Monthly Report: August 2015 Albums

Friday, September 04, 2015

1. Teedra Moses - Cognac & Conversation
Teedra Moses released a great debut album, Complex Simplicity, in 2004 on the ill-fated TVT Records, and it never made much of a commercial splash (I heard the single, "Be Your Girl," on Baltimore radio a ton that summer, but it never seemed to take off anywhere else). Since then, there was a mixtape or EP here or there, and a short-lived deal with Maybach Music Group, but this is finally her proper second album, released independently, 11 years later. A couple Rick Ross features indicate that maybe a lot of this record was recorded while she was with MMG, but for the most part this album feels very much like Teedra continuing with the sound she started with, which often has the vibe of a late '70s or early '80s cosmopolitan R&B record, the slow jam album someone would've made just after their disco album, lots of jazzy chords and smooth vibes. There's also one amazing track, "Sound Off (Interlude)," that reminds me of 4Hero circa Two Pages. Check it out on my Spotify playlist of 2015 albums.

2. Mick Jenkins - Wave[s] EP
I only recently caught up on the album that Mick Jenkins caught a buzz for last year, The Water[s], before checking this out, and both are very good. He kind of strikes me as belonging to this newer class of rappers who might've been dismissed as backpackers in another era but found a way to modernize their sound and approach to their subject matter to the point that they're not hemmed into an old 'conscious' stereotype. His voice and delivery aren't as dynamic or immediate as a Kendrick or Chance The Rapper or Vince Staples, but I feel like he could put himself in that category. The production on this record is fantastic and there's a real lucid quality to what he's saying.

3. FKA twigs - M3LL155X EP
I liked the FKA twigs album a lot, although this very rude tweet still makes me laugh. I'm not sure why she's dropping an EP now when she's at a level where it seems like people would be ready for another album, but her music works for me in small doses, I'm not mad at getting a concise little record like this.

4. Maddie & Tae - Start Here
"Girl In A Country Song" is over a year old now, and topped the country radio charts 8 months ago, so it really seemed like the label dropped the ball and let their momentum stall by releasing an EP last year. All 4 songs from the EP are reprised on this 11-track album, which means it doesn't even feel entirely new, but I can't really complain, it's as good an album as I hoped for. "Waitin' On A Plane" is a great opening track, "After The Storm Blows Through" is a lovely acoustic harmony showcase, and they really just have to release "Shut Up And Fish" as a single.

5. Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion
As much handwringing as there is these days about "poptimism" ruining music criticism, the critical narrative still only allows for discussion of roughly one pop album a year (along with one country album, maybe two R&B albums, etc.). This is the one for 2015, and I guess it'll do, it has a few really good songs, my favorite being "Making The Most Of The Night" (which is mostly just Sia making the "on for tonight" part of "Chandelier" into the massive chorus it could've been). But I'm also weary of how transparently the album, and its boosters, have latched onto the Ariel Rechtshaid/Dev Hynes '80s feels that several other critical darlings indulged in before Jepsen became the latest Cyndi Lauper LARPer. I just regard praise for the album's strong points with suspicion, because it comes from people who also briefly tried to sell the nightmare that was "I Really Like You" as pop perfection, and I resent the album for asking me to sit through that song again. "Let's Get Lost" is a jam, though.

6. Mouse On Tha Track - No Commercials
Mouse kinda created his own lane as a rapper/producer in the years that Boosie was away. And although they reunited pretty memorably on "No Juice" last year, the difference between this and Touch Down 2 Cause Hell really illustrates that they've moved in opposite directions musically. Mouse isn't a total Mannie Fresh goofball, though, there's some great downtempo grooves and singsong choruses on here.

7. Dr. Dre - Compton
The three tracks with Kendrick, and a few other guest spots, bring this album to life. But for the most part, it's just a dreary exercise in trying to distinguish Dre's near unrecognizable voice from obscure new sidekicks like King Mez and Justus. Tying this album to Straight Outta Compton and ditching the whole Detox thing was a shrewd move, but the same old same old Aftermath sonics and the occasional punchline about, like, "Desperate Housewives," makes me wonder how much of this album was sitting on a hard drive for 5-10 years. It mostly makes me grateful at how hands-off Dre has been with Kendrick's albums. "Animals" is a great song, at least.

8. Lil B & Chance The Rapper - Free (Based Freestyles Mixtape)
Chance is one of the few rappers working today that I'd consider anything they do a must-hear, so it figures that he would make a record with the cult hero I've always found to be a tedious waste of time as an actual recording artist, beyond his cutesy-poo social media presence. This is actually fun to hear, though, because B is more tolerable with a foil to contrast with, and for once you actually get to hear a hugely talented MC do based freestyles and explore the possibilities of the format that are only vaguely implied when B half-asses his way through improvised verses.

