It has been one wild ride of a year. I have adopted the new “Timeline” on Facebook, and after being tremendously confused for a few minutes I spent a little time looking over my updates from January 2011 to now. I sometimes would think “Oh my God. That happened too? THAT happened?” I didn’t know it was possible to stuff as many things as I did this year.
I’ve been busier than ever before. I’ve been crazier than normal. I’ve had medical procedures and nearly died in a car accident. I traveled to Indiana twice and loved one trip and hated the other (guess which one?). And I’m currently writing this from the self-dubbed ‘breakfast nook’ of my new condo. I meant to move in last July, but life has other plans sometimes. I’m here now, and that’s the important thing.
I know, I know. Adele is on so many “Best Of” lists this year it’s probably the epitome of cliche that I list her here. But I’ve been a fan of her since 2008 when her first album, 19, came out, so I was pumped to hear she had put out a new one. I listened to her first single “Rolling in the Deep” like a woman possessed for the first month of the year, (that line “You’re gonna wish you never had met me” is KILLER) but it wasn’t until the album was released and I heard her sing “Someone Like You” on Ellen that I was completely blown away. This was light years beyond anything she had done on 19, and I immediately ran out and got the entire CD and listened to it nonstop for about three months. Ten originals and one flawless cover of “Love Song” by The Cure later, I was bawling like a child. Adele’s poignant lyrics are given weight with her incinerating fireball of a voice. I hope her vocal surgery doesn’t alter it too much, because it is an incredible gift that she wields with the skill and lightness of a lightsaber.
I can’t really be articulate about this band. Anything I say about them just comes out “UGH, they’re so good. Go listen NOW.” But that’s not the best review. I first heard about the Black Keys from Kelly Clarkson, of all people. I went to her concert two years ago and heard her cover “Lies” and proceed to pimp the Black Keys for about half an hour after that. I immediately went home and found some of their songs and fell in love, but it wasn’t until they came out with Brothers in 2010 that I realized the true length of their artistic genius. This CD picks up where that one left off with its infectious lead single “Lonely Boy” (and its hilarious video of a man dancing to the track in one continuous 3-minute take). It is still relatively new (it dropped less than three weeks ago) but that should not stop you from getting onto your computer, logging on to iTunes, and downloading the crap out of this album. Every single track reeks of nostalgic basement rock. Nobody does Akron garage sound like these guys do. It is ridiculously grungy, dirty, sexy, poppy funk. (While you’re at it, go download Brothers, their 2010 record (“Tighten Up” is genius) and also Dan Auerbach’s solo album, Keep It Hid. Genius.)
Yes, they are one of those indie bands that shot to fame when their leadoff single was featured in a particularly moving moment of Grey’s Anatomy. Haters gon’ hate. I really don’t know how to categorize The Civil Wars. They sound like Alison Krauss took a shot of whiskey. Or if the soundtrack to Cold Mountain got drunk off your Pappy’s moonshine and danced in the light of a full autumn moon. The title track makes me want to ride a horse into a windswept Western town and commit some sort of awful crime, and I am awful at riding horses. With the alternating vocal lines by Joy Williams and John Paul White, the songs pulse with heartache but swell with a love that bruises with its fullness. It is sparse, but there is much to be read in between the lines. I’m just glad I knew of them before they hopped on the soundtrack train…now that they’re doing songs for the Hunger Games series (with my girl Taylor Swift), everyone is going to know who they are. Thank God, though.
The fact Matt isn’t on any “Best-Of” lists for this year is a travesty. Nobody writes love songs like Matt. Love lost, love destroyed, love newly gained, love for the night, love divided amongst jumpoffs…it’s all the same to Matt and this record explores every facet of it. It is giddy, moody, sexy as hell (“She said ‘I know love, and it’s all push and shove, so stop talking and put your back into it'”) and a thorough explanation and exploration of what makes modern love, well, modern. It opens with a bang with the lead-off single “Faster” which is a straight up tribute to George Michael (check out the video, it is a tribute as well, including the hip swivels), and ends with a sweet, lyrical ode to living on the bottom of the sea with the one you love. It covers it all, and does it with panache and a big wink to the 80s rock of INXS. Plus, I was a Matt Nathanson fan before he grew out his beard, so that ups my hipster cred.
