The first 3 months of 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008
1. Evangelista - Hello, Voyager
2. Raheem DeVaughn - Love Behind The Melody
3. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
4. Sheek Louch - Silverback Gorilla
5. Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
6. Blake Leyh - X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango
7. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah: 4th World War
8. Grand Buffet - King Vision
9. Young Dro/MLK/DJ Scream - I Am Legend
10. various artists - The Wire: " … and all the pieces matter"

1. Paramore - "That's What You Get"
2. Wes Fif f/ B.O.B. - "Haterz Everywhere"
3. Sara Bareilles - "Love Song"
4. Snoop Dogg f/ Too $hort and Mistah F.A.B. - "Life Of Da Party"
5. Cherish f/ Yung Joc - "Killa"
6. Ryan Leslie - "Diamond Girl"
7. John Legend - "Show Me"
8. Big Boi f/ Raekwon and Andre 3000 - "Royal Flush"
9. Alicia Keys - "Teenage Love Affair"
10. Janet Jackson - "Luv"
11. Foxboro Hot Tubs - "Mother Mary"
12. Missy Elliott - "Ching-A-Ling"
13. Ne-Yo - "Go On Girl"
14. Jaheim - "Never"
15. Timbaland f/ Keri Hilson and Nicole Scherzinger - "Scream"
16. John Mayer - "Say"
17. Coheed And Cambria - "Feathers"
18. Erykah Badu - "Honey"
19. Chingy f/ Amerie - "Fly Like Me"
20. Jordin Sparks f/ Chris Brown - "No Air"
21. Sheek Louch - "Good Love"
22. Soulja Boy "Let Me Get Em"
23. Ice Cube - "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It"
24. Webbie f/ Lil Phat of 3 Deep and Lil Boosie - "Independent"
25. Pitbull f/ Lil Jon - "The Anthem"

As I acknowledged in a comment on Idolator the other day, I fully understand that doing these kind of running lists throughout the year is totally compulsive and gratuitous, but I do find it pretty helpful as an excuse to keep reevaluating how I feel about these albums and songs every month or two. Starting a singles list for a new year is always tough, because it gets kind of impossible to pinpoint what year a single falls under in a consistent way, if it was released in '07 or appeared on an '07 album, but is peaking in 2008, stuff like that. So I'm just being subjective and not counting songs I put in last year's list that some people might consider this year (for instance, "Don't Stop The Music," "Flashing Lights," "Long Road To Ruin," "Just Fine," etc.). I think the last few months have been pretty terrible for big hit singles, but as always there's plenty of good stuff going on in the margins, lingering 3rd and 4th singles from 2007 albums, new/upcoming singles that haven't caught on yet but hopefully will, stuff that was out last year that it took me a minute to really like. As for albums, what I'm liking right now is a pretty weird mixed bag, but that's a good thing, hasn't been very predictable.

Sunday, March 30, 2008
Erykah Badu - "Soldier" (mp3)

I tend to mentally associate Erykah Badu with artists like Bjork or Tori Amos, deeply idiosyncratic women that were briefly pretty major stars in the 90's, probably the most welcoming era for female eccentricity that American pop music has ever known, and have since retreated into a comfortable cult following. Even though that comparison doesn't totally line up -- somehow I reckon Badu's fanbase isn't as heavy on gothy teenagers as Bjork's or Amos's -- I think there are some strong parallels there. And while those singers are more or less completely off the pop radar, Badu does have a moderately successful new single and is going to be playing some pretty big venues this year, since the Okayplayer audience is pretty damn loyal. But as much as I like "Honey" and the rest of her new album, and am glad for the fact that she's become something completely unique unto herself, for which Billie Holiday comparisons don't really say much at all anymore, I am a little bummed that she'll pretty clearly never make any songs as great and radio-friendly as "Next Lifetime" or "Tyrone" again.

New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War) is the kind of murky, weird, ambitious R&B album that other critics tend to love way more than me, and even within that realm I think Raheem DeVaughn put out a better one a few weeks earlier. I'm still slowly getting into, but I have to admit my favorite stuff is still the more contemporary-sounding songs like "Soldier" and "Honey," although I also love the slow, gorgeous J Dilla tribute "Telephone." I'm pretty interested to see if New Amerykah: Part Two (Return of The Ahnk), due in July, and the third album the series later, are going to come off as more of the same after this, or throw some serious curveballs. I'm way in favor of artists putting out albums once or more than once a year, but I think the whole approach that's become popular in recent years of making a double album, and then putting out its two halves seperately, is generally kind of a bad idea. But maybe Badu's the one artist with enough tricks up her sleeve to make it work for her.

TV Diary

Friday, March 28, 2008
1. "Lewis Black's Root Of All Evil"
I love Lewis Black as a standup, but "The Daily Show" has always utilized him in the most one-dimensional way possible, as basically a more apoplectic Dennis Miller. And Comedy Central giving him his own show seemed like it might be a "Colbert Report"-franchising of that persona into its own timeslot. Thankfully, this show has a novel format that allows Black to do what he does best in small doses and alternate with 2 other guest comics, who each take sides in a pro/con debate. It's essentially a much more structured version of the saggy, improv-heavy mess that was "Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn," and at least based on the one episode I've seen, it works really well. But then, that episode featured Paul F. Tompkins, who I've always liked and has been the only funny person on "Best Week Ever" for a while now.

2. "The Millionaire Matchmaker"
One of the more repulsive reality shows to come down the pike lately, and yet I could not look away. The whole world and profession it depicts is inherently fascinating, which I suppose is why they made a TV show about it. I mean, at this point there are a ton of non-famous millionaires who are just normal, dorky guys who mostly got rich by having no social skills and putting all their time into their career. So it's interesting to see what kind of complete crackpot woman who doesn't appear to understand anything about sex, love, dating or marriage can convince these guys to hire her to find them a mate. I hope a lot of her potential clients see this show and it's a wakeup call that they can do better on their own.

3. "The Riches"
Last year on this blog I gradually charted the downward trajectory of my initial excitement about the first season of this show and ultimate disappointment with how the finale ended with a lot of loose ends and lame cliffhangers. But I was still optimistic that the 2nd season would get back on track after some of the more sensationalistic plot twists got resolved and the show could get back to realizing its early potential. And though the season premiere unfortunately piled on more twists and violence in lieu of plot, it was thankfully kind of short (seriously, I swear there were only 25 minutes of new stuff padded out with recaps of the first season and teasers for future episodes), and the 2nd episode was much better. Shame the strike cut this season short with only 7 episodes, but at least that's only a small commitment for me in case this show continues to squander its potential.

4. "How I Met Your Mother"
I was skeptical about the Britney stunt, but it totally worked out: its highest ratings ever, helping assure its renewal for next season, and Britney was actually pretty secondary to the actual plot of the episode, with the much more attractive Sarah Chalke taking the main love interest role. The last few episodes have been kind of lacking in the Lily and Marshall department, though, they used to be one of the funniest things about the show.

Thursday, March 27, 2008
Grand Buffet - "Seek To Know" (mp3)

This week in the City Paper I reviewed Grand Buffet's latest album. Tom pretty accurately summed up the whole paradox of the band's appeal, but I'm not as positive about the new one as he is. The thing about Grand Buffet is, they released an album or EP every year for a while up through 2003, and then, aside from a rarities compilation and a new track on a best-of, King Vision is the first new material they've released in over 4 years. And based on the way they'd talked about the album for all these years, I thought it'd be some real next level shit, but instead I think it's one of their weaker efforts. Based on that fact, and the kind of run-down feel of their last few shows in Baltimore, it kinda feels like they're running out of steam, but I hope next month's show proves me wrong. It's a shame, too, because a few years ago I made the mistake of putting a few Grand Buffet songs on a mixtape for Ethan, and to this day he clowns me mercilessly about liking them, and I wish I had more conviction about it now but I don't really care as much anymore.

Movie Diary

Wednesday, March 26, 2008
1. Vantage Point
I have a suspicion that the audience that J.G. and I saw this with was the dumbest audience I've ever shared a movie theater with (like, dumber than the audience that cheered approvingly at Norbit, seriously). Every single aspect of this movie's ad campaign right down to the frigging title made it pretty clear that he whole idea was that you'd be seeing the central event of the film, a presidential assassination attempt, from the perspective of several characters to get the full story. But every 10-20 minutes, when the story would rewind and restart from a different POV, with the clock starting back at 12 noon, half the audience would groan and shift in their seats, louder and more obnoxiously each time, and J.G. and I were just astounded that these people were dumb enough to pay to see this movie and expect something different. We enjoyed it, though, not a perfect movie but enough twists and novel uses of the unique structure to keep me interested. Definitely more of a rental movie, but we really wanted to go out that weekend and this is a lean time of year.

2. The Lookout
One of the indie flicks, along with the overrated Brick, that transformed the kid from "3rd Rock From The Sun" into a respected actor worthy of such WTF casting as being Cobra Commander in the upcoming G.I. Joe movie. Here, he works extra hard to play against type, almost as if he decided to impersonate his 10 Things I Hate About You co-star Heath Ledger's later roles with his drawling stoicism, and it doesn't totally work. Matthew Goode, on the other hand, is surprisingly solid and convincing as an American scuzzbag with Federline facial hair. This is one of those obnoxiously illogical movies where the main character is haunted by a mistake made well before the events shown in the film, and in the course of the film does much worse stuff but at the end seems only concerned with the same demons he had in the first place, nevermind the new demons he should have, and the resolution is just a little too tidy.

3. A Night At The Museum
I fully expected to this be yet another crappy Ben Stiller movie on his steady downward slide before its PG rating and Christmas release date catapulted it to the 2nd biggest box office of his career. And even more surprisingly, it was bearable enough to spend a bored evening watching on TV (the presence of Carla Gugino helped), the ensemble cast kept things kind of snappy and there were a few real laughs that caught me off guard. Still kind of crap, but benefitted from lowered expectations.

4. Tamara
Kind of a horror flick version of She's All That, where the nerdy plain girl gets ridiculed by her peers, then accidentally killed by them, then comes back as a hot chick to wreak revenge. Step Up's Jenna Dewan is well cast in the title role, since she kind of naturally strattles the ugly/hot divide.

5. The Lonely Guy
An early Steve Martin flick that I was surprised to find out, after watching it, was written by Neil Simon and not Martin itself, since it retains a lot of the tone and gag-heavy approach of The Jerk but takes in a different direction. It's kind of a nice farcical version of the usual romantic comedy sadsack protagonist, though the pacing is a bit slack and a good amount of the gags fall flat, but Charles Grodin is great.

6. Broadway Danny Rose
Another 1984 footnote by one of my comedy heroes (in fact, it came out the same day as The Lonely Guy!) and didn't like it quite as much. One of those Woody Allen movies that goes for a black & white look and old-timey tone, but half-asses it a little, and the storytelling structure never quite clicks. Woody and Mia did much better a year later with The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Briefly, my latest stuff up on a new Baltimore club music column with with DJ Pierre, a wrap-up of my experiences judging at the Show Me What You Got battle @ Fletcher's (congrats to the winner, A-Class), and reviews of the Best Buy in-store event for Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks From The Wire with Mullyman, Ogun, Verb and G.E.M., last month's 15 Minutes of Fame open mic @ the Turntable Club with B.O.M.B., South Paw Entertainment, Rip The Ruler and others, Jonathan Richman @ the 8x10 and Perverse Osmosis, Shit The Bed and Scoundrel @ the Sidebar.

The 2008 Remix Report Card, Vol. 3

Sunday, March 23, 2008
"Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It (Remix)" by Ice Cube featuring Scarface and Nas
I thought the original was brilliant, and Cube really picked the perfect guests for the remix, guys nore or less from his generation that are still commercially relevent (or at least, moreso than him) that can bring their own perspective to the song's message, especially Nas's zinger "if they call you a nigga, ain't nothin' to it/ tell 'em Nas made you do it." But Cube shows his age by thinking he doesn't have to write a new verse for the remix, and I think a lot of the original version's impact came from the video and the ballsiness of the whole concept, so it just doesn't feel as fresh here.
Best Verse: Nas
Overall Grade: C+

"Hostile Gospel Pt. 1 (Remix)" by Talib Kweli featuring
The token Just Blaze beat on Eardrum was pretty limp and disappointing (even "Part 2" is better), so I was surprised when it became a single. The remix doesn't really do anything to improve on it (although Kweli's flow is a little better), and really the additional singing on the hook makes it work. Don't know who this Blu cat is but he's pretty annoying, and Joell Ortiz has always struck me as kind of feeble to be acting like some last of a dying breed real MC type.
Best Verse: Talib Kweli
Overall Grade: C

"Paper Touchin' (Remix)" by Red Cafe featuring 50 Cent, Jadakiss and Fabolous
The fact that both 50 and Jada are on this makes it even more visibly assembled piece by piece than most remixes these days, but good on Red Cafe getting a bunch of NYC cats who still (just barely) matter to support a new school NYC cat who'll never matter.
Best Verse: Fabolous
Overall Grade: B+

"Single Again (Remix)" by Trina featuring Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Plies
This is full-on tabloid rap, Trina's thinly veiled song about her breakup with Wayne remixed with Wayne himself on there, commenting on the situation but not really saying anything particularly shocking or heartfelt. Still, what he does say would work better as a back-and-forth duet, not just the first of several verses in a posse cut, ang Plies wins for just stumbling in and starting his quick 8 bars by hollering "YA DAMN RIGHT I CHEATED" (I support this proposal for Plies to act a fool on every remix from now on).
Best Verse: Plies
Overall Grade: B-

"Superstar (Remix)" by Lupe Fiasco featuring Young Jeezy and T.I.
This is, as far as I know, the first verse that T.I.'s released since he started recording at home on house arrest, and decided to start writing his lyrics down again, and it really shows. His flow is more meticulous and Andre 3000-like than ever, each word carefully chosen and enunciated, which is kind of refreshing to hear after the autopilot of the last album, and makes me pretty optimistic about Paper Trail. Lupe is irritating to me even when he's good, and he's almost as irritating here as he was on the original. Jeezy's intro definitely brings a new energy to this terrible, leaden song, and his extended bit about The Wire and Bmore makes me smile, but there was really never any time that he could outshine T.I. on a track.
Best Verse: T.I.
Overall Grade: B

