Consuming 2014: Favorite Music, Media, Movies, Books, and Humor

Say what you will about 2014, it was not boring. So I’m especially thankful for […]

David Zahl / 12.23.14

Say what you will about 2014, it was not boring. So I’m especially thankful for those things that entertained, edified, and made me laugh during what was a pretty trying season, both globally and locally. These are personal favorites, albeit ones with an eye, as always, toward Mocking-resonance:


Favorite Discoveries

LITA083_Cover_HiResWeb1. The first two records by 20/20, 1979’s self-titled and 1981’s Look Out! Absolutely perfect power pop, with just enough attitude and left-turns to keep pressing repeat. Not a bad song on either record, how these guys aren’t more well-known is beyond me–as is the fact that it took me this long to get into them. If I had to choose some favorite tracks they’d be “Nuclear Boy”, “Alien”, “Jet Lag”, “Cheri”, “Out of My Head”, and “The Night I Heard a Scream.” But it’s all great.

2. Roddy Frame. The Aztec Camera frontman’s solo work was new to me this year, but it sure feels like an old friend. His 2014 release, Seven Dials, is what drew me in initially, but The North Star may be the record I actually listened to most this year (period). Sublime melodies and intelligent lyrics that often tilt toward the spiritual, this guy is the real deal. Favorite couplet of the year (that didn’t come from Father John Misty) was definitely Roddy’s line from “Autumn Flower”: “Seems of all the time we spent making our predictions/ The only thing that ever seemed to make a dent were prayers without condition”. Amen to that.

3. Light in the Attic’s Country Funk compilations. Let’s say you can’t get enough of Elvis Presley’s latter-day high-octane workouts–“Burning Love”, “Promised Land”, “Polk Salad Annie”, etc–but just wish there were more of them (and less interminable ballads). Or maybe you dig The Band’s R&B moments–“Don’t Do It”, “Life Is a Carnival”, “Ophelia”–but fear that when Levon died, his inimitable way with a bassdrum died with him. Well, you’re in luck. Light in the Attic has put out two compilations of jaw-dropping country-funk, most of which dates to the same period as both those artists, i.e. 1970-75. This is joyful, groovy stuff, more “Whitesploitation” than “Countrypolitan”. These sets soundtracked my summer. A couple tracks made the lists below (“Pay Day Giveaway”, “Tulsa Turnaround”), but if you want next steps, check out Gritz’s “Bayou Country”, Hoyt Axton’s “California Women” and John Randolph Marr’s “Hello LA Bye Bye Birmingham.” You can thank me later.

4. Dark Clouds, I-V. Just when you thought the mid-60s had nothing left to give, some saint put together five volumes of moody, melancholy garage rock, virtually all of it unheard and nearly all of it terrific. I suppose there is no end to this stuff, and I thank God for it. Him and James Fishwick…

Ten Favorite Songs Released in 2014

  1. Bored in the USA – Father John Misty. I’ve listened to a lot of beautiful songs this year, a lot of inspiring and pioneering ones, but this is the only one that struck me as genuinely important (and fresh). A sermon of staggering proportion.
  2. Take Me to Church – Sinead O’Connor
  3. Lost in the Cosmos – Sons of Bill
  4. Prayer – D’Angelo
  5. I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie – God Help the Girl
  6. Compassion – Lucinda Williams
  7. Stranger in Moscow – Tame Impala
  8. Cold Hands – Carl Anderson
  9. Foolish Father – Weezer
  10. Let a Good Thing Grow – The Hill & Wood

Ten Favorite Songs Discovered in 2014

  1. One Way Love – Agnetha Faltskog. I still consider it the Mbird Find of the Century. Thank you, Jeff Lynne.
  2. Sister Shadow – Roddy Frame
  3. I’m Scared – Burton Cummings
  4. Tulsa Turnaround – Three Dog Night
  5. Yellow River – Christie
  6. Payday Giveaway – Bill Wilson
  7. Patches – Clarence Carter
  8. Me and I – ABBA
  9. Everybody’s Got to Clap – Lulu
  10. The Story of Me – The Everly Brothers. Thanks again, Jeff Lynne.

Five Favorite Albums Released This Year

  1. Lost in the Dream – The War on Drugs
  2. After the Disco – Broken Bells
  3. Love and Logic – Sons of Bill
  4. Roddy Frame – Seven Dials
  5. Strange Desire – Bleachers

Biggest Disappointment: World Peace Is None of Your Business by Morrissey. I suppose he was due for a lackluster record, but still.

Most Underrated Release: Ghost Stories by Coldplay. If only they had put “Sky Full of Stars” out as a non-LP single and replaced it with the title song (which they instead relegated to “bonus track”), the mood would have been complete. Alas, they failed to consult yours truly. Even as is, though, Ghost Stories was the year’s most devastating paean to heartbreak, as well as a remarkably gutsy change of pace for such a commercial band.

Guiltiest Pleasure:  Cradlesong by Rob Thomas (e.g. “Mockingbird”). Deal with it.

Most Grace-tastic Worship Music: Zac Hicks and Josh Caterer

Favorite Music Book (Besides This, Natch): Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace (33 1/3).


jodorowskys_dune_xlgFavorite Columnist: Joshua Rothman for The New Yorker

Favorite Religion Columnist/Writer: Matthew Sitman for The Dish, with emphatic honorable mentions of Damon Linker (various outlets) and Emma Green over at The Atlantic.

Most Consistently Blogged Column (still): Riff in The NY Times Magazine. They’re running it less frequently than they used to, but when they do, oh boy. See for example this and this.

“Long Read” We Got the Most Mileage Out Of: William Deresiewicz’ “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League” in The New Republic or Daniel Jones’ “Romance at Arm’s Length” in The NY Times.

Speech that Left Me Speechless (in a Good Way): “How To Be Religious In the Public Square” by David Brooks

Most Fascinating Interview: Francis Spufford in The Mockingbird, with Adam Phillips in The Paris Review being a close second. Liv Ullman in The Guardian was pretty stellar too, as was Chris Rock in The Vulture.


Seven Favorite Movies Not Mentioned in Joe’s List

  1. Listen Up Philip
  2. God Help The Girl
  3. St. Vincent
  4. Alan Partridge
  5. The LEGO Movie
  6. Locke
  7. Believe it or not: Captain America: Winter Soldier

Birdman or Budapest would likely top my personal ranking, though I still haven’t seen Inherent Vice, Top Five, or Boyhood. Word has it, Two Days One Night is unbelievably good/sympathetic, too. More on all that around Oscar time.

Four Favorite Documentaries

  1. Jodorowsky’s Dune
  2. The Battered Basterds of Baseball (tied with number 3 for Grace in Practice Award)
  3. Survive and Advance (tied with number 2 for Grace in Practice Award)
  4. Beware of Mr. Baker

Two Best Television Mini-Series (That We Forgot to Mention in the TV Round Up): Generation War and Black Mirror

Most Grace-tastic Episode of Television (That We Forgot to Mention in the TV Round Up): Sherlock S3E3, “His Last Vow”


tumblr_mpqpo8uPu91rl2a5ro1_500Most Relevant Onion Article By a Significant Margin:Area Child Disappointed to Learn Parents’ Love Unconditional”. Runner’s up would have to be here and here.

Favorite New Yorker Cartoon: This or possibly this.

Favorite Viral Video: Christian Tingle or Jimmy Kimmel’s “Lie Witness News” segments.

Most Prophetic Portlandia Clip: Couple Dies of Confusion

Great Job Internet Award:

Favorite Standup Bit: Mike Birbiglia Wants Credit for Not Being Creepy

Favorite Internet Comic (Discovered in 2014): The Adventures of the Holy Ghost by John Hendrix

Favorite “Bringing You The Gospel”: Number 35

Funniest Photo Essay: Sad Dads at One Direction

Books and Literature

Favorite Novel I Read This Year: Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Favorite Non-Fiction I Read This Year: Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson. Look for our annual theology book round-up in January. If you can’t wait, check out our recent Gift Guide for a few contenders.

Favorite Essay Read in 2014: “Revelation” by Mary Gaitskill

Favorite Poems Published in 2014:  “The Voice of God” by Mary Karr and “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians” by Christian Wiman

Favorite Poem Discovered in 2014: “The Shield of Achilles” by W.H. Auden

Needless to say, while there will be fresh blog content over the next week and a half, it will be fairly sparse. Wishing you the very merriest of Christmases!