AYNITB’s Best of 2017

A/N: A post I have been meaning to publish for some months — I am sorry, yet again, for my tardiness! A proper explanation for my lack-of-presence of late is at the bottom of this post…

People say that 2017 was an awful year. This may have been true on a global scale, hence my active avoidance of news outlets over the past 12 months for the sake of my sanity — but on both a personal and pop-cultural level, I must say that my 2017 was pretty damn fine! Since pop culture is what I sporadically post about here on AYNITB, that is what I shall be discussing today… Be sure to let me know what your favourite 2017 cultural things were in the comments!

Best (New) Album: Masseduction, St. Vincent

Perhaps my all-time least favourite cliche in music writing is when X newer artist is touted as being the new prestige act — and yet, here I am, about to type that St. Vincent (A.K.A. Annie Clark) is the closest thing we have to a new Bowie. She has the slick style; the constant reinvention; the sleek, beguiling combination of the pop and the incredibly inaccessible — of course, no-one will ever match David himself, but to say she’s pretty darn cool nonetheless would be something of an understatement. Her latest, Masseduction, is at once both filled with layers of emotion and meaning, and then is just a really good pop record. The album is sharp, clean, and glamorous, a sound that is surprisingly quirky and playful and endearingly joyful for all of its detachedness — it’s kind of like the sonic equivalent of a Gucci dress. Clark’s signature virtuosic guitar-ing is still all over the record, much like her 2014 self-titled (a bonafide masterpiece that you should listen to immediately if you haven’t already!), but it really embraces its pop credentials by experimenting with layers of synths. These create an all-encompassing, chaotic sound that wonderfully disorientates the listener, and yet their staccato accenting is irresistibly danceable, producing an impressive bridge between the avant garde and the bubblegum. This experimentation in sound, aided by the songs’ mysterious lyrics, also allows for a level of exquisitely hedonistic, glittery androgyny so close to the allure of the very best glam rock! And then there’s the album’s lead single, ‘New York’, so nuanced and tender and hilariously blunt and heart-burstingly melodic and just perfectly romantic — it’s exquisite.

Honourable mentions: Jen Cloher (self-titled), Phases (Angel Olsen), Pure Comedy (Father John Misty),  Forced Witness (Alex Cameron), Party (Aldous Harding), Windswept (Johnny Jewel)

 

Best (not new) music I discovered:

I couldn’t decide on one winner so, in no particular order, here are several of my favourite discoveries of the past 12 months, summarised in a sentence or so each:

  • Suburban Lawns

Quirky, erratic postpunk from late ’70s Los Angeles, that sounds a little like if the Beach Boys were possessed by ’50s B-movie supernatural antagonists. The choppy guitar and lead singer Su Tissue’s wonderfully girly, idiosyncratic voice are particular highlights!

  • Vintage pop music

This — not an artist, per se, but a style I’ve become very into lately – began as a somewhat ironic fascination with retro kitsch, but has instead blossomed into wholehearted love for what might be some of the most exquisite songs I’ve ever heard. There is this kind of poetic, intense emotion to them, kind of naive and yet so full of the pure feeling that the cynicism our current world sometimes denies us; a romance that makes your heart melt and expand and split into tiny fractured pieces. There’s also such an incredible musical intricacy to these — the layers of ethereal accompaniment, the obscure chord progressions, the way the voices so delicately flow and bleed and tremble into each other — that, despite its technicality, transcends so many of the ideas I have about music and emotion and everything, and makes me feel as if I am floating through the stars, that I am the only person to have ever felt this on top of the world.

  • Helium

Helium are grunge — if you added in the early Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, ’70s soft rock, and English Mediaeval folk music, all played with a voice as melodic and quirky as Joni Mitchell’s and technique as good as what my middle school violin teacher told me to practise two hours a day to achieve. One of the most unique, accomplished — and seriously underrated — bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a fan of!

  • Talking Heads

Talking Heads are among the discoveries that I should’ve made a long, long time ago, especially considering that I’ve noted the presence of Stop Making Sense in my parents’ CD collection since childhood. In their earlier work in particular, there’s a kind of detached quirkiness and a chilling objectivity that I find wonderfully and strangely endearing — and, of course, the singularity of David Byrne’s voice and wordy lyrics are equally so also. (And, it doesn’t get much cooler than Tina Weymouth’s funk-infused bass!)

  • Chromatics

Shimmery, synthy dream pop that is the sonic equivalent of city lights glittering on a misty humid night. (Plus, if a band is featured in Twin Peaks, there is a statistically high chance that I will like said band.)

