Monday, March 3, 2014

Various Best Of 2013 Lists

Best TV Of The Year
(By Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone, December 2013)

What a year for TV – so many moments of audacious creativity, from groundbreaking dramas like Game of Thrones to that VH1 flick about TLC. From the Red Wedding to "Red Light Special," these were the greatest TV moments of 2013: Russian spies, New Orleans witches, bloody swords, sex doctors, prison, politics, Stephen Colbert getting lucky and Walter White saying goodnight.

20:  Jimmy Kimmel Live, ABC
Yeah, nothing happened. But that just made their face-to-face confrontation seem more real. It was a timely reminder of what TV still does better than any other medium – famous people acting crazy in real time. No disrespect to Ben Affleck.

19:  House of Cards, Netflix
As a fabulously corrupt Congressman, Spacey struts through Capitol Hill, cutting one throat after another. Toward the end, he stops into the chapel to light a prayer candle and muse, "There is no solace above or below. Only us, small, solitary, striving. Battling one another. I pray to myself. For myself." And this is how the man talks in church.

17:  CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, VH1
The juiciest VH1 band-bio flick since Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story. (You remember – the one with Anthony Michael Hall as Mutt Lange.) Their conniving manager Pebbles is like Tywin Lannister with better wigs, as Chilli, T-Boz and Left Eye chase the waterfalls of hip-hop fame. If you don't shed a tear when the girls go into their pre-show huddle to chant "TLC! MTB!" ("meant to be!") you must be a creep indeed.

16:  Scandal, ABC
President Fitz meets his ex-aide Olivia Pope at a solemn occasion: the christening of the chief of staff's baby. Naturally, they slip off to go have hatecore spite-sex in the boiler room of shame. The prez says, "I may not be able to control my erections around you, but that does not mean I want you." Just another night on Scandal – this soap has some of the most depressing sex scenes since the days when Al Swearengen used to get blown and reminisce about his childhood.

15:   American Horror Story: Coven, FX
A couple of witches bond in a Louisiana swamp cabin, listening to Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon." They ponder the greatness of Stevie Nicks. "The white witch!" one gushes. "This song was her anthem. Doesn't it just penetrate your soul and tell the truth about everything you've ever felt in your whole life?" The other replies, "Totally!" Rock on, gold-dust witches.

14:  Rock My RV With Bret Michaels, Travel Channel
Best reality TV of the year, if not the decade. "I rocked the world, and now I'm about to rock your RV!" Bret promises motor-home dwellers he can turn an ordinary beat-up Southwind Storm into "a really classy rolling piece of art." Trashy, yet strangely moving, it's the "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" of hair-metal auto-shop reality shows.

13:  The Americans, FX
Two Russian spies pose as a suburban married couple in 1981, with sex, treachery and nuclear paranoia. It also has TV's smartest soundtrack, especially when Roxy Music's poignant art-rock elegy "Sunset" plays as the KGB ships a baby back to Russia after they've killed its parents – just another pawn in the Cold War game.

12:  The Colbert Report, Comedy Central
Daft Punk were (allegedly) booked to give a very special "Get Lucky" performance at "StePhest Colbchella, '013: The Song of the Summer of the Century: It Ain't the Heat, It's the Rock-midity!" But when they (allegedly) pulled out, the host had no choice but to do the song himself, raising his cup to the stars with Henry Kissinger and Charlie Rose. This bit was so funny it made Robin Thicke seem cool for about 30 seconds.

11:  Orange Is The New Black, Netflix
The jailhouse drama has a slammer full of fearsome inmates – but none more fearsome than Red, the Russian kitchen boss, pretty much unrecognizable from her days as Capt. Janeway or Mrs. Columbo. She's at her most badass when she goes on the hunt for a chicken, explaining, "All I wanted was to eat the chicken that was smarter than other chickens and to absorb its power. And make a nice Kiev."

10:  The Golden Globes, NBC
The best award-show hosts since Chris Rock stopped doing this shit. They took shots at everyone in the room – like when Tina Fey said, "Quentin Tarantino is here, the star of all my sexual nightmares." Even though everybody knows the Golden Globes is the most laughably pointless of all award shows, these two made it crackle with excitement – as they put it, "You can smell the pills from here!"

9:  Eastbound & Down, HBO
The last waltz for our beloved slob hero: Kenny lives out the joke of American manhood, wrecks his marriage at the karaoke bar and battles his nemesis, Ken Marino's Guy Young, for control of his sports-chat show. So Kenny and Guy meet on the lake for a jet-pack showdown. A moral victory for Kenny – but like all his victories, it just makes him an awesomer loser.

