Monthly Report: October Albums

Sunday, October 30, 2011

1. Patrick Stump - Soul Punk
My feverish anticipation of this album is finally over, and I have to say it's pretty much worth the wait. Actually, I may be starting to love this album as much as Fall Out Boy's Folie à Deux (which would be a shortlist candidate for my favorite album of the past 3 years). What really comes across on this record is not just that Stump is a dynamite vocalist or that he really went nuts playing every instrument on the record, but that he really has a whole personality and perspective that permeates every song and makes songs like "Greed" and "The 'I' In Lie" all fit together as a complete worldview. Both "Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers" and "Cryptozoology" are especially great but I wish they weren't stuffed onto the same track, they feel like very distinct separate songs to me. The bonus tracks on the deluxe version are by and large as good as anything on the proper album, and some days I wish I could swap a couple songs out for "Bad Side of 25" or "Love, Selfish Love" from the Truant Wave EP for an ideal version of the album, but in any event this whole project is just my shit right now.

2. Craig Wedren - Wand
Before Stump, Shudder To Think's Craig Wedren was the guy with the best voice in modern rock and some wild genre-defying solo work, so it's been fun to have a good new record from him this month too. I wasn't sure what to really expect from this album and in a pleasant surprise it's kind of a fast, fun tour of all the things he does well: hooky hard rock, weird synth and drum machine experiments, jangly pop, gentle acoustic tracks, all kind of ping ponging around in this really confident, comfortable way that only a guy who can do this many things this well for this long can pull off. It's almost a little hard to really get into as an album, because as soon as I really enjoy a song like "I Know" or "Make Me Hurt You" it switches gears into something different and equally good, but that's a small complaint.

3. Styles P. - Master of Ceremonies
Styles has been such a consistent, underrated rapper with album after solid album the last few years that I always have to just give him props, even if there is something undeniably workmanlike (in all the good and bad ways) and low stakes about his records that makes it hard to hail any of them as a masterpiece. This one has more high profile guests than usual, but only the Busta/Rick Ross song feels like an unnecessary capitulation to starpower, and Styles still defines his surroundings and makes sure his hardnosed sensibility comes across in every beat and hook.

4. My Brightest Diamond - All Things Will Unwind
There's a lot of talent and energy and ideas flying around on My Brightest Diamond albums, but I think the first two, especially the first, were a little more my speed. When this stuff is a little darker and moodier, it sounds fantastic, but when Shara Worden goes lighter and more clever, as on the first few tracks of All Things Will Unwind, she just comes off a little too whimsical and impressed with herself. But then it gets to something kind of epic and dramatic like "Be Brave" and I'm back on board.

5. Kelly Clarkson - Stronger
Earlier this year when Kelly Clarkson appeared on Jason Aldean's "Don't You Wanna Stay?" I said "If this signals that Kelly is finally going for the inevitable, commercially shrewd move toward country, then good for her, she sounds fantastic doing this kind of stuff." I was wrong, and listening to Stronger, I kinda wish I wasn't, because this feels like diminishing returns and more of the same to an even greater extent than All I Ever Wanted, Kelly sticking to her increasingly familiar wheelhouse but not trying as hard to squeeze a hit out of her sound as it quickly goes out of vogue. The trio of Greg Kurstin productions early in the album is pretty good and it's fun to hear his The Bird And The Bee sounds applied to something bigger and more bombastic, but most of the album is kind of stuck in a generic Kelly Clarkson holding pattern than even Ester Dean and Rodney Jerkins don't really break out of. "You Can't Win" and the bonus track "Don't Be A Girl About It" have so much more personality and attitude than boring old "Mr. Know It All."
"You Can't Win" is this great bitter little song at the end of the album

TV Diary

Thursday, October 27, 2011
a) "American Horror Story"
It was hilarious how quickly all the buzz around this show dissipated once people started seeing the pilot, and now that I've seen it I totally understand why (and have yet to try watching any subsequent episodes). It's not even that this show is that crazy or weird, but just how totally tonedeaf it is to the basic rhythms of horror movies -- that there needs to be some occasional lulls or slowly gather stormclouds instead of just one scene after another of WTF imagery and clanging background music. Also Dylan McDermott's face is some kind of visual shorthand that translates in my mind to "show you don't want to watch."

b) "Homeland"
So far I'm enjoying "My So-Called Spy," I don't really know how much mileage there really is in this premise but it's the kind of thing that at least has a lot of grist for a few good episodes.

c) "Enlightened"
I don't really get this show? It seems like some kind of elaborate ironic twist on something I don't know or care about, and all the characterization and plot they fill it in with seems kind of dumb.

