the first 9 months of 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
1. Young Jeezy - The Recession
2. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah: 4th World War
3. Nine Inch Nails - The Slip
4. Evangelista - Hello, Voyager
5. Jaguar Love - Take Me To The Sea
6. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
7. Coldplay - Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
8. A.B.N. - It Is What It Is
9. My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth
10. Jonathan Richman - Because Her Beauty Is Raw And Wild
11. Nas - Untitled
12. Walter Becker - Circus Money
13. Sloan - Parallel Play
14. The Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
15. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
16. Rich Boy - Bigger Than The Mayor
17. Faraquet - Anthology 97-98
18. Prodigy - H.N.I.C. 2
19. Grand Buffet - King Vision
20. Blake Leyh - X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango
21. Raheem DeVaughn - Love Behind The Melody
22. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
23. The B-52s - Funplex
24. Dwele - Sketches Of A Man
25. Little Feat - Join The Band
26. Dan Friel - Ghost Town
27. Portastatic - Some Small History
28. various artists - The Wire: " … and all the pieces matter"
29. The Alchemist - The Cutting Room Floor Vol. II
30. Sheek Louch - Silverback Gorilla
31. The Roots - Rising Down
32. AZ - Undeniable
33. R.E.M. - Accelerate
34. Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious
35. Foxboro Hottubs - Stop Drop And Roll!!
36. Firewater - The Golden Hour
37. Apollo Sunshine - Shall Noise Upon
38. Parts & Labor - Escapers Two: Grind Pop
39. Pearl Jam - Washington D.C. 6/22/08 Bootleg
40. Usher - Here I Stand
41. Ron Browz presents The Wonder Years
42. Three 6 Mafia - Last 2 Walk
43. Jim Jones & Byrd Gang - M.O.B.: The Album
44. N.E.R.D. - Seeing Sounds
45. Elvis Costello - Momofuku
46. Young Dro - I Am Legend
47. They Might Be Giants - Here Come The 123's
48. Grand Buffet - Escape From Anthony Baboon's Nautical Playhouse: The Sample-Based Remixes EP
49. DJ Khaled - We Global
50. Lil Boosie - Da Beginning

1. Ne-Yo - "Closer"
2. Jazmine Sullivan f/ Missy Elliott - "Need U Bad"
3. Sara Bareilles - "Love Song"
4. Jordin Sparks f/ Chris Brown - "No Air"
5. Jennifer Hudson - "Spotlight"
6. John Legend f/ Andre 3000 - "Green Light"
7. Soulja Boy - "Donk"
8. Cherish f/ Yung Joc - "Killa"
9. Pink - "So What"
10. Ryan Leslie - "Diamond Girl"
11. Paramore - "That's What You Get"
12. Snoop Dogg f/ Too $hort and Mistah F.A.B. - "Life Of Da Party"
13. Coldplay - "Viva la Vida"
14. Young Jeezy f/ Kanye West - "Put On"
15. Hot Stylz f/ Yung Joc - "Lookin' Boy"
16. Alicia Keys - "Teenage Love Affair"
17. Webbie f/ Lil Phat of 3 Deep and Lil Boosie - "Independent"
18. Plies f/ Ne-Yo - "Bust It Baby Part 2"
19. Robin Thicke - "Magic"
20. T.I. f/ Swizz Beatz - "Swing Your Rag"
21. Ludo - "Love Me Dead"
22. Trina f/ Killer Mike - "Look Back At Me"
23. Wes Fif f/ B.O.B. - "Haterz Everywhere"
24. Lil Mama f/ T-Pain - "What It Is (Strike A Pose)"
25. Ray J - "Gifts"
26. Ne-Yo - "Miss Independent"
27. Lupe Fiasco f/ Nikki Jean - "Hip Hop Saved My Life"
28. One Day As A Lion - "Wild International"
29. T.I. f/ Rihanna - "Live Your Life"
30. Shawty Lo - "Foolish"
31. Nas f/ Keri Hilson - "Hero"
32. The Roots f/ Wale and Chrisette Michelle - "Rising Up"
33. Big Boi f/ Mary J. Blige - "Something's Gotta Give"
34. Kanye West - "Champion"
35. Jesse McCartney - "Leavin'"
36. John Mayer - "Say"
37. Coldplay - "Lost!"
38. Lee Carr - "Stilettos"
39. New Kids On The Block f/ Ne-Yo - "Single"
40. Ryan Leslie f/ Cassie "Addiction"
41. Katy Perry - "Hot N Cold"
42. Nine Inch Nails - "Discipline"
43. Chris Cornell - "Long Time"
44. Busta Rhymes - "Don't Touch Me (Throw Da Water On 'Em)"
45. Ashanti - "Good Good"
46. Lil Wayne - "A Milli"
47. Sara Bareilles - "Bottle It Up"
48. Plies f/ Jamie Foxx and The-Dream - "Please Excuse My Hands"
49. Michelle Williams - "We Break The Dawn"
50. New Kids On The Block - "Summertime"

Monday, September 29, 2008

My posts on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog over the past month or so have included a new Club Beat column with Jimmy Jones, write-ups of the Baltimore Music Conference and the the Making The Right Moves Entertainment Conference (both of which were big disappointments), and live reviews of the following concerts: The Beatnuts/Profitt Productions/Bear and Cutthroat (pictured above)/Bash Brotherz/Resn and Finesse @ The Ottobar, Graffix/B-Amazing @ the Black Hole Rock Club, Ruthe Charles/Johnny 3 Legs/Chazter @ Fletcher's, Turtle Neck Store/The Extraordinaires/The Art Department/The Microwave Background @ The Ottobar, Kix @ Ram's Head Live, Squeeze @ the 9:30 Club, Faraquet/Statehood @ the Black Cat, and the Pretenders/Hold Steady @ Sonar. It's been a pretty great month for shows.

(photo by Al Shipley)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Next Friday I'm going to be one of the judges at the Scribble Jam preliminary at Sonar, where Baltimore MCs and producers will compete for a spot at this year's Scribble Jam, should be a fun night.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Young Jeezy - "Don't You Know" (mp3)

On The Recession, Young Jeezy constantly pays lip service to the idea that his music isn't "commercial," that he'll "never cross over," and that he doesn't get his proper respect from critics or the Grammys. He's right on the last point -- all the awards he's ever gotten are from BET and Ozone, and that's likely all he'll ever get. But the other gripes come off as somewhat ludicrous, considering that he's been more consistently well reviewed than most of his peers, and is so popular that even Usher will throw him on a single to make it more radio-friendly. And yet I'll concede that he's not just a crossover artist, because The Recession is possibly one of the most uncompromising albums an A-list rapper has released in recent memory: there are no singles or guests for the first 11 tracks, and when those songs do finally arrive in the album's final third, they're all fairly dark. And those first dozen songs are just insane, one anthemic banger after another. Many of the producers are unknown, and those that are well known (Drumma Boy, DJ Toomp, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Shawty Redd, Don Cannon) largely rose to fame working on previous Jeezy albums; every track sounds like it was meant for his voice.

Even though he's noone's idea of a capital-A artist, even compared to his closest contemporaries, T.I. and Lil Wayne, he's done something that none of his peers have done: made a regular-ass album without bending over backwards to chase the trends. It helps that one of the biggest trends in rap these days, between the likes of Shawty Lo and Rocko, is to imitate Jeezy, so all he really has to do to get on the radio is be himself. But the same can be said of Wayne, who, whether his R&B jones is a fully artistic endeavor or not, loaded his album up with T-Pain and other singers that made Tha Carter III more radio-friendly, regardless of the fact that he could've made no concessions to radio and still had a blockbuster album. That's what makes The Recession interesting and admirable, but what makes it an actually really good album is that it's stuffed full of great Jeezy songs.

And I say this as not the biggest Jeezy fan. I always felt like his first album coasted on the strength of a lot of mixtape and guest verse stuff that came before and wasn't on it, and The Inspiration was one of the most loathsomely lazy albums I've ever heard; he literally stopped even rhyming for about a year there. I always kinda laugh at people who get heated about Tom's reviews of rap albums on Pitchfork, but I was pretty genuinely outraged when he gave it an 8.1. That album was bullshit, and The Recession is damn near a masterpiece even though Jeezy only made a few small aesthetic adjustments, added a resonant theme, and put a little more effort into his words. Really, this is the album we should've had all summer to ride out to, not that uneven Wayne shit.

Thursday, September 25, 2008
My 22nd Corporate Rock Still Sells column is up over on Idolator.

TV Diary

Tuesday, September 23, 2008
1. "Worst Week"
I've said it before and I'll say it again: single camera sitcoms just don't work. Not as well as traditional three-camera ones, anyway, and especially if they're not stylized like, say, "The Office," or shot similar to a three-camera one like "How I Met Your Mother" (people hate on phony laugh tracks, but they work better with some kinds of joke writing than awkward silences). They really just tend to look (and especially feel) like crappy, low-budget film comedies. I've seen maybe one lately that actually works and is funny, and it was "Samantha Who?" This has some potential, but is still problematic. J.G. compared the commercials for this to Meet The Parents and said she hates watching comedies where the protagonist just goes through one uncomfortable situation after another until you just feel horribly embarrassed for them, and I thought maybe she was just jumping to conclusions about what this show would be like, but she was totally right. And this is even worse than those movies because it just jumps right into these increasingly terrible, increasingly implausible situations without even letting you know the characters; the guy is just a boilerplate pathetic but not quite sympathetic straight man, and the people around him exist to be appalled at what he does or force him into appalling situations.

2. "Spaceballs: The Animated Series"
I grew up on Spaceballs (among several other Mel Brooks films), and have probably seen it more times than any Star Wars movie, so when I heard Brooks was doing a cartoon series based on it a few years ago, I was mildly excited. Now that it's finally hit a US cable channel, G4, however, I am almost amazed at how terrible it is. With Brooks overseeing the whole thing and doing voices, along with a couple other original cast members, Joan Rivers and Daphne Zuniga, I thought it'd be at least respectable if not great, but it's really just a laughless travesty (and I mean, his last couple movies were a little weak, but never this bad). The animation is some cheap Flash shit, the dialogue is completely stilted and strangely paced (and the patter in Brooks movies has always depended on the snappy rhythms the actors gave it), and the jokes that aren't eye-rollingly obvious are few and far between. But the worst part is that it doesn't even do much with all the potential humor left in the original premise and characters; virtually every episode is just a parody of a different movie franchise, and while the Phantom Menace one at least stays within the Star Wars theme, the Lord Of The Rings and Jurassic Park episodes are just nonsensical sub-"Drawn Together" bullshit. It really sucks to see one of my comedy heroes wasting his autumn years on a project like this. Even just signing off on more Broadway musical versions of his movies but having no creative input would be more dignified than this.

3. "True Blood"
I kind of assumed I'd want to avoid this, given my aversion to Alan Ball and my general lack of interest in vampire movies, but since I have HBO I feel like I might as well at least give whatever they throw on the air a shot for a couple episodes. And as it turned out, I'm getting kinda pulled into this, mainly because I realized that cheesy vampire stories are a lot more watchable in a situation like this that allows for a lot of sex and violence, shot with more handsome cinematography and (slightly) better acting than you'd get in a straight-to-video horror flick. It's still kind of feels more unintentionally campy than it is intentionally campy, and it might wear thin as the plot winds around more, but right now I'm enjoying it. Even though the author of the books and the writer adapting the material are both Southern, it kind of gives me the feel the same icky feeling as "My Name Is Earl" where noone involved has any idea of what the Southern U.S. is actually like, and it doesn't help that the 3 lead actors are Canadian, British and Australian. But then, Rutina Wesley is American and probably has the worst accent, but she's also probably the most likable character on the show so far.

4. "Primeval"
J.G.'s gotten pretty into this British show now that it's being shown on BBC America, and I haven't totally caught up with it yet but it's pretty good -- definitely much more impressive special effects and production values than I thought was possible on British TV even now; I thought it was all some cheap-looking "Dr. Who" shit still. In fact, the character design on some of othe dinosaurs and beasts is pretty great, and the format of the show is, in the most literal terms possible, a 'monster of the week' deal, with a kind of "Sliders"-esque alternate universe angle.

5. "Fringe"
The fact that this is getting all the "best new show of the season" hype so far is pretty depressing. It looks nice and expensive, and there's occasionally a cool idea or scene or comedic moment, but for the most part it falls flat and has no real legs to become a good series, and the biggest problem is the casting. And surprise surprise, the vacuously dull lead actress Anna Torv is the niece of Rupert Murdoch. Which is a shame, because the show might work with someone with personality in her place. Pacey is decent and the guy who plays his father wrings some good dry humor out of the script. Kirk Acevedo is a weirdly compelling Nic Cage clone, and it's hilarious though somewhat depressing to watch Lt. Daniels from The Wire go through the motions with hardass boss dialogue so hackneyed that I half expect him to shout "you're a loose cannon, McBain!"

6. "MTV's Top Pop Group"
If we're going to use simple math to describe a talent competition reality show, and given the total lack of creativity, we might as well, this can be summed up pretty completely as "American Idol" + "Making The Band," with little prefab vocal quartets and trios and quintets all jumping onstage and doing even worse versions of Danity Kane songs. But shit, at least it's music, so it's inherently more interesting to me than similar stuff like "America's Best Dance Crew."

7. "The Big Bang Theory"
This is a pretty consistently funny show, I've warmed up to it a bit since it began a year ago. It's kind of a bad sign, though, that in the 2nd season premiere they're already retreading past gags (Sheldon's friends shuffling him from one to another when he moved out of his apartment, the same way they did last year when he was sick), and Sheldon is in danger of becoming a little too cartoonish already.

8. "How I Met Your Mother"
The Barney-in-love-with-Robin thing almost took a bad turn this week but they found a way to make it funny and not screw up the characters. Sarah Chalke is fitting in nicely with the cast here, I kinda wish they could have her just stay instead of getting passed back and forth with the slowly dying "Scrubs." This is still the best sitcom on television that isn't "30 Rock."

9. "House"
Now here's a show that feels like it's running on fumes and just throwing shit at the wall to keep the drama interesting. Last season they got rid of House's team, then brought them back one by one. This season is looks like Wilson is leaving, I'm sure next year it'll be Cuddy. Meanwhile, the medical mysteries are just getting more ludicrous.

10. "Entourage"
This show was good for one season, and near-great for the second season, but now we're on season five, and the milk has gone so far sour that now we're just hoping it'll turn into some accidentally tasty bleu cheese. Some funny bits in the first couple episodes, and it's nice to finally start putting Medellin in the rearview, plus bringing back Carla Gugino and Leighton Meester almost makes up for introducing Bow Wow as a regular. I think the biggest problem now, though, is that they forgot how to write Johnny Drama, and lost the delicate balance of pathetic and prideful, of farcical and sympathetic, that he used to embody when he was the funniest character on the show. Sheldon, this is your future.

11. "Two And A Half Men"
Amazingly, this stupid show is still as moderately but dependably funny as it's always been. Plus, I think it might be the rare show with a kid in the cast that doesn't lose any appeal as he gets old and less cute, since he wasn't cute to begin with and that's kind of the source of most of the humor in his scenes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The September/October issue of Mic Life Magazine is out now, and I wrote a feature in it about A-Class, the Korean-American MC who's been kicking ass on the Baltimore battle rap circuit for the last couple years. There's also a cover story on the death of DJ K-Swift, which includes a a list I contributed to of all the tribute songs that have been recorded for her in the past couple months.

In My Stereo

Sunday, September 21, 2008
Built To Spill - Perfect From Now On
The Pretenders - The Pretenders II
Squeeze - East Side Story
Kix - Blow My Fuse
410 Pharaohs - 410 Funk
D.O.G. - G Pack Music
DLake - Bmore of a Hipster, Vol. 2.0 "The Mixtape"
Soul Cannon - Kaboom
Go Hard Clik - B-More Street Movement
Kessino - Catch 22 The Prequel

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jaguar Love - "Jaguar Pirates" (mp3)

My friend Josh, who I'm on the same wavelength with a lot of music shit, has always been pretty hardcore into the Blood Brothers, and when they were together he made an effort to get me into them, but for whatever I reason I never quite sat down with an album or heard a song that clicked, although I feel like I kind of got and respected their sound and overall steez. But he managed to hook me on one of the new bands to have spun off from the Blood Brothers pretty quickly, sending me some songs from Jaguar Love's debut EP when it was released a few months ago that I instantly got pretty into. Maybe Johnny Whitney's Guy-Picciotto-on-helium just needed a slightly more mellow, organ-driven backdrop to really become palatable for me, I dunno, but I'll probably really check out the old band now because Jaguar Love's Take Me To The Sea is pretty great in parts. There are some bits on "Jaguar Pirates" where I genuinely have no idea if his voice is being manipulated with tape or he's making all those sounds manually, but the tones that I think would've been grating to me at one point kind of give the songs a pleasant little edge to hold my attention now.

