Deep Album Cuts Vol. 97: Squeeze

Wednesday, October 11, 2017























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

Squeeze deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TV Diary

Monday, October 09, 2017



















a) "The Gifted"
As tired as I get of Batman and Spider-Man movies telling the same stories about the same characters over and over, I'm glad that something with a far wider cast of characters like X-Men has been able to spin off so many screen adaptations over the last 17 years with a variety that really expanded a lot just in the past year with Logan, "Legion," and now "The Gifted." My favorite part of the pilot is Emma Dumont, who has a really interesting, memorable performance as Polaris, daughter of Magneto, but for the most part "The Gifted" is just a story about mutants in a world without X-Men that is untethered from the characters and storylines we're used to seeing, and I'm pretty excited to see where it will go (and thankfully so far it seems a lot less indulgently artsy than "Legion," which I felt kind of alone in hating).

b) "Inhumans"
About a week before FOX premiered "The Gifted," ABC rolled out its own new Marvel Cinematic Universe series, "Inhumans," and the enormous gap in just the production values alone was striking before you get into the overall quality of the series (I've noted more and more, in recent years, that anything on ABC that attempts something more visually ambitious than a standard courtroom or hospital procedural tends to look like total shit, which is strange considering this was the network of "Lost" not too long ago). "Inhumans" was, of course, spun off from the Fantastic Four, which is a lot less promising than an X-Men spinoff just on its face, but I was really surprised by just how dull and incoherent this show is, you just get plunged into this grandiose story without really being drawn into caring about the characters at all.

c) "Ghost Wars"
This new SyFy show about a haunted town in Alaska features Vincent D'Onofrio and Meat Loaf flapping their jowls at each other and the pilot episode was pretty promising, good ominous mood and look.

d) "Big Mouth"
Nick Kroll's "adult animated sitcom" for Netflix about puberty, which is some poorly drawn and fairly gross shit with occasional animated child penises and shit like that, basically one step above "Brickleberry." I hate how "Family Guy" and "South Park" have opened the floodgates for cartoons to be as unabashedly shitty looking and 'edgy' like webcomics.

e) "The Magic School Bus Rides Again"
I never watched the original "Magic School Bus" much, I was kinda too old for it already by the time it came along. But I put on the new Netflix version for my kids, my 2-year-old liked it but the 8-year-old had no interest. I liked the animation style, though.

f) "50 Central"
50 Cent was, in his heyday, one of hip hop's funniest artists, especially when he wasn't even rapping and just talking shit at the end of songs. And even after his peak he'd do some ridiculous shit like the 'Pimpin' Curly' video that would be pretty memorable. So it's not entirely a bad idea for him to do a comedy show, and I thought the FOX sitcom he had in development a couple years ago had some potential. But this sketch show on BET, where Fif basically hosts and does occasional cameos and lets a cast of actors do the heavy lifting, seems kind of like a waste of his post-"Power" juice in the TV world. There have been a couple decent sketches but I think the funniest thing about this show is how the token white guy in the cast looks like Fabio with a manbun.

g) "Liar"
This British series currently airing on Sundance is pretty impressive in terms of the acting and storytelling and production values, I found the first episode pretty gripping. But the entire premise is a little troubling. TV right now is full of season-length story arcs about accused murderers and criminals that constantly try to push the viewer's suspicions this way or that way for a titillating mystery. And I feel like we really don't need a show like that about a rape accusation that could possibly ultimately be about a hysterical woman falsely accusing a man, at a time when the relatively few instances of false rape accusations have been obsessed over and inflated as a cornerstone of rape culture.

h) "Rosehaven"
Another foreign acquisition running on Sundance, a sitcom that takes place in a small town on Tasmania. It's kind of sweet and quietly charming, haven't found it terribly funny but it's likable and unique enough to keep coming back to.

i) "Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders"
The O.J. show was of course pretty good and I recently enjoyed the show about the Unabomber investigation, but I'm starting to really tire of the scripted TV trend of just reliving every big news story of the 1990s (David Koresh miniseries coming next year!). And there's just something particularly pathetic and loathsome about NBC shoehorning this trend into the "Law & Order" franchise with no real link besides the famous "L&O" font being used whenever the date or location is flashed on the screen. The cast is pretty good, though, I'm always happy to see Josh Charles in the mix (and I'm amused that Elizabeth Reaser in this as well as "Manhunt: Unabomber," like she's just stuck in this mini-genre right now).

j) "Me, Myself & I"
I really warmed up to Bobby Moynihan over the course of his "SNL" tenure to the point that I miss him there a little now, so I wish that his first TV project after leaving was better. It even has sitcom MVP John Larroquette, as well as Kelen Coleman, who I still have a massive crush on from when she was the only sympathetic character on "The Newsroom." But the whole concept of watching one character at three different ages in every episode, it kind of collapses under its own weight, there are some sweet moments but it's missing something. Also, when watching the pilot, my wife pointed out how weirdly pervasive the comedy trope is of the male protagonist becoming single when he walks in on his wife/girlfriend with another man. I can't even begin to count how many shows and movies start with that scene.

