Monthly Report: February 2013 Albums

Sunday, March 31, 2013

1. Ben Goldberg - Unfold Ordinary Mind
I saw one of the first shows by Unfold Ordinary Mind, Goldberg's new band with Nels Cline and Ellery Eskelin, when they played in Baltimore late last year, really awesome show. And the album, which is pretty much the same material they played in December, definitely lives up to that performance, beautifully recorded performance. Really says something when Nels Cline is on a record but ends up not being what I pay attention to the most. Goldberg released another album in February, Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues, that's also quite good, I just didn't feel like making room for both here. As usual you can hear most of these records on my 2013 albums Spotify playlist.

2. Tiffany Evans - 143 EP
Five years ago, Evans was a teen star with a minor hit featuring Ciara, and I probably never would've thought about her again after that song came and went. But in the age of R&B singers on the margins of the industry finally getting some DIY spirit and doing mixtapes and indie releases, she put this EP out online and really impressed me with it. Of course, it's 10 songs, practically an album, but still feels like a nice little sampler of what she's capable of. Her voice has that kind of Ciara thinness but she has a great ear for melodies, if she wrote these, and the production is lush and fantastic. "I Found You" is a pretty dope Aaliyah-style song at a time when lots of people are paying respect to her without really capturing her emotional or vocal essence this well.

3. Bilal - A Love Surreal
I've never been a big fan of Bilal, who's the most indebted to Prince of all the neo soul singers but doesn't quite have the talent or the creativity to live up to that influence in any interesting way. This album is dope, though, really feels like his building his own sound and finding things to do with his idiosyncratic voice that aren't flat-out annoying like he's sometimes been in the past.

4. Atoms For Peace - AMOK
I resigned myself a long time ago to the idea that Thom Yorke is not really a very creative or versatile guy, and only writes 2 or 3 kinds of songs, which have had dwindling appeal for me for most of his career. But the idea of him collaborating with anyone outside of his usual camp is at least interesting, especially if it's someone as distasteful to most Radiohead fans as Flea, who is really a pretty brilliant guy no matter what you think of his band. Of course this sounds more like Yorke & co. than much outward evidence that the nimble, subtle bass playing is by Flea, but that's kind of the point. In any event, dig this way more than any of Radiohead/Yorke stuff I've heard in the last decade.

5. My Chemical Romance - Conventional Weapons
I've already written about My Chemical Romance so much in the last week or so since they announced their breakup, but really this little 10 song package of Danger Days outtakes is so much better than it should be, these guys really were awesome.

6. Kevin Gates - The Luca Brasi Story
This guy's buzz had been building for a minute and really ramped up with this tape, hadn't really heard him much before, I guess this is a good intro and a solid mixtape, but I'm not totally sold on him. He's got a unique voice but not necessarily a voice I want to hear a lot of, his looks leave something to be desired ("Narco Trafficante" is terrible), and his writing is impressive but sometimes kind of awkward. Still, though, the overall quality here is pretty high, wouldn't mind this dude getting big, given how few decent southern rappers are in the mainstream right now. "Around Me" is pretty dope.

7. Matmos - The Marriage of True Minds
I already reviewed this but it's a pretty neat record, feel like a lot of it kinda went over my head or needs context but just purely as sound it's really sonically unique and impressive.

8. Arlo Aldo - Zelie
This is the new project from Dave of Kadman, whose final EP I just wrote about here a couple months ago. This is less slowcore and more pastoral and folky, with male/female harmonies, but still really retaining his songwriting sensibility, just putting it in a new context.

9. RDGLDGRN - Red Gold Green EP
These guys are from Virginia and are getting a big push from the local alt-rock station in Washington, DC101, but I assume that push will be national later in the year when their full-length comes, because this EP has both Dave Grohl and Pharrell Williams on it. There's a lot kind of cringe-inducing about this band -- they have no vowels in their name, they're three guys who call themselves Red, Gold and Green, and wear nothing but those respective colors, they say their genre is "indie Go-Go," Green raps, their big single is titled "I Love Lamp" yeah, I dunno I'm kind of on the fence about them. But I actually do like the sound of the record, apparently they were recording at Sound City when Grohl was doing his doc, and agreed to play drums on their whole record, and it is kind of fun to hear Dave Grohl play kinda sorta Go-Go beats. The Pharrell track is OK, too.

10. Dan Friel - Total Folklore
I liked Friel's Ghost Town a few years ago, but this being his first solo release since the breakup of Parts & Labor maybe heightens my expectations or just makes me enjoy this less, mainly because it just sounds like P&L with the vocals and rhythm section stripped out. And I like those cool synth noises, but I enjoyed them more as part of the whole band's sound, so this just makes me miss the band more.

Worst Album of the Month: Young Thug - 1017 Thug
Guy has negligible talent and is genuinely unnerving to listen to, but people who rave about everything Brick Squad seem to like it. I got love for Tom Breihan, but his praise for this mixtape is so depressingly self-incriminating: "On a fundamental bar-for-bar basis, Young Thug is, of course, a completely garbage rapper. But he’s interesting garbage." People seem very amused by how he says "Pikachu," it's all really condescending and gross. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

I wrote The Short List, of all the best concerts in Baltimore this week, in Wednesday's City Paper. Except, of course, to avoid conflict of interest I didn't mention my band Western Blot's next big show on Saturday. I wanted to post this beautiful flyer one more time, plus I'm just really excited for this show. The bill is great -- Dave Fell was going to play solo, but now the whole Fell Band is doing the show, and Inca and Heart Of Hearts should be great. And I've just been destroying drum sticks (and even broke a bass drum head the other night) and blowing out my voice practicing for this show. Stop by and hang out if you're in Baltimore this weekend!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

