Thursday, January 31, 2013

Maura Johnston, a great music writer who I've had a ton of wonderful experiences working with when she was an editor at the Village Voice and before that Idolator, recently started Maura Magazine, a pretty awesome new experiment in making a (mostly) music magazine available only as an iPhone/iPad app. So far I've been technologically unequipped to read it, which is a bummer, but I'm still pretty excited about the whole venture. And this week I contributed to Maura Magazine for the first time in issue 5. "2 Termz" is a reflection on my experiences backstage at the Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball in D.C. last week.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
The Short List of Baltimore concerts in this week's City Paper.

Monthly Report: November 2012 Albums

Sunday, January 27, 2013

1. Keyshia Cole - Woman To Woman
First of all, let me apologize for putting that album cover up there, that is a disaster. This is a solid album, though, maybe Keysh's best. In a weird way, I'm guess I'm lucky that I usually get to enjoy heartbreak music on a more abstract level, but I recently put this album on after having a rare fight with my wife and it was really helpful and cathartic. Keyshia has a great way of pulling every production sound into her orbit and making it a part of her sensibility, which is kind of rare among contemporary R&B singers -- love the way the computer love of "Stubborn" totally ends up in service of the usual weepy Cole world-building.

2. Mouse On Tha Track - Millionaire Dreamzzz
I'm still digging into this tape and finding new favorites -- "Raise A Finger" is crazy, and I love how "Money Mayweather" kind of reinvents the "Bad Chick" synths and then Mystikal comes in yelling about how he's not gonna pay a lot for this muffler. Mouse sometimes raps a little offbeat (although not as bad as his homie Webbie) but he's got such a great voice for the kind of tracks he makes, so rare that a rapper/producer is able to complement his own beats so perfectly.

3. Ne-Yo - R.E.D.
The hot streak Ne-Yo was on for his first three albums is never coming back but he's back on his game a little bit here. In any event, I love his voice and his whole songwriting style, and the inclusion of some dance pop songs and a Tim McGraw duet just helps broaden what he's capable of in ways that are surprisingly natural. Feels at this point like we're just setting the stage for his middle-age career rejuvenation when everyone remembers how good he is and let's him just do whatever.

4. Soundgarden - King Animal
I am generally not one to wish musicians wouldn't release music, or work again with old collaborators, just as so not to tarnish my old memories, because I think that's stupid. But Soundgarden are definitely one of those bands who I always felt were pretty incredible right up to the end and that if they ever came back they could blow everyone out of the water, so it was depressing to have that illusion totally shattered this year.

5. Fatima Al Qadiri - Desert Strike EP
Two things that are lightweight no-no's for me are all this post-dance post-IDM instrumental beat music out there that I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with, and learning about music from Pitchfork. But looking over the year-end guest list feature and seeing this fly lady raving about Jahlil Beats and Sonny Digital was like OK, I'm gonna check her shit out just out of respect. And this is pretty cool -- it'd be cooler if she got some rappers on these tracks like the producers she's influenced by, but it works well on its own, some interesting textures and melodic choices.

6. The Evens - The Odds
The Evens is such an unusual project, even in the context of usual "aging indie/punk icon mellows out" type projects, and there are things about just the chutzpah of the whole thing and the weird musical context they put these confrontational sentiments in that I really like. But I can also go years without thinking about or particularly wanting to play this stuff, even though their last album was probably my favorite, so it's nice to be reminded.

7. How To Destroy Angels - An Omen EP
I've always been a big fan of Trent Reznor as a musician and producer, while also feeling like Nine Inch Nails could be a little hemmed in by the fact that as a songwriter and vocalist he kind of only has one gear, one dark brooding emotional perspective. So Ghosts I-IV and the film scores were a fun way of hearing him toy with a wide variety sounds without his voice and lyrics instantly taking it in that narrow direction, and a new band with a second vocalist even moreso brings things to a more exciting and unpredictable place -- it's actually a lot like how The Evens offers a new way to hear Ian Mackaye, actually. "Ice Age" off this record in particular is really killing me, I'm now looking forward to the full-length, although when I went back and checked out the other EP from 2010 it didn't grab me nearly as much (and I'm gonna type their name the normal way because the stylization of "How to destroy angels_" is pretty corny I think).

