The 2008 Remix Report Card, Vol. 2

Thursday, February 28, 2008
"Apologize (Remix)" by Timbaland and OneRepublic f/ Busta Rhymes
Shitty song, terrible idea. I get depressed thinking that the last time Timbo and Busta did a track together was probably some awesome Missy album track, but now they're both creatively (if not commercially) washed up, humorless steroid abusers.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Dey Know (Remix)" by Shawty Lo featuring Ludacris, Young Jeezy, Plies and Lil Wayne
I kinda neglected to put this in the previous remix report cards, since the remix was out already late last year by the time the original version of the song was breaking nationally, but I should really include it now for posterity. Between this and "Umma Do Me," I'm really kinda losing my faith in the skreets of Atlanta to pick a big grassroots hit that's actually fun or impressive on any level. Shawty has one of the worst voices I've ever heard, and the beat really ain't all that. Luda and Jeezy kill it, though, and I'm on the fence about the Lil Wayne verse, which is from the initial spate of T-Wayne verses he dropped after first getting his hands on Autotune, and features some of the most obnoxious audibly-grinning-at-his-own-lame-punchline couplets he's dropped in the past year.
Best Verse: Young Jeezy
Overall Grade: B

"Feedback (Timbaland Remix)" by Janet Jackson
Timbaland paints over the Rodney Jerkins original, and it's of course less bland, but is still constricted by essentially a pretty lousy song. That unofficial remix with Ciara does a much better job of actually making it halfway listenable.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"Ghetto Rich (Remix)" by Rich Boy f/ Lil Wayne, Nas and John Legend
Rich Boy did what every rapper who's initially tied to just one big single should do: keep working the album even if the next two singles aren't big hits and the label doesn't want to put anymore money into it, shoot a video for one of its deepest songs, and put together an all-star remix for another. I was never real into this song on the album, but Nas at least sounds like he fits on this beat, unlike Rich Boy and Wayne.
Best Verse: Nas
Overall Grade: C+

"Like You'll Never See Me Again (Remix)" by Alicia Keys featuring Ludacris
Very much in the same mold as the "Apologize" remix with a guest verse expert weirdly trying to work their magic on a ballad that just didn't need a remix, but this one actually kind of works. The original version of this was so pillowy and soft and emotional that it never once occurred to me that a rapper could ride that beat until I heard Luda on it. And for some reason, I don't totally mind the rare occasions when Luda does something sappy like this, it's not really in his comfort zone but he doesn't embarrass himself and he gets some nice patterns in there. Still kind of unnecessary and forgettable, though.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"Just Fine (Treat 'Em Right Remix)" by Mary J. Blige f/ Lil Wayne, Precise and Swizz Beatz
Finally, the first serious contender for remix of the year, or one of them, at least. Great song, great remixer, great choice of throwback beat to recycle on his part (although as great as the "Tream 'Em Right" jack is, I kinda feel like Swizz could've just as easily stayed in the same era/vibe and used the "Eye Know" beat, since everyone already things "Just Fine" sounds like "Peg"), and a great if obvious guest MC choice. Don't know who the random unknown female rapper on this is, but she's pretty decent even if she can't help but get outshined by Wayne, who starts out stuck with his usual tics but eventually gets something great out of it. This originally leaked with just the new beat and no rappers on it, and I wondered aloud on Idolator if Mary's camp briefly considered just doing the remix w/o Wayne because of his arrest that same weekend, and judging from a remix he gave this week it sounds like that actually is what happened, whether he dramatically posted bail and then recorded the verse that day like in my imagination, or had turned in before that.
Best Verse: Lil Wayne
Overall Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

After the January lull I've had a crapload of stuff up on this month, including the Club Beat with DJ Excel and a news item about the Darkroom Productions album due out in May, as well as lots of live coverage. On the hip hop side, there were reviews of Deep Flow Entertainment's Rock Da Mic @ Club Taste, and Heavy Gold/Billo/Yuk/Dirt Platoon @ Suite, and silent auction of The Wire merchandise @ the Baltimore Museum of Industry featuring music by Diablo, Rod Lee and the Backyard Band, and Ogun/Bossman/Comp/B.O.M.B./Verb @ 5 Seasons for the Hip Hop 101 (R.I.P.) welcome home party for Skinny Suge (although it looks like he's back in trouble already). And on the rock side, I saw Avec/Karmella's Game/Remote Islands/A Sunny Day In Glasgow @ the Lo-Fi Social Club, and Gunwife Gone/MacGregor Burns Band/Old Souls @ Frazier's, and Thrushes @ Rock-n-Romp at 2640, and Biff Tannen Overdrive/At Shiloh/Abracadaver/Define Me A Serial Killer @ the Local Highrise. In addition to myself and the CP editors, the page now also features contributions from Raven Baker from Beatbots, so it's good to have another person to help hold things down and keep interesting stuff on Noise.

Monday, February 25, 2008
Producer Series Mix #9: Bink!

1. Jay-Z f/ Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Amil - "You, Me, Him And Her"
2. Mr. Cheeks - "Lights, Camera, Action!"
3. Nate Dogg f/ Fabolous, B.R.E.T.T. and Kurupt - "I Got Love (Remix)"
4. Freeway - "Still Got Love"
5. Skillz - "Rap Up 07"
6. Cassidy - "Damn I Miss The Game" (mp3)
7. Jay-Z - "The Ruler's Back"
8. Beanie Sigel f/ Redman - "One Shot Deal"
9. Lost Boyz f/ A+, Redman and Canibus - "Beasts From The East" (mp3)
10. Mystikal - "Mystikal Fever" (mp3)
11. Jin f/ Twista - "The Come Thru"
12. Jay-Z f/ Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Freeway - "1-900-Hustler" (mp3)
13. Fat Joe f/ Armageddon and Ludacris - "Get The Hell On With That"
14. Eve f/ Anthony Hamilton - "Ryde Away" (mp3)
15. Xzibit f/ Anthony Hamilton - "The Gambler"
16. Gza The Genius f/ Ghostface Killah and Streetlife - "Silent"
17. Jay-Z - "All I Need"
18. Amerie - "Paint Me Over" (mp3)
19. Freeway f/ Nate Dogg - "All My Life" (mp3)

It always interested me that the whole Cinderella story about the production on The Blueprint, that it almost singlehandedly brought the soul loop style in vogue in hip hop (again) and launched the superstar careers of Just Blaze and Kanye West and all that, tends to conveniently overlook the fact that there was a 3rd Roc-A-Fella producer with multiple beats on the album who helped craft the label's trademark sound. That's, of course, because Bink! aka Bink Dog's profile didn't skyrocket shortly after that album like the other two, and I have no idea why that is, because he makes pretty consistently awesome beats. None of his songs with Jay was a single, although I consider pretty much all of them classics, and I didn't even know his biggest hit to date, "Lights, Camera, Action," was produced by him until I started putting together this mix (and I must've wondered a hundred times the year that song was inescapable who produced the damn Mr. Cheeks song but somehow never found out until now).

Norfolk, Virginia's Roosevelt "Bink Dog" Harrell III (I think there's a releation to Andre Harrell of Uptown Records, but I don't know what it is) racked up a few credits with the Lost Boyz among others in the '90s, landed deep cuts on countless major label albums in the post-Blueprint soul beat goldrush without any real hits besides the Mr. Cheeks ("I Got Love" shoulda been huge), and then seemed to disappear off the mainstream map entirely for a few years. But there was a little bit of a Bink! comeback in 2007, when he produced the latest Skillz year-in-review track, played in Go-Go legend Chuck Brown's band, and placed tracks on three of my favorite albums of the year. Granted, one of those, Amerie's Because I Love It never even got released in the U.S. and the other two, Freeway's Free At Last and Cassidy's B.A.R.S., kinda came and went without much notice, but Bink produced highlights on each. Even if most people can't tell his beats from Just Blaze (the easiest way to tell the difference is the high-pitched snares Bink tends to use), I'm glad he's still out there putting his own twist on amped up helium soul beats.

Previously in the Producer Series:
#1: Shondrae "Bangladesh" Crawford
#2: Rich Harrison
#3: Kevin "Khao" Cates
#4: Chad Wes Hamilton
#5: Neo Da Matrix
#6: Carl "Chucky" Thompson
#7: Polow Da Don
#8: No I.D.

Saturday, February 23, 2008
Corporate Rock Still Sells #9, up since Wednesday.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It gets old, criticizing The Wire, either gently or not so gently, and always feeling the need to couch it in modifiers, or add the caveat that it's the best show on television, and even at its worst very little comes close. That's somewhat true, but as much because of how unique it is as any notions of quality of consistency. I do believe that plenty of shows (although not necessarily any currently on air) are as good or better than The Wire when it's not on its A game, but it's not like any other show is doing anywhere near the same thing, so those kinds of comparisons are a little empty. After a while, you start to feel like one of those fanclub members who'd rather listen to a shitty album by their favorite band than anyone else's best work.

But it bears mentioning a lot lately, because there's very little doubt at this point, as far as everyone I know of is concerned, that the 5th season has been by far the weakest to date. And watching seasons 2 and 3 on Netflix the last few weeks in between new episodes has just made more confident that isn't just a matter of looking at past seasons through rose-colored glasses, although I also kind of feel like the general outcry about this season is somewhat a backlash to the exaggerated praise that the 4th season (which was no my favorite) got. But with 2 episodes left in the series, there's still lingering hope that the series will go out on a high note, and episode 8 was great enough to encourage that optimism. And obviously, if you're not following the show online or OnDemand up to the point that you haven't seen the episode airing this Sunday, you're smart enough to avoid any possible SPOILERS and have stopped reading by now.

The big event of episode 8, of course, was the death of Omar. And it was handled perfectly, I think, largely because it wasn't treated as a big, climactic event. Omar was the closest thing to a folk hero or superhuman figure that the show had, and given his line of work and the show's history of deflating myths and dramatic tropes, and the fact that Omar was initially not conceived as a major character that would last through the whole run, it was more or less a sure thing that he'd go down this season. The way he survived a 7 story fall was a little hard to believe, but it didn't feel too much like a fake-out, and I liked the way things played out after that. There was something ominous (but not, I don't think, heavy handedly so) about his scenes in episode 8, that I was just waiting for it to happen any second. It was kind of chilling to see him limping around but still as ruthless as ever, although I think not quite as affecting as when he ended up in lockup in season 4, and he showed that serious fear in his eyes for the first time. But what really made the episode great was how the death of this legendary figure in the show's sphere was treated as a blip in the big picture, no shock to the people that knew him and buried in the metro section of The Sun with no mention by name (and, apparently, an inaccurate age, if the birthdate on his card in the morgue was accurate -- and if it is, Omar is apparently 6 years older than the actor who portrayed him, which is a little weird.

Of course, there were two other episodes before that that have run since the last time I posted about The Wire, and those were devoid of anything as exciting or as well executed (I never thought I'd say this, but I'm really sick of Clay Davis now). Thinking back, one of the scenes that struck me in the gut the most this season was way back in the fouth or fifth episode, where McNulty checked in with his sons. It's shocking how much older they are than the last time they appeared on camera, and it's very clearly the same actors as back in the first season, and it helps you really get a sense of how much he's missed and flaked out on as a father, even if he saw them (at least a little) more often than the audience has.

There were some fun, playful moments in these last few episodes, though: I liked the little bit in episode 7 with the cameo by Richard Belzer, at the bar 2 seats down from Dennis Mello, played by Jay Landsman, who Belzer's Homicide character John Munch was based on (and this was apparently the tenth series that Belzer has appeared on as Munch now). Personally, I think they should've gone all the way with the inside baseball and put The Wire's "Jay Landsman" character, played by Delaney Williams, in the scene, too, but that's just me. I was happy enough at another entertaining glance at the show's fictional cop bar, which is shot in The Sidebar, the downtown metal/punk rock club that my last band played at a few times.