After I did my little playlist of My Chemical Romance deep cuts the other day, I got a chance to write an even longer piece for Spin Magazine detailing the band's career, lamenting their breakup and listing their 10 best songs.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I wrote a post on the City Paper's Noise blog about the new record by Friend Collector (formed by members of the excellent The New Flesh) and a show they're playing in Baltimore tonight. The show has gone through a bunch of last minute changes in the last couple days, being moved to Club K (after being originally booked at The Bell Foundry), then some bands dropping off the bill, then being canceled, to now the show being back on with a few bands added. Right now, it should be back on, as far as I know, and looks like a good show.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The news came down the pike yesterday that My Chemical Romance has finally decided to break up. It's the kind of thing where I can't say I expected it, but it seems obvious in retrospect -- they just finished releasing Conventional Weapons, a 10-song series of singles collecting all the songs they discarded in the making of their last proper album, 2010's Danger Days, the only album they've released in the last 6 years. I guess they weren't into it anymore. They were awesome, though; an unlikely mainstream face of the amorphous subgenre of 'emo' who were meaner, funnier and catchier than almost any other band that ever got tagged with that word. They were ridiculous, but on purpose, and with purpose.

The first three installments in this series (Brandy, Whitney Houston, and Madonna) all focused on female solo artists who dominated the singles charts -- the kinds of artists who can sell millions of albums, have huge adoring fanbases, and have their songs known by practically everyone on earth, but still aren't taken seriously as 'album artists' by many critics and music fans, possibly because they're women or don't play instruments or some nonsense like that. My Chemical Romance, however, are a different breed: a platinum rock band who managed to be often reviled or dismissed by so-called serious music listeners even when they did make cohesive album-length statements in which they wrote all the songs and played all the instruments.

MCR are known far better for their singles (and videos) than for their albums, and perhaps known better for their image and aesthetic than all of the above. And I can't deny that they were an ace singles band -- I declared "Helena" the greatest rock single of the 2000s, and I still stand by that. But they've got a lot of great songs that never got on the radio, and since they're often pretty short, I was able to fit a lot them in under my 80-minute cap. Here's the Spotify playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance

1. Vampire Money
2. Give 'Em Hell, Kid
3. House of Wolves
5. Cemetery Drive
6. Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back
7. Our Lady Of Sorrows
8. You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison
9. Kill All your Friends
10. Mama
11. Desert Song
12. It's Not A Fashion Statement It's A Deathwish
13. Party Poison
14. Disenchanted
15. Boy Division
16. I Never Told You What I Do For A Living
17. Summertime
18. My Way Home Is Through You
19. Skylines And Turnstiles
20. Bury Me In Black
21. To The End
22. The End.
23. Dead!

Tracks 7 and 19 from I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (2002)
Tracks 2, 5, 8, 12, 16 and 21 from Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (2004)
Tracks 11 and 20 from Life On The Murder Scene (2006)
Tracks 3, 10, 14, 22 and 23 from The Black Parade (2006)
Tracks 9 and 18 from The Black Parade: The B-Sides (2009)
Tracks 1, 6, 13 and 17 from Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (2010)
Tracks 4 and 15 from Conventional Weapons (2013)

I will note that this collection differs somewhat from previous Deep Album Cuts mixes that only drew from proper albums and soundtrack albums that were mostly or entirely performed by the artist -- MCR only had four full-length studio efforts, which is on the low end of what I'd consider a good-sized discography to explore for one of these mixes. So I included things from their various stopgap releases that collected b-sides and outtakes. Their first album, the 2002 indie debut I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, isn't on Spotify, and I'm not as familiar with it as the later albums, so there's only a couple tracks from it on the 'true' version of the playlist, and none on the one you can click and listen to. Of course, I can justify that by saying these mixes are about the lesser known songs that appeared alongside the hits, so I'm ultimately OK only focusing on the era in which they had mainstream hits.

The part of MCR's career I've always had trouble with is The Black Parade -- it was pretty much the only album I've ever written a post on this blog just about anticipating, but I ended up panning the album soon after, and I came to really resent "Welcome To The Black Parade," especially once it became pretty much their biggest hit. It was fun to pick through it and find the songs I do like, though, which actually function well as a change of pace from the faster, funnier Three Cheers and Danger Days that I think of as the My Chemical Romance I love most. Those Black Parade b-sides are really fantastic, though, like that stuff more than most of what's on the album.

The bittersweet thing about My Chemical Romance is the feeling of squandered potential. It feels like so many mainstream rock bands over the last decade or two have had such predictable, brief 3-album arcs: the breakthrough, the peak, and the commercial disappointment, after which comes either a breakup or a slow fade into cult/indie level popularity. The list of bands in that time period that have enjoyed a really sustained, uninterrupted run of success is pitifully short and not especially inspiring (Linkin Park, Nickelback, Coldplay). My Chemical Romance was one of the few bands that really got me excited about a band going platinum with songs and videos I found genuinely great, and it feels like the long breaks between albums and kind of anxious identity crisis the band seemed to grapple with from there on really squandered what could've been a much longer, more productive career. But I'm still pretty happy with the catalog they left behind.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stevie "Low Key God" Loney of Team Fifty passed away this week, and I wrote a brief obituary on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog. He was a wild guy, one of the most memorable people I've ever interviewed, and I was really sad to hear the news.

(photo by Jefferson Jackson Steele)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
This week's Short List.

