immolations’ 2017 round-up

THE GOOD

Ryuichi Sakamoto — async

To be honest, I think I’ve included a Sakamoto album in almost everyone of my ‘Best of’ lists. I’m sure everyone knows I’m a huge fan of his work — from Yellow Magic Orchestra through to the plethora of genres he’s either pioneered or worked within over the past four decades. I think one of my friends said it best — if you look at the breadth of his work, both in terms of time and variety, it’s flabbergasting that he’s never once had a “shitty phase.” Even at 65 years of age, async feels like something new for him. First describing it as “the original soundtrack to an imaginary film by Andrei Tarkovsky”, async felt like a natural convergence of two of my main interests and I was instantly excited to hear it. It induces in me the same sorts of feelings Tarkovsky’s films do — a sense that I’m experiencing something fundamentally out of time and place with everything else around me, a need to slow down and reflect on the people and places around me, and something like a sense of contentment with solitude. It makes me more in touch and in tune with my surroundings but also more aware of how mysterious they are — never quite sure if I’m at one with them or at odds. There’s plenty of Sakamoto’s work I’ll praise as being exceptional, but until I heard async I didn’t think it was possible to achieve that through music.

Twin Peaks — The Return

Enough has been written about Twin Peaks detailing exactly why it’s perhaps not only the best thing Lynch has ever done but also one of the finest things to ever air on television. Not a single week went by in whichI wasn’t totally washed over by just how magical the whole experience was. I don’t think Lynch offered up a straight sequel to the original series. Instead, he dropped us straight back into the whole mythos while further developing and expanding it. By the end of The Return much of what seemed vitally important to us a few months ago didn’t really seem that important at all (Mr C/Bad Cooper certainly didn’t seem like an important fixture anymore)… So we’re left asking, what is important? What or who is JUDY? What was Cooper trying to achieve? Did he succeed? And ultimately, none if it matters — because Lynch took us for one hell of a ride and it ended back with Laura Palmer’s scream. Strip back the soap opera, the comedy, the mythology and lore, and you’re left with what the show has always been about — trauma.

Persona 5

I always find it difficult to work out just how much I love Persona games. Topping up nearly 100 hours of playtime, there’s obviously highs and lows and it’s difficult not to compare them to my memories of the previous games. I loved playing Persona 5 and by the end I was actually pretty sad to put it down but I couldn’t help shake the feeling that Persona 3 and Persona 4 had much stronger senses of place (Persona 4 really nailed that small town), better characters, and that the stories were much more engrossing. But over time I started to feel more and more nostalgia for Persona 5 and closing out the year I’ve found myself listening to the soundtrack again with total glee (Shoji Meguro knocks it out of the park again). Then I remember that I’d had a very similar experience with Persona 4 — I thought it was a much better game than Persona 3 but not as thematically interesting. Again, I look back on it now with nothing but nostalgia. That continues to build with Persona 5 and I’m sure by the time we get a Persona 6 I’ll be looking back on this as one of my favourite ever games.

Persona 5 is obviously an excellent game and the additions to the battle system, dungeons and social links were much welcomed. The story I’m still not entirely convinced of but it has some very interesting thematic points to make through a number of the dungeons (In particular, the dungeons portraying bullying, exploitation and sometimes physical abuse towards young people involved in sports and arts). But like I said, for any ambivalence I do hold towards it, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pretty sad to finish the game — I certainly got pretty emotional watching during the final hour or two of the game. I’m pretty desperate to jump back into it all again at some point.

Yakuza 0

I hadn’t played a Yakuza game until this year and this seemed like a good entry point by all accounts — I was instantly hooked. It’s one of very few games I’ve played in which it feels like I actually do want to do everything on offer — I want to sing at karaoke, I want to spend hours at the nightclub dancing to ridiculously camp 1980s disco tracks, I want to buy up all the property, and I want to beat the shit out of random goons on the street. I didn’t expect to, but I found myself kind of engrossed by the story of the game. It’s by no means a masterpiece but it has enough depth and some well-written characters to keep you invested. Honestly, this was some of the best straight up fun I’ve had from a video game in a long time. Love them boys Kiryu and Majima.

Lorenzo Senni

Lorenzo Senni’s ‘Persona’ came out in November last year but I didn’t really dive deep into it until January. For those who don’t know of him, Lorenzo creates “deconstructed trance” that is heavily influenced by 1990s style trance build ups — essentially repurposing the sound in a more minimalist and playfully structured manner. Having somewhat of a guilty pleasure for some particularly gaudy trance music, I instantly fell in love with the album. I was lucky enough to see Lorenzo in Manchester with one of my buddies and it was perhaps the best experience I’ve had in a club this year. Being somebody who fluctuates between dark and moody techno nights and straight up disco, often struggling to really get into much in between or else, it was great to just embrace the rave like atmosphere in what was a former MOT garage turned music venue. Lorenzo has since released two more tracks (The Shape of Trance to Come and XAllegroX) and I’m really excited for whatever he brings to 2018. Oh, and Lorenzo dancing to his own set is something that’ll always be etched into my mind.

Broken English Club — The English Beach

Like Sakamoto, Oliver Ho’s industrial techno project has crept into my last three ‘Best Of’ lists. I don’t really know what else to say other than he’s continuing to produce some of the best straight up techno music I know of — straight up angsty and dark while being energetic and clean sounding. I’m continually surprised more people haven’t got deep into his work. Close to the top of my list of artists I want to see in 2018.

Cumtown

It’s by no means for everyone but I absolutely love this podcast. I’ve listened to Cumtown for just over a year now and it’s consistently the most funny piece of media I know of. I find myself laughing at jokes and bits from the podcast weeks and months after they first aired so obviously it’s going to make this list. Honestly, listening to Nick, Stav, and Adam is a highlight of my week.

Nathan For You — Finding Frances

One of the strangest and most compelling episodes of television but also one of the most interesting meta-commentaries on what a show has even become. I feel like it’s somewhat pointless even trying to write about this as it has to be experienced. God knows what the future holds for Nathan.

Better Call Saul Season 3

Maybe the best straight up character drama around? Sure, Breaking Bad was great but this just seems to be on a different level. The portrayal and evolution (or maybe breakdown) of Jimmy and Chuck’s relationship over the last three seasons has been nothing short of sensational — but this year the show really dived deep into the cruel, vindictive and spiteful mindset of Chuck. I don’t think I’ve seen a character like Chuck written and portrayed so well — everything about him was believable. The scene in which he turns on Hamlin and the law firm he had spent decades building also come to mind. It was a great example of how people like that eventually turn on those closest to them when they even try to suggest they may be in the wrong. It was three years in the making but we finally got to see just how far the arrogant old man would go without reflecting on any of his own flaws. Oh and of course the show is full of tension and ridiculously well directed.

The Young Pope

To be honest, I don’t even know what this was about but whatever it ruled.

SOME RESERVATIONS

Mr Robot Season 3

I loved both Season 1 and Season 2 of Mr Robot. The show transitioned from a cyberpunk style/counter-culture portrayal of anger at the political, social and economic establishment to a more difficult exploration of the fundamental question “What did we even achieve?” — something many political movements eventually have to confront. So I was quite disappointed that this season decided to embrace increasingly cartoonish Chinese villains and an overarching narrative of “You all got used and we let this happen.” It feels lazy and, I think, a rather poor commentary on how anti-establishment politics/populism leads to a dead end. I felt like the show really wasn’t far off saying everything it had covered to date was a mistake and actually reform is the only answer. I really don’t like the direction the show is going in. Also, the portrayal of mental illness is also becoming more and more juvenile with each episode. It’s still a decent watch and I particularly like how well it’s shot — I can’t think of anything that captures New York quite like it. I’m probably strapped in for the long ride but this season just left me delivering a long sigh.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds

I’m sure this will be many people’s Game of the Year and I don’t want to dispute that — it’s definitely deserving of all the praise it gets. But personally after being hooked on it for a few weeks, I eventually found the game pretty exhausting to play and continually thought “I wish you could play this kind of game but in the MGSV Fox Engine.” I actually really enjoyed watching other people play this game and found the much criticized eSports broadcasts a wonderful watch. Seeing different players doing totally unorthodox things to get those Chicken Dinners was a particular highlight. Many others have said it, but I’m sure this will now stand as the genesis or a whole new standard of multiplayer gaming. A great game but I burnt out fast.

Tekken 7

Tekken is a stupid and as ridiculous as ever. I’m having hours of fun playing Tekken 7 especially with friends online but the lack of an old style story mode (with each character having their own little arc and ending) and a Team Battle mode is pretty unfortunate. I justwish there was a bit more of the old Tekken in it.

Berserk

Heavily criticized (and perhaps rightly — some of that animation was total shit) online, but I did enjoy watching this season of the show. At this point I’m pretty heavily invested and will watch it for as long as it’s on. Oh and some great Susumu Hirasawa sounds yet again.

