Seasons greetings readers! On a night like this, who should be here to guide you through a year of music, books or films than me, Cal Cashin? It's been a strange year for the world, but it's seemed just a tad less bleak than 2016 did. No David Bowie left to do the dying, huh?
All the end of year reviews, you know the ones, have talked at length about the political situation this year, and went on to describe how the music released somehow made that all okay. I guess to an extent it must have, because Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. did feel like a bigger cultural event than the election, and Ed Sheeran's Glastonbury performance was more upsetting than any Brexit talk. But ultimately comparing the two is futile, and no amount of good music can outweigh the ensuing political shitstorm.
That said, no political shitstorm can take away the good music, good films, or good books, unless said political shitstorm chooses to burn them in the streets. Which feels likely. Anyhow, before what was supposed to be a concise intro to a post on The Arts turns into an essay about everything else. Here is what I loved in 2017.
We unveiled our albums of the year earlier this month, but here's a quick recap. Our album of the year was the almighty Madonnatron self titled (above), a highly unholy document that combined a thudding rhythm section with a howling organ and creepy vocal harmonies. A bewitching record, our top three was completed by Ibibio Sound Machine's Uyai and Baxter Dury's Prince of Tears.
Full list here
Top ten: Madonnatron self titled, Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai, Baxter Dury - Prince of Tears, Black Magick SS - Kaleidoscope Dream, Algiers - Underside of Power, Sorry - Home Demo(n)s, LCD Soundsystem - American Dream, LA Witch self titled, Richard Dawson - Peasant, Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun
An honourable mention for Akashic Records' N.E.E.T compilation, which slipped under our radar; a whole lotta racket made by teenagers kicking about with nothing better to do. The fruits of a 2009-2017 scheme, it sees Scottish youngsters power thru psychotic covers of DEVO and The Stooges, original takes on The Hurdy Gurdy Man and Warm Leatherette, and a handful of crazy good originals. Listen to it, now.
"I'm the sausage man, the shadow licker, I'm the tiny little ghost that appears in all your despondent moments", the guttural words slip out the mouth of Baxter Dury, writer of the best song of the year, Miami. Indeed, Miami is probably just the best song, time immaterial. We did a post on the best 37 songs of the year last week, so you can view the rest of the top 37 here, while I get on with the rest of the writing. Special mentions to HMLTD, Confidence Man and Richard Dawson, our artists of the year.
Books! Books!!! Books!!!!! This year I have read three books, and all of them came out this year. Therefore they make up my top three books of the year. Some say this is an overly complex process, but I'm willing to go through with it.
1. David Keenan - This Is Memorial Device
The debut novel by renowned music journalist David Keenan is the crucial document in understanding the mythos of the Airdree music scene circa mid eighties. Of course, there's not really any mythos around the Scottish city, it's all made up, and all the bands, and the stories relating to them, are entirely fictional. The best novel of the year, it bustles with bands you wish were real cos they just sound like such wonders. Ten stars.
2. Reinhardt Kleist - Nick Cave: Mercy on Me
In this graphic novel, the utterly enthralling career of music's greatest career is laid out in the format of a comic book. The illustrations here bring the film noir existence of The Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party to life, in a way that is way more gratifying than I could have ever imagine. Particularly notable for the way in which it makes an Einstrurzende Neubaten gig come to life, and the way in which it breathes the extraordinary narratives of his songs to actuality. Ten stars.
3. MUTE: A Visual Document
Co written by founder Daniel Miller and Terry Burrows, this visual book is a beautifully presented ode to one of the greatest record labels of all time. The Normal. Fad Gadget. The Birthday Party. The Bad Seeds. Crime and the City Solution. Depeche Mode. Yazoo. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Laibach. Goldfrapp. Barry Adamson. Moderat. Arca. That is all. Ten stars.
Films. films. The flicks. Moving images. You've seen them. Film 4, Netflix, Love Film. You know the ones. On the box and on the big screen. Most the films I've seen this year have not been from this year. So it's hard to compile this list. The best three films I've seen this year are actually the three times I've watched Tim Burton's Big Fish, starring peak Ewan McGregor. But, if you disqualify that, here's a feisty top 3 of my favourite films of 2017. Nothing means too much, because I've not seen Blade Runner yet, and the original is my favourite film ever, but it's my list and I'll do what I want.
1. Baby Driver (dir. Edgar Wright)
The best film of this year, and therefor the inaugural Vapour Trail film of the year winner is Baby Driver. The love I have for this film overpowers everything, everything I say. The soundtrack is amazing, beautiful action sequences and loveable characters are placed side by side, in one of the best cinematic experiences out there. I am not qualified to talk about films but this is the best one and you'll take my word for it. Ten stars.
2. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson)
What's best about this film is that every time you expect something to happen, it doesn't. A bold move in the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi is a stunning piece of cinema, for the first time in the new trilogy imaginative new worlds are created, and imaginative plot lines are written. I have too much class to spoil anything but I'm still raving about this film. The second best Star Wars film. Ten stars.
3. Raw (dir. Julia Ducournau)
A French coming of age drama about a girl addicted to the taste of human flesh, it's difficult to know what else to say about this film. It's a very impactful hour and thirty minutes in which the protagonist is likeable, charming, and frequently feasting on bits of her pals. Ten stars.
I hate to do this, and my better judgement tells me no, but some things are so awful I can't review the year without shitting on them...
Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
Father John is a strange man, and whilst I think I'd probably like a character as arrogant and self righteous and weirdly sexy as him if the music was good, it simply is pisspoor. Boring singer-songwriter malarkey, in which FJM seemingly wants to dismantle the system and replace it with a system where we all endlessly appreciate how clever he is. Bad egg.
Fleet Foxes - Crack Up
I thought we'd managed to vanquish the Fleet Foxes for good.
That St Vincent album with the bad name
St Vincent used to be cool, an experimental indie curiosity whose guitar playing and off kilter lyrics set her apart from the field. But for this album she's done away with the band in a bid to become the hottest art-pop star in the world. It doesn't work.
Jake Bugg - Hearts That Strain
I didn't know Jake Bugg was still a thing, but a simple google of 'worst albums of 2017' told me otherwise. Upon further investigation, the man is much worse than remembered, as this album is truly as bad as the cover art. His career stinks of having to fulfil a big record deal albums after people have stopped caring.
Gorillaz - Humanz
This can't seriously still be considered music for fully grown human adults, can it?
Bad manager, out!
Worst music publication, Official™.
Here's to 2018, the year we pray West Brom and Stoke will finally get relegated.
(Words: Cal Cashin)