Deep Album Cuts Vol. 31: Ne-Yo

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ne-Yo is releasing his 6th album, Non-Fiction, this week, so I felt like looking back a bit on his career so far. He came out of the gate strong a decade ago, writing a Hot 100 chart-topper for Mario, getting signed as an artist and very quickly scoring his own #1 single and #1 album. Since then he's gradually slid from prominence, although he's done a good job of keeping a foot in pop music even as pop has withdrawn from most R&B stars (and I'm fine with this really -- his voice glides really beautifully over dance beats whereas the EDM hits by Usher or Chris Brown sound strained and forced by comparison).

He's always kind of had an anachronistic vibe to me, though, like he was a Babyface or Lionel Richie who never totally fit in with the post-R. Kelly era, even though he clearly grew up worshiping Michael Jackson just as much as Chris Brown or anyone else. He managed to make his earnest nice guy energy work for him for a while, though -- I was especially fond of "Bust It Baby Pt. 2," the hit that made great use of the contrast between hilarious disgusting Plies and smooth sweet Ne-Yo. But he's written so many dynamite singles, both for himself and others, that sometimes his albums feel like listening to him just write when he's off the clock, in good and bad ways.

Ne-Yo Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Get Down Like That
2. Ain't Thinking About You
3. Fade Into The Background
4. Genuine Only
5. Jealous
6. It Just Ain't Right
7. Leaving Tonight featuring Jennifer Hudson
8. So You Can Cry
9. Makin' A Movie
10. Shut Me Down
11. Let Me Get This Right
12. Sex With My Ex
13. Back To What You Know
14. Know Your Name
15. She Is featuring Tim McGraw
16. Sign Me Up
17. Make It Work
18. Nobody
19. What Have I Done?
20. Alone With You (Maddie's Song)

Tracks 1, 6, 11 and 16 from In My Own Words (2006)
Tracks 2, 7, 12 and 17 from Because of You (2007)
Tracks 3, 8, 13 and 18 from Year of the Gentleman (2008)
Tracks 4, 9, 14 and 19 from Libra Scale (2010)
Tracks 5, 10, 15 and 20 from R.E.D. (2012)

I usually use weight each album based on how much I like it on these playlists. But for once, I decided to use an equal number of tracks from each album, and just rotate through the catalog four times, because it's really hard for me to pick favorites in Ne-Yo's discography. Every album is really good but not quite great. I loved In My Own Words when it dropped, but in retrospect "Get Down Like That" is probably the only song up to the quality of the singles. I ignored Because of You at the time because I hated the singles, but it's got some joints. Year of the Gentleman was the album that got the best reviews and an Album of the Year nod at the Grammys, but I never thought it was really any better than his others. Libra Scale surprised me with how decent it was after the advance singles were terrible. And R.E.D. really just proved that he's always gonna deliver quality work whether he's a big star or not.

There's some good gems in here, even if there's not much that I think could've been a "So Sick"-level hit. "It Just Ain't Right" has a cool sample of Switch's "I Call Your Name," just a few months before "Throw Some D's" flipped it very differently. "She Is" is as worthy a genre-blending Tim McGraw collaboration as Nelly's earlier hit "Over and Over." The only deep cut of Ne-Yo's dance pop side that appears on one of his albums is "Shut Me Down," which is pretty dope and backs up my general support of him doing that kind of thing now and again. "Makin' A Movie" and "Make It Work" spin quality songs out of the signature catchphrases of, respectively, DJ Khaled and Tim Gunn.

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

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The latest Mobtown BSides session that I wrote up for the Mobtown Studios site features Jukebox The Ghost.

Monthly Report: January 2015 Singles

Friday, January 23, 2015

1. Sevyn Streeter f/ Chris Brown - "Don't Kill The Fun"
In my year-end list of 2014 R&B singles, I lamented that Sevyn Streeter was part of a wave of new R&B singers who only got to release major label EPs, and fretted that we may never get a full-length album or any significant promotion of her again. So I was pretty overjoyed to turn on the radio a few days into 2015 and hear a new Sevyn Streeter single that sounded fantastic. And then, I went home and tried to find the song online, and it wasn't anywhere, which I didn't think was possible anymore (it got pulled for a few days while they worked out a sample clearance issue or something, supposedly). I'm always a little conflicted when Chris Brown ends up on a song I like, just because fuck that dude, but he's on this even less than he was on "Hold You Down," mostly little ad libs backing vocals, and then singing lead for all of 15 seconds. But really I just love Sevyn's voice, and this house vibe suits it surprisingly well. Here's my new favorite 2015 singles Spotify playlist.

2. Walk The Moon - "Shut Up And Dance"
After one pleasant moderate alt-rock radio hit, "Anna Sun," 3-4 years ago, I pretty much forgot Walk The Moon existed. But they really put their foot in this one and made a hit. Rock songs that reference dancing after rock music ceased being the dominant dance music of the world always feel kind of strained and obnoxious, but this one is at least pretty earnest and ingratiating, just so many killer vocal melodies throughout every section of the song.

3. Beyonce - "7/11"
I am of the rare but correct opinion that the greatest track Beyonce has ever recorded is the 6-minute extended mix of "Get Me Bodied" with all the goofy dance instructions at the end. And I feel like this song was made with an understanding of that, but just chooses to take that concept to its logical extreme. It was pretty funny when this song leaked a day or so before the video was released, because I heard a radio station play it and then ask for feedback, and literally everybody who called in hated it. And at that point I didn't really like the song either. But then the video dropped and kind of gave everyone the key to understanding the song's weird, unhinged energy, and now it works as just a song as well.

4. Mark Ronson f/ Bruno Mars - "Uptown Funk!"
It makes total sense that Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars would work well together, but I think of them in very different terms. To me, Ronson is the rich well-connected British kid who's been making unimaginative pastiches of 20th century black music and would probably just be making mashups if he didn't know so many celebrities. And Mars is the kind of cheesy but undeniably talented performer and songwriter who can actually make an unapologetic retro pastiche like this actually entertaining. It's still fun right now, but as it slowly takes over every movie trailer and becomes this year's "Happy," I don't know how much I'll like it in a few months.

5. Boosie Badazz f/ Rich Homie Quan - "Like A Man"
Life After Deathrow had a few songs that sounded like potential hits but nothing that really popped like this one, really is a perfect way to kinda reintroduce Boosie to radio with someone newer that isn't totally leaning on Quan to make it a hit. The long tradition of rap bangers with steel drum loops continues, with this one sounding like a more angry variation on DG Yola's "Ain't Gon' Let Up."

6. B.o.B f/ Trey Songz - "Not For Long"
Here's an example of a bland tapwater rapper really leaning on someone who can actually can make hits to keep him on the radio. I really wish Bobby wasn't on this song at all, because it's the best thing Trey has done in years, it's like "Hold On, We're Going Home" with someone who can actually sing.

7. David Nail - "Kiss You Tonight"
A really big, hooky country song that I seem to hear on the radio all the time but has been lurking in the low teens of Billboard's Country Airplay chart for the longest time when I could swear it's a top 10 hit.

8. Tink f/ Charlamagne Tha God - "Around The Clock"
I somehow missed the whole Tink thing, suddenly her mixtape and her okay song with Jeremih started turning up on all these year-end lists and she was Timbaland's new artists and I'd never even heard of her. But then I started hearing this song on mix shows and it's just killer, one of Timbo's best beats in a while and she has a really unique, confident flow. I guess I should check out the other stuff but right now I'm just digging this song.

9. ScHoolboy Q - "Hell Of A Night"
Oxymoron may not have been a great album but it really has turned into a nice little pop rap hit factory, almost a year later there's still songs on the charts. This one kind of feels like a weird attempt at festival EDM for his live shows, but I dunno, I really like it, great beat and hook and better rapping than most of Q's hits have had.

10. Bush - "The Only Way Out"
I didn't even like Bush that much when they were kinda good, and "Everything Zen" is the only song I can stomach even half the time when it comes on the radio anymore. But wow, this is pretty nice. I'd rather hear it with someone else besides Gavin Rossdale singing (his voice has really not aged well), but he wrote it so hey credit where it's due.

Worst Single of the Month: Sam Hunt - "Take Your Time"
Bro country seems to hit a new low every few months, but this really might be the ultimate nadir. He's basically doing that Drake-style mid-sentence slide from rapping/talking into singing in every line of the verse and, ugh, wow, it's just incredibly awkward.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015
This week's Short List.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 30: The Black Crowes

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A few days ago, The Black Crowes announced their breakup after 25 years as a band, with Rich Robinson announcing that they couldn't carry on with his brother, frontman Chris Robinson, basically demanding to take a bigger cut of the band's money than the other founding members. It's sad to hear about something like that happening between brothers, but at the same time I support Rich in calling that out, because the insanity of lead singers trying to swindle the rest of the band, and reduce other members of the band to salaried employees, seems to be some kind of epidemic among aging bands. No need to tolerate that shit.

Although The Black Crowes are going out in a blaze of tawdry in-fighting, long after their commercial decline, I kinda felt like giving them some props as a better band than their reputation suggests. They debuted in 1990 with a huge, great blockbuster album with several hit singles. And though they managed to maintain their mainstream profile for a while after that, it quickly became apparent how out of step they were with what we remember as '90s rock now -- they're in that weird little bubble where Lenny Kravitz and Sheryl Crow were also allowed to thrive as '60s and '70s rock nostalgists in the '90s. Blues-based rock has been painfully unhip for a long time, but I'll take the Black Crowes over the Black Keys any day of the week. And Chris Robinson always seemed like a pretty genuine student of the music they play -- he even sang on a Little Feat record a few years ago, which will make anyone cooler in my book.

I could really live without the Black Crowes' biggest hit, the cheesed out Otis Redding cover, but pretty much everything else I think has aged pretty well. "Jealous Again," "Twice As Hard," "Remedy," that's good shit that I'm always happy to hear on the radio, and I'm not ashamed to say "She Talks To Angels" has gottn me a little emotional. Even some of the less successful later singles like "Wiser Time," I love that one. So it seemed like a good time to delve into the albums and see what's there.

The Black Crowes Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Thick N' Thin
2. Struttin' Blues
3. Sister Luck
4. Could I've Been So Blind
5. Sometimes Salvation
6. Black Moon Creeping
7. My Morning Song
8. Gone
9. Descending
10. Under A Mountain
11. Girl From A Pawnshop
12. Heavy
13. Miracle To Me
14. Movin' On Down The Line
15. What Is Home
16. Lady of Avenue A

Tracks 1, 2, 3 and 4 from Shake Your Money Maker (1990)
Tracks 5, 6 and 7 from The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992)
Tracks 8 and 9 from Amorica (1994)
Tracks 10 and 11 from Three Snakes and One Charm (1996)
Track 12 from By Your Side (1999)
Track 13 from Lions (2001)
Track 14 from Warpaint (2008)
Tracks 15 and 16 from Before the Frost...Until the Freeze (2009)

There are some other good songs in the band's catalog where the titles were just too close to self-parody, like "She Gave Good Sunflower" and "Ozone Mama" and "Wee Who See The Deep." But for the most part their catalog is pretty consistent and light on embarrassment. "What Is Home" is the first (and, I guess, last) song in the Black Crowes catalog fully written and sung by Rich Robinson, who's made a few solo records since the band first went on extended hiatus over a decade ago. It's a quiet little acoustic track and his voice is much softer and gentler than his brother's, but it's an interesting track with a lot of rhythmic turnarounds and a section in 7/8.

The first album, Shake Your Money Maker, is the only one that I regard as essential, but even as the hits dried up, there were some fine moments on the later albums -- the stoned '70s Stones grooves of Amorica, the horns all over By Your Side, the acoustic textures of the new-songs-recorded-live swan song Before The Frost...Until The Freeze. I can't fault anyone for being bored by this band's existence, but they were a solid singles act and, really, more than that if you wanted to dig in beyond the hits.

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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

I contributed about 10 blurbs, about Jay Rock, Miguel, and Rihanna, among others, to Complex's 50 Most Anticipated Albums of 2015.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Village Voice's 2014 Pazz & Jop critic's poll came out this week, and I'm pretty pleased about the winners in both the album poll and the singles poll. The rest of the lists, ehhh, but I'm always a little out of step with other critics.

As usual, Glenn McDonald tabulated Pazz & Jop, and created a whole site of voter stats on furia dot com. Here's my ballot, and my furia page with a bunch of stats about who voted for similar stuff, how 'centrist' I am, etc.

To wrap up the year, here are all the year-end lists I did for 2014:
Top 50 Albums
Top 100 Singles (which was divided up into a bunch of genre lists for R&B, pop, rock, rap, and country)
Top 10 Baltimore Club Music Releases
Top 10 Baltimore Hip Hop Releases
Top 50 TV Shows
The best things I wrote in 2014

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

In this week's City Paper, I wrote a BPM column with a bunch of Baltimore club news about DJ Chris J, DJ AngelBaby, and others, and also wrote The Short List.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I wrapped up the year in remixes with my 4th quarter Remix Report Card for Noisey.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I did a little piece for Complex about the lighter side of Lupe Fiasco's Twitter account, with a little nod to that one time he tweeted at me.

