TV Diary

Friday, February 05, 2016

a) "The Magicians"
This is, along with "The Expanse," one of the more impressive-looking new shows that SyFy has debuted in the last couple months as part of an attempt to revamp their original programming and get some cool cable drama buzz. And like "The Expanse," the pilot featured a gravity-defying scene of people having sex in midair. But otherwise, they're both pretty enjoyable, smart shows that don't lean too heavily on cheap titillation like that. "The Magicians" is based on a book series about a secret college for people with magical powers, and it kind of sidesteps too much of a Harry-Potter-with-adults vibe, the first few episodes have set some interesting stories in motion.

b) "American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson"
After last fall's wearying one-two punch of "Scream Queens" and "American Horror Story: Hotel," I was ready to just stop even trying to give Ryan Murphy's goofy, incoherent shows a chance. But I'm glad I checked this out -- since it actually has an inherently fascinating real life story to draw from, a lot of the things that put me off of his other shows aren't very present. And his eye for casting and lurid mix of comedy and melodrama suits this subject pretty well. The O.J. saga unfolded when I was 12-13 years old and was a really surreal formative experience, and while there was a point where I would've been happy to never hear about it again, 20 years feels like enough time to revisit it in this way. The first episode had an interesting mix of reenactments of moments we've heard about a hundred times and some unexpected touches, like Darden and Cochran's relationship before the trial, which I never really knew about.

c) "Grease: Live!"
It's been interesting to see NBC experiment with live musicals over the past 3 years, and I guess it's officially a successful idea, since another network, FOX, has finally copied it. I've never been able to sit through any of these 3-hour monstrosities all the way through, but I watched more of this one than the others, mainly because I have something of a soft spot for Grease, it's such a ridiculous smutty retro exercise and there are some really good songs. And I thought that aside from kind of a bland Danny Zuko, the casting was pretty good in this, Vanessa Hudgens was a great Rizzo, and it was great to see my boo Kether Donahue from "You're The Worst" get some shine.

d) "You, Me And The Apocalypse"
Even though this show has a lot of American cast members and takes place partly in the U.S., it still feels very much like a British production with a British creator, and I wonder if maybe the British farce vibe just doesn't match my comedic sensibility. Like, the episodes are an hour long, and I don't think I laughed once in the first two. It's just treading the same territory as a lot of other recent satires about the end of the world, and the more unique touches just make it feel more loud and unfunny.

e) "Lucifer"
This is apparently based on a comic book, where the devil gets bored in Hell and decides to go to Los Angeles for kicks. The whole thing feels like such a goofy one trick pony, but at least it's put together pretty entertainingly and the actor playing Lucifer, Tom Ellis, is having a lot of fun with the role.

f) "Recovery Road"
This show on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) is based on a Young Adult novel and threatens to veer into afterschool special territory, but so far it feels like a pretty smart, empathetic look at addiction. The lead, played by Jessica Sula, is a really smart, well written protagonist, but you also get to see her in denial and losing control and see her situation from the perspective of the people around her.

g) "Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands"
The production values on this show are kinda cool, I like the way the monsters look. But the idea of turning an epic poem into 13 episodes of television and creating a bunch of new stories and characters seems fraught with bad ideas, and there's a lot of stuff in here with people with modern-looking Macklemore haircuts,

h) "Baskets"
It's time that we admit, as a nation, that most of the ideas that Louis C.K. has that don't come in the form of jokes he tells onstage are pretty bad ideas. I don't really know what to make of this show yet, I'm still trying to give it a chance. But I've never really liked Zach Galifianakis's bit in standup specials where he has an effeminate twin brother, and I'm not wild about that concept being carried into this show. Louie Anderson playing his mother, like just playing a woman straight up like Divine in Hairspray, is interesting and probably the most successful aspect of the show but I'm still kind of ambivalent about it.

i) "The Circus: Inside The Greatest Political Show On Earth" 
Television news has basically played into the worst aspects of the modern presidential campaign and is completely unwatchable for me at this point, so I generally only follow this stuff online and in print. So it's pretty great to see Showtime attempt this ambitious weekly docuseries, with three journalists following around the candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire and so on. There's a little bit of big picture stuff about the emerging narratives of the election cycle but it's mostly a lot of interesting little revealing moments and surreal scenes at rallies and on campaign buses and quiet little private interviews with Cruz and Sanders and Rubio and others.

j) "The Greatest Party Story Ever" 
This MTV show, where a bunch of high school and college kids narrate animate animated depictions of their personal anecdotes, remind me of Comedy Central's many '90s and '00s-era attempts to meld animation with standup comedy. It's an interesting format, but they don't do it very well here, it's more "Shorties Watchin' Shorties" than "Dr. Katz."

k) "Angel From Hell" 
Jane Lynch's role in "Angel From Hell" strongly resembles her character from Role Models, which is in my opinion one of the funniest things she ever did, so it's on the right track in that respect. But the premise of the show, where she might be a woman's guardian angel or just a delusional drunk, is just so strange. I think they actually balance the dark, bawdy humor with the magical, sentimental undertones pretty well, I just have a hard time picturing this show as a long-running success.

l) "The Lion Guard"
After all the direct-to-video sequels and the "Timon And Pumbaa" show, Disney is still milking the Lion King cash cow with a new series, which my 6-year-old is predictably very excited about. It's okay for what it is, but I'm irrationally irritated about how the new comic relief sidekick is a honey badger -- even if there are honey badgers in Africa, that just feels like an unnecessary hat tip to an internet meme.

m) "Killing Fields"
This is a documentary series on the Discovery Channel about Louisiana detectives trying to solve a cold case from the '90s, which of course brings to mind the first season of "True Detective." But it's exec produced by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, and has a very cinematic "Homocide: Life On The Street" feel, was a lot more interesting to me than, say, "Making A Murderer," although I don't know if I'll be able to stomach watching every episode.

n) "Almost Genius" 
TruTV has made some encouraging inroads into comedic original programming lately with stuff like "Adam Ruins Everything," but wow, this show is just one of the worst things I've ever seen, it's just viral videos with annoying sketch comedy players inserting themselves into the videos with greenscreen.

o) "The Venture Bros."
"The Venture Bros." debuted over 12 years ago and only just began its 6th season. But the increasingly long breaks between seasons have always been worth the wait, and I'm so glad these guys are still taking the time to make hilarious, densely written episodes of one of my favorite shows on television. The first episode of the new season felt more like a reboot than anything the show's done before, with the main characters collecting a big inheritance and moving to New York, which is the kind of thing that would make most other shows terrible but really just opens up a lot of narrative and comedic possibilities here. But mostly I'm just glad that they finally seem to be putting Brock Sampson back at home with the Ventures, which they've really avoided too much in recent seasons.

p) "The X-Files" 
I have fond memories of watching the early seasons of "The X-Files" on Friday nights with my dad and my brother, but I never really kept up with it in those later years or even saw the movies. And I have very mixed feelings about all the old cult shows that are being brought back these days. So far, the first 3 of these 6 new episodes have felt like a weird mixed bag, where they're trying to run through the whole variety of 'mytharc' and 'monster of the week' episodes as quickly as possible. And while I enjoyed Joel McHale's whole ridiculous Infowars-type character, the straight up comedy of the 3rd episode was maybe a little too wacky and on-the-nose. But again, I don't think I have enough of a sentimental attachment to "X-Files" anymore to be upset about it, I'm just kind of along for the ride until it gets boring, just like the first time.