d) "Why Am I Still Single?!"
It's weird for VH1 to have two shows with the same basic premise on at the same time and "Tough Love" is definitely better, but I do find these kinds of shows strangely entertaining.

e) "Whitney"
I think Whitney Cummings is a decent standup and always kind of welcome hoary old school studio audience sitcoms about people's boring domestic problems, but this one just feels so drained of personality or ideas, like they're trying to make the most generic 'relationship sitcom' ever. You know you're doing something wrong when you make people think about how much more "Mad About You" was able to mix it up now and again.

f) "2 Broke Girls"
The other show Cummings created is a little better as a show but still kind of hobbled and full of useless genre conventions, this time the long dead 'colorful characters in a diner' sitcom. I keep trying with this show, and forever shall continue as long as it's on the air, because Kat Dennings is ridiculous, but I have to admit she's kind of the problem with the show, she keeps getting handed all these sassy bitchy lines and doesn't really know how to sell them and kinda falls flat.

g) "Person of Interest"
I'm watching this right now but now really -- all these new network dramas have like this and "Unforgettable" and "Prime Suspect" have just become the shows I leave on when I decide to listen to something on headphones and pretend I'm still 'keeping up' with these shows and 'giving them a chance.'

h) "Boardwalk Empire"
I've only watched one episode of this season, it wasn't as boring as I remember last year being but I still want to kind of kick the habit and leave this alone, it's just not for me.

i) "Bored To Death"
This show got so unexpectedly great in its second season, I'm also prepared for it to let me down now but they seem to be still on a good roll.

j) "Hung"
Last year "Hung" kind of lost my interest while "Bored" commanded it, now I'm ready for them to switch roles again, this year it seems to be kind of finding the fun in its premise again and do something less predictable with the characters.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My latest Radio Hits One column for the Village Voice's Sound of the City blog takes a look at T-Pain's rEVOLVEr, which just got a release date on the heels of its 6th 'lead single,' as a case study in how long major labels keep hip hop and R&B albums on the shelf these days if their singles aren't major hits.

Monday, October 24, 2011

All of the talking points about Evanescence's new self-titled album -- that it's their first in 4 years, that after more lineup changes Amy Lee is left as the only original member, that she experimented with 'electronic' elements this time around -- point toward an album that might sound at least slightly different from its two hugely successful predecessors. It isn't. Like, not the slightest bit. I have only heard Evanescence's multi-platinum debut Fallen in passing maybe a few times, and I don't think I'd be able to tell the difference between any non-singles on it or Evanescence in a blind taste test.

That's not really a complaint, since I essentially like Evanescence and think they're good at they do, even if what they do is a pretty narrow lane and one can only handle so much of it (which is why those long breaks between albums are appreciated). Amy Lee is still kind of mind-bogglingly hot in that way where even her voice sounds hot, and her big silly dramatic stadium goth songs hit all those big notes and big feelings well. But again, the band work well in small doses, and I don't know if there's anything here that would hit me by themselves the way "Call Me When You're Sober" or "Going Under" have. I can't even single out any tracks as especially good or bad, it all just kind of runs together. And over the 12 tracks (16 on the deluxe version, although I couldn't make it through all of those), the cumulative effect is numbing, as you kind of get Evanescence fatigue from too much big loud flowery dark piano rock.

Monthly Report: October Singles

Sunday, October 23, 2011

1. Beyoncé - "Countdown"
I already gave this a 10 on Singles Jukebox and have basically just been patiently waiting for it to actually become an official single before I made it #1 in this space. Really incredible song that I've listened to so much lately that I hope I don't make myself sick of it. Those 32nd note hi-hats are at the moment the element I am boggling at the most.

2. Sara Bareilles - "Gonna Get Over You"
Oddly while the "Countdown" video I'm kind of ambivalent about was making the internet go nuts, this was the adorable dance video that was making me fall in love with a song. Bareilles is kind of MOR and embarrassing both for musical taste and for a celebrity crush but she is kind of adorable to me and I have to say I pretty much wholeheartedly love 4 of the 5 songs she's released as singles at this point.

3. Brianna - "Marilyn Monroe"
I've been thinking lately about how I've generally enjoyed music by almost every mainstream female rapper through the history of hip hop up until the current Minaj/Kreayshawn/etc. era, so it was fun to hear this song on the radio and feel genuinely excited and curious about who it was by. Apparently Brianna is from Miami but for some reason her song seems to be blowing up on D.C. radio the most, kinda hoping it hits big.

4. Mary J. Blige - "25/8"
Remind me sometime in the future to talk about my fixation with songs that fantasize about adding more time to our existing clocks and calenders (which also includes "Eight Days A Week" and Ciara's "Speechless").

