Pomo Picks

What to Read, Watch, and Listen to to Take Your Mind Off the Apocalypse: Week of May 27

The Portland Monthly staff shares the non-pandemic content keeping us sane this week.

By Portland Monthly Staff May 28, 2020

A still from Charli XCX's "Claws" video, shot at home in front of a green screen.

News about coronavirus is coming hard and fast, and the Portland Monthly staff is working to bring you up-to-date information about how the crisis is affecting Portlanders. It’s vital we all stay informed and figure out how to help each other through this surreal, challenging moment.

It’s also vital that we take some breaths. Every week, in lieu of a “top things to do this weekend” post, we’re going to pause and share the pandemic-free content that’s keeping us sane (or somewhere close).  

Pop Music

Ever heard of it? Right when we all started staying inside, British cipher (and *checks watch* Grammy winner, I guess) Dua Lipa dropped Future Nostalgia, a straight-up disco record that launched her from lightweight to heavyweight basically overnight. Packed with elastic synths, loving homages to Nile Rodgers and Olivia Newton-John, and the kind of dumb, towering choruses designed to be screamed when you are streaked with gin and glitter, Future Nostalgia was a bittersweet blessing: an airtight 40 minutes of necessary escape best suited for venues that remained out of reach.

As stay-at-home wore on, the hits kept coming. A few weeks ago, robo-pop hero Charli XCX dropped how i'm feeling a now, an incredible 11-track album that she conceived, recorded, and produced entirely in lockdown (often turning to Zoom and Instagram Live for fan input). Songs like "Pink Diamond" and "Anthems" capture the frenetic, caged-animal feeling of being stuck inside, while softer cuts like "Claws" and "Forever" assess infatuation from a distance. All of it sounds typically incredible—production from PC Music's A.G. Cook and 100 gecs's Dylan Brady keep both feet in the future, and Charli's knack for nursery rhyme hooks remains razor sharp (I dare you to shake the "I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you" hook from "Claws"). Plus, the accelerated writing period means everything hangs together emotionally in a way that a more workshopped product might not.

And then LAST week, patron saint of antiseptic pop Carly Rae Jepsen dropped a full steaming batch of 12 new tracks, outtakes from last year's Dedicated, in a "Side B" collection. They hardly feel like outtakes. After 2015's E•MO•TION, which turned Jepsen from "the Canadian girl who sang 'Call Me Maybe'" to a cult hero beloved by the cool kids and beyond, she settled into a groove: clever, joyful pop songs about falling in love that can dip into the saccharine or the obsessive. Every song on Dedicated Side B fits the bill, and a few, like "This Love Isn't Crazy" and "This Is What They Say" rank among Jepsen's very best. No one does pure, undiluted feeling like she does—no bells or whistles, just white-hot crushes so divine you might start hovering if you think about them too long.

All of this to say: I've been listening to a lot of pop music lately. Loud, crystalline, danceable pop music. It makes my walks easier, my head clearer, and reminds me that sometimes my emotions are not as complicated as I would like to believe. Maybe I'm just feeling lonely or would like to get drunk with my friends; that's OK. It's beautiful, even. 

I recommend you do the same. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor

Normal People

First came Lenny Abrahamson, beloved for Adam and Paul and Garage and his Oscar-nominated Room, who coaxes something unbearably human from every script. Then came Sally Rooney, with her masterful, intimate second novel, Normal People.  
And now, in a rare manifestation of my personal fever dream, they’re paired on the new(ish) TV series, Normal People, based on the novel by the latter and co-directed by the former (England’s Hettie McDonald directs the last six episodes, while the first six are Abrahamson’s).
It’s got it all: somehow possibly beautiful young people (Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul OMG Mescal as Connell), silences steeped in the unsaid, an onscreen chemistry that could wake the dead, and a real, raw reflection of the indelibility of first love. Add Trinity College Dublin’s cobbled squares and Sligo’s windswept beaches as backdrops (with cameos from the occasional Italian hillside), an evocative soundtrack (Frank Ocean, Lisa Hannigan, Elliott Smith) and Connell’s chain (now with its own Instagram account), and you can expend six rich hours in its thrall without any regret beyond your own departed youth. —Fiona McCann, senior editor-at-large

Stop Making Sense

Tiger King is out. The Last Dance has danced its … last dance. Get in, loser. We’re watching concert movies.
Talking Heads are one of those bands that have consistently floated around my waking life. Even before I really knew anything about the band or David Byrne, I’d heard their songs, been coached by my dad every time they’d come on the radio. “Who’s this, mijo?” he’d ask. It wasn’t until last year that I truly started taking sips from the Talking Heads well.
Their music reminds me of car rides with my dad at dusk in my hometown and making dinner with my partner Kelcie at her studio apartment in Cottonwood. The band’s classic concert movie Stop Making Sense, filmed in 1984, captures them at their peak creative drive, fresh from then-new album Speaking in Tongues. Every moment in the 88-minute film is high-energy, capturing the true symbiotic nature of art and joy. Even if you don’t like the music, it’s a thrill to see Byrne, Tina Weymouth, and everyone else so enthralled with their music in the moment and having fun. —Gabriel Granillo, digital editor


Smart-yet-accessible literary fiction where the plot moves right along is my jam. I get impatient when things get too mystifyingly meta, or when there's page upon page of descriptive prose, luscious and pregnant though it may be.

For years, I've been recommending American Wife, author Curtis Sittenfeld's novelization of the life of Laura Bush, that devoted cypher of a woman who nevertheless always seemed to be hiding the tiniest of insouciant streaks. So naturally, when Sittenfeld's follow-up, which imagines what Hillary Clinton's life could have been had she only left Bill and Arkansas in her rearview mirror, debuted last week, I dived right in. The book is divided into three parts, the first of which sticks pretty closely to what we known about Bill and Hillary's early courtship at Yale Law School and their subsequent move to Arkansas, over the objections of pretty much everyone who knew Hillary Clinton at the time, ending when she discovers the worst of his serial infidelities. This portion includes some disarmingly hot sex scenes—as a former reporter for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, I don't think it would be a good idea to get that distracted when driving through the winding roads of the Ozark mountains—but the book really takes off in the post-Bill era, in the coulda-woulda-shoulda version of Hillary's life.

In this alternate universe, Hillary's political career is rooted in Illinois, not the carpetbagging New York ("To tell the truth, I've always been a Yankees fan"), and she ascends the ladders of national power from there. Bill's shadow looms large, though, and it's genuinely suspenseful as to whether the secrets she's kept for him all these years will be what brings her down in the end, as they did in real life. (And should they be her undoing? I vote yes, but of course, there's no such thing as perfect in politics.) No spoilers—you'll just have to binge-read for yourself. —Julia Silverman, news editor

This TikTok

Confession time: The other week, I created a TikTok account just to follow disgraced Papa John Schnatter's insane house tour updates. Those got old real fast, but my mistake led me to this video, which is pure cinematic perfection:

You know this feeling ##run ##viral ##stayhomestaystrong ##scary

♬ original sound - you1stlondon
I watch it daily. I still don't know how #fyp works, but I do know that if this is the type of content TikTok inspires, then maybe the teens are onto something after all. —Marty Patail, editor in chief
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