Narrowcast's favorite singles of 2006, part 2 of 2

Friday, December 29, 2006

1. T.I. - "What You Know"

Hip hop had no shortage of Unstoppable Street Anthems this year, but most of them ("Hustlin'," "We Fly High," "One Blood," etc.) weren't actually any good. "What You Know" is also the rare rap hit that's actually better as a radio edit, T.I.'s "OH!" shouts giving the chorus a lot more energy than calmly stated references to loaded fo-fo's had otherwise. I still kinda think "You Don't Know Me" deserves more to be Toomp's signature beat, but it's pretty hard to deny this song.

2. DJ Khaled f/ Paul Wall, Lil Wayne, Fat Joe, Rick Ross and Pitbull - "Holla At Me Baby"

Nowadays when you only see MCs from different crews get together on a track together for the perfunctory all-star remix, it's really refreshing to get a posse cut that actually lives up to its lineup and then some.

3. Ray Cash f/ Scarface - "Bumpin' My Music"

Maybe the reason this wasn't the Bay Area's year like it was supposed to be is Rick Rock gave his best beat to a Midwest cat.

4. All-American Rejects - "Move Along"

Not really the guys I expected to write a transcendant rock anthem, but I'll take it.

5. Justin Timberlake f/ T.I. - "My Love"

T.I. should teach a course for other rappers on how to do a guest spot on an R&B song without embarrassing yourself.

6. Beyonce - "Irreplaceable"

From a production standpoint, this is practically a Natalie Imbruglia song. She really sells it, though.

7. Evanescence - "Call Me When You're Sober"

Evanescence are a perfect example of a band whose singles I generally like but would probably never be able to sit through a whole album by, and this supplated "Going Under" as my favorite single so far.

8. Omarion - "Entourage"

Does his friend really say "you been comin' for an hour" at the beginning of the video?

9. Chamillionaire f/ Krayzie Bone - "Ridin'"

On principle I'm pleased that a song like this became such a huge hit, but really I like it for the sonorous hook and the amazing Krayzie Bone verse, just like probably most people.

10. "Weird Al" Yankovic - "White And Nerdy"

Almost makes up for years of mediocre rap parodies like "Amish Paradise."

11. Chris Brown - "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)"

Chris Brown's voice is so unpleasantly shrill that it makes sense that he gets marketed with the old "but dancing is his real talent" line, even if his dancing is spastically devoid of grace too. But sometimes the kid gets a song that even he can't ruin.

12. Ciara - "Promise"

I really didn't expect Ciara to make such an amazing ballad after "And I" was by far the weakest single from her first album (and I say that as someone who pretty much hated "Oh" and "Goodies"). More shocking, though, is that I kind of like and am rooting for Ciara now. What's next, me liking more than one Chris Brown song?

13. Kelly Clarkson - "Walk Away"

Kelly's outfit in this video in this video is ridiculous but she still looks pretty hot, oh my god when she rolls her hips at the beginning of the 2nd verse.

14. Muse - "Knights of Cydonia"

I appreciate the fact that, even if Muse's singer refuses to try not sounding exactly like Thom Yorke, they've at least gone to the trouble of doing some kind of big silly surf rock epic that Radiohead would never ever attempt. Also the whole sci fi/cowboy theme of the video reminds me of Brisco County Jr.

15. Keyshia Cole - "Love"

For a while I kinda hated on Keyshia and didn't think much of this song, but it really is beautiful.

16. E-40 f/ Keak Da Sneak - "Tell Me When To Go"

Lil Jon's failed attempt to market hyphy as "the new crunk" will go down as one of the big PR disasters of 2006, but the song he tried to do it with was still pretty good.

17. Fergie - "London Bridge"

I'm glad that I broke down and started enjoying "My Humps," but I didn't really expect her to top it.

18. Cassie - "Me & U"

The real revelation of the unreleased original video for this song wasn't really "OMG SEE IT'S ABOUT ORAL SEX" but that the song really loses all its appeal with a more traditional R&B beat. It's all the empty space that really makes the track.

19. Ne-Yo - "So Sick"

I was amazed how many people complained of hearing this song on the radio too much with no apparent irony or self-consciousness about the song's self-reflexive theme of hearing songs on the radio too much.

20. The Fray - "Over My Head (Cable Car)"

I feel bad for the guy from The Fray, who pretty much looks like he's 12 years old as it is, and then when his band has a big hit song, they cast his 12-year-old brother to lip sync in the video.

21. Rich Boy f/ Polow Da Don - "Throw Some D's"

I'm not sure what I expected Rich Boy to look like based on his voice, but it wasn't Canibus.

22. Foo Fighters - "No Way Back"

I was kinda down on that Foo Fighters double album but the rock disc has held up really well. The dynamics in the last 16 seconds of the song alone are fucking awesome. In the process of writing this blurb the song jumped from the 3rd to the 2nd most played song on my iTunes, seriously.

23. Birdman and Lil Wayne - "Stuntin' Like My Daddy"

Even though this song came out at the exact time that Baby and Wayne became the primary targets of the hip hop nation's collective gay panic, it still charted higher than any Lil Wayne single other than "Go DJ" (not counting cameos on R&B songs). That's just how fucking good this song is.

