August was a crowded month, and this retrospective arriving almost 2 weeks later than usual is a result of that (we’ve stretched the interval over the first weeks of September in order to compensate, and we’ll forget we did that over the next retro). So much happened in music, film, and especially TV that it was hard to believe that it was all over the course of a single month. We got to see some of the biggest shows ever made (The Sandman, House of the Dragon, The Rings of Power), horror movies with sharp social commentary (Bodies Bodies Bodies, Emily the Criminal) as well a delicious queer musical (Oliver Sim’s Hideous). On the album/EP release front, there were standouts like No Rules Sandy by Sylvan Esso, Icarus by Cryalot and William Orbit’s The Painter.
Our Currents mega-playlist once more stretches far and wide, offering glimpses at artists such as: Spirit of the Beehive, PHONY, Sofia Carson, The Album Leaf, Ashe, Griff, Casually Here, Nation of Language, Echosmith, Portico Quartet, ELIO, Charli XCX, Sigrid, Kelly Lee Owens, Fawn, Maribou State, Jenni Potts, Cailin Russo, Douglas Dare, JATA, Against the Current, Sylvan Esso, lau.ra (Laura Bettinson), Andrew Bird, Aluna, Nosaj Thing, Flying Lotus, William Orbit, Mothica, Katie Melua & Simon Goff, Disasterpeace, glaive, Sloppy Jane, 4s4ki, Cryalot, Au/Ra, Eve, Loney Dear, Annika Norlin, First Aid Kit, SBTKRT, Oliver Sim and Dresage, as well as an introductory look at the indie music scene of Argentina.
Below are our monthly selections, and here as well as below is the Currents playlist for August (clicking the link is preferable to listening “in place”, since there are over 400 tracks).
Favorite Song: Magdalena Bay – All You Do/ Oliver Sim – GMT (Jamie xx Remix)
Magdalena Bay is the new Chairlift, and it finally feels like like they’ve managed to catch up to Chairlift’s Moth era after delivering one of 2021’s best albums with Mercurial World. They were at an all-time high during their Pitchfork Festival live performance this summer. Magdalena Bay is a duo with a very active fanbase, especially on Discord, but they also engage with their fans on an almost unheard-of level. This August they have delighted us with a new cut from their upcoming Mercurial World Deluxe. It sounds more in line with their live versions for Chaeri and You Lose. Perhaps announcing a more organic direction for the band to follow? In fewer words, it’s absolutely great, accompanied by a stunning video which is just the norm for this always-impressive LA-based group.
The xx’s Oliver Sim has recently released his debut album, Hideous Bastard, coinciding with the visual companion-piece Hideous, a short three-act horror-musical directed by Knife+Heart‘s Yann Gonzalez and distributed by MUBI. Hideous “the musical” is simply stunning, a queer tornado of feelings and shifting moods that manages to deliver as many emotional blows as it is deeply personal, nostalgic and unapologetic.
It’s worth getting a one-month MUBI subscription just to see it, and – FIY – Sim’s video for Hideous is really just the movie’s final act. This August, bandmate and friend Jamie xx expanded on Sim’s GMT with a remix comprising one of the year’s boldest sonic journeys: a soaring “party in the sky” nostalgic anthem and one of the most instantly replayable 10-minute electronic tracks in recent memory.
Catchiest Song: Ava Max – Million Dollar Baby
There is no one I know of in the new generation of “mainstream” pop artists even coming come close to the confidence, earworm potential, layers upon layers of nostalgia and, yes, diamantine star-power than Ava Max seems to have in spades with each new tune. After The Motto and Maybe You’re the Problem comes another unforgettable anthem celebrating life’s imperfections, a track that just crawls its way to the pleasure-centers of your brain at high-speed, refusing to ever leave. In a fast-paced language all its own, like a painting of galaxies and black holes on a 3:30-minute long fabric, it refuses to really be understood, just like the best of pop music. Her newest album might have gotten delayed, but we still count on Diamonds and Dancefloors to be filled with perfectly-calibrated treasures like this one.
Favorite Video: Kailee Morgue – End of My Life
And all of my friends are off getting married
The older I get, the world feels so scary
And my mother says that I’ve still got time
But twenty something starts to feel like
It’s the end of my life
We’ve seen shorter and shorter videos becoming the norm lately, perhaps a sign of the heavy influence of TikTok as well as hyperpop – even videos under one minute. Kailee Morgue’s latest single, End of My Life, manages to pack in a LOT throughout its two minute-runtime, from Bridget Jones and ’90s/’00s video influences to a final half that feels like a tribute to Halloween – with worried phone-calls and a Michael Myers-like slasher villain making his way into the solitary celebration.
Besides the fact that twenty-something is quite literally the end of many unfortunate young people’s lives in a post-pandemic world, there’s also college debt and the fleeting nature of relationships to worry about. There’s something really special in the video which starts like your normal bedroom pop-rock DIY concoction, only to gloriously pull the rug from under you at around the 0:25 mark. I just had to do a bit of research on director Nas Bogado and DP Jay Kaufman, and, since we’re there…
Favorite Visual Artist: Nas Bogado & Jay Kaufman
As a movie fanatic and music lover, I frequently look for visionary music video directors in order to see cutting-edge techniques that the movie world might eventually catch up to. I feel especially lucky when discovering a director-photographer pair like Bogado/Kaufman, who create images that feel like they’re filling my brain with adjective after adjective, drawing from feelings and half-processed states, making blurry soul-stirrings into “put a frame on it!” celebrations of life outside of my own self. A perfect antidote for solipsism, if you will, a confirmation that maybe “there’s someone else out there” who thinks and sees much in the same way.
“I wanted to capture the mental chaos that comes with processing the reality we’re living in. Encapsulating the struggle in the divisions we face and the constant meta-growth that ultimately is an overwhelming feeling leaving myself with ‘fuck the system’ or be one with.” – Nas Bogado
Favorite Album: William Orbit – The Painter
Sometimes I just wanna scream “the album is dead“. Because I find it hard to select a favorite album when all I am honestly looking for are standout songs.
Then I remember that there are also concept albums, visual albums, albums-to-end-all-albums like Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher, albums that look towards the future (anything released by Kuedo) as well as those that seem to shine a much clearer light on the past. William Orbit’s The Painter is, for me, a surprise-release that feels tied to a lot of my prior musical experiences (almost like an “a priori” album), the ones that really, really mattered. From the special guests (Beth Orton, Katie Melua and my favorite trip-hop musician Natalie Walker), to the instrumentals (Gold Coast) that feel like a throwback to SNES/Saga Genesis game soundtracks, this is an album deeply mired in nostalgia. And yet, it’s able to switch the time and place almost instantly, transporting the listener back and forth through their own music history-tunnel with deep pockets of air for them to breathe during the trip. Is there also a light at the end of the tunnel? It is really a tunnel, or a perfect circle of many colors, drawn by the thumb of a master painter on a black canvas?
Orbit is one of the most influential composers/producers. Even though you might think you haven’t heard his sound, you’ve heard it, and this latest release also feels like one huge dialogue between artist and listener, shaping the boundaries of sound. You know, the kind of thing that makes me say that albums aren’t really dead after all.
Biggest August Surprise: cryalot – Icarus
Nothing will stop him
So fly high to the light
Nothing will stop him
So fly high to the light
They told me this is it
Watch you see is what you get
There’s nothing else here left for you
But when we dream at night
We go someplace, you feel it too
Who doesn’t dream of touching the sun at least once? I couldn’t add this to the favorite album section after only listening to four tracks, but I really admire it so far. I’ve only recently gotten into Kero Kero Bonito (as reflected by one of the past Currents), but I remember the moment (it was 2014 or 2015) in which I saw my first KKB video and I thought “this is TOO far ahead of its time“. Clearly, the world has caught up to them by now, and hearing the “darker side” of the KKB universe, as Pitchfork puts it, is a welcome addition for me, and a fresh take on the Daedalus/Icarus myth.
From the apocalyptic Hell is Here, beautifully shot by Anna Gudbrandsdottir, to the dark, but incredibly catchy Labyrinth, what seems to set CryAlot apart is a boxed-in, claustrophobic aspect ratio, infra-red/blue/yellow color filters and a more oppressive mood that – for now – feels very different from most KKB tunes (but not so different at all from their recent Secret Sky set). There’s mood whiplash inside the mood whiplash in Labyrinth, and I can’t help but thinking of tumbling to my death into one of those many voids that punctuate the introspective chorus “Why do we dream if we only believe in“, or the punchy delivery of the entire Touch the Sun.
Each release so far seems to detail some aspect of Icarus’s mythical flight, from the circumstances leading up to it to the feeling of leaving everyone behind and the world mourning the fallen dreamer. Since I discovered I suddenly almost-understand basic Japanese after watching years of anime, movies and dramas and knowing the syllables, the interludes in See You Again cause a lot of “Eureka” vocabulary moments in my brain.
(Hilarious own “fan translation” from “Ima made, shibara retsuda mo no” until the very end of See You Again – excuse the adaptation butchering and punctuation-glee, PLEASE, because I was putting my translation hat on for learning purposes, probably [EDIT: obviously] not even coming close to the actual lyrics [EDIT: which are available if you simply google and then google-translate them, duh: )
Until now, I was bound
Let it all go
I shall once more be
A complete world.
We are harmonious,
We are harmony,
The blue sky ahead
Feels infinite (a mask).
Let’s begin the journey anew!
Goodbye, see you again,
I have gone with the angels…
West below me,
What holds you back?
The tree also, look at you
Clad in white wings
I have surpassed the sun
Have I heard something even remotely as beautiful as this recently, even with the butchering? No, I really think I haven’t. This Icarus seems to have fallen way before ever thinking to take flight.
Favorite Music Discovery: Against the Current / glaive
In August, there was a moment in which I totally seemed to lack inspiration. In times like these, I get nostalgic, and usually look for two things in music: big bands with years of experience behind them and a rich discography, with life performances that shake me out of my stupor. I was glad to (re)discover Against the Current in the same way I did Krewella last month. A band that Paramore fans might be familiar with, a robust sound that I can listen to regardless of time, place, mood, and a shapeshifting frontwoman that seems to give 200% and surprise fans with each moment on stage. Pitch-perfect, tightly-structured concerts like their 2019 Rock am Ring or Lollapalooza outings are the norm, and this is a group I can easily fall back to, providing a much-needed sense of familiarity as well as perpetuity.
Meanwhile, related but not quite, glaive’s hyperpop days seem to have escaped me, but I love a good emo masterpiece, and what a delight it was to see him basically remaking The End of the F***ing World in under 3 minutes! Ash Gutierrez sends the listener to a f***ing Minnesota that seems just around the corner to Ethel Cain’s House in Nebraska, and the perfect starting place for his uncompromising work that seems to succintly capture angsty-on-the-edge-of-exploding boyhood.
Favorite Live Performance: Sloppy Jane – Adult Swim Bloodfeast 2019
No, I refuse to even dare to describe this other than by simply mentioning Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Frank Zappa. Take a step back and enjoy one of the most daring, shocking, funny, creative, experimental in the best sense of the word, live set recordings you’ll ever see. Putting the “performance” back in “live performance”!
