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December 15th, 2010 WW Editorial Staff | Special Section Stories
 

The Year’s Best ...

     
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Books


By MATTHEW KORFHAGE

Keith Richards/James Fox, Life
(Little, Brown, 576 pages, $29.99)
Of this year’s rock-star memoirs, Patti Smith’s elegiac, sensuously attentive if painfully self-serious Just Kids is assuredly the better book, but Richards’ Life is its genre’s purest apotheosis: profanely funny, nontrivially debauched, abusive to both the living and the dead and chockablock with house fires and police busts and two solid years of mistaking Johnny Depp for his son’s drug dealer. Easy mistake, that last.

Tom McCarthy, C (Knopf, 320 pages, $25.95)
Tom McCarthy, whose last book, Remainder, won Britain’s highest literary prize, is perhaps the only current member of the self-avowed avant-garde to have actually issued a manifesto in a major newspaper. Like Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or V, McCarthy’s new C is a metaphysic-comic picaresque, covering the search of one Serge Carrefax—lost in a world of helplessly multiplying significance—for the baseline signal, the message tucked within all messages.

Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary
(Hill and Wang, 272 pages, $25)
Mourning Diary is not a book, not a diary. It is moments and motions of grief, less fragments shored against ruins than the ruins themselves. After his mother’s death, the storied semiotician wrote the rubble of his thoughts onto little slips of paper; these, in turn, were collected after his own death into this volume. It embodies, unintentionally, Barthes’ own definition of literature: that which one “cannot read without pain, without choking on truth.”

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
(Picador, 752 pages, $19)
Lydia Davis has been referred to, far too often, as a writer’s writer’s writer; this is likely just a symptom of our own pandemic literary insecurity (and our shitty national habit of farming lit crit out to journalists). Her mostly petite stories—some clocking in at a mere two sentences—are little depth charges at the core of the language, occasionally exercises in meta-self-consciousness, but also as lucid and as directly, unsentimentally emotional as they come. Buy this, dip in and dive.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1
(University of California Press, 760 pages, $34.95)
Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Twain, a.k.a. young America’s most seminal satirist and certainly its most successful brand manager, stipulated that the lion’s share of his autobiography be embargoed until 100 years after his death; well, this is it. It’s good.

Classical & World Music Albums


By BRETT CAMPBELL

Philip Glass/Portland Opera, Orpheus
(Orange Mountain, $29.99)
This, the Opera’s first recording, is a real tribute to the company’s striking 2010 production of Jean Cocteau’s classic film version of the Orpheus myth. The music evokes French cabaret elements reminiscent of the 20th-century Les Six composers, filtered through Glass’ post-minimalist lens.

David Ogden Stiers, Nina Flyer, Chie Nagatani, The Story of Ferdinand/Carnival of the Animals/Mother Goose
(North Pacific, $16.95)
Mark Fish composed the tuneful, colorful, playful score for Munro Leaf’s kids classic Ferdinand, and arranged the 14 musico-zoological portraits in Camille Saint-Saëns’ 1886 children’s classic for piano and cello. The gravitas of actor/conductor David Ogden Stiers brings out versifier Ogden Nash’s silliness. In the short intros to Fish’s arrangement of Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose, Stiers sounds like Dad reading a bedtime story.

Cappella Romana, Peter Michaelides: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
(Self-released, $16.98)
A few years ago, CR director Alexander Lingas found the Greek-born American composer’s unpublished, unperformed 1960 manuscript in the attic of Portland’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The a cappella score’s austere modal harmonies sound both ancient and surprisingly contemporary.

Beta Collide, “Psst…Psst!”
(Innova, $15)
The Eugene avant-classical duo of flutist Molly Barth and trumpeter Brian McWhorter’s technical prowess constantly amazes—not just in far-out stuff like Robert Erickson’s Kryl, featuring trumpet blasts and shrieks, but also with nuanced control of tone and expressivity in gentler pieces like UO prof Robert Kyr’s beautiful, Japanese-influenced “Memories of an Echo” and Stephen Vitiello’s “Yellow.”

Portland Taiko, Rhythms of Change(Self-Released, $16)
Just as Portland’s Japanese percussion ensemble’s concerts are as much about dance theater as music, the new CD transcends drumming. The varied stylistic influences (jazz, world beat, folk, classical) and instrumental palette (violin, flute, voices, other percussion) in these original compositions make this CD more than a seldom-played concert souvenir.

Video Games


By CASEY JARMAN

Red Dead Redemption
(Xbox 360/PS3, $59.99)
While it’s not quite the masterpiece video game websites have crowned it—the open-ended mission system leads to plenty of narrative incongruities—Red Dead Redemption is a great leap forward in cinematic gameplay, with top-notch voice acting and brilliant control mechanics to boot. Ridiculous multi-player modes and a recent zombie-mode add-on only increase the appeal.

Dark Void Zero
(PC/iPhone/download for Nintendo DS, $2.99-$5)
Passed off as a “lost classic” developed over two decades ago for the original NES (it even makes you blow on your iPhone/DS microphone before you can play), Dark Void Zero turned out to be a much more inspiring title than its lackluster big brother, the next-gen console shooter/platformer Dark Void. Part Metroid and part Bionic Commando, it’s a reasonably deep shooter with a real spiritual resemblance to the NES games you loved as a kid.

NBA 2K11
(Xbox 360/PS3/PC/Wii/PSP, $59.99)
It’s literally the only game in town this holiday season as far as basketball is concerned (fan reactions to its competition, NBA Elite, were so negative that Electronic Arts cancelled the game); the folks at 2K Sports did a nice job of updating the annual b-ball title for newcomers and veterans alike. Gorgeous animation and incredibly deep playbooks make 2K11 the most realistic basketball sim ever released.

Magnetic Shaving Derby
(iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, 99 cents)
A conspicuously retro-looking title that slipped through the cracks for most iPhone users, Magnetic Shaving Derby is one of the great time sucks in video game history. The name is accurate: Players race a magnet around the screen, which in turn pulls a razor across a sad-looking man’s face. Power-ups, bonus modes and blood spurts follow. Upon finishing a round, the player is greeted with timeless words of encouragement: “WAY TO SHAVE FACE!”

Risk: Factions
(Download for Xbox 360, $10)
Not only is it nice to have Risk on a console again—who needs all that pain-in-the-ass dice-rolling?—but Electronic Arts went the extra mile here and reinvented the game altogether. The new modes are deep and rewarding, and the animated armies (including cat, robot and yeti warriors) are a nice touch. Online play has some hiccups, but if you want local multi-player Risk that doesn’t take four hours to finish, this is just the ticket.

Pop Albums


By MICHAEL MANNHEIMER

Menomena, Mines
(Barsuk, $12 CD, $20 LP)
Portland’s best band grows up, mellows out (a bit), almost breaks up and still delivers the year’s most gut-wrenching album. Buy the record on vinyl and cherish the gorgeous, creepy poster drawn by local artist Tyler Stout.

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
(Def Jam, $12)
The year’s most decorated album—we’re talking five stars from Rolling Stone and a perfect 10.0 from Pitchfork—doubles as the most adventurous hip-hop record since, well, Kanye’s Graduation. Buy the limited-edition three-record set on vinyl to see all five of George Condo’s skewed album covers.

Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me
(Drag City, $20 CD, $25 LP)
Haters gonna hate, but by toning down her quivering voice and adding touches of classic ’70s rock, Joanna Newsom has basically become the 21st century’s Joni Mitchell. Buy the triple album (!) on vinyl for the inserts of Newsom lounging on a couch in a short romper.

Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid
(Bad Boy, $13 CD, $20 LP)
The sprawling, ambitious concept record from the future of R&B sounds like Daft Punk covering Michael Jackson on an alien spaceship. Surely it’s the only album this year to reference both Star Wars and feature weird spoken-word poetry from Saul Williams. Buy it on vinyl and dance along to “Tightrope.”

Agalloch, Marrow of the Spirit
(Profound Lore Records, $13.99)
Any local music fan afraid to dabble in black metal should stop being a baby and listen to Agalloch’s epic, frosty, progressive folk-metal masterpiece. Buy the CD, turn down the lights and open your mind.

 
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