Lies That Television Taught Me About Relationships

Culture is pervasive and teaches us biases and prejudices whether we want to admit it or not. Messages, even messages we understand are untrue, repeated over and over again in front us, start feeling true in a way that belies logic or rationality. It’s the thing that allowed early man to learn that certain berries were bad to eat, running from certain animals and eating others was a guy idea, and society, cooperation, Latin, etc.

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The Blowhard Podcast Review: "Hello from the Magic Tavern" and the Need for Fiction in Podcasting

I’ll start by explaining my goals for this weekly podcast review column I've gotten myself into.

First, I want to look at podcasts with a wide lens, examining form, narrative, overall themes, etc. For this reason, I’ll be reviewing more than just a single episode every week but the podcast as a whole. Some podcasts have backlogs that’d take months to get through so I’ll only be listening to as many episodes as possible before writing my review. If it takes more than a week of listening to get a good sense of your podcast then, uh, yikes.  

    Second, I’ll be reviewing a mix of well-known and lesser known podcasts meant to appeal to a wide audience. What this means is that I’m gonna avoid niche podcasts and everything else is fair game. I considered limiting it to just comedy podcasts but that’d cut out a lot of great journalism and storytelling podcasts that I want to talk about. Basically, I don’t want to listen to Cody and Pete’s Stock Tips Show that they put together for the bros in the Wall Street Journal comment sections. The podcast needs to have mass appeal.

    Third and finally, I want to expose people to some dope ass podcasts. It’s been an increasingly popular medium in the last decade but an often overlooked one, especially from a criticism standpoint. I’m gonna tell you which podcasts I like and which I don’t like, and everyone is going to go out and listen to them afterward and appreciate them. And because I’m clearly one of the most standout, influential voices of my generation, it’s gonna work exactly like I just said. The Podcast Hero - that’s me. No big deal.

 

    Alright, now that we got through that slog of boring formality, let’s get to the good stuff. This week’s podcast in question is “Hello from the Magic Tavern” and it kicks some serious ass.

 

    The premise of “Hello from the Magic Tavern” is that the host, Chicago improviser and schlub Arnie Niekamp, falls through a magical portal behind a Burger King into the Narnia-on-cocaine land of Foon. He finds a nearby tavern, the Vermillion Minotaur, and befriends Chunt, a pansexual shapeshifter, and Usidore, a wizard*.  Together they start a podcast using the equipment Arnie just happened to have in his backpack when he fell through the portal and they upload it with the weak wi-fi signal still coming from Burger King. Every week they have different Foon-ian guests on the show who range from a verbally abusive flower to Melchior, keeper of the Doom Horn.

    Now, at its core, “Hello from the Magic Tavern” is the same as a lot of other comedy podcasts: a bunch of comedians dicking around. Scrape away all the fantasy elements and it’s just three guys hanging out in a bar with their friends. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I’d still probably listen to that show. The three main actors: Arnie Niekamp, Adal Rifai, and Matt Young are all accomplished improvisers, quick witted and hilarious. I was lucky enough to see Adal Rifai perform with his improv group “Whirled News Tonight” on a trip to Chicago in July and it was the highlight of my week. If you ever get the chance, go see any of these guys perform live.

But then, add back in the demented fantasy world and it’s like an improviser’s playground in which Niekamp, Rifai, and Young go wild. “Hello from the Magic Tavern” is at its best when Chunt, Usidore, and Arnie riff on the ridiculous fantasy aspects of Foon. There are Hunger Ghosts, which are just hungry ghosts. There are species that have multiple butt holes. There’s Chunt’s ability to shape shift but only by having sex with whatever animal or species he wants to turn into. There’s Make Out point, which is a haunted house that you take dates to and if you both make it out alive then you’re meant to be together. If none of those things sound funny to you, which they should, it’s only because you’re reading my unfunny words and not listening to the masters at work. Seriously, give the first few episodes a listen but do it in a private place unless you want weird looks from people who think you’re crazy for laughing so hard.

With all that being said, it’s not the actors’ comedic acumen that make “Hello from the Magic Tavern” wonderful; they’re not alone in that. Other podcasts are just as funny and have comedians just as sharp and quick witted. No, it’s the one small thing this podcast did differently that makes it one of my favorites: they made it fiction.

