(Halfway through anno domini 2011, Fully Reconditioned take a look at our favorite works of the year so far.)
Tyler: Guster, Easy Wonderful
A fantastic collection of power pop from a band whose overexposure is long overdue. One of the finest first-five-tracks in a long time, too: “Architects And Engineers,” “Do You Love Me,” “On The Ocean,” “This Could All Be Yours” and “Stay With Me Jesus.”
Nathan: Cruel Story of Youth / Nagisa Oshima
I don’t keep up well with new stuff, so you’ll all have to bear with me as I adjust the criteria for myself to read, “favorite things I discovered in 2011″, no necessarily from 2011.
I’ve highlighted Oshima’s Sing a Song of Sex on Nate’s Double Features, but I’ve been discovering a bunch of his movies this year. He’s a truly unique director and I’ve come to appreciate the way he struck out against the classical Japanese cinema. I’m not one to torrent movies, so I’ve been relegated to what is available in R1. You can see five of his films in the Eclipse series that Criterion put out, and you can find Cruel Story of Youth on Hulu Plus
To this point, the best season of serialized television in 2011 has been FX’s Justified, the story of a US Marshal in Kentucky, Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, owning fuckers) dealing with a rogues gallery of rural criminals and his own personal demons. The second season of Justified easily surpassed the already promising first, with Raylan developing as a character, the criminal underworld of Harlan County, KY expanding (the season’s “Big Bad,” Margo Martindale’s Mags Bennett, is one of the most unique villains in TV history), and the show’s most interesting secondary character, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins, potentially the only dude who could own more fuckers than Timothy Olyphant) getting the screentime he deserved.
Beastie Boys, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2. Nothing ever will match Paul’s Boutique, but it’s heartening to hear the boys hooting and cackling it up over unexpectedly irresistible beats.
Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open. Whether Rory is The Man To Save Golf Post-Tiger won’t be known for a long time. But what a performance.
Tyler: Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
Since I raved about it in a paleolithic FR post, Wasting Light has only grown in my esteem. It’s a confident, honest work from a band that could take it very easy (and knows it) but chooses instead to challenge themselves, and their audience. Plus, “Walk” remains the song of the year so far.
Nathan: The Human Condition
It’s over nine hours long, it’s painful to watch, and it’s brilliant. Masaki Kobayashi’s three-part film about a man’s epic journey from coal mining boss to soldier to POW is an emotionally exhausting and rewarding experience. The Human Condition is a film for the brave. There’s no comedy, not much romance, and no likable sidekicks. The film is a punch in the gut from beginning to end.
Few films aspire to novelistic heights. The Human Condition both aspires to and reaches those heights.
Travis: Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
The oral history of ESPN is a 700-page book that easily could have been twice that length and still been compelling. I read it in a weekend—I haven’t consumed that many pages in a short amount of time since I had a paper due on Paradise Lost.
Panda Bear, Tomboy. Not as good as Person Pitch, but still good.
Super Bowl XLV. The Super Bowl, because it’s only one game, has the ultimate potential in sports to be a letdown. All I usually ask for is a good game. This year we got one. Wouldn’t have cared too much who one either way, but it was entertaining from start to finish.
The return of “The Opening Shots” project at Scanners. I’ve been a fan of Jim Emerson’s movie blog since it’s humble beginnings, which is why I’m thrilled to see that he’s reopening the “opening shots” project. It offers a nice analytical “in” when approaching movies. There are already some fantastic entries on two Terrence Malick films – Badlands and The New World.
Tyler: My Morning Jacket, Circuital
Circuital at first seems another slice of typical bonged-up whimsical anthemry, a patchwork of genres that–like My Morning Jacket’s last album, Evil Urges–stretches each of its conceits to the limit.
Further spins, however, betray Circuital as a strange bouquet of optimistic emotion. A ready embrace of “adulthood,” guiltless commemoration of what’s come before and led to now, a celebration of revelry past and responsibility present, and how the twain should forever be balanced. It’s a joyful album about growing up, joyfully. Plus, its title track is the stuff that lands a band a place in history, rightfully so.
Nathan: Murder By Contract
This is what noir is meant to be. Irving Lerner’s b-movie is a tightly wound story of twisted moral obligation, fate, and – of course – murder. A methodical hit man is sent on a routine job in L.A. Once he learns that his target is a woman, the job loses its routine. The electric guitar solo that plays throughout the film is what really sends it over the edge, though. It seems to wrap itself around the characters and their situation, pulling them closer and closer to an inevitable fate.
Murder By Contract is a quick 81 minutes that you won’t soon forget.
Travis: Cult of Youth, Cult of Youth
The best album of 2011 thus far is a strange amalgum of Joy Division-esque post-punk and very, very white, European folk. Apparently this band may have some unsavory political leanings—whether they do or don’t, they make some damn good music.
Parts & Labor, Constant Future. Anthemic noise-pop for political punks.
Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972. Gorgeous, wintry, ambient.
Cut Copy, Zonoscope. The best New Order album New Order never made.
Dum Dum Girls, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” A cover of my favorite Smiths song that’s both faithful and adds something new.
The Miami Heat losing in spectacular fashion. They’ll get their titles but it’s fun to see them struggle.
Tyler: The Dan Patrick Show
I’m anxious in the morning by nature and like to unwind with a little sports TV before heading off to work. After some time, I realized that SportsCenter (not to mention the high-budget, high-concept, low-brainpower commercials that come with it) was less than ideal for easing one into a day, and flipped to the lo-def cable simulcast of Dan Patrick’s radio show, which I had enjoyed in the past in podcast form.
The switch was a blessing. A recent caller, adorable and anxious in his first time reaching the air, concluded his rushed-as-shit question by telling DP and his Danettes “you guys are as important to my morning as coffee.” I gave up coffee in the morning a few months back, but I share the sentiment. Reasoned, provocative, and buoyed by the real affection between its host and crew, The Dan Patrick Show ranks among my discoveries of the year. It’s just fucking great.
Nathan: Lovers and Lollipops
Morris Engle made only three films. I’d already seen his brilliant Little Fugitive, but wasn’t quite prepared for the tender experience found in Lovers and Lollipops. A single mom in New York City begins to date a new man. Her precocious daughter isn’t so sure about him at first, but they are able to build a fragile relationship as the film progresses. Lovers and Lollipops is a movie about the details of living, the small gestures. And when it isn’t about those things, it’s about the grandeur of New York in the mid-50s. In that sense, it is something like a time capsule.
The best South Park episode in years is also one of the best things popular culture has produced in the first half of 2011. The episode combines Parker and Stone’s own misgivings about having to continue South Park when their hearts may be elsewhere with plenty of self-directed criticism of cynicism, and some of the best poop jokes they’ve ever done, along with landmark amounts of genuine emotional impact. Even if you’ve abandoned South Park, there is something in this episode for you.
Watching Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks carve up and expose the fraudulent Heat was some kind of rewarding, but it also served as sad reminder that the talented Bulls, who withered against LeBron in the semifinals, should have and could have been playing until the end.
Nathan: Cold War Kids, Mine is Yours
Their first two albums were filled with some kind of strange fury. This one, as all the reviews said, is over produced and lacks fire.
Travis: The St. Louis Blues
Another year, another promising start, another time that it looks like the rebuilding is over and the young prospects we’ve been waiting on to become stars will finally shine. Once again injuries, some nagging (TJ Oshie’s continued lack of health) and some completely out of the blue (David Perron’s possibly career-ending concussion as the result of a dirty hit from Joe Thornton) resulted in a decrease in scoring for a team that already struggled to put the puck in the net. No playoffs in 2011, or likely anytime in the near future.
Tyler: Ramon Hernandez, March 31
So as not to get me started, we’ll let the moment speak for itself.
Nathan: Raise the Red Lantern / Early Zhang Yimou
I have been familiar with Zhang Yimou since he released his martial arts/abstract art extravaganza Hero. I had never doubled back into his early films, though, for reasons that are simply indefensible. So, when I decided to try Raise the Red Lantern, not expecting much, I had my mind blown. This lead me to most of his other (available) early films. Among them I would recommend The Story of Qui Ju (on par with Red Lantern) and To Live.
In Red Lantern and Qui Ju I found a director who not only possessed acute formal skills, but also righteous moral force. These are films about the nature of justice and morality. They explore and exploit Chinese history, the treatment of women, the role of class in society, and the beauty of color. Thankfully, there are a few early Yimou films for me to discover.
Travis: Wovenhand at the Bootleg Theater, January 27
Wovenhand is one of those musical phenomena that inspires conflict in its listeners. Frontman, guitarist and banjolin (a hybrid mandolin and banjo) player David Eugene Edwards is a devout Christian, raised by a wandering Nazarene preacher, and his music too is fire-and-brimstone theology at its most powerful, yet many of the project’s biggest fans (this author included) are either not religious people, or even, in some cases, diametrically opposed to his beliefs (a number of pagan and Satanic outfits name the music of Wovenhand as a passionate influence). Much of this can be chalked up to the fact that Wovenhand, both on record and live (accompanied by Edwards’ former compatriot in seminal Denver alt-country act 16 Horsepower Pascal Humbert on bass and Ordy Garrison of fellow purveyors of unparalleled awesomeness Slim Cessna’s Auto Club on drums) is one of the most intense musical experiences anyone can have. The group’s show at Los Angeles’ intimate Bootleg Theater in January of this year was a true religious experience, for those who have faith and for those who do not. The band’s own songs pre-encore set the standard, but it was Edwards alone onstage with his archaic banjolin, singing in a voice that could make the stoutest nonbeliever wonder if there is a God, covering Dylan’s “As I Went Out One Morning,” that made it an unmatchable live experience.