Brain Pickings

Search results for “"best albums of"”

The Best Albums of 2010

Haunting vocals, bone-chilling harmonies and measured hipster-snubbing.

Today begins our “12 Days of Christmas” series of best-of lists. Every day between now and December 25, we’ll be publishing our favorite pieces of culture from the past 12 months — ideas, events, reading, apps and more — beginning with music. And just to throw out the necessary disclaimer, this is by no means a be-all-end-all or an attempt at universal tastemaking — we’ll leave that to the Pitchforks of the world — but, rather, just a highly subjective list of the albums that made us smile, cry or dodge repeated requests from coworkers to let go of the Repeat button. And, no, at the risk of hipster venom, we will not be including LCD Soundsystem‘s, Arcade Fire‘s or even, gasp, Broken Bells‘. So sue us.

BIG ECHO

It’s easy to attribute The Morning Benders’ utterly refreshing sound to their remarkable age — they’re practically teenagers. But something about their breathtaking blend of Berkley and Brooklyn makes them utterly enchanting. Big Echo did for 2010 what Noah and The Whale’s First Days of Spring did for 2009 and Fleet Foxes did for 2008 — quietly deliver tender, harmonic punches to your deepest gut.

For fans of Local Natives, Deerhunter, Mumford & Sons, Emiliana Torrini.

THE LADY KILLER

Two years ago, Cee-Lo Green made waves as one half of acclaimed duo Gnarls Barkley (the other half being the infamous DJ Dangermouse). This year, Cee-Lo not only milked the viral circuit for all it’s worth, but he also delivered one of the year’s most memorable albums. The Lady Killer is the kind of stuff you can’t get out of your head OR off your playlist. Powerful and punchy, Cee-Lo’s vocals don’t just meld with the beat, they ARE the beat, like blood throbbing through your very veins.

For fans of Black Eyed Peas, The Roots, Jurassic 5.

THE ORCHARD

Besides being triumph over personal tragedy for Ra Ra Riot — the death of original drummer John Pike — The Orchard is an exercise in chamber pop perfection, complete with cello, cymbals and all stunning string magic that boosts the vibrant vocals to an even more mesmerizing place. It’s the record that got the most play in our iTunes this year, showing no signs of the usual wear-and-tear and ear fatigue that music overdose tends to inflict on an album.

For fans of Vampire Weekend, Le Loup, Metric.

I LEARNED THE HARD WAY

Easily our favorite act at SXSW this year, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings’ unique brand of 60s revivalism shines with full foot-tapping, head-bopping, booty-shaking glory in I Learned the Hard Way. It’s Amy Winehouse meets Motown, without the drugs and the bad hair, flowing between sweetness and indignation just like love itself does.

For fans of Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, She & Him, Cee-Lo Green.

RING

Glasser easily has the most haunting sound we’ve heard in years. From the entrancing drum beats to Cameron Mesirow’s soul-binding vocals, Ring is the kind of record the sound of which you imbibe and get drunk on, losing yourself in its sonic rabbit hole like Alice in a vertigo-inducing Wonderland.

For fans of Bat for Lashes, School of Seven Bells.

GORILLA MANOR

It’s been a good year for West Coast bands. With their spellbinding vocal harmonies and enchanted rhythms, LA’s Local Natives may just be the new Vampire Weekend. Gorilla Manor will kiss your mind with its salty lips and leave the aftertaste of the ocean on your breath, then walk away quietly, leaving you restless and longing for more.

For fans of Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Anathallo.

13 MOST BEAUTIFUL

Commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum, singer-songwriter duo Dean & Britta wrote and recorded 13 original scores and classic covers for Warhol’s little-known silent films — black-and-white portraits of cultural icons like Nico, Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, Ann Buchannan, Freddy Herko and Dennis Hopper, shot between 1964 and 1966. The result was the two-CD gem 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests — a deluge of rich guitar strums and dreamsome, melodic honey-vocals, with a kick of head-bobbing beats in just the right places. We reviewed in full here.