9. The Weeknd - Beauty Behind The Madness
For me, The Weeknd is one of the rare occasions where someone selling out for pop crossover has totally improved their music -- "Love Me Harder" and "Can't Feel My Face" are so much more enjoyable than any of the stupid brooding mixtape stuff if you ask me. I hoped maybe this album would be a full scale pop makeover, but there's only one new Max Martin track, and "In The Night" -- which according to NYT's Weeknd profile prompted a publisher to scream "it's fucking 'Billie Jean!'" -- is kinda underwhelming. There's a lot on here that sounds like the same old same old Weeknd, which will make some people happy, but not me. I do like some of the odder production flourishes like the squealing talkbox solo on the acoustic ballad "Shameless" and the weird jazzy backing on "Losers." I'm kind of on the fence about "Tell Your Friends," though, it's like an awkward imitation of R. Kelly's talk-singing monologues.

10. Talib Kweli - Fuck The Money
I'm a card-carrying Kweli stan who regards Train Of Thought as a classic and found a lot to like about even later albums like Gutter Rainbows. This album is harder to defend, though -- he flips the chorus to "Riot" by 2 Chainz to make it conscious, does a song called "Leslie Nope," tries to get cinephile cred with a David Lynch reference and confuses him with David Cronenberg, and says "we on that dirty sexy money like Blair Underwood." The track produced by Alchemist is cool, though.

Worst Album of the Month: Cal Chuchesta - The New CALassic
As you probably know, YouTube is full of video bloggers (or 'vloggers'), and as a result some of the most well known people reviewing music today are album review vloggers. As you might've guessed, someone like me, whose music criticism is limited to an audience who has the patience to read a few paragraphs, doesn't really think highly of vlogger critics, among whom the most popular is probably Anthony Fantano of theneedledrop. I find Fantano's videos unwatchable less for his opinions than for his desperately obvious aspirations of comedy stardom and uncomfortable improv comedy troupe-level 'characters,' including Cal Chuchesta, a hacky Ned Flanders/Jerry Lundegaard "square midwestern guy" character. He has started rapping in this character, and made an entire album of the garbage, rapping horrible song parodies like "Hot Dinner" (Bobby Shmurda's "Hot N****," but with food references instead of the N-word! my sides!) alongside some truly grim original tracks. And this guy has such a fanbase that this fucking thing got hundreds of thousands of plays on Audiomack, He breaks the fourth wall at the end to kind of apologize for this stupid vanity project, but fuck that, he doesn't get to have his cake and eat it too.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015
This week's Short List.

Saturday, August 29, 2015
This week's Short List.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I did a post about guests we hope Lil Wayne brings out at Weezyana Fest for Complex.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I made a designated drive-themed playlist for Complex. 

TV Diary

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

a) "Blunt Talk"
I grew up watching "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and have long thought that Patrick Stewart is one of the most hilarious actors who doesn't often do comedy, and that little piddling stuff like a recurring role on "The Family Guy" hasn't been enough. And I'm glad that he's finally headlining a property comedy vehicle, even if it is exec produced by Seth MacFarlane, who thankfully seems to be pretty hands-off with this. Instead, it's created and written by Jonathan Ames, and is pretty similar in tone to "Bored To Death," a show I didn't think much of at first that ended up really growing on me, and which I regard pretty highly in retrospect. Stewart's character is sort of like Ted Danson in "Bored," a weird old media guy living in his own little world, which means mostly that the difference in the shows is that character went from a supporting role to the main character. I'm not sure yet if that shift is necessarily a good thing, and the first two episodes have been kind of a slow start. But so far, I like it, and the supporting cast is strong -- glad to see Karan Soni getting more work, he was so good in "Other Space." If anything, Stewart needs to tone down his delivery and act a little less 'in on the joke.'

b) "Show Me A Hero" 
David Simon has a pretty unique knack for making the dullest depths of bureaucracy into compelling television, without even sexing it up to much into a procedural formula. But this, a 6-hour miniseries about Yonkers public housing in the 1980s, still really stretches the limits of that facility. Paul Haggis only directed, so I don't really hold him accountable for the story, but there is something weirdly deflating about having this stuff shot so handsomely instead of the straightforward, almost documentary-style cinematography of "The Wire," gives it a very different feel.

c) "The Comment Section" 
I've been watching "The Soup" for years, and the E! channel generally puts on something terrible directly after it, so I was happy to hear that they were going to start following it with a show exec produced by Joel McHale that is kind of a "Soup" spinoff about social media and internet comments. But I had no idea that they were going to feature one of my tweets in the first 5 minutes of the first episode, which was nice, although I was probably going to like the show even before they bought my affection so efficiently. The host, Michael Kosta, mostly reads/responds to comments with a super snide delivery that reminds me of Dennis Miller back when he was funny, and in a way it seems like the only way to talk about ridiculous internet comments. But mostly I like that the humor on the show is mean, not in a crass or cruel way but just sharp and unforgiving.

d) "Documentary Now" 
Bill Hader and Fred Armisen are both pretty talented, but I remain consistently impressed with Hader's chops and versatility whereas I started getting really tired of Armisen about halfway through his "SNL" run. But putting these guys together to satirize documentaries is a pretty good idea, and the first episode, with Helen Mirren introducing a Grey Gardens takeoff, was really entertaining.

e) "Kevin From Work" 
I grew up in the '80s and '90s, inundated with shows and movies about wimpy guys who pine for the hot girl with the dumb jock boyfriend, and more and more in recent years it's seemed increasingly clear just what a toxic male wish fulfillment that stuff is that has fed into a lot of entitled fedora-wearing dude mentalities. So seeing a new show like this walk through all those friendzone cliches once again in 2015 is kind of depressing, especially since there are tiny bits of charm and wit in this otherwise pretty unpromising show. At least it's cordoned off on ABC Family where nobody will be see it.

f) "Mr. Robinson"
This show is even more anachronistic than "Kevin From Work," it feels like such a corny '80s sitcom, where a comic's standup act is grafted onto a premise about them teaching elementary school. Craig Robinson is a pretty entertaining comic actor in the right context, but the songs in his standup act have always been kind of corny, and work even worse here. But it's really the rest of the show that's just a total shitshow of bad sitcom cliches and stereotypes. I thought the episode guest starring Gary Cole might be good but then he did the hackiest British rock star character and I just felt bad for him. The 6 episodes of the first season were burned off already in 3 weeks in August, and hopefully it will never come back. At least it's cordoned off on NBC where nobody will see it.

g) "Humans"
This show started out slow, but it was intriguing and eerie. As things started to ramp up towards the end of the season, though, it just started to feel like a lot of boilerplate sci-fi thriller stuff, and the show's idea about humanoid robots who'd gained some degree of sentience or emotional capacity just felt increasingly vague and inconsistent. By the end of the finale I didn't really care what was going on at all.

h) "The Brink" 
I had a certain indifference fall over me very early in "The Brink"'s run, and it never really let up even as I watched all 10 episodes. By the end, I got the sense that it might've been a bit rewarding if I'd paid it closer attention, but it really just never grabbed me, something very inert about it even with a fairly charismatic cast.

i) "Ballers"
The way the first episode of "Ballers" ended, with Dwayne Johnson's character finding his account overdrawn at the ATM, gave me hope that the darkness and desperation at the edges of the show would move it forward and keep it interesting. But by the end of the finale, when he's celebrating a big office and a promotion and there's absolutely no sense of tension whatsoever, it seemed clear that this show just wants to leap to tidy resolutions and be the blander "Entourage" we always suspected it'd be.

j) "Why? With Hannibal Buress" 
This show is even more loose and laid back than I expected it to be given Hanibal Buress's whole personality and approach to standup. But it's cool, he was never gonna be a dynamic performer who does an amazing sketch show, it's just not his style, and there's nothing wrong with basically let him riff on current events every week. A lot of the scripted segments are hit or miss, but the one last week reenacting his text messages with a guy who stole his laptop bag was amazing. Also he's been getting away with just putting whatever rapper he wants on TV every week, which is the one way that he's kind of filling the niche Chappelle occupied on Comedy Central 10 years go. Last week he had King Los on there, and it was exciting to see someone from Baltimore that I go way back with perform on TV.

k) "Killjoys" 
One of the seemingly countless Canadian-produced shows about pretty people in space that airs on the SyFy network. It's been OK but I think my wife likes it more than I do.

l) "Dark Matter"
This is the other Canadian pretty space traveler show that debuted on SyFy this summer that I liked a little more. Kind of became more of this character-driven ensemble thing with a group of people stuck on a spaceship together, instead of the usual interplanetary adventures.

m) "Geeks Who Drink" 
Basically just your garden variety Tuesday night bar trivia quiz, but on SyFy and hosted by that boring guy from "Chuck." One of those shows where everyone's making a big deal about how much fun they're having but it doesn't translate to the viewer's experience at all. I did like the game where they matched actors to characters they voiced in animated movies, though.

n) "Reactor" 
"The Soup"-style green screen clip shows aren't quite the fad they were a few years ago, but a lot of channels still want their own, especially SyFy. Last summer they had the short-lived "Wil Wheaton Project," and this summer they've got basically the same show with some random podcast dude hosting who doesn't even have the modest charisma or nerd culture cachet that Wheaton has.

o) "On The Record with Mick Rock" 
Mick Rock is a veteran rock photographer, and his show on Ovation is kind of a small scale "Sonic Highways," where he spends each episode in a different American city with a different artist. Mick Rock wears sunglasses, a jean jacket and a scarf 24/7 and is kind of a hilarious British rocker stereotype, but he has some good stories and is a decent host. The episode with Patti LaBelle in Philadelphia is good, but so far my biggest problem with the show is just that I don't really care about whole episodes centered on Kings Of Leon or The Flaming Lips. You spend an episode in L.A. and the best person you can talk to is Josh Groban!?

p) "Another Period" 
I was afraid of this show being kind of one joke with diminishing returns, but they really fit a lot of ridiculous and funny stuff into the basic concept, which is kind of like a "Real Housewives" show set 100 years ago, but also has kind of grown into its own weird beast over the course of the season. The ensemble just seems to grow with every episode and give them more characters to work with, and Paget Brewster is really one of the unsung MVPs of the show.

q) "The Hotwives of Las Vegas"
Last year this show debuted as "The Hotwives of Orlando," and this year they changed cities, with most of the cast returning as different characters. That seems kind of unnecessary -- not much about the change of scenery or character names really has much effect on the jokes or storylines. But the whole thing is an over-the-top satire of Bravo's "Real Housewives" shows and basically is better when it makes no sense, so it's fine.

r) "Real Husbands of Hollywood" 
This show has been satirizing "Real Housewives" for longer than either of the other shows, but they flipped the gender of the characters so it's not too similar anyway. I thought this was pretty funny when it debuted a couple years ago, but I never really kept up with it. Watching the first episode of the new season, it kinda felt like they'd abandoned the original premise for increasingly wacky gags.

s) "Rick And  Morty"
I was a little on the fence about this show last year, as good as it clearly was from the jump. But it's really been fantastic this season, I think there's even been less of Rick burping and vomiting and being kind of over-the-top misanthropic, which was one of the things I found off-putting about it initially. The multiple timeline episode almost felt like Dan Harmon deliberately doing a better job with the concept behind a popular (imo overrated) "Community" episode.

t) "Review" 
I like this show in theory more than in practice. As someone who reviews things professionally, it's fun to see Andy Daly take his straight laced persona into bizarre scenarios, but it also kinda feels like every episode goes to similar extremes, and already in its second season they've kinda stretched the premise as far as it can go and there's nothing 'new' or 'shocking' left to try. A half hour leaves a lot of slack in some episodes, too, it might've been better as one of those 15-minute shows on Adult Swim.

u) "Playing House"
I've always liked Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham and I'm glad they've kind of funneled their sensibility into a show that's now in its second season (there was another similar one on NBC that only lasted a few episodes). This show is almost like a WASP-y suburban mommy blogger version of "Broad City," there are these really unexpected hilarious moments within an ostensibly mundane framework.

v) "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore" 
I think the true test of how good this show has gotten is that I still want to watch it now that "The Daily Show" is in reruns until Trevor Noah starts, and I'm actually wondering if Trevor Noah will have to compete as much with how Larry Wilmore covers the same news cycle as he will with people's memories of Jon Stewart. I still kinda wish so much of the show wasn't taken up with panel discussion, but as much as I've tired of that format "The Nightly Show" easily has some of the best panel discussions on TV.

w) "Late Night with Seth Meyers" 
I remember how awkward Seth Meyers seemed the first night he hosted "Late Night," standing up to tell the monologue with no "Weekend Update" desk. And so it doesn't surprise me at all that after over a year of struggling with that tradition, he's finally just given up and is doing the monologue behind his desk. I hope they keep tinkering with the format, Meyers isn't really that bad -- really one of the better interviewers in late night right now, he actually interacts with people and improvises -- but there's such a weird stale air around the show. Fred Armisen is on there even less than I thought he'd be.

x) "Hannibal"
I guess all hope of someone else picking up this show after NBC's cancellation has dissipated, which means there's only one episode left of this show, which I have spent the summer devouring all three seasons of. The third season has been a very different beast from the other two, with the really funky abstract stretches in the first half and then the last few episodes going through the Red Dragon storyline, which has made for a pretty interesting shift. The only big bummer for me was that Joe Anderson's Mason Verger was barely any better than the awful Michael Pitt performance that I was so eager for the show to rid itself of. A shame they won't get to Clarice and Buffalo Bill now.

y) "Key & Peele"
I'm kind of relieved that these guys are gonna be done with the show after the 5th season. That's like 20 hours of television, hundreds of short sketches where 2 guys wear every wig imaginable and run through every scenario they can think of in their kind of small array of topics of interests. Every now and again they do something hysterical, and the production values and costuming/wigs are some of the best in sketch comedy ever, but it also feels like they've completely exhausted the show's potential. Also the weird "True Detective"-inspired interstitial sketches they started doing in every episode last year feel like an odd choice to stick with this year, I guess they got really sick of doing the interstitials with a live studio audience in the early seasons. Maybe they can go off now and do something fresh with a movie or whatever and come back and do another season a few years down the road.

z) "Suits" 
Another show in its 5th season that has kind of hit a wall, but will keep going for at least a couple more seasons. It's always been less of a law procedural than a show about the relationships between the characters, and it's getting increasingly hard to sustain that without getting repetitive or soap opera ridiculous. I'd love to see them drop some kind of real game-changer plot development by the end of the season (and not just something obviously temporary like Mike and Rachel breaking up again). Or maybe get back to a little more of the procedural stuff that was in the early seasons.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 44: Prince

Monday, August 24, 2015

I recently started trying out Tidal, but there's not a lot of music on there isn't also on Spotify, which I'm more used to using. And one of the major exceptions is Prince, who took all his music off of Spotify and put (some of) his catalog on Tidal recently, with a new album, HITNRUN, scheduled to debut on Tidal next week. So I end up listening to Prince on Tidal a lot, and decided to put together one of these deep cuts playlists. This series is largely reserved for acts who are not revered as 'album artists,' people who are not necessarily taken too seriously beyond their singles. But now and again it's fun to dig into a really absurdly rich catalog like Prince's and try to cram as many great deep cuts as possible into 80 minutes.

