Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Best of 2007

End of year. Everybody else is doing it, so why not?

Here's the thing: I don't get around to reading many brand-new books. Student budget doesn't provide much disposable income. Ditto going to see new movies at the theater. New music I can do, as it's not so expensive. And, yes, I actually buy my music. What a sucker, right? Plus, music is not an extravagance. It's a life necessity.

BEST BOOK '07: Songs of Innocence, Richard Aleas. Actually, I'm a bit surprised by my own chocie. I'm a sucker for lyrical language, innovative narrative forms, depth of character, etc. Songs of Innocence didn't have any of that. What it had in spades was the spirit of noir running through every sentence. Can't get any more despondant and pessimistic than this. It's a quick, brutal read, but in its brevity it manages to crush the virute of detective narrative itself. I'm not the first person to say the last page is a killer. I knew it was supposed to be a killer before I read the book, so I was waiting to be let down. I was not.

Again, great books came out in '07, many of which I've not yet read. The Road was brilliant and brutal and deliciously written, but it came out in '06. I'm a little behind. I hear Then We Came to the End is hilarious. I know Jeff Parker's book Ovenman is hilarious because I read it. And of course I can't wait to read Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke.

The best book I read in '07 was The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I dind't like the movie much, so I was skepitcal about the book. But the book is so full of brilliant imagery and unique sentiment. Not to mention the book is formally daring in the thrilling way that Nabokov's books are. My friend Joshua Furst's book The Sabotage Cafe --which came out this summer--is another provocative Formalist puzzle with some serious sentiment, a tough combo to pull off, but Furst does.

BEST MOVIE '07: Seen a lot more new movies than I've read new books, but this one is easy. No Country for Old Men. Love Cormac McCarthy, but I never read the novel. Love the Coen Bros, couldn't wait for this team-up. And it's a perfect film. Rare that a movie can deliver surprises one the level of, say, Psycho, but this one delivers a few times. Brilliant acting, unbelievable pacing and camerawork. That cellophane uncrinkling. The light and shadows under the door. The car exploding in the background. And this movie is seriously dark, brutal, honest. I loved the "literary" ending--like a great French New Wave film--but I was in a theater packed with bunches of philistines swearing at the screen, asking for a sequal, not getting at. On the way out, woman asked me--perfect stranger--what was the point of that. Wanted to say, "First, art doesn't have to have a point. Second, this art does have a point. Third, it's your regular Will Smith popcorn flick that doens't have the point, lady. This one speaks loud and clear if you'd listen." Didn't say that.

So many enemies of the gorgeous ending of No Country. Makes me wonder, why? Why do I love it? Am I that out of touch with what people want from narrative? Should I be worried, being that I'm a writer? Will neighbors call the cops if I howl in the backyard at night?

BEST MUSIC '07: Two of my longtimes faves, Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, came out with new albums this year, and both are great. Still, Year Zero can't quite match the NIN Broken/Downward Spiral heyday. And as good as Radiohead's In Rainbows was, the"experimentalism" was the same kind of experimentalism they've been experimenting with over the last three albums. Radiohead has made us expect total reinvention with every album, so nothing hit me like "Paranoid Android" hit me the first time I heard it. Still a brilliant album, In Rainbows, regardless.

Naw, for me it was Interpol's Our Love to Admire. Lots of folks see Interpol as a Joy Division ripoff without the honest lyrics. Fair enough. Interpol's lyrics are impressionistic and sometimes even comic ("My best friend's a butcher/he has sixteen knives/he carries them all over the town/at least he tries/oh, look, it stopped snowing"). Lots of folks think Interpol has a static sound that doesn't change from song to song, much less from album to album. I'd debate the subtleties, but they are indeed subtleties. Takes a few listens to hear the musical depth in an Interpol tune. But Interpol taps into a personal nerve of mine, hits that melancholy sensibility just right. They take a dark mood and make it shine. Download "Pace is the Trick" and you'll see what I mean:

You can't hold it too tight
These matters of security
You don't have to be woud so tight
Smoking on the balcony

Well, it's like sleaze in the park
You women, you have no self-control
We angels remark outside
You are known for insatiable needs
But I don't know a thing

I've seen love
And I follow the speed in the starlight
I've seen love
And I follow the speed in the star-swept night

Yeah, pace is the trick
And to all the corruption in man...

I see you as you take your pride, my lioness
Your defenses seem wise, I cannot press
And attention's at demise, my lioness,
Can't you hurt it some, think I hurt it some...

Soundtrack to the coming gloom. Without the music, the lyrics don't cry, so listen. Lyrics don't make sense, no, but the mood... that's what it comes down to.

Runner-up is Bright Eyes' Cassadaga, but that's about pure songwriting prowess there. Kid's a lyrical genius. Have to admit, I'm a pop culture goon with music. I'm sure great jazz and opera and classical brilliance was unleashed this year, but I wouldn't know. I don't get it. I'm rock, pop and folk. Sorry.

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