The first 4 months of 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008
1. Evangelista - Hello, Voyager
2. Raheem DeVaughn - Love Behind The Melody
3. The Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
4. Rich Boy - Bigger Than The Mayor
5. AZ - Undeniable
6. Sloan - Parallel Play
7. Grand Buffet - King Vision
8. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
9. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah: 4th World War
10. Sheek Louch - Silverback Gorilla
11. Blake Leyh - X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango
12. Young Dro - I Am Legend
13. Fabolous - Gangsta Grillz: There Is No Competition
14. Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious
15. The B-52s - Funplex
16. various artists - The Wire: " … and all the pieces matter"
17. Lil Boosie - Da Beginning
18. They Might Be Giants - Here Come The 123's
19. Grand Buffet - Escape From Anthony Baboon's Nautical Playhouse: The Sample-Based Remixes EP
20. Flo Rida - Mail On Sunday
21. R.E.M. - Accelerate
22. Re-Up Gang - We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3: The Spirit of Competition
23. Fat Joe - The Elephant In The Room
24. Webbie - Savage Life 2
25. Rick Ross - Trilla

1. Paramore - "That's What You Get"
2. Wes Fif f/ B.O.B. - "Haterz Everywhere"
3. Sara Bareilles - "Love Song"
4. Jordin Sparks f/ Chris Brown - "No Air"
5. Cherish f/ Yung Joc - "Killa"
6. Atreyu - "Falling Down"
7. Ryan Leslie - "Diamond Girl"
8. Nine Inch Nails - "Discipline"
9. Alicia Keys - "Teenage Love Affair"
10. Lupe Fiasco - "Hip Hop Saved My Life"
11. Nelly f/ Fergie - "Party People"
12. Snoop Dogg f/ Too $hort and Mistah F.A.B. - "Life Of Da Party"
13. John Mayer - "Say"
14. Ace Hood f/ T-Pain and Rick Ross - "Cash Flow"
15. John Legend - "Show Me"
16. Chingy f/ Amerie - "Fly Like Me"
17. Ludo - "Love Me Dead"
18. Jesse McCartney - "Leavin'"
19. Mike Jones f/ Hurricane Chris - "Drop & Gimme 50"
20. Webbie f/ Lil Phat of 3 Deep and Lil Boosie - "Independent"
21. Janet Jackson - "Luv"
22. Missy Elliott - "Ching-A-Ling"
23. Chingy f/ Ludacris and Bobby Valentino - "Gimme Dat"
24. Timbaland f/ Keri Hilson and Nicole Scherzinger - "Scream"
25. Coheed And Cambria - "Feathers"

Not as much movement on the albums list since last month as I'd hoped, at least partly because there's been a bunch of albums I've wanted to hear that I haven't had the time/money to check out yet (The Roots, Prodigy, Jonathan Richman, Parts & Labor, etc.) The Sloan album isn't out til June but I've been streaming it off the Yep Roc website and enjoying it. A lot of mediocre rap bringing up the rear (mixtapes > albums, at least for the past few months) but I wanted to expand out of the top 10 just to be more comprehensive of what I've been listening to lately. I'm still weirdly unenthusiastic this year about singles this year, especially big ones. I surrendered completely to "No Air" and started screaming along with it on the radio every time, but I'm very very slowly warming up to "Love In This Club" and "Bleeding Love," etc. Ace Hood only gets a pass on the Khaled-rap overload because of those insane Runners drum fills.

TV Diary

Monday, April 28, 2008
1. "The Whitest Kids U' Know"
I never watched this show on whatever random cable channel it's on and still haven't, and for a long time that was because newjack sketch comedy shows are generally something to avoid in my experience, and the stupid name didn't help. But a friend sent me some YouTube links and a whole lot of their stuff is on there, and hey, it's not bad. Still as hit and miss as any sketch show, but some pretty funny shit.

2. "ego trip's Miss Rap Supreme"
I keep wanting these ego trip shows to be good, but I never got into "The (White) Rapper Show" and this one just seems boring to me so far. Like, the rap nerd pandering doesn't quite grab me enough on its own, as as reality show trash isn't just not as entertaining as, say, "Rock of Love."

3. "Rock Of Love 2"
Speaking of which! A very uneven season with ridiculous highs and some boring lows, but I still do enjoy watching those bickering sluts. Shame that there was that long stretch of the season where Kristy Joe was the only particularly attractive girl yet and the whole show momentarily was just about the other girls hating her.

4. "Reaper"
This show has really been consistently good lately, I think I was actually underrating it earlier in the season. The whole running plot with the demons played by a couple guys from "The State" turned out to be way more enjoyable than I generally want anything involving "The State" to be. Even the irritatingly Jack Black-esque character named 'Sock' has turned out to be pretty consistent comic relief. I'm starting to get anxious about it getting cancelled, since it and "Aliens In America" are the only 2 shows on the CW that haven't been renewed for the fall yet, those are the only shows on the network I give a shit about and I'll be pretty mad if the same thing happens as when "Veronica Mars" was the only CW show I cared about.

