TV Diary

Wednesday, September 29, 2010
a) "Boardwalk Empire"
I love Steve Buscemi, but he's the exact kind of aging character actor who usually makes the jump to TV with something undignified like a "Law & Order" spinoff, so I'm really happy that he's the star of a hyped up prestigious HBO series. Not really sure how into this I am, though, it's definitely well made and there were some moments in the pilot that I really liked, but I'm not hooked on seeing this every week just yet, will have to stick it out and give it a chance.

b) "True Blood"
This definitely wasn't as good this year as it was last year, but the entertainment level is still pretty high with this show and there were some pretty fun moments and crazy scenes this season.

c) "Outlaw"
Watching Jimmy Smits and Jesse Bradford walk around in suits doing something noble and important makes this feel kind of like a bunch of deleted scenes from a later season of "The West Wing," but so far I kinda like this, if it doesn't get too stupid and/or boring and procedural, the turns the pilot took were entertaining enough.

d) "Big Lake"
A sitcom with Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz is an easy sell to me, but the first episode scared me off a little bit because it's one of those shows with a really jarring laugh track and obviously no actual studio audience. But Parnell has a great classic Parnell scumbag character and the writing is occasionally sharp, if also occasionally corny and obvious, and the lead is kinda weak.

e) "Undercovers"
This is kind of light and fluffy and not much of anything, when really spy shows should at least give you a little bit of plot twists and intrigue, but I'll probably watch it anyway because Gugu Mbatha-Raw is gorgeous.

f) "Dad Camp"
I like the kind of self help-y angle VH1 is taking with some of its shows these days, and this one was really interesting for me to watch as a new dad, because even though I think I'm pretty good at it, fatherhood is a crazy thing to get your head around and some of these guys just needed more help with it and I'm glad they got it. It's almost like "Tool Academy" if things had to become a little more serious because there were kids involved.

g) "Last Comic Standing"
This was really good this season, enjoyed the new host and new judging panel, and was glad they dropped the format of having the finalists live in a house together, that was dumb. It was frustrating that a lot of my favorites (including a dude from Baltimore named Jason Weems) got knocked out early and I didn't love the guy that won, but really the field was surprisingly strong this year and there wasn't really anyone I was actively rooting against. Although every year on this show there are a couple people that audition that I've already seen on TV a bunch of times, like Jim David and Jordan Carlos this year, and I'm like get off the damn stage, let someone who hasn't made it at all yet get a chance.

h) "The Green Room with Paul Provenza"
I really loved this show and wish there were more than just a few episodes of it, because it really is just a bunch of comics sitting around bullshitting totally uncensored, and puts all those other cheesy shows with 'panels' of comics politely riffing on current events to shame. It didn't quite live up to the first episode, though, some of the other groups of comics didn't quite gel, but man I hope this comes back for another season.

i) "Louie"
This sort of completed my trifecta of summer shows that made me think a lot about standup comedy, but I feel a lot more ambivalent about it. Louis C.K. is a brilliant, brilliant comic, and he's just not a particularly great director or storyteller or actor, so the clips of him doing standup in every episode so far outshined the really hit and miss, sometimes painful not-quite-a-sitcom-not-quite-a-sketch stuff that made up the bulk of the show, and there were times when I really hated it.

j) "The Pacific"
I still haven't seen "Band Of Brothers" but it seemed important that I sit down and watch this. And I dunno, as much as I totally feel that people should keep making WW2 movies and shows as much as they can while there are still living veterans around to help tell the stories and watch them, there really is a certain point at which it feels like it's all been done and even something with a relatively new angle like this kinda goes through all the motions, where these real lives and real stories are reduced to numbing war movie cliches, which is sad on a whole other level.

k) "Persons Unknown"
Of all the wannabe "Lost" shows floating around network schedules these days, I thought this had potential just for being a summer miniseries with the promise that "by the end of the summer, there will be answers" or whatever, so that they're pinned to coming up with a satisfying 13-episode arc. But really the story was so convoluted and useless that I just never got pulled into it and sometimes catching up OnDemand I'd start watching the same episode a 2nd time or skip ahead to the wrong one, and it'd take me a while to notice because I just didn't care enough to follow the story closely. I always like to see Alan Ruck getting work, though. There was a really hilarious scene where a cab driver pulled up to 2 characters in the middle of nowhere, and it was the cab driver from "How I Met Your Mother," that cracked me up.

l) "Futurama"
I'm not the biggest "Futurama" fan in the world (that would be my wife), but I was happy to see this come back and even though it's sometimes noticeable that their animation budget is smaller and I miss the really dazzling visuals they'd occasionally come up with, there were a couple of really brilliant episodes this season.