Monthly Report: January 2016 Albums

Monday, February 01, 2016

1. David Bowie - 
I'm glad that I listened to this album the weekend it was released, before Bowie passed away, so I could appreciate it at least once without the context of his death looming over it. Obviously, that context gives the album a different kind of significance, maybe some more weight, but it sounded pretty damn good without it. I liked The Next Day but this feels like a much bolder statement, belonging in that special subset of Bowie albums that are just of their own world. I really like jittery drums on the title track and "Sue," and "I Can't Give Everything Away" is a really beautiful, strange finale. Only David Bowie could have complete creative control over his own death. Here's my new Spotify playlist of all the albums I'm listening to in 2016.

2. Boosie Badazz - In My Feelings (Goin' Thru It)
When it became apparent that David Bowie had made his album while dying of cancer, I immediately thought about the fact that Boosie had released an album a week earlier that's all about his recent cancer diagnosis. It's really not clear what's going on with him health-wise, but his music's been pretty dark since he got out of prison, and this album is just harrowing stuff, 33 minutes of self-released music that he seemed to rush out while the feeling was fresh (there's apparently another album coming in February). My dad got a Staph infection in December, and I've spent more time in a hospital the past couple months than in my entire life before that, it's just been a really dark stressful time, and I appreciate having records like this that can kinda tap into what I'm feeling and put it in perspective.

3. Brothers Osborne - Pawn Shop
"Stay A Little Longer" was one of my favorite country singles of 2015. And the full-length version of the track, which ran past 5 minutes with half of it given over to guitar solos, set my expectations for an album that would establish John Osborne as a guitar hero. Instead, Pawn Shop has only one other song that goes past 4 minutes, and only a couple with particularly memorable guitar solos (the one on "Down Home" is pretty great). But T.J. Osborne has a great voice and Jay Joyce remains the best producer in country music, so this is a pretty enjoyable record. I'll still hope that they get comfortable enough to stretch their legs and jam more on a future album, though.

4. Kevin Gates - Islah
Atlantic Records has distributed four "retail mixtapes" by Kevin Gates over the last three years, minimally promoted projects that seemed aimed at growing a regional star's fanbase organically, just letting him do his thing and refine his dark, idiosyncratic sound and score a couple minor radio hits in the process. Islah is the big 'debut album' that Atlantic has ostensibly been building up to over the years, but it sounds and feels more or less like the mixtapes, with no guests (other than a bonus track on the deluxe edition that has three R&B stars stuffed onto it, like some kind of weird emergency back-up hit to use if needed). And it's refreshing to see them put that kind of confidence behind a guy with little crossover appeal, just letting him put his all into making songs as catchy as "Really Really" and "Kno One" but also rap his ass off on "Not The Only One" and experiment with different sounds on "Told Me" and "Hard For" and be a controversial, problematic figure on "The Truth."

5. Future - Purple Reign
I was really anticipating Ape Shit as the likely next Future mixtape since he and Mike WiLL Made It have such a history together and haven't done a lot together lately (and funnily enough I predicted 5 different projects from Future in 2016 in this piece, none of which was Purple Reign). So this wasn't as exciting to me as another mixtape with pretty much the same production lineup as DS2 and What A Time. But this tape is pretty solid and I think keeps Future's streak going, even his streak has been going long enough now that people are eager to proclaim it over just to be the first to jump off the bandwagon. I like "Drippin'" and "Salute" the most so far although most of his projects since Pluto have been growers for me, it takes me a while to really find my favorites. Listen to it on DatPiff.

6. Rihanna - Anti
This album's long, strange gestation is, I think, more interesting to me than the album itself. For years Rihanna has been rejecting Rihanna-type songs pitched to her (I wrote about all of them here) and taking a long break between albums, and then last year she announced that Kanye West would exec producer her next album, and released 3 singles all co-produced and co-written by Kanye, none of them a natural fit for pop radio. Then, it appears that everything they did together was scrapped, and she made a whole new album while still pretty committed to the general mission of not doing another simple Top 40-ready collection of singles (and no Kanye credits, and only a small amount of credits from Kanye associates like Travi$ Scott and No I.D.). True to the title, Anti sounds like it was defined more by what Rihanna wanted to avoid than what she wanted to do, so the whole thing feels like it's been painted into an aesthetic corner. I love "Kiss It Better" and some of the other mellower tracks like "Close To You" and "Yeah, I Said It," but a lot of it just feels like trendy time-stamped 'alt pop' of the moment that isn't actually as enjoyable as the more measured experimentation of Talk That Talk and Unapologetic. "Woo" features writing credits from four major stars (The Weeknd, The-Dream, Jeremih and Travi$ Scott) and it's probably the worst dogshit Rihanna has ever released.

7. 2 Chainz - Felt Like Cappin
2 Chainz clearly has 9 lives, so I never count him out, but he had a couple quiet years and lately it feels like he's on the rise again, "Watch Out" is on the Hot 100 and this tape is getting a good buzz. I'm not always real into EP-length mixtapes, but 6 good songs from 2 Chainz seems like a good ideal length, this probably isn't way better than Trapavelli Tre but it feels a little more potent at this length. The "Mindin' My Business" beat is crazy. Listen to it on DatPiff.

8. Rowdy Rebel - Shmoney Keeps Calling
Back during Bobby Shmurda's brief, ill-fated stint in the spotlight, Rowdy Rebel kept impressing me on his tracks as maybe the member of the GS9 crew who has a little more long-term potential. So I'm glad he finally dropped a mixtape that captures his flow and personality pretty well. You can tell just by looking at the features, which include A$AP Ferg and 2Milly and French Montana, that he's in that post-Dipset niche of goofy gangsta rap that's dominated New York for the last few years, and that's not really my favorite sound, but I wouldn't mind him becoming a star in that scene. Check it out on DatPiff.

9. Jacquees - Mood
I'm really not a fan of Jacquees's voice, he sounds like the return of Pleasure P to me. But the production values on this tape are pretty high and there are some songs I like a lot more than "Like Baby." Listen to it on DatPiff.

10. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
Judging from the fact that the first time I heard him was on half the tracks on that Dr. Dre album, Anderson .Paak is well connected, and he's undeniably talented. But I haven't really warmed to this album too much yet, it's well produced and ambitious but not much really sticks with me besides maybe "Put Me Thru" and "Silicon Valley." At time I feel like I'm listening to Chance The Rapper if he didn't write as well, or Bilal if he had less confidence to be weird, or if he made the music he really wanted to make but it still wasn't that good.

