Monthly Report: April Albums

Thursday, April 30, 2009
1. Jadakiss - The Last Kiss
Even though Kiss will never be A-list and will never make a classic, there's something heartening about the fact that he's kind of thriving in the age of diminished expectations, selling more than rappers with ten times the radio spins, getting on every remix even when raspy punchlines are, to put it mildly, out of style. And really, this album is doper than most people are giving it credit for. People who complain about the Pharrell tracks on here clearly haven't listened to "Hot Sauce To Go" lately.

2. Playboy Tre - Liquor Store Mascot
It's pretty hard to get me to listen to a new rapper that the radio isn't already putting in my face and making me form an opinion about, especially now that all the blogs & mags have anointed a particularly pathetic batch of newcomers. But multiple people on the pretty damn short list of folks whose opinions on rap I will pretty much always trust without question happened to rep for Playboy Tre recently, and I'm glad I checked out his latest release, although I haven't totally digested it yet. Tre sounds like he learned to rap listening to Pimp C, and while he's got some of the voice and accent without the snarl and flair for hysterical obscenity, he still comes across as a pretty clever guy with a good ear for beats and concepts.

3. Superchunk - Leaves In The Gutter EP
It feels kind of funny how there's been a nice little wave of nostalgia and general fondness for Superchunk lately, between the Merge anniversary project and the latest Clambake and them finally putting out some new music for the first time in ages, but I've just been more obsessed with the band than ever during their downtime. I kind of like that they've come back by just dipping their toes in with an EP, a format they've always done well with, so the whole occasion feels less weighted down with expectations, it's just some new Superchunk songs, no biggie. They pick up where they left off with the last couple albums, but upping the tempo and stripping away the synths and strings to recapture some of the energy of the early stuff, while the off-kilter interlocking riffs of "Learned To Surf" indicate that they're still willing to push their formula into subtly new shapes.

4. Daniel Francis Doyle - We Bet Our Money On You
Doyle is a guy from Texas that I saw play a show in Baltimore about a year ago and he was really impressive, kind of taking the loop pedal one-man-band thing that's so common in indie circles these days up to the next level with interlocking multiple guitar riffs and simultaneous singing and drumming that must take Jedi-level powers of concentration and breath control. Of course, on his new album, that feat doesn't really hold the same weight, because anybody can just overdub in a studio and get a perfect take to pull off what he does in real time onstage. But he's still a pretty talented dude with some interesting arranging ideas and weird textures that make this way better than a garden variety lo-fi pop/rock record.

5. Lil Boosie - Thug Passion Mixtape
I never even got around to hearing the Superbad mixtape that Boosie released earlier this year, but I heard this one was better so I guess I'll just roll with this unless I start to hear otherwise. For a tiny, shrill-voiced Southern rapper whose name starts with "lil," he's always had a pretty uncommon amount of genuine pathos and anger and depression in his music, and it almost feels like he's been avoiding making a new album or actively trying to ascend to the level of stardom no matter how big his buzz is or how many great underground releases he drops. Even wondering aloud why it's taking him so long to put out an album just makes me think of how pissed he sounded on Bad Azz's "When You Gonna Drop" about people asking him that, so I should just be happy he's got all these mixtapes.

Monthly Report: April Singles

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
1. Solange - "T.O.N.Y."
This song's whole concept ("Tony actually was The Other Night, oh whY?") is some of the most painfully executed wordplay in a current single outside of "If You Seek Amy," but it's just so damn catchy that I like it in a way I never thought I'd like a Solange song. I still have no idea if the bit about Solange getting pregnant is just part of the video or the actual subtext of the song's lyrics, but that's kind of become part of the way I interpret the song and has made me like it more, probably because I found out I was having a kid around the same time I first heard it.

2. Young Money Entertainment - "Every Girl"
Maybe it's just that this song started to get huge right when the weather was getting warm, but it really feels like summer in that way that only a couple songs do every year, and is probably Lil Wayne's best AutoTune R&B jam to date. I'm pretty hesitant to co-sign anything Drake is involved in, since he seems to be everything I find annoying about Kid Cudi times ten, but at the moment it's pretty impossible to hate on this song, hilariously crude chorus and all.

3. James Morrison f/ Nelly Furtado - "Broken Strings"
This might be my adult contempo jam of the year, it just sounds so pretty and yearning and vaguely sad and the male/female harmonies are really nice.

4. Rich Girl f/ Bun B - "24"
A few years ago, Rich Harrison was one of the most exciting producers in R&B. But he got cold around 2006 (right about the time Beyonce managed to release 8 singles from B'Day while completely avoiding his tracks), and pretty much disappeared from the charts or even major label releases in general. So it was pretty surprising when his label and pet project girl group kinda came out of nowhere with a pretty hot single, even if it sounds like he might've made the beat back during his hot streak (even the synth stabs are straight out of "Soldier"), and the singers all sound like he tried as hard as possible to find Destiny's Child doppelgangers. Even the guest MC seems like kind of a 2005-ish choice. Still, it's as dope now as it would've been back then.

5. Soulja Boy Tell Em f/ Gucci Mane and Shawty Lo - "Gucci Bandana"
I never really minded Soulja Boy or any of the singles off his first album (and I kind of loved "Donk"), but I've really nurtured a serious hatred of "Turn My Swag On" and "Kiss Me Thru The Phone." Still, the success of those awful awful songs has at least led to his sophomore album ,once thought a flop and left for dead, getting a second chance and the one song I really liked finally having a video. The Reaction Band's take on "Gucci Bandana" has almost supplanted the original for me at this point, though, one of the only Go-Go versions of a popular song that I've really loved the last couple years.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I reviewed Hall Of Heads, the new compilation by the New Flesh, a Baltimore band I profiled in the City Paper a couple years ago, for

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Next weekend, from midnight May 1 to midnight May 2, WEAA 88.9fm's Strictly Hip Hop will take over for 24 hours for its 19th anniversary, just as it does every year. And for the first time, this year I will be participating in a panel discussion about this year's theme, classic albums. I should be on air sometime that afternoon, but hopefully people will be tuning in all day. There's also a classic hip hop album survey you can fill out ahead of time.

Friday, April 24, 2009
My 30th Corporate Rock Still Sells column is up on Idolator today. It's a big one and was really fun to put together, I may be arguing in the comments section all day over there.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This week in the Baltimore City Paper I have a feature on hip hop pioneer Chief Rocker Busy Bee Starski, who's been living in Bmore since 1989 but just recently started presenting shows here at Sonar with DJ P-Funk (who also gave me some quotes for the article).

(photo by Jefferson Jackson Steele)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
As I said last month, I've been contributing to the new incarnation of The Singles Jukebox (not as much as I'd like, but it's been a pretty hectic month), and here's what I've had lately:

Jazmine Sullivan - Lions, Tigers and Bears [7/6.7]
Black Eyed Peas - Boom Boom Pow [5/5.36]
Carrie Underwood - Home Sweet Home [2/3.3]
Maino ft. T-Pain - All The Above [2/5.67]
Jim Jones - Blow The Bank [2/3.88]
Carrie Underwood & Randy Travis - I Told You So [5/4.88]
The-Dream ft. Mariah Carey - My Love [4/7.67]
Keri Hilson ft. Kanye West and Ne-Yo - Knock You Down [3/6.5]
Mastodon - Divinations [5/5.7]

Monday, April 20, 2009

My latest live reviews on the City Paper's Noise blog have been: Tha Profitt/Skarr Akbar/Ogun/Comp/Shy/Hots @ Black Hole Rock Club, 1st Family/Bossman/Huli Shallone @ Black Hole Rock Club, Mania Music Group/Jade Fox/Wordsmith/Minlus & McCracken @ the Quarter, Impossible Hair/The Caribbean @ the Black Cat, and Asobi Seksu/Thrushes @ the Ottobar.

Netflix Diary

Saturday, April 18, 2009
a) Burn After Reading
This is probably my favorite Coen Bros. movie in quite a while, which is weird since it's such a deliberately, self-conciously minor trifle, but it really hits on a lot of the elements of comedy and violence that they do best, without feeling like a total pastiche of their own work. I think it helps if you've ever lived around Washington, D.C. and can really easily picture weird shit like this going down in your own back yard involving people who are supposed to know better.

b) Hancock
The buzz never seemed to be good about this movie but I always liked the premise and really wanted to see it. I kinda wish I had seen it in theaters, though, since reviewers weren't giving away the twist back then, but now it's being prominently featured in the DVD release so that was kinda spoiled for me. Still liked it, though, for all its faults, including a kind of tonally jumbled second half and one of the lamest most contrived villains ever. At this point there have been so many satires and subversions and reversals of superhero movie cliches, that this kind of idea probably isn't as fresh as it might've been at some point, but I still like movies like this or, say, Unbreakable, that kind of dismantle the origin story of a new character before you really have any idea what their whole deal is (whereas, y'know, they can reboot Batman or whoever all they want but you always know ultimately how it's gonna down).

c) Hot Rod
I've always thought Andy Samberg was pretty so-so on SNL outside of the digital shorts songs, so I kind of assumed that it'd be foolish to expect a guy who can barely carry a sketch to carry a whole movie, and his first starring vehicle kinda looked like some sub-Sandler bullshit. But in light of the Lonely Island's album being kind of awesome, I decided to give this a shot, and it was pretty funny. I think it helps to listen to a lot of Incredibad and get used to their timing and their sense of what's funny, though. It wasn't perfect or anything, but I could see this being something that becomes exponentially funnier the more times you see it.

d) Wild Style
I'd always wanted to see this movie and then I recently got the chance to interview Busy Bee Starski, who lives in Baltimore now, and I was like damn, I guess I need to go ahead and see it now. It's probably more interesting as a cultural artifact than a movie, and sometimes having people play roles they pretty much lived out IRL leads to some pretty wooden acting, but it's still pretty cool to get this kind of perspective on that era in what seems to be a fairly straightforward way.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ten was more or less my first favorite album, the first CD that I listened to front to back over and over and got really obsessed with the band, beyond anything I'd experienced with the Hendrix or G'n'R or Aerosmith albums I'd been listening to up until that point when I was 10 years old. And over the years, Pearl Jam has remained one of my favorite bands, if a lot less central to my taste, and ultimately I ended up liking the 4 albums that followed more than Ten itself. "Porch" is still one of my favorite songs, but the rest of it I can usually take or leave. For most of my adult life I've been pretty cautious about burning myself out on albums, and even now I'm almost superstitiously averse to listening to an album more than a couple times in the space of a week. But I may have killed that album for myself, or maybe radio did it, or maybe it really just hasn't aged well at all. So it's been interesting to try to listen to last month's reissue of Ten with fresh ears.

Poor Rick Parashar; the guy produced one of the biggest rock albums of the '90s, but the band found a more suitable long term producer with the follow-up and eventually had the guy remix even that one album Parashar did. And really, like I said, the four Brendan O'Brien albums really stand up to me as the defining Pearl Jam sound and all generally better albums than Ten, so I can't say I'm a huge fan of the guy (although his spacious, reverb-heavy sound works much better on the Temple Of The Dog album). But in a weird way, the O'Brien remixes on the Ten reissue don't quite feel like improvements in the way I expected; it feels more like an interesting academic exercise in the important of mixing than anything else. Now and then it'll reveal something that was harder to hear before, like the organ on "Black" or some of the awesome guitar leads buried in "Porch"'s climax, but in a way the minor differences in an album that's been tattooed on my brain in one form have a kind of uncanny valley effect. "Garden" in particular loses a lot of its aura when the guitars are pushed way to the front. It's the same reason the alternate takes on the reissue of Marquee Moon make me grit my teeth with annoyance, they're just so subtly different that it drives me insane.

I was really surprised, though, that when I later listened to disc 1 of the reissue, a merely remastered version of the album with the original Parashar production intact, I could just kind of turn my brain off and really enjoy it, sing along and rock out to some of those songs like I haven't in probably over a decade. But I'm still enjoying the chance to kind of deconstruct the sound and structure of the album. For shits and giggles, I threw together an alternate Ten tracklist on iTunes: It starts with "Deep," includes some goofy b-sides like "Dirty Frank" and the entire Mamasan trilogy, ends with "Yellow Ledbetter" and excises most of the album's big hits. And it's not at all intended as an ideal or improved version of the album; really it's just an exercise in seeing how different I can make the album just using the actual recordings from that era, and in a way I think I came up with a scenario in which the album wouldn't have been successful. And I'm sure those guys wonder all the time what life would be like if things had turned out like that.

