Friday, May 26, 2006
Ruth Ruth - "Jerome" (mp3)

Ruth Ruth - "Julia, You Have No Heartbeat" (mp3)

My brother Zac and I used to subscribe to Alternative Press back in the mid-90's, before it went all nu-metal/emo and was a decent alt/indie rag that I thought was way better than Spin (and were way ahead of the post-Blender trend of cramming dozens of album reviews into every issue, but didn't really skimp on the wordcount in order to do so). Most of the subscription issues came with label samplers and singles attached, usually on cassette, because people still owned tape decks back then. Most of them were worthless, of course, but one that was so good that I managed to hold onto it for 10 years was the 2-song sampler for Ruth Ruth's The Little Death EP.

In '95, Ruth Ruth were one of a gazillion vaguely pop-punk bands that came out post-Green Day and had a minor alt-radio hit, in their case "Uninvited," which my brother liked and I kinda hated. After one album on American Recordings, Laughing Gallery, they jumped to Epitaph a year later for one EP, before jumping to RCA a couple years after that for their 2nd album. The Little Death, and its AP cassingle sampler, were wrapped in artwork made to look like the Catcher In The Rye paperback, and the sampler's promo hype paid a lot of lip service to influences that I was just beginning to get into in 1996, so it makes sense that those songs grew on me with time. After rocking "Jerome" and "Julia, You Have No Heartbeat" in my car deck for years and years, I finally checked out the rest of the EP recently, as well as Laughing Gallery, which have some good tunes but nothing I love as much as these two songs.

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fun with out-of-context quotes

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Bono on Leonard Cohen:

"He's a sexy man who made sexy music...Any question that I've wanted to ask, I've found in his mouth first."

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Get In On It

Monday, May 22, 2006
The above phrase is reportedly the new city slogan that Baltimore paid a half million to create and will unveil this week, so, uh, get used to looking at it. Considering the city's current housing boom and rising cultural currency (thanks to things like Bmore club music and The Wire), it's kind of an appropriate choice, but still, you really can't help but shake your head. John Waters, ever the resident voice of reason, translates: "What they're saying is, come celebrate real estate porn." But hey, at least it's too vague to be as laughable as previous park bench eyesores such as "The Greatest City In America" (which, as much as I love Baltimore, is hyperbolic to say the least) and "The City That Reads." The BELIEVE movement is still going strong, but I guess that's more of a campaign than a slogan. But let us not forget that, as C Love recently pointed out, "Charm City" was similarly coined by an advertising firm in the '70s, and that one has stuck around resiliently over the years, even if these days you're just as likely to hear the less flattering variation, "Harm City" (or for that matter, "Bodymore, Murdaland," "Bmore Careful," etc.). One interesting thing about that Sun article is that someone actually tries to blame David Simon's TV shows for Baltimore's bad image, as if a show as deeply steeped in real life and true stories as Homicide or The Wire is more responsible for that perception than, well, reality, on some real chicken/egg shit. But until the murder rate drops, I think city hall's gonna have to live with the fact that no upbeat catchphrase they come up with is gonna be as pervasive a t-shirt slogan as "Stop Snitchin'."


In My Stereo

Saturday, May 20, 2006
Cex - Actual Fucking
various artists - Unruly Club Classics, Vol. III
DNA - True Crime: Harm City, Volume 5
The Alchemist - The Chemistry Files
The Killers - Hot Fuss
The Cars - Complete Greatest Hits
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - Fit To Be Tied: Great Hits by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
The Who - The Ultimate Collection
They Might Be Giants - A User's Guide To They Might be Giants
Ja Rule - Exodus

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Friday, May 19, 2006
Randy Newman - "Baltimore" (mp3)

Nina Simone - "Baltimore" (mp3)

Mullyman - "Oh Baltimore" (mp3)

In 1977, Randy Newman released "Baltimore" on Little Criminals, incidentally the same album that featured "Short People," which it's long been rumored was banned from being played on Maryland radio stations (apparently legislation was introduced but not passed). I have no idea if Newman's ever been to Baltimore besides maybe as a tourstop, but the lyrics are about as superficial and cliched a description of a city as "I Love L.A." Still, it's kind of a nice sad song that does ring true in some ways, even if the "town by the sea" line is kind of wrong (and Journey didn't do their "city by the bay" song until a year later, so Randy has no excuse for calling the Chesapeake Bay "the sea").

In '78, Nina Simone covered the song as the title track to her album Baltimore, which, by the account of the reissue's liner notes, she didn't have much say in the song selection or arrangements of, and didn't particularly like. The album is full of traditionals and contemporary covers that range from the great (Aretha's "That's All I Want From You") to the incredibly awkward (Hall & Oates's "Rich Girl"), but her recording of "Baltimore" is really good, sounding sadder and more sincere than the original despite the slight reggae bounce.

I came upon the song in a backwards way, in 2004, when I heard Baltimore rapper Mullyman sample Simone's version for "Oh Baltimore." It was the first track I ever heard by Mully, before he collaborated with The Clipse and Freeway and his profile started to skyrocket, and "Oh Baltimore" is still probably my favorite song by him. Lyrically it says more about the town more bluntly than just a bunch of vague "hard times in the city" shit. And the fact that I own at least 6 different albums and mixtapes with that song on it is proof enough that "Oh Baltimore" is a modern classic of Bmore hip hop.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006
The Raconteurs album is pretty enjoyable, because of and not in spite of the unambitious, tossed off, just-dudes-jamming vibe of the whole affair that some critics have been giving it demerits for. It's also a pretty good Brendan Benson record, maybe better than the proper solo album he put out last year (jury's still out, though). At least, I think of it that way because Jack White isn't that much more evident as a songwriting presence on it than Jason Falkner was on BB's early stuff, and Benson seems to benefit from a collaborator. I've always been barely tolerant of White's indie screech vocals and suffocating aesthetic, but they work really well as a counterpoint to a comparably mellower voice and persona. It kind of astounds me that anyone would pick the plodding, underwhelming "Steady As She Goes" as the best song (which for me would be "Intimate Secretary," but I'm willing to entertain other options as I listen to it some more), but I guess it kinda makes sense as a single. There are mp3's of their recent performance on BBC radio here, and almost every song they play is a dramatically different arrangement from the ones on the album, which is encouraging for the band's future. And I guess it makes sense, since they supposedly recorded the album 2 years ago, that they'd want to change them up a bit now that they're touring.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The two best laughs I've gotten out of the internet lately: this and this

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Monday, May 15, 2006

The three above women play the following roles:

- a doctor on Prison Break (Mondays on FOX)
- a doctor on House (Tuesdays on FOX)
- a doctor on Bones (Wednesdays on FOX).

Is anyone else detecting a pattern here? Can you tell which is which? Because I looked up the photos myself and I still just can only just barely tell the difference. What is FOX trying to tell us?


Saturday, May 13, 2006
TV Theme Song Mix

1. The Who - "Who Are You" (C.S.I.)
2. The Blind Boys Of Alabama - "Way Down In The Hole" (The Wire, season 1)
3. The Dandy Warhols - "We Used To Be Friends" (Veronica Mars)
4. The Rembrandts - "I'll Be There For You" (Friends)
5. They Might Be Giants - "Boss Of Me" (Malcolm In The Middle)
6. Massive Attack - "Teardrop" (House, M.D.)
7. Mark Snow - "Materia Primoris" (X-Files)
8. Polaris - "Hey Sandy" (The Adventures Of Pete & Pete)
9. The Minutemen - "Corona" (Jackass)
10. The Who - "Baba O'Riley" (C.S.I.: NY)
11. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts - "Bad Reputation" (Freaks And Geeks)
12. Phantom Planet - "California" (The O.C.)
13. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - "The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air" (The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air)
14. The Vogues - "Five O'Clock World" (The Drew Carey Show)
15. Frank Sinatra - "Love & Marriage" (Married... With Children)
16. Jane's Addiction - "Superhero" (Entourage)
17. A3 - "Woke Up This Morning" (The Sopranos)
18. Tom Waits - "Way Down In The Hole" (The Wire, season 2)
19. The Who - "Won't Get Fooled Again" (C.S.I.: Miami)

A while back, J.G. was saying something ot me about about all of the TV show themes she likes, and ended up commissioning me to track down some of her favorites, and the idea kind of blossomed from there, until I ended up with a whole CD of songs, some of which aren't even shows she watches (for the most part, I like every track's theme and/or the show itself, except I'm a Sopranos hater and don't care for the song either, but got carried away with the block of HBO shows). I pretty much stuck to the theme of songs that pre-existing bands had written before being appropriated for the show, although the X-Files one and maybe a couple others don't quite count. This is the final version, the Jackass and Drew Carey themes were added after the version I burned for J.G. I think the Fresh Prince theme is, along with "Baby Got Back," the rap song that every white kid of my generation can recite word for word, but I'm still working on memorizing that verse from the full version where he's on the plane.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

