Staff Picks: Young Thug’s “Best Friend,” Patrick deWitt’s ‘Undermajordomo Minor,’ and Joanna Newsom’s “Leaving the City”


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Take a look at our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

The Keegan-Michael Key scenes in Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 (out this week on DVD and Blu-ray) was a monster hit, and like many monster hits, it’s a mess: bizarre plotting; painfully unfunny schtick, thuddingly overdone (Banks and Higgins’ Best in Show business still doesn’t work, but at least there’s a lot of it!); obvious corporate synergy (the end credits sequence of a Universal film is all about NBC’s The Voice); and thin, one-joke characterizations, especially for the non-white people. But in the midst of all the dreck, there is greatness: the handful of scenes concerning Anna Kendrick’s Becca taking on an internship at a professional recording studio, and her interactions with a big-time producer played by Keegan-Michael Key. Key finds the perfect note of exasperated genius and bangs it like a drum, while creating a perfect bounce-board for her charming ultra-intimidation (“This dead air between us is a good sign!”). Plus, Snoop Dogg sings “Winter Wonderland.” At any rate, those scenes are like a really promising, funny movie buried inside this bad one; I’m not even a little bit on board with the already-in-development Pitch Perfect 3, but if they can make it a spin-off set at this studio, I’m in. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante

Yes, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels have become the literary equivalent of pumpkin spice lattes: ubiquitous for a few weeks after their release and vocally espoused by (mostly) white women. But they really are as good as everyone says, and the final installment is no exception. Saying the series is an unprecedented account of female friendship makes it sound like cultural homework, so I’ll avoid it—I think Slate’s Laura Miller got it right when she said Ferrante’s more interested in class dynamics anyways. I’ll simply say the anonymous author’s simple, forceful prose is all too easy to tear through 100 pages at a time. — Alison Herman, Associate Editor

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

I waded into deWitt’s third novel as though it were cold lake water on the first hot day of summer, moving gingerly through its quick chapters because I was convinced that it was doing something worthwhile, but I wasn’t yet sure what that thing was. Part of that has to do with how difficult the book is to classify. (As Daniel Handler wrote in the Times review, Undermajordomo Minor “is something of a fairy tale, although there’s not much magic in it; it’s something of a folk tale, with trickery but not talking animals. There are some gothic touches, and it’s something of an adventure story, and you could call it a bildungsroman, from the time before bildungsromans were all about boys from Brooklyn learning that maybe they shouldn’t sleep around so much.”) But most of what makes the book a strange read has to do with the way it slowly — and then quite quickly — makes a philosophical case that’s wildly different from what we’re used to seeing in genre fiction. I won’t spoil that revelation; just know that it’s definitely worth the initial uncertainty. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Joanna Newsom’s “Leaving the City”

Seeing the title “Leaving the City” in conjunction with the notion of Joanna Newsom’s New York life — on view in her “Sapokanikan” video — I too-hastily worried Newsom, emerging 5 years after having reached indie celebrity status with Have One On Me — had penned a bourgeois romanticization about sneaking up to say, a country home in the Berkshires. But whatever real-life experiences “Leaving the City” is or isn’t reflecting, its venture back to bucolic imagery from “Sapokanikan” is certainly far more complex than an idealized getaway: on an instrumental level it’s one of the most jarring, gut-wrenching tracks she’s written, trickily beginning with a traditional harp tune, which is interrupted by a drum-and-mellotron backed deluge of a chorus, expressing anxiety about forces over which humans have no control. As she hastily showers the listener in pastoral images — “Beneath a pale sky/Beside the red barn/Below the white clouds/Is all we are allowed” — this country getaway, it seems, becomes symbolic of acceptance of the smallness and isolation of the parts of our lives that we can claim as our own. If “Sapokanikan” mines the history of a city, this seems to mine the futile attempts to escape from the busyness and unpredictability of even the quietest lives. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Young Thug’s “Best Friend” Though he’s in the news today for canceling a string of tour dates to “focus on putting the finishing touches on his highly anticipated debut album Hy!£UN35,” it’s this Young Thug video from last week that’s on our mind. Using similar budget special effects from previous videos, Thugger auto-croaks this ode to his “Best Friend.” Whether he’s wearing two Apple watches as he raps “yeah my niece is hanging’ with the beatles” while he vamps in the middle of the woods with a gang of homies, or at the dinner table in white face, rapping over his own head on a silver platter, the absurdity is the aesthetic. Can’t wait for the next one. — Matthew Ismael Ruiz, Music Editor

FX’s Fargo

I’d been meaning to check out Fargo since it aired last year, but hadn’t found the opportunity until the show found its way to Hulu last month. Though inherently serious, Fargo keeps itself from falling into a generic high drama trap à la True Detective, by pairing its dark and brooding tone with a funny mean streak. The second season begins October 12 on FX. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice