The first 6 months of 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008
1. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah: 4th World War
2. Nine Inch Nails - The Slip
3. Evangelista - Hello, Voyager
4. Raheem DeVaughn - Love Behind The Melody
5. Jonathan Richman - Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild
6. My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth
7. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
8. The Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
9. Rich Boy - Bigger Than The Mayor
10. Sloan - Parallel Play
11. Prodigy - H.N.I.C. 2
12. AZ - Undeniable
13. Grand Buffet - King Vision
14. Sheek Louch - Silverback Gorilla
15. The Roots - Rising Down
16. Foxboro Hottubs - Stop Drop And Roll!!
17. Blake Leyh - X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango
18. Fabolous - Gangsta Grillz: There Is No Competition
19. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
20. Jaguar Love - Jaguar Love EP
21. Usher - Here I Stand
22. various artists - The Wire: " … and all the pieces matter"
23. Bun B - II Trill
24. Firewater - The Golden Hour
25. Elvis Costello - Momofuku

1. Jordin Sparks f/ Chris Brown - "No Air"
2. Sara Bareilles - "Love Song"
3. Hot Stylz f/ Yung Joc - "Lookin' Boy"
4. Jazmine Sullivan f/ Missy Elliott - "I Need U Bad"
5. Ne-Yo - "Closer"
6. Paramore - "That's What You Get"
7. Snoop Dogg f/ Too $hort and Mistah F.A.B. - "Life Of Da Party"
8. Ryan Leslie - "Diamond Girl"
9. Coldplay - "Viva la Vida"
10. Cherish f/ Yung Joc - "Killa"
11. B.O.B. - "Haterz Everywhere"
12. Young Jeezy f/ Kanye West - "Put On"
13. Busta Rhymes - "Don't Touch Me (Throw Da Water On 'Em)"
14. Lee Carr - "Stilettos"
15. John Legend f/ Andre 3000 - "Green Light"
16. Jesse McCartney - "Leavin'"
17. Robin Thicke - "Magic"
18. Webbie f/ Lil Phat of 3 Deep and Lil Boosie - "Independent"
19. John Mayer - "Say"
20. Ray J - "Gifts"
21. Nine Inch Nails - "Discipline"
22. Alicia Keys - "Teenage Love Affair"
23. Lupe Fiasco - "Hip Hop Saved My Life"
24. Nas f/ Keri Hilson - "Hero"
25. G-Unit - "I Like The Way She Do It"
26. Shawty Lo - "Foolish"
27. Ludo - "Love Me Dead"
28. Maroon 5 f/ Rihanna - "If I Never See Your Face Again (Remix)"
29. Ryan Leslie f/ Cassie and "Addiction"
30. T.I. - "No Matter What"
31. Atreyu - "Falling Down"
32. John Legend - "Show Me"
33. Lil Wayne - "A Milli"
34. Nelly f/ Fergie - "Party People"
35. Big Boi f/ Raekwon and Andre 3000 - "Royal Flush"
36. Janet Jackson - "Luv"
37. Foxboro Hot Tubs - "Mother Mary"
38. Alkaline Trio - "Help Me"
39. Usher f/ Young Jeezy - "Love In This Club"
40. Missy Elliott - "Ching-A-Ling"
41. Ne-Yo - "Go On Girl"
42. Jaheim - "Never"
43. Timbaland f/ Keri Hilson and Nicole Scherzinger - "Scream"
44. Ace Gutta f/ T-Pain and Rick Ross - "Cash Flow"
45. Coheed And Cambria - "Feathers"
46. Erykah Badu - "Honey"
47. Snoop Dogg - "Sensual Seduction"
48. Chingy f/ Ludacris and Bobby Valentino - "Gimme Dat"
49. Leona Lewis - "Bleeding Love"
50. Ray J f/ Yung Berg - "Sexy Can I"

The last couple months it seems like there's been a ton of new albums by people whose last album I loved, all trying and failing to top it. The previous albums by Lil Wayne, My Brightest Diamond, Sloan, Prodigy, Grand Buffet, and The Roots, among others, were some of my favorite records of the past few years, and their new ones are by no means disappointments, mostly because I didn't really get my hopes up at a repeat in the first place. The first few months of the year felt really slow as far as singles that got any kind of reaction from me, but now it's summer and there's just a ton of jams out, mostly R&B.

