October Staff Picks (Intern Edition): Gay Country Musicians, Anime, and Y.A. Novels
Words By F(r)iction Staff
I used to hate country music on principle, and then Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour came out. But even then I stuck to the female side of the genre, finding their music more entrancing than their male counterparts whose scratchy, same-sounding vocals and pick-up driving exploits often feel like a cheese grater to the brain. And then I discovered Orville Peck: a gay, masked alt-country singer with a voice as deep as the night and lyrics steeped in the solitary cynicism of the Old West. In simple terms: every sad girl’s dream. These past few weeks, I’ve been obsessed with his new EP Show Pony, the follow-up to his 2019 debut. Hearty and wistful, the six-track album has everything: homoerotic desire and heartbreak, a standout Shania Twain feature, and a soulful cover of “Fancy” that gives Reba McEntire a run for her money (I have a feeling someone’s going to try and take me to task for that last one, and I invite them to try). My personal favorite from the EP is “Summertime,” a bittersweet power ballad about good times past—something that feels all too familiar as we sit in our houses dreaming about when we can go outside again. In a genre that loves its conventions, lone rangers like Orville Peck are a breath of fresh air.
Arden is what I go to when I need a pick-me-up. It’s a wonderfully goofy story podcast, following radio journalist Bea Casely and private detective Brenda Bentley on their quest to solve cold cases for a radio show. The podcast is both a gripping murder mystery and a playful, silly parody of true crime audio journalism. On top of that, each season is a modern re-telling of a Shakespeare play (season one is Romeo and Juliet and season two is Hamlet). The characters are wonderful–Brenda Bentley is the most joyfully chaotic character I’ve ever come across in a podcast, and there’s Mulder and Scully-esque chemistry and banter between Brenda and Bea. At the same time, Arden asks difficult questions about the painful repercussions that true crime journalism can have on people’s lives. The show’s second season has just reached its mid-season finale (!!!!), and I can’t wait for the second half of the season!
After listening to “Can I Stay” by The Downstairs Room, I’ve been impatiently waiting for their EP to be released. It will be their debut work, but I’m already haunted by the lyricism. The song contains such a unique extended metaphor that always makes me pause.
I also recently finished And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando. This heartbreaking YA debut novel features fifteen-year-old Nathan Bryant searching for answers after the loss of his older brother Al. Loneliness and loss were made sharper as the narrative flowed between vignettes written by Al, the experiences of Nathan and the thoughts of their shared friend Megan. I appreciated how nuanced Jawando’s representation of grief was, as well as how the voices/perspectives of each character were so distinct.
Life is weird and the world is on fire, so sometimes I need brazen attempts to make me understand what it feels like to be motivated. I love anime for this, especially Black Clover. Black Clover follows Asta, a boy born without magic in a world where everyone has magic, on his quest to be the Wizard King. His tagline is (always anime-yelled) “My magic is never giving up!” which is super cheesy, but his real magic is rallying the people around him. It takes 25-30 episodes to get past the cheesy stuff, but then it digs into the real struggles. Unlike some anime where the side characters remain essentially the same but maybe gain a new power move, every character in Black Clover matures through personal trials. We see familial abuse, class, gender, and race disparities, anxiety, overconfidence, and all kinds of pitfalls people face from the lenses of different characters as they face their challenges and grow fundamentally as people. Honestly, I was watching an episode of Black Clover when I decided to apply for the Brink internship. Every character works so hard to better themselves physically and mentally that it inspired me to do the same.
One album I always find myself going back to around this time of year is Soft Sounds from Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast. The whole mood of the album fits the season of summer coming to a close. Michelle Zauner’s voice carries the listener over synth-pop and bass waves, and the product is something almost ethereal. Many of the songs on the album address themes like love and distance; “This House” questions the truth of a romantic relationship that is based on convenience, and “Machinist” is a futuristic song that explores the attraction a woman feels toward a machine. “Till Death” is one of my favorites off of the album, where lyrics like “extol your sacrifice with fine caviars and aspics” float with the sound of ocean waves. I can imagine myself sitting on a nostalgic park bench while listening to this on repeat. If you find yourself drawn to Zauner’s words, you can also check out her creative nonfiction, “Crying in H Mart,” which explores similar themes of familial love and separation. I recommend Soft Sounds from Another Planet for the next time you want to take a small step into a distant world.