Tuesday, April 15, 2014
This week's Short List.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A few days ago, Mobtown Studios unveiled the latest edition of the BSides series, featuring the D.C. band Drop Electric. As usual, I wrote the text for the feature, but there's also a great YouTube video from the session, audio of both songs the band recorded, great photos and other stuff from the amazing team Mobtown assembled for these projects. I really like the band and how this one turned out, check it out.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I posted on the City Paper's Noise blog about #Letspushthebutton, a new mixtape featuring Ogun, Los, Starrz and a ton of other Baltimore rappers.

Monthly Report: April 2014 Singles

Friday, April 11, 2014

1. Coldplay - "Magic"
Coldplay were never a particularly cool band to like, and they've only gotten less cool from there. But I really dug Viva La Vida as an album and enjoyed singles off of the last album that nobody seemed to care about like "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall" and "Princess of China." And now, after years of Coldplay being one of the only bands played on both pop and alternative radio, they're re-entering a very crowded field of crossover hits, and nobody seems to care. But whatever, I like this, it actually reminds me a bit of the last lead single by the other big Stadiumhead band, Muse's "Madness," although it's not quite as good as that. Here is my running Spotify playlist of favorite 2014 singles, by the way. 

2. ScHoolboy Q - "Man Of The Year"
I thought it was pretty unfortunate when this song dropped a few months ago right on the heels of Kendrick appearing on the cover of GQ's 'man of the year' issue, TDE is really kinda failing at their mission to have a bunch of equally successful solo artists as everything after Kendrick trails off. But it's kind of a shame that Q hasn't really shaped up to at least be a radio fixture, because the singles off his album have really been good, especially this one. I'm kinda past rolling my eyes when big name rappers sample random indie bands I've never listened to, the Chromatics sample on this is really dope and puts an eerie edge on what's otherwise a pretty straightforward club banger. 

3. Bando Jonez - "Sex You"
I laughed so hard the first time I turned on the radio and heard a pitched-down voice intoning "SEX -- HAVE YOU HAD IT?" But it's really sapped my enjoyment of this song that all my local stations have been playing the "Love You" edit -- and these are all stations that played the hell out of songs like "Birthday Sex" and "Sex Therapy" and "Sex Room" so I didn't think it was possible for that word to be objectionable on R&B radio anymore.

4. Kacey Musgraves - "Keep It To Yourself"
I've only heard this song on the radio exactly once so far, but it sounded more at home there than I expected it to. In any case I'm glad Kacey's label is continuing to push the album with a 4th single even as radio has been resistant to her charms, relative to her sales and acclaim. Giving a great performance and winning an award on the Grammys telecast probably bolstered their confidence in her, "Follow Your Arrow" is still my least favorite single off the album but that was an awesome moment.

5. Pearl Jam - "Lightning Bolt"
Although I try to take all new Pearl Jam music at face value and not compare it too much to the period that made them my favorite singles act of the '90s, it's really kinda refreshing that Lightning Bolt is now the first Pearl Jam album with 3 good singles since Yield.

6. Sara Bareilles - "I Choose You"
I've been spoiled as a journalist about getting to meet and interview a lot of musicians I listen to, which has made it weird at my current day job, teleprompting, where I'm frequently around very famous people but, more often than not, am just kinda there and have no opportunity to socialize with them. A case in point, the other night I worked a corporate event where Sara Bareilles was the headline performer, and I'm really a fan of her music and wrote a very complimentary column about her a few months ago that it would've been cool to show her. But I was only backstage at the same time as her for a couple minutes, and it just felt too awkward to go up to her and try to make small talk or act like a fan. The performance was good, though, she played this song on acoustic guitar and it was a good arrangement. Glad she finally has a follow-up single to "Brave," which I was never very into, but I'm still hoping "Little Black Dress" becomes a single.

7. Colbie Caillat - "Hold On"
It's probably weird that I can say I'm a fan of Sara Bareilles but I find it embarrassing to admit I like a Colbie Caillat song, since they're probably looked at as similar artists for a similar fanbase. This song is really catchy, though, part of this hot streak that I hate to admit Ryan Tedder is on right now.

