Culture to cheer you up during the second lockdown: part one | Culture

Music

Khruangbin – Mordechai
Because sometimes what you need during lockdown is to be transported somewhere better by whatever’s in your headphones: Mordechai’s self-styled “Earth music” sounds like a warm summer breeze, a gentle drift of guitars equal parts psychedelic and west African, scattered vocals and lazy funk drums, the overall effect somewhere between Roy Ayers and Air.



Somewhere better … Khruangbin

The Harlem Gospel Travellers – He’s on Time
A confirmed diabolist would struggle not to have their spirits lifted by the Harlem Gospel Travellers, the product of an education programme to introduce New York youth to the sound of classic gospel: lo-fi production, soaring, gorgeous vocals, music that turns from soothing to raucous.

Various artists – 76 in the Shade
Another means of transporting yourself: a superlative compilation designed to evoke “the sweet heat, the almost narcotic lethargy” of the summer of 1976 – and to reconsider the year as something more than a dead zone prelude to punk. Stirs forgotten soul, pop, soft rock and library music into a dreamy mix.

Bdrmm – Bedroom
A debut album on a tiny label, Bedroom attracted a surprising amount of attention during the first lockdown, but you can see why: Bdrmm sound fantastic – a dense mesh of effects-heavy guitars somewhere between shoegazing and 80s Cure. Moreover, the lyrics fit the times: “It’s not that I didn’t try and keep my shit together / This whole ordeal just took over.”

Prince – Sign O’ The Times deluxe edition
If not now, when? The deluxe version of Prince’s 1987 masterpiece comes groaning with so many extra tracks – of a startlingly high quality – that it lasts eight hours. There are worse ways to spend time on your hands than luxuriating in the torrential outpouring of a genius at the height of his powers.
Alexis Petridis

Games

Kind Words



Putting troubles into perspective … Kind Words

Kind Words
An ambient game you can keep open on your computer on stressful days, Kind Words lets you write down your worries and send them out into the universe – and receive encouraging letters back from strangers. Reading and sending these anonymous missives is cheering, and can help keep all our troubles in perspective.
Available on PC and Mac.

Animal Crossing
The star game of the first lockdown is already enjoying another surge in popularity, as people seek a peaceful, soothing island escape from their own homes. It’s now autumn in the game as well, with warm colours, cosy jumpers, and mushrooms and acorns to forage for.
Available on Nintendo Switch.

Marvel’s Spider-Man
Sometimes you just need to punch things, and in Spider-Man you can do so guiltlessly whilst swinging around a ludicrously beautiful Manhattan. So frictionless and easy to play that you can disappear into it for hours without having to engage your brain much. A new version starring Miles Morales has just been released.
Available on Playstation 4 and 5.

No Man’s Sky



Relatively little peril … No Man’s Sky. Photograph: The Guardian

No Man’s Sky
An entire universe awaits in this chill space-exploration game, which you can play either by yourself like a tragic stranded astronaut, or with friends for a more social time. Flying through space, landing on new planets and building bases to work from is absorbing, and there’s relatively little peril.
Available on PC, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox Series S & X, Xbox One

A Short Hike
A brief, sweet, cheerful and lovable game about a bird trying to climb a mountain. Inspired by creator Adam Robinson’s real-world hikes and playful video game adventures of the 90s, it’s got beautiful autumnal colours, irreverent chit-chat and an invigorating sense of freedom, letting you explore without pressure.
Available on PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch.
Keza MacDonald

Books

Reasons to be Cheerful



Delightful … Reasons to be Cheerful. Photograph: Penguin

Reasons to Be Cheerful, by Nina Stibbe
Lizzie, bright but unworldly, has just turned 18 and is working as a dental assistant in 1980 Leicester. Winner of the Wodehouse prize for comic fiction and the Comedy Women in Print prize, this is the sort of book you want to keep reading bits of aloud to people just because it’s so delightful.

The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman
Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Ron and Joyce (who is the type who “gets things done”) live in an exclusive retirement village in Kent, where they meet every Thursday to investigate unsolved murder cases (“very social, but also gory”) – until a real killer lands on their doorstep. This cosy crime caper from the Pointless presenter is a genuine pleasure: charming, amusing and affectionate.

Okechukwu Nzelu



Snort-out-loud funny … Okechukwu Nzelu. Photograph: Liz Appleton

The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney, by Okechukwu Nzelu
Nnenna, who has grown up in Manchester, starts asking questions about Maurice, the Nigerian father her white mother Joanie refuses to discuss. Moving between timelines – as Joanie and Maurice meet in Cambridge, and as Nnenna tries to find her own way forward – this debut is snort-out-loud funny, effortlessly insightful and heart-warmingly tender.

Mr Wilder and Me, by Jonathan Coe
The latest novel from the author of What a Carve Up! and Middle England follows the Greek-born film-score composer Calista, who is now in her 50s. As her children prepare to leave home, and she ponders her own life, she looks back on the time she worked for Hollywood director Billy Wilder as a young woman. Tender and bittersweet, it is “as good as anything he’s written – a novel to cherish”, said the Observer.

