49 Up – Dir. Michael Apted

In 1964 a young aspiring filmmaker was asked to shoot some documentary footage of fourteen 7 year-olds spread across various public and private schools in and around London. Every seven years since then director Michael Apted has been following their lives in what has become one of the most extraordinary series, “Up!,” ever compiled. Throughout this period only a few have left the film, all but one have married, over half have divorced and remarried, and most have had kids and have been through a series of careers. One could view this series as the first reality television concept ever executed, although there is no game, only the passage of time observe methodically. For those who have been following these people since the beginning, waiting seven years to catch up might seem excruciating, but in a sense many of the viewers are probably experiencing similar arcs in their own lives. The one thing becomes clear after you see a few of these is that for most of the characters each period tends to have a similar theme. Some are uniformly depressing, others more angst ridden, but “49 Up” has a rather happy or at least “at peace” feel to it. This is a master work of art, and an education in being human.

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The Decemberists “The Crane Wife” (Capital)

In less than six years singer and head Decemberist, Colin Meloy, has evolved his esoteric sea shanty-odd parable rock idea into a fully realized, quasi-commercially viable phenomenon. On “The Crane Wife,” their major label debut and Japanese folk tale concept record, the band comes away sounding almost completely accessible. Oddly Meloy sounds, at times, like late 80’s era Michael Stipe, and with songs like “The Perfect Crime Part 2” there are finally choruses infectious enough to latch onto and scream into the night. Without question, The Decemberists have become one of the most important and innovative American bands of the new millennium.

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The Bestest 2006 – Bookishness


Night – by Ellie Wiesel
Like “The Painted Bird” before it, this thin, horrifying memoir of the concentration camps at the end of WWII, the realities of this author’s survival and existence read like a surreal fiction. Sixty years later, the cloud of Nazi Germany still feels like a blanket trying to shake free.

Prep – by Curtis Sittenfeld
Reluctantly I found myself revisiting prep school through the eyes of a girl also from the Midwest. Although often it bordered on the aggravating, “Prep” is a good a look at the modern prep school experience as there has been in quite a while. [Read more…]

The Bestest 2006 – Tunage

Many of the names on this list are becoming almost annual inclusions. It might be that I am growing older, out of touch and relying on old standbys to make up for pathetically missing their rightful successors. I hope not. Or perhaps it is that these bands, some of whom I have been writing about for over a decade, are in fact getting better as they age along with me. But there is one point that seems quite relevant this year, and that is that many of the songs from these artists are longish, artfully arranged and constructed, and strategically sequenced within full albums. People say the “album” as concept is dead, but I couldn’t disagree more. Read the words, research the band and make a leap of faith. These are full length pieces of art and deserve to be treated as such. There is quite a bit of new folk, some slightly psychedelic rock, and a little electronic music, but everything here is a modern classic.

1. Cat Power – “The Greatest” (Matador)

After years of deep admiration for Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, more for her aesthetics and potential than any one album in particular, I have finally fallen fast and hard for her music with “The Greatest.” Even with all the potential in the world, it would have been hard to predict a record quite this good. It is a piece of music that far exceeds expectation. A contemporary reinterpretation of Dusty Springfield’s Memphis classic, this is a flawless, timeless collaboration with a group of Memphis session musicians that oozes with something so simultaneously old and new that you can’t help but be transported to another time and place. Her voice is as silky and sultry as any in this day and age, and as the band digs into one satisfying groove after another time opens up and invites in a new classic. [Read more…]