Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wrote a blurb about Raindeer's Microshow for the Mobtown Studios site.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Last Friday, Baltimore rapper Smash a.k.a. T-Mac passed away, very unexpectedly and at a very young age (the same age as me, in fact), of heart failure. I managed to get together a brief piece about Smash over the weekend in time to run in this week's Baltimore City Paper. I never knew Smash, in fact he may've been the most popular rapper in the city I've never interviewed or anything, and I feel bad that I didn't totally get his music at first and didn't write too much about him after I did start to appreciate him more. But R.I.P., by all accounts he was a good, humble dude.

Also in this week's issue, I wrote a Rap Sheet column and The Short List.

(photo by Kelly Connelly)

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 3: Madonna

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I started this series, somewhat unambitiously, with Brandy, before moving on to a much bigger star with a longer career who, ultimately, also only had 6 albums, Whitney Houston. But it feels like a big jump to go to Madonna, who, despite having paralleled Whitney's career chronologically with a comparable level of superstardom, has been far more prolific: 12 albums, three soundtracks, just a dizzying amount of music to try to process. Add in the fact that I could only fit 15 songs into my (self-imposed) 80-minute cap, because her songs often run on the long side for a pop artist, and I could only feature more than one song from a couple of her more consistent and highly regarded albums, Like A Prayer and Erotica. So there will almost definitely be another one of these for Madonna at some point, after I've absorbed her catalog some more. I probably could've taken some time with this one, but I'm working on my ballot for a Madonna tracks poll this week, and it was fun to give myself a crash course to dig deeper than just the hits.

Here it is as a Spotify playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 3: Madonna

1. Till Death Do Us Part
2. White Heat
3. Physical Attraction
4. Shoo-Bee-Doo
5. Can't Stop
6. Don't Stop
7. Waiting
8. Easy Ride
9. Gang Bang
10. Forbidden Love
11. Love Song featuring Prince
12. Thief Of Hearts
13. She's Not Me
14. Sky Fits Heaven
15. Nobody's Perfect

Track 3 from Madonna (1983)
Track 4 from Like A Virgin (1984)
Track 2 from True Blue (1986)
Track 5 from Who's That Girl: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1987)
Tracks 1 and 11 from Like A Prayer (1989)
Tracks 7 and 12 from Erotica (1992)
Track 6 from Bedtime Stories (1994)
Track 14 from Ray of Light (1998)
Track 15 from Music (2000)
Track 8 from American Life (2003)
Track 10 from Confessions On The Dance Floor (2005)
Track 13 from Hard Candy (2008)
Track 9 from MDNA (2012)

I structured this a bit like the Whitney playlist, starting with the '80s stuff, then moving into the '90s and '00s eras, and then jumping back a little bit. But with more albums to choose from, it also inevitably got a little more mixed up, in a way that felt intuitive and right to me. I definitely love her buoyant '80s pop period best, but there's a lot to love in the darker '90s. And I was surprised as how listenable her 2000s output turned out to be, given how scattershot and rarely great the singles have been. In fact, I've kind of come away from her later albums with impressions that are almost perfect opposites of the conventional wisdom. The acclaimed comeback albums Ray of Light and Confessions On The Dance Floor come off a little too bland and tasteful for me, while I love the skronky awkwardness of the Mirwais albums. Even last year's MDNA surprised me a bit, given how DOA its singles were. Hard Candy, the too-late attempt to catch the Timbaland/Neptunes wave, is a bit sad, but some of the Pharrell jams work.

But really, of course, it was the first decade or so of her career that was pretty incredible. Those albums that had four or five gigantic singles still had deep cuts that could've been hits. "Till Death Do Us Part" is a big standout, in part for being her most confessional account of being abused by that shitheel Sean Penn, but also just an amazing song. "Can't Stop," the only Madonna song on the Who's That Girl soundtrack that wasn't a single, totally should have been (although I'm Breathless obviously doesn't have anything that can compete with "Vogue"). While Madge's infamous image reboots have helped define her career and cement her savvy as a businesswoman, her shifts in vocal styles and in production styles and collaborators has been a lot more unpredictable and difficult to pin down -- some choices are strange in that way that, really, confirms her auteur status. Not that, say, Erotica or American Life were deliberate attempts to alienate her audience in the style of '80s Neil Young or anything. But for the world's most popular populist pop star, she's lead her fanbase where she pleases much more than she's chased it wherever else it might be headed.

