Saturday, October 31, 2009

I'm one of the stubborn lifelong diehards who'll probably buy every album Pearl Jam ever releases, so when a new record comes along with a bit of that dubious "this will win back some of the old Ten fans" hype, I usually just look past it, because I don't particularly like Ten that much anymore, don't think they'll ever really recapture that vibe again, and don't need any motivation to check the new stuff out anyway. Still, the last couple albums were pretty much duds, and I have to admit that all the encouraging signifiers got me pretty excited: Brendan O'Brien back on the boards for the first time since Yield, "The Fixer" being their best single since...Yield, and a running time that shaves almost 10 minutes off their previous shortest album. Short of Jack Irons rejoining the band, that's about the most they could do pique my interest.

After spending a good amount of time with Backspacer, though, it's merely solid and workmanlike, faster and edited more judiciously than most of their albums, but still way less inspired than their messier overlong efforts. Vedder writing all the lyrics for the first time in a long time means no boneheaded Ament moments, although "Johnny Guitar" has such a vividly loony lyrical conceit that it kinda feels like the Ed who wrote "Bugs" is still alive and well, even if he's not breaking the accordion out anytime soon. Unfortunately, his voice is sounding more winded and whiney with every album, while he still belts and bellows the old stuff live pretty well, which kind of reminds me of the way Jay-Z can still rap "Big Pimpin'" live but wouldn't dream of dropping a flow that precise on a new song. PJ usually ends albums with a long slow fade or a masturbatory bonus cut, so the way "The End" actually caps things with a clever and kind of dramatic touch is probably the most uniquely satisfying thing about Backspacer.

TV Diary

Friday, October 30, 2009
a) "The Cleveland Show"
I realize that Seth McFarlane is a one trick pony and that he's just striking while the iron is hot, but really, man, if you're gonna have 3 shows on the air at the same time they should at least be different in some way, any way. Cleveland only ever had, like, 3 memorable lines in the history of "Family Guy," so I can only assume he was picked for a spinoff as a way to do more sketchy race jokes.

b) "Modern Family"
Ed O'Neill is one of those guys that I think is better than he really gets credit for, at least among people that only know him from the one thing everyone knows him from, which means that one of these days he might find a great vehicle for his talent and he'll be kind of reevaluated. This isn't that vehicle, but it's kinda good, one of the few halfway promising new fall comedies. I wish the whole mockumentary sitcom format would just die, though, all the long awkward beats and shit are so played out at this point. One thing I like about shows like "30 Rock" and even "Community" is that they prove you can do a one-camera show without a laugh track and still have it be kind of punchy and fast paced.

c) "Tool Academy 2"
So this show is still awesome. The cast might not be quite as uniformly entertaining as on the first season, but I'm so glad this is on TV, even if the more boring parts and more superficial therapy/challenge bits sometimes drag.

d) "Man V. Food"
I've mentioned liking this show before, but it's kinda crazy how much replay value it has, just because the host comes across really normal and likable and the food he gets to eat is completely insane and usually watching this makes me hungry and compels me to go cook something. I'd been waiting for them to eventually come around to my neck of the woods and they finally did, last week was the D.C. episode and this week was the Baltimore episode. The D.C. one actually partly took place in Annapolis, at this amazing place Chick & Ruth's that we'd been to before, and he drank a 6 pound milkshake, which might be the most disgusting eating challenge they've ever done on this show. The Baltimore episode has a crab place I used to live a few blocks from and a pit beef place I always used to drive by, neither of which I've ever actually gone to, and some steak place way out in Harford County.

e) "Spectacle: Elvis Costello With..."
I keep meaning to watch this, since EC was and is one of my real lifelong musical heroes and even if it's boring I'd like to watch him shoot the shit with other musicians. So far I've only seen the Lou Reed episode, which was pretty entertaining, in particular because Reed came off a lot more approachable and laid back than I ever really imagined him to be.

f) "The Venture Bros."
I'm so excited about the new season starting, but at the same time, I'm realizing more and more that this is a show that doesn't just hold up on repeat viewings but actually improves, once you've seen an episode already and aren't as confused about the plot you can just focus on catching the jokes. This became especially clear after spending a couple weeks watching the Season 3 DVD and laughing my ass off, and then watching the new episodes and enjoying them and finding them well made, but not really laughing much on first viewing. The premiere especially was almost designed to not make sense the first time around. Hopefully Adult Swim will rerun these enough that I won't have to wait for the DVD to really delve into them.

