Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The slightest wick remains: Fortnight 24 of the Burns

Unboxing

This box arrived a few days before Christmas...


These are the copies my US Publisher, Milkweed Editions, sent my Australian Publisher, Penguin Random House, who then sent them on to me (I'm not sure if they kept any for themselves), even though Milkweed has sent me at least one copy directly (though I told them to send it to Wellington).

So yeah. Not only is the old girl out there in the world again, I now have physical proof.

One side effect of having a "new" book arrive is that my son (2.5) asks to see my picture inside of any book he catches me reading. I'm not sure if he thinks I write ALL THE BOOKS, or that grown-ups get personalised copies with their own picture inside the front cover, as if the reader was the most important person involved in the grand production of a novel...

Maybe he's onto something.

*

Fortnight 24 wordcounts
Total words: 9,337 (68% on the novel, 28% on this blog, 4% on book reviews)
1st week: 8,142
2nd week: 1,195

Christmas came at a bad time for work on the novel. 

I’d gotten almost everything in order so that I could break new ground (the existing chapters are now somewhere between 2nd and fifteenth drafts) and coast the rest of the way to a completed manuscript.

But I find it nearly impossible to write at my in-laws in Christchurch, where we spent seven nights.

(Almost impossible, because I did work on this novel way back in August 2015 while in Christchurch, getting up at 5am and working until someone else woke, not knowing how short-lived that window of both kids sleeping would be…)

So I read books and ate and did family things like visit Orana Park and the Air Force Museum (and eat some more) instead. 

It’s a hard knock life.

*

Well, actually…

[This is where the 500-word rant about how Slingshot cut my internet three weeks early and am still waiting for it to be reinstated used to sit... but you don't need all that.

Cliff notes: Slingshot suck. Boo Slingshot. Woe is me. The end.

PS - I’m posting this using my phone as a hotspot and churning through data I’ll probably need when I actually move out… Wah!]

*

Daily centuries

Yesterday I outlined my project to write something in daily 100-word increments in 2018. 

Day two is in the books and the manuscript stands at 200 words. Hurrah. 363 days to go.

I know this is actually about Fortnight 25 but 'tis the season for repeats and rookie newsreaders, so go easy on me.

*

Prolepsis


We're leaving Dunedin on 10 January and will take our time heading north, getting back to Wellington on the 20th. So Fortnight 25's post might be a week late and full of photos from Central Otago and Nelson and hopefully the pristine state my house has been left in by my wonderful ex-tenants.

After a few days of unpacking and totally not spending anytime on the phone with my ISP, I'm flying back down to Dunedin for Burns Night (haggis!!) and a couple other final acts as the outgoing Burns Fellow.

Then it's back to Wellington to watch the clock tick down on Fortnight 26 of the Burns, at which point I will crunch the numbers, make pretty graphs and see what that tells us about my year of being paid to write that maybe my fortnightly downloads and monthly consumption diaries haven't comunicated.

Oh, and I'll have to write up the best books I read in 2017. By the end of Jan, I promise!

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018: the year of 365 hundred-word chunks

Andersons Bay inlet at low tide, November 2017
It’s ten years (fuck me) since I set out on my quest to write a million words in a year. I only wrote 800,737 words, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without setting myself that audacious goal and giving it a darn good go.

To commemorate, I’m going to do another of my constrained wordcount experiments (see here, here and here), but this time keep it up for a full year rather than just a month.

So, yeah: every day this year I will add exactly 100 words to a brand new manuscript.

I haven’t planned anything, so I don’t quite know what the end product will be. A single 36,500 word novella? A series of linked short stories? A procession of unlinked stories?

All I know is this will be fiction. And I don't want the final form to feel chunky, at least not a consistent bit-size chunky. The rhythm will vary with what's occurring in the story. The finished product(s) should just read like normal prose, though perhaps a little more condensed than my normal style.

Also: the 100-word chunks will be separate from my location scout novel (which hopefully is done and dusted by mid-year) or any short stories I begin writing in a more traditional (get it done quick) way. This isn't meant to be my BIG THING for the year, just something to make sure I write every damn day, especially with the end of one novel in sight and no idea what I'll do after that (beyond write some short stories).

I only decided what I’d write about today when I attacked the blank page an hour ago. (It's based on a cluster of thoughts I’ve had while biking past the Andersons Bay inlet in recent months... I've the sense of a character, the setting (obviously), two time periods and a lot of birds, but nothing you might call structure or drama).

I’m leaving it incredibly vague because I know from past experience with this sort of SLOW WRITING that you spend a lot of time thinking about what you will write that day (or the next), and how it might work, that solutions abound, and I don’t want to close too much down.

I’m NOT going to post every daily century here, but I will post today’s one, just to give you a taster...

The inlet
There are many ways to pass the three or four hours it takes to complete a game of schoolboy cricket on a Saturday morning. You can be the husband-and-wife one-two-punch that lingers in back of every team huddle, every harmless conversation, to pull up mono-gendered terms – you guys, next batsman, schoolboy cricket – while coddling and cajoling their right-arm off-spin daughter as if this was Soviet-era gymnastics or tomorrow’s UFC pay-per-view. You can be one of the parents who talks to other parents about everything but cricket. You can be one of the parents who talks only about cricket. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

December Consumption Diary

MUSIC



Albums from 2017 to add into consideration for my top ten, if I hadn't already posted it:

  • Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
  • The Surfing Magazines - The Surfing Magazines
  • Jay Som - Everybody Works

And I might've bumped Protomartyr up further after getting excited about seeing them in Wellington in February and listening to them a lot in recent weeks.

(The list of good things about moving back to Wellington is growing, but the ledger is by no means level.)


BOOKS

Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse (novel)

I picked this up from the bookshelf of my Island Bay holiday home at the end of November. It transported me back to my undergraduate days of reading “classics” (though not this particular book): the love of multiple frame narrators, the unabashed passages of philosophy, the unapologetic return to fiction.

This was the kind of book I might have loved at 19, though I responded to differently at 34. Even though I didn’t read it at 19, it felt a little like time travel, or a time travel experiment gone wrong where I was both 19 and 34 at once, both falling for the façade and seeing the sadder side to the tale of the wolf of the steppes.

Maybe I should re-read it in another 15 years?

Alright, pencil it in!



Other minds: The octopus and the evolution of intelligent life by Peter Godfrey Smith (non-fiction, audiobook)

I enjoyed this. Since finishing it, I've been tempted to refer to something covered in the book (most often how far back you have to go to find the common ancestor of humans and the octopus, and how incredible it is that intelligent life could evolve in parallel...) about a dozen times, though I've held my tongue.

Better to be THAT GUY on here, than I.R.L.


Clash of Kings (parts 1 and 2) by George RR Martin (novel, audiobook)

Like the first novel in GRRM’s Song of Fire and Ice saga, this book is split into two audiobooks (each over 16 hours long).

I didn’t get as hooked into the listening experience as I did with A Game of Thrones, partly because of the way the second novel – necessarily – spreads out its focus, introducing new perspective characters and expands the map.

After two books in the series, I have a greater appreciation for the challenges, successes and (rare) missteps of the TV show.

Will I listen to the next book in the series? Should I? Those are questions for 2018.


Waking up by Sam Harris (non-fiction, audiobook)
There’s something about vehement, aggressive atheists that brings out the contrarian in me and makes me want to believe (I don’t, but).

There’s some good stuff in here, but the book is poorly structured. At various points I wasn’t sure what it was trying to be. Having finished it, I'm still not.

I listened to one of Sam Harris’ podcasts (one about the Heaven’s Gate cult, which quoted from a short section of Waking Up) and found it more rewarding that this whole mishmash of a book. So go there, if you must.


Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (play, audiobook)

An experiment to see what listening to a play would be like after so long consuming audiobooks.


Way back when I started listening to audiobooks, when I was living in Brisbane (so 2004-2007), I went through recordings of all of Shakespeare’s plays I hadn’t read/studied or seen performed. And I found it rewarding – and not that challenging - though my retention of most of those plays is pretty poor a decade or more later.

