I'm afraid I don't have a top ten list in me this time around. I was kind of on my own pop-cultural planet all year. Here is a quick summary:
Album of the Year:
Nirvana: Live at Reading. This was one of the very few albums released this year that I actually got a copy of, and I've listened to it nearly every day since it came out. Listening to it now gives me a new appreciation of what a fucking tight band they were.
Album from last year I've unexpectedly grown to like:
Bon Iver: For Emma Forever Ago. I resisted liking this for a very long time, but ever since Drischord's post a couple of months back in which he mentioned how much he liked the last song, I've been listening to the album via YouTube quite often, and in the end may even have to get a real copy of it. It has really grown on me.
Concert of the Year:
Wilco, on Coney Island. Quite seriously, my concert of the year, in that I literally don't think I went to a single other concert all year long. And in fact, I didn't get off my ass to buy a ticket even to this one, Tex just had an extra ticket and convinced me to go. Don't get me wrong: it was a GREAT concert, and I can't think of a band I would rather have been the only one I saw all year. But I am officially an old man now, and I just don't get off on loud noises the way I used to.
Semi-retraction of the year:
I'm afraid I went too far in my condemnation of Mos Def's newest album. It's not up to the level of his classic material, but not all of it is abysmal either (even if some of it is abysmal). It's not something I listened to very much in the end, but my initial review was the knee-jerk reaction of a once-devoted fan, who is being much too hard on an artist for not living up to his past glory.
YouTube find of the year:
Perhaps the most brilliant example you'll ever find of a once-devoted fan being extremely hard on an artist for not living up to his past glory. I tuned in to this sprawling dissection of all that is wrong with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace simply out of curiosity, expecting to watch about 2 minutes of it. Before all was said and done, I had not only watched all 70 minutes, but was truly awed by the talent it took to put together such a hilarious and damning essay, and held a new appreciation for just how terrible and disappointing that movie truly was.
Writer I always underestimated before this year:
J.K. Rowling. Those Harry Potter books are actually quite entertaining, especially starting with the third installment. The later books in the series are also pretty marvelously structured, and I could (and maybe someday will) write a whole essay on the unique, very contemporary, tongue-partly-in-cheek way she has chosen to meld together the myths and fantasy stories of the past into her Hogwartsian universe. (I would probably title that essay either "Identity Politics and Demi-Giants" or "Myth and Multiculturalism"). I may have more to say when I finish the series (I've got 1 and a half more books to go) but so far you can color me impressed.
Overall theme for the year:
Getting into material I can't wrap my head far enough around to post about yet. Musically, I've been on another planet this year for some reason, and one of these days I will learn enough about the Baroque period, and jazz fusion, to write competent posts on both topics. For the moment though, I'm still in the phase of just getting my mind blown, and have nothing worth sharing to say about either of those things yet. I've also been trying to learn French, and am getting much much better at reading it (if not speaking, writing, or listening to it), and the richness of the French literary tradition is in some ways only really starting to dawn on me. It's also very freeing to be able to read something, and feel basically OK that there are sentences that I can't make heads or tails of, paragraphs I have to spend an hour on to understand, and subtleties that are beyond a doubt going way over my head. It reminds me of being a kid and discovering British literature for the first time, and having a great time just entering into this vast, unexplored world, without it being necessary to understand it all: the newness and the mystery were part of the allure, and I knew I'd understand more with time.
I think I'd nearly forgotten how much fun it was to run up against something totally new that you couldn't quite wrap your head around. It can be quite rejuvenating!