Worst Album of the Month: Rachel Platten - Wildfire
"Fight Song" was more annoying than bad and "Stand By You" was just awful but I still wanted to give this album a chance to be enjoyable MOR VH1 fare. But the first song that I really enjoyed, "Hey Hey Hallelujah," was wrecked by an Andy Grammer guest verse where he says "I'm singin' hallelujah when you touch me/ hallelujah/ Jeff Buckley!" And after there it just gets blander and blander.

Movie Diary

Friday, January 29, 2016

a) Kung Fu Panda 3
My kindergartener's school has been closed from the blizzard for over a week now, so I've been doing all sorts of stuff to keep the kid entertained during the day, Chuck E. Cheese's, family visits, you name it. So today we went and hit the first morning matinee on opening day of the new Kung Fu Panda movie, since he liked the previous movies (and the TV series). I've always thought that these movies were firmly in the middle of the pack as far as the big computer animated kids movie franchises go, but this movie was a perfectly fine installment to the series, a few decent laughs, some cool visuals and action sequences. But the second act got a little sad and my sensitive little dude had to cry it out a little bit.

b) Mad Max: Fury Road
I get why people are excited about this, but man, what a Mountain Dew-ass movie to get a Best Picture nomination. At this point it's been spun as part of the movie's cool feminist misandry agenda that the movie actually belongs to Charlize Theron. But isn't it still technically a flaw that Mad Max is the dullest part of a Mad Max movie, that the role that made Mel Gibson into an international superstar has been passed onto Tom Hardy to basically look like Gerard Butler and do even less than Gerard Butler would've done with the role? Like, when the ads for the movie started I actually thought Charlize was playing a female Max, and they may as well have done that and just dropped Hardy's character from the plot without losing anything.

c) Cinderella
Helena Bonham Carter playing the Fairy Godmother in this made me think about how Tim Burton probably could've directed this, and how if he had it would've been way worse than the serviceable job done by a guy who directed American Pie and Twilight movies.

d) The Imitation Game
This seemed pretty well made, although I was pretty spaced out the day I watched it and never really followed it too closely.

e) Bee Movie
So many modern animated features are basically about taking famous comics and having them voice animals and creatures in some way that weds the sensibility of their sitcoms or standup comedy to something that theoretically kids and their parents can enjoy. And Dreamworks always does it so much more awkwardly than Pixar, Antz was some kind of wrongheaded cartoon Woody Allen movie, and Bee Movie really does so little to successfully adapt Jerry Seinfeld's style of humor into a cartoon. I really just kinda wanted to watch it to satisfy my morbid curiosity about the whole thing, and I needed something to watch with my kid, but I will say, the kid didn't hate it.

f) The Salton Sea
Val Kilmer is one of my favorite actors whose decades-long career has only been very sporadically dotted with actual good movies and/or roles that brought out the best in him. So I'm always up for checking out a Kilmer movie I haven't seen and hopefully catching him living up to his potential. This wasn't very good, though, he plays a meth-addicted saxophonist and the movie felt like a long laundry list of cinematic cliches about jazz and drugs, I never got to the end of it.

g) Legend
I kinda wanted to watch this just because it seemed so odd that Ridley Scott went from Alien and Blade Runner to this movie about unicorns and elves that I'd barely heard of. But visually it's really awesome and Tim Curry is a great scenery-chewing villain, and you've got Tom Cruise and Mia Sara looking all pretty on the eve of Top Gun and Ferris Bueller, respectively. Definitely didn't deserve to be such a flop in the context of Scott or Cruise's careers, although I guess it was a little too dark to be an elementary school staple like Labyrinth

Monthly Report: January 2016 Singles

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

1. Young Thug - "Best Friend"
"Lifestyle" and "About The Money," the songs that really helped cement Young Thug as a serious star, dropped two days apart in June 2014. And for the next 18 months, dozens of Thug tracks made their way into the public without making remotely the same impact as those songs (Rae Sremmurd guest verse aside). So "Best Friend" climbing the radio charts right now is kind of an important moment for him, just in reclaiming that momentum so he's not left behind as 2014's great flash in the pan. Here's my new running playlist of favorite 2016 singles that I'll be adding to every month throughout the year.

2. Curren$y f/ Lil Wayne and August Alsina - "Bottom Of The Bottle"
Curren$y has had a long weird career, always adjacent to stardom but never a major star in his own right (something like the southern equivalent of Consequence, who he even resembles a little). Over a decade ago, he was a late era No Limit soldier, then he was signed to Young Money before it became a star factory (and "Where Da Cash At" was, for years, the only thing I ever heard by him on the radio), then he became buddies with Wiz Khalifa just before Wiz started topping the charts. And all the while, he remained a cult artist beloved by a certain kind of rap fan who never got on radio playlists, even when he released a star-studded Warner Bros. album in 2012. But another star-studded album released on Atlantic late last year has finally given him a serious hit, and I think "Bottom Of The Bottle" is really getting over on the strength of the song and not just the guests, since August Alsina and Lil Wayne just had another single out that didn't do nearly as well.

3. Highly Suspect - "Lydia"
This kinda came and went on the charts already but just started to grow on me, nice lurching riff, really stands out as one of the darker, heavier things on rock radio in recent memory.

4. Tinashe - "Player"
Chris Brown singing hooks on rap songs has been an unavoidable staple of radio playlists for ages, but now there's also a ton of R&B songs where Chris Brown just sings (or, ugh, raps) a verse and isn't even essential to the song but gets thrown on there to increase airplay. "Player" is one of many of the latter, but at least in this case a Tinashe solo version is commercially available, so that's the one I'm putting on the playlist.

5. Plies - "Ritz Carlton"
Plies was one of a number of southern rappers whose career was boosted in the late '00s by a T-Pain hook, and he milked it pretty well, releasing 4 major label albums in the space of 3 years and briefly becoming a pretty big star before he kinda disappeared back into the masses of mid-level mixtape rappers. But in the last couple years he's mounted a weird comeback as more of a social media celebrity than a rapper, making goofy Instagram videos. And as he continued lobbing music out there, "Ritz Carlton" recently emerged as a song funny and entertaining enough to capitalize on this new phase of his career. As it happens, the corporate offices of Ritz Carlton and its parent company (Marriott) are both based in Maryland, and are frequent clients of the company I work for, so this week I ended up at Ritz Carlton HQ in Chevy Chase for a job. I asked Ed French, the chief officer of sales and marketing, if he was familiar with the Plies song. "Oh, we know about it," he said wearily, kind of indicating that the song is obviously too profane for them to approve of in any way but that they just remain hands-off about this kind of thing and let people do what they want with the brand name.

