Well 2017 sure as hell was a year. Could have certainly gone better in many ways, for lots of people. But at least there was no shortage of great art to get lost in throughout the year. These are my favorites across many mediums. And yeah, not as many games as usual this year for me. But damn do I look forward to catching up on this years backlog, gaming had a good year.
Before we dive right into my favorite things though, I do have a couple shout outs.
Paragon by Epic Games
Paragon is a game so good it could easily be within the top five on my list. But it’s in early Access. I have nothing else to say.
Sunday Rain by Foo Fighters
I would have loved nothing more than to include the entire new Foo Fighters album somewhere on this list. But unfortunately the Foo Fighters 8th full length album is too long for its own good. You would think that only barely coming in over 45 minutes would mean they trimmed all the fat off the record, but no. Yeah they’re getting up there in age, so I’m aware all the songs can only go to a certain tempo, and the arrangements can’t be as complicated as they once were, but they should still be creative. There are whole songs that could easily be cut from the album. None of them are bad, and the album as a whole is MUCH better than the god-awful ‘Sonic Highways’ from 2015.
'I, I, I am a river
I, I, I am your river
I, I, I am a river
I, I, I am your river
I, I, I am a river
I, I, I am your river'
Yup. Those are real lyrics from the last album. Repeated about 5 times on the 7 minute song...
But songs like ‘Dirty Water’ or ‘T-Shirt’ just have no business being on the same album album as something like ‘Run’ or ‘Sunday Rain’. While a lot of the records big budget production sound definitely contrasts with the band's famous Lo-fi/Garage Band sound and tone, ‘Sunday Rain’ somehow seems to make them work well together. Much in the same way some of Zeppelin’s later efforts tried to imitate their more budget sounds from the early years.
Concrete and Gold definitely isn’t an overall miss. And songs like this show the band do still have some gems tucked away. But they could have put this record off another year and put together more tracks that would stand out in the discography. So I can’t recommend the whole record yet, maybe next time. But for now, I’ll cherish what I consider a song in their top ten best arrangements. Hopefully this politically charged album (You even named it 'Concrete and Gold', come on Dave you're more creative than that) will be a step back towards better record from this band again. I would hate for Wasting Light to be their last Great album. And maybe one day they'll get a spot on the list. But as it stands this year, they get one song from the record on my honorable mentions.
Logan by James Mangold
Well the Oscar nominations haven't been announced yet, but I'll be shocked if this one doesn't get at least a couple at least as a nod. Obviously this movie is a love letter from Hugh Jackman who gives what might be his most human performance I've seen from him in a film, despite being anything but human. Though it's really Stewart in this movie who should get an acting nomination if it has to be one or the other. Call me sentimental but I really think Logan might be the last truly Great comic book film under a Marvel Banner we see for a while. Now that Disney will be calling the shots with basically every property imaginable.
That aside Logan tells a very simple but relatable able story about aging, regret, purpose, and living with who you are. There are no shortage of great films this year though, and if I owned just the script to read I would more than likely include that on my list of things. For now however, I'll stay content with being able to dive deeper on this film when I inevitably re-watch it yet another time.
Nightbringers by Black Dahlia Murder
Anticult by Decapitated
10. Wind River by Taylor Sheridan
I know I already talked about how Hugh Jackman should get an award for Logan, but if Jeremy Renner doesn’t win a Oscar for his performance here, I’m not sure he ever will. Like I said I’ve always liked Renner as an actor, but I’ve never seen him really disappear into a character before. Well not only does he disappear, he becomes this character.
But the real hero of the film's accomplishment is Taylor Sheridan. Between this film, Sicario, Hell or High Water, and of course his work on Sons of Anarchy, this man is on the right path to become the next Tarantino. I implore you all to find Wind River. However you can see it, make sure you do.
9. Room Of Shadows by Pagan Alter
This is a band I didn’t get into until this year (I'm not a big Doom-Metal fan) and was really surprised by how much of their discography I liked so far. But Room of Shadows not only takes the cake as their best by my count, it’s also my second favorite album of the year. This record comes as a very bittersweet note however, as it is the band's last record after their vocalist passed away. As if the music itself wasn’t dower enough, the vocalist was the father of the lead Guitarist. They, along with their fellow band members, had been putting this album together for over 10 years when he passed. Leaving the rest of the band to work with what vocal tracks he had left in his absence, and build the record around those.
And holy shit, I’m not sure anyone could have made a better album under those circumstances. This is a magnum opus beyond compare. Terry Jones' Vocals are on point, and his son Alan's guitar melodies have an incredibly complimentary melancholy that can only be from someone who both wanted to mourn and celebrate his father. I cannot recommend this one enough. It truly belongs on the shelf of any fan of Black Sabbath, Doom Metal, or just great music in general.
8. Battlerite by Epic Games
While it may feel unfamiliar to a few fighting game vets at first, you will soon see there’s not much difference between this and a tag team mode in a 3d or 2d fighter. Just without the tagging in and out part. With a pretty decent free to play option, there’s really no excuse to not give Battlerite a try.
7. Date Nights / Last Rights by Tom King
This story comes out Batman Vol.3: Annual #2 (I know comics are weird) and you need to track it down. Lately Tom King has been a powerhouse in the comics industry. It wasn’t enough for the man to provide Marvel with 'Vision', their first book that is really the publisher's only required reading on the same level as DC’s Watchmen. Now King has been doing an excellent run on everyone’s favorite bat-themed superhero. Most of his arcs in the proper Bat book have been good to very good. ‘Date Nights’, and the second half ‘Last Rites’, just might combine to make his best story so far.
I can really only talk about the first half of this book without ruining it, but I may do a single issue review of it at some point. This is really a story worth talking about in more detail, but it’s not like the first half ‘Date Nights’ isn’t a blast all on it’s own. We get too see the relationship between Batman and Catwoman. How her shenanigans find a way into his life, the dynamic chemistry between the two. And of course the obvious cat and mouse game that grows from it.
The art here is just simply stunning. Evoking a classic Batman style with modern sensibilities. The final page of this book will knock you off your feet. Read it, if you can find it.
6. Horizon Zero Dawn
It didn’t take long for us to start seeing big studios taking hints from The Witcher 3 did it? Between Horizon and Assassins Creed this year, CD Projekt RED’s influence over the open world genre couldn’t be more obvious. Clearly this is a good thing, and Horizon Zero Dawn benefits from the influence in ways that don’t just obviously include the care side-quests are given or the way the environments actually have detail and care put into them.
Thankfully Horizon takes it’s biggest Witcher influence in how the characters you care about actually matter, and world is reflected on your choices tied directly to those characters. I mean I don’t think I need to talk about how incredibly well written the female characters in either game were. And yeah Aloy joins Ciri as one of the greatest characters ever portrayed in a video game.
Plus I mean, robot dinosaurs! How can you not call this one of the best damn games of 2017!?
5. Ladybird by Greta Gerwig
I should hate, and I mean really hate, the editing in this movie. Most of the shots are roughly the same length, and scenes tend to be similar in length as well. This obviously results in the film moving at a very steady and relatively quick pace from start to finish. Obviously I'm generalizing here, not all shots and scenes are the exact same, but many are similar to each other. I should hate this, but I don’t. Not even a little bit. I think I love it, and I think it’s a large part of what makes this one of the best films I’ve ever seen about youth, family, and coming of age.
The style in which this film is edited makes it almost feel like a slideshow of someone’s life. Especially since a lot of scenes don’t start by leading you into them, instead opting to cast you into a deeply emotional moment within a character's life. The rare times you do get the sense of a scene slowly building toward such a moment, you know it’s going to be even more significant.
I have no doubt this film will be talked to death about in the years to come, and I seriously can’t think of another film that’s anything like it. This is a must see of the highest order, much like many of A24’s films. But while many of the small studio's works can divide audiences, I don't think I've ever met someone who wouldn't like Lady Bird.
4. Roughneck by Jeff Lemire
Sometimes you read something that doesn’t seen like it should exist as a comic. It feels more like actually events from someones very personal life story. Some parts of which I shouldn’t be looking at. Roughneck is the “story” of an ex-hockey playing superstar from a small town, now the local drunk and all around asshole. But was he ever not an asshole? Or is Derek living out the life he was meant to?
Well he tries to find out after his long gone sister returns to town. If only to escape her abusive boyfriend. But it’s her drug addiction that Derek really needs to help her past. In this story we see the two of them grow close again after years apart, while Lemire shows off what may be some of his best watercolor pieces to date. The near black and white frames use hints of color to accentuate key moments in the story. The only other scenes where the colors really pop, are scenes from the past. Further adding to the insult of what Derek's life has now become. Only able to see the beauty of life when thinking about his past nostalgia.
As Roger Ebert once said, "It's not what it's about, it's how it's about it." Lemire writes and draws this story in such a profound way you will feel exhausted after reading it. The fact the graphic novel seems so easily crafted only ads more weight to how he put this together. Lemire is pretty much the hardest working man in comics right now. So much so it wouldn’t shock me if there were two Lemires. But when his work almost always stays this consistently great across both art and story, it’s hard not to praise the man.
3. Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villeneuve
When I first heard that Warner Brothers was committing sacrilege by making a sequel to the sci-fi film that practically invented the cult classic, I was furious. Not just because I love the original film like we all do, but because I really felt that ruining some of the mystery of Blade Runner would actually taint the story within it.
