I have decided I hate year-end Top 10 lists. As I mentioned around this time last year, it used to be part of my job to make them. But now I don’t even enjoy reading them. Not only because other people’s picks so rarely lead me to anything new and wondrous, but because the whole exercise seems so far away from how I experience music, film and culture these days. It’s not about the new release. The hot tip. More and more, old things are my new discoveries. And why 10 anyway? Truth is, I can’t recall the last time 10 records rocked my world in a given year. I expect I am not alone in this. At the same time we are voraciously consuming/discarding art and entertainment at high-speed, how much of what you hear/see is changing your life? Because that’s what I’m after: a thought-provoking, life-altering experience. I want to feel that I am witness to something extraordinary. I want to be shocked. I want to be roused, aroused. I want you to make me cry. And if that seems unfair to the musicians just starting out who I inevitably walk out on 10 minutes into their set out of boredom, well….I’m sorry. But if you’re not going to be as good as the best I’ve already seen/heard in my life, why am I leaving the house? I think I may start walking out on films too (I’ve only done that once, a free screening of Van Helsing.). I’ve always felt fine abandoning a book mid-read if it’s not engaging me. Life’s too short.
OK, all that said, as the year comes to its close, once again I can’t not talk about what has thrilled me. It’s as much a way for me to preserve my memories as anything, like the mixed tapes I used to make of my favourite songs at the end of summer. And, like everyone who makes these lists I suspect, it is my hope that someone will follow a lead here and discover something that becomes their favourite of the year too. Even if it’s next year. And so without further….. a few of my favourite things, circa 2011.
Truthfully, I spent most of the year working on a TV series about the history of Heavy Metal, so the record with the most spins on my iTunes is Def Leppard’s Pryomania, from 1983. But of the new releases, I was most pleased to hear Gothfather Peter Murphy return to form with Ninth. (Why he signed with Nettwerk though is beyond me.) Zola Jesus didn’t let me down with her haunting, howling Conatus, and there’s some pretty neat stuff for the rivetheads on OhGr’s unDevelopped. It’s not always an easy listen, but the latest minimal experiment from my dear friend Akumu, Between Worlds, remains as nightmarish as anything out there. At the very top of my music pile are two albums I adored for similar reasons: the soundtrack to my life is generally comprised of sad songs. Fall-down-weeping, can’t-get-out-of-bed sad songs. But sometimes I want sad songs I can dance to. The Handsome Furs’ Sound Kapital and Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes provided the kind of melancholic (synth)pop that hit my sweet spot, not a weak track in the lot. “Sadness is a blessing/Sadness is a curse/Sadness, you’re my boyfriend/Sadness, I’m your girl” sings Li. Indeed.
After finally finishing my own book this year, I had a moment to read for pleasure. And the most pleasurable read I had was Enter, Night, by Michael Rowe. I’ve known Rowe for years as a journalist and editor of the Queer Fear anthologies. This first novel of his — a vampire story that, with its weave of Wendigo and Jesuits into its horror, is true Canadian Gothic — is the best book about the undead I’ve read in a long time. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t pick up many awards. My favourite collection of poetry came from Susan Musgrave, whose book Origami Dove literally took my breath away; I often had to put it down after just a line. The working title for my new poems is lifted from it. In non-fiction (which I read most), I’ve already mentioned Natasha Scharf’s excellent Worldwide Gothic. I also devoured You are a Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier; I find it amusing I discovered a book about the flaws of digital culture/web 2.0 at the old school public library. And as part of many months of research into the Devil for my next film project, W. Scott Poole’s Satan in America proved invaluable. Right now, my nose is (finally!) deep into Alex Ross’s 2007 magnum opus The Rest is Noise, a history of classical/avant guard musics of the 20th century.
I said I wanted to be amazed. Well, nothing was more amazing than the world premiere of Amon Tobin’s ISAM show at Montreal’s Metropolis club, part of Mutek, my favourite Canadian music festival. I could blather on about its cutting edge 3-D visuals but you really should just watch the sample below. I loved it so much I went again in Toronto later in the year, where I overheard an amazed woman say “I feel like someone who has just seen TV for the first time. This is something that has never been done before.” An extended applause for everyone behind the scenes who put the show together. After that, nothing else could compare, although I had much fun at Devo’s free show as part of NXNE, seeing Alice Cooper play a casino and watching DFA 1979 “do it!” again at Lollapalooza. Peter Murphy in Buffalo, particularly his medley of “Strange Kind of Love” with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” while locking eyes with a swooning girl in the front row (not me), was goth points x 100. As for the new kids on the block, Esben and the Witch at Wrongbar and Myths at Electric Eclectics festival were worth leaving the house for.
I watch alot of docs, and can tell you two that made me cry in the theatre: Werner Herzog’s death row examination Into the Abyss and Sigur Ros’ live concert film Inni. Two totally different pictures, equally masterful. For sure the best thing I saw all year was Melancholia. Catch it before the apocalypse. (Which, as I type this, some say is precisely one year away.)