6. Flo Rida - "My House"
Like Plies, Flo Rida kind of lucked into mainstream stardom circa 2007 with a T-Pain hook, but he held onto that success for a lot longer, basically by becoming a free-roaming pop rap parasite who would latch onto whatever EDM trend would give him another hit. And in a weird way he's cycled through so many different fads until he's circled back around to "My House," a song that basically sounds like '90s hip hop, complete with an "Impeach The President" drum break.

7. The 1975 - "UGH!"
I had mixed feelings about The 1975's debut album, which had some songs I really dug and some songs that just made the band's whole sound and persona pretty unbearable. And so far that pattern has continued with the advance singles from their second album: "Love Me" was awful, leaning hard on a hook that's almost verbatim the same as the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing." But "UGH!" is just beautiful and light-footed and really makes me curious what direction these guys are headed in.

8. Young Dro - "Ugh"
And here's the other current single called "Ugh" that I really enjoy, from Young Dro's extremely deserved commercial second wind. Zaytoven has been on a great run lately and this is up there with the best of his Beast Mode productions.

9. Daya - "Hide Away"
I don't know if this song's whole thing about "good boys" is a corrective to Drake's whole obsession with "good girls" or if it's just as bad, but I don't know, it's a pretty great-sounding song.

10. The Chainsmokers f/ ROZES - "Roses"
I got this song confused with "Hide Away" a lot for a few weeks (since they're both songs on pop radio with women singing the phrase "hide away" in the refrain), but really I like them pretty equally. ROZES has a pretty annoying Zooey Deschanel old timey singing style, but "Roses" featuring ROZES reminds me of the classic Rick Ross song title "Gunplay" featuring Gunplay. The Chainsmokers were previously known for the awful hit "#Selfie," but they've redeemed themselves a little with this.

Worst Single of the Month: Justin Bieber - "Love Yourself"
Nobody's more depressed about the enormous success of the Bieber career reboot than me, but at least "Sorry" is kind of a jam. This song, which will probably replace it at #1 soon, is just dogshit, Ed Sheeran giving him a mealy-mouthed acoustic ballad and adding some weird passive aggressive misogynist shit about how female vanity is actually the problem.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 55: The Eagles

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My last two installments in this series were both occasioned by the deaths of rock stars, and as much as I hate to do 3 in a row, The Eagles are a band I've been meaning to do a deep cuts playlist of for a long time. And it's hard for a sane non-baby boomer to completely embrace The Eagles but I also think it's possible to talk about them, particularly on the occasion of Glenn Frey's death, without being totally condescending or mean about it.

The Eagles Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Chug All Night
2. Most Of Us Are Sad
3. Doolin-Dalton
4. Out Of Control
5. Saturday Night
6. My Man
7. On The Border
8. Good Day In Hell
9. Ol' 55
10. Journey Of The Sorcerer
11. Visions
12. After The Thrill Is Gone
13. Pretty Maids All In A Row
14. The Last Resort
15. Funky New Year
16. The Disco Strangler
17. Teenage Jail
18. The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks
19. Those Shoes

Tracks 1 and 2 from Eagles (1972)
Tracks 3, 4 and 5 from Desperado (1973)
Tracks 6, 7, 8 and 9 from On The Border (1974)
Tracks 10, 11 and 12 from One Of These Nights (1975)
Tracks 13 and 14 from Hotel California (1976)
Track 15 from the "Please Come Home For Christmas" single (1978)
Tracks 16, 17, 18 and 19 from The Long Run (1979)

"On the day that I die, well I just might scream/ If I'm alive in the morning, I'll be alive in a dream" is kind of a haunting Glenn Frey lyric that you'd probably have seen quoted a lot more in the past week if it wasn't from a song with the refrain "I believe we could chug all night, I believe we could hug all night." But I really kind of love "Chug All Night" in all its dopey glory, and it's a good microcosm of the mix of sincere craftsmanship and hamfisted hackery that defines so much of the Eagles' catalog, particularly the deep cuts.

Like most of the big bands of the '70s, The Eagles plugged along, landing hit singles and gradually playing bigger rooms, until they were ready for a big live album or (in their case) greatest hits album that would serve as the tipping point that catches everyone up and takes them to the next level. And nobody pulled that off better than them: the 29-times platinum Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is famously the biggest-selling album in U.S. history besides Thriller. But boiling the band's 6 original albums down into the last few decades of hugely successful compilations and reunion tour setlists has left behind a lot of weaker and/or more offbeat material that the band made along the way to classic rock immortality.

All 7 past and present members of The Eagles wrote and sang lead at least one song on the band's albums, but the overwhelming majority of their hits were sung by what became the band's core leadership of Don Henley and Glenn Frey (it wasn't necessarily planned this way: Henley sang lead on 2 songs on The Eagles, but as slowly realized that the drummer's raspy voice was money in the bank, he got more and more showcases, including 7 tracks on The Long Run). The only Eagles songs you ever hear on the radio not sung by Don or Glen are by late arrivals Timothy B. Schmidt ("I Can't Tell You Why") and Joe Walsh ("In The City").

So one of the interesting about digging into Eagles deep cuts is just hearing the other guys' voices so much more. Randy Meisner on "Most Of Us Are Sad," Bernie Leadon on "My Man" (a tribute to Leadon's Flying Burrito Brothers bandmate Gram Parsons), Joe Walsh on "Pretty Maids All In A Row," and my personal favorite, Don Felder's sole lead vocal, "Visions." There's also the bonkers Leadon-penned instrumental "Journey Of The Sorcerer," which I'd had no idea until recently I'd been hearing for decades in re-recorded form as the theme of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy BBC mini-series.

Some of the songs never released as singles became classic rock radio staples anyway, including "Desperado" and "Victim Of Love." One song I occasionally hear on the radio but included anyway is "Those Shoes," for my money probably the best song The Eagles ever recorded, which never charted and only appeared on one of their later double disc best-of comps (and was famously sampled on "High Plains Drifter" by the Beastie Boys). And "Ol' 55" is notable for being the first in a long line of Tom Waits songs to be smoothed out by more popular acts.

I've become kind of fascinated with the way many of the bands that defined the '70s all seemed to crap out right on schedule at the end of the decade, releasing indulgent, divisive albums in '78, '79 or '80 that were difficult to record and almost immediately followed by a break-up, prolonged hiatus, death, or major lineup change: Steely Dan's Gaucho, Led Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door, The Who's Who Are You, Aerosmith's Night In The Ruts, etc. The Eagles' The Long Run was the biggest of these albums and yet also the most tortured, with slick blockbuster singles and a shocking amount of weird atypical filler given that it was trimmed down from a planned double LP. Songs like "The Disco Strangler" and "The Greeks Don't Want No Freaks" are just weird, jarring songs (and they came from the Henley/Frey camp, not the other guys with less honed commercial instincts). And I included them as much for curiosity factor than anything else, although the instrumental section on "Teenage Jail" is genuinely awesome. I don't have to convince you that The Eagles wrote great pop songs, but I would like to convince you that they had some odd unpopular songs that are worth hearing.

