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 Y 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 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!)
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 mentions: Search Party, Big Little Lies, Fargo, 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 Collective. Thank 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 😆