His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman
There’s a new story about Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon just out, in Serpentine, so what better excuse to revisit the world(s) of Pullman’s greatest creation, Lyra Silvertongue? It’s your choice whether that’s via His Dark Materials, and Pullman’s exquisite rendering of the pain and wonder of growing up, or his expansion of her story in The Book of Dust, but I’d recommend both. After all, we have the time now…
Alison Flood

Television

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt



Uncanny metaphor … Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Photograph: Netflix

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
It doesn’t sound like much of a comedy premise – 30-year-old woman is freed from a bunker where she’s been held by a religious nutcase for 15 years and must relearn how to live – BUT! Two things. One: the setup now feels like an uncanny metaphor for 2020. And two: it is, against all the odds, very, very funny. And warm, charming and uplifting. You need it.
Available on Netflix

I May Destroy You
Why not use your enforced viewing time to watch the best drama of the year (the decade, possibly longer) and a landmark in television history? Watch someone – writer and star Michaela Coel – push the boundaries of an art form and create something compelling, interrogative, new and brilliant? It will feed your soul.
Available on BBC iPlayer

Silicon Valley
An underrated comedy by Mike Judge about a group of coders attempting to become a groundbreaking tech force in the mad world of Palo Alto. It doesn’t matter if you know or care nothing about computers – the characters are real, the performances are flawless, and you’ll learn a little about compression algorithms along the way.
Available on Sky Atlantic/Now TV

Silicon Valley



Underrated … Silicon Valley.

Photograph: HBO

The Boys
What if you monetised superheroes? That’s the question at the heart of this series based on Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s comic book, and the answer is a dark, sinewy, bitterly funny series with gory action aplenty to keep the existential despair at back.
Available on Amazon Prime Video

The Queen’s Gambit
Utterly gorgeous to look at, this adaptation of Walter Tevis’s bestseller about an orphan chess prodigy battling grandmasters at the same time as addiction is the perfect escapist, rags-to-riches tale at a time when we all need to believe there is something better within us and out in the world. The most bingeable, comforting new series around.
Available on Netflix
Lucy Mangan

Dance

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater



Uplifting … Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Photograph: Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
A whole evening programme from the New York company, including the legendary Revelations, Ailey’s signature work rooted in the African-American experience, set to spirituals, blues and gospel. It comes from a place of struggle, but it’s ultimately one of the most spiritually uplifting pieces of dance out there.
Available on YouTube

Bolshoi Ballet: Flames of Paris
French Revolution-set ballet that’s like Les Mis on pointe shoes. Bit of a slow start, but once it revs up with full revolutionary zeal, it’s a rip-roaring ride. Explosive leads Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev fly across the stage with the Russians showing off what they do so well: virtuoso, escapist entertainment.
Available on Medici TV/Marquee TV, subscription required

Top Hat



Pure delight … Top Hat. Photograph: Alamy

Top Hat
A hidden gem on iPlayer, Top Hat is pure delight and arguably Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ best film. Astaire’s tap solo in No Strings is a blinder. Rogers turns up at the door and he tries to charm: “Every once in a while I suddenly find myself … dancing.” “Oh,” she says, unimpressed. “I suppose it’s some sort of an affliction.”
Available on BBC iPlayer

Flavorama 2020
The determination of dancers to keep dancing throughout this pandemic sends hope to the heart. One outlet is the online dance battle, played out over Instagram. It makes for a bitty format, but the passion of this global community of dancers comes through. For feelgood vibes, house dance is the go-to style.
Available on Instagram

World Ballet Day 2020
29 October was World Ballet Day, and in a cheering spirit of international celebration, 40 ballet companies from Cape Town to Queensland took part in a 24-hour live stream. Just seeing the world’s best dancers up close and behind the scenes, going through the grit, grace and precision beauty of their training is mesmerising, inspiring stuff.
Available online
Lyndsey Winship

Visual art

Silent Messenger, an artwork representing an Inuit land marker at the British Museum’s Arctic exhibition



Silent Messenger, an artwork representing an Inuit land marker at the British Museum’s Arctic exhibition. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Arctic
This delightful exhibition of Arctic life takes you into the ingenious, creative lifestyles of the peoples who live in perpetual winter. Although it is temporarily closing, the website offers several nice ways to engage with Arctic history and culture, from top objects to advice on conserving fish-skin bags. The catalogue is well worth getting.
Available online

Tracey Emin’s The Ship
This mighty new painting is in the Royal Academy’s summer show, now closed, and it lifted my heart with its energy, passion and rough beauty. There’s a good image of it that you can enjoy online and be moved by Emin’s ability to put her life and feelings on canvas. She channels Turner, as a ship appears to materialise in her bath in a storm of emotion.
Available online

The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama



Enthusiastic exploration … The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama. Photograph: BBC/Oxford Films

The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama
You can visit the Louvre in Schama’s engrossing company to look deeply into Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa and Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, as he boldly traces modern politics and art to their roots around 1800. His encounter with Victor Hugo’s eerie drawings is revelatory as his enthusiastic exploration of the Romantics’ appetite for drugs. Which might of course be another lockdown idea.
Available on BBC iPlayer

Andy Warhol: Love, Sex and Desire
It’s hard to believe Warhol’s early drawings were once regarded as trivial and irrelevant to his later career. This book celebrates their sensuality. His clear lines delineate tenderly adored male beauty in a style reminiscent of Jean Cocteau. Far from the cold voyeur his critics made him out to be, he emerges here as a lyrical draughtsman of unabashed eroticism.
Published by Taschen, £75

Caravaggio. Il contemporaneo
One good thing about retreating online is that international exhibitions are just as accessible as local ones. This provocative show in northern Italy has a decent online presence and is uplifting if you like art that’s searingly alive. Caravaggio’s great Sicilian altarpiece The Burial of St Lucy is juxtaposed with modern works, including images of the murdered Pasolini and the gory rites of Hermann Nitsch. Goes well with the National Gallery’s Artemisia.
Available online
Jonathan Jones




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