Time for our annual round up of favorites, which now includes TV too. As always, these are predominantly personal picks, albeit with an eye toward Mocking-resonance. Click here to read last year’s list. Deep breath:

Music

Favorite Discoveries

  1. Josh White. Usually I have a pretty good idea of what to expect at the conferences we put on. I’m responsible for the bulk of the organizing, after all. So what a rare delight it was to get (essentially) blindsided by Josh White’s music at our event in Tyler this past February. Our co-conspirator there, Matt Magill, had steered us oh-so-right with Liz Vice the year beforehand, so whatever he wanted to do for music was fine by me. I had seen Josh’s name on Liz’s first record (he produced and co-wrote a lot of it), but didn’t have time to do a deep dive into the tunes. Not only did Josh turn out to be an extraordinarily awesome guy, his music floored me, particularly the Pilgrim record from 2013. Spotify tells me that I listened to it as much as anything this year. Top-notch songwriting meets genuinely cutting edge electro production meets the purest kind of no-pretense worship. I had always hoped a record like this existed, and now I’m so glad it does. Listen to “Surrender” and, er, surrender. Balm for the soul and the ears. (Oh and word has it we’re getting him back again at the Tyler conference in early April!)
  2. Swamp Dogg. I’d dipped my toe into the wildly colorful world of Jerry Williams Jr, AKA Swamp Dogg, a few years ago after stumbling across his fantastic cover of The Bee Gees’ “I Gotta Get a Message to You.” But nothing could have prepared me for the force of nature that is RnB’s self-proclaimed “weirdest weirdo”–not even his notoriously gonzo record covers. If you’re unfamiliar, well, Merry Christmas, as it doesn’t get better or more entertaining than the original Doggfather. You could call him the Sly Stone of the South, if Sly had gone (slightly) less nuts yet full svengali, wearing shorts and giving his songs titles like “I’ve Never Been to Africa (And It’s Your Fault),” “Choking to Death (From the Ties that Bind),” or “An Awful Christmas and a Lousy New Year.” Swamp is not just the definition of a character but a well of sound. Which is why I knew he’d have to be among the first group of artists we explored in my new podcast of the same name. If you dig Southern-fried soul with a huge sense of humor, none of his albums disappoint, not the least of which being this year’s Love, Loss and Auto-Tune (recorded with Bon Iver). His productions for Doris Duke and Irma Thomas stand up too. A gift that truly keeps on giving.
  3. Barry Gibb’s early 80s productions. Speaking of The Bee Gees, 2018 was the year I finally followed that trail past 1976. You’ve got to hand it to Barry: sensing that he and his brothers had reached peak saturation, he had the good sense (and enormous restraint) to put their main project on pause in the early 80s and start making records for other artists. Thus, the incredible run of albums he wrote and produced for Barbara Streisand, Dionne Warwick, and Kenny Rogers between 1980-1983. Rogers’ smash “Islands in the Stream” and Warwick’s “Heartbreaker” may be the most well-known fruit, but they’re merely the tip of the iceberg. Try “Eyes That See in the Dark” (the song), “All the Love in the World” or “Woman in Love” if you want to know what easy-listening gold sounds like–ample proof that Barry didn’t need his falsetto to craft a hit. The record his brother Robin produced for Jimmy Ruffin during this period (Sunrise) isn’t too shabby either. I love me some Brothers Gibb.
  4. KISS. There’s very little I can say about these maniacs that I didn’t already try to express in our Well of Sound episode (and the stretch of an Mbird post around the same time), except that I’ve since become convinced that Hotter Than Hell is a perfect rock album, albeit almost completely by accident. KISS remains the most gloriously unjustifiable rock group of all time, and I’m not sure what it says about me that I cannot get enough. Maybe I’m unjustifiable too.

Twelve Favorite Songs Discovered in 2018 (By Artists Not Mentioned Above)

  1. “Back Road Into Town” – The Staple Singers
  2. “First Light” – Richard and Linda Thompson
  3. “Cosmic Cowboy” – Barry McGuire
  4. “Astrologically Incompatible” – The Bonniwell Music Machine
  5. “I Can’t Stay Here Tonight” – Smokie
  6. “29 Palms” – Robert Plant
  7. “Marathon Man” – Eric Carmen
  8. “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” – The Carpenters
  9. “Johnny and Mary” – Robert Palmer
  10.  “Paola” – Shout Out Louds
  11. “Feeling Mortal” – Kris Kristofferson
  12. “Monkey Island” – J. Geils Band

Eight Favorite Albums Released in 2018 (or late 17)

  1. The Blue Hour – Suede. Another year, another amazing Suede Mach III record. Not just my favorite album this year, but containing my single favorite song, “Life Is Golden.”
  2. Forced Witness Alex Cameron
  3. Stranger in the Alps – Phoebe Bridgers
  4. Burst Transmission  Beware the Images
  5. Oh God Ma’amSons of Bill
  6. Twentytwo in Blue Sunflower Bean
  7. Look Now – Elvis Costello
  8. Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John – Juliana Hatfield

Twelve Favorite Songs Released in 2018 (By Artists Not Mentioned Above)

  1. “Echo” – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
  2. “That’s Good – Guided By Voices
  3. “Dirty Computer” – Janelle Monae feat Brian Wilson
  4. “All Will Be Well” – Jon Parks
  5. “Crack the Case” – Dawes
  6. “No More Cryin” – Steve Perry
  7. “Sleep” – Hatchie
  8. “Aurora” – Mineral
  9. “Holy Wine” – Robert Finley
  10. “Me & My Dog” – boygenius
  11. “By the River” – Mt Desolation
  12. “When You Want Something” – Smoking Popes

Favorite Archival Releases: Artifakt by The Choir, Decade by Dave Davies, Zeenith by Zuider Zee, and Jesus Rocked the Jukebox: Small Group Black Gospel 1951-1965 by Various. What a great year for “lost albums.”

Most Beautiful Comeback: Steve Perry (and most unexpectedly solid, Smashing Pumpkins)

Most Grace-Tastic Devotional Music Discoveries: Crumbs by Liturgical Folk and Songs of Comfort by Sam Bush

Best Concert Music Video (ever?):

Television

Five Favorite Shows, Bearing in Mind that No One Can See It All Anymore (or Should Even Try To)

Better Call Saul. Each season I come in wondering how on earth Gilligan et al will top the previous one, and each season they somehow pull it off. At the same time, Breaking Bad becomes more and more of a distant memory, even as Saul’s plot veers ever closer. Better Call Saul has gotten so good, in fact, that I’ve had a hard time watching any other prestige dramas this year. Everything else cannot help but look superficial and/or amateurish in comparison, both thematically and artistically.

Atlanta. As a man deeply obsessed with both Phil Spector and Michael Jackson, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as personally addressed (and loved!) by a single episode of television as I did with the Teddy Perkins one. But that wasn’t even my favorite chapter of what barely qualifies as a television series at this point (that would be “FUBU”). Perhaps the best that can be said is that I’m along for the ride, no matter where Glover wants to take me. The word “exciting” gets overused in describing pop culture, but nothing else captures the thrill of tuning in to this show each week. Oh and Donald and Lakeith may get all the glory, but Bryan Tyree Henry stole this season.

Patriot. I consider it a bit of a miracle that a second season appeared at all. This show is so delightful, and so under-hyped, that I’m starting to wonder if there’s a secret embargo on people writing about it. Fantastic characters (Cool Rick! Greg in HR! Leslie!), unbelievably great music, insane locations, inspired humor, and huge amounts of heart, Patriot scratches all the itches and, like Atlanta, makes me happy to be alive in a time when something like it is being made. Also, that Chip the Cup song…

Love. I thought they stuck the landing beautifully, with capital-G Grace to spare. The penultimate episode, in which the true author of the relational dysfunction hits bottom, does the title of the show proud in more ways than one. Like Patriot, this was another ensemble where the side characters all but overshadowed the primary ones, to the show’s great benefit. Here’s hoping we get a Randy-Bertie spinoff!

The Good Place. Looking over our web archives from the past year, I was borderline embarrassed about how often we mentioned this show. So if we haven’t convinced you of its merits yet, we probably won’t. Suffice it to say, Michael Schur and crew are having such a blast exploring the mechanics of deserving, long may they run. On behalf of pastors and youth pastors everywhere, we salute you!