On Tuesday, I opened up the Baltimore Sun to an article about Michael "Screaming Mike" Sibert, who I had no idea had passed away last month, after roughly a decade of wandering around Fells Point talking to himself and screaming nonsense and obscenities to whoever was around. Baltimore, particularly FP, is full of homeless guys, many of them crazy, but everybody knew Mike. He was kind of a neighborhood institution, and while he wasn't entirely harmless (he'd been seen stealing people's mail and, on one occasion, breaking a window), he was around for so long that people got kind of used to him, to the point that he was just this oddity that only tourists were really scared of but a local folks knew and kinda loved. A lot of residents and business owners in the neighborhood did their part to take care of Mike now and then, including my dad, who has an annual ritual of distributing Christmas care packages to the homeless. Dad hadn't even heard when I told him the news yesterday. He has a ton of Mike stories, and apparently knows more about him than some of the people quoted in the article, which doesn't even mention that Mike was a Nam vet. My current apartment is a few blocks further North than Mike ever seemed to venture, so I hadn't seen him around in a few months even before he died. But that crazy motherfucker will be missed. One love, boomer.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Lake Trout - "III" (mp3)
This week in the City Paper's local music section, I reviewed Lake Trout's There Are No Words, the instrumental disc that's being sold as part of the U.K. release of last year's Not Them, You, and as its own release on the internet. I recently heard from a mutual friend that someone who wrote for Pitchfork around the same time I did, when asked, characterized me as a jam band freak because of a Lake Trout review I wrote back in the day, which, ouch. I guess that's still the stigma with them, but they really might be my favorite rock band to ever come out of Baltimore, as unhip as that may be.

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TV Diary

Tuesday, May 09, 2006
1. The New Adventures of Old Christine
I had pretty low expectations for this, considering the undistinguished history of new shows starring Seinfeld alumni, especially since CBS tossed it out as a mid-season replacement, not even really in the middle season but in fucking March, which seems like a serious vote of no confidence. But this is actually pretty promising! Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's character has a lot of her usual mannerisms but isn't overly Elaine-esque, and the territory of divorce humor they're charting isn't too played out. And I like that the New Christine is kind of a normal 30something, and not an exaggerated trophy wife type, it makes the premise a little more believable. Andy Richter had a great cameo in a couple episodes, although a few episodes in when Wanda Sykes suddenly showed up as her best friend, it seemed like it was just to appease network notes demanding a sassy black friend. The ex-husband is played by Clark Gregg, who I've always liked despite him usually playing smarmy corporate types in movies like Hoot and In Good Company. He was also the guy in the last 2 episodes of Sports NIght who bought the network, and I always kinda wished I could see a 3rd season with him in the cast. Anyway, I kinda hope Old Christine makes it to the fall schedule, could turn out well. And at the moment, CBS Monday night is actually maybe the most solid 2-hour block of network comedy in a long time, maybe since NBC Thursdays' golden era. How I Met Your Mother is easily my favorite sitcom on TV right now, and King Of Queens and 2 And A Half Men are better than they're given credit for.

2. Yo Momma
I've had a couple conversations with people lately about how appallingly bad this show is even by the standards of MTV's usual attempts at comedies and game shows. I mean, trying to turn "yo momma" jokes into some kind of gritty 8 Mile-style competition with racially diverse crowds cheering the participants on is sketchy enough as a premise, but even the execution is pretty lacklaster, especially because Wilmer Valderrama is shockingly ineffectual host. As much as I loathe Punk'd and the way Ashton Kutcher hosts it, he at least has the obnoxious energy that MTV loves, while Valderrama has that mumbly, deer-in-the-headlights persona that you usually only get for long stretches of time on television when SNL decides to let a professional athlete host an episode. He makes it hard to believe that this guy is a professional actor who's usually pretty funny when in character, let alone the kind of pimp who's been romantically linked with every other starlet in Hollywood.

3. The Showbiz Show With David Spade
I thought I was sick and tired of basic cable shows with nonstop quipping about pop culture news, but I think I'm just sick and tired of Best Week Ever, because shows like this and The Soup are way better just for having an actual writing staff and a host instead of a dozen C-list comics ad libbing badly. Plus Spade kind of started that whole smartassing-about-celebrities school of humor with the Hollywood Minute, so he might as well get his own show in the format. My favorite bit is probably "couch trip," where they show a celeb repeating themselves in different interviews, so far the best one was a montage of Robin Williams making the same Brokeback Mountain jokes over and over, which was just frightening. The most fascinating thing about the show lately, though, is the fact that Spade himself has been implicated in the whole Heather Locklear/Richie Sambora/Denise Richards/Charlie Sheen scandal, and that they've actually done some funny bits about it. Also, it was pretty funny when they had Kid Rock parody his own sex tape.

