Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations.
Universe: Exploring The Astronomical World seems like two separate books at first blush. Half the pages feature dazzling high-resolution photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope. The other half are works of art—abstracts, Warhol prints, installations, papyrus diagrams—depicting how humans view the cosmos. Together it offers a captivating dynamic, a thought-provoking assemblage of worlds literal and imagined, all in a museum-gift-shop-worthy hardcover destined for your coffee table. [Kevin Pang]
There are a billion stories out there waiting to shame you for the amount that you use or look at your phone, detailing the way our cultural smartphone addiction has deformed our bodies and caused us to lose sleep and destroyed an entire generation of children. You probably see those headlines and keep moving with your day, as well you should. But they do get at an underlying truth that we can sort of feel innately—which is, despite all the positives these devices bring into our lives (remember driving before them?), they can suck a little too much of our attention. Awhile ago I switched my phone to Do Not Disturb—it’s the little crescent-moon icon on your iPhone’s flip-up menu—and have never turned back. Sure, I’ve missed a few calls from delivery people, but they eventually showed up, and the other 99.9 percent of my life has been blissfully free from the information that someone followed me on Instagram or got bored at work and started texting me about their hangover. And once you accept the glory of this less intrusive relationship with your phone, you can just keep going, shutting off all push notifications and badges, muting all the helpful auto logins, even removing the social networks on there so you can only log in via browser. I hide the thing in a drawer when I get home from work. All of this leads, inevitably, to living in a yurt and drinking purified rainwater, but start, for now, by just choosing Do Not Disturb and feeling the bliss wash over you. [Clayton Purdom]
The Blow, Brand New Abyss
Minimalist and simplistic electronic pop isn’t usually my bag, but I’ve always had a soft spot for The Blow, a.k.a. Khaela Maricich, whose plainspoken but honeyed voice is matched to an ever-evolving assemblage of bleeps and bloops. From her early lo-fi days on through the relatively accomplished production values of her eponymous 2013 record, the formula has remained the same, even if the accompanying sounds have slowly changed. While my favorite records remain her collaborations with Jona Bechtolt—2006’s Paper Television and 2007’s Poor Aim: Love Songs—her new album, Brand New Abyss, is a great addition to the discography. Maricich, along with Melissa Dyne, has constructed an engaging new edifice of synths, drum machines, and samplers, maintaining the homespun quality of her music while adding a more organic feel to the inorganic sounds. “Let’s be real: Every broken heart song I ever wrote was about you,” she sings, which is about as perfect a distillation of a Blow line as she’s had in years. The record is dreamy and languorous, with drawn-out songs and more expansive vistas for her to deliver those sing-speak lyrics, forever split between nakedly confessional and elegantly abstract. Sure, there’s no instant pop hook à la “Pile Of Gold,” but if an album this inviting is the trade-off, that’s fine. (As is her oddball take on Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love Of All.”) [Alex McLevy]