For fans of The Love Language, The Velvet Underground, The Swell Season.

INTERPRETING THE MASTERS

It’s rare for a tribute album to make a best-of list. (Ours, at least.) But The Bird & The Bee‘s superb tribute to the great Hall & Oates, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates is in a league of its own. The band’s siguature 80’s revivalist sensibility already seems like a perfect fit, but rather than merely covering the iconic songs, they truly make them their own. Inara George’s soft and sensual vocals flow with the chill-synth arrangements to a captivating effect, breathing exuberant new life into the beloved dusty classics.

For fans of Hall & Oates (d’oh…), Belle & Sebastian, A Fine Frenzy.

ODD BLOOD

Yeasayer have been — quite rightfully — described as “musical magpies.” Odd Blood, their sophomore album, more than substantiates this claim with its psychedelic spunk, paradoxical blend of vocal apocalypticism and chirp, and hypnotic instrumentation. Ambling Alp was positively one of the stickiest tracks we heard all year.

For fans of MGMT, Animal Collective, Radiohead.

WRITE ABOUT LOVE

For nearly 15 years, Belle & Sebastian are among the most prolific indie bands of all time. After a four-year hiatus, Write About Love was welcomed with a polarized response as some longtime fans found it, for lack of better words, terrible. We, however, fall on the other end of the spectrum and think it delivers the same kind of perk-perfect vocals and immaculate chamber pop we’ve learned to love. It is, ultimately, happy music. And we could use a bit more of that.

For fans of She & Him, The Smiths, Love, Nick Drake.

BP

Best Albums of October

A whale, a 5-year wait, and imagining Amy Winehouse as a happy person.

Fall is usually the hottest season for indie releases. And October has been sizzling in more ways than we can count. With new releases from old favorites, debut albums by promising up-and-comers, and even some fantastic free mixed samplers, it’s been a grand month for music.

THE FLAMING LIPS EMBRYONIC

An instant classic by a cultural legend, The Flaming Lips‘ latest, Embryonic, may be a bit self-indulgent at 19 tracks and 70 minutes of play-time, but so long as it’s good music — which it is — that’s okay by us.

Bonus points for releasing it as 2LP color vinyl as well.

Favorite track: Anything You Say Now, I Believe You (Amazon MP3 Exclusive).

BRUSHFIRE RECORDS FALL 2009 SAMPLER

Brushfire is one of our absolute favorite indie record labels. (Who, by the way, record in a solar-powered studio.) And their Fall 2009 Sampler is not only completely free, but also DRM-free — something rare and respectable in today’s domination of iTunes proprietary formats and licensing restrictions.

It features tracks from indie favorites like Jack Johnson (the label’s owner), Zach Gill, Matt Costa and the fantastic up-and-comer Zee Avi, whom you may recall from our spotlight feature.

Favorite track: Zee Avi’s Darling.

THE SWELL SEASON STRICT JOY

Songwriter duo The Swell Season began with the romance between The Frames’ frontman Glen Hansard and Czech vocalist Markéta Irglová, who met on the set of Irish indie film gem Once. But the band, named after a novel by humanist Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, suffered an inevitable setback when the romance ended, leaving fans to question its fate. Luckily, the two had the good sense to put their creative integrity first, and continued collaborating on what quickly became one of the best folk bands around. Strict Joy, their formal debut, is every bit as rich and remarkable as their story.

For a taste, grab a free download of In These Arms, the thrid track from the album.

Favorite track: Two Tongues.

NOAH AND THE WHALE FIRST DAYS OF SPRING

We already reviewed British pop-folk outfit Noah and The Whale‘s First Days of Spring and their brilliantly innovative release model, the world’s first-ever film/album hybrid. So no need to wax poetic any futher, but we’ll just say the album a stunning string of quietly excellent tracks.

Favorite track: Slow Glass, which you can hear in full here.