8. B.o.B f/ Chris Brown - "Throwback"
Here's one I really am embarrassed to like. Chris Brown is, of course, awful as a musician and as a person, and I just shit on the B.o.B album a few months ago for the cynical way it was assembled as a change in direction, and the way even the singles buoyed by Mike Will Made It and DJ Mustard and Future and 2 Chainz and Juicy J all seemed to be those guys' mediocre leftovers. But now that the awful "Jon Doe" has put B.o.B back on pop radio a little bit, rap radio has picked up on this song, which I totally didn't realize was kind of awesome when I listened to the album, that beat is just insane and B.o.B actually produced it himself, so respect where it's due, I guess.

9. Silversun Pickups - "Cannibal"
It's funny that these guys did a singles compilation after only three albums -- maybe it's an indication that they're finally leaving for a major label after years of being the only indie band consistently making hits on alt-rock radio. The new song on the comp is good, though, kinda follows on the synthy direction of their last big single, "The Pit," which suggests that even as they continue to get constant comparisons to the Smashing Pumpkins, their foray into electronic sounds won't be too derivative of the Pumpkins.

10. Imagine Dragons - "On Top Of The World"
It's funny, the weird grungestep power ballad "Radioactive" has become their gigantic crossover hit, but the upbeat acoustic debut single "It's Time" is still the reason I don't totally hate Imagine Dragons. And so I'm glad that their current single is another chipper pop song that sounds good in commercials and stupid movies like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which had this play over the credits.

Worst: American Authors - "Best Day Of My Life"
Going back to my lingering affection for "It's Time," it's mildly horrifying that a new band is getting big crossover money with a debut single that sounds like a deliberate carbon copy of the first Imagine Dragons single. The alt pop game is so dirty.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a Rap Sheet column (about D. King, J Who? Worldwise, E-Dubble, Bink Baghdad and more) and The Short List.

TV Diary

Sunday, April 06, 2014

a) "Doll & Em"
I gave this a couple episodes, but I think I got the idea and don't have much of a will to keep watching. A couple of pretty middle-aged English ladies doing the mockumentary comedic caricature of themselves thing that Americans ran into the ground a decade ago, no thanks.

b) "The 100" 
For a show on the CW based on a young adult novel, this is kind of a respectable Sci-Fi show, more on the level of SyFy's better shows. Or at least, I was impressed by the pilot, I haven't really kept up with it, although my wife has and says it's been good.

c) "Broad City"
Well this pretty quickly became one of my favorite new shows, I'm already bummed that the first season is over. A couple of the later episodes had tangents that didn't totally pay off for me, but for the most part it just seemed to get funnier and funnier as it went along, particularly the hurricane episode and the wedding episode. Also it's pretty cool that Abbi Jacobson used to live in Baltimore and went to MICA.

d) "Inside Amy Schumer" 
Another Comedy Central star who went to college around here! I'll spare you another telling of how I briefly knew Amy Schumer at Towson, though. It still trips me out that she's kind of famous. This show is still cool, though, I think in the new season premiere there was one sketch that was a little stale but everything else felt like she's just hitting her stride and kinda finding a space somewhere beyond mere shock humor or absurdity for absurdity's sake.

e) "Enlisted"
I was pretty dismissive of this show at first, but it has grown on me big time. One of those sitcoms that has a lot of heart while also being almost cartoonishly silly, but fuses those two elements together in a way that works. Really strong cast, too, great to see Keith David just go for it in a comedic context.

f) "Hollywood Game Night" 
This primetime schedule filler is so self-evidently not must see TV that I only ever stumble into watching it for a while by accident, usually halfway into the show after they've introduced everybody. So the game for me is mostly trying to figure out who half of these minor celebrities even are or if I've ever seen them before. It is kinda fun, though.

g) "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
Definitely feel like this show has come into its own by the end of the season. It shouldn't be so easy to make me laugh just having Andre Braugher say things like "oopsy doodle" and "kwazy kupcakes," but it is.

h) "Episodes" 
This will never be a great show but it is a good one. And the longer it drags on and the characters' misadventures in network television get more ridiculous and pathetic, the more that aspect of the comedy grows. This season was a little hit and miss, though, I hope that there's more John Pankow next season and that Leblanc gets to be a little more over the top again.