8. Kadman - Rustbelt Hymnal EP
I've known Dave Manchester from Kadman around Baltimore for a few years, and a while back he moved to Pittsburgh, and I guess decided to end the Kadman project, which had gone through a few different lineups with him as the only constant. But he ended it on a high note with this 5-song EP of collaborations with The Water's Dan Cohan, who I'm a big fan of. Their styles are really compatible and it's cool to hear them join forces and kind of find a halfway point between Kadman's earthy slowcore songs and The Water's dense, bombastic sound (incidentally, Kadman's Bandcamp also has a recording of a show I was at shortly after Cohan started playing with Kadman). Manchester's new band Arlo Aldo also has a full-length coming out in February.

9. Brianna Perry - Symphony #9
I was really interested in this girl rapper after the single "Marilyn Monroe" about a year ago, and the mixtape that followed was OK but nothing super memorable. So a year past after she got a deal and nothing seemed to happen, so I started to give up hope, but it turned out there was a more recent mixtape after all, with some big name features (Future, Trey Songz, T-Pain, French Montana). This mixtape shows her potential still intact but not realized in any significant new ways, while she gets a little more industry-ready, which can be both a good and a bad thing. It's a frustrating listen, though, almost half the tracks are just snippets that fade out after a minute or so, like she's really saving the full songs for some album may never drop, which has always been a sucker move, either put out the songs now or don't. The closing track "Dat Bitch" really saves the tape a little bit, just a really top notch "Rack City" knockoff.

10. Sonic Youth - Smart Bar Chicago 1985
When it was announced that Sonic Youth was releasing an official live album from a Bad Moon Rising-era bootleg, I was kind of indifferent because that's one of my least favorite periods of the band's history and besides, I've already seen the Gila Monster Jamboree video. But then I realized that this was one of the first shows after Steve Shelley joined, i.e. the beginning of the band as I love them most, and it became a lot more interesting to me. It's fun to hear Steve ripping into the Bob Bert songs along with some very early performances of "Secret Girl" and "Expressway To Yr Skull." The Dinosaur Jr. live recording from 1987 that was also released in November had its moments but this is a much more exciting document, for me at least.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I wrote about Mullyman and DJ Booman's Prince-sampling Ravens anthem "Purple Reign" on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog.

Friday, January 25, 2013
Robert O'Brien of Baltimore Fishbowl interviewed me this week about my work as a music critic, it was fun to tell some stories and get on my soapbox a little bit about how I view the profession and my particular approach to it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The Short List in this week's Baltimore City Paper.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Village Voice's 2012 Pazz & Jop critics poll's results are out. The Voice's slow collapse had a banner year, and some great people were let go from the paper in 2012, including the editor who occasionally let me write for the VV site, Maura Johnston. But she still voted in P&J, as did I, and some people didn't but generally it was much the same as in other years. This was my 6th year voting, and only the second time that anything I voted for got into the poll's top 10 albums (Miguel this time, Erykah Badu in 2008), which was pretty gratifying considering that a few months ago I never expected Miguel to get proper respect from critics in "the year of Frank Ocean." Here is my ballot. As usual, Glenn McDonald tabulated the poll, and made a secondary P&J stats site that I always find interesting, info my on my ballot is here.

In case you may suspect that I have some sort of list-making sickness, I will now confirm that indeed I do by ranking all the ones I've made the last couple months.

The Top 14 Year-End Lists I Made for 2012:

1. The 20 Best (and 10 Worst) R&B Radio Hits of 2012
2. The 10 Best Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks of 2012
3. Top 10 Baltimore Club Tracks of 2012
4. Top 50 Albums of 2012
5. The 20 Best (and 20 Worst) Hip-Hop/R&B Remixes of 2012
6. Top 50 TV Shows of 2012 
7. The 20 Best (and 10 worst) Country Radio Hits of 2012
8. The 20 Best (and 10 worst) Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2012
9. Top 10 Local (Baltimore) Hip-Hop Albums of 2012
10. Top 100 Singles of 2012
11. The 20 Best (and 10 worst) Rap Radio Hits of 2012
12. Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2012
13. The 20 Best (and 10 worst) Pop Radio Hits of 2012
14. Top 10 Dance Tracks of 2012

The Bonus Year-End List: The 10 Best Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks of 2012

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In 2012, I based one of my Radio Hits One columns on the phenomenon of big budget major label albums these days almost always being released with higher-priced deluxe editions featuring exclusive bonus tracks -- sometimes several different editions for different retailers. The focus of that column was the odd occurrences of bonus tracks actually becoming huge hits, as was the case with Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass," Drake's "The Motto," Ellie Goulding's "Lights,"  But for the most part, bonus tracks have become the modern B-side -- 'optional' second-tier material for the hardcore fans to consume while everyone else sticks with the basic album. And, just as artists and labels could never be trusted to not occasionally put the best song on the B-side, these deluxe editions often include bonus tracks as good as anything on the album proper. So here are some of my favorites from 2012:

1. Pink - "My Signature Move"
Pink's The Truth About Love had easily the best run of bonus tracks in 2012 -- a total of seven on the 'fan edition,' virtually any and all of which I'd happily swap in in place of any or all of the weaker half of the 13 main tracks. Most of the bonus tracks were written with longtime Pink collaborator Butch Walker, a great solo artist in his own right, and it's a crime that "My Signature Move" didn't make the cut for the album proper.

2. Miguel - "...ALL"
Kaleidoscope Dream was my #1 album of 2012, but earlier in the year I wasn't sure if he'd be able to top the EP series that launched "Adorn" and his whole big recent run Art Dealer Chic. Of course, 3 of the 9 Art Dealer Chic songs ended up on the album, and the Target edition features two more, including my favorite, "...ALL." Honestly, I prefer to think of this as the true last track of the album instead of that inferior re-recording of "Candles In The Sun," especially since it so explicitly sums up Miguel's whole approach to music and his career more than any other song.

3. E-40 f/ C-Ballin - "Blame It On The DJ" 
E-40's triple album The Block Brochure: Welcome To The Soil boasted a staggering 54 songs, and then the crazy motherfucker actually had 6 more for the deluxe versions, which are right up to the standard off the proper albums. Just insane.

4. Usher - "I.F.U."
On Looking 4 Myself, Usher darted in way too many directions looking 4 the version of himself that would be most marketable to the most demographics, and it never quite hung together. So it's not surprising that he didn't know what to do with one of the best songs with the most urban radio potential, and it ended up as a bonus track -- I even heard it on the radio a couple times, and was disappointed when it never became a proper hit. Oak & Pop, the production duo who helmed Elle Varner's album, give this track an off-kilter violin riff almost as sick as "Refill," and a sleazy little vocal loop that sounds better in the clean version's "I'm freakin' youuuuuu" than the one with the real F word.

5. Carly Rae Jepsen - "Sweetie"
I know some people who have claimed that Jepsen's album contains other songs that are better than "Call Me Maybe," and I don't know if I'd agree, but one of the songs that came closest was only on the deluxe edition, and even kind of hits the same sweet spot.

6. The Gaslight Anthem - "Blue Dahlia" 
Two of the three bonus tracks on the Gaslight Anthem's major label debut Handwritten are covers of Nirvana and Tom Petty songs that kind of underline the band's hitmaking ambitions. Those are fun to hear, but the original one out of the trio is better.

7. Meek Mill f/ Big Sean - "Burn"
When Meek Mill's Dreamchasers 2 broke records on mixtape sites, "Amen" and "Burn" both immediately stood out as songs with big name features that were also really good. One became the lead single for Dreams & Nightmares and one didn't, but the latter was still popular enough to chart and get an official video.

8. Future - "Paradise"
7 months after Future dropped Pluto, my favorite rap album of the year's sleeper success was vindicated with one of those increasingly rare 'victory lap' after-the-fact deluxe reissues, Pluto 3D, which had some good new tracks tacked on but generally messed with the album's original running order in unsatisfying ways. But the original Pluto that dropped way back in April actually had its own deluxe edition, and one of its bonus tracks, "Paradise," was pretty fantastic, perhaps the most psychedelic song he's released to date as he gears up for Future Hendrix.

