Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2013 - Songs

Here it is, the crowning glory of my Best Of 2013, as always. Songs are what I spend the most time with and they have a way of occupying my mind that leads me to powerful passions for the best of them. 2013, more than anything, was a return to excellence for some of my favorite artists. Many of my past years' winners of best album and song have shown up for an 'all-stars'-esque showdown. For my two favorite bands, The Dangerous Summer and Moving Mountains, it was the final fight. Both said their goodbyes with this year's efforts. As you can imagine, this group of tunes means a lot to me.

Hands down, this is THE BEST list of music I have ever presented on this site. Breaking the top 51 has never been as difficult as this. There aren't as many love songs here as in years before. Instead, we have a union of intense struggles and inspiring crescendos, a battle of light melodies and dark harmonies, a tug of war between staying grounded - Anchor, Steady, Safe and Sound - and flying high - Saturn, Atmosphere, Wings... sensational music making at it's finest. Even got some German stuff in there thanks to the mission. I hope you enjoy.

Champions from before:
2009 Runner-Up: Where I Want to Be - The Dangerous Summer (RIP)
2009 Winner: Changed By You - Between the Trees (RIP)

2010 Runner-Up: Conversations With Stars (Acoustic) - Brightwood (RIP)
2010 Winner: Melancholy Hill - Gorillaz (RIP)

2011 Runner-Up: If I've Been Unkind - Lanterns on the Lake
2011 Winner: Eyes - Kaskade

2012 Runner-Up: Close - Sun Airway
2012 Winner: Hymn For Her - Anchor & Braille

(Comments to come)
Click on any title to take a listen.

51. Brim - Ólafur Arnalds
50. Feather On The Clyde - Passenger
49. The War Within - Churchill
48. Applaus, Applaus - Sportfreunde Stiller
47. Anchor - The Dangerous Summer
46. Lions - I Can Make A Mess
45. Hurry Back Tonight - Lydia
44. Songs of Summer - Gossling ft. Alexander Burnett
43. Ain't It Fun - Paramore
42. A Stillness - The Naked and Famous
41. Grenzenlos - Glasperlenspiel
40. Counting Stars - OneRepublic
39. The Raven That Refused To Sing - Steven Wilson
38. Entertainment - Phoenix
37. The Night Comes - Eisley
36. Human - Daughter
35. Don't Swallow the Cap - The National
34. The Next Ones To Come - Claire
33. I Love You - Woodkid
32. Steady - Hey Ocean!
31. Eastern Leaves - Moving Mountains
30. Panic - The Sounds
29. Daydreaming - Paramore
28. Feeling the Night - Kaskade ft. Becky Jean Williams
27. Words As Weapons - Birdy
26. Miles Apart - The Dangerous Summer
25. Adaptation Cell - I Can Make A Mess
24. Chords - Moving Mountains
23. Swing Set - Moving Mountains
22. Give a Little - Tim Bendzko ft. Rea Garvey
21. Wings - Birdy
20. Safe and Sound - Capital Cities
19. Au Revoir - OneRepublic
18. The Exit - Lydia

