Our favorite things this week include "American Cool," "Selfie" and St. Vincent's "St. Vincent."
Everything’s Cool: What makes someone cool? Is there a formula that can distinguish the cool from the uncool, the authentic from the posers? In his new book, American Cool, based on the exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, Tulane University's Joel Dinerstein explores the evolution of cool throughout American history and lists the top 100 “coolest people,” based on the elements that (1) the figure had an original, artistic vision; (2) was a cultural rebel in a given historical moment; (3) was highly iconic; and (4) has a recognized cultural legacy. There’s even an alt-100 list in the back listing figures that barely missed the cut. Sure, there’s plenty of room for disagreement because in the end, cool is relative, but if you don’t agree with the author’s opinions, the book is filled with stunning photographs of these cultural icons that make it worth the buy. As just another coffee table book, it’s sure to strike up conversations, or it might just help you look cooler. (Will Halnon)
What Are Words Worth?: When slang or any subcultural jargon finds its way into the common language, it loses all cool. “Crunk” was already yesterday’s hip-hop strip joint soundtrack when The Ying Yang Twins’ “Halftime” found its way into the Superdome during Saints games, but whatever last vestiges of hipness it once possessed were ground into black and gold dust when grandmothers in Kenner declared themselves eager to get crunk.
“Selfie” took a similar hit when it was named Word of the Year in 2013 and added to the American Heritage Dictionary, giving adults the license to use a word that comes with its own cloud of self-conscious immaturity and hazy irony. Once again, moms and dads eager to prove they’re cool have reinforced how woefully uncool they are by using the word, which comes out of their mouth with the awkward enthusiasm of a spaniel puppy. The word has inspired an appropriate song and video by The Chainsmokers. “Selfie” the song and word are immediate and playful, and like “Gangnam Style,” the song’s irresistible for the first five to 10 listens. After that, it has nothing left to give and wears out its welcome, so enjoy it while you can. (Alex Rawls)
St. Vincent’s Self: Often the self-titled album comes first in a band's discography. It's a simple way to introduce a group and build name recognition, but some acts like to give it time before they name an album after themselves. Annie Clark's fourth album as St. Vincent, released Tuesday, is the latter. It may come off as lazy to pick your own name for the title, but Clark says the new album is the purest expression of herself on record yet. That couldn't be truer, as St. Vincent sees the guitarist's doubled nature on entrancing display. Her signature juxtaposition of sweet and visceral on St. Vincent sounds simultaneously effortless and stand-alone, and its integral to the sound design and songwriting. On record, she’s raw, unabashed and dark, but in interviews, Clark is serene and soft-spoken, skirting questions about her personal life but passionate when discussing music. However vague her songs or her words may be, Clark’s grueling, jaded, beautiful work is pure expression. The result is simultaneously odd, refreshing and unmistakably St. Vincent. (Brian Sibille)