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The Worst of 2010: Get Ready for the Pain

December 24, 2010

2010 had some high points, sure. But its time to throw a Molotov cocktail on the crap that left us shoveling a snowload of suck.

Worst Idea of the Year

“Elitist” as a pejorative for anyone that seeks more than Top-40 margarine-doused HFCS-laden instinct-over-fact antiprogress. Now I would never begrudge those who consciously choose to exist within the creative culture of their choice (whatever it may be), but what gets frustrating is when those of us with more selective tastes are castigated as elitists because we choose something outside of the mode. Every element of society (and their corresponding web platform) has them, even those that appear to be above such “don’t rock the boat” ignorance. For example, on many foodie blogs, there’s always the blowhards that criticize us for insisting on real butter instead of Shedd’s Crappy Spread, or for choosing to dine within restaurants that actually make their food in-house, instead of serving flash-frozen microwaved “meals”. On baseball discussion sites, I’ll read these old-guard stalwarts who rail against statistics like On-Base + Slugging or WHIP, bitter because Batting Average or Wins for pitchers no longer matter anymore (case in point, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner, Felix Hernandez causing a serious backlash – Hernandez’s victory opens the door for a retroactive awarding of the National League Cy Young in 1987 to fellow K and ERA-leader Nolan Ryan). Or the burgeoning battle of street art, where the quality and perception of actual graffiti pieces (where effort and talent are present) are destroyed by the dumbasses that scrawl a lazily-written “tag” with no thought or imagination whatsoever – yet, there are ardent defenders of the tagging crapmeisters. My personal favorite, though, are the hidebound crackpots that read one particular three-word phrase in a policy discussion and then FREAK THE FCUK OUT by posting a single all-caps “sentence” that accuses the author of communism/ treason/ Hitlerism/ whatever. (That, or they’ll copy-and-paste a more literate screed from one of Dick Armey’s corporate-directed websites.)

As Cee-Lo would say, Fcuk You!

Worst Film of the Year:

It is tough to isolate a “worst” film of the year, largely because my screening process (hashtag-badpuns) has become so stringent, that I am able to avoid the garbage. Most significantly, there’s so many good-to-great films that get national releases, combined with the explosion in access to information about films, that there’s little excuse to sit through a shite movie. Like the realization I had while attending a Metallagher concert, we now have a choice, no longer forced to countenance what the big studios deem worthy of our viewing.

Hence, of all the films I saw this year, I cannot christen any as a “bad” movie. Were there films that I disliked? Yes, but not because they were poorly-written or hoisted into the market for the lowest-common-denominator. In the same way a finely-crafted meal might not match my tastes, my “worst” movie experience could be summed up in the Costanza refrain of “it’s not you, it’s me.” So Danny Boyle, I apologize for placing your well-executed paean to self-immolation, 127 Hours, as the Worst Film of the Year. I’m no fan of extreme outdoors-style events for my leisure experiences, and with a few exceptions (The Long Way Round, especially), I have a difficult time viewing such endeavors, especially when they feature a scene where a guy chops off his arm as a soundtrack approximating Al Jourgensen and Trent Reznor remixing Metal Machine Music with dueling circular-saws punctuates each stab. Well done, Danny.

Worst Songs of 2010

No longer wedded to cassettes and records, our playlist-based listening experience and niche-oriented internet-radio permits a complete avoidance of songs one dislikes. For those still engaging in terrestrial radio, however, there’s still a wretched song that sneaks its way onto the station’s rotation, awaiting like the anchor to destroy any momentum created by the previous run of tunes. In Minnesota, we have KUOM (“Radio K“), and their wave of student DJs, which is always interesting, if occasionally impenetrable (Check out this playlist, and their Sunday punk show “Out of Step”). The real gem is KCMP (“The Current“), Minnesota Public Radio’s modern music entity. Featuring a playlist that includes Wilco, Prince, Big Boi, OKGO, Phoenix, Band of Horses, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Joanna Newsom, Arcade Fire, and a mess of other acts that are “indie” in attitude if not distribution model, the Current has democratized access to such fare. You no longer have to read Pitchfork or BrooklynVegan to hear the latest Cut Copy single. Unfortunately, you’ll have to sit though a few clunkers amidst the good stuff. Here’s a few of the songs that ruined a few too many rides home:

Spoon – “Mystery Zone”

“Da-da-da-daaa da-da-daaaa da-da-daaa da-da Mystery Zone… Da-da-da-daaa da-da-daaaa da-da-daaa da-da Mystery Zone… Da-da-da-daaa da-da-daaaa da-da-daaa da-da Mystery Zone… Da-da-da-daaa da-da-daaaa da-da-daaa da-da Mystery Zone… Da-da-da-daaa da-da-daaaa da-da-daaa da-da Mystery Zone… Da-da-da-daaa da-da-daaaa da-da-daaa da-da Mystery Zone… Da-da-da-daaa da-da-daaaa da-da-daaa da-da Mystery Zone…(and over and over and over…)”

And that doesn’t address the boring music behind the annoyingly-repetitious lyrics and “melody”. The real, um, mystery is how band with Spoon’s catalog, including one of the best songs of 2007 (“Finer Feelings”), could puke out this generic one-chord snooze-fest.

