2019: a year in review

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2019 was the greatest year of my life so far. It contained so many brilliant life lessons, gifts, and unexpected moments; I would be remiss not to talk about some of the most significant things from the past year that influenced my life.

To continue the tradition I started a year ago, here is the second collection of top 5 review lists to be added to my annual archive. Similarly to last year, the following lists will not include items based on a professional critique (i.e. the songs/movies/etc. with the most celebrated artistic or production merit). Instead, items on the list because of how significantly they influenced my life this past year. It is also worth mentioning that the lists do not reflect any particular order, aside from the first bolded entry which I put extra emphasis on.  

Without any further ado, here is my collection of ‘top 5 lists of 2019′. I do hope you enjoy reading through them.


Music — Albums

These five albums released in 2019 have been played on repeat continuously all year, and I still play them heavily today as I write this in 2020. Here the top 5 most influential albums I listened to in 2019:

Hozier’s album Wasteland Baby was the most meaningful to me this year. I have become obsessed with the sounds that he is creating. I had the privilege to see Hozier perform live again this year, this time shortly after the release of this new album. He opened that show with the song “Would That I“, and ever since I experienced it live, I felt that this song, in particular, is the embodiment of the overall sound I have come to love so much. That show was ever more impactful to me then the first time I saw him in Toronto in 2018, and it has gone down as one of my favourite concerts I have seen – if not my favourite. As has become tradition, I went to see this show alone. At this point, I don’t think I ever want to go to a Hozier show with anyone I know, sorry friends. I mean I guess you can still go, we just can’t sit/stand together. 

Bon Iver continues to surprise me with each album that he releases. i,i delivered such a unique evolution to his sound. This album put a more contemporary spin to the folk sounds I fell in love with by him back in 2008 with For Emma Forever Ago. iMi is my favourite track from this album in particular – the opening cardboard scratches are haunting, and the vocal build of I am I am I am… still gives me chills down the back of my neck. This track also featured vocals from James Blake, the next artist on my list.

Assume Form was an album that caught me by surprise this year. Tracks like Tell Them, I’ll come too, and Mile High set the ton for many chill-as-heck evenings. I love the diverse range of sounds James Blake put out with this album. From Synth, R&B, Jazz, the arrangements and mashups he produced were incredible. I often put this album on when I am trying to study, focus, write, or chill out – I am listening to it right now as I type this. “Tell Them” is my favourite song on this album.

It was hard to go anywhere this year and not hear songs like Bad Guy or Bury A Friend from Billie Eilish’s album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? I enjoyed Billie’s rise in the pop spotlight. I think she is creating great music that is pushing the mainstream pop narrative to be more dark and grittier. I appreciate that it seems she was able to carve out her own space in the pop music industry, and because of it has gained such a large following. My favourite track from the album is ilomilo, which I think showcases the more unique and strange elements of her music. This album led me to discover her EP that came out last year, Don’t Smile At Me, which I probably listened to more than her 2019 release (though it doesn’t make this list since it released in 2018), on that album I particularly like the song Belly Ache.

I have been a long time fan of Dallas Green, and his latest album doesn’t change that. Although I still have a large place in my heart for his original sad acoustic ballads, I have enjoyed how his music has changed and evolved since the first time I heard him. His new album A Pill For Loneliness is a significant evolution of his work. I feel like his overarching theme of the album is universal love and kindness, which resonated with me. From lyrics such as “such a delicate life, so full of tragedy, why do we continue to treat each other so savagely” in Song of Unrest to “can we get back to loving each other” in Strangers – it seems like a consistent message Dallas is trying to convey with the album. This year I got to see him perform a live solo show and had the opportunity to meet him (more on that in the events list further below).


