Sunday, 31 December 2017

The best and worst films of 2017

It's that time of the year again - a time when critics dig through their pile of reviews and compile a best 'of' list. So let's do it.

Firstly though I just want to point out I've been somewhat limited in what I've been able to watch this year, so forgive me if I haven't seen your fave. And release dates are based on Australian release dates.

Dig in.

1. La La Land 

Saw this again recently with a live orchestra performing the Oscar-winning score and it confirmed everything I first thought. Every piece of this film is top notch - the direction, the performances, the script, the editing, the lighting, the music, the choreography, the production design, the costuming. This is film-making at its finest, in this year or any other.

2. Get Out

We will be talking about this film for decades to come. From now on, when they write lists of the best horror films of all time, Get Out will be on those lists.

3. Coco

Just when I thought Pixar were getting predictable or safe in their old age, they drop this incredibly inventive and beautiful tale of family, death, memory, love, music and life.

Probably the most enjoyable and most exhilarating ride of the year, with Edgar Wright creating a touchstone for the next wave of writers/directors/editors to pore over.

Timely and engrossing remembrance of an important moment in sport, delivered with a light touch and featuring great performances from Emma Stone and Steve Carrell.

Far better than it had any right to be, this belated sequel not only looked amazing and captured the tone of its predecessor perfectly, but made itself feel necessary - no small feat.

Some superhero movies are taking interesting tacks as a way to differentiate themselves from the pack, with Jackman and Mangold's farewell to Wolverine proving to be the best of this year's bunch by being meaner and more mortal than all the others.

Casey Affleck's devastating performance dominates this gut-punching essay on grief. Much like its subject matter, this film lingers with you long after it's finished.

Didn't read the book, didn't see the mini-series. All I can tell you is yes, It is scary, It is good, and It is a great coming of age story.

The best Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back because it's surprising, fresh, enjoyable, daring, and yet still intrinsically Star Wars - just like The Empire Strikes Back.  

The DC Extended Universe finally gets one right and we finally get a kickarse female-focused superhero movie. More please.

The funniest film of the year, and it just happened to be about a Norse god and his rage-monster sidekick getting lost in space. Marvel again hits it out of the park, and Taika Waititi is king.

In which Tom Holland is officially crowned the best Spider-man ever, and the Marvel juggernaut rolls on unabated thanks to this coming-of-age superhero saga.

The most under-rated trilogy of all time comes to a thrilling conclusion. Give Andy Serkis a damn Oscar already.

A sequel as charming, quirky, delightful, hilarious, fun, family-friendly and quintessentially British as the remarkable original.

Christopher Nolan is back in form with this enthralling and innovative examination of the evacuation of Dunkirk. It's the cinematic equivalent of the British stiff upper lip.

The incredible true story of Saroo Brierley is brought to life beautifully, with a stunning cast and a tightly wound script to bring to life the seemingly impossible. The ending will wreck you. 

This redneck Ocean's Eleven is a hoot - the kind of film you imagine everyone had a ball making. Welcome back, Steven Soderbergh.

This remarkable true story of the women who overcame the gender glass ceiling and the racial prejudices of their era to help humanity get to the moon is glossily told but mixes its dramatic points and big themes with a breezy enjoyable tone. 

The best rom-com of the year. Utterly refreshing, consistently hilarious, and weirdly romantic, with bonus points for being based on an almost unbelievable true story.


1. Assassin's Creed

Can we give up on turning video games into movies now? If you can't make this incredible game work with this incredible cast, then obviously it was never meant to be.

This is what happens when you're too busy franchise building and forget to make a good film to kick things off. A forgettable and dumb pile of crap.

A great cast wasted on a film that can't get its tone right. Black comedy is really difficult and takes a knack that no one here can nail.

4. Fifty Shades Darker 

Forgive me, but I liked the original. However watching this was as painful as I imagine some of the sex acts in the film are.

5. Daddy's Home 2

A cast hasn't been this wasted since Cheech & Chong: Up In Smoke. Actually I could have made the same gag about Assassin's Creed and Rough Night. Wouldn't have been any funnier then. Speaking of unfunny, who's up for Daddy's Home 3?

And for no real reason here are my most read blogs of 2017:

Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Greatest Showman

(PG) ★★★

Director: Michael Gracey.

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Paul Sparks, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

The cast for the new X-Men movie was off the hook.

Ugh, sorry, had to get that out of the way early.

People are going to love this movie but that, however, does not make it necessarily a good movie. And that's kind of the beauty of this film - it's exactly the type of humbug proffered by its lead character, the self-proclaimed greatest showman himself, Phineas Taylor "P. T." Barnum.

Barnum, or at least the version showcased here by Hugh Jackman, sought only to entertain and cared not for the vagaries of art or truth. So in a sense this is the perfect Barnum biopic. It wants to dazzle and entertain, and it doesn't want to bother with a proper story, serious themes, character arcs or development, or any fidelity to history or Barnum's life.

(This last point is kind of moot because most biopics play fast and loose with the facts, but it's worth noting this one is particularly fast and loose - something Barnum would have been proud of).

The Greatest Showman does entertain. Its songs, despite them ALWAYS YELLING AT THE AUDIENCE and being all cut from the same piece of pop cloth, are catchy and well crafted. It's impeccably choreographed, charismatically directed, and the majority of the cast is great. When the music kicks in, so does the fun. It's such a shame there isn't some soul/meat/heart/depth to go with all the glitz and glam.

For what it's worth, the film tells the story of the rise and rise and fall and then rise again of P. T. Barnum - the man who single-handedly invented the freak show, made a living off hoaxes like the Feejee mermaid (which isn't in the film), and is perhaps erroneously attributed with the quote "there's a sucker born every minute". We see him meet his wife Charity (Williams), become a famed showman, and risk it all for renowned opera singer Jenny Lind (Ferguson).

But, as previously mentioned, there is a distinct lack of story in this biopic. Important elements in the first act are skated over or almost entirely ignored. Barnum's youth gets mere minutes, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if it wasn't so integral to his character's motivation. The death of his father (at least I presume that was his father) gets about four seconds. Meeting his future wife Charity is dealt with in about a minute, and then there's a big song. This is not Batman or Jesus - ie. it's not someone whose backstory we've seen many times over already. Most people are meeting this character for the first time, and as such, it's a pretty flimsy introduction. Songs are important, yes, but so is introducing a character.

In fact, there are a lot of key elements to this film that seem to be brushed aside to make way for the songs. Take all the songs out of this and you're left with less than an hour of movie, which, given that the songs don't flesh out much more than feelings we already know the characters are feeling, isn't enough for as potentially complex a story as this.

It's not that the songs are bad either. Each of them is aiming for chart-topping, show-stopping status, which is why the film always feels like it's yelling. Every song is a REALLY BIG super-produced piece of epic pop, with a huge chorus. As such they all feel exactly the same. Sure, one of them sounds a bit Mumford & Sons-ish and another is Adele-esque, but all of them feel like the same kind of minor-key stomper destined to be wheeled out by melismatic divas on music contest reality shows when they really want to bring the house down. There is no real variation. It's a bit like watching Eurovision but without the ironic sense of whimsy and hefty self-aware slice of cheese to go with it.

And while they all feel like the same type of song, there are still some standouts. This Is Me and Rewrite The Stars are the picks of the bunch and the two most likely to earworm their way into your brains for days after you walk out of the cinema.

It's because of these songs and the associated cool choreography that people will like The Greatest Showman. It's the Moulin Rouge of this decade, albeit a less heavily stylised version - ie. it's the musical everyone loved at the time, but that no one really cares about 15 years later.

Part of the reason it's difficult to totally dismiss The Greatest Showman is Hugh Jackman. He puts his all into this role, and it's a marvellous performance. In fact, there are few weak spots in the cast. Zac Efron is a match for Jackman, as is Michelle Williams, who brings her usual level of quality. Keala Settle is the film's big discovery, and Rebecca Ferguson is also good (although Loren Allred deserves particular credit as Ferguson's singing voice on her big number Never Enough).

As good as these performers are, they're not really given the characters they deserve, especially Settle. In fact, there's a whole cast of interesting people in Barnum's circus and we don't get to know any of them at all.

Similarly the film dips its toe into some big questions, but never properly swims with them. Was Barnum just exploiting these people or did he genuinely care? Did working with Barnum improve their lives? Was Barnum just a conman or was he really "the greatest showman"? And then there are also the questions of race and ability peppered throughout the narrative that are only dealt with on a superficial level.

There is definitely an interesting film or seven to be made about the life of P. T. Barnum but this isn't it. This is a glitzy pop musical that's vaguely entertaining and really well made. Gracey's direction is good, the performances are excellent, and the songs will be streamed by the truckload. But there is a distinct lack of story to go with the glitz and glamour.

The Greatest Showman is exactly the type of biopic P. T. Barnum would have made about himself - forget the art and don't let the truth get in the way of a good story, but make sure you leave 'em smiling in the aisles.

REWIND REVIEW: Closed Circuit (2013)

(M) ★★

Director: John Crowley.

Cast: Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Riz Ahmed, Ciarán Hinds, Jim Broadbent, Denis Moschitto.

"I won't say anything about your Hulk movie if you don't mention
me being Steppenwolf in Justice League."
Whenever I belatedly find an English-language movie I'd never heard of that boasts a great cast, I'm deeply suspicious. There's usually a reason the film hasn't crossed my radar of social media and movie website/magazine subscriptions. And that reason, nine times out of 10, is because the film isn't very good.

Case in point is Closed Circuit - a film packed with talented actors that's only four years old yet I'd never heard of until it popped up on the F Project Cinema screening schedule. How could I have missed this legal drama starring all these quality people?

As is the case 90% of the time, it's because Closed Circuit is not very good. At its worst, it's sad watching such great actors struggle with such tin-ear dialogue. At its best, it has an interesting-if-convoluted story badly delivered.

The film centres on lawyer Martin Rose (Bana), who is brought in to defend an alleged terrorist Farroukh Erdogan (Moschitto) following the sudden death of the barrister who was handling the case. Rose's job is complicated by the fact he'll be working opposite Special Advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall) - a woman who he had an affair with some years earlier.

All the while, Rose is trying to figure out if Farroukh was really behind a bombing at a crowded marketplace, or whether something even more sinister is going on.

So much doesn't work in Closed Circuit. The dialogue is periodically dire, particularly in the earliest scenes, as if the screenwriters were learning as they went. An early scene set during and after a funeral is a great example as it suggests the writers had never been to a funeral before or perhaps ever heard human beings interact.

It's a shame because the plot, despite its holes, is generally interesting. It's unfortunate that it hinges initially on some peculiarities of the English court system in regards to terrorism law, which are a bitch to explain. Ahmed and Broadbent spend most of the first half of the movie dropping in for some exposition; their characters seem solely created to help us understand what's going to happen, which is not ideal for an actor. It's to Ahmed and Broadbent's credit that they make these scenes and characters as interesting as possible in the circumstances. If you can grit your teeth through the first half, it gets better.

Similarly, Bana fares poorly initially but you grow used to him. After seemingly focusing more on his accent than the dialogue in the first half of the film, he becomes a solid if forgettable lead. Same goes for Hall. It's a shame their relationship is so botched - perhaps in the edit, perhaps in the script. Hall and Bana share chemistry on occasion, but they're fighting a losing battle trying to inject some spark into proceedings.

Despite it picking up pace in the second half, there's little to recommend about Closed Circuit. Somewhere in here is a good idea for a film, but the talented cast are left wandering around trying to find it.

I watched Closed Circuit at a screening hosted by F Project Cinema in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia. Here's what's coming up at future FPC screenings at the Mozart Hall (all screenings are at 7.30pm):

The Princess Bride - January 10

Waltz With Bashir - January 24

Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Best Albums of 2017

As selected by an ensemble of south-west Victoria's most talented musicians, artists, media personalities and other D-list celebrities!

In my previous life as a journalist, I would compile an end-of-year list in which I got a bunch of the top musos and musically-connected people from my region to share their favourite albums of the year. Rather than let that tradition die, I've migrated it to my blog and upped the ante by inviting even more of my super-talented friends to take part.

Hopefully you can find some great music to listen to here, including some of the great music created by some of the selectors (links are everywhere, people!).

So behold - talented people sharing their favourite music of 2017.

Jono Colliver (Dr Colossus, Vance Joy, Gums, Money On Verema)

1. The National - Sleep Well Beast
"A rare example of a band hitting their stylistic stride without becoming comfortable and repetitive. Lyrically an open wound, sonically an electrical storm, and a dynamic tracklisting which rewards multiple listens as much as it instantly gratifies on the first. Dark and sharp."

2. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
3. Kirin J. Callinan - Bravado
4. Thundercat - Drunk
5. Arcade Fire - Everything Now
6. Frenzal Rhomb - Hi Vis High Tea
7. Electric Wizard - Wizard Bloody Wizard
8. Tyler The Creator - Flower Boy
9. Dead Cross - Dead Cross
10. Harry Styles - Harry Styles

1. Valerie June - The Order of Time
"Valerie does things to me. From first listen to many after, this album is such a treat.  If 'feeling at home' ever had a sound, it would sound like this.

2. Chris Stapleton - From A Room: Volume 1
3. Spoon - Hot Thoughts
4. Robert Finley - Goin’ Platinum!
5. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
6. The National - Sleep Well Beast
7. The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
8. Polish Club - Alright Already
9. Alex Cameron - Forced Witness
10. Benjamin Booker - Witness

Gareth Colliton (artist)

1. UNKLE - The Road: Part 1
"It's an album of post-apocalyptic melancholia, storms of driven strings, iron-framed piano ballads, and haunted vocals hanging in the dusty clouds. Like the book and the film that inspired it, The Road goes deep and it goes dark."

2. Gorillaz - Humanz
3. Camille - OUÏ
4. Bjork - Utopia
5. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Soul Of A Woman
6. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
7. Saskwatch - Manual Overdrive
8. Laura Marling - Semper Femina
9. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Flying Microtonal Banana/Murder Of The Universe/Sketches Of Brunswick East/Polygondwanaland 
10. London Grammar - Truth Is A Beautiful Thing

Bill O'Connell (Bill, Gums, Kashmere Club)

1. Aldous Harding - Party
"This record is minimal in its production but loaded with conviction and emotion. Aldous has an entirely unique voice and approach to song structures. I hear and feel things I never have before, and believe every second of it."

2. Father John Misty - Pure Comedy 
3. Big Thief - Capacity 
4. The Teskey Brothers - Half Mile Harvest 
5. Benjamin Booker - Witness
6. Kirin J Callinan - Bravado
7. Dr Colossus - The Dank 
8. The Cactus Channel - Stay A While 
9. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Murder Of The Universe
10. Paul Kelly - Life Is Fine

Jeremy Lee (ABC Radio, Farmers Co-Op)

1. The Orbweavers - Deep Leads
"Melbourne's The Orbweavers have crafted another gorgeous set of crystalline tunes continuing their fascination with history and science. A lush, dreamy, and deeply rewarding listen."

