I don't really agree in annual "wrap-ups," insofar as I think our tastes should be cumulative and not oriented around an arbitrary set of dates. So, only in the order they occur to me.
1) Best album purchased under the general auspices of acquainting myself with U.S. Latino Culture:
Abe Vigoda "Skeleton"
Abe Vigoda's style combines post-punk/tropical punk with some of the Richie Valens era guitar themes, where all elements are buried in a beautiful sound muddle. Nothing too stereotypically Latino, in terms of the occasional Mariachi caterwauling, but the album is aware of its ethnic antecedents in rock music. Plus Abe Vigoda is part of the up-and-coming/perhaps-already-here L.A. the Smell scene. A perfect compliment to the late-20 something graduate student compiling an exam list on U.S. Latino Literature.
2) Best album of faggoty excess:
Xiu Xiu "La Foret"
This album isn't even from this year (it was released in 2005), but this year's "Women as Lovers" which definitely broke new ground in their generic territory is not exemplary of their work as a whole. Also, I just picked this album up on vinyl (in my effort to get all of my favorite albums on record). If you've never heard them imagine a band inflected by all of the angst of '80s brit-pop (mostly of the Smith's/Morrissey vein), combined with the early years of Roxy Music, and thrown together with the impluses of contemporary harsh noise; an album that veers between whispery folk verses, giddy/suicidal pop, and cacophonous soundscaping, all framing a voice that croons, shrieks, rants about gay sex, politics, self-loathing, and the trauma of others. "La Foret" is by far their most well realized album, each track achieves something unique, unlike some of their other albums where the tracks are lopsidedly quality-driven ruin-your-life kind of music and other times a series of disconnected ideas.
Here is a video for their "Muppet Face" track off of La Foret
3)Biggest disappointment of a recent record shopping excursion:
Parts & Labor "Receivers"
I admit it, I was tricked by a well designed cover and a hyperbolic review clipping stickered to the front of the album in an attractive color that described the album as combining the layered noise impulses of Wolf Eyes with the alt-punk sensibilities of Husker Du and the Minutemen. I 've never liked Mike Watt, and I've always assumed that a band with a name like Husker Du would not meet my expectations, but I thought filtering the already structured noise of Wolf Eyes (a band I already love) into a pop-like scenario that I would love it. No, I do not, it sounds like Built to Spill with some occasional bleeps thrown in and some Japanther-style guitar work. Another lesson in why I should avoid impulse buying when it comes to music, or should have purchased that Whitehouse album with the dick on the cover.
4) Best Study Metal:
Orthodox "Amanacer en Puerta Oscura"
This album might be older than 2008, but I recently discovered them from one of my favorite labels, Southern Lord Records--home of drone-metal legends Sunn0))) and Earth. Who knew Spaniards can do a complex mix of arty/jazz/metal themes that are at times rather minimal but always contiguous and interesting. Pushing the boundaries of metal where they need to go. For me, an easily distracted graduate student, all forms of study friendly music apply.
Here they are performing a Black Sabbath cover:
5) Favorite New Single Function Kitchen Object:
This device almost tied for this slot with the cheese slicer I found at the thrift store. But as someone with chronically inflamed wrists and elbows (due to carpal tunnel and tennis elbow) who is always cooking and cutting onions this shit saved my tendons this christmas break.
6) All Time Best Breed of All Animals:
The American Pittbull Terrier
(note: the image below is not Hollywood)
The classic American work dog now demonized by contemporary media is actually harder to train to kill or attack humans than other dogs. They are amazingly cute, incredibly smart, phenomenal companions, and they can be quite obedient if properly trained. I am now a bully breed advocate.
For more information see, Monster Myths About Pittbulls.
7) Best Things Said by Kathy Griffin on Live TV:
8) Best General Change to My Life:
Holiday Meat Consumption
So after 17 years of vegetarianism (including approximately 4-5 of half-hearted veganism) I've decided to drop the elitism and puritanical aspects of vegetarianism by allowing myself to consume meat on the infrequent "special occasion." This change to a rather steady and committed diet will help me travel with more ease and will make me less of a burden to my Mexican half of the family who strain themselves to come up with meat-free recipes every half of a decade or so. So far I've had lobster and clam chowder in Cape Cod (the former decidedly fishy and gross, the latter delicious and rubbery), wings, and calamari by way of a sushi-roll called a "dynamite" roll that was amazing.
That said, I learned to cook as a vegetarian and I pretty much prefer that diet overall, so I plan on continuing being vegetarian in general, and being more flexible when the occasion calls for it.
9) Best Instance of Possible Political Disruption and Undermining Current Hegemons:
The Economic Downturn
This is perhaps cruel, but this might be a decisive moment for the future of capitalism, US international dominance, and a potentially multipolar world, with some sort of progressive propensities, and an increasing collective dissatisfaction with the severe inequalities wrought by TINA (i.e. neo-liberalism)
On the other hand this might just be another singular crisis where capitalism saddles itself to brief nationalizations and miniscule welfare policies.
According to Immanuel Wallerstein:
"In terms of the hegemonic cycles, the United States was a rising contender for hegemony as of 1873, achieved full hegemonic dominance in 1945, and has been slowly declining since the 1970s. George W. Bush's follies have transformed a slow decline into a precipitate one. And as of now, we are past any semblance of U.S. hegemony.
We can assert with confidence that the present system cannot survive. What we cannot predict is which new order will be chosen to replace it, because it will be the result of an infinity of individual pressures. But sooner or later, a new system will be installed. This will not be a capitalist system but it may be far worse (even more polarizing and hierarchical) or much better (relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian) than such a system. The choice of a new system is the major worldwide political struggle of our times."
This is a frightening insecure moment for all of us, but also one where certain historical forces fold into themselves and other determinants--hopefully more radical ones--come forward.
Here is your soundtrack for economic crisis N.E.R.D. "Sooner or Later"
10) Most Cult-like Experience of 2008:
A Graduate Course in Spinoza's Ethics, or "Students for a Democritean Society."
Baruch Spinoza is a 17th century philosopher / excommunicated Spanish/Dutch Jew. I am even perhaps late to this, but Spinoza's work has helped redefine aspects of cultural studies, e.g. "the affective turn" (Michael Hardt, Lauren Berlant, Patricia Tricento Clough, etc.) But also I think this course helped me reacquaint myself, in a really positive way, with one of the fundamental premises of cultural studies: to derive any system (political, ethical, philosophical, etc.) from "the given" (as in his Ethics) rather than from the ideal. This course also made me deeply consider the question of dialectical thinking for Marxism, historical change, the nature of "freedom" not as a space free from constraint but as intimately connected to the social and determination, and the work of Louis Althusser, along with most of the contemporary continental scene in a much more powerful and rich way, which counters my general exhaustion with it.
At the same time talking about Spinoza's accounts of metaphysics, and his views on history and time make me incomprehensible to many of my fellows. So I recognize my own cult-like attachment to him as a figure.