8:  Video Music Awards, MTV
Now this is what live TV is for – absolute offensiveness at all costs, with a former Disney moppet grinding her crotch on psychedelic teddy bears, flashing her tongue and endorsing drug-crazed hijinks. It was like the teen-pop Red Wedding. (Except the look on Rihanna's face was all "You speak Valyrian?") Thank you, Miley, for leaving a trail of sex slime all over the stage, not to mention America's brain.

7:  Girls, HBO
When it comes to failure porn, nobody can touch Lena Dunham for agonizingly intimate laughs. This year Girls violated practically every orifice in the human body, right up to the ears. (Like the guy in the Q-tip ads used to say, "Never stick anything inside your ear, except your elbow.") But as Hannah, Lena Dunham was at her funniest and most vulnerable in her ping-pong fling with a type of guy she's never met before – one who thinks she's beautiful. ("That's not always the feedback I've been given.") For a minute there, she gets a glimpse of what it might feel like not to despise herself so damn much all the damn time. Then she goes back to normal. Better luck next year, sweetie.

6: Key & Peele, Comedy Central
President Obama pours the pinot and puts on a smooth-jazz version of "Hail to the Chief." Then he negotiates with the first lady for a little Oval Office personal time, using their translators Luther and Katendra. "When was the last time we had sex, woman? Re-¬election night? What does a brother not named Bill Clinton have to do to get some pussy in this house?" These brilliant sketch-comedy dudes always delve into forbidden zones of sex and race and politics and food. And they're really great at food, as in their inexplicably poignant "Continental Breakfast," which sums up America as a nation full of lonely, haunted men talking to their meals. "And what are you, my little friend? Not a spoon, not a fork – something in between. A fpoon. What will you think of next, Germany?"

5:  Veep, HBO
"You're the secretary to the vice president – that's like being Garfunkel's roadie." Jesus, these people on Veep are mean. No wonder they're running the country. Has any comedy ever assembled such a killer ensemble of terrible people being terrible? Julia Louis-Dreyfus' second season as Vice President Selina Meyer got more hilariously nasty every week, capped by a finale where she rages about everything from ass-grabbing to the future of democracy: "I hate impeachments. They're so Nineties!"

4:  Masters of Sex, Showtime
Remember when Lizzy Caplan was the struggling actress on Party Down, ranting, "I'm not mom material, man! I'm an acerbic twentysomething! The funny but fuckable waitress!" Well, look at her now. Masters of Sex is easily the year's best new show, with Caplan and Michael Sheen digging deep into the heart of American sexual repression. No matter how hard they try, they can't keep their hearts in check – especially in the pivotal scene where he officially promotes her to research assistant and she officially takes her top off.

3:  Mad Men, AMC
Mad Men's darkest season had its ups and downs – Sterling Cooper's merger with the rival ad firm of Tedious & Turtleneck was a dramatic void that threatened to swallow the rest of the story. But the season ended with a flurry of great episodes, as Don Draper trashed his career as well as his marriage. The final scene was a real heartbreaker: Don hits the road to show his teenage daughter the whorehouse where he grew up. They stand there on a street corner in Pennsylvania, looking like a couple of lost kids, to the sound of "Both Sides Now." She lifts an eyebrow at this dad she hardly recognizes. He wonders if she's as doomed as he is. Neither says a word. What an unforgettable moment.

2:  Breaking Bad, AMC
It's all over now, Baby Blue. Breaking Bad gave Walter White a bang-up farewell tour, as the desert-noir meth king battled with the Nazis, the cops, and his own poison conscience. The final season had week-to-week suspense, from his Skyler phone call to the awesomely cartoonish shoot-outs. (Hey, Walt gets out of a jam by inventing the Car That Shoots People! All other scientists now look like lazy-ass punks.) The scene that hit hardest: Walt holes up in his New Hampshire cabin hideout, surrounded by miles of ice and snow, begging Robert Forster to sit and keep him company. He offers ten thousand dollars for a couple of hours of playing cards. Forster talks him down to one hour. For Walter White, this is what his whole criminal empire comes down to – hiring a fellow crook to make him feel like a regular guy for a few minutes.

1:  Game of Thrones, HBO
Damn – they could have just sent a crockpot or something. The Red Wedding on Game of Thrones had to be the year's most intense TV "wait no this can't be happening" shocker, pitched somewhere between The Wild Bunch and the "November Rain" video. On the spectrum of emotional torment, it made Ned Stark's beheading look like Liz Lemon's wedding. Fans who'd read the novels thought they knew what was coming, but they got sucker-punched along with the rest of us. Talk about the wedding bell blues.

All season long – and in case you missed it, beware spoilers ahead – Thrones kept throwing in weird glimmers of old-school heroism. Like Daenarys busting out a few words of Valyrian, or Jaime jumping into the bear pit to stand by his woman. (A very Anchorman thing to do.) But man, that Red Wedding.
The brilliant part was how the moment captured the authentic boredom of a wedding, when dinner's over and everyone sits around itching to leave. Then you notice the band is playing the wrong song – hey, isn't that "The Rains of Castamere"? And the dullard you got stuck next to at dinner – why is he wearing armor? Then it all starts to go wrong. Oh, it goes so wrong. A monster climax from a monster season. The North will never forget. Neither will we.

Best TV Shows (And Moments) Of 2013
(By Hank Stuever, Washington Post, December 6, 2013)

My favorite TV shows this year were dour, cruel and often violent affairs — even my favorite reality-based show was about death. My go-to dramas were about drugs, medieval massacres, remorseless Viking marauders, deceitfully unhappy Soviet spies and a pair of down-in-mouth detectives trying to solve the case of a murdered child. The most cheerful shows I liked this year were about incarcerated women treating one another like dirt; sex research in the repressed 1950s; and a U.S. vice president who says the most vicious things imaginable.  What’s wrong with me? (Don’t answer that.)  While we wait for the clouds to part, here are my picks for the TV’s best offerings in 2013. And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t also include a list of letdowns, too.
1. Walter White’s Exit Strategy

Once in a while, I find myself still mulling over and savoring little moments from the final episode of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” (AMC), arguably the best TV show in a generation. Why, just the other day I was thinking about the poisoned Stevia packet on Lydia’s cafe table . . .

2. “Orange is the New Black”

Netflix has pulled ahead in the race to reinvent TV, but don’t look to “House of Cards” for proof. Instead look at creator Jenji Kohan’s perfectly written, hilariously profane, character-rich adaptation of Piper Kerman’s memoir about life in a women’s prison. Enjoy it with a nice kiev.

3. “Masters of Sex”

First I was hooked by Lizzie Caplan’s sharp work as the adventurous half (Virginia Johnson) of the famed sex-researching duo that started hooking up willing subjects to the orgasmatron. But as Showtime’s drama got going, it’s been Michael Sheen’s portrayal of the complicated, moody Dr. William Masters that’s been the real revelation. Also? Fantastic ensemble performances, especially Allison Janney as the pent-up wife of a med-school provost. The best new series this fall.

4. “The Red Wedding”

The bloody and horrifying high/low point of what turned out to be the best season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” so far.

5. “Time of Death”

Showtime‘s brave and meaningful docu-series about what it’s like to die of illness. This was a respectful, uplifting and soberingexample of what reality TV would look like if it had a soul.

6. “Broadchurch”

Quite possibly the most morose-yet-mesmerizing summertime treat ever, BBC America aired the hit British miniseries starring David Tennant and Olivia Colman as detectives investigating the murder of a boy in their small, seaside town. (Tennant is now slated to star with “Breaking Bad’s” Anna Gunn in Fox’s Americanized remake, called “Gracepoint.” Only network execs can explain how this could possibly be a good idea.)

7. “The Americans”

FX’s steely, suspenseful drama about a pair of stressed-out Soviet spies living and working in the Washington suburbs of 1981 hinges on Matthew Rhys’s top-notch performance. The show was robbed at Emmy-nomination time, but heartily endorsed by wigmakers everywhere.

8. “Vikings”

Brutal and permanently dour, just like the Vikings themselves! I enjoyed History’s detailed foray into series drama, starring Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok. (Of the hill people.)

9. “The Returned”

Sundance Channel’s airing of this hit French miniseries left a lot to be desired, but I was satisfyingly skeeved out by Fabrice Gobert‘s story of small-town residents who come back from the dead – not seeking to devour brains but to find closure with their loved ones.

10. “Veep”

Not to Gary-grovel at its feet any more than I already do, but Armando Iannucci‘s HBO comedy is still the one to beat when it comes to spot-on spoofs of a Washington’s politico culture.

 Biggest Letdowns Of 2013

1. The Killing. Murder as installation art

This has become a real personal peeve, as shows like NBC’s “Hannibal,” Fox’s “The Following,” AMC’s “The Killing” keep treating a crime scene like it’s an MFA thesis exhibit. Murder is horrible enough all on its own (“Broadchuch” made it as simple as a boy’s body at the foot of a cliff); it doesn’t need art direction, wires, costumes, paint, glitter, branches, antlers, feathers, etc. The idea of the killer-as-curator is a desperate (and now cliched) byproduct of writers who think they need to outdo other crime shows in the gore department.

2. “Mad Men” season 6

A finger-drumming, do-nothing wait for something – anything – to happen. It did, when Don melted the Hershey’s account, and possibly his career. Also, I was stunned to see “Mad Men,” with its reputation for details, appear so clumsy with costuming hippies and psychedelic fashion trends.

