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Favorite Nola happenings

Oak Street Po’Boy Fest

There’s nothing better on a sunny afternoon than good music and endless po’ boys. The annual festival held in November on Oak Street boasted three stag- es of live music, played by favorites like The Revivalists and Flow Tribe. The highlight of the festival, however, was the never-ending trail of food stretch- ing as far as the eye could see. More than 40 food vendors, including New Orleans’ most notable restaurants such as Emeril’s Delmonico and Jacques- Imo’s, were on hand to show off their best dishes and most importantly, their best po’ boy interpretations. Judging by the selection, it seems that New Orleans’ love affair with the sandwich is completely justified. With inventive po’ boy fillings like lobster, rabbit salad, pork-belly, spicy sausage and vegetarian options, there were plenty of choices for every food lover. If you didn’t leave the Oak Street Po’Boy Fest with a food coma, you didn’t do it right. -SC

Nic Cage arrested downtown

It takes a lot of tact to get arrested for being too drunk in the French Quarter. If anybody could pull it off, however, it would be sometimes-resident and walking meme Nicolas Cage. While filming a new project, the movie star indulged in one of the Quarter’s favorite pastimes, channeling his inner “Bad Lieutenant” on an intense binge. He and his wife decided to get tattoos at a nearby parlor, where they began a loud argument that spilled into the street. Cage then decided to walk back to the house the couple was renting but instead stopped at the wrong house. Upon arrival, Cage realized his key was not working and began slamming on the door and rattling the handle, terrifying the woman inside who actually owned the house. His wife tried to explain that their house was a few blocks away, but Cage heard none of it as he grabbed her arm and kicked several cars parked on the street. New Orleans Police Department promptly arrived and booked the star for domestic battery. Though many have tried, the Academy Award winner scoops this year’s prize for most outrageous debauchery in New Orleans. -EP

Swoon’s Music Box

After local swamp-tech favorite, Quintron conducted Brooklyn-based artist Swoon’s Bywater Music Box, the next conductor, Andrew WK, acts as a rather notable change in pace. The two have per- formed together, and their shared affection for high- energy performances makes the choice seem at least somewhat logical. The real difference is that Quintron has a more personal connection with New Or- leans. Then again, it isn’t clear whether Swoon’s Mu- sic Box is thematically dependent on New Orleans anyway. Whether or not Swoon was inspired by New Orleans and its musical history, anyone who is interested in a piece of architecture that serves as a musical instrument should check out the reputed street artist’s Bywater contraption. While it may not be the best art show in the country this year, it certainly has been one of the most talked about in New Orleans. -SA

 

We listened to some chill albums, brah

Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes made a splash in the world of folk-rock with its first self-titled album in 2008. May, the band re- leased its second album, “Helplessness Blues,” which features a collection of deeper, darker and more intimate tracks. The band’s sophomore effort graces fans with out-of-this-world harmonies twisted whimsically into powerful, intense instrumentals. Songs like “The Shrine/ An Argument” especially stand out thanks to front man Robin Pecknold’s blissful vocals. This song is the perfect example of why “Helplessness Blues” is perfect: The band stays true to its roots with warm harmonies while adding bits and pieces of new material, like the intense trombone spree at the end of the song. The release of “Helplessness Blues” helped the band to sell out its world tour. The album received rave reviews and is in the running for a Grammy in the Best Folk Album category. This critically acclaimed album must be added to your iTunes library or newest Spotify playlist, whether you’re a folk fan or not. -JN

Strange Mercy by St. Vincent

From the first heart-stopping guitar riff, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) draws listeners into an album that is both intellectually and emotionally volatile. While some criticized her previous albums as distanced and cutesy, on “SM,” she explores her emotional extremes, on the edge of a meltdown at any second. “Surgeon” is certainly one of the best-crafted songs of the year. With lyrics taken from Marilyn Monroe diaries, the song builds from her coy, desperate plea – “Best finest surgeon/ come cut me open” – to an anxious, frenetic climax. The album is a play in opposites: Her crystalline voice and indelible melodies are grounded by heavy, disparate instrumentals. While the production is certainly slick, “Strange Mercy” is strikingly raw. Whenever it seems she is on the edge of sanity, she is most in control.

If albums are judged on how intelligent, sonically inventive and emotionally resonant they are, “Strange Mercy” is certainly one of the year’s bests. -SC

Bon Iver by Bon Iver

The tale of the heartbroken Wisconsite that retreat- ed to his snowed-in country cabin to record an album of folk songs was very popular in 2009. The result of the stay in that cabin, Bon Iver’s brilliant debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago,” proved the power of great songwriting delivered in a simple package. After the first record’s cycle of success comes the sophomore effort from front man Justin Vernon, his band and their musician friends. This self-titled album is more about the music than the lyrics, but when listeners accept that, the subsequent listening experience is magnificent. It becomes clear that the band had time in a great studio to fine-tune the smallest details of every song. What came out of this process is a Grammy-nominated record, layered beautifully with raw talent and emotion, a grandiose statement about musicianship and potential to connect with the masses. -CC

21 by Adele

We can all probably agree that “Rolling in the Deep” has graced the radio airwaves one too many times this year, but let’s not be too quick to dismiss Adele as yet another female British one-hit wonder. As anyone who’s given her sophomore album “21” a good listen knows, her powerhouse vocals possess that rare ability to take you deep inside her emotional core, exposing her most raw feelings. As a whole, the album makes for a stirring, visceral auditory experience that should be praised in this era of pseudo-sexy girlish pop stars who seem in- capable of recording anything real. In this decade, Adele is an anomaly with the kind of integrity that could make her a music icon. We can only hope that she will tend the fire in her heart long enough to become a legend. -AM

 

We chowed down

Christmas in July at Milk Bar

To put it simply, this sandwich is the bomb. Built between two halves of a warm, crispy ciabatta loaf from La Boulangerie, its heavenly combination of melted Brie and mozzarella cheeses smothers a generous serving of in-house roasted turkey, fresh avocado, tomato, spinach and cranberry sauce. One bite will send savory explosions of nostalgia for mom’s holiday leftovers racing through your taste buds. Add to the experience Milk Bar’s easygoing charm and variety of creamy milkshakes for a lunch unlike any other in the city. Other notable sandwiches include Clooney’s Choice, I Dream of Aubergenie, Psycho Chick- en and The Blue Heeler, but none of the menu items at this hidden Uptown gem will disappoint the expect- ant New Orleans palette. Oh, and did we mention that each meal comes with a Chupa Chupa lollipop? Talk about taking us back. -AM

Fat Hen Grocery

Mix two seemingly unrelated comfort foods – barbecue and breakfast – throw a small grocery store in the back, and you’ve got Fat Hen Grocery on St. Charles Avenue. Though a Harahan location already existed, the St. Charles opening at the end of the summer introduced a closer spot for Tulane students. The de?cor includes wall-sized maps of cuts of meat, such as chick- en, beef and pork. Chef Shane is a certified judge with the Kansas City Barbecue Society, and the decadent smell of barbecue often makes it hard to order an omelet instead. The signature breakfast dish is the “Womlet,” a waffle-omelet hybrid. Several dishes, however, combine breakfast and barbecue, such as the Southern Que, which consists of eggs, pulled pork, grilled cornbread and chipotle hollandaise sauce. The omelets, which are significantly smaller than those a few blocks down at The Camellia Grill, range from $10- 12, and adding your own toppings does get pricey. -SU

 

And we heard some great songs

Queen of Hearts by Fucked Up

Fucked Up may be the first hardcore band to appeal to a modern indie rock audience. Within the first 30 seconds of the second track on the artcore group’s latest record, “David Comes To Life,” the band’s eclectic taste and diverse fan base is understandable. “Queen Of Hearts” begins with a solo guitar riff that is a definitive opening to a Fucked Up song. It is too menacing to be a Raveonettes line yet too melodic to sound exactly like Black Flag. The first half of the song features the throaty shouts of lead vocalist Pink Eyes, while the second half suddenly turns sweet and poppy when guest vocalist Madeline Follin of Cults, takes the spotlight. Though this song and the album mark the continuation of the band’s shift in sound toward something more accessible and less punk, “Queen of Hearts” is sure to please fans of hardcore and indie rock alike. -SA

Paradise by Coldplay

The third track on Coldplay’s November release “Mylo Xyloto,” “Paradise” is a beautifully sculpted song, though the lyrics may not be the band’s most creative. A ballad-like string introduction sets a nostalgic tone, followed by a crash of Coldplay’s signature floating melody and lyrics. The song builds to an echoing chorus, mostly a repetition of the song’s title. The strength of this piece is the string section, a set of soaring violins that evoke an epic movie soundtrack theme. This song is best listened to at full volume, to really enjoy the intro’s string section. -SU

Nightmare by Tyler, the Creator

There’s been enough written about Odd Future this year, so it’s probably not worth elaborating on repetitive points: they’re offensive, they’re groundbreaking and they’re immature. Frontman Tyler, the Creator’s debut album “Goblin,” is idiotic and juvenile at its worst yet absolutely brilliant at its best. “Nightmare,” the sixth track off the record, high- lights everything that’s great about the group. There’s the haunting, minimalist instrumentals, featuring sparse keyboard and disorienting synths over slightly off-tempo beats. There’s the shockingly violent content told through Tyler’s running alter-ego motif Tron Cat. He addresses the sudden and terrifying nature of fame, marveling at how exactly he was thrust into the limelight. Most touching, however, is that what he wants more than anything in the world is to sleep in on Saturdays, watch “Flapjack” with his friends, eat waffles and skateboard. The newfound celebrity is nothing he asked for: “Message from GZA, another one from Plain Pat/Email full of emails, I never write back/Ain’t kill myself yet and I already want my life back.” In one heartbreaking coup, Tyler successfully takes on the haters, humanizes himself and legitimizes OFWGKTA’s entire existence. -ZY

