Movie Diary

Friday, February 28, 2014

a) The Monuments Men
I had a few hours to kill between jobs the other day, and caught a matinee of this, because if make a caper movie with George Clooney, Bill Murray and John Goodman in it, I am there. It feels like Clooney has picked up a lot from working with the Coens and Soderbergh, and it's not hard to imagine either directing this, especially since it's got actors they often use in it. But having that comparison in mind also underlines that Clooney is not remotely as good a director as those guys are -- I really liked Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and thought it was well directed, but this fell a little flat. Might've been a script problem too, though, for them to have some great character actors around who don't really get that much to work with. It picks up in the second half, though -- a few scenes really got to me emotionally and made me really believe in the mission of the characters, the sentiment of the movie, as thick as they laid it on. It's weird how many period movies now, like this and Argo, seem to be going for a The Great Escape vibe. 

b) Evil Dead
I'm fond of the original Evil Dead movies and apprehensive about remakes in general, but not so hugely reverent that I completely object to anyone making the effort. And I gotta say, this really won me over. It wasn't 100% in the spirit of the '80s flicks, but if you'd told me this was Sam Raimi's directorial follow-up to Drag Me To Hell (which I loved), I'd believe you. There was some really inspired gore in this movie, and it looked pretty modern but was all about in-camera effects and not CGI. Jane Levy is great at comedy on "Suburgatory" but she just totally stepped up for all the crazy shit that a role in a movie like this required and kinda surprised me.

c) The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
There was something oddly (unintentionally?) meta about Steve Carrell playing an entertainer who's losing ground to a newer competitor played by Jim Carrey, in a role reversal of what their actual career arcs have been. The whole thing felt a little thin and underdeveloped, Carrell plays a jerk who redeems himself and neither the jerkiness nor the redemption felt that convincing, and Steve Buscemi was in it more than I expected but never really got to be funny. The only winner in this, I think, is Olivia Wilde, who's better at comedy than I expected.

d) Warm Bodies
This was charming, really committed to the whole weird concept and was funnier than I expected, especially the voiceover moments. Not amazing or anything but it worked.

e) Gangster Squad
I just had this on one night while I was writing and waiting for something else to come on and man it was some garbage. Even Emma Stone couldn't bring it to life. Nick Nolte sounded kinda like Yoda, though, that was hilarious.

f) Silver Linings Playbook
I went into this thinking it would at least be kind of acceptable, charming Oscar bait, like As Good As It Gets or something, and that I might even be able to squint and pretend it's someone besides Bradley Cooper until it seems like a genuinely good movie. But nah, this was just kind of bad, weird in a flat way that's not even interesting, it just barely functioned. J-Law gives a good performance (and looks amazing), but that's about it. The big climactic dance scene practically turns this into Little Miss Sunshine at the end.

g) The Bay
Our storied Valentine's Day tradition, in which the wife and I order Chinese food and watch horror movies, this year featured this movie, which we kind of grabbed at random out of a bunch of recommendations I got on Twitter and then looked up on Netflix. It wasn't until we started the movie that I realized it was the horror movie Barry Levinson directed that takes place on the Chesapeake Bay. I love Levinson at his best, and I love Levinson's movies about Maryland, but it's hard to really place this in his filmography, as diverse as it is -- a super low budget 'found footage' horror flick that really could've been directed by almost anybody. It was pretty well done, though, had a good conceit that allowed them to change perspectives and focus on different characters, which made it a little less monotonous than the usual found footage movie. After a while it got pretty immersive to contemplate the possibility of something like it happening in real life, like Contagion.

h) The Master
This had been available OnDemand and on my mental to-do list of things I wanted to watch before Philip Seymour Hoffman died, so afterwards I finally got around to watching it. I have mixed feelings about Paul Thomas Anderson and hated There Will Be Blood, which this resembled most of all his films, but The Master put that texture and rhythm to much better use, I thought. All the unsettling elements and over-the-top performances, including Hoffman totally just going for it as much as he ever did, really had a cumulative effect and took it somewhere far more interesting than just the 'thinly veiled Scientology origin story' premise. I don't know if it all added up per se, but I liked it.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I wrote an essay for Complex about how 21st century tech advances have affected music.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
This week's Short List. Viva la Baltimore City Paper.

