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Please To Allow Your Pal TwoBusy To Drop Some 2009 Awesomeness Science Upon You

Mono_Hymn_To_The_Immortal_Wind Greetings, my pretties. "Oh, TwoBusy," you say. "What sharp teeth you have." Right you are, my pretties. All the better to chew up a great big ol' slab of 2009 pop cultural goodness and masticate it into an easily digestible (and nutritious!) list of funtastic stuff you might've missed in the year that is about to be the year that was. Would you care for a drink? Probably not a bad idea. This here is thirsty work. Are we ready? Excellent. Pick up your No.2 pencils... and let's begin.

MUSIC
5.  Great Northern: Remind Me Where The Light Is - Sign #447 that I don't understand the musical mainstream: In a world where tons of mediocre bands featuring female vocalists make bizillions of dollars and attract huge crowds everywhere they go... why aren't Great Northern more acclaimed and beloved than they are? Because there's not a single thing about this album that wouldn't sound perfect coming out of your car stereo - gorgeous vocals by Rachel Stolte, dead-solid songwriting by her and her partner, Solon Bixler, crazy memorable hooks and choruses, plus... actual, honest-to-god substance. Maybe that's it: they're not fluffy enough. I dunno. Still, I hold out hope that somehow, someday there'll be a place for incredible songs like Fingers or Story or... hell, just about anything here... on my and your and everyone's radio.

4. Caspian: Tertia - Proof positive that you don't need lyrics to create contemporary, relevant music that is intricate, intelligent, powerful and moving. If you know and love Explosions in the Sky, you know what I'm talking about... and if you know and love Explosions in the Sky, you owe it to yourself to discover Caspian. Start with Of Foam and Wave. Then tell me how much more awesome I've just made your life. (Fun side note: this album came out on the same tiny label that released album #2 on my list. Everyone say hi to the good people at The Mylene Sheath — good work, Lindsay & Joel!)

3. The Antlers: Hospice - This one popped up on a lot of people's lists of the best albums of '09, and with good reason: it's a truly remarkable and jarring piece of work. Calling to mind Neutral Milk Hotel, The Arcade Fire and - perhaps most appropriately - Shearwater's stunning Rook, Hospice carves itself a place in musical history worthy of those hallowed/should-be-hallowed touchstones by virtue of Peter Silberman's quavering, haunting vocals, the intricate and deeply layered musical approach that reinvents itself from song to song, and (most of all) a set of lyrics capable of bringing you to honest tears. Hint: the album's title is relevant. Check out Two for a taste of what I'm talking about... and then buy the album. 

2. Constants: The Foundation The Machine The Ascension - One of the things I love most about music is the way that genres give way to subgenres give way to sub-subgenres... which is why tracing the twisty path that let to the creation of a band like Boston's Constants is almost (note: almost) as much fun as listening to their music. Where does it start? Well, let's make it simple. The Cure is a common enough point of reference, right? So take the moody energy of the Cure at their best (think: The Edge of the Deep Green Sea as a starting point), and then factor in the thoughtful darkness and power of  what some folks call post-metal (Tool and Deftones begat Cult of Luna and Isis begat... well, let's just stop there, because at a certain point all that begatting becomes unseemly) and then blend it all together with a healthy dose of shoegaze-style effects and reverb (insert My Bloody Valentine namedrop here) and you end up with... well, what do we call it? Sonic bliss? Certainly feels like it to me. It's heavy and soaring all at once, and like the best work of Jesu (2007's towering Conqueror serving as a strong point of comparison), it creates an effect of something crushingly beautiful. I get that Constants - and songs such as Genetics Like Chess Pieces - might not be to everyone's tastes... but man: this album just floored me.

