Movie Diary

Thursday, January 30, 2014

a) Despicable Me 2
The first Despicable Me was a big hit in my household -- my son's 4th birthday party was minion-themed and his mom made minion cupcakes (with Twinkies on top of the cupcakes). But it's also one of those recent non-Pixar digitally animated movies that I thought was genuinely funny and had a lot of replay value. So I was pleased, when James got it for Christmas and wanted to watch it 20 times in the following week, that the sequel was just as good as the original, possibly funnier. Kristen Wiig's character was a good addition. They could make like 5 of these movies for all I care.

b) Admission
These days it seems like who stars in a comedy is more important than the actual quality of the movie, and I'm culpable too, if you put someone I like, like Tina Fey or Paul Rudd, in a movie, I'll see it and probably enjoy it. Both of 'em? Forget about it! This was pretty drab, though, and I say that as a Date Night apologist.

c) Promised Land
I had low expectations for Gus Van Sant directing a film from a story by Dave Eggers about fracking, but this turned out pretty good. The way they kinda kept you focused on the Matt Damon character, and made you kinda set aside your feelings for the topic while you figured out what was going on, was really effective, and set up a good twist towards the end.

d) Killing Them Softly
I liked how this movie told a pretty simple story in a fairly un-Hollywood way, spending lots of time on different characters' perspectives even when that meant less and less screentime for Brad Pitt and more and more screentime for some actors I've never even seen before plus some nice supporting turns by Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini. By the end, though, I was like, well, that was a lot of gorey, stylish nothing.

e) The Words
I like to just put movies on in the background sometimes when I'm writing, and the more writing needs to be done, the less distracting the movie should be, ideally. And one day I got a lot of stuff done with The Words was on. Boring-ass movies starring boring-ass Bradley Cooper are really helpful to have around sometimes. It's really funny how this movie about a guy who plagiarized a best-selling book was apparently plagiarized from some Swiss novelist, though, that's more interesting that anything in the actual movie.

f) Fun Size
A Nickelodeon movie about trick-or-treating that, by virtue of its PG-13 rating, was free to actually be pretty funny. Jane Levy from "Suburgatory" in particular killed it, but unfortunately she was the best friend character and the lead, Victoria Justice, is just kind of devoid of charisma and totally unable to pull off her character as written.

g) Seven Psychopaths
I thought it was a little weird that Martin McDonagh is this revered, award-winning Irish playwright with all these really ambitious-sounding plays and then his first movie, In Bruges, was a flimsy little black comedy about hitmen, seemed like how Cormac McCarthy went into movies with The Counselor. And then McDonagh's second movie, Seven Psychopaths, seems even more loaded up with post-Pulp Fiction black comedy meta pop culture bullshit. As those kinds of movies go, this was actually pretty decent, carried by guys like Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell being as entertaining as ever. I just wonder how people can do movies like this without realizing how intrinsically played out and hacky they've become.

h) Celeste & Jesse Forever
This reminded me of another movie I saw recently, Save The Date, in that it was a little-seen romantic dramedy starring a lot of familiar faces from TV comedy, in this case Rashida Jones, who also co-wrote the movie, and Andy Samberg. A little less likable and successful overall, though, Samberg as a semi-serious romantic lead worked better than I expected. But it still took a lot of good ideas and a strong premise and seemed to just slowly let the air out of them until the movie ended with a shrug.

i) The Apparition
Pretty weak horror flick, I've already forgotten almost everything about it.

j) The Amazing Spider-Man
More and more, I don't even feel like Sam Raimi's Spidey movies were even that good, just good for what they were. And yet this seems to exist to make it seem better and better -- Emma Stone really the only upgrade, but everything else? Denis Leary? The fuck?

k) Your Sister's Sister
I am at the point where I will watch pretty much anything Emily Blunt is in, not just because she's a babe and a good actress, which she is, but because her taste is compatible with mine and she seems to pick movies I enjoy

l) Damsels In Distress
I started watching this on cable for a few minutes before I even realized it was Whit Stillman's first movie in 13 years, although up to that point it already seemed like an uncommonly verbose campus comedy. Like what I've seen of his other movies, it has some really great dialogue but doesn't necessarily hold together that well as a whole, but I enjoyed it. Also, nice small role for Dukey from "The Wire"!

m) American Reunion
Had no particular affection for these movies to begin with, but it was mildly nice to see them all together, a little puffier but pretty much looking good, even Tara Reid! And anything would be less depressing than Eugene Levy doing all those straight-to-DVD spinoff movies.