(The same can be said for many books I read or listened to in that era, so...)

Listening to Beckett, however, was more of a struggle. I thought a play so interested in language would suit being denied all the other senses but hearing, but I grew frustrated. This wasn’t someone reading a book into my ear, it was a reduction of something quite different.

So yeah, plays, like kids (?), should be seen and not (only) heard.


AND...

Three physical books (NZ novels) I read for review (The Necessary Angel, Our Future is in the Air, Salt Picnic) so I won’t discuss them here.

--

And that's it. My top ten books from 2017's reading will be found among my monthly consumption diaries. I have Elif Batuman's The Idiot and Colson Whitehead's Underground Railroad queued up as the next audiobooks I listen to, and had been hoping to squeeze them in before 1 Jan to give 2017 as rich a crop as possible, but it's considered rude to walk around with your earbuds in during the holidays. Go figure!


FILM + TV

Easy - Season 2 - a kind of anti-TV, thrilling in it's ability to be contemporary without using it (eg being an Uber and stand-up comedian) for a joke, but never quite getting to the dramatic bits either. 

Dead Man Down – this is the kind of movie I watch with my in-laws, and as far as those sorts of flicks go, I really enjoyed it. I’d never heard of it, and was surprised to learn it wasn’t liked by critics when it came out in 2013. I didn’t find the twists all that implausible, and I liked that they were laced throughout all of the acts, not withheld until the final one.

Suicide Squad – another one with the in-laws. God almighty. I’d heard it was bad, and was in the mood for a trainwreck, but it was worse than that. Somehow Margot Robbie managed to be compelling among the other wreckage. But sheesh.

The Great Wall – yep, in-laws again. Matt Damon isn’t in yellow-face (instead he put on his best Liam Neeson voice – go figure) but it is sad that a huge number of people can only watch a movie if the protagonist is a white dude.

A Night in Casablanca – Classic Marx Bros flick. Full of dad jokes and creepy uncle jokes.

The Lobster – Dead Man Down reminded me that I watched Colin Farrell in the Lobster earlier in the year and never put it on one of these diary lists…

Gary of the Pacific – abandoned before the end. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t smart. I just wanted the islanders, especially Gary’s sister, to tell him to stop being a dick but I couldn’t give them any more rope.

The Meyerowitz Stories – Someone decribed it as a more mature Squid and Whale – I didn’t like that movie and I disliked the first half of this one even more. Somehow, the inevitable dad-in-hospital, siblings-unite plot kept us watching and we made it to the end, but I’m so over Noah Baumbach.

And a lot of Disney’s Moana (the kids’ current fave and probably better than everything listed above).

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Smouldering: Fortnight 23 of The Burns


Today is my daughter's fifth birthday. Thanks to Christmas, she doesn't start school till the end of January, so I'll be whacked again by that Tempus Fugit feeling soon enough.

Speaking of time flying, we're already 20% of the way through fortnight 24, so time for some numbers...


Fortnight 23 wordcounts
Total words: 14,563 (56% on the novel, 37% on this blog, 7% on other non-fiction like rejigging the Q&A on my blog)
1st week: 6,533
2nd week: 8,030

A 111% increase on Fortnight 22, though some of that is inflated by work on my (long-but-not-that-artful) end-of-year music posts. I'm going to hold off a similar review of books until the year is properly done.

The first week of Fortnight 23 I really got back in the flow with the novel by NOT starting where I left off before all my speaking engagements and sick kids. Instead, I found myself writing a historical section (San Giuseppe in Naples) that I'd skipped when pushing ahead with the contemporary action a couple of months ago.

And I knocked out that chapter (three or four pages) in a day.

The next day I wrote the next historical section (San Giuseppe getting kicked out of the Capuchins in Martina Franca) which will slot in after the contemporary chapters I've left hanging.

