the first 4 months of 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007
1. Sloan - Never Hear The End Of It
2. Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis
3. Prodigy - Return Of The Mac
4. Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
5. Ted Leo - Living With The Living
6. Redman - Red Gone Wild: Thee Album
7. Eleni Mandell - Miracle Of Five
8. Trans Am - Sex Change
9. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond
10. Money Mark - Brand New By Tomorrow

So right now, my two favorite albums of 2007 were released in the artists' respective home countries in 2006, and then in the U.S. this year (I only added Jarvis to this list once I knew the record would finally be coming out here). I might play wait and see with critical consensus to see whether other people are considering them '07 releases by the end of the year, though (at least with Jarvis; I think Sloan will end up pretty underrated either way). Not really a lot of movement in the past month, though. I'm hoping that in May a lot of still will warrant shaking up my running tally (UGK, Parts & Labor, Swizz Beatz, etc.).

1. Swizz Beatz - “It’s Me Bitches”
2. R. Kelly f/ T.I. and T-Pain - “I’m A Flirt (Remix)”
3. Natasha Bedingfield - “I Wanna Have Your Babies”
4. Red Hot Chili Peppas - “Hump De Bump”
5. Kelly Rowland f/ Eve - “Like This”
6. My Chemical Romance - “Teenagers”
7. Amerie - “Gotta Work”
8. The Game f/ Kanye West - “Wouldn’t Get Far”
9. Vanessa Hudgens - “Say OK”
10. Maroon 5 - “Makes Me Wonder”
11. Relient K - “Must Have Done Something Good”
12. Muse - “Starlight”
13. Paul Wall f/ Jermaine Dupri - “I’m Throwed”
14. Papa Roach - “Forever”
15. DJ Khaled f/ Akon, T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman and Lil Wayne – "We Taking Over"
16. Fergie f/ Ludacris - “Glamorous”
17. Fantasia - “When I See U”
18. Stephen Marley f/ Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley - “The Traffic Jam”
19. Bow Wow f/ T Pain - “Outta My System”
20. Fall Out Boy - “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs”

When I look at this list, I feel like one of those scuzzy contrarian critics who'll endorse the most disparate, illogical group of artists out of some misbegotten attempt at eclecticism or unpredictability. But I'm honestly just going with my ears here, and it's sounding like a really unpredictable, illogical year to me, as far as radio singles go. I'm liking a lot more stuff by people I never expected to like even one song by than the more credible old standbys. I can't help it if Fergie is practically the only artist lately that I've really liked three consecutive singles by! The only one I'm really embarrassed by, though, is the RHCP. They've been churning out boring ballads for so long that I'm strangely grateful that they've finally released a goofy funk song as a single, I mean it sounds like it could've been on Mother's Milk.


Netflix Diary

Sunday, April 29, 2007
1. Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion
This was such a disappointment. I've liked Galifianakis ever since his short-lived but kind of awesome VH1 show, Late World With Zach, but hadn't seen a whole lot of his actual stand-up aside from the brief clips interspersed throughout the Comedians Of Comedy documentary and TV series. So I was really looking forward to checking out his new DVD, but it kind of blows. Maybe all his performances are like this and I was just expecting the wrong thing, but he really focused on the Kaufman-esque forced awkwardness of his stand-up more than the one liners and non-sequiturs, and the whole thing was dragged down by prolonged skits with Zach playing his twin brother Seth, which has always been kind of a crappy bit.

2. The Apartment
In the past couple years this has become one of my all-time favorites, movie-wise. So I had to rent it to watch it again and so that J.G. could see it. At some point I just need to rent every Billy Wilder picture I haven't seen, though.