    Yeah, I get it, I know. “Hello from the Magic Tavern” isn’t the first fictional podcast and there have been plenty of fictional radio shows. Most notably, the broadcast of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” sent listeners into a frenzy when they thought aliens were actually attacking. So I guess, in some sense, it’s good that radio and podcasts haven’t delved into fictional storytelling too much as it sometimes causes people to kill their children in an attempt to save them from the tiny green men (This is an urban legend, but I choose to believe it’s true). Child death aside, I think the question remains, why hasn’t radio or podcasting produced classic works of fiction? You don’t hear from your drinking buddies about any great radio epics that you absolutely need to listen to, bro. There aren’t 400-level English electives being taught on the American broadcasting canon. And “Hello from the Magic Tavern” is standing here, tapping its foot obstinately, going “Yeah, why the hell not? You’re really gonna let a little child death get in the way of this?**”

    And just to be clear, I’m not claiming that “Hello from the Magic Tavern” is a classic. It has plenty of problems that hold it back: over-reliance on guest improvisers which sometimes leads to boring episodes; inside jokes that need to die (roaring orcs); characters that don’t really develop in meaningful ways; intriguing narratives they refuse to move forward. For awhile, I was annoyed with “Hello from the Magic Tavern” because I wanted it to be so much more than it was. I wanted Usidore to go on his quest to defeat the Dark Lord. I wanted Chunt to fight for his life when he got cursed by a magic coin instead of deus ex machina saving him. I wanted Arnie to deal with his wife and child being stuck on Earth. Basically, I wanted “Hello from the Magic Tavern” to be what it was parodying.

But, here’s the thing, “Hello from the Magic Tavern” is a parody of a genre working in a medium where that genre doesn’t really exist yet. It’s “Spaceballs” without “Star Wars.” It’s “The Tick” without superheroes. Basically, it's way ahead of its time. And it's finding success anyway. Looking back, I wasn’t annoyed because “Hello from the Magic Tavern” didn’t have the complexities of character and narrative strength that I wanted in a podcast; I was annoyed because no podcast does.***

    So for me, “Hello from the Magic Tavern” is a great podcast not just because of how funny it is but because it makes me excited for what’s to come. It’s a perfect mold for the first great fictional podcast. It shows that it can be done and that it can be done well. All you need is a great cast, good writing (optional, you can also just improvise everything), and an interesting world to work in. So, who’s gonna make the first podcast chronicling life in 4589 CE? When are we going to get an expanded podcast Marvel universe? How about a podcast of a post-apocalyptic survivor’s audio diary****? Bring it on, guys. Usidore and Chunt have shown the way. All you gotta do is follow.

    Anyway, since this is a review, I’m gonna give the podcast a ranking on a scale because that seems to be something reviewers do. So on the Official Blowhard-o-meter [Headass → Weak AF → Meh → Dope → Hella Dope → Lit] I rate “Hello from the Magic” Hella Dope. Good work. 

Check out "Hello from the Magic Tavern" HERE or find it on iTunes.

If you have any podcasts you think I should review, hit me up on twitter @ZJShearer

Best Episodes

    “3 - Flower”

    “13 - Boys’ Night”

    “15 - Transdimensional Deliveryman”

    “22 - Sarah”

    “23 - Soul Walker”

    “32 - Offices & Bosses”

    “58 - Keeper of the Doom Horn”

    “59 - Dr. Ward”

    “60 - Confidential Courier”

    “64 - Jamillious the Mauve”


 

*of the 12th Realm of Ephysiyies, Master of Light and Shadow, Manipulator of Magical Delights, Devourer of Chaos, Champion of the Great Halls of Terr'akkas; the elves know him as Fi’ang Yalok; the dwarves know him as Zoenen Hoogstandjes; he is also known in the Northeast as Gaismunēnas Meistar; and there are other secret name we do not know.

**This is a joke that you’ll get when you listen to the podcast

***Yes, I know “Welcome to Night Vale,” “The Black Tapes,” and a handful of others exist, please don’t yell at me. The truth is nobody has really made a great audio drama yet and there really aren’t that many to begin with. The genre has a ton of room to grow in this medium.

****Actually, I’m gonna make this one and if any of you mofos steal my idea, there’s gonna be hell to pay.

Frank Ocean's Blond is A Masterpiece of Passion And Vulnerability

By Taylor Gendel (check out her blog here)

One of the most meaningful and intimate things someone can do is to share music with you that they regard as important. For a music lover, this is not a casual suggestion of a song they heard in passing. It is a carefully curated gift that can connect you on an almost spiritual level. A recommendation from a music lover does not come lightly.

A music lover’s recommendation is carefully catered to their audience. Give this music a chance. A real listen. Don’t just skip through to the tracks that feature the artists you’ve heard of.

