Just under the wire, a few more assorted lists and accolades from this past year. Here’s what I consumed (and what consumed me) in 2013, most of which has already been covered in embarrassing depth elsewhere on this site.
Favorite Discoveries of 2012
1. “St. Matthew” – The Monkees. Still boggles my mind to think of all the connections. There so clearly is a God (and his name may or may not be Dylan).
2. The Kinks’ Preservation Act 2. I had always stayed away because of the bad/intimidating reviews, and they were right about one thing: it is incomprehensible. But if you abandon all hope of discerning the narrative, the songs are incredible and the band never sounded better! “Money Talks” “Where Oh Where Is Love?” “Artificial Man” “When a Solution Comes” “Mirror of Love” are just some of the standouts. Suffice it to say, Ray Davies has a rock-bottom ecclesiology.
3. Bee Gees Mach II. I’m talking about the period from Cucumber Castle through the unreleased (and Jesus-i-fied) A Kick In the Head, when no one really knew what to do with the Gibbs, least of all the boys themselves. Yet the British Empire never got a better chamber-pop tribute than Trafalgar, and one can only guess when they’ll get credit for the inspired eccentricity of To Whom It May Concern (listen to “Paper Mache, Cabbages and Kings” and “Sweet Song of Summer” if you don’t believe me). The risks they took with disco were not without precedent.
4. Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away – Slaid Cleaves. Such a sad and special record by one of America’s greatest living songwriters.
5. Superchunk/Portastatic. Speaking of America’s greatest living songwriters, I can’t believe it took me this long to discover Mac McCaughan.
6. The Nylon Curtain – Billy Joel. Billy’s most self-consciously “ambitious” record is also his best. I did not see it coming.
Favorite Songs Discovered in 2012 (No Particular Order)
- 1st Mistake I Made – Bee Gees
- Hollywood Blvd – Neil Merryweather
- Beat the Reaper – Laurie Styvers
- Goodbye Suzie – John Howard
- Hey, Hey Helen – ABBA
- Worst That Could Happen – The Brooklyn Bridge
- Accidentally Like A Martyr – Warren Zevon
- Walter Reed – Michael Penn
- Tighter, Tighter – Alive N’ Kickin
- The Free Electric Band – Albert Hammond Sr.
Favorite Songs Released in 2012 (No Particular Order)
- It’s Only Life – The Shins
- Under the Westway – Blur
- The Long Road Ahead – Shooter Jennings
- This Summer – Superchunk
- Last Call at the Eschaton – Sons of Bill
- Fire’s Highway – The Japandroids
- Stay Away From Downtown – Redd Cross
- We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor Swift
- From There To Back Again/Pacific Coast Highway – The Beach Boys
- Feels Like We Only Go Backwards – Tame Impala
- Come Healing – Leonard Cohen
Five Favorite Records Released in 2012 (Particular Order)
- Life Is People – Bill Fay. One part poetic world-weariness, one part understated beauty, one part hard-won compassion, and two parts straight-up Calvary, records like this don’t come along very often, if ever. So uncontrived, so graceful, Life Is People ($5 on amazon) might be what “authentic” saintliness sounds like. Hands down the Mbird “Movie/Music/TV” pick of the year.
- Battle Born – The Killers. Not cool, just irresistible.
- Sirens – Sons of Bill. The twilight looks a whole lot like the dawn.
- Sweet Heart Sweet Light – Spiritualized
- Heaven - The Walkmen
Interview of the Decade: Bob Dylan in Rolling Stone
Books (Read not Published in 2012)
Favorite Memoir: Lit – Mary Karr. So wise and funny and honest, not to mention about as sympathetic as could possibly be, this one’ll be on the Mbird book table from now until eternity. Runner-up would have to be the one by Gregg “Episcopalian” Allman.
Favorite Piece of Non-Fiction: This should come as no surprise, but it was Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. A matter of survival, indeed!
Favorite Novel: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Favorite Poem: “An Alcoholic Enters The Gates of Heaven” by Czeslaw Milocz
Favorite Work of (Pop) Theology: All Is Grace by Brennan Manning. It may not be the alltime most sophisticated piece of remembrance, but the humility is just staggering. He was so infirm that he dictated the whole thing to his friend. (Todd will be weighing in on Monday with our Top Theology Books of the Year).
Performances of the Year: Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress and Jack Black in Bernie.
Most Pleasant Superhero Surprises: Chronicle and The Amazing Spiderman
Most Pleasant Non-Superhero Surprise: Ruby Sparks. Also known as the long-awaited second film by the couple that directed Little Miss Sunshine, an impossible situation that does not go unacknowledged in the film. In fact, the crushing power of expectation is one of the main themes. But it’s also only the tip of the iceberg. The movie ultimately functions as a Twilight Zone-level parable about the dangers of control/original sin (boyfriend as lawgiver) when it comes to matters of the heart.
Three Fabulous 2012 Documentaries Which Deal With the Same Basic Theme (One Guess)
- About Face: The Supermodels, Now and Then
- Jiro Dreams of Sushi
- Queen of Versailles
Fantastic Show I Forgot To Mention in the TV Round-Up: Veep
Favorite Onion Article: “Anxiety Ridden Man Ashamed of Every Single Thing He Does”