Prince Deep Album Cuts (Tidal playlist): 

1. The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker
2. Darling Nikki
3. Tamborine
4. Can't Stop This Feeling I Got
5. I Wonder U
6. Trust
7. Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)
8. Partyup
9. I'm Yours
10. Jack U Off
11. Strange Relationship
12. Love 2 The 9's
13. Dark
14. Sometimes It Snows In April
15. It's Gonna Be Lonely
16. D.M.S.R.
17. The Beautiful Ones

Track 9 from For You (1978)
Track 15 from Prince (1979)
Track 8 from Dirty Mind (1980)
Track 10 from Controversy (1981)
Tracks 7 and 16 from 1999 (1982)
Tracks 2 and 17 from Purple Rain (1984)
Track 3 from Around The World In A Day (1985)
Tracks 5 and 14 from Parade (1986)
Tracks 1 and 11 from Sign O' The Times (1987)
Track 6 from Batman (1989)
Track 4 from Graffiti Bridge (1990)
Track 12 from Prince logo.svg (1992)
Track 13 from Come (1994)

Prince has a long history of idiosyncratic, questionable decisions about how and where to make his music available on the internet. And one of the most frustrating things about his move to Tidal is that it includes very little of the many albums he's released in the last 20 years. For the purposes of this playlist, though, it has what I need: nearly all of the albums from the essential first 16 or so years of his career (with the odd omission of the blockbuster Diamonds And Pearls). I couldn't include anything from Lovesexy, because all digital releases of the album stubbornly maintain the annoying quirk of the original CD release, with every song run together on one track, but that's okay, I don't like that one all that much.

He has widely beloved B-sides and bootlegged rarities, so Prince songs that actually appeared on his albums barely even feel like "deep cuts," but still, he's a guy with a lot of hits, and a lot of great songs that were not singles. It'd be easy to stick with his peak period, or stuff it with songs from the really ripe albums like Sign O' The Times and 1999, but it was fun to dip into the early stuff and the post-peak stuff (his self-titled 1979 album remains one of my absolute favorites). "Darling Nikki" may be one of the most infamous deep cuts of all time, not because it was performed in a huge movie or covered by the Foo Fighters but because of the song's placement on the Parents Music Resource Center's 'Filthy Fifteen' -- I read about Tipper Gore objecting to the song's lyrics about "masturbating to a magazine" before I ever heard Prince sing those words. "The Beautiful Ones" is part of the canon of Prince songs that will live forever in late night "quiet storm" blocks on R&B stations, along with "International Lover," "Do Me, Baby," and "Adore" (which I adore most of all, but it was on Greatest Hits so it feels wrong to include on a deep cuts playlist).

Obviously, the diminishing returns hit after Sign O' The Times, but even when I only cover part of an artist's career in these mixes, I tend to cover the whole time in which they made hits, and he kept having hits for a while after that. And it was fun to dig into the highlights of that post-peak period. "Trust" was, along with "Partyman," such an enjoyable part of Batman and those are maybe the first Prince songs I ever enjoyed as a kid, even if I had no idea who they were by at the time. It wasn't until the early 2000's that my friend Mat, a card-carrying Prince fanatic, made me really appreciate the man's catalog. And I have a vivid memory of hanging out with Mat in Rockville when he had Prince logo.svg on in his car and being blown away that such an unhip, dated-sounding album still had really delightful songs like "Love 2 The 9's" and "Morning Papers." By far my favorite post-'80s Prince album, however, is Come, one of his final Warner Bros. albums that he kind of deliberately downplayed upon its release. It's really the only time he sounded kind of in step with '90s R&B, and just has so many awesome midtempo sex jams, I really recommend it, "Dark" is just one of many great songs on it.

One thing I inadvertently found myself doing a lot was including a lot of Prince's closing tracks -- 5 of the 13 albums represented, including all of his first 4 albums. That's somewhat inevitable -- Prince, like most artists, rarely closes an album with a single. But "Jack U Off," "I'm Yours," Sometimes It Snows In April," that's a pretty wide range of closers. One of the things I love most about Prince is that nearly all his albums run the gamut from screaming rockers to fragile ballads to sleazy sex jams to electro experiments to funk workouts. So I really tried to maintain that variety of styles more than necessarily just picking the absolute best songs, although I really love pretty much everything here.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2015
This week's Short List.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Channel 10 Podcast, which is hosted by a couple of Baltimore rap dudes I go way back with, Articulate and Singodsuperior, asked me to come on as a guest, and Episode 20 went up this week. We talked for about an hour about in a wide ranging discussion about Baltimore, music, life, all that stuff. It was a lot of fun, thanks to go those guys for inviting me to participate.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang recently signed to 300 Entertainment off the strength of "Bank Rolls," his hit that features the beat from a circa 2000 Baltimore classic by Tim Trees. I spoke to both Tate and Tim Trees for The Fader.

