2019 in Music, Reading, and Writing
In year four of a Medium tradition, I’m putting together another review of some of my favorites from this year. I’m cutting down a bit on my emphasis on books this year, as I’m mostly reading stuff from years prior or for school. I’m also going to throw a bit of my own work into this review, too.
You can read previous reviews for 2018, 2017, and 2016, if you’re interested in that little archive. (A random now-defunct medium publication called Applaudience picked up the 2016 review off of a tag search, so that one has a bonus color scheme.)
Anyway, here goes:
The music section remains pretty much the only section of this review that is confined by the year of publication. While some of these reviews are of course influenced by previous years’ listening (Joji, my 2017 artist of the year, claimed my #2 most-streamed song on Spotify of 2019, for example), they remain fairly up to date.
My Top Albums of 2019
These albums are ones that were deeply impactful to me personally and ones that I listened to almost daily in the weeks and months that followed their releases. As always, this was difficult to narrow down and I appreciate all my friends that shared their favorite albums with me in this process.
I’ve never really considered myself a fan of Lana Del Ray, but this year’s release enticed me in a way that some of the albums of my favorite artists failed.
I knew billy woods of his own previous work, but this partnership (with Kenny Segal producing) had multiple tracks I found myself repeating in my head or blasting in my car.
The hardest working boyband in the business did it again. Pitchfork’s review of the album notably included that it felt “disorganized” or “cramped”, but the album is very good and often on repeat for me since its release. It’s a dynamic release featuring a wide range of talent and voices throughout.
Tyler’s newest album is a stunner and carries with it another new aesthetic that’s easily identifiable and iconic.
- FKA twigs — MAGDALENE
Wow have I missed FKA twigs, but this album showed how much work she was putting into this. This narrative and complex album just hit it on so many marks. If you somehow haven’t listened to it yet, you should.
Other notable albums are The Murder Capital’s “When I Have Fears”, Angel Olsen’s “All Mirrors”, SAINt JHN’s “Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs”, Girlpool’s “What Chaos is Imaginary”, Vampire Weekend’s “Father of the Bride”, Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next”, JPEGMAFIA’s “All My Heroes Are Cornballs”
Favorite Music Videos of 2019
I grew up watching MTV/VH1 music video hours and appreciate artists that still prioritize their music videos. Here are some of my favorites from this year.
5. J. Balvin, Bad Bunny — CUIDAO POR AHÍ
Beachtown horror vibes in black, white, and red.
4. ROSALÍA — F*cking Money Man (Millionària + Dio $ No $ Free of Money)
ALL the gameshows.
4. Angel Olsen — Lark
Quarter-life transience, drone shots, and the pull of the current.
3. Lil Nas X — Old Town Road (ft. Billy Ray Cyrus)
The year’s best country song also had the best country music video.
2. Tyler, the Creator — A BOY IS A GUN*
Idk how much louder Tyler could shout it, tbh.
1. FKA twigs — Cellophane
FKA twigs bursts back onto the scene with an absolute trip of a video.
Artist of the Year: Bad Bunny (ft. J Balvin)
This was a hard pick and I almost went with FKA twigs, who took the two first spots on my lists above. However, this section is supposed to be for artists who are fairly new in the mainstream or at least new to my own listening (I’ve been a loyal FKA twigs listener for years).
For that reason, there was no denying that Bad Bunny (and partially his primary partner in crime, J. Balvin) should take artist of year for 2019.
“X 100PRE”, his debut album, was released so close to 2019 that it nearly counts as a 2019 album, especially as these songs would blow up one by one over the first six months of the year. This success was then redoubled by a June 2019 8-track album from Bad Bunny and J. Balvin called “OASIS”.
This 25-year-old Puerto Rican singer has brought a fearless and confident style and swagger to his music, creating numerous hits in an industry that often pushes Latin artists towards writing/performing the same type of song over and over.
Bad Bunny can clearly perform on his own, and his first album is infinitely repeatable. His album with Colombian singer J. Balvin, though, proves that he can work on a collaborative album without simply being a Cardi B or Drake feature. Alternatively, his work alongside J. Balvin seems to bring out the best in J. Balvin.
I’m excited to see what comes out of these guys in 2020.
Rather than do a Goodreads cover dump as I’ve done in the past, I’m just going to honor some of the best readings I did this year.
Book I’m most often quoting or mentioning (that I read this year):
In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016) by Christina Sharpe
I read this in an anthropology class this spring and cannot stop recommending it or referencing it. It deals with the histories, hauntologies, and legacies that define Black life in the contemporary United States.
It’s a difficult read, but accessible and very well cited and documented. It’s also partially prescriptive through Sharpe’s “wake work”.
Book I’m most often quoting or mentioning (that I read before this year):
Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2012) by Mark Fisher
RIP Mark Fisher, your ideas are greatly missed.
This text is seriously so incisive and going to be required reading for the next decade if it isn’t already considered as such. Conversations about dominant ideology don’t happen as much as they have before, and Fisher describes why some of this might be the case.
Book that most disturbed me this year:
Kill Class by Nomi Stone
This series of ethnographic poems were born out of Stone’s fieldwork at military training sites in the US. These camps paid Arab actors to play hostages, terrorists, and corpses.
It’s a haunting retelling of a truly sickening experience and the poetic form allows for these composite characters to come to life on these pages.