And if you hate it? That’s fine. Music is subjective. Try not to get caught up in the hype. Listen and decide for yourself. Have a reason when you say you like something, even if that reason is “it makes me feel good”.

This is my review of Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Take it or leave it, it’s my opinion. But it makes me happy, and I want to share it with you.

 

This album proves that when you take your time and put your heart into your passions the product is inevitably going to be stronger and more valuable. I would wait another 4 years for Frank’s next album if it promised to be of the same quality.

Nikes

Auto-tune at its absolute best. An unexpected way to start off an album from one the strongest voices out there, but perhaps that was a statement in itself. It is dazzling and glittery. It puts you in a daze and you don’t even hear Frank’s true vocals until more than halfway through the song. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a song mention a Yarmulke before so that’s cool too. Watch the video to listen to a slightly different version of this song that features a call/response from two different Franks.

Ivy (produced by Jamie xx & Rostam)

I love Frank because he can transport you from a place of peace to a place of vulnerability within a single song. His vocals at the end alternate between passion and distress. His screams are a comforting release of energy. Pitchfork wrote a much better review than I ever could specifically on this song.

Pink + White (production from Pharrell Williams and Tyler, The Creator, as well as uncredited backing vocals from Beyoncé)

This was my favorite song on the album my first listen through (even before I found out the female vocals at the end are Beyoncé). It must have been recorded at the same time they collaborated on “Superpower” because this could almost be its sequel track. This song reminds me of my favorite song on Channel Orange, “Sweet Life”, which makes sense because they’re both produced by Pharrell.

Be Yourself

I hope that this is really Frank’s mom. “This is Mom, call me, bye.”

*I checked, and it is not. Damn.

Solo

This could be a hymn. You can hear organs and a chorus in the back. Reminds me a lot of Chance’s Coloring Book. I love to listen to Frank seamlessly switch between belting out a melody and laying down rhymes.

Skyline To (Featuring Kendrick Lamar, Produced By The Creator & Tyler)

Birds are chirping in the background as this song opens. You can barely recognize that the backing vocals are Kendrick Lamar but his contribution to the album seems to solidify its greatness (to me at least). “Summer ain’t as long as it used to be”

Self Control (Featuring Yung Lean & Austin Feinstein)

A smooth love song that could be Miguel. The guitar, the strings. Pretty beautiful.

Good Guy

A quick song about a date. Frank speaking openly about his sexuality is one of his greatest gifts.

Nights (Produced By Vegyn, Uzi & Buddy Ross)

Frank can successfully walk the line between hip hop and R&B, and this song is proof. He transports you from an almost danceable beat to a mellow R&B track. Drake wishes he could create something of this caliber.

Solo (Reprise) (Featuring André 3000)

I love Andre 3000. I don’t have much to say beyond that.

Pretty Sweet

A dizzying opening that clears into beautiful simplicity. The drum beat at 1:39 reminds me a lot of “My Favorite Things” from The Love Below. Add in a chorus of children singing and you have something truly unique.

Facebook Story (Featuring SebastiAn)

For whatever reason this song won’t play on my computer but it is a skit about how a relationship falls apart because of Facebook. Keeping things relevant. Perhaps a warning to the listeners to stay present in the real world.

Close to You (Produced By Vegyn)

This is a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Close To You” (which is also a cover). (Source) I love love love Stevie Wonder and Frank delivers a beautiful tribute to Stevie who is undoubtedly an influence on his sound and style.

White Ferrari (Featuring Bon Iver & James Blake)

Another early favorite of mine. It is a gathering of three of the melancholiest vocalists of our current time. This is a beautiful love song that leaves you aching for more. Also the Beatles are credited as writers on this song. And whatever your opinion on that, it would be hard to deny that its reference is to one of the group’s most simple and original songs.

Seigfried (Produced By Bob Ludwig)

Elliot Smith gets a writing credit here for Frank’s interpretation of “A Fond Farewell”. This song makes me feel like I’m on another planet. It is slowed down and spacey; sexy and sensitive. Frank’s verse of spoken word is the icing on the cake. This is reminiscent to certain tracks on Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet.

Godspeed (Featuring Kim Burrell)

One of the most powerful tracks. Another song that takes you to church, featuring gospel singer Kim Burrell. Read more about Kim’s influence and the recent resurgence of gospel in hip hop here.

