We here at The Addison Recorder read stuff. We also watch stuff. And play stuff, even. Sometimes, that stuff is interesting. Sometimes we just need to talk about whatever pop culture ephemera occupies our time. Which brings us to this column. Hop on.
I’ve come to trust Steven Hyden over at Grantland when it comes to what to listen to. Our tastes tend towards singer-songwriters with a dark streak, and he was the one who pushed me towards Natalie Prass in a Month in Pop Culture installment in the past. This time, he’s got me hooked on Courtney Barnett.
A singer-songwriter from Australia, her debut album was just released last month. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit opens with a thundercrack – “Elevator Operator” pounds away like an early Clash outtake. The lead single follows, “Pedestrian at Best”, and as a song, it is anything but pedestrian. Her songs are filled with wit (but not whimsy), and showcase Barnett’s uncanny ability to transcribe people-watching into lyricism. It’s great stuff. I’m not saying anything more. Go stream the god damn album already.
There were several books, movies, and video games I had a great time with in March, but I’m gonna step out of my usual wheelhouse a little this month. A little dive in reading about Chinese history this month made me queue up the sound track to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at work, and from there I lost countless hours to the music of Yo-Yo Ma. Specifically, I went and listened to the tradition Asian music performed by The Silk Road Ensemble, which Yo-Yo Ma headlines. They resuscitate the music of Central Asian cultures that are fading into history, which sounds beautifully foreign and intriguing to my American ears. Check ’em out on Spotify.
Fans and academics talk of tabletop role-playing games as collaborative stories, where players gather around to create a shared narrative. But how do players achieve this? How can they hone these abilities? What can they learn from each other?
These are the questions that the Chicago De-Mystics look to answer. The De-Mystics are James D’Amato, host of the One Shot podcast, and award-winning game writer Will Hindmarch. Their goal is to, well, de-mystify the process of telling stories through role-playing games. The inaugural event was this past weekend, and was an illuminating (and highly entertaining) afternoon of not only play, but learning from play. Four separate groups ran the same story template with different systems and different players in a workshop environment, gathering afterwards to compare notes. It offered the rare opportunity to talk shop and learn how to run and play a better game.
This video came out for the new Carly Rae Jepsen single a couple of weeks ago and I absolutely cannot stop watching it. Tom Hanks, aka America’s boyfriend, stars in my new favorite thing. I dare you not to grin for three minutes straight watching him lip-sing lines like, “I know this isn’t love, but I need to tell you something…” Not even the Justin Bieber cameo at the end can ruin it for me, mostly because I am a sucker for a choreographed dance scene. Take a look if you need a pick-me-up or if you have, you know, a beating heart.
Last year, I tasked myself with re-watching all of the Star Trek TV shows, and I finally finished the Original Series this month after dragging my feet for about 9 months. It was fine, mostly just coming off as dated and unoriginal, but the finale of the series angered me to no end. Turnabout Intruder is about a scorned ex of Captain Kirk, coming back decades later to switch bodies with him so she can take over his life. The crew mutinies because she’s too emotional and can’t control herself while inhabiting Kirk. All of the comments and representations serve to undermine women and seemingly they wrote this episode in response to burgeoning second wave feminism. Oh, and for some reason they decide to toss it out there that women aren’t allowed to be captains in Starfleet… My advice is to stay far away from the original series, especially that finale.
Do you miss the 1980s? Do you wish that there had been one more golden age Duran Duran album, or at least one more long-player full of batteries of synthesizers, processed guitars, and dramatic vocals? Recorder friend and occasional contributor Molly Schlemmer pointed me towards Cincinnati-based Walk the Moon’s newest album, Talking is Hard, which was a complete return to the first music I remember hearing (and watching on VH1). The forty-five minutes of high-energy new-wavishness, delivered with gusto from lead singer/keyboardist Nicholas Petricca and his bandmates, isn’t perfect from beginning to end, but it does include the band’s first top 20 hit, “Shut Up and Dance,” aka the most irresistible pop single I’ve heard this year.
I can’t go another month without recommending Speakeasy, the interview web series hosted by a personal favorite of mine, the delightful Mr. Paul F. Tompkins. The series features easygoing chats with comedians, actors and other entertainers over cocktails – in what appears to me to be a haunted bar.
In March, Tompkins interviewed comedian Cameron Esposito and it’s one of my favorite episodes so far. She talks about her time honing her craft in Chicago, the most baffling question straight people ask lesbians and why she doesn’t want anyone grabbing her butt. Esposito’s episode is fantastic, but I have yet to watch one that isn’t. The reason for that is Tompkins himself. He is hilarious and charming in a way that adds to the conversation, rather than turning it into a competition with his guest. The episodes are short and easy to binge watch – and you will definitely want to once you get started. So go pour yourself something nice and enjoy.