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The Year In Review - 2008

The Year In Review - 2008 | Books | Cinema | Food | Live | Art | Recordings | Theater

The Year In Review 2008

Gone But Not Forgotten

W. Mark “Deep Throat” Felt, Tim Russert, William F. Buckley Jr., Paul Newman, George Carlin, Harold Pinter, Bettie Page, Bernie Mac, Arthur C. Clarke, Bo Diddley, Sydney Pollack, Isaac Hayes, Charlton Heston, Don LaFontaine, Heath Ledger, Jesse Helms, Michael Crichton, Stan Winston, Jerry Wexler, Richard Widmark, Paul Scofield, Gary Gygax, Neil Aspinall, Yuri Glazkov, Robert Rauschenberg, Evelyn Keyes, Anthony Minghella, Tom Lantos, Yves Saint Laurent, David Foster Wallace, Richard Wright, Edmund Hillary, Bobby Fischer, Estelle Getty, Roy Scheider, Tony Snow, Studs Terkel, Nina Foch, Ollie Johnston, Eartha Kitt, Robert Mulligan, Norman Smith, Brad Renfro, Odetta, Jeremy Beadle.

Political figures Patrick Hillery, Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah, Nikola Kljusev, George Habash, Suharto, Badri Patarkatsishvili, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, Nouhak Phoumsavanh, Kurt Furgler, Levy Mwanawasa, Fred Sinowatz, Hua Guofeng, Lansana Conté, Tassos Papadopoulos, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, Jörg Haider.

Filmmakers Jules Dassin, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Kon Ichikawa, Mel Ferrer, Dino Risi, Jean Delannoy, Youssef Chahine.

Actors Van Johnson, Anita Page, Suzanne Pleshette, Guillaume Depardieu, Don S. Davis, Maila Nurmi, Cyd Charisse, Majel Barrett.

Musicians Davey Graham, Johnny Griffin, Henri Salvador, Yegor Letov, Jeff Healey, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Ivan Rebroff, Leyla Gencer, Ronnie Drew, Mitch Mitchell, Freddie Hubbard.

Writers Hugo Claus, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Tony Hillerman, Paavo Haavikko, Aimé Césaire, Mahmoud Darwish, Randy Pausch, Algis Budrys.

Arts Figures Boris Efimov, Cornell Capa, Natalia Bessmertnova, Dith Pran, Olga Lepeshinskaya.

Scientists John Archibald Wheeler, Joseph Weizenbaum, Thomas Huckle Weller, Albert Hofmann, Edward Norton Lorenz, Willis Lamb, Leonid Hurwicz, Michael E. DeBakey, Henri Cartan, George Emil Palade, Jacques Piccard, Claude Piron, Masanobu Fukuoka, Daniel Carleton Gajdusek.

Sports Figures Jean-Marie Balestre, Sven Davidson, Mate Parlov, François Sterchele, Alexey Prokurorov, Phil Hill.

Religious leaders Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Gordon B. Hinckley, Avery Dulles, Alexy II.

Last French veteran of World War I Lazare Ponticelli.

Local Notables Joe Jennings, Parker Buckley, Paul Straussman.

Gone and Forgotten

Sandy Treadwell, John Edwards, Tony Blair, Elizabeth Dole, Kismet Gallery, Wolf Road Borders, Ballinger’s, laissez-faire capitalism, Bloomberg’s term limits, Capital District Federation of Ideas, Times Union weekday feature section, Alan Colmes

Gone and We Miss You Already

Lydia Kulbida

Gone to Prison

Former Schenectady Police Chief Gregory Kaczmarek, former New York State Assemblyman Chris Ortloff, O.J.

Gone and Waiting to Be Indicted

Joe Bruno

Gone and Back in a Really Lame Way

Eliot Spitzer

Gone . . . Supposedly

Fake parking tickets for Albany cops and friends

Please Go Away

Albany Convention Center, Brian Scavo, Albany Police Chief James Tuffey, Jerry Jennings, Axl Rose, the Gang of Three

Gone and Back Again

Northern Lights, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears, Hillary Clinton

Gone since George H. W. Bush and Back Again

Guns N’ Roses

Gone and Back and Gone Again

The Police

Gone and Not Back Yet

Pearl Street liquor licenses

Gone and We’re Thirsty

Shake Shake Mamas

Going, Going . . .

Troy’s infrastructure

Gone for Too Long

National Grid Service

Here But Uncertain

Senate Democratic Majority

Not Going Away Fast Enough

The Bush administration

Epic Win

On Nov. 4, 2008, late in the evening, crowds waited with hushed anticipation for election results from the West Coast to be reported. With Ohio and Florida in the win columns, the wait was just a formality—but the media weren’t going to call it early this time. And then California was called for Obama and years of tension and hoping came to an end: Barack Obama was now the president-elect, and eight years of inept Republican rule was all but over. Obama’s impending inauguration seems to be the nation’s one ray of optimism in increasingly bleak economic times.

50 State Crazy

They called Howard Dean crazy for his 50-state initiative, but look what Obama strategist David Axelrod and his team did with it. They put states into play that no Republican has had to defend for decades. No one would have imagined that results for a state like Georgia would still be undetermined weeks after. So now the Dems have solid wins in Ohio and Florida and the Republicans are a regional party.

Obama Cash

Small donations from individuals over the Internet made the Obama campaign a steamrolling cash cow that eventually bought up a whole half-hour of prime-time TV time across multiple major networks. The McCain camp complained that Obama broke his word to accept public financing. But all in all it seemed that his financing was pretty public . . . at least in one sense.

Woman on Top—of the Cabinet

At first, she and her supporters exuded an air of inevitability. Then she faltered in Iowa, but cried—and rebounded—in New Hampshire, and the historic race was on between a black man and a white woman for the Democratic presidential nomination. During a crucial stretch mid-campaign, Hillary Clinton faltered again, and Barack Obama’s momentum became too much. After several gaffes and missteps, Clinton refused to quit (to the chagrin of some and the delight of others), campaigning hard to pick up a few wins in industrial states like Pennsylvania, but it was too little too late, and so. . . . we’d now like to welcome Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

That’s OK, He Forgot About Inhaling, Too

“I remember landing under sniper fire,” Clinton said of a trip she made during her husband’s presidency, apparently trying to underscore her foreign experience. Video footage of course showed otherwise, and Hillary made light of her gaffe and tried to make it go away—only to have her husband inexplicably bring it up again.

Do The Math

One reason to be glad that we didn’t elect Hillary Clinton: A two-term Clinton presidency would have meant that the country would have been governed for 36 consecutive years by Bushes and Clintons.

Even Her Glasses Became Famous

She burst on the scene at the Republican National Convention, immediately injecting life (however temporary) into McCain’s sluggish campaign with her feisty VP acceptance speech. Sarah Palin then became one of the year’s improbable political stories, a nearly-unheard-of Alaskan governor who overnight became the most loved, hated, talked about, parodied, admired and reviled figures in the campaign. She often stumbled and appeared unqualified in interviews, and she turned off many with her antics as appointed attack dog, but hey, c’mon—she was entertaining. And until she came along, no one ever used that word on the McCain campaign.

Where’s the Turnout?

Pundits claimed that thanks to interest in the 2008 election, turnout would reach unprecedented levels nationwide. However, as it turns out—whether because of depressed Republican turnout or whatever other reason—turnout did not reach predicted levels. About 130 million Americans voted in the 2008 election as compared to the 122 million in 2004.

Duck!

George Bush spent most of the year clamoring to stay out of the public eye so as not to hurt Republican candidates with his historically low approval ratings. However, after the election, the world was treated to one last embarassing image of Bush, as journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi threw his shoes at the president during a press conference in Iraq. Bush ducked in time to avoid a bump on his head, but he could not avoid one more national humiliation.

Blue October

Where was it? Did we miss it? October came and went without a terrorist attack, a video of Osama Bin Laden making threats, a new war started in the Middle East, revelations of sex crimes, or the employment of illegal aliens designed to disrupt the elections. We thought Bush was going to blow up the White House in a crazy plot to stay in power for another term!

Endangered Species

In 2008, being a Republican meant avoiding being seen with an even more miserable Republican. That’s why the GOPers at the national convention in St. Paul this summer were only feigning their boo-hoos when the man who killed their brand, George W. Bush, was unable to attend. Ironically, and hilariously, they all pretended it was because he was going to be too busy doing something about the hurricane looming off the Gulf Coast. Ha ha ha. Good one. Nobody wants to be associated with such a miserable loser—or in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also skipped the convention, with a whole stadium of losers. He has his reputation to consider.

Everyone Won

In St. Paul this summer, cops from all across Minnesota got a chance to wear their fancy new riot gear and practice hitting people over the head with sticks, and anti-war protesters from all over the country got to find out what it feels like to get shoved to the concrete, tear gassed, and pepper-sprayed in the face, 1968 style. Both sides lived out their fantasies and fears of the fascist police state—it was a win-win for everyone concerned.

Perfect

For Obama supporters, it was an ideal end to their four-day celebration at the democratic National Convention. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky on the warm August evening in Denver when Barack Obama walked out onto stage to accept the Democratic Party nomination for president. Invesco Field was alive with 80,000 cheering campaign volunteers and supporters, happy to be sharing the historic day with each other, and with the man they worked so hard to see succeed.

The Quality of Mercy, Snowbilly Edition

Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. (Thank you, Bill Kristol!) After pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving, she, with blissful ignorance of the comedy of the scene, did a TV interview in front of a blood-drenched farmer slaughtering less-fortunate turkeys. You go, girl!

Trapped in the Closet

Having learned not a Goddamned thing from Bill Clinton’s experiences, philanderer John Edwards found himself hiding from the National Enquirer in a hotel toilet. A sad end to a great populist force in national politics. (We hope his wife kicked him in the balls, too.)

Team of Losers

Has there ever been as pathetic a collection of losers as the posse of clowns who vied for the Republican nomination for president this year? There was charmless Rudy Giuliani, who couldn’t be bothered to campaign anywhere, and was incapable of uttering a sentence not punctuated with “9/11 9/11 9/11!” There was Mike Huckabee, cheerfully endorsing creationism and brushing off questions about his dog-killing son. There was Fred “Dipshit McGoo” Thompson (thanks Wonkette), seemingly nodding off in the middle of his own campaign events. There was Mitt Romney, who couldn’t make up his mind about what he believed in, had his own questionable dog-mistreating history, and couldn’t even hold off “Cletus” Huckabee in the Southern primaries. No wonder John McCain got the nomination with no money and no real strategy.

The Incredible Shrinking President

Until the economy really went over the cliff and he had to do, um, something, this year saw the president of the United States—George W. Bush, remember?—shrivel into a dangerous irrelevancy. Dude was less popular than Richard Nixon at the time of Watergate, for Pete’s sake.

They’re Just Whistlin’ “Dixie”

And they better keep whistling “Dixie” because the Republican party can pretty much only count on the deep South to back them at the polls. Or, as blogger Atrios (Duncan Black) so aptly put it after Obama won that state, “Indiana, bitches!”

The Media’s Bias Leans Toward Sanity

Republicans, pissed that they were stuck with a bunch of losers this year, had to take all that anger out on someone. So, chirping away from that old songbook of Richard Nixon’s, they gleefully leveled their floundering rage at the evil mainstream media. How dare they expose the GOP as a party of thugs, cronies, and crooks finally choking on their own excesses? The Republican attack machine’s vitriol went something like this: The sin-drenched elitist perverts in the media hate Jesus and babies! USA! USA! USA!

“Tear Down Illegal Institutions”

Texas Congressman Ron Paul sure knows how to work his crazy-as-hell boosters into a lather. All his filthy talk about fiat currency and the Federal Reserve, usury banking and tariffs, is the libertarian porn that fills the minds of his geek legions and malcontents with visions of hot, sweaty revolution. And chew on this for a minute: Antiwar Paul raised more money in his bid for the Republican nomination from military personnel than any of his opponents—even ole McCain. Oh, and he had a blimp.

Poor Panda, Poor Lonely Panda

Ralph Nader hit a new low this election season. Desperate to get the media to pay attention to his presidential bid, in a string of tantrums, the once-respected political activist chose to reduce himself to a caricature. He attacked Obama for “talking white,” promised to give out the recipe of his grandmother’s hummus to anyone who would show up to his campaign events, and recorded the strangest political ad we’ve ever seen. In it, the lonely old pol opines to a pet parakeet that the media is more interested in zoo animals than in him, and that maybe the only way he could get attention for his presidential bid would be to dress in a panda suit and go down to the zoo. Um, yeah.

Dweeberman Strikes Again

Turncoat Sen. Joe Lieberman, that great disappointment from Connecticut, sealed his fate as a Democratic Party exile and laughing stock by giving Sen. John McCain an oratorical deep throat on stage at the GOP’s national convention. Smart move.

A Steamin’ Cup of Joe

Step aside “Joe Sixpack,” and pass your baton to the new grand marshal of the name/occupation-stereotype parade. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, was just another (oops) unlicensed plumber in Toledo, Ohio, until the McCain-Palin campaign launched him to 15 minutes of limelit fame. And if you haven’t had quite enough of his vaguely informed punditry, we suggest you snap up his new book, Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream.

Doggonit, People Like Him

If it wasn’t already exhilarating enough that Emmy Award-winning comedian, best-selling author, political satirist, and former Saturday Night Live performer Al Franken was running for U.S. Senate, the Minnesota race has become an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride of beaurocraziness. On election night, Franken was trailing his opponent, incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, by 215 votes. By Minnesota state law, the miniscule margin mandated an automatic recount. As of press time, Stuart Smalley, er, Franken, is in the lead.

Ignorant and Proud

While their candidates may have lost the election, 2008 was a bumper year for creationists. During the first GOP presidential debate, three—count them, three—candidates literally raised their hands to declare that they did not subscribe to the theory of evolution. While their most enduring and spirited representative, Mike Huckabee, assured the American people, “I’m not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I’m asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States,” political-economic commentator/presidential speechwriter/actor/comedian/ gameshow host/eyedrop spokesman Ben Stein released his anti-evolution documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The New York Times may have declared the film “an unprincipled propaganda piece that insults believers and nonbelievers alike,” but it grossed nearly $3 million in its first weekend.

Racism is as Racism Does

In an effort, it seemed, to counteract Barack Obama’s strategic avoidance of race during his campaign, as well as talk of the “postracial” America that an Obama presidency would ring in, the final weeks of John McCain’s presidential run proved that good-old-fashioned bigotry and fear-mongering are alive and well in the land of Uncle Sam. Quick with the epithets, and with turbaned Curious George dolls in hand, the crazies made a proper revision to Samuel Johnson’s classic assertion that hatred (not patriotism) is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Luke, I Am Your President

As far as the media was concerned, the historic results of the 2008 election were not nearly dramatic enough on their own. Competition for viewers launched a network special-effects war of Spielburgian proportions. MSNBC debuted a virtual-reality results rotunda, with green-screen bar graphs rising from the marble floor, and CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin actually beamed in from Chicago via hologram. We preferred the old-school pageantry of NBC’s giant ice map outlined on the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, but what we really missed was Tim Russert and his dry-erase board.

His Wife’s Worst Enemy

Let’s face it, with a list of gaffes long enough to throw a tickertape parade (Bosnia anyone?), we’re pretty convinced that “the great campaigner” Bill Clinton simply did not want to shoulder the burden of designing the White House Christmas tree.

F@#*ing Steamrolled

It’s one for the conspiracy books: The wildly popular attorney general makes his reputation waging war with Wall Street crooks, racking up powerful, rich enemies. Then, as governor, frustrated by the corruption that dominates the Capitol, he continues throwing elbows, attacking duplicitous colleagues, making more enemies than friends, until he finally sets his sights on the biggest crook of them all, an enemy too big even for him: the international banking industry. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer may have gotten caught in his party socks, but it was because the Feds were watching. Why they were watching is the question.

Sex and the Married Governor

So yeah . . . it is pretty fishy that the great white hope of the Democratic party got taken down in a sex scandal thanks to government wiretaps. We can agree with that, but . . . um . . . he was visiting ridiculously expensive (plus trashy) prostitutes! Mr. Day One Everything Changes was busy being so judgmental about everyone else in the world, he didn’t bother to keep in check his personal vice that might eventually have brought him down without wiretaps. Lets face it: Spitzer is a schmuck. The fact that he decided to reenter the public eye by becoming a columnist tells us very clearly this dude is in it for himself.

Ascension of the Paterson

A one-time happy-go-lucky lieutenant governor who got to lobby for important issues is now all burdened with carrying the state through a scary-as-fuck recession. Paterson seemed like a chill guy in his second-in-command role, but thanks to a horny Eliot Spitzer, Paterson has had to make some unpopular calls lately and has the media all up on him all like, “Hey, who is going to replace Hillary?” And he is all like, “WTF, that was supposed to be my job. Not this stodgy governor gig. Leave me alone!” What a drag. Oh, and then Paterson totally has to deal with that Saturday Night Live skit that totally killed his new-governor buzz. Shame on you, Eliot, we liked Paterson better when he could play friendly slacker uncle. The overbearing dad routine is just not his thing.

David Paterson, Prophet of Doom

Long before the local, state or national political establishment recognized the crisis, Gov. David Paterson had the bad taste to point out that the economy was going off a cliff—and that we’d damn well better do something about it. But governor, is taxing Coca-Cola really the answer? We think that Bloomberg guy and his pals could pay a little more in income taxes, sir.

Gillibrandian

WAMC’s Alan Chartock who once said that Kirsten Gillibrand was a long shot against John Sweeney, whom he considered to be the “brightest light in the Republican Party.” Now Gillibrand is a second term congresswoman coming off a win over an extremely well-funded Republican, having won the race with more votes than almost any other incumbent in the state. We wonder how Chartock feels now while he interviews Gillibrand about speculation that she might be named Hillary Clinton’s Senate replacement. And where is that John Sweeney guy?

Soares Saga

First it seemed Albany County District Attorney David Soares would face no obstacle to his reelection in 2008. Former District Attorney Paul Clyne bowed out of the race with little time for a major party to put up a legitimate challenger. And then Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners released an audit into the district attorney’s petty cash fund that found discrepancies. Quickly the Republicans put up Roger Cusick on the Integrity line, and soon more audits were released by Conners. It made for fun news, but not many people seemed to care, as Soares beat Cusick by a landslide.

Bruno Be Out

Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, once the most powerful politician this side of the Tappan Zee, exited the Senate so quickly that all he left behind was a little puff a smoke and a bunch of confused colleagues. Many people suspected that his hasty exit had to do with a lingering federal investigation, and some suspected he didn’t want to be at the helm of a sinking Republican ship. One thing everyone agreed on: His hasty flee from public life sure was suspicious.

Epic Win or Epic Fail?

The state Democrats finally did it. They eked out a slim, two-seat majority in the Senate chamber. It was the first time in three decades that they would fill more chairs then Republicans, and what should have been a hopeful triumph for the party has turned into a clusterfuck of inept leadership, strained loyalties, backstabbing, and profiteering. They might have won the numbers in November, but there is no guarantee that when the Senate gavels in for the 2009 session that the Democrats will be the ones in charge.

Gang of Fear

The Democrats, under the supposed leadership of Malcolm Smith, snared the majority in the state Senate this year, but like the old man at sea, the real challenge has been getting the catch back to shore. Originally four, now three, New York City senators have banded together in the historic moment as a caucus of opportunists to shake down their colleagues for choice committee appointments, extra lu-lus, and unilateral power over the legislative agenda. So far, the gang’s arm-twisting tactics have failed; all they have accomplished is placing the Democratic caucus into a turmoil that could cost them the leadership. If Smith is able to keep his leadership role, regardless of the Gang of Three, we expect to see some heads roll.

Congratulations, Paul

We like Paul Tonko, our new Congressman. His golden tan and crown of silvery hair makes us think of Roman nobility. We like his style. We like how he waited until the very last minute to announce his run, and then how he played his campaign—based on the name recognition that comes with decades in politics—as an inevitability. We like that he read the Obama policy playbook and followed it to a T, and we like how he probably will be boringly predictable in how he votes and in what initiatives he supports. And we like that he has a reputation as hard-working and accessible. Don’t disappoint us.

Ghost Busters!

Let’s be honest, in reality it is not that surprising that in Albany, the police union had a system in effect to give away free parking to officers and their friends. Yes, Brendon Lyons’ story that broke the news was important and he deserves mad props, but let’s face it, this is Albany, and if something involving the city government isn’t corrupt, secretive, putting the city further into debt, and run by the mayor, it is the exception to the rule (please see the Albany Landfill, water board, and Common Council for further reference).

Don’t Blame Jerry! (Or do)

This year, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings’ refrain became so predictable it made us shiver: “It’s not my fault!” For all the major problems the city is facing, from crime, financial woes, abandoned buildings, gun violence, the ever expanding landfill, Jennings knows just who to blame—anyone but himself. According to Jennings, crime is a federal issue, and so is waste disposal. Despite the fact the city has done away with beat cops who made neighborhoods safer and takes in trash that it is not required to take in. Oh, and the city’s financial crisis? That is the state’s fault because it doesn’t give Albany enough handouts. We suppose he does not take into account the fact that he has been responsible for the city for more than a decade.

The Honorable Scofflaw Glen Casey

Albany Councilman Glen Casey (Ward 11), the councilman notorious for reading magazines during council meetings, managed to earn new embarrassing notoriety this year when his car was booted for being parked in a loading zone. Casey paid $280 in fines in outstanding tickets. Casey had been a proponent of putting out warrants for the arrest for scofflaws who have not paid city parking tickets for more than two years.

Crime Time

2008 was a frightening time for a number of Albany’s neighborhoods. From the shooting death of 10-year-old Kathina Thomas in West Hill to the murder of University at Albany student Richard Bailey in the Pine Hills neighborhood, the entire city was forced to face violence head-on in their communities. In the fall, Albany saw a wave of hold-ups and muggings across the city.

Quote of the Year

“[The Senate Seat] is a fucking valuable thing, you don’t just give it away for nothing,” Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is reported to have said, in reference to his alleged negotiations for a payoff to appoint someone to the seat soon to be vacated by Barack Obama.

In Camelot, That’s How Conditions Are

Obama becomes president. Obama dubs Sen. Hillary Clinton Secretary of State. New York needs a new senator. Who you gonna call? The Kennedys! Gov. David Paterson confirmed Caroline Kennedy’s interest in the position earlier this month, adding that, “She realizes it’s not a campaign.” The non-campaign has found Kennedy on a whirlwind tour of the state, and reaching out to Democratic power players from Sen. Charles Schumer to Al Sharpton.

Economic Ruin

If you haven’t noticed, we’re fucked.

Just When You Thought the Economy Was Safe!

Bernard Madoff, the former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market and founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, was arrested this December for defrauding investors out of $50 billion dollars in a Ponzi scheme. A number of high-profile investors, including Stephen Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, were bilked by Madoff.

MSNBC Rising

Portraying cable news network MSNBC as a great liberal behemoth is overstating the case, to say the least. (Joe Scarborough, anyone? Chris Matthews, who practically foams at the mouth whenever the subject is the Clintons?) But there’s no doubt that the angry, acerbic Keith Olbermann and fresh-faced Rachel Maddow struck a blow for balance in a news environment ruled by the fedora-wearing right-wing jerk Matt Drudge and Fox News thugs like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

Media Meltdown

It has been a bad year for the old-timey media outlets. The Christian Science Monitor dropped its daily dead-tree version and will publish an online-only version, and The New York Times mortgaged the land its New York City building is sitting on. We could go on, but you get the idea.

Regional Media Meltdown

In the Hudson Valley, Ulster Publishing just shut down a couple of newsweeklies, the Dutchess Beat and the Ulster County Post Pioneer. The Journal Register Co., which publishes the Saratogian and The Record of Troy, shut down over a dozen weekly papers a week before Christmas, in Connecticut. A little bird told us that things at the Albany Times Union are crazy, with reporters covering all sorts of things they weren’t hired for; a bigger bird, TU editor Rex Smith, buried this bombshell near the end of his Dec. 27 column: “Many of you who are busy will also appreciate a slightly condensed paper on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. . . . So we will drop the feature section from those early weekday papers and focus coverage on news, business and sports.” [Emphasis most assuredly added.] And in the biggest move of all, WNYT NewsChannel 13 trimmed their staff and did not renew the contract of the most popular, respected and acclaimed news anchor in the market, Lydia Kulbida. Hard times, indeed.

The Music Business Is Still Dying

Every week we read grim stories about how EMI were on the brink, or the scandal of the alleged financial excesses of execs at Warner Music Group, or how Axl Rose or Coldplay or Katy Perry (?!?) would save the music business. Meh. When you have to go to Best Buy to get Bruce Springsteen’s latest compilation, it’s all over except licensing the product—er, songs—for TV commercials.

. . . And So Is Network Television

Hey NBC, do you know what isn’t a sign of confidence? Handing over five hours of prime-time, weeknight real estate to Jay Leno. With viewership declining almost as fast as the quality of the programming, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox did nothing to suggest that they knew how to keep the traditional network TV business from dying. The last one out the door—Ryan Seacrest?—can turn out the lights.

A Big Ugly Mess

It took a year and a $6 million parting gift (in the form of state money) from Joe Bruno, to settle the battle of Troy’s City Hall. The sad-sack building is now set to be razed, and the property sold. What will be done with the space, however, is still up in the air. And where the city offices will go after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to rent a temporary home has yet to be decided. Luckily for the Troy taxpayers, they have a city government that makes these kinds of decisions efficiently, and with their best interests in mind.

Wafaa Bilal

Well, if Iraqi-born, Chicago-based artist Wafaa Bilal didn’t get the message after Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute unceremoniously kicked him and his exhibit out, then perhaps he got the message after the city of Troy shut down the nonprofit arts center that took him in. Bilal’s first-person satire of our war-mad society drew criticism from the young Republican brigades at RPI and from the old Republicans led by Bob Mirch, both of whom told him simply: We don’t like your kind . . . of artwork. Good thing no one had any tar and feathers lying around.

Wireless Universe

Oh dear Steve Jobs, what do we geeks love more than the Internet, robots, and space? Nothing. So when the news broke that they had invented a Wi-Fi signal that could penetrate the stratosphere, well you can imagine our snorts and shrieks of ecstasy. Why, you ask, would there be interest in shooting a Wi-Fi signal out into the vast unknown? Simple: It’s frigging awesome. That, and it helps NASA remote control their space robots. Space robots.

Twittering Not Just for Annoying Bullshit Any Longer

Want to know what your friends are doing right now? Neither do we. That’s why we’d written off Twitter almost immediately after hearing about it. But, as usual, our lack of enthusiasm for the latest social-networking craze was the unfortunate side effect of us being old. This year we were won over by a slew of adventurous media outlets that found truly interesting uses for this ridiculously simple little Web app, from the local paper breaking news on its Twitter feed or publishing tweet follow-ups on developing stories to The New York Times tweeting links to its latest stories. So we are sorry, Twitter, for doubting you, and we resolve here and now to embrace the power of the tweet.

Guess I Shouldda Cleaned My Room

Nebraska’s “Safe Haven” law allowed parents to drop off unwanted children at hospitals around the state; the law was designed so that unwanted newborns would not be killed or tossed in dumpsters. State legislators scrambled later in the year to amend the law because of parents who were dropping off their unruly teenagers.

To Legalize or Not to Legalize?

The fight for marriage equality has strapped itself in for a wild civil-rights roller-coaster ride this year. The California Supreme Court overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The New York State Supreme Court decided that the state would recognize same-sex marriages legally entered into outside New York (say, in California). California voters passed Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. California Attorney General Jerry Brown called for the amendment’s appeal. Check your Magic 8 Ball for future status changes.

From China With Death

Not content to kill our pets with tainted food and poison our children with lead-painted toys, China sent us, um, human foods laced with toxic substances. Another reason to buy local.

Cast Off Castro

2008 saw the end of the reign of Fidel Castro as Cuba’s head of state. The 81-year-old who was rumored to be suffering a number of ailments gave control of the country to his brother, Raúl Castro.

“Ronery”—and Sick

Mass-murderer and Scotch-sodden letch Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, had a stroke this year. Get well soon, asshole.

Twinkle, Twinkle: Little Stars Shine in Troy

There is one thing to be said for living in close proximity to the alleged cult NXIVM: cults attract celebrities and celebrities are awesome. Especially when they come to Troy. And yeah, we consider Nicki Clyne of Battlestar Galactica and Alison Mack and Kristin Kreuk of Smallville celebrities—TV actors are still famous, you know. More famous than you, certainly more famous than us, and even more famous than their precious leader Vanguard, aka “the smartest man alive,” Keith Raniere. We don’t think much of Raniere’s self-help program, but that’s not the point: We do think a lot of seeing these cute TV starlets bopping around our favorite haunts. It makes us feel Big City. So now let’s just hope that this NXIVM thing gets huge enough to draw some real celebrities, like Scientology-caliber celebrities, to our humble little region.

Ba ba ba ba ba BATMAN!

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight drove people to the movie theater in hordes. Interest in the flick likely was heightened by the death of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker. But the rave reviews could not have hurt ticket sales, either. The success of the film that came near to topping Titanic’s record for highest box office ever has spurred talk of high-budget action films and comedies being in the lead for Oscar nominations this year. Rumors about a possible sequel are already heating up the Interwebs.

Grand Theft Allowance

The video-game industry was declared “recession proof” this year thanks to monumental profits made by popular titles such as Grand Theft Auto 4, Gears of War 2 and Fallout 3. Those games, both violent and epic, have become the new standard for the game industry.

Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. mounted a career comeback thanks to his role as Marvel Comics’ Iron Man. The film, which was the first box-office hit of the summer, featured Downey’s witty quips and self-conscious mumbling. The summer got better for Downey thanks to his turn as Kirk Lazarus—a blackface-wearing Australian actor—in Tropic Thunder. Oscar buzz around Downey’s performances has not dissipated.

Bad Kismet?

Featuring art by and for the common man was not enough to sustain Troy’s popular art gallery Kismet. The arts community will miss the gallery that allowed anyone to feature their master works.

Hip to Be (Wearing) Square (Frames)

OK, let’s all (grudgingly) give Tina Fey some credit. Did she single-handedly return Saturday Night Live to momentary relevance? You betcha! Sure, her Sarah Palin parody was a giveaway—a veritable Jesus-send from the tongue-speaking, mega-church-fronting, African witch doctor of satire—but, man, she knocked that one out of the park, across the Bering Straight, over Vladimir Putin’s rearing head, and onto a fully visible Russian landmass. More important, the fact that the live comedy show was, again, a requisite campaign stop meant that certain stiff, elderly presidential candidates had to come crawling out from behind their virulent crowds and talking points to show exactly how stiff and elderly they actually were. The best part, though, is that Fey’s wish was granted: Come 2009, she will not have to flee the planet to avoid continually portraying that Alaskan nobody.

Na na na na na na na na: Bat Death!

At first, the idea of white-nose syndrome seemed like a funny riff on the coke-addled renaissance of ’80s-style indulgence and egomania that has come to characterize our present decade. But, if you consider the 90-percent mortality rate of area bats from an unknown cause in the context of present extinction rates in the biosphere at large, and in light of the equally mysterious colony collapse disorder of the Western honeybee, then the idea starts to sound more like T. Rex than, er, T. Rex.

Juice Not on the Loose

Let’s, for a moment, give OJ the benefit of the doubt. There are plenty of other malevolent prowlers who might want to murder Simpson’s ex-wife and her lover. His confessional book If I Did It is really more speculative fiction than memoir, right? Besides, the glove did not fit, so the jury had to acquit. See, here in America, we have a legal system that protects citizens against the threat of double jeopardy. The trouble for OJ (at least one of them) is that the law of karma falls a bit above Johnnie Cochran’s pay grade. When one subsequently commits robbery with a deadly weapon, burglary with a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon, first-degree kidnapping with use of a deadly weapon, coercion with said weapon, and conspiracy to commit all of the above, well, nine years in a federal penitentiary starts to sound a bit like justice.

