On Sept. 25, my favorite album of 2020 “Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones” by The Neighbourhood was released. I instantly fell in love with the band’s new sonic experimentation and the futuristic, chrome world that frontman Jesse Rutherford created. I’ve been playing the album on repeat since its release, entranced by the story of the struggles with fame, addiction and insecurities throughout — but the story felt incomplete the more I listened. Finally, on Dec. 11, the band delivered the final piece of the story with the deluxe album release.
The deluxe album quickly became my favorite release of December, but one track stood out to me the most — “Stargazing.” This alt-pop track further explores Chip Chrome’s fantasy of becoming a star and his successes and failures along the way. The story is depicted in the music video for “Stargazing,” where viewers see Chrome follow his journey to stardom through the California desert.
What I love most about the song and accompanying video is its message of self-discovery, hopes and dreams — you’re going to face failure in your life, people slamming the door in your face, but all it takes is one person to open the door and let you in.
Swiping and scrolling through social media Christmas morning, just hours after Playboi Carti’s long-awaited “Whole Lotta Red” had finally dropped, was interesting, to say the least. Most of the reception of this record I’ve seen has been neutral or negative. But for me, “Whole Lotta Red” was a Christmas miracle and easily one of my favorite releases of the year.
Featuring a lot of super cool old-school-video-game-esque production on tracks like “JumpOutTheHouse,” “New Tank” and “On That Time,” this album also showcases Carti’s versatility in vocal delivery, with the rapper clearly finding comfortability in taking a more emotive, expressive and fun approach to his music.
“Whole Lotta Red” is the perfect successor to the popular “Die Lit” for Carti, and I’m so happy to see him moving in a direction that embraces his more alternative side — the side of him that attracted me to his music years ago.
With lots of time at home this holiday season, I downloaded an audiobook version of James Nestor’s “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” to listen to while doing puzzles or writing holiday greeting cards. This book targeted me in many ways. As a person with asthma living in a city with poor wintertime air quality, during a global pandemic of a respiratory virus, I was interested in how to breathe better and take care of my lungs. But Nestor’s writing brought me much more than that. The book is a journey through mindfulness, pulmonology and spirituality and biochemistry alike. I’d recommend “Breath” to any curious person looking for an interesting read and a way to jumpstart their system and change their health in the new year in one simple practice.
Early in December, I binge-watched the Netflix mini-series “The Queen’s Gambit.” As I devoured the seven episodes that comprise the series, I was enthralled by the complexities that surround the world of chess. But more than that, as the series follows Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her development from childhood to adulthood, the series’ discussions of addiction, sexism, and finding a sense of belonging color each episode with depth and raw emotion. Set in the midst of the Cold War, “The Queen’s Gambit” follows parallel tracks of the psychological world of chess and Harmon’s own journey to become the best chess player she can be. Even when all seems lost, the overall trajectory of the series showcases a sentiment of hope as Harmon transforms from a traumatized orphan to a successful chess player in her own right.
This year was a very strange one in terms of books and just about everything else. There was more time to find inspiration in the pages of books — and more books to be read because of the strangeness — but I had a hard time choosing a favorite read. However, V.E. Schwab’s October release “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” provided a wonderful solace this month. Centering on a woman who is cursed to live forever and be forgotten by every person that she meets, “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” is a gorgeously written tale that seems to somehow relate to the isolation of this year. Addie’s story is a reminder that one chance encounter can change a life for the better — and it has certainly done the same for my December, if not my year.
In 2020, I set a goal for myself to read 50 books. I have always loved to read, but as my life got busier and my eyesight got worse, the habit fell to the wayside. When the pandemic settled in, I decided to jump back into my goal, but this time, with audiobooks. After months of listening to voice actors and narrators bring books to life in a way movies and TV never could, I’m hooked. In December I listened to more audiobooks than any month this year, searching for and falling into stories about love and growth and change — everything I’m facing now at the end of a year.
I couldn’t pick a best book of the month, but their format was consistently so wonderful that it became my favorite delivery method for stories.
Having no homework and sleeping in until noon is wonderful, but hands down my favorite part about winter break is the abundance of time to catch up on the TV shows I never got around to. In December, I loved binging “Ratched.” Ryan Murphy’s dark but colorful take on 1940s mental healthcare and other social issues is definitely worth all the hype. I won’t lie — I wasn’t sold on the show at first, especially since I’m not in love with some of Murphy’s other works like “American Horror Story.” But each episode had me more invested in the characters than the last. With an insanely vibrant color scheme and a grandiose style of cinematography and blocking, the show often feels more like a Broadway play than a Netflix series. It’s not nearly as scary as I anticipated, but “Ratched” is thrilling and bizarre, and a lot of fun to watch.