Jewels from the Underground: A Year-end Overview

The streaming age and the time of musical overabundance we find ourselves in has it's incontestable benefits. What was once a question of access, now has become a question of setting parameters, refining searches, and dedicating time and context to listening. There's no shortage of writing on the finesse of this process, and the innumerable ways to approach listening at home, work and on the go. James Jackson Toth's recently published experiments in dedicated listening for NPR, and New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff, author of "Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music in An Age of Musical Plenty", distinctly different takes make for excellent reading. Another less discussed aid in parsing the abundance can be found in the magazine. Though it's role may be reduced in the digital age, the magazine both print and online, can still be a defining tastemaker amid the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. Particularly in the way of the sounds falling into the deepest underground genres and experimental fringe. Looking over the annual array of "best of" lists and year-end assessments can often be a satisfying and fruitful investment of a listening weekend. For those not finding compelling sounds through their regular internet trawls, retailers like Boomkat, as well as online music culture entities like The QuietusBrainwashedHeadphone CommuteResident AdvisorFACT Magazine, and Redbull Music Academy, make for excellent points of entry into the process.


Yet it's still the case that the print magazine will often represent the kind of expertise you'll not find outside the framework of such vision and publishing legacy, compiling the life's work of people who make art, film and music their enterprise. Evolving right along with the times from a free improv, modern classical and jazz magazine in the 70's, The Wire then came to embrace the post-rock and electronic music booms of the 80s and 90's. By the end of the decade becoming an all-inclusive monthly compendium of non-commercial music. The final decade of the 20th century saw their scope encompassed hip hop, reggae, noise, punk, post-everything, jazz, black/doom metal, techno/house, free folk, psyche, krautrock, minimalism, sound-art, bass music, and as-yet documented "outer limits". Their annual year-end Rewind issue not only featuring a cutting edge and often contentious Top 50 Releases of 2017 section, but also sub-genre breakdowns and interviews, assessments, political commentary and cultural overviews from a spectrum of artists, curators, publishers, and journalists. If there is one print resource that will bring you a global view of the ever-expansive world of Adventures in Modern Music every month, The Wire is still very much it. 


For an all-inclusive arts periodical you couldn't go far wrong picking up the Artforum Best of 2017 issue. For those who found a dearth of quality new music, film and visual art this year the magazine makes for an indispensable resource in reassessing the past 12 months. Music coverage was one of the magazine's weak points in decades past, this ended in the early 2000s when they upped the ante by bringing in outside curators for the year-end issue. 2017's installment includes Top 10 selections from DJ RekhaAdam BainbridgeQuay DashCameron Jamie and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Their picks running the gamut from Princess Nokia's retro-futurist rap, Arthur Russell's neoclassical disco, Alice Coltrane's spiritual jazz, Pauline Anna Strom's unearthed new age eccentricity, Geinoh Yamashirogumi's soundtrack to Katsuhiro Otomo's classic manga, to the long overdue reissue of Midori Takada's ambient reverie. Artforum's film coverage offers an in-depth treatment from notable critics and directors, presenting selections off the beaten path from around the world by, J. HobermanJohn WatersAmy TaubinJames Quandt and Erika Balsom. But it's the magazine's visual art coverage where of course, they excel. Amassing a global body of artists, critics and curators, from central Europe to Hong Kong, including, Anne DressenHal FosterZoe WhitleyRachel KushnerWolfgang TillmansJamillah JamesBranden W. JosephManuel Borja-VillelJack BankowskyVenus LauDaniel BirnbaumKaelen Wilson-GoldieMatthew Higgs, and Vince Aletti, there may be no better or more inclusive overview of the year in visual art to be found anywhere. 


Parsing the world of non-commercial film also requires no shortage of dedication. Resources like the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound magazine, Cinema-Scope and Film Comment are great aids in taking stock of the notable films premiering at festivals in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Paris, London, and Toronto. All three digging deep into the past twelve months of releases, from American indie productions, to obscure documentary explorations, to Asian arthouse and beyond. If the dominant streaming platforms haven't been bringing great film into your home, your time would be well spent utilizing Film Comment's Best Films of 2017, and Best Undistributed FilmsSight & Sound's Best Films of 2017, and The Guardian's Top 50 Films of the Year, in conjuncture with independent streaming services like Mubi and Fandor. Much in the way of Fandor, another vast body of films running the gamut from cinema classics, to contemporary indie and Euro arthouse can be seen on FilmStruck. This recently launched endeavor from Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection has brought together the the libraries under the purview of the two institutions, containing thousands of classic, foreign, indie and arthouse films, assembling a massive resource resulting in a, "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles". Taken together, there's more quality music, film, and visual art between the covers of these year-end issues to see, hear, interpret and discuss, than one could hope to quantify... much less experience, in a year. Which brings us back to the issue of abundance... maybe it's TIME itself we simply need more of in the 21st century.