Every month at the AE offices, we choose our Pop Culture Picks. It could be an album, a band, a book, a movie, a TV show, a podcast, or anything else we enjoyed over the previous 30 days. Keep scrolling to find out what caught our attention in July, so that you can check it out in August!
Everything Now by Arcade Fire (Album)
TL;DR: The music says “happy dance pop, uplifting, a throwback to disco”, while the lyrics say “society is declining and the outlook is bleak”.
Arcade Fire is one of the few bands out there that really define their albums as a full experience. Any individual song is great, but you need to listen to the full album to get the real effect and go through the emotional journey. Arcade Fire’s music (both past and present) feels somewhat like the voice of the millennial generation. It is full of frustration mixed with going-with-the-flow, along with feeling powerless to stop the way the world is headed. It is angsty, but only if you pay attention.
Their sound is reminiscent of Abba, Coldplay, and Imagine Dragons. There’s dance, electronic touches, and long mellow songs that will put you in a pensive mood. They love to experiment with a variety of instruments, which makes their music sound unique. I like Arcade Fire because their music always brings me back to a calm middle-ground, and that’s a nice tool to have when I need it.
Although the critics were a bit more lukewarm with Everything Now than with past Arcade Fire albums (The Suburbs is in my Top 5 favourite albums ever), I’m ignoring that and I love it!
TL;DR: It turns out rock stars aren’t very nice people: a podcast about them and their infamous crimes.
I’m a big fan of True Crime podcasts – like a lot of people, I caught the bug with the first season of the Serial podcast. And while Australia’s Casefile is still your best bet for unadulterated factual storytelling, I’m always on the lookout for something with a bit of a twist on the genre.
Disgraceland podcast covers true crimes related to famous musicians – episode titles like “Motley Crue: Sex, Drugs and Holy Sh*t, How are These Dudes Still Alive?” and “James Brown: Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag… of Meth” give you a good idea of what to expect. Unlike many true crime podcasts I’ve listened to, the presenter is charismatic and informative and lays out the artist’s career informatively before moving on to the crimes in question. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Tupac / Biggie killings and Sid Vicious’s demise, but I learnt something new here, and enjoyed it immensely at the same time.
Quiet Hollers (Band)
In short: Exceptional indie folk-rock from a lesser-known group destined for great things!
Before I write my pop culture picks, I often read some articles on the subject to get more context and learn new facts about my pick. With Quiet Hollers, there wasn’t much reading I could do — they don’t seem to have gotten much attention yet(!!!). I think that will change. They sound like an indie cult classic in the making and I wouldn’t be surprised if they blew up in the next few years. (And when they do, I humbly request they come to Australia, where I will be living.)
In their self-titled 2015 album, their sound and mood remind me a bit of a folkified The National (“Conversation 16”, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”), and maybe a little Father John Misty (“Mr. Tillman”, “Nancy From Now On”). That’s not to say they don’t have their own unique sound. I should also mention that Quiet Hollers have become more beloved to me in the past couple weeks than both of these more-established bands. Seriously…they’re really, really good.
Their most recent album, 2017’s Amen Breaks, carries a more pure melancholy sound with less angst — a little more Lord Huron-at-their-moodiest (“The Night We Met”, “The Ghost on the Shore”).
For some reason, my two favourite Quiet Hollers tracks so far are fairly bleak compositions both named after locations in France: “Côte d’Azur” and “Mont Blanc”. I also love the video for “Côte d’Azur”. It’s about as straight-up as you can get: just footage of the band playing the song, but something about the incongruous party decorations and frontman Shadwick Wilde’s emphatic dancing make it iconic. Not to mention, you can tell he would put on an awesome live show.
Fall in love with Quiet Hollers now, and you can forever go around telling people “I liked them before they were famous” from way up on your high hipster horse. I mean, if you want to be that person.
TL;DR: Simply put, FKJ has refined the art of vibe-y soul-filled grooves through live looping.
FKJ is an amazingly talented multi-instrumentalist. While his album French Kiwi Juice is fantastic and one of my personal favorites this summer, his YouTube videos are what really reveal his talent level. The first one I saw that completely blew my mind is “Tadow”, a collaboration with another great multi-instrumentalist, Masego. Simply put, FKJ has refined the art of vibe-y soul-filled grooves through live looping. His collaboration “Losing My Way” with Tom Misch is also an amazing piece.
FKJ Live at La Fée Electricité is a solo performance at a highly atmospheric venue where all audience members are listening via Bluetooth headphones. The entire setting nicely accents the ambiance that FKJ’s music communicates. Would strongly recommend putting on a pair of headphones and ( ( (vibing) ) ) along.
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (Book)
In short: Death-fearing robots that take over the world. What’s not to love!
My lovely friend and fellow sci-fi fan Dwight recommended Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill for my next read.
I’ll preface this by saying I’ve consumed a lot of science fiction. I’ve always been drawn to imaginings of the future: the political structure, the pop culture, the space travel and of course aliens!
So when I picked up Sea of Rust I wasn’t expecting too much, perhaps a fun romp with robots. Happily, within the first ten pages, I was a new C. Robert Cargill fangirl.
You begin by meeting the main character Brittle, a robot who’s combing a red desert named the Sea of Rust for spare robot parts. It’s 30 years since humans lost the war to robots and now there’s a battle taking place between AI and robot factions across the earth.
There’s a lot of backstory in this book that would’ve been such fun to dream up. And of course there are some epic robot battles, but halfway through the novel I found myself forgetting Brittle was a robot. Robots in this future are driven by instinct and fear shutdown or assimilation.
There’s a rich cast of robots, as well as flashbacks to humans Brittle knew. A few twists and turns move the plot along nicely, plus there’s interesting exploration of what it means to be human. I’ve thought about the novel several times after finishing it, always a good sign.
This book made me look at the world in a totally new light. It allowed me step back and look at the systems within which we exist — such as nations, religions and economics — and understand the unique aspects of human thought that even make them possible.
At a high level, this is an expansive history book covering human (Homo sapiens) development from the prehistoric period to the modern day. That in itself makes the book interesting, as it reminds you where we have been as a species and what path we followed to get where we are. But what I found really insightful is that Harari presents this history alongside evolutionary theory to describe how and why humans were able to do these things.
His argument is that at some point we developed the ability to imagine things (described as the cognitive revolution). This impacted us (and the world) in two major ways.
One, it helped us plan ahead by taking what we know and projecting out possible outcomes. For example, “I saw a lion tracking some deer in that direction, it is probably heading to the river.”
But secondly, it allowed us to imagine a belief system, e.g. “The lion is our tribe’s guardian spirit.”
The second impact is key for human cultural development, because it allowed us to create shared belief systems. It doesn’t mean much if one Homo sapiens believes the lion is the spirit guardian, but if the whole tribe does, you have a shared framework to work and cooperate within.
This ability then allowed us to move from small hunter/gatherer tribes into larger groups, villages, towns, cities, and nations. This wasn’t possible until we had the ability to share the same belief system. The larger the network of this belief system, the broader the cooperation. The book follows this premise through the agricultural revolution, empire building, creation of currency, and scientific advancement.
I will say that this progression is not necessarily presented as a net positive for the planet. The impacts of our development cover the extinction of other species, including Neanderthals and various megafauna (sorry mammoths!), wars, famine, environmental damage, etc.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. I often had to put it down just to think about what I’d read. There has been a little pushback from some of the scientific community on some of the assumptions made by the author, but even so they mostly agree it is a great read. I’d recommend this book for anyone looking for a refresher on human development and history.