Music — Singles

Like the list above, this is a collection of music that influenced my life the most this year. However, these songs were selected on an individual basis because they either don’t belong to an album or because I enjoyed them aside from their album:

He” by Jai Paul is a masterpiece of a song, in my opinion. If I could best describe it, I would say it’s like if you took a song directly out of the 80s and put on it an unpredictable modern twist. The song takes you through a journey of push and pulls between two different distinct sounds. He starts with a more calming melodic R&B tempo, but with an unexpected and prominent change in key, changes to becoming filled with drops, upbeat synth waves, and spunky guitar riffs. The song cycles between these two dynamics frequently, and I always found myself wanting more of it. He by Jai Paul is intoxicating, and I have been grooving out to it all year. 

This year I got into French Kiwi Juice (FKJ) quite a bit. I enjoy the full arrangements he puts together into his music. I often put his music on when I need some background music to groove to, whether working or relaxing. His track Risk on the Ylang Ylang EP he released this year got me into his music when I heard it for the first time. I have grown to quite like house/EDM, and FKJ has become my go-to source for it.  

Roses is a jam that was introduced to me by a new close friend I met while I was living in Tofino for a month this past fall. Having been the background music for many surf sessions and dance parities – it quickly became what I associate as the theme song for my time spent in Tofino. I still listen to this when getting myself pumped up, whether in the gym, before a presentation, or travelling to an event that excites me. I look forward to returning to Tofino soon to groove to this song with my friends there some more! 

Vampire Weekend is one of the bands I credit for getting me into indie music (them and probably Arcade Fire). Their original self titled album was perhaps one of my most played CDs back in my high school days and brought me a lot of joy back during that time. Harmony Hill (released initially as a single) is a beautiful song that brings me back to those days a decade past when life was easier, and my worries were low. It’s hard to listen to this song and retain a bad mood; for that reason, I listened to it a lot this year. This song did wonders cheering me up through some of 2019’s more difficult moments.

The single Familiar Drugs represents to me the return of one of my favourite bands, the post-hardcore rock group Alexisonfire. Back in 2012, I saw them play their final farewell show after they announced they were splitting up as a band. This year was the first time since 2012 that they wrote and performed new music, and I got to see them perform live in Toronto this summer for one of their reunion shows. Since they released Familiar Drugs, they have also put out several more singles, and this new wave of Alexisonfire tracks is incredibly exciting to me. 


Movies

I wrote an entire blog post on the Joker movie, on why I found the film to be such a profoundly vital movie to come out in 2019. In short, I feel like the movie Joker took a genre and a character that I loved and turned it upside down, it made it gritty, dark, relatable, and uncomfortable. It conveys an important message about mental health to a society that may have been turning a blind eye. I think people will remember this message for years to come, and I hope that it inspires more people to take action to address the stigmas surrounding mental health (I know I will). 

I usually am not a massive fan of horror films. However, I will often give them a shot when I know they are of high quality. Jordan Peele proved to me that he could make incredible horror movies after I saw his film ‘Get Out’ back in 2017, which remains one of my favourite movies. Due to his success with that movie, I decided to give ‘Us‘ a shot this year when it came out. Just like ‘Get Out’, ‘Us’ was just as intense, mind-twisting, and had me at the edge of my seat. It takes the spot for the horror film I enjoyed the most this year (sorry It Chapter 2.)  

Avengers: End Game was the final movie of a series that defined a large part of my movie watching decade. Although it was not my favourite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it makes my list as it served as a great conclusion to the most enormous cinematic cross-over event I have ever witnessed. It had an abundance of fan service, featuring plenty of callbacks to previous MCU movies and all of my favourite superheroes in the best of their element. Overall it was a fun movie to watch.

The 9th film by my favourite director Quentin Tarantino, Once upon a time in Hollywood, makes this list because of how unique it is. Like his previous films, Tarantino breaks a lot of traditional movie narrative rules, which helps define his so succinct style. It is clear how much Quinton Tarrinto loves movies by how much it leaks into this film. There is one scene in particular in this movie that I believe is one of Tarrantino’s best scenes yet. The film and characters were written incredibly and were acted out by Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio even better. Overall the movie was a joy to watch, and I eagerly await Quentin Tarantino’s 10th (and allegedly final) film. 