The 2008 Remix Report Card, Vol. 6

Sunday, June 29, 2008
"A Milli (Remix)" by Lil Wayne
When I was out of the country for a couple weeks recently, I left back when "A Milli" seemed to be regarded as just another Wayne song, and a kind of underwhelming choice for a street single off Carter III. By the time I got back, the song had taken over, getting daytime radio play and becoming the most popular default freestyle beat for every rapper in the world since "I Get Money," to the point that there were a ton of trend pieces comparing the various versions of the track. I still don't totally understand it. It's certainly better than most of Wayne's most massively overrated songs ("Shooter," "I Feel Like Dying," "Georgia Bush") etc. but it's not that great, and Shondrae has made much better beats. But anyway I'm not gonna talk about the scores of unofficial remixes, just the one by Wayne himself, which I enjoy because it's a little loose but he sounds genuinely happy and thankful about his record sales, which makes sense since he released this like the day after the sales figures came out. I also kind of like the way he switches up his annoying "remix baby" catchphrase and says it in a relatively subdued way.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B+

"Addiction (Remix)" by Ryan Leslie featuring Fabolous & Cassie
I love this song, just sick production, but I never really thought about this needing a rap verse. Fab is my favorite R&B thug of all time, though, so he rips it with his usual ignorant punchlines ("they say that white Phantom look so cocaine/ and I hop out the suicides lookin' so Cobaine").
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"Ain't Sayin' Nothin' (Remix)" by Fat Joe featuring Lil Wayne and The Game
I thought maybe Fat Joe's new independent deal didn't give him the budget for more than one single per album after he didn't even drop a follow-up to a song as big as "Make It Rain," but he mustered up a 2nd single this time around, and it really wasn't enough of a hit to justify a remix. Maybe Joe gets a discount on Wayne verses. This is probably the best song Cool & Dre have done in the past couple years, and it's still kinda lousy. The weird accent Game uses on his verse (is it supposed to be Southern?) is goofy as hell but his verse works, strangely enough, and he contributes the only memorable part of the remix, that weird little bridge before Fat Joe's verse. Funny how Joe's "Young Buck tellin' me he wanna be a friend to me" line already has some foreshadowing to it. Plies actually sounded better on the original than any of these guys, smh.
Best Verse: The Game
Overall Grade: C+

"American Boy (Remix)" by Estelle featuring Busta Rhymes
I never really thought about whether this song would have a remix or who I'd wanna hear on it, but Busta Rhymes definitely wouldn't have occurred to me. Since Estelle supposedly rapped before she sang, though, I would've liked to hear her rip a verse on the remix. Busta took too many steroids before recording this to have the right vibe for such a light song.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"Bye Bye (Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring Akon and Lil Wayne
Last month, I wrote up an official remix with Jay-Z, but "Bye Bye" has been flopping so hard that I guess Mariah's camp got desperate and decided to remix it again. Wayne sounds relatively restrained and sincere here, like he's so afraid of making some ridiculous profane punchline on a song like this that he just holds back and talks very slowly and speaks in nothing but vague platitudes, but his verse is no "I Miss My Dawgs" or anything. I used to like Akon a lot more back when he always sounded inconsolably sad on "Locked Up" and "Soul Survivor," but now after the onslaught of smug club jams I don't even wanna hear him sounding sad anymore.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Clumsy (Collipark Remix)" by Fergie featuring Soulja Boy
I missed this a few months ago but wanted to go back and include it for archival purposes. I loved the original "Clumsy" and have a long history of going nuts over Mr. Collipark's remixes, but this doesn't quite live up to my lofty expectations. It is nice, though, and I like how the distorted bits of Fergie's vocals from the original stay intact on the very different new beat.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C+

