Muscle Memory Liner Notes, Part 6

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Since I released the Western Blot album in November, I've been writing a bit about the writing and recording of each song on the album, here's the latest. 

I was six years old when my parents split up. One of my earliest memories is getting in my mom's Subaru and leaving the only home I'd ever known, and moving to a different state in the middle of the school year. So, regardless of how much I love both my parents or how their marriage probably wouldn't have lasted under any circumstances, that's the kind of thing that sticks with you as a kid, you carry it around. My wife was a teenager when her parents split but I think it was rough on her too. 

So I had this chorus, "I just hope no child of ours is ever a child of divorce/ like I was, and like you were," kicking around in my head even before she and I got married or had kids, although by the time I finished "Child Of Divorce," we'd had our first son. So that was always kind of an autobiographical centerpiece that I always knew was gonna be on the album, although it was years before I actually matched that lyric to the music of this track. 

During the recording of the album, around the time this song was getting finished, I was helping my dad clean out his house in Baltimore, and we sorted through paperwork from his entire life that was in his attic, his birth certificate, taxes, everything. And amongst that were my parents' divorce papers from 1988. He had no reason to keep them and assumed I threw them out with the other inessential papers. But I took them with me to my next session at Mobtown Studios, and I sat in front of a mic and ripped up those papers over the instrumental section at the end of "Child Of Divorce." It just kind of felt like something I could do with them, just to kind of go along with the song's general function of spilling all those feelings out. 

The drum machine loop that the entire song is built on is from the same set of beats that I made at my college apartment in Parkville that the middle section of "As Friends, As Lovers, As Co-Defendants" came out of. Most of what I've done on drum machines has used pretty traditional kick/snare/cymbal sounds, but I got really into this one kit of hand drum type sounds and just came up with that rhythm and would play it for hours. It reminded me of a lot of things, I kinda took some cues from Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)" and Tricky's version of "Black Steel" and the Diwali Riddim, and then tried to come up with something unique, and wrote that bassline over it. I still kind of think that beat as a riddim, at one point I had Mat give me stems for the track in case I wanted to get people to do remixes of it. The bassline is probably a little unconsciously derived from Soul Coughing, it's kind of in the same mode as their song "Lazybones." Even the drum fill at the end of the song is a little bit of a Yuval Gabay thing in my mind. 

At the early sessions for the album in Takoma Park, Mat Leffler-Schulman and I recorded the bassline and live drums over the loop, but we never really got any further than that with the track. So when we reconvened to finish the album in Baltimore, I rerecorded the bassline and tried to make it a little deeper and fuller, and redid the drums, more or less with the same tempo but with more structure. For most of the songs on the album, I basically mapped out a song structure with the drums before I actually had lyrics for the song. So I basically just left space for there to be 4 or 8 lines of a verse, and then 4 or 8 lines of a chorus, and so on. And with "Child Of Divorce" I didn't necessarily know whether the really loud climactic part of the drums was going to be the 2nd chorus or the bridge until I actually sat down and wrote out the lyrics. 

Scott Siskind from Vinny Vegas came in and recorded the vocals for "Child Of Divorce" and then "ETC" in the same night, the only time we basically did the vocals for 2 songs in one session, and the guy is just incredible, I can't say enough good things about him. I knew he had the tone and the range I wanted for "Child Of Divorce," and that was the more delicate song that we kind of got out of the way before knocking out "ETC" more quickly. 

But one thing I didn't anticipate is that Scott tends to write songs that have this dark, gloomy undercurrent, and that was kind of how he approached singing "Child" at first, it sounded just desperately sad. So I really had to kind of walk him through the kind of determined, hopeful tone of the lyric and get the right emotional tone out of him, it was really kind of an interesting moment in producing vocals and getting a vocalist to deliver a song the way you wrote it and have it in your head. Also, I had Scott singing basically over this skeletal track of a drum machine, live drums, and a bassline, so there was no melody in the instrumental for him to sing along with, and I ended up playing the melody for him on a keyboard in the studio to kind of get it across better than it was in my vocal demo, I didn't actually add the keys on the track until a later session. 

I did the bassline for "Child Of Divorce" on the same Casio that I played a lot of the album on, but the rest of the synths on the song were played on one of Mat's keyboards, I believe it was a Korg. And one of the album's great happy accidents was that the keyboard was basically dying and malfunctioning, and he got rid of it soon after, and you can hear the weird way the notes are jumping between octaves but not falling out of tune on the day we recorded it. It ended up having this really strange beautiful effect that I think makes me sound like a better pianist than I actually am because I wasn't switching octaves that much, the notes just kept unexpectedly going lower and then higher at random intervals. 

The song's lyrics end at the same point where the live drums end, but then the drum machine loop just kinda goes on indefinitely, so I kind of had the option to end the song wherever I wanted. And I liked the idea of having kind of this sad little simple piano noodle at the end of the song, I kind of had The Replacements' "Here Comes A Regular" in mind. And since it was kind of a low key ending with a lot of empty space, it kind of made sense to have that sound of ripping up my parents' divorce papers over that section, and I'm kind of amazed at how Mat dropped it into the mix in a way that kind of sounds musical and like a sound effect. 

"Child Of Divorce" was one of the first Western Blot songs I released, along with "Button Masher," on the band's debut single in 2012. I thought those songs contrasted with each other well musically, and it kind of made sense to pair them as the two songs on the album that both refer directly to the experience of having a kid. And even though "Child" was the B-side of the single, there were times when it did better on streaming than "Button Masher," I feel like people responded to it a little more. We play it at every show, but it's really the quietest, most restrained song in the set, so I always put it in the middle, and I'm always toying with how to play the drums, since I don't use any prerecorded loops in the live show and kind of have to replicate the drum machine. Sometimes I play it on the toms, but lately I've kinda stripped it down to a simple hi-hat and snare rim beat. Scott has performed with us a few times, and once Andy sang the song, but as I've gotten more confident at singing and playing drums at the same time, I've gotten more into singing "Child Of Divorce." I'm so glad Scott sang it on the album, though, I feel like he really brought it to life. 

Monthly Report: February 2017 Singles

Monday, February 20, 2017

1. DJ Khaled f/ Beyonce and Jay-Z - "Shining"
There's not much I can say about music's biggest power couple other than that their musical chemistry is kind of unremarkable. Out of a dozen or two collaborations over the years, this is only maybe the 3rd or 4th that I would describe as a keeper. With that kind of batting average, hopefully that duo album that keeps being rumored can just stay in the vault and they can let out the one or two tracks that came out this good. Danja is a genius and hasn't had many prominent credits in the last few years, so it's great to see his production credit on here. And this is the first Jay verse in the past year that I've really enjoyed. Here's the 2017 singles playlist I update every month.

2. Red Sun Rising - "Amnesia"
Red Sun Rising pretentiously uses the hashtag #WeAreThread to describe their genre music on some 'no genre fits us' shit, which is hilarious because they sound even more like Alice In Chains than most of the other neo grunge bands that have crowded hard rock radio over the past 20 years. I hated their first couple hits, especially "Emotionless," but their third single is a pretty spirited little rock anthem.

3. Adele - "Water Under The Bridge"
The 4th single from 25 is probably my favorite. But the backlash to her winning all those Grammys really speaks to how poor a job Adele and her label did of capitalizing on their giant blockbuster or building goodwill outside her fanbase. They didn't release the best uptempo track until over a year after the album came out, and instead of performing it at the Grammys she just did "Hello" again way after everyone got tired of it. It was cool that she let Greg Kurstin have a televised acceptance speech, though,

4. Thomas Rhett - "Star Of The Show"
Tangled Up had a lot of hits on it despite being a wildly uneven album, but I'm surprised Thomas Rhett put out a deluxe reissue with a new single this good when he could've really used "Star of the Show" to launch a new album.

5. Bishop Briggs - "Wild Horses"
This was the first Bishop Briggs song I heard in an Acura in 2015 that made me do some detective work and suspect that she was signed to a major label before Island Records officially announced it or released anything, and now it's her follow up to the radio hit "River." Everything they've released so far has made pretty good use of her whole trap goth trip hop alt rock soul sound, hopefully the album is on the way.

6. Sevyn Streeter - "Before I Do"
I've been waiting years for Sevyn Streeter to finally release a full length album, and the appropriately titled Girl Disrupted keeps getting pushed back. This is the 4th or 5th single they've released since last summer, her voice is really good for a gentle slow jam like this.

7. Mariah Carey f/ YG - "I Don't"
At this point Mariah is treated as this fallen pop superstar that no radio format change will touch, which is a shame because she still makes perfectly good R&B, and probably deserves to at least have a nice steady run of R&B radio hits like other past prime superstars like Usher or Janet Jackson or whoever. Mariah kicked off her run of rap collaborations with ODB of all people back in the day, so the fact that she continues handpicking these grimy non-superstar rappers for guest verses makes me feel like she's really just that serious of a hip hop head.

8. Eric Church f/ Rhiannon Giddens - "Kill A Word"
"Kill A Word" was never one of my favorite songs on Mr. Misunderstood, and Blake Shelton's "She's Got A Way With Words" did the whole heavy handed 'wordplay about words' thing even more awkwardly. But I like the song's backing from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the single version really benefits from CCD's Rhiannon Giddens singing lead on a few lines. Plus it's cool to hear a black woman singing on country radio, since Beyonce and Fantasia and K. Michelle's country songs last year didn't get any airplay.

9. 2 Chainz f/ Gucci Mane and Quavo - "Good Drank"
Migos were hilariously offended when 2 Chainz had a great line pointing out that Three 6 Mafia did the triplet flow before them, so I'm glad they all patched things up and went on to work together pretty often. I'm kind of impressed that Mike Dean can still do such an elegantly simple southern banger like this, I thought maybe he could only do those frilly overstuffed G.O.O.D. Music tracks now.

10. Zayn and Taylor Swift - "I Don't Wanna Live Forever"
Pretty much everything about this song made me want to hate it before I even heard it. Zayn and Taylor Swift uniting for their respective unconvincing R&B reboots to promote a Fifty Shades sequel and, presumably, to annoy Harry Styles in the process? Blech. But I like the melody and Zayn's whispery falsetto, it's really grown on me. I hope Jack Antonoff doesn't just spend the rest of his career as a Swift sidekick, though, I'd like another Bleachers album.

Worst Single of the Month: Alessia Cara "Scars To Your Beautiful"
I love everything Pop & Oak do so I don't wanna hate on something that's been such a big hit for them, but this track has really become more annoying to me as it's become ubiquitous on pop radio.
Cara uses "beautiful" as a noun (instead of, y'know, "beauty") so that it rhymes with "beautiful" (used properly as an adjective the second time), it's just some hideous songwriting.

Friday, February 17, 2017

About a year ago, I interviewed cast and crew members of the VH1 original movie The Breaks for Complex. And since that movie was successful as a backdoor pilot for a series, the first season of The Breaks is debuting this Monday, and I did a new Complex piece, speaking to a few cast members about hip hop in the '90s.  

Movie Diary

Thursday, February 16, 2017

a) The Lego Batman Movie
I was kinda underwhelmed by The Lego Movie after all the praise for it. But my son and I laughed so hard at the trailer for this when we went to a movie a few months ago that we were counting down the days, and went to see it on opening day since his school was closed. We both enjoyed the hell out of it, although I laughed at a lot of the pretty specific Batman references and he just appreciated the general silliness of it.

b) Ghostbusters
It's weird to watch this movie after all the weird ridiculous polarized reactions to its existence. It's not a referendum on the right of women to reboot a beloved comedy franchise, it's just a fucking movie, and it's neither great nor terrible, although I suspect it's a lot better than a 3rd movie from the original cast would've been. Kate McKinnon was definitely, as I expected, the funniest part of the cast, but I thought where this really fell apart was when the action sequences ramped up but they didn't balance that stuff with the comedy as easily as the original movies did.

c) Now You See Me 2
Now You See Me was a frustrating movie that I thought kind of squandered a pretty impressive cast and a fun premise on a lazy, borderline nonsensical script. So I didn't have any real expectations for the sequel, and thought it at least held together a little better. Lizzy Caplan stepping into the cast in Isla Fisher's absence worked out pretty well, she has a couple hilarious scenes.

d) The Angry Birds Movie
My son has watched this movie a lot, it's pretty silly but it's grown on me. It's no Lego Batman Movie, though.

e) Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
The fact that this was an actual hit book somebody 'wrote' that spawned a whole cottage industry of horror versions of literary classics is kind of ridiculous and depressing. But as a movie, it's a perfectly fine mindless popcorn flick. I took a Jane Austen course in college, so I'm very familiar with the original novel and the BBC adaptation, so it was fun to see some of the scenes thrown into the zombie story, but it felt like after a while they just abandoned the comedy of those contrasts and turned it into a straight up zombie movie and it got kinda boring.

f) Love The Coopers
Exactly a decade after The Family Stone, Diane Keaton once again starred in a Christmas movie as the matriarch of a squabbling dysfunctional family. And The Family Stone is not exactly a classic, but I have a soft spot for it, and this pales in comparison.

g) The Lobster
I'd heard a lot of very different opinions about this movie, but I was intrigued, and my wife was really interested to see it. But the first hour was such a total letdown that she ended up going to bed before it was over, and I can't really blame her. I kind of respected The Lobster's dedication to its own unusual tone and premise, but it felt like it fell way short of being as funny or as thought provoking as it wanted to be.

h) The Visit
I enjoy enough M. Night Shyamalan movies that I kind of root for him still, but this was pretty worthless, maybe the most unremarkably mediocre movie in his career of dramatic successes and failures. The worst part is that it probably would've played completely different with better actors playing the grandparents, but the performances just weren't right at all, almost clashed with the tone the direction seemed to be going for. And the ending was just stupid.

i) Fantastic Four
I'm kind of fascinated by how they keep trying to make this franchise happen and keep making a bigger and bigger waste of talent and money. Even the ones from 10 years ago were way better than this, and they were nothing special. It was fun to see Reg E. Cathey, though, I always enjoy seeing a not particularly famous middle aged character actor get a chance to shine in a comic book movie.

My wife and I got snowed in during our first Valentine's Day together and watched horror movies and ordered Chinese food, so that's been our ritual every V Day for the past decade and a half (well, this year she made Pad Thai). This year we looked at the OnDemand menu and decided this movie sounded interesting, and we ended up pretty happy with the choice. It's basically a 'found footage' movie in the Blair Witch mold, nothing amazing but executed pretty well with a little bit of a twist on the formula. I'm surprised I never heard of it, it went straight to DVD/VOD, really probably deserved a run in theaters. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Woodfir, a trio I play drums in with Tim and Reda of Blood Horses, released an EP last year and made our unofficial live debut at a private party. But we're finally playing our first proper public show later this month, at Rhizome in Washington, D.C. on February 19 with More AM Than FM and Sheila. I'm really excited about the set we've been working on and getting out there in front of people this year.

(photo by Jen Roth)

Monthly Report: January 2017 Albums

Friday, February 03, 2017

1. Priests  - Nothing Feels Natural
A couple weeks ago, I worked with news crews in D.C. covering both the inauguration and the Women's March, taking the Metro around town during two of the most surreal and emotional days of my life. At the end of inauguration day, I went over to the Black Cat, which was holding an event called 'No Thanks,' and I was hoping to see Ted Leo, but I had to get on the last Metro train back to Maryland before he took the stage. But I did see some great bands like Priests and Pure Disgust that are carrying the torch for this long tradition of Washington punk bands who've been emboldened by their physical proximity to the federal government to speak out since the Reagan administration. And Priests played a great quick set of songs from their debut full-length album, which came out a week later. Priests are kind of already hitting that point where their sound keeps getting wider and more omnivorous, with guests like cellist Janel Leppin and saxophonist Mark Cisneros, both of whom joined them onstage at the Black Cat. It's a really passionate, outspoken album, but I feel like its overall emotional tenor is more about compassion than anger, there's a tenderness to Priests' idea of political punk. Buy Nothing Feels Natural today, Bandcamp is donating its share of all sales today to the ACLU.

2. Jefe - The World Is Yours EP
Shy Glizzy is on a roll from maybe his best project to date, Young Jefe 2, just six months ago, and has decided to just change his name to just Jefe. I feel like that's a less distinctive name, and I'm pretty skeptical about rapper name changes in general as per my Complex piece last year. But Jefe has already done something that few rappers do to cement a name change and actually release a project under the new name, so if he wants to be Jefe, I'm alright with that, "Give It Up" is great. Here's the 2017 albums playlist I'll be updating with every new record I listen to throughout the year.

3. Kehlani - SweetSexySavage
It's almost hilariously on-the-nose for someone like Kehlani to basically take an old TLC album and put the word 'savage' in it, since so much of the wave she represents is about just taking old '80s and '90s R&B samples and throwing trap drums on them. And this album checks off all the boxes with multiple Aaliyah samples and a New Edition interpolation. But Pop & Oak turn samples of old R&B into new R&B better than anyone these days, and they hold down the bulk of the album, so it works. And I like how sugary and bright Kehlani's melodies are, I feel like it gets lost in the shuffle how much her and Tinashe put kind of a surprising bubblegum sheen on an aesthetic that ends up really murky and drab in the hands of guys like Bryson Tiller. And "Advice" is really standing out so far as my favorite song.

4. Migos - Culture
I've never been that enthusiastic about Migos, relative to their contemporaries in Atlanta trap rap. But I respect that they're having a moment right now, more popular than ever 3-4 years after they were declared a flash in the pan, much like the moment Future enjoyed a while back. I'm more partial to Takeoff than Offset, who kinda dominates this record more in the wake of "Bad & Boujee," and Quavo already seems to be saving his best stuff for features, so this isn't even necessarily what an ideal Migos album would sound like to me. But I think it's stronger than most of their mixtapes that I've heard, "T-Shirt" and "Slippery" feel like the immediate standouts to me. I was disappointed that 2 Chainz turned in his first weak guest verse in years, though.

5. Prodigy - Hegelian Dialectic (The Book Of Revelation)
The classic Mobb Deep chemistry felt like it was dead on their last group album, but Prodigy's solo records continue to kind of pull him out into his own little universe in a really refreshing way. Some of the beats on this album are so strange and jazzy and unlike what he's rapped on before, but it works and kind of puts the focus on the words, and it just feels like he's getting a lot off of his chest. I mean, Prodigy kind of birthed hip hop's Illuminati fascination, and one of the best songs, "Mafuckin U$A," opens with him saying "everything not Illuminati, everything not a evil plot...everything is not connected, some things are but you buggin'" and then talking about taking real concrete political action. The day after the inauguration, he put it on Spotify as a single under the title "Make America Great Again: Mafuckin U$A."

6. David Bowie - No Plan EP
Though  felt like a pretty complete self contained work, it was intriguing to know that David Bowie had written more songs in his final year of life that didn't make the album, some of which were for the stage musical Lazarus. So I'm glad that some of that music resurfaced on the anniversary of Bowie's death on this EP, which contains "Lazarus" and 3 previously unreleased songs. I think "When I Met You" is my favorite of the new ones.

7. Cardi B - GBMV2
There's a whole world out there now of social media celebrities who've been able to parlay Instagram or Vine or Twitter fame to TV or music gigs, and by and large these are a bunch of annoying, photogenic opportunists. But Cardi B seems to just show herself to be smarter and more talented with every new medium she hops to. She's not an amazing rapper and some of her music is pretty generic and derivative, but her voice and persona were already pretty well honed, and she's got a good flow, the more money they put into her production, the higher her ceiling gets.

8. Mozzy - Fake Famous
Mozzy is definitely doing a slightly more serious and lyrically focused version of the Cali rap he's descended from, but this record does remind me a bit of recent E-40 albums in how the beats are endless variations on that very particular aesthetic and there's this army of extremely varied guests that only gets annoying when G-Eazy shows up. "The People Plan" is a great opener.

9. Joan Of Arc - He's Got The Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands
Joan Of Arc has been making deliberately annoying, mannered and self-consciously provocative records since well before that became a viable indie rock career path or got used to dismissing it as 'trolling.' But Tim Kinsella also tends to do some pretty interesting, unusual things with rock instrumentation that I never hear anyone else touch, and Live In Chicago 1999 still holds up as a pretty great record, so I occasionally check back in with Joan Of Arc. And this is the best record I've heard from them in a while, even if the lyrics start promisingly with the words "Let's begin with the premise that you are kidding, but then what?" and then kind of descend into some fairly obnoxious ideas.

10. Halestorm - ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs EP
The brilliant Nashville producer Jay Joyce elevated Halestorm to something above their usual effective 'generic hard rock band' schtick on their last album, Into The Wild Life. But their third EP of covers returns them to their occasional high powered bar band side gig, it's fun to hear them do Metallica or Soundgarden with a female singer or rock up Sophie B. Hawkins and Twenty One Pilots.

Worst Album of the Month: PnB Rock - GTTM: Goin Thru The Motions
Rappers usually squeak out a major label debut many months, if not years, after achieving national fame, so I gotta applaud Atlantic for moving on PnB Rock's album and getting it into stores within weeks of "Selfish" hitting the Hot 100. But I have to wonder if PnB Rock realizes that "going through the motions" is generally not considered to be a good thing, because the title is unfortunately pretty appropriate. It just feels like this guy has incorporated the whole last decade of melodic AutoTune rap without really putting his own stamp on it or writing any great songs yet. I don't hate the record, "Playa No More" sounds like a hit, but it's incredibly anonymous and impersonal for a debut album.

Muscle Memory Liner Notes, Part 5

Thursday, February 02, 2017

This Friday, Bandcamp is donating all of their share of proceeds from purchases on the site that day to the ACLU. I think that's really great and want to do my small part to support that, so my share of any Bandcamp sales for my album for this whole month will also go to the ACLU. 

Track 5: The Power Let Me Down

"The Power Let Me Down" opens side 2 of Muscle Memory, or at least it will if I ever press the album on vinyl. I always thought that albums from the vinyl era tended to be more digestible, and paced more satisfyingly, because artists were forced to get the record in around 40 minutes or less and divide the tracklists into two ostensibly equal halves that each have a beginning and an end. So this kinda became the big loud track that abruptly kicks off the second half of the album.

I've always been obsessed with mondegreens, misheard phrases in songs that your brain kind of creates meanings for. It's something that just happens constantly as you listen to music, whether or not you try to learn the right lyrics or look them up. And I think there's something to be said for using it as a songwriting exercise. My favorite story about that is that Desmond Child wrote the Billy Myers song "Kiss the Rain" after he misheard Bush's "Glycerine" and decided he liked what he heard better than the real lyric. 

So the title of "The Power Let Me Down" came from me listening to Diddy and Keyshia Cole's 2007 hit "Last Night," because the way Sean Combs mumbled the words "I tried to call, but my pride wouldn't let me dial" made me hear something completely different. And I think that phrase stuck with me in part because of the Merle Haggard song "The Bottle Let Me Down" as well. From there, the words "the power let me down" just led me into this weird dreamlike narrative about half-remembered incidents of power outages, cautiously driving through intersections while traffic lights are out, and the eerie quiet of being at home with the all the electricity off. 

There were some summers that I lived in Baltimore where there were just these huge blackouts on the hottest nights of the year. So the first line of the song, "This is one of those cities that sleeps," is really the only lyric on the album that's about Baltimore, it was this line I had for years that I just slipped into the intro of the song before the first verse starts. I kind of got the idea of how that line functions in the song from the opening lyric of "Mule On The Plane" by Beauty Pill, the way it's kind of intoned over the instrumental intro. 

Every song on the album is in the first person and has a "me" or "I" and usually a "you," and "Power" has that semi autobiographical element to it. But I also think of it as one of the two songs, along with "As Friends, As Lovers, As Co-Defendants," that is more of a weird narrative fiction experiment. And somewhat unintentionally, another thing those songs have in common is that the lyrics kind of tell the story backwards, the first verse of "Power" takes place chronologically after the second verse, in my mind. 

"Power" is one of the three songs on the album where most of the instruments were recorded way back in the early sessions at Mat Leffler-Schulman's home studio in Takoma Park. I tended to go into sessions with Mat with a game plan and demos I wanted to re-record, just because the studio time was finite and you really want to make the most of it. But "Power" was really the one track that came together pretty spontaneously in the studio. We'd finished all the stuff I'd planned to record that day and still had a couple more hours on the clock, so I started messing around on the drums and brainstorming, and got that fast, tightly wound rhythm, and just recorded it as it is on the track, rising and falling in intensity with a vague idea of where a verse and a chorus would go.

The main 3 note riff was a simple little thing I'd had from a demo maybe a year earlier, but on the demo the rhythm was much slower and had kind of a shuffling reggae swing to it. But after I laid down that beat, I went back to that riff, and just laid down a bassline and then doubled up the riff and put that screaming portamento 'lead' line over the top of everything to get it really ridiculous and loud. After putting a lot of effort into having distinct different keyboard parts for each section of each song, "Power" was the track where I just went ahead and vamped on one riff for the whole song, differentiating the verse and chorus with some good old fashioned loud/soft dynamics, and a little countermelody on the chorus. Years later at Mobtown Studios we added the tambourine track and the vocals, but otherwise pretty much the whole track was thrown together in one afternoon in Takoma Park, the fastest gestation of any of these songs.

Of the four people who I invited to sing lead on the album, Andy Shankman is the only who's also become a member of Western Blot and plays bass in the band (guitar for the first few shows and then he switched to bass). We'd traveled in some of the same Baltimore music media circles and met a few times, and he invited me to see his band Jumpcuts. And I remember being impressed by that first Jumpcuts show I saw, where he played synth and sang, and kinda kept him in mind as someone who could help me with my own weird synthesizer-driven rock project. Ironically, though, that was only one of a handful of Jumpcuts shows where Andy played keyboards, otherwise he plays guitar in that band, which I found out later.

I pretty much did all of the selecting and contacting singers for the record myself, but Mat had played this track for a band he was working with at one point and got some interest from their singer. But after Mat tried to play matchmaker, I sent over an early set of lyrics for the song, and they kinda went cold on the whole thing, which was just as well because I liked their voice but wasn't sure if it fit the song, and I didn't really like the lyrics I had. So I scrapped those words and started over from scratch with the mondegreen that inspired the whole "The Power Let Me Down" title.

I kind of took some inspiration from the Morphine song "Thursday" to kind of vamp on this one riff for the whole song with talky verses and then blasting the riff on the chorus. But I really sounded bad on the demo and knew I needed someone else to sing that song, and I knew from Jumpcuts that Andy could kind of fit the ominous nocturnal vibe of the song. It was Mat's idea to have Andy double his vocals with a "whisper track" and I was skeptical about the idea, but it really made the verses work. Andy and I went back and forth about delivering the chorus two different ways, and I ultimately decided to have him sing the first chorus one way and sing the second chorus the other way, and I really like how that contrast turned out.

During the time that we were making the album and Western Blot had released a single and started playing shows, Mat had started doing some things with the studio that were sponsored by Flying Dog, a brewery based out in Frederick, Maryland. And when they asked him to put together a compilation of Baltimore bands, he had me help oversee the whole thing, and we asked a bunch of people we like to contribute songs from their latest releases, and got a few previously unreleased tracks, including "The Power Let Me Down." 

There was a release party at the Ottobar for Baltimore, Vol. 1, and Western Blot wasn't initially going to play, but one of the booked bands had to pull out, so we got a spot on the bill, and it was really one of our best shows to date, probably the biggest crowd we've played to. Andy told me "I always wanted to be on a compilation" that night, which I thought was kind of funny, but it's true, as a musician you always see these compilations full of bands and it's a weird little thing you kinda wanna be a part of. It was gratifying for me to play the Ottobar because the only other time I'd gotten a chance to play there, almost a decade earlier with a previous band, I had planned a trip to visit my brother, so I told the band they could just do the gig without me if they found another drummer. They did, and I always regretted it, because we broke up before we had another chance to play the Ottobar. 

Speaking of those kinds of situations, I once booked a Western Blot show at the Golden West which we then realized Andy couldn't do because it was on Passover. So John and I decided to try and do the show without him, doing some songs as a duo and some with Tim Yungwirth of Your Solar sitting in on bass. So I sang more than usual at that show, and it was the only time I sang "The Power Let Me Down" live, which is really difficult given how fast the drums are on that song. It's otherwise a lot of fun to play live, though, it is, along with "ETC" and "Time And A Half," a song that we've used to open sets and close sets and have played in the middle of the show, and it seems to work in any context.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Village Voice's annual music critics poll was published this week, and is still called Pazz + Jop, despite the fact that they'd appeared to ditch the poll's 40 year old name when they sent out ballots a few weeks ago. Here's my ballot of my top 10 albums and singles of the year, which of course is a shorter version of the top 50 albums and top 100 singles lists I posted in December. As usual, the Furia site is full of interesting stats, and my page is here.

TV Diary

Thursday, January 26, 2017

a) "The Young Pope"
I'm glad that I watched one of Paolo Sorrentino's films, Youth, a few weeks ago, because I really enjoyed his strange sense of humor and surreal visual sensibility. And it really primed me for "The Young Pope," which I think most people are checking out because it's an HBO show with a big movie star headlining it or because the title/premise is funny and are just kind of confounded or turned off by. But after watching four episodes, I'm really enjoying it so far even if I really have no idea if it's ultimately headed somewhere dark, funny, profound, or stupid, or all of the above.

b) "The New Edition Story"
I'm generally allergic to biopics, but a nice low stakes miniseries about a group with a pretty action packed history is some good TV, and I've enjoyed watching this after spending so much time lately listening to New Edition. It's stupid, but I really enjoyed that Michael Bivins's mother Shirley was played by Yvette Nicole Brown (aka Shirley from "Community").

c) "Throwing Shade"
This new TV Land series got a lot of advance bad publicity from people generally reacting to it being a bad look for a show called "Throwing Shade" to star 2 white people. The hosts, a woman and a gay guy, basically do a pop culture-heavy 'Weekend Update'-style report at a news desk, and kind of come off like a poor man's Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner. There were a few pretty sharp jokes in the first episode, and Will Ferrell surprisingly showed up for one of the scripted sketches thrown into the show, but they'll have to ditch the annoying laugh track and maybe have a real audience for this show to really have some potential.

d) "A Series Of Unfortunate Events"
Barry Sonnenfeld has a pretty spotty resume, but he's done a handful of things I love, and this series kind of feels like a pretty perfect melding of two of them, the Addams Family movies and "Pushing Daisies," the whole cartoony morbid vibe. I kinda feel like this show doesn't have enough of a plot to be an hour long, but Neil Patrick Harris and Patrick Warburton are hilarious and get a lot of great lines.

e) "Sneaky Pete"
Gritty antihero prestige TV drama icon Bryan Cranston co-created this Amazon show, which feels like a catalog of all the increasingly tiresome tropes of gritty antihero prestige TV. The whole premise with somebody stepping into someone else's life to get out of trouble has been done better on other shows, particularly "The Riches," which made much better use of Margo Martindale than this show does.

f) "Taboo"
I am, for whatever reason, one of the only people in the world who doesn't think much of Tom Hardy. He seems to have a different face and accent for every role, but never any discernible personality, and the FX period piece series he wrote with his father seems to confirm every feeling I had about him being kind of dull and pretentious. The production values are nice, I guess, but I am just not into this shit.

g) "Emerald City"
Tarsem Singh is one of the most visually creative and distinctive directors working today, probably best known for the not great but gorgeously filmed The Cell (although I prefer his far lesser known second feature The Fall). But given that he's increasingly failed to live up to his potential as a filmmaker, it's probably for the best that he's moved into TV, directing every episode of the first season of Wizard of Oz series. Rendering Oz as a dark gloomy Game of Thrones/Narnia mythology is kind of an iffy basis for a show, but there are enough colorful and grandiose sets and outfits and creatures and effects to make it one of the richest feasts for the eyes on TV, so I'm just kind of going along with the ride and hoping I eventually care about the story.

h) "One Day At A Time"
I only have the vaguest memories of the show with the Schneider guy being in syndication when I was a kid, so I don't have much investment in a reboot. But I do enjoy the Norman Lear style of sitcoms and appreciate that they're pretty true to that here, although the laugh track is pretty loud and it's more charming than it is funny most of the time.

i) "Big Fan"
A pretty goofy new game show hosted by Andy Richter where fans of a celebrity are quizzed on trivia, and then compete with the celebrity themselves to see who knows more about them. The debut episode with Matthew McConaughey was pretty entertaining but I have my doubts about most other celebs making for a good episode.

j) "Beyond"
I try to give sci fi shows on Freeform a chance because I like "Stitchers," but I dunno, this is kinda bland, not too into it.

k) "The Mick"
This show has been pretty funny so far, the whole rapport between Kaitlin Olson and Carla Jiminez is hilarious.

l) "Chasing Cameron"
Netflix made a documentary series about one of those Vine/Instagram stars and the stupid meet and greet event tours they do, I could only stomach one episode but it's really kind of a gripping, horrifying portrait of this odd little cottage industry that sprang up a few years ago. It's so weird because it's like Beatlemania without the music, it's just a free floating social media version of a bazillion teenage girls idolizing some random guy from the internet but it's really almost more intense than if this guy actually did anything or had a skill.

m) "Trollhunters"
The idea of Guillermo del Toro creating a kids' show sounds like a joke, but this Netflix animated series turned out to be pretty charming, with a voice cast including Kelsey Grammer (in a great turn as a six eyed troll) and the late Anton Yelchin in one of his final performances. My 7 year old loved the show, he watched all 26 episodes in the week he was home for Christmas and the last episode made him cry.

n) "Travelers"
This is a weird high concept show about people from the future kind of inhabiting people's bodies in the present at the moment they're about to die, interesting premise with some creepy ambiance, but then it kinda feels like Eric McCormack stepped out of a totally different, somewhat lighter show.

o) "Crazyhead"
My wife was a big fan of the British series "Misfits," though I never really saw too much of it myself. I really enjoyed this new show from "Misfits" creator Howard Overman, though, kind of a fun demonic horror comedy that in some way was a lot more creative and unpredictable than some of the similarly themed American shows that have been going around lately.

p) "The OA"
Netflix premiered this show with a very little information or advance notice in December, and kinda let people be allured by its mysterious aura and strange story. But I thought the first couple episodes were pretty rough going, and it pretty much never got better as I got to the ridiculous conclusion that felt like it was manipulating my emotions and insulting my intelligence. I was not a particularly big fan of "Stranger Things" but all the pieces comparing "The OA" favorably to "Stranger Things" came off pretty desperate, this really felt like a failed experiment.

q) "Star"
"Empire" had the right cast and caught the zeitgeist at the right time to be a pretty fun show to watch, but "Star" kind of mashes the "Empire" formula together with the lurid misery porn of Lee Daniels's other work like Precious and Monster's Ball, and it all kind of becomes an ugly mess, particularly in the pilot episode. It's a shame, because the production values and the staging on the musical scenes can be pretty impressive. But I don't know what they were thinking with this goofy show about a white R&B star, it plays like a Fergie origin story.

r) "White Rabbit Project"
I watched a lot of "MythBusters" back in the day, and apparently the show kept going on and on until less than a year ago. So now the people from the show are moving on to vaguely similar new projects, and this one on Netflix features the 3 members of the 'build team' testing out technology hacks and heists and things like that. I'm kinda over this whole style of show, I guess, but I'm still all about Kari Byron.

s) "Medici: Masters Of Florence"
It's weird that a Netflix series featuring Dustin Hoffman has gotten virtually no attention, but he's not really a very big part of it, and the one episode I watched moved pretty slowly and was kind of cheesy and melodramatic.

t) "Hip Hop Evolution"
From the moment "Hip Hop Evolution" starts, with the no name rapper who created it shoehorning his career and clips of his videos into the intro, I just have a very strong dislike for the guy and his perspective. But, I appreciate this documentary's focus on the early days of rap and they went to the source and got some interesting interviews out of the early generations of hip hop, so it's worth a look.

u) "3%"
Yet another international Netflix sci fi show, this one from Brazil. I don't think I have the attention span to watch an entire series with subtitles, though.

v) "Glitch"
Yet another international Netflix sci fi show, this one from Australia, with the great creepy premise of a bunch of people crawling out of a graveyard after being dead for years and having no idea why. I'm almost through the whole series now but it really hasn't held my attention much since that first episode.

w) "Paranoid"
More Netflix international fare, a British crime drama, didn't care much for the first episode. But damn Netflix is churning out a lot of content these days, half of the shows in this post are Netflix, and really most of them are pretty subpar television.

x) "Son Of Zorn"
My friend Josh is the only person I know who watches this show, and he seemed to hate it at first and now is its biggest fan. I'm kind of indifferent to it, it's had some funny moments but it kinda feels like they're just trying to squeeze too much out of a premise that would barely sustain a sketch.

y) "The Affair"
I really thought this show had developed into something pretty unique, if depressing, in the second season. But now the third season is almost over and I feel like it's maybe just descended into total pointless misery, they just keep plunging these characters further into heartbreak and betrayal and prison and addiction, and it's kind of gone way beyond what once felt like a fairly realistic look at the fallout of an extramarital affair and a divorce.