k) "The Opposition with Jordan Klepper"
It's been over a year since Comedy Central sadly cancelled "The Nightly Show," and it appears that their best idea for an 11:30 "Daily Show" companion is to basically redo "The Colbert Report" except lampooning Alex Jones instead of Bill O'Reilly (and this is after a few months of Colbert himself doing a Jones-inspired character on "The Late Show"). It's certainly not an idea without comedic potential, and Klepper had throwing himself into a 'terrible white guy' character on "The Daily Show" with fearless abandon for a few years anyway. But there are a lot of pitfalls to a show like this, as evidenced by the fact that Klepper had to open the 2nd week of the show by breaking character and saying something sincere about the Las Vegas shootings, on the same day that the real Alex Jones basically said it was a false flag. There are parts about the show that work pretty well, particularly Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson's Milo-like characters. But I still wish they had went with my idea of Desi Lydic as a sendup of Fox News blondes.

l) "The Brave"
I feel like Anne Heche has starred in so many forgettable TV shows since she flunked out of not being particularly memorable in movies either. "Hung" was good at least. There were one or two scenes where I felt like this show kind of punctured the usual military drama mythology, but mostly it feels like more of the same.

m) "SEAL Team"
Another network military drama, but even blander because it's on CBS.

n) "The Good Doctor"
This show seems kind of well intentioned in forwarding the idea of people on the autism spectrum holding complex, high pressure jobs. But it's pretty boring and I hate that Richard Schiff has been in like half a dozen unremarkable TV shows in the past couple years instead of just one good one. I'm amused that the lead actor is Freddie Highmore, since a decade ago in his child star days he starred in August Rush, which I reviewed and mused about whether the viewer was supposed to assume that the character was autistic.

o) "Young Sheldon"
Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" is another TV character who I guess we're supposed to assume is on the autism spectrum? But the ridiculous prequel show about him as a child is mostly a bland little show about an uptight kid in Texas. My favorite theory is that you could change the name of the show to "Young Ted Cruz" and change nothing but the name of the character.

p) "Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father"
I'm not familiar with Jack Whitehall's standup but the premise of just following a guy and his cantankerous father around the world to different countries is kind of fun. It kinda makes me wish I could've done that with my dad.

q) "Baroness Von Sketch Show"
IFC picked up this show after it already aired two seasons in Canada, so they've been just airing both seasons back to back, and I really feel like there's a notable step up, both in production values and execution, the second season is really funny.

r) "Room 104"
HBO's horror/dark comedy/random bullshit anthology series has a different story with different characters every week, and I've really disliked the majority of the first season's episodes so far. But given its grab bag nature, I keep giving it a try and hoping for the best. I liked the episode starring Sarah Hay that was kind of a story told through dance similar to her work on "Flesh And Bone."

s) "Channel Zero: The No-End House"
SyFy's creepypasta-inspired horror anthology series "Channel Zero" has one story per season, and I had mixed feelings about last year's first season, but I'm glad it's an ongoing project, I think it has a lot of potential. "The No-End House" has been good so far, John Carroll Lynch is always so good in creepy roles and here he's a dead family member who's mysteriously alive again. If I ever do another "the busiest actors of Peak TV" piece, I'll need to make special mention of Aisha Dee, perhaps the first actor to star in 3 full seasons of 3 different shows ("Sweet/Vicious," "The Bold Type," and "Channel Zero") in the space of 12 months.

t) "The Exorcist"
I really loved the first season of "The Exorcist," but now that that story arc is over, I'm a little unsure of how well they can follow that up and put the 2 priests into a new story that is as gripping. And I definitely raised an eyebrow at how the second season opened, with them performing an exorcism in the back of a pickup truck while pursued by cops through the countryside, as if they were 'The Dukes of Pazuzu' or some shit. But it's starting to get interesting, I really don't know exactly where the foster home story is going and I'm curious.

u) "The Good Place"
The first season of "The Good Place" had one of the all-time great season-ending twists, not so much that it was impossible to predict but that it was deployed so well to completely upend the logic of the show and basically give the writers a completely differently playing field to work with in the second season. And it's been really funny this season to watch them throw out the rulebook and really get laughs out of such an increasingly insane context. I have no idea how they can keep up this pace without kind of blowing through every possible scenario in just a few episodes, but I'm excited to see whether they keep it up.

v) "Kevin Can Wait"
I watched the first episode of Kevin James's unremarkable new sitcom last year and then promptly moved on with my life and forgot about it. But I wanted to check back in on it because of the bizarre development that they mysteriously killed off the wife character, played by Erinn Hayes, between seasons to bring in James's old "King of Queens" costar Leah Remini as the new female lead. It's still a flimsy, unremarkable show, I'm just kind of fascinated that they decided that such a traditional light family sitcom could easily weather the abrupt death of the mom.

w) "Nathan For You"
Every time this show comes back I try to give it a chance because the people that like it really like it. And there are always a couple of really inspired absurd moments in every episode, but it just feels like there's so much dry quiet airtime just setting up the Rube Goldberg machinations for that payoff, and I just don't have the patience for it.

x) "Will & Grace"
I was never a big fan of "Will & Grace" and don't think it has aged especially well beyond the particular cultural moment it captures. But it increasingly feels like old shows come back mainly because the stars don't have a lot of better stuff to do, and the aggressively topical first episode back seemed hellbent on planting the show's flag into our current 2017 cultural moment. Like, the first five minutes of the episode featured the phrases "woke" and "fake news," and then the episode ended at the Trump White House. But I will say, I'm as attracted to Megan Mullally, and Mullally as Karen, as ever, and she's almost 60, damn.