n) Gone
This is a little neo noir flick where Amanda Seyfried is a girl who'd been abducted and then has to search for her sister who she thinks was taken by the same guy. It was a little weird to watch after recently revisiting the first season of "Veronica Mars," like 'Woah, in this Lilly Kane is the one solving the mystery?' But she carried it really well.

o) No Strings Attached
In the great romantic comedy Armageddon/Deep Impact showdown of 2011, I firmly backed the Will Gluck-directed Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis joint, Friends With Benefits. But now that I've finally seen its Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman counterpart, I dunno, I can see both sides of the competition being arguable winners (although it's pretty funny that they were both originally called Friends With Benefits and then the one not starring a member of N Sync changed to No Strings Attached). This one was written by the creator of "New Girl," Elizabeth Meriwether, and it had a similar tone, which worked well, and there were a lot of funny supporting players, including "New Girl"'s Jake Johnson, even Natalie Portman was more game as a rom com lead than I expected. Still it was a little too brooding and flat in parts, Friends was more fun overall.

p) Musical Chairs
A pretty charming indie flick by Susan Seidelman of Desperately Seeking Susan fame about a dance class for people confined to wheelchairs, although the storytelling and the way the main romantic plot unfurled kinda didn't work, in the end it felt a little weak.

q) I'm Still Here
The Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary about his hoax rap career or whatever. I watched half of this and it was about as pitiful and unfunny as I expected, but maybe actually worse, it barely even functioned as satire or anything.

r) Kill Katie Malone
A decent ghost movie, a few cool gorey scenes but for the most part nothing special.

s) Scoop
I haven't seen the last couple yet, but this might be the most tolerable Woody Allen movie of the last ten years? Not that it's great, but it's kind of deliberately lightweight and loopy, whereas almost all of the others are just absolute failures on some fundamental level.

t) Blade Runner
Would you believe I just watched this for the first time the other night? I remember someone in my family getting the 25th anniversary DVD a few years ago, but even then I never actually sat down and watched it, even though I rightly assumed that it's great and influenced a lot of things I love about contemporary sci-fi. And a few nights ago, when I was up literally the entire night writing on deadline, and this came on TV at 4am, that seemed like a good way to experience it for the first time. Not that I totally paid close attention or even stayed awake for all of it, but it was a nice introduction, I'm sure I'll still watch it for real for real sometime.

u) Sunset Boulevard
Another amazing movie that, as a Billy Wilder fan, I've always wanted to see and knew I'd enjoy, but just hadn't gotten around to it until recently, and I also don't think the first viewing quite did the trick and I plan on revisiting it many times in the future. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
This week's Short List.

Monthly Report: December 2013 Albums

Sunday, January 26, 2014

1. BeyoncĂ© - BeyoncĂ©

I was happy that I did my 2013 albums list late enough that I could include this, but the 2 weeks I'd had to listen to it at that point were only enough to know that it was great, not necessarily think about it too much. This album is fucking nuts, though, the way she dropped it out of the sky with videos for every song made it feel more special but it's great outside that context. And I'm glad I listened to just the songs for a while before getting the CD/DVD for my birthday and was able to take in the 'visual album,' which is takes parts of the album to another level. But really it's just kind of fascinating to watch one of the biggest sex symbols of her generation, someone who's co-written the bulk of a pretty interesting and idiosyncratic catalog but still gets characterized as a dull perfectionist, write songs about beauty and perfection and feminism that are as smart and complex as "***Flawless" or "Pretty Hurts," is pretty awesome. Even the overtly sexual songs like "Rocket" and "Partition" have these other themes creeping up on the periphery, in addition to whatever defiance might inherently exist in embracing your sexuality after getting married and having a kid. Even the musical raw materials, which might've been boring or commonplace when first assembled by Timbaland or Ryan Tedder or this Boots guy, seem to be elevated by her vision and her voice, tied together into something bigger and more ambitious. I may be less enthused about some tracks like "Superpower" and "Mine," and I'm already getting sick of hearing "Drunk In Love" on the radio, but this album still holds up together remarkably well as a 70-minute experience.

2. E-40 - The Block Brochure: Welcome To The Soil (Parts 4, 5 & 6)
For the fourth year in a row, E-40 has released two or three albums simultaneously, bringing his output so far this decade to ten albums. Maybe someday I'll have some perspective and can say whether there's a big gap in quality between any of the albums or what the best songs are, but as is I just feel like I have to tap into all these hours and hours of slaps and enjoy it for what it is. This trio doesn't feel as immediate or impressive on a production tip as the 2012 albums, or at least it doesn't have any really obvious "Function"-level standouts, but I'm still enjoying it, "When You Gone Let Me" and "Mister T" are dope.

3. Sevyn Streeter - Call Me Crazy, But... EP
R&B sales have been pretty terrible for a while, especially for new artists (Frank Ocean is the only new artist to go gold the last few years, not even Miguel managed to). But it's still depressing that seemingly every newish R&B artist who's has a breakthrough radio hit in the past few months has only gotten to release an EP, with a full-length album somewhere on the distant horizon (August Alsina, Rico Love, Jhene Aiko, Ty Dolla $ign). Sevyn Streeter is the most aggravating case for me because they didn't even put her great first hit, "I Like It," on the EP, just the Chris Brown version of "It Won't Stop," and the 6 new songs on here are evidence that she could probably make an awesome album right now. The hook to "Call Me Crazy" is a little over the top, but "Come On Over" and "nEXt" are some of the best R&B tracks of the year. 

4. Ellis - The Education Of Ellis

Other than the single with Styles P. I heard most of this album for the first time on the night I interviewed Ellis while he was in the studio finishing the mixing and mastering. So it was fun to finally sit down with it on my own after my article came out and get to hear that it was as dense and personal and well crafted as I thought it was going to be. I don't like to compare Baltimore rappers to each other because I feel like they deserve to be considered individuals, but Ellis's flow and accent reminds me so much of Mullyman sometimes that I wonder if they came from the same neighborhood or something, and that's not a bad thing, plus he's totally got his own style and perspective that's different from Mully's. Check out the album on DatPiff

5. Brendan Benson - You Were Right
The Posies and Brendan Benson were two of the acts who really ignited my interest in modern power pop with their '90s albums, so I loved the show I saw on their great 2010 tour together, where Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow from The Posies played in Benson's backing band. And it's been cool to see that collaboration continue, with Auer and Stringfellow playing all over Benson's last two albums (country singers Ashley Monroe and Sarah Siskind also all over this). This and 2012's What Kind Of World may not be Benson's best, but then it's kind of hard to even say -- his first two albums, One Mississippi and Lapalco, were both great in very different ways, but every album since has blended into the next more and more, so there's a sense of diminishing returns even if his way with a hook is still strong. 

6. R. Kelly - Black Panties
After spending most of the year poring over R.'s back catalog and anticipating his return from Love Letter retro purgatory, I wouldn't say my hopes were sky high for Black Panties, but it didn't quite hit the spot. It's better than Untitled, but not by a huge margin -- the overly modern "turn up" type songs like "My Story" and "Cookies" wear badly, and "Marry The Pussy" isn't as good as the "I'm N Luv (Wit A Stripper)" remix verse it riffs on. But the smoother stuff, like "Genius" and "Right Back" and the Kelly Ro feature, those tracks really rescue the album for me, it's got some jams. And "Shut Up," even if it's already a couple years old, is just a glorious album closer. 

7. Q-Tip And Busta Rhymes - The Abstract And The Dragon
I enjoyed breaking this mixtape down for Complex right after it dropped, but doing that also made me highly aware of how much it was a retrospective of their collaborations (pretty much all of them, except for that "Poetic Justice" remix they did recently, unless I'm forgetting something?) rather than a showcase for new music, of which there was only a few minutes. This thing is still just a kick to listen too, though, these guys are two of my favorite of MCs of all time and I don't hear them enough anymore, "Thank You" was a great reminder, although I'm annoyed that its buzz already seems to have died out. 

8. Twista - Back To The Basics EP
Twista is another one of my favorite MCs of all time who doesn't necessarily have the legacy he deserves. Maybe it was because he was so successful with R&B records, but really a lot of those records were great and everybody knows he can spit anyway. Still, it's fun to hear him do a quick 7-song EP that's pretty concentrated on beats and rhymes (there's still an R&B hook on track 3, though). The production is just functional, though, I'd love to hear Twista on some really interesting, creative production sometime.

9. Ariana Grande - Christmas Kisses EP
I approve of the idea of a Christmas EP instead of a Christmas album, a lot of times the latter wears thin once you pad out the initial few good ideas to album length, so why not just stop at 13 minutes? And this one is especially good, because it fits Ariana's whole sugary persona, and she brings back some of the heavy hitters who made Yours Truly a great album -- Harmony "H-Money" Samuels produced all 4 tracks, and "Love Is Everything" is a good new Babyface co-write. The cover of Wham!'s "Last Christmas" works way better than the duet of "Santa Baby" with one of her Nickelodeon co-stars, but oh well, can't win 'em all.

