10 things that blew me away in 2017

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After gobbling up year-end of lists, I made up my own…

Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi) – Endangered – Everglades National Park, FL & Big Cypress National Preserve, FL. Joel Sartore photo.

Music: Oh Susanna, Guided by Voices, The Bronx

Oh Susanna, A Girl in Teen City—Hands-down my favourite album of the year. Nothing flashy, no state-of-the-art bells ‘n’ whistles or guest stars, just old-school songcraft that stands up to repeated listenings. It helps only a little for this Vancouver resident that Oh Susanna (Suzie Ungerleider) freely namedrops local street names and first-wave punk bands. Even non-residents (or those of us who moved here after Expo 86) will relate to the complex web of teen feelings herein.

Another album I feel has been unfairly overlooked is Rainer Maria‘s self-titled sixth album. The first record from the American East Coast band in over a decade, it’s a lean, mean fightin’ machine. The same goes for their furious set at the Cobalt in October. Check out the track “Lower Worlds” here.

Oh Susanna, “My Boyfriend”:

Guided by Voices at Neumos, Seattle, April 18—How do you spell heaven? The best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world touring with its hardest-rocking (and, dare I say, most sober) lineup ever, in support of one of the strongest records in their 30+year career (August By Cake, which was almost immediately followed by another excellent record, How Do You Spell Heaven). I’m just sorry I didn’t follow them on to Portland after this two-and-a-half hour orgy of hooks, suds and bearded-bro high-fiving. In the interest of fairness, it behooves me to mention that the same band was also one of my most disappointing concert-going experiences of the year. It wasn’t their fault, though. Opening for Soul Asylum in Minneapolis, GBV had to play a truncated set, in the daylight. In an outdoor theatre. In the suburbs.

Guided by Voices 2017 Neumos Seattle tour poster.

Guided by Voices at Neumos, Seattle, April 18 2017. Poster by Shawn Wolfe (click on image to order on Etsy).

Other standout 2017 shows for me include Kate Tempest (Fortune Sound Club, March 29; Tempest’s Let Them Eat Chaos is another of the year’s most underrated albums); The Bronx (Biltmore Cabaret, April 4—I was in the bathroom after the show, when the guitarist came in to wash the blood off his fingers from playing so hard); and Yukueshirezutsurezure (closing band at Next Music from Tokyo, Biltmore Cabaret, May 24. Translation, Not Secured, Loose Ends). Also, mad props to Guided by Robots, who put on one of their best-ever tributes to Guided by Voices (Dec. 9 at the ANZA Club). Ten years on and going stronger than ever.

Yukueshirezutsurezure, an underground idol band that mixes screamo and pop. They blew me away with their Next Music from Tokyo Vol. 10 set at the Biltmore Cabaret May 24.

The Bronx, “Kingsize” (song)—Bronx V, the latest from LA punk band The Bronx, is about half-great. (As opposed to the previous record, Bronx IV, which was flat-out wonderful). But when, on this track—the last on the album—Matt Caughthran sings, “One step back or one step closer/sacrifices must be made”—chills all the way through.

The Bronx, “Kingsize” (acoustic version recorded for Paste Magazine):

Movies and TV

Logan—This was by no means the best movie I saw in 2017. But the latest in the Wolverine franchise packed a punch that I totally didn’t expect. Besides being surprisingly downbeat and blessedly unconcerned about adhering to any kind of Marvel Cinematic bish bosh, the movie had one of those moments—basically, more of a character reveal than a scene—that, for this jaded fanboy, justifies the whole, dangerously-close-to-being-played-out superhero movie genre. Wonder Woman had a great moment, too, but it was more in an inspirational, let’s-go-kick-some-Nazi-ass vein than Logan’s first act surprise.

Legion—Maybe I need to take back what I wrote earlier about the live-action superhero genre being played-out. FX’s Legion, from Fargo showrunner/creator Noah Hawley, was the kind of superhero product both believers and non-believers could enjoy. Like a great comic book series, the eight-episode series was packed with one mind-blowing idea after another. This made for a consistently psychedelic merry-go-round that kept me guessing every minute. The finale may very well be the trippiest episode of a TV series I have ever seen.

Books and comics

Michael Tolkin, NK3—Another easy choice, and one that I haven’t seen on any other year-end of lists. This latest novel from the writer of The Player (novel and screenplay) about a dystopian (what else) near-future where everyone’s as dumb as rock is by turns hysterically funny and scarily hysterical. I read a lot this year, but this is the only novel that was glued to my fingers from the time I picked it up (on a whim, at the library) to the end.

Kristen Radtke, Imagine Wanting Only This—Emil Ferris’s My Favourite Thing is Monsters is, everyone seems to agree (including myself), the most impressive if not the best graphic novel of the year. But a close runner-up for this comics fan is Radtke’s poetic, beautiful distillation of twenty-something ennui.

The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals—These portraits, by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, will break your heart. Many are of species on their way to extinction.

Tom King, various titles—I encourage anyone who’s ever enjoyed a superhero comic to pick up something by this guy. An ex-CIA officer turned funnybook creator (read the story about his transformation to comics writer here), King is currently reinventing Batman for DC Comics, as well as Jack Kirby’s ’70s creation Mister Miracle. He was also the writer behind the very un-superhero-ish 2015 Vertigo series Sheriff of Babylon, and a terrific 2016 mini-series for Marvel starring the Vision.

Theatre

Children of God (May 19 at the York Theatre)—At the end of Vancouver playwright Corey Payette’s moving musical about residential schools, the audience I was in stood and held hands.

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