Movie Diary

Thursday, February 21, 2013

a) Sound City
I saw this was available on the iTunes store, and since I'd gotten a gift card for Christmas and had been indecisive for weeks about what album to spend it on, I made an impulse buy and just got this. It's a fun movie, feels like it's very much evangelizing to someone unlike me who might need some convincing about the value of old-fashioned recording studios and consoles, but it was still a pretty enjoyable and convincing infomercial for those things. I liked the historical stuff about Sound City best, particularly how that was the place where the blockbuster lineup of Fleetwood Mac came together, and the stuff at the end with Dave Grohl and his all-star buddies recording the soundtrack was more entertaining than I expected it to be.

b) The ABCs of Death
So recently my son pushed some buttons on our cable box while the TV was off, and later I turned it on and realized that somehow he had managed to purchase a movie from our OnDemand menu for $9.99. Instead of getting mad, or trying to get it refunded, though, I decided to just go with the flow and see if the movie he ordered was any good. And it was! Basically it's a horror anthology movie in which 26 filmmakers each make a short film in which the cause of death starts with a different letter of the alphabet. It's a silly conceit, obviously, and there are a few worthless or exhaustingly wacky segments, but there are also several really awesome or memorable ones -- the very first, A, was hard to top, though. Just some great staging and effects, and a nice little twist ending.

c) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I haven't read The Hobbit since I was a kid, so I'm not a big diehard Tolkien fan, but I loved the Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies and I loved this. Let 'em stretch it out to as many movies as they want, do an hour of just dwarves washing dishes, fuck it. Andy Serkis as Gollum is one of my favorite feats of acting and special effects ever, and it was great to see one more amazing scene of that, and Ian McKellan alone was worth the price of admission. Didn't see it in 3D or the special frame rate or anything, but it looked pretty great.

d) Skyfall
I am similarly uncritical of this -- obviously not as solid as Casino Royale, and there were some silly plot points that wouldn't hold up to any degree of scrutiny, but some really well staged, entertaining sequences and I was impressed that Javier Bardem could come up with a classic creepy villain without being Anton Chigurh 2.

e) The Five-Year Engagement
Jason Segal and Emily Blunt are pretty much two of my favorite, most would-kick-it-with type people making movies today, so this was like my dream rom com. At least on paper, but also to some extent in practice (although Blunt's character could've been more fleshed out or sympathetic -- or really she should've just reprised her character from The Adjustment Bureau). It was overlong, as these friends-of-Apatow comedies all are, but it felt a little more earned here, if for no other reason than that the dragging on of years was kinda the point of the movie. I also maybe identified with it a little too much, since my wife and I were also together for 6 long years before getting married (although it was the inverse of this, 5 years of pre-engagement and a one year engagement). The middle parts kind of really bummed me out, but the ending was nice. Alison Brie's British accent is pretty ridiculous, though, they really should've just made her Emily Blunt's friend instead of her sister when they cast an American for the role.

f) 21 Jump Street
The whole genre of silly/satirical movie adaptations of old TV shows is easy to dismiss, but there really are some great ones, especially the Addams Family flicks, and this deserves to be mentioned among the best of those. I think I've even come out on the other side of being really sick of Jonah Hill and kind of like him more now than I did to begin with? Weird.

g) The Trouble With Bliss
Like 21 Jump Street, this movie features Brie Larson as a high school girl in an inappropriate relationship with an adult. Beyond that, it was just abject garbage. The main character's last name is Bliss, that's all you need to know about how hacky it is. Also there is something about Michael C. Hall, I pretty much just hate his face, although I don't think it's at all rational or reflects on him in any meaningful way.

h) Chronicle
This movie was pretty cool to some extent, didn't do the 'found footage' thing as well as Cloverfield, but took a similar arc, except by the end it got quite a bit darker, which was implied by the trailer but still surprised me just how dark it got. The fact that the characters weren't quite well drawn enough for me to really care about them but still went through enough stuff to make me feel really bummed out will probably keep me from ever watching this again, but there were some cool scenes, some smart to decisions about how to unspool the story and keep ramping up the stakes.

i) We Bought A Zoo
I feel like I say this almost every time I see a 'based on a true story' movie, but I feel like the actual story would be a lot more interesting, if I read the book or if there had been a documentary or something, than what they changed to make it supposedly a more palatable or entertaining movie. It was still kind of charming and amiable and not as goofy as it could've been, but nothing great.

j) New Year's Eve
I watched this on December 31st and livetweeted how stupid it was for a laugh, but I generally am not really against these big ridiculous Voltron rom coms that throw a billion famous attractive people into overlapping boilerplate meet cute situations. The Valentine's Day one was better, though, by that humble metric.

k) Tower Heist
Was this funny? I can't even remember now. I guess that means "no."

l) The Ides of March
I didn't have high hopes for this at all but it was really pretty good. Not especially novel or nuanced as a political film or a thriller but the way the story unraveled was really well done, took some nice twists and turns and didn't overdo the ending.

m) The Hangover Part II
I would ask who the hell enjoyed this and is looking forward to a third one, but apparently the answer is an insane manifesto-writing ex-cop on a murderous rampage.

n) Blitz
I watched this because it was an action movie starring Jason Statham and you really don't need any reason other than that, and wow it was pretty intense. Just really over the top and gruesome. But otherwise not really notable in any way.

o) Absentia
My wife was watching this low budget horror flick, which had a pretty cool novel concept, and a good dark ending. It apparently won awards at a bunch of horror film festivals, too. But I had a hard time paying much attention to it because the acting was really pretty bad, especially the detective guy. Major studios should start remaking domestic horror movies that had good ideas but poor production values the same way they remake foreign horror flicks.

p) Tanner Hall
Wow look, a THIRD movie in this list in which Brie Larson plays a high school girl in an inappropriate relationship with an adult. This movie was overall not bad, good early starring role for Rooney Mara, but there were parts of it, like the Chris Kattan/Brie Larson subplot, that felt like they belonged in a different movie, the tone was a little all over the place.

q) Tiny Furniture
I tried to watch a little of this movie once before "Girls" debuted, and couldn't stand it. After watching the first season of "Girls" and finding it enjoyable, if flawed, I went back and tried with this again, and it was still pretty terrible. It's like talky white people indie movies haven't changed a bit since the Eric Stoltz era.

r) Father of Invention
I always want Kevin Spacey to come back with someone that hones in on his comedic talents, but this ain't it. Really crappy almost straight-to-video ish.

s) Paper Man
Weird terrible indie movie where a good cast is pretty much wasted on a ridiculous story where Jeff Daniels is a frustrated novelist and Ryan Reynolds is his imaginary superhero friend and Lisa Kudrow is his shrewish wife and Emma Stone is his precocious teenage friend. I mean, seriously, how stupid does that sound?

t) The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
I feel like this being Neal Brennan's directorial debut is a good argument against any theories that he was the secret genius of "Chappelle's Show," but anyway it's not bad, just kind of a cookie cutter off-brand Ferrell/McKay production. I kinda wish Jeremy Piven got decent roles that weren't Ari typecasting, but this ain't really it. A few funny scenes, though.

u) Cherry Crush
Cheesy thriller, waste of time.

v) Descendents
Ten years ago, my wife and I spent our first Valentine's Day together, snowed in and watching horror movies and eating Chinese food. And so ordering Chinese and watching scary movies has been our tradition ever since. One of the movies we picked out this year was a Chilean zombie movie, which was kinda cool and had some creative plot touches

w) The Singing Detective
Weird movie made right before Robert Downey Jr.'s career started to make its big upward climb and Mel Gibson's started to make its big crash. Downey is a writer who fantasizes about being in one of his own mystery novels while crippled by psoriatic arthritis in the hospital, but the thing is a surprisingly large amount of the movie takes place in reality in the hospital, with Downey looking really grisly, and the whole thing gets to be a little overwhelming and odd and not really as jaunty or fun as the title makes it sound.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In this week's Baltimore City Paper I wrote a feature about Feast of the Epiphany's Nick Podgurski (also formerly of Yukon, Extra Life, The Art Department, etc.). I've long been a fan of his and it was good to sit down and talk to him, really a talented, interesting guy. Tons of his music is available on the site of his label New Firmament.

