March 23 2016 12:40 AM

CityBeat staff dishes out our favorite new books, apps, shows and other cultural tidbits



    We’ve seen enough documentaries by filmmakers who go off in search of a family member’s real story. In HBO’s The Diplomat we get more of that, with David Holbrooke as the onscreen narrator delving into the legacy of missing dad/United States Ambassador extraordinaire Richard Holbrooke. This narrative is intensely wonky, but the son does an adept job laying out the 50 years of American foreign policy shaped by the dad. Richard Holbrooke was just out of college when he landed a foreign affairs position in Vietnam. Up to the day he died of a heart attack, Holbrooke was trying to broker peace in Afghanistan. Sadly he didn’t get to replicate his crowning achievement—ending the war in Bosnia. An all-star cast of Democratic politicos gets face time in The Diplomat. It’s interesting to hear Bill Clinton express jealousy over Hillary’s fondness for Holbrooke (he dated Diane Sawyer, didjaknow?); and to hear Hillary and journo supreme Bob Woodward confirm Hollbrooke’s disdain for the policies of President Obama.

    —Ron Donoho


    Former local musician Matthew Binder (Hotel St. George) has crafted quite the anti-hero in Lou Brown, the decidedly despicable if not entirely loveable chap at the center of High in the Streets, Binder’s first novel. Set over a week in the vapid fantasyland of L.A., Brown is trying desperately to pen the follow-up to his bestselling debut. He’s got the money, the hottie girlfriend and the posh house, but inspiration just doesn’t come. He spends most of his time getting drunk with washed-up baseball players and legless homeless men before scribbling random catharses like, “It’s nearly impossible to live the life one has intended for here in America” on the back of junk mail. Will inspiration come? Or will Brown just end up finishing the job of killing himself? The drunken novelist looking for inspiration isn’t the most novel of novel ideas, but Binder does spin a nice yarn. “I’m not certain I have any answers, but I believe there is value in my meaningfully fumbling with it,” says Binder’s protagonist at one point. And indeed he does.

    —Seth Combs


    Everybody’s angry. I’m angry, you’re angry, your dog’s angry—angry, angry, angry. The media pundits cite this rage for the popularity of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, two politicians who appeal to emotions with lofty, idealistic promises. Don’t get me wrong, there are many reasons to be mad, but believing that an elected official can suddenly assuage our fears, close the wealth gap or stop people from being racist is shortsighted. Simply, I miss the days when Angry Young Men started punk bands instead of electing our next president. However, there’s still hope for the youth, as evidenced by the band Big Upsand their new album, Before A Million Universes. Big Ups’ music alternates between the jangly, Fugazi-like grooves and caustic explosions of punk rage. Not overtly political, the lyrics speak to social unrest nonetheless: “IS IT US AGAINST THEM? OR US AGAINST US?” singer Joe Galarraga asks/screams in the slow-burner “Meet Where We Are.” Given the quality of punk released during the George W. Bush years, maybe we can expect more of this kind of stuff if Trump gets elected. Silver linings, people.

    —Ryan Bradford


    Will Arnett is really good at being a mildly despicable yet entertaining dirtbag. With the exception of the short-lived and, in my opinion, underappreciated NBC sitcom Up All Night, where his character is a genuinely lovely new dad navigating parenthood, marriage and growing older, he’s made a television career of this type of character. Who doesn’t love him as Gob on Arrested Development? No one I want to be friends with, that’s for sure. Gob was hilarious, weird and stunted, but it played well in that madcap sitcom. In Flaked (streaming on Netflix), however, you don’t get the cozy sense of it all being part of a big joke. Arnett plays Chip, a recovering alcoholic in Santa Monica who goes after all the women his friends are into and lies as he’s doing it. It makes your skin anxiously crawl with embarrassment as you watch it. This show, while often funny but not HAHA funny, has a way of making you think about your own dirtbagginess, while also being entertaining. Definitely worth a watch.

    —Alex Zaragoza


    I’ve interviewed a lot of musicians over the years, and in that time I’ve heard a lot of unusual methods for songwriting rough drafts, including palmcorders, texting lyric ideas and leaving voice mail messages of sketches of melodies. If you have a cellphone, however, you can very easily record demos quickly with RecForge Pro ($3.24;, an Android app that records, edits, formats and uploads music to the cloud with minimal effort. It’s a pretty simple app; you don’t get all of the features that ProTools would afford you, but what you do get is a one-click demo recording device that allows you to edit or loop what you’ve recorded. Once you’ve got the audio you want, you can upload instantly to Soundcloud, Google Drive or Dropbox, and in .wav or .mp3 file formats. For a really good quality recording, you’ll probably need an external mic, but for a quick and dirty demo, this is a great tool.

    —Jeff Terich


    There are tour guides like Rick Steves, and then there are travel gurus like the team behind Jungles in Paris, a website that doesn’t stoop down to clickbait listicles or restaurant recommendations. Instead, this image-heavy site banks on telescopic glances into lesser-known regions and their obscure traditions. The videos are minutes-long looks into seemingly otherworldly lifestyles, peeking into the days of a Peruvian ceviche fisherman, a Thai swordsman, a group of Haitian pilgrims and a Spanish couple who are the only ones left in their abandoned town. Jungles in Paris’ photo galleries cover oddities such as Hong Kong escalator manners and the protective masks worn by welders in Eritrea. The video and photo galleries are accompanied by contextual articles and maps that pinpoint locations. If you have too many responsibilities to jet set, this website will take you out of your armchair without having to hop on an airplane.

    —Torrey Bailey


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