The ten best albums of the last decade

Yes, I know we haven’t really begun a new decade yet. And yes, I know we’re already a month into the “new” decade. But everybody else did it, so me too me too me too.

Here are, in my opinion, the best albums released between 2000 and 2009:

    1. The Arcade Fire . Funeral
    2. And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead . Source Tags And Codes
    3. Radiohead . Kid A
    4. Sigur Ros . Agaetis Byrjun
    5. Spoon . Kill The Moonlight
    6. Sleater-Kinney . The Woods
    7. The New Pornographers . Mass Rmantic
    8. The Hidden Cameras . Mississauga Goddam
    9. Mates Of State . Bring It Back
    10. Regina Spektor . Begin To Hope

      The weird thing about this list is that there’s nothing later than 2006. In fact only two albums from 2009 made my initial cut-down list, and none from either 2007 or 2008. Were those three years devoid of great music? Or have my music consumption habits changed so much that I no longer absorb and appreciate great albums? Both possibilities worry me.

      Sorry, cats

      I know, I know, this blog is a ghost town lately. Too much time at work, both for me and my brain. Not a lot of other time or processing happening. In fact, today was the first chance I’ve had to just relax. We went to the market, picked up some wine and snacks and watched two movies: Adventureland (imdb | rotten tomatoes) and Trouble The Water (imdb | rotten tomatoes).

      We even sold our old futon, finally. We were glad to see it go to some kids who’ve just moved here. Hopefully it lasts as long for them as it did for us. That futon was pretty much the first piece of furniture we bought when we got our first place in Toronto, and it’s served us well over the years. Twelve years later and it’s still completely solid. We need the space and there’s just no earthly reason for us to still have a futon anymore, but we still felt a little sad to see it go.

      Now relaxo-day is coming to a close, and tomorrow it’s back to work. Anybody out there have a time-delaying machine? Anybody? Anybody?

      "All is lost, you can't go home"

      Two tragedies caught my attention last week. One was massive and horrible in scale, the other rather more private.

      I tend to associate songs with feelings or memories, often for no particular reason. This past week, while absorbing scenes of destruction in Haiti following the massive earthquake, a friend emailed me news of the passing of musician Jay Reatard. Of course the two events don’t compare in scale — Reatard (whose real name was Jimmie Lee Lindsey Jr.) was one man, a fairly obscure musician — but on reading the news of his death his songs swam into my head the same way those photos of Haitian ruins imprinted on my brain (especially this one) and Reatard’s “There Is No Sun” became, in my mind, the sad soundtrack of the Haitian disaster.

      That night, on my commute home, my mp3 player randomly started playing Reatard’s “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and it shook me a little. Eerie enough to hear Reatard singing “All is lost, there is no hope for me” over and over again on the day of his death, but positively chilling to think of all those for whom those lines were so true, lying trapped beneath rubble or searching for family amidst the ruins.

      There’s no logical tie between Jay Reatard and the disaster in Haiti, but they’re now inextricably linked in my mind. Reading the stories, watching the news, donating to the Red Cross, even hating Pat Robertson…for me, Watch Me Fall is now the score to it all.

      You take the red pils, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

      Back in August my favourite beer blog gave me some good news: a new brew pub would be opening at the end of my street. Not just any brew pub either: it would be run by Mike Duggan, who has quite a pedigree in Ontario craft brewing. Actually, the building itself (at the corner of Victoria and Lombard) had a pedigree too: it used to be home to Denison’s and Amsterdam.

      Four months later, Duggan’s Brewery finally opened. Last night Nellie and I got around to trying it, and we were both pretty happy. We sat in the bar section rather than the restaurant (as much by necessity as choice; even though they haven’t had the grand opening yet the place is packed most nights) and ordered some small portions. Well…we assumed it would be small. My corned beef sandwich, fries and cole slaw stuffed me, and Nellie’s chicken wings were huge. Both were very good, and there were at least half a dozen other things on the menu I want to try. There was one poor frantic soul waiting on all the tables, but he managed to keep our glasses full.

      Speaking of our glasses, we had three pints each: Nellie had the fest and the tripple (yes, that’s really how they spelled it), and I had the weiss and the Pils. We each had a pint of the #9 IPA, which we already knew and liked. That leaves three we haven’t tried: the stout, the Asian and the porter. Can’t wait to get back.

      As if it weren’t dangerous enough having C’est What and Beerbistro so close, now we have this too. Oh well, we shall have to tough it out. Le sigh.

      "That borscht haunted me for weeks"

      Yesterday I finished reading A Writer At War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945 (amazon) by Vasily Grossman. A month ago I blogged about needing more information about the Russian front, and I count myself lucky to have found this book. Grossman was a writer first, journalist second, so he brings out the characters he encounters even more than the war itself. He was not a party stooge, and did not simply churn out Communist Party dogma. He did describe in a rather breathless manner the generals who pushed back against the initial Nazi invasion, and especially the men and women who held the line at Stalingrad, but he also spoke very frankly about the epidemic of rape as Russian soldiers advanced across Poland and Germany. This frankness would eventually land him in hot water, especially when he arrived at Treblinka. His article ‘The Hell Called Treblinka’, published in Znamya and reproduced in the book, was a sickening and somehow eloquent description of the horrors Grossman found there.

      “Stories of the living dead of Treblinka, who had until the last minute kept not just the image of humans but the human soul as well, shake one to the bottom of one’s heart and make it impossible to sleep. The stories of women trying to save their sons and committing magnificent doomed feats, of young mothers who hid their babies in heaps of blankets. I’ve heard the stories of ten-year-old girls, who comforted their sobbing parents with a heavenly wisdom, about a boy who shouted when entering the gas chamber: ‘Russia will take revenge! Mama, don’t cry!’

      Inhabitants of the village of Wulka, the one closest to Treblinka, tell that sometimes the screams of women who were being killed were so terrible that the whole village would lose their heads and rush to the forest, in order to escape from these shrill screams that carried through tree trunks, the sky and the earth. Then, the screams would suddenly stop, and there was a silence before a new series of screams, as terrible as the ones before, shrill, boring through the bones, through the skulls and the souls of those who heard them. This happened three or four times every day.”

      As a Jew Grossman must have been overcome by emotion — indeed he suffered from nervous exhaustion on his return from Treblinka — but the article was written with very little of it, save what seems like amazement, or shock, at the scale and savagery of the thing. This frankness would land Grossman in hot water, eventually, as he underestimated the antisemitism of Stalinist Russia. While Grossman reported on the obvious targets of this slaughter, Russia would only allow descriptions of atrocities to specify Russian or Polish citizens, not Jews specifically, and Grossman’s insistence (along with other writers) on highlighting the atrocities against Jews would draw the ire of the Party. Grossman further angered officials by attributing the Stalingrad victory to the soldiers rather than to the Communist Party and to Stalin himself. In both cases Grossman was likely saved from the gulag, or possibly death, by the passing of Stalin in 1953.

      Grossman’s greatest work of fiction, based on what he saw in those four years, was Life and Fate (amazon), his 1961 book titled and written as an echo to his mentor Leo Tolstoy‘s most famous work. The KGB seized all copies before it could go to print, but Grossman had given a copy of the manuscript to a friend. It took twenty years for this manuscript to be copied to microfilm and smuggled to Switzerland, by which time Vasily Grossman was long dead. He died disillusioned by Stalinist Russia’s corruption and lies, but enamored to the end with the bravery and determination of the soldiers he fought beside for those four years.

      "We are not swans. We are sharks."

      I’m always conflicted about the Reuben sandwich. It always seems like a good idea, all the rye bread and corned beef and swiss cheese, and then all of a sudden…sauerkraut. Ugh…whose #@&% idea was that?!? It doesn’t ruin the whole experience. It just dampens the rest of the tasty flavours.

      The past few days have been like a Reuben. On Wednesday we saw Up In The Air (imdb | rotten tomatoes) which was excellent, and deserves all the hype. George Clooney, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga (my girlfriend du jour) were all great in their roles. Highly recommended, if you haven’t seen it yet.

      On New Year’s Eve we returned to Nota Bene for dinner, as we were so impressed by our first visit (about a year ag0). Two things went wrong before we even got there: I finally succumbed to this cold I’ve been fighting off for weeks, and we had FAR too big a lunch at Terroni. Still, I was excited to go. Last time we both enjoyed all three of our courses and the service was outstanding. This time…well, I can’t be sure if things have gone downhill, or if it was just down to being New Year’s Eve. My lobster bisque was just okay and my main (pulled suckling pig) should have been better than it was, even after I realized I was eating blood sausage with it. Nellie’s starter was good (it was the same pasta she had last time) but her chicken was…well, a giant slab of chicken. The molten chocolate cake & Grand Marnier ice cream we had for dessert was solid, if unremarkable. Really, though, the thing that shocked me the most was the difference in service. From the start we felt we were being rushed…asked for our orders when we’d barely sat down, drinks showing up when the last ones were less than half drunk, and so on. We asked for a recommendation from the sommelier; whoever we got wasn’t the sommelier, but someone who seemed to know less about wine than we did. Merlot? Yeah, no, we don’t want merlot, thanks. What pissed us off the most was this: since we had a fair amount of wine to go with the chocolate dessert we ordered glasses of dessert wine for after that final course. Instead, they bought the dessert wine while we still had half our dessert and nearly a full glass of pinot each. I get it, it was New Year’s Eve and they were trying to turn over the table, but it’s not the kind of treatment I’d expect from Nota Bene.

      On New Year’s Day (happy 2010, by the way!) I dragged my sick ass out of the condo because there was no way I’d miss the chance to see Avatar (imdb | rotten tomatoes) in IMAX/3D.  Wow…it was worth the hour standing in line. It took me a while to adjust to the 3D glasses, but my god. Just incredible. Seeing little plants floating in front of me, feeling vertigo as the camera looked down off a cliff, getting nearly airsick as we flew through a canyon. The movie itself wasn’t anything special or new, but if that movie doesn’t win every single visual effect Oscar, then something is drastically wrong.

      We spent the rest of yesterday (and today, so far) sitting on the couch and watching movies (Lions For Lambs and The Watchmen) and playing Mario Kart Wii.

      Pretty good couple of days. Too bad about the stupid sauerkraut.