The end of the year is a time when sites inundate us with “best of” lists. But here at Commonstate, we’re going to do things a bit differently. We asked our contributors to list the 5-10 most creative things they saw or heard this year and champion creativity in any form. It’s in the spirit of what Commonstate is all about. We’d love to know what some of the most creative things you have come across this year. Let us know in the comments.
Dan Agacki, Contributing Writer
Axe to Grind (Podcast) - They bill themselves as "Thee Hardcore Podcast." Three friends getting incredibly nerdy about hardcore music and everything that surrounds it.
Self Defense Family - Have You Considered Punk Music? (Album) Many will struggle to call music this subdued a punk album. The distinctive lyrics paint vivid tales over delightfully somber music.
Fiddlehead - Springtime and Blind (Album). Ex-Have Heart singer Pat Flynn's latest post-hardcore/emo album is a devastating journey through the death of a parent.
Japan (Country) - Touring with my band and playing in different cities for 11 days straight, I often came close to weeping at the sheer beauty of the Japanese landscape and its people.
She Could Fly(Comic) - Short-series comic about a teen with OCD who is fixated on a flying woman who exploded mid-air.
Sorry To Bother You(Film) - A delightfully mind bending movie that manages to get weird without sacrificing the storyline.
Cropped Out Fest - The perfect fest for people who hate fests. So low key that they had a stick-and-poke tattoo booth. Musically as diverse as a festival can be. From the avant Hip Hop of Shabazz Palaces to indie deconstructionist Half Japanese, there's something for everyone.
Tony Molina - Kill The Lights (Album). The Byrds make an album with The Beatles and they trim the songs to only the most vital bits. Kill The Lights is that album.
Can I list Hereditary 5 times? But seriously, that movie is seared into my head for the rest of my life. Both the dinner conversation (fight) scene and the climax (attic / treehouse) …
Even though I've been there before, walking the boardwalk at Kohler-Andrae and the beach with Caitlin is still top of my list. We went in the fall (or maybe it was just before fall) when it was a bit cooler and it was fantastic.
Seeing Iceage play Cactus club on my birthday, still one of my favorite bands, and they absolutely killed it. Also thanks to Amelinda for the heads up / invite that day to their on-air interview for 88.9.
This review of Red Dead Redemption 2 is probably one of my favorites of the year, and I haven't even played the game:
As far as games go, purchasing and playing Overcooked 2 with Caitlin. Basically an exploration / lesson in learning to communicate better disguised as a video game. Throwing food at each other has never been so fun.
Mandy - that movie was ridiculous, Nicolas Cage still has it. Every time I think about the bathroom scene where he pulls a handle of vodka out of the bathroom cabinet (cause that's where you keep that), I find myself both feeling his characters pain, and laughing at the same time.
Deafheaven at Turner Hall: \m/
What might actually be my #1 – the season finale of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia... a show I haven't watched in years. Even just thinking about it makes me choke up.
Roma (directed by Alfonso Cuarón) No comment, just watch it. On Netflix now.
Man Repeller’s #MRHolidayBuffet – Man Repeller’s pop up shop did a great job of bringing the site’s essence to life. The accessories are purposeful and stylish. I wish you could get free refills.
Glossier’s NYC Flagship Store – Glossier has such a firm grasp of their brand they would not even need a sign that says Glossier on their store. That shit slaps.
Rodarte Spring 2019 Runway Show — The attention to detail and this specific show is some of Rodarte’s finest work. It was raining outside during the show and it felt like it was meant to happen. Everything about it was stunning.
Drake on Cake – Sign me up for that class where I can put Drake lyrics on cake.
Rupi Kaur live at the Chicago Theater – I loved how she was able to bring her poetry to life on a live stage in 3D in front of us. Truly awe-inspiring. You laugh, you cry – it was fantastic to hear how she interprets her own poems.
Evan Casey, Contributing Writer
The Rider – It's just a really sad, really good movie. I like depressing things.
You Were Never Really Here – Maybe Joaquin's best role? Despite the fact that he says a total of 52 words.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – The Coen bro's have done it again. I really wish they were from Wisconsin.
The Sisters Brothers – John C. Reilly in a western that isn't comedic. Where do I sign?
First Reformed – Taxi Driver for a modern generation... kinda.
Suspiria (2018) – Best horror movie of 2018. Quote me on that.
Annihilation – Trippy man.
Eighth Grade – Yeah... I cried.
Hereditary – Definitely not a good movie choice for a first date (I learned the hard way).
