2017 in Review: The Final Countdown

OK folks, here it is: the last of my Top Fives for 2017.

Today I’m shining a light on the five songs that made an impression on me this year, but unlike the Reading and Viewing lists, the songs that made the grade here HAD to have been released this year.

So without any further mucking around, and in totally random order, here’s the list — with some favourite lines thrown in for good measure:


1.  Your Time by Nick Murphy.

2017 Your Time

Nick Murphy

You know that your time is something that I need to have…

This is one dark, edgy track from Murphy’s Missing Link EP — and it hooks you right from the opening line. If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere for the past few years and haven’t already encountered Nick Murphy in his former guise, Chet Faker, you’re in for a treat with this one. And if you’re not dancing (or obsessing over someone) by the end of this song, I’m not sure we can be friends. Really. Nothing personal, it’s just that kind of music.

2. Private by Vera Blue.

2017 Private

Vera Blue

Subjects in my mind, running wild, images of a parallel life…

Vera Blue’s Perennial was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2017 J Awards — and rightly so, in my opinion. She’s a powerful and interesting vocalist (I loved her work on Slumberjack’s track Fracture as well), and this song taps right into the fantastically frustrating vibe of wanting someone you can’t have, no matter how vividly you imagine it. Totally worth a listen.


3. Everything Now by Arcade Fire.

2017 Everything now

Arcade Fire

Every song that I’ve ever heard
Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd
And it reminds me, we’ve got everything now…

I’ll be honest — Arcade Fire are one of my favourite bands. Ever. And this song has been the soundtrack to many a morning walk along the beachfront near my home this year. The lyrics are, admittedly, bleak, but the overall sound of the piece is overwhelmingly joyful — particularly towards the end, when there’s a real festival vibe going on. In an era of information overload and fake news, I’m grateful Arcade Fire is there to critique it and turn it into something uplifting and beautiful.

4. Cloud 9 and Marryuna by Baker Boy.

2017 Baker Boy

Baker Boy

You want to be as good as me boy you better practice: step back in the power of my blackness…

So this one is a tie — I couldn’t bring myself to choose between these two Baker Boy tracks, because they’re both absolutely brilliant. These raps are a blend of English and Yolngu Matha language, and Baker Boy does Arnhem Land more than proud representing his people. He’s as good live as he is in the recording studio, and at just 20 years of age I’m looking forward to hearing a whole lot more from this supremely talented rising star.

5. The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows by Gang of Youths

2017 GOYouths

Gang of Youths

In a crowd unfamiliar, I just wanna touch a familiar face
And make friends at the parties I’ve feared the likes of an age
To be wanted with truth and make formidable love
See light in myself that I see inside everyone else I know…

How good is this band? It was no surprise to me that they absolutely cleaned up at the ARIAs this year. Go Farther in Lightness is an album packed with David Le’aupepe’s mindbendingly well-written lyrics accompanied by the driving rhythms and soaring melodies all Gang of Youths fans have come to know and love. This is my favourite track from a great album. Check it out.

2017 The Man

See? He really is The Man.

Honourable mentions go to The Killers for The Man — a song I half expect to turn up on a Peaky Blinders episode in the future because it seems (to me, anyway) to capture Tommy Shelby’s strut and sass, not to mention his complete self-assuredness. And that’s not just because I’m a huge fan of anything Cillian Murhpy does…it’s a great song. This year I also think Nick Mulvey’s Myela deserves a mention, not least because it highlights the plight of refugees in a world prone to forgetting some of the planet’s most desperate people, and — on a much lighter note — Lorde’s Homemade Dynamite is also top flight listening.

So there we have it: the last of my Top Five’s for the year. Given that I’m a veritable magpie when it comes to music and that I listen to a wide range of stuff from all over the world, I was somewhat surprised that the majority of the artists I’ve highlighted here are Australian — but that’s where I’m from, and I believe in supporting the local music scene, so perhaps it’s logical even if it does reflect a certain Antipodean bias.

Anyway, I’d love to hear what your Top Five songs were this year. Feel free to use the Comments to let me know, and I’ll be sure to give them a spin.

2017 in Review: And That’s a Wrap

It’s that time of year when I’m charting my personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in for good measure. Yesterday I looked at books, and today I’m switching to what I’ve seen on screens, big and small.

Much like its literary counterpart, I’ve decided that the Viewing category is open to any movie or television series made at any time, but which I watched 2017.  I managed to list the books chronologically, but this list — like my viewing habits generally — is far more haphazard. There are (hopefully) no spoilers here, and definitely no full reviews.  These are just five of my favourites for 2017…feel free to leave me your suggestions of what to watch next year, or your thoughts on what should have made the list.


1. Sound City (2013)

2017 Sound cityI’m kicking this list off with a feature-length documentary about the history of a recording studio in Van Nuys, Los Angeles — a description that sounds somewhat bland and boring until you realise that the recording studio in question is Sound City Studios, and the director of the film is Dave Grohl. It might sound even more banal if I described this movie as Grohl’s love letter to the Neve 8028 analog mixing console at Sound City but, again, once it becomes clear that this was the console he and a previously little-known band called Nirvana once used to record an album called Nevermind that went on to change the musical world as we know it, the whole thing begins to make a lot more sense.

2017 DGThe list of rock music luminaries who recorded at Sound City is astonishing, as is the sheer number of them who shared their memories of making music there: Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, Trent Reznor, Butch Vig, Josh Homme and Paul McCartney are but a few of the artists associated with the studio who agreed to be part of the film. (Then again, given it was Dave Grohl asking them, perhaps it’s hardly surprising at all.)

Much like the Neve console itself, this movie captures a moment in time, a particular sound. It’s like a trip down memory lane in a leather jacket, and while the  film — much like its director — wears its heart on its sleeve, it manages to steer clear of sentimentality when discussing the closure of Sound City and, instead, celebrates old school technology being given a new lease of life as the Neve console is moved to Grohl’s own Studio 606, where it will no doubt be used well into the future.

If you’re a music fan, this one’s a must see.

2. GLOW, Season 1 (2017)

2017 GlowSo we’re still in the San Fernando Valley, but my second pick for 2017 is the televsion comedy series GLOW — which stands, of course, for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.  I never thought a comedy about the making of a 1980s syndicated women’s wrestling show (it is fiction, by the way) would interest me in the slightest, but the writing is as tight the ladies’ leotards, the costumes and soundtrack are so tacky they’re great, and some of the scenes — Sheila the Shewolf’s birthday bash at the roller rink springs to mind — are unexpectedly moving.

2017 Alison BrieI absolutely loved Alison Brie as the semi-desperate, struggling actress Ruth Wilder (particularly when she’s in Soviet mode), and Marc Maron’s portrayal of Sam Sylvia, the sleazy, disillusioned director who discovers he might actually care, is completely convincing. GLOW is laugh out loud funny, with some cutting edge social commentary to boot.

Bring on Season 2.


3. The Crown, Season 2 (2017)

2017 The CrownSpeaking of Season 2, I’ve just binged on another Netflix series — this time, the sumptuous historical drama that is The Crown. The second instalment is every bit as enjoyable as the first, and while political drama plays out on the wider world stage in the form of events such as the Suez Crisis and the Kennedy Assassination, for me the most interesting episodes are those depicting Queen Elizabeth II (played brilliantly by Claire Foy) navigating the complexities and challenges of her personal relationships — especially those with her husband and sister.

Vanessa Kirby very nearly steals the show as Princess Margaret, particularly in one powerful sequence that captures her volatility and unhappiness.  In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Kirby described the scene:

She does this melancholy dance. You rarely saw her on her own, and I always imagined her alone in the house, grieving for her father — her sister preoccupied with a husband and kids and so busy being Queen. She would feel redundant, isolated; ostracised. I just imagined these dark nights of the soul, rattling around in Clarence House.

