2016 has been a year. I think that’s all I can say about it. Brexit, Trump, the rise of Isis, the death of Carrie Fisher… it doesn’t get much more grim than that. However, there have also been lots of things to celebrate, and I intend to celebrate them as much as possible.
That whole ‘I used to run a music blog’ thing tends to rear its head around the end of the year, where I get an insatiable urge to create lists upon lists of all the things I’ve really liked in a given twelve month period. It starts off as just a little nugget of a thought in my brain before it gets to the point where I’m keeping my boyfriend awake with statements like “but what if the Childish Gambino album is one of the best records of 2016?” (Spoiler alert: it is.) So here’s a brief list of pop culture items I’ve rather enjoyed in 2016, and have all offered a brief twinkle of joy into what has otherwise been a fairly terrifying rollercoaster ride of a year.
Album of the year: Milk Teeth – Vile Child
I’m so proud of Milk Teeth. From seeing them (slightly nervously) rock tiny bars in Cheltenham to supporting Against Me! on their latest UK tour, I’ve never failed to be impressed by them, and Vile Child was a huge shock to the system. Putting Becky in the foreground as the lead vocalist and songwriter was the best decision for the band, because what you get is a record that’s uncompromising, heartwrenching and celebratory in one grunge-tinted hit. I was one of the first writers to take a chance on them back in the day, and I’m very glad I did. It’s easy, and lazy, to compare the record to Nevermind, but it’s difficult to deny that Vile Child has the same kind of instant spark of brilliance. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Honourable mentions: Blink 182 – California, Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me, Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love
Video game of the year: Rise of the Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary Edition
Okay, okay, I guess this is a 2015 release, but it only came out on PS4 in October so I’m counting it. This was the celebration that Lara has always deserved. 2013’s reboot was an excellent start, but Rise took everything that made the original Tomb Raiders great and updated it for a modern audience. Rhianna Pratchett’s writing is as sharp and incisive as ever, while reflecting on the nature of losing one’s father, and the emotional toll that brings for years and years afterwards. It’s so easy to start playing, but so difficult to master, and the addition of arcade scores and zombie nightmare rounds gives the game a whole new lease of life after the credits begin to roll.
Honourable mentions: Final Fantasy XV, Pokemon Moon, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Film of the year: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story
Have we ever needed a film as much as we’ve needed Rogue One? On face value, it’s an epic battle in the struggle against the Empire with a sassy robot and a ragtag group of misfits taking centre stage. But Rogue One is also the message of hope that we need more than ever right now — we can fight, and we can win. We can take back control from the forces that would work to divide us, and we can come together in the hope of creating a better world. At the end of a long year, it was more important than ever to be reminded of that.
Honourable mentions: Captain America: Civil War, Ghostbusters, Finding Dory
TV series of the year: Stranger Things
Stranger Things was literally all I could have wanted from television this year, and it’s been a great year for it. It was the perfect 80s throwback to buddy movies like The Goonies, mixed with Alien and Twin Peaks for good measure. Although I’m always a sucker for 80s nostalgia, Stranger Things was so clever and so gripping that I even managed to get my boyfriend to watch at least two episodes in a row and that NEVER happens. While it’s important to look forward, Stranger Things showed that you can do a lot of good by looking back, and no doubt pushed the sales of Dungeons & Dragons handbooks up considerably.
Honourable mentions: Luke Cage, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, New Girl
Book (that I discovered) of the year: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
I’m awful with books. I have the biggest to-be-read pile in the world, and I’m probably not really exaggerating when I say that. So I can never do a ‘book of the year’, because nearly everything I read isn’t released in that given year. This year, I totally fell in love with the Johannes Cabal series by Jonathan L Howard. As many of my friends know, ‘cantankerous necromancer’ is a key consideration in my reading, and the Johannes Cabal books have that in spades. The first book in particular is hilarious, charming and ever so wonderfully British in places. Plus it’s about a haunted carnival with nary a mention of clowns, and I thoroughly appreciate that.
Honourable mentions: Witches of Lychford, The Relic Guild, Ancillary Justice
As ever, my resolutions for next year are to read more, write more and generally do more than play video games for several hours straight on a weekend, so hopefully I’ll have lots to say about 2017’s cultural output as time goes on. 2016, you were okay in parts — let’s hope for more of those bits next year, yeah?