17. Of The Night - Bastille
"Rhythm is a ... soul's companion."

16. New Love - Hey Ocean!
"Thought you said it was true love... now you won't repeat it."

15. In Two Minds - Claire
"Though I claim a streak of your shine, I stick to my guns."

14. No One Knows Who We Are - Kaskade ft. Lights
"We're not searching for a name or looking back the way we came."

13. Cool Kids - Echosmith
"They're driving fast cars, but they don't know where they're going."

12. Last Chance - Kaskade ft. Project 46
"Please don't let me fall."

11. Ancient Crows - I Can Make A Mess
"A fool's take is a blind faith."

10. Burn It All Down - I Can Make A Mess
"Magna Cum Laude would never define me."

9. Help - Hurts
"There's hope in this admission."

8. Last Hope - Paramore
"It's not that I don't feel the pain, it's just I'm not afraid of hurting anymore."

7. Atmosphere - Kaskade
"The lights in the sky weren't that far away."

6. Bright - Echosmith
"You make what doesn't matter fade to gray."

5. Banner (Acoustic) - Lights
"Nobody mapped oblivion."

4. Tidal Wave - I Can Make A Mess
"Painted my mind with an image I can't let go."

3. Last Mistake - Hey Ocean!
"Anything that was left was left behind."

2. Saturn - Sleeping At Last
"With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite."

1. Hands - Moving Mountains
"I was fighting before I could understand."

Best of 2013 - Albums

This year in music blew my mind, largely because each of my four favorite artists had new CDs, two of which were farewells. The Dangerous Summer and Moving Mountains, my two favorite bands, both said goodbye to the world after this year, which makes this a especially sentimental "Best Of" round for me. All four of those artists (including Lydia and I Can Make A Mess) held true to my fandom by making it onto this list of the best albums of the year.

Albums are my favorite. First off, I love collecting the physical copies, scouring through whatever art and lyrics are in there, and then proudly displaying them on my shelf. More so, I love the concept of a well built album. It's like the full story to each song's single chapter. Some chapters are better than others, sure, but a creative, sincere, high-quality album is, for me, the best thing music has to offer. Please, always look into the album when you find an artist or song you enjoy. No wise gold digger mines the surface alone.

Picking a quantity here usually comes relative to how many I've heard throughout the year. I'll give you the top twelve.

And what's landed in top spots before?
2009 Runner-Up: Yeah Ghost - Zero 7 (RIP)
2009 Winner: Spain - Between the Trees (RIP)

2010 Runner-Up: The Way I Fell In - The Morning Of (RIP)
2010 Winner: The World We Know - I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody's Business

2011 Runner-Up: War Paint - The Dangerous Summer (RIP)
2011 Winner: Waves - Moving Mountains (RIP)

2012 Runner-Up: Soft Fall - Sun Airway
2012 Winner: Departure Songs - Hammock

(Comments to come)
(Number in parentheses shows how many songs from the album made it into my best of 2013)

12. Weekend - The Sounds (1)

11. Golden Record - The Dangerous Summer (2)

10. Paramore - Paramore (3)

9. Fire Within - Birdy (2)

8. Talking Dreams - Echosmith (2)

7. The Great Escape - Claire (2)

6. Devil - Lydia (2)

5. Is - Hey Ocean! (3)

4. For Now I Am Winter - Ólafur Arnalds (1)

3. Atmosphere - Kaskade (4)

2. Moving Mountains - Moving Mountains (4)

1. Enola - I Can Make a Mess (5)

Best of 2013 - Video Games

For the last birthday I had in my mission, I asked my parents for little else than to have a few video games waiting for me when I got home. I knew beforehand that some great titles were set for release in 2013, I knew I was missing out while everyone else was enjoying them, and now here, at the end, I'm sure that 2013 was a fantastic year for gamers. Furthermore, this top ten list is the strongest I have ever presented here.

The gaming industry flared up toward the end of the year thanks to the release of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. For me, however, the greatest experiences of the year came before the update in graphics, and an impressive array it was. More and more, I see video games turning toward lasting storytelling, impressive moments, and clever ideas. Video gaming as a whole isn't the same hack-and-slash, point-hoarding hobby it used to be. Fantastic stories are being told through gaming in ways no other medium could do it. Let's take a look at some examples in my top ten.

But first, what's dominated in years past?
2009 Runner-Up: Lego Rock Band
2009 Winner:  Assassin's Creed 2

2010 Runner-Up: Mass Effect 2
2010 Winner: Rock Band 3

2011 Runner-Up: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
2011 Winner: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

2012 Runner-Up: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
2012 Winner: Mass Effect 3

(Comments to come)

10. Gone Home

9. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

8. Dead Rising 3

7 Saints Row IV

6. State of Decay

5. Bioshock: Infinite

4. Rocksmith 2014

3. Tomb Raider

2. Last of Us

1. Beyond: Two Souls

Best of 2013 - Movies

Making my Best of 2013 work was a challenge. The journey was pressured by limited time and it existed in the shadow of my presiding efforts to experience 2014 to the best of my ability. Fortunately, this list is really my only weak one in the endeavor. Movies were low on the priority list, simply put. I've cut it down to half the normal size for the time being, but I think you'll still find at least one you haven't seen before amongst my picks.