At the beginning of the year, I told myself I was not going to buy any comic books that didn’t have a woman’s name on the cover of the book. Comic books/graphic novels/sequential art is a pretty male-dominated field despite so many young women trying to break into the area of work. Similar to my Lenten discipline 4 years ago, I wanted to see what this inhibition on my comic book reading patterns would impact.
So here are a couple of comic books/graphic novels that I can recommend from my reading this year:
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
Honestly, Tillie Walden remains a massive mystery to me. She’s a 23-year-old writer/illustrator whose work I feel like I am always behind on — whenever I’ve just finished her most recent she’s released another.
On a Sunbeam is Tillie’s minimalist take on space restoration in beautiful color palettes and alongside a cast of fully-formed characters. You should buy this book, but you can also read it all online.
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
This comic has been running since 2016 and I have no idea how I hadn’t read it until this year. It’s a captivating story with beautiful art to accompany it.
This is one of those comics that centers around a character and a character design and builds the rest of the world and story around it. Liu and Takeda make this often-fraught construction work for this tale.
Some other notable favorite comics I read this year are the following:
Breaking Glass: Harley Quinn is a retelling of Harley Quinn like she better deserves (I’m looking forward to reading DC’s new Harleen, which reinvents the problematic origins of the character, too). Mariko Tamaki is one of my favorite writers and well known in the comics industry.
Similarly, Raven is one of my favorite characters and I appreciate Kami Garcia’s storytelling (and Picolo’s iconic illustration) in Teen Titans: Raven. I look forward to their next novel on Beast Boy, too.
Finally, I read Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution this year, leading a seminar discussion on ethnographic comic books in an anthropology class. It’s an imperfect book and I have a lot of criticisms of it, but I really appreciate U of Toronto Press for committing to a line of publications of comic book work of ethnographic merit. This one on the Egyptian revolution and medicine is what I hope to be the ‘first’ of many out of academic presses.
Now it’s time to review my own work, I guess. Much of my public writing is here on Medium under my blog about right-wing militia groups in the US, MilitiaWatch. I’ve also taken about 6 writing-intensive courses over the course of this year to help me develop some other research specializations and sharpen my writing skills. Finally, I’ve got some comic book projects I’ve worked on this year that I’m excited to mention.
This year on a blank google search, my blog and affiliated Twitter were finally the first results for a search of “militiawatch”, woo! This was something I wanted to happen before the end of 2020 and it finally has.
I wrote three MW articles that were made public this year, and have two more sitting in my drafts folder to be completed early next year. My most-read new article was one about border militias, which has been cited by multiple news agencies since I published it.
Militia Tourism: Trouble at the border, a new round of infighting, and a fake identity
The first of a short series on the topic of militia tourism. This one is on some hijinx at the border in New Mexico and…
My most-read article of 2019 has been my most consistently read article for a long time, with most traffic coming from Google referring visitors. It’s actually no longer featured on the MW homepage and I’m looking to update it in the wake of the 2020 election cycle.
Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia: A Test Case for Links between Trump Support and Militia Activity
In a previous article, I briefly explored some changes in tone following the election of Donald Trump and the…
My favorite article I wrote this year is an update about the III%, one which ruffled feathers within the movement and updated the first article ever published on MW with some of the new politics of post-2016 militia activities.
Revisiting GSFIII: ‘Civil disobedience’, anti-abortion activism, and splinters new and old
This post is a long read on the III% movement, filling in some of the gaps from my original GSFIII piece and in the…
I also appeared again on Jake Hanrahan’s podcast, Popular Front, to give an update about a situation in the Pacific Northwest around a cap-and-trade bill. The appearance is behind a paywall at Jake’s Patreon, but I wrote up an accompanying article for the piece, too.
HB2020, Truckers, and Oregon’s Militia: A timeline of recent events
In Summer 2019, around an environmental bill at the Oregon State House, threats of militia involvement at the State…
I’ve taken a slight break from publication on MW for the past few months but I’m ready to publish some new research at the start of next year. It’s been a fascinating year for internal militia politics, that’s for sure.
I have a hard time talking about this publicly, but wanted to highlight a couple of key areas I’ve been writing about a lot recently:
- Transnational linkages between Black liberation movements and Irish nationalists in 1960–1990
- Recuperation of radical aesthetics in Western culture, 2000s and 2010s
- Urban design and counter-revolution in South America, 1940-now
- Ecology and epidemiology in West Africa
I’m hoping to have some writing on some of these made public soon. I have now written 2 or 3 final major papers on each in preparation for more polished public works.
Comic Book Writing
Finally, some writing I’ve been working on this year involves two major comic book projects and one minor one. Last year’s Inktober drawings focused on a fantasy series I’ve nearly finished writing and for which I have numerous concept art sketches completed. This year’s Inktober drawings focused on an exciting sci-fi/mystery comic I’ve been co-writing with a friend of mine. As of the time of writing we have storyboarded almost two-dozen pages and are excited for 2020.
For an anthropology class I took this year, I also created a comic based on two field visits to Amman, Jordan. This 11-page comic book will be edited, inked, and finalized at the start of next year, but it was exciting to have a finished draft to send to my professor at the end of the semester.
It’s been a great year for music, reading, and writing in general. Thanks so much for reading and here’s to a better 2019!