5. "The Riches"
After all my bitching and moaning about this show losing the plot after the first few episodes, the 2nd season has turned out to be pretty good. I just hope the finale this week isn't some more lame cliffhanger shit.

6. "American Idol"
I don't even know who I'm rooting for anymore, just that I'm rooting against Archuleta. David Cook and Syesha are alright, I guess, and I like Brooke but her and her nerves just have got to go at this point. The added entertainment value that Anthony's Travolta comparison gave Jason Castro should keep me cracking up for as long as he's still around, though.

Sunday, April 27, 2008
R.E.M. - "Horse To Water" (mp3)

I was generally much more excited about that other comeback album by Athens alt-rock icons, but there was enough genuine curiousity mixed in with my cynicism about the "best R.E.M. album since the last good one" hype surrounding Accelerate to want to check it out. I grew up with 90's R.E.M., and very gradually went back and checked out the early stuff beyond the two big Document hits, so I have no particular nostalgic attachment to overcome to give the new stuff a chance. New Adventures In Hi-Fi is one of my favorite albums of theirs (definitely at least top 2 or 3) and I generally liked Up, too, but like most people my tolerance for the post-Berry era sharply waned and I hated most of Reveal and have still not, as far as I know, heard a note of Around The Sun.

Of course, all of those points of comparison are kind of red herrings, since Accelerate is, seemingly by design, aiming to be more in the lineage of Green or Monster, the latter of which being probably the last bygone era most fans would like them to revisit (well, second-last: hopefully they won't be exhuming Pat McCarthy anytime soon). The problem, of course, is that that point of comparison is even more damning than you could expect: Monster actually had at least a few really good songs, and Accelerate doesn't once really reach that record's heights, even if it's not quite as aesthetically misguided. Hell, I'm not sure I even like any of these songs as much as the first track on Reveal. The big ugly stomp of "Horse To Water" is kinda cool, though, it brings me back a little bit to the jagged, off-kilter vibe of "Feeling Gravity's Pull."

Saturday, April 26, 2008
Blogging is a shameful, unclean habit that I wish I'd never fallen victim to, and now I fear I'm becoming a bad influence on my friends, because my homeboy (and director of my acting debut) Mike Bartolomeo has started Billion Dollar Cranium to get out some of his movie buff knowledge and opinions. So far all the horror flick talk is pretty awesome, though, so I'm glad he joined me in this terrible, unhealthy hobby.

Thursday, April 24, 2008
AZ - "The Game Don't Stop" (mp3)

Undeniable is AZ's seventh solo album, but the first one I've heard, which means I probably missed a lot of good shit from him over the years while I let Nas's "Life's A Bitch" and a few other guest appearances define him for me. And it never occurred to me before, but one of the first things that struck me when listening to the album is that he sounds a lot like Consequence. Same kinda high voice, similiar accent, same approach to dense internal rhymes that kind of pile up on each other, which makes sense since they came up in the same era, both alongside Queens legends (although AZ is from Brooklyn, I guess).

The other thing that struck me pretty quickly about this album is that it has a shitload of singin' on it. Like seriously, almost every song. It doesn't bother me, since most of the time the hooks are good and/or unobtrusive (even Ray J is less annoying than he was on the Styles P. album). It's just interesting how, without having any real obvious crossover attempts or even some mellow romantic tracks, AZ has made a pretty traditional hardcore NYC rap album that just happens to have a lot of R&B and melody in it, which might be him mellowing with old age, but then, not having heard his other albums, I have no idea if it's a new development.

In My Stereo

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Rich Boy - Bigger Than The Mayor
AZ - Undeniable
R.E.M. - Accelerate
Mike Doughty - Busking EP
various artists - Soul Spectacular! The Greatest Soul Hits Of All Time
The Replacements - Let It Be
K-Swift The Club Queen - Jumpoff Vol. 12
B.O.M.B. - Testers EP
Profound - Carpe Diem
Baltimore Songwriters Association - Songs From A Charmed City

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Lil Boosie - "Tee Lady" (mp3)

The past couple years I've been pretty blasé about mixtapes, at least as they're used as promotional tools by major label rappers, mostly because there's only so much an MC can do with a gang of industry beats and no hooks or guests or concepts or anything. Despite all the Lil Wayne hype, even a really good mixtape is no stand-in for a solid album. But there's been a bunch of mixtapes so far this year that have gotten me paying attention again, mostly because they're coming from MCs who are a) between albums and not using b) dope enough that I'd listen to them flow over just about anything at least once c) probably not going to ever drop a truly great album anyway, so it's no loss when they go nuts on a mixtape. Lil Boosie's Da Beginning falls into all those categories, although it's not quite as enjoyable as a few other recent solo mixtapes by Rich Boy, Fabolous and Young Dro.

Da Beginning is easily better than the Webbie album, but not by much. Even with all the original production, not many of the tracks stand on their own as songs; turns out Boosie might be the rare MC who benefits from some guest MCs and hook singers around to distract from the monotony of his awesome but, admittedly, grating voice. The weirdest surprise of the mixtape, though, is that I like Boosie's soft R&B shit like "Tee Lady" and "Ain't Coming Home Tonight" more than his more hardcore material.

Movie Diary

Monday, April 21, 2008
1. I Think I Love My Wife
Beneath his rep as the modern definition of a braying, foul-mouthed black comic, Chris Rock has always had this kind of sentimental, old-school approach to comedy that tends to come through more in his interviews, and in the projects where he has a role behind the camera (mainly Down To Earth and "Everybody Hates Chris"). This isn't quite in line with that, but it is a little more cerebral and old-fashioned than, say, CB4 (still his best movie for my money). I haven't seen the Rohmer movie it's a remake of, but it feels like Rock's attempt at a Woody Allen movie, except, unfortunately, it's as clumsily directed as Head Of State, and the funniest parts are yanked from Rock's and co-writer Louis C.K.'s standup material. Still, through all the plot contrivances and botched gags (the Viagra bit, the song cue at the end that I liked but would've work way better if the singing/lip syncing wasn't executed so badly), it ended up being a pretty clever look at marriage and fidelity that had some kernels of truth to it.

2. Conversations With Other Women
At first the splitscreen gimmick grated on me, and I thought it made the whole thing look cheaper than it really was. But gradually they used it as a storytelling tool in a way that really worked, and I liked this more than I wanted to, even if it was carried by some very actor-y acting by the two leads.

3. The Third Wheel
A really weird Luke Wilson/Ben Affleck comedy from back when Affleck was more bankable than Wilson but completely slipped under the radar enough at the time to be a pleasant surprised when caught one afternoon on cable. Kind of rambling and nonsensical in a strangely enjoyable way. Plus, it features Ben Affleck declaring "I always wanted to get my swerve on on my bike!" which I think is reason enough by itself to see it. Jay Locopo, who wrote the movie and plays the weird homeless guy Phil, apparently created a show produced by Conan O'Brien that's going to be on NBC later this year, so I'm kinda looking forward to that. I am kind of annoyed, though, by the part where one of the cast members lip syncs Young MC's "Bust A Move," which was a really weird thing for them to considering that almost the exact same thing happened in Dude, Where's My Car? two years earlier.

Sunday, April 20, 2008
The B-52s - "Too Much To Think About" (mp3)

The B-52s' new album Funplex "wasn't horrible," according to my friend Mat, which is a hilarious bit of backhanded praise, but appropriate, considering that anytime a band comes back with their first new album in, say, 16 years, you really have no idea if they'll have completely lost their step or not. And even when it's not bad, you tend to praise it in those terms, how not-bad it is instead of how good it is. I have no problem finding time for the band's late-period table scraps -- I still own a copy of Good Stuff, after all. The two songs on the 1998 hits comp Time Capsule: Songs For a Future Generation, particularly "Hallucinating Pluto" were good (we probably don't need to talk about their theme song for "Rocko's Modern Life," or their appearance in The Flintstones live action flick as "The BC-52's"), and Funplex picks up well on a slightly modernized version of the sound they've had since the career reinvention of Cosmic Thing, which bears only a slight resemblence to the Ricky Wilson era.

My interest in Funplex is, to a lesser degree, similiar to my fascination with The Who's Endless Wire a couple years ago. Once a band goes that long without recording, while still profitably touring off of their old hits, they get to a point where they have a lot more to lose than to gain, financially and in terms of their legacy, by releasing a new album. But The B-52s are a more unique case in the legacy department, partly because they were so early to adapt an over-the-top campy retro aesthetic that's become much more commonplace in the decades since their first album. Usually when a new band has has a schticky attachment to a bygone era, I roll my eyes and expect that they're going to look really embarrassing to everyone in a few years. But since The B-52s had such an alien twist on their beehives-and-surf-guitar idea of retro to begin with, not to mention a distinctive sound and some monster jams, they've really never been limited by their schtick, schticky as it is.

Funplex's title track and lead single is pretty easily the best thing on it, and even though I'm loathe to even acknowledge any song without Fred Schneider vocals as a true B-52's song (or, at least, not a truly great one) -- yes, even "Roam"! -- "Juliet Of The Spirits" is a pretty lovely, floaty thing. On the whole, it's a consistent record, with only a couple really awkward moments. But nothing, not even the big hooks of "Pump" or "Too Much To Think About," really matches their previous high marks, and at best it's really just on par with Good Stuff. But that's OK. I love this band, and I'm glad they rolled the dice on one last hurrah. More bands their age should, bad reviews be damned.

Saturday, April 19, 2008
New Corporate Rock Still Sells #12, up since Thursday.

The 2008 Remix Report Card, Vol. 4

Friday, April 18, 2008
The R. Kelly version of "Touch My Body" and the T.I. version of "Love In This Club" are getting spins this week but I'm trying to keep this limited to just official remixes involving the artist that did the original, so just an honorable mention for those.

"Certified (Remix)" by Glasses Malone featuring Akon, Lil Wayne, Kam and Bun B
I've barely heard the original and am only dimly aware of the artist, but this song generally suggests that Akon is all out of what little amount of good hooks he had at one point. Of all the cutesy tics Lil Wayne uses on half his tracks these days, the way he says "remix, baby" is by far my least favorite. This is actually one of the best verses he's spit lately, though, he actually sounds halfway focused and sober, and just edges out the competent but comparatively dull Bun. The first couple bars of the remix, where the beat plays backwards and only barely sounds different, is pretty awesome, more remixes should use that trick.
Best Verse: Lil Wayne
Overall Grade: B

"Fast Car (Remix)" by Wyclef Jean featuring Lupe Fiasco
Wyclef's follow-up to "Sweetest Girl" with Paul Simon was such a non-starter as a single that I hadn't even heard of it until the remix dropped. And this is such a vast improvement that they should really clearly just start over and shoot another video for this version. I like the way the song starts with the Little Feat breakbeat from a billion other songs (and that Wyclef previously used on "Killing Me Softly"), the hook works ten times better over this new beat, and although I have mixed feelings about Lupe in general, he sounds good on here.
Best Verse: Lupe Fiasco
Overall Grade: A-

"Feedback (Remix)" by Janet Jackson featuring Busta Rhymes, Ciara, Fabolous and Jermaine Dupri
I don't know why they need to keep making remixes of this lousy semi-hit, considering I already wrote about the Timbaland remix in this space, but this one is a slight improvement. Ciara's verse is just an abridged version of the fantastic unsanctioned remix she did months ago, and it leaves out some of the best parts, but is still the standout verse over Fab, whose one good idea is to call Janet "Miss So So" just to rhyme it with Loso.
Best Verse: Ciara
Overall Grade: B-

"Got Me Going (Remix)" by Day26 featuring Fat Joe and Rick Ross
I always thought this song sounds like some leftovers Bad Boy had sitting around that 112 rejected from 7 years ago (Part III is a dope album and this would not have made the cut, but if it did it wouldn't stand out, is all I'm saying). So in a way it makes perfect sense that the first voice you hear on the remix is one that was all over early 00's R&B crossovers. Rick Ross comes in at the end to remind us what year it is, and much to my chagrin, rides the beat better than Joe.
Best Verse: Rick Ross
Overall Grade: C+

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Sloan mix for John:

1. Money City Maniacs
2. 500 Up
3. It's In Your Eyes
4. Can't Face Up (mp3)
5. Coax Me
6. Ana Lucia
7. The Good In Everyone
8. Ill Placed Trust
9. Underwhelmed
10. Iggy & Agus
11. The Lines You Amend
12. Right Or Wrong
13. I Am The Cancer (mp3)
14. Listen To The Radio
15. All By Ourselves
16. The Other Man
17. I Understand (mp3)
18. Nothing Left To Make Me Want To Stay
19. G Turns To D (mp3)
20. I Wanna Thank You (mp3)
21. Another Way I Could Do It
22. The Rest Of My Life

After the last mix I made for John, the 2 bands he expressed an interest in hearing more of and asked me to burn a CD of were Ruth Ruth and Sloan. Since I only have a couple Ruth Ruth CDs that both easily fit on one disc (the Little Death EP and Laughing Gallery), that one was easy, but I had to take some time and put some thought into a Sloan best-of. A-Sides Win: Singles 1992-2005 would've done the trick if they hadn't gone and one-upped themselves with Never Hear The End Of It, my favorite or second-favorite record of their career and #1 album of '07, which raised the impetus for a hand-picked mix.

Sloan is by no means one of my favorite bands, but they've very gradually grown in my esteem over the years, partly because my taste in rock has slowly come around closer and closer to their melodic, antiquated power pop sensibility. Back in the mid-90s, they were just another random DGC alt-rock band I learned about on 120 Minutes, who turned out to be big in their native Canada, and I got a kick out of seeing their videos in daytime Much Music rotation the time I went to Toronto. And even though their output is wildly uneven (without being quite varied or unpredictable enough to be fascinatingly uneven), they've plugged at it long enough to have a pretty thick catalog of good and great songs. The fact that the band is comprised of four singer/songwriters, all of whom have their merits and standout tracks, is a pretty unique and respectable feat and helps keep things fresh -- even the weakest vocalist or tunesmith of the bunch, drummer Andrew Scott, is no Ringo.

As it is, this mix is by no means perfectly balanced, weighted heavily towards singles (half of the tracks also appear on A-Sides Win) and my two favorite albums, Never Hear and One Chord To Another, so while no album entirely gets the shaft, some only get the most obvious pick hits. As it happens, just the other day some news came down the pike that they're releasing a new album, Parallel Play in June, so maybe that one will be good enough that I'll have to revise this best-of sometime anyway. Coming less than 2 years after their inspired last album, I'm hoping it's an indication of a new creative peak for the band, even if 'creativity' isn't really the operative word with such a workmanlike power pop band.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The Raconteurs - "Rich Kid Blues" (mp3)

Being a longtime Brendan Benson fan and always having more or less hated The White Stripes, a couple songs aside, I approach The Raconteurs from pretty much the opposite direction as at least 95% of the people listening to them; I mainly want to hear one guy and tolerate the other guy just like anyone else, it's just which ones that are switched. I really can't express how much I hate Jack White as a vocalist; that squirmy, snivelling upper register, that stuttering, goat-like vibrato. I don't know if there's some blues or classic rock singer he's imitating when he does that stuff, but to my ears it just sounds like the worst kind of indie rock affectation. It is kinda shame I can't stomach Jack White, though, since it's becoming increasingly apparent over the last few years that my favorite contemporary indie rock, more often than not, is the stuff that baldly, faithfully apes classic rock, which pretty accurately describes a lot of his less schticky songcraft.

Maybe someday I'll warm up to the White Stripes, but for now, the Raconteurs are about as much of him as I can take, and their new album, Consolers Of The Lonely, is a big improvement over their first. Brendan Benson actually almost gets too much time on center stage early in the album; there are some lyrics, like that whole ridiculous "any poor souls who trespass against us/ whether it be beast or man" passage on "The Switch And The Spur," that I have to admit White is much better equipped to pull off. Really, Jack White only gets in the way enough to be annoying on "Five On The Five," and to a lesser extent the single "Salute Your Solution." And the piano stuff, especially "You Don't Understand Me," really exceeds what I thought he was capable of based on that Stripes album a few years back that had 2 singles with near identical piano parts. But the one that's really my jam right now is the epic 70's organ rock of "Rich Kid Blues."

Monday, April 14, 2008

My latest show reviews for Noise at Dru Hill auditioning for, and choosing, their new 4th member @ Suite (a happy ending to that whole YouTube mess), Ab-Rock and E Major's joint release party @ Fletcher's, Wye Oak/Deer Tick/Musee Mecanique @ the G-Spot, Enon/Squaaks/Impossible Hair @ the Ottobar and Butt Stomach/Daniel Francis Doyle/Seth Sherman @ the Talking Head.

Sunday, April 13, 2008
Flo Rida - "Still Missin'" (mp3)

Out of all the questionably talented rappers who've risen to fame during Miami's recent radio rap renaissance, Flo Rida might be the only one who actually sounds good on the city's dominant brand of bright, synth-driven beats. Where guys like Rick Ross and Plies just sluggishly drawl over those fast-paced drums and can't help but sound clumsy, Flo Rida constantly raps in a smooth doubletime cadence with frequent divergences into triplets and other subtle rhythmic accents. His voice isn't that appealing and he rarely says anything interesting, but he sounds downright brilliant next to his most obvious points of comparison, and I've been rooting for him ever since his standout verse on the last DJ Khaled album.

Unfortunately, the track Flo Rida rode to the big time, "Low," was practically the only T-Pain hit of the past year beloved by rap radio significantly less than by pop radio, and his label waited until 3 months after it topped the chart and sold millions of single downloads to release his album, with no buzz-building street single or significant guest appearances on other people's records, so pretty much no hip hop fans were checking for Mail On Sunday by the time it was released. He had no time to even be hip and new before becoming a cheesy crossover artist, which might be his own fault I guess. The album certainly helps push him in that direction with Sean Kingston, and Timbaland hooks.

I'm not going to act like Mail On Sunday is a masterpiece just to be contrarian, of course. Hell, my two favorite tracks are "Don't Know How To Act" featuring Yung Joc (who I ordinarily hate but sounds great here), and the extraordinarily silly "Still Missin'." At first I glossed over the latter as just a lame girl song, until I realized that Flo Rida has written an entire seemingly sincere breakup song around some incredibly ridiculous wordplay based on the two most common usages of the word "hoe," as in the hook's refrains of "my lawnmower home, but my hoe's still missin'" and "my rake's in the shed, but my hoe's still missin'." And if that's not enough, he actually sticks to that conceit for the verses, only finally giving up the ghost in the 3rd verse and confessing "and I ain't talking about the hoe you find in the dictionary." So yeah, maybe Flo Rida doesn't deserve much of your respect, but still, I'd sure as hell rather listen to this than Trilla.

Netflix Diary

Friday, April 11, 2008
1. Black Sheep
No, not the Chris Farley movie. And I rarely say things like this, but I truly think it's a failure on the part of the viewing public that this movie is not a highly regarded instant cult classic (or at least, as popular as Shaun Of The Dead). It's a horror movie made in New Zealand that's as gleeful with its gore as one of my all-time favorites, Peter Jackson's Dead-Alive, with the twist that the mutated murderous animals are one of the most harmless species of livestock on the planet. I thought the character that grew up with a fear of sheep would be kind of a lame touch, until he uttered the hilarious line about his "completely unfounded and irrational fear that one day this is going to happen!"

2. "The Wire," Season 3
I wanted to watch the whole first four seasons before the last one started, but I fell way behind on that plan and am still working through 3 now that the series finale is over and done with. I always thought that 3 was my favorite season and I'm pretty much sure now that it was the show's peak: Stringer/Avon, all the city hall stuff, Hamsterdam, hot ass Theresa D'Agostino, etc.

3. King of New York
The early 90's were probably not the best time for crime epics (hell, this came out the same year as The Godfather: Part III), and the fact that this is one of ones that's beloved by barely anyone who isn't a rapper isn't a good sign. Still, I always wanted to see Christopher Walken's starring turn as a ruthless drug lord and he, at least, doesn't disappoint. But the thing as a whole is stiflingly stylized, the plot is dumber than rocks, and most of the supporting performances are insanely over-the-top: Larry Fishburne acting like he was made he got passed over for the role of The Joker the year before, David Caruso being a hack early on in a career of legendary hackdom. If this is the kind of crime drama that "The Wire" has forever ruined me for, so be it.

4. Transformers: The Movie
J.G. enjoyed the Michael Bay flick last summer enough that she decided to buy it on DVD recently, reminding me that I still needed to make her sit through what I still consider the 'true' Transformers movie, the one my grandmother took me and my brother to see in the theater when I was 4. It pretty much goes without saying that it has not aged well, but even some of the worst dialogue is burned into my brain ("Me Grimlock say you full of cesium salami!"). But the animation is still way way above any of the TV shows, and there are some scenes that I still think are kind of awesome. J.G. put the My Little Pony movie on our Netflix queue because I put this on.

Thursday, April 10, 2008
They Might Be Giants - "One Everything" (mp3)

This week my review of TMBG's latest album of music for children, Here Comes The 123s, is in the City Paper.

In My Stereo

Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Lil Boosie - Da Beginning
The B-52s - Funplex
Flo Rida - Mail On Sunday
Rick Ross - Trilla
Beanie Sigel - The Reason
Jonathan Richman - I, Jonathan
Albert Brooks - A Star Is Bought
various artists - Can You Dig It? The 70's Soul Experience
DJ Pierre - Vol. 3: The Street Hustle Edition
J.S.O.U.L. & Ab Rock - The J ROCK Project

Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Sheek Louch f/ Mike Smith - "Keep Pushin'" (mp3)

There are a few monster tracks on Sheek Louch's new album, Silverback Gorilla, but "Keep Pushin'" is not really one of them. It's one of those songs I respect more than love, just for its rhythmic structure, which is not hugely complicated but utterly unique by rap standards. The beat has a six measures instead of the usual four, to allow for a hook that emphasizes its title with a few extra refrains of "gotta keep pushin'" by generically named generic R&B guy Mike Smith, and though they could've just kept the hook that way, the whole song stays in that structure, leading Sheek to spit some weirdly paced 12-bar verses (and one 6-bar verse at the end). It's not hugely creative, but just disorienting enough to make the song kind of awesome.

The rest of Silverback Gorilla is by no means a masterpiece, but possibly the best case scenario for a Sheek Louch album, which is nothing to complain about. He still can't bring the brutal reality raps like Styles, and he's still not a punchline artist on the level of Jadakiss. but on songs like "Don't Be Them" and "Mic Check" have more heart than he's shown on previous albums, and Sheek has a knack for putting his most entertaining lines right in the hooks of his songs. Top 3 best exclamations from choruses on Silverback Gorilla: 1. "I know the radio ain't really gon' like this!" ("Go Hoodlums"), 2."I ain't tryin' to make a record where my mama ain't proud!" ("We Spray Crowds" (no homo)), 3. "til police come and ruin our night!" ("Two Turntables And A Mic").

