..selected with no particular rationale and offered in no particular order.
Best Album: The Moondoggies – Don’t Be a Stranger
This little Seattle band is starting to get some much deserved attention (see here and here) after a few years of regular gigs and a reportedly stellar show at Sasquatch. Their debut album deftly captures their mixture of country, folk and rock that never degenerates into “a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll” (they’ve been routinely compared to The Band, a group I somehow missed during my classic rock record collecting phase. But if you want to listen to a vinyl copy of CCR’s Cosmo’ Factory, with that weird bike-riding-in-the-studio cover, I’m your man.) The album is a pleasant, satisfying listen from beginning to end. Tracks like “Ain’t No Lord” and “Old Hound” showcase a surprisingly developed ear for harmony, and the slow but never indulgent build of songs like “Changin” and “Night and Day” continues to reward on repeated listening. And while the band is self-aware, they inject only the slightest hint of irony into their music, letting earnest talent shine through.
Best Writing: The Oxford American
This magazine features some of the best writing from and about the South, but it is nationally relevant and deeply human, making it a must read from coast to coast. Each themed issue features prose lyrical and perceptive enough to make me interested in subjects I don’t normally read about, such as sports and architecture. Their Katrina issue is one of the most important chronicles of that harrowing event and its aftermath, especially the article that finds a metaphor for rebirth in an elderly man’s Zombie dance moves. But their forte is music writing, and every December brings a music issue offering a companion CD (or this year – TWO CDS!) of hand selected southern music both new and old and a loving review of each song. The subscription is $20, which is an unbeatable deal for four great issues plus the CD. Buy one for yourself and give one to your co-worker who is always claiming that John Mayer is the greatest living blues guitarist. You’ll both learn something.
Best Podcast: Philosophy Bites
10-12 minute discussions of philosophical concepts, ancient, contemporary, and everything between, that reach surprising depth and nuance. Plus, it’s all in British accents, so you know it’s smart!
Most Important Moment in the DC Comics Universe: The Death of Martian Manhunter
The DC Comics universe has been overly bloated with event publications all year – 100,000 of Superman’s Kryptonian buddies are residing on earth, the planet was literally taken over by the bad guys, and Bruce Wayne will soon surrender his role as Batman for unclear reasons. Still, the biggest moment this year was also the most neglected – longtime DC mainstay and Justice League founder Martian Manhunter, a.k.a J’onn J’ones (it’s pronounced as though you had a friend John Jones from France), was murdered by a league of supervillains, who thrust a flaming spear through his heart (I had an uncle who died the same way. Tragic, really). Martian Manhunter was one of the most powerful characters in the DC stable – flight, super strength, shape shifting, telepathy, invulnerability, heat vision, plus the really cool ability to turn from solid to translucent matter – and as a true alien, unlike Superman, he brought the much needed wisdom and gravity provided by an outsider perspective. But he was constantly underused and poorly written, so DC decided to kill him off to raise the stakes for their big event book Final Crisis. Worse yet, his death took place in a single comic panel, and his superfriends seem to have largely forgotten him already. While the blockbuster events mentioned above will eventually be reset to satisfy the fan boys (DC won’t keep 100,000 Supermen around forever), there may not be enough nerd clamor to bring poor J’onn J’ones back from the dead, a relatively easy feat in the comic book world. So pay your respects by picking up the single issue Requiem, which shows his final moments and funeral, including a tender moment with Batman at his coffin
Franchise That’s Officially Dead to Me: Star Wars
For obvious reasons.
Happy 2009 - Ryan Weber