5. AfroJack f/ Eva Simons - "Take Over Control"
Every time I hear this on the radio, I think "this should've been the new Rihanna single," the same way people were saying that about "Whip My Hair" a couple years ago. Also, this makes I guess the first month of singles I've done where the vocals are 100% performed by women.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I wrote about Rome Cee's new single "Black Ring" on the City Paper's Noise blog.

Movie Diary

Wednesday, October 19, 2011
a) Hereafter
This is the kind of slow maudlin spiritual movie I almost never want to watch, but I put it on when I was in kind of a lousy mood and it suited me fine. The Matt Damon/Bryce Dallas Howard stuff is especially sweet and sad and well handled, and overall I didn't dislike the thrust of the movie as much as I feared, Eastwood at least set the mood well.

b) Vampires Suck
Everyone's justifiably tired of quickie parody flicks, especially Friedberg/Seltzer ones, but this is definitely one of the best things they've done. Partly that's because Twilight is so ripe for mockery (although I haven't seen it and my wife, who has and hated it, had to explain some of the jokes to me), partly because they actually do a pretty good job being faithful to the look and the casting of the original and just being really fun and over the top with it.

c)Step Up 3D
When I saw Step Up 2 The Streets, which I actually kind of liked, I joked about how these movies take place in Baltimore but in no way resemble the existing Bmore club dance culture. So it was funny to me that in the third movie in the series, which lacks even the modest charms of the last one, the franchise finally leaves Baltimore but you hear Rye Rye and Blaqstarr in the background of a scene.

d) Thirst
This movie really took the fun out of being a horror flick featuring Lacey Chabert in a tanktop the entire time by being a pretty realistic and grisly depiction of people getting stranded in the Mojave Desert and slowly dying of dehydration. And since it wasn't exactly 127 Hours in terms of the artistic merit of the filmmaking, it ended up just being kind of slow and punishing to watch.

e) The A-Team
This wasn't terrible but my indifference to this kind of '80s retro blockbuster bullshit is such that it was like 45 minutes before I remembered that this and G.I. Joe are two completely different movies (theoretically), I was actually waiting for Cobra Commander to show up.

f) Everybody's Fine
I put this on figuring it would be kind of light and pleasant but it turned out to be kind of a bummer, at least up to the stupid pat ending.

g) Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
My strange awakening of affection for Matthew McCoughnahey after The Lincoln Goddamn Lawyer resulted in me thinking hey maybe some of his non-Kate Hudson rom coms aren't all bad after all, and this one has Emma Stone in it so what the hell. And really it wasn't terrible but it was pretty douchey and not especially funny.

h) Middle of Nowhere
I watched this mainly because Eva Amurri is in it, for totally shallow reasons, figuring that it'd be a dull indie drama that I'd sit through just to gawk at the lead actress. But I was really a little bowled over by how good it was, the rare coming-of-age movie that actually reminded me of my own adolescence in some vague but undeniable way, feeling very true and lived in without being 'realistic' in any particularly way. And all this from the director of Turistas and Blue Crush, shockingly.

i) Hamlet 2
I rolled my eyes big time at this movie's commercials and feared it would be some big inescapable phenomenon, but since that didn't happen now I can watch it on TV and go ok, that wasn't bad, pretty funny in parts.

j) Long Weekend aka Nature's Grave
A really, really bad Jim Caviezel horror movie with the hilarious premise of nature 'taking revenge' on a couple of inconsiderate campers in the wilds of Australia, which kind of has a payoff in the crazy graphic death scene toward the end.

k) Game 6
This is a movie Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr. made a few years ago, at the height of each being kind of off the radar, and I think both guys are really talented and watchable, so I had high hopes for this. It had its moments, but mostly it's just appallingly poorly written for a movie about a playwright -- the way the dialogue drips with clumsy exposition in Keaton's first scene with Bebe Neuwirth is ridiculous (although Neuwirth looks pretty incredible), and the big climactic scene at the end is just plain stupid. Keaton's good, but Downey is kind of squandered.

l) Ed Wood
Somehow I never watched this whole movie before, and man it is just awesome.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My latest Radio Hits One column is about VH1's recent list of the Greatest Songs of the '00s.