3. “Behind the Candelabra”

A sordid, unfeeling and certainly overpraised HBO movie about the sad end of Liberace. I guess viewers were distracted by the stunt casting, makeup and bedazzled hissy fits.

4. “Girls”

The second season of Lena Dunham‘s endlessly discussed HBO dramedy left me feeling underserved. But I could be lured back with a season focused mainly (only?) on Adam Driver’s portrayal of Hannah’s moody ex-boyfriend. In which case the show could be called “Guy.”

5. “Homeland”

Showtime‘s anti-terror drama still has its occasional moments (I loved the episode where much-missed fugitive Nicholas Brody [Damian Lewis] arrives at the Caracas slum-scraper), but just about everyone agrees this season has been a real mess. And, honestly, with some recent real-life diplomacy breakthroughs with Iran, is this such a good time for a TV show to be sending a fictional Marine to Tehran to take out the leadership?

6. “The Walking Dead”

Walking in circles, mostly, despite its huge popularity (and, I admit, a satisfyingly disruptive mid-season finale last week). Still, though, raise your hand if you wanted to get in that station wagon with Carol (Melissa McBride) and see what else could be found.

7. The fall season

Networks continued their skid toward oblivion with tepid offerings, especially in the comedy department. Among the worst: “Dads” (Fox), “Welcome to the Family” (NBC), “The Goldbergs” (ABC), “We Are Men” (CBS), “The Michael J. Fox Show” (NBC) . . . need I go on?


The 50 Best Albums Of 2013
(By Stereogum staff, 03 December 2013)

Earlier this year, New York Times pop critic Jon Caramanica wrote a piece about pop’s Summer Of Smooth, about how many of this year’s big warm-weather crossover hits were soft and breezy and immaculately produced and comforting pieces of throwbacky, slick pseudo-R&B. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” drove the narrative, but it also encompassed Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk and Drake. If you wanted to reach a bit, you could also extend the same story to indie rock. This is, after all, the year Ariel Rechtshaid became a smart-pop production baron by helming albums from Vampire Weekend and HAIM and Sky Ferreira and Charli XCX. It’s the year the National once again affirmed their calm, tasteful, wood-scented dominance. It’s the year that Phoenix inoffensively ascended to festival-headliner status, and that Disclosure crossed over to indie by goosing its dance music with high-stepping and laser-precise R&B hooks.

But it’s also the year a lot of other stuff happened. Even as Drake arguably became rap’s center, this was the year that its margins overflowed with scarily talented wiseacre noisemakers, MCs unafraid to yelp and snarl and yammer over backfiring 808s and slice-your-face synths. It’s the year old-timer processed-guitar monsters like Kevin Shields and Trent Reznor returned with guns-blazing, sounding better, once again, than we ever could’ve hoped. It’s the year superstar acts got weird and confrontational and maybe self-undermining, making some fascinating and sometimes great music along the way. And if it’s not the year metal got smart and tough, it sure as hell is the year metal stayed smart and tough.
If you’re looking at our list as an indicator of the Year Of Smooth, you’ll find plenty to support your hypothesis. There are plenty of clean and friendly and professional melodies contained therein, and many of the Summer Of Smooth movers are represented. But there’s even more rupture: Mavericks fighting against the flow of their genres and of music in general, making messily ambitious, noisy, sprawling, smoke-emitting monsters when many would’ve been happy to see them hit their marks and get out. Our #1 pick is top-shelf superstar self-sabotage, and its close runner-up is darkness-and-light sprawl that seems, in many ways, targeted toward annoying the genre faithful. Further down, you’ll find plenty that’s both agreeable and disagreeable: Synth-drone wizards, heartfelt ’90s-indie revivalists, spacey guitar noodlers, DIY shit-starters, two different A$AP Mob members.

The cast of writers who put this list together is quite different from last year’s rogue’s gallery. That means our list is as much a reflection of those changes as it is of the year itself, and it’s part of the reason you’ll now see a word like “Gorguts” on a list like this. But all those different enthusiasms — sometimes working together, sometimes flying on cross-currents — mean a diverse and passionate mess of opinions, and at least a couple of great albums that you almost certainly haven’t heard yet.  The actual list of albums is here:


Stereotyping You By Your Favorite Album Of 2013
(By Tom Hawking, Flavorwire, December 9, 2013)

It’s that wonderful time of the year! Yes, it’s December, which means we get to make many end-of-year lists and generally pontificate about what we liked and didn’t like about 2013… but more importantly, it’s also the time when we get to apply gratuitous stereotypes to music fans everywhere. It’s something of a tradition at Flavorwire to ponder what your favorite album of the year says about you, so without further ado, here we go again! (Our obligatory disclaimer: this is a lighthearted exercise, so don’t get all pissy about it — and, yes, our stereotype is on here, and it fits perfectly.)