2005 Reconsidered

Wednesday, April 15, 2009
1. Apollo Sunshine - Apollo Sunshine
2. Kanye West - Late Registration
3. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter II
4. Portastatic - Bright Ideas
5. Grand Buffet - Five Years Of Fireworks
6. System Of A Down - Mezmerize
7. Brooke Valentine - Chain Letter
8. The National - Alligator
9. Rod Lee - Vol. 5: The Official
10. Lungfish - Feral Hymns
11. Private Eleanor - No Straight Lines
12. Amerie - Touch
13. Beanie Sigel - The B.Coming
14. Darkroom Productions - Hamsterdam: The Best of Baltimore, Vol. 1
15. Various Artists - Ludacris Presents...Disturbing Tha Peace
16. Petra Haden - Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out
17. Our Lady Peace - Healthy In Paranoid Times
18. The Posies - Every Kind Of Light
19. Club Queen K-Swift - Vol. 6: The Return
20. Labtekwon – Avant God
21. Mullyman - Mullymania
22. Cassidy - I'm A Hustla
23. Lake Trout - Not Them, You
24. Foo Fighters - In Your Honor
25. Black Rob - The Black Rob Report

2005 was the year I started writing for the City Paper and Stylus, so it was really the beginning of my whole career as a critic (aside from my stint at Pitchfork a few years earlier). I’m not sure if it was a weird year for me, or the music I like, or if 3-4 years is right the perfect point for you to feel kind of distanced from and slightly embarrassed about stuff without being nostalgic or having a good historical perspective about it. Lotta kinda random shit I was into that year that I'm actually still pretty into, though, this is probably my weirdest year-end list to date, then or now.

1. Three 6 Mafia f/ Young Buck and 8Ball & MJG - "Stay Fly"
2. Amerie - "1 Thing"
3. Ying Yang Twins f/ Pitbull - "Shake"
4. The Game f/ 50 Cent- "Hate It Or Love It"
5. My Chemical Romance - "Helena"
6. Fall Out Boy - "Dance Dance"
7. Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz f/ Bo Hagon - "Get Crunk"
8. Ludacris f/ Bobby Valentino - "Pimpin' All Over The World"
9. Boyz N Da Hood - "Dem Boyz"
10. Purple Ribbon All-Stars - "Kryptonite"
11. John Legend - "Ordinary People"
12. The Killers - "Mr. Brightside"
13. Bobby Valentino f/ Lil Wayne - "Tell Me"
14. T.I. - "U Don't Know Me"
15. Snoop Dogg w/ Justin Timberlake and Charlie Wilson - "Signs"
16. Natasha Bedingfield - "These Words"
17. Mariah Carey - "Shake It Off"
18. Weezer - "Perfect Situation"
19. Ne-Yo f/ Peedi Crakk - "Stay"
20. Tony Yayo f/ 50 Cent - "So Seductive"
21. Black Eyed Peas - "My Humps"
22. Nickelback - "Photograph"
23. Kanye West – “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”
24. U2 - "City Of Blinding Lights"
25. Foo Fighters - "Best Of You"
26. The Killers - "All These Things That I've Done"
27. R. Kelly - "Trapped In The Closet"
28. Mariah Carey - "We Belong Together"
29. Ying Yang Twins - "Wait (The Whisper Song)"
30. Cassidy - "I'm A Hustla"
31. Webbie f/ Bun B - "Give Me That"
32. Jesse McCartney - "She's No You"
33. Gucci Mane f/ Young Jeezy - "Icy"
34. David Banner - "Play"
35. Juelz Santana - "Mic Check 1, 2"
36. Shakira f/ Alejandro Sanz - "La Tortura"
37. Dem Franchize Boyz f/ Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat and Bow Wow - "I Think They Like Me (So So Def Remix)"
38. Franz Ferdinand - "Do You Want To"
39. Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz f/ Usher and Ludacris - "Lovers & Friends"
40. Tony Yayo f/ G-Unit - "I Know You Don't Love Me"
41. Black Eyed Peas - "Don't Lie"
42. Young Jeezy f/ Akon - "Soul Survivor"
43. Snoop Dogg - "Ups & Downs"
44. Young Jeezy f/ Mannie Fresh - "And Then What"
45. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug and Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’”
46. Kelly Clarkson - "Behind These Hazel Eyes"
47. Nivea f/ Lil Jon and the Youngbloodz - "Okay"
48. Kanye West f/ Adam Levine of Maroon 5 - "Heard 'Em Say"
49. T.I. - "ASAP"
50. Pitbull f/ Lil Jon - "Toma"

This was a pretty good year for radio, although not all of it has aged super well. I’ve never been the biggest 50 Cent fan but this was probably his best year as a hitmaker quality-wise (at least, for everything but The Massacre singles). And in light of how I’ve felt about his last couple records, I really have to put this year up as Kanye’s peak as a solo artist, although I hope he makes something I enjoy again someday. Mr. Collipark killed it that year, Jeezy killed it that year, a lot of the snap/crunk hits have aged well, but I’m still pretty so-so on most of the new school Houston shit that blew up that year.

