Top of the Pops…
For journalists the world over, and particularly for entertainment writers, December means helping editors put together year-end lists. While cynics might scoff at the space-filler, extremely useful when masses of staff members are visiting family in all corners of the country and world, I love them. Me being a music nut, the “Best Albums of the Year” lists are my favorite, and I’m always thrilled when, at the start of December, the Pazz & Jop ballot arrives in my inbox. Pazz & Jop is the “albums and singles of the year” chart compiled by the Village Voice, and is sent out to hundreds of the top music journalists in America. When the results finally arrive in January, you know for sure that the album placed number one really is the critic’s choice for album of the year.
They’re always fun to work on too. The first task is refreshing yourself with what albums were actually released over the past 12 months, which isn’t easy. That gets narrowed down, in my case, to 15-20 albums, before arriving at the final 10. Then they have to be placed in order. It can take some time.
This year, my own album of the year is David Bowie’s Blackstar. It simply had to be. We lost the great man in 2016, but this was no sympathy vote. Blackstar had a greater emotional impact on me than any other album released this year, as Bowie detailed and basically journaled his own mortality and final journey. It’s an immense and important piece of work and, while artists such as Danny Brown, A Tribe Called Quest, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and more released excellent albums this year, Bowie’s just seems more vital. Next month, we’ll find out how many of my colleagues and peers agree with me.
The Holidays Lead to a Wonderful Life…
Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, every store, mall, town center, and home has free rein to go all kinds of crazy with Christmas fever. Yes, I’m well aware that not everybody celebrates Christmas. I know that other people are celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and more during December. Celebrating a variety of cultures is enriching and, honestly, a whole lot of fun. Although I have to be honest here—I’m not religious at all, but I’m a Christmas nut. I’m a sucker for a holiday anyway—any excuse to eat great food with my family and friends, play board games, and watch seasonal movies — I’m all in. That’s what Christmas means to me. Not the consumerism—homemade presents or oddities found in thrift stores are always the most fun. But the time spent with loved ones. I’m aware this isn’t something that is exclusive to Christmas, and that’s why I like the Starbucks cup.
This year, I’ve seen a lot of online chatter suggesting that the holiday period is soured thanks to family members voting in the polar opposite direction to yourself, but that notion ignores the number one rule of holidays: NEVER discuss politics. Never. It’s the very worst idea. If that leaves you lost for conversation starters, here are a few to keep you alive after It’s a Wonderful Life…
- What about them Cubbies, huh? Looks like the Detroit Lions might have a similarly big year.
- The Walking Dead – they’ve really lightened up since that premier.
- Lady Gaga’s new album – artistically brilliant or superficial pop?
- Did Mrs. MacGregor at number 167 put up even more lights this year?
- What’s with Cousin Tommy?
You know the sort of stuff.
Blair Witches and Green Infernos…
After my strong feelings a few weeks ago about The Walking Dead premiere, I’ve felt the need to catch up on some recent horror movies this week, with mixed results. Eli Roth’s tribute to Italian Cannibals Holocaust and Ferox has some wonderfully grotesque moments of bloody carnage (the first ritualistic kill in the film is startling), but Roth can never seem to resist inserting dumb humor into his films, killing the tension. It’s like he doesn’t want to pull any punches but, right as he’s about to strike, he flinches. In this case, the scenes involving masturbation, diarrhea, and the “weed munchies” are dumb. It’s a shame, because he laid the groundwork for an intense film here, featuring an important message about naive environmental campaigning.
The new Blair Witch movie is just annoying. Despite playing as a sequel to the first film (the second should be forgotten), it’s more like a remake. More kids go into the woods, they walk around in circles, hear noises in the night, some of them go missing, they find stick figures in the trees—it’s the same, except the budget is bigger and the money appears to have been spent on terrible sound effects. Most of the time, the Blair Witch sounds like a Ford pickup amplified with the distortion all the way up. But there’s one scene where we actually hear a cackle. Like, a full-on Wizard of Oz cackle. The people behind that idea should be strung up in the trees themselves.
I did have a good laugh at Krampus though. Those evil elves are awesome.
Who’s Behind the Song Machine…
Finally, I can’t recommend the book The Song Machine by John Seabrook highly enough. Whether you’re enamored by the world of contemporary pop music or you are disgusted by it, the book provides fascinating insights and anecdotes. The connection to Sweden and Ace of Base (bet you never thought you’d want to read about those guys, but as it turns out they played a major part in the pop world as it is today), through the New Kids to Backstreet Boys to N*Sync—all of these things are pieces in a jigsaw that, when assembled, gives us a pop world that is cut-throat and, of course, massively consumer-based. But Seabrook approaches it all with an open mind, and it makes for a great read.
“Callwood at the Cooler” is a new bi-weekly column which will see me waxing lyrical about events in the news, pop culture and the etc. Sometimes it’ll be light, other times not-so when the rant/monolog demands. The subject matter will vary dramatically so expect anything and keep coming back.Tags: Blair Witch Project, Callwood at the Cooler, David Bowie, The Song Machine, The Walking Dead