I love music and I couldn’t imagine a world without them. Music is an essential component in my life as breathing, praying, and eating. As an Amazon Prime member, I get access to over 2 million songs ad-free, so most of my songs are stored in this repository. I also purchase most songs from here. I discover songs through movies, TV ads, coffee-shops, department stores, doctor’s offices (especially my dentist’s Pandora station), and friends. Shazam is also my go-to app for discovering new songs. I do this silly thing in public places or anywhere I hear songs that I love — I pull out my phone and Shazam away, sometimes lingering behind like a crip until the app registers my song (Phew! Things we do for love). I have discovered several songs this way, which has broadened my music collection and taste. I also play a mini-version of ‘The Voice’ on my phone and wait until I hear the ‘hook’ of a song before hitting the ‘Tap to Shazam’ button.
I have a thing for words, especially songs with well-told stories.
The beats of a new song might lure me in, but it’s the lyrics (the words) that will make me stay (and never leave).
Thus, my list of top 2017 songs consists of songs with messages that resonate well with me. These songs aren’t all new songs that I just discovered, I just happened to have them on my ‘most played’ playlist throughout the year.
- King of Convenience — Mrs. Cold: Shazamed in my friend’s Audi in January after a long hike in Georgetown, Texas. I love everything about this song. The opening guitar chord and the riff at the 1:03 mark are quite orgasmic. These Norwegian duo are also quite the cat’s whiskers.
Hey baby, Miss Cold; acting so tough
Didn’t know you had it in you so be hurt at all
You waited too long; you should have hooked me before I put my raincoat on
Okay, I get it, okay, I see
You were fronting because you knew you’d find yourself vulnerable around me.
- Jonathan David Helser & Melissa Helser — No Longer Slaves: I love songs from Bethel Music and have a deep and profound appreciation for their songwriting processes too. I listened to a lot of Bethel songs last year, but this one by the Helsers was my absolute favorite. This song also bears a deep meaning to me. I have listened to the radio version as well as the live version incessantly. I love not just the musicality but the deep message it bears. My spirit becomes lighter when I listen to this song. The bridge gets me every time too.
You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love.
- Patti Scialfa — Play it as it Lays: I discovered Patti in 2014 and was astonished at how much talented she is, especially considering that she writes most of her songs. Her album ‘Play It As it Lays’ still remains my absolute best and so is the name of my favorite song. The guitar and the beat are just perfection and I especially love the story behind it. It’s about ups and downs of relationships and the worn-out nature of marriages. It’s also about resignation to the norm and trying to find your grind. If you love this song, give Black Ladder a listen too for the depth and the strings!
Every perfect picture has a mess or two, sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s you, but that’s alright
You surrender, you confess, you make a mess, you get undressed and call it a night
But I remember the first time that I lay down inside your arms
How I kissed your tired mouth, so full of grace, so empty of harm
How I knew the road ahead would ravel itself, cursed and charmed, and I would just play it as it lays.
- The Oh Hellos — Hello, My Old Heart: My good friend recommended this song to me after reading my post on a recent heartbreak and, it helped to validate a lot of the emotions welling up inside of me. When we experience a heartbreak, we often want to preserve whatever is left of our heart, usually by building a wall to prevent further collateral damage. This song presents that process clearly but ends with an encouraging message to set our old heart free. What’s really there not to love? Oh, this group is also from Austin :-D
Hello my old heart, how have you been?
Are you still there inside my chest?
I’ve been so worried, you’ve been so still, barely beating at all
Oh, don’t leave me here alone, don’t tell me that we’ve grown
For having loved a little while, oh, I don’t want to be alone
I want to find a home and I want to share it with you
Hello my old heart, how have you been?
How is it, being locked away?
Well don’t you worry, in there, you’re safe
And it’s true, you’ll never beat but you’ll never break.
- Michael Kiwanuka — Home Again: In Michael, I found my modern day Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and Van Morrison all rolled in one. The whole album is perfection. I probably wore out the repeat button listening to Rest (this song helps me sleep on those nights my insomnia gets worse from tinnitus), Home again (resonates well to the third culture struggle I have of neither being here nor there when it comes to the concept of ‘home’), I’ll Get Along, Cold Little Heart, and I am Getting Ready. His messages are simple and speak mostly on identity and self.
- Fatoumata Diawara — Wililé feat. Toumani Diabaté: I can’t quite put into words the emotions that well up inside me whenever I listen to the song, especially at the 0:41 mark. I stumbled upon her song when on the Ali Farka Touré station I created on my Google Home device. I remember that night vividly in October as I stopped what I was doing in the kitchen, stood still and absorbed everything about the song. I have listened to a couple of songs from Mali in the past and this song definitely ranks top in my list. Another Malian song that held me transfixed this way was Soukora by Ali Farka Touré & Ry Cooder. These songs take me to simpler times and connect me back to my African roots faster than any one-way ticket back home could.
My hope, in my lifetime, is for there to be a collaboration between Fatoumata and my homegirl, Asa. Hopefully, one of you reading this can make it happen one way or the other :-D.
- Asa: There’s no one quite like Asa. I love her style and her songs. Below are some of the songs I consider the earworm of 2017.
Lawyer alagidi (Stubborn Lawyer!)
First class liar, alakori sanwo k’o to j’obe (Headstrong fellow, pay before you ‘chop’ soup)
Iya mi l’o bi mi, l’o bi mi (My mother gave birth to me)
Baba mi lo to mi (My father trained me)
Mi o ki’n s’omo registry (I’m not for registry wedding)
The One That Never Comes
Why you wanna tell me all your secrets
Don’t you know I’m a girl who never falls
Why you wanna pour your heart out to me
When you know I hit the road
Every single time it calls
Please don’t tell me you’re falling
Cause I wouldn’t know what to do with myself
Please don’t tell me you love me
Cause I’ve been waiting, waiting waiting
For the one who never comes.
Satan Be Gone: My interpretation of this song is that Asa exorcises Satan (in a metaphorical sense) to get rid of his grip on her life. The video contains a lot of symbols that I think draws from Asa’s Catholic faith.
- Kodaline: This is an Irish band that has captivated my heart with their lyrics as well as the voice of the lead singer. A lot of people compare them to U2 (also Irish) and Coldplay. Kodaline is a refreshing band with soulful melody and real musical (and vocal) range. Their lyrics (and music) is one that I always carry in my heart, especially in the places that need more reassurance of love.
Coming Up for Air (Album): From this album, my favorite songs are:
Moving On: This is a song that is just more than moving on. It validates the emotions you feel from being out of love with someone you once loved.
I met you on the corner of the street
I smiled before I even heard you speak
I can accept we’re growing older but I guess that’s just the way it has to be
I wondered how you still remembered me
I heard you settled down and that you married happily
Oh, do you remember when I told you that I’d love you to the bottom of the sea?
Yeah I know, I know it’s over but I guess that’s just the way it has to be
I took a long and lonely walk up to an empty house
That’s where I’ve come from, where have you come from?
The more I live, the more I know, I’ve got to live without
This ain’t no sad song, life has to go on
If you’re ever feeling lonely, if you’re ever feeling down
You should know you’re not the only one ’cause I feel it with you now
When the world is on your shoulders and you’re falling to your knees
Oh please, you know love will set you free
The One: For the hopeless romantic inside of all of us. If you ever lack the ways to describe what your soul mate should be like, then this song can perhaps help you.
In life, it’s easy to get scared oh
But with you I am prepared for
What has yet to come
’Cause our two hearts will make it easy
Joining up the pieces, together making life
In a Perfect World (Album): I love all the songs on this album even though most of them leave me teary-eyed. Kodaline has a way of tugging at the humanity inside of you either through their lyrics or music videos. And this album had so many of those heart-tugging moments.
Talk: This song reminds me that sometimes we lose friendships and relationships (for whatever reason) and that it is OK to feel that loss once in a while as long as we too keep moving on. This kind of loss is something I think we can all relate to.
Yeah you filled up my glass
With promises that could never last
But I still find pieces of you in the back of my mind
You were a moment in life that comes and goes
A riddle, a rhyme that no one knows
A change of a heart, a twist of fate
Couldn’t fix it, it’s too late
All I Want: I actually dare you to watch the two music videos (here and here) without crying or even tearing up just a little on the inside. The song, to me, is really about loving someone for who they are within and not just based on face value.
’Cause you brought out the best of me
A part of me I’d never seen
You took my soul wiped it clean
Our love was made for movie screens
The rest of my top playlists look like this:
First, I am not a movie critic; I just have a passion for movies that can awaken anything in me. It is the same tenacity I apply to reviewing cafes and gastropubs that my palate and sensuality find review-worthy. Second, some of my reviews here might contain spoilers because there’s no way to talk about the movie without spilling something. Plus you are really asking for it if you waited this long to watch any of these movies :-D.
The verdict is in! Coco is a must-see! I also strongly recommend listening to ALL of the soundtracks. Oh my! What a great movie! The visuals are not only brilliant but visually pleasing. I also love the level and depth of humor infused into this movie. I saw a lot of Pixar moments shine through (yeah, despite being gobbled up by Disney and all). The writing was superb and the story tugs at the heartstring without being too sappy. It reinforces the message most of us know too well but hardly remember — that when all’s said and done, family (and the love of those who love us and whom we love) are all that matter! The few times I really got fired up about any Pixar animation were probably after seeing Wall-E, Up, and Brave. People, go see Coco!
The Outlaws ( 범죄도시)
This is an R-rated movie due to the level of violence in it. It’s also one of the highest grossing Korean movies in 2017. The movie is loosely based on real events called the “Heuksapa Incident” that occured in 2007 between local and Chinese gangs. The main actor (Ma Dong-Seok) brings a lot of personality into is role as a police officer in Seoul’s Crime Unit (think a less dirty version of Dirty Harry). Different from most American crime movies, guns are absent here which kinda adds to the fun! The film is a bit intense but those terse moments are ameliorated with pockets of humors present throughout the movie. I highly recommend this movie!
I paid good money to go see this movie twice in the cinemas (never done this before). The opening began with the song ‘Redbone’ by Childish Gambino (Donald Glover who plays Troy in Community) with lyrics repeating “Stay Woke” which I took to be more of a stern warning than a mild suggestion. With that thought in mind, I carried on watching the movie and opening myself up to the possibility that anything could happen. Oh, and the movie did not disappoint me as not only did my mind stay ‘woke,’ it remained ‘woke’ and is yet to return to its resting phase! The main tip to enjoying is that the movie if you must blink or breath, do it before the opening credits begin (Kubo reference here).
So, I knew I was eventually going to watch it but wasn’t sure if it required the cinematic experience. What piqued my interest about this particular movie, you might ask? Two words, Jordan Peele. Way before he delved into the horror movie genre, he was the other half of the comedic duo of ‘Key and Peele’ with Keegan-Michael Key.
Since I discovered them several years ago, I have probably ingested every skit they have performed from their days on MadTV to when they broke out on their own to create ‘Key and Peele’ on Comedy Central. When Peele decided to switch sides and change genres, I felt a bit iffy about it initially. I could only liken this to how I felt when Darius Rucker took a hiatus from the American Rock band ‘Hootie & the Blowfish’ to begin a solo career as a country singer (he turned out OK, BTW:-D). Not only did Mr. Peele write this movie, but he also directed and co-produced it — talk about an amazing feat!
The movie is about racism, in its ironical covert forms. It is also a horror movie that would leave your spine tingling at certain points in the movie. Regardless of what the color of your skin is, it is bound to stir something in you. For me, it challenged some of my prejudice and perceived privileges. According to Jordan Peele, here’s who he wrote it for: “The liberal elite who communicates that we’re not racist in any way is as much of the problem as anything else…”
It’s also a movie where the Black supporting characters behaved rationally and took smart decisions — certainly not a commonality. If you are also familiar with Mr. Peele’s works on Comedy Central (e.g., White Zombies, Movie Hecklers, Exorcist), you would know what he’s dabbled a bit in creating horror skits, but the debut of this movie takes his social-thrilling skills to another level. Especially if you consider the ingenuity it takes to combine two different genres — horror and comedy — into one cohesive feature.
At the end of the movie, you have all the answers to questions that you had from the inception of the movie and then more questions than you began with. More importantly, you also have a clear idea of what wrong with society and why racism is an important issue we have to hit head-on and not pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s also about showing up when you need to be. I am certainly going to watch this again, and I recommend you give it a try. It’s no wonder it has a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (used to until someone ruined it).
The rest of my movie list is pictured below and can be viewed on Letterboxd.
Series 🎥 🍿
I have not the right words to describe how mind-blowing these short Netflix series are. My good friend, Adrian, recommended it to me in 2016 and I almost didn’t go to church the next day as I couldn’t peel myself away from the next episode. As an anthology, the episodes aren’t linked to one another. Each episode has a different cast, a different setting, even a different reality. Touted by Stephen King as “terrifying, funny, intelligent” and “like The Twilight Zone,” each stand-alone episode blends themes of technology, anxiety and human relationships, leading to an unforgettable — and sometimes unsettling — conclusion. New series (seasons) are uploaded every year.
It’s been heralded by the New Yorker as “The Twilight Zone” for the digital age, ‘Black Mirror,’ a dystopian drama created by Charlie Brooker for Britain’s Channel 4, has a swagger to its strangeness, a swallow-the-red-pill, anything-can-happen audacity.”
The Sound of your Heart /마음의 소리/
This is a sitcom based on the Korean Webtoon — The Sound of Heart by Jo Seok. It began airing on Netflix last year, and I watched it to practice my Korean. Trust me when I say this: make sure not to have food or any object around your mouth while watching this because you might just die of choking. I downloaded the 10 episodes to watch offline on my phone during a long flight. I laughed so hard and burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter that it rattled the guys sitting next to me several times. It got to the point that I couldn’t laugh anymore (due to exhaustion) and just let my body vibrate convulsively instead. I tried so hard to reign it in but I just couldn’t. Lee Kwang-soo, a major staple in Korean comedy/entertainment (from Running Man), played the main protagonist and he executed his role perfectly. The show is about his dysfunction family and how he tries to survive them, especially giving his own dysfunctionality. This show is great and I binge-watched the whole 10 episodes in one day. The plots were credible and infused with a lot of Asian humor. The cinematography was superbly done and so was the music selection. I highly recommend this to any Koreanophile and non-Korean lovers alike.
Curb your Enthusiasm
This show is gold to me, especially if you are a Seinfeld fan. I began first watching it in 2011 and would continue watching it yearly to relive the old memories. In 2011, the show went on a 6-year hiatus. So imagine my excitement when they returned in 2017 with season 9?! What makes this show and his main character stand out is the main protagonist — Mr. Larry David. He is outrageous and self-deprecating and his style of observational comedy impinges on what we are all uncomfortable about but yet don’t talk about. His character is difficult to love but deep down within you hail him as a hero for not being timid at pointing out social conventions that just don’t make sense. In Season 9, he battles a lot of political correctness and the consequences of dealing with his liberty in a sensitized world.
Big Little Lies
One word — 대박! I did see the ending coming, BTW. It’s been a while a series captured my attention. The outstanding thing about this series is the little things that made up the big things; hence the title. Also, the cinematography was superb, and the music lineups were so on point. I, especially, love that our homeboy Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart” was the opening theme song.
I usually get a bit iffy when Hollywood movie actors crossover to Series scene but Big Little Lies exceeded my expectations. Seeing Nicole Kidman back and playing such a vulnerable role gave me the feels (Moulin Rouge!, Australia, Birthday Girl). Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley too were outstanding in their roles. Last time I saw Alexander Skarsgard ‘shine’ so brightly was in True Bloods and in Big Little Lies, he played his role neatly well!
I can’t wait to see how Season 2 unfolds. David Kelley outdid himself this time around, especially if you consider the overarching themes of his past series which ranged from Medicine (Doogie Howser, Chicago Hope), Law (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal), and Public Education (Boston Public), because in Big Little Lies, he took a different direction.
The Defendant / 피고인/
I watched a lot Korean dramas that I could talk about here but I will leave that for a whole different post. I am just going to declare this publicly that I think Ji Sung (Oppa) is the finest thing out of Korea. This drama is one of his greatest and he really did his best here to execute his role perfectly. Having seen him play seven different roles in Kill Me, Heal Me, it took quite a while to see him in a different role here. While I hate how this show was stretched rather unnecessarily (IMHO, they could have wrapped it all up under 12–14 episodes instead of the 18), the ending was realistic. Like with most Korean dramas, the good guys always win. You can watch here on Viki.
This concludes my lists of books I read, music I (mostly) listened to, and series/movies I watched in 2017.
Here’s to an amazing year with greater exploits in all things books, music, and of course visual entertainment.