Comics

Doomsday Island Discs: The PopMatters Comics 2012 Wrap

Apocalypse Now & Then: It's not the end of the world…just the death throes of the comics industry…

PopMatters Comics Editor Shathley Q and Associate Editor Michael D. Stewart didn't get to talking about everything…only the things they connected with emotionally, and the ideas that these things brought them into…Here it is, your view of comics, superheroes and transmedia…Enjoy it in good health, this Mayan Doomsday…

Actus Primus: Maybe the Song Really Does Remain the Same…

Radiohead's Hail to the Thief might prove a good soundtrack for this year-end wrap party. Or even, perhaps, Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, because soon enough in this act will wend its way into Tolkien.

Oh, and…If it feels like we're picking up in the middle, that's because we do. Trace the conversation threads we've already spun by reading the prelude episodes on Graphic Novelties.

@uu3y324rdry: So…I wanna pickup where we left off yesterday…

 

@MichaelDStewart: Cool

@uu3y324rdry: Primarily with AVX as a lead-in of sorts to kickstart Re:Evolution and Marvel NOW! We spoke earlier this week about your favorite Marvel NOW! book being All-New X-Men.

@MichaelDStewart: That book has captured a point for me, a point where the past meets the present. A "look how far we've come" moment. And from the point of view of the past, the future is not what they had hoped for. That seems to be a statement about much of the Utopian desires of the past--"Yeah we have this wonderful technology that has made things easier, yeah we have grown and become better at certain things, but are we better than what we dreamed or hoped for"? That is an interesting and provocative question. The framing I find grounding, in that it is two versions of one man seeing how far (or how wrong) he's come.

@uu3y324rdry: Yeah! I very much loved the exploration of that same theme when Warren Ellis worked through it in Doktor Sleepless. All-New X-Men does seem to be an almost unintentional comment on all of Marvel NOW!

@MichaelDStewart: And on comics in general.

 

@uu3y324rdry: On how we failed our past aspirations…and also, simultaneously evolved them… and definitely all of comics also, yes. I think the new "top" Marvel books all wrestle with that same notion in different ways.

@MichaelDStewart: It's funny, Marvel and DC seemed to have switched places. DC was always about the legacy, and Marvel was usually more contemporary. Now Marvel is far more about its legacy than DC in the New 52, because DC had to erase its legacy to get to that point. You're right though, all of the top Marvel books are wrestling with notion.

@uu3y324rdry: [: Yes there does seem to be that…how would you frame it?…"thematic" inversion between the two companies.

For me the pick of Marvel NOW! has got to be Thor: God of Thunder and Avengers.

 

@MichaelDStewart: I think both of those books invoke their legacies.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Agreed. And both in their own way lace up their boots and wade into that notion of "this is not my future".

@MichaelDStewart: Thor is really that book that connects the past with the present.

From Thor: God of Thunder #2, "Blood in the Clouds"

 

@uu3y324rdry: [: YES! I love the time-jumping in Thor, it's absolutely integral to the drama of the book. Also Thor itself is an essential sort of story and a deeply meaningful one to be told of comics.

  

It's really something we haven't seen explored but as fans intuited for quite some time--the idea of comics as philology.

  

@MichaelDStewart: Context...YES!

 

@uu3y324rdry: Thor really front-and-centers the idea that the sweeping story of a culture can be excavated from its literary and linguistic artifacts. That's exactly what Tolkien as an author was saying in Lord of the Rings and as an Oxford professor, what he said in his seminal paper "Beowulf The Monsters & the Critics".

J.R.R. Tolkien via famous authors (dot) org

And that's what you get to with Thor in God of Thunder: the story of Thor becoming Thor as we know him today, is simultaneously the story of Thor resisting the inevitability of becoming the defeated Thor of millennia hence.

  

This grand narrative of rebirthing oneself only to resist invariable decay much later down the line is also the story of comics as a medium, and as a cultural (cultural not only popcultural) artifact. It's easy enough to claim, and you hear almost every popculture historian make this claim these days, that Shakespeare or Dickens or Dostoyevsky was popculture…That these writers were populist and for the masses…and that's true…

 

@MichaelDStewart: Yes, completely built on traditions of literature that we have been honoring for centuries.

@uu3y324rdry: But the real story is how Shakespeare or Poe or Twain or Hemingway managed to "escape beyond" popculture and become canonized. What work was done by unseen cultural forces, and what elements internal to the works themselves have allowed a buy-in from emerging elites?

