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Best of 2017: Kelly's Personal Picks

Posted by Kells, December 22, 2017 07:45am | Post a Comment
kelly best of 2017 new music shit year burn down the past
sometimes the past burns itself down

This year has been, in a word, unbalanced. Thankfully there was a wonderful array of music and movies to take the edge off the chaotic instability. Here are ten or so of my personal favorite new releases that got me over and through this year's peaks and troughs...

 Once And Future Band  self-titled debut album vunyl S/T LP Castle Face Records
Once & Future Band - Once & Future Band
(Castle Face Records)

This molten monolith of masterful musicianship dropped back in January and, dammit, it is without a doubt the best record of the year. Sounding a little bit like a bygone vision of future sounds, I like to think of this album as the melodic equivalent of going thirty years into the future and replacing the plutonium fission reactor on your homemade time machine with Mr. Fusion before returning to 1985. You could wear yourself out trying to dial-in the potential influences that inform the shifting paradigm of sonic cues, fluid syncopation, beyond-the-friend-zone journal excerpts et cetera at work here, or you could just let go and let this progressive psychedelic jazz-rock splitter take the wheel. Either way, you'll be totally taken in by this beast. It rules!

Check out this trippy rainbow Rorschach sponge art video for "Rolando":




grace sings sludge life with dick the sandwitches empty cellar cooper weird haunted folk singer songwriter

Grace Sings Sludge
- Life With Dick
(Empty Cellar)

I've already said a lot of what I wanna say about the wrapped-in-plastic, trauma-folk singer/songstress stylings of lady Grace Sings Sludge earlier this year in my review of Life With Dick right here, but I wanna reiterate my love for this spooky-ooky mood record by urging everyone to creep up on it and let it smother you with its provocative freakouts and unabashed bedroom devotionals. Sounding not too, too far from her contributions to The Sandwitches (RIP), Grace's solo works harbor a larger, almost uncomfortably huge, betrayal of her competence for crafting ominous pop dirges and unchained melodies that shatter whatever home-recording confines she commits herself to.

Here's the second music video from Life With Dick, "Everlasting Arms"—a single-take shot and directed by Chiva MF of Tirando Terror (Mexico):




OOIOO Gold & Green Thrill Jockey vinyl reissue complete and artwork yoshimi p-we flaming lips boredoms sean lennon yuka honda Seiichi Yamamoto
OOIOO - Gold & Green
(Thrill Jockey)

This is has been one of my “desert island” records since the very first time I heard it nearly seventeen years ago. It still sounds fresher than fresh today, in a delightfully almost alien way, as if it were the kind of music weather would make if it could stop shifting Earth’s elements long enough to galvanize an improv rock band for a interstellar open mic gig. From the opening clarion call of “Moss Trumpeter” to the moment “I’m A Song” bursts wide open into concentric sonic layers, Green & Gold plays as much like a visionary “headphone album” as it feels like a guided navigation of pulsating terrestrial rhythms, atmospheric river melodies, and electric celestial sorcery. Thankfully available for the first time as a proper and complete vinyl release (the very limited 2001 edition was available only in Japan or at some international shows and didn’t include the full album or it’s extensive lush artwork), this is probably the pinnacle of OOIOO’s output to date and a great place to start for anyone curious about Japanese underground rock and the wonderful women who continue to lend their experimental musicianship to the genre. Fun fact: I named my little corner of this here Amobelog after a song on this record because it rules so hard("Grow Sound Tree"—see the vid below). Bonus fun fact: The Flaming Lips found a muse in OOIOO founding member Yoshimi P-We and named their 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots after her.




Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me OST (Deathwaltz) Deluxe “Black Lodge”-styled reissue with cherry pie colored vinyl Die-cut sleeve Angelo Badalamenti David Lynch
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
OST

(Death Waltz)

This year there were not one, but two reissues of this devastatingly essential masterpiece of a motion picture soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti (with David Lynch), and this "Black Lodge" styled 2LP set is the one to get if you've already splashed out on the "White Lodge" companion package Death Waltz created for their reissue of the original Twin Peaks soundtrack last year. Having been haunted by the mysteries of the music created for Fire Walk With Me since my best friend gave me this soundtrack on cassette as a Christmas gift in 1992, I'm almost at a loss for adequate words to describe how these songs have impacted and inspired me over the years. Simply put, it is a beloved piece of work that continues to move me deeply (with real indications spurring longing urges for nighttime drives of yore). Also, Criterion bestowed Fire Walk With Me with its patent deluxe DVD/Blu-Ray treatment (including crucial bonus content) for new release earlier this year which, altogether with Mark Frost's Dossiers and Twin Peaks' return to the tube in what is likely the most unbridled televised art-moment to date, makes 2017 one helluva twelve-month for Peakers, or I don't know—what do TP nerds call themselves?

Anyway, I wanted to button-up this blurb by including a video for "The Pink Room", but the best one I could find is essentially the entire scene from Fire Walk With Me that occurs while said song is playing and, movie spoilers aside, it features a little too much rude nudity so here's a barely there video for "Sycamore Trees" instead (RIP Jimmy Scott).




Speaking of films... 
The Bandit documentary Jesse Moss 2016 Hal Needham Burt Reynolds Sally Fields Jerry Reed Jackie Gleeson Smokey & and the Bandit road movie
The Bandit (2016)
dir. Jesse Moss

I fell in love with this documentary in 2016 and now it's finally available on Blu-ray! That is, it is available as a bonus feature included with the Smokey and the Bandit 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (which makes perfect sense because even if you're buying it to own a hard copy of the doc, you're gonna wanna see the OG Smokey and the Bandit movie). Although created for and funded by CMT, San Francisco-based film maker Jesse Moss' motivation to make the documentary was the relationship between actor/wanna-be stuntman/star of Smokey and the Bandit Burt Reynolds and his best friend/stuntman/wanna-be actor/director of Smokey and the Bandit Hal Needham. From this key moment in their careers, Moss' documentary takes an archivists' dive into the lives of Needham and Reynolds, following their trajectories from humble upbringings to the titular buddy/road movie that solidified their status as 1970s superstars and beyond. What's more, the film conceptually explores the past, present, and future of "the Bandit" as a character (a part originally written with country music super-picker Jerry Reed mind, but it's all good 'cause he ended up in the movie in more ways than one), a car (specifically the iconic 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am), a look (apparently Reynolds bit Needham's personal style pretty hard in his portrayal of Bo "Bandit" Darville in the film), and an American cultural artifact (as Paul Williams says in the sneak peak video below, "you know, in the South they think of Smokey and the Bandit as a documentary.").

Chock full of incredible footage, photographs, interviews, and insights, The Bandit is more than a documentary about the making of a definitive buddy/road movie, it is itself a buddy/road movie defined by a creative union the likes of which we may never see again (not outta Hollywood anyway). I only wish some of the loose ends that lend a bit of mystery to all this sweet tea could have been explored a more thoroughly, even if they couldn't be completely tied up due to those who passed on before this doc was made (namely Needham, Reed, and Jackie Gleason) and those who apparently passed up on being included (Sally Fields). Still, it's an entertaining viewing experience overall, and super dank cross-section of high seventies culture made possible in large part by Reynold's contributions (you can almost smell the Florida funk on the artifacts and ephemera featured throughout the film) and Moss' skills and interests as a deep-diggin' documentary filmmaker.




gwar blood of gods dave brockie blothar the berserker oderus best of 2017 metal blade LP vinyl
GWAR
- The Blood of Gods
(Metal Blade)

After all the feces GWAR has faced in the last few years, the simple fact that they managed to release a new record during these feculent times is proof that 2017 hasn’t been a total flush. The Blood of Gods is a tribute to founding member Dave Brockie, who also portrayed GWAR’s lead vocalist Oderus Urungus until his death in 2014 and whose influence clearly lives on despite his untimely passing. That said, the big question remains: this being the first record released after the death of their fallen leader, does this shit shred like a GWAR album ought to?

