All posts by basilmarinerchase

The 100 Best Albums of 2018

by Gabriel Valdez

A friend recently asked me if I could only listen to a specific decade’s worth of music for the rest of my life, which 10 years would I choose?

Folks idolize other eras – perhaps it’s the pop of the 60s or the radical shift the 80s represented. Maybe it’s the grunge and alternative movements of the 90s. For me, the answer was simple. I said the last 10 years, and if you ask me next year you can just shift it up a year.

There are a lot of things technology has endangered lately, but art is both stubborn and flexible. It’s easier to make music than it ever has been. More people have access to releasing music, more subjects are acceptable to talk about in music, and we have instantaneous access to a wider variety of artists and cultures than ever before.

2018 was a long, tough year, unbearable for many people in many ways. It demanded a lot, so I tried a few ridiculous things putting this together. Eventually, I decided to share my top 100, but only allow myself a sentence for most. The idea is to give a brief impression of what each album is so that you can find something new that appeals to you.

If you’ve got Spotify, I’ve made a 1,000 song playlist of the best songs of 2018. It contains these and other artists. It allows you to find the artists and albums listed below easily:

Listen to it here.

These are my top 100 albums of 2018. Prepare to hear me use the word “range” way too often.

Miya Folick performs
Miya Folick

100. Extralife – Darlingside
Ultra-precious, quiet indie pop that alternates between navel-gazing as an art form and harmonizing about optimism in darkness.

99. Bad Witch – Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor discovers saxophones and tortures them until they give up their secrets, much like David Bowie once did on Outside.

98. Aviary – Julia Holter
Experimental orchestro-electro-jazz-pop that sounds like the music they put in sci-fi films to symbolize what people from the future who dress like they’re from the 1930s will listen to.

97. Depth of Field – Sarah Blasko
Ridiculously catchy yet intensely moody synth pop that (mostly) dumps the synths for strings.

96. You Never Were Much of a Dancer – Gwenifer Raymond
Welsh guitar music in the style of Appalachian folk, aggressively realized in its ambition, speed, and atmosphere.

95. Port Saint Joe – Brothers Osborne
The funniest country band out there flexes its muscles across a broad range of country and rock genres.

94. Birthplace – Novo Amor
Gentle indie folk that feels like getting tucked in for the night.

93. Oxnard – Anderson .Paak
A self-aware rap critique of the dangerous risk Black men are expected to face in today’s America that unfortunately descends into a creepy and misogynist reinforcement of the dangerous role women are expected to fill in today’s America. The lighter sexual fantasies are fine-ish, but it veers too close to hatred later. Half is in the top 50, and half has no place on this list, so consider this an average with an asterisk.

92. Premonitions – Miya Folick
Inventive indie rock that tests a wide range, often echoing Florence + The Machine in versatility, but much more bluntly pop-oriented.

91. Open Here – Field Music
Art rock that evokes Talking Heads, playgrounds falling apart, flutes conspiring against you, and lost Beatles songs each in turn.

Screaming Females perform
Screaming Females

90. The Midnight Hour – The Midnight Hour
Tight jazz songs soaked in atmosphere with a range of guest performers; just beware an ill-advised CeeLo Green appearance for one song.

89. Mother of My Children – Black Belt Eagle Scout
Folk-grunge that builds strength out of vulnerable introspection, contemplating singer Katherine Paul’s indigenous and queer experiences in a world that’s often hostile to both.

88. A Laughing Death in Meatspace – Tropical Fuck Storm
Australians get mad about the state of the world and shout about it over powerful, deliberate art-punk, burrowing into hopelessness and frothing anger.

87. All at Once – Screaming Females
2018 was the year for this album, which pretty much gives you exactly what you want out of a punk alternative band named Screaming Females.

86. On Dark Horses – Emma Ruth Rundle
Fast-paced slowcore post-punk (yeah, I know) for those who miss early Esben and the Witch or Mazzy Star, even though Mazzy Star came back this year, too.

85. Double Negative – Low
Slowcore champions of the world shove what sounds like a brilliant album through a shredder and let you try to reassemble it.

84. Nearer My God – Foxing
Emo band gets artsy, borrows pieces of industrial, pop, and folk from various decades, actually succeeds, news at 11.

83. Tell Me How You Really Feel – Courtney Barnett
Australian gets mad about the state of the world and tells men off in music that leans into a lo-fi punk aesthetic. It highlights the album’s extremely clever and very legitimate bite (often referred to in Australia as “dolewave” – yes, really).

82. The Horizon Just Laughed – Damien Jurado
Indie rock meets lounge music, and I mean that in a good way, like in a really cool lounge that plays indie rock with heart-achingly beautiful lyrics.

81. abysskiss – Adrianne Lenker
Soft, floating, often yearning folk delivered in a simple style that alternates between calm groundedness and eerie dissociation.

Melissa Laveaux performs
Melissa Laveaux

80. Let Night Come On Bells End the Day – Sarah Davachi
Drone music is composed of tone clusters elongated into slow, hypnotic rhythms, a kind of ambient sound art that evokes prog rock and Gregorian chants all at once – Davachi realizes a clear and surprisingly organic interpretation here.

