New Music Friday: The Staves and Julien Baker

I sometimes feel this made up pressure to pick only one song to write about in my New Music Friday posts as if I’m breaking some rule by talking about more than one song. I often share more than one song as I did last week, but in my head I’m always feeling like it’s wrong to write about more than one thing for some reason. This is all leading up to me sharing more than one song today in case you didn’t figure out where this was going.

I’ve been kicking the song “Good Woman” by The Staves down the road for awhile now. The single came out last October. I don’t think I heard it all the way back then but definitely several months ago now. I didn’t write about it then and eventually thought I would write about it when the full album, of which this is the title track, came out on February 5. Due to some life stuff I didn’t feel like writing that day and thus it got skipped. I decided I wanted to circle back around to it though because I do love this song so much and decided it was dumb to not write about it just because there was newer music to share.

The Staves are an English indie band composed of sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor. They have beautiful harmonies and live in the same space as other harmonically wonderful sister bands like Joseph, HAIM, and First Aid Kit. I especially love the way the harmonies just build and build in this song. I love it more every time I hear it. Go take a listen and actually listen to the whole album while you’re at it.

I also wanted to write about Julien Baker’s new album Little Oblivions, which came out today. It’s mostly about her relapse from sobriety and her attempt to come back from that. It’s a great album and brings in a full band, which is not something she’s done on her previous albums. I’ve always found Julien Baker’s music to be pleasant, but it’s not something I ever really sought out. I think her earlier work was so spare that there was nothing really hooking me and compelling me to go listen to it. That is not the case with the new album which is much more full and lush with sound while still retaining a complete sense of being a Julien Baker album. It reminds me a lot more of the music of her fellow boygenius bandmate Phoebe Bridgers and the music they did with Lucy Dacus as the aforementioned boygenius. The song “Favor” on this album actual reunites the three of them. It is great and really makes me hope that we eventually get another boygenius album. I decided though I should choose a different song to highlight here though that is just Julien Baker. There’s a lot of good songs on this album, so it was hard to choose. I eventually decided to go with “Highlight Reel” purely because it has the word highlight in the title and that seems fitting,

New Music Friday: Simultaneously by Ani DiFranco

Let’s take a trip back to the mid- to late 90s where if you like me were a college student trying to present an air of pretentious coolness like some sort of proto-hipster, which I totally was, it was required that you listen to Ani DiFranco. Did I succeed in my attempts to be the kind of college student so often featured in books and movies who is cool because they’re into all the indie bands and movies? Decidedly not. At any rate I can’t say I was an Ani DiFranco superfan, but I can tell you that I once went to a club meeting on campus where we must have been asked to share our favorite band or something during introductions because I distinctly remember like half the people naming Ani DiFranco and deciding I better get into some Ani DiFranco.

I have not in the years since I left college paid much attention to what Ani DiFranco has been doing. I have sometimes heard whatever favorite songs I had on various mixes or playlists, but I definitely haven’t kept up with any of her new stuff. I have been hearing her new song “Simultaneously” playing on WXPN the last few weeks and I am very much digging it. I love it’s jazzy coffee house vibe and what more do you want from Ani DiFranco?

TV Diary

Years and Years

Years and Years is a 6 episode show on HBOMax created by Russell T. Davies. It takes place in the near future in Britain. It starts in the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency and moves through the next decade, but in this reality he did win a second term so the starting point is actually 2024 not 2020. Even still we watched this show with only a few days left in Trump’s term and it was kind of surreal. The show centers around the lives of the members of one family as the world and more specifically Britain moves into a sort of surreal future filled with horrors and more authoritarian, populist leaders who gain their power by taking advantage of the terrible things that happen like a nuclear crisis, financial crisis, refugee crisis, climate crisis and technology further integrating itself into our lives. Even though it sounds like it would be an unpleasant watch I really liked it a lot. Despite a sprawling cast of characters who you only get to know in 6 episodes, I felt a connection to them and cared about what was happening to the family. They were all mostly a little one note, but their relationships to each other were well written and I thought they served the story really well. I loved the show up until about the last 20 minutes. I really did not care for how they chose to end the show, but I still think the rest of it is worth watching.

All Creatures Great and Small

I had heard of the previous versions of All Creatures Great and Small in the original books by James Herriot and the earlier adaptation of them into a tv show, but I have never watched or read them. As this show started airing I kept seeing all the tv critics I follow talking about how pleasant it was to watch and what a balm it was in these terrible times. They were not wrong. You get to watch vets treating animals in the beautiful English countryside. The stakes are very low. It is just a nice little show to give your tired mind some rest.

My Life is Murder

My Life is Murder is an Australian procedural detective show starring Lucy Lawless. I’m not generally one for procedurals because I like to have character development in my shows and some sort of overarching storyline. This show is almost purely episodic with Lucy Lawless playing, Alexa, a former police detective who quit the force after her fellow police detective husband was killed. (I do not understand why in 2020 anyone would name their character Alexa. I even looked up what the Amazon Echo is called in Australia in case it was something other than Alexa. It is not.) In true procedural fashion we only get the tiniest bit of information about the characters beyond the crime they’re solving in that particular episode. A former colleague continues to bring her cases on the side that the police department is having no luck solving, so she helps solve them along with a tech investigator who still works in the department. Even though I normally don’t care much for procedurals I found this to be a pleasant diversion that again just gave my brain a break. The show is available on AcornTV, but if you have on interest in subscribing to AcornTV I will tell you a secret that you probably do not know. You can probably get it through your public library. A lot of public libraries subscribe to service called Hoopla that provides access to e-books, audiobooks, tv shows, movies, and music. The tv selection is not great, but they do have some of the British and Australian shows you can only get through AcornTV. My Life is Murder is one of the shows that is available.

Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries

Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries is another Australian tv show that we watched through Hoopla at the public library. Many people were obsessed with Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which was a great show. This is a sequel featuring Peregrine Fisher, Phyrne’s niece. It takes place in the 1970s, so there’s now a lot of great 70s fashion instead of the fantastic 1920s fashion of the original show. It’s not as good as the original show in my opinion, but good enough that if you liked Miss Fisher’s you’ll probably like Ms. Fisher’s too.

Miranda/Call Me Cat

Miranda is a British show about a socially awkward woman in her 30s who quits her job and opens a joke shop whose mother is horrified that she is still single. Call Me Cat is the American remake that just started airing this season starring Mayim Bialik as a socially awkward woman in her 30s who quits her job and opens a cat cafe and whose mother is horrified that she is still single. Miranda is available on Hulu and we have been watching it simultaneously with Call Me Cat. There have been a few storylines that have been exactly the same, but mostly Call Me Cat is a less good take off of the original. Being a British show there are only 3 seasons and 15 episodes of Miranda. I’ll be sad when we’re done with those because I really like it and find it to be far superior to Call Me Cat in pretty much every way. In particular I think her mother is much better written than the version of her mother played by Swoosie Kurtz in Call Me Cat. I do think Call Me Cat is getting slightly better. I thought it was objectively terrible in the beginning, but for some reason kept watching it. I still don’t think it’s good, but at least maybe not as bad. I apparently am going to keep watching it no matter what. But really if you want to do yourself a favor just watch Miranda and skip Call Me Cat.

Mr. Mayor

Mr. Mayor is the new show created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock starring Ted Danson as a somewhat clueless rich businessman who becomes mayor of Los Angeles. It also stars Holly Hunter and Bobby Moynihan. It’s fine. I laugh occasionally. It’s not great. Some of it is a little tone deaf and cringey. If it were another time and there was more new tv than there is thanks to COVID I probably would not still be watching it.

Industry

Industry is an HBOMax show set in the financial world in 1980s Britain. I only made it a few episodes in before I quit. I did not care about these characters or their partying or their corruption and their financial deals. I did not care for it all.

Baltimore Salt Box Art

Baltimore has these public salt boxes that the Department of Public Works puts out around the city in winter that people can take salt from to spread around icy sidewalks. They are these yellow wooden boxes usually with the words Salt Box spray painted in black on them.

Salt Box

This winter someone decided to start decorating them and replacing the black Salt Box lettering with artistic ways of saying Salt Box. Of course this took off on Baltimore social media and she shared with everyone how she was basically taking plywood, painting it yellow, creating the art on it, and then screwing it into the face of the salt box and encouraging others to create their own art. Baltimoreans jumped on it and as of today there are now 100 pieces of salt box art. Now I’m sad when I stumble across a salt box and it doesn’t have any salt box art on it. It’s stuff like this that makes me love this city.

I’ve been taking photos of the ones I’ve found in my walks, but there are tons more out there. I haven’t even looked through them all, but I am highly impressed with some of the creativity that people have come up with. There’s also a Google map that the original artist put together showing where the salt boxes with art on them are and where there are still salt boxes that are still unadorned in case you want to add your art to one.

Flamingo salt box art
Salty Indy German Shepherd salt box art
Ouija board salt box art
John Waters salt box art
Freddie Mercury salt box art
Broken plate salt box art
Flamingo salt box art
Salt box written in font of Morton salt

New Music Friday: Soul and R&B Edition

I missed my New Music Friday post last week because I just didn’t have the mental energy to write anything. On top of the pandemic wall that I hit a few weeks ago and am still trying to get over some life stuff and some work stuff have piled on top of that making the wall even taller. I haven’t struggled this much since the beginning of the pandemic and my inability to focus on anything has come back as a result. I’m still not really feeling it today, but I’m trying to go through the motions so at least the routine propels me forward.

As such though I am not really going to write much about the songs I’m posting today because I didn’t do my deeper dive into the artists that I often do before posting.

I’ve been wanting to post something from the new album, Not Your Muse by Celeste since it came out a couple of weeks ago. I intended to write about it last week before I didn’t write anything at all. She’s a British Jamaican soul singer. I’m digging her. This song, “Tonight, Tonight” is a little poppier than some of the other stuff on the album but it’s a good place to start.

And then this morning on NPR Music’s New Music Friday podcast they talked about the new R&B album by Pink Sweat$. I enjoyed the song Pink Family that they played and came back and listened to the whole album, Pink Planet, and very much enjoyed it as well. Just like the song I chose by Celeste this song is actually a terrible representative for this album because it has a lot more hip hop elements that the rest of the album, which is more straight up R&B, does not have. I was feeeling the vibe of this song though and it’s what made me seek out the rest of the album so it’s what you get.

New Music Friday: Just Go by Arlo Parks

Arlo Parks full-length debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams was released today. If you pay even the list bit of attention to music news then this is not a fact that would have escaped you. Articles about Arlo Parks have been everywhere leading up to this release. The 20 year old British R&B singer is having quite the moment. Amazon is even doing a Variety Hour show to promote the release of her album tonight on their Twitch channel, which will be available later through Amazon Prime.

I don’t know that I have much to say about the particular song I chose to include here, “Just Go”. It’s just one that I find musically pleasing. There are plenty of people talking about Arlo Parks right now, so if you want to read more you can just put her name into Google and be inundated. I’m just going to tell you to go listen.

New Music Friday: Empire Builder by Typhoon

I had a hard time deciding what song I wanted to write about today. Until a million other things dropped today I was thinking about writing about Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License”, which is apparently all the rage among the youngs and which I too really like. Among other things that were released today that I considered was something off of Rhye’s new album Home. Rhye creates some of the sexist music out there and this album continues that while adding a Danish orchestra. I heard one of the songs that is orchestra heavy while watching a spectacular sunrise this morning and it was a glorious moment. I also thought about “American Dream” by Willie Jones because in this song he is a Black country artist singing about things that the Nashville country machine wants nothing to do with. The rest of his album is your typical country fare about women and drinking, so while this song is one that country radio won’t touch with a ten foot pole I like to think that at a least a few people out there will like his other songs and listen to the whole album and be exposed to that song.

After that long preamble I finally present to you the song I actually chose. Ultimately I decided to go with Typhoon’s “Empire Builder” because its lyrics perfectly capture my mood right now particularly the ending lines to the song

Everybody’s angry
And everybody’s lonely
Maybe it’s hopeless and maybe
Love is not enough
But let’s not rule out
The possibility

The song is off their surprise album that came out today Sympathetic Magic. The 11 piece band recorded the record through remote and individually socially distant sessions, but it still retains the swelling sound of a large band playing together. Take a listen.

TV Diary

In and Of Itself

I usually don’t write about movies in these posts. This is more of a special than a movie as it’s a recording of the off-Broadway production In and Of Itself. I wanted it as part of the DocNYC Film Festival a couple months ago, but it drops on Hulu this week, and I highly encourage everyone to watch it. It’s hard to describe what it’s about. It’s a one man show featuring Derek DelGaudio. It’s sort of a magic show, but not really. There is some magic involved, but it’s so much more than that. It really gets very deep in ways you would not expect and it left me thinking about a lot of things. I’m also still entirely flummoxed about how he could have done the part with the letters. Even though I don’t know the exact mechanics of how he did the other magic things I have a good enough of an idea of how they could be done that I just accepted them, but I still have no idea how in the world he could pull of the part with the letters. The whole thing is extremely moving and I think the fact that you get to see compilations of some parts with the audience over a number of shows makes it even more profound. This is well worth your time.

The Cost of Winning

The Cost of Winning is an HBO documentary show following football players at St. Francis Academy, a private high school in Baltimore. It’s in an extremely poor part of town and many of the students who attend come from very difficult backgrounds, but their goal is to get all of them into college. However, because they recruit kids to the football team from all over the country and have have an excellent team none of the other local high schools will play against them. Thus they have no conference and play a national schedule sending these kids all over the country to play high school football. Being from Baltimore I had an extra interest in this show, but I think anyone would like it especially if you like shows like Cheer or Last Chance U.

The Flight Attendant

I read the book by Chris Bohjalian that this show is based on and it was one of my least favorite of his books, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to like this show. I think they did a really good job of adapting it and perhaps even making me more interested in the tv show than I was the book. I’m always leery of shows that extend beyond their source material as a lot of them don’t do it well, but I think the way they set things up for a second season may be okay. I guess we will see.

Bridgerton

Although I love Grey’s Anatomy I have never thought any other Shonda Rhimes property was as good. Private Practice was okay. I quit Scandal after two seasons. I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of Station 19 but couldn’t get into it. I’ve never tried How to Get Away with Murder but suspected it might run into the same issues I had with Scandal. So I was willing to give Bridgerton a chance, but wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it. Basically it turns out that it’s Gossip Girl set in Regency England. I never read any of the romance novels it is based on so I don’t know how it compares to those, but it was fine. It was entertaining enough that I finished it in one weekend, but I also can’t say that I’m over the moon about it and dying to watch more episodes. I’ll continue with it when it comes back for another season, but I can’t say I’m super in love with it.

City So Real

A five part documentary series on Hulu about the most recent mayoral race in Chicago. I suspect it was only meant to be 4 parts originally following the race to it’s conclusion but then COVID-19 and all the Black Lives Matter marches happened and I suspect they tacked on an additional episode to look at how Lori Lightfoot, who won the race, was handling these issues. It all felt very familiar. In many cases if they had replaced the word Chicago with Baltimore it could have been about Baltimore instead. There’s also some really insane things that are part of the Chicago mayoral race that seem like a huge waste of everyone’s time and money. It’s a really great processy documentary that also highlights the issues that facing all big cities.

I May Destroy You

This show written by and starring Michaela Coel that is somewhat based on her own experiences after being drugged and raped was pretty much at the top of every best of tv list in 2020. That was not my experience with it. I struggled with the main character. I of course don’t think she should have been raped, but she seemed pretty terrible both before and after it happened. Also, there were multiple episodes that were pretty much nothing but watching people be drunk and high, which I find extremely boring. I’m not sure exactly what everyone else saw in this show, but I can definitely say it was not one of my top shows of 2020.

We Are Who We Are

Another show that got some critical acclaim that did nothing for me. It was created and directed by Luca Guadagnino who also directed Call Me By Your Name, which I liked. This show follows American teenagers living on an Army base in Italy. Fraser, the lead character, is possibly the worst teenager that has ever been in a tv show. This is also another show that spends longs stretches of time just watching teenagers get drunk and high. As mentioned above this is not something I find the least bit interesting. I don’t think there’s meant to be another season of this show, but if there is I won’t be watching it.

New Music Friday: Sanctuary by Hiss Golden Messenger

I have probably listened to more Hiss Golden Messenger since the pandemic started than I have any other artist. His music is like a balm for my weary soul. No matter what he’s singing about, even the tough things, his musical stylings always make me feel like I’m laying in a warm, sunny field. It’s fitting then that the video for the new single he just released this week called “Sanctuary” is in fact set in a field although not a warm, sunny one given it was filmed in winter. With lyrics like

Jubilee, find me
Steady with your hope now
That little light’s gotta last a while
Like an arrow to the marrow
I know it feels like hell now
Till we make it to the other side

it feels like the perfect song for right now. I’m pretty sure we could all use a little sanctuary right now and for the moment this song is mine.

New Music Friday: That’s All by Amanda Shires

I didn’t intend to be back with a New Music Friday post today. I figured I would take New Year’s Day off, especially since I didn’t think I would have anything to write about. But then Amanda Shires dropped a cover of the Genesis song “That’s All”. It’s always been one of my favorite Genesis songs, and it’s something she’s been covering live for awhile. So I’m happy to have an officially recorded version of it. It’s accompanied by a great animated video saying goodbye to 2020. That’s all.