Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Last week, I started writing on the Baltimore City Paper's new music blog, Noise, which I'll be posting on twice a week from now on. Music editor Jess Harvell has already been posting on there for a few weeks, and I guess I was a natural choice to help out with that, since I was actually recruited as a freelancer for the paper a couple years ago on the basis of my blog writing about Baltimore music. A lot of print publications have in the past few years started generating exclusive content for their websites like blogs, and for every really good, successful example ('s columnists, CP contributor Tom Breihan's Village Voice blog), there have been a lot of lousy or unnecessary ones, so I'm gonna really work hard to make the coverage on there interesting and probably more varied than the stuff I've done for CP in the past.

The subject of my entries will generally be local music, or live shows in the Baltimore area by touring acts, and concert reviews will probably make up roughly half of my posts. Gov't Names is so focused on letting people know what CDs are out and what shows are coming up that I never really figured out a format I liked for writing about the shows I do go to, so it'll be nice to have an outlet for that. I've been kinda laying low and not going to many shows the past few months, because of the cold weather and also because I've been adjusting to the new day job I started in October. But now that Spring is coming it feels like a really good time to come out of hibernation and start hitting up a lot of shows again. So feel free to give me tips on shows I should come out to, whether it's your show or just an act you think I'd dig.

But I'm also looking at this as an opportunity for a lot of little ideas that seem maybe too small to cover in CP but didn't quite fit on Gov't Names. For instance, my first couple posts were an episode guide to Baltimore music in HBO's The Wire, and the first installment of a monthly column on Baltimore club music called The Club Beat (the title is kind of an homage to Kelly Connelly's Street Beat column in Music Monthly). And each month I'll talk to a different club/DJ producer, starting with DJ Booman in the first post. I might link back to interesting Noise entries now and then, but probably not too often, so I'll tell you right now to bookmark and check it out a couple times a week, if you already do that with my other blogs.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Dinosaur Jr. - "Pick Me Up" (mp3)

In keeping with my tendency to favor the diminishing returns of longtime favorites over the constantly invading hordes of indie rock hypes of dubious quality, Beyond is, along with other slabs by oldsters Sloan and Ted Leo, one of my favorite albums of this year so far. Thing is, though, even though You're Living All Over Me is my favorite Dinosaur Jr. record, I don't have any particular reverence for the J/Lou/Murph lineup. In fact, I love a couple of the albums that J did by himself (the last official Dinosaur album, Hand It Over, and the first Fog album, More Light) just as much, sometimes even more simply because of J's great drumming (perhaps for the same reason that like Foo Fighters more than Nirvana; as a drummer and wannabe songwriter, I have a lot of respect for guys who can bring both skill sets together successfully). This album will get a lot more attention than it would've if J had recorded most of the same songs as The Fog, but I probably would've checked it out and enjoyed it either way. That's not to discount Lou's contributions, though; he sings 2 songs, and J even lets him get one on the first half of the album for once! I've never really spent any amount of time listening to any of Barlow's primary projects, although I like his voice enough that I'd probably receptive if I heard the right Sebadoh album or whatever. "Back To Your Heart" is a definite standout of this album, and works way better in the context of J's songs than, say, "Lose" does on YLAOM.

"Pick Me Up" is the longest song on the record, and anything past 6 minutes in the J Mascis catalog promises a looooong guitar solo at the end. But for once, he actually fills up that running time with a fair amount of structural twists and turns. The first couple minutes just kind of chug along, without as strong a hook as other songs on the first half of the record like "Crumble" and "This Is All I Came To Do." But then J lets loose a lead guitar line with a weird high-pitched effect that doesn't really sound like the usual pedals he employs on his records, although I think he used a similiar sound on some of the older Dinosaur songs when I saw them at the 9:30 Club a year and a half ago. Then, there's a tempo change, and some interesting stuff going on toward the end that can't actually be categorized as J soloing his brains out over a midtempo jam (but, of course, does include that). I mean, it actually comes to a pretty awesome climax at the very end instead of just fading out. There's plenty of other good stuff on the record -- "I Got Lost" is a nice return to "Flying Cloud"-type acoustic grandeur -- but it's really the only moment that felt like a suprise. Not that reunion albums (or anything by J Mascis, for that matter) are places to go looking for surprises.