3. The Pianist
J.G. has a somewhat frustrating habit of renting really depressing movies about stuff like World War II and genocide in Africa, and then when the horrifyingly sad stories about global atrocities make her cry, saying "I don't like this movie." I mean, I don't mind watching those kinds of movies, generally they're well made and I'm glad they make me think long and hard about certain dark moments in human history. She just puts a lot of them on our Netflix queue. And we got about a half hour into this one and she just got so upset that she had to turn it off, and I ended up watching the rest of it by myself later. I've always liked Adrien Brody so it was good to see him in the role he won the Oscar for. I didn't really like the direction, though, and felt like it was paced really poorly. And ultimately I felt like the movie was made because the main character was a famous Holocaust survivor rather than because it was one of the more compelling or interesting stories from that period. Also, it really irritated me that one of the stories told by a character, about a baby being smothered so that its crying wouldn't attract the attention of the Nazis, was totally ripped off of the last episode of M*A*S*H. But the last ten minutes, which just focused on the pianist's hands as he played with a symphony while the credits rolled, were really beautifully shot and exhilarating to watch. I could've watched that part for hours.

4. The Constant Gardener
Yet another depressing Oscar-winner. I liked this, though, interesting story and I can see why Rachel Weisz won the Oscar for it.

5. Se7en
J.G. wanted to rent this because she'd seen the ending and a lot of other parts of it on TV before but never the whole thing, and I realized in the course of watching it that I probably hadn't seen the whole thing in one sitting before either. Still a pretty cool movie, although probably a little overrated, and Brad Pitt is kind of terrible in it. I really have zero desire to see Zodiac.

Bonus Track Bonanza

Friday, April 27, 2007
Sloan - "The Best Part Of Your Life" (mp3)

Ted Leo - "Old Souls Know" (mp3)

Money Mark - "Love Stains" (mp3)

It's a small coincidence that 3 of my favorite rock albums of the year so far all came with bonus tracks in some form or another, but what's remarkable is that in all 3 cases, those bonus tracks included songs that I actually like as much as anything on the proper albums, which is kind of rare for outtake freebies. Sloan's Never Hear The End Of It is ridiculously overloaded with 30 songs, many of which are among the best stuff they've ever done, so it's kind of surprising that they still had a couple solid leftovers to give away (my copy had a little slip inside with a password to get 2 bonus songs from the Yep Roc website).

The more I listen to Ted Leo's Living With The Living, the more uneven the record sounds to me, a good 4 or 5 absolute stunners surrounded by a couple more that may yet grow on me, and a lot of seriously dull or ill-considered stuff. The EP of Ted solo recordings attached to initial pressings of the album, Mo' Living, isn't any more consistent, but it's nice to hear him trying some different sounds outside of the Pharmacists' power trio setup. I think I was one of the only people who liked the solo recordings on the Tell Balgury, Balgeary Is Dead EP, and I was expecting more stuff like that on here with just guitar and voice, but he actually fleshes out most of the songs with bass and drums. Though I like the Chumbawumba cover, there's not really anything on the EP that anyone would claim was unjustly left off the proper album (even the would-be title track), but "Old Souls Know" comes closest. It still sounds a little underwritten, but I like the weird tempo and Ted's sloppy drumming.

I bought Money Mark's new album just off the strength of how much I liked the album of his that my brother was into years and years ago called Push The Button. That album came out at a time when there were virtually dozens of Beastie Boys associates were releasing 'eclectic' pop albums, but while most of those were completely awful and forgettable, Money Mark actually turned out to be a capable singer/songwriter with a smooth, likeable voice. His latest, Brand New By Tomorrow, isn't as good or as varied as that album, but it is pretty mellow and pleasant to listen to. And one of the two songs on the bonus EP that came with the copy I bought, "Love Stains," is as good as anything on the album (Sean Lennon plays bass on it, but eh, who cares).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
This week in the City Paper I have a feature about Baltimore's new indie rock venue the Lo-Fi Social Club, which I first wrote about on the Noise blog last month.

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In My Stereo

Monday, April 23, 2007
Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
Money Mark - Push The Button
Nina Simone - Baltimore
De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead
The Electronic Happy Girl Click And Pop - A Head Full Of Medicine
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter II
Comp/DNA - The Man With The Hand: Bang-A-Rang Mixtape Vol. 4
Ogun - Bmore Hero
Pro and Reg - Bricks 2 Bmore EP
The Weak - Painful

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Saturday, April 21, 2007
I haven't been contributing to the Stylus Jukebox lately as much as I want to, but here's what I've blurbed/voted on since last time once again with my scores compared to the averages:

Mika - Love Today [5/4]
Maroon 5 - Makes Me Wonder [7/6.67]
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Sons Of Cain [9/7.25]
Rihanna ft. Jay-Z - Umbrella [3/8.17]
Amerie - Gotta Work [8/7.75] (obviously)
Jennifer Lopez - Que Hiciste [5/4.25]
Linkin Park - What I’ve Done [4/4]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

It's been over a month now since I started writing for the City Paper's music blog, Noise (at, so if you haven't been reading it, lemme just remind you of its existence.

As usual, the bread and butter of my contributions has been Baltimore hip hop coverage, including 2007's First Local Hip-Hop Highlights Part 1 (featuring Darkroom Productions, Ogun, Jade Fox, TestMe, and Height) and Part 2 (featuring NC-17, Ace, B.I.G. Status, Pro and Reg, and Mike Malachi), as well as a Q&A with Ogun and show reviews of Midas, Sonny Brown and Neuse @ the Turntable Club, For The People Entertainment (Billo, Cutthroat, Ace, etc.) with The Weak and Bmore Real @ Sonar, and The B-More Fresh Fest @ 5 Seasons with Bossman, Skarr Akbar, Mullyman, Barnes, Huli Shallone, TestMe and Chopper.

But I've also been posting a lot of other stuff, including my monthly Baltimore club music column, The Club Beat (with a Diamond K interview and a big overview of club music MP3 stores in the most recent column), and more live coverage of The Street Dreams Tour @ 1st Mariner Arena (with Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne and Baby, Jim Jones, Rich Boy, TestMe and Amazon), Grand Buffet, Human Host, Height, and New Age Hillbilly @ The Ottobar, The Roots @ the Lyric Opera House, Sparklehorse @ Ram's Head Live!, The Shamrock Festival @ RFK Stadium, Monarch, Thrushes and Minmae @ the Lo-Fi Social Club, and Trans Am and Zombi @ the Black Cat. I think we're still kind of feeling out exactly what Noise is and how it's different from or a supplement to the City Paper's music section, but I've been trying to keep my coverage diverse and not just stay in the same scenes and venues all the time, and I'm pretty happy with what I've done so far.

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In My Stereo

Monday, April 16, 2007
Ted Leo - Mo Livin' EP
No I.D. - Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album)
Redman - Muddy Waters
Private Eleanor - Sweethearting
Ray Lugar - Tragedy Relief
E-Nahledge - Street Sampler
NC-17 - Oscar Night
Jade Fox - Ashes Of Another Life
Testme - Testme Talk Vol. 1
Young Star presents - Da Young Bulley Mixtape Volume #1

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Saturday, April 14, 2007
Prodigy - "Legends" (mp3)

The big elephant in the room that nobody seems to talk about, on the subject of Koch Records being really cost-effective and profitable for artists, is that they don't clear samples. At all. That, more than its commercial prospects, is the reason Prodigy's Return Of The Mac would never work on Interscope. Any album produced entirely by Alchemist, if all the samples were paid for, would cost millions. Alchemist was probably already in my top 5 favorite rap producers working right now before the new Prodigy record, be he definitely is now. Dude is really holding it down for white producers in mainstream hip hop, while Scott Storch is off doing the kind of cartoonish white rap guy stereotype shit that makes you think Ego Trip should've done the show about producers (pretending to rap and beefing with other producers, doing photo shoots in a robe and shades, making cheesy beats with melodic pianos and strings and absolutely no drums or groove).