Save Money, Live Better, (or Die Trying)

The fact that we refer to the first day of the holiday shopping season as “Black Friday” should be enough for us to stop equating rabid consumerism with a holly-jolly economy. The term earned itself lethal connotations this year when a Wal-Mart janitor was trampled to death by a Wii-hungry mob. The only way this story could have been more disturbing is if it had been an elderly greeter and Tickle-Me Elmo was the object of the consumer lust.

Chinese Democracy

Michael Phelps’ 83 gold medals, the torch’s trip up Mount Everest, delightful air quality, a lack of public protest, and that crazy aerial running thing are the moments we’ll all be forced to recall with fondness, 50 years from now, when we’re all living in the Western province of the Greater People’s Republic of China. So, for now, let’s recall the repeated attempts at extinguishing the torch, pro-Tibetan protests, draconian surveillance, state-controlled media, a devastating Sichuan earthquake, and that perfectly awkward moment at the opening ceremonies when Bush and Putin discussed the finer points of the war in Georgia.

Oh Shoot!

New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress apparently thought his successful career and $35 million contract needed a shot in the leg, because, well, he shot himself in the leg. Burress, who reportedly arrived at Manhattan’s exclusive LQ nightclub sporting loads of bling, wads of cash and a pair of sweatpants, accidentally shot himself in the thigh when the unlicensed gun slipped out of his elastic waistband. Burress pleaded not guilty to the ensuing weapons charges. Good luck with that.

My Achey Breaky Heart

To celebrate her sweet sixteen, Miley Ray Cyrus, better known as Hannah Montana, reportedly has begun legal discussions to file a petition of emancipation from mom and dear ol’ Billy Ray. The “divorce,” which apparently stems from family arguments about Miley’s current beau, would allow the 16-year-old pop star full control over her career, finances and decision making. And really, what teenage near-billionaire wouldn’t think flying solo was a brilliant plan?

The Resurrection of Britney Spears

It only took a court-ordered stint in rehab, and Brit-Brit being forced to turn over legal management of her life to her father, to return her to million-selling pop-tart status.

Bad Times, Great Arts Centers

It’s ugly out there, but we can celebrate three excellent additions to three great institutions: the Stone Hill Center at the Clark Art Institute; EMPAC at RPI; and the Massry Center for the Arts at the College of Saint Rose. And let’s not forget that another building opened on the MASS MoCA campus for the spectacular Sol LeWitt show.

That Schenectady Arts District Thing? It’s Working

When Proctors is humming, with events on the mainstage and in the GE Theatre, and families are lined up at the Bow Tie Cinemas Movieland for weekend matinees, and the restaurants on State and Jay streets are busy, the folks behind the downtown Schenectady revitalization movement can be proud.

10 Years? Take Off!

The Albany Airport Gallery celebrated 10 years of bringing together the best art and artists of the region. They make it possible for travelers to experience more of what makes the Capital Region special than just what they can see out a taxicab window.

Who Knew Everyone Loved Opera?

Not Oprah. Opera. Judging from the number of venues that now screen opera from the Met, Salzburg and La Scala—Time & Space Limited, GE Theatre at Proctors, Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany—everybody loves the damn opera.

IMAX Is Here

For years, Jerry Jennings was going to bring an IMAX theater to downtown Albany. Never happened. Regal Cinemas, however, took a cue from Larry the Cable Guy and “got ’er done”: There’s an IMAX cinema at Crossgates Mall. Now if there were only better films playing there than The Day the Earth Stood Still and Madagascar 2.

. . . And So Is Digital Cinema

Regal also opened the 13-screen, all-digital multiplex at Colonie Center this year. The verdict? It’s a great place to see a movie. Excellent theaters with great sightlines, rockin’ (literally) chairs and tasteful décor. Now if moviegoers didn’t have to brave the food court to exit the multiplex, it would be perfect.

Books - Best of 2008

Critic: Margaret Black

1. War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

The new translation of this world classic by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is absolutely terrific, capturing Tolstoy’s range of styles that most translators “smooth over.” And you just can’t beat this story. It’s one of the best ever written.

2. The Bible: A Biography

Karen Armstrong

Here’s a timely biography that’s not only lively and filled with fascinating detail, but also manages to bring sanity back into discussions about what the Bible says and what it means.

3. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Michael Pollan

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Pollan has never been so succinct or more passionate. This book is a great guide to everyone who wants to eat safely and intelligently.

4. The Hakawati

Rabih Alameddine

An outrageous, funny, dramatic, serious, fantastic novel—a nest of stories that put Scheherazade to shame—about Lebanon and one feisty Druze family who live there.

5. Home

Marilynne Robinson

Robinson looks again at the events she told in her novel Gilead, but this time with sober attention to the dangerous black sheep of that story, the prodigal son, Jack Boughton.

Cinema - Best of 2008

Critic: Shawn Stone

1. Synecdoche, New York

In Charlie Kaufman’s dystopia of the mind, Oz (New York City) isn’t that wonderful and Kansas (Schenectady) is backward, unpleasant and weird. And Dorothy? We (the audience) are Dorothy.

2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Don’t let director David Fincher’s seemingly impassive gaze fool you—this is a deeply moving (and disturbing and literal) epic about a life lived in reverse.

3. Wall-E

It’s true. Robots really are more awesome than people. And Pixar is, again, measurably more awesome than DreamWorks.

4. Snow Angels

David Gordon Green is a mystery. I loathed his last look at small-town life, All the Real Girls, and loved this one. I also dug his crossover hit, the Apatow-produced stoner comedy Pineapple Express (see below). Must be me.

5. Man on Wire

A haunting documentary about a French wire-walker who briefly made the towers of the World Trade Center his own. Inspiring, funny and yet deeply melancholy. (Guess why.)

6. Australia

Another Oz movie. Baz Luhrmann’s best is a sprawling, hugely entertaining national creation myth, akin to Zhang Yimou’s Hero—or Gone With the Wind, with the racial politics reversed.

7. Tropic Thunder

What Ben Stiller accomplishes here, insulting Hollywood actioners and method acting, is a thing of beauty. Tom Cruise (!) delivers the line of the year: “I want you to take a step back, and literally fuck your own face!”

8. Burn After Reading

Everyone is nuts in the Coens’ bloody farce, but best of all is ex-spy Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich). Dressed in a grubby bathrobe, swilling Scotch and waving a hatchet at the idiots of the world, he’s a hero for our time.

9. The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger’s Joker proves that anarchy is more fun than order, despite the efforts of filmmaker Christopher Nolan to suggest some inherent moral nature in humanity.

10. Pineapple Express

Stoner comedy the way it’s supposed to be—jagged and nonsensical—with a hilarious performance by James Franco.

WORST of 2008

1. The Love Guru

The blame for this offensive dreck about a trollish American-born guru belongs to Mike Myers.

2. Slumdog Millionaire

Tourist Danny Boyle brought home a thoroughly synthetic feel-good flick from India. I hope his “co-director in India” gets a piece of the Oscar, too.

3. The Life Before Her

A bloody, mean-spirited anti-abortion fantasy from the director of House of Sand and Fog.

4. Honeydripper

Scientific fact: Honey drips faster (at any temperature) than the action in John Sayles’ drama.

5. Shine a Light

Martin Scorsese tries to get something fresh from the Rolling Stones. Hear that laughter? It’s Mick and Keith on their way to the bank. Again.

Best of 2008

Critic: Laura Leon

1. Slumdog Millionaire

An improbable fairy tale set against the backdrop of Mumbai’s teeming masses, and bisecting the huge disparities in wealth and opportunities for the same, this is the movie I’ve been waiting for all year, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

2. The Dark Knight

Not just a comic-book story unleashed upon the big screen, and not just because Heath Ledger scares the bejesus out of any sane viewer, but because this is epic storytelling that reveals painful truths about our society. But seriously, Ledger is amazing.

3. Frozen River

One of the year’s little movies that won over many critics. A real story, featuring characters who look like we do in the morning, and like we would if we were trying to get by on part-time wages from the dollar store. Deeply felt, at times terrifying, always on target.

4. Milk

Gus Van Sant gives us an engaging biopic about the slain San Francisco city supervisor, Harvey Milk, that captures the flavor of the times and of a movement as much as it tells us about the man himself. Sean Penn, in the lead role, is outstanding and refreshingly vibrant, and Josh Brolin, as Milk’s murderer, reveals nuances that only deepen the already rich texture of this movie.

5. Elegy

Not just another icky May-December romance, Elegy teams Ben Kingsley as an all-too-aware author engaged in a love affair with years-younger Penelope Cruz. Surprisingly warm and funny, and supremely poignant—just like life’s supposed to be.

6. Iron Man

OK, so maybe having four boys has something to do with the fact that I see an awful lot of movies about superheroes, but this one—even with its pat antiwar message—shimmered with verve, style and all out good humor. Of course, the fact that Robert Downey Jr. plays the lead, and completely steals everything in the picture, helps.

7. Appaloosa

Not quite John Ford or Sergio Leone, but an admirable, respectful homage to the great westerns, with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen redefining what’s right and good on the frontier.

 

Wall-E

8. Wall-E

Much of the first half of Wall-E pays homage to the classic silents of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, with a robotic waste remover the sole “survivor” on an Earth left uninhabitable by overconsumption. Even when it becomes more of a traditional Pixar offering, it stays the course of intelligence and witty storytelling, not to mention fantastic effects.

9. The Bank Job

Seriously, I thought this was some sort of cinematic teen gangbanger movie, until I caught it on cable while on a business trip, and boy, was I surprised. A tight plot about a cast of small-time hoods aiming for the big heist, with strong support from Jason Statham and Saffron Burroughs, calls to mind Steve McQueen’s how-cool-is-that flicks like Bullitt.

10. Tropic Thunder

I admit it, and I didn’t think it possible, but my sides hurt from laughing so much. Not a four-star movie, but then again, Tropic Thunder scores big for sheer irreverence when it comes to Hollywood’s sacred cows, and for that, it makes the list.

WORST of 2008

1. Sex and the City

How to destroy a franchise, let alone fans’ fervent dreams.

2. Australia

Or Gone With the Windbag.

3. The Women

Oh no they did not! Dare to touch the 1939 classic, and undermine Clare Boothe Luce’s biting intellect, that is.

4. The Hulk

Except for the end, when Robert Downey Jr. walks in off the Iron Man set, it’s hard to get worked up about a big green rubbery smashing machine.

