Some highlights of my pop culture diet during the week of 8/30-9/5/2021.
Music: I spent a fair amount of time with a fairly eclectic array of new releases over the last week. I’m pretty sure an entire day was taken up with Chvrches’ Screen Violence album, which sounds pretty much like what you’d expect a new Chvrches record to sound like, which is obviously all right with me. This isn’t the type of thing I traditionally enjoy, but Lauren Mayberry’s vocals are irresistible to me for some reason, and I absolutely cannot argue with the half-melancholy, half-anthemic flavor of pop this band deals in. If we find out at some point that the members of this group are secretly the children of the Sundays, I will be as gratified as I am unsurprised.
Then there’s Robben Ford’s new one, Pure, which gives me exactly what I want from a Robben Ford record, which is apparently Robben Ford not singing. Which is not meant to be a knock against Ford’s voice — it’s fine! — I just tune in to Ford so I can hear Ford playing guitar, and that’s what Pure delivers, beautifully. He’s generally a better musician than he is a songwriter, and a lot of his stuff can be enjoyable without being particularly memorable, but this ten-song set really hits the sweet spot — as soulful as it is economical, with Ford and his band in fine form throughout. Putting together a solid guitar record is tougher than it looks, and I think that’s probably at least partly why so many of them come gussied up with unnecessary gimmicks. Pure lives up to its title.
Big Red Machine takes us from blues to beige with How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? This isn’t usually the type of stuff I’m drawn to, and I’m not really a fan of the National or Bon Iver, but the duo’s star-studded second outing is an unfailingly pleasant listen, especially during these liminal days as summer lets out its last few humid breaths and the first signs of autumn chill start creeping into the air. Good for a few spins if you’re ready to start wearing sweaters again.
Finally, I was sort of blown away by Sometimes I Might Be Introvert by Little Simz, an artist who’s new to me, but only because I’m old and white. Her fourth LP, Introvert follows 2019’s Mercury-nominated Grey Area, and if that album contains anything approximating the dizzyingly ambitious and powerfully heartfelt music Simz serves up here, then I’m definitely going to enjoy the fuck out of exploring her catalog further. At 19 tracks and over an hour in length, this record is kind of a lot, but it’s so confidently, artfully eclectic that it never gets dull or wears out its welcome. One of the nicest surprises of the year for me.
Television: So much going on right now! Like everyone else, I’m loving season two of Ted Lasso and very much enjoying Only Murders in the Building, which has posted three episodes as I write this. But the show I’m going to be saddest to say “bye for now” to when it concludes its current run is Reservation Dogs, which addresses themes of personal and cultural identity with a sharp yet tender touch. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Also looking forward to starting the new seasons of A.P. Bio and What We Do in the Shadows this week.
Movies: For the first time since seeing the brow-furrowing Rise of Skywalker over its opening weekend, I ventured out to a theater last week in order to catch a screening of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Now that Marvel has moved into television, I think it’s going to be very difficult for the studio to find stories that truly need to be told on the big screen, but this one is a pretty good time — no small feat, given that it’s yet another origin story about a Marvel hero with daddy issues. Lots has been written (and rightfully so) about the step forward this film signifies for representation, but I was just as heartened by the movie’s other refreshing twist — specifically, the way it rests on the platonic male-female friendship between its two main characters. Now if we could just get one of these movies to end without a noisy CGI orgy…
Books: I’m currently in the closing stretch of Stephen King’s latest, Billy Summers, about a hitman who allows himself to be lured into One Last Job. That setup is a hoary old trope, but King does some interesting things with the story, including the way he adds a book within a book — Billy has to pose as an author, so in order to keep up appearances, he starts writing his memoirs. Like most of King’s post-near-death works, Summers isn’t really a horror novel, and he’s very much up to a lot of his usual tricks here (including a minor plot point that ties into earlier stories in a winking way), but it’s also another reminder, as if we needed any, that he’s a hell of a storyteller.