Come on. I love these guys. Yes, they’ve gone kind of pop…okay, REALLY pop. The difference between their first album and this one is a bit horrifying. And be warned, there is absolutely nothing on this album that comes close to the sheer, aching loveliness of “Need You Now.” But they put out such good music I am loathe to disparage them. The leadoff single, “Just A Kiss”, captures the beauty of a first date in a way not explored since Taylor Swift mused on it in her song “Fearless.” The rest of the album is breezy fun meant to be played in a car at the beach with the windows down and a bottle of wine or Corona. Or even Miller Chill, for kicks. However, the album cover makes me crack up. Really, Hilary Scott? You’re going to wear that gigantic dress in the middle of the desert? You are asking for a bitch of a bill from your cleaners.
Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials
I can see it coming from the edge of the room, creeping like a streetlight, holding my hand in the pale gloom, can you see it coming now? Oh, I think I’m breaking down again, oh, I think I’m breaking down
Florence Welch is a throwback to either the days of Fleetwood Mac or Shakespeare’s Ophelia right before she threw herself into the river. I’m not sure which. Her voice is such a strange thing. One moment it borders on ethereal, the next moment it’s crazed and hypnotic. And her fashion has become almost as famous as her sound. But this CD is an exercise in the downward spiral one goes through when you fall in and out of love, and the way you claw yourself back to the light. It defies explanation or logic, you just get swept away.
Gavin DeGraw, Sweeter
This is your goodbye kiss opportunity, thought you were burning me down but I’m finally free, if you miss me, don’t, if I never wanna see you again, I won’t, if you get an invitation, I’m probably drunk, you’re just as hot as radiation but I’m in this situation
Nobody writes a piano lick right now like Gavin Degraw, with the slight exception of Alicia Keys or Lady GaGa (more on her flawlessness later). He bangs away at the keys like a possessed man, and his lyrics are choked with emotion, honesty, and clever wordplay. Gavin is one of those artists that when I find out he’s got new material out or when I stumble across a brand new single on the radio in preview of a new album, I start jumping up and down and clapping my hands like a crazy person because his music is that damn good. Then again, I’ve been a huge fan of his since “Chariot” owned the radio 7 years ago, so perhaps this is just me being a crazy Gavin fangirl? All I know is “Not Over You” was my theme song at the beginning of the summer, and “Run Every Time” is my current jam.
The Lonely Island, Turtleneck and Chain
I just had sex and I’ll never go back to the not-having-sex ways of the past
Because it is Andy Samberg and he is God. Sure, there’s Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, and Michael Bolton singing about Jack Sparrow and Erin Brockovich. But it’s Andy Samberg. And that alone is why you should download this. This record defies explanation. It’s just the balls.
Britney Spears, Femme Fatale
All hail Queen Britney. I don’t care what she does or what car door she breaks or the heads she shaves. If Britney Spears puts out an album, I will buy it. I have been doing situps dreaming of Britney’s sixpack since I was fifteen years old, so the fact I’m still doing situps dreaming of her sixpack at 26 is a testament to her longevity. When her first single “Hold It Against Me” came on the radio for the first time, I stayed in the car in my garage, refusing to get out of the car until it was over. That dubstep line nearly caved my brain in. I hadn’t even heard of dubstep before that single came out, and despite the fact that sometimes it can sound like someone getting told repeatedly to turn their music down, it provides a sense of staggered beats that keep you guessing and turning and twisting. And dancing. Of course. Until the world ends. When I got the album, I sat in awe, reveling in the fact that Britney is still relevant even after 14 years of music, red rubber suits, and dancing with pythons (not to mention she made out with Madonna). She can do no wrong in my eyes, and we are all just cogs in the Britney machine. Although she sometimes sounds like she’s got a head cold. Blow your nose, Brit-Brit.
