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2013 was an amazing year for music. So many good albums showed up right until the very end of the year. (I’m really liking this new Beyoncé album believe it or not.) So this year’s list is mostly music with a few bits and pieces at the end for fun. On with it…
1. Nick Cave - Push The Sky Away Nick Cave made the best album of the year hands down. I’ve been following Cave since high school and he is truly one of a handful of musicians still able to make compelling music after thirty years. I was lucky enough to see the live show as well and his set list for the tour was pretty incredible. His latest version of Stagger Lee does not disappoint. I’ve been yacking about this album all year…I’ve said enough.
2. King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath The Moon I started following Archie Marshall late last year after purchasing his first self-titled EP immediately after hearing the song The Noose of Jah City. I almost like the less-produced earlier stuff better—it had a real basement quality to it. But, I like everything he’s doing. He’s going to be fun to watch over the next few years.
3. Rhye - Woman I’ve been a big fan of Mike Milosh for a while now and I really like this new collaboration with the guy from Quadron (who also put out a decent album this year). This remix of The Fall is pretty fantastic.
4. Tricky - False Idols I went to see a Liz Phair show in the early 1990s and the opening act was this guy who lit a giant blunt on stage and sang along to some pre-mixed stuff in a scratchy voice while the Moore Theatre filled with smoke. Maxinquaye came out a few weeks later and it’s still one of my favorite albums of all time. False Idols gets back to that original trip hop sound and Francesca Belmonte is a good match on vocals—it’s great to see Tricky back in form. (He’s still sampling David Sylvian too!)
5. Elvis Costello & The Roots This album is really good. One-off collaborations rarely are, so perhaps there will be more. This is great stuff. Check out Tripwire on Late Night..
6. Yasmine Hamdan - Ya Nass Yasmine hails from Lebanon and currently lives in Paris. She teamed up with the guy from Novell Vague and produced an excellent debut. The album is sung in various Arabic dialects set to dreamy music that combines traditional folk with electronica. Her voice is amazing. Check out Samar.
7. Haim - Days Are Gone Simple, great pop music. I played this one a lot. Loud. It was good. (Also, Este Haim has the best Bass Face ever.)
8. Lorde - Pure Heroine More great pop music. Check out a great early morning live performance on KCRW. She’s gonna be bigger than she already is.
9. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City I really didn’t expect to like this album as much as I did. I liked both albums previous, but I assumed it would be more of the same. It’s not. It’s better.
10. Willy Mason - Carry On I first heard Willy Mason on the album Hawk from Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan. Then again on a great duet with Lianne La Havas called No Room For Doubt. This is the first album solo album from Willy that I’ve listened to. Sounds like tragic roots music with an occasional modern twist and some “Tom Waitsy” percussion. It is good. Talk Me Down Video
11. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe I didn’t know anything about Dev Hynes when I first heard this album. I’m still not even sure I know how to describe it. R&B? Silky bedroom disco? This video might help. I really do like it though.
12. The National - Trouble Will Find Me This album makes me want to drink too much whiskey and be sad, then happy. Then sad again. My kind of album. (Bonus points for ending the album with a nod to the Violent Femmes.)
13. Hiatus Kaiyote - Tawk Tomahawk Funk-rock-neo-soul with a guest appearance from Q-Tip! Something like Little Dragon meets Jill Scott. Can’t wait to hear more from these guys. Check them out on KCRW.
14. Jim James : Regions of Light and Sound of God This is a solo album from the guy who sings for My Morning Jacket. I never really got into My Morning Jacket, but I like this album quite a bit. A strange mix of folky electronic revival music from outer space. Here’s a video for A New Life with dancing buffalo lady.
15. Kanye West - Yeezus While it’s true that Kanye West has become a giant, ego-maniacal asshat over the years, I still (mostly) like the music he makes. This album is something altogether different—just like College Dropout was when it came out. Justin Vernon from Bon Iver is back singing as is last year’s favorite, Frank Ocean. Lou Reed probably wrote the best review of this album here. Lou calls the album “Majestic”. I don’t think I’d go that far, but either way—hurry up with my damn croissants!
Here’s some non-music stuff that I thought deserved a nod. Sadly, I don’t remember seeing one good movie all year long.
16. Hawkeye Comics - Matt Fraction & David Aja With the exception of Frank Miller’s Batman stuff, I’ve never been a big fan of super hero comics. And aside from the recent films, I know very little about Marvel’s Avengers. That said, Marvel’s new Hawkeye series from Matt Fraction and David Aja is easily my favorite comic book of the year. To be able to take a low-rent character like Hawkeye and turn him into something interesting—and funny—is a testament to Fraction’s writing. Pair that with Aja’s illustrations and a “Chris Ware like” attention to both detail and pacing and you have a superb comic about a regular joe who also happens to be an Avenger while managing an apartment building and getting into trouble with Russian hooligans, bro. The only bad thing I have to say about Hawkeye is that Aja doesn’t illustrate every issue, and I really prefer his stuff to his stand-in. If you have anyinterest in comic books or good story-telling go buy My Life As A Weapon and Little Hits.
17. Saga - Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples Saga is another excellent comic book (though, this one might be called a “Graphic Novel” even though I’m never quite sure what the difference is.) Vaughan wrote Y: The Last Man a few years back, and while I liked that quite a bit, Saga is much better. People are calling this a “Space Opera” and I suppose that’s a fitting title. Fantasy meets outer space in a classic Star Wars/Romeo & Juliet storyline with plenty of drama, comedy, sex and violence (not for the kids!). Vaughan’s storyline is great, but I really like Fiona Staples’ illustrations here. This one is just getting started, but it looks to be an epic tale. Pick up Saga Vol. 1 and Saga Vol. 2
18. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia I finally caught up with Always Sunny this year and watched every single season. Sweet jesus this show is great! Funniest thing on TV without question. Also I have a crush on Sweet Dee.
19. PBS - Mind of a Chef If all shows about food were this great I would get cable TV again. Mind of a Chef Season One is all David Chang with plenty of MSG and whiskey. Season Two is split between Sean Brock and April Bloomfield. Both seasons are narrated by Anthony Bourdain and the show is really fun and informative—lots of good science info and real world technique. Sean Brock did a great episode where he traced southern food to its true origins in West Africa. If you have AppleTV you can watch them all anytime you want.
20. Netflix - Orange Is The New Black/House of Cards If this is the future of television sign me up. Both of these shows were excellent and the all-in-one format is perfect for how I like to watch television. If only we could subscribe to HBO Go without the extra 200 channels of crap Comcast forces you to buy alongside it. Kudos to Netflix for doing it right.
Those conversations you have with friends where you make plans to get together but don’t quite seal the deal are the worst. Why do we do that? My friend Justin and I had made plans earlier in the year to hang out and get some food at a Kenyan Safari restaurant he was raving about in Georgetown. It sounded great. And, perhaps this is a Seattle thing, but we made all the necessary arrangements—save an actual date and time. In a word, we failed at being friends. This is not uncommon. It happens every day.
Fast forward ten months and I’m sitting at my desk working furiously under a handful of sinister deadlines. Throughout any given day, various people will email me asking for photographs for a magazine article or a blog post—all of my clients do this on a regular basis—it’s part of my job. Sure enough, my longtime pal and client Margaret from 611 Supreme was looking for some photos of our friend and her former bartender, Justin, and she was wondering if I had anything in high resolution for a flyer she was making. She also assumed that I knew what had happened. What happened? Well, it turns out that Justin had just killed himself a few days prior, and she wanted to make a flyer to promote a wake in his honor. I kind of lost it.
