NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick look at worthwhile releases, some recent, some not.

The Legend Of Korra
Spin-offs and sequels don’t have the greatest reputation in the entertainment world, often because they take what was fresh and fun about the original and drive it into the ground. Nickelodeon’s The Legend Of Korra is both a spin-off and a sequel, but it still feels exciting and essential. The series is a very, very loose spin-off of Avatar: The Last Airbender, taking place several decades after that show, whose characters have more or less passed into legend. Its protagonist, Korra, is the best reason to watch, since she offers an excellent role model for young girls while still having enough personality and character to avoid being a bland exemplar of perfection. Here, she continues her quest to become an Avatar (someone who knows all four schools of “bending”) and avoid the threat of the anti-bending faction, the Equalists. All of this may sound complicated, but it’s easy enough to watch Korra without having seen the series it spun off from. And even if one can’t quite get into the story, there’s more than enough to be enjoyed in terms of its visual aesthetic, which pops beautifully on the new Blu-ray of season one. Catch up now, before season two begins in September. [Todd VanDerWerff]


The Hoosier Mama Book Of Pie: Recipes, Techniques, And Wisdom From The Hoosier Mama Pie Company
I’m no stranger to the world of pie making, with my specialty being a lovely pineapple sour cream with a meringue on top. I’ve always dreamed of opening a pie business, but the idea of making crust after crust every single day seems a little daunting. Fortunately, just down the street from my house and The A.V. Club office is the best little pie store, Hoosier Mama Pie Company. Paula Haney, the owner, just put out a massive cookbook with her recipes—The Hoosier Mama Book Of Pie—and it’s something very special. The almost-400-page tome details Hoosier Mama’s opening and development, as well as Haney’s recipes for everything from crust to biscuits to custard fillings. The photos make everything look delicious and, to the above-average baker, everything seems relatively easy to execute. I haven’t actually made anything from the cookbook yet, but I’m already sure I’ll be buying copies for my mom and grandma come Christmastime, and bringing pies to the office fairly soon. [Marah Eakin]

Sundials, Always Whatever
Sundials’ previously unreleased songs and B-sides don’t just rival the ones on their studio records; they come close to topping them. The Virginia band’s sophomore album, When I Couldn’t Breathe, saw it join the roster of Asian Man Records, a label that has long been a tastemaker in the pop-punk community, and it feels as if Sundials is channeling all the traits of Asian Man’s greats. Always Whatever pays further homage to the label’s past as the artwork mimics that of Alkaline Trio’s self-titled collection. (The band’s name is a reference to a song from the Trio’s first single, too.) At 15 tracks it would be easy for Always Whatever to suffer from bloat, but it flows nicely from beginning to end, never hinting that these songs were culled from various disparate releases. It avoids predictability, veering into Superchunk territory on occasion, but is never far from anthemic choruses. Though the members of Sundials certainly look to punk’s past for influence, they don’t get stuck there, and Always Whatever is all the better for it. [David Anthony]


Football Etc., Audible
Houston-based indie-rock trio Football, Etc. should more than fill the hole in any Rilo Kiley fan’s heart. Based on its name and point of origin in the football state, the band could come off as a gimmick. Nearly every song it’s released in the past four years ties back to football in some way—“Touchdown (Dance),” “Lambeau Leap,” and “Extra Point.” But the new Audible—out now from Fenton, Michigan label Count Your Lucky Stars—is the trio’s great leap forward and one of the best albums of this year. It’s the straightforward emo-rock album Rilo Kiley never made, a lost spiritual cousin of The Execution Of All Things. Singer-guitarist Lindsay Minton expresses the depth of emotion that Jenny Lewis does without as much of the fragility or seduction, and with the focus on lilting guitar melodies that pair with her floating vocals. Bassist Mercy Harper and new drummer Edward Reisner form a tight rhythm section on standouts like “Forfeit” and “Red Zone,” and though the songs don’t actually have much to do with football, it’s still a nice unifying theme. [Kevin McFarland]