Friday, March 25, 2016

March 2016 Pop Culture Roundup

Five items for March...

1. I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates this month. Written as a letter to his son, Coates recounts his experience as a black man living in America. Part history lesson and part contemporary commentary, Coates paints pictures of an entire demographic that experiences fear, desperation, subtle and overt discrimination, and hope. He shows how racism is still alive and well in both personal and systemic forms, in part due to the concept of "race" still being held in place by those in power, and any semblance of a solution going further than declaring oneself "color blind" due to the benefits and privilege that the current system distributes and withholds. I found it jarring, eye-opening, and convicting, and can now join my voice to the many others who are calling this an important work for our day.

2. I also read Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, which tells the story of Addie and Louis, two widowed neighbors who begin spending time together, including sharing a bed at night. They don't do it to be intimate, so to speak, but to enjoy companionship especially overnight when the hours are longest and most lonely. They share their stories and their lives together while fending off the concerns of family members and fellow residents of their very small town. A beautiful relationship results that brings more vibrancy and joy to two lives. The story is told in such an understated way, but communicates what each experiences powerfully. This is an early contender for one of my favorites of the year.

3. And I also read Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines this month, the first in a series telling the story of a group of superheroes caring for a large group of survivors after the zombie apocalypse. It's a pretty brilliant mashup of two genres with some great new takes on each. The heroes are flawed and have their own struggles while trying to maintain a positive inspiring face for their charges, while the zombies in this particular story provide some unique and extra-terrifying challenges for the group. I anticipate reading more in the series.

4. This month Esperanza Spalding released her latest album, Emily's D+Evolution. I enjoyed Spalding's first outing, but never really got around to her second. When I started hearing previews for this one, I was amazed at the jazz arrangements fused with crunchy guitar riffs. The songs are creative, incredibly dynamic and interesting, and Spalding's voice is a delight. Here's a live performance of one of my favorites from the album (complete with an amazing improvisational interlude), "Unconditional Love:"

5. I was also excited to learn that Wussy released a new album this month, Forever Sounds. Their last album, Attica, was one of my favorites a few years ago. Their combination of brooding lyrics overtop driving rock remains intact on this latest effort, and I'm slightly ashamed that I only found out they were releasing new material by happenstance. Here's the official video for the opening track, "Dropping Houses:"