Where does the time go? Another year comes to an end and with so many interesting things being released in 2017, this was a tougher list than ever to compile. And with the world going to hell in a handcart and one of my musical heroes Chris Cornell dying on my birthday, it was an odd twelve months in pop culture. As in previous years these are purely and simply the things I personally liked the most across the last twelve months, rather than me declaring anything the 'best'. You can look back on the 2016 list here.
TV Drama – Legion
I wasn't sure if I was going to like the latest X-Men spin off from Fox, so colour me surprised that this was my favourite show of the year by some margin. Not only that, but I also feel that this show has massively raised the bar for TV superhero shows. As much as I've loved the Marvel Netflix shows (certainly up until Iron Fist), this show took more risks and was more creatively satisfying in its eight episodes than any of those shows have quite managed. Strong performances, shifting perceptions of reality, a mix of retro and modern styling, an amazing soundtrack including Pink Floyd and The Who, a character called Syd Barrett and an overall unnerving creepiness made this a must-watch. As much a sci-fi horror series as it is something from the X Universe, I loved every minute. Now I definitely need to watch showrunner Noah Hawley's other show, Fargo. I can't wait to see what they do in Season Two.
Honourable mentions – Star Trek Discovery was another unexpected treat. I'm not a particularly big Star Trek fan and those people I know who are Trekkies didn't seem to like this show too much. It certainly wasn't perfect, but the fact it didn't religiously stick to what you expect from a Star Trek series is what I liked most about the first half of the debut season. Strip it of the Trek mantle and it would have been an epic piece of quality sci-fi regardless, boldly going where a TV show like this hadn't gone before. Another space set sci-fi that came close to being my favourite this year was The Expanse, I watched both seasons, but it was only the second one that was actually from 2017. I liked the first season, but loved the second, the characterisation got stronger and so did the plot, as things that were set up started to pay off. It's definitely a series I would heartily recommend.
Taboo was another interesting new show this year, but anything with Tom Hardy in it was always going to be well worth watching. GLOW took us into the world of Women's Wrestling and managed to be both engaging and unpredictable in equal measure. Among the returning shows Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones and especially Stranger Things did a great job of building on what went before and made me excited to see what the next series has to offer.
After the disappointment of the lacklustre, dated and mis-cast Iron Fist, The Defenders was a mixed bag largely due to the Danny Rand elements but it was good to see the characters united at last. I was playing catch up with the Marvel Netflix shows all year, so perhaps if I'd found time for The Punisher that might have made the list. I'm also kicking myself that I didn't get to the likes of Godless, Mindhunter or Jean-Claude Van Johnson before the year was out.
Film – Baby Driver
The trailers for this film hadn't really managed to get me that interested, it all seemed to smack of trying too hard, so I went into the cinema feeling somewhat sceptical. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it. Meticulously constructed and edited, it reminded me of lots of my favourite 90s films. The inclusion of Kevin Spacey in the cast made that even more the case, but that's not something to dwell on any more. A bit like Legion, the use of music in this film was one of the reasons it resonated with me so much and both those soundtracks have been on heavy rotation this year. Hocus Pocus, Radar Love and Brighton Rock all in one film, that's heaven.
Honourable mentions – Logan ran Baby Driver very close and if I wasn't such a big music fan it might well have pipped it to the post. This was what I'd always wanted from an X-Men film and from a Wolverine film in particular, something with emotional weight as well as spectacle. Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen are all brilliant and it's a film that felt more like a modern day Western than anything else. It also played to my love of heroes in the latter stages of their career looking for redemption, almost the Unforgiven of superhero films. I look forward to re-watching it and probably checking out the black and white cut too.
One the superhero front in other years Spiderman Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Thor Ragnarok might have been up in consideration as I really liked them all, but there were lots of other films I enjoyed slightly more and for the first time it was a Fox X-Men movie that was the most interesting and different.
Dunkirk was as brilliant as expected, Christopher Nolan turning his hands to a war movie with his usual aplomb, the way time is used in the film is exquisite. Paddington 2 was an absolute delight, giving me even more warm and fuzzy feelings than the first movie. In stark contrast John Wick Chapter 2 made things even darker than in the film that preceded it and sets things up well for a third movie. Hidden Figures was another triumph, a truly inspiring fact based drama.