The Lion King was my favourite Disney movie as a kid, and I quite liked the remake they made this year in animated live-action. It featured such a fantastic cast of voice actors; I thought Donald Glover was a great choice to play Simba. This one makes this list because of how much nostalgia it provided for me. It reminded me of how much love I have for the original. Speaking of which, I should rewatch the original sometime soon now that I have access to Disney+…


TV Shows (Netflix, Disney+, etc.)

Similar to last year, I consumed a minimal amount of TV shows in 2019. I suppose I have dedicated less time over the past few years to shows in general, as my priorities on how I spend my free time have changed. My lifestyle as it is right now no longer supports continuously binge-watching 10hour+ long series’. The limited screen time I did have was reserved for shows that I waited for in high anticipation. However, there weren’t many of these shows, not even enough to make a list of 5. So for this segment, I am going only to list my top 3, as in 2019, I only watched a total of 4 series.

The Witcher was my favourite show I watched this past year. I am a massive fan of The Witcher video games, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games I have ever played before. I read earlier this year the first of the Witcher books “The Last Wish”, and am now starting “The Sword of Destiny”. So naturally, I was incredibly excited when I learned about a year ago that a Netflix adaptation of the books/games was in the works! I was impressed by how accurate and true they kept the show to the source material. I was also blown away by the performances of Geralt, Dandelion (Jaskier), Ciri, and Yennifer; I felt they could not have cast better actors to play the roles as the show portrayed them exactly how I imagined they would be. This past season has me excited for the follow-up season next year. Who knows, after I finish the next book I may have to replay the games this year if I find the time. I also have to mention that I can’t get “Toss A Coin to your Witcher” out of my head – why isn’t this available on Spotify Yet?!?! 

I felt that the Duffer brothers did a great job with Stranger Things 3. I thought this season was more akin to the original Stranger Things and did so many things right. I thought they made some strange narrative choices in number 2, and I am glad they reverted away from those choices and stuck with what worked well: A quirky Stephen King-esque horror featuring a group of geeks in the 80s, what is not to love? Also, this series released shortly after I was involved in a motor accident this summer, so it gave me something to binge while I was stuck recovering on the couch. 

I had just finished The Mandalorian series shortly before writing this segment, as it came out relatively late in the year. I am glad that I was able to finish it in time so I could mention it on this list. I liked the grittier atmosphere and tone this series set; it was something we have not seen before in a Star Wars movie/show. Although I did feel the pacing was quite slow to start, it did pay off well by the end. Also, Baby Yoda, enough said. 

Honourable mention: Although I did not particularly like the latest and final season of Game Of Thrones all that match, I would be remiss, not at least to mention it. Game of Thrones was one of my favourite series to follow over the past decade – and although season 7 & 8 were underwhelming, overall, the series is still fantastic. Something I am anticipating, however, is George RR Martins final A Song of Ice and Fire books, so that I can see how the series is supposed to end in actuality. 


Video Games

Dragon Quest is a series that I have never played before up until the release of Dragon Quest 11 S this year. I decided to finally enter this series because of the recommendation Tim Rogers gave with his 36-minute love-letter of a review he made  – which I still believe is the best review of any piece of media, ever. I tried this game because of Tim Roger’s recommendation, and I was not disappointed. The style of the game reminded me of returning to old 1990s JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger that I used to play on my Super Nintendo, but instead a modern version with all the quality of life upgrades that you would expect from a video game in the 2010s. The graphics, animations, and orchestrated soundtrack are all incredible. My favourite part about this game is exploring the vast and detailed world the developers created, which is filled with so many detailed cities, characters, and monsters. I have grown to love the cast of primary characters, having spent so much time hanging out with these characters my familiarity with them has grown in a way similar to how someone relates to a cast of their favourite sitcom. Overall this game has been a joy to play, and although I have not completed the game yet, I look forward to finishing it in 2020.

