this old blog thing and post my favorites of the past year: 2014.  Here we go!

Music

It's getting harder for me to find music I really like.  2014 was another difficult year.  I need a new big brother to show me all the cool bands, but I haven't been able to find one in a while, so it's hit and miss.  Here's what I listened to and really liked this year:

Greg Whitehead. Let's start again with me, since I'm my favorite subject.  I recorded several songs this year, 2 songs and 2 instrumentals.

"Goodbye Today" - In the style of 60's vocal sunshine pop (a la "The Association")

 "Apricot Jam" - 70's style instrumental funk jam (a la Air's "La Femme d'Argent")

 "The Rain" - Rock/pop inspired by Jellyfish

 "Little Drummer Boy" - Christmas arrangement with my brother Jeffrey Whitehead on guitar. Mix of rock, disco, and Beatles psychedelia

Rob Cantor  - "Not a Trampoline" - Solo release from a member of one of my favorite bands, Tally Hall, this album was probably my most listened to of the year.  It contains all the hallmarks of a great Tally Hall album, including appearances by most of the band in some capacity.  Lots of quirkiness, great harmonies, and catchy melodies.  "Perfect" became a huge viral hit, but my favorite from the album is "Garden of Eden"--though there are quite a few others I could have picked.


Dowling Poole - "Bleak Strategies" - Rising from the ashes of Jackdaw 4, this pairing of Willie Dowling and Jon Poole is the best Jackdaw 4 album since "Bipolar Diversions"

"Weird Al" Yankovic - "Mandatory Fun" - Supposedly Al's last studio album, this is just as great as any other Weird Al album.  I actually recognized some of the songs he parodied this time and the ones I didn't were still great songs.  There was a great week earlier this year when Weird Al released one video a day from his album.  That was a great week.

St. Vincent - This is the second time I saw an artist on SNL and sought out more of their work.  (The first being Gotye a couple years ago.)  St. Vincent is very weird and quirky and Maria didn't enjoy it much when I played it, but it reminded me of the cool alternative music from the late 80s and early 90s when alternative meant weird and quirky and not loud and harsh.

Piano Guys - "Wonders" - Another year, another Piano Guys album.  We really enjoyed playing this one in the car this year.

Nicole Saboune - "Must Exist" - This is the album I started the year off with.  She's a Scandinavian artist that I don't really know much about, but her album had a really great early 80s female artist sound akin to Pat Benetar mixed with Joan Jett

Other albums/artists that I listened to this year (that may or many not have come out this year):
-Polyphonic Spree - "Yes It's True" (2013)
-Neon Neon - "Praxis Makes Perfect" (2013)
-Evil Arrows - Eps 1-3 (Bryan Scary side project)
-The Hoosiers - "News from Nowhere" - I was excited about this album, but it made no impact on me.
-Space - "Attack of the 50ft Mutant Kebab" - This album was a surprise that Space actually put out a new album.  But sadly, nothing was anywhere near as good as their 90s albums.
-Eno * Hyde - Brian Eno and Karl Hyde (Underworld) put out an album together.  I really liked elements of it, particularly hearing Karl's voice again since I haven't listened to Underworld since they turned Techo.  But none of the songs stuck.
-Boston, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Yes - These three classic rock bands put out brand new albums this year, all were listenable, but none were great.  I was particularly disappointed in Yes since their previous album became one of my favorite Yes albums ever made.

I'm unaware of any upcoming music in 2015 to look forward to, so this year will be a complete surprise.  Crossing my fingers it will be a good one.

Movies

I enjoyed quite a lot of the movies from 2014.  I initially thought this would be an off year, since 2015 is preparing to be the GREATEST MOVIE YEAR OF ALL TIME*.  (*According to everyone on the Internet.)  Here are the ones I liked the best this year:

The Lego Movie/Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm lumping these together because they both star Chris Pratt and they were both better than they probably should have been.  Both of these were a ton of fun and were completely enjoyable on re-watch.

X-Men - Days of Future Past - I haven't been a big fan of X-Men movies, but this entry made me a fan again.  There's one scene in particular where time slows down that was the scene of the year for me and took this from a great movie to an amazing movie in just 1 minute. 

Edge of Tomorrow/How To Train Your Dragon 2 - I'm lumping these together because these were both really, really great movies that seemed to have failed theatrically.  I can't understand why.

About Time - I believe this was a 2013 movie, but saw it this year.  I really loved the time travel concept and how it played in a very mundane, yet moving way.

Captain America: Winter Soldier/The Hobbit: Battle of 5 Armies/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - These are all lumped together as great sequels that I liked.

Big Hero 6 - This is the first theatrical movie that Jaden sat through its entirety. (Except for a bathroom break mid-way) We all had fun with it.

What We Do In The Shadows - A New Zealand mockumentary about vampires.  Very dry and very, very funny.  Possibly the funniest movie of the year.

Other movies I liked this year: Muppets Most Wanted, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Veronica Mars

Next year will be the big one with Star Wars, Avengers, Terminator, Jurassic World, Ant Man, Tomorrowland, 2 Pixar cartoons, and many, many more.  Wouldn't it be great if they were all good?  

TV

We didn't find much new to watch this year.  Our network viewing has been diminishing more and more each year, though there's still a few regular shows that we watch.

Face Off/Jim Henson's Puppet Challenge/Wizard Wars - I found the first two earlier this year when I was home recovering from surgery.  Face Off had 8 or so seasons and this was the first for Puppet Challenge and Wizard Wars.  All are essentially the same show, a template used on many, many other reality contests.  Face Off is a make-up challenge (which is why I avoided it for so long.)  What it really is, though, turning a model into a new creature each week.  Puppet Challenge was about creating very, very elaborate puppet creatures each week.  And Wizard Wars is about magicians being given specific items and creating a magic routine with them. I ate up all these shows.  I love seeing amazing artists and their creativity and the process of realizing their ideas.

Studio C/SNL/Birthday Boys - I love a great sketch comedy and all three of these had some really good comedy.

Brooklyn 99 - Probably the best current comedy that we actually look forward to watching

Comedy Bang Bang/Review/Nathan For You - All three of these were great non-traditional comedy shows.

Community - The last season was pretty good (still waiting for the online follow-up season.)  Makes me really miss the old NBC Thursday night comedy block (with the Office and Parks and Rec)

Sherlock - The year started off immediately with three episodes of Sherlock.  I barely remember watching them since it's been so long.  But luckily I wrote it down so I would remember by the end of the year!

Inside No. 9 - A British comedy anthology series.  Each episode is unrelated except for the fact that they take place in a building marked "No. 9."  The first two episodes were really good.  The rest were hit and miss.  But good overall.

@Midnight/QI/Would I Lie To You - I love a good panel show, particularly with good comedians.

America's Got Talent/Britain's Got Talent/Fake Off  - I enjoy a good talent contest, and I really enjoy watching the first two each year.  The last one is a new one where they seemed to have taken all the really great original performance artists that I enjoy the most from the first two shows and created a new competition for them.  It featured groups performing with shadows, puppets, black light, acrobatics, projection screens, and all sorts of creative concepts.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Yes, this is not a 2014 show.  But I'm putting it here, because I finally watched every episode from Netflix--including most of the last season that I had never seen.  So now I can finally say I have seen the entire series.

Online - Some of my favorite shows this year were from on-line only outlets.  Here's a few:
-The Nerdist Channel, 
-RedLetterMedia (Half in the Bag, Best of the Worst, Wheel of the Worst), 
-Screen Junkies (Honest Trailers)
-TomSka (asdf)
-Static Videos (my nieces/nephew's comedy channel)
-Brett Domino
-Claudio O'Doherty - What is England

Podcasts

I found a few new podcasts this year, and phased out a few old ones.  My favorites this year:

-Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider - I wrote these guys a new theme song this year.  I was very happy they liked it.
-James Bonding - Reviewing James Bond movies one by one.
-Empire Podcast - British movie new/review podcast
-No Such Thing As A Fish - a QI-related podcast.  Full of interesting facts.
-We Have Issues - Short comedy topical podcast
-Serial - Great start, but sad they didn't end anywhere satisfying.  That's what happens when you start a story without knowing if/when it will end.

Games

Most of my games were on my iPhone this year with a few Xbox and other games here and there.  This is still a transitional year when games are coming out on the old and new generation consoles.  We got a Wii U for Christmas and caught up on a whole lot of games that we'd missed the past two years.  But we have no foreseeable plans to get an Xbox One or PS4 yet.  The big theme this year is "freemium"--games that are free to play but have lots of incentives or penalties if you don't then give the game more money.  I gave in and played a few this year and got hooked on some.  Here's what I played and enjoyed the most this year:

-Trials Frontier - (iOS) - A bike racing freemium game.  It's fun, but very, very hard.  It has a lot of freemium tropes like timers and multiple forms of currency.  Yet it's kept me playing.  So much so, that of the more than 1.8 million players, I'm currently ranked just under 120.  At one point I got up to the 88th ranked player in the world:




-Simpson's Tapped Out - (iOS) - Another freemium game.  I started this last Christmas and have now been playing it for an entire year.  I've designed and built an entire Springfield, populated by hundreds of characters and the game keeps pulling me back in.  They have regular events with regular rewards that keep the game interesting and keep you playing.  This is one of the games that helped me survive my stay in the hospital earlier this year.

-Rogue Legacy - (Mac) - A platforming game that I purchased on my Mac.  Very, very hard, but a lot of fun.  You go through a randomly generated castle and take the money and rewards you earn to upgrade a new random character.  At first you can only go through a few rooms, but by the end you have a super-upgraded character and can actually survive the castle.

-2048/Threes - (iOS/PC) - A sliding puzzle with a very simple concept of combining numbers to make bigger numbers.  It wins the "just one more try" award for the year.

-Mario Kart 8/NintendoLand/Smash Bros Wii U/Hyrule Warriors/Donkey Kong Freeze/Wii Party/Captain Toad Treasure Tracker/New Super Marios U/Super Mario 3D Wii U - (Wii U) - We got all these since Thanksgiving.  Most we haven't been able to spend a lot of time with, but I foresee playing them well into 2015.

-Geometry Wars 3 - (Xbox) - This was a surprise.  The second is my all-time favorite Xbox game.  I thought the series had died since the creators had gone out of business.  But someone else picked it up and put out a worthy successor.  Very hard, but very fun.

-Thief - (Xbox) - This was both a great reboot of the series and a terrible one.  I played this while I was sick and recovering from surgery.  I was upset by the language and surprising nudity that this game contained since my son was anxious to play it as well.  It didn't need it and it ruined a pretty good game.  The story didn't make much sense either, but it was fun stepping back into the stealthy boots of Garrett the master thief.

-My Muppets Show - (iOS) - Another freemium game where you make Muppets and then add them to a stage or scene.  As you add more, they contribute to a song, making the song longer, more complex, and more interesting.  The game was regularly updated at the beginning of the year, but seems to be abandoned now.  Sad, especially since they had promised another new stage in the summer.

-Zelda: Link Between Worlds - (DS) - This was a great return to the "Link to the Past" style Zelda game.  I played it really early in the year, so I only remember playing this because I wrote it down!

-Lego: Marvel Superheroes/The Lego Movie/The Hobbit - (Xbox) - Technically, I didn't play the last one.  Maria did.  But I played the other two.  These are the same Lego formula adventure games that they regularly put out.  The Lego Movie was surprisingly short, but the Marvel one was so big, I was never able to complete it, which is rare for a Lego game.

Books

I didn't read much this year.  So here's what I read, good or bad:

-"Serenity: Leaves on the Wind" - A comic book follow up to the Serenity movie.  Had some interesting progress with the characters.  
-"Serenity: Those Left Behind" - This was a comic book that was intended as a gap filler between the Firefly series and the Serenity movie.  It explains why Shepherd and Inara were no longer on the ship, what happened to the guys with the Blue Gloves, and how the Operative was set after Serenity.
-"Allegiant" - The third in the Divergent trilogy.  I actually gave up half way through when I learned the Big Reveal and decided it was not worth completing.  I read the summary of the rest of the plot from a wikipedia page.
-"A Billion Jokes: Part 1" - From Peter Serafinowicz, just a quick joke book with only one line on each page.  But some were very funny.
-"Swift Programming Language" - Apple introduced a new language for programming for their devices.  I have yet to use it, but I read about it.
-"Matched" - Another teen post-apocolyptic anti-utopia book.  It was interesting enough to finish, but I quickly gave up into the second book.

2015

And that's it, I guess.  As I mentioned above, 2015 is the BIG one for movies.  I'm probably most looking forward to the Avengers.  I'm cautiously optimistic about Star Wars and Jurassic World.   My wild card bet is on Tomorrowland which is from Brad Bird who has yet to make a less than excellent movie.

I'm unaware of any upcoming music.  And as for games, Nintendo has a lot promised, but nothing specifically dated.  We're all excited for a new console Zelda game, but I highly doubt it will make it out this year.  We'll see.

Happy 2015 everyone!

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