Monthly Report: September 2017 Singles

Monday, September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

I wrote a piece for Stereogum about the complicated history of the Little Feat song "Willin'," which was covered by Mandy Moore on the This Is Us soundtrack album out this week.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Kanye West's Graduation is 10 years old today, so I collected 10 interesting things you may not know about the album for Rolling Stone.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

I was very saddened by the passing of Walter Becker this week, so I memorialized him with a playlist for The Dowsers of some great Steely Dan tracks and the times they've been sampled by other artists. I also did a Steely Dan deep cuts playlist a few years back. 

Movie Diary

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

a) Moana
When I put this on for my family to watch, we ended up watching it about 3 times in one weekend. And it wasn't just the kids who asked for it again, my wife really loved the songs. It's pretty crazy how Disney's current run of animated features (Wreck-It RalphFrozenBig Hero 6Zootopia, and Moana) is basically approaching Pixar's best streak at this point.

b) Keeping Up With The Joneses
My theory of comedy is that casting is everything, and a lot of comedies are hurt by the impulse to cast the most beautiful people instead of the funniest people. So Keeping Up With The Joneses is notable in how well it manages that balance; the 4 principal actors consist of 3 freakishly good looking people and Zach Galifianakis looking the best he's ever looked, and the only one of them who doesn't have an extensive resume in comedy, Gal Gadot, turns out to have some pretty good comic timing. That's not to say that the movie is an unqualified success -- it mines the same regular-folks-caught-up-in-espionage territory as Spy with fewer laughs -- but I found it notable in that regard.

c) Nerve
Somehow I totally missed this movie's existence when it came out a year ago but apparently it did decent at the box office. The guys who created the Catfish movie and series and transitioned into scripted film fairly well with a couple of the Paranormal Activity sequels directed this, and it's not a bad teen Internet dystopia fable, basically it feels like if "Black Mirror" was produced for Freeform. It's a well worn cliche that high school students are often played by adults, but it really amazed me how almost every principal cast member in this was in their late 20s or early 30s. Even the youngest actor was old enough to be a college graduate. But I kinda feel bad for actors like Dave Franco and Emma Roberts, no matter how old they get they probably get cast for younger roles because they're still looked at as "James's little brother" and "Julia's niece." 

d) Punching Henry
Movies and shows where comedians play versions of themselves with worse careers are one of show business's most plentiful natural resources, so I'm a little sick of them. This one was pretty well done, though, good balance of establishing Henry Phillips and his act and why it's funny, but also kind of mocking it and placing it at the center of an interesting story with a good supporting cast. 

e) Don't Think Twice
Yet another show business meta film made by comedians, this one Mike Birbiglia's ode to struggling improv comedy groups and what happens when one of them gets hired by "SNL" (here very thinly veiled as "Weekend Live"). Solid cast, nothing amazing but I liked it more than I expected to because they were willing to really play out a variety of different relationships between the characters with some smartly written little scenes.

f) When The Bough Breaks
I'm amused by the durability of the formula of psychological thrillers where the title and/or trailer often creepily invokes a nursery rhyme. OK movie but pretty predictable.

g) Miss You Already
This reminded me a lot of one of my favorite Toni Collette movies, In Her Shoes, except it paired her with a different Charlie's Angel and Drew Barrymore is in the Toni role and Toni is in the Charlize Theron role, if that makes any sense. A sweet, sentimental little movie but it fell short of my expectations.

h) The Conjuring
Somehow it wasn't until Anabelle: Creation came out recently that I had a clue that The Conjuring had been a huge hit and had birthed a franchise with 4 features, so I went back and checked out the first one. Really good, I was impressed at how they took the story's setting in the '70s as a cue to really evoke the mood and visuals of '70s horror like The Exorcist

Monthly Report: August 2017 Albums

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

1. Fifth Harmony - Fifth Harmony
Most vocal groups are a pack of frustrated solo artists, so it's never surprising when they break up or splinter, but I thought Camila Cabello's departure from Fifth Harmony was particularly abrupt and ill timed -- they'd just released a pretty successful second but weren't really established enough for either party to come out of the split with great momentum. And honestly, Cabello was probably the weakest vocalist in the whole group, so it's not surprising at all that her solo singles have flopped, and I'm glad that Fifth Harmony pulled together with Lauren Jauregui more deservingly up front and got out a new album quickly. Their songs are still a little goofy sometimes -- one interpolates "Pumps And A Bump" and another interpolates "It Wasn't Me" -- but I feel like they really stepped it up on this album, "Deliver" and "Angel" and "Bridges" are great and the album never wears out its welcome at 33 minutes. Here's the Spotify playlist I update with all the 2017 albums I listen to.