Monthly Report: February 2013 Singles

Sunday, March 17, 2013

1. Tamar Braxton - "Love And War"
It's been generally depressing to watch aging rappers and R&B singers try to revive their careers with reality TV shows, and even more depressing when it actually works, like Joe Budden recently having that terrible new single become his biggest radio hit in the nearly ten years since "Pump It Up." So when I heard one of Toni Braxton's little sisters from "Braxton Family Values" do a radio interview and premiere her new single a few months ago, I figured they were just playing it as an act of charity for her TV promo run. But it sounded pretty good, and it made the iTunes sales charts, and then it started making the airplay charts, and now it's a bona fide hit. And now Tamar is finally going to get to release the album she announced in 2004 (I wonder if she just called the album Love And War for all these years and then recorded this song later, or if it was around in some form this whole time?). As I mentioned in the last Monthly Report, both this and Keyshia Cole's "Trust And Believe" were produced by DJ Camper, and both feature lots of the same production flourishes. But both are good enough that I don't totally mind hearing them side by side on the radio. And in the past few weeks "Love And War" has deservingly pulled ahead as the bigger of the two songs. Tamar has a pretty great voice, with a little of Toni's low range on the verses but a plaintive soar on the chorus. By the way, I've added all these songs to my running Spotify playlist of 2013 singles.

2. The Band Perry - "Better Dig Two"
Their big breakthrough hit a couple years ago was "If I Die Young," so it's almost a little too on the nose that the lead single from their second album is another love song about graves. I think I like this one more, though, it's a little more morbid and a little less saccharine. Apparently they initially started recording this album with Rick Rubin and then ended up doing it with a different producer, which puts them in company with a long list of bands (U2, Weezer, CSN, Velvet Revolver, Hot Hot Heat) who abandoned sessions with Rubin, supporting my theory that the guy seems to take a lot of money to not really do anything.

3. Ace Hood f/ Future and Rick Ross - "Bugatti"
I already said a lot about this song (and amused myself a lot with this), but I will say that this really feels like it's quickly becoming one of the big rap songs of the year, which I'm not really mad at even though it could've (and should've) just been a Future song. Ace is a good fit for the beat, at least, but Ross is kind of a buzzkill -- does he ever end verses well? I feel like by the 15th bar he just totally stops caring and just mumbles something and moves along.

4. R. Kelly - "When A Man Lies"
I'm not a huge fan of R.'s last couple albums as albums, or as an aesthetic statement or career statement. But like any other phase of his career, it's inevitably yielded some good singles, and this is probably the best besides "Love Letter." It was a standout for me when Write Me Back came out, so I'm glad they finally released it.

5. Young Jeezy f/ 2 Chainz - "R.I.P."
Another one I already blurbed, and I do still wish it was as good as "I'm Different," but I'm digging this cultural exchange of Atlanta rappers on very Cali-sounding DJ Mustard beats. Jeezy's still kind of hit-and-miss with writing hooks, though, it's kind of the weak link of this track.

6. Little Mix - "Wings"
One of the oddest radio stations I listen to is 95.5 WPGC, the Washington R&B/hip hop station that for ages had pretty much interchangeable playlists with the other two big urban stations in D.C. and Baltimore, and then in early 2012 started incorporating pop radio hits into its playlist, without any other real changes in format or aesthetic. So you'll get a bunch of Juicy J and Keyshia Cole and then every 4th or 5th song is something vaguely out of place like Bruno Mars or Calvin Harris. It's ostensibly a shrewd move in the current climate but I don't know how much it actually benefits them or broadens their listenership. Anyway, lately they've been playing the hell out of this song, from British girl group that won "X-Factor" over there. "Wings" was a U.K. #1, and apparently it's starting to get worked in the U.S. but it hasn't charted here at all and its heavy rotation on this one station in D.C. seems to be an anomaly. It's pretty good, though, the production is pretty closely traced back to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" but feels kind of distinctly British in how sugary it all is.

7. Rita Ora - "Radioactive"
Rita Ora is another British act who's big over there and not here, but they keep trying to work her in the U.S. since she's clearly Roc Nation's attempt to make another Rihanna. Her U.K. hits are terrible, but this one doesn't really seem to be popular anywhere, which is a shame since it's easily her best. I love the stuff Greg Kurstin has been doing with artists like Pink and Tegan & Sara, but he should do more straight up dance pop stuff like this.

8. Toby Keith - "Hope On The Rocks"
As I noted recently, this is Toby's fourth consecutive drinking-themed single, and those are frequently his best songs. This would be my 2nd-favorite out of the recent run, but I dunno if it'd make his all-time top 10, just because he has so damn many. Hope he never goes to AA and I have to feel bad about enjoying these so much.

9. Silversun Pickups - "The Pit"
I regard these guys as a kind of uninspired pest on rock radio, even among so many uninspired pests that at least have some kind of ruthless middle-of-the-road appeal. This is the first song of theirs I've really cottoned to at all, partly because the Depeche Mode vibes kinda come out of nowhere and work better than they have a right to. But even the synth pop bits I guess can only encourage Smashing Pumpkins comparisons.

10. DJ Drama f/ Tyga, Wale and Roscoe Dash - "So Many Girls"
I wrote last year about how the last DJ Drama's album was surprisingly good, while also having some catchy soft batch R&B stuff that made the title Quality Street Music ironic. This was a standout song on the album and I'm glad it's finally a single -- really all the songs off this album that have gotten radio play ("We In This Bitch," "My Moment," "Bitches & Bottles") have been pretty dope, better than anything off the last Khaled album. This song is really remarkable just because the lineup makes it looks like it would suck, too. I've warmed up to Roscoe Dash a lot, though, even "Marvin & Chardonnay" and "No Hands" have grown on me since their ubiquity, it's pretty messed up that he's never had a big solo hit or album or anything.

