Illustration: Nick Wanserski

Homesick Candles


Recently, a few of my nearest and dearest friends have moved. Though I know they are embarking on well-earned adventures full of excitement, I also know how hard it can be to travel to a new city or a new continent where you’ve yet to make friends or find your groove. So, I gifted each of them a Homesick Candle, which allows you to fill your new house with the comforting scent of your old home, or rather, state. The Illinois candle, for example, “takes you back to the Land of Lincoln with hints of grain fields, violets (the state flower), and lavender.” Not only do the candles smell good, they are high quality, made from all-natural soy wax that is hand-poured, and can last up to 80 hours. Another bonus is the minimalist design of the label, which makes this a gift capable of fitting in with any decor. Though they only have 27 states available at this time, you can sign up to be notified when your homeland is available, and before you know it, you could be striking a match and taking a trip down memory lane. [Becca James]

Michael McDonald’s isolated “Peg” vocals

One of my favorite songs is “Peg,” the gone-to-the-disco side two, track one from Steely Dan’s Aja. The reasons for my affection are many: The chiming cymbals in the intro, the chirping horns, the guitar solo chosen by trial and error. And then, in the chorus, the coup de grâce: Michael McDonald’s background vocals. The Doobie Brothers’ baritone singer was a recording-studio fixture in the late ’70s and early ’80s—hence his starring role in two hysterical takes on that smooth-rocking era—but no McDonald appearance stacks up to his self-harmonizing on “Peg.” Especially when it’s isolated in the above excerpt from the Classic Albums episode about Aja. Seated at a mixing board, core Steely Dan members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker play McDonald’s vocals in their full, mythical glory, before pulling out the individual pieces. (“Let’s check out his high part just to embarrass him,” Fagen says.) The whole clip is a fascinating peek behind the curtain, but the portion about the background vocals speaks to the unique alchemy of performance, production, and perfectionism Fagen and Becker whipped up at their prime. [Erik Adams]


Alvin Draft/Matic 0.5mm mechanical pencil


The process of inking, coloring, formatting, and delivery of my illustrations is entirely digital. But almost every piece still begins as a pencil sketch. And for 20 years, I’ve been using the same Alvin Draft/Matic 0.5mm mechanical pencil. Through three cities and countless apartments, I’ve managed to hold onto it with the possessiveness of a zealot charged with the guardianship of a reliquary. It’s an extremely durable pencil, never breaking or gumming up in two decades. That durability makes it more comfortable to draw with as well. It’s solid, has weight, and just generally feels better than a flimsy disposable mechanical pencil. Fill it with HB graphite, get out a nice smooth piece of Bristol board, and you’ll achieve an ecstatic level of anal-retentive control over your fussy little pictures of space ninjas. Years of accumulating anxiety about losing my Draft/Matic has finally compelled me to order another one for emergency backup. While I ultimately plan on investing in a Cintiq pen display and making my entire drawing process 100-percent digital, that’s a long-term, $2,000 upgrade. In the meantime, my $10 pencil remains a constant, invaluable tool. [Nick Wanserski]