Monthly Report: July 2017 Singles

Sunday, July 23, 2017






















1. Midland - "Drinkin' Problem"
I love country songs about drinking, particularly George Jones's songs about drinking, the way they range from celebrations to laments; I even made a playlist of them last year. And this song, co-written by prolific Nashville pro Dann Huff, lands right in that same strange little sweet spot of gallows humor about alcoholism that could actually be a festive singalong at a bar. Here's the Spotify playlist of favorite 2017 singles that I update every month.

2. Dej Loaf - "No Fear"
I was really impressed by how much Dej Loaf had improved as an MC on last year's All Jokes Aside, and I was disappointed that it seemed like everyone had already stopped paying attention to her to notice. So I get why she had to focus back on her ear for melody to really grab people again, and in fact I kind of dig how she just went all the way out with a funky summer jam that's so in line with current trends. I also like how the cadence of most of the vocals makes me think of Mary J. Blige's "Real Love."

3. Cardi B - "Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)"
In the current hip hop climate, where guys routinely jump out the window if they think Drake flowed like them for a few seconds, I think often of a Complex piece I wrote 3 years ago about the weird grey area that flow occupies in discussions of credit and plagiarism. "No Flockin'" is basically Kodak Black's signature song, first released in 2014 but became his first platinum solo track just earlier this year. And Cardi B at least gave a nod to him with the title of "Bodak Yellow," but her song has already charted higher than his ever did. Normally I might be bothered by that, but I like the idea of a woman upstaging a shitty rapist dude.

4. YFN Lucci f/ PnB Rock - "Everyday We Lit"
After a few years of people saying "lit" constantly, this has emerged as the biggest "lit" song on the charts (Buckcherry doesn't count). Think It's A Game Entertainment really deserves more recognition for what they're doing as an independent label. They launched Rich Homie Quan's career, and he's yet to have another hit since leaving them and signing to a major, and meanwhile Think It's A Game has done a pretty good job of putting Lucci in the spotlight.

5. Demi Lovato "Sorry Not Sorry"
It cracks me up how this song sounds like it could've been made by someone googling "Chance The Rapper type beat." I don't know how much I can love any song that rhymes 'savage' with 'bad bitch' in 2017, but this really feels like the right song for Demi at the right time that kind of fits with her public persona and her tendency to be kind of willing to piss people off a little.

6. The Killers - "The Man"
It's been a solid decade since Sam's Town, so it's hard to really imagine getting excited about The Killers even to the extent that it was ever possible. But I was pleasantly surprised by how immediate and hooky their new single is, just a big strutting Kool & The Gang groove. As usual Brandon Flowers surrounds his good ideas with embarrassing ideas, but here it kind of fits well with the false confidence of the song's unreliable narrator.

7. LeAnn Rimes - "Love Is Love Is Love"
I turned on a pop station one day and heard the last minute or so of this song and it just sounded like the most perfect bubbly '90s Mariah single that never happened. I was shocked to learn that it was LeAnn Rimes, who I'd thought had kinda fallen off the pop radar entirely. Turns out this is actually her 3rd single to top Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart in the past decade.

8. Computer Games - "Every Single Night"
This band is fronted by "Glee" star Darren Criss and is just a painfully on the nose pastiche of '80s pop. But it's really got an irresistible hook and I just have a weakness for this kind of shameless '80s bubblegum, I love the synth horn riff.

9. Tamar Braxton - "My Man"
My favorite part of this song is toward the end when Tamar is just riffing and ranting about the woman who took her man and yells out "HEIFER!" in the middle of all the runs and ad libs.

10. Ne-Yo - "Another Love Song"
I feel like the backlash against Ne-Yo doing dance pop never really went away, even though his voice is much more well suited to that kind of stuff than your average R&B star, and projects like the Calvin Harris album have done a lot to destigmatize that kind of thing by now. His other recent single "Earn Your Love" is pretty good too.

Worst Single of the Month: Muse - "Dig Down" 
Muse has a handful of singles that I really enjoy, and "Madness" is one of them. The new one, which more or less sounds like a transparent attempt to rewrite "Madness," is not one of them. But somebody on Twitter said they heard this on the radio and thought they were singing "dick down," which is pretty funny.

Saturday, July 22, 2017







Puff Daddy & The Family's No Way Out is 20 years old today, and I wrote about it for Rolling Stone. RS also turned the content of my piece into a little video, which is kinda cool, I've never had that done with one of my articles before. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 95: Linkin Park

Friday, July 21, 2017






I feel odd about the kind of morbid turn this series has taken; I've slowed down on making deep cuts playlists a bit lately, and one of the things that is most likely to spur me to work on one is when a musician dies. So several recent entries in the series have followed a frontman's death, and this is actually the 4th in a row. It's shocking and sad to hear of Chester Bennington's suicide, especially so soon after Chris Cornell's, as well as not too long after the death of Scott Weiland, who Bennington had been filling in for in Stone Temple Pilots. Linkin Park were of a different generation than those guys, and Bennington was only 41, but they dominated rock radio like few other bands have in the 21st century, and I really warmed up to them over the years. Much has been made of the fact that Bennington committed suicide 2 months after his friend Cornell, on Cornell's birthday, which is just horribly sad on so many levels. Both of those guys could sing really well and scream incredibly well, which is rarer in the rock world than you might expect.

Linkin Park deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Runaway
2. By Myself
3. Cure For My Itch
4. A Place For My Head
5. Forgotten
6. Hit The Floor
7. Don't Stay
8. Nobody's Listening
9. Wake
10. Hands Held High
11. Valentine's Day
12. The Requiem
13. When They Come For Me
14. Robot Boy
15. Blackout
16. Lies Greed Misery
17. Victimized
18. Roads Untraveled
19. All For Nothing featuring Page Hamilton
20. Mark The Graves
21. Drawbar featuring Tom Morello
22. Nobody Can Save Me
23. Sorry For Now
24. One More Light

Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 from Hybrid Theory (2000)
Tracks 6, 7 and 8 from Meteora (2003)
Tracks 9, 10 and 11 from Minutes To Midnight (2007)
Tracks 12, 13, 14 and 15 from A Thousand Suns (2010)
Tracks 16, 17 and 18 from Living Things (2012)
Tracks 19, 20 and 21 from The Hunting Party (2014)
Tracks 22, 23 and 24 from One More Light (2017)

Linkin Park were a hugely successful singles band, with a ridiculous string of rock #1s, and I've always been partial to "Faint" (which I called the 4th best rock single of the 2000s). But they've got a lot of songs I've gravitated to that weren't necessarily their most ubiquitous hits, like "Waiting For The End," "Bleed It Out," and "Breaking The Habit." There was always maybe a 50/50 chance that when they came on the radio I'd change the station, but when I didn't, I'd eagerly crank it up. They were the kind of band where I usually hear their albums in a friend's car rather than listen to it on my own (I feel like we played Hybrid Theory a dozen times on the drive to Florida for spring break 2002). But I particularly liked A Thousand Suns, which I put on my year end list in 2010.

"Runaway" charted as an album track and it really feels as instantly familiar to me as any of the big singles on Hybrid Theory. But Meteora is where I really feel like they started to get interesting. At a certain point I stopped thinking of them as a nu metal band and started to think of them this nerdy group of guys who loved metal and backpack rap and anime and IDM and managed to combine all of those things into this fairly unique package that sold a bazillion records. On the later records they really started to take apart the formula a little bit and give each album a unique feel, so you get the brooding, proggy A Thousand Suns, the harder edged The Hunting Party, and this year's more polished One More Light, which got some backlash as a 'pop' record but, listening to it now, is as poignant and vulnerable as anything Bennington ever did.

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

Movie Diary

Thursday, July 20, 2017

























a) Don't Breathe
This has a really good premise: 3 dirtbag teens are robbing houses, but then this blind veteran kills one of them and locks the other 2 inside his house. So it takes a somewhat familiar horror trope of teens stuck in a house with a scary guy and flips it, because you're kinda rooting for the badass blind guy even as the film generally sticks with the perspective of the shitty delinquent teens. Plus you've got the novelty of them being able to stand right in front of the guy but have to stay perfectly silent. Just a really cool idea, executed well, even if there were a few more wrinkles in the story than I thought it necessarily needed. Jane Levy is really working on a great career in horror and sci fi.

b) Captain Fantastic
I didn't know this movie existed until six months after it came out, when Viggo Mortensen got an Oscar nomination for it. And I was surprised once again when I realized that it was written and directed by the guy who plays Gavin Belson on "Silicon Valley." This was really lovely, though, maybe it was just the first really good film about fatherhood that I've seen since my dad died, but I shed a few tears towards the end of the movie and I wasn't even entirely sure what scene or moment did it. Some really impressive performances from some really young actors in this movie, the whole cast was just pitch perfect for material that I think really could've come off badly in the wrong hands.

c) Despicable Me 3
My son loves all the Despicable Me movies and Minions was the first movie I took to see in a theater, so we were at this one's opening weekend with bells on. This one was pretty good, I feel like they wisely dialed back the minions a little bit now that they've had their own movie (and got rid of the Russell Brand character entirely), and I really enjoyed the whole secret brother plot, there were a few laugh out loud moments for both of us. I got to a point at least 10 years ago with "South Park" where I can barely stand to hear Trey Parker's smug "duh I'm a dumb character listen to how dumb I am" voice acting, so I wasn't wild about him being in the movie, but his character was funny.

d) Moonlight
This being the third Best Picture winner in a row that I've seen and really enjoyed is pretty nice, I don't think that's happened since the '90s, if not the '70s actually. Really beautiful film, I think what I liked most was the pace of the editing, the way certain scenes lingered and then abruptly cut, the rhythm of it kept me on my toes and made some of the more emotional moments hit harder. The whole cast was great but I get why Mahershala Ali was the one who won the big awards. 

e) The Accountant
A movie about an autistic accountant, a movie about an accountant action hero, and a movie about Ben Affleck playing an autistic man are all 3 very sketchy ideas that I approached warily, especially when those are all the same film. But this worked better than I thought it would overall. 

f) Doctor Strange
It was fun to see a slightly different kind of Marvel movie with trippier visuals, and the comic relief worked better than I expected. Not terribly memorable otherwise, though.

g) Masterminds
I put this on even though it did terribly commercially and critically, kind of assuming that the collective onscreen talent would make it worth watching. And then I realized that it was directed by the guy who made Napoleon Dynamite, and wasn't surprised at all when I didn't laugh once the entire movie.

h) Singles
Like most grunge kids, I had the Singles soundtrack without ever seeing the movie. But I always meant to sit down and watch it, especially after I realized how much I like a few of Cameron Crowe's movies. And this year I was finally spurred to see it, somewhat because of the reissue of the soundtrack and Chris Cornell's death, but also because I met and worked with Matt Dillon for a day a few months ago and was like man, I should see more of his movies, he's a cool dude. 

Monday, July 17, 2017



















The latest installment of The Unstreamables, my Noisey column about old albums that aren't readily available on streaming services, is about  No I.D.'s sole album as a rapper, 1997's Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album)

Friday, July 14, 2017
















Missy Elliott's debut album Supa Dupa Fly was released this week in 1997, and I wrote a little piece with some things you may not have known about the album for Rolling Stone, because Missy and Timbaland been hot since 20 years ago. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017
























Woodfir has a couple Baltimore shows this month, at Copycat Annex this Friday, July 14 and a house show in Charles Village next Friday, July 21. I'm really happy with how this band is sounding and am excited to get out there in front of people. 

(photo by Jen Roth)

TV Diary

Friday, July 07, 2017


















a) "GLOW"
I love A League Of Their Own, so I think my favorite thing about this show is how much it evokes that for me, even if it's unintentional and in a completely different setting and Marc Maron is no Tom Hanks. I'm only a few episodes in but it's pretty good, I thought the pilot had a few iffy choices but the episodes since then have gotten into a nice groove and have fleshed out some of the supporting characters well.

b) "Snowfall"
The 1983 Los Angeles of "Snowfall" is a bit different from the 1985 Los Angeles of "GLOW" both in its subject matter and its tone, but it's still kind of interesting to see some of the many period pieces on TV right now tackling more or less the same time and place. John Singleton creating a show that kind of goes back to a few years before Boyz N The Hood to when crack first hit L.A. is a pretty promising concept, but the first episode felt a little bland to me, like a boilerplate gangster movie instead of something that's going to attempt anything like the depth of "The Wire." Still, good cast and great production values, it has potential.

c) "I'm Sorry"
I like Andrea Savage and am always glad to see her on TV more, although this show kind of feels like a dozen other recent autobiographical sitcoms comedians and actors have created about their family and work lives. The first episode had a couple big laughs, though, it has potential.

d) "Gypsy"
The first two episides of this show were so deeply dull that I wasn't even surprised when I realized they were directed by the same person that directed Fifty Shades Of Grey. It just moves incredibly slowly for no real reason, I think this would've been a dull movie but stretched out to an entire series it's just grueling, like they thought they could just throw in a few Naomi Watts sex scenes and there'd be no need for anything else.

e) "Hood Adjacent with James Davis"
I've never seen the host of this new Comedy Central show before but he's pretty funny. I like that this show is kind of more of a satirical commentary show than sketches, gives him some flexibility to respond to race issues via internet memes and current events in creative ways. I was amused, though, that when they pulled up an example of white YouTubers mangling R&B songs, they picked the Beyonce song where she's quoting the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

f) "The Mist"
I was not a fan of the film adaptation of this Stephen King story that came out about 10 years ago, and I don't necessarily see how it would translate better to episodic television. But a lot of what I disliked about the movie was in the specific execution of the dialogue and the ending, and here they've pretty much wiped the slate clean and put a completely different set of characters into the same premise, and so far it feels like they've got enough people and plot points to fill up a series, I'm just not especially into it.

g) "Crashing"
I adored Phoebe Waller-Bridge's show "Fleabag," so I was happy to see that U.S. Netflix had recently released another show starring her that aired in Britain last year. Of course, they had the unfortunate timing to put it out a few months after HBO aired an unrelated comedy also called "Crashing," but oh well. It feels like a Brit version of "Friends" or "New Girl," your standard generic sitcom about a bunch of attractive people living together in a cheap place and hooking up, but it's funny.

h) "Boy Band"
Given that One Direction are by far the biggest act launched by a reality music competition in the past decade, doing a show like this is probably overdue. And I feel like it's a little more fun than the average music reality show lately, but still kinda stupid and not something that held my attention for more than a few minutes at a time.

i) "Blood Drive"
This is SyFy's attempt at capitalizing on the whole "grindhouse" nostalgia thing, albeit many years after the Tarantino movie, which is kind of lame, but I'm enjoying how much fun they're having with the concept. I think my favorite part is that the "future" dystopia in which cars run on blood takes place in 1999.

j) "Claws"
This show also feels a few years behind a particular zeitgeist; in this case "Claws" has that same seedy Florida noir feel that several movies (Pain And Gain, Spring Brakers, Magic Mike) were all mining about five years ago. I like it, though, it's still refreshing to see a violent antihero cable show with an all female cast.

k) "Long Strange Trip"
This miniseries documentary on the history of the Grateful Dead is pretty fascinating and well done, I've only watched the first part so far but it feels like a good way for me to delve further into a band I always mean to spend more time with.

l) "Nightcap"
I feel like this show, about people working backstage at a late night talk show, is only as good as the guest stars in a given episode. I liked the Rachel Bloom and Alec Baldwin episodes, but a lot of the time when I put it on I just lose interest really quickly.

m) "Wrecked"
The fact that this show was created by two brothers named Shipley makes me root for it a little more than I otherwise would. But it's an enjoyable little summer series about people stranded on a desert island that is really just dedicated to having as much fun with the premise as it can. I particularly enjoyed the recent episode where all the characters were craving updates on "Game of Thrones."

n) "Preacher"
This was one of my favorite new shows last year, glad it's back and for the time being settling into a more fun episodic kind of show about the main trio of Jesse and Tulip and Cassidy, Ruth Negga is just amazing. The flashback about Arseface was really pretty disturbing. But man, I really hate those ads for the new season that say 'POWERFUL AF,' this show really shouldn't be promoted with trendy slang.

o) "Casual"
I've always been a little ambivalent about this show, which is smart and unpredictable and at turns pretty funny, but also kind of a forgettable dramedy that epitomizes a lot of TV trends I'm not crazy about. I feel like I've warmed up to it a little more lately, the Judy Greer arc probably doesn't hurt. I'm also impressed that, at a time when many shows still hire zero female directors, 9 out of 13 episodes of the third season of "Casual" were directed by women (including Gillian Robespierre, Lake Bell, and Carrie Brownstein). I also like that they've given a little more screentime to Julie Berman this season, she's always had some of the funniest scenes on the show but she tends to be a fleeting presence.

p) "The Carmichael Show"
I always had mixed feelings about this show, and it felt like NBC never fully committed to it with three brief seasons that always ran in the summer, so I wasn't surprised or especially disappointed when they recently decided to cancel it. I always hoped the show would loosen up and get a little less relentlessly topical and let the characters be more than strawmen for whatever side of whatever argument they were supposed to be on that week, but if anything it just got more formulaic. Tiffany Haddish is gonna continue to thrive, though.

q) "Playing House"
I don't know why it took USA an unusually long time to renew this show for a third season, and then an even more unusually long time to get the new episodes on the air. But now they're all available on VOD and I've watched the whole season, it's a pretty sweet little show, even the cancer plot this season was kind of oddly breezy, although I think that was a deliberate and refreshing decision.

Monthly Report: June 2017 Albums

Wednesday, July 05, 2017























1. 2 Chainz Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
2 Chainz released 3 projects in 2016 and none of them was a masterpiece, but cumulatively those records and all his features added up to a lot of my favorite rap in recent memory. He doesn't have the same buzz he had in 2012, but he's become so much more polished and consistent since then, bar for bar and verse for verse the quotables just never stop coming, and there are some pretty cool production choices like the beat switches on "OG Kush Diet" and and "Trap Check". Pretty Girls Like Trap Music kind of builds itself around his two biggest 2016 tracks, "Good Drank" and "Big Amount," but the way he samples OJ Da Juiceman and old Jeezy and T.I. records really roots the album in the whole idea of what 'trap music' is and how oddly universal it's become in recent years, the whole promotional thing he did with a pink trap house in Atlanta where they held a church service and did STD testing was pretty strange and inspired.

2. Dua Lipa Dua Lipa
This album has really flown under the radar in America, and has only been a moderate success even in the U.K. where she's more of a known quantity, so I was really bowled over by just how good it is. I liked "Lost In Your Light" with Miguel before the album came out, but I figured that would probably be the standout on the album just because of Miguel, and then the first four tracks are just a killer opening, this really destroys the last dozen or so albums I've heard by other pop singers, Dua Lipa has a gorgeous, expressive voice. The first song I heard from her was "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)" so I thought all her stuff would have that kind of sassy persona, but the rest of the album is a lot more vulnerable.

3. Jay-- 4:44
I've been a Jay-Z fan since the '90s, which increasingly feels like a rare perspective to approach his music from. And I can remember when there was a marked difference between his coldly confident voice on records and his shy, shaky speaking voice in interviews. I saw him on the tour for the last album and he can still deliver old songs in that confident voice, but on new records he mostly uses his inside voice and seems a lot more interested in what he's saying than how he's saying it, letting his syllables spill all over the beat in a way he never would've in the old days. This has made a lot of his later records really difficult to enjoy, even his other 'cohesive album not meant for radio,' American Gangster, but it works a lot better on 4:44, given the more vulnerable tone of a lot of the songs. And the fact that he went and made the whole album with a producer I've long wanted to hear him work with more, No I.D., really piqued my interest more than anything else, and I love the odd little counterintuitive ways he's twisted up the sample on here. I listened to this album a lot the night it came out for the next day Rolling Stone analysis, but now that I can sit back and appreciate it for what it is as the hype dies down, "Family Feud" and "Moonlight" are the songs I keep coming back where he really sounds in the pocket and like he didn't just rush out a first take of the verses.

4. Vince Staples Big Fish Theory
I listened to this album a lot for my Pigeons And Planes review and really tried to dig deep into what Vince is doing lyrically and musically on here. But one thing I refrained from doing is really rating it or comparing it to Summertime '06 from a quality standpoint, because I loved that album and it's pretty hard to top. But I like how he went left and tried to create something a little different, although I think people have overstated that a little bit, there are songs like "745" that are pretty solid and straightforward.

5. Thee Lexington Arrows Ride That Wave
Thee Lexington Arrows have been one of my favorite Baltimore bands for a long time and I've become friendly with them in recent years -I just released a video for one of the Western Blot songs that their singer Kathleen Wilson appeared on, and my other band Woodfir opened for them in May. So I'm happy that they're still making albums and sounding leaner and meaner with each release, and even kind of branching out a bit from their core garage rock sound. Ride That Wave actually opens with a re-recording one of my favorite songs of theirs, "Don't Come Around," and it just sounds so much tighter than the version that was on their first album over a decade ago that it shows how far they've come. I particularly like the tempo change at the end of "To The End Of The Skies."

6. Chuck Berry Chuck
I spent a lot of time with Chuck Berry's catalog the week of his death, and so there was really no suspense about what his final album would sound like, it's no profound final twist like, say, Bowie's last album. But Berry was one of the older original rock'n'rollers, and one of the last still standing, so it's kind of amazing to have this first opportunity ever to hear a 90-year-old man make a rock album, or I suppose he was in his late 80s when he recorded this stuff. And from a production standpoint they really got it right, it doesn't feel like a product of the times like the albums he made in the '70s.