10. Bridget Kelly - Cut To...Bridget Kelly EP
Of all the newish R&B singers currently struggling to get a major label album out and settling for an EP, Bridget Kelly probably has the roughest road because she hasn't even popped off with a hit single yet, although she's released a few good singles (and most notably had "Thinkin' Bout You" out before Frank Ocean released his version). This reminds me of Sevyn's EP in a lot of ways besides both having awkward ellipses in the titles, less consistent overall but "Goosebumps" and "S#1T Happens" are good, and "Special Delivery," ancient as it feels now, holds up well. I guess December is the new dumping ground for EPs, looking at this lineup (and I also dug Problem's EP that came out in the same month).

Worst Album of the Month: B.o.B - Underground Luxury
I remember digging "Haterz Everywhere" when B.o.B first came out, and then "I'll Be In The Sky" was a terrible Andre 3000 knockoff record, and he started with that 'Bobby Ray' stuff and the fluffy pop records with Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, and he rode that wave for a couple years, and now he's 'Bobby Bandz' and doing songs like "We Still In This Bitch." And it's interesting, because there are a lot of great mainstream rap artists who have had that kind of spectrum of material that's appealed to different audiences, but they pulled it off and made it convincingly part of their persona, where this guy seems to be just running around trying to be everything to everybody. Even half of this album sounds like he made it while he was still on the sing-song pop tip and before he decided to get in the studio with Juicy J and Future. But where this album really pisses me off is when he tries to get away with a terrible song called "One Day" by tacking an interlude talking with Bun B on the end. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

I wrote a defense of Sara Bareilles for Splice Today, on the occasion of her unlikely Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
It was a slow week for The Short List in the current Baltimore City Paper, so I included a self-deprecating mention of my own show on Thursday.

Monthly Report: December 2013 Singles

Sunday, January 19, 2014

1. Lady Gaga f/ R. Kelly - "Do What U Want"
Already put this in my year-end top 10, so it goes without saying that I fucking love this song, although even with the R. Kelly controversy flaring up I was a little shocked to be one of only 3 people that voted for it in Pazz & Jop. And now there's that lame new version with Christina Aguilera that was just released, maybe because of the Kells thing, or maybe because the song hasn't done great on the charts or maybe just because of the general excitement over the Gaga/Xtina duet on "The Voice." And because Xtina's verse just follows the vocal melody of Gaga's verse, you completely lose the different vocal melody on the R.'s verse, which was one of the best things about the song. The original holds up, though, incredible track. This will be the last  Monthly Report I add to my running favorite 2013 singles Spotify playlist, although the month-by-month playlist is not the same as the big definitely top 100 playlist.

2. 2 Chainz - "Used 2"
It's crazy that 2 Chainz made a 2nd album so much better than his 1st, with singles that are almost as good, and is suffering such a sophomore slump, this song needs to be so much bigger than it is. Or at least, it never charted high (didn't get into the top 30 of the Hip-Hop/R&B Airplay chart), but it seems to be on every time I get in the car anyway, maybe they're just feeling it around Baltimore and D.C.

3. Jay-Z f/ Beyonce - "Part II (On The Run)"
I touched on how this and "Used 2" both used Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up" flow in my recent Complex article on borrowing flows, but it just trips me up how 2 Chainz and Jay-Z both had singles out at the same time using that flow. Or at least, this song was starting to pick up steam right until B dropped that album and "Drunk In Love" blew up, which kinda bums me out, because I like this song way more.

4. Ariana Grande f/ Big Sean - "Right There"
This is such a transparently deliberate sequel to "The Way," with the Big Pun beat swapped out for a Lil Kim beat, and I think all the '90s samples on Ariana's album almost distract from how good the singing and the songwriting on it is, but whatever, this is dope. I generally don't like Big Sean, but he can be good in small doses on songs like this, and it makes sense for him to be on Ariana's record since her hilarious performance of "Guap" was basically the only thing good about that song.

5. Babyface and Toni Braxton - "Hurt You"
I've been so ready for Babyface to do something major again, especially after his work on Ariana's album, so this duet project with Toni is right on time, I'm really looking forward to the album. Seems like they found a good aesthetic middleground where it doesn't sound like their old megahits but it's not straining to sound modern.

6. Tamar Braxton - "All The Way Home"
Even with Toni coming back strong, 2013 was definitely her baby sister's year, and Tamar kept the hits coming. The production is really something else on this track, love the groove of those drums, just a hypnotically listenable song with a huge vocal hook.

