I usually deplore list stories, but then again, the Internet is ripe for them. Pitchfork, for instance, does a wonderful job contextualizing lists of reviews, interviews and articles about music. The following list doesn’t follow any semblance of order, but the headers in all CAPS say it all. A week and a half into the New Year, I thought it was worth reflecting back on some of the best and worst of 2010.
MOST LISTENED TO RECORDS:
Kanye West’s fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, justifies the hype it’s received despite the self-indulgent Spinal Tap-esque title. When you sample Aphex Twin, Gil Scott-Heron and Roger McGuinn from The Byrds, it’s no wonder legions of cross-over fans will flock to a hip-hop shock jock like Kanye, whose personal life keeps him in the headlines more than his raw talent as a producer and musical provocateur. The packaging, meanwhile, would throw anyone off: A tipsy ballerina holding a glass of wine centered on an all red background? Whimsical, decorative arts type treatments detailing the song titles?
Almost every record Now Again released in 2010 became a playlist throughout my calendar year. Run by Eothen Alapatt, aka “Egon,” whose day job is general manager of the hip-hop label Stones Throw in LA, the Now Again imprint started out documenting lost American funk and soul music, but now specializes in rare funk, soul, psychedelic, and progressive rock from all over the world. Each finished CD has a limited-edition vinyl lover’s attention to detail.
Beach House’s third album, Teen Dream, is a hypnotic, drone-y, and baroque charmer, clocking in less than 50 minutes across 10 tracks. A shoe-gazers lazy Sunday afternoon mix tape, I found myself humming along the moment I heard Victoria Legrand’s vocal and organ melodies. Factor in Alex Scally’s drenched in effects-heavy guitar parts, keyboard loops and a drum machine as a rhythm section and you have a headphones record worthy of those created by Beach House’s predecessors 20 years ago. The CD (and album) itself is packaged as a double-disc set replete with matching sky blue and pink, Zebra-strewn slip cases and booklets: the first disc is the album proper, and the second is a DVD of music videos made by 10 different filmmakers. Most of the short videos leave something to be desired, but it proves to be a worthwhile experiment, not to mention an affordable one: I bought mine at a local a record store for $10.99.
MY OFFICE SUPPLY OBSESSION:
Office Supplies dominate my day more than they should. Because I write so much of my material out free hand before typing it up, I’m always on a lookout for new-fangled pens, mechanical pencils, and markers that make my writing and editorial work easier. Writing is hard on my hands, but even harder for me to type, since medically I can’t sit down for long periods of time. My office supply obsession has reached near hilarity in recent years with my friends and colleagues. I’m far beyond being a pen nerd. I’ve even coined a phrased t-shirt we’re printing up this month for kicks: I’VE GOT ENOUGH OFFICE SUPPLIES TO LAST ME THROUGH THE NIGHT.
Worst New Product: The Sharpie “Liquid Pencil” may have an eraser designed into the top of the clickable pen-like device, but it writes terribly: you have to push so hard, and angle the “pencil” to get it to even work. It’s worthless. This sucks because I had high hopes for the folks over at 3M, and design is beautiful.
Best New Product: The Pilot G-Tec-C4 (it sounds like a brand of plastic explosives) is clip-able needlepoint gel pen that doesn’t easily smear and is almost as light as air. Perfect for those who are used to scribbling notes inside the margins of books or manuscripts, but don’t like the wide-lined, Sloppy Joe gel ink variety.
THE WORST TYPO:
The American Photography Annual. The pictures tell the rest of the story. Read it and weep.
This other typo caught my attention on Yahoo News. The spray-painted misspelling happened at a North Carolina school. This image was my screen saver for months.
MY TOP 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR (in no particular order):
- “You Lost Me There” by Rosecrans Baldwin
- “Ill Fares the Land” and “The Memory Chalet” by Tony Judt
- “The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese”
- All the Thomas Bernhard reissues
- “Visitation” by Jenny Erpenbeck
- “C” by Tom McCarthy
- “Antwerp” by Roberto Bolano
- “The Ask” by Sam Lipsyte
- “Listen to This” by Alex Ross
- “Microscripts” by Robert Walser
BEST RE-DESIGNED BOOK CLASSICS:
Megan Wilson designs for the Vintage Classic series