7. Young Thug Beautiful Thugger Girls
I kind of rolled my eyes when Young Thug started talking up his "singing album," especially back when he was hyping it up as being executive produced by Drake. And it took me a couple listens to really get into it, but it's pretty good, I wish it was just marketed straightforwardly as a new project and people got to just notice that his rapping is a little more melodic than usual than for it to have all this corny framing like him holding a guitar on the cover and saying "yeehaw!" in the first 30 seconds of the album.

8. Lorde Melodrama
I don't really know what to make of Lorde's vocal style. She sounds like Huey reading a spookey story to Dewey and Louie. But I enjoyed "Green Light" (and, for that matter, "Yellow Flicker Beat") so much more than anything on her debut that I was curious to hear this album. And it's got some pretty strong songwriting and production choices, she really got the best out of Jack Antonoff where the recent Bleachers album didn't sound so hot to me. I kinda knew the critical reception of this record was gonna be a little over the top when I saw these headlines about how amazing "Perfect Places" is and it turned out to be a duller "Blank Space," but that's how things go sometimes.
It's at least way better than the Halsey album, but I'm still waiting on my sad teen revolution prophecy.

9. SZA Ctrl
I feel like SZA and Kehlani are kind of like the R&B equivalent of Halsey and Lorde in terms of their weird vocal affectations that I don't even really know how to describe. Someone pointed out that when she goes "skrt skrt" it sounds like "skoy skoy" in "Love Galore" and it cracks me up so much now. There are some good songs on this record, though, I really like "Prom" and "Go Gina."

10. Z-Ro No Love Boulevard
Z-Ro says this is his final album, and knowing the track record of rapper retirements, he's probably got plenty more in him just like Jay did after The Black Album. But I always feel like I should be listening to more Z-Ro than I have, and there's some strong production on here.

Worst Album of the Month: Katy Perry Witness
It always felt like kind of an unfortunate accident that Katy Perry and her weird annoying voice became a standard bearer of popular music, like it was inevitable that she'd slip up or the world would get suitably sick of her. But it's still kind of surprising how any unforced errors she made in both this album and its weird rollout. There's one song, "Pendulum," that I wouldn't mind hearing again, but I'm kinda hoping this whole thing just disappears and she isn't given too many chances for a comeback.

Saturday, July 01, 2017
















I did some quick analysis of the songs on Jay-Z's new album 4:44, along Elias Leight and Mosi Reeves, for Rolling Stone

Movie Diary

Friday, June 30, 2017






















a) Okja
Snowpiercer is one of my favorite dystopian sci-fi movies, or really just one of my favorite movies in general, of the past few years, and I was really excited to see Bong Joon-ho's follow-up. They did a good job of immersing you in this only mildly heightened reality, mixing a sweet story about the bond between a girl and an animal with this really dark, funny, thoughtful satire of commerce and media and animal rights activism. I was kinda braced for it to be darker or stranger than it was but they kinda resolved the story nicely without getting to optimistic. I'm also amused that Tilda Swinton plays two twins in this movie, when she just Winklevossed in Hail, Caesar! last year. 

b) Wonder Woman
In these times of superhero saturation, this was a rare movie to anticipate as something different, not just because it was a female hero but because it was a major character that had never gotten her own movie before, and one that demanded a lighter tone than the mall goth gloom of D.C.'s other recent movies. So it was hard not to get caught up rooting for it and enjoying every surface level charm. As someone who always disliked him in nu-StarTrek, the big surprise of this movie was that I found Chris Pine likable, although I was also glad that Gal Gadot rose to the occasion and achieved this delicate balance of being kind of this serious warrior queen but also being able to handle the comic relief. The way they kind of grafted the comic book universe on to 20th century history was interesting, I think they handled it about as well as the first Captain America, which I think I liked more than a lot of people, and the villain reveal was really well done.

c) The Girl With All the Gifts
Just when I think we've done every variation on the zombie apocalypse possible, something like this comes along that puts its own interesting spin on the premise. Sennia Nanua really gives an amazing performance for a child actor.

d) The Free World
This is one of those movies where two people coming from tragic circumstances come together and fall in love, which can be a pretty romantic kind of story, but The Free World reminded me of Monster's Ball in the way it just piled on the misery and just reveled in it and never really let the characters be people you can relate to. Also I kinda hated how one character's conversion to Islam became this kind of cheap plot device in the end of the movie.