2. Saint Etienne - Home Counties 
3. Various ‎– Closed Circuits (Australian Alternative Electronic Music Of The '70s & '80s, Volume 1)
4. LCD Soundsystem - American Dream
5. Beck - Colours
6. Joe Goddard - Electric Lines
7. St Vincent - Masseduction
8. Real Estate - In Mind
9. Thundercat - Drunk
10. Methyl Ethyl - Everything Is Forgotten 

Brady Jones - (Red Eagle, Gutsy As!!)

1. Benjamin Booker - Witness
"In what was a surprisingly decent year for new releases, Booker's smoky and soulful second offering is the cream of this year's crop. While the pace and grit of Benjamin Booker's debut album is still present, Witness has rounded the edges and backed off on the beats per minute to great effect. Bonus points for a great Mavis Staples collaboration."

2. Queens of the Stone Age - Villains
3. Aldous Harding - Party
4. Holy Holy - Paint
5. Big Thief - Capacity
6. Elder - Reflections Of A Floating World
7. All Them Witches - Sleeping Through The War
8. Valerie June - The Order Of Time
9. Royal Blood - How Did We Get So Dark?
10. Hiss Golden Messenger - Hallelujah Anyhow

Liam Barling (Aika, Blackwood Jack)

1. The National - Sleep Well Beast 
"Lonely, lustful, textural, near-masterpiece."

2. The War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
3. Chihei Hatakayama - Void XIII
4. Cigarettes After Sex - Cigarettes After Sex
5. Harry Styles - Harry Styles
6. Akira Kosemura - In The Dark Woods
7. Moses Sumney - Aromanticism 
8. Four Tet - New Energy
9. Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement - Ambient Black Magic
10. Ben Frost - Super Dark Times

Corey Verhaegh (The Ascended)

1. Veil of Maya - False Idol
"This album is a compilation of everything I wish to achieve in my own writing, Thick riffs, great scream and clean vocals, and very melodics hooks."

2. The Ascended - Part II
3. Trivium - The Sin & The Sentence
4. Miss May I - Shadows Inside
5. The Acacia Strain - Gravebloom
6. Northlane - Mesmer
7. August Burns Red - Phantom Anthem
8. Counterparts - You're Not You Anymore
9. Kreator - Gods Of Violence
10. Body Count - Bloodlust

Derrick Price (The Alamo)

1. Frenzal Rhomb - Hi Viz High Tea
"Although their lyrics for this album have deteriorated somewhat compared to previous instalments, the lads have kept the bar high when it comes to kick-ass, energetic punk rock. Switching across to producer Bill Stevenson (Descendants) on this and their previous album has been the real winner here. Mix and master quality is out of this world."

2. Orsome Welles - Rise EP
3. Bodyjar - Terra Firma EP
4. Blink 182 - California (Extended Edition)
5. Queens Of The Stone Age - Villains
6. Rancid - Trouble Maker
7. Dropkick Murphys - 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory
8. Dr Colossus - The Dank
9. Steel Panther - Lower The Bar
10. The Real McKenzies - Two Devils Will Talk

Jade McLaren (The 80 Aces)

1. EXO - The War

"This album is pure pop mastery. The production of the sugary sweet melodies is first-class work and reminiscent of the dedication put into chart-topping disco albums of the late '70s and early '80s. Each song bleeds in to the next making it impossible to not bop along for the entire album."

2. Beck - Colours
3. G-Dragon - Kwon Ji Yong EP
4. Action Bronson - Blue Chips 7000
5. Black Pink - Blackpink EP
6. Queens Of The Stone Age - Villains
7. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
8. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Sketches Of Brunswick
9. Dr Colossus - The Dank
10. Poppy - Poppy.Computer

Andrew Kirkland

1. Spoon - Hot Thoughts
"Hot Thoughts is a tremendously strong album and I've rated it my #1 purely because I reckon I've listened to it more than any other album in the list during 2017. It boasts incredible mature production, catchy songs, and is balanced very well in its track order. It's an eclectic collection of tunes that range from in-your-face stomp pop with mesmorising bass lines and drums patterns to esoteric chants. The haunting electric piano used on several tracks also harks back to early Supertramp or Zombies. I’m a sucker for jangly-but-powerful guitars too, which always rockets any musical product up my favourites list."

Neil Finn - Out Of Silence
Rebecca Barnard - Music For Listening & Relaxation
Husky - Punchbuzz
Beck - Colours
Elbow - Little Fictions
Paul Kelly - Life Is Fine
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds - Who Built the Moon?
Neil Young - The Visitor
Dhani Harrison - In Parallel

Brady James

1. Nothing But Thieves - Broken Machine 
"Broken Machine is an emotional rollercoaster. This band is so unbelievable to watch growing and playing. Conor Mason's voice is ethereal, angelic and delicately interwoven throughout. Some of the hardest hitting rock out there right now. Gut-wrenching, melodic, soaring, kinetic, powerful. Highlights: Particles, Sorry, Amsterdam."
2. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
3. Stormzy - Gang Signs & Prayer 4. Nancie Schipper - Sleeptalking 5. Logic - Everybody 6. Jay-Z - 4:44 7. Tyler The Creator - Scum Fuck Flower Boy 8. Julien Baker - Turn Out The Lights 9. Paul Kelly - Life Is Fine 10. Bjork - Utopia

Nigel Wearne

1. Sun Kil Moon - Common As Light & Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood 
"This year Sun Kil Moon has been on high rotation. Common As Light & Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood is so different that I honestly can't remember hearing anything else like it. Spoken word poetry, prose, and random stories (including one about a chameleon versus a cat), diary entries, musings on David Bowie and Ali, augmented by busted-up dad hip-hop. It's completely whacked and compelling. A slow burn that requires the lyrics booklet."

2. Andy Irvine & Luke Plumb - Precious Heroes
3. Red Tail Ring - Fall Away Blues
4. Rowena Wise - Rowena Wise
5. James Kenyon - Imagine You Are Driving
6. David Rawlings - Poor David's Almanack
7. Jen Lush - The Night's Insomnia

Emily Bissland (ABC)

1. Aldous Harding - Party
"I’ve never heard anything like it. She sings powerfully from a deeply vulnerable and feminine place. Her songs build to epic crescendos, her vocal range is surprising, and her songs are beautifully punctuated."
2. Eaten By Dogs - Anxiety Ain’t No Currency 
3. Benjamin Booker - Witness

Jacob Pugh (Runk)

1. Freddie Gibbs - You Only Live 2wice EP
"Fresh out of a jail, Gangsta Gibbs proves again he’s one of raps most effortless storytellers with this release, laying down vivid narratives over woozy, hard-hitting production. On this record, Gibbs is as authentic as he is vulnerable, going from dropping dizzying schemes about the perks of trapping (Alexys) to reflecting on the strain being locked up away from his family has had on his mental health (Homesick). Definitely one of the top 5 MCs alive, dude stays dropping fire and these joints are no exception."

2. 21 Savage & Offset - Without Warning
3. Foley - Hey, Don’t Worry About It
4. King Krule - The Ooz
5. Future x Young Thug - Super Slimey
6. The Smith Street Band - More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me
7. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
8. Migos - Culture
9. XXXTentacion - 17
10. Future - Future

Adam B Metal (The Departed)

1. Enter Shikari - The Spark
"Enter Shikari redefine their sound once again with The Spark by delivering a more melodic approach without sacrificing any of their trademark energy. You know you are on a winner when songs like Live Outside and The Sights hit the speakers and everyone in the house from 5 to 35 starts singing along with it. An absolute ripper of an album."

2. The Midnight - Nocturnal
3. Royal Blood - How Did We Get So Dark?
4. Perturbator - New Model
5. Fox Capture Plan - Untitled
6. Body Count - Bloodlust
7. He Is Legend - Few
8. Converge - The Dusk In Us
9. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
10. Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory

Nancie Schipper

1. Lorde - Melodrama
"The four-year wait since her debut album was proved well and truly worthwhile, and as a result each track is stunning, anthemic and memorable. Highlights: Green Light, Liability, Supercut."

