2017 In Review: Secondary Stars and Other Satellites

on Saturday, December 23, 2017
Confession time. I only read 70 books this year, 74 if you count unpublished manuscripts (and, like, 174 if you count drafts of my own book during the final edit). Which means, of course, that my sample size is embarrassingly small. Oh, well, you know what they say - never let your small, small knowledge base stop you from forging ahead with whatever the hell you plan to do. It's the kind of strategy that gets you high political office these days. So let's begin this year's cavalcade of grandiose pontification with smatterings of bookwormish ephemera: the things that are either not about this year, not about judging books for what lies between the covers, or not about books at all.

Here Come The Dogs by Omar Musa
I've always been meaning to read Here Come The Dogs. I remember when it came out; all the excitement, the palpable buzz. And then, you know, time... As luck would have it, I did a radio thing with Musa this year and so took the opportunity to read this and a couple of books of his poetry before we met. Even a few years on, Here Come The Dogs is a riveting, fresh novel that sparks and bristles on the page. The story of Jimmy, Solomon and Aleks is the real deal, a glimpse into an Australia that many seem to fear simply because they don't bother to engage with it. But most of all, Here Come The Dogs is street music committed to the page; authentic, painful and oftentimes hilarious.

The Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio De Maria
Written in 1977, this hallucinatory mindfuck of a novel, charting the twenty days during which the people of Turin experience a collective psychosis brought about by the mysterious "Library", would be the stuff of nightmares if only it didn't mirror the current climate of mass paranoia. Equal parts Borges, Poe, Orwell and occult text, The Twenty Days of Turin disturbed me more than anything else I read. Come from the horror, stay for the prescience.

The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
Before Ian Fleming, there was Eric Ambler. The great grandaddy of the genre; the spy thriller writer's spy thriller writer. You get my drift. Usually, I'd not have thought to pick up one of his books - heck I'd never even heard of him. But my brother-in-law brought this as his plane read from England and I wanted something fun to kick of the year. Kismet, I suppose. The Mask of Dimitrios is about as old school a spy novel as you could hope for. A mystery writer gets caught up in a web of intrigue and espionage when he tries to piece together the last days of arch criminal Dimitrios, whose body has turned up in a Turkish morgue, No fancy gadgets, no whizzbang technology, just proper dirty dealings and double crossings. Sure, it's hokey and a bit too po-faced for its own good, but it's a joyously indulgent throwback.

Ok, so shoot me, but I think WH Chong's cover design for my book was simply extraordinary. Even if it wasn't mine, I'd still have picked this.

Other books to judge by their covers:

This year I'm not going to do proper a countdown because, frankly, 2017 just wasn't a great year for music. That's not to say there weren't some really good albums, but not good enough to have me burn the midnight oil, tearing my hear out trying to decide which one goes where on my list. So, with that in mind, some music I dug in 2017:

Mystery Weekend - Surprise
Halfway through the first song, Theodore, it occurred to me that Mystery Weekend might just have put out the Protest The Hero album I've been waiting for since Scurrilous. Then I discovered MW is fronted by PTH's Rody Walker. Makes sense. Fast, fun and technically furious.
Pick of the Crop: Everyone's a Liar
Mystery Weekend Bandcamp

The Movielife - Cities In Search of a Heart
I'm quite convinced that Vinnie Caruana is a magician. Or a mutant. Or a magical, mutated w√ľnderkind. His recent output with I Am The Avalanche and last year's solo album have been exercises in pop punk perfection. But let's face it, we've all been hoping for a new Movielife album. Now it's here and goddammit it's sublime.
Pick of the Bunch: I honestly can't choose.

Ezra Kire - Speakers in the Sky
I'll never quite understand why I connect so deeply with Ezra Kire's poetry of the gutter but he has a way of piercing my heart like almost nobody else. Morning Glory's Poets Were My Heroes was my album of the year way back in 2012 and still stands strong as one of my favourites of all time. Speakers In The Sky doesn't quite reach that album's heights but, as the first solo outing for Kire, it does a fine job of growing his catalogue with characteristic heartbreak, misery, wistfulness and hope.
Pick of the Bunch: Civilian Song

Direct Hit/PEARS: Human Movement
I've never really "got" Direct Hit before, so I picked this up because PEARS are undoubtedly the most exciting punk band to appear in the past three years. Needless to say, I was quite surprised to find my expectations turned on their head by this consistently kick-arse split album. PEARS's contributions are as fun and fiery as I'd hoped, but, holy mother of out-of-control trains, Direct Hit's six songs are just awesome.
Pick of the Bunch: Shifting the Blame

The Sherlocks - Live For The Moment
Raucous pop from these British lads. Hooks a plenty, attitude for miles, Live For The Moment does exactly what its title says.
Pick of the Bunch: Was It Really Worth It?

Propagandhi - Victory Lap
The bad news: It's not quite Tomorrow's Empires or Supporting Caste level amazingness.
The good news: It's still Propagandhi so, ya know, it's politically-charged, technically-spectacular punk rock brilliance.
Pick of the Bunch: Letters to a Young Anus

Rancid - Trouble Maker
Old punx do a reasonably convincing job of sounding like young punx again. By far their best since Indestructible.
Pick of the Bunch: An Intimate Portrait of a Street Punk Trouble Maker

Bad Cop/Bad Cop - Warriors
It's hard to listen to this album without thinking about Stacey Dee's star performance in the punk rock musical Home Street Home. The snarling passion she now spits out on Warriors might come straight from the heart of Sue, with anarcho-feminist anthems and songs of struggle to keep the fire burning. Politically, it a raised middle finger to much of what's shit about the world right now. Thoroughly enjoyable, straight shooting and full of surprises, this is one of the most important punk records of 2017.
Pick of the Bunch - I'm Done

Harry Styles - Harry Styles
Kill me now. I loved this album. Overblown, bombastic pop with enough left turns to keep it interesting.
Pick of the Bunch: Sweet Creature

Brand New - Science Fiction
A strange surprise album from these remnants of the emo era, Science Fiction is quite unlike anything Brand New have done before while still feeling creepily familiar. It's dark, brooding and rather magnificent.
Pick of the Bunch: Can't Get It Out

Nothington - In The End
No frills. Just some good, honest, gravel-voiced org punk of the highest order.
Pick of the Bunch - End Transmission

The Lapelles - The Lapelles
Great band. Tragic story. They would have been around a while.
Pick of the Bunch: Snakehips

D-Metal Stars - Metal Disney If you don't love this, then you hate your childhood self. Seek therapy.
Pick of the Bunch: I See The Light

The Lillingtons - Stella Sapiente
Bunch of old dudes come out of retirement to make a weird, semi-themed surf punk album about templars and medieval shenanigans. And it's a total, unadulterated triumph.
Pick of the Bunch - Insect Nightmares or Villagers

Hi-Standard - The Gift
These Japanese goofballs have always been madcap fun at a billion miles an hour. This new album, 18 years after their last, is no different. Party on.
Pick of the Bunch - The Gift


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