Favorite Episode of a Show Not Mentioned Above, AKA the Grace on the Small Screen Award: The third installment of Patrick Melrose. Runner-up would be the pilot of The Romanoffs.

Media

Most Cited Columnist, Religious or Otherwise: Stephen Freeman by quite a margin. We owe that guy royalties at this point. Runners-up would be Elizabeth Breunig and B.D. McClay.

Long Reads We Got the Most Mileage Out of: “The Poison We Pick” by Andrew Sullivan, “Tired of Winning” by Jon Baskin, “Improving Ourselves to Death” by Alexandra Schwartz, and “The Rise of Beauty Standard Denialism” by Amanda Hess

Most Courageous Modern Saint: Rachel Denhollander

Most Fascinating Interviews: The New Yorker with Bo Burnham and Rolling Stone with Elon Musk

Favorite Viral Videos: School of Life’s How To Get Married and Chris Pratt’s Nine Rules for Life

Most Jaw-Dropping Holy-Spirit-Captured-on-Tape Moment: Gladys Wilson and Naomi Fell

Favorite (and Most Grace-Oriented) Documentaries: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Amazing Grace, Springsteen on Broadway, and Summer in the Forest

Favorite (and Most Law-Oriented) Documentary: Free Solo

Favorite Podcasts We Don’t Host: Heavyweight, Invisibilia, Start Up (esp the Church Planting series), Give and Take, Virtue in the Wasteland, and The Well of Sound

Favorite Movies, Bearing in Mind That I Haven’t Seen a Ton of What’s Getting Press: The Death of Stalin, Eighth Grade, Incredibles 2, Golden Exits, Juliet Naked, Isle of Dogs, and, er, Mandy.

Favorite TED Talk: I Was Almost a School Shooter

Humor

Most Consistently Funny Humor Site: The Hard Times

Most Relevant Onion Headlines: “Elon Musk Offering $1.2 Billion In Grants To Any Project That Promises To Make Him Feel Complete,” “Casual Christian Accepts Christ As His Lord But Not His Savior,” and “‘We Can Have Differences Of Opinion And Still Respect Each Other,’ Says Betrayer Of The One True Cause”

Favorite Babylon Bees: “Pastor Sneaks Second Sermon Into Closing Prayer” and “Local Woman Hopes Husband Listened Closely To Pastor’s Sermon On Self-Righteousness”

McSweeneys Gold: “Woman Hospitalized After Attempting Effortless Lifestyle,” “Hello, I’m the Internet and You’re Parenting All Wrong,” and “Eight Additional Love Languages”

Actual Headline I Keep Smiling About, Months Later: Naked Man Arrested At Planet Fitness Said He Thought It Was A ‘Judgment Free Zone’

Cleverest Tweet: This One

Inspired Bible Humor: Shatner Chatner’s First Letter to the Corinthians

Favorite YouTube Video That’s Supposed to Be Funny: Turbo Encabulator (original and updated)

Favorite YouTube Video That’s Not Supposed to Be Funny: Come on Holiday to Oldham

Favorite Standup Special: The Bird Revelation from Dave Chappelle

Funniest Book I Read This Year: Nomad by Alan Partridge

Books and Literature

Favorite Novel CJ Read All Year: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Best Excuse For Not Reading More Fiction Myself: What can I say?

Most Essential But Also Kind of Dispiriting Non-Fiction I Read: The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff and From Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity by Michele Margolis

Favorite More Hopeful Work of Non-Fiction: The Year of Our Lord 1943 by Alan Jacobs

Favorite “Trade” Religion Book (Top Theology Books coming next week): Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler and Your God Is Too Glorious by Chad Bird

Essay Collections So Good I Had To Put Them Down Before They Tripped Up My Own Process: What If This Were Enough? By Heather Havrilesky, Interior States by Meaghan O’Gieblyn, and Up Up Down Down by Cheston Knapp

Favorite New Edition of Old Classic: Punished by Rewards: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition by Alfie Kohn

Favorite Poem of 2018: “The Like Button” by Mary Karr

Favorite Photograph: This one