Yaeji’s Drink I’m Sipping On pretty much made my musical year. A seemingly effortless blend of Trap and sultry Korean RnB, it managed to conjure into being a midnight world at the border between exuberant intoxication and the existential 4am dance music that is 20JFG’s usual stock in trade. This was all made even better when the artwork dropped and it featured a slightly embarrassed looking Yaeji, out of focus in the corner. A bright spot of red against the darkness. That the subsequent EP had the only decent Drake cover I’ve heard (Passionfruit) and the sweaty, pounding Raingurl made extra happy. Noonside (off EP1) is an absolute banger too.
DIY dance music was still going strong in 2017. Perhaps because dance music is uniquely suited to DIY. Everyone has a laptop, right? Identity Theft got two back to back posts on the blog along with associated label Katabatik’s output. RVNG were still putting out the jams (although more on them later) along with old friends Where To Now?.
And speaking of old friends, Murlo’s self produced, self performed, self animated show at the ICA was pretty special. Beautifully drawn, Mobius influenced sci-fi landscapes played out on a giant screen while Murlo triggered both animations and sound behind the fabric like an instrumental Grime Wizard of Oz.
The New Age / Ambient / Synth nexus was also still going strong in 2017 (providing us with yet more parallels with the 70s and the Western nervous breakdown that’s happening again). Both Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Caterina Barbieri put out exceptional synth records this year.
RVNG continued to put out peerless reissues including the wonderful Eros in Arabia by Richard Horowitz. A strange travelogue through imagined middle eastern worlds full of vocal loops and huge synth washes. On Never Teach No Foreign Answer he manages to locate the overlap between the gamelan and nascent New York Noise music. Which is impressive.
Not Not Fun put out Canada Effervescent’s Crystalline on tape. An album that manages to sooth and transport, a sort of ritualised bathing in pure energy. Entirely synth led this will be playing in the waiting room before you transcend to a being of pure energy.
And in one of the best gigs I’ve been to in Years, GAS managed to turn standing behind a lectern into a emotionally transportive experience through the simple application of stunning, synced visuals and overwhelming sonic force. Ambience via volume. Ambience via nature. Must be seen on largest screen possible.
With the world continueing to burn with the power of a thousand 2016s, the most escapist culture continued to thrive. Although the vast majority of videogames released this year would have gone into production before anyone descended in golden elevators, 2017 was nonetheless an absolutely outstanding year for losing oneself in strange other worlds.
Nex Machina arrived and sadly became the last arcade shooter from Housemarque, the economics of neon flecked arcade shooters finally taking their toll. But what an exit. Completely hypnotic, frantic and capable of playing you more than you playing it. Like last year’s sublime Thumper, it requires reactions faster than conscious thought and is our current go to ‘zone’ game. No engagement with reality required.
A late entry into this year’s 2017 game roundup is Gorogoa which I haven’t even finished yet. It’s here purely for the fact that it actually made me smile-out-loud, which turns out is a grin followed by a happy murmur. It’s a meticulously drawn sliding block puzzle that brings in both the z-axis (as you zoom in and out of the screen) and an almost associative approach to perspective. It’s artwork and logic seems pulled from a sort of Czech New Wave version of The incal. Sounds of war mixed with ancient ruins, densely packed libraries and hallucinatory nature.
And then there was Mario. Who had an Odyssey of pure, unadulterated joy. Interestingly enough having his own run in with the rules of perspective and indeed, his own history. Seeing Mario revisit New Donk City from his first appearance (in Donkey Kong) is…rather odd but then, so is visiting a world made of cooking ingredients. But not as wonderful/odd as transforming into a 2D version of himself and playing out throwback levels that wrap themselves around 3D geometry.
And finally there was Zelda. It may/may not be the greatest game ever made depending on where you sit on the hyperbole scale but it was certainly the first open world game that didn’t feel like it was put together by a fussy tour guide that wanted you to tick off all the sights. A world of endless Ghibli-esque beauty where simply journeying between locations managed to hit the childish pleasure centres of exploration and wonder. It’s a thing of maddening complexity masquerading as earnest simplicity, like peak Beach Boys or the silent slapstick of Keaton. Although its post-post-apocalyptic setting did have a nagging sense of melancholy that would be easier to process if the world wasn’t on fire…
2017 was also a banner year for people still being really good at shit. Which is nice because we need all that we can get.
Slowdive returned (after 22 years) with a album that’s so thrown back it’s new again. And, like a great videogame remaster, actually sounds like what you thought the original sounded like in your head.
EMA put out perhaps the best album of her career with Exile in the Outer Ring. A sort of sci-fi / internet culture / depression America journey that features a track called Aryan Nation. Which seems to loop round to her early work with Gowns on Red State. A sort of through line of disenfranchisement.
Fever Ray returned! Which was wonderful. It’s an album that’s truly explicit, a completely bare emotional reckoning with her sexuality, motherhood and politics. IDK About You is such a banger too.
The cultural event of the year though can only belong one place, Twin Peaks: The Return. An 18 hour movie, or TV series, or Limited Time Event, or whatever it was, it was mesmerising. Owing as much to Eraserhead as the original show, it frustrated, beguiled and confused. It soared, it fucked with nostalgia and fan service as well as dishing out loads of nostalgia and fan service. It took one of television’s greatest heroes and most notorious ‘bad’ endings and deepened their relationship to one another. It gave us Namoi Watts’ best performance in years. It turned David Bowie into a tea pot. It had a pretty flawless booking agent for the Road House (I’d argue the bands themselves are spoilers so I won’t list them). It had so much to give.
It was a culmination of Lynch’s career, forcing through his ideas on dream logic to the point where they broke the fabric of Twin Peaks’ murder mystery / soap. It had moments of genuine comedy, empathy with the changes the world has undergone over the last 25 years (“people are under a lot of stress, Bradley”) and absolute horror. Episodes 8 and 17/18 will live with me for a long, long time even if the books produced by Mark Frost may have made things too solid. Although deliciously he mentioned that they’re his reality, and that Lynch’s Twin Peaks may exist in a different one.
Several albums have come out of the show. Two ‘official’ ones, centring on the score and the Road House guests. But more interestingly two other albums emerged, one from Johnny Jewel (on Italians Do It Better) and one from Dean Hurley (on Sacred Bones).
Jewel’s Windswept contains what I imagine to be all the submitted music for Twin Peaks, a fair proportion of which was used. It is, as you’d imagine, what happens when the Chromatics go Lounge Jazz instead of Disco. Slow and sad and eerie, ending with a startling (revised) cover of Blue Moon. Audrey would be massively into them.
Hurley’s Anthology Resource Vol. 1: △△ is more ambient and soundtracks the more terrifying moments of the series. As such I’ve listened to it significantly less than Windswept as I like to actually sleep at night. These are Convenience Store jams.