Movie Diary

Sunday, November 19, 2017


















a) Split
For all his shortcomings and his patchy track record, I have enough fondness for M. Night Shyamalan's better films and his odd, fairly unique sensibility that I tend to root for him. But Split, his most critically and commercially successful movie in about 15 years, is a total piece of shit and I'm kind of disgusted that people were okay with it. The central tenet of the movie, that James McAvoy is a crazed killer with 23 distinct personalities, is by itself just an offensively stupid and irresponsible depiction of mental illness and disassociative identity disorder. But James McAvoy's actual performance is just a laughable waste of his talent and his commitment to the poorly conceived role. One personality is a macho New Yawk guy, one is a lisping 9-year-old boy, one is a fancy lady, he wouldn't run through this many simplistic stock characters in a night of hosting "Saturday Night Live." And the final scene of the movie, the one that ties the story into one of Shyamalan's actually good films, is so painfully awful and poorly executed it actually makes everything that precedes it seem even worse. 

b) 1922
This is by far the best of the three Stephen King adaptations that have starred Thomas Jane, but that's not necessarily saying a whole lot since the other two are Dreamcatcher and The Mist. As a story there isn't much to it, it's more or less a The Tell-Tale Heart kind of thing about a murderer undone by his own guilt. I love Molly Parker and she really kind of had a great role in this despite the fact that she was dead for most of the movie.

I feel like there's this whole weird little bubble of action movies like Drive and Baby Driver about men of few words who spend most of the movie behind the wheel of a car, which, I dunno, it's bordering on tiresome. Seemed fairly exciting but I was pretty tired when I watched it and might have managed to nod off a bit.

d) Fist Fight
A comedy where the entire movie leads up to a fight between a grown man and a co-worker is not a bad idea, despite the fact that Tim Allen did it over a decade ago. Anyway, it's pretty fun, particularly the scenes with lots of improv from Jillian Bell and Tracy Morgan. It's odd to realize that Ice Cube playing a blustery tough guy not unlike his '90s rap persona is not something you see in his film roles that often, he kinda got into a much more laid back niche from Friday onward. But it is very entertaining to just scream on people and intimidate them for the whole movie. It's interesting to me that Max Greenfield from "New Girl" came up with the idea for this movie and produced it but isn't in it, especially since it's really easy to picture him in the Charlie Day role, so I wonder if that was ever the plan and just didn't pan out for some reason.

e) John Wick: Chapter 2
I feel like this is one of those sequels like Magic Mike XXL where it capitalized well on the goodwIll and sleeper hit success of the first movie but isn't actually as good. It's perfectly fine, and adds Peter Stormare and Laurence Fishburne to the rogues' gallery of badass aging actors, I just didn't think it was as memorable as the first. One thing I will always remember, however, is how ridiculous the subtitles looked in the portion of the movie that took place in Rome.

f) Life
I found it refreshing how little the promotional campaign gave away of what happens in this movie. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a pretty boilerplate Alien-type movie where the cool creepy-looking space monster picks off most of the human cast one by one. It was pretty unapologetically grisly and pessimistic, which I respected, but it could've been executed better. It seemed to set up a good idea for a sequel, but this movie was really not profitable, so that won't happen.

g) Why Him?
I had like a half hour to kill in a hotel room recently and put on HBO and watched the middle of this movie, and then went back later and watched the beginning and the end. Obviously, that's a terrible way to watch a movie, but this was not a particularly good movie, so the stakes were low. But it was interesting to see that middle section first, because all the scenes where James Franco and Bryan Cranston talking about Franco dating Cranston's daughter and wanting to marry her but she was completely offscreen. She is in the rest of the movie a bit but still, it was interesting how little the woman at the center of the story was present for it.

h) What We Do In The Shadows
This is one of the low budget movies Taika Waititi made before he got the Thor: Ragnarok job. It's basically a mockumentary about ancient vampires living in a flat in New Zealand. Really funny stuff, felt very influenced by Monty Python movies in the way they kind of dedicated themselves to the premise while still being incredibly silly about it.

i) The Final Girls
This is about some teens who watch a fictitious cheesy '80s horror movie and then magically end up inside the movie, a summer camp slasher flick, and have to avoid being killed by the movie's villain. Like most horror comedies, it kind of veers from funny to scary and I prefer the first half where the comedy is a little more present, but overall it was pretty enjoyable, good execution of the concept. 

j) Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf
Speaking of cheesy '80s horror movies, this is a famously bad 1985 sequel to a well regarded Joe Dante movie. We haven't seen the original The Howling, which is really no matter because this movie has a more or less completely different cast and only tangentially related story. We watched Howling II because it was the subject of an episode of the podcast "How Did This Get Made?" that we went to a live taping of in D.C. (I'd never really heard the podcast before, but my wife is an avid listener, so I got tickets for her birthday). We missed the screening of the movie before the taping, so we watched the movie at home after listening to Paul Scheer and Tig Notaro talk about how terrible it was for a couple hours. And I think that worked out surprisingly well, the show was really funny even without having seen the movie yet, and the movie was funnier to watch after already hearing people point out all the strange terrible details. 

Monthly Report: November 2017 Singles

Friday, November 17, 2017






















1. Alice Merton - "No Roots"
Alice Merton's debut single has been a big top 5 pop hit in her native Germany and several other countries across Europe, but so far she's just slowly breaking into alt rock radio in the U.S., where I think it will ultimately do well but probably not become some "Royals" type crossover success. I really like it, though, it's got a nice driving groove to it and some weird squelchy synths, and I'm kind of interested in the idea of a young German making a rallying cry out of "I've got no roots" at a time when white nationalists are trying to sneak these shitty racists ideas into the mainstream in the form of taking pride in 'European identity' or whatever. Here's the 2017 singles Spotify playlist I update every month, although my proper year-end lists will be coming along shortly.

2. LANCO - "Greatest Love Story"
There are few things that grab my attention more when I'm perusing Billboard's country charts than a Jay Joyce production credit, so I was instantly attracted to the sound of the debut hit by this Nashville quintet he's taken under his wing. But it's really the song itself that has slowly grown on me, it's so sweet and simple and unadorned.

3. Gucci Mane f/ Migos - "I Get The Bag"
Both Gucci and especially Migos have been so ubiquitous this year, and already had one recent hit together, "Slippery," that I was skeptical about "I Get The Bag" being able to break out of the pack. The chorus even reminds me of "Slippery" a bit (particularly when Quavo says "in Italy"). But this has really stuck out and just sounds so much better on the radio than "MotorSport" or "Too Hotty," and opens with a great Takeoff verse.

4. Paramore - "Fake Happy"
Every time I get a Paramore album, there's some song that I instantly fall in love with and patiently hope and wish for it to eventually be released as a single (previously: "That's What You Get," "The Only Exception," and "Ain't It Fun"). I don't know if "Fake Happy" will wind up being a major hit for the band like some of those songs were, but I'm still pretty thrilled for it to get more exposure, it's really been one of my anthems of 2017.

5. Why Don't We - "Something Different"
A few years ago there was a lot of media hype about a new 'boy band era' that eventually shook out to be just One Direction destroying the competition. And now that One Direction has splintered into solo careers, there are a few baby boy bands on the horizon trying to kickstart that next wave. So far I haven't gotten much of a sense of any of those groups having really serious commercial potential, but I really like this song, wish it got more radio traction.

6. Lil Uzi Vert f/ Oh Wonder - "The Way Life Goes"
There's an odd little convention of Soundcloud rap where the official versions of singles often have a weird quick sizzle reel-like excerpt of a few lines from the middle of the song put at the opening of the track before the song gets to its proper beginning that feels like a simulation of how mixtape DJs will play a snippet before they 'run it back' (some famous examples of this are XXXtentacion's "Look At Me" and 6ix9ine's "Gummo"). "The Way Life Goes" is a very accessible crossover song for Uzi, but he manages to open the song like this and it's surprising to me how well it works. And I'm trying to enjoy the original version as much as I can as a brace myself for radio stations to possibly replace it with the entirely unnecessary Nicki Minaj remix.

7. Marilyn Manson - "Kill4Me"
It's probably for the best that Marilyn Manson didn't try to capitalize on his friendship with Lil Uzi Vert for his new album, that combination might be more interesting on paper than in practice. But I really like this song, it's got a little of that sleazy slithery glam thing that he's done pretty well in the past. But it's funny to think how him releasing a song imploring the listener to kill for him would have been an absolute scandal in the '90s and now it's just another song.

8. Olivia Holt - "Generous"
This song's beat is such a spot-on pastiche of 2010s Pharrell production that I actually had to check and make sure he wasn't involved. It's a really good, catchy song besides that obvious stylistic debt, though. Holt is one of those Disney Channel actresses making tentative steps toward proper pop stardom, and it's a shame that she's not there yet because I'd love to hear this one on the radio.

9. Fifth Harmony - "He Like That"
While the Camila Cabello solo career is suddenly, inexplicably thriving, I continue to root for her old group that's arguably better than ever without her. I tend to find the group's '90s interpolations to be their weakest moments, but I kind of love that Hammer's "Pumps And A Bump" has been dredged up by a 2010s pop group, and the bassline on this song is just killer.

10. Eminem f/ Beyonce - "Walk On Water"
Here are two superstars that nobody ever really expected or even wanted to work together. I've always been a little lukewarm on Eminem even back when he was good, and I never thought his big mawkish Rihanna collaborations were much better than the rest of his largely awful later work, so I braced myself for this to sound like that. But I have to admit, the whole restrained piano ballad thing works. The idea of a couple of huge stars like this talking about how anxious they are to keep their audience happy could come off really obnoxious or sappy, but there are enough little details in Em's verses and in Beyonce's delivery that I kinda feel the sincerity of it.

The Worst Single Of The Month: Baka Not Nice - "Live Up To My Name"
The idea of Drake rapping with his bodyguard like Nas on "Oochie Wallie" is really funny, and I'm entertained by Baka's claim that he gets drunk at a gun range so that he'd be able to Shyne up the club while drunk if necessary. But man is this song unpleasant to listen to.

Monday, November 06, 2017






























This Saturday, November 11, my band Woodfir will be playing Joe Squared in Baltimore with The Meer, Cheshi, and Bad Robot Jones. We'll also have some new music out very soon. 

Monthly Report: October 2017 Albums

Thursday, November 02, 2017

























1. Carly Pearce - Every Little Thing
busbee played a similar role in producing and co-writing Carly Pearce's debut album as he did with Maren Morris's debut last year, so it's not surprising that they're both excellent in similar ways, with busbee's ear for understated modern production touches that foreground the vocalist's classic country sensibilities. Morris has the bigger personality but Pearce has the richer, more expressive voice, equally good for wounded ballads like the title track, one of the best country singles of the year, and for playful uptempo tracks like "Hide The Wine." Here's my 2017 albums playlist that most of these records are on.

2. Robert Plant - Carry Fire
Robert Plant has long been one of the more interesting and restless classic rock icons, one of maybe a handful of guys whose careers started in the '60s who kept up with new music enough to make some surprisingly modern stuff in the 2010s (alongside David Bowie, Paul Simon, and Paul McCartney). And this album is just gorgeous from front to back, lots of familiar acoustic Zep type textures with the occasional gnarly synth line, Plant often sings just above a whisper but sometimes lets loose the ragged majesty of his aging voice, including on a duet with Chrissie Hynde.

3. Sabrina Claudio - About Time
I checked this out on a whim the other day and it really grabbed me, it kind of fits into the breathy moody alt R&B zeitgeist pretty well (6lack appears on a remix at the end of the album), but there's some pretty cool distinctive sonics going on and Claudio's voice is like silk, she might really be a star soon. "Wanna Know" is like a classic torch song, really beautiful stuff.

4. Brent Faiyaz - Sonder Son
Brent Faiyaz's voice on the hook of GoldLink's "Crew" has been one of the best sounds on the radio in 2017 that I've enjoyed hearing again and again. So it's nice to finally explore a little more from that voice, this is a really lovely understated album, feels very handmade and heartfelt, and this guy comes from just up the road from where I live in Maryland so I'm really rooting for him.

5. Microkingdom - Return to the Valley of the Jeep Beats
The Baltimore avant jazz trio Microkingdom have been doing some really interesting stuff for years -- I particularly liked 2012's Three Compositions of No Jazz, which we used a track from for a compilation I helped assemble. This is the first of 3 releases they have coming out this fall, and it may be my favorite thing they've done to date. The title Return to the Valley of the Jeep Beats is probably a bit tongue in cheek, but I feel like it gives an indication of how these guys are looking outside jazz for some of their rhythmic ideas and the kind of digital aesthetic of how they edit down their improvs into records.

6. Niall Horan - Flicker
I always thought Niall's high, cutesy voice worked best in small doses in the context of One Direction, and kind of assumed that Harry and Zayn would have the only viable solo careers out of the group. So I was pleasantly surprised when Niall had my favorite run of solo singles, including the fantastic "Slow Hands," and actually sold more copies of his debut the first week than Zayn (in part thanks to including album vouchers with tickets for his tour). The album is a little lacking in more songs as upbeat as "Slow Hands," but it has a great sound, I especially love "Since We're Alone" and the Maren Morris duet "Seeing Blind." The 3 bonus tracks on the deluxe edition are really strong, as far as I'm concerned you're not getting the complete ideal album without listening to those.

7. Pink - Beautiful Trauma
Pink was always one of the best pop stars of her generation but I particularly like cool mom era Pink. There's a bit of the mellow folky sound of her 2014 side project You+Me on here but for the most part it's a really solid record with the usual suspects like Max Martin, Jack Antonoff, and busbee (whose work I first heard when he wrote Pink's 2012 hit "Try"). That song with Eminem is the one big weak spot, but at least she gets it out the way early.

8. YBS Skola - Only Hope 2
For most of the many years that I've followed and written about Baltimore hip hop, even the city's best and best known rappers have struggled to build the kind of young, enthusiastic local grassroots followings that viable careers are usually built on in other cities. So it's been promising the last few years to see a new generation rappers really start to do that, particularly the late Lor Scoota and Young Moose. And YBS Skola from Scoota's YBS crew has kind of been the next guy in that wave for a minute (no relation to early 2000s Baltimore rapper Norm Skola or Dru Hill member Scola, not sure why that name is so prevalent around here). YBS Skola's got this infectiously raspy whiny voice, best heard on his local radio hit "Shinning," which you hear local schoolkids singing at the beginning of Only Hope 2. This tape is a little overlong and inconsistent, but the production is strong and there's appearances from Meek Mill, Moose, and a posthumous Scoota verse. YGG Tay's Rich Before Rap 2, also out in October, is also a pretty good record out of this scene (for some reason most street rappers now, especially in Baltimore, have 3-initial names, like YFN Lucci, or JRR Tolkien).

9. Cordite Tracker - Six Systems for Post-Human Alienation
Some cool experimental synthesizer music out of Maryland that you can stream or buy on cassette on Bandcamp. The title and the description ("Six PureData patches, programmed by me with randomized parameters, then recorded & edited down to the most compelling parts") had me expecting something more cold and mechanical, and I was pleasantly surprised how warm and human the textures and bursts of melodies are.

10. Future & Young Thug - Super Slimey
Timing and chemistry are everything in these rapper teamup albums that have become increasingly fashionable, and What A Slime To Be Alive kind of seems like it just doesn't quite have the formula right on either count. Any fan of Future or Thug realizes that their respective styles aren't really that close despite some superficial similarities, and they spent the most exciting years of their careers either quietly feuding or simply competitively keeping their distance from each other after an early friendship where Thug nearly signed to Future's label. So this album kind of feels like too little too late to be the event it could've been, but there's plenty of enjoyable tracks, and Future's voice sounds incredible on "Group Home."

Worst Album of the Month: Lil Pump - Lil Pump
For a decade or two, self-titled albums where virtually unheard of in rap. Rich Boy's 2007 was one of the only ones I can even remember from that era. But in the last couple years, the new wave of rappers crawling out of SoundCloud seem to like them, with Fetty Wap, Playboi Carti, NAV, and Lil Pump all releasing self-titled albums. But the lack of a 'real' title mostly increases the sense that these albums are just careless data dumps of established online hits and a few new tracks, and Lil Pump's major label debut feels like one of the most haphazard of them all. The first viral hit I heard by him, the repetitive 2-minute lo-fi "D Rose," is here alongside some much more polished material, so you can ostensibly hear some growth or range, but even at his most sophisticated, he basically sounds like a braindead Mac Miller on "Gucci Gang." I used to get Lil Pump confused with Lil Peep, another racially ambiguous SoundCloud rapper with half pink hair, but now I know the difference, and I dislike Pump slightly more.

TV Diary

Monday, October 30, 2017
















a) "Mindhunter"
David Fincher produced, and directed 4 of 10 episodes, of this Netflix series, and between Seven and Zodiac, probably nobody is better qualified to bring us a largely fact-based story of the FBI agents who interviewed serial killers to develop a psychological profile for them. Sometimes the show can be a little on the nose, particularly with musical choices (one episode ended with "Psycho Killer" and another ended with "I Don't Like Mondays"), and I thought the way the last episode concluded was a little heavy handed, but otherwise I really just loved everything about it. Holt McCallany, who was great in FX's otherwise bland boxing drama "Lights," gets a lot to chew on here, and is a perfect foil for Jonathan Groff, who I can never forget voiced Kristoff in Frozen even when he's talking to serial killers. Cameron Britton as Edmund Kemper is one of the year's best performances, and I have to admit even Anna Torv is good, though I still give her the side eye for being a member of the Murdoch family who launched her TV career with a FOX show.

b) "Ghosted"
Adam Scott and Craig Robinson reteaming for more sci-fi comedy doesn't necessarily seem like the most promising idea after Hot Tub Time Machine 2, but this show is pretty entertaining. It kind of started off like "People of Earth" with an alien conspiracy guy being vindicated with proof that aliens are real, but then it just kind of turns into a loony version of "X-Files." I feel like the quality of the show is really scattershot, but I loved the most recent episode with the office on lockdown, and I feel like Ally Walker's deadpan boss is kind of the cast's secret weapon.

c) "The Halcyon"
I feel like I've tried out so many British period shows in the last couple years and this World War II era ensemble drama is the first one that's really hooked me and feels like something I could stick with, just a really good cast and a lot of entertaining little character moments that flesh out the historical context of the show.

d) "Kevin (Probably) Saves The World"
The 'heartwarming supernatural dramedy' is a weird genre of TV, I don't really know who was looking to make the next "Early Edition" when they made this. But it's such an odd hodgepodge of broad comedy and maudlin melodrama, even the charming moments feel a little forced.

e) "White Famous"
I remember one time a few years ago I spent a few minutes backstage with Jay Pharoah because I was teleprompting a corporate event where he was hosting and doing a bit in character as Obama, and he seemed like a pretty sharp dude who probably had it in him to do something more than the smattering of celebrity impressions he was consigned to on "SNL." And this show really feels like that vehicle for him. Doing a satire of Hollywood that is basically a black comic meeting clueless and/or racist white executives and directors over and over feels a little fish in a barrel, but there have been some funny moments, it has potential.

f) "Dynasty"
When I was a kid I'd always get "Dallas" and "Dynasty" confused, and when this new "Dynasty" series was announced I was like "didn't that already happen?" because of the "Dallas" series that ran from 2012 to 2014. Elizabeth Gillies was the best thing about "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll," so I'm disappointed that she's rebounded into an even worse show.

g) "At Home With Amy Sedaris"
I always felt kind of alone in not liking "Strangers With Candy" and thinking that Amy Sedaris's performance in that show was like nails on chalkboard. Otherwise I generally like her, though, and this show is a really good fit for her, just kind of letting her loose on a cooking show format to do whatever odd little subversive curveballs she feels like throwing.

h) "Snoop Dogg presents The Joker's Wild"
I never saw the original "The Joker's Wild" game show but apparently Snoop was a fan of it growing up and wanted to reboot it. As far as his weird little pop culture side projects, this is pretty fun, I'd much rather watch it than his show with Martha Stewart or whatever. I feel like there's so many silly little gags packed into this show, it reminds me of "Win Ben Stein's Money" in that it's as goofy as possible while still a functional game show.

i) "The Jellies"
I like Tyler, The Creator's sense of humor even less than I like his music, but his new Adult Swim cartoon is actually worse than I expected, in the 2nd episode the main character has a sex change operation that is framed as a "Pimp My Ride" parody and then, uh, gets pregnant.

j) "Superstition"
SyFy has been on a really good run of original series lately, but this is just one of the worst pilots I've seen in recent memory. The acting was just appalling, every line reading was flat and stilted, I'd compare it to SyFy's original movies but those are at least campy and silly, this was just kind of solemnly incompetent.

k) "Lore"
This show is based on a podcast and it's narrated by the host of the podcast, who has one of those really bland monotone podcast voices, which is a shame, because the subject matter is interesting, they probably could've made it work without narration but as is I just can't stand it.

l) "I Love You, America"
My favorite thing about this show is that when it was announced, Vanity Fair oh so gently destroyed Chelsea Handler with the headline "Can Sarah Silverman Launch The First Successful Streaming Talk Show"? Silverman and Handler are basically trying to solve the same problem of how to do a chill topical weekly comedy show about Trump's America with a less strident tone than, say, Samantha Bee. I've always thought that Silverman kind of started with a unique comedic voice but it calcified into this winking 'ain't I a stinker' delivery that she can't stop doing constantly, and it doesn't really wear well on the earnest "coastal showbiz professional tries to understand flyover country" angle of this show, even if some of the interviews have had thought-provoking moments. But I love Mather Zickel as the 'comforting white man at a desk' they occasionally cut to to lighten things up.

m) "The Rundown with Robin Thede"
The same day Silverman's show debuted, she got some help from BET in raising the paltry number of talk shows hosted by women. Robin Thede was the headwriter and a frequent panelist on "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore," a show I have dearly missed in the year since its cancellation, so I like that she's brought a little of that show's sensibility back to late night. I have mixed feelings about her as a host, though, I feel like she oversells a lot of jokes.

n) "Valor"
I liked Christina Ochoa on SyFy's recent horror comedy series "Blood Drive," it's a shame that show got cancelled and she wound up on this CW show about Army pilots, which is not as bland as NBC's "The Brave" or CBS's "SEAL Team" but still feels like part of this big boring chunk of new military dramas.

o) "Suburra: Blood On Rome"
Italian-American crime families take up such a large space in pop culture that it's interesting that we so rarely see the Italian crime families they're descended from outside of, like, The Godfather Part II. So this show is refreshing in that respect, although as usual I don't think I have the patience to watch an ongoing series with subtitles.

p) "The Mayor"
This show about a rapper running for mayor of a California town as a publicity stunt and unexpectedly winning feels like a preemptive satire of Chance The Rapper's possible future political aspirations. But for every timely joke there's something that feels really hokey and stereotype-driven. The dynamic between Brandon Micheal Hall and Lea Michele is the funniest part of the show but I don't think the show has figured that out yet.

q) "9JKL"
I think of myself as pretty old fashioned in my affection for traditional sitcoms, but then CBS keeps putting this incredibly hacky laugh track shows and I'm like uh maybe not. I feel bad for everyone involved in this, but especially Elliott Gould.

r) "Tin Star"
I feel like Amazon's original programming is kind of the retirement home for a lot of prestige TV tropes that other networks have moved on from, and "Tin Star" feels like a lot of those tropes wrapped up in one show. Tim Roth is the antihero cop who moves to a small town to try, in vain, to save his family from consequences of his violent double life, and his double life is so literal that he has an alter ego who sometimes talks to him in the mirror, it's all really dark and gritty and kind of stupid.

s) "Wanted"
An Australian series that U.S. Netflix just picked up about two women who kind of fall into a violent criminal underworld when they get abducted together. The first episode seems pretty promising but again, it features so many familiar cable drama tropes that it feels a little redundant.

t) "The Deuce"
I love the rhythm of this show and how David Simon basically gives you this granular view of sex work and pornography much as "The Wire" did for the war on drugs. But I really never get used to James Franco with a hat arguing with James Franco without a hat, it's just too annoying. And them hanging around Chris Bauer just makes it feel like Franco is playing both Nick and Ziggy Sobotka, which made me disappointed that neither character had a violent downfall at the end of the season. A lot of the minor characters really make the show worth it as an ensemble show, though.

u) "Better Things"
Sam's British mom was one of the oddest touches on this show that didn't really work for me in the first season, but the recent episode that was kind of partly from her perspective was pretty great.

v) "Vice Principals"
The description of the upcoming series finale of this show implies that the school itself will be closed or possibly destroyed, which feels a bit extreme even for "Vice Principals," but I suppose they've escalated the premise so much at this point that that's the only place it can go. But the show hasn't improved that much since it moved from the discomforting "white guys try to destroy a black woman's life" plot.

w) "Stranger Things" 
I tried a couple episodes of the new season but I still don't totally understand how it became such a big phenomenon, there's something really blank and charmless to me about pretty much all the characters. And it feels like they're really doubling down on the "story about characters who are obsessed with the same '80s pop culture that they're living in a pastiche of" concept.

x) "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"
The first two seasons of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" were some pretty special television, partly because they were willing to keep moving the story forward and letting each season have pretty different personal dynamics between the characters. But that means they've once again thrown everything into emotional disarray for a darker storyline before, which feels a little weird, but it kind of makes for a nice contrast with the show's default silly musical format. "I Go To The Zoo" from last week's episode belongs on the short list of the show's funniest songs.

y) "Broad City"
I guess season 4 is about the point where a show that seemed ahead of the curve can start to feel like a relic, but mostly I think the problem is this show really just doesn't make me laugh nearly as much as it used to. Peri Gilpin as Abbi's mom was as good a casting choice as Susie Essman was as Ilana's mom, though.

z) "The Mindy Project"
As this show's 6th and final season approaches its conclusion and its weird amorphous rotating cast of supporting characters still refuses to cohere, I think Ike Barinholtz deserves some credit as the glue of the show. It's cool that he's directed quite a few episodes of the show, too, I feel like he may have the most promising future after the show other than Mindy Kaling.

Saturday, October 28, 2017
















Rolling Stone did a list of Jay-Z's 50 greatest songs, and I helped vote on what made the list and wrote a few blurbs about '90s Jigga. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 98: Taylor Swift

Friday, October 27, 2017



















Taylor Swift has been the most consistently successful artist in American music for the past decade. Each of her 5 albums sold at least 4 million copies domestically, which would be highly impressive in any era but is downright staggering in the iTunes/streaming era. Her 6th album Reputation, out next month, already seems poised to be the first album where she may face a serious backlash and/or a significant commercial downturn. Her legacy is already pretty secure, it only seems like things can slow her down, but not stop her. But she's really pretty divisive, and I've always had mixed feelings about her. Since she finally ended her cold war with Spotify and made her back catalog available over the summer, I figured it was a good time to delve into these records that always seemed too ubiquitous for me to bother seeking out.

Taylor Swift deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Forever & Always
2. Holy Ground
3. Dear John
4. All You Had To Do Was Stay
5. Tell Me Why
6. Invisible
7. State Of Grace
8. How You Get The Girl
9. Long Live
10. You're Not Sorry
11. I Almost Do
12. Enchanted
13. Stay Beautiful
14. I Wish You Would
15. Starlight
16. The Outside
17. Haunted
18. Clean
19. The Best Day

Tracks 6, 13 and 16 from Taylor Swift (2006)
Tracks 1, 5, 10 and 19 from Fearless (2008)
Tracks 3, 9, 12 and 17 from Speak Now (2010)
Tracks 2, 7, 11 and 15 from Red (2012)
Tracks 4, 8, 14 and 18 from 1989 (2014)

Recently Rob Sheffield ranked all of Swift's songs for Rolling Stone, and I kinda started there to see what was well regarded among her album tracks and work my way down until I had my own opinions that sometimes diverged pretty widely from his. I always felt like a lot of Swift's singles just passed me by, but every 3rd or 4th one would connect. The ones that basically sound like power pop like "You Belong With Me" and "The Story Of Us" and "Red" always appealed to me the most, which is why I'm really bummed that she's put the guitar down and started basically making synth pop lately. So it was fun to seek out more of that stuff, and kick off the mix with "Forever & Always" and "Holy Ground," which I think became my favorite Taylor Swift song in the course of making this mix.

I always like to point out that Taylor Swift had already sold about 7 million albums before the night Kanye West likes to say he "made" her famous. But of course, even while she was quickly crossing over from country to pop, those oddly distant worlds can take some time to traverse. It's interesting how little even her first couple albums scan as country to me now, though. I wouldn't mind her 'going back to her roots' and putting a little more banjo and fiddle on her records someday, but it's really not that key to her musical identity.

With the enormous scale of her success, it's hard to even call any of Taylor Swift's songs deep cuts. 8 tracks on this mix charted on the Hot 100, and 5 went Gold or Platinum. And so many of her songs made headlines for what other celebrities they were allegedly written about that I felt like I'd read a lot of these lyrics before I heard them. But really, once I weeded out the songs I couldn't stand like "Welcome To New York" and "Better Than Revenge" and "Innocent" and "Speak Now," I found a lot to enjoy.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park
Vol. 96: Shania Twain
Vol. 97: Squeeze

Wednesday, October 25, 2017



















Last night I went to Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore to see Steely Dan on their first tour since the death of Walter Becker, and I wrote about the show for Billboard

Movie Diary

Thursday, October 19, 2017























a) Colossal
I'd been really looking forward to seeing this movie, partly because of the bizarre concept, and partly because the director, Nacho Vigalondo, made one of my favorite segments in the short horror film anthology The ABCS of Death. And it really lived up to my expectations, I just adored it. It reminded me of Groundhog Day in that it set up this fairly odd, convoluted concept with some internally consistent 'rules' and played it out to a narratively satisfying conclusion, but there's no real attempt at explaining how or why this all happened, you end the film in the dark just like the characters.

b) The Babysitter
It's weird to think that at one point in time McG graduated from directing Smashmouth videos to multiple $100 million budget features. But his bubble burst eventually and he's now just another hack who does suitably low profile stuff like this horror comedy for Netflix. As with most uninspired horror comedies, this kind of plays the middle so much that it just winds up not being funny or scary much at all, although there is a fair amount of gore and some loud young actors trying to yell their way into campy hilarity.

c) All Nighter
This movie is basically one prolonged set up for J. K. Simmons to berate and roll his eyes at quirky and eccentric millennials, which seems like kind of a lazy way to solidify the Simmons brand post-Whiplash. But the cast is decent, it's relatively spirited and charming even if it falls short of what it could've been.

d) Mine
I'm a sucker for movies that consist almost entirely of one character going through one violent or painful ordeal more or less by themselves, your 127 Hours type scenarios. So this movie where Armie Hammer steps on a landmine, and spends the rest of the movie trying to stay alive and not step away from the mine and setit off, had some potential to be pretty gripping. I felt they kind of threw too many ingredients into the pot to make it exciting, though, particularly once he starts hallucinating and reliving memories and whatnot. But really, Hammer is barely enough of a movie star to even carry the noisy action flicks he's done, so he really isn't fit to handle a role like this.

e) The Program
My wife and I are both big fans of Ben Foster, I feel like if he'd had the right breakthrough role early in his career to get to a certain level of fame he really could've thrived with a DiCaprio type career, but he's done pretty well for himself with a more slow burn of steadily impressive performances. And this movie where he plays Lance Armstrong is really a great showcase for what he does well, he really disappeared into the role more than I thought he would. There's a funny scene where Foster-as-Armstrong, before his public disgrace, hears that there's a biopic about him in the works and speculates on whether Matt Damon or Jake Gyllenhaal will play him. It struck me as an interesting meta moment, maybe deliberately or maybe not acknowledging that if Armstrong had remained an American hero the story of his life would be a more upbeat movie with a bigger star.

f) Mr. Holmes
This movie came out at a point when 4 actors had portrayed Sherlock Holmes in major film and TV projects in the space of as many years, so it just seemed like overkill even for one of the most adapted characters in literature. But I'm glad I got around to it, it was a well rendered imagining of an elderly Holmes working one last case, kinda makes me wish it had followed a long series of films of Ian McKellan as Holmes.

g) Maggie
It's kind of fitting that even an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger's serious quiet performance in a movie fairly low on action scenes is still a zombie apocalypse flick. It seemed decent but the whole thing was just so slow and muted that I just lost interest pretty quickly. 
I have loved Tom Petty's music for as long as I can remember, and had watched bits and pieces of Peter Bogdanovich's 4 hour documentary about him on cable here and there over the past decade. But I didn't finally sit down and watch the whole thing until the week Petty died, which was just a great way to drink in the Heartbreakers' whole remarkable career and appreciate his legacy. 

Monthly Report: October 2017 Singles

Wednesday, October 18, 2017



















1. Sam Smith - "Too Good At Goodbyes"
Sam Smith always seemed like a one trick pony who's at his best when he gets away from his core sound on stuff like "Latch." Like, really, a gospel choir? Fuck off. But this song is really the best case scenario or what he could do with that sound, I'm not surprised that Stargate was involved, they really have a magic touch. This is their biggest U.S. hit in a while, too. Here's the favorite 2017 singles playlist I update every month.

3. Hailee Steinfeld and Alesso f/ Florida Georgia Line and watt - "Let Me Go"
This song really feels like the strangest grab bag collaboration on the pop charts in recent memory: the girl who won an Oscar for True Grit, a Swedish DJ, a member of a country duo, and a blues singer/songwriter. It's really a beautifully bittersweet song, though, it has such a strong little melancholy hook that kind of transcends the trendy production, I hope Steinfeld finally gets to release an album off the back of this song, I feel like they messed up by not following through on the success of "Starving."

3. X Ambassadors - "Ahead Of Myself"
As much as I was initially skeptical of X Ambassadors, they really won me over with "Unsteady" and my wife played their album around the house a fair amount. And this new one is another really strong showcase for Sam Harris's voice, which is really the thing that makes them worth a damn.

4. Rich Homie Quan - "Gamble"
I really enjoyed the Back To The Basics project that Quan released a few months ago, but nothing on it leapt out at me as an obvious hit that could bring him out of his dry spell. But once this song started getting some spins I realized how catchy it is, it kind of has the "Flex" tempo but a darker palette.

5. U2 - "You're The Best Thing About Me"
I think my least favorite aspect of 21st century U2 is their tendency release these big loud chest-thumping lead singles like "Vertigo" and "Get On Your Boots" that seem to totally misunderstand what actually made them one of the biggest bands in the world. So "You're The Best Thing About Me" is refreshing just by virtue of scaling back and letting the melody and texture and emotion that really drive the band's best moments lead the way. It's still a little slight and flawed, but it's really grown on me.

6. Brad Paisley - "Last Time For Everything"
It makes me sad that Paisley's batting average has fallen off a bit, both commercially and creatively, in recent years, because he really is one of the sharpest guys in Nashville. And this is a classic example of those songs he used to make all the time where he just comes up with a premise and fills it with as many clever and funny or poignant riffs on the concept as he can fit. The video added some other layers to it really well, too.

7. Rita Ora - "Your Song"
Rita Ora's status as some kind of music industry charity case that U.S. labels keep trying to make into a stateside star is kind of a running joke now, but she has an appealing voice, she really just needs decent material and rarely gets it. But Ed Sheeran wrote her a good one here, I kinda wish he gave away his clubbier songs more often even if it's obviously beneficial for him to keep the occasional "Shape of You" for himself.

8. Cold War Kids f/ Bishop Briggs - "So Tied Up"
I was disappointed that Bishop Briggs wasn't able to keep up the commercial momentum of "River" and get an album out, so her label just tossed out an EP of all the singles she'd been releasing. But her new single "Dream" is very good and her presence really livens up the latest hit by middling indie crossover act Cold War Kids.

9. Queens Of The Stone Age - "The Way You Used To Do"
Queens Of The Stone Age is one of those bands that most people seem to love or at least admire that I find off-putting even when I like the occasional song. I think Mark Ronson is kind of a hack too. But that's an interesting artist/producer combination, I applaud it, it's kind of appealing to hear Ronson put his plastic funk sheen on a QOTSA groove. And it's interesting that this came out around the same time as the Foo Fighters/Greg Kurstin record, I like this trend toward heavy guitar bands hiring producers who don't usually make heavy guitar records and finding some kind of fusion of styles.

