Spencer's Favorite Crap of 2018
Welcome to Crap Spencer Likes. Today, we’ll discuss some of the random crap I liked this year.
At the beginning of 2018, I decided to do an updating tweet thread of random stuff I liked throughout the year. It was a way to shout out cool stuff when I didn’t have time to write properly about it. It didn’t work that well, mostly because I forgot to update it and many random bits of cool things didn’t make it into the actual thread. The last entry came on November 4.
Like I said, not my best job.
Still, I managed to collect 32 things I really liked this year! Let’s review:
01. Jeff Rosenstock’s album, POST-
The king of the DIY scene surprised us early in the year with POST-, an anxious, exhausted, personal, hopeful-in-the-face-of-struggle album spanning 40 impressive minutes. It wound up at #5 on my year-end albums list.
02. The entirety of Frasier
I forgot I finished this just earlier this year. I don’t know if Frasier is a cool thing to like, but it should be. The best thing about this show is how calming it is. Even beyond the ‘90s nostalgia, the show is set in rainy Seattle, positioning a radio therapist in a sea of earth tones, on a bed of smooth jazz. Being a network sitcom, the stakes are incredibly low. It’s not a stressful show. It’s more like a bedtime story in sitcom form. This isn’t to knock the writing, either. It’s very well-made, and it’s no surprise it’s one of the most decorated sitcoms ever.
03. Grand Designs
This show is hilarious. Imagine HGTV taking one of its painfully scripted shows and putting it in the hands of a cynical Brit tasked with criticizing hopeful homeowners with more ambition than money or sense. The homes almost always end up looking gorgeous, but the owners will have to survive the occasional roast at the hands of the sardonic Kevin McCloud.
04. Signals Midwest performing “January & Seven” live in Hanover
Cleveland’s own Signals Midwest’s first studio album boats “January & Seven,” an ode to Cleveland winters the optimistic fortitude they inspire. The song is more than eight years old, but it’s become tradition to listen to it—specifically this version—on January 7 each year. It’s great.
05. Car Seat Headrest’s song, “Nervous Young Inhumans”
Whoops! We’ve reached our first instance of me sharing something I liked and promptly forgetting about it for the remainder of the year. This is good! I just don’t know that I’ve listened to it since the original entry in this thread. If you want really good CSR, listen to Teens of Denial and read my review of my favorite album of 2016.
06. Candide Thovex in quattro 2
Rest in peace to Mr. Thovex’s skis. They made a worthy sacrifice. I’m a (very) part-time ski video connoisseur, so I always appreciate when skiers bring something different to the table. As a ski video without any snow, I’d say this qualifies. Even a layman will be floored by this.
07. Infinite Golf on iPhone
After posting about this, I think I made it a few more weeks before the developers ruined the game. I don’t recall what the changed, but I remember it made me stop playing. May be worth a shot if you enjoy killing a few minutes on your phone. I had a good time for a few weeks early this year.
08. Taco Bell fries
The people at Taco Bell are cruel for giving us these delicious nacho fries before taking them away, bringing them back, and taking them away again. What’s the angle, Taco Bell? I demand answers. Seems unfair.
09. Kyle Neubeck’s story on Markelle Fultz
NBA fans are aware of the (recently solved?) mystery of Fultz’s awful start to his career. In short, he was the #1 overall pick that missed significant time in his rookie year while Zapruder-type Twitter videos of his increasingly deteriorating jump shot leaked. The guy was seriously the top pick in the draft and then forgot how to shoot a basketball. Neubeck tried to get to the bottom of it. Great reporting.
10. Zach Baron’s GQ profile on Brendan Fraser
I love feature stories. Feature stories about maligned Hollywood stars are even better. Baron writes beautifully about Brendan Fraser and the hills and valleys he’s endured throughout his bizarre acting career.
11. Bill Simmons on the final leg of LeBron James’ career
Even before LeBron officially left Cleveland, it was apparent he was going to leave Cleveland. LeBron’s earned my lifelong devotion, and so I feel like I have a vested interest in his legacy, both as a fan and as a Clevelander. Bill Simmons laid out how LeBron can wrap up his playing days in a way that will push him past MJ to #1 in the history of the sport.
12. Camp Cope’s album, How to Socialise & Make Friends
I rode with this one all year. Camp Cope is an all-female pop-punk band from Australia. Their 2018 effort picked up where their debut left off, with razor sharp lyrics about their place in the music industry and the world at large. It wound up at #11 on my year-end albums list.
13. Jennifer Egan’s book, A Visit From The Goon Squad
Oh man, this book is really great. I had to read it for a Contemporary American Novels class I took in college and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to revisit it in March of this year. It’s about rock n roll, but also about relationships and how time eventually claims our bodies but not our memory and influence. Deep! Egan also plays around a lot with syntax and format, which makes it more than just a cool story. (Netflix or HBO really should make this a mini-series.)