y) "TRL"
"TRL" is another show that debuted in 1998, captured the zeitgeist for a time, then went away, and doesn't seem entirely ready to be back in 2017, but here we are. I was already kind of a cynical budding music nerd by the time "TRL" premiered while I was in high school, but I still will sporadically tune into just about any music video countdown show. The new version is hardly more vapid and obnoxious than the original, but the multitude of hosts drafted from YouTube and farming of content from the internet feels a little desperate. And it was funny to see the first week of the show make a few gestures at Trump resistance after the showrunner told the press he'd "love" to have the president on the show.

z) "Saturday Night Live"
This really feels like the Kate McKinnon show now, which I really don't mind since she's a bit more chameleonic and unreliant on running characters compared to the last unofficial star of "SNL," Kristen Wiig. I feel like Cecily Strong is finally creeping back into the spotlight a little more, 3 years after leaving the "Weekend Update" desk.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017



















My band Woodfir is playing a couple shows this month and breaking in some new material we just recorded. First, we'll be at the Windup Space on Friday the 13th of October with Domino, Bong Wish, and Dougie Poole. The next night, October 14th, we're playing a house party with KnifeCrime, Zombii, and Young Program. 

Reda and Tim and I also recently sat down with Kelsi Loos for a Woodfir episode of her podcast about Baltimore/D.C. music, Corridor Cast. This is my 2nd Corridor appearance after appearing on an early episode in 2012, and my friend Mat Leffler-Schulman also recently appeared on Corridor Cast and talked about the Woodfir and Western Blot sessions I just had at Mobtown Studios. 

Monthly Report: September 2017 Albums

Monday, October 02, 2017


























1. Ted Leo - The Hanged Man
2001's The Tyranny Of Distance was my favorite album of the 2000s, and Ted Leo was thrilling to follow throughout that whole decade live and on record, just an incredibly thoughtful songwriter and an equally energetic performer (a rarer combination than you might think). But he's kept a relatively low profile for most of this decade, and a recent Stereogum feature that preceded his first solo album in 7 years detailed some of the hard times he'd been through. The Hanged Man is a little longer, darker, and less spirited than my favorite Ted Leo albums, so it's taken longer than usual to grow on me. But it's obviously also a record he needed to make, and songs in the second half like "Make Me Feel Loved" and "Lonsdale Avenue" draw me into its mood and its headspace. Here's the 2017 albums Spotify playlist I add records to as I listen to them.

2. Midland - On The Rocks
Midland is a trio of nudie suit-wearing country traditionalists that includes an underwear model and soap opera actor on lead vocals and a seasoned video director and pal of Bruno Mars on bass. But there's no contradiction between old-fashioned country and the flash and polish of show business professionals, and there's something about how well put together and considered Midland is, from the great lead single "Drinkin' Problem" on down. But I think "Check Cashin' Country" and "Electric Rodeo" are the songs that really sum up their aesthetic and their subject matter most perfectly.

3. Rapsody - Laila's Wisdom
Roc Nation is such a weird label with a relatively amorphous identity relative to Jay-Z's other business interests, and it's always been heard to tell even how much their occasional success stories like J. Cole can be credited to the label's work. So I'm irritated that this Rapsody album has had such a low profile compared to even the modest push Vic Mensa got. This album is so relaxed and melodic that sometimes I forget to pay attention to how good Rapsody is but I really like her flow and her personality.

4. The Effects - Eyes To The Light
Dischord Records has slowed down its output over the last couple decades, mostly issuing new music from people that have been associated with the label since the '80s or '90s. On the upside, that has meant a steady trickle of records featuring Devin Ocampo, a brilliant drummer for Smart Went Crazy, Beauty Pill and Deathfix, and an equally brilliant singer/guitarist for Faraquet, Medications and now The Effects. Eyes To The Light is very much of a piece with the Faraquet and Medications albums, pretty much the same aesthetic with a new rhythm section (which includes Matt Dowling, bassist from the great D.C. band Deleted Scenes that broke up a couple years ago). Ocampo still pulls his songs into tight, complicated shapes, but his lyrics and his melodies have perhaps gotten stronger and more memorable, "Set It Off" is one of his catchiest tunes to date.

5. J. Roddy Walston & The Business - Destroyers Of The Soft Life
It's been about a decade since the first time I saw J. Roddy Walston & The Business at the Ottobar and was just taken aback by how insanely good this band and their songs are, and it's been very gratifying to see them become a pretty famous national touring act. Walston is based out of Richmond now but some of the band is still around Baltimore, until recently I shared a practice space with Business drummer Steve Colmus and he's a nice guy. Destroyers Of The Soft Life is that kind of restless overhaul of their sound that bands tend to do eventually when they've been going at it this long, and while I miss a little of the piano-driven sound, they're mostly still playing to their strengths.

6. Outcalls - No King EP
Outcalls is another Baltimore act that blew me away the first time I saw them at the Ottobar, just a few weeks ago, two singers harmonizing over a tight 4-piece band. After the show I was raving about them to a friend, who told me the whole backstory about how their friend Evan Kornblum formed Outcalls and wrote and produced their first album, and then split with the band, who carried on without him. Their first album was really good and so is this new EP, and I guess they're similar enough that it makes sense to keep the name, it's just an interesting story.

7. Lee Ranaldo - Electric Trim
As someone who's been collecting Lee Ranaldo solo records and making mixes of the songs he wrote and sang on Sonic Youth albums for decades, it's gratifying to me that he's had pretty fruitful output as a songwriter since SY dissolved. I don't like this one as much as 2013's Last Night On Earth, but the introduction of some subtle programmed and looped drums works better than I would've expected. And there's some great instrumental moments throughout, particularly the guitar freakout with Nels Cline over a horn section at the end of "Purloined."

