Friday, November 30, 2012

December 20th will mark the official live debut of my new band, Western Blot: here is the Facebook event for the show. Those of you who were at my birthday party back in January got a brief preview but this is the first real show with a full band lineup, I'm pretty excited about this project, should be a lot of fun.

Hopefully people will be able to come out and party with us on the Thursday before Christmas, I asked some really cool acts to play the show: The Bow-Legged Gorilla, Bryson Dudley & Downbound, and Minimus The Poet. The flyer features the work of the great Baltimore artist Donald Edwards as photographed by my lovely wife Jennifer, who is for hire as a photog.

The 20 Best Pop Radio Hits of 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When I compiled my favorite singles of 2000-2009, I did so first in breakdowns of individual genres, including pop. But I'd never done that for an individual year before, and had found the approach interesting and rewarding enough that I recently started to get the itch to try it. And then, a few weeks ago, Billboard unveiled its new rules for several of its charts, which I wrote quite a bit about, and which basically boil down to most every genre chart being determined largely by the melting pot of iTunes sales, rather than radio formats. And right now is, I think, and interesting time to think about how radio formats reflect different audiences' tastes in ways that are more nuanced than any supposedly objective division of music into genres. So I'm dividing my year-end singles into 5 lists by radio format, starting with this list of Top 40 and Adult Contemporary hits (the next 4 lists: R&B, rock/alternative, rap and country). So some of the songs here are 'pop' in every definition, some could be considered rap or R&B or rock but were played far more on pop radio than any other format (conversely, there are songs on the other lists that were big pop radio hits, but were also hits on their 'home' genre's format). I also made a Spotify playlist of these tracks:

1. One Direction - "What Makes You Beautiful"
#3 Pop Songs, #4 Hot 100
The theme song of the 2012 boy band revival was a big, fluffy shoutalong power pop song that sounded nothing like the sleek, harmony-driven sound that drove the last big wave of boy bands over a decade ago. But what I really loved about it was those triplet accents that fall over the blocky beats every step of the way. Shame that both of the group's other U.S. top 40 hits sound like underwhelming carbon copies of the formula. One Direction were one of five U.K. acts to notch a U.S. top ten hit for the first time in 2012 (along with The Wanted, Jessie J, Ellie Goulding and Alex Clare), making for the biggest surge of Brits in American pop since the '80s.

2. Cher Lloyd - "Want U Back"
#9 Pop Songs, #12 Hot 100
Another Brit who just missed the top ten: the members of One Direction were discovered via the British version of "The X-Factor," as was Cher Lloyd, which given the dearth of suggests that for some reason talent show culture is more effective at creating stars in the UK than it's been in American for ages, to the point that their runner-ups are on the radio here more than our champs. Cher Lloyd's origin story had me dreading some kind of British version of Karmin or Ke$ha, and at first the Avril Lavigne 'attitude' of that goofy little grunt at the end of every 4th bar was more annoying than endearing. But man, what a hook.

3. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Call Me Maybe"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
This is the kind of word-beating megahit that makes me look like some kind of contrarian just by putting it at #3 or anything but #1. Yes, it's very good, and yes the way it kind of sprang forth from completely outside the U.S. music industry to completely rule was pretty unusual and fun to watch, but my enjoyment of it is kind of dispassionate and impersonal; you'd be hard pressed to find someone who writes about pop music as much as I do who had less to say about "Call Me Maybe" in 2012. One thing I will say: it's all about the verses, not the chorus, for me.

4. Flo Rida f/ Sia - "Wild Ones"
#2 Pop Songs, #5 Hot 100 
Australian singer Sia Furler, who'd previously had a cult profile in the US, with no Hot 100 hits, and was familiar to me only as the lady with the album covers that made her look mentally disabled, kind of exploded out of nowhere as a hitmaker in American this year. She sang the hooks on two top 10 hits and wrote two more, with probably more on the way shortly, while never appearing in the videos or having a really visible role otherwise. But she has a pretty great voice and, with respect to the late Etta James, may have given Flo Rida the best hook of a career that's been kept afloat for years by catchy hooks sung by other people.

5. Ne-Yo - "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)"
#6 Pop Songs, #6 Hot 100
One of Sia's aforementioned big hits of the year as a writer seemed kind of designed to piss off longtime Ne-Yo fans -- not only did he not write it, but the title aped the first big hit he wrote for another artist, and continued the turn towards uptempo dance pop he'd been headed in in recent years. But the fact is, Ne-Yo grew up on MJ, and his career and sensibilities have mirrored Lionel Richie and Babyface more than any post-hip-hop R&B stars of the '90s and '00s, so this turn frankly suits him far more than any of his contemporaries. And this song, while not up there with his best (certainly not "Closer," his first and finest dance track), is still pretty damn good.

6. Bruno Mars - "Locked Out Of Heaven"
#9 Pop Songs, #4 Hot 100
Bruno Mars was so incredibly ubiquitous for the first year or two after his breakthrough that it was kind of nice that he laid low for most of 2012. I think I especially came to appreciate him more because his last hit before that downtime, "It Will Rain," was pretty great, and so is his comeback single, "Locked Out Of Heaven." I'm sure he's got something as annoying as "The Lazy Song" just around the corner to annoy me again, though.

7. Demi Lovato - "Give Your Heart A Break"
#1 Pop Songs, #16 Hot 100
It was probably a fortunate twist of fate for Demi Lovato that she had the single that most resembled "Call Me Maybe" making the rounds in its wake. In any event, it was a good single choice for Lovato after she made two of my favorite pop albums of the last few years, had some personal crises, and came back with the weepy, weak "Skyscraper" and an album full of ill-fitting Timbaland tracks. "Give Your Heart A Break" was the right song at the right time, but it was also a nice little bit of old-fashioned pop craftsmanship from Billy Steinberg, the old pro who's been writing timeless shit like "Like A Virgin" and 'True Colors" for decades.

8. Kelly Clarkson - "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
Greg Kurstin produced Sia's last album, and his ascendance as a pop hitmaker since then has been almost as swift and unlikely as hers. After logging years as a session keyboardist and as one half of first the one hit wonder alt-rock duo Geggy Tah and then one half of the cult indie pop duo The Bird And The Bee, Kurstin began to work his way up the major label ranks the last few years producing some UK hits and album tracks for American pop stars. And then, he produced three tracks on Kelly Clarkson's Stronger, and the title track exploded as a multi-platinum monster, and put him on the A-list.

9. Pink - "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)"
#1 Pop Songs, #5 Hot 100
It must be awkward for Pink and Kelly Clarkson, who seemed like pretty different artists a decade ago but have slowly come to occupy almost the exact same lane, constantly being pitched the same songs from the same producers (Pink turned down "Since U Been Gone," which I would say was a big mistake but I think her catalog is pretty damn strong without it). And when Kelly moved from Max Martin to Greg Kurstin, Pink followed suit, although there are still some Martin productions on The Truth About Love, they just kinda suck compared to the Kurstin tracks. "Blow Me" doesn't quite knock it out of the park -- the "shit day" section just kinda doesn't work -- but it's still a solid entry from an incredibly consistent artist.

10. PSY - "Gangnam Style"
#10 Pop Songs, #2 Hot 100
There are still people arguing that "Gangnam Style" is just a YouTube meme, and all people care about is the funny video and the horsey dance and don't actually like the song. But clearly, after millions of mp3s sold and a bazillion radio spins, the song has a life of its own as an audio experience (and those people can't all be doing the horsey dance in their cars and offices every time it comes on the radio, as fun as it is to imagine that). And I get it, it's a catchy fucking song.

11. Norah Jones - "Happy Pills"
#13 Adult Contemporary
The thing about Norah Jones becoming a superstar off of soft sweet vocal jazz ballads is that you always knew she was young enough that she probably had other musical interests, and it was inevitable that she'd go off and do something different. But it was surprising that doing something vaguely modern with drum machine beats by Danger Mouse could actually mesh well with her vocal style.

12. Rihanna - "You Da One"
#19 Pop Songs, #14 Hot 100
The majority of singles Rihanna has ever released have been top 10 Pop Songs hits, and most of those that weren't were R&B radio hits. So "You Da One" joins the short list of Rih singles that wasn't a top 10 hit in any format, along with "Shut Up And Drive," "Rehab," "Russian Roulette" and "California King Bed." I totally understood why those songs missed the mark, but "You Da One," a sweet electro reggae Dr. Luke confection, really deserved better, and seemed to kind of get lost in the shuffle of Talk That Talk's crowded multi-format singles campaign. It also bears mentioning that 2011 and 2012 are probably the first years since 2003 that Dr. Luke didn't produce at least one of my 10 favorite pop songs of the year, if not several.

13. Coldplay f/ Rihanna - "Princess of China"
#24 Pop Songs, #20 Hot 100
Another rare Rihanna miss, I think this was one of those collaborations that just alienated both artists' fanbases instead of uniting them. But honestly, I thought it was pretty awesome. Rihanna and Eno on the same track, c'mon, that doesn't happen every day.

14. Drake f/ Rihanna - "Take Care"
#8 Pop Songs, #7 Hot 100
Take Care had several massive urban radio hits that all annoyed the shit out of me over the past two years, but the album's one single that was bigger on pop radio was more subdued and tolerable. It is kinda sad how Drake continues to chase Kanye's tail, though, this is such a "Lost In The World" rip right down to the Gil Scott-Heron sample.

15. Ellie Goulding - "Anything Could Happen"
#29 Pop Songs, #57 Hot 100
It really bums me out that "Lights" was a gigantic U.S. breakthrough for Goulding but the lead single from the album that came out immediately afterwards, "Anything Could Happen," was basically a blip. This song is so fucking good! And I still have no idea what people see in "Lights"!

16. Adele - "Set Fire To The Rain"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
The last of 21's trio of chart-toppers will never attain the iconic status of "Rolling In The Deep" and "Someone Like You," but it's still a pretty majestic track that makes great use of her voice. Incidentally, the other day 21 became the first album released since Usher's Confessions to cross the 10 million sold mark in the U.S.

17. Justin Bieber f/ Big Sean - "As Long As You Love Me"
#3 Pop Songs, #6 Hot 100
So far Justin Bieber's basically famous for being famous, and his music is as secondary as it's ever been for any teen idol (and it isn't for all for them by a long shot). So there's a good chance the only really immortal song he'll go down in history with any ties to is "Call Me Maybe," but this song felt like he was at least trying for once. Big Sean was really the wrong choice for guest MC, if it needed one at all, though.

18. Matchbox Twenty - "She's So Mean"
#31 Pop Songs, #6 Adult Pop Songs, #40 Hot 100
Matchbox Twenty was part of the mid/late '90s gold rush of acts that entered the rock charts at a time when "alternative" radio was at its wimpiest, then quickly crossed over to pop and adult contemporary formats, where they remained for most of their careers. So it's been interesting to hear them actually kind of rock out and have fun on later singles like this and "How Far We've Come" after people stopped paying attention.

19. Maroon 5 - "One More Night"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
Maroon 5 is another band that was vaguely 'alternative' once upon a time, but in becoming pop stars managed to still be kind of a cool vaguely R&B-ish band, at least until they resurrected their flagging career by basically becoming a dance pop star vehicle for Adam Levine. I don't hate their new style as much as I feel like I probably should -- "Moves Like Jagger" wormed its way into my good graces, and even "Payphone" had some good qualities wrapped up in some very bad ones. But even the best of their recent hits, "One More Night," feels far more successful than it deserves, tying "Call Me Maybe" for the longest-running #1 of the year.

20. Katy Perry - "Part Of Me"
#3 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
This is solid in the middle of Perry's endless run of Teenage Dream singles -- not as good as the title track or "California Gurls," but at least way better than "E.T." or "Firework." As a #1, it seemed short-lived, and its charms wore off fast, but in a year that was light on hard-charging Dr. Luke hits it at least sounded pretty good the first couple times.

Bonus bile:
The 10 Worst Pop Radio Hits of 2012: 
1. Rihanna - "Diamonds"
2. Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
3. Nicki Minaj - "Starships"
4. Karmin - "Brokenhearted"
5. Jessie J - "Domino"
6. Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen - "Good Time"
7. Madonna f/ Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. - "Give Me All Your Luvin'"
8. Rihanna - "Where Have You Been"
9. Justin Bieber - "Boyfriend"
10. The Wanted - "Glad You Came"

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I wrote a post on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog about how the new Pitbull album features a track produced by DJ Class where Jennifer Lopez sings lyrics from Class's "I'm The Ish."

Reading Diary

Monday, November 26, 2012
a) The New New Journalism: Conversations With American's Best Nonfiction Writers On Their Craft
by Robert Boynton
I worked at the Newseum one day recently and decided to look around their gift shop for a few minutes on the way out and made an impulse buy of the most interesting book I could find. I always feel like I could be doing more both in terms of what nonfiction I read and what I do with the nonfiction I write, so this has been a fun, inspiring read. Boynton mostly just does no-nonsense Q&As with each writer about their working methods, and manages to get surprisingly varied answers -- my favorite probably from Richard Ben Cramer, who seems to have the exact opposite philosophy from most of the writers in the book. One thing that kind of annoyed me, though, is that each interview is preceded by a capsule bio which uses several quotes from the interview. Those quotes always made sense or were more interesting in the context of the interview, so I made a habit of reading those first and then the bio later.

b) The World According To Garp 
by Jon Irving
My dad's always been a big Irving fan and I've enjoyed what I've read of his stuff so I decided to check this one out when I came upon a copy. It's a really strange read, both compelling and also leaving an incredibly bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended). For one, it's an incredibly autobiographical novel about a novelist, that argues vehemently against reading novels as autobiographical, which is navel-gazing enough as it is. Plus, I haven't seen the movie adaptation, but I feel like this could be ground zero for a certain strain of modern storytelling, the tragedy-by-coincidence, especially when heavily foreshadowed and set in a domestic situation, that I've come to really hate about so many movies ever since American Beauty. And I'm also irritated by books that feel compelled to leave absolutely no mystery to what happens to the characters at the end of the story, to the point of detailing how everyone dies, and how they children and grandchildren and friends die, and so on. But aside from those gripes, it's really a pretty great read and the good parts stick with you for a while.

c) City Of Illusions
by Ursula K. Le Guin
My wife has a few Le Guin books, and one day I picked up a short story collection and found the first couple really original and intriguing, in the sense that sci-fi was such a different thing 50 years ago than it is now, and some of the concept being worked with back then actually haven't been done to death now. So I decided to read one of her novels, and I haven't finished this yet but it hasn't hooked me as well as the short stories. But I do like that the premise is kind of unique for an alien world dystopian thing, and the prose kind of helps make it all feel otherworldly.

Friday, November 23, 2012
Last month I stopped a yearlong drought of writing blurbs for, and this is what I've written since then  (first number is my score out of 10, second number is the group's average):

Solange - Losing You [3/7.27]
Pink - Try [6/5.14]
Future - Turn On The Lights [7/7.12]
Kelly Clarkson - Catch My Breath [5/4.71]
Juicy J ft. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz [5/4]
Miguel - Do You... [8/7.55]
Meek Mill ft. Big Sean - Burn [6/5.29]
ZZ Top - I Gotsta Get Paid [7/6]
Taylor Swift - Begin Again [6/7]
A$AP Rocky ft. Drake, Kendrick Lamar & 2 Chainz - Fucking Problem [5/4.33]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I wrote a Rap Sheet column in this week's Baltimore City Paper, which features news about Tombstone Da Deadman, Tyree Colion, and more.

Also did The Short List in this week's issue as usual.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I wrote a post on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog about perhaps the worst record of 2012, comedy rapper Hungry D's godawful Gettin' High In The Drive-Thru.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I wrote a post on the City Paper's Noise blog about the upcoming 7" by Crimes, who I'd picked as best new band in the Best of Baltimore issue earlier this year.

Monthly Report: November 2012 Singles

Thursday, November 15, 2012

1. 2 Chainz - "I'm Different"
Just last month I was saying that "Birthday Song" was at least a moderate step in the right direction from "No Lie" as far as what 2 Chainz singles should sound like, but I soon after realized that "I'm Different" is pretty much the ideal single for him. Insanely catchy hook, cool to hear him on a faster tempo than usual and just totally killing it.

2. Bruno Mars - "Locked Out Of Heaven"
Bruno Mars is a talented, versatile guy who's always got a 50/50 chance of doing something completely horrible in a really thorough, high quality way, which makes him easier to resent than admire, but still, half the time he's pretty good. And I gotta give him credit for throwing a slight curveball with the lead single, with a live band-sounding Police knockoff at a time when even actual bands like Maroon 5 are running away from guitars and drums.

3. T.I. f/ Lil Wayne - "Ball"
Although I have no real expectations for Trouble Man and there's something undeniably underwhelming about T.I.'s existence in 2012, I feel like the album's endless parade of advance singles has gotten progressively better, from the forgettable first two or three to the well produced "Love This Life" and the moderately catchy "Go Get It" and now "Ball," which may or may not have staying power but at least has a lot of energy at the moment, pretty fun to hear a new twist on the "Triggerman" beat on the radio. There's something kind of funny and twice removed about Wayne referencing his own "Walk It Off," a 2006 mixtape track over an old UNLV song, instead of something from an actual old school New Orleans song or even just a first wave Cash Money hit.

4. Matchbox Twenty - "She's So Mean"
It's so odd to hear a band finally sound like they're having fun, 15 years into their career. This sounds like a mid-period Elvis Costello track, completely with the wonky Mitchell Froom-ish production wrinkles.

5. Kacey Musgraves - "Merry Go Round"
Usually when I hear some song on country radio that I find really striking, I go look it up and realize it's been a big hit for months, but a while back I heard this late one night and realized the station was probably playing it for the first time and trying it out and it really got to me. It's a little trite in how cynical and unvarnished it is, but that's a rare kind of trite to encounter on country radio so it's still pretty refreshing.

6. AWOLNATION - "Kill Your Heroes"
"Sail" was such a great weird breakthrough hit that it's almost kind of a buzzkill to hear AWOLNATION's continued radio domination with more upbeat conventional songs like this and "Not Your Fault," but this one in particular has grown on me. Also, at just under 3 minutes it's refreshingly brief compared to most other 4 and 5-minute slogs on rock radio.

7. Ellie Goulding - "Anything Could Happen"
I didn't much care for "Lights" at all, mainly because Goulding sounds to me like an Oliver Twist orphan trying to become Bjork, but I guess my issue was more the song than the singer because this one really won me over.

8. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals - "Stars"
The way VH1 seemed to try way too hard to make this band happen. to the point of even giving them a "Storytellers" special, always made them seem vaguely pathetic to me. But one night the local pop station played this and it really stopped me in my tracks like "damn, who is this?" The kind of big, schmaltzy ballad you don't hear on the radio much anymore, and potter's voice really is pretty impressive when in service of the right material.

9. Pink - "Try"
The first Pink single without a Pink co-writing credit since, jeez, maybe "Get The Party Started," had me anticipating something bland and label-mandated, but this has a beautiful yearning to it that her voice really suits, the kind of song that I like more every time I hear it -- although I haven't heard it much, since it seems to be doing really poorly on the charts.

10. Linkin Park - "Lost In The Echo"
This is just a good old fashioned cool synth noises and power chords Linkin Park banger, not as good as "Faint" or anything but at least in that mode, which is my favorite type of Linkin Park song.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
This week's Short List.

The 2012 Remix Report Card, Vol. 8

Saturday, November 10, 2012
"Birthday Song (Bugatti Boyz Remix)" by 2 Chainz featuring Rick Ross and Diddy
Diddy has the right vibe for this song, Ross really just doesn't, and at times just has that awkwardness in his flow that he kinda shook off earlier in his career.
Best Verse: Diddy
Overall Grade: C+

"Celebration (Remix)" by Game featuring Bone Thugs-n-Harmony
Since the original was already loaded with the kind of overstuffed guest list Game needs to get attention these days, he went the other way and went back and got the cats he sampled to stunt all over the shit and remind everyone how much better "1st Of Tha Month" is than this crap. Enjoyable, but in a kind of empty perfunctory way.
Best Verse: Krayzie Bone
Overall Grade: B

"Do It (Remix)" by Mykko Montana featuring Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, Nelly, Travis Porter, Jeremih and Nitti Beatz
This Nitti-produced ATL song charted briefly months ago, and for some reason 92Q in Baltimore became seemingly one of the only stations outside Atlanta to put it in rotation the last few months, but now apparently Mykko Montana is on UMG and September saw the release of the official video and this remix, so I guess it's still building momentum, which I'm happy about, it's a pretty catchy song. The remix is actually kind of a well chosen spectrum of artists who all sound good on the song, and Nelly is especially hilarious coming in with that "Country Grammar" voice and yelling "biiiitch I'm the best/ you ain't never had D like this." Yo Gotti is a mess, though.
Best Verse: Nelly
Overall Grade: B+

"Hold Me Back (Remix)" by Rick Ross featuring Gunplay, French Montana, Yo Gotti and Lil Wayne
Really hate this song, just such a boring and annoying "BMF" retread that it almost makes me glad most of the rest of Ross's album is so soft and not even trying for that sound. Remix gets off to a good start with a better Ross verse than what he did on the original, though. Wayne's slow deliberate flow is kind of refreshing given how flailing and insufferable he's been on most of his guest spots lately.
Best Verse: Gunplay
Overall Grade: B

"Let Me Love You (Remix)" by Ne-Yo featuring French Montana
Doing a downtempo remix of an uptempo record worked well for Ne-Yo on that sequel to "Miss Independent" but this doesn't quite work, mainly because of the hapless guest rapper but also the melody doesn't quite translate to the new production.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"Neva End (Remix)" by Future featuring Kelly Rowland
This is the 5th time now that a track off of Future's Pluto has raised its profile with a remix featuring a bigger star. Musically most of these remixes have been downgrades -- Drake and Wayne and Luda/Diddy all added nothing to (and in some cases subtracted something from) the songs they jumped on, although T.I. improved "Magic." This one is a little more interesting because it's a singer bringing out the melody in one of Future's softer joints. When I first got the album I may have actually preferred this song to "Turn On The Lights" but as a follow-up single it feels a little redundant and minor, so Kelly kinda does give it a different vibe that helps.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