But when the director of Sicario, Prisoners, and Arrival was chosen to direct it, I saw a flicker of hope. A flicker that turned into a much brighter light when Hampton Fancher, the original film's screenwriter, would return to write the sequel. It was when Harrison Ford, after years of saying he would never do another, signed on board after seeing the script that I gained some damn high expectations.
So how is it? Well not only is it a rare sequel that retroactively improves the original by leaps and bounds, but it's also a far superior film in my eyes. The questions it asks the audience about the nature of humanity are far more important and interesting than whether or not Deckard is a replicant.
2049 also stands as a magnum opus for long time cinematographer Roger Deakins (Fargo, Shawshank Redemption, No Country For Old Men) who will most likely get his 14th nomination for his work this year. Yet a film can be beautiful and still fall flat, thankfully the screenplay never lets up. Nor do the incredibly stellar performances from really everyone.
Ford gives maybe his best acting performance in recent memory, he's actually awake for this one guys. Every actor really walks away with something they should be proud of.
2. Last Day of June by Ovosonico
****. Just, ****. You ever watch the movie ‘Up’? Love feeling like you want to die after the first ten minutes? Well step right up ************, have I got the game for you. Spreading out a similar theme throughout a couple hour long story, Last Day of June is my favorite video game of the year. With some Tim Burton-lite elements and a plot that’s sort of the first act of the book ‘The Time Machine’, this game uses story narrative structure to create a very cool puzzle game.
Without a single word of dialogue being spoken throughout the whole game, the writers evoked some really great emotionally driven elements here. I also need to wholeheartedly recommend the soundtrack for the game, even if you have no interest in ever playing it. And to think the whole concept was based on the art in a music video!!
Last Minute Honorable Mentions!!
Baby Driver by Edgar Wright
One More Light by Linkin Park
The Last Jedi by Rian Johnson
Forever by Code Orange
Cuphead by StudioMDHR
Wonder Woman by Patty Jenkins
Villains by Queens of the Stone Age
1. The Dusk in Us by Converge
Three of my Five favorite bands of all time are still working today. Two of them released an album this year. It's just unfortunate only one made the list, and the other was Concrete and Gold. Thankfully Converge’s 2017 effort, The Dusk in Us, shows the world why Converge is just as beloved today as they were twenty years ago. This band has a really great habit of releasing albums that eerily feel like Jacob Bannon, the vocalist and album artist, wrote songs about the place I am within my life. Starting back when the album ‘No Heroes’ did that for me in ‘06, Converge has continued to be on my level with each new studio release. The Dusk in Us marks the band’s 9th studio album, five years since their last one in 2012. The wait was more than worth it.
“Our Denial it speaks in tongues, there’s monsters among us.” Much like the rest of the album, the title track speaks to the capacity for evil within the human race. But also how those who can quell it help others shine a light on our own shadows. Even the more abrasive songs like ‘Reptilian’ have this similar Superman-esk aspirations for hope and trophing the better bits of humanity.
“We must lose sight of the Shore to know what courage means. We must lose sight of who we are to know what we can be.”
It's been a long time since an album I've listened to has closed out with a song as strong as this one.
In year like 2017 where so much of the world became under fear of itself, leaving many to question what the future may hold, it’s great to get art showing how there is hope for those who seek it. While still acknowledging the world’s great ability to hide it. All while creating some of the most fascinating compositions the band has ever created. Even having songs be led with what seems like a drum cadenza for the strings to follow. Especially in ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’ where Koller’s ambidextrous drumming makes itself as clear as day without really having to fill every bar with as many notes as possible.
But if you let that trick you for even a second, think again, Converge still knows what their signature sound is, and can create the catchiest grooves while tearing your face off. All of the above comes together in my mind within ‘Cannibals’, the shortest song on the record.
Opening with an extremely complex blast-beat based arrangement, letting the strings shred a rhythm melody above it while Bannon reminds you of how easy he makes the most complicated vocal noises seem. Only to lead out the song almost as soon as it began with a fun guitar riff while the bass pairs up with Ben on a killer rhythm section. Just pure joy within the darkness. Even the nature of the song title plays against your expectations within itself, “We are all just cannibals if there is nothing left to love.” A fleeting thought about what separates us from our beasts within, changes and races just as rapidly as the song's various tempos.
Every song on this record has just as much and more to dive into and get lost in. Not a single track on the album is a waste of time. Just when you’re bummed how a really great song is ending, the next one starts and you fall in love with it just as fast.
It’s for all these reasons and more that ‘The Dusk in Us’ is my favorite thing from 2017. And I’m about to go listen to it fifty more times.