Here are my favorite songs of 2011, in no particular order. (Note: A couple of these songs were actually released in 2010, but I didn’t hear them until last year.) Listen to this playlist on Spotify.

tUnE-yArDs – “Bizness”

Wye Oak – “Two Small Deaths”

James Blake – “The Wilhelm Scream”

Air Review – “America’s Son”

The Dodos – “Black Night”

The Civil Wars – “20 Years”
Listen to the album version on SoundCloud

Sarah Jaffe – “Shut It Down”

Glasser – “Apply”

Seryn – “We Will All Be Changed”

St. Vincent – “Cruel”

Braids – “Lemonade”
Listen the album version on SoundCloud

Warpaint – “Undertow”
Listen to the album version on SoundCloud

The Joy Formidable – “Whirring”

Radiohead – “Lotus Flower”


I am always intrigued when I discover I’ve collected songs of the same name performed by different artists. I’m not talking about covers — the songs are completely different with the exception of their title. But I always feel like their shared appellation begs for comparison. Because a song title usually suggests a theme, right? So it’s interesting to compare how different artists tackle the same theme, right? OK, so maybe it’s just interesting to me. If nothing else, I think it’s fun to hear how dissimilar songs of the same name can sound.

Paul Hardcastle – “19” (1985)

This blatantly anti-war track blends drum machines, keyboards, and narration from the ABC documentary Vietnam Requiem to comment on the supposed young average age of soldiers who fought in Vietnam. It spent five weeks at the top of the charts in the UK and topped the dance charts in the United States in 1985.

Phil Lynott – “Nineteen” (1986)

Also attributed to Thin Lizzy as well as Phil Lynott’s subsequent solo project Grand Slam, this song was released weeks before Lynott’s death from sepsis caused by drug use. Coincidentally, the song was produced by Paul Hardcastle though it does not resemble Hardcastle’s “19” in the least. Lyrically, Lynott’s “Nineteen” expounds on how badass he is. You want tough? He’s tough. You want mean? He’s totally mean. He’s 19! Also, he does not dance.

Buck-O-Nine – “Nineteen” (1997)

Buck-O-Nine is a ska punk band that achieved some mainstream success with their 1997 album Twenty-Eight Teeth, from which their “Nineteen” contribution comes. Buck-O-Nine have the three-minute punk-pop formula down pat — they attack a song and get out quickly before it drags. The song is about looking back at how the narrator viewed the world at nineteen and realizing how big the world is. He says, “Anything is possible / Yeah, anything and everything.”

The Old 97’s – “Nineteen” (1999)

I’ve been hearing songs from The Old 97’s since I was a teenager because a local radio station featured them pretty regularly since they were based near where I grew up. They’ve always been a little too alt-country for my taste, but they do crank out a catchy song now and then and “Nineteen” is one of them. The song laments a love lost because of being, well, nineteen and foolish.

Smog – “Nineteen” (2000)

Like all of Smog’s songs, “Nineteen” relies heavily on images and how Bill Callahan delivers the lyrics in his rumbly baritone rather than a clear narrative. But there’s a definite sense of looking back at a memory of spending a day with a woman and wishing for what he had then.

Tegan and Sara – “Nineteen” (2007)

Canadian duo Tegan and Sara follow Smog and The Old 97’s lead — their “Nineteen” also talks about saying goodbye to a great love. But the parting feels unwelcome by both parties, so there’s less regret and more longing in Tegan and Sara’s version.

Sam Dunn desperately wants heavy metal to be taken seriously.

Growing up as a metalhead, Dunn has spent years defending the legitimacy of his favorite genre of music. Metal is simply his argument expanded (or maybe condensed) to 96 minutes. Though giving a slight focus to metal culture, Dunn and his co-writer/director Scot McFadyen tackle the subject of heavy metal in its entirety. They give an overview of the evolution of metal, look at common lyrical themes, explore gender (a.k.a. sexism) and sexuality, and address metal’s history of censorship, just to name a few of the larger subjects of interest.