  • The Modern Lovers

To paraphrase what I wrote in a previous post: among why I’ve come to love The Modern Lovers (pun unintended) so much is the way that leader Jonathan Richman contrasts dorkiness with edginess, and the comforting relatability I find in this. While I adore the music and lyrics of Lou Reed/Alex Chilton/Iggy Pop/Patti Smith/et al, I’m the first to admit that I otherwise fit the stereotype of the socially awkward goody-two-shoes perfectly, something that tends to be derided in the culture that I like. It’s kind of nice to find a similar band from this era that not only revels in this kind of nerdy awkwardness, but acknowledges that you can both be this way inclined and love edgy underground music which would otherwise bare no commonality with your person. It’s so great!

  • Joni Mitchell

As with Talking Heads, another discovery that I should’ve made a long time ago! And yet I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because Mitchell’s music requires the listener to permit themselves a vulnerability, an openness to feeling, that I think I have only recently begun to acquire the maturity needed to attain such. Again, there is a musical intricacy to her tracks that I adore, too, in the falling chord progressions and twangs of guitar fingerings and in the soft sweetness of her voice — and an intimacy, maybe in the way her guitar and piano are microphoned and in the sparse instrumentation, or maybe in the sheer welcoming warmth of her songwriting, that makes you feel as if you are the most special, luckiest, only person to have ever heard these songs softly buzz through your mind.

Honourable mentions (i.e. people I have begun to get into but will probably further delve into at a later date): Replacements, Go-Betweens, Air, Husker Du, Sky Ferreira, Throbbing Gristle, Cocteau Twins

Best New TV: Twin Peaks (dir. David Lynch)

I never know what to say when I try to write about Peaks, particularly this latest season. I could talk about how it turned the reboot trend on its head — how it self-awarely both celebrated and stomped on nostalgia in front of our befuddled, fascinated eyes; how it was so unlike anything that ever has (and, for the next few years at least, ever will) aired on TV, in its narrative structure, its visuals, its special effects, its sound, its everything — so much that it was technically bad by our layman storytelling standards, but that it transcended those anyway. I could discuss its Lynch-isms — the little references to the rest of his filmography, the incredible use of his cast of regulars (weren’t Naomi Watts and Laura Dern amazing?), the explorations of identity and trauma through the use of a non-linear narrative structure, the little moments of impassioned, almost musical emotion that he directs so well; or I could wax on the way it made me to feel emotion more rawly, of how it taught to have more patience and how good things will come in return, how its imagination captivated and befuddled me in the most beautiful, beautiful way. I even could list my favourite moments, like when Dougie wandered around a Las Vegas casino screaming that now-iconic “hellooo-OOO-ooo,” or when Laura and Coop met in ‘Part 17’, or when Audrey danced in ‘Part 16’, or that equal-parts horrific and beautiful final scene — the infamous ‘Part 8’ in general, too. But every time I’ve tried to write about it, what I’ve come up with has never satisfied, for so much of what I love about Twin Peaks is what it makes me feel — how maybe I don’t always understand it on a left-brained level, but the primal intensity of the emotions it stirs in me still evoke an undercurrent of unconscious comprehension. This feels so intimate, so personal, so unique to me — even though I assume the vast majority of viewers feel the same — that I can barely even defend what I experienced, and why I liked it. But anyway, I did. In fact, I would go so far to say that I loved it, and it’s changed the way I see the world. Scratch what I said about this being the best TV of 2017. Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series/The Return/The Third Season/whatever the powers that be are calling it this week might just be, in my humble opinion, among the most creative, innovative, fascinating, emotionally rewarding — and wholeheartedly the best — TV ever made.

Honourable mentionsSearch PartyBig Little LiesFargo, The End of the F***ing World, The Handmaid’s Tale 

Best New Film: 20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills)

