Monthly Report: April 2021 Albums

Friday, May 07, 2021

1. Dinosaur Jr. - Sweep It Into Space
Much has been made of how rewarding the reunion of Dinosaur Jr.'s original lineup, now 5 albums in, has been. But J Mascis has never made a bad record with any lineup of Dinosaur in 37 years, which is a pretty incredible run, Dinosaur's continued excellence makes me feel the way Sonic Youth did in their third decade before they finally disbanded. I think my favorite moment on Sweep It Into Space is when J says "I got excited, I got depressed" and then rips a scorching guitar lead on "I Met The Stones," it's like J Mascis in a nutshell (speaking of the Rolling Stones and longevity -- by the time the Stones had been around this long they were making weak stuff like Bridges To Babylon). "And Me" is the one on this album that I think hits the hardest, though, what a great song. Here's the 2020 albums Spotify playlist that I put everything new I've been listening to into. 

2. Dawn Richard - Second Line
Dawn Richard had one of the most interesting and unpredictable career arcs in recent memory even before she signed with Merge Records, but it makes for such a perfect little twist in her path from major label R&B to DIY art pop -- she used to record for Diddy, now she records for Mac and Laura from Superchunk. Second Line feels like a continuation of her 2019's New Breed in that she salutes the musical traditions of her hometown, New Orleans, plus a lot of lyrics about her family and interludes talking to her mother, while still working in her signature futuristic electro disco sound. I think my favorite songs so far are "Boomerang" and "Perfect Storm." 

3. Eric Church - Heart / Soul
I formatted the title above a little awkwardly because I haven't heard Eric Church's triple album set Heart & Soul in its entirety -- the 6-song middle volume & is only available to his fan club members on vinyl, but 2 of those songs were released on streaming services, so I'm only missing 4 tracks out of the 24-song package. In any sense, it's great to hear one of modern country's most ambitious and consistently excellent artists take a swing at a big epic record like this. I love all the twists and turns of "Heart of the Night," "Russian Roulette" is a classic slow burning Eric Church anthem, Soul has some good tracks but overall I prefer Heart

4. Flock Of Dimes - Head Of Roses
I'm such a huge fan of pretty much everything Jenn Wasner does -- I was at one of the earliest Wye Oak shows (when they were still Monarch) and at one of her earliest solo performances as Flock Of Dimes, and both projects have grown and evolved in interesting ways, slowly expanding from the format of two people or one person doing pretty much everything. But Head Of Roses is more of Wasner with a whole backing ensemble and it really feels like she could stretch out and do some very different things very well on the same record, it feels like such a rich album from front to back. "Price Of Blue" is maybe my favorite guitar performance she's ever done, and the whole back half of the album is just sublime, especially when "No Question" transitions into "Awake For The Sunrise." 

5. Fishboy - Waitsgiving
Fishboy are a band from Texas that makes these really nerdy rock operas and songs that are packed full of characters and rambling stories. They really won me over when I saw them in Baltimore in 2008, and I followed them for a few records before they fell off my radar and I missed a couple of albums, so I'm glad that I heard about this new one. Eric Michener just has this great energy where it feels like almost like he's telling you about an idea for an album and just keeps going and going, strumming and singing and going on and on until it is an album. 

6. Moneybagg Yo - A Gangsta's Pain
Memphis's Moneybagg Yo has been on a great run for the last few years and I'm happy to see that building momentum finally get him his first #1 album. He's still making the same kind of disrespectful bangers he's always excelled at like "Shottas (Lala)" and "Time Today" but it definitely feels like A Gangsta's Pain is his attempt at more of a conflicted, vulnerable tough guy 2Pac kind of vibe. He's also experimenting more with shorter songs, with more tracks under 2 minutes than any of his previous projects, and weirdly that works well with the more serious vibe of some of the songs like "Change Da Subject." He gets out of his comfort zone and sings a little too much on the Jhene Aiko song, but "Certified Neptunes" is one of those surprisingly good Pharrell & Chad collaborations with a deep south rapper who usually sticks with a more regional sound than what they do. 

7. Joy On Fire - Another Adventure In Red
Joy On Fire are a (mostly) instrumental band that started out under the name SuperSharpShooter, they formed in Baltimore and are currently based in New Jersey. My friend and frequent producer Mat Leffler-Schulman seems to especially love their music out of all the bands he's worked with, and I understand why, they're super talented and very much in his musical wheelhouse, so I'm always happy when I hear from him that they've got new music out. And Another Adventure In Red is great stuff, love the interplay between Anna Meadors's saxophone and John Paul Carillo's guitar and their whole 'punk-jazz' approach to putting together these big 10+ minute epics. But the ensemble they put together for this record definitely takes it up a notch, touches like David Degge's dulcimer on "After" and Tommy Hambleton's lap steel guitar on "Adventure In Green" just sound gorgeous.  

8. Proper Nouns - Feel Free
Proper Nouns is a newish Baltimore band fronted by Spencer Compton that has Jon Birkholz (Soul Cannon, Adjective Animal) on bass. Their debut album reminds me of Ted Leo's early work with Chisel at times, very tightly wound, jangly stuff with wordy, thought-provoking lyrics, it's right up my alley. 

9. Royal Blood - Typhoons
A good amount of British acts are well received in America now, but I wish their hard rock bands made more of an impact in the U.S. these days. Typhoons is Brighton duo Royal Blood's third consecutive #1 album in the U.K., but it only got to #48 on the U.S. album chart. And the 'disco AC/DC' sound they introduced with the lead single "Trouble's Coming" is really my favorite thing they've ever done, the whole album follows in that direction and "Oblivion" and "Limbo" kick ass too, I just love that buzzsaw guitar tone. 

