Alex's Top Ten Movies of 2012

Hey, remember when I used to review movies? Honestly, that feels like half a lifetime ago, even though it was only just last year. How ridiculously removed do I feel from movies in 2012? Well, for starters, I almost completely forgot that I actually professionally reviewed anything this year. Then I went back to my old haunt at Screened, and remembered that, yes, for the first few months of 2012, I was still a paid film critic, more or less.

After the changeover, I pretty much quit going to movies on a regular basis. Not because I don't enjoy going, but after forcing yourself into a theater every Friday/late Thursday night for a solid year and a half, I needed a break. So, with this in mind, you must take this year's top ten as a bit less...comprehensive than others. I missed a lot of big, interesting movies this year, but I still managed to check out the bulk of the big awards contenders, favored indies, and major blockbusters of note. So, for instance, yes, I saw The Master. No, it did not make my list.

And with that, let's get to the list.

10. Dredd

When all the UK folk on my twitter feed began erupting with joy over Pete Travis' film update of the popular Judge Dredd comic book series, I didn't really know what to think. Granted, the UK has always had a bigger thing for Dredd than the US (I never got into it, myself), and most Americans' only frame of reference is the genuinely execrable Stallone movie from the '90s. So, yeah, I expected little, and was perhaps overly blown away with what I received.

Yes, Dredd offers several similarities to last year's Indonesian action import The Raid, most notably the idea of law enforcement officials desperately trapped in a ghetto tower block and hopelessly outgunned by the drug dealers that run it. But whereas The Raid largely focused on dirty, nasty, up-close-and-personal hand-to-hand combat, Dredd brings out lots of absurd guns, explosives, and whatever else, while also increasing the scale to the point of absurdity. Where The Raid was often thrilling because of how intimate the violence was, Dredd succeeds on the merit of sheer ludicrous bombast.

Travis also makes shockingly decent use of 3D, a feature I all but abandoned wholesale this year. The drug of choice in this movie, "slo-mo," is essentially an embedded excuse to watch slow-motion death unfold with a kind of gauzy, twinkling beauty in three glorious dimensions, and it's really something else. Even the performances are pretty good, with Lena Headey playing one of the best bad bitches of film's last decade, Olivia Thirlby reminding you why she was someone you ever liked, and Karl Urban emoting more with the lower half of his face than most actors muster with an entire head at their disposal. This movie is pulpy, bloody ridiculousness of the highest order, and I say bring on Dredd 2 (which will never happen because the movie kind of tanked...boo.)

9. Skyfall

In my estimation, easily the best of the Daniel Craig Bond movies. I realize this may sound controversial, given many's aggressive love of Casino Royale, but where, in my opinion, that film was merely content to wear the skin of Bond, Skyfall properly embodies the spirit of the franchise better than any of the Craig films thus far.

It's not just in the nods-and-winks to yesteryear (the emergence of Moneypenny, the debut of new-Q, the callbacks to Bond's troubled past), but the tone, the vibe, the pacing, all of it. Sam Mendes, far better than the most recent Bond directors, clearly understands how to make a Bond film feel like a damn Bond film. Even when Craig is running around like a crazed asshole, trying to chase down one bad guy or another, the fact that he can do it all with a kind of Bond-ish effortlessness and style is what makes Bond Bond. Casino Royale toyed with that vibe, but never quite pulled it off for me, outside of that ludicrous poker game. Quantum of Solace? Let's just never speak of that movie again. But Skyfall has that intangible thing that you want out of a Bond movie.

Plus, who is going to argue with Javier Bardem's performance as the film's terrifyingly insane villain? His vendetta against M is only half of what makes him interesting, mostly because of just how deviously unhinged Bardem plays it. That tête–à–tête in his evil lair, where Bardem and Craig talk through their shit like only Bond and his many foes can, is one of my absolute favorite scenes of the year.

And for all you assholes who said the last third of the movie was just Home Alone with Bond, go watch Straw Dogs sometime. The Peckinpah one, not the new one. Home invasion can be some serious shit, you know.

8. Django Unchained

Most critics of Django Unchained seem especially ready for Quentin Tarantino to abandon his recent genre phase in favor of returning to his more slick, conversational fiilmmaking roots. On some level, I can understand that. While I enjoyed movies like Inglorious Basterds, Deathproof, and the Kills Bill, my three favorite Tarantino movies remain Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs, in that order.

And yet, I can't sit here and criticize a movie like Django Unchained for being largely substance-less entertainment when it's just so damn entertaining. This is not some brave commentary on America's grim history, nor is it chock full of the sometimes heady, but always smooth-talking characters Tarantino is often so adept at crafting. Instead, it's a straight-up spaghetti western, with all the trimmings and copious blood packs that entails. Like Basterds, it's a ridiculous revisionist history revenge story, but unlike Basterds, it doesn't spend a lot of time talking about all the revenging it's going to do. It just does it, again and again, until pretty much everyone is dead.

I had no issues with that, nor Jaime Foxx's somewhat monosyllabically-written lead character. There are plenty of Chatty Cathys in this movie, including the likes of Christoph Waltz as the German bounty hunter who frees Foxx's enslaved Django, and sets him on his path of revenge, as well as Leonardo DiCaprio in a wonderfully slithery performance as an effete Southern plantation owner who takes particular pleasure in setting his larger slaves against one another in gladiatorial combat. And then there is Samuel L. Jackson as Steven, the true mastermind and villain of the movie. To say it's one of Jackson's best true acting performances of the last decade maybe doesn't say a lot, since he's mostly just been playing some version of Samuel L. Jackson in every film during that period. But as Steven, Jackson pulls off an almost Keyser Soze-like transformation, albeit without the insane amount of build-up that character was afforded. And I haven't even mentioned Don Johnson's performance as something vaguely resembling Colonel Sanders as an early Klan member, nor Walton Goggins as a particularly hateful slave tracker.

Is it too long and over-stuffed? Yes, most definitely, but unlike other too-long, over-stuffed movies of the last few years, I didn't feel the time I spent watching Django Unchained achingly shuffling by. It captured my attention, and entertained me nearly from start to finish. While I might wish for Tarantino to go back to making more thoughtful, less pastiche-y movies, I can't be mad when I'm having this much fun at the movies.

7. The Avengers

This is why Joss Whedon should be allowed to do pretty much whatever he wants.

I did not watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, had less than no interest in Dollhouse, and regard Firefly as one of those shows that, yes, probably didn't deserve to be canceled, but maybe gets a little more love than it actually deserves. That said, Whedon's clarity of voice and vision has always been readily apparent in his various works, and in The Avengers, a seemingly ungainly smooshing-together of blockbuster movie franchises into a single, all-encompassing marketing blitz of a movie, that very clarity not only saves it from being just another hokey hero mash-up, but turns it into something tremendously exciting to boot.

