Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tayland Promotions is putting on a benefit show at Sonar this Thursday for the family of Baltimore rapper Yuk, and I wrote a post on the City Paper's Noise blog about the show and the unfortunate circumstances of Yuk and his family that the benefit is being held because of. Yuk, Comp, KG and others will be performing at the show, go check it out if you can.

The 2011 Remix Report Card, Vol. 5

Sunday, August 28, 2011
"Go N Get It (Remix)" by Ace Hood featuring Beanie Sigel, Busta Rhymes, Pusha T & Styles P.
As Noz noted, the lineup for this remix is kind of strangely absent of southerners and generally populated by guys whose careers peaked about a decade ago. Still, I'll take a lineup like this over another remix with Ross and Wayne any day, and I always thought this song was more tolerable than "Hustle Hard." I'm a sucker for doubletime flows and loved Busta's back in the day, but all the fast raps he's been doing since "Look At Me Now" are kind of lame and annoying to me for some reason I can't quite put my finger on. Pusha and Styles are kind of out of place, but Beans is vicious.
Best Verse: Beanie Sigel
Overall Grade: C+

"Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (Remix)" by Katy Perry featuring Missy Elliott
Recently when Missy did her "Behind The Music" episode and talked about how her health problems kept her off the scene the last few years and how she was ready to hit the charts again, I had this really bittersweet feeling of wanting so much for her to come back and be a huge star again but not seeing any way she'd do that in 2011 that wouldn't be kind of ill-fitting or lame compared to her classic records. And a verse on a Katy Perry remix seems like the perfect example of that, and yet I'm not really mad at this. The way the beat gets chopped up on Missy's verses sounds cool and she ultimately is a good fit for the whole vibe of the song.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"Oh My (Remix)" by DJ Drama featuring Trey Songz, 2 Chainz and Big Sean
One of the interesting things to me about these hits "by" DJs is that they can do remixes with none of the vocalists from the original track -- although DJ Khaled has never actually done this, his remixes generally keep the hook singer from the original (and also usually supplant the de rigeur Rick Ross verse with a new Rick Ross verse). So in a weird way I feel compelled to applaud DJ Drama for actually starting from scratch with this remix and not featuring any of the three artists from the original. It's also a total improvement on the original just by virtue of replacing Roscoe Dash with Trey Songz for a much more tolerable version of the hook and a fairly impressive rap verse. There's also Tity Boi, who I've always been a fan of and have been happy to see his career suddenly on the rise, albeit with a kind of bland name change. And then Big Sean shows up and kind of blows the track's batting average to hell.
Best Verse: 2 Chainz
Overall Grade: B+

"Tony Montana (Remix)" by Future featuring Drake
Drake ruined one of my favorite southern rap hits of last year when he pinched a loaf on Jeezy's "Lose My Mind" remix, and while his appearance here is equally hapless and hilarious, the song is kind of shitty to begin with so I can't begrudge him there. Seriously, though, Drake getting all squeaky and excited and then trying to compensate for it with a strained southern accent is some sad sad shit.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

Monthly Report: August Singles

Friday, August 26, 2011

1. Michelle Branch - "Loud Music"
The first time I heard this song, I was in the car with my wife (on the same day that we drove too fast with Zeppelin on, by complete coincidence), and she rolled her eyes and said something like "this song is really stupid." I nodded in agreement but said "it's really catchy, though." And honestly I have no problem with stupid lyrical conceits if they're propped up by a huge hook.

2. AWOLNATION - "Sail"
It feels like there's a whole little wave of vaguely indie-ish and mostly also vaguely electronic (but definitely not Pitchfork-approved) bands blowing up on mainstream alternative radio these days, headed up by Foster The People. And most of that stuff holds no appeal for me, but this song really grabbed my attention, partly because I had no idea what it could possibly be when I first head it -- I thought maybe it was that Danger Mouse/Jack White song that'd been on the charts, but no. Anyway this is a pretty interesting breakout hit for a new artist, feels kind of ugly and lurching and not very radio-friendly, which is after all what makes it stand out so much.

