It’s all feeling a bit liminal. Although the news improves around vaccination levels and dropping R rates, life still has the frozen quality of a holding pattern. The streets remain quiet, the shops mostly closed. The pubs… better not to think about that lest we dissolve into a puddle of regretful tears. But hey, as the great seer Steve Miller put it— ‘time keeps on tickin’, tickin’, tickin’, into the future’. Bring on the summer.
Today we check out the fun you can have with explosives, consider how a Mars colony might deal with a pandemic and consider the vexed question of American cheese.
Hey, you there! Now is the time, yeah? This is the place, right? What else could this be but The Cut‽
Front and centre this week is Helen Lewis’ brilliant portrait of explosives expert Sidney Alford. You will learn things. You will be entertained. If you’re anything like us, you will feel the urge to blow some shit up. Seriously, it’s that good.
Our second interview of the week features a school-days crush for several of the Cut Crew—the force of nature that is Toyah Willcox. She’s picked up a ton of new fans as, along with husband and certified prog-rock god Robert Fripp, she makes Sunday lunchtime all sorts of fun. Like Sidney, she has always been determined to live her own life. In some cases that has led to results nearly as explosive as the BootBuster…
Making comics is hard. It’s an artform which, done right, engages the reader’s interior world in a way no other experience can. We understand the relationship between art, text and the weird stuff happening between panels at an almost primal level, but wrangling that synergy is a task with a very particular set of challenges. However, the very fact we know how to read comics means that, with a bit of a push, we can also create them and have some fun along the way. Allow us to introduce you to Five-card Nancy.
Author Charlie Stross applies a rigorous and precise eye to the problems of plot and world-building. This bit on his blog looks at the situations that could arise if an infectious disease landed in a sealed environment such as a colony on Mars. There’s enough believable detail in the piece to make you wonder why he doesn’t write a whole darn novel. Maybe that’s the point. He’s given us just enough background to spin out a story ourselves…
We’ve all heard the old saw about beating swords into ploughshares. The twenty-first century equivalent is forging bomb casings and artillery shells into pro-grade cleavers. The steel used by blacksmith Wu Tseng-dong is denser and tougher than the regular stuff—all the better for killing people. Wu’s approach seems far more sensible to us.
What cheese would you like on your burger? Swiss? Cheddar? Perhaps a crumble of melty blue (trust us, the best choice)? Then of course there is the plastic-wrapped-in-plastic option—American. Who in their right mind would choose the emulsified cheese-style product when there are, yes even in America, so many other, tastier toppings? Well, king of food science Kenji Lopez-Alt is here to rid you of your prejudices, shed a little light on the whole situation and maybe, just maybe, persuade you that when it comes to burgers there is no better way to go…
A new series from polymath and pattern-matcher Adam Curtis is always worth a look. His forensic, archive-heavy approach gives a fresh search vector on the way the world is now, often leading us into unexpected and uncomfortable places. Curtis’ counter-histories show us a world even stranger than the conspiracy theorists would have us believe exists. As his new show ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ launches on iPlayer, Curtis talks to Sam Knight at the New Yorker about what we have in store…
On the subject of a universe connected in ways you might not realise, Tom Lennon gets tangled in the web connecting shows as disparate as The Wire and Sesame Street. If you haven’t before (and we get a feeling you may have at some point), meet Baltimore’s finest, Detective John Munch.
Musicians are finding it harder to cope in the post-Brexit, ever-Covid world, as touring becomes a near-impossibility. Even if venues reopen, getting in the van and crossing the Channel instantly lands you in a swamp of paperwork and added costs. How can a musician make any cash? Streaming services seem intent in giving out a pittance even if you do find an audience online. It turns out, though, if you have the technical chops and the tenacity, it’s possible to make millions off Spotify. Fire up them Raspberry Pi’s!
A couple of notices for our X&HTeam-mates. Simon Aitken’s second feature, the romantic anthology Modern Love, is releasing this V-Day on Amazon Prime! We’re excited to see this one, years in the making and we’re certain, worth the wait. Here’s a trailer.
Meanwhile, Keith and Pete are doing great work on their podcast Let’s See What’s Out There. With a dearth of Trek content around right now, they’re live-streaming views of WandaVision. It’s as geeky and adorable as you’d expect, and deserves a listen. Here’s the archive of last week’s ep…
And finally. We urge you to check out King Rocker, Stewart Lee and Michael Cumming’s remarkable anti-rockumentary on Birmingham’s finest, Robert Lloyd and The Nightingales. Largely ignored by all, they’re still recording, punching out deceptively smart doses of pop-punk. King Rocker is a testament to tenacity, a celebration of the rewards that come from forging your own path, no matter how rock-strewn it seems. Now popping up on Sky Arts in the UK, please make time for the man and the big monkey.
We guess we’re pushing out a Nightingales track for Exit Music, then. Gales Doc plays over the end credits Of King Rocker and is a very fine meta-commentary on the construction of yer standard indie-pop groove. Somewhat superior, indeed.
See you in seven, rockers.