the first 7 months of 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008
1. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah: 4th World War
2. Evangelista - Hello, Voyager
3. My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth
4. Nine Inch Nails - The Slip
5. Jonathan Richman - Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild
6. Nas - Untitled
7. The Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
8. Sloan - Parallel Play
9. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
10. Rich Boy - Bigger Than The Mayor
11. Prodigy - H.N.I.C. 2
12. Grand Buffet - King Vision
13. Raheem DeVaughn - Love Behind The Melody
14. Dan Friel - Ghost Town
15. Sheek Louch - Silverback Gorilla
16. The Roots - Rising Down
17. Blake Leyh - X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango
18. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
19. AZ - Undeniable
20. Ron Browz presents The Wonder Years
21. The B-52s - Funplex
22. Jim Jones & Byrd Gang - M.O.B.: The Album
23. various artists - The Wire: " … and all the pieces matter"
24. Parts & Labor - Escapers Two: Grind Pop
25. N.E.R.D. - Seeing Sounds

1. Jazmine Sullivan f/ Missy Elliott - "I Need U Bad"
2. Sara Bareilles - "Love Song"
3. Jordin Sparks f/ Chris Brown - "No Air"
4. Hot Stylz f/ Yung Joc - "Lookin' Boy"
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. Cherish f/ Yung Joc - "Killa"
9. Young Jeezy f/ Kanye West - "Put On"
10. Ryan Leslie - "Diamond Girl"
11. Wes Fif f/ B.O.B. - "Haterz Everywhere"
12. Coldplay - "Viva la Vida"
13. Soulja Boy - "Donk"
14. Shawty Lo - "Foolish"
15. Jesse McCartney - "Leavin'"
16. Robin Thicke - "Magic"
17. Webbie f/ Lil Phat of 3 Deep and Lil Boosie - "Independent"
18. Ludo - "Love Me Dead"
19. John Mayer - "Say"
20. Alicia Keys - "Teenage Love Affair"
21. Ray J - "Gifts"
22. Lee Carr - "Stilettos"
23. Ryan Leslie f/ Cassie "Addiction"
24. Nine Inch Nails - "Discipline"
25. Busta Rhymes - "Don't Touch Me (Throw Da Water On 'Em)"
26. T.I. f/ Swizz Beatz - "Swing Your Rag"
27. Lil Mama f/ T-Pain - "What It Is (Strike A Pose)"
28. Jennifer Hudson - "Spotlight"
29. Ashanti - "Good Good"
30. Nas f/ Keri Hilson - "Hero"
31. The Roots f/ Wale and Chrisette Michelle - "Rising Up"
32. Lupe Fiasco - "Hip Hop Saved My Life"
33. John Legend f/ Andre 3000 - "Green Light"
34. Plies f/ Jamie Foxx and The-Dream - "Please Excuse My Hands"
35. Michelle Williams - "We Break The Dawn"
36. Danity Kane - "Damaged"
37. Usher f/ Young Jeezy - "Love In This Club"
38. Slim f/ Yung Joc - "So Fly"
39. Metro Station - "Shake It"
40. G-Unit - "I Like The Way She Do It"
41. Swizz Beatz - "Where The Cash At"
42. Missy Elliott - "Ching-A-Ling"
43. LL Cool J f/ The-Dream - "Baby"
44. Ace Gutta f/ T-Pain and Rick Ross - "Cash Flow"
45. Weezer - "Pork & Beans"
46. Plies f/ Ne-Yo - "Bust It Baby Part 2"
47. New Kids On The Block - "Summertime"
48. Jordin Sparks - "One Step At A Time"
49. Lil Wayne f/ Bobby Valentino
50. Janet Jackson - "Luv"

My sudden disposition towards female artists, which I'd never really had much of until the last couple years, continues with women dominating the top 3 of both of these lists. I don't know what that means, if anything. My view of singles is still feeling really scattered and inconsistent this year, but I'm jamming a lot of stuff with the windows down this summer (my AC is real weak) that I feel compelled to list now that I'm not so sure I'll still be feeling in December. Which is really why I like to do these monthly updates, as unnecessary and compulsive as they admittedly are.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In this week's issue of the Baltimore City Paper I wrote a piece about DJ K-Swift's passing last Monday. The piece includes quotes from Buck Jones and Ogun, as well as some quotes from an interview I did with Blaq Starr a couple years ago. It was a really surreal experience for me, to see K-Swift spin at Artscape, and then wake up 2 mornings later to a text message about her death. I didn't know K-Swift personally -- I briefly spoke to her on the phone maybe once or twice, and had many mutual friends. I saw her DJ several times, I own at least a dozen of her mix CDs (last week I loaded them all into an iTunes playlist and just listened to that constantly), and have spent possibly hundreds of hours listening to her spin on the radio. But it was still really strange for me to write about her life, and to be quoted in the Sun's obituary. Even after writing one about Mr. Wilson just a month ago, it was really difficult to write about someone recently deceased, to speak to people who knew them well and ask questions. I feel terrible asking about potentially painful memories, instead of just leaving them alone to deal with the healing process on their. But the article was also difficult for me, because, like I said, I didn't really know her.

Of all the people in the Baltimore club scene that I've interviewed or see around and am friendly with, K-Swift was one of the few people that remained kind of larger than life to me, distant and unreachable in a way that celebrities are, and in Baltimore she truly was a celebrity. Not that she was unapproachable -- by all accounts she was a nice, down to earth person. But after I made the tough decision last year to blog about an anonymous letter circulating locally that accused her and her station of a lot of unethical practices, I always kind of feared that she hated me, or would've had a good reason to if she was aware of me to any extent. I hope, if she ever saw those posts on Gov't Names, she also saw how much of a fan I was, and that I continued to write favorably about every CD she released since then, including one just a week before her passing. I always figured the right opportunity would pop up for me to really meet her and interview her, and possibly get her side of the controversy I'd help publicize (although by the time of her death it had all kind of blown over, and I was disgusted last week when a certain 'news' site, who'd never written about K-Swift during her life, dredged up that old story to float some kind of 'foul play' theory about the circumstances of her death). Now, I regret that I didn't pursue an opportunity like that while it was possible. But she was so omnipresent in the Baltimore music scene that everyone involved in it will feel her absence. Club music will always bear her mark.

(photo by Josh Sisk)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dan Friel - "One Legged Cowboy" (mp3)

Parts & Labor - "This House Won't Know You" (mp3)

Parts & Labor's last two full-lengths were a couple of my favorite rock records of the past few years (Stay Afraid especially, I think I might've overrated Mapmaker slightly on my year-end lists last year), so I was interested to hear the 2 side projects they released recently, one an EP by the band and the other a solo album by member Dan Friel. I was especially curious about the EP, Escapers Two: Grind Pop, because of its central conceit: over 50 very short songs all recorded in one long weekend. Considering that they covered The Minutemen on their last album, I figured they had as good a chance of anyone of cracking the code on how to make a good record out of a constant stream of songs less than a minute long.

But the results on Escapers Two were a little disappointing to me, although it's not as annoying now as it was on my first listen. The EP was the last thing the band recorded with former drummer Christopher R. Weingarten, who I occasionally bullshit about music with on a message board, and it has the same pummeling, squealing, relentless aesthetic as the albums he played on. I just get frustrated by the onslaught of mediocre ideas, alternating with promising ideas that I wish they fleshed out as longer songs. As an experimental release, it's admirable. But ultimatedly I wish they'd just used this burst of creativity as a well to draw from for future songs, and pick out the best sounds from here to turn into some awesome 3-minute or 5-minute songs. I wish I'd caught the band at Whartscape last week, but I was just too burnt out from the 3 previous days of covering Whartscape and some other festivals (and I heard their set got cut short by rain anyway). I'm sure I'll see them live eventually, though.

Dan Friel's Ghost Town is roughly the same length as Escapers Two, but it has 8 tracks instead of 51, and ends up a lot more enjoyable for focusing on a handful of ideas and spending a decent amount of time on each. It's basically just a more stripped down version of the synth skree he does on the band's records, but each individual sound and texture gets more room to breathe without the presence of vocals or drums or guitar, and there's some pretty awesome sounds in there. It's kind of funny how, after years of practically avoiding all instrumental music, lately a lot of my favorite records have been kind of sound collage pieces like this and X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango and Ghosts I-IV.

The 2008 Remix Report Card, Vol. 7

Sunday, July 27, 2008
"Big Girls Don't Cry (Remix)" by Fergie featuring Sean Kingston
On the same tip as the "Clumsy" remix with Soulja Boy that I covered last month, a Fergie remix from late last year with a ringtone rap icon that I somehow missed and am just putting in here for archival purposes. I always vaguely wondered if this song was any good, just because I've liked virtually every other Fergie single, but this doesn't really help it seem any less crap. Maybe just a little better than the original, but not enough to actually be good. I feel like Sean Kingston says "I'm feelin' blue" on every song he's ever done.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C+

"Customer (Remix)" by Raheem DeVaughn featuring Robyn Janelle
I actually premiered this over on Gov't Names a few weeks ago because some Baltimore producers I know, One Up Entertainment, got to do the official remix (turns out that R. Kelly version was just a freestyle). The new beat and new vox follow the same basic concept and melody of the original with a whole new vibe and different lyrics, turning it into a male/female duet. I also got to hear an unreleased version w/ an MC on it that was pretty good.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

