Category Archives: Music

Ted’s Top 50 Movies of the 2000s

Originally posted December 29, 2009.

As I argue here, this has been the decade of fantasy film, led by Pan’s Labrynth, Lord of the Rings, and Spirited Away. It’s also marked the return of ribald comedy, led by the auteur of arrested adolescence, Judd Apatow. And it’s seen the emergence of a cohort of Mexican directors who bring a new global vision to Hollywood. Childen of Men is to our moment what Blade Runner and The Matrix were to theirs: an extrapolation that tells the truth about right now. Most remarkably, it has the courage to be an SF film that doesn’t fetishize technology or violence – a temptation to which both the other films succumb. Instead, we have a hero who holds a baby but never a gun, and that beautiful final scene of a boat at sea, bobbing in the water, attached to no country. (Then, when we’re ready for some tech & violence, we can turn to Clive Owen’s other classic, Shoot ‘Em Up, which demystifies the Hollywood hero by turning him into a live-action Bugs Bunny.)

1 – Children of Men
2 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3 – Best in Show
4 – Pan’s Labrynth
5 – Brokeback Mountain
6 – City of God
7 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
– Finding Nemo
9 – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
10 – Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2
11 – Rivers and Tides
12 – Spirited Away
13 – Memento
14 – The Aristocrats
15 – Requiem for a Dream
16 – Mulholland Drive
17 – Grizzly Man
18 – The Bourne Trilogy
19 – Bad Santa
20 – The Girlfriend Experience
21 – The Wrestler
22 – The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
23 – Ratatouille
24 – Knocked Up
25 – Wall-E
26 – Startup.com
27 – About a Boy
28 – Old School
29 – Control Room
30 – Little Miss Sunshine
31 – In the Realms of the Unreal
32 – Down with Love
33 – Bend It Like Beckham
34 – I Heart Huckabee’s
35 – Sideways
36 – Moulin Rouge
37 – Lost in Translation
38 – Shoot ‘Em Up
39 – The 40 Year Old Virgin
40 – Casino Royale
41 – The Barbarian Invasions
42 – Hustle and Flow
43 – Crank
44 – Dodgeball
45 – Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
46 – School of Rock
47 – Sin City
48 – Borat
49 – Zoolander
50 – American Dreamz

Ted’s Top 50 Albums of the 2000s

Originally Posted December 31, 2009

Music became less and less important to me over the course of this decade. At the beginning of the 2000s, I was still dabbling in professional rock criticism; by its end, I was having trouble coming up with ten 2009 releases I enjoyed beginning to end.

I know, it’s a cliche for old farts like me to stop listening to new music and just replay their golden oldies. But I didn’t really retreat into nostalgia; rather, I kept discovering older albums I found more compelling than the new stuff. The three records I’ve listened to the most in the past few years were all old, but new to me: the Steve Reich Ensemble’s Music for 18 Musicians, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, and Orchestra Beobab’s Pirate’s Choice. I also just spent less time listening to music period. After troubles with vertigo early in the decade, I stopped listening to music while working at the computer, and discovered the virtues of mindfulness over multitasking. While driving, I found podcasts and books on tape more consistently engaging.

I still try as much music as ever – more, actually, since eMusic and Lala make it so cheap to check out new albums. That may be part of the problem – an info glut, in which my iPhone clogs up with dozens of releases to which I never get around to giving more than cursory attention. I bought into the trade-off from vinyl’s warmth to digital’s portability, and now I wonder if I’ve shortchanged myself in the process – nothing on my iPhone sounds nearly as good as my vinyl copy of In Rainbows. I’m trying to even things out a little by at least ripping my old CDs uncompressed. But it’s hard to give up the convenience of instant $5 MP3 downloads – even when I get the feeling the compression is sucking the soul out of the new Dinosaur Jr. It may be time to go totally analog. If only I could fit my turntable in my car . . .

In any case, I’m clearly out of step with this generation’s aesthetics. I grew up on the old-fashioned album as a coherent artistic statement, and I still love the experience of listening to a single record – or, more atavistic yet, album side! – from beginning to end. But when I try to listen to new releases that way, they don’t hold up, and I realize the problem’s not just them, but me – they weren’t built for that kind of listening practice. Bands expect you to pick and choose your favorite cuts, then put your whole library on shuffle. But I rarely find that algorithmic experience satisfying – for me, it leads less to serendipity than to impatience, as I keep wondering if I’ll like the next song better than the current one.

I’m sure some of this past decade’s music will eventually grow on me. It took me years to warm to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot – it wasn’t until I heard the live Wilco record, Kicking Television, that I realized how much life there was in those songs that initially seemed so cold. Likewise, I was late to Radiohead because I never liked OK Computer – although when I finally heard Kid A, it grabbed me from the first cut. Maybe a few years from now Animal Collective will similarly speak to me – but for now, even after repeated attempts, I just don’t get the fuss, and I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of other listeners feel the same, but are afraid of crossing the Pitchfork mafia. I do see the point of Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio, but neither band has ever grabbed me for an entire album. Although maybe they would if MP3 wasn’t subjecting my ears to continual sonic fatigue.

In this midst of this midlife sonic crisis, there were still a handful of artists who made music I couldn’t get enough of. Not only Wilco and Radiohead, but also Hem, LCD Soundsystem, Calexico, and Stephen Malkmus. And Axl Rose, who made the great lost guitar-rock record of the decade. Future generations will rediscover Chinese Democracy for the masterpiece of power balladry it is. Or they won’t, and it’ll be their loss.

Below, my top 50 albums of the decade. Tomorrow, I’ll post a separate list of my top 50 songs.

1 Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
2 Radiohead, In Rainbows
3 LCD Soundsystem, The Sound of Silver
4 Daft Punk, Discovery
5 Beck, Sea Change
6 Hem, Rabbit Songs
7 Bebel Gilberto, Bebel Gilberto
8 Bob Dylan, Love and Theft
9 Badly Drawn Boy, About a Boy
10 Calexico, Feast of Wire
11 M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us
12 Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It in People
13 The National, Boxer
14 Radiohead, Kid A
15 Guns N’ Roses, Chinese Democracy
16 The Langley School Music Project, Innocence & Despair
17 Wilco, A Ghost Is Born
18 Loudon Wainwright III, Here Come the Choppers
19 The Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once More with Feeling
20 Stephen Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus
21 Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
22 Stephen Malkmus, Real Emotional Trash
23 Hem, Funnel Cloud
24 Wilco, Sky Blue Sky
25 Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music
26 Zero 7, Simple Things
27 Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now
28 Nick Lowe, The Convincer
29 Kanye West, The College Dropout
30 The White Stripes, White Blood Cells
31 Arcade Fire, Funeral
32 Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers
33 Jens Lekman, Night Falls over Kortedala
34 Matthew Dear, Asa Breed
35 NERD, In Search Of . . .
36 Stereophonics, You Gotta Go There to Come Back
37 Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
38 Kanye West, Late Registration
39 D’Angelo, Voodoo
40 Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Come Poop With Me
41 Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
42 Yeasayer, All Hour Cymbals
43 Outkast, The Love Below
44 Lambchop, Is a Woman
45 Various Artists, O Brother Where Art Thou
46 Son Lux, At War With Walls and Mazes
47 Suzanne Vega, Beauty & Crime
48 M83, Saturdays=Youth
49 Randy Newman, Harps and Angels
50 MC Paul Barman, It’s Very Stimulating

Ted’s Top 50 Songs of the 2000s

Originally posted December 31, 2009

This has been the hardest of all my lists to put together. With the death of Top 40 radio and of music on MTV, it’s become harder and harder to recapture the rush of discovering a great pop song; what used to happen every couple of weeks now only comes a few times a year. On such a limited supply, it’s hard not to OD on the few knockouts when they do come around. I can still appreciate all the songs on this list, but I can’t pretend I still love them the way I did when I first discovered them.

While this list includes my most ephemeral pleasures, it’s also got more explicit political content than any of my other lists. Notoriously, filmmakers had enormous difficulty crafting their outrage into compelling narrative in this decade. The most successful commentaries were oblique: Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy, Alphonso Cuaron’s and Ron Moore’s science fiction. The one great novel I read about the oil wars, Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan, was, well, absurd, in the tradition of Dr. Strangelove and Slaughterhouse-Five. But the single is all about raw emotion, and as John Lydon taught us, anger is an energy. “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” “Windowsill,” “Let’s Impeach the President,” and “A Punch-Up at a Wedding” moved me in a way few love songs could in this infuriating decade. And bittersweet tracks like “Crazy,” “All My Friends,” “Handshake Drugs,” and even the sneaky-dark “Hey Ya!” took on extra poignancy.