24. Killers - "When You Were Young"

I realized recently that my relationship with almost every Killers single to date has been me being initially repulsed and then letting it grow on me (except for "Somebody Told Me," I still hate that one). The cycle is still in its early stages for me with "Bones" but I gave into this one a while ago.

25. Pussycat Dolls f/ Snoop Dogg - "Buttons"

This is the 4th Polow Da Don production in just the top 25 of this list, if you're keeping count. There'd probably be 5 if the Polow track Field Mob released as a single was "At The Park" instead of "Baby Bend Over."

26. Robin Thicke - "Lost Without You"

"Shooter" and "Wanna Love U Girl" are easily two of my least favorite singles of the past year, and it makes me feel like there's a little justice in the world that this quiet, subtle little bossa nova jam is getting way more radio play than his songs with Lil Wayne and Pharrell. I think "get Norwegian wood with me" might be the worst euphemism I've ever heard, though.

27. B.G. f/ Mannie Fresh - "Move Around"

Doesn't really sound like anything they did together when they were on Cash Money, but still a great reunion track. WAHHHHHHHHHHHH.

28. Fall Out Boy - "A Little Less 16 Candles, A Little More 'Touch Me'"

Watching Fall Out Boy's first 3 videos is like a visual representation of the rapid growth of Pete Wentz's ego. If they shot the "Sugar We're Going Down" video after this, he would have cast himself as the kid with antlers and there would've been 3 pages of dialogues and a full-on makeout scene.

29. Young Dro - "Rubberband Banks"

Best rap video for a song I like of the year (best video for a song I don't like would be Young Jeezy's "I Luv It").

30. Jessica Simpson - "Public Affair"

Usually being a famous pop singer means having a good run of singles, but this might be the first decent single Jessica Simpson has ever released. And after butchering songs by everyone from John Mellencamp to Berlin and Robbie Williams and Nancy Sinatra, a blatant Madonna rip might still be one of her more original moves.

31. Jamie Foxx f/ Ludacris - "Unpredictable"

It's basically impossible for me to dislike any song that samples "Wildflower," especially the New Birth version.

32. Ne-Yo - "When You're Mad"

The best part about this song is watching a girl hear it for the first time, as she listens to the lyrics and slowly begins to blush.

33. Twista f/ Pitbull - "Hit The Floor"

Twista really dropped the ball on trying to follow up his platinum breakthrough, but you can't blame this song.

34. Pink - "Who Knew"

This is up there with Bow Wow f/ Jagged Edge's "My Baby" as one of the few popular songs that unexpectedly gets me seriously wistful and misty-eyed for reasons I can't quite place.

35. Beyonce - "Ring The Alarm"

I wish Beyonce would be herself on record more often and embrace her inner psycho hose beast.

36. Pussycat Dolls f/ - "Beep" eased away from being one of the most hated men in rap this year but placing some grimy beats on albums by A-list MCs, but honestly I like him better when he embraces his gift for goofy pop bullshit.

37. Remy Ma - "Conceited"

It's a shame Scott Storch couldn't take this song to #1 like he did the first 2 times he sold this beat.

38. India Arie f/ Akon - "I Am Not My Hair"

If some kind of trivial psychic had told me a year ago that India Arie would release a dippy song about how hair is symbolic of self-identity and racial pride, I would've believed them with no coaxing at all. If they'd told me that I'd love it, though, I'd be pretty skeptical.

39. OK Go - "Here It Goes Again"

I remember seeing these guys open for They Might Be Giants years ago, before they had a deal, maybe before Pitchfork panned their first EP, and they were clearly kind of slick careerist alt-rockers. But I don't really have as much of a problem with that as, say, Brent DiCriscenzo, and I appreciate that they found a goofy gimmick that no other careerist alt-rockers thought of. The video wouldn't have been so popular if the song wasn't actually pretty catchy, though.

40. Cassie - "Long Way 2 Go"

Totally adorable and better than any song where Cassie attempts an ill-advised rap flow has any right to be.

42. Ciara f/ Chamillionaire - "Get Up"

Jazze Pha really doesn't get enough credit for continually biting "Planet Rock" in a context that in no way resembles "Planet Rock," which has become one of my favorite sounds in R&B.

43. Lil Wayne - "Hustler Musik"

This was always my favorite song on Tha Carter II, well before I had any idea it'd be a single, and while it wasn't a real big hit, I was pretty happy to hear it on the radio now and again.

44. New Found Glory - "It's Not Your Fault"

I have no problem with wussy emo bands when they start to resemble late period Superchunk.

45. Diddy f/ Nicole Scherzinger - "Come To Me"

I'm pretty tolerant of Diddy's rapping, but this song would be way better if it was just a straight up PCD track with noone rapping on it.

46. The Disturbed - "Land Of Confusion"

Taking a hit from the 80's and making it sound so crazy, be it by adding rapping or distortion pedals, is a tactic for getting on the radio that's hard to respect, but The Disturbed did a pretty admirable job of finding a song that isn't blindingly obvious to cover and fits their sound really well, while modernizing the video in a clever way.

47. Jagged Edge - "Stunnas"

Despite being a blatant example of Southern artists once again biting Bay Area slang, this is a pretty wonderful song.

