Friday, November 29, 2013

I wrote "How To Make The Perfect Mixtape In The Digital Age" for Complex Magazine.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
This week's Short List. Happy Thanksgiving!

My Favorite Artists of the 1990s

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A couple weeks ago, I finished my year-by-year overview of the '90s with my 50 favorite albums and 100 favorite singles of 1990. Having done that for every year of the decade, I now have about 500 albums and 1000 singles to draw from if I do some kind of big '90s list somewhere down the line, maybe next year. In the meantime, I thought I'd do something extra nerdy and crunch the numbers from all that data and try to figure out who my favorite artists of the decade were, not based on any gut feeling but just on the sheer math of who had the most records ranked highest on those lists. Rather than trying to combine the data from both sets, here's two separate lists, based on albums and based on singles.

My Favorite Albums Artists of the 1990s: 

1. Superchunk
2. Sonic Youth
3. Fugazi
4. Pearl Jam
5. A Tribe Called Quest
6. 2Pac
7. The Posies
8. Jay-Z
9. Ice Cube
10. Smashing Pumpkins
11. UGK
12. Nirvana
13. Gang Starr
14. R.E.M.
15. Pulp
16. They Might Be Giants
17. Nine Inch Nails
18. Soul Coughing
19. Scarface
20. Outkast

One thing I will say is, it'd be easier to make it onto this list with less music than for a similar list for other recent decades. The 1990s was the peak of the music industry maximizing the profitability of each album, milking it for as many singles and videos and tours as possible. And in the CD era, albums got longer, so even smaller acts would tend to release a 60 or 70-minute album every 2 or 3 years rather than a 40-minute album every year or so, as was standard up through the '80s. So while I clearly love Superchunk and already called them "the best band of the 1990s," they had a big advantage here in that they released 7 albums in the decade (plus rarities comps), where pretty much every other artist there released 5 albums at most (I only count 2Pac's five albums completed in his lifetime, including the album as Makaveli, haven't checked out any of the posthumous ones).

But just releasing a good number of albums isn't everything; I weighted these by how they were ranked by year, so how much I liked stuff mattered a lot. Pavement released 5 albums, all in the '90s and all of which I own, but I've soured on that band big time since the '90s, so they weren't a factor. Soul Coughing only made 3 albums total, but they were all in the '90s and I loved them all, so they got in. Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails scraped by with only two '90s full-lengths and some non-LP releases (EPs and live/compilation/remix albums, etc.). I would never rank Sonic Youth's '90s work as much as highly as their '80s work, but they had several ranked EPs and non-album releases in addition to their 5 albums that pushed them up high, and they were certainly a really major band to me during the decade.

My Favorite Singles Artists of the 1990s: 

1. Pearl Jam
2. Jay-Z
3. Metallica
4. Notorious B.I.G.
5. Dr. Dre
6. Busta Rhymes
7. Snoop Dogg
8. R.E.M.
9. Janet Jackson
10. 2Pac
11. Mary J. Blige
12. Nirvana
13. U2
14. Nine Inch Nails
15. DMX
16. Smashing Pumpkins
17. Red Hot Chili Peppers
18. A Tribe Called Quest
19. The Black Crowes
20. Mariah Carey
21. En Vogue
22. Soundgarden
23. Puff Daddy
24. LL Cool J
25. Guns 'N Roses
26. Foo Fighters
27. Erykah Badu
28. Stone Temple Pilots
29. Juvenile
30. Bjork
31. R. Kelly
32. TLC
33. Aaliyah
34. Gang Starr
35. Ginuwine
36. Prince
37. Third Eye Blind
38. Counting Crows
39. Alice In Chains
40. Tom Petty
41. Beastie Boys
42. Ice Cube
43. Soul Coughing
44. Big Punisher
45. Sonic Youth
46. Green Day
47. They Might Be Giants
48. Rage Against The Machine
49. Lenny Kravitz
50. INXS

The singles list was more fun because, well, there was a lot more to draw from -- artists that might've only had one or two quality albums (or none) had half a dozen awesome singles, and so on. Plus it's just a much more diverse field than the "all alt-rock and rap all the time" field of the albums list. I was unsurprised by Pearl Jam's triumph -- especially since I filled the list with not just their many singles but also the several big rock radio hits they had that weren't officially released as singles. I was surprised that Jay-Z's '90s catalog edged out Biggie, although I guess even the years of the decade that Jay-Z was a star lasted a little longer than Big's whole career, after all. And with Metallica, I'm just an unapologetic fan of all The Black Album's singles and scattered later hits ("Hero Of The Day," "Fuel," "Whiskey In The Jar," etc.). I'm probably most alone in thinking The Black Crowes are one of the most consistent rock radio bands of the '90s, though.

Tabulating this one got a little dicey because of collaborations and such -- Dre and Snoop are both in the top 10 primarily from songs they did together. But for the most part I just went with my gut on how to count things. If I gave entries to individual people, Dave Grohl and Timbaland would be in the top 5, as would Q-Tip, but it didn't seem right to lump his solo singles and features on "Groove Is In The Heart" and "Got Til It's Gone" together the same way I counted Junior Mafia and Puff Daddy singles towards Biggie's total. Some artists I think should be higher, but somehow overlooked some of my favorite singles by them when assembling the year-by-year lists, but I didn't wanna go crazy with revising those just to make this list more 'right,' I think it looks like a pretty damn accurate summary of my taste as is.

Here's the yearly lists if you missed them: 199019911992199319941995199619971998 and 1999.