"The Recipe (Black Hippy Remix)" by Kendrick Lamar featuring Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Dr. Dre
I kinda hated the original, so it's nice to hear some of Kendrick's other homies that I haven't heard too much from on, although it seemed like a big minus to me to re-use one of KL's verses from the original, specifically the verse that made me hate the song to begin with.
Best Verse: Jay Rock
Overall Grade: B-

"Swimming Pools (Black Hippy Remix)" by Kendrick Lamar featuring Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul
I really really hate the original of this, although the extended solo version of Kendrick's album redeemed it for me somewhat, and this turns out to be that outro with the new beat from that plus other Black Hippy verses on the original beat. Seems a little silly to have his crew on remixes to both of his radio hits, could've gotten some stars on at least one of them, but maybe he was making some deliberate point with that.
Best Verse: Jay Rock
Overall Grade: B+

Friday, November 09, 2012

I wrote a short post on the City Paper's Noise blog about winners at this year's Baltimore Crown Awards at the 5 Seasons.

(photo of Blakee Envy Heartbreakk of Tsu Dramatics by J.M. Giordano)

Monthly Report: October 2012 Albums

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

1. Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream
"Sure Thing" was my #1 single last year and I enjoyed the hell out of the Art Dealer Chic EPs earlier this year but I'm still taken aback by just how much I fucking love this album, and how much the extended single mix of "Adorn" has made it into possibly an equal of "Sure Thing." Other than the new version of "Candle In The Sun," which isn't a patch on the EP version for me, there's just so much to love on here, "Use Me" and "The Thrill" particularly killing me at the moment. The way this thing exists outside but parallel to so many things going on in R&B right now, in terms of both musical trends and narrative, is exciting but only because the singing and the songwriting back it up, take it all to unexpected and incredibly enjoyable place. I must look like such a psycho singing and clapping along to this album on headphones, hope my cats don't judge me.

2. Meek Mill - Dreams And Nightmares
As a long-running State Property stan who's often in recent years reminisced about the time when Philly was regularly turning out rap's grimiest major label stars, it's delighted me to watch Meek's rise and "I'm A Boss" may be my single favorite rap hit of the last few years. There's nothing on here that busts heads quite like that song but the whole thing holds together well and only a couple songs are opulent  MMG shit that kills Meek's intense vibe. The opening title track is fucking incredible.

3. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
I won't labor the point that Meek Mill is just more my speed than Kendrick (especially since Caramanica already contrasted the two pretty effectively), but this album had an uphill battle to win me over just because of the corny stylized capitalization of the title, to say nothing of the eye-rolling 'noble young artist in an imperfect world' tone of the title itself that's custom built to appeal to people who have bullshit reasons for dismissing a lot of great rap. Also the guy's talent is a little overstated -- he does the same choppy triplet flow on any kind of beat almost as shamelessly as Big Sean, and he just flat out has a terrible voice. That said, of course it's a well crafted, I just find it more admirable than enjoyable. And it helps me look past those singles I hated by making "The Recipe" a bonus track and adding a superior outro to "Swimming Pools" -- I still think that song is awkward as fuck and about as obnoxious as "Bitch Bad" in terms of trying to be a 'smart radio record.' "The Art of Peer Pressure" is probably my favorite song on here, also like parts of "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst." Rappers who try to use five dollar words and mispronounce them (he puts an extra T in "copacetic") just frustrate me, you can't halfass smart rapping.

4. Donald Fagen - Sunken Condos
As I'm often fond of saying, Walter Becker's Circus Money is my favorite album from the Steely Dan family in the last three decades, mainly because of the lively (by their later standards) instrumentation and hooky songs but perhaps also because the lack of Fagen's voice made it easier to not compare directly to the classics. In any case, this album may be nearly as good, and at the very least a bit warmer and more immediate than Morph The Cat. I especially dig "I'm Not The Same Without You" and "Miss Marlene," but I really kinda can't deal with "Out Of The Ghetto," regardless of whether it's supposed to be knowing satire or something like that.

