My Top 15 Albums of 2017


Hi! Still existing and loving my family, hope the same goes for all of you. I may be retired from all else in the music world, but the year end list is eternal.

Sample size: I have 83 albums released in 2017 at the time of writing this. Can’t promise I actually listened to all of them.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Ranking music is silly and I generally discourage it.  (But I do it once a year anyway…….)

15. Chinese Man – Shikantaza

trip hop/hip hop

Sample track: Liar

fun French hip hop/trip hop album that seems to have gotten overlooked a lot. I listened to it a ton earlier this year. It’s not something I’ll remember years down the road, but it certainly earned a spot for as much as I played it.


14. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

stoner prog

Sample track: Sanctuary

For me personally, this is probably the most unorthodox pick on my list, because it is heavily rock-centric in all the ways that typically turn me off. God but something about rock and roll has always felt absolutely soulless to me in a way that few genres can match at their worst. But Elder just do what they do so damn well that it’s impossible to hate this opus. An endless onslaught of prog ingenuity with a nice stoner rock crunch that keeps it driving from start to finish. It’s 64 straight minutes of ear candy without a dull note in the mix, and I have a world of respect for how flawlessly these guys accomplished what they set out to do.


13. Krallice – Go Be Forgotten

post-black metal

Sample track: This Forest For Which We Have Killed

Krallice are responsible for a lot of the best music to come out this decade, and in 2017 they pumped out two new ones (both painfully late into the year for a band that requires a lot of repetition to fully appreciate). While I haven’t actually read anything about either of these yet, the distinctly different styles between them have me pretty convinced that Mick Barr wrote the bulk of this one and Colin Marston took charge on the other. Go Be Forgotten gets off to a glorious start with its opening track, but the remainder has so far failed to really captivate me to the extent that most of their previous works did. It doesn’t raise the bar (or if it does, it hasn’t sunk in yet), but it’s still a fascinating exploration of highly complex soundscapes that few other artists have the technical precision to delve. And god that opening riff is sick. Krallice will be a perpetual year end contender as long they keep doing what they do.


12. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

folk rock

Sample track: When The God Of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay

I have mixed feelings about this album, and my inclination is to point out the negative; suffice to say, it’s not lacking in universal praise. It wouldn’t be on my list if I didn’t love it. The reason it’s not higher is that, as I see it, Tillman too often defaults to rather throw-away lines. That’s not inherently problematic (see: my #1 pick), but I think it clashes with the more refined, theatrical vibe of the sound around them. Simple case in point: Total Entertainment Forever kicks off with an absolutely delicious line–Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift–and follows it up with something so generic that I feel it only exists to achieve a rhyme–after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes. Sometimes gentle flaws make a work all the more endearing, but Pure Comedy goes too big and refined to get away with it for me. I feel like he aimed extraordinarily high and almost got there.


11. Tchornobog – Tchornobog

blackened death metal

Sample track: II: Hallucinatory Black Breath Of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)

A landscape album as only blackened death metal can paint one. Tchornobog takes you on a 64 minute journey across an entirely unpleasant and stomach-turning waste of all purpose ugliness that really reflected how I’ve felt about the world this year any time I let my attention range beyond my immediate household. We’re talking death metal aesthetics here so yes, that can be a compliment. And while the visions are certainly exotic, there’s not much surrealism of the lofty, artistic sort you find on say, a Blut Aus Nord album. It’s just leaves you feeling kind of dirty. It hit a note I could appreciate while maintaining enough melody and progression to avoid succumbing to redundancy.


10. Hell – Hell

doom sludge

Sample track: Machitikos

Ridiculously heavy slow-rolled sludge that shouldn’t require any genre appreciation to crush your skull. At its peek on “Machitikos”, the quality of this album is unreal. Unfortunately I was pretty late to the ballgame, and their more ambient moments are going to take more than a sporadic month to leave a lasting impression or definitively fail to. Nowhere to move but further up the charts for this one.


