Time for our annual round up of favorites!. 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. Roxy Music. 2019 was the year I fell for Roxy, and I fell hard. The well (of sound) with these guys is just so deep; it’s like stumbling on a parallel musical universe where almost nothing disappoints. I’d long sensed that Bryan Ferry’s aesthetic could captivate–and captivate it does!–but I guess I assumed that the artsiness would mute the emotional content. Well, wrong again! I also had no clue about Ferry and co’s songwriting chops; the consistency is pretty mind-blowing. Siren probably ranks as my favorite, but I dig it all: the clothing, the covers, the solo records, the sax solos, the live shows, the falcons, the Sinatra stuff, all of it. So to discover that their music also contains a pronounced religious element, well, that just made it all the sweeter. Pop perfection, thy name is Roxy Music.
  2. Paul Williams. Pure delight is the best description of both the man and the music. I had been a fan for years but mainly of Williams’ soundtrack work (The Muppets, Phantom of the Paradise). Which is to say, I had never given his solo records their due. Shame on me! They are uniformly excellent, boasting co-dependent anthems par excellence while striking the exact right balance of wit and melancholy. Hearing that he’d appreciated the episode of The Well of Sound we recorded about him was one of the highlights of my year. Movin’ right along…
  3. Annie Lennox. I still only know a handful of Eurythmics tracks so was surprised when the Almighty Algorithm decreed that it was time for me to listen to solo Annie. I’m so glad I succumbed, especially to the pair of somewhat overlooked records she released in the 00s, Bare and Songs of Mass Destruction. Far from the I-am-woman-hear-me-roar persona she’s cultivated at times, both albums are filled with self-doubt and heartbreak and adult spiritual yearning. The gorgeous melodies and offbeat production flourishes only elevate things further. Favorite songs would be “Dark Road”, “Pavement Cracks”, “Smithereens,” and “Oh God (Prayer)”.
  4. My Chemical Romance. To be perfectly frank, I always considered this band a bit of a punchline. But then, researching concept albums earlier this year I kept seeing their record The Black Parade listed–and in the glowingest possible terms. At the same time I was enjoying The Umbrella Academy on Netflix which just so happened to written by band lead singer Gerard Way. So I decided to give the group a go. Color me impressed repentant. The Black Parade is a record so ambitious you honestly wonder where the confidence came from (chemical?). The outlandish production and ueber-adolescent conceptualizing works in tandem with the chock-a-block anthems to create something that Roy Thomas Baker would be proud of. If I was five or six years younger, I’m sure I’d have too much baggage re: emo, but the Lord clearly spared me. While nothing in the rest of their discography quite measures up to that Olympian peak, the gems are there if you look, especially on their later EPs. Very excited to hear they’re reuniting–the world needs more ostentatious rock bands.

Fourteen Favorite Songs Discovered in 2019 (By Artists Not Mentioned Above)

  1. “The Forgiven” – David Ramirez
  2. “Hard Candy Christmas” – Dolly Parton
  3. “This Cowboy Song” – Sting
  4. “Ghosts of American Astronauts” – The Mekons
  5. “Resurrection Shuffle” – Tom Jones
  6. “God, Love and Rock n Roll” – Teegarden & Van Winkle
  7. “As I Go” – Richard Swift
  8. “Magic Lantern Days” – mewithoutyou
  9. “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” – Tina & Ike Turner
  10. “Keep on Singing” – Helen Reddy
  11. “Slip Away” (live) – Neil Young
  12. “Have to Forgive” – The Building
  13. “Tuck (How It Feels Away)” – Aushua
  14. “Southbound Jericho Parkway” – Roy Orbison

Eight Favorite Albums Released in 2019

  1. The Reaches – Silicone Boone. Take a dash of Joshua Tree, a pinch of early Dylan, a spoonful of Irish folk music, mix it with The War on Drugs, add equal parts Carl Sagan and Jesus, then filter it through the eyes of an (ex-)Amish chiropractor, and you’ll have this masterpiece. Just brilliant. I can’t stop, won’t stop listening.
  2. NFR! – Lana Del Rey. Not sure it tops Ultraviolence but it’s pretty darn close. Lana is in a league of her own.
  3. Trophies – Luxury. I’d imagine I’d have an easier time getting over this band’s incredible story if their new record wasn’t so fantastic. So glad they exist.
  4. Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
  5. Keepsake – Hatchie
  6. Darcy – Josh White
  7. Five – White Lies
  8. In League with Dragons – The Mountain Goats