I think Dunn and McFadyen spread themselves a little too thin with the amount of material they choose to cover. Several of the topics feel underdeveloped, particularly gender and sexuality. In regards to women and the machismo of metal culture, I felt as though Dunn and McFadyen had simply stopped when they found an interviewee with an opinion that matched their own. I wish they had explored women as metal fans rather than just groupies, and I wish that they had interviewed a female academic who would never use the phrase, “It sounds sexist, but….”

I don’t mean to insinuate that Dunn only looks at metal through rose-colored glasses. He particularly finds fault with the Scandinavian metal bands who burned churches and can only answer questions about their music with the phrase, “Fuck you!” However, I do feel as though Dunn’s affection for his subject matter does affect his ability to answer a lot of the criticisms directed at metal and particularly metal culture.

While I by no means intend to challenge its legitimacy as a musical genre, aspects of metal and its surrounding fan culture do annoy me, which this documentary did nothing to allay. I’ve always felt as though much, though of course not all, heavy metal comes from a place of suspended male adolescence. Metal bands write lyrics about death and satanism and choose album artwork featuring blood and violence to shock people for just shock value’s sake rather than actually challenge or question. They have to play louder, harder, faster than the last group just because they can, and to anyone who doesn’t “get” what they’re trying to do, they simply say “Fuck you.” Heavy metal artists need to move beyond this bullshit macho posturing for me to take them seriously, and unfortunately very few do.

I never felt like Dunn really answered his research question: why does metal continue to garner a strident fanbase while receiving mostly disdain from critics? For myself, I think that a lot of metal’s appeal has to do with the way it sounds. It’s loud, aggressive, and often difficult to listen to, and many people – adults in particular – find it obnoxious, which makes it appealing to adolescents rebelling against their authoritarian parents and to people on the fringe who wish to distance themselves from “the mainstream” for whatever reason. Metal culture also has very obvious clothing and values associated with it, which makes it easily accessible to people looking for community, but there’s an otherness to metal culture, making it a community for people who lack or would even claim to dislike community.

Metal provides an interesting look at heavy metal for people outside its fanbase, but ultimately it feels like a starter kit. I would be interested for other documentarians, or even Dunn and McFadyen, to pick up pieces of this project and really take an in-depth look at aspects of heavy metal culture.

So Joss gave us an evil lesbian and a dead lesbian. I give you evil, dead lesbians.

This mash-up came about because I really enjoyed seeing Amber Benson play a psychopath named Allison Davis in the episode “The Perfect Couple” on The Inside. But I didn’t think that Allison and Roddy Davis were the perfect couple. I was disappointed in Roddy’s characterization, which felt tired and unimaginative. So I decided to try to find the perfect match for Allison. And of course I turned to what I know. [cue Nerf Herder]

At a recent book signing hosted by the delightful mystery book store Murder by the Book, I mentioned to the clerk that I thought Sue Grafton’s twice-divorced, no make-up-wearing, junk food-loving sleuth Kinsey Millhone had influenced my becoming a feminist. In response, he recommended that I read Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski novels, saying that if Grafton was “there” on the spectrum of feminist writers then Paretsky was way over “here.”

I’m not sure by what scale he was measuring because I didn’t find Paretsky’s Indemnity Only to be particularly more feminist than any of Grafton’s novels. In fact, I saw mostly similarities between Kinsey and V.I., known to her friends as Vic, and between Grafton and Paretsky’s approaches to these characters. Kinsey and Vic are outspoken, willful, and self-sufficient women. They are single with at least one divorce under their belt and a rather detached attitude toward dating and men. They exercise regularly, hold their own in a scrape, and can fire a weapon if need be. Both Grafton and Paretsky attempt to treat these women in an ungendered way: they do not limit what their characters can and may do because of their sex, but they do not masculinize them. However, the authors seemingly felt compelled to make them somewhat androgynous, as evidenced by the choice of their characters’ names.

