I’m no longer a full-time critic, but a lifelong reflex still kicks in each December: gotta make my year’s top 10 list! So, for whate’er ‘tis worth, for whomever may still care: personal and critical faves from 2013 …
Janelle Monae, “Electric Lady” (Atlantic)
You might not think an Afrofuturist sci-fi concept album would be an easy project to follow up, but Janelle Monae — literally and figuratively — didn’t lose the plot on this year’s “The Electric Lady,” the continuation of the “electro-sophista-funky-cated” world of oppressed but soulful androids introduced on 2011’s flawless “The ArchAndroid” (my list-topper in 2011) She doesn’t just keep the narrative and groove going, she brings an elegance to it. This sophomore effort comes front-loaded with entertaining guest stars, from Prince to Solange, though they’re needless next to Monae’s natural and formidable songwriting and vocal talents. Yet another album for brain and booty. (Read more)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the patron saint of finals weeks. The psyche prof developed the concept of the “flow” state. (Watch his TED about it.) You know it as being “in the zone” — that state of concentration where you become so deeply involved in an activity that you lose time. Csikszentmihalyi described it as being “completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies.” Flow is essentially an intense but positive and creative feeling of presence (Heeter, 2003). If, like me, you’re writing papers right now, flow-ing is where you want to be.
For this writer, background music has become essential to reining in my limbic system and achieving something like Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state. To that end, I’ve found a few resources pretty indispensable this year.
“The difficulty is not getting bored with the central character.” This was Morrissey’s response last year to my question about the progress of his memoir. He was speaking as the author, though one might wonder if the same experience now can be said for the reader.
To be sure, the book is rarely boring.
I'm THOMAS CONNER, communication researcher and culture journalist.