Deep Album Cuts Vol. 87: Chuck Berry

Friday, March 24, 2017

Chuck Berry passed away on Saturday at 90 years old, and I've spent a lot of the past week poring over his catalog, which was larger than I expected. We tend to think of pre-Beatles rock'n'rollers in these kind of one dimensional terms, and assume that they just made a bunch of singles with no albums of real consequence. But Chuck Berry's body of work is pretty well contained in albums. Other than 4 early sides that appeared on the soundtrack to the film Rock, Rock, Rock! (the first Chess Records album release), pretty much all of his important songs appeared on his albums. And the majority of his 19 studio albums are original compositions with just the occasional instrumental or cover, which is to say he wrote over a hundred songs in his distinctive, world-changing voice.

Chuck Berry Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Down Bound Train
2. Berry Pickin'
3. Havana Moon
4. Reelin' And Rockin'
5. It Don't Take But A Few Minutes
6. Low Feeling
7. Around And Around
8. Blues For Hawaiians
9. Betty Jean
10. Diploma For Two
11. Thirteen Question Method
12. Liverpool Drive
13. Go Bobby Soxer
14. You Two
15. I Got A Booking
16. One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
17. Right Off Rampart Street
18. Sweet Little Rock And Roller
19. Flying Home
20. My Tambourine
21. Ma Dear
22. Good Looking Woman
23. Christmas
24. Let's Do Our Thing Together
25. Viva Viva Rock 'N' Roll
26. I Will Not Let You Go
27. Got It And Gone
28. Too Late
29. Wuden't Me

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from After School Session (1957)
Tracks 4, 5 and 6 from One Dozen Berrys (1958)
Tracks 7 and 8 from Chuck Berry Is On Top (1959)
Track 9 from Rockin' At The Hops (1960)
Tracks 10 and 11 from New Juke Box Hits (1961)
Track 12 from Two Great Guitars with Bo Diddley (1964)
Tracks 13 and 14 from St. Louis To Liverpool (1964)
Track 15 from Chuck Berry In London (1965)
Tracks 16 and 17 from Fresh Berry's (1965)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Chuck Berry In Memphis (1967)
Tracks 20 and 21 from St. Louie To Frisco (1968)
Track 22 from Concerto In B. Goode (1969)
Track 23 from Back Home (1970)
Tracks 24 and 25 from San Francisco Dues (1971)
Track 26 from The London Chuck Berry Sessions (1972)
Track 27 from Bio (1973)
Track 28 from Chuck Berry (1975)
Track 29 from Rock It (1979)

I used a bit of every original studio album Chuck Berry's Golden Hits (which is entirely rerecordings of earlier songs for a different label). He did repeat songs on albums from time to time, though, most notably "Havana Moon," which appeared on his very first album, 1957's After School Session, as well as the last album released in his lifetime, 1979's Rock It.

Chuck Berry never really stopped writing what we think of as '50s style rock'n'roll, but that was only because he shaped that era so much that simply being himself started to seem old fashioned. But it's fun to hear him stick to his guns and let studio technology catch up to him and producers add a little more polish to his records. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. New Juke Box Hits and Chuck Berry In Memphis add horns to Berry's sound to great effect. The production on Rock It is absolutely abysmal, but I was pleasantly surprised that that was about the only of his '70s albums where he really lost a sense of his sound. The later albums are certainly less essential, but rarely unpleasant. And I have high hopes for Chuck, his first album in 38 years that he finished shortly before his death.

He has a ton of songs that are themed around different cultures and locations, often with goofy accents and broad stereotypes about hispanic people or Native American people and so on. Of those songs, I think only "Blues For Hawaiians" has aged relatively well, partly because it's an instrumental with no opportunity for lyrical gaffes.

There's several songs here that are as perfect a rock'n'roll anthem as anything Chuck Berry was famous for, but also some really interesting curios. 1968's "My Tambourine" is basically a clean version of "My Ding-A-Ling," the phallic novelty song that became his first and only #1 pop hit 4 years later. 1958's "Low Feeling" is a reprise of the same album's earlier track "Blue Feeling" with the tape slowed down. It sounds cool and really surprised me, since I think of most rock experiments with tape speed not happening until the late '60s, to say nothing of how the track kind of beats DJ Screw to the punch by over 30 years.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition

Friday, March 17, 2017

A couple weeks ago, I kicked off a new column for Noisey called The Unstreamables, dedicated to albums not available on major streaming services. This week the second installment looks at Aaliyah's One In A Million

TV Diary

Thursday, March 16, 2017

a) "Trial & Error"
I'm amused that John Lithgow's character in this show is named Henderson but it doesn't appear to be any kind of deliberate Harry & The Hendersons callback. I really like the first two episodes, though, I feel bad that NBC is kind of dumping its 8 episode season in 4 weeks from March to April. It's got a little of that "The Office"/"Parks & Rec" documentary aesthetic but it's not from the same folks and kind of has its own pace and sensibility that is used in service of trying to make a murder trial as ridiculous and funny as possible. The whole cast is funny but Jayma Mays doing a sultry southern accent is particularly hilarious

b) "Time After Time"
Even though TV audiences are more open to sci-fi and high concept shows than ever, it kind of feels like the big 4 networks have mostly responded to this with some hokey and hoary shows about time travel like "Timeless," which premiered on NBC in the fall, and "Time After Time," ABC's new show about H.G. Wells and Jack The Ripper running around in present day New York. The show's more watchable than it probably has a right to be -- Freddie Stroma and Genesis Rodriguez have genuine onscreen chemistry -- but it's just too goofy. 

c) "Making History"
The same night that ABC debuted their time travel show, FOX debuted their own time travel sitcom that is, at least, totally goofy on purpose. Adam Pally is always funny to me and Leighton Meester is surprisingly funny as the olden times straight man, but it kinda feels like they're going for a lot of easy jokes and it's a little more like an extended sketch than a series so far, dunno if it'll grow on me. 

