Monday, April 30, 2012

I wrote about the new Gary B & The Notions album, out on May 8th, for It has a song called "Lyndsy Fonseca"!

Friday, April 27, 2012

I wrote a post on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog about Vivek Muralidhar of Valium Eel, who recently passed away, and a posthumous collection of the band's songs that was recently uploaded to Band Camp by Jon Ehrens of White Life.

1997, Reconsidered

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Top 50 Albums of 1997:

1. Skeleton Key - Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon
2. Trans Am - Surrender To The Night
3. Mike Watt - Contemplating The Engine Room
4. Smart Went Crazy - Con Art
5. Elliott Smith - Either/Or
6. Camp Lo - Uptown Saturday Night
7. The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death
8. Radiohead - OK Computer
9. Janet Jackson - The Velvet Rope
10. Timbaland and Magoo - Welcome To Our World
11. Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape
12. Ben Folds Five - Whatever And Ever Amen
13. Jay-Z - In My Lifetime, Vol. 1
14. Spiritualized - Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
15. Dinosaur Jr. - Hand It Over
16. No I.D. - Accept Your Own And Be Yourself (The Black Album)
17. Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly
18. Amon Tobin - Bricolage
19. Erykah Badu - Baduizm
20. Three 6 Mafia - Chapter 2: World Domination
21. Nels Cline and Thurston Moore - In-Store
22. Common - One Day It'll All Make Sense
23. Supergrass - In It For The Money
24. Puff Daddy and The Family - No Way Out
25. Wyclef Jean - The Carnival
26. The Geraldine Fibbers - Butch
27. The Dismemberment Plan - Is Terrified
28. Shudder To Think - 50,000 B.C.
29. Mystikal - Unpredictable
30. Daft Punk - Homework
31. Shania Twain - Come On Over
32. World Party - Egyptology
33. Busta Rhymes - When Disaster Strikes
34. Huffamoose - We've Been Had Again
35. Pavement - Brighten The Corners
36. Third Eye Blind - Third Eye Blind
37. Superchunk - Indoor Living
38. Björk - Homogenic
39. Michael Penn - Resigned
40. Scarface - The Untouchable
41. Morphine - Like Swimming
42. Hepcat - Right On Time
43. Ben Harper - The Will To Live
44. that dog. - Retreat From The Sun
45. Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out
46. Jurasic 5 - J5 EP
47. Lake Trout - Volume For The Rest Of It
48. Chisel - Set You Free
49. Pelt - Techeod
50. Wu-Tang Clan - Wu-Tang Forever

After doing entries like this about 1999 and 1998, I find myself somewhat eager to get over with 1997, which I think of as kind of the beginning of that late '90s period I feel very ambivalent and unenthusiastic about, and onto earlier years I have more visceral nostalgia for. I'm not sure if I think of 1997 as one of my least favorite years for music in the decade, or just one of the uncoolest, the tackiest, the most ickily '90s. My brother buying those Jay-Z and Missy and Timbaland and Magoo albums was probably a big step toward popular contemporary hip hop being really central to my taste, particularly as an album listener, and Vol. 1 and Welcome To Our World especially I love way more than almost anyone else I know. It was a decent year for mainstream rock, in some ways the last gasp of alt-rock radio's golden era as I remember it.

I was 15 in 1997, and I'd just started high school the previous fall and had kind of fallen in with some new friends that ended up being really influential on my musical taste, guys that got me into things like the Velvet Underground and Fugazi and A Tribe Called Quest and Television. So I think a lot of my memories of that year are tied up in discovering older music, more than what was new at the time. As I said before, '98 was the first time I made a year-end top 10, but I definitely thought about my album of the year in '97 and decided it was Ben Folds Five, with Spiritualized a runner up, because I wanted to be contrarian about thinking there was a better British rock album than OK Computer. I still like those album, I just like some others a lot more now. There are a ton of good ones I couldn't even fit into this top 50 (by Primus, Patti Smith, Portastatic, Depeche Mode, Roni Size, Free Kitten, Ken Stringfellow, Cujo, and so on and so on).