Don't get me wrong; I've actually been relatively thrilled with how the Marvel Films experiment has gone thus far. I could take or leave Thor, and Iron Man 2 maybe doesn't hold up super great on repeat viewings, but the core idea of building up all these heroes, only to unleash them all at once in a grand orgy of superheroic destruction, is one I've pretty much been on board with since the beginning, especially considering how well those piecemeal movies went.

But in Avengers, there was always the chance that the whole thing would topple over from sheer bloat, which is why Whedon's involvement makes so much sense. Whedon knows characters, and he knows how to ensure all his characters get equal (or at least thereabouts) time to shine. With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannsen, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Samuel L. Jackson all vying for limited screen time, wrangling those egos into a coherent whole became both Whedon's Herculean filmmaking task, and essentially the plot of the damn movie.

Sure, the villains were a bit more throwaway than I would have preferred (though Tom Hidddleston as Loki was again a welcome presence), but this Avengers movie was much more interested in creating that initial team dynamic than it was establishing a big baddie, and in that regard, the movie was a tremendous success. The last half-hour or so, deafeningly loud as it was, was a tremendously entertaining pay-off to all the snarky infighting and bickering of the beginning and middle, and I'm only half-joking when I say that Avengers is, by far, the best Hulk movie yet made.

6. The Queen of Versailles

Many recent documentaries have covered, in-depth, how America's economy has tanked since the waning years of the Bush presidency, and the early days of the Obama administration. It's pretty much the only thing anyone talks about anymore, really. So that The Queen of Versailles left as deep an impression on me as it did speaks volumes to how much a little luck can help drive a film from simply being interesting, to something enrapturing.

Such was the case for filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, who initially just set out to document the building of Versailles, the largest single home in America, by the Siegel family of Orlando, Florida. David Siegel, a real estate mogul most known for his palatial time-share resorts, is the celebrity hobnobbing type, a man with deep ties to the likes of Donald Trump, and the entire Bush family. How deep are those ties? Well, Siegel jokingly admits at one point that he helped get George W. Bush elected in 2000 through "not entirely legal" means. His apparent trophy wife, a small-town girl turned beauty queen named Jackie, is essentially the movie's mouthpiece. Early on, that mouth utters nothing but gleeful statements about the family's impending move into the insanely huge new home, due to the current family "bursting" out of their merely large current mansion.

To her credit, Jackie is not a woman lacking in empathy. She has many children, who she, in her own batty, detached way, tries her best to look after and love, including her brother's estranged teenage daughter. Her small-town roots and abusive previous marriage undoubtedly played no small part in her transformation into a dutiful mother (of sorts) to her children and doting wife to the generally cold and grouchy David. You almost don't hate her as she spouts off about all the antiques and other unnecessary bric-a-brac they've purchased for their new estate.

Then comes the turn. The markets crash, and suddenly David is in default with his lenders over a recently built tower in Las Vegas. Versailles is suddenly put on hold, left half-finished for the duration of the film. It is here that The Queen of Versailles gains its significance. The Siegel family begins to fall apart, as family staffers are cut down to just a couple of overworked nannies, David turns angry recluse as he desperately searches for funding to stubbornly try to save his building, and Jackie is left to tend to the family with a far more limited budget.

Those late-movie trials paint a portrait of a woman not mock-worthy, but essentially pitiable. Seeing her try to fumble her way through Walmart shelves, or asking a Hertz rent-a-car clerk where the driver for her rented vehicle is, it's easy to just poke fun at a family's hubris coming crashing back down upon them. But Greenfield refuses to portray Jackie as a villain. She presents Jackie as a person, one who came from little, suddenly gained a lot, and like just about any of us would in that situation, lost perspective. Watching as she struggles to regain some modicum of that perspective is one of The Queen of Versailles' more fascinating challenges. Can you feel sorry for a woman living so far beyond her means even after it all begins crashing down around her? To the film's credit, I most certainly did.

5. Looper

Rian Johnson's Brick is a film myself and Mr. Matt Rorie spent a great deal of time discussing during our tenure at Screened. It's one of those little indie movies that tends to engender a great deal of appreciation from its hardcore fanbase, of which I am a member. So yes, I am naturally I have a bit of a bias when it comes to Johnson's projects. Still, even divorced from Johnson's tight direction and scripting, the concept of Looper alone had my attention.

I do love me some good dystopian sci-fi, and time travel movies, no matter how ludicrous in logic they become, hold a special place in my heart. Johnson's dystopic, time-traveling future is a doozy, a depressed near-future America where time travel is outlawed, but mobsters have somehow clung onto the technology as a means of disposing of its victims. They are sent to an even more depressed, even nearer-future America, where they are dispatched by loopers, hitmen who kill quickly, and dump the bodies into incinerators. No, I don't know why the future-future doesn't have its own incinerators, so shut up.

That, as is the case with all time travel movies, is the sticking point with Looper. There are plot holes, the likes of which were likely inevitable to show up the second Johnson started trying to balance the repercussions of each of the film's various events. But they don't really matter, because for as much as Looper is about time travel and gangster shit, it's even more about its characters. It's about people discovering terrible truths about themselves, and attempting to right wrongs they may only be indirectly responsible for. Over the course of the movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Joe goes from a dimwit uninterested in the consequences of his actions, to a man essentially able to change the futures of others with a single selfless act.

It's a transformation made easier by the performances of Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, who plays the older version of Joe who escapes his demise, and begins wreaking havoc on Young Joe's present. No, these two actors don't completely line up in personality, presence, or even body structure, but somehow, while sitting in a diner, facing off with one another like De Niro and Pacino in Heat, I completely bought in to their weird relationship. Even as the movie veered away from sci-fi action into a closer-quarters character piece in its final 45 minutes, my attention remained rapt, because the quality of the acting, writing, and direction kept me thoroughly in this ridiculous story. All sci-fi is at least a little ridiculous, but only the best sci-fi can make you forget how ridiculous it is. Looper is such a sci-fi movie.

4. The Grey

I should have reviewed The Grey higher. I gave it four stars when it came out very early in 2012, and the more I've thought about it in the months since, the more I fell in love with it.

Even though I don't much enjoy the works of Jack London, nor the prose of Ernest Hemingway, The Grey plays like a combination of the two, a hardscrabble, sparsely spoken tale of man's constant struggle against nature, set against the backdrop of the Alaskan wilderness. Liam Neeson gives what I honestly think is an Oscar-nod-worthy performance as Ottway, a sniper and survivalist recruited by an oil company to defend a remote outpost and its workers. On his way back to Anchorage, a plane crash strands him and several of his coworkers in the middle of a remote area currently full of territorial wolves. Survival chances are slight, but Ottway finds himself forced to guide them to what he hopes is safety.

Joe Carnahan, a director perhaps better known for his stupider works (Smokin' Aces, The A-Team) than his more contemplative pieces (the brilliant Ray Liotta cop drama Narc), manages to combine some of the more welcome elements from both ends of his filmography in The Grey. His grasp of special effects sequences helps him craft a believably inhospitable environment (and wolves that actually don't look terribly cheesy), which he combines with a screenplay that focuses heavily on the plight of its characters over rote action.

Sympathy for bit characters is something I rarely have in survival movies like this, but I felt it in The Grey. Carnahan does a deft job of unfurling the personalities and motivations of his main survivors over the course of the story, pushing them beyond mere archetypes into people you genuinely want to see survive. That they so often do not is part of why The Grey is so effective. Nothing about it is sentimental, especially not Neeson, who is as good as he's been in years here.

The ending of The Grey left many people unsatisfied, mostly because it refused to be the big, ridiculous conclusion that most film-goers have come to expect from Hollywood thrillers. Instead, it's a perfectly poignant moment that caps off everything that's come before beautifully, sadly, and breathlessly. I didn't even need the little stinger shot at the end of the credits, though I suppose I can't say I didn't appreciate it, either.

3. The Cabin in the Woods

I'll admit, it probably helped that I watched The Cabin in the Woods while in an actual cabin in the goddamned woods. Not a ton, but a bit.

I don't know how any self-proclaimed horror fan couldn't love Cabin in the Woods just a little bit. In this movie, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon have essentially created an entirely fantastic horror movie purely on the premise of explaining away why horror films exist. To explain that in too great of detail would probably spoil the fun of seeing the movie, but the one thing I will say is that by the time the final third rolls around, it should be readily apparent to anyone that these two guys understand why you love the horror genre, and dig it just as much as you do.

Before that final third, Cabin in the Woods is still a fascinating, bizarre experiment in acknowledging/tearing down the fourth wall. As we observe these teenagers do as all teenagers in horror movies do--planning a vacation at someone's family member's remote mountain cabin for the sake of uninterrupted debauchery--so to does the film's own internal audience, a pair of white-collar geeks manning a mysterious control room that appears to have something to do with all the crazy shit that starts unfolding at the cabin, which initially is limited to the zombie resurrection of an ancient redneck family that once lived, and murdered there.

Even knowing this information, you are ill-prepared for the batshit craziness that follows, not to mention the batshit reasoning behind it all. I'll leave that for you to discover on your own, and simply conclude that this is hands-down my favorite horror movie of the year. Not that there were very many of them worth lauding, sadly.

2. Magic Mike

A very late entry to this list, and one I'm glad I made time for. I've been having a conniption fit all year trying to wrap my brain around the idea of a Steven Soderbergh-directed movie about male stripping starring Channing Tatum, but after finally sitting down to watch it, I get it.

It's not hard to get, mind you. Soderbergh has been off on a weird filmmaking tangent lately, digging into genre much the way Tarantino has, albeit with a tone less celebratory than clinical. Soderbergh's recent films--the spy thriller Haywire, and the disease paranoia thriller Contagion--all have in common a vibe that comes off more like science experiments than full-fledged movies, really. These movies have mostly felt like Soderbergh challenging himself by taking scripts that would seemingly be better served being passed off to more schlocky directors, and applying his understated, peculiarly-colored approach to each of them. With those first two, the results were mixed, but in Magic Mike, suddenly the grand genre experiment of Steven Soderbergh feels like it's produced something genuinely, unexpectedly great.

The plot is as old as show business itself. A young kid (Alex Pettyfer) is directionless, looking for a way into some money, some success, anywhere he can find it. In a chance meeting, he encounters Mike (Tatum), a construction worker by day, and male stripper by night. Like much of America's non-college educated youth (and even many of those with degrees nowadays), Mike is forced to find alternative means of employment amid the American jobs crisis. It turns out his nights disrobing for throngs of cackling women is that perfect alternative. He even seemingly has a good relationship with the club's ringmaster, a self-aggrandizing MC just a few years past his prime (Matthew McConaughey). He brings the kid to work, shoves him out on the stage, and, well, you can guess where things go from there.

As the kid experiences the party-all-the-time lifestyle Mike has mostly endured unscathed, the movie turns into a strange hybrid of Coyote Ugly and Boogie Nights. Except that underneath that rather simple mash-up, there's also a pretty interesting portrayal of American entrepreneurship underneath. Watching Mike hustle his way around Tampa Bay's night life, coaxing women into the club and ultimately the bedroom, it's a perfect flipside to his day-to-day life of hustling for odd jobs and failed attempts at fixing his tattered finances.

Of course, Tatum is limited in his acting skills, as are several of the actors tasked with major roles. I assume Soderbergh's recent interest in Tatum comes from his "naturalistic" performing style--which, to many, is more like just watching someone's dopey older brother be ridiculous on camera than actual acting--but to be honest, he's a perfect fit here. Not just because of his own background in male stripping, but because of Soderbergh's pacing and approach, which is beyond merely understated. The only true flash in Magic Mike comes in the ludicrous performance sequences, which are hysterical, often intentionally so, and replete with McConaughey's unhinged energy. He, like Jackson, feels rejuvenated to the point of probably deserving some kind of major award nomination. Man, how great does the Best Supporting Actor category potentially look right now?

1. Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson movie. If you have ever seen a Wes Anderson movie, you probably already know what this entails. Tightly measured performances, elaborate, consistent costuming, a story about damaged father-son relationships inside of a larger, more absurd plot, inexplicable slo-motion sequences set to rock music of probably the 1960s, and somewhere in there, Bill Murray. All of these things and more are true of Moonrise Kingdom, which I think may be Anderson's best movie behind only Rushmore.

Part of Moonrise Kingdom's charm is the confidence Anderson puts in his two preteen unknown leads. Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are star-crossed lovers, insomuch as one can be a star-crossed lover before they properly hit puberty. On the tiny Massachusetts island on which they reside, they are separated only by the overbearingness of Suzy's parents (Murray and Frances McDormand) and the duties of the Khaki Scouts, to which Sam has pledged his allegiance for the summer. Nevertheless, Sam and Suzy eventually decide to run off on their own, to a small cove where they childishly believe they will be able to live free from adult interference, at least for a time.

Elsewhere, the island's sheriff (Bruce Willis) ends up involved after Sam's scoutmaster (Edward Norton) and Suzy's parents report them missing. The island goes off on a hunt for the pair, who are caught, separated, then escape again in a wild series of events involving flash floods, burning buildings, military-film tropes, Tilda Swinton as a not-so-much-evil-as-indifferent social worker, and Bob Balaban's narration. It's a lot of pieces, but few directors are better at constructing these elaborately designed dioramas than Anderson. His anal-retentive attention to detail can sometimes come off as obnoxiously twee, but Moonrise Kingdom is a truly sweet story at its core, propped up by strong, if perhaps knowingly clever performances by its child leads.

