Andrew Whipple

The Protector and King of Chilladelphia

Hi Amelie! 👋 🔗

Published 7/2/2017 (Permalink 📌)

For the last couple of months I've been spending a bit of free time here and there cleaning up some of the code that runs this site. The goal? Have a reasonably pretty, moderately useful generic version of this blog engine available!

And so, today I'm open-sourcing version 1.0.0 of "Amelie," the blog engine that powers this site.

I've been running it for about 16 months in various forms, making piecemeal edits and bugfixes and it's finally at the place where I was able to, in a matter of minutes, spin up a whole new server and have it work. So I think that means it's as good a time as any to make it a thing.

Look. I get it. No one cares and no one else is probably gonna use this. And I'm certainly not going to really go through the work to maintain it on the off-chance that someone champs at the bit to contribute. More than anything I wanted an excuse to go through and make things presentable, make it real. I want a coding project out in the world that I'm proud of, and even if the only people who look at it are myself and future job interviewers, that's okay.

Plus this makes it infinitely easier if I want to spin up a new site from scratch using the engine.

Anyway a bit of info on Amelie:

  • It's a lightweight, Node.js blog engine that lives on top of Express
  • It's built to give a middle finger to admin panels and complicated CMS-es, and instead all writing is done by creating and editing Markdown files in a folder
  • Since it's all files in a folder, it works great with Dropbox (and that's how I run this site!)

It's not all peaches and rainbowcorns, of course:

  • It renders everything dynamically, so it's definitely not the most high-performance server (though it can work well if you place it behind a caching server)
  • There's minimal error checking
  • Post publishing is more high-ceremony and error-prone than I'd like
  • There's almost certainly weird bugs and confusing stuff that I missed in code cleanup

If you'd like to give it a try, head on over to its Github page! And if you want to mess around with it and hack it apart, feel free to do so too! In both cases I'd love it if you let me know what you do with it!

Oh, and yeah, you probably have one more question: "Why Amelie?"

Boy oh boy do you have a great 1:59 ahead of you.

  • Andrew W.

How To Graduate Stanford (Technically Speaking)

Published 1/17/2017

I graduated from college recently. And along with all the usual terrors that involve having to finally be a semi-functioning adult in the real world, I also had to deal with this issue: what do I do to deal with all the electronic connections and documents that are tangled up with my old school?(1)

In the time-honored tradition of "I did the Googling so you don't have to," I figured I'd document the stuff I discovered and did for posterity, and in case future Stanfies(2) have questions. And yes, as a note, this will be geared exclusively towards how to deal with Stanford's system, for undergrads, and I can only guarantee that it was accurate as of the class of 2016. Mileage may vary.

Axess

This is easy, because your Axess account actually still exists! I'm not sure for how long, but as of writing I was still able to log in to Axess without problems. It's a limited account with fewer features, but you can still view and request transcripts and 1098-T forms. So if you need to do that, give it a check, and if you need another form or task done, check Axess first just in case.

Google Stuff:

Stanford, at least as of now, is heavily invested in the Google apps ecosystem, so a lot of your stuff will be in Google land.

Gmail:

Fundamentally there are two things you might want to do with your email: get all of your new emails to go somewhere else, and get all of your old emails stored somewhere else. This'll tell you how to do both!

  1. If you want, claim your alumni email account. We'll call this new_stanf@alumni.stanford.edu.
  2. If you claim your alumni accounts, undergrads will get any new emails that are sent to their sunet@stanford.edu forwarded to their alumni email (new_stanf@alumni.stanford.edu) for up to 2 years post-graduation. So yay! Problem temporarily solved!
  3. If you want your emails forwarded to another account, go to StanfordYou, hit "Change settings for account 'sunetit'," go to "Email," and enter the email you want to forward. As a note, it looks like you can't forward to both alumni and other emails, and if it's already alumni (which happens automatically if you claim your alumni account) it won't let you change it later. So FYI.
  4. Decide where you want your old Stanford emails to live. We'll call this old_stanf@meow.com.
  5. Open up a desktop mail client like Apple Mail or Outlook.
  6. Sign into both sunet@stanford.edu and old_stanf@meow.com in that mail client.
  7. Open up the inbox for sunet@stanford.edu and select a batch of emails (I recommend going one month's worth of emails at a time.)
  8. Drag and drop those selected emails from sunet@stanford.edu to old_stanf@meow.com.
  9. After they all copy, go to old_stanf@meow.com's inbox and double check there were no transfer issues.
  10. Repeat steps 8 through 10 until all the emails are transferred.
  11. (Note: at least for Apple Mail, if there's any interuption (like the internet dying or the computer sleeping) at any point during the copy of a batch, the whole batch fails, which is why I recommend going in smaller batches so it will finish relatively quickly and have less chances of failing. Batches of one month seemed about right for me.)
  12. If you want, go to mailman.stanford.edu and unsubscribe from any lists you don't ever want to see (or update to a new email if you want to keep getting the mails after your 2 years of forwarding are up.) I believe this should still work for at least the 2 years your email is forwarded, and possibly for even 5 years.
  13. Remember that after 2 years your sunet@stanford.edu email will stop existing. Meaning no more forwarding, but also no receiving emails at all. So at some point in those two years, let anyone who would care know you have a new email account, or they'll get a rude "email doesn't exist" reply in the future.

Google Drive

Sadly, there's no easy way to transfer the Drive stuff from one account to another like there is with email. You could theoretically share every document and such that you have from Stanf to a Google account of your choosing, then transfer ownership (if it's something you own)... but if you used Google Drive enough to care about saving your files you probably have too many of them for that to be a reasonable process.

But fortunately, there is a pretty easy tool to download a version of all the stuff in your Drive. It's called "Takeout."

  1. Log in to your Stanford google account.
  2. Go to takeout.google.com/settings/takeout
  3. You'll see a list with a whole bunch of Google services. Select Drive (as well as anything else you want to save, see below!)
  4. Hit "Next"
  5. Pick how you want your files to be stored (either as a .zip, .tgz, or .tbz. If you don't know, pick .zip.)
  6. Pick how big you want individual archives to be. Doesn't really matter what you pick.
  7. Pick your delivery method. I chose "Send download link via email" and it worked fine.
  8. Wait for Google to make your archive and send it to you. Boom, you got all your shit. Do with it what you will.

As a word of warning, this doesn't give you your files as Google Docs or Sheets or Slides: it converts them to another format (defaults to Microsoft Office filetypes, so .docx for Docs, .pptx for Slides, etc.) If you've ever tried downloading or exporting a Google Doc as a Word document, you'll know that besides losing obvious features (it's a static file now, not a thing on the internet anyone can edit) the conversion can be a little weird, so be on the lookout for that.

Google Calendar

Lol, I didn't use Stanford's Google Calendar like AT ALL. BUT don't worry, it's still exportable! Follow the steps for Google Drive above, and make sure that Calendar is selected. You should end up with your calendars as a .ics file which you can import into Apple Calendars or the Google Calendar for another account (if you don't know how, search and there's plenty of guides online how to import .ics into calendars.)

Everything Else Google

Follow the Google Drive steps, make sure the service you want is selected, and then do with the data what you wish!

AFS

Stanford provides every student with their own AFS account and storage space. If you encountered it at all in undergrad, it's typically in one of three ways:

  1. If you've ever logged into a library or cluster computer and created or saved a file, you're logging in with AFS and storing files in your AFS space.
  2. Computer Science classes often use it for development and assignment submissions (it's the file system and account that hooks you into the myth machines, for example)
  3. You can host your own website using it!

If you've never done any of the things above, you probably don't need to worry about AFS. If you have and want to make sure any files are saved post-graduation (or are curious and want to check if you've got stuff there) then here's what you can do.

If you're still on campus, easy! Just grab a flash drive, log into a cluster or library computer, plug in the drive, and copy all your stuff. Shazam.

If you aren't on campus, you're still good! Here's how you grab your stuff through the magic of INTERNETS and SECURE COPY. Although first, as a note, this is gonna be a bit more technical than the other steps, so fair warning. This assumes you can find and use a Unix shell (specifically cd and ls) but nothing else.

  1. Open Terminal, if on a Mac, and any UNIX shell if on another system.
  2. In one tab/window, log in to your AFS space, using: ssh sunetid@myth.stanford.edu (replacing "sunetid" with, well, your sunetid.)
  3. Enter your password when prompted.
  4. ls and cd around and see what shit you got up on your AFS.
  5. In another tab/window, cd to wherever you want to temporarily store your AFS stuff and then mkdir StanfordAFS. That'll give you a new folder to store all your junk. cd into StanfordAFS.
  6. Once you're in StanfordAFS, type this: scp -r sunetid@myth.stanford.edu:~ . What you're doing is starting a "Secure Copy (scp)," telling to to be recursive (-r, aka "Keep going down into any folders you find,") and telling it to pull files from your AFS space (sunetid@myth.stanford.edu:, specifically the home directory, ~) and bringing it to the current one on your home computer (.) When you hit that, you should get a nice Matrix-y screen of files scrolling by as they're copied.
  7. Once it's done, check your folder and make sure everything you expect to be there is there. It should live in a folder called "root." If it's all good, close your scp tab, and type logout in your ssh tab.

Now you've got all your AFS files! Hooray!

(As a note, there are other ways you could do this, but this is the way I chose because it doesn't rely on downloading or installing any software like OpenAFS.)


That's all that I remember having to transfer, but I'll be sure to update this post if there's anything that either comes up or that I forgot! And if you went through the graduating process and found something I missed, let me know and I'll update it and credit ya!

Whoo. Go adulthood, I guess.

-Andrew W.


(1 ⤴️): Lol, bet you thought this article was about something else, huh?

(2 ⤴️): Note for non-Stanfies, exactly zero people other than me call us Stanfies. It's demonstrably not a thing. But I like it. Also, why are you reading this if you didn't go to Stanford? Isn't this incredibly boring?


Best Podcasts Of 2016

Published 01/06/2017

I listen to many a podcast. And I like to make lists. Especially year-in-review type lists. Also, it can be hard to find new podcasts to listen to sometimes, so maybe perhaps this list will help point you to something you end up digging. Idk. The day I need a valid excuse to write thousands of words about nonsense only I care about is the day I demand to be stricken from this earth.

Like with all good dumb lists, it's worth talking a bit about my methodology, as much as there is one. While my music list is far more based on critical opinion and analysis (as far as that goes) my podcast list is based mainly on tastes and habits. Since most of these shows are recurring in some way, and since I subscribe to more podcasts than could ever be listened to, I have lots of opportunities in my ~4-8 hours of podcast listening per day to choose one show over another. Sure, the ones on this list may be the genuine, semi-objective best for whatever reason or another, but they're here because time and again they were the shows I loved listening to, anticipated between episodes, and returned to. They're the keepers.

ALSO as a note, because there are ~30 or so shows listed here, I don't want to do the work to link to every show. But because they're podcasts, they're all at the very least on iTunes and any podcast app that uses the iTunes directory (basically all of them.) So just search for the name, you'll probably find them. That said idk about Stitcher or Google Play or Spotify, but I also don't super care about them. So. Sry about that.

Newbies:

So this year I broke my list in two, partially because I really like to make arbitrary and specific lists, and partially because this year seemed dominated by me trying out brand new shows. This may be because I'm getting old and want variety, it may be because some of my former favorite shows either ended or started to wane a bit, and it may be because gosh darnit there were SO MANY GOOD SHOWS THAT STARTED THIS YEAR. WHO KNOWS?!?!?!

Anyway, here is my list of the top ten podcasts I liked the most in 2016 that started in 2016.

...Although actually, first...

Honorable Mentions:

(in no particular order)

  • Banging Book Club (20-something British youtubers read a book about sex every month and talk about it for ~1 hour.)
  • Decoding Westworld (hosts of "A Cast Of Kings" bring their recap-podcast mastery to the HBO show Westworld.)
  • Slate's Trumpcast (A near-daily audio diary, ~20 minutes long talking about the latest Trump shenanigans and interviewing interesting and relevant people.)
  • Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People (Chris Gethard, host of my favorite tv show, sits down for an hour to have an anonymous conversation with a random caller.)
  • Variable Bitrate (An hour-or-so long chat show about music mostly talking to various music journalists and other industry folks.)

Give 'em a try! They're great!

Now, the big guns. It's time for the...

Top Ten New Podcasts Of 2016

10) Waypoint Radio

Waypoint Radio logo

One of the key categories of podcastery for me is the "let's sit down every week and talk about video games for thirty minutes to an hour" show. Seriously, there are several. This year though, one show rose to near the top of the pack, and that was the twice-weekly show coming out of the newest kid on the vidya james website block: Waypoint. Waypoint is a games site that really tackles all the stuff GamerGate hates, diving deep into the politics of games, critical theories, takes on the industry, personal narrative, and the perspectives of marginalized or underrepresented groups and their views and histories with games. In a word: it rules, man.

John Gruber, Apple blogger extraordinaire, likes to call his podcast The Talk Show "the director's commentary for [his site] Daring Fireball." I like to think of Waypoint Radio as director's commentary for Waypoint.zone (or bazinga.zone (or digitalpyramids.com (shoutout Chief Keef.))) The show started with Waypoint EIC Austin Walker chatting with Patrick "Scoops" Klepek, talking games, games discourse, and the creation of their new website. But the show quickly found its footing by adding in other Waypoint staffers, particularly the excellent Danielle Riendeau and Danika Harrod. If you like your games discussed in a way that's inclusive and treats games as a serious artistic and cultural force, you absolutely can't go wrong with Waypoint Radio.

9) Do By Friday

Do By Friday logo

I feel super dumb for not listening to Merlin Mann before last year, because I've slowly realized that he's one of the clearest crystallizations of my ideal rhetorical style. Silly, leaning into weird pop culture references and inside jokes, always playing everything with an almost indescribable mix of hyperbolic energy and old-school radio chill, he (along with some other kids later on down this list) is what pops into my head when I think "podcast ideal."

So combine Merlin with gleefully surly Max Temkin and joy of joys Alex Cox of Cards Against Humanity, give them an hour to talk ostensibly about weird challenges they've set for each other (every week one host picks a thing the three have to Do By the next Friday) and instead catch them just talk about whatever they want and you've got a genuinely infectious and marvelous bit of audio. In my overall podcast listening I most strongly gravitate towards silly chat shows that are loosely themed at best, and man oh man Do By Friday is an excellent new addition to that crew.

8) Bad With Money

Bad With Money RSS

I didn't get the chance to meet Gaby Dunn at the XOXO conference in Portland this year (fun how literally everything I write here seems to cycle back to XOXO...) but I did get to later hear her speak and it was marvelous and opened my eyes both to her and her comedy partner Allison Raskin's sketch channel Just Between Us (which also has the distinction of perfectly mirroring my friendship with one of my besties from college, Analyssa (I'm the Allison)) AND her new and excellent podcast Bad With Money.

Dunn makes no secrets of the fact that she's, well, bad with money, and so she started this podcast to reflect on and chart her journey towards financial knowledge, as well as chat with some of her coolest internet creator friends and loved ones about their perspectives, history, and expertise with regards to money. Money is fucking weird and scary as hell y'all, and as a recently minted semi-functional adult this show has been necessary guidance and therapy.

7) Holy Swift

Holy Swift logo

GUYS THIS IS A PODCAST ALL ABOUT TAYLOR SWIFT HOSTED BY THREE MARVELOUSLY FUNNY AND BITCHY (using that as an absolute term of endearment but I get it if you find my usage of that term inappropriate for which I apologize but will also probably continue to do so) GALS OUT OF TEXAS. GO AHEAD. DESIGN A BETTER PODCAST, YA NERDS, I DARE YA.

6) My Favorite Murder

My Favorite Murder logo

WELP NERDS, YA DID IT, YA DESIGNED AN EVEN BETTER ONE because turns out Karen Kilgariff (rad comedian) and Georgia Hardstark (rad comedian who also hosts one of my longtime favorite podcasts, Slumber Party) MANAGED TO DO EXACTLY THAT. This is a show hosted by this glorious, funny, and again wonderfully bitchy (same caveat/apology as above applies) pair where they talk about their love of true crime (a love I've shared literally as long as I can remember.) Each week they bring a new horrific murder to the table to talk about it in an irreverent, but still thoughtful way.

Make no mistake, there's a ton of silly and off-color jokes, and definitely they don't follow any sense of decorum with regards to these terrible crimes. But to me there's value in that, not just because it takes some of the power out of the senseless horror by making it comedic (which it does well) or just provides a safe space where people don't feel ashamed of their semi-taboo fascinations (which it also does well) but they also provide a perspective missing from a lot of true crime stuff: they mourn the victim (albeit in a fun, silly, jazz-funeral kind of way), and they give no respect to the murderer. Unlike literally every other true crime thing you can find. It's not about how scary and powerful and weirdly worthy of deification the murderers are. It's about how weird and gross and worthy of shame and mockery they are. And that's rad.

(But y'all, this is still a show about the absolute worst murders that humanity has ever committed, so keep that in mind as you decide whether to plug in those earbuds.)

Oh, and plus they have the greatest tagline of any podcast, which is exactly the kind of advice we should all strive to embody: "Stay Sexy, and Don't Get Murdered."

5) Rose Buddies

Rose Buddies logo

The McElroys are the First Family of Podcasting, and so it's unsurprising that just about any McElroy brother show will end up in my list. And while it's dumb to play favorites with real humans, and all three brothers are great, that automatic list-inclusion tends to be especially likely if the McElroy in question is sweet baby brother (and 30-under-30 Media Luminary) Griffin.

So when he started a show with his wife where they recap The Bachelor, y'all of course I gave it a try... despite NOT WATCHING THE BACHELOR. And this podcast is THE BEST. So much the best that I then started watching the show it recaps, and in the process this podcast ended up opening my eyes to not one, not two, but three of my favorite new shows (Bachelor (specifically Bachelor In Paradise), MTV's Are You The One, and Netflix's Terrace House: Boys And Girls In The City.)

The sheer force of silly charisma from this fantastic married duo will make it such that you can love the podcast without watching a single minute of the shows it discusses. But if you do watch the shows it's all the better (and if you already watch the Bachelor Family of Products WHAT ARE YOU DOING LISTEN TO ROSE BUDDIES IMMEDIATELY.) And hey, a new Bachelor season just started, so it's a great time to become a Buddy!

4) Keepin' It 1600

Keeping it 1600 logo

There are many political podcasts that rose up in the waning days of the election, and many of them were very good. I ended up talking for an hour with my rad friend Rachel (in one of several attempts recording pilots for a podcast of our own! #StayTuned) about political podcasts, and we discovered that there were roughly three camps: the genuinely issue-and-policy focused shows like Pantsuit Politics or We The Ppl; the political press shows like NPR Elections, Slate Politics, or FiveThirtyEight Elections; and the straight up talk radio ragefests. Keepin' It 1600 is the liberal poster child of that side and goddamnit was it glorious. It got me through the last several months of the election, and even more so through the months since. And sure they do have some genuinely good insight and bring on interesting guests and give suggestions for ways to actively participate in our democracy. Whatever. Who cares. I'm not proud of it, but tbh I just need my righteous liberal rage y'all.

The reason why Rachel and I are friends is that we agree on many things, but balance a lot in terms of taste. We're both huge podcast fans, but she loves well-produced narrative audio, and I prefer loosely-to-not-at-all-produced 3-hour long chat shows. And we're both hyper-liberal, but she's about the issues and the policies and the real-world ramifications, and I'm about the spin and the story and political game. So Pantsuit Politics for Rachel, Keepin' It 1600 for me. And I'm alright with that.

3) CoolGames Inc.

CoolGames inc logo

I deliberated for a long time the ordering of these top three, because when it comes down to it they're all my favorite new shows of 2016. But it's for slightly different reasons. I'll talk more about why I love the other ones, but I'll go ahead and say now that CoolGames Inc was the single hour of content I most looked forward to every week. Period. And not just among podcasts; if I saw that a new ep of CoolGames Inc came out at the same time a new Westworld was out, take a fucking hike Anthony Hopkins y'all gotta wait in line after some good good goofs from these good good boys.

CoolGames Inc is hosted by the above-mentioned Griffin McElroy and Nick Robinson, Griffin's coworker from the video game site Polygon (and personal favorite of mine from the old Rev3Games days.) And the premise is simple, if odd: every week they take suggestions from the internet on titles or ideas for silly silly, stupid, dumb, bad video games. And then they talk through them, and come up with what that game would be like. And sometimes they have a guest on from the world of games or games journalism and pitch their silly silly ideas to them.

Hands down, this is the funniest thing. Seriously. There are about 5 or so shows that I think twice about listening to in public because of how often I laugh very uncomfortably loudly at what's happening in my earbuds, and CoolGames Inc leads the pack. It's just... Nick and Griffin have such a wonderful chemistry and amazing comedic timing, and combine that with an esoteric knowledge of weird pop culture and video games, and the straight-up strangest and wackiest shit the internet can come up with, and you get A+ GOTY material like "Hugh Jackman's Huge Actin'," "50 First States" (a dating sim where you date personifications of all the US states,) "Explain Tumblr To Your Dad Simulator" (whereby Nick did actually call his real-life dad!) and "Tim McGraw's: What If? Fates: Trucks."

2) Still Buffering

Still buffering logo

Like with all of the top three, I really really really really really really like this podcast. But I'm highlighting it for one reason: it showed me something new.

The show features Rileigh Smirl and Sydnee McElroy (née Smirl,) two sisters who are ~10-13 years apart (I forget the exact difference) talking about what teenagerdom (specifically female teenagerdom) is like in their respective generations. And it's adorable, hilarious, awkward, loving, and rad. Then the show managed to get even better by including Teylor, the middle sister of the Smirl trio. When the show is talking about the stated purpose (teens then and now!) she is the wildcard, sometimes siding with Syd, sometimes with Rilo, and sometimes off in her own perspective. When the show is just three sisters goofing and being excellent, she rounds everything out with her own personal take on life and it's wackiness.

Sydnee happens to be married to Justin McElroy of the podcast My Brother, My Brother, and Me (and assorted other McElroy and Polygon projects; this ain't the last time they're coming up) and in many ways Still Buffering could be seen as a "My Sister, My Sister, and Me." But it has very excellently carved it's own niche and provided it's own value in the wide world of podcasting. If you are or were a teen girl, I'd have to imagine you'd appreciate this show, and I say that given how much I've absolutely fallen in love with it as someone who is neither teen nor girl. And it's just further proof y'all that the podcast game needs to be more than white dudes making jokes or talking about video games. I listen to a ton of those shows, mind you, but there's room for more, and when it shows up it's frequently excellent.

1) Election Profit Makers

Election profit makers logo

So while CoolGames Inc was my most anticipated every week and probably technical favorite, and Still Buffering offered something new from a voice underrepresented in "mainstream" (as much as that word makes sense within a niche medium) podcasting, Election Profit Makers is my podcast of 2016 because it was a podcast of 2016. I'll explain.

This show features David Rees (writer of Get Your War On, host of tv's Going Deep, artisanal pencil sharpener) and his childhood best friend Jon Kimball (professional domain name flipper) going hard into the world of: political prediction markets. That's right, these guys started a podcast all about betting on politics.

First, this show is just great. I found out about it on a recommendation from the aforementioned Merlin Mann, and it's got all of those things I talked about with Do By Friday and Mann's general style. It's silly as hell. It knowingly and winkingly takes itself a bit too seriously. It's full of pop culture references and inside jokes. And like most of my favorite shows (such as Mann's Roderick On The Line, another Mann show later on the list, or the above Rose Buddies) it's got a great straight-man/wild-man dynamic. It's just good good comedy podcasting at its core. That alone would throw it into the top five at least.

But this show did two things that will forever link it with 2016 in my mind: first, it talked about politics (which was the story of 2016) and it managed to talk about our crazy-ass political world in the single most crazy way possible. This was a political podcast whose in was betting on a weird prediction market website, and for a show about political betting it took frequent detours into such topics as which listeners were banned from listening and what the latest news was on David and Jon's secret terrible high school band (as opposed to their non-secret terrible high school band.) That kind of legitimate insanity was the only kind of thing that made sense backdropped against the insanity of actual real life.

Second, this was a limited series. From the outset they always said they would only do the show for the 16 weeks leading up to the election and for one wrap-up show after election night. And they stuck to it. This is a 17 episode show. And so you end up with a perfect time capsule of the ups, and the eventual huge huge downs of this year. If I ever listen back to it (or if y'all decide to give it a try) it's short enough that I could reasonably listen quickly and genuinely relive what this wild-as-hell time was like in all its bonkers reality. And whether or not I actual ever do that though, this show is inextricably linked for me with the overall story of the election. It's as much a part of it as any President-Elect Von Clownstick bullshittery. But like, it's funny.

Oldies:

Of course, it wasn't just new shows I tried out this year. There were still some old favorites that I loved.

For some of these shows they're here because they particularly shone in 2016. Maybe they came into their own, or they tried out a new thing, or tackled a great topic.

And some are just on here because they're my favorites period. Again, this list is based mostly on "which shows were the ones that when they popped into my feed I felt happy and excited?" So a few of these shows may not have a particular hook into 2k16 like the others, but dangit I just loved listening to them.

Like above, we've got honorable mentions first, but unlike above, since there were more oldies I listened to than newbies, I'm giving ten honorable mentions. All are rad. Give 'em a listen if ya want.

Honorable Mentions

(in no particular order)

  • Analog(ue)
  • Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend
  • Buzzfeed's Internet Explorer (note: this would be top ten if it hadn't been hiatused for the most key internet garbage months of 2k16)
  • Upgrade
  • Mental Illness Happy Hour
  • Kinda Neat
  • Shall We Play A Game?
  • Harmontown
  • The Besties (note: yep, I'm including a podcast that released one episode this year. It was a glorious 3-hour monstrosity that I've listened to twice already.)
  • Cortex

Alright, here it is, the top ten of the oldies. Let's get the heck into it.

Top Ten:

10) Friends At The Table

Friends at the table logo

I've loved the idea of roleplaying podcasts ever since the podcast Harmontown started doing a regular D&D segment years ago (which eventually spun off into the rad Seeso show Harmonquest.) Intimate, long-form, on-demand audio like podcasting is already well suited to narrative, and a narrative like a roleplaying game that is based on people talking about what they're doing is even better.

Friends At The Table is a show I only learned about relatively recently, to my shame. And gosh darnit is it good as hell y'all. It's GM-ed by Austin Walker (yes, the same Austin Walker of Waypoint Radio above!) and, as he reminds us every week, it's an "Actual Play podcast focused on critical worldbuilding, smart characterizations, and fun interactions between good friends."

And let me tell ya it delivers on all of those. I started listening with the recent "Marielda" arc and the first two episodes, where they played a game that had them literally building the history of this fantasy town, hooked me so much that I did not sleep that night, I had to keep listening to episode after episode. They built such an incredibly rich world, had a blast doing it and being fun with each other, and dangit built incredible characters as good as you'd find in any written piece (Heddy the Weaver and Aubrey the Cobbin will forever be burned in my psyche.)

Unfortunately, not having listened to the show from the beginning, when they returned after the Marielda arc to the story they were telling from season one, I found it harder to keep as engaged. What I need to do is go back and listen to old episodes and let them hook me the way the Marielda eps did, which maybe I'll do next time I take a vacation: just lock my doors, close my blinds, make hot toddys, and have it be a FatT extravaganza. There are worse ways to spend your time.

9) Rocket

Rocket logo

I've described this show in the past as sort of a companion show to another podcast on this list, but that doesn't do it justice. Yes Rocket is a tech show that takes the similar format of "three dudes get on Skype and talk about tech for an hour" and instead of dudes has gals. But that ain't it by a mile.

Rocket is not just a new perspective on the tech industry and tech news because its hosts are female (though that is certainly part of it.) It's a new perspective on the tech industry and tech news because Christina Warren (Senior Writer at Gizmodo,) Brianna Wu (co-founder of Giant SpaceKat and future congresswoman we hope!) and Simone DeRochefort (Video Producer at Polygon) are fucking brilliant people with really good new perspectives of their own. Not only do they cover stories that get overlooked by other shows and outlets (whether serious like Oculus' troubling habit of not hiring women, or extremely super serious like which Pokéman you'd bang,) but also when they tackle the stories everyone else is doing, they do it in a way that provides new insight you won't find anywhere else.

If you care about tech and listen to podcasts, Rocket absolutely needs to be in your must-listen list.

8) Don't Get Me Started

Don't get me started logo

This is one of my go-to podcast pitches for anyone wanting to start listening to podcasts for the first time, or who already loves a few shows and wants to try something new. And a big part of why is because it has such a simple and exciting premise: comedians Will Hines and Anthony King talk to all of their awesome, funny, smart, and talented creative friends, but not about what they do.... they only talk about what they love.

Every week a new guest comes on to talk about an obsession of theirs, whether it's the music of Kanye West, dancing in clubs, the Eurovision Song Contest, Southern Gothic Fiction, the city of Pittsburgh, Dogs of Instagram, Robert Kennedy, Shoplifting, or "Bands That Do Their Job" (listen to find out what that means.) King and Hines figured out something universal: it's really fun to listen to people gush over something they love deeply, and even more fun if they're funny and smart performers.

Because this is my go-to suggestion, I'll leave you with the other half of my go-to pitch: go through the episode list and find either a comedian you like or a topic you're interested in, and just listen. Then keeping doing that. Then start listening to new episodes. And chances are you, like me (and my friend Claudia, who was the first person I got hooked on this show!) will fall in love with it.

7) Accidental Tech Podcast

Accidental tech podcast logo

Okay this is the show that I and others have used in the "Rocket is the female version of X" sentence. And while that's a gross and reductive thing to say, part of it comes from the fact that the Accidental Tech Podcast is, for a certain segment of folks, just about the platonic ideal of a tech show. Three guys with a lot of opinions talk for several hours a week about tech (particularly Apple.) And since they're programmers, sometimes they get in the fucking WEEDS. And you know what? Even when they do it's engaging and great. Many great shows, if you're into chat-style shows, perfectly mimic that feeling of listening in on the kinds of conversations you and your friends have. I've had many a nerd argument about Apple that sound like a much dumber version of what you'd hear on ATP. That kind of organic vibe and intimacy is what makes so many of the shows on this list click for me, and ATP is an absolute perfect prime example of this.

6) Reconcilable Differences

Reconcilable Differences logo

Reconcilable Differences is literally unpitchable. Like, there is no real throughline to the types of topics they cover. Sometimes it's Free Will, sometimes it's Walking Dead spoilers and an obscure 90s anime series that only one of the hosts actually got around to watching, and sometimes it's about how best to organize the Google Doc they use to plan the show. The shows range from an hour to 3+ purely based on how long the hosts go for. There are no guests. They don't touch on current events. It can be funny at times, but it's by no means a comedy show; and it can be deep at times, but it frequently dives into the silly and esoteric.

Put simply, it should be a terrible, terrible show.

And it's consistently one of my favorites, and that entirely comes down to the hosts. Merlin Mann (mentioned for the third time!) and John Siracusa (of ATP above) are just incredible podcasts hosts and incredible minds. The way they talk about things hooks you. At the very worst it entertains you for however long the show goes, and at best it breaks your brain in ways that stick with you for months to come. RecDiffs doesn't always pop to the top of my queue (partially because when a 3 hour episode comes along I know I need to block my gosh-darn schedule) but whenever I do listen I know I'm gonna be in for a great time. And in many ways this is what podcasting can uniquely do. Only in a medium with such a low barrier to entry and such a high reward for cultivating a dedicated (if small) listener base can a show like this that can't be pitched but is beloved by those who find it thrive. It's beautiful.

5) We Have Concerns

We Have concerns logo

I've loved We Have Concerns since it launched in summer 2014, and it continues to rock. This is another show I pitch because unlike most of the ones on this list, it's short. Where almost every other show is an hour+, We Have Concerns is deliberately designed to be between 10-25 minutes. It comes in hot, y'all.

The show has Anthony Carboni and Jeff Cannata talking through one story that lives roughly in the world of science and often leads to at least some deep existential panic, and they then fill the discussion out with silly improv skits. It's the first show I listen to in the mornings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and it's the perfect informative, entertaining, and often deeply unsettling bite-sized chunk to start the day.

4) Blabbermouth

Blabbermouth logo

I got into this podcast, produced by Seattle's alt-weekly newspaper The Stranger, summer of 2015. It's worth noting at that time I was working and going to school in California. Now I live in Chicago. I have never once listened to this hyper-local show while I actually lived in Seattle. But it's great nonetheless. Part of it is homesickness, sure, but part of it is that the stuff they talk about, even if it's coming from a crazily focused local perspective, has universality. The chats about particular policy issues or interviews with local figures may not have resonance to my own day to day, but thinking about the issues presented and getting the perspectives of the hosts and guests pushes my own thought processes in ways that wouldn't happen if I didn't listen to this show every week. And again, homesickness.

However, the reason this show bumped up to top five this year was because of its election coverage. In the latter half of '16, the show landed on a defacto panel of host Eli Sanders, Stranger theater critic Rich Smith, and sex columnist Dan Savage. And much like the folks on Keepin' It 1600, this trio was who I thought about when each new bananas thing happened during the election cycle. And after the election results, again like the 1600 crew, they helped keep me at least floating at the surface of the darkness, rather than drowning in it. Look, sometimes there's something great about listening to three hyper-progressives from the hyper-progressive city of Seattle argue bitterly about whether one or the other of them are being hyper-progressive enough. I gotta get at least one source of joy in this nightmare hellscape.

3) [BRACKET!]

bracket logo

Our world is wack as hell. Some of my best friends in the world right now are people I met because I happened to watch a YouTube video about how to vlog, started vlogging, sent in a video to a competition at a Harry Potter convention, got selected as a semifinalist, then got to the go to the convention because of an error in the voting, met and briefly hung out with the other semifinalists, then became real friends with them on Twitter. That's a frankly stupid chain of events and its terrifying to think about how if literally one thing had gone differently I'd never know or never be close with some people who mean the world to me now.

[BRACKET!] is the podcast equivalent of that. I was part of a thing called "The Listserve" (itself a thing I only discovered because I happened to take a class where every day someone happened to have to present an internet thing they dug, and someone happened to present The Listserve on one of those days.) The Listserve is a social experiment started at MIT where you subscribe to a mailing list, and every day one subscriber gets the chance to send an email to the whole list. At the time I subscribed there were ~20,000 subscribers.

And one day I got the notification that I won! And I happened (after much re-drafting) to settle on, surprise surprise, writing a list of podcasts I like. And I asked folks to email me with shows they like.

I got a ton of submissions. One of them was from a person named Greg. Who said "well, I can't not mention that I produce and host a podcast, and it's called [BRACKET!]"

I checked it out, along with many of the shows people sent in, and I fell in love. It's a simple show: Four friends and a guest make a sweet sixteen bracket on a theme (like "Best Cookie," "Best Marvel Villain, "Best Casual Dining Establishment," "Best Place To Get Into A Fight," or "Best Weird Relative At A Family Gathering.") And then they go through the bracket. And they pick a winner.

And it's fucking great y'all. I started listening around episode 8 or so, and now we're well over 100, and it's been one of my absolute favorites ever since. Because, as has become a theme in this list, I love listening to people mix serious with silly. In the case of your My Favorite Murder it's talking about something serious in a silly way, but here it's talking about silly match-ups and rankings and sometimes fucking SCREAMING about which is in fact the "Best Song Of 1996" (a rare episode where they Brack Pack actually got it right.) It's all done with lots of pop culture references and inside jokes. And again, it sounds like what me and my friends do when we try to arbitrarily rate things, just funnier. It's a blast and a half.

2) My Brother, My Brother, And Me

My Brother My Brother And Me logo

This is probably my favorite podcast. Listen to it. It's the best. That's about all I really feel like saying about this perfect perfect show.

1) The Adventure Zone

The Adventure Zone logo

...BECAUSE my number one show has the exact same hosts as MBMBaM above. Yep. The Adventure Zone is a Dungeons & Dragons podcast with the three brothers from MBMBaM and their Dad Clint, and they go on a great fantasy roleplaying adventure as a FAMILY. And as much as I absolutely adore FatT and other shows with their dedication to presenting the game in the way it actually is played and, well, for lack of a better word "actually taking it seriously," at the end of the day I'm listening to a podcast. And most of my podcasts are entertaining, and most of my podcasts are funny.

And holy shit guys is The Adventure Zone funny.

Like I mentioned earlier, I first got into the idea of D&D or role-playing podcasts when the show Harmontown had a recurring D&D segment. But here's the secret: it didn't just get me intrigued in D&D as an option for audio entertainment, but as like a thing I'd ever be interested in period. Because what the folks on Harmontown did was show that the rules are only there to help the players. They took the broader philosophical idea that "systems are only valuable insofar as they benefit people, but systems can never be more valuable than the people" and applied it to the world of RPGs. There, a wizard named Sharpie Buttsalot can try whatever he wants, and the rules are only there to figure out if he succeeds and what happens next, not to reign him in.

The Adventure Zone is clearly cut from this mold, with the brothers deliberately simplifying the already simplified 5th Edition ruleset to a core that allows them to prioritize telling an entertaining story and being as funny as they possibly can. One of the three main characters is a wizard named Taako for gosh sakes. Which yes, is pronounced like the mexican food staple. And guess what, he's the fucking best.

But The Adventure Zone goes one step further in it's flexibility with regards to D&D's ruleset: it showed me that literally any world is possible within this framework of simple rules. Yes, D&D is clearly meant for a Tolkien-esque fantasy world, and it works, well, fantastically within that. But Griffin as Dungeon Master has done genuinely incredible things in the campaigns he creates. He explicitly takes the pop culture he loves and wacky ideas he has and forms them into stories that I would never imagine possible in the world of D&D. But they fit, dangit. The first big example, a few years back, was when the second chunk of the show ended up being an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery on a train. Who knew you could do that in D&D?!?!?! Not this kid!!!! It was followed up by a Mad-Max-inspired wagon race in the desert. Then an Alien-inspired exploration of a science lab being overrun by a plague, where they were chased by a giant rock monster and aided by a friendly robot.

All of this is possible in D&D, but it takes someone like Griffen who's willing to play with the mold to make it happen.

...Now okay, all that stuff is rad with regards to the show in general. But here's the real reason why this show is my number one right now: because in this year, it told my single favorite story in any medium. Period. Fuck off movies, books, tv. In 2k16, The Adventure Zone got ya beat.

The show is broken into "arcs" that are 5 to 15 episodes long, each of which are based around a mini-quest (specifically trying to recover a dangerous magical item called a "Grand Relic") in service of the overall quest (finding and destroying all six Grand Relics.) And every arc has been more complex, ambitious, and entertaining than the last one. The train mystery mentioned above was one arc, the Mad Max desert race another, the sci-fi lab another, and so on.

This year featured an arc known as "The Eleventh Hour." In it the boys entered a town that was encased in a magical bubble, and were involved in a race against the clock to try and save the town and its inhabitants. But all is not as it seems. And that's all I'll say because you should listen for yourself. Seriously. If you don't want to start from the beginning, you can just start with the first episode of "The Eleventh Hour" and fucking treat yourself.

The whole "Eleventh Hour" story, with its incredible characters (from both the main players and the NPCs,) intricate mystery, crazy central gimmick, tense moral choices, heartbreaking (in both good and bad ways) ending, and gosh-darn fun was literally everything I want in a longform narrative. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I have a feeling I'm going to be relistening to the 9 episodes of "The Eleventh Hour" pretty consistently for the rest of my life. Just like Election Profit Makers, The Adventure Zone managed to be a show that was not only incredibly good, but made a mark on my year. And for that reason it's my number one returning show.


Well Then.

There it is. Thousands of words on 35+ awesome podcasts. Plug in your headphones and give 'em a listen (and/or tweet me @AndrewTheWhip if you've got casts of 2016 that you dug that I missed. Fair warning: if it's an NPR-y type show, I probably won't like it. But like let me know anyway.)

-Andrew W.


Best Albums Of 2016

Published 12/16/2016

Here we go children. Now is the time. The time when every place on the internet with even a tentative thought about anything pop cultural starts creating TOP TEN LISTS!!!!

So of course ya boi's getting in on it. With tunes.

But we ain't just doing an old school top ten list. I mean we are doing that, but not just that. Because where's the fun in simplicity?

So let's start with:

The Albums I Listened To And Liked That Aren't Top Ten Or Honorable Mention Or Another List Below

(in no particular order)

  • "The Hamilton Mixtape" - Various Artists
  • "Puberty 2" - Mitski
  • "Revolution Radio" - Green Day
  • "Painkillers" - Brian Fallon
  • "Tentative Decisions" - Mikey Erg
  • "Teens Of Denial" - Car Seat Headrest
  • "You Want It Darker" - Leonard Cohen
  • "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" - Sturgill Simpson
  • "22, A Million" - Bon Iver
  • "Skeleton Tree" - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  • "Anti" - Rihanna
  • "Blackstar" - David Bowie
  • "Views" - Drake
  • "Holy Ghost" - Modern Baseball
  • "The Dream Is Over" - PUP
  • "Slugger" - Sad13
  • "Stock Neon" - Also Also Also
  • "Never Going Back" - Stick And Poke
  • "No Burden" - Lucy Davis
  • "Blindfaller" - Mandolin Orange
  • "Real" - Lydia Loveless
  • "HERO" - Maren Morris
  • "Blood Bitch" - Jenny Hval
  • "Hella Personal Film Festival" - Open Mike Eagle & Paul White

Most of these were pretty solid albums, but didn't quite crack the top. But give 'em a listen, and you'll probably find some stuff you dig. And almost all of these had at least a few songs I super super dug. So yay tunes!

The Whoops List

(Aka albums that tbh probably would've had a shot at the top ten if I'd either listened to them at all or listened to them more than once. Also in no real order, sorta.)

  • "Blonde" - Frank Ocean^
  • "A Seat At The Table" - Solange
  • "Malibu" - Anderson .Paak^
  • "Here" - Teenage Fanclub
  • "Lady Wood" - Tove Lo
  • "Midwest Farmer's Daughter" - Margo Price
  • "All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend" - AURORA
  • "Cardinal" - Pinegrove^
  • "Paradise" - White Lung^
  • "Chaleur Humaine" - Christine And The Queens
  • "Instigator" - Kevin Devine
  • "Worry" - Jeff Rosenstock

(^Albums I listened to once, but not enough enough to get a real sense of)

I'll be honest, "Blonde" is the reason for this list, probably with Solange, .Paak, Jeff Rosenstock, and Pinegrove rounding out a top five of the "Whoops" crew. I know I'm wrong. I'll regret it come 2017. Sry.

The Best Albums Of My Personal 2016 That Weren't Released In 2016

  • "Under The Surface" - Marit Larsen (2006)
  • "Putting The Days To Bed" - The Long Winters (2006)
  • "Hamilton" - Original Broadway Cast Of Hamilton (2015)
  • "Electra Heart" - Marina & The Diamonds (2013)
  • "Taylor Swift" - Taylor Swift (2006)

Fuck me, I got down hard with ten years ago I guess. Anyway, these are the albums that I listened to over and over again this year, and specifically are the ones that sort of came into their own for me in 2016. That's why albums like "Welcome Interstate Managers," "Pure Heroine," "Sam's Town" (also a 2006-er fwiw), "1989," "Art Angels", "American Idiot," "The '59 Sound," and the masterpiece-to-end-all-masterpieces "E•MO•TION" aren't on this list; those are all my favorite albums ever, and I listen to them nonstop (and have for either a year, in the case of the 2015-ers, or 10+, for the old guards.)

Nah, these are the albums that popped up in 2016 for whatever reason, and absolutely hooked me, and are as much (if not more, tbh) a part of my mental musical picture of the year as anything that was released since January. I have stories for each of the ones listed, but like...nope. Again, sry.

Actually, that's an okay lead in for:

The Top Three Albums Of 2015 That I Liked More Than Anything Released In 2016

  • "E•MO•TION" - Carly Rae Jepsen
  • "Art Angels" - Grimes
  • "To Pimp A Butterfly" - Kendrick Lamar

Okay, fight time now I suppose, but this was almost a... disappointing year musically when I look back on it? Disappointing is waaaay too strong a word for it I suppose, because there were lots of good and great music released... but that's kinda it. For me personally, there were tons of albums that in previous years would be around 3-10 on an end-of-year-top-ten. But there wasn't really anything that snagged that top slot. And that's demonstrated by the fact that I can't think of a single thing I listened to this year that had it been released in '15 would've knocked those three from their end-of-year top slot.

Now part of it is certainly personal taste, obvi. And part of it may be that I got weirdly into the albums from the "Weren't Released In 2016" list and that took over my listening habits. And it may just be that those three albums are freakishly fucking good and holding anything to that standard is cruel.

And of course, that doesn't mean the great albums of this year aren't great. Just maybe not "all-time faves" like the ones above.

Who knows. All I know is the weird truth that...yeah, I dig my top three of 2015 more than any of my top picks for 2016.

Sry.

The Releases That Also Would Be At The Top Of My Top Ten List If They Were Full-Length LPs

  • "E•MO•TION Side B" - Carly Rae Jepsen
  • "The Poison I Keep" - Hannah Moroz
  • "PC Music Vol. 2" - Various Artists
  • "HANA" - HANA
  • "Joni Was Right (Parts I & II) - Marit Larsen

I'm being arbitrarily purist in limiting my real top ten list to just full-length original LPs. Which ends up cutting out the five above for including 3 EPs, 1 compilation, and 1 collection of two EPs.

But:

  • If you want some soothing and kinda emo Americana from a Norwegian (who is doing Americana better than most Americans) check Marit Larsen's two "Joni Was Right" EPs.
  • If you want some of the hookiest melodies in the fucking GAME go for HANA's debut EP.
  • If you, like me, discovered in '16 that the weird mix of noise, glitter, roboticism, British accents, snark, schoolgirl crushes, and A+ pop beats produced by the PC Music collective is your jam, then check out their newest volume of tracks.
  • If you want a new Sara Bereilles or Glen Hansard album and also want to cry for-fucking-ever listen to "The Poison I Keep" by (my fantastic friend) Hannah Moroz (seriously it's incredible not just saying it because she's my friend.)
  • And if you are a person with TASTE who likes MUSIC then you gotta listen to anything Carly releases (but for real, it's rude of her to release an EP of rejects that has several songs better than most pop songs out there, including many on her original amazing record.)

Okay, finally we get through the gimmicky lists. It's time for the real deal. By which I mean:

The Honorable Mentions

(in no particular order)

  • "California" - blink-182
  • "Lemonade" - Beyoncé
  • "Awaken My Love!" - Childish Gambino

Three very good albums that were originally in my top ten, but then got knocked to just below it. Ask me on a different day and any of these could find their way in.

...Though if we're being real, "California" has a few too many dumb joke songs to probably ever actually make the top ten. But gosh-darnit the rest of it is A+ skateboard pop-punk so Honorable Mention feels perfectly alright (and if they had cut the dumb joke songs it'd be like #6 easy.)

...Actually, while we're on the subject, if "California" is the honorable mention that tbh would never be in the top ten, "Lemonade" is the one that absolutely should be in it...if it was on Spotify. I realized literally like 2 weeks ago that I hadn't heard the album since it came out because I use Spotify and it ain't there! So it never made it into my music rotation! And a week or so of listening snagged it a place in the Honorable Mentions, so I gotta feeling given the months some of these other LPs had it would sneak its way up much farther.

But as is becoming a theme with this list, well... sry.


Anyway, for real though now, and this one is the first list that will be ordered (in reverse) ....

The Top Ten Albums Of 2016

10: "Shape Shift With Me" - Against Me!

Shape Shift With Me Album Cover

Fuck yeah, Against Me! rules. I'll admit that I don't quite dig this new set of tunes as much as the immeasurably great "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" from a few years back (which I shamefully slept on until last year) but that doesn't mean this isn't a great collection of hard-biting, hard-rocking punk/bar rock music. The world needs more bands that are equally dedicated to breaking down social barriers as they are to sick-as-hell harmonies, but until that day comes Against Me! are our necessary standard bearers.

Also this was the year I realized that The Hold Steady, The Mountain Goats, Drive-By Truckers, and Against Me! are fundamentally all the same band but with difference in subject matter and musical style. And that's fucking great, because all four of those bands are among the best lyricists in the entire rock game by a MILE. The first verse of "12:03" was the moment that clicked for me, thinking "Oh hey, that's a John Darnielle-y type of phrase. Neat." Bless the 2010s for having such a stellar crew to guide us through.

Check out "333" and "12:03."

9: "The Life Of Pablo" - Kanye West

The Life Of Pablo Album Cover

There's lots that can and should be said about Kanye West. And lots of immensely justifiable reasons to not want to support, associate with, or even like him and his music. And for as much as I and others may lean into "death of the author" as an ideal, there's no way to genuinely remove context from art, especially when the art is being consumed as it comes out.

There is also an element to which being a popstar (or any sort of commercial entity) precludes folks from being given the same rhetorical and analytics treatment that other capital-A "Artists" get.

Make no mistake, Kanye is an Artist. And as an Artist who created a piece of Art called "The Life Of Pablo," it's fucking wild and fascinating. It's a mess that goes from impeccable pop in tunes like "Famous" or "Waves," to epics like "No More Parties In LA" or "Ultralight Beam," to clever nods to the past and plays with the hip-hop album form in the skits and intermissions. And for every off-putting act of narcissism, elitism, sexism, harrassment, etc, there's something self-aware like "I Love Kanye." It's enough to give those who require their musicians to be models the branch to reach for and say "Look, he gets it, so it's fine" but not enough to actually rectify his behavior. Which artistically makes it all the more interesting.

And course, it's not just that it's interesting and wrapped in turmoiled context: it is a genuinely pretty good album, which dives headfirst into depression, anxiety, darkness, paranoia, vitriol, revenge, and plenty of other dark sides of the psyche. And wraps it in interesting music.

It's a similar element to the play "Taming Of The Shrew." Because three things are true in regards to that play: it's really really masterfully funny in parts, really really sexist in parts, and Shakespeare wrote shitty plays. It's something that makes a Shakespeare fan like myself think "Gosh, why couldn't a shitty play like Merry Wives Of Windsor be the problematic sexist one, and let Taming Of The Shrew just be funny and excellent." But sadly no, there is the contradiction. Which makes it perhaps bad entertainment but interesting art. I'd argue something similar for "The Life Of Pablo."

Check out "Ultralight Beam," "No More Parties In LA," and "I Love Kanye."

8: "Emotions And Math" - Margaret Glaspy

Emotions And Math Album Cover

This gal makes the grimiest roots rock y'all could find and I LOVE IT. She's got a voice that goes from a fluttery croon to a fucking GROWL and both are excellent and moving. Add to it a fearlessness to write songs about whatever she needs to talk about, fully unafraid to fill her songs with sex and anxiety. And it's underlaid with guitars that growl as good her voice and plodding drums that are heavy, crunched up, and reverbed a la modern-day Bonham. Take that, and you've got a sound that cuts through just about anything else you'd be listening to. Female-fronted country and Americana is in a great spot, with emo softies like Julian Baker and Marit Larsen holding down their end, popstars like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves killing the radio game, and firebrands like Brandi Carlile and Margaret Glaspy kicking ass and taking names. What a time to be alive y'all.

Check out "You And I" and "Somebody To Anybody."

7: "Babes Never Die" - Honeyblood

Babes Never Die Album Cover

A late entry that snuck it's way in at the last minute because GUYS POWER-POP IS SO MUCH GOSHDARN FUN. Honeyblood had one of my favorite songs of a few years ago in "Killer Bangs" and "Babes Never Die" is basically a full album of Killers-Bangs-es. Boppy, hooky, sweet 'n snarky, full of hand claps and fuzz guitars and hints of accents Honeyblood has filled my musical roster role of another Scottish Powerpop Icon perfectly.

Check out the one-two-three punch that kicks off the album of "Babes Never Die" -> "Ready For The Magic" -> "Sea Hearts" and be whisked away to a vision of the nineties but like, fun.

6: "American Band" - Drive-By Truckers

American Band Album Cover

There are lots of strong arguments to be made for "staying in your lane" and not trying to tell a story that isn't yours. Arguments that I wouldn't be surprised may be kicked up by this album from gods of neo-southern-rock Drive-By Truckers. Because this is an album that runs headfirst into tackling issues like bigotry, gun violence, Black Lives Matter, and others. But, at least for myself, "American Band" makes it work. And I think it's for two reasons:

  1. Drive-By Truckers makes really good music,
  2. They're directly addressing their own subculture and its role in the problem.

Songs like "What It Means" do feature a bunch of white southern guys singing about the problems of black teenagers, but they are talking about how white people and the culture of whiteness needs to reckon with this. Similarly they present songs like "Guns Of Umpqua" which takes the southern love of gun culture to its horrific modern conclusion. They point the finger, not just at the "bad" southerners, but at themselves. And this is all while still talking about the things that genuinely make aspects of southern culture great. It's a vulnerable and self-reflective album, and it wraps it all in some of the best southern rock you could ever find.

Check out "Surrender Under Protest" for A+ driving roots rock, and "Once They Banned Imagine" for some of the best country lyricism I've seen in a minute.

5: "We got it from Here, Thank You 4 Your Service" - A Tribe Called Quest

We Got This From Here Album Cover

Look, if this album was just the song "We The People..." and 45 minutes of discordant shrieking, it'd still crack the top ten, because there are few musical moments of this past year that hit as hard as watching Tribe play this song on SNL four days after the nightmare of Nov 8. They managed to call the shot and make the perfect Trump-era album, directly tackling the racism, mysogyny, xenophobia, fear, and hatred represented by the Orange Man and his followers with incredible skill, wit, and bite.

But just politics would be one thing. This album becomes another because of the level of fun on display. "We The People..." is justifiably angry, yes, but it's also snarky and full of pride. "The Space Program" is painfully real, but also kind of silly. "Dis Generation" is pure slinky virtuousic bar-sharing and it's such a joy. And "Solid Wall Of Sound" has an Elton John sample. Tribe is defiant but so goddamn confident in their (accurate) skill and superiority that they just let it ride and are having fun with it.

This is also one of several either posthumous or final albums to come out this year, and all of them share something beautiful: defiance in the face of death. Where Bowie and Leonard Cohen knew they were dying and reckoned with it with either a glamourous middle finger or cold stare and a wry smile, this album was still being made after Phife Dawg's death. And so this album gets to be Q-Tip, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad crafting a glorious tribute their late brother. And just like Bowie and Cohen, they don't shy away the reality of the situation: by bringing Phife's lines front and center in so many tracks, by calling him out and reacting to his recorded lines in live performances, they are never backing down or hiding the fact that they're down one. They have no problem letting him be a central presence in this record, which is admirable and makes for great art.

There's gonna be a lot of political art over the next few years, and it will take a lot of different forms, and all of it will be necessary. But I'm glad that there are folks like A Tribe Called Quest (and some later down on this list...) willing to blend the personal with the political, the angry with the joyful, the mournful with the triumphant, the brilliant with the silly, and mash it all into one 2016-as-hell album.

Check out "We The People..." and "Dis Generation" (especially the impeccable second verse.)

4: "Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart" - Martha

Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart Album Cover

There are many a school of pop-punk. One the one end you have your emo-tinted heartbroken shaggy-banged kids like All Time Low and Fall Out Boy, on the other the blissfully scrappy 'n snarky four-chord skateboarders like Chumped (RIP), The Ergs (also RIP), and FIDLAR. Somehwere in the middle you get your bands that pull from both sides, like your blink-182s and Green Days. Also ska is somewhere in there.

Martha is absolutely cut from The Ergs school of pop-punk and it's a JOY. This album is full of gleefully up-tempo garage tunes that make you want to smile as you awkwardly mosh and think about that one girl or guy or nonbinary person who got away. And every song is anchored by incredible hooks and laced with exactly the kind of progressive self-deprecating snark that really hits with the depressed-20-something-artsy-smartsy-kids-floundering-through-adulthood-question-mark? demographic. So I obviously have no idea why I like this album so much.

Check out "Ice Cream And Sunscreen" which is without a doubt my favorite non-Carly-Rae song of the year, and also check "Precarious (Supermarket Song)"

3: "My Woman" - Angel Olsen

My Woman Album Cover

I've had a peculiar type of love-hate relationship with Angel Olsen over the last three or so years, in that I had no idea if I loved her or hated her. It would genuinely fluctuate not only between songs, but sometimes between lines in a single listen of a single song. Part of it, best I could tell, was her voice never fully clicked for me.

That was, of course, until the first time I heard "Shut Up Kiss Me" and those screeching, overdriven wails. Rock 'n roll y'all. I'm a fan for life now.

This album scratches a lot of the same itches a La Luz album would, and that's meant entirely as a compliment (La Luz fucking rule.) I mention La Luz (an incredibly retro-throw-back surf rock band) because it's crazy how unabashedly traditional and old-school "My Woman" is. Many of the songs on this album from a compositional perspective wouldn't seem at all out of place playing on 1950s radio. And yet that feeling is a lot like a ghost; you only really notice it if you manage to catch the song in an off-angle glance from the corners of your ears. It feels so incredibly modern and incredibly now (partially because its production is the sort of modern-analog-love-child where if you said "Hey this is produced by Jack White and/or Patrick Carney from the Black Keys" you'd probably go "Yeah makes sense." It isn't produced by either of them, but aesthetically it fits.) The album feels now, but if you look at the songs it's simple early rock chords and boppy beats and Buddy Holly melodies.

Taken together it makes for an album that sounds like the present and the past simultaneously and becomes genuinely timeless in the weirdest way. It's not timeless because it could be from whenever, it's timeless because it can't be from anywhen. It's unsettling and destablizing and scary but then you hear the hooks on tunes like "Give It Up" and you say "Fuck it" and just get down with it anyway.

Check out "Shut Up Kiss Me" and "Not Gonna Kill You."

2: "Coloring Book" - Chance The Rapper

Coloring Book Album Cover

Last year I made a realization that all of my favorite albums of the year, despite being from wildly different genres, all shared a similar quality. They were experiential. They sounded like the inside of the head of the artist who made them. They were albums that you soaked in, and if you soaked properly there was no way they wouldn't put you in a particular headspace. This year there weren't as many albums like that, at least for me. But man oh man if "Coloring Book" doesn't put you in a headspace y'all.

This album, more so than many, really gets the craft of how to build an album from start to finish. The gospel comparison is done to death, but not only does Chance borrow some of the sounds of gospel music, he structures it like a good church service. Invocation into community into reflection into confession into forgiveness into celebration into benediction. The final song is literally called "Blessings" for fuck's sake.

Like with Kanye, Chance is convuluted and complicated and experiential. Like with Tribe, Chance is joyful but real. Like with both Chance puts on some of the best artists in the game to play with him. For whatever reason, the magic seems to catch me more with "Coloring Book" than with the other two. Part of it is certainly that where "Pablo" is negative and scary, "Coloring Book" is jubilant. And part of it is definitely that Chance is poppier than Tribe. But part of it is (and this is a major cop-out for someone trying to analyze music) ineffable to me. It's just goddamn MAGIC and I DON'T KNOW WHY and THAT UPSETS ME THAT I CAN'T FIGURE IT OUT OKAY.

Check out "No Problem" (which you have already because you're a human in 2016) "Summer Friends" and "Angels."

1: "Adult Teen" - Lisa Prank

Adult Teen Album Cover

See, I get to keep my hipster cred. I'm giving the number one slot to a DIY artist out of my hometown of Seattle. To be fair, I'm giving it to her because "Adult Teen" is INCREDIBLE. Lisa Prank is a solo artist who makes the kind of bubbly pop-punk that would perfectly fit with the teen-fashion inspiration for her stage name. And as a solo artist she blends her crunchy-as-hell guitar, marvelously wobbly voice, and faux-blank-eyed snark with a drum machine, making one of the most genuinely unique sounds in the pop-punk game. I found her in 2015 because I was searching for artists who use drum machines in neat ways, and since then it's been a joy to see her blow up a bit in the DIY scene, blossoming under the welcome arms of fellow Seattle punk darlings TacocaT.

"Adult Teen" is her debut full-length, mixing beefed-up versions of songs from previous EPs with a bunch of new songs, and the result is a delirious dive via impeccable 2-to-3-minute pop songs into a world of glitter, booze, stickers, grimy guitars, posters of punk gods and boy bands on the wall in equal measure, humanly sloppy instrumentation over machined perfection of the artificial drums, deep sorrow hidden behind shallow smiles, and youth and all the brilliance and stupidity that entails. It's clearly inspired by a lineage of female rockers going from TacocaT to Sleater-Kinney to The Runaways to the Ronettes. At the same time, it's a sound unlike anything else in music. And it's all done by a gal doing this shit on her own (though with the help of a crew from the raddest musical scene in the country; the forever contradiction of "DIY" and "Independent Creators.") And every single song is perfect little pop gem. There's not a dud among 'em.

Listen to "Adult Teen." It's amazing, and at the very least hey you'll be helping out a cool indie artist. And you'll get to feel like someone who knows their shit, which yes is overrated but also kinda fun.

Check out "Starting Again," "Luv Is Dumb," "Jumper," and "Baby, Let Me Write Yr Lines" (and every other song on the album seriously trying to pick just four is damn near impossible the whole album is gold.)


-Andrew W.


Spotify Knows What's Up

Published 12/14/2016

One of the fantastic perks of Spotify is that it takes the month of December to spit back your yearly listening habits back at you. It's a fun chance to reminisce and learn.

Sometimes though, they present you with fun facts of how you compare to other listeners.

This year?

Top one percent of fans of Carly Rae Jepsen

FUCK YEAH THAT'S RIGHT GET REKT EVERYONE.

-Andrew W.


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