Thursday, January 31, 2008

The 5th and final season of The Wire is halfway over now, at least for those of us watching one week ahead OnDemand (and there's your usual spoiler disclaimer if you're not caught up to that point), and I feel like it's just started to get good. During the first 2 or 3 episodes of the season, as McNulty's crackpot scheme started to unfold, a lot of people started to cry foul or invoke j*mping the sh*rk, because, hey, the series is almost over, there has to be some point at the end where it all goes wrong, it can't all be worthwhile, God forbid, right? And I'm glad I kinda stayed calm and sat out that speculation, because the payoff is already starting to come, with how it's leading into the weaknesses of the press. For that meeting scene alone, where McNulty and Templeton are both caught in each other's lies and are momentarily bewildered by the synchronicity, whether they realize what's going on or not, is worth it for me so far.

The fact that, as is being dredged up by so many bloggers and columnists the last few weeks, much of David Simon's personal experiences at The Sun seem to be drawn from in a bitter, score-settling way doesn't interest me much, at least unless and until that subtext seems to pull down the show, as it did with, say, Aaron Sorkin's varous transparent autobiographical elementsthat contributed to "Studio 60"'s failure. Ultimately, Simon's thesis about the death of the newspaper might be as vague and banal as Season 2's thesis about the decline of the docks, but I don't really mind because, despite all the great American novel pretensions of the show, it works better under a microscope than as a big picture statement, mostly because it's well crafted and viscerally entertaining like most any other good TV show. I just now got around to watching the 2 half-hour specials HBO made in advance of this season, and though I kinda wish I hadn't watched "The Last Word," loaded as it is with mild spoilers of scenes from later episodes, it's pretty interesting. But Simon also comes with a pretty paltry explanation of how the newspaper industry went wrong when confronted with the internet (in this information age, he still believes it's a mistake for news providers to put their articles online and that it displays a disrespect for their product, which is borderline laughable to me).

I also finally got around to watching the three brief 'flashback' segments with character origins that HBO put On Demand, which depict, respectively, different actors playing a young Prop Joe, a young Omar, and the same actors as usual depicting McNulty and Bunk's first meetings. I hadn't heard very good things about them, and I'm glad they were just little bonuses, not part of the show's proper canon; they were just a little too on the nose, particularly the Prop Joe caricature.

Otherwise, things have been getting pretty exciting. Episode 4 gave us the first death of a semi-major character this season, one that's always been among my favorites. Episode 5 ended with probably the closest thing to a big pyrotechnic Hollywood gunfight that The Wire's ever had, as well as one of its few real cliffhangers the show's had. That's fitting for a character as popular as Omar, but the last time they closed an episode with a major character's fate hanging in the balance like they, they opened the next one with Frank Sobotka's body being pulled out of the harbor.

I was happy to see them finally utilize the blue light Citiwatch cameras in a scene in episode 4, since those have been ubiquitous in Baltimore the past couple years and probably the biggest development in local law enforcement surveillance since The Wire went on the air. I was pretty amused by the idea that anyone in Baltimore would have a hard time finding homeless people to talk to, or would have to think much about where to find them (Fells Point and the strip in front of Camden Yards alone would be no-brainers). And even though Levy is already a character with pretty broad stroaks, I still liked the touch of him practically rubbing his hands together when realizing that any stupid act on the part of his client isn't worth advising against even when he sees the immediate danger, because it ultimately means bigger fees for him. The small moments between Herc and Carver lately, first the stern Episode 4 scene and then the kind of hat-in-hand apology and favor in Episode 5, were pretty great, I thought. It's nice to see a little heart in their friendship since they started the series mostly as comic relief, bickering and making homoerotic jokes. And it's kind of nice to have that little bit of tenderness while the show's other classic bromance, McNulty and Bunk, is on the rocks.

A couple more things: has anyone nailed down the exact timeline of these episodes? I generally assume that they take place roughly at the same time as the air date (for instance the way Season 4 aired in fall 2006 and lined up almost perfectly with when the first day of school and primaries and elections would be in real life), but these episodes, which were filmed last spring/summer, don't seem overly wintery, but there's a reference to Orioles opening day, so I'm not sure if they're jumping ahead to spring 2008 or stuck back in spring 2007 in the Wire world's chronology.

Also, season 5 yielded The Wire's lowest premiere ratings to date, and I'm gonna go ahead and say this with total confidence: it's all because of them putting episodes OnDemand early. Sunday night would be total appointment TV for me if the show didn't go OnDemand 6 days earlier, and of course I'm not going to wait if I don't have to. More than torrents or bootlegged screeners or people who don't mind waiting for the DVD release, that cuts hugely into the Sunday night viewership. I don't know why HBO does it, seems kind of unnecessary and undoubtedly takes a bite out of their ratings, and even if ratings don't matter as much to HBO as to other networks, they still matter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Corporate Rock Still Sells #8 up as of yesterday. I should probably apologize for writing nearly 1/3rd of the comments on my own post, but eh.

Statsmania: 2007 By Numbers

Sunday, January 27, 2008
2007 was the first time I participated in the two big music critics lists, the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop and the Idolator Pop Critics Poll, even though I've been following the latter for nearly a decade and it was my 3rd year as a paid professional critic (although I came close to submitting ballots the previous 2 years). Mostly this is because this year the first time I actually felt like I'm in this music writer business now for at least the semi-long haul, and will most likely still be doing this a year from now for the next poll, but also because I write for Idolator and it'd be silly not to contribute to their poll (and I have no reason to vote in one but not the other).

