When I am writing my novel, I love listening to Max Richter—specifically “The Twins (Prague)” on repeat. It’s a short but beautiful piece that always seems to bring out dramatic scenes from within, and onto paper.
For a more directed recommendation, I’ve found modern cello to be particularly fruitful (even if not used in a video game), especially by Zoe Keating—e.g. “Sun Will Set” and “Tetrishead”—and in the same vein, Julia Kent’s “Barajas.” Those three are really beautiful cello pieces. Do check them out, even if you don’t spend days researching the epic mixes above.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Reader M.J. has a wonderful find for the new series:
As a PhD researcher, it’s difficult to find the right kind of music to work to. Music with lyrics distracts from reading and typing. Absolute silence is just as distracting as a complete din. I’ve sometimes used one of the white-noise or nature-sounds websites, but they get boring.
After some searching, I’ve found that the classical music used in video games is very helpful. Thanks to sites like Bandcamp, it’s easy to find and buy music from indie games (ones that often aren’t focussed on shooting as many people as possible). My latest find is the composer Austin Wintory, especially the soundtrack to Journey. Highly recommended.
Journey won several “game of the year” awards and received several other awards and nominations, including a Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media nomination for the 2013 Grammy Awards. The music, composed by Austin Wintory, dynamically responds to the player’s actions, building a single theme to represent the game's emotional arc throughout the story. Reviewers of the game praised the visual and auditory art as well as the sense of companionship created by playing with a stranger, calling it a moving and emotional experience, and have since listed it as one of the greatest games of all time.
The full soundtrack is available on YouTube, and its most popular track, “Apotheosis,” is embedded above.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Yesterday—in attempt to get a new TotD series going, centered on songs that are great to listen to while working—a reader gave a shoutout to the post-rock band This Will Destroy You. I just checked out their eponymous 2008 album—which you can listen to in full on YouTube—and immediately recognized one of its tracks, “The Mighty Rio Grande,” but I wasn’t sure from where. A quick googling turned up the answer: the 2011 film Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis’s book of the same name chronicling the Oakland A’s efforts to revamp their struggling team based on sabermetrics. I’m listening to the moody atmospheric track as I type and it’s simultaneously soothing without slowing my productivity.
Do you have any recommendations for similar songs—ones with little or no lyrics that are great to have in the background while you’re typing away at work or trying to write something at home? Please drop us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org. Update from a reader, Jack, who mentions a movie that’s been high on my to-see list:
“The Mighty Rio Grande” was also featured in Room, which came out last year and was nominated for Best Picture. It’s in the pivotal scene of the movie and the music fits it perfectly. Such a great scene.
(Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
Personally I can’t listen to music with lyrics; they’re too distracting. But curiously that’s not the case when I lack control over the music, like when I’m working in a coffeeshop and the lyrics over the speakers are melding with the ambient noise. (That mixture of sounds is so comforting that I often work to Coffitivity, an awkwardly named site that provides a variety of ambient tracks from the cafe.)
So what’s your favorite piece of music to work to, either as an individual track or a whole album? Please send us your pick to email@example.com and describe a little why you like the track or album so much. Benjamin, one of the readers in the Writers groups, sounds off:
I usually write to Radiohead, Sigur Ros, or St. Vincent. Sometimes I throw a little Nick Cave in the mix, but he has a lot of words and an imposing voice so ... not always.
Love, love Explosions in the Sky. Their music is an experience and it's really inspirational. Check out the band This Will Destroy You if you’re into the post-rock ambient sound.
Ria gets vivid:
Closing my eyes, I listen to Gabriel Faure’s “Pavane” [embedded above] and imagine myself sitting inside an ancient, ruined cathedral, while it’s raining outside. I rest my back on the damp, mossy wall of the cathedral and watch the blurred view of the green valley. I have a blank notebook and a pen. The notebook lies open on my lap. My heart longs to write something. I open my eyes and start writing.
(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
“Wealth work” is one of America’s fastest-growing industries. That’s not entirely a good thing.
In an age of persistently high inequality, work in high-cost metros catering to the whims of the wealthy—grooming them, stretching them, feeding them, driving them—has become one of the fastest-growing industries.
Low-skill, low-pay, and disproportionately done by women, these jobs congregate near dense urban labor markets, multiplying in neighborhoods with soaring disposable income. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of manicurists and pedicurists doubled, while the number of fitness trainers and skincare specialists grew at least twice as fast as the overall labor force.
While there are reasons to be optimistic about this trend, there is also something queasy about the emergence of a new underclass of urban servants.
Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out.
In the summer of 1987, I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and headed northeast to attend Yale. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at various universities—the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees along the way. Today, I teach at Yale Law, where my students unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities. I pass on to them the advantages that my own teachers bestowed on me. They, and I, owe our prosperity and our caste to meritocracy.
Two decades ago, when I started writing about economic inequality, meritocracy seemed more likely a cure than a cause. Meritocracy’s early advocates championed social mobility. In the 1960s, for instance, Yale President Kingman Brewster brought meritocratic admissions to the university with the express aim of breaking a hereditary elite. Alumni had long believed that their sons had a birthright to follow them to Yale; now prospective students would gain admission based on achievement rather than breeding. Meritocracy—for a time—replaced complacent insiders with talented and hardworking outsiders.
Hundreds of skeletons are scattered around a site high in the Himalayas, and a new study overturns a leading theory about how they got there.
In a kinder world, archaeologists would study only formal cemeteries, carefully planned and undisturbed. No landslides would have scattered the remains. No passersby would have taken them home as souvenirs, or stacked them into cairns, or made off with the best of the artifacts. And all this certainly wouldn’t be happening far from any evidence of human habitation, under the surface of a frozen glacial lake.
But such an ideal burial ground wouldn’t have the eerie appeal of Skeleton Lake in Uttarakhand, India, where researchers suspect the bones of as many as 500 people lie. The lake, which is formally known as Roopkund, is miles above sea level in the Himalayas and sits along the route of the Nanda Devi Raj Jat, a famous festival and pilgrimage. Bones are scattered throughout the site: Not a single skeleton found so far is intact.
Days after considering the implementation of universal background checks, President Donald Trump has sidelined the issue.
Three days after a pair of mass shootings in Ohio and Texas that left 31 people dead, President Donald Trump was preoccupied with visions of a Rose Garden ceremony.
His daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, had proposed the idea of a televised Rose Garden appearance as a way to nudge her father toward supporting universal background checks. The president had recently suggested he was open to the gun-control measure, tweeting, “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform.” To be sure, this was similar to how he’d responded to other mass shootings during his 31-month presidency, and each time, the push for action fizzled. But the prospect of a Rose Garden ceremony, his daughter thought, where Trump could sign a document and call it “historic” and “unprecedented”—and receive positive media attention—might be the best chance of yielding real change.
AM stations just wanted to keep listeners entertained—but ended up remaking the Republican Party.
No one set out to turn the airwaves into a political weapon—much less deputize talk-radio hosts as the ideological enforcers of a major American political party. Instead the story of how the GOP establishment lost its power over the Republican message—and eventually the party itself—begins with frantic AM radio executives and a former Top 40 disc jockey, Rush Limbaugh.
In the late 1980s, AM radio was desperate for new content. Listeners had migrated to FM because music sounded better on there, and advertising dollars had followed. Talk-radio formats offered a lifeline—unique programming that FM didn’t have. And on August 1, 1988, Limbaugh debuted nationally. At the outset, Limbaugh wasn’t angling to become a political force—he was there to entertain and make money. Limbaugh’s show departed from the staid, largely nonpartisan, interview and caller-based programs that were the norm in earlier talk radio. Instead, Limbaugh was a consummate showman who excited listeners by being zany and fun and obliterating boundaries, offering up something the likes of which many Americans had never heard before.
College isn’t providing an effective engine of upward mobility for most Americans.
This article was updated on August 20, 2019 at 5:53pm
A native of small-town Missouri who excelled at Stanford and Yale Law School, Josh Hawley, the junior senator from Missouri, is keenly aware of how higher education can serve as a springboard into the elite and the challenges facing those it leaves behind. But that’s not to say he’s a cheerleader for the higher-education industry. Like many on the right, the senator often speaks of the higher-education sector as a kind of cartel, one that has left America’s non-college-educated majority out in the cold.
At a recent gathering of conservatives, for example, Hawley drew a straight line from the declining economic prospects of non-college-educated workers to a number of social maladies. “Just about any American worker without a four-year college degree will have a hard time in the cosmopolitan economy. Maybe that’s one reason why marriage rates among working-class Americans are falling, why birth rates are falling, why life expectancy is falling. All the while, an epidemic of suicide and drug addiction ravages every sector, every age group, every geography of the working class.”
Can straight men and women really be best friends? Their partners are wondering, too.
In 1989, When Harry Met Sally posed a question that other pop-cultural entities have been trying to answer ever since: Can straight men and women really be close friends without their partnership turning into something else? (According to The Office, no. According to Lost in Translation, yes. According to Friends … well, sometimes no and sometimes yes.) Screenwriters have been preoccupied with this question for a long time, and according to a new study published in the Journal of Relationships Research, the question is also likely to be on the minds of people whose romantic partners have best friends of the opposite sex.
For the study, Eletra Gilchrist-Petty, an associate professor of communication arts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Lance Kyle Bennett, a doctoral-degree student at the University of Iowa, recruited 346 people, ranging in age from 18 to 64, who were or had been in a heterosexual relationship with someone who had a different-sex best friend. When they surveyed participants’ attitudes toward cross-sex best friendships, they found that people who are engaged to be married look more negatively on those friendships than married, single, or dating people. They also found that people who are skeptical of cross-sex best friendships in general are more likely to “lash out” at their partner when they feel threatened by the partner’s best friend—as opposed to constructively communicating with their partner, or with the friend, about the situation.
Law-enforcement agencies can arrest terrorists, but they cannot settle existential arguments about the nature of American democracy.
The massacre in El Paso has, for the moment, reminded Americans of the danger posed by far-right terrorists. Former national-security officials have demanded the U.S. government “make addressing this form of terrorism as high a priority as countering international terrorism has become since 9/11.” Retired Marine General John Allen and the former senior U.S. diplomat Brett McGurk have argued that far-right extremism poses “an equal threat” as jihadist groups like ISIS.
This is incorrect. White nationalism is a far greater threat to American democracy than jihadism, and always has been. But there are actually two challenges posed by white nationalism: One is the threat posed to American communities by attacks like the one in El Paso, which law enforcement can and should prevent. The other is the threat the ideology the attackers support poses to American democracy, which can only be defeated through politics, and only by the American people themselves.
The legendary metal band is returning after a 13-year absence, and while its sound isn’t in, its disaffected embrace of spirituality is.
A heavy-metal giant is awakening from a 13-year slumber, but does the domain it once ruled remain? From the early ’90s to 2006, the foursome of Tool stood as a rock-‘n’-roll-epitome when rock ‘n’ roll was a social average. As grunge issued a culture-wide call to bond over psychic wounds by comparing calluses, Tool responded with gnarlier body-and-soul horror than many were prepared for. By the time that the band’s frightening bass lines and abject-trauma themes had been sucked into a popular “nu metal” movement lacking mystery and brains, 2001’s Lateralus fell from the sky like a thousand-page new testament, or at least like a textbook dusted with DMT.
But today, even the wave of car-commercial guitar pop that was cresting around the time of the band’s 2006 motley 10,000 Days has crashed and dissipated. Rock still matters, but as a rumor, an input, in the ongoing brainstorm—between rap and everything else—that represents American pop today. If Tool was a best-selling alternative to a mainstream branded as alternative, that’s not a paradigm that computes anymore. Nor has there been an easy way for them to be re-discovered and re-dissected since their absence. The band kept its music off of streaming and download platforms. Even many of the onetime diehards (ahem) let their devotion lapse when their CDs scratched and iPods fritzed.