I also wrote The Short List of concert listings in this week's issue, as usual.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
My brother Zac's website Powet does a podcast, and for the last year or two the opening theme music of the podcast has been an instrumental version of the song that my band Western Blot released as a single recently. But I recently made my first real appearance as a guest on the 150th episode of the podcast, where I was one of several people to answer Zac's 'last meal'-themed questionnaire (about what I would want to be my last meal before I die, or the last movie I watch, last song I listen to, etc.). It was fun!

Monthly Report: December 2012 Albums

Sunday, February 17, 2013

1. Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox
One thing I always try to do every year is keep my ears open to any good December releases that could storm my year-end list at the last moment -- in recent years Diddy-Dirty Money and Fall Out Boy dropped all-time favorites that I was happy to be among the few to put on my Pazz & Jop ballot. Bruno's latest didn't quite get on my top 10, but "Locked Out Of Heaven" did, and in general this project just turned around my perception of this guy as someone I grudgingly respect for his often poorly applied talent to a flawed and inconsistent but still kind of essential pop artist of the moment.

2. Wei Zhongle - Live On WDBX
In January I saw this really strange, wonderful band called Wei Zhongle from Carbondale, Illinois play a show in Baltimore -- two clarinets, a guitar, bass, and drums, really odd vocals and song structures. When I got back from the show I looked them up online and saw that their Bandcamp page had a live radio session, or more or less the same set I saw in Baltimore, that they had recorded in Illinois less than a month earlier. Really strange, great stuff.

3. Wiz Khalifa - O.N.I.F.C.
I've never had much investment in Wiz Khalifa -- "Black & Yellow" is undeniable, but otherwise who gives a shit -- so the prevalent idea among a lot of hip-hop fans that his pothead rap is so much more boring now because he says the names of some designers now is kinda funny. But really this was one of the best-sounding rap albums of the past year on a production tip, and the rapping doesn't keep up its end of the deal but it also doesn't get in the way as much as I thought it would. "Fall Asleep," which was produced by Oak & Pop (also of the Elle Varner and Miguel albums), sounds especially incredible, as does "No Limit," but the whole thing works pretty well. If this is the ear Wiz is lending to exec produce the Juicy J album, that could turn out pretty awesome.

4. Chief Keef - Finally Rich
I'm kinda glad I'm catching up on December's releases now, so that I can look back on this album with a little bit of hindsight after a lot of the hysteria has died down. To me, Finally Rich is not remotely as good as its champions say it is, and not remotely as bad as its detractors say it is. Keef is an almost shockingly clumsy  and inarticulate rapper even for someone of his age who just barely graduated out of the mixtape world, and will probably never graduate from anything else ever -- the vocals on "Hallelujah" and "No Tomorrow" and "Kay Kay" and several other songs wobble so unnervingly on and off beat that they're almost unlistenable to me. The album gets praised a lot for retaining the mixtape aesthetic that many major label debuts sand the edges off of, but I'm not sure that's such a triumph here, he probably could've used more polishing. The album has its moments -- "Diamonds" is a jam, "I Don't Like" has aged well. But I'm kinda glad his singles are sinking off the charts and his career has probably already peaked, this guy isn't really worth the opportunities he got. If I want an album with drab rapping and exciting production, I'll put on that Wiz record.

5. T.I. - Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head
I appreciate that he switched up the title so that it wasn't the same thing as the Marvin joint, but oof, that subtitle. Almost as much of a trade down as from King Uncaged to No Mercy. Album ain't too hot either, which is a shame because Tip can still rap and gets some good beats, but he's still rolling with the Paper Trail crossover formula too much of the time and his moment for doing that his over, he should've at least tried to catch the wave of what's happening in Atlanta at the moment (like, how is this the one major label album of the past year without Future or 2 Chainz on it?). "Who Want Some" is pretty sick, though.

6. Green Day - ¡Tré!
The whole debacle with Green Day's triple album release was pretty hilarious, mainly because they've been so much more successful than they deserve to be for so long that even if they have their moments, I was happy to see a big public failure. One of the most puzzling aspects of the Billie Joe rehab fallout, though, was that the third album that they were set to release in January was then pushed up to December. It's not only the best of the three albums by some distance, but it would've been smart to, y'know, leave a release for 2013 for when they're eventually gonna tour for all these records. Radio hasn't even played anything but two singles from the first album, haven't touched anything from the last two yet.