Another scene that was rife with inside baseball references that highlighted the difference between the show and the real world was the one that opened episode 6. Carcetti's speech mentioned several real-life past Baltimore mayors, including both Martin O'Malley and Kurt Schmoke. I'm not sure if Schmoke's been mentioned on The Wire before, but this was definitely the first time O'Malley's been mentioned by name on the show. Besides being kind of an obvious jab at all the simplistic "Carcetti = O'Malley" speculation that plagues the character, much to David Simon's chagrin*, it's an interesting little confusion of chronology, since O'Malley's mayoral term in real life was basically the same period of time as Royce's term on the show (which maybe pushes the O'Malley era further back into the 90's in The Wire's canon, if you really wanted to think of it in those terms). Plus, the current governor in Wire world is still some (unnamed?) Republican, vaguely standing in for Bob Ehrlich, who was unseated a year ago by the election of O'Malley. For a show that's so painstakingly internally consistent, it was a weird little monkey wrench to throw in, but it's not like a huge bungle, which is what this whole fake serial killer thing is going to feel like if they don't really wrap it up well with a big payoff in the next couple episodes.

* One thing I will say in Simon's defense is that, as much as it frustrates people when storytellers of any kind deny any real-life basis for characters and events, I think it's an absolute necessity for artists. For the same reason that biopics are usually either terrible, or take too many liberties with the truth, but often both, trying to tell a true story in a creative medium completely cripples both creative freedom and the ability to be truthful. The storyteller is better off taking bits of the truth where they want to as a starting point, diverting whenever it suits them, and never being help responsible for how much the real life parallels line up. If all you want is a documentary, don't even bother with a work of fiction.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008
My review of Step Up 2 The Streets is in the City Paper this week, and it's kind of embarrassing to admit that this was the most I'd looked forward to a CP movie screening in a while, although the movie fell a little short of my expectations (still, Briana Evigan: ayo). Funny things about the movie that didn't fit in my review: the way the sequel mirrored the original so much that they switched one R&B singer in a supporting friend role for another (Cassie instead of Mario), and one Wire cast member in a mother figure role for another (Sonja Sohn instead of Deirdre Lovejoy).

In My Stereo

Sunday, February 17, 2008
Grand Buffet - King Vision
various artists - The Wire: " … and all the pieces matter"
Bjork - Post
Sloan - Pretty Together
DNA - The Chain Remains Vol. 3: Return Of The Dynasty
Lil D - Mixtape Vol. 1
various artists - The Show
Caddy Da Don - Fixed Fight 2.5: Exclusive Edition
Ray Victory - By Any Means
Sand Cats - Some Kind of Mantra

TV Diary

Friday, February 15, 2008
1. "American Idol"
After a couple years of following "Idol" pretty faithfully but hating the gimmicky early audition episodes, I skipped them almost entirely this time around, with the intention of jumping back in for Hollywood week. But even once they finally got to that, my enthusiasm was at a low, partly because of the bad ratings and general lack of excitement, and have only caught parts of episodes so far. I'm not as up in arms as some people are over the Carly Hennessy/Smithson scandal, probably because, like the music industry, I'm willing to give a hot girl with an Irish accent more chances to fail than she probably deserves. I don't really have any favorites yet, though.

2. "Ninja Warrior"
Thought it was pretty stupid the first couple times I caught it, but now kinda getting hooked on it. So much cooler obstacle courses than "American Gladiator." Or "Double Dare," for that matter. Great narration, too.

3. "The Price Is Right"
This is pretty much my favorite game show of all time, but I'm not quite as outraged as a lot of people about anyone but Bob hosting it, and I like Drew Carey more than any of the other names that were tossed around. It's still pretty weird, though, having caught the new version a couple times, to see the show with a new host now. I hope the Game Show Network gets rights to Barker-era reruns sometime.

4. "Rock Of Love 2"
So far I haven't been sucked in by this as much as I was by the first season, but this is still pretty much the best thing out of the whole cursed 'Celebreality' franchise. Nothing quite like a shameless slut parade for entertainment. What really hurts the show for me, though, is the realization is that I can not only read Rich's recaps instead and feel like I didn't miss anything, but am often more entertained than if I had watched it.

5. "Celebrity Rehab"
Here's a nice refreshing flipside to all those shows, though. I've always been kind of uneasy with the fact that pretty much every season of "Celebrity Fit Club" or "The Surreal Life" features one person whose issues clearly go way deeper than a weight problem the delusions of minor fame, and that those people are usually treated as wacky outrageous people who do something crazy that gets repeated in clip shows over and over instead of the troubled drug addicts they usually are. So hey, VH1 might as well foot the bill to try and help out some of the people they've been enabling and ridiculing the last few years, even it's still done in a kind of exploitative way that feeds into their need to be in front of a camera. This really does get pretty harrowing sometimes, though, I haven't even been able to watch it too much.

6. "Free Radio"
As bad as most of VH1's reality shows are, their attempts at scripted programming are usually even worse (except for "Acceptable TV," which I'm still pissed about being cancelled). This one is just unfathomably bad, taking a thin premise and stretching it thinner and thinner: a dumb, naive intern somehow replacing a morning radio host and ending up popular for being an idiot who knows nothing about the obscure minor celebrities he's interviewing. It seems like it might be improv-driven, like they didn't come up with any real material and hoped for some Christopher Guest/Larry David-style inspired awkwardness, but it just falls completely flat. In a way, it has the same fallacy as "Studio 60," because it keeps driving home that people want to actually listen to this show and are entertained by it, but it's just impossible to believe.

7. "Rob & Big"
I never really watched this much or understood its appeal, even after Darkroom Productions started doing music for the show. It's one of those reality shows where all the scenarios are really transparently scripted and contrived to some degree, like "The Hills" or "Keeping Up With The Kardashians," except the aim is less about drama and romance than about two guys being goofy and travelling around doing weird stuff, like trying to build a time machine or recording ironic R&B songs. But just like those shows, there's this weird lethargic quality to the pacing, like the problem isn't that it's scripted but that it's not scripted enough, and you have no idea why these people are famous or have their own show. Apparently Rob is a professional skateboarder/extreme sports dude and Big is his bodyguard, but it's not like he was Tony Hawk famous before the show, and he has possibly even less charisma than Tony Hawk. I mean, I hate Bam Margera, but he's obnoxious enough that I kind of understand why people will watch him on TV. But my friend Mike was talking to me about it this week and trying to explain in really weird terms why he likes it and thinks it's good, something about how he likes the way nothing happens and it's really dry, but I still don't get it. I remember someone else trying to say this show is racist, and I don't know if I agree with that per se, but it was funny when I saw it recently and MTV2 had a "Black History Month" box flashing in the corner, while Big was wearing an afro wig and doing some dumb shit.

8. "The Moment Of Truth"
I liked the idea of this show's premise, amoral exploitation and all, to begin with. But the execution is pretty disappointing to me, mostly for reasons other than the slow pacing that a lot of people have complained about. It'd be one thing if they just took some shots in the dark and asked the contestants questions that might reveal ugly truths, and run the risk of a disappointment for the payoff of a big shocker. But as usual, Mike Darnell works too hard at stacking the deck, and the contestants and their questions are so obvious pre-screened that it's hard to even believe that it isn't all completely planne and everyone knows the answers, whether that's the case or not. There's just zero suspense because there's not the slightest hint of spontaneity. Thank god the strike's over, I can't handle more reality shows and game shows.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Blake Leyh - "151 Canal" (mp3)

Like probably a lot of other people, the first I heard or heard of Blake Leyh was watching The Wire and hearing "The Fall," his haunting instrumental end theme, play over the credits at the end of every episode, and more indirectly, hearing his work as the show's music supervisor throughout the series. In the past year or so, I've been in touch with Blake from time to time while writing various things about The Wire's use of local Baltimore music, and haven't met him in person but have spoken on the phone many times, and have found him to be a really nice, sharp guy. So when I heard recently that he released a new solo album, just a week after "The Fall" was finally officially released for the first time last month on The Wire: "...and all the pieces matter," I was interested to hear more of his work.

It turns out that Blake Leyh has released 5 albums and done a lot of film score work over the years, but his new album, X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango, is a pretty good entry point, at least for me. Most of the tracks feature Andre Burke, the same violinist who played on "The Fall," and passed away last year. And while none of the songs on the album are concise miniatures like that track's beautifully compact one minute and 50 seconds, and often drift and unfold over nine or ten minutes, the overall effect is much the same. The guiding sound is often Leyh's bass, over minimal percussion, with occasional guitar or Burke's violin washing over it all with melody and sneaky other sounds wafting in and out. This is probably too broad of a generalization to actually be true, but it feels like so few musicians who are interested in making restrained instrumental music, outside of a discipline like classical or jazz, still do so with acoustic instruments; virtually everyone with those musical inclinations seems to have gone off into the world of synthesizers and programmed rhythms and whatever it is we call IDM this year. And there's something refreshing and unique about how Leyh's faithful to that kind atmospheric approach without any (or much, at least) of the modern tools or signifiers of dance-oriented ambient music.

I've never been much of a headphone guy; the last time I listened to music on headphones with any regularity was probably 5 or 10 years ago, and I've just never regarded it as an ideal listening situation unless necessary. But I got an iPod for my birthday last month, and after a few weeks of mainly plugging it into a car stereo or into an alarm clock stereo dealie, the other day I finally got around to breaking in the nice Bose headphones I also got as a gift. Over the weekend I was visiting family in Delaware, getting stuff ready for the wedding, and found myself alone down by the boardwalk with nothing to do for a couple hours. There's nothing quite like walking around a tourist trap beach community in the winter when it's practically evacuated, and most of the stores are closed and it's mostly old people walking their dogs. And the two albums that seemed perfect to soundtrack that quiet moment were Bjork's Post (such a cliched headphones album that there's a song called "Headphones" on it) and the long winding instrumentals on X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango. It's kind of daunting to hear an album under such ideal circumstances that it's practically impossible to ever recreate that moment.

Sunday, February 10, 2008
Eye Music Mix:

1. Jackson Browne - "Doctor My Eyes"
2. Billy Idol - "Eyes Without A Face"
3. Survivor - "Eye Of The Tiger"
4. Van Morrison - "Brown Eyed Girl"
5. Peter Gabriel - "In Your Eyes"
6. Kim Carnes - "Bette Davis Eyes"
7. Hall & Oates - "Private Eyes" (mp3)
8. The Who - "Behind Blue Eyes"
9. Eric Carmen - "Hungry Eyes"
10. Rednex - "Cotton Eye Joe"
11. Tom Waits - "Eyeball Kid" (mp3)
12. Kelly Clarkson - "Behind These Hazel Eyes"
13. Sloan - "It's In Your Eyes" (mp3)
14. The Velvet Underground - "Pale Blue Eyes"
15. The Eagles - "Lyin' Eyes"

Although over the years I've probably made every kind of imaginable mixtape or mix CD, I've never been big into the whole "theme mix" thing, with songs all about the same topic or containing the same word in the title. But this was an idea that just fit for a very specific occasion: for the past year and change, my day job has been at an ocular tissue bank, where I mostly do data entry, in a room full of people distributing corneas for eye surgery. And everyone I work with has a surprisingly weird sense of humor about what we do; for Halloween we have gummy eyeballs and all sorts of eye-shaped candy in the office. So for the office Christmas party a few weeks ago, I decided that the gift I'd make to give to my co-workers was this eye-themed mix. I had most of it figured out in my head for a while beforehand, but I ended up throwing it all together at the last minute, and I think I probably could've done better. I should've either gone for all familiar hit songs, or peppered it with more obscure choices like the VU or Sloan (and "It's In Your Eyes" was really just one of the many songs I'd been obsessing over during my big Sloan phase last year). Instead, I feel like I kinda halfassed it with a little of the latter awkwardly mixed in with mostly the former. And I wish I'd found more truly strange songs like "Eyeball Kid" to capitalize on the aforementioned absurd sense of humor of the workplace. Nonetheless, the mix seemed to go over well, I think people appreciated a more unique gift.

Netflix Diary

Friday, February 08, 2008
1. Shoot 'Em Up
Sometimes the lead actor of a film can bring to mind parallels with their previous work that probably wouldn't occur to me if it was anyone else in the role (which, admittedly, might just mean those aren't relevent points of comparison after all). But watching this as another Clive Owen vehicle makes it feel a bit like Children Of Men through the intentionally campy lens of Sin City, so much so that I'm surprised that he took a role that runs the risk of seeming so redundant in the context of his career. But at the same time, I'm not complaining, because I liked both of those movies, and I like this one a lot as well, so if he does get in a groove of samey movies for a while, they're probably destined to be better than the constant deja vu of new Nic Cage or Keanu Reeves movies. I feel weird about this new school of self-aware action movies sometimes, like I don't know if they're smarter than they're made out to be, or dumber than they pretend to be. But this kind of straight-ahead, visceral approach at least beats the hell out of 10 years of Pulp Fiction ripoffs that haphazardly juggle multiple plotlines. Instead, here we get 3 strong leads (turns out I like Giamatti when he's asked to be odious and conniving), and an approach to gun violence that's as over the top and hysterically funny as the gore in Dead Alive. It's just one utterly insane, inspired action setpiece and ridiculous one-liner after another (with great familiar but not overly obvious hard rock soundtrack choices like "Ace Of Spades" and "Breed" and "Kickstard My Heart"), and I wish more 'serious' action movies were paced this relentlessly.

2. Beerfest
Super Troopers really grew on me over the course of multiple viewings and has become one of those comedies I can quote at length, and I was in pretty much the perfect mood to watch this since I'd just watched ST earlier that day with a friend who'd never seen it before. But this still pretty much pales in comparison aside from a few isolated moments of funny, kind of glad that their next movie is going to be a Super Troopers sequel.

3. The Brothers Solomon
I always liked Will Forte's work on "Saturday Night Live" and was pretty interested to see if his first co-starring vehicle (which he also wrote) was any good, despite the fact that it had the thick stench of B-list SNL movies. Even though the title characters aren't from an "SNL" skit, they feel highly derivative of a long line of romantically doomed, disconcertingly cheerful fraternal pairs that originated on "SNL": Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd's Festrunk brothers, Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan's Butabi brothers, Jimmy Fallon and Chris Parnell's Bloater brothers. I don't know what attracts all these guys to that formula, because it isn't really that inherently funny, but Forte and Will Arnett make it work for them most of the time here (at the very least, it beats the shit out of A Night At The Roxbury, but that goes without saying). There's a few jokes that I feel like I've seen too many times before, and it sometimes shows the seams of a writer more accustomed to sketch comedy, but the deliberately odd pacing means that the big laughs kinda come out of nowhere, in a good way. After seeing her play nothing but bizarro caricatures on "SNL," it's nice to see Kristen Wiig play the straight man, as it were, and she's actually really convincing. Malin Akerman should not be in comedies, though.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Raheem DeVaughn - "Try Again" (mp3)

After Raheem DeVaughn's debut album, The Love Experience, was released by Jive in 2005 following years of delays, and its singles barely charted, his popularity in his Washington, D.C. area seemed to multiply every year, but it was hard to say whether that would translate a national audience. But in the last few weeks, that question's been decisively answered as his new album, Love Behind The Melody made a top 5 debut on Billboard, and its lead single "Woman" got a Grammy nomination before the album even hit stores. That's not a shock; slowly building grassroots sleeper success, and getting Grammy love regardless of radio airplay, are pretty much the only kinds of success that neo-soul singers of his ilk ever achieve. But it's still nice to see him doing well, and he's definitely more than a cookie-cutter retro R&B guy. He works in the same vein of R&B heavily influenced by '60s and '70s singer-songwriters and psychedelic rock as the most recent albums by John Legend and Alicia Keys (who, unsurprisingly, is DeVaughn's most famous fan), and his longtime self-applied nickname of "The R&B Hippie Neo-Soul Rock Star" might have found its moment when that's actually a cool thing to call yourself.

I didn't like DeVaughn's voice much at first; he has this whispery, restrained singing style similiar to D'Angelo (an overused point of comparison in neo-soul, but apt here), and the way it gets all whistly and airy in upper registers used to really get on my nerves. But as I said, he's hugely popular in the D.C./Maryland area, and hearing him all the time I've grown to really like his voice, especially the midrange stuff that often reminds me of Marvin Gaye. Some mainstream R&B singers have taken to making hip hop-style mixtapes where they sing original lyrics over backing tracks from other people's hit songs, but I can't think of anyone who's done it quite as much as DeVaughn, who's made 5 volumes of his Street Experience mixtape series so far, and some of those cuts are among my favorite stuff he's done. DeVaughn is from Maryland and, despite being generally acknowledged as a Washington, D.C. artist, has worked with a ton of Baltimore rappers (Labtekwon, Bossman, Hots, D.O.G.) as well as working with Baltimore's DJ Lil Mic on his mixtapes. Even my homeboys One Up Entertainment produced a track on the new album, "She's Not You."

Love Behind The Melody is not a great album, nor is it as bold or creative as it's perhaps being touted as, but I'm really enjoying it, considering that I'm not always the best audience for this kind of R&B. There are some smoldering, immaculately produced ballads, and the Kwame-produced "Friday (Shut The Club Down)" is pretty brilliant as far as blatant grabs for radio play go, using a Temptations sample that's as brash and obvious as, say, the sample on Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls," and references a bunch of recent hits, but is still utterly unique and catchy as hell. There are also some bad ideas (like letting Floetry of all people make sex noises on "Marathon," or Malik Yusef's cloying spoken word on "Woman I Desire"), and the bland metaphors of songs like "Love Drug" and "Customer" are reminders that there are worse ways to liken everything to love or sex than the broad, ridiculous but sometimes inspired way R. Kelly approaches that formula. "Energy" is, seriously, practically a note-for-note rewrite of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" (although the Dungeon Fam collaborator on it is Big Boi instead of Cee-Lo), and I really didn't need to hear that.

"Try Again" is far and away my favorite track, one that popped up very late in the album, and very slowly grabbed me. The piano playing, which constantly drags behind the beat so much that it feels almost drunk, at first irritated me, but the way it loosely dances around the steady breakbeat eventually became part of its charm, especially once the song builds to the big gorgeous harmonies and horn stabs. By the time it gets around to that bridge, I was completely hooked, and as the song slowly fades out with just DeVaughn's voice and that drunken piano, I just want to put the thing on loop for an hour.

In My Stereo

Sunday, February 03, 2008
Blake Leyh - X-ray Yankee Zulu Tango
Raheem DeVaughn - Love Behind The Melody
Meat Puppets - Rise To Your Knees
Fat Joe - Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.)
They Might Be Giants - Mink Car
Camp Lo - Uptown Saturday Night
Skarr Akbar - The Epidemic
K-Swift The Club Queen - Strictly For The Kids 2
various artists - B-More Vibe Magazine presents Watch This!
Yuk & C.U.T. - 3 Da Hardwae: Squadre Radio