Oh wow, it’s already only a week until Christmas somehow. I hope this means you’re getting some kind of break, though it could mean things are even more hectic than usual. Either way, if you’re looking for some things to consume while you relax (besides food), we’ve got you covered. Each week you’ll find in this space a set of recommendations from our writers, ranging from TV and film to music and podcasts, or whatever else we might be into at the moment. These things may or may not be new to the world, but that’s not the point. What matters is what’s interesting, and what’s worth your time. This week’s entries include: Station Eleven, Arkham Asylum, Shovel Knight, Crooked Still, Cheat!, and Komodor.
Graphic Novel Recommendation — Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
Christopher Pilbeam: I was gifted this graphic novel (by Dave McKean and Grant Morrison) for my birthday, and although I haven’t read one in a while, I was delighted to be sucked back into Batman’s grippingly gothic world. I would describe Arkham Asylum as Millenniumistic (although I suppose Millennium must be Arkham-istic…). It combines stylish prose with jaw-dropping visuals in a story about our inability to rationalise our way out of grief. It can be read as Amadeus Arkham’s revenge tragedy, or the Dark Knight’s dark night of the soul, or even as a desperate cry for empathy by Arkham’s inmates. Who would have thought that locking ill people in a haunted house is not conducive to rehabilitation? I have the 2020 edition, which includes a restoration of the original artwork (acrylic ink pencil and collage material) drawn in 1988, as well as a full script and thumbnail layouts from writer Grant Morrison. The script is well worth the read, as it goes into detail about all the wonderful literary and mythic allusions, revealing much about the writer’s process. All in all it was a pretty great present and a good reintroduction into this mode of storytelling.
Game Recommendation — Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon
Lor Gislason: I’ve been a fan of Shovel Knight since the original game was released (I particularly enjoyed the King Knight story) so I was pretty excited when Pocket Dungeon was announced. And now it’s finally here! To be honest I’m not sure I have the hang of it yet, but I’m learning. It’s a combination roguelite puzzle adventure, drawing similarities to Mr. Driller. Destroy blocks or defeat enemy chains to clear the screen, gathering items and keys along the way. Each knight is unlockable and has different abilities, like Specter Knight healing after kills or Tinker Knight summoning a mech. I think I just haven’t decided which character suits my playstyle–but that’s part of the fun, experimenting and learning. There are options to slow down the blocks and give yourself more lives if things aren’t your pace. Also the graphics are beautiful, colours that pop and adorable little sprites. I’d say pick this one up!
Music Recommendation — Crooked Still, Shaken by a Low Sound
Daniel Siuba: Last weekend, the highly progressive bluegrass Americana group Crooked Still released a deluxe version of their 2006 album, Shaken by a Low Sound. I listened to Crooked Still a great deal in college, when I played in an acoustic Americana ensemble (singing, playing piano, and on occasion, wandering around on stages or in various farmers markets blasting people with my accordion). Revisiting this album many years later has been such a pleasure. It’s just as passionate, beautiful, fun, and innovative as it was when I first discovered it, and I do think it’s aged very well. Aoife O’Donovan’s vocals are as crystal clear as I remember them, and the band’s highly polished musical abilities are still quite impressive.
This new deluxe edition also includes several live tracks, as well as some unique arrangements of songs on the album, such as a fiddle version of “Ecstasy,” and a very sparse, haunting piano-heavy arrangement of “Ain’t No Grave.” This band excelled in the studio, but were truly electric onstage, so the addition of the live tracks is also a welcome gift.
If you’re new to Crooked Still, you’ll be surprised to hear some unconventional arrangements (and instruments), as well as a wonderful folk singer who doesn’t sing with a twang. If you’re a returning listener, I highly recommend revisiting this album from start to finish. You’ll be surprised, moved, and maybe even a little shaken by what you hear.
Podcast Recommendation — Cheat!
Hosted by Emmy award-winning Alzo Slade, with his friendly voice and conversational style, it’s like having a little chat with your buddy on some of the more outrageous swindlers. Remember the Hipster Grifter? She was weird, but following her outrageous life was a blast! And sometimes the episodes feel downright gossipy, like with the cheating dating site, Ashley Madison. How was that actually a thing?
But there are also noteworthy episodes on major historical events. I don’t imagine the true recounting of the first Thanksgiving would go over well as you’re sitting down to a turkey dinner, but it’s a story we should all know well by the time we reach adulthood. And, yet, so much of the true history was new to me. The white-washed, watered-down account taught in schools has to be dispelled permanently at some point. Or Climategate for that matter. Or, even more relevant to our immediate situation, how the whole anti-vax movement began. These notable, historical moments are worth a listen.
Another Music Recommendation — Komodor, Nasty Habits
Steve Swift: They bought old cabinets, they recorded their debut with patchouli drenched rockers Blues Pills, their upcoming album is called Nasty Habits. And the music? A hybrid of folk, Psyche, rock and naughtiness, hints of horns and Bolan glam with the Allmans hanging around too, this is like wonderful band The Sheepdogs with a bad intention.
The album is out in December here’s a taste:
Have a lovely time.
TV Recommendation — Station Eleven
Caemeron Crain: If you’re like me, Station Eleven has been on your radar for some time, as its production was delayed due to the pandemic. The show, created by Patrick Somerville and based on the novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel (which I have not read at this point, for the record), finally premiered on HBO Max this past Thursday (December 16, 2021).
In some ways, I have to admit it feels like almost the worst possible time for Station Eleven to be released. After going on two years of COVID in our lives, the fatigue is real, and I suspect that any number of people might be turned off by the mention of a pandemic in Station Eleven’s plot description. That would be totally understandable, but also a mistake, as from another point of view it is actually the best possible time this show could possibly have been released.
That’s because Station Eleven isn’t so much about a pandemic as it is about living in the wake of one, coping with loss and an altered world, and the existential search for meaning. It’s more like The Leftovers than Outbreak, exploring themes of the confrontation with death and how we relate to one another in light of the event that has occurred. But it perhaps narratively even more daring, as whole episodes will shift to explore the perspective and story of a character hardly seen prior.
Further, the show is beautiful, both visually and in terms of the sound design. I don’t know if others pay as much attention to sound as I do (at least consciously) but it matters a lot in terms of setting the tone of the millieu we’re immersed into in Station Eleven. In short, despite the fact that there is a pandemic far worse than COVID at play in this world, I still find myself wanting to live in it and bask in its details.
This perhaps parallels the ethos of the central unit of characters—a travelling theater troupe—who find purpose in art and help provide it to others. Or at least I think they are the central unit of characters—Station Eleven proceeds through multiple timelines that resonate with one another and its mysteries mostly lie in spaces in between what we’re shown. Regardless, if there is a message about meaning that runs through this story, it would seem to relate to not just surviving but appreciating the poetry of existence.
I’m realizing there is no way for me to briefly articulate what’s so good about this show. But it’s transcendently good. I’m only a few episodes in at the moment, but depending on how the rest of this story plays out it may well be one of the best TV shows I have ever seen. Go watch it.
What have you been into this week? Let us know in the comments!