10. Demi Lovato - Dancing With The Devil...The Art Of Starting Over
Demi Lovato's been one of my favorite pop stars of her generation for a long time, and obviously there's been a lot of autobiography and personal catharsis and references to her public struggles and controversies, although the really on-the-nose stuff like "Skyscraper" has never been my favorite music in her catalog. But her first album since her near-fatal overdose in 2018, a soundtrack to a documentary about her life, is obviously very heavy on songs that address her life, not just in inspiring platitudes but in confessional detail, and it's uncomfortable at times but she navigates this delicate territory pretty well. I'm partial to the more uptempo stuff like "Lonely People" and "15 Minutes" but I respect how this kind of had to be a long and often slow-paced record where a lot of feelings are getting aired out. 

The Worst Album of the Month: Lil Tjay - Destined 2 Win
Two years ago, Polo G and Lil Tjay's "Pop Out" auspiciously launched two rappers, one from Chicago and one from New York, into national consciousness, and they've both enjoyed platinum albums since then and just had big top 3 debuts for recent singles. But Lil Tjay's "Pop Out" verse was the weak link of that song ("my hands can do the job and I ain't talkin' masturbate" always made me cringe), and after listening to Destined 2 Win I think I'll go as far as to say he might have the single worst voice in modern mainstream rap, he just sounds like a total weenie and does nothing lyrically to redeem it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021
Cassowary Records · 5/4/2021


On May 4th last year, I released an album written entirely in the 5/4 time signature. And I've decided to make that kind of an annual tradition, so today on Soundcloud I'm releasing a new Western Blot song in 5/4, "Valeria," and the very first DJ set I've ever made, with music in 5/4 by rock, pop, jazz and R&B artists from every decade from the 1950s to the 2020s. 

As with my other recent releases, "Valeria" was mastered by Mat Leffler-Schulman and DeadmanJay did the cover art. Rest in peace Richard David Shipley. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 233: Dionne Warwick

Monday, May 03, 2021

Dionne Warwick is one of the 2021 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside Jay-ZFoo FightersTina TurnerDevo, Carole King, Kate BushIron MaidenMary J. BligeLL Cool JTodd RundgrenThe Go-Go'sRage Against The MachineNew York Dolls, Chaka Khan, and Fela Kuti.  Of all those artists, Warwick has been eligible the longest (only Turner and King have been recording for longer, but released their first solo albums after Warwick), and this is her first time being nominated. One wonders if her emergence in the past year as an entertaining presence on Twitter contributed to this belated recognition, but it any event it's deserved and overdue. 

Dionne Warwick deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. I Cry Alone
2. Any Old Time Of Day
3. Land Of Make Believe
4. How Many Days Of Sadness
5. In Between The Heartaches
6. Here Where There is Love
7. Walk Little Dolly
8. Let Me Be Lonely
9. Wanting Things
10. Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets
11. Check Out Time
12. My First Night Alone Without You
13. You're Gonna Need Me
14. I Can't Wait Until I See My Baby's Face
15. This Is Love
16. Early Morning Strangers
17. Who, What, When, Where, Why
18. We Never Said Goodbye
19. What Is This
20. You Are My Love
21. I Can Let Go Now
22. Without Your Love
23. Moments Aren't Moments

Track 1 from Presenting Dionne Warwick (1963)
Track 2 from Anyone Who Had A Heart (1964)
Track 3 from Make Way For Dionne Warwick (1964)
Track 4 from The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick (1965)
Track 5 from Here I Am (1965)
Track 6 from Here Where There Is Love (1966)
Track 7 from The Windows Of The World (1967)
Track 8 from Dionne Warwick in Valley Of The Dolls 1968)
Track 9 from Promises, Promises (1968)
Track 10 from I'll Never Fall In Love Again (1970)
Track 11 from Very Dionne (1970)
Track 12 from Dionne (1972)
Track 13 from Just Being Myself (1973)
Track 14 from Then Came You (1975)
Track 15 from Track Of The Cat (1975)
Track 16 from Love At First Sight (1977)
Track 17 from Dionne (1979)
Track 18 from No Night So Long (1980)
Track 19 from Friends In Love (1982)
Track 20 from Heartbreaker (1982)
Track 21 from How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye (1983)
Track 22 from Finder Of Lost Loves (1985)
Track 23 from Friends (1985)

It's appropriate that Dionne Warwick could get in the same year as Carole King, since they're both products of the Brill Building era, with King's contemporaries Burt Bacharach and Hal David writing, producing, and arranging most of Warwick's music during the wildly successful first decade of her career. But as I dug into Warwick's catalog, I was pleasantly surprised by just how many dozens of songs Bacharach and David wrote for Warwick, many of which were never released as singles by her or anyone else. I was a teenager who worshiped Elvis Costello when he started teaming up with Burt Bacharach and championing Bacharach's '60s pop classics, which felt very far removed from even the '60s classic rock that I liked, but now I can credit Painted From Memory as the gateway for helping me appreciate how fantastic Warwick's music back then was, and how perfect a vessel her amazingly rich voice was for Bacharach and David's songs. 

All of the first 12 tracks on this playlist were written by Bacharach and David, and feature some breathtakingly brilliant songs like "Check Out Time" and "Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forgets" that I would rate up there with their best hits. In 1989, Rhino Records released The Dionne Warwick Collecction: Her All-Time Greatest Hits, and followed it up with 1992's Hidden Gems: The Best of Dionne Warwick, Vol. 2. And that compilation spotlighted some of the same excellent album tracks I picked here, including "I Cry Alone," "Any Old Time Of Day," "Land Of Make Believe," "How Many Days Of Sadness," and "Let Me Be Lonely." 

