Back in my days writing and editing for The Fiddleback, Jeff Simpson, that publication’s heroic editor, came to me one day with the idea of starting an ongoing column called “Shit We Like.” The idea was simple, while The Fiddleback’s music section focused on publishing longer album reviews, we’d use “Shit We Like” to showcase the pop culture–albums, songs, movies, tv shows, books, whatever–that we wanted to write about, but to which we didn’t think we could devote 400+ words. Now, as The Collapsar reemerges triumphant, barreling into 2016, I have decided, with Jeff’s blessing, to bring back “Shit We Like” as a fun way to share with our readers the culture that is exciting us, at the moment. –James Brubaker
In the Moment | Makaya McCraven | International Anthem
No doubt, it’s easy for jazz enthusiasts to roll our eyes and say, “jazz is over.” When was the last time there was an exciting jazz album? Sure, there are plenty of impressive musicians out there, but how many are really making thrilling new music? Well, the answer is clearly “more than we really acknowledge.” By now, everybody knows about Kamasi Washington, 2015’s big, breakout jazz story, but let’s talk, for a minute, about a quieter story–French born drummer Makaya McCraven. On In the Moment, recorded live over a year at single Chicago venue and culled from forty-eight hours of tape, McCraven and a talented roster of guests slide through trance-like grooves where vibraphones soar, horns barely keep afloat atop McCraven’s slippery rhythms, and occasional bits of background speech bring us into the room with the band, lending the whole affair a quiet sense of urgency. As much in debt to Tortoise and J Dilla as any of the jazz greats, In the Moment deserves every bit the amount of love that’s been heaped on Washington and the Brainfeeder crew.
Paper Girls | Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang | Image
Paper Girls is tricky–maybe I love it because I, like the book’s main characters, grew up in Ohio in the 80’s. Maybe I love it because it feels like growing up in the 80’s, captures the lawlessness of youth in the moments right before latchkey kids became objects of obsession for helicopter parents. Or maybe I love it because it is Brian K. Vaughan doing his best impression of 80’s Spielberg, you know, faux-feral teens on bikes (in this case, the girls who deliver their neighborhood newspapers every morning) encountering something fantastical (time travelers? aliens? both?) with which they must contend, with very little to no help from parents. Those could be the main reasons I love Paper Girls so much, but they’re not. The truth is, Paper Girls finds Vaughan at the top of his writing game, telling a story of vulnerable, fragile girls acting tough until the world catches fire around them, forcing their tough facades to betray an aching vulnerability, even as the girls more-or-less rise to the challenges surrounding them. Couple Vaughan’s sensitive (and fun) story about time travel or aliens or both or whatever with Cliff Chiang’s sharp, inventive art and panel design, and we’re on our way to another all-timer from Vaughan and co. Sure, the nostalgia stuff is fun here, but, think of it like The Goonies if it had more (or any) heart–this book soars because of its sincerity, its sense of wonder, and its playfulness.
“Real Friends”/“No More Parties in L.A.” | Kanye West | Self-Released
After a listless and, frankly, weird 2015, “Real Friends” came as something of a relief for long time, long suffering Yeezus fans. Sure, “Only One” is nice, “All Day” is banging, and “FourFiveSeconds” has its charms, but I, for one, was four, maybe five seconds from wilding while sitting around waiting for Kanye to make a move. As it turns out, 2015 wasn’t going to be Kanye’s year, and 2016 brought real fear, in the form of the let’s-be-polite-and-call-it-tepid “Facts.” Thankfully, it didn’t take long for Yeezy to step up and release “Real Friends,” a fine, haunted song about navigating the pitfalls of searching for authenticity when you’re rich and famous. While few of us can truly relate to West’s plight, the combination of the song’s subject matter with the quiet, resigned and haunted production makes the song sound fresh, and maybe even a little bit powerful. “No More Parties in L.A.” finds Kanye doubling down on the vibe of “Real Friends,” adding to some of his own best-verses-in-a-while a killer verse from Kendrick Lamar to arrive at something I want to describe as SoCal Celebrity Noir–these songs are about the life of the rich and famous, and are full of the boasts to match, but there’s a sense of exhaustion, here, a paranoia that makes them both feel urgent and exciting. But most important: now, for the first time since the beginning of 2015, it’s safe to say I’m actually excited for Swish when it lands in just under a month.