2019 Year In..

Dec 12, 2019 | 9 minutes read

Tags: roundups, media, music, books, podcasts

A roundup of my media consumption for the year.


I come at music like this: I try lots of things, but take note of little. What rises to the top for me isn’t necessarily what others find great (and in fact I can’t always see the greatness others see), but rather something, usually idiosyncratic, that helps the artist stand out. That’s not to say I am completely ignorant of things like airplay and promotional hype, nor do I fully reject those aspects of an artist's trajectory, but I don't necessarily march to the same beat. Anyway, here's what I found worth my time this year.

My Apple Music playlist of the following is here:

  1. J.S. Ondara - Tales of America: Spare but rich and commanding bluesy acoustic songs offering a newcomer’s take on America’s promise. Ondara, an immigrant from Nairobi, is definitely one to watch.
  2. Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka: On his third album, Michael Kiwanuka narrates a world of violence and racism through pensive, melancholy psych-soul melodies.
  3. Heilung - Futha: Otherworldly neofolk chants that attempt to amplify a particular history, that of pre-Christian Nothern Europe and, like Skald below, a welcome counterpoint to generic metal acts in Viking cosplay.
  4. Zao - Reformat / Reboot: This remix compilation of the venerable metalcore gestalt that is Zao was notable not just for the electronic touches the remix infuses, but also because, inexplicably, there is (or was) a NES cartridge version of the album available. This gimmick is not a detractor: the music is genuinely enjoyable even though I’m something of a metalcore outsider.
  5. Chris Forsyth - All Time Present: This mostly instrumental album showcases Forsyth’s exceptional skill with the guitar as he and his backing band take us on an extensive journey through experimental classic rock riffs.
  6. Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?: I’m not sure what needs to be said about this. If you somehow missed the incredible buzz around Eilish’s debut album, let me encourage you to give her a first look.
  7. SKÁLD - Vikings Chant: Skald want to answer the question of whether and to what extent a French musical act can revive the ancient Viking poetic traditions. In large part, the answer is yes.
  8. Dream Theater - Distance Over Time: The unquestioned prog-metal kings are back with an album that is solidly in their wheelhouse, showing that they still have staying power while also not quite meeting the stratospheric bar they’ve set in the process.
  9. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen: Ghosteen is Nick Cave’s first full reckoning of the grief of a lost child. It is a deeply personal collection of impressions and haunting melodies born of finding oneself engulfed in a darkness for which no preparation would have been sufficient.
  10. Sleep Token - Sundowning: This long awaited debut album is an idiosyncratic collection of pop metal worship ballads by an anonymous group. What they’ve built in the lead up to this album is a successful marketing and promotion machine that happens to produce great music.
  11. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride: It’s been a while since this group has released anything, and the intervening years, lineup changes and a cross-country move all add up to a different band than the one that emerged in 2008. Class consciousness infuses this album of anthems, folksy ballads, spirituals, and catchy pop country tunes. Is it the mark of maturation?
  12. Mdou Moctar - Ilana (The Creator): High energy spontaneous and celebratory Tuareg guitar from Niger, this album is full of desert assouf - that elusive term that evokes loneliness, longing, nostalgia, and everything that lies beyond the comfort of the campfire.


Okay, well, look. 2019 was not a banner year for me and books. I never really developed much of a reading plan, which even if I don’t always follow it, it is still something to guide me. Anyway, that’s not to say I read nothing, just that I lost a lot of steam this year. I read 13 books, but had set my goal at 25. Some of the reason I got nowhere near my goal is that I picked up a couple of very lengthy books, one of which I finished and the other of which may be a near-perennial almost-read.

I started the year off with a book that I had kicking around a while, Natsume Soseki’s The Three-Cornered World, which was a gift from a friend in 2017 or 2018. It is the curse of the avid reader to have more books to read than time to read them, which underscores the surprise of actually getting to a book that's been on one's shelves for a while.

A timely event at the Korea Society prompted me to read Heinz Insu Finkl's new translation of The Nine Cloud Dream, which was a nice follow-on to the previous work.

Theater screenings of a number of Studio Ghibli films was the impetus behind my read this year of Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle. The book was as compelling as the film, but I think I prefer Miyazaki.