There’s a place that I know, it’s not pretty there, and few have ever gone, if I show it to you now, will it make you run away, or will you stay even if it hurts?
Oh, Kelly. She will always be my favorite American Idol with the exception of David Cook (Yeah. What up, David? I love you.). She has a voice on her that even the most established of singers in the industry would kill to have, and she doesn’t oversaturate her sound with melismatic breakdowns (Looking at you, Christina Aguilera). On this CD, Kelly addresses a lot of the rumors that have plagued her over the years, as well as retaining a sense of humor about it all. Her lyrics have gotten more honest as she has become more famous, an exponential growth you don’t see too often anymore. She isnt’ afraid to speak her mind, and although I wish her politics were as forward thinking as her lyrics (Ron Paul, Kelly? REALLY?), I digress briefly. She still slays.
The Pretty Reckless, Light Me Up
Take me, I’m alive, never was a girl with a wicked mind, but everything looks better when the sun goes down.
This technically came out last year but it was only released in the US in February of 2011, so it gets a pass. I know Taylor Momsen has a few people up in arms for being so ‘exposed’ literally and figuratively (she wears underwear and calls it an outfit, much like other people on my list). I will give her a bit of leeway because, like Lady GaGa, the outfit can kind of hide the fact that the girl can sing her face off. The songs on Light Me Up are raw, sure. But they explode with potential. The guitar licks on some of these songs are up there with the brilliant stylings I’ve heard on other tracks from more established bands, and while it all kind of could just be dismissed as Hole-esque posturings, the style works because of Momsen’s gritty, unexpected delivery. It’s just nice to see a teenager singer who doesn’t want to be Miley Cyrus.
Colbie Caillat, All Of You
I want to be your favorite song, you can turn me up, play me all night long, I want to be your favorite song, go la la la la la, la la la la.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when Colbie Caillat puts out an album, I will want to listen to it over and over again until I sink into a black hole of sunshine, daisies, beachy waves, and coconuts. All of her albums make me wish I were in salt water up to my ears with the hot sun blazing down, and this is no exception. I drove a lot of miles earlier this summer with a goofy smile plastered on my face, blazing through this CD like a possessed woman in search of sand and sun. When I finally did get to the beach, this was clearly number 1 on my list of soundtracks. With a fun guest appearance by Common, this entire CD is breezy and fun. Colbie has come into her own as a sort of Jason Mraz of female guitarists with her quirky lyrics and sunny disposition. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Christina Perri, Lovestrong.
You put your arms around me and I believe that it’s easier for you to let me go, I hope that you see right through my walls, I hope that you catch me ’cause I’m already falling
Now, I am not going to lie: I am a huge, huge, HUGE fan of So You Think You Can Dance (Dance, Dance, Dance). But I didn’t watch last year because I wasn’t a big fan of the whole ‘All-Stars’ concept. However, I did tune in to watch on the night that Christina Perri’s song “Jar of Hearts” was used. I was very much drawn in to the sense of heartache, loss, and overall strength that came out of that record, and when I heard she was going to come out with a full LP, I snapped it up. I was immediately floored. Her sense of emotion with humor makes her akin to Matt Nathanson in my eyes (PLEASE DO A TOUR TOGETHER, OKAY? I know you both read my blog. Right?), and her blatant honesty makes her lyrics profound and heartbreaking. There are few people who could take a song about penguins and make it resonant and beautiful. Also, I hate Twilight, but her song for Breaking Dawn Part 1 (“A Thousand Years”) is absolutely mesmerizing.