The 2013 Remix Report Card, Vol. 7

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Ain't Worried About Nothin' (Remix)" by French Montana featuring Miley Cyrus or Rick Ross, Diddy and Snoop Dogg
I already covered one posse cut remix of this song in a previous installment but I guess that wasn't official, but there have since been two big name remixes of French's first real solo hit. I will give Miley credit for nailing the obvious French Montana/Hannah Montana couplet, and for changing the N-word in the chorus to "bitch," and French ended up beating Kanye to the punch to have the first rap remix with Miley, so good for them I guess. On the other remix, Diddy talking his shit upstages everyone else as usual, and Snoop always seems like he should do better on these kinds of tracks than he should, it's just not the right kind of beat for him.
Best Verse: Diddy
Overall Grade: D / C

"Gorilla (G-Mix)" by Bruno Mars featuring Pharrell and R. Kelly
I've said elsewhere that pretty much the only thing I don't like about Unorthodox Jukebox is the chorus "you and me baby makin' love like gorillas," but at the same time I realized that that was more about Bruno Mars not being able to pull off a lyric like that, whereas R. Kelly can get away with "like two gorillas in the jungle makin' love." So it's appropriate to have Kells on the remix, even if the result is kind of on-the-nose and exactly how you'd expect it to sound. And Pharrell doesn't really do much of anything, which is a shame -- surprisingly there's never really been an R. Kelly/Neptunes collaboration, outside of one song called "Baby Girl" that there's an unreleased demo of floating out there.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C+

"Heaven Or Hell (Remix)" by Gunplay featuring Meek Mill and Jadakiss
I love these kinda embattled introspective Gunplay songs like "Bible On The Dash," although I'm already less impressed with this song just because the new Yo Gotti album has a much better flip on the "I Got 5 On It" beat. Still, I couldn't ask for better guests than Meek and Jada, and they both kill it.
Best Verse: Jadakiss
Overall Grade: B+

"If We Had Your Eyes (Remix)" by Michelle Williams featuring Fantasia
I liked Michelle's voice fine in the context of Destiny's Child records, but taken by itself in a single from one of her gospel records it's a bit much. So it's actually nice just to get Fantasia in the mix, although the song itself is just really bland to begin with, so even though she sounds great on the second verse it's not revelatory or anything.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C

"I Luv This Shit (Remix)" by August Alsina featuring Chris Brown and Trey Songz
Remixing this song was essential, both because it's the biggest 'street' R&B song of the year, and because the hit version featured a Trinidad James verse and you need to swap that shit out. But I dunno about having the two most established singers in August Alsina's lane on the remix, I guess it's nice to have their co-sign but it's not like with rappers where that really matters. And of course this has already replaced the original on most radio playlists, just like the Chris Brown remix of the Sevyn Streeter single did, kinda sucks that the few R&B songs by other people on the radio keep ending up with him on it.
Best Verse: Trey Songz
Overall Grade: B-

"My Kind Of Love (Remix)" by Emili Sande f/ Ab-Soul
I really like the original of this song, and the remix does a pretty good job of putting Sande's vocal over a rap beat that still suits it and doesn't feel like it's trying too hard. But Ab-Soul has developed a reputation for shitting up every big guest verse spot he's gotten in 2013 (sometimes literally -- "let me put my mouth where you potty boo" on the Chance The Rapper tape and all). He's not bad on this, kind of bland but he spits something that fits the emotional tenor of the song, which is kind of rare on these rap remixes of pop and R&B songs.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"My Story (Remix)" by R. Kelly featuring Katie Got Bandz and Rockie Fresh
I've never been much of a fan of "My Story," and I was actually thinking the other day that it was kind of dumb for him to do a "yeah I'm from that Chi town dirt" song and then put someone from Atlanta like 2 Chainz on it, really could've been a good chance to connect with the new generation of Chicago rappers. So hearing that this dropped was like, oh, of course, glad he had the same idea. I kinda wish they'd gone all out and redid the beat as a straight up drill song -- it's so awkward and ill-fitting as an R. Kelly song to begin with, might as well go all the way. Never been a big fan of Katie, but she doesn't sound as incompetent as a rapper here as she has on some of her big solo songs, and Rockie Fresh never stuck out to me on those MMG records but his verse is really good.
Best Verse: Rockie Fresh
Overall Grade: B-

"Paranoid (Remix)" by Ty Dolla $ign featuring B.o.B
They already threw Jeezy on this dude's first semi-big song, and they're still struggling to get him a real hit and throwing whoever on songs. This remix had some amusing semi-controversy because the original had Ty's homie Joe Moses talking shit about T.I. and Tiny and then the official single replaced him with T.I.'s boy B.o.B. But whatever, B.o.B is embarrassing on this just like all his recent stuff, and I stand by what I said a few months ago about Ty Dolla $ign, fuck this douchebag.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: F

"Strong (Remix)" by Young Dro featuring 2 Chainz
Another DJ Mustard track, this track was underwhelming to begin with as a follow-up single to "F.D.B." and a chance to hear Dro kill the sound of the moment. And 2 Chainz on the remix should be cool since Dro is secretly a father to some of his styles, but his verse just comes and goes forgettable as hell, whole thing feels like a missed opportunity.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C-

"Swangin' (Remix)" by Stalley featuring Lil Keke, Trae The Truth, Bun B and ESG
Stalley doing an H-town homage for his single was cool I guess, but having Scarface on it was almost offensive like damn can anybody get a Scarface verse and they're just not bothering? Still, cool to get more Texans involved in a remix, even if it's sad that the person waving that flag in the mainstream right now is some super bland dude from Ohio. Everywhere this track has been posted has listed Chamillionaire as one of the guests, but he's nowhere to be heard on it, which I guess is just proof that nobody listens to what they're posting anymore.
Best Verse: Trae The Truth
Overall Grade: C+

"10 2 10 (Remix)" by Big Sean featuring Rick Ross and Travis $cott
Oh good, Sean is trying to save his album by pushing the ill-fitting street banger with the "working like I'm Mexican" hook. This fucking guy. As soon as Ross shows up in turns into a perfectly decent Ross song, though. I don't know who asked for Travis $cott on anything but we don't need him.
Best Verse: Rick Ross
Overall Grade: C-

"Type of Way (Remix)" by Rich Homie Quan featuring Jeezy and Meek Mill
Obviously one of the bangers of the year, and after the talk of Drake considering doing the remix, I'm pretty happy with the final lineup that he's nowhere near. Quan actually shows out and proves it's still his song, though.
Best Verse: Meek Mill
Overall Grade: A-

Friday, November 22, 2013

I recently wrote my first piece for the Washington City Paper, interviewing Shy Glizzy for their People Issue.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I posted Ellis's new video "Misled" featuring Styles P. on the Baltimore City Paper site.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
This week's Short List.

Monthly Report: November 2013 Singles

Saturday, November 16, 2013

1. Keith Urban featuring Miranda Lambert - "We Were Us"
Urban and Lambert are both firmly in the middle tier of country stars who I don't feel too strongly about either way; they have undeniable talent and some songs I enjoy but for the most part I'm pretty indifferent. I really love the way their voices intertwine on the chorus of this song, though, and the way it transitions from her on the first verse to him on the second verse. It's just so breezy and shimmering and bright, and then in 3 minutes it's over. Here's the obligatory link to my running favorite 2013 singles Spotify playlist, by the way.

2. Busta Rhymes f/ Q-Tip - "Thank You"
Apparently Q-Tip was talking up this song in interviews over a year ago and saying people should petition to make it Busta's lead single, and now it's finally out, after that "#TwerkIt" garbage dropped and flopped. The rapping on this song is just incredible, intricate and relentless while actually fun to listen to and not bogged down in labored technique (cough Eminem cough). It's just so inspiring to hear these two guys reaffirm their talent and make a great song together more than 20 years after "Scenario," they're really two of my all-time favorites. And it's hilarious that Lil Wayne and Kanye have tacked-on spoken cameos, which was probably the only way Cash Money would release it, because it's painfully obvious those guys are completely incapable of rapping like Busta and Tip do on this song.

3. Kelly Rowland f/ Wiz Khalifa - "Gone"
I've already spent the whole year hyping up Harmony "H-Money" Samuels as my new favorite producer in R&B, mostly for his work on the Fantasia and Ariana Grande albums, but this one was a standout on Kelly's album that I'm glad is now a single. Putting the "Big Yellow Taxi" chorus in an R&B context after "Got Til It's Gone" is borderline unnecessary, but it sounds great in Kelly's voice and the appeal lies mainly in the beat anyway. Wiz Khalifa even drops a little reference to the "Joni Mitchell never lies" bit, but that just kinda underlines what a huge downgrade Q-Tip to Wiz is.

4. Zendaya - "Replay"
Zendaya is apparently a girl on a Disney show and her music is this semi-R&B semi-pop kinda thing, which I guess makes her a little like the next Ariana Grande, although their music isn't really similar. I've been hearing this song a lot on 95.5 in Washington, the same station that played the hell out of Little Mix's "Wings" earlier this year, because they seem to pick up on these random pop records that aren't big anywhere else, but usually good ones. And then I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was produced  by Mick Schultz, who did all the amazing production work on both of Jeremih's albums.

5. Rico Love - "They Don't Know"
I enjoyed the Rico Love EP that Bad Boy dropped in August, but it seemed like such a random release out of nowhere that it didn't even occur to me that one of the songs might pop off as a radio single, which one of the best tracks is now starting to do. It's even one of the tracks where he raps like Ma$e!

6. Robin Thicke f/ Kendrick Lamar - "Give It 2 You"
Back in the spring, when it was clear "Blurred Lines" was going to be a big record for Robin Thicke but there was really no sense of just how big it'd end up, he previewed a new song in a radio interview, produced by and Dr. Luke and featuring 2 Chainz and Kendrick, which seemed like a harbinger of some really ill-conceived club pop aspirations. Ultimately, though, the Blurred Lines album turned out to be a pretty shrewd fusion of Thicke's usual sound with something a little more uptempo and pop, and the Timbaland track is probably the only one I'd happily throw out entirely. "Give It 2 U" is still kind of garish and over-the-top, but it works in a weird way, with Thicke's busy falsetto darting around this big squelchy beat. It also helps that the single version deletes the 2 Chainz verse, which, hysterically bizarre "black Michael Jackson" boast aside, is pretty terrible, and retains the Kendrick verse, which is embarrassing in its own way but fits the song well and is probably a better dumbed down Kendrick club song guest spot than the one on "Fuckin' Problems." And that in itself is kinda funny since 2 Chainz is the one Thicke sought out himself to appear on the song, and Kendrick was the one that the label threw on there. The current R&B radio single, "4 The Rest Of My Life," is pretty good too.

7. Daft Punk f/ Pharrell Williams - "Lose Yourself To Dance"
Neither Daft Punk nor Robin Thicke were ever going to have a follow-up single that would be half as big as their giant Pharrell-assisted summer jams, but Daft Punk at least had another Pharrell track ready to go. And while it's not as good as "Get Lucky," it has its own charm, and actually reminds me more viscerally of various Chic songs than the other Nile Rodgers collaborations on the album -- a lot of Chic songs actually had kinda slow grooves, after all. I am curious if they'll release any non-Pharrell singles off this album, though, I love "Fragments of Time" but I suppose there's not really any radio format for that.

8. India.Arie - "Just Do You"
She's still embarrassing as hell with that period in the middle of her name and her latest album is called fucking SongVersation for chrissakes, but she does occasionally make some nice songs, and this is a good little motivational anthem. I also have this weird thing where any song that vaguely reminds me of "Advice For The Young At Heart" by Tears For Fears is instantly OK with me.

9. Pink f/ Lily Allen - "True Love"
Happy that Pink got back to releasing Greg Kurstin productions as singles after that one with the fun. guy. Lily Allen being on this song was a liability for me at first, until I realized that she's just on the bridge and that comes and goes pretty quickly. But this week was a good reminder of how terrible she is with that "Hard Out Here" song, which as it happens is kind of like a dramatically failed version of what Pink did years ago on "Stupid Girls."

10. DJ Clue f/ Future, Nicki Minaj, French Montana and Juelz Santana - "Rich Friday"
Future and Nicki has been the combination of choice for overstuffed posse cut singles this year from Rich Gang's "Tapout" to DJ Khaled's "I Wanna Be With You," but surprisingly the DJ Clue one is better than either of those. And unlike those tracks, or most of Future's features this year in general, he actually gets a verse on here, which is cool because you can hate on him as a rapper but it's not like you can say French is any better.

Worst Single of the Month: Panic! At The Disco - "Miss Jackson"
I’ve never been very into Panic, especially compared to the band that kinda discovered them and put them in the spotlight, Fall Out Boy, but I always at least respected that they had a distinct sound and entity from the band that put them on. So there’s something really kind of strange and sad about them coming back a few months after Fall Out Boy’s big comeback with a record by the same producer that sounds like such an undeniable knockoff of “My Songs Know What You Do In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” that it almost has to be deliberate. As much as I like Butch Walker, he's done some hacky things, and this is maybe the hackiest. Making it worse, Panic's singer recently gave an interview where he revealed that the original version of the song contained a Fiona Apple sample that she did not give permission to use, and then he called her "a bitch" and played the version she refused clearance for TV cameras. Classy. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote The Short List, and a new installment of my Rap Sheet column, with news about Test, Jay Wyse, Wombatt55, Kenton Dunson, and more.

TV Diary

Monday, November 11, 2013

a) "Mom"
I still stand by this defense of Chuck Lorre sitcoms I wrote a couple years ago, although I'll be the first to admit that his shows often wear thin. But I like 'em when they're as dark as primetime CBS will allow, and after the increasingly gentle, silly direction of his more recent productions, "The Big Bang Theory" and "Mike & Molly," this is refreshingly bleaker and more mean than "Two And A Half Men." Allison Janney certainly deserves a more top shelf show than this, but she's making the best of it and really owning the role.

b) "The Goldbergs"
This show is like "how do we do a nostalgic show about early '80s suburbia that has none of the nuance or magic of 'Freaks & Geeks'?" which was driven home in the episode that closed with a scene set to "Come Sail Away." Plus the Patton Oswalt narration is kinda wasted in its attempt to do a Daniel Stern "Wonder Years" thing. It's so close to being decent but just falls flat.

c) "The Crazy Ones"
Robin Williams in a David E. Kelley show really should be the most insufferably wacky thing ever, but this is surprisingly tolerable, if also not especially memorable or funny.

d) "Up Late with Alec Baldwin"
I've learned to compartmentalize between Alec Baldwin the awesome screen presence and Alec Baldwin the brooding rage-filled person, but then he went and got a chat show on MSNBC and I wasn't sure where that fell in the continuum and had to check it out. I'm not sure why him reminiscing with Debra Winger or whoever for an hour needs to be a TV show but I didn't mind it, it was kind of nice to see him out of character but a pleasant, conversational person.

e) "@midnight"
Much like Comedy Central used to experiment with the 11:30 slot after "The Daily Show" until something stuck, they're now earnestly trying to colonize 12 o'clock after "The Colbert Report," the latest attempt being, unpromisingly, a Twitter-themed live show hosted by Chris Hardwick. But Hardwick is at least kind of an ingratiatingly talentless Jimmy Fallon type who manages to make a show fun even when it isn't funny, and the show has at least one or two really funny comedians on the panel every night, so it's not bad to leave on if I don't think I'm gonna be up for very long after Colbert.

f) "The Pete Holmes Show"
Over on TBS, this is what they're toying with putting on after Conan, hosted by a former "Best Week Ever"/VH1 regular who just kind of has this face and voice that makes you want to hate the guy. Surprisingly, I found myself really liking the show, he laughs on camera a lot and general keeps the energy up, but says actually funny and clever things often enough to not be a Fallon/Hardwick-style empty calorie host.

g) "Adam Devine's House Party"
I like "Workaholics," and especially the weird energy Devine brings to the show, and the idea of doing a standup show where they just throw a house party and have comedians perform at it is kinda novel and cool in theory. In practice, though, there's a lot of half-assed sub-"Workaholics" scripted segments that come off like a shitty straight-to-DVD frat party movie.

h) "The Soup Investigates"
I still watch and love "The Soup" but I dunno what kind of terrible contract E! has Joel McHale in that they now have him host a 2nd show every week that is just some kind of terrible off-brand high concept variation on "The Soup" that isn't funny at all. It's not like this guy doesn't have other shit to do.

i) "American Horror Story: Coven"
The first episode of the first season of "American Horror Story" was so excruciatingly bad that I stayed away from the show for two years, even though it turned into an anthology thing with a different story every year. My wife wanted to check out this one, though, and so far it's pretty good. A lot of the creepy Southern gothic stuff is handled even more clumsily than on "True Blood," but it feels like they at least have a handle on the horror genre more than in that first episode that turned me off so much.

j) "The Eric Andre Show"
This show is kinda cool in just how far over the top it goes, but I dunno, it existing for a second season almost seems like a waste. Like, the format is so inherently repetitive as a parody of the tropes of talk shows that it ends up being kind of a mind-numbing limitation in and of itself.

k) "Key & Peele"
This show has really come into its own, to an even greater extent this year than it did last year, especially with the already famous "continental breakfast" sketch. I always get the sense watching the show, though, that I could never find these guys as funny as they find themselves, they're just having way too much fun, to the point that they can't tell when certain premises get run into the ground. In small doses, though, they can be pretty great.

