Sunday, December 31, 2023

jeffery berg’s top 10 albums of 2023

Here goes my Top 10 Albums of 2023!



Sufjan Stevens

Another great album from Stevens. With aching vocals and gentle, prickly guitars, this one wades deep into love and mortality. 



Lakecia Benjamin

Alto saxophonist Benjamin rises up on this record--so vibrant and alive, with spoken word spots from the likes of  Angela Davis and Sonia Sanchez.  



Joni Mitchell

Even if Mitchell isn't offering up any new material per se, this recording from the 2022 Newport Folk Festival is a vital part of her discography. She sounds so gorgeous here. The return to "Both Sides Now," a weeper. 



Lana Del Rey

Features some of Del Rey's best work: smooth and eerie duets with Jon Batiste and Father John Misty on "Candy Necklace" and "Let the Light In," and the epic "A&W"--one of her most adventurous songs.




A celebration of sun-drenched production and quirk. Every track is catchy, enduring still after lots and lots of plays throughout the year, especially the wistful "Silent Running" and pooling electronica of "Tarantula." 



JPEGMafia & Danny Brown

This is one of the most rigorous albums of the year: the deliveries (a brilliant collab between two skilled rappers) and the extravagant samplings constantly keep you on your toes and knock you out. 




Unquestionably beautiful. 




Tight deliveries and production; the lyrics are imbued with wry humor, pain, and sly commentary. Crazy good.



Danny Brown

Got to this one late in the year and was immediately hooked. Brown's album is one from the perspective of a somewhat worn, but still vibrant, 40-something on music and modern life. That this came out in the same year as his collab with JPEGMafia is astonishing. 



Jessie Ware

If there's a perfect pop-dance album, this would be one of them! With crisp instrumentations, transitions and strong, soaring vocals, Ware gives up a dose of disco joy and unbridled exuberance.

My Spotify playlist of favorite tracks from 2023 are below!

A look back at 2022's Top 10 when Beyoncé's RENAISSANCE was unmissable and kind of undeniable. 

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, December 29, 2023

jeffery berg's top 10 singles of 2023


Saying au revoir to 2023 with my Top 10 singles of the year!


Montreal-based band Men I Trust's winsome, appropriately swirling tune (the single's cover & music video suggest the latent nostalgia and circular mind-runs of a skating rink)--a shiny pop jewel of longing, ridden with funk elements.


Released right before the deluge of Christmas catalogue songs, Dua Lipa's "Houdini" arrived and has since been buried on the charts more than it should be. Perhaps a resurgence in the new year?  Co-produced & written by Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), it's a disco dream, with rubbery synths and a sparkly, leave-them-wanting-more finale.  


A pop gem that deserves to be an anthem, Raye's mood-booster, lifts and lifts with studied instrumentation, crisp, cool vocals and a buoyant sound. 


Confident and craving, Sivan's perfect pop tune (paired with an arresting music video) navigates within the fluidity of gender and sexuality. The same could be said of breezy dance pump-up "Rush" too.  


Honey-voiced Cilker travels the states and tallies tales of love and music in this twangy, warm and winsome kicker. 


Driving, propulsive Zydeco tune features a brilliant swirl of musicians and Giddens' tender and fiery vocals.

I hear elements of Dimitri Tiomkin's "Theme from The High and Mighty" in Bjork's towering duet with the compelling artistry of Rosalía. Bjork's vocals and the orchestrations are playful and sweeping.


Damon Albarn had a bang up year with a smashing new album with Blur and Gorillaz as well (one of their most at-ease, catchiest efforts). "Tarantula" is a cute and modest (maybe desperate?) love song with tuneful synth and overdubbed vocal embellishments .


Oscillating between certainty and ambivalence, "namesake" is a brisk, incredible song with incredible lyrics on entertainment consumption and politics / world events that wouldn't be interested in being on a Top 10 list, but I can't help but show love. 


This was the song from the year that surprised me the most. Even after a slew of really strong records, Lana Del Rey seemed fresher than ever in the song's pensive first half (the chord progressions and piano and strumming strings conjuring Radiohead)... and then a twisty transition emerged and a second half dirge shimmied in. A sublime effort overall.

My favorite songs of 2023 here on Spotify.

