Quicksand: Review of Damien’s “Seven Curses”

“Should I kiss the viper’s fang or herald loud the death of Man? I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought. And I ain’t got the power anymore. Don’t believe in yourself. Don’t deceive with belief. Knowledge comes with death’s release…” -David Bowie, “Quicksand”

*This post contains major spoilers. Read at your own risk.*

“Seven Curses,” the fifth episode of A&E’s Damien, continued the show’s streak of providing harrowing, thought-provoking entertainment. To this point, Damien has been more of a supernatural thriller with bits of horror and strong character development. We’ve seen Damien (Bradley James) continue to struggle with his true nature and clash with Ann Rutledge (Barbara Hershey) as she continues to act on his behalf for purposes still not entirely known to Damien or to the audience. Each episode has moved Damien further into darkness as he tries desperately to hold on to his sense of humanity. Damien knows that he is really the Antichrist, but he doesn’t want to be and wants everything to stop. He wants to lead a normal life, but he knows deep down that it isn’t possible. “Seven Curses” focuses on his struggle to accept that he is, in a sense, powerless to control his destiny and pushes him to try to escape it.

Unlike the other episodes, the first of two episodes written by K.C. Perry, “Seven Deaths” focuses more on Damien and less on characters like Ann Rutledge, though there were still some large developments with the other characters. We learn, for example, that the blonde woman Veronica (Melanie Scrofano) in previous episodes is Ann’s daughter when Ann asks her if she’s been a good mother. Veronica appears jealous of the attention the “prodigal son” Damien receives and is getting involved with Amani (Omid Abtahi) for reasons still unclear. Meanwhile, Mommy Dearest is none too pleased with Damien’s resistance to her and sends out some mysterious men for “housekeeping,” resulting in Damien’s apartment being trashed when he’s not there. His late ex-girlfriend’s sister Simone (Megalyn E.K.) is growing more suspicious of Damien, even breaking into his apartment to look for answers. (Incidentally, she’s there while the men are trashing it but remains unseen by them.) There’s plenty of development of these characters, but the episode is really about Damien.

While there have been complaints that Damien is too slow, it’s important not to rush the development, as it is set up for a multi-season arc. “Seven Curses” appears to be the start of a change in tone and in Damien. Through each episode, Damien has gradually gotten darker, even threatening a suspicious, obsessed detective who asked a few too many accusatory questions. Although some may still complain that the show is slow, “Seven Deaths” was noticeably darker – and scarier – than the others. It was even more based in reality, as Damien spent the episode photographing and even connecting with a war veteran called Alex (Jose Pablo Cantillo), whose son Damien saved on the subway tracks in the third episode.

Damien and Alex bond quickly over the things they saw at war and the PTSD that resulted. While previous episodes hinted at the Beast in Damien, “Seven Curses” shows the human side of Damien. As Alex tells him that he is planning to end his life and asks Damien to photograph it, Damien tries to talk him out of it, reminding him that he has a wife and son who need him. It’s difficult to make a realistic episode about veteran without crossing the line into cheesy, mushy, or preachy, but “Seven Curses” defies cliché. By showing us the pain and hardships Alex faces every day as he is cared for in the hospital, viewers are better able to understand why Alex is so determined to die. It even gets political when Alex talks about the VA not giving him the help he needs. “People think they can get by with a, ‘Thank you for your service.'” Damien vows to make Alex’s story heard, so he can get more help, but Alex appears determined to end his life. Alex’s problems are real ones that are faced every day by veterans. Damien manages to address important issues without losing sight of what the show is about or being insensitive to the real veterans. Many shows ignore the true effects of war, but Damien brings them to light in a realistic way without an overpowering political agenda.

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“I’ve seen too much death. I’ve had it all around me.”

That’s not to say that the episode is all heart and no horror. It is called “Seven Curses,” after all. The most terrifying scene of the series (so far) is the stuff of nightmares for those of us who aren’t as into horror. Damien goes to look for Alex and sees things that lead him to the creepy basement of the hospital, which is essentially Hell. In the basement, he sees two men playing dominoes with a pool of blood around one’s feet, employees with drugs (Alex warned him about a black market in the hospital), an orgy with doctors and patients, and a surgeon cutting into Simone’s head, followed by Simone looking over at Damien. Damien is concerned, as shown in a phone call to Simone later, but that’s only the beginning of the horror.

The way it’s filmed is enough to make these bizarre images surreal and disturbing, but the scariest part is when Damien gets locked into a room with seven injured veterans in a circle. As soon as the door closes, the veterans start speaking in tongues as Damien moves to the center of them. The veterans are possessed by a demon, representing the seven-headed dragon. At least some of the things they say about the Beast are from the book of Revelation, and they sometimes speak all at once. Multiple people being possessed by one demon has apparently not been seen on TV before, and it was very well done on Damien. Even as they are saying things like, “Your name is Death” and “His number is six hundred threescore and six,” the most frightening part is when they start laughing maniacally. The whole basement sequence feels like a hallucination or nightmare, and it’s difficult to tell if it’s real in Damien’s world or not. It’s enough to leave us questioning if Damien’s going insane or if we are. The scene, particularly the part with the seven veterans/curses, certainly served its purpose to scare those viewers who have been craving more horror. Maybe (probably) I’m just a big chicken, but I could only watch the scene with the sound on once before needing a spot in Ann Rutledge’s “panic room” she mentioned in the fourth episode.

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It’s too creepy for me to watch with the sound on, even while making this gif.

While a show about the Antichrist naturally has supernatural elements, the thing that makes Damien truly scary is that the show feels like it could take place in our world. There has been at least one death in every episode, most of which were gruesome and more or less supernatural. In the first four episodes, Damien indirectly caused deaths by Rottweiler attacks, quicksand (or sinkhole?), an escalator, a taxi that swerved because of the Rottweiler and hit Damien’s assailant, and a man who stabbed himself because “The Beast” was near. “Seven Curses” is a welcome change from what we’ve seen on the show so far. Alex wants to commit suicide on his own volition. He knows his body is shutting down, and he thinks his death is the best thing for his family. There are no supernatural elements obviously at play in his scenes, only the real, gutting loss of hope he feels that viewers also feel for him in return.

It is not until the end of the episode that we learn whether Alex goes through with his plan. After ensuring that Simone was okay and trying to contact Amani (who is about to feel really bad for not picking up), Damien returns to Alex’s room to find him ready to kill himself. With Bear McCreary’s beautiful score, Damien photographs Alex injecting the pain meds he has saved for this moment. Both men are in tears, but not a single word is spoken, making the scene all the more powerful. Every emotion is conveyed through looks. I said in my review of the first episode that Bradley James has one of the most expressive faces, and nowhere is this more evident than in the last ten minutes of “Seven Curses.” Damien doesn’t do anything to try to stop Alex, nor to assist him. The fact that it’s a more or less “normal” death (without the grotesque elements like the other deaths) makes it incredibly moving. The cinematography on this show is absolutely gorgeous in every episode, and the close shots and lighting in this scene make it even more magnificent. Both Bradley James and Jose Pablo Cantillo deserve awards for their brilliant performances in this episode.

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Words would be superfluous, especially as the scene continues.

A friend told me he couldn’t respect a show that would show a veteran committing suicide, but Damien would be doing a disservice by not portraying the real effects of war. People go to war and get injured and/or come back with PTSD. Bills pile up, and they rarely get the mental, physical, or financial help they need. Many veterans do commit suicide. It’s an important issue, and shows like this can only help to bring awareness to the problem. Without empathy, nothing will ever change to help veterans. Damien handled it in a respectful way that neither shames nor glorifies suicide.

Above all else, “Seven Curses” is a significant episode for the character of Damien. Between the things he saw in the basement and yet another death of someone he cared about, he finally reaches his breaking point. Damien leaves the hospital and drives to his old family home, stopping to look at a portrait of the Thorns before he goes out to the garage, alcohol in hand. Damien gets into the car and turns on the radio. As Mildred Anderson’s “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” (a surprisingly eerie but appropriate musical selection) plays, Damien gets drunk. Last week, Damien was shaving and clearly contemplating slitting his own throat but hesitates. In this scene, however, he is much more determined to go through with it. He tapes up the sides of the garage, then turns the car on and pulls out a syringe and the same pain medicine Alex used. The cinematography is, again, stunning and perfect for the scene. Like Alex’s suicide scene, there is no dialogue, only the sound of Bear McCreary’s score and the sounds of the car. By this point, it’s difficult to not feel sorry for Damien, as he is trying avoid being the one who ends the world. To make it worse, the poor guy can’t even die on his own terms because some magical force causes the tape to come off, the garage door opens, and the Rottweilers pull the all but dead Damien to safety.

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I just love the cinematography. This doesn’t do it justice.

While we don’t know what happens in episode six, it is easy to imagine that Damien’s failed suicide attempt will be a catalyst for his change. We’ve seen some of his sinister side before, but the lack of power over his situation is likely to push him to the brink. He’s sinking further and further into darkness, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t escape it. After this compelling episode, it will be even more interesting to see how he reacts. If the events of “Seven Curses” aren’t enough to set things in motion for Damien (or to make people watch the show), I’m not sure what else could do it.

Every week, Damien leaves me wanting more, caring more about these characters, and wanting to see Damien’s growth into the Beast he is meant to become. I’m ready for his descent into darkness to happen, so I can be terrified by Damien and not just the things that happen to him. If “Seven Curses” is any indication of where the show is going, I’m looking forward to being scared, questioning what I think I know and feel, and longing to see more of these fascinating, well-written and well-acted characters for the next five weeks and hopefully more seasons to come.

Watch Damien on A&E, Mondays at 10/9C. Previous episodes can be viewed on AETV.com.

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Devil’s Whisper: Review of A&E’s “Damien”

“You better run, run from the devil. You better hide…” -Raury, “Devil’s Whisper”

The Antichrist is pure evil. He’s going to bring about destruction and the end of the world. He must be stopped at all costs. Right?

Not in Damien, A&E’s new series based on the 1976 classic The Omen. Created by former The Walking Dead and The Shield showrunner Glen Mazzara, Damien takes place 25 years after the first film – on Damien’s 30th birthday – and essentially ignores the sequels, though there are apparently some subtle homages paid to them. (Full disclosure that I’ve only seen the first film once and have never seen the others.) In the first episode “The Beast Rises,” we don’t see Evil Damien. Instead, we see a very human Damien. He’s shown as being rather amiable, though distant to those he cares about most. As we all know, however, he has a good reason for pushing others away, as people around him seem to die horrible deaths.

Damien’s story parallels that of Jesus Christ, who started his ministry when he was 30. Obviously, their stories have them going completely different directions – one “good” and one “evil” – but this show isn’t about the end of the story. Damien is about filling in the blanks between The Omen and the end of the story to show how Damien got to where he did. It’s a very character-driven show from the first episode, and it causes viewers to question things about themselves. We all like to pretend we know how we would react in certain situations (say, finding out you’re the Antichrist), but if viewers are honest with themselves, I think they’ll find that it’s not always an easy to know. As Damien learns, it can be difficult to understand how certain events are connected or what they really mean.

Damien (brilliantly portrayed by Bradley James) is a war photographer, who uses the pain and destruction of the war to block out the noise and the “dark cloud” from his own life. He does not remember his childhood and is unable to articulate exactly what causes bad things to happen around him, but he knows he’s not like other people. He becomes determined to find out why these things things happen when an old woman in Syria grabs his face and says, “Damien, I love you. It’s all for you.” When she starts speaking in Latin, it triggers flashbacks to his childhood, complete with original footage from The Omen. Throughout the episode, Damien sees various things – Rottweilers, certain things in a church – that help him remember his past, but he spends the majority of the episode trying to find the old woman who knew these things about him and working with his ill-fated ex-girlfriend, Kelly (Tiffany Hines), to piece everything together.

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“Damien, I love you. It’s all for you.”

Damien meets several people along the way, but no one actually says to him, “You’re the Antichrist.” Though he has always known that there’s something different about him, but even when he meets the menacing, mysterious Ann Rutledge (Barbara Hershey) or the scared Professor Reneus (Sam Anderson), he doesn’t understand their connections to him or why they are so fascinated by him. The professor talks about “The Beast” mentioned in the book of Revelations, but the closest he gets to telling Damien the truth is asking whether 666 – the alleged mark of The Beast – means anything to Damien. The last five minutes are downright powerful, as we see Damien crying in a church over the first death he knows he’s directly responsible for. He then sees the old woman again, who suddenly doesn’t look so happy to see him, and forcefully pulls his hair out without giving Damien any answers about what she knows.

When Damien returns home, he looks through his photographs again and finds the old woman in all of them, even in one of him as a child, a nice nod to the original film. When he goes to check his bloody head, he finds the “666” where the woman ripped his hair out, and he gets sick at the realisation. It’s difficult not to feel for him as everything finally hits him and he realises that he is The Beast. It’s an interesting, important choice for the show to have Damien figure it out on his own, rather than someone else telling him. It makes the vital moment where he learns the truth more intense and is important for his character development. It will be interesting to see how he’ll act in the next episode now that he knows who he really is.

While some people just want to be scared and don’t want a sympathetic Antichrist, it’s an interesting choice when we’ve seen how Damien started when he was young and essentially know how the story is supposed to end. It’s refreshing to see a conflicted Damien, and that’s what the show is really about. Damien, like the rest of us, is not just evil or just good. He has shades of grey and is a complex character from the very first episode. Who wants to see an Antichrist with no depth? That would be painfully boring. As someone who doesn’t watch a lot of horror or thrillers, good characterisation is crucial. Some may think the pilot was slow (as pilots often are because they are meant to set up the story), but it’s important to show where Damien started in order to appreciate the Antichrist we know he will become. I have no doubt that the Damien in “The Beast Rises” will be very different than the Damien we will see in the finale and through each episode as he comes to terms with his destiny as the Antichrist.

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Don’t get used to this Damien. He won’t be like this for long.

Horror series are often held to a different standard than other series, especially when they are sequels to classic films. Viewers of Damien are likely to have extremely high and specific expectations, based on their own experiences with the films, horror, or the cast/crew. Whether it lives up to those expectations is up to the individual. I’ve seen many compare it to Lucifer, the new series about Satan. Both shows may be devil-related and feature British leads, but the similarities end there, nulling any comparisons people may try to make. It may also be important to note that Damien was originally meant to air on Lifetime and was moved to A&E after several episodes were already completed. I would anticipate a tonal shift when the change was made and expect it to be much darker and potentially more gruesome.

Other than its different take on the Antichrist and good/evil, Damien is sure to draw viewers with its excellent cast. Bradley James is phenomenal as Damien. He has one of the most expressive faces in entertainment, and he needs no words to show exactly what his character is feeling. The last five minutes proved that he is more than capable of handling Damien and doing justice to the role. Barbara Hershey was only in one scene in “The Beast Rises” but created a memorable character in only a few minutes. Scott Wilson was not present in the first episode, but I’m looking forward to seeing his character in upcoming episodes. It will be interesting to see how some of the side characters, such as Omid Abtahi’s Amani, react to the changes in Damien.

How much do I already like this show? Enough that I’m planning to go to Wonder Con in Los Angeles at the end of March to see the Damien panel. If you like shows with great casts, haunting music, excellent character development, and ones that actually make you think about how you would react to learning you’re going to bring about the end of the world, be sure to watch Damien on Mondays at 10/9c on A&E.

Nothing Stays The Same: TV Scenes To Make You Cry Your Eyes Out

“It’s beautiful, and it’s all right to cry your eyes out. Fill your lungs up. We all hurt. We all lie. And nothing stays the same. Let your guard down. Get your heart pounded. We all bleed. We all breathe. And nothing stays the same. ” -Luke Sital-Singh, “Nothing Stays The Same”

We all need a good cry every now and then. Sometimes we cry when we’re heartbroken. Sometimes we cry when we’re deliriously happy. Sometimes we’re ridiculously jetlagged and overemotional. Sometimes the jetlag leads to watching videos at 3 AM to make yourself cry and inspires you to write about those tearjerkers.

I’ve never been one to cry much about my own life. Music and television, however, have always managed to have a profound impact on my ability to shed tears. (This, coming from the person who owns This Will End in Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music, a book that’s all about depressing songs. Highly recommended if you like sad music.) There are certain scenes I know I can always count on to make me cry. Since we all need it sometimes, here are a few to help you along when you’re in need. Beware of some summaries, and therefore, massive spoilers. Read at your own risk.

