EX rex: 8 recent things we loved

Julia Holter, One More Shot, and Slice & Dice.

EX is a research report about where culture is headed. In our monthly recommendation index, we hand-pick recent cultural items worth your attention. Plus a few surprises from the vaults. 

1. The HTML Review

This is a "me" problem, but I struggle with literary magazines. Organized around opaque subjects, expensive, seemingly written for other people who write for literary magazines. The HTML Review is different. Entirely online – in terms of format, tone, and subject matter – the Review puts equal weight on poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, with each piece playing, somehow, with the browser format. The third issue just dropped, and it’s full of quick, thought-provoking experiments in how copy can be displayed online. Rory Green’s “Crush Chereography” (described as an “indefinite sonnet”) dances with the reader in real-time, ending in a sort of limnal, neverending embrace. Merve Mepa’s “Textdraft” warps any given copy into a textile-like pattern. And pretty much all of the short fictional works (characterized, accurately, as “expeditions”) toy explicitly with the concept of interactivity. For people who are interested in games as a medium of expression, the whole Review’s worth spending time with. [Clayton]

2. Julia Holter, Something In the Room She Moves

I missed the chance to attend the Dolby Atmos listening event for Something In the Room She Moves in LA a couple of weeks ago, so I decided I’d do the next best thing: I listened to the record while taking a night walk through the Lake District in England, enwombed in pitch-black darkness, an exercise in both close listening and sensory deprivation. Like Julia Holter’s previous LPs, Something In the Room She Moves is perfect for walking, a record that lives in the limbo of a portamento glide; delicate woodwinds, fretless basses, and fluttering synths carry the listener from one idea to the next, a collection of atmospheric arrangements that swirl around song-like centers. Though Holter often puts her work in conversation with film, Something In the Room She Moves is less a linear, cinematic experience than it is a sonic installation, oscillating freely between fluid movement and arresting stillness. It’s a record made for meandering, for getting lost on purpose, for lurching through the darkness towards islands of light. [Pao]

3. MIKE & Tony Seltzer, Pinball

Almost every Mike record seems like the best Mike record, but last year’s Burning Desire really felt like the apotheosis of the prolific New York rapper’s brand of blown-out, introspective hip-hop. So why not follow that up a few months later with a hard left? Pinball, a full-length collaboration with the rising beatmaker Tony Seltzer, slots neatly alongside recent works by Wiki and Navy Blue in its evocation of early-oughts east-coast classics, equal parts Dipset and DOOM. Come to hear Mike in his most high-definition setting ever; stay to hear fellowtraveler Earl Sweatshirt take graceful hook duty while Atlanta plugg mainstay Tony Shhnow gets some overdue shine as an S-tier spot-up shooter. [Clayton]

4. One More Shot 

Action-movie buffs have a tortured relationship, to put it mildly, with the one-shot, long-take action scene. Popularized by flashy sequences in Children of Men and True Detective, then run into the ground via distracting showpieces in Atomic Blonde and a zillion others, the “oner” is an auteurish flourish most would like to see retired. But then came 2021’s One Shot, a 90-minute single-take action scene that reclaimed the technique as a vehicle for surprisingly agile narrative development. The new One More Shot betters its predecessor in almost every capacity, switching from the paintball-course-like setting of the original to a real airport, and pulling off a bunch of interesting new spatial ideas within the conceit. Scott Adkins, now almost 50, continues to earn his stripes as an action star worthy of a previous era: grim, committed, and thrillingly physical. [Clayton]

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5. ScHoolboy Q, Blue Lips

ScHoolboy Q’s long-awaited Blue Lips lists 18 distinct tracks, but that’s a lie. Almost every track contains multitudes: hairpin pivots from locker-room chest-thumping to Stooges-grade filth (“Pop”); gliding g-funk to simmering electro to boozy jazz (“oHio”); a menacing incantation dissolving into beatific sampledelica (“Back N Love”). Even when tracks don’t transform, they’re sequenced for maximum whiplash. But it all works thanks to ScHoolboy. Long a great emcee, here he sounds fully himself in every disparate soundscape, shouting out his mom, growling about his kid’s shit being all over the place, and firing shots at every stray opponent who crosses his cloistered, middle-aged memory. It’s the type of sprawling record Danny Brown used to make, surprising you almost every minute, almost every time you listen to it. [Clayton]

6. Shinkansen 0

To be clear, this is a streamer game. You can beat Shinkansen (“bullet train”) 0 in 30 minutes, and millions of people have chosen to watch influencers do it for them. But they’re missing out. Shinkansen is the best of a new crop of micro-horror games that ask you to play spot-the-difference instead of shooting zombies or solving adventure game puzzles. Exit 8, I’m On Observation Duty, and other games follow the same principle — you have to look closely at the environment and run through your mental checklist of things that might’ve changed, which commands enough of your brainpower to leave you open to the next scare. Other games in the genre will often resort to changing boring details like the position of a chair, but Shinkansen distinguishes itself by filling its train cars with freaky little gags that arise naturally from your surroundings. You can see all of the game’s best bits very quickly in a video, or even video thumbnails, but that robs you of the thrill of hitting all the shocks yourself. 

Shinkansen 0 was made by Chilla’s Art, two brothers who’ve been making as many as five bite-sized games per year. If you tally up the views, their work over the last four years (including Parasocial, The Closing Shift, and The Convenience Store) might be the most popular horror anthology of the decade. [Chris]

7. Slice & Dice

Every time you win in Slice & Dice, you get a cascade of unlocks that feels like watching a Dungeon Master empty a bagful of figurines out on the table: dozens of new monsters, heroes, modes, and toys. The game is a dicebuilder: your characters are each represented by a six-sided die that you roll to see which of their abilities lands face-up. Upgrades within a run can help you mitigate bad luck or make even riskier bets by stacking bonuses onto one side of one die. But what makes the game addictive is its generosity, the jumble of new creatures dumped into the playspace, which creates a dazzling amount of variation in its tiny world of pixel grit. [Chris]

8. Star Wars: Dark Forces Remastered

I remember being scared by the shareware version of Dark Forces as a kid — rushing through an imperial antechamber, opening a side door into the sewer, then fleeing from a rancor-like beast. After playing this rerelease of the game, I discovered that the level I vividly remembered was a childhood hallucination; the sequence doesn’t exist. (The only nightmarish thing about the sewer level in Dark Forces is its switch puzzle.) But in other ways this post-Doom shooter does revive the Star Wars of memory. It comes from the 1990s Extended Universe era when the howls and zaps and Salacious Crumbs of the franchise still had some hold over the imagination, before prequels and sequels cashed out all remaining goodwill. The only irreverent moment in the whole game, which otherwise treats the films as sacred texts, is a visual gag where you see stormtroopers and Trandoshans lined up in front of a space urinal. Did any 1990s FPS fail to include a bathroom scene? [Chris]

Other rex & reviews from the EXpanded content universe —

Okay, readers – what did you read, write, watch, listen to, play, or ponder this month?