What’s making me happy this week, March 29

A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

Teenage Talk by St. Vincent

teenagetalkOriginally recorded for HBO’s Girls , St. Vincent’s Teenage Talk is an adult’s melancholic reflection on the terrifying, thrilling, laugh-so-hard-you-pee moments of youth that the young are too naive to appreciate.

Annie Clark (who performs as St. Vincent) explained the song’s origin to Jimmy Fallon, noting that it’s about the dear friends she had in her hometown of Dallas, Texas:

“Our entire objective was to make each other laugh. We were kind of outsiders and we had to find our way through the maze of a suburban Texas childhood. I wrote this song in memory of our fun times. It’s something that I cherish a lot.”

It’s so elegantly written. The second stanza of the first verse is:

“We snuck out that night
Rolled the Chrysler down the driveway
But once we were inside
Couldn’t figure out where we were off to”

Not only is that funny and relatable (Annie says it’s based on a true story), it’s insightful, suggesting how kids are often eager to grow up, even when they don’t know where they’re going.

The coda brings the relationship to the present day, and asks a question:

“How do you see me now?
Now that I’m a little bit older, older
Nevermind the albatross
Smoldering on my shoulder, shoulder, shoulder, shoulder”

It’s sweet and dear, recognizing that precious moment in time without succumbing to it. I just love this song.

Smoke by Mosa Wild

mosasizedSmoke, the debut track by Mosa Wild , is a haunting display of emotion and artistry.

They lyrics feel like we pick up a narrative in the middle, and leave before we get to the end. As the last note fades, I feel mournful and wanting for the rest of the story.

Singer Jim Rubaduka’s deep, organic vocals seem in direct contrast over the swelling synths and guitars as he seems to sing about the end of a life, or at the very least, a love:

“I’m on track though our eyes dim
She said when’s the last time
You saw me smiling
You know I was on my final page
I can’t read your fast signs
And now I’m barely thinking straight”

This is such a powerful song that I can’t wait to see what Mosa Wild does next.

What’s making me happy this week, March 21

hello

A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

A man, a wizard and a shape-shifting badger walk into a bar.

My favorite thing this week is the podcast Hello from the Magic Tavern. It’s a hilarious, fantasy-based improv comedy show that’s set up like this: Host Arnie fell through a magical portal behind a Chicago Burger King into the magical land of Foon. Fortunatley he had his podasting equipment with him, which he uses to record a weekly podcast from the tavern The Vermillion Minotaur, in the town of Hog’s Face in the land of Foon.

Each week Arnie and his cohosts — a blustery wizard named Usidore (his full name is too long to type here) and a shape-shifter who usually resembles a badger named Chunt — add to the “canon” of the show by introducing facts, guests and an ever-evolving backstory.

It’s not for everyone. You might find it annoying. It’s a bit NSFW. But boy, is it funny. The characters are fun and engaging. I especially like when the actors push each other into some tricky improv bit while remaining in character.

If you listen, start from the beginning, as  you’ll appreciate the in-jokes and references as the show goes on. You’ll love it, bay-beee!

What’s making me happy this week, March 7

santaclaritadietImagine a version of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in which Ozzie kills people so that Harriet Nelson may eat them.

That’s Netflix’s The Santa Clarita Diet.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play Sheila and Joel, two successful realtors in the eponymous town. Their problems are typical of upper middle-class American suburbanites: Sheila wishes she were more spontaneous, Joel longs for the nerve to confront his obnoxious neighbor and their teenage daughter, Abby (played by Liv Hewson) wants to be anywhere but Santa Clarita.

Then Shelia (briefly) dies after a staggering bout of vomiting and finds herself riding the high an unbridled id, a revived libido and an overwhelming need to consume human flesh.

That’s in the first 10 minutes.

Drew is fantastic as Shelia, and her performance here reminds me of how well she can do physical comedy. Whether it’s a perfectly timed expression of exasperation or an unexpected prat fall, Drew makes me genuinely laugh.

Liv Hewson is great as the sardonic teen. Fortunately her performance never falls into that of the stereotypically sullen teen with well-off parents. She holds her own against Barrymore and Olyphant, making Abby into an interesting character, not just a caricature.

But really, this is Timothy Olyphant’s show.

As Shelia’s “condition” worsens – she goes from eating raw beef to drinking human smoothies while power-walking in a track suit – the strain on Joel’s face and his demeanor becomes delightfully pronounced. He’s a pot of boiling water whose rattling lid barely contains the bubbling, steaming cauldron beneath, and he plays it wonderfully. From his facial expressions to the forced, almost insane smile and “NO, REALLY, IT’S FINE” demeanor, Olyphant is a delight to watch.

There’s a bit for everyone here: The show is funny, with many quotable lines I won’t spoil. The show is gory. Keep a finger on the fast-forward button if the thought of Drew Barrymore eating a foot turns you off. The show has zombie lore, if that’s something you’re into. Lastly, there are some great cameos.