I don’t usually go to see movies twice during their cinema run, even ones I really adore, but I did just that in the case of 20th Century Women — so that gives you an idea of just how much I loved this film. It’s practically my perfect movie: it’s set in California in the ’70s, the main characters are obsessed with an assortment of obscure postpunk bands, the cinematography and special effects are incredibly artful, it features some of the best actresses working today (Elle Fanning! Greta Gerwig! Annette Bening!), and it’s funny and sad and beautifully thoughtful throughout. One of its most memorable aspects is its imagery and camerawork — the movie has a kind of velvety, sun-dappled, pink tinge to it, mimicking the idling warmth of its suburban Californian setting, and there’s this recurring special effect that phases the image and drowns it in glittery neon chaos that adds to its dreaminess and the narrative’s celebration of the art of moving forward. Of course, then there’s the soundtrack, of Talking Heads and The Buzzcocks and Black Flag and The Raincoats and even Bowie — it’d be perfect even entirely out of context, but the way it is woven into the narrative to reflect how culture can enlighten and define and make us feel is tremendously and upliftingly powerful. (The greatest of these uses occurs fairly early on in the film, when Greta Gerwig’s character delivers a monologue about the importance of the ethos of punk, outlining the very ideas that I have always adored in my favourite music.) On top of its aesthetic, though, the film is wonderfully nuanced and thoughtful in its writing. Each character feels ridiculously real, to the point that their past, present, and future contexts are lengthily established as to create so much empathy and respect for their journeys and identities; and the script’s focusing on small, physical details in each’s world (the way each dances; their bizarre hobbies; the way they speak) adds so much subtle, tender dimension that the audience is almost forced into feeling relation toward and caring for the entire ensemble a ridiculously beautiful amount. These journeys, along with its Californian, arty iconography and montages of historical events that establish just how quickly our world spins, express an idea of the thrill of living in the moment, of letting things move a little slow, of the importance of nostalgia juxtaposed with the importance of moving on, of the complexities that compose the concept of “growing up” — themes that could be trite or cliche, but that are rendered uniquely touching in the narrative’s peaceful quirkiness. A moving, stunning tale. (Plus, hearing the guitars on The Buzzcocks’ ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’ blast out of my cinema’s surround sound speakers over the end credits was pretty cool!)

Honourable mentions: The Florida Project (a very close second fave!), Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Beguiled, How To Talk to Girls at Parties, Things to Come

Best book I read this year: Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion

There are two reasons why I almost didn’t think to include this on my list: firstly, that I read it back in the first week of January, and secondly, it’s affected the way that I read literature so much that I can barely comprehend that it’s only been in my life for a year. Joan Didion’s incredibly poetic tale of love and death and getting by when it feels like you can’t traces Maria Wyeth’s tale from aspiring film star to mental institution inpatient to maybe the strongest woman in all of Los Angeles. Didion’s richly glossy and sultrily objective imagery is easily its hallmark, both intoxicatingly voyeuristic as the twinkling, technicolour worlds it coolly describes crumble to desert dust, and yet full of implications and meaning and emotion and strength in its preciseness, in all the things it leaves unsaid. (As the book climaxes, this imagery even becomes physical and literal — the chapters become shorter, leaving gulfs of white space at the end of every few pages, reflecting the deadness of both the Californian desert in which the book is set and of Maria’s identity and thoughts at that point.) The narrative is incredibly written in terms of its plot as well, ensuring that its emphasis on beauty doesn’t leave it unfulfillingly shallow. It’s slow, and it doesn’t really climax until the last couple of pages, and maybe in any other scenario some might deem it boring, but its emphasis on minute details adds an everyday poignancy, giving its glamour profound emotional levity — not to mention the way this same technique performs a slow-burn reaction on the reader, allowing its truths and horrors to creep up and delicately reveal themselves so infinitely powerfully and affectingly, especially fitting in a narrative about what hides behind the glitter and dreams so many aspire to see. Then there’s its characterisation, the way it never demonises Maria despite the awful things she does, her three-dimensional-ness, the way she slowly reveals herself, her beautifully female strength in the face of everything her life throws at her; how it wafts in between third and first person perspective to greater explore the context and image of the tale, investing the audience even further in what could have been such a cliche, everyday story; its neon-lights-and-filtered-sunshine 70’s beauty. I could write about this novel for pages. No book has ever made my nerves tingle like this did.

Honourable mentions: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), A Manual for Cleaning Women (Lucia Berlin), In Cold Blood (Truman Capote), The Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Eugenides), To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee — technically a reread but nonetheless!)

I feel like I should also acknowledge something else: my lack of posting over the past year. When I started this blog, I was in  middle school — I had very few other responsibilities and an insane amount of spare time. That was four years ago, and now, my situation stands somewhat altered. I am currently firmly absorbed in the very pointy end of high school (I’m in my second-to-last year and am also completing some coursework for my final year), I am working at becoming a professional musician, I make art, I’ve begun preparation for a particularly tricky violin performance exam, I have a more widened social life, and I have been lucky enough to also be able to begin writing for a couple of other online publications, resulting in my previously ample free time becoming a heck of a lot more thinly spread. I also, between my tendency to ramble a bit and the amount of time it takes me to properly edit, take a while to write things, meaning that I require some time to finish pieces to my satisfaction — time that my constantly replenishing pile of homework refuses to let me have, really only leaving my quarterly school holidays for my own projects, which also include my music, my work for the other publications, and my art. However, writing this blog has always, and will always be, one of the greatest joys of my life — I mean, where else can I publish sprawling essays about any one of my favourite things with no deadlines, and get to interact with an amazing group of fellow writers to boot! I am so sorry for my lack of time spent here at the moment, but I assure you that AYNITB is not something I’m going to give up on, and I will always be here whenever I can. I am working on several pieces currently which I plan on posting this year, and I attempt to be consistently active within the WordPress community in general, so I promise that you will still regularly see plenty of me — and as soon as I am somewhat less busy I shall properly return! In the meanwhile, you can also follow me on Instagram (@tangerinetrees99), and read more of my writing at The Mostly Books Blog and the Felicitas CollectiveThank you all so much, though, for sticking with AYNITB even with its sporadicalness — I can’t tell you all how much your readership and discussion throughout the years means to me. Bear with me over the next year or so — I promise I’ll be as active as I can whenever possible, and I look forward to being able to be a more consistent presence once my workload lessens a little! See you all soon 😆

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My Ranking Of The Beatles’ Movies

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One of my favourite things about The Beatles is their movies. They’re not cinematic masterpieces, or anything, but they have a certain loveable charm about them. Watching their movies has become something of a ritual for me, and I’ve loved them ever since I’ve been a fan!

So today, I thought I’d rank The Beatles’ movies in order, from least-favourite to favourite. Of course, this is only my opinion. But anyway…

5. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

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Paul made a lot of good decisions in the late-’60s. Like Sgt Pepper, or his distrust of Allen Klein. Magical Mystery Tour was not one of these. The film has the honour of being the only Beatles film I dislike.

The movie makes no sense, whatsoever. I’m still yet to work out what the wizards are about – did they plan the mystery tour, or are they there for no reason at all? And what about the “view” during the ‘Flying’ sequence? What filmic purpose does the stripper fulfil? Who are the people on the bus supposed to be? I presume much of the comedy consists of The Beatles’ inside jokes, but as the viewer is not privy to these, they are left to wonder what on Earth is going on. The movie’s considerable lack of a storyline, however, is the film’s most serious downfall. This does not help the consistency of the film, and much of, if not all, of the scenes seem to have been filmed for the sake of it. Its incoherent & amateurish atmosphere made it quite cringeworthy to watch in parts, and I found it to mostly be a product of badly-made self-indulgence.

There are, however, some highlights. I’ve always loved the ‘Blue Jay Way’ song sequence, for the wonderfully-psychedelic camera work, and the fact that the choreography in the ‘Your Mother Should Know’ scene actually worked is pretty cool, too. And, of course, the music is simply wonderful – boasting tracks like ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Fool On The Hill’ – and the accompanying album is perhaps one of The Beatles’ best. However, I felt the positives were somewhat outweighed, and that its status as “one of the most expensive home movies ever” is justified.

4. Let It Be (1970)

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I really like Let It Be. The Beatles must be the only band to have such a fly-on-the-wall documentary featuring such a seminal part of their history behind them, and for that, I’m very grateful!

There is no denying that the film is incredibly difficult to watch in parts. Over its course, you watch the band fall apart before your eyes. You see Paul become more domineering, and more desperate to keep The Beatles alive. You see George become increasingly disillusioned with the band. You see the affect that John’s heroin addiction at the time was having. And oh, I felt so much pity on poor Ringo, who’s clearly fed up with the other three’s almost-constant fighting.

However, the good moments are really good. Classics like ‘Two Of Us’, ‘Across The Universe’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘Oh! Darling’ – and even tunes like ‘Octopus’s Garden’ – are created within the film, and watching their evolution is fascinating viewing. And of course, the last 20 minutes of the film consists of the famous Rooftop Concert, one of the most iconic moments in music history. The Beatles’ live performance is stunning, especially considering that they’d been confined to the studio for the previous three years. The magic between the four is enthralling to watch, and the reactions of the surrounding residents are incredibly interesting, too. I find it sad that the only way you can watch the film currently is on bad-quality bootleg, though it’s a must-watch for any Beatles fan!

3. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

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A Hard Day’s Night is arguably the best Beatles film. Rotten Tomatoes ranks it as the fifth best film of all time, and it has been credited with inventing both the mockumentary and the music clip. It has also been said to have influenced the way that movies and music performances were filmed, too. The Beatles’ humour is at its sharpest and wittiest, their music at its most joyfully poppy and the band at the height of their teenage-orientated success.

