Leslie Nuchow on her impossible return, the place of protest music in the age of Trump and what Elvis Costello has in common with Nina Simone
It's uncommon for a new album's press cycle to be sold as a comeback.
The Strokes "reunited" after a three year hiatus. LCD Soundsystem dramatically broke up over the course of a three-day farewell concert. Four years later, they're back and with a fresh album expected this year. Leslie Nuchow, however, took an actual break. Her peppery and, ahem, tender debut, Tenderland was released in 1998 and its follow up, Balm for Gilead was released eighteen years later. Unlike most removes, this lacked the deliberation of the artist preferring to hide behind the curtain. "When my son was born, I was so consumed by my love for him that nothing else felt like it mattered," Nuchow told Huffington Post late last year. More recently, her mother died and her son, as children do, grew older. "It felt like the flood gates opened and I had something to say again."
I had the chance to speak to Nuchow a while ago; it was Valentine's Day and we were both at home with gifts from our respective valentine's left on our kitchen tables. Mine accompanied a copy of All About Love by the feminist writer, bell hooks.
Nuchow was more into fiction, the kind of books that you read in amazement, surprised at the vines of the world growing up around you. She had recently read All the Light We Cannot See, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Anthony Doerr. We talked about it for some time. The discussion veered into artistry and she told me that the impossibility of certain artistic registers captivated her. Most of her influences were along the lines of the old torch song singer of the past century: Sinead O'Connor, Nina Simone. But one surprised me: Elvis Costello, whose plucky barroom piano took punk rock out of the shabby basement and into the living rooms of millions. But listened to sitting down, you realize there's agitation to much of Costello's less peppy material, an aesthetic that Balm for Gilead shares. My personal favorite is "Marrow," a song with a stormy bone chill imagines Sarah McLachlan fronting Alabama Shakes.
Like McLachlan, Nuchow's career is not without its political caveats. Growing up in a post-Salinger New York daydream, her childhood was peppered with protest. Her father, she told me, took on social inequality and her mother did justice on the end of the genders. This was her kitchen table, growing up. She was captivated by the pure noise of it; she describes the sound of hearing strung-together anthems as heavy.
"I'd come home from school, sit at the piano and just play out my day," she told me. Her original design, however, was to act: she diligently attended NYU's Tisch acting program until a voice coach told her that "she ought to quit this acting thing." In a New York whose millennium open-mike scene would soon be rich with names like Regina Spector, Nellie McKay and the somewhat beloved Moldy Peaches, Nuchow founded SLAM! Records to release Tenderland. She would later be involved in a number of protest concerts against the tobacco industry's involvement in the music industry, which included sharing the stage with contemporaries like McLachlan and the Dixie Chicks. Reflecting on the piece of late-90s emotional angst, she tells me that that Tenderland feels raw, like something immediately unspooled from the consciousness.
But Balm For Gilead, she told me, was the kind of intensely personal record whose audience she imagines as more spread out, her voice maintaining a kind of pure mourning that invites the listener to hold onto its notes like life rafts that dangle next to a crashed ship. Recorded in the weeks after her mother died, Balm For Gilead boasts titles like "I Don't Want to Die Before I Die" and "Angel, Dear Angel." Its title refers to the old spiritual "There Is a Balm in Gilead," which itself refers to the Balm of Gilead, a rare medicinal perfume mentioned throughout the old Testament. It is a thing of healing prowess that Nuchow suggests might need a taste of its own medicine.
But like most music, Balm For Gilead was recorded before the election and I wondered how someone with Nuchow's activist roots felt performing songs unconnected to our divisive times. "I'm in a writing mode right now," she tells me, she is planning on releasing a record of overtly political songs in the Fall. "I feel like this is an incredible opportunity for us to see who we really are as a country."
After finishing her run of East Coast cities, Nuchow will tour through the American Midwest.
Dante Basco Talks About His New Role on "Artificial" and the New Frontier of Interactive Storytelling
Basco talks about his upcoming project and his status as an Asian-American icon, Rufio in "Hook."
Now in its third season, Artificial, the first live scripted audience-interactive sci-fi series on Twitch, has invited actor Dante Basco to be a guest star.
The plot of Artificial focuses on the challenges and consequences of humanizing a self-aware AI —reminiscent of the film Ex Machina, but with the interactivity of the Netflix series Bandersnatch. The episode structure pivots between two different formats: world-building episodes where the audience coordinates with the showrunner to determine what will happen next, followed by story episodes where their decisions are brought to life. A real AI component called LifeScore also changes the music of the show in real time based on the mood of the chatroom, adding an additional layer of interactivity to the experience.
Basco has been a fan of Artificial creator and showrunner Bernie Su's work for several years, and he closely followed his previous projects like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved. Su was even featured as the keynote speaker at the February 2016 meeting of We Own the 8th, an arts collective founded by Basco to support and guide Asian American creatives. Both Basco and Su had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate for some time, but it wasn't until the pandemic that they finally got the chance to work together. When Su asked him if he would be interested in joining the third season—produced entirely remotely—Basco jumped at the opportunity.
The PlayStation 1 era of video games, lasting from 1995 until the PlayStation 2's release in 2000, was defined by its JRPGs.
Unlike most other genres of the era, Japanese role-playing games were largely story-based, weaving epic tales that proved video games could be more than just mindless diversions. Gameplay typically revolved around turn-based combat, relying more on tactics than hand-eye coordination. Due to their reliance on plot and menu-based mechanics, many JRPGs stand the test of time even after decades of graphical improvements. Let's take a look at nine of the best JRPGs that the PS1 had to offer.
Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8, and Final Fantasy 9<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgxMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTUyOTk2M30.e05q_Fr-JXf46sYXCv2P0gzFJ_PPmuqSIaxHG3-5Akg/img.jpg?width=980" id="dfc99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a3f28c9c4dec7e8fea12d81237bdfb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Final Fantasy 7" />
Square Enix<p>Let's just get the obvious out of the way first. <em>Final Fantasy 7</em>, <em>Final Fantasy 8</em>, and <em>Final Fantasy 9</em> rank amongst the most beloved games history. <em><a href="https://www.popdust.com/how-final-fantasy-vii-remake-redefines-what-a-remake-can-be-2645973706.html" target="_blank">Final Fantasy 7</a> </em><a href="https://www.popdust.com/how-final-fantasy-vii-remake-redefines-what-a-remake-can-be-2645973706.html">redefined what a video game could be for an entire generation of gamers</a>, while <em>Final Fantasy 8 </em>and <em>Final Fantasy 9</em> took big risks, shifting their game mechanics enough to feel completely distinct from every other game that came before them and overshadowing pretty much every other game on the PS1. If you like video games in general, all three of these are must-plays. If you've already played them, they most likely rank amongst your favorites already.</p>
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTcxMTEzMX0.RHOv48sXCc4tJrqp190WdWdOSybNaTCo-eds-zLpcxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="378f9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1932ee8092fe2272ca693bf8319991d4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Lunar 2 Eternal Blue" />
Entertainment Software<p>Featuring fantastic character designs, full-blown anime cutscenes, and one of the best soundtracks in any video game ever, <em>Lunar 2: Eternal Blue </em>easily deserves far more recognition than it gets. <em>Lunar 2</em>'s gameplay is classic RPG perfection, with each party members' play style feeling incredibly distinct (one of them is a gambler, and his best move hinges on a dice roll). It also had a <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Lunar-Eternal-Complete-Official-Strategy/dp/0966299337" target="_blank">gorgeous hardcover guidebook</a> that would run you a few hundred dollars if you were to buy it nowadays.</p>
The Legend of Dragoon<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTk1MzA5OH0.2mlVO0qY1KYgdCCqyl1zgkhgEsZ2OaMcKH1i9YF51cE/img.jpg?width=980" id="82d26" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e102d36c0b23d3d3321496d73a1153dd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Legend of Dragoon" />
