Monthly Report: May Singles

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

1. Melanie Fiona - "Gone And Never Coming Back"
It's bittersweet to realize how much you like a song just as it's started sliding down the charts. Fiona's one big hit "It Kills Me" never clicked with me, so I didn't make a point to really give her latest single a serious listen until recently, and realized both that I kind of love its theatrical bombast (the PR soundbyte describing her sound as "stadium soul" is actually pretty accurate!) and that it's had a pretty underwhelming radio performance (it already peaked at #37 on the R&B chart, compared to "It Kills Me" hitting #1). Here's hoping this great song gets a second wind.

2. Kelly Rowland f/ Lil Wayne - "Motivation"
I'm so completely sick of Lil Wayne's voice that it takes a lot for me to feature any song involving him in this space. I tend to listen to just the beginning and/or end of this song when it comes on the radio, and channel surf around the dial during his verse, although I still have to tend with his gross little vocal filtered backup singing on the chorus. But it's a great song even with him dragging it down, and I do kind of appreciate his presence just for helping a song by a perennial also-ran like Kelly become such a big radio hit.

3. Pitbull f/ Ne-Yo, AfroJack and Nayer - "Give Me Everything"
Pitbull and Ne-Yo are both guys that I like but feel peaked artistically very early in their careers, and have spend much of the last few years chasing trends and musican directions that have less and less appeal to me. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear them together on a song that's very much in spirit of each's recent work but so much more undeniable and ingratiating, with a big shameless housey hook that kind of accomplishes what Chris Brown's comparably bland "Beautiful People" seems to be trying for.

4. Hanson - "Give A Little"
I kind of like that these kids have grown up relatively unscathed and still making music with the same basic appeal as the stuff that briefly made them huge, in fact I enjoy their more recent singles more than I ever liked any of the Middle of Nowhere hits, and this might be my favorite to date, it's just so buoyant and joyous, if still unabashedly cheesy. Great little bluesy guitar hook, too. The Jonas Brothers better hope they can write songs this good in 10 years when nobody thinks they're cute anymore.

5. Black Eyed Peas - "Just Can't Get Enough"
I generally prefer solo Fergie to BEP, but I do have a soft spot for some of their more melodic pop-oriented singles like "I Gotta Feeling," "Don't Lie" or "Meet Me Halfway," and this fits nicely in that tradition, at least until that vaguely novel but mostly annoying "switchup" section. And yes, I kind of sequenced the last three songs here as "Give Me Everything," "Give A Little" and "Just Can't Get Enough" deliberately to amuse myself.

Netflix Diary

Saturday, May 28, 2011
a) Casino Jack
I wouldn't say I missed Kevin Spacey since at the peak of his career he was just ubiquitous and almost constantly choosing completely horrible movies. But I do think he's a generally talented guy and welcome screen presence, and this is kind of a nice return to form of the kind of slimey charismatic wheeler dealers he used to play all the time in the '90s, although it's a bit on the nose to have him playing a public villain like Jack Abramoff that way. Barry Pepper is starting to get really creepy looking.

b) Get Low
I really enjoyed this, great Duvall performance and surprisingly the first Bill Murray flick in a long time where he kind of has a little of that Stripes/Ghostbusters-era bullshit artist swagger.

c) Dinner For Schmucks
I feel like the broadness of the premise, and the title and the trailer, really scared off a lot of people that would otherwise love to see a movie with this cast. But really, this worked for me, it was goofy but had a lot of great bit parts and kind of held together surprisingly well plotwise in addition to all the silliness.

d) "30 Rock," Season 1
Since it's not in syndication yet, I haven't seen a lot of the early episodes of "30 Rock" since the first time they aired, like 4-5 years, so I thought it'd be fun to back and rewatch them now. And I'm kind of surprised by how poorly some of these have aged, mainly because the show is not necessarily way better but has just adopted a much tighter pace and a slightly sillier tone. Plus it was pretty disappointing that the Netflix DVDs don't come with commentary or any other bonuses.

e) "Jack of All Trades"
I rarely learn about anything from the "you might also like" pop-ups on Netflix, but I had no idea this show even existed until after I rented "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." Apparently about 10 years ago Bruce Campbell did a syndicated half hour show similar to "Brisco" in terms of historical satire, this time as an American trying to defeat Napoleon (to give you an idea of how loosely they're playing with history, when Napoleon does show up a few episodes in, he's played by Verne Troyer). It wa exec produced by Sam Raimi and while it's not as good as "Brisco," it's definitely similarly enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My biggest writing project of the past few months is finally done and out in the world: a feature article on musician Jon Ehrens in this week's issue of the Baltimore City Paper, and a lengthy companion piece on the City Paper's Noise blog that lists pretty much all of Jon's 30+ past and present bands and recording projects, including a 15-track streaming mixtape of songs from about half of those acts. I pored over 4 of 5 hours of Jon's music, much of it unreleased, and interviewed him, exchanged extensive e-mails and went to the release party for the White Life album earlier this month, and I hope the result is that I did this guy's talent justice and will get more people as excited about his music as I am, both the bands that I've written about before (White Life, The Art Department, and Repelican) and the lesser known bands covered in the blog post.

(photo by Jen Mizgata)

Monday, May 23, 2011
My latest Singles Jukebox scores and blurbs:

Mary J Blige ft. Diddy & Lil Wayne – Someone to Love Me (Naked) [4/5.25]
Miguel – Sure Thing [7/6.14]
The Cast of Glee – Loser Like Me [3/4.5]
Travis Porter – Bring It Back [7/5.78]
Lady Gaga – Judas [5/5.69]
Beyonce – Run the World (Girls) [2/5.85]
The Joy Formidable – Whirring [6/6.8]
Beastie Boys – Make Some Noise [3/4.44]
YC ft. Future – Racks [5/5.71]
Lloyd ft. Awesome Jones!!!! – Cupid [7/7]
Lil Wayne ft. Rick Ross – John (If I Die Today) [6/4.43]
Chris Brown ft. Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes – Look at Me Now [5/5.14]
Lemonade Mouth – Determinate [3/4.38]
Fantasia – Collard Greens & Cornbread [6/6]
Kelly Rowland ft. Lil Wayne – Motivation [7/6.12]*

I really scored "Sure Thing" too low, though, it's pretty much my favorite single of the year so far at this point.

* added to post on 6/5/2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Today the Village Voice site posted my 2nd installment of the Radio Hits One chart column, which I began writing 2 weeks ago. This week's column is primarily about how a barely famous band like Shinedown managed the rare feat of staying on the Billboard singles charts for 3 years straight with singles off of one album, but I would like to think it'd be an interesting read even for people who kind of roll their eyes when I cover lamestream radio rock.

Movie Diary

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
a) Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
I gave Edgar Wright the benefit of the doubt because his other movies are so entertaining, but I don't know if he could save a movie with a premise and star as unappealing to me as this. Michael Cera wasn't even so bad, although it was a little painful seeing him try to play slightly outside of the usual Cera archetype, and the supporting cast was pretty good. But the visual effects and the sense of humor just kinda fell flat for me, felt like a cheesy kids' show but with Canadian hipster in-jokes.

b) The Experiment
A fictionalized Stanford Prison Experiment movie with Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody, predictably dark and gritty but kind of just went through the predictable beats of the story without feeling shocking or interesting or anything.

c) Greenberg
I don't know why I watched this, I had a feeling it would bore and/or anger me, and it ultimately didn't do a lot of either but I also didn't enjoy it much. It felt like a fairly accurate character sketch of people that definitely do exist, but I wouldn't want to watch a movie about that person any more than I'd want to hang out with him.

d) It's Complicated
I gave into the allure of a cast as good as Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and Meryl Streep and watched a Nancy Meyers movie, and then kind of kicked myself like of course it wasn't good, what were you thinking. Baldwin and Streep carry it well enough, but it's really odd seeing Martin play a straight man, he's really wasted.

e) Saint John of Las Vegas
Steve Buscemi being kind of underwhelming as the headliner of a big deal cable drama like "Boardwalk Empire" has gotten me thinking about whether he can really care a project in the lead role or if he's the consummate character actor who's always better in a supporting capacity. Even though I've enjoyed several movies where he's been the star, like Ed And His Dead Mother and Trees Lounge, they're all kind of minor in a way that doesn't really contradict that theory, and this movie is no exception. It's a bit too 'darkly quirky' for its own good -- at one point Buscemi gives a lapdance to a stripper in a wheelchair -- but Romany Malco and a great cast of other character actors like Tim Blake Nelson, Peter Dinklage and Danny Trejo make it pretty good overall.

f) The Maiden Heist
Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy are all kind of overqualified to carry a slight caper comedy, but it's still a pretty enjoyable way to watch them work together.

g) The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans
I think I like batshit Nicolas Cage movies when they feel crazy by accident and the director doesn't have any crazy cred. This was alright but it felt like the Cageness was just being beamed at me at full power, it was a little overbearing.

h) Bottle Shock
Another little-seen dramedy from a couple years ago with a great cast headed by Alan Rickman that captured its mid-'70s California setting really well, aside from Chris Pine's bad hippie wig.