"Gifts (Remix)" by Ray J featuring Lil Wayne and Game
It's kind of funny that Ray J dropped an all-star remix of this so quick after the single itself, which hasn't really taken off yet (but totally should, it's a fucking jam). He really should've re-done "Sexy Can I" with some rappers other than Yung Berg, but I guess that ship has sailed. Wayne's ad-libs on the chorus are funny, but his verse on this is really nothing, only 8 bars and he doesn't say anything remotely interesting. I really hope for his sake that Ray didn't pay $100k for that bullshit. Game sounds too depressed for sex raps, like his mind is on putting a gun to his head and doing another magazine photo shoot. Instead, it's Ray's goofy-ass raps at the end that totally save this thing, because he actually knows this song is great and has fun with it.
Best Verse: Ray J
Overall Grade: B-

"Got Money (Remix)" by Lil Wayne featuring Mack Maine and T-Pain
This is the same as the original with a Mack Maine verse added (well, Wayne does 2 new bars as an intro to his verse), which I usually wouldn't even count here but Wayne already said the official remix would feature Mack Maine and released it to iTunes. A lot of stars seem to throw their weed carriers a bone and let them appear alongside other stars on their remixes, but usually not just by themselves. This song has always kind of sucked, and I don't think a posse cut would've really changed that, so this isn't really a lost opportunity, but Mack Maine is pretty fucking boring, has the same kind of monotone as Curren$y but none of his punchlines.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Killa (So So Def Remix)" by Cherish featuring Jermaine Dupri and Kid Slim
The original was a serious potential jam of the year, so I had high hopes when I heard there was a remix. But J.D. really just does his usual boring retro electro style, and jumps on the Autotune bandwagon and sounds absolutely ghastly. Don't know who Kid Slim is but he's pretty boring.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Lookin' Boy (Remix)" by Hot Stylz featuring Bow Wow
I could write a whole "Lookin' Boy" verse about what a hopeless moron Bow Wow is. I have no idea why he's on the official remix, especially after R. totally killed it. And putting him on a song like this is totally an invitation for Bow to bring back his animated faux-Wayne style, ugh.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"Need U Bad (Kwame Remix)" by Jazmine Sullivan
Love the original, love almost every song Kwame has produced in the past few years, and predictably love this too.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B+

"Say Yeah (Remix)" by Wiz Khalifa featuring Bishop Lamont and Glasses Malone
Usually these days when a rapper has a big debut hit single, they immediately grab the biggest possible artists they can for the remix, presumably because they realize they may not have more hits and this might be their only chance to work with a big star. Wiz Khalifa goes left with his choices, though, getting two other up-and-comers who are maybe even less famous than he is, which is kind of an admirable decision. But he also gets a new beat, which, considering that the cheesy sample on the original was way more memorable than anything he said on the song, is kind of a bad idea. If I didn't recognize the hook this would just be a random posse cut by 3 guys whose voices I haven't heard enough to recognize.
Best Verse: Wiz Khalifa
Overall Grade: B-

"So Fly (Remix)" by Slim featuring Shawty Lo and Yung Joc
Really the same as the original with Joc that'd been getting spins for months, with a quick Shawty Lo verse added to the beginning for the official single release. I actually kinda like Shawty Lo's whispery flow on this, it suits his voice.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"Stilettos (Remix)" by Lee Carr featuring Jadakiss
Another tacked on verse to freshen up a song that's been building in buzz for a minute. I generally love Jada on R&B tracks but this is kinda boring. Still love the song, though.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C-

"Where The Cash At (Remix)" by Swizz Beatz featuring Foxy Brown
Love this shit, Swizz taking his "I'm A Hustla" drums back after some no-name bit them for "I Get Money" and everyone thought it was hot, putting some crazy apocalyptic strings over 'em. Don't know why he put Foxy on this, though, I generally like her but she sounds goofy as hell on here, maybe he's just the latest dude trying to save her career. It's funny to picture them being friends, though, double dating with Alicia and Rick Ross and shit.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ron Browz f/ Stack Bundles - "What They Want" (mp3)

As much I still go to music stores and shop for CDs, I almost never make impulse buys anymore. The one thing the internet changed is that I pretty much know everything I'm going to the store to get beforehand, and even when I occasionally learn about something by finding it in the racks, I probably don't buy it the first time I see it. But I made an impulse buy the other day of Ron Browz presents The Wonder Years, a compilation of his recent productions released in May.

I'm not a huge fan of Browz (always thought the beat on his signaure production, "Ether," kinda sucked), but he does have a few joints I like ("Who" by Jae Millz especially), but I always like to hear a good hip hop producers' work lined up together, which is the main reason I do the Producer Series Mixes. It's always interesting to me to see what kind of variety and what kind of recurring motifs come up when you hear work that was done with all these different artists for different projects all together. And Ron Browz comes accross pretty well on The Wonder Years. He's got kind of a classic NY headknock aesthetic, but it's not too reliant on samples, and even when he does sample he doesn't let that define the texture of his tracks, which have this kind of trebly plastic feel that actually works great when it does work. I could very easily see Browz turn out a couple of those NYC rap crossover hits that still happen a couple times a year these days and manage to sell a mess of ringtones.

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but it's funny to me that the producer of "Ether" would put two more diss tracks right up near the beginning of his album; The Wonder Years features "Shoot Me A Fair One," Papoose's rambling 7-minute response to his altercation with Fat Joe a while back (remember that?), and "Old School Mouse," the Joe Budden edition of the lengthy series of Def Jam artists griping about Jay-Z (I wonder if Budden got Browz for the track on purpose for the "Ether" connection?). But then, Jadakiss shouts out J-Hood on his track and J-Hood reps D-Block on his, so obviously those were pre-beef. But my favorite track is one of the several posthumous appearances by Stack Bundles, "What They Want," which does something different with those awesome clipped snares from "Who." The Jaws strings and sonar pings on Traffic's "Da Goons" are pretty dope, too.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

In the past month I've finally started occasionally taking photos to accompany some of my posts on the City Paper's Noise blog at (with asterisks next to posts that include pictures by me). My latest posts included: The Club Beat with Dirty Nation Entertainment, Teop with Mullyman (pictured above), Comp, Skarr Akbar, Little Clayway, Huli Shallone, Heavy Gold, Al Great, SL Danga and 1st Family @ Sonar*, 2 Time Quitters, Raspberry Campaign and Engine @ the Ottobar*, Pearl Jam and Ted Leo @ the Verizon Center, and "Weird Al" Yankovic @ Pier Six Pavilion. I also spent last weekend doing a lot of festival coverage: night 1 of Whartscape with Matmos, Nautical Almanac, Ultimate Reality, Mark Hosler of Negativland, Leprechaun Catering, Blue Leader, Ben Heresey and Missoula Oblongata @ the Charles Theatre and Artscape with Dru Hill, Mario, Joan Jett, Mike Doughty, the Oranges Band, Blaq Starr, and what would end being the last time I'd get to see DJ K-Swift (R.I.P.) spin.

(photo by Al Shipley)

In My Stereo

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Nas - Untitled
Parts & Labor - Escapers Two: Grind Pop
Shudder To Think - Get Your Goat
PenDragon - I Got Hits 4 Cheap: Draggy Baby Edition
Yuk - Music Is My Life EP
The Pornstars - Dirty Work
DJ Pierre - Clean Club: The Fly Boy Edition Part One
Gambit a.k.a. Remy LeBeau - The Next Hand
Mullyman - The Return
Born King - The 8th Of June

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A couple weeks ago I posted an announcement about the opening of my friends' new business, Mobtown Studios, and here's another press release, about the open house their hosting this Thursday, as well as the discount they're offering for sessions booked by the end of July. There was also an article about the studio on Baltimore Examiner on Monday. I definitely recommend checking out the open house if you're at all interested in working with the studio in the future, I'm sure I'll be there on Thursday and will see you there if you show up:


New recording studio
hosts open house
Mobtown Studios marries music and art

Baltimore, MD July 17, 2008 -- Mobtown Studios will host an open house on Thursday, July 24, 6-9 pm, at 2603 N. Charles St. The public is invited to tour the facility and meet the people behind the new recording and mastering studio in midtown Baltimore.

Also opening at Mobtown on the same evening will be a series of works of art by Donald Edwards, as part of the studio's interest in marrying visual artwork with a musical workspace. The Baltimore artist works in layers of various materials, including paint, plaster, found junk, epoxies and crayon and ink on paper. No piece of work is singular and various bits from other projects are recycled into the next piece. Everything he works on is connected to the art he has made before.

Mobtown Studios is owned by Matthew Leffler Schulman and Emily Leffler Schulman. As the drummer for Baltimore's The Seldon Plan, Matthew is known as an engineer with a musician's ear. He has been recording bands for over 15 years and is a graduate of the renowned Music Recording program at Middle Tennessee State University.

To celebrate the grand opening, the studio is announcing a special discount. Artists who call to book a session by July 31st will receive 1/3 off the normal rate for studio time. A deposit is required to book a session.

Mobtown Studios offers in-studio and remote recording services for music and commercial broadcast. Other services include mastering, mixing, producing and web design. Artists interested in booking a session or discussing an upcoming project can visit or call 410-235-0898.