4. South Park
Those episodes about Family Guy may have ruined FG for me forever. Or at least, I won't be able to watch it for a while without saying "You think that's bad!? What abou the time I was David Hasselhoff's car!?", etc. I love how explicit and ballsy it was compared to all of The Simpsons' half-assed little jabs.

5. Mad About You
Should I be embarrassed that I'm kind of nostalgic for this show? I go through phases where I'll watch certain syndicated old shows a lot for a month or two until I get sick of it again, and lately I've been catching this on Nick At Nite pretty often. It was definitely kind of an inconsistent show, and there are entire episodes where everyone seems to act out of character, and it's weird seeing the first season where there was a guy named Selby instead of cousin Ira, but when it was good, it was a pretty funny show. Also, Mad About You Aliens is classic.

6. VSpot Top 20 Countdown
VH1's old video countdown always had pretty boring hosts, and you could never really trust their rankings since it was one of those vague 'we base the lists on a variety of factors' deals which basically means the network gets to make up the list. So it's cool that they revamped it to be based entirely on viewer votes, and got Matt Pinfield to host. Even if his music trivia encyclopedia schtick is no longer as impressive as it was when I was a 13-year-old staying up late every Sunday to watch 120 Minutes, I still kind of like seeing him on TV.

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Monday, May 08, 2006
There's some gratifying poetic justice to the fact that, as of last week's Billboard charts, Chamillionaire's album finally outsold Paul Wall's. At 730,751 to 730,179, that's a slim margin of less than 600 copies, but considering that Cham is at #24 and climbing, and Paul is exactly a hundred spots lower at #124, that margin is undoubtedly going to get a lot wider. I'm no big fan of either, and haven't even heard the albums -- in fact, I take some perverse pride in the fact that I managed to interview Cham (via e-mail) and write a magazine article on him recently without listening to more than a mixtape streamed online (plus all the scattered old shit I checked out when he first started getting mentioned a lot a few years ago). I think he's a little overrated, and amateurishly crams syllables way too often for someone who's supposed to be a hugely talented rapper, but he's still better than Paul, maybe my least favorite person in mainstream hip hop right now, doing his stupid dances and running every H-town cliche into the ground and looking more like a chubby, grinning idiot every time I see him. And when The People's Champ debuted at #1 last fall (which I'm pretty sure was a first for a Houston MC, which seems in itself kind of insane) and The Sound Of Revenge debuted at #10, it seemed like a victory of the corny once-sidekick over the more talented MC, nevermind all the racial issues that could be brought up.

But then Paul released the horrible "Girl" as a single, and Cham went with the kind of ballsy choice of "Ridin'," which paid off because there's an untapped market for songs about hating cops in the club-single-or-no-single environment of Southern hip hop. I mean, "Ridin'" is sitting at #4 on the Hot 100 right now, no doubt buoyed by Billboard's recent decision to take into account iTunes purchases, which I could go on and on about the good and bad implications of. But the bottom line is that iTunes affecting Billboard boosts songs that actual people like more than radio programmers, and democratizes the charts a little more. And there are plenty of reasons to have reservations about "Ridin'," but I think it is a pretty great single, one that sounds better every time I hear it. And for all the hype about Houston blowing up last year, only Mike Jones sold a million (which makes, what, 3 platinum solo rappers from the city ever, along with Lil Flip and Scarface (plus Geto Boys went platinum once, but UGK only ever went gold, right?)), so it'd be kind of cool if Chamillionaire got to join that club after being written off by a lot of his own fans. Especially since he seems like he has a much better shot of becoming a career artist than any of the current Swishahouse guys that people seemed to get sick of by the time they dropped their 3rd single.

Cham going platinum after over 6 months in stores and hitting the top 10 with his 2nd single after missing the top 40 with that Scott Storch bullshit would also kind of make it a sleeper hit. And there aren't many of those these days in the SoundScan era, especially in hip hop, where everything is focused on the first week, and 80% of the promotional push is done before the release date, and if it doesn't sell well right away the label pulls out on the last 20%. I was thinking about it a while back, and decided that arguably the last real sleeper hit in mainstream hip hop was Trap Muzik, a record that took over a year to sell a million and peaked with the 3rd and 4th singles, and that might be the most influential rap album of the past 3 years, if every song and album with "trap" in the title is any indication. I'm sure there's still underground releases that find their audiences slowly, but in the accelerated mixtape market where DJs drop something new every week, even that's probably rarer and rarer.


In My Stereo

Saturday, May 06, 2006
Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam
Prince - Now's The Time - Paisley Park, MN 2/21/87
Fall Out Boy - From Under The Cork Tree
Backland - Back In Business
UnReal - Street Heat
The Plague - Hitzville Gotham City presents HitVillainz Tha Mixtape
Architects Recording Studio presents Street Radio
M.O.L. - Top Of Da Hill Records presents...Money On Da Low
Bosslady presents Baltimore State Of Grind
Tyree Colion - Tyree Colion presents Hustle Hard Blvd.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006
Jon Auer - "Sundown" (mp3)
I might've been a little rough on Songs from the Year of Our Demise, which came out this week, in my Stylus review, considering how big a fan of the guy I am. I just wish the album had more songs as good as this one.

Note: In light of the end of Stylus in 2007, I decided to archive the text of all my reviews for the site on this blog for posterity, since I don't what the future holds for the Stylus domain, and have included both the letter grade ratting that accompanied the original review, and an adjusted rating that I would give the record now in retrospect.

Jon Auer
Songs from the Year of Our Demise
Pattern 25
Stylus rating: B-
Adjusted rating by reviewer: B

Songs from the Year of Our Demise is a document of a tumultuous period in Jon Auer's life that included a divorce and the beginning of another marriage. However, it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly what year the title refers to, considering how long it’s been in the works. The title has been floating around since 1999, shortly after Auer's group The Posies broke up and he and co-founder Ken Stringfellow embarked on solo careers. In the time that it's taken Auer to finish his first solo album, Stringfellow released three, and the Posies reunited and recorded a new record, last year's Every Kind of Light. Also during that period, Auer contributed to Big Star's In Space and, oddly enough, William Shatner's Has Been. So Songs from the Year of Our Demise has a lot riding on it, if only to justify its lengthy gestation period and repeated delays.

Auer has always seemed blessed with natural, almost effortless gifts as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist. His voice is so clean and angelic that it sometimes sounds feminine, and as the more instrumentally skilled half of the Posies' nucleus, he handled most of the guitar solos, and even played drums on the band's early material. So after several albums as only 50% of a creative team, the chance for him to step out on his own seems like the perfect opportunity to thrive. But while Demise is a deeply personal work that shows the fruits of several years of recording, it's far from Auer's greatest achievement.

Now in his late 30's, Auer's voice is still in top form, but has taken on a deeper, slightly gravelly tone, which suits the depressive tone of the material. His gift for writing big power-pop hooks is similarly subdued, as he sticks to slower tempos and quieter arrangements. In short, it's his singer-songwriter record.

But without the hooks, energy, or jaw-dropping guitar solos, an air of blandness hangs over Demise that only a handful of songs cut through. And for better or worse, most of those songs are buried at the end of the disc. "Sundown" practically erupts with a thudding bassline, poignant melody, and naggingly catchy "sha la la la" chorus. And "Wicked World" is one of only a couple songs where Auer strips the arrangement down to just his voice and an acoustic guitar to showcase a hauntingly gorgeous melody. Meanwhile, most tracks, like the dramatic opener "Six Feet Under," contribute to the overall mood of the album, but hardly stand up as songs by themselves.

Auer wrote and discarded many songs in the process of making Demise, releasing several EPs along the way. Ironically, few songs on the album have hooks as memorable as "When the Lights Go Up" or "Beautiful" from 2002's Private Sides. Luckily, the best song from 2000's The Perfect Size, "You Used to Drive Me Around," is reprised in re-recorded form on Demise. Now fleshed out to an epic seven minutes, with ornate touches like David Einmo's chorus mellotron, and live drums replacing the early version's plodding drum machine, "You Used to Drive Me Around" becomes the album's hardest rocking song, though it never rises above a brooding mid-tempo.

Songs from the Year of Our Demise initially seems underwhelming, but like the Posies' best work, its songs reveal themselves over time. Still, it's an album that has far more potential for emotional resonance than musical discovery. The arrangements contain few surprises, and the handful of simple acoustic performances quietly outshine the more elaborate productions. There's no doubt that Auer put a lot of feeling into Demise, but if he takes this long to formulate his next album, hopefully he'll spend more time honing his musical ingenuity, and throw a few of his fantastic guitar solos in as well.

Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2006-05-04

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Got a few things in the City Paper this week: a profile of the Maryland MC Hots, with an accompanying mp3-packed post on Gov't Names, and a couple more reviews of cheesy family flicks. I think J.G. is gonna be mad at me for dissing Hoot, but my review got edited way down and I think some of the meaner stuff (and the parts I was proud of) got cut out, but I'm a little happier with how the R.V. one came out (credit goes to Ethan for the first line of that one).

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