Back in January, the New York Times published Globetrotting, a sneak preview of books coming out in 2019 from around the world. So I took on a few. The first of these was All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópoulos, followed by Guillermo Saccomanno's 77 and Adèle by Leila Slimani.

When I cleaned up my Twitter account a while back, I stopped following all the corporate accounts I had accumulated, ditched anyone who looked like a Nazi, and otherwise gave my account a thorough scrub. What I found is that I have a soft spot for authors, especially authors I've read and like, so as a consequence, I follow more authors than perhaps any other category of people. The result of this, of course, is that I hear about other authors, so when Hafsah Faizal came across my radar with We Hunt the Flame, the first book in her Sands of Arawiya trilogy, I was instantly intrigued and pre-ordered it. I eagerly await the next installments.

Two more works out of the pages of the New York Times Book Review grabbed me over the summer: Thomas Harris, who is apparently a Big Deal, released Cari Mora, which was entertaining enough, and I also read Erica Ferencik's Into the Jungle, which was also worth the time.

Coming back around to things I have long overlooked but regret having done so, I picked up Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. It was good. Really good. And it saddens me that there is not so much more fantasy set against non-European backdrops and inspirations.

Did I mention that I mined my own shelves for reading material? Two other books I picked up this year have been on my shelves for a while, and I finally got around to them. The first of these was The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Look, I've seen the movie enough times that I could probably, with some time and thought, reproduce the dialogue line by line pretty accurately. The book is so much deeper, and it opens windows into character motivation that would have strengthened the movie. I don't want to spoil it, but you should read it. The second of these was The Stand by Stephen King. I started reading this book as a teenager, but had to put it down (though not out of lack of interest), and I never got back around to it. The copy I have now was gifted to me by a Reddit secret Santa. Of all the works I've read this year, this is the only one I have even tried to write a review of (which I guess I better get back to).

The final read of the year, though it was actually wedged between the previous two, was one that my 13 year old was assigned as summer reading before starting 8th grade. Ann Rinaldi's Numbering All the Bones is a historical novel about one girl's attempts to heal the trauma of the American Civil War.


I wish I could find good statistics on the hours and hours I've spent listening to podcasts this year, but I don't see them. In any case, my podcast habit is what gets me to and from work, and sometimes fills other idle times, especially long dog walks. Instead of simply listing out all the individual podcasts I listen to, I will offer a list of my current favorites.

  1. Druidcast
    Frequency: Monthly on our around the 20th.
    From their website:

    …each episode features poetry, story and song offered by Bards throughout the world. There are also interviews with people involved in the Druid tradition, and related areas, plus seasonal thoughts, explorations of Celtic mythology and history, reviews, and competitions.

  2. In Our Time
    Frequency: Weekly
    Description: Wide ranging podcast produced by BBC Radio, exploring the history of various ideas, people, places, literary works, etc.

  3. Game Studies Study Buddies
    Frequency: Monthly or so.
    From the website:

    Games Studies Study Buddies is a podcast that makes academic games studies accessible, text by text. Rather than focusing on following or forging a “canon” of the discipline, media scholar Cameron and literature scholar Michael instead aim to cover an eclectic body of material. And while we are centrally focused on contemporary videogames, you can expect our discussions (and the work we cover) to account for everything from Dungeons & Dragons to tic-tac-toe.

  4. Death By Monsters
    Frequency: Weekly
    From the website:

    Death by Monsters is a weekly podcast with Matthew Jude, Nick Murphy and Paula Deming, three friends with very different opinions on monsters, mysteries and the unknown.

  5. The Dream
    Frequency: Biweekly?
    Description: Produced for Stitcher, this seasonal series examines various industries. Season 1 examined MLMs, and Season 2 look like it's focused on Wellness. I'm about to bump this to the top of my list.

I listen to a number of other podcasts as well, but these are the ones I wanted to share for this year.

What's up for next year?

One thing I learned from this year is that a reading list goes a long way, so I will put one up soon, and I'm pleased to say that I will be returning to epics for another round of that sweet sweet mythology. If you've followed my reading journeys before, then you will have done so on different websites. For a variety of reasons, I am consolidating all of those posts and all future posts here, in a place that I own and control. So that's another way of saying to watch this space for more details.