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Consider yourself warned.

Honourable mentions: 1) Veronica Mars – “Leave It To Beaver” (1×22) Keith telling Veronica the results of the paternity test. 2) Veronica Mars – “Ruskie Business” (1×15) Logan breaking down about his mother. 3) Doctor Who – “The End of Time: Part Two” Ten regenerating, “I don’t want to go.” 4) Doctor Who – “Doomsday” (2×13) Rose getting pulled into a parallel universe. 5) Emma Approved is a Web series, so it doesn’t count as TV, but “At Last” (Ep. 70) never fails to make me teary.

I rewatched all of these to make sure they still deserved their spots; all passed the test. As usual, they’re not necessarily in a particular order, especially towards the middle. Not all of them are sad, but naturally, a lot are. Prepare to have your heart ripped out. Read, watch, and weep.

10. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse” (4×24)

If you grew up in ’90s America, chances are you know this scene and knew it would be on here. (It’s on many of these lists and rightfully so.) From the time Will calls his father Lou, not Dad, all bets are off. When he cries, “How come he don’t he want me?” I’m done. There’s really nothing else that needs to be said about this scene.

9. Angel – “Not Fade Away” (5×22)

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This is probably the easiest part to watch of this scene, and it’s still not okay.

I could only find a fan-made video with part of this scene, and that’s probably a good thing. I hated Wesley when he was on Buffy. By the end of Angel, he was my favourite character, along with Spike. Wesley was in love with Fred for pretty much forever. (I wasn’t a hardcore Fred/Wesley shipper, but let’s just pretend that Gunn thing never happened.) When it seemed like things were finally looking up, Fred’s body was overtaken by a parasite called Illyria. (Another tearjerker with Fred’s “Why can’t I stay?”) I always liked Fred, but I honestly liked Illyria more. In the series finale “Not Fade Away,” I lose it when Wesley is dying, and Illyria says to him, “Would you like me to lie to you now?” Illyria changes into Fred for a beautiful goodbye. This death goes down as one of my top 5 favourite TV deaths of all time and is one of the reasons for my love/hate relationship with Joss Whedon. He kills my favourite characters but damned if he doesn’t do it brilliantly.

8. Parks and Recreation – “Halloween Surprise” (5×5)

Happy tears! Ben and Leslie are one of my favourite TV ships, and Ben’s proposal was a long time coming. So many things tried to keep them apart over the years, mainly their jobs, but we all knew it’d happen eventually. I’ve cried through several scenes on this show, but this is the one that always gets me. I remember watching it with no idea it was going to happen (same as their wedding, which also makes me cry) and was so shocked and happy. When good people – even fictional ones – have something good happen, it’s hard not to share in their happiness. I only hope to find love like theirs someday.

7. Chuck – “Chuck Versus Sarah” (5×12)

Chuck is pretty much my favourite show, and I was devastated when it was cancelled. The finale is polarising – fans either love or hate it. I’m in the Love It camp. Without explaining the long, complicated plot in depth, Sarah downloaded the Intersect to save Chuck a few episodes before this one, which was part one of the series finale. The Intersect wiped her memory, and the villain brainwashed her into thinking she was against Chuck. The last few episodes are heartbreaking to watch (I bawled through all of them), but this scene is particularly difficult to watch. Chuck does everything he can to make Sarah remember him. At first it seems like she’s softening, but then, “I’m sorry I did my job too well.” Cold. It only gets worse, as she tries to fight him, and he promises, “You can kill me. I will never hurt you.” As things turn around again, there’s still a long way to go. All is well that ends (sort of) well, but this episode and scene are still painful to watch. This scene also doesn’t help. Still, I love the throwbacks to earlier episodes in the finale. The bittersweet ending is open to interpretation. I choose to think of it as a happy (enough) ending because I believe Morgan’s crazy idea of “one magical kiss” works, and Sarah remembers she really does “love a nerd like [Chuck].”

6. Nip/Tuck – “Joel Gideon” (2×5)

Nip/Tuck is one of those shows that started off well enough but got so ridiculous I stopped watching. I try to remember it for good scenes like this. I’m a sucker for complex, tortured souls, so Christian was always my favourite. The self-obsessed womanizer finally found someone he really loved with Wilber. Even when Wilber was born, and Christian found out he wasn’t really his son, he still wanted to raise him as his own. When Wilber’s biological father came to take him, Christian lost the one thing that made him happy. His speech to Wilber leaves me in tears, especially with Rachael Yamagata’s “I’ll Find a Way” playing in the background. I get teary when he gives Wilber advice about life and tells him things like, “Never get too jaded to care.” (Words of wisdom he could use himself.) Teariness turns to blubbering when he whispers, “Remember me.”

5. Doctor Who – “Vincent and the Doctor” (5×10)

Ten has always been my Doctor, but “Vincent and the Doctor” is easily the best non-Ten episode and one of the best episodes of Doctor Who. It was written by Richard Curtis, who wrote several of my favourite films, so it makes sense that I love it so much. It’s impossible not to cry while watching Van Gogh hear the praise for his work and life. It’s not every day an artist gets to see for themselves the significance their work has for others, and someone like Van Gogh never had that luxury. This scene with the Doctor and Amy bringing Van Gogh to 2010 makes you feel that joy for him, as it brings some light to his life, however temporary. Even though it doesn’t change the course of events, we can still appreciate the moment and be reminded that everyone can make an impact without even knowing it. Everything about this scene is perfect – the song selection (“Chances” by Athlete), the art curator wondering if it was the real Van Gogh who kissed him and dismissing the thought just as quickly as it came, the shot composition, and the acting.

4. Sherlock – “The Reichenbach Fall” (2×3)

Most would probably consider Sherlock’s “note” to John before the fall the hardest part of this episode. For me, though, John’s plea to Sherlock for “one more miracle” is the worst. At this point, Watson doesn’t really have anyone else. As Sherlock watches him from afar, unable to tell him that he’s still alive, it’s completely gut-wrenching. Of course, he eventually got his wish for Sherlock to not be dead, but Sherlock being Sherlock, we had to wait years for the resolution. Martin Freeman deserves all the awards for this scene alone, and the fact that he wasn’t nominated for this episode is a travesty.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “The Body” (5×16)

Joss Whedon has done it again. In the interest of full disclosure, I think I’ve only seen this episode twice in the 10 or so years since my first viewing, which is saying a lot for someone who rewatches TV series a hundred times. It’s a brilliant episode, but I simply can’t watch it because it breaks me. Buffy comes home to find her mother dead on the couch, and the waterworks begin, as I think of my close relationship with my own mother. In a show with so many supernatural deaths, a natural death from an aneurysm is particularly shocking and heartbreaking because we know there’s no coming back from it. The complete lack of music makes everything more realistic and chilling. We can easily see ourselves and people we know reacting to such a tragedy like the characters do. Anya’s reaction, though, is almost like a child’s in that she’s naïve and confused because she’s a former vengeance demon learning to be more human. She doesn’t know how she’s supposed to act and thinks of things people normally wouldn’t consider in such a case. “I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever.” Words cannot do this scene justice. It needs to be seen, preferrably with the entire episode, though it can hold up on its own.

2. Scrubs – “My Screwup” (3×14)

“You still doing the whole ‘kooky guy who brings his camera everywhere’ thing?” “Till the day I die.” This should have been the first clue about this episode. If you’re slow, like I can be, you don’t really get it until the end. When Cox’s brother-in-law, Ben, shows up for Cox’s son’s birthday party, he says those words to Cox, and we learn that Ben hasn’t followed up on tests for leukemia. Scrubs is a funny show with a lot of heart. Throughout this episode, we see J.D. tell Cox his worries about an older heart patient (which Cox sort of blows off, saying he won’t die in the next 30 minutes), J.D. respond to a code, Ben annoy Cox, and the usual antics of the others. When J.D. tells Cox that the patient died, Cox blames J.D. In the very end of the episode, Cox is talking to Ben, asking him where his camera is and if he’s going to take pictures of “the crying babies covered in chocolate, people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my son who have never even met him before, you know, the whole routine.” J.D. shows up and says solemnly, “Where do you think we are?” Cox turns around to Ben, who is no longer there, and we see that they are at Ben’s funeral. Cue the tears. Rewatching the episode, it becomes clear. After J.D. answers the code, Ben’s camera is gone, and no one but Cox acknowledges him the rest of the episode. This is easily one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, episodes of Scrubs. Its balance of humour and pain makes this scene hit hard once everything comes together.

1. Merlin – “The Diamond of the Day: Part Two” (5×13)

I’m not using a video for this one because I’m cheating a little bit. There isn’t one scene in the series finale of Merlin that makes me cry. There isn’t one scene that doesn’t make me cry. This list could really be filled with scenes from this episode alone. When I started watching the show last summer, I’d accidentally heard one major thing about how it ended, so I thought I was prepared for it. I found that even if you know how it ends, there is no way to prepare.

“The Diamond of the Day” is another polarising finale. Without going too much into the history of the show, Merlin was warned of the prophecy of Arthur’s death in series one. When Arthur is stabbed by someone he thought was a friend in the first five minutes of the finale, it’s not a surprise. The first time I watched, I was only shocked that it happened so early in the episode. I knew then that I was in for a world of hurt. The look on Arthur’s face right before he collapses is always enough to start the tears. I’m sure when it aired there were viewers who believed that they wouldn’t possibly kill a lead of a family show in the finale that aired on Christmas Eve. Those people are cute. Merlin was on BBC, the network that thrives on torturing viewers and characters alike. (See Doctor Who and Sherlock.)

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“People have died.” “That’s what people DO!” -BBC, probably

While a lot happens in this episode, there’s no denying it’s really about Merlin and Arthur’s relationship. Whether you think their relationship is platonic or you ship them/Merthur, the focus is clearly on them in this episode. It’s never just about Arthur slowly dying and Merlin’s desperation to save him. The real pain starts with Merlin tearfully telling Arthur he’s sorry he didn’t defy the prophecy and confessing that he has magic he uses to protect Arthur. In this short scene, Arthur goes from disbelief (“You’re not a sorcerer, I would know”) to betrayal and disgust as Merlin shows him his magic, and he insists that Merlin leave him. The anguish they are both going through is unbearable and makes it impossible to watch this scene without crying.

Once Gaius convinces Arthur that Merlin is his only hope for survival, the rest of the episode involves Arthur trying to come to terms with who Merlin really is. Arthur’s attention is not on his impending death; it’s on Merlin, studying him and the magic things Merlin does to protect him that Arthur never noticed before. He speaks frequently of the lies Merlin told him over the years. Merlin, on the other hand, is focused on the only thing he has ever cared about – saving Arthur. Each of them focusing so much on the other speaks volumes about how much they both care, even if a certain dollop head won’t admit it.

As Arthur slowly tries to understand and be cordial with Merlin, he asks why Merlin never told him he had magic. Merlin explains that Arthur would have killed him, and Arthur confesses that he doesn’t know what he would have done. Merlin says honestly that he didn’t want to put him in that position. “That’s what worried you?” Arthur’s realisation of how much Merlin cares is enough to make anyone cry, but that’s only the beginning. “Some men are born to plow fields. Some live to be great physicians, others to be great kings. Me? I was born to serve you, Arthur, and I’m proud of that, and I wouldn’t change a thing.” Arthur doesn’t respond, but the look between them says more than any words could. He’s finally accepting Merlin for who he is and realising all that Merlin has done for him.

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Stop giving each other The Look and kiss already, you clotpoles!

The show of acceptance continues as Merlin uses magic to ensure safety, and Arthur is quick to see, “All these years, Merlin, you never once sought any credit.” It’s amazing how their relationship changed so much over the years – from hating each other to being best friends, willing to die for each other – but even more so in the span of a few days in this episode. They changed but also came full circle. Arthur went back to hating Merlin temporarily because of his magic to accepting, even appreciating, him for it.

I, of course, am always a blubbering mess through all of this. The real waterworks come a few scenes later when Merlin tells Arthur not to talk, and Arthur reminds Merlin that he can’t tell the king what to do. (We all know Merlin is the only one Arthur lets give him orders.) Merlin says, “I always have. I’m not going to change now.” Arthur’s response?

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Because I wasn’t crying enough as it was.

Finally! Total acceptance! This is easily one of the most well-known lines of the episode/series. I’ll never be able to hear those words without crying. Not only that, but Arthur actually apologises to Merlin for treating him the way he did. Though the tone quickly shifts to their playful banter, the tears remain at the implications of all that is said – and unsaid – in this scene.

Still not enough tears for you? As Merlin tries desperately to get Arthur to Avalon to be saved, he is in denial the whole time, not believing they won’t make it. Just when they’re getting close, Arthur collapses and tells him that it’s too late. Merlin still refuses to believe/accept it, but Arthur just wants him to hold him, patting Merlin’s hand as he does. Arthur finally tells Merlin that he knows all that Merlin has done for him, uses his last bit of strength to ruffle Merlin’s hair, and says something he claims he’s never said to him before: “Thank you.” (Lies. He’s said that before, and nothing can convince me that’s what he was really going to say.) With those last words, Arthur dies in Merlin’s arms.

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How is this platonic?! For the love of Merthur!

A very distraught Merlin finally calls on Kilgharrah the useless dragon (why he didn’t do this in the first place is beyond me) to have him take them the rest of the way to the lake of Avalon. Kilgharrah assures him that he has not failed his destiny and that Arthur will rise again when Albion’s need is greatest. You can actually see the moment that Merlin realises he will wait for that time to come.

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The exact moment Merlin hears Arthur will rise again and realises he will wait for him.

All of this is still not enough to make you ugly cry like Merlin and those of us with hearts? Let’s try one more. After Merlin sends Arthur off in a boat, we see an old Merlin walking down the street. A truck passes, indicating that it’s the present time. He walks by and looks at the same lake where he left Arthur, still waiting for him to rise again. Talk about ending on a depressing note!

I know I basically wrote a summary of Merlin/Arthur parts of this episode (Believe me when I say there were other tearjerker scenes without them), but I thought it was important to explain why these scenes all make me cry. The way their relationship changes throughout the episode and the importance of each scene can’t be understated, and each scene/tear is connected in that way. So where do I stand on this depressing, polarising finale? I love it. Arthur was my favourite character, and I hate that he died, but I think it’s a beautiful finale that was brilliantly written and acted.

If you’re in need of a good cry, I highly recommend watching any/all of these scenes or episodes. If you’re anything like me, they’ll do the trick. If you watch all of these and none of them make you even a little teary, you should see a doctor because you might have a problem with your heart being missing.

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An accurate description of people like Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat, and Mark Gatiss. Total maniacs!

 

 

Headphones: Favourite Albums of 2015

“‘If anybody comes around to find me. If anybody asks for me,’ she said. ‘Tell ’em all I’m in the deep end singing with this music in my head.'”  -Matt Nathanson, “Headphones”

I’ve discovered a lot of great music in 2015. I don’t listen to the radio at all, so most the music I discover comes from friends, family, TV series, and sometimes even fan videos. Through these avenues, I’ve heard some amazing music I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise. As I’m living in a small town in a country where I don’t speak the language, I have a lot of time to myself. I find myself listening to music and reflecting on it – for better or worse – more than ever. Some of it has really helped me through hard times. Some of it has special memories attached. Some of it is just fun to listen to any day. This year has seen new music from old favourites, introduced me to new favourites, and moved me to the point of becoming a fan of some artists I only listened to casually before. With all this great music, it seems only appropriate to write about my favourite albums I’ve heard this year.

A few disclaimers: I’m not saying that any of these are the best albums, simply that they were the ones I’ve enjoyed the most this year. Not all of them are actually from 2015, but I heard all of them in full for the first time this year, and they are some of the ones that carried me through a year of many personal changes. I’m not including any EPs, as this list would probably be dominated by a couple artists already on it. Also, there’s not a definite ranking, though #1 is definitely my favourite.

Honourable mentions: I Forget Where We Were by Ben Howard and X by Ed Sheeran, to name a couple, were great albums but didn’t quite make the cut for one reason or another.

10. Made in the A.M. – One Direction

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Before you stop reading/disown me/think I’m a total joke, hear me out. The majority of this list has some pretty dark and different music on it. I love a lot of sad music. Sometimes, though, you just need a nice feel-good pop album. Made in the A.M. fits the bill. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for British boy bands or that I am a One Direction fan. (Not a crazy one. I just enjoy their music.) One Direction gets a lot of flack for being a boy band, but many people don’t realise that they write a lot of their own music, and their sound has grown with them. I was admittedly worried when Zayn left, and I was even more worried when I heard “Drag Me Down” because I didn’t like it. It’s still easily my least favourite song on the album. However, they proved that no one can drag them down after all. Their sound has grown with them, and their voices sound better than ever. Zayn leaving paved the way for some of the other members to show their talents, particularly Louis, whose voice seems to have gotten bit rougher, making it much sexier. Some may argue that their influences shine through too much on this album, but at least they’re mostly good influences from classic rock. There’s no denying that “Hey Angel” sounds a lot like “Bittersweet Symphony.” Some songs are quite Beatles-esque. They’ve even managed to make “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory slightly less creepy, and that’s coming from someone who has never liked that film. One Direction has a lot of songs – not only on this album – that sound like other songs, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. As far as I’m concerned, this is a great album for when you’re in need of something a bit lighter or sweeter. No guilt needed.

Favourites: “Walking in the Wind,” “Infinity,” “I Want to Write You a Song,” “Olivia,” “If I Could Fly,” “Long Way Down,” and “Hey Angel.”

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“Walking in the Wind”

9. Hozier – Hozier

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This is probably the only other really well-known album on this list. Like most people, I first discovered Hozier with “Take Me to Church,” which deserves all the accolades it’s received. (It does not deserve to have me butcher it at noraebang, but I do it, anyway.) I never really bothered to listen to him, though, until I heard “Like Real People Do” on iZombie – best show of the year, by the way – and fell in love with it. Even then, it took some time for me to really listen to the rest of his work and enjoy it. I liked “Someone New” and “From Eden,” but it actually took months to download the full album. His music is, thankfully, not like everything else out there, particularly the rest of the top 40. I’ve always liked some blues, but it’s not the most popular genre and is kind of an acquired taste. There’s a reason that people have flocked to Hozier’s music, though, and this album in its entirety shows why. His soulful voice is mesmorizing, and his lyrics are meaningful. It might take some time to grow on you, as it did me, but it’s worth it once you get there.

Side note: If you like “Like Real People Do,” check out Sabrina Carpenter’s cover of it on YouTube. She’s an extremely talented young artist and does a beautiful job with it.

Favourites: “Like Real People Do,” “Take Me to Church,” “From Eden,” “Someone New,” “Work Song,” “Foreigner’s God,” “Cherry Wine,” and “Sedated.”

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“Like Real People Do”

8. Hospice – The Antlers

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This album was recommended to me by a friend when I mentioned that I loved the hauntingly beautiful “Kettering” after hearing it in a pivotal scene on Chuck. I was told that I had to listen to this album on a rainy night and read the lyrics at the same time. I also chose to listen to it with earbuds to block out other distractions. My twisted friend said it would make me want to curl up in the foetal position and die. At the time, I thought that was a bit extreme, but I did it as promised, and I now understand why he said that. The requirements set the dark, depressing mood for this album.

Hospice is about exactly what the title says, but it’s a concept album about so much more than just hospice. It’s about a hospice worker dealing (or not dealing) with his patient/wife who has bone cancer and is slipping away, mentally and physically. It’s about an incredibly unhealthy relationship. It’s about how, even though she is abusive at times, he still loves her and cares for her. It’s about the denial he feels that this is really happening, as evidenced in “Kettering” with lines like, “I didn’t believe them when they called you a hurricane thunderclap” (what a beautifully tragic and poetic term) and “I didn’t believe them when they told me that there was no saving you.”

I’ve worked with many hospice patients in my career, and this album is – in a word – real. Although it appears to be a fictional album, it might as well be a true story. It’s raw, heartbreaking, and moving in ways that I’ve rarely experienced with music. Multiple references to Sylvia Plath in “Sylvia” and “Thirteen” have probably never been more appropriate in music. The cacophony of sounds actually fits the tone, the desperation, of the whole album. I cried through the whole thing, and it took at least a week to shake it from my mind and longer to be able to listen to it again. I had to write out my thoughts about each song and talk about them with my friend in order to escape this album. I think the line “All the while I’ll know we’re fucked and not getting unfucked soon” is also a good way to describe the effect Hospice can have. You will feel as though you’re not getting unfucked by this album anytime soon. If you like happy music, Hospice is not for you. If you like to think and feel and be as miserable as my demented friend and I apparently are, you’ll want to hear this. When you do, be sure to listen to it on a rainy night with earbuds to block out other noise, read the lyrics at the same time, and brace yourself for the despair. You’ll thank/hate me later.

Favourites: “Kettering,” “Bear,” “Two,” and “Epilogue.”

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“Kettering”

7. White Lighter – Typhoon

Like many of the entries on this list, I first heard Typhoon through TV and movies. I’ve loved the mysterious “Prosthetic Love” from the album since it was in the Veronica Mars movie. There are other Typhoon songs from TV shows that I liked that made me decide to listen to more of their work. They remind me a bit of Arcade Fire crossed with someone else, though I can’t quite place who. This is particularly true on the intense opener “Artificial Light.” Admittedly, this is one album where I haven’t read a lot of the lyrics, but the ones I have read are quite brilliant. I think the reason I haven’t read the lyrics as much as I usually do is because this is one of the few bands where I often focus more on the music itself. Typhoon is an eleven-piece band, and there is a lot going on in their music. I like to pick it apart because I can often hear something new in the background that I didn’t notice before. Its one fault with this, however, is that the songs can sometimes sound the same or some are not as memorable. With the exception of a few, I have a hard time seeing the names of them and remembering how they sound, even if I know I like them. That said, I am completely and utterly in love with “Post Script,” the gorgeous closing track, which quickly made its way onto my Every Day Songs playlist. I have a feeling this song will be a favourite song years from now, as I’m a sucker for slow songs with violins and incredibly sweet lyrics. “It won’t be necessary to love me unconditionally” is pretty much the most romantic line I’ve ever heard and my new dream line to have someone say to me someday. This album is worth a listen or two just for this song, but I highly recommend the whole thing.

Favourites: “Post Script,” “Prosthetic Love,” “Artificial Light,” “Possible Deaths,” and “Young Fathers.”

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“Prosthetic Love”

6. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens

I’ve always sort of casually listened to Sufjan Stevens in that I liked the songs I knew but never really thought much to listen to more of his music. I remember being on Pinterest and seeing a picture someone had made with lyrics from  “The Only Thing” from this album, and I liked them and downloaded it. It wasn’t until I went to Japan with my friend, however, that I decided to listen to more of his music, specifically this album. We liked to go to this spot by the river in Kyoto and play songs for each other. He played “Death With Dignity” (and possibly others from this album) for me, and the vibe provided the perfect soundtrack to a moment I think we’ll both always cherish. Sufjan Stevens masterfully juxtaposes sad lyrics about his life and his mother’s death with simple (if only on the surface), happy-sounding music throughout Carrie & Lowell, creating a deeply moving record. If you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, this album could help you find some peace. Carrie & Lowell is definitely not an album to listen to when you’re trying to get pumped, but if you just want to chill and hear some great music, you can’t go wrong with it.

Favourites: “Death With Dignity,” “The Only Thing,” “Eugene,” “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross,” “Carrie & Lowell,” and “Blue Bucket of Gold.”

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“John My Beloved”

5. Show Me Your Fangs – Matt Nathanson

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a massive Matt Nathanson fan and have been for over 10 years. I wrote about him in my post about my favourite albums of all time and stated that I prefer his older music because it is slower and bleaker. However, I still love Matt Nathanson in all forms, and Show Me Your Fangs doesn’t disappoint. It’s a nice combination of Sad Matt and Happy Matt. Matt Nathanson is friends with my favourite musician Andrew McMahon, and they’ve toured together and written songs together that (sadly) have yet to surface. That influence comes through with the piano on “Bill Murray,” which also has a slight trace of Train, while still sounding like completely Matt Nathanson. The song is a gorgeous number about a dream in which he’s friends with Bill Murray. He travels the world with Bill Murray, who gives him advice to go after the one he loves. What results is a super sweet song, which is definitely one of my favourites on this record and has the potential to become one of my favourite Matt Nathanson songs. “Disappear” is another favourite, as I think we can all relate to the lyrics “I can make good turn amazing, then disappear” at some point in our lives. Show Me Your Fangs is the perfect combination of the deep Matt Nathanson I’ve known and loved for years and the upbeat, fun Matt Nathanson he shows in concert. There are always songs on his records that I like more after hearing them live, and “Headphones” is one of those. It was released long before this album came out, and I never appreciated it enough until I saw him perform it in 2014. It became one of songs of summer 2015, as I felt I could relate to it again with lines like, “I got all I need. I feel invincible with my headphones on.” Indeed, I do. Thanks for the reminder, Matt.