Favorite Movies: Nope / Bodies Bodies Bodies / Where the Crawdads Sing
Nope is the movie of a generation, a love-letter to filmmaking, as well as paving the way for a new era of directors more “down to earth” than their quite mad predecessors. Jordan Peele rewinds a century of filmmaking in a single hilariously scary image, comments on giving credit where credit is due and also hones in on the importance of on-set safety and the price of spectacle. However, Nope is a movie that’s light when it comes to plot. It’s all about the thrill of motion, of capturing (e)motion, not quite as revolutionary as Eadweard Muybridge’s famous series, but definitely empowering, entertaining and ecstatic while demonstrating a whole array of filmmaking techniques.
The characters here are literal stormchasers, animal trainers looking to tame the untamable, and there’s a memorable scene of the “monster” saluting an image of systemic oppression (which later gives it a massive stomach-ache). Peele is as sharp as ever, but he wisely lets the movie speak for itself this time around.
Nope isn’t gimmicky, it doesn’t spoon-feed, it’s visual storytelling at its best, strange and inimitable. The image of Daniel Kaluuya on a horse constantly having to look down speaks volumes. Nope could be taught in schools for how subversive it is, analyzed and reanalyzed for years to come for hidden corners and easter-eggs (however, comparing it to recent films like Ready Player One, or Quentin Dupieux’s surreal oddities, or Alex Garland’s Men which essentially tried the same for horror does them all a massive disservice). Nope awakens the kid inside the movie fanatic, often feeling like a vintage sci-fi magazine come to life, and Peele shows how good the influence of curating over two seasons of the new Twilight Zone was for his career.
Bodies, Bodies, Bodies! On top of being a summer horror-thriller with fangs, powered by a killer cast (Shiva Baby‘s Rachel Sennott, Borat II‘s Maria Bakalova, The Hate U Give‘s Amandla Stenberg together with Lee Pace and Pete Davison) and a wicked, smart and funny ending, it might also be the one movie in 2022 that captures how unpleasant it feels to fall right in the middle of most online shouting matches. Everyone can hide behind privilege that they’ve accumulated through various irl and online validation, by using terms which carry a weight they can’t fully process, riding the treacherous wave of technology and perpetuating their own narratives while mercilessly “othering” the most available targets. All in a world made of opposites where both empathy and sound judgement are often required, but playing judge and jury and fooling your own conscience is often the easiest choice.
Nobody in the movie gets a free pass, not even Bakalova’s character, who still comes off as the most likable of the bunch. Hat’s off to Halina Reijn for delivering this brutal and deceptively “shallow” masterpiece, conceptually similar way to the I Know What You Did Last Summer series of 2021, but (hopefully) signaling a new method in really “conscious”, not just self-conscious writing. Superb OST by Disasterpeace, also featuring hits by Charli XCX, Shygirl, Slayyyter and Alice Gongyu Lao.
Chicago movie critic Steve Pulaski says it like it is: Where the Crawdads Sing is William Faulkner by way of Nicholas Sparks, a movie undermined by its willingness to please everybody. However, there’s another writer whose voice feels similar to what WtCS achieves in its best moments, and that is A.S. Byatt. It’s weird that this came out at the same time as Three Thousand Years of Longing (which is really based on a Byatt short story), since it is more palatable if you see it as something more like… this generation’s Angels and Insects. I have heard a lot on how the source material is problematic, how Kya is badly written, and it is, and she is at times. On top of the swampcore elements, ever since Chase enters the picture, the story becomes too predictable.
