TV Diary

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

a) "Drunk History"
I don't watch a lot of Funny Or Die videos, or a lot of web comedy stuff in general, but easily my favorites that I'd seen were some of the "Drunk History" shorts, so I was pretty excited to hear they were doing a TV show, and so far it has not disappointed. My favorites are the ones where Jen Kirkman is the storyteller, the one the other night with Winona Ryder in the reenactment was great. Just such a completely absurd concept, so hysterically funny to me.

b) "Under The Dome" 
It's nice that people are finally realizing that Stephen King adaptations might often be better suited to a TV series than a one-off movie, and this one had some potential, but really the pilot left me cold, so I didn't stick with it. Casting and characterization is everything in a show like this, and I just didn't wanna spend any time inside the dome with these people, don't really care about their plight.

c) "High School USA!"
This is one of the shows that FOX debuted last weekend as part of the Adult Swim-style 'ADHD' Saturday night block, which probably couldn't have been worse if one of the shows was "Mad TV Babies." This is basically just an Archie comics parody with sexting jokes and other R-rated foolishness, reminds me of nothing so much as "Drawn Together," which was also awful. Dino Stamatopoulos has written for some great shows, but this is just puerile garbage.

d) "Axe Cop"
Another FOX ADHD thing, not as bad but another kind of corny cartoon satire we've already seen enough of, in this case of action movies.

e) "Devious Maids"
This show is interesting to me because it's like Eva Longoria said, 'hey, there's not a lot of work for Latina actresses on English-speaking television, we all fight over these crappy housekeeper roles... so I'll make a show with enough crappy housekeeper roles for everybody!"

f) "Maron"
I've always liked Marc Maron as a comic, but I have no desire to listen to podcasts and don't really understand his enormously popular reinvention as a mediocre interviewer of other comedians. I gave this show a shot even though comics-playing-themselves shows are generally pretty lazy if you're not Seinfeld or at least Louie C.K., but the first episode about how people like Dave Foley so much more than Marc Maron just reminded me how much I like Dave Foley and didn't really wanna watch a show about the other guy.

g) "The Newsroom"
Lately I've been going back and re-watching "Sports Night" for the umpteenth time to remind myself what great television Aaron Sorkin was once capable of, since I knew I'd make myself watch the new season of "The Newsroom" even if it was terrible. So far, though, it's not; most of the first season's flaws are intact, but there've been a a good number of really strong, compelling scenes already, even if they're sometimes soon followed by some incredibly stupid or insufferably contrived development soon after. The scene where Maggie's roommate just destroys her for the passive aggressive bullshit of encouraging her to date the guy she liked was so good it almost made the whole awful love triangle plot worth it.

h) "True Blood"
I often felt like I enjoyed this show more in spite of Alan Ball than because of him, so I'm not surprised the season after he left has been pretty strong. Doesn't feel like the stakes (no pun intended I promise) are very high so far but it's at least been entertaining, the lack of Sookie/Bill drama is pretty liberating.

i) "King & Maxwell"
This seemed OK, but I can only stomach these basic cable procedurals if the leads are really entertaining or likable, and this was just kinda bland.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Here's a press release I sent out for the new Western Blot song, above, and the show we're playing next week that I posted a flyer for here a couple weeks ago:

Western Blot release new track, announce Baltimore show

Baltimore band to play hometown gig on August 6th, debut new song on compilation

Western Blot, the Baltimore-based band that began performing and releasing music in 2012, have announced an upcoming show at the Sidebar, and released a new song via a compilation of local bands. The Sidebar show, on August 6th, will also feature the bands Batworth Stone and The Woolly Moon, as well as the debut performance of the new band Soft Peaks.

"The Power Let Me Down" is the new Western Blot track recently made available for streaming and download, which made its debut on Flying Dog Music's Baltimore, Vol. 1compilation. The disc, released in May, was a joint venture between the Frederick, Maryland-based Flying Dog Brewery and the Charles Village-based Mobtown Studios. Western Blot's Al Shipley, who's work as a music critic has earned him something of a reputation as a Baltimore music expert, was involved in curating and sequencing the compilation along with Mobtown's Mat Leffler-Schulman, and "The Power Let Me Down" is one of several new tracks on Baltimore, Vol. 1, along with previously unreleased music from Mr. Moccasin and Repelican. Western Blot performed at Flying Dog's release party event for the compilation at the Ottobar in May, alongside other acts on the album including Among Wolves, Us And Us Only, and MacGregor Burns. Free copies of Baltimore, Vol. 1 will be available at Western Blot's August 6th Sidebar show.

"The Power Let Me Down" is the first Western Blot release to feature lead vocals by Andy Shankman, who plays guitar amd sings in the live incarnation of Western Blot. Shankman also leads his own band, Jumpcuts, which released its debut album,Electrickery, last year. Al Shipley played all the instruments and wrote the noisy, uptempo song, which was recorded at Mobtown Studios, during Western Blot's genesis as a solo studio project. "This whole band is about doing things the usual way when I feel like it, and then completely abandoning the norm when I feel like it," says Shipley. "I don't feel obligated to sing every song I write, and I can make the most aggressive rock music I want to make without picking up a guitar."

Live, Western Blot translates Shipley's synth-driven studio tracks to guitars with Shankman and John German. Since last year, the trio has played several shows at Baltimore venues like the Golden West Cafe and the Charm City Art Space, sometimes joined onstage by guests like bassist Tim Yungwirth (Your Solar, Armed Elephant), as well as vocalists Kathleen Wilson (Thee Lexington Arrows) and Scott Siskind (Vinny Vegas), who sang on Western Blot's debut "Button Masher" b/w "Child of Divorce" single. "I'm really happy that the three songs we've released so far sound like they could be by three different bands," says Shipley. "I don't want people to know exactly what to expect from us."

Tickets are available at for Western Blot's August 6th show at the Sidebar. More live performances and new studio tracks will follow throughout the year, running up to the release of Western Blot's debut album in 2014. 

1991, Reconsidered

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Top 50 Albums of 1991: 

1. A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory
2. De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead
3. U2 - Achtung Baby
4. Talk Talk - Laughing Stock
5. Nirvana - Nevermind
6. Geto Boys - We Can't Be Stopped
7. Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion II
8. Temple Of The Dog - Temple Of The Dog
9. Ice Cube - Death Certificate
10. The Nation Of Ulysses - 13-Point Program To Destroy America
11. Metallica – Metallica
12. Main Source - Breaking Atoms
13. Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger
14. Gang Starr - Step In The Arena
15. DJ Quik - Quik Is The Name
16. Primus - Sailing The Seas of Cheese
17. Pearl Jam - Ten
18. Seal - Seal
19. Black Sheep - A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing
20. Scarface - Mr. Scarface Is Back
21. Mariah Carey - Emotions
22. Massive Attack - Blue Lines
23. Smashing Pumpkins - Gish
24. Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Majik
25. Squeeze - Play
26. Crowded House - Woodface
27. Superchunk - No Pocky For Kitty
28. Fugazi - Steady Diet of Nothing
29. Van Halen - For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
30. My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
31. Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill
32. Prince - Diamonds And Pearls
33. 2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now
34. Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I
35. fIREHOSE - Flyin' The Flannel
36. Queen Latifah - Nature of a Sista'
37. Dinosaur Jr. - Green Mind
38. The Meat Puppets - Forbidden Places
39. Slick Rick - The Ruler's Back
40. Tom Petty - Into The Great Wide Open
41. Screaming Trees - Uncle Anesthesia
42. The Spin Doctors - Pocket Full Of Kryptonite
43. Fishbone - The Reality Of My Surroundings
44. Shudder To Think - Funeral At The Movies
45. R.E.M. - Out Of Time
46. Poster Children - Daisychain Reaction
47. Michael Jackson - Dangerous
48. Slint - Spiderland
49. Hole - Pretty On The Inside
50. Elvis Costello - Mighty Like A Rose

I had been doing these posts about once a month last year, but then after the 1992 one I took a break, which ended up lasting almost a year. And that's partly because, as I said then, '92 was kind of my 'year zero' for taking an interest in popular music and buying CDs and watching MTV religiously and all that. But of course, a lot of the albums I started checking over the next couple years were the big era-defining rock albums that, as it happened, were mostly released in '92 (Pearl Jam, Nirvana, U2, Metallica, RHCP, R.E.M., GNR, etc.) And what's interesting to me, about this list, is how much better most of those blockbusters still sound to me than most other stuff, including the much cooler indie rock touchstones from that year that I've heard since then (one exception: Talk Talk, which I only just checked out this week and lived up to the hype). But I wasn't checking out rap albums yet, and obviously had a lot of great stuff to catch up on, including Native Tongues having probably the best year any rap crew has ever or will ever have (1, 2, 19, and 34 on this list plus a Leaders of the New School album I haven't heard).

Top 100 Singles of 1991: 

1. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - "Summertime"
2. Geto Boys - "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"
3. Boyz II Men - "Motownphilly"
4. Soundgarden - "Outshined"
5. LL Cool J - "Mama Said Knock You Out"
6. Naughty By Nature - "O.P.P."
7. Seal - "Crazy"
8. School of Fish - "3 Strange Days"
9. Metallica - "Enter Sandman"
10. Mariah Carey - "Emotions"
11. Bonnie Raitt - "I Can't Make You Love Me"
12. Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
13. The Black Crowes - "She Talks To Angels"
14. Lenny Kravitz - "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over"
15. Jesus Jones - "Right Here, Right Now"
16. EMF - "Unbelievable"
17. Janet Jackson - "Love Will Never Do (Without You)"
18. Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg - "Deep Cover"
19. Pearl Jam - "Alive"
20. A Tribe Called Quest - "Check The Rhime"
21. Cypress Hill - "How I Could Just Kill A Man"
22. Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch featuring Loleatta Holloway - "Good Vibrations"
23. 3rd Bass - "Pop Goes The Weasel"
24. Ozzy Osbourne - "No More Tears"
25. Metallica - "The Unforgiven"
26. Boyz II Men - "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday"
27. Violent Femmes - "American Music"
28. Heavy D & The Boyz - "Now That We Found Love"
29. Guns N Roses - "You Could Be Mine"
30. Chris Isaak - "Wicked Game"
31. Tom Petty - "Learning To Fly"
32. Van Halen - "Poundcake"
33. U2 - "The Fly"
34. Gerardo - "Rico Suave"
35. Big Audio Dynamite II - "Rush"
36. Main Source - "Looking At The Front Door"
37. R.E.M. f/ KRS-One- "Radio Song"
38. Primus - "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver"
39. Genesis - "I Can't Dance"
40. Garth Brooks - "The Thunder Rolls"
41. LL Cool J - "Around The Way Girl"
42. Dinosaur Jr. - "The Wagon"
43. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Give It Away"
44. Babyface and Pebbles - "Love Makes Things Happen"
45. Jane's Addiction - "Been Caught Stealing"
46. Soundgarden - "Jesus Christ Pose"
47. Guns N Roses - "Don't Cry"
48. C+C Music Factory - "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"
49. Alice In Chains - "Man In the Box"
50. De La Soul - "A Rollerskating Jam Named 'Saturdays'"
51. Prince - "Gett Off"
52. INXS - "Bitter Tears
53. Paula Abdul - "Rush Rush"
54. 2Pac - "If My Homie Calls"
55. Amy Grant - "Baby, Baby"
56. Queensryche - "Silent Lucidity"
57. Sting - "All This Time"
58. Hammer - "2 Legit 2 Quit"
59. The Simpsons - "Do The Bartman"
60. Keith Sweat - "I'll Give All My Love To You"
61. Van Halen - "Runaround"
62. Tom Petty - "Into The Great Wide Open"
63. Color Me Badd - "I Wanna Sex You Up"
64. The Divinyls - "I Touch Myself"
65. Prince - "Cream"
66. R.E.M. - "Shiny Happy People"
67. Fishbone - "Sunless Saturday"
68. Leaders of the New School - "Case Of The P.T.A."
69. Extreme - "More Than Words"
70. Nirvana - "Come As You Are"
71. Sarah MacLachlan - "Into The Fire"
72. Lenny Kravitz - "Always On The Run"
73. Big Audio Dynamite II - "The Globe"
74. U2 - "Mysterious Ways"
75. DJ Quik - "Tonite"
76. Freddie Jackson - "Love Me Down"
77. Primus - "Tommy The Cat"
78. De La Soul - "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)"
79. Mark Cohn - "Walking In Memphis"
80. Elvis Costello - "The Other Side of Summer"
81. Guns N Roses - "Live And Let Die"
82. The Scorpions - "Wind of Change"
83. Freddie Jackson - "Do Me Again"
84. Bonnie Raitt - "Something To Talk About"
85. R.E.M. - "Losing My Religion"
86. Van Halen - "Top Of The World"
87. Bryan Adams - "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You"
88. Alice Cooper - "Feed My Frankenstein"
89. Michael Jackson - "Black Or White"
90. The Pixies - "Head On"
91. 2Pac - "Brenda's Got A Baby"
92. En Vogue - "You Don't Have To Worry"
93. Extreme - "Hole Hearted"
94. Ice Cube - "Steady Mobbin'"
95. Matthew Sweet - "Divine Intervention"
96. Smashing Pumpkins - "Rhinoceros"
97. Boyz II Men - "Uhh Ahh"
98. A Tribe Called Quest - "Jazz (We've Got)"
99. Damn Yankees - "High Enough"
100. Queen - "The Show Must Go On"

As usual, it's the singles list that makes me feel far more nostalgic. There are just so many songs here that are basically running through my veins, that I can't remember ever thinking about enjoying the way I overthink enjoying things now, things that just sounded great to me as a kid without really registering beyond that. There's a lot of rewritten history about how the early '90s were absolutely terrible for pop music before Nirvana Came Along And Changed Everything, but fuck that, there was a lot of great stuff around that they had nothing to do with and weren't necessarily better than.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

I reviewed the new Robin Thicke album, Blurred Lines, for the Baltimore City Paper. It's quite good.

Friday, July 26, 2013

If you've been reading this site for a while, you know about the 'remix report card' project I've been steadily working on for years. And this week I did something that's kind of the culmination of all that, Complex Magazine's list of the 50 best all-star rap remixes since 2000. It's a doozy, I'm really proud of it.

Also this week, wrote a few entries in Complex's list of Kanye's best verses of all time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
This week's Short List.

Monday, July 22, 2013

I posted Mickey Free's long-delayed video for the 2010 track "The Unnies" on the City Paper site.

Monthly Report: July 2013 Singles

Sunday, July 21, 2013

1. Mariah Carey f/ Miguel - "#Beautiful"
This has been out long enough now that it feels pretty clear that it's not a very big hit, that it's never quite took off at R&B radio or pop radio, that it won't break the cycle of underperforming later Mariah singles. But it's still an incredibly winning, singular song, a really admirable risk for both her and Miguel to take, just so beautiful (I really just typed out that word without thinking about the title) and summery and warm but also a bit odd and slight and frayed at the edges. I mean, a Mariah Carey single with amp buzz, I love it. Really kind of the first new Miguel song since Kaleidoscope Dream, which makes it an event in and of itself. Here is the running Spotify playlist of all my favorite singles of 2013, by the way.

2. Bruno Mars - "Treasure"
Was always a favorite off Unorthodox Jukebox, wondered if it might be a little too stylized to be a radio single, but ended up coming out at the perfect time in the summer of "Get Lucky" to sound of the moment.

3. Kendrick Lamar f/ Jay-Z - "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe (Remix)"
I was impressed but slightly blase about this track when I originally rated it in a Remix Report Card, but now that it's blanketed the airwaves, I have to admit it's some of my favorite shit out. I tend to respect Kendrick more than I actually enjoy his music, particularly because once you actually look at his lyrics, they often don't hold up at all. But the way his verses on this kill not just Jay's (big fuckin' deal in 2013, to be honest) but his own from the original makes me interested in what he'll do next. I love how he ends the song with "I need a 10-second drum solo, see you at Woodstock," because that verse is basically a great drum solo, I actually tap my fingers in time to the syllables. Also one cool thing about it being a single is that gorgeous string outro also gets added to the intro a lot of times when they play it on the radio now, if they're talking over the intro or just one a music bed to open it with before the chorus starts.

4. Mario f/ Nicki Minaj - "Somebody Else"
Always happy to see Mario put on for Baltimore, he really could've come with something obvious and 'of the moment,' but this feels kinda unique and fresh, especially considering it's Polow Da Don with a soul sample. The drums have this weird groove, almost reminds me of The Firm's "Phone Tap," all the backmasked synths and shit are kinda eerie, Nicki stays on topic without getting all-out bland like she usually does on relationshippy songs, shit is dope.

5. Brett Eldredge - "Don't Ya"
One of my favorite songs on country lately, cheesy as hell but the guy has a great voice, almost has a Ray Charles grain to it on some lines. The hook is massive, the way it comes down to just his voice and a kick drum for a couple bars. And then it's all over in 3 minutes flat, not enough hits do that these days.

6. Meek Mill - "Levels"
I guess this song isn't gonna pop off as a radio hit or anything, but it's pretty dope, makes me feel like Meek Mill still has some momentum going into Dreamchasers 3 and the next album, after Dreams & Nightmares ended up kinda weirdly underrated despite being basically what a major label Meek album should sound like. He had the best version of "Started From The Bottom" and this feels like maybe a stab at something influenced by that, except, y'know, thank god no Drake anywhere near it.

7. Frank Turner - "Recovery"
Have heard this on the radio a little bit, moderate alt-rock hit by some British folk/punk guy, manages to stand out from, say, Mumford And Sons by being really wordy and having a lot of personality and humor by comparison, also really huge catchy chorus.

8. Justin Timberlake - "Tunnel Vision"
I'm a little irritated that Timberlake is doing this 2-albums-in-one-year thing and brushing the first to the side so quickly, not that it's an especially good album, but the two big hits off it were pretty tiresome, and just as he released a decent song as a single, he brushed it aside to make room for the regrettably titled "Take Back The Night" off of the next album. And here I was still hoping "Pusher Love Girl" would at least be a promo single for R&B radio or something, oh well. "Tunnel Vision" is good, though, it always kinda faded into the background on the album for me, but it works on its own, even if that stupid video just underlines how it's kind of like a "My Love" retread, to a less embarrassing degree than that "Mirrors" is a "What Goes Around" retread.

9. Anthony Hamilton - "Best Of Me"
It's funny how this might be the only song on Billboard's airplay charts right now from a 2011 album. Anthony Hamilton just has a knack for these slow burning hits that stay on R&B radio forever, "Charlene" and "Can't Let Go" being the most obvious examples, but "Pray For Me" basically lasted through all of 2012 and now the follow-up is keeping the album on the airwaves 18 months or so later.

10. Kelly Clarkson - "Tie It Up"
One of the few songs I've written about on Singles Jukebox lately, nothing amazing but I just love her voice and dig anything she does in a country direction, I hope this is an indication that she's finally doing a whole country album.

Worst Single of the Month: Taylor Swift - "22"
This song has already kinda come and gone pretty quickly, it actually missed the top 10, which is unheard of for a Taylor Swift pop radio single, but I think that just underlines how incredibly awful this song was. I mean, holy shit.

Movie Diary

Saturday, July 20, 2013

a) Now You See Me
This was fun, felt like a decent way to spend a night out at the time, but it was one of those movies that really felt undid by the ending; totally pointless 'twist' that not only made no sense, but required a lot of half-assed vague plotting and characterization in order to render it possible. Had a lot of the hallmarks of a well made heist movie without ever getting under the surface to actually give all the good and great actors in the cast something to work with or even any kind of brain teaser or clever angle.

b) Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
We rented this kind of on a lark, seemed like a good decision because the wife likes looking at Jeremy Renner and I like looking at Gemma Arterton. I won't pretend this was anything other than stupid fun, but it actually was fun, which movies like this often aren't (looking at you, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), so it deserves some credit there. Half the time they were just talking like it was an '80s buddy cop movie, which was just so stupid it was funny. It really earned its R rating too, there were some pretty gorey scenes. I like how much of the movie was two Bond girls pitted against each other.

c) Pitch Perfect
I kinda hoped this would be a little more silly and comedic, like Fired Up or something, but it was mostly a boilerplate teen/college movie with a lot of singing. Charming at times, but also kinda boring.

d) Looper
Given how I felt about Rian Johnson's first two movies (Brick was kinda promising but also kind of infuriating, The Brothers Bloom was just plain sad), I was a little predisposed to dislike his smart sci-fi flick, especially with one of my least favorite leading men in it. But fuck, I really kind of loved this movie, even Joseph Gordon-Levitt didn't annoy me, although it helped that they messed up his face and made him look more like Bruce Willis. It presented just enough of an intriguing idea of the future and time travel without over-explaining it (and handwaved those questions amusingly with Bruce Willis's "diagrams with straws" line), while also just setting a great sustained tone and mood, that really worked well when half the movie slowed down and took place in a farm setting you never saw in the trailers -- which I loved, trailers really give away too much of the story these days. Pierce Gagnon gave probably the greatest acting performance I've ever seen by a child under the age of 8, the second half of the movie just wouldn't have worked without him, and really gave the whole thing a lot of emotional resonance for me, as a parent.

e) Trouble With The Curve
It's kinda funny that this was the first Clint Eastwood movie he acted in but did not direct in 20 years. I'm not the biggest fan of him as a director but man his own movies are usually better than this. His gravitas almost felt out of place, like if you'd put any older actor of less prestige in the role, then you'd be like yeah, this rom com trifle with Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake totally makes sense. Weirdly it was Amy Adams that really held it together, though, she really just has some kind of screen presence that is arresting, beyond just her being a pretty lady or whatever, coming around to really thinking she is a unique talent. There was a really funny scene where old guys were arguing about how "Ice Cube isn't an actor just because he's in movies," and Timberlake is right there in the corner of the bar just off-camera.

f) Lawless
I have this on in the background right now I just kinda hate Shia LeBeouf and Tom Hardy and want to see them suffer through this terrible ill-advised flop of a movie. I might turn it off soon, though, it's kinda boring. Spoiler alert, but there was just a pretty awesomely gorey scene involving one of the dudes I hate.

g) Ted
Seth MacFarlane is one of these guys where I can grudgingly respect his talent, at least half of what he does is genuinely clever or at least stupid-funny in a visceral way, often in this kind of offhanded way that captures how people really think or talk. But then he drowns that stuff in some cornball 'politically incorrect' garbage and talking babies and animals and shit. So I enjoyed this at times, but also kinda hated myself for it, as I do with any given episode of "Family Guy."

h) The Watch
For whatever reason, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn run in the same crew and occasionally co-star in movies but don't really have any comic chemistry; in this or Dodgeball, they just do their usual schticks and managed not to bounce off each other much at all. This had its moments but mostly felt like one of those cheesy sci-fi comedies where the effects and action scenes aren't impressive but end up dragging on the comedic momentum anyway.

i) Public Sex
Weird lurid movie about how 'dogging' is apparently some huge national pasttime in England and tons of people are constantly having sex in cars in the park, but the story is about a journalist trying to write a story about it, so the whole thing has this distanced, desensitized feel that makes it all more dirty and gross. The whole lighting and look of the movie is kind of cool and unique, made it look like it cost more than it probably did, the director or DP should definitely get more work, hopefully on something with a stronger story.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In this week's City Paper, I wrote the BPM dance music column about Matic808's Baltimore club Yeezus remixes, Mixfest 2013, and other upcoming events. Also wrote, as usual, The Short List.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A year ago, I interviewed Brian Ennals about his then-upcoming album Candy Cigarettes, and now that it's finally out I reviewed it for the Mobtown Studios site.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 10: R. Kelly

Sunday, July 14, 2013

R. Kelly has been on something of a nostalgia campaign lately, performing a medley of his most popular songs at the BET Awards recently, and making his first appearances at several rock festivals this year, including Bonnaroo and, later this week, the Pitchfork Festival. After remaining at the forefront of contemporary R&B for a good 15 years or so, with a simply staggering run of hits that continued even in the face of personal controversies and huge aesthetic shifts in the genre that left many peers behind, things had just started to slow down a while back. He released two retro-oriented albums that finally acknowledged his advancing age, and how far back his influences go, and perpetually delayed his apparent return to more risque material, Black Panties. So it's hard to say if he's just resigning himself to the oldies circuit, or just trying to remind us how he has and still can make smashes. In any event, a good time to look at his huge back catalog beyond the many, many singles, toward the many, many awesome deep cuts. Here's the Spotify Playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 10: R. Kelly

1. R&B Thug
2. Chocolate Factory
3. (You To Be) Be Happy featuring The Notorious B.I.G.
4. We Ride featuring Cam'ron, Noreaga, Jay-Z and Vegas Cats
5. For You
6. Hook It Up featuring Huey
7. Not Feelin' The Love
8. Believe That It's So
9. The Greatest Show On Earth
10. Be My #2
11. She's Loving Me
12. 12 Play
13. One Me
14. Hit It Til The Mornin' featuring Twista and Do Or Die
15. Just Like That
16. Just Like That
17. Etcetera

Tracks 11 from Born Into The 90's with Public Announcement (1992)
Tracks 5 and 12 from 12 Play (1993)
Tracks 3 from R. Kelly (1995)
Tracks 4 and 17 from R. (1998)
Tracks 1, 13 and 15 from (2000)
Tracks 2 from Chocolate Factory (2003)
Tracks 9 from Happy People/U Saved Me (2004)
Tracks 14 from TP.3 Reloaded (2005)
Tracks 6 from Double Up (2007)
Tracks 10 from Untitled (2009)
Tracks 7 and 16 from Love Letter (2010)
Tracks 8 from Write Me Back (2012)

You read that right: he's got so many great songs that he's running out of titles, and recently released a song called "Just Like That" a decade after a completely different song by the same name (I made a similar discovery when I did the Madonna playlist in this series and realized she has two different songs called "Forbidden Love"). I'm sure I'll have to do another volume of R. at some point, because I had to leave off so many great songs just to keep this under my admittedly pointless 80-minute 'blank CD' limit.

Clearly, "R&B Thug" is the ultimate R. Kelly song that was never a single, both because of the title and how awesome it is, but also because in 2000, months before was released, he won an American Music Award and sang the song a cappella as his acceptance speech, one of the greatest moments in television history. I really dig a lot of the ballads and sentimental songs on these albums, though, so it wasn't hard to balance out the more upbeat, hip hop-tinged, and/or downright silly songs that he's sometimes stereotyped for by the generation that doesn't know much beyond "Ignition (Remix)" and "Trapped In The Closet."

R.'s later albums have been pretty uneven, including the last two that were ostensibly a little more classy and cohesive (but really were, for better and for worse, a whole grab bag of different styles and influences like all his other albums). But with every album, there are songs that stick with me, and it was fun to go back and grab really awesome, underrated tracks like "Hook It Up," which really would've been a great single to follow up "I'm A Flirt" and "Same Girl" (although it betrays a typical R. Kelly lack of self-awareness -- he spends the song asking the teenage rapper Huey if his girlfriend has a similar sister or friend to hook him up with, yikes). "Be My #2" works better than it has a right to and would make a good blueprint for how R. Kelly could make a more modern clubby dance song. And "Not Feelin' The Love" has always been a song that hits me hard, just a really beautiful, vulnerable song. But of course the '90s albums are just chock full of jams, there are so many great songs on R. alone that I didn't have room for, will probably have to revisit his catalog with another one of these mixes sometime down the line.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke

Saturday, July 13, 2013

My band, Western Blot, is returning to the Sidebar, where we played out first official show last year, for another show on August 6th. Here's the Facebook event for the show which has links to all the other bands on the bill, which as with most of our shows I handpicked myself, bands I want to see and want my friends to see: Batworth Stone, The Woolly Moon, and the debut of a new band, Soft Peaks. Should be a fun night, come out if you're in town.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I posted about "The Usual Suspect," a Trayvon-themed track by Baltimore rapper TwoineyLo, on the City Paper website. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

In this week's City Paper, I wrote a profile of the excellent Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang, as well as the Short List as usual.

Baltimore City Paper review: Magna Carta... Holy Grail

Monday, July 08, 2013

My review of the new Jay-Z album is up on the City Paper site.

Monthly Report: June 2013 Albums

Sunday, July 07, 2013

1. Kanye West - Yeezus
Obviously, I already unloaded a lot of thoughts about this album in my City Paper review, but I should point out that I found it funny how often what I wrote was referred to as a 'negative review.' Sure, I spilled a lot of ink on the issues I have with the lyrics, but in general I like the lean, aggressive sound of the album so much that it's pretty much my favorite Kanye record since Graduation, possibly even Late Registration. Granted, I've really hated some of the records since then, but still, there's some exciting shit on here. It drags in the middle, a little, but the last 2 tracks are my favorite and "On Sight" is pretty cool too. This is the rare album that is sonically exciting enough that I actually want to hear a lot of remixes -- for the faster model, I recommend Matic808's Baltimore club version, and for the slower model, I recommend DJ Dew's chopped & screwed version.

2. Kelly Rowland - Talk A Good Game
After "Motivation" was so good but Here I Am was disappointingly mediocre, I was cautiously optimistic because of how much Kelly Ro has been killing shit this year ("Neva End," "Without Me," "Nuclear," the singles off this album), and it really did turn out great, her best album yet. She's got such a warm, lovely voice, it's nice to hear her not get in the way of it for once. Lot of really lush, varied production that uses her voice well, not too many missteps at all until the "tell Obama 'bout the street life" song towards the end torpedoes the album's batting average. "Dirty Laundry" works fine in the context of the album but I don't really like it as a single, The-Dream stays biting R. Kelly with that "A Woman's Threat" knockoff track. Oh, btw, all these albums that are on Spotify, I put into one big 2013 albums playlist.

3. Prodigy & The Alchemist - Albert Einstein
I'm a huge fan of the Prodigy/Alchemist combination, "Keep It Thoro" and the whole Return of the Mac album are classics to me, so this is just dope -- truthfully Alc has been a better producer than Hav for a long time, so I wouldn't even expect a Mobb Deep reunion to be as good as this. Obviously P isn't at his peak and Alchemist can turn out this dark, blunted breaks in his sleep, but the vibe on this record is unique enough that it doesn't feel like a retread, and everything has strong hooks and holds together as songs, not just aesthetic exercises. Shame about the Action Bronson verse, though, don't know what's up with that since Prodigy knows the real Ghostface.

4. Brian Ennals - Candy Cigarettes
Ennals is a local dude I interviewed last year when he released the first single for this album, so it's good to finally have it out. I won't say too much since I wrote a review that hasn't run yet, though, but it's dope.

5. Rickie Jacobs - Beautiful America EP
Here's another guy I've interviewed who's from Baltimore, who's been having a good year, starting to really raise his profile, kinda proud of him. He puts out a lot of music, and in fact had a whole full-length mixtape only 3-4 months ago that really just kinda annoyed me, did not think it was his best work. Beautiful America is way better, good focused 7-song project, even has a beat from a kinda big name producer, Cardiak (Meek Mill, T.I., etc.). He still talks too much fame/career bullshit but otherwise the content is pretty thoughtful.

6. J. Cole - Born Sinner
I've tended in the past to give J. Cole probably more credit than he deserves -- 2 years ago I made the assertion that Cole World was a better album than Watch The Throne, but I wasn't gonna take that side this time when he was in an actual direct competition with the dude he bit damn near his whole life from. This album is an impressive step forward in some ways, but it's also even more embarrassingly fannish, full of samples of/from '90s classics like Ready To Die, Midnight Marauders and Aquemini that make him seem like an unimaginative stan with a basic-ass record collection. The tough talk and sex talk trying to shake his nice guy image is just kinda pathetic, too.

7. The Lonely Island - The Wack Album
There's a lot of tracks on the first two Lonely Island  albums that I can still play and laugh my ass at on the regular, and I'm sure that'll be the case with this one in a couple of years, but it definitely feels like there's some inevitable diminishing returns with what they do, where at some point they've got so many tracks with fairly similar premises and interchangeable 'surprising' structures. Right now I'm just enjoying "Hugs" and "Spring Break Anthem" and all that, though.

8. DJ Mustard - Ketchup
I think DJ Mustard is kind of obnoxious in how successfully he's been able to market himself -- his sound really isn't that distinct from a lot of post-hyphy west coast producers who were on the last few E-40 albums, but he's pretending that "ratchet" is a genre that he invented, and has Timbaland on the intro to this tape calling out other west coast producers for doing "Mustard-type beats." It's just some bullshit. That said, I love this whole trend of southern rappers on his beats, "I'm Different" and "R.I.P." are the shit, and this tape has a whole bunch of songs that have the potential to jump off like that.

9. Migos - Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas)
This is the new 'next big thing' in Southern rap that is becoming super divisive for no real reason, other than that lots of people are really invested in both sides of a completely outdated and pointless culture war over the supposed direction of hip-hop. I think it's OK, not really any better than, say, Travis Porter, but these guys definitely have a distinctive sound, I just get tired of the relentless triplet flows. The songs stick in my head by sheer force of repetition, but they don't really stick to my ribs, it's some real zero calorie 'fun' rap.

10. Young Dro - Day Two
It's been 7 years since Young Dro's only major label album, the great Best Thang Smokin', and in that time he's lead this kind of listless existence of unrealized potential, dropping mixtapes every year and occasionally bubbling with a song or collaboration here or there, but never getting remotely close to dropping another album or having a hit like "Shoulder Lean" (I've heard some murmurings that he's got a drug problem holding him back, but if that's the case he's still been remarkable productive all things considered). But Day Two has quickly emerged as his biggest project in a long time -- 'gold' on DatPiff, which none of his other mixtapes the last few years reached, and the lamentable single "FDB" is actually charting on Billboard. I don't know what this all means, since the tape is perfectly good, but not any leap in quality from the stuff that proceeded it. A lot of rappers seem to just drift around the Southern mixtape circuit for years after their first mainstream hit, and then suddenly start bubbling on a national level again. With Gucci Mane and Gunplay it was accompanied by a creative breakthrough, but with 2 Chainz or Yo Gotti or, more recently, Rocko, it seems a little more arbitrary. There are some fun songs on this, though, I like the "Um Kay" one where he's all Bill Lumbergh, and the one called "Kilt" that actually has a sample of bagpipes.

Worst album of the month: Jimmy Eat World - Damage
I don't know why I even listened to this, I love Bleed American but literally nothing they've done before or since does anything for me, never has.

Al Great's "Summer Nights" Remix

Saturday, July 06, 2013

I wrote on the City Paper site about a great Baltimore rap posse cut, Al Great's new remix to the Street Scott-produced "Summer Nights," with DDm, Japiro and Dunson.

The Short List

Friday, July 05, 2013
For this week's City Paper, here.

Complex Magazine: 20 Underrated Jay-Z Songs

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Complex Magazine ran a list of 20 Underrated Jay-Z Songs, for which I wrote 10 of the entries, with David Drake, Dave Bry and Insanul Ahmed writing the rest. Obviously, I recently did my playlist of Jay's best deep album cuts, but it was fun to write about an almost entirely different set of songs, including a lot of features and soundtrack songs.

TV Diary

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

a) "Inside Amy Schumer"
As Amy Schumer's profile as a comic has steadily risen and she's turned up in more TV shows, I've mentioned here now and again that she and I went to the same college and co-starred in a student film 10 years ago (I went through the whole story and linked the film here). But it's still pretty wild to me that she ended up as the star of her own Comedy Central show, which has already been renewed for a second season. CC's tendency to give tons of comics Chappelle's Show-type sketch-driven star vehicles has resulted in a lot of really terrible television, and I'm happy to say hers is one of the best of the lot (maybe 2nd best after Key & Peele?). Sometimes the post-Sarah Silverman 'edgy' bent to the sex and race humor is really tiresome, but for the most part I think she's often a hilarious comic and the show has preserved her voice pretty well. I haven't even talked to Amy since those few weeks where she was playing my only acting role's love interest, but I still feel kinda proud of her. The 'sex tip' sketch in the finale tonight was hysterical.

b) "Ray Donovan"
I've never been much of a fan of Liev Schrieber, and from the exterior this looked like a really boilerplate 'gritty cable drama with antihero protagonist' show, but the pilot was pretty fast and surprisingly charming, which either means it's got serious potential or nowhere to go but down. In any event, I'm intrigued and cautiously optimistic.

c) "Family Tree"
Christopher Guest's movies have had such diminishing returns that switching to a TV show at least seemed like a good bet to see if things would work better now in that format. This really didn't hook me, though, felt like they made the ostensibly wise decision to root the show in something a little less over-the-top than, say, Best In Show, but the result is that it's rarely very funny and gets kinda ho hum.

d) "The Goodwin Games"
A show starring T.J. Miller from the creators of "How I Met Your Mother" should have loads of potential, but this is just kinda forgettable. There were some definite laughs the one time I watched it, but the whole premise and everything, it just doesn't work.

e) "Deon Cole's Black Box"
When he first started showing up onscreen toward the end of Conan's "Tonight Show" run, and then even more on "Conan," it really just felt like they were throwing up their hands and acknowledging that they had a really funny black writer who was giving them material that a white comic, especially Conan, just could not get away with saying. But over the past year as he's gotten more and more screen time, Deon Cole has lost some weight and gotten more animated with his delivery and it's really just felt like he's been feeling himself and enjoying the attention to the point that he's not as funny as he was in his initial appearances. So I was pretty skeptical when TBS went ahead and gave him his own show. It's pretty funny in parts, but he's really just mining some really tired race humor tropes a lot of the time.

f) "Veep"
I really liked this show in the first season, and was really geeked to be on the set of the show in Columbia, Maryland a few months ago when I worked on a PSA that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was in (the set is way bigger than it looks on TV, it's all these big fake walls and matte paintings inside a giant warehouse). But I think it's really hit its stride in the second season, the show just feels funnier and more tightly constructed, less reliant on just purely filthy language for laughs.

g) "The Venture Bros."
It's weird to realize that "The Venture Bros." premiered 10 years ago, and is just now only premiering its 5th season. But really I have no problem with a show stretching out its run more than even "The Sopranos" if it's this goddamn good. There were times in the 3rd or 4th season, when it might've felt like they were getting away from what the show's about or didn't have enough Brock, but now it feels like they're just committed to constantly expanding the show's universe and letting the relationships between characters change, all in service of hysterical dialogue and completely insane storylines. Got irritated by the stop motion bit in a recent episode, but otherwise the 5th season has been great so far, the hourlong premiere was epic.

h) "The Daily Show"
I've never been the hugest John Oliver fan and had previously thought him best in small doses, but for the most part he's been killing it in this summer guest host stint. I occasionally find myself missing Jon Stewart or wondering how he would've approached a gag, but in general the show hasn't missed a beat, while also not being so great that I won't be happy when Stewart comes back.