Tuesday, December 21, 2010

10 Best of '10 Part One: Albums

One of my absolute favorite parts of the winter holiday season is reading "best of the year" lists in newspapers and magazines. But as much as I love being reminded of all the great stuff pop culture brought us over the past year, the lists can also depress me a bit, because I realize how much I've inevitably missed from the past year. If you're not a professional critic getting paid to do so, it's damn near impossible to catch every great album or movie, and so I present my list asking people to keep that in mind, and also to remember that I'm positive I've forgotten something amazing that I saw or heard in January or February. So here it is, the list of my favorite 5 albums that I remember from 2010. (Movies to come soon.)

Albums:

5. Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter
I had a cold the first time I listened to this album, but I think that's only one of the reasons I associate it with Nyquil. The music is so deliciously mellow and trippy that it's easy to miss the nostalgic lyrics. Halcyon Digest feels like a journey from the top of fluffy, idealistic clouds to the depths of a syrupy ocean, but it never wears you out.

4. Volume Two, She & Him
While we're on the topic of mellow music, how could I not mention She & Him? Zooey Deschanel's bittersweet voice on tracks like "Thieves" ("And I know/ And you know too/ That a love like ours/ is terrible news/ But that won't stop me crying over you") is enough to sell me on anything the duo puts out, and M. Ward's instrumentals and singing on songs like "Riding in My Car" make Volume Two a successful paradox: an album about heartbreak that can put me in a cheerful mood.

3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West
I've always liked Kanye's music, but after hearing his new album, I love it. Every song on the album is shape-shifting-- especially tracks like "Monster", "Power", and "Hell of a Life", which are both self-aggrandizing and self-critical. The huge sound on the album works because the themes Kanye addresses are mostly personal and very real. The album has the best of both worlds: it's a big, exciting production on the outset, but it's clear listening to songs like "Runaway" that Kanye really stripped himself down to make his best work yet.

2. Interpreting the Masters, Volume One: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates, The Bird and The Bee
I'm a total sucker for covers. Sure, there are a lot of crappy ones out there, but when it's done right, hearing a new take on old classics can be even more exciting than listening to a brand new song, because the new artist is changing the way you think about the old song. (Some covers that did that for me, just for fun: "Happiness is a Warm Gun" by The Breeders, "I Can Hear Music" by She & Him, "Just Like Heaven" by The Watson Twins, "Fell in Love With a Boy" by Joss Stone, etc.) The Bird and The Bee gave Hall and Oates' greatest hits a face lift, putting more depth and jazz into the instrumentals and adding crisp, flawless female vocals. Whether you're Hall and Oates' biggest fan or have never heard of them, it's a great album on its own.

1. Crazy For You, Best Coast
"I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk. Every time you leave this house, everything falls apart." Those lyrics from "Goodbye" pretty much sum up the stoner lovesick desperation that is Crazy For You. Best Coast channels girl-group era beach-y pop, but it definitely has a strong sound all of its own. Singer Bethany Cosentino's downright soulful voice demands to be listened to, and you'll be glad you did.

Honorable Mention: Pink Friday by Nicki Minaje
Nicki Minaje terrifies me, but in the best possible way. The way she can switch up her theatrical voices so quickly and effectively on songs like "Roman's Revenge" and Kanye's "Monster" make me concerned about her mental stability, but much of the rest of Pink Friday could use a little more of the crazy. Minaje showed such creativity and spark in some tracks, and I can just hope that she can keep that uniqueness going instead of submitting herself to the role of yet another female R&B star, instead of a true female rapper. The world already has Beyonce and Rhianna, and they're great, but what we don't have is a female Kanye West, and that's what Minaje could be.

Other Favorites: The Suburbs by Arcade Fire; Talking to You, Talking to Me by The Watson Twins; We Are Born by Sia; Lungs by Florence + The Machine, All Day by Girl Talk, Man on the Moon, Volume II: The Legend of Mr. Rager by Kid Cudi.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Few Things I've Learned

Esquire Magazine has this great segment where a celebrity of some sort has a list of random things they've learned over the years, ranging from the clever to the inane to the poignant. (Here's the url to one from the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner: http://www.esquire.com/features/what-ive-learned/ESQ0102-JAN_STEINBRENNER_rev_?click=main_sr) Ever since I first read one from Jack Nicholas a few years ago, I've been mentally keeping track of my own little pieces of wisdom. I recently realized that I will most likely never become a famous person that classy men's magazines will want to interview, so I've decided to post some here, just for the halibut.

Everything is cyclical. The only thing permanent is change, but eventually things will change back to the way they used to be. You'll just be in a different position in the cycle.

When someone is being awful to you, just be polite as hell, and not even in a sarcastic way. Those around you will admire it, and nobody ever regretted not losing their cool.

When unsure about food you're cooking, just add Tapatio or Siracha. The worse it tastes, the more spice you should add. Even if it gets too spicy, at least you can blame the meal's failure on that, instead of your cooking skills.

People like to hate on the media a lot, especially entertainment media. But media is neither good nor bad; it just is. The media started as soon as humans could draw pictures in caves-- it's human nature to try to frame events and communicate it with other people. TV and the internet can be used for a lot of great things, and a lot of subpar or even horrible things, but no single part of the media should be pointed to as a reflection of the media as a whole.

Life gets a lot easier and more interesting when you get to the point where you can catch most cultural references.

The best things I picked up from either of my parents weren't the things they constantly told me to do, but the things they taught by example. I don't even think they realized they were teaching them; they were just being themselves. Being a good parent really means just being a good person.

You should take life seriously, but don't take yourself seriously. Here's the difference: an artist should be able to lose himself completely in his painting, then laugh at how ridiculous he looks with paint splattered all over his face.

Every time I walk down stairs, all I can think about is that eventually I'll have to walk back up them. Which brings me back to my point about things being cyclical.