However, call me a sucker for Daisy Edgar-Jones’s voiceovers – after I listened to her narrating Daisy Johnson’s nigh-impenetrable Sisters (review incoming!) on Audible, adding an extra dimension or three and breaking the language-barrier, I was happy to watch how her voiceover 100% saved this one. I do wonder what almost any American indie filmmaker would have done with the material (I could only dream of Andrew T. Betzer), but then I remember that even filmmakers like Destin Daniel Cretton had their share of failures when adapting difficult novels – The Glass Castle was close to an unwatchable mess, only redeemed by Brie Larson’s stunning performance. It’s the same here – Edgar-Jones made it work even when it was pretty obvious that she was wrestling with a weak script. David Strathairn’s good-hearted lawyer makes it a perfect movie for the whole family, and – above all – it all works as a non-naturalist movie about a naturalist character. And Taylor Swift wrote Carolina for this film’s soundtrack. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Favorite TV Shows: The Sandman / Ms. Marvel / The Rings of Power / House of the Dragon
Netflix has largely succeeded in adapting Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, a popular and critically-acclaimed graphic novel which had been deemed “unfilmable”. With Gaiman onboard, a Doctor Who director (Jamie Childs) attached for most of the episodes (as well as Revenge’s Coralie Fargeat direcing the standout “Collectors”) and a cast comprised of veteran British actors, it’s ultimately the strong writing, as well as the grandiose cosmic imagery that end up elevating the show to must-see status – even though there are a few hurdles along the way.
Gaiman, a master of the written word, able to come up with delightfully nostalgic avenues and find the most hidden of voices (as well as imitate the voice of his own favorite writers), dazzles with highly quotable lines of dialogue. When Dream squares off against John Dee, it’s initially like seeing two giants from Gaiman’s Norse Mythology volume sharpening their axes, but the confrontation ends in a totally unexpected manner. When Death comforts the fallen, when Desire visualizes their domination over the other Endless, or when Lucifer contemplates the next move, you can feel the touch of a master storyteller at work. Nuance, feeling, decisiveness and wistful yearning – often with just a couple of words, making use of a rich vocabulary, Gaiman creates rounded characters and seems like he understands the human condition like only the best writers can.
The first Pakistani superhero absolutely nailed it on Disney+, in a 6-episode series that starts in New Jersey and bravely explores the India-Pakistan divide that was hinted at in films like The Viceroy’s House (which could be a great next pick for fans of the series who want to dig further into its rich background).
Kamala Khan is actually one of my favorite Marvel characters after seeing the Marvel Rising six-part series, and while the show changes her origin story (somewhat), it’s Marvel going full urban grafitti-art, and the colors are to die for. As someone who visited India, but not Pakistan, I was glad to see the colors which typically describe a Bollywood production making their way into a Marvel property, as well as the music. That rooftop scene in episode one feels like it’s taken out of my teenage dreams. Also, finally an end-credits sequence that rivals the magnificent, evocative opening of Hulu’s Runaways.
Fanboy-time: I am DYING for a Squirrel Girl and/or Quake team-up after Marvel Rising. Or America Chavez after Dr. Strange 2. I know that’s going to happen at some point (possibly excluding Quake, there’s a high chance we’re getting Young Avengers in 2024/2025 if my instincts are correct, and they were correct about Marvel doing Secret Wars 2).
Yes, the LOTR Amazon show is not Peter Jackson’s LOTR, but an imitation. Yes, it’s more about content and competing with HBO’s House of the Dragon than about art. However, the casting directors have struck gold with Morfydd Clark as Galadriel, and I’ve seen J.A. Bayona direct the best Jurassic World entry (to the point where I’m not interested in seeing the third installment without his name attached). So, it’s a bold imitation that gives somewhat of a YA spin to characters who seemed to have the personality of a rock in the original films (sorry, Tolkien and Jackson). And I absolutely love YA when it’s this good.
The sheer beauty of the first episode, the detailed fantasy backgrounds that are second to none, the sprawling storytelling, the patience it seems to have, and above all, Clark’s performance – since I honestly wouldn’t watch it if not for her mind-blowing turn in Saint Maud… it all makes me hope that this will be as good as The Two Towers, not an overlong CGI-fest in the vein of The Return of the King or, God forbid, the ghastly Hobbit trilogy. I am grateful to have LOTR (even LOTR-lite) in the comfort of my own home, at an age when I can fully appreciate what it can offer me. I also won’t mind if every episode has a mind-blowing scene like the “sunset” in episode one, an Elven concept I was not familiar with, closely resembling actual death (at least, in human terms).