i) The Alphabet Killer
One of the duller and more unpleasant serial killer psychological thrillers I've ever seen, but honestly I'm happy to look at Eliza Dushku anytime and I was rewarded for my trouble with a brief but completely gratuitous (and frankly, impressive) topless scene.

j) Look
An entire movie shown from the POV of an array of surveillance cameras is a really clever and novel way to do something low budget, and I enjoyed the style exercise, but it felt like this went too broad a little too often and felt almost like a bad sketch comedy show at some point.

k) The Education of Charlie Banks
This movie probably never got a fair shake just because it was directed by Fred Durst and even the positive reactions seemed to be kind of like "surprisingly good for Fred Durst," but really this was quite good, despite some third act problems and it kind of feeling like a dry run for Social Network as a lesser Jesse Eisenberg college nerd story.

l) How To Rob A Bank
Another bad movie justified by a crush, this time on Erika Christensen, who unfortunately spent most of the movie in an unflattering black wig.

m) The Mayor of the Sunset Strip
I was suitably intrigued to watch a documentary on an L.A. music industry/radio vet I'd never heard of, and it ended up being more of a serious film than the puff piece I initially feared. But Rodney Bingenheimer is such a strange, creepy guy to watch for a couple hours that even though it ultimately made for a more interesting movie the guy ultimately just made my skin crawl (even more than friend/co-star Kim Fowley) and I couldn't wait for it to be over.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I wrote a lengthy rundown of all the shows canceled in the past year for Splice Today, called TV Cancellation Casualties In Memoriam.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I wrote about Ellis's "Bmore Boys/Oh Lord" video on City Paper's Noise blog.

Monthly Report: April Albums

Friday, May 13, 2011

1. The Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
A lot of the praise for this album centers on the analog recording method, the return of Grohl's Nirvana-era pals like Vig, Novaselic and Smear, and how crappy their previous few album supposedly were. But really I kind of love how workmanlike the Foo Fighters are and the last couple albums easily could've been this consistent if they weren't both 50% boring acoustic stuff. In any event I'm really enjoying this and like that I can kind of consume this as an album while knowing that almost any of these songs could be a big rock radio hit and several of them inevitably will be -- at the moment love "Arlandria," "A Matter of Time" and "Bridge Burning" the most.

2. DJ Quik - The Book of David
I love how even though this isn't as overtly outside the box as BlaQKout and hearkens back more overtly to Quik's classic '90s sound, it's still every bit a creative statement of individuality with inventive production and almost uncomfortably personal songwriting.

3. Fishboy - Classic Creeps
A few months ago I wrote about how Fishboy's 2007 album Albatross: How We Failed to Save the Lone Star State With The Power Of Rock And Roll was one of my favorite records of the last decade. Their latest lacks the epic scope and charmingly odd conceptual heft, but it has the same nerdy power pop sound and a bit of a concept involving a companion comic book and every song being named after a character whose name stars with the letter A. As you can tell, I don't really understand it all, but it's fun to listen to.

4. Superchunk - The Clambakes Vol. 5: Cup of Clams - Live at Cat's Cradle, October 2003
I'm of the relative minority among Superchunk fans in beliefs like that Here's Where The Strings Come In is far and away their best album and that a lot of their greatest songs are tucked away on later albums and their third rarities compilation, Cup of Sand. So it was like a special gift to me that for Record Store Day they released a remastered Strings that came with a free live album from the same Cup of Sand mini-tour where I saw the band for the 2nd time in 2003. It's really fun to hear rarely played non-album songs like "The Majestic" or "Becoming A Speck."

5. UNKLE - Only The Lonely EP
As with last year's Where Did The Night Fall album, I enjoy listening to new UNKLE material mainly to spot the influence of Baltimore's James Griffit (of Lake Trout and Big In Japan) on the proceedings. This is a nice little 5-song one-off that flows pretty well and includes a scenery-chewing turn by Nick Cave on the opening title track.