Alex Lahey - I Love You Like A Brother
Amy Shark - Night Thinker EP
HAIM - Something To Tell You
Julien Baker - Turn Out The Lights
Maggie Rogers - Now That The Light Is Fading EP
Middle Kids - Middle Kids EP
Stella Donnelly - Thrush Metal EP
Tired Lion - Dumb Days
Vera Blue - Perennial

Wil Ridley 

1. Linkin Park - One More Light
"They got hammered for trying something new (which they’ve been doing since A Thousand Suns) and on reflection it's a very sad cry-out of an album. I wasn’t too taken on the first listen but some really nice pop tracks in there and a very easy album to listen to in full."

Harry Styles - Harry Styles 
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds - Who Built The Moon?

Jordan Lockett (Southern Ocean Sea Band, Silverkane, Gramps)

1. Robert Plant - Carry Fire 
"Robert Plant gets better with age and Carry Fire is further proof that it’s cool to age, and that you can age/mature well. Carry Fire (Plant’s 11th solo album) is the second album with backing band The Sensational Space Shifters, and it's a cosmic folk global melting pot of brilliance. I don’t know how but there are existential guitar tones (which are a delight) blended with harmonies, subtle rhythms and Plant’s powerful yet subtle voice. It's a modern masterpiece and a true testament to the album as an art form."

2. Paul Kelly - Life Is Fine 
3. David Rawlings - Poor David’s Almanack
4. Neil Young - Hitchhiker
5. George Maple - Lover 
6. Curtis Harding - Face Your Fear 
7. LCD Sound System - American Dream 
8. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Soul Of A Woman 
9. Charlotte Gainsbourg - Rest 
10. Brian Eno & Tom Rogerson - Finding Shore

Jack & Michael Fitzgerald (Capricorn Records)

1. The Teskey Brothers - Half Mile Harvest 
"Just love their old school Stax soul sound coming from eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Can't get enough of it."

2. War On Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
3. Dan Auerbach - Waiting On A Song
4. Steve Earle & The Dukes - So You Wannabe An Outlaw
5. RVG - A Quality of Mercy 
6. Joey Bada$$ - All Amerikkkan Bada$$
7. David Rawlings - Poor David’s Almanack
8. Paul Kelly - Life Is Fine
9. Liam Gallagher - As You Were
10. The Rollings Stones - On Air

Gus Franklin (Southern Ocean Sea Band, Sheahan Drive, Gramps, Architecture In Helsinki)

1. Laura Marling - Semper Femina 
"Laura Marling is an amazing artist using evocative lyrics and intimate songscapes.  Here she teams with my current favourite producer - Blake Mills (also producer on Perfume Genius’ No Shape from this year) - to conjure up a deeply textural and intricately detailed paean to her personal experiences with intimacy in and out of love and everything female (the title itself paraphrasing a Latin text to create the slogan "Always Woman"). This is one of those records full of amazing texture, depth & detail, and will no doubt continue to be a world to step inside and be surrounded by for many years to come."

2. Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me
3. Aldous Harding - Party
4. Perfume Genius - No Shape
5. Cornelius - Mellow Waves
6. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN. 
7. Sarah Davachi - All My Circles Run
8. Ariel Pink - Dedicated To Bobby Jameson
9. Karl Blau - Out Her Space
10. Phoenix - Ti Amo

Matt Neal (Doctor & The Apologies, Gutsy As!!, The 80 Aces)

1. Idles – Brutalism
"Boasting an acerbic wit to match the caustic guitars, these Bristol post-punks kick out the jams on their first album, slinging a whole swag of uptempo noisy rockers in the face of anyone who'll listen. It's angry, volatile and bloody good fun, as all the best punk should be."

