Best Records of January 2018

Scallops Hotel – Sovereign Nose of (Y)our Arrogant Face (If it’s not the most direct Milo record in general to date, then it’s definitely the most direct Scallops Hotel record yet, and it’s remarkable effective)

Glen Hansard – Between Two Shores (Glen Hansard pours his post-breakup heart out in a record that he presumably wrote most of while rowing a damn boat. The title is literal, folks.)

JPEGMAFIA – Veteran (A deeply satisfying wallop of noise rap. If it must be said that it isn’t quite better than Black Ben Carson, well, it’s up there, and very few things are as good as Black Ben Carson)

No Age – Snares Like a Haircut (No Age continues to be as interesting as they are satisfying, truly one of Earth’s premier garage rock bands.)

Cadence Weapon – Cadence Weapon (Montreal’s greatest rapper finally drops his follow-up, and it’s about as good as I could’ve hoped for)

The 2018 Grammy Awards

The Grammys are here! Last year they were a matter of not inconsiderable controversy when they revealed themselves as a product of a tone-deaf old-guard mentality that isn’t really suited to pass judgment on popular music. In the year since then, the general pop cultural environment has only become more geared toward a sea change in how these things are seen and arbited, and hopefully this year The Recording Academy can manage not to make themselves look like total morons!

They are not aided by the fact that this year’s crop, with a handful of exceptions, is uniformly pretty dire, and will not yield a good winner in most categories no matter who the winner actually is. That’s a shame, I suppose, but I’d imagine it takes a lot of pressure off choosing the “right” one when none of them are actually the right one.

Best Music Film

The Defiant Ones and Soundbreaking are miniseries, not films, so RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE we have these category problems that always drive me up a wall. Way to go, Recording Academy. I’m also comfortable taking the position we did not need a four-hour Grateful Dead documentary, and I feel like I’m not jumping too far out on that limb in saying so. The circumstances around the making of One More Time With Feeling are unbelievably tragic, and Nick Cave is one of music’s great performers, but it’s still not of much use to people that aren’t already particularly into him. That leaves Two Trains Runnin’  1, which is a good documentary about the blues and civil rights.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Two Trains Runnin’

Music Video/Film

I’ll say this about the video for “1-800-273-8255”: it’s a charming video that does an excellent job of not making it explicit how much of the one kid’s stuff (the stuff that makes Logic want him to call the titular hotline number) is in his head, and how much of it is actually coming at him. I mean, Matthew Modine seems ticked, but it might just be because, like, his son was boning in the middle of the day while he wasn’t home, y’know? Anyway, the ambiguity is useful because it also helps reinforce the message that it might not be as bad as all that, which is why you should call the hotline and talk to somebody. Good stuff. I’m not heartless.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Logic, “1-800-273-8255” (f Alessia Cara and Khalid)

Producer of the Year, Non-Classical

Most of this is garden-variety boring sludge 2, but at least there’s No ID, who produced two wonderful records, and who has also been doing notable, praiseworthy work for a long time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: No ID (Jay-Z’s 4:44, Vic Mensa’s The Autobiography, Logic’s “America”)

Best-Engineered Album, Non-Classical

Taking “best-engineered” to here mean “most representative of the performer in their natural state,” I have to say that the only one of these records that sounds like a human being made with microphones and instruments 3. is Roger Waters’ Is This The Life We Really Want?, whose title also necessitates a weird punctuation situation. These are the burdens I bear for you people. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Roger Waters, Is This the Life We Really Want?

Best Historical Album

I think the sort of survey-style compilation here represented by Bobo Yeye: Belle Epoque in Upper Volta (which I, in fact, own) and Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes From the Horn of Africa (which I had not heard until writing this piece) is great, and useful. The single-artist retrospective thing is a great way to get an education about a musical-creator, which the other three entries are. I suppose another couple of hours of The Goldberg Variations is a real boon to humanity. The songs on Washington Phillips and his Manzarene Dreams are great 4, but there’s only 15 (or 18, depending on how you count) Washington Phillips songs, and this is another repackaging of them (there were already several). So I guess Glenn Gould gets it again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Glenn Gould, The Goldberg Variations – The Complete Unreleased Recording Sessions June 1955

Best Song Written for Visual Media

It really does seem like La La Land came out way longer ago than merely at the beginning of the eligibility period for this awards show, but here we are, considering one of its songs again. Or rather, not considering it, because it’s terrible. I like “Stand Up For Something,” and it seems kind of dumb to hold it against the song that Common has basically started coming up perennially in this category for doing this exact thing, but it’s not as good as his song for Selma, and it’s not as good as some of the other songs here. “Never Give Up” is a reasonably good Sia song that sounds basically like it was pulled for Uplifting Songs for the End Credits of Feel-Good Movies For Dummies. “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” is a pretty good Zayn song with a pretty useless Taylor Swift appendix 5. “How Far I’ll Go” is a nifty Disney-style movie-capper, and as such, accomplishes what it sets out to do more effectively than the rest of these songs, and so is the winner. Although, given that the Common song means well, I’m also willing to accept it, I just don’t feel it’s as effective.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: “How Far I’ll Go” (from Moana)

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media

Hey, here’s La La Land again! It’s still real bad! I think Ramin Djawadi’s work on Game of Thrones is some of the only work on Game of Thrones I can unguardedly get behind, and it’s impressive that he figured out how much of what he does with the score is possible, especially seven seasons in. Nevertheless, there’s better work here. Hans Zimmer’s work on Hidden Figures is hamstrung by his need to collaborate, and his work on Dunkirk is hamstrung by the fact that it’s….kind of boring. So that leaves us with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s excellent score for Arrival.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arrival

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

Leaving aside my gripe that La La Land is somehow here as both a score and a compilation 6, the rest of these are fine, but only one of them used the score in a way that was integral to both the filming and the plot 7 in quite the same way as Baby Driver, which also happens to be the score that includes the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms”, which means it wins in two ways.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Baby Driver

Best Comedy Album

I will never stop being annoyed that even though Sarah Silverman is probably first and foremost a standup comedian, it’s her standup that I like the least of all the other things she does, including existing as a human being. Ah, well. This one comes down to the two big comedy comebacks 8, Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld, and of those, I think it goes to Dave.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dave Chappelle

Best Folk Album

As always, the distinctions in the “American Roots” categories are pretty hard to parse. I’ve never tried to come up with what, exactly, The Decemberists would be, but I guess when they hook up with Olivia Chaney 9 they’re Folk music, Grammy-style. I suppose The Secret Sisters are “Folk” instead of “Americana” for reasons that us plebes can simply never know. At least Cat Stevens, Laura Marling, and Aimee Mann are unequivocally Folk music. That said, I’m still taking advantage of the fluke in this categorization and giving it to Offa Rex.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Offa Rex. I do like the Decemberists, and especially The Decemberists with a different singer.

Best Bluegrass Album

So, sometimes in the less-mainstream categories 10, the combination of voters that feed into them leads the set of nominees to weird places. Most of the artists in this category, then, are pretty reasonable picks. While Bobby Osborne wouldn’t be my first pick, even among veterans, and I haven’t liked an Infamous Stringdusters album since We’ll Do It Live, I see how this happened. But Michael Cleveland is an unspectacular fiddler who has the easy-to-remember marketing hook of being blind, which I would imagine helps people who don’t have a real head for the genre remember at least one person who made a record within it. Sometimes this happens in the pop categories – no genre is immune to a marketing hook 11 but it seems like every year one of the smaller categories have one. For those of you keeping along at home, that means the things I have scoffed at are “people overcoming blindness” and “socially progressive soundtrack songs.” Truly, I am the problem. Anyway, I prefer Noam Pikelny as a member of the Punch Brothers. I like that Rhonda Vincent album a lot.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, All the Rage: In Concert Volume 1

Best Americana Album

All of the “American Roots” categories are also somewhat more susceptible than average to the “veteran artist whose work may not be quite the same as it once was” phenomenon 12 , which is where we have Gregg Allman, whose contributions to the field of “Americana” are pretty undeniable, but whose new material is decidedly, definitively deniable. He belongs here more than Iron & Wine, though. Brent Cobb is a mainstream dude wearing Americana clothing, and while his music isn’t intolerable, he’s not really deserving here. And it must be noted that if the Americana category is susceptible to old-timers, that is also partly because often it is old-timers that distinguish themselves pretty well here. The Mavericks are continuing what is proving to be a very fruitful second act 13, and Jason Isbell has been around more-or-less constantly for fifteen years, which this year resulted in an album that was better than the rest of the albums in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound

Best American Roots Song

I mean, David Rawlings’ album Poor David’s Almanack is a better album than every single album in the previous category at a walk (so you think it would be there), which is kind of annoying, but hey, we take what we can get when it comes to these things. “Cumberland Gap” isn’t as good a song as “If I Had an Airplane”, but it’s still awfully good. Weirdly, the best song on the Jason Isbell record is also called “Cumberland Gap,” but that one isn’t the one Isbell is nominated for here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: David Rawlings, “Cumberland Gap”

Best American Roots Performance

I mean, I did previously mention the Blind Boys of Alabama in a footnote. They’re still out here doing that thing, folks. Leonard Cohen (?!) and Glen Campbell are both here posthumously, which is real sad, especially since, while both of those men have made music without which my life would be somewhat diminished, it ain’t this stuff. Alison Krauss might have some kind of record for runner-up in these writeups, but I’d have to go crunch some numbers to figure that out, and, well, that would involve thinking about Alison Krauss more than I’m inclined to. So that leaves us with the Alabama Shakes. I’m not sure what technicality lets “Killer Diller Blues” be nominated this far after it came out, but it’s the best song here, so it should rightfully win.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alabama Shakes, “Killer Diller Blues”

Best New Age Album

Normally I don’t write about the New Age category, but normally the New Age category doesn’t have Steve Roach, India.Arie and Brian Eno in it. You see how it is. I won’t bother you all with the vagaries of this one except to say that, despite titan of the field Brian Eno making an entry here, I really like that India.Arie album, even despite its title.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: India.Arie, Songversation: Medicine

Best Country Album

I skip categories for all sorts of reasons 14, but for some reason I masochistically insist on commenting on the country offerings at the Grammys, despite country music occupying some portion of every televised awards show, and a couple of their own. I could skip this one! No one would blame me! The Grammy nominators have even less of an idea what makes a good country song than the average person who is not a country music fan! And yet, here I stand before you, commenting on the “rightfulness” of these garbage people and their potential Grammy win. Anyway, it’s Chris Stapleton. That guy’s not garbage. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 1

Best Country Song

Man, I should have saved my rant about how awful these things were and how little I actually have to say about them for this category, where they’re even worse and I have even fewer things to say about them. If I were a better planner, I’d have figured this stuff out.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

I am, in case you haven’t noticed or read up on the matter, an enormous fan of country music. I listen to tonnes of it. I love the stuff. That said: I have no idea why country is the only genre other than “pop” that has a “duo/group” designation in their categories. I find it to be baffling 15, although I suppose it’s an excuse to get more people nominated or whatever.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zac Brown Band, “My Old Man”

Best Country Solo Performance

Does it seem like I’m bloviating to avoid writing about the nominees in the country categories? Well, maybe I am. But, y’know, this is the last one, so I think we can call it a success, and also it’s not like you’ve lost the opportunity to read my thoughts on country music. I’ll be back, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maren Morris, “I Could Use a Love Song”

Best Rap Album

Hey! This is the best crop of albums in the “Rap Album” category since I started writing about the Grammys all those years ago. Anyway, the Rapsody album isn’t that great, and I bounced off of Tyler, The Creator’s Flower Boy 16 in a way that other people clearly did not. 4:44 was a glimpse into Jay-Z’s internal life, and I’m of an age where Jay-Z was basically the king of Rap at the time that I became aware of it, so that means a lot to me biographo-historically. Migos’ Culture is a record that completed the shift in perception of Migos from one-trick novelty-rappers that had more skills than most to an actual bona-fide great group, and it deserves every ounce of praise that it can get. Even that isn’t enough for it to stand up to Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., which is another masterpiece from a dude that’s only ever made masterpieces.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Best Rap Song

So earlier I made a joke about how Baby Driver should win the Grammy because it uses the song “Bell Bottoms”. Here in this category, a song that uses “Bell Bottoms” as its basis 17 does not win the Grammy because, El-P’s involvement (as half of Run the Jewels) notwithstanding, it’s not as a good as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion song “Bell Bottoms”. On the one hand, the pleasure-seeker in me wants this to be the unassailably candy overdose that is “Bodack Yellow,” and the comedy fan in me wants it to go to “The Story of O.J.” for its opening line 18, it’s probably got to be “Humble” because it is a really great song, y’all.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Best Rap/Sung Performance

While it’s true that I had nice things to say about the Grammy folks right around the album category, this category is stacked wall-to-wall with total bullshit, and that is stupid. Even the SZA song is the worst SZA song. The exception here is Kendrick. So way to go Kendrick.  

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Loyalty” (f Rihanna)

Best Rap Performance

I’ve spoken in the past about the divide between “Bad and Boujee” and “Humble.” I think that it’s possible to tell a lot about a person by which one they choose. I’ve ridden for Kendrick for literally as long as this blog has existed. I love the guy, I really do. And while I’m unusually bad at guessing who I’m going to continue to like in the future, I bet I will for a long, long time. And yet, “Bad and Boujee” is better than anything Kendrick offered this year. This may have something to do with my oft-stated indifference to lyrics. I make no excuses, however.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Migos, “Bad and Boujee” (f Lil Uzi Vert)

Best R&B Album

Did you know that there were roughly fifty R&B albums that came out last year that were better than these five? It’s true! Some of them made it into the Urban Contemporary and Traditional R&B categories, but mostly this category is a total embarrassment. But of course, Traditional R&B only has a song category, not albums, and Urban Contemporary only has an album category, not songs. Why is this? I have no idea, but it’s fucking stupid.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ledisi, Let Love Rule

Best Urban Contemporary Album

Khalid made a respectable debut here, and I look forward to hearing more of his music. Childish Gambino made as good a record as Childish Gambino has ever made, but it’s still not all that great 19. 6Lack surprised me by making a record that I liked, having been completely not into any of his previous singles. The Weeknd made his best post-popstar record, and that’s pretty cool. But SZA made one of the best records of the year, and deserves all kinds of awards for that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, Ctrl

Best R&B Song

See above for most of my opinions w/r/t these folks, with the side note that PJ Morton is Maroon 5’s keyboard player, which allows you to graft the appropriate feelings there, too.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “Supermodel”

Best Traditional R&B Performance

I suppose Ledisi should earn some sort of accolade for being the best of the selections in these categories despite not actually liking her record that much. I mean, it’s pretty good. I like it. I just wouldn’t guess that it was not only nominated a bunch of times, but also that it was more or less the best selection. Admittedly in this case, it came down to her or Mali Music, but in this case Ledisi had the better song get nominated.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ledisi, “All the Way”

Best R&B Performance

Kehlani and Bruno Mars are here for what are, honestly, a pair of disappointments. In other years that might have been a more exciting mashup. Daniel Caesar does it all for The Lord, which means that it’s coming from a place that is personally important to him, which is great, but doesn’t make his music any better than it is. Ledisi is still pretty good, but SZA made a genuinely-great record, and “The Weekend” is a genuinely-great song.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “The Weekend”

Best Alternative Music Album

Man, back when The War on Drugs made Wagonwheel Blues I was so into it. I haven’t listened to that record in a while, but their output since has been a pretty steady decline. Their fans seem to be into it, though, and it certainly has worked in the mainstream, so bully for them, I guess. Father John Misty continues to make music that is emphatically not my thing. The National made another record that’s pretty much exactly like all their other records which, again, is great for their fans, but also doesn’t really make it to the top here. Gorillaz continue to not be as good as they used to be 20. The LCD Soundsystem record is great, and comes from a band that has never made a record that was less than great, even after having “retired” and “reformed”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: LCD Soundsystem, American Dream

Best Rock Album

As much as I don’t have many good things to say about The War on Drugs, they are at least better than Nothing More. And although they have fallen considerably since the days when they seemed great, they haven’t fallen as far as Queens of the Stone Age who, in turn, have not fallen nearly as far as Metallica. That leaves us with Mastodon, who, while they also have had better days, at least didn’t embarrass themselves. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mastodon, Emperor of Sand

Best Rock Song

No, but seriously, Nothing More is an awful band, and that Metallica record 21 is dire. The Foo Fighters and Avenged Sevenfold are both reliable workhorse bands that have carved out reliable workhorse places for themselves in the rock music ecology 22 , but they’re both doing pretty nonspectacular work these days. That brings us to K. Flay, who are pretty good.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: K. Flay, “Blood in the Cut”

Best Metal Performance

True story: when this Body Count record came out, I almost wrote a WTFLTT piece on it, and then, while researching the piece, discovered that they have continued to make records intermittently, and have serious, hardcore fans. I also underestimated how serious the band’s approach is. So way to go, Body Count! You are a genuinely-meant expression of a once-vital rapper whose current work is now basically inadvertent self-parody, and I suppose there are worse things to be than genuinely, honestly terrible. August Burns Red is the second act to be nominated for a Grammy who makes explicitly Christian music, which is an interesting development, and it will be interesting to see if it continues, or if 2018 is just a blip year for this sort of thing. They’re still not very good. Mastodon and Meshuggah are both veterans who made pretty good records, that seem to be sitting well with their fans, of which I am not really one 23 I like Code Orange pretty well. I mean, there are tons of better metalcore bands from Pittsburgh (which, for whatever reason, has a tonne of these bands out there) 24, but they’re the best this category has to offer.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Code Orange, “Forever”

Best Rock Performance

Leonard Cohen and Chris Cornell are both in the great beyond, and that is very sad. While I understand the compulsion to nominate them posthumously, I also think that it is kind of undeserved here, and a little sadder to be celebrating what is, honestly, pretty mediocre work, rather than the great material either man has produced 25. Nothing More are still godawful. No, seriously, they’re really bad. It is of some interest that Kaleo is probably a band that you heard on television 26, and they are pretty shockingly unmemorable. So I guess, regardless of everything I just said about the Foo Fighters a minute ago, they’re the best band in this category. Good for them.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Foo Fighters, “Run”

Best Dance/Electronic Album

This is here just to say that, sure, Bonobo and Mura Masa are plenty old, but they are positive babes in the woods compared to Kraftwerk. The part of me that wants the most perverse option is rooting for Kraftwerk here, but honestly, they haven’t made a good record in decades. Maybe they’ll still show up to the ceremony though. That would be funny 27.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bonobo, Migration

Best Dance Recording

The only way that LCD Soundsystem would have any competition in this category is if the Gorillaz song that was nominated was the aforementioned “Ascension”. As the Gorillaz song here nominated is the decidedly nonspectacular “Andromeda”, it’s LCD Soundsystem in a walk.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: LCD Soundsystem, “Tonite”

Best Pop Vocal Album

It does seem odd to have Coldplay and Imagine Dragons in the pop category here – they are, pretty unquestionably, pop music, but they have been nominated for Grammys previously in the rock categories. Maybe this year they wanted to diversify their “rock” offerings. Or maybe someone on the nominating committee got tired of arguing about whether or not the largely-production-based, largely-electronic Imagine Dragons were in any meaningful way a “rock” band. In any event, they also did not make good music! They are better than Ed Sheeran, but that is not saying much. Lana Del Rey and Lady Gaga continue to be more interesting as people than as performers. That leaves us with Kesha, who probably would have won without all the process of elimination rigamarole, as Rainbow is awfully good.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kesha, Rainbow

Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album

I’m doing this category just to say that I do not support giving Seth MacFarlane awards, and I think that an attempt to get him there to vamp during a presentation is silly, and I hate this all very much. It is dumb enough to distract from the fact that the worst non-MacFarlane album in this category is the one where Bob Dylan sings other peoples’ songs. You know, for those people who hate Bob Dylan the songwriter/lyricist, and are only interested in Bob Dylan the singer. Those people. Who totally exist. Obviously.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Oh none of this should be celebrated, but anything that isn’t those two records is probably fine I guess. It would go to Michael Bublé unreservedly if the “Nobody But Me” he covered was the Isley Brothers song instead of the other one.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

“Despacito” is as good a song as Justin Bieber has ever contributed to, but it took over every public space to such a ridiculous extent that I can’t help but be annoyed by it anymore. So I guess that leaves Portugal, The Man’s “Feel it Still” as the lone tolerable song in this crop.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Portugal, The Man, “Feel it Still”

Best Pop Solo Performance

Ed Sheeran remains terrible. Pink, Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga are all not terrible as a rule, but none of the songs here are much good. I guess the Pink song is ok. Kesha did better than all of them.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kesha, “Praying”

Best New Artist

Every year I mentioned the rumored/supposed “curse” with this category 28, and use it as a hopeful attempt to get someone banished from the public sphere. If you actually run the numbers, this curse cannot be said to exist in any meaningful sense, but it makes me feel better about things anyway. In this tradition, then, I hope that it’s Julia Michaels. Lil Uzi Vert is only borderline-listenable, but he appears to be getting better, Alessia Cara and Khalid both have nice voices and could do good work in the future 29. SZA is downright wonderful. But Julia Michaels, man. That woman’s music has basically nothing going for it. So hopefully she wins and there’s a curse and I don’t have to hear her anymore.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Julia Michaels

Song of the Year

I think I’ve said everything I have to say about Julia Michaels then. I’ve also addressed my feelings about “Despacito.” Since the 2018 Grammys are the Grammys of Our Discontent, I also have to point out that Bruno Mars is yet another person who’s generally alright who has a pretty bad song up for consideration here. “1-800-273-8255” still means well, and still isn’t that bad 30. Jay-Z’s “4:44” is a weird choice for a single, but it’s the best song here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jay-Z, “4:44”

Album of the Year

Alright, knocking out the already-discussed 24K Magic (ew) and “Awaken, My Love!” (which is interestingly-punctuated, and about 0.00001% as good as Atlanta), we’re left with Jay-Z’s best album in years, Lorde’s fantastic Melodrama, and the creative and commercial juggernaut that is Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. So you probably knew where this was going the whole time.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, Damn.