2. Lil Uzi Vert - Luv Is Rage 2
Uzi always seemed to me to be one of the more talented guys out of the nascent SoundCloud rap wave, but for a good long while I didn't think I had any time for what he was doing. Then "XO Tour Llif3" happened, and everything clicked and I started to really root for him and love how uncomfortable he makes people with his affinity for Marilyn Manson and various Lucifer/666 references. There's still some stuff on this record where his vocal affectations just get too over the top for me, but I feel like he's really becoming a strong songwriter and I like the emo relationship stuff like "The Way Life Goes" and "Feelings Mutual" and "How To Talk" and "X" the most.

3. Brett Eldredge - Brett Eldredge
Brett Eldredge has had one of my favorite voices in mainstream country, a big warm, raspy tone, since I heard his first hit, "Don't Ya." And his last couple albums have been really solid even without singles that were quite as immediate or memorable. This one has a particularly good 1-2 opening of "Love Someone" and "Superhero," and the song "Brother" really moved me and reminded me of my own brother.

4. Pale Spring - EP2
Baltimore rapper/producer Drew Scott featured Emily Wenker aka Pale Spring on his good recent album Ill Vessel, and I'm also really enjoying their work together on the two EPs she's released in the past year, some cool moody synth pop, check it on Bandcamp.

5. Filthy Friends - Invitation
I dislike the term 'supergroup' -- almost any new band is comprised of people who have been in other bands, and if those previous bands were hugely successful, you can't really expect people to ignore that, but you don't have to act all weird and put them in a special category. And Filthy Friends is really just the kind of thing I like to hear from people as established as Corin Tucker and Peter Buck; that Sleater-Kinney reunion record didn't have any enduring appeal for me and I doubt a theoretical new R.E.M. record would either, but as individuals they have plenty of gas in the tank and it's interesting to hear them together. I've always been a big fan of Tucker's vocals and she's in a particularly Patti Smith mode on this album.

6. Kesha - Rainbow
It was gratifying to see Kesha finally get an album out after years of court battles with Dr. Luke, particularly because she was in the odd position of basically saying that all her previously released music was someone else's vision being imposed on her and that she had yet to reveal her true musical identity. And Rainbow is certainly a lot more omnivorous and personal than her previous records, but it feels maybe more like a continuation of those records than I expected, the same mischievous kind of sense of humor cutting a little more loose, I particularly like "Learn To Let Go" and "Let 'Em Talk."

7. Mack Scott - Saturday Night Sermons
I feel like Mack Scott stands out in the context of Baltimore hip hop because he's drawing on some classic southern rap influences that most other people here haven't really done much with. I really liked the EP he released in 2013, Still Mackin', and this one feels a little more like he's finding his own take on that sound, and it's another nice brisk 20 minute project.

8. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard with Mild High Club - Sketches Of Brunswick East
A couple weeks ago I started recording an album at my friend Mat's studio, and the first day I came in and we started setting up drums and mics, Mat and his intern were listening to this new album by the Australian band King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. I'd never heard them before but this record is pretty enjoyable, nice laid back retro grooves.

9. YoungBoy Never Broke Again - A.I. Youngboy
Louisiana rap has turned out a lot of rappers who seem really weathered and wizened at young, and while NBA Youngboy isn't quite as sharp as a teenage B.G. or Boosie, he's got a lot of potential, and I like this tape at least as much as 38 Baby, and he's apparently releasing another in September.

10. Randy Newman - Dark Matter
I've always meant to get into Newman's albums more and this one is pretty entertaining, although I could really do without an extended version of the terrible "Monk" theme song.

Worst Album of the Month: Ugly God - The Booty Tape
Ugly God's entire schtick, right down to the name, is compulsive self deprecation, and The Booty Tape opens with audio from a viral video where a YouTuber's mom reacts negatively to an Ugly God video and features songs like "I'm A Nasty Hoe" and "Fuck Ugly God." The irony is that Ugly God is probably one of the more capable and likable new rappers out of the recent crop of XXL Freshman and SoundCloud weirdos. But this tape's reliance on post-Lil B quirk and tiresome self deprecation is harder to listen to than even the weird emo rap of recent XXXTentacion and Lil Peep projects, and the song "Stop Smoking Black & Milds" is particularly unpleasant as the one track that feels like it has a sincere message.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Nick Murray, Elias Leight and I broke down the best and worst moments of this years MTV VMA's for Rolling Stone

TV Diary

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

a) "The Sinner"
I was complaining recently that 2017 hasn't had much in the way of summer TV obsessions for me, but this has been getting more gripping with each episodes. Reminds me a little of last year's summer highlight "The Night Of" in that it's a one-off limited series about a murder trial, but there's no question of who did it but simply why. I was skeptical that there would be 8 episodes' worth of intrigue about a muder committed in broad daylight with dozens of witnesses, but there have been some interesting wrinkles in the story. And I like seeing Bill Pullman as an investigator with a shy, halting way of speaking, very Zero Effect.

b) "Atypical"
This show is charming, particularly the episodes with the girlfriend Paige, and a family sitcom with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Rapaport as the parents is some great casting. But I feel like "Speechless" set the bar pretty high for how much comedy and humanity can be woven into a show about a family with a son with special needs, and I find myself unfavorably comparing "Atypical" to that show now and then.

c) "The Defenders"
Marvel's Netflex series got off to a pretty strong start but they've arguably be on consistent decline since then, hitting rock bottom earlier this year with "Iron Fist," which I never finished watching (and to be honest it took me almost a year to trudge through "Luke Cage"). So bringing all the characters together in one big project, just as they did in the movies with The Avengers, isn't quite as exciting as it should be. But so far I'm enjoying this more than I've liked any of these shows in a while, it's kind of fun to see the heroes and their supporting characters all collide together and share scenes, it's fun to see, for instance, Luke Cage have a conversation with Foggy Nelson. But it's also kind of funny how their attempts to reconcile the tonal differences in the show has mostly resulted in Luke Cage's scenes having a hip hop score that makes it seem like phat beats just follow him around.

d) "Marlon"
Marlon Wayans has demonstrated some range and talent over the years, but I tend to find him unbearable when he's doing straight up comedy. And this show just feels grating and dated, like a scene literally ended with him saying "oh HELL naw," and then when it came back from commercial, he said "oh HELL naw" again.

e) "Weekend Update: Summer Edition"
I've never really seen the point of NBC running a special half hour "Weekend Update" on Thursday nights, especially during the regular "Saturday Night Live" season, as they did previously in 2008, 2009 and 2012. So it at least makes more sense that they're now doing it during the hiatus and getting a chance to get material out of those summer stories that "SNL" usually has to sit out. It's not Jost/Che is "Update" at its best by a long shot, but they're in a decent groove now, and there's been some good moments. I liked Tina Fey's bit of prop comedy eating a giant cake, but a lot of people kind of took it as an earnest political statement and got pretty mad at it, I dunno.

f) "White Gold"
I guess I never realized that the guy who played Chuck Bass on "Gossip Girl" was British, seeing him on a Brit show speaking in presumably his real voice is kind of surreal and jarring. Essex in the '80s is an interesting setting for a period piece, the music and fashion really give the show a unique texture, although I dunno how entertaining it is really.

g) "DuckTales"
I already discussed the first couple episodes of this at length on my brother's podcast, but this is pretty good, I'm looking forward to more episodes in September. One thing Zac had a good point about is that they made Huey, Dewey and Louie three distinct voices with three distinct personalities this time. And as in "We Bare Bears," Bobby Moynihan is the funniest of the three.

h) "True And The Rainbow Kingdom"
This Netflix series is one of those kids' shows I kinda sampled to see if I wanted to show it to my son. But it was really just loud and bright in a way that I found way more irritating than the average cartoon.

i) "Comrade Detective"
This Amazon show is one of those odd little projects where a couple of big name movie stars (in this case Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) get involved with a completely absurd idea as an indulgent little side project (in this case overdubbing the English dialogue for a fake '80s Romanian cop drama). But even at just six episodes, basically the bare minimum for U.S. television, it kinda feels like an insane amount of time and effort was spent on executing this idea that isn't really that funny after you get the gist of the first few minutes. It honestly could've gone over better as a one-off Adult Swim special.

j) "The Guest Book"
This TBS show is kind of a comedy anthology series about a rental cottage, where each episode is about someone else staying in the place. A lot of actors I like have popped up in the show, but I really can't stand the recurring characters that pop up in every episode and a lot of the comedy just feels very strained and broad and wacky. I think "Rasing Hope" was kind of an outlier in Greg Garcia's shows, I found that one charming but can't stand his other stuff.