8. Demi Lovato - Tell Me You Love Me
On her first couple albums as a teen Disney Channel star, Demi Lovato was a guitar-strumming acolyte of the Kelly Clarkson/Pink wave of pop/rock, and in the years since then I feel like she's been a little adrift aesthetically even as she's had a better batting average than most of her contemporaries. Tell Me You Love Me finally feels a little closer to finding a consistent sound for her, with less clubby experimentation (although in light of Cheat Codes' "Promises" I wouldn't mind if she leaned a little more EDM). She's been addressing her complicated private life and public image in music for a while, but it feels like the sneering sense of humor of "Sorry Not Sorry" and the oddly funny "Daddy Issues" suit her more than earnest empowerment anthems like "Skyscraper." And "Ruin The Friendship" and "Concentrate" are up there as some of the best songs she's ever made.

9. Gregg Allman - Southern Blood
It's hard not to tie the recent deaths of various baby boomer classic rock icons to losing my dad this year. I had just come back from my dad's memorial the day I glanced at a TV and saw that Gregg Allman had passed away. A few weeks ago my brother sent me a bunch of dad's CDs that included an Allman Brothers Band compilation that I've been listening to in the car. And Allman's final album was recently released that includes covers of songs by some of dad's favorite acts like Jackson Browne and Little Feat (I mentioned Allman's cover of "Willin'" in this piece). So Southern Blood is a heavy album for me, but a beautiful record, a worthy addition to the depressing canon of farewell albums that artists made while they knew they were dying.

10. Fergie - Double Dutchess
The Dutchess was such an improbably great pop blockbuster that I found it disappointing that instead of capitalizing on the momentum of that album, or even the momentum of the huge album Black Eyed Peas album that followed it, Fergie just kinda waited until nobody was waiting for her to follow it up. So Double Dutchess arrives after 3 years of good but unsuccessful singles, a week after her divorce was announced, and probably wouldn't have come out at all if the album hadn't been unceremoniously leaked in unfinished form recently. But this album is actually really solid and continues to make the case for Fergie as a pretty talented singer and songwriter and vessel of forward-thinking production regardless of the decade of obnoxious white girl swag that she helped kick the door open for. The section of the album with the interlude after "You Already Know" leading into "Just Like You" is really sublime. And I still think "M.I.L.F. $" should have been a massive hit.

Worst Album of the Month: A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie - The Bigger Artist
There's probably no sound on the radio this year that I react to like nails on a chalkboard more than A Boogie's voice on "Drowning." But I think the worst thing about his major label debut is not just that he sounds like a total twerp but that he seems to take himself way more seriously than Kid Ink or the other anonymous radio rappers he reminds me of. The moment on "Get To You" where he starts interpolating Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor" is just staggeringly awful. On the bright side, the Chris Brown feature is so awful it probably won't get played on the radio.

Movie Diary

Friday, September 29, 2017
It's funny how even if you don't go out to the movies often enough to have seen the nominated films, Oscar season has a way of getting you swept up in rooting for or against movies you think you'd like or dislike. I always rooted for Moonlight over La La Land, and having seen them both now I still prefer Moonlight and am glad it won. But I enjoyed La La Land more than I expected to. I am weary of musicals starring people who are not seasoned singers, I am weary of Ryan Gosling in general, and I am weary of 'white savior' narratives, particularly of jazz music of all things. But I love Emma Stone and this is probably her best performance since Easy A, and Damien Chezelle really expanded on the kinetic camera movement of Whiplash in some cool ways. I mean, it was really stupid in some ways and it lost my interest a bit in the second half, but I liked it more than I thought I would.

It seems like every other week now I'm complaining of an actor 'Winklevossing' in a film or series that didn't really need it. And What Happened To Monday ups the ante by having Noomi Rapace play identical septuplets in an overpopulated dystopia where people start having more multiple births and the government only allows one child per family. And honestly, I'm just tired of these kinds of showoffy performances and it feels like Rapace is just doing a watered down version of "Orphan Black" in this movie, it's not that impressive. I also hoped there'd be some more clever twists in the plot but I just kinda got bored. 

c) The LEGO Ninjago Movie
I took my son to see this, which he'd been anticipating ever since we saw the trailer before another movie many months ago. He watches Ninjago all the time, he has a Ninjago backpack and a bunch of Ninjago LEGO sets, he's having a Ninjago themed 8th birthday party, and so on. So he really enjoyed it, but I thought it wasn't as funny as the trailer had me primed for, it kinda paled in comparison to The LEGO Batman Movie.

d) Claire In Motion
I think I was trying to do too much while I had this movie on and didn't pay it enough attention, but it was a pretty sad story, told slowly and sensitively with a lovely color palette, I can tell you that much.

e) Jackie
The first thing that struck me about this movie was Mica Levi's score, so I was very happy to see she got an Oscar nom for it. Her score for Under The Skin was also very good but perhaps more of a predictably suitable fit, whereas the queasy undercurrent of her string arrangements for Jackie felt more striking in Jackie, perfectly summing up the film's atmosphere of just barely holding together in civil and ceremonial situations after an incredible trauma. I think we all kind of register on a surface level that Jackie Onassis went through an experience that few others could really relate to, but the way it's depicted in this film really makes it felt on a real visceral level, often with a light touch in terms of direction and storytelling. 

