Tag Archives: Astralia

The Best Bits: 2017 feat. Bee

Here it is: the best of the best from 2017. The list of albums is comprised of music from every genre. If you want to see the purely metal/rock top 10, you can find it on Metal Insider (spoiler: it’s not that different).

I also did things a little differently for the best films of 2017. My wife and I watched 26 new movies last year, so I decided why not reflect on all of them together? You’ll find our thoughts, both good and bad, on all those movies as well as our individual top 5 films of the year. Hope you enjoy.

Top 10 Albums of 2017:

1. Mutoid Man, War Moans (Sargent House)

mutoid man 

There was a lot of good music this year, but nothing stuck with me quite like Mutoid Man’s second album. It’s fast, catchy, and the most fun I’ve had with an album in a long time. Every track is a winner, especially the slower, sobering finale “Bandages”.

 

2. Steven Wilson, To the Bone (Caroline)

steven wilson 

I’m a Steven Wilson fanboy through and through, but album after album he’s proven there’s a reason for that. I wasn’t sure how To The Bone was going to match up to 2015’s sublime Hand. Cannot. Erase., but it’s another winner in Wilson’s stellar discography.

 

3. Trivium, The Sin and the Sentence (Roadrunner)

 trivium

I’m a long-time Trivium fan, but I’d be lying if I said I loved their more recent releases. That said, The Sin and the Sentence is everything that I ever loved about Trivium in the first place. High school Matthew would be very happy with this album.

 

4. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (Stickman)

elder 

I tried to get into Elder a few years ago, and it didn’t take. But the strange sonic journey that is Reflection of a Floating World has me ready to take a dive into the band’s back catalogue.

 

5. Ghost Bath, Starmourner (Nuclear Blast)

ghost bath 

Moonlover was my favorite album of 2015 and has since become one of my favorite albums of all time. I wasn’t sure Starmourner was going to be a worthy followup. I’m glad I was wrong.

 

6. Ne Oblvisicaris, Urn (Season of Mist)

ne obliviscaris 

Ne Obliviscaris’s first two albums were good, but they didn’t grab me with such immediacy as Urn. I let the album repeat as soon as it was over.

 

7. Leprous, Malina (InsideOut)

Leprous-Malina

Leprous continue to release meticulously crafted music. Einar Solberg is proof that someone in metal does have the voice of an angel.

 

8. Astralia, Solstice (Aloud Music)

astralia

I discovered Astralia last year while looking for instrumental post-rock music that I could work to. Their new album is a soundscape of soothing atmospherical tracks that can take you places if you let it. “Farewell and Encounter” features a spoken word passage that makes the album that much more gorgeous.

 

 

9. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore)

bell witch 

This 83 minute single track album is the most moving piece of music I’ve listened to this year. It’s not for the impatient or faint of heart, but it is one hell of a journey.

 

 

 10. Iron & Wine, Beast Epic (Sub Pop)

iron and wine

Sam Beam has crafted another winner with Beast Epic. It’s a perfect melding of all the different sounds that Beam has weaved together on previous releases, from the upbeat poppier tracks to the contemplative acoustic passages.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Anathema, The Optimist (Kscope)
TWRP, Ladyworld (Self-Released)
Converge, The Dusk in Us (Epitaph/Deathwish)

 

Thoughts on 26 Films from 2017:

1. Fifty Shades Darker

Matt: It’s just like its predecessor: decent cinematography and soundtrack, but boring and sexless. The best thing I can say about it is that there’s only one more to suffer through.

Bee: Better than the first one, but only barely. Still holding out for them to adapt The Boss series.

 

2. Get Out

Matt: I feel like horror films are better now than they’ve ever been, and Get Out is proof of that. Take a bit of Rosemary’s Baby and mix it with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and you get one of the most important films of the year ripe with tension as the mystery unfolds.

Bee: Horror movies have always been well posed for weaving in social commentary. Get Out is nothing anyone would call subtle, but the humor and skill keep it from being too ham-fisted. Instant classic, and one I have already rewatched.

 

3. Logan

Matt: Logan marks the end of an era in bittersweet but awe-inspiring fashion. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart both showed up with some of the best acting of their careers and newcomer Dafne Keene has a bright future ahead of her. This was without a doubt my favorite superhero film of the year.

Bee: I’m going to be honest, I didn’t find the plot to be anything special, but that’s excusable because the acting in this film is nothing short of genius. Stewart is fantastic and heartwrenching as always, Jackman will make you weep for all the watered down Wolverine movies of the past, and Keene delivers nothing less than a jaw-dropping debut.

 

4. Kong: Skull Island

Matt: A campy, ridiculous, 70’s tinged monster flick might not offer much we haven’t seen before, but it’s a whole lot of fun. If watching Kong smashing monsters in the face with a tree trunk turned baseball bat isn’t enough for you, John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson should keep you entertained.

Bee: This was one of those odd movies that I walked out of the theatre loving, but the more I thought about it the more issues I had with it. It wastes its strong talent, offers little to no character development, and is utterly predictable. That being said, it’s gorgeous, and has a giant gorilla fighting…skeleton lizards? If you liked Pacific Rim you’ll likely enjoy this.

 

5. Beauty and the Beast

Matt: I can’t say that any of the Disney live-action remakes have blown me away, but they’re certainly very well crafted. Beauty in the Beast is much the same with new workings of its memorable score and an admittedly impressive rendition of the original film’s famous ballroom scene.

Bee: A perfectly passable re-envisioning of a classic. The CGI was a little over the top for my tastes, but I have a rather biased love for practical effects. Worth a watch, but in no way touches the original. Except Luke Evans, he can stay.

 

6. The Circle

Bee: The first half of the movie does a great job of setting the stage for an eerie dystopia run by Google, but ultimately fails to provide satisfying follow-through or conclusion to the themes it introduces.

Matt: The movie has a great cast and teases a decent build up, but it all ends up feeling far too on the nose. It all kind of ends with a shrug rather than a poignant statement on technology in the world today.

7. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Bee: BOY do they play fast and loose with a lot of the mythology here, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy every moment of this movie. Good world-building, great cast, beautiful sets, stellar soundtrack, and Charlie Hunnam is just fantastic.

Matt: This is not a film for Arthurian purists, but it is a solid action adventure film. Its stylish action set pieces and anachronistic tone provide enough entertainment that any moments of head scratching over the plot can be overlooked.

 

8. Alien: Covenant

Bee: Better than Prometheus. Fassbender continues to be the strongest part of this reboot. I’m hesitant to see how the series will unfold, but for now I’m still invested.

Matt: Ridley Scott proves once again that he knows how to shoot horror and how to make a movie look damn good. It’s not a particularly inspired entry; an Alien movie can only go so many ways. Still, Fassbender holds it all together with his dual performance, so it’s worth showing up for him if nothing else.

 

9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Bee: Better than I expected. Watch this movie for the music, stunning visual effects, and ship battles versus plot and character development and you’ll have a good time.

Matt: It’s not an amazing film and it’s not as good as the first three (never saw the fourth), but it’s not bad. The Pirates movies certainly know how to deliver unique action set pieces, and this one’s full of them.

 

10. Wonder Woman

Bee: A true beacon for the genre. This movie, more so than any superhero film to date, left me feeling hopeful and inspired. Gal Gadot has proved all of my initial concerns wrong at every turn and I couldn’t be happier.

Matt: It’s been long overdue, but a Wonder Woman film is finally here and it delivers on every level. The “No Man’s Land” scene will go down as one of the most iconic superhero movie moments in history, not least of all because it represents what we all want from a hero like Diana: hope in the face of overwhelming odds and the resilience to overcome them.

 

11. The Big Sick

Matt: A genuinely hilarious romantic comedy that manages to touch on many different subjects surrounding family, race, and cultural expectations. Kumail Nanjiani is brilliant and delivers a warm balance of laughs as well as heart.

Bee: Heartfelt, hilarious, and honest; this is my kind of comedy. A romantic comedy that is actually grounded in reality, and for all its dramatics feels genuinely relatable. I can only hope that the success of this film leads to more of this kind in the future.

 

12. Baby Driver

Matt: The best action film of the year bar none. Director Edgar Wright has another winner in his already stellar filmography. Featuring slick editing, a killer soundtrack, and some of the best car stunts you’ll ever see, Baby Driver is high-octane action at its finest.

Bee: A classic example of the plot summary is not doing the movie justice. More character driven than a heist movie, more emotionally grounded than a car chase movie, more glued-to-your-seat than a drama, this movie hits it out of the park any way you look at it. My pick for best of 2017.

 

13. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Matt: Spider-Man’s in the MCU, and while the idea of rebooting the character again after five years may give cause for eye-rolling, don’t be fooled. This is a light-hearted and funny superhero film that captures what Peter Parker and Spidey are all about. Plus, Michael Keaton absolutely steals the show as the villain Vulture.

Bee: As a card carrying member of the Toby Maguire is the best Spiderman club, this wasn’t half bad. Holland more than carries the physical requirements of the role and, while his Spidey currently lacks some of the characteristic snark, it’s a refreshing take on the role. A fresh take on both Aunt May and MJ were welcome shake-ups, and Keaton’s Vulture is one of the most engaging Marvel villains in recent memory.

 

14. War for the Planet of the Apes

Bee: Not my personal favorite out of the three, but an ultimately satisfying and well orchestrated conclusion to a truly magnificent trilogy. If you are at all a fan of visual effects, these movies are a must.

Matt: The conclusion to the Apes reboot trilogy manages to sidestep the “underwhelming third movie” curse. The mo-cap performances, led by Andy Serkis, are as captivating as ever and Matt Reeves’s direction is masterful.

 

15. Dunkirk

Matt: Christopher Nolan delivers yet another winner in this trim, tense World War II film. The driving focus on survival keeps you locked in from the get-go and even though the film’s subject involves defeat it doesn’t miss the chance to feel inspired by the time the credits roll.

Bee: Now I’m certainly not what anyone would call a Nolan fan-boy but the man knows how to tell a story. In an age where violence and shock value are used as selling points, he proves you don’t need copious amounts of blood to tell a gripping war story. Tense, well-paced, with just the right balance of emotion, I’ll have to admit Nolan earned his praise for this one.

 

16. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Matt: The plot of the film doesn’t offer up anything spectacular, but the prologue and opening chase sequence are some of the best and most entertaining use of special effects I’ve seen this year.

Bee: Bland plot but goodness this movie is pretty and fun. Great special effects, gloriously extravagant chase scenes, and Rihanna as a morphing space blob burlesque dancer. What’s not to love?  

 

17. The Dark Tower

Bee: Out of all the Dark Tower installments “The Gunslinger,” which provides most of the material for this movie, should have been the easiest to adapt. Instead it’s a hard-to-follow mess which unacceptably alters the core of its main characters. Just read the book.

Matt: I’ve waited a long time for this film. While it’s great seeing Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey bring two of Stephen King’s most famous characters to life, The Dark Tower is a drab, soulless action film. If they try adapting this again, I hope lessons will be learned.

 

18. Logan Lucky

Matt: I can’t tell you how much this movie surprised me in all right ways. It steeps itself in southern culture, particularly NASCAR, but leans on smart writing and intriguing characters rather than relying on the overdone self-parody we’re so used to seeing. Plus, Daniel Craig steals the show with one of his best roles yet.

Bee: I never would have expected a comedy-heist movie centered on blue collar Southerners and NASCAR to be one of my top movies of the year but here we are. Surprisingly subtle acting paired with a tight plot and genuinely interesting characters make for a refreshing and enjoyable view.

 

19. It

Matt: It is a better horror film than it is an adaptation; it’s a great fun to watch, but some changes were made that left me scratching my head. Still, the kids are all great and the camaraderie built between them is well depicted. This is probably the best you could do when adapting a book as long and as detailed as It.

Bee: Much more a coming of age film and much less a horror film, but not in a bad way. The kids are all fantastic, Bill Skarsgard is horrifyingly mesmerizing as Pennywise, and I can’t wait for the second installment. Fans of Stranger Things would love this.

 

20. American Assassin

Bee: Whether you’re watching it for the explosions and gunfire, Dylan O’Brien’s forearms, or for Michael Keaton being, well, Michael Keaton, you’ll have a good time. Ultimately forgettable, but an enjoyable watch.

Matt: This is one of those action movies you’ll flip to while watching TV and leave there because nothing else is on. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Michael Keaton is great fun and the action itself is done well enough to keep you watching.

 

21. Blade Runner 2049

Bee: It was long, it was slow, and I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending, but I would watch it again which is a large improvement from the first movie.

Matt: Watching this film is what I wanted to feel like watching the original Blade Runner. Beautiful cinematography and a palpable atmosphere weave in and around this film, spearheaded by a stellar Ryan Gosling, and delivers a sci-fi epic that may be long, but makes for quite the experience.

 

22. Thor: Ragnarok

Bee: Passably enjoyable, but I ultimately don’t feel that it offers much to the franchise. Cate Blanchett is laughable as one of the most cardboard cutout villains in the MCU. The Hulk is reduced to a comedic sidekick. Wake me up when Black Panther opens.

Matt: Definitely the best of the three Thor films. Thor finally gets to be the star of his own movie (as opposed to Loki) and while upping the comedy might not jive well with some, I enjoyed the many laughs mixed in with the crazy effects driven action.

 

23. Murder On The Orient Express

Bee: A fantastically over the top murder mystery that left me guessing until the end. Kenneth Branagh is lavishly flamboyant as always, and it was a treat.

Matt: Well filmed, well cast, and serves as a great reintroduction of Agatha Christie’s famous detective. Here’s hoping we get more movies with Kenneth Branagh and his killer moustache.

 

24. Justice League

Bee: Worth seeing just to watch Diana unapologetically roast Bruce. Ezra Miller is utterly brilliant as The Flash. The movie is a mess, but the characters and cast are solid, and I’m tentatively looking forward to more.

Matt: The mix of Zack Snyder’s and Joss Whendon’s two styles doesn’t really work and Superman’s return isn’t as triumphant as it should’ve been, but the film is fun all the same. Seeing these six heroes on screen together still made me giddy.

 

25. The Shape of Water

Bee: Pure beauty. This will not be most people’s cup of tea, but every single thing about this movie is artfully done. Guillermo continues to create some of the most unique and moving stories of his time, and watching Doug Jones continues to be a thing of magic. Not an Abe Sapien origin story. Sorry.

Matt: A wonderfully mature fairy tale bound together by a touching romance between a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) and a fishman (Doug Jones). This is Guillermo Del Toro at his finest.

26. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Matt: Rian Johnson delivers a watershed film for the Star Wars saga. It does everything a sequel to The Force Awakens needed to do and the constant subverting of expectations offers brilliant results. Mark Hamill delivers his best performance yet and Carrie Fisher’s final performance makes the viewing that much more emotional.

Bee: Everything the middle child of a trilogy should be and then some. Perfect balance of bittersweet victories, satisfying character arcs, and the best lightsaber fight scene since Episode I. Grab a snack because it’s a long one, but trust me, you won’t mind one bit.
Top 5 Films of 2017:

Matt:
1. Logan
2. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
3. Dunkirk
4. Baby Driver
5. The Shape of Water

Bee:
1. Baby Driver
2. Wonder Woman
3. The Shape of Water
4. Logan
5. Logan Lucky

 

Favorite TV Show:

Godless

godless

This limited-series on Netflix is a violent and gritty western, but it’s the great acting and characters that kept me hooked. A tense build-up and a satisfying conclusion makes for one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a long time.

 

Favorite Book:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

So I’m a few years late on this one. The sheer depth and detail King invests in his characters and the town of Derry, Maine makes for an unforgettable experience and one that was hard to leave behind.

 

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The Good Bits: April 2017

Woo, boy. April was packed, particularly on the musical front.

