Some highlights of my pop culture diet for the week of 5/9-5/15/21.
Music: I’ve been picking my way through the list of artists profiled in the recent New York Times piece about the diversification of solo guitar players, and Yasmin Williams’ Urban Driftwood album is my favorite discovery of the bunch so far. I was thrilled, then, to see that Yasmin served as curator for the most recent People’s Picks Spotify playlist posted by Smithsonian Folkways. It’s a treasure trove of beautiful, beautifully recorded (mostly) instrumental music, heavy on the sort of meditative arrangements and plaintively bittersweet melodies that Williams specializes in. Take a deep breath, dive in, and float downstream.
On a similar tip, I’ve been happily luxuriating in “Soon It Will Be Fire,” a breathtakingly lovely collaboration between Moses Sumney and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Part of the upcoming album This Is a Mindfulness Drill, this song sounds the way I imagine going to church should feel. The combination of Sumney’s stacks of achingly gorgeous vocals and the Ensemble’s plangent brass is just intoxicating. It’s the most beautiful piece of music I can remember hearing in a very long time, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the rest of the record.
Some other favorite new songs of the week include “Got Me,” the latest pre-release track from Laura Mvula’s upcoming album Pink Noise, and the new single from Judah and the Lion, “Help Me to Feel Again.” Finally, on the discovery front, I asked my Twitter followers to name albums that fill them with joy, and I’m really enjoying making my way through the records I’d never heard before. Here’s the thread:
Television: I’m excited to welcome back Mythic Quest for its second season. This Apple TV+ series about the goings-on behind the scenes of a popular MMORPG might sound like stuff for video game nerds, but speaking as someone who hasn’t really played video games since controllers got more complicated than a crosspad and A/B buttons, the gaming stuff is really just the nominal framework for a really smart, kind, funny show that uses its workplace setting as a gateway to all sorts of timely themes. It’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s also deeply sincere and often poignant.
Another new favorite is Hacks, starring Jean Smart as a veteran comedian whose years as a fixture on the Vegas strip seem to be in danger of coming to an end — and Hannah Einbeinder as the much younger comedy writer who ends up writing for her even though neither woman is initially very happy about the idea. Seek that one out if you’ve got HBO Max.
Movies: This was a light week for movie watching, but I did take advantage of the hub HBO Max set up for the TCM Festival to finally get around to watching Scarecrow, the 1973 movie starring Gene Hackman and Al Pacino as a pair of drifters who meet up in California as they’re both heading east. Helmed by photographer-turned-underrated director Jerry Schatzberg, it’s a shambolic yet gorgeously filmed and touchingly empathetic road trip movie — one that captures the uncertainty and ennui of its era with a minimum of fuss and artifice. Look for it to be covered in an upcoming Some Guy Cinema post.
Books: I’m finally getting around to reading The Will to Change by bell hooks, a book that critically deconstructs patriarchy from the perspective that it’s not only harmful to women and children, but to the men it’s set up to benefit. As hooks argues, patriarchal systems and biases rob men of their willingness and/or ability to express or even truly feel across the emotional spectrum; in order for all of us to really heal, toxic masculinity needs to be confronted and unraveled. Not the lightest of reads! It’s well worth seeking out, however, and I’m grateful to my FM to MTV co-host and dear friend Mike Joseph for recommending it.