Twelve Favorite Songs Released in 2019 (By Artists Not Mentioned Above)

  1. “Landmine” – I Know Leopard
  2. “This Is Not Who I Want To Be” – Joanna Sternberg
  3. “Faraway Look” – Yola
  4. “A Dream of Home” – Tyler Ramsey
  5. “Once Were Brothers” – Robbie Robertson
  6. “Show Me” – Mikal Cronin
  7. “Burning the Heather” – Pet Shop Boys
  8. “Could You Ever Find Another Word for Love?” – Nathan Colberg
  9. “Andromeda” – Weyes Blood
  10. “Norman and Norma” – The Divine Comedy
  11. “Fast Times” – Albert Hammond Jr
  12. “Juice” – Lizzo

Favorite Archival Releases: Dead Man’s Pop by The Replacements, A Momentary Lapse of Reason update/remix by Pink Floyd, Joe Strummer 001, and the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood soundtrack.

Most Grace-Tastic Devotional Music Discovery: 3 Psalms by Andy Mackay

Television

Five Favorite Shows, Bearing in Mind that No One Can See It All (And That There Were No New Episodes of Better Call Saul or Atlanta this year)

The Crown season 3. Surely I’m not the only viewer who suspected “Moondust” was beamed in from the moon itself, that’s how out of sync it felt with what I’ve come to expect from Peak TV. Yet the show dissented from the prevailing spirit of the stream-o-verse not with back-patting but the same way it does everything–gracefully. That episode alone would’ve been enough to garner this series the top nod but the rest of the season holds up gloriously, from the acting to the editing to the writing to the sumptuous settings. Believable wholesomeness is so much harder to pull off than believable darkness.

Succession season 2. Speaking of believable darkness, my oh my how this one delivered. Ego, revenge, addiction, greed, jealousy, cruelty–it’s hard to look away when portrayed this skillfully. But what I appreciated more than the bravura performances or the pins-and-needles plot twists was the humor. Succession was the funniest show I saw this year (Tom and Greg, motorcycle drivers, the rap!). Jeremy Strong deserves every accolade he gets.

Fleabag season 2. Just when you thought you (and by “you” I mean I) couldn’t handle another BBC cringe-fest, here comes Phoebe Waller-Bridge to redeem the format. That Christianity–and gulp, the Church–would play such a prominent yet non-patronizing role in Fleabag’s healing speaks volumes about Waller-Bridge’s vision. Better yet, the Priest was the first on-screen clergy-person in eons in whom I could actually recognize my ordained friends (looks notwithstanding – zing!). The entire thing still feels a little miraculous. Also, Brett Gelman may be my current favorite actor working today.

Watchmen season 1. I’ll admit it, I was one of the Alan Moore true believers who balked when he saw the trailer. But major, major props to Lindelof and his crew for constructing such a watertight, worthy follow-up to the graphic novel. First example I’ve seen of a show whose ‘wokeness’ doesn’t get in its way, artistically.

Dark season 2. Leave it to the Germans to take time-travel to a whole new level of dollhouse-like precision. Pretty much the opposite of a show you can watch while browsing the internet, yet also not so dense it feels like work, I cannot wait to see where this goes.

Favorite Episodes of a Show Not Mentioned Above: “The Trial” from What We Do in the Shadows, “ronny/lily” from Barry, and the Veep finale.

Most Underrated: Third season of True Detective

Biggest Missed Opportunity: Living With Yourself, final season of Silicon Valley

Shows I Haven’t Seen But Lots of People I Love Love Them: The Good Fight, Schitt’s Creek

Most Beautiful Series that Made Almost No Sense and Somehow That Didn’t Matter: The Dark Crystal

Favorite Kids Series: Archibald’s Next Big Thing

Media

Most Cited Columnists: Stephen Freeman, Meghan O’Gieblyn, Jia Tolentino, and–no joke–Nick Cave.

