Saturday, March 23, 2019

Western Blot's new album Materialistic has been available everywhere since last week, but we're doing the release party show at the Windup Space on March 29th. John German and I have been playing live as Western Blot for 7 years, but this will be the debut of a new lineup with Ishai Barnoy, and we'll also be joined by some of the people who sang on the album, Kathleen Wilson (who designed the above flyer for the show), Koye Berry, and Lizzy Greif, who will be playing her own set at the show, as are Jenny Hates Techno.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Complex ranked all 32 of Future's albums and mixtapes, and I wrote about a dozen of them.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 136: Roxy Music

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Roxy Music are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the end of the month (along with Def Leppard and Radiohead and Janet Jackson and Stevie Nicks, among others). And when they were announced a few months ago, I think I was more surprised by Roxy Music than any other induction in quite a while. They were first-time nominees, after being eligible for over 20 years, but mostly I just didn't think they were famous enough, at least not for the fairly America-centric Hall. I always knew of Roxy Music and heard things about them, but mainly as the band that briefly included Brian Eno, almost a footnote to the career of a legendary producer who's been an integral part of more famous records by Talking Heads, U2, Bowie, and others. I thought I didn't know any Roxy Music songs besides Bill Murray singing "More Than This" for a minute in Lost In Translation. But then recently I heard "Love Is The Drug" and realized I've been hearing that song on the radio for ages, but I'd just kind of think "is this 'Double Vision' by Foreigner? is this Robert Palmer? no...I wonder who this is" and then forget about it. So, as I sometimes do, I used this playlist as an excuse to give myself a crash course in an artist who I feel like I should know better.

Roxy Music deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Nightingale
2. Editions of You
3. Ladytron
4. The Space Between
5. Out of the Blue
6. Cry, Cry, Cry
7. Amazona
8. If There Is Something
9. Flesh and Blood
10. Casanova
11. Running Wild
12. In Every Dream A Heartache
13. Re-Make/Re-Model
14. She Sells
15. Grey Lagoons
16. Still Falls The Rain
17. Tara
18. Mother of Pearl

Tracks 3, 8 and 13 from Roxy Music (1972)
Tracks 2, 12 and 15 from For Your Pleasure (1973)
Tracks 7 and 18 from Stranded (1973)
Tracks 5 and 10 from Country Life (1974)
Tracks 1 and 14 from Siren (1975)
Tracks 6 and 16 from Manifesto (1979)
Tracks 9 and 11 from Flesh And Blood (1980)
Tracks 4 and 17 from Avalon (1982)

Some of these songs have been released on compilations without ever being released as a single or charting, like "Out of the Blue," "Editions of You," and "Mother of Pearl," which appeared on Greatest Hits in 1977. It's kind of interesting to listen to a band like this and instantly recognize them as a missing link in a lot of stuff I already listen to. Certainly, there's whole huge strains of new wave, new romantic/synth pop, glam rock, and Britpop that owe a lot to Roxy Music, to say nothing of the band Ladytron. And Roxy Music themselves fuse so many things that came before them together that it almost annoys me when they actually do homages themselves, like the Wilson Pickett and Byrds covers on Flesh + Blood or the silly instrumental riffs on Wagner and The Beatles on "Re-Make/Re-Model."

But I have to admit, there are times when they took some getting used to, particularly on the early albums where Bryan Ferry's singing is a little rougher and more abrasive, closer to John Cale than the smoother delivery he wound up at on later albums. Musically I think a lot of the early stuff is their best (Paul Thompson is a fantastic drummer), but sometimes I just wish the vocals were better on a song like "If There Is Something" (and Bowie does a good job with that song on the cover that Tin Machine released in 1991). But even though I found myself kind of digging on the smoother later records more than I thought I would, it seemed more fun to mix things up chronologically, it all holds together pretty well jumping between eras. The ode to a blowup doll "In Every Dream Home A Heartache" is wonderfully creepy, and the harmonica on on "Grey Lagoons" always strikes me as a really great sounding, somewhat unexpected moment even with a band whose records were full of saxophone, oboe, and other instruments.

Monthly Report: March 2019 Singles

Monday, March 18, 2019

1. Sam Smith and Normani - "Dancing With A Stranger" 
I've heard people say that Normani should be gearing her music more towards R&B radio, but in a weird way she's way too much of a traditional R&B star with a big voice who came from the world of girl groups and choreography, like an early Beyonce throwback, so it's hard to even situate her in the SZA era of female R&B stars. And her duets with Khalid and Sam Smith have been good pop/R&B fusions to plant her foot in Top 40 radio, while "Dancing With A Stranger" has actually wound up on the R&B radio chart before Normani's song with 6lack, which surprised me. Here's my favorite 2019 Spotify singles playlist that I update every month.

2. Megan Thee Stallion - "Big Ole Freak" 
The mainstream climate for women is the best it's been in a long time lately -- the Nicki versus Cardi stuff has died down and I think people are ready to just accept them both as established superstars while City Girls, Saweetie, literally 4 people whose names end in Doll, and a number of others elbow their way into the conversation. In this crowded field, Megan Thee Stallion still manages to stand out as one of the most talented as well as having some of the most commercial potential. But what I really like is how well she wields that classic Houston drawl, it's been a minute since there's been a rapper on the radio with that accent and practically never a female rapper. 

3. Summer Walker - "Girls Need Love" 
I haven't even heard the Drake remix yet because I'm sure I will and it will inevitably replace the original on radio playlists. But for now I'm just enjoying the original song when I hear it, which I thought was totally fine as it was, in fact I thought it was more striking for being this quick 2 minute 21 seconds track since the trendy brevity in rap hasn't really carried over to R&B much yet. 

4. Eric Church - "Some Of It" 
"Some Of It" was the immediate standout for me on Desperate Man. I put it on my Eric Church deep album cuts playlist last year, but I probably should've guessed it would eventually be released as a single, so once it was I swapped in a different song from the album for the City Pages version of the playlist. 

5. Pink - "Walk Me Home" 
I'm pleasantly surprised that Pink is releasing an album just 18 months after the last one, and aside from the fact that it was co-written by the same person as her last #1, Nate Reuss, this feels like a surprisingly low key lead single, folky and tender. But what I really like about it is the weird modified waltz rhythm with a really involved, like, 13/8 time signature, really unusual for a major pop star to put out something like that. 

6. Alice Merton - "Funny Business" 
Alice Merton's album didn't blow me away, but this song gets better every time I hear it, I just adore that bleepy little synth hook. I really wish it was getting as many radio spins as "No Roots." 

7. The Blue Stones - "Black Holes (Solid Ground)"
I thought this song might be Royal Blood the first time I heard it, but it turns out it's a different bluesy guitar/drums duo, which I guess is a pretty sturdy formula long after the breakthrough of the White Stripes and the Black Keys (and wow, all these bands have colors in the name or at least evoke a color with the word 'blood,' weird). 

8. Ro James - "Excuse Me" 
Ro James has released quite a few songs since El Dorado almost 3 years ago, and I'm glad that one of them is finally gaining some steam on R&B radio, he really doesn't deserve to go down as a one hit wonder for "Permission." 