Record of the Year

Finally, as is always the case, this set of categories ends just as I run out of things to say about them. “Humble” was the winner back at hip-hop, it’s the winner now.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

For the record, the categories I skipped were: Best Contemporary Classical Composition, Best Classical Compendium, Best Classical Vocal Solo Album, Best Classical Instrumental Solo, Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance, Best Choral Performance, Best Opera Recording, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Surround-Sound Album, Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical, Producer of the Year, Classical, Best-Engineered Album, Classical, Best Album Notes (the only one of these I have is the Washington Phillips one, and frankly, I just have no idea what “best album notes” would even mean), Best Musical Theater Album, Best Spoken Word Album (I mean, I like the Boss as much as anybody, but I haven’t listened to this, and I also love Carrie Fisher, but I did read The Princess Diarist and can’t imagine that it’s much improved by having to listen to it), Best Children’s Album, Best World Music Album (this space continues to refuse to acknowledge that every form of music made by a non-western person is part of the same “genre”, and therefore that “World” music is an insulting mass of exclusionary nonsense for dilettantes and assholes), Best Reggae Album, Best Regional Music Album, Best Tropical Latin Album, Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album, Best Latin Pop Album, Best Roots Gospel Album, Best Contemporary Christian Music Album, Best Gospel Album, Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song, Best Gospel Performance/Song, Best Latin Jazz Album, Best Latin Jazz Ensemble Album, Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album (quentin save me from having to write about large jazz ensemble music), Best Jazz Instrumental Album (having excluded Large Jazz Ensemble and Vocal Jazz, it only seems fair to also exclude the one subcategory of JAzz I might actually enjoy), Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Improvised Jazz Solo (the idea of listening to music specifically for an instrumental solo makes me feel itchy in my insides), Best Boxed or Limited Edition Package, Best Recording Package, Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals, Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Capella, Best Instrumental Composition, Best Contemporary Blues Album, Best Traditional Blues Album, and Best Contemporary Instrumental Album

 


  1.  which is not, in fact, a filmed version of the August Wilson play, which is what I thought it was for most of its promotional cycle. 
  2.  although shoutout to The Stereotypes, whose nomination includes their work with Iggy Azalea, which…did you even know there had been an Iggy Azalea single during the eligibility period? Yeah, me neither. 
  3.  That’s not to say these are particularly bad, or even worse than the Roger Waters record: the Perfume Genius and K Flay records in particular are fine if you like that sort of thing. They just aren’t what I’d call well-engineered. 
  4.  there are few people in the annals of recording history who are as unfairly ignored as Washington Phillips, whose songs are absolutely gorgeous 
  5.  probably a sign that things were going to go all stupid for the music of T. Swift, honestly. 
  6.  a thing that I have my mild categorization issue with even despite the fact that it, y’know, sucks on toast 
  7.  well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 kind of did, but not to the same extent, and only arguably 
  8.  this surprises me, as I didn’t expect to react to the Jerry Seinfeld special so positively. 
  9.  As they have in the here-nominated Offa Rex, although in all honesty, “folk” is as good a descriptor as anything for what they’ve done in the last decade or so. 
  10.  in terms of the Grammys, the space that bluegrass occupies culturally and commercially is less – in the sheer numerical sense – than the genres further down the list here. 
  11.  Think of Susan Boyle’s nominations, or the similarly-blind Jeff Healey, or the commercial/awards juggernaut of the Blind Boys of Alabama, all of whom made perfectly serviceable music that wouldn’t have been nearly as prominent were it not for the novelty granted their music by its existing in spite of their particular challenges. 
  12.  this is, again, something that can generally befall any category – the Grammy nominators skew older, and that sort of thing does happen. 
  13.  Brand New Day is their third album in four years, and they’re all pretty good. 
  14. see below for some examples! 
  15.  My stab at a reason is that country music is one that is popular enough to have a bunch of subcategories, but also one where you are as likely to be popular as part of a group as you are a solo person – as opposed to, say, rock music or jazz music (which has a soloist category – see below – instead of a solo artist category), where you’re pretty much guaranteed to be part of a band, for the most part – and that, since the categories were thought out a long time ago, and appended only reluctantly, was not applied to say, rappers, who can also be individuals or groups. But even that barely makes sense to me, and I spend a whole lot of time thinking about this stuff. 
  16. Formerly Scum Fuck Flower Boy, which we can all agree is a much better title. 
  17.  and is the single from the Baby Driver soundtrack 
  18.  “O.J. said ‘I’m not black, I’m O.J.’……………ok.” You kind of have to hear it context. It’s amazing, guys. 
  19.  I mean, if it ever matters to Donald Glover what I think, he can take solace in the fact that he makes my favorite currently-airing tv show (Atlanta) and was in my other favorite tv show of all-time (Community). Not to mention he got his start writing for another show in my top ten (30 Rock). So. I mean. He’s good. 
  20.  Although Humanz does contain the bulletproof, unassailable “Ascension,” which is one of the best songs they’ve ever come up with, but which is great almost entirely because of Vince Staples. 
  21.  which you can read a few thousand words about here 
  22.  and though it’s true that I love the first four Foo Fighters albums very much, and haven’t given much thought to their more recent material, I also can’t blame the band for sticking to what they do well. 
  23.  although I have been a fan of both, right around the same time (i.e. 2000-2005 or so, at which point the sort of heavy metal I had an interest in changed drastically, and I sort of dropped out of following either band closely. My fault, not theirs.) 
  24.  also feel free not to quibble with me about my use of the term “metalcore” here, thanks in advance 
  25.  to be fair, this is sort of the argument that one would have when a once-great musician dies.  
  26.  or, if you’re me, the trailer for Logan 
  27.  they will not show up to the ceremony. 
  28.  i.e. that the artist who wins “Best New Artist” then vanishes without a trace 
  29.  Khalid has already done good work, but, y’know, I’m hopeful that he will continue to do so, is what I’m saying here. 
  30.  although I’ve been writing about it a lot, and seeing it and hearing it for longer than that, and I still can’t remember the goddamned phone number, even though it’s a well-publicized number, and even though I have a magnet from the organization in charge of administering it – complete, once again, with this phone number – on my fridge. Enjoy this rare autobiographical detail. I have a fridge magnet, y’all.
     

Ursula K. Le Guin and Mark E. Smith

It would seem, at first, that the only thing linking Ursula K. Le Guin and Mark E. Smith 1 would be that they died within forty-eight hours of each other. They had little in common in terms of biography 2, and attitudinal approach 3. But they had similar, if inverted, effects on the world in terms of the overarching effect of their work.

Ursula K. Le Guin dealt steadfastly with being born a woman in 1929. She was born less than a decade after women earned the vote. Her work deals intractably with gender, and her famed essay “Introducing Myself” begins with the words “I am a man”, explaining that she “predate[s] the invention of women by several decades,” and that “when [she] was born, there were actually only men. People were men”, and going to include all of the reasons why she should be taken seriously, considered as a person, and therefore, given the societal requirement for inclusion, as “a man”. Her most famous work, The Left Hand of Darkness 4 is her attempt at seeing “what was left” of society after she removed gender from consideration.

Later in her life, she wrote extensively about the trouble with the ghettoification of “genre” fiction. She preferred, insistently, that she be considered as a writer of books, rather than as a science fiction writer 5 or a fantasist 6. She wanted all authors to be taken seriously in a basically equal fashion with regards to genre – she insisted upon her title as “author” in exactly the same way that she insisted that she be categorized a “man” for purposes of the weight and consideration given to her words and ideas.

Mark E. Smith’s battles, on the other hand, were tied to his working-class roots, and what he saw as the devouring nature of post-industrialism, which he watched greatly reduce the humanity and livability of his beloved Manchester, England. Simon Reynolds, in his history of post-punk, Rip and Up and Start Again, quotes Smith as saying “there are two kinds of factories in Manchester: the kind that make dead men, and the kind that live off a dead man.” This is partly a dig at Factory Records, the much-storied record label founded by Grenada television personality Tony Wilson, who Smith felt was running his label on the money and goodwill from fellow Mancunians Joy Division, and that’s usually how it’s thought of. But the other part of the idea – that factories “create dead men” was the real source of the dread and anger that fueled Smith’s music. Far from wanting to be considered something else in order to be accepted, Smith was insistent on being only himself – with all that “himself” entailed. Furthermore, since he felt that the system itself was broken and corrupted, irretrievably placed out of reach of the common people, he wanted no part of it. Rather than fight for his own acceptability, he drove off the beaten path, carving out his own space to be the only person he could be.

Smith would go on to steadfastly make sure that he made it very clear that he was apart from any team, any side, any group, even ones that he seemed to be inarguably associated with. He wrote and performed for feminist groups, anti-racist groups, and leftist causes in general, all the while refusing membership or any association other than the one he had created from moment-to-moment. He was Mark E. Smith, the person. The one and only group he would avow was his band, The Fall, which he never stopped insisting was a group much larger than him, despite his being (or possibly only seeming) the strongest voice, and despite him being the lone constant member.

