For someone who likes to believe that they live with the philosophy of “less is more”, I just can’t seem to help but listen and watch and read and digest anything I can get my hands on.
So, here are five things I’ve enjoyed recently:
- The War on Drugs (Live, for World Café)
I’ve been a fan of the band The War on Drugs for a few years now, but only recently have I realized how high they’ve ascended on my list favorites. The magic of the band is that their music both soothes and stimulates the brain simultaneously, creating an irresistible junction of sound.
At the center of the echo-y indie rock band is Philadelphia native Adam Granduciel, whose specific skill on the guitar lends the group its mesmerizing melody. What’s more, as time has gone on, Granduciel’s song writing and lead vocals have gotten progressively stronger, meaning the band is only improving with age.
Their new record, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, is the band’s fifth, and they’ve been all over the Internet doing promo for it. For fans, this has generated a windfall of terrific performances recorded for various media outlets, with my favorite being this 22-minute set for World Café. Enjoy!
- The Walking Drum (a Louis L’Amour novel)
I recently had some time that needed killing, so I wandered into an establishment where the vibes are always good: a used bookstore.
After browsing up and down the aisles of the Fantasy and Science Fiction sections, I finally ran out of real estate and wound up in Westerns. Though it’s never been my genre of choice, the name “Larry McMurtry” has occasionally kicked around my head as a name worth reading, and I figured I could pick one up now.
I scanned the packed shelves looking for his name, but it was nowhere to be found. Instead, I noticed during my searching that the name “Louis L’Amour” dominated the section, accounting for more than half the available novels.
As I had already mentally committed myself to buying something now, I skimmed through the L’Amour paperbacks, hoping one would jump out at me, but there were so many options that I verged on becoming paralyzed with choice. Just as I was about to close my eyes and grab one at random, I noticed the last book on the shelf, titled The Walking Drum. I pulled it out and surveyed the cover art, which looked nothing like a Western. When I flipped it over I learned that it was actually a historical novel set in the Middles Ages, and when I opened it to read the first few paragraphs, I ended up reading the first few chapters.
Throughout the book the main character, Mathurin Kerbouchard, is thrown into various trials primarily featuring both peril and love, and the plot follows along as he matures from a boy into a man while attempting to find his place in the world. The novel as a whole is incredibly readable, mostly due to Kerbouchard’s near constant wish fulfillment as he successfully bounces from one dire scenario to the next due to his natural aptitude for any skill that’s needed to bail him out. While the finaly destination of the book is satisfying, to enjoy the novel is to appreciate the journey L’Amour takes Kerbouchard (and the reader) on.
It pains me to report that according to the notes in the back of The Walking Drum, L’Amour had two additional Kerbouchard adventures planned, which he didn’t live long enough to write. Thankfully, the book he did complete is a gem, and perfectly fits the mold of a novel that can be read and re-read for years to come.
To close, it only seems right to go out on a quote from Louis L’Amour himself, with this one directed at anyone with creative pursuits:
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
- “Another Hundred People” (from the musical Company)
When I learned of Stephen Sondheim’s passing last week, I joined the masses in both mourning him and revisiting his music. It hurts to lose a favorite.
Though it’s too much to ask for me to choose just one Sondheim musical as my number one, I can definitively say that Company is in the top tier. The show, co-created with George Furth, follows a main character, Bobby, as he turns 35 years old and reckons with the notion of long-term commitment. Forgoing a traditional plot in favor of telling the story through a collection of vignettes, the show is its characters.
The show is full of amazing songs, and it’s no accident that it’s still being performed over 50 years later, most recently swapping the lead from Bobby to Bobbie, a woman facing the same crisis of self.
Another reason I like the musical so much is due to D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 documentary, Original Cast Album: Company, in which the documentarian follows the production of the album recording. In it, Sondheim cuts an imposing figure as he works diligently to get the best performance out of every performer during the lengthy recording session. A high-quality version of the doc can be found on Criterion, and a grainier one is freely available on YouTube.
The show as a whole is chock full of great songs which the cameras record, but “Another Hundred People” stands out among them due to its catchy encapsulation of New York City. Pamela Myers’ original version remains the best the song was ever sung.
Seeya in the next life, Mr. Sondheim.
- The Platform (a 2019 Spanish film, streaming on Netflix)
In general, my “movie policy” is to go into them knowing as little as possible, so that I can be surprised by how the story unfolds. In that same spirit, I will talk about the film The Platform (available on Netflix) while trying to reveal very little in the way of specifics.
One thing I can safely say is this movie comes from my favorite genre: *90 minutes or less*. To put a slightly finer point on it, I read a review of the movie that compared it to the techno-dystopian anthology TV series Black Mirror; while this film is scarier and more graphic than that show, I do suspect those who get a kick out of one would get a kick out of both.
One certain comparison the movie has with Black Mirror is the story as a whole is left open to interpretation. My advice would be to not expect any clear direction from the movie on how to feel about it when it’s over, and instead direct that energy toward reflection upon what its message says about humanity.
Rest assured, the movie is thrilling and creates clear stakes and motivations, and it does a good job of keeping the movie moving along by way of escalating the premise.
One major note about The Platform is it’s a Spanish language film, and though English dubs are an option, the Spanish actors in the movie are all talented across the board, so I highly encourage sticking with the subtitled version so their performances can shine through.
Go on then, give the movie a shot!
- Bright Eyes (Live, for KEXP at Home)
I fully admit that I came to Bright Eyes late. For years I’d heard about the band’s lead singer, tortured poet Conor Oberst, but it never became a priority for me to investigate him or his band, especially after they went on hiatus in 2011.
In 2018, one of my faves, Phoebe Bridgers, announced that she was starting a new band called Better Oblivion Community Center, alongside none other than Conor Oberst himself. BOCC went on to release one album before pausing, but that album was so in my wheelhouse that Oberst forced himself into my life.
And so, as if it was always meant to happen this way, after hours and hours of listening to him, I am now a Conor Oberst fan, willing to follow him wherever he leads me. To that end (and my delight), working with Bridgers on BOCC seemed to re-energize Oberst creatively, and Bright Eyes reunited in 2020 and started making new music.
The Bright Eyes clip below was recorded for the tremendous radio station in Seattle, KEXP, and their set opens with two older songs and ends with two newer ones. The whole thing is gold.
Okay, so that’s what I’ve been loving lately! Talk again soon.