After sobbing into my keyboard for hours, I found some photos and sent them off and asked what had happened. Not many details, but she was hosting a wake of her own for Justin at 611 the very next day and I attended and saw all the old crowd and told all the old stories and we all cried quite a bit. It was a bittersweet, sad mess of an affair.
But what about Justin? He was such an amazing person. I sat at his bar for years. I saw him every Friday. It’s absurd to try and actually explain what a warm, honest and beautiful person he was. It’s also odd to say that you truly love somebody that you hadn’t seen in over a year—or only ever saw once a week previously at his workplace. But you couldn’t not love Justin. That’s just how it worked with him. But I’m not going to try to describe how great he was to people who didn’t actually know him—but if you did know him you completely understand. In the end, we had a few dinners together, saw a few live shows together, but mostly it was just hanging out at his bar at 611 that made the difference for me. He was a weekly respite from it all. He was somebody to look forward to.
Here’s my advice to everybody: Stop making those empty plans. Either make the plans or move on. But if you really want to spend time with somebody, do it. There’s only so much time left. Spend it with the people who make a difference in your life. Another thing, if you ever suspect your friends are suffering under the weight of the world, make that effort. Answer that phone call. Drive across town. Do what it takes. And finally, you don’t get to take your own life. As bad as it gets, you just don’t get to do that. As Louis C.K. said once: “It isn’t YOUR life. It’s something you PARTICIPATE in.” I was never quite sure I bought into this idea before, but man, I sure do now. I just wonder what conversation—what notion—could have made all the difference for Justin.
Justin, you were amazing. You were brilliant. You made an impression on every person you met. You mattered. I will miss you more than I could have ever imagined because I couldn’t ever imagine this sad scenario. I guess I always assumed we would eventually set a proper date and get some of that Kenyan Safari food whatever the hell it was. I guess I just waited too damn long. I’m so sorry I did.
See you in the next one brother.
I watched a lot of television as a kid. A lot. For some reason I was even allowed to have a 12 inch black & white TV in my bedroom from time to time. Around the age of seven, I started seeing previews for a new show called The Six Million Dollar Man and I could barely contain my excitement. This show looked amazing. The premier episode seemed like more of an event than a show, and I was so ready to be a part of it all. On the day of the pilot episode, I made a giant bowl of cereal and sat myself down in front of the TV fifteen minutes early and waited for the magic to begin. Just as I got comfortable, my mom and dad walked into my room and asked me to join them in the living room for something very important. Important? What could be more important than a man barely alive that needs to be rebuilt with bionics? Better, stronger, and faster? I put down the cereal bowl in a huff and followed them into the living room.
"Geoff, your mom and I are getting a divorce. I’m going to live somewhere else now, but we’re all going stay friends."
"Okay." I said, rushing back to the TV just in time to catch the opening credits where Steve Austin’s aircraft crashes into the desert. The show was amazing. I watched every single episode that followed it—even the Lindsay Wagner stuff.
The strange thing is, I have no memory of Dad leaving the house. It never felt like anything bad ever happened. It just happened—probably a few days or weeks later—I really have no idea. It hardly seems real. But I remember that particular night like it was yesterday. And Dad was right, we all got to be friends.
Since mom had a full-time job I quickly became a latch-key kid and the television became kind of like a buddy. I had lots of real friends, and we all spent lots of time outside riding bikes and building forts and all that good unsupervised stuff childhood is famous for, but right after school I always had some time to myself at home. And during that time it was all Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island and Star Trek reruns. I can still sing the theme songs to both Petticoat Junction and Love Boat without really trying.
Some of my more vivid memories involve experiencing televised events with my (newly single) mom on the couch after doing my homework. Back then, watching television seemed like much more of a collective, societal event—it always seemed like everybody was watching the same thing at the same time—no cable, no DVR, nothing on demand. You actually had to tune in. And we often did. Together we watched Michael Jackson’s first moonwalk on the Grammy Awards, Mary Lou Retton getting a perfect 10 at the Los Angeles Olympics, and we were both shocked to discover that it was the sister-in-law who shot J.R. (spoiler alert). Granted, perhaps Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk was not quite as important as Neal Armstrong’s in the grande scheme of televised events, but to me, it was pure magic.
But, of all the shows we watched together I think it was Miami Vice that had the biggest impact on me. Miami Vice changed television and it changed me. I was already in high school when the pilot came out, but that didn’t stop me from staying home on Friday nights with my mom to watch Crocket & Tubbs battle the evil drug lords of Dade County. This was an entirely new genre. It was really the first television show to introduce style as substance. And Michael Mann did it brilliantly. Before Miami Vice, television was just weak plots with one-dimesional characters involved in gunfights where nobody ever died. Mann introduced pop music and art direction. Consequence and grit—polished grit mind you—but it was still grit. Miami grit. Shit was going down. And it seems hard to imagine now, but nothing like this existed at all before Miami Vice arrived on the small screen in 1984. Michael Mann changed television.
My favorite scene—and what is one of the greatest scenes in all of television—occurred during the pilot. This was Michael Mann showing the world what this whole thing was going to be about. Our two heroes, undercover vice cops Crockett & Tubbs, are speeding through Miami in a black Ferrari Daytona as the Phil Collins song “In The Air Tonight” begins to play. The song starts with a simple synth drum and bit of guitar reverb—but overall it’s very sparse. Throughout the first part of the scene there is no ambient sound at all, just the music. It is entirely quiet. The car is filmed from various angles and the camera keeps coming back to the streetlights reflected off the Ferrari’s hood as the road speeds by. Crockett & Tubbs look angry and tired—but determined. They drive on, obviously heading to some sort of ultimate standoff.
Enter Michael Mann’s genius: Tubbs, in the passenger seat, picks up a sawed-off shotgun and begins loading shells into it. While the sound of the car is still completely mute, the sound of the shells—thunk…thunk—are crystal clear. (So great!) He finally closes the gun with a loud clack as Phil Collins begins to sing. The song is still fairly subdued and a synthesizer quietly creeps in alongside Phil. Then Sonny decides he has time to make a phone call and pulls up to a pay phone below a giant pink and teal neon sign for Bennay’s Cafe. (So eighties!) He calls his ex-wife and asks her a question: “It was real wasn’t it?” He’s referring to everything they had together before the breakup because he knows he is going in deep now, he might not see her or the kid for a long time—if ever. She says yes. It was real, and asks what’s wrong. Nothing. He gets back into the car and speeds off at the exact moment that Phil Collins’ synth drums really kick in—you know the part. (It gives me chills every time.) This scene introduced the beginning of a new kind of television. Television that would blend music and fashion with action and style. It was the greatest thing I had ever seen on that 20 inch box in all of my 15 years.
I watched every episode after. I began to wear teal sport coats made from linen. I wore topsiders with no socks. Wayfarer sunglasses. The show had an effect on me. Eventually, after a few seasons, the term “Miami Vice” itself became a pejorative to describe questionable fashion choices and I soon traded in my pastels for black. But it was a good run while it lasted. I have no regrets.
Memory is a funny thing. I had carried a vivid memory of that scene in my head for nearly two decades before I ever saw it again. It was always with me and I would describe it during various (drunken) conversations with friends in bars or at parties. "The greatest scene in the history of television!" I would proclaim… But in my mind I always thought Sonny had said: “Was it real?” in the phone booth. Once YouTube showed up I finally got to see the clip again and discovered that he actually said "It was real, wasn’t it?" Close enough. I suppose most of the things I remember are real in varying degrees.
Watch the scene here. There are a few moments of footage before and after the scene I’m referring to. When the music starts you’ll know.
If you are interested, Miami Vice is available on Netflix streaming. I’m well into season two. Television will never be the same.
Typically, at the end of each year, I produce a handful of top ten lists for my own personal amusement. This year is no different, though I have decided to combine them all into a single best of everything list. Keeps the whole thing more honest. And less work overall. Here it is, Top Ten of 2012:
1. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange This album will likely be on a number of lists this year if not all of them. And, I’m guessing the Grammys will come calling as well. When I first heard Channel Orange shortly before summer, I was simply stunned at how great it was. I hadn’t heard a reinvention of R&B this compelling since D’Angleo’s VooDoo. Channel Orange already felt like the the best album of the year in early spring and then it quickly became the obvious soundtrack of 2012’s summer as well—but I kind of wondered if the thrill would be gone by fall. Not so. Still great even now. A classic. The songs are confessional, cinematic, and layered—there’s just so much to discover. And the guest spots are perfect: Earl Sweatshirt rapping on Super Rich Kids is fantastic. André 3000 also adds the perfect chorus to Pink Matter. John Mayer. Charlie Hunter. All good stuff.
Pick up Frank’s earlier (free) album Nostalgia, Ultra why you’re at it (Songs For Women is still one of his best tracks.) I won’t say anymore about Channel Orange that hasn’t been said by every other critic around. And sure, it’s always strange to like something that everybody else likes too—but man, there’s never any shame in that. Frank is just that good. If you don’t like this album you may need to check yourself.
2. Louis C.K.The funniest standup comedian working today. Man he’s good. He also has one of the most original television shows around and he actually edits the show himself on a MacBook Pro. This is great. If you want to know why his show is so compelling, there’s your answer. He’s not playing by the rules. He’s editing the show himself. He also produced a video of a standup show earlier in the year and sold it on his own website for $5. I bought one immediately—so did a lot of other people. (He made millions). I love everything about this DIY attitude. He’s offering a direct channel to his work. This is the future of entertainment consumption. This is what will make piracy obsolete—not DRM. I also signed up for his mailing list when I bought the video. Several months later he sent out an email telling me (and a bunch of others) that he was doing a show in Seattle. I bought two tickets without blinking an eye for $40 each. Turns out, I had two front row seats a mere three feet from the stage. My pal Bill and I caught the show a few weeks ago and it was great! His best work since Chewed Up. Of course, none of this would matter if Louis wasn’t the funniest goddamned person around. But he is, so it all works out.
3. Die Antwoord I love this band. Against all better judgment I am smitten by Die Antwoord. There is a giant a pile of politically correct reasons to not like Die Antwoord, but in spite of them all, I can’t stop listening. Even more so, I can’t stop watching their videos. In fact, I first took note of them after watching an incredible video for a song called Baby’s On Fire. This was my introduction to Die Antwoord. It’s amazing stuff visually, but I still didn’t quite buy into the music right away and nearly dismissed it. But, for some reason I decided to watch it again a few days later and I was officially hooked. After that came Fatty Boom Boom. This video (and song) is an infectious hot mess. I couldn’t look away. It was phenomenal. Then, after watching every video of Die Antwoord I could find, I was still unsure if the music could be detached from the visuals. But sure enough, I ended up buying the entire music catalog and I play it often. I am a fan. From there I studied the band, their South African roots, Afrikaner slang, a certain style called Zef, even more videos with amazing collaborators like photographer Roger Ballen, and on and on. I even heard that David Lynch had them over for coffee. I haven’t found anything this original in a very long time. It’s a complete package—it might even be a carefully crafted work of performance art—but it doesn’t matter. I like everything about Die Antwoord. Also, Yolandi is super hot.
4. Building Stories I’ve been collecting Chris Ware’s comics since the early nineties and he’s one of my favorite artists. His latest book Building Stories is collection of stories built over time about a three story building and you can essentially build the narrative yourself. Building stories as you go. You begin by choosing where to start among fourteen discrete printed works in the form of books, pamphlets, broadsheets, tracts, and more—all stored in a giant box. It’s as epic as Ware is humble. I saw him speak at a Seattle Town Hall event earlier this year and that was pretty neat too. One thing that really stuck with me was that he confessed to never having a real solid idea of how a page would turn out before he started drawing. He just started in the top left corner and worked the panels down the page until it was full. He said something along the lines of: “Your brain is a pretty reliable thing…just let it work for you.” Great stuff.
5. Kumaré My dad and I saw this film together at the Northwest Film Forum earlier this summer and it exceeded my expectations. What could have easily turned into a mean-spirited mock fest became a surprisingly moving story about how people are easily deceived by themselves and the gurus they follow. What began as a documentary “stunt” about the nefarious nature of eastern philosophy peddlers, became a powerful learning experience for every single person involved in the film—both in front of and behind the camera. And ultimately, some pretty hilarious comedic moments. Kumaré is great stuff all around. Recommended.
6. British Television Two of my favorite television shows this year were Luther and Sherlock, both from the BBC. Luther is an atypical cop story played by the fantastic Idris Elba who you may remember as Stringer Bell from The Wire. Sherlock is an excellent reimagining of the classic Sherlock Holmes character set in modern times staring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. This version of Sherlock Holmes is much better than the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey mess you see on the big screen. While I love both Downey’s character and Ritchie’s art direction—their version of Holmes comes off as having nearly supernatural powers and the ability to see the future—it doesn’t feel like true science to me. Sherlock, on the other hand, only has his real-world wits about him—enhanced by a troubling case of something close to Asperger Syndrome. Good writing and acting by all.
7. Skyfall Speaking of Brits, Skyfall makes my list this year as one of the very few films I actually saw in the theater. And while I still think Casino Royale is the better Bond film, I’m adding this here because I really appreciate what Daniel Craig and Co. have brought to the franchise. My dad took me to my first Bond film in 1977, The Spy Who Loved Me, and I’ve been hooked ever since. But recently, before Craig came along, it seemed like the Bond films were becoming fairly ridiculous—and potentially irrelevant. The worst example of this was Pierce Brosnan’s final go at it in Die Another Day. In the film, Brosnan’s clownish Bond drives an invisible car and kite-surfs an ice tidal wave. (!?!) In contrast, Daniel Craig’s tension-filled portrayal of Bond at the poker table in Casino Royale will always be more exciting than trendy stunts and the constant running from explosions. Character driven, smaller scenes, less campy, Skyfall delivers—and Javier Bardem is a great villain. Craig has two more films to go and I’m looking forward to them both. (Editor’s note: This list exists in an alternate universe in which Quantum of Solace was never made.)
8. Reggie Watts - Live at The Neptune I was a big fan of Reggie Watt’s Seattle music career in the mid nineties and I saw him perform at numerous bars and clubs in various incarnations, with my favorite stuff being Maktub—they were such a great live band. So, it was really fun to catch him again at The Neptune doing his now famous comedy/music non-sequitur masterpiece of a standup routine that you may have seen on Conan or Comedy Central. The stuff he’s doing now is genius. Pure comedy genius. Nothing like it. Must be seen to be understood. Start here.
9. Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again Great new artist and one of my favorite albums of the year. Old school 70s style soul meets folk. Think Bill Withers, Al Green, maybe even a little Marvin. This Englishman is smooth. Just get the album. Good video here.
10. Back To Work & Roderick On The Line #supertrain I’ve been tuning in to Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann’s Back To Work podcast since the first episode and it has been a great weekly listen that offers good laughs and quality insight. Part mindfulness for business and part reality check for information workers, this podcast is essential listening—especially if you are running a business or wondering if you should quit your job to start one. But mostly it’s just a couple of smart guys bantering about.
