I was sitting at the table and surfing the web when I remembered that I had been making coffee. Trying to determine the cause of the delay I glanced across the room and saw that I had neglected to turn on the burner. As I rose and walked over to the stove I noticed that I had also forgotten to put the kettle on the burner. As I lifted the kettle to do so I discovered I hadn’t put water in it yet. As I was filling up the kettle from the tap I became aware of the french press sitting on the counter nearby, half-full and warm. It was then that remembered that I had, some ten minutes prior, made coffee, let it steep, poured myself a cup, added milk and sugar, and placed it on the table next to the laptop, where it currently resided.
SoG has long been my favorite mp3 blog, and I was pleased to see many of my favorite 2011 albums made appearances on their list (except, inexcusably, my #1 pick). I’ll emphasize that these are my “favorites”–I make no claim that they are the best. But they are the ones I most enjoyed in the last 12 months.
The Joy Formidable, “The Big Roar”: Earlier this year I was itching to catch a show, and saw that The Joy Formidable”, an unknown-to-me band, was coming to the Crocodile Cafe the following week. I picked up their one and only disk, but got sidetracked for a while and neither listened to the album nor attended the concert. When I finally put on “The Big Roar”, I could feel my heart sinking with every track: craaaap, that show must have been fooking amazing! Given the reception The Joy Formidable has received since that missed opportunity in late April (e.g.), tickets to their next appearance won’t be twelve bucks, that’s for sure. Ah, regrets …
Destroyer, “Kaputt”: You kids today may not remember this but, back in my day, when you bought an album and discovered that you didn’t really like it much you would nonetheless listen to it a bunch in the hopes that it would grow on you, because you just blew all your allowance on this stupid “Glass Tiger” cassette and it wasn’t like you could just go download something else. That, thankfully, is not something I have to do anymore. And yet I did it with “Kaputt” nonetheless. I was underwhelmed with my first few listens, but people with better musical judgement than I (which rules out no one) assured me that the album was terrific. Really? Well, if you say so. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I stopped listening to Kaput to make myself like it and started listening to it because I already did … a lot.
The Head and the Heart, self-titled: I probably listened to this album more than any other this year as it was a favorite of both myself and my eight-year-old son, something we could play in the car as a compromise between Lady Gaga and Elliott Smith. (Who prefers which I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader …) This is the first album from the band, but the consistently high quality of the material is of “Best of” compilation caliber.
Lykke Li, “Wounded Rhymes”: I went a little bananas for Swedish pop music this year, starting with Peter Bjorn & John’s “Gimmie Some”, then moving on to Lykke Li’s “Wounded Rhymes”, and then … well, actually, I just stuck with Wounded Rhymes, and have listened to it every week or so since. Featuring simple melodies and emotionally resonant lyrics, tracks like Sadness is my Boyfriend manage the neat trick of being both catchy and contemplative.
M83, “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming”: Now that LCD Soundsystem has closed up shop, M83 may become my go-to electro rock band (although they may have to duel for my affection with MGMT). In an era when so much emphasis is placed on the single, “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming” is a nice throwback to the days when bands crafted albums instead of individual songs, something to listen to in its entirety when you’re able. I have a fond memory of hearing Raconte-Moi Une Histoire for the first time while driving around, and totally cracking up at the kid’s narrative. It would be great, right?
Kurt Vile, “Smoke Ring for My Halo”: When I asked my friends for music recommendations early in 2011, Kurt Vile’s debut album was the most oft-provided suggestion. I’m trying to figure out a way to describe it without using the the word “sensuous” and failing so I guess I’m not describing it.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “Belong”: You’re not going to find this album on a lot of “Best of 2011” lists I reckon, but I am a total sucker for that 80’s synthpop sound. (See also: The Killers, Ladytron, and, lord help me, Chromeo). It’s as if they distilled my “Jesus and Mary Chain” Pandora station down into ten tracks.
The Decemberists, “The King is Dead”: Colin Moloy was kind enough to contribute a post to my Infinite Summer project, and he then based the video for “Calamity Song” off a chapter of Infinite Jest, so I would be predisposed to like this album even if it wasn’t awesome. Which it is. Awesome.
(A close second for “My Favorite Music Video of 2011” is the only other one I saw all year, Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend. Love it. Perhaps because of the aforementioned Swedish pop music mania, but still.)
Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues”: I put neither Adele’s “21” on this list nor PJ Havey’s “Let England Shake”, but would be remiss to forego the “best albums of 2011” triumvirate entirely. So here ya go: Helplessness Blues by the Fleet Foxes, the sort of album that you can listen to intently while wearing headphones or put on as background music to a dinner party.
You can find a sampler of these albums below and on Spotify.
It’s that time of year again, people: time to send me links to the stupidest stuff available for purchase on Teh NetarWebs, for inclusion in my annual Holiday Survival Guide for Slackers. By way of example, here’s some entries from years past:
He has a framed portrait of Gene Roddenberry. He has a Federation uniform in every primary color. He has a spindled and stained Uhura standee in his closet that you try not to think about. He dismissed J.J. Abrams’s film as “noncanonical.” This year, give him the gift of sputtering rage with the Star Wars toaster. “You know, because you love Space Trek so much,” you will say as his neckbeard quivers with apoplexy. Weighing only 2.4 pounds, the Star Wars Toaster can be hurled at a window by even the most atrophied of muscles, where it will bounce ineffectually off the pane and land on the faux tribbleskin rug. “Next time you should throw it with more force,” you will gleefully chuckle. Man, you are kind of a dick.