Over My Dead Body by Drake

It took the softest rapper in the game to leave the most lasting impression on 2011. Despite Wheelchair Jimmy’s logical fallacies – he seems to have forgotten about Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” when he spits “I think I killed everybody in the game last year” – everything about this song is straight beautiful. Drizzy’s ruminations on failed relationships and the price of fame, while hardly original topics, swirl with a quiet, poetic elegance that contrast nicely to the overpowering bombast of Kanye and most other rappers. Armed with a haunting Chantal Kreviazuk hook and steeped in James Blake-in- spired minimalism, gorgeous only begins to describe the beat. As if that wasn’t enough, “Over My Dead Body” has even got a line that speaks to most Tulanians: “And I was drinking at the Palms last night/ And ended up losing everything that I came with.” Perfect. -JE

 

Had time to do extracurricular reading

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Even three years after his tragic suicide, David Foster Wallace stands as the year’s most powerful novelist. Cobbled together from computer files and manuscripts by his widow, his agent and his editor, Wallace’s “The Pale King” encapsulates everything that brought him to literary fame in the 1990s. The novel is impossibly dense, heartbreaking, hilarious and, above all, completely bizarre. “The Pale King” revolves around the lives of workers in the Internal Revenue Service Center in Peoria, I.L. If it sounds boring, that’s because it is. Wallace takes that boredom, turns it inside-out and finds a hard-won heroism. Whether it’s a dialogue between unnamed characters about masturbation or a showstopping novel- la culminating in a slacker’s epiphany when watching soap operas while stoned on Obetrol, Wallace grabs hold of you, shakes you around and doesn’t let go. All this in a book about tax forms. -CB

Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan

New York Times and GQ Magazine writer John Jeremiah Sullivan’s newest book con- tains funny and thought-provoking essays on topics. He treats subjects ranging from levelheaded reviews of Christian music festivals to the threat of animals attacking and over- throwing the human race, followed by a little bit of Tea Party commentary and suspicious lynchings thrown in for good measure. “Pulphead” moves from “One Tree Hill” to south- eastern Kentucky to the insides of the earth – literally – all from the voice of a master storyteller with a forgiving sense of humor. Readers learn about cave art, Michael Jack- son, Axl Rose, The Real Life and the legalities of what to do if a film crew wants to use your house to shoot a movie. If you missed his reading at Octavia Books and haven’t had the fortune to read any Sullivan, pick up this collection of essays. It’s an end-of-year dar- ling for a good reason. -NN

 

We even watched some T.V.

Game of Thrones

Last winter HBO released its serialized version of fantasy and sci-fi author George Martin’s acclaimed novel “Game of Thrones.” The series follows events in Westeros, a world similar to medieval Europe. Filled with violence, political intrigue, sex – this is HBO, after all – and the fantastic, the show manages to stay true to Martin’s sprawling epic while maintaining a compelling and watchable plot. The acting is superb, including Sean Bean of “Lord of the Rings” fame and Peter Dinklage, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, a scheming dwarf with a giant sexual appetite. The scenery and costumes are stunning and the writing is snappy and believable. “Game of Thrones” has something for everyone. -HC

Community

If you like your sitcoms self-aware, genre-bending and surprisingly heartfelt then you’ve probably been enjoying this season of NBC’s “Community.” There’s a reason that this show – which gets terrible ratings yet makes critics swoon – has such a rabid fanbase. What started in 2009 as a fairly standard sitcom about a study group at a community college has morphed into what is far-and- away the most inventive show on television. While the first season was largely concerned with character development and the second season with meta-commentary and subverting sitcom tropes, this most recent season has found a bal- ance between flipping the genre on its head and being genuinely touching. “Advanced Chaos Theory” is the best episode of the entire series, if only because it introduced us to Evil Troy and Evil Abed. In some terrible news for fans, NBC recently announced that the show will be shelved until midseason. Though this move doesn’t necessarily mean cancellation, it certainly isn’t a good sign. In the meantime, please enjoy “Community” while you can. Shows this smart and beautiful don’t come around too often. -ZY