l) "New Girl"
The whole thing with Damon Wayans, Jr. being in the pilot, and then jumping to "Happy Endings" and being replaced with Lamorne Morris has always cast this weird shadow over both shows -- they both fit incredibly well in those respective shows, but the whole thing just underlined their token status in the casting process. So it was kind of cool that as soon as "Happy Endings" was sadly canceled, Wayans stopped by "New Girl," for an episode where Taye Diggs also guested and was really funny, and you suddenly got a peak of what this show could be like if it wasn't just about white people and one token black guy, and it was kinda cool. There's some talk of Wayans staying on the show for a while, perhaps permanently, which would be fine with me.

m) "Sons of Anarchy"
This show continues to be just amazingly brutal, I feel like I watch it just to have my jaw drop from some incredibly violent, awful thing happening. I like how this season has kinda upended expectations, but switching from the Donal Logue storyline to the CCH Pounder one, with all this other stuff happening with Tara and Clay and the Irish. I'm curious if they're gonna set an end date for the show anytime soon, because it amazes me how they can seemingly write their way into a corner over and over and then write their way out of it with even more death and destruction.

1990, Reconsidered

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Top 50 Albums of 1990: 

1. They Might Be Giants - Flood
2. Jellyfish - Bellybutton
3. Fugazi - Repeater
4. Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
5. Sonic Youth - Goo
6. Black Crowes - Shake Your Money Maker
7. Social Distortion - Social Distortion
8. Digital Underground - Sex Packets
9. The Posies - Dear 23
10. En Vogue - Born To Sing
11. Dead Milkmen - Metaphysical Graffiti
12. Eric B. & Rakim - Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em
13. LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out
14. Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
15. A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
16. Depeche Mode - Violator
17. John Zorn - Naked City
18. INXS - X
19. Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual
20. Ice Cube - Kill At Will EP
21. Dwight Yoakam - If There Was A Way
22. The Cowboy Junkies - The Caution Horses
23. Concrete Blonde - Bloodletting
24. Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss
25. Paul Simon - The Rhythm Of The Saints
26. The Breeders - Pod
27. AC/DC - The Razors Edge
28. Soul Asylum - And The Horse They Rode In On
29. The Replacements - All Shook Down
30. Lou Reed & John Cale - Songs For Drella
31. The Pretenders - Packed!
32. Deee-Lite - World Clique
33. Prince - Graffiti Bridge
34. Whitney Houston - I'm Your Baby Tonight
35. James - Gold Mother
36. Little Feat - Representing The Mambo
37. Midnight Oil - Blue Sky Mining
38. George Michael - Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1
39. Sinead O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
40. Mother Love Bone - Apple
41. Robert Plant - Manic Nirvana
42. The Sundays - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
43. World Party - Goodbye Jumbo
44. Superchunk - Superchunk
45. Mariah Carey - Mariah Carey
46. Pixies - Bossanova
47. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Ragged Glory
48. Alice In Chains - Facelift
49. Shudder To Think - Ten Spot
50. Primus - Frizzle Fry

This wraps up the decade that I've been slowly going through for a minute now (previously: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999). It's been fun thoroughly exploring the years that made me into a music fan, but as I said previously, I began really actively following popular music in late '91 and '92, so 1990 was the last time I was just a kid with occasional, fleeting awareness of music. I was 8 that year. So I didn't really hear any of these albums when they were current, besides maybe my dad's copies of the Little Feat and Robert Plant albums -- it wasn't until the mid-'90s I started checking out the Sonic Youth and They Might Be Giants and Public Enemy. I heard a few more later in my high school and college years, but for the most part I've only really heard the overwhelming majority of those albums in the last couple years, which has been really interesting. The turn of the decade, that stuff that doesn't fit what we widely define as "the '80s" or what we widely define as "the '90s" but nonetheless loudly announces its origins in a bygone era, has probably aged better than you'd expect.

Top 100 Singles of 1990: 