9. Ne-Yo - "Alone With You (Maddie's Song)"
"Alone With You (Maddie's Song)" stands out on R.E.D. as the most traditionally soulful song on Ne-Yo's least R&B album to date, a lovely little track produced by Salaam Remi. As it turns out, Maddie is Ne-Yo's two-year-old daughter. I hope someday he apologizes to her for letting this only be a bonus track.

10. Matchbox Twenty - "Straight For This Life"
North was a pretty impressive album that I enjoyed more than I never thought I could enjoy a Matchbox Twenty album, although I kind of wimped out on putting it on my year-end list because that list makes me look lame enough as it is. This bonus track that closes the deluxe edition would definitely be one of the tracks I'd highlight if I was trying to convince someone that no, seriously, this record is good.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
This week's Short List.

The Final 2012 Remix Report Card

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

This is the sixth year I've done one of these year-end wrap-ups of all the big remixes of hip-hop and R&B hits, after 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Last year the number of official remixes of chart hits seemed to dip for the first time since I started doing it, and since there were less than 40 I downsized to only 10 best and worst remixes instead of the usual 20. This year, the numbers were back way up, so I can do 20 again, but it felt kind of like a year with very little in the way of event remixes, to the point that my #1 was kind of a little known remix of a single that flopped. If I were to rank these by popularity or profile, 4 of the 5 remixes would probably be on the 'worst' list.

To see what I wrote about these mixes throughout the year, see the 2012 Remix Report Card volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Remixes that ended up being the only hit version of the song, like Rihanna's "Birthday Cake," weren't eligible (so "Bandz A Make Her Dance" with Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz isn't on this list, but the second remix made after that one is). The most ubiquitous remix rapper of the year, depressingly enough, was French Montana, who wound up well ahead of 2 Chainz and Young Jeezy, and about twice as frequent a guest as Wayne or Ross.

The 20 Best Hip-Hop/R&B Remixes of 2012: 

1. "Sorry (Remix)" by Ciara featuring Future
2. "Work Hard, Play Hard (Remix)" by Wiz Khalifa featuring Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne
3. "Refill (Remix)" by Elle Varner featuring Wale, Kirko Bangz and T-Pain
4. "Feelin' Single (Remix) - Single Ladies" by R. Kelly
5. "Celebration (Remix)" by Game featuring Bone Thugs-n-Harmony
6. "Diamonds (Remix)" by Rihanna featuring Kanye West
7. "Swimming Pools (Black Hippy Remix)" by Kendrick Lamar featuring Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul
8. "Function (Remix)" by E-40 featuring French Montana, Young Jeezy, Red Cafe, Chris Brown and Problem
9. "Do It (Remix)" by Mykko Montana featuring Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, Nelly, Travis Porter, Jeremih and Nitti Beatz
10. "Same Damn Time (Remix)" by Future featuring Diddy and Ludacris
11. "Pride N Joy (Remix)" by Fat Joe featuring Ashanti, Trey Songz, Pusha T and Miguel
12. "Another Round (Remix)" by Fat Joe featuring Chris Brown, Mary J Blige, Fabolous and Kirko Bangz
13. "Strange Clouds (Remix)" by B.o.B featuring T.I. and Young Jeezy
14. "Wild Boy (Remix)" by Machine Gun Kelly featuring 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Mystikal, French Montana and Yo Gotti
15. "We In This Bitch 1.5 (Remix)" by DJ Drama featuring Future and Drake
16. "Hold Me Back (Remix)" by Rick Ross featuring Gunplay, French Montana, Yo Gotti and Lil Wayne
17. "House Party (Remix)" by Meek Mill featuring Fabolous, Wale and Mac Miller
18. "Bandz A Make Her Dance (Remix)" by Juicy J featuring French Montana, LoLa Monroe, Wiz Khalifa and B.o.B
19. "I Got That Sack (Remix)" by Yo Gotti featuring Young Jeezy and T.I.
20. "Up! (Remix)" by LoveRance featuring E-40, B.o.B and Fat Joe

The 20 Worst Hip-Hop/R&B Remixes of 2012: 

