TV Diary

Thursday, November 07, 2019

a) "Mrs. Fletcher"
Only knowing Tom Perrotta's work via screen adaptations of his novels, it's interesting and a little confusing to consider that Election and "The Leftovers" came from the same guy's pen. I'm also a little amused that Kathryn Hahn's next TV vehicle after "I Love Dick" is possibly even hornier than that extremely horny show. The first 2 episodes are really promising, though, it definitely has the feel of being based on a novel in that the characters have rich interior lives and it's not entirely the typical HBO half hour dark comedy with cheap cynical laughs and realistic but pointless slice of life scenes that I somewhat anticipated it being, feels like a little more is going on in there.

b) "Evil"
I love that Michelle and Robert King have taken the clout they have from creating "The Good Wife" and have spent it on getting the most old-fashioned broadcast network, CBS, to run fairly strange and smart and high concept shows like the short-lived "BrainDead" (my favorite show of 2016) and now "Evil." This show has a bit of a procedural case-of-the-week thing to it, but it feels like with each passing episode they're teasing out where the reality of the story lies, whether everything has a rational explanation or if there really is such a thing as demonic possessions and miracles. And it's really fun to see Michael Emerson play the creepiest and most mysterious character he's played since "Lost."

c) "His Dark Materials"
My wife read the novels, but a long time ago, so she's somewhat guiding me through the BBC/HBO series with at least a broad understanding of the universe the story's in. I like the cast and the production values, and the daemons are really cool both in concept and in CGI execution, so hopefully I'll get wrapped up in the big epic story and it'll translate to a series better than it did to a feature film a decade ago. In a time when every other show on TV has someone who rose to fame on "The Wire," I think Clarke Peters is someone I've most wanted to see get some really substantial roles, and this feels like it could be a big one for him.

d) "Catherine The Great"
I like that this Helen Mirren miniseries about an 18th century Russian empress is very unapologetically about palace intrigue and tawdry sex scandals, it's a lot more fun to watch than I expected it to be.

e) "Daybreak"
"Daybreak" features a snarky teenager addressing the camera like Ferris Bueller to explain what his life is like in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and to put too fine a point on it they also cast Matthew Broderick himself as the principal of the kid's high school. That's the level of obviousness that "Daybreak" is dealing in, but as someone who enjoyed Zombieland and will probably enjoy the sequel, I don't terribly mind being pandered to with more of this kind of thing.

f) "The Unlisted"
An Australian show about a global conspiracy to oppress teenagers, kind of intriguing but the execution is a little dull to me so I don't think I'm gonna find out what's going on.

g) "The Cry"
Another Australian show, a miniseries about a couple whose newborn baby mysteriously disappears. But at the end of the first episode, when it actually happens, you find out that the mom and dad both went into a store together and left the baby in the car, and then the baby was gone when they got back to the car, which honestly just kind of made me furious as a parent and so I had zero investment in whether these shitty people got their baby back.

h) "Treadstone"
My wife was way more interested in this Bourne Identity spinoff without Jason Bourne than I was, but I have to admit, the first episode wasn't bad, the fight choreography was awesome.

i) "Bob Hearts Abishola"
I have been a Chuck Lorre apologist in the past, but "Mike & Molly" was never one of his strongest shows, and it feels like they're scraping the barrel by basically doing a retread of it with the co-star that didn't become a big movie star. They're trying to make it a nice sweet love story but there was also a fart joke in the first five minutes.

j) "Tyler Perry's Sistas"
I don't think much of Tyler Perry's movies but his TV productions seem to be a whole rung below even those, it's a shame because you probably could've had a good show with this cast if the writing was better.

k) "A Little Late with Lilly Singh"
I was always kind of morbidly fascinated with "Last Call With Carson Daly," NBC's zombie late night show that trudged on for 17 years with a mediocre host who always had other gigs doing the absolute bare minimum: they ran reruns for half the year, and when they did tape new shows, Carson would just do these half-assed host segments and then throw it to a celebrity being interviewed by an off-camera producer or footage of a band's concert. So I was so happy to hear that NBC finally canceled Carson and gave his timeslot to one of the still rare women in late night. Lilly Singh got famous on YouTube and I tend to cringe at a lot of her characters, but on "A Little Late" she just wears a zoot suit and does a fairly traditional late night show with a monologue and an interview. I don't feel like she's really found her footing yet, but there's something I like about watching a new host settle into the job, and I feel like the show is more fun when she's excited about the guest, like the Natalie Portman episode.

l) "The Kelly Clarkson Show"
I have mixed feelings about Kelly Clarkson getting a daytime talk show, because it wasn't that long ago that she was one of the most consistently excellent pop stars on the charts, and it feels kind of too soon for her to kind of pivot to hosting a TV show 5 days a week and presumably touring and releasing albums less often if the show is successful. But I also like her as a person and TV personality so it's a fun show, and she sings in every episode and will just randomly bust out a killer cover of a song like Flume's "Never Be Like You."

m) "Unnatural Selection"
A miniseries on Netflix about DNA engineering and gene editing, I've enjoyed watching it with my wife since she's a scientist and can dumb it down so I can understand it. We both really really hated the biohacker guy in the first episode, she has principled reasons to question what he's doing but he also just came off like a huge douchebag to both of us.

n) "Why We Hate"
This Discover Channel docuseries covers a lot of ground in 6 episodes and is pretty well done. But even though white supremacy and right wing violence is a topic they don't shy away from, I feel like by trying to make it all very broadly about all kinds of human hatred for any kind of 'other,' they're almost shifting the focus away from where it should be on white supremacy and colonialism shaping our entire world.

o) "Hip Hop: The Songs That Shook America"
This has been pretty good, the idea of getting really granular about one song for an hour of television is great. Of course, they end up zooming out and talking about more than just the song at hand, but it's still cool to get the whole story of Outkast's early years through the prism of "Elevators" and things like that. The "Kings of Rock" episode was my favorite so far, I was kind of getting emotional through the whole thing before they even touched on Jam Master Jay's death at the end.

p) "America's Most Musical Family"
I love seeing kids with musical talent so this Nickelodeon show is a pretty cool twist on musical reality competition shows. I definitely root for the kids that play instruments over the vocal groups, though, especially WanMor, the group comprised of the 4 songs of Boyz II Men's Wanya Morris, all of whom are also named Wanya and sang a Boyz II Men cover, the whole thing just made me roll my eyes so hard.

q) "The DNA Of Murder With Paul Holes"
Remember when Oxygen was the channel for women and not the channel for murder? Weird, right? I'm not the biggest fan of true crime doc shows, but this is easily one of my favorites, mostly because they've focused on compelling cases I haven't heard of before and because cold case investigator Paul Holes is a really watchable host, he really projects a quiet charisma and intelligence. Also his name is Paul Holes, which I can't help but kind of snicker at as he learns about people who have been stabbed full of holes.

r) "The Substitute"
My son really enjoys this Nickelodeon hidden camera show where they do kind of a silly 'undercover boss' thing where a celebrity in disguise goes into a classroom one day as a substitute teacher and wacky hijinks ensue. Some of the celebrities are people from kid's shows that I don't really know but the episode with John Cena is pretty entertaining.

s) "44 Cats"
Nickelodeon has been airing this funky Italian cartoon (called "44 Gatti" in its homeland), it's interesting to me how European cartoons really stick out and look and feel a little different even when they've dubbed it with American voice actors.

