Okay, Fine… Here’s My Year-End “Lucky Seven”

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3. Josephine Decker

A frequent Joe Swanberg collaborator, Josephine Decker has jumped into directing headfirst recently. Her quasi-doc/horror/suspense/slice-of-life/WTF feature Butter on the Latch was great, and the equally genre-defying Thou Wast Mild and Lovely is even better, a tempestuous marriage of early David Gordon Green, Tobe Hooper, and Bethel Buckalew, made original through Decker’s unique, even-handed deployment of both the tense and the meditative, not to mention her wicked, absurdist sense of humor.

Josephine Decker

 

 

2. Battle Trance/Matt Nelson

Nothing can scream its way into your consciousness quite like a saxophone, a notion I had reinforced this year with the one-two punch of tenor sax quartet Battle Trance’s (literally) breathtaking Palace of Wind, and ‘Trancer Nelson’s solo joint Lower Bottoms. Not long after my exposure to both of these refined-yet-brutal heaters, I had the good fortune to see both Nelson and Battle Trance play shows in Portland within a week of each other, both of which were 100% cataclysmic (though, all told, my booze consumption at Nelson’s show was equally cataclysmic).

Battle Trance  Matt Nelson

 

1. Willis Earl Beal

Before we begin here, let’s raise a glass to all of the “first album was good” artists out there, those who careen into view with an unrefined, but perfect, blurt only to burn out just as recklessly, either by whittling their edges dull or simply numbing via repetition. These artists are as valid as any, in their way, but would be infinitely more respectable if not for their inability/unwillingness to accept their station (you’d think all these garage bands who idealize the Nuggets era/sound, for example, would take the hint from their heroes that, sometimes, one 45 is plenty… but I digress).

Despite early forecasts of as much after his debut album Acousmatic Sorcery a few years back, this description doesn’t apply to Willis Earl Beal. Beal burst onto the scene so raw, he was often misconstrued as an “outsider musician” and/or an idiot-savant blues singer. Both of these impressions were insulting and reductive, and neither got anywhere near the heart of his art. With Beal’s latest, this year’s Experiments in Time, his music has simultaneously gotten more accessible and even stranger, conjuring a particularly pensive night in the Black Lodge (albeit with an overall vibe which is more Sade than Julee Cruise).  Experiments in Time is sad, funny, sexy, surreal, and ominous; it’s the best work he’s yet released, but I’d bet money that it won’t prove to be his career high point.

Full disclosure: I interviewed Willis for Esquire earlier this year, and since then we’ve struck up something of a friendship. As much as I value that, I write here not from the perspective of a friend, but a fan; while I’m glad he’s not an asshole, his work would be just as good if he were (well, that’s a loaded statement, but you get what I mean).

Willis Earl Beal

 

ADDENDUM: Reissues/Archival Material

I didn’t include this stuff above because it didn’t fit the theme, but here’s my top three “old things made new” this year:

3. Nihilist Spasm Band- No Record (Lion Productions)

2. John Coltrane- Offering: Live at Temple University (Impulse/Resonance)

1. Fripp & Eno- Live in Paris 28.05.1975 (Opal)

 

…Alright, that’s it. I didn’t like anything else. Not a single thing.

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Dustin Krcatovich is a cartoonist, writer, designer, founder of FM DUST, and a collector of certain curios and ephemera (with a focus on 20th century "junk culture"). His writing and illustration work appears frequently in The Quietus, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Esquire's Culture Blog. He is also a former editor and contributor to Secret Zen Garden,Saagara's illustrated mindfulness/wellness blog for young people. He currently resides in Portland, OR.

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