A Good List Goes a Long Way: 2017 Edition

Musically speaking, 2017 was the year lazy won- namely, I signed up for Spotify and gave up on decades of organizing music on disparate analogue or digital fronts, an activity, which albeit somewhat pleasurable, was also frustratingly time and space consuming. This was also fortuitous from the point of view of list making, since now I can just add a song to my watch list anytime, anywhere and then see whether it makes the cut at the end of the year. For my other complaint with many year end lists, besides the fact that making them at the end of November renders a whole month of the year irrelevant, is that the first months are usually overlooked as well. So basically all best of charts include fundamentally what was released from about April to October.

The other positive development is that, since I have a whole year’s listening clearly visible in one place (oh, the beauty of big data) I am less tempted to add an album just because it would be cool and cutting edge to have it- I might have done that in the past, I confess. So the list below is made up exclusively of albums I listened to extensively and can thus wholeheartedly vouch for.

  • ALT-J – Relaxer
  • The Horrors – V
  • Lorde – Melodrama
  • LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
  • St Vincent – Masseduction
  • Bertrand Cantat – Amor Fati
  • The National – Sleep Well Beast
  • The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful
  • Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex
  • Triggerfinger – Colossus

With the exception of Cigarettes After Sex and to a some extent Lorde, they are albums of bands I already loved, and thus looked forward to with anticipation- 2017 was a very kind year from this point of view, with many of my favourite artists releasing new material. The one album which in the end did not make the cut, though is represented on the song list, is Kasabian’s For Crying Out Loud, a bit too uneven and repetitive for my tastes. The Killers, on the other hand staged an unexpected return to their best crooning-yearning form with Wonderful Wonderful, while The Horrors and St Vincent put out their most polished efforts so far- slightly too pop in both instances for certain purists, but there’s nothing worse than missing out on good music because you’re a principled bore.

ALT-J kept swimming against the mainstream and released a splendid UFO of an album, only eight songs long, overflowing with small experiments and the absolute beauty of Adeline, which though the song list is theoretically in no particular order as well, is my undeniable favourite of the year. Including Bertrand Cantat is of course a questionable choice, but I decided to follow the principle of judging only the art and also gave in to nostalgia- whatever happened in between then and now, nothing can change the fact that Noir Désir were one of the most important bands of my most formative years musically speaking, and the twists and turns of Cantat’s lyrics still make me occasionally exclaim with wonder: Mon Dieu, French can do that!

Speaking of walks down memory lane, the new U2 is actually not heinous as, it pains me to say it, most of their post All That You Can’t Leave Behind material was- bad pun time: you can very confidently leave each and every of those songs behind, and the world will not be a worse place for it. So Songs of Experience has glimmers of what U2 used to be before saving the world made Bono’s self image spiral out of control. Now that we’ve mentioned villains, Queens of the Stone Age are also a notable absence from both lists, probably the other more important letdown of the year alongside Kasabian, who at least have a couple of memorable songs packed in there, and refrain from kicking photographers. 

When it comes to movies, I have to conclude that my choices become ever more idiosyncratic as time goes by, and I seem to have developed a slight allergy to movies raking up too much critical consensus, both Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird left me only moderately impressed and I straightforward hated the silly and self indulgent Baby Driver, whereas my list includes the musings of a Norwegian man sitting on his balcony, a documentary about cats roaming around Istanbul and the very divisive Ghost in the Shell. At least I liked the Palme d’Or winning The Square and Blade Runner 2049, which was a critical darling but trash at the box office, not a bad thing per se, but perhaps damaging when the costs of making it come into the picture.

The absolute favourite was of course Jim Jarmusch’s poetic miracle in a minor key Paterson, which reminds me that everyone who complains about Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is exactly as emo as he is, thus making Kylo the villain we all needed. I also have several further notes about The Last Jedi but will gloss over them lest I spoil’s someone’s belated enjoyment, suffice to say that I find the porgs wonderful. Finally, the fact that Colin Farrell’s sublime performances in Yorgos Lanthimos films are not lavished with all the possible awards proves that we live in the wrong universe, and while everyone sings the praises of Timothée Chalamet’s turn in Call Me By Your Name, for me the breakout performance of the year was Barry Keoghan’s blood bloodcurdlingly sinister role as Martin in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

2017 was also the year I irreversibly succumbed to the mini series- everything above ten episodes requires too much commitment, and risks not being able to keep the quality at steady levels. Taboo was perhaps more of a taste acquired from being attuned to many a thing Tom Hardy does, like, say, grunting meaningfully, but I very much repented to the wrongness of my ways with Fargo, and tore through the previous two seasons before indulging in this year’s outing. Lesson learned: beware of dental hygiene, or you risk turn into an acronimically named villain. Mindhunter is also festering with villains and brilliant lines -Cameron Britton as Edmund Kemper probes the limits of our fascination with coherent sounding evil.

Yet my symbolical palm still goes to Babylon Berlin: at first glance you could say that it’s a German vanity project to beat the Americans at their own game. Then you realize that, when the Germans set their minds to something, they very often succeed: the decadent Berlin teetering on the bring of Nazi abyss is painstakingly recreated in sumptuous visual and sonic detail, the plot is pleasingly twisty but also filled many dark omens which are carefully balanced not to overwhelm it and the two leads (Volker Bruch and Liv Lisa Fries) stare out of the screen as if they’re about to break through it, or let you enter instead. Which I’d gladly do if I didn’t know what was to come next.

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