Monday, October 17, 2011

This weekend the American Studies Association will be hosting the 2011 ASA conference in Baltimore on October 20-23. I've been invited to speak about Baltimore club music, and on Saturday at 10am at the Baltimore Hilton, I'll be giving a presentation with the first public airing of some of the research and interview material from the book I'm writing, Tough Breaks: The Story of Baltimore club Music.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jams Run Free: The Best of Sonic Youth 1996-2011

disc 1:
1. Wildflower Soul (from A Thousand Leaves, 1998)
2. Reena (from Rather Ripped, 2006)
3. What We Know (from The Eternal, 2009)
4. Incinerate (from Rather Ripped, 2006)
5. Jams Run Free (from Rather Ripped, 2006)
6. Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style (from Murray Street, 2002)
7. French Tickler (from A Thousand Leaves, 1998)
8. Anagrama (from SYR1, 1997)
9. Unmade Bed (from Sonic Nurse, 2004)
10. NYC Ghosts & Flowers (from NYC Ghosts & Flowers, 2000)
11. Theme de Simon (from SYR9: Simon Werner a Disparu, 2011)
12. Sunday (from the SubUrbia soundtrack, 1996)
13. Blink (from the Pola X soundtrack, 1999)

disc 2:
1. I Love You Golden Blue (from Sonic Nurse, 2004)
2. No Way (from The Eternal, 2009)
3. Hoarfrost (from A Thousand Leaves, 1998)
4. Rain On Tin (from Murray Street, 2002)
5. New Hampshire (from Sonic Nurse, 2004)
6. Turquoise Boy (from Rather Ripped, 2006)
7. Free City Rhymes (from NYC Ghosts & Flowers, 2000)
8. Malibu Gas Station (from The Eternal, 2009)
9. Karen Koltrane (from A Thousand Leaves, 1998)
10. Karen Revisited aka Karenology (from Murray Street, 2002)
11. Stil (from SYR2, 1997)

After reading David Browne's Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth earlier this year, I lent it to my friend Mat, who I frequently trade music books with. He mentioned that his familiarity with the band's catalog since 1995's Washing Machine is pretty spotty, and since I consider the second half of the band's 30-year career to be frequently amazing, I was happy to put together an overview for him. I also made the mix into a Spotify playlist, although only 19 of the 24 tracks are on it, since "Karen Revisited" is one of those songs they deemed too long to make available and most of the SYR and soundtrack stuff isn't on there. That makes that version of the mix a bit shorter and more accessible without those instrumentals, but I obviously feel like that's a big part of this period of the band that completes the overall picture.

Of course, I happen to be posting this now, a couple days after the quite frankly devastating news that Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have separated, and that the future of the band is uncertain. Obviously they've had a good run and they need to do whatever makes them happy in their own personal lives and that's their business. But this incredibly long-running band always seemed to be built on the foundation of a seemingly rock solid marriage, and the idea of that ending is just heartbreaking to me, beyond them being my favorite band that I thought would just be together and making awesome music as long as they're alive.

And seriously, the music I collected on these mixes is awesome, all of it. It may not be Daydream Nation, and it may be a little mellower than their earlier stuff, but I really feel that no band in rock history has made more great music well beyond their first decade together. Using after Washing Machine as the cutoff point was actually kind of cool because I could just start right at the point where they build their own studio and started the SYR series, which I really feel marks an important cahpter for the band. "Wildflower Soul" kicks off the set since it kind of marks the beginning of Thurston's hippie jam phase, which hit its peak with "Rain On Tin" (possibly my favorite Sonic Youth song ever at this point). Although I consider Murray Street and Sonic Nurse the best albums of this period, Rather Ripped ended up with more songs here, since it has so many nice concise, uptempo songs that are easy to drop anywhere in a mix. And even though this selection features a lot of the band's 7+ minute epics, I did want to keep it somewhat accessible for Mat and anyone else whose interest in the band has waned since Dirty.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

One of the tricky things about bands reuniting after years apart is that even if they went out on top, they rarely truly pick up where they left off. Blink 182's self-titled 2003 album was one of the more unlikely entries on my my top 100 albums of the '00s, a percussion-heavy production showcase of weird hooky power emo. But I figured it was naive or wishful thinking to expect them to return to that sound, which wasn't really the one they were most identified with, for their new album Neighborhoods, after all those years of the members being apart and starring in TV shows and making rap albums and playing in that horrible Angels & Airwaves band.

Neighborhoods is actually closer to Blink 182 than I'd figured on, with Travis Barker's busy loops and bombastic fills still dominating the mix and the songs leaning more towards grandiose arena rock than lean punk pop. But the underwhelming lead single "Up All Night" illustrates exactly how badly this sound can turn out if the songs aren't there, and while that track is one of the low points of the album, the high points aren't a total triumph either. Tom Delonge's enunciation is as entertainingly bizarre as ever, but his singing voice is kind of strangely, unpleasantly weathered, and the more listenable voice of the band, Mark Hoppus, isn't in top form either. Thankfully, the album gets better as it goes along, with the convincing Dude Ranch throwback "Heart's All Gone," and my favorite track, "Wishing Well," perhaps the most seamless combination yet of pop punk early Blink and Cure-worshipping drum-crazy later Blink.

Thursday, October 13, 2011
Some recent The Singles Jukebox blurbs:

Evanescence – What You Want [7/5.86]
Drake – Headlines [3/3.71]
Monica ft. Rick Ross – Anything (To Find You) [4/5.67]
Jessie J – Domino [5/3.22]
Bruno Mars – Marry You [5/5.44]
Rihanna – Cheers (Drink To That) [1/5.20]
Beyoncé – Love On Top [7/6.80]
Coldplay – Paradise [4/4.18]
Big Sean ft. Kanye West & Roscoe Dash – Marvin & Chardonnay [2/3]
Wale ft. Rick Ross & Jeremih – That Way [3/5.29]
J Cole ft. Trey Songz – Can’t Get Enough [2/5.29]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The personal significance of Pearl Jam's twentieth anniversary is that they became my first favorite band shortly after the release of Ten and have been one of my favorite bands ever since. And I'm not 30 yet, so this band has been a major part of my life for 2/3rds of it. Beyond that, I'm interested to see the Pearl Jam Twenty documentary but in no rush, and in the meantime have enjoyed digging into the 2-disc soundtrack.

The challenge facing Pearl Jam as far as assembling a soundtrack for a biography of the band is that almost any shape it could take already exists in their enormous discography. It could've been a career-spanning best-of, but there's already Rearviewmirror. It could've been a rarities collection, but there's already Lost Dogs. It could've been a live album, but there are literally hundreds of those already commercial available. So the soundtrack ends up being all of the above, a grab bag of ephemera that's mostly of interest to fans only, although as a fan I have no problem with that.

3/4ths of the Pearl Jam Twenty soundtrack is live, running the gamut of "SNL" and "MTV Unplugged" appearances to random concert performances of a random assortment of songs, which I can only imagine were picked because video footage of those performances was used in the film (although it's fun to have a reminder of how laughably awful "Bu$hleaguer" was). Of particular interest to me are the 4 tracks on the first disc from the brief Jack Irons era, which I'm a huge fan of and has been woefully underdocumented in the band's official live releases, which started up just after he was replaced by Matt Cameron.

But really the fun stuff is the demos on the first half of the second disc. The two Temple of the Dog demos are hardly revelatory, but fun to hear because I love that album as much as a lot of Pearl Jam albums. A couple pre-Ten demos that never became proper songs are interesting to hear, and Mike McCready's home demo of "Given To Fly" is beautiful. But the best is "Need To Know," Cameron's demo that contains virtually all of the music for what later became Pearl Jam's last great song, "The Fixer," and is a great window into how much creative input he's had into the band's later years. As a lifelong fan, even I know how inessential and fleetingly interesting this stuff is, but I would still happily listen to a whole album of demos like this, which I imagine will come down the pike at some point. By comparison, I listened to a few tracks from the Nevermind reissue the other night and quickly got bored and put on something else; Nirvana was great but I was always a Pearl Jam guy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I wrote a post for the City Paper's Noise blog about Baltimore's Reina Williams appearing on TV's "The X-Factor" last week, including a video of her segment on the show.

TV Diary

Monday, October 10, 2011
a) "Terra Nova"
This has pretty much all the same flaws as the other Spielberg-produced series that debuted over the summer, Falling Skies: overly familiar premise, bland cast, ill-advised 2 hour pilot episode, special effects that are impressive for TV but quickly lose their novelty. Actually I already somewhat like the characters on this show more than Falling Skies, but it's still just kinda lame.

b) "How To Be A Gentleman"
It makes me so sad to see Dave Foley slumming in a show like this, even if his bits tend to be pretty decent in and of themselves, and I kind of hope it stays on the air and does well enough to help him out of his depressing financial situation. Kevin Dillon was always hilarious to me as Johnny Drama but his character here is a more generic meathead, and his suit-wearing blond foil is like some kind of lame tame off-brand Barney Stinson. That said, the writing on this show is pretty decent, it's mostly the premise that makes everything feel corny.

c) "Suburgatory"
This show definitely isn't the cutting satire it wants to be, and a whole show of a city girl just constantly being condescending about the suburbs is pretty obnoxious. But said girl is really, really cute and a pretty engaging lead for the show, and the supporting cast is solid, so this could actually work.

d) "Pan Am"
I feel like even Mad Men can be annoyingly on the nose and glib about the era it's set in, so with shows like this and The Playboy Club that are almost intentionally broader and clumsier about portraying the '60s, I'm content to just relax and try to appreciate the eye candy (and I've been crazy about Kelli Garner for so long that I'm just happy to have her on a TV show). This is actually kinda sorta better than I expected, if still dumb.