The 2011 Remix Report Card, Vol. 3

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
"Look At Her (Killin' 'Em Part 2)" by Fabolous featuring Ryan Leslie and Ne-Yo
I love the original "You Be Killin' 'Em" largely because of the beat and the hook, so I would've rather heard a few MCs drop new verses on that than the whole new track they put together for this, which is OK but ultimately kind of annoying.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C+

"S&M (Remix)" by Rihanna featuring J. Cole / "S&M (Remix)" by Rihanna featuring Britney Spears
The former dropped in January and was completely inessential, and then a few weeks ago the latter came out and was a nightmare. I'm not a big fan of the original but Rihanna at least musters an impressive snarl on the chorus and it's absolutely horrific to hear Britney attempt it.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: D / F

"Till The World Ends (Remix)" by Britney Spears featuring Nicki Minaj & Ke$ha
Another remix involving Britney of a song I didn't like much to begin with, but this one really has a lot of energy and kind of gets across what it felt like the original was going for, especially with one of Nicki's more gnarly and odd verses to date.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

TV Diary

Monday, May 09, 2011
a) "The Voice"
The whole time my wife and I watched the first episode of this, we were just constantly raving to each other about how this show is everything we wished "American Idol" was and how instantly more entertaining and engaging it is than the last few seasons of "Idol." So far I haven't even been especially bowled over by any of the singers' performances or found anyone to really root for, I'm just enjoying the general high level of talent and the novelty of the format and that the judges are all actual talented successful vocalists whose opinions actually mean something.

b) "Game of Thrones"
My wife is a big fan of the book series this is based on and her excitement is kind of infectious, but I find I can only remotely follow this show or take an interest in what's going on if she kind of provides a commentary track explaining what's going on and what it all means. And even then I'm not exactly on the edge of my seat, since half the cast is total dullsville. But Peter Dinklage is pretty consistently entertaining.

c) Cinema Verite
Really struggled to get into this HBO original movie, although really I think I just don't give a damn about the whole Loud family thing.

d) "The Paul Reiser Show"
I kind of feel like the last person left in 2011 who'd openly say y'know "Mad About You" was a pretty good show and I have no problem with Paul Reiser. His new show was not great, and definitely wasn't built to last, but I do feel bad that it got canned after only two episodes. The one I saw with Henry Rollins had some really funny moments, and the show had a nice comic rhythm that didn't at all feel like the mimicry of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" that the premise had a lot of people dismissing it as.

e) "Traffic Light"
This show felt kind of flat to me at first but it's really been growing on me, particularly with the "bonebag" episode and to a degree the one after that too.

f) "Treme"
So far the second season is as well-meaning but ultimately devoid of entertainment value as the first. The scenes with Davis and Annie being a couple are kind of charming, though.

g) "The Whitest Kids U' Know"
In some ways this show is a nadir of a certain post-"The State" (or, if I'm being generous, post-"Kids In The Hall") style of sketch show where broad comedy and silly comedy premises and bad sketch troupe acting are so relentlessly satirized that you often end up with something far more aggressively dumb that simple failed comedy would be. Now and then these guys do strike upon an honestly funny idea and execute it well, it's just rough going at times.

h) "Fraggle Rock"
My son is 19 months old now, so he's not quite at the age where we're really watching kids' shows or TV catered toward him yet. But I love that I can put on Hub and see some childrens' shows I grew up on, so now and again we put on "Fraggle Rock" and I get really nostalgic and sing the theme song to him. What a great show it was!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

This week the Village Voice music blog Sound of the City ran the first installment of my new chart column, Radio Hits One, which is all about how urban radio hits crossing over to the Hot 100 less and less than they used to. I'm really excited about it, since it's a topic that I've been wanting to write about for a while now, and this is also my first writing for the Voice (not counting my voter comments in this year's Pazz & Jop poll or my occasional anonymous participation in the "Are You Smarter Than A Rock Critic?" running feature. And for that I definitely thank the Voice's new music editor Maura Johnston, who I used to write this kind of stuff for when she ran Idolator, and she's got another chart expert from the Idolator days, Chris Molanphy, alternating his own column with mine every other week.

Monthly Report: April Singles

Friday, May 06, 2011

1. Adele - "Rolling In The Deep"
There are few types of acts I'm more reluctant to praise than MOR retro soul by young white British women, but I gotta give it up, this song is just fantastic. Duffy better not turn around and make something worthwhile, though.

2. Marsha Ambrosius - "Far Away"
The first time I really let this play out on the radio and get into it, I was like wow this song really goes on and on and keeps getting better -- apparently local stations are playing the whole 7-minute album version, not just the single edit. Wouldn't have guessed that Just Blaze produced this, but now knowing that I can kinda hear it.

3. Diddy-Dirty Money f/ Trey Songz - "Your Love"
I've been really loving the lingering Last Train To Paris afterglow of spinoff mixtapes and new videos and remixes for practically every song off the album still dropping and Mary J. using one as her new single. "Ass On The Floor" is one of the most recent tracks released as a single and while it's obviously great (although it's not my favorite off the album like it is for a lot of people), "Your Love" is predictably the one getting more spins right now, and I'm actually really enjoying hearing it in the context of radio. It just sounds more bold and arresting alongside all the other Trey Songz hits out right now than it does in the context of LTTP. And like "Far Away," it ends with a great bit of vocoder/talkbox vamping.

