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What I’ll remember from 2016, culturally speaking

Well, except for YOU KNOW WHO.

Here is my meta-list of my favorite music, films, books, and whatevers, from the Year That Shall Not Be Named.

1. David Bowie, Blackstar I listened to Blackstar on repeat the night after its release in January of this year. I was astounded by it’s brilliance, and I was equally excited that David Bowie was making vital art into his eighth decade of life, emerging once again as a presence in NYC. I drifted off to sleep with the album on, and then woke up the next morning to the news alert that he had passed away. The shock and sadness of that lasted with me for a long time, and it made it difficult for me to listen to Blackstar again until just recently. It was a tremendous farewell act.

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2. Stranger Things, Netflix’s thrilling, funny, sci-fi mystery series which bullseyed both taut storytelling and 80s nostalgia. I told you, Lando.

3. Kanye West, Life of Pablo and Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book Both of these Chicago rappers created compelling music this year that had a heavy gospel influence. Kanye’s was tormented and messy – gospel as desperation – and announced itself as being capital “I” important. Chance’s was both full of explicit Christianity and also fun as hell, and settled for merely being maybe the most infectious record of the year.

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4. The iPad Pro Finally an Apple computer whose screen you can draw on! It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed digitally drawing for the first time. When I found the software lacking I turned to AstroPad, which turns the iPad into a tablet that could run my desktop Photoshop.

5. Blake Crouch, Dark Matter A page-turner based on Schroedinger’s Cat? Say no more.

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6. Triumphs and Laments I was glad to be able to visit William Kentridge’s impressive 550-meter long mural, created not by painting, but by by power-washing around the black soot on the walls of the Tiber River in Rome.

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7. LCD Soundsystem reunion I hardly ever bite on the “Band Who Broke Up X Years Ago Reunites For Summer Festival” bait, but I somehow missed seeing them while they had been together, and I believed James Murphy’s promise that they’re in this to do something better than they’ve done before. So I ponied up the money to see them at Panorama, and they didn’t disappoint. My fingers are crossed for some studio music from them in 2017.

8. Unfinished Opening in the old Whitney Museum space on the UES in March, the Met Breuer (the Met’s new museum for contemporary art) crushed it this year with it’s inaugural exhibitions. Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible featured works that were unintentionally unresolved and also those that embraced an unfinished, “work-in-progress” aesthetic, leaving it to the viewers to ask themselves: when is a work really “done?” Never less than fascinating, my highlights were:

this abandoned Lucian Freud, a portrait that Klimt was still roughing out when he died,

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a Daumier that was gorgeous not despite but because of being mostly scraped away, this creepy incomplete work from Anton Raphael Mengs,

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and a room full of atmospheric Turners.

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9. Kerry James Marshall: Mastry The next show at the Breuer (still on display through January 29) is a retrospective from this Alabama man who deals with the American black experience through both honoring and subverting the many stylistic traditions of Western art which he is well-versed in, from Rococo painting to comics. There are so many things going on in his works that it’s hard for me to accurately summarize it here, but it is powerful.

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10. Empire Strikes Bond It’s refreshing to remember that the internet isn’t just a forum for fake news and hateful trolls. It’s also a place where art that would previously have gone unnoticed can find a wider audience. So what would the opening credits for The Empire Strikes Back have looked like if they were done in a James Bond style? This amazing visual mashup piece by a student filmmaker answers that question.

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Christmas 2016, at last

I don’t need to recap all of the ways that 2016 was horrible. Forget just a little – we need a lot of Christmas now.

Summoning the holiday spirit was difficult this year. Traditions somehow feel less comforting. I wondered if I should take a radical departure from my typical mix and do something completely different. In the end, I stuck to the same formula, because Christmas doesn’t need a reboot. Christmas is the reboot: God entering the world as an infant.

So business as usual, more or less, with the exception that I tried my very first actual mashup – with admittedly mixed results (but at least it’s short). The great artists that we lost this year are represented here – Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen. Because we’re a nation of misfits I included the Inflatable Men cover of the familiar song from the classic TV special. There are a few fun new songs, some great takes on classics, and other stuff not represented on the tracklist. So – enjoy!

 

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If you like this one and want more, you can still hear my mix from last year:

 

Here is a quieter, more reflective mix to soothe your soul, which I did in 2014:

 

And here’s Xmas in Space, if you like your Christmas music with beeps and boops and sound FX and recordings of alleged UFO eyewitnesses:

 

Lastly, here is a link to a folder with every mix I’ve made going back to 2007, available for download. Get busy and Merry Christmas!

 

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Jedi design tricks

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As I was waiting for my friends to arrive at the theatre the other night, I was standing right in front of the poster for The Force Awakens. I observed how, from a design perspective, it’s essentially Composition 101.

One characteristic of good art is the right mix of dynamism and order. Think of Jackson Pollock: the individual gesture of splattering paint is chaotic and turbulent, but hundreds of gestures next to and on top of each other becomes a pattern. In a sci-fi movie poster, you need lasers and spaceships and explosions, but there has to be an underlying logic to how it is presented so that it becomes inviting to the eye, not threatening. Sometimes this order is subtle, working on a subconscious level. In this poster it is Tarantino-like in it’s obviousness, which makes it fun to dissect.

Images need a focal point. In this poster it is Rey’s eyes. The designer (apparently Bryan Morton, who is credited as the art director) has made sure that you won’t miss it by placing her eyes at the center of a giant X, right about at the point at which the red and blue light sabers would intersect if you traced their paths across the page.

Force Awakens_X

An X is a solid compositional structure. It shows dynamic movement – a line moving diagonally upwards crossed with a line moving diagonally downwards (and this is true whether you read left to right or right to left) – and also perfect symmetry, which is a stabilizing element. It’s like Econ 101!

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So – you’ve got your dynamism and your order. There is actually another line you can trace, click here to read the rest of this post

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My 10 favorite arty & cultural things from 2015

In no particular order:

1. After whiffing on this for many years, I finally got to see publictheatre.org’s Shakespeare in the Park  not once, but twice this summer. The production of Cymbeline was better than The Tempest, but there’s probably no better way to spend a summer night in Central Park – after waiting for nearly 5 hours in line the same morning to get tickets, of course.

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2. After whiffing on this for many, many years, I finally got to see U2 play live for the first time, at Madison Square Garden. Once they became megastars (after The Joshua Tree, a zillion years ago) I basically gave up on seeing them, because I don’t really enjoy paying $200 to see musicians at a football stadium. But this year I was feeling like “mmmm… I just have to, just this once.” I still wasn’t happy about the money, but it was definitely worth it. I got goosebumps during the intro to Where the Streets Have No Name, and this surprise Springsteen appearance was perfect.

3. Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy-completing novel Lila (even though it technically came out in late 2014). Also, after whiffing on this for many years, I finally discovered David Foster Wallace. I stopped whiffing on a lot of things this year, is the point.

4. Jamie xx’s sparkling electronic album In Colour, featuring the sublime single Loud Places. As my friend said, the first album I’ve heard that actually makes steel drums sound tolerable.

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5. Courtney Barnett’s brilliant debut-ish album and massive live performances.

6. In September I got to see the first large-scale exhibition of the work of Corita Kent at the Pasadena Museum of Art. It was a revelation. Corita was a socially-engaged nun, working outside of the mainstream art world, who deconstructed print advertising and the stylistic possibilities of letters themselves to create Pop Art that was powerful, poetic, ecumenical, and which feels utterly fresh: a pre-Photoshop graphic design hipster. The middle period of her work, roughly 1964-68, is especially compelling, and culminates in her two printed alphabets – the circus alphabet and the signal alphabet – which are inventive, witty, and layered with meaning. It’s hard to believe that her work has stayed under the radar for so long (or, because of her humble circumstances, it’s probably not). Expect a MoMA show soon?

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7. The Juan Maclean‘s sold-out six-night residency at Cameo Gallery and Union Pool.

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8. Puros Cubanos, this exhibit of poster art from six Cuban graphic designers which proved that there may be a lack of resources in that country, but no lack of creativity.

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9. John Singer Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends, at the Met.

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10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, duh.

And I didn’t “officially” put this on the list, just because I’m in it ever-so-briefly, but Leah Wolchok’s documentary Very Semi-Serious about the cartoonists of The New Yorker is a crisp, funny and occasionally poignant film, and skillfully made. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and is now available on HBO, and is well worth watching.

very-semi-serious

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Sister Christmas

Is it ever actually going to get legitimately cold out there? It almost feels like the wrong time to be uploading this.

I’m back with another mix of Christmas music, what else? The art for this is an homage to Sister Corita Kent, the pop artist whose work had a breakout year. Corita was a nun, an active member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, but her work was full of wit and visual inventiveness. I’ll write more about her in my year-end list, but that’s the same kind of thing I’m thinking about when I choose Christmas music. That, and maybe what St. Etienne said here recently about how Elvis fits Christmas (although they are wrong in disliking this classic Pogues Christmas song).

Anyway, here it is. Play or download. Merry Christmas!

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I realized as I was uploading this that it’s the 10th one I’ve done. Not the 10th year, because I did two of them in 2014, just the 10th mix. So here they are. If you click on the thumbnails you’ll be able to download each individual one.

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#FridayReads

KantYelp

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May 22, 2015 · 3:03 pm

Merry Xmas! 2 for the price of none

OK, I like Christmas music. I shouldn’t have to apologize for it. Well, some of it.

An author once said that the reason he writes books is because he has questions, not answers. Every year I put together a mix of Christmas-related music here, and it is my own attempt to address the question “where can I find good Christmas music that I’m not going get bludgeoned with everywhere else, but that isn’t just different for different’s sake?” So I’m at it again. As per usual, there’s every type of music on here – cheeky mashups, golden-era chestnuts, juicy soul, pine-scented Americana, gluten-free desserts, firesafe lighting strings, vintage stockings, I don’t even know where this list is going. Just enjoy it. You can listen to it here and/or download it from SoundCloud.

 

 

And… just because I was feeling it, I decided to make another mix with all of the songs that I liked, but that were too snoozy, and would have killed the vibe of the previous one. Yeah, another! But its quieter. It’s pretty nice. I have to admit something: I tested this mix on animals. I totally did. Defenseless bunnies and rescue monkeys and a turtle. No worries: they freaking loved it. So I think I’m in good shape, legally. It’s here also. Enjoy!

 

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