BEST OF 2018: Sights & Sounds

Your REVIEW Holiday Gift Guide

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, , Artist Feature, Book Reviews,   From Issue 871   By: Kristi Kates

28th November, 2018     0

2018’s over already? Just about! Which means it’s time once again to Review (see what we did there?) the best of the best from this year’s music, movie, and book releases, so you can get a jump start on your holiday gifting.


Panic! At The Disco – Pray for the Wicked

Written and recorded just following frontman Brendon Urie’s run in the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, this is an uber-theatrical effort from the Disco crew, an audio trek through a wacky stew of sounds and influences ranging from current pop to Roaring ‘20s jazz to Vegas-stage-worthy extravaganzas. “High Hopes,” with its jittery beat and synth brass, finds Urie singing about his early aims of fame and fortune; on the other side of that coin is “Say Amen (Saturday Night),” on which he delves into what it means to pursue said fame having been raised in a Mormon household. The aptly-titled “Roaring ‘20s,” which both brings in those flapper influences and looks back through Urie’s own 20-something years, is another standout, as is the cinematic “The Overpass,” which would be perfect for a dramatic FOX TV series. There’s so much going on here, this one will easily keep you intrigued for repeated listening.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach

Even though White has long since decamped for new digs in Nashville, he’s still got one foot in his hometown of Detroit, and his longtime fans will for sure want to scoop up this latest effort from the White Stripes singer-songwriter turned (eccentric) solo artist. This is another album on which there’s a lot to sift through, a wide range of audio approaches and lyrical twists and turns. “Ice Station Zebra” – presumably pulling the title from the vintage movie of the same name – teams up honky-tonk piano with amusing awkward-rap rhymes; “Get in the Mind Shaft” borrows from Funkadelic or Sly and the Family Stone with its groove and riffs; “Connected by Love” shows off White’s straight-ahead indie-rock side; and “What’s Done is Done” deftly accesses the country sounds he’s likely hearing in his adopted hometown and adds in a healthy dose of White’s sense of humor.

Anne-Marie – Speak Your Mind

You’ve probably heard English singer Anne-Marie on a variety of other tracks without even knowing it, as she’s contributed vocals to tunes by everyone from Rudimental to Clean Bandit. Her debut set pushes forward her talent for really nailing a soul-pop vocal, and further highlights her distinctive pronunciation and penchant for potpourri-style production, bringing in everything from reggae to worldbeat to folk and trap. Lead single “Friends,” a team-up with Marshmello, is full of impertinent confidence with its super catchy alphabet refrain; the album’s actual opening track, “Cry,” filters in woodwinds and chants to take it well out of the realm of “typical” electro-pop music. Elsewhere on the set, “Can I Get Your Number” is poised to be a tune you’ll hear blaring out of car windows by the time the summer of 2019 rolls around; step back another 15 years or so to enjoy “2002,” a clever throwback that incorporate the names and ambiance of a stack of nostalgic old pop songs right into Anne-Marie’s own tune.

Various Artists – The Greatest Showman Soundtrack

The movie: inspired by PT Barnum. The soundtrack: reminiscent of the pop-Broadway hybrids crafted for films like Moulin Rouge. It’s easy to hear how these tunes equally appeal to both fans of the movie’s glamorous yet everyman storyline, and to those simply looking for a catchy radio hit. Hugh Jackman shows off his vocal chops on the opener “The Greatest Show,” with its echoes of Muse or Queen, while Michelle Williams does quite well translating her pop ballad/waltz “Tightrope” to record. But the best number here is most definitely “Rewrite the Stars,” a romantic soul-pop confection-on-trapezes sung with plenty of earnest emotion by Zac Efron and Zendaya.


The Wizard and the Prophet – by Charles C. Mann

Two approaches to dealing with climate change and the expected massive increase in Earth’s population (to ten billion, at current estimates) are explored in this in-depth view of the situation through the eyes of two lesser-known scientists, William Vogt and Norman Borlaug, whose ideas for solving the problems inherent with such an historic happening clash like oil and water. How are we going to live in those crowded, challenging times? Pick a side, the Wizards (Borlaug’s crew, who strive to innovate and make more resources) or the Prophets (Vogt’s idealists, who say instead we need to cut back on everything.) It’s both a great book for discussion, and simply, as Spock would say, a “fascinating” read.

Sea Witch - by Sarah Henning

In a similar vein to Wicked, the book (and subsequent stage musical) that told the backstory of the Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, Sea Witch explains how the title character – yes, the very Sea Witch of The Little Mermaid fame – came to be.

The standalone story, which of course taps into the mythology of Mermaid, focuses in large part on fisherman’s daughter Evelyn, who has a major secret that she must keep concealed from the rest of her small 19th century coastal fishing town in Denmark (one of the book’s nods to Little Mermaid original author Hans Christian Andersen.) The pacing of this book is perfect, to the point where you’ll find it tough to stop reading it; and the characters are so well-defined you’ll find yourself looking for them the next time you watch the Mermaid movie.

How to Stop Time - by Matt Haig

Clearly taking a touch of inspiration from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Haig’s novel plays with time, romance, responsibility, and fate, weaving each component around each other to craft a unique story that’s tough to define. Main character (and, ironically, history teacher) Tom Hazard appears to be a typical 40-something guy; but his secret is that he’s actually been alive for over 400 years, and has to stay part of a secret organization to keep from being detected as the anomaly he is. 400-something guys, however, have to live by certain rules, one of the main ones being don’t fall in love. Find out what happens when Hazard does exactly that.

Circe - by Madeline Miller

Miller weaves the story of the goddess Circe in this lush retelling, as the banished daughter of Helios discovers she has a wide range of previously undiscovered powers and ends up meeting up with a long list of famed mythological figures, from Icarus and Odysseus to Medea and the Minotaur. Many of the characters will appear familiar, but Miller’s take on them adds a different layer of depth and new thoughts on these legendary figures; she really peels back the layers of what motivates them (primarily Circe, of course), and showcases a different version than you’ve ever read before.



First Man – featuring Ryan Gosling, Lukas Haas

This one’s still in theaters, but it’s going to be well worth it to reserve a copy ahead for your giftee, especially if they’re a fan of similar flicks like Hidden Figures or the Tom Hanks-starring Apollo 13. Helmed by the visionary director Damien Chazelle, First Man features Gosling as Neil Armstrong as he goes through the NASA-helmed process of becoming the first man on the moon. The film really digs into the emotional challenges and costs of the mission, as opposed to just the technical and financial ones; the scale from microscopic emotions to the vastness of space itself make this an impressive and affecting work, and Gosling’s inherent ability to transmit those emotions with a mere eyebrow lift really help propel the movie’s own mission.

Smallfoot – featuring the voices of Danny DeVito, Zendaya

The Yeti, or Bigfoot, have typically been depicted as fearsome creatures, ready to sabotage your trek up a remote mountain or even invade your wintery back yard. But Migo is a different kind of Yeti – one who’s actually afraid of humans, especially when he’s ostracized for finding one (a “smallfoot”) and trying to explain it to his skeptical village of fellow Yetis. Migo sets off on a quest to find the human and bring it back as proof that he wasn’t telling tall tales; along the way, he learns a lot about himself and about Yeti humanity in general, alongside engaging animation and catchy tunes, especially Zendaya’s single, “Wonderful Life.”

Ready Player One – featuring Tye Sheridan, Simon Pegg

Based on the book by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is an overwhelming barrage of pop culture in a terrifically fun way, encased in a plot centering around a determined videogamer named Wade. The ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia run super strong here, with glimpses and inclusions of everything from the original Jurassic Park and Back to the Future to music by Tears for Fears and New Order. The dystopian future that the movie takes place in is as much set piece as it is scrapbook, collecting all of these diverse snippets alongside the characters to make a heady mix; this one’s perfect for repeat viewing, as you definitely won’t catch every reference the first time around.

The House with a Clock in its Walls – featuring Cate Blanchett, Jack Black

Amidst all of the other late-summer fare, this fantasy film kind of fell under the radar, which was a shame; but all the better for you to gift it and be the cool person who found this quirky little gem. Set in New Zebedee, Michigan (yes, really), Black plays a warlock living in The House, and he’s determined to discover what’s making the elusive (and vaguely threatening) tick-tock sound somewhere within the walls; the witch living next door (Blanchett) and Black’s wayward nephew end up as Black’s sidekicks as this mystical drama unfolds in impressive layers of production design, magical happenings, and comic relief.




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