Favourite Music of 2017

I write only very sparingly about music, mostly because I believe it’s an even more subjective medium than film to some extent. However, there was a lot of music I loved in 2017 and my listening time is the highest it’s been in five years, so I wanted to take this opportunity to share eleven songs from the last year which I have adored.

I’ve arranged them in a vague order, with my most loved at the top. I am very open when it comes to music. I tend to listen to alternative and indie musicians the most, along with an assortment of electronic music (mostly electropop and synthpop) and post-rock. It would be easier to list the genres I don’t listen to, of which there are very little. This list is by no means as diverse as my library, but I hope it’s still a reasonably eclectic selection.


Goodbye by 2NE1 (YouTube)134

Kicking off this list is the final song from South Korean band 2NE1, released as a farewell before they disbanded early last year. I don’t have much history with 2NE1, and listen to them only occasionally, but when Goodbye appeared on the YouTube trending page last January, it grabbed a hold of me and still hasn’t quite let go.

Although the song is more an adieu from the band members to each other, it captured me at a very vulnerable moment, and I found a deep affinity with the lyrics, which are delivered soul-stirringly by CL, Park Bom, and Dara. You don’t need to understand Korean to feel the anguish and heartache, and the instrumentals — stripped down in comparison to their pop songs — are just as evocative and bittersweet.

It’s also this song I must credit to introducing me more formally to the Korean music scene. I had listened to a couple of Korean musicians here and there, but a wealth of sounds were awaiting me after 2NE1. Today, I am slightly obsessed with Mamamoo, and really love how prominent rap and hip hop are in South Korea.

Favourite Verse
When today is over
It feels like tomorrow will be different
Will my life be okay without you?
Until the day we meet again
Goodbye, goodbye


Carry Me to Safety by Mew (YouTube)135

I feel as though many of us have that one band or singer we like to keep secret. They’re too precious and important to share, and the feelings they illicit must be my feelings alone. For me, that band is Mew — a three piece from Denmark. I have yet to formally meet another person who listens to them, and greedily keep them all to myself.

Once, on my way home from a Sigur Rós concert, I found myself walking behind somebody carrying a tote bag with words from Mew’s No More Stories… album. I remember freaking out internally. I should have reached out and bonded with them over this alluring band, talked about how we were on the same wavelength, and then become good friends for the rest of our days, but life isn’t a movie and sadly I didn’t say anything.

Mew’s recent album Visuals is certainly very distinct, as all of their work is. In ways, they have an unmistakable sound (largely due to the vocals from Jonas Bjerre, who has a voice as haunting and beautiful as Jónsi), but at the same time they experiment and adjust. Carry Me to Safety is unlike anything I have heard from them previously, but is completely enrapturing. At first glance their lyrics appear rather cryptic and difficult to decipher, but are somehow tremendously moving and alluring — almost transcending.

Favourite Verse
A life to live as me
A moment that feels free
Like two big colliders
Singing out their days
You smile as if to say
Now our story’s over


Love by Lana Del Rey (YouTube)136

These days, when people ask me what music I’m into, I answer: “Lana Del Rey.” Before everything, there is Lana. My history with Lana Del Rey dates back to the release of Born to Die in 2012, and the subsequent mass-playing of Video Games. I adored Born to Die, and find that every Lana album since has been a grower.

I wasn’t too sure about Ultraviolence when it released, but would probably list it as my favourite Lana album today. I wasn’t too sure about Honeymoon, either. Sure enough, it grew on me. Same story with Lust for Life. When it comes to Lana, the initial singles never seem to grab me as much as the full album. I can’t just listen to a couple of tracks — I need the spellbinding experience of a Lana soundscape to finally envelope me.

It’s always tough to pick a stand-out track from Lana, and this year I have adored Lust for Life (ft. The Weeknd), Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind, White Mustang, Heroin, and Beautiful People Beautiful Problems (ft. Stevie Nicks), but must spotlight Love in the end, for the enchanting vocals and beautiful lyricism. It’s pure, unadulterated Lana.

