We're not thrilled that the summer is halfway over, but this week's Friday Five did provide us with a much needed boost. There were inspirational athletes, musicians, filmmakers -- and, of course, lots of laughs. Hopefully you, too, can find something uplifting in Volume 83!
Edge of the Earth
One of the most common themes in the Friday Five is athletes pushing it to the limit, and HBO has delivered in that genre once again. Edge of the Earth is a cool new docu-series that features four groups of elite action-sport athletes, each taking on extreme, never-been-completed adventures. The athletes include surfers, kayakers, climbers, and skiiers/snowboarders, and each group gets their own episode to take on their respective challenges. They face mental and physical hurdles that will test everything they've ever learned, and will push the boundaries of their individual sports. The HBO series takes viewers to faraway places, and it's easy to simply get lost in the immense beauty of the locations. Edge of the Earth is thrilling, suspenseful, and above all else, inspiring. If these athletes can attempt the impossible, how can we be afraid to take some risks creatively while working from the comfort of our own homes?
The Video Archives Podcast
Speaking of people pushing boundaries, the legendary writer/director Quentin Tarantino has a new podcast out, and we are pretty psyched. Tarantino created The Video Archives Podcast with his Pulp Fiction co-writer and former video store co-worker Roger Avary. Almost 40 years ago, Avary and Tarantino worked together at the Manhattan Beach video rental store Video Archives, becoming local celebrities for their deep film knowledge and quality recommendations. The store eventually closed long after the filmmakers had become successful, and Tarantino bought their entire video collection. Now, on the podcast, Tarantino and Avary are going through and watching the actual VHS tapes from the archives and discussing the movies. They are mostly giving exposure to lesser-seen B-Movies that they recommended to customers all those years ago, and get into spirited debates while defending the merit of the cult classics. The legend of Tarantino the video clerk is pretty widely known, but now we get to see it in action. As movie-lovers ourselves, we are ready to listen to someone like Quentin wax poetic about cinema.
Beyond that, the full-circle journey that this represents, from aspiring creative to master craftsman, is so cool and inspiring that we can't help but enjoy.
The next entry in this week's Friday Five is also Tarantino-adjacent, as B.J. Novak's Vengeance finally hits theaters. Novak is best-known for his work on The Office, but also played a memorable part in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. Nearly two decades into his career, he finally is making his directorial debut, and it looks like a great dark comedy that sends up the true crime industrial complex. Novak also wrote the script, and he stars as a podcast host investigating the death of a former hook-up. The Office alum does a dead-on Serial impression, and his signature dry comedic style lends itself perfectly to the genre. Issa Rae and Ashton Kutcher(!) headline a really solid supporting cast, and give us a lot of faith that it will live up to expectations. Indie comedies like Vengeance haven't been getting big theatrical releases these days, so we are hoping people will actually go out and see it. We are suckers for a good true crime story, and at least based on the trailer, Vengeance looks like it'll deliver on the mystery and intrigue as well as the laughs.
Kai Straw - Illuminarium
While this album isn't a new release, it is new to us, and we've had it on repeat all week long. Kai Straw's Illuminarium has been the perfect album to get us through a couple of busy summer work weeks, and that alone earns it a place in the Friday Five. Illuminarium strikes a difficult balance, because while we want something that is upbeat and fun these days, we also need something not so out of control that we can't focus. Enter Kai Straw. He has a unique vocal sound that puts you at ease, even as his voice gets raspy and the tempo and volume kick up. "Motor Mouth" is our favorite on the album, because it hits all the right notes (no pun intended.) The percussion is upbeat, light, and fun, and it pairs perfectly with the instrumentals and vocals. The lyrics are also all about taking risks and seizing the moment to have fun, which is a message that we definitely need to hear during the summer. But beyond the fun, Straw also has the ability to slow it down with piano and strings on tracks like "Imagination," which reminds us a bit of another one of our favorites, Jordan Rakei. The album slides in and out of tones, paces, and sounds, and while every song is unique from the one before it, they still feel cohesive. We were drawn in enough by the music, but Straw's story is also incredibly motivational. After getting laid off during COVID, he got sober, turned to music full-time, and started writing and producing songs in his own bedroom. THAT is dedication. We're not sure how it took us so long to discover Kai Straw, but we're sure glad we did.
Big Thief NPR Tiny Desk
Kai Straw is pretty chill, but if you want to unwind even more, you can head to the Tiny Desk. Big Thief brought the NPR series into their home this week, and their concert is extremely stripped down, even for them. One of the things we love about the Tiny Desk series is that we get to see artists go out of their comfort zones. but honestly, Big Thief looks pretty damn comfortable in this video -- except for maybe the drummer, who has to duck under a low ceiling. It's such an intimate set, and it even feels like we get an inside look at their creative process. We thought it was a great moment to see them tinker with what tempo they want to play in real time. While they probably could've cut the tape, we're glad that they left their decision-making process in for the world to see. The audio quality is also pretty stellar, considering they appear to be playing in an attic bedroom. If you really want to zen out for about twenty minutes, queue this up, take a few deep breaths, and feel your troubles melt away.