e) "A Gifted Man"
I like Patrick Wilson and this show seems kind of smart and well written, but I just don't know if I can handle any of these brooding network shows about people who talk to ghosts.

f) "Charlie's Angels"
This show just feels so low rent and half-assed, even for what it is, that it reminds me more of that '90 syndicated Pamela Anderson lady spy show "V.I.P." than anything on a network, even something as campy as the original "Charlie's Angels." And I just don't think I'm into Minka Kelly enough to even watch this for shallow reasons.

g) Mel Brooks/Dick Cavett Together Again
Man, I loved the hell out of watching these awesome old dudes sit and talk about the old days for an hour while they've still got their wits about them. Brooks may not be capable of making hilarious movies anymore, but he's definitely still a great storyteller and joke teller.

h) "Happy Endings"
This show was good in its half season in the spring, but it really feels like it's hitting the ground running this fall and cementing itself as probably the best new sitcom of 2011, cast is gelling and the writing's on fire. I'm as surprised as you are.

i) "Whisker Wars"
The world of competitive beard and mustache growing is exactly as absurd as you'd expect, but it doesn't really make for interesting TV.

j) "Ridiculousness"
The idea of this old-ass uncharismatic pro skateboarder from the '90s becoming one of MTV's biggest franchises with 3 shows now is just bizarre to me, and the latest might be his biggest piece of shit yet: another show rehashing YouTube videos, without the joke writing of "Tosh.0" or "Web Soup" or even the slightest attempt to be anything other than idiots laughing at videos you've already seen.

k) "The Big C"
This season had a few good moments and the finale kind of ended with a bang but man I really lost interest in this show.

l) "Parenthood"
I like this season of the show so far but they continue to put these likable characters through some of the dumbest, most eye-rollingly obvious and torturous storylines possible. I'm actually impressed that some of the stupid plots they set into place in the season premiere have yielded some good moments since then.

m) "Tough Love Miami"
I've always enjoyed this silly VH1 self help dating show, so I'm glad it's back. I'm already kind of getting into a groove of rolling my eyes at certain women, although usually I actually kind of like some of them or root for them more.

n) "Breaking Bad"
I have mixed feelings about this season, which I guess is better than feeling totally jerked around and close to giving up on the show entirely at points in the 2nd and 3rd seasons. Now it at least has an end date and feels a bit like they're building toward something instead of making up things as they go along, although it's kind of hilarious how much they've totally forgot that the main characters have a newborn baby. Saul's secretary chewing out Walter in the last episode was just perfect, though, perhaps my favorite moment of the show ever.

o) "Sons of Anarchy"
This season has gotten off to a good start, especially with Rockmond Dunbar from "Terriers" as the new sheriff in town. Man do I miss "Terriers," though.

p) "True Blood"
Totally got sucked (no pun intended) back into this stupid crazy show this year,

q) "Wilfred"
After really enjoying the American adaptation, it was interesting to watch a few episodes of the original Australian series.

r) "Entourage"
This show had an appropriately empty and braindead ending, it was almost kind of fun to see how completely they could abandon all sense of what was even slightly entertaining about "Entourage" to begin with.

s) "Pop-Up Video"
So happy to have this show back, I was literally talking to my wife about how they need to make new episodes like 3 days before they announced it.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Trans Am played their Futureworld album live in Baltimore on Thursday, and I reviewed the show for the City Paper's Noise blog.

Monthly Report: September Albums

Thursday, October 06, 2011

1. Deleted Scenes - Young People's Church Of The Air
I feel like I fell into being a fan of the Washington, D.C. band Deleted Scenes somewhat by accident; I've seen them live about five times because they keep playing show in Baltimore with bands I like, and over time their songs really grew on me and their 2009 full-length debut Birdseed Shirt became kind of a sleeper favorite. This album seems maybe more consistently enjoyable overall, with some pretty impressive and creative production choices, but the highlights don't stand out as immediately and addictively as the 3 or 4 best songs on Birdseed Shirt.

2. J. Cole - Cole World: The Sideline Story
J. Cole is kind of a bland rapper, but in a year where the other big major label debuts in hip hop are Big fucking Sean and Mac fucking Miller, he deserves credit for not being outright terrible. And his beats on pre-album singles like "Who Dat" and "Blow Up" were impressive enough that I kind of had to check the album just for the production, which really is pretty dope, I'm kinda hoping that his career pops off enough to the point that he starts doing beats on everybody's albums. He thankfully doesn't actually sound like Drake despite all the comparisons, but he does share that pathetic earnest 'I'll be jerking off to the day I got my record deal for the rest of my life' vibe that permeates the album, and is even less appealing in cocky mode on that stupid Trey Songz song. All in all this is a pretty solid album, though, more the 2nd half than the slow 1st half, especially that great song with Missy.