3. Miguel - "Quickie"
I already kind of summed up why I like this song on Singles Jukebox, but I love that the follow-up to "The Sure Thing" (probably my favorite single of 2011) is such a 180 and yet also awesome.

4. Meek Mill f/ Rick Ross - "Ima Boss"
The fact that Rick Ross is now so established in the pop rap firmament that he has a vanity label with artists under him is just so, so depressing to me, and the fact that he's helping Wale continue to have a career is both offensive and hilarious. But I kinda like this Meek Mill cat, at least based on how relentless he owns this song, to the point that Ross's presence barely registers (whereas "Tupac Back" feels like a Ross song, and not a good one). Rap radio needs more cheap synth horns.

5. Theory Of A Deadman - "Lowlife"
Theory Of A Deadman is kind of the offbrand Nickelback, and generally don't have their more successful buddies' facility for big dumb hooks, but both bands also have a penchant for sleazy jokey songs, and Theory are definitely better at those, between "Bad Girlfriend" and this song, which is maybe a little too melodically sunny but still pretty enjoyable. Donal Logue is also very well cast in the video.

TV Diary

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
a) "In The Flow with Affion Crockett"
It's weird to see a "Wild 'N Out" cast member get his own network show, especially since Affion Crocket is just another Aries Spears/Jay Pharoah type black comic who trades in spot-on impressions of a few rappers and black actors and has no other discernible talent or charisma, plus Crockett is just kind of sunken-eyed and unpleasant to look at. But I will give him some credit that his rap-themed sketches are generally pretty spot-on, especially the Drake and Kanye impressions.

b) "Heidi Fleiss: Protitutes To Parrots"
My mind was blown when I saw the title of this show on the cable schedule, but actually watching it for a few minutes was only slightly more absurd or less depressing than watching Fleiss on "Celebrity Rehab." Apparently Mike Tyson had a show about his love of birds too, which makes this part of some bizarre pattern.

c) "Awkward."
It feels like between this and that stupid "Hard Times of RJ Berger" show MTV is getting more into scripted comedy shows that are going for some kind of bawdy teen sex movie niche that is just kind of gross. This one has its moments of entertainment but mostly it's just aggravating watching them trying one-up the moronic slang of Juno into increasingly nonsensical neologisms and obnoxious quips.

d) "State of Georgia"
This is one of those times when people are just going to roll their eyes and worry that my TV addiction has reached a new low when I saw that Raven-Symoné's new show on ABC Family is actually kind of hilarious. She and the other girl on the show have this kind of weird fast zany "I Love Lucy" kind of vibe with their antics, totally surprised me.

e) "Combat Hospital"
This show is pretty well written but it always falls flat when Michelle Borth is at the center of it all, I don't know if she just has a really small voice or if she generally comes across as blank or kind of dumb, but she just really cannot carry a show like this. And it doesn't help that it feels like there's less and less Elias Koteas with each episode.

f) "Wilfred"
So far this show hasn't quite lived up to the giddy thrill of the initial premise's absurdity and some of the huge laughs in the first couple episodes, but I'm still enjoying it a lot, and have been interested to see how far they push the whole ridiculous concept. He may be the straight man but I'm kind of gaining an appreciation for Elijah Wood's comedy chops too.

g) "Suits"
This show has really shaped up to be, if not necessarily more than the usual legal procedural, than at least a really good one that is driven enough by the characters' long term arcs and relationships that it doesn't feel very procedural at all, which I like. Definitely a contender for best summer cable series of 2011.

h) "Franklin & Bash"
This, on the other hand, has turned out to be more of a standard procedural than the kind of wacky sophomoric variation thereof that was initially promised (and somewhat delivered upon).

i) "Platinum Hit"
One of the most amusing things about this show was how over the course of the season it slowly transitioned from being co-hosted by Jewel and Kara DioGuardi to just being hosted by Jewel with DioGuardi occasionally showing up as a judge. In one of the last episodes they mentioned something about her having a new executive position at a label so maybe she actually just was busy with other stuff but I'd like to think the producers just realized she's terrible on-camera and/or hard to work with and gradually minimized her role (while also letting Jewel wear progressively more eye-popping outfits). The show itself ended up being pretty good, some of the competing songwriters actually had some talent and while I wasn't thrilled with the winner, at least it wasn't that fuckin' Nick guy.