The Beatles had never acted before A Hard Day’s Night, but there are so many great moments within the film. My favourite is perhaps this scene featuring George – the humour is so sarcastically cynical and deadpan, and it’s absolutely hilarious! Other favourites of mine include the scene in which John plays with a toy boat in the bath (so ridiculously silly that it actually works) and the scene where The Beatles visit a club, and the concert at the end of the film. The movie’s influence on music clips is also clear to to the modern viewer – the various techniques used in the ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ sequences make for a swift departure from miming the songs, which was commonplace at the time. The faux-documentary presentation of the storyline also invented the “mockumentary”, and the irony and sheer ridiculousness of some of the band’s antics clearly influenced future films, such as This Is Spinal Tap. And of course, the music is great, too. The movie’s accompanying album of the same name was the only Beatles album to consist entirely of Lennon/McCartney songs, and though they are still reasonably poppy and “people-pleasing”, it’s clear that The Beatles were beginning to become the influential pop-culture icons they were to end up.

I had the pleasure of seeing A Hard Day’s Night in a cinema, last year, in HD and surround sound. It was a truly amazing experience, and I discovered a new love for the film. Perhaps the only reason it isn’t higher in my ranking is that it lacks the nostalgia that 2 & 1 have attached with them, for me.

2. Help! (1965)

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Help! – The Beatles’ second foray into the film industry – is not technically as good as A Hard Day’s Night. The humour isn’t quite as intelligent, and there’s a faint junket vibe wafting around it. However, I’ve always loved it.

The film, at various points, almost leaps off the screen in its vibrant technicolour. The Beatles’ apartment (furnished with a modernist aesthetic still considered stylish today), in particular, is displayed in comically bright hues of green, blue and orange. When an Eastern cult – the central villains of the movie – attempt to douse Ringo in their sacrificial paint, a river of red spills over the image. The stunning whites of the Swiss Alps glint in the ‘Ticket To Ride’ sequence, and the blue, sunny skies of the Bahamas provide contrast. Leading heroine’s Ahme’s costumes are shown in shades of rose-pink, turquoise and glimmering silver. The innovative and influential filming of scenes such as the ‘Another Girl’ song sequence feature a hint of proto-psychedelia, highlighting the changing times. The Beatles’ music featured in the film shows the end of their early era, predicting the changes that would come with the soon-to-follow Rubber Soul. The movie includes tracks like the folk-rock genius of ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, the keyboard-driven rock of ‘The Night Before’, the beautifully guitar-driven ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl’ and, of course, ‘Help!’ itself, and the A-side of the accompanying album is one of my favourites of all time. And whilst the humour isn’t quite as intelligent as that of its predecessor, A Hard Day’s Night, the movie certainly has more than its fair share of witticisms and proto-Python skits. Some wonderfully-funny one-liners stemmed from the script, and of course, the entire film itself is a product of satire. It’s hilarious!

Help!, all in all, is a ridiculously funny and influential movie, showcasing some of The Beatles’ best tunes and foreshadowing their future direction. It was my original favourite Beatles film, and I must have watched it more than twenty times over the past two years!

1. Yellow Submarine (1968)

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Yellow Submarine, in my opinion, is something that the other Beatles films aren’t; a cinematic masterpiece. And though the band were barely involved with it – only featuring for a few minutes at the end of the film – it has become my favourite Beatles movie.

Perhaps the most endearing point about the movie, for me, is its animation. Even more colourful than the bouncy technicolour of Help!, and psychedelically surrealistic & wildly chaotic, the movie is still considered mindblowing viewing over forty-five years after its release. Featuring highlights like the bold pop-art of the ‘Only A Northern Song’ scene, the darting flapper-throwback of the ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, the contrasting minimalism of the ‘Nowhere Man’ scene and the futurism of the ‘It’s All Too Much’ sequence, the film is unarguably one of, if not the, most beautiful films of all time. The music, too, is exquisite – though much of the film consists of previously-released masterpieces such as ‘All You Need Is Love’ and the aforementioned ‘Nowhere Man’, the original songs are mostly darkly psychedelic, creative gems, including ‘Hey Bulldog’ and (the also aforementioned) ‘Only A Northern Song’ and ‘It’s All Too Much’. The humour, though overshadowed by the extraordinary visuals and music, is also stunningly funny. Many of the jokes consist of Beatle-themed puns, which any Beatles fan will appreciate, though many of the other jokes are wonderfully witty and sharp. The movie is clearly a product of its era, centring around a message of peace, love and good music. Some may argue that this is a negative, though I disagree. In a way, it is such an essence of its time that it hasn’t dated at all.

Yellow Submarine is a deserved classic. Innovative, mindblowing and a work of art in a way the other Beatles films are not, it is an exquisite piece of film history. The film was my first Beatles movie, and I’ve loved it ever since.

What’s your favourite Beatles film? How would you rank them? Be sure to tell me in the comments!