KINGS OF CONVENIENCE DECLARATION OF DEPENDENCE

We’ve been infatuated with Norwegian duo Kings of Convenience since the release of their debut album in 2004. So we were increasingly impatient as they took a 5-year sabbatical from recording. Which is why the October 19 release of their new album, Declaration of Dependence, is incredibly rewarding culmination of a long, long wait.

With beautifully melodic acoustics and vocals that clutch you in their quiet but firm grip, their sound is both vulnerable and powerful, full of that intangible but highly distinct Nordicness. Their lyrical sensibility sneaks up on you and catches you by surprise with deep reflections on the simple complexities of everyday life.

For a teaser taste, you can snag Boat Behind, the fourth track from the album, for free.

Favorite track: Mrs. Cold.

THAO KNOW BETTER LEARN FASTER

Thao With The Get Down Stay Down is easily among the best acts we’ve discovered over the past few years. Their sound has continued to evolve, with vocalist Thao Nguyen channeling Cat Power and and Fionna Apple while innovating in her very own way. Bassist Adam Thompson and drummer Willis Thompson bring a rich layer of vibrant instrumentals to the mix, for a grand total that much grander and more fantastic than the sum of its parts.

And their new album, Know Better Learn Faster, is every bit as brilliant as we expected it to be.

Favorite track: Cool Yourself, because this track is just too white-hot.

ASTEROIDS GALAXY TOUR FRUIT

Although Danish alt-pop outfit Asteroids Galaxy Tour released a couple of EP’s last year, Fruit is their first full-blown album — and full-blown it is. It’s a glorious intersection of the psychedelic-pop of the 60’s and what Amy Winehouse might sound like if she were a happy person, all wrapped in stunning, unmistakable Scandinavian vocals, with a hint of brilliant but elusive indie collaborator Bajka. Beautiful brass instrumentation and superb drum work give their sound that extra zing that takes it from great, listenable music to head-bobbingly superb.


Favorite track:
Tie between The Golden Age, which you can hear in full here, and Hero.

For more curated music, check out tune of the moment, our Tumblr spinoff, where each day, you can listen to a full track that’s making us smile.

BP

Best Albums of August & September 2009

Lovable monsters, Middle Eastern obsessions, and why good things only get better with time.

August and September have been extraordinarily good months for music, with new releases ranging from remarkable debuts, to much-anticipated new albums by old favorites, to fantastic soundtracks. Here are 8 of our favorites.

VIVIAN GIRLS EVERYTHING GOES WRONG

A 2008 critic darling, Vivian Girls faced great expectations for their sophomore album. And, we have to be honest, the first time around, we really didn’t think the indie duo lived up.

But we’re glad we gave Everything Goes Wrong a second shot. And then a third. And a fourth. And a fifth… Punchy and bold, it’s one of those albums that just keep getting better with every listen.

Favorite track: The End.

THE BIG PINK A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOVE

Trippy and surreal, The Big Pink‘s debut album is difficult to describe — it’s a brilliantly paradoxical mix of fast and slow, sharp and soft, easy and restless. Hear for yourself.

Favorite track: The title one, A Brief History of Love.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE SOUNDTRACK

We fell in love with the pairing of dicrector Spike Jonze and vocalist Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs ever since that wonderful “Hello Tomorrow” adidas commercial. Now, the soundtrack to Jonze’s much-anticipated latest piece of magic makes us love the pair even more. It makes the kid in you hold hands with your inner musicologist as the two stroll together through whimsical forest of modern storytelling.

Favorite track: Hideaway.

A FINE FRENZY BOMB IN A BIRDCAGE

At SXSW 2007, we instantly knew Alison Sudol, a.k.a. A Fine Frenzy, was a force of talent to be reckoned with. Her debut album was an indisputable testament to this, and her much-anticipated follow-up, A Bomb In A Birdcage is every bit as brilliant.

Violins, piano, and an undercurrent of meticulously chosen drum beats give the album an incredible range of sound and emotion as you get lost in her perfect, perfect voice.

Favorite track: Blow Away.