"Donk (Remix)" by Soulja Boy featuring Yung Joc
I kinda like this song, weird disorienting beat. And when the basis of comparison is Soulja Boy, Yung Joc sounds kinda good.
Best Verse: Yung Joc
Overall Grade: B

"Don't Touch Me (Throw Da Water On 'Em) (Remix)" by Busta Rhymes featuring Reek Da Villian, Spliff Star, The Game, Lil' Wayne, Nas and Big Daddy Kane
Busta's (literal) weed carriers Spliff Star and Reek Da Villain go in and justify their spots along the big stars, meanwhile Game comes close to embarrassing. Of the A list, though, Nas is surprisingly the one who keeps up the best. It's kinda depressing to hear Big Daddy Kane on here, not because he's lousy on it but they probably shouldn't've brought him back on this unless he absolutely killed it. The song was really just fine as it was on the original, one instance where the remix really just does it no favors.
Best Verse: Reek Da Villain
Overall Grade: B

"Drivin' Down The Block (Remix)" by Kidz In The Hall featuring Bun B, Pusha T and the Cool Kids
Two hipster rap groups along with two of the most hipster-friendly MCs to have ever gotten mainstream rap money, doing one of those groups' big faux-mainstream single. Bun will rap over any damn thing, and here he upstages everyone effortlessly the way he used to on every remix back in '04.
Best Verse: Bun B
Overall Grade: C+

"Everyone Nose (Remix)" by N.E.R.D. featuring CRS and Pusha T
I could scarcely get my head around the goofy-ass original, much less this remix. Kanye opens with the cheesiest line all time, and actually flubs it ("do you have black inside you" kinda telegraphs the joke as opposed to if he said "do you have any black in you"). Lupe thinks he's clever for putting the word "high" in every line but fails at even the most basic of wordplay. Pusha T thinks he can do doubletime, which is quaint. Pharrell sounds the most ridiculous on it, which in this context means he wins.
Best Verse: Pharrell
Overall Grade: D

"Foolish (Remix)" by Shawty Lo featuring DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, Jim Jones and Baby
Shawty Lo releasing "Dunn Dunn" as his 2nd single instead of this was the biggest flub since, well, Janet Jackson released "Rock With U" as her 2nd single instead of "Luv." But at least he's making up for it now by doing a big remix with a video, not that I actually wish Shawty Lo any amount of success. This is pretty underwhelming, considering I like the original a lot, though. The amazing thing about this remix is that it has four pretty famous rappers on it, and not a single one of them is a decent MC. Usually you get at least one guy with talent on these things. The way Ross brags about topping Snoop on the charts comes off as kind of mean, if you ask me. Baby wins by default for having the balls to borrow Wayne's autotune for his verse.
Best Verse: Baby
Overall Grade: C-

"Game's Pain (Mega Remix)" by The Game featuring featuring Jadakiss, Bun B, Pusha T, Fat Joe, Young Buck, Queen Latifah, and Keyshia Cole
Apparently there's going to be 3 regional remixes for this in July, but almost all the guests from those are on this (except E-40 and Ice Cube from the West coast remix), so I dunno if I'll bother writing about those when they drop. I guess it's cute to remix a song w/ Keyshia on it and sample "Juicy"/"Juicy Fruit" a year after "Let It Go," but it feels like overkill to me, but then, at least Game didn't put as many guests as he did on the "One Blood" remix. For some reason at the end Queen Latifah comes on, singing "last night Latifah saved my life" and it's obnoxious as hell. Bun B does the best verse within Game's history lesson/namedropping format.
Best Verse: Bun B
Overall Grade: C

"Get Silly (Remix)" by V.I.C. featuring Soulja Boy, Bun B, E-40, Pitbull, Polow Da Don, JD, Arab, DJ Unk, Big Kuntry King and Tech
Last year Kia Shine made an epic 6-minute remix for his minor hit "Krispy" with a competely bizarre assemblage of seemingly anyone who'd consent to appear on it, and that seems to be the formula V.I.C. is using for his barely-hit here. Polow says "Christina Milli, you lookin' pretty" like he's finna steal Cool & Dre's girl just like he stole their production work. It's kinda funny how Soulja Boy's "you are a prisoner behind these 8 bars" acknowledges how short his verse. I have no idea who's rapping in a hilarious British accent at the end, I guess it's Tech? They really succeed in getting silly, whoever it is! I miss when Pitbull had enough of a career to appear on bigger songs than this.
Best Verse: Pitbull
Overall Grade: C

"I Luv Your Girl (Remix)" by The-Dream featuring Young Jeezy
It feels like noone involved in this remix or the video for it has actually listened to the song. It's this dinky little anemic beat, but they got Jeezy blaring a guest verse and a laser light show video like Usher's "Yeah!" and the combination just comes off completely ridiculous.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"If I Never See Your Face Again (Remix)" by Maroon 5 featuring Rihanna
This was by far the best song other than "Makes Me Wonder" on the Maroon 5 album, so I was glad that they finally made it a single after 2 lousy follow-up choices, even if I didn't totally understand turning it into a duet. It works, more or less, though, with Rihanna finally becoming a halfway decent R&B vocalist these days.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B+

"I'll Be Lovin' You A Long Time (Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring T.I.
Boring song, T.I. doesn't really add anything. This'll be another one that keeps Mariah from getting that one more #1 she's after.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"Leavin' (Remix)" by Jesse McCartney featuring Baby Bash
Love the original, but this smooths out the awesome beat and makes it more generic, and adds the most boring possible pop rapper. Still works alright because the song is dope, though.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"Lollipop (Remix)" by Lil Wayne featuring Kanye West and Static Major
Kanye comes and sticks to the food/sex metaphors for like two lines before making it all about his career like usual, getting paranoid about Wayne killing him on the song (which he does), and ends hollering "the best in the wooooorld" and muttering "lollipop" in the background like he just barely remembers what song he's on. I love some of the stuff Wayne does on his second verse (the "Pink Cookies" reference, the skidmarks punchline, the apparently sincere safe sex bit), but that first verse is classic just for "greedy mother fudge cake."
Best Verse: Lil Wayne's first verse
Overall Grade: D

"Lookin' Boy (Remix)" by Hot Stylz featuring R. Kelly and Yung Joc
I'm not totally sure if this is an official remix or Kells just added a new verse, but it still takes a good thing and makes it better. "You remind me of my FEET lookin' girl" = all-time classic.
Best Verse:
Overall Grade: B+

"Love In This Club (Remix)" by Usher featuring T.I. and Young Jeezy
I already wrote about the "Part II" version with Beyonce and Lil Wayne that came out after Tip's version, but I didn't realize before that this is also an official remix, since it's included as a bonus track on some editions of Here I Stand, so I gotta include it here just for archival purposes. Probably the least memorable verse T.I. has dropped since his little comeback in the last few months, and everything else is the same as the original song, zzz.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"Mercy (Remix)" by Duffy featuring The Game
This doesn't get a F just on the basis of the entertainment value of this terrible rapper jumping on this terrible, terrible song. Cool & Dre continue their unbroken streak of producing nothing but garbage in 2008.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Teenage Love Affair (Swizz Beatz Remix)" by Alicia Keys featuring LL Cool J
It's interesting how Alicia got her retro wires all crossed with this song: on the original, the sample is from 1972 and the whole thing pretty much follows that vibe. But since the song was picked as a single, all the signifiers have been straight out of 1987 or 1988: the School Daze homage of the video, the remix with LL rapping lines from "I Need Love" over a sample of "Teenage Love." It would've been nice to have Slick Rick on this too or instead, but LL makes it work and the verses sound really pretty over the new beat. I'm loving this little streak of golden age sampling remixes that Swizz Beatz seems to be on between this and the Chubb Rock jack with Mary J., people always seem to forget that Swizz can do sample beats as well as anybody until he drops something dope like this or "Dr. Carter."
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: A-

