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The Best of 2013

December 31st, 2013

Like many other, I really enjoy taking inventory at the end of the year to figure out where I am in several aspects of my life in comparison to the previous year. As any year, there are a series of ups and downs and as I type this on the last day of the year at the Starbucks in Denville, NJ, I look back, excited about what I’ve achieved this year and looking forward to 2014. Some of the highlights included:

  • Taking a dream ski vacation to Whistler, BC
  • Learning to count cards (but unsuccessfully executing a winning strategy)
  • Skied more days and at more mountains than any season before
  • Had a dream job interview at the NHL (sadly, didn’t get it)
  • Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to Sonoma in a Mustang convertible with my wife
  • Visiting Seattle
  • Leading the development of our company’s redesigned website and forcing a promotion at work
  • Seeing my biggest freelance client expand his business after only a year of being in business
  • Learning to use a mitre saw
  • Went to three weddings in three consecutive weekends in three different states (and two coasts)
  • Had my first fresh Krispy Kreme donut
  • Tasted Macallan 30 year old scotch (AMAZING)
  • Seeing my father finally retire shortly before his 74th birthday

Book of the Year (Non Technical)

David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell


Confession #1, I don’t really read books. All of the non-technical books that I “read” are all audiobooks. I have a miserable commute and I’m on the road a lot for family adventures so to make the most efficient use of my time, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts.

Confession #2, I haven’t finished this book, but I’m almost done and I think it’s the only book that I “read” that came out this year. Because I was so busy with work, I listened to good number of science fiction including the Old Man’s War and Ender’s series.

I’ve been a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell ever since being first introduced to his book Blink in 2005. Since then I’ve devoured all of his work. When I found out about the release of David and Goliath I downloaded immediately, but had to keep it on the shelf since I was right in the middle of Ender’s Game and after that immediately had to delve into Speaker for the Dead. Once I got around to “reading” it, I devoured it in large doses. If you’ve never listened to a Gladwell book, it would behoove tou to give it a try. It’s great because Mr. Gladwell reads his own books and has such a pleasant tone to his voice that helps his stories sink into brain. And that’s what his books are – they are a series of stories that support a concept or idea and in this case, one that is incorrectly accepted by our society – that of the underdog, exemplified by the story of David and Goliath.

To describe the book in a nutshell, Mr. Gladwell looks at what is an advantage and what is a disadvantage and how depending on circumstance and individual things that on the service look like an advantage are actually a disadvantage and vice-versa.

Book of the Year (Technical)

Sass for Web Designers – Dan Cedarholm

Confession #3 – I haven’t read this book.

Like I said, this year was about rolling up my sleeves and getting work done, which didn’t leave a whole lot of space in my brain for acquiring new skills. I went to the CSS Dev Conference and got to learn all about Sass, but never got the chance to play or implement any of it. Luckily, with my revised role at my job, I’m in charge of front-end technology used, which means I’ll be able to spend some time researching and experimenting in early 2014 and this is going to be my first stop.

Honorable mention Smashing Magazine Book #4

Podcast of the Year

The Joe Rogan Experience

For the second year in a row (last year I didn’t have time to make an official list) the JRE is my podcast of the year. I had no idea what to expect when I first downloaded an episode of the Joe Rogan experience at the beginning of Labor Day Weekend 2012 and I certainly never thought it would be life changing, but it has been. The podcast’s diverse list of guests has changed the way I look at the universe, technology, nutrition, drugs, and the world in general. The fact that a cage-fighting commentator who has been in multiple documentaries about illegal drugs can provide so much education is proof that the way our society acquires information has changed completely. I honestly believe that what I have learned in the past year and a half of listening to the Joe Rogan Experience is equivalent to the 5 (yes, 5) years of college. An example of this was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend after Joe had Graham Hancock on the podcast as they discussed human evolution and planet earth, I woke up at 4am and read for two hours about panspermia, the idea of microorganisms being sent through space by asteroids, comets and meteors and taking root on another planetary body, potentially leading to new life forms or unexplained leaps in evolution. I never learned about that in school! The topic was fascinating and I spent hours that day reading about and researching the topic, which lead me to Carl Sagan and then to reboot of his series Cosmos which will be hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson (someone else I didn’t know much about until the podcast). If this doesn’t get you excited about science, nothing will:

Honorable Mentions – ShopTalk Show, The Web Ahead, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Album of the Year

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest


As I’m typing this I’ve convinced myself to change my original to choice to this one. I had already typed Arcade Fire’s Reflektor as my favorite album of the year, but then I decided to look at the decision with a much broader scope. Don’t get me wrong, I love Reflektor and can’t tell you how many times “Reflektor”, “Joan of Arc”, “Porno” or “Normal Person” have been stuck in my head in a glorious way, hours or days after their last listen. There was huge expectations for the release since it was not only following up the hugely successful and beautiful The Suburbs (my 2010 Album of the Year), but was also to be produced by mastermind James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. It’s a great album and I still excited about listening to it, but I couldn’t give it Album of the Year.

If had told me on January 1st 2013 that the year would bring a new album from My Bloody Valentine, Boards of Canada, the Dismemberment Plan and Burial (an EP) I would have rolled over from my Fireball-induced hangover and made a note to myself to revisit the statement made then slap you across the face the next time I saw you for messing with my emotions. The rumors of the MBV follow-up to “Loveless” have circulated for years, but to have a new album come out in February was unbelievable. It was so unbelievable to me that I was afraid to purchase it for fear of disappointment. After seeing a positive review on Pitchfork, I quickly navigated the not so user-friendly mybloodyvalentine.com site (the only place it was available) and purchased the album. It took a few listens, but I really enjoyed the album and have it in my top 5 for the year.

There was a tweet and blog post from Fact magazine that caught my eye in early April that caused me great initial excitement and anticipation stating that Boards of Canada were working on a new double-LP album named Quetzalcoatl. After reading further and seeing that it was a hoax. I was pissed off at Fact, but more pissed off at myself for not looking at the date of publication. I wasn’t the only one upset by the article. We were back where we started, listening to old BoC and trudging though, waiting for the next false claim of a new album and re-listening to their older albums, the last of which was Trans Canadian Highway, 6 song EP released in 2006.

Then on Record Store Day, two lucky diggers encountered a cryptically labelled Boards of Canada 12″ vinyl with a 20 second snippet of music. It turned out that the text on the album cover was part of password that would unlock and transform their website and unlock a music video containing a video for a song from the upcoming album. Over the next month and a half, several other clues and nuggets were tweeted by the band including a reversed version of Reach for the Dead, debuting a song at Detroit’s Movement Electronic Music Festival as well as in Tokyo and tweeting out the time an location of a listening party in the California Desert.

Did they have to go through all that to build excitement for the new album – no way. They could have just tweeted out a date and had the music available for download that day as BoC fans would’ve been swooning and counting down the days, but that’s not their style. Just as there are many layers of complexity and beauty in their music, there was that same complexity and beauty in the leading up to the release of Tomorrow’s Harvest and it was worth it. The album starts of in similar but still fresh and new sound and builds throughout. One of the best track on the album is Cold Earth which feels like a transition point on the album to more upbeat portion of the records, before sliding back to a beautiful mirth with the closing Semena Mertvykh. The first listen of this album was similar to the first listen of MBV, nervous excitement and anticipation as to whether the wait would be worthwhile and this most certainly was.

Honorable Mentions – Arcade Fire – Reflektor, Kurt Vile – Walking on Pretty Daze, Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork, My Bloody Valentine – MBV

Song of the Year

Reflektor

So what that Arcade Fire’s Reflektor wasn’t my album of the year, I’m making the song Reflektor my song of the year. The funkier side of Arcade Fire was great to hear and the guest spot by David Bowie just seared in the awesomeness.