d) "Feud: Bette And Joan"
This show is pretty promising but at this point I kind of just wait for Ryan Murphy to Ryan Murphy up his best ideas. I wish I knew more about the subject matter other than that I love Bette Davis in All About Eve, I should probably watch Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? at some point. But Susan Sarandon as Davis is pretty perfect. 

e) "TIME: The Kalief Browder Story"
The basic details of Kalief Browder's life that I'd seen in the news were always horrifying, but seeing a miniseries go into granular detail about his tragic story is just gut wrenching. I'm glad they're going about it so methodically, though, just showing how many ways how many different institutions failed him and need reform. 

f) "When We Rise" 
This 8 hour miniseries aired all in the space of a week and it seems like the ratings dropped off really sharply, I wish they'd spaced it out more, I'm still only about halfway through. I'm not super compelled by the dramatization of events, though, it kinda makes me wish there was a book version of this without all the light docudrama fictional scenes. 

g"The High Court with Doug Benson" 
Doug Benson is such a weird creepy comic with such a tired pothead schtick that I'm not sure why he gets so many opportunities to do it over and over, especially by Comedy Central. But this is an admittedly decent vehicle for him, it's just like 12 minute episodes and they actually settle a legal issue, I guess about as legitimately as any of the daytime court shows they're satirizing. 

h) "Taken" 
It seems like networks are adapting so many movies that I never thought should be TV shows lately, and sometimes it turns out great like "The Exorcist," sometimes it turns out like that "Lethal Weapon" show I guess. Doing a prequel series about Liam Neeson's character in Taken where I guess you find out how dude got so hardcore is not the worst idea, I guess, but it kinda feels like if you gave the show a different title, it would just be a generic spy show. Jennifer Beals deserves better. 

i) "Patriot" 
This is a slightly less generic spy show with some impish touches of humor and a great supporting cast including Terry O'Quinn and Michael Dorman. But like most Amazon shows, I find it hard to stick with it and watch more than a couple episodes after they dump the whole season at once. 

j) "Sun Records" 
I'm amused that CMT's first original scripted drama was about an Elvis impersonator and its second is about actual Elvis. I feel like Chad Michael Murray as Sam Phillips is all you really need to know to understand that this is not operating on an especially high level of authenticity. But it's still fun to see them play around with all this amazing musical history and Johnny Cash and Ike Turner and all these guys showing up. 

k) "Big Little Lies" 
It's interesting to me that after producing hundreds of hours of network legal dramas, even David E. Kelley has one of those dark HBO miniseries that everyone wants to make now (his recent Amazon series, "Goliath," has a prestige TV aesthetic, but it's bones are classic David E. Kelley). I don't know anything about the novel Big Little Lies or where this story is going, but the way the story starts with community outrage over a kid getting hurt had me thinking this would be an upscale "The Slap." And I'm not crazy about the constant foreshadowing to some murder mystery this is all building up to, which reminds me of the first season of "The Affair." But I'm slowly shaking off my apprehensive first impressions of "Big Little Lies" and appreciating the texture of the direction and the strength of the performances. I just hope this doesn't all end stupidly. 

l) "The Pop Game"
I wasn't wild about "The Rap Game," where kiddie rappers compete to be Jermaine Dupri's next protege. But Lifetime's spinoff, "The Pop Game," where Timbaland coaches aspiring pop singers is a little more interesting to me. I kind of feel bad thinking about how bland Tim's music has become and how he just walks around on this show repeatedly saying he sold 300 million records and telling people they'll be the next Nelly Furtado or whatever. But he's a genius, I still worship his classics. 

m) "First Family of Hip Hop"
I thought a show about the Sugar Hill Records folks would be interesting, but of course, Sylvia Robinson is dead, and the show centers on her annoying family members who all want to be music industry players now, and there's minimal cameos from actual notable people like Melle Mel, who shows up and says some really crazy shit. 

n) "Crashing"
Pete Holmes really grew on me over the course of his short-lived late night show on TBS, so I'm happy that he wound up with a Judd Apatow-produced HBO series. And while comedians making sitcoms about the life of comedians have become really really tiresome to me lately, this one at least takes a bit of a fresh look at the unpleasant realities of gigging standups who are just starting out. And the structure of Holmes basically crashing on the couch of a different famous comic in each episode is clever. 

o) "Love"
Watching "Crashing" and the second season of "Love" lately has brought me to the conclusion that Judd Apatow's TV shows are quite often like that middle half hour of Judd Apatow's movies where everyone gets sick of each other and starts yelling and something physically painful or embarrassing happens. There are things that I like about "Love," but sometimes it just captures the ups and downs of relationships so faithfully and sometimes it feels like they throw the most contrived wrench into things to keep the conflict going. There was one episode where things felt really nice and comfortable but not boring, and then I thought "well, there's 8 episodes left of the season for things to get awkward and angry again." 

p) "The Mick"
FOX has picked this up for a second season and it's really nothing special but it's a pretty good example of the growing trend of kind of weird bawdy sitcoms where anything can happen, really felt like it hit its stride with the 10th episode. 

q) "The Detour"
This is another sitcom that feels like kind of a bawdy silly open ended show where anything can happen and that's kind of the point, which really kinda wore me down and bored me by the end of the first season. But the second season started out promisingly, I feel like the show is at its best when Natalie Zea is the unpredictable one and not the long suffering wife. 

r) "The Real O'Neals"
It was kind of funny how "The Real O'Neals" had this successful first season as kind of a sweet coming of age sitcom and then during the hiatus, the star Noah Gavin gave this really wild bitchy interview and caused a big scandal but then the show resumed being a sweet coming of age story and the extremely outspoken 22 year old Gavin continues to convincingly play a naive 16 year old. 

s) "Billions"
This was one of my favorite new shows last year and so far the 2nd season has really cemented my love for it. It's so much the typical cable antihero drama about powerful men with big egos, but the way Maggie Siff's character negotiates that world is probably the most interesting part of the story. And they've introduced an enby character, Taylor, played by Asia Kate Dillon, who also subverts the testosterone-driven Wall Street atmosphere and kind of gets to be the smartest person in the room who doesn't share the same priorities as the other smart people in the room, I'm curious to see where that story goes. And I kind of like that the show takes place in this unabashedly upscale world where people quote "The Wire" and discuss Wilco. 

t) "Superstore"
I'm glad this show is doing well, it makes me happy that Mark McKinney has a steady gig on American network TV. The Garrett and Dina relationship was a pretty funny unpredictable turn for things to take

u) "The Expanse"
I think of this as part of SyFy's ambitious new era and I like the cast and the premise. But really there's too much going on in the plot and I haven't kept up, it's one of those shows I put on as background noise. 

v) "Humans"
This show's first season from the summer of 2015 was so long ago, and really seemed to kind of peter out at the end, that I almost forgot it ever existed. I'm trying to give it a chance, but the new stories and new characters haven't really grabbed me. 

w) "New Girl"
There's been some murmurings that the 6th season of "New Girl" may be its last, and I'm cool with that, It's settled into a comfortable decline where it's not way worse than it used to be but they've kinda taken everything as far as it makes sense to go, and I just want them to, I dunno, make Jess and Nick a couple again and wrap up the story. Unless Coach came back, then I'd want 3 more seasons. 

x) "The Amazing World of Gumball"
This is one of my son's favorite Cartoon Network shows, and it's really kind of mind blowing to me, that a show made by a French-British animator is so visually ambitious and unpredictable and creative but still wacky enough in a traditional kid-friendly way that a 7 year old would be into it.

y) "Dogs 101" 
My toddler is kind of obsessed with dogs, like we have cats but he's always excited to see dogs outside or watch dog videos. So most mornings, after his big brother gets on the school bus, we put on Animal Planet and watch "Dogs 101," which is kind of a fun educational show about different breeds and how to take care of them. And the other day there was this episode with the members of Shellac talking about Todd Trainer's greyhound, I never thought I'd hear the words "math rock" on Animal Planet. 

z) "Saturday Night Live"
I have mostly been pretty on board with "SNL"'s Trump sketches since Alec Baldwin started doing them, despite the show and NBC having this whole troubling history of enabling Trump. This past Saturday's opener about the aliens was the first sketch that I thought was really a dud, though. At least the Ivanka sketch was great. I hope they keep up the Melissa McCarthy sketches, though, I don't think Sean Spicer will have that job for very long so they may as well make the most of it. 

Monthly Report: March 2017 Singles

Monday, March 13, 2017

1. Migos - "T-Shirt"
I feel like Migos are just a magnet for hyperbole, and even when they're good, they're not half as good as people say they are. So "Bad & Boujee" isn't really anything special to me, particularly because Takeoff's if-MJG-was-Rick-Ross flow is one of my favorite things about the group and he's not on that one. So I'm glad that Takeoff gets a chance to shine on the follow-up single and that it's doing well, the beat is really amazing, just the way something resembling amp feedback kinda hangs over it. Here's the 2017 singles playlist I update every month.

2. Bruno Mars - "That's What I Like"
"24K Magic" has really held up well as a song I still listen to every time it comes on the radio, 5 months later. But it's also the first time one of the first 2 singles off a Bruno Mars album hasn't gone to #1, which doesn't bode well for him going whole hog on this campy retro player pimp aesthetic for the whole album cycle. But "That's What I Like" is a great 2nd single choice and I feel like he's selling it well with a standout Grammys performance and a music video that deserves some awards.

3. Jon Pardi - "Dirt On My Boots"
I feel like PardiNextDoor is really earning his country traditionalist cred by scoring two back-to-back hits with "boots" in the title. Plus this probably has the best prominent fiddle part I've heard on country radio in recent memory. I love the way he bites down on that "I can only get so fancy!" transition into the chorus.

4. Florida Georgia Line f/ The Backstreet Boys - "God, Your Mama, And Me"
Country radio and especially country award shows are rife with stunt collaborations with non-country artists, and Florida Georgia Line are poster boys for that since they had their biggest success with a Nelly remix. So when I saw that they had a collaboration with Backstreet Boys, I rolled my eyes, but I kind of instantly fell in love with this song and have listened to it a ton, I guess the song would've worked with a more respectable artist but I can't complain.

5. Incubus - "Nimble Bastard"
There was a day recently that Linkin Park and Incubus released lead singles on the same day, so I listened to them back to back, to kind of see what some of the titans of early 2000s nu metal crossover are up to in 2017. And Linkin Park's "Heavy" is a really craven attempt to reconnect with Top 40 radio, where "Nimble Bastard" finds Incubus back in their late career groove of loud, guitar driven anthems. And I've always enjoyed their more aggressive stuff, so this song really hits the spot.

6. Ariana Grande f/ Future - "Everyday"
I never really listened to Dangerous Woman enough, because it was a good album but I never wrote about it and totally forgot how much I liked this song until it was released as a single. It's really kind of refreshing to hear Future on a Max Martin track with Ariana Grande and it actually works, a big contrast from that 2013 era when he was doing songs with Miley and Bieber and it just didn't work that well. The chorus "he givin' me that good shit that make me not quit" is kind of an awkward lyric, but I was so relieved to verify that Ariana Grande wasn't saying "make me nut quick."

7. Zara Larsson f/ Ty Dolla $ign - "So Good"
I don't know if Zara Larsson fits in this hip hop adjacent pop lane as well as someone like Ariana Grande, but I don't mind that her recent singles are leaning in that direction. I hope she gets to release an album soon.

8. Keith Urban f/ Carrie Underwood - "The Fighter"
I'd never heard of busbee before he produced and co-produced Maren Morris's great album, so it's nice to see him all over the country charts right now with singles by Lauren Alaina, Lady Antebellum, and this Keith Urban track. Keith Urban is always trying these stylistic flourishes that work better than they should, and I like the synth pop vibe of this song.

9. Wale f/ Lil Wayne - "Running Back"
Since I live near D.C. and have a couple of D.C. rap stations programmed into my car radio, I always hear a lot of support for whatever Wale's doing regardless of how it's doing nationally. And it's been kind of depressing to hear them hype every single he's released in the past year and give it lots of spins except for the one that was actually good, "Running Back." It's crazy to hear him on a song with Wayne and realize it's been 9 years since "Nike Boots." Wale has really had a good career that nobody wants to give him credit for, partly because he has so few singles like "Running Back" that play to his strengths.

10. Jeezy f/ Bankroll Fresh - "All There"
There's kind of an interesting history of artists who died young and then ended up with one of their biggest songs being a posthumous feature on a major artist's single (Soulja Slim on Juvenile's "Slow Motion," Static Major on Lil Wayne's "Lollipop," etc.). So it's cool that Jeezy put out a track with Bankroll Fresh that ended up being the biggest song on Trap Or Die 3.

Worst Single of the Month: Big Sean - "Moves"
I feel like just as I kind of came around to appreciating Big Sean for who he is, he started doing these singles with Future's producers like "Bounce Back" (which bites the chorus of Future's "Trap N*****") and "Moves," which is just maybe the worst song of his career, I really don't think Big Sean sounds good rapping in a lower register on ominous trap beats. And even worse is the "Moves" video, where Big Sean does a blatant wannabe "Hotline Bling" with embarrassing moves like miming the lyric "she made her titties move."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

This week, my newish band Woodfir is finally playing its first proper Baltimore show (after playing a private party last year and a D.C. show last month). We'll be at Joe Squared on Saturday, March 11th with Elias Krell & The No Good and Guided By Wire. Woodfir's debut EP is out now. 

Movie Diary

Monday, March 06, 2017

a) I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore
I love Natalie Lynskey, but she's had an odd career. She debuted alongside Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures, but then her greatest success for the next 15 years or so was a recurring role in "Two And A Half Men," and it's just been in the last few years that she's seemed to find a real niche, although I'm not crazy about "Togetherness" and some of the indie dramedies she's done. The Netflix feature I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore is fantastic, though. It kind of operates in the vein of a darker The Big Lebowski, where a regular person, in this case Lynskey as a nursing assistant, is the victim of a petty crime, finds that law enforcement is no help, and decides to go off on a vigilante mission for justice. Elijah Wood plays her weird neighbor who has a rat tail and owns nunchucks and throwing stars who ends up tagging along as her muscle, it's really kind of ridiculous and smart and funny and takes a few ingenious turns but also kind of stays pretty grounded. It gets a little more dark and grisly by the end than I would've expected or necessarily wanted, but David Yow from The Jesus Lizard plays a pretty nasty villain, really the role he was born to play.

b) Rock Dog
I took my son to see this at the movie theater on opening weekend, and it really did abysmally by animated kid's movie standards at the box office, but we enjoyed it. Apparently it's based on a Chinese graphic novel called Tibetan Rock Dog and end up kind of getting pretty whitewashed and Americanized in the process of becoming a movie, much like Kubo And The Two Strings last year. But I enjoyed, it was kind of trippy to watch a kid's cartoon where the main voice cast was Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons and Lewis Black, just in terms of those guys' careers and the things that made me a fan of theirs.

c) The Shallows
Movies where almost the entire running time is one actor going through some harrowing ordeal by themselves tend to be chances for big name actors to get Oscar nominations (Castaway127 HoursGravity, etc.). So I wonder if The Shallows sold itself short by casting an actress as undistinguished as Blake Lively in the lead role, but then I suppose it's already asking a lot to be position itself as a slightly classy, creative shark attack movie. Her performance was better than I expected, though, there were a few white knuckle moments in the movie that wouldn't have worked as well if she was giving a crappy SyFy original movie-quality performance.

d) Central Intelligence
Kevin Hart and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are each in so many movies every year that there was a sense of inevitability about them co-headlining a project. But this came out really well, I can only take Hart in small doses and they both got to play to their comedic strengths while also playing against type a little bit.

e) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
As a fan of The Lonely Island's albums and "SNL" shorts, I'd say this movie was a pretty successful attempt at building their songs into a ridiculous music industry satire. The sad thing is that even Conner4Real and his songs, as absurd as they are, aren't really that implausible as real pop chart fodder at this point in time, so the story kind of worked better than it had a right to. I don't know if this tops Hot Rod for me, but definitely a solid continuation of their work.

f) The Nice Guys
I was thrilled that Shane Black would be getting back into the neo noir vibe of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with a big budget and big stars after the success of Iron Man 3, but less thrilled that those big stars happened to be Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. They acquit themselves well, though, I enjoyed it, a good addition to the Black canon. Hopefully he gets to do more movies like this every few years in between all the franchises and adaptations on his plate.

g) The Jungle Book
John Favreau is, like Shane Black, a director whose trajectory was totally changed by doing an Iron Man movie or two. And it's still surreal to me to think that writing the Swingers screenplay 20 years ago set Favreau on this unlikely career path. I grew up on the original animated Jungle Book and this kinda hit the mark better than I expected in some ways but in other ways had a weird uncanny valley feeling. I'm very curious to see what the Andy Serkis Jungle Book will be like in 2018, although it certainly seems a little doomed coming out 2 years after another version as star studded as this one.

h) Our Brand Is Crisis
Apparently David Gordon Green has directed 5 features since his little run of James Franco and Jonah Hill comedies, but this is the only one I've even heard of, and it flopped pretty hard at the box office. I kind of class Our Brand Is Crisis in the specific little genre of movies like Wag The Dog and Charlie Wilson's War that make Americans interfering in international affairs seem like cheeky little capers but also kind of hint at the dark side of it. I like that Our Brand takes a dark turn at the end but they also kind of wrapped things up the redeem the protagonist maybe a little too neatly at the end.

i) The Winning Season
Kind of a boilerplate black comedy about a dysfunctional middle aged failure coaching a high school sports team, but I like Sam Rockwell, so I'm always trying to find the few films where he kind of makes good on his potential, and this had a few funny moments. 