 

@MichaelDStewart: The Witches in The Scottish Play (remember the curse for calling the Play by its actual name extends the notion of the Witches) were the quintessential popculture insertions of their day.

@uu3y324rdry: Yes! But 200 years later they're wholly disengaged from any sense of representing the actual Scotland of the era. And as you note, the curse around naming the play itself protracts the popculture elements, but also sophisticates them. By that time the Witches become a cipher for exactly that kind of thematic e pluribus unum that unites us all with all of human history. I think Thor: God of Thunder more than any mainstream superhero book right now really makes the terms of that debate accessible.

 

@MichaelDStewart: Probably because it is so connected with our poly-theistic past.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Agreed! A close second really is Geoff Johns' tackling of "forgotten cultures" in both Aquaman and Justice League. Which means, and this is the big jump-on point for me…comics as a medium…comics as an industry…and comics when married with the superhero genre…becomes what Jefferson wrote of as "the natural aristocracy". Becomes the idea that a logical endpoint for the evolution of civilization is the kind of meritocracy that democracy engenders. It's the story of how do we look at the past without getting swept up in Kingship and Monarchy and the like.

Chasing the Cheetah from Justice League #14

@MichaelDStewart: And to some extent it is a reconciling of our past.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Yes, but also, not buying into fake elitism. Thor: God of Thunder and Aquaman and Justice League really connect with that notion of discriminating between different kinds of social evolution. And these books do this by harnessing the very mechanism of comics.

By harnessing the idea that when you first read a panel you're lost…but slowly as you read more, you build your courage and your psychological fortitude by growing in the belief that in gathering more information you'll eventually at some future point be able to understand what's going on on the page. Every moment in a panel is a fractionated moment. But read enough panels, and you'll begin to believe you'll eventually be able to defractionate all those moments and assemble them into a single complex moment in a coherent narrative. And then the magic--read long enough and you eventually will enact that assemblage. That's the real wonder of comics, and that's the real magic of Jack Kirby and Wally Wood and Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert.

  

E pluribus unum.

@MichaelDStewart: Yes, there is this idea that each panel tells part of the story and when seen as a whole, tell the whole story. The best written and produced comics do that.

You get the disconnect when a panel doesn't contribute to the whole, when it operates as and add-on as opposed to a part.

@uu3y324rdry: Yes exactly right…that's really what many psychologically-driven manga rely on. I'm thinking of books like 20th Century Boys or Domu or even the manga adaptation of Crime and Punishment. Do you think this idea of "the Long Meanwhile" was captured sufficiently well in the films of 2012?

Actus Secundus: Learning to Love Again

How could we have gotten here? How could we have wound up on the shores of generation after generation of dismantling our own mythologies? Maybe what's called for right now, is The Boss, Bruce Springsteen himself.

@MichaelDStewart: If we're talking about transition, which I think we are, then no, I don't. I don't think we've transitioned at all. I think we've come to a point of stalling.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Yeah I'm with you in Rockland, Carl Solomon. I was really disappointed by Amazing Spider-Man.

"I am with you in Rockland": Ginsberg reading "Howl" via Green Lantern Press

 

@MichaelDStewart: You've cleared the hurdle? You're up to date?

 

@uu3y324rdry: [: Yeah caught up on it just this weekend.

@MichaelDStewart: Then you'll probably be fascinated by the piece I'm writing (will be done today :) [but you've already read Mike's piece last week], -Ed) were I make comparisons to Amazing Spider-Man and the body-swapping comedies of the late 1980s, particularly honing in on Dream A Little Dream if for only that it represents a wholly incoherent narrative, which Amazing Spider-Man is not, but in the grand scheme of milestone issues it does.

@uu3y324rdry: Yes! I'm actually looking forward to reading your thoughts on this. It's something you noticed earlier in Amazing Spider-Man, and have been struggling with for some time now in that book--I think around the time of the "Alpha" storyarc…but maybe even before it…with "Ends of the Earth".

 

@MichaelDStewart: What I saw with that book in particular was an honest attempt to resonate with the legacy of the title, but the attempt being completely lost in the effort.

Instead we have Dan Slott writing Peter grossed out discovering his Aunt May had sex (or made-out) with Doc Ock. Slott conveniently hides behind readerly interpretations to say that he wasn't going for low-brow, but no matter the interpretation, he wrote something that distracts from what he trying to say, and then to say it he has to write it in the comic equivalent of big magic markers on wall size dry board.