14. YouTube user Steve1989MREInfo
This guy is a YouTube deep cut, but it seems like he’s finally starting to gain some traction, closing in on a million subscribers. His channel sees him reviewing old military rations and eating and drinking much of the contents. “Here’s a cheese spread from a World War II ration designer for paratroopers. Let’s have a taste!” It’s deeply interesting and sickly funny to watch him do stuff like smoke 70-year-old cigarettes. What a madman.
15. Rany Jazayerli’s story on the Chicago White Sox rebuilding plan
Jazayerli earned my respect with a 2014 Grantland story on his Kansas City Royals’ miraculous win in the AL Wild Card game. He came back this year with a fascinating deep dive on how the White Sox front office is trying to navigate an aggressive rebuilding strategy in the shadow of the MLB-darling Cubs on their city’s north side.
16. The Strokes’ song, “Hawaii”
Whoops! Haven’t listened to this since April either. Cool B-side though.
17. Gang of Youths’ album, Go Farther in Lightness
This album is really, really good. It came out in 2017 and my only regret is that I didn’t discover it until 2018. Otherwise, it would’ve certainly been at (or very near) the top of my 2017 albums list. I spent as much time with this one as I did any release this year.
18. The Sidekicks’ album, Happiness Hours
The Sidekicks are another Cleveland band I’m always keeping track of. Happiness Hours was an impressive project that I honestly did not give enough time to this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it crack my rotation again in 2019.
19. Michael Finkel’s 2014 GQ story on a hermit in Maine
I forgot about this! It’s another fascinating profile from GQ—one I missed when it was first published in 2014. Some guy lived in the woods of Maine for something like 27 years until he finally got caught. That simple synopsis is interesting enough, but Finkel does a lot of reporting to get some incredible details.
20. HBO’s Barry
My favorite new TV show of 2018. I watched all four hours in once sitting—twice. It’s that good. “Bill Hader is a hitman who desperately wants to retire to be an actor” sounds good enough, but the show takes things from an unsurprising place of comedy to full-blown Breaking Bad over the course of its eight-episode first season. I can’t recommend this enough to fans of that show.
21. The Staircase
If you like true crime, you might like this. It’s 10 hours long, which gives you a ridiculously in-depth look at the murder case and also the families at the center of it and how class and society play a role in the criminal justice system. It’s ridiculously dense, but impressive.
22. Incredibles 2
Really fun. My #7 movie of the year.
23. Mom Jeans’ album, Puppy Love
Mom Jeans is a good band. I saw them play a show in Columbus this year. That was just after they released Puppy Love, an album I liked enough to rank #2 on my year-end list.
24. The Ringer’s podcast, Binge Mode
Binge Mode has spent months studying the ins and outs of the Harry Potter universe. I decided to follow along, and I fell in love with the Harry Potter books all over again. It was my first time reading them since their initial release, and I’d forgotten how good they are (and how much better they are than the film series—which I also love). Unfortunately, football season knocked me off course and I took an indefinite break following Goblet of Fire. I’ll jump back in once my schedule cools off in January.
25. Eighth Grade
Comedian Bo Burnham makes for a good movie director. His first time running the show was beautifully done and landed at #2 on my year-end list.
26. Dan Brooks’ New York Times Magazine profile on Norm Macdonald
I’m not a Norm Macdonald fan in any sense of the word, but I think he has an interesting career, so I checked out this profile after some good reviews. It’s not the best of the bunch on this list, but I enjoyed it.
27. Sarah Spain’s ESPN story on Deland McCullough
I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say this is a really powerful story on a Kansas City Chiefs coach and his search for answers about his past.
28. Foxing’s album, Nearer My God
Ahh, my favorite album of the year. I liked it from the get-go, but it continues to grow on me. I don’t think I’ll stop listening to this any time soon.
29. Netflix’s mini-series, MANIAC
This didn’t get nearly the love it should have in 2018, from myself included. I described it as Cloud Atlas meets Blade Runner meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets The Matrix. I think that absurd description holds up. It’s not perfect, but it’s incredibly well-crafted and Jonah Hill and Emma Stone really kill it.
30. Daniel Riley’s GQ profile on Ryan Gosling and First Man
I think First Man, while landing at #5 on my year-end list, was a bit underwhelming. I honestly may have enjoyed this piece better than the movie itself. I don’t have much of a desire to watch the movie again, but I’m thinking about reading this profile a second time. Not sure what that says about me and how obsessed I am with Ryan Gosling and magazine writing in general.
31. The Taster rebrand, by Koto
I have a weird fascination with branding. I don’t know what it is that has me obsessed, but I read Under Consideration’s Brand New publication almost every day. In October, I fell in love with one rebrand in particular. The tongue logo is amazing. I wish I could do this type of stuff.
32. Adam Sandler’s 100% Fresh Netflix special
I like Adam Sandler, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for his early successes because of his recent critical failures. Much like Lil Wayne had a mini-comeback in 2018, Sandler showed he has gas in the tank with this inventively structured standup special that’s both charming and powerful. A touching tribute to Chris Farley is not where I expected this to go, but it was heartfelt. Sandler still has some juice. 2018 was weird and fun.