Top 10 List for 2009
By Michael Seman
Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

SemanTopTen

I am in a band with my wife, Jenny. She is a Ph.D. fellow studying the history of borderlands, bakes a mean apple pie, and was born on the same day as Willie Nelson. As Shiny Around the Edges, we enjoy making music together and occasionally have a chance to collaborate on things non-musical because of the band. The kind folks at Popshifter asked what our “Top 10″ list was for 2009. We hadn’t even thought about this throughout the year, but had a good time putting a list together late one evening over a glass of wine. It should be noted that we would have had our bassist Kerm contribute, but he was on a vision quest exploring his roots in beautifully sparse west Texas. The resulting list is what my wife and I have listened to, watched, and read throughout the year that made an indelible impression. It is either hopelessly out-of-date or incredibly prescient depending on your personal politics. In no particular order:

1. Emma Goldman: Living My Life

A two-volume autobiography penned by one of the leaders of the anarchist movement of the 1900s. Exploring Emma Goldman’s life story is a first-hand look at anarchism, feminism, Marxism, and more in the early-to-mid-twentieth century. This is a great read and helps one understand from where much of modern counter-culture has originated. It is well written and full of wit and insight into the United States and Russia at the dawning of modernism.

2. Frank Sinatra with Antonio Carlos Jobim: Sinatra & Company

A forgotten masterpiece (and out of print in the United States) that is filled with standards like “Bein’ Green” along with bilingual gems such as “Drinking Water (Agua De Beber).” Like all of Sinatra’s albums, the arrangements are superb. Hearing Sinatra and Jobim collaborate is worth the effort to find the vinyl used or order the import CD. I believe it might also now be available digitally.

3. Dust Congress: Regurgitate Sunshine State

Broken down folk with marimba and trumpet from Denton, Texas. They live up the street from us and we never tire of hearing Nick Foreman’s contemplative wail while the notes supporting him waver and stumble in a beautiful procession. The 12″ vinyl is also worthy of coffee table display.

4. Mad Men, Seasons I & II

What started as a deft, retro look at the time when media and commerce began to intersect is now one of the darkest commentaries on the beginning of the end of modernism.

5. Castanets: Texas Rose, The Thaw, & the Beasts

We always enjoy hearing Ray’s new songs and this album is the perfect marriage between Rafter’s production skills and Ray’s songwriting: a sonic voyage greater than the sum of its substantial parts.

6. Leonie Sandercock: Cosmopolis II

This book looks at the questions urban planners will have to answer in a time of hypermobile global population shifts. The speed and diversity of immigration is creating neighborhoods, cities, and countries that are hybrids demanding new approaches to planning.

7. Sonic Youth: Confusion Is Sex

This is on our list every year, with good reason.

8. Russian Ark

Unbelievably (and spectacularly), this film is one entire shot from beginning to end. It takes the viewer through 33 rooms of what is now Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, involved literally a cast of thousands, and details events in Russian history in a non-linear way. The narrators are ghostly presences slipping between observation and interaction with a disquieting ease. The resulting effect is dreamlike.

9. Michel Foucault: History of Sexuality Volume 1: An Introduction

A philosophical staple that crosses academic disciplines, this book offers a new way of thinking about sexuality, knowledge, and power and the ways they are created and transmitted.

10. Black Sabbath: Paranoid

Our elderly VW Golf’s CD player stopped working at the beginning of the year. Inexplicably, this cassette made its way into our car and we have been revisiting it throughout the year. Our recently recorded collection of songs reflects this to some degree.

Michael is a doctoral student in urban planning and public policy at the University of Texas at Arlington. You can follow him on Twitter here, visit his website here, and listen to his band here.

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