Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week’s entries come from: Carol Seeds, John Bernardy, Bryan O’Donnell, and Caemeron Crain.
Caemeron: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had its series finale last week, and should be popping up on Netflix in the U.S. today (I think?—Netflix has become a bit more opaque about letting us know when it will be adding content).
If you haven’t seen the show, you are missing out, but I understand that there are a couple of factors that might make one resist giving it a watch. One is the title, which might seem to connote that this will be show about some deranged woman and her shenanigans, which…well I suppose it kind of is, but trust me when I say that the situation is a lot more nuanced than that. Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom)—the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” in question—is the lead of the show, which is empathetic toward her. We are on Rebecca’s side, fundamentally, even as she at times does some incredibly self-destructive or neurotic shit.
The other thing that I can imagine causing some resistance is the fact that the show is a musical. Now, I have very mixed feelings when it comes to musicals. Some I think are great, like Jesus Christ Superstar, while others I tend to think are cheesy garbage. Stephen Sondheim is brilliant (though, I don’t know, maybe those are operas?); Rodgers and Hammerstein, not so much. Honestly, my favorite musicals might be those made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, such as The Book of Mormon and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.
But the question is largely irrelevant when it comes to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—unless I were to frame it in terms of something like social criticism maybe—because the songs are hilarious. Each not only makes a point that functions in the narrative, but also does something that I hesitate to call parody with regard to music itself. The songs play with genre, and play off existing tropes, but also stand on their own. This is not Weird Al we’re talking, here (all due respect to him). It is, in my opinion, something that cuts deeper.
It is the characters, though, that really make Crazy Ex-Girlfriend soar; all of them. Some might start out seeming a bit cardboard, but they always get fleshed out. No one is a stereotype here. Indeed, this is one of the things I find most striking about the show; that even those who start out seeming like such end up being deepened in a way where they land as seeming like real people.
The show grapples with personal struggles but also engages in social critique, and does so in a way that puts a point on the intersection between those problems. And the musical numbers…well, they’re actually a large part of why I feel like this show is innovative. They don’t feel perfunctory, but intrinsic. Here is one of my favorites:
Carol: The tail end of 2017 saw the new Asking Alexandria self-titled album. These well-known and well-beloved Brits had seen plenty of ups and downs; fans were ready for some fresh music to provide them with the reassurance that the band wasn’t falling apart before even really getting the chance to contribute to the metal community. With the fallout between the band and its original lead singer, we saw the emergence of Dennis Stoff, the young and fresh-faced boy who looked like the emo One Direction tryout that didn’t get make the cut.
From Stoff, we received The Black (2016). It was far from mediocre which was pleasantly surprising. Fans expected the new lead singer to completely drop the ball, but he didn’t. With the title track, “The Black”, we were given a taste of what the young blood could give, and we learned that he had some massive chops to display.
Regardless of what Stoff had to offer, Asking Alexandria just wasn’t the same without its original frontman, Danny Worsnop. After a small hiatus and some much-needed recovery time, Worsnop is back and Asking Alexandria is exactly what it appears to be…a rebirth.
Leaving behind the screamo vibe of 2013’s From Death to Destiny, the new album is clean but still rocks heavily. “Alone in a Room” is a perfect opener, allowing Danny to literally spew his own accountability. “All I needed was the last thing I wanted; to sit alone in a room and say it all out loud”. I absolutely adore this song and all the musicality behind. I slaved over learning the lyrics. “Into the Fire”, the first single released in September of 2017, is melodic and hard-hitting, with a super cool “Sin City” reminiscent music video to back it up. Also, if you take the time to search, the band did acoustic versions of both tracks and they are both so beautiful.
My one and only complaint is the track titled, “Empire”, featuring Bingx. Rap is OK in some metal instances, but this one hits my ears the wrong way. Other than this song in particular (if you can call it a song), I can listen to the album straight through. The remainder of Asking Alexandria flows with the same ease. Ben Bruce, lead guitar, isn’t wildly talented but he’s got the passion to back up what he skill he does have. You won’t find me hating on him. He knows how to harmonize, with voice and instrument alike. He is the perfect backup to Worsnop through the album and beyond, just as he was in the past records.
It’s so refreshing to see Danny and Ben, both young and healthy, just rocking. These boys are back on top. Sumerian Records made a gamble by putting the original team back out there and if you are interested in comeback albums, this is the one to consume.
John: The Red Room podcast turned the tables on its format when author/artist Jeff Lemire interviewed host JB Minton about his book of analysis titled The Skeleton Key to Twin Peaks.
The book is noteworthy for its introductory chapter being about how Laura Palmer may be an antichrist-level figure, but pleasantly the book moves from that into more of how Cooper is stuck in a dream when his worst aspects took over his life.
In particular, I loved their discussion about Candie’s weather report being thematically and structurally relevant to Minton’s thesis statement. I can’t believe I missed that when I worked on my own unified theory, which relates rather well with where Minton ended up (version layers work really well with my take on Cooper time loops and positive and negative frequencies).
Besides dovetailing into my own Peaks fascinations, this is a great mind-opening conversation between creatives deep in the rabbit holes. I can’t help but recommend this.
After Peaks talk, Minton and Lemire talk about Lemire’s own work and we get a glimpse of creative process as well as some of the gold we’ll be getting before too long. All good, promising stuff. All worth a listen.
Red Room Podcast Episode 165: Jeff Lemire Interviews Josh (“JB”) About “A Skeleton Key To Twin Peaks!”
Oh man, this is a huge moment for me and I’m doing my best to stay humble, because ultimately that is where I have found that real happiness lies.
Bryan: A couple months back I caught an interview on NPR with author Marlon James regarding his new book Black Leopard Red Wolf. I had heard good things about James’ previous book, A Brief History of Seven Killings, and when I learned his new book took a turn into the genre of fantasy, my ears perked up. A few weeks ago, I decided to give the book a go.
Black Leopard Red Wolf is a sprawling, thrilling journey that follows Tracker, a man who can — yes — track anyone due to his insanely keen sense of smell. Tracker is enlisted to carry out a number of different search missions: missing children, women trying to keep tabs on an unfaithful husband, etc. The universe of the book is set in a fantasy version of ancient Africa — and like any good fantasy novel, there are maps!
You may hear that Black Leopard Red Wolf is like a combination of Game of Thrones and ancient African legends. But so far reading it (I’m about 200/600 pages in), I wouldn’t say that’s accurate. While the level of violence can match moments in Game of Thrones at times (one scene I read this afternoon still has me a bit shook), and you’ll find a great deal more sex and swearing than in a J.R.R. Tolkien or Robert Jordan fantasy novel, the comparison doesn’t really hold a ton of water for me (at least not to this point).
Rather than jumping from many different characters, Black Leopard Red Wolf focuses primarily on Tracker and his companion Leopard, a half-man, half-cat on their missions. That’s not to say the book is simplistic or not as entertaining as the Song of Ice and Fire books, by any means. Black Leopard Red Wolf features a ton of layers that present many questions. The book starts out as a conversation between Tracker and an inquisitor but without an explanation of how he ended up there. Within this conversation, he’s telling stories of his past. And within those stories, he tells other stories. And so on. On top of this, you find yourself questioning the veracity of the stories.
It can get pretty mind-bending at times to try and keep everything straight. I admittedly struggled through the first section of the book but really started enjoying it once I passed that first hurdle. The language and imagery are top-notch, and I’m really looking forward to where it goes from here. I think it has the chance to be the next big thing in fantasy, with this being the first book in a trilogy and Michael B. Jordan on board to adapt it to the big screen. Fantasy fans (who can stomach a lot of violence): check this one out.
Those are our recommendations this week! What are yours? Let us know in the comments!