Oh thank heaven! Friendmendations #7

that's a 7/11 commercial reference

Hello. Good morning. What a weekend we’ve all had. The Lizzie McGuire reboot has been confirmed, and it is time for me (author of the blog Lizzie McGuire Reviewed) to devote myself to finding a way to work on it.

Until then, I have recommendations!

Excellence in acting
Book!

I loved Lauren Wilkinson’s American Spy from its first line: “I unlocked the safe beneath my desk, grabbed my old service automatic, and crept toward my bedroom doorway, stealthy until I was brought to grief by a Lego Duplo that stung the sole of my foot.”

The novel centers on Marie Mitchell, a single mother and retired spy reflecting on her time in the CIA during the Cold War. As a black woman trying to work her way up, Marie is underestimated and undermined until she finally gets a chance at a high-profile assignment. The job - like the agency she works for and the country she serves - raises complicated ethical questions. This book is smart and gripping, a soberly realistic take on a glamorized genre.

Let’s talk about design

I’ve read a lot of interesting things about design and image-making lately! The first is not a full rec, just a note of appreciation: I am SO relieved that Petra Collins, an accomplished female photographer, was tasked with shooting Billie Eilish’s Rolling Stone cover. I don’t have a particular affinity for Collins’ work, but her quote that she wanted to do “a literal opposite of what a Britney Spears cover was” makes me so glad that we’ve learned some things about how 17-year-old girls are presented in media in the 20 years since Britney appeared in her underwear as a high school junior for the same magazine.

Onto the real pieces, both interesting glimpses into artistic process. One is a short interview with the designer of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, who was given just two days to come up with it. A longer one is this fascinating reflection on the process of designing a book cover. I wish I knew the novel in question (Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy) but even without any familiarity with it, I still loved seeing the way the artist worked through his ideas to represent a book in one image.

Let’s listen to other people talk about music

This Particular Album is Very, Very Important to Me” is a fun podcast that just started its second season, and one of its upcoming episodes will feature RACHEL BLOOM TALKING ABOUT THE OBC RECORDING OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S ASSASSINS!!!! I want that episode in my ears NOW!

This podcast has a different pace than most - the episodes are long, meandering, joyful nerding-out sessions. I enjoyed and learned a lot from Will Hines discussing Liz Phair’s Exit in Guyville and Drew Droege discussing the B-52s’ Wild Planet, so I recommend those episodes while we wait for Rachel Bloom’s.

A similar podcast is “Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs,” which has essentially the same format without the celebrity guests. My favorite episode is one in which they rank all the songs on The Immaculate Collection because my mom’s love of Madonna made that album one of the major soundtracks of my childhood. Their back catalogue is extensive, so if you like their vibe, you too will probably find an episode devoted to a song or album you feel passionately about.

Let’s listen to me talk about music

Gosh, I love this wistful little jam. I love its sad throwback vibe and all the little details in the lyrics that reveal so much about the narrator. The verses progress through different breakup emotions - nostalgia for the good times, bitterness coming through as personal accusations, and the overall anxiety that he might have let the one get away (“I was nervous that this was as good as I could ever feel/ And I was right.”)

The switch from second person in the verses to third person narration in the chorus, a choice that really bothers me when used sloppily, here creates a distinction between the ways the narrator imagines talking to his ex and the more nakedly truthful confessions to a third party in the chorus. It’s just a terrifically written song, full of really smart songwriting choices like the way the only verse that doesn’t rhyme is when he admits to his own fuck-up and the way the bridge is a question that ends mid-sentence (“If I ever make it to New York/like I told you I would -?”), letting you infer that he knows that they wouldn’t have lasted even if his ex hadn’t moved away.

I checked out this band’s other stuff and it’s okay. I think dialogue samples should be used sparingly lest you risk sounding like watered-down Avalanches, and that’s what happens here when the trick is overused without ever committing to full Frontier Psychiatrist. The songwriting is clever and often acerbic, but with the theme of a crazy ex repeated enough to make me realize that they might just have issues with women. If you want more from them, “Birds Don’t Sing” is fun and catchy in an R2DJ way, and I was amused by “(Do The) Act Like You’ve Never Met Me,” which uses the metaphor of a new dance craze to describe an ex avoiding you in public with enough painful details to keep the lyrics from feeling corny.

That’s all until Wednesday! Tell your friends to subscribe if you like the newsletter. And tell your friends that I should work on the Lizzie McGuire reboot if you’re friends with Hilary Duff or Terry Minsky!