July Pop Culture Picks

Avery’s Pick

Avery's Pop Culture Pick for July is the band Khruangbin.
Avery Kushner, Junior Developer

Khruangbin 🎶

TL;DR: A cold breakbeat tethered with deep-pocket bass grooves, melodically driven by exotic reverberated guitar, delivers an undeniably cool sound.

*I highly recommend checking out Khruangbin’s Tiny Desk Concert (a short, YouTube-tailored performance) for an introduction to their music.*

Music discovery is at an all-time peak due to streaming services like Spotify. I believe that there are certain bands that I may never have been exposed to, or at least gotten into, had it not been for these services. Khruangbin is one of these bands. With a name that poses a significant pronunciation challenge and songs that are mostly void of lyrics, Khruangbin, I think, falls under a lot of people’s radars. But personally, this is one of my favourite bands that I’ve ever stumbled upon.

Khruangbin makes you feel like you’re in a 1970s Middle Eastern espionage film or something. A cold breakbeat tethered with deep-pocket bass grooves, melodically driven by exotic reverberated guitar, delivers an undeniably cool sound.

 

Jenn’s Pick

Jenn Tigner, Intermediate Developer

Westworld 📺

Overall: Fantastic ideas and concepts, great storytelling, and amazing acting from the likes of Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Woods, Tessa Thompson, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins, and more.

What is real? What defines us as human? Or being alive? What is good and evil? Who is good and evil? What is consciousness? How far would you go to save yourself, or to save your species?

Think back to all the things you’ve done while playing a video game. Would you do that in real life? Of course not! Enter Westworld, a game in the future that is set up like a huge theme park (yup, you guessed the theme — the Old West). All the theme park characters are androids, but they are indistinguishable from humans. They aren’t real and no-one is watching you… live out your fantasies and do whatever you want.

The first season is chock full of awesome little moments that eventually lead to a self-aware AI. Now the sh*it hits the fan. Cue those philosophical questions I asked at the beginning. Season two follows the consequences of all these questions, providing some answers and leaving us with more questions about good and evil. Yes I’m trying to be vague so as not to give anything away ;).

Westworld questions the nature of our reality and gives a glimpse of a future world that may not be so far away after all. Yes, there is lots of violence, but it drives the plot in terms of how we act and are treated in return. It’s a bit excessive sometimes in true HBO fashion, which will satisfy the cravings of anyone looking for action without wanting to delve deeper into philosophical meanderings. If you liked the movie Memento, you might enjoy Westworld as well from a storytelling aspect. Especially in season two, the storytelling often focuses around the character Bernard, but in fragments of scrambled memories that are presented disjointedly and out of order. It’s confusing. They want it to confuse you. It does. Part of the thrill is figuring out what’s really happening and how the choices everyone makes leads to those moments.

This show poses many deep philosophical concepts, so give yourself lots of time between episodes to digest and analyse it. Ask yourself, what are the choices that you would make?

 

Chloe’s Pick

Chloe's Pop Culture Pick for July is the film Loving Vincent, about Vincent van Gogh.
Chloe Hogan-Weihmann, Precision Marketer

Loving Vincent 📽

In short: Seeing van Gogh’s art and his story brought to life in this way is deeply evocative, and truly an incredible feat on the part of the film crew.

So, I’m not usually a movie crier. People can die and lose their lifelong loves on-screen and generally, I keep my poker face. The beginning montage of Up? Didn’t get me. The Notebook? Please. As if. Even Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, despite making me feel MANY emotions — didn’t make me cry.

However, I do have my kryptonite. (I’m not dead inside…I think?) There are exactly two things in the world of filmdom that have the inexplicable power to leave me an emotional wreck.

1. Dogs

I was going to say dogs dying, but that actually doesn’t capture the full scope of this phenomenon, as I learned after re-watching Homeward Bound a couple years ago.


2. Vincent van Gogh

Show of hands, who else was utterly destroyed by this Doctor Who episode?

There’s something about van Gogh that just gets me. It’s not only that his extraordinary artistic talent went unrecognized in its time, but also the crushing irony of just how keenly it’s recognized now. More than a century after his death, van Gogh is everywhere. Starry Night is one of the most universally recognized paintings in the world. I have it on a pair of socks, for Christ’s sake. You can buy it on mugs, on postcards, on t-shirts and umbrellas, on puzzles and coasters and calendars. This is the same painting, mind you, that Vincent wanted to exhibit in the hope that it “might give others the idea of doing night effects better than I do.” Little did he know no-one could do it better than he had.

On a similar note, he once wrote to his brother Theo, “I dare swear to you that my sunflowers are worth 500 francs.” At that time, no-one else thought they were worth anything, much less 500 francs. But fast forward one hundred years, and one of van Gogh’s sunflower paintings sold for $39.9 million in 1987. 

Ultimately, van Gogh died mysteriously at 37, of a gunshot wound (traditionally thought to be self-inflicted, although no-one knows for sure), penniless and ostracized due to his mental illness.

Don’t you just want to reach back through time and tell him how loved and respected he is now?

So…that was a pretty long, roundabout way of saying that Loving Vincent made me cry semi-hysterically. I watched it without knowing anything about the plot, so I was a little surprised and disappointed at first when I realized the movie is set after Vincent’s death. I soon came around, however, as we see the man himself in plentiful flashbacks.

The main character, Armand, ends up serving as the perfect proxy for a modern audience. Armand is a young man whose father, the postman Joseph Roulin, was friends with Vincent. The elder Roulin asks Armand to deliver Vincent’s last letter to his brother. Armand doesn’t know or care much about Vincent, but soon becomes drawn in by his art and his story, and attempts to learn the truth about his puzzling death.

Loving Vincent is greatly strengthened by its breathtaking animation — 65,000 frames hand-painted in oils by a team of 125 artists who have faithfully rendered Vincent’s story in brushstrokes as much like his own as anyone could hope to manage. Seeing van Gogh’s art brought to life in this way is deeply evocative and truly an incredible feat on the part of the film crew.



Fortunately, this stunningly beautiful film is available on Netflix. Just make sure you have tissues handy.

 

Mike’s Pick

Mike's Pop Culture Pick for July is the album Nasir by Nas.
Mike Penhall, Senior Developer

Nasir by Nas 🎶

TL;DR: Hip hop‘s greatest living rapper teams up with one of its greatest producers for seven killer hip hop tracks.

It’s been 6 years since Nas’ last album (the patchy-but-not-completely-terrible Life Is Good) and it’s great to have him back. Arguably hip hop’s greatest living rapper, he still sounds fresh at 44, and Nasir is a worthy addition to his legacy.

It also helps that he’s teamed up with one of hip hop’s greatest ever producers. While it gets harder every day to defend Kanye West the man, his production skills are still on point. In fact Kanye’s on something of a creative streak at the moment, releasing four albums in the last month: Kids See Ghosts with Kid Cudi, Pusha T’s DAYTONA and his own Ye – only the latter of which fails to live up to expectations.

All of which adds up to Nas’ finest album in over a decade. Highlights: “Adam and Eve”, “everything”, “Cops Shot The Kid”, “Not For Radio”.

 

Annabel’s Pick

Annabel's Pop Culture Pick for the month of July is the TV show The Americans on FX.
Annabel Youens, CMO and Co-founder

The Americans on FX 📺

My pick gives you: Badass Russian spies, some of the best dialogue on TV, and 1980s nostalgia.

I’m very sad to be leaving behind the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC where Philip and Elizabeth Jennings live with their two kids. Suburban America in the 80s has never been cooler because Philip and Elizabeth are RUSSIAN SPIES! And they are badass Russian spies.

The Americans on FX

Over the six seasons of lies, deceit, murder and family life there are many things I’ve enjoyed about the show. Certainly it’s some of the best dialogue on TV, plus add in wicked 80s outfits and pop songs — it makes me nostalgic for my own childhood! (There was no way my parents were Russian spies.)

The team behind the costumes, hair, and makeup are brilliant, and always amazed me with their ability to totally change the main characters.

Here are a few faces of Elizabeth:

The Americans on FX The Americans on FX

I’ve also come to care for many of the characters on the show, especially the Jennings’ neighbour Stan Beeman who is an FBI agent. Stan thinks something is a little bit off about his new friends…oh, the cat-and-mouse games in this show are delightful and the finale did not disappoint.

There are six seasons of this drama and it’s well worth the binge. Don’t just take my word for it — apparently Barack Obama is a fan, so you know it has to be good, right?

 

Jeff’s Pick

Jeff's Pop Culture Pick for July is the Yukon Blonde album Critical Hit.
Jeff Mitchell, CTO and Co-founder

Critical Hit by Yukon Blonde 🎶

Overall: A great album to enjoy throughout the summer, and I look forward to seeing where else Yukon Blonde will go with their music.

Having just celebrated Canada Day and taken a week-long vacation in the Yukon, I felt it was appropriate to include Canadian band Yukon Blonde’s new album, Critical Hit, as my pop culture pick this month.

Yukon Blonde are not actually from the Yukon; they were originally formed in Kelowna, BC, but have been based in Vancouver for the last 10 years or so. Critical Hit is their first release since 2015’s On Blonde.

Their previous albums have had an indie rock feel, with a little swerve into pop. But with Critical Hit, they have taken a much sharper turn into synth-y new-wave pop, reminiscent of the 80s and 90s. I like the result. The well-produced album is clean, crisp, and filled with dancy beats.

While the album’s sound comes across as upbeat and light, the actual lyrics are another story. The track “Summer in July” is probably one of the best examples of this jarring difference in sound vs. lyrical content. In fact, many of the tracks do appear to focus on struggling relationships, with “Emotional Blackmail” and “Cry” being other examples where you may find yourself head-bobbing to heartbreak.

The album shows some good variation from start to finish. “Too Close to Love” is a straight-to-the-point, anthemy opener that kicks things off nicely. “Feeling Digital” is one of my favourites and picks things up in the middle with a nostalgic nod to how we used to make connections prior to the Internet overload. “Ritual Off the Docks” finishes the album off sad and leisurely with a 9-minute-long, Beach Boys-esque bomp-a-bomp-bomp track.

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Read our picks from previous months:

About Chloe Hogan-Weihmann

I'm stoked to be on the marketing + communications team at AE! I love books, brick buildings, cherry blossom season, breakfast food, and hats.