10. Kodak Black - "Patty Cake"
Painting Pictures was kind of the point where I gave up on any hope of Kodak Black becoming a great rapper and accepted that he's just kind of a mediocre MC who will never improve. But this song stuck out as one of the album's few bright spots, and I was happy to see it break out as a minor hit, even if I was uncomfortable with the video where schoolchildren joyously celebrate a cartoon version of a shitty dude with an open rape case.

Worst Single of the Month: Quality Control f/ Quavo, Takeoff and Offset - "Too Hotty"
The artist credit for this song is such an eyesore, it's so funny to think that Quality Control needed to rebrand a Migos song as a posse cut 'featuring' all 3 members of the group and nobody else in order to promote the label's upcoming compilation. But it's also really just by far the weakest Migos song on the charts in a year in which they've totally saturated the airwaves, and I'm glad it's being outperformed by a much better track, Gucci Mane's "I Get The Bag," even as Migos keep working it with performances on "TRL" and the BET Hip Hop Awards.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 97: Squeeze

Wednesday, October 11, 2017























I've often spoken about this series being inspired in part by growing up with amazing, perfect greatest hits collections by acts like Queen and Tom Petty and wanting to make companion compilations of the non-hits. And I would put Squeeze in that category, too, because as a teenager I fell in love with their best known singles and then heard, as people have for decades, their incredibly jam-packed 1982 collection Singles - 45's And Under. And I think a band having a compilation like that can be a mixed blessing, because it kind of pushes every other album down a rung in cultural presence even as it may help elevate the stature of the band and/or some of their songs. But this week Squeeze are releasing their 14th (or 15th -more about that later) album of new songs, The Knowledge, so here's a look back at the albums from their first decade.

Squeeze deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Vicky Verky
2. In Quintessence
3. Slightly Drunk
4. Wrong Side Of The Moon
5. I Can't Hold On
6. Revue
7. First Thing Wrong
8. Someone Else's Ball
9. Someone Else's Heart
10. Cigarette Of Single Man
11. Separate Beds
12. You Can't Hurt The Girl
13. Break My Heart
14. Get Smart
15. There At The Top
16. Touching Me Touching You
17. Woman's World
18. Onto The Dancefloor
19. Misadventure
20. The Knack
21. Man For All Seasons
22. The Prisoner
23. Mumbo Jumbo
24. Points Of View

Tracks 7 and 14 from Squeeze (1978)
Tracks 3, 6, 16 and 20 from Cool For Cats (1979)
Tracks 1, 4, 11, 15 and 19 from Argybargy (1980)
Tracks 2, 8, 9, 17 and 23 from East Side Story (1981)
Tracks 5, 18 and 24 from Sweets From A Stranger (1982)
Tracks 12 and 21 from Difford & Tilbrook (1984)
Tracks 13 from Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti (1985)
Tracks 10 and 22 from Babylon And On (1987)

Hearing "Vicky Verky" on a mixtape somebody made me was what really got me to check out Argybargy and East Side Story and enjoying Squeeze beyond the singles, and it's still just one of my favorite Squeeze songs, so compact and full of little twists and turns, so I had to lead off this playlist with it. I'm a huge Elvis Costello fan, and I feel like Squeeze are really one of his closest contemporaries in terms of being able to write songs that are as dense and verbose as they are fast and hooky.

Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are one of the great modern songwriting duos in my book. And I find it interesting that instead of a Lennon/McCartney dynamic of two singer/songwriters who have their own songs and help each other, there's more of a division of labor of Difford writing the lyrics and Tilbrook writing the melodies, which is kind of unusual in the rock world (Fall Out Boy is one of the only major bands I can think of with a similar way of working). Both sing, but Tilbrook tends to sing more and has a much more appealing voice, and he's the voice of most of the band's hits, with a couple of exceptions: Difford sang the band's first big U.K. top 10 record, "Cool For Cats," and of course keyboardist Paul Carrack famously sang one of Squeeze's signature songs, "Tempted."

Usually when a band has one main frontman and another member that just sings occasionally, I tend to really like or kinda root for "the other guy." But I tend to really not like the Difford songs as much as the Tilbrook songs, so there are only three there ("The Knack," "Someone Else's Heart," and my personal favorite, "Wrong Side Of The Moon"). But there are a fair number of good songs where Difford sings back up or he and Tilbrook kinda sing in unison, which I think works better than Difford's sort of monotone voice.

As I said, Squeeze have either 14 or 15 albums, and that's because even when the band nominally broke up for about 2 years in the '80s, the band's two songwriters continued collaborating and released one album as a duo, the self-titled 1984 album by Difford & Tilbrook. Then they reformed Squeeze, and have remained the band's only two constant members throughout its history, so it kind of makes sense to count the Difford & Tilbrook album as part of the Squeeze discography, even if its sound is a bit more synthy than the band's output.

If there's any album that sticks out like a sore thumb, it's actually Squeeze's first album. They went into the studio with Velvet Underground legend John Cale as their producer, and Cale basically threw out the songs the band had written and gave them instructions on what kind of new material to write. The results are interesting at times and resulted in a few decent songs, although "First Thing Wrong" seems to me like kind of a fitting statement from a band whose debut album went awry. The fact that Squeeze went on to make much better albums by doing things their way without Cale, though, I think speaks to that record being kind of a bust.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park
Vol. 96: Shania Twain