Monthly Report: December 2014 Albums

Sunday, January 11, 2015

1. D'Angelo and the Vanguard - Black Messiah
Since the first few albums on this list already made my top 50 albums of 2014, I will attempt to say something here that I didn't already say there, especially since obviously it's been a couple weeks and my feelings about these records are still forming and changing. But Black Messiah, man, as much as I did not spend the last 14 years waiting around for this guy to come  back, I'm glad he did. It feels in some ways like a more open, warm album than Voodoo, where I'd been kind of worried he'd disappear further into that album's quirks on a follow-up. Just the variety of textures and grooves, the playful way "Betray My Heart" winds down, the chill-inducing strings on the "Really Love" intro, the incredible splashes of piano across "Another Life."

2. K. Michelle - Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart?
I feel like if the entertainment media's ankle-deep engagement with R&B ever got past "how can Beyonce be a feminist if she dances?" thinkpieces and, uh, "D'Angelo plays real instruments" snob shit, K. Michelle would emerge as a rightfully pivotal figure in R&B's sexual politics. Earlier in her career, she struck a lot of people as kind of a caricature of "ratchet" culture, but I feel like the depth of her work and how it engages with sex and gender relations, from "Can't Raise A Man" to her "Loyal" remix to a whole bunch of songs on this album (especially the single "Love 'Em All") display a perspective that's as thoughtful as it is unapologetic and brazen (her 2 albums are perhaps the only major label R&B albums I've ever seen with explicit lyric stickers but no guest rappers). The fact that this album was apparently written about an affair with one of our era's biggest sex symbols, Idris Elba, while he was having a baby by another woman, might lead easily to tabloid tawdriness or more "side chick" jokes, but the songs have a real emotional resonance beyond that stuff. I mean, one of the most poignant songs is called "Drake Would Love Me." It's a little weird to me how "Can I Borrow A Feeling?" the album title is, though.

3. Kevin Gates - Luca Brasi 2
For a while it seemed like dropping 2 albums a year could have both creative and commercial diminishing returns for Kevin Gates, but it feels like this one is a tipping point both in how famous he's becoming and in how perfectly he's honed his whole sound and persona. "I Don't Get Tired" is a pretty good attempt to spin a meme into a hit single (although it remains to be seen if it will become one), but "Perfect Imperfection" is even better as an attempt to put Kevin Gates and his very specific emotional space into a 4-minute nutshell. That stuff is more interesting than the already familiar mafia posturing of "Plug Daughter" and "John Gotti," but Gates does that stuff better than probably anyone else in rap right now.

4. Charli XCX - Sucker
I'm less than enamored of Charli XCX's bratty Veruca Salt vibe on the first few tracks on this album  -- "Break The Rules" was a pretty terrible single choice that seemed to stall all the commercial momentum built up by "Boom Clap," and I half expect her to start singing about she's not going to eat her vegetables or clean her room. But after the opening section of the album, it hits a more straightforward pop vibe and stays there, with the only misstep being the song that was written with Rivers Cuomo and sounds like it. "Doing It" is so insanely good, sounds like an actual pop jam without indie training wheels unlike everything else I've ever heard by Ariel Rechtshaid.

5. E-40 - Sharp On All 4 Corners (Deluxe Edition)
When E-40 started dropped albums 2 at a time (or even 3 at a time) a few years ago, each volume was bursting at the seams with close to 80 minutes of music. Since then, the CDs have gotten shorter, which at first felt like some kind of admission of defeat. But honestly I'm glad that I can sit down with these new albums that are 54 minutes long and get through them in one sitting without getting overwhelmed. And really I think there's more variation in the production here than there's been on his albums in a while. It's like DJ Mustard taking that post-Hyphy sound mainstream gave him space to experiment more instead of trying to play keep up with a sound he helped invent.

6. Nicki Minaj - The Pinkprint
This album has some great tracks but is ultimately frustrating just like Roman Reloaded was with the tracklist divided into demographically focused sections. Here even moreso because it seems like halfway through recording, she went through some shit and started making a breakup album, but instead of a full-on 808s & Heartbreak type record, those songs just bookend the album on tracks 1-3 and 14-16 and give a weird context to everything else. And I wish those songs made me feel something, but there's still something guarded and performative about her 'personal' lyrics that gives those songs a Hallmark card blandness. I hope she finds a way to make that stuff work better by album 4 or 5, like Beyonce did. But "Want Some More," "Big Daddy," "Feeling Myself," that's my shit. Even "The Night Is Still Young," that's one of her best dance pop songs to date.

7. J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive
On some level, this album is an impressive accomplishment. After outselling Kanye on his last album, J. Cole attempt to kind of pull a Yeezus by dropping an album on short notice with no advance singles and no radio-friendly guests. Except this time it actually worked out, and in just a month 2014 Forest Hills Drive outsold Born Sinner, Nicki's album, and every other rap album released last year. All of that feels important, vindicates Cole in some ways, and there are stretches of the album that rise to the occasion. But the guy has this weird sour persona and total lack of discernment between good and bad punchlines, he's his own worst enemy as far as deflating good songs with totally awful lyrics. And the fact that over 20% of the runtime is taken up by a "Last Call"-style audio liner notes finale just makes it feel like he's still not out of Kanye's shadow creatively.

8. Rome Cee - The GLIMPS(EP)
A few new songs from one of the best rappers in Baltimore, this is up on AudioMack and recommended. "Children of the Night" is the standout for me, but the whole thing is pretty solid.

9. Mike WiLL Made It - Ransom
At this point, I'm a lot more interested in hearing how a producer oversees a single artist project than their own compilation album -- i.e. the Rae Sremmurd album is more exciting than this to me for the same reason that the YG album was more exciting than DJ Mustard's own 10 Summers. This is dope, though, nice rotating cast of mostly not super famous rappers and some really great beats that suggest there's more mileage left in the Mike WiLL sound than I thought there was a few months ago. Gucci Mane's "Stop Start" is great, really ridiculous how much music he still has trickling out of the vault.

10. The Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments To An Elegy
Billy Corgan's existence at this point is mostly just the greatest punchline to the setup that was '90s alt rock boom. But I don't hold any ill will toward the guy, he really is one of the more talented guys to have become a superstar in that era, and the new music has its merits. This one is stronger than Oceania, mainly because Tommy Lee is a pretty great drummer and a much better Jimmy Chamberlain fill-in than the kid who was with the band for the last few years. It's also surprising to hear Corgan finally make a brief, economical record -- I wonder if Tommy was yelling at Billy to get to the hook and wrap it up, because only one song here goes over 4 minutes (and even then, by 9 seconds). Corgan's attempts to smooth out his vocal delivery make me miss the nasal bleat, but the songs have their moments. I like that the most enjoyable song has the title "Being Beige."

Worst Album of the Month: Wu-Tang Clan - A Better Tomorrow
I will say, this album probably isn't as bad as many people have made it out to be, and the okay Ghostface solo album isn't so much better than it than people have made it out to be. But it is interesting to hear an aging group that so many people still love and root for kind of bellyflop into something that pretty much none of the fanbase can bring itself to embrace -- not that different from the Smashing Pumpkins album, really. What's interesting to me, though, is that it's not just the awkward production that's turning people off -- this album tries really hard to be positive and uplifting and it feels like people are just rejecting that en masse. Even to a greater extent than Kendrick Lamar's "i," the overt attempt at a message like that is very polarizing. It makes me want to like the album more, but then again, it just doesn't sound very good and feels like a total internal collapse of what used to make Wu-Tang great.

Movie Diary

Saturday, January 10, 2015

a) Top Five
My wife took me out for my birthday to the new movie theater in town and this was the movie I chose. The seats in the theater were phenomenal, and the movie was pretty good too. I grew up thinking Chris Rock was one of the best things about early '90s SNL and that CB4 was hilarious, so it always kinda surprised me when the narrative became that he's a great standup but middling at everything else. I even like Down To Earth and I Think I Love My Wife. Still, this is probably the best movie he's written and/or directed and is still flawed, but flawed in the endearingly shaggy, indulgent fashion that geniuses often work. There was the unintentional comedy of when Rosario Dawson's NY Times reporter character had an editor's number saved in her phone under "editor," but there was also a lot of intentional comedy that worked really well. And the way Rock's movies always make him seem like such a romantic on the inside is charming -- as a romcom it's easily one of the best in recent memory just for avoiding a lot of the usual beats while still hitting a few nice familiar notes. The Sandler cameo really brought home the sense that this was basically Funny People if it was actually funny.

b) Time Is Illmatic
A pretty decent little music documentary, in some ways it really brings to life the sounds and stories behind Illmatic in a way that dusts off the cobwebs of an album that is surrounded with a lot of stuffy and glib conventional wisdom. Loved all the little details about young Nasir, Jungle has a hell of a memory.

c) Maze Runner
My wife is a voracious reader and she has devoured most of the big non-Twilight young adult series, so I always end up seeing these movies with her and she knows the plot and is comparing it to the book and I'm just taking it at face value. Will Poulter, who was hilarious in We're The Millers, is really good in this, but for the most part the cast was really bland and I dunno, the story didn't really grab me. The wife said the rest of the series is good, though, maybe I'll give a try to the other movies when they make them.

d) Snowpiercer
I feel kind of lame geeking out over a dystopian sci-fi blockbuster like The Matrix superfans I always rolled my eyes at, but holy shit I loved this movie. I knew people liked it and I kinda figured it would be a well done action flick, but I didn't expect there to be this twisted, funny Terry Gilliam vibe that really made it come alive, particularly in the Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill scenes (John Hurt's character's name was Gilliam, maybe a deliberate homage?). And just the whole thing, I loved the little character moments that fleshed out the world and the conceptual bits that kept surprising me. I thought the ending was optimistic, my wife thought they were doomed.

e) Hell Baby
Kind of a Rosemary's Baby/The Exorcist parody directed by a couple guys from "The State" and starring a bunch of "Childrens Hospital" folks, so I thought it'd be pretty funny. And, it was better than Scary Movie at least, but it was still kind of too broad and goofy to totally work, after a while I kinda stopped paying attention.

f) The Wolf of Wall Street
After over a decade where Scorsese made almost nothing but movies that could've been better with someone besides DiCaprio in the lead role, their long working relationship finally pays off with Leo rising to the occasion and delivering a truly memorable performance. I liked how unflinchingly ugly the whole thing was and even when the guy got his comeuppance he didn't really, great hilariously cynical ending.

g) Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Anchorman is still probably my favorite Will Ferrell movie (although Step Brothers is catching up), and if they made a sequel less than 5 years after the original I probably would've been pretty hyped for it. This just seems like too little too late, though. There were a few scenes that really captured the right energy and did something unexpected, but a lot of it just felt like trying to xerox what made the first movie unique.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015
This week's Short List.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Today's my 33rd birthday, which is kind of an odd number, but does make think of a nice round number. 20 years ago, on January 6th, 1995, I had enough money from Christmas and birthday cards to buy what I really wanted for my birthday. So that weekend (January 6 was on a Friday that year, so this was either the 7th or the 8th), my mom drove me out from the one small town in Delaware that we lived in, Rehoboth, to another one, Milton, to Fat Larry's Tattoo Shop. Fat Larry was selling his Pearl Export set, and that day I came home with my first drum kit.

I had been playing in school band, and had my own snare drum, since I was 10. But this was different. I could play, like, rock music, now. And I'd get home every day from school and play for an hour or two. Until my poor tolerant mother got home and I'd show mercy and put down the sticks. My brother got a bass guitar I believe the same year. And very soon we had started our first band with a couple of friends. And then our second band. By the end of high school I'd joined my third band (first one to play actual shows). Driving back from Pittsburgh for our only out-of-state show, one of my bandmates crashed our van, and my snare drum, Fat Larry's snare drum, was damaged beyond repair. Over the years, I gradually replaced pretty much every piece of my drum set, except for the bass drum. That's held up pretty well.

There were a good 5 years that I barely played my drums at all, but I held onto them. When I started recording songs for my 6th band, Western Blot, I kept using the drums I'd always had, bass drum included. I've replaced the head of the bass drum several times over the years. The last two times were both while I was playing this song -- once during the recording session, and then later practicing the song with the live band. I'm still playing with that band, and in the last couple months I've been playing with some new people that, if things keep proceeding, will probably be my 7th and 8th bands. I don't know how long I can get away with using one beat up old kick drum. 20 years is a long time to own anything -- I probably have a few CDs and books that are older. But I doubt any of them hold as much meaning for me, or that I'll continue making space for them and trying to hold onto them for the next 20 or 50 years. Thank you, Mom. And thank you, Fat Larry, wherever you are.