Quarantine Culture Recommendations: “Troop Beverly Hills,” Japanese Industrial Music, and Jah9
Last night, I was giving my faux-wood window blinds a sponge bath when I decided instead to open a bottle of white wine and enlist in “Troop Beverly Hills.” Shelley Long’s star turn in this 1989 movie unfairly stalled her post-“Cheers” career, but she’s a fizzy joy as Phyllis Nefler, a Beverly Hills shopaholic who becomes den mother for a troop of Wilderness Girls. The cadre includes her daughter, played with wise weariness by Jenny Lewis, and also the ginger rascal Emily Schulman, of “Small Wonder.” Because it’s from 1989, Pia Zadora and Cheech Marin and Dr. Joyce Brothers appear. But the real stars are Long’s costumes, designed by Theadora Van Runkle (”Bonnie and Clyde”)—each a fabulous confection from that moment when nineteen-eighties power suits met Memphis whimsy. The eye-popping opening credits are by a pre-“Ren & Stimpy” John Kricfalusi, and they jiggle and splat along to an execrable Beach Boys song. There’s a feminist-ish tone, and the film probably employed as many actresses as the rest of the year’s films combined; there’s also quite a bit of casual racism. In the end, the troop learns that navigating late capitalism is as tricky as any trip to the woods. At the moment, that feels sort of right. —Jesse Dorris
New Age music—that much maligned genre, used and abused by yoga classes, candle shops, and restaurants with no aroma of cooking—has come into its own for me lately. It’s no secret that this music is intended to combat anxiety. But it’s usually so bad that it provokes its own unease for me. Fortunately, Douglas Mcgowan invested god knows how many hours wading through the drek and found a trove of anxiety-conquering instrumentals that are actually good music as well. His two volumes of selections—one American, “I Am the Center”; and one European, “The Microcosm”—have redefined the genre. And the excellent reissue label that released them, Light in the Attic, has added a third in the series, with eighties music from Japan, composed for industrial uses: building lobbies, advertisements, and even an LP designed to be given away with new air-conditioner units. This third volume, “Kankyo Ongaku,” compiled by Spencer Doran, is proving the be the best suited to our shut-in situation. Japan has a long tradition of bringing calm to interior spaces, after all.—Damon Krukowski
Since its beginnings, in the early nineteen-sixties, reggae has spoken to the ills of society, and specifically to the oppressions imposed upon black people. In 1976, in an act of political violence, Bob Marley, one of the genre’s pioneers, was shot at his home. Deciding that he was no longer safe singing protest music in Jamaica, he moved abroad and embarked on a world tour, in which he sang about the attempt on his life, redemption, and Black Liberation. A convert to Rastafarianism, he also infused his music with religious themes. Roots reggae became Marley’s escape, his refuge in the face of danger.
The genre has morphed several times since then, but lyrically it retains an aura of triumph, which makes it a balm during the pandemic now forcing most of us indoors. Recently, I’ve been enjoying “Note to Self,” the new record from the Rastafari artist Jah9. Jah9 is thirty-six, was born in Montego Bay, and in the past few years has established herself at the pinnacle of the Jamaican reggae music scene. In “Note to Self,” she’s full of sage advice on resilience and self-love, and she effortlessly toggles between velvety melodies and hip-hop bars. “Field Trip,” a 2018 single, has the album’s strongest musical arrangement; its funky horns and drumline cadence sustain the tempo while Jah9 sings about the fruits of practiced stillness and meditation. Listening with my eyes closed, the song seemed to lift me out of my studio apartment and into a sunset jam session somewhere in the tropics.
Throughout “Note to Self,” Jah9 opens up about being a black youth stymied by systemic oppression. Yet there are also notes of perseverance. “Ready to Play” is a ballad about Jah9’s discovery of music, which became her saving grace. “Music is release from suffering; music soothes the beast that lies within,” she sings with the reggae vocalist Tarrus Riley. The album feels otherworldly: the sound engineers have sprinkled several songs with dub, distinct space-age effects that echo, reverb, and swirl. And the title track, which features Chronixx, is an ode to resoluteness, whose chorus—“I’m going to be okay”—might also serve as a mantra. In the midst of a pandemic, the present seems dismal and the future seems uncertain. Nevertheless, the positive vibrations on “Note to Self” are exactly what we need playing on repeat.—Natalie Meade (Copied from the New Yorker)
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