Saturday, April 30, 2011

I wrote about The Black Sunn & 810's video for "DMV (Everyone Knows)" for the City Paper's Noise blog.

Singles of the '00s, Part 6: Pop

Monday, April 25, 2011
In the last few months of 2010, I did the first five installments in this series, about rap/R&B crossover, rock, southern rap, R&B, and non-southern rap. And I meant to finish the series back then, but I got caught up in all the end-of-year stuff and here we are months and months later. But this will probably be the last of it all (I might still do a decade in remixes piece, and I'd love to do a country list and maybe a dancehall list or a mainstream dance music list, but haven't listened to those genres consistently enough to compile something like that on my own). And I think it's good to finish with plain old "pop," since it's kind of always been ostensibly a broad tent but is really this vague genre defined by exclusions, anything that's popular that doesn't comfortably fit into any existing genre. A lot of stuff here is vaguely R&B or rock or dance or rap, but not enough to appeal much to the core fans or radio formats for those genres, so it's kind of this weird spillover area; I deliberately saved it for last to kind of catch anything that I couldn't justify fitting into one of the other lists.

If these lists had subtitles, this one would be "where the white girls are," since all the others are dominated by men and/or minorities, but 38 of the 50 artists here are white female solo artists or groups that include white females. My tastes in pop, particularly recently, run a little toward the pop/rock adult contemporary stuff, so much that I thought about just doing a separate AC list, but I think that'd just be too much hairsplitting over blurry distinctions. There's been a nice rise in critical writing about pop over the past decade, and I run in some of those circles, particularly on The Singles Jukebox, but sometimes I feel like the writing about this kind of music too easily goes in one extreme or another, either emulating the squealing excitement of a teenage girl or trying to treat pop singers with the overserious reverence reserved for Bob Dylan-type singer/songwriters. I've only heard the parent albums of at most 10 of the songs on this list, and I kinda wish I was a little more deeply invested in this stuff, but at the same time I think it's good to experience this kind of music on a visceral surface level, in some ways that's how it's designed anyway. As with the other lists in this series, I'll be posting each of the 50 songs one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day, and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. N Sync - "Pop" (2001)
#19 Hot 100, #5 Top 40 Mainstream, #23 Rhythmic Top 40

I kind of hesitated to put this song on the list at all, because while I do like it, I prefer both the Europop of "Tearin' Up My Heart" (not eligible here because it's from the '90s) and the soulful slow jam "Gone" (not eligible here because it appeared on my R&B list). And there is something about this song's genre-conscious meta that has a sad little tinge of innocence lost for me, because I think one of the strengths of pop as a genre is that it doesn't consider itself a genre unto itself as much as most other types of music. Still, this is a pretty enjoyable song.

49. Kelly Clarkson - "Walk Away" (2006)
#12 Hot 100, #6 Pop 100, #3 Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks

Most of the bigger artists here released albums at their peak that were groomed to be blockbusters with huge learlong campaigns of multiple smash hits, and Kelly Clarkson's second album Breakaway is one of 6 albums that has multiple singles on the list. It's also one of only 2 albums here that has 3 singles on the list, and while "Walk Away" was the last song off Breakway to get a video and was a relatively minor hit as its long hit parade petered out, it was always one of my favorites. And the fact that Kara DioGuardo actually wrote a single this good for an "American Idol" alum means I tolerated her at the "Idol" judges table way more than most people, even if she was admittedly kind of lousy as a television personality.

48. Fergie - "Clumsy" (2007)
#5 Hot 100, #2 Pop 100, #89 Hot Hip Hop/R&B Songs

"Clumsy," like "Walk Away," is a great song that was a sizeable hit that nonetheless will forever seem minor by virtue of coming at the end of the singles cycle of a megaselling album with several even bigger hits. And that's especially a shame because it has a certain coy, subtle charm that Fergie's more overtly modern earlier hits, as much as I like them, simply don't have.

47. John Mayer - "Daughters" (2004)
#19 Hot 100, #2 Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks, #1 Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks

John Mayer has become the most successful sensitive guy singer/songwriter of his generation, even as it's become increasingly apparent throughout his career that he's got a raunchy sense of humor and is kind of douchey in his personal life. But for some reason I think that makes his ability to write a song as effective and heartstring-tugging as "Daughters" all the more impressive. I really think this song is sincere and kind of poignant, while at the same time I respect Mayer for being able to smile at MTV cameras while in the studio with Kanye West, around the time this song won a Grammy, and say "that's right, go back and listen to 'Daughters,' bitches" after bragging about how much his watch cost.

46. Pink - "U + Ur Hand" (2006)
#9 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100

"U + Ur Hand" is one of many uptempo, guitar-driven female pop anthems produced by Dr. Luke that steadily rained upon the charts in the wake of Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway, but it's probably the one that best captures the sneering, sassy vintage girl rock of the heyday of Pat Benatar and Joan Jett that I love so much.

45. Christina Aguilera - “Fighter” (2003)
#20 Hot 100

A couple years before the aforementioned Dr. Luke wave of female pop singers doing rock anthems, Xtina's schizophrenically scattershot singles campaign for Stripped included a killer guitar-driven track that's stylistically barely distinguishable from the Evancescence hits then tearing up the rock charts, and was surprisingly produced by Scott Storch, better known for a lot of prim, ornate string and piano arrangements on countless hip hop hits. A metal band called Zuul that I played drums for around 2003-2004 did a pretty kickass cover of this song (our strangely pop-heavy repertoire also included "I Think We're Alone Now," "We've Got The Beat," "Rebel Yell," an Enrique Iglesias song, and another Stripped hit, "Beautiful").

44. Vanessa Hudgens - "Come Back To Me" (2006)
#55 Hot 100, #18 Pop 100

High School Musical was briefly one of the biggest and most profitable phenomenons in the last decade of Disney-fueled and/or youth-oriented pop music (which often gets discussed as "teenpop" but I think I can at most stomach to refer to as "teen pop"). But the success of that franchise was generally measured in terms of box office, TV ratings, and album sales, which singles from the movies and the various stars they launched achieving only small pockets of airplay or iTunes-boosted chart action. But Vanessa Hudgens, of leaked noodz fame, had a couple really enjoyable semi-hits, including this one sampling the Player classic "Baby Come Back."