Monthly Report: February 2014 Singles

Sunday, February 23, 2014

1. Paramore - "Ain't It Fun"
Sometimes you get an album, and you have an instant favorite song that you know should be a single, know will be a single, and get all anxious for that to happen and wait for months and months. It's actually happened to me with pretty much every Paramore album, previously with "That's What You Get" and "The Only Exception." And "Ain't It Fun" was an immediate standout on my #1 album of 2013, but it took forever to come out because the previous single had such a long lifespan of digital sales finally fueling pop radio airplay and "Still Into You" finally becoming a hit. So we just got the "Ain't It Fun" video, nearly 10 months after the "Still Into You" video, and to be honest the video and the single edit, which slices a full minute off the song, are a little anti-climactic. But man I'm excited at the prospect of hearing this song on the radio even though for nearly a year now I've been playing the album in my car over and over and screaming "don't crying to your mama/ 'cause you're on your own in the real world." On a musical level it's a monumental jam but it also just feels like a rallying cry for me, given all the real world shit I've been struggling with. Here's my favorite 2014 singles Spotify playlist that I update every month, by the way.

2. BeyoncĂ© - "XO"
Dropping that album right out of the sky was exciting in and of itself, but one thing that's been really interesting to watch with this whole BeyoncĂ© project is which songs become hits and how the singles campaign flows. "Crazy In Love" aside, she's always had kind of back luck with first singles, they never seem to become the most popular songs from the albums, and I suspect that was a big part of why they delayed the album all year and eventually had the idea to release it with no advance single, just to sidestep that headache. Initially, "Drunk In Love" was the urban radio single and "Blow" was the pop radio single, and the former was an instant smash while the latter was quickly switched to "XO" -- but already, "Partition" has taken off as the next urban radio single, while "XO" has had kind of a cool reception. That bums me out, because I adore "XO" -- watching the video, I kind of marvel that I can enjoy something produced by Ryan Tedder and directed by Terry Richardson this much. The whole carpe diem, love in the face of mortality vibe of the song, it hits me very deeply, it's such a gorgeous song with so many interesting wrinkles in the vocal performances and the subtly harsh production. 

3. Young Thug - "Stoner"
Young Thug has always been a divisive figure, and early on I was not a fan, putting 1017 Thug in my "worst album of the month" spotlight a year ago. Now the battle lines are really being drawn as his buzz escalates, and I haven't really been too interested in taking sides again one way or the other, especially since I didn't really hear the appeal of "Danny Glover" or  "2 Cups Stuffed." This song really snuck up on me, though, I'd hear DJs drop the beat and instantly love it, then it would take me a second to realize who was rapping, and by that point I was like oh shit, this is great. There's so many individual sections strung together that are all individually catchy as hell, "I feel like Fabo" is practically a hook by itself, and it's crazy to hear gratuitous shoutouts to Fabo on a hit song in 2014.

4. YG f/ Drake - "Who Do You Love"
Doing the 20 best DJ Mustard tracks list recently was fun, partly because I'm not really that into most of the R&B-flavored Mustard tracks on the radio at the moment and it was good to kind of dig in and remind myself about the tracks I really love. These 'monthly report' posts are a Drake-free zone most of the time, but sometimes I make an exception, usually on songs where he's just a guest with a decent second verse and doesn't take over the whole song, like Meek Mill's "Amen." I'm pretty curious how the YG album turns out, he's got a lot of jams at this point and having so many Mustard beats on one album kinda gives him a huge head start.

5. Yo Gotti f/ Rich Homie Quan - "I Know"
This was an immediate standout on I Am, and I'm glad it's finally getting play as a single, after that damn song with J. Cole had its little moment. Having Rich Homie Quan sing over the "I Got 5 On It" beat is some sacrilegious shit, but it sounds so great, especially with the sample slowed down from its original tempo to this dark eerie crawl.

6. J. Roddy Walston & The Business - "Heavy Bells"
Ever since they moved to Baltimore from Tennessee a decade ago, J. Roddy Walston & The Business have been really beloved around here, and now that they've gone mainstream they're probably the first local-ish band to be in heavy rotation on both 98 Rock and WHFS since, I dunno, SR-71? Jimmie's Chicken Shack? I guess that doesn't sound very impressive. But it is great to see these guys succeed, they're an amazing live band and Essential Tremors is solid album. "Heavy Bells" isn't even my favorite song on the album by a long shot, but it's grown on me, and it being on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart for the last 19 weeks means it's definitely gonna have follow-up singles.

7. Shakira f/ Rihanna - "Can't Remember To Forget You"
I like how even when she makes her most overt plays for U.S. radio, there's still something about Shakira that is not just fundamentally foreign but also fundamentally herself. Even something seemingly destined for crossover success like a Rihanna collaboration feels kind of quirky and not quite meant for American radio, in a good way. The song is kind of slight, but in a charming way, and they both seem to really enjoy digging into that melody. Also the video is amazing, obviously.

8. Brad Paisley - "The Mona Lisa"
I'm kind of amazed that when I did my Brad Paisley deep cuts playlist right after Wheelhouse came out, I totally slept on "The Mona Lisa," it's such a great goofy little power pop song. Songs where Paisley is in awe of his wife always come off really charming and sincere, but it helps if there's a funny lyrical conceit to back up the sentiment.

9. Bruno Mars - "Young Girls"
Unorthodox Jukebox is full of great pop songs, so I'm glad they're still spinning off singles, especially now the opening track. Don't know why he didn't try to push it harder by at least playing it for a minute during the Super Bowl halftime show, but I guess it wasn't uptempo enough for what he was going for.

10. Pitbull f/ Ke$ha - "Timber"
This song seemed to arrive custom made to offend people, and at first I bought into that. But the whole fun of Pitbull nowadays is how utterly shameless he is, and this might actually be the best Ke$ha has ever sounded, it's just a great hook, so I've given in, I'm not even mad that this was #1.

Worst Single of the Month: Aloe Blacc - "The Man"
"Wake Me Up" was already one of the worst pop hits in recent memory, a Swedish EDM producer teaming up with a former Stones Throw rapper and the guitarist from Incubus for some kind of terrible country song. Now Aloe Blacc is back with his boring monotone soul man voice and has made a song even dumber and more melodically drab than "I Need A Dollar." This fucking guy.

Friday, February 21, 2014

In my first article for Noisey, I tracked down Semi, known for putting 6 second raps on Vine, in Edgewood, Maryland for his first interview ever.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a Rap Sheet column, with news about Rome Cee and others, and The Short List.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I've written a couple things that have run on Complex recently:

- A list of the 20 best DJ Mustard tracks, with David Drake also wrote a chunk of

- A piece about how to sound smart talking about rap beats

Monthly Report: January 2014 Albums

Sunday, February 16, 2014

1. Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
I feel like such a rock critic for taking an interest in this album mainly because it feels kind of important -- a few years ago, when the band had one or two radio hits, I'd kinda dismissed them, somewhat ironically because I thought the singer had an unpleasantly macho punk rock dude voice. And then Laura Jane Grace became the first transgender rock star, or at least the first one who was well known before coming out, and it'd be dumb of me to just stick with my kneejerk first reaction of the band when here's a good opportunity to hear them in a whole new context. Setting aside all the context, though, this is a really amazing and beautiful album -- I had to listen to the title track a few times before getting into the rest of it, just because that song bowled me over. And seeing them perform "FUCKMYLIFE666" on Letterman was pretty amazing. I love hearing a rock album that feels like a really complete artistic statement but gets over with in just 28 minutes, but more than that I love how tangled and idiosyncratic it is, brimming over with ideas and emotions besides just the ones that you already know the record is about. 

2. Timothy Bloom - Timothy Bloom
I don't really have much of a clue who Timothy Bloom is, but some of the R&B heads I know swear by him, so I checked this out. Apparently he wrote songs for Usher and Chris Brown and has been signed to Timbaland and/or Polow Da Don for a while, but this is an independent album that isn't remotely clubby and doesn't seem to have much in the way of commercial aspirations. It's pretty good, though, mostly mellow southern soul with these modern wrinkles and interesting psychedelic touches. "Rivers Run Deep" in particular is pretty crazy. You can hear most of these records on my running 2014 albums Spotify playlist, to which I add any album I listen to throughout the year.

3. Algebra Blessett - Recovery
Recovery's lead single "Nobody But You" caught my ear big time a few months ago, and continues to sound fantastic and not get as much airplay as it deserves. The rest of the album isn't so immediately catchy, but it's I'm enjoying it, some nice varied production and Blessett's got a charming, limber voice. 

4. Greenspan - Stairway To Heaven
It was cool to go to the listening party and hear this album a couple times and then interview Greenspan, I've been following him in Baltimore and showing him respect for a long time and I'm happy that he finally put out a retail album that really makes good on the potential I'd been seeing.

5. Sun Club - Dad Claps At The Mom Prom EP 
These guys are a Baltimore band who I've always been impressed by whenever I've heard their stuff and this record just sounds fantastic, big hooky rock songs with interesting production, and weird song titles like "Beauty Meat" and "Repulsive On Chocolate."

6. DJ AngelBaby - Get Pumped Vol. 2
I already wrote about this a little bit, but it's really a great collection of Baltimore club music, might be better than the first one. One track I didn't mention before that's incredible is DJ C-Him's "Thong Song" remix, which loops up those classic ad libs where Sisquo is just yelling "your thighs! your knees! your breasts! your FEET!" Check it out on DatPiff.

7. Blaqstarr - The Blaq-Files (2002-06) EP
I got to break the story of this EP (supposedly the first in a series) when I interviewed Blaqstarr last year. I've been a huge fan of him for a long time, and the songs from this era are really the reason why, and it's cool to hear some of my favorites from that era like "Feel It In The Air" and "Slide To The Left" re-recorded and remastered. I was a little skeptical about him re-doing the tracks and maybe losing their magic, and their are little ways that I can tell the difference and prefer the originals, but these work pretty well.

8. Mt. Royal - Mt. Royal EP
I've followed the band's Mt. Royal sprang out of (Big In Japan/Lake Trout and Celebration) for a long time, and this particular collaboration has been a long time coming. I was at a 2009 Big In Japan show where they were joined by Celebration's Katrina Ford sang three songs, and I saw their first show in 2011 billed as "Big In Japan with Katrina Ford" before they settled on Mt. Royal as the name of their group together, and they definitely played at least one song that ended up on this EP, "Mockingbird." This is almost exactly what you'd expect based on the members' previous projects, but I don't mean that in a bad way, I'm a fan and this sounds great.

9. Height With Friends - Versus Electric Rockers
Height stays releasing albums and the last one was only 5 months before this one, but the last couple in particular have been really interesting and high concept and fun. You can stream the new one on Stereogum. "The Television Rap" is a kick.

10. Veli Smallz - The Tester
There's always a ton of good street rap coming out of Baltimore but a lot of it's from people who are familiar to me by now, so I'm always glad to see a new face in the game like Veli Smallz who's got some promising music, "Been Wrong" is really dope. Check it out on Band Camp.

Worst Album of the Month: Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes
I love Bruce, and I'm so glad he's still going and have enjoyed bits of the last few albums, but his increasingly gruff studio vocals and the modern rock Brendan O'Brien sheen has just gotten worse and worse. And while I appreciate his effort to try and break things up and do some releases that aren't just normal collections of new songs and raid the vaults a little bit, this odds'n'sods collection just feels kind of pointless, and the Tom Morello bits just sound bad in this context.

Saturday, February 15, 2014
I wrote a quick blog post for the Baltimore City Paper site about the announcement that J. Cole will headline the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair this year.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mobtown Studios released new audio and video from another BSides session, for the band Divining Rod, and as with previous installments I wrote the text that accompanies it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
This week's Short List.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 13: Pink

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Pink, or P!nk, whatever you wanna call her, has emerged through an up-and-down career as one of the most consistent and consistently successful pop stars of her generation. The numbers back this up: she was the #1 artist on the Pop Songs chart from 2000 to 2009 when Billboard did their end-of-decade lists, surpassing any number of artists who'd been far more frequently proclaimed the 'queen of pop' or whatever. In a field where consistency and longevity are these mythical virtues that are half-heartedly pursued by trying to remind people of Madonna, Pink seems more and more like a phenomenon unto herself, even as she exists in the same musical wheelhouse as Kelly Clarkson and, to a lesser extent, Katy Perry, often getting offered the same material from the same songwriters.

Pink found instant platinum success with her debut album Can't Take Me Home, but immediately began tinkering with her sound and image and rebelling against her label, which was kind of a shame since she was good at slick pop R&B. In fact, she played out what's become a familiar arc for female singers on major labels: she wanted to be more rock than her label wanted her to be (see also: Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, even more recently Sky Ferriera). It's indicative of Pink's blunt sense of humor that her riskiest album was called Try This, and when that didn't work out well, the comeback album was called I'm Not Dead. Since then, there's been less overt wrestling with her musical identity or with the music industry or with her collaborators, and she's found a good niche. She's not exactly cool, but she's always had a likable big sister kind of vibe that has served her well as she's transitioned from the bratty early stuff to the more emotionally resonant last couple albums.

Pink Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. It's All Your Fault
2. Are We All We Are
3. Try Too Hard
4. 18 Wheeler
5. Hell Wit Ya
6. The One That Got Away
7. Save My Life
8. Mean
9. Long Way To Happy
10. Walk of Shame
11. Can't Take Me Home
12. M!ssundaztood
13. I'm Not Dead
14. The Truth About Love
15. Crystal Ball
16. Tonight's The Night
17. One Foot Wrong
18. Hooker
19. I Got Money Now
20. The Great Escape
21. Let Me Let You Know

Tracks 5, 11 and 21 from Can't Take Me Home (2000)
Track 4 and 12 from Missundaztood (2001)
Tracks 3, 7, 16 and 18 from Try This (2003)
Track 6, 9, 13 and 19 from I'm Not Dead (2006)
Tracks 1, 8, 15 and 17 from Funhouse (2008)
Tracks 2, 10, 14 and 20 from The Truth About Love (2012)

A couple years ago, I wrote a Radio Hits One column about the phenomenon of musicians who start out in one hit wonder (or flash in the pan) bands, and then spin off into really successful careers as producers and songwriters for the stars: Linda Perry (formerly of 4 Non Blondes), Greg Kurstin (formerly of Geggy Tah), Dan Wilson (formerly of Semisonic), Butch Walker (formerly of Marvelous 3). And Pink is kind of the patron saint of this phenomenon, because all of the above have all worked on her albums -- plus Tim Armstrong of Rancid worked on nearly all of Try This. All in all, 10 songs from this mix were written and/or produced by people who were in bands that had one or two alt-rock radio hits in the '90s. Buch Walker's work with Pink, particularly "Mean," was really what got me to check out his solo records, which I've become a big fan of.

Almost all these albums have tracks that are either so obnoxiously goofy or so mawkishly sentimental that they test my tolerance, but each of them also has some killer cuts (Missundaztood less than the others for me -- just not into that era of her career at all, successful as it was). A lot of really good Pink songs were either on bonus tracks of certain editions of albums (The Truth About Love outtake "My Signature Move" is amazing) or were barely charting promo singles from towards the end of album cycles, so this isn't even a comprehensive list of her best songs that you wouldn't know if you only know her music from the radio. Still, she's got a lot of jams, and it's been nice to see the cumulative effect of her being this good for this song start to result in her finally seeming as popular as she's been for a long time.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC

TV Diary

Saturday, February 08, 2014

a) "True Detective"
Three episodes in and this is pretty amazing, although it's been said that that's just the 'act one' of the 8 episode arc, and it feels like what happens from here on out will kinda determine what the show is really about. They've set up such an intriguing, subtly bizarre atmosphere, different from the usual cop show but not "Twin Peaks" level odd, and I could see them blowing it with how the mystery unravels (or doesn't), but I hope they don't. McConaughey is just making a meal out of the role of a lifetime, for maybe the 5th time lately, and it's interesting to see a dynamic between him and Harrelson that's completely different from the good ol' boys "Dukes of Hazzard" vibe I half-expected when I heard they were teaming up for a detective show.

b) "Broad City"
This show annoyed before it even aired because an early ad featured a Beastie Boys song, and even if commercials for TV shows are in some ways different than advertisements for products, I was still like damn, people just won't leave Adam Yauch's dying wish alone. But then I actually watched the show, and it's pretty damn good. It's maybe too easy to say that it's a female "Workaholics," but that kind of is the vibe, and it's cool to see Comedy Central break up its bro vibe with something like this. Ilana Glazer is just so completely hysterical and fearless.