Does that mean we’ll now start hearing more of the music of hope? (Maybe the cast of Glee’s revelatory cover of “Dont Stop Believin‘”?) Or of diminished expections for piecemeal reform and timetables for withdrawal? (Yet more Black Eyed Peas singles?) I dunno – I can’t figure out this pop moment. I approve in theory of Lady Gaga, but can’t say she does much for me in practice. I’m still waiting for the next pop revolultion to match hiphop in the 1980s and grunge in the 1990s, but maybe there just is no more center for the margins to storm; after all, these days indie darlings crack the Billboard charts with regularity, and Li’l Wayne went from mixtapes to platinum faster than I could keep up. I can’t say that’s a bad thing.
1 “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley
2 “Hey Ya!” Outkast
3 “Portions for Foxes,” Rilo Kiley
4 “Crazy in Love,” Beyonce with Jay-Z
5 “Do You Realize?” The Flaming Lips
6 “Maps,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs
7 “All My Friends,” LCD Soundsystem
8 “Cavity,” Stew
9 “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” Big & Rich
10 “Ignition (Remix),” R. Kelly
11 “Handshake Drugs,” Wilco
12 “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People,” The Legendary K.O.
13 “A Stroke of Genius,” Freelance Hellraiser
14 “Danger! High Voltage,” Electric Six
15 “The District Sleeps Tonight,” The Postal Service
16 “Hurt,” Johnny Cash
17 “Don’t Stop Believin’,” The Cast of Glee
18 “Paper Planes,” M.I.A.
19 “Over and Over,” Nely with Tim McGraw
20 “Windowsill,” Arcade Fire
21 “A Punch Up at a Wedding,” Radiohead
22 “Let’s Impeach the President,” Neil Young
23 “Sk8ter Boi,” Avril Lavigne
24 “I’m Losing My Edge,” LCD Soundsystem
25 “Stan,” Eminem
26 “B.O.B.,” Outkast
27 “1 Thing,” Amerie
28 “Tom Sawyer,” The Bad Plus
29 “Stupid Boy,” Keith Urban
30 “99 Problems/Helter Skelter,” Danger Mouse with Jay-Z and the Beatles
31 “Time to Pretend,” MGMT
32 “Take Me Out,” Franz Ferdinand
33 “Milkshake,” Kelis
34 “Clocks,” Coldplay
35 “Go,” Common
36 “Dance Till We’re High,” The Fireman
37 “I Need More Love,” Robert Randolph
38 “Get Ur Freak On,” Missy Elliott
39 “Oops (Oh My),” Tweet
40 “Bootylicious,” Destiny’s Child
41 “In My Pocket,” Mandy Moore
42 “Don’t Tell Me,” Madonna
43 “The Thong Song,” Sisquo
44 “La La,” Ashlee Simpson
45 “Southern Point,” Grizzly Bear
46 “Strange Overtones,” David Byrne & Brian Eno
47 “Tex Hooper,” Norm McDonald
48 “Umbrella,” Rihanna
49 “Lovestoned/I Think She Knows,” Justin Timberlake
50 “When I Get You Alone,” Thicke

Tedcast #3: Interviewed by Erik Davis

The third Tedcast takes a break from my Fantasy & Science Fiction lectures to present an interview with me conducted by Erik Davis. Erik hosts Expanding Minds on the Progressive Radio Network, and is author of numerous books, including a great study of Led Zeppelin IV and the new collection Nomad Codes. Erik and I go back to college, where we worked together on a zine. Here we talk about the Centaur Manifesto, critical theory, and the tensions between being an academic and a public intellectual.

Ted’s Top Tracks of 2010

  1. Cee Lo Green, “Fuck You”
  2. Katy Perry, “Teenage Dream
  3. Califone, “Funeral Singers”
  4. Kanye West, “Runaway”
  5. Lady Gag & Beyonce, “Telephone”
  6. Broken Bells, “The High Road”
  7. Dierks Bentley with the Punch Brothers Featuring Del McCoury, “Pride (in the Name of Love)”
  8. LCD Soundsystem, “All I Want”
  9. Twilight Singers, “Live With Me”
  10. Mary J. Blige, “Whole Lotta Love
  11. Glee Cast, “Teenage Dream”
  12. Katy Perry, “California Girls”
  13. Kanye West, “Power”
  14. Phosphorescent, “It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)”
  15. Citay, “Careful With That Hat”
  16. Massive Attack, “Pray for Rain”
  17. Brad Meldhau with Joshua Redman, “Don’t Be Sad”
  18. Groove Armada, “Just for Tonight”
  19. Susan Boyle, “Pefect Day”
  20. B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars, “Nothin’ On You”
  21. Ke$ha, “Take It Off”
  22. Gwyneth Paltrow & Glee Cast, “Forget You”
  23. Jesse McReynolds, “Ripple”

Up next: Top TV of 2010

Ted’s Top Albums of 2010

  1. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream
  2. Stephen Sondheim, Tom Wopat, Vanessa Williams et al, Sondheim on Sondheim
  3. Joss Whedon et al, Commentary! The Musical
  4. Brad Meldhau, Highway Rider
  5. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  6. Phosphorescent, Here’s to Taking It Easy
  7. Tracey Thorn, Love and Its Opposite
  8. Brian Eno, Small Craft on a Milk Sea
  9. The Dead Weather, Sea of Cowards
  10. Steve Reich, Double Sextet/2×5
  11. The National, High Violet
  12. Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell, Hawk
  13. Massive Attack, Heligoland
  14. Citay, Dream Get Together
  15. Girl Talk, All Day
  16. Dierks Bentley, Up on the Ridge
  17. The Black Keys, Brothers
  18. Vampire Weekend, Contra
  19. Bonobo, Black Sands
  20. Darkstar, North
  21. Zoe Keating, Into the Trees
  22. The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt
  23. Groove Armada, White Light
  24. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening
  25. Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record
  26. The Orb featuring David Gilmour, Metallic Spheres
  27. Sean Hayes et al in Bacharach & David’s Promises Promises

Coming soon: Ted’s Top Songs of 2010

Radio Interview on the Centaur Manifesto

Here’s a phone interview I did about the Centaur Manifesto with Erik Davis of Expanding Mind, a show on the Progressive Radio Network. More info about Erik and his work is available at techgnosis.com.