5. Fool’s Gold

Undoubtedly the hardest movie I’ve had to suffer through this year. Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey are like the Kathy Griffin of the big screen. With sincere apologies to Kathy Griffin.

Best of 2008

Critic: John Brodeur

1. Synecdoche, New York

An ambitious and darkly beautiful existentialist mope. Visionary writer-director Charlie Kaufman lures his excellent ensemble cast into the labyrinthine expanses of his twisted mind. Difficult, but wonderfully rewarding. Yes, it’ll make you think, which isn’t what everyone is looking for in a moviegoing experience. So if that’s not your bag . . .

2. Wall-E

Social commentary couched in a robot love story. The most clever and irresistible animated feature in eons. More to the point: It’s an excellent film by any standard.

3. The Dark Knight

Full of outsize performances, dazzling cinematography, action sequences that are almost impossible to follow, and about six consecutive endings, 2008’s biggest blockbuster is a loud, paranoid, nihilistic mess—and an absolute blast. My only complaint is that Heath Ledger’s lock on the supporting actor Oscar means Robert Downey’s great performance in Tropic Thunder will go unrecognized.

4. In Bruges

If you had told me a year ago that I’d be digging a hit-man movie starring Colin Farrell, I would have told you to fook off. But what a lot of fun this was! Farrell is great, as are Brendon Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes and their co-stars: the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium, and the “F” word, which makes up a solid quarter of the overall dialogue.

5. Slumdog Millionaire

A love letter to the escapist power of cinema. And bizarrely plausible, too!

6. Iron Man

While The Dark Knight injected its smash-bang action with a heavy dose of existential gloom, the year’s other big superhero film had all the ingredients for the ultimate summertime crowd-pleaser: a protagonist driven to right his own wrongs; a villain who was almost likeable; a smartly underplayed love story; a keep-it-simple-stupid approach to the action bits; and another great, grinning performance from Robert Downey Jr.

7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Shorter on dick jokes (though heavier on dick scenes) than the typical Judd Apatow production, this breakup comedy favors the emotional over the scatological, and smartly avoids pandering.

8. Burn After Reading

After their big Oscar win for No Country for Old Men—which is a much funnier film than anyone seems to think it is—the Coen brothers return with another ode to the randomness of human existence, this time with the laughs front and center. Everyone in the A-list cast is trying to out-goofball each other, as it should be.

9. Transsiberian

The supposed plot twists in this bleak thriller may as well have train whistles attached, but that doesn’t stop the film from being an honest-to-god nail-biter.

10. Snow Angels

Speaking of bleak films with obvious twists, this one is a downer from top to bottom, with little to offer the viewer in its final moments but confirmation. But if you’re looking for the year’s best- performed film, look here: Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, and (who knew?) Amy Sedaris are at the head of a cast that simply devour this heartbreaking script.

WORST of 2008

1. Semi-Pro

I didn’t expect much from the latest addition to the “Put Will Ferrell in a funny sports costume” line, but this film wasn’t just unfunny—it was a supremely crappy film. As Ron Burgundy might say, “Go fuck yourself, Semi-Pro.”

2. The Life Before Her Eyes

I’ve let some better films slide, despite their obvious twists. I would like to do the same for this one but then there’s all the OH FUCK IT’S AN ANTI-ABORTION FILM. This picture’s only redeeming qualities were its relatively brief running time, and the fact that Uma Thurman is really easy to look at.

3. Rambo

Twenty years removed from the last film in the series, this is hard to read as anything more than a parody. Stallone, all ’roided-up and unintelligible, directs the film as if it were a Playstation game. You want to root for old man Rambo as he mows down scores of Burmese soldiers—he seems justly motivated—but as the killing escalates, the whole thing becomes laughably grotesque. The same could be said for the dialogue, though that’s not exactly surprising.

4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

A blissfully ridiculous film, acted with an implied dollar sign at the end of each line. Shia LeBeouf continues to be the most inexplicable young star in Hollywood, and my dad would have done a better job as Indy. Even Connery turned this POS down.

5. Choke

Not a fundamentally terrible film: Sam Rockwell and Angelica Huston are both fine, and there’s a serviceable narrative through-line. But considering it’s a film about a bunch of sex-addicted miscreants, it’s boring as fuck. And that’s just disappointing.

Food - Best of 2008

Critic: B. A. Nilsson

This list is alphabetical, not hierarchical, and divided into higher- and lower-end eateries. Not surprisingly, it shows that my favorite fancy dining during the past 12 months took place in and near Saratoga Springs, while the more memorable of the casual meals were Albany-based.

Fancy

1. Inn at Erlowest

3178 Lake Shore Drive, Lake George

Chef Dale Miller crafted a transcendent tasting menu that paired flavors in surprising and satisfying ways. But soon you won’t have to drive quite so far to taste his cuisine: Look for him in April at an eponymous restaurant at the Omni Plaza on Albany’s South Pearl Street.

2. Maestro’s

371 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

The Study of Duck included confit on a buckwheat blini, house-smoked breast meat with glazed pear slices and pâté topped with a fried quail’s egg. This is chef John LaPosta effortlessly showing what he can do and making you feel very welcome in the process.

3. Max London’s

466 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

Max London opened his restaurant next to his father’s pastry shop, so all food groups are sensuously covered. Small tapas plates mix with full-sized entrées; antipasto and salads are among the lighter fare, and pasta dishes and wood-fired-oven-baked pizza give an Italian edge.

4. My Way Café

Routes 9 and 67E, Malta

Chef-owner John Bove describes his shrine to Sinatra as having a 1940s roadhouse atmosphere, but it’s a roadhouse with consistently fine grub. We enjoyed everything from the clay pot of fresh-baked bread to the steamed mussels to an amazingly good, prosciutto-rich carbonara.

5. Whip Bar and Grill

Green Mountain Inn, 18 Main St., Stowe, Vt.

The 1833-vintage Green Mountain Inn is the historic heart of Stowe, hearkening to a time when smuggling, not skiing, was a principal occupation. Although the Whip, the Inn’s restaurant, doesn’t style itself as a fine-dining destination, its comfort food (try the turkey dinner) is fine-dining good.

casual

6. Capital Thai Restaurant

997 Central Ave., Albany

The wonderful khao soi (chicken and two types of noodle in a coconut- and curry-scented broth) sold me on this restaurant, which sits unpretentiously in a strip mall but offers a wide range of Thai dishes along with an array of sushi offerings. Nothing fancy to look at, but consistently good food to enjoy.

7. Capital Q Smokehouse

329 Ontario St., Albany

Chef-owner Sean Custer says he loves cooking French food, and did for many years, “but barbecue is more fun.” This little Ontario Street eatery offers ribs and brisket and pulled pork, of course, with tons of tasty side dishes—and now hot dogs have been added to the menu. (The restaurant reopens, after vacation, on Jan. 12.)

Casa Oaxaca

Photo: Shannon DeCelle

8. Casa Oaxaca

54 Philip St., Albany

Pollo con mole shows off a true mole, the famous seed-and-pepper sauce touched with Oaxacan chocolate. I also enjoyed the platter of chorizo, chicken and beef as well as quesadillas made with the addition of Oaxacan cheese and sprigs of epazote. Gringo fare also is available.

9. CCK

299 Central Ave., Albany

Now-shuttered Ocean Palace’s owner Peter Chan moved his seafood-intensive operation here and enhances a traditional Chinese restaurant with such offerings as cherry bass with black beans, salted flounder with hot pepper, and a wonderful watercress and pork soup. General Tso’s chicken? That’s here, too.

10. Garlic Lover’s Corner

235 North Greenbush Road, North Greenbush

Chef-owner Bill Assad worked at Delmar’s Hidden Café, and brings the same menu approach to this tucked-away place. Baba ganouj and falafel are outstanding; alongside some traditional pasta fare are delights like Moroccan vegetable stew and a lamb and apricot stew that’s like the best osso buco you ever tasted.

Live - Best of 2008

Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

Swell Season at the Saratoga Music Festival

Photo: Martin Benjamin

1. Saratoga Music Festival

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 17

Sets by Bob Dylan and a rollicking Levon Helm Band were just the capper to this daylong Sunday-afternoon music festival, which was well-run and stocked with an improbable amount of talent, from Gillian Welch and Steve Earle to Conor Oberst.

2. Nick Lowe

The Linda, April 30

The man who appeared at the Linda was the Nick Lowe of any fan’s dreams: dapper and dignified, charming and witty, musically on-point and plucking tracks from a career’s worth of classics.

3. Andrew Bird

The Egg, Oct. 9

Andrew Bird’s albums have their charms, but they’ve got nothing on his live show. At the Egg, the Chicagoan’s one-man band created a whirlwind of sound by virtue of some manic looping, virtuoso violin playing, and custom speakers that looked like giant cartoon gramophones.

4. Joe Jackson

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 30

“Steppin’ Out” and “Fools in Love” are songs I could listen to endlessly and never tire of them; a chipper Jackson played those hits and more (along with some well-crafted new tunes) from behind the piano at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. What a treat.

5. King Khan and the Shrines

Iron Horse, Aug. 30

After seeing King Khan and the Shrines at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass., I was convinced of two things: All garage-soul bands should have a full horn section, and all garage-soul bands should have a singer who darts around on-stage—and off-stage—wearing nothing but a cape and a Speedo.

Robyn Hitchcock at the Linda

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

6. Robyn Hitchcock

The Linda, July 10

One of the most creative minds in music, with a unique oeuvre of songs about spiders, stalkers, and more existential terrors, graced the stage of the Linda with wit, good humor and songwriting skill that extended far beyond just the macabre.

7. The Figgs, the Charlie Watts Riots, Ashley Pond

Valentine’s, Dec. 20

The Figgs’ annual holiday show once again lit up our sun-deprived capital region with loads of holiday cheer, thanks to several hours of unrestrained rock and roll, Kinks covers, and drummer Pete Hayes’ green and red elf costume.

8. Neko Case

The Egg, Jan. 31

The venue may have been too serious for Case to fully let her hair down, figuratively speaking. Still, she managed to be charming as hell (memorable line, commenting on her blousy tunic: “I’m not pregnant, I just like this shirt”). And her voice was amazing. She also brought her dog onstage, who lay so still throughout the set that he almost looked dead.

9. Sunburned Hand of the Man, Century Plants

Saratoga Arts Center, April 12

Kudos to the Saratoga Arts Council for putting on some freaky psych-folk shows and other experimental sounds this year at the former library turned art gallery. As far as freaky psych-folk goes, the Massachusetts collective Sunburned Hand of the Man didn’t disappoint, with a mysterious theatrical subplot and ritualistic stage props adding to the set’s building drama.

10. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

MASS MoCA, April 4

Malkmus may have indulged his inner guitar-wonk a bit too much at times, at least for those who prefer his shorter pop gems to anything involving more than 30 seconds of guitar noodling. But Malkmus was in high spirits, joking with the crowd; the venue sounded great; former Sleater Kinney member Janet Weiss was a monster on the drums; and there were a few pure pop tunes to go around.

 

Critic: Josh Potter

1. Cecil Taylor/ Pauline Oliveros

EMPAC, Oct. 5

These two may simply be more fully evolved than any of us simians. Witnessing them perform for the first time together in a state-of-the-art space, no doubt, helped us all stand a little more upright.

2. Northampton Wools

Upstate Artists Guild, June 26

It sounds like a half-baked barstool daydream: Thurston Moore and Bill Nace feeding back their six-strings in a tiny gallery in front of a floor-seated crowd. Well, it happened.

3. The Bad Plus

The Linda, March 13

Ranging from jazz ballads suited for amphitheaters to arena rock built for dinner clubs, the trio alternately seduced and bludgeoned its small, grateful audience.

4. Deerhoof

The Linda , April 18

Choo-choo-choo-choo, beep, beep.

5. Dr. Dog

Revolution Hall, Oct. 8

How these guys managed to remain onstage clouded by their smoke machine, bouncing manically in their sleek neon shades, remains a mystery. It’s equally mysterious how they sounded so good all the while.

6. Aficionado

Larkfest, Sept. 20

Ten-strong, on a stage, in the sun, at the end of a blocked-off street, presiding over a gleefully intoxicated crowd, Aficionado even remembered to bring along their custom streamer-loaded leaf blower.

 

Critic: David Greenberer

1. The Fleshtones

Positively 4th Street , Jan. 19

It took me until this year to see them, and now I need to catch up on the good times.

2. Los Lobos

Calvin Theatre, Northampton, Mass., March 16

America’s finest.

3. Nick Lowe

The Linda, April 30

Having evolved from pop trickster to middle-aged gentleman, Lowe is at the top of his game.

4. Greg Brown

The Egg, Jun. 14

He’s one man with an acoustic guitar, but this is far too edgy, personal and poetic to be called “folk.” And “blues” has become a watered-down term. He’s simply Greg Brown, and that’s more than enough.

5. Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks

The Linda, June 22

Mr. Droll never fails to please with entertaining songs and barbed commentaries.

6. Robyn Hitchcock

The Linda , July 10

A rare area appearance by Hitchcock and his highly personal surrealism. (If only the venue had avoided the wonky sideways stage set-up.)

7. Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet

VFH Hall, Florence, Mass., Aug. 14

This unlikely setting made for a you-had-to-be-there night, in celebration of Adams’ 60th birthday. His new, post-NRBQ band is a powerhouse (and includes Pete Donnelly from the Figgs on bass).

8. Flutterbox

Mass MoCA, Aug. 29

I can’t imagine my life without the song “Whoops Wrong Daisy.”

9. Sam Phillips

The Linda, Sept. 14

Phillips and her trio packed an incredible amount of subtly rough-hewn powers into both the songs from her new album as well as selections from her past catalog.

10. David Byrne

The Egg , Nov. 5

Byrne, with a four-piece band, plus three singers and three dancers, celebrated his collaborations with Brian Eno, from the Talking Heads albums he produced to this years set of co-written songs. Artist, entertainer and smart guy: Byrne knows how to make that combination work without tipping it over.

 

Critic: David King

1. Mindless Self Indulgence

Revolution Hall , July 1

Absurd, insulting, shocking, hysterical, unruly, unabashedly self-serving: MSI’s one-night stand at Rev Hall was all of those things, and that was just the between song banter. Lead singer Jimmy Urine demanded money from the crowd and they handed it to him, he asked for clothing and they complied, he tried to convince them he was a sell-out who they should hate and . . . well, that didn’t quite work out. MSI’s sloppy techno-punk flew by at hundreds of beats per minute, keeping the kiddies dancing and thrashing. It was one entertaining roller-coaster ride of a show.

2. Wu-Tang Clan

Northern Lights, Dec. 28

Sure it lasted only for an hour, and not every member of the Wu was in attendance, but it was one of the highlights of 2008 to be able to hear RZA, GZA and Ghostface Killah spit what have become absolutely iconic rhymes. The predominantly suburban audience was at times seemingly overwhelmed into quiet respect (there could have been more ass shaking), but all in all the crowd was a testament to the Wu’s status as hip-hop legends.

3. Secret Machines

Jack Rabbit Slims, May 1

The Secret Machines’ new ominous sound crept out of the club and seeped into the cracked pavement, broken down warehouses and abandoned buildings that make up Albany’s downtown. There was a nervous energy in the night like the last dreadful thought you have before being anesthetized for surgery. The Secret Machines were crisp and devastating.

4. Progressive Nation Tour

Washington Ave. Armory, May. 18

While I appreciate the legendary Dream Theater, their headlining performance did not make the show for me. Instead it was younguns Between the Buried and Me who tore through half of their magnum opus Colors, an album that is so full of time changes and different movements that it would give most other musicians fits. Their performance left the crowd chanting for more. Then Sweden’s Goth metalers Opeth dimmed the lights and snaked their eerie brand of prog into the ears of the mesmerized audience.

5. The Nightwatchman

Larkfest, Sept. 20

There was something surreal about having Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine leading thousands of fist-pumping fans right in the heart of Albany during a heated presidential election. But there he was, twisting amazing sounds out of his Strat. It was a short show but Morello came equipped to preach and to party. Leading the crowd through protest songs, an improvised party jam (“Shake My Shit”), and a Rage Against the Machine hit or two, Morello seemed happy to have the street- spanning audience for his new side project. And the audience walked away all smiles, happy to have had the guitar legend rock little old Lark Street.

 

Critic: Mike Hotter

1. Andrew Bird

The Egg, Oct. 9

An evening of magnificent, multilayered sound, all laid down sans-band and on-the-fly. This show confirmed Bird’s status as one of the most fiercely talented American musicians of his generation.

2. Saratoga Music Festival

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 17

Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Steve Earle, Conor Oberst, and a bracing outpouring from Swell Season’s Glen Hansard were all very memorable, but this concert became one for the ages when the aforementioned alterna-folkies all lined up to support one of their heroes, Levon Helm, for a heartfelt version of the Band’s “The Weight.” The subsequent set from Dylan and company felt somewhat superfluous after this high point.

3. Neko Case, Eric Bachmann

The Egg, Jan. 31

Listening to Neko Case sing, especially live, is one of the pleasures of being alive, and she and her top-notch band made her gothic country sagas sparkle like jewels. Eric Bachmann’s songs of despondency and rue proved a perfect fit on this midwinter’s night.

4. The Tallest Man on Earth

The Parting Glass, June 7

A fingerpicking phenom with a haunting voice, reminiscent of Doc Boggs and young Dylan but still utterly unique, Kristian Matsson and his acoustic guitar kept the audience entranced, pondering the mystery of a possible spiritual connection between the mountains of Sweden and Appalachia.

5. Deerhoof

The Linda, May 18

This totemic indie band became a Cubistic thrill ride when witnessed live and in the flesh.

6. Horse Feathers, Matthew Loiacono

Caffe Lena, Oct. 29

Collar City Records mastermind Loiacono capped a stellar year with a set that showcased his burgeoning songwriting skill, as well as his rare knack for getting the audience involved by making them part of the performance. Horse Feathers, an acoustic trio out of the Pacific Northwest, wove spells of sadness, resolution and beauty.

7. Odetta, MotherJudge

Washington Park, July 21

As Odetta sang “John the Revelator” and other folk/spiritual standards, you became aware that an entire epoch was going to fade out along with her when she passed, making us all the more fortunate that one of her final visits was with us. Having MotherJudge and other local luminaries open the show was an added blessing.

8. Robert Randolph, Arrested Development

Empire State Plaza, July 16

In Randolph’s words, “I do believe this is a summertime street party.” This multiculti affair brought the spirit of “Yes, We Can” to the Capital City and made it do the electric boogaloo.

Ryan Adams at the Egg

Photo: Martin Benjamin

9. The Cardinals

The Egg, Sept. 25

Ryan Adams has tamped down the monsters of his id and put together a really fine rock group in the process, giving credence to the Hunter Thompson maxim, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

10. Jack Rose, Michael Chapman

The Helderberg House, Oct. 8

With much thanks to Jack Wingate, an evening of acoustic-guitar playing par excellence.

 

Critic: Shawn Stone

1. Diane Reeves

The Egg, Feb. 13

An ice storm didn’t hurt attendance, and couldn’t affect this intimate show in the Swyer Theatre with a great jazz artist and her band.

2. The Breeders

Pearl Street Nightclub, Northampton, Mass., June 4

The guitars were loud and the fun quotient was high: The Deal sisters were back.

3. Alice Cooper

Proctors Theatre, Oct. 26

A happy Halloween was enjoyed by young and old alike, thanks to Coop’s family-friendly mayhem. Singing along with Alice on “Elected” this year was especially appropriate.

4. Suzanne Vega

Spa Little Theater, May 31

Vega with a full band is a can’t-miss. Also: Pop, rock and jazz shows in the Spa Little Theater at SPAC? An excellent idea.

5. Zappa Plays Zappa

The Egg, Aug. 5

Gotta hand it to Dweezil and Gail; the Zappa family know how to put on a good show.

Art - Best of 2008

Critic: Meisha Rosenberg

1. Projections: Jenny Holzer

MASS MoCA

Jenny Holzer’s light projections of poetry animated the darkened Building 5 of MASS MoCA for much of 2008, and every time I saw the words (by Polish Wislawa Szymborska) spooling up the wall and along the ceiling (and sliding onto visitors), I was blown away. Political, disturbing, and stunning, Projections embodied the power of language better than any Advanced Literature Theory class could.

2. Raw Nerve: The Political Art of Steve Brodner

Norman Rockwell Museum

This exhibition came just at the right time, at the height of election insanity when we were all jonesing for a little comic relief. Come to think of it, maybe his work should be on permanent rotating display as anodyne for the political hell du jour.

3. Julie Mehretu: City Sitings

Williams College Museum of Art

This beautifully curated show presented one of the most globally minded artists working today. With an architect’s precision, Mehretu’s layered images of lines, logos and swooshes try to make sense of massive upheavals and shifting alliances.

4. Director’s Choice: Focus on Modernism

The Hyde Collection

A small but wide-ranging exhibition by the Hyde’s new director, David F. Setford, made modernism look fresh again, with quieter works by some big names like Picasso, Max Ernst and David Smith.

5. Look-Alikes: The Amazing World of Joan Steiner

New York State Museum

Once you discover how Joan Steiner uses household objects (spools of thread, candy, tea bags) to build obsessively detailed scenes of everyday life (construction sites, soda shops), the kids in your life will have to fight you for her Look-Alikes books. No fighting necessary at the New York State Museum, where many of her original sets were on display in 3D for all to see.

6. Art in the ’Toon Age

The Hyde Collection

A number of museum shows have attempted to define art inspired by cartoons, and this one made a bold attempt to link approaches as different as Takashi Murakami’s and Gladys Nilsson’s. A bit of the “everything and the kitchen sink,” but lots of fun.

7. The Work of Ken Ragsdale

Photography Center of the Capital District

Ken Ragsdale’s work seems to move easily between two- and three-dimensionality, and this exhibition showed how one of his meticulous sets (generously on display) which he makes himself entirely out of paper, translates to haunting and moody photographs of American road journeys.

8. Into the Trees

The Fields Sculpture Park at Omi

Any exhibition at Omi is a good exhibition, because even if it’s just so-so, you still get to wander the acres of its rolling hills full of world-class sculpture on permanent display. Bonus: Into the Trees included memorable works by Katie Holten and Alan Michelson and melded well with its surroundings.

9. Judy Pfaff Paperworks: Year of the Dog, Pig, Rat, Etc.

Massry Center Art Gallery, College of Saint Rose

This show presented the dynamic, organic, and cheerful works of an internationally recognized talent. Her installation work here was in a strangely cramped part of the new gallery space, but here’s hoping the exuberance of this show bodes well for future offerings.

10. Badlands

MASS MoCA

It doesn’t take much to get me to cross the border and head to MASS MoCA, and shows like this are why. Thoughts are provoked and feelings plumbed, even if you don’t always like everything. Responding to the land, this grouping was a bit higgledy-piggledy but nonetheless a great chance to see some fantastic art on a crucial topic by the likes of J. Henry Fair, Alexis Rockman, and Jennifer Steinkamp.

Recordings - Best of 2008

 

Critic: John Brodeur

1. Erykah Badu

New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War

A deeply funky, fractured state-of-the-world disc on a par with Superfly, Sign “O” the Times and What’s Going On. No joke—it’s that good.

2. Portishead

Third

Sour music for sour times. Brrr.

3. Frightened Rabbit

The Midnight Organ Fight

The year’s best breakup record. (Sorry, Kanye.) Scott Hutchinson’s songs are soulful and sincere, never bending under their own emotional weight despite the occasional wonky line. There’s no new ground broken here, but Frightened Rabbit have made some fresh prints in the cement.

4. TV on the Radio

Dear Science

Leaner, and often angrier, than its excellent predecessor (Return to Cookie Mountain), this is an album for the 2008 time capsule. We might as well dance while the ship sinks.

5. The Hold Steady

Stay Positive

Craig Finn sings pretty much the same way on every song, from the lyrical coupling to the inflection. And I don’t see anything wrong with that, so long as the songs are this good.

6. Q-Tip

The Renaissance

Hey you guys! It’s safe to listen to hip-hop again! After almost 10 years away, he sounds as fresh as ever on a collection that skillfully updates old-school tones for a generation of rap fans lobotomized by the likes of 50 Cent and Soulja Boy.

7. Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

The Crosby Stills and Nash comparisons that have dogged this record seem to have helped more than they’ve hurt, but they’re still lazy: CSN never sounded this pretty.

8. Little Joy

Little Joy

A wayward Stroke and a few of his pals sip caipirinhas and turn in an album that sounds completely effortless. It’s equally as effortless to listen to—this is one charming record.

9. Hot Chip

Made in the Dark

More charmingly kitschy Devonian synth-pop, mixed with some downright lovely ballads.

10. The Raveonettes

Lust Lust Lust

The Danish duo strip away the layers of production from their last outing, returning to what they do best: simple melodies and harmonies, gobs of distortion, and that ice-cold exterior we’ve come to know and love.

 

Critic: Josh Potter

1. Make a Rising

Infinite Ellipse and Head with Open Fontanel

This is what those clarinet lessons you took back in fifth grade could have been good for. Two brothers wrote the music, but it’s their band—a veritable chamber orchestra—who make this record masterly. If you have a hard time imagining what folk music paired with prog rock, indie pop and ambient minimalism might sound like, that’s a good thing. Just listen.

2. MGMT

Oracular Spectacular

Roll down the windows. I don’t care if you’re cold. Are you wearing neon feathers in your hair? Good. Hop on the highway, press play, and don’t slow down until it’s over.

3. Apollo Sunshine

Shall Noise Upon

At last: an album that can finally put to rest the petty squabbling between jam-heads and indie kids. The trio’s instrumental prowess fires a cohesive romp through Animal Collective-style ecstasy and Devendra Banhart-esque psychedelia.

4. Marco Benevento

Invisible Baby

Benevento’s a champion genre-smasher. This one effectively slaps a “post-” in front of both the rock and jazz elements therein, while incorporating circuit-bent electronics and a butt-ton of dexterity.

5. Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

“Gorgeous” is the kind of descriptor that is best applied to pastoral acoustic music with lush vocal harmonies and folklorish imagery. Therefore, it is all that needs to be said about what Fleet Foxes do.

6. TV on the Radio

Dear Science

The electro postpunk appeal has long been these guys’ selling point, but this one takes the whole game to the next level. Full of synth, horns, and falsetto, it’s definitely the most moonwalkable album of the year.

7. Icy Demons

Miami Ice

An unabashed product of the kitschier end of the Chicago krautrock machine, the album is like the soundtrack to an 8-bit video-game dance party—on the beach.

8. Dr. Dog

Fate

With this one, Dr. Dog decidedly have crossed the rubicon into greatness. Now they not only sound like bands from the ’60s whose names begin with “B,” but they’re squeaking into that same realm of artistry.

9. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

Lil’ Tae Rides Again

From a band who routinely operate beyond the standard four dimensions, this one gets the full electronic treatment and ends up sounding like Thelonious Monk, John Bonham, Tortoise and Panda Bear playing tetherball in a black hole.

10. These United States

Crimes

At turns sepia-toned and bourbon-basted, Jesse Elliot’s screwball narrative Americana is dark, manic, and good enough to situate him in a lineage of the genre’s greats.

 

Critic: Erik Hage

1. The Disciplines

Smoking Kills

Maybe it’s only available in Norway and on the Internet. This is Ken Stringfellow (Posies, erstwhile R.E.M. and Big Star) fronting a bunch of Norwegian guys and some of the most satisfying guitar torque in ages. Far more convincing for me than all that Hold Steady grunting.

2. Shogu Tokumaru

EXIT

I think if John Lennon had lived, he would now be making this kind of music, complete with the Japanese lyrics. This is what Sufjan Stevens has been trying to get at without quite arriving.

3. The Fall

Imperial Wax Solvent

On which Mark E. Smith sings, “I’m a 50-year-old man. What you gonna do about it?” and uncorks the garage-rock grenade “Wolf Kidult Man.”

4. Portishead

Third

Despite the Obama victory, bleak, cold and inscrutable albums are still my preferred listening until further notice.

5. Radiohead

In Rainbows

Ditto on the Portishead comment. Bought it at the Cobleskill Wal-Mart while shopping for groceries with the kids.

6. Neil Young

Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House, 1968

Makes me want to take up organic gardening, write love poems to my woman and buy a llama. Perhaps best comedy album too.

7. Last Shadow Puppets

Age of Understatement

Satisfies the romantic in me, which lives on, despite everything.

8. Coldplay

Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends

I’m far enough along in life to not have to defend my choices . If you haven’t listened far enough into this album to get what Eno brought to the table, don’t kneejerk.

9. Mary J. Blige

Growing Pains

Just plain old-fashioned R&B and soul done up right. I’ll take it straight, no clutter.

10. Chuck Berry

Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings

What with the state of the world and Metroland having put a LOLcat on the cover, 2008 was a year in which I occasionally needed the kind of reassurance that only a classic could provide.

 

Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

1. Drive-By Truckers

Brighter than Creation’s Dark

Drive-By Truckers tell a story in song better than just about anybody these days; these songs about God-fearing, fish- catching, drink-craving people with rural lives tending toward the epic.

2. The Hold Steady

Stay Positive

“Subpoenaed in Texas, sequestered in Memphis” is the best sing-along chorus ever.

3. Mudcrutch

Mudcrutch

Tom Petty’s reunion with his pre- Heartbreakers band is all good, from the psychedelic Civil War-era general on the cover to the seamless bayou-bred Americana within.

4. Santogold

Santogold

Catchy, catchy music from Brooklyn’s Santogold: a heady blend of sassy dance-punk and cross-cultural stylings in the vein of M.I.A.

5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Rock’s reveler in the Dark Side is still inspired after all these years, and this return to the seedy underbelly suits him well.

6. King Khan and the Shrines

The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the ShrinesBooty-shaking garage rock anthems from wildman King Khan and his swinging Shrines.

7. Raphael Saadiq

The Way I See It

So smooth, Saadiq produces an album of hand-clapping, finger-snapping, vintage soul that channels the Motown masters: a little Smokey, a little Stevie.

8. Giant Sand

Provisions

From his Arizona perch, Howe Gelb, with help from guests like Neko Case and Isobel Campbell, makes a desert soundtrack for the End Times.

9. Ike Snopes

Reshaping a Dream

D.J. Miller’s stripped-down solo album further reveals what a master the Small-Axe frontman is of effects-laden-guitar and world-weary songwriting.

10. The Gutter Twins

Saturnalia

Former-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan and former-Afghan Whig Greg Dulli make great—if doubly misanthropic—music together.

 

Critic: David King

1. Bloc Party

Intimacy

Bloc Party outdid both of their previous releases with a compelling mix of indie-noise-punk and big beat techno. The album’s First single “Mercury” was like an acid-dropping horn section from Radiohead’s “National Anthem” in a brawl with Afrika Bambaataa.

2. TV On The Radio

Dear Science

They’re a what? They’re a what? They’re a dance-rock band, and their album has been named best album of the year by like every magazine in the land.

3. Cult of Luna

Eternal Kingdom

The Swedes in Cult of Luna have a knack for creating lumbering art-metal with a soul; the band trade some of their warmth for a sinister ragged edge that is simply haunting.

4. MGMT

Oracular Spectacular

Akin to listening to Ren and Stimpy’s “Happy Happy Joy Joy,” Oracular Spectacular is a guilty pleasure like I haven’t experienced in ages. From disco floor-stomper “Electric Feel” to Gary Numan tribute “Kids,” every song on the album is dreamy electro-escapism.

5. The Secret Machines

Secret Machines

Pulsing kraut-rock with nods to old-school Goth, glam and new wave—the Machines have replaced their open-hearted emotion with nod-and-a-wink sass and festering cynicism. This is robotic rock & roll for confused 20 something’s.

6.The Faceless

Planetary Duality

Pastoral this ain’t—brilliant and inspired, it just might be. Progressive death-metal with virtuoso flourishes, accentuated by some crazy space-alien-obsessed, David Icke-reading lead singer with a hard-on for vocoder abuse. Could you ask for anything more?

7. Death Cab for Cutie

Narrow Stairs

Some albums don’t have to be perfect to matter. Seriously flawed works of art can be more compelling—they just have to fit the times, get played during the right moments, like during that long car ride with a new love, or while aboard an Amtrak plowing through an ice storm. Death Cab for Cutie’s cute, romantic shtick of course lends itself to this sort of thing.

8. Meshuggah

Obzen

Obzen finds Meshuggah setting new standards for intelligent metal bands worldwide. More comparable to a jagged, avant-garde piece of sculpture than Cult of Luna’s impressionist painting, Obzen is to a testament to creativity in a generally stagnating genre.

9. Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

A recurring theme of my top albums this year is escapism, and that point is accentuated by the inclusion of the Fleet Foxes. In a year when I didn’t need breaks from the torrent of presidential news coverage, I might not have been able to stomach the beautiful pastoral styling of the Foxes. I would normally find it boring like most modern Americana, or extremely derivative like, say, a new Coldplay record, but there was something far too comforting about this album to ignore it.

10. Mindless Self Indulgence

If

A spazz-tastic cyber-punk romp through the mind of a horny, sexually ambiguous, pink-mohawked pervert. If is also MSI’s masterwork. Album-closer “Mark David Chapman” encapsulates the bands irreverent disdain for . . . well, music in general, with Jimmy Urine asking, “When the world’s overrun with too many bands. Who is it time for?” Answer: “Mark Chapman!”

Critic: David Greenberger

1. Geraint Watkins

In A Bad Mood

Watkins has been a key player on Nick Lowe’s recent albums and this, his third album, is so timelessly perfect that it’s hard to imagine I wasn’t playing it constantly last year as well.

2. Inara George with Van Dyke Parks

An Invitation

Orchestral sweep meets poetic miniatures with stunning results. Inara George (daughter of Lowell) sings her songs like a small colorful boat on a gently rolling sea. Mr. Song Cycle himself brought his magical arrangements to bear on this alluring song cycle.

3. Elvis Costello and the Imposters

Momofuku

This quickly realized set looks outward (“American Gangster Time”) and inward (“My Three Sons”) with equal passion. Jenny Lewis sings harmony on much of it, a favor Costello returned on her latest (and which may well have made this list, but I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet).

4. The Swimmers

Fighting Trees

From a band who aptly took their name from John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer,” this debut is a tumult of partially glimpsed characters and circumstances. Driven by piano, the sound lands somewhere near Spoon, but just about any band would have sold their soul to have created a song like “Moving.”

5. Various Artists

Imaginational Anthem Volume 3

The Tompkins Square label continues to document contemporary practitioners of the acoustic guitar. The ghosts of Fahey and Basho hover nearby, but these eleven players each have their own formidable presence. Smartly assembled, the disc flows like one undulating whole.

6. Vetiver

Thing of the Past

This set of covers is more than just a tip of the hat to some of bandleader Andy Cabic’s favorites, suffused as it is with its own resonant spunk, verve and invention. A song by Biff Rose? Yes indeed—and Michael Hurley, too!

7. The Tiptons Sax Quartet

Laws of Motion

Originally known by the more unwieldy Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, the Tiptons mix jazz, cabaret, klezmer and assorted music strains from around the globe. They toured the U.S. and Europe this year and would have made my Live Best Of list, except that I saw them in Milwaukee.

8. Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby

Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby

This musical pairing, while surprising, makes perfect sense, as Rigby adds pop finesse to Goulden’s sprawling lo-fi impulses. The result sounds like both of them, sometimes by turn, other times simultaneously. The couple also married this year.

9. Chad VanGaalen

Soft Airplane

Calgary, Canada-based VanGaalen’s third album continues his homemade approach to recording. He layers surprising combinations of instruments, moving easily between acoustic and electric settings. If Neil Young had been born about 30 years later, with Jack Nitzsche built into his own brain, he’d be Chad VanGaalen.

10. Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Lie Down in the Light

The guy’s got 10 albums out, but this is where I’ve started. I’ll likely work my way backward (and most certainly forward), but for the time being, I’m quite pleased to linger with this one for some time to come.

Theater - Best of 2008

Critic: James Yeara

1. Othello

Shakespeare and Company

As John McCain’s campaign was running attack ads, Shakespeare & Company’s Othello seemed particularly timely, but the excellence of the direction, the stage pictures, and the acting created a powerful production that will last in memories long after the failed campaign of hate. Led by the excellence of John Douglas Thompson in the title role and Michael Hammond as Iago, this was Shakespeare, and Shakespeare & Company, at they’re best.

A Flea in Her Ear

2. A Flea in Her Ear

Williamstown Theatre Festival

If Othello captures Shakespeare at the height of tragedy, A Flea in Her Ear captured Feydeau’s manic joy, diddling in the nether regions of comedy. Quickly paced, A Flea in Her Ear was full of laughs to please all but the humor-deprived and the comically challenged. Led by the peerless Carson Elrod in a perfect performance of a character who can’t speak consonants, A Flea in Her Ear was witty, visually and aurally astounding.

3. Doubt: A Parable

Capital Repertory theatre

Before the recent movie release, Doubt was an award-winning play, and this production outstripped the movie. The heroes, villains, pawns and manipulators meld, and Capital Repertory Theatre’s audience was left with the questions Doubt raised for the tussle home. No mere claques, the audience recognized the excellence they had seen with their applause. For those who love theater, Doubt was what you prayed for.

4. The Punishing Blow: An Illustrated Lecture Delivered by Order of the Orange County Criminal Court

Woodstock Fringe Festival

Playwright Randy Cohen (“The Ethicist” columnist for The New York Times Magazine and three-time Emmy Award-winning writer for Late Night With David Letterman) crafted an engaging, challenging 63 minutes of theater. At its metaphorical heart this was a fascinating lecture on Daniel Mendoza, an 18th-century bare-knuckle boxer who was the Chuck Liddell of his day, which Cohen twists around a very twisted history professor most believably.

5. Falling: A Wake

StageWorks/Hudson

StageWorks/Hudson artistic director Laura Margolis yet again helmed a new play in its American premiere, creating a space where Falling: A Wake’s epiphanies, revelations, and emotions played out truthfully without sentimentality or pretension. Its 80 minutes of plot twists and turns, its humor, its questioning of God, faith, and despair, and its sincere and redemptive ending made Falling: A Wake that rare play which earned its standing ovation not out of habit, but out of merit.

6. Bat Boy: The Musical

Schenectady Light Opera Company

From its opening seconds, Schenectady Light Opera Company’s Bat Boy: The Musical engaged the audience with this very funny, lively production. Led by the protean Sean Patrick Fagin (a stalwart of several Capital Repertory Theatre productions in the 1990s and a frequent presence in NYSTI productions) as the eponymous character, SLOC’s production was community theater at its too-rare finest.

7. See Rock City and Other Destinations

Barrington Stage Company

The world premiere of See Rock City and Other Destinations was the latest offering of Barrington Stage Company’s excellent Musical Theatre Lab. Rock City’s series of musical sketches captured the kitschy delights of road trip warriors: the angst, pain, longings, and hopes of everyday people. Rock City pleased because it eschewed pretension and keept its heart in the right place.

8. Play by Play Opposites

StageWorks/Hudson presented at 440 Upstairs at Proctors

The annual collection of one-act plays presented by StageWorks/Hudson was bookended this year by two scenes of legal negotiations, which was appropriate for this year’s theme, “opposites.” With shorts like Old Prices, a smart 10-minute play centering on historical acting greats, and Love in Litigation, a silly 13-minute piece concerning lawyers Ms. Cupid and Mr. Cupid hammering out a contract for romance, Play by Play ran the gamut of what’s best and worst about the festival format.

9. Candida

Capital Repertory Theatre

Bershire Theatre Festival celebrated its 80th anniversary with a production of Candida that captured Shaw’s wit and humor and weathered the 80 years since BTF’s first production of the play. From the cramped study of St. Dominic’s Vicarage overlooking Victoria Park to the precisely timed reactions of the six-actor cast, BTF’s Candida was the perfect tribute to the troupe’s illustrative past and a benchmark of its excellence today.

10. Anna in the Tropics

Capital Repertory Theatre

Flawed casting and tepid performances couldn’t mask the excellence of Nilo Cruz’s brilliant 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The conflicts and tensions between family members, lovers, actors and characters, modernization and tradition, the future and the past, at a moment of great societal change in America, mirror the greater struggles soon to burst on the nation. Anna in the Tropics is a beautiful play, at times romantic, poetic, earthy all at once.

Best of 2008

Critic: Kathryn Geurin

1. The Caretaker

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Harold Pinter is a complicated and deeply important playwright. Nearly incapable of honesty, his characters speak in rich layers of subtext. The players in his breakthrough drama, The Caretaker, are entirely disconnected and painfully human. It is a play, like much of Pinter’s work, that can easily be done horribly wrong. But in the hands of Berkshire Theater Festival’s creative team, helmed by director Eric Hill, the exquisite production mined every ounce of the script’s humanity and inhumanity, desolation and compassion.

2. Of Mice and Men

New York State Theater Institute

The curtain rose on NYSTI’s production of the depression-era classic Of Mice and Men with poignant timing. As the economy crashed around us and political candidates marketed their brands of hope and change, NYSTI’s treatment of Steinbeck’s brutal and tender tale resonated with the ache of unrealized dreams. The cast of NYSTI stalwarts turned out some of the company’s most indelible performances of recent years, and the deceptively spare design lent a powerful universality of place and time to a very distinct setting.

3. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Barrington Stage Company

Originally workshopped and produced by Barrington Stage in 2004, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee has since headed to the Broadway big time and garnered two Tony Awards. This summer, the delightful musical returned home to Pittsfield, where the folks at Barrington Stage offered up a treatment to rival the best of the Big Apple. Spelling Bee is a fun, funny, honest and insightful story with a phenomenal score. Their baby may have grown up, but Barrington Stage surely can be proud of what it has become.

4. The Atheist

Williamstown Theatre Festival

Any one-man play presents a huge challenge to playwright, actor, director and designers alike: the need to captivate an audience, and create dramatic tension through a single voice. Williamstown Theatre Festival’s production of The Atheist, starring a wildly energetic but tightly controlled Campbell Scott, did just that. The story of a rookie journalist on a relentless quest for fame and headlines, uninhibited by faith, morality, or human connection, plumbed the complex implications of his cold philosophy with heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, dexterity.


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