c) "Rake"
It's been 20 years or so now since the "Talk Soup" days and I still find myself rooting for Greg Kinnear, feeling vaguely surprised to see him taken seriously as an actor. This show is pretty promising so far -- FOX is aggressively promoting it as being like "House," which I suppose is true in some respects, it's kind of a light network show about a flawed anti-hero. But he has different flaws, and so far the stories have had this ambling, linear quality, it doesn't feel like it's just going to settle into a legal procedural formula where the lawyer character happens to have certain foibles, although that is the show to some extent. Also, can I just say, I love that this show is about a guy who is a rake, but his name isn't Rake, that would be stupid.

d) "Enlisted"
I've only half-watched this but it seemed pretty weak. You'd think there'd be plenty of room to have a funny show with this premise, though.

e) "Intelligence"
I feel bad for Josh Holloway, he was seemingly one of the most likely members of the "Lost" cast to go on to a good career after the show, but it seems like he's been spinning his wheels, plus I guess he had to cut his hair to not 'look like Sawyer' in other roles and now he just looks weird with short hair. Anyway this show had a decent premise and some nice visual effects but the pilot was just too bland to bring me back for other episodes.

f) "Almost Human"
I lasted maybe 3 episodes with this one, but I'm getting really tired of 2 hour TV pilots, they really exhaust my curiosity about new shows quickly and text my patience. It seemed to be getting better after a couple more episodes, or at least lighter and funnier, but it was still just kind of a cheesy show.

g) "Helix"
Their original movies are, of course, ridiculous, but SyFy's original series have been pretty good, or at least better than the generic sci-fi shows the big 4 have been putting on the air like "Almost Human" and "Intelligence." This is one of the more promising ones they've done lately, and it's been fun to watch it with my wife and let her poke holes in the science. I dunno, though, it seems like it could quickly turn into a faux zombie show, which I'm not really interested in.

h) "Betas"
My wife has an Amazon Prime account, so I've been checking out the original series they've started doing, and this one my recent interview subject Jon Daly in it. The pilot didn't really win me over, though, gonna try to watch some more episodes and see if it gets better -- there's an air of levity but it didn't seem to get to the level of being actually funny enough.

i) "Alpha House"
This is the other Amazon Prime show, and it's a bit more promising -- a Washington satire created by Gary Trudeau and starring John Goodman and Clark Johnson from "Homicide: Life On The Street." It's not firing on all cylinders yet but I like it. I wonder what the budget for these shows is, though, it doesn't quite feel like a 'regular TV show' and I wonder if Amazon is spending less than a network would on a show like this.

j) "Getting On"
I only watched a couple episodes of this and it was pretty unique and well done, but a dark comedy about a hospital is maybe too much reality, it was just so drab and gray and mean and unflinching, I can't watch that every week.

k) "The Michael J. Fox Show"
I'm bummed that NBC has pulled this from the schedule and, it's been widely speculated, has already decided to cancel it. It was one of my favorite new shows last fall, but they never did the job of convincing people that this show starring a familiar face from '80s and '90s sitcoms wasn't a boring old-fashioned show when, really, Will Gluck's sense of humor from his movies (Easy A, Fired Up, Friends With Benefits) really defined the show's tone and the cast had great chemistry. That opening title sequence was just ghastly, though, it made me want to turn off the show every time.

l) "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
With all the Golden Globe wins, I guess this show is gonna be around for a while, and I'm glad, it's growing on me. Even Andy Samberg's character at least works when he's bouncing off of other characters, but it's really about the ensemble.

m) "Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D."
This show has gotten so dull that I only watch the first half of it while waiting for "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" to come on (because I refuse to watch "Dads" for even a minute), mostly just for Chloe Bennett now, and never wonder what happened in the second half of the episode that I miss.

n) "Super Fun Night"
I keep thinking of trying this show out again, since it was charming enough the once or twice I watched it, but it just seems doomed, I don't think I'll bother.

o) "Trophy Wife"
This show seemed like it should be terrible but it was initially funnier than I expected and seemed to rapidly improve in the next few episodes. Haven't been able to make a habit of it, though.

p) "Burning Love" 
This is the only good thing E! has put on the air besides "The Soup" in years and I can never seem to find it when it's on or get it OnDemand or anywhere else. What little I saw of the second season was hilarious, thoug.

q) "Suburgatory"
Still low key one of the best sitcoms on TV and getting lower key all the time, they didn't even start this season until January, which is never a good sign. Also now the title sequence is animated for some reason.

r) "Episodes"
I like that the longer this show is on the air, the longer the show-within-a-show "Pucks" has to stay on the air, and the more miserable everybody seems about it. This season hasn't had enough John Pankow, though, is my only complaint.

s) "Shameless"
I dunno if I really care about this show at all anymore. The Lip storyline is at least interesting, putting him in college and letting him finally not be the smartest guy in the room. Some of the other storylines are at least starting to not feel like every other season of the show, at least.

t) "Archer"
This show has always been the bridesmaid to "Bob's Burgers" for me but I know some people feel the opposite. I like that they mixed things up a bit this season but COCAINE HAHAHA isn't that much fresher than the spy stuff when you get down to it.

u) "Justified" 
I'd been starting to get bored with this show the last couple seasons, but it's been good this year. The episode with Alan Tudyk was crazy.

v) "Raising Hope" 
This seemed like a hit for a while but it's really doomed now, huh? FOX just dumping episodes on Fridays now, sometimes two at a time. It feels like they've kinda done all they can with the premise, now, though, I wouldn't be too mad if they canceled it.

w) "Community"
I'm glad that the new episodes with Dan Harmon back on the show have been a return to form, because man if they weren't after all that hooplah? Not up to its season 2 heights, but I like that they're being forced to try new things with the characters and the tone -- the first episode after Donald Glover left to be a corny rapper full-time was really good and subtly novel. Even Chang doesn't feel like he's constantly repeating himself anymore.

x) "Parks & Recreation" 
I will miss Rob Lowe on this show, but he was pretty underused lately anyway, which is probably why he's leaving. I finally actually enjoy this show, now that people are saying it fell off, though. I think I like "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"'s approach to the format more, though.

y) "Parenthood"
There's been some really good stuff on this season, and also some really boring drudgery, plus that depressing and somewhat poorly plotted divorce storyline. I kinda wonder if this is just Sam Jaeger's way of getting off the show -- he's always been the least famous and least interesting adult cast member, and I wouldn't blame him for wanting to get out of such a thankless role.

z) "Saturday Night Live"
I feel bad for Sasheer Zamata, she has potential, but the circumstances under which she came onto the show were so loaded, it's never gonna turn out well, at least based on her perfunctory appearances so far. Some good episodes lately, the last Melissa McCarthy episode was by far her best to date, at least in the first half.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

You may have seen, the hoax site that sprang up last week in advance of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' appearance at the Super Bowl with a fake new song called "Abracadabralifornia." I reached out to the guys who made the site, Jon Daly and Cyrus Ghahremani, for an interview on the Rolling Stone site.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014
I wrote The Short List and my dance music column BPM in this week's Baltimore City Paper.

Monday, February 03, 2014

I contributed a bunch of blurbs to Rolling Stone's list of the 50 Greatest 'Saturday Night Live' Sketches of All Time, was a lot of fun to remember some of my old favorites.

Monthly Report: January 2014 Singles

Sunday, February 02, 2014

1. Katy Perry f/ Juicy J - "Dark Horse"
The whole weird saga of this song becoming a surprise hit is funny because the song actually now fits the definition of the phrase "dark horse" better than the way it's actually used in the lyrics. It just hit #1 barely a month after Katy Perry's label reluctantly released "Dark Horse" as Prism's third single, because radio stations had started picking up on it while the second single was floundering (in fact, the real story may be how much people hated "Unconditionally," which missed the top 10 after she had nine consecutive singles in the top 3). In a weird way this song is the new album's equivalent to "E.T." except that song was awful and Kanye's presence on it was depressing, whereas it's just kind of crazy and awesome to hear Juicy J on a chart-topping pop song. His verse is mostly pretty generic romantic stuff, but there's little moments of Three 6 morbidity creeping in here and there (the Jeffrey Dahmer reference, "She can be my sleeping beauty, I'm gon' put her in a coma"). Also this list kicks off my favorite 2014 singles Spotify playlist.