Star Wars The Last Jedi is a film I've seen twice but still can't quite decide what I think about. I think I fall someone in the middle, between those who have been berating it and those who are championing it. It's a Star Wars movie, so it was always going to be enjoyable on some level. I'm gutted I didn't make it to Get Out, Blade Runner 2049 or War for the Planet of the Apes, all of which I would have expected to enjoy.
Album – To the Bone by Steven Wilson- On her Journey to the Sun by Rikard Sjoblom's Gungfly (tied) .
For the second year in a row I was unable to separate two albums, as this category has increasingly become the hardest one to make a final decision on. Steven Wilson didn't quite go as pop sounding as some people might have you believe, but he certainly did move into a slightly different direction than on my album of 2015, Hand Cannot Erase. To the Bone is a remarkably consistent set of songs that showcase his talent as a songwriter and helps cement his status as one of the best British musicians around. Seeing him get wider mainstream attention, like the BBC Breakfast interview and reaching Number 3 in the album charts, off the back of some very canny marketing from his new record label, has been very gratifying as a longtime fan. Can't wait to see him live next year, for the first time.
Another musician who I greatly admire is Rikard Sjoblom, from his work with Big Big Train and Beardfish to last year's solo record, like Wilson he's another musician who seems to live for what he does and likes to be part of multiple projects. Somewhere between his solo work and the Beardfish output, this Rikard Sjoblom's Gungfly album blends pop, art rock and prog and makes something greater than the sum of its parts, catchy and clever in equal measure. The Guardian had it on their best of the year so far list back it the Summer too. Another record that barely left my ears since its release and I really hope I get to hear these songs played live.
Honourable mentions –
Grimspound by Big Big Train came close to making this a three way tie, having followed up from last year's favourite Folklore and then being followed by surprise companion album The Second Brightest Star perhaps it was a case of too much of a good thing which slightly edged it out. Zervas and Pepper, a band like Big Big Train that I discovered via comic artist Marc Laming ran things very close with their gorgeous collection of folk rock songs, Wilderland. Will be seeing them in Cardiff next year and I'm already counting down the days
It was a year packed with excellent albums by the likes of Mastodon, Magenta, Cosmograf, The Mute Gods, Tiger Moth Tales, And so I watch you from afar, Wobbler and a very grizzly and angry Roger Waters, plus some light and shade from award winning combo Anathema. Prophets of Rage was exactly what you would expect from the line up, but it felt like an album we needed this year, the same can be said of Living Colour who also returned with a new long player.
Song - Pariah by Steven Wilson and Ninet Payet
I love Steven Wilson. I love Ninet Tayeb. I love melancholy duets like Don't Give Up. I love lyrics like this.
As soon as I heard it I had a sneaking suspicion no other song would top it this year.
Honourable mentions –
Hotel Bible by Zervas and Pepper is a song I like just as much as Pariah, but my personal sensibilities tend to mean that sadder songs appeal to me slightly more. Hotel Bible is blissful, like closing your eyes on a warm summer's day, a timeless classic that it's impossible not to let get under your skin. Sadly their Burning Lantern festival appearance was cut short, so I didn't get to hear it performed live, but I'm promised it will be on the set list when I see them in February.
It's getting harder and harder to remember which songs are singles these days so this ends up being the hardest category to pull together. As the Crow Flies, Meadowlands and Experimental Gentlemen from Big Big Train were all very strong, as were the singles from all the other albums I picked out, although as often is the case I preferred other album tracks more. Steve Hackett's Behind the Smoke and 50 Miles from the North Pole and Deep Purples' The Surprising (although I'm a bit biased) and Birds of Prey were other highlights along with The way you used to do by Queens of the Stone Age. I'm still shocked by quite how much I liked Sign of the Times by Harry Styles, which will do wonders for my street cred.
Gig– Big Big Train, Cadogan Hall, London
I was pretty certain on the day I bought tickets for this show that it would be the pinnacle of my live music going year. Just like their Kings Place show in 2015, the Sunday matinee I attended in London was a life affirming and truly joyful event. A perfect set list, combining newer songs from Grimspound and Folklore mixed with classics from the back catalogue like Swan Hunter, East Coast Racer and Last Train. Having taken my daughter with me again and met up with various friends I've made via the band and some of the band themselves no other gig stood a chance. Sadly we didn't quite make it to see the Tiger Moth Tales unofficial support at another venue on the Saturday afternoon, but I have been able to listen to that on bandcamp. Video from this year's shows isn't available yet, but as East Coast Racer was in the set then and now it's worth checking out.
Honourable mentions –
Magenta get to have two honourable mentions to their name, as I saw them twice in 2017, under quite different circumstances. Early in the year they were at The Globe in Cardiff, supported by Kinky Wizzards (meaning their shared drummer did a double shift) for a loud show which included first live listens to songs from this year's excellent We are Legend album. If the crowd didn't include so many chatty people, it would have been a pretty perfect show.
At the tail end of the year I saw them again at Acapela,near Cardiff, for an intimate, acoustic show which included Les Penning and some other special guests and music from Rob Reed's other projects alongside Magenta's own material. It was a wonderful night and I'm pleased to be seeing Magenta in both venues again in 2018.
Steve Hackett at St David's Hall, Cardiff was very good too. I've seen some amazing guitarists do their stuff this year, and Hackett is no exception. The first half of the show was solo material and the second featured Genesis songs largely from Wind & Wuthering, so it was the best of the both world's really. Seeing Nick Beggs on bass was a real highlight and the audience cheering when Steve mentioned Brexit was the low point.
Deep Purple at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff was a show I was lucky enough to attend thanks to working on The Surprising video. We missed Cats in Space, but did manage to see most of Europe's set and they were exceptional live, as were the main act themselves, exceptional musicians still going strong and putting on a phenomenal show.
The Musical Box at The Tramshed in Cardiff was a real experience and the closest I'll ever get to hearing 70s Genesis in person - I reviewed the show over on Panic in the Skies. It now means I've heard Firth of Fifth live twice and been lucky enough to see Supper's Ready performed fully too.
Sadly work commitments meant I had to give my Opeth ticket away, which I'm still smarting from as I think they would have been quite a show. Next year Steven Wilson, Magenta (twice), Pearl Jam and Zervas and Pepper already beckon, despite my assertion that I'll reduce my gig going in 2018. If Rikard Sjoblom takes to the road then I'll be adding that to my list.
Comic – Slots (Image Comics)
Dan Panosian is my favourite current artist, so when he writes, draws and colours a new hard boiled series set in Vegas and including boxing and shady hardmen I can't imagine any other book coming close, even after just three issues.
Honourable Mentions -
Lazarus has been my pick in every previous year. In 2017 we had one issue of the main series and then X+66 books which were told side stories rather than driving the main story forward. Still very good, but I hope we get back to the main story in 2018.
Alien Bounty Hunter from Vault Comics was the other book I read in single issues as the cover for Issue 2 got me interested, it was great fun and the kind of blockbuster action book that I always enjoy.
Podcast – Here's the thing with Alec Baldwin
Like most interview shows, your enjoyment will often depend on who the guest is. With Here's the Thing Alec Baldwin proves himself to be an excellent interviewer, so even if the subject matter isn't to your taste the questioning and approach make it well worth a listen. I've really enjoyed all the episodes I've listened to this year.
Honourable mentions –
Last year's winner Unjustly Maligned was as excellent as ever, but that show sadly went on hiatus partway through the year, leaving a sizeable void.
In the writing realm On Story and Nerdist's The Writers Panel continue to have some excellent interviews that provide a real insight into the creative process. In the music world I've been enjoying The Prog Report, The K-Scope podcast and Tabletop Genesis in particular, as their album by album discussion format works really well. Long term favourites iFanBoy, Geek Syndicate, Grouchy Old Geeks, World Balloon and Comics Experience continue to get well worth a listen too.
Aside from these things I was busy watching Happy Valley and Toast of London , being disappointed by the new Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age albums and pulling my hair out about the current political climate. Here's to more distracting entertainment coming our way in 2018.