In January, We Say Hello & Goodbye

January is named for Janus, the Roman god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings. Often depicted with two heads — or, more unnervingly, with one head and two faces — Janus had the ability to look forward and backward at the same time.

Just a few of our favorite things in 2010.

Which seems a fitting namesake for a month that straddles the twelvemonth fence, endlessly putting the old year out to pasture and ushering in the new. And having such an origin may explain why so many of us citizens are inclined to spend a portion of January glancing over our shoulders, cataloging our accomplishments (and, ah-hem, failures) from the year gone by, and peering out toward the horizon, hopefully compiling lists of things to do.

We at Scribbleskiff are not above summational list-making, either. Although not fans of the art of compiling “top” lists — picking the most favorite among our favorite beers, books, or bands equates to a Sophie’s Choice, and miserable failure is inevitable. For example, we set out to create an iTunes playlist of the top 10 tunes of 2010 (clever, huh?) and wound up with a scroll 37 songs long that couldn’t be pared down. So it goes.

Nonetheless, we like to be categorical on occasion, picking out some “songs for a quiet moment,” for instance, or “six beers for a summer solstice,” etc. Doing so makes us feel less disorganized than normal and, perhaps, a bit more purposeful. More important, we recently received some pointed requests to “tally things up” and “entertain us” — Nostradamus-like — with predictions for next year’s bests. So we are caving in to both our whims and the peer pressure. (This one’s for you, Otto! Not [necessarily] to be confused with this Otto.)

Falling on the heels of the recently launched series “year-end wrap-up for holiday wrapping,” for which we attempted to take stock of and draw some conclusions about our favorite attainments from 2010 — the books read, beers tasted, bands discovered, etc. — we now bring you our “list of lists.” None of the following is definitive or even all that enlightening, but compiling these compilations has amused us muchly these past few weeks and distracted us from many mid-winter mundanities, and isn’t that the point? Enjoy!

The Seven Most Played Songs of 2010 (According to Our iTunes Library, as of December 31, 2010) That We Didn’t Review
Yes, this is clunky and far from gutsy, but there were more than 415 songs in the 2010 playlist, and it ain’t easy picking ponies. These aren’t necessarily “the best” or “the most [insert superlative]” anything. Apparently, we just liked and played them a lot but didn’t get around to commenting on them, as we did with others here and here.

“Boy,” The Orchard, Ra Ra Riot. Although the fluttery bass line and hooky chamber-pop melodies continually reel me in, it’s singer Wes Miles’ gliding glissando vocals that are the real catch here.
Listen to “Boy” (mp3):

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“Wait Up (Boots of Danger),” Champ, Tokyo Police Club. This (non-Asian, non-law-enforcement) Toronto-based four-piece returned last year with a follow-up to their 2008 debut that was energetic, irresistible, and worth the wait.
Listen to “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” (mp3):

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“Big Wave,” I’m Having Fun Now, Jenny & Johnny. Neither half of this duo of indie-rock darlings (Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice) has ever sounded as captivating or fun-loving apart as they did together on this single.

Listen to “Big Wave” (mp3):

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“Airplanes,” Gorilla Manor, Local Natives. Not locals nor natives (unless you reside in Silver Lake, CA), these guys have fashioned a unique mix of Afro-pop rhythms and laid-back folk lyricism (think Vampire Weekend meets Fleet Foxes) that would seem at home anywhere.
Listen to “Airplanes” (mp3):

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“Bloodbuzz Ohio,” High Violet, The National. If there is a such a mellifluously named town in Ohio — and even if there isn’t — this song makes me wish I could be carried there, in a swarm of bees. It also boasts the line most evocative of 2010’s national predicament: “I still owe money to the money I owe.”
Listen to “Bloodbuzz Ohio” (mp3):

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“Sad Smile,” A Storm, A Tree, My Mother’s Head, Bobby Bare Jr. With a knack for crafting catchy countrified pop songs (think John Hiatt) tempered with a rock-’n-roll gallows wit (akin to Paul Westerberg’s), Bobby Bare always make me smile, in a not-so-sad way.
Listen to “Sad Smile” (mp3):

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“The Book of Love,” Scratch My Back, Peter Gabriel. As an elder statesman of rock, Gabriel can cover just about any band’s song and make it his own. Here he lends an appropriate air of maturity and wistfulness to this song of youthful wonderment by The Magnetic Fields.
Listen to “The Book of Love” (mp3):

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(If you are receiving this via email or Facebook and do not see the flash music players below each song, click here to listen in full on the blog site.)