i) "Community"
It was weird when they recently had back-to-back episodes guest starring the creators of "Arrested Development" and "Breaking Bad," it was like a dog whistle tribute to the way Dan Harmon coming back to the show is the tipping point for TV fans to obsess over showrunners and behind-the-scenes guys. This season has been really fun, though, I think the way they kinda rebuilt the ensemble dynamic in the absence of Donald Glover and Chevy Chase has been mostly refreshing, although some of the theme episodes are a bit much, even the "G.I. Joe" one, as much as it made me laugh.

j) "The Colbert Report"
I have mixed feelings about the whole #CancelColbert ordeal -- he'd been doing the Asian racism thing as a running gag for years, initially to lampoon Rush Limbaugh, but every time he trotted it out it got further removed from that context, and a little less funny and a little less defensible. Still, the controversy itself became pretty absurd, and it raised the bar pretty high for how he would address it on the show, and I thought he killed it with that whole episode.

Thursday, April 03, 2014
This week's Short List.

Monthly Report: March 2014 Albums

Monday, March 31, 2014

1. YG - My Krazy Life
This is really how major label rap debuts should be -- dropping at the exact moment where radio has already bent towards what these guys have been doing for years, so all they have to do is be themselves, in a relatively presentable but not at all sanitized way. Mustard's sound has gotten a little repetitive on radio singles, but putting together a full-length project he arranges enough variety within the formula that every track is distinct. I love how there's a few songs that are only 2 minutes long, and feel kinda like vignettes within the album's narrative but still totally knock. I'm generally not a fan of the TeeFlii and Ty Dolla $ign ratchet R&B stuff, but their piano-driven tracks work in the context of the album and bring a little melody into the picture right at the point when the album could use it. YG has never been the strongest rapper but he holds the whole thing down better than I expected him to, his voice has settled into this affable, conversational croak. All of these that are on Spotify are in my constantly updated 2014 albums playlist, by the way. 

2. Pharrell Williams - G I R L
In my opinion, Pharrell's bad ideas have outnumbered his good ones pretty consistently for almost a decade now, even in 2013, as much as I liked his big comeback hits. And I didn't really care for "Happy," so I didn't know what to expect from this album. But man, it fucking works. The Hans Zimmer strings, the pure smile-inducing good vibes of songs like "Brand New," the relatively low number of the usual Pharrell lyric misfires (OK, "Hunter" is pretty bad), it's all so beatific and warm and enjoyable. "Freq," the hidden track with JoJo in the middle of the album, is a nice surprise, better than the listed song at the beginning of the track, "Lost Queen."

3. Carla Bozulich - Boy
It's funny that two of my favorite albums of the past month are called G I R L and Boy, huh. But anyway... Carla Bozulich is one of my all-time musical heroes, largely for her work in the '90s with The Geraldine Fibbers, as well as Mike Watt and Scarnella and Ethyl Meatplow (here is a career overview post I once wrote about her, which I once got a nice e-mail from Carla herself about). After those wide-ranging projects, she's settled into something of a late career groove, with the 2006 solo album Evangelista and three subsequent albums released under the group name Evangelista. So Boy is actually her first album presented outside the Evangelista 'brand' in over a decade, although it has a lot of the same sounds and collaborators as those albums, presented in a slightly more accessible package: 10 songs, all in the 3-5 minute range. Given the way some of the other recent albums were so unforgivingly dark and shapeless in parts that it's nice to hear this stuff in the form of concise, often rhythm-driven songs. "Gonna Stop Killing" is especially great, and the title's resemblance to her 2004 live release, the I'm Gonna Stop Killing EP, makes me wonder how long that song's been kicking around. 

4. Future Islands - Singles
My Wondering Sound feature on Future Islands was a lot of fun to put together and they were really good guys to interview, and I listened to the album a lot while working on it, but only now that the article done have I really gotten a chance to start just enjoying as an album and figuring out what I think of it. It's funny but before I just kinda took advantage of Future Islands as a band that everyone in Baltimore knew was good and I didn't feel much need to write about or advocate for them, but now that they're tipping into a wider level of fame it's pretty exciting to watch unfold. I think my favorite thing about this album, in relation to their other albums, is the increased guitar in the mix, the riffs on "Doves" and "A Dream Of You And Me" really make those songs pop and in a way make the basslines stand out more too. 