7. Pearl Jam - "Sirens"
After "Mind Your Manners" had me primed for the new Pearl Jam album, the second advance single "Sirens" initially felt like a big letdown. But I think I was just so bummed out in the past when they released 6-minute ballads with acoustic guitars as singles that I almost assumed I would dislike this song as much as "Nothing As It Seems" and "Off He Goes," but I don't. In fact, once it started getting heavy airplay, it really grew on me. The opening refrain is a little cheesy, but by the end the whole thing builds

8. Robin Thicke - "4 The Rest Of My Life"
This song has been out since shortly after "Blurred Lines" and always felt almost like a perfunctory bone Thicke threw to his core R&B audience while he was taking over pop radio, not on the level of past quiet storm staples like "Lost Without U" or even "Love After War." But it just kept going and eventually hit #1 on the Adult R&B chart, and has grown on me. But then I'm a sucker for songs where old married people get romantic about being together for decades, that shit is inspiring to me.

9. Rihanna - "What Now"
One of the byproducts of Rihanna churning out an album every 12 months for almost every year of her career is that she hasn't had those really prolonged singles campaigns most huge chart stars get where 5th and 6th singles hang around forever and they get to really milk the album. So her finally taking a year off in 2013 meant that Unapologetic got to breath a little bit and songs like this came out, which really grew on me even if it never became a big hit (and got kinda steamrolled by the Eminem single she's on). There are some points when she still seems not quited suited for the song (what the hell up is the way she pronounces "mirror" in the pre-chorus?) but the way she belts out the chorus is killer, one of the few 'dubstep waltz' power ballads that has really worked for me.

10. Janelle Monae f/ Miguel - "Primetime"
I've kinda gone back and forth with this song, because even though they're kinda similar artists in some ways (and often sport the same pompadour), in my eyes Miguel can do no wrong and Janelle Monae can do no right. I mean, she's not terrible, but the stagey, contrived quality of her persona and her blank, passionless singing just leave me cold. I worked with a crew that did PSAs before the "Christmas In Washington" concert a few weeks ago, and Monae came in dressed like some kind of old-timey constable, and when the script said "I hope" she said "I do hope" to make it sound more like Mary Poppins or whatever she's going for (I guess it could've been worse, she could've said "I'm ever so hopeful"). Anyway this song is kinda dope, I'll give her props for this one.

The Worst Single of the Month: Lupe Fiasco f/ Ed Sheeran - "Old School Love"
Last month, I was on my way to a holiday party and a show my band was playing that night when I checked my phone and my Twitter mentions had exploded. I had just published a Short List in which I made a joke about Lupe Fiasco's career decline and recent run-in with a tomato, and he saw it himself and tweeted to his million followers "Al Shipley at Baltimore city paper is kind of a dick" (Lupe's tweets are private, but a screencap of his first tweet is my Twitter avatar, such is my amusement at this whole incident). I responded, there was a little back-and-forth (his main response was "fuck you too"), and I got the inevitable insults from his stans. It was great fun. But lemme just say, if my Short List comment or my tweets were immature, I stand by the general sentiment that Lupe's music has been going down the tubes for a long time after a promising start (I even had Food & Liquor in my 2006 year-end list for the City Paper, although I had already started to cool on the album by the time I saw him live the next year). He's already openly disowned half his hits, so why should we even think for a second that he believes in songs like "Old School Love," which sounds like he had to fight off Travie McCoy to get? The idea that Lupe being smarter or more talented than the average MC absolves him of the detached cynicism of so much of his music is what makes me, y'know, say dickish things in print about him. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I wrote an essay for Complex called Hustlin' Flow, about the phenomenon of rappers using (or 'stealing') flows from other MCs -- kind of companion piece to Adam Fleischer's list thereof.

Friday, January 17, 2014

This is short notice, by my band Western Blot is a last minute addition to a show at The Crown on Sunday, January 19. I had been talking to Blood Horses about doing a show together a while back, and so when they needed to add a band to this bill with Echo Hey Hello and Thee Heavenly Blues, they asked us (so we're the "+more" on this flyer).

That show is in addition to an already-announced show we're doing a few days later at Club K on January 23 with Golden Gurls, Infinity Gurl and Soft Peaks. so for the first time, two Western Blot shows in one week. If you're around on Sunday or Thursday, come out and here our new sound -- we have an actual bass guitar now!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

This week the Village Voice published the Pazz & Jop critics' poll of the best albums and singles of 2013, and as usual I threw my 2 cents in, here's my ballot. Also as usual, Glenn McDonald did the tabulation of the results, and put together a fun stats page on that includes voter pages like mine, which has all my ballots dating back to 2008 (I've been voting since 2007) with a bunch of other weird nerdy stats to go along with all the records.