"Touch My Body (Tricky Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring Rick Ross and The-Dream
I've been skeptical of all the praises rained on The-Dream as both a songwriter and a performer in the past year -- OK, I may have recently referred to him as a "chinless helium-voiced hack." I think he's nothing special on the former count ("Just Fine" excepted) and downright unpleasant on the latter ("Shawty Is The Shit" grudgingly excepted). But I also think his songwriting partner, Tricky Stewart, is a pretty versatile producer, and he shows his range really well with the contrast between the original "Touch My Body" and this remix. Mariah still sounds like Pebbles Flintstone on the verses, but it's a total improvement. Just like on the "Single Again" remix, though, it would be better without Ross, and for once The-Dream is a worthwhile prescence for the little breakdown that comes with his verse (although he sounds a little too proud of that stupid YouTube line that he hoots his own variation on).
Best Verse: The-Dream
Overall Grade: B-

TV Diary

Saturday, March 22, 2008
1. "Miss/Guided"
I almost hate to say it, but ABC's whole new wave of cutesy comedies ("Pushing Daisies," "Samantha Who?" and now this) is kinda becoming my favorite stuff on TV these days. They're all more classic rom-com quirky than annoying Juno indie quirky, and actually have some snappy writing and good acting to fall back on, and I'm rooting for any/all of these shows to make it to the 07/08 season. I've always been kind of ambivalent about Judy Greer, but this is a pretty ideal showcase for her, and also for Chris Parnell, who I'm still bummed about not being on SNL anymore. Ashton Kutcher is an exec producer, which isn't a good sign, but his obligatory guest appearance in one of the first episodes wasn't that bad. At least, until I realized that the co-star his character hooked up with at the end of the episode was played by Brooke Burns, who's Bruce Willis's girlfriend or ex-girlfriend, which makes the whole thing kind of weird and creepy.

2. "Welcome To The Captain"
This show, on the other hand, is the bad kind of quirky, and you know a cast is irritating when Chris Klein is the best thing about it. CBS has had such good luck with semi-traditional sitcoms lately, I don't know why they had to go and ruin it with this shit.

3. "Unhitched"
I kinda like this show, but they really shot themselves in the foot by mounting an ad campaign filled with nothing but "new Seinfeld" comparisons (also one of the reasons I never gave "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" a fair shot, to be honest), since inevitably the only similiarity it bears is to the more slapstick moments of season 9 "Seinfeld."

4. "Quarterlife"
I checked this out last year when it was being hyped as "the MySpace TV show" last year just to see how awful it was, and it really exceeded my expectations. And once it made its way onto NBC, it was cancelled so quickly that I almost didn't even get a chance to see how much it sucked on real TV and gloat about its failure, but they dumped all the produced episodes on a Bravo marathon and I got to see a little of it. Reminds me of how I couldn't even bring myself to watch "My So-Called Life" back in the day no matter how hot I thought Claire Danes was.

5. "In Treatment"
Even if the overseas show this is based on preceded it by a few years, HBO rolling this out just a few months after "Tell Me You Love Me" seems like a bad idea -- this is definitely the better show, but the first time I saw it I was like, oh, another show about therapy, this time without all the sex scenes? Still, the soap-opera like schedule of 5 episodes a week is nigh impossible to keep up with, so I just check in here and there and am generally pretty lost, and I kinda doubt I'll feel motivated to watch it on DVD when it comes out.

6. "Canterbury's Law"
I've always kinda liked Julianna Margulies, especially after her smoking hot guest appearance on "Scrubs" a few years ago, but she doesn't look too great on her new show and the show itself is pretty dumb. I did like, though, that in the big scene of the pilot episode, the witness on the stand that she was cross-examining that punched her in the mouth was Marimow from "The Wire."

7. "Smash Lab"
I really can't think of any reason for this show to exist, other than to pander to people who like "MythBusters" but think it needs more explosions. That's a totally valid point of view, though, and probably a significant segment of Discovery's audience, but this, this show is surprisingly kinda boring, mainly because of the unmemorable host people.

8. "MythBusters"
The original article, however, is as good as ever. On most shows, doing a pop culture-themed episode would be a bad thing, but the recent "MacGuyver" and James Bond specials have been awesome, the exact kind of thing I watch this show for. And as much of a geek cliche it is to say this, Kari Byron really is one of the hottest women on television.

9. "American Idol"
I don't even know what to say about this show anymore. I think I might hate all the contestants right now, but I haven't even seen enough of this season to say for sure. I skipped the audition rounds because I usually hate the freak show aspect, and kept saying I'd tune in consistently for the top 24, then the top 12, but just haven't. Maybe next week?