5. Kevin Gates - By Any Means
Gates released two of my favorite rap records of 2013, and I'm glad that he's back at it and releasing more consistently good music. The weird Atlantic Records offshoot APG that's released his last couple albums, however, recently got some light shed on it in this Young Thug story. And even though it's ostensibly refreshing to see a major label create an incubator imprint to regularly release music by a promising rapper with a relatively small but growing fanbase, I kinda wonder whether this is actually a good move for Gates or if it's keeping him in the kind of middling niche he's in when it'd be great to see him break out and become a major star. This is a strong record, though, "Stop Lyin'" and "Arm And Hammer" are dope and it's kinda cool to get guys like 2 Chainz and Plies to bounce off of Gates since he sometimes lacks in the kind of over-the-top personality they have.

6. King Los - Zero Gravity II
Los's rise over the last few years has been one of the most exciting stories in Baltimore hip hop that I've ever followed, and sometimes it's hard to separate the success of his career from the music. The last few tapes have been good, and he remains a breathtaking rapper on a technical level, but more than that it's just been fun to see what kind of numbers they do on the big mixtape sites. At the moment, it's hard to tell if this will surpass the last one, Becoming King, but between the guest list being less impressive than that one, and Los announcing just before the tape dropped that he's leaving Bad Boy Records again, I don't know, it feels like the buzz has deflated a little bit. Hopefully I'm wrong, maybe this is the beginning of a different phase of his career, still rooting for dude. The flows on "Don't Get In My Way" are great, cool to hear him still playing with his voice and finding new approaches. 

7. Spencer Owen - Blue Circle
Spencer is one of my internet homies from way back that I've reconnected with on Twitter more recently, I dug an album he put out last year and this one is even better, kind of a subtle, groove-driven pop/rock record with some goofy, playful moments here and there.

8. Marsha Ambrosius - Fvck & Love EP
Her first album was pretty huge on R&B radio, but like most non-superstar singers, Marsha Ambrosius seems to be caught in label limbo waiting for a single to pop off big before she can get a release date (and I really liked that recent single with Ne-Yo, shame it didn't do anything). So she went ahead and dropped a 6-song EP out of the sky recently, and it's really really solid, would love to have a whole album of this caliber right about now. Oak (of Oak & Pop) does a track, Eric Hudson does a track, Ambrosius self-produces some of it, it's all on that really airy moody sex music vibe she does pretty well.

9. Blaqstarr - Trinity EP Vol. 1
When I sat down with Blaqstarr for an interview late last year, we talked about a lot of projects in the works, but I'm still surprised by how much has been happening already so far in 2014. In January there was the first Blaq-Files EP with re-recorded old tracks, in February there was a single and video with Common that I didn't really care for, and then at the end of March he dropped this EP with 3 pretty dope new songs. It's in the kind of melodic midtempo style of a lot of stuff he's done since he's branched out from Baltimore club music, but I like it more. One reason I dig these songs is that they feature a lot of slowed down Baltimore club drums -- "YOU" is co-produced by Rod Lee and has the same slowed "Think" break that Rod did for Bossman's "Oh," and "Release Yourself" has a variation on some classic Blaqstarr club drums. 

10. Say Wut - Clarion Bang EP
Another one of my favorite Baltimore club producers from way back who just put out a few songs on a new EP. This is more in his traditional club sound, lots of synth horn riffs and high energy vocals, but he always manages to put some fresh sounds in there to distinguish it from his older stuff.

Worst Album of the Month: Young Money Entertainment - Young Money: Rise Of An Empire
Given the ridiculous star power of the YMCMB roster, it's really just hilarious to watch them try to leverage that over and over to try and give some shine to the dozen or so total losers on the label. One Drake song, one Nicki song (and to be honest, I don't really fuck with either), and then so so so many verses by Lil Twist, Gudda Gudda and somebody called Euro. I didn't think they could make a worse album than the Rich Gang record but shit, here it is.