48. Heather Headley - "In My Mind"

Really just a gorgeous ballad. I bought the album, but it was the first CD I tried to put in my 5-disc changer after trying and failing to fix the changer tray when it was acting weird. So now the album is stuck somewhere in the recesses of my CD player, still unlistened to, and I play all my CDs on my computer now and just run the audio through the CD player's speakers.

49. DJ Khaled f/ Kanye West, Consequence and John Legend - "Grammy Family"

Kanye more or less taking the year off from the spotlight made the moments that he did pop up a little more enjoyable.

50. Ghostface f/ Ne-Yo - "Back Like That"

I've only ever been a casual Wu Tang fan at most, and I'm pretty sure if I ever started investigating them more deeply there'd be a lot of albums I'd cop before anything by Ghostface, who I've just never been that interested in, but he did a pretty admirable job of toning down his schtick for a girl song for the radio that actually didn't suck.


Narrowcast's favorite singles of 2006, part 1 of 2

Thursday, December 28, 2006

51. Beyonce f/ Slim Thug and Bun B - "Check On It"

Maybe she was just following Jay's lead, but Beyonce's decision to collaborate extensively with Swizz Beatz, without him softening his brittle aesthetic like he used to for R&Bish jams with Eve or Cassidy, might be the best idea anyone in R&B had this year.

52. Pitbull - "Ay Chico (Lengua Afuera)"

Pitbull and Mr. Collipark might be my favorite MC/producer combination of the moment (see also: Twista's "Hit The Floor" further up on this list, and Ying Yang's "Shake" on last year's list).

53. Lloyd f/ Lil Wayne - "You"

There are a lot of pubescent croaks on R&B radio that I have little to no patience for, but for some reason I love Lloyd's voice.

54. Snow Patrol - "Hands Open"

Like Oasis, Coldplay, James Blunt, and almost every other Brit act that's managed to cross over in the states in the past decade or so, Snow Patrol is only ever gonna get shine over here with glacial balladry, but with this song they proved surprisingly capable with a midtempo rock radio jam.

55. Vanessa Hudgens - "Come Back To Me"

Vanessa Hudgens was one of the stars of this year's biggest selling album, the High School Musical soundtrack, which as far as I can tell is completely horrible, but her solo album featured one of my favorite R&B singles of the year, which bears scarcely any trace of the teenpop training wheels you get on songs by, say, JoJo when she tries this kind of thing.

56. Click Five - "Catch Your Wave"

Parts of it sound almost identical to that Cartel song, but on a level playing field I'll always pick power pop over emo.

57. Nickelback - "Animal"

Nickelback have always seemed kind of torn between their top 40 singles and their "no really, we're metal" self-image, and with their most recent album, that tension has led to a full on two-tier marketing campaign, like an LL Cool J album: power ballads like "Photograph," "Save Me" and "Far Away" (the equivalent to LL's slow jam lip-lickers), and rock radio singles that they don't even bother shooting videos for like "Rock Star" and "Animal" (the equivalent to "I Shot Ya"-style posse cuts). They're not really that good in either mode, but now and then they win me over, wiht "Photograph" on one side and "Animal" on the other.

58. Frankie J f/ Mannie Fresh and Chamillionaire - "That Girl"

Mannie's compatibility with R&B wasn't as much of a surprise as Swizz's, but this was still pretty enjoyable.

59. John Legend - "Heaven"

I'm so glad Kanye brought back that weird distorted vocoder type sound that he toyed with a little on his first album and early mixtapes.

60. Young Dro f/ T.I. - "Shoulder Lean"

I kind of get the feeling that T.I. got the idea for a silly pop rap song about leaning instead of dancing, and then immediately realized that it would probably be huge while earning him no respect (see also: Fat Joe, Dem Franchize Boyz), so he just passed it on to a labelmate for a complete win/win: another big hit for his crew, but since it's not "his" song it doesn't effect his image.

61. Keane - "Is It Any Wonder?"

See also: the Snow Patrol entry, and add something about biting "Even Better Than The Real Thing."

62. JoJo - "Too Little Too Late"

OK, but I do like a JoJo song! Not as embarrassing to admit, though, as the fact that I saw both movies she was in this year, or that RV gave me impure thoughts.

63. Pink - "U + Ur Hand"

Bonus points for the video being the first time Pink has actually looked kind of hot (or at least, one or two of her several personas).

64. Jay-Z - "Show Me What You Got"

Enough of the crying foul over other people using the same sample, or the bombast overkill -- it's Just Blaze, what'd you expect? Dude pretty much singlehandedly tripled the abundance of crash cymbals in rap music. This is what we expect from him.

65. Rick Ross - "Blow"

I would complain that this would've been a way better single choice than "Push It," but I'm grateful for any decision Rick Ross made that resulted in him selling less records. This song could've been huge, though.

66. Papa Roach - "To Be Loved"

I'm no "Last Resort" apologist, but I kind of love this song. The hugeness of the chorus almost justifies the "TAKIN' IT BACK TO A HARDCORE LEVEL" intro.

67. Kanye West - "Touch The Sky"

Still only my 2nd favorite Roc-A-Fella jam with a "Move On Up" sample, but still pretty good.

68. Fergie f/ - "Fergalicious"

I really think this song is pretty great and not stupid at all. Except for the part where they spell tasty as "tastey," that's pretty stupid.