I can't say that Moonrise Kingdom is a runaway favorite this year, because I didn't really have one. I will say that in terms of craft, wit, and sheer enjoyment, no movie made me happier to be watching it than Moonrise Kingdom did.

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Alex's Second Best Games of 2012

I really hated cutting most of the games off my list that I did this year. It was a bloodbath which I did not enjoy in the slightest. So here are the other five games of 2012 that I really, really liked.

11. Mark of the Ninja

The hype for this game is not unjustified. More so than any other 2D game I've played, Mark of the Ninja is absolutely immaculate in its conception of stealth as it pertains to the profession of Motherfucking Ninja. That you can go through whole swaths of the game not killing anyone is great and everything, but I'm more drawn to the sneaky murderin' you can engage in, of which there is plenty. Add to that the fact the game is just downright beautiful, and yeah, there's no question this is one of the best downloadable titles of the year.

The only reason this didn't make my top 10 was because I frankly just played a lot MORE of Rock Band Blitz. Is this a better game? Probably. It just didn't tickle the pleasure-center of my brain quite as much.

12. WWE '13

Dude, right?!? How bonkers is it that we can actually talk about a wrestling game in 2012 and not have it be purely a discussion of outright derision? I've been hard on THQ's WWE franchise for the last few years, not just because the games have been lackluster (which they most certainly have been), but because I know the company is capable of producing better products. Say what you will about Yuke's as a developer, but they have made very good wrestling games in the past.

That WWE '13 is the first Yuke's game of this console generation that I've genuinely enjoyed without too many caveats is maybe a bit depressing, considering we're a solid seven years into this generation. But hey, this game both does a fantastic job of recapturing the spirit of the WWE's "Attitude" years, and offers up more shit to do than most people will ever know what to do with. I can't hate.

Also, COLLUSION!!!!!!

13. Far Cry 3

At least a couple of people were perplexed why I didn't put this on my top ten. The reason? I hate basically every character in it. Except Vaas. That dude's alright.

This is a game about shitty people doing shitty things and more or less learning nothing from the experience. Yes, I just described the vast bulk of shooters ever, but as others on this site have said, there's something exquisitely unlikable about the people in Far Cry 3. So that's why I left it off my top ten. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the game, mind you. Far from it. The hours I've put into Far Cry 3 have certainly made for some ridiculous fun, especially when the local wildlife gets into the mix. I just feel like there was probably a better game to be made out of Far Cry 3, and either time or direction just wasn't there to make it happen. Still, as first-person shooters in 2012 went, few played better than Far Cry 3.

14. Spelunky

What a dick Spelunky is. I don't think any other game inspired torrents of hateful, downright profanity-laden tweets in my personal feed than this one did. Granted, that's because pretty much every person I know in this industry loved Spelunky on some level, and most couldn't bring themselves to stop playing it. I, at a point, had to. I have temper issues, and when games really, REALLY fuck me over (even when I know it's pretty much my fault), controllers get destroyed.

So, I stopped, and in picking it back up for my GOTY deliberations, I just couldn't bring myself to really dig in again. This is a fantastic little platformer, but holy shit do I wish abject misery upon everyone involved in its production.

15. The Darkness II

I had zero expectations for The Darkness II. I liked the first game quite a bit, but after so many years in-between, not to mention a shift from developer Starbreeze to Digital Extremes, nothing about this sequel sounded like a good idea to me. So, hey, pleasantly surprised was I when I sat down to play The Darkness II, and found a much-better-than-competent, well-written, and highly attractive-looking shooter that refined, adjusted, and even fixed many concepts from the original game.

Yes, it's short, but it also doesn't feel needlessly padded out, which is something I am becoming increasingly unable to stomach in games these days. This six-hour story is just about how long it needs to be, and if you really need more, the separate co-op campaign ain't half bad either.

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Change is Coming

 Hey everyone,

If you've caught this week's episode of Behind the Screened Door, then you've undoubtedly heard the news that I will be taking on a new and altogether different role here at Whiskey Media in the near future. Indeed, I am moving to New York City, and as a result, my role within the Whiskeyverse is being shifted. Starting in May, I'll be working full time as an East Coast Editor for both Screened and Giant Bomb. I'll be writing news, reviews and features for both sites, as well as covering events on that crazy other side of the country that we would otherwise miss or have to fly people out for. There's a lot going on in both movies and games in NYC, and Whiskey having a full-time presence there can only lead to better coverage for you, the reader.

This was a nutty decision to have to make, given that I just moved back to San Francisco a year ago, but this was one of those personal things I really felt like I needed to do. I count myself incredibly lucky that the Whiskey folk wanted to continue to have me as a part of the company. I am still incredibly stoked to be a part of this group and working on these sites, and I really am glad to be able to continue to contribute, even if I'm 3,000 miles away from Whiskey central.

So while this means you may see my face less on camera, you'll still be seeing my byline quite a bit on both Bomb and Screened, and I'll certainly be around for various events--Happy Hour watchers will undoubtedly have to suffer my presence again in the future. You'll also still hear my Skyped-in pipes on the Screened podcast for as long as you can stand it (or until whoever replaces me in the SF office decides they can't deal with my Internet voice anymore). All things considered, it's actually a relatively minor impact on the sites' overall products, but hopefully what changes are coming are to the benefit of Whiskey. I'm hoping that the end result makes you as excited for this change as I am.

If you got any questions or comments, feel free to hit me up here, via PM, on Twitter, or wherever else. I'll still be in the office through the end of April, so you'll have to put up with my ugly mug for a few more weeks. I'm sure we can work in a couple of more terrible Kinect game Quick Looks and ridiculous movie-related video features between now and then.

--A

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The standouts (for better or for worse) of PAX East 2011

I saw games at PAX East 2011. Video games. Here is a quick rundown of the ones I saw that stuck out, and some of the ones I wished I'd gotten to see more of.
 
L.A. Noire
: Rockstar and Team Bondi's L.A. Confidential-inspired noir mystery game garnered some of the longest lines at the show, and the demo was at least pretty close to worth the wait. The much ballyhooed facial-capture technology proved deeply impressive seen up close, and the developers have done a phenomenal job capturing the vibe of Los Angeles in the 1940s. Little of the game's purportedly eight-square-mile open world was shown during the 30 minute presentation, and Rockstar reps seemed reluctant to talk about anything pertaining to the story outside of their demo script, but the crime-solving mechanics seemed quite solid, and the true-crime roots of the game's story seem like fertile material for an atmospheric and fascinating procedural adventure. I wrote a full preview of this one, which lives here.

Warp: At a glance, this is just Portal and 'Splosion Man smooshed together into an EA-published also-ran. That said, I can't think of two games I'd rather see meet, fall in love, violently break up, get back together after one of them realizes their explosive outbursts really are out of control, get married, and produce a downloadable baby. The cutesy alien monster…thing that you play as can warp through walls and into certain objects and people. Levels are designed to create complex strings of warps that require a bit of brain power to navigate, and at various turns, scientists of flexible morality and dudes with guns wander around, either trying to capture you or run screaming away from you. That you can warp into their bodies, and explode them in a puddle of red goop and unrealized scientific dreams is supposedly entirely optional, but let's face it: Of course you're gonna.

Fire-Pro Wrestling: I believe my exact vocal reaction to seeing a game titled "Fire-Pro Wrestling" on the show floor was something along the lines of "Holy #^&$ing @(*#$!!!" Unfortunately, this ain't your shut-in older brother's Fire-Pro. Once a strictly 2D wrestler (crusty sprites and all), Spike's newest iteration is an XBLA-exclusive wrestler that jumps into the 3D realm, and uses your Xbox avatars. Yes, for real. Your avatar, with his Ghost Suit and lightsaber, can step into the squared circle against other avatars in Ryu costumes, stunner shades, and sweet, sweet Diesel gear. I love the old Fire-Pro games, but its relentlessly timing-based grappling mechanics are, at best, kind of frustrating, and at worst, the most confusing thing known to humanity. The transition to 3D and avatar-focused design seems to have inspired Spike to ease things up a bit--not to mention make all the moves wacky beyond reason--but enough of the old timing seems latent enough to inspire some serious rage in more casual players. This begs the question: Who exactly is this game for? But hey, you can totally bring all the monkeys and Limbo monsters you unlocked (or, god help you, paid money for) out during wrestler entrances, so there's that.

Mortal Kombat: WB brought its GDC build to PAX (which I didn't get to see during that show), which included 16 characters, tag-team play and several more stages than players have seen in the currently PSN-exclusive demo. Perhaps this will shock you, but goodness gracious is this game violent. I got to see myriad different fatalities and X-ray moves, and I can assure you, they are as giddily and creatively brutal as anything you've seen in that four-character demo, if not markedly more so. I think Kitana's X-ray move--a series of knife stabs, cherry-topped with a glorious bit of eye-gouging--might've been my favorite. Still waiting to see the must-be-included multi-torso mode.

BattleBlock Theater: Shown at last year's PAX East (as well as subsequent trade shows), BattleBlock Theater looked, quite frankly, confusing as hell. Perhaps it was my feeble brain that couldn't grasp the cooperative hatefulness of the game's levels, or perhaps the game has just gotten a whole bunch better since then. Ryan and I got in on some two-player action, and immediately the game's concept of "help your friend traverse the level, and then dick him over when it comes time to collect the reward" made sense to my vindictive mind. Over the course of each level, you'll be tasked with collecting gems scattered about, while avoiding traps and navigating obstacles--you know, a platformer. The trick is that in multiplayer, stages will change to accommodate the number of players and new obstacles, which require cooperation to solve, will appear. There are effectively completely different levels depending on whether you have one, two, three or four players, which is kinda nuts. I still don't know why you're collecting gigantic green diamonds, I still don't know why evil kitties have enslaved you to put on this theatrical show, and I still don't know when the hell this game is coming out. But the one thing I do know? I like it. Bunches.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War: The first Toy Soldiers was kind of a random happenstance discovery for me. I don't usually dig tower defensey games, but I am huge on gassing the hell out of tiny men in Kaiser helmets. This new game transports you into the decade of Russian tension, playing out the Cold War like it was a real war, with fighting and stuff. Mechanically it is immediately familiar, but the technological upgrades result in a number of new and exciting units, including helicopters, miniguns, guided missiles, and some little Rambo-looking dude (or, if you're the Russians, an Ivan Drago in camo-looking dude) who can lone wolf it like so many great action heroes of the decade. I only played a bit of it, and it seemed very fun, but I also couldn't help but wish it were a little more ridiculous. The '80s are ripe for the picking when it comes to absurd action setpieces. Is it too much to ask for explosions ten times bigger than are physically possible? Dudes shooting red and blue lasers at each other, G.I. Joe style? The Airwolf theme when helicopters take off? Brigitte Nielsen? Just asking…

Stuff I'd liked to have played more, seen more, or didn't encounter at all:

  • The Gunstringer: You'd think that considering I, like, totally wrote this game (and for free at that), they'd have let me cut the 90 minute line to play this thing. Twisted Pixel will be hearing from my agent, forthwith.
  • Bastion: I am trying to remain pure on this game. We've covered and talked about it so much that I think I'd rather just sit down and play it the whole way through, with as little spoilage as possible. The demo on the floor looked great, for what it's worth.
  • Child of Eden: Only saw it in action on the show floor and in brief spurts during our interview with Mizuguchi, but it still looks amazing, and word around the floor is that the Kinect controls have improved exponentially since its previous showings. Also, at one point, Miz started firing off about how he wants to build some kind of rumble corset for Kinect players. I can't tell you how bad I want that to be real.
  • Portal 2: It was this demo, or L.A. Noire. Everyone else bee-lined for the Portal demo, and I didn't want to be that guy, you know? I hear the demo was great, and the voice cast is something special.
  • Fallen Frontier: Were it not for Twitter, I wouldn't have even heard of this game. Sadly, I heard people singing its praises too late to check it out myself. Sounds like it might be the hidden gem of the show.
  • Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet: Limbo's look, and crazy " Metroidvania" style exploratory gameplay? Sounds bananas. So was the lineup to play it. Brad checked it out, and he seemed keen on it.
  • Trenched: Watched Brad play a bunch of this while Ryan interviewed the producer (while Tim Schafer continued his streak as the game industry's Bill Murray, and attempted to monkey wrench the whole endeavor), but never got my hands on a controller myself. I like mechs, I like loot. I would like to play this.
  • Fez: Hahaha. No, seriously, this is still a game. I saw it. With eyes.
  • Smuggle Truck: Apparently some kind of insane indie game similar to Trials HD, except with a truck full of smuggled human people. At first when I saw this on Tim Schafer's twitter feed, I had to double check to make sure this really existed and wasn't just him pranking everyone. It's real, and it kinda looks awesome, albeit in a very troubling way. #humantraffickingisbadmkay
  • Dead Island: PR lady got sick and didn't end up bringing the game to the show, so instead I just played Zombieville on my phone. I'm sure it's pretty much the same thing.
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My Top Albums of 2010--The Ones I Was Too Lazy to Write About

Yep, it's that time again. Over the last week I've been stabbing away at the list of 2010 albums I dug listening to, while trying fitfully to put them in some kind of reasonable order. I've decided that order, FINALLY, and am in the process of writing some stuff on my favorite 25 albums of the year. In the meantime, here are the other 75 I really liked, but simply could not be bothered to write actual words about. If you have questions about any of these, I'll be happy to answer them in the comments. Or, you know, you could just download them...
 
26. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
27. Les Savy Fav - Root For Ruin
28. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
29. School of Seven Bells - Disconnect from Desire
30. Ra Ra Riot - The Orchard
31. !!! - Strange Weather, Isn't It?
32. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks
33. Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do
34. Kylesa - Spiral Shadow
35. The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers
36. Cherry Ghost - Beneath This Burning Shoreline
37. Woods - At Echo Lake
38. Apse - Climb Up
39. Shout Out Louds - Work
40. Errors - Come Down With Me
41. High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine
42. Daft Punk - TRON: Legacy Soundtrack
43. The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
44. Shining - Blackjazz
45. Fucked Up - Couple Tracks
46. Shugo Tokumaru - Port Entropy
47. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
48. Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises
49. Broken Bells - Broken Bells
50. Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void
51. Dillinger Escape Plan - Operation Paralysis
52. Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring
53. OK Go - Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
54. Sleigh Bells - Treats
55. Menomena - Mines
56. Arsis - Starve for the Devil
57. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Soundtrack
58. RJD2 - The Colossus
59. All that Remains - For We Are Many
60. Delta Spirit - History from Below
61. The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
62. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt
63. Watain - Lawless Darkness
64. Cold War Kids - Behave Yourself
65. Dead Weather - Sea of Cowards
66. Coheed and Cambria - Year of the Black Rainbow
67. Stars - The Five Ghosts
68. Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown
69. Interpol - Interpol
70. Crime in Stereo - I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone
71. The xx - Tour 7"
72. The 1900s - Return of the Century
73. Torche - Songs for Singles
74. Ratatat - LP4
75. Murs and 9th Wonder - Fornever
76. As I Lay Dying - The Powerless Rise
77. Bad Religion - The Dissent of Man
78. Dead Confederate - Sugar
79. Eels - Tomorrow Morning
80. Four Tet - There Is Love In You
81. Beach House - Teen Dream
82. Envy - Recitation
83. Eels - End Times
84. Hot Chip - One Life Stand
85. Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork
86. The Futureheads - The Chaos
87. We Are Wolves - Invisible Violence
88. Vampire Weekend - Contra
89. The New Pornographers - Together
90. Devo - Something for Everybody
91. She & Him - Volume Two
92. Picastro - Become Secret
93. No Age - Everything In Between
94. Neon Trees - Habits
95. Crystal Castles - II
96. Best Coast - Crazy For You
97. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
98. Archie Bronson Outfit - Coconut
99. The Main Drag - You Are Underwater
100. Rhymefest - El Che

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Top Albums of 2009: Top 25

There is enough chit-chat in this blog without me writing a lengthy intro, so let's just have at it, shall we?
 
25. Gallows - Grey Britain
Gallows is still fucking pissed. The difference on Grey Britain compared with previous efforts is how polished that sensation of sheer, chaotic rage comes across. This is definitely a more metalcore bent than you would expect given their previously gutterpunk reputation, but the slickness hasn't removed any of the bite. And what a snarling, gnashing bite it is.
 
24.  Asobi Seksu - Hush
Yuki Chikudate and crew ditch their well-established wall-of-guitars sound in favor of something lighter and more etherially poppy, and it pretty much works. Occasional moments of droningness aside, Chikudate's vocals showcase surprisingly well without wave after wave of distortion crashing against her, and the record manages to avoid falling into the trap of being merely pretty for the sake of being pretty. 
 
23.  Heartless Bastards - The Mountain
I spent the better part of half an hour just trying to come up with a one term description for The Mountain, and frankly I just can't do it. It's folksy, arty and punky all at once, like early Kings of Leon and MC5 jamming with PJ Harvey. Erika Wennerstrom has one of the most hauntingly unique voices I've ever heard, and it's on grand display here. Remarkable stuff. 
 
22.  Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
I know people are pretty well split on Dave Longstreth and his hipster choir, but put me down on the side in favor. Bitte Orca is a disjointed masterpiece, carried largely on the shoulders of the vocal talents of Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian.  Their harmonies more or less make the entire band, though the songwriting and arrangements aren't to be discounted, either.
 
 21.  The Protomen - Act II: The Father of Death
The guys known for being "that Mega Man band" grew up big time on Act II. No longer does the novelty of the band feel like pure novelty. Instead, it's the intensely weird (this shit is still about the robot apocalypse, after all) yet altogether compelling songwriting that takes center stage here. It combines Queen's more operatic tendencies with a little bit of Cursive-style narrative and the high energy, synth-fueled arena rock of the Kenny Loggins ilk. It starts off a tad slow and drags for a bit in the middle, but the closing set of songs is so bizarrely powerful that it's impossible not fall in love with the sheer audacity of it all.
 
20.  The xx - xx
To quote my girlfriend on what was her favorite album of the year, "These guys figured out the exact number of notes needed to make an amazing album. No more, no less." Couldn't have said it better myself. XX is minimalist indie rock that doesn't feel overly sparse. Listening to it feels like a dream you remember every gorgeous detail of when you wake up. That it's their debut album is even more amazing.
 
 19.  St. Vincent - Actor
This album startled the hell out of me. I knew nothing about Annie Clark or any of St. Vincent's previous albums going in, and I almost skipped this entirely before the year was out. Thanks Pitchfork for making me take notice of this one. Mixing electronic and pop music in an entirely, dare I say, theatrical way, Actor is an album that veers wildly from pretty pop tones to grindy grooves that flirt with the industrial. And Clark's voice, dear god what a voice. Listen to Save Me from What I Want and Marrow over and over again. It will delight and disturb you.
 
18.  Japandroids - Post-Nothing
Japandroids are essentially No Age with hooky choruses and a fuller sound. Their debut album, Post-Nothing, is pure, youthful exuberance expressed through noise and speed. I wish this album existed when I was in high school because I feel like I could have used it to guide me in a more fun-loving direction. These dudes know how to rock in an earnestly simple way and make it totally engaging. It's a rare quality, and I can't wait to see what they come out with next. 
 
17.  Passion Pit - Manners
I'm guessing you've all heard Little Secrets by now, and yes, that is probably the best song on this album. That said, Manners is more than the sum of its best single. Michael Angelakos writes some cleverly dark lyrics, and backs them up with incredibly catchy melodies and a falsetto vocal style that seems kind of impossible at times (and based on what I've gathered from their live performances, it occasionally is). Still, it's amazing sounding on record, and the band's electro/indie methodology perfectly compliments his style.

16.  Dethklok - Dethalbum II
I feel intensely stupid calling an album by a cartoon death metal band "mature," but that's exactly what Dethalbum II is: A maturation of a band's sound. Whereas the first Dethalbum was a wildly entertaining collection of parodist metal, Dethalbum II feels a lot more sincere, but not in any kind of overly serious way. These are just really, really fucking good metal songs, even with titles like The Cyborg Slayers and I Tamper With the Evidence at the Murder Site of Odin. Even Brendan Smalls (as Nathan Explosion, of course) has evolved his vocal attack into something beyond the gutteral angry-speak the first album contained exclusively. He feels more real, and frankly, that can be said of Dethalbum II as a whole. 
 