Monday, April 13, 2009

After all the anticipation and her finally landing a hit single with the pretty great "Turnin' Me On," I have to admit that I've always liked the idea of Keri more than Keri herself; a girl who looks like, well, ^that^ but has been behind the scenes writing hits for the others is just a real beauty'n'brains combination in and of itself. But I was conveniently overlooking the fact that I've never really loved any of the songs Keri's written for other artists, so really it's her voice and persona (both of which are a bit thin and underdeveloped) that the album relies on. And upon close inspection it turns out that she's likable-but-not-charismatic in the Kelly Rowland mode, which, hey, there are worst things than that, but In A Perfect World is ultimately not any kind of 'a star is born' moment.

It is, however, a pretty decent R&B album, and it's kind of nice to see it doing well. For all her ballyhooed connections to Timbaland, Polow Da Don and other hitmakers, she's actually better without riding their coattails. Solo cuts like "Alienated" and "Slow Dance" are the heart of the album, and even "Energy," which always struck me as kind of a non-starter as a lead single, sounds pretty good popping up toward the end here. Meanwhile, the Akon song is pure hell to me, and I can't really fuck with any of the Timbo tracks except for the positively ancient and formerly misidentified "Where Did He Go?, but Polow and the off-brand producers turn in some good shit. "Knock You Down" is some bullshit, though, I can't wait for them to move on to another single.

TV Diary

Saturday, April 11, 2009
a) "The Unusuals"
The idea of a 'quirky cop drama' is not very appetizing on the surface, but this has a pretty decent cast so I checked it out. I can't believe they bit a pretty well known scene from "The Wire" (using the photocopier as a fake lie detector) in the very first episode, though, that shit is sad. Overall I kind of enjoyed it, though, if the characters get a little less one-dimensional over the time and the case-of-the-week storylines don't get too wacky this could be a solid show.

b) "Krod Mandoon And The Flaming Sword Of Fire"
It's probably a bad omen that this has the same lead as Meet The Spartans, and sometimes it seems to take a similarly broad joke-a-minute approach to the whole fantasy/historical epic satire thing. The first episode had some decent laughs, though, I could either start really enjoying this consistently or get sick of it quick.

c) "Cupid"
I never saw this show the first time around the in the '90s, but it was created by Rob Thomas (of "Veronica Mars" fame, not Matchbox 20 fame) and had kind of a cult following, so I assume it wasn't bad. This reboot kind of is, though. Thing is, I'm a total sucker for romantic comedies and this is practically a serialized version of a corny rom-com movie, so I'm watching it anyway. The leads are pretty weak, though, and I imagine the cast in the original was much better. You could almost feel the storyline backing away from Sarah Paulson by the 2nd episode, like they realized that she is kind of bland and unlikable, just like she was in "Studio 60," and need to start focusing on the male lead and the guest stars more. It was driving me nuts where I knew one of the supporting actors on this show from, and it turns out he was Endless Mike on "Pete & Pete"!

d) "Party Down"
Another show from Rob Thomas, but this one is actually good. They basically just threw a bunch of people I like (Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, Jane Lynch, a few "Veronica Mars" regulars) together in a loosely structured one-camera sitcom about washed-up Hollywood types working for a catering company, and it's almost as good as I imagined it to be when I first heard about it. Four episodes in, it's already starting to feel a little formulaic the way every event they work eventually breaks down into some big embarrassing climax, but the writing is sharp enough that I don't really mind. It's a shame nobody seems to be seeing this or talking about it because it's stranded out on the friggin' Starz channel.

e) "Osbournes: Reloaded"
This would've been an awful trainwreck even if it had happened 6 years ago at the height of Osbournes-mania, now it's just an awful trainwreck noone's watching. It's kind of funny how they put all these kinda subversive gross-out jokes in a cheesy variety show format, and it still comes out feeling like a cheesy variety show.

f) "Better Off Ted"
This show is pretty hysterical, although it's right in my wheelhouse -- kind of an absurd workplace satire in the mold of some short-lived shows I've loved ("Working," "The Loop," etc.) and created by the same guy as another short-lived show I loved ("Andy Richter Controls The Universe"). The title is lame and the title character is more of a threadbare narrative device than a character per se, but the whole cast is pretty solid and there's a lot of goofy, left-field stuff going on with the whole concept of them working for a kind of ludicrously evil corporation. Hope this one lasts a while longer than the shows it reminds me of.

g) "Castle"
This show is pretty corny, but I'm enjoying it. Nathan Fillion carries it with his ability to breathe life into inane banter, but the girl keeps up decently as well.

h) "Eastbound & Down"
I had no idea that Will Ferrell was an exec producer on this show until the credits rolled at the end of the pilot episode. But all through the episode, I kept thinking that the whole show feels like one of those Will Ferrell movies about a comically unselfconscious and/or redneck athlete. Except it all takes place in that halfway point where the guy's career appears to be over and nothing is going right for him, and there's no happy third act around the corner, and it goes a little further out with the swearing and drugs and nudity and general thematic bleakness. Also it's not as funny. It got better by the end of the season, but I was pretty much relieved it was only 6 episodes long, they had already begun to stretch the premise to its breaking point. Hopefully they'll have enough ideas to make the second season work, but generally I think Danny McBride is just better as a supporting player in movies.

i) "Tough Love"
I kind of love this show, maybe because it's a gender-reversed version of "Tool Academy" without the overtly broad and staged aspects that kind of made that show lame toward the end. It's kind of touchy feely self-helpy but still entertaining and doesn't come off kind of scummy like a lot of matchmaker shows.

j) "Rock Of Love Bus"
The first couple seasons of this were great trash TV and the idea of putting the show on a bus was hysterical on paper, but I've started to tune out on this one. For some reason the fact that the skanks they're getting are more overtly skanky is kind of a bummer now.

k) "100 Greatest One Hit Wonders Of The 80s"
I get deja vu anytime VH1 does a new list show, but especially this one, since I'm pretty sure their previous one hit wonders list was pretty 80s-heavy, and that their previous 80s list was pretty one hit wonder-heavy. Dedicating a whole show to just that crossover is kind of fun, though, partly because I was born in '82, so some of this stuff kinda precedes my immediate pop culture knowledge. So sometimes I know the artist's name but not the song, or I know the song but never had any idea who recorded it, so I actually learn something, which is rare with these shows.

l) "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon"
It does not speak well of me that my schadenfreude for Jimmy Fallon to fail is so strong that I stayed up to watch the opening night of his show even though I've barely watched Conan in the past decade (and I was a huuuuuge Conan fan in his early years). I actually started to believe Fallon might have gotten properly ready for this job after all the hype and the online prep shows, but he really just is not built for it, guy is barely good on camera to begin with, let alone carrying an hour of TV. Can't wait to see who NBC try to give the job to whenever he gets the axe.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

One of my favorite albums of 2007 was an unlikely comeback by Camp Lo, Black Hollywood, which was by no means a masterpiece, but was pretty impressive for a group whose one blip of commercial relevance was a solid decade beforehand. So their new album, Stone And Rob Caught On Tape is kind of up the same wall that I recently described in regards to the new UGK album: after a dope comeback album, it doesn't feel like as big a deal to have another one soon after, even if it's just as good, if not better. And I had no real reason to expect this one to be better than Black Hollywood; the group's longtime producer, Ski, is only on one track, the title sounds like the name of some lame MTV2 show about the mundane exploits of skateboarders and their bodyguards, and there was that whole discouraging attempt to rebrand themselves as "The Lo" last year which didn't last long since it was an utterly terrible idea.

But Stone And Rob actually is pretty damn good. I can't tell if their surreal slanguistics have been toned down or if it's just less outlandish-sounding now than it was on Uptown Saturday Night, but they're still masters of bizarre little turns of phrase. And there's something refreshing, in the age of the overly emphatic punchline rapper, about the way Camp Lo still just barrel through all these strange word choices and vivid imagery without ever slowing down to make sure you catch it, or giggle with self-satisfaction about how weird they are, Lil Wayne-style. The way the album opens, with a hook that awkwardly mashes together "Two Boys In A Cadillac" and "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed By Buildings," feels like a bad omen, but once you get past that, they're back in their own world. The main producers, Smoking Apples and Apple Juice Kid (what's with all the apples?) have nice jazzy off-kilter beats that fit right in with the old Camp Lo sound with a new twist, without trying to come off 'current,' and the dub exploration of "89 Of Crime" is just a headfuck. I have no idea if I'm gonna get to catch their show here next week, but I'm hoping I can.

In My Stereo

Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Daniel Francis Doyle - We Bet Our Money On You
Dinosaur Jr. - Dinosaur
The Ramones - End Of The Century
Al Green - Gets Next To You
Funkadelic - Funkadelic
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
Repelican - Don't Mumble The Manifesto
Arbouretum - Song Of The Pearl
ScholarMan - A Meeting With Andre Kostelanetz EP
Diamond K - Baltimore Club Music Unleashed

The 2009 Remix Report Card, Vol. 4

Sunday, April 05, 2009
"America's Suitehearts (Remix)" by Fall Out Boy featuring Joe Budden, 88 Keys and Murs
Fall Out Boy have a weird relationship with rap that's easy to make fun of -- co-signing cornballs like Gym Class Heroes and Tyga, jumping on only the lamest BAPE-type clothing trends, getting Jay-Z on a record just to talk some bullshit for the intro, getting 50 Cent as their opening act, plus that whole embarrassing cringy "Fall Out Boy work with rap super producer and get kicked out of the hood" subplot in the "Arms Race" video, which preceded them actually working with Timbaland, Kanye, etc. But at the same time I'm willing to take those gestures at face value as well-meaning, since it's not a stretch to say that they are, along with the probably at least 85% of all white males of our generation who genuinely listen to hip hop and love it and grew up with it, and Stump produces pretty decent beats anyway. This is kinda weak sauce, though, the wrong song to try to shoehorn into this format and a really weird scattershot guest list.
Best Verse: Joe Budden
Overall Grade: C

"Epiphany (Remix)" by Chrisette Michelle featuring Rick Ross and Juelz Santana
I still don't really know what to make of Chrisette Michelle; all her cloying retro coos kind of clash with the way Def Jam will just throw her in the studio with every rapper on their roster. This Ne-Yo-penned single is kind of a step in the right direction for her, but I'm still not really feelin' it. Ross's intro is kinda hilarious. Remember those 2 years when Juelz Santana didn't release a single note of music? That was nice.
Best Verse: Rick Ross
Overall Grade: D

"I Run (Remix)" by Slim Thug featuring Chamillionaire and Z-Ro
Slim Thug is one of the most boring rappers to ever get a deal and this Flock Of Seagulls shit is corny as hell, but this kinda knocks when you get some decent rappers on the beat. Chamillionaire's verse namedrops both Paris Hilton and Perez Hilton but he fronts on some "I don't even know who that is" bullshit, which is pretty entertaining, but Z-Ro just owns this shit without even trying.
Best Verse: Z-Ro
Overall Grade: B

"Move (Remix)" by Mims featuring DJ Class
The whole phenomenon of Baltimore club vet DJ Class coming out of nowhere with a big crossover hit and getting signed to a major label has been really exciting for me to watch and write about, and all the remixes artists have been doing of his single have been cool even if I don't feel like the song's quite big enough nationally yet to include them in this space. But "Move" is kind of a big song for him to do the official remix of, even if the original kinda sucks and nobody likes Mims. This is a lot of fun, though, I hope the Bmore DJs pick up on this. The best part is when DJ Class loops up the "n____s say that they the shit" part in reference to his own hit, "I'm The Shit."
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B+

"Poker Face (Remix)" by Lady Gaga featuring Pete Rock
I can scarcely comprehend the existence of Lady Gaga and this song in general, let alone it being #1 now. So I'm just in a permanent state of shock and horror that a Pete Rock remix doesn't really have any effect on. The beat's decent, but you can't polish a turd, Pete.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"So Good (Remix)" by Electrik Red featuring Lil Wayne
Wayne's entire vocal style at this point is so full of tics and throaty noises and fake laughs that I kind of feel like he only sounds good anymore on big busy noisy productions that kind of match his scattered energy, like "Turnin' Me Off" and "Number One." So throwing him on a crisp midtempo track like this is kind of a recipe for disaster, and he does nothing to disprove my theory with his stupid annoying endless verse on here.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D

"Want It, Need It (Remix)" by Plies featuring Rick Ross and Ashanti
Remember when Slip N Slide was known for an incredible run of Trick Daddy and Trina records and not these two awful fake boring talentless sellouts? Shit is sickening, B.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

Saturday, April 04, 2009

There's a bitter (though probably unintended) irony to the title of Kelly Clarkson's fourth album, All I Ever Wanted. Her last album, 2007's My December, was the one she fought label brass to make, the one she swore was the exact kind of album she wanted to make. But All I Ever Wanted is instead the name of the follow-up compromise, made with the songwriters and producers the label wanted her to work with last time. Two years ago, she stood her ground and refused to re-record a Lindsay Lohan song (which I always thought was a little funny, considering that one of her biggest hits was an Avril Lavigne outtake), so it must be humiliating on some level that her new album features two Katy Perry castoffs, including one of the best songs, "I Do Not Hook Up."