j) "Top Gear USA"
I don't watch the UK version all the time but I recognize it as a great show enough that I feel sad that this even exists. Adam Ferrara, that's seriously the best you could do?

k) "Louie"
I've long been one of the few people who's been kind of disappointed in this show -- I love the segments of Louis C.K. doing standup but the narrative stuff often just feels kind of slapdash, when it's not outright pretentious. But it's really clicked and started to become engrossing for me in the last few episodes (specifically the ones with Joan Rivers, Pamela Adlon, Dane Cook and Doug Stanhope). Now I'm like OK, it's living up to the hype, at least some of it.

l) "Donald J. Trump Presents: The Ultimate Merger"
Apparently this started last year as a dating show for guys competing to be with Omorosa, which really doesn't sound very promising at all, but now the celeb is Toccara Jones, who I find much more attractive, so I've tried watching this a little bit, but really she's barely in it and otherwise this is just usual reality show doldrums.

m) "The Big C"
The brother was really the best part of this show in the first season, and it feels like they've really minimized his role and dulled his personality/background this year.

n) "True Blood"
This season has been kind of a mixed bag, Sookie's story being more insufferable than ever but the rest of the show mostly firing on all cylinders. Mostly I'm just happy that there's a lot of Jessica this season.

o) "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson"
I'm so rarely up late enough to watch this show these days, but when I am I'm still occasionally amazed by how different it is from every other late night show. Recently I tuned in one night and Ferguson was not only doing the show from Paris, but would just walk down the street with two guests at the same time, Eddie Izzard and Kristen Bell, just hanging out and talking together, which was really unexpected and cool.

p) "Entourage"
In a weird way the only impression this season has left on me so far is the storyline about Ari splitting with his wife, the whole thing of him being a dedicated family man always felt like the secret heart of the show to whatever extent the show has a heart, almost kind of a violation to switch that up. Still, he finally banged Constance Zimmer so I'm happy about that at least.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My latest Radio Hits One column tackles the concept of "YouTube Platinum."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I wrote a Noise blog post about a song called "Paul Westerberg" from the Baltimore band Alto Verde's forthcoming album Paper Clips.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
My latest scores and blurbs on The Singles Jukebox:

Nicole Scherzinger ft. 50 Cent – Right There [5/3.09]
Lupe Fiasco ft. Trey Songz – Out of My Head [6/5.29]
Lloyd ft. Andre 3000 – Dedication To My Ex (Miss That) [1/5.2]
Enrique Iglesias ft. Usher, Lil Wayne & Nayer – Dirty Dancer [3/3.27]
DJ Drama ft. Fabolous, Wiz Khalifa & Roscoe Dash – Oh My [2/3.56]
Patrick Stump ft. Lupe Fiasco – This City [5/4.93]
Beyonce – Best Thing I Never Had [3/6]
Hot Chelle Rae – Tonight Tonight [0/2.36]
Miguel – Quickie [7/4.8]
Demi Lovato – Skyscraper [4/5.08]
Blink 182 – Up All Night [5/5.64]
Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie [3/4.33]
The Throne – Otis [3/5.4]

(R.I.P. Martin Skidmore)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Incubus is an interesting band to me, in that I'm never sure exactly how to define their place in the mainstream rock world. They're '90s rock radio survivors, but they came to prominence late in the decade, a bit later than other mainstays like the Foo Fighters and Weezer (but earlier than '00s franchises like Nickelback and Linkin Park). They came up associated with the nu-metal scene, but skew more alternative than active rock like KoRn or The Disturbed. They're known for their pretty boy lead singer and tuneful power ballads, but they work against that image only in subtle ways, loading up their last few albums with stylistic left turns without straight up trying to alienate their mainstream fanbase with a Radiohead or even Pearl Jam-style career path. The best analogy I can figure is that they've got kind of a Red Hot Chili Peppers arc going on, goofy diverse funksters who gradually mature into an idea of sophisticated experimentation that itself feels a little bit goofy.

The latest Incubus album If Not Now, When? is similarly hard to exactly put my finger on. It's a very quiet, restrained record, without playing to their commercial strengths with any gentle hooks reminiscent of "Drive" or "Love Hurts." The lead single "Adolescents" felt somewhat offbeat and difficult to process when it debuted on the radio a few months ago, but it's actually the second most uptempo song on the record (after the great but also not exactly blistering "Switchblade"). And it actually sounds kind of towering and huge when it finally arrives in the last ten minutes of the album, which I didn't really expect.

And yet If Not Now, When? isn't really a weird or inaccessible album. If anything the songs are very stripped down and simplified with a lot of thought put into the arrangements and production. This is kind of sacrilegious because I love that album, but it kind of reminds me of Maxwell's BLACKsummers'night, in terms of being this very textured, patient record with a smooth, pretty male voice, a very warm, moody record. There's also kind of an R&B vibe in the way Brandon Boyd is the only singer in alternative rock who routinely addresses the listener as "girl." Only "Isadore" and a couple other songs live up to the greatness of "Adolescents," but overall it's a pretty enjoyable listen.

Reading Diary

Friday, August 12, 2011
a) Alphabetter Juice: or, The Joy of Text by Roy Blount, Jr.
My wife got me this as a Father's Day gift, because she'd heard about it on NPR and the author is a regular on "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" and she'd gleaned that it would appeal to my word nerd tendencies, and she was right. I haven't read the original Alphabet Juice but I assume it's in the same format as this just with different material. Blount has a really infectiously playful approach to breaking down all these interesting matters of meaning and pronunciation and etymology, boiling down a lot of knowledge and research into something too personal and offbeat to be dry. Sometimes his sense of humor is a little over the top for my taste and the thing gets too clever for its own good, but for the most part this is a really fun read.

b) The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
It surprised me how much I was able to just enjoy this as a David Foster Wallace book and lose myself in it, without thinking too much about it being the incomplete novel he was working on when he committed suicide. And then it hit me, as I was finishing it recently, that I've pretty much read everything he's published, and after this there's nothing, which made me sad about his death all over again. But really: this book resonated with me. I read a lot of it while on temp jobs doing filing work, which really helped me connect with the book's overarching themes about boredom and tedium and the virtues of deep concentration. The "author's foreword" sections and the whole meta memoir conceit struck me as vaguely distasteful, almost a throwback to the kind of postmodern '90s schtick I'd like to think Wallace was way past, but it didn't really detract from the whole, which held together surprisingly well despite its incomplete nature and the many loosely connected strands of narrative (I especially loved when a 50 page chapter of first person monologue is followed by the revelation that it was being narrated by a long-winded character whose nickname is 'Irrelevant'). There are some things in here that are really going to stick with me, I think, in the same way so much of Infinite Jest has and will always rattle around my brain.

c) Decoded by Jay-Z
As jaded as I can be about Jay's post-'retirement' music, I still have a lot of respect for the guy on an intellectual level, and this book is really just an amazing look into his lyrics, the kind of dense and frank self-analysis people always wish a Bob Dylan or someone would write but never will. The book's editor or co-writer or whoever obviously dresses up Jay's conversational tone into something slightly stiff and formal at times, and is clearly geared to a broad audience that doesn't necessarily appreciate his catalog or rap music in general (which probably can be said for too much of his recent music, sadly), but overall you really get a sense of a guy and a great window into his writing process. I always knew when Jay had mentioned working on a book that it wouldn't be a tell-all memoir, that's just not his style, but I was shocked he actually did write an autobiographical book, and I'm really grateful it took this particular shape.

d) Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells by Tommy James and Martin Fitzpatrick
My friend Andy lent me this book telling me what a great quick read it is, and I really dug it. It was kind of alarming to read this book and realize how huge Tommy James was in his day, which underlines how much some '60s artists have been somewhat forgotten by history, considering that I generally only heard his music growing up in the form of '80s covers of "Mony Mony," "I Think We're Alone Now," "Crimson & Clover" and so on. I thought at first that the mob aspect of the story was a little sensationalized and played up for the title, but it really did end up providing some pretty wild stories.

e) Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton
One of the daunting things about writing this book about Baltimore club music that I'm going to finish and publish one of these days is that I come to it from more of a hip hop background and don't have a really well rounded understanding of dance music history. So I grabbed this book off my friend Mat's bookshelf and it seemed like a good place to start for some kind of overview. It took me a while to get into it and sometimes the tone the writers take is kind of light and fluffy with some heavy-handed editorializing that doesn't quite coalesce into a real sense of personality on the page, but overall they did a great job of structuring a whole lot of divergent eras and scenes into a narrative that really kind of flowed and built upon itself, really learned a lot and got a little more curious about certain genres I've been a little closed minded towards.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A couple weeks ago I sat down with Beauty Pill while they were recording their new album in public at Artisphere in D.C., and my interview with the band is up on Splice Today now. We really had a great conversation, there are some interesting outtakes from this edit of the interview that I'll really have to share at this point, maybe in another article or blog post whenever the album drops.

Monthly Report: July Albums

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

1. Lloyd - King of Hearts
If this album started on track 3 and ended after track 13, it'd be a strong candidate for album of the year. But even with the jarringly horrendous "Dedication to My Ex (Miss That)" and to a lesser extent "World Cry" and that stupid Game intro dragging down the album's batting average, it's still really damn good. Really the meat of the album is pretty much my ideal concept of a Lloyd album produced by Polow Da Don, which is a pleasant surprise given that Polow has never quite lived up to his potential as an album exec producer in the past with Rich Boy and Keri Hilson's albums. And Lloyd, even though he's definitely leaning a little too hard on a 'grown up' persona at times, really reserves his place as one of my favorite voices in R&B -- he doesn't willfully evoke Michael Jackson the way so many of his peers do, but it just comes out so effortlessly in his high register and the kind of naive sweetness in his delivery. At the moment "Jigsaw" and "You II" are particular favorites, but "Naked" and "Shake It For Daddy" and "Cupid" are all so great.

2. They Might Be Giants - Join Us
I can be very loyal as a fan, once someone is one of my favorite bands for even a while, I will probably check out every new album they make forever and ever. And sometimes that can result in a kind of loyalty fatigue, especially with a band who's released as many albums since the last one I really loved as TMBG have since Factory Showroom. So I kind of checked out this one without any real hopes of it leaving more of an impression than The Else or Mink Car, and suddenly after a few listens, when I started trying it out on headphones, it just clicked for me and somehow has a little bit of the special blend of whimsy and songcraft that I associate with their first few albums. I mostly like the Linnell songs like "Can't Keep Johnny Down" and "Canajoharie" and "When Will You Die" (which feels a little less funny than it probably would have when it was written, now that Osama Bin Laden has died and the song's sentiments have kind of played out on the world's stage without irony), but Flansburgh's sometimes wearying wackiness has been toned down or honed into a more subtle absurdity on his songs, which is really refreshing.

3. Dos - dos y dos
After a six year drought of pretty much no new records from Mike Watt (not counting sidemousing for the Stooges), it's been pretty awesome to have three in the past 12 months alone: the debut of his new group Floored By Four, the solo album hyphenated-man, and now the fourth album by his long-running bass duo with ex-wife Kira Roessler. Dos is not really one of my favorite Watt projects, sometimes the commitment to such a minimal sound, with no percussion or really any treble at all, aside from Roessler's occasional vocals, gets a little limiting and monochromatic, but there are some moments of beauty on this album and it really is kind of a cool idea for a band that leads them to some interesting writing and arranging.

4. Gucci Mane - Writings On The Wall II
Fair weather fan that I am, I only check out Gucci mixtapes now if there seems to be a good amount of buzz around them. And I guess it says something about the frequency of his output or my opinion of it that this is probably my favorite of the last three or four tapes I've heard but still not that great. "Supa Cold" is awesome and "MVP" with Jagged Edge puts every R&B joint on Gucci's major label albums to shame, and the songs with Yelawolf and 50 Cent are cool. But in general the trap talk-heavy slant of this tape is not my favorite lane for Gucci to be in, and "Tragedy" and "Lil Friends" affirm both that I don't like him on Lex Luger beats and that sometimes Gucci's hooks all sound the same in a really half-assed repetitive way.

5. Kelly Rowland - Here I Am
Much like the Lloyd album would be much better with its undesirable bookmarks lopped off, Here I Am is a pretty solid 8-track modern R&B album that happens to have two annoyingly overdriven Eurodance tracks tacked on at the end. Given that Kelly sang on David Guetta's breakthrough U.S. hit and has a good dance diva voice, I don't really begrudge her including that stuff on the album, but the way it's sequenced just makes it stick out even more, and I'm ultimately glad "Motivation" is the big hit that really gave the album its direction. The album really hits a great groove halfway through with the huge hook of "Turn It Up" and the gorgeously intimate "Keep It Between Us," and I never thought I'd like a Runners track that sounds like "Hey Daddy" as much as I like "All Of The Night." This album really features the worst collection of guest rap verses ever on an R&B album, though, by Lil Playy, Big Sean and Rico Love (I still hate Wayne's verse on "Motivation" but those other ones are a whole other class of terrible).

Monday, August 08, 2011

I have an article in today's Baltimore Sun about listener reactions to the return of WHFS on 97.5 FM last week.

Friday, August 05, 2011

My latest Radio Hits One column is about aging pop stars using reality shows as a springboard to get back on the charts.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

I saw Steely Dan last night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, and reviewed the show on Noise.

Monthly Report: July Singles

Monday, August 01, 2011

1. The Joy Formidable - "Whirring"
It took me a few months of occasionally hearing this song and each time being blown away by how great it is (especially the live performance on "Conan") for me to get past my biases against the band's name, against any new rock band from across the Atlantic really, and just realize that this song is really just everything I could want from a rock song, summed up fairly well by the title. And now it's a moderate U.S. rock radio hit, and I hope it gets bigger from here. I still really need to hear their album.

2. Young Jeezy f/ Fabolous and Yo Gotti - "Flexin'"
Although rap albums with protracted, confusing and confused advance singles campaigns are nothing new these days, it's been especially frustrating to watch what's happened with Young Jeezy's Thug Motivation 103 over the past year and change. "Lose My Mind" was a pretty sizable hit, bigger than any 'street single' has a right to be really, but after a couple of other attempts at singles (the ok "All White Everything" and the awesome "Jizzle") stiffed, everything went quiet for a while. Then we got the mediocre Lil Wayne/Lex Luger bandwagon jump "Ballin'" (which is only slightly entertaining if I pretend Jeezy is yelling BLOG in the chorus), and the pretty weak new "Shake Life," which are both doing well enough that the album might actually get released sometime this year. In the meantime, though, this great track from the mixtape The Real Is Back is getting some minor airplay and I'm really pulling for it to pop up as a surprise hit, really catchy track and the chorus is just hilarious.

3. Trey Songz f/ Drake - "Unusual"
These guys are both so stiflingly ubiquitous on the radio these days, mostly with really boring or terrible songs, that I feel like they deserve a gold star for getting together on something actually kind of great (even if Drake does nothing to contribute to the quality of the song).

4. Jennifer Hudson - "No One Gonna Love You"
I'm a sucker for any song with a loping left hand piano groove that reminds me of "Bennie & The Jets," especially stuff in a modern R&B context like "I'm A Flirt." Also good to hear Hudson on the rare occasion her material lives up to her voice, and to be reminded of how good Rich Harrison could be before he kind of fell off the face of the earth.

5. Avril Lavigne - "Smile"
With this and "What The Hell," Avril Lavigne has had a couple of my favorite Max Martin girl pop songs of 2011, but she's been kind of lost in the shuffle among bigger hits by Britney and Katy and Pink. And that's kind of a shame, because as much as Avril's career doesn't really make much sense at this point, these songs are just undeniably catchy.