3. Evangelista - In Animal Tongue
Carla Bozulich has carved out such a nomadic creative existence over the years (even her best and best known band, the Geraldine Fibbers, only made two albums) that it's strange and bittersweet to me that she's now got a steady, long-running creative outlet and that I have pretty mixed feelings about it. But her fourth Evangelista album is probably my second favorite to date, after 2008'a Hello, Voyager, continuing to stretch her already pretty visceral and forbidding aesthetic to new breaking points of spooky raw nerve atmospherics.

4. Wild Flag - Wild Flag
Nobody in Wild Flag was really my '90s female indie rock hero because, well, that was Carla Bozulich, and as far as Sleater-Kinney goes I prefer Corin to Carrie. But Janet Weiss is a great drummer and I've really come to have a lot of respect for Mary Timony over the years, so this is pretty solid if not at all revelatory in the tradition of the best supergroups.

5. Wilco - The Whole Love
Ever since Nels Cline joined the band, every time Wilco releases an album I think I should really check it out to see if he has any good parts on it, and I usually never do (although I really love that "Impossible Germany" song and enjoyed the festival set I saw them do a few years ago). I decided way back circa Summer Teeth that I just do not have much compatibility with Jeff Tweedy's voice and songs, but I am glad I checked this out, even if there's not a whole lot of noticeable Nels, mainly because the album is bookended by two really great long songs, "Art of Almost" and "One Sunday Morning.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Respect Magazine recently interviewed me about the book I'm writing, Tough Breaks: The Story of Baltimore Club Music.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

I wrote about Skarr Akbar and DJ Jabril's The Beautiful Mind: Block Work Bootleg for the City Paper's Noise blog.

Netflix Diary

Monday, October 03, 2011
a) "Community," Season 2
Before anything else, let me just say that I still think Netflix DVD rental is the greatest thing since sliced bread and will continue to use it (under any name, under any price rate) for a long, long time, and I'm not really sure what everyone's shitting their pants about. Anyway, I had a lot of fun a few months ago revisiting the first season of "Community" on DVD and watching all the commentary tracks and other bonus features. But I might've started watching these too soon, especially since I was watching the season 2 reruns all summer, because it just kinda feels stale and makes me want to just focus on watching the new episodes now that the third season has started. Still an amazing season of a great show, though.

b) Sucker Punch
I think my wife thought this was more depressing than the fun she expected, but I kind of liked the downer aspects of it. It really wasn't much of a "yeah, chicks kicking ass!" movie after all, though, and a few cool scenes aside I wasn't that impressed by the visuals, and I say that as someone who doesn't have much of a problem with Zack Snyder -- Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole probably looked better, to be honest.

c) The Lincoln Lawyer
I remember seeing the first big trailer for this and just going "HOLY SHIT MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY IS The LINCOLN LAWYER FUCK YEAH" perhaps just out of total shock of him doing something that looked actually interesting instead of another romcom with Kate Hudson. And it really did live up to my expectations, it's a really cool, smartly assembled thriller with a great supporting cast that McConaughey actually doesn't feel out of place in.

d) The Adjustment Bureau
There's nothing I hate more than big action/sci-fi movies that make everything hinge on a love story without making the slightest effort to make the viewer actually care about the couple or their relationship beyond casting two attractive famous people. So this movie was really refreshing and engaging right off the bat just by virtue of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt having great screen chemistry and believable and funny banter, so much so that at times the whole huge concept of the movie almost felt secondary, or like it maybe should have been. The only time the whole ridiculous premise started to feel a little silly was when somebody ominously said "everybody with a hat is a threat," which really should have been the tagline on the poster. But really, despite some rough patches this was solid.

e) Rango
Visually this was pretty cool but it kind of washed over me, which may be my fault, I wasn't paying much attention.

f) The Mechanic
There's something just too perfect about Jason Statham starring in a Charles Bronson remake. My wife loves both Statham and Ben Foster so this was right up her alley, and I enjoyed it too, some pretty dope action setpieces, although nothing super memorable or over the top like Statham's best flicks.

g) The Rite
Anthony Hopkins: another actor my wife is kind of strangely a huge fan of. This had some cool creepy scenes but I'm a big fan of The Exorcist and it always feels like other movies about exorcisms consistently fail to avoid obvious comparisons, which are inevitably unflattering.

h) The Dilemma
I don't feel like a lot of people really enjoy Vince Vaughn just being chatty and obnoxious like I do, but when he's on, man, he's on, and this movie features him in better form than, I dunno, Couples Retreat or Four Christmases, and he has a good dynamic with Kevin James here. The movie as a whole is kind of a mess, but it's an interesting mess that diverts from the romcom formula in as many good ways as bad ways.