PRINCETON COCOON OF LOVE

We first heard (of) Princeton at this year’s SXSW, where they made waves with The Waves, and we were instantly captured by their Beatlesque vibe bent through a prism of Scandinavian harmonies and instrumentals. Their new album, out last week, lived up to our expectations, and then some.

Cocoon of Love is an eclectic yet consistently excellent anthology of stylistic allusions to indie icons — think Fleet Foxes meet Belle & Sebastian — wrapped in a sound completely their own and dipped in a rich sea of cinematic orchestra instrumentation.

Favorite track: Calypso Gold.

ZERO 7 YEAH GHOST

We’ve loved Zero 7 for years and years and years, ever since the Imogen Heap days.

This year, Yeah Ghost comes as a curious mix of meh and wow. But with the help of Sia, one of our all-time favorite vocalists, they manage to deliver a fw crownjewels on their existing crown of excellence. We even toy with considering Swign the best track they’ve ever recorded.

Favorite track: Swing.

VANDAVEER DIVIDE & CONQUER

There aren’t many 5-star tracks in our iTunes library, especially ones coming from the same album. But Vandaveer’s sophomore album, Divide & Conquer, is a string of 4-stars-and-up excellence.

This isn’t “light” music — it’s drunken with a powerful heaviness that puts the weight of the world on your head as you bob it. From the haunted acoustic guitar, to the profound piano, to the intense lyrical sensibility, you just can’t stop listening in a hurts-so-good kind of way.

Part Citizen Cope, part Paolo Nutini, part something else entirely, Vandaveer — spearheaded by Mark Charles Heidinger, with vocalist Rose Guerin — bring a brilliant balance of male and female vocals, reminiscent of that Damien Rice / Lisa Hannigan dynamic that we miss so much.

Favorite track: Turpentine.

TAKEN BY TREES EAST OF EDEN

We love everything Victoria Bergsman is involved in. You may know her as the female vocal on Peter Bjorn & John’s now-iconic Young Folks, or know her band, The Concretes. But her solo project, Taken By Trees, has been making us smile since 2006.

Taken By Trees’ latest album takes those same haunting-sweet vocals, and layers them on top of a Middle Eastern acoustic sensibility. East Of Eden was inspired by Victoria’s travels to Pakistan — and you can hear it every perfect drum beat, in the superb flutes and enchanted backvocals that adorn her typically rich lyrics.

Favorite track: Day By Day, a beautiful anthem to a bittersweet obsession.

For more curated music, check out tune of the moment, our Tumblr spin-off, where each day, you can listen to a full track that’s making us smile.

We’re launching a newsletter, published on Sundays and featuring the week’s articles, plus an exclusive curation of 5 more Brain-Pickings-worthy things from across the web. To sign up, simply send us a blank email from the address at which you’d like to receive it. Although optional, we’d really appreciate including your occupation and where you live.

BP

Brain Pickings Redux 2010

A year’s worth of ideas, inspiration and innovation from culture’s collective brain.

It’s that time again, that very special day on which we turn back on the year whose end we celebrate tonight and take a look at the tastiest tidbits of interestingness that made our radar during the 4,500+ hours we poured into Brain Pickings in 2010. (And if you found any of them marginally interesting, stimulating or smile-inducing, please consider supporting us with a marginal donation — it’s what keeps the cogs a-turnin’ here.)

We kicked off the year with an uncovered gem: Steve Jobs on working with Paul Rand, the iconic designer perhaps as famous for his infamous temper as he was for his legendary work. We wanted to remember 100 places before they disappear.

This hyperkinetic gumbo in space, known as the Antenna Galaxies, may resemble the fate of the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy when they collide in about 2.5 billion years.

Photographer Michael Benson took us on the real Space Odyssey with his magnificent images of the cosmos. MIT’s FaceSense read our minds through a webcam. Google Creative Lab director Ji Lee echoed our belief in the transformative power of personal projects. Alex Lundry showed us how our pre-wired visual bias allows data visualization to steer the public in politics. Michael Deal charted The Beatles.

