Arcade Fire Wins Best Album Grammy

Even as a confessed awards show geek, I know better than to put any stock into the value of the Grammys. The preeminent trophy of the recording industry has enough of a sadly checkered history that ignoring it altogether is the best policy for anyone who’s passionate about parsing the best music of the year. Still, I can remember it stinging a bit years ago when Beck’s Odelay lost the Album of the Year award to some piece of ear-splitting torture by Celine Dion. So it was a pleasant shock when Arcade Fire won the top prize for their exemplary third effort, The Suburbs.

Of course, all didn’t share that sentiment. One of the odd side effects of the Grammys uncommonly opting for quality over commercial success was the emergence of a fierce outcry from fans of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, peppering the internet with their wails of angry confusion. There was enough to launch an entire Tumblr page devoted to preserving the most awful and embarrassing tweets, blog posts and Facebook wall rants, including a whole batch of people who couldn’t understand how this band The Suburbs won for their album Arcade Fire. It was a reminder that no matter how much the cohesiveness and insularity of online communication can shift perceptions of about the identities of the most prominent creators in entertainment, there’s a whole legion of people out there who prefer their pop culture to be the equivalent of Velveeta. – Dan Seeger

Songs from the Arab Spring

When you wait long enough for change to occur, it can be hard to comprehend when it finally comes. On January 25th, when Egypt took Tunisia’s cue, mobilizing thousands in the streets against institutional corruption for an occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, it was a revelation. Two and a half weeks later, when 30-year president Hosni Mubarak succumbed to the demands of under-30 demonstrators and resigned on February 11th, it felt like a footnote in contrast with the high drama, state violence and protester perseverance that had characterized the days and nights prior. A day earlier, even Mubarak said he felt secure in his position of power, but 24 hours later his tenaciousness was washed away.

Egypt’s story is similar to those still being played out across the Arab world; although Egypt and Tunisia’s ordeals were the most peaceful, they haven’t turned out exactly perfect, as both nations continue to face difficulties even after their strongman leader’s departure. But in organizing and executing a form of inclusive, contagious protest (with related though distinct strains emerging everywhere, most recently in the U.S. and Russia), that initial journey from maligned upstarts to ragtag regime-topplers is what held the key to their political success. And while plenty of mournful and joyous music has emerged from the many branches of the Arab Spring, no better song captures the unified liberating spirit of the Egyptian youth like Amir Eid and Hany Adel’s “Sout Al-Horeya,” with guitar and keyboards from Eid’s fellow bandmates in Cairokee, Sherif Hawary and Sherif Mostafa. The sound of a people finding their voice, there can be no sweeter music. Ya Masr! – Joe Clinkenbeard

The Submersion and Emergence of Sous-Vide

You can draw a line from a duck’s breast to a pig’s belly to understand the defining cultural moment of 2011 for me. It began at Wylie Dufresne’s venerable New York City establishment wd~50 last winter. A dish of sliced duck breast, served atop a kimchi couscous adjacent to a clear pond of cheddar consommé hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. It wasn’t due to its exotic, well executed accoutrements however. It was a simple breast of duck as I had never had it before, meltingly tender, perfectly medium rare from the bottom of each slice right to the crispy layer of skin on the top. It wasn’t identified as being cooked sous-vide – in a vacuum sealed bag put into a temperature controlled water bath for the uninitiated – on the menu, but no other method could have achieved its transcendent doneness. Months later, over a late summer dinner at Luce and Hawkins, the crown jewel of Long Island’s North Fork restaurants, a dish of pork belly, cooked sous-vide for 24 hours and served with clams in a sweet and sour broth, invoked another a-ha moment for me, this one a bit more existential: The future is now.

For close to a century, our food culture has centered around the stove top/oven combo and that is about to change. It’s already changed in our restaurants’ kitchens, and it is about to make the transition to the home. Get used to saying “sous-vide” (sue veed), because it will not be long until a water bath is going to sit on top of all the old war-horse stoves in all of the home kitchens in the country… and your cooking will be all the better for it. – Tom Volk

Bridesmaids, Not Hangovers

Bridesmaids may be the greatest bait and switch comedy of all time. Primarily marketed as the female equivalent of The Hangover, complete with a pack of wacky women on a trip to Las Vegas before a wedding. And presumably hilarity ensues! As it turns out, that Vegas trip never happens and audiences instead found themselves engrossed in a thoughtful film about friendship, growing up and why to be very, very cautious when picking a Brazilian place to eat at. And it was better than any knock-off of a movie about three blacked out guys after a bachelor party had any right to be.

Moreover, Bridesmaids is amazing for its seamless combination of genuine sentimentality and gross out humor. As failed cupcake baker/maid of honor Annie, Kristen Wiig is wonderful even in the quietest, saddest moments, and her communication with co-star Maya Rudolph is nothing short of phenomenal. That a movie could become a hit and a cultural talking point in the male dominated field of comedy – and with its biggest name actor, Jon Hamm, not even being credited – is a marker that it was the kind of film that resonates as only the finest comedies can. It’s one of those rarest of things: a blockbuster movie that makes money not because of explosions or violence or sex, but because it’s simply good. – Nathan Kamal

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