One of my favorite things about Pazz & Jop time every year is the page of voter statistics that Glenn McDonald compiles after the results are published. This year he put up All·Idols 2007, a collation of stats from both P&J and Idolator's polls. And the best part of Glenn's stats is the Voter Centricity/Voter Eccentricity list, which rates all of the polls' voters based on how much their ballots have in common with other ballots, or feature albums other people voted for. And I take a little pleasure in the fact that I'm on the eccentric, noncomformist side of things, with my ballot ranging #682 out of 782 voters. Here's how my top 10 syncs up with the average list placing of those albums between the 2 polls:

Eleni Mandell · Miracle of Five #288 · 4 votes
Freeway · Free at Last #147 · 9 votes
Paramore · Riot! #133 · 10 votes
Parts and Labor · Mapmaker #86 · 15 votes
Prodigy · Return of the Mac #105 · 13 votes
Scarface · Made #207 · 6 votes
Sloan · Never Hear the End of It #123 · 11 votes
T-Pain · Epiphany #288 · 4 votes
Ted Leo/Pharmacists · Living With the Living #75 · 17 votes
UGK · Underground Kingz #41 · 28 votes

I didn't go out of my way with many obscure choices (although less than half of albums were released on major labels), but only 3 albums on my ballot cracked the top 100. Glenn's stats also include each person's top 10 most similiar voters, and includes mostly people I know, or whose work I read regularly (and also Glenn himself!), so not many surprises there.

And just to go ridiculously overboard with my OCD list obsession now, some meta-lists and stats:

The top 10 lists I compiled in the past 2 months
1. Top 100 Singles Of 2007 part one and two
2. Top 10 Baltimore Club Tracks of 2007
3. Top 20 Television Shows Of 2007
4. The 2007 Hip Hop/R&B Remix Report Card
5. Top 25 Most Posted Topics On Government Names Of 2007
6. Top 10 Concerts I Saw In 2007
7. Top 50 Albums Of 2007 part one and two
8. Top 50 Baltimore releases of 2007
9. Top 5 Artists of 2007
10. Top 20 Most Anticipated Baltimore MCs of 2008

The artists with the most frequent appearances in these lists
1. Swizz Beatz - 8 in singles, 4 in albums, 1 in artists
2. Lil Wayne - 5 in singles, 5 in albums, 1 in artists
3. Nate "Danja" Hills - 8 in singles, 1 in albums, 1 in artists
4. T-Pain - 6 in singles, 3 in albums, 1 in artists
5. Kanye West - 7 in singles, 2 in albums
6. T.I. - 5 in singles, 3 in albums
7. R. Kelly - 4 in singles, 3 in albums
8. Polow Da Don - 5 in singles, 1 in albums
9. The Runners - 2 in singles, 4 in albums
10. Timbaland - 4 in singles, 1 in albums

The TV list sorted by network
NBC: 4
CBS, Discovery Channel: 3
Animal Planet, VH1: 2
ABC, CW, E!, FOX, Food Network, FX: 1
broadcast network shows: 10
basic cable shows: 10
premium cable shows: 0
shows that aired their final episodes in 2007: 7

And finally, according to my calculations, I wrote 183,148 words in 2007 that were published in a newspaper or magazine, or on a website or blog. That's probably at least a few times more words than I've published in any previous year of my life, and I guess goes to show that if I had focus or anything to say not about music, I could probably write a novel someday. That’s not counting blog comments, message board posts, cut-and-pasted text from other sources, lists, reduntant things posted on more than one blog, or the Stylus Singles Jukebox (which I probably wrote at least a couple thousand words for this year, but its archive appears to be offline now). These numbers will probably be more depressing for you than they were for me if you actually read a large percentage of the frequently sloppy prose I penned this year. At least I got paid for my side of the deal almost half the time (for everything except Narrowcast and Gov’t Names):

Narrowcast: 81,496 words
Noise on City Paper website: 45,847 words
Government Names: 27,576 words
City Paper (print edition): 21,170 words
Idolator: 5,451 words
Scratch: approx. 1,050 words
Bmore Vibe Magazine : 558 words

And with that, I bury 2007 once and for all, at least on this site. Let us never speak of it again.

The 2008 Remix Report Card, Vol. 1

Friday, January 25, 2008
When I did the 2007 Hip Hop/R&B Remix Report Card a few weeks ago, it was with the vague idea that I'd be able to continue it as a regular thing instead of just a big year-end wrapup, but I was kind of amazed just how many remixes have dropped since then. If this rate keeps up it should be pretty easy to do this every month. Jon Caramanica did his own thing on the year in remixes for the Idolator 2007 In The Mix package that was pretty good, too (though Noz came with a better counterpoint). My desire here isn't to praise or mourn the state of the all-star remix, just to keep track of them all and sort them out for future reference. Some of these I'm not totally sure if they're official label/original artist-sanctioned remixes, but these are all tracks that have gotten big attention as remixes, at least (also, I can't believe they didn't do a "Roc Boys" remix as a posse cut, should've been so obvious):

"Blow Ya Mind" by Styles P. featuring Jadakiss and Sheek Louch
There's a good chance that 3rd Lox album will never actually surface, so until then I hope they just keep doing a remix together every time one of them has a solo hit.
Best Verse: Jadakiss
Overall Grade: B+

"Can't Help But Wait" by Trey Songz featuring Plies
Nothing to see here, just a generic Plies verse (complete with lots of mentions of "goons") dropped in the middle of this song.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C-