 

@uu3y324rdry: [:

@MichaelDStewart: I think Amazing Spider-Man suffers from a number of things, particularly this year alone.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Beautiful framing but yes, that's exactly it…I think I'm disappointed by the book and disappointed the movie in different ways, and yet both seem to go around legacy.

@MichaelDStewart: First they have lost sight of the Peter Parker character. Next the title has fallen in love with its own history. Next, the title is more interested in the platitude of superheroes than in the drama of life. Last, the twice-monthly publishing schedule and movie that looks wonderful but wholly gets the characteristics wrong, has corrupted one of the more interesting characters in the last 60 years.

Spidey from Amazing Spider-Man #698

I've enjoyed Peter having some success, joining the Avengers, getting a real job, being acknowledged for being the hero he is, but there is this fundamental idea of hubris (you are so right on with that idea in your "Iconographies" about the movie) that has been dismissed. Or rather, the essential hubris has been confused with a litany of other personality characteristics.

 

@uu3y324rdry: yes!

@MichaelDStewart: The wisecracks and witty banter are a result of the hubris, not a cause of.

 

@uu3y324rdry: There's nothing wrong with a "all-growed-up" version of Spidey and that taking-things-seriously was done really well, but…

But that hubris is key to unlocking what makes Spidey so vital 40, 50, 60 and more years on.

 

@MichaelDStewart: But there is a point that Peter is in a perpetual arrested development because of Spider-Man.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Yes!

There's a really beautiful line from Crossfire a noir movie that I kinda fell into re-watching just before I saw Spider-Man. Crossfire is a deeply moving film. Actually it deals with the same thing Hunter Thompson deals with in his first piece for Rolling Stone ("Freak Power in the Rockies")--the power that comes from a mix of American values and popculture that can resist anti-semitism.

  

Crossfire is really phenomenal because it traces that same ground way back in 1947.

 

The actual line is "The whole war we just got into the habit of hating things, maybe now that the war's over, we can begin to learn how to like things again". Or something to that effect.

Promo poster for Crossfire (detail) via movie poster shop (dot) com

That's an amazing line for 1947. And still amazing, even today.

  

For me, in a very real sense Spider-Man as a hero marks that stage of the American zeitgeist. That moment of "learning to like things again".

  

It's the idea that there's all this fear & loathing happening prior to and during the war and that philologically, that fear & loathing is denoted by the flourishing of the noir genre. Then you've got the backlash--you get the "make-it-safe" industry of Senate Hearings and eventual self-censorship of the 50s. But Spidey represents something entirely new and completely hopeful.

 

@MichaelDStewart: The backlash being the clean nuclear family of the 50s.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Yes precisely. And Spidey…as a philological study…demonstrates that you can break free from that past fear & loathing, without resorting to its direct and inane opposite.

 

@MichaelDStewart: And Spider-Man represented in a way the move from innocence of the early 60s to the social "terror" as it were of the later half of the decade.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Yes! And there's no way you can get to that "new dawn" of the early days of the Boomer generation without that hubris getting upfronted in the story.

@MichaelDStewart: Peter is, for lack of a better protagonist, Holden Caulfield. In that he confronts the very themes of the book: confusion, angst, alienation, and rebellion.

@uu3y324rdry: Exactly!

@MichaelDStewart: It is the idea of the anti-hero, which most Marvel characters are except Thor and Cap. That they are deeply troubled individuals thrust into the spotlight by gifts of astonishing nature. Are they better at it than anyone else would be?, no. But they are there, in the situation, and must confront their past and present to be something better for their world.

This is the idea of comics in character form. This idea of being more when all you want to do is blast the bad guy with cosmic beam.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Yes! That's the emotional core of the Silver Age!

 

@MichaelDStewart: It's the emotional core of every age, no matter how much we try to deny it or wrap it up in angst and extreme.

It's probably why comics are having such a hard time now, finding the beat, they are more concerned with their own gadgets and gimmicks and excesses than they are with their cores.

Actus Tertius: "You are Dearer to Me than Myself, as You Yourself Will See"

Maybe the real story for The Biz in 2012, is the same story Bob Dylan weaves in Modern Times, Especially that lyric from "Workingman's Blues #2" that finds its way into the title of this Third Act. Can we effect grand heroic actions without being heroes? "To be great heroes", Oliver Wendell Holmes suggests, "We must also think great thoughts". More than anything else, that does seem to be the fitting coda for comics as an idea, that carries us onward into a time the Maya couldn't imagine.

Bob Dylan, later on via the av club (dot) com

 

@uu3y324rdry: Precisely so. That idea of comics in character form…the mishandling of that is what really disappointed me in the Dark Knight Rises. And, strangely, what really worked well with the MAD 60th anniversary book.

  

Rises really just completely negated the absolute best part of The Dark Knight. That concluding montage in Dark Knight…"sometimes people deserve more than the truth…sometimes they deserve to have their faith rewarded". And on to "He's got to run because we have to chase him".

@MichaelDStewart: Well, I think it opened up the one deep flaw with the entire trilogy. The inevitable conclusion of inspiring people, of being a symbol rather than a man.

 

@uu3y324rdry: yes!

 

@MichaelDStewart: Bruce Wayne may say that he must become a symbol, but deep down he is lying to himself. He's not a trustworthy narrator is a sense. What the Nolan films did get at is that Bruce is very much in denial about much of what he does.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Exactly, exactly!

 

@MichaelDStewart: But they didn't explore it. Well explore it enough. And rather rewarded the man who believed he could inspire others.

 

@uu3y324rdry: So Nolan's really turned Bruce Wayne into Lenny from Memento. But at the same time didn't give audiences the tools to explore the full implications of that characterization.

The Dark Knight Rises promotional poster

@MichaelDStewart: The point is Bruce could get into it and justify it by saying he'll be a symbol, it's all false window dressing, but he can do it. And the point becomes that once he's in, he must at some point realize this is him taking control, making up for the lack of control he had when his parents were murdered.

I do agree with the audience not having the tools to explore the implications. Or given the wrong tools.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Ah I see we're you're getting to…Bruce Wayne reconsidered as emo…Yes, I think that's absolutely right…

@MichaelDStewart: Well, more in the sense that the tragic hero doesn't get rewarded with the happily ever after. He gets death (which can be a reward for that type of character) or he gets the perpetual rerun of what he does.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Right, yes!

That's really why Scott Snyder's vision of the Batman is at once mythic and singular, and, at the same time, deeply perpetual and primed for continuity publication.

@MichaelDStewart: The vision does have its faults, but yea, that is it. It's an idea, and Miller went into this with Dark Knight Returns, that what happens to a man who can't give it up but must for various reasons. He will find a way back that justifies it, that allows him to say I'm doing it for the right reasons no matter the consequences.

He has to find a way, a justification, that allows his mind to be at ease with his thirst for constant vengeance. Bruce Wayne/Batman is a tragedy. Always will be, no matter what happens, he will forever be a tragedy, to the point where he may not actually be a hero though he is heroic.

@uu3y324rdry: [: Yes, exactly so…

@MichaelDStewart: And that's where we are today. We struggle with heroes who are not heroes but act heroically. This struggle has disenfranchised us from arguably the greatest product of popculture, Superman. It has corrupted our understanding of many of the protagonists we have loved for the last number of decades, it has made us fallen in love with the excesses and self-referential to the gimmicks of yesterday.

 

@uu3y324rdry: Yes!

@MichaelDStewart: We are a boat that has become a cruise ship set adrift on a sea of culture with ports of call that try to strip us and rob us of everything we hold dear.

@uu3y324rdry: Y'know, I think you're right about that… and that's why really the one comicbook that stands out for me more than others this year isn't a comicbook at all…

 

@MichaelDStewart: Then there's the Li'l Depressed Boy, just trying to win at life.

  

@uu3y324rdry: [= LDB…what a book! [:

@MichaelDStewart: Or LDB is trying to have a winning season, not necessarily make the playoffs or get the highest score, just trying to be on the positive points side.

That Kiss!, from Li'l Depressed Boy #13

@uu3y324rdry: sinks his head into his hands

@uu3y324rdry: Let's not talk of love or chains or things we can't untie, as Leonard Cohen put it, and really, let's not talk of the Dodgers…

  

I think the book I keep coming back to this year…the non-comics comicbook is Totally MAD 60 the anniversary book…it animates so vividly all the concerns we've referenced over these discussions…issues around legacy, around necessary hubris, around heroic actions by the non-heroic, the idea of a kind of gathering together that makes comics an ideological roadmap for the idea of e pluribus unum.

And on the surface of it, Totally MAD 60 looks like nothing at all. Yet, just beneath the surface you're confronted with the careful and diligent work done by MAD editor John Ficarra and MAD Art Director Sam Viviano. Anything that casual is almost always deeply constructed.

I think the redeeming virtue in MAD for me is something you identified in American Vampire…the idea of perpetuation, of a kind of ongoingness of a kind of thorough and continual self-evaluation, of an internal audit of the psyche and the road it's traveled…

  

And that really for me is a viable method to break free from the self-referential.

@MichaelDStewart: That, and to build-up heroes as opposed to constantly taking them down.

 

@uu3y324rdry: [: "And build-up heroes rather than take them down", yes, because that's the great challenge of our generation in relation to the mythologies we inherited, and will eventually bequeath.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans


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59. Everything Everything - A Fever Dream (RCA)

Everything Everything is a band of impossible ambition, apparent from even the name. Merely everything is not enough for this prog-pop quartet and frankly, the world may not be ready to oblige. "I want this planet, and I want it now / to beat like an anvil 'til the poison's out" begins "Desire", one of the album's early gut-punches. If these were times of hope and prosperity, maybe egos this size would be celebrated. But we've made that mistake before. Hovering in our minds is the expectation that we must repent for generations of excess with modesty, conservation, quiet introspection. A Fever Dream embodies none of this. It reeks of English imperialism and mulish masculinity. It's bombastic beyond belief, and it's exactly what we need.

Everything Everything's fourth record is its most personal and urgent yet. The lyrics seem to be a document for primary songwriter Jonathan Higgs' psychological condition, and it's a troubling one, to say the least. He wears his insecurities like armor, and his pride gleams like Excalibur. Enshrouding his big plans for this world gone mad are doubt and defeatism and a predisposition for hedonism. It's the battle of Jonathan vs. the world, but also of the world vs. the world, and of Jonathan vs. Jonathan. For us sons and daughters of the microprocessor, a mere trip to the grocer's forces us to contend with the unruly exponential growth of this absurdist empire—our neighborhoods and international networks, ids and egos are in constant need of rewiring

That concluding track of A Fever Dream rides out with the mantra: "Never tell me that we can't go further." The title of this track is "White Whale"—that impossible desire perpetually just out of reach. Whether for peace on earth or a little peace of mind, the struggle to satisfy it can lead only to insanity or death. But Everything Everything would never strive for anything less. - A. Noah Harrison



58. Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation)

Sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone and other times you don't realize it until it returns. Following an eight-year hiatus since Other Truths, Do Make Say Think's previous album, Stubborn Persistent Illusions is the boldest, most arresting progression of songs that the Toronto unit have crafted since Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn in 2003. Among the swells and cries of their heavier-hearted Constellation label mates such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the Silver Mt. Zion permutations, Do Make Say Think always set themselves apart by keeping spry and limber. The band was, and remains, a kind of compact jazz orchestra in rock band's clothing. Not a moment is wasted even in the record's tranquil stretches. This is fitting for an album whose concept comes from something as deep yet fleeting as an "image in a Buddhist poem about working with a wild mind." - Ian King



57. The Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti-)

Thirty years on from their last studio album, 1988's Ghost Stories, Steve Wynn has reconvened the Dream Syndicate to release what is arguably the band's best record ever. Yes, Days of Wine & Roses will always remain a touchstone for longtime fans, its surprises still fresh after decades, but How Did I Find Myself Here? distills every lesson Wynn had learned over a long and adventurous career into a coherent eight-song set that finds his band confident and playful in equal measure, amped up and in sync. Here, Wynn is joined by longtime drummer Dennis Duck and bassist Mark Walton and, as he has since the Dream Syndicate's 2012 reformation as a touring unit, Jason Victor (Wynn's longtime partner in Miracle 3) has replaced Paul Cutler on guitar. Further, Kendra Smith's surprising and welcome return on album closer "Kendra's Dream" evaporates time to connect past and future in a perfect psychedelic drift. It all adds up to a triumphant and fitting capstone for the legendary band.