Individuals interested in learning more about the artwork of Donald Edwards can visit

Mobtown Studios
2603 N. Charles St. Baltimore, MD 21218 • P 410-235-0898 • F 443-390-1135

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Firewater - "Three Legged Dog" (mp3)

Firewater's 6th album, and their 5th of original material, The Golden Hour, is quite frustrating to me. Not because it's really bad, but because it fails to grab me while not being substantially different from their earlier albums or obviously missing some key element. It just doesn't click in the same way as, say, The Ponzi Scheme, and I'm not sure if it's just that it's 10 years later and I'm 10 years older than when I heard that album, or it really just lacks something. And I'm usually the first person to give an aging band a chance to prove they're as good as they used to be. But to my ears it feels like every Firewater album is inferior to the one before it, and I'm not totally confident that it's just me.

Anyway, I'd decided I didn't much care for the new album, aside from maybe one great song, "Three Legged Dog" (just as I didn't much care for 2003's The Man On The Burning Tightrope aside from "Dark Days Indeed"). And that was that. Until I decided to go to their show at the Ottobar about a month ago, hoping to hear a bunch of the old Firewater songs I loved. Instead, they played 3 oldies and the entirity of The Golden Hour, and to my surprise, it was a fucking great show, easily one of the best I've seen all year. Every song that bored me on the record turned into an insane party in a live setting. But that's more of a testament to the greatness of Firewater as a live band than this material, I guess, because after the show, I sat down with the album again, and it's just kinda there. I've listened to it all the way through backwards, and on shuffle, and the best feelings I get out of it are mainly the memories of the show that it conjures up. "Three Legged Dog" is still pretty great, though.

Friday, July 18, 2008
Corporate Rock Still Sells #17, over on Idolator.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nine Inch Nails - "Head Down" (mp3)

When I raved about Ghosts I-IV a few months ago, I had no idea, like anyone else, that Trent Reznor would be releasing another album, one with vocals, just a month later. At the time, it was easy to overrate a lengthy collection of instrumental sketches, since I preferred it in almost every way to the album that preceded it, last year's sonically flat and conceptually overloaded Year Zero. I knew even then that Ghosts was most likely a warmup for a more traditional NIN album, but was pleasantly surprised by how soon it came, and just how much better it is than Zero.

The drive to rush out the album so quickly, to both prove and take advantage of the immediacy of an unannounced digital release, may have contributed to The Slip being the shortest LP the band's ever released, with only 7 out of 10 songs featuring lyrics, but it's fully to the album's benefit. It travels a clear enough arc from beginning to end in short enough time that my attention span is never tested even in the way it is on the still awesome Downward Spiral. "Discipline" (my favorite NIN single since "We're In This Together Now") and "Head Down" have these surprisingly slinky, bass-driven grooves and tight live drums that, I'm realizing more and more, Reznor's been sorely neglecting since Pretty Hate Machine, and "Lights In The Sky" is the kind of quavering ballad that he never should've stopped putting on every album. I'll probably still be listening to this album when he drops another one out of nowhere, oh, any day now.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The City Paper's annual Big Music Issue is out this week, and it features No Static At All, my story about the rise of streaming internet radio in the Baltimore hip hop and club scenes, alongside lots more interesting articles (including an oral history of Baltimore clubs like Paradox and Choices by Michael Byrne, a piece on the Latin music scene by Robbie Whelan, and an article by Raven Baker that parallels the DIY scenes of Baltimore and D.C.).

I spoke to DJ Excel, Amotion, DJ Diamond K, Dirty Nation Entertainment and Shaka Pitts for my article, and listed a few website addresses for Baltimore-based internet radio stations in it. But there are a lot of other people with shows and stations right now, and I wanted to compile a list in this post of all the ones I know of, just as an easy guide for anyone who reads it and wants to check out any of this stuff, and hear underground Baltimore music on their computer any time of any day of the week:

Baltimore Klub Krank Radio @
Bmore Original Radio
Buck Jones Presents Baltimore Talent
Deep Flow Radio
The Diamond K Show
DJ Chris J Live Baltimore Club Mix Show
DMV's Blogtalk w/ G Major
Real Talk w/ Spitts McMan
Revolt Radio @
Unruly Radio
X-Rated w/ 1st Family

Honorable mention to DJ Technics, who had a radio stream on for a number of years that doesn't appear to exist anymore.

(Cover illustration by Kevin Sherry)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

my Steely Dan megamix

Disc 1:

1. F.M.
2. Babylon Sisters
3. Sign In Stranger
4. My Old School
5. Godwhacker
6. Peg
7. Night By Night (mp3)
8. The Caves Of Altamira (mp3)
9. Kings
10. This All Too Mobile Home (live in Memphis, 3/20/74) (mp3)
11. The Royal Scam
12. Jack Of Speed (mp3)
13. Through With Buzz
14. Your Gold Teeth
15. Your Gold Teeth II
16. Deacon Blues

Disc 2:
1. King Of The World (mp3)
2. Kid Charlemagne
3. Black Cow
4. The Second Arrangement (Gaucho outtake) (mp3)
5. Cousin Dupree
6. Reelin' In The Years
7. Hesitation Blues (live on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, 7/23/02)
8. The Boston Rag
9. Westside Story (live in Manassas, 7/21/96)
10. Dirty Work
11. Bad Sneakers
12. Rikki Don't Lose That Number
13. Pearl Of The Quarter
14. Haitian Divorce
15. Home At Last
16. Pretzel Logic
17. Any World (That I'm Welcome To) (mp3)

Steely Dan are a band that have come to mean more to me, and take over a larger and larger place in my listening habits, throughout my whole life. Growing up, they were one of the artists in constant rotation in my dad's car, and I'd remember him singing along to "Deacon Blues" during long trips. In high school, when I got my first turntable, I dug out his old LP of Pretzel Logic, and one summer during college my roommate had Aja and Royal Scam. But it wasn't until about four years ago that I picked up the Citizen Steely Dan box set and delved into the back catalog fully, and they became one of my favorite bands of all time. I've been working on this mix on and off pretty much ever since then, and finally got it done recently.

I made a point to include songs from every album, although, without even meaning to, I ended up weighting the mix towards songs from each album to almost the exact degree that I like each album: all-time faves Countdown To Ecstasy and The Royal Scam each get 5 songs, Aja and Pretzel Logic get 4 each, then 3 each from Katy Lied and Can't Buy A Thrill, 2 from Two Against Nature and just one apiece from Gaucho and Everything Must Go. About half of the band's hit singles are covered, but I made no point to include all of them and left out a few I'm over or aren't particularly wild about.

The non-LP stuff, other than the W.C. Handy cover from NPR's Piano Jazz program, comes from the now-defunct Steely Dan Archive site, and I wish I had downloaded more from that site when it still existed. SD's albums are so uniformly excellent that it's kind of hard to believe that they have outtakes as good as "The Second Arrangement" (which I probably like better than anything that made the cut on Gaucho) and "This All Too Mobile Home." I know there's loads of SD studio bootlegs out there, one of these days I really need to collect that stuff.

It kind of aggravates me when people simplify Steely Dan to some basic schtick or paradox, like smooth jazz with sleazy lyrics. There's some pretty hard rocking stuff on the early records, and some sincere sentiment, that work to balance out the band's more well known elements. And even though I don't have the head for music theory or jazz musicianship to fully appreciate the complexity of their compositions, and sometimes the deeper meanings of the songs go over my head, I still hear the chops, the wealth of hooks, the lyrical detail enough to be staggered by what a great band they were in their prime. And really, that just leaves more in these records for me to analyze and rediscover as I get older and learn more. Hopefully this isn't the peak of my Steely Dan obsession and I can just keep digging deeper and deeper even now that I've heard it all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mic Life Magazine has resumed publishing, after a brief hiatus, with the July/August issue out this week, and I wrote a little for the mag in its previous run and am back in the new issue, writing an article on Baltimore rapper and Byrd Gang member NOE, basically a long intro to an interview with him. The issue also features a memorial article about Mr. Wilson.

Jim Jones, NOE and Riz - "Pipe Smoke" (mp3)
Jim Jones, NOE and Riz - "Keep Watching" (mp3)
NOE is featured extensively on Jim Jones & Byrd Gang's M.O.B. (Members Of Byrdgang) album that dropped two weeks ago, on 11 of the 15 tracks, so he's on the album more than any MC other than Jim Jones. The album did pretty respectable numbers on Billboard last week (#29 with 17 thousand) for a relatively low profile project, so hopefully that'll clear the way for NOE to get a solo album out on Byrd Gang/Asylum sometime soon. I haven't really fucked with any Dipset music much since 2004 or so, but the album is pretty decent. These are the two iTunes bonus tracks that feature NOE.

Saturday, July 12, 2008
BTW my half-assed half year list has been included in a wrap up of the year thus far over on What Was It Anyway?, a blog that I've been asked to contribute to in the past but really just haven't settled on an album to write about (any suggestions, people?).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Roots f/ Malik B., Porn, Merecedes Martinez and Dice Raw - "I Can't Help It" (mp3)

As I wrote recently, The Roots are one of several acts in the past couple months that's released a follow-up to an album I loved. And while it's encouraging that with Rising Down they've stayed pretty close to the aesthetic of Game Theory, it's getting harder and harder to not look at the new album as a disappointing echo of that late career highlight. The murky synth-driven sound and the more foreboding mood are still there, but the number of really crappy sung hooks has seemingly doubled, and the thing just doesn't hold together that well, even without the abortion that was "Birthday Girl" included.

One thing I'm starting to miss with this album is the sprawling, indulgent Roots circa Things Fall Apart. Once you cut out the three brief snippet songs, two of which I wished were fleshed out into full compositions ("@15" works great as a snapshot of Black Thought's adolescence and an intro to "75 Bars") and the two obnoxious, boring "Pow Wow" phonecall skits that bookend the album, you've only got 10 songs, and two of the best ones made the rounds as early leaks well before the album was released. And only "I Can't Help It" comes anywhere near the 5-minute mark with an interesting voda variation. A lot of critics have (rightfully) praised the leaner, meaner Roots of the last couple albums, but I'm kind of hoping they bring a little of that jammy indulgence from the live show back. Actually, they might be overdue for another live album.

Mobtown Studios Opens in Baltimore

Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Below is the official announcement that went out today about Mobtown Studios, a new recording studio up on Charles Street. The owners are very good friends of mine and I've watched this place getting built up and readied for business over the past year, and have worked with them in their previous studio, and I have every confidence that this is going to be a great recording resource for Baltimore, and I really hope all the musicians around here take notice and look into the place for their next project, rock bands, hip hop and R&B and dance music artists, everybody. I've been helping them with little stuff, painting the studio and helping them network in the local music scene and I'm going to be writing some content for the Mobtown site starting soon, and I'm just really excited about this finally coming together. There's an ad running in the City Paper this week, a discount if you book a session now, and there's going to be an open house later this month, but you can just check all the details and contact info in the press release below:


New music recording studio opens in Baltimore
Mobtown Studios joins thriving local music scene

Baltimore, MD July 8, 2008 -- A new recording studio opens its doors in Charles Village this month, amidst a flourishing Baltimore music scene that has recently garnered coverage in Rolling Stone, Blender and Paper. Husband and wife team Matthew Leffler Schulman and Emily Leffler Schulman announced the opening of Mobtown Studios at 2603 N. Charles Street, in the heart of one of the city's most artist-friendly neighborhoods.

The couple were running a studio out of their home in Washington, DC when they decided to move back to Emily's hometown in 2006. "We had been operating on an informal level for many years and it was time to step it up," says head engineer Matthew. "Coming back to Baltimore allowed us to keep our rates low and make our services available to a wider range of artists in a really interesting scene. Baltimore has that small town flavor that makes it easy to connect to artists, yet the city's teeming with everything from experimental noise to shoegaze to Baltimore club."

Baltimore's own indie band Kadman was one of the first to record at Mobtown. "They not only encourage creativity, but the warmth of the rooms and the friendliness of the engineers inspire it." says lead singer Dave Manchester. "They gave us the tone we wanted at a remarkable price and with great efficiency and excitement."

The first thing one notices when entering Mobtown's first floor rowhouse space is the feeling of warmth and homeyness. "We spent a lot of time planning how we could maintain a light-filled living room feel, but prioritize the acoustics and sound of the room. We had to cut out the noise of the Charles Street buses, but still let the light in," says designer Emily. Their efforts paid off and resulted in a studio that is anything but the cold sterile environment typical of many professional studios.

Audiophiles and technophiles alike hone in on Mobtown's unique blend of digital and analog equipment. "The Tascam 4-track will always be my first love," says Matthew. "I still use it from time to time, right alongside my digital console. I'm not a believer in this war between analog and digital. I think they both have pros and cons and it's a matter of using them both effectively to achieve the desired result." This approach translates to an eclectic hybrid studio stocked with everything from a vintage Hammond organ to a late model Mac Pro.

As the drummer for Baltimore's The Seldon Plan, Matthew is an engineer with a musician's ear. He's been recording bands for over 15 years and is a graduate of the renowned Music Recording program at Middle Tennessee State University, located just outside Nashville. As a result, the studio has already earned a reputation for listening to and collaborating with clients to create their desired sound. "They are more than just knowledgeable about how to record, they know how to create the perfect tone to match the artists vision," says Manchester.

Mobtown Studios offers in-studio and remote recording services for music and commercial broadcast. Other services include mastering, mixing, producing and web design. The studio will host an open house on July 24. Details to be announced. Artists interested in booking a session or discussing an upcoming project can visit or call 410-235-0898.

