You’ve probably never heard this, but this past year was unprecedented…
Anyway, instead of the pleasantries and pontificating, let’s get on to what was interesting this past year.
My two favorite albums this year were Wild, Free by Acceptance and What’s New, Tomboy? by Damien Jurado. Both albums show significant departure of style from previous works. I miss the power pop of Acceptance, and some of Jurado’s other albums had more singles that I loved. Nevertheless, I found myself listening to these over and over. There are a number of stand out tracks on each album. For Acceptance, “Cold Air” is an obvious single, but “Wildfires” is where its at for my money.
On the Jurado album, “Arthur Aware” is my favorite offering:
2020 was supposed to be the year that OneRepublic released Human. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but the five songs they did release this year (from the aforementioned album and a single for the Disney movie Clouds) were really exciting. Check them out here:
The real story is what is not here, namely Sufjan’s latest The Ascension. I just *could not* get into the album as a whole, some beautiful moments not withstanding. At first, I was really bummed about this, as I can so quickly go back to Carrie & Lowell. But then I realized how much similar experience there is with Age of Adz, and I’m ok with not being in the pocket for this album.
Congrats to Starflyer 59 for their album Miami. The single “This Recliner” is a blast from this T&N band’s past. I love the rework of Young In My Head‘s “Crash” as “CV2.” It is barely a mouthful at five tracks, but so worth it.
A huge congratulations to Tool for “7empest” claiming the Grammy for best metal performance. I know this came out last year, but the award was given here in 2020!
And lastly, a guilty pleasure. Leave it to Bon Iver to make me love a Taylor Swift song:
My highest hope was my greatest disappointment. Tenet was Christopher Nolan’s work that was going to return to Inception action and bring salvation to the movie industry. It did none of those things, while instead it gave in to all of Nolan’s worst tendencies (see tweet below). My greatest frustration is the audio mix, which, apparently, Nolan now freely cops to absolutely loving to mess with audiences not just in the Interstellar-mix depths, but even in the dialog. I find that unforgiveable for all directors not named Terence Malick. But apparently, some people have watched Tenet at home with subtitles on, and some aural details are more clear. Let’s hope!
And then Dune – the Denis Villenueve miracle I am counting on – got delayed! It has been a rough year for cinema.
With everyone at home, streaming video has become even more important. I enjoyed – and wanted more from – action/fantasy Old Guard and *hilarious* life-comedy I’m Sorry. (I want to be friends with Andrea Savage.) Unfortunately, Steve Carrell’s vehicle Space Force over-promised and under-delivered.
On the amazing side of the ledger, having American Gospel come to Netflix and streaming was an amazing opportunity. True to the hype, Jordan’s The Last Dance was a masterpiece, and so fun to go back to that era of NBA basketball.
The intersection of at-home streaming and cinema, for me, was Parasite. I guess, technically, it came out in 2019, but I caught it on Hulu during quarantine. I know, I know: all-Korean-dialog-with-English-subtitles-foreign-films-about-class-struggle-with-bizarre-third-acts are so last year. I hope to say more about this film in the future.
The Star Wars franchise totally redeemed itself in 2020. After the catastrophe of the Kennedy-led triology, things were not looking good in a galaxy far, far away. So give thanks for #FavreauFiloni, who steered The Mandalorian and a seventh season of Clone Wars to near perfection. The blend of fan service and authentic plotting was completely on point. It was so satisfying to see some of the beloved characters receive the treatment we all thought they deserved, as well as to share those moments with the next generation. Hopefully the franchise can stay in #FavreauFiloni’s sure hands.
2020 was a *rough* year for the teams I like to cheer for. COVID ruined a lot of seasons, especially NHL (I never came back to watching games when they resumed the playoffs.) I was *not* a LSU Tigers fan when they won the CFB championship. My beloved MN Twins had one of their worst streaks in all of professional sports. The completely dependable SA Spurs didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in twenty years. You can see why I was so excited to relive some Jordan’s Bulls-era basketball in The Last Dance!
Despite other books on my pile, my imagination was first captured by Nathaniel Philbrick’s masterful In the Heart of the Sea. The book is the best kind of writing, that completely immerses the reader into the heart of Nantucket’s whaling culture. I lost count of the number of times when, while reading Philbrick’s compelling prose, a question would dawn in your mind, only to have the author address and answer it in the next paragraph. In the Heart of the Sea gives impetus to the world behind American novel Moby Dick, and I found the story of the whaling ship Essex even more compelling.
A congregant lent me The History of the Spirit Lake Massacre. The book was a good reminder of how precarious life was for many of the early settlers of the north Iowa region. Particularly surprising to me was how often a person’s status might change. One child, under the care of parents, assumed they were orphaned, captured by warring Indians, traded to peaceful Indians, set free through a financial purchase, and finally reunited with family. That level of personal transition shocks me. It is good to be reminded of how different peoples’ lives have been in the not-so-distant past.
There were other things to read this year, and no doubt I’ll be writing this time next year about Carl R. Trueman’s awe-inspiring The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. But I haven’t gotten far in this volume, and instead, I’ve noted how much of my reading this past year has been short and online.
Constantly refreshing for the latest COVID-19 update, checking to see what federal or state level mandates would be issued, and surfing social media to deal with local organization and business changes were pretty constant through most of March through June, but remaining constant this year. Westminster Seminary CA put out an e-book on wisdom, and the PCA released very important committee reports in a similar format.
This was a natural progression to the rise of the newsletter. Andrew Sullivan’s The Weekly Dish, Rod Dreher’s newsletter, Russell Moore, David French’s The French Press, and the rise of The Bulwark and The Dispatch and American Compass have all revealed a slightly new medium. Close to the blog, and close to the email newsletter, this new-ish format maximizes subscriptions (and fees!) while also pushing personality + ideology.
I’m not sure what I think of this most recent development in lit consumption. As the arenas between blogs, Twitter, and long form essays continues to blur, we need sustained thinking that doesn’t succumb to soundbite thinking, but is accessible and viral. I’ll be curious to see how 2021 allows this format to develop and evolve.
I’m thankful this year is coming to a close for all its hardship. Nevertheless, I am surprised at how many obvious blessings and kindnesses I received despite the difficulties.
One big takeaway that has been staring me in the face this past year is the way the burden of leadership affects people differently throughout the pandemic. Obviously, there have been terrible times for some people hurting work, finances, and health. However, there is a slice of the population for whom quarantine has been a mild blessing: extra time at home with family, salaried income continuing despite less work hours, and a slowing of the hectic busyness that eats our schedules. But for those in leadership positions, something different has often happened. Even when “work hours” are reduced, the number of hours making decisions, reacting to government mandates, and setting policy seems to exponentially increase. This may seem like lamenting the silver, but leadership positions during pandemic have been difficult.
Nevertheless, God has been good. I am so thankful. As a new year dawns, I rejoice in His great faithfulness. Soli Deo gloria