Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations.
There are two clichés you’ll hear trotted out about the virtues of buying music on vinyl. One is that the format somehow sounds “warmer” than digital media; the other is something lofty about the importance of album artwork, which was once prioritized as a fundamental component of the album experience and is all but dead in the era of streaming. A lot of this is horseshit, of course, but it’s nice to come across something that reminds you how those clichés came about in the first place—like, for example, this trio of immaculate re-releases of Isaac Hayes’ best albums. 1969’s Hot Buttered Soul is his indisputable masterwork—four tracks of slow-burning psychedelic soul that still retain their power to shock despite having been sampled ad infinitum over the decades, their trilling strings and firecracker drums clearer than ever in these remasters. (One might even call it “warmer.”) And with 1971’s Black Moses you have one of the great pieces of large-format album artwork, its cover image of Hayes’ face unfolding into a massive and not exactly subtle cross. Hayes was firing on all cylinders at the time—the third item in the re-release is a soundtrack you may’ve heard of called Shaft. The trio is a welcome reminder that, yeah, there’s a reason for vinyl fetishism in the first place, and also that Hayes’ musical legacy far outstrips his South Park-fueled reputation as a schmaltzy loverman. (Although, you know, he did his fair share of that, too.) [Clayton Purdom]
Thor: Ragnarok Ultimate Cinematic Universe Edition
I’m still awash in the afterglow of Black Panther, which feels like the most consummate Marvel movie ever made. I haven’t been this excited about an MCU movie since… well, ever, but Thor: Ragnarok comes pretty close. I’m a huge fan of director Taika Waititi, having praised his previous films What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople in these same digital pages. And Ragnarok certainly seemed tailor-made for me, all irreverence, absurdity, and Hulk smashing. Waititi delivered multiple great buddy comedies, set against astonishing spectacle after astonishing spectacle, but Ragnarok has a surprising amount of heart, too. Along with the rapid-fire jokes and failed, Korg-led insurgencies, there’s a meaningful diasporic story. Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Tessa Thompson all play so well off of each other that it’s almost an inconvenience to add Tom Hiddleston (who’s still the embodiment of smarmy eloquence as Loki). Hela, I want to frame so many stills, including the end credits. The next best thing is owning the Ultimate Cinematic Universe Edition (out March 6), which immediately justifies its existence by being loaded with Jeff Goldblum-centric extras, plus an exclusive short (which I’ve already written about). [Danette Chavez]
If you’ve never read Shelley’s original gothic sci-fi masterpiece, first of all, how did you manage to get through school without tackling it? Second of all, you’ve now got the perfect excuse for giving it a shot. The Classics Reimagined series from Rockport Publishers has issued a new edition of the novel for its 200th anniversary, and it is a thing of beauty. A 256-page hardcover mammoth, it’s chockablock with gorgeous illustrations and artwork throughout, including an eight-page vellum insert that lays out Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrous creation in exquisite detail. It’s like someone made a coffee-table book of Frankenstein-themed art, but then kept it at a manageable size for reading on the subway. It’s the best of both worlds, and I’ve been savoring each page as I go through it again, experiencing a sense of wonder at the language and story that I haven’t felt since the first time I watched the movie. (Well, technically since the first time I saw Young Frankenstein, which quite honestly was my first encounter with the tale, and might still be my favorite version. But this is a very close second.) [Alex McLevy]