Sony<p>Culturally eclipsed by the release of <em>Final Fantasy 8</em>, <em><a href="https://www.popdust.com/video-games-remakes-2646360023.html" target="_blank">Legend of Dragoon </a></em><a href="https://www.popdust.com/video-games-remakes-2646360023.html">never achieved the mainstream success of its contemporary</a>, but nevertheless picked up a cult following that sings the games praises even to this day. Alongside a great story, the best part about <em>Legend of Dragoon</em> was its Dragoon Transformation mechanic, whereby your characters could temporarily transform into legendary winged warriors with enhanced move-sets and powerful special attacks.</p>
Xenogears<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgyNy9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzk1NTUzOX0.VqokfSxeeZ_nAtZWXgJSAXwd3tdE0iPXv9wkPte92NQ/img.png?width=980" id="d95b8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="433b7414dcc9a4e392d26c5c0b4e8a45" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Xenogears" />
Square Enix<p><em>Xenogears </em>was the spiritual predecessor to the <em>Xenosaga </em>and <em>Xenoblade </em>games, meaning that it's all about two things: anime and robots. Okay, that's simplifying things a lot. In actuality, <em>Xenogears</em>' plot is amongst the deepest and most complex in any video game, even standing out amidst a genre that prioritizes storytelling. If you like great video game storytelling, there are few games that will ever even come close to <em>Xenogears</em>.<br></p>
Suikoden 2<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgzMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDc2OTMxMn0.Jfpuiv6GrqlYsj0O4QG-bAXgqhV7BjTM_LnlkilzbRw/img.jpg?width=980" id="d2c99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bd841af76e17ce0d8d2759209b61900f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Suikoden 2" />
Konami<p>While <em>Suikoden 2 </em>didn't make a huge splash upon its release, many JRPG fans retrospectively consider it the single-best title of its era. The <em>Suikoden </em>franchise's big gimmick is that, instead of having a roster of five to 10 playable characters, your character roster clocks in at 108. <em>Suikoden 2 </em>makes great use of the variation in its characters, resulting in a game that can be played over and over again in countless different ways. The old-school, 32-bit graphics, which worked against it at the time of its release, have also served to make <em>Suikoden 2</em> game look a lot better than its 3D contemporaries all these years later. As a side note, if you like <em>Suikoden</em>, be sure to check out the <a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rabbitandbearstudios/eiyuden-chronicle-hundred-heroes/description" target="_blank">Kickstarter for its spiritual successor,</a> <em><a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rabbitandbearstudios/eiyuden-chronicle-hundred-heroes/description">Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes</a></em>.</p>
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgzNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjg2MzY3M30.J7NW173dRiHByU2pR8CpIuzmV0Dp0EIAa5wY5jjft1g/img.png?width=980" id="fa0bd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9ec9fc90447cfff8b1dc940aabd48048" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Persona 2 eternal punishment" />
Atlus<p>Technically the third <em>Persona </em>title, <em>Persona 2: Eternal Punishment </em>is the sequel to <em>Persona 2: Innocent Sin</em>. <em></em><em>Eternal Punishment</em> improves upon its predecessor's unique gameplay mechanics, specifically the rumor-based system wherein rumors spread throughout the city, changing how your character interacts with other people. This would go on to heavily influence the mechanics of future <em>Persona </em>titles. And yet, unlike the later <em>Persona </em>games, <em>Eternal Punishment</em>'s deeply unsettling art style is still in the same vein of the series it spun off from—<a href="https://www.popdust.com/shin-megami-tensei-2646445668.html" target="_blank">Shin Megami Tensei</a>.<span></span></p>
Final Fantasy Tactics<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjg0NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzg4ODc0NH0.CHSi48sL_MHNXOGzLKXUAlgarEWmrTPfPr8d8PfUhMM/img.jpg?width=980" id="f0688" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4b36f1c1829d0676b59995068ba6a181" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Final Fantasy Tactics" />
Square Enix<p>While traditional JRPG combat relies solely on menu-based battle options, Tactical RPGs add on grid-based positioning wherein your units must move around a battlefield in order to confront opponents. These games also typically feature perma-death mechanics, so if a unit dies, they die forever. There have been plenty of great Tactical RPGs over the years, but none have surpassed <em>Final Fantasy Tactics</em>, which boasts an incredible story <em>and </em>the single-coolest unit in any game of its genre—<a href="https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Cidolfus_Orlandeau" target="_blank">Thunder God Cid</a>.<em></em></p>