A brilliant art book, three terrific albums, and a must-have iPhone gadget

A brilliant art book, three terrific albums, and a must-have iPhone gadget

NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at five essential releases, some recent, some not.

Ursus Wehrli, The Art Of Clean Up: Life Made Neat And Tidy 
Bios of Ursus Wehrli typically describe him as a Swiss comedian and “cabaret artist” rather than a photographer or fine artist, which helps explain the tongue-in-cheek nature of his “clean-up” series. His 2003 book Tidying Up Art broke down and stacked the elements of paintings by Keith Haring, Paul Klee, René Magritte, Vincent van Gogh, and others, making them “more organized and more efficient.” (His 2006 TED talk about it is essentially a dry, straight-faced comic routine.) His new photo collection, The Art Of Clean Up, follows suit with before-and-after images of alphabet soup organized in alphabetical order, a fir branch broken down into stacked component branches and needles, a starry sky organized into a grid, a ball pit sorted by color, a field full of sunbathers and their accessories sorted into similar lines, and more. There’s a cumulative humor to these bright, sharp photographs, and a deep puckish cleverness in Wehrli’s choices. It’s the rare art book that provokes laughs, while still earning admiration for color and composition; it’s funny and beautiful. [Tasha Robinson]

Rhye, Woman 
As noted in pretty much every review of Rhye’s debut, Woman—including this one!—Rhye sounds like Sade. But when has sounding like Sade ever been a bad thing? Also, Rhye is totally a man, baby! Or rather, two of them, Robin Hannibal and Mike Milosh, the latter of whom contributes the sensual, otherworldly vocals that earn the group its main comparison. (Initial reviews, based on the early singles “Open” and “The Fall,” which the duo released anonymously, assumed Milosh was a “chanteuse.”) Woman is an achingly romantic, sentimental album of love songs that never cross the line into syrupy or saccharine, thanks to the spare production and the gender ambiguity provided by the combination of Milosh’s voice and the album’s subject matter. Woman slots in nicely next to Jessie Ware’s Devotion, one of my favorite albums of last year (and another one that earned a bunch of Sade comparisons), though it’s a little woozier and dreamier, great for zoning out and floating away on your own personal bliss-cloud. [Genevieve Koski]

Blue Hawaii, Untogether 
Lumped into the same arty electronic Canadian scene as Purity Ring and Grimes, and boasting a name with connotations of bad Elvis movies, Blue Hawaii seems generic enough that people might, in clear defiance of this feature, consider the group optional. Honestly, given my ambivalence toward much of that scene, I was uncertain what I particularly liked about Blue Hawaii until I finally saw it at SXSW, and personally witnessed Raphaelle Standell-Preston (also of Braids) and partner Alexander Cowan creating their complex layering of clipped beats and cavernous wails. The duo’s recent debut, Untogether, is a haunting yet often cold affair, with Standell-Preston’s dreamy vocals chopped and stretched until they’re almost indistinguishable from the surrounding synthesizers. Fans of the hypnotically repetitive vocal manipulations created by Steve Reich or Nico Muhly may love it, while others will just find it arch or even frustrating. But live, those push-and-pull tendencies fall away for a far more straightforward, yet still totally left-field dance party that, to my ears, makes them more interesting than their contemporaries and suggests the band is well worth getting in on the ground floor with. At least check out the single “Try To Be” and see if you can get it out of your head. I couldn’t. [Sean O’Neal]

Mophie Juice Pack Plus 
I’m horrible at remembering to charge my phone. I wake up regularly to dead batteries, and I get on the bus about once a week stoked to listen to podcasts, only to discover I have about a 5 percent charge on my iPhone. That’s why when I saw a friend’s Mophie case at SXSW last week, I knew I had to get one. At $100, they aren’t cheap, but one case holds 120 percent charge, meaning you can let your phone drain almost all the way down not once, but twice without having to find a charger. I got the orange-and-grey combination, and I’ve been happy with its appearance as well as its performance. It’s a handsome, hefty little case, and should save my butt more than once during festival season this summer. [Marah Eakin]

Divine Fits, A Thing Called Divine Fits 
The debut album from this supergroup—featuring the twin songwriting talents of Spoon’s Britt Daniel and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner—went from optional-ish to not optional for me after a great show at South By Southwest, which was fast and tight in all the right ways. In spite of a weird crowd, the singers brought out the greatness in the songs from A Thing Called Divine Fits, particularly the snarling “Would That Not Be Nice.” I’m not sure why Daniel sings, “I wish I was in Minneapolis,” but it makes me want to head up there, too. The album didn’t seem to get much play, even from the large fan bases that Spoon and Wolf Parade both have. Don’t make the same mistake the fans are making. [Josh Modell]

Filed Under: Books

More NOT OPTIONAL