Reading Diary: 33 1/3 Edition

Monday, July 23, 2018























a) The Geto Boys, by Rolf Potts
As someone who's familiar with the Geto Boys' and Scarface's output from We Can't Be Stopped onward, I was surprised to see that 33 1/3 had a book on one of the group's earlier albums. I guess I didn't realize just how much national media coverage and outrage the Geto Boys whipped up for Grip It! On That Other Level and the subsequent remixed Def American re-release of the album as The Geto Boys. But Potts, who was so obsessed with the album in the early '90s that he actually made a pilgrimage to Fifth Ward, unfurls the history and context around the album really well, and I'm glad it gave me a reason to check out the album, which of course leans on shock value content but is musically much closer to the quality level of We Can't Be Stopped than I'd expected.

b) Horses, by Philip Shaw
As someone who loves music and is largely indifferent to poetry, I've never really thought too much about Patti Smith through the lens of poetry; to me Horses is just a great rock record that happens to have been made by someone who was a poet before she was a singer. But I found myself enjoying Shaw's literary analysis of Horses more than I thought I would. Smith's early music career was one of the main storylines of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire but the 33 1/3 book managed to flesh out her journey into music via poetry with a lot of background that I hadn't read before.

c) Fear Of Music, by Jonathan Lethem
I haven't read any of Lethem's novels and am wary of 33 1/3 books written by people who are well known for something besides music writing. But Lethem's recollections of hearing this album as an adolescent and his reflections on it as an adult are pretty passionate and enjoyable to read, even if I feel like he falls victim to a bit of the chronic throat-clearing about his subject matter that are one of the most common pitfalls of books in this series.

Friday, July 20, 2018








This weekend marks 10 years since Khia "DJ K-Swift" Edgerton's tragic death. The Baltimore Sun ran a lovely piece about her by Brittany Britto and Wesley Case, and Wesley quoted me a little bit in the article.

Monthly Report: July 2018 Singles

Thursday, July 12, 2018









1. Cardi B f/ Bad Bunny and J Balvin - "I Like It" 
Almost a year out from "Bodak Yellow" blowing up, Cardi B has another #1 and a pretty huge album, which is more than I think even the most optimistic fan would have predicted for her. I'm happy for her, though, this isn't even one of the best songs on Invasion of Privacy but it totally makes sense as a breakout hit. And even after "Despacito" it's still a little surprising to hear a song on urban radio where 2 of the 3 verses are in Spanish, I don't think that's ever happened before. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. Echosmith - "Over My Head"
I thought Echosmith's big hit from a few years ago "Cool Kids" kind of annoying and off-putting, but I liked their overall sound. So I'm glad that they're back with a much, much better song, I'm still hoping this blows up and they put out an album in this vein.

3. Keith Urban f/ Julia Michaels - "Coming Home" 
On paper, Keith Urban seems like the exact kind of country star who would cross over to pop radio -- photogenic guy who's married to a movie star, did a few seasons of "American Idol," and makes music that often sounds like glossy pop/rock. But he never got into the top 20 of the Hot 100 or had a real crossover hit played outside country radio, even as every album features more and more collaborators from the pop world. "Coming Home" is produced by J.R. Rotem and is built on a guitar loop from one of Merle Haggard's signature songs, which seems like a terrible idea but totally works, and I love the vocals from Julia Michaels in the second half of the song. 

4. Fall Out Boy - "The Last Of The Real Ones"
Mania-era Fall Out Boy is a bit like Keith Urban in that they often reach out of their comfort zone to work with the latest hitmakers but it doesn't necessarily expand their audience. This song is produced by Illangelo, best known for helping The Weeknd originate his signature sound, but it mostly sounds like a good old fashioned Fall Out Boy anthem with a few cool keyboard riffs thrown in. 

5. Morgan Wallen f/ Florida Georgia Line - "Up Down"  
Florida Georgia Line has been on a surprisingly great run of collaborations lately, and they make a good combination with Morgan Wallen, who they wrote Jason Aldean's "You Make It Easy" with. I enjoy a good playful musical/lyrical parallel, and I like the way the slide guitar riff seesaws up and down between high notes and low notes on "Up Down." 

6. James Bay - "Pink Lemonade" 
Electric Light is one of my favorite albums of 2018 and it's a shame that none of its singles have taken off on U.S. radio like "Let It Go" did. But "Pink Lemonade" has broken him through a little bit to alt-rock radio and it's a good fit, wouldn't mind if they worked more singles to rock stations. 

7. Foo Fighters "The Line"
I had high hopes for Foo Fighters making an album with Greg Kurstin, but I think the experiment was mostly a bust, Concrete And Gold is likely their worst album and "The Sky Is A Neighborhood" their worst single. I love "The Line," though, it was always the track that redeemed the album and I'm glad it's finally a single, it's kind of a typical brooding Foo Fighters 3rd single but the piano and synth and violin and vibraphone in the mix really give it a nice unique texture. 

8. Meghan Trainor - "Let You Be Right" 
Two years ago, Meghan Trainor declared "I shit hits" to an interview, and that moment of hubris was timed perfectly to the moment when pop radio stopped eagerly embracing everything she released. I never liked her much anyway, so I was amused by her career downturn, but she's definitely talented and I wouldn't count her out yet. I don't know if "Let You Be Right" could be the one to get her momentum back, but I think it's one of her best to date. 

9. Blue October - "I Hope You're Happy"
Blue October have had almost a dozen songs on the radio charts since the memorably awful 2006 crossover hit "Hate Me," and I don't think I've heard barely any of them that I can remember. "I Hope You're Happy" is surprisingly upbeat and catchy, though, and doesn't remind me at all of "Hate Me" even if the singer still sounds like an angry Muppet.   

10. Red Sun Rising - "Deathwish" 
It's weird to think that the singer of one of the more popular young bands on hard rock radio in 2018 reminds me of the singer from The Scorpions. Not even their music at all, just a certain weird unique tone in the voice. 

Worst Single of the Month: Bryce Vine - "Drew Barrymore"
I really just fly into a rage every time I hear the lyric "you're the next Drew Berry, and I want more." I can't believe dozens of people heard this song, in the studio, at the label, and so on and so on and everyone was like, this is a good idea, let's put it out. Also, the guy's real last name isn't Vine, I don't know if he named himself after Vine the video platform but that really seems likely. 

TV Diary

Friday, July 06, 2018






















a) "Yellowstone"
Taylor Sheridan played a police officer on the first two seasons of "Sons of Anarchy" and I thought it was a character with a lot of story potential before they abruptly had him run over by a van in the first episode of the 3rd season. It turns out he was written out of the show so he could focus on other projects, and it's paid off: he's become a director and the screenwriter of a string of hits including both Sicario movies and Hell Or High Water. I kind of like these stories where a little-known actor became a big behind-the-scenes person, and those movies are pretty good, so I'm rooting for him. I was skeptical about "Yellowstone" before I knew he created it (my exact words, I believe, were that spending millions of dollars on 'Kevin Costner in a cowboy hat: the series' was a waste of money). But the first couple of episodes have been pretty good, despite the fact that there are few lead actors I'm less inclined to watch in something than Costner and Wes Bentley. The Trump administrations recent moves about the national parks and thought-provoking pieces like this make a show like "Yellowstone" kind of an ideal lightning rod for all the issues involved in a drama about local governments and residents and native communities fighting over land.

b) "Kiss Me First"
This British sci-fi show distributed by Netflix in America, about two girls becoming infatuated with each other in a virtual reality game, almost seems like a deliberate attempt to fulfill public desire for a series-length version of the San Junipero episode of "Black Mirror." More on paper than in practice, though, it has more of a hazy, mysterious tone to it, I'm not really sure where the story is going because I haven't gotten too far yet but it seems kind of interesting.

c) "Love Is ___"
This is kind of an interesting meta show for BET where Mara Brock Akil, creator of "Girlfriends" and "Being Mary Jane," and her husband tell an autobiographical story about the 20-year-relationship of a Hollywood power couple. The pilot's meet cute moment is good and there's a nice amiable rom com tone to the whole thing, I don't know if it will ever be a gripping drama, but I kind of think that serialized television is a uniquely appropriate way to explore the subject of marriage.

d) "Dietland"
A lot of films are based on novels, but TV shows not quite so often. And when I see a strange, original show like "Dietland" that so clearly resists the kind of arcs and easily explained premises that I'm used to from TV, I kind of understand why novels seem like unwieldy source material.

e) "Take Two"
This show makes me wonder if ABC really misses having "Castle" in their primetime lineup and decided to do a gender-swapped version with an actress who plays a cop on TV shadowing a private detective. There's an unintentionally amusing moment in the pilot where the actress's show-within-a-show scene is kind of deliberately ridiculous and then the scene of the 'real' detective at work is more or less the same.

f) "Deep State"
The words 'deep state' have become such an absurd meme in the past year that only the most right wing nutjobs use with a straight face that I think it won't wear well as the title of an earnest spy thriller TV show. The whole premise of a former MI6 agent getting pulled back into the field is good, but Mark Strong is so charismatic in stuff like the Kingsman movies and then just feels like a bore as a straightforward protagonist in something more serious like this.

g) "A Very English Scandal"
It's clever Hugh Grant to tell the story of a politician whose career was unraveled by a sex scandal. The actual story of a member of the British Parliament going on trial for attempting to have his gay lover killed is pretty crazy, though, hard to believe I hadn't heard about the story of Jeremy Thorpe before this miniseries. I feel like tonally it's hard to be sure about whether they're coming from, though, if they really want it to be a black comedy kind of having fun with the weird story or have some empathy with the characters.

h) "The Last Defense"
As with Showtime's "Wrong Man," this ABC miniseries seems to be capitalizing on the current booming interest in true crime docs that advocate for a convict's innocence, but it at least approaches it like a network newsmagazine with a little more traditional journalistic rigor than some of these Netflix docs that seem to be urging the viewer to draw a particular conclusion.

i) "Cloak & Dagger"
A moderately charming teen-themed Marvel adaptation on Freeform, but it doesn't really escape the doldrums of Marvel's TV projects. Also every time I see Olivia Holt I end up just listening to her excellent 2017 single "Generous" again.

j) "Luke Cage"
"Luke Cage" is kind of a classic case of the Marvel TV series doldrums, even though the first season started pretty strong, they killed off a great villain halfway through it and enthusiasm for the show and the character waned in the later episodes and in the spinoff "The Defenders." But I have to say, I'm enjoying the second season more than I thought I would, I forgot how great the whole ensemble of Simone Missik and Theo Rossi and Alfre Woodard is and the 2nd season features the great Reg E. Cathey's final performance as Cage's father.

k) "GLOW"
The beginning of the second season really is a moment of truth for whether a show is really loved or not, and even though "GLOW" got good reviews in the first season, I really wasn't prepared for how huge the buzz has been around the second season, it really feels like it's arrived, culturally. I like the first handful of episodes of the new season I've watched, but I feel like the little character moments that emphasize the cast chemistry really make everything else feel kind of secondary. Also I'm still a little disappointed at the reveal about Justine's character that kind of took her out of the wrestling part of the show and made her part of this boilerplate estranged parent subplot that I have no interest in. 

l) "The Bold Type"
Even though this show's view of the magazine industry is frothy and inaccurate in plenty of ways, I feel like the way it's chasing the zeitgiest has yielded some good moments. I like that the way one character went viral by putting their employer on blast became a liability when they were interviewing for a new job, that felt like very perfectly of-the-moment problem to depict.

m) "Claws"
Another good show that debuted in 2017 returning for a second season this summer. I find it so interesting that "Claws" was developed as a half hour for HBO before ultimately getting on the air as an hour for TNT. It makes me wonder if there was an iteration that was quicker or lighter or more overtly comedic before it became an at times weighty comedy/drama. They still get away with some pretty odd playful moments, though, like the 'Brady Bunch' thing in the second episode of the new season. I don't know about the Virginia/Dean relationship, though, that whole storyline is so weird.

n) "The Opposition with Jordan Klepper"
I was disappointed to find that "The Opposition" ran its final episode last week and Comedy Central is kind of going back to the drawing board to develop a completely different weekly show for Jordan Klepper. Even though "The Opposition" never totally succeeded at present Klepper as a kind of Colbert-style alt-right alter ego of himself, I really found the show's writing and guests and cast of contributors to be more consistently entertaining than "The Daily Show" in the last few months.

o) "Drunk History"
I like that they broke up the latest season so that there were some episodes a few months ago and then more in the summer, a little "Drunk History" now and then goes a long way. The recent episode with Rachel Bloom was great, she's really an ideal narrator for this show. In fact one of my only criticisms of this show is that they could repeat the best narrators more often.