Favourites: “Bill Murray,” “Disappear,” “Headphones,” “Shouting,” and “Giants.”

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I love this line. “Giants”

4. Like Us – Jon McLaughlin

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Like Matt Nathanson, Jon McLaughlin has been a favourite artist for years. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live several times, and he always puts on a great show. I’m a sucker for artists who play piano, and Jon McLaughlin is an incredible pianist with a beautiful voice. I was keen when I heard he was releasing Like Us, and my excitement grew when I heard some pre-released tracks. Jon McLaughlin is also one of those artists I listen to when I just want to relax, as his music is usually pretty mellow, but he’s also one I can listen to anytime. His music might not be what some would consider genius, as he usually writes about love/relationships, but he writes about real life and has yet to disappoint me.

Like Us explores the classical pianist side of him as much as it does the pop singer. It opens with the ethereal number “Before You,” then follows with the rather jazzy “Down In History” that showcases more of his skills on the piano. I also love the simple “whoa” part of “Down In History” because it reminds me of a lot Andrew McMahon. (I honestly like Jon McLaughlin’s voice much better, though.) It makes for an interesting combination, and it elevates the song to another level. The same jazziness can be heard on “More Than Me.” Another highlight is the upbeat, hilarious “Don’t Mess With My Girl,” which is accompanied by an equally funny video. The imagery of a “150-pound angry dude losing his mind and rocking your world” shows how funny Jon is, as anyone who has seen him live already knows but is rarely seen in his music. He then brings it back down a notch with another favourite, “I Want You Anyway,” in which he croons about knowing he’s not good enough for the girl and that she could hurt him, but he wants it all, anyway. He sings, “The way the light hangs off you. I never stood a chance. You changed every plan I had with one glance.” This song is romantic enough to bring the listeners to their knees. It’s more of the signature Jon McLaughlin listeners have come to know and love. “Thank God” changes the mood yet again, as it is reminiscent of newer Jason Mraz (but better, sorry to say) while retaining Jon McLaughlin’s own sound. My favourite, perhaps, is “Let Go.” Everything from the piano and music to the lyrics comparing the relationship to “two spoiled fickle addicts trying to walk away” and begging her to let go to his perfect voice is reminiscent of his older music. This song could almost be on Forever If Ever (or Promising Promises, as it was released under another label), my favourite album of his, and it would fit perfectly. It’s definitely become one of my favourite songs of his. The last song “Walk Away” is the perfect, slow closer, as he sings the line, “Like an atheist all dressed up in his Sunday best, we’re going through the motions, so emotionless.” Perfect.

This entire album is simply amazing from start to finish and only makes me wish I could be in the States to see Jon McLaughlin live yet again. I can only imagine that these songs are even better live, as he sings with so much emotion. I’ve never really understood why Jon McLaughlin isn’t more famous than he is, but I also kind of feel like he’s one of the industry’s best kept secrets.

Favourites: “Let Go,” “Before You,” “I Want You Anyway,” “Don’t Mess With My Girl,” and “Down In History.”

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“I Want You Anyway”

3. Yes/No/Grey. – Gangs of Ballet

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When my friend recommended this South African band to me, I was instantly interested by their name alone. I love ballet and thought the idea of there being gangs in such a graceful art was funny. Thankfully, they lived up to their awesome name by making even more awesome music. The haunting “Hello Sweet World” was the first song I heard, and after listening to clips of the other tracks, I knew the whole album would be incredible. Yes/No/Grey. has been pretty consistently in rotation since March, particularly my favourites.

The opening song “All These Things” is an energetic track that quickly sets the pace for the rest of the album. It reminds me a bit of old Fuel, along with someone else that I, once again, can’t place. After the first three tracks, “Don’t Let Me Go” brings in a lighter vibe as a sweet love song. Fair warning that this song can create earworms that, well, won’t let you go, not that you’d want them to. With the percussion, it’s nearly impossible to listen to this song without feeling happy. The uplifting sound continues with “Daydream,” as he sings, “We were stolen away in a daydream. Nothing else is real so long as you’re here…”

The tone immediately drops from dreamlike to depressing, however, with my personal favourite “Can’t Do This On My Own.” It’s absolutely perfect. Again, it reminds me of another song that I really love, but I can’t figure out what, and it’s a brilliant song in its own right. My heart drops every time I hear, “My love is undivided… My love can’t go to somebody else.” I think I’ve mentioned before how I love songs that start out slow and build to an intense finish. This song seamlessly goes back and forth between the two, and it creates a memorable effect. I’m completely in love with it.

The happiness picks up again with “Pass Me By,” which can easily be paired with “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Daydream.” The sound returns for the rest of the album. Yes/No/Grey. is a pleasant mixture of rock and pop that makes it difficult to really pigeonhole their sound or draw definite comparisons to other bands. This makes them even more awesome, in my opinion. They are also one of the reasons I had to limit my choices to including only complete albums, as their EP, simply titled EP, would be on here otherwise. Their whole collection is definitely worth checking out, and you really can’t go wrong with any of it.

Favourites: “Can’t Do This On My Own,” “Hello Sweet World,” “Don’t Let Me Go,” “Daydream,” and “Pass Me By.”

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“Don’t Let Me Go.” It should actually be: “I’ll be safe here in your arms.”

2. March Fires – Birds of Tokyo

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I first heard the Australian band Birds of Tokyo when “Lanterns” was on the TV show Legit. I don’t remember the scene, but the song stuck with me. (As did many others from this underrated series.) When I moved to Korea, I listened to “Lanterns” on the way to the airport, as it is such an anthemic song. It seemed almost too appropriate with the line, “In darkness I leave for a place I’ve never seen. It’s been calling out to me. That is where I should be.” Some time later, a good friend told me he listened to the whole record after I posted “Lanterns” on Facebook and that the whole album was divine, so I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did because every song is dynamic. The ethereal opener “Liquid Arms” gives a good impression to what the rest of March Fires has in store. The whole album feels like one big anthem, without crossing into cheesy, pushy, or cliche. March Fires flows well, and there’s really not a bad song on the whole album. I’ve seen some reviews that argued that the album is a little too neat, but I disagree. The real strength of March Fires lies not in the production but in the lyrical content, which is true poetry at times. “The Others” is a favourite, as he contemplates, “I’m trying not to notice that I’m never in the moment” and questioning, “Am I about to lose myself again?” The lyrics of the entire song are relatable to anyone, particularly those in their twenties or thirties, who are trying to find their place and balance in life. On “Boy,” he promises, “Even on cold days, my door’s always open where grey is enough light to colour my world.” March Fires, in general, is about feeling alone in a crazy world where none of us are really alone because we’re all in it together and going through the same things. (“Don’t spend your last day waiting, fearing you’re the only one ’cause we’re all in this riot. We riot as one.”) Birds of Tokyo gives us a beautiful, empowering record that will not soon be forgotten.

Favourites: “Lanterns,” “Liquid Arms,” “The Others,” “When The Night Falls Quiet,” and “Boy.”

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“Lanterns”

1. The Fire Inside – Luke Sital-Singh

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People call me a hipster because I don’t like it when things I like get really famous or popular. Once I decide something is “mine,” I get selfish, and it’s hard for me to share it with the world, even if there’s that little voice in my head that says, “Everyone in the world needs to hear this, and anyone who doesn’t like it has terrible taste.” I get very protective of the things I love the most. Luke Sital-Singh falls along these contradicting lines. I feel like everyone I deem worthy (Yes, I’m a snob) should listen to him, but I also feel like I’m not ready to share him with anyone incapable of appreciating him as much as I do. This list would be incomplete without what is easily the best album I’ve heard this year: The Fire Inside.

I first heard Luke Sital-Singh last year on a couple of TV shows. “Nothing Stays the Same” and “Bottled Up Tight” were both on Red Band Society, and “Fail For You” was on The Wrong Mans. I loved all of them, and eventually, I smartly decided to check out more of his music. Thankfully, the rest of The Fire Inside lives up to those songs. I listen to it on a regular basis (several times a month, maybe even a week) and never get tired of it. I also noticed that it’s the perfect complement for my train journeys, so it’s become something of a tradition to listen to it whenever I’m travelling. Simply put, The Fire Inside is a breathtakingly beautiful, profound album. Everything from the music to the lyrics to the vocals is just brilliant. I really don’t even have the words to explain how much I love it, but I can honestly say that it will likely be in a future list of favourite albums of all time.

The Fire Inside opens with “Nothing Stays the Same,” the first song I think I heard. Again, this is one of those songs everyone can identify with at some point in life. There’s a quiet intensity to this song that makes it absolutely perfect. The bridge is one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard, as it builds on the intensity to flawless completion. I won’t even spoil it by posting the full bridge, but several of my favourite lines from the album come from it, including, “We all show signs of greatness that we hope that someone sees.” It’s such a true sentiment. Listen to the song, and you won’t be disappointed. (Unless you have terrible taste, in which case, I’m afraid there’s no hope for you.)

It seems it would be difficult to top such a strong opener, but Luke Sital-Singh’s talent shines throughout the entire record. He sings with a passion, almost a desperation, that is missing in so much music these days. Whether it’s the gentle encouragement and understanding of “Nearly Morning” (“When no one understands you’re breaking ground, you’re not the only one who can’t be found”), the pleading “Lilywhite” (“Rip out all of my excuses; tell me softly who you’re hiding from”), the haunting and heartwrenching “Fail For You” (“By the look in your eye, the only thing I couldn’t do was fail for you”), or the more positive and upbeat “We Don’t Belong” (“You don’t belong, but we don’t belong together. Yeah, you feel alone; we can feel alone together.”), you can’t listen to this album without feeling something.

As with Hospice, I had a hard time shaking The Fire Inside but in an entirely different way. When I heard Hospice, I had a difficult time listening to it again. The Fire Inside is just so brilliant and beautiful that I don’t want to stop listening to it and often find myself listening to it over and over. There are no skippable songs. I’m planning to make a fan video for “Benediction” – and possibly other songs of his – about a certain TV couple I ship hard because it fits them too perfectly. There’s every chance that it will break my heart while I’m making it (there will be tears), but that just shows how much this album moved me and how strongly it can make you feel. If you listen to The Fire Inside, there’s a good chance you’ll be like me and start listening to all of Luke Sital Singh’s other beautiful music. You’ll “cry your eyes out, fill your lungs up” when you do, but you will never regret it.

Favourites: “Nothing Stays the Same,” “Nearly Morning,” “Fail For You,” “Lilywhite,” “We Don’t Belong,” and “Benediction.” There’s not a single bad song.

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“Benediction”

Music To Drive and Cry To: Favourite Albums

“You’re breaking down the day. You’re soaking up a storm. Run away from what you are. Run, you’ll always have a scar.” -Endochine, “Music To Drive and Cry To”

For as long as I can remember, music has always been my life. At 3, my favourite songs were “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna and “Angel” by Aerosmith. My parents taught me important life lessons by singing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” all the time when I was young. (Okay, maybe they still do that.) It’s not surprising that I got my passion for music from two people who also painted Steve Winwood’s Arc of a Diver album cover on a wall. Years later, I started painting lyrics on umbrellas, canvas, and even tables. It’s in my blood. Music has made the best times of my life even better and carried me through the worst. I suppose it was inevitable that I’d write a blog about my top ten albums.

I knew it would be difficult to narrow this list down to only ten albums, so I set a few parameters. Any albums on this list had to stand the test of time. I decided that each one needed to be in my life for at least 5 years. (Sorry, Forever If Ever, you’re not old enough yet.) They also had to be full-length albums, which disqualified Darcie Miner’s self-titled album. Each musician could only make one appearance on the list, even if they have been in multiple bands, as is the case with a couple of these. Finally, each album had to have an impact on my life. I’m not saying that these are the greatest albums of all time or that they are musically brilliant to anyone else, but they all have a special meaning to me.

With all this in mind, please note that these albums are not ranked. That said, the first couple are the ones that almost didn’t make it, while others were always definites.

Honorable mentions: Coral Fang by The Distillers, Rising by Elevaters, Days In Avalon by Richard Marx, Affirmation by Savage Garden, Key of a Minor by Jessica Riddle, and Futures by Jimmy Eat World. I also feel like I should add Jason Mraz’s Waiting For My Rocket to Come or Tonight, Not Again: Live at Eagles Ballroom to this list, considering I’ve always thought that if he put his best songs on one album, it would create the perfect album. Several of these albums were barely edged out of the final cut.

10. Musicforthemorningafter – Pete Yorn

peteyorn

I’ve been trying to remember exactly how I got into Pete Yorn. I’m pretty sure I heard “Just Another” on “Ed” around 2001 or so and have been a fan ever since. I pulled a lot of all-nighters during my first couple years of college, and this album got me through them. Years later, when my best friend and I discovered we were both fans, it took our relationship to a whole new level. Musicforthemorningafter is one of those albums that I can listen to anytime, whether I’m happy or sad or just want a great album to listen to. I enjoy it thoroughly every time. Pete Yorn is one of the few artists I love who I’ve never had a chance to see live, but it’s on my bucket list, if only to finally hear one of my all-time favourite songs, “On Your Side,” live.

“Lose You”

9. Day Two – Endochine

endochine

Endochine only released one album and never had a hit, so I’m glad I found them. The first time I heard them was when “Secrets” was on a JCPenney commercial in summer 2004. I was getting into Paloalto at the time and thought it was them at first. Thankfully, it showed the artist (not Paloalto) and song at the end of the commercial. I typically only listen to this when I’m really depressed (“Without Love”), lonely (“Can’t Find a Way”), or mad (“Stalker.”) Even if I happen to listen to it, and I’m not in those moods, I love it. There’s a reason the title of this blog comes from this album because that’s exactly what this album is – music to drive and cry to. I have done exactly that with this album many times. Eleven years later, it’s still therapeutic for me.

8. My Private Nation – Train

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I’ll probably get teased by some for having a Train album on here, but I really love this one. Train has a tendency to release their worst songs as singles that don’t always represent their true talent. This was the album that started that pattern. Their lyrics are both witty and beautiful, sometimes in the same song. Some make me laugh. (“I don’t spend my time with anyone who doesn’t think I’m wonderful or somewhat cash refundable at times.”) Some are romantic and even cute. (“I think the shade of you is on the brink of changing all the ways I see the world. I could drown inside a single drop of all the kinds of things you got and all the kinds of things I’m not.”) Some are just heartbreakingly relatable, which are often my favourites. (“I’ll tell myself that I never needed anybody, anyway, but anyway, I need you.”) My mom, sister, and I have listened to this album so many times. It says something that the three of us all consider it a favourite but all have different favourite songs on it. My mom tends to go for funky songs, whereas I’m all about poignant lyrics. “Lincoln Avenue” and “I’m About To Come Alive” are two of my all-time favourite songs that have helped me through some of the toughest times and worst heartaches in my life.

“I’m About To Come Alive”

7. Evan and Jaron – Evan and Jaron

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I don’t say this about many artists, but this is one of those cases where I can honestly say it: There’s not a single Evan and Jaron song that I dislike. It would be easy for some to dismiss them because of their (insanely drop-dead gorgeous) good looks, but these twins possess true talent. There’s no denying that this is a feel-good album. When I want sad Evan and Jaron, I listen to their other music, maybe We’ve Never Heard of You Either or Not From Concentrate. When I want to be happy, I listen to this one, though the songs obviously aren’t all happy. Either way, there’s no way to lose. Like Train, their lyrics are often beautiful and clever (“To all the girls who wish to be immortalized in fantasy, I wrote this song for you and not for me.” BURN! Wait a minute… He didn’t write it for me?!) I’d describe this album with some of my favourite lyrics from it: “There were sounds of promise and shades of grace…” They’ve since both gone on to do other things. Jaron released a hit country (because he can pull off any genre) single a few years ago called “Pray For You,” and Evan started a successful online concert venue called StageIt that I highly recommend for both musicians and fans. As a diehard fan, though, I’m still hoping for a reunion because they’re way too talented to stay behind the scenes forever.

