Recommendation Dump, June 2018

Splendor and Misery by Clipping — So I’m late to the party on this, but better late than never, right? Splendor and Misery is a sci-fi concept album by experimental hip-hop group Clipping—already, what’s not to love? The album follows the lone survivor of a slave uprising aboard a spaceship, who commandeers the vessel and attempts to escape his pursuers.

What I love about this album is the way it blends ideas and styles. For a start, it’s fascinating to see how Clipping renders common sci-fi motifs musically, making them fresh and fascinating again. It’s not just an album that utilizes sci-fi jargon and aesthetics (though it does that as well), it’s an album that is clearly born from an understanding of the genre and its tradition. A great example of this is the track “All Black Everything,” which communicates the oppressive nothingness of space through it’s skeletal production and Daveed Diggs’s continuous, monotone refrain of “All black everything.” The album also blends different musical genres, mixing in negro-spiritual-inspired songs, blending past and future to create a gritty world that’s nevertheless full of emotion, and deeply human.

Sci-fi aside, the production on the album, by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, and Daveed Diggs’s rapping are just fantastic. The beats manage to suggest the environment, with beeps and clicks and staticky whines, while also effectively establishing different moods for each song. Diggs’s lyrics are great, punchy and complex, and his flow is phenomenal. Splendor and Misery really shows the range that this group has, from songs like “Air ‘Em Out,” a braggadocious gangster-rap-in-space type track, to “True Believer,” a song with a driving industrial beat, a spiritual-inspired chorus, and some wildly imagistic verses detailing a creation myth that offers some clues as to how these people have ended up enslaved.

The album is short, and has a lot to offer with each replay.

The Terror — This AMC series just wrapped up a few weeks ago and my god did it stick the landing. I love a good, one-season series, and The Terror does not disappoint (it may come back for a second season, though with a completely different story, American Horror Story-style.) The show, David Kajganich’s debut as a show-runner, is based off the Dan Simmons book of the same name, which tells a fictionalized account of the lost Arctic Expedition of Captain John Franklin. What little is known about the expedition’s fate after becoming trapped in the Arctic ice in 1846 is faithfully reproduced, and indeed everything that happens in the show could’ve plausibly happened in real life—except, that is, the strange, enormous bear (is it a bear?) which seems to dog the sailors wherever they go.

A shot from the second episode, courtesy of AMC.

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Recommendation Dump, October 2015

It happens that I do more than just read, but reading is what I do most, and am best equipped to review. Still, I watch TV and read articles, and feel like sharing such things from time to time. So, here’s a big ol’ offloading of stuff I want to recommend.

Lawrence of Arabia – This was recently added to Netflix, and having nothing better to do one Saturday evening, I watched the whole thing—overture with black screen included. At least, I listened to that part while looking up background on the movie in another tab. From the bit I read, I expected the movie to be more about the things Lawrence did than about the man himself, so when the movie came to an end, I felt a bit lost, wondering, So what? But re-assessing all that had happened, and looking at the movie as a character study, I found it a lot more interesting. The movie raises a lot of questions about fighting wars in foreign lands, and the identity of a nation. Although you could accuse the movie of being Great White Hope of Arabia, that’s one of the issues the movie gets into—can Lawrence really ever be “of Arabia,” no matter how many battles he joins them in or how well he knows the language, so long as he’s a European? Even without all that thinkin’ stuff, the movie is beautiful, and the soundtrack is gorgeous. I’m definitely going to rewatch it at some point with all this in mind … when I get four free hours.

The Outlaw Ocean” by Ian Urbina – A while ago I heard an interview about this topic with the guy who wrote it, and it sounded really interesting. So I bookmarked the article and didn’t get around to reading it for awhile. Now, I’ve finished it. It’s fantastic and fascinating. The series is about the lawlessness of the seas, and blends specific stories with the broader legal and political background that allows such things to happen. The articles go in depth, full of interesting details and great documentation (videos, maps, and photos.)

This Land Is Mine” by Nina Paley – In keeping with the Arabia theme, this is a fantastic animated video set to “The Exodus Song” from the movie Exodus. I actually love the song itself, even though it’s message is dumb. Maybe that’s why I love it, it’s so unapologetically convinced of itself. Like a villain’s song from a musical—just because they’re horrible, the song can still be great. Anyway, the animation is humorous and well-designed, about the various people who have lived and died in the promised land.

Tom Lehrer – After looking at the who’s who from the previous recommendation, in which it mentions Tom Lehrer’s song “Who’s Next?,” I went and watched a bunch of his videos. He’s a musical comedian from the fifties and sixties, who did the song “The Elements.” The music is all pretty simplistic, but the lyrics are hilarious, and interesting in showing the concerns of people in that time. “Who’s Next?” is probably my favorite.

Homestar Runner – If you don’t know who these guys are, well you are in for a treat. If you do, rejoice! They recently put out a new short, “Strong Bad Classics!” I don’t know what to say about it, or about Homestar Runner in general. The joy I get from watching these videos is not something that I want to analyze. It’s just fun.

Frontline: Losing Iraq – This is a PBS documentary about the war in Iraq, from its beginning to it’s finish-ish. I’m not knowledgable enough to be able to call out inaccuracies or lopsided narratives, but it seemed to be unbiased. That is to say, the people they interviewed leveled criticism at almost everybody involved in the thing. It was interesting to see such recent history, history that I’d been alive during (albeit as an ignorant four to fourteen-year-old) documented like the Vietnam War is documented. It brought context to iconic moments I hazily remembered, from the fall of Saddam’s statue to the shoe-throwing incident.

Well, that’s what I’ve been getting into recently. Happy watching/reading/listening!