Muscle Memory Liner Notes, Part 7

Friday, March 03, 2017

Here's another look at the Western Blot album that I released in November, just a couple more tracks left. 

When I say that it took a decade to make Muscle Memory, I don't mean I worked at it consistently or regularly over that entire period. But it is true that over 10, in fact almost 12 years elapsed between the first recordings that appear on the album and the most recent overdubs. And in fact the oldest recording is on "Dull Dark Side," and the track was completed 10 years later.

As I said previously, some of the first things I wrote on keyboard in high school appear on some songs, like "Sore Winners" and "ETC." But the actual oldest recording on the album is from a Tascam 4-track that I made the summer after my first year of college, of the main riff at the center of "Dull Dark Side," that weird shrill wobbly beep riff.

After my freshman year at Towson, I spent the summer as roommates with my high school friend Scott Street (not to be confused with the Baltimore rapper/producer Street Scott) in Newark, Delaware. Scott was and is one of my favorite people, I went to school with him for a couple years before he transferred to another school, but we always stayed in touch, and played together in a band that never really wrote anything or got its shit together, but I loved his guitar playing and wanted to do something with him. That summer, though, he had started to get serious about DJing and producing, and gave me some tracks that I added stuff to and considered using for this project, before I decided to play all the instruments on the album myself and tucked away that stuff for possible later use. It was a really fun summer, though, one of the best of my life.

My dad bought me one of those cute little iBooks, the laptop version of the iMac, to take to college, and it had one little error sound, a little 'beep,' a single note. And if you made an error over and over, or pressed, say, the "volume up" button" over and over. Scott had a lot of toy instruments and toy microphones, and one of them was this funny red pitch shifting microphone, it had little up/down buttons to make your voice or whatever go higher or lower, and it would go in these intervals, so it was really like a primitive AutoTune (this was after Cher's "Believe" but before AutoTune vocals became really ubiquitous). And I realized that the iMac beep was a C, and that when I ran it through that mic, shifting the note up and down just made it into other notes on the C scale. But of course, you could only go up or down one step at a time, so I had to write a melody in those stairsteps, so that's what I did with that silly tune that just goes up and down the C scale. And if you go to the top of the range, it takes you back down to the bottom, so of course I devised the bridge, where the highest note alternates with the lowest note.

I worked a terrible telemarketing job that summer to pay the rent, but I still had a lot of free time. And I remember Scott coming home from work one day, and I had just spent the entire day hunched over my laptop and 4 track with that silly plastic microphone, working on that tune and recording take after take until I got the entire song down in one uninterrupted take. I must've looked crazy to him. But I worked so hard that day that I swore that I would preserve that recording and make it into a real song and release it someday, having no idea it would take me over a decade.

We transferred that track, and other 4-track recordings, to Mat Leffler-Schulman's DAT tapes, when I started working in his Takoma Park, Maryland studio a couple years later. And I added some drums and synths to the song in Takoma Park, and had a decent skeleton of an arrangement. But when we started back at Mobtown Studios in Baltimore a few years after that, we basically went back to square one with the iMac beep, doing the drums and synths over. It took me a while to work out that distorted bassline, it was really one of the hardest keyboard parts on the album to play, but really worth it. And the little "deedle deedle dee" countermelody on the second verse came out well, I recorded it over both verses but decided it sounded a little busy there, so we muted it on the first verse and now I think it adds the perfect color to the second verse.

Sonic Youth is probably my favorite band of all time, and I don't know how much you can hear that in Western Blot most of the time, but I think it's pretty evident in "Dull Dark Side." When I first started messing around with the riff I knew it had a little of a "Sugar Kane" vibe to it and kept changing it until I thought it was unique enough. But the drumming on the song is very Steve Shelley, and the whole noisy bridge is very Sonic Youth. I interviewed Steve Shelley as a teenager and really look up to him, he's a good guy.

One of the happy accidents that took place in the recording of the album that I really loved was the end of "Dull Dark Side." The song ends with that one note repeating over and over for a pretty long time, so I just left that open to improvise on the drums at the end. And I did a couple different takes that, and one went a bit longer than the others. Mat recorded the keeper take over one of those longer earlier takes, so basically after the keeper take ends, the other track kinda bleeds in, so there's kind of a false ending. And that's not something either of us did on purpose, it just happened and sounded good enough to keep in the track.

As with most of the songs on the album, I had the music written and recorded for quite a while before I knew what the lyrics would be. But the lyrics for "Dull Dark Side" came to me quicker than probably anything else on the album. I remember pretty distinctly that I was back in Rehoboth, Delaware for the holidays visiting my mom, when the idea for the chorus started kicking around in my head (and since the main riff was recorded in Newark years earlier, this is essentially a song where all the main inspiration took place in Delaware, rather than Maryland). And it was only maybe a couple weeks later that I realized that the chorus fit over this track. I didn't even know when I recorded the instruments which part was the verse and which part was the chorus, but once I had that "I know you've got a dull dark side" part, it all fell into place.

I'm really proud of "Dull Dark Side" because of how the lyric came together. The chorus kind of has this cavalier dark humor to it, kind of dismissively saying that most people have the same boring personal failings. But as I wrote the verses, it kind of became this more empathetic thing. Songwriting for me is a lot like writing anything else, where the chorus and/or opening lyric is kind of the topic sentence, and then you start filling in the details and making counterarguments, and you sometimes end up thinking your way through the topic and finding a surprising conclusion.

I did not initially think that most of the singers on the album would do two songs each, and I initially had Kathleen Wilson of Thee Lexington Arrows come in just to record "Button Masher." I had a male singer in mind for "Dull Dark Side," someone who I still want to have on a Western Blot project in the future, but they were busy when I asked them about it. So I started thinking about who else could sing the song, and realized that there was no reason it needed to be a male singer, and that Kathleen might be a great fit for it, and she was. She's just amazing, there's not enough good things I can say about her work on this album, and this song in particular. The way she sang each chorus differently, the little bend in her voice in that last line before the bridge, she really brought a lot to the performance.

There's a Superchunk lyric about playing "track 6 and track 7 again and again," on track 7 of an album with a great track 6/track 7 section. And I feel like that's a real sweet spot of an album, no matter how many songs are on it, that should be the point where the album is really settling in and hitting its stride or making its statement, musically or lyrically. So I was happy that "Child Of Divorce" and "Dull Dark Side" became those tracks on Muscle Memory, I think that's kind of the heart of the album, the point where I hope anyone that's listening that far is kind of with me for the whole ride and hopefully not losing interest. These days, with streaming and all, I feel like there's a lot less incentive to listen to an entire album if you didn't, y'know, spend money on it or have any feeling of justifying your investment. And you can actually look at listening stats and see them drop off from track 1 to track 2 to track 3 on most albums, unless there's a hit toward the end. So I kind of felt like I had to stick to my guns and not worry about "burying" songs I love in the second half where fewer people might hear them, and sequence the album for the best possible experience for someone who's listening to the whole thing. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

I'm writing a new column for Noisey that I'm really excited about called The Unstreamables, taking a look at albums that aren't available on major streaming services. The first installment is about the 1985 self-titled debut by Prince associates The Family. 

Monthly Report: February 2017 Albums

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

1. Future HNDRXX
The first Future album released in the past month, FUTURE, was basically his 7th in a row where the majority of his songs by Metro Boomin and members of 808 Mafia (seriously: 56 Nights, DS2, WATTB, Purple Reign, EVOL, Project E..T., and FUTURE). And I've been saying for ages that it'd be great to get a change of pace and have a record with different producers and/or a record in the melodic R&B style that had been a pretty big part of Future's sound before that run. So HNDRXX is really exactly what I'd been waiting for, even if I'm not crazy about the Rihanna and Weeknd features, there's so many solo tracks I'm enjoying, particularly "Incredible" and "Damage" and "Fresh Air," and "Sorry" is a pretty amazing closing track. Here's the 2017 albums playlist I add everything I'm listening to.

2. All Them Witches - Sleeping Through The War
I checked out this Nashville band's 4th album on a whim just because I liked the look of their '70s hard rock influences, and am really glad I did. The songs take some interesting instrumental twists and turns without getting bogged down in some droney stoner rock thing (half the tracks run over 6 minutes but they never really bore me), and the vocals have this kind of funny, plainspoken quality that I didn't expect. "Bruce Lee" is probably my favorite track, love the way the drum fills lock into that riff.

3. Little Big Town - The Breaker
Little Big Town has 4 vocalists who sing harmonies and take turns singing lead, but Karen Fairchild has slowly emerged as the voice of most of their biggest hits, and I think it speaks volumes that the first time Taylor Swift has written a song for country radio in years, she had Fairchild sing "Better Man." The whole album is solid, though, I'm glad that after last year's surprisingly enjoyable little record with Pharrell they went back to Pain Killer producer Jay Joyce, who I think is probably the best producer working today who does that old fashioned thing of putting mics in front of instruments and amps.

4. Rhiannon Giddens - Freedom Highway
Just last week I raved about Rhiannon Giddens's guest appearance on Eric Church's latest single, not realizing she was about to release a solo album. This is really a beautifully sung record, I usually don't go for rootsy folk music this traditional, but I love the full vivid sound of the production and the little touches that kind of situate the original songs in the present day.

5. President Davo Forever
I don't write as much about Baltimore rap as I used to but there's a lot of excitement in the scene lately, really feels like a number of artists are building the kind of grassroots followings that have historically been hard to foster in the city, and I think President Davo is one of the more promising guys doing that. He has a really melodic flow but he's not biting the obvious AutoTune rappers and he picks some interesting beats, his biggest track is over Big Pun's "Still Not A Player." Forever collects some popular songs like "Rainy Days" with Young Moose and seems like a pretty good proper 'debut' indie album of original production, this could be his year.

6. SiR Her Too EP
SiR's self-released Her EP was one of my favorite R&B releases of last year and I'm happy that just 3 months later he's followed it up with the news that he's signed with Top Dawg Entertainment, and the release of another 6-song EP that kinda fills out the project to a full album. There's not really any sense of this stuff being deliberately more mainstream other than an Anderson Paak feature, but it's nice to see him move up in the world, even if all it ultimately means is that he does a hook on the next Kendrick or Q album. I think "Sugar" is my favorite off this one.

7. Austin Stahl - Austerity
Austin Stahl is a Baltimore musician I've known for over a decade, I saw his old band Private Eleanor a lot, played a show with his more recent Mink Hollow a couple years ago, and once he borrowed a piece of my drum set for a Small Sur tour. He usually sings on stuff as a solo artist and bandleader, so I was intrigued when he told me his latest album is an instrumental record, but it's a pretty lovely and wide ranging record, like maybe he got to cover more musical ground because he didn't have to limit himself to what would fit his voice. I really think it's a great showcase for his production, too, he should be getting production work off the strength of this.

8. Future - FUTURE
As I said, HNDRXX is refreshing as a change a pace from Future's other releases, and FUTURE is pretty much more of the same. But FUTURE is still a pretty enjoyable record, "Mask Off" and "POA" and "Draco" are all keepers and "I'm So Groovy" is kind of hilarious. I get weary

9. Fat Joe & Remy Ma - Plata O Plomo
I always root for Remy Ma, and her Nicki Minaj diss was a great reminder of what she's capable of, so I hope she gets together a good solo project soon. Reuniting with Fat Joe and making "All The Way Up" and "Money Showers" was a good way to reignite her momentum after prison, but I do wish this album felt less like a generic with all those R&B hooks. I don't know DJ Khaled talked Joe into having Kent Jones on 3 of the first 5 tracks on the album. It really speaks volumes that my favorite song on here, "How Long," is the only one with no guests.

10. Entrance Book of Changes
I heard a promo of this album a few months ago so I'm just kinda coming back to it now that it's actually out. The louder electric sound of The Entrance Band hit me a little more immediately, but I like the acoustic sound here too, the backing vocals and lush strings on "Always The Right Time" are really lovely and surprising.

The Worst Album of the Month: Jidenna The Chief
I didn't especially like "Classic Man" but it was undeniably catchy and deservedly a hit that did a great job of packaging a new artist who probably would've been hard to market to the mainstream without that exact song. So it seemed pretty stupid for his label to throw other singles for almost 2 years and let them flounder before finally putting the album out once all the momentum had dissipated. But man, everything I disliked about "Classic Man" is magnified by this record, including Roman GianArthur once again handily upstaging him on "Chief Don't Run" (seriously, let's hear more from that guy). "The Let Out" is catchy, and they wisely discarded that stupid "Knickers" song in favor of a track that deconstructs the N word with a little more substance, but for the most part this is a really irritating, charmlessly clever record.

TV Diary

Friday, February 24, 2017

a) "Santa Clarita Diet"
Victor Fresco created some of my favorite short-lived sitcoms that were a little too weird for network primetime like "Better Off Ted" and "Andy Richter Saves The Universe," so I was thrilled to hear that he'd have a new show on Netflix. And "Santa Clarita Diet" is really fun and funny in large part thanks to their freedom to curse and show as much gore as they want. The contrast of the banal setting and the plot about about an undead suburban mom who eats people is an easy joke, but they execute it really well with Fresco's chatty dialogue and Drew Barrymore's weird offhanded screen presence, which has never served her better than here. There were some times when I thought the premise might kind of spin out of control, but it really just got funnier and became more about Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant making their marriage work under these circumstances, really kind of a sweet, heartwarming show at its core. There are some superficial similarities between this and that other show about an undead woman, "iZombie," and that show's creator Rob Thomas seems to feel some type of way about it, but really they're both pretty unique shows that I love for different reasons (and Ryan Hansen has guested on both, so he should squash any beef).

b) "The Breaks"
I've written a couple pieces for Complex interviewing cast members of this show and the movie that VH1 did last year as a backdoor pilot, so I've been kind of excited to see this become a series. The first episode proper didn't engage me as much as the movie, partly because it was shorter but also introduced more characters for the narrative to juggle and didn't seem to bring back some of the people I liked in the movie. But I like the way it set up the story to move forward, and the way they're continuing to thread fiction into actual rap history with stuff like the release party for Special Ed's second album. I thought it was funny that the main character kept talking down "The Mission" because that's the song from the record that I still hear in old school mixes all the time.

c) "Planet Earth II"
I grew up watching nature documentaries and I thought "Planet Earth" was basically the greatest masterpiece the genre has ever produced, so I've been pretty excited to see the same team do a new series ten years later. I already knew that the scene with the baby iguana escaping the snakes was going to be the standout of the first episode since it went viral last year when the episode aired in the U.K., but there was a lot of good stuff in there. I love David Attenborough's voice, and the way he pronounces the word "sloth" was surprising and hilarious.

d) "The Collection"
This new Amazon show is about the Paris fashion industry in the immediate aftermath of WWII. And like a lot of period pieces on TV these days, I'm impressed by the on location shooting and the costumes and everything, but I dunno how interested I am in the story or the characters to keep watching beyond the endless 2 hour pilot.

e) "Animal Nation with Anthony Anderson"
When I started seeing ads for Anthony Anderson's animal talk show, it looked so much like he was just ripping off Tracy Morgan's "Brian Fellow" sketches. It's a fun show but kind of a weird way for Anderson to spend his show biz clout from "Black-ish," though I can see it being a dry run for him to have a more traditional late night talk show at some point down the line. The fact that he had Jerry O'Connell on one of the first episodes and spent most of the time talking about Kangaroo Jack was not too encouraging, but at least they had some kangaroos on set. It's awkward that they had a laugh track, though, there's an audience right there.

f) "The History of Comedy"
Pretty good new CNN documentary series, hits a lot of the beats you'd expect about the history of standup but they've got a lot of great archival footage and new interviews to make it feel a little fresh.

g) "Legion"
I was looking forward to FX doing a show about a minor character from the X-Men universe, I don't really read the comics so I don't know much about what they're getting into here, but it just seemed like there was a lot of potential to kind of branch into that world with a TV show and do something different from the movies. I really really hated the first episode of "Legion," though, it was pretty low on plot for a pilot to begin with and then stretched out to 90 minutes with a lot of indulgent disorienting setpieces that were meant to simulate the character's mental illness, which is really a trope I dislike more and more in TV shows and movies and seems to be the primary storytelling engine of "Legion." The last couple episodes have been more tolerable, but I'm starting to suspect that I will just hate anything Noah "Fargo" Hawley does. I feel bad for Aubrey Plaza, I thought she was ready for some kind of interesting starring vehicle and instead she's in a supporting role even more one dimensional than the one she had on "Parks & Recreation."

h) "Imposters"
Between "The Chase" and "Good Behavior" and now this, it feels like there are just so many TV shows coming on these days about relationships that end when one of the people turns out to be a con artist. I think this one has more potential than the others, though, because there's a little of a comedic element, and they're doing a good job of running these parallel narratives of the con artists and their past victims who are trying to find them.

i) "Detroiters"
I feel like Comedy Central at this point is trying to develop a formula for sitcoms based on the success of "Workaholics" and "Broad City," basically single camera shows where a group of broke rascals try to get by in this crazy world. And "Detroiters" basically sticks to that formula but I don't think it really does much new or funny with it, which is unfortunate because shooting on location in Detroit at least gives it a unique feel and setting that you don't get on TV much.

j) "APB"
Last fall CBS premiered "Pure Genius," a show about a tech billionaire taking over a hospital and running it like a Silicon Valley business, and this FOX show is about a tech billionaire privatizing the Chicago police force. Both of these shows feel like they're kind of romanticizing a dangerous trend in an icky way, but at least "APB" feels a little more aware and interested in exploring the downsides of the concept, but I'm still not really into it as a show.

k) "WorldStar TV"
It's kind of sad that WorldStar got its own real TV show just after the founder died. But this is really just kind of another MTV2 filler show where comedians comment on clips from the internet, and I guess viral videos of crazy things happening are a big part of WSHH's legacy, but I feel like they could've done something better than this.

l) "Powerless"
I was really excited when I heard about this show, just the idea of a sitcom about the mortals living on the periphery of the world of D.C. comic superheroes had a lot of potential, plus Danny Pudi in the cast. And it's a really cute show, but I wish it was funnier, I'm hoping they find a groove and maybe figure out more to do with Pudi, although so far at least Alan Tudyk is really hilarious. I thought it was odd that instead of setting the show in Metropolis or Gotham, they came up with a fictional city called Charm City which is obviously not meant to be Baltimore.

m) "Superior Donuts"
I don't like to dismiss CBS sitcoms for being too traditional, because I think there's still some potential left in those old formulas. And I like the idea of an old fashioned workplace sitcom with some hall of famers like Judd Hirsch and Katey Sagal. But this show just isn't that funny, and it reminds me of "2 Broke Girls" in that they keep making cheesy jokes about, like, gentrification or sriracha to kind of keep the hoary old fashioned show feeling "current."

n) "Madiba"
I never saw the Mandela movie with Idris Elba because people really seemed to dismiss it and the filmmakers didn't seem like they approached it the right way. But I liked this BET miniseries with Laurence Fishburne, felt like they got to dig into the story a little more and not just hit the big obvious moments.

o) "The Quad"
Doing a show set at a (fictional) HBCU was a good idea for BET, although the show is a little soapy, I'm not that interested in continuing to watch it, but the marching band stuff is well done and fun to watch.

p) "Z: The Beginning of Everything"
I think my favorite thing about this show on Amazon about Zelda Fitzgerald is that the episodes are only a half hour. I've gotten so used to all this big ambitious historical shows kind of going on and on and on that it's refreshing to see a show kind of scale down and focus on an individual's life. That title is a mouthful, though, couldn't they have just called it "Z"?

q) "Riverdale"
The CW doing a sexy modern version of Archie Comics was kind of a ridiculous joke before the show even aired, but the result is at least a little more charming than I expected. The fact that the show's first few episodes focus on making a statutory rape between Archie and a teacher seem romantic and normal TV relationship to root for is pretty fucked up, though, I'm glad there's been some backlash to that.

r) "Hunted"
I thought maybe the novelty of having a reality competition show that's shot to look more or less like a scripted TV drama would be cool, and it is, but I think I'm still too allergic to reality competition shows to really get into this.

s) "SIX"
Walton Goggins as a Navy SEAL is a pretty good starting point for a show, and I respect that History Channel seems dedicated to making their scripted shows pretty realistic, but it's really kinda dry.

t) "Jeff & Some Aliens"
This is the first show to be spun off from Comedy Central's animated sketch show "TripTank," and it's not bad. But it also kinda feels like everything about this show's absurd gross out sci fi style was done a hundred times better by "Rick And Morty," which is hopefully returning soon.

u) "Voltron: Legendary Defender"
My son watched the first season of this when it debuted on Netflix last summer, but he wasn't into it enough to finish the season. He got really hooked with the new season, though, and went back and watched the rest of the first season. It's no "Trollhunters" but it's pretty fun, I like the animation style.

v) "The Path"
I felt like this show had a lot of potential last year, with this ominous atmosphere of dread hanging over it, but by the end of the first season I felt like it had just gone nowhere. So I'm sitting here watching the second season with my arms folded, waiting to be proven wrong, and so far I haven't. I'll try to stick it out to the end of the season, but so far it just feels like a generic dark violent TV drama full of people who were in better dark violent TV dramas.

w) "The Magicians"
My wife enjoyed the first season of this show so much that she spent the last year reading all three books that it's based on. So now when we watch the second season, she comments a lot on how different it is from the source material, I don't know if reading the books kinda ruined the show for her. I still like it a lot, though, I feel like they've figured out how funny the cast can be and are using that a little more this season. The season premiere's weird joke about Tim Daly and "Wings" was hilarious.

x) "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" 
Colbert got off to kind of a slow start on CBS, but he's really come into his own lately, and his ratings have been steadily rising lately where he's finally competing with Fallon. And the contrast between Fallon ruffling Trump's hair and Colbert getting sharper and meaner with his political monologues has been really interesting. At this point I finish "The Daily Show" feeling kinda dissatisfied most nights and head over to CBS at 11:30 to see Colbert do a better job of commenting on the events of the day.

y) "The Mindy Project"
I'm glad this show is back, even if they still keep swapping supporting players in and out willy nilly in a weird way. I'm glad they brought back Adam Pally even if it was just for one episode, but the whole Nurse Ben plot feels like it'll be forgotten as soon as it's over, dude is just kind of boring and I feel like the show could be doing something better than a constant rotation of boyfriend arcs.

z) "Suits"
It's funny to see my favorite little stupid USA drama back now that Meghan Markle has suddenly become one of the most famous people in the world. It feels like the show is finally moving forward now that they've gotten Mike going to jail out of the way, but I miss Gina Torres.