Mobtown Studios
2603 N. Charles St. Baltimore, MD 21218 • P 410-235-0898 • F 443-390-1135

In My Stereo

Monday, July 07, 2008
Lil Wayne - The Leak
various artists - Say It Loud! A Celebration Of Black Music In America
Etta James - Love Songs
"Weird Al" Yankovic In 3-D - "Weird Al" Yankovic
Kadman - Sing To Me Slower
K-Swift The Club Queen - Jumpoff Vol. 13
Articulate - The Slave For This Dollar EP
The Equation - Y=MC+P
Tha Profitt - Bmore's #1 White Boy
various artists - Mania Music Group Sampler

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Elvis Costello & The Imposters - "Drum And Bone" (mp3)

A back catalog as large and wildly uneven as Elvis Costello's seems to provoke a lot of extreme opinions -- there are those who dismiss everything after those first 3 albums (which, admittedly, are by almost any measure still his peak), and those who'll find something to recommend in all of those dozens of records, even the ones where he's most out of his element or uninspired. Me, I've been listening faithfully for over a decade, and still haven't heard it all and am not sure I want to, but get enjoyment out of cherry-picking through the spots in the discography that seem most promising. So I'm happy to stick to Elvis the cerebral pop singer in all his many modes, and avoid most of the collaborative albums by Elvis the ambitious dilettante who keeps on trying on hats he has no business wearing, literally and figuratively (although I am a big fan of the one with Bacharach).

So in recent years, I've been limiting my interest in Costello's goings-ons to his rock-oriented albums with The Imposters, which are, for all intents and purposes, the same as the band that backed him on 90% of his best work, The Attractions (with just the one least crucial member swapped out for another). 2002's When I Was Cruel was the kind of overhyped 'return to form' album that never ages well after the initial buzz wears off, but it's still a pretty good record, as was 2004's The Delivery Man. But the Imposters' latest, Momofuku is not.

As much as Costello gets a hard time for giving almost every album some genre pastiche concept, when he doesn't it ends up being kind of hard to assign an identity to it. Momofuku has got a little bit of the rustic country vibe of The Delivery Man, but less so. And singing backup on many songs, is Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, which the more I think about it feels like a mirror image of the pairing of Woody Allen and Scarlett Johansson (over the hill genius with critically adored but really pretty much talentless young ingenue). The show I saw Elvis play three years ago with Emmylou Harris was really fantastic, and it's a shame she wasn't drafted as his country songstress foil here, instead of this year's inferior model. But even a choice like that wouldn't have salvaged Momofuku, because the songs just aren't there. Or rather they're there, but they're really annoying songs, shallow character sketches with stupid titles like "Mr. Feathers" and "Flutter And Wow" that he seems far too comfortable to repeat over and over throughout the songs.

Movie Diary

Friday, July 04, 2008
1. Iron Man
Last weekend was literally the first time J.G. and I had been out to the movies in months, since we'd been busy with the wedding and the honeymoon at all, so we decided to catch up on the first big blockbuster of the summer while it's still in theaters. This pretty much matched by expectations without exceeding them, but they were pretty high considering all the raves, so I was happy. Downey was fantastic, and I hope they can come up with a sequel that works nearly as well. Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard are just about the last 2 actors on earth that I'd want to see in a popcorn movie, but Paltrow, who I usually can't stand, was fairly charming, even if Howard was exactly as wooden and uncomfortable as I thought he'd be.

2. Casino Royale
Another one that was universally praised that I thought pretty much lived up to the hype. Found it a bit too dry at first, but they managed to really suck me in. Also, great Bond girls in this one.

3. The Holiday
The idea of Kate Winslet opposite Jack Black in a romantic comedy was strangely really appealing to me, but I also had zero interest in Cameron Diaz opposite Jude Law in same. So even though they did a decent job of not making this feel like 2 different movies, or a distinct A story and B story, I still found myself engaged when the actors I liked were onscreen, and bored out of my mind when the ones I didn't like were on, which made this terribly long movie feel even longer.

4. Natural Disasters: Forces of Nature
I almost forgot about this, but a few months ago we went to the Maryland Science Center with some friends (and man, is it a lot smaller than I remember it seeming as a kid), and saw this on the IMAX screen. Incredible footage of the tyranny of nature on a balls-out huge screen, narrated by Kevin Bacon: a totally worthwhile way to spend an hour.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sloan - "Down In The Basement" (mp3)

This week I review Parallel Play in the City Paper. It's weird to get a new record from them so soon after spending a year obsessing over and praising Never Hear The End Of It and revisiting their back catalog, like I'm primed for it but not quite ready to get excited or to have anticipated it at all. But besides being a deliberately minor work, their shortest album yet, it's pretty enjoyable. I still can't quite express, though I try in the review, exactly why I love "Down In The Basement" so much, but it really hits me in the gut as this celebration of being able to have both a stable family life and total musical freedom and autonomy, perhaps the two things I'm currently most concerned with achieving and maintaining at this point in my life.

Usher - "Something Special" (mp3)

Also reviewed Here I Stand in the same issue, and the more I listen to it, the more I wonder if this is the only song I really really like. There is no good explanation as to why "Dat Girl Right There" isn't on this release.