k) "Room 104"
"Room 104" is similar to "The Guest Book" in that it's an anthology series about a hotel room's occupants. But it leans more toward horror, suspense and black comedy, so tonally it's very different, but I feel like it suffers from a lot of the same problems of just feeling like a jam session, all these ideas thrown at the wall from week to week. I've never thought the Duplass brothers had a particularly good grip on comedy or drama in their various dramedies, but they fail at horror to a much greater degree here.

l) "A Night With My Ex"
Another show where you meet a different set of people staying in the same hotel room in each episode, but it's a Bravo reality show where 2 people who used to be in a relationship are reunited for one night to give it another chance or just reconnect or to argue and air out their baggage or whatever. I have always had a limited appetite for reality TV and watch barely any of it now, but I really found myself getting sucked into this show, it's pretty good at these bite sized voyeuristic dramas where in 20 minutes you watch someone propose to an ex who's over them or admit to cheating, or even something less scandalous but still kid of entertaining.

m) "What Would Diplo Do?"
I've thought that Diplo was a vapid tool for about a decade before he was famous enough to justify a TV series lampooning his reputation as a vapid tool, so I suppose I can appreciate this show's existence on that level. But on the other hand, the rich twat executive produces this parody of his life to show how chill and good humored he is about everything, so how biting can the satire be? James Van Der Beek's entertainingly unflattering depiction of himself in "Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23" was really a breakthrough for him as a comedic performer, and he's doing something similar here (as well as writing the show). But at the end of the day it has that "Entourage" stink of typical showbiz assholes thinking a little self-deprecation makes them less typical showbiz assholes.

n) "Nuts & Bolts"
Tyler, The Creator is another musician who I've never had much interest in, I'm just kind of indifferent to his records and tend to find his personality and his sense of humor off-putting. But his new show is kind of cool because he spends each episode learning about how to do or make something that he likes, like the first episode is about stop motion animation, talking to animators about how it's done and making his own short.

o) "Swedish Dicks"
An action comedy series about Peter Stormare as a stuntman turned P.I. looks like such a homerun to me on paper that I'm maybe a little underwhelmed by the show so far. It's not bad, though, and the Keanu Reeves cameos are pretty good.

p) "Baroness Von Sketch Show"
What stands out about this show from other sketch shows, aside from the all female cast, is the brisk pacing, the lack of padding -- most sketches last a couple minutes at most, use location and costuming to quickly establish the setting and characters without extraneous exposition, and get to the twist at just the right time and move on instead of repeating or escalating the joke. In fact, sometimes the show moves almost a little too fast -- there's not much in the way of interstitial music or transitions, and sometimes they cut to the next sketch so seamlessly that I look down for a second and look back at the screen very confused. That's a minor complaint, though. Meredith MacNeill feels to me like the show's standout performer so far, she's had a lot of memorable moments.

q) "Manhunt: Unabomber"
Between the O.J. show and the upcoming show about the Menendez brothers, it feels like TV is quickly running through all the big crime stories of the '90s. I was initially pretty skeptical about this show -- about Paul Bettany as Ted Kaczynski, about the show centering around one FBI analyst as if Kaczynski wasn't essentially turned in by his brother, and so on. But it's really sucked me in, it's pretty interesting to see the minutiae of the investigation dramatized. The dialogue can be a little clumsy -- a lot of people explaining stuff for the viewer's benefit, and at one point someone in the mid-'90s uses "snowflake" in the 2010s derogatory way -- but the cast is great, particularly Jeremy Bobb and Keisha Castle-Hughes.

r) "OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes"
One of the son's favorite new shows on Cartoon Network, the animation is crude and hand drawn in a way that you really don't see on children's TV much anymore, which is kind of refreshing, but there's still a fair amount of imaginative visuals.

s) "Siesta Key"
It's crazy to think that it's been over a decade since "Laguna Beach," which was at the time kind of a new nadir for MTV, but has at this point birthed a whole generation of MTV programming that has reached its own nadir with "Siesta Key." Most pathetic of all, though, I actually kind of enjoyed "Laguna Beach" and watched this hoping for some of the same mindless entertainment, but it was really just very boring.

t) "Signed"
This is one of those music reality shows that rejects the pageantry of performance driven shows like "Star Search" or "American Idol" for the idea of getting down to the work in the studio and the boardroom that actually makes careers in the music industry. And it can be kinda fun to watch guys who actually have a decent track record like Rick Ross and The-Dream give advice to new artists. But I don't watch it with any impression that I'll see any of these kids again outside the show, and it's pretty unfortunate that this show, which includes women vying to work with Rick Ross, is airing just as he's given a pretty awful interview about why he's never signed any female rappers.

u) "Daughters Of Destiny"
Pretty interesting little documentary series on Netflix, just getting this kind of glimpse of life in modern India, I always love to see how kids outside of America go to school and how differently things can be done.

v) "Gone"
There are 2 new TV shows called "Gone" and, even more confusingly, both are about missing persons investigations. The one that hasn't aired yet is a dramatic procedural starring Chris Noth, but this one on Investigation Discovery features a dramatization of a different real life case in each episode. It's not really too much my kind of show, but it's pretty well done and has featured some interesting stories.

w) "Snowfall"
"Snowfall" ticks of all the boxes as a gritty, ambitious cable drama with high production values, but I'm still struggling a little to connect with it. I promised myself I wouldn't compare it incessantly to "The Wire," but Franklin's mother being played by Michael Hyatt, who played D'Angelo's mother on "The Wire," kinda helped me realize just how little I care about these characters, they all feel a little flat and one dimensional. I think Juan Javier Cardenas is the standout of this cast, though, I think they really missed out on casting him for the Freddie Mercury biopic.

x) "Difficult People"
I've been pretty into this show from the jump, but it really feels like they've hit their stride with season 3 and there is a speed and density and nastiness to the humor on this show that is just incredible, like "30 Rock" on steroids.

y) "The Chris Gethard Show"
I always associate Chris Gethard with his early turn in the Comedy Central sitcom "Big Lake," but in the six or seven years since then, he's become more well known for this talk show, which aired on public access and then on Fusion and now most recently has moved to TruTV, where I finally saw it for the first time. And I kind of appreciate what they're trying to do with a spontaneous, fun, silly show. But man, it just feels like it's a guy who's not that funny telling you over and over what an exciting crazy thing is about to happen, like a low budget Jimmy Fallon.

z) "Suits"
I was pretty bummed when Gina Torres left "Suits" a year ago, particularly because she left to join the cast of an inferior network show, "The Catch." But now that show is cancelled, and she's appearing sporadically on "Suits" again and there's talk of her character getting her own spinoff, which i would be cool with. This season has been pretty good, it feels like they're still getting some mileage out of changing the power dynamics between Harvey and Louis and Mike and Rachel and Donna.

Monthly Report: August 2017 Singles

Friday, August 18, 2017

1. SZA f/ Travis Scott - "Love Galore"
I have mixed feelings about the SZA album, and am generally baffled by the public's embrace of Travis Scott as a major star. But this song really came together nicely, great vocal melody and great wobbly synth sound. That little coda on the album version really feels extraneous now that I'm accustomed to the radio edit, though. Here's the 2017 singles playlist I update every month.

2. Dua Lipa - "New Rules"
Dua Lipa's album is one of my favorite of the last few months, but I didn't initially peg "New Rules" as a standout until they released really a memorable, creatively choreographed video for the song. It's hard to make a song out of itemized instructions without feeling like a retread of "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" (or "Ten Crack Commandments"), but this one puts its own twist on the format. It's already her biggest UK hit and it's starting to rise up the US charts.

3. 2 Chainz f/ Trey Songz, Jhene Aiko and Ty Dolla $ign - "It's A Vibe"
I was initially skeptical of this song, just because of the general overuse of the word "vibe" these days, and rap tracks with 3 guest singers like "Jam" by Kevin Gates tend to seem like a desperate stab at a radio song. But this really grew me, particularly because of how good the one 2 Chainz verse is ("gas in a Ziploc, now that's loud and clear"), and how utterly relaxed it feels compared to everything else on the radio, and it kind of epitomizes the whole idea and aesthetic of the Pretty Girls Like Trap Music project.

4. Zedd f/ Liam Payne - "Get Low"
Every member of One Direction has now had a US top 40 hit, but with Harry's album pointedly not playing the radio game and Zayn between albums, there's been an unlikely race between two lower profile members to have the biggest hit of the summer. I absolutely adore Niall's "Slow Hands" and detest Liam's "Strip That Down," and my mood on any given week is partly determined by which one of those songs is doing better on the charts.

5. Jon Pardi - "Heartache On The Dancefloor"
PardiNextDoor is 3 for 3 with singles off this album, one of the best people on country radio these days, manages to merge traditionalist sounds with something snappy and immediate in a way that nobody else is really doing.

6. Bruno Mars - "Versace On The Floor"
"That's What I Like" was #1 on R&B radio for 12 weeks (compared to only 3 weeks on pop radio), which kinda makes me wonder where Bruno goes from here. Is he going to stick with this sound and be more embraced by R&B audiences for the rest of his career or will he remain a big tent pop star? "Versace On The Floor" as a follow up single certainly doesn't seem destined to do very well outside R&B radio. The one time I've heard it on a pop station so far, they played the David Guetta remix, which was funny since it's not really terribly different, just kinda feels like it's mining a slightly different vein of retro cheese. But it does kind of resemble The Weeknd's "I Feel It Coming," which probably helps it.

7. Kendrick Lamar f/ Rihanna - "Loyalty"
DAMN. is a very good album, but I still think Kendrick is a pretty spotty singles artist, and that "Humble" and "DNA" are two of my least favorite songs on the record, so hearing this song on the radio suits me a lot more.

8. Migos f/ Gucci Mane "Slippery"
I didn't include "Slippery" on my recent Takeoff playlist, since I was emphasizing songs where Takeoff does the hook or first verse. But his verse on this really is great, and I love the editing of Gucci's "I don't promote violence" going straight into Takeoff's "Deadshot, AK make your head rock."

9. Bryson Tiller - "Somethin Tells Me"
Trapsoul was one of the biggest debut albums in R&B in recent memory, and it seemed like he had a lot of momentum carrying into his new album, which debuted at #1, and he's also on that giant DJ Khaled/Rihanna record. So it surprised me that True To Self's lead single totally stiffed at R&B radio. And it's kind of a shame, I panned the album, but this song really grew on me.

10. Ayo & Teo - "Rolex"
My older son is 7, so he's starting to actively have his own taste in music, and in 2017, what that means is invariably a lot of viral dance rap songs. I remember one day he asked to listen to "Hit The Quan" and I was like "I wrote a thinkpiece about this song, y'know." Lately "Rolex" has been his favorite, which I didn't like at all at first, but it's grown on me. Also, it always makes me laugh thinking about this tweet. It's a shame everybody made Meek Mill self conscious about rapping about Rolexes, it would've been fun to hear him on a remix of this.

Worst Single of the Month: The Weeknd - "Reminder"
I already quoted this awful song at length last year, but hearing it on the radio lately really brought back just how awful it is. I'm really flummoxed at how this is up for several awards, including Video of the Year, at the VMA's, it's a pretty but bland "celebrity cameos in slow motion" video for the underperforming 4th single from an album.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My big brother Zac invited me onto his podcast, as he sometimes does, this time for a cartoon-themed episode focused on the new "DuckTales" series that just premiered. You can listen on Patreon or iTunes

Movie Diary

Friday, August 11, 2017

a) The Founder
I can't think of an actor I've been happier to see stage a major comeback than Michael Keaton. And The Founder, more than any of his other recent films, felt like it perfectly distilled that weird wired Michael Keaton energy that I'd missed. I wasn't sure what to expect from a movie about the origins of McDonald's, but it felt like they got into the nuts and bolts of all the good and bad of what McDonald's represents in a pretty thought provoking way and ended up with a pretty interesting portrayal of Ray Kroc.

b) The Incredible Jessica James
This is the first real star vehicle for Jessica Williams since she left "The Daily Show," so I had really high hopes for it to be great. But it was really just kind of an anonymous, pleasantly bland indie rom com, very light on actual laughs and not that different from James C. Strouse's other films except the lead occasionally says "AF." Even more disappointingly, Comedy Central didn't pick up the pilot Williams recently made, and she's now planning a different TV project with Strouse.

c) A Woman, A Part
Maggie Siff is one of my favorite dramatic actresses in television in the last few years for her work on "Billions" and "Sons of Anarchy," so I was excited to see her as a lead in film, although amusingly she basically plays a Maggie Siff-type respected television actress. It's a pretty interesting, thoughtful film about the profession of acting, although by the end I kinda felt like it ran out of energy and kind of arrived at a pat conclusion.

d) Passengers
Much has been said about how the plot of this film is kind of messed up and creepy. To the film's credit, they actually acknowledge it and it becomes the driving point of the story. But they still kind of try to come to this tidy resolution that redeems Chris Pratt's character, honestly this idea could've been pulled off if they had put a darker psychological tone into the story and had a less happy go lucky rom com pair of leads like Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.

e) Rogue One
I liked The Force Awakens more than I expected to, given my general indifference towards the idea of new Star Wars movies, and a lot of people had said that Rogue One was even better. But I dunno, the cast was good but didn't have remotely as much chemistry, and I just don't care about the mythology enough to really care about this prequel backstory where the ending is a foregone conclusion, it really didn't hold my attention at all. 