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

Monthly Report: December 2015 Albums

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

1. Jeremih - Late Nights: The Album
I already put this at #3 on my top albums of 2015, and I'm always thrilled when there's a December release good enough to justify doing something like that. But really I'm obviously still digesting this album, and finding favorites beyond the singles and the immediate stunners ("Pass Dat," "Actin' Up," "Paradise"). Even with the ridiculously long gestation, everything sounds fresh and fits together, even "Don't Tell 'Em" comes at the perfect point 70% into the album where the 18-month-old hit single sounds surprisingly welcome. Jeremih has the most reptilian vocal texture in R&B since Slim from 112 and I love the way he wraps that weird voice around such a wide variety of backdrops, his songwriting is really underrated. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "You give me a private show, I put my dick in front row." Here's my final Spotify playlist of just about every 2015 album I listened to.

2. Cam - Untamed
"Burning House" was high on my list of favorite 2015 country singles and I'm happy to say that it's not a fluke, although the rest of Cam's debut album is considerably more upbeat and sharply witty than that beautiful, trembling ballad. But "Cold In California" and "Half Broke Heart" are just wonderfully written songs that I sincerely hope will be singles. Given Cam and producer Jeff Bhasker's pop-heavy resumes, you might want to categorize this as a glammy crossover country record, but "Country Ain't Never Been Pretty" is a catchy little manifesto against that kind of thing, and there's some nice twangy stuff like "Runaway Train" elsewhere on the record.

3. Babyface - Return Of The Tender Lover
Toni Braxton and Babyface's Love, Marriage & Divorce was one of my favorite albums of 2014, just this incredibly smooth, grown-ass R&B album about love gone bad. And Return Of The Tender Lover kind of feels like the flipside of that album, with a similar sound and much happier, more contented songs, which might sound boring, but as a boring happy married person, I find records like this to be kind of inspiring.

4. Monica - Code Red
Most of the tracks on this album are produced by Polow Da Don, Timbaland, or Danja, and it has kind of a late '00s vibe simply because that's the last time those guys were on every other R&B album (even Akon shows up at one point!). They're all pretty brilliant producers even past their peak, though, so that's not a bad thing, although Timbaland does some weird retro songs where he sings a lot that kind of torpedo the album's momentum early on. Still, I've always loved Monica's voice and she remains a pleasure to listen to whether the material is top shelf or not.

5. Pimp C - Long Live The Pimp
The unreleased material Pimp C left behind all seems to be from the last 2 years of his life after he got out of jail, and counting the material released in that time and since his death, we've now gotten two UGK albums and four solo albums. It's amazing there was anything left for Long Live The Pimp, although I wouldn't be surprised if some verses got used on multiple songs. I'm glad they're still wringing some music out of what he left behind, though, and I'd rather a record like this than another UGK album where Bun B lays new verses and tries to simulate the old chemistry. It's all pretty faithful to his classic sound with a few modern touches, nothing essential but it's nice to be reminded what a huge personality Pimp was. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "Your girl on my nuts wanna try my dick, if she spit it back out I'ma fire that bitch."

6. Ariana Grande - Christmas & Chill EP
I loved Ariana Grande's first album and first Christmas EP, but I was mostly let down by the 2nd album even as it made her a bigger star, and the recent single "Focus" was an unmitigated disaster. So I was pleasantly surprised that her new Christmas EP was even better than the first, despite the cringe-inducing title, with more original songs and a really strong sense of what her sound is and how to situate her voice.

7. R. Kelly - The Buffet
The retro exercises Love Letter and Write Me Back are the best of R. Kelly's last few albums, but I prefer him doing more contemporary stuff, and this is the best (or maybe just the least strained) attempt at a current-sounding R&B album he's done since Double Up. It says something, though, that the best song, "Sextime," is also the one that sounds the most like a hyperbolic parody of an R. Kelly song. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "She like it on her chin like a violin."

8. August Alsina - This Thing Called Life
The first person who sings on This Thing Called Life is Anthony Hamilton, and it kinda feels like August Alsina is borrowing Hamilton's pipes and gravitas to set the tone, and make a sorrowful southern soul album in spite of the fact that his own voice can be best described as "Chris Brown but even more nasal." There's nothing on the album quite as heavy as the single I loved off his debut, "Make It Home," but he's at least trying for something weighty while most of his contemporaries are just doing sub-R. Kelly sex madlibs.

9. Coldplay - A Head Full Of Dreams
I happened to finally get around to listening to this album on Christmas day, and it wound up being appropriate, since this album is incredibly saccharine even by Coldplay standards. I've always thought Stargate were one of the best production teams in pop music, so I thought they were an interesting choice to helm Coldplay's dancey midlife crisis Achtung Baby record. But after a few decent songs early in the record, the whole thing gets treacly, and there's some offensive cloying moments like the sample of President Obama singing "Amazing Grace" in Charleston that even Bono wouldn't be shameless enough to try. It's a shame, because at its best this album is a decent sequel to the underrated Mylo Xyloto.

10. Busta Rhymes - The Return Of The Dragon (The Abstract Went On Vacation)
It's been 3 years since Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip did the great "Thank You" single and promised an entire project together, and even though I liked that song, I'd be fine with them just dropping the whole idea. Instead, Busta had to tailor the whole title and concept of his new solo tape around making an excuse for the Q-Tip record not happening, with Tip doing skits about how he has to go take a vacation, which all seems kind of tedious. I love Busta, though, I feel like rap fans are so consumed with putting 'leading men'-type rappers on the highest pedestals that the 'character actor' guys like Busta kind of get forgotten even though he's had an incredible career. And really I'll talk his animated punchlines and old-fashioned boom bap production on this tape over the labored new animated rapping style of Pusha T on his new record.

Worst Album of the Month: Eric Bellinger - Cuffing Season Part 2
Jeremih's album is great in a way that sounds deceptively easy, like all you need is a guy with a smooth high voice and some trendy beats and you can make a dope R&B record. But this Eric Bellinger album really demonstrates how hard it is to pull something like that off by just putting the right ingredients in and winding up all wrong. The first few lines on the album are just jaw-droppingly awful: "every month is February-ary/ you know I don't like watching movies if they scary-ary/ let's eat a bowl of cereal and watch some Tom & Jerry / maybe we'll go out and chew on some berries." This guy is actually a songwriter who's penned hits for other artists, I don't know how he gets away with garbage like that. Really it's just embarrassing for anyone to be naming records "cuffing season" in 2015, let alone two of them, and the album's many attempts at stringing multiple songs into long 'suites' feel like hamhanded attempts at making a The-Dream album.