Monday, February 26, 2007
I didn't watch much of The Oscars tonight, but I did participate for the first time in the City Paper's annual Alties. I didn't have a whole lot of ideas and only a couple of them made the cut (Best What-He-Always-Does and Best Obviously Fake Hair), but I'm rather proud of the latter, even though I didn't even see the movie in question. I probably saw more new movies in the past year (as in, in the theatre or during the actual year of release; most of the movies I see are a year or three after the fact on Netflix or cable) than I have in a long time, but then, a lot what I saw were mediocre comedies I reviewed for CP (Aquamarine, Norbit, The Santa Clause 3, Hoot, RV, The Shaggy Dog, School For Scoundrels, Click, etc.). So these are my top 10 favorite movies I saw in the past year, with the very large caveat that almost everything else I saw was a cheesy family movie or underwhelming superhero flick or Little Miss Sunshine, and that I still haven't seen a whole lot of stuff that I want to:

1. The Departed
2. Pan's Labyrinth
3. The Prestige
4. Inside Man
5. An Inconvenient Truth
6. Ice Age 2
7. Gridiron Gang
8. Lady In The Water
9. The Guardian
10. The Illusionist

Movie Diary

Friday, February 23, 2007
1. A History of Violence
I'm not sure what I expected of this, but I definitely expected more. I generally like the whole Cronenberg aesthetic, which this is soaked in with a healthy side order of noir, and Viggo's performance is great. But I kinda got the impression from all the raves that there was some real shock or surprise or post-modern twist in there. Instead it was just, and I'll be vague for the sake of withholding spoilers, a mystery that had 2 basic outcomes, and it made you think it was one and then the other and back and forth a couple times, with a resolution that was completely flat and typical action movie-ish. Maybe it went over my head and I need something about it explained to me, but I think I got and appreciated the points it made, but the way they were made, with stock "nice small town folks" characters and even less realistic stock "big city gangsters" characters and just the slightest ambiguity in between, was pretty disappointing.

2. Flightplan
Another movie that I managed to avoid hearing any spoilers about for a year or two after its release, but found that what I'd imagined the big reveal to be was more interesting than how it really turned out. This one irritated me even more, though, because once the grand scheme was laid out, it was pretty ridiculous and implausible. Granted, it took a few clever alternate routes around the typical airplane-mystery/hijacking scenario, but again, without getting into spoiler-ish territory, the whole idea, once it all came together, seemed to convoluted to me, with so many variables that would have to go in just the right direction, for it to all play out the way it does in the movie.

3. Tape
This movie is like a mini-Dead Poet's Society reunion, with Ethan Hawke and that one guy who's on House now, and Hawke's then-wife Uma along for the ride. In fact, they're the 3 only people in the whole movie, because it's one of those talky Linklater flicks, adapted from a stage play where it's just people in a hotel room arguing for 80 minutes. I have nothing against that approach when it's done well (see: The Big Kahuna), but this felt like a short one-act that was stretched out to twice its necessary length to become a feature film, where the characters repeat the same lines back to each other for dramatic emphasis so many times that you get a weird deja vu (and not, like, snappy humorous Sorkin-type repetition, just people making the same basic point over and over). Also, the title is a corny ha-ha double meaning (because the movie was shot on tape, and at one point centers around an audio tape of a conversation). But there's a good tension between the actors, Hawke being really annoying on purpose for once, and I got pretty caught up in the storyline and really wanted to see where it went, these people who've known each other since high school working out all these tangled up issues and accusing each other of shit and you're never entirely sure what happened back then. The idea kind of interests me a lot, actually, since I have a ton of baggage left over from high school with people that I might not even see again, let alone address the baggage so head-on. But the story just becomes messier and more confusing and harder to resolve once Uma enters the picture, and the ending seemed ambiguous on purpose but still pretty unsatisfying. So yeah, this whole post is about being frustrated by the endings of movies.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007
...and The Senator is saved! No thanks to me, though (unless any big spenders donated because of my post last week). It was a real photo finish, too, they were still a few hundred bucks away just last night. I like to picture it being like the scene at the end of UHF. I just hope they do something to avoid this kind of emergency becoming a recurring thing.