I've never been a big Mobb Deep fan, and Prodigy still hasn't fully rebounded from that point where he seemed to lose everything that made him a good MC to begin with, but considering that I'd cop an Alchemist solo album where half the guest slots are filled by P, I shouldn't see anything wrong with enjoying Prodigy's solo album either. The whole album is built off of running already tired puns about how "mac" can mean a type of gun as well as a lot of other things, which isn't a really great concept to hang your hat on (although P occasionally does drop a funny one, like the whole "two all beef patties, special sauce" Big Mac bit at the end of "Legends").

In his Stylus review, Ian Cohen really gets to the root of what's interesting about P, which is his sometimes bizarre word choices. It's not about slang or dun language or insider jargon, just blunt phrases like "high on drugs," like he refuses to dress up his mindstate with euphemisms or any of the hundreds of slang terms for getting high. And then there's that line about "blood on my G-Units," like he honestly sees no contradiction or suspension of disbelief issues in telling you he's a killer at the same time as he reminds you that he's a rapper on one of the most successful labels in the world.

"Legends" is an interesting track because it uses the same sample as Remy Ma and Ne-Yo's "Feels So Good," putting it in a completely different context without really flipping it differently at all. Anytime two producers independently wind up using the same sample around the same time, heads reach for the tinfoil and start coming up with conspiracies about beat biting, but I tend to chalk it up to coincidence more often than not. Lending credence to my theory is the fact that Remy's song came out over a year ago on an album that Alc himself worked on. He probably had his own track laying around for a couple years, heard Remy's but didn't give a fuck and did the song with P anyway. "Feels So Good" was one of those weird singles that didn't really chart and didn't have a video, but certain radio stations in certain markets seemed to play it every hour on the hour for the past year. Maybe it was just residual Ne-Yo love, but I thought that was odd. Remy's label probably dropped the ball by not pushing that song harder. Prodigy rocked it better, though.


TV Diary

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
1. "Thank God You're Here"
It's pretty much impossible to talk about this newly imported improv comedy show without comparing it to "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" But I liked that show, so I'm happy to see something like it in prime time again, especially since it's based around having different performers every week, so it won't fall into the kind of rut that "Whose Line"'s longtime repertory players eventually seemed to drift into. The first episode was pretty funny, and I like that Dave Foley as the judge, as arbitrary as his role is, actually did pick the best performer of the night, Bryan Cranston (who I've always thought was by far the best thing about Malcom In The Middle) as the "winner." I'm sure my mileage will vary based on how much I like the guests and whether they're actual comics or improvisors and not just hapless actors, but with 4 guests per show there's bound to be someone on every week that will get me to tune in.

2. "Entourage"
The more I think about, the more paltry last Summer's run of "Entourage" episodes was, both in terms of laughs and plot development compared to the first two seasms, so I can't blame them for adding a bunch of episodes to the 3rd season a few months later to make up for it or strike while the iron's hot or whatever. The irony is that the new switch up of having Ari get fired will probably mean even more Ari in these episodes, when really I think he's better in small doses and it's really Johnny Drama that brings the funny, so hopefully they'll strike a better balance than they did in the first episode of this run. Carla Gugino is looking ridiculously hot, though, so that's a plus. Also, the music on this show has always been kind of corny and just a bit behind the curve, but it's really cheesy that the best they can do for a "hip, urban" soundtrack in 2007 is Outkast and N.E.R.D. songs that are well over 5 years old.

3. Human Giant
I always thought "The State" was pretty overrated, so I wasn't much interested in another sketch comedy show on MTV, let alone one with a couple of the least funny hacks of the many unfunny hacks on "Best Week Ever." Why can't Paul F. Tompkins get his own show instead of those guys and the trucker hat guy on "30 Rock"? Anyway I'm biased, but what little I've seen of this so far has been dreadful. The "camping weekend" sketch was funny, though.