Decemberists – “Down By the Water”

I used to like these guys, especially the song “Sixteen Military Wives”, and its accompanying video (deservedly one of Pitchfork’s Top 100 Videos of the Decade). The Crane Wife had “O, Valencia!”, a jaunty possible-orphan of Chronic Town. I am not sure what happened to Colin Meloy and Co., but perhaps they were speed-reading and accidentally hit a bookmark, or they were stolen and replaced by exact replicas, because everything since that record has been worse than used-paint shaped like a house. 2009’s The Hazards of Love had the shitty-ditty “The Rake’s Song”, which approximates the sounds of dentistry gone horribly wrong. But that was only a crappetizer for the pain course (wacketty schmacketty doo!). I hear you groaning. Now you know what’s like to sit through the thrice-daily spins of “Down by the Water”, which several internetizens have likened to a watered-down re-write of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind” (I am all for re-writes, but at least base ‘em on something worthwhile). I used to assume that Meloy, as clever a lyricist around, was more likely to borrow from Jon rather than John Anderson. “Next to your deeper fears we stand surrounded by a million years.”

The Avett Brothers – “I & Love & You” and “January Wedding”

A band that once took chances has morphed into the Jonas Brothers. This record has one fun tune (“Kick Drum Heart”), but these two maudlin ballads lean way too close to the Rascal Flatts-axis of modern Nashville.

Dawes – “When My Time Comes”

Joins “Electric Blue” in the “negligible-verse / otherworldly chorus” club. After a propulsive intro, the verse approximates the tortuous “elderly ironic rap” cadence of Spoon’s “Mystery Zone” (seriously, folks, this shite needs to be sent to Chernobyl). But when it finally winds down, look out! “WHEEEEEEN! MYYY TIIIME COMMMMMMES!”A highlight of the year was hearing that chorus live at First Avenue, surrounded by several good friends and a Bell’s Two-Hearted in hand.

Peter Gabriel – “Flume” (hell, basically all of Scratch My Back)

The Sledgehammer’s collection of covers serves the same purpose as Eric Carmen in the 1970s and Chicago in the 1980s: the formerly-interesting Genesis front-man has given people that no longer like rock ‘n roll a chance to maintain a connection with new music, without having to countenance those loud guitars, atonal rapping, or dare I say it – drums. Quiet, glacially-paced music can be awesome – Low, Sigur Ros, and recent-fave Bon Iver are fairly obvious examples – but these songs just sit there, lifeless, a “Kidz Bop” for adults.  How sad, because his voice sounds better than ever.

Kanye West – “Hell of a Life”

I actually love 90% of this song. I would love all of it if I did not understand English. Why, Kanye, do you have to ruin such incredible soundscapes (especially the awesome piano arpeggios that strike after each chorus – wow!) with these inanely juvenile pornographic lyrics? “Runaways” is funny for a few listens (especially the radio edit, which merely repeat the first half of each chorus phrase (kind of like “Gold Digger” – “Let’s have a toast for the…(toast for the)…”), but I know you are capable of far more intelligent lyrics than these. I’m no prude, I’m just tired of words that sound like they were written by 9th-year ASBO chav wannabes.

Worst Website that once was great:

While always including some anti-New Urbanist views, made efforts to feature several writers that represented a balanced perspective towards development paradigms, taking a methodical approach to land-use that acknowledged our energy and transportation realities. Now it is primarily the domain of Wendell Cox and his one-sided screeds against pedestrian-friendly mixed-use neighborhoods and non-automobile transportation options. Site contributor Aaron Renn is attempting the herculean task of holding down the fort for those of us who realize the earth is not stuffed with a nougat of oil. When seven of every eight articles hammers home an anti-tax, anti-transit agenda, it sure sounds like the same 1950s approach to development that’s been deemed unsustainable as our oil supplies dwindle to a trickle – not very “new” geography, if you ask me.

Worst moment of the year:

November _____  _____  ingrates, _____  _____  _____  _____ health care, _____  _____  lies _____  “death panels”, _____ _____  Tea _____  _____. “Citizens” “United” _____  _____  _____  _____  _____  pro-sprawl _____ _____ , anti-science _____  _____ majority _____ governors _____  _____  _____, _____  redistricting _____ _____  _____  _____  _____. _____  _____  _____, douche-nozzles.

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