"Crying Out For Me (Remix)" by Mario featuring Lil Wayne
This is like Wayne doing his own bizarro take on Andre's cutesy rom-com narratives on the "You" remix and "Int'l Players Anthem," and it's not pretty. Dude needs to sober up, or at least do his recording sessions a little earlier in the night before he's totally zooted. I think the way he says "remix, baby" is enough for me to want him off the remix circuit at this point, in spite of his virtues.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Cyclone (Remix)" by Baby Bash featuring T-Pain, Hurricane Chris, and Gorilla Zoe
T-Pain's run of remixes last year was kind of ground zero for his burst of popularity, so you think he'd jump at the chance to do more, especially for songs he appeared on originally, but unfortunately he doesn't kick a verse on this or anything. Baby Bash's whole "weather channel" bit is kinda good, though, and he totally shocks me by outshining two rappers I actually like a little.
Best Verse: Baby Bash
Overall Grade: C+

"Flashing Lights (Remix)" by Kanye West featuring R. Kelly
It's kind of amazing that these guys, two Chicago-based urban radio weirdo geniuses, have never really worked together as far as I can remember. You'd think they would've both ended up on a Jay-Z or Twista track at some point in the past (although Kanye did want R. to sing the hook on "Heart Of The City" originally). And as great as the original is, this is a pretty anti-climactic remix, especially by R.'s standards, although the little harmony thing he comes in with in his 2nd verse is pretty nice.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"Girlfriend (Remix)" by Bow Wow & Omarion featuring Cassidy, Soulja Boy Tell 'Em and Swizz Beatz
I kinda slept on the original, but the remix is a total improvement, Swizz taking that bouncy piano riff and adding his trademark clattering chaos to it. Nothing special, but a real solid radio joint, and Bow Wow is still doing his hilariously transparent Weezy-biting new flow. Wierd how the chorus bites "White Tee," though, I can't even tell if that's on purpose or what. Soulja Boy is still, beyond any hyperbole about his popularity relative to his talent, a really lousy vocalist. Usually guys who aren't very good rappers but become hugely popular at rapping can at least do something interesting with their voice, but anytime he's not going "YOUUUU" or "YAHHH" he just has the kind of expressionless monotone that I pretty much never want to hear.
Best Verse: Cassidy
Overall Grade: B+

"Pop Bottles (Remix)" by Birdman featuring Lil Wayne, Fabolous, Jim Jones and Max B.
I was already annoyed that they didn't let Jadakiss do a verse on the original when they sampled him on the hook, it should been a no-brainer to get him on the remix. It's really kind of incredible how Jim Jones is even worse than usual on this, he's trying some weird new voice on here that seems like a terrible idea. Wayne's original verse is replayed, so Fab steals this one easy.
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: C

"Sensual Seduction (Remix)" by Snoop Dogg featuring Lil Kim
In her creepy post-prison Jocelyn Wildenstein plastic surgery horror comeback phase, Lil Kim has been kind of going back to her sleazy sex rhyme roots, and it actually works pretty well on the Gucci Mane remix if you forget what she looks like now. And if Kim hit this with a fast doubletime flow like her collabs with Twista, this coulda been good too, but instead Kim just shadows Snoop's melody hook and becomes the 50th rapper to bite the Autotune schtick.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"Soulja Girl (Collipark Remix)" by Soulja Boy Tell 'Em featuring I-15
I think Collipark is one of the most underrated producers in the South, and I was happy when he finally got out from under the eternal diminishing returns of Ying Yang's career to do something else. But it was also kind of a bummer that the artists he hit with, Soulja Boy and Hurricane Chris, not only weren't very good, but didn't need his beats to have their big hits. So I'm glad he finally did a great beat for one of them, even if it's just a remix, and this reminds me a bit of the awesome Collipark remix of Twista's "Slow Jamz."
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B+

"Speedin' (Remix)" by Rick Ross featuring Plies, Birdman, Busta Rhymes, Webbie, Gorilla Zoe, Fat Joe, Torch, Gun Play, Flo-Rida, Brisco, Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled, DJ Drama, DJ Bigga Rankin and R. Kelly
The whole Runners/Kelly tag team has worked really well for me so far between "Go Getta" and "All The Above," but this song always kinda fell flat to me beyond just the fact that it's Rick Ross. It doesn't seem particularly popular either, and this big overstuffed remix feels at best unwarranted, and at worst a failed attempt at using a remix to jumpstart a song's hit potential like Khaled's "I'm So Hood." Tom wrote a piece about how this song is the nadir of all all-star remixes, and I'd say he's exaggerating a bit, but I'm also not going to defend it. Most of the rappers on here actually make the beat feel even more inert and weak.
Best Verse: Flo Rida
Overall Grade: C-

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This month on, I posted a couple more last gasps of best of 2007 lists, my top 10 shows of the year (including Kix, Avec, Skarr Akbar, Bossman, Mullyman, Barnes, Huli Shallone, Comp, B.O.M.B., ShellBe R.A.W., Jade Fox, B-Fly and G.E.M. among others) and a big year-end Club Beat column with my top 10 Baltimore club tracks of the year (including K.W. Griff, Blaq Starr, Rod Lee, Say Wut and Scottie B. among others) in addition to the top Baltimore albums of '07 list I posted last month. And my first concert reviews of the new year were of the MacGregor Burns Band/Good Guise/Mason-Dixon @ The Ottobar, Paloma/Flying Eyes/Dog Day Afternoon/Watershed/Icarus Rising @ the 8x10, and Ogun/B.O.M.B./PX/First Family/E Major/A-Class/UnReal/Ab-Rock @ the Turntable Club's benefit for Sonny Brown. Plus, of course, other people all over Noise posting Baltimore music news.