As for their differences, these two fictional P.I.s come from disparate backgrounds. Kinsey has more of a delinquent past, having dropped out of college and then the police force before becoming a private investigator, while Vic graduated from college with a law degree and even practiced as a public defender for a spell before she acquired her P.I. license. These women differ significantly in their concern for their appearance. Kinsey wears essentially the same combo of jeans, turtleneck, and running shoes most of the time and cuts her hair with nail scissors. Vic obviously cares about what she looks like, even though she doesn’t lament much over the extensive facial bruising she acquires in Indemnity Only. She puts together outfits and mentions at one point in the novel that she thought her clothing would get her some attention. While Vic doesn’t seem particularly high maintenance, I must say I missed Kinsey’s nonchalant approach to her looks, and I was a little shocked when Vic mentally criticizes another woman’s flabby upper arms.

I must say that with this novel as an introduction I’m completely apathetic toward the world of V.I. Warshawski and Sara Paretsky’s writing. I didn’t find Vic very likable, which may be purposeful to an extent on Paretsky’s part. Vic certainly feels no need to ingratiate herself to everyone she meets, and I can appreciate that trait as a feminist since it goes against women’s social conditioning. But as the reader, I need to like her to remain involved in the story. I think I was supposed to admire Vic’s determination or something, but instead I found her disagreeable and entitled. I also didn’t understand why Vic dated Ralph. I think Paretsky intended for that relationship to demonstrate Vic’s casual attitude toward sex, which is all well and good, but why would Vic even have casual sex with a man who so obviously thought that a lady couldn’t be a private investigator for realsies? As for Paretsky’s writing style, I disliked that she doled out the solving of the mystery in large chunks, with much of it revealed by the villain monologue-ing at the end of the novel. The crime itself and the people involved weren’t particularly interesting either. I also grew weary of her hamfisted attempts to demonstrate that every man Vic encounters doesn’t think that she can do her job because she is a woman, which is sexist OK?, and this tendency also caused many of the male characters’ voices to sound very similar.

Shouting sexism the loudest does not make Paretsky the most feminist, and it certainly doesn’t make her the superior writer.

I attempted this list twice over on Hazel’s blog, but I’ve changed my mind again.

1. Willow


Willow in "Doppelgangland"

2. Tara

Tara in "The Body"

Tara in "The Body"

3. Faith

Faith in "Dirty Girls"

Faith in "Dirty Girls"

4. Giles

Giles in "Fear Itself"

Giles in "Fear Itself"

5. River

River in "Objects in Space"

River in "Objects in Space"

A labor of love for actress and TV personality Ricki Lake, The Business of Being Born is upfront about its bias. Executive producer Lake and director Abby Epstein obviously think it would be better if more women in the United States used midwives rather than OBGYNs, and they make a pretty good case for their argument. They discuss the statistics concerning the number of babies delivered by midwives in other countries, which are significantly higher, and the number of infant and mother mortality rates, which tend to be much lower. They also provide some interesting glimpses into the effort to discredit midwives in the 20th century, which intended to make birthing truly an industry dominated by doctors instead.

I was fascinated with the sexism inherent in the discrediting of midwives, the drugging and confinement of women in the 1950s and ’60s, and the rush to deliver that characterizes modern childbirthing practices in hospitals, but Lake and Epstein barely even touch upon it. Instead, the film features a lot of footage of home births, including Lake’s. I grew a little weary of watching babies emerge from strangers’ vaginas, but I think one of Lake and Epstein’s primary intents with this film is to demystify the home birth, which is why they included so much footage of various women’s labors.

I must admit that I knew very little about the business of being born, having never given birth myself. As the film began, I found myself agreeing with the women who expressed that they would rather give birth in a hospital because they’re near people who could operate if need be. By the time the credits rolled, my opinion had changed quite a bit, which isn’t something that I can say at the end of many documentaries.

“One day in the late mid-’80s, I was in my early late-twenties. I had just been dismissed from university after delivering a brilliant lecture on the aggressive influence of German philosophy on rock ‘n’ roll entitled ‘You, Kant, Always Get What You Want.'”   — Hedwig

I have approached John Cameron Mitchell’s cult phenomenon Hedwig and the Angry Inch completely backward. I first became aware of the project through a covers album that featured several musicians whom I like, and hearing those covers encouraged me to seek out the original performances, like the music from any good musical should do. After listening to the soundtrack for a couple months, I finally saw the film. Hopefully, one day I will see a performance of the original stage musical, completing my experience of Hedwig: The Reverse.

I wasn’t certain if I wanted to see the movie after hearing Mitchell perform the songs that I loved when Kim Deal, Corin Tucker, and Frank Black sang them. Mitchell’s musical background comes from the theater, so his take on Stephen Trask’s punk- and glam rock-inspired songs sounds very much like a Broadway approach to rock music, which was a little disappointing after hearing the music performed by rock ‘n’ rollers. But watching Mitchell as Hedwig changes things entirely. He performs the hell out of these songs, which form the backbone of Hedwig. The rest is simply window dressing, and that’s just fine with me. I prefer my musicals to be lighter on book because what’s the point of having songs if they aren’t essential to telling the story?

However, I don’t intend to dismiss John Cameron Mitchell’s sharply written script by any means. Hedwig’s running narrative of her life is full of bon mots and campy gay humor, but Mitchell treats his characters with a lot of love and compassion despite the irreverent wit. With a main character whose botched sex change operation left an “angry inch,” Hedwig’s primary aim is obviously to challenge notions of both sex and gender. But a person needn’t be intersex, trans, or even queer to sympathize with Hedwig’s struggle. Who hasn’t been made to feel like less of a woman or a man at some point in their lives? Or felt like they needed to conform to some stereotypical notion of gender to get what they wanted or to feel like part of a group? My main complaint about the script is that I would prefer the ending be less surreal. It feels like Cameron is trying to make a statement without really making one, so I end up confused about the ultimate message of the film.

I’ve been catching up with the first two episodes of Dollhouse this weekend, so I had the opportunity to see Jamie Bamber, who is probably my least favorite Battlestar Galactica cast member and played probably my least favorite character, in a different role. With a full British accent even. He didn’t irritate me as much on Dollhouse as he has previously, but my opinion of his acting abilities was not improved. He apparently sucks the energy out of a scene in any context.

Tahmoh Penikett seems to be calling in some favors because Michael Hogan is also scheduled to guest star this season. But where the hell are the women of Battlestar Galactica? While I like many of the male characters on BsG, I never watched it for them. I watched it for the women: those complex, interesting female characters whose entire character arcs were not dependent upon their romantic relationships with men and who were played with depth and sensitivity by some seriously talented actors. If I were Joss Whedon, I wouldn’t have bothered with Tahmoh. I would have gone straight for the women.

Katee Sackhoff on 'Battlestar Galactica' as Starbuck

As I mentioned previously, I would hand Katee Sackhoff a gun and send her off to be seduced by Miracle Laurie in a heartbeat. I think she could do a lot with the Ballard role and really flesh it out to feel like a fully three-dimensional character.

And since I’m recasting actors whose performances have underwhelmed me, how about Tricia Helfer as “Topher”? She would definitely bring a different flavor to the character, but I loved how terrifyingly persuasive Tricia could be as the Six inside Baltar’s head. I think that quality would enable her to be an interesting “Topher,” whose morals tend to be a bit fuzzy.

I don’t know why, but I’m convinced that it’s a great idea for Mary McDonnell to play one of Adelle’s bosses. I’m not sure why I’m so in love with this notion, but I am. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I think Adelle wields the threat of The Attic like President Roslin used the airlock. I also like the idea of Mary being dark and quietly frightening – like she sometimes got to be on BsG – most of the time.

Lucy Lawless

I think Lucy Lawless would make a good handler. Well, I think she’d actually make a great doll, but all of the dolls seem to be under the age of 35. I love Boyd and Harry Lennix’s performance too much to just replace him, but Lucy could be Echo’s new handler after Boyd is promoted to head of security. Maybe she is the person inside the Dollhouse who is putting the hidden messages to Ballard in imprints…

And just to gay things up a little more, how about Grace Park as Sierra’s ex-girlfriend who teams up with Ballard in taking down the Dollhouse?

…or is this Dollhouse promo very Tarantino-esque?