Mad Men - Before this show, I can’t say I was very curious about the atmosphere at Madison Avenue advertising firms circa 1960 and the drunken lives of its worker bees. But now it seems like a completely acceptable obsession to have.
Chic - I fell completely in love with Chic this fall. Especially their amazing string arrangements, apparently done by one of the Daft Punk-ers fathers (weird). I’m serious, their strings sound like the best cotton candy you’ll never have.
F. Scott Fitzgerald - I read all of his novels this year. There’s this uppity tenured professor bullshit that says he wasted his talent on gin. I mean, come on. Leave him and his gimlets alone unless you wrote Tender Is The Night, too. His evocation of the idle, uber-wealthy is addictive like Gossip Girl with a better vocabulary. (Though season two of the old xoxo is pretty disgraceful, I’m sorry to say.) The obsessive, capital-D Dilemma of men loving women. High-minded assaults on the dilettante’s life he wanted so badly for himself. By the end the main character is either dead or psychically ruined. And it all goes down like chicken soup on the coldest day in February.
Bruce Springsteen, Giants Stadium, July 31 2008 - Like anything with a pulse, I’m a sucker for “Dancing In The Dark.” And “Atlantic City.” I don’t know a lot more Bruce than that. But I saw him this summer and it was RIDICULOUSLY, OVERWHELMINGLY, ROCK AND ROLLINGLY AMAZING. We were fifth row from the back, amongst 60,000 people at Giants Stadium, and it didn’t matter. Dude is the most natural, joyful frontman ever. He was like a preacher and the religion was rock and roll all the way, buddy. I am not making this up.
The American Election Season - It had everything! First black candidate! First major (sorry Geraldine) female candidate! Who is also first former first lady candidate! Really old man that joined the dark side in a last-ditch effort to win candidate! Really insane, out of her league, bible thumping, Hail Mary-style Vice Presidential candidate who also happens to be a woman that red America desperately wants to impregnate! It was the best reality TV ever because it was really real and really exposed something new about the strangeness of this country every day. Nothing made sense up there but Joe Biden, who looks like he is in every movie ever made about “The President.” He must have AMERICA tattooed Tupac-style on his stomach. That’s an awful image, sorry.
Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak - I heard “Love Lockdown” when it leaked and thought it sucked. I thought it was straight up embarrassing, really. It’s still not my favorite track but damn this album is good. There’s a lot of grumbling about the use of auto-tune on his voice… but really, anyone who knows the program realizes that he could have made it virtually unnoticeable if he had cared to. It seemed like a dumb idea to me at first too, but I think that the ultra-digital sound of his voice works with the music, which is minimal and dramatic and addictive. And the songs are just plain good - pure, myopic obsession with the woman (women?) who broke him down. Not to dork out too much, but the personality and character he gets out of the bass frequencies is next level.
Porto, Portugal - The most beautiful place I saw all year. Really fun show, too.
Gang Gang Dance, “House Jam” & Beyonce, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” - Both of these songs are amazing and I like how they are each aiming towards some definition of experimental pop music from totally opposite directions.
Karlheinz Stockhausen - This was the year I rediscovered how amazing Stockhausen is. All his early ensemble pieces for woodwinds and strings and such - Adieu, Stop, and especially Kontra-Punkte - have this contagious sense of excitement and discovery, as if someone had rediscovered orchestral instruments many years after they’d been forgotten and was figuring out a whole separate, private music with them.
The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC - I miss this show on tour. The other day, there was a conversation about adding tolls to the East River bridges in New York. Rosie Perez called in and stayed on for half an hour, getting in a fight with another guest about what it meant to be a “real Brooklynite.” It was surreal, and awesome. Usually it’s more subdued, with the usual assortment of cut-through-the-bullshit NPR-ish liberal commentators. Also, according to the show, you should never buy a hot dog after the 5th inning from the guy walking around with them in the stands. They aren’t kept at a proper temperature. I love Brian Lehrer.
Woody Allen in the Aughts - I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona and it was really good, like a little dessert chocolate. Small and satisfying. So I checked out Woody’s films from the 21st century. There are no Manhattans there, but as a group they are simple and confident - the work of someone who can sweat out a screenplay in a week. I know this idea goes against his whole persona, but they seem effortless. It’s nice to see ‘mature’ artists (I’m not sure how to say that without sounding rude) still making interesting stuff. Also see: Lindsay Buckingham. That said, Scoop really sucked.
TV On The Radio, Dear Science - One of the coolest sounding productions I’ve heard in a long time. I’ve spent a lot of time geeking out with it, breaking down all the parts. Not the easiest thing to do with such a dense mix of sounds. I love the drum breaks at the end of “DLZ,” then the band kicks back in with this unidentifiable rumble. Spooky as hell.
Runnin’ Down A Dream - It’s kind of weird that Tom Petty is the subject of a four hour documentary. There’s no obscure backstory, no controversy. There isn’t even much of a personality, beyond that of a really hardworking and determined pop songwriter. But you get to hear all his hits - which are INFINITE. I had forgotten all about “You Got Lucky.” I could’ve used some light thrown on his personal life. I mean, I don’t need the E! True Hollywood Story version, but there is virtually no mention of his marriages and, one can assume, the sudden romances and flings of the very rich and famous. What you do get is a very even portrait of a talented songwriter from Gainesville, Florida and his awesome band driving out to LA in 1975 with ridiculous hippie hair and bellbottoms, getting a gigantic break, and with little fuss, making record after record that contain at least one song that will live out its three point five minutes in Hitsville forever.
David Bowie - This was the year i finally got David Bowie.
(2008 illustration courtesy of Phillip.)