The fourth and final season of Netflix’s Atypical presented a valuable opportunity to assess both how far we’ve progressed when it comes to autistic representation in pop culture, and how far we still have to go.
Sarah wrote about why in an essay for TIME Magazine.
International pop star Sia made a movie called Music that was, in theory, about autistic representation.
When Sarah reviewed the film for TIME her chief concerns where that the film could potentially be “patronizing, exploitive and genuinely harmful.” What she found out was that, in addition to arguably being many of those things, it was also simply bad art.
March 7, 2020 was the last time I saw live music. I finally got to see Chalk Circle, a beloved band from my youth, as part of a benefit show at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace. Five days later the entire music industry in Canada — and largely around the world — shut down and everything changed as we entered The Pandemic Times.
Listening to music in total isolation is strange. Sure, if you’ve got any lonerism in you it’s not that strange. After all, dancing alone to records in your bedroom isn’t entirely daunting if that was half your life in high school. What was missing in 2020, though, was the feedback. Not the actual buzzing noise of feedback, but that static in the air that comes with a shared joke about a song you’d listen to repeatedly on a road trip with friends, or the universal hatred that comes from every mall clothing store playing that same song of the summer constantly. This was the year of no road trips and no shared listens. And none of that feedback that elevates a song to becoming something more, something communal.
That said, with no concerts, no recreation, no visits and virtually no hobbies, this year ended up being a very all-consuming music listening one for me. I listened to more new music this year than any time in recent memory. Which is saying a lot considering that for more than 20 years my professional duties have generally meant listening to new albums all day, constantly, day-in, day-out.
While that need to chase the new sound, to discover anything that could make me feel was incredibly strong, it was the familiar that gave me the most relief. Albums from the likes of Public Enemy, Thurston Moore, Rufus Wainwright, Run The Jewels, The Avalanches and Flaming Lips certainly don’t represent brave new waves at this point, but they provided comforting blankets of sound, even if the actual sounds some of them make are far from comforting.
Language barrier be damned, the experimental cumbia the Meridian Brothers throw down was a party, and the fascinating sci-fi of the Futuro Conjunto project suggests there’s an incredibly exciting alt wave of Latin music to be explored. Elsewhere, Cheekface’s Emphatically No. may turn out to be an unexpected late-stage win for the legacy of Cake, and Daniel Romano’s outlandish series of quality releases (10 or so records, depending on how you count) would only be more impressive if it didn’t make the rest of us feel so bad about our comparatively failed productivity during the pandemic.
But enough wistful pondering, here’s my top 10 albums list for 2020:
10) Kaytranada — BUBBA
I like Kaytranada’s sound and vibe, but BUBBA‘s greatest asset may be its ability to just stick and remain effortlessly cool and enjoyable after repeat listens. It’s a testament to Kaytranada’s skill as a creator. Highlights include “Go DJ,” “10%” and “Vex Oh.”
Kaytranada’s “10% ft. Kali Uchis”
9) The Chats — Dine N Dash
I halfway thought I had grown out of silly pop-punk songs about catching venereal diseases, eating pub food and drinking too much. I was wrong. These Australian garbage pail kids are way more compelling than they should be.
The Chats’ “The Clap”
8) The Dears — Lovers Rock
The Dears might be my favourite band. There’s no band on Earth I’ve seen more than them and at this point I’m not sure I have the ability to accurately assess them as a professional music critic. And so here they are, plunked into a relatively politically neutral spot on my annual list.
The Dears’ “Instant Nightmare”
7) The Budos Band — Long In The Tooth
We have a saying in the Risky Fuel household called “you find your people.” Normally applied to straight up weird bands, movies, art, parties or whatever, it’s the principle that if you’re into some bizarro wackadoodle shit and you find similar people into similar bizarro wackadoodle shit, sometimes something bizarro wackadoodle amazing emerges. A bunch of band dorks trying alchemically fuse Black Sabbath and Fela Kuti qualifies.
The Budos Band’s “Long In The Tooth”
6) Gorillaz — Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez
If you told me in 2000 that Damon Albarn would have a band made up entirely of cartoon characters, that they’d be a worldwide phenomenon, and that “the kids” wouldn’t even know who or what a “Blur” was I would straight up fight you. And yet here we are, and on close inspection the globetrotting sound thievery that is Gorillaz is probably the superior Albarn work.