Worst Single of the Month: Drake - "Started From The Bottom"
I have remained a pretty staunch Drake hater in the face of his near-universal acceptance, but I try not to be kneejerk about it -- I could easily name a dozen hits he's been on that I enjoy, even some where his hook or verse is actually one of the best parts of the song. Those are usually features, though -- aside from some early hits ("Successful," "Fancy," "Miss Me") I still generally don't fuck with his solo singles. This may be the all-time worst besides "Headlines," though. I mean, if melody is one of his big strengths, then it kind of holds him back to have the verses and the chorus in the same super-simple sing-song flow, going around and around over and over. Maybe that was the lesson he learned from listening to "Love Sosa," another song I hate for similar reasons, hundreds of times. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I reviewed the new Matmos album on the Mobtown Studios site.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
This week's Short List.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On Saturday, March 30th, my band Western Blot will play a show at the Golden West Cafe in Baltimore, here's the Facebook event for the show. The whole bill is great -- Dave Fell (also of White Life and Adventure), Inca (Jon from Soul Cannon) and Heart Of Hearts (Greg from Mr. Moccasin). This is only Western Blot's second show, after The Sidebar in December, and I'm excited about how the band is continuing to develop, should be a pretty different set from what we played then. As with the previous flyer, this one features the art of Donald Edwards as photographed by Jennifer German-Shipley.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I wrote a post on the City Paper's Noise blog about the video for "Heaven," a collaboration between singer Chris Bivins (who appeared on The CW's "Next" last year) and rapper Jay Verze.

Monthly Report: January 2013 Albums

Sunday, March 10, 2013

1. Dawn Richard - Goldenheart
Even though there's a lot of 'alt' and 'indie' and 'ethereal' R&B getting lumped together these days, I really appreciate that the best artists are creating their own unique aesthetic, and Dawn Richard's theatrical battle cry dance ballads are a beautiful example of that. Her voice is kind of this throughline that lets you trace the emotional thread through this whole variety of sounds that Druski shuffles through, so you don't even realize how omnivorous it all is. I liked how the Armor On EP was basically a classic vinyl-length album, and functioned well in that way, but I think Dawn's aesthetic lends itself well to sprawl, as evidenced by Last Train To Paris. So this album being over an hour long, which is usually the kind of thing I consider an instant negative in assessing most albums, works for me here. It takes a good long while to warm up -- almost all my favorite songs so far are in the second half, especially "Tug of War" -- but her vibe is already epic, so she may as well make an epic. By the way I've got a running Spotify playlist of 2013 albums I've been listening to, but it's littered with albums that didn't make the cut for these lists and things I haven't listened to yet, not quite the same thing as my singles playlist.

2. Tegan And Sara - Heartthrob
Like a lot of people I'm only just really seriously checking out Tegan And Sara for the first time with this album, maybe because it's kinda their pop crossover, maybe just as a tipping point for the cult popularity they've had for a while. But I was mainly interested because it was produced by Greg Kurstin, who's a pretty interesting figure to me right now, a guy straddling the lines between Top 40 radio and the major label alt world, at a time when they've never been more intertwined. Also, he's just got a great ear, and this stuff is equal to his best work with The Bird & The Bee or on the last Pink album. Their voices on the old stuff could be a little hard for me to take, but they sound great in this sparkly synth pop context, like Cyndi Lauper or something. "Love They Say" is the shit.

3. The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law
The Big Roar was my #1 album of 2011, but it was the kind of debut album that presented a band as this awesome, fully formed thing that didn't necessarily need to be expanded on, or even seemingly leave much room to grow. But this is a really killer second album, that keeps the distortion pedals loud without painting the band further into a 'shoegazer' retro corner, with all these impish playful elements (the piano on "The Leopard And The Lung," the goofy wah-wah on "Maw Maw Song") that give the band more personality while also sounding great and demonstrating their range. I do wish this album had a perfect entry point single like "Whirring," though, if for no reason than that this is the band I wish more than any other right now to be hugely commercially successful.

4. Mr. Moccasin - XAHA
These guys are from Baltimore and I know one of them, Greg, whose other project Heart of Hearts I wrote about here a while back. They're a pretty interesting band, I don't really know where they're coming from with musical influences or what the backstory or subtext of the songs is, and I kind of don't feel like I need to because I just love the sound of it. "Blue Light" and "Tall Tales" are a great 1-2 toward the end of the album.

5. DJ AngelBaby - Get Pumped Vol. 1
I already wrote about this a couple months ago, but I don't know if I really got across how fun it is, really lotta great Baltimore club jams on here.

6. Il Sogno del Marinaio - La Busta Gialla
Mike Watt is one of my all-time musical heroes, and I feel like the existence of this album is a good example of how awesome he is: he met guys in Italy while on tour years ago, kept in touch, and when they asked him to do a tour with them, he suggested they write the material for the tour in a week of practice and then record an album of the songs. I enjoyed Watt's solo album and possibly overrated
"Partisan Song" and "Funanori Jig"

7. Petra Haden - Petra Goes To The Movies
Petra has done several memorable a cappella covers now (including all of The Who Sells Out, as suggested by Mike Watt!), and at this point I kind of think the joke is getting a little old and it's a shame that someone so talented gets so much more attention for covers than for originals. But this is still a pretty fun, trippy listening experience, and this time she actually allows some instrumental accompaniment, although it's still mostly her amazingly elastic voice making most of the sounds. I like that the selection is very diverse -- some songs, some instrumental scores, some very famous, some totally unfamiliar to me. "Calling You" from Bagdad Cafe is a pretty amazing song I discovered from this album. There's also a hilariously well done version of one of the instrumental tracks from Trent Reznor's Social Network score. At the very least, better than the months other covers record from a Nels Cline collaborator (the new EP from Eleni Mandell's The Living Sisters).

