Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 – The year that was

It’s that time again. Time when bloggers worldwide—especially those who focus solely on music—post their best-of lists for the year gone by. Well I’m not gonna do that. Not exactly anyway.

Coming up with a decent best-of list requires having spent the year up to your eyeballs in whatever the subject is. If you’ve seen 10 films this year, you can’t really make a list of the 10 best films, now can you?

So what follows is not a best of, but a list of thoughts on the year that was. Let’s get to it.

First, since it’s still the season…

Best and worst Christmas songs

Best: “Father Christmas” – the Kinks

Runner-up: “Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses
If these aren’t part of your annual holiday tradition, your tradition’s broken. (Is that too strong? Maybe.)

Worst: “Little Drummer Boy”
I really hate this song. Doesn’t everyone?

Five books I liked

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a sweeping, multi-generational, coming of age epic novel. This one is fantastic. (What, the Pulitzer Prize wasn’t enough of a hint?)

Black Postcards, by Dean Wareham
Dean’s memoirs of his youth and his days leading Galaxie 500 and Luna are surprisingly funny, candid and unapologetic—and very entertaining. Great insight into one of my favorite bands.

The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright
This compelling look at the roots of fundamentalist Islamism, the formation of al-Qaeda and the attacks of September 11 should be required reading for every American.

Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
I’d been meaning to read this book for years, after David Gates (one of my favorites) raved about it in an interview. When I heard Hollywood was working on a film version, I got motivated. So good, yet so brutally heartbreaking. (And completely Leo-free!)

Old School, by Tobias Wolff
Wolff is a master; ‘nuff said.

Two books I didn’t

And Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris
Personal Days, by Ed Park
Both of these books garnered a lot of buzz this year. Both are ostensibly humorous, both take place predominantly in modern-day big city office environments (the latter in an ad agency) and both—how can this be?—are written in the first person plural. I’m not gonna lie, that first person plural thing is a real bummer, making it difficult to develop characters beyond caricature or cliché. I struggled to get into these novels and put them both down after about 100 pages. Next!

A bunch of songs I really liked

In a really strange development, I bought very few albums this past year. I’m not sure what that’s about other than being really busy (the move, the job, etc), no longer having the music-sharing friendship base of years past (sniff) and possibly even a declining interest in what I heard out there. So instead of a best-of albums list I’m gonna share some of my favorite songs from 2008. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

“Re: Stacks” – Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago
would have to be my album of the year. Even though technically it was first released last year. Whatever, stickler. (No mp3 for you; just buy the damn thing already.)

“Sex Tourists” – French Kicks
Hidden near the end of Swimming, the band’s best record in maybe ever, this gem of a track’s verses have a slow, yearning—but catchy—vocal melody laying over simple, repetitive instrumentation. And how about the restraint of the band? Awesome.

“Electric Feel” – MGMT, Justice Remix
Crazy delicious.

“Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Let It Fall” – Lykke Li
In addition to the things I said about it when I posted “Dance” a few weeks ago, I love the ska-influenced backing vocals Li uses on some of these tunes. Here’s “Let It Fall”:

“There’s A Reason” – A.A. Bondy
DY turned me on to this. If you like A.A., you should be sure to check out the fruits of his Daytrotter session, especially “Oh The Vampyre,” here.

“No One Does It Like You” – Department of Eagles
“Two Weeks” and “While You Wait For The Others” – Grizzly Bear
Grizzlies continue to be awesome, in all forms.

“Sex On Fire” – Kings of Leon
Say what you want, this song rocks, and makes me think of high school parking lots. (From back when I was in high school, you perverts.)

“That’s Not My Name” – The Ting Tings

“ArtStar” – The Oranges Band
Already discussed and posted here.

“The Light” – Sun Kil Moon
April is among the more difficult Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters/Mark Kozelek records (though they tend to take a while to hit me), but this song was an instant favorite. Yes it’s slow and repetitive, what were you expecting? But the hook (if you can even call it that) is great and the whole thing is perfect for cold Sundays spent indoors.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – Rolling Stones, Soulwax Remix
Just shut up and listen to it already.

Best live shows I saw

Radiohead at the All Points West festival (night 1)
Probably the best outdoor show I’ve ever seen, with the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty looming behind us (and with great sound, somehow). The band took the stage and played “15 Step,” “There There,” “Morning Bell” and “All I Need” in succession—I couldn’t have picked it better myself. Radiohead make everyone else look like the JV squad. It’s unreal.

French Kicks at the Bowery Ballroom
I didn’t realize how sexy this band’s music has become until I was among the crowd slowly bobbing back and forth to these blissfully easy and catchy tunes. Everyone was absolutely hypnotized. They started their encore with Lindsay Buckingham’s “Trouble,” a song that sounds like it could be theirs (and wins the award for best live cover tune of 2008). Here they are doing “Trouble”:

The National with Grizzly Bear at the Hammerstein Ballroom
A great pairing and a great venue. Both bands firing on all cylinders.

The Oranges Band at the Blender Theatre
I came around to these guys late and was sure they were never going to tour again. Sometimes being wrong is a good thing.

Biggest disappointments

Zach and Miri Make A Porno
You could argue that for this film to be a disappointment requires high expectations on the front end, which indeed seems unlikely. I guess this is more a disappointment of the folks who brought us the latest wave of popular comedies. The only “oh no they didn’t” element of this film’s précis is that Zach and Miri turn to the porn industry to get out of their bad financial situation. This same film without the porno element (which is pretty easy to imagine) is tired. Actually, it’s tired with it too.

The Cleveland Browns
High hopes abounded for the Browns coming off last season’s 10–6 record (and narrow miss of the playoffs). Oh how the not-so-mighty have fallen. Sure, they had a couple good performances on national TV (beating the world champion Giants, most notably), but Braylon Edwards leads the league in dropped passes, the team is down to its fourth-string quarterback and their last 30 offensive points have all come via the leg of Phil Dawson. Following last Sunday’s egg at home against the awful Bengals they head into Pittsburgh looking down the barrel of 4–12. Just sad. (Oh look, it’s 14–0 Steelers at halftime!)

Well that’s it. I’m sure there’s more, but we both have lives to live. Here’s to a fantastic 2009.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As much as I'd like to shit all over your list, I have to agree with most of it. Notable omissions, no Wombats and no TV on the Radio.

I may have to Relay you some new music for SOTW consideration.