ZYZZYVA Staff Recommends April 2022: What to Watch, Read, & Listen To


Our monthly Staff Recommends column took a little time off as we ushered in 2022 (…did you miss us?). But we’re back with our regular dose of book and music recommendations, and more. So without further adieu:

Shelby Hinte, Intern: I was raised by a Texas vet and a Colorado Rockies free spirit, both of whom were raised on Southern rock and old school country. Dolly, George, Willie, and Garth were household names, as were Wynonna, Reba, Brooks and Dunn. The soundtrack of my youth was a Southern twang filled with hard living, harder drinking, and heartache—music about small towns, lovers torn apart, and cowboys. Despite my affinity for country music and its presence in the New Mexico desert where I grew up, there was a clear disconnect between the landscapes of its lyrics and the one where I resided.

As I got older and moved to California, my music tastes gravitated toward bands that have been described as distinctly “West Coast”—Dead Moon, Thee Oh Sees, Best Coast, The Frights, etc. Still, a soft spot remains in my heart for country, rockabilly, and anything with a steel guitar and sense of story. I’ve long sought a perfect combination of my musical tastes and have yet to find it until now. Jenny Don’t And The Spurs might finally be the music I have been searching for since childhood. Their 2021 album Fire On The Ridge sounds about as old-school country western as you can get—songs about vagabonds, wide open spaces, and emotional turmoil—but it has a uniquely West Coast aesthetic that speaks to the deserts of the southwest. This seems fitting considering lead singer Jenny Don’t, who previously fronted the Portland punk band Don’t, is from rural Washington and has family in New Mexico. “California Cowboy” is an undoubtably fresh take on cowboy love songs of yonder years and shows that the band is anything but derivative. It opens with a classic boot-scootin’ guitar riff and is followed by vocals reminiscent of the Shangri-las. It’s a surprising mashup that appeals to both my desert nostalgia and California sensibility.

I don’t want no California cowboy makin’ me cry

Tellin‘ me that I’m the one he loves

Then leavin’ me as blue as the sky

Jenny Don’t And The Spurs initially formed as a trio in 2012 (consisting of Jenny Don’t, Kelly Halliburton, and Sam Henry), but in 2017, guitarist Christopher March joined the band and they’ve been a quartet ever since. Fire On The Ridge is by far their most Honky-Tonk album to date and is far from the “Cabo-Country” fogging up the radio airwaves these days. Songs like “Train Ticket” and “Trouble on My Mind” are less than 2 minutes long and hit like a surge of adrenaline. The album’s up-tempo sound and vibrant vocals harken back to punk rock roots, but the steel guitar and emotionally wrought lyrics feel solidly country.

As a whole, Fire On The Ridge is full of tracks that make you want to move, the kind that are easy to imagine playing in dim-lit country bars and rodeos, but they are underscored by more subtly ardent tracks like the title track. My favorite song on the album, “Friday Night,” feels especially dynamic and reminds me of Patsy Cline meets Shannon And The Clams. Jenny’s voice is that familiar classic country wail that has been pulling at my heartstrings since as long as I can remember being moved by music.

It’s Friday night again
I’ll be here with what might have been
If I had gone to let you know
I dream about you and I love you so

Fire On The Ridge is everything I look for in an album—guitars that sound like heartbreak and lyrics that evoke hopeless, desperate yearning.

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Chiara Bercu, Intern: I found Adrian Room’s Dictionary of Contrasting Pairs in an eBay wormhole sometime last year, and it became an immediate favorite. The 300-page hardcover is a creative assemblage of over 1,000 word pairings—terms pulled from shipbuilding, plant anatomy, Etruscan mathematics, javelin throw, kitting patterns, ornithology. Room’s many reference books include dictionaries of pseudonyms, Russian placenames, confusable words, “cryptic crossword clues,” and true etymologies. I recently ordered more of his books (also via eBay), and the Dictionary of Contrasting Pairs is still my favorite so far. Its entries attest to the breadth of Room’s toponymical/etymological interest: “eccentric/concentric,” “Lagting/Odelsting,” “shall//will,” “cherubim/seraphim,” “first/last,” “zero/infinity,” “whisky/whiskey,” “Eros/Thanatos,” “simple vow/solemn vow.” Room mentions in his bibliography that he was worried listing all of his references would “look all too much like an exercise in academic self-aggrandizement,” so we’re left to wonder about the selection and sourcing of the word pairs included. There are illustrations paired with some of them, including drawings of a hare, a monoplane, and a “mackerel sky,” which are meant to “aid in the clarification of essential differences.” If alt lexicography sounds interesting to you, this is a fun book to read through or open at random. From his note on “question mark/exclamation point”: “The former requires information; the latter vigorously supplies it.”