Every respected comic eventually does a talking animal voice in an animated movie, and some do it better than others, and sometimes it's not even really beneath them or out of step with their usual work. But usually there's a particular moment that gets burned in my brain, like Chris Rock as a zebra saying "crackalackin'." And The Secret Life Of Pets delivers that moment almost immediately, when Louie C.K. declares with unusual enthusiasm, "My name is Max, and I'm the luckiest dog in New York!"

I always thought Melissa Rauch could have had a more interesting and varied career if she hadn't gotten onto the "Big Bang Theory" gravy train for 160 episodes and counting. So I was happy to see that she took some of that sitcom money and put it into a little star vehicle that she co-wrote, about the dull and gloomy life of a grown up Olympic gymnast who stays in her hometown and revels in her local hero status. In some ways it feels like a Jody Hill movie, which is generally not my favorite kind of comedy, but at least having a woman in the Danny McBride antihero role is a little novel, and the execution of the story and Rauch's performance were better than I expected, the whole thing came together pretty well.

Going to see Eli Roth's debut feature Cabin Fever with a few college friends was one of my more memorable theater experiences, just us expecting this boilerplate horror flick and getting his weird zany take on the genre made for a really fun, surprising time. But that movie hasn't aged terribly well, and in the decade since then Roth has become a Tarantino sidekick first and a predictable filmmaker second. So I put on Knock Knock with some mild interest and then groaned upon realizing it was a Roth joint. The first third of the movie is basically a Penthouse Forum letter, and then it gets even less realistic once the dark twist comes along. Ana de Armas and Lorenzo Izzo are great as absurdly hot and deranged villains, but there's just so little grounding to the story that it kind of floats away into endless arbitrary torture well before the movie is over. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017




















Today is Jeezy's 40th birthday, and I made a playlist of his 40 greatest songs for The Dowsers

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 96: Shania Twain

Tuesday, September 26, 2017




















Shania Twain is releasing her 5th album, Now, later this week, so I wanted to take a quick look back at her first 4 albums, 3 of which were enormous Diamond-selling blockbusters that are each among the most successful country albums of all time. A few weeks ago I wrote about Mutt Lange's other most famous work, Def Leppard's Hysteria, so it was interesting to kind of delve into these records and not some subtle similarities despite the different decade/genre/etc.

Shania Twain deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Nah! Green version
2. Whatever You Do! Don't!
3. If It Don't Take Two
4. Waiter! Bring Me Water! Red version
5. Black Eyes, Blue Tears
6. God Ain't Gonna Getcha
7. Is There Life After Love?
8. C'est La Vie Red version
9. In My Car (I'll Be The Driver) Red version
10. Raining On Our Love
11. If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!
12. (Wanna Get To Know You) That Good! Green version
13. Ain't No Particular Way Red version
14. Juanita Blue version
15. There Goes The Neighborhood
16. Leaving Is The Only Way Out
17. What A Way To Wanna Be! Green version
18. Forget Me
19. Crime Of The Century
20. I'm Not In The Mood (To Say No)! Blue version
21. I Won't Leave You Lonely

Tracks 6, 15, 18 and 19 from Shania Twain (1993)
Tracks 3, 7, 10 and 16 from The Woman In Me (1995)
Tracks 2, 5, 11 and 21 from Come On Over (1997)
Tracks 1, 4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 20 from Up! (2002)

Usually 4 albums is about the bare minimum for how big an artist's catalog has to be for me to be able to fill a deep cuts playlist, and Shania presents an unusual challenge because relatively few of her songs weren't released as singles. Out of 57 songs on those albums, 31 were released as singles, leaving just 26 to choose from that I whittled down to 21 for this mix. While i'm throwing out stats, those 57 song titles contain 14 exclamation points, and that punctuation that other songwriters would use sparingly that gets spilled all over her albums (especially, of course, Up!) really lends Shania's records this deranged quality, kind of the pop music equivalent of Tom Cruise's forced laugh.

Even with just those 4 albums, however, what did provide me with a lot of room to personalize this playlist was the fact that there are three versions of 2002's Up! that each have completely different mixes of every single song. By this point, it's not that novel for crossover artists to have one version of their hit single mixed to appeal to pop radio and then another one for country or rock or rap radio, etc. But Shania really went way beyond that, making 19 songs that each have come in three versions: country (Green), pop (Red) or a weird 'international' version full of tabla and other nods to Indian pop music and Bollywood soundtracks (Blue). Back around the time Up! was released, I remember a guy named Sean Carruthers made mixes of a few songs with the 'Green' and 'Red' versions played simultaneously, and it sounded really bizarre and wonderful, especially since some versions had longer intros than others so there would be a weird 'row row row your boat' quality to the vocals not lining up. I still have those mixes on my iPod and listened to them so much that I still really like "Nah!" and "Waiter! Bring Me Water!" in particular in any version.

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

TV Diary

Thursday, September 21, 2017



















a) "American Vandal"
I really adore this show, it's basically a spot-on parody of every recent "true crime" docuseries except it's about an asshole teenager who's been accused of spray painting dicks on all the cars in his high school's faculty parking lot. I wasn't sure if it would have legs after the initial joke was established but it's really just consistently hilarious because of the contrast between the subject matter and the execution, which is so beautifully detailed.

b) "The Confession Tapes"
It's kind of funny that a week before Netflix released "American Vandal," they released another show that's basically a perfect example of what it was parodying. It's an intriguing story but I really just can't watch too much of these shows.

c) "The Deuce"
I think that a big part of David Simon's television legacy has been that he's done shows about cities you haven't already seen a hundred shows about like Baltimore and New Orleans, full of talented, relatively unknown actors of color who went on to bigger things. So I have to admit I rolled my eyes really hard when I found out that his next project was yet another show about '70s New York, starring a pair of white movie stars as overexposed as James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. But once I got over that, I let myself enjoy the first couple episodes of the show, which have that great old "The Wire" pacing and style of using a whole big ensemble (with more than a few "Wire" actors) by bouncing between dozens of short scenes in a given episode. I really liked the scene where James Franco's character got stopped by people who he owed money to and convinced them that it was actually his twin brother that owed them...and then I was disappointed to realize he was telling the truth and that Franco is Winklevossing in this show.

d) "Disjointed"
I have been a Chuck Lorre apologist from time to time and I think that his association with "Two And A Half Men" has kind of obscured how many of his shows have centered around women with big personalities ("Roseanne," "Cybill," "Grace Under Fire," "Mom"). So I thought that him teaming up with Kathy Bates for a Netflix series had some potential, but this show is just deeply, deeply lame, just a bunch of boring characters spitting pot jokes at each other that would be too obvious for even "That '70s Show." Also I feel bad for the music writer Maria Sherman that one of the characters on this show shares her name.

e) "The Orville"
I have never defended Seth MacFarlane to the extent I've defended Chuck Lorre, but I have some mild affection for some of the hundreds and hundreds of episodes of different shows he's churned out for FOX. But regardless of how profitable he's been for the network, it seems hopelessly indulgent for them to do an hourlong live action "Stark Trek" homage featuring his big unsettling face (granted, I actually thought A Million Ways To Die In The West was one of his better projects but it was certainly one of the least successful). There's a fair amount of his typical style of humor in this show, but it feels like they play it straight a whole lot of the time and there's just n reason this needs to have 60 minute episodes other than that that's how long episodes of "Star Trek" that had actual plots were.

f) "The State"
I'm a little amused that there's a show with the same name as the '90s MTV sketch show "The State" except it's a miniseries about ISIS. It's a little weird to see a dramatization of ISIS that has some nuance and some sympathetic portraits since that's kind of not allowed in our news or public discourse right now, but it's probably good to have something like this out there.

g) "The Vietnam War"
I like to think about how weird "a Ken Burns documentary about Vietnam, scored by Trent Reznor" would've sounded 20 years ago, but from what I've seen the score is pretty subtle and fits more than I would've expected even given Reznor's other excellent scores in recent years. It feels like a good time to look at Vietnam in this kind of detail, lately or maybe just since 9/11 I get the sense that it has receded from the national psyche, whereas growing up in the '80s and '90s it kind of hung over everything. I don't know how much of it I'll watch, I never get super far into these Ken Burns things, but the first part was interesting.

h) "Greenhouse Academy"
I was amused by Netflix's description of this show as "for ages 11 to 12" because, like, isn't that a really narrow demographic? But then I watched an episode of this adolescent soap opera about a kid who enrolls in an advanced school after his astronaut mom dies in space and I was like, yeah, a kid would really have to be an exact age to not be too young or too old to be interested in this, it really does have a narrow appeal.

i) "The Tick"
I never read the comic book they're based on, but at this point I've really enjoyed all 3 TV versions of "The Tick." This one's a little better than the previous live action attempt and not as classic as the cartoon, but they're all pretty close in sensibility. I've long thought that superhero satires are kind of more played out than serious superhero stories in terms of the same angles being mined over and over, but "The Tick" is one exception that really works, due in large part to the sheer creativity of the characters and The Tick's dialogue.

j) "The Sinner"
This really turned out pretty well, not quite on the level of "The Night Of" but I felt a similar level of satisfaction with the finale and how the miniseries resolved. I'm not the biggest fan of stories that hinge on memory loss, and memories recovered at a narratively convenient moment, but the way the whole thing was unspooled was well done, great performances by Biel and Pullman, and I also thought Joanna Adler was a real standout in a smaller role as a detective in the later episodes.

k) "Midnight, Texas"
This show is really not particularly good and kind of makes me miss "True Blood"'s better days, but there were one or two episodes where there were some good guest characters and it showed some potential.

l) "People Of Earth"
I thought it was a little odd last year when TBS had the cast of "People of Earth" appear on "Conan" last year minus the top billed actor of the ensemble, Wyatt Cenac. And then halfway through the second season, they abruptly killed off Cenac's character, basically cementing that his character was no longer the protagonist of the show. It's not a bad thing per se, although I've never had really strong feelings about this show, as unique and charming as it sometimes is, it feels a little rudderless with or without Cenac and I'm a little surprised it's been renewed for a 3rd season.

m) "One Mississippi"
This show left a bigger impression on me in the 2nd season than it did in the first, but I think I also liked it less. It tackled a lot of big issues in just 6 episodes, often sensitively and admirably, but rarely with subtlety or humor, and the daydream/fantasy sequences seemed to stick out more as just unfunny and poorly executed. Plus the show increasingly became a will-they-or-won't-they story about Tig Notaro's character and the character played by Tig's real life wife, which just felt kind of indulgent. The John Rothman/Sheryl Lee Ralph storyline was pretty charming, though.

m) "Better Things"
I contrasted "Better Things" with "One Mississippi" when they debuted a year ago because they're both autobiographical shows created by women and exec produced by Louis C.K., and I liked "Better Things" more then but the contrast is really bigger now. Both shows are kind of unvarnished and bluntly realistic but "Better Things" has a lot more humor and acting ability powering it, the season premiere was so good. 