8. Gary Allan - Set Me Free
This guy does good grizzled heartbroken country, first album of his that I've heard so I don't know how it stacks up, but I like it. The second half is what's been really hitting more immediate for me, especially the whole stretch from "Hungover Heart" to "Pieces."

9. Future & FreeBand Gang - Future Presents F.B.G. The Movie
Obviously Future is having a great moment right now, and this mixtape is well-timed. But it also feels like kind of a deliberate stopgap project, showcasing his label roster more than anything else, so I don't think of it in terms of comparing to Pluto or even Astronaut Status. Still, there are a few pretty huge, undeniable Future records in here, and only a few dead zones like terrible Casino verses. And the tape exists as a nice aggressive counterpoint to all his R&B collabs on the radio right now, a reminder of what most of his music actually sound like. The solo tape that Young Scooter from FreeBandz also dropped in January seems to be more well regarded than this, but that guy just sounds like a Gucci Mane impersonator to me, makes everything he does kind of unexciting. Of course, this also ends with a track with a couple Baltimore dudes on it, which is cool.

10. Charlie Wilson - Love, Charlie
I always feel like I should know more of Charlie Wilson's music, especially because I got to interview the man once, and this is pretty good, obviously doesn't have much Gap Band funk (and the one track that does, "My Baby," has some cheesy backing vocals), but his amazing voice is in good form and he's got at these regal ballads and celebratory love songs. "Turn Off The Lights" is my favorite off this one.

Worst Album of the Month: A$AP Rocky - LONG.LIVE.A$AP
I'm not averse to rap albums that have more of a vision in the production than in the rapping -- I just praised the Wiz Khalifa record on those very terms -- but this aesthetics-over-everything philosophy that A$AP epitomizes is just a bad look. He's just the most loathsomely vacant dude, hasn't written a hot line in his life, and the beats aren't even that great. The bonus track with Gunplay is dope, at least.

2013 Remix Report Card, Vol. 1

Thursday, March 07, 2013

"All Gold Everything" by Trinidad James featuring T.I., Young Jeezy and 2 Chainz
The most hilarious about this remix is that Trinidad James, whose one verse on the original song could barely even be construed as rapping, given its almost total lack of rhymes, makes a point to drop some new vocals on here just to say "I ain't doin' no verse on my shit, I already killed it!" before letting some all-stars run circles around him on the beat. That's why the success of this song doesn't worry me about TJ become ubiquitous for any length of time -- just like Kreayshawn or anyone else who got lucky with one song but doesn't really make music, the ride will end sooner than later. Things start off well enough here, Tip's verse is perfect and Jeezy sounds good on the beat. But then 2 Chainz, who at his best is still wildly consistent, shows his ass with maybe the single sloppiest, laziest verse of a career full of them. In a way it's a fitting tribute to Trinidad.
Best Verse: T.I.
Overall Grade: C+

"Colombia (Remix)" by Young Scooter featuring Rick Ross, Birdman and Gucci Mane
The original is like the worst song on the Young Scooter tape, I have no idea why it's his breakout song. The remix at least works a little better, but it's still a limp, turgid song. To be honest I don't really get Scooter, he sounds like a Gucci imitator, and anytime the real Gucci shows up on a track with him the gulf in skill is huge. I was almost disappointed by how good Gucci's verse was, though, just because I thought for the first time I might give best verse to Birdman.
Best Verse: Gucci Mane
Overall Grade: B-

"Constant Conversations" by Passion Pit featuring Juicy J
I guess I could be mad at this, as I usually am when a rock act appears here, but this works pretty well. Juicy probably sounds more at home on this track than on his own new single with The Weeknd.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B+

"Don't Wanna Be In Love (Remix)" by Brooke Valentine featuring Scarface
Scarface is a legend and can do anything he wants, but there really hasn't been much rhyme or reason to what records he does or who he collaborates with for a great many years. So here we are with Brooke Valentine, still trying to claw her way back into the industry 8 years after he one great but commercially disappointing major label album, and Face blesses her single with a remix. Maybe he just wanted a chance to flow over that nice Isaac Hayes sample. He doesn't do anything amazing but I always dig his relationship talk, when he comes back for a second verse the narrative gets a little more vivid. What's cool and unexpected, though, is that the track is 6 minutes long and it doesn't just keep looping, it has a nice spacey outro.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

"Gangnam Style (Diplo Remix)" by PSY featuring 2 Chainz and Tyga
Timing is everything, especially with lightning in a bottle like "Gangnam Style." And when the news first reported 3 months ago that PSY was in the studio with 2 Chainz and Diplo to do this remix, it still seemed like there was some potential for it to be something fun or exciting, but already it was getting a little late to capitalize at that point. So now, for some reason, here it finally is, and Tyga is on it too.
Best Verse: 2 Chainz's first verse
Overall Grade: C

"I'm A Coke Boy" by Chinx Drugz featuring French Montana, Diddy and Rick Ross
Given my general opinion of all things French Montana and the fact that he does the hook on this song, I like it more than I'd expect to, nice beat, catchy hook. Chinx Drugs ain't even bad, despite his name. The remix doesn't elevate it substantially, Diddy doesn't say anything outlandish like he does in his best remix appearances, but I fuck with it.
Best Verse: Diddy
Overall Grade: B

"Karate Chop (Remix)" by Future featuring Lil Wayne
The one thing I will say in favor of this remix is that Wayne sounds better than the original track's guest, Casino, who totally fucked up the flow of the song. But generally his presence on the track is unnecessary at best, and at worst the Emmett Till line is awful. I'm not crazy about "Karate Chop," but it is kind of a great example of Future's talent as a rapper, the flow is completely absurd but he just nails it and puts words together really well to make the weird chopped syllables work.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"My Cabana (Remix)" by Ty Dolla $ign featuring Young Jeezy
I wasn't really in love with this song when it was buzzing last year, nice bassline aside, and then they couldn't get the Skrillex sample (lol) cleared, and it seemed to die down. But now it looks like a label picked up on it, threw Jeezy on the track and re-did the track. The new beat is missing a little something of the original's texture but is otherwise pretty close, Jeezy doesn't add much but it sounds good I guess. Biggest problem I think is actually Ty's re-recorded verses, missing something from the original.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"Pink Matter (Remix)" by Frank Ocean featuring Big Boi and Andre 3000
The whole thing where Big Boi is jumping on songs Andre appeared on solo to create an Outkast against his will is kinda sad, but Andre putting out a press release to throw shade on him was even worse. I took a count recently and there are less than a dozen songs these guys have both rapped on since Stankonia, over 12 years ago, pretty ridiculous. I wasn't a big fan of the original song, one of my least favorites on the Ocean album, and I had a hard time imagining how Big Boi would sound on it, but he took a good approach. Really I like his verse better than the diminishing returns of Andre's overrated later verses. Also apparently that's him playing guitar on this song and goddamn is it garbage.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

"Representin' (Remix)" by Ludacris featuring R. Kelly and Fabolous
The original with Kelly Rowland was really bland and would've been depressing if Luda hadn't already lowered the bar so much over the years. So this doesn't really need to do much to be an improvement, but this is a huge improvement. For one thing, it's an R. Kelly remix in which Kells says "remix" over and over, which takes me back, that's just a good time right off the bat. But Luda's new verse is better, Fab is better than he's been in general lately, the original single shoulda been this good.
Best Verse: R. Kelly
Overall Grade: A

"Scream & Shout (Remix)" by featuring Hit-Boy, Lil Wayne, Waka Flocka Flame, Diddy and Britney Spears
Now here's an example of how the original song can be a shitpile and the remix can be an even bigger shitpile. Hit-Boy's whole transparent attempt to follow the career path of Kanye (to the point that his video for lol "Jay-Z Interview" is basically "Through The Wire Part 2") is hilarious and of course he was able to leverage asking him to do a "Niggas In Paris" rewrite beat for this into a vocal cameo and a spot in the video. Of all the terrible things about this track, the Wayne verse is the part that really seems to never end. Love Diddy just saying "this is a super black man remix" over and over at the end in lieu of a verse, though.
Best Verse: Waka Flocka Flame
Overall Grade: D

"She Bad Bad" by Eve featuring Pusha T and Juicy J
The original song is actually pretty dope, I always liked Eve and I feel bad that she can't quite jump back in the game. Funny how the 'current' guys she throws on her remix are both people that were doing well with groups last time she dropped an album over 10 years ago, though. Anyway this beat is crazy, Pusha works pretty well on it, but Juice is squeezing too many syllables in to the BPM instead of finding a more natural flow.
Best Verse: Pusha T
Overall Grade: B

"She Don't Put It Down (Remix)" by Joe Budden featuring Fabolous, Twista and Tank
Meanwhile Joe Budden actually HAS, on at least a low level, clawed his way back onto the radio, with his first radio hit in almost a decade, and it's a terrible "I'm On One" ripoff with an R&B hook and a Wayne verse, which is is just awful. And he's also got a couple dudes on the remix that were also in the game back 10 years ago. The bits in Fab's verse where he looks in with the start-stop mutes of the beat are pretty cool, but obviously Twista always kills it.
Best Verse: Twista
Overall Grade: B-

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

As a follow-up to my Smash obituary in last week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a Noise blog post about a YouTube playlist I assembled of all 15 official videos of songs by or featuring Smash. It seemed like a pretty good way to give an overview of his career, for people who knew and loved his music and for people who might not have been familiar in his lifetime.

Also wrote The Short List in this week's CP.

Monthly Report: January 2013 Singles

Sunday, March 03, 2013

1. Calvin Harris f/ Florence Welch - "Sweet Nothing"
First off, I should point out that I started a Spotify playlist of favorite 2013 singles, which I will update with new songs every time I do one of these lists (although one of these songs is not on Spotify). I was resistant to Welch's voice before "Shake It Off," but I can't front now, and this song is a pretty great use of it. Even the big pyrotechnic instrumental section following the chorus in all these big dance pop hits feels well earned here with the catharsis of her voice setting it up. Also one of the only big top 40 dance songs that, without really trying to, has a bit of the feel of '80s pop -- something about an earnest vocal performance with a British accent, I guess. Just an awesome song. Or at the very least, my favorite song to sing "muffins" in place of the word "nothing."

2. Rihanna f/ Future - "Loveeeeeee Song"
Even though by that point he'd already had Pluto and several hits out at that point, the release of "Turn On The Lights" as a single has become this really pivotal in Future's career in the last 6-8 months, where it kind of opened the floodgates and now he's on everybody's single (3 Future songs just in the urban radio top 10 right now, several more lower in the chart). There was a Future joint in the December list, and there'll probably one in the next couple lists, too, maybe for the rest of 2013 if he keeps up this pace. "Loveeeeeee Song" will be hard to beat, though, that hook is just tremendous, great combination of Future's truly ridiculous vocal performance and something really heartfelt and undeniable.

3. Meek Mill - "Dreams & Nightmares"
This was maybe my favorite rap song of 2012, and I always wanted more people to hear it and realize that maybe Meek's album has been a little underrated. But the fact that it doesn't have a chorus and only has any drums for a few bars in the middle of the song had me resigned to the fact that it could never be a single. So I was pretty overjoyed when they shot a video for the song and serviced it to DJs, obviously won't be a big club hit but it works surprisingly well in that context. I hate when people call this an 'intro,' I just call it the title track of Dreams & Nightmares, it's a 4-minute song after all.

4. Kelly Clarkson f/ Vince Gill - "Don't Rush"
The main single from Kelly's Greatest Hits package "Catch My Breath" was just OK but this song was a real standout among the new tracks. These two both have such beautiful voices that intertwine so well here. Still think Kelly needs to just break down and do a whole country album, but if she keeps parceling out country tracks here and there I can at least piece together a playlist.

5. The Wanted - "I Found You"
To the extent that I can feign any participation in the new school boy band wars, I've been a One Direction partisan just because they have at least one song I like. But now The Wanted have one, which isn't really that much different than the terribly annoying "Glad You Came" but in the huge falsetto harmony chorus, which almost has a bit of a Bee Gees vibe. 

6. Destiny's Child - "Nuclear"
When all is said and done, I don't really understand what the point of this whole Destiny's Child reunion business was all about -- was this song an excuse for the Love Songs compilation to exist, or was the Super Bowl performance an excuse for the song and the comp to exist? Why did all this stuff happen around the same time if they weren't even going to perform "Nuclear" in the halftime show? It sounded from interviews like they recorded this song very quickly recently, so it's not like they just had it sitting around. Weird. In any event, I really dig this, after all these years of Pharrell paying lip service to loving Baltimore club music but not using that influence in any particular worthwhile way, he finally made a really dope track with the "Think" break.

7. Keyshia Cole - "Trust And Believe"
DJ Camper is really double dipping, he has two songs on the radio right now that sound pretty much exactly the same, this and Tamar Braxton's "Love And War." Both are dope, though. The whole thing with Keyshia hating on Michelle Williams on Twitter is pretty hilarious and stupid.

8. Watch The Duck - "Poppin' Off"
I feel like at this point popular music is just becoming a contest to see how many different kinds of songs can have lurching dubstep beats, from teen pop (Justin Bieber's "As Long As You Love Me") to alt-rock (Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive") to pop country (Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble") to beardy singer-songwriter music (Alex Clare's "Too Close") and on and on. Still, hearing that stuff a little bit on rap radio is still a mild shock, and I'm still not really sure what the deal is with these guys. It feels a little like one of those weird techno crossover songs on rock radio from the late '90s. Maybe it's the raspy Tom Waits vocals.

9. Juicy J f/ Young Jeezy and Big Sean - "Show Out"
The whole Juicy J solo project is interesting to me, the album being exec produced by Wiz Khalifa and frigging Dr. Luke could go really badly but I'm leaning towards being optimistic (partly because of the great production choices on Wiz's last album). Of course, after this song started to get some buzz, they recently released a newer single that's basically a The Weeknd single with 30 seconds of Juicy J, so fuck that, this song is way better. In the age of everybody shamelessly biting each other, though, I like how this song feels like an accidental subliminal "Mercy" retread -- like Mike Will Made It stumbled on a vaguely similar synth loop without meaning to, and then Jeezy did a hook with the same cadence, and then they put Big Sean on the track and he did the same basic flow he did on "Mercy" just because he only has a couple flows to begin with. I remember about 5 years ago I used the phrase "show out" in front of my brother, who'd never heard it before, and for the longest time he acted like that was just some weird slang I invented.

10. Brad Paisley - "Southern Comfort Zone"
When I did my year-end wrap up of the 20 best and 10 worst country hits of 2012, I put "Southern Comfort Zone" in the latter list, and I'd like to apologize to Brad Paisley for that, he's a talented dude and I should've given him the benefit of the doubt that the song would grow on me. The sound clips of "The Andy Griffith Show" and other stuff in the beginning of the song still make me want to shut it off every time, but the song itself just has a great rousing quality to it that gets to me.

Worst Single of the Month: Trinidad James - "All Gold Everything"
Since I did kind of enjoy having those 'worst' bits in my year-end lists recently, I thought I'd try it in this space too, although generally I'd rather focus on the stuff I actually enjoy. Seriously, though, this song is terrible. It's not fun, the production doesn't carry it, it's not a guilty pleasure, it's just garbage. Sometimes the humorless people that hate on all goofy Southern rap one hit wonders are actually right. 