The Three Beers We Wanted to Taste More than Once
Like gluttonous Goldilocks, we tried a lot of different beers last year, in a variety of styles, from amber ales to wheat beers. Most were delicious and provided great accompaniment (and, in some cases, a helping hand) to many good meals. But there were three in particular that we enjoyed and, once we had shared, wished we had not.

San Diego Session Ale, Stone Brewing, Ballast Point Brewing Co., Kelsey McNair. The latest in Stone’s ongoing series of collaboration beers (I reviewed another joint-venture byproduct here), this was not only one of my favorite brews from 2010 it is also one of the best I’ve ever had. Truth. It offers a pucker-making mix of hops bitterness, tangy citrus aromas, and a slightly sweet malt flavor, with plenty of carbonation. It comports well with both appetizers (a nutty Asiago cheese on wheat crackers, for instance) and main dishes, like herb-roasted chicken. Best of all, it’s light in alcohol (4.6%) and clearly designed to be the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.

A Saison Darkly, Stillwater Artisanal Ales. Another collaboration, this time a limited-release black ale flavored with hibiscus and rose hips brewed by Baltimorean Brian Strumke at the Huisbrouwerij Sint Canarus in Deinze-Gottem, Belgium. Strumke, a self-proclaimed “gypsy brewer” and the man behind the curtain at Stillwater (I’ve written about Strumke’s rise from homebrewer to big-leaguer here and elsewhere), has produced several variations on the Saison theme in the past year or so, and this was by far the most complex and delicious. A mix of chocolatey dunkel sweetness and standard Belgian floral aromatics, the flavor combinations were contrasts in character — peppery and citrusy, roasted caramel and fruit (berries), creamy and dry, etc. — and anything but expected. A dark horse, for sure.

Bitches Brew, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Speaking of collaboration, this match-up was inspired not by zymurgy but by musicology. Created to coincide with the 40th anniversary release of Miles Davis’ eponymous breakthrough jazz-rock album, the beer fuses an Imperial stout with an African honey beer, creating a dark, rich concoction with sweet overtones. It was surprisingly smooth and delicious, enjoyed as the label suggested, as “the ultimate partner for chili or spicy curry chicken,” or alone, sipped cool — like Davis’ music.

Our Favorite Non-Poetry Reads
As any Scribbleskiff reader knows, our preferred choice for poolside perusing is a slim volume of poetry. We read and recommended several fantastic titles last year, including these. However, we also managed to find time to be delighted by and devour several non-prosodic tomes worthy of mention.

The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart (Random House). Not much for novel reading, mainly because I have a short attention span, I nonetheless found both of these to be a cut above the usual tiresome and bathetic best-sellers. In fact, they were two of the funniest and most frightening books I’ve ever read. Sad but true — but don’t ask.

Hint Fiction, Robert Swartwood, Ed. (W.W. Norton). What if a haiku were like a novel? Or vice-versa? The entries in this pocket-sized collection, subtitled An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer, attempt to answer (or refute) such a hypothesis. Spare and evocative, these 125 “stories,” written by writers both famous (Joyce Carol Oates, Peter Straub) and unknown, illustrate that length doesn’t always ensure complexity in fiction.

Drinkology: The Art and Science of the Cocktail, James Waller (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t I take that course in college? Well, now you can. Waller’s book, a revised and updated version of the 2003 edition, offers everything any budding bartender or mature mixologist needs to know — from instructions on how to set up and stock a home bar to more than 400 recipes for classic and novel drinks. Best of all, Waller’s writing is as entertaining as it is informative.

Esopus Magazine, The Esopus Foundation. Calling this twice-yearly collection of artists’ projects, critical writing, fiction, poetry, visual essays, interviews, and a themed CD of new music a “magazine” is a little like saying the Grand Canyon is a nice place for a picnic. It just doesn’t cover it. Nonetheless, I look forward to receiving each indescribable issue and savor it with desert-island devotion.

So, there you have it. A sampling of who and what carried us away last year. And now, in Janus-like fashion, as we say goodbye to January, we say hello to what’s in store for Scribbleskiffers in 2011:

As always, tell us what you think. Did you read/listen to/taste any of these 2010 new releases? Are there others that you think everyone should try? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And be sure to visit (and join) the Scribbleskiff page on Facebook (find it here), where you can partake in wall-to-wall conversations, find additional information and suggestions from readers, and more.

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