o) "Vice Principals"
The first season of this show made me increasingly uncomfortable with how it quickly turned into a show about white guys acting out resentment against a black woman who was their boss without really confronting that subtext in any self aware way. The second and final season seemed to be more or less resolving that storyline and leading the characters in a different direction, but still, I think I'm just tired of Danny McBride doing the same dumb asshole routine over and over and over.

p) "Con Man"
Alan Tudyk crowdfunded this a couple years ago as an autobiographical web series about an actor who was in a beloved sci fi series ("Spectrum" instead of "Firefly," etc.) going to Comic Con and other conventions, and SyFy just picked it up and started airing the episodes that had already been online. It's pretty fun, the episodes are brisk and short (SyFy fits 2 into a 30 minute timeslot) so it's a little more slight and silly than your average sitcom, but it works for the subject matter. I particularly like Sean Astin's frequent cameos as himself, I wish he did comedy more often.

q) "Ballers"
I continue to be kind of confounded by the existence of "Ballers" and the idea that the biggest action star in the world has made multiple seasons a middling HBO sitcom about advising pro athletes. Like, imagine if Arnold Schwarzenegger was also the star of "Arli$$." The show can be mildly entertaining in a pointless way, though. I liked the episode where Richard Schiff's character had a brother played by Steven Weber, as far as I'm concerned you could give those guys a spinoff.

r) "You're The Worst"
Almost any show that is centered on one relationship is gonna go through all the possible phases of the relationship in the course of the series, even a show as unusual as "You're The Worst." And the last season ended with a combo of two big phases, the proposal and the breakup, so now we're getting the main characters actually apart for once, and it's been kind of fun. And they finally got Edgar and Lindsay together, albeit in a pretty different way than what was teased at the end of the first season. Still a really insanely dark and funny show, it's just amusing to see them move the chess pieces around in the traditional way.

s) "Rick And Morty"
Dan Harmon clearly makes television that inspired a unique amount of passion, and I totally get that because I really enjoy those shows. But just as fan devotion got kind of obnoxious and smug over the course of "Community"'s run, it already feels like "Rick And Morty" has started to surpass that in its third season. But again, my complaint is not really with the show, recent episodes like "Pickle Rick" and "Morty's Mind Blowers" have been hilarious and impressive in the conceptual creativity and dialogue writing.

t) "Halt And Catch Fire"
TV used to be an all-or-nothing business where any show that wasn't canceled in its first year would try to go the distance for 7 or 8 seasons and the long tail of syndication profits and basically stay on the air long enough to fall off. So it's kind of refreshing to see cable networks increasingly let modest hits and critical darlings wrap up after a handful of seasons instead of, like, trying and failing to break them to a bigger audience and then abruptly canceling them without a chance for narrative closure. "Halt" using their 4th and final season to jump forward chronologically is at least pretty novel, and I still really enjoy watching these characters and appreciate the addition of Anna Chlumsky. But man, it's still just kind of goofy watching a bunch of fictional characters "invent" the internet instead of getting anything resembling the real story.

u) "The Strain"
"The Strain" is another show that wrapped up with its 4th season, and I think by the end I was just so burnt on the whole premise and was just watching it as a force of habit. But I did appreciate that the show ended with the death of the main character I found really dull and unlovable while the 2 main characters I liked a lot more walked off into a happy ending together.

v) "The Mindy Project"
"The Mindy Project" opened its 6th and final season to a callback to the pilot's otherwise long ago forgotten premise that Mindy is obsessed with romantic comedies, which made me think of how many times this show has changed cast members and relationships while still more or less delivering a particular style of humor very consistently. Ultimately I'm just there for the one liners, but it is a little wearying to go through the latest relationship drama, this time with her most boring and unfunny boyfriend of the show's history, who she got married to and is now almost immediately divorcing.

w) "Episodes"
"Episodes" is another show that recently returned for a final season, and it may be the only one of these going out on a high note. The first 4 seasons were about Matt LeBlanc trying to revive his career and winding up stick in a terrible network sitcom called "Pucks!" and in the 2 years since the last season of "Episodes," the real LeBlanc has begun starring in a network sitcom called "Man With A Plan" that's possibly worse than "Pucks!" is made out to be. So "Episodes" has turned to having LeBlanc become the host of a ridiculous game show called "The Box" and that plot has been pretty hysterical. I'm increasingly weary of Hollywood satires where stars have their cake and eat it too by playing unflattering versions of themselves, but LeBlanc is just really funny in this show.

x) "Broad City"
I'm kinda glad this show took a longer than usual break between seasons, I needed to start to miss it a little. It's still really good but I feel like they've just kind of embraced their cultural cachet in that boring way where there's always celebrities getting cameos and there'll be a whole episode where RuPaul is in the A plot and Shania Twain is in the B plot and they really could just focus on the main cast.

y) "American Horror Story: Cult"
I have started most seasons of "American Horror Story" and have only finished one of them, the one last year, which I thought really ended in a self indulgent tailspin. And I don't think I'll last much longer with this one. The idea of tackling the political landscape of America in 2017 in this way has potential but Ryan Murphy just does everything with an incoherent, chaotic sensibility that I just don't enjoy at all, I still don't think he even really understands the genre of horror. The Billy Eichner role has at least been entertaining though.

z) "The Daily Show"
Jon Stewart has been proven right in the sense that he was right that if he left "The Daily Show" just before the election cycle, that would prove to be enough of a ratings boost to provide the next host with a launching pad for a long tenure. But I don't think Stewart has been vindicated much in his choice of Trevor Noah, but he's gotten ratings good enough that I think we're stuck with his lightweight approach for the foreseeable future as "Daily"'s various cousins and offspring run circles around it. I remember the other night he ended a pretty serious segment with the punchline "genocide Milli Vanilli," and I just felt like that was Trevor Noah in a nutshell, those flippant meaningless little pop culture analogies.