Futura Free

Hey guys, Dylan here. This is my favorite song on the Album, so Taylor kindly let me ruin her fantastic review with some words at the end. Future Free is, in my mind, the quintessential album closer. It’s a fuzzed out, sleepy, dreamy druggy ode to Tupac. It’s got a simple repetitive piano line that appears and reappears all over the track. It’s great. The four-minute “deep question” interview is a great distillation of Frank’s worldview, but not really a song so I won’t discuss it here.

 

Be Sure To Check out Taylor’s Blog at soulsector.tumblr.com

The Best Song About A Centuries Old Public Service

“Some Postman” by the Presidents of the United States of America

Public Services generally do not inspire much of anything in anybody except a general sense of “this could be better”. Unless you’re Alexis de Tocqueville and you get a boner for that sort of nonsense, of course. There are not many great songs about the CTA, or sanitation departments, or street sweepers. Or, that was the case until The Presidents of the United States of America came along and changed the game with their rocker “Some Postman”.

While they are most known as the progenitors of 90’s one-hit wonder fare, such as “Lump” (the origin of Weird Al’s best parody “Gump”), “Peaches” and the song that is stuck in Drew Carey’s head 24/7 “Cleveland Rocks”, they also had some absolute bangers, and “Some Postman” is chief among those. Though it is weird to saw that a song that starts out with various bird noises is a hit, “Some Postman” definitely fits that bill.

“Some Postman” has two truly genius parts, its chorus and its bridge. It is my theory that for any song to be truly great it must have a fantastic bridge and a great chorus. A good verse just doesn’t cut it. “Some Postman” has both. The lyrics of the chorus are some of the best ever with “Some Postman / is grooving / to all our love letters / Some Postman is gonna cry” tailor made to stick in your head forever. The chorus serves as the rock center of the song with the stattaco drum hit and guitars on the downbeat giving the music a groove to match the lyrics. It is also eminently sing-able, even though the phrasing of the lyrics is slightly off-kilter it, the off-kilterness makes sense and isn’t weird just to be weird.

The bridge itself is a thing of beauty. “Some Postman’s” bridge brings the song to a roaring conclusion that is perfect for group sing-alongs. Who knew that a slowly dying public service could inspire such beauty?

 

The Best Song About WWII Ever Written

by Dylan Shearer

“Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel

World War Two has not generally inspired many great songs. While it has inspired countless books, movies, and video games, there is a dearth of modern music about WWII. There is a multitude of reasons for this, namely, “Adolf Hitler” does not rhyme with much and “The Lend-Lease Act” does not really lend itself to pop music lyrics. It also came about before America’s mainstream rock music developed a consciousness, so unlike with the Vietnam War there are not classics centered around it.

This, of course, does not mean that there are 0 good songs about WWII. In fact, we are here to talk about the best song written about WWII “Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel. Neutral Milk Hotel is best known as the go-to reference for annoying hipster bands, as well as for their one and only album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and the subsequent meltdown of lead singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum.  While Aeroplane has its highs and lows and is probably generally overrated, “Holland, 1945” is the standout track. The one true banger on the whole album.

“Holland, 1945” start with the one of the best count offs in music history, with Mangum’s “2, 1,2,3,4” setting the stage for the blistering thrill ride to follow. After the count off, which Girl Talk was able to use quite effectively in his work, the song comes out of the gate at a furious pace, all scuzzed out guitars paying the main riff while cleaned up guitars play the same riff on top. This is great on its own but even better in the context of the album where it comes after a much slower-paced song.  The song then continues in this riff adding horns to give the song the air of a carnival run-off the rails, until the end when it ends with a fan-fare-esque horn blast. It’s all very good.

But the music is not the sole place where “Holland, 1845” shines. The lyrics are perhaps the biggest standout of the entire piece. Mangum is able to craft imagery that truly shows the horrors of WWII in a way that both works with the music and does not get lost in the tune. It also never becomes overwrought, with Mangum’s high voice broadcasting true emotion over the horns and guitars. Lyrics like:

“Now she’s a little boy in Spain / Playing pianos filled with flames / On empty rings around the sun / All sing to say my dream has come” ,

 “And now we ride the circus wheel /With your dark brother wrapped in white / Says it was good to be alive / But Now he rides a comet’s flame / and he won’t be coming back again”, or

“And here’s where your mother sleeps / And here is the room where your brother were born / Indentions in the sheets / Where their bodies once moved but don’t move anymore / And it’s so sad to see the world agree / That they’d rather see their faces filled with flies / All when I’d want to keep white roses in their eyes”.

These all evoke tremendous emotion within the listener and convey the sense of horror that existed during WWII. All while being part of a propulsive song that helps the lyrics truly hit home.

This is a great song. Listen to it.