79. The Other – King Tuff
Psychedelic power pop that expertly recalls classic rock in sound, storytelling, and – for better or worse – ego.

78. I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions – Santigold
Santigold loosens her laser-precise approach into a more free-flowing album focused on Afro-Caribbean influences.

77. Lush – Snail Mail
Patient indie rock storytelling in perfect song structures, though its focus on restraint may make the difference between a good and a great album for some.

76. Recovery Mission – MIDI Myers
Disclosure: I’m acquainted with the musician.

A very meticulous consideration of trauma and many of the pitfalls and setbacks that can undermine a process of recovery that never fully ends, housed in an album that at times evokes late 90s Aimee Mann levels of lyrical storytelling.

75. Twerp Verse – Speedy Ortiz
The forefront of grunge’s still-thriving evolution starts in the work of Sadie DuPuis and her band.

74. Dans da main – Jean-Michel Blais
Beautiful, haunting piano solos accompanied only by spare electronic touches, played by a performer who ditches technical perfection for emotional whirlwinds guarded with a sense of world-weary hesitation.

73. Radyo siwel – Melissa Laveaux
Dance, folk, and French pop fused together by Afro-Caribbean rhythms and vocals that often slyly take lead on percussion.

72. Orquesta Akokan – Orquesta Akokan
Superb, original, big band mambo music performed by an all-star band of Cuban players, with buttery horns, brilliant rises and falls, and soulful singing by Jose Gomez.

71. El Mal Querer – ROSALIA
Emotionally compelling flamenco music by way of Spanish pop and R&B, captured in a concept album about a 13th century toxic relationship.

Noname performing
Noname

70. Analogue – ODIE
Stripped down rap that essentially presents a character in honest detail and focuses on everyday fears and inspirations.

69. All Melody – Nils Frahm
A mix of live instrument work and electronica that sparks an emotion not always focused on in music: curiosity.

68. Chris – Christine and the Queens
Synth-pop that could have come straight out of the 80s, and that delves into questions about gender roles and presentation. There are both English and French versions included, so listen to the one that helps you understand the lyrics first, but the French one feels more seamless.

67. Cloud Corner – Marisa Anderson
Thick, weighty guitars that paint sonic landscapes from folk and blues – with no lyrics, just your imagination.

66. For Ever – Jungle
British electro-soul driven by layered hooks, funk loops, and joyful singing about disillusion.

65. Safe in the Hands of Love – Yves Tumor
Remarkably produced hip-hop built around sound collage and a poignant, unrelenting confrontation of culture-wide racism.

64. Room 25 – Noname
Noname’s rap conveys a simultaneously laid back and documentarian presentation of her internal monologue (even when racing along at impressive speed).

63. Dead Magic – Anna von Hausswolff
One of the world’s greatest experimental rock artists makes a variety of instruments feel like they’re eyeing you up suspiciously and just waiting till the pipe organ gets there to start something you don’t want to be around for.

62. Beyondless – Iceage
Punk from a band that’s flexible enough to stretch into either commanding grunge or rollicking pop hooks depending on what each song needs.

61. Cocoa Sugar – Young Fathers
A band that very consciously tries to elude genre might best be described as experimental rap that’s able to veer from Radiohead-like art rock to Massive Attack’s strangest moments of trip-hop.

Loma performing
Loma

60. Icon of Ego – Arc Iris
Arc Iris is a little-known art pop group that fuses just about every genre you can think of smoothly into immensely listenable and consistently unpredictable pop songs.

59. Childqueen – Kadhja Bonet
Soul music with complex orchestral backing that feels directly lifted from an alternate history where the music is cooler.

58. 7 – Beach House
Dream pop that occasionally threatens to become Phantogram but realizes it wants to lurk in the shadows for a while longer, you just keep on what you’re doing.

57. Temet – Imarhan
Algerian rock that draws from blues, yet is upbeat and centers its hooks around a distinctive Tuareg vocal style.

56. Love is Dead – CHVRCHES
Powerful Scottish synth-pop that’s reminiscent of Paramore and is very easy to re-listen to over and over again.

55. Loma – Loma
Dream pop that marries Americana and hauntology elements, with a focus on slow burn song evolution and clearly demarcated layers of sound.

54. Time ‘n’ Place – Kero Kero Bonito
As much art installation as album, full of overly comforting pop music undercut at regular intervals by uncomfortable sound collages, as if you woke up in the 90s and a new episode of Friends was suddenly interrupted by static garbles of an unnerving public access program showing photos from your childhood.

53. Bark Your Head Off, Dog – Hop Along
Mostly acoustic indie rock that paints short stories and their characters in moments of both struggle and beauty with incredible depth.

52. Yesterday Was Forever – Kate Nash
Some will furrow their brows, but if you want airy Britpop fused to punk, grunge, speak-singing, and diary entries that can veer from George Michael 80s pop to Machines of Loving Grace-style industrial at the drop of a hat, all inside an honest connectional about mental health, there is nothing else I know that’s even brave enough to try.

51. The Drought – Puce Mary
Cold and unrelenting feedback and noise tracks built into haunting sound environments by a Danish woman who makes Future Sound of London look tame and passe by comparison.

Sons of Kemet performing
Sons of Kemet

50. Hunter – Anna Calvi
Aggressive art rock where the instruments themselves can’t help being in awe of Calvi’s operatic delivery, where nearly every song sounds like a James Bond theme if Bond were a woman bent on challenging gender concepts and toppling the patriarchy.

49. Bon Voyage – Melody’s Echo Chamber
French baroque pop that suddenly breaks out R&B backing, drumline solos, jazz flutes, electric guitars, and noise electronica in ways that all feel like they genuinely build each song into an expansive yet cogent whole.

48. Exit Future Heart – Dustin Wong, Takako Minekawa, Good Willsmith
Wong’s surreal habits, Minekawa’s experimental Japanese pop, and Good Willsmith’s pattern-heavy electronica all accentuate each others’ strengths, resulting in a focused experimental electronica album.

47. Wide Awake! – Parquet Courts
Extremely political punk with forefronted vocals that extends into pop accessibility with natural ease.

46. The Lookout – Laura Veirs
Chamber pop-influenced folk where each sound feels either very close or very distant, creating a space where every note is resonant, occasionally invoking the work of Sufjan Stevens or Listing Ship.

45. Can’t Wake Up – Shakey Graves
Alejandro Rose-Garcia makes the shift from folk to alternative so that he can concoct dreamy mixes of detail and abstraction. Sometimes it sounds like antique cartoon music and other times like someone dug up old Portugal. The Man demos.

44. Heaven and Earth – Kamasi Washington
Exquisite jazz that’s cinematic in scope, incorporating everything from Ennio Morricone-style, Spaghetti western choirs to Busby Berkeley dance numbers and Santana-like guitars, though it can all feel a bit bloated and lacking enough attention to the listener at points.

43. Future Me Hates Me – The Beths
New Zealander gets mad at the state of the world and politely takes it out on herself near to the point of breaking so that she doesn’t bother anyone else, via energetic and deceptively well-studied indie pop.

42. Your Queen is a Reptile – Sons of Kemet
Surging, emotional jazz that calls out Britain’s history of colonialism and declares a list of Black women as queen instead, searing in its delivery and constantly advancing in pace.

41. Criminal – The Soft Moon
Traditional industrial music on the near-pop side, like the better moments of Gravity Kills or Stabbing Westward, yet that explores territory of an abusive childhood through concepts that come around to self-analysis and self-care – itself an emotional evolution in industrial that’s badly overdue.

Florence and the Machine
Florence + The Machine

40. Sweetener – Ariana Grande
Grande’s extensive control over the various elements of her brand is rare for women in pop, and allows her to take bigger risks and more aggressive evolutions, creating a broader style of pop that can stretch further than an older Millennial pop front that’s quickly stagnating.

39. Music for the Long Emergency – Polica, s t a r g a z e
Polica’s indietronica is melded to Berlin-based orchestra s t a r g a z e, resulting in seamless shifts between electropop and orchestral composition in an album of expertly crafted unease.

38. Only Love – The Armed
Hardcore that does a superb job of creating breathing space for each melody and theme to surface, allowing you to understand and identify each even as the noise builds into chaos again – like playing different At the Drive-In songs into each ear.

37. Isolation – Kali Uchis
Pop built off Latin roots and an incredibly strong foundation in soul music, dreamlike and hopeful while still socially conscious, aware, and communicating a great deal about having multiple cultural identities.

36. High as Hope – Florence + The Machine
What might be the worst Florence + The Machine album is still easily in the top 50 of the year and introduces more than a few masterpiece songs, a testament to just how good Florence Welch, Isabella Summers, and their crew are.

35. The Dream My Bones Dream – Eiko Ishibashi
An experimental jazz album with elements of Japanese pop, accompanied at times by drone music, haunting choruses, eerie strings, and a range of found noises.

34. This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet – Moonface
The best marimba rock album about the Greek Minotaur forgiving his captors as a metaphor for our daily technological exposure to toxic abuse you’ll find, complete with surprisingly good use of auto-tune, and a natural voice that stakes out David Bowie-esque territory while still feeling very original.

33. Fever – Black Milk
Rap with a basis in funk and soul, with enjoyably loose production and relaxed delivery, even when calling out systemic racism and police violence.

32. Cannonball! – Sen Morimoto
Experimental rap framed by jazz hooks, with genuinely funny wit, honest internal monologues, and great mood work. It works as both an easy background listen and a rewarding focused listen.

31. At Weddings – Tomberlin
Soft indie pop that perches on the balance between acceptance and denial. At Weddings deals with a Tomberlin growing up and rejecting the role her family’s Baptist faith expects her to play as a woman. The songs hover in those moments where you do everything you can just to take another step. “I’m Not Scared” is the best song of the year.

serpentwithfeet performing
serpentwithfeet

30. Knowing What You Know Now – Marmozets
Relentless mathcore with an incredible range across rock and punk, powered by Becca MacIntyre’s vocals that metamorphose at will.

29. Honeybloom – Choker
Mood-heavy rap that leaps from indie pop to math rock influences and varies quickly from minimalism to ultra-modern production.

28. soil – serpentwithfeet
Avant-garde, R&B, and electronica all join together in contribution to an album that feels like a deeply personal and progressive gospel.

27. Broken Politics – Neneh Cherry
A profound album that starts with a trip hop foundation and extends into a terrific scope of rap, jazz, pop, and indietronica that all center on, well, our broken politics.

26. How Many Times Have You Driven By – Hana Vu
Straight up dream pop built off catchy hooks and production that deliberately layers Hana Vu’s unique voice just a little off-center.

25. Remain in Light – Angelique Kidjo
A complete cover album of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, redone with Afropop, Caribbean, jazz, and a variety of other influences.

24. Negro Swan – Blood Orange
A superb funk and R&B album with a throughline of hope that addresses the common traumas people of color suffer, and the anxieties that grow because of it.

23. In a Poem Unlimited – U.S. Girls
Experimental pop doesn’t quite cover it. Each song sounds like it could have been the standout single for completely different bands, yet a variety of echoed themes and sounds tie it all together in a way that feels incredibly consistent.

22. Follow Them True – Stick in the Wheel
A re-imagining of British folk that hauntingly connects modern political and cultural battles to those of other eras.

21. Black Times – Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
Seun carries the tradition of his father (Fela Kuti) in intensely political music geared toward protesting foreign imperialism by highlighting the futures and possibilities it continues to cost Africa.

Janelle Monae performing
Janelle Monae

20. How to Socialise & Make Friends – Camp Cope
Australian gets mad about the state of the world and tears into the old boys’ clubs, toxic masculinity, and gaslighting she and her band’s encountered in lo-fi, somewhat minimalist punk.

19. Old Rockhounds Never Die – Odetta Hartman
Bluegrass and rockabilly encounter a woman who slices them open, adds in electronic and experimental elements, and replaces all the broken patriarchal parts piece by piece with feminist concepts while she smiles and nods at them with just enough reassurance. This might be the most excitingly meta album of the year, and as the title song states in an observation/mission statement, “Old Rockhounds never die, they just slowly petrify.”

18. Stranger Fruit – Zeal & Ardor
Scandinavian black metal in part grew as a rejection of Christianity, so what would have happened if American slave spirituals had followed a similar path? Black spirituals have a long history of hidden meaning, but Manuel Gagneux imagines a blunter alternate reality as a modern take on resistance, fusing black metal to delta blues in what he calls Satanic spirituals.

17. From When I Wake the Want Is – Kathryn Joseph
The bones and sinew of Scottish folk resurrected into a stalking indie horror of loss and survivor’s guilt that rivets you to the spot.

16. I Need to Start a Garden – Haley Heynderickx
One of the purest folk singers I’ve heard, with a talent for taking very laid back and detailed songs into crescendos that realize their point with a stunning catharsis.

15. DROGAS WAVE – Lupe Fiasco
An expansive hip hop album that takes real tragedies and paints heartbreaking alternate realities, from rebel slaves who live underwater and sink slave ships, to a drowned refugee boy who instead grows up to become an Olympic swimmer, and a little girl who dies in a shooting instead becoming a doctor and saving another little girl from yet one more shooting.

14. I’m All Ears – Let’s Eat Grandma
Art pop blended with a punk mentality and very plainly delivered psychology, that finally inhabits life underneath that meta, we-live-in-a-cyberpunk-reality barrier that’s been scratched and cracked over the years by Sneaker Pimps, Porcupine Tree, and 18+.

13. Dirty Computer – Janelle Monae
Funk expertly revolutionized through pop, R&B, and electronica elements in an album about empowering women, people of color, and celebrating the array of sexual identities.

12. Primal Heart – Kimbra
Pop that calls on a range of other genres to tackle various doubles that we wrestle with: those that result as a defense from abuse, those that copy what we see in media, those we invent to perform a more idealized version of ourselves online, those we attempt to inhabit to make relationships work, the list goes on.

11. Hell On – Neko Case
If screwed-over, out-of-work Millennials who had the rug pulled out from under them are this era’s screwed-over, out-of-work manufacturers who had the rug pulled out from under them, then Neko Case is this era’s Bruce Springsteen, on a determinedly feminist album that at times out-Fleetwood Macs Fleetwood Mac, and echoes in the shape of its narratives a similar masterpiece like Tori Amos’ From the Choirgirl Hotel.

Mint Field performing
Mint Field

10. Pasar de las Luces – Mint Field
Mexican shoegaze that evokes ethereal moods of quiet lulls in cities at night watching bleary-eyed as if taking a shortcut to dreaming without going to sleep, like an aural cradle for the ghost of a moment warmly held.

9. Lavender – Half Waif
A tour through missing senses, places, people, and normalcy, in songs that may evoke Bat for Lashes but are more insistent and alarmed about our dreamy dissociation from gently delivered nightmares.

8. KOD – J. Cole
Incisive rap with an expectation of the listener, that runs through experiential victimizations and hypocrisies to build connection with our own yearning to make change.

7. Shades – Vera Sola
Needle-precise Americana bent on eviscerating the very idea of Americana, centered on haunting emotional scars left from colonialism and misogyny, and hell-bent on reclaiming Americana, country, and folk for the people it’s erased. (Makes a great companion piece to Odetta Hartman’s Old Rockhounds Never Die at #19 above.)

6. LONER – Caroline Rose
Piercing wit delivered by a hugely judgmental narrator on an album that re-purposes a rockabilly skeleton into snarky, poignant, catchy songs, which remain unpredictable even after many re-listens.

5. Be the Cowboy – Mitski
There is no singer who so deftly and honestly dissects the experience of coming from a mixed identity. Mitski creates musical monuments out of both emotionally living inside a trauma and dispassionately analyzing it in the recovery – examined through indie rock heavily influenced by grunge.

4. Both – Okay Kaya
Patient, stripped down, experimental indie pop that deals with the idea of performing a self that’s more polished than what feels natural. Unexpectedly, it thinks often about how these two aspects might begin to agree.

3. Now Only – Mount Eerie
The most honest album about coping with the death of a loved one I’ve heard, inhabiting wrecked places and the unhealthy temptation of staying in those places as a way to not give up on the pieces of that loved one you keep alive.

2. Djarimirri – Gurrumul
An indigenous Australian album that was the last Gurrumul worked on before his passing, filled with soaring tracks that evoke senses of discovery, warning, yearning, tension, and awe.

Jenny Wilson performs
Jenny Wilson

1. EXORCISM – Jenny Wilson
There’s no exact way to start talking about Jenny Wilson’s EXORCISM. It’s a painful maelstrom dealing with the after-effects of sexual assault. Please be aware the rest of this entry will talk about that topic before continuing.

The opening song of EXORCISM outlines an act of rape. Everything else unravels from there. This doesn’t make this a go-to album for listening, but it’s absolutely the artistic achievement of the year.

We often seek music for comfort, and EXORCISM has none whatsoever to offer, at least initially. The first half is about suffering and attempting to cope with a rape. The second half deals a variety of aftereffects, even lasting years into the future. One of the first steps taken here is a common one: staying in emotionally abusive relationships as an attempt to make sense of what happened. This is a dangerous draw if you’ve suffered trauma. If it becomes normal for other people to treat you with varying forms of abuse, then you can begin to justify the act of abuse you suffered as normal.

The music itself is interruptive and uncomfortable. It reminds me of The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual, but its order doesn’t feel as if it comes from structure the way that does. It feels instead as if it comes from the chaos itself, applied in a panicked kind of way. Many of the songs themselves are relentlessly anxious and alerted.

This feels far from Wilson’s more traditionally orchestrated – if still experimental – work. Yet it feels more grounded, which in itself is tragic. It’s confrontational in its bluntness, and always driving. Yet sometimes it drives forward, and sometimes it drives straight back into you. Recovering from trauma is an act of taking a step forward and sometimes taking a step back. There are whirlpools in the music that drag you in and reflect a sense of uncomfortable inescapability. Sharp synth choruses build over insistent refrains, as if Wilson desperately urging herself to stay in the healthy mindset that leads to recovery.

This is ultimately an album about that recovery, but not as an achievement or a goal. Too often, albums and songs like that are a before-and-after picture. That misrepresents the recovery itself as a snapshot, something easy to do. When you’re wading through its difficulty, you can look at those snapshots and wonder why it can take you years to recover when a song can do it in four minutes. EXORCISM is an album about recovery as a difficult, often painful process, full of pitfalls and mistakes. It’s an honest representation of something rarely honestly discussed.

Where did we get our images? The image of…Gurrumul is from Music Feeds. Miya Folick is from Blurred Culture. Screaming Females is from Beat Route. Melissa Laveaux is from Montreux Jazz. Noname is from Twin Cities Media. Loma is from Chunky Glasses. Sons of Kemet is from YouTube. Florence + The Machine is from NME. serpentwithfeet is from Wikipedia. Janelle Monae is from Fox4KC. Mint Field is from KEXP. Jenny Wilson is from Metro Sweden.

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Why the “Suspiria” Remake Gives Me Hope

by Gabriel Valdez

It may’ve slipped minds that there’s a “Suspiria” remake due to hit theaters on November 2. I’m not going to pretend I remembered. I had clicked to see just how bad the “Bumblebee” trailer for the Transformers spin-off is (hint: really, really bad) when I spied the new “Suspiria” trailer lurking at the edge of the screen.

A constant churn of directors and stars have been attached in the last decade to the remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic. This includes a long-gestated David Gordon Green salvo that thankfully didn’t come to pass. (Green is more fittingly directing the eleventh “Halloween” movie due out two weeks before “Suspiria” on October 19.)

The point is, I’d diligently trained myself to ignore news about a “Suspiria” remake for the past 10 years. There’s a lot of conjecture that “Suspiria” can’t be remade, that its essence can’t be recaptured. I don’t buy into that, and watching the first trailer…this is just about the best approach to “Suspiria” I could have hoped for.

The strength and weakness of giallo filmmaking is just how Freudian it is. It’s a murder mystery mixed with psychological horror, eroticism, and often supernatural elements. “Suspiria” is generally regarded as the exemplar film of the genre. Giallo films are often impressionistic because of how well they bridge basic, gut-level metaphor to complicated, dreamlike concepts of dread.

Freudianism is a double-edged, er, sword. Women are often enabled or empowered in these films only at the expense of other women succumbing to violence, or after paying fetishized visual dues to the director and audience. Yes, giallo can be violent toward men, but it’s never built value on trading or fetishizing us the way it has women.

(I’d argue there’s a reason the Dario Argento films with the strongest women leads involved Daria Nicolodi as a driving creative force in front of and behind the camera, but that’s an article for another day.)

Modern giallo needs to be able to escape some of its tendencies and comment on them, while still processing in violent, Freudian metaphor. It’s a fine line to walk. It’s going to be difficult to present a film about young women at a dance academy being murdered in surreal fashion without building plot value off of fridging women.

“Suspiria” is considered impossible to remake because of its visuals…but that’s never struck me as the problem. It’s this central theme that presents the greatest bar to the success of “Suspiria”…and maybe its greatest opportunity. We’ve seen films that are able to inhabit their genre while still stepping outside of it – art is one of the few places where you can have your cake and sometimes eat it, too.

In terms of visuals, a number of Grand Guignol films have met the visual bar “Suspiria” set, Guillermo Del Toro’s take on it in “Crimson Peak” being the most recent. Grand Guignol can be far more outlandish and winking than giallo can – it’s a more mischievous genre. The point is that there are plenty of art directors and costume designers capable of building a space that’s right for a “Suspiria” remake. “Suspiria” is essentially designed like a stage where a play or dance might take place, just three dimensionally. Take a look at a trailer for the 1977 version. It’s fan-made, since the 70s trailers don’t always do the film justice.

The dreamlike sensibility of giallo is in the editing, the writing, and in a place that’s far too overlooked: the performances. Actors need to be able to play giallo scenes with a broad non-specificity, in a kind of overstated, almost directionless performance that’s built for theatre, to be viewed at a distance. At the same time, those actors need to be playing to the understated detail, realism, and intentionality of close-ups and long takes. It’s that bridge between anchored reality and being flung untethered into an abstract dreamspace that makes giallo work and gives it its purpose.

(This was aided at the time by actors performing in their native languages – English, Italian, and German – and later adding English lines in additional dialogue recording sessions. During filming, they had to understand each other’s performances without always understanding each others’ lines with precision. This melding of languages added to the dreamlike quality of many of Argento’s films, in particular through broader performances in “Suspiria” and shifting language use in later edits of “Deep Red.”)

I have hope there’s a way to achieve this bridge between hard anchor and untethered space that doesn’t just move past, but addresses giallo’s past sins. Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”) is a director who may be able to tell a story on both sides of that coin. I don’t think you can find better opposing leads for a remake than Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton – who has a long history of projects that have their cake, eat it too, duplicate the cake into an alternate dimension, share the recipe with David Bowie….

My main hope is that this isn’t just a film that’s true to what giallo once was, because there’s a reason the genre is antiquated and more or less evaporated from production. My hope is that the “Suspiria” remake is a film that can finally drag giallo into modern times and give it a new, updated importance. The building blocks are there, often maintained and updated by films in other genres that border on the territory giallo calls its home, from the stylistic rearrangement of “Lost River” to the metaphorical bridging in “Mirrormask”…from the more mature contemplation on eroticism in “It Follows” to the horror of where Freudian sensibilities take us in “Ex Machina”…from the internal, personal psychologies in Lucrecia Martel’s “The Headless Woman” to Darren Aronofsky’s overt “Black Swan.”

There’s ample room and need for giallo not just to resurrect, but to catch up, to learn, to join the 40 years of sensibility it’s yet to figure out. We often think of giallo as needing to be anchored to the past because of the role women are made to play in it. That hasn’t been true of any other genre.

Given a trailer like the one above, I’m going to start hoping those involved understand giallo rests in its themes, performances, and storytelling, that its strength is in the connection between the immediate reaction in the pit of the stomach and the lingering anticipation creeping up the spine, and not just in a pursuit of visuals, victimization, and 40 year-old cliches.

The feature image of Dakota Johnson at a dinner that’s totally not creepy at all is from Scroll here.

“The Daily Commute” — National Poetry Month 2018

by Gabriel Valdez

Robyn Lambird is a Renaissance woman: an athlete, poet, critic, and model. She’s pushed each sphere for inclusion of people with visible disabilities like her own.