9. Kelly Rowland - "Crown" 
I always root for Kelly, she's got the loveliest voice and her solo catalog is better than she usually gets credit for. This is a nice song to dip her toe back in with, hopefully there's more coming with Harmony Samuels, they're a good combination. 

10. Halestorm - "Do Not Disturb" 
I've always liked the kind of throwback sleazy Lita Ford hair metal pinup vibe of some of Halestorm's songs, and this is the best one they've had in that vein in a while. And the totally different direction they took the video in is pretty entertaining too. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper - "Shallow"
Listen, maybe when I eventually watch A Star Is Born and see this song in context it'll make more sense to me and I'll change my mind. But for the time being, this is one of my least favorite songs on the soundtrack. And her using a live TV moment to power this dull power ballad to #1 on the Hot 100 where she couldn't with "Million Reasons" just annoys me, Bonnie Tyler outtake Gaga is my least favorite Gaga.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Today the 2nd album by my band Western Blot, Materialistic, came out on all of the usual digital music services: Bandcamp, iTunes/Apple, Spotify, Soundcloud, Amazon, and so on. I've been trickling songs from this record out on singles and an EP over the past year, but I really had a vision for how these songs fit together as a whole, and I'm really excited for people to hear that.

I had been recording at Mobtown Studios in Baltimore for almost a decade when my friend Mat Leffler-Schulman told me they'd be moving the studio out of the building in Charles Village. And I had a record in my head, that I hadn't really written or demoed yet, that I really wanted to make there, so I booked some of the last available sessions at the studio, and wrote and recorded pretty much the whole thing in a couple months.

Ishai Barnoy, who is playing guitar in the new Western Blot live lineup, came by and played on several tracks. I got help on the vocals from lots of Baltimore vocalists who make their own excellent music: Kathleen Wilson (of Thee Lexington Arrows), Koye Berry, Lizzy Greif, Andy Shankman (whose band Jumpcuts also released a single today), Brooks Long (of Brooks Long & The Mad Dog No Good), and Scott Siskind (of Vinny Vegas). And as with my other recent releases, Materialistic was mastered by Dan Coutant and engineered by Robbie Liberati, with cover design by HPJ Art. I'm really grateful to all of those people because Western Blot started as a 'solo project' and I still write everything, play most of the instruments, and sing several songs, but I've come to really enjoy the collaborative aspect of it, and feel like every single thing that someone else contributed to the record made it better than what I would've ended up with on my own. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 135: Ariana Grande

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

One of the things that I've started to do and plan on continuing to do throughout 2019 is to do a lot of deep cuts playlists of the people I consider to be the most consistently excellent album artists of the 2010s. And one of the best in the Top 40 world is easily Ariana Grande. And with two albums in the space of 6 months bringing her to new commercial heights, she now has enough music that I can sift through it for one of these playlists.

Ariana Grande deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Intro
2. You'll Never Know
3. Bad Decisions
5. Goodnight N Go
6. Be My Baby featuring Cashmere Cat
7. Honeymoon Avenue
8. Fake Smile
9. Greedy
10. Piano
11. Make Up
12. Be Alright
13. Sweetener
14. Best Mistake featuring Big Sean
15. Pete Davidson
16. In My Head
17. Better Left Unsaid
18. Snow In California
19. True Love
20. Break Your Heart Right Back featuring Childish Gambino
21. Lovin' It
22. Raindrops (An Angel Cried)
23. Ghostin
24. Know Better / Forever Boy

Tracks 2, 7, 10, 17 and 21 from Yours Truly (2013)
Track 18 from Christmas Kisses EP (2013)
Tracks 1, 6, 14 and 20 from My Everything (2014)
Track 19 from Christmas & Chill EP (2015)
Tracks 3, 9, 12 and 24 from Dangerous Woman (2016)
Tracks 5, 13, 15 and 22 from Sweetener (2018)
Tracks 4, 8, 11, 16 and 23 from Thank U, Next (2019)

Yours Truly is still my favorite Ariana Grande album, she just hit this perfect combination of modern and retro sounds with Babyface and Harmony Samuels on that record. Thank U Next is probably a close 2nd, but every album since the debut has kind of stuffed in some timely guests or producers that feel a little forced to me by comparison. But still she's been pretty impressively consistent, the Pharrell half of Sweetener is the only really glaring misstep, and even that stuff had its moments -- the Bop It memes about "Sweetener" honestly made me like the song more.

Tommy Brown, one of Grande's closest collaborators since the first album, just started producing hit singles for her starting with "Thank U Next" and "7 Rings." But he's always been a part of key album tracks, including "Honeymoon Avenue," "Be Alright," and "Goodnight N Go" (which is a rewritten version of the Imogen Heap song of the same name) up through the bulk of the new album. But she's got a deep bench of collaborators filling out these albums, from Max Martin and Ilya ("Bad Decisions," "Greedy," "Ghostin") to Pop Wansel ("Fake Smile," "In My Head," "Break Your Heart Right Back").

What I really like is how Grande's sensibility as it was laid out from the beginning has been the blueprint for most of what she's done since then -- you can hear how she goes from the doo wop verses to the EDM choruses of "Better Left Unsaid" and that's been the range she's continued to span. Even stuff like the the old-fashioned key change at the end of "Greedy," most of the other artists Max Martin works with would probably not have done that with the track. The homages to '90s hits are kind of how she came through the door but are not really a big part of what she does anymore, but it still felt right to put "Break Your Heart Right Back" and "Lovin' It" in there together.

TV Diary

Monday, March 11, 2019

a) "Miracle Workers"
This show, where God and his angels operate like a disorganized bureaucracy manipulating the lives of people on Earth, is difficult not to compare to "The Good Place," and that comparison doesn't flatter it. But I do enjoy the absurdity of Steve Buscemi as a lazy, disheveled God, who uses a Tinder-like app to try to find a new prophet to speak to, and has to be talked out of destroying Bill Maher's penis. The main plot, where a couple of angels try to save the Earth by getting two awkward nerds to kiss, although Geraldine Viswanathan is absolutely charming (Daniel Radcliffe's role seems kind of bland and beneath him, I don't know why he bothered). I just kinda wish instead of doing a one-off 7-episode miniseries that tries to make that plot seem interesting, they'd just do an ongoing series that focuses on the inherent humor of the premise more.

b) "The Umbrella Academy"
Even though I don't really read comics, I always thought it was so badass that Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance had this whole other successful career with comics and I was really anticipating this show. After watching a few episodes, though, I'm still kinda waiting for it to click, Robert Sheehan is really entertaining and there have been a few great action setpieces but a lot of the characters are just kind of dull. Also it kind of feels like Way made The Royal Tenenbaums with superpowers, complete with the adopted sibling romance.

c) "The Order"
This show about a college student who joins a secret order and enters a world of monsters and magic was rolled out by Netflix just a few weeks after "The Umbrella Academy" and makes me feel like we're really being inundated with a lot of TV right now from a genre that I'm tempted to describe as 'sexy young adult Hogwarts,' with "The Magicians" and "Deadly Class" (ok, "The Umbrella Academy" isn't really about a school, but these shows still kind of fall into a particular category). "The Order" is by far the weakest of all these shows, but it's kind of promising, I've liked Katharine Isabelle in other shows and she seems well cast as a villain.

d) "Workin' Moms"
I always had a crush on Catherine Reitman from her occasional 30 seconds of screentime on "Black-ish" so I'm glad that the Canadian sitcom she created and stars in is now available on Netflix (the first season, anyway, hopefully the other 2 seasons that have aired in Canada will hit Netflix eventually too). And it's really really good, kind of gets the blunt warts-and-all comedy about motherhood right in all the ways that the Australian show "The Letdown" aimed for but didn't quite hit the mark. The whole cast is impressive, particularly Dani Kind and Jessalyn Wanim.

e) "The Passage"
My wife read some of the novels this show is based on so sometimes she kinda gives away a bit of where the story is going and I'm pretty interested to see how long the show stays on the air and how far into the story they get to go. FOX putting Mark-Paul Gosselaar on a new show again so soon kind made me mad about them canceling "Pitch" all over again, but I'm really pleasantly surprised at how he's turned out to be a reliably compelling actor. Babcock is really the most interesting character in the show to me, though my wife says the character was a guy in the books and in the show Babcock is a teenage girl played by Brianne Howey.

f) "Black Monday"
I always thought that "House Of Lies" was beneath Don Cheadle, so I really rolled my eyes when I saw that after it finally went off the air, he signed up for another Showtime comedy about a sleazy fast talking businessman. But "Black Monday" feels like a very different show to me, in part because it's an '80s Wall Street period piece, and in part because it was co-created by David Caspe of "Happy Endings" fame. "Black Monday" very much has the same kind of clever, absurd dialogue as "Happy Endings," just with way more jokes about cocaine and '80s movies, and in some ways it kind of clashes with the concept of the show, which is constantly counting down to the historic titular stock market crash and, it's often implied, possibly the death of the main character. But it's more enjoyable than not, with Cheadle and Regina Hall and Andrew Rannells and Casey Wilson firing all this ridiculous dialogue at each other.

g) "Flack"
I forget sometimes how crappy the production values can be in British television until I see a show like this, where the first episode looked like a student film, which was especially jarring because I'm used to seeing Anna Paquin in major movies or a big budget show like "True Blood." I think maybe subsequent episodes looked a little better or I got used to it, though. There have been some pretty funny bits here and there about the life of a PR flack. But tonally I feel like the show is kind of caught between being a trashy satire and being something a little more serious and woke with higher dramatic stakes, to a lesser degree than "Black Monday."

h) "The Widow"
On Amazon's "The Widow," Kate Beckinsale plays a British woman whose husband dies in a plane crash in Africa, but the more she learns about what happened, the more she realizes that not all is as it seems. It's kinda dour, I don't know if I care enough to keep watching and solve the mystery.

i) "White Dragon"
On Amazon's "White Dragon" (called "Strangers" in the UK), John Simm plays a British man whose wife dies in a car crash in Asia, but the more he learns about what happened, the more he realizes that not all is as it seems. OK it's really not that much like "The Widow," but I couldn't help but notice the parallels when these shows came out on the same service 3 weeks apart. "White Dragon" is a little more intriguing to me, partly because it gender flips the more common 'man turns out to have had a 2nd family the wife knew nothing about' story, but I haven't watched too much of it yet.

j) "American Soul"
I was looking forward to the idea of a lavish period piece series about the history of "Soul Train." And then I watched the first 5 minutes of the "American Soul" pilot, which featured an elderly Don Cornelius sitting at home watching Gladys Knight on an old episode of "Soul Train" and putting a gun to his head, and I just soured on the whole thing. What an absurdly bad way to tell Cornelius's story. And the rest of the first couple episodes I watched really were not good enough to overcome that start.

k) "The ABC Murders"
I've only watched 1 of the 3 episodes of this so far, but I enjoy John Malkovich in almost anything and a detective in a mystery is an especially good fit for him. Agatha Christie wrote 30 other novels about Malkovich's character, Hercule Poirot, so hopefully they'll bring him back for more of these.

l) "Tropical Cop Tales"
This is one of those Adult Swim shows from the 'unceasingly loud and aggressively unfunny and pointless' end of the spectrum, I actually really like the visual style of the show and can imagine maybe a slightly less absurdist, more traditionally satirical half hour version of this show really appealing to me, but as is I just kind of hate it.

m) "Weird City"
I haven't bothered with the first couple free episodes of an original series from YouTube Premium (formerly YouTube Red) since the entertaining "Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes On Television," but I figured I'd check out this anthology series produced by Jordan Peele. I really, really hated it, though, I'm surprised that it's gotten mostly positive reviews. For a sci-fi show that takes place in a city of the future where a wall literally separates the haves from the have-nots, its social commentary is surprisingly toothless. Everyone just walks around like their absurd dystopia, where people buy crystal meth-infused pomegranate juice from vending machines, but it's all kind of sitcommy and goofy, not even Idiocracy-style broad satire, and I just hated the stories in the first 2 episodes, especially the repulsive Michael Cera one.

n) "Northern Rescue"
Even though I think it's kind of annoying for people to act amazed at the similarities between siblings, I have to admit it's very hard to watch Billy Baldwin (excuse me, William Baldwin, as he's billed) in this Canadian drama without feeling like I'm watching an uncanny valley simulation of Alec Baldwin. They've always been the 2 most similar of the Baldwin brothers, but as they get older it's especially striking. Show seems kind of boring though.

o) "Losers"
I feel like this Netflix doc series about profiles in losing is a really great idea, well executed. I often think about how at any given moment, at least the half of the people playing in a team sport or competition lost their last game or match or whatever. In most other professions and pursuits, there are good days and bad days, but it's not so black and white, you don't have to see things as a loss. In sports, though, sometimes you just lose, and I like how they highlight stories of people who found another path after a big loss.

p) "Dating Around"
This Netflix show kind of feels like a refreshing take on the hoary old dating show format, you just watch someone go on 5 blind dates and at the end you see which person they choose to go on a second date with. There's no narration, no host, no interviews, you just see how they interact and kind of find yourself guessing or hoping who they pick, it's stupid and voyeuristic but I feel like here and there you see some genuine emotion.

q) "The Giant Beast That Is The Global Economy"
There are so many shows with funny people doing deep dives about big, complex issues that this Amazon show with Kal Penn talking about world economics seems to have already faded into the background. But I was impressed with what I've seen, the angle that it's this big intimidating topic that people really need help getting their heads around is, I think, pretty correct for most people and certainly for me, and they made it pretty entertaining and digestible.

r) "Presidents At War"
This History Channel miniseries about the military experience of POTUSes is interesting, although I think the big takeaway that will stick with me is how weird it is to see pictures of Richard Nixon as a young man but still that big ugly prematurely old-looking Nixon head.