10. "Saturday Night Live"
I've been pretty cool with the show's cast lately, and although I'm bummed about Maya Rudolph's mid-season departure, it's been pretty great on the first few episodes back since the strike. Kristen Wiig in particular is really coming into her own, although, please, no more 'Penelope' sketches, it was funny the first time but those shits are getting more repetitive than the Will Ferrell/Cheri Oteri cheerleaders.

Friday, March 21, 2008
Webbie f/ Bun B and Lil' Phat of 3 Deep - "Doe Doe" (mp3)

I wish more rap albums started the way Webbie's Savage Life 2 does, straight into a verse with no intro skit, or even a few instrumental bars to establish the beat, just hitting the ground running. And the first thing he says when you pop in the disc, "couldn't wait to get more shit from Trill E-N-T, huh?" also happens to be absolutely correct, because it's Webbie's label that's red hot right now (and to be more precise, his labelmate Lil Boosie), not Webbie himself. So like a lot of people, I'm copping his new album because that just happens to be the one Trill is putting on shelves at the moment. A lot of talk's been thrown around lately about how Trill Ent. is the new Cash Money, a parallel that makes a lot of sense in some ways, but is nonetheless kind of premature and potentially damning, since they can't really hope to live up to that comparison, at least not yet. They've got a solid in-house producer in Mouse, but he's no Mannie Fresh, and a well-stocked cast of characters on the roster, but they're no Hot Boyz. And the fact that one of their best known MCs, Webbie, sounds almost exactly like one of Cash Money's worst, Baby, isn't a good sign (seriously, when Webbie and Birdman drop consecutive verses on Savage Life 2's "A Miracle" you almost can't tell which is which).

When my car was stolen and later recovered last year, the thieves took some of my CDs but left a few Boosie and Webbie mixtapes, so I was jamming those along with the Survival Of The Fittest comp a lot last summer (after a couple years of hearing a lot about Boosie from Ethan and enjoying the occasional guest verse). And fortunately, Savage Life 2 is in a way more of a posse album than solo album, with half the tracks featuring at least one other Trill artist. And even if their B-listers like Lil Phat of 3 Deep and Big Head aren't really great in and of themselves, they generally sound good with a verse here or there, taking the spotlight off of the blank non-entity that is Webbie, who's competent enough but sometimes, like on "Just Like This," can't ride a beat to save his life. My favorite song, "Doe Doe," features Webbie and Lil Phat attacking a beat full of stuttering triplets (with the gunshot percussion that's become kind of cliched in the last few years, but is employed so well here that it works on a musical level whether or not you scan what the origin of the sound effects is). In a weird way, the best MC on the track, Bun B, kind of ruins it by bringing his calm, measured style to a beat that really demands more of that shrill, arrogant Pimp C energy.

In My Stereo

Thursday, March 20, 2008
Evangelista - Hello, Voyager
Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
Webbie - Savage Life 2
Keyshia Cole - Just Like You
T.I. - T.I. Vs. T.I.P.
Bruce Springsteen - Magic
Nels Cline Singers - Draw Breath
N.E.K. - N.E.K. All Day Part 1
Big Moon - Hear Me Clearly
80'z Boyz - The 80'z Made Me

Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Claudia SanSoucie - "The Enemy" (mp3)

The above is my favorite track from the Baltimore Songwriters Association's compilation Songs From A Charmed City, which I reviewed in the current issue of the City Paper. I also covered Say-Wut and Profound in the local reviews section, and will have more on those releases over on Government Names this week.

Netflix Diary

Tuesday, March 18, 2008
1. The Simpsons Movie
The numerous jokes about paying to see a movie version of a TV show were funny, and may have preempted the most obvious criticisms of this, but didn't actually render them untrue. And I'm glad I waited to catch it on DVD, because the lingering feeling of an overlong latter day episode would've been worse if I'd centered a Friday night out around seeing this in the theater. Don't get me wrong it was good, in the same way that better new episodes, or old reruns that I haven't seen in long enough to forget some of the jokes, are still enjoyable. But considering that I like the South Park movie better than any episode of the actual show, I feel like they could've stepped it up here more in some way, if not necessarily in a musical direction.

2. Ocean's Thirteen
As suffocatingly stylized and smug as these movies can come off, they are well crafted and have enough twists to keep you interested, and this might be my favorite of the three, especially since they flip the whole heist premise on its ear and make it a completely different kind of job. Clooney is strangely a non-presence in this one, and most of the laughs come from Matt Damon (who, between "I'm Fucking Matt Damon," the portrayal of him in Team America, and his scenes in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, is becoming the funniest serious actor on the A-list).

3. 1408
As I've mentioned before, J.G. and I have a Valentine's Day ritual of ordering Chinese and renting horror movies, and this year this was one of our selections. Kind of a standard Stephen King adaptation but something a little different for Cusack. It didn't really shock or scare me but did succeed in making me feel antsy and uncomfortable along with the protagonist.

