Podcast recommendation: The New York Times' 10-part dive into ISIS, 'Caliphate'

Podcast recommendation: The New York Times' 10-part dive into ISIS, 'Caliphate'

The New York Times has just concluded its 10-part narrative podcast, Caliphate (Apple Podcasts / Overcast), which follows reporter Rukmini Callimachi as she investigates and reports on the Islamic State. Callimachi is the primary reporter here, and along with reporter and producer Andy Mills, they tell a story that begins by trying to answer the question of, "Who are we really fighting?"

While the series begins with that mission statement, it's easy to think while listening that Callimachi and Mills veer off-script at some point. The first part of the series is driven by an ISIS source that the pair travel to Canada to interview; this conversation then gives way to a trip to Iraq, during which they cover the defeat of ISIS in Mosul. They find a briefcase with documents that reveal how self-sufficient ISIS has become, and learn about the insanely real extent to which ISIS is capable of actually governing people. They interview an ISIS official who was captured in the prison where he's held, and interview a girl who is returned to her family after years spent in captivity of ISIS.

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Spanish Love Songs - 'Schmaltz'

Spanish Love Songs - 'Schmaltz'

I dove into my first listen of Spanish Love Songs' Schmaltz with a suspicion that I was predisposed to enjoy it. The going comparisons for the album were to The Menzingers, Hot Water Music, and other bands of that gruff pop-punk ilk. Right up my alley, in terms of music I've enjoyed for the last decade-ish.

But many bands putting out music that has been up my historical alley have failed with more regularity lately, in terms of my own enjoyment. Rarely does a pop-punk record come around that really impresses me, or has significant lasting value, let alone a debut. To boot, what was I going to gain from a band trying to reboot Chamberlain Waits when I've been latched onto The Menzingers' After the Party for the past year? It's not that I've moved on from double-time punk songs, but that as I'm getting older, I'm keeping up with the bands who grow with me.

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Just read: Michael Chabon's 'Kavalier & Clay'

Just read: Michael Chabon's 'Kavalier & Clay'

It is a blessing, in that decidedly push-up-your-glasses type of way, to read a book that engrosses you and makes an immediate impact while also letting you know, subconsciously at first and then, eventually, overtly, that you're going to read this again and you're going to enjoy it even more the next time. Not that reading books is this exclusively "nerdy" thing and so this experience only applies to "nerds" -- but that this feeling will mostly come down upon those who are regular readers, or it's the regular readers who will appreciate it most, compared to the readers who might get engulfed in any given book because of the novelty of it, and due to my personal years-long reading drought, it's something I haven't felt very vividly in some time. While not quite yet worthy of a descriptor like "voracious," I have read enough material recently enough to be able to say Kavalier & Clay is a decidedly special novel for me.

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Listen while you work: 'Narcos (A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack)'

Listen while you work: 'Narcos (A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack)'

A personal characteristic that bothers me regularly is my inability to listen to normal music while I'm doing any type of work that requires reading comprehension or writing. This didn't always used to be the case, but at some point in the last three years, it became impossible for me to have most music on via headphones while I was writing anything, and more recently, I don't like having music on when I'm reading, either.

Some quick tasks are exceptions to this rule, and I can definitely have music on when I'm doing more "drone-ish" work, like updating spreadsheets or the more technical parts of my job. But the general rule is that I'm not listening to any music with vocals while I'm working. This obviously rules out most of the music I like, and it also rules out listening to podcasts while I'm working.

This was my impetus behind getting more into instrumental post-metal recently (I'll probably have another blog about that at some point). But my recommendation for today is the Narcos original series soundtrack, which I will credit my friend Andy (who tweets once a year, about football) with turning me onto indirectly. If you haven't seen Narcos yet, it's a Netflix show about Pablo Escobar and his drug empire in Colombia. The first season was awesome, highlighted for me by the acting performances, and I'm planning on starting the second season soon.

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Just read: Lee Bermejo's 'Batman: Noël'

Just read: Lee Bermejo's 'Batman: Noël'

This is a holiday-themed edition of "Just read," where I dove into an unplanned Batman tale that doesn't appear on my original Batman reading order. Batman: Noël is a one-off story featuring an older-aged Caped Crusader; while its place in the overall Batman continuity probably can't be fully hammered down, it's certainly toward the later years and definitely, at the very least, takes place after Death in the Family as it features a reference to a past Robin.

Noël is written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, who is best known for his celebrated illustration of the graphic novel The Joker. Bermejo's style is gritty and ultra-realistic, to the point where shadows are super accentuated and play a large role in the overall aesthetic, and to the point where you can count the facial wrinkles on characters' faces. This story is based fully on Charles Dickons' A Christmas Carol, as we see a fever-ridden Batman receive visits from three "spirits" as he's out in Gotham on Christmas Eve.

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Five months into Blue Apron

Five months into Blue Apron

Katie and I signed up for Blue Apron in February, when it was cold as heck toward the "end" of winter in Brooklyn and we got tired of the pretty limited produce supply at our local spots. You can only make chili so many times before you become annoyed by the lack of ready-to-eat avocados.

Blue Apron costs $60 per week, and for that price you get three meals big enough to feed two people. So, $30 per person, for three dinners. More physically, what you get for that price is a large box delivered to your door that contains all the ingredients you're going to be putting too much salt on that week (seriously, if you used as much salt as Blue Apron tells you to use, you'd mainly be eating salt). It also comes with directions for each recipe printed out on a piece of paper, and two ice packs which you now have to be annoyed about throwing away every 7 days.

This is a great deal for us. Sometimes I think it's an unfathomably good deal and I have to remind myself that it isn't this good of a deal for everyone. Most Blue Apron ingredients are organic or locally grown, and that stuff costs a lot of money in New York City. It's especially difficult to find decently priced organic beef, chicken and pork where we live, and fish is also quite expensive here. The regularity with which a Blue Apron meal contains some type of meat or fish is very high; at least two of the three meals will normally have a meat/fish component unless Katie has selected all-veggie options for us (we do this every few weeks). Being forced to eat three dinners at home also obviously cuts down on the likelihood that you'll get lazy and either order Seamless or eat out, which saves some cash.

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Modern Baseball: Still with us the whole way

Modern Baseball: Still with us the whole way

A friend of mine recently asked me for a recommendation on an up-and-coming pop-punk-ish band for her to check out. There are no shortage of pop-punk-ish bands, duh, but this came with a specific context. Being 26 years old now -- and my friend is slightly older -- finding a band in that genre that also keeps pace with your interests / hopes / desires / worries / general mindset becomes a fair challenge. 

I'm a Modern Baseball fan, but their first two albums struck me at a specific angle. Their appeal was rooted more in the past than the present, and I viewed the band in a semi-nostalgic light even at first listen. The first time I saw Modern Baseball play, at Run For Cover's CMJ showcase a few years back, they were laughing on stage at how bonkers the crowd was going as they played "The Weekend." That moment is a bit frozen in time to me; I saw a band that seemed genuinely curious about what the heck was going on. Why do so many people know these words? Do all of these people own our album? Wait, where are we? Etc, etc...

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PUP is the punk band we need rn

PUP is the punk band we need rn

PUP is a great band to me. They play that type of rowdy-sounding punk rock that is inherently dirty and crunchy, historically confined to basements and other forms of cramped venues which are required by law to have a mysterious layer of grime on the floor, usually performed through amps that are loud enough that guitar distortion becomes its own instrument, and prone to having cans of cheap beer thrown into the air at any given moment. Listening to them reminds me of watching The Menzingers play at The Atlantic in Gainesville, or seeing Red City Radio play at Fest, or being with Less Than Jake when they do weird stuff like play on a boat in the Hudson River that is too crowded and you fear for drunk young people being flung overboard.

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Julien Baker - "Rejoice" - Audiotree

Julien Baker - "Rejoice" - Audiotree

I could share this video on the web every single day, but that would be pretty annoying ... even if I did that, though, there's no guarantee that everyone who follows me on Twitter would click the link, which is really troubling. And even if everyone who follows me on Twitter clicked it, most of the people on the planet don't follow me on Twitter ... but, realistically, they need to see it too. 

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Movie rec: 'Chef'

Movie rec: 'Chef'

Katie and I watched Chef over the weekend, and it was the most enjoyable film I've watched in a while. It's a feel-good story, doesn't take itself too seriously, pretty consistently funny, and there are many scenes devoted to watching people cook very delicious-looking food. You will have three primary urges while watching it: You'll want to make a grilled cheese, and when you make it it'll disappoint you, then you'll want to book a plane ticket to New Orleans, then you'll want to go outside and find a place that serves Cuban sandwiches.

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Podcast rec: Celebration Rock with Steven Hyden

Podcast rec: Celebration Rock with Steven Hyden

I subscribed to Steven Hyden's new podcast, Celebration Rock, when he had Modern Baseball on the show a while back to talk about their new album and life at large. At the time, I'd just watched the documentary that Modern Baseball had released, and Hyden's interview with the band was an interesting follow-up that shed some more light on some of the topics that short documentary touched on. 

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Foxing - 'Dealer'

Foxing - 'Dealer'

Here's an album that I've already recommended multiple times on Encore, and an album that I won't be able to recommend enough this fall. Foxing streamed Dealer late last week on WIRED, which is a pretty odd place to premiere an indie-rock record but I suppose if you're not being wacky in your premieres these days, you're not doing it right.

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The World Is A Beautiful Place - 'Harmlessness'

The World Is A Beautiful Place - 'Harmlessness'

This record is ambitious but not pretentious, sprawling yet purposeful, persistent in its quest to destroy the previous genre associations of the band that wrote it. The World Is... isn't an emo band anymore, but a band that is creative and capable enough to expand into quite a few different subsections of modern rock music. 

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Frank Turner - 'Positive Songs for Negative People'

Frank Turner - 'Positive Songs for Negative People'

The balance Turner struck on England Keep My Bones and Love Ire & Song comes back in a great way on Positive Songs for Negative People, his latest effort.

We have to move on, we have to become better, we have to live our lives in the way we want to live them, and we can't wait any longer to start doing these things to the best of our abilities. Turner makes you believe it.

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Productivity: Todoist and OneNote Make A Fine Pair

Productivity: Todoist and OneNote Make A Fine Pair

My two main productivity apps are Todoist for Mac and iPhone and Microsoft's OneNote for the same platforms. I've found these two apps to make a nice pair in my daily job at DIRECTV, as well as for my side projects (running Bad Timing Records, writing for AbsolutePunk, and any personal work / life things I need to manage as well). 

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