2. The Band Perry - "Don't Let Me Be Lonely"
On my year-end albums list, I said that "No album in country, or perhaps in any genre, had as good a trio of hit singles this year as Pioneer's first three tracks." But I only put the first two in my 2013 country singles list, because this ended up really hitting its chart peak in 2014, so here it is. I love all the twists and turns of this melody, really is great to sing along with in the car.

3. Phantogram - "Fall In Love"
I don't know anything about this band, and in general I am wary of the kind of quasi-indie synth pop acts that have been creeping onto mainstream alternative radio the last couple years. But holy shit, this song bangs, just a huge, ominous sound, the string samples slithering around the fuzzy bassline, really kinda looking forward to this album.

4. Fat Trel - "She Fell In Love"
I've never listened to a lot of Fat Trel but he initially seemed like an odd fit for MMG when his signing was first announced, beyond him being from the same city as Wale. This song makes it seem more understandable, though, it's basically one of those Rick Ross-style overweight lover tracks, except it's ruder and funnier and more entertaining than any of the ones Rozay has done in a long time, if not ever.

5. Snootie Wild f/ Yo Gotti - "Yayo (Remix)"
I was going to say that this guy sounds like Kevin Gates but doing something more lightweight and then Noz came with the hilarious dismissal "Finally someone made a Kevin Gates record with the intelligence of a Rich Homie Quan record." This song knocks, though, I remember a few weeks ago I heard it in the car and had to Google at a red light to figure out what it was (my phone might have Shazam, I have no idea). And then I got home and Jordan Sargent had just heard it and started talking about it too.

6. Robin Thicke - "Feel Good"
I've been doing these Monthly Reports since 2009, and in five years Blurred Lines is the first album that I've listed four singles from in this space (the closest I've come in the past was Jeezy's Thug Motivation 103, but one of the advance singles, "Jizzle," ended up not on the album at all and another, "Lose My Mind," was only a bonus track). Anyway, it's an awesome album full of really enjoyable tracks, and it's kind of a shame that people got so stuck on the title track and for the most part haven't given the follow-up singles much of a chance.

7. Fantasia - "Side Effects of You"
The title track to Side Effects of You is also the only song on the album not produced by Harmony Samuels, but was written by a couple of other Brits, Emeli Sande and her producer Naughty Boy. I didn't even realize Sande wrote this until I looked it up just now, but it totally makes sense now that I listen for it, and it's fine with me, I liked a couple of her singles that got some play in America. Anyway, great album, although there's not quite anything that would've made a perfect follow-up single to "Without Me."

8. The 1975 - "Chocolate"
This band is kinda hard to get my head around, they're British but otherwise have this glossy '90s Third Eye Blind kind of aesthetic. The part of me that thinks Spymob made one of the best albums of the last decade should be all about them, but it's really taken me a long time to warm up to their album, mainly because of the singer's completely ridiculous voice. This song is kind of a jam, though, no matter how many times he says "petticoat."

9. Sick Puppies - "Gunfight"
Sick Puppies are largely famous for being an Australian band who sound like they should be some kind of metal band but mostly have had hits with slick power ballads. This is the first song I've heard from them that sounds like it would be by a band called Sick Puppies, though, and it's absolutely insane, with some kind of warped attempt at social commentary that includes a verse opening with the phrase "Here's a little story 'bout Kevin Bacon."

10. Britney Spears - "Perfume"
This is a pretty good Sia-written song that was kinda wasted on Britney's voice, but there's something about the whole feeble affair that I enjoy. Also maybe it was a bad idea to use the phrase "mark my territory" so much, makes it sound a little like piss is her cologne.

The Worst Single of the Month: Lorde - "Team"
I'm sick to death of "Royals" and never really liked it to begin with but whatever, I get that people like it, I'm okay with it to some extent. This song, though, oof. It's weird when someone's second single seems almost like a parody of their first. It's like someone created a Lorde lyric generator to come up with phrases like "not very pretty but we sure know how to run things" and "I'm kind of over getting told to put my hands up in the air -- SO THERE." And lemme just say, the way she and some of her supporters have decried any criticism of her as 'adults picking on a teenager' is getting old -- if she's old enough to win awards and sell tons of records, she's old enough to get negative feedback too. She seems like a smart person (not going to condescendingly say a 'smart kid' or a 'smart girl') and her voice has some appeal, but for the time being, the music is really not doing anything for me.