Thursday, December 26, 2013

More Stuff I Loved in 2013

Sometimes I amuse myself.


Take today.  I was thinking maybe I’d take a few minutes to do a roundup of all the things that I enjoyed this year.


But as it turns out, I already wrote about most of them already.  Up to August, actually.


So instead, I guess I’ll take a minute and talk about things I liked since then.


PTX Volume 2:


I learned about Pentatonix when they came on The Sing-Off and blew all the other competition out of the water a couple of years ago.


Blew.  Them.  Out.


I hate to say it, but The Sing-Off is largely a broken show, and the reason it’s never quite caught on like other shows (despite requiring a lot more talent to get on the show) is because it’s trying to give people awards for something they’re not.


Essentially, the prize is, “Here is some money and a recording contract for your band.” 


Except most of these so-called bands aren’t bands.  They’re friends who tossed themselves together AS a band to get on a show and get some exposure.  The year Pentatonix won, the lead singer of the second-place group said, ON CAMERA, that he hadn’t ever thought about making music his life.


Imagine of the second-place person on American Idol said that.  “I was just standing around, and there was a line, and I got in it, and when I got to the front of the line they asked me to sing, and here I am.”


But I suppose that’s a rant for another time.


So, Pentatonix.  They won not just because they were an actual band, because there were other bands.  They won because they came out and they were trying to do something borderline impossible – create dance music that you couldn’t really tell was a cappella.  So they created electronic beats.  And did live remixes, which is as impossible as it sounds.  But they did it.


Not long after, they put out PTX Volume 1, which I really liked but had a fatal flaw or two.


The first was the lack of original songs.  Out of seven songs (on the extended edition) exactly two of them were original, and while both of them were fine, you could hear the lack of “hit” in them.  They were the filler songs to get to the really great stuff you wanted to listen to over and over again.


The other issue was that you sometimes couldn’t escape the gimmick – they didn’t sound like a band, they sounded like an a cappella group.  And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it limited them.  They needed to demonstrate that they had that “something else” that puts you onto the charts.


They needed a hit song.


And this second time, they fixed all of that.


Yes, their a cappella roots are showing here and there this time out, but this time that’s not the trick.  You’re not listening because they’re doing the impossible (though it’s fun if you know), you’re listening because they’ve got great songs and you want to hear them.


They did themselves some favors this time, writing at least one flat-out great song (Natural Disaster) and hiding the fact that there are no instruments in it. 


When they chose covers, they went just a little more obscure here and there, with one special exception – taking all of Daft Punk’s best-known work, and mashing it all up together to make something even better.


This is easily my favorite album of the year.  Easily.  And I can’t wait for the next one.


Hyperbole and a Half:


Look, it’s a famous blog.  And now it’s a book.  And you should buy and read the book, because it contains two amazing chapters about depression that should be given to everyone diagnosed with a mental illness just so that they realize they are not alone.


Katy Perry – Prism:


Not gonna lie.  This one is getting listed just because Katy cleaned up her act a touch and I don’t have to skip more than half the songs.  Which means my six-year-old can sing along.


It makes for glorious fun times.


The Connected Child:


That book didn’t come out this year.




If you are a parent, you need to buy this book.  And read it.  And highlight it.  And it’s for adopted children and their parents, but even if you have birth children, you should read it.


Start at chapter 12.  Trust me.


Frozen: The Soundtrack


I liked the movie Frozen.  I did.  But I suspect that in the coming years it will be labeled as a minor Disney film, one that made money but didn’t create a cult.


And that’s too bad.  It’s a fine movie, and well worth seeing.


But the songs.  Oh, the songs.  By the guy responsible for Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon.  The man has so many Tonys.  And his wife, who wrote with him, is also impossibly talented.


They’re great songs.  Truly marvelous.  You should listen to them even if you never see the movie.


I expect they’ll get their first Oscar this year.  I hope it’s for the snowman song.  (In Summer.)

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