m) "Scoundrels"
This show was a real wash, although Virginia Madsen's still hot.

n) Kids In The Hall: Death Comes To Town"
I kinda gave up trying to watch this online after a couple episodes, so I'm glad IFC finally started airing it, it definitely started to hit its stride after a while, although it's by no means KITH at their very best.

o) "Hung"
The show was good this season, I still feel like I like this more than most people, but it's definitely not a great show and I feel like there's more they could be doing with these characters.

p) "Entourage"
This has of course been terrible for ages, and if it's more tolerable lately it's either a dead cat bounce or just relief that the end is near. One of those Sasha Grey episodes was definitely one of the worst in the series' history, though, and the Turtle plotline was just painfully tedious.

The 2010 Remix Report Card, Vol. 9

Sunday, September 26, 2010
"Bottoms Up (Remix)" by Trey Songz featuring Gucci Mane and Wiz Khalifa
A couple months ago Wiz Khalifa made his first appearance in this space on the remix to Rick Ross's "Super High," and while the guy has a ton of buzz and a big following and it's not that surprising to see him on this, it is kind of unusual for someone who hasn't had a major solo hit to start appearing on remixes to hits by big established artists -- Nicki Minaj kinda did that when she was on the cusp of stardom last year and the "5 Star Chick" remix hit before any of her own songs, but other than that there's not many precedents. Anyway I don't really see Wiz's appeal, the guy just has boring delivery and all the references to flying and planes wouldn't get on my nerves so much if he ever did something clever with it, Gucci really owns this track, nice beat changeup too.
Best Verse: Gucci Mane
Overall Grade: B

"Holding You Down (Going In Circles) (Remix)" by Jazmine Sullivan featuring Mary J. Blige and Swizz Beatz
The original "Holding You Down" mostly gets on my nerves and it's mainly because it already felt like a remix, in the sense that the vocal and the beat didn't feel like they fit together than well and as much as I like Missy's messy production style and constant ad libs on "Need U Bad" or Keyshia's "Let It Go," it just didn't work as well on this. So the actual remix had some potential at redeeming the song for me, especially with Swizz putting it together, but it's just so-so for me, wish he did more with chopping up the different beats and maybe got a guest rapper in the mix.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

Saturday, September 25, 2010

This week on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog I wrote a review of Superchunk's show at the 9:30 Club.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I reviewed the new Art Department record Paperwork/Birdwork on

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Baltimore City Paper’s annual Best Of Baltimore issue hit the streets today, and as usual I helped pick some of the best-ofs for the Arts and Entertainment section and wrote a few blurbs that appear in the issue:

Best Male MC: Los
Best Female MC: Si-Notes
Best Hip-Hop DJ: DJ Jabril
Best Live Band: Soul Cannon
Best Summer Jam: CJ Hilton - “We Can Get It In”
Best Solo Artist: Reina Williams
Best Radio Show For Local Music: Strictly Hip Hop

Some of the other music winners I'm happy about included Mobtown Studios, Labtekwon, Mania Music Group's producers, Supa DJ Big L, Murder Mark, and DJ Pierre, and in the readers poll, the Best Hip-Hop Act winners included the Get 'Em Mamis, A Cool Stick (who?), Rapdragons and Height With Friends, and some other hip hop winners and runner-ups include Shodekeh and 92Q.

(Si-Notes photo by Rarah)

Monthly Report: August Albums

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

1. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk
I’ve always liked Mark Lanegan’s voice and have been procrastinating about getting into the Screaming Trees for going on two decades now, enjoyed his solo album Bubblegum and his appearance on the UNKLE album a few months, but hadn’t heard his previous albums with Campbell, so this new one seemed like a good occasion to give their ongoing collaboration a shot. This has a great mood, great sound, especially stuff like the strings on “Come Undone,” it’s weird to think someone from Belle & Sebastian wrote these songs and knows what to do with a voice like his.

2. JP, Chrissie & The Fairground Boys - Fidelity!
Chrissie Hynde’s first album without the Pretenders ever is kind of a low key rootsy soul collaboration with some younger singer-songwriter guy she may or may not be in a relationship with. And while it’s not that different from the last Pretenders album Break Up The Concrete and this JP guy doesn’t add a whole lot of appeal, there is something really enjoyable and comfortable about the dynamic they have, kind of works similar to the Lanegan/Campbell record in terms of the male/female vocal interplay, except in this case it’s the woman’s voice that has all the gravity and gravitas. "If You Let Me" has a really classic Chrissie Hynde pre-chorus.

3. The Toadies - Feeler
Their debut Rubberneck was an underrated gem of mid-’90s major label alt-rock, and the Toadies have always been one of the sadder casualties of the point when the bottom dropped out of that market; their 2nd album was rejected by Interscope, and the banded ended up taking 7 years to get out an official follow-up to Rubberneck. So Feeler is their re-recorded new version of the album that was shelved over a decade ago, since the label actually still I guess owns and won’t release the old master recordings. In a way I’m not surprised the label shitcanned this, because there sure weren’t any potential hits on the level of “Possum Kingdom” on here (although “City Of Hate” and “Joey Let’s Go” are really catchy and would’ve made pretty good singles), but I hate the idea of any halfway worthwhile album just sitting on the shelf for so long, good on them for finally taking control of these songs again.

4. Squeeze - Spot The Difference
In a way, Squeeze are doing the same thing with Spot The Difference that the Toadies did with Feeler, re-recording old songs for an indie label because a major owns the masters to the original recordings. Except in Squeeze’s case, their old songs are all still in print, and they just want to own versions of their old hits, most likely for lucrative licensing deals next time an ad agency or a romantic comedy wants to use “Pulling Mussels (From A Shell)” or “Tempted” or something (in fact, I’m wondering if that recent eHarmony commercial with “If It’s Love” in it sparked this whole project). And while it’s easy to be cynical behind the motives for Spot The Difference, the fact that they went ahead and made these new recordings of their hits into an album makes it kind of an interesting intellectual exercise in and of itself, and I have to say they did a pretty impressive job of closely replicating tracks originally cut with different backing players and studios and instruments around 30 years ago. I saw them live a couple years ago, so I knew they can still pull off these songs onstage, but getting them down this well in the studio is a different question entirely. If they were really committed to recreating the old tracks, though, they should’ve dragged Elvis Costello over to redo those backup vocals I love on “Black Coffee In Bed.” But of course most of these songs are always a total blast to hear -- they do all but 2 songs from Singles - 45’s And Under, plus some later stuff like the great “Hourglass.”

5. Gucci Mane - Jewelry Selection
As 2010 goes on it’s quickly starting to feel like Gucci Mane is having about as productive a year as 2009 in terms of the quantity of his output, but overall it’s not quite as exciting. The mixtapes have been good, but not as good as The Burrprint 3 and the official album is on the way and not looking like it’ll be nearly as enjoyable as the last one. I think David Drake’s review of Jewelry Selection was onto something with the idea that this reclaims some of the goofy playfulness of his ‘09 stuff that Mr. Zone 6 was missing, although I don’t know if it’s necessarily better overall. But stuff like “Poltergeist” and “Vampires” is pretty entertaining.

Monthly Report: August Singles

Saturday, September 18, 2010

1. Ciara - "Speechless"
I didn't feel much of anything about Ciara doing a whole album written by The-Dream, although both have made songs I love I generally don't hold either in especially high regard, and I really really hated the semi-flop lead single "Ride." But man, this is pretty damn good.

2. John Mayer f/ Taylor Swift - “Half Of My Heart”
A few months ago in reference to “Heartbreak Warfare” I wrote: “Mayer usually gets me with one single per album, and I guess this is the one this time.” But I was wrong, because here’s another. It’s really a shame that Mayer’s been dropping some of his most emotionally affecting singles to date in a year when his public persona is all about saying goofy or embarrassing things and apologizing about them. Also as far as MOR balladeers go, Mayer writes way better songs than Swift.

3. David Guetta and Chris Willis f/ Fergie and LMFAO - "Getting Over You"
Amazingly LMFAO are the only people on this song that make me embarrassed about enjoying it or who I really wish didn't have careers right now, mainly because I loved "I Gotta Feeling" and I have no idea who Chris Willis is. But yeah, this is fun.

4. Trey Songz - “Already Taken”
Trey's had so many singles out in the last few months, from Ready leading right into the new album as well as guest spots, and when I interviewed him a few weeks ago I made a point to tell him that my favorite is this one from the last Step Up movie and I was pretty bummed at how it got totally got lost in the shuffle. This is a sweet little song with one of the more gentle, tuneful Polow Da Don productions in recent memory, and Trey gets his terrible “YUP” and "C'MON" ad libs (the latter of which I thought was "C'MERE" until Trey corrected me) out of the way right at the beginning of the song so that he can actually sing for the rest of it.

5. T-Pain f/ Rick Ross - "Rap Song"
It wasn't that long ago that it seemed like the entire pop music universe revolved around T-Pain, but "Blame It" aside the last 2 years have felt like one misstep after another, from the disappointing Thr33 Ringz and a lot of forgettable hooks to the terrible way he handled the Jay-Z "Death Of AutoTune" situation and him pretending to not release his latest album as a protest of low music sales after the first couple attempts at singles flopped. I hope this one takes off, though, this is the best thing he's done in a while.