2. St Vincent – Masseduction
3. Metz – Strange Peace
4. Gang Of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness
5. Foo Fighters – Concrete & Gold
6. Beck – Colours
7. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me
8. Batpiss – Rest In Piss
9. Algiers – The Underside Of Power
10. Dr Colossus – The Dank
11. Nothing But Thieves - Broken Machine

BONUS READING: The story behind Mount Eerie's A Crow Looked At Me - the most devastating and powerful album of 2017.

Mount Eerie - A Crow Looked At Me

Of all the albums to come out in 2017, none hit listeners the way Mount Eerie's A Crow Looked At Me did. It's the musical equivalent of the days either side of a funeral - it's grief turned into art, in all its painful, stark, honest glory. It is a tragic package of sounds and words that are bound to reduce you to tears because it gives you nowhere to hide from its sad truth.

The consensus on the album is that it's beautiful, moving and honest, but it's so good at what it does that no one wants to hear it more than twice. We humans don't deal with death very well as a general rule, so Phil Elverum AKA Mount Eerie's raw sonic exploration of his partner Geneviève Castrée's passing from cancer is uncomfortable and confronting. Nothing is hidden, no punches are pulled. A Crow Looked At Me hits you where Elverum is hurting, and you feel it.

Take this verse from the opening track Real Death:

A week after you died a package with your name on it came
And inside was a gift for our daughter you had ordered in secret
And, collapsed there on the front steps, I wailed
A backpack for when she goes to school a couple years from now
You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you

The first time I heard that, I wasn't prepared, and I burst into tears at my desk. That is a narrative of very heavy duty proportions. Throughout this song and many others, you can hear Elverum's voice crack under the weight of it all. The album is the sound of someone trying valiantly to keep it all together in the face of incredible emotional turmoil, purely because they have to.

But enough from me. The reason I wanted to post this blog about the album is because I want people to hear this album, but also because I wanted to share some words written by my good friend Gus Franklin. Gus travelled from Australia to the US in 2008 to record an album and ended up living with Phil and his partner Geneviève. He later produced Geneviève's 2013 album Fleuve. For people that didn't know these guys, A Crow Looked At Me is devastating. I can't even begin to contemplate what it was like for friends of Phil and Geneviève - for people like Gus - to hear the record.

But here is Gus, trying to put all that into words:


The Elverums

"Phil Elverum (the person behind the musical project Mount Eerie) has always been a songwriter and lyricist with a knack for serving up the most lucid observations and extrapolations of life and its experience, all the while experimenting with studio techniques and varying musical forms. His subject matter has often mused on that which is just beyond our reach, such as the concepts of death, infinity, entropy and the spirit world.

"On A Crow Looked At Me he goes on his deepest dive to exorcise something unfathomable from a most terrible personal experience; that of losing your closest friend and life partner to cancer merely a year after parenting your first child with that person.

"Phil’s partner’s name was Geneviève Castrée (herself a formidable illustrator and musical artist), and in this album he uses her instruments and records occupying the void left in the room she died in, quietly documenting his days and moments in the months leading up to and following her death. The record is like a diary of grief without platitude, as he scrambles to remember the wild moments leading up to her leaving and the subsequent attempts to make any sense of the vicious new reality he now faces without her.

"Having become friends with Phil & Geneviève in 2008, this album is all too real and sad for me, though the absolute beauty of the observations and his way with words over seemingly simplistic musical arrangements sewn tightly with deft phrasing and great chord changes are amazing renderings of memory and experiences with Geneviève in her final moments in our world, and her absence, once she was gone.

"The album is a detailed look inside an unimaginable personal experience unlike any to be expressed in this way ever again.  Thank you Phil, and sleep soundly, dear Geneviève."

- Gus Franklin, December 2017


Phil Elverum AKA Mount Eerie is touring Australia in January, 2018. Here are the dates:

Sunday, January 21

Tuesday, January 23

Wednesday, January 24

Thursday, January 25