e) Sausage Party
On one hand, I respect that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have used their Hollywood clout to make a really wide variety of comedies that toy with different genres instead of, like, making a dozen variations on Super Bad. But a lot of the more brazenly experimental movies like This Is The End and Sausage Party, though they were financial and critical successes, really just feel like bloated sketches that get annoying really quickly. I just wish they had more follow through to execute these things well instead of coming off like the product of one stoned brainstorming session.

f) Nine Lives
I had to watch the Kevin Spacey cat movie just out of morbid curiosity. It's so weird that after a decade of losing his ability to star in big movies, Spacey climbed his way back with "House Of Cards" and...did this. Alec Baldwin's turn in The Boss Baby felt like a similarly goofy gambit, but that movie did a decent job of entertaining both kids and adults, where this feels like it appeals to neither.

gZoolander 2
When the first Zoolander came out, the premise seemed kind of corny and dated and I thought Ben Stiller was overexposed and past his peak. So I was pleasantly surprised when the movie turned out to be a hilarious minor classic. And with that in mind, I wanted to give the way too late sequel a chance to win me over. And in terms of a fairly by the numbers sequel, I thought it was actually pretty funny, even if I never need to see it again, I thought it pretty much hit the right notes way better than, say, Anchorman 2.

h) East Side Sushi
A charming little movie about a latina chef who takes a job at a sushi restaurant and butts heads with the owner. A little bland and forgettable, but pleasant, and made me want to eat sushi.

i) Attack The Block
I never heard of this movie until it got John Boyega cast in the new Star Wars movies, and it's a pretty impressive little debut feature with a relatively low budget for a sci-fi movie. I found it a little underwhelming, though. If a horror comedy isn't that funny, it just feels like a horror movie where the stakes are too low to get any big scares. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017



















I contributed a few blurbs to this Rolling Stone list of the most anticipated rap albums for the rest of 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017
























I reviewed the new Vince Staples album Big Fish Theory for Pigeons And Planes

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 94: Mobb Deep

Friday, June 23, 2017
























On Tuesday, shortly after the news hit that Prodigy had died, I contributed to a Rolling Stone list of his best tracks. But I also wanted to jump back and dig a little more into Mobb Deep's impressive catalog.

Mobb Deep deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Hold Down The Fort
2. Eye For A Eye (Your Beef Is Mines) f/ Nas and Raekwon
3. Up North Trip
4. Drink Away The Pain (Situations) f/ Q-Tip
5. Trife Life
6. Give Up The Goods (Just Step) f/ Big Noyd
7. Still Shinin'
8. Extortion f/ Method Man
9. Apostle's Warning
10. What's Ya Poison f/ Cormega
11. The Realest f/ Kool G Rap
12. Thug Muzik
13. Where Ya From f/ 8Ball
14. Clap
15. Nothing Like Home f/ Littles
16. Win Or Lose
17. We Up
18. Smoke It
19. Pearly Gates f/ 50 Cent

Track 1 from Juvenile Hell (1993)
Tracks 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 from The Infamous (1995)
Tracks 7, 8 and 9 from Hell On Earth (1996)
Tracks 10, 11, 12 and 13 from Murda Muzik (1999)
Tracks 14 and 15 from Infamy (2001)
Tracks 16 and 17 from Amerikaz Nightmare (2004)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Blood Money (2006)

Honorable mention to the group's 8th and final album, The Infamous Mobb Deep, which isn't available on streaming services. I actually interviewed Prodigy in 2014 shortly before that album was released, and I also went one of their in store promotional appearances for Blood Money in 2006 and interviewed Havoc. And it's been interesting this week to revisit the Blood Money standout "Pearl Gates" and Prodigy's hilarious, profane, oddly poignant verse where he threatens Jesus ("I'ma beat him like the movie"). They still censor that verse even on the explicit version of the album, which is so stupid, but I've heard it uncensored on the radio this week, which made me smile.

