PopMatters End-of-Year List: The Best 70 Albums of 2010

No. 40: Contra

"As with its self-titled debut, Vampire Weekend’s sophomore effort almost hides all of its innovation—its ability to blend global sounds, straight-up indie rock, and electronic music—by making such an easy, simple pleasure to listen to. Much is made of bands’ tendencies to put up a 'difficult' second record, but Contra seems engineered to encourage maximum repeat listens—there’s nothing abrasive about it, so you can throw it on at any time. Listenable, however, shouldn’t be confused with simple: band member Rostam Batmanglij’s production is easy to take in, but it’s also lush, bright, and full of twinkling elements: a marimba here, a keyboard flourish there. The full sounds still supports lyrics in that preppy upper-class milieu that brought them scorn with the last album, with references to Richard Serra, Wolford’s, and 'living at the French Connection'. But it just goes to show that the band isn’t apologizing for what it is: a band that’s created in the same mold as Paul Simon and Talking Heads, isn’t ashamed to sing about frippery like organic toothpaste and San Pelligrino, and one that is thoroughly enjoyable to hear."

PopMatters Round-Up

Some of my most recent PopMatters reviews:

The Box
"Of course, in the hands of director Richard Kelly, even a simple thought experiment becomes not-so-straightforward."

The most compelling movie futures are not necessarily the shiniest. They don’t always show us the sleekest designs, most efficient technologies, or the most spectacular visions of what’s to come.

Staten Island
"With the film Staten Island, director James DeMonaco promises to push past all of the borough’s stereotypes—which, let’s face it, are mostly negative—for a more honest look at what it means to be from the Island. He does so, as he mentions in a thoughtful commentary with stars Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio, because he grew up on Staten Island, and always felt a sense of being mocked when he told that fact to outsiders."

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
"The huge ensemble is reduced to as series of one-note or half-note gags—get this, Ken Jeong’s character is Asian!—used to kill time when Piven is off-screen. And, since yes, it is funny to watch Piven go off on some type of ranting monologue, the film gets out of his way and gives them to him—many times."

The Monster Squad: 20th Anniversary Blu-Ray
"The Monster Squad is one of those ‘80s underdog-adventure movies that’s just one Corey shy of being a Saturday-afternoon television mainstay like the most famous of its brethren, The Goonies."

V: Series Premiere
"Viewers barely had time to wonder at the potential metaphors embodied by the extraterrestrials before we were hit with another shift in identity or expectation."

Flash Forward: Series Premiere
"Instead of engaging in diplomacy and cooperation, the episode focused on investigation: just three FBI agents—Benford, Demetri Noh (John Cho), and Janis Hawk (Christine Woods)—were assigned to figure out the cause of the blackout and the probability of its recurrence. Worse, instead of developing into an international procedural, the show immediately and extremely narrowed its focus, emulating every other unexplained-phenomenon series, from The X-Files to Fringe."

PopMatters's Year-End Lists Contributions:
Best Singles of 2009: Bishop Allen's "Oklahoma."
Best Albums of 2009: The Decemberists's The Hazards of Love (No. 25).
Best Movies of 2009: Coraline (No. 14)
Best TV Shows of 2009: Kings (No. 24).

September Issue

It's not Vogue, but the September issue is still my favorite issue of the year. Fall Arts Preview! I take a look at upcoming arts, culture, and events.

Fall Movies
"Where the Wild Things Are: It might seem like Maurice Sendak’s chidren’s book classic is impossible to adapt into a feature-length movie, but leave it to a couple of hipsters: Being John Malkevich director Spike Jonze and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius writer Dave Eggers have come up with a big-screen version that actually looks faithful to the spirit of the book. Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. stirs up the wild rumpus by providing original music."

Fall TV
"Melrose Place: Consider Tuesday flashback-to-the’90s night. Coming on the heels of the CW’s 90210 revamp, Melrose Place is another resurrected, catty, soapy, California-based drama with an ensemble of fresh-faced up-and-comers (and a couple of original Melrose Place veterans). Watch it while wearing your old flannel and drinking a Zima."