69. Paris Hilton - "Nothing In This World"

The failure of Paris Hilton's album is proof positive that fame in mediums like reality shows and tabloids doesn't translate to hit records as magically as labels seem to think it does. And while I never really cared for that reggae single that some people gave grudging respect to, I have to say this is a pretty damn catchy song. Like Rick Ross, though, I can't say I was really rooting for it to be the hit it kinda deserved to be.

70. Johnta Austin - "Turn It Up"

Generally R&B songs that obsessively namecheck better artists than the singer on the track don't do much for me, but this whole thing is pretty velvety and perfect, even his brief rap, and I'm always happy to see No I.D. get that Jermaine money.

71. Tool - "Vicarious"

Ever since Tool got a huge following, they've thrown their weight around by forcing radio to play these 7-minute songs they put out as singles, and I tend to get bored and turn most of them off before the halfway point. This one isn't really much better than the others, but I like the way they make the drum rolls on the dome of the ride cymbal sound so intense that it's like a drill or something.

72. Switchfoot - "Oh! Gravity"

After initially disliking their first couple hits, Switchfoot have really started to grow on me. This song seems so much more playful than their other stuff (those off-kilter piano notes at the end of the first chorus!) that at first I didn't even realize it was them when I heard it on the radio.

73. Goo Goo Dolls - "Stay With You"

Better than any of the singles off the last Coldplay album.

74. Three 6 Mafia - "Poppin' My Collar"

There's a lot of bad things about the video (the playing the previous single at the beginning of the new single's video thing, the horribly awkward "remember back in the day" voice-over, the video cliche of little kid doppelgangers of the group), but the song is pretty good.

75. Prince - "Black Sweat"

The fact that this was the closest thing to a hit single Prince has had in maybe a decade or more and still was just barely a blip on the Hot 100 is such a sad statistic. Especially since that hi-hat sound is ridiculous.

76. LeToya - "She Don't"

So much better than "Torn," but that's not saying much.

77. Shareefa f/ Ludacris - "I Need A Boss"

Luda's a fool for not keeping this for his album.

78. Dre f/ Keyshia Cole - "Be Somebody"

Dre might be the worst producer-turned-rapper ever but this is pretty good.

79. 50 Cent f/ Olivia - "Best Friend"

If 50 is nothing more than a glorified R&B singer at this point, so be it, but he's a damn good R&B singer sometimes. I was shocked this song wasn't produced by Hi-Tek.

80. Pearl Jam - "World Wide Suicide"

This year, Pearl Jam released by far their worst album to date (I actually started to like Riot Act after hearing the new one), but the "return to form/best since Ten" talk was bolstered by the first uptempo lead single they've released from an album in nearly or over a decade (depending on whether you count "Given To Fly").

81. Ricky Martin - "It's Alright"

Why did Ricky have to wait until well after America had decided to ignore him to release a certifiably great pop single that works on more levels than something funny for people to reference or for William Hung to sing?

82. Blue October - "Into The Ocean"

"Hate Me" was so awful it gave me warped opinions on things like suicidal hate and made a porno feel like home, but this is pretty enjoyable. I miss the 90's when it was customary from every 20th alt-rock band to have a violinist. If these guys and Yellowcard keep it up, maybe we can bring the Dambuilders back!

83. KT Tunstall - "Black Horse And The Cherry Tree"

It's too appropriate that there's a VH1 logo in the corner of the clip I found on YouTube, but it's pretty catchy for VH1 bullshit.

84. Notorious B.I.G. f/ Twista, Bone Thugs N Harmony, 8Ball & MJG and Swizz Beatz - "Spit Yo Game" (Remix)

I can't even really listen to "Notorious Thugs" anymore.

85. Daz f/ Rick Ross - "On Some Real Shit"

It's a shame with all the nearly identical beats Jermaine Dupri has put on singles in the past couple years, one of the best of them went pretty much unnoticed.

86. Veronicas - "When It All Falls Apart"

No Kogan-o.

87. Young Buck - "I Know You Want Me"

It's hilarious watching herbs squirm about the idea of Young Buck, who's pretty good but still incredibly boring and constantly dropping embarrassing "50 bought it for me" shit in his rhymes, sullying himself with Jazze Pha, who's admittedly obnoxious but nonetheless one of the best pop rap producers out.

88. Janet Jackson f/ Khia - "So Excited"

OK, I'm starting to look like a JD stan here.

89. Donell Jones f/ Jermaine Dupri - "Better Start Talking"

No wait, now I'm starting to look like a JD stan.

90. Yung Joc f/ Nitti - "It's Goin' Down"

Not even the best Nitti beat (that would be "Dem Boyz"), but it's pretty impressive that he managed to fit his name into the song 4 times, in addition to the one time Joc says it. Even established producers don't usually get that many shout outs! Overexposure kinda sucked the fun out of this song over time, but it still cracks me up to think about when J.G.'s brother and I would greet each other with Joc-isms like "everybody love me, I'm so cool" and "it's me, surprise!"

91. Kanye West f/ Paul Wall, GLC, T.I. and Tony Williams - "Drive Slow" (Strings Remix)

This was really never one of my favorites on the album, but the added strings, the T.I. verse, and the perfect video all got me into it.

92. Morningwood - "Nth Degree"

Granted, this song was destined to be featured in a car commercial way before it actually was in one recently, but I was kinda surprised with how violently people reacted to this band's corporate fake indie credentials, like, people that weren't even that cynical about The Strokes. But any band that spells out their name in song and makes sure you notice that three letters are "M-O-R" has to know who they are. Still, I like them in theory more than in practice, and "Easy" might be the only real keeper from their album.

93. Christina Milian f/ Young Jeezy - "Say I"

Cool & Dre have only used the "Hate It Or Love It" drums, what, 2 or 3 times now? What a rare occurance of pop rap producers not using their best beat enough.

94. Rihanna - "S.O.S."

Haha, I didn't even mean to put this right after a Christina Milian song on purpose!

95. Field Mob f/ Ciara - "So What"

I was in shock when Ciara turned up in this video looking halfway cute for once. But then I've always privileged natural hair color over bad dye jobs.

96. Dilated Peoples - "Back Again"

Great video!

97. Tha Dogg Pound - "Cali Iz Active"

Why I hate The Game: he just isn't living up to the legacy of Cali rap being, y'know, fun.

98. Pitbull f/ Pretty Ricky - "Everybody Get Up"

I didn't think there would be any context in which I could enjoy Pretty Ricky, but Pitbull did it. The Baltimore club version of this song is pretty awesome, too.

99. T.I. - "Why You Wanna"

I wonder if it was meant as a cheesy joke that at the end of the video the magazine he's holding is KING.

100. Jesse McCartney - "Right Where You Want Me"

Way down at this end of the list, I'll include a song if I only like one tiny little sliver of it and dislike the rest. In this case, it's that little pre-chorus bit where he slips into a falsetto that sounds shockingly Michael McDonald-esque.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In the City Paper this week I've got a big article about a couple of pivotal figures of Baltimore hip hop, Ray Lugar and Stevie Stay Hi the Low Key God. They've been around longer than almost anyone in this scene and I was happy to give them some overdue press coverage. Ray's Exclusive Respect II mixtape was in The Best Baltimore Hip Hop Albums and Mixtapes of 2006 list that I posted last week. And you can learn a lot more about them and hear more music on the Team Fifty website, which features a whole bunch of mp3's of "Payin' Dues," Ray's official theme song for the "Believe" campaign, and the entire Exclusive Respect and Documented Facts mixtapes.

The whole history of Team Fifty/50,000 Headz is so long and involved that I really wasn't able to fit in everything that I or Low Key wanted to, but I think I did a pretty good job of at least exposing the tip of the iceberg, so I hope they like it. I saw them at their World War Against Racism event at 5 Seasons last night, and Ray gave me a copy of his new CD that's dropping probably in February. They've always got a lot of events going on at 5 Seasons and the next one is Park Heights Day next Tuesday, January 2nd.

This was also my first CP article where I was present for the photo shoot, and Jefferson Jackson Steele did a great job as usual. We did it at night so he actually parked his car in the middle of the street and pointed his headlights at the building to get enough light, which I thought was hilarious and creative as hell. Scottie B. showed up to be a part of the picture, and Low Key was trying to get some other DJs like Booman and Vicious V to be a part of it but they weren't able to make it.

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Narrowcast's favorite TV shows of 2006

Tuesday, December 26, 2006
The past year and a half was the first time I really paid attention to prime time television since probably high school. But that has less to do with the supposed 'golden age' of TV we're in the middle of than the fact that I stopped working jobs with night shifts, and moved in with J.G., who got me into some of the shows she watches and generally got me back in the habit of actually following some shows every week. Honorable mentions go to Entourage, which is generally great but was weak this season, the promising but still developing The New Adventures Of Old Christine, and C.S.I. and House, which I think deserve to be the ratings juggernauts they are, but don't necessarily respect them as really great television. YouTube clips were chosen on a whim and are by no means intended to be representative of the series.

1. The Wire

This one's a no-brainer. I'd almost say The Wire is overrated at this point, with all the "best show in the history of television" talk and the ridiculous 98% on Metacritic, plus the unseemly feeling I get that a lot of corny crack rap fans will just hype up anything that has anything to do with drug dealing these days. But in light of the show getting once again ignored by the Golden Globes, and surely next year's Emmy's too, obviously the show hasn't gotten props at the level it deserves yet (maybe with the 5th and final season the awards will start coming in by the truckload, Return Of The King-style, but I won't hold my breath). I've already said so much about the show that I don't really need to explain why it's great at this point.

2. 30 Rock

It started the beginning of the season in the shadow of Studio 60's similiar premise, but if this show can survive weak early ratings, it might be the best absurdist ensemble workplace comedy since Newsradio. People have been asking when Alec Baldwin became a comic genius, to which I always reply since he first started hosting SNL 15 or so years ago. But honestly, I watched Glengarry Glen Ross recently, and realized that he's been trying to play fast-talking asshole characters for most of his career, but never really pulled it off before with anywhere near the success he has in this and The Departed.

3. The Venture Bros.

I realized a while back that aside from programming picked up from broadcast networks (Home Movies, Futurama, Family Guy), I don't really like much of Adult Swim's original programming at all. Aside from a few hilarious episodes of Sealab, most of the Williams Street creations have been diminishing returns on the Space Ghost formula, with roughly a dozen shows exploring the same awkwardly flailing aesthetic of comedy with varying levels of success (and Tome Goes To The Mayor might be the worst show in the history of television). And then I gave Venture Bros. a chance and fell in love with it. Sure, noone needs another super hero/arch villain satire full of droll pop culture references, but every episode is paced amazingly well, packing so many gags in that you don't even realize how fast the plot is moving. And the voice acting is perfect, from the inimitable Patrick Warburton to the villain who sounds eerily like Skeletor from the original He-Man cartoons.

