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!
Fall; Or Dodge In Hell by Neal Stephenson (Book)
TL;DR: Full disclosure, Neal Stephenson is probably my favorite author. I have been swept away by his ability to tell such expansive stories, amazingly intertwined across different eras and covering historical fiction, possible futures, and parallel worlds. His newest novel Fall; or Dodge in Hell is a deep exploration into the human perception of reality.
Fall; or Dodge in Hell is somewhat of a sequel to a prior book called Reamde. Stephenson takes the same characters but quickly projects out to a possible future for humankind that is quite fantastic but also eerily possible.
The start of the book begins around ‘current day’ and describes the aftermath of the death of a wealthy game designer, Richard Forthrast (AKA Dodge). His will explicitly states that he is to be preserved beyond death via the best technology available so that he may be revived later. While this was thought to be using existing cryogenic techniques, there actually exists the ability to scan his brain (“connectome”). Basically a brain in a computer instead of a brain in a jar. Various legal battles occur between main parties but in the end, Dodge and others are scanned until such time as the technology emerges to utilize that scan.
Another event occurs a few years after that is frighteningly possible. It explores the future of our current struggles with “truth” in a world of internet trolls, fake news, disinformation, and online echo chambers. The book describes the execution of a massive hoax that causes the world to believe that a small isolated town in Utah (Moab) has been wiped out by a nuclear explosion. Using fake news clips, trolls, bots and “mainstream” media’s tendency to clamor to sensationalize and cover tragedy the story quickly spreads. The perpetrators are also able to cut-off most communication to and from Moab, further confusing things. By the time the government and others are able to confirm this is a hoax, the story has already taken hold.
Picking up about 15 years after that we have an America (and a world) that has fractured into multiple reality bubbles. An individual’s perception of the world is completely dictated by the stream of information they access. The wealthier are able to afford ‘editing’ services that filter and fact-check information constantly, the poor are fed a constant stream of misinformation using algorithms to target, react and keep people hooked into “personalized hallucination streams.” Eventually, Stephenson moves forward in time and leaves this world somewhat unresolved.
We then enter a period where technology now exists to bring the brain scans online. As Dodge’s consciousness emerges in this state it tries to bring form and reality into this online existence. Somewhat unaware of his previous existence, vague concepts around the real world and his life as a game designer emerge in the form of trees, land, streets, etc., eventually leading him to create a new computer-generated “Land”. Other scanned brains, “souls,” are drawn to this place and begin to inhabit it. Some take humanoid shape while others become more like elemental beings right out of old mythology. Eventually, we have a fully formed “BitWorld” with people living their lives, and the real world, “Meatspace,” starts to become a less populated place that is more about supporting this post-life existence. The book ends more like a fantasy novel, covering a quest that takes place in BitWorld.
It’s quite a journey from the start of the book to the end, but somehow the thread that leads from “today” and ends with an odyssey in “BitWorld” is threaded together in a way that can be traced from point A to point B. There are very big concepts in this book that cover the nature of reality and some of it may be a bit much to take in all at once. While I would have liked to have explored the “post-truth” world a bit more, I have to admire Stephenson’s ability to go even bigger with the BitWorld storyline.
If you are new to Stephenson, I’m not sure I would recommend this as an introduction but I thoroughly enjoyed it! Introductory works I would recommend would be Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon or The Diamond Age.
Morbid Stuff by PUP (Album)
TL;DR: PUP is one of Canada’s best punk rock bands (and one of my all-time favorites) and you need to listen to their newest album Morbid Stuff.
This being my first pick, the pressure’s on. I want to start off strong by bringing to the table one of my all-time favorite Canadian punk rock bands in support of their newest album.
Back in 2013 when my playlists seemed to consist solely of Bon Iver and acoustic covers, a Toronto-based band called PUP popped up randomly on YouTube and reminded me of my punk rock roots with their first single “Guilt Trip.” And they didn’t do it subtly either. It was like being punched in the face by a rush of distortion and yelled-sung melodies. I was immediately hooked.
Fast forward 6 years to their newest album Morbid Stuff. It seems like time has given these guys a lot of room to grow and develop, without losing what made them unique in the first place. You can tell that a lot more polish went into this album, yet through the polish shines one of the band’s greatest strengths – their imperfections.
The vocals are melodic but raw and sometimes slightly off-kilter. The guitarists sound like they’re pushing the tubes in their amps to a fault. The drums are loud and always big in the mix. But it all seems to just…work. This is all best summed up on the album’s first single “Kids,” a weird kind of messed up generational love song that touches on apathy, depression, and personal connection, all while still being very touching and somehow kind of funny (just watch the video)?
Even their story showcases them as imperfect, regular, everyday people. Take for instance the fact that PUP stands for “Pathetic Use of Potential,” coined by singer Stefan Babcock’s grandmother. Or that their second album’s title (The Dream Is Over) is a direct quote from Babcock’s doctor, after he blew out his vocal cords during a tour. Everything they do seems to be very real and incredibly accessible.
And when it comes down to it, that’s one of my favorite things about PUP – their ability to be relatable without taking themselves too seriously. This is actually why I started listening to punk music in the first place. It’s made for everybody, assuming everybody likes loud, exciting, fun, mostly thoughtful, and kind of obnoxious music. So if that sounds like you then Morbid Stuff by PUP will probably be right up your alley, and you should go support them.
What Makes This Song Great – by Rick Beato (YouTube Show)
In short: Rick Beato is a YouTuber that helps us understand the world’s top music on a deeper level. Using the original recordings, he separates out each element – from instruments to vocals. In doing so, we celebrate the workmanship and production behind each song.
When I discovered Rick on YouTube, I went right to the stuff that was in my own library – “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey and “Running with the Devil” by Van Halen. Analyzing the songs note by note, he discusses how they were played and then demonstrates them on guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums. Rick made me realize how much I don’t know about the music I love and now I love it even more.
Rick’s list of songs runs the gamut from classic rock – Rush, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Boston – to grunge – Tool, Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots – to metal – Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Megadeath – to pop – The Police, Chainsmokers, and Max Martin.
Check out all 70 songs on his YouTube channel.
@ApolloLego (Twitter Channel)
TL;DR: The Apollo 11 moon landing reenacted…using lego.
My mother was almost 9 years old at the time and she remembers staying up late to watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps and say his celebrated quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In fact, on the 50th anniversary of July 20, 1969, I happened to be visiting my mother and we sat down and watched those videos of the moon landing again to celebrate. I’d never seen the videos of the descent and moon landing before so that was a cool experience for me.
On par with the silliness of this day and age (thanks to the internet), I came across a Twitter account that reenacted the Apollo 11 mission – using Lego! I am thoroughly amused with this reenactment, and I especially loved how each shot was posted “real-time” over the course of the week just as it would have happened 50 years ago.
C’mon, who doesn’t love Lego?
Armstrong: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” pic.twitter.com/kp6CFX7dyW
— Apollo Lego Reenactment (@ApolloLego) July 20, 2019
Kevin Morby (Musician)
In short: The indie-rock fix you’ve been craving.
Kevin Morby is so easy to love. His songs are catchy, but not shallow. He’s got a great voice – very Leonard Cohen meets Bob Dylan meets Lou Reed. He’s an indie-rock zucchini chocolate cake with a heaping teaspoon of melancholy.
Morby has actually been around for a while, which was pretty sweet for me. I had the privilege of diving into album after album, in a delicious Netflix-esque binge.