The Things That Kept Me Sane – 2017
By: Bruce Matlock
Gorillaz – In Spring 2016, according to an interview on Beats One with Zane Lowe, Pusha T says he was contacted by Damon Albarn about a guest spot on his new album that he described as like a “party for the end of the world, like if Trump were to win.” That bit of prescience produced an album that served as my party album of dread all year. The live version didn’t disappoint either with appearances from Vince Staples, Anthony Hamilton and many others at the tour opener in Chicago. So, let’s celebrate what a great year 2018 will be and ring it in with “We Got the Power” which closes Humanz in such a positive fashion it’s hard not to look ahead.
St. Vincent– St. Vincent released one of the best albums of 2017, and brought a live show fully embracing what an album MASSEDUCTION is. The first half of the show delved into familiar favorites with Annie Clark standing entirely alone on stage. What this created was a sense of intimacy that left a sense of awe hanging over the room. When the MASSEDUCTION version began is when the show really became special. As the curtains dropped away and reveled a screen and Clark reemerged and a much different show began, one less intimate and much more theatrical.
Portugal. the Man – Though I did see them twice this year, the band didn’t make this list on the strength of their live show. Woodstock was one of the best albums of the year, though some of the songs had been floating around for a while, the election of Donald Trump hung heavy over the album. From the initial moments of “Number One” as someone shouts, “no fake presidents” to the fiery video for the track of the year “Feel It Still” shows the band is more interested in how they represent themselves than changing for their new-found popularity. Nothing like starting a flame war with Alex Jones and InfoWars ilk to let everyone know you aren’t interested in gaining those type of fans.
Vince Staples – The last musician to make this list. I didn’t jump on the Staples bandwagon until this year, I apologize. From the initial lines of Gorillaz album-opening “Ascension”, I was hooked. Big Fish Theory was my favorite hip-hop album of the year. My favorite lines from “Party People” go back to what Albarn was looking for on Humanz, “How I’m supposed to have a good time
when death and destruction’s all I see?” I felt that way often this year Vince, so thanks for putting it in song form. Still a dope dance track though. Props to Vince for taking on First We Feast Hot Ones’, which you should absolutely watch here. His appearance with “BagBak” in the Black Panther trailer felt highly appropriate and got me amped to listen to Vince and see the movie, so great promotion work to everyone involved!
Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Let’s call this the game this year that most took me back to childhood. Not that BotW is an easy game by any means, it definitely holds a fair number of challenges. It inspired in me something that I hadn’t felt in some time, like playing Donkey Kong Country for the first time. The graphics were not what many had hoped for, but given the history of the Zelda series and Nintendo itself, that should hardly have been a surprise to anyone. Content released since hasn’t really added much replay value for myself personally, so I knock it a bit for that and for not being able to explore the world post-final boss.
Super Mario Odyssey – Again, Nintendo killed it with the core classic this year as the Switch console released. The future of the console will rely heavily on new Metroid Prime titles, as well as a new Zelda game supposedly already in the works. Still, I’ll be working my way through Odyssey for some time into 2018. I haven’t yet completed the main story, but I already know for every power moon I find, there are probably 4 that I haven’t.
Horizon: Zero Dawn – Looking for a purely adult perspective, Horizon was my favorite game of 2017. It was beautiful roaming through the aftermath of the robocalypse in the American Northwest. I had as much fun finding things like Red Rocks Amphitheater and various National Parks landmarks as I did hunting for raccoon bones and turning various robotic animals to do my work for me. New DLC addition, Frozen Wilds has added a significant amount of value in the form of a storyline and new weapons/outfits to take into the larger world.
The Good Place – More than anything else this year, The Good Place brings pure joy into my life on a week-to-week basis. The entire cast, writers, and creator Michael Schur make me laugh so hard I cry while also opening my mind to philosophical and ethical questions that I had never ventured into. Ted Danson is pitch perfect, but honestly so is the rest of the cast. Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil and a special shout out to breakout star D’Arcy Carden who makes me snort at least once per episode. I wish I could tell you more about the show, but the nature of it makes that impossible, so just watch it!
Legion – Forget the Justice League, forget Wonder Woman, forget Thor Ragnorak. The best comic book inspired event of the year was Legion. Dan Stevens stars as a heavily-manipulated, schizophrenic mutant David Haller. Aubrey Plaza is the best villain of the year. As Haller grows stronger, so does Plaza, both in strength and honesty about the true direction of the story. Noah Hawley fully owns this show and is becoming an FX powerhouse, alongside his work on Fargo. The show, more creatively than any other, focuses on mental illness and how the people around Haller react to what he is going through. I can’t wait to see what Legion holds for us in season two.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – If other forms of pop culture worked to keep me sane, John Oliver sought the destroy me with the truth. Never before have we more needed more laugh/cry emojis. This year Oliver educated us on the full story around topics like Confederate statues, corporate consolidation, forensic evidence, and of course, a full rundown on the absurdity of 2017. Oliver was also sued by coal baron Robert Murray for his piece on Murray Energy, which promises to provide much more material in 2018 once he is allowed by the HBO legal team to speak about it. If 2017 proved anything, it’s that we need to laugh, party and love more than ever. As John Oliver also showed us, we also need to fight for the world and people we believe in.–Bruce Matlock