Friday, June 27, 2014

June 2014 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for June…

1. I read Dark March: Stories for When the Rest of the World is Asleep by Colin Fleming this month. This is a series of short stories, some of which are loosely connected and most of which are a bit surrealist in nature. There's one about an island that gets bored and wants to explore other places while dealing with wisecracking crabs and braggart gulls. There's another about rival haunted forests each trying to be more fear-inspiring than the other. There's more than one about a sea captain named Doze at various points in his life, including his trying to break into his crystallized garage and another about his devising creative ways to punish crew members. Most stories were enjoyable, although a few of the most trippy ones felt like work to understand. Fleming is a gifted writer and imaginative storyteller; I'll probably end up giving his earlier collection of stories a read as well.

2. I also read The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest, the fifth in her series of steampunk novels collectively known as The Clockwork Century. We meet Rector "Wreck 'em" Sherman, an orphan who was also a companion to Zeke Wilkes, a major character from Boneshaker and recurring smaller character from subsequent books. After being released/kicked out of the orphanage, Wreck is compelled to venture into the walled-off city of Seattle to make peace with part of his past, meeting up with the whole cast of characters from past books who are going to need to work together to fend off a new threat to the city. I continue to love everything about this series: the alternative history, the steampunk sensibility, and of course the zombies. Priest's books continue to be an awesome gateway into the steampunk world.

3. I've made my way through most of season 2 of Orange is the New Black this month on Netflix, which picks up right where the first season left off. The show is given a little more of an edge this season in several ways. First is the arrival of Vee, an inmate who has certainly been around the block a few times both in and out of prison, and knows how to manipulate and intimidate her way around the other women. Second is the guards trying to be tougher on the inmates in order to search for contraband and generally send the message that they can't be walked over. But the heart of the show is still the relationships and backstories of the inmates; we still get plenty of drama between them and also see what from their past brought them together. It's just that this time around, the whole thing is more driven  by an overarching narrative. In that way, this season seems like it's going somewhere more than the first.

4. I can't even remember how I stumbled upon Jesus on the Mainline, a collective of musicians that sounds like The Black Keys cross-pollinated with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They've got this rich, country-fried New Orleans thing going on that hooked me my very first listen. They only have three songs out at the moment and are planning to release an EP this summer, and I'm definitely going to keep my ears open for news about them. You can hear these songs, including their cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" (although I'd recommend that you start with "War"), here.

5. British steampunk hip-hop artist Professor Elemental is back with a new album, The Giddy Limit. It's his same silly, clever rhymes and stories over solid beats that made me a fan when I heard The Indifference Engine. Here's the opening track, "All In Together:"