1. Bel Biv Devoe - "Poison"
2. Depeche Mode - "Enjoy The Silence"
3. Madonna - "Vogue"
4. AC/DC - "Thunderstruck"
5. George Michael - "Freedom '90"
6. Digital Underground - "The Humpty Dance"
7. Jane's Addiction - "Stop!"
8. They Might Be Giants - "Birdhouse In Your Soul"
9. A Tribe Called Quest - "Can I Kick It?"
10. Deee-Lite - "Groove Is In The Heart"
11. Sinéad O'Connor - "Nothing Compares 2 U"
12. Janet Jackson - "Love Will Never Do (Without You)"
13. Faith No More - "Epic"
14. The Black Crowes - "Jealous Again"
15. The B-52s - "Roam"
16. Phil Collins - "Something Happened On The Way To Heaven"
17. Whitney Houston - "I'm Your Baby Tonight"
18. Tony! Tone! Toni! - "It Never Rains (In Southern California)"
19. Sonic Youth - "Kool Thing"
20. Public Enemy - "911 Is A Joke"
21. Social Distortion - "Ball And Chain"
22. DNA featuring Suzanne Vega - "Tom's Diner"
23. Lisa Stansfield - "All Around The World"
24. Babyface - "Whip Appeal"
25. The Cure - "Pictures of You"
26. The Soup Dragons - "I'm Free"
27. INXS - "Suicide Blonde"
28. Queen Latifah - "Ladies First"
29. MC Hammer - "Can't Touch This"
30. Vanilla Ice - "Ice Ice Baby"
31. Tevin Campbell - "Round And Round"
32. Queensyche - "Silent Lucidity"
33. LL Cool J - "Around The Way Girl"
34. Nine Inch Nails - "Head Like A Hole"
35. Jesus And Mary Chain - "Head On"
36. C&C Music Factory - "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"
37. Aerosmith - "Janie's Got A Gun"
38. They Might Be Giants - "Twisting"
39. Whitney Houston - "I'm Your Baby Tonight"
40. Elton John - "Club At The End Of The Street"
41. Ice Cube - "Amerikkka's Most Wanted"
42. The Black Crowes - "Hard To Handle"
43. Snap! - "The Power"
44. ZZ Top - "Doubleback"
45. Sonic Youth - "Disappearer"
46. INXS - "Disappear"
47. Salt-n-Pepa - "Let's Talk About Sex"
48. Janet Jackson - "Black Cat"
49. Paula Abdul - "Opposites Attract"
50. The Replacements - "Merry Go Round"
51. Aerosmith - "The Other Side"
52. Don Henley - "New York Minute"
53. The Black Crowes - "Twice As Hard"
54. Motley Crue - "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)"
55. Eric B. & Rakim - "Mahogany"
56. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Show Me Your Soul"
57. En Vogue - "Hold On"
58. Depeche Mode - "Policy of Truth"
59. Social Distortion - "Story Of My Life"
60. Billy Idol - "Cradle of Love"
61. Alannah Myles - "Black Velvet"
62. Garth Brooks - "Friends In Low Places"
63. They Might Be Giants - "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
64. Bel Biv Devoe - "Do Me!"
65. Billy Joel - "I Go To Extremes"
66. The Sundays - "Here's Where The Story Ends"
67. Tom Petty - "A Face In The Crowd"
68. MC Hammer - "Pray"
69. Julee Cruise - "Falling"
70. Eric B. & Rakim - "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em"
71. Prince - "Thieves In The Temple"
72. King Missile - "Jesus Was Way Cool"
73. Garth Brooks - "The Thunder Rolls"
74. Concrete Blonde - "Joey"
75. A Tribe Called Quest - "Bonita Applebaum"
76. Eric Clapton - "Bad Love"
77. Tears For Fears - "Advice For The Young At Heart"
78. AC/DC - "Moneytalks"
79. Damn Yankees - "High Enough"
80. Social Distortion - "Ring Of Fire"
81. Little Feat - "Texas Twister"
82. Motley Crue - "Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.)"
83. Faith No More - "Falling To Pieces"
84. LL Cool J - "Jingling Baby"
85. Aerosmith - "What It Takes"
86. Technotronic - "Get Up! (Before The Night Is Over)"
87. Mariah Carey - "Vision Of Love"
88. Janet Jackson - "Escapade"
89. Rod Stewart - "Downtown Train"
90. The Posies - "Golden Blunders"
91. The Pixies - "Dig For Fire"
92. Don Henley - "The Heart Of The Matter"
93. Madonna - "Justify My Love"
94. UB40 - "Here I Am (Come And Take Me)"
95. Iggy Pop - "Candy"
96. A Tribe Called Quest - "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo"
97. LL Cool J - "Boomin System"
98. Eric B. & Rakim - "In The Ghetto"
99. The Sundays - "Can't Be Sure"
100. Janet Jackson - "Alright"

I'm not big into 'cyclical' theories about pop music occasionally returning to a state it was once in before; I think that's usually a glib and selectively self-serving way of hammering the messy truth into a tidy narrative. But I feel like the musical landscape we're in right now is a bit like the late '80s and early '90s -- alternative rock is very polished and not very aggressive, only certain kinds of very slick or silly hip-hop cross over to the pop charts, R&B and pop and dance are all kind of tied up together into these very robotic, monolithic hits, the overall aesthetic was very bright and shiny and attention-grabbing and kind of ready to become dated at a moment's notice. Lotta great songs back then, though, really love a lot of this stuff, not saying that's all a bad thing.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013
This week's Short List.

Movie Diary

Monday, November 04, 2013

a) Mama
This was a pretty damn good horror flick -- elements of the story and visual style certainly felt like genre cliches and the CGI alternated between genuinely spooky and a little bit goofy-looking. But it had a strong emotional thread running through it that really got to me, having a small kid myself, and it felt like a good twist on the usual 'couple takes care of a troubled child with a supernatural secret' horror formula. Some genuinely great scares, too -- I left the room for two minutes, and from the bathroom I could hear my wife scream at one scene that she had to run back for me immediately when I returned. The ending was kinda unexpected but I liked it overall. Also weird and fun to see Jessica Chastain all punk rocked out.

b) Springsteen & I
I liked the basic idea of this movie, a doc that focuses on an artist's fans and their connection to the music rather than the artist himself, and as a Springsteen fan I certainly know what a strong connection it can be. But in execution, this quickly became tedious and indulgent, a bunch of boring white people talking inarticulately about why they love Bruce or how one time he pulled them up onstage or whatever.

c) This Is 40
At this point I think it's fair to say there's something almost pathological about how Judd Apatow has practically dismantled his career as a director. He initially found huge success by building starring vehicles for likable comic actors who became bankable stars as a direct result of him making those movies. But over the course of four movies, he's given a bigger role each time to his wife, thrice with their own kids playing her kids, and twice as a character in a fictional marriage that, if it at all resembles their own, makes her seem so mean and unlikable that it almost drives people to suspect she's forcing him to help her struggling film career. And I say this all having really thought Leslie Mann gave a great performance of a complex character in Knocked Up, while also being amazed how much worse both her and Paul Rudd's character come off in this. Making Paul Rudd this unlikable and unsympathetic is almost kind of a singular achievement in and of itself, even Neil LaBute couldn't bring himself to do that. The air of indulgence is intensified by the whole Graham Parker subplot, which seems like the opposite of Apatow putting Loudon Wainwright III in "Undeclared" but then letting him not play himself and actually reveal himself to be a capable actor. All that said, this wasn't without laughs, and the Melissa McCarthy scene in particular was hilarious, but really all attempts to tie the plot up and make the movie not seem entirely depressing and autobiographical utterly failed and made you feel like this movie was Apatow's cry for help and/or last stand as a director. It's almost like his Lady In The Water.

d) Moonrise Kingdom
Speaking of filmmakers who are trapped inside their own compulsions, I don't even know how anybody can deal with Wes Anderson anymore. The Fantastic Mr. Fox was at least different enough on a technical level to be refreshing, even if it was the same old same old in many other respects, but this is just back to all the old stifling tics. It's like he starts every movie with a bunch of presets, the same fonts, the same camera angles and cuts, the same actors, the same character types. It actually makes me uncomfortable watching Bruce Willis and Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton and Bob Balaban enter that world and speak in those cadences, seeing more good actors imprison themselves in his aesthetic. At this point I get more enjoyment out of Wes Anderson satires like this or this than his own self-parodies.

e) Cloud Atlas
I haven't read the book, but I watched this with my wife, who has, so I got a bit of her running commentary on how it differed from the source material. It definitely seemed like the kind of adaptation that dropped a lot of nuances or unfilmable elements in the name of pursuing a particular visual or storytelling idea, which I always have mixed feelings about. But the whole thing of having a repertory cast of actors playing several different characters in different time periods worked out better than I expected, Hugo Weaving and Jim Broadbent in particular killed it. But in the end I don't know if the movie communicated whatever the novel's themes or concepts were that well, because I just kinda went along with it as an interesting ride without anything about it sticking with me.

Monthly Report: October 2013 Albums

Saturday, November 02, 2013

1. Lee Ranaldo And The Dust - Last Night On Earth

Ranaldo's first solo album since the maybe-permanent hiatus of Sonic Youth, last year's Between The Times And The Tides, was about what anybody could've expected, nothing more and nothing less. Which is to say that I enjoyed it, but it was a bit anticlimactic after decades of one or two Ranaldo-sung tracks per Sonic Youth album giving you an inflated impression of what it would sound like if he cut loose with an album of his own songs. So it helps that this album lets it all hang out more; it's got one fewer songs than Between, but it's a full 16 minutes longer. I was a big fan of the jammy, expansive 21st century Sonic Youth records, so it's fun to hear this band, which features Steve Shelley drums, do some glorious churning Murray Street-style jams while Ranaldo continues to refine his songwriting voice. Almost all of these albums are in my big fat 2013 albums Spotify playlist, by the way. 

2. The Dismemberment Plan - Uncanney Valley
In some ways, this album resembles Travis Morrison's much-maligned solo debut as much as any Dismemberment Plan album, which goes some of the way to explaining the muted critical response to Uncanney Valley (although, as something of a Travistan stan, that doesn't bother me too much). But it also seems like most of the negative reviews are written by people who only acknowledge Emergency & I and Change as the band's great works, which is not to say that this album sounds much of anything like the spiky, frenetic Is Terrified. But it maintains a lot of the playful spirit of the band's first two albums, and the dozen-plus live shows I saw back when I was a fanatical follower of this band that lived near Washington, D.C. And I think that might be lost on some people who associate this band with moping while listening to "The City" and "Face of the Earth" on headphones. This album doesn't sound as good as I hoped it was when I heard a lot of the songs live for the first time last year, and there's something unflattering about the mix, which puts Travis's voice seemingly further upfront than before, and doesn't flex the power of the rhythm section as much even when they're kicking some ass on here. "White Collar White Trash," my favorite of the new songs in concert, doesn't quite work here, although I still think it really nails something about northern Virginia that only people have lived in this part of the country would really get. But even the songs that sounded a little odd or off-putting at first, like "No One's Saying Nothing," are starting to gel and the album clicked with me more than ever just this week. The interesting thing about this album sounding like a Travis Morrison solo record with his vocals and goofy sense of humor way in the forefront, is that his new band The Burlies recently release a single that basically sounds like the kind of loud, jagged post-punk people kinda with the Plan were still doing, which suggests that it's not just Morrison leading the musical direction on Uncanney Valley.

3. Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt
Doing my little Pearl Jam 'box set' of the best of each drummer's era was a fun little exercise that allowed me to cherrypick from the spotty last few albums with Matt Cameron and come up with something that made me feel better about the band's gradual creative decline. The later albums are just kind of dry, even compared to earlier albums like No Code that were undeniably flawed but had this charged energy that had more to do with the band's restless, adventurous spirit than that they were the biggest band in the world for a while there. This one is pretty good, though -- doesn't entirely follow up on the promise of "Mind Your Manners," which just gets better every time I hear it, but there's nothing outright bad or boring to kill the momentum like on Backspacer or Riot Act. And "Infallible" is just awesome and unexpected, best use of Boom Gaspar on one of the studio albums since "Love Boat Captain. I'm so bummed I missed the band's show in Baltimore this week, the setlist looked amazing. 

4. Fall Out Boy - PAXAM Days EP
It's funny to hear Fall Out Boy do kind of a 'back-to-basics' hardcore EP where they run through 8 fast loud songs in 13 minutes, because while those guys probably all played a lot of this stuff in earlier bands, Fall Out Boy started out pretty much fully formed as this pretty polished band with lots of quirks and pop instincts that made them not very 'proper punk.' And instead of having Pete Wentz scream all over the songs, Patrick Stump just belts out all the vocals without holding back or trying to hide how good of a singer he actually is -- there's almost kind of a Danzig-era Misfits vibe to this stuff. Save Rock And Roll was a mixed bag for me in part because it was pretty overproduced even by Fall Out Boy standards, but instead of being an overcorrection or defensive swing in the opposite direction, this just feels like a fun, unexpected tangent from a band who doesn't really need to prove anything to punk traditionalists (and wouldn't be able to even if they tried). It was pretty weird to have Pearl Jam, The Dismemberment Plan and Fall Out Boy all drop records on the same day (and a week after half of Sonic Youth), like 20 years of my modern rock listening habits summed up in a few representative favorite bands.