Honorable Mentions – Fuck Buttons – “Brainfreeze”, Atoms for Peace – “Default”, Queens of the Stone Age – “If I Had a Tail”, Kurt Vile – “Wakin on a Pretty Daze”, Maya Jane Coles – “Comfort”, Toro Y Moi – “Say That”

Essential Mix of the Year

Eric Prydz (live at Ibiza)

p01k0f0n

I’ve been a big fan of Eric Prydz since “Call on Me” because it reminds of the times going out and dancing with my at-the-time girlfriend, now wife, early in our relationship. I didn’t know much about him at the time, but as I got more into listening to DJ sets I learned about what an excellent DJ Eric Prydz was. This year, as every year, there were some amazing Essential Mixes including Maya Jane Coles, Atoms for Peace, Andy Baxter and Skrillex. Eric Prydz actually had two different Essential Mixes this year and his original one from February 2nd, was named Essential Mix of the year (congrats, Eric!). It was a fantastic mix, but for me it was his other mix, the one they recorded Live at Cream in Ibiza that was my Essential Mix of the year.

The mix explodes out the gate with sonically hypnotizing bumping beat which grabs a hold of your body and soul and slingshots you into the direction of your desires. It then flows into a mix of Underground Resistance’s Transition which contains the revolution inspiring lyrics, that I’ve taken up as my personal battle cry:

There will come a time in your life when you will ask yourself a series of questions.
Am I happy with who I am?
Am I happy with the people around me?
Am I happy with what I’m doing?
Am I happy with the way my life is going?
Do I have a life or am I just living?
Do not let these questions strain or trouble you just point yourself in the direction of your dreams find your strength in the sound and make your transition.

The mix doesn’t stop there, it just keeps going and going with fantastic track after fantastic track. It ends on such a high note, you wish he would’ve never stopped playing. A brilliant and beautiful mix that gets better with each listen.

Honorable Mentions – Maya Jane Coles, Andy Baxter, Atoms for Peace, Skrillex.

Meme of the Year

Doge

Shiba Inus are adorable and the Doge meme is that as well as clever and fun.
Breaking Doge

Photo snagged from breakingbadworld.tumblr.com

Musical Surprise of the Year

Pearl Jam – Philadelphia, PA – 10/22/13

Confession #4 – I really wasn’t into Pearl Jam in high school (1991-1995).

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, not cool, but I was too busy liking rap before it was cool (and now not liking it). Once I discovered grunge in the late 90s I finally got into Pearl Jam. I, like everyone else, loved the early stuff, and always tried to check out their new releases. Watching Eddie Vedder’s performance of Comfortably Numb with Roger Waters at 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief, reminded me what an amazing performer he is and inspired me to revisit some Pearl Jammy goodness.

This year, my awesome sister in-law got my wife and I tickets to see Pearl Jam in Philadelphia. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but was completely blown away by the experience. For being huge superstars who have been there and done that, they were very humble and genuinely seemed to love what they were playing, even though I’m sure they’ve played Even Flow and Alive a million times, it still felt like they were the guys in 1991 trying to make a name for themselves.

The crowd was so into the show and were signing along to almost every song, even the tracks from their new album Lightning Bolt which I made sure I checked out before the show and enjoyed. It was also cool to check out everyone’s shirts from previous concerts, since just about everyone had a shirt from a previous tour. I didn’t, but I made sure I rocked the flannel.

Eddie Vedder is definitely one of the coolest people on the planet. He was working the crowd, passed around champagne to the front row since it was Pearl Jam’s 22nd Birthday that night. He also dedicated a song to a former US Army soldier from the crowd who had written him a letter telling him that Pearl Jam’s music kept him going while he was in the middle east. Eddie even walked out to where he was sitting and shook his hand. It was very cool.

That About Does It

Those are the things that dominated my 2013. I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did putting it together. If you have any comments, please comment below. Looking forward to a powerful 2014!