g) "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
"Seinfeld" might be my favorite show of all time and I keep wanting to believe friends when they tell me this show is hilarious, but I don't know, it just doesn't do it for me. Jason Alexander doesn't get nearly enough credit for what he brought to the role of George Costanza, and that just gets underlined for me when I watch the real Costanza stumble around and getting into these prolonged shouting matches where "Seinfeld" would've just thrown in a pithy one-liner and moved on to the next scene. But ultimately, I don't want to watch a show starring Larry David for the same reason I don't want to hear a Rick Ross album: listening to someone who sounds that perpetually hoarse for a sustained amount of time just makes me feel like I need a lozenge.

h) "Behind The Music"
It's really almost surreal watching these new episodes about 50 Cent and T.I. and Lil Wayne, not just because the show is so designed for a certain type of classic rock career arc but because these guys are still in the middle of their respective arcs and the show doesn't really know how to construct the narrative. Plus there's a lot of hilarious stuff with 50 bending the truth to look past his failures and the show running with that, or the chronology of the Wayne episode being completely warped and borderline nonsensical. Also they should really use subtitles for Wayne's interview segments, the same way TV shows do when, like, Liam Gallagher is talking.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 4)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

81. Teedra Moses - Complex Simplicity
(TVT Records, 2004)
“Be Your Girl” was a fairly big summer jam on the Baltimore and D.C. stations in the summer of ‘04, although seemingly not anywhere else given how low it charted, and as much as I liked that song I probably wouldn’t have given Teedra Moses a second thought if this album wasn’t beloved by some R&B critics whose opinions I trust. Moses’s voice is kind of a sweet high thing occupying the same space as Amerie or Christina Milian, and the album has concessions to the 2004 rap’n’bullshit marketplace like Lil Jon production and a Jadakiss guest spot, but it’s also surprisingly cohesive and singer-songwriter-y. Songs like the title track and “Last Day” are retro without having obvious reference points, sentimental without going over the top with emotional performances. And even though I regarded the album’s title as kind of a wishy washy nonsensical phrase when I first heard it, I’ll concede now how apt it is for an album that’s both deceptively simple and subtly complex.

82. Jarvis Cocker - ”Further Complications.”
(Rough Trade, 2009)
The three albums Jarvis Cocker made in this decade, one with Pulp and two solo, although the distinction is more semantic than anything else, are all pretty good, none of them individually measuring up to Pulp’s ‘90s classics but not actually showing any signs of falling off or losing his touch even in his steep commercial decline. And while most would pick Pulp’s strangely sedate swan song We Love Life as his best ‘00s album, more and more lately I’ve realized that the album he just released in May is actually my favorite. The idea of Cocker working with Steve Albini seemed like a strange one, but it’s actually a really good fit, putting a little bit of a punch in his sound where the songs need it and staying restrained and dry for the midtempo tracks. “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)” is his best mesmerizing, epic groove since “Seductive Barry.”

83. Dan Deacon - Spiderman Of The Rings
(Car Park Records, 2007)
When this album made Dan Deacon something of an indie rock household name a couple years ago, the general perception of him as a great live act was kinda funny to me; previous to that, I’d been really impressed by his music, but preferred it on record because the whole party-in-the-middle-of-the-audience format of his live show was kind of obnoxious and off-putting to me, nevermind making it impossible for 95% of the people in the room to see the show. Part of that was down to me never totally digging the Wham City scene, which has brought a lot of excitement to Baltimore, but ultimately has been way more about aesthetics and medium and performance art than anybody making great records. This is one great record that came out of that movement, though, so full of energy and ideas packed into these tight little wind-up toy compositions, like sugar rush classical music.

84. Mystikal - Let’s Get Ready
(Jive Records, 2000)
It’s easy to forget just how big Mystikal was around the turn of the decade, perhaps because he’s spent the last 6 years in jail, or perhaps, more pointedly, because he’s behind bars for the kind of thing that wouldn’t inspire anyone to wear a “Free Mystikal” t-shirt. From the No Limit era to the stuff directly after jumping ship, dude was really on fire, and even though I don’t really love the big pop singles off this album, “Neck Uv Da Woodz” (which is on here as a bonus track), “Stutter,” “Move” and “I Don’t Give A Fuck” make up one of my favorite guest spot runs in rap history. And even though this album is generally remembered for the Neptunes joints, the whole thing is pretty killer and actually cuts a wide swath of production styles, from Bink! to Earthtone III from Dungeon Fam, and even some Medicine Men/KLC stuff to hold over some vestige of the No Limit sound. And on top of it all, one of the most off the wall and yet strangely precise and musical vocalists in the history of rap is just spazzing and flipping his lid.