Music:

Ghost Bath, Starmourner(Nuclear Blast)

ghost bath

You may recall that on my Top 10 Albums of 2015 Redux post I reiterated how much I loved Ghost Bath’s sophomore full length Moonlover. It’s not only my favorite album from that year, but it’s become one of my favorite albums of all time. Since then the band has had a growth spurt in popularity that includes touring the world and re-releasing Moonlover on a major label. Now the band’s follow-up Starmourner has to contend with the success of its much loved predecessor. Does it stack up? Short answer: Yes.

Ghost Bath’s music typically revolves around depressive melancholic themes, and while Starmourner still retains some of those themes, the over concept and sound of the album feels a bit…lighter? It’s focused more on astral themes rather than straight up misery and lots of the songs are in major key. That’s not to say that the album isn’t heavy; “Ambrosial” and “Thrones” are probably the two heaviest songs on the album featuring the familiar blackgaze riffage and soundscapes the band is known for. In fact, this is probably the most riff focused the band has sounded yet, which I’m a bit mixed on. Some riffs on songs like “Thrones” are driving and vicious before diving into broad melodic passages, but others “Luminescence” didn’t keep me quite as captivated.

This doesn’t prevent the album from still being great, however. In fact, I applaud the band for writing an album that sounds different from their first two while still retaining their signature sound. Starmourner may also be a good place to start for newcomers or for people who’ve tried to listen to Ghost Bath but couldn’t get past the shrieking vocals (which I felt took more of a backseat on this album). As far as follow-ups to masterpieces go, Ghost Bath have done an admirable job of both continuing and evolving their sound on their third album, seamlessly weaving heavy riffs and emotional textures together for another stellar record.

 

He Is Legend, few (Spinefarm)

he is legend

I’m a latecomer to He Is Legend. I haven’t really listened to their earlier material and came on board sometime after the band reunited and produced 2014’s Heavy Fruit, an album I enjoyed for a few spins and then didn’t really think about it again until I saw that the band had put out a new album. So I shrugged and threw on few for a listen and came away having a pretty good time. The album sounds like a deceptively straightforward hard rock album, which it is in some ways, but the well-crafted songs add a layer of depth your average active rock radio single doesn’t have. Meaty riffs paired with standout vocals from Schuylar Croom create catchy numbers like “Air Raid”, but the band takes a detour here and there like on the goofy, blusey fun of “Fritz the Dog”. This is probably the most accessible album I’ve listened to in a while that isn’t instrumental.

 

Persefone, Aathma (ViciSolum)

persefone

I slept on this one for a bit. It popped up on my radar right before its initial release (February) and I didn’t get around to it until earlier in April. But woo boy am I glad I finally checked it out. I’ve said before that some newer prog metal albums get a bit too technical and end up boring me as a result. That’s not the case with Persefone and their fifth album Aathma, which is the finest prog metal album I’ve heard so far this year. From the get-go you know that Persefone are virtuosic players, but they thankfully put composition before everything else, choosing to use their chops as a garnish rather than the main course. The album moves seamlessly from one track to the next with graceful piano interludes before spiraling into death metal madness.

It’s hard not to think of prog metal legends like Dream Theater and Cynic when listening to this album, but I’m not saying that Persefone are derivative by any means. Rather, they evoke the same feelings I have for those aforementioned bands and their great musical works. They stack up to those bands and stand a head above other bands that are just trying too hard to sound deep and complex. I’ll definitely have to check out more of Persefone’s earlier material once I’m done wearing out Aathma.

 

Astralia, Solstice (Aloud Music)

astralia

Last summer I discovered Astralia and gave them a write up, heralding them as my musical savior when it comes to instrumental post rock that helps me focus when writing. That album, Atlas, was two years old at the time, and I wondered if they’d put out anything new in the near future. And they did. Solstice is the band’s third release and it’s just as good as its predecessors. The songs are a bit longer this time around typically ranging from 8 1/2 to 9 minutes, but you’ll be so enraptured by the band’s soothing and emotional soundscapes that the album will be over before you know it. The opener “Exhale” is an excellent summation of all that you would expect from Astralia, so if you didn’t check them out the last time I wrote about them, now is as good a time as any.

 

Film:

Split

split

If you’ve been following me for the past few months, you’ll know I haven’t watched many M. Night Shyamalan films and that I only just watched The Sixth Sense last October. Admittedly, part of this has to do with Shyamalan’s preceding reputation for dumb plots built around hokey twists. And yet, Split makes for an effective thriller with one hell of a performance by James McAvoy and an equally impressive lead with Anya Taylor-Joy (who also starred in The Witch).

While the hook of having a villain with Dissociative Identity Disorder might be considered dumb or even offensive to some, I thought the film handled it more intelligently than expected. Kevin’s (McAvoy) psychologist stresses that he’s far beyond a textbook case of DID, viewing him as the key to unlocking the potential in all humans. If anything, despite doing some pretty terrible and creepy things, Kevin is almost made out to be more of a supervillain or antihero or at least a mutant (wink wink, nudge nudge). I don’t claim to be an expert on metal disability, let alone DID, but as far as stigmatization goes, Split isn’t the worst I’ve seen. If you go in understanding that this depiction of metal illness is more or less science fiction, then you’re fine. I won’t say much more, though the Internet has probably spoiled things for you by now, but if you’ve been on the fence about this one, I’d say go for it.

 

Books:

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel_Book_Cover

When I last wrote about Sabriel in my “Currently Reading” blurb, I mentioned that, at halfway through the book, I felt I’d only scratched the surface of the world of The Old Kingdom. After finishing the book, I still feel that way, but not in a negative sense. In fact, one of my favorite things about Sabriel is that I felt like there’s a whole world to explore with many things happening in it, but my experience was contained to one story that wasn’t interested in big info dumps or tedious world building. Nix simply introduces Sabriel and you follow her on a journey both mysterious and magical, and yet it sometimes reads like magical realism rather than straight-up fantasy. It’s refreshing and, although it’s the first in a trilogy, it tells a satisfying and complete story.

I went into the book without any real introduction (there’s no summational blurb inside or outside the book), but I think that was the right way to go, so I’m hesitant to say too much about the book lest any of you decide to read it. Basically, Sabriel is a teenaged girl who must venture into The Old Kingdom where magic is prevalent, but none more so than necromancy. But this isn’t simply a “raise a corpse and make some zombies” kind of necromancy. Death is very, very different in The Old Kingdom and reading about it is melancholic, chilling, but beautiful too.

There’s a few oddities in word choice and sometimes the focus on description gets a bit Tolkien-esque, but if you’re hankering for a fantasy book that doesn’t feel like a giant undertaking, I’d highly recommend Sabriel. You can potentially enjoy it as a standalone, but you’ll want dive back in after experiencing Nix’s fascinating world.

 

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

cosmicomics

A co-worker lent me this funny little book after I let her borrow Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s a collection of short stories based on scientific theory with characters that are anthropomophisized mathematical formulae. If that sounds like it’s too over your head, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. For example, the first story, narrated by a being known as Qfwfq, talks about how “people” used to climb up to the moon and hang out on it before it started moving farther away from Earth. It’s all very whimsical and told in a stream of consciousness style that is sometimes hard to read, but many of the stories are genuinely funny. In my favorite, titled The Light-Years, a “person” spots a galaxy with a sign that reads “I SAW YOU”, and so he makes his own sign in reply knowing it’ll take 100 million years until the other “person” sees it. I laughed out loud during this and a few other stories, and any book that can get me to do that deserves recognition.

 

Currently Reading:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

After a brief detour with Cosmicomics, I went right to the next book in the Abhorsen trilogy. The story takes place fourteen years after Sabriel and is centered on a new protagonist. It’s about 200 pages longer than its predecessor, but when I actually found a stretch of time to read I breezed through the first 100 pages. We’ll see if I have this done by next month.

 

Currently Watching:

American Gods

If you haven’t read it, read it. If you don’t want to, watch the show anyway. It’s only one episode in, but damn good so far. Pining for Game of Thrones? This is your new replacement.

 

Currently Gaming:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

So much do. So little time.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

My fiancée and I keep inching ahead of each other bit by bit.

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