I rarely think I can witness music evolve on a whole, but I feel like a shift happened with this album and it's companion piece, "Drone Signals." Ben Chatwin (formerly Talvihorros) makes a living scoring epic, over-the-top fashion videos for YSL, Calvin Klein, etc. but his personal work is really pushing boundaries.
These father/daughter artists take walks along Lake Michigan and collect plastic garbage. They melt down tampons, lighters, cigar filters, etc., etc. to create rings that are both colorful and start a conversation about the plastic problem.
I just absolutely adored this Netflix series. The aesthetic was a sleek retro-futurism, like an 80's version of the future but with lots of cigarette smoke. Sterile, claustrophobic lab meets hyper-humanity played out in imaginative dream states. Super creative and my favorite binge watch in a long time.
Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. I think we can all agree 2018 was a bit of a dumpster fire personally, professionally... and this show consistently made me feel good and positive about the world. I appreciate how Phil approaches food with pure joy, not pretentiousness. It's so accessible.
The (Instagram) writings and recently published book, which I've yet to read, but definitely plan to read at some point from Jedidiah Jenkins. His writing speaks to my soul much like Paulo Coehlo's and he just. makes. sense.
The creativity and sheer deliciousness of the food at Strangetown. They do that thing where they treat vegetables right and have my total respect.
Dance as expressed by Emma Portner. There's so many layers, emotions to her movement.
The baked goods from Blooming Lotus, especially the Cashew Indulgence Bar. I eat a pretty modified diet these days and being able to have a treat like these from time to time is joy - they do SO much with baked goods without using common allergens.
The work of Asia Suler of One Willow Apothecaries. She's not only a writer, but also a healer. I feel what she does is bring a sincere and welcoming approach to health and well being. She puts words to sociocultural feelings and encourages people to connect with themselves, each other, and the earth on a higher level. Her work is like a warm hug.
The artwork of Heather Day. I'm not even sure what to say about it except I love coming across new posts of hers on Instagram. They are simply beautiful to look at.
The Instagram account deux_pas_vers_lautre recently did a series of posts where a friend of theirs named Paul, who was in a debilitating accident years back, joined them for a segment of their hike and the pictures in addition to the observations about Paul's experience never failed to make me tear up.
Kid Koala at Tuner Hall– Kid Koala has been releasing music since the 90s, but I didn’t know who he was until I had the opportunity to interview him about his latest project: an original electronic soundtrack that he composed for an indie video game called Floor Kids. In support of that soundtrack, which he also released separately as an album, Kid Koala embarked on a North American tour that would eventually bring him to Milwaukee at Turner Hall. Arcade cabinets were set up where fans could try the Floor Kids video game. There was crowd participation and breakdancing, giant dancing puppets, and Kid Koala himself carried the energy all night. It was truly an immersive experience.
Red Dead Redemption 2– It feels redundant to say anything positive about Red Dead Redemption 2 considering it won almost every award it was nominated for at the Game Awards Show this year, but I was fully captivated by this game from start to finish. I found myself constantly asking friends who were also playing through the game how they handled certain situations and how their stories unfolded in the living, breathing world that Rockstar created. For a game that involves lots of shooting, robbing, and "yee-hawing," its a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and the characters and their struggles will stick with me for a long time.
Lavender Country at Riverwest Public House – Another artist I had the opportunity to interview but had never heard of before was Lavender Country – the moniker for the first openly-gay country singer-songwriter Patrick Haggerty. Lavender Country only ever released one self-titled album back in 1973 and was then mostly forgotten until the late 90’s. The album has since been re-released through various formats, prompting Haggerty to begin touring. It was a beautiful experience seeing him on stage with a smile on his face playing songs that he wrote over 45 years ago to a younger generation. He told stories in between songs, and of course played the band’s notorious “Cryin’ These Cock-Sucking Tears.”
Mandy (film) – I don’t think Mandy was even my favorite movie that I had seen this year, but it sure did have me talking about it for weeks. Everything from the gore to Nicholas Cage’s performance to the way it was shot was just amazing. It’s what I imagine would happen if you took Evil Dead 2 (one of my favorite movies of all time) and dosed it with one hundred hits of acid.
Vein at Shorewood Legion Hall – I’m only including this show because of a very specific circumstance. I didn’t really have intentions to go see this band – I tend to avoid hardcore shows where I know I’m going to get punched in the face. But a good friend of mine is dating a Malaysian girl who introduced him to a Malaysian foreign exchange student at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He came to America to study music, and is a huge fan of metal and hardcore music. So, my friend’s girlfriend asked us to introduce him to the local music spots, especially because there isn’t really a music scene like that in Malaysia and a lot of bands that he listens to never tour there. Turns out, one of his favorite bands Vein was scheduled to play at the Shorewood Legion Hall. As I stood in the way back to avoid getting punched by people moshing and to avoid getting my beer slapped out of my hand, our new friend makes his way up to the front, grabs the microphone from the vocalist, and continues to scream the rest of the song. I was shocked – if I was in a foreign country and hanging out with people I had just met, I would never have the courage to do that. Especially because the small venue was packed with around 200 kids. But it made me appreciate the ways in which hardcore music really brings together a community, even people from thousands of miles away.
Maverick: An Attic Dinner – A friend who I met through cooking at Good City Brewing before my Wisconsin Gazette days does his own pop-up dinners out of an East-Side house. He fixed up an attic space to seat about 15 people, and plans/cooks five-course meals all by himself on a four-burner stove, an oven, and some appliances. The thought and creativity behind every menu continues to amaze me, and he only charges around $20 per person. You get to eat great food in a comfortable atmosphere, and its BYOB so you can bring a thirty case of Hamm's and party while enjoying a fancy dinner if that's your thing. Follow him on instagram @foodgeekmke.
A Madman's Diary by Lu Xun – A Madman's Diary is great because you can pick it up and start anywhere in the story. The nonconsecutive timeline and compelling story has a Kafkaesque feel to it as the main character who is obsessed with the concept of cannibalism spirals into mad paranoia. Lu Xun is a very respected writer in Chinese literature.
Johnny Pye and the Fool-Killer by Stephen Vincent Benet – This short story, about a man trying to escape foolishness, did for some inexplicable reason grab my attention from the beginning of Johnny Pye's journey till the end. It portrays humanity and our time on earth in a different way. Avoiding foolishness until our paths run out, and being granted our wishes is what All-American Johnny Pye is all about.
And a film:
Green Room – A film that kept me at the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen next. It's grungy aesthetic makes you gasp for air as you are shut in with the characters and the inferno of tense conflict that make up the essence of this film.
Elsie Fisher's performance in Eight Grade is a revelation on every level. You feel every bit of her insecurity and awkwardness, her sadness and joy as the movie walks us through the trials and travails of eighth grade. It's a truly beautiful and ridiculously authentic performance.
"Please Don't Die" by Father John Misty is the song I listened to more than any other song this year. The song's structure, in which the first verse is in the voice of J. Tillman, and the second verse is in the voice of his wife, Emma is a brilliant storytelling construction in song. And the melody, if it had been recorded in the 60s, makes it worthy of a cover by Dusty Springfield. Pop classicism and storytelling and melody of the highest.
The poster series created by a band of creative artists called The Dry Points is the best art I saw this year. I love creativity in the moment, when you just go for it and make what you feel. The results can be extraordinary. I wrote about it a few months ago here.
Chuck Dwyer, “The Dry Points” and the Greatest Milwaukee Art Show You’ve Never Seen
Chuck Dwyer pulls what looks like a massive folder made of thin repurposed wood out from behind a stack of canvases against a wall in his art studio. The studio is well kept, art materials neatly organized over two or three tables and a painting—a stunning hybrid figure drawing/painting work in progress—is leaning against the back wall.
Neal Brennan's show at Turner Hall was the hardest I laughed all year. His Netflix special called "Three Mics" is one of the most creative presentations of stand up comedy I have ever seen. On stage he has three mics and each serves a purpose. One mic for his traditional standup, one mic for one-liners, and one mic for telling stories from his life. It's hilarious and touching.
The Netflix series Maniac, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, is a triumph of moviemaking and art direction; a deep dive into the mind and how to cure it from trauma. It's a film out of time; quirky, weird, strange, heartwarming and unlike anything else I've ever seen. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone are brilliant, she plays just about 7 different characters in it.
While my favorite films of the year were Paul Schrader's First Reformed and Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, another film worth a look is "Filmworker" - a documentary about Leon Vitali, who was an accomplished British actor who became Stanley Kubrick's right hand man. Employed by Kubrick from Barry Lyndon up until the time of Stanley's death, Vitali's remembrances of Kubrick are astonishing and unbelievable, and his stories about Kubrick open up a window into the world of a cinematic genius - which can be tiring, ugly, intense, and for Vitali, a truly incredible experience regardless of it's immense challenges.
And a few picks from the academic/editing/writing world:
The Munk Debates, which originate from Canada, present thought provoking debates without all the divisiveness.
WTF with Mark Maron Podcast – this was a great year for Mark Maron, and his interviews with Roger Daltrey. Jeff Daniels, David Mamet, Joe Walsh, Michael Douglas, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek and Sharon Stone are among the best of the year.