You knew this was going to be on here. I have made my love of Lady GaGa shamelessly explicit throughout this year and last year. I went to her concert last year in Hartford and spent the next several days in a foggy haze. The woman is one of my faves and haters to the left, but I was so hoping this record would be as good as the others. I had heard “You and I” at the concert and it broke my heart, but I was looking for some hot dance beats as well. I woke up at 7 AM on the day the first single was released, rolled over and hit play on the official website (that I had cued up the night before, you know it). But even I wasn’t prepared for the sledgehammer that is this record. Every single song SLAMS. I listened to the entire thing in a daze, blown away by the creativity that oozes out of every pore of this record. It’s a love song to New York, to owning your truth, to being a woman, to being a moral woman of God and also a profoundly sexually proud one, and also the fear of exposing yourself vulnerably and emotionally. The final song, “Edge of Glory”, is made all the more moving when you realize it is the last track contributed to by Clarence Clemons, the famous E Street Band saxophonist who died late last year.
note: all of these are on youtube. go seek them out!
Britney Spears, “Hold It Against Me”, “Inside Out”, “Gasoline”
The Black Keys, “Lonely Boy”, “Little Black Submarines”
Adele, “Someone Like You”, “Your One and Only” and “Rumour Has It”
The Civil Wars, “Barton Hollow”, “Poison and Wine”, “Birds of a Feather”
Florence + the Machine, “Shake it Out”, “What The Water Gave Me”
Ingrid Michaelson, “Ghost”
Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars, “Safe and Sound” from The Hunger Games Soundtrack
Christina Perri, “Arms” “Penguin” “A Thousand Years”
Lady GaGa, “Born This Way”, “Judas”, “Government Hooker”, “You And I”, “Black Jesus Amen Fashion”
Matt Nathanson, “Faster”, “The Bottom Of the Sea”, “Kiss Quick”, “Run”
Rihanna, “We Found Love”, “You Da One” – the rest of her CD is awful. just download these two, please. and rihanna, stop putting out CDs every year until you have an ENTIRE CD that is as good as these two songs.
Selena Gomez, “Love You Like A Love Song” – it pains me to include this one. pains me. but it’s so good.
Demi Lovato, “Skyscraper” – GO LISTEN TO THIS RIGHT NOW. Seriously. This might be my favorite one out of the whole bunch. GO.
Colbie Caillat, “I Do”, “Brighter Than The Sun”, “Your Favorite Song”
Gavin DeGraw, “Not Over You”, “Radiation”, “Run Every Time”
Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Ni**as in Paris”, “Otis” – I haven’t listened to the entirety of Watch The Throne but apparently it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, so I’m going to recommend these
Hot Chelle Rae, “Tonight Tonight”
Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks” – I have such a love-hate relationship with this song. On one hand, it makes me want to gouge my eardrums. On the other hand, it’s so damn catchy. So I am decidedly confused.
“I am so sick of people blaming the world for their problems. You are your problem. You are also your solution.” This is NOT The Hangover for women, although it’s just as funny. Kristen Wiig is a comic genius, sure. And Rose Byrne is one of the most brilliant actresses when it comes to creating a character you just hate for no reason. Indeed, there are so many talented comediennes on display in this film it is an embarrassment of riches. This was truly the year of the funny female. But the reason you should see this movie lies on the strong and psychotic shoulders of Melissa McCarthy. Her Megan is one of the most brilliant creations of the past 5 years of cinema, and the fact that she never truly dissolves into a caricature and indeed possesses some of the smartest lines in the movie is a testament to how smart this film really is. Also, Chris O’Dowd makes one sexy Irish cop, to the point where you nearly forget that Jon Hamm is in this movie (although his sex scenes with Kristin are borderline asthma-inducing). And of course let’s not forget about the wonderful Maya Rudolph as the one normal friend who isn’t QUITE normal.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
Of course. I can’t really say enough about this film except for the fact that it does exactly what it should do: send the film franchise out on the same note as the books. It isn’t the same as the book, of course, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good film. The actors are all brilliant, the music is unforgettable, and the emotions are racheted up to an unbearable pitch until the unforgettable finale. They nailed it. And I’m pretty sure the amount of tears I shed in the theater have yet to be fully scraped off the floor.
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
The previews didn’t prepare me for this movie. I thought it was going to be a goofy relationship comedy, sort of like Dan In Real Life or Beezus and Ramona. But then Ryan Gosling came onscreen, eating a pizza and slapping around Steve Carell, and my brain melted. There was so much going on in the layers of this film. From Steve Carell’s heartbreak and subsequent rebounding with a crazed Marisa Tomei, to Emma Stone’s constant rebuffing of Ryan Gosling only to surrender to his Dirty Dancing trick, this entire movie glows with the variations of love, loss, and love regained. Also, the scene with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling talking all night rather than having sex is probably one of the best scenes of the year. I like pairing that with the Kristin Wiig/Jon Hamm sex scene in Bridesmaids of “You’re doing it right/You’re doing it WRONG” themes. And who can forget about Julianne Moore who is flawless in every movie she’s in, and the lovely side-plot of the babysitter and the boy in love with her? I wish every man were that bold.
I am an unabashed lover of Norse mythology. I try to read everything about it ever printed. The Snorls Sturlsson Edda? The Poetic Edda? The Heimskringla? I own all of them and love all of them. And is this the same thing as those? Nope. It is the Marvel version of Norse gods, which is a bit of a tweak and a stretch. But it is still tremendously enjoyable. And plus, Chris Hemsworth. And the recalls to The Avengers, which is shaping up to be (for me) the most anticipated movie event of 2012, were almost too much for me to take. Jeremy Renner’s cameo as Hawkeye nearly made me leap out of my seat with excitement.
X-Men: First Class
This really has nothing to do with the X-men mythos and everything to do with the amazingness that is Michael Fassbender. His Magneto is, to use an overused pun, magnetic. You cannot rip your eyes away from him when he’s onscreen. Everyone else melts into the background when he appears, and he doesn’t even really do a lot. Michael Fassbender had one hell of a year this year as he also appeared as Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, as well as a performance in Shame that is generating Oscar buzz, but I’m guessing most people will look back at Fassbender’s 2011 and remember his Magneto the most. And it isn’t even the showiest role (Shame, after all, is the one in which Fassy gets his kit off and shows it to the entire world), but he owns it and makes the idea of Ian McKellen in the role somewhat less of a big deal than it would have been in any other actors’ hands. He is just phenomenal. Just close your eyes and ears whenever January Jones is onscreen. It is painful.
“WHY would you put his entire bathroom in your ass?!”
I laughed at this entire movie without any shame. If you can make it through the ‘dirty talk’ scene, or the scene in which Charlie Day accidentally snorts cocaine, or the scene in which Jason Sudeikis realizes he may have done a bad thing in leaving his DNA all over Kevin Spacey’s bathroom, all without laughing you may need to relocate your soul. It is brilliantly funny, and Jennifer Aniston has never been sexier. Yoga, people. YOGA.
That whole homoerotic subtext Guy Ritchie was playing with in the 2009 film? Imagine all of that subtext made into gloriously obvious text, and you’ve got A Game of Shadows. I’ve always been a fan of Sherlock, but I love how these films take them back to their gritty roots. Sherlock was never the man in a cloak and pipe. He started out as a bareknuckle boxer wtih a peculiar sense of detective work, and Watson was his semi-babysitter. These films just exploit that angle to an absurd degree. Smart, hilarious, and unexpectedly filled with emotion, this movie zips along with excellent pacing and awesome directorial finesse. With the additions of Jared Harris as a thoroughly evil and profoundly brilliant Moriarty, Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) as a deliciously fun gypsy named Zizma, and Stephen Fry as the delightfully eccentric Mycroft Holmes, the entire movie snaps with a sense of fun and wickedness. And cross-dressing. And gay subtext made text. And Jude Law being amazing and Robert Downey Jr. proving over and over again that he is one of the greatest actors working today, and thank God he got clean and sober when he did. God bless Susan Levin!