1. Mono: Hymn to the Immortal Wind - I know, I know... you're saying, "TwoBusy, this was such an obvious choice for your album of the year." And you are completely right. Why should I waste your time talking about the fact that the most heartbreaking work of staggering musical genius produced this year was created by a Japanese post-rock collective whose output offers a cinematic sweep and stunning, sometimes suffocating sense of atmosphere and wordless emotion that defies cultural, stylistic or categorical boundaries and actually ascends to the level of art -- and more than that, art that is actually relevant to our day-to-day lives? An excellent question. I'll answer in the only way I know how: by letting the work speak for itself. If the four minutes of Follow The Map youtubed below don't move you in some kind of deep and real way... really, we've got nothing more to talk about.


READING
5. Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book - How great a writer is Gaiman? Even a relatively minor work like The Graveyard Book - something that doesn't come close to being one of his best - is still strange and wonderful enough to be one of the finest reads of the year. If you saw the remarkable film adaptation of his terrifying short work Coraline (allegedly written for kids, although to be honest it scared the bejeezus out of me) you have some idea what you're in for here: a story quite probably written for older children but rife with enough unfettered imagination, bloodletting, lonesome children trying to find some way to connect, and alternately charming and unnerving interactions with the dead and... "others"... to keep adults like you and me flipping the pages at a truly frenzied pace. Which is why the man is an absolute treasure.

4. Dan Simmons: The Terror - This made a lot of Best Books of '08 lists, but as I didn't read it until this year... well, here we are. And honestly, despite the kudos that accompanied it, I had little reason to anticipate that this is where The Terrorwould land. Simmons was one of the great Science Fiction/Horror/genre-bending writers of the past 20 years, until he hit a looooong dull streak at the front end of the past decade punctuated by half-assed attempts at hard-boiled crime fiction and spy novels. Who woulda thunk he'd suddenly unleash a gigantic historical novel - albeit one that seamlessly blends in elements of the unnatural and unexpected - set in the midst of the British age of exploration... or that it would prove so absolutely riveting? But here's the thing: it is. Set in and around a pair of British ships that get caught in the arctic sea ice as they try to find the fabled northwest passage, The Terrornot only creates a world where you understand on a deep and profound level what it was like to be a seafaring explorer in 1840s British culture - at multiple social levels - but then introduces and sustains a note of true horror of the unknown that propels you through scene after scene that, even months and years later, still remain fresh and real in your mind. Just a remarkable novel, and one I guarantee I'll reread again at some point.Me_Write_Book_It_Bigfoot_Memoir

3. Suzanne Finnamore: Split: A Memoir of Divorce - In the opening chapter of Finnamore's third memoir, her husband comes home, changes his shirt, throws back a couple of martinis, then announces that he wants a divorce. What follows is her dissection of life after the apocalypse: each brief chapter renders in beautiful, razor-cut detail a snapshot of this new, unwanted life, presented in unflinching detail and with a profoundly dark and bitter sense of humor that left me cackling far more often than is probably appropriate or healthy. Finnamore's debut Otherwise Engaged was one of the best books I've read in years, and Split - incredibly - lives up to that standard. To summarize, with all due force and persuasive intent: wow.

2. Graham Roumieu: Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir - I laughed so hard that I wept. Repeatedly. Impossibly disturbing and funny beyond comprehension. For the sake of all that is good and pure in this world, buy it and make it a part of your life.

1. Dave Cullen: Columbine - Let's be clear: I'm not making this my #1 because it's an important book, although it is, or because I think you should read it, although I do. This is the best book I read in 2009 for the simple reason that it took an event that I - like millions of other people - lived through vicariously, felt deeply saddened and horrified by, and thought I understood... and then completely redefined it in a way so thorough, detailed, fact-based and utterly convincing that it absolutely shifted my perception of one of the most important events of my lifetime. This is not a feel-good book, but I am deeply glad that I read it. The DEFINITIVE word on the subject, and one that deserves to be recognized as a truly great book in every possible sense of the word.


WATCHING
6. Mad Men - Yeah, I know. I'm waaaaaay behind the curve on this. The good news: We finally took the plunge, and sprinted through the entirety of Seasons One and Two in about three weeks via the magic of Netflix... and yes, it's just as good as everyone says it is. Which is always nice. The bad news: We finished watching Season Two just as Season Three was wrapping up on AMC... and since the entirety of Season Three wasn't available on demand, we've now gotta wait until it becomes available on DVD. Waiting sucks.