The third day, drunk on all this completion and achievement, I put off returning to the contemporary mire and worked on the final section of the novel, which jumps ahead two years. I wrote half of that (the other half involves a perspective shift which I'm not sure about). But what I did complete has helped me go back to the 2017 chapters and ask questions of it like:

Should I move you from May/June 2017 (when I did my research roadtrip) to Oct/Nov 2017, when the Harvey Weinstein/#MeToo stuff started blowing up? Because how can you write anything about Hollywood in 2017 that doesn't address the pre- and post-Weinstein world (I don't like those terms but others have started using them and I can't think of a different shorthand right now)? But you don't have to depict the exact moment when the pricks started to fall in order to deal with the subject of sexual harassment and unfairly retarded careers in Hollywood (and other walks of life). In fact, I'd already built all of this into my story - the way male characters tend to have female counterpoints who operate under a different set of rules and expectations. By jumping from June 2017 to sometime in 2019, as has been my intention since before October, I'm able to allude to the fate of both male and female characters, and let them rise or fall based on what they did in 2017 (and the years preceding it)...

/internal monologue

There were other knotty questions too. And for each I've come up with answers, or at least diagnosed which bits need to change and will figure out how when I reach them.

So I started going back through from page one again, and I'm about 90% of the way through the manuscript as it stands.

Maybe tomorrow I'll get back to the next blank page in the 2017 section...


Judge... 

Fortnight 23 also saw me don my judging hat for the 2017 Robert Burns poetry competition. Together with my fellow judge, Elena Poletti, we've reached our verdicts.

There's a prizegiving on 25 January, which, funnily enough, is Burns Night. Looking forward to some haggis in one of my last acts as the Burns Fellow...


... and be judged.

U.S. reviews 3 and 4 of The Mannequin Makers have appeared. The one from The Arkansas International was enthusiastic. The other, from Minnesota daily, The Star Tribune, was not. It was a bad review in at least two meanings of the word (a poor use of 550 words - too much plot, factual errors...; and unfavourable).

I'm more frustrated by the quality of that review than its conclusion.

Maybe it's the fact I'm in the process of reviewing four other novels.

Maybe it's the fact my novel is ancient history to me (I wrote it before my daughter was born!) and I'd do some things differently now.

Maybe I'm deluding myself.

But it's useful to be reminded how varied the responses to a book can be while in the midst of writing another. I can sometimes fall into the trap of trying to write for everyone / not offend or 'lose' anyone.

That way pallid mush lies.

Better to work until the novel is wholly what I intend it to be (or as close as I can manage with my capabilities at this time).


Speaking of reviews

I came across this tweet late last week and it got me very worked up:
If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all? 

Fuck that!

Reviewers must be bold enough to be honest and smart enough to back it up with evidence.

Some context: The tweet was in response to a less-than-favourable review of Kaveh Akbar's poetry collection:
A lot of people felt it was mean-spirited and ad hominen. But some of the griping felt like people who didn't know how to take criticism, even when it isn't directed at them.

And then came that tweet about the review genre being preserved as a space for gratitude... Way to kill of any serious discussion about books and the thoughts the are able to squirrel away. Way to misunderstand everything about.

To @noahbaldino's credit, they clarified this statement the following day:

Hmm. That's better... but it still presupposes that every book is worthy of our love. I can think of plenty of examples, either the ranting of evil men or the blather of bland one, that do not.


What use Fiction?

While I'm discussing random tweets, here's one from Ben Goldacre:


That cut pretty close to the bone, as someone trying to talk about skepticism and the limits of the rational materialist world view, but doing so with what amounts to a bunch of sock puppets.

But when I read non-fiction books on the subject (I just finished Sam Harris' Waking Up after getting it out of the library twice and not making it more than a few pages), I realise why it can only be done the way I'm doing it.

Because I don't have answers, only questions.

Better to read Steppenwolf, with all its narrative frames and ropey elements, than Alain de Botton or David Mills.

At least, that's how I am built.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The mop up: more from the This Fluid Thrill music awards

Yesterday I went on about my top ten albums of 2017. But to solely talk about a year's music based only on that format, a hangover from the days when there were only so many grooves they could fit on a spinning plate of shellac, is missing a lot of the point of why we listen.

Also, there's the fact no one (NO ONE) lives solely in the present. No one catches everything they might love the instant it drops. So let's start with stuff that never crossed my radar until this year...