15.  Bat for Lashes - Two Suns
I enjoyed the first Bat for Lashes album a good bit, though at times, it felt a little too much like I was listening to the journal musings of a Ren Faire dork. On Two Suns, Natasha Khan sheds a lot of the dream journal-ish navel gazing and replaces it all with far stronger, far more affecting songwriting. The production is top notch, and Khan's voice feels a lot stronger than on her debut. There is something of a narrative spread across the album's eleven tracks, but it's sort of inconsequential to the whole experience. Songs like Daniel and Sleep Alone are easy enough to take as single-serving pieces of electro pop, and perhaps best showcase the best elements of Two Suns.
 
14.  Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
The band I once deemed the most overrated group working the indie scene today makes the darling album of every top 10 list in 2009, and color me shocked, but I almost agree. This is by far their best, most engaging work. The band hasn't strayed too terribly far from the heavy on synth, light on structure formula of the past, but these songs feel a great deal more like songs than anything their past catalogue would suggest. I went long stretches with multiple songs (My Girls especially) stuck in my head, whereas on previous albums, I couldn't even remember some of the tracks an hour after I'd heard them. So I guess I like Animal Collective now--provided they keep making material like this, of course. 
 
13.  Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I think for my money, I still slightly prefer the slightly rawer, slightly less electronic Phoenix of It's Never Been Like That than the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix version of the band that became a huge breakout success and car commercial fodder in 2009. That said, this is still an unbelievably good pop record that I've had to fight to get out of my head on several occasions. It's certainly the most confident work the band has ever put together, if also perhaps the most self-indulgent (Love Like a Sunset, I'm looking at you). Still, indulgences aside, this album moves at a fantastic pace, and if Lisztomania and 1901 aren't the best one-two opening combo of any album this year, then I should probably stop writing about music. 
 
12.  Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, and John Paul Jones made the best Queens of the Stone Age album not to bear the name of the Queens of the Stone Age. I guess that's not altogether surprising, since two thirds of this supergroup made QOTSA's best actual album, too. Led Zeppelin's legendary bass player gives the whole thing a little more stank then perhaps we're used to (that's a compliment). Like any supergroup record, there isn't a lot of glue holding this whole thing together beyond the sheer musicianship on display. I can't really remember too many of the lyrics from the majority of the songs, but I can remember every grinding riff, every punchy drum beat and every slick-as-shit bass groove the album has on offer. It's just a ton of fun to listen to these guys play together. 
 
11.  Mastodon - Crack the Skye
Crack the Skye is simultaneously features some of the catchiest and most inaccessable material Mastodon has ever recorded. Let's start with the album's concept, which is indecipherable. It revolves around a crippled young boy who somehow time travels back to Czarist Russia into the body of Rasputin. Also, I think there's something in there about drummer Brann Dailor's sister, Skye, who committed suicide 20 years ago. Got all that? Because I sure don't. What I do know is that the band has never attempted anything more intricate and bizarre than what's on offer here, and yet this is also some of the most easily listenable material they've ever concocted. Radio-friendly (relatively speaking) stoner metal jams like Oblivion and Divinations join the 13 minute sprawling craziness that is The Last Baron, and yet somehow it all fits like one very, very strange glove. 
 
10.  Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
How the hell does Jay-Z stay so remarkably fresh when rapper after rapper delve into lame vanity projects and endless attempts at hitting with the fresh producer of the minute? I honestly think it's just that no matter who he gets to produce, no matter who is guesting alongside him, the flow and feel of his music is just unmistakably him, and not in a stale or rehashy way either. The Blueprint 3 doesn't stray too far from Jay's familiar themes (love of New York, hate for weak ass trends in hip-hop, and, of course, self-congratulation), but his rhymes are as sharp as ever, and he picks a supporting cast to back him up that's as good as any he's ever assembled. I'd probably have ranked this even higher had the record not trailed off a bit toward the end, but when it's hot, Blueprint 3 is fucking brilliant.

9.  Telefon Tel Aviv - Immolate Yourself
Telefon Tel Aviv's Immolate Yourself is one of those albums that completely snuck up on me this year. I've had it for a while and given it multiple listens, and over time, with each individual listen, I fell a little more in love with it. The two guys behind it, Charlie Cooper and Josh Eustis, have an astonishingly good ear for creating very specific, highly emotional electronic soundscapes. There are elements of glitch, ambient, and even straight up indie rock in here, but it all comes together to create a cohesive, haunting atmosphere. Songs like The Birds, Your Mouth, and You Are the Worst Thing in the World are honestly some of the most beautiful pieces of electronic music I've ever encountered. 
 
8.  Kylesa - Static Tensions
Kylesa is officially the only band in the world I've ever encountered that featured two drummers, and managed to not make it feel like an absurd and useless indulgence. Kylesa also made the best metal album of 2009. While this definitely falls into the realm of the "stoner" or "sludge" metal category, Static Tensions manages to deftly avoid most of the trappings of that classification, such as slow, tuneless jams that focus more on weird solos and dragging the listener through the muck than actually being, you know, metal. Sure, the record's got its slower moments, but at no point does it ever drag. It has its boot on your throat, twisting and stomping from beginning to end. Its attack is relentless, and its construction so dynamic and brutal that I couldn't decide if I wanted to sit still and try and listen for the finer details, or just kick the shit out of something. Hell, I still can't decide.

7.  Metric - Fantasies

Yes, Help I'm Alive is a way awesome single. It's also nowhere near the best song on Fantasies. Metric has always been my Canadian female-fronted electro-indie-pop band of choice (there are more of those than you might think), but Fantasies easily takes the crown as the band's best effort to date. Emily Haines has always been good, but the band has periodically felt a little light, and the production hasn't always been there to give it the proper oomph. Not an issue on Fantasies whatsoever. This shit is bombastic without feeling overwrought, catchy and dancy as hell, and fully-formed in a way that cannot be denied.

6.  Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
Oh, yeah, the departure record. It's usually the kiss of death, and I guess for a few critics, It's Blitz totally was. Whaaaaaa? Spick-and-span synths in place of grimy, nasty guitars? You know, I'm not going to say I necessarily prefer the dance-tastic sound of It's Blitz over the snarling garage rock of earlier Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums, but taken purely for what it is, It's Blitz is amazing. The way Karen O and crew slide into this new direction feels completely effortless, like they've been channeling Blondie and LCD Soundsystem since day one. Also, as much as I love Karen's penchant for growling like the lovechild of a banshee and a cave troll, the woman's voice is beautiful when she wants it to be, and having that fact spotlighted here is a welcome change of pace.
 
