Monday, December 31, 2018

Songs for Cineastes: 2018 Edition

Cardiff-based Gwenno Saunders

Click here for the 2017 edition. Links lead to my concert previews for The Stranger.

Top 10

1. Gwenno - Le Kov (Heavenly-PIAS)
Le Kov marks two stunning solo albums in a row from ex-Pipette Gwenno Saunders. If 2014's Y Dydd Olaf, inspired by Owain Owain's  dystopian novel from the 1970s, was the more ambitious release, the follow-up marks an artist firmly in control of her powers. The Welsh Cornish language has rarely sounded lovelier.

2. Meshell Ndegeocello - Ventriloquism (Naïve-Believe)
Ndegeocello's 2014 paranoid-funk cover of Whodini's "Friends" merely hinted at this brilliant reinvention of 11 pre-millennial R&B and funk classics. The singer and bass player at her sensual, soul-stirring best.

3. Lorelle Meets the Obsolete - De Facto (Registros El Derrumbe)
There'll never be another Broadcast, but on their fifth full-length, this Ensenada-by-way-of-Guadalajara duo (Lorena Quintanilla and Alberto Gonzalez) conjures up a similar sense of magic and mystery. Mixed by Cooper Crain (Bitchin Bajas) and mastered by Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control): México goes motorik.  

Meshell Ndegeocello
4. Kacey 
Golden Hour (MCA Nashville)
From the electro pop of "High Horse" to the rustic psychedelia of "Slow Burn" to the stadium tour with Harry Styles, Musgraves' creative risks rankled purists, but the CMA Award for album of the year confirms that her resemblance to Bobbie Gentry is more than just skin deep.  

5. DRINKS - Hippo Lite (Drag City)
It was a good year to be Cate Le Bon--or a fan of the Welsh polymath--as she co-produced Deerhunter and hit her stride with White Fence's Tim Presley on their second, even-better-than-the-first record.  

6. Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer (Bad Boy)
After establishing her acting bonafides in 2016 (MoonlightHidden Figures), Monáe emerged in 2018 as a "free-ass motherfucker," an orientation reflected in the Prince-inspired "Make Me Feel" and the Georgia O'Keefe-on-ecstasy "Pink" video with pal Tessa Thompson.  

7. Exploded View - Obey (Sacred Bones)
Berlin-based Anika launched her career as a solo artist, so it came as a surprise when she joined forces with two Mexico City musicians to form this transcontinental trio. Their discography to date isn't a repudiation of the stark sound she established with BEAK's Geoff Barrow, but a more textural version marked by unnerving shows in which the cool blonde segues from quasi-catatonic to confrontational.  

Lorelle Meets the Obsolete
8. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supersound)
On her enchanting debut, the Welsh producer whispers sweetly over diaphanous clouds of synths and gently pulsating beats. It's Charlotte Gainsbourg by way of Juana Molina through a Giorgio Moroder haze. 

9. U.S. Girls - In a Poem Unlimited (4AD)
Meg Remy, the American-born sonic architect behind this Toronto noise-pop project, takes recognizable elements, including girl-group harmonies and soul samples, and scrambles them into something new and unfamiliar, like Ronnie Spector fronting the Residents. On her riveting new album, she references male-generated works about men, like Hamlet, to interrogate male power and female agency.

10. The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations (Blue Note)
Cline, a guitarist and composer with free jazz (Charlie Haden, Julius Hemphill) and alt-rock roots (Wilco, Mike Watt, Thurston Moore), brings playful prog-punk energy to his second Blue Note outing.  

Note: All comments from my 2018 Pazz & Jop ballot.

11. Amen Dunes - Freedom (Sacred Bones)
12. The Breeders - All Nerve (4AD)
13. Wussy - What Heaven Is Like (Damnably)
14. Cat Power - The Wanderer (Domino)
15. Brownout - Fear of a Brown Planet (Fat Beats)
16. Yo La Tengo - There's a Riot Going On (Matador)
17. Pistol Annies - Interstate Gospel (Sony Music Entertainment)
18. Ambrose Akinmusire - Origami Harvest (Blue Note)
19. Ashley Monroe - Sparrow (Warner Bros Nashville)
20. The Necks - Body (Northern Spy)
21. Khruangbin - Con Todo el Mundo (Dead Oceans-Night Time Stories)
22. Blood Orange - Negro Swan (Domino)
23. Ty Segall - Freedom’s Goblin (Drag City)
25. Wooden Shjips - V. (Thrill Jockey)
26. Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar (Ninja Tune)
27. Oh Sees - Smote Reverser (Castle Face)
28. Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Saddle Creek)
29. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Sparkle Hard (Matador)
30. Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth
(Shoto Mas Inc.-Young Turks)

Kim Deal of the Breeders at Showbox Sodo
31. Becky Warren - Undesirable (Becky Warren)
32. Ty Segall and White Fence - Joy (Drag City)
33. Escape-ism - The Lost Record (Merge)
35. Parquet Courts - Wide Awake (Rough Trade)
36. Serpentwithfeet - soil (Secretly Canadian)
37. Wayne Shorter - Emanon (Blue Note)
38. Cameron Knowler - New & Old (Blue Hole Recordings)
39. Soccer Mommy - Clean (Fat Possum)
40. Black Belt Eagle Scout - Mother of My Children (Saddle Creek)
41. Low - Double Negative (Sub Pop)
42. Sarathy Korwar - My East Is Your West (Gearbox)
43. Joan Shelley - Joan Shelley (No Quarter)
44. Warm Drag - Warm Drag (In the Red)
45. Julia Holter - Aviary (Domino)
46. Anne Malin (FKA Fawn) - Fog Area (Anne Malin)
47. Robyn - Honey (Konichiwa-Interscope)
48. Charles Bradley - Black Velvet (Dunham-Daptone)
49. Cale Brandley with Triptych Myth - Finding Fire (Birdwatcher)
50. Marie Davidson - Working Class Woman (Ninja Tune)

Top Reissues & Compilations
1. Bobbie Gentry - The Girl from Chickasaw: The Complete Capitol Masters (Capitol Records Nashville)
2. Prince - Piano and a Microphone 1983 (NPG Records)
3. Marvin Pontiac - Greatest Hits (Northern Spy)
4. Martin Newell - The Greatest Living Englishman (Captured Tracks )
5. Mike Simonetti - Solipsism (2MR)
6. Haruomi Hosono - Cochin Moon (Light in the Attic)
7. Redd Kross - Teen Babes from Monsanto (Merge)
8. Princess Nokia - Metallic Butterfly (Remastered & Expanded) (Rough Trade)
9. Destroyer - Thief (Merge)

Top EPs
1. Jenny Hval - The Long Sleep (Sacred Bones)
2. Mazzy Star - Still (Rhymes of an Hour)
3. Munya - Delmano (Luminelle Recordings)
4. PI Power Trio - The Walk (Birdwatcher)
5. Little Dragon - Lover Chanting (Ninja Tune)

Top Singles

1. Kacey Musgraves - "Slow Burn" (MCA Nashville)
What it says on the label.

2.  Kendrick Lamar, SZA - "All the Stars" (Top Dawg-Interscope)
Wakanda forever.  

3. Janelle Monáe - "Make Me Feel" (Bad Boy)
It's hard to imagine that "Make Me Feel" would exist without Prince's "Kiss," but Monáe ups the ante with Hereditary-like tongue-clicks as a rhythm track--and words never heard in a Jehovah Witness's Bible.

4. Childish Gambino - "This Is America" (mcDJ Recording-RCA)
Donald Glover's incantatory recitation would work without visuals, but Hiro Murai's video represents America in 2018 as acutely as the newsreel footage in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. Utterly unnerving.

5. Brownout - "Fear of a Black Planet" (Fat Beats)
Public Enemy's production team, the Bomb Squad, spun hiphop gold from funk filaments, so it's only right and natural that these Austin instrumentalists would strip the PE track down to its funky essence.

6. Khruangbin - "Maria También" (Dead Oceans-Night Time Stories)
The very definition of sinuous.

7. Ashley Monroe - "Hands on You" (Warner Bros Nashville)
The year's sexiest song...and even better than anything on Pistol Annies' not-at-all-bad Interstate Gospel. "I wish I'd a pushed you against the wall, locked the door in a bathroom stall..."

8. Angelique Kidjo - "Born Under Punches" (Kravenworks) 
"Look at these hands," Kidjo asks commandingly, turning the words of David Byrne's (presumably white) government man inside out. "All I want is to breathe," sighs the Beninese-born singer.

9. The Internet - "La Di Da" (Columbia-Sony Music Entertainment) 
The spirit of early-'70s Stevie Wonder infuses this breezy track.

10. Little Dragon - "Lover Chanting" (Ninja Tune)
A summery wisp of a thing. "Do you wanna be my girl, I wanna-wanna-wanna be your ma-a-an." That's about the gist of it.  

Also worthy of note: Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom+Pop), Cruel Diagonals - Disambiguation (Drawing Room), Jacco Gardner - Somnium (Polyvinyl Recording Co), Ross Goldstein - Eighth House (Birdwatcher), Hinds - I Don’t Run (Mom + Pop), In-
solito Universo - Folk Experimental de Venezuela (Olindo), The In-
ternet - Hive Mind (Columbia), Jo Passed - Their Prime (Sub Pop), Angelique Kidjo - Remain in Light (Kravenworks), The Limanas - Shadow People (Because Music), Samara Lubelski - Flickers at the Station (Drawing Room), Dave McMurray - Music Is Life (Blue Note), Melody’s Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage (Far Possum), MGMT - Little Dark Age (Columbia-Sony Music Entertainment), Papa M - A Broke Moon Rises (Drag City), Pusha T  - Daytona (GOOD-Def Jam), Shamir - Revelations (Father/Daughter), The Shifters - Have a Cunning Plan (Trouble in Mind), Colin Stetson - Hereditary (Original Motion Pic-
ture Soundtrack) (Milan), Sudan Archives - Sink (Stones Throw), Szun Waves - New Hymn to Freedom (Leaf Label), Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre - Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre (Double Feature), and Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food (Jagjaguwar).

Endnote: More images and videos to come.  

Movies for Music Lovers: 2018 Edition

Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace
Click here for the 2017 edition.

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends! Though I spend a substantial portion of the year avoiding ranked lists as best as I can, I wait until the tail end of each one to give in to my most hierarchical impulses.

As with last year, I've decided to keep commentary to a minimum, but if there are any films you feel strongly about that you don't see listed below, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line. If it isn't here, it's more likely that I didn't see it than that I didn't like it...unless you're touting Bohemian Rhapsody or A Star Is Born. It's not that I hated either one, it's just that when it comes to music films in 2018, docs were where it was at. In any case, I have screeners for most of the year's award-seeking films through membership in the Seattle Film Critics Society, for which I've served as trustee for the second year in a row, so I plan to spend January catching up with the films that I missed.

Amanda Seyfried in First Reformed
Links lead to my reviews for or podcast contributions to SIFFBlog, SIFFcast, and The Stranger. A few, like Bad Reputation, also appeared in The Portland Mercury (my reviews for Video Librarian live behind a paywall or by way of a print subscription). Starting in 2018, my Stranger reviews have found a second home at Rotten Tomatoes.

If I did a better job at keeping up with new films than in 2017, I failed to write about as many of them due to a variety of factors, including other responsibilities and distractions. Here's to a more creatively and financially fulfilling year for me, for you, and for everyone we know!

Top 10*
1. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
2. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
3. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)
4. Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu)
5. Shoplifters (Hirozaku Kore-eda)
6. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)
7. Mandy (Panos Cosmatos)
8. Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)
9. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)
10. Annihilation (Alex Garland)

*The Phantom Thread didn't open in Seattle until 2018, and I missed the 2017 press screening. If I'd seen it then, it would've made last year's top 10. To make room for as many new releases as possible, I've given it a sort of honorable mention by acknowledging that I don't know where to place it, so for the time being: it lives inside this footnote. 

Note: I don't take back anything I've ever said about Lanthimos. Working with Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis's brilliant script made a world of difference to his filmmaking. I still consider The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which folds Michael Haneke's worst traits into one film, among 2017's most overrated art house efforts. Meanwhile, Luca Guadagnino, whose previous two features made past lists, fell from my grace with his pointless remake of Suspiria.

11. 1945 (Ferenc Török)
12. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
13. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller)
14. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)
15. Madeline's Madeline (Josephine Dekker)
16. Félicité (Alain Gomis)
17. Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot (Gus Van Sant)
18. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
19. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen)
20. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

Adriano Tardiolo in Happy as Lazzaro
Second Runners-up
21. Widows (Steve McQueen)
22. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
23. Claire's Camera (Hong Sang-soo)
24. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
25. Private Life (Tamara Jenkins)
26. Thelma (Joaquim Trier)
27. Thoroughbreds (Cory Finley)
28. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)
29. November (Rainer Sarnet)
30. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

Note: I usually include documentaries in my top 30, but decided to separate them from narrative features this year. I don't have a good reason for this; it just felt right. I'll probably revert to form in 2019.

Top Documentaries
1. Won't You Be My Neighbor (Morgan Neville)
2. Monrovia, Indiana (Frederick Wiseman)
3. Whitney (Kevin Macdonald)
4. Filmworker (Tony Zierra)
5. Hal (Amy Scott)
6. Bad Reputation (Kevin Kerslake)
7. M.I.A. Maya Matanga (Steven Loveridge)
8. Shirkers (Sandi Tan)
9. Dark Money (Kimberly Reed)
10. Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (Alexis Bloom)

Gothic Estonian horror in November
Doc Runners-up
11. Milford Graves: Full Mantis (Jake Meginsky)
12. Bisbee '17 (Robert Greene)
13. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross )
14. Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Sara Driver)
15. Naila and the Uprising (Julia Bacha)
16. McQueen (Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui)
17. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (Sophie Fiennes)
18. The Departure (Lana Wilson)
19. RBG (Betsy Cohen and Betsy West)
20. Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle)

Note: Of the fashion-oriented films released in 2018, Bonhote and Ettedgui's portrait of the late British designer Alexander McQueen ranks above them all. By contrast, Lorna Tucker's Vivienne Westwood documentary, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, plays as if the subject pressured her to stick to a narrow script, and she probably did. Free rein shouldn't be a requirement for effective portraiture, but the film needed a director who saw the limited scope as an opportunity to tap creative impulses rather than a directive to keep them in check. As a corrective, I'd recommend Viv Albertine's 2014 memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., for a more idiosyncratic take on Britain's fashion scene during the punk era, including appearances from Westwood and Malcolm McLaren.

Also worthy of note*: A Ciambra, After Louie, Aida's Secrets, Ask the Sexpert, Big Sonia, Birdboy - The Forgotten Children, Blaze, Borderline, Borrowed TimeBreaking Silence, Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit, The Children Act, DamselThe Death of Stalin, The Divine Order (2017), Driving with Selvi, En el Séptimo DíaForever, Chinatown, Gemini, Gender Troubles: The Butches, The Gospel According to André, Half the Picture, Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Hereditary, I Miss You When I See You, The Issue of Mr. O'DellJohn McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, Just Charlie, The Kindergarten TeacherLarger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story, Last Child, Lean on PeteLet the Sunshine In, Little Stones, Logan Lucky (2017), Lou Andreas-Salomé: The Audacity to be FreeLove After Love, Love, Gilda, Mama Colonel, Mankiller: Activist, Feminist, Cherokee Chief, Men: A Love Story, M.F.A., The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Mom and Dad, Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart, Oh, Lucy!A Private War, Pushing Dead, PuzzleRevenge, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, Serenade for Haiti, The Sisters Brothers, Skate Kitchen, Spettaculo (2017), A Star Is Born, Stumped, That Summer, Tania Libre, Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Unsane, The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, Virus Tropical, Whipping ZombieA Woman and Her Car, Wildlife, Yours in Sisterhood, and Zama.

*I count video releases, and I review a lot of videos, though it's worth noting that some films received theatrical releases in previous years, while others made their 2018 debut on video.

Barbara Loden in Wanda, her sole directorial effort
Missed or haven’t seen yet: Anna and 
the Apoc-
alypse, Aquaman, Assassination Nation, Beautiful Boy, Ben Is Back, Border, Bumblebee, Charm City, Colette, Crazy Rich Asians (though I've listened to the score; it's fine), Disobedience, The Endless (didn't grab me; may try again later), The Front Runner, The Great Buddha, The Hate U Give, Hearts Beat Loud, Hold the Dark, Incredibles 2, The Land of Steady Habits, Last Letter, Mirai, Monsters and Men, The Old Man & the Gun, On Chesil Beach, On the Basis of Sex, Paddington 2, A Quiet Place, Ralph Breaks the Internet, SadieSearching, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, Tully, and The Wife.

Top Archival Releases
1. Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi)
2. Wanda (Barbara Loden)
3. Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel)
4. Edward II (Derek Jarman)
5. The Crime of Monsieur Lange (Jean Renoir)

Didn't like: Maniac (though Emma Stone is quite good), Mary, Queen of Scots, Molly's Game, and Wim Wender's Submergence.

Endnote: I watched less TV than usual, but I enjoyed GLOW the best (props to local filmmaker Lynn Shelton for her excellent work on the Netflix series). Also, that one bonkers episode of Law & Order: SVU with Judd Hirsch and Wallace Shawn. I look forward to catching up with Atlanta, Barry, Better Call Saul, Sharp Objects, and the final seasons of Breaking Bad and Justified in the months to come.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

December Reviews

These are the reviews 
and other pieces I'm 
working on this month.

The Stranger Film Opening: None.

The Stranger Music Things to Do: Redd Kross, Dale Crover, and John Grant.

Video Librarian: Benevolence: A Journey from Prison to Home, The Breast Archives, Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes, Jamilia, Love and Sex in India, Nimble Fingers, Nowhere to Hide, Qi Gong - Mindfulness 
in Motion
, Return to Cuba, and Woman and the Glacier.

Endnote: Image from the Redd Kross website.