Mobb Deep sold millions of records despite only some very sparing concessions to radio, and even their biggest hits are often as grimy and bleak as their album tracks. And "Eye For A Eye" and "The Realest" feel like definitive Mobb Deep songs even though they were never singles. I love Havoc's ear for samples, like the way "Nothing Like Home" flipped the Lenny Williams sample a couple years before Twista and Kanye had a hit with it. And this week digging into Juvenile Hell, I realized that Havoc used the drums from Little Feat's "Fool Yourself" (a.k.a. the "Bonita Applebaum" break) on "Hold Down The Fort" years before he more famously used them on "G.O.D. Pt. III." And it's interesting to hear a deep cut like "Clap" that puts a different spin on the very unique drum kit from the same album's lead single, "The Learning (Burn)."

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

Monthly Report: June 2017 Singles

Thursday, June 22, 2017























1. Shawn Mendes - "There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back"  
I've been pretty persistently grouchy about Shawn Mendes's ascendance to teen idol status, which has even outlived the site that made him famous, Vine. But this song really grabbed me with its unlikely fusion of a trendy trop house club beat and a kind of "Jessie's Girl" sort of power pop riff. And it sorta fascinates me how Teddy Geiger, who had one top 40 hit a decade ago, has sort of transitioned from being a minor teen pop star to being the svengali who wrote and/or produced most of Mendes's hits. Here's the 2017 singles playlist I update every month.

2. Carly Pearce - "Every Little Thing" 
I just wrote in this space last month about Maren Morris pointing out how hostile country radio is these days to ballads by women. So I was pleasantly surprised soon after to start hearing this song, which is still climbing the charts and I think might get pretty big (and is in fact produced by busbee, who did Morris's whole album).

3. Thomas Rhett f/ Maren Morris - "Craving You"
This song is big and uptempo and a bit different from Morris's album and even a bit more bombastic than Rhett's stuff usually is, but it works well with both of their voices.

4. Cheat Codes f/ Demi Lovato - "No Promises"
This song really gets stuck in my head a lot, I'm kind of surprised it hasn't gotten big quicker, although I think it still might get there. I haven't generally been big on Demi Lovato leaning in an EDM direction but her voice works well with this track, and the main Cheat Codes guy has a pretty pleasant voice too.

5. Bleachers - "Don't Take The Money"
I don't like the new Bleachers album nearly as much as the second, and am generally leaning toward enjoying Jack Antonoff's work as a producer/songwriter more. But this song jams pretty hard, it just took longer to grow on me than "I Wanna Get Better."

6. Mary J. Blige - "U + Me (Love Lesson)" 
This song probably works best in the context of the album, where it flows seamlessly into the next track "Indestructible" as a pretty powerful suite.

7. J. Cole - "Neighbors" 
Once upon a time I was a half hearted J. Cole apologist, but his albums have gotten progressively blander over time and the quality of his singles has taken an even sharper downward turn. This is my favorite single he's released since "Power Trip," though. The fact that it came from a real incident of Cole's neighbors calling the cops on him, and that I started hearing on the radio the week that LeBron James's house got vandalized, really just underlines the raw, ugly sense of how much racism can still follow these guys around even when they have incredibly successful careers and move into rich neighborhoods. Cole sounds like he's reacting to it all five minutes after it happened, the disgust and disappointment is so immediate and palpable in his voice.

8. Rascal Flatts - "Yours If You Want It"
Rascal Flatts are, on some basic level, more viscerally repulsive than almost any other pop country act, they're like a weird sexy Smashmouth. That said, they have some songs I like, "These Days" is a classic to me and I'm enjoying this new one.

9. Brothers Osborne - "It Ain't My Fault"
Pawn Shop has been out for 17 months and just this week finally got its second Hot 100 hit with its most uptempo shitkicking song. I'm really happy to see one of my favorite country albums in recent memory, from a Maryland group no less, has some real legs.

10. Lady Gaga - "The Cure"  
There's something really remarkable about how Lady Gaga managed all the trappings of a major comeback, Super Bowl and all, without any kind of real success of public embrace of her last album beyond the most perfunctory reception. But I was still a little surprised that after just 2 fairly lousy singles from Joanne, she quickly moved on to a new non-album single, when I thought the album still had some decent potential hits. And after the effort to rush out a new song and retain some momentum, "The Cure" was still a flop just like her other recent singles. But it's a decent song, I feel like she's at least trying to turn incrementally toward something pop radio might embrace.

Worst Single of the Month: Miley Cyrus - "Malibu" 
This is a lot less ubiquitous than the Bangerz era stuff, and is missing some of the elements that made that record so unbearable to me, but it's still pretty awful. I feel like there's a really good interesting vocalist hidden somewhere in Miley's voice but she manages to just make the most annoying possible choices with it.