The 2008 Remix Report Card, Vol. 9

Friday, September 19, 2008
"Dangerous (Remix)" by Kardinal Offishal featuring Akon, Twista and Sean Paul
Seriously just hours before I heard this, a Twista song popped up on iTunes and I was thinking about how much I miss him being everywhere and popping up on remixes, and then here we go, a remix to a big big hit with him on it. It always kind of tickles me when a big remix like this happens but the guest lineup looks like it could've happened in like 2004. Do we still not have a more recent token dancehall crossover guy for remixes like this than Sean Paul? I still kind of haven't registered this song as being successful, I never heard it much and I didn't think Akon still had the juice to float any ol' song into the top 10, but there it is. I like the changed up beat on this.
Best Verse: Twista
Overall Grade: B+

"I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time (Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring LL Cool J and Ghostface Killah
This is the 2nd underperforming single from Mimi's latest album that she's issued 2 official remixes for, after the execreble "Bye Bye." But at least this time, she managed to find guests that sound better on the beat than T.I., who was never a great fit for the single version, even if on the fame level both guests are a total downgrade from him. LL's verse is goofy as hell just like "Baby," but it works better than Ghostface's, which aims for the kind of charming, detail-oriented thing he usually does but makes it sound like he has some creepy S&M relationship and makes girls pick his boogers.
Best Verse: LL Cool J
Overall Grade: B-

"Kiss Kiss (Remix)" by Chris Brown featuring Nelly and T-Pain
One of those ones that I guess happened months ago that I didn't know about 'til recently, but is apparently the version of the song that has been more successful than the original in the U.K. for some reason. Really good match, actually, now that I think of it "Kiss Kiss" is just the kind of song Nelly should've come back with instead of all the shit he's released as singles in the past year, he even sounds good ad-libbing Chis's verses. I mean seriously, of all the established stars on T-Pain's jock right now, Nelly's the one that probably would've actually been a good match with him for a collabo.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"She Got Her Own (Miss Independent Pt. 2)" by Ne-Yo featuring Jamie Foxx and Fabolous
Hmm, a sequel to a hit about female empowerment with the word "Independent" in the title and a hook featuring the phrase "I got it"? Sounds familiar. Weird to hear Jamie Foxx on kind of a sincere song and sounding pretty good considering that he's currently getting spins with the creepy groping anthem "Please Excuse My Hands." I'm also wondering if this, like "Love In This Club Part II," will qualify as a separate entry on Billboard singles charts, unlike most remixes, because of the distinct title, but it probably won't matter since this isn't nearly as big a hit.
Best Verse: C+
Overall Grade: Jamie Foxx

"Spotlight (Remix)" by Jennifer Hudson featuring Rick Ross / featuring Young Jeezy
Another situation where both remixes are apparently official and label-sanctioned, but they're 2 seperately released tracks. And normally I'd say they should've just been combined into a posse cut, but given the huge quality gap and the completely different approaches, I'm glad they're separate. The Ross version is predictably boring and ill-advised, and the Jeezy one should be, too, judging from most of his past R&B guest spots, but instead he goes all the way uptempo with his verse and a goofy-ass flow, album plugs, jokes about plugging his album, and sassing J-Hud with "All that singin', what ya sayin'?"
Best Verse: Young Jeezy
Overall Grade: C / B+

"When I Grow Up (Darkchild Remix)" by the Pussycat Dolls featuring Diddy, Lil Wayne and Fatman Scoop
The original is one of the worst songs to inexplicably become a hit this year, so this can't help but be an improvement, but it isn't by a very wide margin, thanks to yet another boring-ass Rodney Jerkins beat and Jerkins himself playing with Autotune. Diddy's verse with the weird high backup vocals and "cruise through the waters that's blue and shit" is pretty entertaining, though.
Best Verse: Diddy
Overall Grade: B

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The City Paper's 2008 Best Of Baltimore Issue is out today. The categories I selected winners for and wrote blurbs for this year are:

Best Summer Jam: Mullyman's "Party Walk"
Best Local Album: Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks From "The Wire"
Best Female MC: Symphony of G.E.M.
Best Male MC: Ogun
Best Hip-Hop DJ: P-Funk
Best Beatmaker: DJ Booman
Best Club DJ: Scottie B
Best Club Music Producer: Say Wut
Best All-Ages Space To See Bands: Charm City Art Space
Best Place To Hear Hip-Hop: 5 Seasons
Best Local Music Blog: Aural States
Best Radio Show for Local Music: The Internet
Best Auto Repair Shop: Central Service And Repair

There were also a number of winners I had nothing to do with that I fully approve of, including Best Upgrade: Wye Oak, Best Song: DJ Excel's "That's What A Pimp Does", Best Excuse To Stay Home: The Baltimore Taper, and Best Band Website: Whatever Doesn't Crash Our Browser. And then there's the reader poll, which gave out awards to a whole different set of winners, including Sonar for Best Place To Hear Hip-Hop, which should make P-Funk happy since he already gave me an earful about the fact that he would've rather had the club win an award than himself. Congrats to all the winners, hopefully each of you got your invites to the party in time and that I'll see you there tomorrow.

Oh, and I have a review of that shitty movie Righteous Kill somewhere in the back of the paper this week, I don't see it on anywhere online, though.

Monday, September 15, 2008
David Foster Wallace was pretty much my favorite living writer, at least until he committed suicide a few days ago. It's hard to mourn someone you didn't know, especially when they went out the way they chose to go out, for better or worse. But it's still sad and upsetting, for a number of reasons that I think Hillary expressed well, including that this action seems to be at odds with the philosophy that informed some of his best writing. The guy wrote a very long, very ambitious, very good book at a (relatively) young age, was saddled forevermore with both the Wunderkind label and a Great American Novel that would be nigh impossible to top or follow up to anyone's satisfaction, and spent the next decade or so teaching and writing some very good non-fiction and some occasionally frustrating but still worthwhile short fiction. He also became a posterboy for a literary scene crowded with lesser talents who either were directly influenced by him, or took less disciplined approaches to covering similar thematic ground. The question always lingered, what his next 'major' work would be and when, but I was pretty happy with the steady stream of periodical pieces and occasional collections that he'd been issuing in recent years. And though it's always tempting to speculate when a public figure takes an action like this and link it to his professional life, especially when so little about him was public besides his work, the fact remains: this was a guy who had to live with, and battle, the public perception that he may have peaked at 30, which, for anyone but especially an artist, is a terrible future to be sentenced to, or attempt to defy. In a way, I kind of hope that his suicide was the inevitable result of a depression that could not be overcome, and not, as some will surely speculate, the outcome of someone crushed under the weight of ambitions or expectations they could never live up to. It would be all the more infuriating to me, for a family to lose a husband and father because he happened to be a tortured artist. Maybe that's because I've never dealt with real depression, so it's not a concern for me, but I do understand the self-consciousness and heavy expectations that weigh on someone with an artistic impulse. Maybe I want him to have fallen victim to the thing I can't identify with and don't personally fear, not the thing that I had in common with him to some degree.

I'm not a guy who spends much time contemplating mortality, or looking at much of anything in a "big picture" way. But I spent a disheartening amount of time this summer writing obituaries for local figures, people who were loved by their friends and their community, and died at a young age with no say in the matter. So when someone, whose work may have been done in a more private, introspective setting and who never seemed fully comfortable with fame or the wider community they were a part of, but was still famous and impacted many people and had a lot to live for, takes their own life, it just leaves a bad taste. He was someone who could've had 2 or 3 decades of great work left in him, who had the resources and the audience to accomplish whatever he wanted to accomplish whenever he was ready to, or could've just been a humble family man who taught and only wrote or published what he cared to. Now, he's letting the narrative end with that unresolved question mark floating over it, and as much as he liked to leave loose ends and ambiguities in Infinite Jest and other fictional works, I would've liked to think he wouldn't leave so much unfinished business lingering in his own life's story, to check out so early and so deliberately. Still, he was one of the people that made me want to write, which is true for a lot of other people, and so we'll keep on writing now, and hopefully carry on some of the spirit and intellectual curiousity of his work, without merely aping his famous footnotes and stylistic tics.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Faraquet - "Study In Movement" (mp3)

Faraquet's sole full-length release, 2000's The View From This Tower is probably one of my favorite rock albums of this decade so far, just for all the sweet spots it hits for me that few bands ever have all at once: essentially, a power trio combing the Dischord aesthetic with proggy dexterity, and a singer who doesn't sound particularly engaged with his words but still has a fairly pleasant and unique voice. And it bummed me the fuck out that, like the band they rose up out of, Smart Went Crazy, they broke just as I was realizing how much I loved them, and so I never got to see them live. And the next band to rise up out of Faraquet, Medications, was similar enough that I liked first record and am glad they're still together and working on another, but they didn't quite hit that same sweet spot.

So I was pretty fanatically excited when Faraquet announced that they would be briefly reforming to play some shows in Brazil (where they apparently have a significant following) and one hometown show in D.C. and release a rarities compilation. Thing is, that announcement was well over a year ago, and when the Brazil shows came and went and months and months went by with no further mention of the compilation or the local show, I started to give up hope that I'd ever see the band live, or hear their collected non-album material (I had an mp3 of "Study In Movement" on my old computer for a few years that's long gone now, but nothing else from their single and EP releases). So it was pretty lucky that a few days ago, I just happened to look at the Black Cat's schedule of upcoming shows, and saw that Faraquet are playing their long-promised U.S. reunion show next week. And subsequently I quickly realized that the compilation, Anthology 1997-98, has actually been out since late July and had managed to escape my notice until now. And you'd better believe I bought a ticket and the album damn quick.

Anthology is by means an equal to The View From This Tower, which was made a year or two after the material compiled here. There's a sense that they hadn't completely gelled into the unit that made the album on some tracks, but for the most part, the aesthetic and the musicianship are all there, and I'm sure some of these songs will grow on me as quickly as the album did. If anything's off, it's that Devin Ocampo's vocals are generally lower in the mix and a little less confident. And sometimes the tempo shifts and song structures aren't quite as smooth, which becomes most clear on one of the collection's two previously unreleased tracks, an alternate version of The View's "Sea Song" that lacks some of the LP version's dynamics. But it's all nitpicking; I know this is not supposed to be a complete and perfect album, and the important thing is that I'm thrilled to finally own the complete discography of this band. Between this and the Shudder To Think reunion I saw last month, it's been a pretty good year to be a nostalgic Dischord fan.

Movie Diary

Friday, September 12, 2008
1. Tropic Thunder
Disaster Movie-type disasters aside, action movie satire is a surprisingly fertile subgenre, despite how perfunctory the comedy is in most action movies (or the action/effects in most comedies, for that matter), and especially despite how played out its parent subgenre, meta comedies about show business, has become in the past few years. I laughed as hard at Tropic Thunder and Hard Fuzz as any other 2 movies I've seen in theaters the past couple years, (I'll even stand up for Last Action Hero as being pretty good, but let's not get into that convo). And that's partly because the gunfire and explosions are as loud as any 'real' action movie, so you can laugh unselfconsciously and not bother anyone, because you're still drowned out by the movie. There were a few sour notes (the Tom Cruise "cameo" was milked way beyond its usefulness), but for the most part it was a hoot. It's pretty to easy to take Ben Stiller for granted these days, but maybe the biggest problem with his movies in the 7 years between this and Zoolander is that he didn't direct any of them.

2. Spider-Man 3
Considering the fact that my wife and I went to see the first of these movies on our first date, neither of us is particularly attached to the franchise. I'm not even sure if I never saw the second one, or I did and it just left zero impression on me. Still, I kind of enjoyed this one, despite its many flaws, particularly its tone shifts -- the first half is way more unironically corny and saccharine than the earlier movies, possibly to set up Peter Parker's character change in the second half, which is a huge campy misfire. And Sandman was, I thought, a pretty good villain without them having to retcon him into the first movie in such a lame way. Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane has always bothered me for a lot reasons besides her being a blonde cast as a redhead -- she's one of those celebrities I have a totally irrational dislike of, so I would've enjoyed her getting fired and put through all sorts of crap in this movie if those scenes weren't still as boring to watch as anything else she's in. But in the 3rd movie this franchise officially establishes itself as completely ass-backwards in regards to womens' hair colors, with a slightly larger role for a returning Elizabeth Banks (a blonde as a brunette), and the addition of Bryce Dallas Howard (a redhead as a blonde) to the cast, both wearing really unnatural-looking dye jobs or weaves, and not looking as good as usual (although still looking good, because I think both of them are pretty hot).

3. Vacancy
This is almost up there with 8mm as a really convincingly icky thriller about real life icky shit that could/would happen, that eventually takes a turn into the ridiculous. This isn't quite as gross, but it is more forgettable.

4. Epic Movie
Speaking of Disaster Movie, ugh. This has a few moderately funny bits, though. And Jayma Mays is super cute, a welcome replacement for the suddenly weirdly overrated Anna Faris.

5. The TV Set
About 10 years ago, Jake Kasdan directed a pretty great little debut feature called Zero Effect, and I thought he might have a promising film career ahead of him. Instead, he spent the next few years adapting that movie into a failed TV series, directing episodes of a couple more short-lived series ("Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared"), and making the lousy sophomore feature Orange County. In the midst of all that squandered potential, he somehow decided that his 3rd film should be an unfunny revenge screed about the television industry that destroyed his pilot, starring David Duchovny as his onscreen alter-ego, a bearded, whiny, overly precious artiste. Thing is, I have no doubt that a lot of this shit goes on in the TV business, and that it could've made for an interesting movie if done right, maybe better in non-fiction form. And I fully believe that there could have been a great "Zero Effect" TV series if done right (I haven't seen the version with Alan Cumming in the lead role, so I have no idea just how wrong they got it). But the fictitious show in this movie, "The Wexler Chronicles," looks like it would've been a piece of shit either way. In fact, it looks a lot the show Fran Kranz (who plays the lead actor in The TV Set's show) had on CBS last fall, "Welcome To The Captain," which was one of the worst shows I've ever seen. And watching the imaginary creator of "The Wexler Chronicles" wring his hands about it being corrupted strains credulity in the same way that "Studio 60" required you to believe their show would actually be funny for it to work (which you couldn't, and it didn't, of course). I liked Kasdan's last movie, Walk Hard, more than most, so I hope he can actually go back to making good movies after this completely pointless grudge match of a film. Or maybe he'll make a movie about how the studio totally ruined this one and it wasn't his fault at all that it sucked.

6. Crank
About as fun as I expected it to be, which was very. Jason Statham is really typecast in the best possible way these days.

7. When Stand Up Stood Out
So-so documentary about the 70s/80s standup comedy explosion. It was interesting to see actual footage of a lot of these guys before they were actually all over TV or movies, particularly that Boston scene that you hear so much about now. I mean, it's weird to see how much of a focal point Lenny Clarke was back then, since I've only ever known him as a not terribly funny fat guy from "The John Larroquette Show" and every Denis Leary project ever, and it's cool to kind of get Stephen Wright being kind of normal and honest about his career.

8. Sleeper
The first Woody Allen movie my dad ever showed me was Bananas, so I've always been kind of conscious of the broader, less cerebral side of his comedy, and it was cool to finally see this. Low budget sci-fi, particularly from before big budget sci-fi as we know it really even existed, is always interesting, all the kind of simple effects and visual shorthand they use to show what the future could look like. I never really thought Diane Keaton was particularly hot shit in Annie Hall, but she's kinda the bomb in this.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

J Roddy Walston & The Business - "Used To Did" (mp3)

This week in the City Paper I wrote a little 'critic's pick' blurb about this local band's show on Saturday, because I saw them a few months ago and they were fucking awesome. Catch them on tour if you don't live in Baltimore, they're on the road right now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Today is the 20th anniversary of Billboard's Modern Rock chart, which I observed with a YouTube embed-heavy new Corporate Rock Still Sells column on Idolator.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

David Byrne & Brian Eno - "Life Is Long" (mp3)

Though by all accounts it was the product of a pretty spontaneous, organic creative process, it's very tempting to look at Everything That Happens Will Happen Today as a calculated attempt to drum up interest in David Byrne's solo career at this late date. Or maybe I'm looking at it that way because that's the effect it had on me: like probably a lot of people, I haven't paid much attention to his work since the split of the Talking Heads (I think I carried a copy of Feelings around a record store for a few minutes when I was 15, but never took it to the register), and I value the band's work with Brian Eno over most out of their discography. So a sudden collaboration between Byrne and Eno, with an announced online release and sneaky online campaign, is a pretty sly way to get a lapsed fan like me interested, whether or not it's intended in exactly that way.

And Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is pretty damn nice, with both guys employing their facility for melody when they have a lot of other talents they could prioritize. Bryne's always had a pretty nice, expressive voice for wistful midtempo material lurking underneath all the tics and tricks that defined him throughout the Heads' run. And it's when he sounds sincere that the album works best; when you hear him stretch his voice into some strange shape or deliver a turn of phrase with an arched eyebrow, it clangs because the delicate, serene music isn't built for that. "Wanted For Life" is a completely irritating misstep, while even the left turns that work kind of hit a sour patch, like "I Feel My Stuff," which has a great, stirring beginning full of inventive little piano runs, but gets tiresome by the end of its six minutes. So it's the sinuous melodies of songs like "Life Is Long" or "Strange Overtones" that work best with the beds of sound Eno has set up; it's the same reason his production has proven so compatible with the earnest sincerity of U2 and, more recently, Coldplay.

In My Stereo

Sunday, September 07, 2008
David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Jaguar Love - Jaguar Love EP
Sheek Louch - Silverback Gorilla
Beanie Sigel - The Solution
Travis Morrison Hellfighters - All Y'All
Thin Lizzy - Vagabonds of the Western World
Rod Lee - Vol. 3: Operation Shut Em Down
Wordsmith - The Mid-Year Review Mixtape
various artists - To The Rescue Mixtape
M.C.F. - U.S.A. Tonight

Book Diary

Saturday, September 06, 2008
1. In A Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson

After getting married in May, my wife and I went on a 2-week honeymoon in Australia, and naturally, being a fan of Bill Bryson's books, she took his travelogue about Australia, which I also read later in the trip. I already borrowed one of his books from her before, so I pretty much knew what his M.O. and sense of humor was and enjoyed it. And since I hadn't done much research or even thought very hard about where we were going before we got there, it was really nice to have a book full of really thoughtful prose about exactly why Australia is such a marvelous place and what's so unique about its culture and history. Bryson saw a lot of parts of the country we didn't get to (we stayed mostly in or near major cities on the eastern side of the continent), so it kind of made us want to go back even more and check out some of those places he say.

2. Slash
by Slash and Anthony Bozza

Debauched hard rock memoirs are generally a great subgenre of music books, my favorites that I've read in the past being Motley Crue's The Dirt and David Lee Roth's Crazy From The Heat. But while those were better books overall (by virtue of The Dirt's beautifully balanced multiple conflicting viewpoints, and DLR's gift for sparklingly witty horseshit), Guns N' Roses was always a way more important band to me than Van Halen or the Crue ever were, and Slash was probably the first guitarist I ever worshipped, other than maybe Hendrix. So I knew I had to read this book as soon as I knew it existed, and my wife gave it to me for Christmas last year, and I read the bulk of it on the honeymoon. Although Slash's personality has always seemed like kind of a blank slate, he actually conveys who he is really well here, and the deadpan nature of some of his insane tales of sex and drugs just makes it all the more entertaining and believable, like you know he wouldn't lie or exaggerate because this is just regular life for him. Some of the most entertaining things I learned in this book: 1) he was given the nickname Slash by actor Seymour Cassel, 2) he was really disappointed when he met Alice Cooper and found out that Alice just used snakes as stage props and wasn't super into them like he was, 3) he owned a mountain lion named Curtis. 4) Izzy jammed and wrote with the band that would become Velvet Revolver, and proposed they just do the band with him and Duff singing lead, which I so wish had happened. Slash is also really perceptive about exactly what made GNR great, and had some real musical insight, although maybe that was an area where Bozza helped out a lot.

3. The Road
by Cormac McCarthy

As I mentioned a while back, I started reading this around the time I saw the movie version of No Country For Old Men, and based on those 2 experiences I don't think I'm much of a fan of McCarthy. Ostensibly I guess he's going for a bleak and minimalist style, but every few pages there's some really embarrassing purple prose or some ridiculous metaphor that just makes me shake my head. And in between, there's a lot of storytelling and dialogue that tries so hard to be straightforward and no-nonsense that it actually ends up being hard to read; the 2 main characters in this are a father and son, but the narrator makes a big deal out of not giving their names, or using quotation marks, so there's sometimes long, confusing stretches of alternating "the man said" and "the boy said" sentences, which get super confusing anytime another (also male and unnamed) character enters the picture. And really, the story just isn't that compelling as it's written here, in light of all the other depressing dystopian fiction we've had the past few years. It could make a pretty good movie if executed right, though, probably better than No Country, so I'm kinda looking forward to that in a few months.

4. Dance Music Sex Romance: Prince: The First Decade
by Per Nilsen

My friend Mat has a pretty impressive library of music books and let me grab a couple things from his bookshelf for the trip, and one I grabbed is the Prince book he recommended most highly. This is really the exact kind of musician bio I like to read, and would maybe like to write someday: an account of how the music was made first and foremost, with personal details only coming into play when it provides a context for the songs and the recordings. The writing leaves something to be desired at times, but the focus is right where I want it to be, and the topic is one of my favorite artists of all time during his most productive period. And even though Prince (obviously) didn't participate in the book, there's a fair amount of interviews with band members and other people he worked with at the time. And it's interesting how Nilsen is very obviously a huge fan and shows reverence to the artist, but still provides some criticism and insight into some of the mistakes and strange decisions he made. One recurring theme is how Prince would take credit for other people's contributions, or credit them for things they didn't do or write, in seemingly arbitrary ways, even though Prince never had any shortage of material he wrote and played and sang himself. And there's also some pretty fascinating anecdotes about the making of those classic albums that really give them a whole different dimension. This should be required reading for all Prince fans.

5. Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital
by Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins

Another one borrowed from Mat, another book about a really fertile period of music that I have a lot of interest in that packs in tons of info, but still has some weaknesses as far as the actual writing. Also, it was kind of funny to read all these books around the same time and get all these totally different stories about great music being made during the same period in the 1980s: Slash in the L.A. hard rock scene, Prince in the Minneapolis R&B scene, and all these kids in the D.C. punk scene. There's always been kind of a generation gap with me as far as being a lot more interested in the Dischord starting from mid-period Fugazi onward, so it was pretty fascinating to get a larger context about how these guys built a whole community from the ground up for ten years before that. And it was great to get an account directly from people who were there at the time, although Mark Andersen's first person testimonials got a little tedious and precious from time to time.

Friday, September 05, 2008

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I'm now covering local releases for the Baltimore music page on Mobtown Studios site, and my latest review, of Caleb Stine & The Brakemen, is up now. The 2nd song I posted audio of, "Come Back Home" featuring members of Wye Oak, is a real stunner.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

This week in the City Paper I wrote a feature about Mania Music Group, a local label featuring the rappers Midas, Kane and Ron G. (left to right in the pic above), and the producers Headphones and BeaLack. I've known Midas a couple years now and I've been shooting the shit with Kane for a minute, and met most of the other guys when I went to do the interview. So I really like these dudes and think they're talented and wanted to communicate their distinct personalities and strengths in the article, and I think that comes across in the article. I posted a song by them on Gov't Names last week and they've got a whole free compilation album on their official site, and are about to drop a whole bunch more music in October.

(photo by Rarah)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Apollo Sunshine - "Brotherhood of Death" (mp3)

Three years ago, I fell head over heels for Apollo Sunshine, a band from Boston that played in Baltimore a couple times opening for locals and completely blew me away and made me an instant fan. I called one of those shows the best I saw in 2005 and wrote a rave review of their self-titled 2nd album for Stylus (they gave it a B, but in my mind it was an A), and put it at #2 on my year-end list. So needless to say, my hopes were pretty high for their new album, Shall Noise Upon, which is out on CD this week (and was released digitally about a month ago). It was my most anticipated album of 2008. And now that it's finally here, I don't really like it. At all.

A couple months ago, I mentioned that lately there's been "a ton of new albums by people whose last album I loved, all trying and failing to top it," but how those releases for the most part didn't register as really heartbreaking disappointments, either because those artists were well along in their careers and I could take the good with the bad in stride, or because they didn't seem to be on an upward trajectory anyway. But Apollo Sunshine had two pretty great records under their belt, and seemed to be on the cusp of something amazing, so my almost complete lack of affection for Shall Noise Upon is a pretty huge bummer to me. I'm almost feeling that kind of adolescent "what the fuck did you do to this band I love?" anger that I probably haven't felt upon buying a record since I was maybe 17. When a band drops a lame album after you've hyped them incessantly for years, it's kind of like telling everyone about this singing and dancing frog, and when they finally turn around to look it just sits there and ribbits. I'm actually only really getting fully annoyed when I read the mostly really positive reviews of the album, which tell me that either critics didn't hear the band's first 2 albums, or completely missed what was great about them.

Apollo Sunshine's 2003 debut, Katonah, was an uneven but often brilliant bit of modern psychedelia, with overdub-crazy production and a handful of amazing songs full of huge hooks, complex structures and abrupt moodswings. Their self-titled follow-up was a more naturalistic recording of a band playing in a room together, but their chemistry and their songwriting only improved, and virtually half the songs featured jaw-dropping guitar solos. Shall Noise Upon on the other hand, goes back to the layered detailed production style of Katonah while stripping away almost everything that made the band great once. The rhythms and structures are monotonous and predictable, the songs are sleepy and gently sung, with few of the enthusiastic vocals or surrealistic lyrical touches of the earlier material, and guitarist Sam Cohen completely wastes his great talent by scarcely soloing on the entire album. The difference between the band a few years ago and the band heard on Shall Noise Upon is epitomized by "Money," which sounds completely neutered here compared to the arrangement the band played live in 2005. Both the lead vocal and the guitar solo are dialed down several notches in intensity, and the song feels like a pale shadow of what it once was.

I don't know what happened to this band; they're recognizably the same band that once recorded something as brimming over with energy and ideas as "I Was On The Moon," but it seems like they're on a whole different trip now, playing up their hushed campfire music side, without any new songs as affecting as earlier quiet numbers like "Phone Sex." And even with song titles like "666: the Coming of the New World Government" and "Brotherhood of Death" (one of the only real rowdy moments on the whole album), they sound more touchy-feely than ever for the most part. Maybe this album was kind of a detour for them, something they wanted to do for a while before going back to being a great absurdist roots rock band in the tradition of Little Feat, and their next album will have the same energy as their earlier material. Or maybe this is their new direction, in which case I just hope they still play some of the old stuff live.