SOUNDTRACK: All Songs Considered Year End Music Roundup (2010).
Every year, I like to check various sources to see if there were any albums that I missed. My definition of good resources: allmusic, amazon, pitchfork. (There’s another fascinating list available here at Best Albums Ever, a site I’ve never seen before, and I have a large portion of the Top 50 albums. I didn’t buy a lot of music this year, but evidently I chose wisely!). I don’t necessarily agree with these lists, but if I see the same album on a few lists, I know it’s worth at least listening to.
This year, since I spent so much time on All Songs Considered, I thought I’d see their Best of Lists. What’s awesome about the site is that you can hear not only selected songs in their entirety, you can also download the audio of the original show…where the DJs talk about their selections and play excerpts from them. There are many different lists to investigate.
The most obvious one to star with is 50 Favorite Albums of 2010. This shows the staff’s 50 favorite albums in all genres. I admit that there’s going to be a lot on this list that I won’t bother exploring (I’m not really that interested in new classical or jazz and I’m not too excited by most pop music, although I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Kanye West songs here).
But some albums did stand out that I hadn’t heard, and I will investigate them further in 2011:
Buke And Gass, ‘Riposte’
Deerhunter, ‘Halcyon Digest’ (I know, this is on many best of lists)
The National, ‘High Violet’ (This is also on everyone’s list)
Bob Boilen, All Songs Considered’s most awesome host, picks his Top 9 of the year. I’m on board with about 1/2 of his list (haven’t heard the other half). Sufjan Stevens is his #1.
Robin Hilton, Boilen’s partner in crime, has a Top Ten which is remarkably similar to Boilen’s. It has most of the same albums just appearing in a slightly different order. Lower Dens is #1. (I’ve never heard of them).
Carrie Brownstein (of beloved Sleater-Kinney and now evidently a permanent member of the NPR team) has a Top Ten (Plus One)–funny that she liked more than ten when Boilen liked less than ten. I’m really surprised by her selection of albums because her own music is so punk and abrasive, but her top ten features R&B and some folky bands. Her top album is by Royal Baths, a band I’ve never heard of.
Stephen Thompson also picked his Top Ten. He has an interesting mix of alt rock and jazz. His number one is by Jonsi from Sigur Rós. (A great album).
Perhaps the best list comes from 5 Artists You Should Have Known in 2010. I didn’t know any of the 5. Sarah bought me two CDs for Christmas (and she was pleased to have gotten me good music that I hadn’t heard of!). The Head and the Heart hasn’t arrived yet, but The Capstan Shafts is great. I’m also really excited by Tame Impala.
Another great list is Viking’s Choice: Best Metal and Outer Sound (stay tuned for much more from this list). It is dominated by black metal, but there are a few surprises in there as well.
Even the All Songs Considered Top 25 Listener’s List was great. I had most of the list (except for The Black Keys who I simply cannot get into).
Although I enjoyed a lot of new music this year, it’s always nice to see that there is some new (to me) stuff to investigate. Who knows maybe some day I’ll even have listened to enough new music in a year to make my own Top Ten.
[READ: December 31, 2010] McSweeney’s #36
With McSweeney’s #36, it’s like they made my conceptual ideal. Its weird packaging is fantastic and the contents are simply wonderful. But let’s start with the obvious: this issue comes in a box. And the box is drawn to look like a head. You open up the man’s head to get to the contents. Brilliant. The head is drawn by Matt Furie (with interior from Jules de Balincourt’s Power Flower.
Inside the box are eleven items. The largest are smallish books (postcard sized) running between 32 and 144 pages. The smaller items are a 12 page comic strip, a nineteenth century mediation (8 pages) and 4 postcards that create a whole picture. The final item is a scroll of fortune cookie papers. The scroll is forty inches long with cut lines for inserting them into your own fortunes (I wonder if they will sell this item separately?)
Aside from the bizarre head/box gimmick (and the fact that there is ample room in the box for more items), the contents are really top-notch. For while many of the books included are individual titles, there is also an actual “issue” of McSweeney’s (with letter column and shorter stories) as well. So let’s begin there
ISSUE #36: New Stories and Letters. The resurrected letters page continues with more nonsense. I’ve often wondered if these are really written like letters or if they are just short pieces that have no other place to reside. (Oh, and the back of this booklet contains the bios for everyone in here as well as assorted other folks who don’t have room for a bio on their items).