1. "I Don't Like (Remix)" by Chief Keef featuring Kanye West, Pusha T, Jadakiss and Big Sean
2. "Turn On The Lights (Remix)" by Future featuring Lil Wayne
3. "I Do (Remix)" by Young Jeezy featuring Drake, Jay-Z and Andre 3000
4. "Adorn (Remix)" by Miguel featuring Wiz Khalifa
5. "Boyfriend (Remix)" by Justin Bieber featuring 2 Chainz, Mac Miller and Asher Roth
6. "Rack City (Remix)" by Tyga featuring Wale, Fabolous, Young Jeezy, Meek Mill and T.I.
7. "Cashin' Out (Remix)" by Ca$h Out featuring Akon, Young Jeezy, Fabolous and Yo Gotti
8. "Turn Up The Music (Remix)" by Chris Brown featuring Rihanna
9. "Put It Down (Remix)" by Brandy featuring 2 Chainz and Tyga
10. "Born Stunna (Remix)" by Birdman featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj
11. "Thank You (Remix)" by Estelle featuring Busta Rhymes and French Montana
12. "Bag of Money (Remix)" by Wale featuring Omarion, Lil Wayme, French Montana, Black Cobain, Rick Ross, T-Pain, Trina, Rockie Fresh and Tyga
13. "Birthday Song (Bugatti Boyz Remix)" by 2 Chainz featuring Rick Ross and Diddy
14. "Let Me Love You (Remix)" by Ne-Yo featuring French Montana
15. "Drank In My Cup (Remix)" by Kirko Bangz featuring 2 Chainz and Juelz Santana
16. "Who Booty (Remix)" by Jonn Hart featuring French Montana
17. "Die Young (Remix)" by Ke$ha featuring Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J and Becky G
18. "Snapbacks & Tattoos (Remix)" by Driicky Graham featuring Roscoe Dash, French Montana and Ca$h Out
19. "Riot (Remix)" by 2 Chainz featuring 50 Cent
20. "Want U Back (Remix)" by Cher Lloyd f/ Snoop Dogg

Monday, January 14, 2013

I wrote about DJ AngelBaby's new Baltimore club mixtape, Get Pumped Vol. 1, on the City Paper's Noise blog.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I wrote about Labtekwon's latest album, HARDCORE: Labtekwon and the Righteous Indignation/Rootzilla vs Masta Akbar, and its companion book and videos, on the Mobtown Studios website.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I wrote a City Paper Noise blog post about the new EP by Gary B & The Notions, Cheri.

Top 50 TV Shows of 2012

Friday, January 11, 2013

1. Bob's Burgers (FOX)
2. Happy Endings (ABC)
3. New Girl (FOX)
4. Suits (USA)
5. 30 Rock (NBC)
6. Bullet In The Face (IFC)
7. Childrens Hospital (Cartoon Network)
8. Sons Of Anarchy (FX)
9. The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
10. Parenthood (NBC)
11. Community (NBC)
12. Funny Or Die presents Billy On The Street (Fuse)
13. Veep (HBO)
14. Episodes (Showtime)
15. Homeland (Showtime)
16. Breaking Bad (AMC) 
17. Saturday Night Live (NBC)
18. Workaholics (Comedy Central)
19. Justified (FX)
20. The Soup (E!)
21. Nashville (ABC)
22. The Colbert Report
23. Suburgatory (ABC)
24. Ben & Kate (FOX)
25. How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
26. Girls (HBO)
27. Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
28. Last Resort (ABC)
29. Breakout Kings (A&E)
30. The Mindy Project (FOX)
31. Conan (TBS)
32. Louie (FX)
33. Haven (SyFy)
34. Web Therapy (Showtime)
35. True Blood (HBO)
36. Shameless (Showtime) 
37. Fairly Legal (USA)
38. The Eric Andre Show (Cartoon Network)
39. Boss (Starz)
40. Alcatraz (FOX)
41. Smash (NBC)
42. Magic City (Starz)
43. Rizzoli & Isles (TNT)
44. Cougar Town (ABC)
45. Raising Hope (FOX)
46. Parks & Recreation (NBC)
47. Unsung (TV One)
48. Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23 (ABC)
49. Eagleheart (Cartoon Network) 
50. The Newsroom (HBO)

Last year I did a pretty ridiculous list of my top 50 shows of the year, to kind of cap off a period when I was a stay-at-home dad and was just consuming an absurd amount of television and keeping up with as many shows as I could take the slightest bit of interest in. This year, I got out of the house a bit more (and also my son was old enough to have favorite shows and kept the TV tuned in to Sprout whenever he could), so inevitably I saw a bit less. And considered the amount of shit I took for last year's list from other internet dorks, it might've been good to just drop it this year, but really getting some praise for the list from one of my favorite people who writes about TV, Rich Juzwiak, outweighed all the other stuff. 