Monday, April 07, 2008

I must have really gotten good at fooling people into thinking my opinion matters, because hot off of my stint juding the "Show Me What You Got" MC battle, next Friday I will be one of the judges at the "Word War" spoken word/poetry slam competition, along with Labtekwon, Olu Butterfly Woods and others. Spoken word isn't really my area of expertise, but the folks from The Baltimore Scene asked me to do it so I'll try to take it seriously and make the right decisions.

Sunday, April 06, 2008
Fat Joe - "K.A.R." (mp3)

Fat Joe is, I'm almost certain, nobody's favorite rapper. He's spent over a decade on the B-list, climbing to the absolute top of it without ever becoming an A-lister, which for him would be more or less impossible. He's not a bad rapper, really, and his plainspoken bark can hit almost M.O.P. levels of intensity as is best. But he's spent so much time surrounding himself with much more talented rappers (Big L, Pun, half the other guys in the Khaled's Ocean's Eleven posse cut crew) and scoring most of his big radio hits wiith much bigger stars that he's just permanently a second or third banana.

That said, the guy makes better albums than he usually gets credit for. His last few, particularly Loyalty and Me Myself & I, have all been solid, and even at their worst they usually feature at least a handful of bangers. And unfortunately, his latest, which comes with the unfortunate title The Elephant In The Room and the unfortunate timing of coinciding with a new height of his sometimes hilarious beef with 50 Cent, is one of those albums that just has a few bangers but is far from his best. And they're a little harder to find, too, since the hit off the album, "I Won't Tell," is some soft batch R&B shit, and the two street singles, "The Crackhouse" and "300 Brolice," are both pretty much incoherent, poorly produced garbage.

The album's list of collaborators may look trendy and deliberately of-the-moment, but it bears mentioning that half of those names (DJ Khaled, Cool & Dre, Sean C & LV of American Gangster fame) are guys who've been in Joe's inner circle for years and years, since back when producing a deep cut on a Fat Joe album was their biggest claim to fame. In fact, after all the whining from various past Terror Squad members about Joe failing to promote them enough, I think it's fair to say that he actually seems to have a knack for nurturing talent. But Street Runner, another longtime associate whose biggest claim to fame is still a bunch of Fat Joe tracks, probably puts in the best work here, on "K.A.R." and "The Fugitive," and given the current state of Joe's career, he should really find more outside work if he's ever gonna get some shine.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The new issue of XLR8R on newsstands now, the April issue with Bun B on the cover, has a big supplement about Baltimore music that a bunch of people from around here, including myself, were asked to participate in. It's not technically part of the issue (which means, unfortunately, that it's not part of the downloadable PDF of the issue available on the XLR8R website), but rather a pull-out sponsored by Converse, printed on newspaper like an old-school zine and included in the bag the issue comes with. The magazine's editor, Vivian Host, spent a few days in Baltimore back in January, meeting up folks like Labtekwon, Scottie B., Blaq Starr, Rye Rye, Death Set and others, and photographer Paul O'Valle took pictures, and put some more from the trip up on his own site.

The piece I helped with for the zine, "mixtape madness," is basically just me talking about a bunch of local hip hop and Baltimore club mixtapes. I was approached by XLR8R about this project not as a writer but as an interview subject, which I was apprehensive about just because I like to be a behind the scenes guy and I think it's a little silly for a blogger to be featured like any kind of celebrity, noone needs to see my ugly mug in a magazine. Plus, there was a whole controversy a few months ago about a few Baltimore musicians' images being used without their permission in a different pull-out ad thing in XLR8R, which made me a little wary. But I decided it was an interesting thing to take part in, and as it turned out they didn't use any of the photos they took of me (it was dark outside so maybe the pictures didn't come out well, but either way I'm fine with that). It's just credited to "Government Names," not Al Shipley, but the address for the blog is plugged in there and it's kinda cool to have it be more in the informal, zine-y style they were going for. The mixtapes I spotlighted and talked about were: Skarr Akbar and DNA's The Epidemic, Architects Recording Studio and DJ Radio's ARS Re-Loaded, Ogun's Bmore Hero, Darkroom Productions's Hamsterdam Vol. 2, Say-Wut's Club Chronicles: Level 1, DJ Mic Marvelous's Deja Vu, and Bossman's End Of Discussion. Also, I got a nice new pair of Converse for participating.

On a related tip, last year Tony Ware e-mailed me some questions related to being an mp3 blogger that I answered for a thing he was doing for XLR8R. But I kinda forgot to check if that ever came out, and just realized that the piece, MP3 Blogs: Musical Democratization, has been on the mag's website for 6 months now, and includes a couple quotes from me.