s) "The Gifted"
I liked the addition of Grace Byers to the cast, but for the most part season 2 of "The Gifted" was just a bigger slide towards being less and less interesting to me than the first season was. It's occasionally entertaining, but it's a big ensemble and some of the characters are just dull to me. Also, Erg, the mutant who has one eye he sees through and one with an eye patch covering it that he blasts energy beams out of of, really has the character design they should have given Cyclops in the first place.

t) "Corporate"
The first season of "Corporate" was solid but I still kinda dismissed it as 'dark Dilbert' or whatever latest satire of office culture. But I have to admit that the second season has been great, every episode has just taken apart some topic or another (dogs in the office, going out on a weeknight, bosses invading employees' privacy) in some hilarious creative way or another.

u) "I'm Sorry"
This show has also really grown on me after 2 seasons. There are so many shows about the life of comedians and comedy writers and so on, but what "I'm Sorry" kind of nails better than others is the idea that someone who comes up with funny, dirty, inappropriate jokes all day can't always shut it off when they're talking to their kids or parents at school, etc. I miss Jason Mantzoukas not being around in the second season, but Andrea Savage and Tom Everett Scott have great obnoxious married couple banter.

v) "Crashing"
"Crashing" is very much of a piece with other shows about the lives of comedians, and when it debuted I found the initial format of each episode being about a different famous comic hanging out with Pete Holmes and playing an unflattering version of themselves kind of wearying. But by the end of the third season, I felt like the episodes stopped feeling so formulaic and it had really grown on me. I'm not surprised it didn't get renewed, but I think they ended on a good note. After one season about Pete's wife cheating on and leaving him and one season about him dating someone who barely seemed to like him, I was actually rooting for his relationship this season before it all kind of went awry in a way that was somewhat dramatically satisfying. Pete Holmes should've known that showing his ass on HBO and having sex in clothing store dressing rooms was not what people tuned in for, though, it felt like they were just forcing the premium cable content at a certain point.

w) "High Maintenance"
I like to make fun of this show a lot because it's almost like the endpoint of decades of TV made under the assumption that every single thing that happens in NYC is interesting (actual dialogue: "What happened?" "New York happened. She got me." "She gets you, but then she gets you"). But now and then there's a pretty entertaining episode like the Cat Cohen one, I love her. I really just do not care about 'The Guy' or find it charming that he doesn't have a name, or that they gave him a girlfriend and got Britt Lower all disheveled and hipstery for the part.

x) "Documentary Now!"
Everybody involved in this show has a bunch of other projects, but I'm amused that the guy with the most writing credits on the third season, Seth Meyers, is the one who literally hosts a talk show 5 nights a week. It's been really great so far, though, the 2-part cult episode got off to a slow start, but then the 2nd part after the twist was maybe the funniest episode they've ever done, and the musical cast recording episode was also just fantastic, I can't believe John Mulaney wrote all those hysterically perfect songs just for the episode.

y) "Broad City"
I feel like "Broad City" has been gently rolling down hill from the first season where it felt kind of fresh and exciting, so right now seems the right time for them to do a final season and move onto other things. They're both such great performers that I'm more interested in seeing them do other things at this point. A couple of the recent episodes have been good, though, Ilana Glazer is still occasionally just an insane force of nature.

z) "Shameless"
I've had a love/hate relationship with this show for the last 9 seasons, and with Emmy Rossum's last episode airing this week, I'd like to think I'm probably done with it. She was really the glue of the show, I don't think it makes sense without her (in fact I was always hoping they'd kill off William H. Macy if the show ever continued without one of the main stars). But I have to admit, they did a good job with these last few episodes of giving Fiona a nice arc to go out on, kinda hitting rock bottom and then getting to start over while also giving Lip a chance to kind of grow up and step into her role in the family. Maybe Emmy will finally get a well deserved Emmy out of this.

Monthly Report: February 2019 Albums

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

1. Ariana Grande - Thank U, Next
I haven't been 100% on board with the run-up to the album, exciting as it is for a pop singer to kind of toss out of the Top 40 promo cycle rulebook and follow up a successful album 6 months later with an even more successful album. But I wound up pretty happy with the resulting record, since the two #1 singles are probably the weakest ones on a very good album, in my view. It's better than Sweetener, but that's almost a given since she didn't let Pharrell torpedo half the album this time around. But what surprised me is how relaxed, playful, and often romantic the album is, given that it was partly spurred by a broken engagement and some other heavy stuff. Grande has always been an impressive vocalist, stacking harmonies and hitting high notes, but I think she's really fully found her voice as a songwriter on "Needy" and "Fake Smile." Here's the 2019 albums playlist that I've filled with all the records I've been listening to. 

2. Our Native Daughters - Songs Of Our Native Daughters
I really enjoyed Rhiannon Giddens's 2017 album Freedom Highway, and this group feels like a bigger, more ambitious piece of the same project of kind of reclaiming American folk music for black women, with a supergroup with 3 other women who play banjo and guitar. But really this stuff just feels very alive and in the moment considering that it's released by Smithsonian Folkways and includes a lot of songs that are decades old, "Polly Ann's Hammer" is a clever and kind of profound twist on the John Henry story with a focus on his wife, and "Mama's Cryin' Long" has an outrageously cool handclap/stomp rhythm in a 9/8 time signature.

3. Kehlani - While We Wait
It's been 2 years since Kehlani's big debut album and she released this little 9-song stopgap mixtape during her pregnancy. But honestly, I like this more than the album, it just feels a little more intimate and charmingly low key. Also I'm glad that she didn't clear a song with a TLC sample for this project, because SweetSexySavage leaned on the '90s R&B samples and interpolations way too much anyway, but the Musiq Soulchild duet is surprisingly a good fit.

4. Julia Jacklin - Crushing
Eleni Mandell hasn't released an album in a few years so it's nice that this Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin is scratching a similar itch for me with her new record. She's got a great withering sense of humor on "Convention" in particular.

5. Yung Baby Tate - Girls
Atlanta's Yung Baby Tate is more a singer than a rapper but kind of both, this follow-up to 2018's Boys is pretty enjoyable, this bright melodic neon celebration of femininity where every song title is "Bad Girl" or "Wild Girl" or "Flower Girl" and so on. She produces her own stuff and some of these tracks are really impressive.

6. Chaka Khan - Hello Happiness
I think I already lost the war as far as Kanye's run of 7-song 20-something minute records being classified as albums and not EPs, but Chaka Khan's first record in over a decade is that length and it really works so well and feels so complete unto itself that I'm cool with considering it an album. Switch puts a little of a modern electronic sheen on the production but it's very much derived from the funk and disco era she came out of, it's a good mesh of styles.

7. Rustin Man - Drift Code
By coincidence, Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis died last week within a month of the release of the first album by any member of Talk Talk in over a decade, bassist Paul Webb's second album as Rustin Man. Even though Webb left Talk Talk between Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, this album feels to me very much of a piece with the band's later stuff, with lots of spare arrangements and interesting textures, I went back to this album for a second listen after making my Talk Talk playlist and it appealed to me even more than the first time. Some more time signature nerdiness: there's a great 5/4 rhythm on "Our Tomorrows."

8. Gary Clark Jr. - This Land
I've never really paid close attention to Gary Clark Jr. because maybe he struck me as a little too old-fashioned to be interesting, but there's a nice sharp modern edge to this record that hits me better than the other stuff he's done, the falsetto power ballad of "Pearl Cadillac" is especially nice. The title track is a little heavy handed for my taste as a Defiant Trump Era Anthem but honestly it's hard for everyone to not be constantly writing songs like that at this point.

9. Mercury Rev - Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited
Back in 1968, The Delta Sweete was a crushing sophomore slump -- Bobbie Gentry's debut Ode To Billie Joe had topped the album chart and its title track had topped the singles chart, but the follow-up concept album and its lead single got to #132 and #52 on the charts, respectively. Half a century later, The Delta Sweete has grown in statue to the point that Mercury Rev has covered the whole thing with an assortment of guests vocalists including Norah Jones, Hope Sandoval, and Beth Orton. It's largely a faithful recreation of the album, but it's a great record and it's fun to hear some other vocalists take a swing at Gentry's distinctive vocal style.

10. Gunna - Drip Or Drown 2
My theory now is that Gunna sounds like if Young Thug only exhaled while rapping and Lil Baby sounds like if Young Thug only inhaled while rapping. But it's interesting to me that while Drip Harder was Gunna's first really high charting album, and Drip Or Drown 2's first week was about as good, he feels very much like Lil Baby's sidekick now, just a lot less visible, all the songs he started to have on the charts a few months ago besides "Drip Too Hard" never got far on the radio, even the Travis Scott song (meanwhile one of Lil Baby's solo tracks from Drip Harder is blowing up). Gunna isn't exactly charismatic but he has a good ear for beats and this record is growing on me.

The World Album of the Month: Avril Lavigne - Head Above Water
I think those early Avril hits have aged well, but she really just sounds lost now, the Nicki Minaj feature and the Chad Kroeger kind of sit at opposite ends as different kind of bad ideas on this album, but the whole thing is just kind of awkward and full of notably annoying songs like "Souvenir" and "Bigger Wow."

Movie Diary

Monday, March 04, 2019

a) High Flying Bird
I haven't seen Unsane yet, but between this, Logan Lucky, and "Mosaic," I've been really pleased to see that Steven Soderbergh didn't lose a step in his inevitably short-lived retirement from directing and is still making unique, remarkable projects. High Flying Bird is interesting because it so thoroughly and subtly lays out the boldness of its premise, it plays like Moneyball if the events of Moneyball hadn't already happened, a suggestion of how the sports world could be upended in the future. And it looked pretty great for being shot on an iPhone. I was also amused by Melvin Gregg playing a NBA rookie, since it felt like a continuation of him playing an NBA prospect in "American Vandal" last year, like it was just DeMarcus Tillman again with a different name. 

b) The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
I enjoyed The Lego Batman Movie was more than the original The Lego Movie, so I was happy that the sequel to the latter was also very heavily a continuation of the former. I was also amused by the meta narratives I made up in my head about a) how obvious it was that Will Ferrell gave them like 5 minutes to record a few voiceover lines so that they could write him out of the sequel as much as possible as an absentee dad, and b) the echo of the Infinity War theme of Chris Pratt ruining everything and letting everyone else down, and c) whether it was a reference to have Wonder Woman voiced by Colbie Smulders, who Joss Whedon wanted to cast for his unproduced Wonder Woman screenplay. It was fun, though, I liked how the story ultimately ended up being about siblings sharing toys, which genuinely is a lesson my son needs to learn.

c) Upgrade
I feel like this movie was poorly marketed, because the ads didn't quite make it appealing as a batshit high concept Jason Statham-type action movie, or as a cerebral sci-fi movie like Ex Machina, when honestly I feel like it's a really enjoyable fusion of both. Logan Marshall-Green gives a great performance, the way his face reacts while his body is winning a fight without him controlling it is so hilariously entertaining, and there's some good twists and turns to the story.

d) You Were Never Really Here
Much as Upgrade was like a smarter Jason Statham movie, You Were Never Really Here is kind of like an art house version of a Liam Neeson vigilante movie, a more realistic look inside the head of an ex-military guy violently doing whatever it takes to rescue trafficked girls. It's really violent and a little overwhelming but it kind of makes you think about what a hero in that situation would really have to go through and be capable of.

e) Ride
A trashy little millennial thriller about a Uber/Lyft etc. driver who picks up an odd talkative client who eventually turns out to be a psychopath who holds him hostage and manipulates him into committing crimes. It turned out to be a little better than I thought it would be, the tension is gradually ratcheted up effectively and Will Brill was an excellent villain. And this scene was pretty memorably ridiculous.

f) Big Legend
My wife and I have an annual tradition of watching horror movies on Valentine's Day, and after lots of scrolling through the on-demand menu, we decided to go with this bigfoot movie that had an intriguing poster image. Ultimately, we kind of regretted it, the Great Value Bradley Cooper leading man actually made me think more of Bradley Cooper, and some of the production values left something to be desired, particularly the blood being way too red. But I kind of enjoyed some of the monster scenes, it won me over a little before the cheesy set up for a sequel.

g) Tag
This was pretty fun, kind of works well as a lesser companion piece to Game Night in terms of being an action comedy where a friendly game gets out of hand. I don't like Jeremy Renner much in actual action movies. but he's a good choice to play the faux action movie badass in a comedy.

h) I Feel Pretty
I think of this movie as belonging to a lineage of comedies that try to say something thoughtful or progressive about how people treat women based on their looks and how that effects them, but the resulting movie still comes out a little flawed both in terms of humor and message. This movie has maybe more problems than The Truth About Cats And Dogs and fewer problems than Shallow Hal, but it's somewhere between those two.

i) The Peanuts Movie
I didn't see this when it came out 3-4 years ago, but my son likes to watch it, and I kind of forgot how much I loved Peanuts comics and cartoons growing up until I saw my kid enjoying these characters too. It really kind of blows my mind how well this stuff has aged and translated across generations since the '50s. This movie did kind of an impressive job of doing modern digital animation that maintained the aesthetic of the comics, and I loved that for the Snoopy and Woodstock voices they used archival recordings of Bill Melendez voicing those characters in the old cartoons. Trombone Shorty doing the teacher's voice was great too. And it was unexpectedly emotional to finally see kind of a happy ending for Charlie Brown and the little red-haired girl. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 134: Talk Talk

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis passed away this week at the age of 64. And I think what has struck me in the last few days is how much he's been mourned by music lovers of different generations, even though the band hasn't been active in decades and he only made one solo record over 20 years ago. I remember being surprised in the late '90s when I first started picking up the buzz of the cult following around the less commercial later albums of an '80s synth pop band, and it wasn't until much later that I started to really look into it for myself. A few years ago I was compiling my top 50 albums of 1991, and decided to check out Laughing Stock to see what all the hype was about, and was so blown away that I put it at #4, ahead of Nevermind. But I hadn't listened to all of Talk Talk's albums, so this week's sad news was a good excuse to put them on and appreciate the band's small but deeply varied catalog.

Talk Talk deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. The Party's Over
2. Another Word
3. It's So Serious
4. The Last Time
5. Call In The Night Boys
6. Does Caroline Know
7. Happiness Is Easy
8. Chameleon Day
9. The Rainbow
10. Eden
11. Desire
12. New Grass
13. Ascension Day
14. Runeii

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from The Party's Over (1982)
Tracks 4, 5 and 6 from It's My Life (1984)
Tracks 7 and 8 from The Colour Of Spring (1986)
Tracks 9, 10 and 11 from Spirit Of Eden (1988)
Tracks 12, 13 and 14 from Laughing Stock (1991)

It's a little strange to view this discography through the lens of 'deep cuts,' since Talk Talk made 3 albums as a successful singles act and then 2 uncompromising, cohesive albums of artsong that all but abandoned the idea of radio singles. But putting this stuff in chronological order gives a certain logic to their restless creative journey, how willing they were to abandon what made them famous in favor of something that would take years to build a passionate word-of-mouth following. I don't think what Radiohead did is quite the same thing, but it's certainly easy to see the parallels and wonder if Talk Talk might have had a more popular experimental period and perhaps a longer career if they'd attempted it a decade later (or even a decade earlier). The late '80s and early '90s were a time when established acts were, for the most part, conforming and/or coasting, not reinventing themselves. A lot of '80s acts, synth pop groups and hair metal bands and old school rappers, released their final album and broke up around that time, but those albums were usually dated crap, not brilliant, singular records like Laughing Stock.

Of course, even at the height of their fame, Talk Talk were much bigger in the UK than they were in America, where "It's My Life" was their only top 40 hit, and No Doubt's 2003 cover was far bigger than the original. And hearing their early albums, I kinda wish they had been as ubiquitous in the U.S. as Duran Duran or the Human League, their singles are easily on par with those groups and the albums have a bit more going on. But I'm kind of glad I'm hearing some of this stuff for the first time now. I grew up on a lot of '80s new wave and synth pop but I think it means more to me now, and this stuff is really hitting me nicely in the context of me listening to Peter Gabriel more than almost any other artist over the past year. Even though the band kind of spoke dismissively of synthesizers even before they largely stopped using them, there's some really brilliant synth tones on the early records, particularly "Call In The Night Boys."

Even with The Colour Of Spring as kind of a connective tissue between early Talk Talk and later Talk Talk, the amount of quiet moments and open spaces in Spirit Of Eden can be weirdly startling. I really love how the whole first 20 minutes of the album feel like they're building up to that big percussion section in "Desire." But Hollis's voice is just such a lovely sound, kind of a classic vulnerable British pop voice, that these records can go pretty far out without becoming abrasive or off-putting, there's always an emotional core there even as all these rich textures of organ and trumpet and harmonica kind of float in and out of frame. I've never cared much for the term 'post-rock,' and it particularly seems insufficient to describe what this British band was doing a few years before the genre peaked in America, but certainly this stuff will leave you grasping for exactly what words do describe it aptly.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Elton John is performing in Minneapolis this week, so I did a new City Pages version of my Elton deep album cuts playlist, adding more songs and words to the one I did here in 2014.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Western Blot's 2nd album Materialistic will be out on March 15th, and I'm releasing one more single from the album today. "I Don't Wanna Just Get By" features vocals and some additional keyboards from Koye Berry, it's out on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple, all the usual places. I gathered all the music I've made or played on that's on Spotify into one big 'Featuring Al Shipley' playlist with the latest Western Blot singles up front, so that's probably the easiest way to hear this stuff together before the album is out.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 133: Stevie Nicks

Monday, February 18, 2019

Stevie Nicks is being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in April, making history as the first woman to be inducted twice. And while the last thing I would want to do is rain on the parade of a woman breaking the rock establishment's glass ceiling, I have to admit that when she was nominated last year, I was a little surprised. She doesn't have the least impressive solo career of a double inductee (hi Ringo), but I err on the side of not inducting the less essential solo work from the member of a HOF fame band -- I'd feel the same way if they decided to induct Don Henley or Sting. And I find it hard to separate the Nicks solo legacy from Fleetwood Mac -- I suspect that if people named the 10 songs she's most famous for singing, 6 or 7 would be Mac records. That said, she was an enormous, ubiquitous superstar in the '80s, growing up I probably thought of her as about as famous as Madonna. And her run of simultaneous multiplatinum careers as a solo artist and a band member is a rare distinction, matched only by Phil Collins (maybe Beyonce a little too, but she only did one more Destiny's Child album after becoming a solo star, while Phil and Stevie each did several).

Stevie Nicks deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Think About It
2. Bella Donna
3. How Still My Love
4. Outside The Rain
5. The Highwayman
6. Gate And Garden
7. Sable On Blond
8. Beauty And The Beast
9. Imperial Hotel
10. Rock A Little (Go Ahead Lily)
11. Fire Burning
12. Cry Wolf
13. Desert Angel
14. Kick It
15. Greta
16. It's Only Love
17. You May Be The One
18. Belle Fleur

Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 from Bella Donna (1981)
Tracks 6, 7 and 8 from The Wild Heart (1983)
Tracks 9 and 10 from Rock A Little (1985)
Tracks 11 and 12 from The Other Side Of The Mirror (1989)
Track 13 from Timespace: The Best Of Stevie Nicks (1991)
Tracks 14 and 15 from Street Angel (1994)
Tracks 16 from Trouble In Shangri-La (2001)
Tracks 17 from In Your Dreams (2011)
Tracks 18 from 24 Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault (2014)

I liked kicking off this playlist with the words "step into the velvet of the morning," what an opening line. What I really like about Stevie Nicks is that, even though she kind of lives in the public imagination as this ethereal magical presence, all flowing robes and shawls and scarves and that strange voice that almost doesn't work but then totally does, she's also a totally devoted rock and roller. Her solo records progressively got glossier over the course of the big flashy '80s (her third album, Rock A Little, does indeed only rock a little, as the synthy sound of the time started to take over, but she returned to more guitar-driven sounds in the '90s and thereafter). But it makes total sense to me that she remained a member of Fleetwood Mac at the height of her fame, that she still wanted to be in a band. In fact she wanted to be in two bands -- Stevie is a frequent and endearing presence in both the biography of Tom Petty and the documentary on The Heartbreakers, where she claims that she asked many times to become a Heartbreaker.

As a big Tom Petty fan, it's the presence of Petty and the Heartbreakers that really draws me into Stevie's solo records. Even though Petty famously gave Nicks "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," the song that became her biggest solo hit, and which kind of upstaged Petty's own record at the time, and Petty appeared again on a lesser Nicks hit, "I Will Run To You," I was kind of surprised at just how much the Heartbreakers are all over her records. The whole band is on her first two albums, Benmont Tench plays on most of them, and Mike Campbell plays on every Nicks album, often co-writing songs. "Imperial Hotel," which was only released as a single in Australia, is one of the better Campbell/Tench tracks in her discography.

There's a whole lot of great players on these records, though, Stevie rare playing an instrument (just keyboard on a track here and there) but having great taste and lots of connections means that her albums are full of noteworthy backing performances. Roy Bittan from the E Street Band, Bill Payne of Little Feat, Mike Porcaro of Toto, Bruce Hornsby, David Crosby, various members of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. too many famed session musicians to count. Legendary conductor and arranger Paul Buckmaster, who passed away in 2017, did the strings on "Beauty and the Beast," which wasn't a single but does appear on Timespace: The Best Of Stevie Nicks. Sheryl Crow wrote one of her best later songs, "It's Only Love." You really get a sense of her musically going astray when Kenny G shows up on The Other Side Of The Mirror, though.

"Desert Angel" was one of 3 new songs released on Timespace, the compilation that actually led to Nicks leaving Fleetwood Mac in 1991. She wanted to put the Rumours outtake "Silver Springs" on her best-of, and the band wouldn't let her because it was going on a Fleetwood Mac box set. In retrospect it seems like an even more minor disagreement than the one about when to tour that recently led to Lindsey Buckingham's ouster from the band. And of course, Mike Campbell is now playing guitar in Fleetwood Mac, bringing her friendship with the Heartbreakers full circle.

I had low expectations for 1994's Street Angel, by far the lowest charting album of Stevie's career and the only one she released during the rough 6 years when she wasn't in Fleetwood Mac. But it's pretty good, aside from a really bad cover of "Just Like A Woman" that Dylan himself plays guitar and harmonica on -- I wasn't looking at the tracklist when the song started, and I noticed Stevie doing a terrible Dylan impression before I recognized it as a Dylan song. But Mike Campbell contributes heavily to that record to great effect -- not many classic rockers adapted to the '90s well, but Tom Petty's records kept sounding good and contemporary, and Campbell probably brought a little of that with him to Street Angel.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park
Vol. 96: Shania Twain
Vol. 97: Squeeze
Vol. 98: Taylor Swift
Vol. 99: INXS
Vol. 100: Stevie Wonder
Vol. 101: The Cranberries
Vol. 102: Def Leppard
Vol. 103: Bon Jovi
Vol. 104: Dire Straits
Vol. 105: The Police
Vol. 106: Sloan
Vol. 107: Peter Gabriel
Vol. 108: Led Zeppelin
Vol. 109: Dave Matthews Band
Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails
Vol. 111: Talking Heads
Vol. 112: Smashing Pumpkins
Vol. 113: System Of A Down
Vol. 114: Aretha Franklin
Vol. 115: Michael Jackson
Vol. 116: Alice In Chains
Vol. 117: Paul Simon
Vol. 118: Lil Wayne
Vol. 119: Nirvana
Vol. 120: Kix
Vol. 121: Phil Collins
Vol. 122: Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Vol. 123: Sonic Youth
Vol. 124: Bob Seger
Vol. 125: Radiohead
Vol. 126: Eric Church
Vol. 127: Neil Young
Vol. 128: Future
Vol. 129: Say Anything
Vol. 130: Maroon 5
Vol. 131: Kiss
Vol. 132: Dinosaur Jr.

Monthly Report: February 2019 Singles

Friday, February 15, 2019

1. Dan + Shay - "Speechless" 
I kind of gave Dan + Shay's big breakthrough crossover hit "Tequila" an obligatory spot toward the bottom of my 2018 country roundup, but I like the follow-up single a lot more, really beautiful use of their harmonies on the chorus. Here's the 2019 singles Spotify playlist I update every month. 

2. Thomas Rhett - "Sixteen" 
Thomas Rhett has so many country #1s now and they're all at least alright, this is probably only my 3rd favorite from his latest album but it's really grown on me a lot. This song really kind of takes you on this mental trip from being 15 years old and forward into adulthood in the space of 3 minutes in a way that's really well structured and affecting. 

3. Meek Mill f/ Fabolous and Anuel As - "Uptown Vibes" 
Meek Mill is finally as big as I always thought he deserved to be, so I shouldn't complain, but it does kind of disappoint me that R&B tracks and Drake features are still mainly what radio wants to play from him. "Uptown Vibes" gets a lot of mix show burn right now but, like previous great high energy Meek records like "House Party" and "Monster," it's not gonna get into heavy rotation.

4. City Girls f/ Cardi B - "Twerk (Remix)"
I'm kind of amused by how this song sounds like Rico Love just built it right on the foundation of the last NOLA bounce homage he produced, T.I. and Lil Wayne's 2012 single "Ball." Like they saw how "Nice For What" and "In My Feelings" were doing and just dusted the track off. I really didn't feel the first few City Girls songs that got buzz but this one is definitely a standout for them. It irritates me so much that Yung Miami calls her clit her "click" though. 

5. H.E.R. - "Hard Place"
This was a standout of H.E.R.'s last EP for me. But the whole acoustic power ballad thing is so different from her radio hits that I was kind of pleasantly surprised to see her perform it on Grammys and release it as a single. 

6. Ashley McBryde - "Girl Goin' Nowhere"
I'm curious if country radio is going to pick up on Ashley McBryde's second single more than her first now that she's started to get some big endorsements outside the Nashville world (a Grammy nomination and this track in Barack Obama's list of favorite songs of the year). I feel like this song might still be a little too quiet and intimate that they could just continue to keep her at arm's length like Kacey Musgraves, though.

7. Carly Pearce - "Closer To You" 
Carly Pearce is another one of country radio's perpetual ladies in waiting that deserves more spins that she gets, this is an encouraging preview of her second album, I'm glad she's doing another record with Mike Busbee when it looks like Maren Morris is going with other producers. This chorus sounds so effortless that it took me a minute to realize how well it's put together. 

8. Houses - "Fast Talk"
This song has such a gorgeous dreamy vibe that stands out on alt-rock radio. But some of the wordplay in the lyrics kind of irritates me, so I kind of try not to pay too much attention to it when it's on and just enjoy the sound of it. 

9. The Raconteurs - "Now That You're Gone"
As a longtime Brendan Benson fan who can kinda take or leave Jack White, I'm glad that The Raconteurs' first single in over a decade features both a Benson song and a White song, particularly since Benson hasn't had a solo album in 5 years himself. But I was pleasantly surprised that the Benson track is the one that has taken an early lead in streams in radio spins. 

10. Coca Vango - "Sauce All On Me" 
I kinda like that Jazze Pha has been creeping back every now and again with nice light-footed beats giving new artists a big break (rest in peace Young Greatness). When I heard this song I immediately mentally added it to the trend I wrote about last year of people imitating Young Thug being more successful than Young Thug these days. But I listened to Coca Vango's latest mixtape and he doesn't really sound like that on other songs, it's like he went out of his way to make a fake Thugger song. 

The Worst Single of the Month: LightSkinKeisha & BSmyth - "Ride Good"
Sometimes rap radio just coughs up these insipid songs by people you've never heard of and it feels like one of those songs the characters on "Empire" make. Turns out this one is from Hitco, the independent label L.A. Reid started after he was MeToo'd out of the major label world.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 132: Dinosaur Jr.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

One of the reasons I enjoy doing this series is that I'm fascinated with all the different unpredictable ways a song can work its way into popular consciousness without being released as a single. A pretty interesting example of that happened last week, when a 25-year-old Dinosaur Jr. deep cut, "Over Your Shoulder," got 8 million YouTube views in Japan and hit #18 on their singles chart. I joked that this seemingly classic 'big in Japan' rock scenario would hopefully culminate in the band recording a live album at Budokan like Cheap Trick. But by Monday there was an explanation for it all: the song was regularly featured in a segment of a popular '90s TV show called Gachinko! and YouTube's algorithms had begun recommending pirated episodes to people.

Dinosaur Jr. deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Severed Lips
2. Forget The Swan
3. The Lung
4. In A Jar
5. Tarpit
6. No Bones
7. Budge
8. Blowing It
9. I Live For That Look
10. Drawerings
11. Goin' Home
12. Yeah Right
13. Over Your Shoulder
14. Even You
15. Can't We Move This
16. Never Bought It
17. Loaded
18. Back To Your Heart
19. I Want You To Know
20. Pierce The Morning Rain
21. Knocked Around

Tracks 1 and 2 from Dinosaur (1985)
Tracks 3, 4 and 5 from You're Living All Over Me (1987)
Tracks 6 and 7 from Bug (1988)
Tracks 8 and 9 from Green Mind (1991)
Tracks 10 and 11 from Where You Been (1993)
Tracks 12, 13 and 14 from Without A Sound (1994)
Tracks 15, 16 and 17 from Hand It Over (1997)
Track 18 from Beyond (2007)
Track 19 from Farm (2009)
Track 20 from I Bet On Sky (2012)
Track 21 from Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not (2016)

Dinosaur Jr.'s catalog can be neatly divided into 3 eras that took place in different decades. In the '80s, J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph recorded the band's first 3 albums and became one of the most beloved SST bands of the burgeoning rock underground. Then J kicked Lou out of the band, signed to a major label and released 4 albums with varying levels of mainstream success in the '90s, got dropped from the label and, for the time being, retired the Dinosaur Jr. name. And then, in the new millennium, the original trio reunited and have recorded 4 more albums.

"Feel The Pain" was the band's biggest hit around the same time that me and my friends were watching Dinosaur Jr. play "Freak Scene" and "The Wagon" on frequent screenings of a dubbed VHS of 1991: The Year Punk Broke. But You're Living All Over Me was my first Dinosaur album and it remains rightfully seen by many as their masterpiece. I remember gaining a new appreciation for the album a few years ago when I read Nick Attfield's 33 1/3 book on it, which pointed out how many of the song structures were kind of unusual and linear compared to the more traditional verse/chorus songs J Mascis tended to write later. Like, I hadn't thought about how "The Lung" is this whole parade of different riffs and solos with one simple chorus repeated 4 times in the middle of the song. Maybe because it's such a catchy chorus that it still feels like a pop song on some level.

Lou Barlow's role in Dinosaur Jr. is interesting because it's rare that the 'secondary songwriter who sings one or two songs per album' in a band goes on to such a prolific career fronting other bands. I'm not the biggest Sebadoh fan but they have their moments and it's interesting to hear Mascis and Barlow's songs alongside each other since they both have such distinct musical identities now. It's funny to think that Dinosaur Jr.'s first album opens with a song primarily sung by Lou Barlow, "Forget The Swan" (although J sings lead on the bridge). It's kind of like Little Feat's first album opening with a Bill Payne song instead of a Lowell George song. The 2005 Merge reissue of Dinosaur opens with the b-side "Bulbs of Passion," at the band's request, however.

Throughout the '90s, Mascis and Barlow seemed like alt-rock's biggest feud between former bandmates, they both rose to greater fame apart than they'd had together, and it seemed so contentious that they'd never reconcile. So I regard the band's revival since 2005 as one of the more genuinely heartwarming reunions in rock history. Where a lot of bands get back together and do one or two perfunctory new albums but mostly tour the old songs, Dinosaur Jr. have genuinely added to their legacy with 4 albums that have all ranged from very good to great (I think I Bet On Sky is my favorite but Farm was better than I remembered when I revisited it this week). And even though Barlow has made dozens of albums now as a frontman or solo artist, he still writes a couple songs for each new Dinosaur album that really seem to take advantage of the band's sound, "Back To Your Heart" might be my favorite song he's ever written. And I think it's pretty cool that Lou and Murph have learned and played a number of songs from the '90s records that they didn't play on.

While there is something distinct and great about the classic Dinosaur Jr. lineup, however, I don't want to diminish the '90s albums, which contain a large share of the band's best songs. Murph stayed in the band a few years longer than Barlow did, playing on Where You Been and 3 songs on Green Mind, but J Mascis started to turn Dinosaur Jr. into a one man band in the '90s. And while Murph is a great drummer responsible for some really memorable performances (the hi-hat on "Tarpit" being one of my favorites), I have a particular affection for J Mascis's drumming. He's of course one of the most revered guitarists of his generation, but he was a drummer first, playing drums in Barlow's pre-Dinosaur hardcore band Deep Wound, and I just really love how he plays on those '90s records. I never really gave a second thought to "Over Your Shoulder" before this week but it really is a great song, a suitable recipient of the weird viral fame it's ended up with. And I really like Thalia Zedek's occasional backing vocals on Without A Sound, particularly on "Yeah Right."

Back when buying CDs was the only way to hear most albums, I think it was more common to kind of buy an artist's records in a weird order based on whatever was available in the stores you went to. So I made the odd choice to get J Mascis's first solo album, the live acoustic record Martin + Me, pretty early in my fandom of the band. And that means I primarily associate a lot of songs from Green Mind and Where You Been with those solo versions, including "Blowing It," "Drawerings," and "Goin' Home."

Hand It Over was the first new Dinosaur Jr. album that came out after I got into the band and I really fell in love with it and still listen to it often to this day. I always felt like a weirdo for thinking Hand It Over is the band's second best album after You're Living, so I felt pretty vindicated to see that J Mascis agreed with me when he ranked the band's albums for Noisey. There are so many good songs on that record, I agonized about not having enough room for "Mick" or "Sure Not Over You" too, Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher helped make the album and brought a little MBV texture to it.

But the wave that brought SST bands like Dinosaur and Sonic Youth and the Meat Puppets to their commercial peaks around 1994 had subsided by 1997, and Hand It Over sold less than the band's other major label records. Their ill-fated promotional tour including performing "Never Bought It" with some of J's most abrasive distortion pedals in an infamous appearance on The Jenny Jones Show. By the end of the year, they'd been dropped from their label and even though the band was essentially J Mascis at that point, he decided to 'break up' Dinosaur Jr. The two albums he made as J Mascis + The Fog were essentially Dinosaur albums, with J playing almost everything (and '90s Dinosaur drummer George Berz in the touring lineup). It's a shame that both of those records are missing from streaming services today, More Light was really awesome. And the show I saw in support of that record with Mike Watt on bass (where I interviewed Watt before the show) was probably the loudest show I've ever seen, louder even than the reunited Dinosaur a few years later.