(You should listen as you read this time.)


Discovery of the year: Hamell on Trial

Ed Hamell has been releasing music as Hamell on Trial since 1989, apparently. I first wrote about him in August.

Back then I likened him to an unplugged Dave Wyndorf (Monster Magnet). Sometimes I think he's like the guy that turns up to the poetry jam with a guitar... and no one -- not the finger-clicking devotees of p-jamming (which no-one calls it) or the salt of the earth types whose bar has been overtaken by these quote-unquote poets and are trying to down the last of their drinks and slink out -- NO ONE wants to hear from the guy with the fucking battered acoustic guitar... but the barman and the two people who stay are like, HOLY FUCKING SHIT! Is he playing a one-man, acoustic version of the MC5's 'Human Being Lawnmower'? Yes and no.

No: he's playing his own material.

But yes, in a way, he's putting Detroit Rock City on his back and hauling into the age of Trump with his 1937 Gibson L-00.

I liked his 2017 album Tacklebox, but it featured too many kid songs / oddities. It felt a bit like a rap album with skits. My brain could not compute. But in terms of individual songs, there's a strong and memorable backbone of acoustic vitriol ('Safe', 'She ride it',  'Not Aretha's Respect (Cops)', 'Mouthy B').

His 2017 live album, Big Mouth Strikes Again, is a better entry point, especially for those of us not within Ed's likely touring circle.


Bonus discovery: Life without Buildings - Any Other City


This band only put out one studio album in 2000, but it sounds so current.

If I was an A&R man, I'd be signing bands that sounded like this and saying they were the future of rock'n'roll (or maybe just rock).

And for a year like 2017, or the final third, which seemed to be about people finally paying attention when the dirty laundry of powerful white dudes was aired in plain view, and the slow but persistent trickle of individual stories of (mostly) females whose artistic life was made miserable, if not untenable, by industries of blind-eyes and abusers, to have this album, centred on the frenetic, clipped  vocals of Sue Tompkins, as a standalone item, a forgotten gem, something from the 'If only' file, seems sadly fitting.

This ignores, of course, the real reason the band split up after one album (?) and the fact Tompkins is a practicing visual and sound artist. So maybe the 2017 narrative can't be painted directly onto Life without Buildings, but Any Other City sure sounds like the soundtrack of the Northern Hemisphere's Fall to me.


Song of the year

What a meaningless category... so let me add some meaning.

I've disqualified songs off any album that appeared in my top ten, as those folks have already got some glory.

I'm looking for black sheep. The sort of song you anthropomorphise, giving it a heart and mind that may be nothing like the organs of those that went into making it.

The songs that sound like they wrote themselves.

Earworms, in many respects. Songs where the artist's inner editor / better judgement might have killed it in utero.


In previous years I've tended to key in on catchy songs with nonsense syllables (eg You Won't 'Ya Ya Ya'; BRONCHO 'Class Historian'), rather than the subversive piano ballad that is clearly brilliant but my preschoolers will throw food at me if I slip it into a playlist (eg 'Horizon' by Aldous Harding).

The contenders:
  • Cumberland Gap - David Rawlings
  • Whitewash - Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires
  • Baby Please - Actual Wolf
  • Total Entertainment Forever - Father John Misty
  • The Night David Bowie Died - Lily Hiatt
  • Sugar for the Pill - Slowdive (immediately disqualified because I think the whole album should have been in my top ten but it somehow slipped through the gaps of my totally watertight, totally scientific system)
  • Hell - Smidley
  • Girls on TV - Tashaki Miyaki
And the winner is... none of the above.

It's

.

.

.


'Only Grey' - Cool Ghouls

It doesn't even need nonsense syllables to be the catchiest song of 2017. It's all hooks. The riff, the tambourine I imagine is stomped on by foot, the repeated half-lines where the band chimes in on vocals.

They sound as if The Troggs have stumble into Electric Ladyland while Hendrix is there, though Jimi is too spaced to get up off the couch, so they start mucking around, leaving the catchiest answering phone message in the history of telecommunications.

And I think it's about something. Like: the lyrics seem to cohere.

Not that my son cares. He just pokes his tongue out when the song starts, pumps his knees and does the butter churn with two hands.

So that's two votes at least. Motion passed. 'Only Grey' is the SONG OF THE YEAR.


Disappointments

If you said to me on New Years Eve that 2017 would see new albums from The National, Cold War Kids, Big Thief, The New Pornographers, Destroyer, Father John Misty, Queens of the Stone Age, The Horrors, TORRES, Fleet Foxes, The War on Drugs, LCD Soundsystem, Waxahatchee... and a supergroup featuring the lead singers of Frank Ferdinand, Midlake (!), Band of Horses (meh), Travis (um) and Grandaddy (!) (BNQT), and none of those albums would compete for a top ten spot, my reactions would be:

i) For real?

ii) I guess that means it was a good year in music, then, right?

iii) But, or real?

To call any of the albums I listed above disappointments is probably harsh (I listened to them all multiple times), but when I see some of them popping up in end of year lists (yeah, I've started perusing), I'm like, 'Have you even heard of Lost Horizons?!'


Departed heroes

All through 2016 people kept talking about the number of legends that were passing (Bowie, Prince, um, George Michael...). None meant more to me, or hit me as hard, as Bowie, right back in January. In second place was the news that Gord Downie, frontman of the Tragically Hip, had terminal cancer. But he made it through 2016 and was still knocking around when Chris Cornell took his own life in May.

I wrote about Chris and Microsoft Encarta and whatever vibrations left my fingertips the day I heard the news (the day before I flew to Italy for a fortnight).

On that day I said there where only three musicians who meant enough to me "that I'd push everything else aside and write about them": Dave Wyndorf, Gord Downie, Chris Cornell.

(Wyndorf nearly died of an overdose eleven years ago, but it seems he's part cockroach, in addition to being part space lord).

And then Gord finally passed away in October and his final solo (double) album dropped less that two weeks later. I mentioned a few times that I was thinking about writing something, or actively working on it, but the truth is I didn't know what 'it' was. There wasn't that same 'to hell with it' feeling as on the day Cornell died. Downie had been on borrowed time. It wasn't a surprise. And to have the album on its way, it seemed premature to write anything. And then I listened to the album, liked it, perhaps more than any of his other solo albums. Maybe I even loved it. 'Bedtime' still breaks me in three (frustrated father, loving father, sentient being).

But life marched on. And I never let myself properly process what it means to have loved an artist like I loved Gord in all his guises, and to have lost him, with only the scantest of personal connections.

And I still haven't processed what it means or what I feel.

And until I sit down to write something -- something other than a flippant blogpost about a year in music -- I won't really know.

Monday, December 18, 2017

This Fluid Thrill End of Year Awards: Top Albums of 2017

Newcomers: here are my lists from 2016201520142013 & 2012.

And there's a playlist of one song from each of my top ten albums from this year at the bottom of the post if you want to listen while you read... and aren't worried about spoilers.

---

It took me until the last day of February 2017 to wrap the best albums of 2016.

And yet here I am, midway through December ready to put a bow on this strange old year we've had.

Spotify tells me I listened to over 7,500 songs in 2017 and only skipped 116, which makes sense as I listen while I write and I've been writing full-time this year.

Screencap from my Spotify Wrapped, featuring Willy Nile
(The only other time I use Spotify is for impromptu dance parties with my kids (Lia is 5 later this week and Caio is 2), so my top tracks include most of the Moana soundtrack, 'Shake it off' and 'Can't Stop the Feeling').

My process this year has been more organised than in the past, but is still haphazard. I chuck stuff I want to listen to in my 'Working' playlist. If I like a track, I put it in my monthly playlist, which I include in my consumption diaries on this blog. If I like the whole album (and it came out this year), I put it into my best albums of 2017 playlist.

At the start of this month I went back and listened to everything in the best albums playlist, and rated them all.

In the end 32 albums were in the running for my top ten. I haven't gone through all the reputable top ten lists, so I may have missed something great and will kick myself next week, but I'm staying true to the process.

So here, in some kind of order, are my top ten albums from 2017:


10) The Big Moon - Love in the 4th Dimension


Maybe there was some recency bias (I only came across this album in November), but this album won the tussle with a bunch of solo - or soloish - dudes (Stephen Steinbrink, Lee Bains III, Gord Downie, Mathew Logan Vasquez, A. Savage) for tenth spot.

I mean, Downie would waltz into top spot on sentiment alone, but it was a double album, and it seems I will not even allow impending death as an excuse for insufficient editing.

But enough about the guys (sheesh).

My first impression of Big Moon was they sound like Du Blonde (a fave from 2015... Message to Beth Jeans Houghton: more music, please), but this is a an all-female rock group from London, who happen to also play on the album in at #9.

Their lyrics maybe lack the bite of Du Blonde or *spoiler alert* Marika Hackman, but I can't stop spinning Love in the 4th Dimension.

Check them out!


9) Marika Hackman - I'm not your man



Another recent discovery. The opener, 'Boyfriend', is so great, the rest of the album can't help feel like the tail of the comet.

I mean, just listen:
You came to me for entropy and I gave you all I had
He makes a better man than me
So I know he won't feel bad 
It's fine 'cause I am just a girl
"It doesn't count"
He knows a woman needs a man to make her shout
And compared to her earlier, folky output, I'm not your man is like it's own big bang. Hackman goes electric! And acerbic.

To all the part-time readers who thought the short story 'Cat Person' was great, and all those who said it was terrible, I think you can both agree this album is better.

(What did I think of 'Cat Person'? I liked it. Parts of it felt brave. Parts felt fresh. The end was a little obvious. But it hit its mark. People are talking. Go the short story! ... Actually, the most troubling thing has been the amount of times in subsequent coverage it has been called an article or an essay. FFS!)


8) King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana



2017 may well be remembered more for KGatLG's outlandish ambition and quantitative output rather than its quality.

This album is the best of the four. A rock version of UMO's Multi-Love.

And I'm a sucker from the microtonal guitar. Obviously.

While I'm on strange tunings/instruments and Aussie musicians, the 2016 album I took to long to discover and thus omitted from that year's list: Xylouris White - Black Peak.


It would probably slot in at #2 on the 2016 list. So great.


7) Arboretum - Song of the Rose



A new discovery for me this year. Their back catalogue is tight, but this year's album is their best to date.

How to describe their sound? A bit like pre-2017 Strand of Oaks - slow and apparently simple - but somehow more epic and RAWK. Like Rooks-era Shearwater. Like Low. Like a lot of the best bits of a lot of great bands.

The sort of music you should listen to while reading Icelandic sagas.

Folk-metal? Oh, I don't know.

I just love it.


6) Nadia Reid - Preservation


How fucking assured does she sound on this album? How great is she with a band behind her? Both on record and live!

2017 was the year Aldous and Nadia's paths well and truly forked musically, both for the better, and both are enjoying incredible success.

I loved Harding's track 'Horizon', but Preservation is the better, more consistent album. My second-favourite New Zealand album of 2017, in fact.


5) Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent


I liked 2015's The Agent Intellect but kinda forgot Protomartyr even existed until Relatives in Descent dropped.

There's something in Joe Casey's low, growly-but-not-screamy voice that just gets to me, in a good way.

It's like, how could Post-Punk be cool? Well, here's how: take the heavy bits of Nick Cave and the soft bits of Swans and Fucked Up. And there's something about the imagery and doomish sound that  makes me think of it all as some elaborate charade, like the Misfits (another band whose vocals get to me) and their horror schitck.

And this sense of being on the edge of my seat, of being on the look-out for reasons to disavow this band or flip out even further, makes listening to them compelling.


 4) Lost Horizons - Ojala




Another November release, but I'm confident there's no recency bias unduly bouying its placement. In fact, I think this could be two or three spots higher when all is said and done.

The one problem with this album, the first fruits from a collaboration between Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) and Richard Thomas (Jesus and Mary Chain), is that it's so strong and varied across its 15 tracks, and the host of guest vocalists so impressive (Tim Smith from Midlake, Ghostpoet, Marissa Nadler... read this for the full list), that it feels like a really great mixtape rather than a traditional album.

But, I mean, what is an album anyway, when you listen to all your music as one giant Spotify playlist or incidental music when tending a barbeque? 

Don't answer that.

Just... next time you're at a lost for what to throw on when you want to defeat the silence (or the sound of your neighbours bickering), spin this album. Spin it and thank me later.


3) TW Walsh - Terrible Freedom

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This might be my 2017 version of St Lenox. As in: music that probably spent most of its gestation in one man's bedroom; and over top of this laptop's worth of beats and blips: just the greatest lyrics.

But whereas St Lenox goes for an abrasive distortion of Adam Levine's vocal stylings, TW Walsh's singing is laid back and inoffensive, which tends to obscure the content of his words until you stop and LISTEN.

Take the opener and strongest track, 'My Generation', which reworks Snoop Dogg lyrics in a series of lines that connect the first and second verses, in what is otherwise a soft-spoken, walking-beat rocker. I didn't pick it up on this on my first or fifth listen, but I still loved the song. And when I finally did notice, it unlocked this whole John Grant / Father John Misty vibe.


2) Lorde - Melodrama


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I thought it would be good. The kind of pop album a 34-year-old might appreciate without being compelled to listen to it again. But crap. There's some really interesting, challenging stuff happening here, while also banging when it's supposed to bang and breaking your heart when its phasers are set to 'shatter'. 

The ability to take weirdness and make it relatable is her superpower. 'Liability', 'Green Light', 'The Lourve', 'Writer in the Dark'... all might be my favourite song from the album (or even the year) depending on my mood. You can read whatever you want into the fact I've chosen 'Liability' for the playlist at the bottom.

Ms Yelich-O'Connor (and probably the fact I've got a daughter who now has opinions about music) has helped usher this old fogey into a new appreciation of contemporary pop music.

And I fully expect (and trust) her to take me somewhere completely different on album number three. 

Howeverlong that takes, it'll be worth the wait.


1) Ryan Adams - Prisoner


This is one I could have buried around number eight, or dismissed along with the other guys on the cusp, because there's so much about Ryan Adams in 2017 that isn't cool. The fact he's being doing this thing so consistently for so long, with only slight variations. 

The fact I've never considered any of his previous albums as anything more than fine. Certainly not Top-Ten-worthy.

And then to go and release a single like 'Do You Still Love Me Babe', which sounds (sonically, if not lyrically) like something that might have been played at the inauguration of the first George Bush.

And for it to be a break-up album. And for that break-up to have been with a pop star-actress ten years his junior. 

How could it be worth your time, your attention and ultimately the vulnerability needed to truly get a break-up album?

Well...

Clearly, it is worth it. 

Clearly, it worked its magic on me.

'Do You Still Love Me Babe' has its heartfelt arena rock cake and eats it too. 'Prisoner', 'Shiver and Shake', 'Breakdown'... why am I listing songs? They're all perfect. Probably too perfect.

I listened to Prisoner a lot this year while writing my novel which isn't about heartbreak at all. 


And then I listened to Prisoner B-Sides a lot when that came out. And I loved songs like 'Where Will You Run', and 'Hanging onto Hope' and 'You Said' and 'Too Tired To Cry', which are rougher and in their roughness I was reminded of what lay behind this whole project.

If given all 29 tracks from Prisoner and the B-sides album, my final twelve would have been different, but I'm eternally grateful this wasn't released as a double album. Adams edited, and refined, and released a concise (and possibly overpolished) statement, and allowed it to be supported by the release, some time later, of other products of the breakup. Because wouldn't it be strange, for such a prolific songwriter, only to produce 12 songs from the end of his marriage?

Without the B-sides album, Ryan Adams wouldn't have been my most listened to artist on Spotify in 2017. Without the B-sides album, Prisoner wouldn't have been my number one. But it's existence, and perhaps more importantly its separation, was enough to convince me.