Growing up as the youngest sibling and always being religated be ‘Player 2’ when sharing a video game, I grew up to personally identify with Luigi more than Mario from the Super Mario Brothers Series. Thus, I usually jump on any opportunity I can to play as Luigi in any modern Nintendo game, so it was no surprise that I came to enjoy the Luigi’s Mansion franchise so much. The original Luigi’s Mansion for the Gamecube is one of my favourite games from my childhood. If you are unfamiliar with the series, it is basically what would happen if you took scaredy-cat Luigi and make him into a Ghostbuster. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is charming and, from time to time, can even be a bit spooky! I very much enjoyed searching for Luigi’s missing friends in this haunted mansion for the third time around. 

Ni no Kuni is more of a bedtime story than it is a video game. This game has made for one of the most fun and happy gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. The narrative plays almost as if one giant storybook, and having such a delightful, fun, charming cast of characters, it serves as a great way to wind down a day. This year I played through both Ni no Kuni 1 & 2 (although admittedly I haven’t finished 2), but I found I enjoyed the remaster of the original game more. 

Returning to Azeroth one more time in WOW Classic was a pure nostalgia trip. I played a lot of Warcraft in high school. I returned to wow this summer for about a month over the summer when it was rerelease. Getting to explore such a vast familiar fantasy world again was a real treat, and it was a bonus that I got to do it again with the same friends whom I originally explored the world with over a decade ago. Although I did not have the time to invest in this game that I used to when I was in high school, I had a blast making it to about level 30, running low-level dungeons, and teaming up friends to somehow defeat monsters that were far too powerful for us. For The Horde!

Fire Emblem: Three Houses was a game that reminded me of the world of Harry Potter. This game made me feel like my character was a professor teaching a group of students at Hogwarts, but instead of becoming wizards, they were to become mighty warriors. I enjoyed this game not only for its strategic combat system but for the downtime and role-playing elements that happen among its massive cast of characters. I found that sometimes simply having your classmates tell stories over a meal in the dining hall is just as fun as slaying monsters on the battlefield. I played through this game as the Blue Lions house; I understand I could go back for two more playthroughs to try out the other houses, but I doubt I will because of how long this game is. 


YouTube Videos

FKJ Live @ Salar de Uyuni by Cercle is one of the most atmospherically fresh musical performances I’ve seen. This video I have watched a lot, usually in the form of putting it on in the background as I study, cook, host friends, or just when I’m chilling out. Watching FKJ put together such a fantastic set by himself with such a full arrangement is always captivating and never gets stale. Cercle also has a lot of other cool sets of a similar nature on their channel if anyone is interested in seeking them out.

The video I put on this list is the introduction video to Jack Black’s Youtube channel that he launched this year called Jablinski Games. I did not select this particular video because of its individual significance, but rather as a representation of the Jablinski Games channel as a whole. I enjoyed this channel quite a lot throughout 2019. I felt Jack Black produced relatable and heartwarming content, showing some of the more behind the scenes moments from his life spent with his friends and family. I find the bits where he involves his kids to be the most endearing. The style he shot his videos also is reminiscent of an early 2006-2010 era low-budget youtube vlog that you don’t see much anymore – in the age of high production Youtube, his videos stand out as more humbling. His content is a joy to watch, and I look forward to following along more when I can in 2020. I’m also looking forward to when he finally does some gaming. 

Meme Review with Elon Musk was a joy to watch. Elon Musk has been a long-time inspiration to me and getting this more rare opportunity to see a more personal side of Elon was exciting. Sometimes I feel that we look towards celebrities in an unfair light, treating them as an isolated character who can’t exist outside of their allocated position (Whether actor, musician, or in this case, Silicon Valley CEO). It is nice to see videos like this because it reminds us that these people we hold to such a high standard are just that, people. Like you and I, they too like to be silly and giggle at memes on occasion. It was also exciting to see Elon collaborating with two other creators that I like, Pewdiepie and Justin Roiland (the story writer behind Rick & Morty). I have followed Pewdiepie’s content off and on over the years, and overall I have always found it enjoyable to watch. This year he became the first independent creator to cross over 100 million subscribers, which is undoubtedly an outstanding achievement. This year he also married a fellow youtube Marzia Bisognin, and watching highlights from their wedding and personal life together has been a joyful addition to his channel. 