85. Limp Bizkit - Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water
(Interscope Records, 2000)
I won’t act like I never hated the Bizkit -- hell, I was probably pretty early to the party, since the girl I took to homecoming was a red cap-wearing Durst devotee even before “Faith” broke big. Still, it amazes me that most people didn’t give into the hooks, or at least admit that the band was clearly in on the joke, by the time this album rolled around, if not by the time they announced the title. “Rollin’” and “My Way” are two of the greatest driving songs of the decade, and the whole album is pretty enjoyable front to back, even through all the weird diversions and stylistic detours, it’s all just kind of a funky adventure with the Bizkit, Scott Weiland, DMX and Ben Stiller. It bums me out that the copy I got, so many years ago, from a friend who worked at a radio station, is a clean edit, but at the same time “If I say '____' two more times, that's 46 '____s' in this ____ed up rhyme” is about as funny to listen to as the real thing would be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The new Trick Daddy album is depressing on a number of levels. He's now on an independent after the label whom he helped build up over seven albums moved on to concentrate on that hoarse walrus Rick Ross. The title Finally Famous: Born A Thug, Still A Thug makes absolutely no sense considering he's basically never been less famous in his whole career, although at least he's still shoehorning "thug" into the subtitle to keep that tradition alive. Plus, there's the whole matter of him having Lupus, which has probably at least in part kept him less active in the less years and has hastened his commercial decline.

The album itself, though, isn't depressing at all as a piece of music; it's not up there with Book of Thugs by any means, but I've heard most of his albums and as far as I know he's never made a bad one. His last album, Back By Thug Demand, was a little bit anonymous, piggybacking on the whole Runners/Khaled sound that was big at the time, and while there's still a little of that here, it's mostly more back to the kind of faceless but still perfect for Trick kinda production of his earlier albums, grimy and hard enough but also kind of surprisingly pop at times, and "I Can Tell" or "Ghetto Supa Starr" almost sound like the kind of song he might've had a hit with a few years ago. I don't expect TDD to end up with any more hits anytime soon, but who knows, I sure didn't predict Pitbull's comeback.

The 2009 Remix Report Card, Vol. 10

Tuesday, October 27, 2009
"Better Believe It (Remix)" by Lil Boosie featuring Bun B, Yo Gotti, Trae and Foxx
Since remixes are usually an excuse to upgrade the starpower on a song, it's always kinda weird when the remix is a total downgrade, in this case from Jeezy to a few more B-list regional stars and from Webbie to a less famous Trill Ent. labelmate. Still, this was a pretty low key song to begin with and making it this kind of low key posse cut with a barrage of capable but not flashy MCs works for it, with Foxx bringing the energy up a little bit at the end.
Best Verse: Lil Boosie
Overall Grade: B+

"H.A.T.E.U. (Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring OJ Da Juiceman, Big Boi, Gucci Mane and Jermaine Dupri
I guess the "My Boo" beatjack is a good look, because the original "H.A.T.E.U." is basically a tuneless turd, but I don't totally understand all the fuss about this track.
Best Verse: Gucci Mane
Overall Grade: B

"I'm Good (Remix)" by The Clipse featuring Rick Ross
I don't get the sense that this song is really highly regarded but it was one of my favorite radio jams of the summer, nice breezy feel, pretty decent flows. It worked just right as it was, though, I can't think of anyone I'd really want to hear on a remix, but it's definitely not Ross. I dig the chop on the beat and the Pharrell vocal at the very end, cool way to wrap up the track.
Best Verse: Malice
Overall Grade: C+

"Number One (Remix)" by R. Kelly featuring T-Pain and Keyshia Cole
It's been a good long while since T-Pain stunted on a remix but the way he writes around the theme of the song is pretty entertaining and I lol'd at "I'ma put my BMI all over your ASCAP." It's funny that R. has so comprehensively melded R&B into the remix game that he can do a track like this with no rappers on it and nobody bats an eye. The second verse he does at the end as it starts to fade out is cool but really the guy sounds terrible with AutoTune and needs to stop.
Best Verse: T-Pain
Overall Grade: B-

"She Wolf (Remix)" by Shakira featuring T-Pain
This seemed like a bad idea as soon as I learned of its existence, but the song always seemed a little underwritten and anemic anyway so I like the way the beat is all pumped up on this version while still chopping up the better parts from the original track. When Pain hits the doubletime in the second half of his verse it's actually pretty dope and he does an AutoTuned "awoooo," which is hilarious. Overall it's still really weird hearing him on this song, though.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B+

"Thinkin' About You (Remix)" by Mario featuring Yo Gotti
It's weird that The Runners produced such a pretty song that I actually had a hard time picturing a rapper guesting on it, and even though Yo Gotti kinda kicks a cool fast flow I've never heard from him before, it's still just a bad fit. Great song, though.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'll be shocked if Jay-Z ever makes a new album that's as good as even the weakest of his first 8 albums, but I was optimistic that The Blueprint 3 might at least be the best of the post-retirement bunch, which wouldn't even be such a tall order considering that I was not a big fan of American Gangster. At the very least, the choice to work extensively with No I.D. on the heels of "Success" seemed like a good omen. Even the prolonged run-up to the release with several discarded leaks, which used to be the one industry bullshit tradition Jay was immune to, ultimately was a good thing for the album, because he got shit like "Jockin' Jay-Z" and "Swagga Like Us" and that stupid accent on "Brooklyn Go Hard" out of the way and they ended up not sullying the final product. It's just that the stuff that replaced those songs isn't much better. The voice on "Thank You" might actually be worse than the one on "Brooklyn Go Hard," actually.

Even if Kanye and No I.D. had actually stepped up to the plate with some bangers, though, I'm pretty sure Jay would've sunk them with his suddenly desperate need to use obnoxious ad libs like he's playing catch-up with Jim Jones. I don't know what's worse, the 23 times he goes "Auh!" on "D.O.A." or the 38 times he does it on "Reminder." The "'sup"s and the "yeah I said it"'s on "Run This Town" are pretty interminable too, but after hearing Lil Wayne wreck that beat I'm reminded that it's not that bad in and of itself, it's just the worst chorus of the year that really makes it an annoying song. I wonder if Kanye actually considers any of the tracks he did on this "one of the best hip-hop beats of all time" or if he ended up saving that track for his own album, because I don't hear anything that could even remotely fit that description in Kanye's wildest most self-deluded dreams. Not to say the album's completely worthless; the middle third from "Empire State Of Mind" to the kind of charming "A Star Is Born," where Jay sounds like a hip hop fan who's willing to big up artists he's not directly affiliated with for once, even if it's ultimately in a self-serving way. But the album falls right into the toilet (seriously, Beyonce should be embarrassed for appearing on "Venus Vs. Mars") right after with a run that makes the album overall worse than Kingdom Come. Yeah I said it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stuff I've had up on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog in the last few weeks: The Club Beat with DJ Patrick, and live reviews of the Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad/Heroin U.K./Drop Electric @ the Metro Gallery and Time For Three with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 3)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

86. 8Ball & MJG - Space Age 4 Eva
(8 Ways/Interscope Records, 2000)
One of the most annoying trends of the past few years is rappers lazily throwing around the most basic entry level outer space references or saying the word "futuristic" and expecting people to think they’re the most off the wall creative weirdos in hip hop because of it, like sci-fi isn’t pretty much a universal part of pop culture that everyone knows about. And granted, when Ball & G named an album Space Age 4 Eva and made that video where they and DJ Quik were cyborgs, it was just unexpected enough to be memorable, but it’s not like they were making that their whole schtick, “I am a Martian”-style. Plus, this was way before robot voices and Euro shit were in vogue, and they didn’t even go especially techno with the production ("At The Club" aside), considering this was the height of the Timbaland era, so this ends up just being another dope down to earth album not too far off from their Suave House releases, with awesome “I stay hard like fake tits/big like ice picks”-type 8Ball lyics, that happened to have a vague space theme. Even the Swizz Beatz stuff kind of feels of a piece with the rest of the album (and here I used to think "Bring Em Out" was his first significant Southern production), although maybe 10 years on patchwork sellout super producer albums are so much more transparent and desperate that going back to 2000 such albums just seem cohesive and natural by comparison.

87. Pink - Funhouse
(LaFace/Sony, 2008)
Along the same lines as the space theme overkill in rap, I wish circus themes could be banished from pop albums for a good long while; hell, Britney Spears and T-Pain also had their own similarly themed albums out within a month of Pink releasing this. But beneath the played out title and ripped-from-the-headlines tabloid autobiographical bent of the lyrics, this is just a hugely ingratiating, entertaining, and emotionally compelling album, real life divorce or not. It bums me out that some of the lesser songs on the album have been released as the last couple singles, but it also means that “It’s All Your Fault” and “Mean” are still gems waiting to be discovered by anyone that gives the whole record a chance.

88. Portastatic - Bright Ideas
(Merge Records, 2005)
One of these days, probably when I do one of these lists for the ‘90s, I’ll get into why I think Superchunk is maybe the best indie rock band of that decade. But in the meantime, I’ll just say that Mac’s music in this decade, mostly as Portastatic, also counts among some of the best post-’00s work of a gradually mellowing ‘90s rocker. If this were favorite songs of the ‘00s, “I Wanna Know Girls” would be very near the top, that track just kills me every time.

89. Rod Lee - Vol. 2: Operation Not Done Yet
(Club Kingz Records, 2002)
I spent a huge amount of time in the past decade listening to and writing about Baltimore club music, but it’s really hard to even begin to represent that in any way on a list like this, because as a genre it’s so driven by individual tracks, and most of the releases are either short EPs, or mix CDs that rarely hang together as cohesive albums. Still, if anyone consistently released club mixes in the past 10 years that actually hold together as a body of work, it’s Rod Lee and the seven volumes of his mix series. The first installment, 2001’s Operation: Start-Up, and this follow-up were among the first club music CDs I ever bought and got really into, and after Morphius Urban found some success with the nationally distributed release of 2005’s Vol. 5: The Official, they went back and reissued the first four volumes, including my favorite early installments. Lee is such a prolific producer that he’s practically the only guy in club music that can fill mix after mix with primarily his own tracks, and this set in particular features a highlight reel of some of his best jams from the beginning of the decade.

90. Twista - Kamikaze
(Atlantic Records, 2004)
It’s funny to think how this debuted at #1 a month before The College Dropout got shut out by Norah Jones and had to settle for #2. Especially since it was already clear at that point that Kanye was going for big capital I important and Twista was just this dude with a weird prodigous technical talent and a long-running regional fanbase who was finally getting his one big shot, which probably wouldn’t last (and didn’t). Still, it’s worth remembering that as much as this remains in the shadow of that other album with “Slow Jamz” on it, it’s a hugely enjoyable pop rap album with a lot of dark goth Midwest rap shit mixed in among the R&B and one of the most ferocious and underrated Ludacris collabs ever.

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 2)

Friday, October 23, 2009

91. System Of A Down - Mezmerize
(American/Columbia Records, 2005)
I don’t know if metal people consider this band metal because I am not a metal person, but I don’t really think of it that way either and this is pretty much the closest thing to metal you’ll find on this list (I might get into this in detail someday, but basically I think ‘70s hard rock and early metal are some of the greatest music in the world and 99% of the stuff that’s followed in its path has gotten it wrong and sucked out all the fun). But really, in my brain I categorize System Of A Down more alongside punk-derived bands like the Minutemen or the Dismemberment Plan, splatting out weird spastic jams with precise time signatures and big hooks, and this is their fastest, shortest and funniest album.

92. John Legend - Once Again
(G.O.O.D. Music/Sony, 2006)
Perhaps bolstered by the fact that the most minimal and old-fashioned single off of his debut, “Ordinary People,” turned out to be his big breakthrough hit, John Legend’s sophomore album boldly went further in an artsy fartsy direction, with multi-song suites, bossa nova and “Show Me,” a shockingly spot-on Jeff Buckley impression. And even though the more beat-driven tracks like the incredible “Another Again” and the soul-sampling productions by Kanye and friends never did much at radio, they at least anchored the album in something modern to make into more than just one eclectic retro exercise after another.

93. Carla Bozulich - Red Headed Stranger
(DiCristina Stair Builders, 2003)
Carla Bozulich was the first person arouse my interest in Willie Nelson’s 1975 epic Red Headed Stranger, when she covered the gorgeous “Hands On The Wheel” with her ‘90s band the Geraldine Fibbers. So once she got around to covering the entire album years later, I was a fan of the original and was really excited to see what she’d do with it, which was ultimately to turn the whole thing inside out, stretching it from 33 minutes to nearly an hour with long Nels Cline guitar explorations. And yet the basic character of the songs and the story is maintained remarkably well, to the point that it’s not surprising that Willie himself saw fit to make a cameo.

94. Petra Haden - Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out
(Bar/None, 2005)
What are the odds that two of my favorite albums of the last few years would be SoCal gal pals of Mike Watt covering decades-old classics? Pretty good, it turns out. Sell Out is far from my favorite Who album, but it’s perfect for this exercise, full of odd skits and interstitial radio bumpers for Haden to impersonate with her perfectly imperfect a cappella rendition of virtually every sound on the album. Her a cappella renditions of “Thriller” and “God Only Knows” are also essential listening.

95. 50 Cent - Get Rich Or Die Tryin’
(Shady/Aftermath/Interscope Records, 2003)
When this album first came out, I thought 50 was an extremely limited talent and overall pretty boring. Actually, I still think that, but I’ve come around to appreciate what he accomplished early in his career. If “Poor Lil Rich” and “What Up Gangsta” were singles, I’d put them on a singles list and be done with it, but uneven as this album is it still contains some of my favorite rap songs of the decade, and more or less deserves to be here. In 2003 you were the man, homie, what the fuck happened to you?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The children's albums that They Might Be Giants have been making in the last few years, have pretty much become more enjoyable than their 'regular' albums at this point. So my anticipation for the new Here Comes Science was pretty high, because I like the idea of them doing actual researched scientifically accurate songs, my wife is a scientist and I'm curious to hear what she thinks, and because, well, I'm a father now, so I might actually be able to use this record to teach some stuff to the little dude at some point. Unfortunately, Here Comes Science, as impressive as it is in packing information into almost every lyric, isn't really hitting my pleasure centers as far as actual songs and hooks as much as last year's Here Come The 123s, so I might be filing it away for a while until James is old enough to understand it.