4. The Reaping
Our other VDay flick, I'd been wanting to see this since the first trailer and still did even after the horrible reviews. I liked it, though, good and creepy with the pleasant surprise of Idris Elba in a major role (if still a generic sidekick role).

5. Blades Of Glory
Post-Semi-Pro, people seem good and sick of Will Ferrell sports comedies, but I figure this is still at least the best of the bunch, even if that's not saying much (having been vaguely unsatisfied by Talladega Nights and given the impression that the other 2 suck). I didn't figure Jon Heder to do anything of worth after being potentially forever typecast in his iconic debut role in an incredibly awful 'cult' comedy, but he's actually pretty funny in this.

Sunday, March 16, 2008
Writing about Puddle of Mudd in Corporate Rock Still Sells #10 has reduced me to the level of making crude puns about urination.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Last week at Fletcher's, I and 3 other judges picked the winners for the first two rounds of the Show Me What You Got MC battle. And the finals, which were originally scheduled for the 11th, have been pushed back to next Tuesday the 18th, when we pick the best of the six finalists to get to open for Slick Rock and win a cash prize and all that. I plan on getting real drunk so that my judging abilities are at their absolute best.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Well, it's over, finally. No more of The Wire ever again (and please shut up about doing a movie, McNulty, that's a terrible idea). I'm not sure exactly what I expected from the finale to weigh it against, but a few days later it's sitting well with me. It was, I think, kind of brilliant to end the show with a relatively bloodless episode, aside from Cheese (which I especially appreciated since Prop Joe has long been one of my favorite characters). One thing that people have come to expect from The Wire, particularly from the climactic season finales, is a shocking death of a major character. This time, though, they got that out of the way a couple episodes early with Omar. And the relative lack of death in the finale managed to not feel like a Sopranos-style fake-out (although they certainly tried for that a little with the goofy wake for McNulty, possibly my least favorite moment of the episode).

The episode may have seemed on the surface bereft of tragedy or shocks, but the ending montage, that showed gaping assholes like Templeton and Valchek going on to bigger and better things, was the real kind of tragedy the show best addresses. I howled with laughter at those shots, even while realizing that they were twisting the knife. Having guys like them, and Levy and Marlo and Rawls, still out there making the world a worse place, is the sickest, cruelest joke they could've left out on. But it was also nice that they let some of the more sympathetic characters get a happy ending, like Lester and Shardene settling down (perhaps the hidden implicit statement of the whole show: you can turn a ho into a housewife?). The whole transparent bit crowning Michael as the new Omar was a little too on the nose, in my opinion. And I also don't like that Kenard actually got caught for killing Omar. If anyone should still be out running around free for a truly bleak ending, it's that little psychopath.

During Season 4, I branded Omar, Marlo and Bubbles as the "three guys who always seemed to be treading on thin ice, a million reasons why tragedy should befall them eventually." But by a few weeks later, I saw the writing on the wall and correctly guessed that "in Season 5, Sherrod's death will play out as Bubbles' 'rock bottom' moment that finally forces him to clean up, although I want to give The Wire more credit than to give a shiny happy ending to its beloved junkie." As cynical as I was about that prospect at the time, the shot of Bub's sister letting him sit at the dinner table was a pretty touching moment, I have to admit.

Still, I think about Bubs and what his character means to the show's big picture statement about the war on drugs. Sure, Simon & co. admit they don't have answers for the nation's drug epidemic, just a confidence in their idea that current policy is unacceptable. But a vague embrace of old-fashioned 12 steps and facing your demons is surprisingly touchy-feely for this show, and I wish they'd shown the dark side of recovery more even if Bubbles ultimately seemed to . The Wire tells all these stories about people caught up in a system they can't control and locked into dysfunctional cycles, and somehow the drug addict is the one guy that breaks his cycle and goes on to live a better life? Anyone, especially anyone who's lived in Baltimore, can tell you that that's perhaps the most unrealistic thing the show's ever asked you to believe, even more than any elaborate fake serial killer plot.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Feb '08 mix for J.G.

1. Maroon 5 - "Little Of Your Time" (mp3)
2. Say Anything - "Alive With The Glory Of Love"
3. Little Feat - "Easy To Slip" (mp3)
4. Kenna - "Sun Red Sky Blue"
5. They Might Be Giants - "Another First Kiss"
6. Fall Out Boy - "Dance Dance" (RJD2 Remix)
7. The Police - "The Bed's Too Big Without You"
8. My Brightest Diamond - "Disappear"
9. Peter Gabriel - "In Your Eyes"
10. Björk - "Isobel"
11. Travis Morrison Hellfighters - "Book Of Names"
12. Wye Oak - "If Children Were Wishes"
13. John Legend - "Show Me"
14. Jeff Buckley with Shudder To Think - "I Want Someone Badly" (mp3)
15. Damien Rice - "Hallelujah" (live)
16. Thin Lizzy - "Dancing In The Moonlight"
17. Avec - "Albina Krobot"
18. Paramore - "Fences" (mp3)
19. Apollo Sunshine - "U & I"
20. Sloan - "Last Time In Love"