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Evangelista - "Lucky Lucky Luck" (mp3)

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a long and affectionate piece here about the works of Carla Bozulich (and actually got an e-mail about it from Carla herself, regarding some of the rare live recordings I'd mentioned in the post). One of the things I said about the (at the time) recent Evangelista, the first album of original material she'd ever released as a solo artist, was that it wasn't among my favorite of the many phases of her career, and that I was "kind of waiting for her to move onto something else." A lot of Bozulich's music can be accurately described as violently cathartic, full of blood-curdling screams and noise, but Evangelista was so dark and forbidding that it made a lot of her previous work seem bright and peppy by comparison. In fact, it was a little overwhelming to me, and I had a hard time listening to it much, and in a way kind of hoped that that record was just something she had to get off her chest once and then be done with. So my usual excitement about a new album from her this year, Hello, Voyager, was slightly tempered by the news that it would be credited to the band name Evangelista, implying that it'd be a continuation of that last album I never entirely warmed up to.

Evangelista the band is still really as much a solo project as Evangelista the album was; a few musicians show up on multiple tracks (Tara Barnes, Shahzad Ismaily, some Silver Mt. Zion/Godspeed You Black Emperor people), but for the most part it's a revolving door of collaborators, including one song by Bozulich completely solo, and one with her onetime perennial sideman, Nels Cline, the gorgeous "The Blue Room" (which is the "Untitled New Song" recorded at a 2004 Scarnella show that I'd included in the aforementioned mix). As such, Hello, Voyager is a much more varied album than Evangelista, and, to my ears, a better one.

The overall tone is pretty similiar to the last album, with a few tracks featuring orchestras of doom and warped preacher rants from Bozulich, but there's also the welcome return of drums, which whip up a storm a couple times, mainly on "Smooth Jazz" and "Truth Is Dark Like Outer Space." And there's some moments that lighten things up, like the weirdly playful "Lucky Lucky Luck," which might address Bozulich's sordid youth more autobiographically than anything she's done since The Geraldine Fibbers, or might just be some goofy narrative about guns and drug dealers with a pulsing bassline and a "woohoo" hook. It never quite explodes like it would've in the hands of the Fibbers, but somehow I like it that way. I can't wait to see how they do this record live when they come through D.C. in a couple weeks, and I skipped the local date on the tour for the last record.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008
In Corporate Rock Still Sells #11, I finally got around to using the Minutemen jpg I've been dying to have on there the whole time time I've been doing the column (and believe me, the title of the column totally would be "Project: Mersh" if Matos hadn't already been doing "Project X" on Idolator).

Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Nine Inch Nails - "14 Ghosts II" (mp3)

There's probably no ordinarily vocal-driven band I'd be more excited to hear an instrumental album from than Nine Inch Nails, and it's not even so much that I have any problem with Trent Reznor's vocals (although his lyrics are occasionally cringe-inducing). He knows exactly how to seethe or scream over his music to maximum effect, but the menace and angst he's perfected do a certain injustice to the textural complexity and variety of the music he creates. That's not to say that another singer could lay some shiny happy shit over his tracks and it would work, but the absence of vocals at least leaves the beats and guitars and synth squiggles to make their own statement, one that isn't locked into a one-note depiction of infinite sadness or rage. And that's why I'm really glad that Reznor made his second semi-free-internet-album-release experiment since his exit from the major label system, after that Saul Williams album with the ridiculous title that I just couldn't bring myself to check out, is the instrumental double album Ghosts I-IV.

The structure of the album -- 36 tracks spread into four parts -- is probably arbitrary and/or just a cute way to divide a Nine Inch Nails album into sections of nine, but it actually works out pretty well. Listening to this stuff for 2 hours would wear me down, but I've taken to just listening to it one section at a time, and although they individually don't necessarily feel like an album or an EP, it's just about the right serving size for one sitting (and, if it matters, II is by far my favorite of the four). But more importantly, the production values are much higher than that of the last proper NIN album, Year Zero, which was largely recorded on a laptop in the back of a tour bus, and showed that a little too much in its murky sonics and lack of a live band roar. In fact, that album's biggest highlight for me ("HYPERPOWER!") was a brief instrumental and the only track with live drums. Little on Ghosts I-IV is that aggressive or features a drummer, but much of it does benefit from the welcome return of Adrian Belew, who always made inspired contributions to NIN's 90's records.

Part of the subtext of this album, and Reznor's attendant exit from the major label system, that interests me is the refreshing uptick in activity he's engaged in the past few years. In the decade following what will probably always remain his masterpiece, The Downward Spiral, he only released one album (granted, it was a double), and he was shaping up to become one of those reclusive types who'd only come out of the woodwork with something new every five years or so. It turned out, though, that he was working through addiction and some other serious issues, and since he's kicked them he's ended up released three albums in as many years. I'm a big advocate of the idea that recording artists with higher productivity inevitably make better music and go on more interesting tangents than if they take years between records, so I hope Reznor keeps up this run he's on, even if it's being driven at least in part by a vendetta against the record industry.