Movie Diary

Sunday, March 30, 2014

a) Veronica Mars
My wife watched the first season of "Veronica Mars" in college with one of her friends, and then the next year we moved in together and she made me a convert to the great cult show. So when the crowdfunded movie came out, she went with her college friend to see it in the theater, and then she decided it was good enough to watch again and rented it on Amazon Prime to watch at home with me. Being aware of the pitfalls of translating episodic television into a one-off feature, I was really happy with this and thought they did a great job. The fan service aspect of the plotting and the dialogue was undeniable but it worked, and more often than not it really felt like they slipped right back into the old rhythms of the show. In fact, the way it ended really would set up a nice continuation of the series, which really just made me want them to go ahead and find a way to finally do a 4th season.

b) Frozen
My son stayed over at his grandmother's house recently, and when I went to pick him up, they were watching this, so I finally got to catch up on the movie with the funny snowman and the insipid song that had surprised me to somehow become one of the biggest and most profitable pop culture juggernauts in recent memory. And it was pretty good! I'm still a little mystified by its massive popularity, but it's not bad. I wanted to hate on the Josh Gad snowman but it was a really funny character. And as usual I appreciated the presence of Kristen Bell, I always figured she'd be a good voice actor since so much of what made "Veronica Mars" great was her delivery of the dialogue, so it's nice that she got to be in a really big animated film.

c) Monsters University
Now, Monsters, Inc. is a classic both in my personal canon of modern animated movies and in my son's own limited cinematic vocabulary. So I was pretty excited to sit down with him and watch this, which was announced right around the time the original was becoming one of his favorite movies. I like that instead of trying to repeat or revisit the original story, they just did a prequel, set the characters in college, and did a Pixar version of a college movie.

d) The Great Gatsby
I thought Baz Luhrmann's early movies worked with their audacious conceits pretty well, if you were able to buy into the premise, it was generally a fun, impressive ride. This just kinda felt stilted and silly, though. I don't know too much about the movie's relationship to the source material -- I started but never finished the novel as a teenager -- but it definitely felt like the directorial style dominated over the content. I thought the way Moulin Rouge was stuffed with songs written decades after when the story was set was playful and fun, but there's something kind of obnoxiously dumb about setting a roaring '20s party scene to the sound of Kanye West saying "this is something like the holocaust." The nice, thing, though, is that I'll never want to see this movie again and will quickly forget it, which means I can still read the book someday and hopefully not think about the film at all.

e) Byzantium
Sexy vampire movies are a dime a dozen these days, but this one at least had something of a unique premise and idea about how to depict vampires, and Gemma Arterton is, well, a ridiculous babe. Didn't find it super compelling overall but it was a pretty good flick.

f) Oblivion
I was surprised to find out that this was based on a graphic novel, because I'd never seen a movie where the direction seemed so plainly modeled on video games, I figured it had to be a game adaptation. The plot parts and the twist were pretty decent, it just looked kind of silly at times, even for a Tom Cruise sci-fi movie.

g) A Good Day To Die Hard
I had to stay in a hotel room for a few nights for work recently, and the TV in the room was really hard to operate or find anything so this was the movie on the movie channel I finally settled on as a default when I was trying to find something to watch. It took me a while to figure out if it was even a Die Hard movie, since I've never been that big a fan of the franchise and Bruce Willis is in so many other generic action movies. It was alright, though, the villain lady is super hot.

h) Searching For Sugar Man
My mom lent me the DVD of this after really raving about it. I'm surprised I never heard anything about the singer the movie is about, Rodriguez, through any of the music nerd circles I travel in, but I'm glad I didn't, because I got to just watch the story unfold and be surprised. It's really well made, one of those documentaries where they use some inventive visual style to tell a story for which there's not actually much existing footage of the original events. And I kind of liked how even after they solved the mystery of who this obscure American singer-songwriter was, there's still really no sense of how he became hugely popular in South Africa, which is where a lot of the story ends up taking place. Apparently they willfully omitted some stuff about how the guy was also popular in Australia and toured there ages before the South Africans tracked him down, but still, in terms of the narrative of the film it worked for whose perspective they were mostly telling the story from.

