Are You There, Readers? It's Me, Ben.
a triumphant return
I started this Substack a year ago, posted thrice, and moved on. Forgive me. I had the best intentions of keeping up with this and planned several posts throughout the year, but *gestures at life* it got away from me.
Newly unemployed, I’m back with a vengeance. What is the vengeance against? My want to share about the things piquing my interest but my terrible habit of perfectionism and fear of being perceived. It’s not a villain that rolls off the tongue easily, but it’s getting kicked either way.
Let’s reacquaint ourselves: General Store, as I envisioned it, is about ruminating on what I’ve paid attention to lately, be that music, books, movies, or more. My posts last year went a little long on single albums, and that’s not necessarily my intent for this space, though I won’t stop it from happening on occasion. I’m relaunching on a smaller scale, showing you—but mainly me—how easygoing the General Store intends to be.
I hope to keep up with this at least biweekly, but as the circumstances of my life change, I can’t make promises. All I can give you is a few notable parts from my week and tip my hat to you in a cool way that signals I hope to see you again soon.
Welcome back to the General Store. We’re open so long as you keep the tab up.
Sudan Archives on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
Sudan Archives’ sophomore album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, was in my top ten of 2022. Here’s what I wrote for my zine:
At the outset of her dazzling album, Brittney Parks, aka Sudan Archives, invites you into the home where she’s been growing plants, “hoping that they’ll thrive around the madness,” and making magic, asking, “Don’t you feel at home when you’re with me?” Although “Home Maker” and other songs give way to self-doubt, she knows and asserts elsewhere that she’s “not average.” The singer and violinist produced most of the album herself, and the songs reach across a wide variety of genre influences to spectacular effect. As she sings to herself on “OMG BRITT,” listeners will “have a fit when they hear this shit.” Across Natural Brown Prom Queen, Parks opens her home for listeners to grow alongside her as she embraces her whole self amidst societal anti-Blackness, industry colorism, and personal conflicts with lovers and friends. As she considers how she’d have to wear her hair to be “good enough” in the eyes of others, she recognizes that it’s “about time I feed myself and soul / time I raise my selfish soul.” This line serves as the album’s thesis, as Parks asserts her independence while also providing a template for others to follow. In the end, she thrives around the madness like she hopes for her plants, and it’s a marvel to listen to the home she’s made for herself.
Sudan Archives was recently on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, violin in hand, which was my first time seeing her perform. I hadn’t initially connected the song “Homesick (Gorgeous and Arrogant)” with the theme of nurturing plants, so I was thrilled to finally hear these lines in the context of the album’s thread: “You want the grass green / I want the whole view.” That’s a deceptively simple line about seeing growth as a fuller process than perfection. I’m holding onto it this year.
I try to savor short stories and not read collections too quickly, but I couldn’t put The Office of Historical Corrections down. Race and gender play a role in each story, with the novella that shares a title with the collection being an absolute must-read. In it, Cassie works for a government agency that offers simple corrections of historical inaccuracies, but when she is sent to Wisconsin to investigate a hate crime that resulted in the alleged death of a Black man in the 1930s, she confronts the tucked-away knowledge that the historical record is only part of the truth. Alongside six stories (my favorite is “Boys Go to Jupiter,” which focuses on a white college student whose thoughtlessness complicates her narrative in an unsettling and compelling POV), Danielle Evans expertly mines racialized and gendered relationships to arrive at something deeper and more complicated than facts.
Broker (directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda)
January is usually a bad month for movie releases, but not so this year. There’s M3GAN, an iconic queer and horror character before the movie even released, and a slew of awards nominees that I love (like Women Talking, an adaptation of a brilliant novel that I reviewed a few years back), but I most recently went to see Broker, which stars Song Kang-ho, best known for Parasite.
The movie centers around a woman, played by Lee Ji-eun, who gives her baby up to an adoption agency only to learn that two men, Song and Gang Dong-won, plan to sell her baby through an illicit market of interested parents. It’s a quiet and funny movie, and it made me think a lot about how we constitute families, both chosen and through blood. Each character brings their own baggage around being children or parents as they consider how lifelong wounds might eventually be healed, and how that has little to do with living in some mythical one right way.
Revisiting TV On The Radio
As zine subscribers can probably tell, I spend a lot of time listening to new music. I like to memorialize a year through its albums, which always bring me back to the particular seasons of my life when they were released. Where last January saw early releases from The Weeknd, Earl Sweatshirt, and FKA twigs, this year has been quiet, at least for me. I’ve finally been listening to albums recommended by friends (shoutout to Nathan for the surprisingly sincere album by Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric fame and to Mackenzie for the unsurprisingly poignant album by Ethel Cain). I’ve also been returning to bands from my “past,” such as the brilliant and much-missed TV On The Radio.
I have a special connection to their music through my dad, who loved their 2014 albums Seeds so much he has never stopped talking about it (I come by it honestly). I had started seriously listening to their albums with 2008’s Dear Science, but years without a new album made me drift until a recent reminder of their unrivaled uniqueness.
I’ve never been able to locate their mostly out-of-print records, but Dear Science seems to have been randomly repressed this month (vinyl gods, if you’re listening, do Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City next), and I ordered it with speed before realizing I live in a new city that might bring me even more luck. And, readers, I was right, as I now have their 2004 debut, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, a phenomenal album I had never listened to (“you were my favorite part of our dead century” is now seared into my brain), and Seeds, my dad’s favorite. There’s a marked difference between the brooding sonic atmosphere and cynical lyricism of their first album and the undeniable optimism of their “last” (they’ve never officially said they’re finished), and I’ve been sitting with the questions it’s raised about what it looks like to shake old attitudes both personally and artistically.
My renewed interest also brought me to their debut EP, Young Liars, which, at 24 minutes, is perfectly timed with how fast my dog completes our daily walk/sprint in windy Chicago. I’m in awe of the staggering seven-plus-minutes of “Blind,” and I can’t get “Satellite” out of my head. I say all of this to say that it’s never too late to dive deep into an artist’s catalogue, and I would love to hear which artist(s) you’ve done this with and why.
Thanks for stopping by the General Store. I hope you found something you like and would love if you shared with others. Here’s my best of 2022 playlist if you missed it. See you next time.
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