7. Blink 182 - Dogs Eating Dogs EP
This is better than Neighborhoods, no doubt, but not by such a margin that these guys should act too proud of themselves for finding the magic again. Nice that they were at least able to admit the first reunion attempt didn't quite take, though. "Pretty Little Girl" is kinda dope but then that title and Delonge's voice are just so so gross and then the Yelawolf verse happens and I dunno.

8. Dawn Richard - Whiteout EP
It's funny to write about this now that Dawn's album Goldenheart is out, because the album is amazing and this EP was just a little teaser a month beforehand, that wasn't even as substantial as the other EP she released earlier in 2012. It's all good and within Dawn's aesthetic, but there's nothing really amazing here that I can say should've been on the album, besides maybe "Miles."

9. Big Boi - Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors
Big Boi is a great rapper and deserves better than the Andre 3000 sidekick status he gets saddled with by so many people, but sadly he spent like a decade of his best years waiting for Andre to want to rap with him again (I did a count recently and I believe the two of them have rapped on the same song a total of 9 or so times since Stankonia 12+ years ago). When he finally moved on, Sir Lucious Left Foot was a fine record, but at that point just holding down that Dungeon Fam sound almost counted as a retro move, and on this record he just sounds adrift grabbing any hook and wacky collaborator that comes his way (what the fuck is a Phantogram?) and not even rapping that much. It has its moments, though, Big Boi is still Big Boi.

10. My Dick - My Dick's Double Full-Length Release
This ridiculous Bandcamp curio has gotten some buzz online. I don't know if I will ever listen to the whole thing twice, but I have to admit that the one joke behind the whole thing does take on this whole new dimension as they implement that joke in increasingly surreal and unexpected ways over the course of the album. "Dancing In My Dick" is especially great.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I reviewed the new record by Transantics, a project by my homie Andy Shankman (also of Jumpcuts as well as my band Western Blot), for the Mobtown Studios site.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Brian Ennals released a new single, "When You Wake Up," on Valentine's Day, and I posted it on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013
In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I have a BPM dance music column with news about DJ Angelbaby, DJ Pierre and Schwarz, as well as the Short List concert listing.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 2: Whitney Houston

Sunday, February 10, 2013

When I was working on the first entry in this series, about Brandy, I was reminded of the fact that her latest album, Two Eleven, was named for the date of both her birthday and Whitney Houston's death in 2012, and that February 11th was right around the corner. So it seemed pretty natural what artist to feature here next. In fact, Whitney might be the perfect person for this kind of exercise: she was one of the biggest stars in the history of pop music, most of her albums sold in just staggering numbers, but hit singles were her true currency. You could easily tell the whole story of her career purely through chart hits, and videos, and movies, without every talking about her albums as albums, as collections of songs, many of which were not hits (relatively few, though -- only three songs from her self-titled debut were not charting A-sides). Plus, of course, she was a brilliant singer, but not a songwriter, so she didn't even get the kind of auteur status afforded to Michael or Madonna. But there's gotta be some joints, right? And there are.

Here is the mix as a Spotify playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 2: Whitney Houston

1. Who Do You Love
2. Just The Lonely Talking Again
3. Take Good Care of My Heart featuring Jermaine Jackson
4. If I Told You That
5. For The Lovers
6. Things You Say
7. In My Business featuring Missy Elliott
8. Love Is A Contact Sport
9. Someone For Me
10. Lover For Life
11. Worth It
12. My Love featuring Bobby Brown
13. Anymore
14. For The Love of You
15. I Bow Out
16. Tell Me No
17. Jesus Loves Me

Tracks 3 and 9 from Whitney Houston (1985)
Tracks 2, 8 and 14 from Whitney (1987)
Tracks 1, 10 and 13 from I'm Your Baby Tonight (1990)
Track 17 from The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album (1992)
Tracks 4, 7 and 15 from My Love Is Your Love (1998)
Tracks 6, 12 and 16 from Just Whitney (2002)
Tracks 5 and 11 from I Look To You (2009)

Whitney only made six solo albums in her whole career, mainly because she spent the bulk of the '90s starring in movies and scoring hits off their soundtracks. There aren't really any Whitney cuts from Waiting To Exhale and The Preacher's Wife that weren't singles, and only one from The Bodyguard. So I only included that one soundtrack song, "Jesus Loves Me," which I chose to close this compilation before I read that Whitney sang the song with Kelly Price in her final live performance, two days before her death.