Most Cited Sermon: Michael Gerson at the National Cathedral

Long Reads We Got the Most Mileage Out of: “A Tale of Two Churches” by Batya Ungar-Sargon, “Workism Is Making Americans Miserable” by Derek Thompson, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” by Anne Helen Peterson, and “Taming the Demon” by Jonathan Malesic

Most Relevant Social Science Phenomena: The Perception Gap, Orthosomnia, The Arrival Fallacy

Favorite Modern Saint: Judge Tammy Kemp

Most Fascinating Interviews: Kaveh Akbar with Leslie Jamison, Stephen Colbert with Anderson Cooper

Favorite (and Most Grace-Oriented) Documentaries: NORMIE, The Journey of Johnny Cash, Parallel Love, and Losers (the docu-series on Netflix)

Favorite (and Most Law-Oriented) Documentaries: Fyre, The Inventor

Favorite Podcasts We Don’t Host: Dolly Parton’s America, Heavyweight, Where Should We Begin? and The Well of Sound

Favorite Narrative-Style Podcast Episodes of Series Not Mentioned Above:

The Salt n Light Interview Award: Paul Walter Hauser on WTF, with Tony Hale on Armchair Expert (38min onward) a close second

Favorite News Video:

Humor

Most Clever Hard Times Headlines: Search History Repeats Itself, Mom Just Calling to See If you Saw Her Text about the Voicemail She Just Left, Religious Woman Hits the F&*$#-g Jackpot at Goodwill Vinyl Section

Most Relevant Onion Headlines: Child Concerned Parents Might Not Amount to Anything; Complete Psychopath Meets Proper Screen Time, Sleep, Exercise Guidelines; Woman Nervous For Boyfriend To Meet Person She Becomes Around Parents; Poor Attendance at Intervention a Real Wake Up Call

McSweeneys Gold: Chili’s Menu by Cormac McCarthy, Attending Burning Man or Parenting a Toddler, The Thing I Need Most In My Life Right Now Is a Purpose-Driven Paper Towel Brand, and while perhaps not quite as funny but with added bite, An Open Letter to Everyone Sharing Their Wisdom About How to Cure My Depression

Best SNL Skit: Romano Tours (below)

The Funniest Funny-Serious Spiritual Memoir-ish Writing: Confessions of a Bad Christian by Harrison Scott Key

Favorite New Yorker Cartoon: this one and this one

Most Consistently Funny Instagram Account: Obvious Plant

Most Hilarious and Also Encouraging Trend: The rise of the honest obituary

Actual Headline I Keep Smiling About, Months Later: Hunt bigfoot and aliens with Jose Canseco for only $5,000 in cash

Still the Best News Story of the Year: “Missing” Woman Mystery Solved

Cleverest Tweets: honestly, a lot of those #plantgate ones were hilarious

Inspired Bible Humor: The Book of Genesis’s Genesis

Most Laugh-or-You’ll-Cry Seculosity-Is-Real Innovation: The Sloping Toilet

Favorite YouTube Video: Witchita Bomb Threat

Most Relevant Stand-Up Bit: The scorekeeping riff in Aziz Ansari’s “Right Now”

Funniest Book I Read This Year (or Any Year – Where Have I Been?!): A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Books and Literature

Favorite Novel I Read This Year: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. As close to a perfect book as I can imagine! Oh and not yet finished with The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq but so far it’s devastatingly good.

Favorite Novels CJ Read This Year: Lazarus is Dead by Richard Beard and How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

Most Helpful and Hopeful Work of Book-Length Journalism: Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade

Most Essential Religion/Religion-Adjacent Book (Top Theology Books coming next week): Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland. He’ll be speaking at our NYC conference this year!

Book I’m Most Looking Forward to in 2020: This One, duh

Kendall’s Favorite Poem Discovery of 2019: “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman

Favorite Photograph: This one

Andy Mackay ‘Praise’ at BBC from Andy Mackay on Vimeo.