Movie Diary

Monday, January 21, 2008
1. Cloverfield
I went to Transformers opening night last summer, and have been on the bandwagon and dying to see more since the moment the trailer for this ended. I followed the viral promo online a little, but I always knew (or just hoped) that it wouldn't really integral to seeing or enjoying the movie, and just wanted to get in the theatre and see it before anything was really spoiled for me, and I did. And for the most part, I was pretty damn happy with it. The beastie was cool, and they attained a good balance of suspense and ambiguity by slowly showing you more but never letting you see or know too much. I had mixed feelings about the cast and characterization, but as I expected liked Lizzy Caplan (the only good thing about TV's cancelled "The Class") and T.J. Miller (the only good thing about TV's soon-to-be-cancelled "Carpoolers"). Also I've been talking about the movie all morning on here, so I'll refrain from rehashing all the things I said there.

2. I Am Legend
The biggest problem with Cloverfield, really, was that this came out a month earlier (and I saw it only a week earlier). I mean, they're different enough in approach that a side-by-side comparison is kind of pointless, but there were still some major deja vu moments. This was really good, though, and I thought this matched up pretty well with Francis Lawrence's previous movie, Constantine, which looked great, took questionable liberties with its source material, and managed to at least slightly transcend any similiarities to its star's many other films in the same genre. One thing I can't believe I hadn't heard about at all online was the fact that Mike Patton voiced the creatures in this movie.

3. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
I thought this was at times pretty much hysterical, although I can see why this more or less bombed, since its appeal isn't necessarily to people who saw Walk The Line or Ray (which is a lot of people) but to people who recognized those movies as kind of inherently ridiculous, and think of biopics in general as a pretty goofy genre (for reasons that are outlined pretty well here). I think it could've been better ("Let's Duet" was really the only song that was funny), but I still really enjoyed it, especially the Beatles bit and the "goddamn this is a dark fucking period"/"that was early Dewey, this is middle Dewey" stuff.

4. Superbad
I saw Walk Hard over the holidays with my brother, who was appalled that I hadn't seen Superbad yet and sent it to me for my birthday. I wouldn't put this quite on the same level as Knocked Up or Walk Hard, but there were a few really funny bits. The best part about R-rated comedies is that it's pretty much the only way for a movie to not get all the best jokes spoiled by the trailer.

5. Futurama: Bender's Big Score
I wasn't a huge fan of "Futurama" when it was on the air, a couple years of J.G. watching reruns on the Cartoon Network every night slowly made me appreciate it more, and so it was nice to hear that they were bringing it back as a series of direct-to-DVD movies, the first of which I got for J.G. for Christmas. This was kind of a nice way to bring it back, too, some of the cheesier romance aspects of the show brought to the forefront, but still pretty much as funny as ever. The way this movie acted as if it was obligated to bring in a cameo of every other recurring character was kind of lame, though, especially since they didn't even get John Goodman to voice Robot Santa again.

6. Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project
Too often, fond remembrances of showbiz veterans are posthumous, but thankfully, Rickles was (and is) still alive to participate in this, which keeps it from being more saccharine than would suit someone with such a caustic, mean sense of humor. Landis offers a lot of Rickles just being onstage and doing what he does best, and very lightly trickles in the life story through the mid section enough to show what Don is really like as a person without totally debunking his persona.

7. Let's Go To Prison
Another one that my brother enthusiastically endorsed that I'd previously assumed would be crap, based on a crappy trailer and 2 leads I haven't particularly liked in the past (as well as "The State" alums behind the camera, which is usually a red flag for me). But it was actually really good, hitting most of the same marks as jail scenes in a lot of other comedies (Half Baked in particular) while actually going a little further into some really bleak and surprisingly realistic territory. It's not quite black humor, since it's all still handled with a kind of light touch, but all the laugh lines are incredibly brutal stuff. Even Chi McBride makes a really stock character work really well.

8. Lord Of War
I got the impression, I'm not sure where, that this was that one in every 10 or so movies Nicolas Cage makes these days that isn't complete shit. And it was, but it wasn't really very good, either. It kind of fits in with what I was saying a while back about Thank You For Smoking and American Psycho, another first person narrative from someone who does horrible amoral things but kind of rationalizes and comes off totally upbeat about it, in this case an arms dealer. I guess it's supposed to be subversive and satirical but I dunno, instead it makes those 2 hours you spend with them feel kind of lightweight and pointless, although this movie does a better job than those other ones of lending some weight and grit to the subject matter. It's also one of those really problematic movies that spans a period of over 25 years, but none of the three principals (Cage and Jared Leto and Bridget Moynahan) really seem to age at all between the beginning and end of the movie. Which is OK, really, maybe better than caking them in bad old people makeup, but still kind of funny, like they just didn't even give a shit about anyone noticing that.