Top 100 Singles of 1997:

1. Foo Fighters - "Everlong"
2. Aaliyah - "One In A Million"
3. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - "The Impression That I Get"
4. Busta Rhymes - "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See"
5. Third Eye Blind - "Semi-Charmed Life"
6. Puff Daddy f/ The LOX, Lil Kim and the Notorious B.I.G. - "It's All About The Benjamins (Remix)"
7. Makaveli - "Hail Mary"
8. Erykah Badu - "Tyrone"
9. Blink 182 - "Dammit"
10. OMC - "How Bizarre"
11. Wu-Tang Clan - "Triumph"
12. Nine Inch Nails - "The Perfect Drug"
13. The Beatnuts f/ Big Punisher and Cuban Link - "Off The Books"
14. Mark Morrison - "Return Of The Mack"
15. Better Than Ezra - "Desperately Wanting"
16. Radiohead - "Paranoid Android"
17. Jay-Z - "Who You Wit"
18. Notorious B.I.G. f/ Mase and Puff Daddy - "Mo Money Mo Problems"
19. Bruce Springsteen - "Secret Garden"
20. En Vogue - "Don't Let Go (Love)"
21. Live - "Lakini's Juice"
22. Third Eye Blind - "Graduate"
23. Camp Lo - "Lucchini (This Is It)"
24. Aphex Twin - "Come To Daddy"
25. Pavement - "Stereo"
26. Erykah Badu - "Next Lifetime"
27. Wyclef Jean featuring Refugee Allstars - "We Trying To Stay Alive"
28. Bjork - "Joga"
29. Everclear - "Everything To Everyone"
30. Foo Fighters - "Monkey Wrench"
31. U2 - "Discotheque"
32. Dru Hill - "Never Make A Promise"
33. The Geraldine Fibbers - "California Tuffy"
34. The Prodigy - "Breathe"
35. Foxy Brown f/ Jay-Z - "I'll Be"
36. 112 - "Cupid"
37. Soul Coughing - "Soft Serve"
38. Blackstreet f/ Ol' Dirty Bastard and Slash - "Fix"
39. Huffamoose - "Wait"
40. Hepcat - "Can't Wait"
41. Paula Cole - "I Don't Want To Wait"
42. Erykah Badu - "On and On"
43. Our Lady Peace - "Clumsy"
44. Scarface f/ 2Pac- "Smile"
45. DJ Kool - "Let Me Clear My Throat"
46. Mack 10 - "Backyard Boogie"
47. Ma$e - "Feel So Good"
48. Aqua - "Barbie Girl"
49. Jay-Z f/ Blackstreet - "City Is Mine"
50. Queen Pen - "Party Ain't A Party"
51. Freak Nasty - "Da Dip"
52. Smash Mouth - "Walkin' On The Sun"
53. Sugar Ray f/ Supercat - "Fly"
54. Ben Folds Five - "The Battle Of Who Could Care Less"
55. Janet Jackson f/ Q-Tip - "Got Til It's Gone"
56. Spice Girls - "Say You'll Be There"
57. Supergrass - "Richard III"
58. Big Wreck - "The Oaf (My Luck Is Wasted)"
59. Ben Harper - "Faded"
60. Bjork - "I Miss You"
61. Superchunk - "Water Hands"
62. SWV f/ Puff Daddy - "Someone"
63. Mary J. Blige - "Everything"
64. that dog. - "Never Say Never"
65. Blur - "Song 2"
66. R. Kelly - "Gotham City"
67. Notorious B.I.G. - "Sky's The Limit"
68. Our Lady Peace - "Superman's Dead"
69. The Roots f/ Raphael Saadiq - "What They Do"
70. Daft Punk - "Da Funk"
71. White Town - "Your Woman"
72. Goldfinger - "This Lonely Place"
73. Supergrass - "Late In The Day"
74. SWV f/ Missy Elliott - "Can We"
75. Dru Hill - "5 Steps"
76. Roni Size - "Brown Paper Bag"
77. Ma$e f/ DMX, The LOX and Black Rob - "24 Hrs. To Live"
78. Freak Nasty - "Da' Dip"
79. Timbaland and Magoo - "Up Jumps Da Boogie"
80. Usher - "You Make Me Wanna"
81. Bjork - "Bachelorette"
82. The Chemical Brothers - "Block Rockin' Beats"
83. Spice Girls - "Wannabe"
84. Busta Rhymes - "Dangerous"
85. Missy Elliott - "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)"
86. Incubus - "A Certain Shade Of Green"
87. R. Kelly - "I Believe I Can Fly"
88. Supergrass - "Late In The Day"
89. Sting - "Roxanne '97 (Puff Daddy Remix)"
90. Puff Daddy f/ Faith Evans and 112 - "I'll Be Missing You"
91. Reel Big Fish - "Sell Out"
92. Dru Hill - "In My Bed"
93. Fiona Apple - "Criminal"
94. The Cardigans - "Lovefool"
95. Missy Elliott f/ Da Brat and Lil Kim - "Sock It 2 Me"
96. Sarah McLachlan - "Building A Mystery"
97. Hanson - "MMMBop"
98. Beth Orton - "She Cries Your Name"
99. The Verve - "Bittersweet Symphony"
100. Notorious B.I.G. - "Hypnotize"

Oh yeah, this year was really fucking good for singles. As much as it's easy to think of it as the year of Bad Boy, or of alt-rock sellouts with videos directed by McG, or 'electronica' hype, or whatever, there's a really rich variety here. Definitely kind of an odd transitional period, but one that sowed the seeds for a lot of great things that have happened in the 15 years since.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This week I wrote a Radio Hits One column for the Village Voice's Sound of the City blog about how yesterday's flash in the pan is today's hitmaker, from the guy from Semisonic writing "Someone Like You" to one of the guys from Geggy Tah producing "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)."

Movie Diary

Sunday, April 22, 2012
a) Moneyball
I have been enjoying Aaron Sorkin's run of commissioned screenplay adaptations the last few years, which utilize his strengths as a dialogue writer without giving him the full creative freedom to get in his own way like he often does with his TV projects. This definitely is not as good as The Social Network or even Charlie Wilson's War, though, and the problem lies in both the direction, which is kind of slow and mauldin and dimly lit, and the acting. have mixed feelings about Brad Pitt as an actor but for some reason he's one of the most ill-suited actors to ever recite Sorkin dialogue (and he is really just reciting it, badly), and Jonah Hill is aight but really not worth the Oscar nom. Philip Seymour Hoffman (who was also great in Charlie Wilson) is a welcome presence, though.

b) Horrible Bosses
This is one of those movies that seemed more fun in the trailer, I think. Jason Sudeikis was definitely the funniest guy in the cast. Nice to see Kevin Spacey getting back to the kind of thing he does best, really it's practically a reprise of his role from Swimming With Sharks.

c) Midnight In Paris
The last few years I have felt like an idiiot touching a hot stove over and over when I keep sitting down and watching every new Woody Allen movie hoping for the best and being even more appalled than I was by the last one. This is finally the dead cat bounce where he wound up back in tolerable territory, though, even if the amount of money this movie made is just absurd. This would be a good movie for grade school kids who are just starting to learn about 20th century art and literature to watch and be proud of themselves for understandinging, I don't know what value it really has for adults, though, other than a strong ccast and some amiable performances.

Monthly Report: March 2012 Albums

Thursday, April 19, 2012

1. Melanie Fiona - The MF Life
Every song Melanie Fiona has had on the radio in the past year has been total catnip for me, so I've been eagerly awaiting this long-delayed album finally coming out, and am happy to say it lived up to my expectations. Just a ridiculous wrecking crew of great and/or underrated R&B producers (Salaam Remi, Jack Splash, Rico Love, Los Da Mystro, No I.D.) and Fiona's surprisingly adaptable voice taking on new shades and qualities to suit each track. Like any major label album by committee it's far from perfect, but that has to do more with people like J. Cole and B.o.B showing up than the songs or the singer. Fiona came off a little too self-consciously retro to me on her earlier stuff, so I like when she stays away from that style, but "Wrong Side Of A Love Song" just kills anyway. Worthwhile bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, too.

2. Lee Ranaldo - Between The Tides And Times
Since Sonic Youth is my favorite band of all time and I've always been a big booster of the songs sung by Lee Ranaldo, I've been trying very hard not to have astronomically high expectations for his first big 'song-driven' solo album coming so soon after SY's apparent indefinite hiatus. The fact that his backing band includes Nels Cline and Steve Shelley just makes it more obviously catnip for me. But I've always kind of suspected than Lee's songs thrive in the context of their rarity on SY albums, and the kind of uniformity of this album can easily make the whole thing sag under the weight of expectations. Still, this is very close to what I've always wanted to hear Lee to outside of the context of the band and it sounds really great, love that his classic rock influences shine through so clearly.

3. Dawn Richard - Armor On EP
I enjoyed reviewing this along with the other Diddy-Dirty Money solo effort from Kalenna, but I'm really still digesting Armor On, it's a really dense, slow-burning record. I think "Automatic" is maybe my favorite song. I'm still kind of thinking of it as just one component of the ever-expanding Last Train To Paris universe as opposed to a self-contained work, though.

4. Among Wolves - This Is A Wave Goodbye
I also wrote a rave review of this album, and have written glowingly of their live show a couple times, but it bears repeating that Among Wolves are really fucking good, easily one of my favorite bands in Baltimore the last few years. Bands that balance multiple singer/songwriters are kind of a lost art.

5. E-40 - The Block Brochure: Welcome to the Soil 1, 2 & 3
It's very difficult to talk about a project like this without focusing on the quantity rather than the quality, but of course the remarkable thing about E-40's recent late career rennaissance is that he's been able to release albums two at a time and now three at a time without there being any notable valleys in the quality, and a pretty wide variety of highs covering pretty much every nook and cranny of his aesthetic (at the moment my favorites are "Sidewalk Memorial" and "Let's Fuck"). Of course, it'd probably be easier to digest this stuff if he trickled it out in mixtapes over the course of the year instead of doing a massive data dump every March, but I respect that the whole point of 40 doing things this way is that he's as always out of step with everybody else, following his own muse. I should point out, by the way, that March 2012 has been a fucking amazing month for albums and probably the best since I started doing these monthly report things, if this month's top 10 had to be my top 10 for the whole year I'd be fine with that. I mean, one of these entries is technically three albums!

6. Say Anything - Anarchy, My Dear
Say Anything are on my shortlist for maybe the best rock band of the last 10 years, and I genuinely love all three of their previous albums (not counting the out-of-print Baseball, which I haven't heard). Sadly, this album is the quality dropoff that many others mistakenly took In Defense and/or the self-titled album to be, and there are some real missteps, like "Admit It Again," an inferior sequel to what was already one of their most problematic songs. Brad Nelson's recent Voice piece kinda hits the nail on the head ("Album two is the classic. Album three is the sprawling double album. Album four is the realmic shift into pop. Album five misunderstands the function of the previous two, attempts to reverse-engineer the band back to album two, pick up their roots and replant them. But there is a degrading"). But it's still a pretty good album that justifies my continued stanning for this band. After the advance interviews in which Max Bemis said they were "going for a Stones/Stooges/Clash feel" I was surprised that this is easily their least rocking album to date -- a lot of the guitars are acoustic or 'clean' electric, and the best songs are the most brazenly pop ones like "Overbiter" and "So Good."

7. Gunplay - Bogata Rich: The Sequel
A lot of my rap critic homies have been raving about Gunplay for a while but I was never really in a rush to check out any Rick Ross protege until I became a fan of Meek Mill. This guy is definitely in Ross's lane both musically and vocally but puts together words a lot more impressively than his boss, and sounds at home in the MMG aesthetic instead of just going with the flow like Wale or whatever. Not an amazing tape but pretty solid.

8. Lands & Peoples - Pop Guilt
My friend Mat at Mobtown Studios mixed this record and he was the one that originally told me about Lands & Peoples a couple years ago and was really excited about them. It took me a while to kind of get on their wavelength and appreciate what they're doing, as often happens with young Baltimore bands, but it's pretty dope, strong singing and melodies and some pretty original instrumental arrangements. Of course, them naming the album Pop Guilt and talking about mixing in pop among influences "such as Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and St. Vincent" just makes me feel like these are really young guys with a very different musical background than me, but all that ultimately matters is that I enjoy what they're making.

9. Skeleton Key - Gravity Is The Enemy
I'm a huge fan of Skeleton Key's 1997 debut, Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon, and recently had the urge to listen to it and checked to see if it was on Spotify. It wasn't, but there was an album credited to 'Skeleton Key' that I automatically assumed was some other band with the same name, until I gave it a listen and realized that yes, in fact, the Erik Sanko-fronted Skeleton Key had just released their first album in years two days earlier, which was a pretty eerie thing to stumble upon. I'm not a huge fan of what Sanko has done with the band since Fantastic with later lineups -- the original quartet had a really great chemistry and it kind of feels like he's trying to copy that with different people, right down to other drummers mimicking Rick Lee's 'junk' percussion sound. Still, any Skeleton Key is better than no Skeleton Key, and this album has its moments.

10. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
Over the last few years Springsteen's '70s and '80s songs about financial hardship in America have taken on a lot of new personal resonance for me and helped me through some really hard times, and I've often thought about the fact that nobody has come even close to writing as well about our current economic realities. Bruce evidently had the same thought and decided to take up the cause, which I appreciate in spirit while not really feeling much about the results. It's nice to hear Clarence's final recordings with the band, and a few songs, particularly the title track, are nice, but in general this is only mildly less banal than the last couple E Street albums. And I'm kind of pissed that Bruce finally released a studio recording of "Land Of Hope And Dreams," probably my favorite song he's written in the last 15 years, and they totally fucked it up and changed the drums too much.

TV Diary

Monday, April 16, 2012
a) "Girls"
I feel so reactionary just having the need to watch this show after its mountain of advance press and having some stupid opinion about it, especially since I spent a few minutes with that Tiny Furniture movie and had a huge wave of revulsion and just had to turn it off. Anyway this show is OK for what it is, but I'm pretty indifferent to the idea of watching people sit in a New York apartment listening to MGMT and talking about living in New York or whatever, seems like the most boring and payed out possible way to be get a bunch of 'voice of a generation' talk, almost Garden State level lame, even if it's undeniably at least a little smarter and more self-aware than that (while too willing to hold up being smart and self-aware as virtues in and unto themselves and not actually do much with them).

b) "Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23"
I was pretty skeptical about this show ahead of time because the whole 'B-list celebrity playing unflattering caricature of themselves' thing they're doing with James Van Der Beek is so, so played out. But I like Krysten Ritter and I have to admit she's done well at really throwing herself into a pretty ridiculous role and making it work, and now and again the writing shows little glints of serious potential.

c) "Scandal"
When Vanity Fair did their big cover spread recently of women from TV and I was like "woah, Kerry Washington has a show? I need to see that." It's just aight, with a good cast, though I don't really care about any legal procedural enough to even appreciate some kind of novel twist on the genre.

d) "Magic City"
The whole "Mad Men"-birthed trend of glamorous/sexy period piece shows from the late '50s and early '60s is just kind of laughably played out and predictable at this point, but I am glad that it's come to premium cable and Starz has bankrolled this lavish, faintly pointless world of insanely hot women. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is kind of underrated and it's nice to see him headline a decent show, although he doesn't carry it as much as he probably could/should.

e) "Bent"
I feel bad for David Walton, he's a genuinely talented guy (he was hilarious in Fired Up!) and NBC clearly wants him to be a star, but they keep putting him in doomed shows -- this is the third sitcom he's had on the network in the space of 2 years. It's also by far the best of those shows, which makes its brief run (6 episodes over 3 weeks in March and April) all the more bittersweet. It's basically an update of "Who's The Boss," though.

f) "Best Friends Forever"
Another doomed new NBC sitcom, not as good as "Bent" but surprisingly aight. At first I expected the worst because I know one of the leads mainly from "Best Week Ever" and this is so low budget it looks like a web series, but the small cast has some actual chemistry and there was a pretty realistic edge to the couple-with-third-wheel-female-friend dynamic.

g) "Stevie TV"
Some chick doing unfunny pop culture impressions on VH1, which gives me serious Julie Brown flashbacks. She's pretty hot when she's not done up in some terrifying costume, but that's not very often.

h) Game Change
When I first saw brief clips of this in HBO ads a few months ago I thought it was a documentary, so when I found out that Julianne Moore was playing Sarah Palin I was just taken aback and amazed by the resemblance. Actually watching it, though, she doesn't really look that close to Palin (to be totally real here, Palin is way hotter), and the performance is okay but nothing special, although much better than Ed Harris's John McCain. On the whole the perspective and the framing of the story just fell kinda flat, although Woody Harrelson was dope as always.

i) "GCB"
When I first saw ads for this I was like hey, a sitcom with Kristen Chenoweth and a bunch of hot southern ladies, that could be good. But then I realized it's actually an hourlong drama on after "Desperate Housewives" and it's not very funny at all and didn't really stay awake through a whole episodes.

j) "Luck"
I got through a second episode of this before feeling a "Treme" level of apathy and giving up. I felt kind of relieved when it got canceled even though the circumstances of it are pretty unfortunate.

k) "Happy Endings"
Man this show has been on fire lately, really bummed that its season ended fairly early and it'll probably like 6 months until any new episodes. Damon Wayans Jr. is brilliant, which is something I never ever expected to find myself saying.

l) "Fairly Legal"
This was a very enjoyable little USA network trifle last year, I'm glad it's back. They seem to be trying to change the dynamic a little this year with a new boss, and it works well enough, although the way they introduced him (a change meeting with a guy at a bar who ends up buying the company) was kind of an unintentional echo of the last couple episodes of "Sports Night."

m) "The Voice"
I always hated the freak show auditions and then got excited about the finals in "American Idol" but I'm finding the opposite reaction with "The Voice" -- it's really fun to get introduced to the singers and see the coaches compete to claim them. But then the whole narrowing down process is not nearly as exciting, particularly those stupid boxing ring competitions where they turn a bunch of songs that aren't meant to be duets into showcases for two different singers, and it invariably becomes more about who's more suited to the material than who's better.

n) "Justified"
I was so big on the second season of this show that I almost didn't want the third season to be as good, but it really is. They've really tied all the past and present storylines really well along with some one-off plots and Neal McDonough just killing it as the main villain this year. I haven't caught up on all the episodes yet and I'm kinda pissed that "The Soup" aired a pretty huge spoiler of what happens.

o) "Shatner's Raw Nerve"
I happened upon this show one day when "Weird" Al Yankovic was the guest and wow, William Shatner is really just not a good interviewer at all. And he asked Yankovic about his parents' death in like the first 5 minutes of the show, no warming up or leading into it at all, that's totally a last-ten-minutes kind of question.

p) "Unsung"
This is still one of the best music-oriented shows on TV, although I don't get around to watching nearly as many episodes as I'd like to. The Ray Parker Jr. one was really interesting, I need to investigate his catalog more, I had no idea how many huge records he wrote or played on before going solo.

q) "Fraggle Rock"
When I was a kid I loved this show, my grandparents in Delaware had HBO and they would tape it and let us watch whenever we visited. So it made me so happy to see that Hub plays reruns of it, I watch it with my son now every morning. And even though "Sesame Street" is a better kids' show (and my son likes it more) and "The Muppet Show" is a better comedy show, there's something about "Fraggle Rock" that is so fun and strange, they created this whole intricate little world with all these different types of creatures that were all brought to live with different kinds of puppetry, and there's a whole mythology to that world and a chemistry among its characters.

Friday, April 13, 2012

My latest Radio Hits One column is about Young Money's radio domination and the rise of other rap label superpowers.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I wrote a brief obituary of Susie Mudd of Music Monthly, who passed away last week, for the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog. Thanks to Kelly Connelly for the quotes and information she contributed.

Monthly Report: March 2012 Singles

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

1. One Direction - "What Makes You Beautiful"
As far as the whole silly 'return of the boy bands' goes, I'm finding myself strangely partisan about One Direction over The Wanted (or over the new Bieber or Carly Rae Jepsen, if we're extending the umbrella to new teenpop hits). "Glad You Came" sounds exactly like all the other monotone four-on-the-floor songs on pop radio, but "What Makes You Beautiful" has that kind of shamelessly corny harmony-driven euphoria that boy bands exist to provide. I like those big triplet beats at the end of the chorus, too.

2. J. Cole f/ Missy Elliott - "Nobody's Perfect"
There's something really bittersweet and discomforting about anticipating a Missy Elliott comeback because on one hand, yes she's great and she deserves to have some success and she's not that far removed from the current trends, but on the other hand, who is there for her to collaborate with that isn't pretty far beneath her? Considering that some of her first big cameos over the past year were with Katy Perry and Demi Lovato, hooking up with J. Cole isn't even that bad. Nonetheless, this song has no right to be as good as it is, and is a shockingly effective reminder at how good Missy is as straightforward R&B. Cole's gorgeous beat almost makes up for his dumbass rhymes, and her hook just elevates the whole thing. Been wanting this to be a single since the album dropped.

3. Gotye f/ Kimbra - "Somebody That I Used To Know"
In general the fun./Foster The People indie pop chart crossover wave of the last year or so is very much not my thing, but this song has grown on me with its simple direct appeal. Also there's just something entertainingly unexpected about a worldwide pop hit with a backing track that soudns like it's straight out of an '80s Tom Waits album. And that Kimbra basically looks and sounds like Katy Perry.

4. Kelly Clarkson - "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)"
Kelly has done and probably will do much better than this, but she's still a class act and this song is as good as anything else in pop radio heavy rotation. Also I like referring to this song by its originally released title because I think it's lame that they flipped the paranthetical so it's now "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," although both are awkward as hell and I could do without any more pop songs trading in that particular cliche.

5. Tyrese - "Stay"
A really lovely little sleeper hit that's been on the R&B charts forever that I've neglected to put in this space. I remember first seeing Tyrese as a VJ on MTV before he had a song out and always had a hard time thinking of him as a credible R&B singer but he's had a pretty decent career when he's not making terrible Transformers movies and whatnot.

6. Estelle - "Thank You"
Another solid R&B radio slow burner from a singer I've never really cared for, although Estelle's delivery is a little less annoying here than it usual is for me. This song has a real Sade vibe.

7. Adele - "Set Fire To The Rain"
A little Adele goes a long way for me, and this is no "Rolling In The Deep," but it's grown on me, usually don't turn it off when it comes on the radio.

8. Lee Brice - "A Woman Like You"
I've been listening to more and more country radio lately and this is one of those really unrepentantly sappy songs that just gets to me now and again.

9. Wale f/ Lloyd - "Sabotage"
Wale's whole career is a big confused confusing shitshow, but to the extent that he has any idea who he is or what his music is about, he's pretty committed to these soft spoken sub-LL love raps. And while he's the worst thing about those songs, I do give him credit for making singles with some of my favorite cats in the R&B game right now: Jeremih, Miguel and now Lloyd. This is probably the one that most sounds like the hook singer's song with occasional and fairly unobtrusive Wale appearances.

10. Mary J. Blige f/ Drake - "Mr. Wrong"
Yet another song with Drake that'd be ten times better without Drake on it, although he's at least more of a familiar distraction than Wale, for whatever that's worth.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I wrote an entry on the City Paper Noise blog about Bossman changing his name to Travis Davon for his recent Watch The Throne Mixtape.

Monday, April 09, 2012

I wrote about the new solo projects from Dawn Richard and Kalenna of Diddy-Dirty Money on the Village Voice's Sound of the City blog.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

I wrote a review of the really great new Among Wolves album This Is A Wave Goodbye on

Movie Diary

Thursday, April 05, 2012
a) The Hunger Games
My wife was all excited about this and had read the books, so we made one of our rare trips to the theater. I thought it was pretty good, but that the story and the cast were way better than the direction, which was really annoyingly stylized with all the deliberately shaky camerawork and moody silences. Also I know the costuming is supposed to be kind of garish and cheap-looking but it somehow missed the mark for me, felt like it could've been done a lot better. But as far as these kinds of movies go, it surpassed my expectations, and you could do a lot worse than looking at Jennifer Lawrence for two hours.

b) Friends With Benefits
I am kind of becoming a huge stan for Will Gluck, who previously directed Fired Up! and Easy A (and worked on two of my favorite short-lived TV shows of the 2000s, "The Loop" and "Andy Richter Controls The Universe"). I will need to see this a few times to really get an idea of how it measures up to his first two movies, but it seemed pretty strong, if not quite as memorable. Gluck has a thing about self-conscious genre framing devices (the cheerleaders in Fired Up! memorizing every word of Bring It On, the teen movie protagonist in Easy A wanting to live in a John Hughes movie) that I find a little tiresome but the romcom-within-a-romcom thing here is at least a little more fun.

c) Bridesmaids
After all the box office and awards and raves, maybe there's no way I could not be underwhelmed by this movie but I dunno, it didn't really do anything for me. And I pretty much love everyone in the cast. Again, with comedies, the real test is whether it's better on the third viewing, but it was pretty hit and miss for me, in addition to being way too long like all Apatow productions.

d) Cedar Rapids
This was a pretty nothing movie, a few funny moments but mostly a big predictable rote waste of a good cast.

e) Drive Angry
I think maybe people don't want Nic Cage movies to be too knowingly ridiculously and more like Wicker Man or, well, Know1ng, but I thought this was pretty enjoyable, actually had more of a grindhouse vibe than a lot of recent Hollywood movies deliberately trying to capture that. Mostly it was just funny that they could have done almost the exact same movie without any supernatural elements but just threw that stuff in and made it all more weird and fun. And I mean, Amber Heard, man, what a babe.

f) The Roommate
I think I mostly watched this movie trying to figure out if Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester really do look that much alike or whether I think one is cuter than the other. I started preferring the latter, then by the end of the movie was leaning toward the former. Pretty boring thriller, though.

10 More Favorite Albums Of The '00s, Vol. 2

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A little over two years ago, I put together a list of my 100 favorite albums of 2000-2009. And since it's impossible to really put a cap on something like that and say with total certainty that that's your final opinion, but it'd be silly to keep revising or rethinking the list, last year I decided to just start annually noting 10 albums that either didn't make the cut or that I've heard since then that would most certainly make at least a top 200 if I were to make the list that long.

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter (Cash Money/Universal Records, 2004)
As Lil Wayne's era of superstardom begins to last longer than his era of mere stardom, it's odd to think of the inevitable revisionism that has already happened and will only intensify from here on out, particularly with the sales peak Tha Carter III becoming his default best album. And while Carter II is still my favorite (#10 on the original decade list), it's been very interesting to think about how the series and his whole rebirth and ascent began. The contrast just between "Get Something," the original lead single from the scrapped first version of Tha Carter, and "Bring It Back," the eventual proper lead single of the album as it was released, is kind of amazing in and of itself. But this whole album has aged pretty well, both as Wayne's last album with the amazing Mannie Fresh (who is overdue for reevaluation, which will probably happen this year with him doing work with Kanye), and as kind of a transitional period where Wayne wasn't quite firing on all cylinders like he was in '06 but he was really improving quickly, and wasn't completely obnoxious and constantly laughing at his own jokes yet.

The Mercury Program - All The Suits Began To Fall Off EP (Boxcar Records, 2001)
One of the funny things that happens fairly regularly in indie rock (and may become more common in the mainstream as major labels rely more on EPs) is bands who seemingly by accident kind of peak with an EP or hit upon something that doesn't quite happen on any of their full-lengths. This instrumental band from Florida, who I got into via a friend from down there who knows them, is a good example of that. I like their LPs, but there's really nothing they've done that I love as much as "Marianas" or "The Secret To Quiet," and at 30 minutes this is practically an album anyway.

Jeremih - Jeremih (Def Jam, 2009)
After "Birthday Sex" it was reasonable to expect that Jeremih would just disappear from view as quickly as he had appeared. But the couple of underperforming follow-up singles and their parent album really endeared the guy to me, as I discovered this kind of unlikely sweetness and Stevie-like wonder in his voice that you so rarely get from these swaggy post-The-Dream R&B singers, and a pretty brilliant and versatile producer in Mick Schultz. It's been kind of bittersweet watching Jeremih's career thrive as he's helped subpar or over-the-hill rappers stay on the radio (Wale, Diggy Simmons, 50 Cent), but at least that means he's in a pretty good position to keep releasing albums.