4. "Weird Al" Yankovic - "Perform This Way"
My reaction to this was a little muted at first, partly because I feel like Al kind of missed his chance at really capturing the zeitgeist by parodying one of the Fame/Fame Monster singles (for some reason it's just better when he tackles a phenomenon like Nirvana when they're just hitting the big time). But all in all I think this is pretty well done, my favorite part being the "W-H-I-M" line, hopefully he can get past the whole goofy controversy about Gaga blocking and then not blocking the release and make a really memorable video for this.

5. Selena Gomez & The Scene - "Who Says"
I'd given Selena Gomez so little thought prior to this song that when I heard this song for the first time and made a note to myself that it might be worth writing about in this space, I blanked on her name and typed "Serena whatsername." Generally being kind of a Demi Lovato stan and knowing they're friends or were friends I just kind of played favorites and rooted against her career doing better than Lovato's. But this is nice!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

My review of White Life's self-titled debut album is up on, and I'm really excited about this record and have more coverage of Jon Ehrens music coming down the pike. Release party tomorrow night!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

I wrote a post on the City Paper's Noise blog about the new song featuring Nas by CJ Hilton, who I profiled in the paper last year.

Netflix Diary

Monday, May 02, 2011
a) Unstoppable
My wife was excited about this because she will watch pretty much any Denzel Washington/Tony Scott movie. This wasn't bad but Scott's washed out color scheme is getting so tiresome and the frantic camerawork seemed especially ridiculous for a movie that should've operated more on the basis of building tension and implied danger. I mean, even when they showed news footage within the movie, the news cameras were all swooping around with crazy Tony Scott cinematography, it was so goofy. Also I kept thinking of the "SNL" parody the whole time.

b) The Social Network
I like both Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher but the idea of them doing something together was always hard for me to get my head around, just seemed like two completely different and potentially incompatible sets of sensibilities. Add in Justin Timberlake and Trent Reznor and it's just a cornucopia of people I never thought I'd see involved in the same project. But I have to admit this all held together pretty well, although Sorkin's writing definitely dominated the tone and sometimes I did feel like Fincher's suffocating commitment a narrow color palette was kind of the wrong look for it all.

c) Red
This was not quite as fun as trailers made me think it would be, partly because they also led to expect an ensemble picture where it leaned a lot more heavily on Bruce Willis, who seems to quietly smirk in comedies now in lieu of actually being funny. It picked up a bit about a half hour in when Malkovich showed up, though, and had a good amount of really entertaining moments.

d) Devil
I liked this, it had some of the usual pitfalls of a Shyamalan movie in both the tone and the ending, but I liked how it was an outright horror flick with a good ominous atmosphere and some really gruesome, scary moments.

e) "Community," Season 1
This show has gotten so great so fast that it's kind of fun to go back just a year and a half ago to the first episodes and see how much it's changed. Lot of great commentary tracks and bonuses on the DVDs too.

f) No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
Generally I will watch any bio or doc or TV special about any musician and get something out of it, so Scorsese doing a flick about someone as inherently interesting as Dylan should be a no-brainer, but I dunno man, this has absolutely no life or spark to it, just feels very bland and going through the motions and makes even some pretty exciting and remarkable times seem dull.

g) "Black Books," Series 1
I don't know if Britcoms and me will ever really get along; even the stuff that has a big American cult like "The Office" or "Spaced" I have a limited appreciation for, and I kind of ventured into trying out this show since it seems well regarded and I've enjoyed some cast members in other things. But ugh, the overly wacky style of humor and the exaggerated acting and the cackling laugh track, it's all kind of garish and tacky in a way that somehow few U.S. sitcoms ever achieve. Also nice to see Tamsin Greig about 10 years younger than on "Episodes" looking pretty fine.

h) Ravenous
I'm really starting to become a stan for "Terriers" creator Ted Griffin as I delve further into his earlier work. Don't know how I'd never heard of this movie before but it's a pretty entertainingly dark and occasionally comic story of cannibalism, seems like the kind of thing that would go over much better if it came out today than it did 10 years ago.

i) "Mystery Science Theater 3000" - Manos: Hands Of Fate
I loved MST3K back in the day and was excited when they finally started releasing select episodes on DVD, but for some reason it never occurred to me until recently that I could put some on my Netflix queue. I decided to start with a Joel era ep and went for this one, which I'd always heard about but never seen, and man, that is one shitty movie.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

I wrote a column on Splice Today about the ridiculous security deposit that Baltimore Gas & Electric is now requiring of some customers.