Since that kinda wraps up list season, here's a quick overview of the year-end lists I did for 2013:

- Top 50 Albums of 2013

- Top 100 Singles of 2013, with 5 genre lists in which I wrote at length about most of those songs:
   - R&B Radio Hits of 2013
   - Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2013
   - Country Radio Hits of 2013
   - Rap Radio Hits of 2013
   - Pop Radio Hits of 2013

- The Best and Worst Hip-Hop/R&B Remixes of 2013

- Top 50 TV Shows of 2013

- For the Baltimore City Paper, I contributed to their Top 10 Albums and Top 10 Local Albums lists, and also did several genre lists myself:
   - Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of 2013
   - Top 10 Local Hip-Hop Albums of 2013
   - Top 10 Dance Tracks of 2013
   - Top 10 Baltimore Club Tracks of 2013

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I wrote a feature in the Baltimore City Paper about Greenspan and the album he released this week.

Also wrote The Short List this week as usual.

(photo by J.M. Giordano)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Guillermo Sexo recorded a session for the Mobtown BSides series that launched last month, and as with the previous installments I wrote up the text that accompanies the songs and the video.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I wrote about DJ AngelBaby's new Baltimore club mix Get Pumped, Vol. 2 for the City Paper's Noise blog.

Monthly Report: November 2013 Albums

Thursday, January 09, 2014

1. Yo Gotti - I Am
I've never expected much out of Yo Gotti, and in some ways that makes really workmanlike, effective major label rap albums like this easier to enjoy, there's no lofty standard to live up to. "Act Right" is already a classic to me and "I Know" and "King Shit" and "F-U" all knock, even the lighter tracks like the one with Wale and Ne-Yo that my homie Kenton Dunson co-produced work well within the context of the album.

2. Vinny Vegas - The Big White Whale
For the sake of completism, I catch up and do all of these monthly lists after I do the big year-end lists, which makes it a little awkward to write about these albums again after they were already in my top 50 albums of 2013. In any event, another chance to say a word for Vinny Vegas -- 6 years ago I was hanging out in the back of a short-lived venue in Baltimore interviewing the owner, not really knowing anything of the bands that happened to be playing that night, and was really bowled over by the singer of one of the bands. I eventually asked that singer, Scott Siskind of Vinny Vegas, to sing on a couple of Western Blot songs, one of which has already been released. But his band only just recently released their first full-length, and it's really impressive, ambitious stuff, they write these really huge-sounding piano-driven prog ballads, and again Scott's voice is just incredible so that's a big part of the appeal for me.

3. Da Mafia 6ix - 6ix Commandments
It's really a shame to be writing about this awesome comeback mixtape from most of the classic Three 6 Mafia lineup right after the death of Lord Infamous, but it's at least cool that he got to be heard on one last high profile project. I have to admit, I enjoy the pop spin on the HCP sound of Juicy J's album to this, and DJ Paul's Scale-A-Ton album a few years ago is more consistent at this particular style, but it's still great to hear Gangsta Boo and everybody just ripping it again.

4. Reverend Dollars - Arson EP
Rev is one of my internet homies, I also posted about his previous EP here, and this one is even better. He's from Seattle but he really gets Baltimore club and other intersections of rap and dance music (there's even some shards of "Bring In The Katz" in the opening track, "Noise Joint"). And not in a cheesy 'trap EDM' way, this stuff is really sharp and well considered, all these different samples and signifiers being combined into something that's actually uptempo and has a lot of forward momentum.

5. Lady Gaga - ARTPOP
I was a pretty fan of Born This Way, so I was pretty optimistic about Gaga making another great album, at least until "Applause" dropped and immediately lowered my expectations. Then "Do What U Want" got me hyped all over again, and the album ended up somewhere in between. Stuff like the Sun Ra nod on "Venus" and guest spots by Twista and Too $hort work really hard to make this the kind of album I'd love, but there are a whole lot of annoying strident anthems that don't quite land bringing down the album's hit rate. I'd be happy if "Sexxx Dreams" or "Gypsy" or "Fashion!" was a single, though.

6. One Direction - Midnight Memories
I always liked how "What Makes You Beautiful" was basically a power pop song, but it's a little surprising the degree to which One Direction seem to be deliberately courting some kind of classic guitar pop pedigree, between doing a charity single medley of a Blondie song and "Teenage Kicks," and this album which had a lead single that sounds like "Baba O'Riley," an acoustic follow-up single, and a title track that sounds like "Pour Some Sugar On Me." And then there's "Little Black Dress," which has gotten some deserved critical hype for being one of the most unexpected great rock songs of 2013 (although I may actually prefer Sara Bareilles's "Little Black Dress").

