I haven’t written one of these in a while, but now that summer has nearly wrapped up, it felt like as good a time as any to cover the music, TV, movies, games and books that have captured my attention when I’m not fully immersed in TikTok or my job search.
We Want Everything, by Nanni Balestrini — The easiest way to market a book to me is to have even the most tenuous connection to Rachel Kushner. She mentioned this book in her essay collection The Hard Crowd and I’m not surprised that I found it an engrossing account of how industrialization affected Italy in the ’60s. As we as a society come to grips with the impact AI may have on our lives and our livelihoods, this was a bracing read about workers trying to maintain some control over how they work and how that translates to their ability to live.
Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs, by Greil Marcus — Sometimes I really miss the late glory days of music criticism as seen in alt weeklies. That kind of writing seems even more gnomic now than it did then. The references are often even more obscure now, but in the hands of a master of the form, all the more wonderful. I don’t know if I’ve really gotten to know Dylan better as I work through this book, but the kaleidoscopic portrayal matches the several Dylans he’s been throughout his long career. Didn’t hurt that Rachel Kushner had a blurb on the inner jacket.
Boardwalk of Dreams, by Bryant Simon — This is so good I wrote the author an email. I’ve longed for a great piece of urban political economy about the arc of Atlantic City, and this is it. Better still, Simon does a fantastic job of outlining how the dynamics that shaped Atlantic City are pertinent for any city that’s been transformed from an industrial center into a tourist playground. The common thread of how public spaces are created and for whom illustrates not only how the Boardwalk scenes can be connected to the casinos, but by the transitive property, how vibrant downtowns connect to suburban malls. If you’ve spent any meaningful amount of time in Atlantic City as my family has visiting friends on the sound end of town, this will help you understand what really happened there and why. He also just shared a Jason Isbell interview conducted by Capital Moves author Jefferson Cowie and I’m just smitten.
Reddit. I’m the last person on Earth to get lost here. I finally figured out how to make it work for me now that I’m not spending time refreshing Twitter. I get far more enjoyment out of it than I ever did most social media. What if forums were the answer the entire time?
Barbie — Felt like we had to see it in the theater. Helen wore a pink dress and I wore the “sunny side up” Pavement t‑shirt. I loved so much about it, but felt like for all the talk about dismantling the patriarchy, we spent a disproportionate amount of time rehabilitating the men. It was a fun movie, but I think I wanted more Ghost World than it could offer.
The Bear — Is this the only prestige TV I like? Maybe! “Fishes” and “Forks” were standout episodes, but the whole show evolved this season into something more than another frenetic, troubling restaurant dramedy. Also, Oliver Platt rules.
What We Do in the Shadows — I didn’t love S4, with baby Colin Robinson dancing around, but the show seriously bounced back in S5 and completely pulled me back in just when I thought I might let go. “The Campaign” is to Colin Robinson what “Forks” was for Richie.
Cutter’s Way – 20 years ago I was a video store clerk responsible for maintaining the American actors portion of the store. I can’t tell you how the VHS box for Cutter’s Way taunted me all these years, alongside Hackman’s Night Moves and Keach’s Fat City. I dusted all of them, but never watched them. Now all three are streaming on Criterion Channel together and after watching Cutter’s Way, it’s time I address this oversight. If I learned anything from my time behind the counter at TLA Video, it was that some movies are, well, just a vibe, and this is no exception. The disillusionment, much like in We Want Everything, just resonates so powerfully in the central conflict and the characters are well-developed.
Yo La Tengo — This Stupid World. There’s literally nothing to say about this band that hasn’t already been said. They’re one of a handful of bands that consistently produces music that I know I’ll enjoy before I’ve listened and they’ve been doing it for decades. This album is no exception, but you already knew that.
Mixcloud. It’s the best music discovery app for me, hands down.
Indiecast. This is the closest I get to music criticism drama nearly 13 years since last writing about music for money. It’s as close as I want to get, I think. Steve and Ian are the Siskel and Ebert of 40-something critics and at a time when so much music criticism has really focused on fan service, they offer up indifference as a refreshing counterpoint to all that.
Jokermen & Never Ending Stories. More Hyden! I’ve loved Jokermen, but NES may be my new favorite. The interplay between the guys is just fantastic and heightens my appreciation for Bob and all the silly things he’s done throughout the years.
WRTI. What a gem this radio station is. It was there the entire time. I should’ve been listening since before I got to college, but glad I started now.
WFMU. I’ve long aspired to support the station and I’m glad I finally did. Jesse Jarnow’s The Frow Show was a gateway to so much great music and the broader network does not disappoint in that regard either.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I think I’ve spent the last two years playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. It’s equal parts embarrassing and enthralling. I have literally no friends playing this game, but I fell in love with all the Viking backstory thanks to living in Scandinavia 30 years ago. The story was really satisfying, so much so that I actually completed the game and can’t stop wandering around the countryside. I can’t wait for Mirage to hit.
Starfield. I haven’t started playing yet, but I’m hoping this game cures me of my Assassin’s Creed Valhalla habit!
We all stare into the infinite scroll. Sure, it was once a questionable UI solution that created an even more dubious UX for surfacing content on websites — don’t like what’s on the menu, well, what if that menu were endless — now defines how we consume content online, interrupted only occasionally as the timeline lags. It’s an exhausting, indiscriminate way to interact with media, but what’s the alternative? We literally look at mobile devices hundreds if not thousands of times a day and the social web waits to scratch an itch our brains have to be constantly entertained.
Ever since the election, I’ve striven — unsuccessfully- to change my media diet. As someone who consumes a ton of content that streams through my various timelines for professional reasons, I’m trying to be more mindful of and intentional about my media consumption and the habits that enable it.
I’ve long admired Jason Kottke’s work and lately I’ve appreciated how he’s documented his media diet in much the same way one might keep a food journal. Here’s a recent example.
To that end, I’ve compiled a list of things I’m engaging on purpose!
Yo La Tengo — There’s a Riot Going On. Seriously just what the doctor ordered to start an unseasonably cold spring. I didn’t think they’d match the brilliance of Fade, but this is a great coda on a wonderful career.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks — Sparkle Hard. Ever since I heard the first single, “Middle America,” which sounds like it would fit comfortably on Terror Twilight, yet still sounds fresh.
The Breeders — All Nerve. Ugh I know this has been very “Remember the 90s” but the new Breeders has so much attitude! “Nervous Mary” is one of my favorite songs of the year.
Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth. A perfectly defiant record. It’s how I start Sunday morning in 2018.
Abbott. Saladin Ahmed’s phantasmagoric thriller set in the ’70s about a Detroit reporter investigating murders in Cass Corridor is reminscent of Lauren Bewkes’ fantastic novel, Broken Monsters, but less nouveau Detroit.
Reddit. I remember when Reddit was castigated as being the internet’s cesspool, but now the notion of self-moderated communities that you can visit intentionally feels pretty great.
Everything trail and ultra running, starting with The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young. The Barkley Marathons aren’t an insane race, they’re an existential crisis. A friend of mine from high school went this year to observe the race and he witnessed its brutal majesty firsthand. There were no finishers this year. Check out The Year Barkley Won in Trail Runner Magazine, too.
Babylon Berlin — Jason wrote a bit about the music here, but I was positively spellbound over 16 45-minute long episodes. “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” is a showstopper. Babylon Berlin is thrilling and punctuated by fantastic song and dance numbers.
The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies. I’ve been bullish on the Phillies’ rebuild, but had not expected them to lead the NL East in the first half. I also didn’t expect the Braves to be at the door so quickly either.
I’ll try to update this on a quarterly basis. How do you manage your cultural consumption habits?
Maybe I’m following the wrong people on social media, but has the word “overlooked” lost all meaning as it pertains to culture? It seems to me that when we’re still printing spoiler alerts for ten-year-old TV shows that “overlooked” has lost all explanatory power. Now when I see that word in a review, I roll my eyes. Chances are the reviews are just as overlooked as the culture they describe, if not moreso.
Sure, within your niche the new records from Vampire Weekend or the National may be on everyone’s lips, but it’s a safe bet that the word of mouth outpaces actual consumption of that particular cultural artifact. You may perceive that those records have gone mainstream, but the reality is your neighbor has never heard either band.
There’s definitely a bright side to this; with this shift, it appears to me at least that snobbery loses in the bargain. The on demand nature of culture now enables anyone curious enough to bookmark those things mentally and narrows the gap between the expert and the novice. Moreover, we’ve done away with the cultural monoliths that once dominated the pop cultural landscape that allow us to gather around real and imagined water coolers for discussion and debate.
But how do critics describe this shift as the pace of cultural creation plows under what came before? Blink and you could miss the next cultural epicycle. Has culture been marginalized or personalized? Can anything be described as ephemeral, or were we just always talking to ourselves, the myth of monoculture just another imagined community peopled exclusively by elites?
You know what makes this blog great? It’s always reminding me of my shortcomings. No, not that I post once a month; that I post resolutions every year and never fulfill them.
This year I planned on ripping all my CDs to my MacBook. Didn’t happen. It’s tedious, there’s never time, the litany of excuses goes on and on. That changes next year.
Why? Because if we’re planning on buying a new home in 2013, I need to shrink my portion of digital goods considerably. There’s no excuse to not have everything loaded onto a computer that can be accessed via home sharing. Flipping content from computer to other devices in the home is really awesome and I’m finally seeing that potential.
What does it mean? I need an iMac. While everyone is going smaller — whether that’s iPads or MacBook Airs — I’m realizing that I need a machine that can comfortably store all the CDs and DVDs I own locally that I can then access on mobile devices. My MacBook just won’t cut it. I want something that can whirr quietly upstairs and be the classic home computer. I think iMac fits the bill.
Wish me luck in 2012 in getting our digital life together! (Do people still even buy used CDs and DVDs?)
Once upon a time, I used to be a guy who compiled lists — obsessively, even — of the movies and music I wanted to acquire in some physical format. It made birthdays and Christmases so easy for everyone in my life. Distribute the list and — voila — instant gifts!
Now it’s not so easy. I still really enjoy music and film, but there’s just no pressing need for me to “own” any of it. Does this mean I’m facing a future of ties for every gift going forward?