It’s compelling, if not a little voyeuristic, viewing.

4. Avis de Mistral/My Summer in Provence (2014)

2017 provenceThis French film is one that has been panned elsewhere, but I still wanted to see it.  I’m not entirely sure what it was that first drew me in, though I’ve always been a Jean Reno fan and I’m yet to meet anyone worth knowing who doesn’t harbour a soft spot for Provence.  Perhaps it’s also because, as the grandchild of divorced grandparents, I was intrigued by the the possibility that a cantakerous old man might eventually be won over by the three grandchildren he has never met — despite the best efforts of just about everyone involved to be difficult and objectionable.

The generational struggles are played out over the course of a long, hot summer, and despite the disputes between the characters being occasionally petty (two of the grandchildren are teenagers, after all), the ultimate benevolence and humanity of the characters and the strength of the bonds between them are never really in doubt — particularly in relation to the youngest grandchild, Theo, who is deaf (and is played, beautifully, but Lukas Pélissier, who is also deaf). One of the things I loved about this film is that whenever the action is seen from Theo’s perspective, there is no sound — which serves not only as a reminder of his condition, but also as a respite from the boisterous, dischordant world of his older siblings.

If I’m perfectly honest, this is a predictable, safe and sentimental film: the vast majority of the action is telegraphed well before it happens, including the inevitable happy ending. But sometimes, in life, we need movies like this — things that blow in like the mistral, and blow straight out again…and it’s made my Top Five because at the time I watched it I needed such a distraction, and My Summer in Provence served its purpose very well.

5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

2017 last jediYou knew there had to be a big-hitting, blockbuster of a franchise movie in here somewhere, didn’t you? Well, The Last Jedi is it — and a big part of the reason why this film makes the list is that I watched it at the cinema with my family.

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing about the possibility of introducing my girls to Star Wars, when in reality it was two and a half years ago.  During that time, they have become committed fans of the Star Wars universe, have watched all the films, every episode of Clone Wars and Rebels ever made, and have had hours of “Jedi Training” in the back yard with their father. They even insisted on making their own light sabers (purple — just like Mace Windu’s) at Disneyland.

I suspect half of what was written on the internet during the past month was devoted to The Last Jedi, so I’m not going to add to it any more here, save to say that I aboslutely loved this movie. And best of all, I got to see it with Marvel Girl, Miss Malaprop and The Bloke sitting right beside me.

Honourable mentions for other viewing in 2017 go to Thor: Ragnarok, not only because I can’t go past any Marvel movie in which Tom Hiddleston plays Loki, but also because I think Taika Waititi has brought a really fresh (not to mention funny) approach to the franchise; Anne with an E (and a PTSD?), which turned an old favourite on its head in a way I’ve decided I really liked; and Lucifer, Seasons 1 and 2 of which I believe to be the very best sort of trashy television, complete with clever lines and a one very handsome Devil.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…hit the follow button and don’t miss a thing!

2017 in Review: Closing the Book

As another year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the things I’ve read, seen and heard this year that have affected me in some way — whether by inspiring me, giving me pause, prompting entirely unsolicited dance moves or in-shower solos, or making me think, laugh, cry or even cringe.

So with that in mind, I’ve come up with a bunch of personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in. Feel free to comment on them, or to share your own favourites — especially if you’d think I’d like them!

Today, I’m starting with books. I have decided that this category is open to any book written at any time, not just in 2017. I simply had to have read them during the past year. That said, I thought it was appropriate to include their year of publication, so I’ve arranged them chronologically. I’m not going to give away plot details or critique them fully — just know if they’ve made this list, I think they’re tops.


  1. 2017 Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987).  This book was loaned to me by The Professor, and I’m still not certain whether that simple fact made reading it a more poignant experience — not least because the plot centres on the interactions between two academics and their wives. The writing is beautiful, evocative, and reminiscent without becoming nostalgic, and Stegner’s control of the narrative is masterful.  This book stayed with me for a long time after I’d read it, and made me feel like I’d spent a summer or two in Vermont.
  2. 2017 American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001). What a rollicking good read! Normally I read housebrick sized books on my Kindle, but this one I lugged to and from Fiji and am so glad I did. The story of Shadow and Gaiman’s depiction of the battle between Old Gods and New in America is (literally) fantastic, eccentric and kept this Thrifty Fictionista happily engrossed in my holiday read. I even came back and downoaded Norse Mythology, because I wanted more Gaiman goodness.
  3. 2017 H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014). I’m not sure I’ve read any other book quite like this one — and while the subject matter (the author’s way of dealing with her grief following the death of her father) is not easy, Macdonald’s brutally honest emotional journey aligns more perfectly that I ever expected with a wealth of arcane knowledge of falconry and the life of T H White. I never anticipated I would find such subjects remotely interesting, but this book proved me entirely wrong.
  4. 2017 Our soulsOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015). Oh…this story. Published posthumously, Haruf’s tale begins with an unusual proposition and ends up being an absolute joy to read. It’s bittersweet too, it’s true, but — in my view — ultimately uplifting. Like most purists, I suspect the book is better than the movie version, despite fact the film starred Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Read the book first. Please. (You know it’s the right thing to do.)
  5. 2017 Life to ComeThe Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser (2017). Winning this year’s Miles Franklin award, I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this book: the characters are eminently recognisable, particularly to Sydneysiders, but I did not warm to any of them. That said, there wasn’t a single other book I read all year that had my head wriggling like a tin of worms for so many weeks after I’d put it down. Oh — and the writing is seriously, utterly brilliant.

Honourable mentions go also to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), which I agree remains as relevant today as it did when first published; Island Home, Tim Winton’s beautifully written (as always) love letter to the Australian landscape and his passionate call to arms to protect it; and finally, The Dry, by Jane Harper, which is one of the best and most atmospheric thrillers I have read in an age.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…

À la Recherche de Temps Précieux

ironicI have been in search of precious time recently — not temps perdu, like Proust obsessing over his madeleines.  I have no need of seven volumes of rememebrances of things past right now — though the irony of that will soon become clear.

Rather, I am in fervent, life-affirming need of the present.

I’m not entirely sure how many times I’ve begun composing this post or some version of it in my head over the past few weeks, but I’ve finally figured out that I simply need to put fingers to keys and write — honestly, and hopefully positively — about something significant that is affecting my life.

So here it is: my Dad has been diagnosed with dementia.

I have mentioned my father was experiencing significant health issues in a post once before, and vaguely alluded to it as well, but lately I have discovered that not writing about it openly has been stopping me from writing here at all. It’s not like I’ve had any kind of writer’s block (mostly because I arrogantly refuse to entertain the possibilty that such a thing will ever beset me), or that I have lacked material I thought worthy of sharing. I’ve happily written articles and press releases for clients, and finished off pieces of fiction I started years ago — and even had the temerity to share some of them with an audience.

But my reluctance to write about Dad’s dementia has resulted in the longest hiatus I’ve ever had from this small patch of cyberspace I call my own, and it’s time I changed that in the best way I know how.

I don’t want this to turn into one long whinge about how much it sucks that my Dad — my incredibly intelligent, erudite, articulate and energetic father — has an incurable condition, so I’ve decided that this will be the first in a series of posts I want to categorise under Travels with The Professor.

lionMy hope is that these posts, whenever I feel the need to write them, will celebrate the man who helped raise me, of all that he was and all that he still is.  I imagine I might want to share things that he’s taught me and encouraged me to appreciate, and to make sense of what I’m learning about him and myself as we journey down this one way street, not knowing how long we have together, or how long he will know we are on the path with him.  I don’t want to eulogise him, though I am fully aware that I will probably end up mytholigising at times — because that’s what Dads are for: they are the mightiest of lions, the leaders of the pride, the ones we look up to.

So I invite you to join me, if you’re willing, and we’ll both see where these rambling Travels with The Professor take us.