Saturday, September 29, 2012

I reviewed the latest Lower Dens album, Nootropics, for the Mobtown Studios site.

Friday, September 28, 2012

I posted Jay Verze's video "Cruisin'" on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I wrote a feature for Spin Magazine's website called Hits From The Bong, a list of the 30 most successful songs about pot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. I think it's pretty entertaining, or at least it was a lot of fun to put together.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
This week's Short List.

Movie Diary

Monday, September 24, 2012
a) Take Shelter
Michael Shannon was really pretty perfectly cast in this movie, but at a certain point towards the ending, I got a sense of what a traditonal psychological thriller it really was, and how it would've been pretty much just as good as a blockbuster with someone more bankable in the role. And then maybe the CGI birds would've looked a little less hokey. The payoff at the end was powerful, though.

b) The Debt
I have a bad habit of putting on movies while I'm working on a deadline, so it ends up being the background noise to me writing and I don't give the movie proper attention even when I probably should. So with a movie like this at the end I'll kind of sneak a look at plot summaries and realize all the plot that escaped my notice. I did enjoy it on a surface level, though -- I feel like it's rare that a movie that has two actors play the main character at different ages gives each substantial screentime, like invariably one is the true embodiment of the protagonist and the other is just a ringer. So it was interesting to see Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain both really be the same character and for it to work.

c) Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
I remember getting really pulled in by the trailer for this, and then when the title was revealed I kinda rolled my eyes like oh, lame, I'm not seeing that. And then I found out that Andy Serkis did the motion capture acting for the main ape, and I was back on board. But I was still surprised at how much I liked this -- even though I never forgot I was watching CGI apes the story with them was really well told, made you feel for them and kinda see how the Serkis monkey (sorry) was almost human, feel kind of happy for the apes when they took over. And when that did happen, it was kind of frightening how plausible it was within the constraints of the premise.

d) The Change-Up
It was really sad watching this movie flail around, trying to earn that R rating so that it would feel less lame about being a hoary old-fashioned body swap comedy. Don't know why I watched it, really.

e) Paul
The trailers for this looked corny but I figured that was mostly due to the premise and not being able to show dirty jokes in the TV ads and that it would ultimately be somewhere in the neighborhood of as funny as Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. But nope, not one laugh, totally worthless movie.

f) The Kids Are All Right
It was weird to read up on this movie after the fact and learn that it was semi-autobiographical, because I got such a sense watching it that they kind of started with the premise and then filled in the characters and their feelings and motivations from there. It all felt kind of bland and colorless, for a movie that was driven by emotions and relationships. Mark Ruffalo probably succeeded the most at putting across a realistic character but he probably had less to do than the other main characters. Maybe would've been better if there was a little more focus on the titular kids.

g) Vertigo
It's funny, I love the Hitchcock movies I've seen, but I've seen a random assemblage of them, including a few slightly less iconic ones like Rope and Rebecca, but not some of the really big canonical flicks. But I noticed that a bunch of them are OnDemand so I've been trying to check some out. As a fan of Rope I love kind of dark older Jimmy Stewart so it's great to see him in this mode, and some of the visual elements of Vertigo really are pretty amazing, but I think I need to see it multiple times for it to sink in.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I went to Firewater's great show at the Black Cat on Monday, and reviewed it for the City Paper's Noise blog.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The 2012 Best of Baltimore issue of the City Paper is out this week, and as usual I helped pick some of the music and food winners and write blurbs. Congrats to all the winners!

Sunday, September 16, 2012
I posted Bar Cardy's "I'm A Raven" video on the City Paper's Noise blog.

TV DIary

Saturday, September 15, 2012
a) "The Mindy Project"
I never watched "The Office" and I have a pet peeve about shows with bland working title-style names like "The _____ Project," but as far as I can tell Mindy Kaling is pretty cool and this show has some promise, although the pilot is just OK, they need to really start bringing the funny to make this more than just likable.

b) "Ben And Kate"
This is easily the best new show I've seen so far of what is perhaps the most uninspiring slate of fall TV premieres ever. Nat Faxon, who was great in a "Party Down" episode I'd just rewatched recently, has a really weird energy that is kind of fun to see as the focal point of a show, the writing has a nice little chaotic edge to it, and wow Dakota Johnson is pretty. If this and/or "Mindy" turn out well, and "New Girl" and "Raising Hope" stay good, FOX could have an impressive live action sitcom lineup this year for the first time in, what, a decade?