i) 127 Hours
I wasn't particularly jazzed about the idea of seeing this, partly because the trailer's (understandable) reliance on the lighter moments of the movie made it look overly goofy, partly because I kinda knew it would be really uncomfortable to watch. I was kind of surprised how moved I was by the end of the movie, though, I really kinda felt for the guy and what he went through and was more impressed by Franco's performance that I thought I'd be.

j) The King's Speech
This was whatever, I didn't love it, didn't hate it.

k) True Grit
I generally prefer Coen Bros flicks when there's a bit more comedy in the mix, so I was apprehensive about having the same problems connecting with True Grit that I had with No Country For Old Men and A Serious Man. But I really enjoyed this, felt very character driven and involving, great use of the cast, had me on the edge of my seat toward the end.

l) "Better Off Ted," Season 1
I'm still so annoyed this show was canceled, it was so sharp and quick and meanly satirical, but hey, that's what DVDs are for, and it holds up well to multiple viewings.

m) Brooklyn Lobster
I can't even remember how I ended up with this movie on my queue, but man was it boring and pointless, which made slightly more sense after I watched a behind the scenes featurette explaining how the director wrote the movie about the true story of his own family's lobster shack. Martin Scorsese "presents" this movie according to the DVD cover but I have no idea what that really means and the prestige of his supposed involvement doesn't have any discernable effect on the quality of the movie.

n) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Man I fucking loved this movie, enjoyed The Long Kiss Goodnight and the first couple Lethal Weapon movies but didn't realize what a total genius Shane Black is until I watched this, so psyched about him directing the next Iron Man movie now. This movie is also the closest Val Kilmer has ever coming to recapturing his energy from Real Genius, which in and of itself is enough to make a movie classic in my eyes.

o) "Deadwood," Season 2
Even though I put this on my best TV of the decade list I still don't feel like a total convert to this show; there are a lot of great individual moments of acting and dialogue writing and set design and atmosphere-building, but it hasn't quite added up to a cohesive whole that I genuinely care about yet.

p) "Huff," Season 1
I feel weird about finally deciding to rent this show just before a new Hank Azaria show started airing (and doubly so because I'm concurrently watching new episodes of another Showtime series co-starring Oliver Platt, "The Big C"). This is occasionally a really good show but it also feels a bit over top with all the standard premium cable edginess and nastiness, and it's unnerving how this show seems to have so much of the same people behind the music and direction and production as "Dead Like Me" (which was on Showtime around the same time, natch), so it all feels kind of eerily familiar.

q) "Mystery Science Theater 3000" - Gunslinger
Once again, watching some old Joel-era "MST3K" I'd never seen before. This one didn't seem especially funny, but they're all good, obviously.

r) Empire Of The Sun
This was good, although I think I enjoyed the performances more than the story or anything else. Not just young Christian Bale but also early Malkovich and Joey Pants were pretty good. Like with a lot of these movies, though, I wasn't paying super close attention because I was chasing around my toddler half the time.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Demi Lovato's first two albums, 2008's Don't Forget and 2009's Here We Go Again, came out 10 months apart and were both pretty great little slices of slick guitar pop, and I thought she was well on track to a career path along the lines of Kelly Clarkson or Pink, but perhaps more interesting by virtue of her love of metal. But like most other Disney-bred starlets, Loevato had to go through growing pains sooner or later, and that happened last year when she had a whole public meltdown that involved punching a backup dancer and going into inpatient treatment for cutting and an eating disorder.

It seemed like Lovato owned up to and dealt with her personal problems pretty well, so in a way I felt like it was more of a bad omen for her music that she started talking about her third album taking more of a clubby R&B direction. When the lead single finally arrived, "Skyscraper" swung in an opposite but not necessarily preferable direction with a histrionic power ballad that may have been trying to wring her personal problems into big cathartic pop moment but mostly just stumbles on that stupid chorus lyric. So I wssn't really sure what to expect with Unbroken, but either was I wasn't expecting much.

As it turns out, the album is pretty committed to the club vibe, and "Skyscraper" is an outlier (along with "Fix A Heart," which is a far better wounded ballad). The album opens with the first Timbaland/Missy Elliott collaboration we've heard in years, and it's both underwhelming and just not a good fit for Lovato's voice. In fact in general she has a voice that suits pop/rock well but comes off a bit thin and brittle over R&B tracks, which kind of dooms the whole album to sound like a doomed mistake. Some songs, especially the title track and "Hold Up," combine some cool production textures with a tune that's in Lovato's wheelhouse, but those moments are few and far between.