When the movie Scream was released, I said, “Any movie that kills Drew Barrymore within the first 10 minutes isn’t fooling around.” The same can be said of a TV show that turns her into a flesh-eating zombie in the same amount of time. Yes it’s a little gory, but it’s also clever, witty, funny and fun. Go now and watch The Santa Clarita Diet. Just, you know. After you’ve eaten.

What’s making me happy this week, Oct. 7

A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

What if Dracula was a bibliophile?

the_historian__19The 2005 debut novel from Elizabeth Kostova is a vampire novel, yes, but it’s not what you’re thinking of. In Kostova’s story, a woman recounts the adventure that her family endured when she was 16, traveling abroad with her academic father. Their journey leads to dusty crypts, ancient cities, family secrets and the fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler. Also, books. Lots and lots of books.

Part detective novel, part travelogue, part adventure story and part gothic horror, The Historian is a book I enjoy very much. It’s creepy without fetishizing blood, like so many vampire stories do.

I re-read The Historian every October to get me in that Halloween mood. It’s ultimately a book about the love of books, and the power of knowledge. Plus there’s cool vampire stuff.

The audiobook is also very well done.

Paper Planes

paperplanes

This one requires a smartphone so grab yours and point it to https://paperplanes.world. This utterly charming little web app has you “fold” a paper airplane and mark it with a “stamp” representing your geographical area. Once that’s done, you tilt your phone to the side and give it a shake to “launch” your paper plane.

The thing is, hundreds of thousands of people are doing this at any given time. So, after you launch your plane you’re given something resembling a butterfly net. Again, wave your phone about to catch one, unfold it, and see where it’s been. Every time someone catches a plane, they add their stamp.

I’ve gotten planes with stamps from Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, Johannesburg, South Africa…all over. It’s surprisingly fun.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports

music_for_airportsBrian Eno’s 1978 album of gorgeous, instrumental ambient music sounds like a contemporary indie release. The album was meant to replace what Eno called the “tense” music that’s heard in airport terminals. It was installed at the Marine Air Terminal of New York’s LaGuardia Airport during the 1980s.

The four compositions on this album make perfect backgroud music for quiet, focused work. Seriously, if “instrumental indie” is your thing, this 38-year-old album is for you.

That’s what’s making me happy this week.

What’s making me happy this week, Oct. 2

A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

Audible Channels

audiblechannelsAmazon turned to Audible last week — which it snapped up for $300M in 2008 — for a new benefit for its Prime members. Audible Channels is a mobile app that features curated collections, or “playlists,” of classic short stories and original audio dramas.

It’s absoutely perfect for a commute or an afternoon walk. Over the last week I heard sci-fi stories, a good, old-fashioned zombie story (it is October after all) and more.

I especially enjoyed an origial series called Damned Spot, which looks at the places at which great horrors have occurred. How does violence change a place? After everything has been cleaned up and life has moved on, what remains?

If you love audiodramas, audio books or great radio, this is for you. Snap it up, Prime members, for a story in your pocket wherever you go.

Smartphone Photography 101

Photography Concentrate with Lauren and Rob has published a fantastic article: Smartphone Photography 101. It’s a very deep dive, covering everything from choosing a phone, composition and sharing. If you simply read my description, it sounds like any number of guides you’ve already read a thousand times. That’s not the case. This is a nice article that deserves your time.

“Soon…” by Flybear

flybearFlybear is a musician with a whole five tracks to his (her?) name. Apple Music suggested I might like the song “Soon…” earlier this week, and it was dead-on right. A dance-y, house-y instrumental track, it’s been putting me in a good mood all week long:

Also, “Flybear” is such a great name.

And that’s what’s making me happy this week.

What’s making me happy this week: Aug 13

Here’s a look at some of the amazing, hilarious and thoughtful things that are making me happy this week.

Within the Wires

PrintWithin the Wires is the lastest podcast from Nightvale Presents, the group behind Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead. Written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson (and narrated by Matthewson), Within the Wires presents itself as a series of “relaxation cassettes” that you, the listener, are to experience when you are calm, quiet and alone. In your designated room. Somewhere inside “The Institute.”

As the 10-episode series progresses, fulfill the narrator’s mandate to “listen, remember, comprehend” and you’ll discover a story within the surrealism. A story with specific instructions. There’s more than mindfulness going on here, and each small revelation adds to the larger narrative. I’m having great fun listening, remembering and comprehending Within the Wires.

Dilemma

sueDilemma is a half-hour panel show on BBC Radio 4 extra in which the delightful and hilarious Sue Perkins presents guests with morally ambiguous situations and forces them to defend the actions they’d take if in those very scenarios.

It’s a lot funnier than I’ve made it out to be.