5. Ken Stringfellow - Danzig In The Moonlight
Steely Dan worship is at least kind of commonplace, but I always feel like a freak whenever I admit that The Posies are probably one of my favorite bands of the '90s and that I still ravenously follow everything they do, particularly Ken Stringfellow's unpredictable procession of solo records and side projects. The second album by his Norwegian garage rock combo The Disciplines was in my top 10 last year, mostly because it put his creeping eccentricities and odd dark sense of humor in the most aggressive context possible. From the title, you might expect Danzig In The Moonlight to continue that thread, and it does in some senses, but there's not much Danzig here, it's mostly back to the downtempo piano-driven sound of his last couple solo albums. It hasn't hooked me too much musically, but I think there's a lot to dig into here that I might appreciate more if I had a lyric booklet in front of me. I have no idea what's going on in a song like "Odorless, Colorless, Tasteless" but Stringfellow has earned enough credibility with me that I'm more intrigued than annoyed by its strangeness.

6. Von Vargas - World Famous Lexington Market
I wrote about this album a little bit already, I've been occasionally browsing Baltimore releases on Bandcamp and was pleasantly surprised to find a rapper streaming a dope upcoming album, since there's not a whole ton of hip hop on there. If you've lived in Baltimore you know about Lexington Market and it's cool to hear someone dedicate a whole record to it.

7. Cher Lloyd - Sticks + Stones
I have an aversion to the last two decades of British popular music strong enough that I pretty much assume anything coming out of that country is to be ignored until a song stands up and grabs me by the lapels, which is pretty much what "Want U Back" did. The whole album isn't as consistently hooky, but there are some jams on here, and I'm pleased with whatever perverse logic lead to Mike Posner being taken off "With Ur Love" on the American version of the album.

8. Brandy - Two Eleven
I've always taken Brandy for granted; she's got a nice voice, some good songs and at least a couple classics, but for a singer with a successful acting career she's a blank on the personality scale rivaled only by J.Lo. I didn't care for "Put It Down," but the rest of the album is pretty solid. Her voice is a better fit for murky downtempo stuff than most other R&B singers trying that mode these days, and the Mike Will Made It production "Do You Know What You Have" is the height of the mid-album groove.

9. DJ Drama - Quality Street Music
When an album called Quality Street Music features appearances from Childish Gambino and B.o.B, the jokes write themselves, but fact is that "We In This Bitch" and "My Moment" are two of the best radio rap songs of the year and the album mostly follows through on at least the meager accomplishment of being better than any DJ Khaled album. The soft joints with Roscoe Dash and Miguel hooks are kinda some of the best shit on the album, further mocking the title. Tyler, The Creator is still the worst rapper in the world, and still spitting homophobic shit after everyone decided to give him a free pass on that because of Frank Ocean.

10. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill
I figured this album of new songs would be easily better than the amusing novelty of Americana, but at the moment I'm not sure which album I think is better. I'd say I should do a side-by-side comparison, but both these albums are pretty fucking long and I don't know how much I want to revisit them. "Ramada Inn" is my favorite of the long songs, parts of "Driftin' Back" are pretty horrifying. I've probably listened to more Neil this year than any year previous, but I'm still not really a big fan outside of the undeniable stone classics, so listening to the new ones is just kind of a curiosity thing for me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012
My dance/club music column BPM runs in the Baltimore City Paper this week, with news on recent and upcoming events at The Paradox and new projects from DJ Booman. 

Also in the paper, as usual, The Short List

Movie Diary

Saturday, November 03, 2012
a) The Cabin In The Woods
I'm generally in favor of playful or satirical horror movies that goof on the genre in some way or another, but this just didn't really work for me much at all. It wasn't the slightest bit scary or creepy (which was mainly a problem because they wasted so much money or effects, many of which were dimly lit and crappy-looking), but it also wasn't that funny, aside from the Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins stuff. And the more they tried to escalate the premise for bigger laughs, I just got further away from caring about what was going on at all.

b) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I just kinda had this movie on in the background one night when I was up working on a writing deadline, but when I did pay attention to it I found the direction and the kid actor's performance really cloying.

c) The Descendants
This movie was far from perfect, but I found it surprisingly affecting, particularly for an Alexander Payne movie since I think of his stuff as being really dryly funny. Shailene Woodley kind of held the movie together as a good foil for Clooney's character.

d) The Sitter
I'm totally fine with David Gordon Green totally hijacking his own legacy as a 'serious' filmmaker to direct a bunch of goofball comedy, because I thought George Washington was a crock of shit anyway. This movie was just OK, though -- the turn halfway through where Jonah Hill's character became a little sympathetic was played well and wasn't totally expected, given how nasty most of the humor in the first half was. As many dumb, useless gags as funny ones, though.