5.  ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - The Century of Self
I'm well aware of the severe hard-on I have for this band. I realize that I've championed so many of their records that it probably just sounds like white noise by this point in time, but I don't care. The Century of Self ranks among the band's best works, and stayed on constant rotation in my various playlists throughout the entire year. These guys are known for creating epic-sounding songs, and at no point does Century of Self feel anything less than epic. Walls of distortion and huge, sweeping arrangements occasionally feel like they're about to send the whole thing off the rails, but then come these quiet, almost stealthy moments that reel you back in, and all the while lead vocalist Conrad Keely remains enigmatic and engaging, with lyrics that toe the line between nonsense and brilliance. Also, straight up, Isis Unveiled is the best rock song I heard all year.
 
4.  A Place to Bury Strangers - Exploding Head
The band once best-known for being the loudest band in New York makes an album that is not only loud, but exceptionally listenable. I liked their self-titled debut recording quite a bit, but it definitely skewed toward the realm of noise for noise's sake. Exploding Head is much more interested in you hearing the songs underneath all the noise, and it's leaps and bounds better for it. This album dives much deeper into the realm of ancient shoegaze, drawing upon the spirits of My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division and The Jesus and Mary Chain, but staying just far enough away to avoid coming off as pure tribute. And at no point does this record stray into the dull doldrums the stalwarts of the genre occasionally get wrapped up in. This thing is a chainsaw from the get-go and never lets up.
 
3.  The Dead Weather - Horehound
My girlfriend will kick me in the dick for saying this, but Jack White should probably stick to playing drums. I'm not saying this as any sort of slight against his obviously superior skills as a guitarist, but his second vanity band project, on which he is exclusively the skins-hitter, is by leaps and bounds my favorite thing he's ever been a part of. Part of that is certainly owed to the unbelievable vocals of Allison Mossheart (of The Kills fame), who on Horehound sounds like she gained 20 pounds of confidence before stepping behind the mic. But even beyond her, the feel of this record is just unreal. White's drums might as well be made out of trashcans (albeit great-sounding trashcans), and the bass tone (not something I single out very often) is just grimy as all fuck in a way I couldn't get out of my head. The whole thing feels gritty and dusty to the core, and I loved every second of it.
 
2.  Future of the Left - Travels With Myself and Another
I loved McLusky, the Welsh punk band that sounded like what would happen if The Joker were born in Cardiff and got way into The Pixies and NOMEANSNO. Future of the Left is McLusky with a different bass player, and the weirdness lightning focused into a piercing attack of noise and incomprehensible humor. This album is pure, ridiculous id. Lead singer and guitarist Andrew Falkus veers in so many obscure directions at such a lightning pace that it's impossible to try and keep track. The better approach is to just sit back and absorb the sheer punky goofiness of it all. Pretty soon, you'll be chanting lines like "It doesn't look like a man, it doesn't talk like a man, but does it fuck like a man, but does it fuck like a man" at the top of your lungs without even stopping to think what the hell that even means.

1.  POS - Never Better
I can say without hyperbole that Never Better is my favorite rap album of at least the last five years, if not further back. There is something about the energy of this album, the insane production, POS's intensely creative spitfire delivery...I can't even quite put my finger on it. It's an intangible quality that just puts it such a cut above, like, everything else. Whatever that "thing" is, it works, and works phenomenally. What's crazy is that the dude hasn't even been doing this rap thing for all that long. Before taking up hip-hop, he was the drummer and guitarist for multiple Minneapolis punk bands. And that DIY, punk attitude influences every nook and cranny of his rap career. Whether he's name-dropping Fugazi or shouting over something close to the jazz equivalent of a blast beat, POS never feels like he's treading on familiar hip-hop ground. It helps that he's framed by beats the likes of which I swear I've never heard anything quite like. The production is so good I could listen to each of these tracks as instrumentals and be perfectly happy. But with his transcendentally enjoyable rhymes, this stuff turns utterly sublime. This is my favorite album of the year, and it wasn't even close.

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Top Albums of 2009: 100-26

Well good day everyone,
 
So I'm finally settled on my top albums of last year, and I managed to do it within the first month of the new year, to boot. This, truly, is an astonishing thing. I'll be posting my top 25 later tonight. In the meantime, here are the "best of the rest," so to speak. The albums I dug that I just didn't have any time to write text about. Whee!
 
26. Silversun Pickups - Swoon
27. Baroness - Blue Record
28. The Swell Season - Strict Joy
29. Pissed Jeans - King of Jeans
30. Say Hi - Oohs and Aahs
31. Brakes - Touchdown
32. Cage - Depart from Me
33. The Antlers - Hospice
34. Doves - Kingdom of Rust
35. The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns
36. Handsome Furs - Face Control
37. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
38. Art Brut - Art Brut vs. Satan
39. The View - Which Bitch?
40. The Rumble Strips - Welcome to the Walk Alone
41. Converge - Axe to Fall
42. Datarock - Red
43. Beirut/Realpeople - March of the Zapotec/Holland
44. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II
45. The Whitest Boy Alive - Rules
46. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - White Lunar
47. Peaches - I Feel Cream
48. White Denim - Fits
49. Wolves in the Throne Room - Black Cascade
50. Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
51. Mr. Oizo - Lambs Anger
52. DOOM - Born Like This
53. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
54. Lamb of God - Wrath
55. Annie - Don't Stop
56. Flight of the Conchords - I Told You I Was Freaky
57. The Black Dahlia Murder - Deflorate
58. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
59. The Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away
60. The Big Pink - A Brief History of Love
61. Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
62. Bon Iver - Blood Bank EP
63. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
64. Megasus - Megasus
65. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come
66. Islands - Vapours
67. The Heavy - The House That Dirt Built
68. Editors - In This Light and On This Day
69. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
70. The Von Bondies - Love, Hate, and Then There's You
71. The Beatings - Late Season Kid
72. Ha Ha Tonka - Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South
73. Mos Def - The Ecstatic
74. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
75. Swan Lake - Enemy Mine
76. Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth
77. Tiny Vipers - Life on Earth
78. Muse - The Resistance
79. Goldie Lookin' Chain - ASBO 4 Life
80. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
81. Iran - Dissolver
82. White Rabbits - It's Frightening
83. Viva Voce - Rose City
84. Karen O and the Kids - Where The Wild Things Are
85. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - Vs. Children
86. Tiny Masters of Today - Skeleton
87. Wolfmother - Cosmic Egg
88. Peter, Bjorn & John - Living Thing
89. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
90. The Twilight Sad - Forget the Night Ahead
91. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
92. Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms
93. Death Cab for Cutie - The Open Door EP
94. Atlas Sound - Logos
95. British Sea Power - Man of Aran
96. Mongrel - Better Than Heavy
97. Califone - All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
98. DM Stith - Heavy Ghost
99. Young Galaxy - Invisible Republic
100. Megafaun - Gather, Form & Fly

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