Had been meaning to make a mix for J.G. for a while now (the last one was back a year and a half ago), especially since the wedding's coming up and I'm hashing out the music playlist for that and running ideas by her, a few of which are scattered on this. A few thematical things in here, like sandwiching Jeff Buckley between John Legend's impression of him and one of J.G.'s favorite Buckley-lites covering his own signature cover that's gotten its most recent revival in popularity via "American Idol." A couple things were included on request that she wanted copies of, like "In Your Eyes," but really I never get tired of that song. I still haven't gotten used to Monarch becoming Wye Oak and calling them by their new name, though.

Movie Diary

Sunday, March 09, 2008
1. Big Nothing
I barely had time to get my hopes up before this disappointed me. I saw that there was a movie about to come on cable starring David Schwimmer and Simon Pegg and thought, hey, I like both of those guys, I should check it out. And it started off pretty strong, particularly with Pegg, who nailed an American accent and had an initially well written character. I was going to say he plays against type here, but then I realized I've only really seen him in Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, and he plays completely different characters in both of those, so maybe he really just has exceptional good range for a comedic actor. Anyway, this turned out to be one of those modern "black comedies" where everything that can possibly go wrong does, and the body count just keeps piling up along the way. It reminded me way too much of Very Bad Things, possibly my least favorite movie of the past decade. The first ten minutes before the crazy caper is introduced are good, and the next ten minutes before things start going awry are alright, too. After that, there's a couple genuine surprises and laughs but it's mostly dire, over the top "dark" comedy where the violence itself is supposed to garner laughs. I miss the days when comedies could incorporate things like murder and mortal danger while still being light, wacky comedies that aren't all about murder. I hope The Pineapple Express brings that back a little bit.

2. Clerks II
Although I'm far from a View Askew fanboy, I have a healthy appreciation for the poorly made but sometimes pretty enjoyable films of Kevin Smith. On the right day I'll even defend Jersey Girl or Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, but I admit that I've always thought Clerks was pretty overrated, and that it has perhaps the weakest leads in a career chock full of terrible performances. So it annoys me in the first place to bring back those two boring talking heads as beloved charactes that we're supposed to really want to see a decade older and imbued with more depth. Nah, fuck that. Being in movies like this makes me feel like Rosario Dawson is just a little too eager to cater to nerds' wank fantasies.

3. Matchstick Men
Yet another domino knocked down in my theory that Nic Cage still makes an honestly good movie now and then, although this is definitely good on a generous Cage curve. Really, this was so close to being a solid movie (the ending, however twisty and contrived, really struck an unexpected emotional chord), but Cage's over-the-top depiction of his character's neuroses, and Ridley Scott enhancing the obnoxiousness of the performance with obnoxious editing and camera work, really made it hard to fully enjoy. I kind of feel like OCD behavior is a really interesting topic that movies and television have never been able to handle well -- it's all either reduced to a quirky tic like on "Monk" or in As Good As It Gets, or taken to some absurd, overly serious extreme like in this movie. I still haven't totally made my mind up about Sam Rockwell, but I think I really like him, and I was about to say that he seemed to have disappear the last couple years but now he has a new movie coming out I guess. It's a shame this movie's title is plural, or it'd fit in nicely with the whole Family/Weather/Wicker Man pattern to half of Cage's movies the past few years.

4. 25th Hour
This was alright. I kind of hated the ending even when it turned out to be a fakeout, though.

5. Cradle Will Rock
This is a movie that I was vaguely excited about just based on the trailer and all the people I liked in the cast, but never saw it at the time, and finally got around to it just now, 8 years later. And it was pretty good, overreaching and ambitious and never quite did half of what it was trying for, but still plenty entertaining. It also kind of cracked me up how among the huge cast are at least 3 or 4 actors I primarily recognized as bit players from "Seinfeld."

6. Rounders
Felt like a weird retread of a dozen different movies starring Matt Damon and/or Edward Norton, even if most of them were made after this one. Not bad, though, not bad at all. That new movie 21 looks like a retarded version of this.

7. Everyone Says I Love You
Another movie that I vaguely thought was a good idea at the time (I've seen and enjoyed more later Woody Allen movies than I'd like to admit) but never got around to until recently. Kinda lame! And also very depressing to see Natasha Lyonne

8. Metropolitan
The first movie by, and the first I've seen by, Whit Stillman, who I guess is one of the big names of talky 90's indie film, and it was pretty much what I expected. Couple of really good scenes but felt slack overall.