Fall Books
"The Humbling: Philip Roth is one of the country’s most decorated authors, winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Nabokov Award, and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, among others. It’s strange, then, that the protagonist of his newest book has lost all confidence. The celebrated actor no longer feels at home on stage, and he has to learn to get through his most challenging performance: life in his 60s."

Fall Events
"Bike Rides: In between releasing albums with Brian Eno, staging critically raved-about tours, and generally being awesome, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne is a tireless bicycle advocate. It’s no shock, then, that he is an advisor on this exhibition, which features two-wheelers that have been customized and repurposed by artists. We love the Pimp my Piragua bike, which is essentially a giant boom box with huge speakers attached to the bike frame. Keep an eye out for museum-sponsored bike rides (where some of the artwork actually performs), bike raffles, and other fun two-wheeled events."

In addition to the Fall Arts Preview, it was also an issue devoted to kids, so wrote about the best in children's books and movies.

Book Reports
A survey of almost two dozen local children's book authors and illustrators: "No matter what your book is about, two things will always happen on a school visit. A kid will ask you about dinosaurs, and another how much money you make. I know a fair amount about dinosaurs. As for the other question, I usually reply, ‘More than you do.'"

New Classics
Local children's librarians and film educators were asked to name recent classic books and movies: "It’s inconceivable that you haven’t heard about the young wizard and his attempts to avenge his parents and stop the evil Lord Voldemort. 'Part of the series’ appeal is the proximity of the magical world to our world,' Rovenger says."

On top of all of that, there were my usual departments:

Craft Work
A look at some upcoming craft fairs: "Why learn to knit, decoupage, or make jewelry when you can buy artisanal goods from neighbors much handier than you?"

Culture Etc.
Los Lobos, John Scofield, Alan Menken, and more.

Home Theater
Sugar, The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, and more.

Double Bill

Two more gig reviews for Beyond Race:

The Decemberists @ Radio City Music Hall

"The looming deadline for the show's end only inspired The Decemberists to perform two ultra-compact sets. For the first, the band played its newest album, The Hazards of Love, in its entirety. Since Hazards is an ambitious prog-rock opera, this doesn't leave much room for screwing around to begin with. Yet the band managed to somehow make it even sharper, playing through the entire album without taking breaks between songs."

Art Brut @ The Mercury Lounge

"Britain's Art Brut has started the musical equivalent of the slow-food movement—call it the slow-tour movement. Instead of rushing through a multi-city American tour as quickly as possible or, as is more common with British bands, playing just a handful of token dates on the East and West Coasts (thanks, Radiohead), Art Brut is taking its time."

Beyond Race Two-For-One

Lots of good shows going on in New York. I managed to write up a couple for Beyond Race.

OK Go @ The Music Hall of Williamsburg

"For better or worse, OK Go owes a lot of its fame to a cheap little video it made for 'Here It Goes Again,' a song off their last album, Oh No. No doubt you've seen it: The four band members lip synch while deftly performing a synchronized dance on a series of moving treadmills. At the Music Hall of Williamsburg, one of a handful of dates on a short tour, indeed the crowd seemed most familiar with 'Here It Goes Again.' The task for the band was to prove that it was more than just a viral Internet novelty."

The Mountain Goats @ New York Society for Ethical Culture

"Vanderslice joined Darnielle on stage to do some of the songs they've written together (for a concept project about an organ-harvesting colony on the moon), but only got through two songs before they realized they were way over curfew. Darnielle raced through 'See America Right' and perennial set-closer 'No Children,' and, with the house lights already gone and the assurance that there wouldn't be an encore, the crowd mostly left. The stragglers were rewarded, however, since a few vocal and determined fans demanded a real encore. Darnielle came back on stage and played a cover of Ace of Base's "The Sign" to a half-empty auditorium—and, since the show was officially over, the night ended as it began: totally unamplified. But, with Darnielle and the stragglers singing along, it was no longer wordless."

February & March Issues

It's been busy, so I'm catching up now on the February and March issues.