t) "Ricky Zoom"
My 4-year-old adores the talking truck show "Blaze and the Monster Machines," which is absolutely terrible, so I was afraid when he started watching this other new cartoon about a talking dirtbike that's even more annoying, but thankfully he seems to have already lost interest in it.

u) "Big City Greens"
A charming Disney Channel cartoon my kids watch sometimes. It's weird to see a cartoon where all the humans have Simpson yellow skin but otherwise don't resemble the character design on "The Simpsons," though. .

v) "Castle Rock"
I didn't realize "Castle Rock" was gonna be an anthology series with a different story and set of characters each season until they started advertising the second season. I'm kinda glad, it felt like they did as much as they could do with a lot of the season 1 characters, and the new cast headed up by Lizzy Caplan is really good. I don't think I'm enough of a Stephen King reader to really catch all the references or appreciate the way they've woven various characters and themes together. But I still like the concept of it, it's like the Coens-as-genre approach of "Fargo," which I might have liked more if they hadn't named it after a specific Coens movie.

w) "9-1-1"
This show has always been ridiculous but they really went overboard with the 3-episode arc about a tsunami hitting California. Every time we watch this show we're like "this is so poorly written, why are we doing this" and then some storyline or another has us on the edge of our seats. I hope Angela Bassett and Peter Krause gradually tiptoe out of the show like Connie Britton did, though, they deserve better.

x) "Single Parents"
My favorite new fall show of 2018 still going strong in season 2, have really enjoyed the episodes with Leighton Meester's real life husband Adam Brody playing her crappy ex. I like to refer to Brody as Mr. Meester.

y) "The Good Place"
I'm curious to see how they tie "The Good Place" up, but they were so creative with perfectly executed twists and weird concepts in the first two seasons that they've kinda written themselves into a corner, which is why they've wisely opted to end at four seasons. Still, there are enough hilarious lines in each episode that I'm enjoying just sticking along for the ride, and Ben Koldyke has been a really funny addition to the cast.

z) "Saturday Night Live"
I have heard some complaints about the more elaborately staged musical performances this season, and I definitely cringed at the Coldplay one, but I'm glad they're shaking things up in this old show and at least trying some small innovations. This season has been alright so far, the Phoebe Waller-Bridge episode was pretty fun, I'm glad they didn't embarrass her with dumb sketches or anything. I feel like Kate McKinnon is really soldiering through the political sketches, playing so many different people and sometimes having to animate some weakly written material. I love seeing her carry the show but I wouldn't be mad to see her move on to other things. I miss Leslie Jones this season, but again, she probably has better projects on the horizon.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

I interviewed Fantasia Barrino about her excellent new album Sketchbook for City Pages.

Monthly Report: November 2019 Singles

Monday, November 04, 2019

1. Matt Maeson - "Cringe"
I don't know anything else about this kid besides the song that went to #1 on the alternative charts, but it's a catchy tune, really grew on me, dig the combination of the acoustic guitar strums and the slick forceful drum machine beat. I kind of like that the word "cringe" doesn't appear until the bridge in the second half of the song, you don't get that restraint with title lyrics in hit songs much anymore. Here's the favorite 2019 singles Spotify playlist I add songs to every month. 

2. Wale f/ Jeremih - "On Chill" 
People like to complain that Wale's career isn't what it could or should have been, but I think it's been fairly merit-based: the romantic R&B tracks he's had the most success with genuinely are the thing he does better than most of his contemporaries, and "On Chill" is his biggest single since "Bad" because it's his best single since "Bad." It's annoying that a massive hit currently samples Raphael Saadiq's "Ask Of You," but that song and most of the rest of the Higher Learning soundtrack are currently unavailable on streaming services. 

3. DaBaby f/ Offset - "Baby Sitter"
DaBaby's second album of 2019 is already out but one of the singles from his first album of the year is still riding high on radio playlists, much the way radio was always one project behind Future when he was releasing back-to-back tapes. I love the way that synth bassline does a portamento bend like a rubber band. I think "Clout" sucked so hard that I feel actively annoyed by Offset guest verses now, though. 

4. Carrie Underwood - "Southbound"
Upbeat summery beachy anthems have been ubiquitous on country radio for well over a decade now, but they've been at a low ebb lately, and I think that made this song stick out more, it's a little faster and more tightly constructed than those songs usually are (plus they're usually delivered by male singers), so "Southbound" is surprisingly refreshing for something kind of obvious and on-the-nose. 

5. Sam Fender - "Will We Talk?" 
Sam Fender has a great voice, movie star cheekbones, and a #1 album in the UK. But he makes uptempo rock music so I doubt he'll ever get a big push on the US charts like insufferable balladeers like current golden boy Lewis Capaldi. I really enjoy Fender's biggest single, though, which I only know of because my local college station played it. 

6. The 1975 - "Frail State Of Mind"
The first two singles from Notes On A Conditional Form have been very different from each other, but both curveballs that don't sound like they have much chance of being hits: the punky and frantic "People" and now the restrained synth pop of "Frail State of Mind." Setting aside that I admire the band's ambition and want them to be huge and ubiquitous because they're great, I enjoy that they've tried so many different sounds for their singles and can take a chance on something that sounds like a lovely album track like this. 

7. Khalid - "Right Back"
"Right Back" appears immediately after "Talk" on Free Spirit and I feel like it makes perfect sense as a follow-up single as well, kind of has the same hazy aesthetic but is a little more uptempo. I like the subtle interpolation of Joe's "Don't Wanna Be A Player," I didn't even notice it until I looked at the writing credits. I know A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is on the single mix of "Right Back" but I'm not acknowledging it. 

8. Maren Morris - "The Bones"
Country is one of the only major pockets of mainstream music that still does better in sales than streaming, and so it's interesting to see what happens with the albums that do get good streaming numbers. What surprised me about Maren Morris's latest album is that the kind of loud and bombastic lead single "Girl" was #1 on country radio while the more understated promo single "The Bones" did huge business on streaming services, twice as much as "Girl" and in fact more streams than any other song on Morris's 2 albums. Both are excellent songs, I'm just fascinated by how that played out. 

9. Shaed - "Thunder"
"Trampoline" has been crossing over to pop radio way more than I imagined it would, meanwhile I really like the second single they've got on alternative radio and hope it ends up doing even half as well. 

10. Russell Dickerson - "Every Little Thing"
This guy comes off like a massive dork even in the fairly dorky context of mainstream country, and I disliked his first couple hits, but this one has a big shameless hook that I have to admit I find irresistible. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Selena Gomez - "Lose You To Love Me"
Selena Gomez is a very famous, photogenic young multimedia celebrity who used to be on the Disney Channel and used to date another very famous young celebrity. So I totally understand why she was, for years, the most followed person on Instagram. But I totally do not understand why she was, at one point, the most listened to artist on Spotify -- she's not much of a singer, but more importantly, she hasn't found a way to sound good or comfortable on record, and her material is rarely above average, even her top 10 hits have been largely forgettable. So you can guess how I feel about her getting her first #1 with a piano ballad that she's really not equipped to sing. The uptempo other song she released the same week, "Look At Her Now," isn't great but it's still a lot better than this. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 157: Little Big Town

Sunday, November 03, 2019

With the decade coming to a close, I thought about country acts that I've consistently enjoyed in the 2010s, and, Little Big Town quickly came to mind. They've got 8 albums at this point, so there's plenty to dig in to for a playlist, and there's a 9th, Nightfall, due out in January.

Vocal groups don't rule mainstream country quite like they once did, but they've still got a stronger presence than in other genres, and in particular I like that Little Big Town, a quartet of two men and two women, has kept the co-ed vocal group tradition alive. You can go back a few decades and find successful groups like ABBA and The Mamas And The Papas and Fleetwood Mac that had men and women harmonizing together (one of Little Big Town's live staples is a cover of "The Chain," which makes perfect sense). But since then, we've kinda fallen into the expectation that most vocal groups are all one or the other, boy bands or girl groups. And it's a shame, because there's a really rich kind of harmony that you only get with that range of male and female voices all together. But hey, if everyone wants to leave that lane open to Little Big Town, all the better for them. Karen Fairchild is easily the standout vocalist of the group, really one of the best voices in Nashville today, but what makes their records is the sound of their voices all blending together.

Little Big Town deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Turn The Lights On
2. Silver and Gold
3. Looking For A Reason
4. Front Porch Thing
5. Rain On A Tin Roof
6. Quit Breaking Up With Me
7. Pontiac
8. Night On Our Side
9. Evangeline
10. Leavin' In Your Eyes
11. Why, Oh Why
12. Mean Streak
13. Lost In California
14. Willpower
15. C'mon
16. Live With Lonesome
17. Self Made
18. The Breaker
19. Tumble And Fall
20. Stay
21. Life Rolls On

Tracks 7 and 20 from Little Big Town (2002)
Tracks 3, 12 and 21 from The Road To Here (2005)
Track 9 from A Place To Land (2007)
Tracks 5 and 11 from The Reason Why (2010)
Tracks 4, 10 and 17 from Tornado (2012)
Tracks 1, 2, 6 and 19 from Pain Killer (2014)
Tracks 14 and 15 from Wander Lust (2016)
Tracks 8, 13 and 18 from The Breaker (2017)

Little Big Town kind of kicked around for quite a while before becoming consistently successful. They signed with and were dropped from a major label before their first album, and released their first 3 albums on independent labels, with only one of them scoring hit singles and going platinum. It took them 6 years to top the success of "Boondocks," still kind of their signature song. But they finally became fixtures of country playlists and award shows with a trio of albums produced by Eric Church's right hand man Jay Joyce: Tornado, Pain Killer, and The Breaker. The Pain Killer opener "Quit Breaking Up With Me" might be my favorite song by the band, that vocal edit in the first verse cracks me up every time. I also enjoyed kicking the playlist with the one-two of the tempo shifting "Turn The Lights On" and "Silver And Gold."

As much as I stan for the sound of Jay Joyce production and like his Little Big Town albums best, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the earlier albums are, and how much they had their sound figured out from the jump. The first track on the first album, "Pontiac," is great and would easily sound at home on one of the more recent records. Little Big Town put the ballad "Stay" on both of their first two albums, with a full band arrangement on their debut and a spare acoustic version closing The Road To Here, but neither was ever released as a single (I went with the first full band version here).

Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsay co-wrote "Girl Crush" and a few of Little Big Town's other biggest hits, but they've also penned some quality deep cuts like "Lost In California" and "Tumble And Fall." Little Big Town were one of the many acts who recorded songs written by Chris Stapleton before he became a major star in his own right. None of them were hits, but all three Stapleton songs they recorded in the early 2010s are pretty good -- "Front Porch Thing," "Rain On A Tin Roof" and "Why, Oh Why."

A few years ago Little Big Town recorded a little 25-minute mini-album, Wanderlust, produced and co-written by Pharrell Williams. I don't know if they had an eye on expanding on the crossover success they'd just had with "Girl Crush" or if it was just an experiment, but in any event, it came out with little promotion, charted far lower than any of their other records, and was followed 8 months later by a more traditional Little Big Town album. Like a lot of Pharrell's work outside of rap and R&B, it kind of feels like the group had to just kind of conform to his sound and he didn't change up his method at all. But it works a lot better than I expected it to, mostly because he knew when to get out of the way and let the group's harmonies take center stage, particularly on "C'mon," which Justin Timberlake co-wrote and sang on, and "Willpower."

Monthly Report: October 2019 Albums

Friday, November 01, 2019

1. Kim Gordon - No Home Record
I obsessively collected Sonic Youth side projects and solo records for years, but it was more fun when the band was still going and I wasn't in any way trying to fill the void left by the breakup of my favorite band. Thurston Moore and especially Lee Ranaldo have made some pretty enjoyable records of songs that could have easily been Sonic Youth songs, while Kim Gordon had primarily explored something a little darker and more minimal in the percussion-free albums by Body/Head. So I went into Gordon's first full-on solo album with no expectations of what I would hear, and was pretty thrilled with what I heard. There's a lot of programmed beats and some full-on rock songs, but no set sound for the full record, it's a really interesting patchwork of different styles united by her inimitable vocal style. If it recalls anything she's done, it's Free Kitten's anything-goes 1997 album Sentimental Education, or even Ciccone Youth's The Whitey Album a little bit. Here's the 2019 albums playlist I fill with all the new records I listen to.

2. King Princess - Cheap Queen
I wish King Princess's debut album was arriving with the same kind of sad teen zeitgeist as Lorde's debut or Billie Eilish's debut, but I'm glad that it's arrived all the same. Mikaela Straus is really an interesting writer, both melodically and in the mix of vulnerability and humor on songs like "Homegirl" and 'Watching My Phone," and the production is just gorgeous and weird and surprising.

3. Fantasia - Sketchbook
Fantasia's last 2 proper album The Definition Of... and The Side Effects Of You were really impressive to me and marked the point where a great singer who had great singles began truly making great albums. And she goes first in the 'rock soul' direction with even more live instrumentation on The Definition of... and really covers a lot of stylistic ground. I actually did a phone interview with Fantasia a couple days ago so watch this space for that piece when it's published. One thing I will note that didn't make the piece is that my favorite song on here is "Believer," and when I told Fantasia that she said that it was the most Aretha-influenced song on the album, which really makes listening back to it.

4. Gallant - Sweet Insomnia
Gallant's acclaimed and Grammy-nominated 2016 debut Ology was a really good record that kind of stood on the line between R&B and dance and pop. But he moved further towards mainstream R&B's center last year with his radio breakthrough "Doesn't Matter," and even though that song isn't on his 2nd album, Sweet Insomnia follows in that vein really well, I particularly like "Crimes." It's funny, I keep forgetting that Gallant is from Maryland, but then the intro track on this album titled "410" reminded me (people in Columbia, Maryland definitely have 410 phone numbers, but saying '410' is generally considered a signifier of Baltimore -- but who cares, I live even further out from the city now and people still associate me with Baltimore).

5. The Muffs - No Holiday
Kim Shattuck died 16 days before The Muffs released their 7th album, and naturally it's impossible to listen to No Holiday without thinking about how Shattuck, who had ALS, made it knowing it was probably her last record. But she kept making the kind of dryly funny punk songs she'd always made right up to the end, and if the album is poignant, it's because of the casual way Shattuck continues to pick apart the minutiae of daily life and set them to catchy little riffs -- is "Late And Sorry" just a self-deprecating song about being chronically late, or is it about how a chronic illness makes it difficult to keep appointments? At a certain point it doesn't matter, it's a great song either way.

6. Summer Walker - Over It
I feel like every time an album by a woman does as well as Over It is doing, it tips the gender balance in R&B back a little toward the middle, but I think it still speaks volumes that the 4 most popular songs on the album are the one with Drake, the one with Bryson Tiller, the one with Usher, and the one with A Boogie (hey, at least there's no Chris Brown for once). I like this album a lot, though, people complain about the Soundcloud rap-style brevity of her songs but I think it works for her. And it's a good bit for her to take a song that was 2:24 and do an 'extended version' that's 2:23.

7. Jumpstarted Plowhards - Round One
Mike Watt has made a lot of music over the years where he's composed the meat of the song on bass and then kind of gives the guitarist free reign to fill in the blanks on top of it. And Jumpstarted Plowhards kind of takes that approach to its logical extreme, with Watt simply recording a bunch of basslines to a click track and then letting guitarist/singer Todd Congelliere and a rotating cast of drummers (including George Hurley of the Minutement) build songs around it. I'm always interested in all the different ways you can build a song so it's fun to hear this particular experiment, and know that Watt is still trying new things like this after making music for so many decades. And I dig how Congelliere borrows one of Watt's favorite phrases ("write your own song!") for the last track, "Babylon Gone."

8. Bandhunta Izzy - That's Pretty Gangsta
For the last couple years, I've thought that Bandhunta Izzy has been one of the Baltimore rappers getting the closest to a real mainstream breakthrough, and in the last few weeks he's appeared on the BET Hip-Hop Awards and then trended on Twitter for the release of his modern update of 50 Cent's "How To Rob" that even features a cameo from The Madd Rapper. That's Pretty Gangsta is a quick 21-minute record that ends with "How To Rob" (although the version here doesn't have D-Dot's Madd Rapper ad libs on it for some reason), but it's really strong, could definitely see one of these songs becoming a major hit.

9. Hemlock Ernst & Kenny Segal - Back At The House
When I interviewed Future Islands a few years ago, I was a little surprised to hear Sam Herring say that he's been rapping for longer than he's been singing. But over the years he's done more and more features with Baltimore artists and has held his own on some posse cuts, and I'm really impressed by this full-length from his rap alter ego Hemlock Ernst. He sings a few hooks, sometimes kind of filtering it as if it's a sample of an old record, which is kind of cool, but I almost don't like when that comes in and reminds me of Future Islands, it's fun to hear him rapping with this completely different voice and perspective and writing style and pull it off.

10. Ne-Yo - Another Kind Of Christmas
Every year a few more pop stars pad out their discographies with the obligatory Christmas album, and most of them are pretty inessential. But I still like to check them out and see which ones are pulled off well, and Ne-Yo's is really excellent, probably the best I've heard since Kelly Clarkson's Wrapped In Red. Ne-Yo kicks off the album with the requisite Donny Hathaway cover of every R&B Christmas album, and then shifts gears into "Talk About It," a funny slice of life Christmas song that actually has an explicit lyrics tag, which seems like a potentially disastrous idea but it totally works (my favorite lyric: "mama said don't be givin' no fat white dude credit for my shit").

The Worst Album of the Month: Kanye West - Jesus Is King
I haven't felt optimistic about the direction Kanye West was headed in, musically or otherwise, in a long time. But last year's Ye at least felt like a creative rock bottom that it wouldn't be hard for him to improve upon, and this genuinely might be worse. If nothing else, Snoop Dogg's gospel album was way better. The show "Hip Hop: Songs That Shook America" recently dedicated an episode to "Jesus Walks," and Rhymefest talked about how he suggested a bunch of over Biblical references for the verses but Kanye pointed out that Jesus was already in the hook so they didn't have to make the verses all about that too to get the message across, and that feels like the major difference between that song and this album, besides the fact that it sounds muddy and lazy and unfinished.

Movie Diary

Thursday, October 31, 2019

a) Dolemite Is My Name
After a fairly inactive period (one movie, the flop drama Mr. Church, in the space of 7 years), Eddie Murphy signed with Netflix for a flood of upcoming projects, including multiple standup specials and Coming To America and Beverly Hills Cop sequels, and will soon host "SNL" for the first time in decades. Dolemite Is My Name is the first taste of Murphy's return to comedy, a biopic of blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore, and it's a pretty enjoyable celebration of an underdog's triumph and the cultural space that black comedy occupied a decade before Murphy became a crossover star. The scenes of them filming the (low budget) movie within the (high budget) movie were my favorite parts and at times reminded me of the last Murphy comedy I really enjoyed, Bowfinger. Murphy's performance was a little flat for me, though, I'm still kind of wondering if he lost a lot of his once innate ability to make people laugh -- Wesley Snipes was really the funniest person in the room whenever he was onscreen.

b) Happy Death Day 2U
Happy Death Day was a really enjoyable and well executed horror twist on Groundhog Day, so I was curious to see what they'd do with a sequel. One of the things I liked about the movie is that they left some of the mystery unresolved, so I was a little wary of the whole sci-fi twist of the premise to explain what happened. But they had a lot of fun with the concept, which veered into Back To The Future Part II territory but managed to stop short of total Hot Tub Time Machine 2 wackiness. Jessica Rothe's performance in this was arguably more impressive than the original, she just had to do more and pull off more full-on comedy, they really found the perfect star for these movies.

c) Boo!
I was amused by a horror movie simply being called Boo! but this really turned out to be pretty good for a low profile movie that didn't get a wide release. The final scene was one of those really unhappy endings that I always kind of admire horror movies for sticking the landing on.

d) Halloween
As far as the big '70s/'80s horror franchises go I've never really followed the Halloween movies closely. But I still thought it was pretty cool that they brought Jamie Lee Curtis back and brought the story full circle, it was really excellent and had a cast full of people I love including Judy Greer and Toby Huss. I also loved the whole bit with the 2 people making a true crime podcast about Michael Myers and what happened to them. I didn't realize until after I watched it that David Gordon Green directed it and Danny McBride co-wrote the screenplay, I think this worked a lot better as horror with a little comic relief than a lot of the stuff they've done that stuffs a bunch of action and violence into a comedy.

e) Gotti
It's simply amazing to me that Kevin Connolly starred in "Entourage" and then directed a crime biopic that is every bit as ridiculous and ridiculed as Vinny Chase's Medellin. I found it more boring than entertainingly bad, though. 

f) Breaking In
Pretty good tense movie, I love a good home invasion thriller, particularly one where the heroine rises to the occasion and fights back like a badass.

g) A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures
My younger son always manages to find these random C-list computer animated movies on Amazon that I've never heard of, this one was pretty cute, kind of traded heavily on the appeal of the sea turtles in Finding Nemo.

h) The Haunted Mansion
Another random movie that my son picked out to watch while he was really into Halloween movies, from Eddie Murphy's family-friendly comedy era. Pretty inoffensively bland, but I was amazed that he watched the whole thing, or at least half-watched it while he was building legos.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 156: Gang Starr

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Gang Starr's 7th album One Of The Best Yet will be out this Friday, so I wanted to look at their career up to this point. Guru died in 2010, and he spent the last few years of his life on the outs with DJ Premier and seemingly under the control of his late period collaborator Solar, a sad ending to one of hip hop's greatest duos. So I never really thought we'd get a posthumous album of unheard Guru verses over new Premo beats, and I'm excited to hear it, could be a nice final chapter to the group's complicated ending.

Gang Starr deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Now You're Mine
2. Work
3. Name Tag (Premier & The Guru)
4. Soliloquy Of Chaos
5. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
6. Tonz 'O' Gunz
7. No More Mr. Nice Guy
8. Daily Operation
9. Moment Of Truth
10. The Ownerz
11. Speak Ya Clout featuring Lil Dap and Jeru The Damaja
12. All For Tha Ca$h
13. What You Want This Time?
14. B.Y.S.
15. Above The Clouds featuring Inspectah Deck
16. Mostly Tha Voice
17. Gotch U
18. The Place We Dwell
19. Battle
20. Robbin Hood Theory
21. Who Got Gunz featuring M.O.P. and Fat Joe
22. Blowin' Up The Spot
23. Conspiracy
24. Betrayal featuring Scarface
25. DJ Premier In Deep Concentration
26. The Meaning Of The Name

Tracks 7, 17 and 25 from No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989)
Tracks 3, 5, 13 and 26  from Step In The Arena (1991)
Tracks 4, 8, 14, 18 and 23 from Daily Operation (1992)
Tracks 1, 6, 11, 16 and 22 from Hard To Earn (1994)
Tracks 2, 9, 15, 20 and 24 from Moment Of Truth (1998)
Track 12 from the Full Clip: A Decade Of Gang Starr (1999)
Track 19 from 8 Mile: Music From And Inspired By The Motion Picure (2002)
Tracks 10 and 21 from The Ownerz (2003)

It's funny, sometimes I will think of Gang Starr as having perfected the sound of New York hip hop, and then I'll remember that Premier was from Houston and Guru was from Boston. Gang Starr had a pretty great run, progressively making bigger and arguably better albums for a decade until they finally broke through with their first gold album, Moment of Truth, and went gold again a year later with their 2-disc compilation Full Clip, which I listened to a lot when my brother bought a copy. Gang Starr were always kind of underdogs, as evidenced by the fact that it was a big deal when they finally went gold a couple times in an era when their contemporaries, many of whom used DJ Premier beats, were going multi-platinum.

As I've said in this column before, sometimes a group having a great best-of comp can kind of tide you over to the point that you don't appreciate their proper albums enough, especially in the CD era when it felt redundant to buy both. Getting a 120-minute primer in a catalog that at that point had 5 proper albums meant that Full Clip was the first place I heard a lot of Gang Starr album tracks, and 8 tracks on this playlist were also on that comp, including one of the new songs made for that release, "All For Tha Ca$h," which I always loved. Full Clip also covered a number of their soundtrack contributions, so I wanted to include just their most notable soundtrack song that came later, from the quadruple platinum 8 Mile soundtrack.

A while back I got to interview DJ Premier and it was just such a thrill to talk on the phone for a few minutes with a guy who was a big part of my falling in love with hip hop and still one of my favorite producers, and hear him make sound effects with his mouth to describe different kinds of DJ scratches. The way he chops samples is just incredible to me, often taking these shards of 2 or 3 different records and fitting them together like jigsaw puzzles into catchy little riffs. And going back through Gang Starr's albums, I was reminded how varied the drums could be on his tracks, not just the straightforward boom bap he's associated with.

"Work," originally made for the 1998 movie Caught Up and then included on Moment Of Truth a few months later, has long been one of my favorite Gang Starr tracks, it wasn't a single but I remember it appearing on the free CD compilation that came with the CMJ issue when the album came out, and I was just blown away by it. So I've been happy to see "Work" become a sleeper hit over the years, their most frequent song featured in TV shows and their 2nd-most streamed song on Spotify ahead of most of their radio singles.

Some of the 13 Gang Starr songs that provided the episode titles for season 1 of "Luke Cage" included the deep cuts "Soliloquy Of Chaos," "Blowin' Up The Spot," "Now You're Mine," and "Moment Of Truth." No More Mr. Nice Guy's title track featured the first flip of Myra Barnes's "Message From The Soul Sisters" that was later imitated on the Geto Boys' "City Under Seige," LL Cool J's "God Bless" and most famously the Lil Kim hit "No Time." And "Gotch U"'s chop of James Brown's "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" became the basis of Kanye West and Jay-Z's "That's My Bitch." A couple years after Gang Starr released the album track "Robin Hood Theory," their friends M.O.P. referenced it in the title of their biggest hit, "Ante Up (Robbin Hoodz Theory)," which wasn't produced by DJ Premier but does appear between two Premier-produced tracks on Warriorz.

When I took my CD of Hard To Earn out to the car to listen to last week, I was struck by the back cover stating "produced by DJ Premier and Guru" and remembered how much Guru helped guide the sound of these records and . DJ Premier produced tracks every album that Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas released in the '90s, so there's no shortage of great MCs on Premo beats, but he had undeniable chemistry with Guru and stretched out and did some of his most interesting work in Gang Starr. Guru, the self-proclaimed "king of monotone," doesn't get brought up in conversations about all-time great MCs as much as he used to, but he's a great subtle writer who should be remembered more for his clever turns of phrase than his occasional awkward "lemonade was a popular drink" lines. I think "Tonz 'O' Gunz" is one of his best performances, the song sounds tough as hell but you don't miss that it's a lament about gun violence that considers a lot of different perspectives. At a time when the walls were starting to come up between 'hardcore' rap and 'conscious' rap, Gang Starr bridged the gap.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 155: Miranda Lambert

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Miranda Lambert's 7th album Wildcard will be out this Friday, so I wanted to look at her career up to this point. I've done relatively few playlists for country artists in this series, so I'm always looking to do more (previously: Brad PaisleyGeorge JonesDwight YoakamShania TwainTaylor Swift, and Eric Church). and Lambert is probably the defining female country star of her time -- more acclaimed than Carrie Underwood and more commercially successful than Kacey Musgraves, she's right in that sweet spot of sales and respect. And even though she's receded a little bit from the mainstream in recent years (ironically, 2014's Platinum was her first album that didn't sell a million copies), a new Lambert album is pretty big news.

Miranda Lambert deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Down
2. Me And Your Cigarettes
3. Tomboy
4. Fine Tune
5. What About Georgia?
6. Getting Ready
7. Priscilla
8. Maintain The Pain
9. Pink Sunglasses
10. Girls
11. I Wanna Die
12. Dry Town
13. Highway Vagabond
14. Look At Miss Ohio
15. Old Sh!t
16. Guilty In Here
17. Dear Diamond
18. Love Song
19. Bad Boy
20. Greyhound Bound For Nowhere
21. Better In The Long Run (with Blake Shelton)
22. That's The Way The World Goes 'Round

Tracks 5, 11 and 20 from Kerosene (2005)
Tracks 1, 6, 12 and 16 from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007)
Tracks 2, 8, 18 and 22  from Revolution (2009)
Tracks 4, 14, 17 and 21 from Four The Record (2011)
Tracks 7, 10, and 15 and from Platinum (2014)
Tracks 3, 9, 13 and 19 from The Weight Of These Wings (2016)

I have to admit I kind of missed the boat on Miranda Lambert for a long time. I remember CMT playing her first video, "Me And Charlie Talking," around the clock, even though it didn't do much damage on the charts, and playing up that she'd finished 3rd place on the "American Idol" country knockoff "Nashville Star." I didn't like that song, so I kind of dismissed her as a reality TV star that was getting pushed hard by TV networks as a . I didn't really have a clue that she was becoming a major star and a critical favorite until a couple of years later when I saw Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on a ton of year-end lists. And even after that, it took me a while to warm up to her as a singles artists and eventually check out the albums and kind of get what the fuss was about.

There's some great stuff here, I particularly like the dense texture of instruments in the verses on "Getting Ready." And I'm amused that Miranda Lambert released a song called "Old Sh!t" just a few months after Future had a hit with "Sh!t." The cover of John Prine's 1978 song "That's The Way That The World Goes Round" that appeared on Revolution is the most played non-single in Lambert's live repertoire, followed by "Maintain The Pain" from the same album (her shortest and arguably best song), and "Highway Vagabond" from The Weight Of These Wings, which has some cool 7/8 measures in the verses.

The Weight Of These Wings was a double album, a big ambitious 94-minute record she released after her divorce from Blake Shelton, and it's hard to imagine almost any of her contemporaries even attempting a record like that (especially Shelton). That said, it has a weird almost muddy sound to it, not stripped down or simple but just kind of ramshackle, and sometimes it works but it often doesn't. I do enjoy weird playful moments like "Pink Sunglasses" or the false start in the vocal track on "Bad Boy." But I think her best song about Shelton was Platinum's "Priscilla," an ode to Priscilla Presley that empathizes with their shared plight of being "married to a man who's married to attention."

Monday, October 28, 2019

Paul Barrere of Little Feat passed away on Saturday at the age of 71. Was especially sad to hear the news since over the summer I marked the 40th anniversary of Little Feat founder Lowell George's death. Paul Barrere was around when Little Feat got started in the late '60s -- he went to high school with George and auditioned to be their bass player -- but wasn't in the original quartet lineup that recorded the first 2 albums. He came on board as their second guitarist when the band expanded to a sextet in 1972 and recorded their most enduring album, 1973's Dixie Chicken. Barrere had an increasingly large hand in the band's songwriting over the course of the '70s, and was, along with founding keyboardist Bill Payne, the driving force of the band after it reunited in the late '80s.

I made an 70-minute best of Paul Barrere playlist of his highlights as a singer and songwriter, from Dixie Chicken up through their only studio album of the past decade, 2012's Rooster Rag. He sang lead on some classic tracks like "Skin It Back" and "Time Loves A Hero." Barrere was only 28 when he wrote "Old Folks Boogie," playfully envisioning the band rocking out with wheelchairs and pacemakers someday, but even that song had oddly poignant turns of phrase like "when your mind makes a promise that your body can't fill." 

Barrere and Payne also wrote a number of tracks that Lowell George sang lead on, although I dug up the demos of "All That You Dream" and "Hi Roller" with Barrere on vocals for the playlist. And even though Little Feat hired a new singer, Pure Prairie League's Craig Fuller, who had a similar tone to Lowell George, to fill out their sound on their reunion albums, Barrere and Payne continued singing a good share of songs, with Barrere taking the lead on singles like "Let It Roll" and "Texas Twister." Much as Lowell George was first the overshadowed second guitarist in Frank Zappa's band and then stepped into the spotlight with Little Feat, Barrere came into his own in Little Feat's later years, showing he could execute the sound that George originated and put his own spin on it. The band continued after the death of founding drummer Richie Hayward in 2010, and played shows celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with and without Barrere. I don't know if Bill Payne will continue to lead Little Feat in any form, but a major chapter has definitely ended.

TV Diary

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

a) "Living With Yourself"
It's a credit to Paul Rudd as an actor that he can turn off his seemingly irrepressible charm enough to play a much more miserable version of himself in "Living With Yourself," as well as the more upbeat clone version of himself. At its best, this show reminds me of "Santa Clarita Diet" in that it takes some realistic and relatable characters and then throws them into a crazy situation and has them react pretty much as anybody would -- not quite as funny or as consistently entertaining, but I was still impressed by how dark the show could get and then bounce back with something like an insane fight scene or a choreographed dance routine set to a Rick James song. Aisling Bea, who was hilarious just recently in her series "This Way Up," doesn't really get as much of a chance to be funny in her role here, but she really pulls off a difficult role well and helps make the show work almost as much as Rudd.

b) "Watchmen"
I was skeptical about the idea of a series with new stories within the Watchmen universe, partly because it's been a decade since I read the graphic novel once and saw the movie maybe twice. But Damon Lindelof did interesting things with the last 2 seasons of "The Leftovers" after running through the novel and continuing on from there, and this has a bit of the same texture of that while seeming immediately far more ambitious. I like little things like the squid rain to denote that it was a sequel to the book and not the Zack Snyder movie. I liked the movie well enough, but something like this certainly highlights where it could've grappled with the source material's themes a little more, to say nothing of the ending. It kinda makes me hope that after the HBO series does a few seasons of this 2019 timeline they go back and do a season adapting the original 1985 story.

c) "Modern Love"
I've never read the NYT column "Modern Love" and was skeptical about some romantic first person essays being adapted into an anthology series. But man, the first episode of this show totally got me, I even shed a little tear at the poignant little tale (it also features Cristin Milioti getting pregnant by a guy named Ted, which seems like a weird unintentional callback to "How I Met Your Mother"). The next couple episodes were also pretty entertaining.

d) "Raising Dion"
As much as comic books have explored the idea of a child developing superpowers at a young age, stuff like "X-Men" usually delays that moment until around puberty, which resonates on a level but also just makes things a little less complicated. And then you have something like Jack Jack in the Incredibles movies, which gets a lot of comedic mileage out of the terrifying idea of an impulsive little baby having dangerous powers. Dion from "Raising Dion" is 7, so you get a little of both ends of that spectrum, where he's still an immature little kid and things go out of control really easily when he starts teleporting and floating and moving things with his mind. And since the show is mostly from his mother's perspective, you get all the emotional intensity of parenthood with this added heightened reality. That said, the execution of the idea is a little iffy to me in the first couple episodes, and at a point even as a very patient father I feel like the show is making me dislike the kid and get mad at him for making a mess of things all the time, like they make the kid oddly unsympathetic and one-dimensional, even for a 2nd grader.

e) "Emergence"
This is another show about a kid with superpowers, but it's more of a mystery with a weird conspiracy. And it's pretty decent, but I just can't bring myself to care that much about the big overarching story. The more human-scale character stuff is more interesting, though, Allison Tolman is such a compelling screen presence.

f) "Looking For Alaska"
I watched an episode of this and rolled my eyes so hard that I was not at all surprised to see that it's based on a book by The Fault In Our Stars author John Green. And I can appreciate that some YA books are good and I'm glad it gets kids interested in novels, I just don't like his cheesy precious dialogue. They did a good job of evoking 2005, though, at one point someone prints out MapQuest directions while listening to a song from Hot Fuss.

g) "Perfect Harmony"
This show is a comedy about a ragtag community choir, stars Anna Camp from the Pitch Perfect movies, and has the word 'perfect' in the title, so it's pretty clear what they're going for, it might as well have been a spinoff. What's surprising is that my wife, who loves those movies, doesn't seem to be that into it. I find it charming, though, Bradley Whitford being cantankerous is pretty good television.

h) "Sunnyside"
I was sad to hear that this was the first cancellation of the new fall season ("Bluff City Law" is the second, which I don't feel as bad about). It wasn't especially funny, but it had potential, Kal Penn is such an ideal sitcom lead and I enjoyed the kind of downfall and redemption arc of his character. Real sign of the times to have multiple sitcoms (this and "Superstore") having major plotlines about ICE detention.

i) "Bless The Harts"
"SNL" writer Emily Spivey based "Bless The Harts" on growing up in North Carolina, but nobody in the core voice cast is from the south, so I find something really irksome about listening to Kristen Wiig and Ike Barinholtz speak with a broad sketch comedy twang. But even taken at face value as a knowing and affectionate animated series about the blue collar south, it ain't exactly "King of the Hill." And it's already been renewed for a second season, shit.

j) "Almost Family"
Now here's a show that I hope gets cancelled as soon as possible. It just doesn't seem to have occurred to anybody that a show about a fertility doctor secretly using his own sperm to father his patients' children shouldn't be a quirky, upbeat show about a group of women who just discovered that they're half-sisters. It's just tonally all wrong when the subject is medical rape.

k) "Batwoman"
Between "Gotham," "Pennyworth," Joker and "Batwoman," the idea of doing Batman stories without Batman is basically a cottage industry unto itself now (kind of like the 'Garfield Minus Garfield' comic strips but edgy and dark). Batwoman seems like a good idea for a series on paper, but I don't know if Ruby Rose can really carry a series. In classic Batman tradition, the villain, Alice (and the Wonderland Gang) played by Rachel Skarsten, is more interesting than the hero.

l) "All Rise"
It sounds like a parody of network TV that there's a frothy CBS legal drama about a sexy judge called "All Rise." But it's possible I'm just reading the title that way because Simone Missick is, like, mind-bogglingly hot. It's a nice show, but it kind of reminds me of "Ally McBeal," and I don't know if that show has aged well.

m) "Limetown"
Like "Homecoming," this is a TV show based on a podcast and a fictional mystery story about a government conspiracy. It's probably not fair to me to compare it too much, since the "Limetown" podcast actually predates the "Homecoming" podcast, but tonally it does feel similar to me, and I adored "Homecoming" so that's a high bar. I'm not sure what to think so far, though, it's got a very tense and creepy atmosphere but I don't feel like I've totally made sense of the story. One of the minor characters only seen in flashbacks is played by Stanley Tucci, though, so I'm curious what's going on with that guy.

n) "The Birch"
A horror show on Facebook Watch with bite-sized little 13-17 minute episodes, about some kind of sinister tree spirit that kills bullies and bad people. The special effects are decent but the storytelling and the acting just kind of fall flat.

o) "Sorry For Your Loss"
"Limetown" is promising but "Sorry For Your Loss" is still by far my favorite Facebook Watch show, although I feel weird watching any of this stuff at a time when I just seem to hate Mark Zuckerberg more every day. Elizabeth Olsen is so good in this, I've already resigned myself to the idea that there probably won't be a 3rd season of it because she's also doing a series about her boring MCU character. I'm a little uncomfortable with the big story arc of "Sorry For Your Loss" being a widow falling in love with her husband's brother, it's just weird and bad and shouldn't be romantic, but the characters are all really vividly rendered and sympathetic.

p) "Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal"
People seem to really like this Adult Swim show that's like a violent serious story about cavemen living at the same time as dinosaurs, but I dunno, it just kind of feels a little pompous and ridiculous to me. "Castlevania" did the bloody adult cartoon thing more to my liking because it had more of a sense of humor about itself.

q) "Cake"
I like the idea of "Cake," FXX's 'short-form comedy block,' essentially a bunch of live action and animated sketches from different creators. But I've only seen a couple of really amusing things on this show so far, and a lot of eye-rolling stuff like sub-Lonely Island 'white girl rapping about white girl things rap video' concepts. And I particularly don't like the 'Oh Jerome, No' bits in every episode that feel like excerpts from a really bad sitcom.

r) "Rhythm + Flow"
Hip hop and "American Idol"-style talent search reality shows have always been strange bedfellows. "Rhythm + Flow" does a lot of things right that they could've gotten wrong, including getting a good lineup of hosts/mentors that are fun to watch (T.I., Cardi B and Chance The Rapper), and doing whole episodes in cities that are full of future rap stars. But even as entertaining as the show can be to watch, it still feels like an exercise in futility with a foregone conclusion that if anybody in this show becomes a successful rapper someday, it won't be because of this show.

s) "Untold Stories of Hip-Hop"
There are so many radio shows and podcasts dedicated to interviewing rappers now and I can't stand most of them. But Angie Martinez is undoubtedly one of hip hop's best interviewers and it was a great idea to base a show around her getting stories that rappers haven't told in public before. There have been some great ones, particularly Snoop's story about Biggie in the first episode.

t) "In Search Of..."
It's kind of sweet for Zachary Quinto to host the reboot of the show Leonard Nimoy used to host. But I never saw the original, so it kinda reminds me of the show William Shatner hosted recently, "The UnXplained." There's just so much non-fiction TV these days about all the big classic mysteries like the Loch Ness monster, but the "In Search Of" episode about Nessie was really interesting and it felt like they dug deeper than I've seen other shows go.

u) "Are You Afraid Of The Dark?"
Nickelodeon's been rebooting a lot of their old '90s hits lately, including a new "All That" and this new miniseries of "Are You Afraid Of The Dark?" My 10-year-old has been watching it with interest, cracking jokes about how stupid the kids were for going to something called 'the carnival of doom,' but then that night the show gave him nightmares, so maybe it is a little too scary for his age.

v) "Kids Say The Darndest Things"
One thing you'd think nobody would be in a rush to reboot anytime soon is a show that was last hosted by Bill Cosby. But Tiffany Haddish is a pretty ideal host and obviously the appeal of the format is evergreen.

w) "Lego Jurassic World: Legend of Isla Nublar"
In 2016, there was a "Lego Jurassic World" miniseries on Nickelodeon that I was amused to notice had voices from almost every main actor from the Jurassic World live action movie except for Chris Pratt (which seemed ironic since he was at the start of this whole phenomenon as the star of The Lego Movie). But the other movie stars like Bryce Dallas Howard and BD Wong didn't return for this newer miniseries, so it's just a bunch of voice actors who do other cartoons. Still pretty cute and amusing though.

x) "Mao Mao: Heroes Of Pure Heart"
I already wrote about this a bit in my Complex piece about summer TV, but this is really one of my favorite shows on Cartoon Network that my kids watch these days, I love Adorabat.

y) "The Deuce"
It sucks that this show stars James Franco, who is probably more exploitative of young actresses in real life than the pornographers the show is about, but as always he's just a small part of a big ensemble so I try to just ignore him. I supposed the fast forward between seasons is essentially to kind of telling the story of the changing culture and business, but it kinda doesn't feel like the characters who were in 1971 when the show debuted two years ago are in 1984 now, even the season 3 theme song is from the '70s (although I adore "Dreaming" by Blondie).

z) "American Horror Story: 1984"
Another show that is now in 1984 that wasn't before (plus that Wonder Woman sequel coming up, 1984 is really having a moment). I always watching "American Horror Story" kind of waiting to see how they screw it up, but so far I like this season. Old school summer camp slasher movies are one horror subgenre they haven't really touched so far and the twists they've put on the conventions haven't been too obnoxious and meta yet.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

I appeared on this week's episode of the podcast Music Vibes with DC Hendrix to discuss the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations and my recent Spin articles about the Hall.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Woodfir's next Baltimore show is at The Crown on November 1st, it's GingerWitch's album release party and Dreambush is also on the bill. We're really excited to play Halloween weekend and are working up some special material for this show and also debuting some newly written stuff.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 154: Pavement

Thursday, October 17, 2019

It was announced a while back that Pavement would be playing a couple shows in 2020, which will be their first performances since their 2010 tour, which were their first performances since their breakup in 2000. When a band reunites like clockwork once a decade, I have to imagine they don't really love getting together that much, but those big festival paydays help everybody live comfortably without being in their old famous band most of the time. Or maybe they look forward to it, I dunno. But I've always had a love/hate relationship with this band, probably more than any other who I bought every album by, and I kind of wanted to revisit their catalog and try to cherry pick the stuff I still like in a context that appeals to me.

Pavement deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Grounded
2. In The Mouth A Desert
3. Unfair
4. Frontwards
5. Date w/ IKEA
6. Black Out
7. Folk Jam
8. Harness Your Hopes
9. Loretta's Scars
10. We Dance
11. Elevate Me Later
12. Heckler Spray
13. Two States
14. Grave Architecture
15. Silence Kid
16. Greenlander
17. Perfume-V
18. Transport Is Arranged
19. Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence
20. Kennel District
21. Here
22. Texas Never Whispers
23. 5-4=Unity
24. Blue Hawaiian
25. The Hexx

Track 12 from Perfect Sound Forever EP (1991)
Tracks 2, 9, 13, 17 and 21 from Slanted And Enchanted (1992)
Tracks 4 and 22 from Watery, Domestic EP (1992)
Track 19 from No Alternative (1993)
Track 16 from Born To Choose (1993)
Tracks 3, 11, 15 and 23 from the Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)
Tracks 1, 6, 10, 14 and 20 from Wowee Zowee (1995)
Track 5, 18 and 24 from Brighten The Corners (1997)
Tracks 7 an 25 from Terror Twilight (1999)
Track 8 from the "Spit On A Stranger" single (1999)

Pavement were at one point kind of the standard bearer of '90s indie rock -- they probably still are, and really it's rare for a band's output to be so perfectly contained almost entirely within a particular decade. They were a gateway band for a lot of kids that invited them into an obsession with unpolished lo-fi recordings and a sprawling discography of EPs and other obscurities beyond the albums. But for me Sonic Youth was the band that I worshiped like that, and even after I started listening to Pavement, I kind of looked down on them as kind of a minor band that had been elevated too much by critics. I felt like a proudly casual fan who enjoyed "Cut Your Hair" during the band's fleeting summer of real radio airplay, then was hooked by "Stereo" enough to start buying their albums. After all is said and done, I would be comfortable calling those 2 songs my favorite Pavement tracks, and though I like plenty of their other songs, I often feel like I'm chasing the silly catchy sugar high of those songs.

There are some pretty well-loved Pavement songs that I just found annoying and didn't include. Still, I do have some memories tied to these songs. I remember the first time I went into a hipster college bar and heard "In The Mouth A Desert" and got a handle on this stuff as fun social drinking music and not just as something for headphones at home. "Transport Is Arranged" was the first of 3 songs where Malkmus shouted out Baltimore. Most Pavement songs and all of their singles were sung and primarily written by Stephen Malkmus, but Spiral Stairs maintained something of a cult following within the band's cult following for his one or two songs per album. So I definitely wanted to spotlight the most memorable of those, "Date w/ IKEA," "Two States," and "Kennel District."

I thought about just drawing this playlist from their 5 proper albums, since I'm not one of those obsessive superfans who collected the non-album stuff in the '90s or even listened to the expanded reissues of the albums that were released from 2002 to 2008. But given the way that some of those non-album tracks have become a major part of their legacy, it seems right to include them. Pavement's #1 most streamed song on Spotify is "Harness Your Hopes," a Brighten The Corners outtake released as a B-side in 1999 and then as a bonus track on the album's 2008 reissue. Their Spotify top 10 also includes the early EP track "Frontwards" and a compilation cover of Echo & The Bunnymen. But I always really liked "Greenlander," one of the only memorable songs from the classic '90s mediocre-compilation-for-a-good-cause Born To Choose, so I had to throw that in too.

I remember for years I'd see people quote "Harness" ("show me a word that rhymes with pavement and I won't kill your parents"), "Frontwards" ("I've got style, miles and miles"), and the extended riff on R.E.M.'s discography on "Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence" and be kind of confused like, I have all their albums and I don't know these songs, what the hell? It feels a little silly to make a deep cuts playlist that has about 8 tracks in common with their only best-of compilation, 2010's Quarantine The Past, but they were kind of playing to the fans anyway with a comp that had "Frontwards" but not either of the great Wowee Zowee singles.

Speaking of Wowee Zowee, it might seem counter to my assertion that I'm a casual singles-oriented fan of the band, but my favorite Pavement album is the big long 18-track one that's full of short inscrutable tangents that's most loved by a certain strain of diehard fans. But it really just has the most songs I like, and even the lesser songs strike me as more fun than the abrasive filler on early albums or the sleepier stuff on later albums. I also just love the relaxed sound of Wowee Zowee, which was recorded at Easley Recording Studio in Memphis. There was a point in the mid-'90s when every other big indie band was going to Memphis to make an album with Doug Easley, including Sonic Youth, Guided By Voices, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

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
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park
Vol. 96: Shania Twain
Vol. 97: Squeeze
Vol. 98: Taylor Swift
Vol. 99: INXS
Vol. 100: Stevie Wonder
Vol. 101: The Cranberries
Vol. 102: Def Leppard
Vol. 103: Bon Jovi
Vol. 104: Dire Straits
Vol. 105: The Police
Vol. 106: Sloan
Vol. 107: Peter Gabriel
Vol. 108: Led Zeppelin
Vol. 109: Dave Matthews Band
Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails
Vol. 111: Talking Heads
Vol. 112: Smashing Pumpkins
Vol. 113: System Of A Down
Vol. 114: Aretha Franklin
Vol. 115: Michael Jackson
Vol. 116: Alice In Chains
Vol. 117: Paul Simon
Vol. 118: Lil Wayne
Vol. 119: Nirvana
Vol. 120: Kix
Vol. 121: Phil Collins
Vol. 122: Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Vol. 123: Sonic Youth
Vol. 124: Bob Seger
Vol. 125: Radiohead
Vol. 126: Eric Church
Vol. 127: Neil Young
Vol. 128: Future
Vol. 129: Say Anything
Vol. 130: Maroon 5
Vol. 131: Kiss
Vol. 132: Dinosaur Jr.
Vol. 133: Stevie Nicks
Vol. 134: Talk Talk
Vol. 135: Ariana Grande
Vol. 136: Roxy Music
Vol. 137: The Cure
Vol. 138: 2 Chainz
Vol. 139: Kelis
Vol. 140: Ben Folds Five
Vol. 141: DJ Khaled
Vol. 142: Little Feat
Vol. 143: Brendan Benson
Vol. 144: Chance The Rapper
Vol. 145: Miguel
Vol. 146: The Geto Boys
Vol. 147: Meek Mill
Vol. 148: Tool
Vol. 149: Jeezy
Vol. 150: Lady Gaga
Vol. 151: Eddie Money
Vol. 152: LL Cool J
Vol. 153: Cream