Our top pop culture recommendations for the month of May.
Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe (album)
In short: This album shows a true and rare talent. It’s worth taking the time to listen in full without distractions — it will enrich your day, I promise.
Dirty Computer, released on April 27, is a progressive album that shows how much raw and unique talent Janelle Monáe has. The album has notes of inspiration from Prince, Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, and Outkast. Rolling Stone describes Janelle Monáe’s sound as “bridging the gap between neo-soul and all that was to come, unafraid to fuse rock, funk, hip-hop…R&B, electronica and campy, drama-kid theatricality.”
The album as a whole is a tour de force. Every song tells a story through its lyrics and overall sound, ranging from vulnerable to sexy, provocative, introspective, or powerful. Collaborations with Zoë Kravitz, Grimes, Brian Wilson, and Pharrell Williams provide an added depth of sound.
Her first solo release from the album is “Make Me Feel”, a super funky and catchy song that Prince listened to and loved before he passed. The music video is fantastic to boot (I dare you to look away!). The song “Django Jane” is one of Janelle Monáe’s more rare experiments with rap music and it fits so well it’s hard to believe that’s not her main style. Immediately following “Django Jane” is “Pynk”, her own feminine take on an Aerosmith song that any fan will recognize. Towards the end we are invited to share her vulnerable side with “So Afraid“.
Dirty Computer shows the breadth and strength of Janelle Monáe’s voice both literally and figuratively — as a queer black woman, she is an important figure and activist (especially for women’s rights) in today’s pop culture society.
Paul Stamets (public figure / mycologist)
TLDR; Paul Stamets is an expert in the study of fungi. His work and insights are truly inspirational! You should definitely check out this podcast.
I recently discovered Paul Stamets through his YouTube videos. Stamets is an expert in the field of mycology (the study of fungi). Throughout his career, he has made key discoveries and advancements in the realm of mycological medicine, pharmacology, and environmental sustainability. For example, Stamets discovered a strain of mycelium that could mitigate or eliminate the worldwide catastrophe of colony collapse disorder (disappearing bee colonies).
What gets me excited about Stamets and the field of mycology are his mind-blowing insights into the nature and potential of mushrooms and mycelium. Stamets speaks of how the general Western attitude is mushroom-adverse (or mycophobic), which has held us back from not only uncovering the medicinal, cognitive, and environmental benefits of fungi, but also utilizing the knowledge other cultures have held for many, many years.
A great introduction to Paul Stamets’ work is his guest appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast. He goes into detail about certain species of fungi and their astonishing neurogenetive effects, as well as the ability of many species to fight viral and bacterial illness. Stamets explains the foundational role that fungus has played and continues to play in global ecology — how they essentially operate as the life recyclers of the Earth, as well as the Earth’s natural internet.
The Wild – The Rural Alberta Advantage (album)
My pick gives you: Intense vocals and evocative lyrics inspired in part by a wildfire and a crashed satellite.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself through my Pop Culture Picks these past few months, it’s that my music taste is apparently very Canadian. After recommending an awesome group from Fernie, B.C. last month, I’m returning to my prairie girl roots for May with The Rural Alberta Advantage.
Their most recent album, The Wild (2017), isn’t as explicitly Albertan as earlier stuff (their debut album featured such tracks as “The Deathbridge in Lethbridge” and “Edmonton”). Notably, however, the first track “Beacon Hill” is about the 2016 fire in Fort McMurray.
Frontman Nils Edenloff’s raw singing style is perfectly countered by Robin Hatch’s smooth backup vocals. Edenloff’s voice has a certain sharp-edged quality that I can best compare to Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock or The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. Edenloff takes it to the next level by half-screaming some of his lyrics (particularly in “Dead/Alive”), which I love!
I found this album had a darker tone than their previous works, which seems fitting actually. After all, weathering those long Alberta winters on the flat, featureless prairies is a uniquely dismal experience. Just kidding. Sort of.
The Great Interior Design Challenge (TV show)
In short: If you like interior design, British accents, and contestants under pressure, this show should be your next Netflix binge.
While my number one reality show will always be Survivor (I once threw a Survivor finale party where we all drank from coconuts), I have a soft spot for British reality shows.
My latest British indulgence has been The Great Interior Design Challenge on Netflix. It’s your classic round-robin style tournament with an ultimate finale showdown where one person is crowned the winner. What I love about this show is that all the contestants are amateurs. You’re watching people whose hobbies are upcycling furniture or sewing plaid cushions for their living room sofa. They’re competing in a challenge with a limited budget, limited time, and they need to work to the client’s brief. That’s a lot of pressure!
The entrepreneur in me loves all the crisis moments in the series: the paint isn’t drying! The lampshade won’t fit! The client hates the colours of the brief! It’s fascinating seeing the contestants overcome the crisis or drown in the problem. It also reassures me that we all have challenges and problems to solve every day, regardless of where we work.
I also love seeing how the contestants combine colours to make a room appear bigger or cozier, or create innovative pieces like a lampshade comprising palm leaves laser-cut from metal. The creative ways they use colours and patterns inspire me in my own sewing and design projects.
Love is for Losers – The Longshot (album)
TL;DR: Green Day’s singer goes (sort of) back to basics with a new side project.
I’m a big Green Day fan, but let’s be honest, their recent output hasn’t been that great and they seem to be heading deeper into bland stadium-rock territory. They’ve always had great side projects though: classic Bay Area punk with Pinhead Gunpowder, new wave with The Network, and raucous rock ‘n’ roll with Foxboro Hottubs. It’s nice to see singer Billie Joe Armstrong get back to basics with his latest offshoot, The Longshot.
It’s not reinventing the wheel – this is still very recognizable as the singer from Green Day. Love is for Losers is simply fun and catchy pop rock. This is the type of stuff Green Day churned out effortlessly in the past, but without the pretense and grandiosity of recent recordings. Just a great garage rock album. Sometimes simple is best.
Check out our picks from previous months: