The Best of 2012 (First Five)

We’re back. It’s a new day, a time of optimism and sequester. We couldn’t have done any of this without 2012. Let’s talk about the top five ways that 2012 got it right.

1. The Weeknd, Trilogy

There perhaps has never been a band so dedicated to raising the bar as this one. First of all, the guy makes three smokin’ albums that completely absorb, and surpass, both 4AD-style goth and nu-soul. Then he gives them all away FOR FREE. Then, just as iTunes and the rest are rolling out ways of keeping music in the cloud, he releases all three albums, slightly improved & remixed, for the price of one. Every single one of his music videos is extremely hot, and yet somehow if you were caught watching one, you’d feel almost proud and would probably defend yourself with terms like “erotica.”

It just makes me sad that a male version of Mary J. Blige, our very own Frank Ocean, would be getting all the nods as the sound of new R&B right now, while The Weeknd struggle with the drug-addicted banality of being medium famous, simultaneously giving desolation the sexiest makeover since Trent Reznor grew nine inch nails.

2. Nashville and the Music From Nashville album

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Crazy Heart was that it was so watchable. It was not, really, a very good movie, and the plot was crammed with cliches. Yet it felt peaceful watching it, because it was ultimately about works of art rising above the heartbreaks and petty indignities of the artist who gave them life. So, think of Nashville as a stew of Crazy Heart and Country Strong, served up every week as a joyous hymn to transcendent musics. The music is great; in fact, it’s so great that it’s a little scary how charismatic the “stupid grunge guy” song turns out to be. I’m not surprised that T. Bone Burnett* did such an incredible job, but I am surprised that the writers are as good as the show’s stars and songs.

* Producer of August and Everything After by The Counting Crows

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers

As far as I can tell, the only award this book didn’t win was the Nobel Prize for Literature. (And that’s kind of a shame.) Yet nobody I know (except Tristan) has read it, and when I try to sell them on it, I sound ridiculous. I sound like somebody getting their kicks by feeling so many waves of compassion for the poor people in India. In fact, my love for this book has nothing to do with my desire to pity the poor. It is a collection of novels, each novel being one chapter long. It is the best collection of plot ideas and action writing I’ve seen in years. It is a tour-de-force of investigative journalism and brilliantly deduced chains of causality. Just read the first full chapter. If after that, you still don’t like it, my suggestion is to read another chapter. Repeat until either you decide to finish the book, because you decide it’s not so bad after all, or until you have no more chapters left to sample.

4. Arrow

Just as Crazy Heart had enough atmospherics to become a series, so did Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The Berlanti/Guggenheim team took all of Nolan’s cave shadows and indigo skylines, and none of his irritating arias and reactionary politics. (If “Berlanti/Guggenheim” isn’t familiar to you, then the best thing to do would be to find Seasons 1 and 2 of Eli Stone, starring that guy who now plays the American version of a [still British] Sherlock Holmes.) Just as, in Eli Stone, B/G used the vocation of prophet to be left-wing, here they use the tropes of the superhero. It’s smart, beautifully shot, and chock-full of the one-liners that movies like Sin City strive for, but never achieve. Plus, “you have failed this city” is a fucking awesome tagline.

5. Grimes, Visions

Here’s an interesting thought to consider: what if Grimes has turned out to be exactly who I thought Bjork was going to be? Because, you know, there was that period where everybody was trying to convince me that Bjork was the most important female artist since Jimmy Page. And some of her songs, notably “Batchelorette” and that song about throwing stuff of a cliff, were genuinely terrific. But even when she was good, she was still basically that really annoying kid in art class who also writes poetry, and would you like to hear her poem, because it describes everything she is feeling right at this moment. Grimes, on the other hand, is the total alien who shows up one day on the street corner, with green hair and a copy of The Phenomenology of Spirit. Her music is not just danceable; it is a completely wordless critique of the shallow, empty lives of people who don’t dance.

*****

More soon. -Kugelmass

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