This is the first of what is intended to be an ongoing feature of this blog (bi-weekly me hopes). The concept is quite simple: I ask someone who I either internet know or personally know, or in some rare cases both (and I guess if I'm going to do this on a bi-weekly basis, probably people I don't know in any way except “know of”) to give all of the fine folks reading this blog (possibly just me) some top shelf recommendations in 5 important categories that heavily influence how good our days / weeks / lives are played out. Those categories? Music. TV/Film. Books. Internet-ing. And the last one: ANYTHING (to make sure all bases are completely covered).
To kick this 'HIGHLY RECOMMENDED W/' thing off, my internet friend Jon Doyle, he from one of my absolute favourite music blogs Wake The Deaf —you might even say that I “highly recommend” it (yeah, I know you see what I did there)— was kind enough to take some time out of writing thoughtful words for his blog and provide some of them for mine…
#1 - What is the one album (or ep or song) that you think should be the very next musical thing that everyone presses play on the next time they find themselves thinking “what should I listen to now”?
The start of the year is always a bit lean when it comes to fresh, top-quality music, but luckily Mike Tolan’s Talons’ project has helped us all out by releasing a beauty called Growing Up.
For those unfamiliar with Tolan’s music, he’s what you might call a post-folk songwriter, using ambient and experimental techniques to flesh out tales of post-9/11 detachment and sadness. If the Bandcamp blurb is to be believed, Growing Up is actually a long EP, with a full album set to be released later in the year. Have a listen and I’m sure you'll be celebrating this fact as much as I.
#2 - What is the one movie or tv show that you think should be next in everybody’s Netflix queue (ok, doesn’t have to be Netflix, we’re all internet adults here and know how to find anything online, one way or another)?
I hope you’ll excuse the slightly dated nature of this recommendation but Southland is a police show which ended in 2013, charting life in crazy, crazy LA for the good ol’ boys and girls in blue.
Aside from sometimes laying on the good ol’ boys and girls in blue thing a little too thick, it’s a superb example of exciting, innovative television which refused to simplify issues such as racism, sexism, drug abuse, mental health issues etc. It’s filmed in this cool handheld style (not the motion sickness kind) so you don’t quite see everything perfectly as it happens, which makes it claustrophobic and nerve-wracking and far more shocking than any graphic, filmed-from-seven-angles violence you’ll see in the usual shows. Plus it’s set in a (lifelike?) version of LA where weird things happen at EVERY turn, so each episode is like running a gauntlet with flawed and sometimes volatile cops.
#3 - I (and by “I” I mean “the person that is reading this”) am going to the book store (ok, probably Amazon) to find the very next book that I will be putting some extremely valuable ‘me-time' aside for. Which book would you get, if you were me (and, I suppose, you hadn’t already read what you’re about to suggest)?
At the moment I'm reading Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, which is part love story, part social satire. The problem is that the love story isn't super sad (the main character has a mild Humbert Humbert sort of thing going on) and the satire, in my humble opinion, is too on-the-nose to be funny or clever. I think his problem is that he goes too far for that subtle sort of irony yet not far enough to make the whole thing seem like a massive nudge-nudge wink-wink, as someone like Mark Leyner does. Read My Cousin The Gastroenterologist or The Tetherballs of Bougainville and you'll get the impression Leyner saw you coming, lulled you into a "oh I see what he's doing" before smacking you in your stupid face with another level of ridiculousness.
The joke isn't just on the banal aspects of modern life, but also readers who think they can snigger at said banality, and writers who think they can write snigger-worthy material for said readers. It's exhausting and devoid of any sort of spiritual nourishment, but hilarious.
Oh, and DON’T BUY YOUR BOOKS FROM AMAZON! They’re bad people (allegedly. Please don’t sue me).
#4 - What is the one website (or just any old internet thing: app, gif, service, whatever) that you would get really down in the dumps about if it were to suddenly go away?
Despite lengthy monologues on recent cinema (he mostly hates it, at least this year), copious references to his LA pals/younger boyfriend for no reason other than bragging, and awkward self-read adverts for shaving kits and education courses, the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast is always worth a listen.
He gets interesting guests (Mark Danieleski, Craig Finn, Matt Berninger and Quentin Tarantino have all appeared recently) and explores the state of art in contemporary society. You know, how is the novel shaping up in the digital age, how is the current TV obsession influencing cinema, are actors all sneaky self-serving narcissists etc. Millennials beware, he's pretty critical of our delicate-snowflake wussy generation, though I find many of his diatribes hard to deny. Much like with his writing, you most likely won't agree with his every view, but that's kind of the point.
#5 - And finally… please give one completely unaided recommendation that you think everyone should start doing / using / watching / eating / thinking / quiting / etc-ing to make their lives a little bit more better AND/OR bearable.
This one is hard. I'm still working my way through a haul of chocolates that good old Chris Cringle brought at Christmas (it's like Willy Wonka's storeroom in the house) so maybe I could recommend a few cocoa-based treats? Guylian's praline seashells are worth your time, as are chocolate-coated coffee beans, especially Blue Star Coffee Roasters from Hot Cakes in Seattle, which are the ones we have. I'm savouring them, one or two a night. I'm odd like that.
OK folks, there you have it. 5 things that Jon Doyle thinks you should consider incorporating into your life. Since asking these questions was as much for my benefit as yours, here are my initial thoughts on his recommendations…
- I had not heard this talons' album until I pressed play on it this morning. It is lovely. It is also available as 'name your price' on Bandcamp. I expect to find it in the 2016 version of this favourite Wake The Deaf yearly habit.
- I have never watched ANY episodes of Southland. If I remember correctly, when it first came out, I did a combination hot take of “is that the boy from OC?!” + “another major network cop show?!” and then wrote it off. Perhaps I was wrong and need to make this a future binge? I wish it was on Netflix (as that makes bingeing easier), but I'm sure I will figure something out ;)
- I have not read any of these Mark Leyner books (I tend to lean more to the Non-Fiction aisle), but I've been Facebook friends with Jon long enough to know how much he reads (it's a lot), so when I added that fact up with how much I agree with Jon's taste in music, the math tells me that I should walk straight past his anti-Amazon advice and place both of these novels in my Wishlist. Also, unrelated but kind of totally related, go check out the literary inspired compilation that Jon put together last year called 'QUIET, CONSTANT FRIENDS'.
- I have listened to Bret Easton Ellis' podcast at least once in the past (think it was a chat with Chuck Klosterman) and Jon's recommendation is spot on: despite certain moments that may make you crinkle your brow, it's an interesting listen. I've made a note to give it another go next time I'm looking for a podcast to put on before bed. Seeing as how I go to bed 7 days a week, this will probably be very soon.
- Who can disagree with chocolate? Especially chocolate that is covering coffee. I didn't entirely follow his advice this morning, but I did have a piece of cake for breakfast with my coffee. I believe this decision was heavily inspired by Jon's last recommendation. Or, it is possible that this decision was just heavily inspired by the fact that there was cake in the fridge.
Feel free to leave your own thoughts on Jon's recommendations in the comments section below. Or don't. Your call. But at the very least, you should go check out Wake The Deaf today and tomorrow and on an ongoing basis (and follow them up on the Twitter and Facebook to make the 'ongoing basis' part easier).
And finally, let's all agree to meet back here in 2 weeks time for some more things of high recommend. OK? ok.