Offers suggestions for an Annual McSweeney’s Writing Conference with three crucial suggestions. Two of the suggestions are to make sure one author shows up but doesn’t talk to anyone and to make sure there is fox hunting.
STEVE DELAHOYDE has four letters:
First letter: Talks about target shooting practice with some Germans. His score is quite good.
Second letter: Informs everyone of his ideas for three new medical dramas: Baby Doctor (about a doctor named Frank Baby); Dog Doctor (about a pediatrician who is a baby) and Dog Baby Doctor (exactly as it sounds).
Third letter: is the guy who shouts “Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!” a little crazy for telling everyone it might be just a bird? or a plane?
Fourth letter: try substituting “rooster” (or your favorite word) for all of the nouns in the song “My Favorite Things.”
Talks about different sleep medications and their curious effects on him. (This one is quite funny).
Updates everyone (but specifically Tom, who co-authored his piece in McSweeney’s #33) about what really happened on their excursion (re: Tom checking his Facebook account).
MARY MILLER has two letters:
First letter: a lengthy story about her father’s misguided attempts to make pecan pies and to find out which one is better. The letter is absurd and quite funny.
Second letter: she realizes that not only poor people set fires (!), when she accidentally burns her roommate’s worm farm (!!).
A multifaceted letter of fascinating bits and pieces: imagining what it would be like to literally “fuck this weather”; also imagining using sign language with a blind person and how they would have to feel your lips or you hands.
Dreams his dreamy dreams.
DAVY ROTHBART (founder of FOUND magazine):
Takes the advice of Popcorn and finally explains how he would like his estate divvied up.
Explains how hard it os to get flares in Bimini.
ISMET PRCIC-”At the National Theater”
This is a bizarre story about an angry man in a Bosnian Theater. It begins simply enough with the power of darkness. The narrator is a peasant who wanders down into the city center and spends his last coins on a theater ticket, the whole while looking down on the stuck ups who go to the theater. While the audience is waiting for the show to begin and the lights go out, the narrator tries his hand at disrupting the enjoyment of the snobby patrons. He makes noises and then threatens those who shush him. He also rails against the fact that the performers are American, speaking American (why don’t they come to Bosnia and speak Bosnian?).
I rather liked the idea that the whole story would take place in the darkness before the curtain rose, but that was not to be the case. Rather, when the play starts, and the actors speak American, the narrator makes more and more noise–eventually singing a Bosnian song–until he is grabbed by the ushers.
The story grows violent and ultimately very surreal as it ends. But I’m not sure exactly what the “message” was, if there was one at all. Perhaps that America absorbs everything?
JOHN BRANDON-”The Occurrences”
This was a wonderfully odd story. The titular occurrences are never explained (although they are alluded to in enough detail that you can guess as to their otherworldliness). But aside from visitors from other worlds, the story is mostly about visitors from other states. The narrator lives in a town that is right on a highway, but which has no amenities itself. There’s no reason for anyone to move there, which is why so many people do. It’s a cool story with an interesting mix of sci-fi and down home. I was totally captivated by it.
RICARDO NUILA-”Dog Bites”
This was a disconcerting story, especially since the title is not a noun and verb, it is a plural noun. But what’s especially disconcerting is that the bites don’t come until very near the end of the story. The bulk of the story is taken up with the narrator and his father. His father (a doctor) tends to regularly diagnose the narrator with Syndrome X (whatever is trendy this month–Asperbergers, Munchausen). But he also quizzes his son on all manner of information, most of which concerns his friends and their parents.
We can tell something is askew with the narrator from the start, but it all comes to a head at a party for the narrator’s best friend. His father has given him some details about his best friend’s father that he has a hard time processing. And when he is left alone he does a minor but unthinkable act.
Strangely enough though, this emotional climax is not the same as the physical climax, where his dad is injured at that same party and is rushed to the hospital. Here’s where the dog bites come in.
The disparate elements join together to make for a fascinating, if not a little bizarre, story.
COLM TÓIBÍN-”The Street”
I’ve read a few things by Colm Tóibín, but I was rather surprised that this story was not set in Ireland, as I expected, but in Barcelona. And that it was about Pakistani immigrants there. (Unless I am mistaken, the setting of Barcelona was not given until about 40 pages into the story, which I found very unsettling).