Saturday, January 19, 2008
This week, the results of the 2007 Idolator Pop Critics Poll were published, and as a regular contributor to Idolator, I voted in the poll (see my ballot here) and put together an 80-minute mix CD for the accompanying 2007 In The Mix package. I wasn't sure what to write about for my mix, and had a few different ideas, but I'm glad I went with Baltimore music, since I'm sure anything else would've had a lot in common with some of the mixes the 30-something other writers made. My tracklist and essay about the mix are here, but I'm gonna go ahead and post mp3's of the whole thing here (since I've already posted most of these songs, or other songs by the same artists, on my blogs in the past year anyway):

1. The New Flesh, "Squeeze"(mp3) (from Vessel, Heartbreakbeat)
2. Avec, "In Character"(mp3) (from Lines, Civil Defense League/Doghouse)
3. Wye Oak, "Obituary"(mp3) (from If Children, Morphius)
4. Thrushes, "Ghost Train"(mp3) (from Sun Comes Undone, Birdnote)
5. Mario, "Skippin'"(mp3) (from Go, J)
6. Ckrisis, "Down For Whatever"(mp3) (from Muscle Up Vol. 2, Bird City Entertainment)
7. Bossman, "So Fresh"(mp3) (from End of Discussion, One Up)
8. Ogun ft. Che'Ray, Comp, Backland, Little Clayway, Skarr Akbar &
Bossman, "Just Us"(mp3)
(from Bmore Hero, Real On Purpose)
9. Young Dip, "D.T.T.W.C."(mp3) (from You See Me?, IMP)
10. Jade Fox ft. Eva Castillo, "Got 'Em Like"(mp3) (from Ashes of Another Life, self-released)
11. Ace ft. Billo, "Slow Ya Speed"(mp3) (from The Product, For the People Entertainment)
12. Silouette, "Chicken Box"(mp3) (from The Best of B-Ill: Chapter 1, Banga Bill Enterprises)
13. Tyree Colion, "Projects"(mp3) (from Hamsterdam Vol. 2: Stash 2 Da Strip, Darkroom Inc.)
14. Heavy Gold, "Charm City"(mp3) (from Tha Testa, Stay Gettin' Entertainment)
15. Height ft. Bow N' Arrow, "Smash Your Eyes"(mp3) (from Winterize the Game, Grand Man)
16. DJ Blaqstarr, "Crazy Leg Wit It"(mp3) (from The King of Roq, JB Starr Productions)
17. Rod Lee, "Enjoy Yourself"(mp3) (from The Producer, Unruly)
18. KW Griff, "Taking Over"(mp3) (from K-Swift the Club Queen Jumpoff Vol. 11, Doo Dew Kidz)
19. Say Wut, "Futuristic"(mp3) (from Beats Extraordinaire EP, Unruly)
20. Dan Deacon, "Jimmy Joe Roche"(mp3) (from Spiderman of the Rings, Carpark)
21. Cex, "Oregon Ridge"(mp3) (from Sketchi, Temporary Residence)

I kind of grouped the mix into genre sections, from indie rock (tracks 1-4) to R&B (track 5) to hip hop (tracks 6-15) to Baltimore club (tracks 16-19) to IDM or whatever it should be called (tracks 20-21). Track 3 is by a band who was called Monarch when I made the mix, but in the month since then they've changed their name to Wye Oak and signed to Merge Records, which is reissuing their great album in April. My full list of top Baltimore albums of 2007 is over at Noise.

Friday, January 18, 2008

In the lead up to the 5th season of The Wire, I've been hyping up the official soundtrack so much that I almost kinda lost sight of the fact that, oh yeah, the last 10 episodes of the series where about to air, too. I wrote a few long posts here about the 4th season, so I want to get back into that habit for season 5, starting with the first three episodes (the 3rd is airing on Sunday but it already On Demand, and I'll basically be talking about episodes up through whatever is most recently On Demand, but not later episodes that are already being torrented, so there's your mild spoiler warning).

I've always thought that The Wire's ability to expand its topical scope, and its cast, with each season has been one of its greatest strengths, but I'm also starting to realize it's also its greatest weaknesses. Sure, there have ben some great additions in the last 4 seasons, but if you get down to it, probably 90% of the best and most important characters to the series have been there since the first year (maybe that's just my favorites, though, your mileage may vary). And although the Baltimore Sun storyline is slowly showing more promise than it did in the season premiere, it still has little chance of measuring up to season 4's adolescents, or season 2's dockworkers, as an indispensible expansion of the cast. Still, Clark Johnson is so good that it's kind of amazing The Wire has had him working behind the scenes since the beginning and waited this long to put him on camera, maybe better than I remember him on Homicide (although it's been a while). Plus, I'll give the Sun stuff time because, though I've never worked in hard news at a daily paper, I am, to an extent, a member of the Baltimore print media, so I'm interested to see where they go with this. And all the "Dickensian" this and "Dickensian" that in episode 3 made me feel like the show was ribbing all the critics who've called the show that (or maybe just poking fun at themselves?).

Once again, The Wire is feeling ripped from the headlines without really even trying, opening with a budget crisis in the police department robbing cops of valuable overtime just as the same exact thing is playing out in actual current Baltimore events. That probably happens often enough around here that Simon & Co. don't exactly need a crystal ball to be depicting it at the right time, though. It's kind of interesting how Jimmy's fake serial killer is turning out to be this season's big Hamsterdam-style scheme, maybe. I like these hypothetical flights of fancy The Wire indulges in form time to time, stuff that (probably) hasn't really happened but explores real events to a logical extreme. Also hilarious to see McNulty fucking a broad over the hood of a car in the Sonar parking lot, or talking to a reporter in Cafe Isis around the corner from my office, but I kinda feel like Dominic West's fake American accent has gotten worse this season, possibly because he's had to play drunk and slur his speech even more than usual. And it's a shame all they've done with Beadie so far is show her sullenly waiting up for McNulty, considering that Amy Ryan is currently getting Oscar buzz and her Wire character always felt like it could've used more fleshing out.

