We the Critics: Undersung Favorites from 2010
This week on Art Beat, we’ve talked books, movies and music with three of our favorite critics. The mission at hand: to shed some light on great, but little-hyped works released in 2010.
In Jeff Brown’s conversation with music man Jim DeRogatis on Thursday, Derogatis explained his criteria for narrowing down his list of favorites for the year. He said:
I am strictly from the Lester Bangs school of rock criticism. I was his biographer, you know, and Lester valued above all passion. He said, we listen to music to hear passion expressed. So to me, when I make my year-end list, I’m not thinking about, ok, I got to balance this, make sure that there is x amount of hip hop, x amount of world beat, x amount of indie rock, and we can have this much experimental. Right? I’m not thinking about any of that. I’m thinking about, if the house is on fire I’m going to save my wife first, and then I’m going to grab these ten or twenty or fifty records, because this is what made my life worth living.
Art Beat also wanted to know what new works of literature, music, film, art or culture made your life worth living, and some of you very kindly obliged us.
We also asked many of our Art Beat contributors to write about the works they loved that they didn’t get to cover on the blog this year.
Get passionate with our compilation after the jump.
Here are recommendations from our Art Beat contributors:
With his third book of poems, “Mean Free Path” (Copper Canyon), Ben Lerner again explores science as metaphor. In science, “mean free path” is the average distance a particle travels before colliding with another particle. In Lerner’s poems, words and ideas — language itself — are those particles. And if you’re a science/poetry nerd like me, Lerner speaks your language. His first two books, “The Lichtenberg Figures” and “Angle of Yaw”, looked toward science as well, and received high amounts of praise (“Angle of Yaw” was a finalist for the National Book Award). Hard to follow up, but “Mean Free Path” did not disappoint. I’m looking forward to his fourth. Check out a poem from “Mean Free Path” here, which actually was featured as a Weekly Poem on Art Beat.
Les Savy Fav’s Root for Ruin picks up where the band’s last album, “Let’s Stay Friends” (Frenchkiss Records, 2007), left off. It’s just as tight and catchy, filled with an energy and joy you can actually hear. How to describe them? Post-punk, post-hardcore, indie rock? Something like that, I guess. It’s just good, especially played loud, like all good rock. I get particular enjoyment from the song about being in your mid-30s.
— Tom LeGro, Reporter Producer
When your job is to sit at a computer writing and editing an art blog all day, sometimes you forget there’s a big ole art world out there. It’s refreshing to actually get out to see bands, particularly when I don’t have to carry a notebook or camera. I first discovered the band “The Love Language” (fronted by Stuart McLamb) in 2009 after reading write-ups in Paste and Pitchfork, and their first album became a staple in my car, where I would sing along loudly to the whole album. This year, they came out with a second LP called Libraries (in my opinion not as strong as their debut, but still very likable), and I got to see the band play twice in D.C., once at a house party where I got to stand right in front of the keyboardist and jump up and down, trying not to get caught mouthing all their words. I don’t know why, but this band makes me feel like I am 14, and I am grateful. We actually thought about interviewing them about libraries (the book-lending institutions, not the album), but we decided the idea was too silly.
Also, I highly recommend filmmaker John Water’s book Role Models. Some of the material may be too racy for some readers, but — aside from the fascination of hearing about some of the intriguing counter-culture figures he profiles — this book is most memorable to me for the immense empathy he displays for everyone he writes about, and the kind of journalistic seriousness he adopts in order to pay them true homage. Get it on audiobook, which Waters voices.
— Molly Finnegan, Reporter Producer
Poets are almost always unsung compared to other artists in this country. This year I wish I had interviewed C.D. Wright about her new collection, One With Others. It is a powerful collection of poems that showcases Wright’s ability to combine reporting, storytelling and verse.
Another artist I wish we interviewed — though he received a lot of other attention this year — is Cee Lo Green. His single F@&$ You is one of the best pop songs to come out this decade. I’m sorry we have not had him on Art Beat yet, but maybe one day.
— Mike Melia, Reporter Producer
Eric Whitacre has been pushing the boundaries of choral music for some time. Since completing his first concert work, “Go Lovely Rose” at the age of 21, the young composer and conductor has composed dozens of pieces for choirs, orchestras and even musical theater. Whitacre’s style is marked by his intentional use of dissonance and multiple voice parts. (Whereas the traditional choral arrangement might have Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass voices, Whitacre writes for 18 or 20 different voices.) The result is a sound that choristers love to make and audiences can easily get lost in. Many of his pieces have become favorites of many American college choirs. This year, he took the tradition of choral singing to the digital world with his Virtual Choir. Whitacre says it started when a young woman sent him a video of herself singing one of Whitacre’s pieces. His goal was to create a digital choir with a hundred different voices from across the globe. He posted a video of himself conducting the piece, “Lux Aurumque” and the YouTube responses came rolling in. Watch the final product here.