z) "Saturday Night Live"
I left "SNL" off of my year-end TV list the last two years, in part because of general lack of enthusiasm about the show but also pretty pointedly because both years I was pretty pissed about Donald Trump hosting after his campaign began. But now that Trump is actually president and "SNL" is the only show making fun of him that he actually watches and gets pissed off at, I'm kinda glad it's there and hope Alec Baldwin keeps poking the bear for as long as he's president, he's really been great. It was depressing that one of the few recent episodes Trump didn't tweet about was the one where Aziz Ansari asked him to denounce hate crimes, though. And that whole thing with a writer getting suspended over a tweet is pretty awful, too, the entire entanglement between NBC and Trump is just kind of shitty. Melissa Villasenor is growing on me out of this season's new featured players, though, she was hilarious in the sketch role playing in bed with Ansari.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My latest Remix Report Card for Noisey.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 86: New Edition

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Next week BET will air the 3-part The New Edition Story, Bell Biv DeVoe have a new album coming out this month, and the whole group reunited on a recent Johnny Gill single that was on my top 20 R&B singles of 2016. So let's talk New Edition.

New Edition Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Gimme Your Love
2. Pass The Beat
3. Ooh Baby
4. I'm Leaving You Again
5. Baby Love
6. Delicious
7. Hide And Seek
8. Whispers In Bed
9. Who Do You Trust
10. Singing Merry Christmas
11. Since I Don't Have You
12. Intro
13. That's The Way We're Livin'
14. Boys To Men
15. Where It All Started
16. Skit 2
17. I'm Comin' Home
18. Shop Around
19. Hear Me Out
20. One Love Interlude
21. Last Time

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from Candy Girl (1983)
Tracks 4, 5, 6 and 7 from New Edition (1984)
Tracks 8 and 9 from All For Love (1985)
Track 10 from Christmas All Over The World (1985)
Track 11 from Under The Blue Moon (1986)
Tracks 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 from Heart Break (1988)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Home Again (1996)
Tracks 20 and 21 from One Love (2004)

There's an argument to be made that New Edition has influenced pop music history more than almost any group in my lifetime. They invented the modern boy band template for a couple generations of male vocal groups, from NKOTB and the other white boy bands that followed in their wake to the various R&B groups including Boyz II Men, mentored by Michael Bivins and named after a New Edition deep cut. Bobby Brown was arguably the first R&B star to routinely rap on his singles, and he and BBD helped make New Jack Swing a pop phenomenon, plus Johnny and Ralph had pretty respectable solo careers. If you removed New Edition from history, a huge chunk of popular music might not even exist.

The hits on New Edition were penned by outside writers, including Ray Parker Jr., but members of the group began writing deep cuts, including Ricky Bell and Ralph Tresvant's "I'm Leaving You Again," which was sampled on Bow Wow and Ciara's huge 2005 hit "Like You." And that basically established the pattern for most of the band's career, where many of their songs were written by group members but almost never the singles (with the exception of the 1996 comeback single "Hit Me Off," co-written by Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe well after they penned several Bell Biv DeVoe hits). So deep cuts are really where you get a bit more of the group's perspective and some foreshadowing of their solo careers and offshoot groups.

It made the most sense to organize the group's catalog chronologically, since their sound changed with the times and you also hear their voices gradually deepen (well, except Ralph Tresvant's, I think he's had the same range since the first album). 1988's "If It Isn't Love" has always been my favorite New Edition hit and Heart Break follows suit as easily my favorite album of the bunch, great Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis work during that fertile period between Control and Rhythm Nation. I'm surprised by the number of skits on Heart Break, because it doesn't seem like skits become customary on rap albums until 1989.

One of the most interesting things to me about New Edition's on again, off again relationship with Bobby Brown is that they both initially flopped after the split, with his solo debut and the remaining quartet's ill conceived doo wop covers album Under The Blue Moon both coming out in 1986 (and I was amused that it features "Since I Don't Have You," covered on another major group's footnote covers album, The Spaghetti Incident? by Guns 'N Roses, 7 years later). And then they rallied and came back big separately in 1988 with Heart Break and Don't Be Cruel, both multi platinum career high points. The two reunion albums haven't aged as well as the '80s stuff, but there's some solid circa 1996 and circa 2004 radio R&B on those records.

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!

Monthly Report: January 2017 Singles

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

1. The Weeknd f/ Daft Punk - "I Feel It Coming"
I've spent a lot of the last few months trashing Starboy in general and "Starboy" in particular for the waste of Daft Punk on a terribly generic (and inexplicably popular) track. But I'm a lot more impressed by the album's other Daft Punk collaboration, which still sounds a little they're on autopilot but makes much better use of some of their signature sounds. The Weeknd always wilts under all those Michael Jackson comparisons, but this at least lets him touch on a previously unexplored capacity for sugary "The Lady In My Life"/"Human Nature" balladry. Here's the 2017 singles Spotify playlist I'll be adding to every month.

2. Ed Sheeran - "Castle On The Hill"
Ed Sheeran released two singles from his upcoming album simultaneously, and the embarrassing trop house one he wrote for Rihanna, "The Shape Of You," is naturally far and away the bigger hit, debuting at #1. But I much prefer the #6 debut "Castle On The Hill," which is produced by Benny Blanco and kind of manages to subtly combine a folky clap stomp beat with an EDM pulse but still actually sounds like the kind of song Ed Sheeran should sing instead of some corny cod dancehall bullshit.

3. DJ Esco f/ Future and Lil Uzi Vert - "Too Much Sauce"
I love the combination of Future and Zaytoven and am happy that the sequel to Beast Mode seems to finally be on the way in 2017 (presumably no longer called Beast Mode 16). Project E.T. had a lot of jams but seemed to get kind of dismissed last year in the flood of Future music that it followed, so I'm glad one of its best songs has stuck around on the charts. Lil Uzi Vert is actually good on "Too Much Sauce," so it's nice to occasionally hear this song instead of his shitshow of a verse on "Bad & Boujee."

4. Usher - "Missin' U"
I always love hearing Steely Dan sampled on rap and R&B songs, regardless of how Donald and Walter feel about it. And here Pop & Oak pretty brilliantly turn "Third World Man," one of the darkest tracks on Gaucho, into a sexy Usher jam.

