Staff Picks is a recurring feature, in which Juneau Empire and Capital City Weekly staff share what they’re reading, watching, listening to and playing. Now’s the time to hunker down and check out what we’ve been enjoying.
What we’ve been listening to
Ben Hohenstatt: “All Or Nothing” by Shopping (Album)
Shopping don’t have the most diversity in their sonic palette, but there isn’t a band working that makes better use of the post-punk building blocks to deliver delightfully tesne music. Plus, the band’s recently released fourth album adds a few new touches, including sometimes twinkly synths and a song built around a guitar lick that approaches surf-rock. If Gang of Four and The xx had a baby and taught it to have snarling-yet-icy contempt for authority, it’d be Shopping.
Michael S. Lockett: “Fear in a Handful of Dust” by Amon Tobin (Album)
Amon Tobin is a prolific producer of the junction between electronic and string music. Vaguely unsettling, always hard to categorize, and certainly interesting to listen to, the Brazilan artist seems to make music for social situations or moods that I don’t experience. It’s the kind of thing I’d put on if I wanted to make people leave a party or if I wanted to keep myself tense and on edge on a long run through dark woods. If someone remade “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and set in the present day, I’d expect to hear this album feature in it.
Ben Hohenstatt: “Honeymoon” by Beach Bunny (Album)
Upbeat-sounding power pop about morose emotions is a spring-time staple for me, and the latest from Beach Bunny executes the concept extremely well.
The songs aren’t especially complicated —structurally or lyrically —but if soaring guitars and ultra-catchy hooks about malaise do something for you, this is a must-listen.
Album standout “Cuffing Season” is especially delightful, and its chorus makes it my hunker down anthem.
“Maybe we are getting too close/ Paranoid permanence is just an empty promise/Sometimes I like being on my own/I’m afraid of winding up alone.”
What we’ve been reading
Michael S. Lockett: “The Poppy War” by R.F. Kuang (Book, Fiction)
Want to replace reading about a global viral outbreak with Eastern fantasy tied into extremely thinly veiled references to genocidal WWII wartime atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army on the Chinese population? Look no further than the “Poppy War” by R.F. Kuang. With a bevy of elements drawn from historical events such as the Opium Wars and the Nanjing Massacre and an approach to gods and the supernatural very different than anything I’d call familiar, this superlative novel departs from tired Western fantasy traditions and creates something darker, weirder, and quite unlike anything else I’ve read in the fantasy genre. A sequel, “The Dragon Republic,” was released recently.
What we’ve been watching
Peter Segall: “Avenue 5” (Series, HBO)
I’m a big fan of Armando Innnucci and his deeply cynical brand of humor(“Veep,” “The Thick of It”) and his latest HBO series is rife with it. “Avenue 5,” the first season of which just finished, is set in a somewhat dystopian future where the crew and passengers of a space-faring cruise ship learn they’ll be stuck on board for the next few years. Panic ensues and the captain of the ship (Hugh Laurie) and its vapid, megalomaniac owner (Josh Gad) try to solve the crisis, only to find themselves too inept to do anything. Admittedly, a show about a people in crisis looking for leadership only to find people too vain and clueless to do anything about it might not be the best under the current circumstances, but I enjoyed it.
Michael S. Lockett: “Castlevania” (Series, Netflix)
While an upbringing of gnawing the flesh from the bones of prey animals with the rest of my wolf family prevented me from ever playing the games, if the animated show is any indicator, I missed out. Castlevania is brutal, gorgeous, and entertaining without requiring one to overthink things. Wronged, civilized vampires! Sarcastic, resigned monster hunters! Creepy, evil priests! And it’s all a love story. But, you know. One that involves razing a country to its foundations to mourn a death, as all good love stories should do. A short first season is remedied by longer and broader second and third seasons, which expand the characters and the story into a variety of humorous or freaky or deeply emotional tangents.
What we’ve been playing
Ben Hohenstatt: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” (Nintendo Switch)
I’ve been a fan of this oddball life sim series since it came out in the U.S. in 2002. The newest release is wonderfully charming and woefully addictive. If the series’ typical moving monetary goalposts and collection goals didn’t make “Animal Crossing” games compulsively playable enough, “New Horizons” introduces a crafting system that pushes things over the top. Plus, the game has a multi-player mode that allows for couch co-op, which means you don’t have to ignore your significant other while sinking your scant free time into this game, and that’s nice.