f) Miss Sloane
I really had no idea what this movie was about based on the marketing, I think I just assumed Jessica Chastain would play more or less the same kind of character she played in Zero Dark Thirty, some badass intelligence officer. It's a pretty well done movie but kind of felt like a dry off-brand Aaron Sorkin project, perhaps partly because Allison Pill and Sam Waterston showed up in this just a couple years after "The Newsroom."

g) Bad Moms
The whole "Bad [noun]" genre of mainstream comedies is so ubiquitous at this point that you can literally predict them with a Twitter bot. That said, I wouldn't mind seeing some of the movies that bot comes up with, and this one was pretty decent. A movie with an almost entirely female cast, which is ostensibly about motherhood, being written and directed by the two guys who came up with The Hangover is maybe not the best look in the world, and a better or certainly less broad version of this movie definitely could've been made with women behind the camera. But the cast was good and it got a decent number of laughs out of my wife and me. 

h) Get A Job
This movie starring Miles Teller and Anna Kendrick quietly came out last year, which confused me until I realized that they'd made it before Whiplash or Pitch Perfect and it was basically shelved for 4 years. And really, it's just not very good, I get why they let it languish in obscurity and then slip it out on VOD even as the stars became more famous, but it's not terrible per se, just mediocre. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

The 6th installment of my Noisey column The Unstreamables is about Def Leppard's Hysteria, which was just reissued for its 30th anniversary, but is still unavailable for streaming. It's probably the last Unstreamables column, at least at Noisey, but I loved doing it, I may try to revive it elsewhere. 

Sunday, August 06, 2017

I recently compiled cover songs recorded by Ted Leo for the playlist magazine The Dowsers (kind of an updated Spotify version of an old Narrowcast post). Ted himself even tweeted it! I also made a playlist in defense of Takeoff, my favorite member of Migos, and a playlist tracing Michael McDonald's evolution from yacht rock camp to respectability. And I wrote a post analyzing a recent set of Spotify playlists made by the members of Metallica. 

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Today is Adam Yauch's 53rd birthday, and I worked on a piece for Rolling Stone with Andy B5eta and Dan Hyman listing some of MCA's most notable moments in the Beastie Boys catalog. 

Monthly Report: July 2017 Albums

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

1. Sevyn Streeter - Girl Disrupted
A Sevyn Streeter album probably should've come out 4 years ago, when she had two back-to-back radio hits. Instead, Chris Brown's label CBE Entertainment was content to let her release EPs and more singles featuring Chris Brown and Chris Brown songs written by Sevyn. So it's bittersweet that Streeter finally got a major label album out, without CBE and without any Brown features, well after the momentum she had a few years ago has dissipated. But it's really pretty fantastic and consistently provides good, varied backdrops for her sultry voice and vulnerable songwriting. Here's the 2017 albums playlist that I keep adding records to as I listen to them.

2. Meek Mill - Wins & Losses
There's really never been a Meek Mill project that I've disliked or been disappointed by, but most of them are a few iffy choices away from fulfilling his potential. And Dreams & Nightmares and Dreams Worth More Than Money, for all their respective strengths and enduring songs, each wound up with a slightly wrongheaded idea of what a major label Meek Mill album should be. So Wins & Losses is refreshing because it feels like the first time he's really gotten that recipe right. Where Dreams & Nightmares had some awkward flirtation with AutoTune, Meek finally found a way to rap melodically that suits him and doesn't sound like an impression of anyone else on Meekend Music II's "Save Me" that carries over to "1942 Flows" and "Fall Thru" on Wins & Losses; it works out a lot better than, say, French Montana's unlistenable embrace of sing rapping on Jungle Rules. But really the whole album is just jam packed with great tracks like "Glow Up" and "We Ball" and "Fuck That Check Up" and "Young Black America" that, taken together, show his range more than any previous release and kind of put to rest the idea that he's a one-dimensional street rap shouter.

3. Nine Inch Nails - Add Violence EP
I enjoyed the Not The Actual Events EP when it was released last December, but I then promptly pretty much forgot it existed until another EP was announced six months later as part of a trilogy of Nine Inch Nails EPs. Broken notwithstanding, I think of NIN as being well suited to big immersive albums, so I was a little skeptical about the switch to the EP format, but now I'm really on board with it and looking forward to the next installment. "Less Than" is the most instantly hooky thing they've released since "The Hand That Feeds." And the 11-minute closing track, "The Background World," is the longest NIN song to date and has this groove with an irregular loop point that plays over and over and gradually gets more distorted. So this really kind has a nice range for such a short record. And Reznor has always been an inspiration to me just in how he merges synth pop and dance music with heavy rock and he just seems to get more inventive with it with time.