5. Dreezy - "Wasted"
No Hard Feelings is 3 for 3 on radio singles, was really impressed that she did a track with Greg Kurstin that puts his sound into an R&B context that works surprisingly well.

6. Beyonce - "All Night"
"All Night" is the sweet reconciliation song at the end of Lemonade so it was appropriate that they released it as a single toward the end of the album cycle. I was surprised they credited the horns as a "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" interpolation, it's not nearly as close as the "Flawless" remix horns were, but I guess they wanted to cover their asses in these litigious times. I don't say nice things about anything made by Diplo very often so here's the grudging compliment I'll give every couple years I guess.

7. Dae Dae - "Spend It"
I think it's odd that Dae Dae dropped a solid album with London On Da Track but keeps pushing singles with different producers that aren't on that project. But Nitti Beatz is enjoying a nice little career resurgence with this and Rich Homie Quan's "Flex" hitting so many years after his best known work with Yung Joc.

8. DJ Snake f/ Jeremih, Young Thug and Swizz Beatz - "The Half"
DJ Snake launched his run of pop hits by basically using Lil Jon's voice as a sound effect (which it kind of already was, but still). So I'm impressed that this track really makes good use of all its guests, although really it'd be a better song without that annoying warbling filtered vocal loop sound that's in every DJ Snake track, that shit is really played out now.

9. Rick Ross f/ 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane - "Buy Back The Block"
Rick Ross has already been a boring rapper with good taste to me, so the more guests he loads his tracks up with the better, and this has one of the best Gucci verses of the past year on it.

10. Kevin "Chocolate Droppa" Hart f/ Trey Songz - "Push It On Me"
Kevin Hart has been doing a comedy bit as his rapper alter ego Chocolate Droppa for years, more as a parody of bad rappers than a serious attempt at a second career. So I was surprised that he promoted his latest concert film with a companion mixtape where he apparently collaborates with all manner of huge stars. It's very odd because Trey Songz contributed one of his best tracks in recent memory and they've actually scored a radio hit with it, but the charm of a Trey Songz track is maybe a little undermined by having Kevin Hart yell things like "hey bitches, y'all better get a maxi pad and put it on because you about to get wet!" and "grab her ass booty butt now" all over it. Baltimore producer J. Oliver did a great job of putting that Carl Thomas sample over a drum pattern that has a little of that "Bank Rolls" Bmore flavor to it, I just wish there was an edit with no Kevin Hart on it.

Worst Single of the Month: Drake - "Fake Love"
I know I say this every few months, but Drake has really outdone himself, this might be the worst thing he's ever done. Even the 'relatable' aspect of the song comes off hollow after all the times he's talked about how he has to "act like I like" his peers but suddenly it's everyone else that's fake. And it felt like a pretty glaring example of his practice of hopping on other rappers' waves that he gathered 3 of the people who wrote "Pick Up The Phone" (who had previously only all worked together on that one song) for a similar sounding track, which rocketed up the rap radio airplay charts at the exact moment "Pick Up The Phone" lost momentum and basically ended up with a lower peak than most people expected.

Movie Diary

Friday, January 13, 2017

a) Sing
Last year I took my son to see Kubo And The Two Strings starring Matthew McConaughey, and a few months later we went to see another animated feature with McCounaughey in it, which means the AniMcConaissance is now in full swing. He didn't even really sound much like himself in Sing, he mostly spoke in this annoying chipper Mickey Mouse cadence. It's a cute movie, lots of fun musical moments, but it also kinda felt like a lot of the funny audition scenes were given away in the countless TV ads for the movie. My kid was happy, though. 

b) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
I had zero expectations for this since Man of Steel was one of the most unpleasant movies I've ever seen, but it wasn't much better with Bruce Wayne looking like Mitt Romney and Lex Luthor sounding like Martin Prince from "The Simpsons." Wonder Woman was at least introduced well, I regard this as just an overlong trailer for her movie. 

c) Captain America: Civil War
I watched this a couple nights after Batman v Superman expecting it would feel refreshing by comparison, and it was, but not by as much as I hoped. There was a whole lot of screentime taken up by the minor heroes introduced in the last Avengers movie that I never really cared about, and occasionally it used the ensemble well but it felt like a step down from the previous movies. The scenes with Spider-Man were funny and entertaining but the effects were so bad, it's like everybody in Hollywood forgot how to make Spidey flying through the air look cool and somewhat realistic. 

d) Keanu
We watched this a few days after George Michael's death, not knowing that a huge chunk of the movie was recurring references to George Michael, so that was kind of nice and appropriate. Key and Peele have always been hit and miss for me, and I kinda knew from the ads going in which parts of the movie would be eye rolling, but it held together and was funnier than I expected. 

e) Race
It's kind of a cliche at this point that any biopic about a famous black person needs to have a prominent white character shoehorned in as much as possible, and Race felt almost like an absurd parody of that. Jesse Owen's coach Larry Snyder is mentioned once in his 3,000 word Wikipedia entry, and yet Jason Sudeikis as Snyder feels almost more like the protagonist of Race than Stephan James as Jesse Owens. It was a fine movie in most respects, but that kinda stuck in my craw. 

f) Hail, Caesar!
One thing I've always loved about most Coen brothers movie is how well they use their casts and give memorable roles to lesser known character actors and only rely on big name A listers for one or two lead roles. So it's kind of bittersweet to see their clout rise to the point that they can or perhaps have to populate a movie like Hail, Caesar! with wall to wall stars. I'm not such a snob that I'm against seeing a Channing Tatum or Scarlett Johansson or Jonah Hill in a Coen movie, but all at once just felt gratuitous. But Alden Ehrenreich was a clear standout of the cast despite being not too well known yet, which bodes well for his turn as Han Solo, I guess. 

g) Hot Tub Time Machine 2
The first movie was goofy and fun enough that I was up for the sequel, where John Cusack opted out and they doubled down on the wackiness of the first movie. After a while it just felt like they're beating you over the head with every possible time travel gag and trying to be as bawdy as possible, hope they don't make a third. 

h) Bang Bang Baby
This little Canadian indie from first time writer/director Jeffrey St. Jules is an ambitious sci-fi comedy musical. And sometimes it swung so wildly from goofy camp to swooning romance to perverse gore that it never entirely hit the mark or knew what it wanted to be, but I enjoyed it, hopefully this guy will get to make more movies.