Friday, December 15, 2023

the boys in the boat

Nothing surprising ever happens in Director George Clooney’s dapper-looking, but mealy adaptation (with a script by Mark L. Smith) of Daniel James Brown's non-fiction bestseller. It's unfortunate because the book is so terrific--a stirring tale of a Depression-era JV University of Washington working class rowing crew who defy odds and make their way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics during Hitler's rule. Even those who may not be drawn to the subject matter may find the read a riveting page-turner, from the supple descriptions of boat construction up to the tense race between America and the Germans for the Gold. But the film tediously plods along as another by-the-numbers sports drama, filmed with a burnt gold sheen (shot by Martin Ruhe). 

Missing are the visual lushness of Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck.the muscularity, and prickly wryness of a film like Ides of March. Perhaps those who are part of the rowing universe will find its competitions, as presented here, involving — but these soft, smoothly-filmed races (with waving, distractingly CGI-looking crowds) feel devoid of drama or much physical exertion (can't say the same of Annette Bening's swims in Nyad, as bonkers as that movie is, that I happened to view around the same time). 

There are some bright qualities: Alexandre Desplat’s score is typical, but well-arranged and spirited; and the film, as artificial as it may feel, is attractive to behold: the bespoke clothes (costumes by the per usually great Jenny Eagan) and the distressed, burnished woods of the art direction look as if we are in the middle of a J Crew Men’s Store. Well-cast, scrappy Joel Edgerton as coach Al Ulbrickson faces some snags here and there throughout from stuffy brass types. His character can be against-the-grain and mild-mannered--a motivational speech before the climax shows his nerves--understated rather than predictably rousing. 

The story mainly follows Joe Rantz (Callum Turner), a student who lives in a makeshift camp, who becomes a part of the team. The rest of his teammates, unlike the book, are disappointingly glossed-over (compare this to the cinematic team in Penny Marshall's comedy A League of Their Own where every character is distinctive in some way). A budding romance with fellow student Joyce (Hadley Robinson) is unengaging. Because we get to know so little of the crew, the final race, which should be thrilling, mewls. A sentimental framing device is unnecessary, as we anticipate that ending to arrive from the opening frames. **

-Jeffery Berg

Thursday, December 7, 2023


My review of Wim Wenders' visually stunning 3-D documentary on German artist Anselm Kiefer is now up at Film-Forward.

Friday, December 1, 2023


Based upon the prize-winning novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen is a tight knot of a film and an unusual coming-of-age that shamelessly subverts audience expectations. Thomasin McKenzie, in yet another fantastic performance, plays Eileen Dunlap, a young woman working at a male corrections facility and living with a brash, mouthy alcoholic father (Shea Whigham). She is troubled, often driving around alone, and has fantasies about sex and death. She becomes infatuated with the platinum blonde Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), a psychologist newly employed at the facility. The presence of Rebecca totally upends Eileen's dull, mundane life. Both connect perhaps out of a mutual sexual attraction, and also because they are misfits. Posh-presenting, though formidable Rebecca doesn't quite fit in with the crusty, salt-of-the-earth staff, and Eileen is a loner. Eileen's confidence and personality shifts through the charismatic enigma of Rebecca. Meanwhile, Rebecca is treating a young inmate, Lee Polk (Sam Nivola), who stabbed and killed his father and Eileen is deeply perturbed and intrigued by his crime. 

Director William Oldroyd who showed promise on his earlier feature Lady Macbeth, extends his affinity here for performances and visuals. Ari Wegner has already delivered rich, stylistically varied work on The Power of the Dog and Zola, and her cinematography here is equally mesmerizing. The look is a moody, mesmerizing, fuzzed-over palate that tinges the story's 1964 wintry Massachusetts atmosphere. The characters--framed in tight spaces or small against large backdrops--look like they could vanish within elements in the film at any moment. A haunting jazz scores by Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire) is eerily romantic--some of the finest film music this year. The performances are all strong and carry the film. It's always a delight to see Hathaway seizing upon a fully embodied and against-type character. Playing Lee Polk's mother is Marin Ireland; her look could be written off as seemingly meek, but she ends up being a stormy, tough-as-nails presence. She was similarly great in this year's queasy sci-fi psychological horror film Birth / Rebirth. With an ending that swings unsatisfactorily for a feature length film, Eileen is probably best taken in as a wonderfully acted and crafted mood piece.

-Jeffery Berg