43. The Veronicas - "Untouched" (2008)
#17 Hot 100, #17 Pop 100

After a few okay near-misses with Dr. Luke on their debut album, these Australian twins finally landed a major U.S. hit with a song that felt both kind of unusual in the context of the charts and like it totally belonged on the radio by sheer force of its hooks, a big dramatic violin riff seesawing over a dance beat and an intense chorus full of nervous momentum that suddenly drops out as the sisters almost whisper the title over those strings. Shame the verses are total garbage, but it almost doesn't matter, as good as the rest of the song is.

42. Dido - "White Flag" (2003)
#18 Hot 100, #19 Pop 100, #2 Adult Contemporary Tracks, #4 Adult Pop Songs

Some songs I very strongly associate with a time and place. Since for most of the decade the radio stations programmed in my car were all rock and hip hop/R&B stations, a lot of the songs on this list evoke some time when I happened to be somewhere that played a top 40 or adult contemporary station a lot. I worked a shitty job at a sub shop for a while in college, and mostly I'd work at night when we'd have a rock station on, but on the occasional breakfast shift the ladies working in the morning kept it on the Hot AC station, and after the course of those shifts I realized I totally love "White Flag" and think it's a massively catchy and kind of touching song. And I'm pretty sure if I didn't work those breakfast shifts I'd just think of this as another song by that chick from the stupid Eminem song.

41. Nelly Furtado - "Powerless (Say What You Want)" (2003)
#16 Adult Pop Songs, #5 Hot Dance Club Songs

The sound and persona that Nelly Furtado became famous with, as kind of a Canadian hippie earth mama pop diva, was always kind of unusual and likable, and I thought it was kind of sad that she successfully revived her career with some kind of cynically generic Timbaland club bangers that really rang hollow to her personality and vocal style (in my opinion -- I realize a lot of people would disagree about the Loose hits). And the worst part was that her second flopped so hard with a kind of ballsy lead single like "Powerless," which marries a weird funky banjo loop to confrontational lyrics like "Paint my face in your magazines/ Make it look whiter than it seems/ Paint me over with your dreams/ Shove away my ethnicity."

40. Dream - “He Loves U Not” (2000)
#2 Hot 100, #3 Top 40 Mainstream

One of the more arbitrary quirks of the late '90s/early '00s teen pop explosion was the dichotomy that emerged between boy bands and female singers -- the most successful male singers tended to be in groups and the most successful females tended to be solo acts. And so the most significant attempt to break the pattern in that era was pop rap hit factory Bad Boy Entertainment's girl group experiment, Dream (kind of a forerunner to Bad Boy's later "Making The Band" girl group, Danity Kane), which managed one big hit before disappearing into the ether.

39. The Jonas Brothers - "Lovebug" (2008)
#49 Hot 100, #37 Pop 100

Teenage superstars are perhaps the #1 eternal renewable resource forever keeping the music industry in business , but they're not all created equal, something that's come into stark relief in recent years as hugely popular pop phenomenons like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber have utterly failed to make a song as enduring as even, say, "I Want It That Way." The Jonases totally belong in that category, too, especially now that they've already obviously peaked, but I did really like this song.

38. Feist - "1, 2, 3, 4" (2007)
#8 Hot 100, #10 Pop 100, #30 Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks

The past decade saw a lot of indie acts puncture mainstream consciousness, often via things like movie trailers and iTunes commercials, and sometimes they'd win tons of fans and sell an impressive number of albums without ever making much noise on the rock charts. That was often because their light rock or folk sound was more suited to pop and adult contemporary stations, which can be even more conservative than rock formats. But Feist's "1, 2, 3, 4" was one time when its iTunes ad-driven chart boost was able to get it right onto the Hot AC formats it belonged on, and I don't mean that as an insult; it's a really nice, pretty song that I enjoy listening to in the same way I enjoy a lot of other, much less 'indie' songs on this list.

37. Paris Hilton - "Nothing In This World" (2006)
#89 Pop 100, #12 Hot Dance Club Play

People who are famous for something other than music, even if nobody's sure what that something exactly is, will always face some (probably deserved) cynicism when they seem to decide apropos of nothing that they'd like to try their hand at pop stardom. It's probably a victory for pop music that Paris Hilton's album was a bomb, but this song, one of Dr. Luke's early attempts at the kind of midtempo glide later perfected on "Teenage Dream," was pretty nice.

36. Ricky Martin - “She Bangs” (2000)
#12 Hot 100, #8 Pop Songs, #24 Adult Pop Songs

Four years after "She Bangs" was released as the less successful follow-up to Ricky Martin's big American breakthrough, William Hung's "American Idol" audition cemented it as a comedy classic. But honestly, I thought it was pretty memorably hilarious to begin with.

35. Kelly Clarkson - “Miss Independent” (2003)
#9 Hot 100, #1 Top 40 Mainstream, #14 Adult Top 40

The first actual good on purpose song vaulted into American consciousness by "Idol" was not "A Moment Like This," the first annual ballad-in-a-box the show's producers would present readymade to the show's elected winner as their debut single. Instead, season one winner Kelly Clarkson foreshadowed the greatness she'd grow into on her second album with this lighthearted little charmer that was the first non-"Moment" single from her solo career.

34. Ashlee Simpson - "La La" (2004)
#86 Hot 100, #6 Hot Dance Club Play

Jessica Simpson is the single most worthless pop star of her generation, one whose fairly estimable fame never once translated to a single good, memorable pop hit ("Public Affair" came close but I remember the pleasantness of its brazen '80s Madonna rip more than the actual tune). Her sister's career was better, but not by a very sizeable margin; mainly I liked this goofy uptempo number.

33. Avril Lavigne - "Sk8er Boi" (2002)
#10 Hot 100, #1 Mainstream Top 40 Tracks

For some reason this song kind of passed me by when it was first released, I loved "Complicated" and "I'm With You" but it took a few years for me to realize that "Sk8er Boi" has a great verse melody and that its peppy approximation of pop-punk, while toothless, is a nice change of pace from the more midtempo songs she does so well. Avril is one of many '00s female pop stars in the template established in the '90s by Alanis Morrissette: girl rejects her label's desire for slick, celebratory dance-pop in favor of slick, confessional pop/rock and is embraced as a rebel while still selling boatloads of records (see also: Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Ashlee Simpson).

32. John Mayer - "Clarity" (2004)
#13 Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks

It's weird to find myself in the position of trying to rehabilate the critical reputation of John Mayer, which is pretty much a lost cause and probably not worth the effort, but I really feel like if people knew him for subtle, smartly arranged songs like "Clarity" instead of goofy bullshit like "Your Body Is A Wonderland" he'd at least get a little respect.

31. Pink - "So What" (2008)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #1 Adult Pop Songs

"So What" is Pink at her most obnoxious and scenery-chewing, but the tear-streaked defiance of her uptempo #1 smash, written during a brief breakup from the love of her life, always kind of gets to me, somehow each time the chorus comes around it sounds a little sadder and more in denial.

30. Fergie f/ - "Fergalicious" (2006)
#2 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100

"My Humps" was kind of guilty pleasure in that half the fun was in how shamelessly ridiculous it was. Here, the half of BEP people care about further refine its goofy girl rap into something closer to actually out-and-out good, although still plenty ridiculous.

29. Norah Jones - "Sunrise" (2004)
#26 Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks, #18 Adult Top 40

"Sunrise" is the first single from Norah Jones's follow-up to her first giant blockbuster album, and instead of going back to the well of cocktail jazz piano balladry of "Don't Know Why" she made this strange, betwitching little song that I'm not sure exactly how to describe but it just makes me happy every time I hear it.

28. The Pussycat Dolls f/ Snoop Dogg - "Buttons" (2006)
#3 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #1 Hot Dance Club Songs

When this song was released 5 years ago, produced by Polow Da Don and featuring Snoop Dogg and sung by a multi-racial group, I wasn't sure whether to classify it as strictly pop or also R&B. The Pussycat Dolls are definitely a pop group in my mind and I didn't hear them much at all on urban radio (although this song did sneak into some DJ mixes). 5 years later, as Snoop guests on Katy Perry songs and there's an increasingly prominent clubby wing of pop music that isn't really very urban at all, though, I'm more comfortable classifying this, or Fergie, as pop.

27. No Doubt - "Hella Good" (2002)
#13 Hot 100, #3 Top 40 Mainstream, #1 Hot Dance Club Songs

I feel like the current pop climate of extreme hip hop/R&B influence kind of started, or at least had some seeds planted, back in 2001 when the Neptunes started producing Britney and 'N Sync. Contrary to popular opinion, they didn't produce "Hella Good" -- rather Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo co-wrote and played synths on the Nellee Hooper-produced track, which I assume has instrumentation re-recorded by the members of No Doubt using a Neptunes beat as the demo, like N.E.R.D.'s In Search Of (still, that makes Pharrell and Chad the only people who've had a hand in songs on all 6 of the lists in this series, so kudos to them). No Doubt's Rock Steady marked the moment where they loosened up and fully transitioned from a crossover alt-rock band to a straight-up pop act, which ended up being a better fit for them and set the stage for Gwen Stefani's solo career, which featured a lot more collaborations with rap producers and rappers, and kind of created the template that Fergie, the Pussycat Dolls, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha ran with.

26. Sugar Ray - "When It's Over" (2001)
#13 Hot 100, #7 Pop Songs, #2 Adult Top 40 Tracks

No Doubt's transiition from alt-rock band to pop band was kind of inevitable, since they had a hot blonde frontwoman and a friggin' horn section, but some bands, like Sugar Ray, kind of stumbled into that career arc when "Fly," which sounded completely different from their hard rock early singles, became their big breakthrough and they followed that song's template of breezy, wistful acoustic-guitar-and-breakbeat summer jams for their 3 other biggest hits. But let's face it, Mark "Frosted Tips" McGrath was never gonna be a serious rock star anyway, and he even ended up actually becoming a TV game show host, whereas David Lee Roth just joked about it. "When It's Over" was the last of these summery Sugar Ray hits and I know I'm in the minority for preferring it to "Fly," "Every Morning" and "Someday," but I really just think it's one of those perfect pop songs where it sounds more like it has 2 choruses than a verse/chorus structure.

25. The All-American Rejects - "Move Along" (2006)
#15 Hot 100, #12 Pop 100, #4 Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks

The All-American Rejects made a similar crossover move as Sugar Ray where they were initially successful on rock radio, then got more action on the pop/adult contemporary formats. Oddly, their second album Move Along was the only one that got zero rock play, despite the fact that "Dirty Little Secret" and the title track are much more uptempo rock tunes than, say, the later Modern Rock hit "Gives You Hell." This is probably the only song on this list I play air drums to.

24. Demi Lovato - “Don’t Forget” (2009)
#41 Hot 100

This song was written by the Jonas Brothers, and is structurally pretty similar to their own song on this list, "Lovebug," but they're far from the only people that got on here by knowing when to milk a good formula, and I'm really just a sucker for songs like this that quietly build to a big explosive final chorus. The whole Don't Forget album is fantastic and was also on my list of top 100 albums of the decade, and it bums me out that Lovato's been going through a bad situation right now and her career's kind of stalling, she makes great music.

23. Katy Perry - "Hot N Cold" (2008)
#3 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #1 Adult Pop Songs

Now that she's been around a while and doesn't seem to be going anywhere, I'm getting kind of used to the pattern of Katy Perry alternately lobbing out awful pieces of shit and undeniably hooky pop jams in almost a perfect 50/50 ratio. But back when "Hot N Cold" dropped it was just kind of a shock that the "I Kissed A Girl" girl with the weird ridiculous idea of what 'singing' is supposed to sound like could actually stumble into a great song and not ruin it.

22. Kelly Clarkson - "Breakaway" (2004)
#6 Hot 100, #1 Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks

"Breakaway" was an outtake from Avril Lavigne's first album, and I can only imagine it didn't make the cut because of its obvious similarities to "I'm With You." And the way they handled it turned out really smart -- both are great songs that deservingly became hits, but Avril's feels like Avril's and Kelly's feels like Kelly's to the extent that people don't really compare them too often.

21. Jesse McCartney - “She’s No You” (2005)
#91 Hot 100, #41 Pop 100

This isn't McCartney's biggest hit (in fact, it's his 8th biggest hit) and he was kind of the moderately popular white teenpop dude at the exact halfway point in time between the rise of Timberlake and the rise of Bieber. But really, the kid has had some good songs and this one is just straight up gorgeous.

20. Natasha Bedingfield - "These Words" (2005)
#17 Hot 100, #9 Pop 100, #

Daniel Bedingfield's "Gotta Get Thru This" was kind of great and just barely got cut from this list at the last minute. But a few years later, Daniel's sister became an even bigger transatlantic star, at first launched by this bubbly, goofy little song. I actually loved the later U.K. single "I Wanna Have Your Babies" maybe even more and it broke my heart that it was never even released in the U.S.

19. Christina Aguilera - "What A Girl Wants" (2000)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #18 Hot Dance Club Songs

When Xtina debuted just a few months after Britney as "the other blonde," she was mainly differentiated from her competitor by her showboating vocal ability. But for me, the first run of Aguilera singles stands head and shoulders over the first few Spears singles not because of the vocals but because the busy, burbling third-generation Timabaland-biter productions on this and "Genie In A Bottle" and "Come On Over Baby" are just so much more appealing to me than the thudding leadfooted Max Martin tracks Britney was getting.

18. Fergie - "London Bridge" (2006)
#1 Hot 100, #4 Pop 100

Although I'd enjoyed the Black Eyed Peas slightly more once Fergie joined on a guilty pleasure level, I was really not prepared for how consistently great her solo work would be. I'm actually kind of annoyed that she keeps making BEP albums instead of a follow-up to The Dutchess.

17. Hilary Duff - "Come Clean" (2004)
#35 Hot 100, #9 Pop 100, #37 Adult Pop Songs

Hilary Duff has one of the blankest, most unappealing little child voices in the history of teen pop. But hey, this song is really dope.

16. Shakira f/ Alejandro Sanz - "La Tortura" (2005)
#23 Hot 100, #27 Pop Songs, #21 Hot Dance Club Songs

It blew my mind when Shakira came back from a long hiatus with a Spanish-language record that was so monumentally catchy that it became a top 40 pop hit in the U.S. without an English version. Then, she came out with "My Hips Don't Lie," which felt like a much more awkward and heavyhanded use of reggaeton influence with English lyrics and of course its huge success all but eclipsed "La Tortura," which was a real bummer for me.

15. John Mayer - “No Such Thing” (2002)
#13 Hot 100, # Pop 100, #11 Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks, #5 Hot Adult Top 40

Yes, this is the third and highest John Mayer song on this list. Seriously. You can stop reading now if you have a problem with that. Or keep reading since the Mayer stuff is done with, I guess.

14. Nelly Furtado - "I'm Like A Bird" (2000)
#9 Hot 100, #6 Mainstream Top 40, #5 Adult Pop Songs, #26 Adult Contemporary

This is a song that really grew on me over time -- back then I was kind of indifferent to it and vastly preferred the follow-up "Turn Off The Light." But over the years I've come to really love the vibe of the verses and have given into the big cheesy sway of the chorus and the weirdly poignant bridge.

13. N Sync - "Bye Bye Bye" (2000)
#4 Hot 100, #1 Top 40 Mainstream, #2 Top 40

The reason that N Sync are on this list and the Backstreet Boys are not is simply that they peaked later (i.e. "I Want It That Way" and "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" were in the '90s). But ultimately N Sync did have a pretty good run even before Justin went solo, and this song holds up well.

12. Pink - "Who Knew" (2006)
#9 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #4 Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks

This song is just gorgeous and heartbreaking, and it crushed me when it sunk like a stone on the charts when initially released. So it felt like a rare bit of pop chart vindication when it was re-released after the success of the follow-up "U + Ur Hand" and rocketed into the top 10.

11. Sara Bareilles - "Love Song" (2008)
#4 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #1 Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks

I'm a sucker for a good midtempo piano pop number, and this one just instantly wormed its way into my heart. There's something very inherently appealing about Bareilles's voice to me, and this is one of those songs where the bridge going back into the final chorus is just as good as pop songwriting gets for me.

10. Christina Aguilera - "Beautiful" (2003)
#2 Hot 100, #1 Top 40 Mainstream, #1 Adult Contemporary

After Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes fame was resurrected by Pink to become an unlikely hitmaker for the stars, she pissed off Pink by giving this megahit to one of her Non Non Blonde rivals. And in a way I'm just thankful that this song exists because Xtina is such a showbiz ham who you know would sing sappy ballads 24/7 if she could get away with it, and it's good that she has one actual great ballad to balance out all the turgid tuneless other ones she's released as singles.

9. Madonna - "Don’t Tell Me" (2001)
#4 Hot 100

After defining the '80s and doing better throughout the '90s than probably anyone could've expected, Madonna marched through the '00s with her disconcertingly muscular arms and kept a stiff upper lip no matter how good or bad her records got, or how tastefully uninspired even her "comebacks" were. "Don't Tell Me" doesn't evoke any classic sense of Madonna pop magic but it does feel like probably the last time she came out with something that had her unforced, self-assured mojo; she did a song that was neither clubby nor a ballad, with a vaguely trend-chasing glitchy beat, and wore a stupid goddamn cowboy hat in the video, and she pulled it all off beautifully.

8. Black Eyed Peas - “I Gotta Feeling” (2009)
#1 Hot 100, #18 Adult Contemporary

The alternating wistful, melodic hook and goofball chant, all over the same sproingy loop, was one of the most calculated and yet unique chart-toppers of the new milennium. And that's also kinda why it was also perhaps the biggest. I mean this thing is just a monster, the first time I heard it I felt kind of powerless to hit play over and over, and I'm still not really sick of it. This also finally totally cemented Black Eyed Peas as a pop group with some very minor vestiges of the rap group they'd started out as.

7. Avril Lavigne - "Complicated" (2002)
#2 Hot 100, #1 Mainstream Top 40 Tracks, #13 Adult Contemporary

I remember the summer of 2002 I was staying at my dad's house and he had a bunch of channels I didn't have like Much Music, and I saw this video by this ridiculous raccoon-eyed 'punk rock' girl wearing a wifebeater with a necktie, and I thought it was kind of hysterical how soft and jangly the song was, and how she was so Canadian that her name was Avril fer chrissakes. But I also liked the song, and kept looking forward to catching the video any other time I watched Much Music, and was weirdly happy when it crossed over to MTV and American radio soon after. Within a couple years Dr. Luke would make female-sung pop even more guitar-driven, the The Matrix's work with Avril signaled that shift first toward jangly riffs instead of clubby not-quite-R&B.

6. Britney Spears - "Toxic" (2004)
#9 Hot 100, #1 Top 40 Mainstream Tracks

Britney is on the short list of pop stars who became so hugely iconic that they were at some point pretty much synonymous with pop music itself. And she'd easily be the worst singles artist on that list. Of her early bombastic Max Martin hits, only "(You Drive Me Crazy)" would get anywhere near this list if it'd been released a few months later, and ever since then it's been a parade of subpar tracks from hip hop producers and desperate attempts to jump on various dance subgenre bandwagons. But it's not the music or the vision, but simply Britney's stupid duck cartoon voice that makes her merely mediocre tracks unbearable. This song is pretty dope, though.

5. Maroon 5 - "Makes Me Wonder" (2007)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #9 Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks

Maroon 5's first single "Harder To Breathe" was a moderate rock radio hit, but from that point forward they were entirely a pop phenomenon. The more R&B flavored hits from their debut like "This Love" always felt a little on the flimsy side to me, but when they returned for the follow-up they had a little more muscle and bass in their sound, much of it thanks to production from Dr. Dre right hand man Mike Elizondo. I had no idea the lyrics of "Makes Me Wonder" had any kind of political subtext about the war in Iraq until I read the song's Wikipedia entry just now, which in a weird way makes me like the song even more.

4. Lady Gaga - "Bad Romance" (2009)
#2 Hot 100, #1 Mainstream Top 40, #1 Hot Dance Club Songs

I came of age in the '90s, when most of the big popular music phenomenons, the real lightening rod kinds of artists that people talked passionately about, were hard rockers or gangsta rappers. And even when pop-qua-pop sort of came back toward the end of the decade, the megaselling teen stars never really captured that Michael/Madonna/Prince kind of zeitgeist across the board, except maybe until Justin pretty much rejected straight up pop in favor of R&B. So without being too hyperbolic about it, the way Gaga seemed to become the center of the universe right around the time "Bad Romance" dropped hadn't really been achieved by a pop singer in about 20 years, and it's kind of created a sea change in the new decade, even if the immediate result is simply goofballs like Ke$ha and Katy Perry being taken more seriously. I have mixed feelings about Gaga myself, but I totally understood why "Bad Romance" did what it did, that shit is incredible.

3. Vanessa Carlton - "A Thousand Miles" (2002)
#5 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #1 Adult Contemporary Tracks

Carlton's brief entrance into the pop charts came alongside the guitar-playing Michelle Branch, at a time when earnest young female singers playing instruments was rare enough to seem like a novelty. But man I really just hold this song so far above its other comparison poitns, it feels so big and perfect and majestic in this very twee touchy-feely way.

2. Kylie Minogue - "Love At First Sight" (2002)
#23 Hot 100, #1 US Hot Dance Club Songs

Kylie's had a really impressively long-running career as an international pop star, but the two very different moments that she was actually visible in the U.S. were for 1987's "Locomotion" and then 2001's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head." The afterglow of the latter's success paved the way for the follow-up single to do moderately well, and over the years I've realized I just kind of adore "Love At First Sight" in a way none of her other songs have ever hooked me. And I don't even wanna get into the thing about Ke$ha's "Don't Stop" sounding similar because even acknowledging that might make me enjoy this song less.

1. Kelly Clarkson - "Since U Been Gone" (2004)
#2 Hot 100, #1 Pop 100, #2 Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks

This song has a lot of baggage, both from the "American Idol" origins of its singer, to its sound and formula that writer/producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin have run into the ground in the years since, to the accusations of quasi-indie posturing with a guitar break that sounds vaguely like that one Yeah Yeah Yeahs song. But really it's just a fantastic song that hits so many different pleasure centers in my brain at once, most prominently the Pat Benatar model of a big belting female voice over a charging uptempo guitar song that has just enough polish and razzle dazzle to scan as more pop than rock.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I reviewed Cex's Evargreaz for

Friday, April 22, 2011

I've scarcely read a single positive review or comment about Soundgarden's Live On I-5, and I don't know if I necessarily disagree with the pans, or if I'm just coming from too much of a fanboy place with this record to not enjoy the hell out of it. Superunknown was a huge record for me when I was 12, and over time it's only grown in my esteem as maybe the best big blockbuster rock album of the past couple decades. And I didn't think Down On The Upside was as big a drop in quality as most people seem to, and their set at Lollapolooza in '96 totally blew my mind, so I've been really excited about both the prospect of seeing them live again and of hearing a live record from that tour.

I do hear the flaws on Live On I-5 -- Chris Cornell's voice strains in some unflattering ways and as much of a machine as Matt Cameron is, he's always had a penchant for awkward drum fills and live performances that kind of steamroll over some of the dynamics and subtleties of the studio recordings ("Head Down" being a prominent example here). But I'm not convinced that a live album from the Badmotorfinger era would be so much more perfect or anything, plus you get the same highlights you'd get from one of those shows here: Cameron's amazing "Jesus Christ Pose" intro and the crowd exploding when they launch into "Outshined." I also particularly like that they included the quiet Cornell solo "Black Hole Sun" they did at Lollapalooza, since that's their one song I'm just totally burnt out on and the further a live rendition can get from the studio recording the better.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I have an interview with The Bow-Legged Gorilla over on Splice Today.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I wrote an article in the Baltimore City Paper this week about OOH from the group Brown F.I.S.H. and his upcoming solo record and the great work he's doing with Baltimore public schools and non-profits.

(photo by Rarah)

TV Diary

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
a) "Happy Endings"
I enjoyed this show, kind of a generic sarcastic sitcom circa 2011 but some snappy writing. There's a huge watchability gap between the 3 girls in the cast, who are all really funny and/or hot, and the 3 guys, who are just kind of a drag.

b) "Sports Show With Norm MacDonald"
I was curious what kind of format this would take, since Norm has a pretty specific skill set and comedy style that only goes so far if you take him out of his element. Thankfully, this show is right in his element because it's basically Norm doing "Weekend Update" the way he used to but just with sports news.

c) "Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza"
I grew up watching reruns of the original Brit "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" on PBS, so it's always been kind of funny to see Drew Carey kind of turn the also enjoyable U.S. version into his own little improv franchise that he keeps spinning off into similar projects. This new show on the Game Show Network feels a little bit loose, maybe because it's really just a bunch of Vegas nightclub performances packaged as a show, but I miss a little bit of the format and organization of "Whose Line." In general it's just good to see guys like Ryan Stiles doing this stuff they do so well, though. I feel like there's a weird Single White Female thing going on where Drew Carey is looking more and more like Greg Proops, though.

d) "Breaking In"
Bret Harrison starred in 2 short-lived shows I really liked in the past few years ("The Loop" and "Reaper") and Christian Slater is also coming off 2 cancellations in a row, so this show doesn't seem to have great odds of survival. But I like it, it's kind of an action show but works well as a half hour sitcom because it's very fast paced and unabashedly silly.

