Sunday, 3 January 2016

The NSV Awards 2015: Music & Books

Hello all,
It's that time of year again where I present my favourite things from the year that has gone by. While it has been an unusual year for me in that very little of consequence felt like it happened, but was actually surprisingly eventful (crisis week, the end of uni as well as the queer support group I go to, joining film club), my interest in all things entertainment has remained. Over the next week, I shall present to you my awards for music, books, film and TV, as well as debuting a new regular feature for the blog. A lot of excitement is coming, but until then, hope you enjoy my reccomendations for the greatest music and books I experienced this year!

Category 1:

Like many other aspects of my life this year, music has been both complicated and simple. I cannot say that I listened to more or less music, it's just that nothing about it strikes me as being particularly memorable. This year's sexy 60 was filled with relatively easy choices while the album list was actually cause of a bigger headache due to the fact that I cannot separate the four choices and so have had to leave them unranked. However, that's not to say this hasn't been a stellar year for music. I discovered new artists such as Conrad Sewell, Troye Sivan, Gin Wigmore, Mikky Eko and Rachel Platten (whose 'Fight Song' may be my favourite song of the year. It is certainly the one I played the most often), but it was the return of some artists that saw the biggest rewards. New albums from Adele, Grimes, Nightwish, CHVRCHES, Florence + The Machine, Kacey Musgraves, Kelly Clarkson, Imagine Dragons, Bjork, Conchita Wurst, Carly Rae Jepsen and Marina & The Diamonds all had excellent tracks, in many cases surpassing my expectations and becoming a soundtrack to my year. Several of these I have highlighted below. I must note though I am still yet to hear Demi Lovato's new album who traditionally, as one of my favourite artists, would definitely have found her way on to the sexy 60 (as it is, her collaboration with Olly Murs has found a place).
   Soundtracks have again been interesting this year. Without an album to accompany the final Hunger Games film, the soundtrack spot was left wide open and with choices like Into The Woods (regardless of the film's merits which I often debate, the soundtrack is spectacular) and It Follows, as well as television soundtracks to Empire, Nashville, Outlander and the final season of Glee, it was not an easy decision to make. However, I am very happy with my choice, as we shall see below. Also, in regards to music videos, it's not something I really followed this year, so have decided to remove that category from today's awards. However, I would like to give a special mention to Taylor Swift's Wildest Dreams (I liked it and the controversy surrounding it to me has no real basis) and Tooji's The Father Project (which is unbelievably sexy).
   In 2016, I am looking forward to new music from Katy Perry and Rachel Platten, but as usual, it's the surprises that will interest me the most and provide the music to the start of a brand new journey for me.

The Sexy 60

1.       Run Away With Me (Carly Rae Jepsen)
2.       You Are Unstoppable (Conchita Wurst)
3.       Sledgehammer (Fifth Harmony)
4.       Bury It (CHVRCHES)
5.       Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (Bear McCreary)
6.       Father (Tooji)
7.       Up (Olly Murs, Demi Lovato)
8.       Yours Is An Empty Hope (Nightwish)
9.       Remedy (Adele)
10.    Smile (Mikky Eko)
11.    Up For Air (Conchita Wurst)
12.    Clearest Blue (CHVRCHES)
13.    Stay With Me [from Into The Woods] (Meryl Streep)
14.    Take Me To Church (Hozier)
15.    Put That Fire Out (Conchita Wurst)
16.    I Don’t Wanna See You With Her (Maria Mena)
17.    Alive (Sia)
18.    Flesh Without Blood (Grimes)
19.    Beating Me Up (Rachel Platten)
20.    Are You Sure (Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson)
21.    Empire (Ella Henderson)
22.    Like I Can (Sam Smith)
23.    No One Is Alone [from Into The Woods] (Anna Kendrick, James Corden)
24.    Hands Of Love (Miley Cyrus)
25.    Say My Name (Peking Duk)
26.    Stand By You (Rachel Platten)
27.    Ghosttown (Madonna)
28.    Love Me Like You Do (Ellie Goulding)
29.    Your Type (Carly Rae Jepsen)
30.    War Paint (Kelly Clarkson)
31.    The Hills (The Weeknd)
32.    Weeds (Marina And The Diamonds)
33.    I Lived (Glee Cast)
34.    Shut Up And Dance (Walk The Moon)
35.    Piece By Piece (Kelly Clarkson)
36.    Ghost (Ella Henderson)
37.    Belly Of The Beat (Grimes)
38.    Happy (Marina And The Diamonds)
39.    Hello (Adele)
40.    Living This Life Makes It Hard (The Duchess And The Duke)
41.    Honest (Kodaline)
42.    Fight Song (Rachel Platten)
43.    Water Under The Bridge (Adele)
44.    Bite (Troye Sivan)
45.    Sting (Eric Saade)
46.    Leave A Trace (CHVRCHES)
47.    Heartbeat Song (Kelly Clarkson)
48.    Mercy (Muse)
49.    Fire And The Flood (Vance Joy)
50.    Biscuits (Kacey Musgraves)
51.    Black Magic (Little Mix)
52.    I’m A Ruin (Marina And The Diamonds)
53.    I Bet My Life (Imagine Dragons)
54.    Musician, Please Take Heed [from God Help The Girl] (Belle & Sebastian)
55.    Start Again (Conrad Sewell)
56.    I Hurt Too (Katie Herzig)
57.    Waiting For Love (Avicii)
58.    Never Ending Circles (CHVRCHES)
59.    This Old Heart (Gin Wigmore)
60.    Black Roses [from Nashville] (Clare Bowen)
Top 5 Albums
 25 (Adele)
Adele's first new album in 4 years was hyped to be the biggest album of the year and it didn't disappoint. Selling a ridiculous amount of albums, it features 11 perfectly formed tracks featuring her gorgeous voice, beautiful lyrics and simple backing tracks to complement that voice. Standout tracks include 'Hello' (an epic song that went viral and is glorious), 'Send My Love (To Your New Lover)' (the catchiest Adele song ever), 'When We Were Young' (the live version is awesome, so much so that it's a touch weird to hear the album one), 'Remedy' (a tear-inducing tribute to her family, it's one of the most heartfelt songs she's ever produced) and 'Water Under The Bridge' (the most fun, enjoyable break-up song since Taylor Swift's 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together'). That's just the start. This is an album full of stand-out tracks which is sure to stand the test of time. If we have to wait four years inbetween albums to enjoy something of such pure greatness, then I am more than happy to wait.

