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 this month!
In short: If you are a lover of books, you MUST visit Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon!
Powell’s Books came into my life digitally in 1998 when I worked at Abebooks. I spent many hours working with their staff to keep their books up-to-date on the site. In those early days teaching book store owners to use FTP and locate a file on their computers proved challenging, but we got there!
Powell’s is a third-generation family business run these days by Emily Powell and it’s the largest independent bookstore in the world. And no joke – Powell’s flagship store was WAY bigger than I even imagined and I pictured towering books and endless corridors of spines. In real life, there are color-coded areas of the store to help you navigate! I was directed to the Rose section and completely forgot the aisle number when I arrived because every row beckoned to me. Thank goodness there were so many info desks filled with lovely Powell’s team members.
Apart from the gigantic selection, I loved seeing people buying books, chatting about books, and plopped down reading books! I’m still smiling thinking about the teenage girl I saw engrossed by a book in the graphic novel section. A bookstore that encourages you to read on-the-spot is the best. Thank you Powell’s for sharing your vision.
My very restrained Powell’s purchases:
- For Me – Creative Quest by Questlove
- For my husband – Crowded Volume 1 by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt
- For my 6-year-old – Unicorn Creativity Book
TL;DR: Took me a few episodes to be won over, but totally a fan of Netflix’s new take on Ultraman (one of my favorite childhood series!).
I used to watch the various incarnations of the original Ultraman series as reruns when I was a kid. A Japanese superhero who can transform into a giant and fight other giant monsters is going to excite a lot of 9-year-olds.
The fights ended up being no-holds-barred type wrestling matches that take place in model-built cities that get absolutely demolished in the battle. Seeing those model buildings get crushed as Ultraman uses a suplex on some giant Godzilla type alien was amazing to watch.
So, I was definitely interested to see what Netflix was going to do with this series.
The series is not live action but it is animated in a very realistic 3D style. While this has put some people off, I did get used to it after a few episodes. I find that the style really captures the essence of the miniature models they used back in the day. The battle scenes are just as destructive, although in this version we don’t see Ultraman as a giant (yet). The choreography of the fights is excellent, though far more martial arts based. Still, very fun to watch! I also think they have (intentionally?) managed to capture some of the original corniness around the 60’s dialogue- especially the “bad guy” aliens.
The series starts off relatively tamely but gets increasingly dark as it progresses. Namely, the portrayal of an alien ghetto and the moral struggles faced by the main character around the killing of random aliens. It is slowly revealed that behind the Science Patrol (“the good guys”), there are some sinister motivations and characters. These interesting twists add a lot of depth to the show.
I really enjoyed the series, although it did take a few episodes to win me over. I look forward to watching another season now that they have laid the groundwork for the overall narrative.
Give it a fair chance (2-3 episodes) and you may like it as well!
Sony MDR-XB950BT Headphones
TL;DR: These headphones will blow your mind. I got them in red, just ’cause.
My unconventional pop culture pick this month is my headphones! I have the Sony MDR-XB950BT and they are one of my favorite belongings. That name is quite a mouthful, but we can break it down. MDR is their line of studio-quality headphones, BT is Bluetooth, and the XB is, of course, EXTRA BASS!!!
I love them so much. They really help me to get in the zone while I’m working, and make me feel like I’m in a whole other world by myself. Plus, with the in-headphone controls, there’s no need to constantly pull my phone out of my pocket!
I also use them at home when I want to have a dance party for one! This is where the Bluetooth/wireless feature comes in. Try any wireless headphones- once you taste the freedom you’ll never go back.
Another feature I love about them is that they are over-ear, rather than on-ear, so I can wear them all day without my ears feeling bad.
Here are some of my favorite bass-y albums to listen to with my beloved headphones: True by Avicii, Evolve by Imagine Dragons, Hot Fuss by the Killers, Art Angels by Grimes, and of course, any terrible 80’s guilty pleasure playlist (like this one). It’s loud enough that I can belt out any song and not have to listen to my own awful voice.
Better Oblivion Community Center (self-titled)
TL;DR: Another classic album from the former Bright Eyes frontman.
Conor Oberst has had a remarkably consistent career in the decade or so that I’ve been following his music. From his Bright Eyes days in the 00’s, through his solo projects, to the revival of his pre-fame emo band, there’s not a bad album in there.
Better Oblivion Community Center is Oberst’s latest project, a collaboration with singer Phoebe Bridgers. Although I’m far less familiar with Bridgers’ work, her voice and songwriting provide an excellent partner to Oberst’s distinctive vocals.
The album opens with the sort of indie-folk that Oberst is known for, it quickly expands to encompass a wider sonic landscape. And while it would be misleading to say it covers uncharted musical ground for the duo, it does offer a nice variety of sounds from synth flourishes to the thoughtful prog of standout track “Big Black Heart.”
Crushing by Julia Jacklin
Long story short: Put this album on a few times and I guarantee you will catch yourself singing in the shower, car, you name it.
Crushing is the second album of Australian singer-songwriter, Julia Jacklin. Her music career really took off following the release of her first album in 2016. Despite this fame and fortune, I only discovered her music a few weeks ago, via our local university radio station.
I was driving home when her track “Pressure to Party“ came on. I remember wondering who the artist was, as it sounded like a mix of a few of my favorite musicians mashed together – think Sharon Van Etten meets Angel Olsen meets Feist. I made a mental note of the artist so I could look up more of her stuff later. I did just that, and listened to her two albums on repeat for a good while, before inevitably getting rather sick of them.
- Heartfelt indie-pop with a folky flavor
- It’s great to put on in the car and loudly sing along off key
- Most of the tracks have super catchy lyrics that will get stuck in your head
- It’s a very moody album, so a great choice if you have your own relationship challenges to dwell on!
Throw the album on and see what you think!