TV Diary

Friday, March 01, 2013

a) "The Americans"
I like the whole premise of this show and the way they've kinda set the scene and built up the tone and context -- the selection of early '80s music in the soundtrack is really great and evocative -- but as far as the show itself I'm not really sure yet. The pilot kind of established the story in such a way that it seems so obvious where it's going to go (and the thing with them living right under the nose of a guy whose job it is to catch people like them feels a little too "Breaking Bad"), so at this point I guess I just have to see if the show is as predictable as I fear or if it has some tricks up its sleeves.

b) "The Following"
This show occasionally impresses me, with how dark and nasty a network primetime show is able to get, and some of the ways they jump around the chronology and keep you on your toes. But I dunno, doesn't really grab me, and the Kevin Bacon role doesn't really feel very meaty, no pun intended, for a film star to make the jump to TV, they really need to make that character more of a person and not just a protagonist.

c) "Continuum"
New SyFy show, I like it but not as much as my wife, the concept is kinda cool but I dunno if it may just end up a glorified procedural ultimately. Rachel Nichols is very pretty, though.

d) "Legit"
I'm so weary of these sitcoms that are just a standup comedian playing themselves in a mildly heightened reality -- for every "Seinfeld" or "Louie" that transcends that concept, there are 20 shows where that premise belies the laziness of the whole endeavor. Maybe I haven't really grasped this guy's sense of humor or what the appeal of the show is supposed to be, but it really just hasn't held my attention whenever I've put it on. 

e) "Kroll Show"
Of course, there's also guys like Nick Kroll, who I think is funny as a standup or when playing some kind of normal dude not too unlike himself, but he seems to have gotten it into his head somehow that he's good at 'characters' and has filled a sketch show with all sorts of borderline offensive or at the very least deeply unfunny accents and stereotypes. There are bits here and there that have made me laugh, the show may grow on me, but on the surface I'm kind of against the whole idea of the show.

f) "The Jeselnik Offensive"
And then there's really lazy shows like this, where Comedy Central just puts a comic in front of an audience and has him do some topical jokes and loosely organized segments about current events. Anthony Jeselnik is kind of well suited for this, though, in that his sense of humor is really mean so he's just letting loose and not doing really bland pop culture riffs. Also, I find his standup unnerving because he tends to take really long pauses between lines, and it feels like maybe the structure of the show makes him pick up the pace so that that's not a problem.

g) "1600 Penn"
It's been fun to laugh at NBC's terrible business decisions while they at least had a bunch of great shows on the air, but now that "30 Rock" is gone and a lot of their other shows are headed off the air or downhill, but now that they're greenlighting shows like this it's all just kind of sad. I don't know who I feel worse for, Bill Pullman, who's got genuine comedy chops but is barely even in this, or the girl who played 'Becca' in Super Bad who once again plays a character named 'Becca' on this show.

h) "Newsreaders"
I loved the show-within-a-show "Newsreaders" episodes of "Childrens Hospital," so I'm pretty thrilled that they made it into a spinoff show, so far it's exactly what I hoped it would be.

i) "Burning Love"
Apparently last year this was a web series, and I'm glad they finally found a place for it on TV, since I don't really watch web serieses and it's kind of ridiculously stocked with talent -- produced by Ben Stiller (who makes some cameos), starring some "The State" guys, full of famous and semi-famous movie actresses, all doing a really hilarious over-the-top parody of "The Bachelor." Unfortunately, it's on E!, buried in a 'mock block' with "After Lately," when it would probably better find an audience on Adult Swim or Comedy Central.

j) "Love You, Mean It"
It was pretty ridiculous that for a minute before this was canceled Whitney Cummings had 3 TV shows on the air, but I actually thought this stupid talk show on E! was way more enjoyable than either of the sitcoms she created. She just seemed kind of relaxed and funny in a way that the hosts of these kinds of shows seldom are, the whole thing had a nice vibe.

k) "Catfish: The TV Show"
I thought the movie was kinda dumb and forgettable, and that it seemed even tackier for them to do a TV version. But I was wrong, serializing the concept as a TV series is totally a better look than the movie ever was. The "Nev" guy is still pretty irritating, but a lot of the stories are undeniably compelling, or at the very least kind of ridiculous and hard to look away from.

l) "Mockingbird Lane"
I love Bryan Fuller and always want him to have a TV show on the air, but a "Munsters" reboot is kind of a waste of both his and Eddie Izzard's talents. Still, the pilot wasn't bad, and I'm glad NBC at least aired it as a one-off special just so I could see it what it would've been. So win/win, I guess.

m) "Girls"
This show kind of won me over somewhat by the end of the first season, but I feel like the second season has been another, steeper climb to get over what feel like a whole bunch of shortcomings that are becoming more glaring with each episode. There are suddenly so many soap opera shouting matches in this show, and it's becoming stifling how often the dialogue goes to "oh yeah, we took it there" extremes where a show with a smarter sense of drama or narrative might actually let some subtext go unsaid now and again or, gasp, let the actors do some of the heavily lifting instead of just delivering these emotional data dump speeches. And really, just some appallingly stupid plotlines lately, only occasionally balanced out by some smart writing or funny moments.

n) "Smash"
It gets harder and harder to defend this show, especially now that "Nashville" is doing such a better job of putting an ensemble drama against a music backdrop, but I dunno, I enjoy it even with its many obvious shortcomings. Also, I did a job a while back where I worked with Megan Hilty for a few minutes, and she seemed cool, I liked her.

o) "Community"
I loved this show as much as anybody did the first two years, and would probably have been as upset as anybody if Dan Harmon went out after that instead of the mild letdown of the third season. But now the whole thing with all the handwringing about showrunners and people pretending the show was ever more than just a really good sitcom has just made the whole situation insufferable. The new episodes so far, they're not that great, but not much of a dropoff from season 3. Halloween episode had some big laughs. I dunno, feel like people have really sucked a lot of the fun of this show from outside of it, it's a bummer.

p) "30 Rock"
Meanwhile this show NEVER fell off EVER, one of the most consistent sitcoms to ever be on the air as long as it was. Finale didn't kill me as much as it did for some people, but I would still say they went out on top.