Daft Punk — Random Access Memories
Well-off 30-somethings who have office jobs and spend a lot of time reminiscing about how the pills used to be better “back in the day.”
HAIM — Days Are Gone
Girls who own several of those flowing ’70s full-length summer dresses.

The Knife — Shaking the Habitual
Gender studies majors.
Chvrches — The Bones of What You Believe
Gender studies minors.

The Julie Ruin — Run Fast
Tenured gender studies academics.
Julia Holter — Loud City Song
Music majors.

The Haxan Cloak — Excavation
People who own actual cloaks. Black ones.
Sky Ferreira — Night Time, My Time
Bushwick indie girls who go two at a time into the toilet.

Foxygen — We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
People who are super nice to you in person and shit-talk you behind your back.
Lorde — Pure Heroine
Poptimists who consider themselves “sophisticated.”

Frank Turner — Tape Deck Heart
Punks who live in terror that someone will find out about their trust fund.
The National — Trouble Will Find Me
Wine club subscribers.

Arcade Fire — Reflektor
People who moved to Williamsburg seven years ago and still think it’s just the coolest place in the world.
The Strokes — Comedown Machine
People who moved to the Lower East Side 15 years ago and still think it’s just the coolest place in the world.

Savages — Silence Yourself
Solemn Londoners who have been described as “angular” at least once in their lives.
Miley Cyrus — Bangerz
Tweens gone bad.

Kanye West — Yeezus
People who like arguing about music more than they like listening to it.
Arctic Monkeys — AM
The small pocket of people in Northern England that constitutes the NME‘s print subscriber base.

Oneohtrix Point Never — R Plus 7
Studious men who used to subscribe to The Wire.
Tim Hecker — Virgins
Studious men who still subscribe to The Wire.

Pearl Jam — Lightning Bolt
Men in their 30s who haven’t heard of half the stuff on these end-of-year lists, anyway.
Death Grips — Government Plates
Conspiracy theorists.

Laura Marling — Once I Was an Eagle
Girls who like crafts and have an intimidating knowledge of tea.
Majical Cloudz — Impersonator
Indie dudes who are very in touch with their feelings.

Autre Ne Veut — Anxiety
Indie dudes who’d like you to believe they’re very in touch with their feelings.
Waxahatchee — Cerulean Salt
Indie girls who are very in touch with their feelings.

Speedy Ortiz — Major Arcana
Girls who like hardcore and pop music.
Atoms for Peace — Amok
Men who are far too old to have ponytails.

Blood Orange — Cupid Deluxe
Stylish fashion industry guys who manage to make things like suspenders look cool.
Janelle Monáe — The Electric Lady
Stylish fashion industry girls who manage to make things like suspenders look cool.

Eminem — The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Angry mid-20s white men who drink Coors Light and are concerned about rising gas prices.
Disclosure — Settle
Shoppers who generally enjoy the music that gets played in H&M.

Barenaked Ladies — Grinning Streak
Scruffy men who look like a real-life version of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and make you slightly ashamed of your strong urge to punch them.
Tyler, the Creator — Wolf
People just getting into Odd Future.

Earl Sweatshirt — Doris
People just getting over Odd Future.
Paramore — Paramore
Early 20s types who nurture inexplicably fond memories of pop punk.

Lady Gaga — ARTPOP
Jeff Koons.
Fuck Buttons — Slow Focus
Guys who casually discuss doing esoteric psychedelics with names made up of letters and numbers.

Danny Brown — Old
People who appear to be permanently on several such psychedelics.
Paul McCartney — New
Jann Wenner.

James Blake — Overgrown
Thirty-somethings who work at investment banks but still consider themselves “hip.”
Yuck — Glow and Behold
Dudes who are too young to remember the ’90s but are totally sure that was the time they should have been alive.

My Bloody Valentine — mbv
Dudes who should be able to remember the ’90s but don’t.
Superchunk — I Hate Music
Dudes who actually do remember the ’90s.

One Direction — Midnight Memories
Early 20s ingenues who still insist on teddy bears and pink-painted walls.
M.I.A. — Matangi
People who’ll corner you at parties and talk extensively about how Edward Snowden proves they were right all along.

Kurt Vile — Walkin’ On a Pretty Daze
Benevolent stoners.
Chance the Rapper — Acid Rap
Benevolent trippers (who may or may not be music journalists).

David Bowie — The Next Day
Music journalists whose tripping days are behind them.
Chelsea Wolfe — Pain Is Beauty
Brooklyn girls who have adopted goth as a semi-ironic fashion statement.

Icona Pop — This Is… Icona Pop
People who will admit with a little sympathetic prompting that, no, they didn’t realize Charli XCX wasn’t in the band.
Los Campesinos! — No Blues
Priapic liberal arts students who spend a lot of time on OKCupid.

Iceage — You’re Nothing
Fascists Hardcore purists.
Boards of Canada — Tomorrow’s Harvest
Earnest men who have been wearing the same brown cardigan for a decade.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Push the Sky Away
Pharmakon — Abandon
Intense, hollow-eyed girls who are very attractive but also genuinely terrifying.

Pusha T — My Name Is My Name
Hip hop heads who miss Clipse.
Jay-Z — Magna Carta Holy Grail
People who think nothing of dropping several thousand dollars on a plasma-screen television.

Vampire Weekend — Modern Vampires of the City
Well-groomed bros under 25 who have stock portfolios and own more dress shirts than T-shirts.
Justin Timberlake — The 20/20 Experience
Creepy smooth-talking bros who refer to women as “ladies.”

Drake — Nothing Was the Same
Creepy smooth-talking bros who refer to women as “ladies” and want you to feel their pain.
R. Kelly — Black Panties
Creepy smooth-talking bros who will pressure you to do unspeakable things in bed.


Best Music Of 2013
(By Chris Richards, Washington Post, December 6, 2013)

Sorting through this year’s avalanche of pop music, mysteries abound: What is this I’m feeling? Is it right or is it wrong? What rhymes with ‘hug me’? What does the fox say?  The year’s finest albums, however, provided us with concrete answers about the tensile strength of our tear ducts, the durability of our commitments and the shape of slow jams to come. These are the 10 best of 2013.

Top Ten Albums of 2013

1. Kacey Musgraves, “Same Trailer Different Park”

The dread of the millenials can’t be captured in a selfie, so Nashville’s newest star is picking up the slack and singing about what happens when a generation of idealists inherits a broken country. With optimism in her melodies and calm in her delivery, she’s dropped one of country music’s strongest debuts in forever.

2. Kanye West, “Yeezus”

Continue to dismiss Kanye West at your own risk. With his feral sixth album, the rap auteur extends his reign as pop music’s most volcanic force, refusing to shut up, back down, play nice or cash out. And his boldest album is always the one that’s coming next.

3. Bill Callahan, “Dream River”

Here’s a songwriter, a soothsayer, a stoic and a smuggler who can’t help but find new ways to bury treasure inside ordinary folk songs. “Dream River” feels as vast, intimate, recognizable and unknowable as true love. Or America.

4. Lonnie Holley, “Just Before Music”

It’s an album by an eccentric Alabama sculptor, released in 2012, re-released with bonus cuts in 2013. But it’s also a free jazz fever dream from the deep South, a babbling Baptist sermon from deep space, a lullaby for the end of the world, a songbook that’s frequently beautiful and occasionally frightening.

5. Ashley Monroe, “Like A Rose”

Only the greats can compartmentalize crisis as gracefully as this silver-voiced 27-year-old. Demure and devastating, Monroe’s saddest country tunes have come to steal your tears. Hydrate accordingly.

6. Paramore, “Paramore”

The embattled rock band’s fourth album finds the trio honoring their commitments with their hair on fire. They’re still standing, still together, still playing a style of post-emo that’s long gone out of style with a tenacity that never will.

7. Roberto Fonseca, “Yo”

This Havana-born pianist isn’t afraid to hit hard and get personal, detonating the walls surrounding Afro-Cuban jazz and rearranging the debris into a very flattering self-portrait.

8. Danny Brown, “Old”

Rap has gone from “CNN for the streets” to “Tumblr with 808s,” but ugly memories of urban survival are still churning inside this Detroit native’s skull. He exorcises them with a stuffy-nosed squawk that’s every bit as jarring as the worst of what he’s seen.

9. Kelela, “Cut 4 Me”

Half romance, half science fiction, this L.A. rookie’s R&B debut reads as if she learned to sing about heartache in some airless, digital, post-human future.

10. Steve Gunn, “Time Off”

As contemporary songwriters surf rivers of blood, sweat and tears, hoping the world will take notice, this Brooklynite plays circular folk songs that unfold as effortlessly as a breath. The fact that he’s making no special bid to be heard means we might want to listen especially close.

Three Worst Albums Of 2013

Miley Cyrus, “Bangerz”

A white Disney Channel graduate embraced a hyper-sexual image while pantomiming what she heard on black radio. In the shadow of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, how is that anything other than familiar? Miley’s ascent may have provided America with the great comfort scandal of 2013, but her lifeless new album rang out like an afterthought.

Jay Z, “Magna Carta… Holy Grail”

In addition to rapping like a bored bazillionaire, Jay spent his summer flirting with performance art and data collection, shedding his relevance and his hyphen in the process.

Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”

When the world’s most ponderous indie rock band marches into the discotheque, we must double-knot our dancing shoes and run far, far away.



