2012: The Year in Review – Part 1: Culture

Back in February I had the brilliant idea of starting up a Tumblr, upon which I intended to note every record I bought, every film I watched for the first time and every new book I read, so that come December I would have the raw material for a review of my year’s cultural highlights.

I have managed to keep this going (unlike the Pinterest project, but that’s another story), and it has revealed, disappointingly, that the cultural landscape of my life is more akin to an arid desert than the tropical rainforest I imagined it to be.

I did best on the recorded music front, with 24 albums purchased, a fraction of what I consumed back in the 90s, but perhaps not too bad for an old dog. Books read numbered an embarrassing 11, none of them published this year, while my movie intake was a mere dozen, with only two actual trips to the cinema (and one of those was to see The Muppets). I seem to have managed to completely avoid going to concerts and exhibitions.

Have I descended then into philistinism? Has the pernicious effect of the accursed internet completely rotted my brain? Not quite yet I hope. I spend rather more time than I should on idle web browsing, but I do try to keep up with the Arts sections of the papers, so I can join in conversations about contemporary culture, even if most of my opinions are gleaned from reviews rather than direct experience. I still listen to music pretty much all the time, though I stick more to stuff I know I’ll like than I used to. I do need to start watching more films again, starting with the stack of DVDs I accumulated this year that I never quite got round to viewing.

Anyway, on with the review. Music first; here’s my 2012 mix-tape, made up from my favourite track from each of the records I bought this year, mostly new releases, but some older stuff too:

Chocolate Boy – Guided By Voices (Let’s Go Eat the Factory)
Norgaard – The Vaccines (What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?)
On a Neck, On a Spit – Grizzly Bear (Yellow House)
Wasted Days – Cloud Nothings (Attack on Memory)
Boyfriend – Best Coast (Crazy For You)
Secrets – Headlights (Wildlife)
Love Interruption – Jack White (Blunderbuss)
Can We Really Party Today? – Jonathan Wilson (Gentle Spirit)
Better Girl – Best Coast (The Only Place)
Be Impeccable – Guided By Voices (Class Clown Spots a UFO)
No Cars Go – Arcade Fire (Arcade Fire)
Neighborhood 3 (Power Out) – Arcade Fire (Funeral)
Yet Again – Grizzly Bear (Shields)
June – Unrest (Imperial f.f.r.r.)
Harnessed in Slums – Archers of Loaf (Vee Vee)
Polyester Bride – Liz Phair (Whitechocolatespaceegg)
Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know – Dinosaur Jr. (I Bet on Sky)
Season in Hell – Dum Dum Girls (End of Daze)
Pinhole Cameras – …And You Will Know Us By the Trail Of Dead (Lost Songs)
He Gets Me High – Dum Dum Girls (He Gets Me High)
Waking Up The Stars – Guided By Voices (The Bears For Lunch)
Keep Believing – Bob Mould (Silver Age)
The House That Heaven Built – Japandroids (Celebration Rock)
The Anarchist – Rush (Clockwork Angels)

There are several contenders for my record of the year, including Attack on Memory, Silver Age, Celebration Rock and both the Dum Dum Girls’ EPs, but I’ll give the nod to the pleasingly complex Shields by Grizzly Bear.

The best book I read this year was The Cambridge Modern History Volume IV – The Thirty Years War, a majestic tome published back in 1906, available on the Kindle for pennies, which covers not just the titular conflict but also the English Civil War and religious, philosophical and cultural developments of the period. The editors’ Victorian prejudices do show to some extent, but the raw material is so dramatic that it can’t miss being a gripping read.

My fiction reading this year mostly consisted of catching up with books I’m faintly embarrassed to admit I hadn’t read already, like The Trial, The Gambler, Crash, and, my favourite, The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing. I liked it for its depiction of life in the CPGB in the 50s, which is a little specialised I guess, but it’s also worth reading for the experimental structure and proto-feminist sensibility.

Film of the year? I hardly feel qualified to comment, but I thought On the Road was quite good. The Muppets was OK too I suppose.

So, that sums up my year of culture. Not my best ever, but not too shabby. Hopefully I’ll be inspired to try a bit harder in 2013…

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