Throughout the year, I dropped out of shows that weren't holding my interest too much (The Killing, Game of Thrones, Being Human, Portlandia, Wilfred, Once Upon A Time, and Modern Family were casualties, among others), and got a better idea of what I really enjoyed, which was nice. And ultimately this list only has 27 of the same shows as last year's list, so there was a lot of turnover and some great shows premiered or came into their own. I also thought about doing a top 10 of the worst scripted shows I saw this year, but AV Club did one of those and nailed a lot of the shows I was going to talk about (House of Lies, Brickleberry, Anger Management). So while I won't go overkill with 50 blurbs, I'll at least offer from scattered thoughts about some of the shows on the list: 

* I loved "Bob's Burgers" from the jump, but after its second season squeezed out only 9 episodes from March to May, I figured it would soon join the graveyard of short-lived FOX cartoons not created by Matt Groening or Seth MacFarlane. Instead, it returned with a full 20+ episode order for the third season, got even funnier, and the ratings even went up a bit. And, more importantly, I now really feel like I love the show as its own thing, its characters and comedic rhythms now their own thing, distinct from "Home Movies" and the other things I've enjoyed from the cast and creator before. 

* There's something so shamelessly basic about shows like "Happy Endings" and "New Girl" doing the old 30ish attractive mostly white urbanites palling around "Friends" thing, to the point that their pilots actually featured the same token black guy. But something funny happened, or more accurately dozens of funny things happened, every week, on both shows, and I can't hate, as much as I wanted to when "New Girl" premiered amidst an obnoxious Zooeygeist. It also helps that they have ultimately become pretty distinctly different shows at heart -- "Happy Endings" aggressively silly and obnoxious, "New Girl" a little more rooted in the relationships between characters. 

* I've been doing year-end TV lists on this blog since 2006, the year "30 Rock" debuted, and it's been in the top 5 every year without fail. It makes me sad to realize this will probably be the last time, unless the final five episodes airing in 2013 are good enough that I really want to go nuts with continuing the tradition. Fucking amazing show, though, barely ever dipped in quality. 

* Bullet In The Face reportedly repulsed the IFC execs that ordered the series so much that they decided to just cap it at the 6 episodes produced and quickly dispose of them as a "two night mini-series event," which makes the show's nasty tasteless broad satire even more enjoyable to me. 

* Sons Of Anarchy has become, in the last couple seasons, perhaps the most consistently gut-wrenching show to watch ever, in terms of emotional impact, shocking plot twists, and visceral violence and ugliness, more than even Breaking Bad at this point, which I've never totally loved but probably appreciated more sincerely this year than I ever have. 

* Parenthood is my favorite show that I somehow managed to snub completely on last year's top 50 -- I just go through phases of being actively annoyed and frustrated by the characters on the show and then going back to loving and identifying with them. In that way it's probably one of the most realistic shows about family on television, particularly at a time when there are so few shows about family. And it's been pretty great this year. 

* Community, my #1 the last two years, only aired 12 episodes this year, and for the most part they weren't the show's best work. But more than that, the bullshit surrounding the show just reached a ridiculous peak this year, with the fanbase getting a little too rabid (and again, I say that as someone who thought it was the best show on TV two years in a row), the ultimately unnecessary supporting player Chevy Chase causing a bunch of grief and leaving way later than he should have, creator Dan Harmon being ousted and the new showrunners (who worked on Happy Endings, which lately had been funnier) getting harassed on the internet before even starting the job, and now who knows if anything will happen beyond this upcoming run of episodes or whether they'll be good. But seriously, good shows get low ratings and don't last all the time, it's not that big a deal, everyone on this show will go on to do other great things (or just have a terrible indie rapper career). The fanboy persecution complex stuff is just insufferable and really started to effect the show on a creative level, I think. 

* With NBC's lineup faltering and ABC and FOX stepping up their comedy divisions, those networks ended up on pretty equal footing in my estimation -- each has 6 shows in this list. CBS only has one, though, mostly for old time's sake. How I Met Your Mother is also lower on this list than it's ever been, but that's just because I've barely seen it this year -- my son rarely gets to bed before 8:30, and for some reason HIMYM is one of the only major network shows that Comcast doesn't make available on demand, so I haven't seen a single episode of the current season and only most of the previous one. Looking forward to catching up on DVD at some point, though, last I saw I felt the show still had some life in it, considering how long it's been on the air. 

* Last Resort was my favorite fall pilot, which I joked about being the best episode of Star Trek in decades -- seriously, the honorable but conflicted captain, the moral quandaries about war, the cheap effects and "shake the camera and jump around when the ship gets hit" scenes, the tense interactions with the natives when the ship lands, it would've been a great Next Generation teleplay. But it squandered a lot of that potential in the subsequent episodes, and I wasn't too heartbroken to see it get canceled. A noble experiment, though.  

* Shows I really was bummed to see go off the air this year: Breakout Kings, Fairly Legal, Boss, and Alcatraz, which was really the only of the many post-Lost high concept shows that was any fun at all. Shows that debuted this year that I enjoyed enough to put on the list, even though I'm really just waiting to see if 2013 really cements them as consistently great: Billy On The Street (seriously, people need to see this), Veep, Ben & Kate, Girls, Key & Peele, The Mindy Project, several others. Newsroom had little fleeting moments of what Aaron Sorkin actually is good at, but I'm not sure it has anywhere to go but down from here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

This week's Baltimore City Paper has my hip-hop column Rap Sheet, with news about Los and Kane Mayfield, and a list of's top 5 most downloaded mixtapes of 2012. Also wrote The Short List as usual.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 1: Brandy

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

I've always made mixtapes with nerdy specific themes, first on cassette as a teenager, then mix CDs, and no Spotify playlists. And I got the idea last year to do mixes of 'deep cuts' -- album tracks that were never singles or hits in any other sense -- from artists who are largely known for their hits. It's become a subject of fascination for me, how some artists can be incredibly famous, and even relatively respected for their work, sell millions of albums, and yet their musical legacy is tied up almost solely in the charting singles. It's not just 'one hit wonders.' So Madonna, or perhaps Tom Petty or Missy Elliott would be a good fit for this series; but not David Bowie or Bruce Springsteen or Jay-Z, guys who have hits but are also revered as album artists with widely loved deep cuts (as you may detect, gender could be a factor here). 

So I was already planning to start this series in early 2013 when there was a mild controversy on the internet last weekend in which Solange Knowles, the sibling of a significant R&B artist but not so much one herself, went on a tirade on Twitter about music critics writing about R&B without really loving or understanding the genre (which I thought was interesting, since I thought those kinds of critics were basically Solange's biggest champions). The line that really caught on, and created a minor meme, was "you really should know about deep Brandy album cuts before you are giving a 'grade' or a 'score' to any R&B artist," which perhaps struck people as funny because Brandy is not considered a major canonical act, though I imagine that was precisely Solange's point. 

Most of my previous experience with Brandy deep cuts was with 2004's Afrodisiac and last year's Two Eleven. When I wrote about the latter here a couple months ago, I even admitted "I've always taken Brandy for granted." Other than the hilarity of who it's coming from, I don't take too much issue with what Solange is saying, even if I could personally feel implicated by it; I didn't buy or listen to contemporary R&B albums that often until around 2005, when I started writing album reviews regularly. There was something of a direct cause and effect, too -- I quickly realized that while I had an interest in writing about popular music, it was a lot less competitive to pitch an R&B album than a rap album that surely ten other critics had already pitched, and at that point most of my favorite songs on the radio had been R&B for several years, so it just made no sense for me to not check out the albums too. 