Best Movies Of 2013
(By Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 05 December 2013)

May we stipulate that 2013 has been a flat-out, stone-cold, hands-down spectacular year in movies?  Which means that many of us are frustrated. After all, the average filmgoer only sees about six films a year. This is being written at a time when there are at least 10 must-see movies in area theaters, not to mention titles that are stacking up in our on-demand queues like backed-up shuttle flights circling Reagan National.

And guess what: There are more on the way. Even with names like Soderbergh, Spielberg and Lucas decrying the current state of cinema in recent months, it’s still easy to choose 10 movies of exceptional ambition, vision and artistic sensitivity – so easy that we decided to expand the list to a lucky 21. And that’s leaving out such standouts as “Blue Jasmine,” “Before Midnight,” “Rush,” “Short Term 12,” “20 Feet From Stardom” and “Frozen” – to name only a few.  With such above-average fare to choose from, filmgoers may want to adjust their averages, too.

1. “12 Years a Slave”

Steve McQueen’s stately, searing drama invited viewers to inhabit a chapter of American history by way of galvanizing performances, visual poetry and unforgettable moments.

2. “Inside Llewyn Davis”

This sepia-toned evocation of 1960s New York perfectly captures an era, its music and the nearly forgotten artists who made it all possible.

3. “Stories We Tell”

Sarah Polley’s ingenious documentary fused fact and fictional techniques to create a fascinating meditation on family, memory and meaning.

4. “Enough Said”

In one of his final roles, James Gandolfini was the sweet-natured anchor to Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a bittersweet, consistently hilarious romantic comedy for grown-ups.

5. “All is Lost”

Robert Redford delivered a nearly wordless performance in writer-director J.C. Chandor’s tour de force of pure cinematic storytelling.

6. “Her”

Spike Jonze’s brilliant futuristic love story starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson captures the zeitgeist with flawless wry humor, pathos and visual brio.

7. “Gravity”

This year’s single best reason to ditch the couch and go back into theaters, Alfonso Cuaron‘s sci-fi ride brought vigor and unmatched technical virtuosity to the humble Popcorn Movie.

8. “Mud”

What could have been a Southern gothic curio became a touching coming-of-age story, thanks to star Matthew McConaughey and writer-director Jeff Nichols.

9. “Fruitvale Station”

Filmmaker Ryan Coogler made the year’s most smashing debut in this wrenching fact-based drama, featuring a breakout lead performance from Michael B. Jordan.

10. “Frances Ha”

Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner embodied the passions and pitfalls of female friendship in Noah Baumbach’s kicky urban comedy-drama about young adulthood in modern-day New York.

11. “The Act of Killing”

Joshua Oppenheimer audaciously interrogated pure evil by way of cinematic tropes in this unnerving investigation of Indonesian deaths squads.

12. “In a World…”

Lake Bell’s smart comedy about an L.A. voice-over artist tackled sexism, show business, self-confidence and romance with sharply observant elan.

13. “Museum Hours”

Jem Cohen sent viewers on an intoxicating tour of Vienna in this immersive tour through the riches of the Kunsthistoriches and beyond.

14. “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”

Texas noir received both a jolt and much-needed touch of lyricism thanks to filmmaker David Lowery and a trio of terrific performances from Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster.

15. “Captain Phillips”

You’ve already heard that the last 15 minutes redefine screen acting, but they also redefine all that’s gone before.

16. “Nebraska”

Alexander Payne’s father-son drama featured a career-making performance from Bruce Dern, and a melancholy glimpse of Recession-era casualties in the Corn Belt.

17. “Medora”

The nonfiction flip side to “Nebraska,” this riveting documentary about an Indiana high school basketball team perfectly captures the American Dream at its most tattered.

18. “Mother of George”

Andrew Dosunmu’s rapturous melodrama, set in the African diaspora in Brooklyn, featured gorgeous images captured by cinematographer Bradford Young.

19. “American Hustle”

David O. Russell’s anarchic ode to the 1970s that uses the FBI Abscam case as a backdrop to examine striving, conniving and self-deception.

20. “Dallas Buyers Club”

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto transformed themselves from the inside out in the service of a funny, touching drama set at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

21. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Part historical pageant, part domestic drama, this occasionally unwieldy tour through American history was enormously entertaining – and confirmed that, no, there’s nothing Oprah can’t do. Respect.



'Blurred Lines': The Worst Song Of This Or Any Other Year
(By Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone, December 06, 2013)

Congratulations, Robin Thicke! "Blurred Lines" is the worst song of this or any other year. I can't remember the last time there was a hit song this ghastly – the sound of Adam Sandler taking a falsetto hate-whizz on Marvin Gaye's grave. I guess the year's not over yet so it's theoretically possible a worse contender could emerge, but I don't see it happening. Let me put it this way: Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey could pay their holiday respects to Lou Reed with a duet medley of "The Black Angel's Death Song"/"O Little Town of Bethlehem" and it would still be a distant second.