While I miss the uniquely raspy, round depth of Oderus’s voice, current GWAR vocalist Blothar the Berserker (Mike Bishop) possesses a bellowing vocal vigor that really suits these new tracks, especially catchy single “I’ll Be Your Monster”. It seems the band is attempting a nostalgic return to 90s GWAR sound, which is rad, and each song delivers a lot of fans might expect from any GWAR record: pristine guitar-work amid heavy riffage with plenty of political satire (“El Presidente”), humorous social commentary ("Death to Dickie Duncan"), anti-humanity anthems (“Fuck This Place”, "Swarm"), and a grand continuation of the GWAR saga (“War On GWAR”). So yeah, this shit shreds, but there’s also a closing dirge/tribute ballad for Oderus/Brockie called “Phantom Limb” that punctuates this curiously satisfying new chapter in the GWAR epic with grace. Actually, the real closing track on the album is a cover of AC/DC’s  "If You Want Blood (You Got It)" which really shows off Blothar’s 70s hard rockin' Bon Scott-like vocal capability, but ultimately serves as a reminder that GWAR is best experienced as a live show (so they can drench you in blood during this song) therefore this last banger feels more like a bonus track than a part of The Blood of God's total package. All told, GWAR lives! Rest In Power Dave and Cory.




cold beat chaos by invitation crime on the moon records hannah lew grass widow
Cold Beat - Chaos By Invitation
(Crime on the Moon)

Ever since Oakland-based visionary artist/musician/filmmaker Hannah Lew (Grass Widow, Bridge Collapse, Generation Loss) founded Cold Beat to channel her, uuh...”cold beats” into, the band has consistently delivered cool, catchy, icy-glazed dark waves of contemporary post-punk computer goth fantasy for your nerve despite any shift in creative contributions, style, or direction. This third LP of theirs may begin (and end) with a quasi-standalone transmission of blown out gossamer synths accentuated with subtle yet driving basslines (see the video for "In Motion" below), but it perfectly bookends the record's inner spacial shifts from dreamy hypno pop smog to danceable electro art punk static and back again as Lew's crystalline ethereal vocals soar over every swerve along the way.




Speaking of inner spacial shifts...
Earth Girl Helen Brown Mercury Mars Saturn Empty Cellar Records post consumer cassette limited heidi the sandwitches pruno pro-earth space lady garage rock weird Earth Girl Helen Brown Mercury Mars Saturn Empty Cellar Records post consumer cassette limited heidi the sandwitches pruno pro-earth space lady garage rock weird Earth Girl Helen Brown Mercury Mars Saturn Empty Cellar Records post consumer cassette limited heidi the sandwitches pruno pro-earth space lady garage rock weird

Earth Girl Helen Brown - Mercury, Mars, and Saturn
(Empty Cellar Records)

Described as limited edition "seasonal series" and initially offered on "100% post-consumer recycled cassette tapes", Earth Girl Helen Brown (aka Heidi Alexander from The Sandwitches) has thus far released three really great mini-album EP thingies with the enlisted assistance of a veritable mega-group of musicians known collectively as the Earth Girl Helen Brown Center for Planetary Intelligence Band (featuring a lotta earthlings from Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Sonny & The Sunsets, Citay, Mikal Cronin, and The Fresh & Onlys and so many more it's as if the band idea came second to establishing a roadside artists colony). Beginning with Mercury last April, Mars in August, and Saturn this past November, each installment tributes, tackles, or aspires towards a bounty of Earthsongs focused on universal issues via fuzzed out twangy outsider pop abstractions n' things. I don't know what it is about Ms. Brown's vocalizations, but I've had noting but time for her melodies, harmonies, and spoken word treks since I picked up Story of an Earth Girl way back when. Here's hoping the series continues and Venus or whatever is ready for lift off.

Peep this video for Mercury's "Earth Elevator" (directed by Ryan Browne):




Speaking of Earth elevators...
Voyager Golden Record Ozma Records 3 LP vinyl box set various artists space message alien playlist
Various Artists - Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition
(Ozma Records)

"Experience the historic interstellar message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played," says the kickstarter campaign created by Ozma Records to get the historic Voyager Golden Record recordings from the original tapes (that sat untouched in an underground warehouse since the Voyager launched in 1977) into the hands of the humans that need these kinds of things—who doesn't need more records?! This mega-deluxe 3LP box set includes all of the same music (from Bach and Beethoven to Chuck Berry and Louis Armstrong, Navajo Indian chants to Gregorian chants, Japanese shakuhachi to Solomon Island panpipes), spoken greetings (in 55 human languages and one whale language), and other sounds of our planet (weather, birds, insects, animals, tools, transportation, etc.) contained on the original golden phonograph records as curated by a visionary committee lead by astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan before being mounted to the two Voyager spacecrafts launched by NASA forty years ago. That's nearly two hours of audio attempting to tell a brief yet comprehensive story of life on our planet, can you dig it?

