Narwhal Party

2009: Books
01/17/2010, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Books | Tags: , ,

So I figured the best way to get this blog going would be to write a few posts looking back on 2009. My favorite albums can be seen below, with more posts to come. I read more books last year than any other year of my life. Here are a few of my favorites (read in, not necessarily published in ’09):

My absolute favorites were 2666 and The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño–expect longer, more detailed and gushing posts to follow. Other books that are helpless next to these, yet were still vastly enjoyable include:

Last Evenings On Earth, Roberto Bolaño

–A wonderful sort story collection. For anyone interested in Bolaño, this would be a great place to begin. It was written much earlier than his masterworks, but still gives the reader a taste of his themes and various styles. Some of the stories are absolutely phenomenal in their ability to contain entire worlds in a limited space.

The Skating Rink, Roberto Bolaño

–This was apparently Bolaño’s first novel published in Spanish. Reading it after reading much of his later work, it’s clearly a warm-up to where he was going. Many of the writer’s favorite ideas and themes—violence, drinking, a Spanish campground, sex, multiple perspectives, expatriate poets—appear in this brief, yet engaging novel.

Atmospheric Disturbances, by Rivka Galchen

I read this quickly over the course of my trip to Boston in the summer of 2009. It still feels hot and sticky and exciting because of it. It’s written playfully—an unreliable narrator, a character that shares the name of the author. It moves quickly, too. Echoes of Nabokov and Pynchon’s Lot 49 constantly ring throughout. It turns out that there is a lot of fun to be had in the mind of a conspiracy theorist who thinks his wife has been swapped out for a doppelganger. I look forward to more from Galchen.

Foreskin’s Lament, by Shalom Auslander

I became interested in this book because of Auslander’s work on This American Life. Though I’m never too interested in memoirs, this is so touching and funny and honest, that I forgive it its genre. In fact, it reads more like a novel, jumping between the childhood and adulthood of a religiously terrified writer who destroys entire drafts in fear of God’s wrath. Auslander’s honesty is powerful and leads to insights that more fearful writers couldn’t achieve. The paradox here: fearlessly detailing your fears. It’s absolutely hilarious, too.

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

The only other Eggers book I’ve read, What Is The What?, was enjoyable but suffered under the weight of its length and its gamble of first-person perspective. Here, Eggers again tells a true account of startling events in the life on an American immigrant, but rectifies the problems he struggled against in the past. Hurricane Katrina happened nearly five years ago, but the shock that Zeitoun unleashes is new and palpable. It tells the story of a New Orleans apart from the tourist magnet of Bourbon Street—inhabited by real Americans with real stories that deserve to be read.

Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill

A Dutch-born New Yorker, braving the waters of a disintegrating marriage, gets mixed up with a wild, entrepreneurial Trinidadian, obsessed with the game of cricket. Engaging. O’Neill has a powerful stillness in his voice.

Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

Another New York novel written by an Irishman. McCann takes on several narrators, mostly in 1974. The aging hooker grandma feels a bit forced, yes, but everything else clicks extremely well. A powerful novel about chance and chaos and loss. Winner of the National Book Award.

Lush Life, by Richard Price

Truthfully, this was a bit of a letdown, if only because of the lofty expectations I held for a writer who has been responsible for some of the best episodes of The Wire. I realize those expectations are a bit unfair, just like I realize that this was a joy to read. Another New York novel (third on the list, I know, but don’t worry, I have no intentions to move to, let alone visit the city). Like The Wire, Lush Life paints an objective picture of cops and crime in a city in constant flux.


2009: Albums
01/17/2010, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , , ,

This isn’t a “Best Of” list. Most people can agree about the albums release by Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, and Phoenix. What an amazing year for music. Here are three albums that I loved, that I believe were criminally underrated.

Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer

Spencer Krug, whether he toned down the prog tendencies or grew out of them, simplified his songs on the latest Sunset Rubdown release, to a stunning effect. His songs still meander and sprawl, but seem to do so in a more focused manner. In the end, it’s his melodies that shine above the arrangements, and on this album, they last longer than any of his Sunset Rubdown records. Dragonslayer is what would have happened if David Bowie had fell in love with D&D instead of pop music, moved to a cave in Canada’s wilderness, and emerged twenty years later, a champion. At first listen, these songs can seem simplistic, but in reality, the intricacies are just more carefully chosen. And with a new Wolf Parade album slated for 2010, we can only hope that he is just now hitting his stride.

David Bazan – Curse Your Branches

Full disclosure: I would have probably loved this no matter what it sounded like. David Bazan has been a hero of mine since I was a teenager. But honestly, this is a powerful and exciting record from an indispensable songwriter who never seems to get a fair shake. There’s a lyrical richness that more accomplished songwriters often lack. Yes he deals with religion, but he does so in a startlingly frank manner. The record is sonically engaging, too. Bazan has wandered a bit over the years–dabbling in synth pop, Americana, glam rock, and his slow-core roots–but this album emerges as a cohesive statement, crisp and clean.

Why? – Eskimo Snow

There is no band more tragically underrated than Why?. Yoni Wolf’s lyrics could be published in poetry volumes and studied by grad students for decades. This album focuses on the internal struggles with religion, sex, procreation, death, and the artist’s desire to create something lasting. In many ways, Eskimo Snow can be heard as a companion piece to Bazan’s Curse Your Branches. Where Bazan sings “If no heavy breath blew up these lungs/While dirt and wet spit hung a ghost in the air/Well we’re still here/We’re still here,” Yoni Wolf sings, “I’m still here/bearing my watery fruits, if fruits at all/I’m still here/Barely understanding what truth that rarely calls.” Both artists tackle the unknown with such honesty and open fragility, they should not only be heard repeatedly, but I’d consider them required reading as well.

2009: Movies
01/17/2010, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Movies | Tags: ,

I’m a movie fan, but not necessarily a “film buff.” So take this for what it is. These were my favorite movies in 2009. Note: I haven’t seen Moon, or many other highly lauded ’09 releases, and I’m well aware that there were several wonderful movies released last year. This is why I have Netflix. Updates to follow as I catch up.

Inglourious Basterds: QT’s best since Pulp Fiction. Basterds is meticulously framed, sprawling, and best of all, it takes its time. Fantastic.

A Serious Man: The Cohens are a national treasure. A Serious Man’s most notable actor is the guy who plays Larry’s cousin on Curb Your Enthusiasm. It was never in wide release. It opens with a lengthy, subtitled Jewish parable. It has an ending this will no doubt frustrate many viewers. It’s touching and funny and painful. And like most Cohen brothers films, it’s damn near perfect.

The Road: I was a fan of the book and I’m a fan of the movie. John Hillcoat was a wonderful choice for director of a Cormac McCarthy adaptation (one glance at The Proposition could tell you that much). It defies so many things that a movie is supposed to be, yet, like the book, is strangely and powerfully uplifting.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: Though it’s an adaptation of a classic children’s book, Fantastic Mr. Fox fits into the Wes Anderson canon with ease. Hearing about the unorthodox methods used to capture authentic performances, and the fact that much of the script was written at Roald Dahl’s home in England, only add to the magic of this movie. Anderson pushes “children’s” movies forward by taking a step back. Imagine that.

Where The Wild Things Are: Another beloved children’s book made into a movie by hipsters, for hipsters. This, like everything Dave Eggers touches, seemed to be divisive. It’s probably a testament to the Pitchfork generation’s Peter Pan Syndrome, but so what? In all honesty, I enjoyed every minute of this film. It’s gorgeous and honest. It doesn’t over explain or try to make meaning. It just is. And it’s lovely.