Daredevil (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Daredevil has good reasons for his gear, and for the screwed-up attitude that goes with.


Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, Ellen Pompeo
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2003
US DVD Release Date: 2003-07-29
The idea of this entire opening is, you can't trust what you see.
-- Mark Steven Johnson, commentary track for Daredevil

Leather, zippers, boots. Like a lot of movies derived from comic books, Daredevil, now available on a chucky-full DVD from Fox, features a superhero who suits up as if for an elaborate s&m fantasy. When the Daredevil dons his outfit, the camera pays very close attention. The belt is buckled, the zipper's zipped, the leather-hoodish mask with little devil horns atop is fitted snugly to his skull. As to the red leather bodysuit, well... it's tight.

Daredevil/Matt Murdock has good reasons for the gear, and for the screwed-up attitude that goes with. For one thing, he suffers one of those comic book accidents that transform ordinary characters into superheroes. As a child (played by Scott Terra), Matt sees his alcoholic, cauliflower-eared dad, Jack (David Keith) beat down a chump in an alley (washed up as a prizefighter, he's thugging for a notorious crime-boss). Horrified, Matt runs away, smack into a barrel of biohazardous waste, which splatters into his eyes and blinds him but also enhances his other senses. That is, he kills the speed-bag, leaps like a ninja, and hears everything, from far-off traffic to street corner conversations.

This hyped-up existence is obviously cool, but it's also daunting (in particular, the unremitting super-hearing; as an adult, Matt spends his downtime in a sensory deprivation tank). As young Matt adjusts to his talents and limits, he hits speed bags (intercut with his dad being battered in the ring) and does handstands on building ledges; at this point, enthusiastic writer-director Mark Steven Johnson remarks on his entirely charming and often instructive audio commentary track, which he shares with producer Gary Foster, "You take a kid and you put him in peril, and it always works! I did it in Simon Birch too! Parents must hate this stuff." But it's not all bad: soon, as Johnson notes, the boy comes into his own, and as the "power" shifts between him and the local bullies, Johnson also helpfully points out the "dutching," or the canted angles that grant a new perspective.

The DVD includes much instructive material, including something called "Enhanced viewing mode," in which "Specially prepared multi-layered sequences" are accessible during the film. These include "behind the scenes looks at production, narrated by special effects producer John Kilkenny. As well, "text commentary" (as opposed to audio commentary) provides "extensive notes relating to" the film's production and "the Marvel universe." In fact, these notes are not that extensive, though you can read that Matt's NYC rooftop workouts were "actually filmed on a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles," and "The Braille code was invented by French 12-year-old Louis Braille (1809-1852)."

A second disk includes documentaries ("Hell's Kitchen and Beyond: The Making of Daredevil" shows makeup, costume, production, and wire-fight designs; "The Men Without Fear: Creating Daredevil" is comprised of interviews with Daredevil comic writers, painters, pencillers, including Kevin Smith, who killed off Karen; "Moving Through Space: A Day With Tom Sullivan" documents the film's blind advisor's life), six production featurettes ("Shadow World Tour" walks you through the comic book; an HBO First Look glossies up the shoot), multi-angle dailies, some music videos (Fuel, the Calling, and that overplayed Evanescence track), and background on Kingpin ("You don't think of him as being a fighter," says Michael Clarke Duncan, "because you think he's going to be slow"), among other items.

All this deep background ranges from engaging (Johnson and Gordon's commentary) to bland ("Beyond Hell's Kitchen"). And some of it resonates with repeated viewings of the film, and deciphering its better inclinations to represent Daredevil/Matt's experience -- his "vulnerability" that Johnson repeatedly mentions he "loves" ("I always wanted to open with, the idea of the superhero in trouble"; "Ben wore these contacts that really made him blind, so it's great") -- but they do help you to appreciate the limits imposed on this particular production (Gordon and Johnson recall shooting the arming scene in their DP's living room, giggling about how "independent" it makes them feel).

Matt's own career is most determined most plainly by his father's murder. Trying to resurrect his boxing career, Jack refuses to take a fall in the ring and suffers the inevitable consequences (one of the killers is Kane Hodder, Jason in the Friday the 13th movies). Or rather, Matt suffers. It's standard that a dead dad makes a superhero angry and aggressive (see Batman, Spider-Man, Superman; also, note Stan Lee's appearance on the sidewalk and bumping into Matt). For all the conventional thematics, however, Daredevil also goes an extra step. That is, Matt's umbrage is complicated and exacerbated by his literal and metaphorical blindness. Sure, he thinks he's seeking justice (he promises his dad always to help the needy). But you know he's seeking vengeance, as well: ruthless, violent, and never cathartic enough.

And so, the familiar split: by day (as they say), Matt's a lawyer, taking cases for the poor, abused, and innocent (and only the innocent). He works with a sighted buddy, Franklin (Jon Favreau), who provides some healthy comic/practical relief, worrying out loud and often that their two-man firm (with Ellen Pompeo as secretary, for fleet seconds) needs to make cash-money rather than the fish, liquor, and athletic equipment that their clients tend to use as payments.

By night, when moral lines are less distinct, Matt becomes Daredevil, vindictive and hardcore. He dons his leather (looking rather black here, rather than red, a condition resulting from some folks' early anxiety about a foofy-seeming hero, "fear of the red devil costume,' Johnson calls it). And he takes to the streets with the express aim of killing lawbreakers who get off in court (like its protagonist, the film seems convinced that the legal system is wholly corrupt). The scene that introduces Daredevil's noxious leanings has him taking out after a rapist who has eluded his courtroom machinations earlier that day. He finds the culprit in a sleazy bar full of brutes with pool cues, then descends like hell's fury, flipping as the camera spins, kicking and slamming all comers until the joint is strewn with bodies.

Amid this delirious choreography, the rapist escapes; Daredevil chases him out into the street and down into the subway, an appropriately underground stage for their showdown. And the execution is hard, a nasty fight on the platform that leaves the loser on the tracks, where he's smashed by a train (Johnson and Gordon discuss the debate about this moment, concerns that the hero would leave a man to die: "It's really ballsy, man," says Johnson of his supporters at Fox). Returning home, Matt slumps and stumbles, briefly touching his dad's boxing gloves (hanging on the wall as memento and talisman) as he enters his dim hallway. He downs a few Darvons and Percocets, then showers, whereupon you see his bloody wounds, bruises, and scars. In this frankly depressing aftermath, Daredevil looks less like a hero than a troubled and sadistic killer.

His gloomy psyche is mirrored in the film's aesthetic scheme: incessantly wet and dreary, its urban exteriors suggest that Daredevil is of a piece with his environment rather than deviant. That is, though he keeps telling himself that he's "not the bad guy," increasingly, he looks like he is. As if in an effort to cleanse himself of his internal darkness, Matt makes regular visits to his Church, where he confesses to a priest (Derrick O'Connor). "You don't want absolution," observes the Father. "You want permission." And, by the way, violence just begets more violence. Matt keeps framing his crusade as a test of some sort: "I'm not afraid," he avers. "I'm afraid for you," sighs the priest, "A man without fear is a man without hope." Bingo.

Indeed, Daredevil's known on the street as the Man Without Fear (mostly for all his webless, not to mention sightless, leaping between buildings -- as Johnson suggests, this is part of the character's appeal, his obvious and alarming vulnerability combined with sheer nerve). Looking for clues his grisly murder scenes, the cops and a New York Post reporter, Urich (Joe Pantoliano, whom Gordon calls a "good luck charm" because all his movies are hits), mutter about his motive and his pattern. For instance, he tends to leave a sign behind, serial-killer-like, namely, his initials in flammable gas (Johnson remember that the first attempt at this effect left the top of one D unburning, so it looked like "UD," suggesting that maybe Underdog had come to the rescue).

Such histrionics aside, it's clear that Matt is looking, in his way, for a killer rep, and Urich is happy enough to help, to exploit the pain. Matt wants to spread that pain in another way, specifically, to face his father's killer. And how fortunate that said killer, a large bald-headed fellow, Wilson Fisk, also called the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), is available. In repeated interviews, Duncan is asked to address the fact that the character is white in the circa-'60s original comic books. Duncan typically answers, as he did for the Denver Post, "Back then, you would never have thought about a black man playing Kingpin. But this is 2003 and it's a new world, a new day, and this is more acceptable."

Perhaps to that multicultural end, Kingpin's psychotic hired assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell), is definitively Irish. Summoned by Kingpin while carousing in a pub, he's introduced listening to the "House of Pain Anthem," to indicate his Irishness: "I'm moppin' up the comp / That's short for competition / I write my lyrics like / The Irish mob in Hell's Kitchen." Got it. He's also into pain. And he's got this penchant for throwing things; hence the name, and the bullseye branded into his forehead. He'll throw anything -- darts, pencils, airplane peanuts, Daredevil's fancy-equipped blade-in-a-cane -- in order to slay his victims by painful penetration (his bartender in this first scene says something mean about him being Irish, and he dies an excruciating death, choking with a bunch of needles in his throat.

Daredevil and Bullseye, in other words, are quite a good match, both damaged and quarrelsome boys looking to get even with the world. They are temporarily distracted -- as is everyone in the film's audience -- by the appearance of Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), whose name, Franklin observes, sounds like a "Mexican appetizer." She's got her own stuff to deal with, namely, a Greek gazillionaire dad, murdered when he tries to leave a crooked business and ends up dead. Yes, this sounds a lot like Matt's situation, and yes, she develops a thirst for vengeance as well.

It's not clear what Elektra does, exactly, aside from look terrific and kick up a martial arts storm, but she does both expertly. Her first encounter with Matt has them leaping and wireworking all over a playground, using the seesaws and observed by a crowd of black kids (more multiculturalism). Their mutual fondness for showing off, as well as for proving dominance, makes this couple both perfect and unusual: girls in comic books are usually rescued, repeatedly. (As Garner confided to Conan O'Brien on 14 February 2003, their stunts had consequences, and she, with her background on Alias, knew enough to seal wounds with Krazy Glue: "I Krazy Glued Ben all over the place," she smiled.)

At the same time, because Matt is so messed up he can't give up the secret identity, Elektra's encounter with Daredevil (whom she believes killed her father, due to some plot contrivances) is not at all friendly. Performed at night over a series of rooftops, they dodge and slash their ways through someone's drying laundry, an army's worth of white sheets fluttering like ghosts between them. It's a gorgeous concept, and less dependent on CGI than some of the cornier bits of business. When he insists that he did not kill her father, she's enraged: "Liar!" hisses, just before she leaps on him, scary martial arts blades extended.

Like most every other relationship Matt has, this one is premised on violence and suffering; their firelit love scene has her responding, silently and sweetly, to the many scars on his back. Still, she's right, he is a liar. And while the confessions and the lonely nights make Matt look like he's fretting about his duplicities, he never really changes his basic attitude: he's into the pain, his own and everyone else's.

Instead, he remains pretty much bent on payback, right down to the film's big finales with Bullseye and Kingpin. The change comes in you, presumably -- by the time he's battling Psycho Assassin and Extreme Capitalist at film's end, you're happy to see him exact retribution. It's a grim, wholly familiar place to be in an action movie, to feel thrilled by abuse and carnage. That Daredevil makes you pay for it, even a little, is to its credit.

It's unlikely that this gloominess accounts for Daredevil's big success. There are any number of plausible explanations -- the "Sexiest Man Alive" and his J. Lo glow, the promotional blitz, the Marvel machine. No matter. Bring the pain.


Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

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

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.