The set also includes a bunch of other great Golden Record relevant goodies, but considering that Voyager I is currently the farthest human-made object from Earth, chilling somewhere in the interstellar medium, I can't get over the simple quiet thrill that comes with putting on this record, hearing a song like Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night" and knowing it's somewhere out there floating like a message in a bottle, inching ever farther into deep space. Pardon the idiom, but it'll hit you right in the feels.



sefaring strangers private yacht numero group compilation breezin smooth soul rock r&b
Various Artists - Seafaring Strangers: Private Yacht 
(Numero Group)

I'm a sucker for a conscientiously curated compilation, and 2017 was not short on great collections of various artists. This year was so good in fact I could make a whole other Best of 2017 blog post focused entirely on comps (maybe I will?), but whittling all the top contenders down to one, this "wreck-diving the private American AOR ship graveyard" effort released by Numero Group, a label well-known for sorting treasures from trash with the masses in mind, is golden. For more love on this jam check out my blog post from earlier this year here, or peep the preev below for a taste, or take a dive and come all aboard this sweet collection of breezy n' smooth soft rockin' deep cuts by pickin' up your own copy cold turkey. My favorite track in the cut is still "One More Time" by Salty Miller (a.k.a. Nelson Miller of The Monzas—I'm eternally a sucker for anything remotely Carolina Beach Music related).




 Only Yesterday (1991) Studio Ghibli Disney bluray DVD
Only Yesterday (1991)
dir. Isao Takahata

Saved the best for last! I'm not much of an anime nerd, but I absolutely adore Studio Ghibli's works, especially the films written and directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata (the Yin to Hayao Miyazaki's Yang). When it was announced some years ago that Disney had acquired the worldwide distribution rights to all Studio Ghibli films I was worried that some of their best movies (i.e. Takahata's films) would be shelved indefinitely for being too culturally anchored, not kid-friendly enough, or, even worse, suffer heavy editing to make them more appealing for global consumption or something. Over the years, however, Studio Ghibli's high quality filmworks have slowly surfaced one by one and now finally, finally, Takahata's 1991 masterpiece Only Yesterday is available in North America, something I never thought possible because, aside from it being an animated feature film, it is realistic drama that seems to be specifically made for an adult female audience.

In Japan in 1982 an unmarried woman over the age of 25 is considered past her prime, but 27 year old Taeko, a Tokyo professional tired of her office job, is too busy planning her upcoming vacation to the countryside to help harvest safflower at family friend's farm to fuss about guy troubles. The one thing she didn't count on was meeting the hunky farmhand man of her dreams along the way—just kidding! No, the one thing she didn't count on was unpacking a constant stream of vivid memories of her fifth grade self while embarking on her agri-tourism getaway. The seamless mashup of Taeko's mid-1960s flashbacks within her real-time traveling to and working in rural safflower fields makes for a meditative sort of storytelling that is effectively heart-warming and melancholy in the best way. And yeah, okay, maybe there is a guy, but don't get it twisted. This movie is about adult issues, processing childhood memories, embracing nostalgia, and facing your truths in order to live your best life.

The English dub ain't half bad and features the voice talents of Daisy Ridley (speaking with an American accent for some reason) and Dev Patel (who's rockin' some sort of decidedly non-American accent), but I find that so much of the nuance and tone of the original dialogue is lost in the English versions of Ghibli films (Spirited Away being one of the most difficult English dubs to endure). That said, I'll take what I can get. Check out the trailer for the English dub new release below, and have a happy new year everybody! xoxo




Relevant Tags

Ooioo (5), Once & Future Band (2), Grace Sings Sludge (5), Fire Walk With Me (3), Twin Peaks (29), The Bandit (1), Jesse Moss (1), Angelo Badalamenti (9), David Lynch (28), Burt Reynolds (2), Jimmy Scott (2), Gwar (4), Hal Needham (1), Cold Beat (12), Earth Girl Helen Brown (2), The Sandwitches (11), Seafaring Strangers (2), Voyager Golden Record (2), Blind Willie Johnson (2), Numero Group (14), Private Yacht (2), Studio Ghibli (3), Isao Takahata (2), Only Yesterday (1), Best Of 2017 (19), Yoshimi P-we (1)