Supriya Saxena, Intern: Going into the movie Stoker (2013), I had only one question: is this a vampire story? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, but after viewing the film, I’ve come to a conclusion that satisfies me. Stoker is not a story about vampires, but it is a story about predators. It’s about what happens when the prey becomes the predator, and vice versa. 

The film follows a peculiar teenage girl named India Stoker whose father was killed in a car accident on her eighteenth birthday. This sudden death in the family has brought her father’s brother, the mysterious and charming uncle Charlie, to live with her and her mother Evelyn. There’s an immediate pull between India and Charlie, even as Charlie begins seducing Evelyn, and it’s a bond that frightens India as much as it intrigues her. Through witnessing Charlie’s monstrous deeds, India becomes more aware of her own capacity and hunger for violence. 

The huge, secluded family mansion helps to give the film a Gothic feel, as does the sense of the old-fashioned that permeates the film, presenting itself through the ways in which the characters dress and speak to each other. Though the film takes place in the present-day, it feels older. Thus, the surname “Stoker” and the fixation on murder (and how it connects to sexuality) evoke past vampire films and stories. The film seems conscious of this association and toys with it, particularly in a scene in which India uses a sharpened pencil almost like a wooden stake to defend herself against a bully. 

Stoker chooses to explore where the desire to commit senseless violence and murder arises from, and how these taboo acts can be seductive. This desire is something that India and her uncle share. It’s a powerful need, a compulsion even, and once India finally gives in, it proves difficult for her to resist. India’s newfound lust for killing is of course linked to her burgeoning sexuality, and it’s disturbing to watch Charlie manipulate both. 

Stoker is visually breathtaking; the best thing about this film may well be the way it looks. This film is Oldboy director Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut, and his work is stunning. The directing and editing provide insight into India’s mental and emotional state, which is helpful since she is such a withdrawn character. The directing and cinematography are often clever, even playful—there’s one shot of India on a merry-go-round that stands out—yet they are also capable of creating an overwhelming sense of suspense and dread. Plot elements of the film that might seem trite are instead elevated and made fresh simply by the way they’re rendered visually. 

I’m a sucker for stories about girls who become predators and use their viciousness to claim agency over their lives, so of course I loved this film. None of what it’s saying is particularly new, exactly, but it combines familiar horror movie elements in a way that’s both intriguing and pleasing. The sexual tension between Uncle Charlie and the Stoker women is particularly upsetting but captivating in its wrongness. Rarely does a movie make you enjoy feeling so uncomfortable.

Zack Ravas, Assistant Editor: You might say there are two kinds of music listeners in the world: those who delight in breaking down and detailing the subtle but meaningful distinctions between similar genres such as shoegaze, dream pop, and noise rock…and those people who roll their eyes at the mere mention of a term like “shoegaze.”

Well, consider this a recommendation primarily for those who fall in the former camp (guilty!). Like many, my listening habits grown exponentially during the last two years, and my desire to catalog and keep track of said habits eventually led me to my new favorite corner of the internet: deceptively simple name aside, RateYourMusic.Com has come to be an invaluable resource during my pandemic listening experience. As you’d expect of any social website, it offers the ability to maintain your own profile and rate your favorite albums or tracks—but that’s merely scratching the surface of what the site offers.

The real treasure of RateYourMusic is its exhaustive ranking features, which allow the user to generate custom lists for any genre or year they desire. Curious about the Top Shoegaze albums of the 1990’s as ranked by the nearly 700,000 users of the website? It’s a few keyboard strikes away. Same goes for the Top Jangle Pop albums of the 1980’s or the Top Lo-Fi/Slacker Rock albums of the 2010’s or…well, you get the idea. (Other appreciated features: the ability to remove albums you’ve already rated from said lists, as well as modify the list to reflect the tastes of the users you follow). And the features don’t stop there: if you’re in the mood for music that’s been described as, say, ‘melancholy,’ ‘nostalgic,’ and/or ‘ethereal,’ it’s just as easy to pull up a ranked list of albums that satisfy this requirement as well.

And since RateYourMusic was created in 2000 by Hossein Sharifi, its massive database is able to draw on two decades worth of ratings and reviews from music experts—or, you know, the people who suddenly transform into music experts when they sit down at their keyboard (guilty!). Whether you’re on the hunt for a Gen Z thinkpiece about why vaporwave is the most underrated genre or you just want to keep tabs on Friday’s new releases to music streaming platforms, this is one of those websites that can threaten to turn a lazy afternoon into a succession of hyperlink rabbitholes. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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