A Look At BiMA 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I approached this year's first annual Baltimore Independent Music & Arts Festival with an odd mixture of anticipation and trepidation. It was essentially a reboot of the Baltimore Music Conference that had happened the last three years, and after witnessing the fiasco that was the 2008 BMC, I swore off ever attending the event again; more because I'd say nothing at all than have to write another scathing review. But when BMC’s Lisa Chaplin Suit got together with Morphius Records founder David Andler to try and make a fresh start with a new, but undoubtedly similar, event, it looked good enough to give another shot, and I'm happy to say it was.

The first night of BiMA, on Thursday, August 26th, I decided to venture to the Windup Space to see the Adam Hopkins Presents show, curated by 1/2 of the brain trust that puts together the Out Of Your Head improv nights that I wrote about in the Urbanite earlier this year. It was a pretty awesome show, and definitely not the kind of scene that would've ever been featured under the umbrella of the old BMC. Jerseyband, from New Jersey, natch, were this crazy avant garde goofball band with lots horns, skronky guitars, head-spinning time signatures, cross-dressing and bizarre spoken word interludes. And it was cool to finally see Hopkins's own steady band, Quartet Offensive, who on this night were an quintet, and sounded pretty great, even if it was hard to top Jerseyband. On an organizational note, the press pass Andler said would be waiting for me at the Windup was not there, or at least the guy working the door couldn't find a list with my name on it and made me pay, but I won't hold that against them since they straightened out on the second night. And as far as everything else I saw, it was a pretty well run festival.

On the second night, I mostly kept to the Windup again, but saw a lot more bands. The one playing when I got there was Avec, who for my money are one of the most underrated bands in Baltimore, and marry mathy time signatures and complex riffs to stirring, dramatic songcraft like noone since Shudder To Think. Their last album 2007's Lines, was my 77th favorite album of the last decade, but they haven't done much since then other than the occasional show and a new song for a benefit compilation that as far as I know hasn't come out yet. Their set at BiMA seemed to be all old songs, but that was OK since I love those songs, but since they were technically playing on a showcase for Birdnote Records, who didn't release any of their previous records, I hope that means they signed to the label and are working on something new. After Avec, Birdnote's best known band Thrushes played. I like Thrushes, saw them very early on and heard real growth with their latest album, Night Falls, earlier this year, but I gotta admit the shoegaze thing only holds so much interest for me. I like them best, though, when they remind me of Evol-era Sonic Youth, and apparently someone else thinks the same thing since a song from Evol played over the PA before their set.

Then I walked down the street to another Station North venue, the Hexagon, to see some of the showcase for the Beechfields, a label that's run by and has signed a lot of people I've known or run in the same social circles as over the years, although there's some bands on the label I'm not really familiar with. One band that I heard a bit of recently and was really intrigued by is Among Wolves, who apparently have one or maybe even two new albums dropping in the near future, and don't seem to play out too often. They play kinda twangy, midtempo rock, but just do it really fucking well with damn impressive songs, and their set that night was extremely loose and drunken, but just enough that it added to the charm of the music instead of detracting from it. The next band was Gary B & The Notions, a fun power pop act I interviewed a few months back, but hadn't seen live in a few years. And I gotta say, I've listened to their latest album a hell of a lot in the past year and it was great to finally hear those songs performed, and they really sound tighter and a little more muscular live than you might expect from the records. I watched a bit of the next band, Jason Dove's new ironic riff rock band Beard, and I dug what they were doing but kinda wanted to see what was going on back up at the Windup.

At the Windup, I wanted to once again test my theory that every band from North Carolina is good, and so far it continues to hold up. The Moaners were a kickass female guitar/drums duo with a great song about terriers, and Hammer No More The Fingers are a NC band that Gary B had told me about, and they really lived up to his praise, just really solid classic '90s-style indie rock, I gotta check out their albums sometime. I watched one more short set, from a local band called Sal Bando who played a release show for a new 7" and had a hilarious song called "Cocaine Werewolf," and by that point it was pretty late and I decided to call it a night. I thought about making it out to the third night or seeing some of the seminars, but that didn't happen, which is just as well since I ended up not getting to write up the even for anyone that would pay me for it and posting it here on my blog 3 weeks later.

Movie Diary

Sunday, September 12, 2010
a) Stan Helsing
It's interesting how now there are so many horror movie parodies that there's this whole spectrum, from the clever but still silly like Young Frankenstein or Shaun Of The Dead down to more overtly mornic stuff like Scary Movie 4 or Club Dread. This is decidedly on the latter end, I don't even know if it ever played in theaters, the closest thing to stars it has are Kenan Thompson and the legendarily large-breasted Diora Baird.

b) The Invention Of Lying
As much as I unexpectedly enjoyed Ghost Town, I wasn't sure I was optimistic about another Ricky Gervais movie vehicle being good, but this was fun. I liked that they stuck to the concept really hard to the concept and milked a lot of jokes out of the premise, even if some of them were a bit obvious, a lot of others were great and unexpected.

c) Deep In The Valley
A really goofy broad comedy with Chris Pratt from "Parks & Recration" as one of 2 dudes who get transported into a porno movie, was kind of fun but not especially funny.

d) Big Fan
It's easy to be cynical about comics taking 'serious' roles in 'dark' movies, but Patton Oswalt has always been kind of a brooding thoughtful guy even in his standup and really he's got the perfect vibe to play this character. It's not a perfect movie and sometimes it felt like they were just playing out the predictable beats of the story, but the ending being not quite what you expect redeemed a lot of that, at least for me.

e) The Final Destination
I've only watched these movies a little bit at a time, and this is the 3D one so it was really just for the entertainment value of seeing how ridiculously over the top they got with the death scenes, really some sick and tasteless shit for a fairly big movie franchise that isn't considered like on the same level as the Saw movies or whatever.
The Time Traveller's Wife
I am a huge sap and enjoyed this probably more than any grown man should admit to. But really, the sci-fi elements of this worked well, they put an interesting twist on the idea of time travel and exploited it to full emotional impact. Also I think I'll watch Rachel McAdams look all pretty and sad in almost anything.

f) Whatever Works
I feel like I complain about a recent Woody Allen movie every time I write one of these entries, but honestly I keep watching them hoping for the best and they keep getting worse and worse. I may be biased here since I think "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is mediocre and that Larry David shouldn't be allowed in front of a camera, but seriously, watching him try to do all these long monologues where's he's addressing the camera on some played out "breaking the fourth wall" shit. It's especially a shame because I actually like the philosophical bent of the screenplay and the heart in the humor, and the guy just can't carry it in the slightest, and to be honest Allen's direction is just as much a problem. I almost think he should start doing movies with Alan Alda again.

g) Zerophilia
A totally weird and charming high concept indie comedy about a guy who realizes he can morph into a girl. This is probably my favorite discovery in channel surfing lately, and the only bummer is that neither the writer/director nor most of the cast have done much in the 5 years since, which is a shame since you always hope something great and underrated like this leads to bigger and better things for everyone involved. It helps that there are like 5 female cast members in this who are ridiculously beautiful and/or crushworthy.

h) Mulholland Dr.
I'd been putting off seeing this for a long time because I've always loved Eraserhead but have been intimidated by a lot of David Lynch's body of work and haven't been sure where to go next, and thought I should see more of the '80s and '90s stuff before seeing this. But it was available OnDemand, and I was bored, so hey. And I dunno, obviously movies like this are a bit ineffable and hard to pin down on purpose, but I don't think I liked it really at all.

i) Suburbia
My friend Scott gave me some DVDs to watch a couple years ago and I hope he wasn't expecting to get them back anytime soon because they'd been kind of sitting around my apartment for a long long time unwatched, and I just recently finally sat down to watch one of them. This is I guess considered one of the first 'punk' movies but man it's kind of hilarious what a caricature it is of the punk scene, almost like it's meant to scare the straights on a Reefer Madness tip, and some seriously laughable acting. I like some of the music scenes, though, might need to check out some T.S.O.L. stuff.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I reviewed Pontiak's latest album Living on

Tuesday, September 07, 2010
An especially 5-heavy batch of Singles Jukebox scores from me this time around:

B.O.B. ft. Rivers Cuomo – Magic [1/4]
Usher – There Goes My Baby [5/6]
Usher ft. Pitbull – DJ Got Us Falling in Love [2/4.71]
Neon Trees – Animal [8/4.71]
K Michelle – I Just Can’t Do This [2/5.89]
Linkin Park – The Catalyst [5/4.08]
Sky Ferreira – One [5/6.31]
Freddie Gibbs – National Anthem (Fuck the World) [5/6.33]
Big Boi ft. Vonnegutt – Follow Us [5/6]
Kid Sister – Big ‘n’ Bad [2/5.67]

Saturday, September 04, 2010

My 2nd piece for the Baltimore Sun ran in yesterday's paper, and it's about the band Hot Hot Heat, who are playing the Ottobar tonight.