Welcome to The Growler’s Culture Club, where the editors share the best of what they’ve been listening to, reading, and watching.
It seems fitting that we should kick off Culture Club in quarantine, where we’ve been consuming an unprecedented amount of entertainment to keep us within reach of sanity. While not everything we’ve taken in is worthy of mention (this editor is ready to admit to rewatching and fully enjoying “Rat Race”—taste comes in many forms), it would be a shame to jealously hoard some of the gems we’ve most enjoyed.
Without further ado, here are our latest recommendations. Take them or leave them, but we hope we can provide you with a brief escape from this odd dystopian reality we’re in.
John Garland, Deputy Editor
“Fetch the Bolt Cutters” by Fiona Apple
I’ll be the latest to heap praise on the most heaped-upon release of the last few months. “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” is a sonic avalanche of clanks and clatter and barking dogs (really, her pups are credited as lyricists). The orchestration is jagged, and tempo and structure be damned. But over the tumult, Apple’s voice is like a dream—diaphanous and lyrical, then suddenly direct and confrontational. She recorded it on GarageBand in her home over the last five years, and almost no song works as a single, but it sounds like a masterstroke from clank one.
Li Ziqi, YouTube channel
She’s a 29-year-old living in rural China, making tranquil videos of her pastoral life. In one clip, she spins wool into yarn and knits a cape. In the next, a season-long time-lapse, she plants and harvests a rice paddy. Another, she makes bamboo furniture. Yet another, she fashions makeup out of flower petals. Interspersed with dreamy shots of the misty forests over the soothing sounds of a guzheng, it’s mystifying to watch this renaissance woman at work. Her skills are extraordinary.
Lauren Sauer, Associate Editor
One discovery that’s sonically transported me out of these trying times is Radiooooo, a website that allows you to listen to popular music from every decade back to the 1900s from countries around the world. Want to know what was hot in Azerbaijan in the 70s? Or, perhaps you’d rather explore the sounds of 1930s Brazil? While it may be inadvisable to physically travel the world for the foreseeable future, with Radiooooo and a little imagination, we can travel—both geographically and temporally—from the safety of our own homes.
“Bless the Telephone” by Labi Siffre
In the best of times, this song stands as the sweetest song I know of—released in 1971 by London-born Labi Siffre, its lyrics and simple melody bring me to the verge (and depending on my mood, right over the edge) of happy tears every time I hear it. But, in a time when we are literally relying on virtual means to connect with the people we love, the song is more poignant than ever. It’s a lovely reminder that, even if we might be isolated, we aren’t alone.
Brian Kaufenberg, Editor-in-Chief
If you’re in search of a video game that offers a deeper experience, do yourself a favor and download “Never Alone.” It’s an exceptional two-person puzzle platform game in the vein of “Limbo” and “Inside” (though without the morbid atmosphere). What sets it apart is that the way it weaves Alaska Native storytelling into the game itself. In videos that you unlock during gameplay, Iñupiaq elders tell stories of different spirits, sacred places, and how their culture is carried through to modern-day Alaska. It creates a really rich experience that helps preserve a culture in a 21st-century medium. The art is beautiful, the game is relatively short, and the takeaway message is affecting. Available on Playstation, Xbox, PC, Android, and iOS.
“How Green Was My Valley” by Richard Llewellyn
This coming-of-age tale set in a Welsh coal-mining village at the turn of the 20th century quickly became one of my favorite pieces of fiction. Published in 1939, the prose is lyrical and rich (to a fault) with descriptions of life in the village that sing and metaphors that still feel original even after all these years. It is filled with themes of integrity, hard work, and self-reliance, but it also stresses self-sacrifice and the interdependence of the community.
James Norton, Food Editor
Haruki Murakami’s vinyl collection
Author Haruki Murakami is one of the best-respected writers of fiction in the world and the former proprietor of a jazz club in Tokyo. Not unsurprisingly, many of his readers have expressed interest in exploring the writer’s musical headspace. And to that end, superfan Masamaro Fujiki has collected nearly 3,400 tracks from albums in the author’s personal collection. The result is a vintage jazz-heavy list that veers from smooth listening to challenging abstract sonic landscapes with plenty of variation in between. It’s a simple hack to curate your own jazz club soundtrack, and it’s a no-brainer playlist for when you want to put your feet up and dive into “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” or “Killing Commendatore.” Sometimes, living in a dystopian future has its perks! Listen: Spotify
“Escape at Dannemora”
Did you know that Ben Stiller could direct? I most certainly did not until watching the seven-episode series “Escape at Dannemora,” a carefully paced, gripping, Fargo-esque telling of the epic 2015 escape of two convicted murderers from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, abetted by a not-too-bright prison shop superintendent. The two leads in this drama are among the best working actors in the world: watching Benicio del Toro as scheming sociopath (and convicted murderer) Richard Matt and Paul Dano as earnestly messed up inmate (and convicted murderer) David Sweat is a constant joy. Watch: Showtime, Amazon Prime
Zach McCormick, Social Media Coordinator
“The Last Dance”
As a child of the ’90s with a parent who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, Michael Jordan was more than just my favorite athlete—he was a cultural touchstone and a conduit to the kind of vivid, delirious joy that sports can provide us at their pinnacle—I remember crying inconsolably when my parents told me that MJ had retired for a second time. Watching Jason Hehir’s excellent multipart documentary on Michael Jordan’s final, second-three-peat-clinching season on the Bulls instantly transforms me into that same starry-eyed kid with Bulls blankets on his twin bed, slack-jawed and giggling as he watches a metahuman wearing the number “23” performs miracle after miracle via impeccably restored archival footage. Watch: ESPN
Caroline Carlson, Editorial Intern
Author and advice-giver Cheryl Strayed has made a career of trying to untangle life’s conundrums with empathy, grace, humor, and wisdom. It all started when she agreed to anonymously answer letters for the weekly “Dear Sugar” column in an online literary magazine called The Rumpus, and evolved when she—along with fellow author Steve Almond—became one of two “Sugars” on the New York Times podcast “Dear Sugars” and co-author of its accompanying newspaper column. Now with her new podcast “Sugar Calling,” she speaks to beloved and highly acclaimed authors about how the world as we know it may be changing in light of this pandemic, and about the wisdom they’ve gained over the course of their lives and careers. Listen: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher