Your Weekly Pop Culture Mandate

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Five things you must not miss this week, including a new album from The Books, Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, and, of course, Mad Men.   

MUSICThe Way Out, The Books

The Way Out, The Books

The Books’ latest album continues a path they’ve carved for themselves for almost a decade, one that straddles the line between music-nerd obscurity and NPR-world approval. Their distinct sound —  a collage of folk melodies, voice samples, and bleepy electronic music — is simultaneously interesting and inoffensive, a trait that inspired the French Minister of Culture to commission the band to compose music for his building’s elevator. So there you have it: a band for arty bureaucrats and art-school kids alike. July 20 

MOVIESLife During Wartime, Todd Solondz 

Life During Wartime, Todd Solondz

The darkly comic Welcome to the Dollhouse put Todd Solondz on the map, and his next movie, Happiness, kept him there. But his subsequent works, stuffed with more taboos and unrelenting creepiness, pushed the director back toward the fringes. Wartime revisits the characters and tone of Happiness and has been winning the type of critical praise that reassures the more timid audiences. This is promising news for hardcore fans, who will be relieved to no longer be the only weirdos in line for a Solondz movie. July 23 

BOOKSLetters to Emma Bowlcut, Bill Callahan

Letters to Emma Bowlcut, Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan doesn’t like to rest. His prolific output as Smog varied from scratchy noise to lo-fi pop to hushed spare rock songs à la Cat Power. He’s since dropped the moniker, using his Christian name to quietly release some of indie rock’s most intriguing records. Now Callahan has a 79-page novel, and his longtime label Drag City is releasing it. Hopefully Letters to Emma Bowlcut will be good but not too good, because then I might just have to hate the guy. July 20 

MOVIESSalt, Phillip Noyce

Salt, Phillip Noyce

Recent events in the news have revealed that real Russian spies aren’t thrilling, on-the-go assassins, just patient, planted immigrants with desk jobs. Salt, thankfully, is not real life; Angelina Jolie plays CIA agent Evelyn Salt, who may or may not be a Russian operative determined to kill the President of the United States. Try not to ask questions like, “Don’t assassins know we have a system that ensures there will immediately be another president?” That sort of rigorous debate is better suited for last week’s Inception. Salt isn’t to be studied, it’s to be enjoyed with sugary candy. July 23


Mad Men Season 4, AMC

This is easily the most exciting event this week. Though a lot of television has happened in the last year (Lost ended, The Jersey Shore existed), most of it felt like a blooper reel when compared to Mad Men. After ending with both Don and Betty Draper revolting against their respective versions of “the man,” the third season suspended fans in an unhealthy state of anxiety. Even a mere promotional poster, revealing little more than a telephone and Don’s backside, is enough to induce symptoms typically associated with the asthmatic. For fans, this Sunday will basically be Christmas, the Fourth of July, and the day you lost your virginity happening all at once. July 25