c) "Revolution"
The glut of high concept network dramas, particularly ones that involve J.J. Abrams or "Lost" cast members, has been really dire the last few years. Despite being all of the above, as well as a kind of post-apocalyptic 'back to basics' society thing that has been really done to death lately, this isn't totally terrible. A little too dry and humorless to catch on, maybe, but there were a few things about the pilot that hooked me a little, I will give it a few episodes at least.

d) "Go On"
I've been sarcastically excited about this because of GOON TUESDAYS but the sad fact is I'm kind of rooting for Matthew Perry? "Mr. Sunshine" was an OK show and so is this (and "Studio 60" wasn't his fault, really), but it's just a bummer to watch him bounce from one doomed show to another. He's funny and likable enough that he should be able to reboot his career and do something that makes people remember that at some point, but that'll probably happen when he's like 50, until then it'll just be shows like this. Which again, is not bad -- some big laughs in the first couple episodes, but the ensemble is spotty and the show feels a little flat overall.

e) "Animal Practice"
This show makes me wonder if NBC is even trying, I mean the whole thing with trying to rush "30 Rock" and "Community" out the door but standing behind "Whitney" and "Up All Night," OK, whatever, that's against my taste but who knows. But what the fuck is this shit, did they decided they missed having "Scrubs" and got the closest (but still distant) facsimile they could find? Jesus. 

f) "Guys With Kids"
I guess I can understand NBC wanting to give Jimmy Fallon a chance to create a show since he's done well by them lately, but what a bland little showa and oh my god they let him sing the theme song why no why. As a dad I can identify with where the humor's coming from and the cast is alright, but it's pretty forgettable.

g) "The New Normal"
Haven't ever really been into anything Ryan Murphy's done, but he at least does do the same kind of show twice, so it feels right to give each one a chance. This is OK, in a weird way it feels almost old-fashioned in the way it makes its divergences from straight white nuclear family norms into these daring transgressions by creating a cartoonishly bigoted old lady to comment on it all, which isn't really as funny as the show thinks it is.

h) "The Inbetweeners"
Like "Skins," I haven't seen the Brit original to compare the MTV to, but these shows plus "Awkward." really just make me feel like a square old parental type for being kind of grossed out by they're putting on the air for kids to watch on this channel now. At least this show is less about teenagers screwing and more about gross teenage boys trying and failing to get laid, though, I lived through that.

i) "Off Beat" 
Now that there have been so many comedians-in-front-of-greenscreens clip shows out there, I feel like we can just judge them as entries in a genre and not just ripoffs of "The Soup" or whether they're as good as "Tosh.0" or whatever. This one on Fuse is nothing special but the host, Mike E. Winfield, gets in some good lines, and it feels like they're approach is a little unique.

j) "Boss"
I lost interest in this show pretty quickly in the first season, but recently decided to try again and got all caught up and into the second season. I still have pretty mixed feelings about it -- it excels at some of the dark dramatic things it's trying to do, but it's often kind of cheesy, especially those athletic sex scenes in every damn episode, like this takes place in some soft porn world where everyone fucks against walls with their clothes half-ripped off. But Kelsey Grammer is pretty great, I'm still waiting for the climactic scene where he calls a press conference and confesses to the city that elected him that he don't know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs.

k) "Parenthood"
Have to admit I am happy that this show is back, they really have made this a nice familiar little TV family to keep revisiting. It kind of blew my mind that they let Adam and Amber finally resolve a conflict without raising their voices or overreacting, they actually are letting the characters grow, which is refreshing, sometimes I worry that certain relationships on the show are falling into tired holding patterns (even if, I guess, that's true to how families often are). Interested to see where this Ray Romano arc goes, I like his character so far.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
This week's Short List.

Monthly Report: September 2012 Singles

Sunday, September 09, 2012

1. Muse - "Madness"
The whole existence of this band as a hugely successful thing is pretty hilarious to me, but I also feel like when they're on, they're really on. I loved "Knights Of Cydonia" and "Hysteria" and now I really think this is just kind of fantastic, they're on their Zooropa swag right now. I guess this is the one that there is ubstep-day talk about but I don't really know what that is, this just sounds like another one of their weird synth pop numbers to me. I dig that it sounds like it's gonna explode into a big power chord thing but never does.