5. True God - Soul Revival II
True God is a Baltimore dude from the same crew as the Speed On The Beat guy whose record I wrote about in this space a couple months ago, I don't really know their work outside these two projects but they're pretty good, and I like shooting the shit with these guys on Twitter. This isn't as stylized or noisy as Speed's stuff, a little more direct and writerly, my favorite tracks so far are "Crown The Champion" and "No Money Down." The whole thing is 70 minutes long, though, and I dunno, albums that run that long tend to wear out my patience, sometimes less is more. 

6. Pusha T - My Name Is My Name
I've always felt a pretty big disconnect between press coverage of Pusha T/Clipse's music and the actual sound of the records -- the drug trade monomania that's such a critical liability for most anyone from further south than Virginia is somehow supposed to be this exciting angle with them where Push is actually saying something interesting or clever, when it's mostly kinda rote "KEYS, GET IT!?" wordplay. Plus, there was all this hype about this not being a mainstream record angling for radio play, when 10 out of 12 tracks have guests, 9 of which are with people who objectively make it more 'radio-friendly.' I'm not even sure this is better than the last Ace Hood album, which had some of the same guests, but far fewer guests in total. "No Regrets" and "Nosestalgia" are pretty dope, though (even if the latter's title is pretty cringe-inducing and Kendrick steals the track).

7. Young Dro - High Times
Dro is a good counterexample to what I was just saying about Pusha T -- he's in roughly the same wheelhouse of wordplay heavy rap about drug dealing and materialism, but he's got a thick southern drawl and a fraction of the same kind of respect as a lyricist. Of course, I'm not suggesting there's a level playing field without other variables at work -- Young Dro's never seemed in total control of his career, his visibility fluctuating depending on whether T.I. was a free man at the time and was making the Grand Hustle roster a priority. But he recently had his biggest radio hit in a long time in "F.D.B." (and I still have no idea how Young Dro going "fuck dat bitch" became radio fodder in 2013) and released the long-awaited follow-up to the 2006 minor classic Best Thang Smokin'. This album is on E1 (formerly Koch) and feels kinda slapped together, but there are a few songs where he spazzes out, and I like how one of the magazine-style headlines on the album cover is "Is Lyrical Rap Back?" like he's really throwing down the gauntlet and identifying himself as such.

8. Nipsey Hussle - Crenshaw
I was kind of involved in a mild internet furor over the last few weeks involving this record, it was a weird experience. In August, Complex asked me to write a list of 10 "underachieving rappers" -- actually, they asked me to write a list of 20, but it was such a thorny topic that I suggested we cut it down to 10. There was a lot of back-and-forth discussion of just how to do execute the idea in a way that wasn't overly reckless or obnoxious -- these are some actual things I wrote in an e-mail: "I definitely don’t wanna go forward with this unless we absolutely know what we’re saying and what the criteria is...There’s the risk of just unjustifiably dissing the accomplishments of people who’ve actually done a lot and made some classic songs but maybe not a classic album, or on the other end picking on someone who’s perfectly good but hit a pretty low commercial peak or whatever and got kicked to the side by the industry." One of people I would say falls in the latter category that we ended up putting in the list was Nipsey Hussle -- nothing negative was said about his music in the piece, just that he had a lot of buzz for a minute, and then he kinda fell off the radar and didn't achieve what it seemed like he was going to. Fast forward a few weeks later, Nipsey makes headlines selling a new CD for $100 a pop, and when someone else from Complex asks to interview him about it, he kirks out on Twitter about how much the placement on that list pissed him off and the interview ends up being primarily about that and inspiring more thinkpieces and so on and so on. Through all this, I stayed pretty much on the periphery of the whole overblown 'controversy,' not really jumping in aside from joking about it on Twitter (oh, and one of my joking tweets wound up in a "Twitter haters" montage in a YouTube documentary about Nipsey). But I listened to the mixtape a bit, and again, I don't really have anything negative to say about his music, "4 In The Mornin'" is a jam, the whole record feels a little generic or anonymous to be at the center of a whole conversation about the monetary value or music or whatever. But hey, people are talking about him, that's an achievement I guess. 

9. Kelly Clarkson - Wrapped In Red
Is it weird if I say I think this is the sexiest album of the year? I just love the sound of Kelly Clarkson's voice and she's got a fat ass and this whole record just sounds like you're under the blankets with her in the middle of the winter. And this thing just sounds great, Greg Kurstin getting his Phil Spector on with all these lush arrangements. "Winter Dreams (Brandon's Song)" and "4 Carats" sound especially great. I don't even wanna hear a Christmas record in October at all but I listened to this one because that's when she dropped it. 

10. Katy Perry - Prism
If I'll gladly listen to anything Kelly Clarkson puts out, I'll only listen to Katy Perry under a sense of obligation -- this album will probably be spinning off giant hits for the next year or two, so I might as well get a little acquainted now. "Roar" is low key kind of a jam, if more for the production than for the song itself, and "Birthday" and "Walking On Air" and "Dark Horse" are all songs I'd be happy to hear on the radio all the time, but with my luck I will have to hear goddamn "This Is How We Do" or "International Smile" around the clock for a few months next year. 

Worst Album of the Month: Miley Cyrus - Bangerz
This album really highlights the difference between the bland, corny professionalism of a Katy Perry album and something that is genuinely, actively awful. The one tolerable song, "Adore You," is track 1, and it's all downhill from there. She's got such a weird, unnatural-sounding singing style, not as inherently annoying as Katy's, but so rarely deployed in a way that isn't awful on this album. I don't even really fuck with "Wrecking Ball," it's like the 2013 version of "Battlefield" by Jordin Sparks. And the bulk of the album is just these dickhead anthems to soundtrack the "Entourage" movie or something. "Love Money Party," "SMS (Bangerz)," what the fucking fuck are these songs.