e) "The Killing"
Since this show is being sold entirely on what a slow, gradually unfolding story it tells, it seems pointless to even say anything about it after just one episode. But so far, I like it, the cast and the look and the mood of the whole thing. I wasn't bored at all during the first 3 episodes, it never really felt like it was moving too slow or nothing was happening. It hasn't kept me on the edge of my seat per se, which I guess will only be a problem if it turns out I wasn't paying enough attention to something that turns out to be important to remember.

f) "Chaos"
The pilot of this was pretty promising, although it's been dumped into the wasteland of Friday night in the wasteland of April premieres so it seems almost pointless to form any attachment to such a doomed show.

g) "Body of Proof"
I vaguely liked this but probably not enough to watch more than one episode.

h) "Mildred Pierce"
My adoration for Kate Winslet is going a long way to getting me through this mini-series -- it's not bad at all and at times compelling but I'm not really feeling it. I appreciate that it was more faithful to the book and removed a lot of the sensational aspects of the old movie version, but the ending felt like such an anticlimactic little shrug that I kind of get why the movie changed the plot.

i) "Camelot"
The latest Starz costume drama isn't as campy and ridiculous as "Spartacus: Blood And Sand," or as well done and classy as HBO's costume dramas, but it's in kind of a mildly entertaining middle ground. The kid playing Arthur is really boring and Joseph Fiennes is cool as Merlin, but mainly Eva Green is super blazing hot and Claire Forlani is kind of a creepy-looking plastic surgery casualty.

j) "The Borgias"
Another period drama, and another one that promises lots of sex and intrigue, but man, the 2-part pilot just totally lost my interest very quickly.

k) "The Kennedys"
More cable historical drama, and this is just as garbage as everyone says, if not even worse. I tried to give Greg Kinnear the benefit of the doubt, but even he can't save this.

l) "Marcel's Quantum Kitchen"
The annoying dude from "Top Chef" with the pointy Wolverine hair has a weird science-themed cooking show on SyFy for some strange reason.

m) "Lights Out"
This show actually kind of grew on me after some initial skepticism, lot of great little performances by character actors, but the dialogue and plotting were always pretty heavyhanded, and the whole one season arc felt kind of complete without much elsewhere to go in the future that I wasn't disappointed at all by the cancellation.

n) "Bob's Burgers"
This show is growing on me more and more with every episode, so happy that it's been renewed for a second season.

o) "Hoppus On Music"
Fuse renamed this show from when it debuted last year as "A Different Spin with Mark Hoppus" but it's still pretty much the same show and it's still kind of one of the best music shows on TV, basically a variety show/talk show that's all about music. Hoppus is kind of goofy and I feel a little embarrassed for dude that he's pushing 40 with that pointy gelled up hairdo, but he is a good host and my old college acquaintance Amy Schumer is pretty consistently funny.

p) "Justified"
In the first season of "Justified," I enjoyed a lot of the one-off episodes of Raylan going after criminals but got kind of bored with the larger story arcs running through the season. In the second season, the opposite is kind of happen, as I'm kind of sitting through the baddie-of-the-week episodes impatiently waiting for the Bennett clan plot to heat up.

q) "American Idol"
I keep trying to get into this season, but I have a hard time caring about any of these singers, even if they're generally better than the last couple seasons. I was quizzed on how many of them I could name recently and I only got 2 (Casey and Pia). The new judges panel isn't as bad as I feared by I do miss Simon.

Monday, April 18, 2011
Some recent Singles Jukebox scores and blurbs:

Sick Puppies – Maybe [3/2.29]
Jennifer Hudson – Where You At [5/5.71]
Britney Spears – Till the World Ends [3/6.64]
The Black Keys – Howlin’ For You [3/5.11]
Jennifer Lopez ft. Pitbull – On the Floor [4/5.27]
Willow Smith – 21st Century Girl [2/4.36]
Foo Fighters – Rope [8/5.7]
Gorilla Zoe ft. Lil Jon – Twisted [5/3.57]
Jamie Foxx ft. Drake – Fall for Your Type [2/4.89]
Waka Flocka Flame ft. Kebo Gotti – Grove Street Party [8/5.86]
Katy Perry ft. Kanye West – E.T. [1/2.45]

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mike Watt's show at the Ottobar a couple weekends ago came right around the halfway point of his current tour promoting Hyphenated-Man, his fourth solo album. But the date of the show, April 1st, was especially significant for being the 53rd birthday of D. Boon, Watt's bandmate in the legendary '80s punk band the Minutemen who died in a van crash at the age of 27. D. Boon's memory has always loomed large over Watt's solo career, particularly Hyphenated-Man, which he wrote on Boon's old guitar and echoes the Minutemen tradition of dozens of minute-long songs crammed into one record. Even Watt's band for this album and tour are a Minutemen-esque power trio christened the Missingmen.

Like 1997's Contemplating The Engine Room and 2004's The Secondman's Middle Stand, Watt conceived Hyphenated-Man as a "punk rock opera," to be played as one continuous piece. So his entire set on Friday night was pretty much the whole album in its original running order, one into the next so seamlessly that the audience would often burst out in brief applause before realizing that, oh, Watt's already singing another song. The album is relentless to the point of being almost wearying, but the energy and physicality of Watt and his bandmates made his suite of songs inspired by Hieronymous Bosch paintings come alive as not just an intellectual exercise but a kickass punk rock show. Watt speaks in his own idiosyncratic vernacular that's impossible not to think in while watching his performance and inimitable physical presence: he doesn't play his instrument, he "works the bass," which he also calls a "thunder broom."

Guitarist Tom Watson, Watt's most frequent sideman on solo tours for over a decade, rose the occasion of his first studio collaboration with the bassist on Hyphenated-Man, and throughout Friday's set he proved a versatile foil. But the real engine of the Missingmen is drummer Raul Morales, a native of Watt's hometown of San Pedro, California with incredible power and stamina who blitzed his way through the mostly uptempo material but was able to stop on a dime and pull back for the occasional quiet moment. Appropriate to its title, "Stuffed-in-the-drum-man" was a showcase moment for Morales, as he switched between pummeling tom-tom rhythms and a halting snare drum cadence.

After the Missingmen finished the marathon Hyphenated-Man performance and took a brief break, they returned to the stage for an encore comprised mostly of Watson on lead vocals for several Minutemen songs, including "Toadies" and "Anxious Mo-Fo." Watt only sang a couple times on Minutemen tunes, once piping up on "The Glory of Man" when Watson forgot a few words, and then on "One Reporter's Opinion." The latter's lyrics are explicitly about Mike Watt, and the bassist, who'd been limping on a bad knee and wearing a brace on his leg over his jeans, pointed at the knee while hollering the lines "in his joints he feels life" and "pain is the toughest riddle." When the Missingmen finally reeled to a stop, Watt yelled out D. Boon's name (and, for reasons that were less clear, John Coltrane's name as well), held up a poster paying tribute to his fallen bandmate, and gave the inspirational spiel he often does at the end of shows: "Start your own band, write your own song!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I wrote a piece for Splice Today about the history of ironic catchphrases and the tricky double bind that entails. Are we having fun yet?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I wrote post on the City Paper's Noise blog about Skarr Akbar's new video for "Jackpot."

Monthly Report: March Albums

Monday, April 11, 2011

1. E-40 - Revenue Retrievin': Overtime Shift
I totally slept on the first two Revenue Retrievin' albums when they first dropped last year, mainly because my respect for E-40's unique style and lengthy career has always exceeded my interest, and I only have one of his '90s albums, so checking out two new albums at the same time seemed like a big investment of my time. Then pretty much every rap fan whose opinion matters to me seemed to love those records, and he dropped a couple more so I decided to catch up on all four simultaneously, just mainlining this ridiculously overwhelming amount of music from one artist for the last few days. So far Day Shift is my favorite of the 2010 albums and Overtime Shift is my favorite of the 2011 ones, but those are just first impressions, don't know if that'll change. There are so many sonic pleasures in the production -- the stumbling left hand piano notes on "Drugs," the low fuzzy synth of "Hillside," and I'm starting to get into a groove of enjoying E-40's weird flows and slang like I hadn't as much before.

2. Parts & Labor - Constant Future
Parts & Labor are a band that just consistently hits a lot of pleasure centers in my brain, from squealy distorted synth textures to a thunderous, muscular rhythm section to big wind tunnel rock anthems, and so them not switching up a whole lot over the last few albums, even through lineup changes, is pretty much fine by me. I still have a hard time picking favorites out of their last 3 albums, so it may be a while before I have any idea how Constant Future compares to Stay Afraid or Receivers but it's definitely a worthy addition to the catalog. At the moment "Echo Chamber" feels like the standout banger.

3. J Mascis - Several Shades of Why
It's interesting to realize that this is the first time in a quarter century career that J Mascis has written and recorded a set of a acoustic songs -- his only previous acoustic record, 1996's Martin + Me, was a live recording full of Dinosaur Jr. tunes. It seems like such a natural fit for him, especially given how good a lot of the acoustic and/or downtempo moments are on various Dinosaur and J Mascis & The Fog albums. So I was surprised that I didn't love this off the bat, and that it felt a little too dry and lacking in atmosphere, but it's been growing on me, seems like a real slow burner.

4. E-40 - Revenue Retrievin': Graveyard Shift
I may not like this one as much as Overnight Shift but it's not a really wide gap in quality, the whole series is incredibly consistent. The beats on "43" and "Spooky" in particular are just killer.

5. Rich Boy - 12 Diamonds
Rich Boy's carving out an interesting and unlikely career as a mixtape rapper, ever since 2006's "Throw Some D's" and the ensuing 2007 self-titled album unflatteringly cast him as both a one hit wonder and the less interesting foil to super producer Polow Da Don. 2008's Bigger Than The Mayor was great and 2009's Kool-Aid, Kush & Convertibles was kind of a drag by comparison. And after I heard good things about this one and checked it out, it was kind of initially depressing to see that it featured a remix of the latter's super annoying title track. But overall there's some jams on here, Supa Villain is almost as well suited a producer for Rich Boy as Polow, and there's a great stretch of low key soulful beats in the second half with "Struggling" and "All I Know."

HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Watt - Hyphenated-Man
I already covered this album in this space in October 2010 when it was first released just in Japan, and put it on my 2010 year-end list, but in March it finally got a proper U.S. release. I feel like it'd be redundant to list it again, but if I were counting it, it'd definitely be #2 or #3 on this list.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

I wrote a review of the new Wye Oak album, Civilian, for

Movie Diary

Thursday, April 07, 2011
a) Don't You Forget About Me
I love John Hughes movies as much as anybody, but even before he passed away I was getting tired of people obsessing over and overrating them, and this documentary, which a bunch of amateur filmmaker fanboy types made shortly before his death, desperately trying to contact Hughes himself, is just kind of sad. There are some nice little interview moments with various cast members of his movies all those years later, but for the most part it's kind of pointless, and constantly oversimplifies his oeuvre as "teen movies" (and completely ignores perhaps his best movie, Planes, Trains & Automobiles). Easy A and the pilot episode of "Community" were much more fitting tributes to Hughes.

b) She's Out Of My League
I feel like you can kind of judge a comedy by how much it relies on the central premise for laughs or plot -- the best ones tend to have a lot of stuff going on with surprising jokes or plot tangents or supporting characters, things you don't expect based on the trailer. But the problem with a movie like She's Out Of My League is not just that the titular premise is kind of hackneyed and cheesy but that virtually every scene and every line of dialogue exists to establish and reinforce the concept that the girl is out of the guy's league. After a while I just felt bad for Jay Baruchel's character for being told the whole movie that him dating a hot chick is so implausible. Alice Eve is pretty hot, but I mean the whole thing is just overstated, and a decent supporting cast including T.J. Miller is more or less wasted.

c) Crazy Heart
This felt very much like The Wrestler, not just in that it features an impressive Oscar-nominated performance in which a journeyman actor plays an aging, down-on-his-luck entertainer, but in that the entire film seems to exist as kind of a flimsy framing device for that performance. There is kind of a plot and other characters and some conflict and development, it's just not terribly interesting, and it doesn't exactly succeed as a mood piece or a character sketch or a celebration of music or songwriting either. There is a sequence later in the movie involving a small child that really made my heart beat quicker as a parent and got me actually a little invested in the story for a few minutes.

d) A Single Man
This was just really dreary and sad, I guess, after a while I just could barely stand to pay attention to it.