E.MO.TION (Carly Rae Jepsen)
When Taylor Swift announced last year that her new album would be filled with 80s inspired tracks, I couldn't help but be filled with joy. It was a decade filled with excess, especially in it's music, making for some synthpop dance tunes that are disarmingly retro and catchy. I was thus a tad disappointed in T-Swift's effort. Don't get me wrong, 1989 is a great album but the only track that comes close to 80's glory is 'Out Of The Woods'. Less than a year later, in stepped Carly Rae Jepsen with what may be the most gloriously 80s album ever made. Filled with synthpop, dancable riffs and unbelievably catchy tunes, this was easily one of the best albums of the year. The lead single 'I Really Like You' probably gave many the wrong impression that this would be filled with basic bubblegum pop, but this is an aptly titled album imbued with passion, sensitivity and feeling. All of this is filled within the standout track 'Your Type' about an unrequited love which manages to be emotionally devastating as well as so mind-bogglingly catchy that it remains the only song Finn has ever caught me singing. Other tracks such as 'Run Away With Me', 'Making The Most Of The Night' and 'I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance' continue this trend of emotionally true, but karaoke catchy tunes which has managed the impossible; Carly Rae Jepsen has been catapulted into the upper echelons of my favourite artists.
Every Open Eye (CHVRCHES)
When CHVRCHES exploded onto the music scene in 2013 with 'The Mother We Share', it saw a resurgence of synthpop with complicated musical layers and powerful vocals. In 2015, they returned with Every Open Eye which may in fact beat their earlier effort. This is one of those albums I'll just put on in the background while working on stuff just because it's so enjoyable and catchy. There isn't a single dud track and every time I listen to it, I find a new favourite. If I had to choice the absolute best track would probably be 'Never Ending Circles' which has an amazing backing track that seems to spiral. Or 'Clearest Blue' which builds and builds musical tension until explodes in the most spectacular musical moment of the year which is actually more than a little dangerous. I've hurt my head more than a few times banging along to this or any of the other transcendently good tracks on this album. The perfect work-out album, the perfect synthpop album and possibly one of the greatest dance albums ever made. Listen to it.
Conchita (Conchita Wurst)
Conchita Wurst winning Eurovision in 2014 may have been the most incredibly powerful moment of acceptance I've ever seen. Since then, I've heard any number of opinions about her and have thought deeply on the impacts of her win on our understandings of masculinity, femininity and gender. Rarely did I think about the power of her music. That is until I purchased her debut album for my birthday. Filled with inspirational, uplifting tracks, she is the most powerful and beautiful musician since Lady Gaga. However, while Gaga made obvious tracks like 'Born This Way', Conchita performs 'You Are Unstoppable', using her own existence to inspire and move others. The album is filled with beautiful, fun, romantic and catchy songs that are just awesome. Picking a select number of tracks from this album for the Sexy 60 was a difficult task, such is the quality of her album. Even if this had been an average CD, it's existence still would've meant everything. That it's got some really great songs on it ensures Conchita's status as one of the most influential and beautiful performers of the 21st centutry.
Froot (Marina & The Diamonds)
Few things are sadder than Marina And The Diamonds' album 'Froot' and I think you need to be in the right frame of mind for it. Sadly, I was earlier this year. During Finn and I's crisis week, this became the soundtrack after I heard it playing in JB and struggled to contain my emotions. Tracks like 'I'm A Ruin' (about feeling like a failure in a relationship) and 'Happy' (about how strange it is to be finally happy after a lot of pain) were the perfect mix between depressing and uplifting in a way that helped get me through that incredibly difficult time. In fact, I don't think I could've actually got through that week without this album. For that, I owe it everything. Whether it's specific linking to such a painful period will date this album for me, I'm not sure, but I can't help but be thankful for its existence.
Best Soundtrack Album
It Follows (Disasterpeace)
Easily the scariest movie I saw in 2015, It Follows is a masterpiece of growing tension, paranoia and downright terror. While I will discuss the film in detail later this week, a big part of why this film works as well as it does is it's amazing score by Disasterpeace. Like the film, it takes cues from the work of John Carpenter, but twists them for its own demented use. Listening to the album is almost as terrifying as the film itself, but it's also filled with moments of sublime beauty and catchy tunes. Just like Carpenter's seminal theme tune for Halloween, 'Title' is both scary and unforgettable. Easily the album I listened to the most in 2014, it worms its way into your head. Try walking with this soundtrack playing at night. Great fun, not.
Category 2:
While not as lazy as 2014, this year continued to be remarkably slow in terms of reading. I read only 10 books and most of those were for University. It will be interesting to see if this changes in 2016 as I start a new direction in my life which will force me to do far less reading. Will I read more or will this be an entirely redundant category in 2016? Only time will tell. As it is, I've had to remove the graphic novels category, as I only read 2 (Fables 20 and Maus). That, however, is likely to return as 2015 saw the end of Fables which I will be reading very soon. However, while this continues the drought, there were some great novels I read and so will spotlight them here.
1. Holding The Man (Timothy Conigrave)
While this was easily the best book I read this year, it was actually more closely connected with my interest in films. After watching the movie on which it was based, I read the novel in about two days, desperate to know more about the story. In whatever form you experience this story, Holding The Man is a glorious and brave celebration of what it means to be gay in Australia. It's interesting to note what the film removes such as Tim's early experiences in high school (seriously, he did something intimate with all of his male friends at one time or another, which made me wonder was all this happening at my school and I just missed it?) or his continued cheating on John. These add more to the story, suggesting that perhaps the book was written as both a tribute and an apology to his partner. Idle gossip aside, Holding The Man is a beautiful, emotionally honest book that's moving and powerful and which should be essential reading for all gay men in Australia.
2. The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories (Carolyn Keene)
Yes, you read that right. I am reading the Nancy Drew mystery stories. I read two this year and what struck me was how sophisticated they are. They still stand up remarkably well, with a strong female protagonist (Nancy Drew: feminist icon) and surprisingly complicated plots which involved me having to pay a lot more attention than I thought I would've. They're fairly quick reads (I can get most of it done by going to the city, seeing it's an hour each way) and enjoyably addictive. As I was reading, I was amazed that there have been no real adaptations (the Emma Roberts film is a bit of a soft-spot but doesn't really capture the spirit of the books) so I was amazed that an American channel is thinking of adapting them. I was very excited until I read that they are aging her up and she will be a detective helping the police force. Seems they just can't get Nancy Drew right...
3. The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz (L. Frank Baum)
Of the two books I read this year with which I am more familiar with their adaptations, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz was the more superior. While the film version is (and remains) one of my favourites of all time, it's interesting to note that the film is actually quite different. In the book, the respective qualities which the three companions think they are missing (Scarecrow wanting a brain, the Tin Woodsman wanting a heart and the Cowardly Lion wanting courage) is demonstrated to be with them already in a way that is far from didactic. For example, when a plan is needed, the Scarecrow comes up with it. If they accidentally step on an ant, the Tin Woodsman cries over the loss while the Cowardly Lion is the bravest of the four. It makes for an interesting and very clever experience, showing that our perception of ourselves is far from the truth, making for a surprisingly inspiring novel.
4. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland may be my favourite story of all time. I've seen so many adaptations I've lost count, each with a different interpretation and opinion of what the book is really about. What strikes me most about the book (and which is rarely taken up in adaptations) is how rude everyone is to Alice. The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit and all the other favourites are horrible, horrible people, damning and funny in shutting her arguments down and keeping her mouth shut. Interestingly, the lecturer of the class I read it for argued that Alice was the one who was rude; unable to keep her opinions to herself and failing at the manners required for a social situation. It's this nuance and complication that makes Lewis Carroll's story so enduring and fascinating. Essential reading for anyone and everyone.
David Gumball-Watson

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