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There was a time when “Yankee ingenuity” meant inventing an airplane or splitting the atom, but that was before the eighth season of Laverne & Shirley reduced our national IQ to just a smidge over π. The best we can do these days is to foist the world’s stupidest product on our former BFFs. Thus: Snuggie for Dogs!!! Yes, following on the heels of Binder Clip: For Cats!! and The Wire Season 3 DVD Box Set: For Ferrets!!, the makers of the all-fleece SfD!! would have you believe that shaving the hair off one animal and putting it on another isn’t just a hobby for the criminally insane. Still, if you know someone who (1) was dumb enough to have bought a Snuggie for themselves; and (2) refers to their mutt by some ridiculous portmanteau like “labradoodle” or “bullshihtz,” you probably can’t go wrong with this swatch of fastenable idiocy.
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When I was a wee lad, the toy I coveted above all others was the Star Wars X-Wing Fighter. Not only did the ship accommodate both the Luke Skywalker and the R2D2 action figures, but when you pressed a secret button on its aft, two bright-red, spring-propelled missiles would fire from its wingtips. This was truly the coolest item in the toy store—until some twerp induced a stroke in his great aunt by “accidentally” firing one of the missiles down her ear canal (“Great shot, kid. That was one in a million!”), thereby triggering a nationwide recall. WAY TO RUIN IT FOR EVERYONE, PETE BLAKESLEE OF AMIDON, NORTH DAKOTA!!! Of course, these were just tiny slivers of plastic; I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when America’s youth get their filthy mitts on the The Rocket Fishingrod. “Blasts your lure over 30 feet,” boasts the website, leaving the subjunctive clause—“directly into the face of your sister”—unspoken. The first time an eight-year-old winds up with a hook ensnared in her uvula, they’ll probably revoke capitalism entirely. So buy now!
They just go on and on like that.
Send your suggestions to email@example.com, post them as comments to this post, or simply arrive at my household laden with the newest offerings from Chia Pet Incorporated.
Whittling the list down to 10 (actually 11 games, as Summoner Wars and Jab share an entry) was unusually difficult this year, as I started with 19 worthy of inclusion and amassed half a dozen more as I asked others for recommendation.
Here are some that didn’t make the cut but are worth looking into if they pique your interest.
Elder Sign(1-8 players, 90 minutes, dice): Arkham Horror–the dice game! If you are unfamiliar with Arkham Horror or uninterested in H. P Lovecraft, this is not the game for you. If you are a fan of the mythos, though, Elder Sign allows you to battle eldritch horrors in as short as an hour. I will be reviewing both Arkham Horror and Elder Sign soon as part of the H. P. Lovefest. Why it was left off the main list: Uses the same central mechanism as the more accessable King of Tokyo. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain ]
Letters from Whitechapel(2-6 players, 90 minutes, family strategy): One person assumes the role of Jack the Ripper, carrying out his dark business on the streets and in the alleys of London; the remaining players are detectives, trying to track the killer down and bring him to justice. Why it was left off the main list: It is currently out of print and the company that made it has gone belly-up, so there’s no guarentee that it will be available anytime soon. If you want a copy, call your local game store and see if they have any in stock. Otherwise check out the classic game Scotland Yard (which uses the same One Person Plays the Bad Guy, The Others Play the Detectives mechanism), or the two-player Mr. Jack (which has both the Ripper theme and the deduction element). [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain ]
Mondo(1-4 players, 20 minutes, puzzle): More multi-player jigsaw puzzle than board game, Mondo has players racing against the clock (and each other) to assemble a map of the world, striving to score points for completed environments and collected animals. Similar in feel to Carcassonne, with the timer injecting an element of urgency. Why it was left off the main list: It’s a fun game, but the dearth of player interaction ill-suits for the G4. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain ]
Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game(1-8 players, 90 minutes, adventure board game): Rated highly on Boardgame Geek and perhaps the board game with the most buzz at the 2011 Penny Arcade Expo, Fortune and Glory is a loving recreation of pulp-era yards, complete with lost treasure, abominable monsters, and boatloads of Nazis. Flying Frog‘s streak of producing well-received thematic games remains unbroken. Why it was left off the main list: List price of $100. Yikes. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain ]
Quarriors!(2-4 players, 20 minutes, dice): As “deck building games” reach the saturation point (see my review of Thunderstone: Dragonspire on the main 2011 G4), designers need a unique take on the genre to stand out. WizKids has done so by eliminating the deck entirely, and replacing the cards with dice. The result is a game that plays fast and gives you the great satisfaction of rolling a huge handful of bones on each turn. Why it was left off the main list: Same reason as Elder Sign, essentially: too many dice games on the main list already. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain ]
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Don’t trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other “2011 best game of the year” lists. German Game of the Year:
Winner: Qwirkle (featured in the 2007 G4; maybe it just made it to Germany this year?)