Monthly Report: August 2015 Singles

Monday, August 17, 2015

1. K Camp - "Comfortable"
K Camp has always had an ear for a tuneful hook -- in fact the first time I heard him, on Mykko Montana's minor hit "Do It" about 3 years ago, all he did was the hook (hilariously, the Singles Jukebox post on the song that I contributed to features the comment "Incredible Feedback!" signed by K Camp himself). Since then, he's quietly racked up a decent number of solo hits (plus Snootie Wild's "Made Me," another song where he only does the hook), and finally has a major label album dropping, but I haven't really thought much of his stuff since "Do It." But "Comfortable" is just a revelation, one of those songs we get every once in a while (well, once a year for the last 15 years or so) where a rapper goes full-on R&B and the melody in their voice is disarming and beautiful. Big Fruit made an incredibly summery track with some surprising changeups in the beat, and I'm really immature so I'm always amused anytime Big Fruit gets a production credit on anything. Here's the Spotify playlist of favorite 2015 singles that I add to every month.

2. Demi Lovato - "Cool For The Summer"
Last week I did a little overview of Demi Lovato's brief career so far since this song has been blowing up and getting people more interested in her otherwise underrated music. I have mixed feelings about "Cool For The Summer" itself, though, it's such a big bombastic Max Martin production with all these distinct parts, sometimes it feels like too much, sometimes it hits just perfectly.

3. Sam Hunt - "House Party"
Sam Hunt is a good punching bag for bro country in general, a guy who you're more likely to see in a baseball cap than a cowboy hat, and I hatefully compared his big hit "Take Your Time" to Drake a few months ago. But this song, for all its embarrassing DJ scratching, is a winner with me. One of the things about unabashed crossover artists is that occasionally they do write a song that seems so broadly appealing that it's easy to imagine it being a hit in any radio format, if it was mixed a little different or covered by a boy band, an R&B singer, an alt-rock band, whatever.

4. Thomas Rhett - "Crash And Burn"
I'd dismissed Thomas Rhett before the 5th single from his debut, "Make Me Wanna," became one of my favorite country hits in recent memory, and I feel hopeful that that song set the tone for his second record. The lead single is a little goofy and the video features Rhetto ghost riding the goddamn whip, but musically it's still a step in the right direction.

5. Tyrese - "Shame"
One thing that I think has kind of been lost in today's pop landscape is studio backup singers -- the few stars, R&B or otherwise, that are good enough do a lot of their own backing harmonies, and sometimes have backup singers onstage to sing those parts live, but you rarely get a lead vocalist interacting with backing voices that are clearly not just them multi-tracked anymore. And the women singing backup on this song just put this perfect, spine-tingling dramatic touch on the song that serves as a good foil for Tyrese's velvety rasp. Ever since one of Tyrese's first videos went into rotation on MTV while Tyrese was a VJ, his music career has seemed like a big weird mirage to me. So him gradually becoming a steady R&B radio presence and kind of one of the last surviving traditionalists was surprising, but he's got some jams.

6. Ciara - "Dance Like We're Makin' Love"
I put this song on my Ciara deep cuts playlist, and it was bound to happen eventually that a song I put on one of those things would get released as a single soon after (I replaced it with "Give Me Love" on the playlist). I'm really glad it's a single, though, definitely makes a great case for the Ciara/Dr. Luke collaboration that Future got a lot of attention for turning his nose up at recently. Of course, putting out this single at this particular time with a sexy video takes on a weird overtone given Ciara's celibate relationship with Russell Wilson. It kinda takes the song's gist of "let's dance before making love" and makes it seem more like "let's dance instead of making love."

7. Meek Mill f/ Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown - "All Eyes On You"
Meek Mill is one of my favorite rappers of the last decade, and Drake is someone I barely tolerate, so it goes without saying that the past month has been a bummer for me. I still stand by pretty much everything I said in the Noisey piece I published when Dreams Worth More Than Money came out, him handling that beef poorly doesn't really effect my enjoyment of his music. One thing I in that piece that I will walk back a little is calling this song "boring" -- certainly singles like "Monster" and "Check" are more classic Meek Mill and this song is kind of a transparent bid for radio play, but it's really grown on me. Doing the "Notorious Thugs" flow over a slow jam was inspired, and out of all the hits featuring Chris Brown these days, this is one of the only ones where he actually adds something to the song and makes it better instead of just kind of showing up and making a cameo so that radio will play it.

8. The Struts - "Could Have Been Me"
There are a ton of British bands on American rock radio these days, and most of them get sent over here after they've already gotten huge at home. But it appears this band isn't popular in the U.K. at all, even compared to the moderate U.S. airplay they've gotten, which is surprising since this is a super British glam rock anthem with a scenery-chewing lead singer who rolls his R's.

9. Tori Kelly - "Should've Been Us"
Odd trivia: this song is produced by a team called The Struts, but it's not the band I was just talking about. After "Nobody Love" blew me away but fizzled on pop radio, it's nice that the follow-up single is doing better and the album even did decent numbers. Part of the chorus reminds me a lot of the unjustly forgotten Kelly Rowland single "Can't Nobody," which isn't a bad thing.

10. Tiffany Evans f/ Fetty Wap - "On Sight"
After having one minor hit ages ago, Tiffany Evans came out with a freebie EP a couple years ago that I really enjoyed, and then disappeared again. Now she's got a buzzing single buoyed by one of the big rappers of the moment, and I hope she's able to get a foot back in the industry again. I've kind of liked but not loved a lot of the songs Fetty Wap has had out since "Trap Queen," but I really dig his verse on this, he has this weird double-tracked vocal sound that I haven't heard him use on anything else that gives a different dimension to his voice. Also interesting that Yeezus is now being mined for hook ideas for singles.

Worst Single of the Month: Fall Out Boy - "Uma Thurman"
I really need to revisit American Beauty/American Psycho and reignite my fondness for it, because I really like that album, and my least favorite song on it becoming a hit is really bumming me out and souring me on the band right now. This is the worst thing Uma Thurman has been associated with in a year that included "The Slap."

Movie Diary

Sunday, August 16, 2015

a) I Am Chris Farley
In the last few months there have been new documentaries about Kurt Cobain (which I watched and had mixed feelings about), Amy Winehouse (which I haven't seen), and Chris Farley, and I wonder how many more docs about tragic show business figures who died young are in production right now. This one was produced in part by Farley's family and is more of a warm remembrance than anything else, but that's really what you want, he was just a sweet, talented guy whose vices got the best of him and I think they mixed the good and bad in appropriate measures (Bob Odenkirk's interviews in particular give a good sense of the overwhelming sadness and frustration that his friends must feel about the whole thing, the Spades and Sandlers tell good stories but don't really open up all that much).

b) Foxcatcher
I lived in Delaware, around the area where the du Pont family was a big deal, back in the '90s when John du Pont killed that guy in Pennsylvania, and it just seemed like such a big, weird news story at the time. But this movie really manages to draw it all out and make the entire affair seem as dull and pointless as it probably really was. Carell's prosthetic nose was the most famous misstep of the movie (although I still say he should hold onto it for a live action Despicable Me movie). But I really thought Channing Tatum was just totally out of his depth and just clenched his jaw in this weird way like he wanted to seem mad or mentally challenged or something, it was a strange unfortunate performance after he'd had a really good run of roles where he'd shown a little more range.

c) Inherent Vice
Early in his career I thought Joaquin Phoenix gave a lot of strong performances in flawed movies (8mm, Gladiator, The Village), but for some reason now I just dread seeing the guy in anything. Ever since I read that Robert Downey, Jr. was almost the lead in Inherent Vice, I had a hard time not distracting myself imagining how much more engaging the movie would be with him instead of Phoenix, who just seemed too bored and stoned even for a role that kind of was supposed to come off that way. I liked the dry, subdued humor of the movie and I feel like it could grow on me with additional viewings, but it didn't totally click with me. There were times when it felt like I was just watching an artier The Big Lebowski.

d) Horrible Bosses 2
I barely remember watching the first one and I'll barely remember this one either. Not terrible movies -- if anything they affirm what a strong screen presence Jason Sudeikis is even when he's bouncing off of bigger stars -- but pretty forgettable.

e) Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) 
For all the awards and rave reviews this got, a lot of people I know or whose opinions I respect really seemed to hate Birdman, so I was curious to check it out and figure out what side of the debate I would take. And I gotta say, I am mostly if not entirely pro-Birdman. I liked the long takes, I liked the stagey nature of the performances, I liked the nervous energy of the all-percussion score, I even liked some of the over-the-top touches that kind of took it out of the realm of realism towards the end. As much as I love Michael Keaton, though, I don't really feel like he carried the movie or this was a once-in-a-lifetime performance or anything, it felt to me like an ensemble effort. I'm glad it gave him a big comeback and hopefully more prominent roles, though.

f) John Wick
This is a classic "they messed with the wrong guy"-style action movie, way better than Taken. I love the pace of how the movie starts and how quickly the plot is set up and then they're just off to the races. It's also the rare action movie in which an absurd number of people get shot but there's something shocking and visceral about how the camera lingers on the victims and makes you process their death, I respect that.

g) The Book Of Life
The weird stylized look of the animation in this movie took some getting used to, but it grew on me. Interesting to see Guillermo del Toro produce a Dia de los Muertos-themed animated feature film that was still really light-hearted and silly and entertaining in the way other big budget cartoons are, really refreshing stuff. My son laughed a lot in the first half hour and then got bored and wanted to watch something else, so my wife and I watched the rest after he went to bed.

h) Horns
I got very irritated by the standard issue soundtrack this movie had that included The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind" and David Bowie's "Heroes," but the movie itself was pretty original. The plot and the tone were a little all over the place, but it was good.

i) Mercenaries
This is basically a gender-flipped Expendables, with a bunch of women who've been in big action movies (Kristanna Loken, Zoe Bell, Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica Fox, etc.). It's kind of a shame that it's only a direct-to-DVD mockbuster with really low budget effects, though, it'd be cool to see this movie done with a lot of money and some bigger stars.

j) Lucy
A lot of incompetent actors are out there thriving, but have people ever politely looked the other way more than they do with Scarlett Johansson? Granted, she's been in a fair number of good movies where her limitations somehow suited the character or her role was small enough that she didn't hurt the movie. But now and again she's put at the center of a movie like this, where you're really following one character through a whole journey, and it's just staggering how ill-equipped she is to carry a movie. I feel like this would've instantly been 10 times better with any number of other actresses in the role.

k) The Bling Ring
This came out around the same time as Spring Breakers and ended up kind of being its unofficial rival with vaguely similar subject matter. As much as I didn't care for Spring Breakers, though, its vivid style-over-substance is missed in something as flat as The Bling Ring, which felt very true to the real events it was based on but didn't do much to make it entertaining and filmic. Sugar & Spice remains easily the greatest teenage girl crime spree movie.

l) Movie 43
Everyone kinda knows this movie was an infamous bomb but it really does fascinate me how a bunch of huge stars got together, shot some sketches that would've been passable on Funny Or Die, and expected it to do well as a theatrical feature? With a completely unabashed "who cares" title? The recurring sketches that kind of strung the movie into a vague narrative might've actually been the worst thing about it, they shouldn't have bothered with that.

m) Adventure In Baltimore
I found myself watching this because of the title, but there's nothing at all specific to Baltimore about it, it's just a title, really. But it was interesting to see a movie made in 1949 that depicts a young woman campaigning for women's rights in 1905, to kind of get this weird perspective on feminism from before anyone was using the word, looking at an era even further back. Shirley Temple was 21 when she made this movie, and it feels weird to say this about one of the world's most famous child stars, but man, she was hot when she made this movie. It was one of the flops that led her to retire from films at 22, which is a shame because she was really turning into a babe.

Thursday, August 13, 2015
This week's Short List.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 43: Demi Lovato

Monday, August 10, 2015

Demi Lovato's new single "Cool For The Summer" is currently climbing the charts, and I feel like I've already heard more praise for it than all her previous singles combined. And that's kind of a shame, because ever since I was hooked by "Don't Forget" and "La La Land" from her first album, I've rooted for her. And she's finally become a pretty consistent Top 40 radio presence in the last few years with a string of really good singles like "Give Your Heart A Break," "Really Don't Care," and "Heart Attack."

Lovato is one of many pop stars who came into the public eye as a star on the Disney Channel, but she never really reached the level of fame of a Miley Cyrus or Hilary Duff. She was introduced to the world in the Camp Rock movies, which were kind of like a knockoff High School Musical built around the Jonas Brothers, and her career has kind of run parallel with erstwhile best friend Selena Gomez. For a while, Lovato's life took a dark turn and she seemed more tabloid famous than known for her music, but it really feels like at this point, with 4 gold albums and her 5th album on the way, she's finally starting to get noticed for the right reasons. 4 albums is a little soon to do an overview of anyone's career, but as with One Direction, I think it's a good time to look back on the catalog so far of one of teen pop's more consistent acts of the last few years.

Demi Lovato Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. The Middle
2. U Got Nothin' On Me
3. Gonna Get Caught
4. Solo
5. Mistake
6. Without The Love
7. Catch Me
8. Two Worlds Collide
9. Got Dynamite
10. Who Will I Be
11. Our Time Is Here (featuring Meaghan Martin)
12. Brand New Day
13. On The Line (featuring the Jonas Brothers)
14. In Case
15. Trainwreck
16. All Night Long (featuring Missy Elliott and Timbaland
17. Who's That Boy (featuring Dev)
18. Fire Starter
19. Unbroken
20. Believe In Me
21. Stop The World
22. Warrior
23. Everything You're Not

Tracks 10 and 11 from Camp Rock (2008)
Tracks 1, 3, 8, 13, 15 and 20 from Don't Forget (2008)
Tracks 2, 4, 7, 9, 21 and 23 from Here We Go Again (2009)
Track 12 from Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (2010)
Tracks 5, 16, 17 and 19 from Unbroken (2011)
Track 6, 14, 18 and 22 from Demi (2013)

Lovato's first couple albums came out at the height of the post-"Since U Been Gone" era, when most female pop singers were basically making glossy guitar-driven power pop. And Lovato was known for actually playing guitar and listening to metal bands, and made some of my favorite music out of that whole wave. Half of Don't Forget was co-written with the Jonas Brothers, and is better than almost anything they ever did for themselves, and Here We Go Again was maybe an even stronger album (aside from one really bad song written by John Mayer). Those albums have often been described as kind of a Radio Disney version of Paramore, but in a weird way I think that's actually backwards -- Demi Lovato has this kind of anxious mall punk edge in her vocal delivery where Hayley Williams sings like a natural born pop star.

Weird side note: I occasionally work with famous people in my teleprompting day job, and I've been in the same room with Demi Lovato a couple times, once meeting her and working with her for an hour or so. In those situations I generally just say hi and do my job, though, so I didn't take the opportunity to, like, tell her that I've listened to all her albums or that I champion her music to other pop critics. She seems nice, though.

Although Lovato has really only become a radio presence with the string of great singles off her last couple albums (the first two albums sold mainly off the strength of Disney Channel ubiquity), the albums themselves are a little spottier and lighter on good deep cuts. About half of Unbroken was saddled with an ill-fated attempt at clubby R&B, although there were a couple tracks I liked enough to put on the playlist, including one of the only Missy Elliott/Timbaland collaborations released in the last decade. Demi was something of a course correction to combine the guitar-driven rock of her early records with slick dance pop in the style of recent Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry records, and it worked fairly well, but "Cool For The Summer" seems like a good omen that she's really figuring out the ideal version of that sound for her next album.

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