So far, every main character seems to burn with passion, youthful exuberance for life’s adventures and, yes, even burn red with vengeance – Galadriel is totally the opposite of what Elon Musk has made her out to be, in an absolutely crazy moment of “too-realness” which saw him attacking the series for entirely absurd reasons (although he might have intentionally dealt a huge blow in Amazon’s promotion plans by dividing the LOTR fanbase even more).
Finally, House of the Dragon. Episode one follows the Game of Thrones recipe too closely, until a finale that breaks from tradition and finally promises a proto-Daenerys without the inevitable betrayal (from the writers). This is fully a tale about the patriarchy, and as spellbinding as Matt Smith is as the enigmatically chaotic Daemon (if you know him as the best Doctor ever, he simply walks away with this show as well), I’m in because critics cited frequent time-skips & cast changes, comparing it to One Hundred Years of Solitude (!)
Each episode after that is simply as entertaining as flagship television gets, and after seeing episode 4, oh my God. I dare you to find a better game of light and shadows than the one in this Clare Kilner-directed hour. Although it will probably spark endless debates because it feels just as wrong as GoT’s most controversial episodes, HotD finally resembles – even just a bit – the aforementioned book. And if I know my forbidden romance tropes well, I think I see how this season will play out, and we might be in for a finale that could surpass the audacity of season 6’s “Cersei victorious” (and hopefully, Ramin Djawadi has something in store for us rivalling “Light of The Seven” on the OST front).
Favorite Visuals: Adam By Eve – A Live in Animation
Even though it takes some getting used to, this is the best multimedia (anime + visual album) project I’ve seen all year. Studio khara is at the forefront of 2D animation, and Adam has the best art direction and chaotic movement since Promare, plus amazing music from musician Eve. That line, “Sorry parents, I couldn’t become what you wanted“, still haunts me.
Peer-pressure as one-eyed monsters, individuality defined as being willing to crash a spaceship in the middle of “the System” and then chase it down the drain, one Top Hat after another. Great symbolism, music that will delight fans of Monoral, Asian Kung-Fu Generation and Millennium Parade, and a stunning transition from Japanese drama to full animation. Far, far better than I could ever give it credit from a simple trailer, this will overwhelm you with emotion and energy, just like a Shunji Iwai meets Hiroyuki Imaishi production. A must-see for any fan of music and anime. Below is a standout animation segment to convince you:
Best Treasure Trove Website: Arte Concert – Arte TV
Live performances from around the world, structured by genre and country, plus opera and ballet, summer festival recordings…all for free, no subscription, no login necessary. This is even better than Marquee TV (also quite awesome), guaranteed to make you lose at least a couple of hours. Check it out here, or on their Youtube channel (which weirdly seems to have even more concerts available).
Featured Image is Icarus by Anna Magruder
About the artist (source: annamagruder.com)
Transformation has long been one of the central driving forces in my life. I’ve always embraced change and new surroundings, as I’ve made my way from Dallas, TX (where I grew up) to southern and northern California to Boulder, Colorado and then to Portland, Oregon and Taos, New Mexico and (since 2019) Nashville, Tennessee, each place inspiring new ideas and unique avenues for dynamic personal growth and radical transformation in me.
As I explore and intuitively find my own way within the abstract language of form and color, I’m also finding a shift in my own identity – a deepening embrace of the unknown, a constant re-discovery and a break from my comfort zone into the unchartered territory shifting within and coming into being on the canvas through me. My intention is to take you, my viewers, with me on your own exploration – encountering powerful, uncharted depths within yourself as you engage the freshness of shape, color, and form in my new abstract work.
Anna Magruder Art & Illustration — specializing in portraits, whimsy and historic surrealism
Other Works by Anna Magruder:
Reading Material: The Fall of Icarus by GreekReporter