A stride-stopping hit from Brooklyn’s notoriously hit-or-miss indie music scene.
By Maria Popova
This week’s musical discovery takes us to Brooklyn, the grand stage where indie-folk-rock band Joanna Erdos & The Midnight Show gifts unsuspecting hipster audiences with supreme outstandingness.
(They also happen to be one of those last quintessentially “indie” bands left — think nada on Amazon, not even a two-liner Wikipedia page.)
From the keyboard magic to the fantastic vocals of lead-singer Joanna Erdos, The Midnight Show is indeed a rarity of talent. It’s also rare that we struggle to muster an appropriate comparison to better-known musical greats in order to put a band’s music in context. But, if we must: Imagine the low notes of Fionna Apple done right, the high notes of Rachael Yamagata layered over the equally excellent piano, all wrapped up in the musical aura of an early Tori Amos.
The Midnight Show is Joanna Erdos (vocals + piano), Jesse Krakow (bass + vocals), and Kevin March (drums + vocals).
Their ridiculously good self-titled debut album is available for the ridiculously low price of $8.91 on iTunes — so start practicing that “best indie band you’ve never heard” spiel for your next dinner party.
Salt mines, German sanatoriums, and how a social media rescue mission saved one lovable photographic underdog.
By Maria Popova
Print is dying. You hear it everywhere. And over the past couple of years, a number of excellent publications have indeed folded. (Business 2.0 and JANE, we’re looking at you.) But the latest title to be kicked into a publishing coma, JPG Magazine, ended up as a weird ray of light for the relationship between traditional and new media.
Here’s the story in a nutshell.
In 2005, husband and wife duo Heather Champ and Derek Powazek set out to found a magazine where the content was completely user-created and voted on by other users, so that the best of the best ends up in the print publication. (Published photos receive $100 to stash with their pride and glory.) A truly democratic magazine, if you will.
A magazine that brought us the alphabet in the sky…
…and the aerial wonder (yep, we’re going at it again) of Utah’s salt mines…
…and the beautiful decay of an early 20th century German sanatorium.
Unsurprisingly, JPG amassed a significant base of dedicated loyalists over the years — people passionate about both photography and the idea of an inclusive arena for photographic excellence open to more than just the handful of professional photographers circulating all the other photo pubs. A place for up-and-coming talent to truly showcase their work.
But in late 2008, something left JPG supporters utterly distraught: Editor Laura Brunow Miler announced the magazine was folding under the pressure of funding.
That’s when the social media rescue mission started. Supporters quickly launched SaveJPG.com and unleashed a flurry of Twitter and Flickr buzz that eventually landed JPG several big-time acquisition offers. As a result, the magazine was resurrected and just launched into a new future with the latest issue, appropriately titled Faith.
And while we love a good underdog story as much as the next guy, we must admit there was one wonderful upside to the temporary downside of JPG’s existence: One motivated fan, Derek Steen, put together a comprehensive PDF archive of every JPG issue ever published — 223.4MB of free goodness — so grab yours and start catching up, or head over to the Faith issue and see what all the fuss was about.
What Dostoevsky has to do with sausage art and bicycles.
By Maria Popova
Today, we’re looking at that weird limbo of Russian heritage between the cultural zenith of the Dostoevsky era and the nadir of Russia’s current status as the Gas Grinch – namely, vintage Russian ads, the intersection of art and commerce.
From tobacco to tailoring, the collection speaks to a striking resemblance between the cultural valuables of Russian society and those of the Western world circa early 20th century, debunking the whole “us vs. them” notion of lack of cultural common ground.
And while much of the typography and illustration appear to… ahem… “borrow” from their Western brethren, we notice some surprisingly sophisticated techniques rarely seen in Western vintage ads — such as this perspective treatment of type:
But before we get too caught up in the cultural common tangents here, let’s not forget the other side of the whole Soviet-American relationship, clearly and stride-stoppingly revealed in the Soviet propaganda of the day.
We encourage you to play around with English Russia, the second most addictive source of relentless amusement we’ve discovered last year.
How much a $4.99 radio actually costs and what 7 football fields are doing in the Amazon jungle.
By Maria Popova
If you think you “get” the concept of sustainability, are you willing to bet your favorite gadget on it? Let’s start with an easier question: Do you know where that gadget came from and how?
Instigator Annie Leonard spent 10 years traveling the world, tracking where our stuff comes from and where it ends up — essentially dissecting our “materials economy” to reveal the very real crisis it’s in. She then partnered with a couple of sustainability advocacy groups to produce The Story of Stuff— a part-educational, part-revelational, part-mobilizing 20-minute film that sucks you in, preconceived notions of sustainability and all, and hurls you into the nitty-gritty of it, all through delightful animation and a refreshingly fast pace.
The film reveals the fundamental brokenness of our consumption model — we’re using a linear production-consumption-disposal system, but running a linear system on a finite planet is, well, ludicrous.
Without stealing too much of the film’s thunder, we’ll just say that it busts a number of sustainability myths that even the most eco-conscious of us hold, pushing us to delve far deeper into the issue than the superficial nature of the “green” fad. (Hint: Recycling doesn’t help nearly as much as you’d like to think, so stop buying those I Heart Recycling shirts.)
The Story of Stuff explores issues of government and corporations as they relate to sustainability, probes political, cultural and commercial principles of consumerism, and really makes us question how it’s possible for RadioShack to sell a radio for the laughable price of $4.99, which doesn’t even pay for shelf space.
For us, the pinnacle of how deformed our culture is came from a quote of the famous post-war economist Victor Lebow’s frightening advice to the Eisenhower administration:
It’s not surprising, then, that we live in a world economy where those who don’t own or buy a lot of stuff simply don’t have value. Which explains why the Third World is being exploited, why natural resources are being pillaged from those who have inhabited them for generations, why that capitalist sense of entitlement is really humanity’s greatest downfall.
The film ends on a hopeful note, suggesting a more realistic solution in a new system based on sustainability and equity, where millions of us intervene with small contributions all along the system, so that our cumulative impact makes a real, tangible, literally world-changing difference.
And it all starts with seeing the big picture like you’ve never seen it before.
So go ahead, see. The Story of Stuffis easily the best thing you’ll do for your global citizen conscience this year.