Thus between the two you have a sort of line. Le Guin, born into a world that didn’t think she mattered as much as she deserved, fought to be a part of that world, and then fought to have her ideas about how that world should accept her, and her work, and her self, recognized in and of themselves. Smith, by contrast, was born into a world in which his acceptance was theoretically possible (he did, after all, eventually become somewhat famous and presumably wasn’t doing so badly financially), and which he wanted no part of. Le Guin wanted to change the system from within, Smith wanted there to be no system at all.

Interestingly, this contrast, the thing that separated these two people who had never met each other 7, has a direct parallel in what might be Le Guin’s greatest work, The Dispossessed. In that book, capitalism – in this case represented by a society where the people that have been deemed lesser are in political conflict with the patriarchal powers that be, called Urras – and anarchism – represented by Anarres, which contains its own oppressive seeds by forming strict proscriptions on people and their actions – are in direct conflict, and the novel is about the seeking of a balance between the two.

Le Guin was a person who smashed in the door, who got accepted and respected by being a genius, who took on what she saw as the Urrasian world into which she was born, and tried to move it toward Anarresian 8. Smith was a person who left the fight entirely, taking the world that he saw as stultifyingly Anarresian – told that the way to survive and thrive was to join up with a heterodox “team” and be raised by the rising tide of fortune – and left the whole thing, succeeding in a Urrasian sense, by allowing his talent and force of will to lift him out of the entire conflict.

They would, then, have met in the middle. Ultimately, by this comparison, we arrive at the things that they have in common. They were both ruthless critics of the things they thought were bad or stupid or even just not to their taste. Although even in their chosen critical venues, they were unfailingly themselves: Le Guin was a literary critic semi-professionally 9, and her criticism was collected in published volumes. Smith was not any kind of official critic, but a cantankerous coot who was asked often his opinion of other bands, which opinions he was more than happy to give freely and vociferously. And even in these approaches, we occasionally see glimpses of what the two might have in common: in the above-linked “Introducing Myself,” Le Guin digs at Burroughs and Hemingway, and Smith was more than willing to work with people that he had expressed distaste for, appearing on records by Damon Albarn (in the form of The Gorillaz) and the execrable Inspiral Carpets (among many others).

In both cases, however, their biggest legacy will be as the best kind of influence: the kind of artist who is not copied stylistically, but rather philosophically. Trying to write like Ursula K. Le Guin is like trying to sing like Mark E. Smith – it seems easy to do, given the presence of an easily-identified style, but doing so will only make you sound like a pale imitation of the original, to your own detriment.

It is also, perhaps, not going too far to point out that they’ve always come from a similar place. Either of the artists was able to talk effusively and effortlessly about the influence of the  Californian nutjob Philip K. Dick on their own lives and work. Le Guin was Dick’s contemporary 10, and she was a tireless booster of his work, which probably helped raise his profile enough to keep him in the public mind so that Mark E. Smith could, some years later, read and appreciate it. Le Guin and Dick both share a fascination with outsiderism, with worlds that are bigger than they seem, and with the limits of the human mind. Dick’s actual output, however, resembled Smith’s more: both men wrote shambolic, high-energy works that either soared on the strength of their ideas or collapsed utterly under their underdeveloped frameworks. The Fall made records in exactly the same way that Dick made books – quickly, relentlessly, and with very little regard for either how it fit into their oeuvre, how they would be accepted, or how they could possibly be better.

Or perhaps it’s more instructive to talk about their relationship to J.G. Ballard. Ballard was a huge influence on The Fall’s crosstown rivals Joy Division 11, and Smith claimed to only have enjoyed The Drowned World among all of Ballard’s work, despite the two men having functionally-identical worldviews. Le Guin, by contrast, revered Ballard (near as I can tell, she loved every single word of it, and there’s a lot of words there). Perhaps this is also indicative of their approaches: Ballard’s mindset and output were familiar to Smith’s, as they were very much like his own, and he didn’t need people that wrote like he did. He needed people that worked in other ways 12 to react against. Ballard’s hopeless isolationism, then, would have said something very different to Le Guin, acutely aware as she was of just exactly what “outside” was.

Rather than get further afield, I’ll simply say this. Ursula K. Le Guin, in her approach and philosophy, represented the best of what we could be: she wanted every voice heard, every person considered, every idea evaluated on its own merits regardless of the classification it came from. She fought against that classification every day, and in every piece of work, be it bound to race or gender or politics or the sort of artistic stratification that kept people whose minds worked a certain way out of the conversation. Mark E. Smith represented the best of what we could be: he wanted to be able to be what he could be, and never turned away from the messy truth of what that meant – he could be awful to people, he could be needlessly cruel, he was as willing as anyone to point out that these flaws existed and that they were a part of the whole thing, to be taken as it is. He also wanted everything and everyone considered, and believed that it was everyone’s job to consider it individually, rather than societally.

To say that the world would be lesser without the two of them is true. To say that I would be a fundamentally different person without the two of them is also true. The latter is probably the best thing I can say about either of them, and I’ll say it again: if it weren’t for Mark E. Smith and Ursula K. Le Guin, I would not be who I am. And if who I am falls short of who they were, well, it’s not for any failings on their part.


  1.  other than their shared use of a middle initial, of course. 
  2.  Le Guin was formally educated, American, the daughter of academics, Smith was English, working-class, and dropped out of school. 
  3.  Le Guin was genteel, well-thought-out, insistent, consistent. Smith was abrasive, mercurial, and seemingly governed by an internal compass that pointed in directions that were nearly impossible for anyone else to figure out. 
  4.  and, ultimately, the entire Hainish Cycle, of which TLHoD is the first part, and which includes The Dispossessed, about which see below.  
  5.  she was one of the SFWA (the body that grants the Nebula Awards) Damon Knight Memorial Grand Masters 
  6.  she was more a fantasist than a science fiction writer, although she forms an enormous part of where the ability to distinguish between the two falls apart. 
  7.  I would even place money on Le Guin not even being aware of Smith’s existence, honestly, although I’m sure that Smith knew who Le Guin was, see below. 
  8.  although, given her lifelong study of the Taoist ideas of balance, she probably would have stopped well before it actually got to to Anarres. 
  9.  by which I mean that it is one of the things that make up her profession, not that she semi-professionally criticized literature 
  10.  they went to high school together, in fact
     
  11.  the extent of which rivalry is now consigned to hearsay, and the vagaries of history. 
  12.  if this seems at odds with my previous account of the similarities between the output of PKD and The Fall, understand that what I mean is that Smith avoided that which was philosophically similar to him under most circumstances – the primary exception here seeming to be Albert Camus (from whose work his band takes its name), who Smith loved – and that his way with words and way of expressing his philosophy are both very, very similar to Ballard’s. 

A Considered Look at the Best-Selling Albums of 2017

If what makes an album a bajillion-selling album in the high times is a baffling, confusing mess of a thing, then what makes an album sell anything in 2017 is even more of a tangled mystery. Overall consumption was reported to be up, although there remains the question of whether more people bought more things, or whether the record-selling industry just figured out how tot count things so that it can report on some kind of return. The final tally (see below) does include “Track Equivalent” and “Streaming Equivalent” numbers, however, so it might just be that they’ve decided to start keeping track of things as people actually consume them, which makes them only fifteen years late on that front.

So let’s take a look at what we can learn, by examining them one by one, in the manner of the Considered Look series 1 . “Best Selling” is according to Nielsen Music, via Billboard.

Ed Sheeran, [Division Symbol]

WHAT IT IS: It is suggested that it’s just meant to be called “Divide,” but that’s stupid. Although his last album was called X, which might mean that it might have actually been meant as “Multiply”. I can’t wait (I can wait) until he gets to the point where he’s calling his album !, pronounced “Factorial,” which will also be stupid. Not as stupid as Ed Sheeran, but still pretty stupid. Ed Sheeran is stupid.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because even though it is a well-established fact that Ed Sheeran is stupid, people still insist on listening to his stupid music. I can’t imagine why, but this is also compounded by the fact that I don’t think I actually know any of the people who listen to his stupid music.

AND….?: Remember how this last season of Game of Thrones sucked more than other seasons? Remember how it had Ed Sheeran in it? Yeah, Ed Sheeran makes everything worse. His music is a vector for his plague-like spread of garbage.

THE BEST SONG: None of these songs are any good, but the video for “Shape of You” features him getting punched, so that’s probably ok. I mean, I wish it featured him getting punched more, but what can you do? We take the gifts we are given.

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

WHAT IT IS: The best-selling rap album of the year, a lot of places’ choice for record of the year full stop, and generally the next marker in Kendrick Lamar’s so far basically-perfect career.

WHY IT’S HERE: The zeitgeist sort of carried this album along on its shoulders. Kendrick’s always a big seller, and this record is less weird than To Pimp a Butterfly, and more crowd-pleasing, while also being less introspective. So people were probably more inclined to like it, and it sold a bunch (although it wasn’t purchased as much as it was streamed. Thanks Nielsen data!)

AND…?: It’s a great record. It’s extremely likable music, it’s extremely interesting music. It made my list, it made everyone’s list, everyone heard it, and it’s great.

THE BEST SONG: “Humble”, because sometimes I’m not a surprising person, and everyone’s opinion is, very occasionally, the right opinion anyway.

Taylor Swift, Reputation

WHAT IT IS: The first cracks in the Taylor Swift thing have started to show. This is not the best-selling album of the year! I mean, it’s also not very good.
WHY IT’S HERE: Momentum. A Taylor Swift record was always going to be a huge seller. She’s one of the only “too big to fail” stars still happening. This record is, in its way, a lot like the Justice League movie – it’s not that it’s terrible 2, it’s just that it isn’t actually good, and there’s nothing to recommend it beyond its own existence. It’s also only a “disappointment” commercially in the sense that the expectation was for it to be earth-shatteringly successful, and instead it was only regular successful.

AND…?: It has some nice moments, but they aren’t any of the singles. It was never going to do the business that the far-superior 1989 did, but it also isn’t a patch on 1989.

THE BEST SONG: “Getaway Car”

Drake, More Life

WHAT IT IS: The latest installment in the continuing chart dominance of one Canadian miserablist.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because people have a bottomless appetite for Canadian miserablism, especially if it comes from a former child star, I guess.

AND…?: I mean, I get why people like Drake in general, and I’m even guilty of occasionally liking him myself 3, but I guess at this point his real asset is familiarity or whatever, because otherwise I can’t really get my head around it. Maybe it’s whatever mystery agent that compels people to listen to Ed Sheeran, only applied to a less-annoying person.

THE BEST SONG: “Sacrifices”

Bruno Mars, 24K Magic

WHAT IT IS: Bruno Mars’ third album, and the oldest album on this list 4.

WHY IT’S HERE: Bruno Mars makes extremely likable, intermittently very good music, with a very easy-to-like throwback sound that a lot of people respond to favorably.

AND…?: Mars doesn’t make a lot of records 5, which is helpful, I suppose, in terms of keeping up the quality of his output. That said, 24K Magic is not actually very good, and its presence here is, like so many of these albums, actually pretty soul-crushing. Such is life. 

THE BEST SONG: “Finesse”

Post Malone, Stoney

WHAT IT IS: It’s probably not fair to refer to someone as being like a “rap Ed Sheeran” for no reason other than I hate their stupid music, but I want to do it anyway, because I hate his stupid music.

WHY IT’S HERE: Actually, it’s largely here on the basis of “Rockstar”, which is the unholy commercial alliance with another inexplicably commercially successful rapper 6, and “Congratulations,” which is a collaboration with Quavo, whose career in 2017 made me wonder if there was a feature offer that Quavo turned down in the entire year. I put to you: there was not.

AND…?: Well, I spent the “Why it’s here” portion of this writeup writing about other rappers after declaring Post Malone “the Ed Sheeran of rap” and frankly, I think that’s about where I stand on this record. It’s pretty bad, and I don’t like it.

THE BEST SONG: “Congratulations,” such as it is. I mean, I don’t know why Quavo is doing so much feature work, but I’m not what you’d call sad about it.

Migos, Culture

WHAT IT IS: Proof that good hip-hop seems to have fewer barriers to chart success than other genres, at least in 2017.

WHY IT’S HERE: Migos became a genuine actual mainstream phenomenon, having already established themselves as a genuine actual hip-hop phenomenon with their releases prior to this one. Their members’ (especially Quavo, see above) tireless willingness to pop up wherever they could is probably an aid to their general visibility, as is the fact that the particular flavor of “unique” and “innovative” they are also lends itself to being extremely catchy, and not actually sounding very much like anything else on the radio. Since these qualities are also intrinsic to their delivery, and not just embedded in their production 7, it means that when you’re hearing them, you’re hearing them, and have a good idea of how pleasing their music is going to be to you, the listener.

AND…?: I love Culture, and look very much forward to Culture 2, which will hopefully also continue their dominance, because it’s nice to hear good music atmospherically sometimes.

THE BEST SONG: “Bad and Boujee” (f Lil Uzi Vert)

The Weeknd, Starboy

WHAT IT IS: The best album that The Weeknd has made since his pop-star turn 8.

WHY IT’S HERE: Probably more of that appetite for Canadian miserablism, although The Weeknd’s is a sort of gleeful miserablism, so his record isn’t quite the same samey downer that Drake’s albums are. His Daft Punk-assisted singles probably didn’t hurt, nor did his frequent collaborations with Lana Del Ray.

AND…?: I like Starboy, I like “Starboy,” and I’m happy that The Weeknd seems to have figured out how to follow his muse to be adjust his musical approach to follow his impulse to be rich and famous without doing too much more damage to it than he already has. Since his pop records keep getting better, it’s easier to not be salty about his chart presence 9. It’s still not as good as the first few mixtapes, but then, almost nothing is.

THE BEST SONG: “Starboy”, which is one of the collaborations with Daft Punk.

Moana Soundtrack

WHAT IT IS: The soundtrack for a Disney movie. Interestingly, Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic is the oldest album on this list because it was released one day before the Moana soundtrack.

WHY IT’S HERE: A perfect storm of a clever interpolation of a kind of music that people don’t usually hear 10, songs co-written by of-the-moment musical wunderkind Lin Manuel Miranda, and a general exposure to the songs by it being an extremely famous Disney musical.

AND..?: I mean, it’s better than the average Disney soundtrack, but it’s still not my cup of tea.

THE BEST SONG: It might as well be “How Far I’ll Go,” since that’s the big one anyway. I don’t know guys, this stuff is pretty far beyond me.

Khalid, American Teen

WHAT IT IS: It’s all pretty much there in the title, honestly. American young people music made by a teenager. Or, well, ostensibly, theoretically young people music made by someone who is unquestionably a teenager.

WHY IT’S HERE: R&B is always a big seller. Khalid has a great voice, and “Young Dumb and Broke” is exactly the kind of radio-bait that is easy to get to pay off.

AND…?: It’s a pretty good record. The songs are fine, Khalid’s voice is, as mentioned, great, and it’s easy enough to listen to. I don’t know how many times I’ll ever listen to it, but I’m never sad to hear its songs in public situations.

THE BEST SONG: “Location” 


  1.  for more of which you can start here or here and go back from there. 
  2.  in Taylor’s case, the real problem with this record is the singles, which are uniformly awful, even though there are songs on the record that are just fine. 
  3.  although I haven’t actually liked a Drake record since Nothing Was the Same, which still wasn’t nearly as good as Take Care 
  4. It came out in November, 2016 
  5.  this is his third in seven years 
  6.  in this case, 21 Savage, who’s not nearly as bad as Post Malone, but is still popular beyond all possible reason. 
  7.  which not only varies across their own music but necessarily is scattered due to the aforementioned willingness to appear as features on the songs of other people. 
  8.  although it’s worth noting that even his early mixtapes included a cosign from his fellow Canadian pop star Drake, so it’s not like he was toiling in obscurity. It’s just that since the mixtapes, all of his label-supported material hasn’t been as good. 
  9.  for example, if I had been doing this when Kiss Land had been on the charts, I would probably be a lot more frustrated about it. 
  10.  traditional music of the Pacific Islands 

The Best Songs of the Second Half of 2017

The second half of 2017 is gone, the world is frozen and desolate, and everything is terrible. But there was some awfully good music! There’s more metal in this half-year rundown than in any previous, I think, which I suppose is something. That’s just about everything I have to say about it as a mass, that isn’t already covered in the individual entries below. As always, you can find a folder full of the songs right here.

Amenra, “Diaken”

Amenra take their time 1 making records, and, like most bands that take their time, make a pretty compelling argument for it by making uniformly excellent records. Mass VI doesn’t even really have a bum moment on it, with “Diaken” being the best representative sample.

A$AP Ferg, “The Mattress”

In which the good time party A$AP makes good time party music, with the best whooping ad-libs (“AAAAAAALL RIGHT!”) this side of a Migos record.

Aidan Baker, Simon Goff & Thor Harris, “Noplace”

A world-class drummer (who plays a bunch of other instruments), a world-class guitarist (who is also sometimes a drummer), and a world-class violinist (who I’m told plays other instruments, although I’m not as familiar) made a world-class album of beautiful drones. Unsurprising? Surely not. Very, very welcome, however.

Big|Brave, “Borer”

Sometimes what a body needs to be healthy and happy is some crushing drone-metal accompanied by some pained yelping. This is the best of all possible crushing drone-metal accompanied by pained yelping outings of the year, and it is everything a body could ask for.

Bjork, “Loss”

Utopia is in many ways the complete opposite of Vulnicura, both in much-remarked-upon subject matter shift and in its crazy-ass production. The relative-upbeatness of it isn’t nearly as durable as the fact that the sounds and arrangements on this record are weird as hell, and thus it isn’t quite the paradox it might seem that this optimistic, more-positive record’s high point is a song called “Loss”

The Body & Full of Hell, “I Did Not Want to Love You So”

When The Body and Full of Hell worked together the first time, I was baffled, and the result was basically my least-favorite record by The Body 2. Their second collaborative go-round was much more satisfying, and while I still prefer The Body by themselves, it was a worthy addition to their work, and is genuinely my favorite Full of Hell record. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

Boris, “Dystopia/Vanishing Point”

As Boris enters whatever this phase 3 of their existence is – Dear was meant to be their final album, but I guess they decided it was not – it’s good to hear them revisiting their old ideas, a thing that they had not been doing much of prior to this. Their last couple of records seemed to a part of a gradual synthesis of most of their previous sounds, and on Dear they basically got there. “Dystopia/Vanishing Point” is one for the books, in the drawn-out riff-fest vein of “Farewell” or the more recent “Angel,” and it’s nothing short of immensely satisfying.

Celeste, “(I)”

France might not have the best black metal scene in the world 4, but they might very well have the black metal scene with the highest batting average. So here we have another top-notch French black metal piece, although I’m pretty sure the dudes in Celeste would not be as comfortable with me calling them black metal as I am doing it. Ah, well.

Cloakroom, “Seedless Star”

Did you know I also didn’t have much substantive to say about Cloakroom when I wrote about them back in 2015, either? I mean, I used the phrase “noble Midwestern shoegazers” at that point, and I think that’s about where I’m at with this one. Great song, though.

Cocaine Piss, “Pinacolalove”

Do I have any idea what’s gotten these crazy kids so worked up? I sure don’t. And I don’t think they’re trying to actually tell me. So the only left to do is rock the heck right on out.

Cold Specks, “Exile”

In which one of the finest purveyors in mutlifaceted art-pop slows down, takes a deep breath, and makes her best record yet.

Dalek, “The Son of Immigrants”

Noise-rap pioneers Dalek 5 have managed to successfully return from their absence to take advantage of the fact that there is a whole lot more noise-rap than there used to be. Good for them. Endangered Philosphies is their second record after their hiatus, and shows that Asphalt for Eden was the duo successfully shaking the rust off, because it’s probably their best album yet, which is quite a feat given that it’s twenty years after their arrival.

Deep Dark Woods, “Up on the Mountaintop”

They can’t all be noise-assisted examinations of misery and/or nihilism. Sometimes you just want something strummy and chummy to hum along to.

Downtown Boys, “Lips That Bite”

I’m sure there must be bad bands from Providence, but I certainly haven’t heard any of them. Downtown Boys are another worthy addition to an already embarrassingly-great musical legacy from….a city in Rhode Island. Weird. Eerie.

EMA, “Breathalyzer”

If I say that EMA still doesn’t make albums that are as good as her singles, that’s probably not as big a deal as it sounds – her singles are tremendous, and it’s got to be hard to do that over and over again. “Breathalyzer” is no exception.

Brian Eno & Kevin Shields, “Only Once Away My Son”

This song basically put itself on this list. I mean, honestly, what was I going to do? Not listen to this collaboration five thousand times? Come on.

Ex Eye, “Form Constant; The Grid”

There is a sense in which this was basically on this list from the moment of its release – Colin Stetson is pretty much the best in the world at his instrument, and if Greg Fox isn’t actually the best drummer, he’s definitely the best heavy-metal drummer. The idea of them hooking up with criminally overlooked bass guitar wizard Shahzad Ismaily 6 and a guitar player whose work I was not familiar with 7 is basically a shoo-in. The surprise, then, of Ex Eye isn’t that they’re great, but that a bunch of jazzbos (and a metal drummer) made a pretty-killer black metal record. And I don’t even like black metal, as a rule.

Ezri, “1/1”

It is true that people first saw Ezri in Empire. That’s weird. It is also true that he is a pretty good rapper, and it is also true that he is a Clevelander, so I’m disposed to like him anyway, but I think I’d like just about anything that happens over that beat. Information on where the beat came from is thin and hard to find, which is a real shame, because I’d listen to it for hours and hours and hours. But, y’know, it’s also a good thing that it’s Ezri, who I genuinely do like a lot, who is rapping over the top of it.

Ben Frost, “A Sharp Blow in Passing”

Ben Frost released such an embarrassment of riches this year, over the course of two soundtracks, an ep and an album, that it was very, very difficult to winnow it all down to one representative selection. So, y’know, remember that this year also contained his cover of “Tainted Love,” and “Skittles is Fucking Delicious,” and “Mammoth Suite” and “The Beat Don’t Die in Bingo Town,” and even if you don’t listen to them, at least marvel at the majesty of those titles. And then enjoy “A Sharp Blow in Passing,” which probably is the best piece he put out this year, even if I don’t know how strongly I hold that particular opinion.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “Undoing a Luciferian Towers”

Godspeed continues to be a rock-solid consistent act, finding new ways to satisfyingly do what they’ve always done. On Luciferian Towers they give this whole “brevity” thing a try, and (somewhat surprisingly) it really works out for them.

Grouper, “Children”

We didn’t hear much from Liz Harris this year. This song might not even technically be usually included, as I tend not to worry much about outtakes (it was left off of Ruins), but since it’s the only thing I heard this year from Grouper, it made the list anyway. It’s my goddamn website, goddammit.

Gunn-Truscinski Duo, “Gunter”

I think of myself, generally, as someone who is not terribly interested in improvise dmusic. And then, of course, there ends up being a bunch of improvised music on these writeups. I suppose it’s only fair, then, to say that actually I don’t like dumb, boring improvised music, and that improvised music (across just about any genre) has a much higher percentage of dumbness and boringness. Steve Gunn is especially good at it, though, and his third record with John Truscinski is probably their most satisfying one yet. Two great players, playing great together. The peanut butter cup of guitar and drums music.

Jay-Z, “Caught Their Eyes”

You may be surprised to hear that I have nothing particularly to add to the general stew of words that have already been written about this Jay-Z record. I’ll just say that I really thought we were never going to even get another good Jay-Z record, let alone another great one, and that it’s good to have him back.

Mick Jenkins, “Free Nation Rebels”

In 2017, Mick Jenkins lost most of his chill, and made his hardest, most aggressive record (I mean, still graded on something of a curve) yet, and it might also be his best.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, “Sail On!”

As a Sharon Jones record, Soul of a Woman was as good as you could ask for. Hell, as an R&B record, it was as good as you could ask for. As a postmortem, it’s just about perfect, and “Sail On!” is it’s high point.

Alex Lahey, “Awkward Exchange”

More extremely likable power-pop from Alex Lahey is not a headline. But then, most of the appeal of this sort of thing lies in its appeal to one’s pleasure centers, rather than anything more cerebral. In fact, I daresay this one skips the cerebrum altogether in pursuit of rather more primitive cranial structures, and that’s why it’s here.

LCD Soundsystem, “Call the Police”

Look, I’m an old sad white dude. I love LCD Soundsystem. That’s just the way things work out sometimes.

Ted Leo, “Let’s Stay on the Moon”

Nearly forty years after Ernie cautioned that it might not be a good idea, Ted Leo provides a compelling musical rejoinder, and also quite possibly the best song he’s ever written.

Joyner Lucas, “I’m Not Racist”

It’s true that this is probably the first song to make one of these lists primarily on the strength of its lyrics. It’s also true that it would be a great song with different lyrics. But, y’know, the lyrics are real good. And mostly people heard this song because of the video, which is also great. But it’s also a great song, for real.

Merzbow, “Amadare Guitar”

Three minutes of guitar-scraping from the foremost practitioner of pure noise. It’s interesting as a curiosity, but more than that, it’s a pretty thought-provoking piece of music, showing that Merzbow contains multitudes, and can do what he does at any volume, with (apparently) any instrument. Oh, also, this is from the vinyl side of an insane one side vinyl/one side cd, so in addition to it being an intriguing look at form and whatnot, it’s also deeply irritating.

MIKE, “Forever Find Flight”

MIKE isn’t exactly one of the spate of emo-rappers that the soundcloud kidz are into these days, and that’s probably why I like him, to be honest. He takes the best of that sort of thing – the emotional honesty, and specifically the digging around in his worst emotional states to come up with the things he wants to communicate – and wraps it up a considerably more interesting musical package. The results are excellent, as “Forever Find Flight” speaks to.

milo, “Rapper” (f Busdriver)

In which Busdriver calls back A Tribe Called Quest, and milo throws Busdriver’s remembrances into even sharper relief. I suppose if nothing else, “Rapper” deserves full credit for demonstrating exactly what the best case scenario for a feature is.

Mogwai, “Every Country’s Sun”

So these are hard to write, right? I do it as a challenge to myself, but honestly, sometimes what I have to say about a song isn’t that interesting, or there isn’t that much of it. Sometimes it’s because my opinion is the same as everyone else’s, sometimes it’s because I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve run out of interesting ways to say “I like that shit.” Sometimes, in the case of Mogwai, it’s that a band has been so good in so many different ways for so long that I don’t know how to contribute meaningfully to the discourse around them. That makes it not only hard to fill this space about them, but even harder to make it clear that Every Country’s Sun, the album, is not merely another very good Mogwai album, but a surprising and invigorating one, and the title track is a standout from a band that has a career full of standouts.

Myrkur, “Death of Days”

Myrkur’s music can be kind of hard to pin down – it covers a lot of different sonic ground, some of which is great, and some of which makes you wish she was doing the other thing (the thing that was great). “Dance of Days,” which is a “bonus track” from Mareridt is the rare straightforward, easily-understood number in her oeuvre, and is all the more powerful as a result.

Randy Newman, “Lost Without You”

Spending much of the last couple of decades writing primarily for films has given Randy Newman’s ballad an additional sort of cinematic-frisson, and so even this, a small, domestic scene about old people being old and the onset of dementia and stuff, has this sort of wide-screen quality that is somewhat unexpected. In this case, however, it works.

Open Mike Eagle, “Hymnal”

Open Mike Eagle’s incredible Brick Body Kids Still Daydream does the thing that I hope for with any great record – it finds a way to connect the specific experience of being Open Mike Eagle, or with having been young Michael Eagle, as in the songs on Brick Body, to things that anyone can understand, and does so in ways that are inventive and effective, while also being entirely their own thing. “Hymnal” is a great song for a lot of reasons, but probably the primary one is the magic of directly communicating a complex and highly idiosyncratic way of thinking into a song that sounds great coming out of the speakers.

Pere Ubu, “Monkey Bizness”

Forty-two years into their existence, Pere Ubu continue to only be themselves, and continue to find new ways of being themselves, as well as making incredibly satisfying rock music. They are decades past the point where that should be expected. What an all-time terrific band.

Prurient, “Midnight Kabar”

Dominick Fernow hasn’t made a Prurient record that was generated by three dudes in a room since his first, earliest recordings. His decision to revisit the idea made for one of the best listening experiences of the year. Prurient records tend to live or die on their immediacy, and somehow even the septuple-album Rainbow Mirror 8 manages to maintain a healthy weight of momentum, and this probably has a lot to do with it being the sound of players interacting, rather than the sounds of Fernow’s head unadorned. “Midnight Kabar”, then, is more of a representative sample than a particular standout (although it is also a great piece of music) – the record is something that’s very much worth consuming as an entity.

David Rawlings, “Airplane”

Are country songs better when they’re wistful ruminations about what one would do with the power of flight 9? I submit to you that they are.

Shabazz Palaces, “30 Clip Extension” (f Quazarz)

They probably didn’t need to release two entire records to do it, but the good parts of Shabazz Palaces’s 2017 output were mighty, mighty good. Besides, there’s something sort of commendable about your statement being a sprawling, messy, overstuffed batch of songs, some of which sound like they weren’t ever quite finished, and some of which are absolutley top-notch. Obviously this is one of the latter.

Nadine Shah, “Holiday Destination”

Nadine Shah gets better with every subsequent release. Holiday Destination, from which we have the title track here, is even better than her first full-length. At this rate, she’ll take over the world by the time of her third record. Or at least we can hope so.

Sheer Mag, “Need to Feel Your Love”

Sometimes, even among all this highfalutin’ talk of thoughts and expression and abstraction and ideas, what you really want is something that challenges nothing, but provides easy-to-grasp thrills, and is competently and authoritatively proffered. What I’m saying is: Sheer Mag did not reinvent the wheel, but it’s a mighty fine wheel, nonetheless.

Telescopes, “Hand Full of Ashes”

The Telescopes continue to be a fantastic, consistent band that makes great records all the time, as they have for my entire life, and I feel like they still don’t get the credit for this that they deserve. Call it my mission in 2018 to make all of you love The Telescopes.

Ufomammut, “Core”

Ufomammut are probably the world’s second-finest doom metal trio 10, and although they aren’t quite as outrageously prolific as some, their batting average is enviable. I mean, it’s not every band that can still be satisfying their fans with their eight album, and after almost twenty years.

Unsane, “We’re Fucked”

I sure do ballyhoo a lot about subtlety, and communicative weirdness and all that. Well, as with the Sheer Mag song above, this does none of that. I can safely say that if you see that Unsane has a song called “We’re Fucked,” you probably know what you’re in for, and you’re probably right. And honestly, that’s exactly what I wanted it to be.

Alan Vega, “Stars”

I am prepared to say, after some consideration, that on every single album of which I am aware (and certainly every album that I own 11) that contains a song called “Stars”, that song is the best song. Alan Vega’s final album is full of all kinds of spirited, classic Vega-ist moments, and the best song, because this is the rule I have just decided on, is called “Stars”. So there you go.

Chester Watson, “Halloween”

Chester Watson still hasn’t let a year go by without his output including something that’s blown my mind. Even if 2017 was relatively minor in terms of his material in the world, it still contained things as good as “Halloween”.

Watter, “Depth Charge”

I was relatively surprised that Watter continued on 12, but they have managed to rival just about any band out there for consistency. Chalk this one up to another band that isn’t talked about as much as I feel they should be, and enjoy “Depth Charge.”

Wiki, “Made for This”

Since the end (I guess?) of Ratking, Wiki has remained tremendously busy, and his output has consistently been pretty great. He’s entered the same space as, say, The Underachievers or Big KRIT, where I’m pretty into everything he does, but I don’t actually have that much to say about it.

Charli XCX, “Backseat” (f Carly Rae Jepsen)

Charli XCX has always been a tremendously interesting pop music presence 13, with the notable exceptions basically being her radio-assist giant hits (“I Love it” and “Fancy”) and her actual “official” studio records. I suppose if her career as an actual pop star funds her side-gig as an interesting weirdo, then we’re in business. Fans of either aspect, however, should all be pleased with “Backseat,” which calls upon Carly Rae Jepsen to make this valiantly oddball, super-pleasing piece of candy.

The Yawpers, “A Decision is Made”

“A Decision is Made” is such extremely-likable music that I don’t have to do much to justify its inclusion here, and can say: man, this band has a killer drummer. What a cool dude.

ZGTO, “Long Ass Time”

ZeelooperZ would like you to know that he’s been on this grind for a long-ass time. Mostly known as a compatriot of Danny Brown’s, he’s also spent the past few years developing into a semi-hinged dervish. On A Piece of the Geto, he also reveals that he can lay back and work comfortably with queasy tension. Even if he’s just regular-style going on about how long he’s been in the game, it sounds sort of sick and fucked up. That’s a compliment.

HM: POS side-project Shredders’ “Calm/Sane” was an awfully good POS song in a year that had us spoiled for choice, and just barely missed the cut. Pope’s “David Caspian” and The Flatworms “Motorbike” are both excellently-rockin’ pieces of highly enjoyable, catchy power-pop. Ed Balloon’s “Paper Chaser” is, as all things Ed Balloon does, extremely well-sung, but misses out on the list for being fairly slight. Mavis Staples’s “Try Harder” is one of the angriest songs ever recorded by Mavis Staples, which is something of a feat not because of its competition, but because I didn’t know that Mavis Staples had angry songs in here. G Perico’s “Amerikkka” is a mad-as-hell rant that’s a lot of fun when it’s going, but doesn’t wear well. Joyner Lucas’s “I’m Not Racist” was a viral smash for its video, and his really intense delivery really helps mask the fact that it’s not really something that holds up to analysis. 


  1.  their last record, the superlative Mass V, was five years ago, and was their first for Neurot. 
  2.  it came along near FoH’s collaboration with Merzbow, which I found similarly baffling. Having now seen FoH play live, I have a better idea what they’re on about, and I like both records a bit more than I did at the time. 
  3.  the fifth or sixth of their quarter-century career 
  4.  by which I mean that I have no idea if they do or not, because I don’t listen to that much black metal. 
  5.  pronounced “Die-a-leck,” and not like the trash can robots in Dr Who 
  6.  I don’t usually have a lot to say about Marc Ribot’s solo records, but Ismaily is the bassist for a couple of them and his playing is uniformly pretty incredible. I’d imagine if I had deeper ties to the NY weirdo-jazz scene, I’d probably find him less-overlooked. 
  7.  I mean, his name is Toby Summerfield, and the internet tells me he played on a Cheer-Accident record I enjoyed a lot, but I did not know that. 
  8.  it is, admittedly, only four discs on CD. So. 
  9.  see also Merle Haggard’s “If I Could Only Fly” 
  10.  see above w/r/t Boris for the first 
  11.  It is, off the top of my head, true for albums by Lisa Germano, Hum, Kid Dakota, Bricklayercake, Colour Haze, Angel Olsen, and Two Cow Garage. 
  12.  this is, admittedly, because of me more than any particular quality on their part 
  13.  Especially Super Ultra, which I listened to a bunch when I was starting this very blog, but somehow didn’t warrant a mention at the time. Weird. 

The 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards

The Hollywood Foreign Press is, as always, kicking the year off both in terms of the awards season and also the calendar, so we’d best take the time to pay attention to them. We might learn something!

This year continued to be yet another of those years where the television parts were uniformly pretty good 1, and the movie parts were even more inexplicable than usual 2. They were also (and this may be the product of the times in which we’re living) steeped heavily in biopics, which, blergh.  

But wade through them for you little lost lambs I must, and so onward we go!

Best Miniseries or Television Film

Big Little Lies is a prestige drama full of Acting and stuff, and it’s been around for a long time 3, so I have very little else to say about it except to cite it as an example of a phenomenon that I feel compelled to mention during every television awards show that separates things out into “miniseries” and “series”. To wit: Big Little Lies is a complete story, with a beginning middle and an end, and so, as of a couple of months ago, seemed a perfectly reasonable candidate for “miniseries” status. Since then, however, it has been revealed that there’s going to be a second season, which means that it’s not a “miniseries” anymore, and so here it is, nominated anyway. This drives me batty, folks. I suppose this is at least a case where there’s any excuse for all this chicanery, but it still drives me batty. Anyway, miniseries are generally a cesspool of po-faced Serious Business, and this year is different because there is Feud, which managed to be effective without any of that stuff, and is therefore the best of these.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Feud

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film

I mean, I would like to see Laura Dern nominated for Big Little Lies because she gave me the coolest part of any Star Wars movie made in the last twenty-seven years, but that’s like, not the same thing. But I am going to withhold the award from Shailene Woodley (for the same show) out of spite. So there. Take that, Shailene Woodley. Michelle Pfeiffer is probably fine in the unmemorable The Wizard of Lies. Chrissy Metz is on This is Us and isn’t Sterling K. Brown, so she doesn’t win either. That leaves us with Ann Dowd.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film

Still Christian Slater! I’ll be dipped. Anyway, David Thewlis was no worse than anybody else in this, the weirdest season of Fargo. David Harbour was fine and David Harbour-ish in Stranger Things. Alexander Skarsgard was pretty good in Big Little Lies. I really liked Feud, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alfred Molina, Feud

Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film

Having previously stated my devotion to Feud, I will now say that it is downright poetic that two of the people in this category are playing Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and that they are also the two I can manage to stomach the idea of winning 4. Bette Davis won the Academy Award in 1963 for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane but should not have 5, but unfortunately Jessica Lainge does not rectify this problem, because she was not as good as Susan Sarandon. Ah, fate.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Susan Sarandon, Feud 

Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film

Watch as I break strongly with (my own) tradition: as with most things, David Lynch provides a useful exception. I usually complain about people getting nominated for “vintage” characters 6, but bringing back Dale Cooper, and Twin Peaks in general, was the sort of feat of artistic continuity that is nothing short of actually incredible – in that it defies credulity – and I believe it should be rewarded wherever possible. This includes for the acting performances, which in David Lynch’s case are always the sort of thing I can get behind, even when it’s “real” actors giving them. Since Kyle MacLachlan is the undisputed king of the Lynchian non-realistic actor, it seems pretty satisfying to say that this one should go to him.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks

Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

This is a pretty good category! Let’s all just sit in this moment and savor it, as a chance to consider things that are good and worth rewarding and all of that. Aaaaaaaaaah. I mean, this is going to be short-lived (see the next category), but it’s nice to pretend this could be the world.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Allison Brie, GLOW

Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Is Eric McCormack dating someone on the nomination committee? Did he bribe people? I mean, there was basically zero chance that the Will & Grace revival was ever going to be an effective piece of televisual entertainment for me 7 , but even given that can we not pretend that he’s the part of that cast that needs to be nominated for something (see FN7)? Anyway. Anthony Anderson is also not the best part of his ensemble, but at least he’s better. Still not a winner. William H. Macy spent a few years as the funniest part of Shameless, but he’s also been doing exactly the same thing for a bunch of years now, which is less impressive. Kevin Bacon plays an effective asshole in I Love Dick, which is always a delight to behold. Aziz Ansari manages to play a character type that is all over television 8 in a way that is 1) not irritating and 2) actually effective. He also moves to Italy to make pasta and fall in love with Alessandra Mastronardi which, honestly, is pretty much exactly what I would do. Since Atlanta didn’t make a season this year, it’ll have to do.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Aziz Ansari, Master of None

Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama

Not a bad field, and an unfortunate year for both Claire Foy and Maggie Gyllenhaal that they went up the same year as Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale. Not so much for Katherine Langford (who probably should not have been nominated) or Caitriona Balfe (whose performance in Outlander might be great, but which show in question is so mind-destroyingly dull that I will literally never be able to know). So it goes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Still Bob Odenkirk! Still Liev Schreiber! Still depressing! 9 The praise for The Good Doctor baffles and confuses me 10 , although I suppose that’s not necessarily Freddie Highmore’s fault. I mean, it’s also not not his fault. Ozark is better than This is Us, but Sterling K. Brown is better than Jason Bateman within their dumb shows. So there’s that. I mean, this year more than any other I’m tempted to just throw it to Bob Odenkirk or whatever but, well, I get a little sloppy with some categories down below, and I like to keep things as tidy as possible while I still can.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us

Best Series – Musical or Comedy

True story: I genuinely thought SMILF was a joke someone made up on the internet the first time I heard of it. Throughout 2017, I was forced to confront the fact that not only did it exist, and but it was then popular enough to get renewed, and now, come to find out, it is nominated for at least one award. Then, a very similar thing happened with Will and Grace. Wonders never cease, I suppose. Anyway, Blackish and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisle are good enough, but I’m here for Master of None. This is probably proof that Netflix has successfully targeted me or something.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Master of None

Best Series – Drama

Three soap operas 11, a return to a well that maybe could have used some more thought 12 , and The Handmaid’s Tale. I would be pretty easy to convince that this whole thing was teed up just to hand it to The Handmaid’s Tale without much fuss.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Handmaid’s Tale

Best Foreign Language Film

Khnhom kmeanoavei kuor aoy chabarommo daembi niyeay ampi braphet nih te dauchneh khnhom ban brae venta daembi bakabre vea tow chea pheasaeakhmer! Khnhom kitthea nih chea rueng kambleng kuor aoy asasaamnaech toh khnhom brakd nasa tha kmean vithi na del ach thveukearngear ban te! Saum chomreab dl norna mneak del an aksaar nih del niyeay pheasaeakhmer del khnhom brae proh khnhom min chue toukchett leu kar sarser kaud now leu WordPress  daembi bangkeut tuoangk pitabrakd dauchneh vea bangheanh pir dng min ach an ban!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: First They Killed My Father (which was made in Cambodia. See above.)