A brief history of spotlights in this category from years behind us:
2009 Runner-Up: Knowing
2009 Winner: 9

2010 Runner-Up: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
2010 Winner: Inception

2011 Runner-Up: Super 8
2011 Winner: Life in a Day

2012 Runner-Up: Seeking a Friend For the End of the World
2012 Winner: The Hunger Games

(Comments to come)

5 - Coherence

4. World War Z

3. Hunger Games: Catching Fire

2. Oblivion

1. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best of 2013 Intro

Two years later, here we are again. As many of you know, I spent the past 24 months of my life as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in northern Germany. It was incredible experience altogether, largely because of the many different cities I lived in during that time and the variety of people I met along the way.

Of course, there are some sacrifices that needed to be made. The one most significant here is the restrictions on media for missionaries. 2 hours a week for e-mailing was all I could expect to have on a computer. Fortunately, I decided to use that time to write to family, friends, and everyone else (to you! ...if you're interested) in my weekly e-mails, which built a separate blog that now has a greater history than this one here. Heilige Erlebnisse (Sacred Experiences):

If you want an idea of just what those two years were like, that's the place.

You may have noticed that the last thing I posted here was my 'Best of 2012' collection, which I had to finish up two months before the year had ended. Now I know I'm a lot further from the ideal deadline on this one, but I have to pay respects to 2013 by doing the same. This one's different, of course, because I wasn't able to experience most of these picks until two months ago. What should have been a comfortable year with lots of breathing space and time to ponder became a compact two month-period a full year later.

Still, I couldn't leave 2013 out, not when it's my 5th year of 'Best Of's.

First, a quick overview of my 2013:

January: When the clock struck 2013, I was at the Missionary Training Center trying and failing to get to sleep before an early flight. Starting at about 8:00 in the morning, I was in the air with Germany as my destination. I began in a marvelous western city called Braunschweig (Brunswick in English), where I learned the basics of living in a foreign country and practiced conversing in German.

February: Celebrated my 20th birthday with many good wishes from those at home and some of the Germans I came to love. I was also able to see the place where my grandma grew up in neighboring Hannover. Feeling surprisingly comfortable under somewhat difficult circumstances, I gained more and more excitement for what was to come.

March: In what was a big surprise, I left Braunschweig much sooner than anticipated and hoped. I went to Bautzen, deep in the German East. I wasn't thrilled about the turn of events at first, but a commitment to the challenge and a willingness to make it a good thing changed everything. One of my best friends from those two years started here.

April: German Easter, a two-day event, was memorable, partially because the second of those days doubled as April Fools' Day.

May: Here, I got my start as a non-profit street musician, advertising our missionary efforts with some viola playing in the busier parts of Bautzen, Goerlitz, and Cottbus. Visited Saxon Switzerland, one of the coolest places I've ever seen.

June: Friendships grew stronger and stronger, as did the sunlight. In what was possibly the hottest summer I've experienced, I staggered in the heat of each day.

July: Struggles turned to successes. I saw a baptism in Bautzen and overcame powerful frustrations.

August: The days became much less eventful, sad to say. I grew tired, ready for change.

September: I moved to Kassel, which was to become my favorite of my home cities in Germany with one of my favorite groups of people.

October: Much of the month was centered on my one-year mark as I reflected on the year behind and wondered at the year to come.

November: Thanksgiving in a country that doesn't have Thanksgiving. At this point, I became a leader in the mission and found the new responsibility both internally empowering and incredibly stressful.

December: The best Christmas I have ever had, filled with happy miracles and minor heartache.

And now for the usual lists, misplaced on my personal timeline, but part of this excellent year all the same. We'll take a look at winners from the past 4 years as we go along. I hope you enjoy

Best of 2013