Best of Summer 2018
In which Scene + Heard staffers take a moment to discuss some arts and culture highlights from this summer. Whether packaged in podcast or film, festival or story, there’s always too much out there for one set of eyes and ears, and these past few months have been no exception, so let us be your guides to the good stuff.
Dissect Podcast (Season 3, Blonde)
If you’ve been meaning to dive into a new podcast for a while but find yourself idly pressing play on the same couple playlists every time you open up Spotify, listen to Dissect instead. Cole Cuchna hosts and creates what started out as a one-man meticulous passion project and has evolved into a Spotify-produced serialized music podcast. In its first two seasons, Dissect analyzes two of Hip Hop’s most iconic albums, To Pimp a Butterfly and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, blending academic zeal with the adoration of a true music nerd (Cuchna was a music theory major). Each episode takes a look at the history, social context, musical composition, and meaning of each song, weaving in background on the artists’ personal lives and career highlights at the same time. It’s the college class you wish you could take on the music that shaped a generation. Its third season was released on-schedule this past summer, unlike its subject’s third project: Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Cuchna quit his day job and began working on season 3 full-time, and the result is an expansive plunge into the mysterious world of Frank Ocean, his nonlinear path in the spotlight, and a breakdown of the emotional and sonic complexity in Blonde with dips into Nostalgia Ultra and Channel Orange as well. “I think about Frank Ocean like I would think about Beethoven,” Cuchna told The Fader.
Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival and Big Red Machine
Eaux Claires, a project of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National), is now in its fourth year, and rather than ballooning onto the main festival circuit, it has sunk deeper into its roots and its vision. This year’s fest did not release a lineup or tease any acts, a move that is unheard of for these kinds of things. The idea, in part, was to flatten some of the inevitable hierarchy of it all. With no big-name hype, the success of Eaux Claires IV rode solely on its singular, refreshing experience of musical mutualism. Since the festival’s inception, Vernon and Dessner (and friends) have treated the weekend as a juiced up jam session with an audience. Collaboration and experimentation is encouraged. I think almost all of the acts I saw this year debuted new music. Artists performed on a stage in the round, several smaller ones tucked into the woods, and even DJ’ed a hidden, backwoods rave which did not appear on the map. One of the pinnacles of the weekend (if it’s even kosher with the fest’s ethos to claim there were such things) was the Vernon and Dessner project Big Red Machine. In 2017 at Eaux Claires, I had watched them tease out live song sketches under that name, not knowing they would go anywhere. This year, they had turned them into fully formed blasts of antsy emotion. Spluttery drum loops, buttery guitar licks, and Vernon’s dada-esque thought trains poured out over the transfixed crowd. The eponymous album, which they played in full that night with a backing chorus of other festival performers, was released in chunks over the summer, and though it is stirring on record, it will never grab me and hold me the way that it did on a stage at the center of the thing which birthed it.
The Storytellers Project
In a night of oral storytelling at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens set up by journalist, founder, and performer Megan Finnerty, amateur and expert storytellers told lively and heartwarming stories under the theme of “searching,” with such wide-ranging subjects as mannequins and moms. Beginning in 2011, The Storytellers Project focuses on a different theme each night. Megan Finnerty has expanded the program to 20 cities nationwide via the USA Today Network, as journalists across the country coach storytellers to deliver personal, honest stories. Because each event is created by and for locals of that area, the stories flourish with area-specific details and in-jokes. For example, my favorite performance of the night— Phoenix-based comedian Anwar Newton’s hysterical account of being carjacked— used regional Arizona highways as the backdrop in his story. If you are in a Storytellers Project city, this event is a must-see, but I also highly recommend watching some of the performances online at http://www.storytellersproject.com/national/watch-listen/.
Made In America Festival
Every Labor Day weekend, Philadelphia’s historical Benjamin Franklin Parkway is shut down for a rowdy and patriotic end-of-summer celebration. On September 1st and 2nd, thousands of music fans decked themselves out in red, white, and blue and made their way to Jay-Z’s Made in America music festival. The festival hosted big names: Nicki Minaj, Post Malone, and Kendrick Lamar, as well as over 50 other established Hip-Hop, R&B, and EDM performers such as Miguel, Daniel Caesar, Louis the Child, and SABA. The star-studded lineup had festival goers rushing between the five stages in order to catch all of the best sets. When it came time to catch a break from the music, visitors could also explore the Cause Village, a hub for social action with 56 charitable and activist organizations. And when dinner time rolled around, there was no shortage of choice. Countless local food trucks were set up along the parkway, providing the perfect pick-me-ups between sets. Crowd favorites included Spring Roll Burritos from Papermill Foods and popsicles from the Lil Pop Shop.
Galapagos — WEDNESDAY CAMPANELLA
J-Pop trio WEDNESDAY CAMPANELLA’s latest album, Galapagos, is an irresistible slice of summertime wistfulness. Across its stunning eight tracks, producers Kenmochi Hidefumi and Dir.F are remarkably agile, blending Modern EDM with jazz fusion grooves, ambient synth landscapes, and traditional Japanese instrumentation. They cleverly play with the tropes of modern pop music without ever falling victim to them, exploring the hallmarks of mainstream radio in order to expand upon them. Meanwhile, singer KOM_I matches her production duo’s sonic adventurousness with excellent vocal performances, simultaneously nimble and delicate, perfectly filling the spaces between the album’s intricate beats. With music as melancholy as it is exhilarating, WEDNESDAY CAMPANELLA’s Galapagos has proven that this trio, already one of the most prolific Japanese acts of the past five years, is ready for a U.S. takeover.
Eighth Grade is Bo Burnham’s feature film writing and directorial debut, and it is as much of a masterpiece as you would expect from the meticulous comedian. The film touches on an impressive amount of subjects for a 94 minute film: social media, family dynamics, mental health, sexual assault, and gun culture. Burnham manages to envelop each subject with witty and realistic dialogue, a killer soundtrack, and some gorgeous cinematography. And perhaps most notable of all is the breakout role from Elsie Fisher, who captivates with an incredibly sharp performance. Eighth Grade is impactful, and will at the very least inspire you to put down your phone and hug your loved ones.
~Peter Pribyl Pierdinock