Ultimately, though, the narrative that's developed around her career is kind of an illusion, based more on label drama than the music: if you sat down someone who's never heard Clarkson's albums and played them non-singles from Breakaway, My December and All I Ever Wanted, I don't think they'd be able to tell you which songs are from the blockbuster, which ones are from the 'difficult' album, and which ones are from the happy shiny pop comeback. There really just isn't that much of a difference, which makes all the controversy kind of ridiculous, like she and Clive Davis went through all that crap for no good reason. So yeah, this is just another Kelly Clarkson record, and it's good but not great just like the others.

"My Life Would Suck Without You" is a great pop song title in search of a great song, and it's a shame that such a barely there whisp of a song with such an annoying, underwritten hook would become the big Kelly/Dr. Luke reunion that shoots to #1. Fortunately, the rest of the album is mainly in her usual vein of slick guitar pop, mostly without the annoying donk-like drum machine beats that help make "My Life" suck. The token 'raw' rocker "Whyyawannabringmedown" is kind strained and boring. Surprisingly enough I think my favorite stuff on here is the weird vaguely retro '60s pop tracks hidden toward the end of the album, "Ready" and "I Want You." But as far as albums that come out of this particular type of 21st century assembly line, Pink's Funhouse is way more fun, more emotionally resonant and just generally better in every way.

Reading Diary (33 1/3 Edition)

Thursday, April 02, 2009
a) Exile On Main Street by Bill Janovitz
I’m still, as I was a few months ago, devouring these 33 1/3 books at a pretty rapid clip. I’m starting to exhaust the supply of ones I’m really interested in reading that are in stock at the Sound Garden (the one store in Baltimore that sells them as far as I know), though, so I should probably start ordering some online. Like, Exile really just is not one of my favorite Rolling Stones records, and I think Sticky Fingers does a lot of the same stuff tons better. I just don’t really get it, although I haven’t had it for very long, so it may grow on me. Still, it has arguably the best backstory of any Stones album, and I hadn’t read up much on it before, so it was interesting to me, even if I feel like the guy kinda oversold it being a great album without really convincing me as to why. It’s a little weird when some of these books are written by a well known musician, because then I feel like maybe I should be a fan of both the album and the author’s music to read it, but I guess that’s silly. I’ve never really heard this guy’s band, Buffalo Tom, I thought I had but then I remembered that was Grant Lee Buffalo I had an album by. And I mean, I do want to read a book on Let It Be by the Replacements, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to buy one written by the guy from the fucking Decemberists.

b) Led Zeppelin IV by Erik Davis
This definitely one of my favorite books in the series so far, although it helps that I’ve been in a big Zep phase lately, thanks largely to the box set of all the albums that my awesome wife got me for Christmas. But Davis really gets into the mythology and mystique of the band without buying into it, and I just really enjoy the whole tone and approach he takes, really readable and fun stuff. Probably more than any 33 1/3 book, there are bits of it that I now think of any time I hear certain songs off the album, which is, of course, pretty often. It’s funny, the recently announced shortlist of possible upcoming 33 1/3 titles prompted a fair amount of bellyaching about the more canonical selection of artists this time around, but obviously I have no problem with the classic rock-leaning stuff, as long as it’s well written. Plus it kinda makes me feel less bummed out about not sending a proposal, since I know now that nothing I was considering would’ve been popular enough to make the cut.

c) Electric Ladyland by John Perry
This was, I think, one of the first albums I bought with my own money, at an age when most of the classic rock I knew was stuff my parents already owned and I was mostly buying CDs by current acts. So this is a big album to me and Hendrix in general has always been huge, not even entirely on the whole romanticized bullshit around him but that nobody ever sounded like him or played like him. So this is really the exact kind of Hendrix book I’d want to read, from the POV of a guitarist who can break down what he did on a technical level, and also someone who was a teenager in England when Hendrix first arrived and actually saw him in a little club before he really blew up. It sometimes drags or gets a little too far over my head as a non-guitarist, but still pretty cool.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009
New Corporate Rock Still Sells column on Idolator, about Pearl Jam, Papa Roach and the Gaslight Anthem.