— Lauren Knapp, Reporter Producer
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine was about as good of an album I heard all year. Its a great collection of artists reinterpreting the songs of a very much under-appreciated songwriter. Highlights include My Morning Jacket’s version of All the Best and Old Crow Medicine Show’s take on Angel From Montgomery.
— Mike Fritz, Art Beat contributor and PBS NewsHour Digital Production Manager
Set in Philadelphia during the late 1970s, Night Catches Us is a riveting saga that explores themes of loyalty, betrayal, love and radical pride of the Black Panther Party. This gritty historical drama features a stellar cast that includes Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) and Kerry Washington Ray. Mackie plays Marcus, who after years of a mysterious absence, returns to his old neighborhood during the height of the Black Power movement. His family, friends and former neighbors are suspicious of his return after a former comrade-in-arms death is linked to his disappearance. Marcus is caught between revealing the truth and the consequences of his past. Writer-director Tanya Hamilton gives a stunning debut performance and offers a unique perspective on historical accounts.
— Imani M. Cheers, Art Beat contributor and NewsHour Extra Director
Micmacs (or Micmacs a tire-larigot, the original French title) deserves recognition for being one of the most imaginative films of the year. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the force behind the much-beloved French films Amelie and Delicatessan, Micmacs stars many of the same actors, but is set apart by the elaborate Parisian underworld Jeunet creates for the film’s crew of misfits and junkyard dealers. Our protagonist Bazil, whose father was killed by a stray bullet, takes on two of the most powerful and corrupt arms dealers in the world with the help of his newfound oddball cohort. The film’s themes resonate today, when terrorism and violence are too-common occurences, and the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. While some aspects of the plot may seem a bit heavyhanded, Jeunet’s creativity gives the film a humorous and refreshing quality that audiences would do well to take with them into the “real world.”
—Veronica DeVore, Art Beat contributor and NewsHour Extra Desk Assistant
Allegra Goodman’s beautifully written novel, The Cookbook Collector, tells the story of two sisters: the struggling Berkeley grad student working in a used bookstore and the older, more accomplished CEO of a tech start-up. Taking place in the months preceding 9/11, this novel weaves a story that is at times overly reliant on archetypal characters, while constantly alluding back to the lines of Gertrude Stein, Tolstoy, and Whitman. Using the language of antique cookbooks, Goodman creates a metaphor for lifes recipe-less unpredictability, always in need of additions and substitutions.
— Natalie Friedman, Art Beat contributor and Production Assistant
Earlier this year, historian Tony Judt died from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, i.e. Lou Gehrig’s disease. Judt had been immobilized by the disease since 2008, but he continued to lecture and write, publishing Ill Fares the Land, an essay on the decline of social democracy, five months before his death.Consigned to an inert body, Judt came to see himself as a monster. In an essay for the New York Review of Books, he compared his loneliness to that of the cockroach in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. His body was an iron suit, cold and unforgiving. But even as his body languished, his mind was ablaze. Unlike much of his work, Ill Fares the Land is not a sober chronicle of world events. This Tony Judt is mad as hell at the avarice of Wall Street and the facile rhetoric of politicians in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. In this book, he is less historian than pundit, and he allows himself a degree of candor that is only possible in the twilight of one’s career.
— Christopher Snow Hopkins, National Journal staff reporter and Art Beat contributor
If I was still at Art Beat, I would have loved to interview Anthony Doerr about his work Memory Wall. It’s an amazingly tender and real book of short stories that gave me the chills. It made me both want to hole up inside with the book forever and simultaneously be out in the world engaged in constant observation. It reminded me of the pure power of the best kinds of art, which remind us of the best parts of life. (Of course, Art Beat was always that to me.)
— Zoe Pollock, Associate Editor of the Daily Dish and Art Beat Emeritus/Co-Founder
And here were some of your responses:
“I cannot recommend more highly Joe Sacco’s amazing work Footnotes In Gaza. Footnotes is comics journalism, as is most of Sacco’s work (all worth reading), in which he explores a 1956 incident in Gaza, and in the process also shows us what is going on in Gaza today (ok, in the early 2000s). I’ve been a fan of Mr. Sacco’s work for several years and have really taken to the idea of comics journalism. Comics Journalism is not a quick way to report, it often takes years to complete a project, but it combines the best of text and video journalism into something unique. Unlike text, comics presents a visual to draw the reader in, and, unlike video, that visual is a static image one can spend time absorbing. Comics allows for the details available in text, and the ability to empathize and absorb what is presented. I find the reporting to be interesting, deep and thorough. The subject matter is brave and important. The drawings are amazingly detailed and powerful. Joe Sacco is a genius who deserves our respect and financial support. And since the life of Palestinians is so seldom reported on in the main stream media, I believe it is even more important to get the word out on this work.”