Monday, February 19, 2007
I can't express how disappointed I am that the NYT style guide evidently did not necessitate the use of the phrase "Mr. Sting" in the Police reunion article.

Saturday, February 17, 2007
Something odd that I noticed on the iTunes top songs chart yesterday: the #3 song was "This Is Why I'm Hot," the currently inescaple and tremendously annoying song by the rapper Mims that you hear every time you turn on the radio or BET these days. But the version on the iTunes chart was by Jae Millz, not Mims. At first I figured there was some weird glitch where Apple's data entry people couldn't keep their fourth-tier New York rappers straight. But rather it was the consumers that couldn't tell the difference; if you search iTunes for the phrase "this is why I'm hot," a freestyle over the track from a recent Jae Millz mixtape, which became available on iTunes this past Tuesday, is the only thing that comes up, because the actual Mims song isn't available on iTunes yet. Granted, Jae Millz is a much better rapper than Mims, so unless you're really hung up on the verses from the original, the freestyle is probably an improvment. But it's kind of remarkable that such an odd combination of coincidence and misunderstanding has led some random mixtape freestyle by a barely famous rapper to become the 3rd most downloaded song on iTunes, which I assume translates to thousands, or maybe tens of thousands, of 99 cent downloads.

When I checked the list again this morning, it was still at #3, but a couple hours later, it had been taken off the list entirely, so I guess someone caught the mistake. But honestly, that doesn't seem fair, because evidently enough people were buying the song, for whatever reason, to push it up the chart, and the mixtape, illegal as it may be in some sense or another, is still available on iTunes (along with the countless Gangsta Grillz tapes that have remained available on there well after the DJ Drama arrest.) I wish it'd stayed there at least a little longer, if only to see what aftershocks could result. Considering how much iTunes downloads impact the Billboard charts these days, Jae Millz could've actually stormed the Hot 100 because of this fluke and ended up higher than the Mims version, which is currently at #46. This could become the latest desperate backdoor strategy for rappers to get heard, put their version of a hit song on iTunes before the real thing's on sale, and zoom up the chart for a couple days (and possibly rake in a few thousand bucks) before anyone notices.


Friday, February 16, 2007
For the next few days, I'm going to be mulling over whether to and how much I'm going to loosen my purse strings to donate some money toward saving The Senator, Baltimore's greatest movie theatre, partly because I'm poor, but also partly because from everything I've read over the years, it sounds like the place closing or at least changing ownership has been an unfortunate inevitability for a long time, and that trying to prolong that is more sentimental than realistic at this point. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to encourage you to go and PayPal them some money (they're already 2/3rds of the way toward the goal they're trying to reach by Wednesday the 21st), because maybe you've got way more expendable cash and feel much less conflicted about dedicating it to this cause. I'd think about getting in there to see a movie one more time just in case, too, but I dunno, man, they're playing that Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore thing.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I saw Norbit and lived to tell the tale for the City Paper this week, although, there are a couple weird glitches on the page for it on the CP website: the review is credited to someone else with my initials, and the genre tag for it is "Black Comedy," which traditionally applies to dry, morbid humor and not, y'know, broad comedy made by African Americans. But in this case the movie is so unintentionally bleak and depressing that it's kind of an appropriate mistake.


Sunday, February 11, 2007
Sloan - "Right Or Wrong" (mp3)

The new Sloan album, Never Hear The End Of It (or rather, it was released in Canada last year, but just a few weeks ago in the U.S., so I'm considering it a 2007 album), is pretty interesting in that it goes to challenging extremes while staying well within the trad rock boundaries of all their previous records. Cramming 30 songs into an album of course isn't such a feat in and of itself, especially when all four members of the band write songs, but it's still something of a statement for a band that's usually stuck to the standard 12 song set in the past. Half of the songs are under 2 and a half minutes, but for the most part they don't sound like underwritten suites or vignettes, although the comparison to Abbey Road has been hard for many critics to resist, given Sloan's love of all things Beatlesque as it is. It's kind of remarkable that the songs flow as well (and sometimes better) in shuffle as in the proper sequence, although it's probably up for debate whether that should be considered a credit to or a strike against the album.