Sometimes when someone from a vulnerable community pushes into these spheres, they’re confronted with an argument that participating in things like advertising only furthers the abuses of capitalism. When I write about movies with people of color in them being successful, I’m always confronted with someone (white) telling me that it only means people of color are now engaging in a system that de-prioritizes them.

Somehow, people who are othered are expected to make themselves a priority of that system without ever touching it. It’s presented to them as bad when they’re successful at making themselves a priority of it. Somehow, they have to change the shape of these systems without ever touching them, they’re supposed to fight their disinclusion without ever including themselves.

It’s never acknowledged that the ability to step outside that system is a privilege. There’s much less risk involved in refusing to participate when you know that system will always give you something even when you give it nothing. There’s even less risk in asking those without that privilege not to participate; in fact, that act maintains the nature of the system you’re simultaneously asking people to fight.

By not working inside of it as well as outside of it, people who are othered are encouraged to sabotage their ability to change its shape. This maintains the status quo, which is why it’s an argument so often made by enabled critics when people with disabilities are successful, as well as by white critics when people of color are successful, by male critics when women are successful, and by straight critics when LGBTQ people are successful.

Lambird has a great deal to say about the advantages of pushing inclusion of people with visible disabilities into the advertising sphere:

The question is always: doesn’t someone’s representation in that system make them a cog in it? Yet the histories of vulnerable communities show their members that a lack of representation makes them even more of a cog in it – an invisible one, with quiet voices no one listens to, and a cog that has no power to re-shape the system as a whole.

This extends beyond advertising, movies, music, and into politics, social change, the shape of activism.

Perhaps no group of people has had to fight this more than the disabled community. We share their feel-good stories when it’s cathartic for our purposes, but then we question whether their participation is good when it’s useful for theirs. We sometimes aim to tell them a better way of doing it when we have no access to their experiences and so can’t know their priorities.

This is practiced in every relationship of a privileged community to a vulnerable one, but even those of us in one vulnerable community can possess a privileged identity in relation to someone else. We too often utilize the success of a person with a disability as support for something we want to say or a way we want to feel. We don’t often utilize the success of a person with disability as a platform for what that person and that community wants to say.

In other words, we too often share the voices of people with disabilities in order to have ours heard, instead of using our voices to raise theirs and convince others to listen.

Privilege should be exercised as the responsibility to raise others’ voices, not as the right to stand on others’ voices to raise our own.

Here is “The Daily Commute” by Robyn Lambird:

The feature image is from the YouTube video here. Lambird has a number of videos discussing how disability is treated in society, athletics, and fashion on her channel.

“What Teachers Make” — National Poetry Month 2018

by Gabriel Valdez

We’re all happy to share Facebook posts, retweet, or upvote on Reddit when there’s an inspirational story about someone’s life being changed by a teacher. We obviously believe in the idea that teachers save lives and shape futures. We believe in the idea that teachers help get kids out of dangerous cycles of violence. We believe the power of teaching can help students overcome systems stacked against those kids.

We just don’t believe in paying those teachers. Why not?

It’s almost as if we want to believe in the exceptionalism of teachers as a way to confirm our own sense of exceptionalism, our ability to better the lives of others, our ability to turn around and help the lives of others when they need it…only to fail in doing so when the time comes, when those whose stories we use to reinforce our sense of exceptionalism turn around and ask for help – for their students and themselves.

We’ve already used teachers to make ourselves feel like we’re culturally capable of helping, which is very convenient when we turn around and we culturally refuse to help.

They only work three-quarters of the year? Sure, and during those three-quarters of the year, they’re working 60+ hours a week without overtime. They’re at school before students arrive and they don’t leave until after students leave. That’s already 9-10 hours a day. Then they go home, lesson plan, grade papers, read essays, grade tests, communicate with parents. That’s easily 12 hours a weekday during the school year, as well as time during the weekends. And then they may work summer schools, tutoring, they may run camps and programs for which they’re also paid meagerly.

All the while, those teachers and their families have the same needs that you and your family do, with less time, less money, less job stability than most.

This doesn’t even begin to address the sorry amount we spend on children. We’ve got a federal government trying to eliminate school lunch programs for hungry children as teachers in various states protest in the streets for salary increases, yes, but also for increased spending on students.

It’s ridiculous of us to ignore them, to flock to the next story of a teacher changing someone’s life and then ignore teachers when they tell us what they need to change someone’s life.

Either we believe it or we don’t. Right now it’s more like we believe it enough to make ourselves feel good, but not enough to do anything about it. That’s not good enough.

We believe teachers save lives and change futures, and we do something to allow them to do even more of that. Or we lie when we say it, and stand on their work as a prop for comforting our conscience.

Here’s “What Teachers Make” by Taylor Mali.

The feature image of the Oklahoma teacher protests is from a USA Today story on nationwide teacher protests here.