This is a long story in which the first half of the story is the development of the main character, Malik. Malik is new to Barcelona and has gotten a job and a room with a group of similar Pakistani immigrants. They are nervous (because of the government and because of their boss Baldy, who is hot-tempered). They all work at a barber shop. Malik sweeps up. The other cutters want him to try his hand at it, but when he tries to cut people’s hair he is dreadful at it.
Eventually, Baldy gives Malik a new job selling calling cards and cell phones outside of the barbershop. He misses his compatriots but rather likes the extra money.
The drama of the story comes when Abdul, one of the men he shares a room with gets sick. Malik is sympathetic and helps him during his fever. While Malik is trying to wipe him down and get him clean after being in bed for several days, he sees that Abdul has an erection. And that sets the tone for the rest of the story.
The two men, afraid of getting caught, show affection towards each other in the most minimal of ways. They barely acknowledge each other, knowing it can only lead to trouble, but they know that each feels the same about the other. One night, they finally have a chance to be alone, and, as these stories go, they are caught. And catastrophe rains blows down on them.
At this point I thought there were a few options for why their assailant was so angry and I was able to keep the erroneous idea going for quite a while before it became entirely clear that it was erroneous.
But the story is only about 3/4 over at this point. The rest of the story tries to rebuild their lives, and is actually a positive, albeit ultimately sad story of love. This was an incredibly moving story and a very powerful one at that.
THE INDIVIDUAL BOOKS
MA SU MON: A Voice of Witness Booklet
McSweeney’s has been releasing Voice of Witness books for some time. They are first person accounts of individuals in harrowing circumstances. The point of them is to put a real person’s voice on a daily horror that we hear about in the abstract and then forget about.
Ma Sum Mon is a woman from Burma who was harassed and imprisoned for her political beliefs. She was an average girl who thought things had gone too far, and she took a stand. At first it was casual, but when the government found her, things grew very serious and her entire family was quickly endangered. By the end of the (brief) book she has exiled herself to protect her family, knowing very well that she may never see them again.
I admit I tend to not read these Voice of Witness books because they are too effective: they absolutely bring home the reality of these sort of vague troubles overseas. But reading this one really shows how important these stories are and how they really need to be heard.
WAJAHAT ALI-The Domestic Crusaders
The introduction by Ishmael Reed sets the story very well. Ali was a student in Reed’s writing class. Reed asked him to write a 20 page story about a typical Pakistani family, a story that would disrupt the stereotypes of what Americans think of Middle Eastern people post-2001.
Reed liked the story so much, he encouraged Ali to transform it into a play and then helped to get the play produced in California and even off-Broadway.
It’s a funny, sad and ultimately riveting story. As with any drama, I’m sure it would be much better to see it performed, but just reading it was really great.
The story concerns a Muslim Pakistani-American family: Mother and Father, three grown kids and the father’s father. Their oldest son is at college. Their daughter is getting involved in protests (women’s and Muslim rights) and is also dating (much to the family’s dismay) a black man (who is a converted Muslim). Their youngest son is very concerned with money (he dresses designer and watches MSNBC).
They are all together to celebrate the eldest son’s birthday. But before we even see him we witness a typical setting in an American house: mother and daughter squabbling about cooking and the treatment of women; daughter and son fighting over petty behaviors (with some funny insults–my favorite was Paki McBeal–very dated, but still amusing).
The first act sets up the hopes and fears of the family. But soon truths come out that shake the family. What if their son in college isn’t going to become a doctor? What if their father doesn’t get a promotion, and what happens when their grandfather finally explains how he got the scar that pains him to this day?
Even though many of the specifics of the story will be alien to a typical white American, the humanity and universality is really striking. And it’s easy to look past the unfamiliarities (there are footnote translations for many Muslim phrases) and see the universalities that are present. It’s a wonderful play.
JACK PENDARVIS-Jungle Geronimo in Gay Paree (a Fancy Times abridgment of an L.P. EAVES story)
Pendarvis writes my least favorite piece in The Believer. His monthly column Musin’s & Thinkin’s is a faux hillbilly column that is purposefully absurd and in my mind really really forced. This story is also utterly faux, but it is very funny. The liner notes say that Pendarvis sent a “suite” of Fancy Times–adventure stories that are written like crass 1961 abridgments pf pulpy, meandering WWI-era yarns. This is one of them.