Thursday, July 05, 2018


















I started revamping my old deep album cuts playlists for City Pages recently, and since Paramore are playing Minneapolis tonight, I made a new Paramore playlist with After Laughter tracks added to the version I made in 2014

Monthly Report: June 2018 Albums

Tuesday, July 03, 2018





















1. Jacquees - 4275
I know a lot of people who I think primarly like R&B when it's rap-adjacent, which means they usually like certain artists, male singers who are signed to famous rap labels and make mixtapes and do hooks for rappers and constantly sample trendy '90s R&B songs, way more than I do. I've only liked a little of the Jacquees stuff I'd heard before his debut album for Cash Money, so I was highly skeptical of the praise I was hearing for this album and who I was hearing it from, but I was really impressed by 4275, the whole thing sounds great from front to back, Jacquees is writing songs that work well for his particular vocal range and he's doing the autobiographical thing with this album pretty compellingly. And then there are just all these sex jams like "Studio" featuring Young Thug and "House Or Hotel" that are just fantastic. Here's the 2018 albums playlist I add stuff to as I listen to it.

2. Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch
Apparently among the other things Trent Reznor has in common with David Bowie is a moderate ability to play saxophone, though where Bowie played sax on and off for years, brass of any kind is a totally novel texture to hear on a Nine Inch Nails record in a 2-decade career. When I first heard "God Break Down The Door," my first thought was that Reznor probably has been getting some inspiration from Blackstar, both because of the sax and because of the overall atmosphere and the vocal that affects kind of a Bowie croon. For the most part, though, Bad Witch feels very much like a late period NIN record in a good way, and kind of mimics the unhurried sprawl of the longer records even though it's only a little longer than the last couple EPs.

3. Jay Rock - Redemption
If you really think about how the members of Black Hippy rap and how long they've been doing it, it's pretty remarkable that Kendrick and to a lesser degree Q are genuine stars that the youth of America listen to in huge numbers. So even with Ab-Soul more or less declining to chase stardom, it's not surprising to me that Jay Rock has had a hard time getting the recipe right to cross over, although I feel bad that he even feels compelled to call this album Redemption after two perfectly good but commercial unsuccessful albums, but the storytelling on the title track is beautiful. This album is full of the exact kind of music I wanna hear from him, particularly "ES Tales," but even the outliers like the Jeremih feature work, and I'm proud to see D.K. The Punisher from Baltimore getting more TDE work on a couple tracks.

4. John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
As a teenager I played drums in my high school jazz ensemble and became something of a casual jazz fan, and of the couple jazz albums I had, the largest share was by Coltrane and I really adored his the rhythm section of his classic quartet. So I was very curious to hear this recently unearthed 1963 session, although I feel like a total dilettante for caring since I haven't listened to much jazz in recent years or explored Coltrane's catalog beyond a handful of the most famous albums. This sounds fantastic, though, I might have to start checking out some of the albums from this period that I don't have. 

5. Florence + The Machine - High As Hope
I was kind of a Florence + The Machine skeptic initially and then started to regard her as a solid singles artist, and my wife really loves her records so I started to appreciate it more fully. And the sound of this album is really hitting me nicely, cavernous percussive arrangements that kind of build empty space around her big voice, "South London Forever" and "Grace" in particular are just sublime.

6. 03 Greedo - God Level
Among hyperprolific mixtape rappers, I've found 03 Greedo a little hard to get into partly because he makes such long records. And while material often starts to get parceled out in smaller amounts when a rapper goes upstate, Greedo, who claims to have hours and hours of unreleased material, went ahead and put out the 98-minute God Level the week he turned himself in for a 20-year sentence. It's a ballsy move, particularly with a Makaveli-mimicking cover after he caught a lot of shit for criticizing 2Pac a few months ago. But I think it works well, I found this record more consistently enjoyable than The Wolf of Grap Street, even as a lot of songs just sounded like he was up all night rambling in the booth high out of his mind over whatever beat was put in front of him.

7. Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E.
The annoyed, exasperated, disappointed the way a lot of people feel about Kanye West's recent output is how I've been feeling about his recent output for almost a decade, so welcome to the club, I guess. I had modest expectations for his 5-week run of 7-song projects that it still managed to somehow fall short of -- we got the worst Kanye and Nas albums of their careers, and I'll admit Daytona and Kids See Ghosts came out pretty solid, but I'm just deeply bored of what Pusha T and Kid Cudi do. That leaves Teyana Taylor as the least established G.O.O.D. Music artist to be thrown into this weird project schedule. I didn't think much of her 2014 G.O.O.D. Music debut that Kanye didn't contribute anything to, and while I'm skeptical of the mentality that his involvement implicitly makes a record better, I think the soul sample style he returned to lately for these records really suits her sultry vocal style, "Issues/Hold On" and "Hurry" are great.

8. Black Thought - Streams Of Thought Vol. 1 EP
Black Thought is an incredible MC who's often been underestimated or obscured by the fact that he fronts the most prominent live band in hip-hop and the drummer is kind of the auteur/spokesman of the group. Even the one time Black Thought made a solo album, it ended up shelved and repurposed as a Roots album. So I'm glad that he finally got a little belated shine with a recent radio freestyle that went viral, and Streams Of Thought builds on the energy around that performance with similarly relentless flows over some simple, straightforward production by 9th Wonder, who I've never been a huge fan of but is a good fit for a project like this.

9. The Carters - Everything Is Love
For a long time I snarked that "Crazy In Love" was a fluke and that most Jay-Z and Beyonce collaborations are lousy crap like "Hollywood" and they have fairly little musical chemistry or common ground. But they've had enough records in the last few years that I really enjoyed ("Part II (On The Run)," "Shinin'," "Family Feud," etc.) that I thought maybe they could wind up with an album that's up to the standard of their best solo albums. Everything Is Love really ain't it, but "Boss" and "713" and "Friends" and "Black Effect" are good, I like the more relaxed side of the record over "Apeshit," which is barely better than "Top Off." I also thought Saturday afternoon was a good time for the surprise drop, I was online at the moment the news spread and put the album on right away and listened to it on headphones with everyone else online while I was sitting and chilling with my family, it was nice.

10. Roger Daltrey - As Long As I Have You
The Who did their first 'farewell' tour the year I was born and it's still not clear if their latest farewell tour has more dates to come. But it's clear that there's never going to be another new album from The Who, and it's kind of nice that closing that door has freed them up to do something like this, a surprisingly strong solo album from Roger Daltrey that features a little of his own songwriting and a an interesting mix of covers including Nick Cave's "Into My Arms," with Pete Townshend showing up to play guitar on several tracks. It's a nice way for them to work together outside of the burden of The Who's history and signature sound, and Daltrey's voice has taken on a nice weathered character at 74 that works for this material perhaps better than shouting out old Who tracks on tour.

Worst Album of the Month: Kanye West - Ye
Nasir will probably go down as the most reviled of the May/June 7-song projects, at least unless Kanye makes good on his promise/threat to make 52 of them in 52 weeks, but I thought it had flashes of the kind of inspired, competent bad ideas that have made a lot of middling Nas albums better than they deserved to be. But Ye is just a total shitshow, somehow distilling the chaos and unfinished last-minute thoughts of The Life of Pablo without any of the payoff moments that album had. A lot of Kanye's later records get spun as experimental, as if you're just being narrow-minded if you don't like them, but this really just feels like a smudged up reel of things he's done before, along with some really shitty fake deep lyrics that present a new spin on his regressive politics and love of shock value schlock like "Violent Crimes" and "I Thought About Killing You."

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 111: Talking Heads

Thursday, June 28, 2018















Talking Heads have been one of my favorite bands since I was a teenager, but they've been on my mind more than usual lately. David Byrne released his okayish latest solo album American Utopia in March, and earlier this month Afropop singer Angelique Kidjo released a song-for-song cover of the Talking Heads album Remain In Light. Plus I've read a couple books in the last year that are primarily or partially about the band's '70s work: Jonathan Lethem's 33 1/3 book about Fear Of Music, which I have mixed feelings about, and Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years In New York That Changed Music Forever, an excellent Will Hermes book which takes its title, sort of, from an early Talking Heads song.

Talking Heads deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):
1. No Compassion
2. Who Is It?
3. I'm Not In Love
4. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
5. Stay Hungry
6. Paper
7. Memories Can't Wait
8. Heaven
9. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
10. Seen And Not Seen
11. The Great Curve
12. Love  → Building On Fire (live)
13. Making Flippy Floppy
14. Swamp
15. What A Day That Was (live)
16. Perfect World
17. Creatures Of Love
18. Radio Head
19. Mommy Daddy You And I

Tracks 1 and 2 from Talking Heads '77 (1977)
Tracks 3, 4 and 5 from More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978)
Tracks 6, 7 and 8 from Fear Of Music (1979)
Tracks 9, 10 and 11 from Remain In Light (1980)
Track 12 from The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982)
Track 13 and 14 from Speaking In Tongues (1983)
Track 15 from Stop Making Sense (1984)
Track 16 and 17 from Little Creatures (1985)
Track 18 from True Stories (1986)
Track 19 from Naked (1988)

I grew up in a world where Talking Heads were kind of a ubiquitous staple of the burgeoning alt-rock pop culture, like U2 or R.E.M. except they hadn't stayed together to be present as an elder statesman band of the scene. And at a certain point it kind of felt like their influence was so pervasive as to be almost stifling; David Byrne's odd vocal tics and blank, affected style of writing about Americana and random nouns, the band's playfully stiff takes on funk and R&B and Afrobeat and avoidance of arena rock cliche -- so many dozens of bands took inspiration from Talking Heads, but if you followed their example too closely you could end up with a new set of cliches.

The 1999 DVD release of Stop Making Sense was a big moment of me really embracing the band and delving into their catalog, although it was bittersweet to realize that one of my favorite songs from the film, "What A Day That Was," was actually a Byrne solo track that wasn't nearly as good in its original studio incarnation. Remain In Light, being the band's most revered classic, was the first album I bought, but I had trouble really getting into it, and found it disappointing that none of the other songs had the pop sparkle of "Once In A Lifetime," and that side 2 felt like a long slow drift away from the high energy of side 1.

Even now, as I hold Remain In Light in fairly high regard, I think it's kind of a bad gateway album for getting into the band, and prefer the two Brian Eno-produced albums that preceded it. More Songs About Buildings And Food is my go-to favorite, and I could've picked 3 other songs from the album that I love just as much as the ones I used here. And Fear Of Music is such a great album to come out of writer's block, with Byrne resorting to zeroing into simple one-word concepts like "Paper" and "Air" to come up with lyrics. That running theme of the album, of course, makes the songs that don't follow the formula stand out more, and "Memories Can't Wait" is an amazing track that always leaps out at me. At one point I think it was the Talking Heads song I thought I'd cover if I was ever going to, before I realized that it was covered memorably on Living Colour's multiplatinum 1988 debut Vivid.

One thing that I was surprised to learn fairly recently is that Talking Heads ceased touring completely after early February 1984, several months before the release of Stop Making Sense, 4 years before their final album, and 7 years before their breakup became official. That places Talking Heads in a category I'm fascinated with: bands that became studio-only acts for a number of their active years and released some of their best-selling albums without touring in support of them, a small club that also includes The Beatles, Steely Dan, and R.E.M.

It's strange to think that Little Creatures is the band's best-selling album and topped critics' lists, because while its singles still get classic rock spins, it's really receded from the critical conversation about the band's best albums. The two less popular records that followed it are even more relatively forgotten, although I do like the polished Top 40-friendly incarnation of Talking Heads in the second half of their career. It's funny to think that Radiohead, a band that inherited the Talking Heads mantle of a hugely popular, acclaimed group by making dark, omnivorous music that recalls Remain In Light more than any other TH record, took their name from a True Stories track where Byrne sings "radio head, the sound of a brave new world" over a sunny melody from a Tejano accordionist. And "Mommy Daddy You And I" is notable to me as a rare Byrne lyric where he mentions Baltimore, where he lived for about a decade of his youth before fatefully relocating to Rhode Island and then New York City.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, June 26, 2018























a) The Incredibles 2
Pixar's track record with sequels is about even with its track record for original films (i.e. almost everything that isn't Cars is superb). But outside of maybe Toy Story 2, I have started to get the feeling that they've been kind of inessential and easily forgotten -- I found Monsters University and Finding Dory perfectly satisfying, but my kids never asked to see them again like the originals and I scarcely thought of them thereafter. So it's hard to say if the immediate afterglow of The Incredibles 2 will last, but I feel like it's a strong candidate for the best Pixar sequel to date and as good as The Incredibles -- I might even prefer it, simply because it also includes the madcap hilarity of the Jack-Jack Attack short. I also liked the way it moved the characters around into uncomfortable positions and got some comedy and character development out of it. I was pleased to see my 8-year-old son getting wise to superhero tropes enough that he saw the 'ally who turns out to be the villain' twist coming. 

b) Hereditary
I enjoyed the hell out of this, and yet I am casting a suspicious eye at lot of the praise for this movie as emotionally harrowing and/or that one horror movie every year or so that 'transcends' or 'reinvents' the genre. I've long loved Toni Collette and this was absolutely one of the best performances of her career and I hope she wins awards for it, but I feel like people have underestimated the comic edge of the movie, particularly the second half, the humor inherent in particular her and Ann Dowd's performances -- it's a credit to Alex Wolff and Gabriel Byrne that they gave the movie enough enough dramatic gravity that people didn't entirely read the ending as funny enough to cheapen the traumas of the first half. I'm not saying it was cheapened per se, in fact I liked the movie's sense of humor and the wildness of the story's conclusion. But I do wonder if I'd like it as much on a second viewing or find it as sad and gripping in those early moments, knowing what was coming.

c) Set It Up
This is a sweet, well-written rom-com with a couple big laughs and a novel conceit about two assistants who try to play matchmaker for their bosses and end up falling for each other. But mostly I think I just found Zoey Deutch totally adorable and got caught up in the movie purely based on that.

d) The Neighbor
William Fichtner is such a great, undervalued character and the perfect lead for a thriller where a married guy starts to develop feelings for his pretty young neighbor who's in a troubld marriage. Unfortunately, I thought it fell apart a little by the end, like they didn't know whether to go really dark but weren't about to have a happy ending, so they just wound up with something kind of sad. 

e) Last Flag Flying
Even though Richard Linklater has done some more polished mainstream movies like School of Rock before, it still surprises me, given the scrappy, handmade, almost amateurish and improvisational air of a lot of his work, that he can pull off something that looks more or less like generic studio fare. In fact, I put this movie on and watched a good amount of it before I glanced at the IMDb page and realized he'd directed it, which I somehow hadn't even heard during the entire promotional cycle for it. I kind of expected a dour, humorless movie about a trio of Vietnam veterans burying one of their sons, but I thought the story and the characters ended up having a little more light and life to them. 

f) The Mountain Between Us
I remember sitting in a theater watching a trailer for The Mountain Between Us and, knowing that Idris Elba was starring in The Dark Tower soon and not really having any idea what the Dark Tower books, thought that's what this was until the title came up at the end, which is, in retrospect, pretty funny. It's decent, but probably could've been an unbearably bland romance movie if it didn't have 2 exceptionally talented and attractive lead actors, on some level it's just fun to watch Elba and Kate Winslet, particularly since he actually keeps his British accent for once and she pretends to be American (although it was a weird little "The Wire" flashback for him to mention that he lives in Baltimore while looking but not sounding like Stringer Bell). 

g) Monster Trucks
This is a goofy movie my kids wanted to watch about a slimy space creature who eats oil and decides to live inside a truck. But it was kind of charming and I always like to see Jane Levy from "Suburgatory" getting work.

h) Only The Brave
This movie is about the true story of Arizona firefighters. I kind of expected a pretty boilerplate drama about real life heroism, but I was impressed by the writing and performances, particularly in the storyline about Josh Brolin and Jennifery Connelly's marriage and jhow it captured the emotional state of being with somebody who risks their life every day and learning not to rely on them or expect them to come home. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

















Here's my latest Remix Report Card for Noisey.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

















For the past five years I have posted over a hundred 'deep album cuts' playlists on this blog, and a while back City Pages music editor Keith Harris asked me about repurposing some of those posts for the paper. Appropriately, we revamped the first playlist I kicked the series off with in 2013, so here's the new City Pages version of Brandy deep album cuts, with new text and additional songs, in honor of her performance at Twin Cities Pride this weekend. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails

Monday, June 18, 2018

















This week, Nine Inch Nails is releasing Bad Witch, a 30-minute record that's nominally an album for commercial reasons, although it completes a trilogy started by the recent EPs Not The Actual Events and Add Violence. It's interesting to see Trent Reznor kind of stumble into the 'short album or EP' debate raised by Kanye West's recent run of 7-song albums. But he has a good history with EPs. 1992's Broken was the band's first top 10 record on the album charts and won them their first Grammy, which set a strong precedent that their shorter collections of new songs stand equal footing with the long ones. So I wanted to do an overview of all those records, short and long.

Nine Inch Nails deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):
1. Something I Can Never Have
2. Terrible Lie
3. Sanctified
4. Gave Up
5. Pinion
6. Last
7. Heresy
8. Mr. Self Destruct
9. Reptile
10. Please
11. No, You Don't
12. Even Deeper
13. Getting Smaller
14. The Beginning Of The End
15. 19 Ghosts III
16. 1,000,000
17. While I'm Still Here
18. The Idea Of You
19. This Isn't The Place

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
Tracks 4, 5 and 6 from Broken EP (1992)
Tracks 7, 8 and 9 from The Downward Spiral (1994)
Tracks 10, 11 and 12 from The Fragile (1999)
Track 13 from With Teeth (2005)
Track 14 from Year Zero (2007)
Track 15 from Ghosts I-IV (2008)
Track 16 from The Slip (2008)
Track 17 from Hesitation Marks (2013)
Track 18 from Not The Actual Events EP (2016)
Track 19 from Add Violence EP (2017)

As someone who never ventured too deeply into industrial or even metal, I've always had a lot of respect for Nine Inch Nails and their ability to bring some incredibly harsh and dark sounds to the mainstream. Much is made of how many soundalikes Nirvana had, but the mid/late-'90s a pretty huge chunk of rock playlists sounded like them. But there's a certain sexy brooding swagger to their music that really separated them from their contemporaries, a lot of times I think of NIN as, like, a really angry INXS. But I also consider Trent Reznor to be a really brilliant producer and musician, he has a great ear for a wide range of sounds, relative so his fairly narrow emotional bandwidth as a lyricist. As someone who loves to distort synthesizers and drum machines and try to make them sound as visceral as guitars and drums, I find myself being heavily influenced by Reznor.

Of course, Trent Reznor didn't do all this stuff himself, but in the context of the big alt-rock bands of the '90s, he was the closest thing to a one man band or a lone genius creating these big ambitious soundscapes largely on his own. Still, there's a pretty cool range of collaborators on this playlist, including Dave Grohl on "Getting Smaller," Dr. Dre on "Even Deeper," Adrian Belew on "Mr. Self Destruct," Page Hamilton on "No, You Don't," and Lindsey Buckingham and Pino Palladino on "While I'm Still Here."

Pretty Hate Machine has great songs but sounds a little dated now, partly because Reznor's production got so much more layered and sophisticated on the next couple records, and some of the PHM drum and synth sounds felt like they were just left back in the '80s. But even as much as I loved The Downward Spiral, I still feel like something was lost in taking 5 years to drop a double album follow-up. I still fantasize about if there had been a 1997 NIN album of more songs in the vein of "The Perfect Drug." So I never totally took the time to get immersed in The Fragile at the time, I mostly loved "We're In This Together" but found the album to be a little too much of the same stuff. So I enjoyed going back to the album when putting together this playlist and getting hooked on songs like "Please" that I didn't notice much at the time, and the instrumental tracks make more sense in the context of Ghosts I-IV and Reznor's film scores.

Reznor went nearly 6 years without releasing an album after The Fragile and it kind of started to feel like the band's legacy was sealed off and contained within the late '80s and '90s. And then he released 4 in the space of 3 years, spurred in part by the realization that he could self-release surprise albums like Ghosts I-IV and The Slip direct to fans, and there was some really exciting music in that run that really revitalized my appreciation for the band. Of all the A-list alt-rock bands that sold millions in the '90s, I'd make the argument that NIN has released the largest amount of worthwhile music since the '90s. I had to focus on the band's watershed early work for the bulk of this playlist, but I hope the last 7 tracks are a good representation of how excellent the later stuff has been and why I'm excited for Bad Witch.

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

TV Diary

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

























a) "Succession"
The most amusing description I've seen of this show is "Arrested Development" as a prestige drama but I've also seen it compared to "Billions," and it's kind of an unfortunate uphill battle for a new show to be compared with one that just finished a great 3rd season more popular than ever (kind of fitting, though, since "Succession" is produced by The Big Short director Adam McKay and "Billions" is made by people behind another 2008 financial crisis movie, Too Big To Fail). But it certainly is interesting to see multiple shows on TV right now about petty vindictive NYC billionaires while one is running the world, and I can see how that might rub some people the wrong way. I really really enjoyed the first two episodes of "Succession," though, a lot of shows, even good ones, take time for the characters to feel like people and not just archetypes, but everyone feels really fully formed already and often really funny. I particularly like the way the show gets at how adults interacting with their siblings and parents can often kind of revert to acting like children, and Kieran Culkin has this perfect bratty little brother energy ingrained in him. Sarah Snook's character, Shiv, might be the only somewhat likable character so far, but I feel like nobody's going to get through this season unscathed.

b) "Pose"
The recent New Yorker profile of Ryan Murphy helped me see him in a bit of a new light and appreciate what he's trying to do with his newest show, "Pose," and what he tried to do in some of his other shows that I had mixed feelings about. "Pose" is in some ways really ambitious and gorgeous and does an admirable job of making an era and a subculture accessible as a big lavish cable drama. But some of the dialogue has such an afterschool special blandness to it, like they're so consumed with sending the right message to teens who might really need a show like this to speak with them, that they're using the broadest strokes possible. Also it seems like kind of a sad compromise that the white cis cast members (Evan Peters, Kate Mara and James Van Der Beek) get top billing even though you can often go like a half hour without seeing any of them and the show is clearly not really about them.

c) "American Woman"
It's funny how period pieces can kind of shift actors into an era you wouldn't expect to see them in; Alicia Silverstone and Mena Sevari will probably always be primarily remembered as iconic '90s teenagers, so it feels weird to see them not just grown up but playing '70s housewives in "American Woman." It's good to see them again, particularly Silverstone, who certainly is overdue for a meaty adult role like this just based on the perfection of her performance in Clueless. The first episode of "American Woman" sets the stage well, although I'm not sure if it's going to lean more in the direction of a dramedy or the kind of half hour dramas I was recently praising Starz for excelling at.

d) "C.B. Strike"
Apparently J.K. Rowling has been regularly publishing mystery novels about a detective named Cormoran Strike for the past 5 years, and this is the BBC series based on them. It kind of feels like the 'eccentric detective and their normal even-tempered assistant trying to keep up with them' trope is so hoary that I don't know how much they can put their own stamp on it, although I like Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger in those roles, the first episode was promising enough.

e) "The Break with Michelle Wolf"
I was a huge fan of Michelle Wolf from her first appearance on "The Daily Show" (although that was barely a year and a half ago, which gives you an idea of how hungry networks are to give "TDS" alumni their own weekly topical shows). And I thought she handled the White House Correspondents Dinner and its attendant controversy really well, so I've been very excited to see this show. Its format feels a little stiff compared to Wolf's proudly brash sense of humor and delivery, but I think they're finding their footing quickly, the second episode was markedly funnier than the first and the third held onto those improvements.

f) "Reverie"
This show has an interesting premise, where people get 'lost' in an immersive virtual reality program and a former hostage negotiator takes a job where she goes into the program to get them out. The idea has a bit of "Westworld" to it, a bit of The Cell, a bit of my beloved canceled Freeform show "Stitchers." But it's not as good as any of those things, it just ends up feeling like any other slow, portentous NBC procedural. Sarah Shahi, as always, deserves a better vehicle.

g) "Picnic At Hanging Rock"
An Amazon miniseries about a group of Australian schoolgirls who mysteriously disappear circa 1900. I like the hazy dreamlike aesthetic of the show but it's also probably served to kind of distance me from really having much of an interest in the story or the characters, it feels very much like an aesthetic statement more than a story for a show based on a novel.

h) "Joe Pera Talks With You"
Joe Pera is a 30ish comic whose act revolves around him talking in a very slow, folksy way, like a grandpa. His Adult Swim show kind of puts his onstage persona into the context of him being a midwestern schoolteacher who hosts some kind of nature program, but the show frequently breaks format like it's being 'interrupted' by his day-to-day life that we get increasingly prolonged glimpses of. I spent a lot of the first few episodes trying to sort out whether Pera was supposed to be as old as he looks or as old as he sounds, especially since he hangs out with a bunch of middle-aged guys. But then there's a romantic subplot with another young teacher that kind of resolved that question. It's an amusing, creative little show but I'm glad the episodes are only 13 minutes long, it's very less-is-more.

i) "Just Another Immigrant"
"Just Another Immigrant" is about a comic who's popular in the U.K., Romesh Ranganathan, booking a show at the Greek Theater in L.A. despite being relatively unknown in the U.S. and then setting about trying to figure out how to sell tickets. In a weird way it's like an inverted version of the plot of Get Him To The Greek. Ranganathan is entertainingly deadpan and the concept of the show is charming, but it's also one of those 'reality' shows where a lot of the scenes and conflicts feel very plainly staged and to some degree scripted, which I tend to find a little grating.

j) "The Fourth Estate"
Showtime's 4-part miniseries about the New York Times embeds a camera crew in the newsroom for crucial moments during the first year of the Trump administration. And it's interesting to watch since a lot of NYT reporters have basically become celebrities in that time period without being on TV that much and now you kind of get to see them do their job. In the first 3 episodes you frequently see Glenn Thrush, just depicted as a good reporter doing his job, but you kinda know what's coming in the 4th episode when sexual harassment allegations against him come out and he gets reassigned (although of course he never lost his job and the show kind of lets NYT off the hook). I kinda hope Showtime keeps this going with more episodes in the future like "The Circus" and it's not just a one-off.

k) "Wrong Man"
This Showtime series follows a team of civil rights attorneys and experts who are investigating possible wrongful convictions and figuring out if someone is really innocent. A lot of the true crime docs and podcasts these days are about stories like this, purporting to get to the real truth beneath the law's version of events, but I find myself concerned about the journalistic rigor or lack thereof in a lot of them. This show seems to be doing its due diligence and letting experts and the evidence they find take the lead, though.

l) "The Who Was? Show"
This Netflix show is basically a cast of teens doing sketch comedy as historical figures like Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. I watched it kind of trying to sort out if it's something that might entertain and/or educate my older son, but I don't know, I don't think it would appeal to him anymore than it did to me.

m) "The Rain"
This Danish sci-fi series about an apocalyptic virus carried in the rain is of the better foreign language Netflix series I've watched, although I'm still kind of a lazy ugly American who doesn't like to watch stuff with subtitles that much and probably won't finish the season.

n) "The Four: Battle For Stardom"
The first season of "The Four" concluded in February a little chaotically, with one of the show's judges Charlie Walk abruptly leaving the show amidst sexual assault allegations, and we haven't really heard much from the season's winner yet. Nonetheless, the show got good ratings, so it's back for a 2nd season four months later, so they can keep cranking out TV whether or not they crank out pop stars, just like "The Voice." Last week's season premiere included Rebecca Black of "Friday" fame trying to redeem herself and become a real singer, and she's pretty good now,
The first challenger who knocked out one of the starting four this season, Majeste, was really impressive, one of the most engaging performers I've seen on the show so far. But last season, nobody who was in the first episode was in the finale, so I feel like it's kind of bad odds if you get in there early.

o) "Ghosted"
FOX has had a strong lineup of live action comedies for the last few years, but that seemed to abruptly change this spring, with "New Girl" airing its final season and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" surprisingly getting canceled by FOX and picked up by NBC. That leaves "Ghosted" as the only non-animated FOX comedy that's been renewed for the 2018-2019 season, but even that show hasn't been treated terribly well -- it premiered last October and ran 8 episodes through November, then one more in January, and now in June they have finally begun burning off the last 7 episodes of the first season in the summer. I like the show fine, but it's been a bit hard to really get attached to it with such a sporadic schedule. The two episodes that have run recently were really good, though, kind of ramped up the spy mystery aspect of the show in a clever way.

p) "I'm Dying Up Here"
The first season of "I'm Dying Up Here" was good but flawed, and I was interested to hear that the network wanted to retool it a little for the second season. The season premiere revealed that both of the female leads, Melissa Leo and Ari Graynor, both have children they're estranged from, which wasn't even hinted at in the first season, so that felt like kind of a forced way to give those characters more complexity. But those storylines have been handled pretty well. so it's alright. I think my favorite change from the first season is the addition of Xosha Roquemore from "The Mindy Project" to the cast, it took me a few scenes to recognize her in the '70s attire and hair.

q) "Westworld"
The season ain't over yet, but I feel like it's only really been grabbing me with interesting sort of standalone stories every second or third episode, the more the show zooms out for you to see the whole big chessboard of interlocking stories, the less interesting I find it. The show is full of great actors, just give them a bunch of juicy scenes in a row and let them fill the figurative and literal space of these big huge sets and long episodes.

r) "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
In my futile regular objections to the Netflix model of releasing whole seasons of shows at once, let me praise Netflix for breaking the 4th and final season of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" into 2 batches, with the first 6 episodes out now and the rest due later this year. I wish all their shows were rolled out like that. The new episodes are great as usual, Carol Kane or Titus Burgess line of dialogue is gold. But the episode that was a parody of true crime docs kinda felt like too little too late after "American Vandal."

Monthly Report: June 2018 Singles

Monday, June 11, 2018






















1. Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa - "One Kiss"  
I never really thought much of Calvin Harris's Funk Wav Bounces era of making midtempo retro R&B tracks with hip rappers, so I'm kind of fine with him already retreating back to making house jams with other white people, especially since Dua Lipa is one of my favorite new pop singers in recent memory and this is a really nice track for her to get out between albums. Also there was a really funny blind item that indicated that Dua Lipa pegged Calvin Harris immediately after they made this song. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. 2 Chainz f/ YG and Offset - "Proud" 
A lot of artists these days, especially rappers, release little 4-song EPs these days as stopgap projects to build buzz or test out a single, and a lot of those records feel kind of disposable and forgettable. But The Play Don't Care Who Makes It was really a good one, and it speaks volumes that when it dropped in February I kind of ignored "Proud" because I was so into "Lamborghini Truck (Atlanta Shit)" and "Land of the Freaks." But the "Proud" video was fantastic and the song deserved a better run on the radio than it got. 

3. Jukebox The Ghost - "Everybody's Lonely" 
My first exposure to Jukebox The Ghost was a few years ago when they worked with my friends at Mobtown Studios and I wrote the text for the page on their website about it. And they seemed to be pretty talented and moving up in the world then, but I was still surprised one day to hear a great song on the radio, google the lyrics, and realize it was them. I love that little piano breakdown at the end where the song quiets down and then builds back up again. 

4. Kiiara - "Messy" 
Kiara Sualters and her pretentious extra i had the only really big solo hit, "Gold," about 2 years ago, and she's released a lot of singles since then. But "Messy" is the latest that I checked out on a whim and really quickly fell in love with. It really does a good job of conjuring this emotional story in a few words, reminiscent of Aimee Mann's "Deathly," putting you in the moment where a relationship is about to get real and someone says wait, we can still just stop and never see each other agian. 

5. Guns N' Roses - "Shadow Of Your Love" 
It's always interesting to see one of the biggest rock bands ever release an old old obscurity from their archives and kind of hear something new from their classic era on the radio -- Led Zeppelin's "Travelling Riverside Blues," Nirvana's "You Know You're Right," Pearl Jam's "Brother," and now this newly unearthed 1987 GnR outtake. "Shadow Of Your Love" would have been the shortest song on Appetite For Destruction had it onto the original album, and it also would've been pretty much the fastest, so it's an interesting vestige of the band's punkier side, the road not taken, and it's pretty awesome. 

6. Carly Pearce "Hide The Wine"
Carly Pearce's "Every Little Thing," won Breakthrough Video of the Year at the CMT Awards last week, which underscored the fact that country radio has kind of slept on her follow-up single, which is really charming and kind of an apt counterpoint to her big ballad hit. 

7. Maroon 5 - "Wait"
This song has really grown on me as a kind of relatively understated gem of Maroon 5's era of chasing big trendy pop sounds, I feel like if anyone else recorded it people would more readily admit how good it is. 

8. Lauv - "I Like Me Better" 
There are so many songs on pop radio these days that are like douchey fratty post-Maroon 5 Top 40 versions of R&B songs that I tend to dismiss a lot of them initially and figure out later if they're good. Bazzi's "Mine" gets worse every time I hear it, but Lauv's "I Like Me Better" gets better every time I hear it. Plus I have some affection for him since learning he co-wrote "No Promises" by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato. His album, the obnoxiously titled I met you when I was 18. (the playlist) is pretty decent, although nothing else jumps out at me like "I Like Me Better." 


9. Cardi B - "Be Careful" 
When this song first dropped in the run-up to Invasion of Privacy, I wasn't sure about it, and even now that it's doing well on the radio, a lot of stations are eager to play the more clubby album tracks "I Like It" or "Bickenhead" just as often. But "Be Careful" has really grown on me, it hits these really specific emotional notes really well and the fact that someone who you usually hear funny and full of bravado is softening her voice to say these words works really well. 

10. Jack White - "Over And Over And Over"  
I was never really on board with The White Stripes and had the weird opinion that the ugly lurching "Icky Thump" was the best thing they ever did. So I haven't followed much of Jack White's solo career but I'm pleased to hear that he has at least one song that kind of has a similar sound to it, but even faster and more counterintuitive in some ways. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Childish Gambino - "This Is America"
My line on Donald Glover has long been that he makes nothing but exceptional television and mediocre music. But even I will admit that he's at least gained a little musical sophistication since the early days when he was doing this off-putting hyperactive "30 Rock" writer's room version of Lil Wayne punchlines. I always figured he'd return to rapping eventually after the success of "Redbone," and in some ways "This Is America" is his way of showing restraint as a writer and focusing on flow, except the kind of bland less-is-more lyrics feel like a cheat to just be as ambiguous as possible and shift all the significance to the video, which did all the heavy lifting in the song's viral ascent to #1. So it's not surprising that Glover's panache for visual storytelling exceeds his musical grasp, but it's still just shocking how much worse this song is without the video, and I get so annoyed every time I hear it on the radio.