By Brian Baker
There’s no hesitation in Dita Von Teese’s voice when responds to a question she’s obviously been asked before: How does she get into the huge martini glass? The burlesque vedette will issue a modest laugh, and respond, “I’d like to tell you, I do a big backflip, but I don’t.” No, it’s actually a little three-step, Swarovski crystal staircase that’s hied off stage once her performance begins.
As ever, my Best Of list is a list of… things. Stuff that made me happy. When looking back at 2016, it’s hard not to feel a crushing ennui for all of those we lost and a general clusterfuckiness, but there were some gorgeous, delightful bright spots. Mine are, in no order whatsoever:
First and foremost, it has to be said that there are many movies that were released this year that I have not yet had the privilege to see. Several of those have yet to be released in theaters, or haven’t made it to DVD yet, so I’ll save that for another post. That being said, let’s get on with the list. This is also not the easiest list to put in any kind of order, so I’m not going to number them.
I’m that girl who’s always just a little bit sad I missed out on the 1960s… mainly, of course, because of the music. But ’60s soul music is alive and well today in 2016. This year we’ve been lucky to get a couple of outstanding releases from some of the original ’60s soul artists, and there is a whole lot of new retro-soul coming onto the scene as well.
Charles Bradley, Changes
One of the best new old soul singers to come out of the past few years, and this record is his best yet. Let’s hope his health is improving and he’ll be back to making great music in 2017.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Sea Of Noise
This is a record I discovered late in the year, when it hit Americana radio. It’s wonderfully crafted Americana-Retro-Soul (one of my favorite musical mish-mosh terms) with creative production that brings all that old school soul into the modern era.
James Hunter Six, Hold On!
I saw the James Hunter Six live at the Continental Club in Austin and just had to buy the album on vinyl. James and the guys will get you moving, whether you’re at a nightclub watching them play, or at home listening through your stereo. We’ve known for a while that this guy is the real deal. He just keeps on putting out winners.
William Bell, This Is Where I Live
I can’t say enough about Mr. William Bell. I’ve always been a huge fan of his songs from the old Stax catalog—“You Don’t Miss Your Water,” “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday,” and so many more. I was excited to hear that he had a new record coming out on Concord/Stax this year, titled This Is Where I Live. In 50 years the man has not lost his edge; William Bell has just as much charm as he had back in the day—in some ways, even more.
Otis Redding, Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings
For Otis fans, this is the holy grail. The brand new release gives us three nights of Otis and his band live on stage in the spring of 1966. The energy of these shows is beyond impressive. With Otis’s singing raw and unedited, his band lays back into the groove one moment and is right on top in the next, building the energy to a frenzied pinnacle of excitement. It’s almost as if you were really there.
Sidenote: I would have loved to include an album by Daptone’s late great Sharon Jones in this list, but her last record was released in 2015. However, a deeply inspiring documentary about Sharon, her musical journey, and her battle with cancer, screened at SXSW 2016. Miss Sharon Jones!, directed by Barbara Kopple, is at once funny and heart-wrenching, and hits even harder now that Miss Jones is no longer with us. I highly recommend seeing it.
2016 sucked!! Honestly I think it was a shit year for everyone, especially on a global/political level. And still going… yay! It was very successful at driving me further into my fear of humans.
That being said, humans keep creating good art. Somewhere, right now, a masterpiece is being made.
Being more than slightly agoraphobic I can’t recommend any particular live/concert experiences, but I would recommend not being agoraphobic if you can help it. I’m starting to consider YouTube vloggers as legit friends.
Divines: A French-Qatari project from director Uda Benyamina. I don’t remember the last time I had an art-induced cry quite like that. Super solid. The acting was maybe the freshest and realest I’ve ever seen. It’s that good.
Moonlight: Directed by Barry Jenkins. Tense, heavy, sincere, deserving of all its praise. Elegantly crafted, with awesome details in the cinematography as well as editing. It’s hard to watch films where the characters age and look like new people sometimes, but it’s worth it for the perfect meeting of content and style.
Under the Sun: Russian made, Directed by Vitaliy Mansky. This faux documentary (?) filmed in North Korea is technically from 2015, but I’m including it because it only reached US theaters in July of 2016 (I don’t know about everywhere else). This film will blow your brain open and give you some terrifying perspective about real-life social/political shit. You will understand the question mark once you are immersed in the film.
13th: A documentary by the scholar Ava DuVernay. Good reminders for those lucky enough to be in the know; good first exposure for those who accidentally ingested a full dose of US propaganda.
Requiem for the American Dream: Noam Chomsky laying it all out. (I think this is also from 2015 but I don’t care.) I had to watch it a couple of times to catch everything.
I stay on Rihanna’s Anti. So much fire. I always wash dishes to it. I usually listen up to “Yeah I Said It” and then start it over, if the kitchen’s not clean yet.
Anderson Paak’s Malibu definitely felt like a musical revival, rebirth, and new birth, feeling fresh and familiar in all the good ways.
Kaytranada’s .0001 mixtape was super dope and I strongly prefer it over his more official album release of the year, 99.9%. It’s great for solo dance parties.
With her latest EP, Tender Warriors Club, the reliably wonderful Lady Lamb (a.k.a. Aly Spaltro), is consciously trying to keep an open heart. Her Tender Warriors Club website reads:
find the courage to be sensitive
be emotionally vulnerable
be comfortable with & embrace solitude
never compromise their integrity
practice self-acceptance & self-love
give an honest effort
As far as manifestos go, that’s a damn fine one. And one that is utterly prescient. And Tender Warriors Club is a welcome addition to Lady Lamb’s catalogue of delicate but fierce music. She wears her emotions on the outside, and causes us to do the same. I can’t count the times that I’ve been moved to tears by her without even realizing I’m crying. Damn.
By Tim Murr
Ten minutes is barely enough time for some films’ opening credits to run, much less properly set up the first act. Writer/director Izzy Lee deftly creates a three-act story in just minutes that feels every bit as complete and satisfying as a full-length feature. Her new film Innsmouth takes a police procedural and drops it into Lovecraftian horror. The result is truly something to behold.
By Tim Murr
Singer/guitarist Annabelle Lee (ex-Mexican Slang) describes Peeling’s debut EP, Rats In Paradise, as being “about shedding past traumas, transcending pain and finding a way out,” she says. “It’s too easy to become disillusioned; I want to create catharsis and release.” Well, congratulations on succeeding. Rats In Paradise is a wonderfully realized collection. The four tracks, “Magic Eye,” “Leisure Life,” “In The Sun,” and “Wet Nurse” feel very similar to Las Vegas Story-era Gun Club. Even Lee’s vocals remind me of Jeffery Lee Pierce at his most reserved.
Kadhja Bonet’s debut, The Visitor, is timeless and otherworldly; pulling the lucky listener into a spacey, jazzy world of poetic lyrics and Bonet’s stunner of a voice. It’s a bit psychedelic, it’s definitely jazz influenced, and it’s a cinematic type of soul that no one else is making.
I’m going to admit this right off the bat: there were a few times in listening to Julia Jacklin’s fascinating debut, Don’t Let The Kids Win, that I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. On the opening track, “Pool Party,” I was drawn to the languid retro feel, a slow dreamy sway of a song, and the unusual timbre to Jacklin’s voice. I just had no idea what the lyrics were (and to me, as a reviewer, lyrics are important). But it didn’t actually matter, because the feelings are evident; there is a heaviness, a sadness that runs through the Americana-esque song.