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Yay! Want to celebrate 2014 the right way? The fifth season of "My Strange Addiction" debuts on Wed. Jan. 1 at 9:00 p.m. on TLC, and it will absolutely make you feel better about whatever bad, weird thing you might have done before you blacked out on New Year's Eve. Yes, it's possible!
This has been an exceptional year for a certain breed of acting, I've found. There has been a wave of unaffected work, eschewing capital "A" acting for a certain lived-in thing that is rare enough as it is, let alone prevalent throughout a year's greatest performances.
I wanted to pay some tribute to that, and to a number of more outwardly vibrant portraits this year that also go toward making it an exemplary year. It has been said a few times that 2013 has been a great year for movies, but that quality is owed in no small part to the work we saw on the screen.
Each year, my colleague, Katie Hasty, and I trade off on producing a video piece on our favorite singles and albums. This year, she came up with a great list of albums for her video piece, while I did my top songs.
But I also wanted to spend a little time before the end of the year sharing a list of 10 albums that kept me smiling- or crying- through much of the year. Here are my top 10 albums of the year.
1. “Southeastern,” Jason Isbell: What a beauty of an album. Stripped down and lonely in all the right places, “Southeastern” features the former Drive-by Truckers singer sober and reflective. Some of the lines will tear your heart out if you let them and that’s a good thing.
2. “Spirit In the Room,” Tom Jones: The second in his trilogy with producer Ethan Johns, “Spirit in the Room” is Jones’ masterwork, right up there with Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash’s series of albums. He sinks his teeth into Tom Waits’ “Bad As Me” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul Of A Man” with a relish that can only come from someone who has really lived the words. A revelation.
3. “The Next Day,” David Bowie: Many of his fans had feared he had retired, but how wonderful to be wrong. In his first new studio album in 10 years, Bowie brought us right back into his arty, weird, magical world...on his terms. And it was beautiful, from the questioning “Where Are We Now” to the lovely “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and the dance-y, yet lamentable “Love Is Lost.” Plus, the videos were some of the most provocative of the year. There’s Bowie...and then there’s everyone else.
4. “The 20/20 Experience,” Justin Timberlake: No, it’s not perfect by any stretch and too much of the album feels unfinished, but when it hits its mark, as it did with “Mirrors,” “Pusher Love Girl,” and Prince homage, “Strawberry Bubblegum,” it was exhilarating.
5. “Beyonce,” Beyonce: The beauty of doing my list so late is that I get to add in Beyonce’s album that she dropped with no warning on Dec. 13. Sexy, potent, and powerful, the album’s 14 tracks show her breadth and why she is the Queen. Bow down and get drunk on Beyonce.
6. “Wake Up Ghost,” Elvis Costello and The Roots: On paper, this sounds like it shouldn’t work. In reality, the British singer/songwriter and the hip-hop collective created a work of funk, slightly sinister, groove-filled tunes that jump out of the stereo, from unrepentant “Refuse to Be Saved” to the beautifully gentle “Tripwire.”
7. “Same Trailer, Different Park,” Kacey Musgraves: One of country’s freshest new voices, Musgraves somehow managed to be both cynical on songs like “Blowin’ Smoke” and uplifting on “Follow Your Arrow” without ever sounding like she was contradicting herself. The perfect antidote to all the “bro country” out there right now.
8. “The Beast In Its Tracks,” Josh Ritter: Singer/songwriter Josh Ritter took the shards of his busted marriage and crafted them into songs of heartbreak and loss that were often breathtaking in their honesty. As he finds a new love, his despair gives way to forgiveness, but he hasn’t forgotten what it is like to feel shattered.
9. “The Electric Lady,” Janelle Monae: Yes, she’s a star, but why isn’t Monae a superstar? She has the talent, the vision, the ambition...and it was all displayed on this versatile set. You don’t have to buy into the concept—she’s playing android Cindi Mayweather— all you have to do is dance and groove and enjoy.
10. “Random Access Memories,” Daft Punk: If the album was only remixes of “Get Lucky” and “Instant Crush,” it would have still made my list, but it’s so much more. The French duo fearlessly combines their electronica with pop, disco and rock for a shape-shifting, often mind-bending musical exploration.
Eminem and Rihanna log a third week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “The Monster.” In doing so, the pair keeps another makeshift duo, Pitbull and Ke$ha, out of the top spot as “Timber” stays at No. 2.
In the slow holiday week, the top six spots stay static on the Billboard Hot 100: OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” is No. 3, A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera’s “Say Something” is No. 4, Lorde’s “Royals” is No. 5 and Imagine Dragons’ “Demons” is at No. 6.
Songs already within the top 10 shift spots for the last four positions: Passenger’s “Let Here Go” rises 9-7, Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” falls 7-8, Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” slips 8-9 and One Direction’s “Story Of My Life” stays at No. 10.
The highest debut belongs to Beyonce, whose “Drunk in Love,” featuring her husband Jay Z, bows at No. 12. It is her highest-reaching Billboard Hot 100 appearance in four years, according to Billboard.
Salaam Remi will have a lot to celebrate about 2013 as he rings in the new year. He was recently nominated for four Grammy Awards, including one for his recent solo set “Salaam Remi One: In the Chamber,” for Best Urban Contemporary Album, plus others for his work with Miguel, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Mack Wilds. The producer, songwriter and studio instrumentalist launched his label Louder Than Life, too, for which he can hand-pick his collaborating artists.
Above, you can hear just one of his recently collaborations, with Akon “One in the Chamber” (directed by Robby Starbuck).
For 2014, Remi will be all over the next Jennifer Hudson effort, and will at least be taking phone calls with Nas; “In the Chamber” will also get the deluxe edition makeover for re-release in March 2014.
Below is an abridged interview I had with Remi, on his past – like working with the Fugees, Amy Winehouse, posthumous Michael Jackson material and “Sparkle” – and what it takes to have a successful future as an engineer and label head.
As the traditional music business continues to morph into a new animal that no one has managed to tame, a number of artists shook up the status quo further in 2013 by trying innovative release strategies that bucked the norm. Instead of operating under the standard modus operandi of releasing a single to radio a few months before a widely-announced album release, planning a promotional campaign to build anticipation for the release, and running the press gauntlet, these artists rewrote the rule books. They didn’t all achieve the same level of success, but they all make the industry think as they caught the eyes and ears of consumers.
The biggest losers: print press and terrestrial radio: in most cases, both media were left out of the equation. Artists like Justin Timberlake turned to TV, appearing for five nights straight on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
Here's a look at six artists who did things a little differently in 2013:
David Bowie, “The Next Day”
With not so much as a hint that he had been in the studio, on Jan. 8 (his 66th birthday), David Bowie dropped a new single, “Where Are We Now.” Its arrival served as the announcement of his first album of new material in 10 years, “The Next Day,” and proof that, contrary to popular belief, he hadn’t retired. Bowie didn’t give a single interview for the project, instead letting producer Tony Visconti be his mouthpiece, as well as letting a number of stirring, creative interviews speak for the project. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling the most copies of any of his albums in the 22-year history of Nielsen SoundScan.
Justin Timberlake, “The 20/20 Experience”
Surely tired of being asked when he would release a follow-up to 2006’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” Timberlake coyly announced in January via a Twitter video that he had been back in the the studio. Three days later, he wrote an open letter to his fans on his website, announcing the album, and releasing first single “Suit & Tie,” featuring Jay Z. Timberlake did no print interviews for March release, instead he took to TV, appearing on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” for five straight nights and then appeared on “Saturday Night Live.” An exclusive with Target also helped propel the title, which sold 958,000 in its opening week, the most of any album in 2013. A Vol 2 was released in September.
Jay Z, “Magna Carta, Holy Grail”
In a sign of things sure to come, in July the rapper aligned with electronics company, Samsung, to distribute up to 1 million copies of “Magna Carta, Holy Grail” for free to Samsung mobile users one week before the album was available to traditional retail. In return, Jay Z reportedly received $5 million up front in part of a multi-pronged $20 million deal. The release was plagued with problems, including people having trouble downloading the app and complaints about data mining, but there’s no doubt that these kinds of deals, with the kinks hopefully worked out, will continue.
Garth Brooks, “Blame It All On My Roots”
The country superstar never does things in a small way, so to mark the start of his return after a 10-year hiatus, he dropped an 6 CD/2DVD boxed set at WalMart Thanksgiving night that included 4 CDs of new material and sold for less than $25. With very little advance promotion and no radio single, he debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with only 4 days of sales his first week, rose to No. 1 his second week, and would have snagged another week at the top if Beyonce hadn’t launched her sneak attack. Brooks, who has a live CBS special and did lots of promotion following the release, is going to have to figure out how to sell his material online in a way that works for him —he is the lone superstar hold out from iTunes. When that happens, he’ll see if he’s bringing along younger fans. But in the meantime, with sales of more than 600,000 in four weeks through one retailers, he’s showed that there is still a pent-up demand for his material...and that physical releases aren’t dead yet.
She upped Bowie by dropping an album out of the blue at midnight Dec. 13. She went completely the opposite way from Brooks, with her album only available via iTunes... and she managed to do something that is virtually impossible: for the first week, iTunes sold the album (and videos) as a total package, as opposed to a la carte. She shattered all kinds of iTunes records for the first week (even with only 3 complete days of sales) and remained on top for a second week, even as brick-and-mortar outlets like Target declined to carry the album. She conducted no interviews, had no promotion, released no advance single (to the chagrin of radio, which counts on partnering with major pop stars like Beyonce), and still managed to become one of the top sellers of the year. You better believe other superstar artists will be studying this kind of stealth attack for ways to make it work for them.
Justin Bieber, “Journal”
For the 10 weeks leading up to the release of his new movie, “Believe,” Bieber released a new song every Monday in a gambit tagged #MusicMondays. After the 10 weeks concluded, on Dec 22, fans could download all 10 songs, plus 5 previously unreleased tracks and a new video as a completed album, “Journal.” The compilation was No. 2 on iTunes’ album chart, but with no singles climbing the charts and “Believe” opening to a paltry $1.2 million on Christmas Day, the lack of excitement for the project was perhaps even more ominous than Bieber’s Christmas Eve tweet that he planned to retire.
Sound mixers Skip Lievsay and Peter Kurland on bringing the sonic world of 'Inside Llewyn Davis' to life
Nearly three decades ago, two young Minnesotans named Joel and Ethan Coen went down to Texas to shoot a film called "Blood Simple." It was their first feature. And to use a cliché, "the rest is history." But they were not the only artists making their debuts on that film who would later go on to become staples in the American film industry. Actress Frances McDormand, sound designer Lee Orloff, cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, composer Carter Burwell, sound editor Skip Lievsay and boom operator Peter Kurland also cut their teeth on "Blood Simple."
Lievsay, now sound re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor, and Kurland, now production sound mixer, have worked with the Coens on every feature film the siblings have made since then, the most recent of which, "Inside Llewyn Davis," is a sound showcase.
Talking with Thelma Schoonmaker recently, it became quickly apparent that I wasn't even going to scratch the surface of her career's work with Martin Scorsese in a single piece. I couldn't help but play the retrospective game with her, and while I of course didn't address all 19 feature collaborations, I was curious about six films in particular that I think represent a nice cross-section of their work together. Each of them — "Who's That Knocking At My Door," "Raging Bull," "The Last Temptation of Christ," "Goodfellas," "Bringing Out the Dead" and "The Departed" — has received its own space in the last few days.