Homesick Orchestra - Scarlet Fever (self released, 2008)
I loved the band Soul Coughing when they were going back in the '90s, and one of my oldest friends used to know those guys pretty well and has kept up with some of them. And a couple times a few years ago he played me this solo record that bassist Sebastian Steinberg had been quietly working on forever, and I thought it was really cool but we had no idea when it'd see the light of day. Finally when he mentioned that the band name was Homesick Orchestra and I googled it a couple years ago, I found that he actually had released the album, although nobody seemed to have heard it (it's not even mentioned on Steinberg's wikipedia entry), and this pretty great little record with people like Lisa Germano and Joey Waronker playing on it is just lingering unloved on CDBaby. It's kind of slight and uneven (there's a guest rap from one of the Anti-Pop Consortium guys on "Out Of My Mind" that sounds really out of place), but it has a great sound and atmosphere and a couple of the songs, particularly the title track, are really lovely. I've been coming back to this album a lot lately while Steinberg's old bandmate Mike Doughty's been getting tons of publicity for basically going on a weird campaign of disavowing Soul Coughing and everyone he played in the band with.

Darkroom Productions - Hamsterdam: The Best of Baltimore, Vol. 1 (Darkroom Inc., 2005)
I've always been a big fan of producer-driven hip hop compilations and at a time when I was really getting immersed in Baltimore hip hop it was fun to see a couple of talented and enterprising producers just get together all the best MCs they knew and put together such a consistent mixtape and cannily use a bit of lore from "The Wire" to brand their product (although in the ensuing years everyone in town tried to get shine off of "The Wire" and it quickly became kind of desperate and corny). Haven't heard from these guys in a while but a lot of songs on here still knock, some of them even ended up on "The Wire"'s official soundtrack.

Parts & Labor - Receivers (Jagjaguwar, 2008)
The last few months of outpouring goodwill for Parts & Labor as they disbanded or took an extended hiatus or whatever have been kind of fun to see since they were such an underrated band. And while the two albums featuring my rock critic peer and occasional message board/twitter sparring partner Chris Weingarten are in many ways the apex of the band's overdriven noise anthem aesthetic (2006's Stay Afraid was #52 on my original decade list), this album with later drummer Joe Wong is pretty great too and I feel like maybe didn't get enough love in all the recent retrospectives of the band's career. "Sattelites" and "Wedding In A Wasteland" are killer.

Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American (Dreamworks/Geffen, 2001)
All four hits from this album placed in my top 522 singles of 2000-2009, so while I don't love every deep cut I have to say the album probably deserves a mention. I remember when this album came out, I was in Delaware working a shitty summer job with this adorable emo girl (who I think was dating someone from Boy Sets Fire? lol Delaware emo) who was just crestfallen than Jimmy Eat World had sold out and had a song on the radio, whereas I was like wow "Bleed American" is good, these guys might not actually be worthless after all. It was also pretty goofy after 9/11 when this album became 'self-titled' for a while.

Brooke Valentine - Chain Letter (Virgin Records, 2005)
I just pulled this up on Spotify and found that Brooke Valentine just released some generic new single called "Forever." Shame her career took a total nosedive after the fairly unrepresentative "Girlfight" was a minor hit (too late for a Jeremih-style resurgence, I suppose), but this whole album is a lot of fun and kind of feels ahead of the verse in terms of the more sassy, personality-driven vocal styles and all-over-the-place production styles that have taken over R&B in the years since.

Walter Becker - Circus Money (Mailboat Records, 2008)
Pretty much any Steely Dan fan will freely admit that the Grammy triumph of Two Against Nature was a belated acknowledgment of their amazing original '70s run. But it does raise the question of whether that album is the best thing these guys have done in the three decades since their initial split, and I'm gonna go ahead and say that Becker's unheralded second solo album is the best Steely Dan album since Gaucho. He'll never be half the vocalist Donald Fagen is, but he's finally kind of grown into his gruff voice and the instrumentation just has a lovely live oomph that was sorely missing from Nature and Everything Must Go.

Eminem - Marshall Mathers LP (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, 2000)
Another album that's better than Two Against Nature is of course the one that famously lost the Grammy to it, although at the time I had grown up on Steely Dan and was kind of sick of Eminem so I was happy with the way it went down. When I was doing the top 20 MCs of all time radio segments a few weeks ago, I was forever lowballing Eminem and trying to push him out of the top 10, just because I've never been a huge fan and thought he was overrated, but I have to acknowledge that at his best he did do some pretty amazing stuff and I can't really front on that.

Monday, April 02, 2012

On the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog I wrote a post about the local radio hit "Trashbags" by DBoi Da Dome and Starrz, and the recent remix with Caddy Da Don and Los.