I was a little excited to see Herc still in the frame and getting involved in the plot again working for the shady lawyer dude Levy, partly because I like the character, and partly because I read once that apparently Domenick Lombardozzi is the only actor who'd appeared in every episode of The Wire, at least up through the fourth season. But he wasn't in the two episodes that followed, which means it's now official that there's no one character that's been in every episode, which probably suits the nature of the show more anyway. I hope they do come back to him more later, though.

Anyway, so far I'm not convinced this season is on par with the last 2, but I'm still way on board and on the edge of my seat to see where it goes. Too many good moments that I've already forgotten, but I loved the Orioles opening day apathy, and hearing Pork Chop's voice when someone was listening to 92Q (which was especially nice since in season 4 Snoop and Chris referenced the hosts of the Big Phat Morning Show right before Chop joined the show). Still, nothing in the episodes themselves so far has given me chills like the words "a new day is not dawning" in that teaser promo, because I think it's the perfect way to sum up the show's philosophy, and also gets to a horrible but true-feeling sentiment about what it really feels like in Baltimore. It's a city constantly betting on the future, speculating on what'll happen if the inner harbor economy improves, if crime goes down, if the music scene blows up, whatever. And good things are happening all the time, little by little, but it's a hard place to be optimistic. I'm personally hopeful for the future, but I'm also a little sad that that future won't have The Wire around to tell its stories, too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Hi-Tek f/ Rem Dog - "I'm Back" (mp3)

Hi-Teknology 2 was a pretty low key album, but Hi-Teknology 3 takes whatever little excitement that album generated and just gears it down a little further. It only features a handful of the dozen or so high profile guests of its predecessor, mostly the same ones (Ghostface, Raekwon, Kweli), once again flogs Tek's R&B protege Dion big time, and gives a spot for MCs from the producer's home state to shine on "Ohio All Stars," which is pretty fun in spots but hard to sort the good from the bad among all the unknown names. That Ghost/Rae track, the single "My Piano," bangs, but for the most part even the highlights of the album are subdued head-nodders.

Mostly I keep checking for Hi-Tek hoping he'll come up with some more stuff as dazzling as the more creative production on the Reflection Eternal album, but there's not really much of that here, aside from the gorgeous, mostly instrumental "Come Get It." Maybe his best beats are all still tied up in Detox, who knows. Hi-Tek does at least reveal a little versatility with the skittery snares on "I'm Back," which isn't quite Southern-sounding or even a doubletime Timbo-type beat, but definitely has that kind of busy, loping rhythm to it. I'm not sure who Rem Dog is, or how he can be back if I've never heard of him, but it's a good song anyway. Hi-Teknology 3 is a decent album that just didn't stand out enough to even fit into my top 50 at the end of the year, but the only really bad thing about it is the insert ad in the CD case for yet another "hip-hop social networking site," this one called CrackSpace. I mean, that's almost as bad as Block Savvy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Corporate Rock Still Sells #7 has been up on Idolator for a few days, and I've got some high praise to live up to now.

Sunday, January 13, 2008
The other day it was brought to my attention that the December 2007 issue of the Journal of Popular Music Studies features an essay called “What Chew Know About Down the Hill?’’: Baltimore Club Music, Subgenre Crossover, and the New Subcultural Capital of Race and Space by Andrew Devereaux, which is available online as a PDF file. The piece uses The Wire and Baltimore politics as a jumping off point to discuss the origins of Baltimore club and its last few years of national exposure, and namechecks DJs and musicians like Scottie B., DJ Booman, DJ Technics, Rod Lee, Debonair Samir, K-Swift, Labtekwon and Blaq Starr. It also refers several times to things I've written, and cites the work of several writers I know (Tom Breihan, Jess Harvell, David Drake, Scott Seward, etc.), and it's interesting, if a little surreal, to see a lot of things I've written or read in the past few years put together in this kind of academic context, discussing issues like race and class and the people who've brought Baltimore club to a wider audience. I've never really wanted to be seen as a Baltimore club authority, I just remember 5 years ago there being virtually no detailed information or critical writing about it online, and wanting to do some small part to provide whatever little info I had to other people, and ending up maybe shaping a lot of discussions and impressions about it. There are a few things I could criticize the essay about (mostly minor factual errors not worth noting), but I'm glad Devereaux wrote it, and I hope it stirs more conversation on these topics, and brings people who know way more than me about the topic out of the woodwork to put in their two cents.

In My Stereo

Friday, January 11, 2008
various artists - Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks from The Wire
Amerie - Because I Love It
My Brightest Diamond - Bring Me The Workhorse
Beyonce - B'Day
J-Kwon - Hood Hop
De La Soul - Buhloone Mindstate
Sloan - Twice Removed
Mario - Go!
Say Wut - Beats Extraordinaire EP
Nik Stylz - Love Me Or Hate Me

Wednesday, January 09, 2008
This week in the City Paper I reviewed First Sunday, that Ice Cube/Tracy Morgan flick out this Friday. The director is from the area and was at the screening I went to, and ended up sitting a few seats down from me, which is kind of a weird circumstance in which to see a movie (his wife is nice and very hot, though). The movie is based in Baltimore but aside from a couple establishing shots of stuff like the Ravens Stadium (probably stock footage) at the beginning, it was filmed in L.A. and looks like it, which was kinda disappointing, considering that even crap like the Step Up movies were shot on location here.