TV Diary

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

a) "Billions" 
Showtime has a track record of assembling impressive actors for shows that are so half-assed and poorly conceived that I end up feeling sorry for the overqualified cast. So I didn't get my hopes up for this, but the first episode was really good, there's some potential here. The show was created by the guy who wrote Too Big To Fail, and feels kind of based in the reality of the financial world instead of being an over-the-top fantasy, but the pilot set up some nice scenery-chewing conflict for Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis. My favorite part was that Giamatti started to speak in folksy metaphors like Kevin Spacey in "House of Cards" but one of the other characters started mocking how he speaks "in nonsense riddles like a kung fu instructor from the movies." Maggie Siff, who I thought had one of the best roles any female lead's ever had in prestige cable drama history on "Sons of Anarchy," looks like she's got another good meaty role on "Billions," which is really promising.

b) "Angie Tribeca" 
I've been pretty annoyed at the way streaming services like Netflix and Amazon dump an entire season of a show out to the public at once to encourage 'binge-watching' because I really don't like watching television that way, and prefer having episodes spaced out once a week. So I'm not thrilled that TBS has gotten in on it with a 25-hour marathon in which they debuted all 10 episodes of "Angie Tribeca," although it's at least a pretty breezy half hour show, so I've already gotten through 3 of them and probably will get through the rest soon. Steve and Nancy Carell created the show, and it has a very Zucker brothers "Police Squad!" joke-a-minute feel, which is a genre of comedy I love when it's done well, but I have mixed feelings about this so far. Rashida Jones was only ever funny on "Parks And Recreation" when she was a straight man to Rob Lowe or one of the other bigger, sillier personalities on the show, but that actually means she has a good poker face to deliver some of the ridiculous lines on this show. But it also feels a bit like a lot of Adult Swim's genre parody shows, especially "NTSF:SD:SUV::," which had a very similar opening title sequence. And those shows are like 11 minutes long, so sometimes "Angie Tribeca" feels a little overlong trying to draw out a normal 3-act story arc while remaining completely silly.

c) "Idiotsitter"
Back when "Broad City" was starting out, one of the oversimplified pitches for the show was that it was a female "Workaholics." But "Idiotsitter" is much more overtly going for that -- directed and edited in the same style with similar music cues, same basic style of humor, with Jillian Bell from "Workaholics" starring. Bell was the best thing about 22 Jump Street and I was excited when I saw that she was getting her own show, but this is pretty stale and underwhelming so far.

d) "Second Chance"
This was called "The Frankenstein Project" and then "Lookinglass" before they settled on the most generic possible title, and basically takes place in a future world where a couple of tech billionaires experiment with bringing a dying old guy back to life in a young man's body. The pilot features the wonderful Philip Baker Hall, and briefly features lead actor Robert Kazinsky doing a Philip Baker Hall impression, but then he kind of drops the mannerisms of his old life, which is a shame, I'd love a goofier version of this show where the guy keeps talking like Philip Baker Hall.

e) "Teachers" 
A barbed warts-and-all look at elementary school from the perspective of the teachers is a pretty good premise for a comedy. As the father of a kindergartener, though, there were definitely a couple times when I had to set aside how aghast I'd be if that was my kid's school and just appreciate what they were going for humor-wise.

f) "Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments" 
The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones was kind of the runt of the litter of YA book adaptations, and since the movie didn't make enough money to justify a sequel, they're just doing the series now on Freeform, the network formerly known as ABC Family. The first episode didn't seem any better or worse than what I saw of the movie, just lower budget, maybe a better cast.

g) "Shades Of Blue" 
I kinda feel like there might be a good TV project for J.Lo somewhere out there in the ether. But the lead in a cop drama? She just can't carry a show like this. Maybe if it was a little less gloomy and she was part of an ensemble instead of having to emote in every scene it could work, but this is just a drag, even with weird-looking old Ray Liotta.

h) "The Shannara Chronicles" 
When I was kid and reading a lot of sci-fi, I vaguely remember briefly jumping over to fantasy and reading some Terry Brooks, although I don't remember if I got very far into the Shannara stuff. I guess the story isn't edgy enough to be a "Game Of Thrones" kind of show, but I kind of feel bad for the books that they're finally being filmed and it's on MTV all retrofitted to a Young Adult novel-style adaptation with cute teens smooching each other.

i) "Zoe Ever After" 
I never really watched "Moesha" so I don't know what Brandy's comedy chops are, really, but I was surprised that this show is a pretty enjoyably quippy, fast-paced sitcom. There's a running joke where her bum ex-husband has a Jadakiss ringtone.

j) "Cooper Barrett's Guide To Surviving Life" 
I know it's largely because of the name of the show, but even though it's about college grads and not high school students, this feels very reminiscent of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." That is to say, it's got a smug white guy breaking the 4th wall to tell the viewer about his wacky carefree life (also, apparently Alan Ruck is going to be on a future episode as Cooper's father). The show is kind of fun and the cast is likable enough (I'm quite fond of Meaghan Rath from "Being Human"), but it also feels doomed to swift cancellation, especially in a FOX sitcom lineup where everything except "Grandfathered" is pretty great.

k) "Bordertown"
I never watched "The Cleveland Show," but all my experience with any kind of humor about race on Seth MacFarlane's shows has led me to the conclusion that him doing a show about anything but white people in Rhode Island is probably a bad idea. And a show about the U.S.-Mexico border, in an election year where immigration is a big issue? Fuck. No. Basically the only time I felt some relief regarding this show is when I confirmed that Hank Azaria only voices a white character on this show -- that guy is hugely talented, but he's really spent way too much of his career playing or voicing ethnic stereotypes. But really, just about everything about this show is awful, even when it's voicing ignorant views as satire it's just aggressively dumb and unfunny.

l) "Growing Up Hip Hop"
This is WE tv's perhaps inevitable new series about the offspring of hip hop celebrities (and one of the DeBarge guys, I guess) like Angela Simmons and Lil Romeo. I dunno, it's pretty boring, and the way all these people who have nothing to do with each other have to act like they know each other to tie the storylines together is really awkward and forced.

m) "The Rap Game" 
This is Lifetime's perhaps inevitable new series about kid rappers competing for a record deal. And even though it's hosted by Jermaine Dupri, who's gotten more platinum plaques for rapping minors than anyone in history, the whole thing is just depressing as hell, combing "Making The Band 2" with "Dance Moms" as you watch horrible parents give their kids awful rapper names like Lil Poopy and Miss Mulatto and try to push them into the spotlight.

n) "Superstore" 
This is easily the most promising sitcom NBC has put on the air in a while. I've always loved workplace comedies, and situating one in a Walmart-type big box store feels like a good timely choice. The ensemble is really good, particularly Lauren Ash just throwing caution to the wind with a really fearless ridiculous performance, and Mark McKinney doing the kind of hapless loser he perfected in his "Kids In The Hall" days.

o) "Telenovela"
I'm a big fan of backstage shows about television, not so much for the meta humor or the show business inside jokes but because the best of them tend to kind of echo the tone and content of the genre of show being parodied -- this is true of "30 Rock," of "Sports Night," of "UnREAL." Those are all great shows, and I don't know if "Telenovela" ever will be, but it's off to a decent start, I'm enjoying the way it kind of makes fun of the breathless camp of telenovela while letting that manic pacing seep into its comedic style.

p) "F Is For Family" 
Bill Burr's standup has always been kind of frank and aggressive, he's just one of those pissed off Boston comics, and it works for him. But grafting that sensibility onto an animated show is just too much, this is just hacky and annoying.

q) "Making A Murderer" 
All I hear about this show is that it's addictive and once you start it you have to devour every episode. But honestly once I finished the second episode, I felt like I had the gist of what's happened, and have picked up some other stuff from subsequent news coverage of the show, and it's all just so bleak that I don't really want to return to it for another 8 hours. I guess I'm glad they made this but I dunno, I don't think I need to experience it all firsthand.

r) "The Expanse" 
I've enjoyed a fair number of shows on the SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi) Channel, but it always feels like after they got all that acclaim for the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot that they're underachieving and not even trying to make a show with that kind of prestige cable drama acclaim. And "The Expanse" feels like the most serious stab they've made at a show that could break out of the usual SyFy viewership in a good while. The pilot looked amazing, effects-wise, and the whole premise is pretty strong. I haven't been totally on the edge of my seat for the first few episodes, but I like what they're doing.

s) "Childhood's End"
Childhood's End was an Arthur C. Clarke novel that SyFy adapted into a 6-hour miniseries, and I'm glad I hadn't read the book just for the shock of the reveal of what the alien looks like. On the whole, though, it wasn't really very interesting, although I could see how the novel probably was pretty exciting at the time.

t) "Colony"
There's no reason Josh Holloway can't headline a good sci-fi series post-"Lost," but that one a couple years ago where he had a microchip implanted in his brain wasn't it, and this alien invasion show could go either way. I kind of like the premise and how it's more about military occupation and rebellion than weird-looking aliens, but the pilot didn't really grab me, and since I had just seen "Childhood's End" recently it felt kinda derivative of that.

u) "Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter"
Live action Adult Swim shows are all relentlessly faithful to a particular style of comedy, usually in the form of genre parody, and I've only ever really enjoyed a couple of them, so this just felt like more of the same, even though I usually like horror comedy. They ran 5 episodes in a row in December and I would be fine with it just staying a miniseries and never coming back, the character got old quick.

v) "Lip Sync Battle"
This show seemed like a goofy little cable distraction last summer, but now that it's returned for a second season it seems to be cemented as a real ratings hit. And I guess I can't hate, you can't deny the silly spectacle of Channing Tatum dressing up like Beyonce and then the real Beyonce showing up onstage next to him. But they still work really hard to stretch what was a 10-minute segment on Jimmy Fallon's show into a full 30-minute program.

w) "SuperMansion" 
Crackle's nascent original program slate continues to expand with this, a stop-motion cartoon from the "Robot Chicken" guys with Bryan Cranston as the voice of an aging superhero. I was never a big fan of "Robot Chicken" but at least its breakneck pace didn't allow you to get bored like this show so often does.

x) "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" 
Crackle's one hit soldiers on, getting looser than ever with the premise of the show with an episode featuring Barack Obama. It was a pretty entertaining episode, though, Seinfeld and Obama are both pretty good conversationalists and it was surreal seeing them bounce off of each other. And the Steve Martin episode was really one of the best yet, just in terms of letting a comedy icon speak a little more frankly about his process than he usually does.

y) "Love & Hip Hop" 
This is really one of the worst things on television, and every week I'm mildly horrified when my Twitter timeline lights up with people who are suddenly interested in the personal lives of rap has-beens like Peter Gunz. But I've tried to watch this season a bit, both because of the actually intriguing real life drama of Remy Ma coming home from prison, and because of the hilarious Instagram celebrity Cardi B. But they both still have to walk through the awkward scripted paces of this show and the annoying segments where they talk to the camera in front of blurry backgrounds and most of the entertainment value is slowly strangled out of their scenes. I feel bad for people like Cardi, or Desus and Mero, who've recently kind of proven that the big reward for being a social media superstar is to get thrown on the absolute worst shows on TV.

z) "Sesame Street"
Our 6-year-old grew out of "Sesame Street" a while ago and our 8-month-old isn't really ready for it, but he will be soon enough, so I've been curious to see the retooled "Sesame Street" that just debuted on HBO. Breaking it down to a half hour and getting rid of the awful Elmo's World segment is mostly an improvement, but it's still awfully heavy on Elmo, and they've lost a lot of the little animated segments and shorts that used to give the show it's particular rhythm. But obviously the show has been changing for decades since I watched it as a kid, there's not much use in getting mad about it, and it's still one of the best things you can let your kids watch.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

This week I contributed to Complex's list of the most anticipated albums of 2016 (much as I did for Rolling Stone's list last week). I wrote about Kanye, Missy, Chance, Future, and ScHoolboy Q.

Friday, January 15, 2016

This week the Village Voice published its 2015 Pazz & Jop critics poll, which I voted in for the 9th year. My ballot is here, although as always I also highly recommend checking out Glenn McDonald's Furia stats site, which has a bunch of stats about my P&J voting record over the years (fun fact: I have the 9th most breadth of any voter in the poll, which I have to say I'm kind of proud of).

As usual, Pazz & Jop kind of feels like the official end of my long season of year-end list insanity. So here's a quick overview of all the lists I made for 2015:

My Top 50 Albums of 2015

My Top 100 Singles of 2015 (also broken up separate lists by genre: rap, pop, country, rock and R&B)

My Top 50 TV Shows of 2015

The 10 Best and 10 Worst Rap/R&B Remixes of 2015

The Best of Me, 2015

- And I also wrote Complex's Best Music Videos of 2015 and contributed to The Fader's Best Songs of 2015, and the Baltimore City Paper's Top Ten Albums and Top Ten Baltimore Singles.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 54: David Bowie

Thursday, January 14, 2016

My last installment of this column was mourning Scott Weiland, who I praised in part for how he channeled his hero David Bowie, and I really had no idea that a month later I'd be mourning Bowie as well. Just last Saturday I was listening to his new album  and  marveling that he still had something like that in him at that age, and appreciating how creatively restless he'd remained decades after most of his contemporaries had stopped doing anything interesting.

And while there's something to be said for the whole of David Bowie's career, all 50 years of it, I do try to limit these playlists to just 80 minutes, and cover the period in which they had hit singles. So I started with his second album, and went up through his mid-'80s period as a Top 40 staple, before he went off to do Tin Machine and then became essentially a very famous cult act. But even narrowing the window a little leaves an absurdly rich discography.

David Bowie Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Janine
2. Black Country Rock
3. Queen Bitch
4. Kooks
5. Five Years
6. It Ain't Easy
7. Panic In Detroit
8. We Are The Dead
9. Win
10. Fascination
11. Word On A Wing
12. Breaking Glass
13. Always Crashing In The Same Car
14. Black Out
15. The Secret Life Of Arabia
16. Fantastic Voyage
17. Teenage Wildlife
18. Shake It
19. Tumble And Twirl

Track 1 from David Bowie aka Space Oddity (1969)
Track 2 from The Man Who Sold The World (1970)
Tracks 3 and 4 from Hunky Dory (1971)
Tracks 5 and 6 from The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1972)
Track 7 from Aladdin Sane (1973)
Track 8 from Diamond Dogs (1974)
Tracks 9 and 10 from Young Americans (1975)
Track 11 from Station To Station (1976)
Tracks 12 and 13 from Low (1977)
Tracks 14 and 15 from "Heroes" (1977)
Track 16 from Lodger (1979)
Track 17 from Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)
Track 18 from Let's Dance (1983)
Track 19 from Tonight (1984)

David Bowie is someone I've taken for granted probably for longer than I've appreciated him. I grew up with him as the perfect suave pop star of "Let's Dance," and the oldest memory I have of one of his new albums being released was Black Tie White Noise. And even as Kurt and Trent and various others helped make Bowie cool again throughout the '90s, I was pretty slow to come around to him, aside from Ziggy Stardust, which sounded incredible when my best friend Cody turned me onto it in middle school. I definitely went through a phase where I bought into the usual rockist argument against Bowie, that him having a sense of showmanship and not being an instrumental virtuoso was a weakness that made him unworthy of his stature, but I snapped out of it.

I've started to explore Bowie's catalog more in the last few years, but I'm still far from an expert, and one reason I like doing these deep cuts is that it gives me a reason to dive in deeper. It's fun to hear the album that "Space Oddity" or "Fame" or "Ashes To Ashes" came from and see what else he was doing at the time that maybe was (or wasn't) as radio-friendly. Bowie's handpicked selections for the 1989 box set Sound + Vision and the 2008 compilation iSelect favored album tracks over hits, and it was fun to pay attention to those and fan favorites while also gravitating towards some songs that don't seem to have any particular reputation but sound amazing to me.

Some of the songs that really grabbed me recently include "Kooks," a sweetly self-deprecating track addressed to his newborn son, the 2-minute "Breaking Glass," and "Fascination," a song co-written by then-backup singer Luther Vandross. It would've been nice to include some of the sprawling selections from the more experimental albums, but I like my self-imposed time limit, it helps me give some shape to these mixes, or perhaps in this case emphasize how much Bowie's output defied traditional career narratives.

A lot of great artists churned out albums pretty rapidly in the '70s and '80s, but it's hard to think of many people who have had as prolonged a fertile period as Bowie had. I'm almost envious of people who have him as their favorite artist, because there's such a huge catalog to explore, so much of it from his most creatively fertile years. One thing that I've started to really like is how his really iconic albums are buttressed by these more transitional (but not necessarily lesser) albums that form the connective tissue of Bowie's catalog. The Man Who Sold The World is like the bridge from his folky beginnings to the glam rock that would make him a star, Station To Station straddles the distance between Young Americans and the Berlin trilogy, and Scary Monsters is the link between the Berlin period and the Let's Dance pop crossover. For someone who's so known for "reinvention" and fictional personas, it's remarkable how much these albums seem to trace a very personal path that could be nothing but a guy very honestly following his muse.

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

Movie Diary

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

This has been out for a month but I guess people still want you to scream SPOILERS, right? As much as I like sci-fi and popcorn movies and acknowledge the importance of Star Wars, I don't really have any attachment to the franchise. I've probably seen Spaceballs more times than every Star Wars movie combined. It was fun to take my dad to see this the day after Christmas, although he wanted to see it on IMAX and unfortunately that meant 3D, and I really just hate 3D, I'd love to never see another 3D movie or wear those stupid glasses again. I still regard JJ Abrams as more of an effective franchise manager than someone with any real spark of creativity, but he at least was more true to the spirit of Star Wars than he was to the spirit of Star Trek. I really liked the new cast and thought they held the movie together well, even Adam Driver, who I've had mixed feelings about in the past. It's kind of amazing that him doing 'dark master of the force as petulant teenager' worked so well considering that Hayden Christensen did so poorly with a similar role. I thought the super-cute new baby R2D2 was a little pandering, though. 

b) Home
It's weird to watch an animated movie where the 2 leads are voiced by Rihanna and Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory." This is pretty funny, though, my son absolutely loves it and has probably watched it 10 times in the past month. And Rihanna's songs in it are generally better than anything she's released from Anti
I feel kind of bad for Chris Evans. His career was kind of on a downswing before he became a cog in the Marvel machine, but even since then, he hasn't really had a hit movie in the U.S. in the last 5 years where he wasn't playing Captain America (not even Snowpiercer, which was awesome). You'd think he could at least turn a profit with a romantic comedy, but Playing It Cool didn't get a theatrical release, which is a shame, it's pretty good. I like seeing Michelle Monaghan when she gets a chance to do comedy, she was so good in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but has rarely gotten to be funny in movies since then. The whole conceit of the movie, with Evans playing a screenwriter working on a romcom, struck me as the kind of Hollywood meta I'm really tired of seeing at this point, but I have to admit it was pulled off really well here.

Here's another movie about a screenwriter, and I'm always amazed that those get made so often. How does anyone write and sell a screeplay about a screenwriter without going "oh god this is a horrible cliche" and changing the protagonist's occupation? Hugh Grant plays a guy who wrote one hit and a lot of flops, and then takes a job teaching a college course on screenwriting, and he's the usual awkward charming Hugh Grant cad, but it's all done well and has maybe an overqualified supporting cast (J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Marisa Tomei, Chris Elliott, etc.).

Often if I'm busy or have writing to do, I'll put on a movie I don't expect will be very good in the background and kind of challenge it to make me pay attention to it. This one failed more miserably than usual, I didn't even finish it. There was one pretty nicely choreographed fight scene, though. Chris Hemsworth deserves to be in big budget non-Avengers movies way less than Chris Evans. 
This is a horror movie with a good creepy premise and a pretty memorable ending scene, but everything in between, including the big twist, felt kind of underwhelming to me.
Neil LaBute made his name with plays and films and plays-turned-films like In The Company Of Men that were dark, nasty stories about dysfunctional and manipulative relationships. And then, somewhere along the way, he became this generic director-for-hire who does things like that bad Wicker Man remake and Lakeview Terrace, but apparently he kept writing plays that were more of a piece with his early work. And some other director ended up adapting one of those plays, Some Girl(s), into a film. Some Girl(s) is very typical LaBute, almost ridiculously so, and Adam Brody is better than I thought he'd be as the requisite manipulative asshole. But the entire movie is several long one-on-one scenes with various actresses, and the ones with Mia Maestro and Kristen Bell were by far more memorable than the others.
This feels like so many crime movies since Pulp Fiction, with a big ensemble of different characters in vaguely interconnected stories. Taking place in New Orleans instead of Los Angeles is the closest thing to an original idea The Power Of Few has, really. The Christopher Walken scenes are pretty entertaining, though.