2014’s been a busy year! Because of this, we’re looking back on things we did or didn’t like in the year, as well as looking forward to what has already gotten us excited for 2015. This is the first part of the series, where we talk about our favorite discoveries of the year.
There’s been a lot of things this year that have been incredible. Yet I’m still going back to Gillian Welch, the amazing folk/bluegrass/country musician who defies truly accurate description. Her concert at Thalia Hall was possibly one of the most transcendent musical experiences I’ve ever been to – the phrase “out-of-body experience” seems rote, yet it seems to be as good a means as any to try and describe what it was like watching two musicians perform at the peak of their abilities. Welch’s voice was almost weaponized, and is probably the best I’ve ever heard anyone use their vocal capacity as an instrument of its own, creating music with each moment. As I wrote back in July – transcendental.
I also experienced DEVO in concert. That was unexpected – and bizarrely wonderful. I learned what the Guardians of the Galaxy are, and reveled in their experiences. I discovered new writers like Rebecca Lee, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and Brian Kimberling. I also found a bear on Twitter. It’s been a good year.
This year will be defined for me by memories of The Old Town School of Folk Music, where I spent countless hours in the last few months. The Old Town School of Folk Music has been a Chicago institution since the 60s, and has been home to concerts from Bonnie Koloc and Steve Goodman, the Byrds, and Dar Williams. They have concerts on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights most weeks, open jams on the first Friday of the month, and classes for all age levels. I’ve been taking Guitar Core classes there this year and having a phenomenal time.
The highlight of my time at the Old Town School was the Square Roots festival this summer. The festival takes place on Lincoln Avenue between Montrose and Wilson, and has a strong focus on local food, craft beer, and amazing world and folk music. Definitely my favorite “Chicago” discovery of the year. I can’t wait to go back next summer.
I loved playing through The Banner Saga, an indie game available on PCs or tablets. It’s a tactical RPG set in a Viking-inspired world where the gods have died and Ragnarok is unfolding. What could be a rote game is set apart by two key things: its gorgeous aesthetic and unconventional narrative.
The aesthetic part is obvious just from looking. The visual style is inspired by Disney classics like Sleeping Beauty and brings this doomed world into beautiful form. The vision of my caravan’s long banner fluttering along is still vivid. Adding in Austin Wintory’s haunting score only heightens the pleasure.
The unconventional narrative was what really propelled me, though. Spurning the trope of plucky heroes saving the world seen in everything from Tolkien to Skyrim, The Banner Saga instead focuses on characters who are scrabbling to survive. The biggest worries are food, morale, and shelter. That’s infinitely more interesting to me, since it reflects how people actually act in times of strife and stress.
The best discovery I made this year was a cavalcade of new podcasts which served to inform, entertain, and add some mental stimulation to the day job. Between the hilarity of Doug Loves Movies, How Did This Get Made?, and James Bonding, the creative pop culture nonfiction of You Must Remember This, the rich, detailed analyses of comics, fantasy, and sci-fi of The Missfits, and the engrossing mysteries of Serial, the podcast world and its variety have replaced television as my primary source of immediate entertainment, and I’m eager to keep finding more programs. (All of these are available for free on iTunes, so definitely check them out!)
I loved getting more involved with the live lit community in 2014, and writing about it for this site. It’s such a great scene and I’m proud of its thriving, strong presence in Chicago. I’ve met some great people through it and have surprised myself by getting on stage to read my own first-person narratives in front of a live audience of strangers — something I never thought I’d have the guts to do.
This year I also loved discovering Broad City, The Submarines, and the books of Rainbow Rowell. I welcomed the first new Jenny Lewis album since 2008 and wrapped up the year with a new Hunger Games movie that I liked more than I expected I would. Not bad, 2014!
It’s been a stellar year for tabletop games. Interesting new board games, exciting new RPG books, and long-awaited updates to fan favorites like Delta Green and Dungeons & Dragons. But what’s inspired me the most this year has been 13th Age.
I talked about 13th Age earlier this year, and since then they’ve published a slew of idea-generating supplements. There were smaller additions like the Book of Loot and Shadows of Eldolan. There was the big, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink compendium, 13 True Ways. And just in time for the holidays, there’s the mega-campaign, Eyes of the Stone Thief. Each of these has provided something unique and, for me, no game has jogged my creative muscles this year like 13th Age.
I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who and was tickled that Peter Capaldi became the Doctor– an incredibly blunt, not-at-all-charming Doctor. But what I’ve found most compelling is Clara and how her story centers the show. The last few episodes of the season especially are more about her and the life she’s developing away from the Doctor. She has a job, responsibilities, she falls in love. We see her struggling to reconcile her “normal” life and her life with the Doctor.
Of course there are adventures and aliens and running and life-and-death situations. But we also see Clara stand up to the Doctor multiple times. She’s smart, resourceful, and quick-witted. She also lies and make mistakes. But that’s what’s kept me so engaged with the show the past several months: Clara, with her strengths and flaws, has become a well-rounded, very human character.