“cuz he’s black” — National Poetry Month 2018

by Cleopatra Parnell & Gabriel Valdez

There’s a meme going around that shows what proportion of your life the U.S. has been at war. We’ve seen it before; an update circulates every year or so. If you were born in the 80s, it’s about half your life now. Later in the decade and it’s almost there. Yet that’s not true for everybody who will look at the chart. For many, they’ve never known a United States that isn’t at war.

The United States is not officially at war with Black communities. The country just poisons their water in places like Flint. We don’t get invested in that. We’ll post about it here and there – but years on and are we still making noise? Yet an article that shows the quality of water in your own neighborhood, or across the U.S., will make you worry and share and maybe even contact your city hall.

We marvel today at the dilapidated conditions of schools in Oklahoma as teachers strike. We pay attention because some of those schools serve communities with large white populations…yet teachers in Black communities have been trying to show you the conditions of schools in places like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland for years. We celebrate the teachers striking for student resources in Oklahoma, as we should. But where was our celebration for the teachers in Black communities? Where was our support? Where’s the media?

We celebrate the students from Parkland, Florida, as they protest gun violence. As we should. The media gives them platforms to speak – as they should. But we should have for Black Lives Matter and black students fearful for their lives. I write this on the heels of another Black man being shot by police just yesterday, for holding a shower head. On the heels of the Black man shot before him, on the other side of the country, for being in his back yard with his cell phone.

We celebrate and give platforms to these issues…once they impact white people and white communities. Once we have white leaders to stand and talk about them. We understand their anger and why it’s legitimate.

Yet we’re always conveniently elsewhere until then, when these things impact Black people and Black communities, when Black leaders stand and talk about them. We debate whether their anger is legitimate.

War has been such a condition of our lives that we’ve trained ourselves to treat wars in far-off lands as immaterial, intangible, not truly real. That’s bad enough. Yet even when war’s waged in our own backyards, on our own neighbors, we fall back on that training. We only concern ourselves when it might touch us, instead of the person standing next to us.

We should expect much better of ourselves, and acknowledge that we fail until we do.

This is Javon Johnson’s “cuz he’s black.”

The feature image is from the YouTube video here.

“In Which Every Poem that I Write Becomes a Poem About My Body” — National Poetry Month 2018

by Gabriel Valdez

You’ll find a hand-wringing every year that poetry is dying. In the Atlantic, in Newsweek, in the New Yorker, in many good, strong, aware publications, in academic circles, for publishers, poetry is breathing its last breaths. Fewer people read it than ever before, for as long as readership has been polled.

Yet how many people come across a Rupi Kaur poem on Instagram or Facebook? Well that’s not poetry, we’re told, not really. So when they answer that poll, do people remember that they have read poems?

If we listen to poems on YouTube or see one performed, we haven’t read a poem. But it still has the same impact on us. We may not pick up the books the same way, but we still seek it out. We listen to poetry more than ever before. But that’s not reading poetry, we’re told.

Music is more ever-present in our lives than ever before, and lyrics are musical poetry. Many of the same people who will tell you that music can’t be poetry will insist tooth and nail that the greatest poet of our time is Bob Dylan.

Rap is an evolution of many of poetry’s fundamentals, but because it’s not owned or monetized by the groups invested in “What poetry really is,” we’re told it’s not really poetry. It should be looked down on as something lesser instead of looked up at with reverence.

Are there bad poems on Instagram, or YouTube? Is there bad music and rap? Absolutely. But there’s always been bad poetry. What’s new is the accessibility and diversity of good poetry.

Poetry is more accessible than ever before. Take Kate Hao’s searing “In Which Every Poem that I Write Becomes a Poem About My Body.”

This would be stunning on page, but as performance it’s unparalleled. It’s shocking and traumatic, and most importantly, its deeply, hauntingly honest.

Look at any other era and a few dozen people may have heard this poem. When else could an Asian-American poet, a woman Asian-American poet like Kate Hao be heard by tens of thousands? When else could a brutally honest poem about impostor syndrome and trauma, and possibly sexual assault and racism, be communicated 140,000 times?

Poetry is very much alive, and more diverse than ever, and more vital than ever. They say it’s dying; I say it’s never had so much lifeblood. It can say much more, it can break the cage of “What poetry really is,” and performance this accessible and challenging can make more of us hear it and feel it like rarely before.

Poetry isn’t dying. It’s simply changed, and for all this age’s other problems, I’m dearly thankful to live in an era where poetry is becoming something very different, easier to access, and more diverse.

Content Warning: impostor syndrome, sexual assault, racism

The feature image quoting Kate Hao’s “In Which Every Poem that I Write Becomes a Poem About My Body” is a cropped version taken from Button Poetry’s Twitter post here. Button Poetry features many superb poets with new voices, and I highly recommend following their Twitter and YouTube channel, which features the performance above.

“Imagine the Angels of Bread” — National Poetry Month 2018

“This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.

This is the year that those
who swim the border’s undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts
the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;
this is the year that the eyes stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth; this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.

If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles, then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.

So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.”

– Martin Espada

The feature image of refugees arriving on Lesbos Island in Greece comes from Memphis Immigration Project here.