2006: Things You Loved (Part One)
Over the past couple of weeks, I've asked several friends, colleagues, and members of the Witness Protection Program to come forward and share something they loved in 2006. I've genuinely enjoyed compiling their answers (and hope that more are forthcoming), and I think you'll enjoy reading them. Because I was lucky to get a bunch, I'm going to post them five or six at a time, starting with these below. More to follow...
The opening credits of Casino Royale
The movie itself is spectacular, but the opening credits to Casino Royale are, in three words, Uh, May and Zing. Daniel Kleinman, the title designer, gives a virtual "big up" to the father of film titles, Saul Bass, in a sequence that makes me want to buy a gun and shoot someone, if only to see their body shatter into a hundred little diamond shapes.
Dying to Say This to You – The Sounds
This is pretty fantastic if you're in the mood for something hyper-poppy. And it mysteriously has the girl from Misshapes on the cover which is: a) not necessarily a good thing and b) odd because The Sounds are Swedish, and that girl shows no signs of being Swedish. Anyway, I have found myself listening to, say, The Killers on my way to work and wishing that – just for the duration of a few songs, at least – there was a female vocalist. So I spin my thumb in circles until I hit The Sounds (their old album is also excellent) and it's always a good decision. Plus, they're made from bits of real Swede, so you know they're good.
The Devil Wears Prada
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
Streep was Streep, but I will longer remember the performances of Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt. The soundtrack, pacing, and shots of the league leaders in the world's great cities, New York and Paris, make it watchable on a regular basis (I know I am a little weird). Having worked for a slave driver with a touch of charisma also personalizes it a bit for me. Light fare for the serious-minded, but a major treat for someone who shies away from "deep thinking."
Ford's mouthpiece, Frank Bascombe, is at his introspective best as he chews on everything from strip malls in New Jersey to the sobering reality that his future is, in large part, behind him. There is plenty of deep thinking at work here, but also a large supply of laughs as Ford/Bascombe casts a savage eye on current mores.
–Jake Williams (aka Dad)
A perfectly-placed phrase
Well, this has been hard. While I didn't entirely sleep through 2006 (I read Pessl, saw The Queen, and even caught an episode of "Ice-T's Rap School"), nothing really stuck. I'm sure the fault was mine. How about my favorite sentence I read this year? Actually, we could boil it down to a favorite perfectly-placed phrase: "ugly fruit." It's from Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett (2003), describing a real putz of a villain: "there is something particularly repulsive to me about the way his hands swell, wristless, painful, at the ends of his short arms, like ugly fruit."
Donuts – J Dilla
The impact of Donuts was compounded by the fact that its producer, 32-year-old James Yancey (aka Jay Dee aka J Dilla) passed away literally within hours of its release, a victim of complications associated with lupus and an incurable blood disease. In his dozen or so years of service to the hip-hop community, the Detroit native was probably more prolific than any other beat maker, and arguably more revolutionary, continually breaking hip-hop's unspoken rules about how drums should sound, what to sample, and the way to put it all together. Donuts represents Jay Dee's most experimental work; it's more like listening to his subconscious mind – the thousands of sound clips running through his head and the patterns into which he incorporated them – than listening to any kind of hip-hop record that came before it. Sadly, we won't have that experience again, but the extraordinary vision Jay Dee expressed in his short career – nowhere more evident than here – should inspire listeners and musicians for years to come.
–Strath Shepard (Visionaire)
A dance performance
Emily Haines, lead singer of Metric, released a solo record called Knives Don't Have Your Back (Domino). This and Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood were the two best things I've heard all year. Forget Fiona Apple's return to form, forget Regina Spektor, even Nellie McKay. Haines is a girl at the piano who does not trade on cutesy or verbose quirk. These songs are not Performances – you don't get the sense that she's pulling herself up straight on the piano bench and clearing her throat before letting her freak flag fly. She's impressionistic, wry, bitchy, sorrowful, yearning; all the songs sound and feel effortless. Her record marries Sylvia Plath's craftsmanship and confessionalism to John Lennon's easy, wandering piano balladry. Cat Power fans will appreciate!
Also, "Dogs," a dance by Sarah Michelson that premiered at BAM. Michelson is a British choreographer who my dance writer friend introduced me to; this piece fused tropes of classical ballet to op-art to feminism to drawing room comedy. It was operatic and beautiful while being aware of where we get our ideas of both – and being aware of the fact that maybe it's too late for all that now, but she's going to try to do something approximating that anyway. Michelson grew up on a council estate going to clubs, so there's a real dry wit in her work, and a love of spectacle. Costumes and set design matter, and so do jokes. This was one of the best things I've seen – better than most movies and rock shows and even plays – this year.
–The Humorless Feminist