4. Us And Us Only - Full Flower
Us And Us Only's drummer Sean Mercer is a producer/engineer at Mobtown Studios in Baltimore, a place that I've been hanging out and recording at for nearly a decade. So I've known him a little and have heard Us And Us Only's music from the beginning, and we included one of their tracks on Mobtown's compilation that I helped assemble in 2013, and I shared the stage with them for the release party and was really impressed by their set. So it's been really exciting to see Us And Us Only's profile rise with each EP for the last few years and then a lot of good press come in for Full Flower, their first album, but it's also bittersweet because the place where the album was made and which has been so important to me, Mobtown, is closing down in a couple months. But I really dig this record, even if I almost wish they saved some of the songs on the Bored Crusader EP for it.

5. Vinny Vegas - Clear The Walls
Vinny Vegas is another Baltimore band who I have a personal connection to -- they appeared on the same 2013 compilation I worked on, and frontman Scott Siskind sang two songs on my album -- so, as always, I welcome you to take my praise for my friends and associates with a grain of salt. Vinny Vegas's 2nd full-length is really beautifully recorded, though, I'm such a fan of Scott's voice and he really goes for some big soaring, dramatic melodies on here.

6. Aminé - Good For You
Aminé appeared on XXL's 'Freshmen' cover a few weeks ago, and his single "Caroline" is the 2nd biggest hit by any of the 10 rappers on that cover. But out of all those artists, he kinda feels like the one who is most synonymous with one particular song, who doesn't have much of a following or public image beyond it, the mostly likely to be eventually tagged as a 'one hit wonder' even if half of them are likely to wound up with pitifully short careers. And I think that's kind of a shame, because his music, as much as it feels of a piece with a certain strain of self-impressed quirky post-regional rappers found on the XXL cover and elsewhere, has its own unique texture and sensibility that nobody else is doing. He gets in some pretty clever lines here and there and I really love the squirrelly funky sound of "Yellow" and "STFU" and the aesthetic triangulated by him having guests like Nelly, Offset, and Charlie Wilson.

7. HAIM - Something To Tell You
I have a lot of mixed feelings about how HAIM presents their dad rock influences for a contemporary audience that by and large is kind of snobby about the old stuff that sounds like this. But I guess they're growing me a little, this is a pretty good sounding record. "Little Of Your Love" feels like the standout to me on this one.

8. Hunit Stackz - The Black Saiyan Saga
Baltimore's Hunit Stackz is hardly the first rapper to openly reference anime in his lyrics. But he took it a little further with a concept album that has a companion manga comic, and it's really a pretty fun, inventive record.

9. The Isley Brothers & Santana - Power Of Peace
Two legendary bands that have each been together for over half a century coming together for the first time to make a whole album is a pretty exciting prospect, and I had high hopes that this would be a guitar hero free for all between Ernie Isley and Carlos Santana. In practice, though, the album is a bit of a letdown; it sounds like someone just put a mic in the back of a cavernous rehearsal stage and the bands ran through a bunch of covers. But Ronald Isley's voice sounds great and it's fun to hear these guys cut loose like this after both acts have spent the last couple decades making fairly restrained contemporary pop records.

10. Coldplay - Kaleidoscope EP
It's kind of weird how this EP had a longer, more sustained advance promotion, and a bigger hit single, than Coldplay's last album, especially since it's pretty flimsy little record with five tracks, including a totally inessential live version of the aforementioned hit single. But "All I Can Think About Is You" is easily the best Coldplay song in ages, and the Brian Eno collaboration "A L I E N S" is pretty good too. Too bad about that Big Sean verse.

The Worst Album of the Month: NAV and Metro Boomin - Perfect Timing
Much has already been said about this album's mismatch between one of Atlanta's most successful producers of the moment and an awkward Canadian Punjabi rapper who sounds like he's reciting every pop cap cliche in a weird chipper monotone (my favorite review said it "sounds like Siri made a rap album").  I almost hate to pile on, because honestly, it'd be cool if a brown guy with his kind of connections actually deservingly became a big charismatic rap star, but this guy just seems so totally bland and out of his element. At least he stopped staying the N-word after his last project, though.