Far and away, the highlight of the album is "Why Does The Sun Really Shine?", the hilarious fact-checked new answer song to their longtime live staple "Why Does The Sun Shine?" that I saw them play last year, so in a way it's both great to finally have that on record but disappointing that there's nothing quite as fun. Maybe if I'd bought a physical copy with the DVD I'd like that? "The Bloodmobile" is pretty hilarious, though, and I could see "Electric Car" getting stuck in my head. Maybe this stuff is more fun live -- presumably I'll get to find out sometime since I now have a reason to go to one of their family-oriented shows.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Buncha recent Singles Jukebox scores and blurbs:

Ryan Leslie – You’re Not My Girl [7/6.2]
Muse – Uprising [4/5.57]
Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind [6/6.83]
Alicia Keys – Doesn’t Mean Anything [6/4.33]
Keri Hilson – Slow Dance [7/6.09]
Mariah Carey – I Want To Know What Love Is [5/4.64]
Jordin Sparks – SOS (Let The Music Play) [2/4.85]
Kid Cudi ft. MGMT & Ratatat – Pursuit of Happiness [2/4.1]
Gucci Mane ft. Plies – Wasted [7/6.5]
Trick Daddy – Why They Jock [4/6.45]
Black Eyed Peas – Meet Me Halfway [3/4.64]
Death Cab for Cutie – Meet Me on the Equinox [4/4.25]
The-Dream – Sweat It Out [8/7.92]
T-Pain – Take Your Shirt Off [4/6]
Foo Fighters – Wheels [6/3.33]
Usher – Papers [7/5.14]
Britney Spears – 3 [3/6.06]

Narrowcast's Top 100 Albums of the Decade (Part 1)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

96. Trick Daddy - Book Of Thugs: Chapter AK Verse 47
(Slip-N-Slide Records/Atlantic, 2000)
One thing I’ve thought about a lot while looking back at the first few years of the decade is that the mainstream Southern rappers that emerged in that era are kind of a lost generation; by which I mean the guys that came after the Dungeon Fams and No Limits blazed the trail, but before the Lil Jons and Jeezys came along and got established in the pop pantheon with aggressively Southern aesthetics. Besides Ludacris, none of them had really sustained major success, and most of them were guys like Pastor Troy or Petey Pablo, who the industry wasn’t quite ready to let be themselves or sound too regional, and just got thrown in the studio with Timbaland or the Neptunes (even T.I.'s Pharrell-assisted debut befell that fate, before he started hitting hard with Toomp and David Banner beats). It’s in that context that I think Trick Daddy is kind of a remarkable figure -- Miami was a relatively untapped market before him, he didn’t need super producers to put him on, and he managed to sell millions and rack up a good number of hits without fully crossing over. Plus he just was, and is, a fucking dope rapper, with a great ear for expressive obscenity and killer flows, and back in 2000 he had a stable of producers and labelmates you’ve never heard of (Trina aside) that are ten times better than the Rick Ross/Plies/Runners-type hacks that have kept Slip-N-Slide a brand name in recent years.

97. Beauty Pill - The Unsustainable Lifestyle
(Dischord Records, 2004)
Chad Clark’s previous band Smart Went Crazy went out leaving me and a lot of people wanting more with the record they broke up immediately after, 1997’s roaring, incredible Con Art, and the seven year wait for his next band’s debut full-length felt like forever. The EPs in between were hearty breadcrumbs, and 2001’s The Cigarette Girl From The Future gave the indication that Beauty Pill was a more stylish, groove-driven affair with co-ed vocals and somewhat arch lyrical conceits. When the album eventually arrived, though, it felt at first underwhelming and then quietly staggering, with a subdued, almost washed out sound, cluttered and lethargic arrangements, and some of the most focused, determined and brilliant lyrics of Clark’s career. There’s so much going on in here, contemplating the third world (“The Mule On The Plane”), the impending collapse of the first world (“The Western Prayer”), race (“Won’t You Be Mine”), and the darkest corners of the human mind (“Terrible Things”) that are all layed out in such subtle, effective ways, never preachy or lecturing, that this album really cemented to me that Clark is one of the great thinkers of our time whose chosen medium is songwriting, imbuing even his sharpest barbs with compassion and humanity. That heart problems nearly killed him a couple years ago, and have kept Beauty Pill from releasing a follow-up yet, were kind of a scary wake up call to appreciate this guy as much as possible while he's still alive and kicking.

98. DJ Quik - Under Tha Influence
(Ark 21 Records, 2002)
Quik is one of those cats that I always knew made good music and heard great things about his records, but where I live you really never get much west coast music other than the big Dre stuff. So I never really delved into his music much until this year, when BlaQKout with Kurupt became one of my favorite albums of late, and it’s still really exciting to have someone with such a big brilliant back catalog to look forward to exploring. “Ev’ryday” is such an awesome beat, but really the whole thing has a great relaxed jam session vibe.

99. 112 - Part III
(Bad Boy Records/Arista/BMG, 2001)
I don’t even remember where I got this CD, I think my freshman year roommate, a kid from D.C. who had tons of Go-Go tapes, had it but didn’t really like it and let me have it. But it’s aged really well, and given the trajectory of both 112 and male vocal R&B groups in general since then, it’s kind of an anachronism now already. But it’s got three killer singles, Tim & Bob and Mario Winans doing their best budget Timbaland, a vicious Twista guest verse, quiet storm ballads beatjacking Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm” and written by R. Kelly, and one of the greatest Bad Boy intros of all time, with Diddy talking shit over a gnarly chop of the “Dead Wrong” drums.

100. The Blood Brothers - ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn
(V2 Records, 2003)
What a raving, squealing, brilliant mess this record is. Even though this album was probably the first I ever heard of the Blood Brothers and had heard good things about them and this record in particular for years, I ended up getting into it pretty recently in a kind of backwards way. I ended up loving an album by the post-Blood Brothers offshoot Jaguar Love and then finally working my way through their catalog, going through Young Machetes and Crimes before finally getting to this, which quickly became my favorite. I still haven’t really decoded all the stuff going on in the lyrics but in a way it’s just nice to know there’s all this weird subtext and take it in at once. The way “The Shame” builds up and disappears is probably one of the most riveting ending moments to any album this decade.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I have a review of Jason Urick's new album Husbands up on

Netflix Diary

Sunday, October 18, 2009
a) "Frisky Dingo," Season 1
I've been thinking lately about what the best TV shows of the decade were, and while I was working on a ballot for a message board poll, I figured being at home with a newborn would be a good time to go on Netflix and rent a bunch of recommended shows I thought I might like to pass some of the long nights. This one turned out to be a dud, though. I've always been kind of love/hate with Adult Swim stuff, I think they've got a couple great shows, a few occasionally enjoyable ones, and a lot of awful unfunny bullshit. "Sealab 2021" goes under occasionally enjoyable for me, so I was optimistic about this show from the same creators, and it's about as funny as that, but it doesn't lend itself well to watching episode after episode on a DVD. The weird chatty absurdity of the dialogue is funny in small doses but after a while it gets pretty annoying, and I'm so sick of seeing shitty Flash animation in TV cartoons. Plus a lot of the superhero/super villain satire stuff is done ten times better by "The Venture Bros."

b) "Wonderfalls"
One of the things about short-lived cancelled shows is that if there are enough talented people involved, you can kind of rest assured that most of them will go on to be in a lot of stuff afterwards (I mean, think about how many people got their start on something as unwatched as "Freaks & Geeks"). So it's kind of a bummer to see an incredibly entertaining show with a solid cast like "Wonderfalls" and know that, since it was cancelled 5 years ago, most of the people in it haven't done barely anything since, other than creator Bryan Fuller, and supporting actor Lee Pace, who Fuller put in one of his later series, the also great "Pushing Daisies." I'm really loving Fuller's whole aesthetic and ear for dialogue, which is maybe even snappier in this show and a little less starry-eyed and fairy tale in tone than "Pushing Daisies," which was admittedly at times a bit too cutesy.

c) "Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries"
I'm guessing if I keep going and get into the series it gets better, but I have to admit this really did not hook me much at all. After all the praise I feel like I owe it to myself to be patient and give it a fair shot, but it was just kinda there for me.

d) "Spaced"
As much as I love Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and kind of enjoy seeing where all those guys got their start and see how it foreshadowed what they would do later, this isn't nearly as consistently entertaining as what they did later. I'm starting to get into the kind of relaxed pace of the show and the odd rhythms of the dialogue, but honestly I probably like the movies more in part because they're more geared toward an international audience and this stuff might be a little too British for me to totally get, I always feel like there's little bits of cultural subtext going over my head aside from the more universal sci-fi nerd references.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

About a week and a half ago in the City Paper I had an article about one of Baltimore's longest running DIY venues, the Charm City Art Space, which recently had it's 1,000th show and is about to move down the street to a new location.