"That Go (Remix)" by Keek Da Sneak featuring Prodigy and Alchemist
Kind of awesome to hear this weird missing link between hyphy at its weirdest and QB rap at its spookiest, a coast-to-coast collab that doesn't sound forced in the slightest.
Best Verse: Prodigy
Overall Grade: B+

Saturday, June 28, 2008
My sixteenth Corporate Rock Still Sells column, over on Idolator.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I posted on Government Names about the death of Mr. Wilson of JI-900 back in the week the news first broke, but in this week's Baltimore City Paper I wrote a proper remembrance of the man, who I didn't know well, but knew that he was important enough to the community that there should be some kind of acknowledgement of his passing in the media. It's been very touching, going to shows recently at 5 Seasons and last night at Sonar, to see so many people dedicating songs to him and saying a few words or asking for a moment of silence for Michael Dante Wilson. Thank you to Sonny Brown, Vision (credited in the article as Kenneth McDowell), DJ P-Funk and Mr. Wilson's widow Tara for their quotes and pictures and blessing to write the article, I hope everyone who knew him is happy with it. I posted some of his music in the previous post, but here's some more. I posted "Realest To Run It" a couple years ago but I gotta put it up again, that might still be my favorite track off Mullymania:

Vision and Mr. Wilson - "Original Gangstaz" (mp3)

Backland and Mr. Wilson - "Close To Dem Gunz" (mp3)

Mullyman f/ JI-900 - "Realest To Run It" (mp3)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Here's my stuff that ran on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog @ before, during and after my recent hiatus: a new Club Beat column profiling DJ B-Eazy, and live reviews of Sonny Brown/Ms. Stress/1st Family/Arsonists Camp @ 5 Seasons and the Unstoppable Nuklehidz' "Battle On The Beltway" w/ Midas @ Sonar and Firewater/Landspeedrecord! @ the Ottobar and Noble Lake/Golden Ghost/Viking Moses/Andy Abelow @ Floristree and Hot Magic/Armed Elephant/We Read Minds @ Fletcher's.

TV Diary

Tuesday, June 24, 2008
1. "The Venture Bros."
The premiere of the 3rd season was pretty much my second most anticipated televion event of the year (after the 5th season of "The Wire"), especially after I got the first two on DVD and realized this show's insane replay value. So with those lofty expectations in place, I'm still holding my breath a little bit even 4 episodes in now, not trying to worry about whether these new episodes are up there in the pantheon or not (and again, so much of the best stuff doesn't hit until repeat viewings that it's best not to invest too much in the first airing). And aside from the fact that 2 of the first 3 episodes went a little heavy on retconning and exposition, which was apparently an unintended side effect of another episode having animation problems and being moved back a bit in the season, it's been a strong start. I'm not a huge fan of the currently popular school self-referential comic/cartoon satire, or the whole nerd-baiting [adult swim] culture in general, but "Venture Bros." transcends a lot of the trends it belongs to by virtue of insanely dense plotting and wit.

2. "FNMTV"
Of course I was skeptical when I found out Pete Wentz and MTV would be joining forces for a new video show, but I really had no idea what a useless trainwreck this would be. It's like they decided "TRL" wasn't quite tedious enough, and added the overblown production values of the VMA's, and threw in a host who became a teen idol by looking cute playing bass and saying 2 lines of dialogue per video, but has absolutely no business holding a microphone and trying to read off a teleprompter. The dude makes even the channel's most vacuous VJ's look like seasoned pros by comparison. I remember "Hangin' w/MTV," and this is actually worse. But then, I have a cable package with MTV Hits and MTV Jams, so I don't really give a shit about whether regular MTV doesn't play videos.