Monday, January 07, 2008

One of my colleagues at the City Paper, Robbie Whelan, wrote an article for the Maryland Daily Record about Darkroom Productions and the deal they just signed to release a nationally distributed album this year, and I am one of the authorities quoted in the article. The Wire soundtracks, which feature 4 songs produced by Darkroom, are out tomorrow, January 8th. I've had promos since last month, but just today I got official retail copies with liner notes and everything, and it was a real thrill to see my name in the thank yous at the end of both booklets. Go buy one or both of them this week! Go to the store, log onto iTunes, whatever! Seriously, don't make me beg!

Netflix Diary

Saturday, January 05, 2008
1. Children of Men
Dystopian sci-fi has really been in such a state of overkill as a genre in the last few years, that I've become pretty numb to most of these bleak visions of the future. So it would take a pretty good movie to actually stab through that haze and actually make me feel something, and despite my skepticism, this was that movie. Not perfect, but really impressive on a technical level and as far the way the exposition was largely compressed into the scenery in really subtle ways. There were a handful of scenes (particularly the two very long shots) that made my heart beat faster than any movie I can remember doing to me even once, although I was kind of destracted by all the references to "The Human Project" because they kept reminding me of "The Human Fund". I really hope that this movie introduces a new form of film shorthand: just as men with mustaches are generally assumed to be evil, so should white guys with dreadlocks (although I had NO idea that it was Charlie Hunnam from "Undeclared"!).

2. The Fountain
This was good, I think, but it's just kind of there. The trailer looked visually dazzling and kind of intriguing, but I didn't really feel like anything happened in the movie that you couldn't glean from the trailer and any 2-sentence synopsis. That works, because it's a kind of meditative, purposefully enigmatic movie, but it ultimately wasn't even very thought provoking.

3. House of Sand and Fog
This reminded me in many ways of American Beauty, except more humorless and logistically problematic. And I hated American Beauty. Really just a stupid, miserable, emotionally manipulative movie, that gave away its own ending so far ahead of time that it didn't even come off as that tragic by the time they got to it. Jennifer Connelly is a babe and I'd watch her in just about anything, so it pains me that she's pretty much never been in any movie I liked or would like as far as I can tell, ever.

4. "The West Wing," season 2
Really starting to get into this, could see myself eventually renting my way through the whole run (unless those last couple seasons really are as bad as some say). The frustrating thing about catching up on a show like this a few years after the fact is that, although I heard very little about the plots of the show while it was on, I now have to be really careful about spoilers. A couple times I've been curious about some small thing about the show and looked it up on Wikipedia, and caught wind of some big development a season or two down the road and get pissed at myself and try to forget it. When we got to the assassination attempt cliffhanger at the end of the first season, J.G. freaked out at the end going "next episode! next episode!" and I had to explain to her that it was on another disc from the next season's set, and we'd have to wait a few days to see the resolution (which I guess is at least better than waiting a whole summer like people did at the time). At first I thought it was kind of corny to do the inevitable assassination attempt episode so early in the show's run, but they do kind of make it work in the context of the series.

My 25 most anticipated albums of 2008

Friday, January 04, 2008
Every January I think about making a list of my most anticipated albums of the year. And I usually scrap the idea when I realize that most of the albums will never come out or will inevitably fall below my expectations, or just because I'm all listed out. And then, at the end of the year I wish I had made that list anyway, since it would at least provide an entertaining contrast between my expectations and what really happened. So here's my 25 most anticipated albums currently slated for release sometime in 2008, in order of level of anticipation, which ranges roughly from "will definitely buy, can't wait to hear" to "remaining cautiously optimistic but will jump ship at the first underwhelming single or negative review":

Apollo Sunshine - Great Mysteries Of The Old Soul
Keri Hilson - In A Perfect World
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
Evangelista - Hello Voyager
T-Pain - TBA
Grand Buffet - King Vision
Prodigy - H.N.I.C. 2
Jadakiss - Kiss My Ass
Mike Watt & The Black Gang - TBA
Peedi Peedi - Prince Of The Roc
The B-52's - Funplex
The Roots - Rising Down
Nas - Nigger
They Might Be Giants - Here Come The 123's
T.I. - Paper Trail
The Disciplines - TBA
DJ Drama and Fabolous - Gangsta Grillz: There Is No Competition
B.G. - Too Hood To Be Hollywood
Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious
50 Cent - Before I Self Destruct
Raconteurs - TBA
Trick Daddy - Welcome To Thug Country
R.E.M. - Accelerate
My Chemical Romance - TBA
Saigon - The Greatest Story Never Told

That is based less on past accomplishments than what I think the artist is capable of or the direction they seem to be headed in. Of course, I'm leaving out artists that will probably release albums I will be excited to hear this year but haven't given any indication yet that they definitely will (like Sonic Youth, who release a studio album every even-numbered year like clockwork), and Baltimore stuff (like Beyond Hamsterdam, which I'm not anticipating per se anyway, since it's out next week and I already have the promo).

The Year In Concerts: One Reporter's Opinion

Thursday, January 03, 2008
note: originally published on the Baltimore City Paper Noise blog, republished here when it disappeared from their archives

Of all the dozens of shows I've covered in this space in 2007, it
could be more interesting to look back at all the bad performances,
bad venues and bad vibes I experienced rather than what actually went
right. But that would also essentially be like running the same
negative review twice, and href="">some folks obviously took
it personally the first time. So let's just focus on the good here
with the top ten concerts I saw this year:

1. Kix and
the Blues Vultures @ Rams Head Live

Friday, September 21st

There are dozens of middle-tier glam metal bands that never quite
reached the commercial stratosphere alongside Motley Crue or Poison,
but had a couple hits and can still hit the reunion circuit whenever
they please. But there's something about Kix, and their fanatical
local following dating back to the Hammerjacks era, that makes their
yearly victory laps through Baltimore and the surrounding area feel
just a little more special than your average '80s nostalgia trip. And
a large part of that is that the sleazy, bluesy new wave metal of the
band's early albums has aged surprisingly well, and they've still got
the chops to play the hell out of those tunes a couple decades later.

2. Avec,
Karmella's Game, Endless Mike and the Beagle Club, and Velociraptor @
The Ottobar

Wednesday, May 2nd

Indie rock bills with several bands tend to be a crapshoot, where at
least one act is so lousy or unremarkable that they kind of drag down
the night's momentum. But this was one of those rare nights where all
four bands on the bill, three local, were all worth seeing, and
included exciting previews of sophomore albums by both Avec (released
in September) and Karmella's Game (still forthcoming).

3. Skarr
Akbar, Bossman, Mullyman, Barnes, Huli Shallone, B.O.M.B., Comp,
TestMe @ 5 Seasons

Monday, April 9th

I saw practically every artist on the B-More Fresh Fest's bill
multiple times this year, and in some instances they performed better
sets on one of those other occasions. But to whatever extent a scene
as under the radar as Baltimore hip hop can deliver spectacle and
starpower, this show had it: half the city's biggest MCs on one stage,
at one point nearly all at the same time during Skarr Akbar's set,
performing for a packed house with no beef or bullshit.

4. Monarch,
Thrushes and Minmae @ the Lo-Fi Social Club

Wednesday, March 28th

The one memory that I'll always associate with Lo-Fi's short-lived
original Brooklyn location is hearing Monarch's gorgeous "Obituary"
for the first time, rocking back and forth on my heels and closing my
eyes and feeling completely caught up in the moment. It's a happy

5. Rasputina
and My Brightest Diamond @ The Ottobar

Wednesday, August 8th

I didn't go out of my own aesthetic comfort zone too often this year
when figuring out what shows to go to. But I'm glad that when a friend
was in town, I decided to accept his invitation to check out a bill of
two eccentric chamber pop acts I'd never heard before, who put on a
more enjoyable show than many bands whose songs I already know by

6. ShellBe
R.A.W., Jade Fox, B-Fly, G.E.M. and Symantyx @ 5 Seasons

Saturday, May 12th

The documentary Even A Man Can Do This, and this showcase
concert affiliated with the film, attested to the fact that there's an
uncommonly high percentage of talented female rappers in Baltimore,
and that I wasn't merely grouping a disparate group of artists
together on the basis of gender for the sake of a href="">trend
piece. It is a disparate group, though -- from B-Fly's sensual
live band set to G.E.M.'s ferocious tag team rhymes to Symantyx's
hilarious freestyles, they cast a far wider net than comparable
male-dominated bills like the B-More Fresh Fest.

7. Ted Leo
& The Pharmacists @ the 9:30 Club

Saturday, December 8th

Ted Leo is one of the few national acts that I'll come out to see
almost every time he rolls through the area, which included three
times this year alone. And the best of those was the latter of his
recent two night stand in Washington, wherein Leo and his band capped
off the Living With The Living tour with a road tested run
through a fast-paced, overstuffed setlist, and a spontaneous rendition
of the oft-neglected live favorite "Ballad of the Sin Eater."

8. The
New Flesh Vs. Everyone @ The Sidebar

Monday, August 9th

A member of The New Flesh described their performance, which involved
playing short sets between several other bands in the Sidebar's own
bizarro open mic format, later that night as "like hittin' a brick
wall." But the abrupt start-stop momentum of The New Flesh alternating
with likeminded bands like the Flatliners, Animal and Archaeopteryx,
was a fun way to hear a whole lot of nasty, loud music in quick
succession, at least for an outside observer.

9. Private
Eleanor @ The Walters Art Gallery

Friday, April 20th

This show, an intimate release party for their album
Sweethearting in a swanky seated venue, was pretty much the
ideal circumstance in which to see Private Eleanor, perhaps the
quietest of the many bands making a very gentle noise in Baltimore
these days.

10. Sloan @
the Black Cat

Sunday, May 13th

Sloan released my favorite album of 2007, which means that their D.C.
show in support of Never Hear The End Of It was one of those
rare occasions where a band with a deep back catalog chose to focus
heavily on the new record, and it actually wasn't a problem at all.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

This week in the Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a feature about Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks From The Wire, one of the two official soundtrack albums out next week. For the article, I spoke to some of the musicians featured on the CD, including Juan Donovan from Darkroom Productions, Mullyman, Ogun and Diablo, and ran down the whole album track by track, which also includes Rod Lee, DJ Technics, Bossman, Dirty Hartz, Tyree Colion and The Get 'Em Mamis.

There's going to be a release party event in New York this Friday with some of the artists on the album (plus D.O.G.), I'm still debating whether to make a road trip up to NYC for it this weekend. And both of The Wire's soundtrack CDs will be in stores next Tuesday, January 8th, two days after the season 5 premiere. I don't usually push hard for people to go out and purchase records that I write about. But seriously, the 6th is my birthday, and I don't want you to get me anything, just buy this CD. I already have promo copies of both and I'm still gonna go buy 'em, since I haven't seen the whole package with the liner notes and everything. The sales rank for The Wire: And All The Pieces Matter just for pre-orders has been climbing steadily, and I'd be really thrilled if it could make a respectable showing on the Billboard 200 during a slow post-Christmas sales week. I don't know about any particular soundtrack release parties or in-store events going on here in Baltimore, but if there are any please let me know so I can promote those, too.