(photo by Jefferson Jackson Steele)

Monthly Report: September Albums

Friday, October 16, 2009
1. Lil Boosie - Superbad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz
Ever since Lil Boosie's first major label album, 2006's Bad Azz, I really thought he had the potential to build on his regional following and become a pretty big star, at least on the scale of, say, Jeezy. But, as I wrote a few months ago when posting about his mixtape Thug Passion, since his first album in 2006 "it almost feels like he's been avoiding making a new album or actively trying to ascend to the next level of stardom no matter how big his buzz is or how many great underground releases he drops." He kept guesting on uptempo songs like "Wipe Me Down" and "Rachet" and "Independent" that ended up being thought of as Boosie songs even though they were technically by other people, while never really seeming that interested in making radio hits himself. So it was kind of weird and depressing in the last few weeks for him to suddenly finally drop his long-promised second album without barely any kind of hit or mainstream buzz and get outsold by fucking Kid Cudi, and almost immediately afterward get a 1-2 year prison sentence, like all that waiting was just building to such a depressing anticlimax (although apparently he's got another album in the can ready to drop the moment his bid is over, so there's that to look forward to). But at the very least, Superbad is a pretty killer album and the almost complete lack of crossover bullshit is to its benefit. Really the only thing keeping it from being an ideal Boosie album is the many many shitty Trill Ent. guest spots that pad out a fairly concise 13-minute album to almost an hour.

2. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II
I'm not sure what I could say that I haven't before that could get my theoretical rap blogger credentials revoked, but my best bet would probably be to admit that I'm really not as huge a Wu Tang fan as most guys my age, and haven't heard a lot of their key '90s albums, including until recently Cuban Linx. But once I realized the sequel was out of Aftermath purgatory and actually coming out and might be good, I finally got around to hearing the original, and it's kind of cool to familiarize myself with both at about the same time and really appreciate how close he got to the vibe of the first one. I thought maybe if I put them both in a playlist on shuffle I might not be able to tell the difference, but there are enough guests and familiar singles on both that that didn't quite work, but really it's that the vocals are a lot more cleanly recorded on the new stuff.

3. Paramore - brand new eyes
As much as I loved Riot! at the time a couple years ago, it really hasn't stayed in consistent rotation alongside other haircut emo masterpieces like Fall Out Boy and Say Anything's last albums since then, and going back to it more recently I wasn't feeling it as much. So I don't know if this will be the same way and be a lot less fun after the buzz of newness wears off, but right now this is a really enjoyable and affecting album. "The Only Exception" is so gorgeously lilting that even when I think about what a perfect crossover song it would be I just end up not caring and just swaying and loving the song, and "Looking Up" is kind of an awesomely inspiring litttle almost-broke-up-but-didn't referendum that comes off like a more hard won version of the triumphant "Born For This" from the last album.

4. The Entrance Band - The Entrance Band
I saw these guys open for Sonic Youth over the summer, and was surprised how much I liked them given that the whole pyschedelic indie revival thing is really not my scene at all. But they've got a good strong power trio dynamic here with melodic basslines and propulsive drumming that kind of overcomes the fact that the vocals aren't great and the guitar playing is kinda standard. It's funny how every reviewer seems weirded out by how earnest and sincere "M.L.K." is, as if they've never rocked out to "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" or would find it distasteful that a contemporary band could do something with a similar sentiment.

5. Beanie Sigel - Broad Street Bully
An undeniably minor but competent and aesthetically committed Beanie record ending up more enjoyable than a big deal Jay-Z album released around the same time might be surprising if the same thing hadn't already happened in late 2007. The dubious rise of Young Chris as a supposedly estimable mixtape rapper aside, the resurrection of State Prop in '09 has been really fun lately, because these guys were never really very accessible to the mainstream to begin with so there's no weird illusions about them crawling their way back, they're just making the same grim and grimy music they always have on a smaller budget. The bitterness on "Run To The Roc" is probably a little misplaced, though: the members of SP collectively got to release 10 albums on Def Jam over the space of 8 years without a single one going platinum (and only one going gold). Patronage like that is practically unheard of these days, and it can't last forever. It's not like Bleek is dropping an album on Roc Nation either!

Friday, October 02, 2009
Hi internet! My wife Jennifer gave birth to our first son, James, on Thursday afternoon. The whole family's doing good, coming home from the hospital this weekend and taking it easy. So I probably won't post here or anything for a good while, but friends and fam, you know how to reach me.