3. "Good News Week"
When we went to Australia on our honeymoon last month, J.G. and I spent a fair amount of time in hotel rooms watching TV, but aside from news and morning shows most of the TV we saw was reruns of American shows. But this was by far the best find of the native programming, a weird quiz show thing with comedians riffing on current events, but more hard news-oriented than something like "Best Week Ever," and live and lose like "Whose Line" or "Politically Incorrect." If anyone knows somewhere I can watch this regularly online let me know, because we totally would.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Foxboro Hot Tubs - "27th Ave. Shuffle" (mp3)

I was intrigued a few years ago when all 3 members of Green Day quietly started a side project, and kept up the charade that that band, The Network, were a completely unrelated band for as long as possible. And this time around with their new alias, Foxboro Hot Tubs, I ended up getting hooked all the way when "Mother Mary" cracked the Modern Rock chart and I wrote a column about it. As a grunge kid in the early 90s, I did think much of the snotty pop-punk invasion led by Green Day when it was happening at the time, but in retrospect now I can admit that Dookie was a pretty awesome record. It helps my opinion of that album that most of what they've done since then, from "Brain Stew" to "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," has been the worst kind of compressed midtempo rock radio sludge, almost completely devoid of their breakthrough's combination of speed and levity.

The Foxboro Hot Tubs album Stop Drop And Roll!!! may not be anything like Dookie, but it does somewhat recapture the vibe of easily my favorite Green Day single since then, the jangly, vaguely retro "Waiting." It's a perfectly pleasant, unambitious album from a band whose next proper album I dread being another thudding, joyless 'rock opera.' Billie Joe doesn't make much of an effort at disguising his voice, but surprisingly the rhythm section proves themselves versatile enough to be virtually unrecognizable. Mike Dirnt doesn't pop his bass strings with any SoCal punk attitude, and Tre Cool reigns in the rapidfire fills and plays something more era-appropriate for the album's 60s homages. And really, as much as I feel like bands should simply try to incorporate all their ideas into one project instead of trying to slot things into separate baskets, especially when all the members are involved, this is one instance in which I think this totally works. Green Day coming out with this album as their next big aesthetic shift would come off a little ridiculous, but as is, the Foxboro Hot Tubs works perfectly well existing in its own vacuum, with no expectations good or bad.

Movie Diary

Friday, June 20, 2008
1. 27 Dresses
When I was on the long, long international flights to and from my honeymoon, the airline I was on had free movies/headsets and a pretty good selection of relatively recent releases, but since it was a long, long flight, I ended up watching a few movies I probably wouldn't have otherwise put on the Netflix queue. Not a bad romcom, although if not for box office concerns they probably would've been better off swapping Katherine Heigl and Judy Greer's roles as the lovelorn protagonist and party girl best friend, respectively.

2. Charlie Wilson's War
Maybe I just wasn't paying attention enough or got turned off by the cast, but I think the ad campaign and generally buzz about this movie was way off, because I thought it was gonna be some stuffy prestige picture, and never even realized until recently that Aaron Sorkin wrote it. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was, more or less, just a really bawdy, foul-mouthed version of The West Wing that it took itself much less seriously. As a biography of Gap Band frontman Charlie Wilson, however, it's simply terrible, full of errors and revisionist history.

3. No Country For Old Men
I don't know what to say about this, really. I love the Coens, and this might've been a really well done adaptation (I wouldn't know, but I was reading The Road at the same time I saw this, and I don't think I'm much of a Cormac McCarthy fan but it seems like they captured his voice well enough). But after a really involving first half, I don't feel like this really lived up to its potential, and I'm not just saying that because the ending was ambiguous and lacked a violent climax -- I don't feel like the ending was earned, or that we spent enough time with the character the movie ended on for it to be as meaningful as it was supposed to be. It was ballsy, sure, but I don't think it paid off.