4. How I Met Your Mother

If you have any doubt of how well HIMYM is navigating the post-Friends young-yuppies-and-their-love-lives sitcom formula, just stay tuned after it on Monday nights to see The Class fail miserably at the same game. What I like about this show, aside from the consistent laughs and a considerable amount of character development for a show of its type, is that they don't shy away from making the characters, especially the guys, kind of hopeless romantic lamewads, which, as that kind of guy, I think they portray pretty realistically. Jason Segel in particular is making a pretty good career out of distinctly different variations on the sensitive guy archetype, from serenading a girl with Styx on Freaks & Geeks, to the obsessive long distance boyfriend on Undeclared, to HIMYM's brunch-loving Marshall. And I'm more willing to embrace a comedy with an unabashed heart on its sleeve like this than a show like the U.S. version of The Office, which trades on ironic squirm comedy, but pulls in its viewers with the kind of shameless Rachel/Ross will-they-or-won't-they bullshit that HIMYM smartly avoids as part of its central conceit. And Neil Patrick Harris's hetero horndog character Barney might actually be funnier now that the actor is out of the closet.

5. The Colbert Report

In the long run, I'm sure I'll have more respect for The Daily Show, for providing the basic format for Colbert and having more heart at the root of its comedy. But The Colbert Report came along at the perfect time, when Jon Stewart's constant double takes and Conan-style self-deprecation were getting stale, to put a twist on the format and do something that, at the moment, is much funnier. And I say that as someone who generally has a low tolerance for Borat and the myriad other modern examples of am-I-a-character-or-not prankster comedy. Really this show is watching every night for The Word, if nothing else.

6. Veronica Mars

I never watched Buffy or anything and always kind of assumed it was crap, but this is one show that J.G. watches that I've gotten sucked into. Maybe because instead of (or at least, in addition to) the usual teen goth drama and wisecracking you've got some pretty well done noir mysteries about rape and race/class tension, which I didn't really expect. And I think I might be in the minority about this, but so far I think the decision to break Season 3 up into shorter plot arcs has been a good call. Season 1 had a strong storyline that kept the suspense up til the end, but Season 2 was kind of a mess and I started to temporarily lose interest in the show towards the end of it.

7. American Idol
I've always had a soft spot for AI, but this year was the first season that I got fully addicted and watched it almost every night. At first I thought I might just be a sucker for any old talent show, but then, J.G. watches ANTM and Top Chef and stuff like that, and I always leave the room for those, so it's really just that it's a music show that has actually proven to have a sustained impact on the pop charts (as opposed to, say, Rock Star or Nashville Star). I have a love/hate relationship with the auditions phase, which is drawn out far too long for my taste, but once the finalists are established, it's great television to watch them get tested well outside of their comfort zones from week to week and get picked apart in a way that even the most prefabricated pop star is rarely subjected to.

8. Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends

This show was created by the same guy who did Powerpuff Girls and occupies a similiar space in Cartoon Network's kid-friendly daytime lineup, but I was surprised by just how funny it can be. Mainly, though, this is in the list because of the brilliant comedic invention that is Cheese (which still might only be the best the 2nd best character named Cheese from a show on this list, after Method Man on The Wire), who's only appeared in two episodes so far, including the one that the above is a clip from.

9. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

I still need to actually give West Wing a try someday, but as a fan of Sports Night and The American President I'm willing to cut Sorkin a little bit of slack and hope this matures into a consistent show. Of course, that would involve killing off a couple characters, giving way more screentime to some others, and for god's sake enough with the rants about the religious right.

10. Meerkat Manor
The only reality show about anyone's day-to-day drama that I care about, perhaps because they're not humans. Whoever came up with this show is a genius. It's also my cat Lucy's favorite show, I've caught her staring at the screen and following the action on multiple occasions. We were so sad when Shakespeare died.

Friday, December 22, 2006
I contributed to Stylus's Top 50 Singles and Top 50 Albums lists, which were posted last week and this week, respectively, and wrote a few blurbs (Chamillionaire for singles, T.I. and The Roots for albums). My ballots for each are here and here, although I submitted both weeks ago and probably a lot of stuff will have changed, especially with the albums, when I post my 'final' lists here, probably next week. I'd hoped to have at least one list posted by now, but that'll have to wait thanks to holiday insanity, deadlines, and Blogger In Beta fucking me over (seriously, I switched over last week and now all my blogs are missing from my dashboard, at least when logged onto certain computers, so I can only post/edit my blogs from work at the moment, which is a total pain in the ass. Anyone have any ideas? The Blogger/Google people have been no help at all.)


Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Hi-Tek f/ Dion and Talib Kweli - "Let It Go" (mp3)

Hi-Tek review in the City Paper this week. Dion is Tek's new R&B protege that he's pimping hard on like 5 different songs on the album (remember his protege on the first album? Jonnell? What happened to her, she had the remix with Meth and then, nothing), but I kinda like his harmonies, especially on this song. "EEEEEEEEXIT."


Thursday, December 14, 2006
I should also mention that this was in CP this week too, and though I didn't write it, I'm inordinately proud of the fact that I helped in the brainstorming process for it ("no homophones" was my most significant contribution).

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Top Ten 2006 issue of the Baltimore City Paper is out this week, and I contributed to two of the lists.

In The Year in Music, I wrote the blurb for The Roots album and a few other albums from my ballot showed up in the big list: T.I., Sonic Youth, and Lupe Fiasco (I like the Lil Wayne mixtape too but I didn't really think to vote for one of many Lil Wayne mixtapes in a year-end poll).

In The Year in Local Music, I wrote the blurbs for Blaq Starr's I'm Bangin' and Cex's Actual Fucking, and I co-sign the inclusion of
Skarr Akbar's The Bidding War Starts Now!, Profound and Ogun's Oil And Water 2, ShellBe RAW's Do You Like It Raw? on the list, as well as the honorable mentions of Dirty Hartz' It Is What It Is Mixtape Vol. 2, Karmella's Game's The Art Of Distraction, Labtekwon's Hustlaz Guide To The Universe 2.0, Supa DJ Big L's The Reality - Season 1, and Architects Recording Studio presents Street Radio Vol. 3

Right now would also be a good time to remind you that The Government Names 2006 Baltimore Hip Hop Poll is going on right now and you've got about 5 more days to vote, so please do if you have any opinion at all on the subject. I've gotten votes from over 50 people already, but only handful of those are well thought out ballots that include more than one or two CD's, the rest are just artists and their friends voting for their albums and nothing else, which is exactly what I was afraid of this poll becoming. So if you're an actual fan who listens to the music and doesn't just support yourself and your crew, please help to make this poll about public opinion and not who has the most dedicated volunteer street team.

(photo by Uli Loskot)

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Monday, December 11, 2006

The above, inspired by that disgusting line in "Black Republican," was my idea, but credit goes to amon for making it a reality. That shit totally made my week.

Nas f/ Tre Williams - "Let There Be Light" (mp3)

Like any new Nas album, Hip Hop Is Dead has a lot of oversized hype to overcome or ignore to really enjoy it. And although I kind of enjoyed all the crazy shit on Street's Disciple that made people hate on it, it's kind of nice that, aside from the batshit insane fake gangster accent on "Who Killed It," this one is pretty grounded. "Still Dreaming" is kinda weak but "Let There Be Light" is finally the Nas/Kanye collaboration I've always wanted, that "Poppa Was A Player" and "We Major" weren't, somber despite that great Steve Miller break and completely lyrically focused and an appropriate R&B hook that's not too slick or gratuitous. He's been so low profile, at least in terms of putting out new records, since Late Registration that I kinda forgot that Kanye is one of my favorite producers, but this and the new John Legend single are totally reminding me.


Saturday, December 09, 2006
For the past few months I've been thinking about and reading about The Wire as much as I could (including writing a couple entries here and A rough guide to the connections between HBO's The Wire and Baltimore hip hop over on Gov't Names) without exposing myself to spoilers, waiting for the episodes to actually air (or at least go On Demand the week before airing), that it feels kind of weird to not only no longer fear spoilers, but have to warn of spoilers for the sake of others before talking about it.

The Wire has always made a big deal of not being episodic in the sense of traditional TV, ramping up gradually to a climax toward the end of the season, which usually involves a lot of really horrible shit going down, so that you go through the season with a combination of suspense and excitement and dread. Recently I Netflixed the first season, thinking I'd seen every episode on HBO reruns already, and realized that I'd never actually seen the first finale, and was pretty bowled over by it. And maybe that's the only reason why the Season 4 finale left a little of a bad taste in my mouth. I'm glad they made a little longer than the usual episode (79 minutes), and I don't mind the unresolved strands they leave at the end of every season, especially now that we know there will be a Season 5 (I would've been pretty unsatisfied if this had turned out to be The End, though), but it all seemed so compressed that I wish they'd pushed for a full two hours, or backed some of the developments into the penultimate episode.

But mostly, the finale gave into my least favorite tendency of The Wire, the glib shorthand, the hackneyed metaphor. The heavy-handed LIFE IS A CHESS GAME, DON'T YOU SEE shit from the first season came howling back in Bodie's chat with McNulty, the ring that was passed from Anthony to Marlo to Omar to Officer Walker to Michael, who Marlo sees wearing it around his neck, all the obvious circles and parallels. Jay Landsman had a lot of great moments this season, but that speech about Romans and Huns just made me cringe. And there were some scenes that should've been great but fell completely flat, like Burrell's quick and completely cliche'd "you came after my thrown, don't let it happen again" speech to Rawls. Not that the episode was without subtlety. I particularly liked Prop Joe telling Marlo that Omar wanted 30 cents on the dollar after Omar said 20, still putting one over on someone to turn a little profit even in a desperate situation. And pretty much any scene that features Omar's boyfriend listening to El Zol.

In the second to last episode, Sherrod's death didn't hit me as hard as I think it was supposed to (and there's usually very clear signs in The Wire of what deaths we're supposed to be upset about and which ones are all in the game, just events that move the plot forward), mostly because, unlike the 4 main kids, he seemed doomed from the start and was never given much characterization (on a similiar tip, I don't think we were shown enough of why Miss Anna was a good foster home for Randy to be in to really get a sense of what a loss it was supposed to be when he was seperated from her). Plus as soon as Bubbles got the cyanide idea I knew it was going to happen, it was just too predictable. On the other hand, Bubs hanging himself hit me like a ton of bricks, even after they cut him down and he lived to hate himself some more. My guess is that in Season 5, Sherrod's death will play out as Bubbles' 'rock bottom' moment that finally forces him to clean up, although I want to give The Wire more credit than to give a shiny happy ending to its beloved junkie.

I kind of liked the way the Season 4 finale brought back some characters and plot strands that had been kind of forgotten; The Greek turning out to be Prop Joe's connect, Steve Earle's annoying AA counsellor guy coming back to dispense more folksy wisdom about addiction, McNulty finally getting off the bench to do real police work again after spending the whole season as a uniformed beat cop, setting the stage for the inevitable return to McNulty-centric police plotlines in Season 5 (which I admit I'm a little bummed out about considering that one of the biggest thrills of Season 4 was finally putting Cool Lester Smooth in charge). Add to that the rumors that Avon's coming home again next season, and it looks like they're setting up a big crowd-pleasing Season 5 full of familiar faces, after taking the risk of introducing a ton of new characters in Season 4 (which ultimately, paid off since a lot of those new characters turned out to be crowd-pleasers).

One thing that's always been clear to me about the show, but never more so than this season, is that The Wire's only real unambiguous villains, people that the writers openly despise and want you to despise, are the bad cops. Unit-destroyers like Marimou, victimizing beat cops like Officer Walker, and to an extent ambitious dickheads like Rawls (who, admittedly, is too much of an asshole to not be kind of charismatic and fun to watch). Even the dealers and killers who don't have cute quirks and humanizing moments to make them likeable or at least admirable, have some kind of steely reserve, like Marlo, that makes you root for them in a way you'll never root for Walker.

Although I'm sure David Simon and company roll their eyes every time someone brings up the Carcetti/O'Malley parallels, they get harder and harder to ignore every time Tommy's inevitable gubernatorial run is invoked. They're already hinting that it's in 2 years, right around the time the next season comes, but I kinda wish they wouldn't rush it like that, since the thing about O'Malley that they'd be the best to address is the fact that he sought a higher office after several years as mayor without being able to bring down the homicide rate that was his big campaign promise. Even if Carcetti screws up in the same way, which I imagine he will, he won't have been in office long enough to be accountable in the same way O'malley is.

What I'm most disappointed about, though, might be the way the finale handled its inevitable death of a major character. Bodie's actual scenes in the episode, chess metaphors aside, were pretty good, with him coming to terms with the fact that the institution he serves is fucking everyone over for no good reason. But the set of circumstances that brought about his demise seemed a little convoluted to me. I know it was supposed to underline how random and unjustified deaths like that can be, but seriously: Bodie, as much of a hothead as he admittedly is, getting so mad at Marlo that he kicks in the window of a cop car with police everywhere? Doesn't make any fucking sense. And someone being there at the right place at the right time to see him get in a car with McNulty too seemed a little connect-the-dots. Still, I never necessarily liked Bodie as a character that much but the episode really made me connect with him and feel mad about his death, so in that sense it was pretty effective.

If I sound mad or overly critical, it's mostly because I'm sad that the season is over, and because ultimately, though I definitely think it's the best show on television, all the "best show ever" praise has gotten kind of out of hand, especially considering this was probably not The Wire's best season, in my opinion (which for my money, would probably be Season 3, although time and repeated viewings may change that). That last episode just left a bad taste in my mouth is all, which I'm sure will wash away after I digest the whole season for a while and think back about how great it was.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Sparklehorse - "Knives Of Summertime" (mp3)

I was pretty obsessed with Good Morning Spider when I was 17, and my review of Sparklehorse's new one in the City Paper this week is kind of a shrug in response to not really having the same love for the band now, but still remembering what the appeal was (the biggest sticking point might be the recycling of old tracks, particularly "Morning Hollow," which sounded great as a hidden track at the end of It's A Wonderful Life but has a fraction of the effect as the 4th-to-last song on Dreamt). A couple songs still stand out, though, particularly "Knives Of Summertime," but then I always loved the pedal steel stuff.

My Chemical Romance - "Teenagers" (mp3)

In my other City Paper review, I empathize with the current 17-year-olds who are obsessed with MCR, while at the same time registering my disappointment that some of my worst fears about The Black Parade have been confirmed. "Teenagers" is still a jam, though, shame they're going with the kinda boring "Famous Last Words" as the next single instead of this.

Monday, December 04, 2006
My friend Chris owns a house in Charles Village and is trying to rent out a room, and his e-mails and bulletins have gotten progressively more desperate sounding, so I thought I'd do him the favor of posting his listing here in case anyone might see it who's interested:

Seriously, dudes, I need a housemate starting around December 15, in my house near Johns Hopkins University. It's a nice big room, and I'm renting it for $500/mo. That price includes ALL utilities except phone (who has a house phone anymore, honestly?) - Cable TV, Internet, heat, use of washer, dryer, dishwasher, etc.

Interested parties should contact iloveamagician (at) gmail (dot) com. Please tell ANYONE you think might be interested!