2. Ne-Yo - "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)"
Almost every star in R&B has been doing some uptempo dance crossover stuff in the last couple years, and have all taken some heat for it from fans, but increasingly I feel like Ne-Yo deserves a pass to just do whatever he wants with it (even though he's basically renegging on his promise a year ago to not do any dance stuff on the next album). For one, he seems to approach this stuff as a Michael Jackson fan more often than not and it makes sense in that context, and he has such a big, clear voice that just works well with dance music (Maura wrote a thing recently that ties into this). Also, he did "Closer" years before these kinds of tracks became standard and it was amazing. And his hook on "Give Me Everything" was great too. Sure, that ignores that he's done some pretty shitty dance songs ("Beautiful Monster," the Calvin Harris song, the one on the last T-Pain album, the Timbaland joint on the Step Up soundtrack). But man, "Let Me Love You" is a joint to me, despite the weirdness of him singing a song (written by Sia!) with the same title as the first big hit he wrote for Mario. And most importantly, it's way better than the R&B single for this album, "Lazy Love."

3. The Cataracs f/ Waka Flocka Flame and Kaskade - "All You"
Waka doing dance pop tracks sounds way more wrong on paper than Ne-Yo, but he really just fits on this track really well. I even kind of like "Get Low," the joint on his album with Flo Rida on the hook. I just with the whole Cataracs EP was this good.

4. Driicky Graham - "Snapbacks & Tattoos"
There's something so sad about one hit wonders whose one hit doesn't even get that big -- I thought this song would at least get Kirko Bangz/Ca$h Out level big but it just stalled on the R&B chart at #23, maybe because he signed to E1 Music for some reason instead of going with a major. I thought of putting it in my column of underperforming singles but never got around to it. It's so bizarre to me that making a big deal about wearing a ball cap that's not fitted is now some kind of fashion statement in hip hop. Great beat, though.

5. Future - "Turn On The Lights" 
I love the Future album but the AutoTune ballads aren't as big a component of the appeal for me as I think it is for some people, it's an enjoyable part of the whole package but not a big deal in and of itself. This song has really grown on me as a single, though.

6. Tamia - "Beautiful Surprise"
I'm happy that Tamia's back, "Officially Missing You" is such a classic to me. The drums on this are even kinda reminiscent of that Fabolous song.

7. Lil Chuckee - "Da Wop"
This is the better than a single from the less popular of Young Money's two kiddie rappers has any right to be, mainly because of a completely ridiculous Little Richard vocal sample running rampant over the whole track, which is basically a transparent knockoff of "Otis" that works way better than "Otis."

8. Mack Maine f/ Lil Wayne and Talib Kweli - "Celebration"
The half-forgotten dregs of the Young Money roster are more interesting to me than the big stars at this point. Nothing about Mack Maine has ever made sense, especially the fact that he spits an endless FORTY-EIGHT BAR VERSE at the end of this otherwise tepid club banger which for no apparent reason has Talib Kweli on the first verse. It's also kinda remarkable that this song is on Spotify but is only the 40th most popular track if you search for Mack Maine, behind various songs with Wayne and Birdman.

9. Jana Kramer - "Why Ya Wanna"
This song is kind of whiny but really catchy, has grown on me over the last few months. Kind of the same sentiment as another current country hit, Jake Owen's "Alone With You," but I like this one better.

10. T.I. - "Go Get It" 
T.I.'s career is in such a strange spot right now, basically the same place it was in the lead-up to King Uncaged before he got arrested again and it became No Mercy, except to be in that spot again, with presumably no more legal troubles or Paper Trail-style comeback on the horizon, it's just all so dull and inconsequential now. And yet I think he still raps pretty well and came make decent songs here and there, and as he lobs out single after single after single, waiting for one to hit while telling interviewers that he's such a perfectionist and the album just isn't "ready" yet, as if it's not the label keeping him on the shelf.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

I posted Caddy Da Don's new single "Retarded," which features 2 Chainz and is produced by K.E. On The Track, on the City Paper's Noise blog.

Movie Diary

Friday, September 07, 2012
a) Re:Generation
This is the documentary that the Grammys made this year, which was shown on Fuse recently, with all the gimmicky pairings of musicians for a special MIND-BLOWING MULTI-GENRE EXPERIENCE, like Skrillex with The Doors and shit. I always love just watching the studio process and even a boring doc about musicians I don't have much interest in tends to be watchable for me, though, so it was mildly entertaining. I have a big chip on my shoulder about these kinds of hamhanded gestures at eclecticism.

b) Real Steel
With sci-fi movies I really feel like the little scene-setting touches make all the differences, and in this case it being a fighting robot movie that basically resembles the world we live in plus fighting robots made it really work better than I expected. Also like how Hugh Jackman's character is a total bastard for most of the movie, even for a while after he's reunited with his son. Hated the scene in the beginning where they have the robot beating up a bull and then try to make us feel sorry for the robot when it loses, though, what the fuck was that shit.

c) Our Idiot Brother
This was about as funny as I thought it would be, but more than that I was kind of impressed with it, in that usually a comedy where the stupidity of the protagonist(s) is a defining characteristic, especially one highlighted by the title (Dumb & Dumber, The 3 Stooges, etc.) things get a bit cartoony. But this felt just rooted in reality enough that it was actually funnier, and didn't feel like everyone around Rudd's character was a total straight man, although to an extent most were. Except for T.J. Miller, who was hilarious (“Just a couple of guys and a dog making candles," "What a cliché”). I'm still a little confused about why Emily Mortimer was was a British woman with three American siblings, though.

d) The Guard
This is apparently the most successful independent Irish film of all time, which makes sense since it's basically a stupid crowd-pleasing Lethal Weapon type buddy cop movie, mixed with an Irish twist on Guy Ritche's English twist on American black comedy crime movies, like another Brendan Gleeson vehicle, the very overrated In Bruges.

e) Sexting
I feel like we're in the middle of an era of a lot of movies, especially comedies, trying to integrate social media and smartphones into the storytelling and the jokes, and there's gonna be some failed experiments in that, and this is one of them.

f) Black Swan
I was kind of put off by this movie when it came out, just didn't seem interesting to me, to the point that even my wife wanted to watch it I was like "yeah go ahead and watch it without me." I've just never been too impressed with Aronofsky, and I thought The Wrestler, which was kind of a 'companion piece' to this, was just crap. But wow, I'm glad I finally watched it, it was much more vibrant and lurid than I expected, almost had kind of a Hitchcock vibe, Portman and Kunis were just perfectly cast and the whole weird thing was pulled off pretty artfully.

g) Chapter 27
My hatred of biopics or movies about recent pop culture history, coupled with my general antipathy toward Jared Leto and post-career Lindsay Lohan, almost demanded that I watch this movie and wallow in how awful it is. But man I was still kind of surprised by just how terrible Leto is in this, and how much voiceover can just stomp out what little virtues this movie does have.

h) Sublime
I probably shouldn't feel any guilt about spoiling a direct-to-DVD horror flick nobody has ever heard of, but it does spoil it a bit to say that this movie proves that you need to be a good movie to have a Jacob's Ladder or Black Swan-type ending and not totally piss the viewer off or at least leave them shaking their heads that they wasted their time on it.

i) Kill Bill: Vol. 2

I saw the first movie way back when it came out on DVD and enjoyed it, but didn't feel any urgent desire to see the second half. But it is kind of ridiculous that it took me 8 or 9 years to see the ending, which was really unexpectedly satisfying given the fact that the title pretty much tells you how it ends. Also, Daryl Hannah's death scene is so ill.

j) Intolerable Cruelty
Since this came in the middle of kind of a rough patch in the Coens' career and I had no love for the movies directly before and after it, I never really even thought to try and watch it until I heard a few people defend it. And it really is pretty good, fun to see them do kind of a straightforward romantic comedy with beautiful super-famous people that's just dipped in the most acidic satire possible.

k) Lost And Delirious
I have to admit I started watching this because it was about two cute chicks falling in love, but it ended up being kind of a sad, affecting story.

l) The Game
This is kind of the lost David Fincher movie, didn't make as little at the box office as Fight Club or Zodiac but didn't have the same kind of cult following or accolades. Definitely one of his best movies, though, love how the twists are just absurdly piled on right up to the end.

m) Crimewave
A really goofy '80s action movie satire that I didn't realize while I was watching it was directed by Sam Raimi, and co-written with the Coens. Kind of an interesting, slight early work for both. 

n) Slap Shot
Somehow had never watched this before, fun movie and in a way kind of illustrated for me how little sports flicks have changed over the decades, perhaps less than any other movie genre. 

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

In this week's City Paper, I wrote a feature about rapper Brian Ennals.

I also wrote a new installment of the dance music column BPM, which includes some exclusive Baltimore club news about forthcoming releases from Rod Lee and Unruly Records.

Also, as usual, wrote this week's Short List

Monthly Report: August 2012 Albums

Sunday, September 02, 2012

1. 2 Chainz - Based On A T.R.U. Story
I feel a little like I'm trolling when I rep for 2 Chainz and actually made this the first rap album I bought on the release date in, I dunno, years, but then so is he, a little bit. Not that he's a whole lot smarter or more talented than the music he makes, but he definitely seems to have fun half-assing it. It'd be more fun if all his guest verses were as good as the one on "Mercy," which is probably the best verse on a radio hit this year (even if the song is otherwise not that great). But, as I've said before, I really identify with this tall, goofy, 30-something son of a bitch, he's the closest thing current rap has to a David Lee Roth figure. And as southern rap event albums go it beats the hell out of Ross or Wayne's last shits, even if it's musically a notch below Waka or Future's debuts. "I'm Different" and "Dope Peddler" are my jams. 

2. Elle Varner - Perfectly Imperfect
I found Varner's over-the-top personality and singing style pretty obnoxious on her first single, but then the hit follow-up "Refill" was so good, and provided the right context for her voice, that I ended up kind of anticipating this album, and have to say I enjoy it quite a lot. Occasionally she grates on me, as much for her limited melodic imagination than anything else (so many similar runs and melodic turns from song to song), but pretty much the entire album is produced by the duo Oak & Pop, who prove "Refill" was not a fluke with just a ton of great, varied beats. "Stop The Clock" in particular is just amazing, I hope it becomes a single.

3. Jeremih - Late Nights With Jeremih
Like the Elle Varner album, a lot of the appeal of Jeremih's two studio albums was, for me, that they were cohesive works by one producer, Mick Schultz. But I also really like Jeremih's voice, so it's fun to hear him on a mixtape with all sorts of producers like Mike Will Made It and Tricky Stewart, and the results are pretty dope, this easily could've been his third album without much change. "Late Nights (Interlude)" is so great. Hopefully Schultz is still doing the next album, though, that guy is dope.

4. Farrah Abraham - My Teenage Dream Ended
I've never watched "Teen Mom" (yes, there are shows on television I don't watch, I know, it's unbelievable), but I have an old friend whose fiancee works as a producer on the show, and when I visited them in New York earlier this year I heard a lot of stories. Anyway, when music nerds started talking about what a fascinating trainwreck the album one of the girls on the show made, I had to check it out, even though I hate that kind of rubbernecking. But wow, it's really strange and twisted -- lots of Autotune and generic drum machine tracks, but she doesn't seem to be trying to make pop music at all. It's the soundtrack to a memoir of the same name, and it's basically these strange, counterintuitive readings of confessional free verse. The fact that her kid's father is dead and there's a lot of real, raw emotion on here kind of saves it from being an ironic laugh riot, you really do feel her pain, even as the music sometimes causes you pain. "Unplanned Parenthood" is wild.

5. Raindeer - Raindeer 
Newish Baltimore band whose album I found on Band Camp while I was writing show blurbs and wanted to see who they were. Aesthetically it's not totally up my alley but for an indie synth pop thing it has a pretty good sound, cool production.

6. Height With Friends - Rock And Roll
I just interviewed Height for I guess, wow, the fourth time, and he's a good guy, it's always cool to hear what he's up to. This is very much of a continuation of the previous two Height With Friends records, though, and of those I think I still like Bed Of Seeds best.Very interested to hear the next album that he was telling me about, though.

7. Dan Deacon - America 
I didn't have this for very long before I reviewed it so I'm still really getting into it beyond my initial reactions. All of Deacon's albums are kinda slow burners for me, though, the more orchestral second half is sounding better and better.

8. Dwele - Greater Than One
Another album I reviewed in advance but am still getting into it, don't know if I like it more or less than the last Dwele.

9. Trey Songz - Chapter V
Every time Trey Songz comes out with an album I think "maybe I should check that out" and I never do, mostly because his singles are such a mixed bag. I liked all three of the advance singles from Chapter V, but I dunno, some of those other albums are probably better, this is really really long and rarely better than okay. I'm glad that Trey has finally stopped beefing with R. Kelly because it would be extra outrageous how much he's biting R.'s style on this album, there's actually two football metaphor songs (and "Hail Mary" and 'Fumble" really should've been sequenced in a row). It kind of amuses me that you don't hear any female voices on the album (amongst half a dozen male guest rappers) until an anonymous backup singer on track 14, which is called "Without A Woman."

10. DJ Khaled - Kiss The Ring
All DJ Khaled albums are kind of exercises in absurdity, but despite the shitty singles this might actually be the best since the first, Listennn. Even some of the songs that look terrible on paper are at least saved by good beats and hooks. Rapping-wise, though, a goofy Mack Maine verse is probably the lyrical highlight of the album.