Best Animated Feature Film

It’s Coco. I will not talk about what those butchers did to Ferdinand. I will stop writing about this category entirely so that I do not have to shake with rage at the merest thought of it. Assholes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Coco

Best Original Song

If you told me that this song was a literal, actual joke I would believe it. Not only is none of this good, it’s not even any good as film music. I suppose the one thing that can be said is that at least these things largely play over the end credits, so I’m not compelled to watch them happen on the screen. They’re not even interesting! Just dumb sludge!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nothing! No one! None of this!

Best Original Score

Everyone in this category used to be interesting! This is true! But in 2017, this is a category full of people who are pretty much going through their own motions at this point. Even Johnny Greenwood has done enough film scoring at this point that it’s all basically the same every time out. I suppose in the field, the fact that John Williams does the music for The Post officially makes The Post a parody of itself. That’s pretty funny.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair. THAT’S RIGHT I BROUGHT IT BACK.

Best Screenplay

This is the first time it’s coming up, but I have to tell you folks flat-out: there is no way The Post deserves awards. More on this in specific categories below. I’m sure the script for Molly’s Game is unique, I’m not sure it’s what we’re looking for here. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri should win some sort of award for “general competence,” because I don’t think it’s any one aspect of the thing that wins out, although I suppose I’m willing to hear arguments. The Shape of Water is an achievement in many ways, but its principle characters don’t talk, and while that presents a challenge to the screenwriters 13 , it also means that the hardest part of screenwriting is basically taken care of 14. That leaves us with Greta Gurwig and Lady Bird.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Greta Gurwig, Lady Bird

Best Director

So Christopher Nolan tried to do something cool and innovative, and made a movie that would have been better had he not done so. I applaud his ambition. Ridley Scott had to replace a key actor at the very end and finesse him into a movie right up to the moment of its release. I applaud his technical ability. Steven Spielberg did was Steven Spielberg (mostly) does these days. I applaud his consistency. Martin McDonagh…well, I don’t know what he did that fits this joke. I applaud his nonstandard result. Guillermo Del Toro made The Shape of Water.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, Musical or Comedy

Nearly every awards show that I write about, I write about the arbitrary nature of the categories for which the awards are given out. The one that always starts this ball rolling 15 is the Godlen Globes, and how they’re more than happy to continue to insist that men and women do different jobs when they act, but that everyone who isn’t a lead, in any kind of movie, is doing the same thing 16 . This is, frankly, completely insane. The leads are actually more similar than the supporting roles – even in a straight-out comedy, the lead performers are doing more like what a drama lead performer does than what a supporting character is doing. But since they lump them all together, and that’s the rules as set out by the awards-granting body, we still must choose a rightful winner. And in this case, it’s Hong Chau from Downsizing. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Hong Chau, Downsizing

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Musical or Comedy

I mean, Sam Rockwell and Willem Dafoe are as reliable as ever, and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. By the same token, Armie Hammer is pretty much always going to be Armie Hammer, and thus is always going to be more-or-less dull as dirt, and Richard Jenkins is not bringing anything new to the table. Since the Golden Globes are already basically a circus, then why not let the person who did the best circus performance of the year: Christopher Plummer was cast, prepared a role, and delivered a performance in the time since Kevin Spacey has been accused of being a sex criminal. That’s pretty impressive in and of itself, and so I think it probably deserves the Golden Globe.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

For whatever reason, in addition to the Get Out miscategorization (see below), a lot of these lighthearted biopics are being sorted as actual comedies in the Golden Globes categories this year. That’s weird. I mean, there’s plenty of gentle humor in them, but it’s rare for a movie to not have any comedic moments in it. It’s the entire philosophical point of the idea of “comic relief.” Anyway, most of these are biopics, and most of them are also just regular-old run-throughs of the Standard Actor Biopic Serious Business Skillset, and as such, aren’t really anything special. In a year that has so many monkey-trick performances 17, it really throws how routine all of these are. Saoirse Ronan manages to do something interesting, and isn’t just playing the cinematic version of a real person that was in the news all the time, so I guess it has to go to her.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Two of these people play highly-entertaining, kind-of-awful 18 people. That’s probably interesting. I bet it would be interesting especially to figure out the personality similarities between Tommy Wiseau (played by James Franco in The Disaster Artist) and PT Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman). I bet that would be considerably more interesting than considering these performances in isolation or whatever. Steve Carrell also played a real-life person, but as far as I know, Bobby Riggs didn’t swindle anyone with his force of personality into liking his thing or whatever. I’m pretty sure he just 1) swung a racket and 2) was a public jerk. It’s a good thing the Golden Globes are still stupid about Get Out, because it makes this category not only much easier to write about, but tolerable in the first place.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Expectation plays a role in our experience of art, especially arts that require us to pretend that someone is a totally different person 19 . That is to say: we already have to believe some things in order to appreciate the form in the beginning, and the fact that various and sundry performances are given by people that we know to be good at it or whatever in the past means that we’re better-able to meet someone halfway in terms of their performance. I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as an actor that’s consistently good at his/her job, I’m just saying that a lot of people are given an easier road than others because of their prior ability to be effective. I mention it because I cannot imagine what edifying new heights Meryl Streep is actually climbing in The Post, but here she is nominated anyway. I’m not saying she’s bad – she’s probably great, in the way of things – I’m just saying there’s no way that it’s the best performance of the year. She talks, for starters. I’m sure Michelle Williams is fine in All the Money in the World, but also outclassed 20 . After that, things are less reliant on expectation as such 21, but still, the thing hangs over the entire category. Anyway, Jessica Chastain deserves some kind of reward for being the first lead character in a movie directed by Aaron Sorkin, leaving aside the usual jokes about his writing, but it’s probably not a Golden Globe. That leaves us with the wonderful Sally Hawkins, who had the further disadvantage of delivering her entire performance as a character who wasn’t even able to speak.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Daniel Day-Lewis claims that he’s retiring, never to act in a film again, after Phantom Thread. While I’m sure his performance is as overbearing and ridiculous as every other performance he’s given that I’ve been aware of, he at least deserves full credit for the charitable contribution of at least letting us believe that he’s not going to be inflicting any more of that on us. So he should probably be given an award, not for the quality of the Acting performance, but for letting us believe he’ll stop.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Leaving aside the obvious and often-mentioned truth that Get Out is neither a musical nor a comedy, it’s the best movie of the year, the best horror movie in many years, and better than every single movie in the drama category. So it’s the winner here, even though it shouldn’t have to be

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Get Out

Best Motion Picture – Drama

Well, The Post is a standard-issue high-respectability-type regular big movie drama, and Call Me By Your Name is a fake-small, fake-weird, equally standard-issue high-respectability-type regular small movie drama. So those are both right out. Dunkirk goes to some interesting places, but has a device that gets in its own way. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is as well-executed and enjoyable as its title isn’t. That’s something. The Shape of Water manages to create an excellent story out of a woman that can’t talk and a secondhand Abe Sapien. Obviously this could only have gone one way.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Shape of Water

 


  1.  with the notable exception of This is Us, which is blatantly mawkish nonsense. 
  2.  much has already been said about the inclusion of Get Out in the comedy categories, but and while nothing else scales quite those heights of ridiculous, it is also the case that none of the categories are free of baffling decisions.   
  3.  i.e. it was around at the Emmys already, because the Golden Globes comes up at a weird-ass place in the U.S. television season, such as it still is. 
  4.  see also much written here previously w/r/t Acting with a capital A. 
  5.  I’m unsure, in fact, what the rationale for her win could have even been, and it’s very hard to find Oscar-beat coverage from 1963 without reading an entire goddamn book about it, which I’m probably not going to do. 
  6.  including a bit further along below! 
  7.  the things about it that were lauded at the time have aged extremely poorly, and while there are three funny people in the cast, only one (Megan Mullally) is ever put to use in anything like a good environment for her comedy. I’m not saying that if you flipped Sean Hayes and Debra Messing’s roles that you’d have a better show, but you’d definitely have one that flattered each of their comedy skillsets better. Any Jack “fans” are welcome to come at me. I will fight all of you. 
  8.  shiftless adult male with deep enthusiasm and very few material ties. See also: every sitcom pitched at thirty-year-olds since, oh, Scrubs or so. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed some overlap with the writer’s own demographic in this categorization.
     
  9.  and here I say, as I do every year, that I have no problem with Bob Odenkirk or with Liev Schreiber. I’d even say I like them both. I definitely think they’re both at their best when they’re being funny. I’m just saying: what can they possibly be bringing to these performances that’s award-worthy after all this time? 
  10.  Note that that’s the praise – I see very clearly what they’re doing from a marketing/television-airing standpoint, I just don’t understand why people like it. Or, if they like it, why they think other people should. 
  11.  This is Us, The Crown and Game of Thrones 
  12.  Stranger Things 
  13.  I would argue somewhat less of a challenge given that the guy who wrote the script is also the guy who’s directing, and so only had to write a screenplay well enough to give the actors something to work with and to remind him of his own vision, which seems considerably easier than trying to do it for someone else. 
  14.  especially when you consider that, say, Octavia Spencer’s character is “the friend” and Michael Shannon’s character is “the villain” 
  15.  probably because the GGs are the first awards show of the calendar year 
  16.  that is to say all the non-lead men are doing one thing and the non-lead women are doing another thing. 
  17.  see below w/r/t, say, Christopher Plummer, or The Phantom Thread’s marketing centering around it being Daniel Day Lewis’s final film performance. 
  18.  Like, morally and stuff. One of them is almost certainly guilty of literal actual money crimes, and the other is probably only guilty of poor taste, but I still wouldn’t really want to have to deal with either one. 
  19.  I’m speaking here about films, see. I don’t like acting, see. See below for more blasphemy on this subject. 
  20.  By which I mean that it’s probably not as good as Meryl Streep is in The Post, for example. 
  21.  although certainly no one could argue that the last three women in this category aren’t well-regarded, consistently-performing actresses.