Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best of 2011 - The Year In Television

Welcome to part 2 of Genres & Judgements' Best of 2011 lists, this one is for the ten best TV shows of the year.

There is so much good television on these days, especially comedies. When I started to think about the shows I was going to have to leave off this list, I almost turned it into two -- one for comedies, another for action/drama shows -- but 10 is just such a nice, simple number. And I'm lazy. Who knows, maybe next year! Onward...
10. The League (FX)
What a transformation The League has made. It's always been good for some laughs, but a few adjustments made in season three -- namely fewer plots revolving around fantasy football, more Nick Kroll and dropping that bizarre requirement of earlier years of a Jon Lajoie musical number in nearly every episode -- it's gone to the next level (evidence). There were also a bevy of well-placed guest stars throughout the season, including Eliza Dushku, Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman, but none were better than Jeff Goldblum's turn as Ruxin's father (during the best Thanksgiving-themed episode for any show ever). It doesn't matter if you don't follow football or even play fantasy sports. The best parts of The League have little to do with that stuff.

9. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
While most of the best dramas in 2011 built themselves into a fury before ultimately pulling back the reins during that final episode to the colossal disappointment of their audience (I'm especially looking at you, Sons of Anarchy), Boardwalk did no such thing. If anything, they went further than I ever dreamed they would. The reason this show is sitting this low on my list is because the early episodes continued the first season's slightly tedious plotting. But that changed in a hurry during the final slew of episodes. It'll be interesting to see if the show can continue at this level with the necessary changes as a result of the finale; I hope it can.

8. Parks & Recreation (NBC)
It's pretty safe to say this is the most consistent comedy on TV; it never ceases to make me smile a few times an episode, and that's between when I'm bursting at the seams laughing. The supporting characters are the best part about the show, especially Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson who never fails to kill his scene ("You had me at meat tornado."). The latest stretch of episodes haven't been quite as good as when season three ended in the spring (hence its drop in my hierarchy), but with recent events in the show, it appears that the less-interesting subplots have been excised. See what the gang in Pawnee is up to here to see what I mean.

7. Doctor Who (BBC)
Matt Smith's second year in the TARDIS was even better than the first. That said, this year's Who was one of the victims of building more anticipation for a grand ending than the show was able to deliver upon. However, in this case, the small stories away from the larger story arc of the season were mostly outstanding and still enabled to maintain its position in my good graces. And that big story... man. Is anything better in the Who-verse than River Song? There's so much magic evident when Alex Kingston and Smith share a scene. I know more River means less Amy and Rory, and would spoil us with too much of a good thing, but dammit if sometimes I want it anyway. Enjoy the Christmas special this week because it'll be a while until we get more adventures with the Doctor -- Fall 2012.

6. Game of Thrones (HBO)
What a debut season. After some slow plotting early on, Thrones failed to yield from my attention once it got going. Any other complaints regarding this fantasy action-drama are likely to be nit-picks. Having recently finished the novel which this inaugural season is based upon, I can attest that they really trimmed most of the fat from the narrative, leaving all the best parts to play out on screen. What's most exciting about this series is to hear from fans of George RR Martin's novels that the best is yet to come. We'll get at least three more years of Thrones, as they're already making preparations to split book three, A Storm of Swords, into two television seasons. Winter is coming, indeed.
Did I leave your favorite show off? Got any guesses as to what the final five are? Find out after the jump.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best of 2011 - Albums of the Year

Welcome back to another end-of-the-year extravaganza with the first of Genres & Judgements' Best of 2011 lists. Even more-so than last year, I took it upon myself to listen to a ton of new music this year. I was a little lazy from September until mid-November, so if there's anything I missed, it probably came out during that period. That said, I'm feeling pretty confident about this list.

Some of you may wonder why some albums were left off the list, and the quick answer is that, for me, they just weren't good enough. For example, you'll get no argument from me that Adele's 21 wasn't great, but I only listened to most of the tracks twice (according to the stats in iTunes), and not since the beginning of the year when it came out. So for me, I have to be drawn into repeat listens for an album to qualify as one of the top releases of the year. Plenty of good albums met this fate, including new ones from three of my favorite bands: Wilco, Explosions In The Sky and Radiohead.

What follows are the 10 albums I couldn't stop listening to in 2011. Click on the links to stream a track from each album.
10. Nostalgia, Ultra
Frank Ocean
This mixtape was released for free download on Ocean's Tumblr page in the spring, and blew more than a few of my friends away, as the fervor on my Facebook feed could attest. With this release, it's safe to say he's established himself as one of the cornerstones of the new R&B movement going on right now.
Track 12: American Wedding

9. Blood Pressures
The Kills
Jack White's supergroup The Dead Weather released one of my favorite albums last year, which led me to checking out Alison Mosshart's main band for the first time. This is probably an oversimplification, but with Blood Pressures, The Kills often come across as a less-intense version of The Dead Weather. (Yes, I know The Kills have been around for far longer, but I discovered them after TDW.) But this isn't to say it's a weaker album. There's intense drive of anxiety from Mosshart's primal howls and Jamie Hince's gritty guitar riffs streaming throughout this album that makes you come back for more.
Track 2: Satellite

8. The Rip Tide
While a bit less adventurous as previous efforts, Beirut mastermind Zach Condon managed to solidify his place as an indie folk darling while still managing to achieve popular success. It's a short album, clocking in at under 35 minutes, but that trimmed a lot of fat from what could have been a bloated effort with less-worthy songs tacked on.
Track 3: East Harlem

7. Cults
Being that this is mid-December, I really can't convey enough how fantastic of a summer album this is. Just makes you wanna put the top down, drive and smile.
Track 2: Go Outside

6. Watch the Throne
Jay-Z & Kanye West
There probably wasn't a more anticipated release this year than this one. While Throne lacks the breakaway hit you might assume a partnering of this magnitude would produce, there isn't a dud track on it. Some complaints that this is just a Kanye album with lots of Jay-Z on it seem weak to me; West has always struck me as the stronger producer of the two and it's reflected here, but Jay-Z's lyrics are almost always superior. In other words, the collaboration works, with each feeding off the other's strengths. Rumors have already been floated for a sequel.
Track 2: Lift Off (feat. Beyonce)
Wanna see what else is on the list? The remaining five albums are after the jump.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A Good Man Is Hard To Find - A Genres & Judgements Mixture

Right now I'm in the in the final stages of putting together my Best of 2011 lists. And since the year's about over, I started rummaging around my music database for some tunes I could write to, and found a ton of banging stuff I had completely forgot existed (as you'll notice in the upcoming Albums of the Year post, I slacked off with checking up on new music big time once September got under way).

This one starts off on the sparse side with a fascinating remix of an older Radiohead song by Julianna Barwick, but I promise there's some action after that, highlighted by Trent Reznor and Co.'s rendition of probably my all-time favorite Led Zeppelin track. These were released in 2011, and The Black Keys and Lana Del Rey songs have only been available for about a week, so there really is nothing stale about this mix.

And the title of this bad boy? I have a Flannery O'Connor collection on my bookshelf and, even though the girl in that picture and these songs don't have much of anything to do with her short story, I couldn't excise that phrase once it popped into my head.

Track list and streaming links available after the jump.