i) Ruby Sparks
I wasn't sure I wanted to see some kind of high concept, satirical indie rom com, even if it was taking aim at the whole 'manic pixie dream girl' paradigm, but I was pretty impressed by this movie -- even moreso after finding out after watching it that the lead actress, Zoe Kazan, wrote it. It really ends up being kind of a dark, scathing look at not just certain kinds of movies (movies that Kazan could easily be cast in), but certain kinds of relationships and the way men sometimes treat women. The climactic scene was almost a little over-the-top but I felt like the movie kinda needed that, to fully get away from it being a cute, silly parody of cute, silly movies.

j) 6 Month Rule
This is an indie rom com that pretty much plays by all of the rules of the genre, other than looking a little low budget and not having big name actors. In fact the male lead, who's the least recognizable or polished or likable of any of the actors on the screen, is somewhat unsurprisingly also the director and writer of the movie. It's not bad, though, and the supporting cast is packed with guys like Martin Starr and Dave Foley and John Michael Higgins who have some funny moments, and Patrick J. Adams from "Suits" gets to kinda show off his comedy chops and play a really over-the-top character.

k) Flawless
These days it's hard for me to turn down any opportunity to see a Philip Seymour Hoffman role I hadn't seen before, but in retrospect I could've skipped this one. He does a pretty admirable job of playing a drag queen without embarrassing himself or taking it too far in a bad direction, but there isn't much to the movie and it's pretty poorly directed (by Joel Schumacher, no less).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This week, my friends at Mobtown Studios unveiled another installment in their Mobtown BSides series, and once again I wrote the text that accompanies the songs they recorded and the video of the recording process. And for the first time in the series, the featured band is from Baltimore: The Flying Eyes. I'd seen very early on when they started playing around town and have followed them since then, and interviewed one of the members a couple years ago, so I was really excited about this one and it came out great.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I wrote a few things in this week's Baltimore City Paper:

- An interview with Prodigy of Mobb Deep, who are performing at Baltimore Soundstage on Sunday and releasing their new album next week (funnily enough, last time Mobb Deep put out an album in 2006, I interview Havoc for The Hook-Up Magazine).

- A BPM dance music column with news about Say Wut, DJ Pierre, and the Club Mnemonic event this week at The Crown.

- The Short List, with a bunch of other good shows happening in Baltimore over the next week.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The new Future Islands album is out this week, and I interviewed the band for a big feature on eMusic's new site Wondering Sound (with photos by J.M. Giordano).

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 15: Steely Dan

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I wrote the other day about recently reading Donald Fagen's book Eminent Hipsters, and am currently putting together my ballot for a poll of Steely Dan's greatest songs. So lately my mind has been on the rich and rewarding catalog of one of my all-time favorite bands. They occupy an odd cultural space: in the '70s they made a string of gold and platinum albums, which all appeared on many critics' year-end lists. But in the decades since, a long period of inactivity, and a comeback in which they came to symbolize Baby Boomer lameness by taking a Grammy from peak period Eminem left them seeming very very unhip. And on the flipside of that uncoolness, the fanbase for their incredibly smartly written and densely fascinating music has becoming more cultish, more adoring.

The career arc of Steely Dan, from slightly off-kilter hitmakers to meticulous studio rats who stayed off the road for several years while recording endless takes of crack session men for their most successful albums, tends to push fans to take sides. And while Gaucho and the later albums do tend to get a bit austere and light on hooks for my taste, generally love it all -- the shaggy, groovy rock of the Can't Buy A Thrill era as well as the flashy, jazzy Royal Scam/Aja era.