Gorillaz’s “Severed Head ft. Goldlink & Unknown Mortal Orchestra”
5) Sarah Harmer — Are You Gone
There are like three songs on this album — “St. Peter’s Bay,” the ice skating one, “What I Was To You,” the Gord Downie one, and “Shoemaker,” the one about her grandfather — that run the risk of making me cry if I make the mistake of listening to them too closely.
Sarah Harmer’s “St. Peter’s Bay”
4) Witch Prophet — DNA Activation
DNA Activation feels more timeless than of a time, a trip-hop/jazz/soul exploration of family that doesn’t quite sound like anything else that came out this year. Highlights include “Makda” and “Musa.”
Witch Prophet’s “Tesfay”
3) IDLES — Ultra Mono
The thing that shocked me most about IDLES’ new album Ultra Mono was the backlash. To be clear, it’s not surprising that they’d have their enemies. After all, they’re an unapologetic “leftie” and “soft” activist hard rock band. There are people for whom such a thing even existing at all is offensive. Backlash from those sorts wasn’t surprising. What was surprising, though, was the pushback against them from progressive types. Their feminism isn’t right, they’re faux working class, their politics are too simple… They’re all arguments that might be correct, but they’re also all arguments that are very progressives-are-eating-their-own-again. Regardless of whether or not they perfectly meet the ever-changing standards for whatever gatekeepers want and expect them to be, there are at least five bangers on Ultra Mono that are worth soundtracking the war, and those can’t be taken away.
IDLES’ “Mr. Motivator”
2) Jessie Ware — What’s Your Pleasure?
If someone releases a perfect disco album in the middle of a global pandemic and nobody can gather on a dancefloor to hear it, does it even exist? In this case, the answer is a lonely, twirling-around-by-yourself yes. Ware’s shift from sad R&B balladeer into full-on dance diva was one of this year’s unexpected turns, but it was an entirely welcome one. What’s Your Pleasure? is a vessel for escape, something which was incredibly necessary.
Jessie Ware’s “What’s Your Pleasure?”
1) Protomartyr —Ultimate Success Today
I listened to an advance copy Ultimate Success Today for the first time on March 17 when we were just days into the uncertainty and anxiety of lockdown #1. With only the barest hints of colour amidst smears of grey, a bristling post-punk record that confronts one’s mortality and systems of oppression like this really shouldn’t have helped, given the circumstances. But it did. And continued to do so throughout the year. This was my soundtrack to fear and unease, an aural manifestation of the bleak, precarious nature of every single day in 2020. I’m not quite done with this album yet, but truly hope for a time to come in the not-so-distance future where I’ll never want or need to listen to this record ever again.
Mass murderer Alek Minassian is currently on trial in Toronto for a van attack he conducted in 2018 that killed 10 people and injured 16. He’s facing 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.
Meanwhile, his defense is arguing he should not be found not criminally responsible owing to the fact he’s autistic. It’s a defense that’s dangerous, short-sighted and could have tremendous negative impacts on the autistic community.
Sarah wrote about the reasons why in a piece for Flare.
For those who aren’t the best at intuitive leaps, the headline “Things I Ate At The C.N.E. In 2020” is a lie. There was no Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto this year. It was waylaid, like pretty much every other good thing in the world, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was, however, a Canadian National Exhibition in the hearts of the Risky Fuel staff. Or, more specifically, the gastrointestinal tracts.
Based on a low-key dare from Sarah, I decided to attempt a number of Ex-inspired near-stunt foods in the hopes of recreating the magic of eating weird shit while wandering through a giant parking lot and getting accosted by carnies.
The guidelines for this experiment were reasonably simple: All food experiments would take place over the Labour Day long weekend, just like the actual C.N.E., and the things I made would attempt to replicate, or be inspired by actual stunt foods at the The Ex.
Two other things: 1) There’d be nothing deep-fried because it would stink up our apartment too much. And 2), we’d attempt to make items that didn’t actually suck. We also contemplated walking around in the sun for three hours straight to replicate the C.N.E. sunstroke effect, but were ultimately too lazy to follow through on that.