Breaking Bad

Though its previous seasons have been deservedly critically lauded, the fourth season of “Breaking Bad” exemplified television at its best. The show initially told the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher who turns to cooking crystal meth in order to provide for his family. The show has long since grown into a riveting character study of a man who has completely lost any sense of morality. Aided by impressive supporting performances from Aaron Paul and Giancarlo Esposito, Cranston has successfully anchored one of the most nerve-wracking, impeccably-crafted shows in recent memory. The fourth season finale – arguably one of the best episodes the show has ever produced – set up “Breaking Bad” for a must-see final season and reminded us how upset we are that we have to wait until 2012 to watch it play out. -AW

 

And had some nerdgasms

Skyrim

The day software design company Bethesda Softworks announced plans to create a fifth installment of its award-winning Elder Scrolls series, gamers all over the world released a collective squeal of joy. Many wondered if Bethesda would be able to follow up 2006’s “Oblivion,” one of the best games to come out for any console that year. Rest easy, my fellow controller jockeys, for it delivered in a big way. Set 200 years after the events of “Oblivion,” “Skyrim” takes place during a civil war over the secession of the Skyrim territory. But, as any Elder Scrolls veteran will tell you, the story is just the start of the fun. With countless side quests and guilds, players can spend weeks immersed in the world. In this latest release, Bethesda has revamped the clunky inventory system, changed the combat mode, made character interactions more dynamic and released one of the most aesthetically pleasing video games of all time. “Skyrim” drags you into its world in the way that only a good video game can – it doesn’t let go until it’s finished with you. If you get this game, anticipate missing out on some sleep. -HC

Daredevil

There is no better superhero comic in publication right now than Marvel’s “Daredevil.” Writer Mark Waid and the joint artist team of Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera are doing brilliant things with the series that follows the exploits of Matt Murdock, the blind Hell’s Kitchen lawyer who moonlights as the crime-fighter Daredevil. Gorgeous, kinetic art focuses on Daredevil’s unique perception of the world through echoes, smooth lines of motion and inventive use of onomatopoeia. Tightly-scripted, throwback storytelling evokes classic Jack Kirby-era Silver Age comics. The series contains a sense of pure, manic glee missing from many of today’s dark, gritty and realistic superheroes, with Daredevil grinning as he makes snow angels on the rooftops of his beloved city rather than brooding over his internal demons. It’s a joy to read every month and cannot be recommended more, even to non-comic book enthusiasts. -ZY

 

And watched some movies

Bridesmaids

May’s female-driven comedy “Bridesmaids” was a marriage of raunchy gags and outrageous slapstick with heartfelt friendship – a union between the likes of “The Hangover” and “Sex and the City.” Starring Saturday Night Live veterans Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph, “Bridesmaids” was one of the funniest, critically celebrated movies of 2011 (bonus points for featuring a predominantly female cast). The film follows the struggle of Annie (Wiig) to play the part of the accommodating, organized maid-of-honor despite her inability to keep her own life in order. Annie’s wedding plans go hilariously awry – especially the bachelorette party scene – as rival bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne) attempts to usurp Annie’s position as maid-of-honor. Though Annie’s antics strain her relationship with bride-to-be Lillian (Rudolph), the best friends demonstrate the resilience and love of true friendship. Gross and fearless, “Bridesmaids” proves that the R-rated romantic comedy can be done with empathy yet still achieve laughs.

Drive

Crime drama “Drive” is a pedal-to-the-metal thriller that has left audiences in awe since its premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film festival. Released in September and starring the glorious Ryan Gosling, this independent film moved far beyond the constraints of the stereotypical car or heist movie. Critics have compared the film’s fast-paced, edgy and dark style to Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.” Gosling stars as the unnamed protagonist, known as the Driver, who moonlights as a getaway driver for heists. The Driver becomes embroiled in a web of greed, murder and deceit when he becomes attached to his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son and strives to protect them from the mafia. The film received a 15-minute standing ovation after its screening at the Cannes Film Festival and won Best Director. “Drive” is set in gear to win several other awards this season.

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s highest-grossing film, “Midnight in Paris,” came as a pleasant surprise this May. In any other hands, a movie about a dissatisfied screenwriter who visits Paris and discovers that he can travel back in time at night would come off as cloying or pretentious. Instead, Allen gave us his most joyous, enjoyable film in years. The eternally likable Owen Wilson anchors a strong cast with cameos ranging from Adrien Brody to Tom Hiddleston to Carla Bruni. The script is cleverly crafted and full of allusions to literature and art that, while not necessary to enjoy the film, are certainly enjoyable for those who get the references. Above all, the film succeeds because of its affection for its central location. “Midnight in Paris” plays like a love letter to the city from someone who knows it well, and that kind of enthusiasm is infectious. -AW

Blurbs by Zach Yanowitz, Adele McConnell, Sophie Unterman, Charles Bramesco, Jamie Norwood, Connor Crawford, Nicolc Nolan, Hud Coley, Sam Abramowitz, Stephanie Chen, Abby Watkins, Everett Phelps, Nate Costello, Lucy Stratton