Steely Dan Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Night By Night
2. Babylon Sisters
3. The Boston Rag
4. King Of The World
5. Through With Buzz
6. Jack Of Speed
7. Midnight Cruiser
8. The Caves Of Altamira
9. Aja
10. Godwhacker
11. Your Gold Teeth
12. Your Gold Teeth II
13. The Royal Scam
14. Kings
15. Home At Last
16. Any World (That I'm Welcome To)

Tracks 7 and 14 from Can't Buy A Thrill (1972)
Tracks 3, 4 and 11 from Countdown To Ecstasy (1973)
Tracks 1 and 5 from Pretzel Logic (1974)
Tracks 12 and 16 from Katy Lied (1975)
Tracks 8 and 13 from The Royal Scam (1976)
Tracks 9 and 15 from Aja (1977)
Track 2 from Gaucho (1980)
Track 6 from Two Against Nature (2000)
Track 10 from Everything Must Go (2003)

As I often do in this series, I found myself contemplating the gray areas in dividing a band's catalog into "singles" and "deep cuts." Certain songs that were never released as A-sides seemed simply too famous to include -- "Dirty Work," "Don't Take Me Alive," "Black Friday," I'd consider those among the band's biggest hits whether or not they were singles (likewise, some great Steely Dan singles never made much of a splash, like "Pretzel Logic," or "Haitian Divorce," which is relatively obscure in America but their biggest hit on the U.K. charts). Arguably some of these songs are also too famous to be truly deep cuts, but ultimately I went with my gut. And while there are some pretty well loved deep cuts that I didn't include, I really just like these songs more than "Doctor Wu" or "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" and wanted to reflect my taste.

You might remember my 2-disc Steely Dan megamix that I posted here years ago, which covered most of the same songs, plus some of the hits and several non-album rarities. I only included a couple album cuts here that weren't on those, most significantly "Aja," which any way you cut it is just a major work in the band's catalog. I was never that big on the song myself, regarding it as the low point of the amazing album of the same name. But a couple years ago I took my dad, who raised me to be a Steely Dan fan and who is currently not speaking to me, to see the band at Merriweather Post Pavilion and had a great night. And the rendition of "Aja" that night was so awesome that I finally understood the majesty of that song.

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

Reading Diary

Friday, March 21, 2014

a) Willin': The Story of Little Feat, by Ben Fong-Torres
Little Feat are one of my all-time favorite bands, and one that I never thought would get a proper bio written by a big name rock critic, so I was pretty excited to read this. I've gotten so much of the band's story kinda secondhand from the many shorter things written about them (and also from my dad, who met them while they were in Baltimore recording Feats Don't Fail Me Now), it was great into the nitty gritty of these records I love from before I was born. A lot of it centers around the guy who wasn't around to tell his own story, Lowell George, but I feel like Fong-Torres and the band do a good job of being both affectionate and warts-and-all honest about his vices and shortcomings, as well as his incredible talent. The writing is sometimes a little flat, but all in all it's essential reading about a great band that not enough people know enough about.

b) Bruce, by Peter Ames Carlin
This is a much thicker, more lavishly detailed bio of a much bigger act, and while Bruce Springsteen isn't quite as personally important to me, I do fucking love Bruce and this really feels like the complete story, the only Springsteen bio I'll ever want or need (although I'm not finished yet, only up to about The River era). It was interesting to get a clearer look at his youth and childhood than the usual Freehold platitudes, and at the various false starts he had with various bands before the solo career happened, but even in the more exhaustively well trodden territory there's some revealing stuff (my favorite trivia is that De Niro and Scorsese were in the audience one night in 1975 when Bruce did a "you talkin' to me?" routine and they decided to put it in Taxi Driver). Peter Ames Carlin does a good job of navigating all the Springsteen lore and mythology to find the more exact facts and first-person memories, while still engaging with that stuff and letting you really feel all stuff, and how you believe it as a listener because Bruce believes it.

a) Eminent Hipsters, by Donald Fagen
Instead of a bio of one of my '70s rock heroes, this book is by one of them. Donald Fagen is just as good a prose writer as you'd hope he'd be based on Steely Dan's lyrics. It's a very short book, and a lot of it is a tour diary that tips into gratuitous cranky old man territory, but it's still a great read. The idea of anybody having anything interesting to say about "hipsters" in this day and age is hard to believe, but that's mainly because most people who want to talk about such things have no cultural memory before The Strokes. But Fagen, in detailing his obsessions with jazz and beat poetry as a '60s teenager, is able to speak about the topic from a bird's eye perspective (without ever addressing it too directly, more circling around it from several angles). The Boswell Sisters chapter that opens the book is a really amazing piece of music writing, really worth the price of admission by itself.