9. Nokturnal Mortum – Істина

pagan metal

Sample track: Дика Вира

We’ve certainly come a long way from Knjaz Varggoth screaming hateful nonsense to crackling cassette recordings of Dollar General synth, and as endearing as Nokturnal Mortum’s early works may be, you can’t deny that he has matured (both musically and intellectually) substantially over the years. This album thoroughly lacks the trademark Eastern European folk metal execution that Knjaz inspired more than perhaps anyone else: brutally hammered folk jingles lashing out violently from beneath a wall of modern noise. Істина is a lot more even keel, to such an extent that its metal elements almost feel unnecessary at times. It fully embraces the more cerebral, orchestral sound we began to hear on Weltanschauung and leaves most else behind, achieving a new height in terms of orchestration. I do miss Knjaz’s more passionate explosions, but I don’t consider that a flaw. The real down side to the album for me stems from the studio. For all of its grand instrumental diversity, the complete package is a bit washed out. Everything feels like it’s playing in the background as a supporting element to a non-existent centerpiece. It’s something I’m certainly used to–Nokturnal Mortum have always struggled a bit on the finer finishing touches of sound production–but it’s still a fault that’s hard to ignore. An incredibly solid album that could have been even better.


8. Riivaus – Lyoden Taudein Ja Kirouksin

black metal

Sample track: Vihan Temppeli

This is probably the most unknown album on my list. It’s just straight-up black metal. No frills. No novelties. Really it’s the sort of thing I rarely listen to these days, because most great bm artists have moved on to more experimental fronts. But this is tight as fuck. The riffs are great and it’s got a nice punchy pace and a crisp tone that suits the mood perfectly. Outstanding debut from an unheard of artist. Hoping he sticks around for many years to come.


7. Thundercat – Drunk

funk/jazz

Sample track: Bus in These Streets

A tongue-in-cheek dreamfunk fantasy. Artists who can let a cheesy sound be cheesy often accidentally stumble into brilliance. This guy makes some of the goofiest sounds that funk and jazz have ever imagined somehow feel endearing. I’m also pretty impressed by how distinct his sound is. I mean, considering how radically uninformed on this sort of style I am, it kind of blew my mind that I could instantly go “this guy must have wrote the bass lines to Wesley’s Theory“. I think Drunk is an incredibly well-craft work masked behind a delicious veil of comedy. And it’s given us such eloquent 21st century mottos as “thank god for technology, because where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?”


6. Krallice – Loüm

post-black metal

Sample track: Etemenanki

If Go Be Forgotten offered Krallice’s most deranged opening melody to date, Loüm might take the prize for their heaviest boot in the ass. Etemenanki hammers down all the brutality of a headbanger’s wet dream from the first note without budging an inch on Krallice’s classic eclectic tremolo noodling. I don’t think I’ve wanted to just open my mouth and shout “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck” to a Krallice song this bad since Inhume. As with Go Be Forgotten, there’s a serious question of whether the album as a whole is really that great or if the opening song just carries it, and that’s not to knock the rest so much as to say that by Krallice’s ridiculously high standards I think it might have some mediocrity. You can never really tell with most Krallice songs until you’ve heard them four dozen times. It’s complicated, intricate shit that your brain doesn’t instinctively unravel. My gut tells me that Loüm will keep on growing on me in a way that Go Be Forgotten may struggle to, and I was right about that with Prelapsarian’s incredibly late release last year. (Yes, it is amazing.) The only lasting down point about Loüm for me is, surprisingly, the addition of Dave Edwardson (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot) on vocals. He does a killer job, but I am shamelessly in love with Nick McMaster’s vox and can’t help but miss them.


5. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

folk

Sample track: Crow

Phil Elverum’s wife died last year, and he wrote this album. It’s artistically significant for reasons that are pointless to explain, because I think you will either already get it or it will fundamentally conflict with whatever life coping mechanism you personally subscribe to, and both are fine. It matters to me more than other albums about death because we appear to share roughly the same world view. It isn’t my favorite album of the year because it can’t be.


4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

post-rock

Sample track: Bosses Hang

I somehow managed to ignore the rebirth of GY!BE in spite of being entirely aware of it, and this is the first album I’ve listened to by them since Yanqui U.X.O. fifteen years ago. In the meantime, I’ve become an avid consumer of Silver Mt Zion, and after that long of a break it’s easy to forget just how different the two projects were. I’m at a loss for words to properly describe how I feel about Luciferian Towers because I have nothing remotely current and similar to compare it to. “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State” are both absolutely mind blowing, and I usually skip the first and third tracks and don’t even care. This is the greatest band in post-rock being exactly that.


3. Kendrick Lamar – Damn

hip hop

Sample track: DNA

Every time I saw this album top another year-end list, I wanted to move it further down mine. It doesn’t move me on an emotional level like To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s not Kendrick’s greatest work. Can it really be the best of 2017? But every time I revised my year-end list, it just kept moving up instead. Everything he touches has a subtle finesse to it. I love the sound of his voice. I love the way he weaves it into the instrumentation flawlessly. I love how every aspect of each song seems painstakingly tailored to suit the intended vibe. I can just really get into this from start to finish time after time with zero effort. It was my 2017 fallback the grand bulk of the times I wasn’t in the mood for something dark or heavy. This album makes me feel empowered every time I put it on with no cheap sense of escapism attached, and god did I need something like that.


2. Boris – Dear

drone/doom/psych/post-rock

Sample track: Dystopia (Vanishing Point)

Wow. This is 16th year that I’ve compiled a year-end list. For the grand majority of that time, I would have named Boris in my top 5 favorite bands if you asked me. During that time, they’ve put out 53 releases just that I have managed to acquire. And not one has earned my #1 slot. Smile came so close. So close. And now I’m saying it again. I almost feel guilty leaving Dear at #2. It was never dropping any lower. But if you’re at all familiar with it, this might sound generous. Dear is nowhere near their most well-received album. It is absolutely nowhere near their most accessible. Doom and drone at its core, it’s a slow drip grind that will leave all but the most steadfast fans bored out of their minds on first encounter. Yet I somehow managed to listen to it close to 50 freaking times. It wasn’t that I liked it at first. I kind of didn’t. But the mood was right. It hit that sweet spot between ambience and melody that made it never quite dull enough to bore inherently but never quite memorable enough to bore through familiarity. It was dark but it wasn’t morbid. It was just the right sort of fuzz to make me feel more alert without distracting me. And it was through that extremely passive but relentless pattern of listening that its finest moments slowly revealed themselves to me, raising the bar higher and higher, until now it blows my mind that a track like Dystopia (Vanishing Point) could have failed to sweep me off my feet on first encounter. It certainly manages to every time now, on take number one hundred and god knows what. This isn’t my favorite Boris album, but I suspect it’s much higher up there for me than for most fans, and after a very great deal of consideration it only failed to take the title by a fraction of a hair. Oh, I also got to watch them play it live in its entirety. 😀


1. Sun Kil Moon – Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood

Americana

Sample track: Lone Star

The grand prize goes to Sun Kil Moon. I think this might be for me what Pure Comedy has been for a lot of other people this year. It just speaks to so much I’ve been feeling in 2017 in a way I can completely relate to. Mark Kozelek takes half of the stuff I’ve been making enemies spouting all year and sets it to solid American folk music. He has a blue collar political perspective that offers no compromise for our “total fucking asshole” President but takes far more cutting hits at liberal America’s zero-attention-span reaction-click-and-move-on culture for allowing the country to fall into this state. The album is a two hours and ten minutes meandering disjointed travel through personal stories and monologues that reach all over the place, but underneath it all is a consistent love and appreciation for the bonds we share in our meager little lives, and an intense compassion for those who have permanently lost them. If he comes across as cranky, he’s just pissed at how many Americans have lost sight of this.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part Three


So, I have made it 11 days! I am going to try to keep it up, but there are some personal changes, job wise, possibly going on in the next week or so and I might not be able to continued watching 1  horror film a day. I will still continue to watch as many as possible, and keep posting the reviews in parts such as this – there just might not be as many films, or they might not be as frequent.

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part One

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part Two

October 7th: ‘Willow Creek’ (dir. Bobcat Goldthwait)

willowcreekmedium__span

‘Willow Creek’ is a found footage horror film that is essentially ‘The Blair Witch Project’ meets Bigfoot and it is pretty damn effective…for about 20 minutes.

The story here is simple, a couple is filming an excursion into the Six Rivers National Forest to find the site of the infamous Patterson-Gilmin film (you know, that grainy footage of some dude in a fur coat). Before trekking into the wilderness they interview locals of Willow Creek, a town that is filled with believers and non-believers, both of which pretty much make their living off the Bigfoot image. Things begin to get fishy when a group of locals start to threaten the couple and tell them to go home. Of course they don’t take this advice, and instead head into the woods. Things turn from bad to worse pretty quickly as something, or someone, starts to terrorize them during the night.

This is a film that takes a very long time for anything to really happen. Much of it is just spent trying to build some level of suspense, and set up some possible mystery about what or who is in the woods. It doesn’t really work for a few reasons.

Mainly, because like most found footage films this one has a lot of scenes that have NO real reason to be filmed. Many of which just involve the two characters driving, talking about whether or not they believe in Bigfoot. They are supposed to be making a documentary apparently. Most of what they are filming is interviews; so why the hell would they be filming conversations that aren’t interesting footage in regards to either the film, and aren’t worth recording even if they are possibly trying to remember the trip? It seems like the sole purpose of it is to show tension building between the couple…but it kills the logic of the style, taking you out of the “reality” they are trying to create.

Once things do get going it basically just becomes another ‘The Blair Witch Project’, with characters in a tent hearing noises and movement outside – but are the scares during these scenes effective? Hell yes. There is one incredible 20 minute long shot of the characters just sitting in a dimly lit tent as something outside is making noises and throwing things at them. It is quite an unsettling scene that gets right under the skin. Unfortunately it doesn’t last. By the time the next morning arrives things become a little too familiar, going from homage to straight up copying, and it isn’t hard to predict where things are going from there as the characters find themselves going in circles and losing their cool.

Other than that 20 minute stretch the film doesn’t really have anything else going for it. Sure the leads are likable and manage to keep you invested when tension is low. But that is only until their personal problems come to the surface. These two really need a whole different film to work things out. This is a bit of a spoiler, but like, yeah dude, really smart to propose to your girlfriend in the woods after receiving weird threats and finding your camp ransacked…oh, she rejected you? She says it is too soon? Maybe cause YOU DON’T EVEN LIVE TOGETHER? Why this scene is even included makes no sense to me. We don’t care enough about these characters to want to see their romantic life. And this minor conflict has NO bearing whatsoever on what came before it or what follows.

It all ultimately resulted in a film that is worthy of admiration for one great and truly eerie scene, but nothing more. It was just impossible for me to get over so many of the glaring character and film making issues to consider it anything special. And as the dust settles, I find myself now more annoyed than anything by how just disappointing it was. Because it DID have something there for a few minutes. If only. So I don’t really recommend it. Honestly, you are probably better off just checking YouTube for the long take I mentioned.

October 8th: ‘Re-Animator’ (dir. Stuart Gordon)

re-animator-poster-artwork-jeffrey-combs-bruce-abbott-barbara-crampton

‘Re-Animator’ is an utterly ridiculous horror “comedy”, in the vein of ‘Dead Alive’, that relies almost completely on some crazy visual gags to create a fun and bat shit crazy – but also totally hollow – viewing experience.

The film is about a medical student whose new roommate is secretly working on a formula that he believes can bring the dead back to life. When he finds out – after a hilarious mishap with a zombie cat – he gets caught up in the weird experiments his roommate is doing in their basement. As they progress, their target for test subjects grows from cats to humans; at the same time their egotistical professor discovers their work and wants to claim it as his own.

There isn’t much to say here. The story is rather simple and moves at a very fast pace. This leaves no room for any sort of reasonable character development. I understand this isn’t trying to be some serious horror film, but the gore, effects and humor alone weren’t enough to keep me truly invested. With so much on the line for the characters, I just wished I cared at all about any of them.

Still, it is a fun watch, mainly because of how cartoonish it gets at times, so I’d recommend it if you are looking for something with a light tone, simple narrative and plenty of gore.

October 10th (Watched two to make up for missing the 9th): ‘Hellraiser’ (dir. Clive Barker)

Hellraiser_Poster

‘Hellraiser’ is at times a grisly horror film with some great truly grotesque visual effects. It is almost completely ruined however by a lackluster and poorly paced first hour.

The film is about a man who moves into his childhood home with his wife; a wife who had a secret affair with her husband’s brother. Little do either of them know that the brother died in the house’s attic while opening a mysterious puzzle box, known as the Lament Configuration, disappearing without a trace. After an accident, the blood of the husband lands on the attic floor causing the brother’s body to re-materializes as a bloody skeleton. He uses the wife to secretly bring men to the attic so he can kill them and slowly regenerate his body. All the while, the husband’s daughter Kirsty suspects something weird is going on and tries to find out what. She discovers that the puzzle box opens a portal to some other dimension filled with “demon” Cenobites – who essentially dabble in the most extreme forms of sadomasochism one could imagine. They want to take the brother back, and also have their eyes on Kirsty.

Practically nothing eventful happens throughout much of the story. I understand a lot of it is to set up the finale, but it could have easily been condensed to allow for more to happen in the third act. There is no development of the characters in the first hour. We know fairly quickly who the adult characters are, as well as their intentions, and so did not need so much time focusing on them. The first hour is literally just the wife bringing men to the brother to be killed. Instead, the film should have focused more on Kirsty, the young daughter, who is the focus of the film in the final 30 minutes. She is the only character anyone could really care for in the whole film and yet she is thrust into danger with so little time spent developing her that any real sense of suspense over her safety is absent.

I think why I found this so disappointing was that it sets up such an interesting horror universe that did intrigue me. There is definitely a lot more to these Cenobites than we are told; and they are frightening enough to have been present and a source of scares for more than the little screen time they get here. These are all really personal gripes, and the film is not a failure. As a whole I quite enjoyed it, I just think it missed a chance to be truly great. With that said, for what seems like one of the first times in a while, I am actually now interested in seeing what the sequel of a horror film has in store.

October 10th: ‘Hellbound: Hellraise II’ (dir. Tony Randel)

hellraiser_2_poster_01

‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’ is the sequel to the first ‘Hellraiser’ film, and like the first is a wonderfully sick, twisted and gory horror flick that luckily, in my opinion, puts the focus were the first should have.

The film takes place right after the original left off with Kirsty in a mental ward. She tries to explain to the doctors and police what happened to her parents, but of course no one seems to believe her. No one except one doctor who has studied the Lament Configuration, the puzzle box that started it all. Based on the information he gets from Kirsty’s story, he uses the bloody mattress of Kirsty’s mother in law to bring her back to life and open the Lament Configuration. In doing so he, Kirsty and another girl at the ward – Tiffany – get trapped within the realm of the Cenobites, essentially a labyrinth of horror. Kirsty tries to find her way out with Tiffany, while also fighting off her evil mother in law, and the doctor who is turned into a Cenobite.

The first half hour was truly disappointing. It spends pretty much the entire time flashing back to the events of the first film. Considering this came out shortly after the original – and because I can only imagine those that saw this were people who already saw ‘Hellraiser’ – there was absolutely no need for any of this. Plus, because the ending to the first was were all the action was, I was hoping that would have carried over. Sadly, it was just more waiting around for something interesting to actually occur. Luckily this time it didn’t take an hour.

Once things did get going, the film turns into a twisted and warped mind trip, with the Labyrinth using nightmarish memories and gruesome visuals to confuse and frighten Kirsty and Tiffany. It is not really at all scary, but the craziness of it all is so fun to watch. Plus, it expands on the background of the Cenobites, actually making them more than two dimensional villains.

As with the first, the visuals here – specifically the make up and costumes – are very well done. In particular, I love the way the muscles were constructed when there is ever a skinless body. With all the detail that went into them, along with the creativity of some of the demons, it offset how grotesque the gore could be. In other words, I’d have been more grossed out if not for the fact that I admire it all so much.

Despite the issues I had with the first half hour the film works. It works even better when watched back to back with the first. I do ultimately think I liked this one more, but I highly recommend both ‘Hellraiser’ films…a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever say. Now I have to decide whether I want to delve deeper into the franchise…

October 11th: ‘Les Diaboliques’ (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot)

diabolique-movie-poster-1955-1020417623

‘Les Diaboliques’ is a cold, dark, clever and meticulous horror thriller. One that slowly lays out its plot, piece by piece, reaching an unnerving level of confusion and suspense. All ending in a wonderfully twisted, and at one point quite terrifying, finale.

To go into much detail about the plot would ruin the experience, and to give away the ending would be criminal – the film actually ends with a plea from the filmmakers for the audience to not give anything away. So I will just say that it has to do with the wife and mistress of a barbarous school Headmaster, plotting to rid themselves of his cruelty. But things do not go as planned, and a mystery filled to the brim with suspicion and fear slowly unfolds.

It might sound simple or familiar – and I am guessing at the time it wasn’t viewed that way – but ignore that, because the film is neither; instead it is truly quite brilliant and near perfect. It contains a totally adsorbing narrative that requires, and earns, every bit of the viewers attention. It creates a genuine atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty that is hard to shake.

It does it all through its technical excellency. The direction, fixating on certain locations or items to ratchet up the tension of already thrilling situations, is phenomenal and sets the tone very early on. The performances are also very good, as is the writing, with almost every character having some flaw or secret, which may or may not implicate them in the mystery at hand. It does its best to keep you guessing, and it works right up to the very last frame.

Looking back, I guess I should not be surprised by just how great the film is. It was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot who also made ‘Wages of Fear’ – arguably the tensest film ever made. It was also a masterpiece, and although I might not yet place ‘Les Diaboliques’ in that category, it is definitely not far from it.