34 Sensational New Stores
A round-up of the new shops that have opened in the past years: "So many wind chimes and doodads hang from the ceiling and so many picture frames and plaques hang on the walls that you probably can find a gift for your next occasion without even looking on the shelves (which are also full of items)."

Factory Master
An article about two concurrent Andy Warhol exhibitions: "'Andy Warhol is often talked about as if he has no explicit content,' says Thom Collins, the museum’s director. 'He’s known for his riffs on American commodity culture, and he plays with the idea of celebrity, but mostly he’s talked about as being very superficial. They say you don’t see any of his interests, his concerns, or himself in his work. These two exhibitions tell a new story about Warhol and attempt to reintroduce him as more substantive than was previously thought.'”

Culture, Etc. (February)
Loudon Wainwright, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and more.

Culture, Etc. (March)
Roy Lichtenstein, Art Garfunkel, Lesley Gore, and more.

Home Theater (February)
Snow Angels, Reprise, and Frozen River.

Home Theater (March)
Quantum of Solace, Rachel Getting Married, Let the Right One In, and Andy Richter Controls the Universe.

And a couple articles I've assigned:

Homemade Jams
Local blues jams in the area.

Straight Shooting
An unusual hobby described as "golf with guns."

My Year In Lists

I love contributing to year-end, best-of lists, and this is the first list that's made it to press. Fittingly, I covered a song about list-making.

The Best Singles of 2008

No. 18: "The über-catchy 'My Year in Lists' speaks directly to the heart of a certain kind of forlorn DIY geek: the kind who gets turned on by handwritten letters, can grapple with complex literary devices, and, yes, might express yearning through a bulleted list or two."

December Issue

A list of the county's nicest (checked twice), some holiday happenings, and a word of caution for New Year's: a hefty December issue.

Westchester's Most Influential Residents

Profiles of two county movers-and-shakers who keep the cultural community alive (second and third item): "Next month, just a block away from the cinema, students of all ages will be able to make films in a setup that’ll rival D.W. Griffith’s old digs in Mamaroneck, with 15 editing suites, four workshop spaces, two sound stages (with full lighting rigs and a garage door for load-ins), a recording studio, an isolation booth, a foley room, an animation workshop space, and a 60-seat screening room to teach animation, cinematography, editing, and sound design from leaders in the film industry."

The Top Scorer

A top-five list of silent films from somebody who performs live accompaniments: "The Larchmont native discovered the Charlie Chaplin classics at the age of three, went to New York Times drama critic Walter Kerr's house to watch silents when he was in his teens, provided piano accompaniment for film class when he was in college, and went on to score hundreds of silent films."

8 Holiday Musts

A round-up of outstanding holiday events: "We know what happened to Rip Van Winkle after his big nap, but what did he dream about during those long years? The same experts who created the Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze take their best guesses with their Winter Wonderlights, which goes on until January 3, 2009 at Washington Irving's Sunnyside. The grounds of Irving's home are transformed into a wintry dreamscape with the help of some rad LED technology."

What Are You Typing New Year's Eve?

An item about the popularity of texting in New Year's Eve: "When the clock strikes midnight this New Year's, you shouldn't be worried about finding someone to kiss--you should be finding someone to text."

<you should="" be="" looking="" for="" someone="" to=""> Home Theater

The Dark Knight, Hamlet 2, Casablanca

Culture, Etc.

Béla Fleck, Mike Doughty, and more.</you>

They Might Be Giants

You never outgrow your first favorite band.

They Might Be Giants @ Le Poisson Rouge

"They Might Be Giants may have a reputation for attracting a nerdy, left-of-mainstream crowd, but the line still wound around the block outside of the swanky Le Poisson Rouge for their Saturday-night concert. Still, their reputation preceded them: 'You guys like children's music this much?' one snide commenter spat at the queue, adding insult to injury right as the rain switched from a thin drizzle to a steady soak.<o:p></o:p> Children? Hardly—the crowd was 18+ by design. Yet it wouldn't be wrong to say that teenage nostalgia brought many out in the rain that night."