4. The Mist
Another Stephen King adaptation starring Thomas Jane had me primed for something as batshit crazy and entertaining as The Dreamcatcher, but no such luck. This kinda sucked, I gotta say -- Andre Braugher left way too early, the ending was like a really dumb "gotcha" Twilight Zone episode, and the whole angle of it being about how people behave in a crisis, rather than the crazy sci-fi nature of the crisis, was just telegraphed too broadly. It felt like the screenwriter took all of King's exposition and description of the characters' thoughts, and put it right in their mouths in the most inarticulate way possible (again, didn't read the book, but that's what it felt like). And the onslaught of beasties was just unforgiving and noisy and unpleasant, while never as impressive or intriguing as the somewhat similiar Cloverfield monster.

5. Cassandra's Dream
Another one I wouldn't have watched if I wasn't stranded on a long flight, as I was no fan of Match Point or Woody Allen's current run of humorless European-set morality plays. The dialogue is so appallingly bland and devoid of nuance or subtlety that the guy really just seems naked without his jokes. Another movie where the casting probably would've benefitted from swapping the roles of the 2 leads.

6. Dan In Real Life
Like The Family Stone, a big New England family get-together goes off the rails because of a love triangle involving siblings, but a little more sentimental and only slightly less slapsticky. Watching Steve Carrell and Dane Cook compete for the heart of a woman is like some kind of weird metaphor for the choices faced by the contemporary comedy filmgoer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Prodigy - "Young Veterans" (mp3)

When Prodigy dropped Return Of The Mac last year and it was widely (and rightly) hailed as the best thing he'd done in years, he was quick to point out all along the way that it was merely an 'official mixtape,' an appetizer for the forthcoming album H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, and all along the way pretty much everyone (rightly) assumed that he wouldn't top himself with the proper album. Of course, that was back when it seemed like he might actually release a solo album on G-Unit, which would inevitably be fucked up the same way Blood Money was. Instead, the album ended up on an even smaller indie than the one Return came out on, Koch. And it's not as good as its prequel, yeah, but not by too wide a margin.

While the journeyman Alchemist got a chance to shine with his best full-length production job to date on Return, on Pt. 2 he splits duty with the less consistent (these days) Havoc and some obscure dude named Sid Roams, whose off-kilter trebly beats, especially weird-as-fuck single "ABC," are a nice balance to the more professional other producers on the album. For all of Mobb's boasts about inventing the widely bitten 'dun language,' P's vocabulary has always been bluntly but effectively basic. On H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, his idea of tough talk is "I'll make you look stupid, sound real lame," and on "Young Veterans," he lets loose a barrage of G-rated insults like "rude," "jerk" and "chump." Despite the terrible cover, and the fact that it lacks both the consistency of Return and a standout on the level of the first H.N.I.C.'s "Keep It Thoro," but it's a solid record, and it's a good thing P left some decent Mobb music before he started his bid, because we sure as shit can't count on Havoc to drop a good solo album.

In My Stereo

Monday, June 16, 2008
Firewater - The Golden Hour
Sloan - Parallel Play
Foxboro Hottubs - Stop Drop And Roll!!!
Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
Elvis Costello and the Imposters - Momofuku
Bun B - II Trill
The Roots - Rising Down
DJ Booman - The Return EP
Unstoppable Nuklehidz - The Mysterious Messy Revolution
Greenspan - Got Green?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Grand Buffet - "The Truth Is A Nightmare (Remix)" (mp3)

In the first few years that I went to see Grand Buffet live a lot, their music was all self-released, and those shows were pretty much the only place to get their records circa the 'trilogy of terror' of their early EPs. And even as they've moved onto nationally distributed full-lengths since Five Years Of Fireworks, it's been kinda nice to see them still keep that old DIY approach alive with some cheap limited edition releases that they sell only at shows. One of those, A Night Of Laughin'! Volume 1 from a couple years ago, was such a waste of time that one of the members of the group seemed to be almost discouraging me at the merch table from spending my money on it, and in retrospect I should've listened to him (the disc is basically them 'heckling' shitty standup comics by overdubbing their voices over comedy records, and isn't even funny enough at first to get old over the course of the short disc).

