Staff Picks: Kendrick, Cardi Covers, and Cautionary Tales


This Week’s Reading

Photo: Elise Swain, The Intercept.


I thought radio plays went the way of rabbit-ear antennae, but this week I listened to an audio drama of Evening at the Talk House, adapted from Wallace Shawn’s 2015 stage play. The Intercept is presenting it as part of their podcast, in three thirty-some-minute episodes. The play opens as a group of actors and writers gather on the tenth anniversary of a play on which most worked; the setting is the Talk House, a once popular, now failing watering hole for the theater set. In the intervening decade, individual fortunes have shifted, in some cases radically. But as the conversation unfolds, we come to understand that the time in which the play is set is not quite our own: there is talk of everyday citizens, these players included, “targeting” foreign individuals who “would like to harm us”—that is, a government-sponsored program of murdering strangers because there is the vague possibility they don’t like us. Much more is revealed about this fascist state of affairs, but I don’t want to spoil it. In his review of the 2017 Broadway staging, Ben Brantley lamented that as a group portrait and in its clubby atmosphere, the play allowed the audience some distance from the “grim, all-implicating ironies.” But listening to the characters expose massive moral and ethical failings and then seek to relieve their guilt by implicating each other collapsed any distance between the players and me; I was overhearing a disturbing conversation to which I could offer no rejoinder. And my silence felt like complicity. —Nicole Rudick 



When I was very little, and for a long time, I insisted I would be a paleontologist when I grew up. As an adult, I’ve done nothing at all to satisfy this childhood assertion except read Steve Brusatte’s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, which comes out next week. My personal and thorough failure to follow a fairly simple dream is a bit of a sore spot for me, so it’s lucky that Brusatte is unrelentingly kind in tone and generous in description, explaining enough so that the reader (this humanities B.A.) understands the subject (dinosaurs) to the best of their (my) ability, without overburdening them (me) with the hard stuff. Brusatte is not shy to say, We don’t know, and his memoirlike writing is silly and lovable, making for one big adventure. —Eleanor Pritchett

When I’m living away from home, I take comfort in reading Scottish voices. For my recent move to New York, that meant revisiting a favorite collection of poetry: Tom Pow’s Rough Seas, published in 1987. This debut from one of Scotland’s dearest living poets owes a lot to this city—the last section is entirely devoted to his time here—though it’s his formative experiences in Scotland that first tell us how our poet sees the world and how often the quiet sadness of life accompanies its joys. About love, in particular, Pow has always written plainly, handsomely, and without sentimentality; he is alive to love’s contradictions and to the flaws of lovers. Rough Seas is an attempt to reconcile love with its imperfections. That reconciliation is a tense one; uncertainty lingers, and there’s an ever-present fear it might be “as easy to believe we never really / loved each other as that / we ever did.” A few years have passed since Rough Seas, and Pow’s recent work suggests a poet better harmonized with life’s inconsistencies. The voice has aged, calmed, and grown surer. It suits him, and the poems in his most recent chapbook, the wonderful At the Well of Love, count among his best. From Rough Seas, read his poem about the New York Natural History Museum, visit the elephants he describes in one of the darkened halls there, and remember the quiet sadness he communicates through them. Remember, too, the quiet joy that their sadness promises. —Robin Jones

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a new podcast and am now an addict. Art Law tells truly unexpected stories. So far, there are only three episodes, but I’ve already learned that forgery artists who have cats are easier to catch, real-estate developers are sometimes foiled by graffiti artists, and not all museums can be counted on to preserve, well, the art. Both hosts, Steve Schindler and Katie Wilson-Milne, lawyers at Schindler, Cohen, & Hochman (the firm which sponsors the podcast), are gifted with the ability to spin a really good yarn. SC&H is a boutique firm that addresses, among other things, legal issues in transactions and litigations in the art world. For those of us who are obsessed with the art market, this intersection between law and art is fertile ground. Existing episodes include: “Moral Rights in Street Art: The 5Pointz Story,” “What Can Science Tell Us About Art,” and “Can A Museum Sell Your Art: The Berkshire Museum Saga As a Cautionary Tale.” I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the next. —Claire Williams Martinez



For a drummer, keeping time to recordings is part of how you practice. It’s frustrating when you get ahead or behind the song, but when you lock in, it’s much more fun than practicing to a metronome. That said, I never thought that watching some random drummer play along to recordings would be entertaining. That was before I stumbled upon the Pocket Queen. In the first—and maybe still the most mind-blowing—video I watched, the Pocket Queen plays along to Outkast’s cover of “My Favorite Things.” I also recommend her performance of the other Love Below track “Spread” and Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” The Pocket Queen’s civilian name is Taylor Gordon. She’s New Orleans–born, Los Angeles–based. What I love about her videos is not just how she makes it look so easy but how she literally watches you watch her: she’s always grinning into the camera—as if her technical skill and general awesomeness were so extreme she might start laughing. Recently, she partnered with Sunhouse, a company that makes sensors that go on drumheads and trigger samples from a laptop—meaning that she now has the unholy power to remix Cardi B with her drum set. Years after Moe Tucker, Sheila E., and Sandy West from the Runaways, drumming is still a male-dominated profession. The Pocket Queen is shattering the clear plastic drum shield, and for now, she is still under the radar enough that you can actually take drum lessons from her and contribute to her Patreon page. This era will not last forever. I’d get in her good graces pronto. —Brent Katz

Shooting an entire movie on an iPhone might seem like a gimmick, but it becomes clear, minutes into Steven Soderbergh’s new phone-filmed thriller, Unsane, that the director is playing a very conscious game. Unsane is the story of a young professional (Claire Foy) who, paranoid and traumatized by a stalker, unwittingly lands herself in a mental hospital, where she becomes convinced that her stalker has gotten a job as one of the orderlies. But the story is almost beside the point. What Soderbergh really seems interested in is the iPhone itself and its formal relation to the viewer. In most videos shot with an iPhone—street scenes, vlogs, tutorials—the person filming and the camera itself are acknowledged elements of the scene. Both are corporeally present, whereas in most professional films the presence of the physical camera is hidden, moving about like a transparent eye, and the maker’s hand is felt primarily as an abstraction, in editing patterns and shot composition. As a result, the early conventional scenes of Unsane are made strange and ominous by virtue of the medium—seeing an iPhone video, the viewer instinctively intuits that the camera, and a watcher behind it, are present. Paranoia is inherent. A slightly fish-eye shot of Claire Foy on the phone feels less like a film shot and more like surveillance footage. The overarching mystery of the film—is she delusional?—is resolved surprisingly early, but the tension does not abate, for the real tension is formal. An amorphous dread lingers like smog: as our worry for the protagonist’s sanity abates, the paranoia of the medium persists. Whether or not we, the audience, have a grasp on reality becomes the queasy, thrilling question. —Matt Levin

Kendrick Lamar received the Pulitzer Prize in Music this week for his album DAMN. He should have received it in 2012 for his song “Cartoons and Cereal.” —Brian Ransom