The premise of the book is that L.P. Eaves wrote many Jungle Geronimo stories over the years and this was his last one. This booklet is a “1961 abridgement of a 1914 adventure tale.” And of course that’s all nonsense.
Pendarvis has a good time poking fun at various conventions of this sort of Jungle story. There’s a wolf (named Scout) who narrates the first chapter (and meets an untimely, but happy end). There’s a fight between Jungle Geronimo’s lady friend Lady Esther and the wicked Sir Hesperus Thong because he wants to capture Geronimo and put him on display (after he purchases The Louvre). He also wishes to win Lady Esther’s heart (but will settle for her plans for building a submarine).
The fight ultimately devolves into a hilarious argument about the dictionary definition of the word “barbarian” and getting hung up on the word “barbel” : a slender tactile process on the lips of certain fishes (Process? What the hell does that mean?”).
The story is quite long but it never loses its irreverence, and is wryly amusing from start to finish (including the penis hat joke–watch the next entry for another penis hat joke) and the surprisingly mature(ish) ending.
TIM HEIDECKER AND GREGG TURKINGTON-Bicycle Built for Two
Tim Heidecker (from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) and Gregg Turkington (Neal Hamburger) have written a script for a potential Mike Myers/Dana Carvey reunion movie.
Upon finishing this 78 page script, the thing I can’t decide is why would you spend all of that time writing a fake script that in all honestly will never get made? Especially if you go to ALL the trouble that Tim and Gregg went to (it’s a movie length script, after all).
The opening story is that there is an upcoming wedding. This story bookends that main plot: In the early 1900s, Ulee Washington (Mike Myers) is a great baseball player until he it hit by a penny farthing bicycle and loses a leg. Many years later we see him manning the scoreboard at the last place Delaware Donkeys.
He soon runs into Merle, a peddler (Dana Carvey) who thought Ulee was awesome and wants to get him back on the field. His solution? The two of them shall play for the Donkeys by riding a bicycle built for two (nothing in the rules says you can’t ride a bicycle, after all).
Okay, so obviously this is a farce. But not so fast. The ancillary characters are fleshed out quite well (and also tend towards intentional anachronism for laughs). There’s the hip black player, the docile east Indian player and even the old man (who is a catcher and gets knocked over by a fast pitch).
The black player is obviously modern using contemporary lingo (there’s a very funny joke about his playing DJ with Edison Music Cylinders) as well as the obligatory amusing joke when the pacific thrills at kicking someone’s ass. And, as I mentioned above, there’s a hat penis joke. (An evil half Chinese/half German mastermind named Adolf Wong laughs as he tries it on saying, “Who says money can’t buy hat penis”).
Thankfully nobody says, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
So, this is a preposterous movie. And yet it fulfills every trope and cliché of every buddy sports movie (winning in the last inning with two strikes, etc). And, it seems like they worked very hard to make a movie that is quite conventional (especially for Tim and Neal Hamburger!). I don’t even think it would be very funny, but it could very easily be made by a studio. And if it ever does, I will watch it.
It also comes with an introductory letter.
MICHAEL CHABON-Fountain City (a novel, wrecked by Michael Chabon).
Fountain City is a novel that Michael Chabon failed to finish. He spent many years working on it and then gave up and quickly churned out Wonder Boys. You can read about the shelving of Fountain City in Maps and Legends. And yet here it is. Well, four chapters of it anyway.
Chabon has decided to unearth this failed story. And, while publishing it, he is also including all manner of notations about the story. Some notatons explain where characters’ names came from, other explain why he thinks the story doesn’t work and still others look deep into the author’s psyche (and sexuality).
And I have to say that it is fantastic. Not the novel itself which as Chabon says is kind of dull, but this notated, wrecked work is great. You gain so much insight into a writer’s mind and so much insight into what makes a story work (or fail to work). I’m very grateful that Chabon allowed us to look at a failure of his.
At this point I have read more nonfiction than fiction by Chabon. And each time I read something like this, I say I HAVE to read Wonder Boys now. And yet I still haven’t gotten to it. One of these days!
As for Fountain City itself…. The four chapters are about a twenty-something boy who is the son of a rabbi. His brother killed himself about four years prior because he had AIDS, and his mother has recently left the country to work for an Eco group (Earth 5-0).
His father invites him to go to Israel with him, but Harry would rather go to Paris, which he does. And that’s about when they excerpt ends.
One of the things that Chabon says is a failure about the story is that the protagonist is kind of inert, and I would agree (although it is early days in the book). Things tend to happen to him and he’s not all that compelling, although there are compelling things going on around him.
My favorite thing that Chabon describes is driftitis, in which a writer rewrites sections of a story but doesn’t correct the things that are now wrong because of the rewrite. For instance, in this story, Harry wants to go to Paris (although a reasonable reason for going is not established). But when he prepares to leave, he decides he is going to go all over Europe instead. And then when he arrives there, he decides to leave Paris and travel all over Europe. Obviously these kinds of details would be fixed with a good, strict editor.
And the hopeful note that Chabon ends on is that he wonders if he wife (who is also a writer) might look at this book and whip it into shape for some future publication. I have no idea if he is serious, but there is certainly enough here to make a good story.
Who knows, maybe with some spit and polish, we’ll see Fountain City in its entirety some day.
There is also a gorgeous cover which is an aerial map of Washington D.C. drawn by Leon Krier called The Completion of Washington, D.C., Aerial Perspective.
SOPHIA CARA FRYDMAN-”Don’t Get Distracted”
This 8 page comic is drawn with red ink, which makes it stand out more than a standard black ink would.
It is a very simple story (and not really a comic so much as an illustrated narrative) about a young student meeting a man on the street who tells her to stay focused. The drawings are very expressive.
ANDREW KENNEDY HUTCHINSON BOYD-”Early Morning at the Station”
This booklet (8 pages in all) is introduced by Paul Collins. Fans of McSweeney’s know that Collins is like the obscure historian on the McSweeney’s staff. He uncovers forgotten gems and tries to bring them to the fore.
This 5 page excerpt is a meditation on the unreality of this world. How sometimes, when you are in an unexpected situation, the world at large just seems unreal (and makes you want to get back to your warm cozy room).
ADAM LEVIN-The Instructions [excerpt]
I have been pretty excited to read this book since I received it two months sago. I didn’t know too much about it, but I knew it was long and it sounded very good. This excerpt is from Book One and I was surprised (and a little disappointed) by the content.
The story is about Guiron Maccabee, an advanced seventh grader who is nothing but trouble. He is unpredictably violent (he and his friends try waterboarding each other for fun in the opening scene) and he is also prone to what I am reading as visions (I’m sure more of that will come later) of people’s characters based on their appearance.
As the excerpt draws to a close, Guiron pledges his love to an outcast girl named June. And once this part of the story started, I found the story much more palatable and enjoyable.
I’m not much for troubled obnoxious narrators (Catcher in the Rye, you have a lot to answer for), but there’s enough unusualness here that I’m still interested to read the mammoth book. I’m also intrigued because I knew an orthodox Jew from when I took karate and he was a total bad ass. He was all muscles and kicked like a motherfucker, and that opened my eyes to a side of Judaism that I’d never seen before. I assume Guiron comes from this mold.
I plan to start this massive tome some time in March or so.
MICHAELANNE AND ANGELA PETRELLA-fortunes
There is a long scroll of fortunes included in the box. They are wound up very tightly and secured with a rubber band. I assumed there were hundreds of fortunes, but it turns out there are only 15 in total. Huh. The fortunes were written by Michaelanne and Angela Petrella (who wrote the disappointing Horoscopes in McSweeney’s #33). And these fortunes were similarly disappointing.
There were a couple of funny ones in the pile, but they were nothing compared to the Onion’s horoscopes/pithy statements.
There are 4 postcards included in the box. Each is a quarter of a full painting of men inside of a fish called Catfish Scene. It’s very cool.
So, overall this was a great issue of McSweeney’s. The stories were all fantastic and as I said I love the whole concept of the packaging.
What was so funny to me was that even though these stories were sent separately by authors who had no idea what else would be in the box, there were so many odd little similarities between the pieces:
- There’s the two hat penis jokes (very different in style and execution, but still hat penis jokes)
- The narrator of The Instructions is named Guiron Maccabees and the Michael Chabon story has a baseball team named The Maccabees.
- rats, I had thought of other things while I was reading this, and they have now slipped out of my head. If I remember them, I’ll add them.
And here is a picture of all of the contents:
Or watch the video of the contents being opened (I only wish it said who the band playing “Poodle in the House” is):
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