56. Lee Ann Womack - The Lonely, the Lonesome, & the Gone (ATO)

Lee Ann Womack recorded The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone in Houston, not far from the small town where she grew up. The album is rich with a mythical Texas in the best possible ways. Womack sings with a twang and gets sentimentally soppy or wickedly mean as the songs suggest. She goes to the extremes one would expect of a Lone Star musician. It may not be the biggest state geographically, but Texans have always done things bigger. Like her fellow state-mate George Jones, whose gospel "Take the Devil Out of Me" she covers, she's pure country, meaning she probably won't be played on country radio these days. Womack wrote half of the songs here, and redoes classic material associated with Patsy Cline, Lefty Frizzell, and Johnny Cash. She covers them with a style that shows her respect for past masters and still manages to make their songs her own. - Steve Horowitz



55. Charly Bliss - Guppy (Barsuk)

On the first track of Charly Bliss' debut album Guppy, the pop-rock band, led by potent vocalist Eva Hendricks, makes a bold declaration of self. On "Percolator", Hendricks defines her artistic self and if that definition includes some uncertainty and some conflict, so much the better as Hendricks's confidence bursts forth in accepting all those elements. The rest of the album, a joyous bash of guitars and energy, pounds through related but non-repetitive territory. Hendricks takes on relationships, abuse, and harassment (and more), vocalizing complex feelings and ideas that need to be heard. She shifts quickly from anger to humor to questioning without breaking stride. The band and its sound of eating candy in the garage delivers catchy melodies and bright sounds that matches the sense of seeking and realization throughout the album. Guppy looks for sense in a demanding world while retaining a strong center, keeping a strong self-assurance in the face of various challenges. - Justin Cober-Lake



54. Tyler, the Creator - Flower Boy (Columbia)

After baiting the media with controversial, derogatory statements for years, the fact that Flower Boy was hyped as the album where Tyler, the Creator came out of the closet was, for some, reason enough to dig into it, to give him a second chance, to reassess his past statements or, you know, dismiss him all over again. Yet despite lines about "kissing white boys since 2004", the crux of Flower Boy isn't Tyler revealing his sexuality so much as he's revealing his loneliness. This is a profoundly sad album, where the immaculate production hits all of your brain's pleasure centers at once while distracting you from how isolated he feels. Happiness is always elusive, which is why he pulls out every trick he can to prevent us from seeing the real human beneath, from stacking the tracks with guest spots to releasing the worst song as the lead single. Yet the more time you spend with it, the more you wan to keep coming back to the emotional world he's constructed for himself. You'll share in his loneliness, too. - Evan Sawdey



53. Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life (Interscope)

The image of physically scaling the Hollywood sign's "H" encapsulates Lana Del Rey's ethos in that celebrity is not some abstract pinnacle one reaches but one that needs to be experienced in person. Chasing the rush of fame drove the impeccable Born to Die and, five years later, the feeling of having achieved it is evoked by the smoldering warmth of Lust for Life. Still, the disarray of the world broke through even to pop's foremost escapist, but she addresses it and her well-earned status with cryptic optimism; "Is it the end of an era? / … / No, it's only the beginning." What Lust for Life teaches is that one can – and, possibly, should – stay as vigilant towards the affairs that affect us all while also indulging in the selfish, beautiful act of seeking love. - Brian Duricy



52. Paramore - After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen)

Many bands know what a Herculean undertaking reinventing their sound is. This year, nobody did it better than former pop-punkers Paramore. Four years since their last release, Hayley Williams and co. released After Laughter, which fuses sleek elements of '80s new wave, funk, and synthpop while keeping their emotional foundations intact. The most important ingredient to Paramore's success is the return of founding member Zac Farro, whose musical direction in side project HalfNoise point to the influence he had on crafting the new Paramore. Although ten years removed from their breakout, Riot!, they're still "in the business of misery" with songs like "Fake Happy" and hit single "Hard Times". But if the misery business means more of these grooving bass lines and tropical marimbas and guitar riffs, sign me up. - Chris Thiessen



51. (Sandy) Alex G - Rocket (Domino)

Alex Giannascoli refines his paradoxical impulses on Rocket. On his eighth full-length overall, and second for Domino, he crafts a beautifully strange brew of haunting folk with a narrative that's oddly indistinct. He's learned to work within the constraints of an album, a format that he treated with some flippancy during his Bandcamp years, though he still finds any excuse to circumvent the format as he draws upon a patchwork of ideas. Giannascoli finds his muse in longtime collaborator, and partner, Molly Germer, an accomplished violinist who adds whim and character to his otherwise sparse arrangements. From yearning country ballad "Bobby" -- their voices entwined and harmonized to their lush, string-led compositions -- to the gliding melancholy of "Powerful Man", they provide a touching ode to traditional folk that comes across as some alien take on a Smithsonian Folkways recording. And yet Rocket is so much more, taking on a surfeit of modern and antiquated music styles set against a backdrop of bucolic terrain. But even at its most eccentric, Giannascoli has accomplished a winsome collection of handcrafted songs that leave a lasting impression. - Juan Edgardo Rodriguez

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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