Cast Against Hype

Reflections on film and other forms of storytelling from a Swedish wannabe-storyteller…

Tag: Best of 2017

The Best Begins with a B: Albums of the Year, 2017

Artrock. Plain ol’ pop. And a bunch of other stuff in between, above, below and surrounding these categories. The year of 2017 AD possibly wasn’t one of the overall most cheerful throughout human history (though probably preferable to, say, 1350, 1914 or 1939). But music was alive, in spite of or maybe because of all discomfort and absurdities going around globally. Well, you know. You were here. Presumably on the same planet during the same period. Anyway, here are some examples of artistic endeavours that helped make life more satisfying and even provide inspiration and hope for the future. Imagine that!

1. Barock Project ”Detachment”. Poor Italians. No World Cup coming up this summer… Once upon a time Germanic tribes supposedly contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire and this past fall one of those tribes (my own, to be precise) kicked Gli Azzurri out of competition for the most prestigious prize the world of sport has to offer. Yes, needless to say, Soccer is what really counts. Still, a bunch of Italians happened to produce my favourite album of 2017. Conceptual, powerful and subtle all in one memorable effort.

2. Bent Knee ”Land Animal”. Young and obnoxious artrock with a temper and gunpowder on its sleeve. I’ve been an admirer since the ”Shiny Eyed Babies” album a few years ago, and this here is almost precisely equally great.

3. Beatrix Players ”Magnified”. A trio of trained, disciplined ladies take us back in time, sometimes seemingly to another dimension. Sparse, carefully selected instrumentation and arrangements, strikingly tasteful and nuanced. Music as painter of images.

4. Steven Wilson ”To the Bone”. Former Porcupine Tree frontman with a persistent following decided to lighten things up a little, relatively speaking. As usual, he delivered space and depth but also one or another shockingly catchy pop tune, such as ”Permanating”.

5. Loney Dear ”Loney Dear”. One of Sweden’s most consistently praised musical mystics keeps gliding along on a wave of some surreal magic… Whatever it is. Now with the backing of Peter Gabriel’s record label if I’m not mistaken.

6. Father John Misty ”Pure Comedy”. Tales of life in a beguiling ballad format. Not exactly exaggerated optimism all over, but would that be prudent in these times? Father John nevertheless manages to infuse an energy and wry smiles into his brand of melancholy meandering and sometimes it’s just plain irresistible.

7. Residente ”Residente”. A journey. For real. Some sort of fascination with DNA sets Mr René Juan Pérez Joglar from Puerto Rico off on a quest around the world, searching for every influence that’s fit to include on one album. Intriguing, exciting and soul-stirring. And…

8. Cobalt Chapel ”Cobalt Chapel”. Back to Medieval Times! Or something like that, although with access to electronics. Not sure if I’m able to accurately describe this in a satisfying way. You just have to find out for yourself.

9. Blondie ”Pollinator”. ”Fun” is the title of one of the songs. And they certainly seems to have fun, these former legends whom I actually feared had left us for greener pastures or bluer skies.

10. Paramore ”After Laughter”. More pop in the best sense of the word. Somewhat inspired by 1980’s polyrhythmic pop, I think I read somewhere.

11. Kaipa ”Children of the Sounds”. Swedish veterans that really parked their vehicle sometime back in the 1970’s and yet manages to avoid the moss covering it all at this point. This sounds more or less like they always do, but to my mind they’re always welcome when they decide to release something new.

12. Arcade Fire ”Everything Now”. Dance! Take a break and contemplate existence. And… dance! And so on. What’s not to like?

13. Robert Plant ”Carry Fire”. Old and stubborn, though probably even wise. And still curious! That old Led Zeppeliner who constantly seems to discover something new from the planet’s musical flora.

14. Steve Hackett ”The Night Siren”. Another stubborn old guy who refuses to retire. The most prolific former Genesis member still wrings whatever he can muster out of his guitar, and it still sounds relevant, with dreamlike qualities and massive soundscapes.

15. Benny Andersson ”Piano”. Those melodies sounds familiar, don’t they? From ABBA, ”Chess” and other eras in the life of a Swedish keyboard virtuoso. Now scaled down to just… Piano. Simple but sometimes simply transcendent.

 

Honourable mentions, some of which has been personal favourites for a long time and in other cases just showed on my radar in the last stretch of 2017. Still keep discovering stuff, the way it should be, you know:

Temples ”Volcano”, Kansas ”The Prelude Implicit”, Roger Waters ”Is This the Life We Really Want?”, Danay Suárez ”Palabras manuales” , Beck ”Colors”, The Killers ”Wonderful Wonderful”, Oumou Sangaré ”Mogoya”, Sparks ”Hippopotamus”, Nad Sylvan ”The Bride Said No”, Gizmodrome ”Gizmodrome”, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith ”The Kid”, Lizz Wright ”Grace”, Europe ”Walk the Earth”, The Mute Gods ”Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth”, Ninet Tayeb ”Paper Parachutes”, Café Tacuba ”Jei Beibi”, Luiza Lian ”Oyá tiempo”, Ibeyi ”Ash”, Natalia Lafourcade ”Musas”, Café Tacuba ”Jei Beibi”, Derek Webb ”Fingers Crossed”…

As usual, I ought to mention a few sources from where I got suggestions on new things to discover, or known quantities ripe for rediscovery. Such as Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine, Relevant Podcast, NPR, Song Exploder Podcast… And others. Also, most of this music is available on Spotify – probably also on other streaming platforms. Go discover!

Blades, Blondes, Beasts and Driving Babies – My Favourite Films of 2017

 

Once more again, into the breach… As usual, at bit late. And also as usual, I haven’t seen enough. Nevertheless, here they are, my favourite films of 2017 AD. Or to be specific, films that opened in my Scandinavian home country during this illustrious and turbulent year we just left behind. Be it in the cinemas, BluRay, Netflix, airplanes (in some cases, yes) or other venues – these films caught my attention more than others.

1. Under the Shadow (directed by Babak Anvari)

Could have been labeled ”Under the Radar”. Films like these have a tendency to just disappear in the onslaught of moving images constantly coming our way. That is a shame. This combination of modern history (the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war is used as a backdrop to great effect), understated absurdities and observations about women’s life in that time and place, and on top of it all a harrowing ghost story is irresistibly frightening. Thought-provoking. And frighteningly irresistible.

2. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)

Back to the future. Again. One of the darker and least attractive visions of said future, even considering the competition (considering the official library of film dystopia already available) did result in one of the year’s most attractive films. Villeneuve might not have created one the most immediately commercially successful films of 2017, but maintains his standing as one of the truly visionary, exciting and genuinely interesting directors working today.

3. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)

Mr Provocateur Bill Maher delivered an entertaining, harshly critical review of this film, and basically the whole ’drive really fast to get away from the cops’-genre on his show. Though personally I enjoyed this one far more than car-chase movies in general. The carefully selected soundtrack alone made it worthwhile. And the driving was… Special.

4. Get Out (Jordan Peele)

It’s tempting to recommend it with the caveat ’the less you know about the plot beforehand, the better’. Even the trailers seem to give away far too much information. Anyway, it’s about prejudices. And the misguided notion you might not have any. Delivered in a laughter-turns-to-screaming scenario that seriously will mess with your head in a number of ways.

5. Silence (Martin Scorsese)

Honestly, an ordeal you might not want to go through more than once. But at least do it once. It’s like the Scorsesian antithesis to the unbridled hedonism he wallowed in for three hours in ”The Wolf of Wall Street” (which I also might recommend for different reasons, but still don’t entirely adore from start to finish). If this is penitence, it would be comparable to Robert De Niro carrying his discarded mercenary armour uphill and downhill and uphill again for days, in ”The Mission”. Enjoy!

6. Okja (Joon-ho Bong)

Colourful action-satire-adventure flick dealing with genetic engineering, corporate politics, public relations in a postmodern era and the unbreakable friendship between a young girl and a giant pig. You don’t see something like this every day. From the guy who brought you the relentlessly cheerful train ride known as ”Snowpiercer”. This is, in comparison, slightly more optimistic.

7. Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi)

Feel-good modern history, telling the story of some unsung heroes in the American space program. Quite simply an uplifting story that never crosses the line into awkward sentimentality and exaggerated audience manipulation. It works, dammit!

8. Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon)

This also works well, in the fantasy-for-all-ages genre. We know the story. They added something to it, not sure exactly what. But as I said, it…works fine.

9. Atomic Blonde (David Leitch)

Could be that it is just a little cold and distanced, eh? But is it exciting, entertaining, full of great 80’s pop songs and a anchored by a similarly great Charlize Theron as an enigmatic and emphatically independent spy in late Cold War Berlin? Yes, yes, yes and Oh yeah.

10. Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo)

Maybe another case of ’the less I tell you…’. Somehow a young, slightly lost woman (Anne Hathaway) moving back to her small, mostly downright boring hometown after a break-up registers a personal connection to a giant monster showing up in South Korea, wreaking havoc while the world watches. What’s it all about, really? Is there a deeper, existential meaning, another hidden layer to be found? Your guess is as good as mine. But it did keep my attention throughout until the spectacular finale.

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

 

The Lost City of Z (James Gray). Mysterious, a little too introvert and with some stretches but something you don’t see every day. An exploration worth taking part in.

Tour de Pharmacy (Jake Szymanski). Perhaps not strictly speaking a feature film. This HBO 40-minute satire on the wonderful world of bicycle is too outrageous to be ignored. From the folks who kindly brought you ”7 Days in Hell”, FYI.

Loving (Jeff Nichols). Extremely well acted and worthwhile subject matter. Could have used a little more temper and forward motion.

A Cure for Wellness (Gore Verbinski). Weird indeed. And difficult to forget entirely.

The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola). It looks great. The acting is quite distinguished. Somehow it didn’t keep me completely enthralled all the way, but deserves to be seen at least once.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson). This particular franchise never had any real life-transforming impact on me. I tend to find most of the installments entertaining and… that’s that, basically. That said, this one impressed me more than I had expected going in. Especially the final 45 minutes or so, including the denouement, packed a punch I gotta give it credit for.

 

Oh, last year’s ranking is available here.

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