Cover detail of SZA’s Ctrl (RCA Records)

The album to listen to

SZA, Ctrl

Ctrl is one of the best R&B albums of 2017, and it would’ve been one of the best in 2015 or 2016, too. It’s clear in the opening moments that it’s not merely a continuation of SZA’s previous records but an evolution; no longer is she hiding in the reverb behind dense swirls of ambient synthesizers and immaculately suggestive samples. Instead, from the album’s opening moments, she reveals herself to be a vocalist of startling confidence and emotional range. Opener ‘Supermodel’ features more vocal pyrotechnics than in all three of her previous albums combined, a three-minute sketch of minimalist, muffled guitar strums that sets an unadorned stage for SZA to hit a clarion high note while dissing her ex-dude’s new girl. From there, she dives into unfussy self-reflection—‘Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine’s Day? / Why am I so easy to forget like that?’—and confesses, ‘Let me tell you a secret: I been banging your homeboy.’ Previous records felt like a look-book, an exercise in curation. This is something else.”
Read the rest of our review here.

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The comic to read

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Assorted writers and artists, Wonder Woman Annual #1

“In Wonder Woman Annual #1 (DC), four very different teams deliver a lot of story for a double-sized issue. There isn’t a better way to introduce readers to Wonder Woman than a single showcase that introduces Diana as nuanced and heroic as she’s meant to be, by turns vengeful and gentle. All four stories show a different side of a character that often represents the best of what humans have to offer the world, even if she’s not technically one of their own. The strength of this book makes it a must-read for long-time fans and new readers alike, especially those still riding high on the movie.”
Read the rest of our review here.


The show to watch

Oh, Hello On Broadway

Oh, Hello is more than just Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland’s (John Mulaney) basest instincts—it’s also their professional jealousies, their selective memories, their wont for foisting massive deli sandwiches on ‘unsuspecting’ guests. It’s all informed by the stars’ affection for and knowledge of odd cultural corners, like the true-crime obsession that often comes out in Mulaney’s stand-up, or the rat-a-tat Theater 101 class that wends its way through Oh, Hello’s introductory portions. On a set they claim to have cobbled together with cast-offs from a Steel Magnolias revival, an unnamed August Wilson play, and The Cosby Show, Gil and George run through the classics of dramaturgy: The one-sided phone call, yelling, and light-dimming exit lines of ‘mild significance.’ (‘You know, looking back, my father was a poor man. But in the end, he gave us the greatest gift of all: a 1997 Toyota Tercel.’) Addressing the Lyceum, the characters identify the Venn diagram of at-home audiences that will keep Oh, Hello On Broadway in heavy rotation: ‘A collection of comedy nerds, theater dorks, and children whose parents have made a severe miscalculation.’ The special will enjoy an unlimited engagement in the corners of high school drama-club parties where no one is making out, playing to an audience of the tech crew and the four cast members who lobby to do Spamalot every fall. They’ll love it, and they should.”
Read the rest of our review here.

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The movie to watch

Harmonium

“The questions hang like ominous storm clouds over the placid opening stretch of this heavy Japanese drama, which reiterates a common, cynical lesson from the noir bible: When the past comes knocking, trouble comes with it. The first film by writer-director Kôji Fukada (Hospitalité) to open theatrically in America, one year after it won a major prize at Cannes, Harmonium lurches toward a crucible of consequence, like a roller-coaster slowly climbing and climbing before the sharp plummet at the top. Yet beyond the suffocating inevitability, the film is also unpredictable, both in the fatalistic progression of its story (let’s just say that there’s a rather dramatic leap in time) and in the behavior of the characters driving it. When someone casually threatens to kill someone else late in the movie, the gut-churning charge of the moment is that we have no real idea if they mean it.”
Read the rest of our review here.

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The video game to play

Arms

Arms is the purest fighting game in ages. Like Splatoon, the company’s stylish reworking of competitive shooters, Nintendo’s newest game takes a long-established genre, shaves it down to its essentials, and rebuilds it in a friendly, pristine form. Long after the short-lived fun of jumping into the game and swinging away with the Switch’s impressive motion controls has faded, those who look deeper will unearth a simple yet satisfying engine for the kind of mind-game-filled competition that’s central to even the most complex of its big brothers.”
Read the rest of our review here.

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The podcast to listen to

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Spontaneanation, “Labyrinth (with Kristian Bruun, Janet Varney, Shaun Diston, and Stephanie Courtney)

“Sometimes the podcasting stars align for a special episode, with all the right ingredients coming together to assemble an instant classic—in this case, a Spontaneanation that will be regarded by many as one of the must-listen installments of the show. The hall-of-fame episode, ‘Labyrinth,’ features cross-podcast fan favorite Kristian Bruun as a special guest, and with a solid group of improvisers comprising Janet Varney, Shaun Diston, and Stephanie Courtney, there’s never a dull moment all the way up to the end. Bruun is a likable and compelling storyteller as he describes his worst encounter with a stranger, a wild anecdote that exceeds the usual time dedicated to the interview portion of the show. It’s clear the improvisers are having a great time listening to his tale, and that same joyous energy is carried through the rest of the episode.”
Read about the rest of the week’s best podcasts here.