List-o-mania, part 1: While you wait for the others.

It’s such a weird time of year, as it starts getting colder in most places, probably especially in our hearts and in our memories, and yet we cast our gaze ever backwards, trying to search our sonic amusements from the past year for value. What was important. What was worthy of being called “the best of” this odd little year that was.

I could wait forever for your answer and you could wait even longer for someone else’s answer, but here’s mine. I hope other members of Counterforce will pipe in at some point with albums/singles/music they valued in the past year, especially as we start cutting up everything of pop culture into lines to put in lists and snort up. But this is my picks, music-wise, albums either released or leaked into the blogosphere and my world this year, split unnumbered into three categories:  The Best Of and Somewhere In The Middle and Albums That Let Me Down This Year. That’s probably about as clear as I can be with categories. Now, let’s take a look back…


Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest.

Broadcast, Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age.

As I’ve seen many people say online, you might like this album if the album title alone attracts your interest. Simply put, this feels like a lovely dream pop/electronica soundtrack to a 60s horror movie about wandering sonic textures hunting down pop songs that I desperately wish was waiting out there for me to discover it.

St. Vincent, Actor.

The best album produced via GarageBand with songs inspired by Woody Allen and Disney movies ever.

Mos Def, The Ecstatic.

Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport.

Japandroids, Post-Nothing.

Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.

Quite frankly, car commercial music has never sounded this good.

mewithoutYou, It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright!

The Raveonettes, In And Out Of Control.

A Place To Bury Strangers, Exploding Head.

Where noise rock, shoegaze, space rock, post punk, and a truckload of dissonance all combine into a giant wall that falls down on you, crushing you. Or, exploding your head, if you will. Not a band for everyone, and definitely not an album for everyone, but if you love sonic death waves, this will be your bag.

Lisa Hannigan, Sea Sew.

I’ve been a huge fan of Hannigan’s work with Damien Rice but always disturbed that she’s been relegated to being in his backing band when her talent has always seemed up and front there with Rice’s own. And honestly, I can only watch/listen to a sad man moaning and keeping a girl down for so long. I hope this is the beginning of Hannigan conquering more and more accolades.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz.

Oh yeah, remember that this came out earlier this year? A solid album, definitely, but not totally compelling in a long term sense, but maybe nothing can be after a mountain like “Maps.” Regardless, I think this album works as a whole and still carries several excellent cuts on it. Silly though it may be, “Soft Shock” is a personal favorite of mine.

The-Dream, Love vs. Money.

Fever Ray, Fever Ray.

Beach House, Teen Dream.

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE: Albums that are solid, but perhaps over hyped a tad. Or, albums that I like but sadly don’t love.

Andrew Bird, Noble Beast.

“Baroque pop” is how Wikipedia describes this album, and I can see it. It’s indie rock, and it’s well done, but it’s not my usual cup of tea. And I think the album reinforces that, actually, by always impressing me, surprising me with it’s mechanical beauty, but never making me feel like I am a part of it.

Mr. Hudson, Straight No Chaser.

The album is not so bad, but “Supernova,” the Kanye-produced (who also guests, of course)(and continuing his quest to either become European or just conquer European music) lead single by this British artist is my pick for what should be one of the songs of the year:

Bat For Lashes, Two Suns.

Dinosaur Jr., Farm.

Girls, Album.

Good, solid music, but not worth the hype. Praise comes too easy to some people who are not gifted with the depth of thought or true judgment.

The XX, xx.

See above, though this album has more going for it than the Girls album, I feel. Years from now, or possibly just months and days (with the way my life is going) I will quite possibly fall in love with this album. It’s simple in a way, understated, clumsy in a practiced way. There’s a nuance to it, but make no mistake: This is a album for the loneliest, horniest of hipster.

Handsome Furs, Face Control.

No longer a side project and now what feels like a good and proper musical collaboration between Dan Broeckner and his wife Alexei Perry. It fascinates me that their reference to New Order got this album delayed while it was cleared legally. There’s a beautiful rhythmic groove hatched in this album.

Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion.

This is, without a doubt, the album to take drugs to and then take your clothes off to of the year. Enjoy it with another person, but it’s still good by yourself too.

Sonic Youth, The Eternal.

La Roux, La Roux.

A shock and a revelation as far as European dance music goes. Bright, shiny, and beautifully off kilter.

Mirah, (A)spera.

…And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, The Century Of Self.

Micachu and the Shapes, Jewellery.

Third Eye Blind, Ursa Major.

Originally entitled “That Hideous Strength,” taking it’s title from C.S. Lewis, this is a nostalgia pick that doesn’t totally betray me but there’s nothing resembling fireworks on this album. I’m probably the biggest fan in the world of their previous album and this one feels exactly like it was: six years late and the product of a long drought of writer’s block, but definitely the work of the same artist. The band will release their own version of Amnesiac, entitled Ursa Minor, at some point.

Atlas Sound, Logos.

Vivian Girls, Everything Goes Wrong.

Mastodon, Crack The Skye.

Art Brut, Art Brut vs. Satan.

It’s a crazy, fun music party until someone has the balls to challenge Satan. And this English/German indie rock band, with beautiful production by Black Francis, who take their name from Jean Dubuffet’s name for outsider art, lose to Satan, of course. But it’s a tight, clean, and highly listenable loss.

Metric, Fantasies.

Amy Millan, Masters Of The Burial.

The Antlers, Hospice.

Florence And The Machine, Lungs.

The album is decent enough, but all you really need to know is the song, “Dog Days Are Over.” Give it a listen and then tell me if I’m wrong.

ALBUMS THAT LET ME DOWN THIS YEAR: Maybe they’re not terrible, maybe they have some strong points, but like I said, they let me down.

Doves, Kingdom Of Rust.

A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Ashes Grammar.

U2, No Line On The Horizon.

Still the biggest band in the world, no matter how much it upsets your stupid sensibilities. The sad thing about being on the top though is that you can only fall down.

Julian Casablancas, Phrazes For The Young.

I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t expect much from Casablancas. This album isn’t horrible by any means, but never lives up to the possibility you felt in it’s lead off single, “11th Dimension.” The rest of the album, which references Oscar Wilde in it’s title, feels like a few normal rock songs with extra silly production layered onto them by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis. If I was in junior high, or at least floating around somewhere in the first few years of high school, I would probably think this was the greatest thing ever and might request it at a dance or something. And possibly adding insult to injury, I give you the song (which I actually like quite a bit) by Courtney Love that’s about Casablancas:

The Boy Least Likely To, The Law Of The Playground.

Brand New, Daisy.

Better Than Ezra, Paper Empire.

Another nostalgia pick. BTE, actually, used to be my favorite band. It’s a long story, one that started with a girl, but thankfully, at the end of the story I was left with the better of the two: the music. Now I feel like I don’t even have that. For a band that that mines a brand of “cool” and “joy” that is wonderful and easy to inhabit, I would easily recommend this band. Their previous album was slyly wonderful, as were all of their albums before that.

The Mars Volta, Octahedron.

I think I’m just over this. I appreciate music that sounds like you’re on drugs but I have grown to dislike the Mars Volta’s evolving sound into my needing to be drugs to find an appreciation groove in what they do.

Well, this has been my 2009 in music, for the most part. The best of, the solid and entertaining, and the stuff that let me down. There’s some highs and lows in here, as far as music released/leaked this year goes, but these are my peaks and valleys. What do you think? And what was your year in music like?


The Auteur Theory, part two: The ribbon of dreams.

“A film is a ribbon of dreams. The camera is much more than a recording apparatus; it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world that is not ours and that brings us to the heart of a great secret. Here magic begins.”

Orson Welles.

And here we continue with part two of our films that we love, and perhaps even adore, that we feel should make the jump over to the Criterion Collection, if, for no other reason, just to make ourselves a little happier. But here we hit a little closer to home with some domestic picks…

Marco Sparks: My first choice is Putney Swope, 1969, directed by Robert Downey, Sr. and it’s a simple and easy choice.

