It’s the halfway point of 2017 already. With the brisk pace of new releases, odds are you’ve missed a few of the great ones. But fear not. Here’s a guide to the best entertainment of the year so far that may have flown under your radar.
Casting JonBenet – available on Netflix
Documentarian Kitty Greene’s Casting JonBenet puts real-life residents of Boulder, CO through the audition ringer for the creation of a cinematic reenactment of the JonBenet Ramsey murder, attempting to examine the community’s wounds left to fester in the 20 years since the murder of the six-year-old pageant queen. Suffice it to say, a trigger warning is applicable here. Individual mileage will vary in terms of the message Greene could be attempting to relay, but the film bears the mark of any great documentary: the knowledge that all you need is a camera and the right people in the right place at the right time to see something extraordinary.
What Now, by Sylvan Esso – available to stream and on CD and vinyl
A brisk 36-minutes of synth-pop jubilation, the sophomore effort from the electronic duo Sylvan Esso is one of the year’s easiest-to-digest musical treats thus far. The fun doesn’t stop with the uplifting and accessible hooks either, as singer Amelia Meath has brought even more wit (this is the kind of album that sets the lyric “slave to the radio” to its catchiest earworm chorus) and wonder to her lyrics to match Nick Sanborn’s beats. The meeting of these two musicians, from seemingly-disparate corners of the music world (folk music for Meath, found sounds/electronic for Sanborn), is looking to pan out to be one of more fortunate happenings in indie music, assuming and hoping that this group is here to stay.
call the police / american dream, by LCD Soundsystem – available to stream
James Murphy, elder statesman of dance-punk, ended the self-imposed retirement of his LCD Soundsystem band early last year, promising a fourth album to come that many fans, after their legendary “farewell” concert at Madison Square Garden in 2011, thought they’d never get. The digital double-single of call the police and american dream is immensely promising, signaling both an energized return to the sound that made their name in the music world, and new depths of raw and emotional self-laceration in the lyrics of Murphy, already known for the grinning self-deprecation that further lightened up his band’s ridiculously danceable grooves and beats. Whatever this new album is called, and whenever it’s even coming out, it’s sure to be a treat based off of these two stellar singles.
Career Suicide – available on HBO
HBO, the previous titan of comedic broadcasts, having been usurped by Netflix, has only released and/or scheduled 3 specials so far this year, which would be a bad look for the network if one of them wasn’t such a tremendous get. Chris Gethard, rooted in improv and having hosted a cult-TV talk show (The Chris Gethard Show, self-described as “the most bizarre and often saddest talk show in New York City”) since 2011 brings a wealth of experience to his intimate and hilarious one-man show Career Suicide, which delves deep into his struggles with depression and mental illness against the backdrop of his life in comedy. Gethard is as skilled a monologist as he is a stand-up comedian, executing whiplash tonal shifts with the precision of a consummate professional, even making digressions like singing a few bars of a song from The Smiths in a warbly Morrissey impression feel earned and purposeful. Gethard’s been acting as a spokesperson for the depressed of the alt-comedy scene for a few years now, and while the people that could use to hear his message of reflection and seeking help for mental illness may not find it for a while (just as Gethard found the therapeutic music of The Smiths long after that band had broken up), the presence of his work on HBO is a boon to his exposure for the future.
No Shape, by Perfume Genius – available to stream and on CD and vinyl
The fourth album from avant-garde queer singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas as “Perfume Genius” cements his position as a fringe idol in the David Bowie or Kate Bush vein, a remarkable evolution from his humble piano-ballad beginnings. His progression from the volume-cranking highs of his 2014 breakout Too Bright is to a new and startling grasp of dynamics, with opener “Otherside” featuring a drop that might knock you off your feet. Hadreas’ songs are just as moody and subtly beautiful as ever, but he doesn’t make music for solitary and reflective bedroom listening sessions anymore. These bracing 13 tracks comprise a sweeping movement of reverent ode to transparent and blissful love, full of perfectly-executed grand instrumental touches that make you lament the days that Hadreas wasn’t using as big of a sandbox.