e) The Thing
Haven't seen the original, and I know I really should, but I thought this was aight, as these things go. The gore and effects got pretty wild and over the top but never truly scary, whole thing didn't have that much of a pulse to begin with.

f) 50/50
Out of all the movies and TV shows and people living with cancer in the last few years, this felt more involving and less contrived than pretty much all of them, and not just because I know that the screenplay was autobiographical and fact-based. The way the whole thing unfolded and took on all these emotional contours felt really organic, and I thought maybe Seth Rogen would feel forced as comic relief but he worked pretty well. First time I believe Joseph Gordon-Levitt as anything besides a girly little space alien.

g) Dream House
I'm usually good about avoiding spoilers, but sometimes with I'm halfheartedly watching a movie and don't really care how it ends I start looking up plot summaries on Wikipedia or whatever, and when I did this less than halfway through I was just astounded and became fascinated with what a totally awful idea the whole thing was. I actually am kind of surprised and disappointed in Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz that they read this script and thought it was a good idea.

h) A Dangerous Method
This is one of those movies where the true story it's based on is so damned interesting that I find myself much more curious about what really happened than whatever dramatic license the filmmakers took with it. I don't know how to really critique Keira Knightley's performance since she was playing a deeply insane person but even with that in mind it felt a bit much and rang hollow.

i) Wild Target
I'm starting to get to the point where I will watch Emily Blunt in anything, not just because she's really quite attractive, but because she always gives a good performance and generally seems to have good taste in projects (well, I just remember she was in The Wolfman, but hey, exception that proves the rule...oh wait she was in Gnomeo & Juliet? fuck). So even though I have a pretty strong aversion at this point to post-Tarantino hitman comedies (or post-Guy Ritchie British hitman comedies), I gave this a shot and really enjoyed, Blunt and Bill Nighy are great together and there's a nice weird energy to the whole thing.

j) Daydream Nation
While Emily Blunt generally rewards my loyalty, Kat Dennings punishes my desire to watch her in anything over and over with Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and "2 Broke Girls" and so on. I kind of expected this to be worst of all, since it's called Daydream Nation and has a major character named Thurston, and the pullquote used to promote the movie calls it "Juno as re-imagined by David Lynch, or a funnier, sunnier Donnie Darko," which, fucking hell. It was almost kinda sorta good, or at least entertaining, though? In terms of both plot and cinematic style it was just a trainwreck of bad and/or incompatible ideas, but it didn't take itself too seriously at least. It was weird to hear a line from Beautiful Girls ("a girl like that's just born with a boyfriend") repeated almost verbatim.

k) Pretty Persuasion
Like Daydream Nation, this movie kind of goofs on the cliche of high school girls being involved with older male teachers, and mines it for a lot of black comedy in a way that reminds me of The Opposite Of Sex, in a way that resembling movies from nearly a decade earlier made it feel kind of dated. It kind of got me started on this odd train of thought about how cynical or satirical takes on inappropriate relationships between teenage girls and adult men have kind of been this preoccupation of middlebrow dramedies ever since the turn of the century when Election and American Beauty and Ghost World came out. It's kind of creepy.

l) The Good Student
After watching a couple movies about high school girls and their teachers, I decide to make it a creepy triptych and also watched this, which I think wanted to be a black comedy but was just kind of dumb and sitcommy and edgy in only the lamest way possible.

m) Femme Fatale
A lot of models have tried to make the jump to movies and turned out to be completely bereft of some quality that makes that leap possible (although somehow Malin Akerman still gets cast in things, bafflingly). So I think Rebecca Romijn deserves some credit for really having screen presence, regardless of her acting skills or roles or whatever, and it almost seems like a shame that the one time she got to carry a semi-big movie it sunk like a stone. This is really pretty good, though, has to be one of the better later De Palma movies and the kind of retro, Hitchcockian stylized direction makes its kind of silly, lurid elements work better than they have a right to (although the heist setpiece at the beginning is just absurd by any measure).

n) The Birds
Speaking of Hitchcock! Somehow never saw this before, not really in the vein of his films that I like best, but it was cool to finally watch something this iconic for myself, there are a few visuals that are just kind of amazing.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

This Friday, Baltimore rapper TestMe is signing with Future's Freebandz Entertainment at Club Dubai, and I wrote a post about it on the City Paper's Noise blog.