Mr. Beast performed a lot of charitable actions in 2019. From buying everyone in a grocery store food, donating an entire house to a struggling pizza delivery man, and now planting over 20 million trees. I enjoy watching his content; Mr.Beast makes his challenges fun, humourous, and always in good spirit. If I was ever to become as financially successful as him, I hope to be able to give back similarly as well. 

Similar to last year, one of the videos I selected for this list is an episode of Under The Skin, a podcast by Russell Brand. I always gain a lot whenever I consume some of Russell’s content. I find him to be incredibly wise, discussing subjects that are challenging and meaningful. Over the past few years, I have seen Brand as a pseudo-spiritual mentor to myself, as I have learned a lot from virtually observing his spiritual journey within sobriety and meditation. The episode from his podcast that stood out to me the most from this year was when he featured Brene Brown to discuss the subjects of Power & Vulnerability. Without going into too much detail – as I do intend to talk about how these subjects relate to my journey in a later post – this podcast lead me to further explore Brown’s work, helping me through many valuable life lessons this year. 


Books

This year I did not read many books that were published in 2019 if any. So instead, this list will feature books that I read in 2019 that had a significant influence over my life, even if they were published in years prior.  

  • *The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson*
  • The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
  • The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
  • Oathbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck written by Mark Mason taught me many valuable life lessons, and I found myself practicing some of its teachings within my life this past year. My new year’s resolution while entering 2019 was only to do things that I could enthusiastically say F*CK YES towards, so this book fit that resolutions theme quite well. This book helped me open my eyes to realizing what is most important in my life, and where I should be focusing my attention and energy. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to pursue a more meaningful, happy, less stressful, liberated life. 

In 2019 I pivoted my career path away from a corporate environment and instead decided to take a risk and experiment with what it would be like to work for a small startup company. This shift in my work environment proved to be a difficult challenge at first, as I had gotten accustomed to working in a particular way for several years now. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris was an excellent tool for me to learn how to alter my mindset on what it means to be productive at work, as well as learn tools and tricks to set myself up to be a successful entrepreneur. Mentors like Tim and others are helping me build a skillset so that I can pursue a career where I offer my highest value to society, such that I can live a purpose-driven, free life. 

I have been guilty on occasion in the past of holding back from doing things because I was worried that it wouldn’t be perfect. This fear of imperfection had become a barrier affecting my ability to write and publish on this very blog; I had been nervous throughout 2019 when working on my blog because I was worried about what others may think if my posts were to possess flaws. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown was an excellent tool for helping me get over this barrier. It helped fortify a vital life lesson on learning that vulnerability leads to strength when it’s embraced, something that I have been contending with over the past several years. It’s okay to be imperfect. My writing is never going to be perfect; I am never going to be perfect – and that is okay. I have learned to wear imperfection on my sleeve so that instead of being paralyzed by fear, I can continue making my mark on the world, and to live my authentic free self. This book, as well as many other works by Brene Brown, has helped me during this journey.

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories that revolve around Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of the Witcher novel and game series’. I picked up this novel once I learned that Netflix was going to adapt one of my favourite video games universe into a show. This short story collection I read spread throughout the year and enjoyed them all very much. It was fun getting to explore some of the simpler tales from the time when Geralt first met his friends and began his monster-hunting career. I am soon going to be starting the follow-up book The Sword of Destiny, in anticipation for season 2 of the show to be released in a year or twos time.

Oathbringer is the third novel of the Stormlight Archive series, a series that I jumped into a few years ago that has quickly become my favourite fantasy series. Brandon Sanderson remains my favourite fantasy author because of all the innovative magic and creative twists he brings to the fantasy genre, and this third marathon of an entry into the series did not disappoint me. I am highly anticipating the fourth novel of this series, which comes out in 2020; in a year from now, you will likely see that book listed in my 2020 review. 


Moments

  • *I travelled across Canada*
  • I became an Uncle
  • I hiked to Machu Picchu with my mom
  • I met my musical idol, Dallas Green
  • I pitched a Startup company to a group of Angel Investors

Out of all the sections of this post, this was the hardest to narrow down to just five entries. That said, I acknowledge that this is an excellent problem to have had. 2019 was indeed the best year of my life to date and contained many incredible moments and changes. I learned so many vital lessons that relate to the following five events, and in future posts, I will be covering many of them in detail. For now, in this post, I’ll provide a summary of the five most influential moments from the past year:

This year, I travelled through 9 Canadian provinces (sorry Newfoundland, I hope to get to you sometime soon!). I was afforded this domestic travel opportunity due to the flexibility offered while working within a startup company. Additionally, over the summer, I was accepted into graduate school in British Columbia, leading to a move across the country during the fall. I went on two significant road trips, one on the east coast of Canada, and the other through central Canada towards the west coast. From hiking the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island to Surfing the beaches of Tofino on Vancouver Island, travelling across Canada proved to be a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would recommend to anyone. Sometimes as Canadians, we fantasize about circling the world in search of spectacular things (I certainly have been guilty of this in the past); because of this, I feel it can be easy to forget how much beauty ripe to explore in our own country. As a bonus, I was accompanied by different family members and best friends throughout different legs of my journey – which proved to be meaningful bonding opportunities that I wouldn’t pass up for the world. 

In 2019 I became an Uncle. My Nephew James was born in the fall and is an absolute blessing to our family. There we some initial complications that came about when James was born earlier than expected, and overcoming this challenge showed me the importance of family and community. I am so proud of my Sister and Brother-In-Law for the strength and resilience they displayed during that difficult period – its a testament to how good of parents they already are. James is now a beautiful and healthy baby boy, and I am so thankful for that. He has taught me to embrace the phrase “Gratitude is the Attitude.”

I remember a book that my mother purchased for me when I was a kid, a book by National Geographic on the Wonders of The World. I can recall reading through it as a child and gravitating heavily towards the section on a mystical place called Machu Picchu. Since then, I have always been fascinated by the wonder, as well as the country of Peru that it resides in. Over the years, my mom and I discussed our shared dream of finally travelling there; earlier this year, we got to do just that together. She and I got to spend a month in Peru together, travelling all over the country. Among the many things we saw included; the capital city of Lima, the desert oasis of Huacachina, Cuzco, Ollantaytambo, Lake Titicaca, and Machu Pichu. Hiking to Machu Pichu along the Lares Trek, as well as exploring the site itself, were the highlights of this trip. The three-day journey was an incredibly challenging, spiritually explorative, and rewarding experience – and there is no other person I would have rather done it with than my mom. 

Dallas has been – and continues to be – my favourite musical artist. I’ve been a massive fan of his music ever since I listened to Watch Out! for the first time back in the 7th grade, and have continued to listen and follow along with his music with both Alexisonfire and City & Colour frequently over the years. After a show to see the artist Bahamas play in my hometown, I met Dallas Green by complete surprise and got to share with him my appreciation for his music. I feel immensely grateful for having the opportunity to meet such an important idol of mine after all these years, and I continue to be thankful for the impactful music he writes and produces.

After a complete shift in career direction, I ended up leaving the corporate world and entered into a startup company in the early spring. While there, I realized how exciting the prospect of entrepreneurship is to me, and made me undergo a complete shift of how I envision my future and what I want to achieve. The culmination of this entrepreneurship experience was when I had the opportunity to pitch the Startup company to a group of Angel Investors, Dragons Den / Shark Tank style. This business challenge was an incredible learning opportunity, and although this time around the company did not receive funding, I learned a lot from that experience. The most significant takeaways from that experience were: that I aspire to be an entreprenuer, that I now understand my full value, and that I know I can achieve great things when working on something that I am passionate about. 


Well, there you have it folks, my collection of the most important things 2019 brought into my life. I hope you enjoyed reading it (if you made it this far)! I would like to wish you all a beautiful 2020! I hope the new year brings you new adventurers, personal growth, and so much happiness. Our journey continues, friends!

Gratefully,

bravenewmatt

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Bonus Category: Memes