Recommendations from a winter interlude

By Yardena Carmi

Sarah Fagan

For many Middlebury students, this past winter break was a strange interlude in a challenging year. It was a period that found me investing time and energy into concrete ways of lowering my stress levels, like learning breathing exercises or channeling nervous energy into knitting projects to keep my hands busy. Yet at the end of the day, nothing helps me unclench my jaw after reading the news like a good distraction. Compiled here are recommendations for some of the music, podcasts, books and shows I found relaxing and enjoyable over the past few months. 

Music:

Khruangbin

Formed in Houston, the band Khruangbin makes bass-heavy, melody-driven music with references that include jazz, dub, Middle eastern soul and psych rock. Their first full-length album, “The Universe Smiles Upon You,” was released in 2015. Primarily influenced by 60s Thai funk, it is an excellent introduction to the trio which, much like the title suggests, emanates a soft sense of wellbeing. Since then, Khruangbin have released three more albums, including last year’s “Mordechai,” perfect for kicking back and zoning out or dancing alone in your room. 

Additional recommendations: “Campfire Headphase” by Boards of Canada, “Keyboard Fantasies” by Beverly Glenn-Copeland, “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green

Podcasts:

“Gastropod”

Personally, I am a sucker for authoritative voices calmly explaining things to me. Hosted by food journalists Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, Gastropod has great production quality and well-paced storytelling, rendering the most mundane corners of your refrigerator fascinating as it  explores the history and science of different dishes and ingredients. Topics range from desert agriculture to the origins of mac ‘n’ cheese. Listening to an episode can inspire a new cooking project, arm you with trivia to surprise whoever you’re currently sheltering in place with and provide an escape from daily life. Worried about vaccine shortages? Time to brush up on the history of soup cubes.

Additional recommendations: “Articles of Interest” (“99% Invisible”), “Twenty Thousand Hertz,” “Ologies” 

Books:

“On a Sunbeam” by Tillie Walden

Published in 2018, “On a Sunbeam” is equal parts love story and adventure. It is easy to get lost in the graphic novel as the main character Mia journeys through space in a ship shaped like a fish. Walden uses a minimalist color palette and gentle lines to draw beautiful backdrops and expressive characters. It is the moments of stillness she creates, more than the story itself, that make this book a deeply escapist experience. It is available either in print or for free on Walden’s website.

Additional recommendations: “Hildafolk” by Luke Pearson, “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal, “House of Light” by Mary Oliver

Light TV:

“The Great Canadian Baking Show”

If you’ve already burned your way through every episode of the “Great British Baking Show” on Netflix, I present this alternative. The flavors run more North American, with ingredients such as maple syrup, Saskatoon berries and salmon making appearances. The contestants and judges remain as unflinchingly polite as their counterparts across the pond but seem more laidback as they whip up challenging pastries and cakes in the span of a few hours. Viewers in the U.S. might have to get a bit creative when it comes to streaming. 

Additional recommendations: “Schitt’s Creek, “Midnight Gospel,” “Planet Earth”

Dramatic TV:

“The Mandalorian”

Existing in a separate category from the kind of TV you can leave on in the background are shows like Disney’s space western “The Mandalorian.” Although I’ve never been able to get into the Star Wars movies, I still loved following the main character as he battles his way across the universe with Disney’s trademark commitment to bloodless, family-friendly violence. Each episode is packed with dozens of Star Wars Universe references and easter eggs, all of which are lost on me. Nevertheless, the show’s futuristic technology, creature design and great visual effects add compelling depth to episodes that cycle effortlessly between funny, thrilling and heart-warming. Also, Baby Yoda lowers my blood pressure by 10 points. 

Additional recommendations: “Derry Girls,” “Gentleman Jack,” “Fleabag”