e) City Island
I've never seen The Godfather Part III so it's kind of blowing my mind that one of Andy Garcia's first major roles was playing an Italian, because his accent in this movie, where he plays the patriarch of an Italian family in the Bronx, is so incredibly bad and forced and hokey I'm amazed it got onscreen. The movie itself is not bad, kind of a predictable dysfunctional dramedy about a family keeping all sorts of strange and quirky secrets from each other, but the cast besides Garcia is pretty strong and Alan Arkin has a hilarious scene-stealing appearance early on (that makes his absence from the rest of the movie all the more disappointing).

f) The Village Barbershop
As a fan of John Ratzenberger in "Cheers" and all those Pixar movies, it was intriguing in and of itself to see him as the star of a movie, especially a kind of small, grown up comedy/drama. And the dynamic between him and Shelly Cole in this movie is really unique and charming and drives the movie well, total underrated gem.

g) Man On Wire
I think one of the things that this movie got praised for -- telling a story decades in the past without a lot of footage of the event -- is also what frustrated me about it. I'm getting tired of seeing documentaries that fill in the blanks with a lot of stock footage or computer graphics or cheap reenactments. There are a lot of fascinating true stories out there and if they aren't actually filmed and/or filmable they're probably better off told in the form of a book or an article, if you ask me.

h) Bickford Shmeckler's Cool Ideas
I went into this with very low expectations, as it looked like yet another movie about a precociously brilliant college kid's courtship with a hot chick. But this hit some interesting notes and positioned the characters in some novel ways -- mainly that the hot chick, played by Olivia Wilde looking surprisingly good as a blonde, was kind of a goofy stoner who pursues the guy more than vice versa. Patrick Fugit is kind of the same brooding prodigy he played in Almost Famous, but the arc the character goes through isn't too predictable, overall I really enjoyed this even if it wasn't especially funny or anything.

i) Sugar Town
I feel like in my days of watching random movies on cable I've seen about a dozen different quirky indie dramedies from the late '90s and early '00s about the intersecting lives of aging Los Angeles bohemians. One wonders if there are just a lot of people in the lower rungs of the movie industry out in L.A. living like this and not realizing they're all making the same autobiographical movies. This one is kind of about the music industry and features acting performances by members of X and Duran Duran and is kind of amiable and entertaining with some beautiful women in the cast, so I wouldn't call this movie a total waste of time, but it is funny how it's kind of falling right into the pattern I've been noticing.

j) Notting Hill
My wife likes this movie and one day it came on TV and I have to admit I enjoyed it, pretty good romcom from a time when I consider the not especially consistent genre to be at a particular low point (let's call it the You've Got Mail<> era). But this is a nice little movie, with some fairly charming and affecting moments that are as much carried by the writing as the appeal of Roberts & Grant.

k) The Prophecy
Another favorite of the wife that she's always held up has her favorite Christopher Walken performance, so I was happy to finally see it. Didn't really hold my attention but had some pretty cool creepy moments.

l) April Fool's Day
Decided to watch this on April Fool's Day since it was available on demand. Not a bad '80s horror flick! I was kind of surprised by how filthy and explicit the language was, but it was cool since all the chicks in it were mad hot.

m) The Times of Harvey Milk
Almost every time Hollywood comes out with a big award season biopic or movie about some interesting chapter of history, I end up feeling like the actual story, told in a book or a documentary, would ultimately be a lot more entertaining and satisfying. And so I was more than happy to bypass seeing Sean Penn's Oscar bait and just watch this 1984 documentary about Harvey Milk, which really tells the story very compellingly and, toward the end, chillingly, just seeing the real footage. It was a little odd that it was narrated that Harvey Fierstein, though, like, they just wanted to get another famous gay Harvey involved?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

I previewed "I Don't Wanna Have To Make You Love Me," a song from the forthcoming album by Baltimore's White Life (Jon Ehrens of Art Department/Repelican/etc. fame), on the City Paper Noise blog.

Monthly Report: March Singles

Monday, April 04, 2011

1. Waka Flocka Flame f/ Kebo Gotti - "Grove St. Party"
It speaks to how enduring and almost cultlike the appeal of Flockaveli is that the album is spinning off its 4th hit single a good 6 months after the release date, which is rare enough for platinum rap albums these days and downright unheard of for one that isn't even halfway to going gold. And since I loved the album in spite of being kind of bored by its hits, this is the first single from the record I really like, and it's exciting to finally hear a slightly different, less monolithic kind of Lex Luger beat on the radio.

2. Rebecca Black - "Friday"
I wouldn't say I enjoy Waka Flocka Flame in an ironic so-bad-it's-good way like Rebecca Black's hugely popular internet meme, but I have to admit it made a certain kind of sense to put "Friday" next to "Grove St. Party": both feature vague, repetitive lyrics about partying that bore their way into your brain in spite or perhaps because of the vocalist's strangely charismatic lack of overt talent. I don't generally like putting funny web novelties in this singles column, but I did so last year with Insane Clown Posse's "MIracles" for the same reason: once you've watched it a few times and laughed your ass off, you get the song stuck in your head and end up kind of enjoying it on the same level as a lot of other kind of stupid (if much more competent) pop songs.

3. Miguel - "Sure Thing"
A lot of people really liked Miguel's first hit "All I Want Is You," but it felt kind of flat and unengaging to me. And this song also has a kind of flatness to it, but somehow sounds a lot more appealing to me; in a weird way it almost feels kind of thin and lo-fi, more like something I'd hear on an unsigned singer's MySpace page than on the radio, but it works for the song, and stands out more in the context of radio playlists.

4. Three Days Grace - "Lost In You"
Three Days Grace are probably the most ubiquitous band on mainstream rock radio that isn't really famous at all to anybody who doesn't listen to those stations, and pretty much every one of the band's 9 huge radio hits (which all charted in the top 5 of the Mainstream Rock chart) has been a shrill annoying screamfest. Now they've finally released a kind of mellower track that I actually really like, particularly the opening riff, and it's by far their least successful single to date. Figures.

5. Muse - "Undisclosed Desires"
It kind of amazes me sometimes how hard Muse rocked on earlier singles like "Hysteria" and "Knights of Cydonia," especially given how drab and monochromatic recent ones like "Uprising" and "Resistance" have been. The left turn into straight up synth pop on this song seems like my favorite direction for them to go in at this point, though, I love how shameless they are with the slap bass.

Friday, April 01, 2011

I wrote a column on Splice Today called Soul Punks And Rap Rockers, about Travis Barker and Patrick Stump branching out from pop-punk.