“I Could Fall”

6. Opaline – Dishwalla

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Most people remember Dishwalla for “Counting Blue Cars.” It’s a great song, but Opaline is easily their best work. Sometimes I feel like only my mom and I appreciate this album. I don’t even know where to begin because this album is incredibly gorgeous. Opaline is best when you want something relatively mellow or when you’re depressed. There are three songs I listen to on a regular basis because I consider them favourites – “Angels or Devils,” “Somewhere in the Middle,” and “Every Little Thing.” These are also three of my go-to depression songs. (I’m not a depressed person, but I like sad music because it makes me truly feel.) “Will you find out who you are too late to change?” is one of the saddest, best lines. I don’t use this term a lot, but I consider them to be “perfect” songs in that I wouldn’t change a single thing about them. There’s honestly not a bad song on the whole album. When I listen to it, I always say, “I forgot how stunningly beautiful this album is,” and I text that to my mom, who always agrees because it’s the truth.

“Angels or Devils”

5. No Name Face – Lifehouse

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I should preface this by saying that I’m not a very religious person anymore. For me to include a Christian album on this list says a lot about it, though I don’t really look at the songs in a religious context. I think anyone can relate to the themes of love, loss, feeling lost, and loneliness. Again, there’s not a bad song. I actually think this is another case where they released the worst song on the album. “Hanging By a Moment” is not even close to being a bad song; the others are just that great. Ever since this album came out, my mom, sister, and I have had a tradition with the song “Quasimodo.” I might be the only one who still does it, but after I do something that makes me nervous (such as a test), I listen to that song, and I can physically feel the weight and anxiety being released.. “There goes the world off of my shoulders. There goes the world off of my back.” I had an open class a few weeks ago and listened to this song after it. It always gives me something to look forward to when I do something difficult. My favourite by far, though, is “Everything.” I’m a sucker for songs that start slow and build to a powerful climax, and this song does exactly that. The music, the lyrics, the vocals – everything is just perfect. Sorry, Lifehouse, but I’m pretty sure you will never be able to top “Everything” or this album.

“How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you? Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?”

4. Head On Straight – Tonic

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Tonic is up there with Dishwalla as a band everyone knows for mainly one song (“If You Could Only See”), but they’re much more than that. My mom and I have been diehard Tonic fans since their Sugar album, and again, we love different songs on this album. I love all of their music, but I picked this album because I really love every song on it. I can pick favourite songs from their other albums, but I can’t with this one because I love them all so much. I’ve always said that of all the artists out there, Emerson Hart is the one who writes my soul. Tonic is the band I turn to when I want to be understood. Remember the Evan and Jaron lyric I wrote up there? They might not write songs for me, but Emerson surely does. His lyrics are real and straight from(/t0) the heart, but he has a way of wording things that few could. This album has something for every mood – happy (“Believe Me”), angry (“Liar”), depressed (“Head On Straight”), or hopeful (“On Your Feet Again.”) I can’t say enough about this album or what Tonic has done for me. I have said for years that if I ever have a son, I will name him Emerson after Emerson Hart, if that tells you anything.

“Do You Know”

3. Everything In Transit – Jack’s Mannequin

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“Have you ever been alone in a crowded room when I’m here with you?” The setting was Maurice’s, a small clothing store in small town North Carolina, sometime in 2006. All it took was that one line to change my life forever. If you know me, chances are you know that Andrew McMahon is my favourite musician. He’s the main reason I had to set the “one album per musician” rule for this list. I could easily put The Glass Passenger or a Something Corporate album in this spot, but Everything In Transit seemed the most appropriate, especially because it’s the album that got me into his music. There are a lot of crazy coincidences with this album and Andrew’s life that I won’t get into, but it’s still an album anyone can relate to. He had me instantly with his lyrics and piano, though it took some time for his voice to grow on me. His insane piano skills bring a different sound to his music, which makes it difficult to classify it sometimes. I just classify it as “brilliant.” He’s not afraid of change, and his sound has matured so much. Something Corporate, his band before Jack’s Mannequin, doesn’t really sound like Jack’s Mannequin, and Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness doesn’t sound a lot like either of them. I love that about him because I never know what to expect, but I know he will not disappoint. I think this album is somewhere between Something Corporate and what later become of Jack’s Mannequin. It still had a bit of a SoCo vibe but showed progression. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that he, too, wrote his best song years ago. You know a song is amazing when it’s over 9 minutes long, was never released on a major label, and is the most popular song that is still requested at every show he plays to this day, despite him repeatedly saying he won’t play it. I’m talking, of course, about “Konstantine,” the song so brilliant I tattooed it on my back. You’d be doing yourself a favor to listen to Everything In Transit or any of his other work. You’re welcome in advance.

“Rescued” (the most overlooked song on Everything In Transit)

2. Heroes and Villains – Paloalto

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I remember it well. I was watching “Without a Trace” with my mom and sister in summer 2004. A song came on, and I’m not even sure if it took until the singing started for us to simultaneously say, “We need this song!” We learned that the song was “The World Outside” by Paloalto. Heroes and Villains became a staple that summer and continues to be one when we’re together. When we went to California in 2004, we pretty much only had this album and Radiohead’s The Bends (another great one) in rotation. James Grundler from Paloalto is now in a band called Golden State. Chances are that you’ve heard his work but didn’t know it was him. He wrote a single for Westlife (who were incredibly popular overseas, but it seemed I was their only fan in the US) a few years ago, and if you’ve ever seen a trailer for pretty much any dolphin movie, you’ve heard Golden State. I’ve been a fan for over 10 years, so I can say what I am about to say without hesitation. James Grundler is the most underrated musician out now. His lyrics are insanely brilliant, his ethereal voice is one of the best voices (if not the best) in music today, and his music is equally perfect. I’m a shameless promoter to the point that I think Golden State knows me by now. However, I’ve kept James Grundler’s music somewhat protected because I feel like people need to be able to appreciate the magnitude of his talent, so I don’t share it with just anyone. What does Heroes and Villains mean to me? I once was listening to it while a bad situation started unfolding. I turned off the music so that it wouldn’t get tainted because it’s too easy to associate music with moments. I can listen to this album anytime, but I think I appreciate it most when I’m either upset or with my mom and sister. Again, we all consider it to be a favourite but have different favourite songs. I’ve always had a soft spot for “Hangman” and “The Last Way Out of Here,” two all-time favourites. You just can’t beat a chorus like “And you’re feeling who you are, and you don’t care who it is. How do you feel? And you’re barely wonderful, and you don’t care if it hurts. How do you feel? It’s the last way out of here…” I love the idea of being “barely wonderful.” See? Perfect.

“Throwing Stones”

1. Beneath These Fireworks – Matt Nathanson

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I believe I was always meant to be a Matt Nathanson fan. I was watching “Joan of Arcadia” one night in 2003, and I heard a song. “It’s amazing, the look in your eyes, like you could save me, but you won’t even try.” That line made me an instant fan. This was before anyone knew who he was, so I couldn’t find out what the song was. I searched on the Internet, and nothing came up, but the song never left me. A few months later, my mom said, “There was a song on ‘Joan of Arcadia’ you’d like. They showed the song and artist at the end. I wrote it down.” It turned out that the episode was a rerun, and I went online to listen to the song she wrote down – “I Saw” by Matt Nathanson. I could have cried when I realized that it was THE song. I was happier when I realized that the whole album was amazing. Once again, there’s not a song on this album that I dislike, though I have my favourites. “I Saw” is still one of them. I protect that song, as well, because it means too much to me to have it ruined. I have always loved Matt because he is lyrically brilliant, and his music is sometimes depressing. Surprisingly, he’s the funniest, raunchiest live performer I’ve seen with one of the best live shows. He’s found fame since Beneath These Fireworks, but he has yet to release anything like it. It sounds terrible, but there are times I miss the bitter Matt from this album. Beneath These Fireworks is another one that I can listen to no matter what mood I’m in – happy, sad, bitter, hopeful, whatever. He does it all to perfection. Show me how pretty the world is, Matt. You’re brilliant when you try.

“I Saw”