It was easily the worst summer hit since the 2001 remake of "Lady Marmalade" – the one where somebody said, "Hey, let's redo 'Lady Marmalade' without the cowbell, because it would be a better song that way." But that was a hit for about two weeks, whereas "Blurred Lines" has stuck around forever. It's not just another terrible song. Its historic badness is an achievement that demands respect.
How can one song cram in so many failed decisions per minute? How can this poor guy aspire to be Marvin Gaye with vocal chops better suited to the Fred Durst songbook? How could he look so lost and terrified next to Miley at the VMAs? Didn't anyone tell him how dippy he looks holding a microphone when the other hand's in his pocket? How can Pharrell sound so embarrassed to be there? Nothing embarrasses Pharrell. (The guy spent the summer on the radio comparing his boner to "the rising of the phoenix" and he made even that sound cool.)  Note: I have zero interest in persuading you to agree with me. If you enjoy "Blurred Lines," I wouldn't dream of changing your mind. But I'm still amazed, after all these months of airplay, at my immature and irrational loathing for this song. Understand, it's not simply a reasoned critical perspective, pointing out the obvious flaws in craft and tone. It's more like: I want to hurt this song. I want to wound it emotionally. I would fantasize about punching this song in the nose, if songs had noses. I want this song to cry.

Musically, it rips off a beloved soul legend. I refer, of course, to the Nineties boy band Color Me Badd – specifically their 1992 Number One hit "All 4 Love." Which wasn't even the best Color Me Badd song – that would be "I Wanna Sex You Up." What kind of addled mind tries to jack "All 4 Love" instead of "I Wanna Sex You Up"? How dare he defile the Color Me Badd legacy? You're no Color Me Badd, Robin Thicke. You're no Mint Condition or Hi-Five. You're not even Another Bad Creation.
As for Marvin Gaye – nothing wrong with copying genius if you do it right. "Got To Give It Up" creates the illusion of unforced ease, as if Marvin just breezed into a party that was already grooving full blast. But "Blurred Lines" sounds like a guy trying miserably hard to get it right, and therefore getting it wrong. He packs in all these cutesy do-I-make-you-proud details. (Oh, that "hey hey hey.") He sings "good girl" like he's cheering up a depressed shih tzu. He strains his sniffly little screech trying to prove he's worthy. But alas, he's unworthy of George Michael's stubble. Unworthy of Marvin Gaye's non-functional silent E. Unworthy of four-fifths of Robyn's name. As a connoisseur of pop trash, I'm baffled I can't find anything to like about a song this bad. That's part of why I hate it.  Also, in terms of geometry, it's impossible for lines to be blurred because lines are straight by definition. If they get blurred, they're not lines anymore. Then they're "squiggles" or "blotches" or something. This is just math, Robin Thicke!

I always thought I could never hate a song more than Cat Stevens's "Wild World," and indeed, "Wild World" always sounds every bit as terrible as I remember. "I never want to see you sad, girl / Don't be a bad girl" – that has to be the worst lyric of the pre-Robin Thicke era. The way Cat hums along with the piano solo – that is some virtuoso sucking. But Robin has reached Cat's rarefied level. That's not the kind of sucking you achieve by accident. You have to earn it. And wow, Robin was willing to put in the work.
Greil Marcus wrote a classic Interview column in 1994 about the difference between hating the Stone Temple Pilots and hating the Spin Doctors. For him, hating STP was more fun because he knew he'd keep hating them passionately for years to come. Whereas, he added sadly, "I know I'll forget the Spin Doctors." It's true. Some hatreds stay with you and some don't. I used to think I would hate Vanessa Williams' prom theme "Save the Best for Last" for the rest of my life. But when it dropped off the radio, it dropped out of my heart. Now I hear it every few years and think, "Oh yeah, this one. Damn, I hated this song. 'Sometimes the very thing you're looking for / Is the one thing you can't see' – what does that even mean? Why would you be looking for it if you could see it? But as soon as this song is over, I'm going right back to forgetting it. What happened to us, Vanessa? Where did our hate go?"

So will "Blurred Lines" stand the test of time? Will it go on sucking for years like "Wild World?" Is this feeling an eternal flame? Or will it vanish, like "Save the Best for Last?" Well, in the words of a band who sucked wildly in 1982 and were immediately forgotten, only time will tell. But one thing is for sure. Nothing in 2013 sucked like "Blurred Lines." And this was the year we got a Leonardo DiCaprio remake of The Great Gatsby. Everything next year will just have to suck a little harder.




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