Game of Thrones

On the plus side, everything is coming to a conclusion: the battle seasons are amazing (who doesn’t lose their shit seeing dragons totally demolish what until now were well drilled and near invincible armies?) and I’ve always been a sucker for stories based around multiple armies warring at once (Romance of The Three Kingdoms comes to mind). On the other side, the show is devoid of any real political intrigue and the once relatively well written characters now come across as either idiots or having blatantly clear intentions — Cersei and Littlefinger being key examples. Many people criticized the ‘plot holes’ and repeated use of ‘deus ex machina’ this season which is something I’m not entirely comfortable with. Criticism based on “Guys, here’s 10 things that didn’t make sense” or “Here’s some things I saw on TV Tropes” isn’t good. I think part of what made this season good was that The Army Of The Dead really doesn’t make much sense — who fucking cares where they got their weapons or equipment from? I want them to be mysterious and unknown — I don’t want an episode explaining the logistics of their army. Overall, this season was OK. It’s nowhere near the worst season of Game of Thrones for me (That would be reserved for the hours and hours of Many-faced-god monologues we had). Can we just hurry up and close this out so people can stop dialing in ’12 things that did not make sense in the latest GoT’ articles?

THE NOT SO GOOD

Blade Runner 2049

I did my best to avoid anything to do with Blade Runner 2049. I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of analyzing trailers, promotional art and leaks from the set. I wanted to approach it with as few preconceived conceptions as possible. Sadly, I also came out with almost zero questions. I found myself turning to my friend repeatedly stating “Well… umm.. That was OK but…?” around almost every point. I don’t think Blade Runner 2049 is a necesarily bad film but my opinion has continued to sour over time. My biggest problems are

a) The motivations of the Replicants and the way it approaches a lot of the questions around their ‘humanity’ feels like a slap in the face of everything the original has come to represent (particularly the stuff around the ability to reproduce)

b) The plot twist, if anything, erased absolutely any questions I did have about the fil

c) The pacing is very and odd. More and more I think to myself “If the first half of Blade Runner 2049 was a pilot for a TV show I’d be hooked. It’s not however a good film.”

d) As the film goes on, a lot it looks like a poor homage to the first film. The soundtrack really lacks any mood or memorability.

I’ve heard plenty of people lamenting it’s box office under performance and how this means we’ll have fewer ‘intelligent’ films to watch at cinemas. I disagree. I think if anything this should be a warning for directors and scriptwriters that you can’t approach a film like this hoping to create a franchise or wider universe. Make a great standalone film or make a great TV show — don’t start by trying to create a cinematic franchise.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

OK — I’ve never been a big Star Wars guy. I haven’t watched the first three films in forever and I only ever saw the prequels at the cinema as a kid. I enjoyed The Force Awakens but thought the final act was rushed. I thought Rogue One was a pretty great film and especially liked the portrayal of the rebel politics and the way the Empire functioned (Krennic is perfect as that hysterical easily manipulated but relentless higher/middle manager villain)… I really thought I was in for something special with The Last Jedi. The opening act with the well choreographed space battles had me hooked. After that things just gradually fell apart and I found the film devoid of tension. I think the overarching theme of this film is that the younger generation are trying to emulate and live up to the narratives their parents and grandparents lived through — even though we learn even the best of them fucked up. It’s why the developments of Kylo and Rey (whose lack of any parent figure is further highlighted as vitally important) are actually interesting. But the rest of the characters feel flat and hollow. In particular, Hux and the First Order just come across as pathetically incompetent, meaning almost showdown between them and the rebels is boring and uninteresting. I never once felt invested watching them chase the rebel ships. They lack any threat and the film therefore lacks suspense. I also think towards the end of the film, it begins to overemphasize visual sentiment over plot — trying to provide us with breathtaking pigeon holed shots to remember again and again as the plot gets messier and messier (Luke’s death, Phasma and Broom Boy come to mind). It feels like they had a few storyboard panels in mind to close the film out but no real idea how to link them narratively or cinematically. There were so many bits in this film that I really wanted to love but overall I was disappointed.

SOME POSTNOTES:

  • There was a tonne of great music this year and I’ve put some of my favourite releases here.
  • I didn’t get to see nearly enough films this year. I really need to make more of an effort in 2018.
  • A big thanks to everyone I’ve met this year, people who hung with me and shared their hospitality on my travels, and the friends back home who have frankly been fucking great.

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