Although One Chord To Another might end up being one of my favorite rock albums of the 90's (I can still remember my brother buying the album after seeing them on 120 Minutes, and then a few months later I went to Toronto for a school trip and got to see their videos on daytime TV), I've never investigated a whole lot of the rest of their back catalog, to the point that buying the A Sides Win comp a couple years ago held a good amount of discovery for me. As a casual fan, I've always had trouble distinguishing between all of the singers in Sloan (same thing happened with the Posies for a number of years, well after I'd become a pretty huge fan of theirs, it took seeing them live and hearing their solo records to really tell Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow's voices apart). I'd love to see a website that lists all of who sings what to make it easier to tell the difference. I might have to start digging through the old albums more in light of Never Hear The End Of It, which is a pretty inspiring attempt at something exciting from a band that's been thought to be past their peak for a while now. I mean, once a band gets past the hump of that first best-of, I'm sure it starts to become a question of whether things have run their course or they're going to stay together and keep making albums for as long as they're able, and 8 albums in, it seems like they've got the tenacity for the latter path.

Friday, February 09, 2007
One of the many reasons I hate being part of the 'music blogosphere' is getting awkwardly worded daily e-mail blasts from indie rock P.R. firms, but I have to admit there's something pretty special about a header that can't decide whether to make a pun about the band's name, make a pun about their album's title, or just hype up the fact that they had a song in a Motorola commercial:

"The Icicles’ Arrivals & Departures Is Just On Time. Don’t Let The Name Fool You – This Band Will Make You Melt (And Buy Cell Phones Too!)."

Hey, I actually posted some of their ad copy. Do I get a stack of promos I don't want to listen to now?

TV Diary

Thursday, February 08, 2007
1. Ace of Cakes
Since Random 1 didn't get picked up for a 2nd season, it's good to know that there's at least one other Baltimore-based reality show on cable, which revolves around the Charm City Cakes bakery. The place seems to be staffed almost entirely by the kinds of aging punk rock types that you see in Reptilian Records, but they're all kind of cheery and making extravagant desserts. I enjoy reality shows like this, basically about functional adults doing something they love for a living, more than drama-filled contests, almost as a rule. The cake with the Netflix and Chinese takeout theme was probably my favorite that I've seen so far. I totally want to come up with some awesome idea for a cake for some event or party and have these guys make it someday, not even to try and get it on the show, but just because the cakes they make look awesome.

2. Puppy Bowl III
Like any good non-athletic pop culture cornball, I only flipped in and out of the Super Bowl, mostly to check the score and catch some of the overhyped commercials and see the Prince halftime show. However, for the second year in a row J.G. and I watched almost all of Animal Planet's brilliant counter-programming move to the biggest TV event of the year, where they just let a bunch of puppies frolic on a little fake football field. And there's a halftime show with kittens! It's not even some big scripted Bud Bowl-type thing where there's even any humorous pretense of there being an actual competition with teams, it's just a bunch of fuzzy baby animals running around for 3 hours.

3. Rules of Engagement
The mid-season replacement that CBS is temporarily putting in Elaine Benes's timeslot coincidentally stars David Puddy. And David Spade! It's like an Emperor's New Groove reunion! Seriously, though, after Seinfeld and Venture Bros. (and to a lesser extent, The Tick and Big Trouble and Family Guy) Patrick Warburton is something of a comedy god as far as I'm concerned. So far, though, this show is thoroughly just OK. Really boilerplate battle of the sexes sitcom jokes, obvious platitudes about marriage vs. the single life, but without the over-the-top bawdy absurdity that makes its lead-in Two And A Half Men a better show than it has any right to be. It's still pretty watchable based on the cast, though, mainly Warburton and Spade but also the MILF from Grounded For Life. The two unknowns who play the young couple in the show are serious weak links, though, clearly hired for their looks and not for their comic timing.