Monthly Report: September 2017 Singles

Monday, September 18, 2017
























1. Luke Combs - "When It Rains It Pours"
The first time I heard this song on the radio I thought it might be Chris Stapleton, but then I remembered that Chris Stapleton doesn't really have a personality or a sense of humor. I like how the title and the opening lines set you up for a sad self pitying country song but then he flips the premise around and makes it celebratory. Here's the 2017 singles Spotify playlist I update every month.

2. MIKExANGEL - "One Time"
I don't consider predicting hits to be one of my strong suits, but sometimes I can call 'em, and hearing this for the first time recently and being immediately taken with the lyric and the intricacies of the drum programming reminded me of the first time I heard Khalid's "Location" a year ago and how I knew that would probably huge.

3. Future - "Incredible"
HNDRXX is one of my favorite albums of 2017, and it's been kind of frustrating to watch Future finally release the R&B album I knew he had in him and have it be totally overshadowed by the self-titled album he released a week earlier, which contained the biggest song of his career, "Mask Off." And then I got really pissed when he and his label started adding mediocre collaborations with Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj to the HNDRXX tracklist as if the album didn't have plenty of potential hits to begin with. So I was pleased to finally see one of my favorite songs on the album, "Incredible," finally show up on airplay charts in the last few weeks.

4. Justin Bieber and BloodPop - "Friends"
"Sorry" was pretty much the only song I liked out of that whole Purpose era that turned Bieber into one of those rare pop stars that people who look down on pop stars admit to listening to. So after the summer of "I'm The One" and the "Despacito" remix, it was something of a relief to finally hear him come out with something reminiscent of "Sorry" with the same producer. In fact, "Friends" may sound a little too overtly like a "Sorry Sequel," with the same distinctive drum fills at the end of every other measure and another semi-clever lyric about reconciliation with an ex that Bieber sings like he doesn't really understand it (right down to saying "alterior" instead of "ulterior"). Still, it's great, and it bums me out that it's shaping up to be one of the only unsuccessful singles he's had in the last couple years.

5. Hustle Gang f/ T.I., Rara, Brandon Rossi, Tokyo Jetz, Trae The Truth and Young Dro - "Friends"
Grand Hustle and the various groups T.I. has built out of rappers on the roster or in the label's orbit (P$C, Hustle Gang, Bankroll Mafia) have included some really solid music and impressive rappers over the years but for whatever reason T.I. never really put it all together to be a serious mogul who's been able to guide other artists' careers consistently. This song really stuck with me from the first time I heard it, I was impressed that it does a good job of showcasing 3 rappers I've scarcely heard before as well as Tip and a couple of Grand Hustle lifers, Dro and Trae, it just sounds like everyone is having fun with that flow and taking turns at the mic.

6. Tove Lo - "Disco Tits"
"Disco Tits" isn't an entirely unexpected title from an artist whose last album was called Lady Wood, but this song is really just wonderfully odd and presumably more of a teaser single than anything aimed for radio play. But honestly, I've always had mixed feelings about Tove Lo and it would really benefit her to have more filthy, funny, strange stuff like this to distinguish her from all the blander C-list pop divas she's in competition with. And that pitch shifted dog bark riff in the chorus is just about my favorite thing in the world right now.

7. LÉON - "Surround Me"
The Swedish singer LÉON's 2016 single "Tired Of Talking" was a great pop record that for some reason didn't break in America (perhaps just as well, since they remixed it with a G-Eazy verse). So I was happy to see a video for a pretty good new song on whatever they're calling MTV Hits now. Turns out she's released about 7 songs in the year since "Tired Of Talking" and they're all pretty good, so I'm really rooting for her now.

8. Vanjess f/ Masego - "Touch The Floor"
Another track I just kind of stumbled on while I had videos on in the background and this came on BET Jams, by the end of the song I was dancing around the house.

9. B.E.R. - "The Night Begins To Shine"
One of my son's favorite shows is Teen Titans Go! and there was an episode a while back in which the characters on the show were obsessed with this very catchy song by a fictional band called B.E.R. More recently there was a special "The Night Begins To Shine" miniseries of Teen Titans episodes, expanding the mythology around the song, with stars like Fall Out Boy and Cee-Lo performing it, which was fun, and an EP was released and the song actually appeared on some Billboard charts. The original is still the best, though.

10. Julia Michaels - "Uh Huh"
I never really got a handle on "Issues," I feel like it had potential to be good but didn't connect on some level. But I really like the followup single and how it takes the nervy edge in Michaels' voice in a completely different direction, really fun track.

Worst Single of the Month: Calvin Harris f/ Katy Perry, Pharrell and Big Sean - "Feels"
I have mixed feelings about Funk Wav Bounces and this whole era of Calvin Harris siphoning cool points from rap and R&B and retro funk, but most of the songs are at least pleasant. So it's pretty annoying that the worst song on the project has already surpassed "Slide" on the charts even while Katy Perry's career takes a nosedive. I think the worst part is that she could've said "feels" or "catch feelings" but nobody on earth says "catch feels," like Katy Perry just manages to make everything awkward all the time.