— mikebundt, via email
Music: Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma, Go by Jonsi
Movies: “Mother” (Korean)
“I know it came out in 2009 but it didn’t get a U.S. release till March 2010.”
— Alberto Sed, via Facebook
“LOVED the movie ‘Passchendaele’!”
— Sarah Weir, via Facebook
Music: Leonard Cohen’s Songs from the Road
Book: Ivana Lowell’s “Why Not Say What Happened?”
“Both amazing…too many things to list here…”
— Sherri Rickman, via Facebook
Diurnal Movements is an independent alternative soul & vocal-centric project released in June. It’s something eclectic for folks who love vocal jazz, soul, or funk music.”
— Yalonda JD Green, via Facebook
“Under-appreciated album: I’m Having Fun Now by Jenny & Johnny”
— @FluxVFX, via Twitter
The movie Do It Again is “a great journey about what it means to love music as you grow older.”
— Chris Kocher, via Facebook
“In the “little” or at least lesser-attention category, I enjoyed Claire Danes’ portrayal of Temple Grandin. Great performance by her portraying this eccentric noteworthy autistic woman.”
— Greg Long, via Facebook
“Tera Melos’ Patagonian Rats challenges you to engage with complex time/chord changes and rewards with melodies that are memorable beyond a casual listen. While I hear distinct influences on this record, such as the Beach Boys Pet Sounds, it does not fall into the trap of becoming a clone disc that hacks out derivative snoozers like so many hipster-crush bands that mine the 1980s for material. The record doesnt parade the band’s musicianship as a means to push through sub-par ideas either. By that I mean, while a busy listen, the song writing on Patagonian Rats is interesting, well-done and each song flows into the next without creating a faux-concept record gimmick. Tera Melos are creatively thriving in the freedom afforded independent bands that sadly fly under the radar of all but a few. That is a shame because if more folks challenged themselves with a record like this they would be rewarded with music that is fresh, exciting and creative. And for the non-pretentious answer: Its a fun, complex and catchy listen that rocks.”
— Kenny Johnson, via Facebook
“Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes is my pick. A true cinematic experience & more!”
— @InspiredMimi, via Twitter
The Audreys – Sometimes The Stars
Cary Ann Hearst – Are You Ready To Die?
Tuba Skinny – Bourbon Street Band
“A few of my favorite albums from 2010 that are still flying under the radar.”
— Jason Zampino, via Facebook
“The top of my list of albums has to be the new one from the Chandler Travis Philharmonic.
Come for the cover art, stay for the best horn section working in the biz today.”
— Belinda Rawlins
Music: Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
— Stephanie Johnson, via Facebook
“My choices share similar themes and visual tones…Under-appreciated movie: Fair Game and under-appreciated TV: Rubicon”
— @lizbart, via Twitter
“I found much new music through iTunes, but two standouts are Paolo Nutini’s Sunny Side Up and Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More — both excellent for different reasons. Two novels that I enjoyed very much were Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, and Days of Little Texas by R. A. Nelson. Both great stories — charming, but not cloying. No vampires, zombies, apoccalyptic futures, urban angst or murder, just great storytelling.”
— Mark C Osborne III, via Facebook
Books: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Music: Ludovico Einaudi’s Nightbook
Movies: Catfish, Get Low
— Kris Sunflowercat, via Facebook
“Four Lions was a tragically underrated film this year. Best comedy since last year’s In the Loop.”
— @brianwolly, via Twitter
“Nick Ariondo accompanying Placido Domingo in LA OPERA’s Il Postino. Nick Ariondo Jazz Trio at the Annenberg Beach House. Nick Ariondo and Spanish tenor Israel Lozano on You Tube.
— Dianne Bates, via Facebook
Book: Wilson by Daniel Clowes
Film: The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Music: Mind Spiders (self-titled), Sunset / Sunrise by Dutchess & The Duke (released mid-December 2009, but most “best of” lists… are released in early December so it was generally ignored in both 2009 and 2010), The Goodnight Loving Supper Club by The Goodnight Loving.
Also, 2010’s really been the year of the 45, with countless amazing releases on labels like Dirtnap, HoZac, Trouble in Mind, Hardly Art, Infinity Cat, and more than a few that I’m leaving out.
— Kevin Harrison, via Facebook
“Me! My works were far underappreciated in 2010… but that just makes it match all the years prior.”
— @Chill421, via Twitter