Here, then, are the things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2020 (COVID National Exhibition Edition):
Pickle Lemonade. This was based on a real drink that was available at 2019 edition of the Ex and featured standard store-bought lemonade, two ounces of pickle juice and a couple cocktail pickles. Beyond being a touch weird on the palette, this mostly ended up tasting like regular lemonade. 5.7 / 10
Double Wiener Cheese Curd Pretzel Hot Dog. This was mostly about trying to create a double wiener double entendre (which mostly failed) and make use of a pretzel bun that was much larger than I thought it was when I first put my two hands around it in the grocery store. There was a lot of bun — probably too much — and I had difficulty fitting it all into my mouth. 5.8 / 10
Baked Apple Wedge Cheesecake Cheese Curd Crumble. This was a creation built mostly by alliteration featuring baked apple wedges, disassembled bits of a vanilla cheesecake scored at Metro and pieces of cheese curd. It was… surprisingly OK. The apples could have been baked a little more to make them more broken down, but as a trio, they were all complimentary-ish. 6.2 / 10
Bacon-Wrapped Veggie Corn Dog. This perversion was inspired by the butt-stupid 50-50 ground beef/veggie meat substitute packages that have been appearing in grocery stores. I took an Yves Veggie Corn Dog, wrapped it in bacon, then baked the shit out it until the bacon was properly cooked. The result? Kinda good. I get that this was a silly combination meant mostly to irritate people, but the Yves corn dogs are reasonably good, and bacon is usually good, so the combination of the two of them ended up reasonably solid. 7.3 / 10
Boston Cream Donut Milkshake. In a normal Ex year, we’d have one of Fran’s ever-evolving mega-milkshakes (see Fran’s Blueberry Pie Milkshake, Fran’s PB&J Milkshake), which are usually some combination of a normal milkshake + a baked good of some sort. Inspired by both these shakes and our number one discovery from last year, the Cheesecake Factory General Custard Sundae, we went in on the mega-shake mash-up. This shake contained well-blendered Breyer’s Cremery Style Natural Vanilla Ice Cream, CT Bakery Mini Boston Cream Donuts, 2% milk and a topper of Kraft Cool Whip and Selection Chocolaty Sundae Topping. What resulted was remarkably good. The secret bonus here was that the shake ended up having clumps of tasty Boston Cream gloops that would randomly pop into your mouth, creating a bonus experience that elevated it beyond a normal shake. 7.3 / 10
Brisket Sandwich. Every year at the CNE we usually break down and have at least a couple “normal”-type things. We had some leftover brisket, some coleslaw, some crusty buns and some gouda, so… Brisket Sandwich. Add some barbecue sauce to taste and the result was something altogether fine. 7.2 / 10
Peanut Butter Ice Cream Tortilla Wrap. Last year we got tricked by the garbage pail liner that was the Snickle Dog, a hot dog and pickle wrapped in a deep-fried tortilla and covered with chocolate syrup. I tried to break that curse with the Peanut Butter Ice Cream Tortilla Wrap, a combination of Irresistible Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Hershey Kiss Cereal snuggled in a tortilla and covered in chocolate syrup. This did not work. Hershey Kiss Cereal appears to be nonsense, and the flavour of the tortillas and the peanut butter ice cream were just not complimentary. 5.1 / 10
Pickle Pizza. Inspired by a real CNE food item, this was normal cheese pizza with pickle slices on top. It was also fundamentally unnecessary and I question the smarts of anyone who paid real money at the Exhibition to have one of these slices. 5.2 / 10
Portuguese Custard Tart Milkshake. This was meant to be the grande finale of Canadian National Exhibit-ish weekend, a fancy-ass milkshake inspired by the Cheesecake Factory Sundae from last year and build similarly to the Boston Cream Shake, except using a superior pastry, the Portuguese Custard Tart. It was, however, slightly less than the Boston Cream Shake. The main reason being that the custard gloops just didn’t magically gloop in one’s mouth the same way the Boston Cream did. I’m not saying it was bad. It was still a hella solid milkshake, but it fell just short of its cousin. 7.2 / 10