This year, Merlin fired up another podcast with local Seattle musician and writer John Roderick* who you may know from The Long Winters. Roderick On The Line is also a couple of guys bantering about and it’s pretty hilarious. Topics include German history, fun facts about locomotives, scimitar business culture and a whole lot more. Roderick’s humor is pretty fantastic and his ability construct off-the-cuff similes like: “It sounded like a swarm of honey bees raping a ham radio” is exactly what keeps me coming back. The highlight of this year’s shenanigans is when Merlin & John teamed up with John Hodgman, Scott Simpson and Jonathan Coulton for a live variety show at the Showbox in Seattle that I got a chance to see. Sweet comedy! (See also: You Look Nice Today)
*Little known fact: In the olden times, I used to buy magazines and American Spirit cigarettes from John Roderick when he worked at Steve’s Broadway News in Seattle.
Bonus Round I listened and liked a lot more music this year than my list will accommodate, and here are some additional favorites in no particular order: The album Barcords from Bahamas is good—especially the track Lost In The Light. Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom is good too, I really like the song Promise at the end. Bobby Womack teaming up with Lana Del Ray for Day Glo Reflection was great as was Lianne La Havas working with Willy Mason on No Room For Doubt. Grizzly Bear’s Gun Shy, Yokee Playboy’s Collagen, DJ Cam’s Swim, Grace Woodroofe’s I’ve Handled Myself Wrong, and Kiran Ahluwalia’s Saffar were all excellent. Meshell Ndegeocello channels Nina Samone nicely on Pour Une Âme Souveraine. I liked M. Ward’s new album but it didn’t really do it for me like Hold Time did. Same with Cat Power. The thing that has me most musically excited currently is a single that Nick Cave put out recently called We No Who ‘U’ ‘R from a forthcoming album called Push The Sky Away. This sounds really great. Check out the song and an amazing video of Nick and the Seeds in the studio recording tracks. Nick’s still got it, making compelling music all these years later. Man, The Birthday Party seems like a lifetime away. I’m predicting Cave’s album will make next year’s list. Happy 2013!
Before leaving for my annual trip to Thailand this year, I made a decision to leave my Pro Nikon DSLR at home, and instead, bring with me a camera I had only owned for a couple of days: The Fuji X100 Rangefinder. I had been eyeing this camera for over a year, and yes, it has massive retro appeal. But more importantly, it has excellent retro function. Specifically: knobs and dials. I love knobs and dials. Knobs and dials are what make cameras easy to use. I’ve owned several (expensive) small cameras before and they all ended up gathering dust on the shelf for one specific reason: lack of knobs and dials. There is nothing more frustrating to a photographer than having to wade through an impossible menu system to simply change aperture. Granted, these cameras were designed as point and shoot—and I guess they work just fine for that. But if you really want to control your shot, they all fail miserably. And, since I can’t afford a Leica, I was always stuck lugging around my five pounds of Nikon and a bag of lenses. Not a real problem mind you, but I longed for something different. The Nikon always made it feel like I was working.
Then came this Fuji X100. Rangefinder style and function coupled with an excellent digital backbone. It seemed perfect. And it is. It’s a really great camera—perfect for street/travel photography. It’s small and it stays out of the way—even while hanging around your neck. And it takes stunning photos. And those knobs! That said, it’s not an easy camera to use. You really have to have a solid understanding of photography to get good photos out of it. It’s basically a manual camera, though it works in aperture priority or shutter priority just fine. But it’s quirky as hell. Though, once you get it dialed in, you can really have fun with it. I read the manual on the plane ride over, and I should probably read it again to fill in some gaps. But here’s what I shot over a two week stay in Thailand.
The camera itself has really changed how I typically approach photography. I’ve never been much of a street photographer, but I now full appreciate the appeal of it. Small camera, inconspicuous, waiting for moments. Staying slightly ahead of certain subjects, hiding in doorways, shooting from the hip. So much fun! The camera itself got a fair amount of attention too, and my favorite comment was from an Englishman I was hanging out with who asked: Is that a proper camera?
I’ll still use the Nikon for all my pro stuff. But when I feel like wandering around aimlessly with a camera, the X100 will be around my neck. I even found a used old-timey strap for $5 before I left town.