Saturday, December 31, 2011

The year in review: books

I read 52 books this year, which, if you account for the varying lengths and difficulties, is still a lot of reading. Proud of myself. Also aware that it's my job to read. In 2012, I pledge to read more and to be less tempted by the internet and its surface pleasures. Let's do it together!

On with the show! I've considered my grand list, and here are ten top-tier books from 2011. 

David Foster Wallace - Oblivion
Tom Grimes - Mentor
EL Doctorow - Ragtime
Eric Larson - The Devil in the White City
Judy Budnitz - Nice Big American Baby
Randy Shilts - And the Band Played On
JG Ballard - High Rise
Chad Harbach - The Art of Fielding
Dave Zirin - Welcome to the Terrordome
James Michener - Chesapeake

The work of Judy Budnitz endeared itself to me more than the work of any other author in 2011. I came to her like I come to many authors: via a Google search and scouring lists. K and I read Nice Big American Baby on our way home from Canada. Cautionary/ celebratory stories of motherhood, pregnancy, and love in America. Just totally bizarre, hilarious, and deeply sad stories. Flawless collection, the best book I read in 2011. 

Her first collection Flying Leap starts strong and ends poorly---worth a read for completists. In her novel, If I Told You Once, Judy systematically sheds male characters until there are only women left, four generations crammed into a tiny apartment. 

I lament my male-dominated list. Perhaps in 2012, I too will shed men. Nine women to one man. It could happen. Or perhaps, like the characters in If I Told You Once, I'll revert to the old ways, and 2012's list will be the same, except with 9 new guys. What I'm saying is, keep me honest blogspot. Diverse reading habits! What I'm saying is, Nice Big American Baby came out in 2005, and it's about time for some new Budnitz, don't cha think? 

A man can dream in 2011. Tonight, with Biggs Stache (and whatever Marc digs out the cellar) on the cerebellum, I'll dream of a new Judy Budnitz novel, and of all the books I'll read in 2012. If the world ends, my blog will live on in the ether. If the world ends, I will blast our greatest texts into space for our extraterrestrial pals. If the world ends, I'll blog in the afterlife.   

Friday, December 30, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 10 - Spidey's Curse

A little research reveals that Mark Ronson produced the new Black Lips record, and a little more research reveals this fella manned the boards on records by powerhouses Nas and Wale, as well as on a record by someone named Adele, whose Limp Bizkit cover, "Keep Rollin' Rollin' Rollin' in the Deep," wowed critics this year.

Not surprised Arabia Mountain sounds so good anymore. Psychedelic punk with nods to the 60s. I hear King Khan and the Shrines too.

I only wish the songs were better. Some are good and many are so-so, but "Spidey's Curse" is a stunner. The vocal melody takes surprising turns, and it turns me on. I also vibe on that lead guitar line. Bonus points for the dumb lyrics.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 9 - Queen of Hearts

In this interview, Fucked Up's Damian Abraham talks about a touring version of the band, one without him as vocalist. I say he's got it backwards. Fucked Up rules live because he's got the mic. What I want from Fucked Up are more guest vocalists on-record, a paring-down of Damian's role. Fucked Up's hour-long records, such as 2011's David Comes to Life, wear on me because of that bark that I adore so much in person.

That in mind, "Queen of Hearts" is the finest song on DCTL. The guitars are layered gorgeously, Damian gets two minutes to do his thing, and then it's the triumphant break for the female vocalist. The latest iteration of Fucked Up needs this song as a template. I want a record of songs like "Queen of Hearts."


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 8 - All the Sun that Shines

It's the best time of the year for people who follow online music journalism. What I do is cross-check the year-end lists, note the records that keep cropping up, listen to them in rapid succession, and winnow out the wack (like Kate Bush, Youth Lagoon, Liturgy, Bon Iver, Beyonce, Drake, Joyce Manor, Adele, James Blake, and on and on) from the dope (Black Lips, Paul Simon, James Ferraro, Julianna Barwick...). 

The lists also remind me about what I should have listened to all along. The distinctive cover of Peaking Lights's 2011 release, 936, caught my eye since spring. Worried that it might be standard psych rock revival, I ignored it. Joke was on me, though, because it's wonderful.

I mostly get down to "All the Sun that Shines" and "Birds of Paradise Dub Version." Deep grooves, reverbed chant vocals, spaced-out synths. "All the Sun" even begins like "Kokomo," which should clue you in to the sunshining mood that prevails. Peaking Lights were a nice surprise.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 7 - Blue Eyes

Destroyer's new album, Kaputt, seemed destined to garner hype for a week and then disappear. A record with its quirks (corny saxophone, corny keys, corny everything) should not be enduring. Too many bands recycle 80s tropes, but we don't include Dan Bejar in that conversation because he's motherfucking Destroyer, and he's been on his game for like two decades. For me and for a lot of the internet with year-end lists, Kaputt was durable and worthy of revisiting. "Blue Eyes," with its quick start, sultry female backing vocalists, and laid-back groove stood out to me, but I wouldn't blame you if you prefer "Chinatown," "Savage Night," or "Poor In Love." Don't be ashamed or disgusted with yourselves.

Unfortunate end-note: Kaputt didn't work live for me at p4k.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Songs from 2011 - Part 6 - Sad Girls

I first heard Big Troubles while panning for Gold Zounds, and I thought they were great. That song, though, was from their first lp, and it sounds totally different from the offerings on 2011's Romantic Comedy. The song-writing is better on Romantic Comedy, but I hold the squelchy production on Worry close to my heart. They switched labels, and that's okay, because Slumberland took the reins from Sarah Records

"Sad Girls" is endlessly addictive with its sweet melody and melodramatic lyrics. Great record, great band.