Minute Critic

More About Less

Sarah Susanka adds on to her architectural oeuvre with a new book on renovating your life. The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters (Random House, $24.95) offers a detailed blueprint on how to eliminate clutter and make the most of what remains. “Although there are certainly things that need structural work to open them up, the life equivalent of a fresh coat of paint and better lighting can have a huge impact on your daily experience,” Susanka writes. Characteristically, the cofounder of the Minneapolis firm now known as SALA Architects, advocates choosing quality over quantity. Architectural principles such as “point of focus” and “openability” (widening the openings between rooms) distinguish the otherwise-standard self-help stuff (including the requisite inspirational quotations from Rumi, Gandhi, and even an anonymous greeting card). After famously rallying against the McMansion, Susanka has taken on the McLife.
  

Cold sap beads from the maple, slow /Damp moss hangs from the apple bough /Clothespin dangles from the frayed rope there /What dress will I wear? —“The Black Dress,’’ E. Schwall, R. Pfeiffer, captain yonder

Captain Yonder

Good-bye, Woland! (Strange Midge Music)

The Minnesota music scene is flush with young new traditionalists, but few are as soft-spoken or strangely endearing as Missouri-born Ryan Pfeiffer. The former long-haul trucker with a law degree developed an appreciation for old-time music in small towns and truck stops. That may explain why his tunes feel like soundtracks to weird dreams from roadside slumbers. His group’s fourth album was engineered in Tucson by Craig Schumacher, perhaps the perfect alchemist for their “chamber folk” sound, a pre-digital purist who’s worked with roots-music heroes Calexico and Neko Case. The Captain and crew’s acoustic clarity spotlights memorable sounds—a cello drone, a music-box warble, a well-timed boot heel on a floorboard—while saw player Adam Wirtzfeld weaves eerie shadows behind the vivid tales. The 32-minute album is spare but never dull. Pfeiffer’s humble but limber voice can turn as sweet as the folkie Nick Drake or as dry as Leonard Cohen, his muted vocals adding a touch of human frailty to his often sad narratives. Far from a yodeling retro stylist, the Captain has a unique way of looking in the rear view.
—JIM MEYER

Click here to listen to a clip of Captain Yonder’s “Ode to a Trucker”.

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