So I combed through the dozens of non-hits on Brandy's six albums, and came up with her greatest misses as a Spotify playlist

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 1: Brandy

1. Necessary
2. Movin' On 
3. Angel In Disguise featuring Joe
4. So Sick
5. All In Me
6. Warm It Up (With Love)
7. Learn The Hard Way
8. Always On My Mind
9. A Cappella (Something's Missing)
10. Paint This House
11. Where You Wanna Be featuring T.I.
12. Happy
13. When You Touch Me
14. Like This
15. Say You Will
16. Do You Know What You Have
17. Put That On Everything
18. Give Me You

Tracks 2, 8 and 18 from  Brandy (1994)
Tracks 3, 7, 12 and 17 from Never Say Never (1998)
Tracks 5, 13 and 14 from Full Moon (2002)
Tracks 1, 11 and 15 from Afrodisiac (2004)
Tracks 6 and 9 from Human (2008)
Tracks 4, 10 and 16 from Two Eleven (2012)

I should note, by the way, that her biggest album, 1998's Never Say Never, is not on Spotify, so the four songs from that album are not in the playlist. Brandy is not a world class singer, but she's always had a unique, almost raspy tone, which I've often been reminded of in one of my favorite newer artists in R&B, Dawn Richard, formerly of Diddy-Dirty Money. During those "The Boy Is Mine" days, though, I always made a point of much preferring Monica's voice, and over the years I've remained something of a Monica partisan as she's built up a more consistent catalog. 

Part of what's always kept Brandy at arm's length for me is the presence of Rodney Jerkins, one of the biggest and blandest producers in modern R&B, who helmed the bulk of three of her albums -- can you blame anyone for being more interested in Aaliyah when she had all those Timbaland tracks? Of course, Brandy did switch horses for 2004's Afrodisiac, making an album with Timbo right at his creative nadir (it speaks volumes that when Kanye West swooped in to do 2 songs at the last minute, he ended up with the lead single as well as the best deep cut, "Where You Wanna Be"). The Organized Noize production, "Necessary," easily outdoes every Tim song on the album. By comparison, Two Eleven is a far more confident and successful foray outside of Darkchild territory, with producers like Mike Will Made It and Bangladesh bringing her sound up to date in a way that she's never quite been able to do her whole career -- even when she was a huge hitmaker, there was a little bit of a sense that she was a family-friendly TV star, not really at the forefront. 

But making this mix also made me take a good long second look at Rodney Jerkins, as well as the team that wrote and produced Brandy's 1994 self-titled debut, including Keith Crouch and Somethin' For The People. Jerkins deserves some credit for classic singles like "What About Us?" and "The Boy Is Mine," there's just a lot of really workmanlike, unexceptional stuff cluttering up his discography. Still, his work was at times more ambitious than I've given him credit for, especially on Full Moon, even if it hasn't all aged particularly well. One wonders if Brandy would have had a more interesting career if she'd acted less, or worked with more producers earlier, but the songs here represent a better catalog than I would've assumed. That Brandy has managed her biggest radio hit in a decade recently, even if she got a lot of help from that awful Chris Brown guest spot, is a testament to both her resilience and the adaptability of her voice. 

Saturday, January 05, 2013
At the end of every year on The Singles Jukebox, there's an 'amnesty' period where writers get to nominate songs that weren't covered earlier in the year but maybe should've been. These were the ones I blurbed (Future was my nomination), with my score and then the group average:

Dead Sara - Weatherman [9/7.58]
Drake ft. Lil Wayne & Tyga - The Motto [3/5.5]
Future - Same Damn Time [10/6.91]
Katie Got Bandz - We Ridin Around and We Drillin [1/5.56]
3D Na'Tee ft. Keri Hilson - I Want More [5/7.22]
Mykko Montana ft. K Camp - Do It [7/7.5]
Jeremih - 773 Love [7/7.58]

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Corridor Podcast, a podcast about Baltimore/D.C. music hosted by journalist Kelsi Loos, recently invited me to appear as a guest, to play and talk about some of my favorite Baltimore songs of the year. So I picked songs from 5 local releases on my top 50 albums of 2012 (by Among Wolves, War On Women, Dave Fell, DDm/Rye Rye and Jumpcuts), and at the end talked about my band Western Blot and played our song "Child of Divorce." The podcast is available on iTunes as well as on the Corridor site.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

I wrote about Chuck Brown in the Baltimore City Paper's annual 'people who died' issue. Also wrote The Short List as usual.

(illustration by Alex Fine)