Kirstin Butler took a close look at The Red Book, the fascinating illuminated-manuscript-meets-personal-journal by iconic Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, then curated 5 fantastic resources for the lifelong learner.

Photographer extraordinaire Andrew Zuckerman captured the wisdom of 50 of the greatest living luminaries over the age of 50. A wonderful art project invited us to live in the moment. Our triad-taxonomy of mythical beasts and modern monsters became our most-read viewed page this year.

In February, BBC’s The Century of the Self took us deep into the roots of consumerism and democracy. 88 Constellations delivered the biography of the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in spellbinding interactive storytelling. Matthew Albanese’s miniature condiment landscapes blew us a way.

Tornado made of steel wool, cotton, ground parsley and moss

We looked at 6 ingenious creative derivatives of the London tube map plotting everything from personality types to the Milky Way as a subway system. We found 10 more must-attend cross-disciplinary conferences. We went to the mother of all conferences, TED, and came back with photos and soundbites. We curated six fantastic places to buy affordable art from emerging artists. (And later found five more.)

We explored creationism vs. evolution in a brilliant split-screen animation. We celebrated 5 blog-turned-book success stories, and later added another five. We applauded Kopernik, the new microfunding platform for world-changing design that improves lives in the developing world.

We peered past the Burton hype and saw some wonderful art inspired by Alice In Wonderland. In an original interview, legendary anthropologist Robin Dunbar distilled our psychosocial capacity for Facebook friends. We explored the history of the Rube Goldberg machine as a cinematic technique long before OK Go viral videos.

People loved our omnibus resource of 11 ways to micro-fund your creative project and our three alternatives to the traditional business card. In another uncovered gem from 1960, iconic media theorist Marshall McLuhan explored his notion of “the global village.”

We looked at three excellent examples of infographic storytelling for kids and traced the origins of animation all the way back to the early 1900s.

Elham, 19, and her mother, 55. Rhinoplasty ‘nose job’ operation.
Tehran, Iran.

Photographer Zed Nelson explored the cross-cultural manufacturing of beauty in an arresting series and designers gave mundane notices ingenious makeovers. We explored the past, present and future of magazine publishing. Our omnibus of vintage posters for modern movies became one of our most-shared articles this year.

Artist Steve Powers wrote a graffiti love letter across 50 building facades over 20 blocks. A global art project constructed a hand-illustrated collaborative video for Johnny Cash’s final studio recording. We took some vintage lessons on design and government from the Works Progress Administration. We looked at some remarkable book sculptures.

Natalie Merchant came back from obscurity to blow us away with her musical adaptations of Victorian children’s poetry. We looked at distorted maps as a storytelling device. Two filmmakers set out to make one documentary per month, every month, for a year. The eerie and fascinating Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia was a big hit with readers.

We looked at subway etiquette from around the world and marveled at incredible artwork made out of money. We saw that, thanks to artsts’ ingenuity, augmented reality can be fully analog.

In may, we celebrated our 500th anniversary with original artwork by the talented Len Kendall. Leonard Bernstein dissected the anatomy of music. The world’s leading data visualization masters pooled together in a stunning new anthology. Nina Katchadourian made wry comedy out of stacked books. In another uncovered gem from 1959, Ayn Rand gave Mike Wallace a piece of her mind on love and business.

We curated 5 iconic children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups. A fascinating documentary explored the state of remix culture and the history of copyright law. Designer Mico Toledo created beautiful typographic art out of famous song lyrics.

We looked at 7 experimental music projects of incredible ingenuity. Spam became art. Marcus Chown shared some insights on what everyday objects tell us about the universe. Designers set out to give every city in the world a (type)face.

Helen Fisher took a fascinating look at your brain on love and one filmmaker wrote an HD love letter to New York. The BBC explored the genius of design and we celebrated the unsung heroes of the information age. We looked at some fantastic vintage Russian animation and marveled at some incredible art made of office supplies.

We launched our very own curated art portal with work from emerging artists. The Museum of Moving Image gave us a fascinating video-essay about the manufacturing of fame and filmmaker Oliver Laric the tensions of sampling and borrowing media in an eye-opening visual essay about the appropriation of images.

An animated adaptation of Mark Twain’s The War Prayer gave us pause about the state of the world today, more than a century after Twain’s poignant reflection on war and morality. These 7 must-read books by TED speakers became one of our most read articles all year and MoMA’s Paola Antonelli echoed our own philosophy on design and innovation in her metaphor of the “curious octopus.”

We were swept away by a spellbinding original soundtrack for Andy Warhol’s little-known silent films and chuckled at some quirky art inspired by Law & Order one-line episode summaries. We loved Robin Moore’s string math portraits and unearthed 5 ½ gems “from” the iconic, delightfully dark German director Warner Herzog, on whose advice one man walked 5,000 kilometers from Madrid to Kiev. We took a journey around the world in 80 diets.

38-year-old Maasai herder, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 103 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 800 calories. Food staples: Maize meal and milk.
Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

A poetic short film about art of being alone became our second most-shared article this year. We were excited for an upcoming documentary about happiness and rallied behind a delightful language conservation effort to save the world’s words. We curated 7 must-see episode of the iconic vintage gameshow What’s My Line, featuring luminaries like Salvador Dali, Walt Disney and Eleanor Roosevelt.

We explored post-consumerism with 7 ways to have more by owning less. 100 artists played a collaborative game inspired by 1920s ideology. We looked at what it means to be human from three cross-disciplinary perspectives. The Mona Lisa Curse traced historical tensions between in art and commerce. We bowed before what remarkable creatures bees are and curated 5 fantastic animations about capitalism.

We looked at how famous creators got their start and listened to a 100-year old tree tweet. We agreed that everything is a remix, a reflection of our philosophy of combinatorial creativity. IDEO reimagined the future of books and, later, the music player. Two icons converged in a lovely new collaboration between Maira Kalman and Lemony Snicket.

Steven Johnson explored where good ideas come from and we looked at the Arctic through the eyes of the Vikings. We celebrated the opening up of the iconic Paris Review archives with 10 priceless quotes from cultural luminaries. The BBC pitted God against science and one designer mapped European stereotypes, which became our most-shared article of all time.

Europe According to USA

We found 5 quirky and wonderful cross-disciplinary cookbooks and explored journalism in the age of data with a fantastic free documentary from Stanford. We couldn’t resist the autobiography and sex life of Andy Warhol. Our list of 7 image search tools that will change your life went viral on Twitter.

We wanted these literary action figures and were thrilled to watch the aurora borealis from home. We celebrated the launch of a new data visualization portal and the return of 30 Conversations on Design. We peered into the audio archives of the Kelly Writers House, full of rare talks by iconic authors and listened to some conversations with iconic art director George Lois, charmingly profane and curmudgeonly as ever.

We explored 5 perspectives on procrastination and swooned over a limited-edition of Moleskine celebrating 30 years of Pac-Man. We tried to understand the scale of the universe, then tried to put it in our pocket. 50 people answered one question. We were thrilled to see Charles and Ray Eames’ iconic Powers of Ten adapted in a flipbook and agreed that all creative work is derivative.

We looked at the history of uncommissioned street art and listened to abstract artists try to explain what they do to their parents, to a delightfully amusing effect. We were sad to lose the great Benoît Mandelbrot, father of fractals, and celebrated his contribution to the world. Marian Bantjes’ I Wonder became our favorite typography project of all time.

We helped our friends at Acumen Fund search for the obvious and bowed before TED as they, in a highly usual move, awarded street artist JR the annual $100,000 TEDPrize. Sir Ken Robinson talked, compellingly, about changing education paradigms.

Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but is an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways to interpret a question, to think laterally, to think not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not one.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

We dove into cultural nostalgia with 7 poetic short documentaries about dying occupations and applauded a wonderful project helping children heal through contemporary art. Everything Explained Through Flowcharts became readers’ favorite book this year.

We explored the secret stories of words and listened to a composer reimagine Beethoven as jazz. We were blown away by this interactive version of Don Quixote from the Spanish National Library. We looked at some fascinating portraits of the mind from antiquity to modernity and were stunned by Cedric Pollet’s intimate portraits of the world’s trees.

Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa), a flowering deciduous tree native to South America’s tropical forests
Image by Cedric Pollet

We explored the psychology of choice from five perspectives and rushed to grab Bill Moggridge’s ambitious new book on media innovation, featuring interviews with some some of today’s most celebrated media thought leaders.

Brené Brown’s talk on wholeheartedness was the best TED talk we watched all year. We discovered The Cassiopeia Project, a fantastic free resource for science education online. BBC’s adaptation of Sherlock Holmes was an instant hit. Bill Bryson’s short illustrated history of nearly everything was one of readers’ favorite books this year.

Chinese Junk
The roster of ingredients includes dried lotus leaves for snails, noodles for the wood floor, physalis lanterns, and the obscure wild green yamakurage for the rope.

We looked at some incredible edible landscapes and marveled at Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes, positively the year’s most ambitioius publishing project. Roger Sterling’s fictional Mad Men memoir was, in our book, the year’s most ingenious example of transmedia storytelling. Arts & Letters Daily founder Denis Dutton offered a provocative Darwinian theory of beauty mere months before he passed away.

The alphabet became art. We were fascinated to learn that Facebook has nothing on Voltaire as we watched Stanford scientists visualize Enlightenment-era social networks. The past once again one-upped our present bias in a photographic history of bromance.

Composer Alexandra Pajak made music from the HIV virus and iconic designer Paula Scher eloquently captured our own belief in creativity as a combinatorial force. We were enthralled by Coralie Bickford-Smith’s covers of literary classics. We looked at changing views of the family as a social unit and celebrated the great Mohammad Ali.

Mad Men Illustrated

Mad Men Illustrated was an instant favorite. We watched 88 years of American political divide unfold in a minute and revisited Philippe Halsman’s iconic jump portraits.

We launched a shoppe full of curated design goodies, quirky gifts and favorite books and applauded a new platform allowing causes and nonprofits to crowdfund media space via microdonations from supporters. We immediately loved All Facts Considered from NPR’s charmingly librarianly librarian and bowed before this Englishman who posted himself.

We were thrilled for the launch of HeyKiki, a new platform for crowd-accelerated learning and revisited the do’s and don’ts of photography, which really apply to any creative discipline. We watched our favorite statistical stuntsman synthesize 200 years that changed the world in one minute, using augmented reality and celebrated the first 40 years of NPR.

We visited the MIT Museum and came back with pearls of wisdom on the 5,000 steps to success from Polaroid inventor Edwin Land. We upped our snark game and were spellbound by the year’s most beautiful animation.

We learned how music works and explored 3 ways to visualize Infinite Jest. Actor Rainn Wilson stepped outside his Dwight character to surprise us with some keen insight on overcoming creative blocks. We took an unusual tour of New York City with author Ayun Halliday.

This month, we curated the best albums of 2010, our favorite books in Business, Life & Mind and Art, Design & Photography, the year’s loveliest children’s literature, and the smartest apps that launched in 2010.

We were thrilled that James Burke’s iconic Connections series, a BBC history of innovation, was released online for free. We celebrated Christmas with a fascinating documentary about the history of the holiday and a heart-warming story of humanity amidst war from 1914. We commemorated the 6th anniversary of our favorite author’s death with a trifecta remembrance and took a delightfully dark, beautifully illustrated look at Armageddon.

We asked some of our favorite artists to visualize the 10 most popular Brain Pickings articles of 2010.

We had a fantastic year thanks to your readership and support — a big THANK YOU for that and here’s to an even more inspired, stimulating, curiosity-filled 2011.

Now, just for kicks, why not enter our cultural time machine and revisit the best of Brain Pickings 2009?

BP

View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I receive a small percentage of its price, which goes straight back into my own colossal biblioexpenses. Privacy policy.