That '90s soundtrack era effectively bifurcates Whitney's discography into two distinct sections: those first 3 albums, when she was this unstoppable pop juggernaut with an incredible voice, and the 3 later albums, where her tabloid life began to overshadow the music and both her voice and her hitmaking acumen began to lose their luster. You could also call those two time periods the pre-Bobby Brown era and the post-Bobby Brown era. The sound of R&B and pop music really changed in between, too, so it was a little hard to reconcile those differences in the mix, since I'm averse to doing these in chronological order and would rather find some kind of intuitive way to sequence the songs. Still, I ended up kinda blocking chunks of the mix into rough pre- and post-Bobby chunks. And I should add, I was pleasantly surprised that they had a later duet that was much better than "Something In Common."

I always resent the assumption that albums driven by hits, or the desire to have hits, are saddled with "filler." Making a cohesive album experience might not be the #1 priority, but I think it's pretty rare that anyone sets out to pad out half of an album with deliberately 2nd-tier material. More often, I think, things just kind of shake out how they shake out -- some songs becomes singles and others don't, some singles do great and others don't. The opening track on this playlist, "Who Do You Love," was written by Luther Vandross at the peak of his powers, and would've been a sure bet for a hit when I'm Your Baby Tonight was first released. Instead, most of that album's singles were the songs written by then on-the-rise Babyface and L.A. Reid.

It's funny to go back through such a commercially unimpeachable career and pick out songs like "hey, maybe this shoulda been a single," as if Whitney could've used more #1s or needed to do anything differently at her peak. But there are great songs here that deserve a listen. "Just The Lonely Talking Again" is some truly sublime Burt Bacharach-style pop balladry. Both of the Jermaine Jackson duets on Whitney Houston are so good that they have me reconsidering Jermaine's whole career, but especially "Take Good Care of My Heart." On the later albums, when Whitney's voice lost its buoyant spirit and jaw-dropping range, it's a little harder to sift out highlights, but they're there -- "If I Told You That" is a solid song despite Rodney Jerkins pretty shamelessly recycling "The Boy Is Mine." There is some cheese here, though -- "Love Is A Contact Sport" is probably the one song I left in more as a campy failure of interest than as a song or performance I respect. Still, as we come up on the anniversary of Whitney's death on Monday, I think it's worthwhile to look at her catalog in its entirety, not just the hits.

Friday, February 08, 2013

This week XXL Magazine's site posted a list of "10 Baltimore rappers you need to know," which included some acts that are pretty well known in and/or outside the city, and some that aren't, like the group StarVation. I wrote a piece on the City Paper's Noise blog in response to both the list, and a lot of the outrage that's been surrounding it online.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Last year, I interviewed Baltimore-based artist and producer King Midas for the first issue of a new publication, UR City Magazine. That was a while back, though, and I didn't realize that it finally came out as the cover story of the January 2013 issue (you can tell the interview was done a while ago, because I refer to how "humid" it was that day). Anyway, it was a good opportunity to meet and write about King Midas, who is a super talented guy who's been putting out a lot of great music for a minute, glad it's finally out there. My name wasn't on the article when it was initially posted online (don't know about the print edition) but they said they were going to fix that.

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

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

So out of nowhere on Monday, Fall Out Boy released a new single and announced an album after years of inactivity. I wrote a blog post for the Spin Magazine site about "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light 'Em Up)" and a few songs came to mind listening to it.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Wrote a blurb about the new Baltimore band Leaf House's Microshow for the Mobtown Studios site.

Monthly Report: December 2012 Singles

Sunday, February 03, 2013

1. Passion Pit - "Take A Walk"
All the sad indie disco twee synth pop songs taking over commercial rock radio in the last couple years have started to blend together, to the point that I only realized recently that half the songs I thought I hated Passion Pit because of were actually by The Naked And Famous. This song was what made me reevaluate my opinion, though, because it's pretty undeniable. Its narrative feels a little cheesy and vaguely anglophile, like one of those Ted Leo songs where he's trying to write a Billy Bragg song. But it's rare to hear an indie pop song, or any song on the radio, that speaks to experiences like having a family and despairing about the struggle to provide for them, so it hits me pretty hard. If I'd come around on this song earlier it'd be pretty high on my list of favorite rock/alternative radio hits of 2012.

2. Miguel - "Do You..."
So Kaleidoscope Dream was my #1 album of the year and "Adorn" was obviously monumental and all that, but I've been watching with interest how the rest of the project fares on the radio, particularly since Miguel seems to emphasize "Do You..." and "The Thrill" as favorites that he thinks could bring new sounds to the airwaves (y'know, as if "Adorn" was totally commonplace radio fare to begin with). "Do You..." has been in that unusual position of following up a song so big that it actually won't get out of the way and let it have its own moment -- "Adorn" has now become the longest lasting #1 in R&B radio history (though it doesn't hold an official record because of those pesky new Billboard rules). Meanwhile "Do You..." has risen no further than #24 on the airplay chart, despite being an amazing song in its own right. I've already heard a local station play one of the album's more overtly radio-friendly songs, "How Many Drinks," a couple times, so I wouldn't be surprised if Miguel's label just moves on and starts working that as the song they try to replace "Adorn" on playlists once that song finally dies down.

3. Future f/ Kelly Rowland - "Neva End (Remix)"
Another song I love from an album I love that has already kind of stalled on the charts though it deserves better. In general the star-studded remixes of Future's singles have been unnecessary but this one really worked, partly because as a follow-up to "Turn On The Lights" it would be too similar in its original incarnation, and partly because Kelly Ro just has a great voice and genuinely adds something to the song.

4. OneRepublic - "Feel Again"
Ryan Tedder is the kind of pop hack I love to hate, and out of all the hits he produced in the past I can only name a couple I've liked at all (Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love" and Beyonce's "Halo"). So it was a nice surprise when his band/star vehicle actually turned out something I really like. It still has some pretty head-shaking lyrics ("it's like a million dollar phone that you just can't ring"????) but I love the hook and the overall sound of it, nice pop radio jam that deserved to be as big as OneRepublic's other hits but kinda came and went.

5. Mykko Montana f/ K-Camp - "Do It"
This song was steady bubbling under as a minor national hit all through 2012, but I didn't really come to love it until recently, partly because I got to revisit it for The Singles Jukebox and the Remix Report Card. I'M BUMPIN' THAT JOHNNY GILL!

6. Metric - "Breathing Underwater"
Journeyman Canadian alt-rockers on their 4th minor U.S. radio hit that appears to be on the way to becoming a major one. This song kind of comes off like a blander version of The Joy Formidable, but it's got a pretty huge hook.

7. Big Wreck - "Albatross"
Another Canadian band far more successful at home than in the U.S. -- I liked their song "The Oaf" that was on 120 Minutes a couple times in 1997 and then they seemed to disappear, so it was weird to suddenly hear a new song from them on the radio in Baltimore, which was apparently a big hit in Canada a year ago and never charted in America. Maybe it's catching on here, maybe it's just a fluke thing that 98 Rock picked up.

8. Brandy - "Wildest Dreams"
In all the talk of deep Brandy album cuts, it's worth pointing out that her last single was really good, but of course it went nowhere because Chris Brown wasn't on it. One of those rare situations in modern R&B where the song and the melody are way way outclassing the production, could've used a more appealing beat but I kinda like how low key its charms are.

9. Ciara - "Got Me Good"
Ciara's only been around half as long as Brandy, but it feels like she's in a similar mid-career drift, throwing songs out there and occasionally something happening but usually not. I'm OK with that, since she's not especially talented and hasn't made much of any note since the classic "Promise," but I generally still like her uptempo clubby tracks, and this one is nice. The version she did with horns on the VH1 Divas concert a while back sounded really good.

10. Anna Kendrick - "Cups"
This whole viral thing from the movie Pitch Perfect is pretty weird, haven't seen the movie. But I like the idea of there being this surprise sleeper hit that's only like 80 seconds long, interested to see how big it gets. Also I've always liked Kendrick and it was really charming when she performed this during her Letterman interview.

Friday, February 01, 2013

I posted on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog about Ron Rico's new song "Black History."