4. American Idol
So Haley's gone now, that's kinda nice. I'm not really with the whole contrarian Sanjaya mania at all, and it kind of annoys me that all the attention over him staying longer than he deserves to it just going to keep him on the show even longer, but I really have to admit that the kid's got serious entertainment value. For a while it just looked like he was uncomfortable and didn't want to be there, but now he's kind of owning his craziness and it's a little more fun to watch. I'm a little bummed about Sligh and Gina being gone, both of them kinda earned their ticket home with bad performances or song choices, but I would've liked to see them both hang in for a couple more weeks and do some more songs. I'm so sick of Chris Richardson. Still riding for Jordin, though.

In My Stereo

Sunday, April 08, 2007
Sloan - Navy Blues
Slick Rick - The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick
The Beatnuts - A Musical Massacre
Don Brody/DNA - Hard Money
Thrushes - Sun Come Undone
Baskettree/Wax And Wane - Split CDR
Ace - The Product
Da Woodz - Woodz Vs. The Industry
Musse' Mus' presents Rep Ur State Vol. 1 East Coast City Edition
The Boy Blesst - Lock Down

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Friday, April 06, 2007
Eleni Mandell - "Salt Truck" (mp3)

Nels Cline/Andrea Parkins/Tom Rainey - "Downpour 2" (mp3)

This might sound odd considering that I'm, like, a critic, but I almost never buy an album based on nothing more than a positive review, nor have I done it much in the past. Honestly I'm a bit mystified by the idea that there are people that actually do that regularly, both relatively free thinking individuals as well as the zombies roaming the aisles for Pitchfork's "best new music" picks. One of those rare occasions where one of my purchases was prompted by a review did occur, though, after reading the City Paper writeup of Eleni Mandell's Miracle Of Five, mainly because I'll buy pretty much anything with Nels Cline on it (the big exception being Wilco, but who knows, I might hear their new record at some point and actually like it), but also because I hold Matt's opinion in high esteem. Plus it's got Cline's former Geraldine Fibbers bandmate Kevin Fitzgerald on it, and I've always wanted to him play drums on more stuff outside of that one great, short-lived band.

Mandell's voice is beautiful in an unassuming, almost calming way, rougher and and more unique than Norah Jones but smoother and more controlled than, say, Cat Power, and she's a really sharp lyricist. But what I really love about the album is the gorgeously recorded atmosphere of it, almost a dozen musicians working together to make such a quiet, delicate sound. Bassist Ryan Feves comes very close, on a few tracks, to replicating one of my favorite sounds of all time, the upright bass on John Coltrane's "Naima," the way it cuts through all the other instruments with a creamy mid-range while dragging just barely behind the beat. Right now the song that I'm hooked on most is "Salt Truck," a short pretty hymn about winter that I'd probably love even more had I heard it a couple months ago, when the city of Baltimore was dumping a metric ton of salt on every city block each time it snowed half an inch. Cline's guitar floats above the song like a trebly vapor, but even when he's more noticeably audible on other tracks, his contributions are restrained and suited to their surroundings.

The other album featuring Nels Cline that's in my top ten of the year so far is Downpour, a recording of an improv session he did with Andrea Parkins and Tom Rainey. I wrote on here back in '04 about the first album by that trio, but I haven't listened to it in a while to compare to the new one. One thing I will say is that I kinda wish that CDs like this were cut up into more seperate tracks, rather than the only 3 on Downpour, even if they were divided up at arbitrary intervals. Then, I'd probably be able to pinpoint with greater accuracy and in more detail what moments or 'movements' are my favorites when writing about it, plus I'd be able to post tracks that aren't 18 minutes long, like "Downpour 2" is. Sure, there's a four minute track, but all the good stuff happens in the long ones.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007
I stopped contributing to Stylus regularly after the year-end roundup stuff a few months ago, mainly because the only thing I was really into doing there was long-winded album reviews with generous wordcount constraints, and I had a lot less time and motivation to do those once I got a 9-5 and a weekly writing workload with the City Paper site gig. But last week William B. Swygart put out the call for more folks to help out with the Stylus Jukebox and I obliged, since it's something I'd always been vaguely interested in participating in. When I read it, I usually find myself vehemently disagreeing with everyone's opinion, so it's nice to get in there and try and drag down the average score or boost it up when I think it needs it. This is what I've blurbed that's run so far, with my scores compared to the averages:

Fabolous ft. Young Jeezy - Diamonds [4/5.4]
D.G. Yola - I Ain’t Gon’ Let Up [8/7.25]
Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip - Thou Shalt Always Kill [4/7]
Crime Mob ft. Lil Scrappy - Rock Yo Hips [5/7]
Mike Jones ft. Bun-B & Snoop Dogg - My 6-4 [7/6.8]


Movie Diary

Monday, April 02, 2007
1. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
I think Anchorman is one of the funniest movies of the past few years, so I had high hopes for this, but honestly I was pretty disappointed. It didn't suck by any means, and it might grow on me, but it definitely wasn't better than Anchorman, which was the opinion of J.G.'s co-worker who lent us the DVD. The whole first 15 minutes were dead weight, all the exposition about Ricky Bobby's birth and childhood (which could've been dealt with quicker and probaby funnier if told as an anecdote or even a flashback halfway through the movie) and the boring montages, and it didn't really pick up right away even after that. Definitely some funny parts though, especially everything with the cougar. And John C. Reilly's always been a great comic actor, so it's good to see him finally getting cast in actual comedies (although maybe he got the part because he was in Days Of Thunder). I'm definitely looking forward to Walk Hard. But this movie really reaffirmed my opinion that Sacha Baron Cohen is mad overrated, and has no real schtick or comedy chops beyond boring old standby's like characters that are gay and/or speak in bad fake accents. Fuck that guy.

2. Relative Strangers
This apparently came out last year, although I'd never even heard of it until I saw it on Comedy Central. For good reason, too, because it's absolutely awful. Usually Danny DeVito is only in movies this bad if he directed them too.

3. Prime
Watched this on cable one weekend when I was really bored. I never thought Uma Thurman was particularly attractive, but she was hot in this. This movie would've been way less worth watching if Sandra Bullock hadn't dropped out of the role. It was pretty funny in parts, but dragged on a bit.

4. Kate And Leopold
J.G. was watching this on cable one weekend and I watched it too because I was really really bored. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the minority in this, but I've always felt pretty sure that time travel is impossible, that it would just never happen given the way the world works and that it only occurs to people because it's interesting on an abstract, what-if level. But given that time travel presents so many storytelling possibilities, I understand why it's a theme that fiction returns to again and again. The problem is, movies about time travel, especially ones that aren't strictly in the science fiction genre, tend to spend such a tedious amount of exposition on setting up how time travel woks in this particular story, trying to make it plausible, and employing the inevitable devices about how one person discovers this and noone believes them, that it just sinks the whole thing (the exception, of course, being Back To The Future, where the ridiculousness of the premise is what's great about it). I kind of wish Hollywood could just establish standard where it was clear from the beginning that, OK, we wanted to make a movie about if a guy from 1867 met and fell in love with a modern day woman. Also, I guess I'm part of the problem as far as Hollywood's bias against older actresses, because it stuck out like a sore thumb to me that Meg Ryan is very clearly several years older than Hugh Jackman in this.

5. The Man Who Knew Too Little
This was one of the last broad comedies Bill Murray starred before doing Rushmore and subsequently settling into his current career phase of playing a sad panda in Wes Anderson movies and other indie or quasi-indie flicks like Broken Flowers and Lost In Translation, along with the odd supporting role or Garfield movie. I'd assumed based on the bad reviews and poor box office that this wasn't really worth a watch, but gave it a shot when it came on TV anyway, and was pleasantly surprised, although it's more Bill Murray carrying the silly premise than a Groundhog Day-level classic.