This film is red hot burning satire, hilarious at times, and an excellent example of what an American film can look like. We’ve all seen it and it’s been better described elsewhere, so I don’t have to say a whole lot here, but if for some reason you haven’t seen it (and you’ve certainly seem homages to it if you’ve ever seen a single P.T. Anderson film), get your ass on it. It’s worth your time.

Obviously, a Criterion no brainer, I would think. August?

August Bravo: Shadow Of A Doubt, 1943, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Probably my favorite Hitchcock film (David Mamet’s, too), and most likely Hitchcock’s as well. I had the pleasure of watching this for the first time in my cinema class. My teacher told the class to pay particular notice to the number 2 in this film, something I thought nothing of until much, much later.

The story is about a man named Charlie. The first scene shows him on the run from two men. Not much is known, but one thing etched into my memory are the bars over his face, coming from the shadow cast by the window. A great bit of foreshadowing. Or maybe not. He visits his married  sister, and her kids. His favorite of the kids is also named Charlie, who’s ecstatic to see her uncle. Weren’t we all like that as kids? So excited to see family, but now as adults we do anything we can to get away from them. But maybe that’s just me.

I don’t want to reveal too much, but the relationship between the two Charlies and how it develops throughout the movie is something that I’ve always found interesting. There’s a pretty strong theme here for 1943, something I still find eerie to this day.

Once again, not having a completely satisfying ending, or maybe it does, is something I thoroughly admire about this film. I enjoy thinking about a film days after I’ve watched it, or at least, I like movies that stick with you for days after you’ve finished them. Not many have that kind of staying power anymore, but Shadow Of A Doubt stays with you for years. Several of Hitchcock’s other films have made their way into the ranks of the Criterion collection and I feel that this film strongly deserves that same level of infamy.

Marco: August has just shamed me wonderfully since Shadow Of A Doubt is one of the few films by the master that I have yet to see, along with Notorious. I’ll get there, man. I’ll get there.

But for my last film for today, I’m going to keep it painfully simple: My Dinner With Andre, 1981, directed by Louis Malle.

There’s quite a bit I could say about this film, which is easily in my top 5 of all time and one that I watch at least once a year, so the trick here will be to say the least. I saw it written somewhere that this film is about two men who meet for dinner, eat in real time, and talk. Yeah, but that’s kind of missing the point, and they don’t even really eat in real time, but there’s such a fine attention paid to detail here that you probably do feel like you’re the silent man at the table during the conversation that takes place here.

Semi based on their real selves, Wallace “Inconceivable!” Shawn is a playwright on his way to dinner with an old friend, New York theater director Andre Gregory, “a man I’d been avoiding, literally, for a matter of years,” who had troubled out of sigth for a while, reportedly traveling the world. But one day a friend encounter Andre  leaning against a building in Manhattan and weeping, having just walked out of an Ingmar Bergman film, where a particular piece of dialogue had left him devastated: “I could always live in my art, but not in my life.” This is what sets up their dinner encounter.

And what an encounter it is. Andre has indeed been around the world and seen some amazing things, and the stories he has for Shawn are incredible. Shawn, a man of simple desires, who wants merely to have a littl money and to be able to lay in bed with his girlfriend, warm under their electric blanket, and read his biography of Charelton Heston, has his eyes opened by a Gregory’s almost explosively adventurous and spiritual look at the world. And so did I. What starts like the ravings of a mad man from Gregory will slowly begin to show you that there is so much more to life if you take one second to not be content with just being another fat, dumb, and happy somnabulist.

Both men are wonderful here and the script was compiled from their real life conversations together, and when you add to the beautiful way that Malle photographs this film, it’s perfect. Like I said, I watch this movie at least once a year and I’d love to tell you that it’s my litmus test for people to pass or fail as they enter my life, but I can’t. Everyone would fail, sadly, and this just isn’t a film for everyone.

I’ll end with this bit from Roger Ebert’s review of the film: “Someone asked me the other day if I could name a film that was entirely devoid of cliches. I thought for a moment and then answered, ‘My Dinner With Andre.'”

Anyway, August and I will be back tomorrow or the next day with a few more domestic selections from you, continuing and possibly concluding our series. I don’t want to leave you with a cheesy statment, like… “Go watch a good film!” so instead, I’ll just say… Watch your step.