Omens in the sky, drones above Gatwick, Black Mirror Christmas special. Yes, we’re just seeing another year out in the dystopia. But here’s some more stuff that distracted us from the doom in 2018.
American Crime Story 2: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
2018 may have been the first year in which Ryan Murphy’s near-peerless American Horror Story finally dropped the ball, with an entertaining but uninspired self-referencing slop of fan service. American Horror Story: Apocalypse tripped over itself in attempting to build narrative bridges between the preceding seven (mostly self-contained series’) when it should have maybe stuck closer to its basic premise of the antichrist played as a stroppy, tantrum-throwing Kylo Ren-esque millennial.
But this slight dip did not at all mean that Murphy’s powers are in any way diminished, as AHS’ sister programme – American Crime Story – swung back with a powerful, part-imagined account of the mostly unknowable motivations surrounding gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan’s 1997 murder spree, including a zoom into the final days of his most famous victim – the fashion designer Gianni Versace.
Apocalypse’s lead, Kody Fern, arguably had more substantial material to work with here, switching from hamming it up as the son of Satan to sensitively playing Cunanan’s one-time lover and full-time object of his obsessions, David Madson.
Sharing its ensemble cast with that of AHS, several Murphy regulars reappear, but Glee star Darren Criss steals the show as the pathological liar and Versace assassin Cunanan.
American Crime Story’s debut season on the OJ Simpson trial couldn’t help feel a little like disposable, guilty-pleasure trash TV, airing as it did next to the fucking magnificent, heavyweight O.J.: Made in America documentary, which dove deep into America’s racial politics over the course of the 20th century.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace upped the game slightly, with its diversions in exploring the tensions both within the gay scene in 1990s America and between gay men and the wider community. But I mean, it also had Penelope Cruz chewing scenery as Donatella Versace, and an attempt to critically rehabilitate Ricky Martin by casting him as Versace’s live-in lover, so it still retained some (enjoyable) trash TV credentials.
Check!!! – a short-lived, improvisational Tokyo-based trio founded by producer Teruyuki Kurihara (aka Cherry – a favourite of this blog) – finally released a posthumous collection of their 2015-era recordings in 2018.
The tracks on the resulting album veered from blissed-out, new age-y washes of guitar and synth, to taut, guitar-augmented techno.
This wasn’t the hardest-hitting album of the year – this is a subtle, unassuming collection of intuitive experiments hybridising rhythmic electronic music with live band dynamics that reward the listener with repeated plays.
Constantina – Codorna
Constantina are that most unfashionable thing of 2018 – a band – but their verging-on-undefinable music has a genuinely timeless quality. Gentle, healing instrumental rock that is neither really kosmische or post-rock, but could easily scratch either itch and more.
Da Soul Boyz – Welcome To Durban EP
TSVI’s Nervous Horizon label packaged up a handful of previously unreleased, early-gqom bangers produced at the start of this decade by a trio of high school kids, as the debut release from Da Soul Boyz – whose influence on the South African minimal dance genre is understood to extend far beyond their limited discography. TOTAL. BANGERS.
John Atkinson/Sabriel’s Orb split
Totally sublime elemental drone from this pairing on the Whited Sepulchre label.
Kate NV – для FOR
Yet another modern classic from the RVNG Intl. stable, Kate NV’s 2018 album is about as pure as music gets.
Katie Dey – Darkness
This was a peculiar and rare pop gem that flashed briefly onto Bandcamp as a one-track release, and was then taken down, and then re-emerged as part of a digital-only Out of Flux with the Universe compilation of trans musicians on the Black Squares label, which was… then taken down?!
Anyway, don’t sleep on Katie Dey, this is magical.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Gumboot Soup
Cartoony, hyperactive, pop – King Gizzard are triple the fun of any of your boyfriend’s cool psych-metal bands right now. Gumboot Soup was the fifth unique, standalone full-length LP they released in 2017, but as it came out right at the end of the year we’re claiming it for 2018.
Kira May – Sense
Among the many mysteries of 2018 – who was behind the Gatwick drone invasion, was the transformer explosion in New York really a cover story for the arrival of the Old Ones (and didn’t the resulting dimension-clashing aurora borealis actually kind of look like the ‘Magic’ sequence from Ghostbusters 2?) – the most perplexing was surely, why isn’t Kira May a megastar yet???
Kira’s art-pop is as forward-thinking and consuming as Holly Herndon’s, and she rocks a style as effortlessly cool as Charli XCX (no small praise in our world). Stay tuned for more releases from Kira in 2019, but until then catch up with Muscle Memory – the stunning lead single from her self-released debut album Sense.
Michael Levy – The Lyre of Megiddo: Echoes of Ancient Canaan
Michael Levy plays recreated versions of ancient lyres, resurrecting near-lost musical modes and creating a new part-improvised sonic language for our post-everything times.
Park Jiha – Communion
Also finding complex new uses for traditional or ancient instruments – in this instance, belonging to Korean traditions – was Park Jiha, whose Communion album was every kind of special.
2018 was the year that broadsheet journalists turned on the boxset ‘and the golden age of television’. To be fair, the TV people, floating on a sense of critical invulnerability, got a lot wrong this year. Partly cos it turned out that what people actually mostly want is a decent 12-part story, not a diluted-to-fuck 12-season slogathon.
Netflix, for sure, was one of the worst contenders for this – guys, the Marvel gritverse is over, even the the new Jessica Jones was boring – but flop sequels to perfectly decent one-season shows from HBO, Fox and Sky Atlantic like Westworld, Legion, and Fortitude suggested that maybe, regardless of platform, ‘the new TV’ works best as an extended space for contained filmic narratives and not for meandering Lost-style anthologies or undying, zombie-like reiterations of big ‘properties’ like Star Wars.
Sharp Objects was a perfectly executed example of the former. Adapted from a novel by Gillian Flynn by the team behind the critically-adored 2017 adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, we can only hope that HBO don’t attempt to wring out a second series based on a non-existent sequel to the novel… as they are currently doing with Big Little Lies.
Sharp Objects was as beautifully filmed, paced and edited as TV gets in 2018. The acting was superb, the ‘flawed and morally complex’ characters actually complex for once, and as a whodunnit it managed to drag out actual suspense and mystery without resorting to cliches or being obvious, giving the game away too early or trying too hard to obscure the villain by bending the logic of the show’s internal universe until it breaks.
This full-length debut by director Sandi Tan has to be the best documentary of the year, and was rightly rewarded with a plethora of film festival gongs.
Shirkers shares its name with its subject matter – a surreal road movie shot guerilla-style in 1992 by the teenage Tan and her cool, creative and alienated two best friends in their native Singapore. The product of soaking up and reconstituting the best of imported early 90s counterculture via zines, penpals, independent cinema and obscure books and records, Shirkers acquired a legendary status in the Singaporean underground by being the first film of its kind to be made there, a community that was then defined by its monoculture.
The problem was: Shirkers didn’t exist. After a gruelling summer of shooting which tore a rent in the friendship of the central trio, Tan handed over Shirkers’ 75 cans of film to their collaborator and film tutor to develop and edit while they dispersed to universities in the US and UK.
What followed was a bizarre mind-game involving cryptic cassette-recorded proto-voicemails from said collaborator, “a man of indeterminate age and origin.” Time passed, the girls graduated and took the first steps in their careers, but Shirkers never emerged. Both the film and the man disappeared from their lives, and eventually from Singapore altogether.
The reputation of the film snowballed to the extent that Tan was offered book deals to describe the lost film but felt psychologically incapable of reconciling herself with the work. It wasn’t until 20 years later, thanks to a letter from out of the blue, that Tan found out what had happened to her film.
Shirkers the documentary is a tense, heartbreaking, funny, clever and sad tribute to the restless energy of teenage girls and the magic that be conjured between them in the sacred spaces of their bedrooms – more libraries of culture and cauldrons of creativity than places for sleeping. And Shirkers the film has all the hallmarks of a lost classic – they said they wanted to be “The Coen Sisters” but the surviving scraps of what Sandi and her friends made was arguably closer to a more naive, more exuberant Jodorowsky.
Shuta Hasunuma & U-zhaan – 2 Tone
Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra – Anthropocene
A new name on me, but with two albums of this outstanding quality to his name, it is not one I will be forgetting. Shuta Hasunuma is a preternaturally talented, multidisciplinary composer whose albums with tabla player U-zhaan and his own ‘Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra’ this year were two different but equally potent flavours of beauty.
Stuart Chalmers – Acid Wave Head Rush
Brighton’s Third Kind tape label is killing it right now – this piece of coiled-electric tape-drone was my favourite of their (many!) releases this year.
Sunareht – Sagas
Not a tape, compact disc or a ‘vinyl’, but a t-shirt! One that comes with an EP as colourful, mad, joyous and strange as its bold design.
Tangents – Immersion (Katie Gately remix)
We wrote what I’m pretty sure was the first ever article on the then-unknown superpowers of Ms. Gately, prompting one of us to stick its hand in its pocket and stump up for a pressing of Katie’s reality-dissolving Pipes debut.
Aside from some production work on Serpentwithfeet’s debut album, 2018 has seemed like a relatively quiet year for Katie. Presumably this means a lot of exciting behind-the-scenes action and hopefully a new album next year (please?!), but she did find time to unleash this beautiful beast unto the world – a remix of the Australian post-rock group Tangents, that has Katie’s alien DNA smeared all over it. An instant classic in the vein of other Gately standalone singles such as Pivot and Far.
TSVI – Inner Worlds
The mysterious founder of Nervous Horizon has to be the dopest dance producer going at the moment with a sound that seems genuinely global – acquainted with techno, UK funky, juke, gqom, batida, kudoro, mahraganet, shangaan and seemingly every other foot-moving music on the planet, but not of their or any other milieu.
Wild Wild Country
Controversial guru! Utopian city in the desert! Biological warfare! Attempted murder! Illegal wiretapping! Automatic weaponry arms race! Electoral manipulation! 80s hair! Sex cult! Sex cult! Sex cult! All true.