Dionne Warwick started branching out and working with a wider variety of writers and producers in the '70s, and her career fortunes were up and down from there. But her period apart from Burt Bacharach started off with a bang with the first song on 1973's Just Being Myself, which was written and produced by Motown's famed Holland-Dozier-Holland team. "You're Gonna Need Me" wasn't a single, but it's an absolutely enormous jam that was later sampled on Usher's "Throwback," J Dilla's "Stop," and State Property's "Want Me Back." And DJ Premier sampled "My First Night Without You" for The LOX's "Recognize." 
When Warwick wasn't periodically reuniting with Bacharach, she had a pretty strong lineup of writers and producers on her albums, including Stevie Wonder ("Moments Aren't Moments"), Barry Manilow ("Early Morning Strangers"), Barry Gibb ("You Are My Love"), Michael McDonald ("I Can Let Go Now"), Mutt Lange ("Without Your Love"), and Thom Bell ("This Is Love"). A decade after Isaac Hayes dramatically reinvented one of Dionne Warwick's signature songs, "Walk On By," Hayes wrote songs for Warwick including "We Never Said Goodbye" and the hit "Deja Vu." 
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
Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails
Vol. 111: Talking Heads
Vol. 112: Smashing Pumpkins
Vol. 113: System Of A Down
Vol. 114: Aretha Franklin
Vol. 115: Michael Jackson
Vol. 116: Alice In Chains
Vol. 117: Paul Simon
Vol. 118: Lil Wayne
Vol. 119: Nirvana
Vol. 120: Kix
Vol. 121: Phil Collins
Vol. 122: Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Vol. 123: Sonic Youth
Vol. 124: Bob Seger
Vol. 125: Radiohead
Vol. 126: Eric Church
Vol. 127: Neil Young
Vol. 128: Future
Vol. 129: Say Anything
Vol. 130: Maroon 5
Vol. 131: Kiss
Vol. 132: Dinosaur Jr.
Vol. 133: Stevie Nicks
Vol. 134: Talk Talk
Vol. 135: Ariana Grande
Vol. 136: Roxy Music
Vol. 137: The Cure
Vol. 138: 2 Chainz
Vol. 139: Kelis
Vol. 140: Ben Folds Five
Vol. 141: DJ Khaled
Vol. 142: Little Feat
Vol. 143: Brendan Benson
Vol. 144: Chance The Rapper
Vol. 145: Miguel
Vol. 146: The Geto Boys
Vol. 147: Meek Mill
Vol. 148: Tool
Vol. 149: Jeezy
Vol. 150: Lady Gaga
Vol. 151: Eddie Money
Vol. 152: LL Cool J
Vol. 153: Cream
Vol. 154: Pavement
Vol. 155: Miranda Lambert
Vol. 156: Gang Starr
Vol. 157: Little Big Town
Vol. 158: Thin Lizzy
Vol. 159: Pat Benatar
Vol. 160: Depeche Mode
Vol. 161: Rush
Vol. 162: Three 6 Mafia
Vol. 163: Jennifer Lopez
Vol. 164: Rage Against The Machine
Vol. 165: Huey Lewis and the News
Vol. 166: Dru Hill
Vol. 167: The Strokes
Vol. 168: The Notorious B.I.G.
Vol. 169: Sparklehorse
Vol. 170: Kendrick Lamar
Vol. 171: Mazzy Star
Vol. 172: Erykah Badu
Vol. 173: The Smiths
Vol. 174: Kenny Rogers & The First Edition
Vol. 175: Fountains Of Wayne
Vol. 176: Joe Diffie
Vol. 177: Morphine
Vol. 178: Dr. Dre
Vol. 179: The Rolling Stones
Vol. 180: Superchunk
Vol. 181: The Replacements
Vol. 227: Tina Turner
Vol. 228: Ike & Tina Turner
Vol. 229: Iron Maiden
Vol. 230: Devo
Vol. 231: Carole King
Vol. 232: Kate Bush

TV Diary

Friday, April 30, 2021

a) "Mare Of Easttown" 
The "investigation of a teen or child's murder in a small town full of secrets" genre of miniseries has really exploded in the past decade, it feels like one or two of these shows pop up every year. Only a couple of those shows have veered into any kind fantasy or heightened reality direction like the genre's obvious forerunner "Twin Peaks," though, and "Mare Of Easttown" heads in the opposite direction of extreme realism. Despite the familiar territory, however, I'm all in after a couple of episodes. The first episode made my heart break for Cailee Spaeny's character even before she turned up dead, Kate Winslet's performance is kind of casually brilliant (I love when she went to the fancy author's event and shoved an hors d'oeurve behind a couch cushion), her dynamic with Evan Peters is entertaining. And Craig Zobel, director of my favorite feel-bad movie of the 2010s, Compliance, is so good with all the scene-setting small town Pennsylvania details. I liked Phyllis Somerville's little bit in the first episode, it reminded me how much I like her and then I saw the "in loving memory" note in the credits and found out that she passed away last year. 

b) "Shadow & Bone" 
My wife has read a couple of the books in this series so as usual she's been able to explain to me a little of what's going on in Netflix's new fantasy YA franchise, I'm not really hooked on the story yet but the cast and the special effects are pretty good so I'm enjoying it. 

c) "Rutherford Falls" 
"Parks And Recreation" is, for me, one of Michael Schur's lesser creations, so I was iffy about his new show that to some extent seemed to be another one about civics class nerds working in local government. But the first episode sets an interesting plot in motion and it seems to be maybe tonally a little more like "The Good Place" in terms of how the humor and the personality clashes work. Plus it's pretty cool to see a show with an Indigenous showrunner and actors and writers that has kind of a frank sense of humor about an aspect of American culture and history that most shows wouldn't know the first thing about getting a laugh out of. 

d) "Chad" 
Adults playing children is something that works fine in sketch comedy but I tend to find it more irritating than funny if not downright uncomfortable in a series or movie. A lot of people love the show "PEN15" but I just couldn't stomach more than an episode or two. But Nasim Pedrad was consistently great in her 5-year "SNL" tenure and I've always wanted to see more of her since then, so I was willing to give "Chad" a chance. And it doesn't help that Chad, the 14-year-old boy Pedrad plays, looks almost exactly like the kid Martin Short played in the movie Clifford, but this show is pretty hilarious at times ("obviously I'm a huge feminist but if you could redirect your evil female energy") so maybe I can get past my hangup. 

e) "Why Are You Like This" 
It's interesting to see the American comedy zeitgeist refracted in other countries in shows like "Why Are You Like This," which feels a bit like an Australian answer to "Broad City." Not derivative per se but certainly the stars/writers are poking fun at themselves in a similar way. 

Another comedy from a different part of the world that kind of feels like it would be a little too hip and of-the-moment for all but a handful of American networks, starring Brandon and Domnhall Gleeson as best friends who are not related, which is kind of weird considering how much they look like each other. Domnhall's been in a lot of stuff but I haven't seen Brandon in anything before and he's got great comedy chops, very fearless. 

g) "The Nevers"
Another show with Irish accents that are very enjoyable to listen to. Joss Whedon created this show and worked on the first half of the first season before stepping away from the show amidst his professional taking a dive last year, and it's been pretty awkward watching HBO try to market the show without mentioning him and critics trying to set up the forthcoming post-Whedon episodes as inevitably far better than the ones airing right now. But who knows, maybe the show will get great without him, I've never really had too much attachment to his work give or take "Firefly," so I'm trying to just enjoy it as another silly HBO show, and the premise is kind of cool and the mostly unfamiliar cast is excellent, Amy Manson seems to really make the most of her scenery-chewing villain role. 

h) "Home Economics" 
An excellent ABC sitcom about the complicated relationship between 3 adult siblings who are in very different financial situations, with the brilliant casting decision of having the wealthiest sibling played by  Jimmy Tatro, best known for his pitch perfect portrayal of an absurdly obnoxious teenager in "American Vandal" a few years ago. As someone who doesn't really have warm feelings towards "That '70s Show" but regards Topher Grace pretty highly as a comic actor, I'm happy to see him in a really promising new show, although the weakest part of every "Home Economics" episode is when they force him into some contrived slapstick physical comedy scenario. 

i) "Them" 
People are pretty unhappy about this show, and I get it just from the little I watched and what I read about later episodes. "Lovecraft Country" tread similar territory and occasionally went arguably too far, but "Them" seems to exist a lot more artlessly for shock value. 

j) "Cruel Summer" 
This miniseries has kind of a novel structure, in that it's constantly jumping between three timelines: the same day in three consecutive years, before during and after some kind of kidnapping plot gone awry. I don't really find it too engaging beyond the cleverness of that format, though. 

k) "Rebel" 
Episodes of "Rebel" open with a slightly silly chyron that the show is "based on Erin Brockovich's life today," I guess to differentiate it from the events earlier in her life that the movie Erin Brockovich were based on. But instead of having Sagal play Brockovich, she's playing a similarly feisty character who goes by the ridiculous name Rebel, and the whole thing is a little too cartoony for its own good. 

l) "Kung Fu" 
The CW made a shrewd decision to reboot the old white guy martial arts show "Kung Fu" with an actual Asian American lead, kind of like what people wanted the "Iron Fist" series to be. And it's a decent little action series, not as campy as the source material but still pretty broad. 

m) "Big Shot" 
It's kind of funny that in between enormous Star Wars and Marvel event series, Disney+'s programming is stuff like "John Stamos is a coach in Coach Stamos." "Big Shot" manages to be about as well written and aware of sports show conventions as it can be, but it's not exactly a materpiece. 

n) "Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!" 
Jamie Foxx is rightly praised as a generational talent who can do a staggering number of things well, but apparently he's not too stuck up about it to do an extremely silly family sitcom on Netflix about his life as a single father. I kind of respect that, but the show's not really any good, despite the way he throws himself into it with typical commitment. I liked how when the characters smoke, the smoke is really poorly CGI's into the scene. 

o) "Zero" 
Netflix's "Zero" is about a Black teenager in Italy who feels invisible and then gains the actual superpower to turn invisible, which is a great premise, but I haven't watched too much of the show yet, it hasn't totally hooked me. 

p) "The Way of the Househusband"
This is an anime about a yakuza boss who retires to become a househusband for his career girl wife, and it's just such a great over-the-top satire of anime action tropes, I'm finding it even funnier than I normally would because my 11-year-old son watches practically nothing but anime these days. 
q) "Everything's Gonna Be Okay" 
The first season of "Everything's Gonna Be Okay" was a really charming and memorable portrait of two teen sisters whose parents are both dead being raised by their older brother. And the second season, more than any show I've watched in the past year that takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic, really seems to capture what life at home during the pandemic has been like, what everyone being home all the time has done to families. The episode with Richard Kind and Maria Bamford was fantastic. 

r) "Breeders"
Another sort of insightful comedy about family in its second season, "Breeders" can be a little tough to watch sometimes - some episodes have very few laughs at all - but I'm finding it really engrossing any way. 

s) "Manifest"
My attention wandered a lot during the first season of this show, and coming back to it for the second season, I feel like I have less and less of an idea what's going on, I think I'm getting off the bus now. 
t) "Saturday Night Live"
I thought things were going pretty well with "SNL" kind of shaking off its post-Trump hangover, at least until they announced that Elon Musk is hosting an episode soon and kind of brought some unpleasant feelings back. But Bowen Yang and Chloe Fineman have really been doing great out of the featured player set, and Melissa Villasenor has really hit her stride, I think she might be the one who gets her due whenever Kate McKinnon decides to stop carrying the show on her back. 

u) "Exterminate All The Brutes"
Raoul Peck makes some very strong points in this HBO miniseries about colonialism and genocide, but I think a lot of the show's personality comes straight from Peck's decision to do the voiceover narration himself, his voice has a really commanding presence, almost a Werner Herzog sort of thing. 

v) "The People V. The Klan" 
A CNN miniseries about a woman who successfully sued the KKK after son was lynched in 1981, pretty crazy story, can't believe I had never heard it before. 

w) "Sasquatch" 
The people in this Hulu series are about as intense as you'd expect people in a documentary about Bigfoot to be, I don't know if I believe any of this stuff but there's a reason people are obsessed with the possibility that it's true. 

x) "Wahl Street" 
It's kind of weird that Mark Wahlberg, the only billion dollar box office movie star with hate crimes on his rap sheet, is so devoted to vanity projects, like "Entourage" and "Wahlburgers" and this HBO docuseries, about how cool and relatable his exploits with his family and friends are. But this one even more than the others just makes him feel like the most vacuous careerist bro, there's really just nothing under the surface, it's all surface. But it's kind of nice to see that Marky Mark is still friends with at least one member of the Funky Bunch, Ashey Ace (although I'd really appreciate an update on Hector The Booty Inspector). 

y) "Infinity Train" 
One of my favorite animated shows of the last few years just wrapped its 4th and final season, I don't think it was their best (or at least my 5-year-old hasn't watched it over and over like the other seasons) but it was a solid one, I enjoyed the whole story of Ryan and Min-Gi's band and related to it. 

z) "The Barbarian And The Troll" 
I grew up on stuff like "Sesame Street" and "Fraggle Rock" and kind of wish there was more puppetry on contemporary kid's TV. But watching this, which looks less like Jim Henson stuff and more like "Crank Yankers," I dunno, the style of puppetry definitely matters. I do like this show's sense of humor and satirical take on fantasy tropes, though. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 232: Kate Bush

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Kate Bush is one of the 2021 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside Jay-ZFoo FightersTina TurnerDevo, Carole KingIron MaidenMary J. BligeLL Cool JTodd RundgrenThe Go-Go'sRage Against The Machine, and New York Dolls, among others. 

Kate Bush deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. James And The Cold Gun
2. The Saxophone Song
3. Kite
4. Full House
5. Coffee Homeground
6. Violin
7. Blow Away
8. Delius (Song Of Summer)
9. Get Out Of My House
10. Leave It Open
11. The Morning Fog
12. Jig Of Life
13. Mother Stands For Comfort
14. Reaching Out
15. Deeper Understanding
16. Never Be Mine
17. Why Should I Love You?
18. Lily
19. Mrs. Bartolozzi
20. Among Angels

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from The Kick Inside (1978)
Tracks 3 and 5 from Lionheart (1978)
Tracks 6, 7 and 8 from Never For Ever (1980)
Tracks 9 and 10 from The Dreaming (1982)
Tracks 11, 12 and 13 from Hounds Of Love (1985)
Tracks 14, 15 and 16 from The Sensual World (1989)
Tracks 17 and 18 from The Red Shoes (1993)
Track 19 from Aerial (2005)
Track 20 from 50 Words For Snow (2011)

Kate Bush has been a massive star in the UK for her entire career, but she's ever quite been that big in America, so I really knew of her much when I was younger. I knew her work with Peter Gabriel and her biggest U.S. hit "Running Up That Hill," but even that wasn't quite at the inescapable level of '80s synth pop songs. But I also came of age at a time when two of the coolest and most popular female solo artists were Tori Amos and Bjork, both of whom were heavily influenced by Kate Bush, so I kind of grew up hearing echoes of her without realizing it until later -- to say nothing of how Big Boi from Outkast and a couple generations of indie artists worship Kate Bush. So it's been fun to delve into her catalog and see what all the fuss is about. 

When Kate Bush was 16, demos of over 50 songs she'd written were shopped to record labels, but nobody was interested until a mutual friend passed her demos to Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Gilmour produced some professional quality demos with famed Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick that helped her get a record deal with EMI, and a couple of them, including "The Saxophone Song," appeared on her first album. 

Bush's debut single "Wuthering Heights" topped the UK charts and she was a big deal from there on out, which is kind of hard to imagine just based on how eccentric and proggy her first few records can be. I feel like the only kind of comparable thing that's happened in my country in my lifetime with a teenage girl becoming a chart-topping star with such an idiosyncratic, uncompromising sound is Billie Eilish, but even that's in a very different context. Bush didn't tour from 1979 to 2014, putting her in an elite club of major acts who didn't tour in support of some of their biggest albums (including The Beatles, Steely Dan, R.E.M., and Talking Heads).  

The early stuff is growing on me but Hounds Of Love and The Sensual World are definitely more immediately palatable albums to me, bigger drums and and less ornately complex arrangements but still a lot more personality and originality than most synth pop records of that era. Hounds Of Love is a cool album because it's very cleanly divided into a side 1 of Bush's biggest and most accessible pop songs and a side 2 that's an epic mini-suite titled The Ninth Wave, 7 interconnected songs inspired by Tennyson's Arthurian poems. She sort of repeated the same format on Aerials, a double album where the 1st disc features distinct songs and the 2nd disc, subtitled A Sky Of Honey, is one long piece that's meant to represent the 24-hour cycle of a single day. 

"Deeper Understanding" is a startlingly prescient song from 1989 about the nascent Internet ("As the people here grow colder, I turn to my computer/ And spend my evenings with it like a friend"). Appropriately, Bush chose this song as a single when she later released an album of re-recordings of old songs, 2011's Director's Cut. The original "Deeper Understanding" predates by quite a few yeras what I think of as the quaint early songs about the Internet like Britney Spears' 1999 track "E-Mail My Heart" or Prince's 1996 song "My Computer," which Kate Bush actually sang backing vocals on. Prince also played and sang backup on "Why Should I Love You?" from Bush's The Red Shoes and it's a great song, kind of an uncannily perfect melding of the sounds of two artists who always sort of lived in their own sonic worlds but admired each other's work.  

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 231: Carole King

Friday, April 23, 2021

Carole King is one of the 2021 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside Jay-ZFoo FightersTina TurnerDevoIron MaidenMary J. BligeLL Cool JTodd RundgrenThe Go-Go'sRage Against The Machine, and New York Dolls, among others. As I noted in Spin a couple years ago, this is long overdue, because King was nominated once in 1989, and then a year later was inducted in the non-performer category alongside her ex-husband and collaborator Gary Goffin for their '60s songwriting work, but then King wasn't nominated for the Hall proper again for 30 years. Hopefully she'll get in this time. 

Carole King deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. I Didn't Have Any Summer Romance
2. Now That Everything's Been Said
3. No Easy Way Down
4. Spaceship Races
5. Tapestry
6. Way Over Yonder
7. Home Again
8. Where You Lead
9. Back To California
10. Music
11. Brighter
12. Feeling Sad Tonight
13. Bitter With The Sweet
14. Haywood
15. A Quiet Place To Live
16. Welfare Symphony
17. A Night This Side Of Dying
18. Wrap Around Joy
19. One Was Johnny
20. So Many Ways
21. Time Alone
22. Disco Tech
23. Passing Of The Days
24. Snow Queen

Track 1 from The Dimension Dolls (1962)
Track 2 from The City's Now That Everything's Been Said (1968)
Tracks 3 and 4 from Writer (1970)
Tracks 5, 6, 7 and 8 from Tapestry (1971)
Tracks 9, 10 and 11 from Music (1971)
Tracks 12 and 13 from Rhymes & Reasons (1972)
Tracks 14, 15 and 16 from Fantasy (1973)
Tracks 17 and 18 from Wrap Around Joy (1974)
Track 19 from Really Rosie (1975)
Track 20 from Thoroughbred (1976)
Track 21 from Simple Things (1977)
Track 22 from Welcome Home (1978)
Track 23 from Touch The Sky (1979)
Track 24 from Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King (1980)

Obviously, Carole King is the ultimate example of a songwriter who transitioned from doing behind-the-scenes work for other artists to becoming a star in her own right. And though she was reticent to perform or tour until after the success of Tapestry, she actually recorded quite a bit as an artist in the decade before that when she and Gary Goffin were enormously successful Brill Building songwriters. She released several solo singles in the '50s and '60s, some on Don Kirshner's Dimension Records label. When Dimension landed a huge hit with "The Loco-Motion," a song King and Goffin wrote for their babysitter Little Eva, the label released The Dimension Dolls, a compilation album featuring several songs apiece by King, Little Eva, and The Cookies (a later lineup of the '50s girl group whose original members had become Ray Charles' Raelettes). The five Carole King songs on that album included her first Top 40 hit as an artist, "It Might As Well Rain Until September," but it would be 9 years before she had another. 

After King divorced Goffin and moved to California, she formed a band with future husband Charles Larkey and Danny Kortchmar, a brilliant guitarist and songwriter perhaps best known for his work with Jackson Browne who'd play a major role in many of King's solo albums. That band, The City, released one album in 1968, and it's a pretty underrated little gem. Two songs from that album later appeared on King's 1980 solo album Pearl. To me it's kind of a mystery why Carole King's first solo album Writer basically did nothing commercially, even though it was released 7 months before Tapestry on the same label, with largely the same sound, and a single featuring James Taylor, whose career had just exploded that year. Writer isn't as good an album as Tapestry, sure, but not by a huge margin, in my opinion. 

Of course, Tapestry is the shining achievement of Carole King's recording career, and justifiably so. Nearly every song on it was a hit, whether for King or for someone else. And even one of the songs that wasn't, "Where You Lead," was re-recorded by King and her daughter Louise Goffin as the theme song of "Gilmore Girls." One of my favorite chapters of David Hepworth's book Never A Dull Moment details how Carole King and Joni Mitchell recorded Tapestry and Blue at the same time in the same building with some of the same personnel and equipment -- two unimpeachable classics, possibly the two most important female singer-songwriter albums of all time, both unique and fairly different from each other.  

Carole King would be an important figure even if she had done nothing of note after Tapestry, and if you didn't know better you might assume she didn't, since that album's place in the canon has grown and grown to the point of eclipsing all her other work. But she was a prolific major star for long after that, and nearly every album she made in the '70s peaked in the top 5 and/or went gold, with a string of over a dozen Top 40 hits. Music, released at Christmastime a few months before Tapestry won big at the Grammys, is estimated to have sold over a million copies in its opening week, a mind-boggling number in the pre-SoundScan era. 

9 out of King's top 10 songs on Spotify are from Tapestry, and the only exception is a surprising one -- "Bitter From The Sweet," an album track from 1972's Rhymes & Reasons. It was the b-side to the album's only hit, "Been To Canaan," but it has over 10 times as many streams as that song, or any other song on the album. I've scoured YouTube comments and other corners of the internet trying to figure out why, and haven't found any notable covers, samples, or film or television placements. It doesn't seem to be nearly as high on King's top songs on Apple Music, so I'm guessing it's a Spotify algorithm aberration, much like the Pavement one detailed in this Stereogum piece. But it's a good song with a funky bassline and a pretty brass arrangement, can't complain if some digital quirk elevated the song. 

1973's Fantasy stands out in Carole King's discography for the way it plays as a 'song cycle' with segues that run from one song into the next -- I included 3 consecutive tracks that work together especially well. Her next album, 1974's Wrap Around Joy, featured two of her biggest post-Tapestry hits, "Jazzman" and "Nightingale." It's also notable in that King co-wrote every song on the album with David Palmer, otherwise best known for his brief tenure in an early lineup of Steely Dan, singing lead on "Dirty Work" and "Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)" on their debut album. 

I haven't seen the animated musical based on Maurice Sendak's books that the Really Rosie soundtrack was made for, but the songs on there are pretty charming. I always kind of want singer-songwriters who play piano to make more music with stripped down voice-and-piano arrangements, and 1976's Thoroughbred kind of fits that bill the best in King's catalog, the opener "So Many Ways" is gorgeous. People like to poke fun at the way almost every artist had at least one disco song in the late '70s. But it's kind of fun to hear the author of "The Loco-Motion" and other '60s dance craze hits try her hand at the disco on "Disco Tech" on 1978's Welcome Home, particularly since it was never released as a single. And it felt kind of perversely appropriate to swing straight from that song to possibly King's most country song, "Passing of the Days."  

Thursday, April 22, 2021


Here's another track by George Bonanza that I played drums on, in addition to a couple of tracks of his I posted about in March that I'd helped with. 

Movie Diary

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

a) Dark City Beneath The Beat
I was pretty thrilled to hear that T.T. The Artist's documentary about Baltimore club music was being exec produced by Issa Rae and released by Netflix. Of course, I announced many years ago that I'm writing a book about the same subject, and this mostly just reminds me that I still haven't finished it, which sucks, but I promise I will, and seeing this movie and all the positive attention it's gotten was definitely motivating. Dark City Beneath The Beat is a quick 65-minute movie full of dazzling performances from various local musicians and dancers, as much an extended music video as a documentary, full of places and people I know and love, so maybe it's hard for me to be objective about it, but I really enjoyed it. And there were some great documentary moments too -- I especially liked Blaqstarr talking about his first local hit, "Tote It," I've interviewed him multiple times and never got that story out of him. I was a little disappointed that only maybe half of the music in the movie was Baltimore club in the classic 130 beats per minute sense, but that at least served to show the musical variety of the scene as it is now.  

b) Spontaneous
Spontaneous, the directorial debut from screenwriter Brian Duffield, is a movie about how teenagers start spontaneously combusting at random, specifically members of the senior class of one high school. Someone is perfectly fine at one moment, and then they suddenly cease to exist, their blood spraying all over whatever friends or classmates are in their immediate vicinity. But it's mostly a pretty charming rom com about two of the teens who fall in love while they helplessly wait to see if they'll be the next ones to explode. And that odd combination of gore and comedy, of existential dread and romance, manages to work. This could be one of those movies that builds a cult over the years like Heathers or Jennifer's Body

c) Godzilla vs. Kong
I like a good fx spectacle as much as anyone, but modern Godzilla or King Kong movies tend to bore me -- it seems like the harder they try to stack the deck with skilled actors on the ground looking up at the monsters, the more futile the effort seems to be. Kong: Skull Island came the closest to actually using its overqualified cast well, but this falls far short of that, and it just made me sad to watch Bryan Tyree Henry pad out the movie with poorly written banter. Eiza Gonzalez in Godzilla vs. Kong is about the best anyone has looked in a movie since Eiza Gonzalez in I Care A Lot, though. 

d) Raya And The Last Dragon
As much as cable and various streaming services cost now, I'm loathe to pay extra for any individual movie. But my kids were both pretty excited to see Raya And The Last Dragon, and I figured buying it on Disney+ would be worth it, as much as kids tend to rewatch movies. But it was really just an okay movie and my youngest only ended up watching it twice, so it felt like kind of a wasted purchase to me. 

e) Jojo Rabbit
As someone who grew up on Mel Brooks lampooning the Nazis, so I can appreciate the kind of wild-eyed mischief that Jojo Rabbit is going for, although the movie only really took it a step further enough to make me laugh a handful of times. The songs used at the beginning and end of the movie were brilliant -- recognizing the songs and then suddenly realizing which versions they used was just hilarious. One of the better Best Picture noms of its year I suppose, but not a better movie than What We Do In The Shadows or Thor: Ragnarok

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 230: Devo

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Devo are one of the 2021 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside Jay-ZFoo FightersTina Turner, Iron MaidenMary J. BligeLL Cool JTodd RundgrenThe Go-Go'sRage Against The Machine, and New York Dolls, among others. And I love Devo and have long meant to include them in this series, so here's hoping they get in this year. I think just from an artistic standpoint, they're one of the most deserving, one of the most original bands to ever go platinum. 

Devo deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Space Girl Blues
2. Baby Talkin' Bitches
3. Uncontrollable Urge
4. Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin')
5. Shrivel-Up
6. Praying Hands
7. Gut Feeling / (Slap Your Mammy)
8. Devo Corporate Anthem
9. Clockout
10. Wiggly World
11. Blockhead
12. Smart Patrol / Mr. DNA
13. It's Not Right
14. Snowball
15. That's Pep! 
16. Planet Earth
17. Don't You Know
18. Turn Around
19. Going Under
20. Love Without Anger
21. Enough Said
22. Pity You
23. Big Mess
24. Speed Racer
25. Out Of Sync
26. Don't Rescue Me
27. Puppet Boy

Tracks 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 from Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
Tracks 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 from Duty Now For The Future (1979)
Tracks 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 from Freedom Of Choice (1980)
Track 18 from the "Whip It" single (1980)
Tracks 19, 20, 21 and 22 from New Traditionalists (1981)
Tracks 23, 24 and 25 from Oh No! It's Devo (1982)
Tracks 3, 9, 12, 15 and 19 from Shout (1984)
Track 1 from Hardcore Devo: Volume One (1990)
Track 2 from Hardcore Devo: Volume Two (1991)

When I made my Replacements playlist last year, I wrote about how I'd swap mixtapes with people in high school and college, and how my gateway for several bands, including Devo, was through somebody's homemade best-of tapes, which I'd listen to in my car for years and kind of supplanted my need to check out those artists' proper albums until much later. So about 2/3rds of the songs on this playlist are songs that were on a Devo mixtape somebody made me 20-something years ago, partly because someone else's favorite Devo songs informed what became my favorite Devo songs.  

The two albums Devo released on Enigma after being dropped from Warner Bros., 1988's Total Devo and 1990's Smooth Noodle Maps, are not currently on streaming services. And while it would've been nice to include some good later songs like "Happy Guy," I was okay with only really covering the group's work up to 1984, because they were kind of on a commercial and creative decline for the entirety of the '80s. 

I made the Deep Album Cuts series as an attempt to kind of provide a counterpoint to various acts' 'greatest hits' albums, but of course, some bands have actually made official collections with that concept. In 1990, a couple years before Public Enemy packaged an album of rarities as Greatest Misses, Warner Bros. released a Devo Greatest Hits collection alongside a Greatest Misses album. Inevitably, my playlist has 5 of the same songs as Greatest Misses (as well as a 3 non-singles that were on Greatest Hits). 

Around the same time in the early '90s, Rykodisc issued two Hardcore Devo compilations of the group's mid-'70s 4-track demos, including early versions of Q: Are We Not Men?  and Duty Now For The Future songs and tons of stuff that never wound up on a proper album. In 2014, shortly after Bob Casale's death, Devo celebrated the band's 40th anniversary with a tour of Hardcore-era material, which spawned the Hardcore Devo Live! concert album. So I thought it'd be cool to kick off the playlist with some of that stuff before their official debut. 

Of course, when Devo finally did debut in 1978, they arrived as this remarkable, fully formed phenomenon. The first track on their first album, "Uncontrollable Urge," was never released as a single, but it's always been heralded as one of the greatest Devo songs, if not the greatest. And over the years it's slowly seeped into pop culture, appearing in several movies including Wolf Of Wall Street. A cover of "Uncontrollable Urge" is the opening and closing theme music of "Ridiculousness," a show that airs on MTV literally dozens of times every week, so it's mind-boggling to contemplate how many times that song has been heard by millions of people in the past decade. 

One of the interesting things I learned recently was that Toni Basil was dating Gerard Casale in the early '80s when "Mickey" was a hit, and that song's parent album Word Of Mouth featured members of Devo backing her on three of their songs, including "Pity You" (retitled "You Gotta Problem") and the early Hardcore-era track "Space Girl Blues" (retitled "Space Girl"). 

Lately I've been reading Evie Nagy's excellent 33 1/3 book about Freedom Of Choice, and it's fascinating to hear about that album's genesis in granular detail, "Snowball" might be my #1 favorite Devo song. It's a bummer to hear the band talk about Duty Now For The Future as a misfire, though, some days I think it's actually my favorite Devo album, it's got loads of fantastic songs and sounds. I also included the non-album "Whip It" b-side "Turn Around," which was famously covered by Nirvana (as "Turnaround") on Incesticide. Speaking of covers by Seattle bands, The Posies have a fun cover of "Wiggly World." 

As someone who makes music with synthesizers and live drums, Devo is a big inspiration to me, especially those first 3 or 4 albums before they started using drum machines heavily. The late Alan Myers was just an incredible drummer, he helped Devo really become a rock band (there's a big contrast between the Hardcore Devo stuff before he joined the band and what they made after) but he was really coming up with interesting patterns that no other rock drummer of the era was, even the way Devo plays non-4/4 time signatures is different from other bands. It's kind of remarkable, for something that kind of started as a multi-media art project that was not meant to be primarily a touring and recording band, Devo's music is so good just by itself, whether or not you're taking in all the videos and conceptual stuff or the philosophy informing the songs. 

Monthly Report: April 2021 Singles

Monday, April 19, 2021

1. Ava Max - "My Head & My Heart"
I couldn't stand Ava Max's first two hits "Sweet But Psycho" and "Kings & Queens," but I thought her album was alright outside of those tracks. And now she's finally got a single on the radio that I really like, "My Head & My Heart" is just a classic four-on-the-floor Europop banger with a great vocal melody. Here's the 2021 singles Spotify playlist that I add 10 songs to every month throughout the year. 

2. Pooh Shiesty f/ Lil Durk - "Back In Blood" 
It feels like it's been a while since a dark menacing gangsta rap song was on the radio and performed on "The Tonight Show" and stuff like that, it's kind of refreshing even if the DMX era is never coming back. 

3. Rosé - "On The Ground"
I really liked Blackpink's "Ice Cream" last year, which was very much the familiar K-Pop mold of kind of sounding like turn of the century hi-tech R&B. But Blackpink member Rose's debut solo single is something else entirely, although it sort of evokes the same era, a jangly pop/rock song that sounds like it could've been recorded by Natalie Imbruglia, written by U.S. hitmakers Amy Allen (Harry Styles, Halsey) and Jon Bellion (Justin Bieber, Maroon 5).

4. Olivia Rodrigo - "Deja Vu" 
Following up a song as big as "Drivers License" is a mixed blessing, and Olivia Rodrigo took the route of something that feels a little like a sequel, with some of the same woozy synths and a lyric that feels like it's about the same breakup from a slightly more angry perspective. That said, the way the drums and synths hit after the first chorus sounds fucking amazing and I hope this song becomes ubiquitous and doesn't kind of get lost in the shuffle like follow-ups to megahits sometimes do. I love the way the video ends looping back to the intro, I kind of wish the song did that too. 

5. Jimmie Allen f/ Brad Paisley - "Freedom Was A Highway" 
When I wrote about the Bettie James EP last year I singled "Freedom Was A Highway" out as my favorite track, so I'm glad they released it as a single, their voices sound great together and Paisley knocks out a great guitar solo. 

6. Daya - "Bad Girl" 
It's been almost 5 years since Daya's first album, and she's released a lot of singles in that time without much chart action. "Bad Girl" finally got her back on pop radio a little bit, though, I really enjoy Charlie Puth's songs sometimes when someone else sings them. 

7. Juicy J f/ Lil Baby and 2 Chainz - "Spend It" 
I liked this song when it was on The Hustle Continues but man it's been sounding great on the radio lately, I'm glad that Juicy J's recent resurgence as a producer has helped get one of his own songs out there a little too. 

8. Lil Nas X - "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)"
As with "Old Town Road," I think the "Montero" is a lot more entertaining because of the chart-topping spectacle and controversy and social media trolling that Lil Nas X has surrounded it with than it would be if it was just this simple catchy little 2-minute song. But it's fun to see him rile people up, and I'm curious what the album will sound like. 

9. DaBaby - "Masterpiece" 
The backlash to DaBaby seemed to peak around last summer when he was topping the charts with "Rockstar," so I don't know if that means he's too big too fail or if the commercial downturn is coming. "Masterpiece" has kind of performed below what most of his solo singles have done, but I think it's a good idea for him to put out something with more aggressive production like this after all the memes about his songs sounding like Scooby-Doo chase scene music or whatever, it's a great beat. 

10. Ashley McBryde - "Martha Divine" 
It's irritating sometimes how slowly country radio moves, "One Night Standards" took almost a year to peak on the charts so her label wouldn't even release a 2nd single from the album until that had happened. And it surprised me which one they chose, "Martha Divine" is almost the last song from Never Will that I expected to be a single, but it's a good one. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Masked Wolf - "Astronaut In The Ocean" 
For some reason, two of the biggest ascendant stars in U.S. popular music right now are rappers from Sydney, Australia. I don't like The Kid Laroi's music at all, but Masked Wolf's hit has a higher frequency of abjectly terrible lyrics ("I believe in G-O-D, don't believe in T-H-O-T").