9. The Front Page
I've gotten to the point where I will watch pretty much anything involving Billy Wilder and/or Jack Lemmon and/or Walter Matthau, especially all three, so when this came on TV, I automatically hunkered down to watch it (I guess that leaves me still needing to see The Fortune Cookie and Buddy Buddy). Based on the same play as His Girl Friday, this is very stagey and dialogue-driven even by Wilder's standards, and everyone seems to be having a lot of fun hamming it up (although Carrol Burnett chews the scenery in a way that becomes really overbearing and tiresome).

Friday, March 07, 2008
Mike Doughty - "Wednesday (Contra La Puerta)" (mp3)

I'm generally pretty loyal to anyone who's been in a band I've rreally liked at some point or another; whether or not what they do later is any good or similiar at all to the old band, I'll usually end up following them there and giving them a fair chance. Mike Doughty, who in his younger, more pretentious-first-initial days as M. Doughty fronted Soul Coughing, is not someone I've thought about or listened to much at all in the 8 years since they broke up, though, and I loved that band. Actually, I haven't listened to the band itself much in that time, either, but I still have a big soft spot for what they did. But once you subtract an incredibly elastic rhythm section and a novel (at the time and, to my ears, still) approach to sampling, Doughty's itchy rhythm guitar strumming and non-sequitur poetry lose a lot of their charm.

The hushed intimacy of Doughty's first solo album, Skittish, suited him well, possibly because he was still in Soul Coughing at the time he recorded it, and he was content doing a kind of sentimental troubadour thing and staying out of the lane of his main gig. I listened to that album a lot when it existed only as a bootleg in the 90's, but I never even bought it once it was finally released. The problem on his new album Golden Delcious, though, is that with solo material his only outlet, he's letting some of his old band's goofball whimsy loose over music that's so drab by comparison that it comes out horrendously awkward. Soul Coughing were, at best, probably just one of the artier bands of what Anthony likes to call "the alternapop era," but now Doughty is linking up with defensible but much blander peers from back then like Semisonic's Dan Wilson (who produced the new album) and Dave Matthews (who released it on his ATO label).

Golden Delicious is one of those albums where I can't quite tell if I just gradually get into it the longer it's on, or the 2nd half really is way way better than the first. And then I go back and listen to early tracks like "More Bacon Than The Pan Can Handle," which makes me want to stab my brain, and I'm sure it's the latter. In fact, there's a good chance that my four favorite songs on the album are the last four. Well, except for "27 Jennifers" ("I went to school with 27 Jennifers/ 16 Jens, 10 Jennys and then there was her"), which I like for the very obvious reason that I'm about to marry a Jennifer who went by something other than Jen or Jenny when I met her.

Before I listened to the album, Dan (who himself already nailed what's wrong with this album) told me to check for "Like A Luminous Girl" as the one great ballad on the album. But once I finally sat down with it, instead it was the song that directly precedes it, "Wednesday (Contra La Puerta)," that I was and continue to be struck by the most. Very little of the album may evoke Soul Coughing in a concrete way, but "Wednesday" definitely brings to mind the atmospheric, almost noir vibe of one of my old favorites, "City Of Motors," while managing to be sonically different enough to not sound like a shallow imitation. The funny thing is, I know someone who's friendly with all the Soul Coughing guys, and through him I've heard a lot of unreleased solo stuff the other members have done since the band broke up that I think is a lot more interesting than anything Doughty's done lately (and which I'd talk about at length here the minute any of it saw the light of day as an official release).

Thursday, March 06, 2008
I'll be here again all day today. Comment, suggest stories or topics, whatever, I'm still getting a handle on this news trawling stuff.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Though I've been doing a column for them for a few months now, today is my first time doing guest blogger duty on Idolator (all my posts will show here). Feel free to drop me a line throughout the day and suggest a news item or a topic to cover, I'm sure I'll run out of ideas at some point.

In My Stereo

Monday, March 03, 2008
Young Dro - I Am Legend
Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious
They Might Be Giants - Here Come The 123s
Fat Joe - Me, Myself & I
Say Anything - ...Is A Real Boy
DJ Kenny K presents Baltimore Club Music Vol 2
B. Rich presents Hurry Up And Weight: The Wire Soundtrack
various artists - Wow That's What I Call Gutter Music
Big Bully present Gimme Ya Lunch Money Pt. 2: Street Certified
Skarr Akbar - Suicide Sunday: Top 40 Freestylez

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Steez asked me to be one of the judges for the next Show Me What You Got MC battle, where the prize will be to get to open for Slick Rick at the Ottobar. The 3 nights of the competition are March 4th, 5th and 11th at Fletcher's (I don't know why it doesn't say Fletcher's on the flyer but that's where it is, don't get confused and go to the Ottobar those nights). So any local artists who are tired of me judging the quality of their work in print or online, and would like to see me judge them live and in person so they can at least mean mug at me or something while I'm doing it, come on out, I think I'm supposed to be there all three nights. More details on the competition here.