Favourite Verse
Look at you kids with your vintage music
Comin’ through satellites while cruisin’
You’re part of the past, but now you’re the future
Signals crossing can get confusing


Burn it Down by Daughter (YouTube)137

I have been a fan of Daughter ever since their early EPs, and saw them live in January 2013 before their first album had released. The venue was a church and I sat up in the gallery. It was a lovely, intimate performance, and was in fact the first live music I had seen in a couple of years. I felt as though I had been missing out on so much.

I got to meet the lead singer Elena afterwards, and still have my signed ticket. She was super nice, and I got a picture with her, too. I won’t post it here because I look like a doofus. I’m so glad to be listening to them five years later, and they’re as wonderful as ever, with a more mature sound and an ever enthralling discography.

For me, the stand-out track from their new album Music from Before the Storm is Burn it Down. The album is, in fact, a collection of Daughter’s work from the soundtrack for the video game ‘Life is Strange,’ which I have heard of but am not familiar with. It’s probably one of my favourite albums of the year, and Burn it Down is such an atmospheric and plaintive piece, with incredibly wistful and stirring lyrics. Elena’s voice is to die for. I also absolutely relish the instrumental tracks Flaws and Witches.

Favourite Verse
Always said I was a good kid
Always said I had a way with words
Never knew I could be speechless
Don’t know how I’ll ever break this curse


Privilege by Stars (YouTube)143

I adore Stars. Similar to Mew, they’re a band that I tend to keep to myself. I feel as though I’ve stumbled upon something magnificent, and must keep it sheltered. They’re a band whose music does have a sense of solitary listening to it. Some music plays really well in groups and with others, but for me, I like to listen to Stars when I’m alone.

I was introduced to them over a decade ago, through their song Personal. It’s a subdued and quietly stirring piece, and they’re one of only very few bands I listen to which have more than one primary vocalist. The voices of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan work so tremendously well together — they’re invariably enchanting.

Privilege features vocals primarily from Amy, and is the opening track on their new album There is No Love in Fluorescent Light. The album itself is stunning, and Privilege is such a ravishing piece. Stars always seem to know how to steal the listener away in an instance. My favourite new track featuring Torquil on vocals is probably Losing to You or The Maze. This release absolutely solidifies Stars as one of my all-time favourite bands.

Favourite Verse
Pulling down the blinds on sun’s tomorrow
A fist through the wall for what you can’t swallow
Babies in the crib take care and breathing
You count up all your luck, can’t stop the feeling


This Ole King by Why? (YouTube)138

I wonder how many people discovered Why? by typing ‘Why?’ into Google in a moment of exasperation. I know I did. For a long time I only listened to their songs Fall Saddles and These Few Presidents, but I finally dived into the rest of their discography last year, and now I adore their first two albums; Elephant Eyelash and Alopecia.

I have a couple of favouites from Moh Lhean, the bands newest collection. The album released in March last year, with This Ole King acting as the lead single. The song debuted a couple of months prior to the album in December 2016, but I am going to cheat and include it anyway.

Why? are an American alternative hip-hop band, and possess a very distinct sound in terms of both their music and vocals. Yoni Wolf’s vocals are entrancing in their delivery and content, and This Ole King is at once familiar and fresh. I had it on repeat for weeks.

Favourite Verse
All my desire
To what I aspire
When I expire
Down dirtward all my hunger
In fire burn my anger
And collapse my stature


Amnesia by Doc Brown (YouTube)139

I was introduced to Doc Drown around Spring last year. I had a job interview at a school, and managed hitch a ride back into town on a minibus with about fifteen Chinese students. The driver had one of the BBC radio stations on, which was broadcasting an interview with Ben Bailey Smith, who uses Doc Brown as a stage name.

He’s an actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and a rapper, who had recently returned to music. I remember his interview more than the song they played — Ben came across as a very genuine and deeply interesting person, so I looked him up when I returned home.

Amnesia is from Doc Brown’s new album Stemma, and is one of a couple of songs from last year that instantly grabbed me. It’s a very memorable piece and an instance where the vocals and backing track compliment each other so well. I also really love Corruptible from the same album, and his earlier release Decisions, Decisions.

Favourite Verse
Ground control to Major Tom
You got some nice ideas
You’re just saying them wrong


In Cold Blood by alt-J (YouTube)140

One of my all-time favourite songs is Taro by alt-J — a stunning and extraordinarily beautiful piece which I would recommend to almost anybody. Their debut album An Awesome Wave, on which Taro resides, is an almost impeccable collection of alluring indie sounds, with many stand-out tracks.

I didn’t get into their follow-up album This is All Yours too much, but really enjoyed a lot of the new music from their latest album Relaxer, which released in June 2017. Nothing comes quite close to Taro, but Relaxer proved to be an eclectic and alluring collection.

My favourite track was In Cold Blood, which was unveiled as the second single. It’s a multifarious song with an almost erratic sound, that opens (rather bizarrely) with binary. I really love the delivery, though. Especially the moment the first verse kicks in, along with vocalist Joe Newman’s striking and addictive “lala-lala-laalaa.”

Favourite Verse
Hair the way the sun really wants it to be
Whiskey soda, please, your G&T is empty
Chairs, inflatables have sunk to the bottom
Pool, summer, summer, pool, pool summer
Kiss me


Heaven by PVRIS (YouTube)141

PVRIS have been on my radar for a long time, but I never quite gave them the time of day, and constantly passed them over in favour of similar acts. It would seem that 2017 was certainly their year, however. Their sophomore release All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell reached as high as number four on the UK Albums Chart.

They’re a rock band with elements of synthpop, with very wistful vocals from singer Lynn Gunn. I tend to listen to female vocalists the most, and Lynn certainly has a very commanding and haunting voice, with a sort of soothing and melodic intensity.

From their new album, I really loved Half and Heaven, but it’s Heaven that gripped me the most. It’s a compelling piece with beautiful composition, opening with paced piano notes, before introducing beats, building a rhythm, and then blasting into the chorus.

Favourite Verse
Do you ever wonder
Who took the light from our life?
The life from our eyes?
All we did was suffer
Why couldn’t we just say
You took my heaven away


Wonderland by Jasmine Thompson (YouTube)142

Jasmine Thompson’s career began at a very young age when she uploaded videos of herself singing onto YouTube. She shares some similarities to Birdy in that she’s a solo female vocalist who gained prominence primarily through covering songs, but has such a mesmerising voice that many of her covers are arguably better than the original tracks.

Her initial two albums are collections of her covers, but she has since moved towards releasing original music. I loved her Adore EP in 2015, and still listen to both the original Adore track and the acoustic version very frequently. She returned with another EP last year, which was titled Wonderland EP.

The title track Wonderland seems to me a homage to youth. It’s only a short track, coming in at three minutes, but portrays such a wondrous degree of emotion and wistful beauty — it sounds forlorn yet euphoric and ecstatic. It’s a rhapsody of sorts, and I love it. Jasmine released this at the age of sixteen, but it contains all the maturity and profundity of a seasoned vocalist. I’m always extremely excited for her new music.

Favourite Verse
Wasted youth in wonderland
Can’t help it
We fall in love with all our messed up friends
We’re so sad with our happy lives
We need each other
‘Cause we’re kids on the inside


Sober II (Melodrama) by Lorde (YouTube)144

I remember listening to Lorde in early 2013, when she was still a little known artist with two EPs. Crazy to think only a few years later, she’s being referred to as the “future of music” by David Bowie, and has two massively acclaimed albums. It’s all very deserved, though. Similar to Jasmine Thompson, Lorde is still young but has immense talent and an expert discography.

I loved Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine — it contained all the best elements of her earlier music, and featured many stand-out pieces. Her second album Melodrama was released in June last year, and featured on many year end lists. For me, I still prefer Pure Heroine, but Melodrama was nonetheless an impressive follow-up.

The most prominent track for me was the namesake, Sober II (Melodrama). It features everything I expected and more, opening with a dramatic string section befitting of the title, before introducing some menacing trap elements. The song itself acts as an interlude, but is the absolute stand-out for me.

Favourite Verse
And the terror and the horror
God, I wonder why we bother
All the glamour and the trauma
And the fuckin’ melodrama


With that, this is the end. There is so much more music which I loved and listened to last year, but the songs above are my most favourite pieces. If you want to check out more of what I listen to and enjoy, then please feel free to swing by my last.fm page. In terms of albums, there were two stand-out releases for me in 2017. The first is Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life, and the second is Daughter’s Music from Before the Storm. I’m sure 2018 has many enthralling pieces in store — maybe I’ll see you again in a year. Adieu, thank you.

Favourites of 2015 – TV, Video Games and Music

Here we are, another year gone by. Getting older. Self-lacing shoes never happened. This year I learned that modern humans are in fact two-hundred-thousand years old.

Anyway…

End-of-year favourites rundown! This time around, I find myself in the odd position of actually being well informed enough to write about television and video games, so I thought why not! Let’s throw in music, too. Everybody loves a good summary!

On the whole, I believe 2015 has been a fairly impressive year for television and video games. There have been some truly wonderful releases, with many more on the horizon and while music is more constant—it’s hard to pin down a golden year—and not something I’m always clued up on, there have been an abundance of critically acclaimed albums, singles and soundtracks to have graced the charts. Here are some of my favourite television shows, video games and music of 2015!


Television

I have been really into television this year, which seems to be at an all-time high with some truly stunning productions coming out. For once, I’ve been able to keep up with many of the critically acclaimed shows, though I have missed a couple such as Jessica Jones and Fargo. However, my favourite this year is actually one of the lesser know TV shows, at least outside of the UK.

It is This is England ’90.

I was ready to give this year to Mr. Robot. House of Cards‘ third season was a bit of a let-down, as was Game of Thrones up until the last couple of episodes and although the internet was raving about Daredevil, ultimately I found it rather mediocre. I adored Mr. Robot, though. Rami Malek was enthralling as troubled hacker Elliot Alderson and the writing rarely faltered — I adored Elliot’s monologues. The cinematography was also impressive, with the title sequences always unique and something to anticipate. Mr. Robot was tense, exciting and memorable and I can’t wait until the second series. Best TV show of the year, I thought.

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The first episode of This is England ’90 (the third and last in the series) was broadcast just under two weeks after the finale of Mr. Robot. It was wonderful to be back in the company of Woody, Lol, Shaun and the gang. Set two years after the previous season, the first episode was a rekindling—here’s the gang, this is where they’re at—but the subsequent three episodes delivered on the trademark hard-hitting drama. I was loving the new series from the first five minutes, but it became my favourite of the year following the third episode.

The dinner scene in episode three is quite possibly one of the finest sequences in televison history, at least to me. I’ve followed This is England since its inception in 2006 and with every new series I am left entirely shell-shocked. Not only because the drama is utterly heart-wrenching, but because the actor’s completely embody their characters. I don’t see Joe Gilgun and Vicky McClure, I see Woody and Lol. Never in anything have I been so invested in and utterly enamored with the characters — the emotions feel so raw and unfiltered, which is why the drama is completely affecting and every wrong move the characters make feels so disheartening. The dinner scene—which was filmed all in one take—left me breathless for that very reason. The emotion and drama—the pain of these characters—everything came across as so honest and real.  The talent on display was phenomenal and it was soul-destroying to watch characters you’re so invested in fall apart.

And to think there was another hard-hitting, tear-jerking, heart-rending episode still to come. You know you’ve connected with your audience when they feel like a lie down and a sob after every episode. Hats off to you, Shane Meadows. This is England is very special.


Music

I typed ‘2015 albums’ into Google and it gave me a list of the fifty most frequently mentioned albums on the web. I’ve listened to one of them. I guess I haven’t been too clued up in regards to music this year, but I still think there have been some gems.

First and foremost, I love Lana Del Rey and—naturally—I love her third album Honeymoon, which was released back in September. It’s certainly one of my favourites of the year, with my favourite track being Art Deco — the instrumentals are dark and beautiful, Lana’s voice is celestial and the throw-back to Born to Die is just perfect. However, while Lana is probably my favourite singer right now and I haven’t been so in to an artist since Sigur Rós a couple of years ago, I don’t rate Honeymoon as highly as Ultraviolence and it isn’t my absolute favourite of the year.

That honor goes to Allie X’s CollXtion I.

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Allie X has been on the scene for a while, but she grew massively in popularity last year following the release of her song Catch. This year she released her first EP and I can’t get enough of it. CollXtion I includes the best selection of synthpop since Chvrches’ first album. The stand-out tracks to me are Catch, Prime and Bitch, but my favourite has to be Good, which is one of her newest additions.

Allie said in an interview that the song was about a small flicker of hope—a desire to be good—after the focus of the song had self-exiled themselves from their life and everyone they loved. I adore the lyrics and Allie’s vocals — the first and second verses send shivers down my spine.

Interestingly, she cites Haruki Murakami as an influence, who I am a huge fan of. I was able to catch Allie on social media and asked what her favourite Murakami novel was, to which she responded 1Q84. I can definitely see a bit of Murakami not only in her music, but also in the singer herself, who is a little bit like an enigmatic Murakami character. She’s coming to the UK next year, so I’m definitely going to see her live.

But what else did I like besides CollXtion I and Honeymoon? Well, I loved No Romeo by Indiana, Ludovico Einaudi’s Elements, Dark Sky Island by Enya (worth the wait) and I enjoyed Every Open Eye by Chvrches, but following The Bones of What You Believe, I was also a little disappointed (mainly by the lack of Tether-like tracks). I’ve also fallen back in love with Radical Face following the release of The Bastards: Volume 4. I should’ve never stopped.


Video Games

I was really into video games when I was younger, but from 2010-ish until late 2014, I just didn’t really care all that much. Then, in November 2014, when—all of a sudden—Black Friday became a thing in the United Kingdom, my girlfriend suggested buying a PS4 on a whim. From then on, I played video games again.

Grand Theft Auto Online was my main go-to game for a while, with sprinkles of LittleBigPlanet 3 and Minecraft in-between, but it finally went back into its case this year as my video game catalogue grew.

April was all about The Elder Scrolls Online, which was only my second MMORPG following Rift. The following month I dedicated myself to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and then I got madly into Rocket League. I also began playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare — a game I had owned since launch in 2014 but never gave the time of day. I found it surprisingly fun, but also slightly frustrating at times. After that came Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront, the latter of which was fun in short bursts, but the flaws grew evermore apparent the longer I played.

Of all the games I experienced this year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is certainly the most polished and well-crafted. Despite having played my fair share of action-adventure RPGs, the world of The Witcher is unlike anything I have experienced before. The game is so incredibly immersive and rich in detail that it’s awe-inspiring.

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The main storyline is tremendously enveloping and exceptionally well-written (it is based on a series of novels), but even the side-stories are a cut above the rest. I felt they were so good, in fact, I found it hard to move on with the main quests and head to the next area without finishing even the smallest of tasks, which ultimately left me incredibly over-leveled (d’oh). What’s more, the NPCs weren’t just husks, they felt like actual inhabitants of a functioning world; it made the game all the more captivating. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a game you can truly lose yourself in and I love that.

Is it my favourite video game of the year, though? Well, it’s one of them. The other is Fallout 4. While not as polished nor as beautiful as The Witcher 3, Fallout 4 is just bundles of fun. It’s a game I can lose myself in for hours, but also one I can pop onto for a brief moment and have a ton of fun killing some Super Mutants. The storyline isn’t up to The Witcher standards and the NPCs can be incredibly half-witted at times (there’s also a lot of repetition in the quests), but due to the superbly realised world, I find it just as immersive as The Witcher and I love the level of customisation in terms of character creation, items and settlements. I believe The Witcher 3 is ultimately the better game, but Fallout 4 has potentially more longevity thanks to the inclusion of mods. Either way, I love them both.


There we have it. Though our favourites most likely differ, I hope that was as engrossing to read as it was to write. Please stick around for my favourite movies of 2015 in a week or two and let me know what your favourites are! Is there anything I’ve missed? Should I hurry up and watch Fargo already? Regardless, thanks for stopping by!

2015 Oscar Snubs

Nominations for the 87th Annual Academy Awards are out and—as is usually the case this time of the year—everybody is rife with frustration and confusion over many well-deserving talents and films being snubbed for contention of the prestigious award. Here are my top Oscar snubs this year.


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The Lego Movie
Snubbed of: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Perhaps the biggest upset going by social media. The Lego Movie was one of the front-runners for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year and so widespread among speculation; to see it omitted is an utter travesty. Variety have compiled a list of why they believe it was snubbed, but at least it was recognised by the Golden Globes and at the BAFTAs.


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Lana Del Rey
Snubbed of: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

There are numerous options for what is a fairly open race for Best Original Song this year, but Lana Del Rey’s ‘Big Eyes’ was—what I and apparently many others believed to be—one of the safer bets. But at least Lana—who has wanted to break into the movie industry for some time—garnered her first Golden Globe nomination. It’s a shame to see her snubbed, but with Young and Beautiful, Once Upon a Dream and now both Big Eyes and Come Fly With Me already under her belt, I’m sure Lana’s time will come.


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Jake Gyllenhaal
Snubbed of: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Personally, my most shocking snub. Jake Gyllenhaal was a sure bet for Best Actor in a Leading Role, at least until now. Bradley Cooper has arguably taken his place in quite an upset, considering—unlike Gyllenhaal—Cooper wasn’t nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA or Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance. Perhaps Gyllenhaal will acquire his second nomination for Southpaw next year; the man is a powerhouse of an actor who completely commits himself to his work. A complete farce he wasn’t recognised by the Academy this year.


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Gone Girl
Snubbed of: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Many speculators considered Gone Girl as one of the front-runners for Best Adapted Screenplay; this snub comes as a huge surprise, especially considering Whiplash is up for the award when it isn’t even an adapted screenplay (it was conceived as an original screenplay and was then made as a short film before the director got funding for the feature-length version — the BAFTAs got it right; they nominated it for Best Original Screenplay). It doesn’t end there, however. Gone Girl has received only a single nomination (Best Actress in a Leading Role — much deserved for Rosamund Pike), but is such a superb piece of film-making that it’s shocking to see it absent from other categories, such as Best Achievement in Directing and Best Original Score. The cinematography was stunning, too. It wouldn’t even be out of place in the Best Picture category.


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Nightcrawler
Snubbed of: Best Motion Picture of the Year

If Jake Gyllenhaal’s snub wasn’t enough, Nightcrawler is another film with just a single nomination (Best Original Screenplay). Many considered Nightcrawler a fairly certain contender for Best Picture, but it’s sadly absent. At least the film garnered four BAFTA nominations, but to my surprise, the starkly beautiful, dead of the night cinematography has gone by unnoticed on the awards circuit. Was there anyone else who adored the aesthetics of Nightcrawler?


Those are my shocking absentees for this year, but it isn’t all bad. I’m glad to see Eddie Redmayne up for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Rosamund Pike up for Best Actress. It’s also nice to see Whiplash nominated for Best Picture and fantastic that Jóhann Jóhannsson looks set to dominate the Best Original Score category. The Academy Awards will take place on February 22nd — I wonder if there will be any more shockers then. Do you have any snubs you’re particularly miffed about? Let me know!