Recommendations, 3/14

This week we like old music, new music, Danish political dramas, and ribs.

Jonathan

Sometimes when I listen to Stax-produced soul I wonder where I have been all my life. I should have been listening to Otis Redding as soon as I graduated from my Free To Be and Sesame Street Disco phase. Why did it take me this long? Like all great works of art, the Otis Redding King of Soul box set (available to stream on Spotify) has changed me in ways I don’t yet understand. For too long I have been into the lesser Stax saints like Johnnie Taylor and William Bell. I guess I figured that Otis Redding was just “Sittin’ on the Dock of Bay” and nothing more. Boy, was I wrong. King of Soul gives you the whole raw, rough, brilliant, badass, Otis Redding package.

If fifty-year-old soul seems to square to you, Joan as Police Woman released a new album just this week. On that album, The Classic, the horns, the backing vocals, the groove make it clear that the classic sound lead singer Joan Wasser is going for is the sound that Redding perfected. A song like “Holy City” is the best kind of soul update. It’s not retro; it’s just good.

Gabriella

I loved — no, was borderline obsessed with — The West Wing. Years later, I binge-watched my way through the delightfully nefarious House of Cards. So it’s no surprise that I immediately fell for Borgen, the internationally acclaimed Danish political drama that first aired in 2010. Give me montages of politicos briskly walking while wearing power suits or give me death.

Borgen follows Birgitte Nyborg, the country’s first female Prime Minister, as she maneuvers through the Danish political system — a system that has, as far as I can tell, somewhere between five and 500 different parties. Other standouts are her media advisor or “spin doctor,” Kasper Juul, and his ex, intrepid young journalist, Katrine Fonsmark. Outside of parliament and the public eye, Birgitte struggles with her work-life balance, much to the frustration of her husband Phillip — how do you say “can she have it all?” in Danish?

The show’s been referred to as “the Danish West Wing,” and, admittedly, that’s what initially piqued my interest. And while Birgitte does have the upstanding morals and firm grace of Josiah Bartlet, there’s an acerbic undercurrent to the story — think House of Cards, sans the borderline-cartoonish evil. The result is a show that’s ultimately more complex than either of its American counterparts.

Nick

It would be almost comically cliche for me to recommend the new album by Stephen Malkmus, Wig Out at Jagbags, but even my biased ears know it’s only for Pavement diehards. Who even listens to albums anymore anyway? So, let’s just talk about one good cut instead. For my money, “Houston Hades” is the most fun, and more importantly, the most Malkmusy track on the record. It opens with 30 seconds of aimless guitar noodling, then breaks into a peppy pop rock song full of wandering, disjointed lyrics that turn out to be kind of mean and cynical when you think about them. (That’s five diagonally on your Malkmus bingo card if you count the free space.) “If Houston’s Hades/for Houston ladies/with all those truck huggers, gun luggers/now you gotta have their babies – no,” Malkmus sings, condemning the reproductive fitness of a vast metropolitan area in a single singsongy swoop. “Houston Hades” also shows off what may be the famously aloof frontman’s greatest vocal range to date. He goes so low when he sings “for all you slim shadies” that it almost seems like he’s trying for a second.

I especially love this song because it marks another entry in the “Harness Your Hopes” family tree. Originally a B-side from Brighten the Corners, “Harness Your Hopes” has become a favorite among Pavement catalog trawlers for its prodigious volume of irreverent wordplay. (I can only assume Malkmus was on some hallucinogen when he cut it from the record; it’s one of his best.) It was a unique entry in the Malkmus canon until 2011′s Mirror Traffic gave us the super dense “Forever 28.” “Houston Hades” doesn’t quite have the same profusion of lyrics as the other two, but it’s extra irreverent, so I’m counting it in their ranks.

My attachment to these songs, I think, stems from my perennial struggle to justify my obsession with Stephen Malkmus. On first listen, a lot of his music sounds like straightforward rock, perhaps with some lingering abnormality you can’t put your finger on. It hardly possesses the singular style that usually drives lifelong fandom (as opposed to, say, The Grateful Dead, KISS, or Limp Bizkit). But “Harness Your Hopes” and its ilk encapsulate the appeal of Malkmus’s music and sound completely distinctive. He’s the only person who could have made those songs. And it delights me that he continues to do so.

Kevin

I’m currently in New Orleans, taking a break from New York’s bleak weather and bleak people. Okay, look at these ribs:

I ate the hell out of those ribs — maybe some of the best I’ve ever had. They were at a place in the Bywater called The Joint. It looks like this:

I recommend dragging yourself, wherever you are, down to New Orleans and eating at The Joint. You will feel the sort of cosmic bliss that only good barbecue can provide to your soul. I’ve been here two days and I’ve already eaten there twice. And maybe I’ll keep eating here, transcending my physical being to a higher plane, night after night, via ribs and pulled pork.

At least until my heart stops.

Hallie

Andy Douglas Day‘s new graphic novel, Miss Hennipin, has the elements I love about all his comics — his crudely beautiful drawing style, the elaborate stories, and the feeling, when you finally understand what’s going on, that you’re in on an bizarrely wonderful inside joke.

But at 160 pages, it’s his most elaborate story yet, and his most coherent. As in, you’ll probably get at least half of the jokes on the first read, and incrementally more after that. (The re-reading is definitely worth it.)

Miss Hennipin tells the story of its namesake, or M.H., as so many of her belongings are monogrammed. She lives in a remote mansion with her faithful servant, Mokumbo. Told in a series of disconnected- but- connected vignettes, the book opens with the mysterious arrival of a lost youth on Hennipin’s property. While the stories surround this event, they are mostly about her strange everyday life and her even stranger relationship with Mokumbo. As he helps her with even the most trivial tasks, such as purchasing a fern (“I would like something quiet… Quiet but vigilant”) we gather more and more details on their complex and hilarious relationship (“If you’re trying to pick a fern that you can hide behind at home, then think again”).

There are a handful of great side characters that interrupt the narration, but the surrounding world itself might be my favorite voice other than Hennipin’s. The writing on objects, signs, and decor are funny for the way they comment on the story, but even viewed totally independently of the narrative, they always make me laugh, and they are is part of what makes re-reading the book so enjoyable and surprising.

I love Miss Hennipin because she carries on the tradition of the best old ladies. She reminds me of my grandmother in her meticulous approach to the most mundane chores. Of Emily from Gilmore Girls in her total sense of entitlement. Of Dickens’ Miss Havisham in how bat-shit crazy she is.

This is Andy’s second book for Sonatina and he’s already working on his third. He’s only getting better, so get on board while the jokes are still “inside.”

You can order Miss Hennipin from Sonatina, and if you’re in the bay area, attend the book release at Mission Comics on April 4.