Much like the 1990’s party game Scruples, Dilemma presents a situation and asks players how they’d act. For example, “You’ve been offered $25,000 to give a one-hour talk at a convention put up by [Company A]. The topic is right in your wheelhouse. The only problem is that Company A is owned by your spouse’s nemesis, and s/he is begging you not to do it, despite the fact that you really need the money.”

The reason that Dilemma works so well is Sue Perkins. She’s very fast on her feet, witty and does not let her guests out of giving a definitive answer and defending it. My favorite segment is the lightning round in which contestants have only a couple of seconds to pick the more morally upright item in a pairing:

“One massive eye in your forehead or never eat dairy again.”
“Robocop or Terminator: which is the better middle name for your child?”
“Would you rather the queen’s face be as small as it is on stamps, or that stamps were as big as her face?”

It’s smart and funny.

The Girl With All The Gifts trailer

Last year I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey and now I’m going crazy for this trailer. This atypical zombie story features Melanie, a “hungry” (the book’s term for zombie) who is strapped to her wheelchair every morning, at gunpoint, and wheeled into her classroom. Melanie’s teacher, scientist Helen Justineau, recognizes something in her student that’s beyond her condition or her genius IQ. The story goes on from there.

The trailer seems to retain the smart, subtle horror, heartbreak and moral ambiguity of Carey’s novel. It’s gotten me excited for the film, and that’s a trailer’s job, isn’t it?

What’s making me happy this week – July 22

Here’s a look at some of the amazing, hilarious and thoughtful things that are making me happy this week.

My Dad Wrote a Porno

mdwapOpen your podcast app. Delete every show you’ve got in there and then subscribe to My Dad Wrote a Porno. Why? Because it’s the only thing you’ll want to listen to for several days.

My Dad Wrote a Porno is a podcast done by a delightful British guy Jamie Morton and a couple of this friends. Apparently a couple of years ago, Jamie’s father asked him to read a few pages of a book he had written. Turns out it was an erotic novel called “Belinda Blinked*,” and it’s every bit as glorious as you imagine self-published erotica with that title would be.

Belinda is the sexy salesperson from the pots and pans company called Steels Pans. She does whatever she can to land buyers for her company’s cookware.

Jamie and his co-hosts James Cooper and BBC Radio 1’s Alice Levine are absolutely hilarious in their take-down of the book. Best of all, Jamie’s Dad — who goes by the amazing pen name Rocky Flintstone — loves the show and all of the attention that his work is getting. When you do a “so bad it’s good” kind of thing, there’s the tendency for the commentary to get mean-spirited. That’s not the case here. It’s all in good fun. Red plastic handcuffs and all.

This probably goes without saying, but the hosts spend each episode reading from a story with very adult situations and language. So be warned.

HarmonQuest

hqIn HarmonQuest, writer, producer and podcaster Dan Harmon plays a D&D-style role playing game (I think it’s Pathfinder, actually) in front of a live studio audience with a few friends and one rotating guest star. These games are typically funny enough to listen to, but throw in the audience and the fact that the adventures are animated, and you’ve got a goblin-slaying, dragon-taunting, orc loaf sandwich eating good time.

The gang plays for laughs and guest stars like John HodgmanAubrey PlazaRon Funches and Paul F. Tompkins get right into it, even when they’ve never played RPG’s before.

You can watch the first episode for free on YouTube, but you’ll have to pony up for a SeeSo subscription ($3.99/mo.) for the rest.

Stranger Things

stThis eight-episode suspence series from Netflix starring Winona Ryder is a sheer delight. It’s a real “kids on bikes” show that is presented though such a dutiful 80’s lens that the decade itself is character. Stranger Things scratches a nostalgia itch for me in a completely satisfying way.

But it’s not just a love letter to the 80’s. Stranger Things is a fantastic little show.

Four young friends are playing Dungeons and Dragons in a basement when mom insists it’s time for the game the end and the kids to go home. One of the kids goes missing along the way, and the mystery begins. There are classic thrills and chills here, and none of the torture porn that’s so popular these days.

Stranger Things feels like an after-school special, a Stephen King story, and early Spielberg all at once. And boy, does it nail the 80’s feel perfectly, from fashion to music cues, in a way that I haven’t seen since House of the Devil.

It’s a compelling show that just works, from the young actors who play the kids (they’re fantastic) to the synth-y, bass-y music and gorgeous type on the title, right on up to the casting of Winona Ryder who does a fantastic job as the harried, lower-middle-class mother who only wants to find her son. I’m already jones-ing for season two.

Ged’s Pokéwall

pw

My friend Ged Meheux of the Iconfactory has made a Pokéball-inspired wallpaper for your iPhone 5 Series, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad and iPad Pro.

Bring your Pokémon GO to another level and be the envy of your Pikachu-chasing friends.

*In fact, the book’s full title is, “Belinda Blinked;  A modern story of sex, erotica and passion. How the sexiest sales girl in business earns her huge bonus by being the best at removing her high heels.”