But the last time I saw Grand Buffet at the Ottobar a few weeks ago, they actually had a pretty worthwhile disc at the merch table, an EP called Escape From Anthony Baboon's Nautical Playhouse: The Sample-Based Remixes. It's a pretty great use of the under-the-radar tour EP format, since all the samples ensure they wouldn't be able to officially release these tracks officially anyway. There's one song that's either new or hasn't appeared on any previous release, "Bears & Bricks," but for the most part it's interesting reworkings of some of their best tracks, including "We're Into This" and "1000%." And in some cases these remixes have actually supplanted the originals in their live sets, like the version of "Millpatty" based on a loop of the Go-Gos' "Head Over Heels," and this version of "The Truth Is A Nightmare." The original "Truth" was one of the weaker tracks on the rarities compilation Dicer: The Unheard Funk Tracks and featured a guest verse by that Anticon guy Sole, and the song always sounded like some kind of parody of conspiracy theory political rap, but the fact that it featured one of the corniest indie rappers ever kinda cancelled that out. This version, though, takes out Sole's verse and adds a sample from metal band Cydonia featuring a dude totally wailing paranoid lyrics like "voices, I hear voices," which totally makes it awesome.

Friday, June 13, 2008
I wrote two new Corporate Rock Still Sells columns, #14 and #15, during my blogging break over the past few weeks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jonathan Richman - "Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild" (mp3)

I remember in the mid-90s, when my brother and I and our friends were, like many alternateens of the time, rediscovering early punk rock and pre-punk, and seeing the Ramones on their final tours and forming terrible bands and learning Sex Pistols covers and I think everybody loved that Modern Lovers record and it's always remained close to my heart. We were living in lower (slower) Delaware at the time, and at one point we found out that Jonathan Richman was playing some small cafe upstate and made a big deal out of trying to go, and we never did and were really bummed out about it. Of course, I realized years later that this wasn't such a precious sighting, and that Jonathan Richman has probably been touring small clubs nonstop for my entire life, right up to this day, and I'd get many more chances to see him in person. The first time I did, at the Ottobar a few years ago, remains one of my single fondest concert memories of all time, a night when I just couldn't not wipe a smile off of my face, and I think the third time, at the 8x10 in March, was nearly as good.

Richman, of course, very sparingly plays any of the Modern Lovers stuff, and I don't know a whole lot of his solo records, but it works out just fine, since his songs always come across the best live, and make me hunger to track down the records they're on. His new album, Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild, didn't come out until several weeks after the 8x10 show, so by the time I got the record, I already had good memories attached to a lot of the songs. And the album does very little to divorce the songs from the way they appear in his live show; it practically sounds like a live album with no audience, like Richman and drummer Tommy Larkins set up in a room, completely unaccompanied, and ran through these songs in one or two takes. They're casual and sometimes sloppy recordings, but they work better than the sometimes overproduced material on some of his previous solo albums.

Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild runs through a lot of Richman's established obsessions: painters ("No One Was Like Vermeer" may not be as good as "Pablo Picasso," but did a much better job of making me want to look at the artist's work), the way the modern world keeps steamrolling over the past ("Old World" and "Time Has Been Going By So Fast") and bittersweet heartache and romance (almost every other song). Sometimes his deadpan humor creeps in just enough to make me laugh out loud without things getting too goofy, as on "The Lovers Are Here And They're Full Of Sweat" ("well of course they smell a little, they didn't bring no change of clothes"), but for the most part it's a quiet, lovely record that actually makes me feel a little contemplative. The two versions of "When We Refuse To Suffer" that appear on the record, particularly the second version, articulate a rare feeling, the concept that things like air conditioning and antidepressants make us more comfortable in the short run while depriving us of some essential piece of life, and it's a very Jonathan Richman sentiment, one I can't imagine any other songwriter articulating quite so earnestly or so convincingly. But, of course, my favorite song right now is the title track, because any ode to a curly-haired woman is bound to make me smile and think of my wife.