4. Knights of Prosperity
Yet another mid-season replacement starring an alumnus of Grounded For Life (a show that I always assumed was crap but then watched basically every episode of in reruns last year and let it really grow on me). I think the Fox show from last season with the kid who played Brad is coming back soon, too. I've only watched a couple episodes and haven't really made a point to watch it, though, because it's such a weird, contrived premise (a bunch of central casting stereotypes coming together to hatch a scheme about robbing Mick Jagger's house), but a couple of the cast members are consistently funny, plus it's kind of nice to see Sofia Vergara (the new Charo?) on American TV.

5. My Boys
More and more, cable channels that fill most of their broadcast day with movies and syndicated network series are trotting out original shows that somehow fit the image of the stuff they're already airing (HBO's classy cinematic dramas, TNT's middlebrow dramas, USA's 'quirky' character-driven shows, FX's trashy dramas), and now TBS is putting some original sitcoms on their schedule alongside endless Seinfeld reruns. The one about the grocery store looked too terrible to even try to watch, but I gave this one a chance in part because of the involvement of Jim Gaffigan. But he's ridiculously underused, almost to the point that it defines his character, a married guy who's always saying "OK guys, I gotta get home to the wife now" halfway through every scene he's in. And the rest of the cast is so bland and earnest that they don't even seem to be aware that they're in a comedy. Add to that the main girl's narration, which is straight out of Sex And The City except that all the bad puns and hackneyed metaphors are about sports, and you've got a sitcom that's more inept than even the worst stuff on the big 4 networks.

6. American Idol
I'm so ready for the increasingly freak show-like audition phase to be over. I can kinda understand why these early episodes are popular, but the show is way more fun to me during the later parts when all the singers are at least capable and you get to root for and against them based on preferences and aesthetics. I like seeing the occasional talent in the auditions, but at some point you, like the judges, stop being discerning at all and are just grateful to hear anyone that can stay in key. Let's go to Hollywood already.

In My Stereo

Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Sloan - Never Hear The End Of It
Prince - Controversy
A Tribe Called Quest - Beats, Rhymes And Life
Little Feat - Feats Don't Fail Me Now
Dinosaur Jr. - Green Mind
Cex - Sketchi
Dan Deacon - Acorn Master
DJ Patrick - Baltimore's Most Hated DJ IV
Bear - All We Got Is Us
Bosslady - On Da Grind Vol. 4

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Sunday, February 04, 2007
I'd like to think that jumping on and off bandwagons ahead of the pack as a form of music nerd oneupsmanship is something I've grown up enough not to indulge in, and that when it comes to hugely successful pop artists that have been famous forever, those terms aren't really applicable anyway. That said, much in the same way that last year the general populace finally turned its back on Outkast when I'd half-expected that to happen with "Hey Ya!" and it instead went on to be huge and loved by many, Gwen Stefani's new album is facing the kind of repulsion from most people that I felt for almost every single off her last album ("Cool" excepted, which I thought was a really nice, kind of touching song). The difference is, though, that while you won't catch me sticking up for Idlewild (also, not to be sycophantically linking Noz twice in one week, but big LOLs at "it’s damn near impossible to find a normal era Andre 3000/Outkast pic. Every photo up there’s got him eating bananas or wearing scarfs and british school boy knickers. He’s like the rap Fat Elvis."), but "Wind It Up" has actually grown on me a lot. I was so scarred by the horror that was "Hollaback Girl" that I managed to successfully avoid "Wind It Up" for a while even after the video had been out for a while, too late for it to effect my year-end singles list. I'm not saying it would've been anywhere near the top, but it could've at least cracked the top 50 (for the record, the other songs I'm already regretting not putting at least somewhere low on the list are Fantasia's "Hood Boy," Lostprophets' "Rooftops," and "You Don't Know" from the Shady compilation). I think "Wind It Up" sounds garish in a way that's silly and impossible to take seriously, where most of the Love Angel Music Baby singles sounded garish in a way that was just overbearing and obnoxious, some kind of carefully planned and terribly executed idea of "fun." And it helps that the chorus reminds me a lot of Fugazi's "Repeater," although I'm not going to go to great lengths to try to explain or defend that abstract comparison (especially after I went out on a limb with that whole Joe Lally = Squiggy thing). But let me know if you hear it or not, because it really kind of blew my mind when I finally realized what it reminded me of. "Sweet Escape" I'm still kind of on the fence about, although I remember watching a snippet of the video at work with the sound off before hearing the song, and when I did finally hear it I was pleasantly surprised by how different it sounded from what I expected of an Akon production with a video that looks like that. God help me, I even kinda like the "oooohoooo! eeeeehooo!" part.


Viewing Diary

Thursday, February 01, 2007
1. Pan's Labyrinth
J.G. was really hyped about seeing it, and ended up reading spoilers about it beforehand, but I was just kind of along for the ride, so I didn't read many reviews and just kind of went in with an open mind. A guy I work with warned me that it was way more gory than he'd expected, but I'm not squeamish at all, so that didn't bother me. I swear that at one point I actually thought "alright, a bonesaw!!!" and had to restrain myself from saying it out loud. I like how it kind of took the whole childlike fantasy world Narnia-type movie and just made it a lot more bleak and violent and steeped in history. The visuals were really vivid and looked handmade instead of slick and computerized, which I always like. Reminded me a little of early Peter Jackson stuff.

2. Walkentalk
I do a pretty good Christoper Walken impression, not quite up there with the greats (Kevin Pollak, Jay Mohr, and Kevin Spacey), but not bad, and barely a week goes by that J.G. doesn't demand that I say something in Walkenglish. So I was curious when I saw there was a short film on Youtube all about the fine art of doing the Walken voice. Not as funny as I'd hoped, and the main guy's Walken could've been better, but the other guys at the end are pretty good at it, and they dug up some really good quotes from Walken movies to integrate into the dialogue.

3. Pumping Iron
My friend Mike, who is both a film buff and a Arnold Schwarzenegger superfan, has always raved about this film to me, a documentary about bodybuilding from Arnold's Mr. Olympia years, and is fond of quoting Arnold's speech about how weight lifting feels like "coming day and night." But I never got around to seeing it until one of J.G.'s co-workers, also a fan of the movie, lent it to her. And, man, it really is something. I mean, I've always thought bodybuilders were creepy as hell, but shaggy 70's haircuts really just make it even creepier. Really fascinating documentary, though, and the special features on the DVD were great, especially the making-of featurette and the present-day interviews with Governor Schwarzenegger.

4. "The Venture Bros."
Probably the best birthday present I got this year was the first season of this on DVD, which J.G. gave me just a week after I put it on my list of favorite TV shows of 2006. I've never gotten to watch it as much as I'd like to, mainly because Adult Swim on plays it at like 1am on Sundays unless there are new episodes, which is harder to stay up for now that I have a 9-5, so there were a ton of episodes on here that I hadn't seen at all before. And Season 2 is out on DVD in April, so I might have to get that as soon as it comes out. Some of the special features are pretty entertaining, some of them, like the fake behind the scenes interviews of the non-existant live action movie version, which consists of the creators dressing up like characters and doing the voices, are kind of indulgent and boring. The commentary is pretty interesting, though. And Patrick Warburton as Brock might be a funnier exaggeration of comic book masculinity than the entirity of Sin City.

5. Sugar & Spice
I'd always assumed this was terrible, but J.G. was watching it one day and it was pretty funny, in that chatty, farcical teen movie way, more Clueless than, I don't know, American Pie or whatever.

6. Man of the House
Yet another post-Bring It On cheerleader comedy that was way better than the trailers made it look, especially since the ads drew largely on the two scenes where Cedric The Entertainer danced around and acted a fool. Seriously, dude got second billing for maybe 10 minutes of screentime, which felt very shoehorned in, probably at the behest of the studio wanting more comic relief. Which was kind of unnecessary, because Tommy Lee Jones is great at deadpan comedy when he wants to be (although sometimes he was so restrained with his facial movements that he kind of looked like a stroke victim). But it was a nice trifle to waste a Sunday afternoon on, and kind of earned my respect when I'd really just tuned in to see Monica Keena and Christina Milian in spandex.