5. In Bruges - Thank you, DVD, for making it possible for me to see this utterly charming, funny, bloody and entertaining buddy story about two Irish gangsters (the incomparable Brendan Gleeson and Colin Ferrell, reminding us of why he deserved to be a movie star in the first place) who take a little time off from work in historic Bruges, Belgium. And did I forget to mention Ralph Fiennes? I did forget to mention Ralph Fiennes, who plays their gleefully foul-mouthed London boss, who... well, I'm not going to give it away, other than to say that as a drama, a comedy, an action movie and a romance, this was thoroughly, 100% wonderful.

4. The Rebirth of the Sitcom - Seriously. When was the last time there were this many legitimately funny sitcoms on TV? Maybe I'm just easily entertained, but any week where I can watch and laugh heartily at How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Community, Cougar Town, Better Off Ted, 30 Rock (still funny), The Office (still funny) and Parks and Recreation (getting better)... I mean, that's a good week. Hell, we might be in the midst of some kind of golden age of sitcomedy right now and not even realize it. Go figure.Hamlet_2

3. Hamlet 2 - No film made me laugh longer, harder or more frequently this year than Hamlet 2. The movie follows a delusional high school drama teacher (Steve Coogan) in Tucson who discovers that his entire program is being shut down... and reacts in true drama teacher-mode by putting on a show. That he wrote. Called Hamlet 2. I don't want to give away any more than is necessary, but this spiritual forefather to the infinitely less inventive Glee blends elements of Dangerous Minds, deep-set father issues, Elizabeth Shue playing herself (kind of), drunken roller skating, the ACLU and a song called "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" that I promise you'll be singing to yourself for weeks afterwards to produce what is, quite simply, the most glorious companion piece to Waiting for Guffman I can possibly imagine. Just writing about it makes me want to see it again. 

2. Dexter Season 4 - For my money, Dexter is still - 4 seasons in - the best show on TV. Yeah, Season 4 was a little uneven, and about a third of the way in I actually started to wonder if it was losing its mojo (despite the welcome inclusion of John Lithgow as this season's "big bad")... but then it's like it caught a second wind, and by the last third of the season my wife and I were actively looking forward to - and then discussing afterwards - each new episode, dissecting (heh) its nuances and plot/character development, hypothesizing where it would take us next. And the final episode... MY GOD. My head is still spinning from that one. If that's not the definition of great TV, I don't know what is.

1. The Orphanage - Sorry. I know I talked about this back around Hallowe'en. Guess what: it's still the best thing I saw - movie, TV, DVD, anything - in 2009. It's scary, it's atmospheric, it's beautiful and edge-of-the-seat intense... and, at the end, it left me weeping helplessly. Just extraordinary.

. . . . .
TwoBusy loves lists. And you.






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Comments

Palinode

I'm glad to hear something positive about The Terror. Because nearly everything that Simmons has written since the Hyperion books has been slightly frustrating to incredibly boring. And I've even read A Winter Haunting, a really second-rate horror novel that features scenes specifically designed to advertise four-wheel drive vehicles.

foradifferentkindofgirl (fadkog)

It's like we live parallel lives. Only you are funnier and prettier, far, far prettier, than I could ever hope to be. After your many suggestions, I bought a discount copy of The Terror Monday night at work and it awaits. The Bigfoot (shudder) books are nothing short of delightful, and Rock Me, Sexy Jesus? My mantra. I wish I knew this music you speak of, but if you'll excuse me, I must go do my Bad Romance dance. Again.

TwoBusy

@Palinode & @FADKOG: Y'know, every time I feel like checking out on this whole interweb thing - and it happens more often than you might imagine - I hear from folks like you and it reminds me of why I do this in the first place. Best thing about 2009? Chillin' virtually with all y'all. Thanks.




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