7. Rich Homie Quan - I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In
I won't compare him to you-know-who because I pretty much accept that they've got a good amount of differences as vocalists and as rappers and that the similarity is increasingly superficial and based as much on them being from the same area and having the same accent as anything else. Still, it's hard for me to really look at Quan as more than someone with a couple hot songs -- the first few tracks are a little rough, especially when "I Fuck Wit You Girl" (as in "I fuck wit you like a middle finger") shows how lousy he is at doing a lighter romantic kind of track. The back half is stronger, though, and I'm glad they threw on "Party" as a bonus track, it's been really growing on me, hope that's a big radio single soon.

8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Miami Pop Festival
I'm enough of a Hendrix fanatic that I still tend to check out whatever unessential posthumous release still comes down the pike every year or two, and as recently as March the People, Hells And Angels studio outtakes collection underwhelmed me. But the Experience are one of my all-time favorite bands, and it's always good to hear a well-recorded set of them tearing it up. This is from May 1968, by which point most of Electric Ladyland had already been recorded, but it's a festival set full of Are You Experienced? hits, not even anything from Axis. Just sounds fantastic, though, I worship Mitch Mitchell.

9. The Entrance Band - Face The Sun
I saw The Entrance Band open for Sonic Youth a few years ago and enjoyed the album that dropped around that time enough to check this one out. Its hooks aren't immediate, and I feel like the lead singer's shortcomings as a vocalist are a little more evident, but they have a good guitar sound, some good production.

10. Omarion - Care Package 2
You'd think if any rap label would be well equipped to launch an R&B star, or relaunch a pretty established star's career, it'd be the home of Rick Ross and Wale, and 'Maybach O' has had some good singles with MMG, but for some reason nothing has really popped off. These little mixtape/EP things he's been releasing are nice, though, lot of it feels very 'of the moment' trendy R&B but there's odd stuff like "Too Much" that feels genuinely personal or even experimental for him. The version of "Know You Better" on here has my nemesis Nipsey Hussle on it but the single version with Fabolous is much better.

Worst Album of the Month: Jhene Aiko - Sail Out EP
I could make fun of her B2K origins, but hey, Omarion is making some decent modern R&B right now. This girl, though, shit, she's got more whisper songs than the Ying Yang Twins. It's like if Hilary Duff made a coked out R&B record.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014
This week's Short List.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Western Blot will be back at Club K for a show on Thursday, January 23rd (Facebook event here). We're playing first around 9pm, which will be nice since we always seem to play so much later that anybody I know wants to stay out on a weeknight. We're playing with Baltimore's Golden Gurls and New York's Infinity Girl, as well as Soft Peaks, who played their first show with us last summer.

Oh hey, and today the 6th is my birthday, happy birthday to me. Come to my show, listen to my songs, or don't, whatever.

The Final 2013 Remix Report Card

Friday, January 03, 2014

I've been doing this Remix Report Card thing for seven years now, and a few months ago I got to make what I think of as kind of the culmination of the whole project, Complex's The Best Rap Remixes Since 2000 list. After that, going back to covering whatever mediocre new event remixes are coming down the pike every week or two is a little anticlimactic, but I still love doing this, since it remains this odd little cottage industry within mainstream hip-hop. And this was kind of a busy year -- in 2011 the number of remixes I found to review dipped under 40, but this year it was well over 80. I've changed my mind on the quality of various remixes since I originally rated them, but you can see what I had to say when they first dropped in this year's installments: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, Vol. 5, Vol. 6, Vol. 7 and Vol. 8

Some stats: this year Rick Ross was the remix king, with about a dozen appearances in the Remix Report Card, and runner-up status was tied among 2 Chainz, Juicy J, French Montana and Jeezy, who each had about 11. Meek was on 6 remixes, and Wale, R. Kelly, Wiz Khalifa and Lil Wayne were each on 5 (Kendrick and Drake each were only on about 3, making more impact with fewer collabs). 

I made a 2013 remixes Spotify playlist, and while it's obviously incomplete, it's missing a lot less than last year's playlist, I was a little surprised at how many of these remixes are finding their way to Spotify nowadays. Anyhow, I've included YouTube links that are hopefully mostly unexpired: 

The Best Hip Hop/R&B Remixes of 2013: 

1. "Type of Way (Remix)" by Rich Homie Quan featuring Jeezy and Meek Mill
2. "Representin' (Remix)" by Ludacris featuring R. Kelly and Fabolous
3. "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe (Remix)" by Kendrick Lamar featuring Jay-Z
4. "News For You (Remix)" by Eric Benet featuring 2 Chainz
5. "Versace (Remix)" by Migos featuring Drake
6. "Let Me Find Out (Remix)" by Doe B featuring T.I. and Juicy J
7. "#Beautiful (DJ Mustard Remix)" by Mariah Carey featuring Young Jeezy and Miguel
8. "Shabba (Remix)" by A$AP Ferg featuring Shabba Ranks, Busta Rhymes and Migos
9. "Work (Remix)" by A$AP Ferg featuring A$AP Rocky, French Montana, Trinidad James and ScHoolboy Q
10. "The Way (Remix)" by Ariana Grande featuring Fabolous
11. "Show Out (Remix)" by Juicy J featuring Pimp C, T.I. and Young Jeezy
12. "Body Party (Remix)" by Ciara featuring Future and B.o.B
13. "I Hit It First (Remix)" by Ray J featuring Uncle Murda, Dorrough, Clyde Carson and Uiiee Popcorn Man
15. "Sh!t (Remix)" by Future featuring Drake and Juicy J
16. "R.I.P. (G-Mix)" by Young Jeezy featuring Snoop Dogg, Too $hort and E-40
17. "I Been On (H-Town Remix)" by Beyonce featuring Bun B, Z-Ro, Scarface, Willie D, Slim Thug and Lil Keke
18. "Twerk It (Remix)" by Busta Rhymes featuring Vybz Kartel, Ne-Yo, T.I., Jeremih and French Montana
19. "She Bad Bad" by Eve featuring Pusha T and Juicy J
20. "V.S.O.P. (Remix)" by K. Michelle featuring Young Jeezy
21. "Bugatti (Remix)" by Ace Hood featuring Wiz Khalifa, T.I., Meek Mill, French Montana, 2 Chainz, Future, DJ Khaled and Birdman
22. "Columbia (Remix)" by Young Scooter featuring Rick Ross, Birdman and Gucci Mane
23. "I'm A Coke Boy" by Chinx Drugz featuring French Montana, Diddy and Rick Ross
24. "Ain't Worried About Nothin' (Remix)" by French Montana featuring Rick Ross, Diddy and Snoop Dogg
25. "Pour It Up (Remix)" by Rihanna featuring Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Juicy J and T.I.

The Worst Hip Hop/R&B Remixes of 2013: 

1. "TKO (Black Friday Remix)" by Justin Timberlake featuring J. Cole, Pusha T and A$AP Rocky
2. "All Gold Everything" by Trinidad James featuring T.I., Young Jeezy and 2 Chainz
3. "Cruise (Remix)" by Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly
4. "Bad (Remix)" by Wale featuring Rihanna
5. "Karate Chop (Remix)" by Future featuring Lil Wayne
6. "Do What U Want (Remix)" by Lady Gaga featuring Rick Ross and R. Kelly
7. "Gangnam Style (Diplo Remix)" by PSY featuring 2 Chainz and Tyga
8. "Scream & Shout (Remix)" by featuring Hit-Boy, Lil Wayne, Waka Flocka Flame, Diddy and Britney Spears
9. "No New Friends (SFTB Remix)" by DJ Khaled featuring Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne
10. "Dis Ain't What You Want (Remix)" by Lil Durk featuring Rick Ross, French Montana and Meek Mill
11. "I Luv This Shit (Remix)" by August Alsina featuring Chris Brown and Trey Songz
12. "Ain't Worried About Nothin' (Remix)" by French Montana featuring Miley Cyrus
13. "We Can't Stop (Remix)" by Miley Cyrus featuring Khia
14. "Feds Watching (Remix)" by 2 Chainz featuring Lil Wayne and T.I.
15. "Gas Pedal (Remix)" by Sage The Gemini featuring Justin Bieber and IamSu
16. "F.D.B. (Remix)" by Young Dro featuring B.o.B, Wale, and Chief Keef
17. "Hello Love (Remix)" by T.Rone featuring Juicy J, Jim Jones, Fat Joe and Raheem DeVaughn
18. "No Games (Remix)" by Rick Ross featuring Wale, Meek Mill and Future
19. "Gorilla (G-Mix)" by Bruno Mars featuring Pharrell and R. Kelly
20. "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Remix)" by Fall Out Boy featuring 2 Chainz
21. "Freaks (Remix)" by French Montana featuring DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, Mavado, Wale and Nicki Minaj
22. "Twerk It (Remix)" by Busta Rhymes featuring Nicki Minaj
23. "Give It 2 U (Remix)" by Robin Thicke featuring 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar
24. "Trying To Be Cool (Remix)" by Phoenix featuring R. Kelly
25. "UOENO (Remix)" by Rocko featuring A$AP Rocky and Future

Previous year-end Remix Report Cards: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012

Thursday, January 02, 2014

I wrote about Los's new mixtape with Mark Battles on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog.