Saturday, May 31, 2014

I did a big feature for Wondering Sound about one of my favorite Baltimore bands, Wye Oak. Was really cool to sit down and talk to them ages after seeing their early shows and becoming a big fan of the records, really tried to dig in and tell an in-depth story about the band and their great new record, Shriek. (Photos by J.M. Giordano.)

Monthly Report: May 2014 Singles

Friday, May 30, 2014

1. Tinashe f/ ScHoolboy Q - "2 On"
At the inevitable point a few months ago when the DJ Mustard sound started crossing over from rap to R&B, I was really not enjoying hearing overexposed guys like Trey Songz and Chris Brown oversing on hard, brittle Mustard drums. It just seemed like a terrible combination. But then this song gives me hope, both for the capacity of singers, especially female singers, to sound good on those beats, and for Mustard's versatility. There's so many little sounds in this track, it's just amazingly detailed for a guy who initially got over with sparse, hard-hitting minimalism. And Tinashe hits like 6 different vocal melodies that all sound great over that groove. Also fuck the version of this with Drake and his beardy friend so much, totally ruins the song, but hey maybe it's helping the original break through on radio at least. Check out my Spotify playlist of favorite singles of 2014 so far.

2. Ed Sheeran - "Sing"
I had no idea who did this song the first few times I heard it on the radio, and wouldn't have guessed it was Sheeran, which is probably the best way to open up your ears to it. It's a little ridiculous to hear this British ginger folkie go in the studio with Pharrell and turn out a better Timberlake track than anything on Justin's last album, but hey, if Justified happened mainly because Michael Jackson didn't want Pharrell's tracks, there's kinda some history repeating here. This has some cringe-inducing lyrics but, hey, so did "Like I Love You." Although actually the guitar in this reminds me more of "Long Train Running" than anything else.

3. K. Michelle - "Can't Raise A Man"
This song was the one holdover from K. Michelle's 2012 mixtape that made it onto her proper debut album in 2013, and it really is a great one, worthy of its long road to becoming a radio hit. For all of K. Michelle's well-earned reputation as the trashy queen of 'ratchet' R&B, she can actually write a smart, novel, well-observed song about gender relations like this while her male counterparts like Ty Dolla $ign come off like cavemen.

4. Lil Boosie and Webbie f/ Kiara - "Show The World"
There's something a little frustrating about Boosie having been home for 2, going on 3 months now and there hasn't really been a whole lot of new music yet (although if that scheduled album does drop in July, I won't begrudge the lack of a mixtape or anything). And it's just kind of funny to have this song, which was released shortly before he got out of jail, and must have been recorded back in 2009 or something, become the first big hit of his return. But it's really grown on me, and nicely sums up how Boosie's music tends to be a lot more earnest and wholesome and plainspoken than he gets credit for. And he ended up cutting a remix with K. Michelle that both improves the singing on the hook and gives you a good basis for how 2014 Boosie sounds different from pre-prison Boosie.

5. Neon Trees - "Sleeping With A Friend"
Neon Trees are in that kind of awkward space pop-leaning bands can get into where the lead singles off of each of their first 2 albums was a big crossover hit, but they don't really have much of an established identity beyond those songs, and it feels like a lot rides on them being able to keep making big hits. And it's a shame that both their third album, the awesomely titled Pop Psychology, and this lead single don't seem to be hitting very big, because they depart a little bit from the sound of "Animal" and "Everybody Talks," while frontman Tyler Glenn has recently come out of the closet and given the band maybe a bit more of a human identity. This song seems to be hanging onto the charts for a good while, though, hopefully it can pull of sleeper hit status.

6. Magic! - "Rude"
The singer of Magic! reminds me so much of the singer of Neon Trees that when I first heard "Rude" on the radio, mere days after listening to the new Neon Trees album, I kinda did a doubletake like "wait, they have a new song that's not on the album?" This is a nice catchy song, although the more I see this skeevy-looking band's video and contemplate the idea of a Canadian reggae pop hit, the harder it is to totally get behind it.

7. Lana Del Rey - "West Coast"
I consider myself to be good at separating the song from the artist, and being able to enjoy something even if I didn't like what they've made in the past, I really think that's a key component to loving pop music and not being a closed-minded rockist auteurist. And sometimes that principle is tested when I find myself having to admit that I really dig, say, a new Lana Del Rey song produced by the guy from the Black Keys. This is pretty good, though, seems to get across her single-minded overcooked aesthetic better than usual, and I really like the washed out surf rock noir sound of the track, which actually reminds me a lot of restrained mid-'90s Sonic Youth ("Skink" in particular), when it's not reminding me of Stevie Nicks ("ooh baby, ooh baby") or the New Radicals ("you've got the music in you").

8. Bear Hands - "Giants"
Minor alt-rock radio hit with cringe-inducing lyrics referencing ODB but a really great central riff and some cool, bombastic production.

9. Ingrid Michaelson - "Girls Chase Boys"
Never thought much of her previous songs that hit big on the VH1/"Grey's Anatomy" circuit, but this one really feels like an impressive crossover moment with a ton of huge hooks and sly turns of phrase. No points for being the billionth music video to attempt to play off of those Robert Palmer vids, though.

10. Naughty Boy f/ Sam Smith - "La La La"
Sam Smith seems to be getting set up as the new male Adele, although I'm a bit skeptical, mostly because he's got this weird trembling voice and his solo single, "Stay With Me," totally bites the chorus of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." But at the moment he seems to be getting more traction with his dance collaborations, Disclosure's "Latch" and this, which uses his odd overdramatic voice to good effect as he literally impersonates a whining little kid and a goofy vocal sample plays in the background, and the producer's name is 'Naughty Boy' fer chrissakes. Really highly silly song, but I like it.

Worst Single of the Month: K Camp f/ 2 Chainz - "Cut Her Off"
There's never been a perfect way to navigate listening to rap while being against misogyny, but in general I've been able to feel comfortable listening to a lot of questionable rap by at least feeling like it was sex-positive and not really anti-women even when it wasn't especially respectful of women. But there's really been a rash of songs on the radio lately, from "Loyal" to "I Won" to especially "Cut Her Off," that just seem awful on so many levels and make me change the station instantly. "Cut Her Off" is especially bad because K Camp's previous single seemed a lot catchier and it kinda mystifies me why this ugly and not very good song seems to be blowing up so much bigger.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In this week's City Paper, I wrote The Short List and a Rap Sheet column, both featuring a lot of upcoming hip hop shows in Baltimore, including Eze Jackson at this weekend's Baltimore Indie Fest.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rolling Stone did a list of the best music documentaries streaming on Netflix that I contributed to, writing about Kurt & Courtney, Muscle Shoals and Ain't In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm.

Monthly Report: April 2014 Albums

Friday, May 23, 2014

1. The Nels Cline Singers - Macroscope
With Trevor Dunn seamlessly settling into Devin Hoff's role as the bassist in the Nels Cline Singers, the trio increasingly feels most notably like a collaboration between Cline and Scott Amendola. Of course, Cline is the primary composer and his guitar is the defining texture of even most recordings where he's a sideman, but Amendola, always an impressive leader in his own right, has been given more and more free reign to experiment with different percussion ideas and even loops and effects on Singers records, to great effect. The dubby sounds on "Red Before Orange," the busy, overstuffed groove on "The Wedding Band," all really brilliant stuff. Over the years there have been occasional (wordless) vocals on Singers releases that have made the band's name less ironic, and that also continues here on "Respira." I'm bummed that I missed the Singers' recent show in Baltimore, but Nels seems to be coming here more regularly now, so there'll be other shows. Here is the 2014 albums Spotify playlist that I put every album I listen to on, btw.

2. Wye Oak - Shriek
I've got a big piece on Wye Oak coming out soon so I won't say too much, other than that I've loved this band for a long time, and this album feels like a really exciting, necessary step in their evolution. Their recent show at the 9:30 Club was one of those concerts that made the new stuff sound so good it's almost hard to go back to the album, but the record itself sounds amazing too, all the syncopated bass guitar stuff is such a cool way to revamp their sound while still retaining the interesting rhythmic and melodic sensibility they've always had.

3. Little Feat - Live In Holland 1976
The last few months have been a really good time to be a Little Feat fanatic -- there was a biography of the band, a remastered box set of their Warner Bros. albums, and now a new commercial live album of a Lowell George-era show. Of course, this was recorded only a year before the band's definitive live album, Waiting For Columbus, which remains impossible to top, but Live In Holland 1976 is highly enjoyable in its own right. Where Columbus was polished with studio overdubs and featured a horn section onstage with the band, this sounds more like someone holding a mic in front of the stage for a great performance by the band's core lineup, hitting these amazing loose gritty grooves on "Skin It Back" and "Cold, Cold, Cold." George's slide guitar on "Rock And Roll Doctor" is just staggering. It's also interesting from a historical perspective, in that this was around the point when the band was going overseas more and becoming really well loved in Europe -- John Peel's first Festive Fifty was at the end of 1976, and it featured two Little Feat songs.

4. Tate Kobang - Crown Of Thorns
I already wrote about this but I'm still processing it, really. The dude is crazy talented and one of my favorite rappers in Baltimore, and in some ways this is a more mature, balanced record than his previous tapes, and not in a boring way, he's just being more autobiographical and vulnerable but still making really visceral music and rapping his ass off. Check it out on DatPiff.

5. Deleted Scenes - Lithium Burn
This is a D.C. band who plays Baltimore often enough that I've seen them quite a few times, since before their first album was out, and it's been really cool to watch them grow and develop up through this, their third album. I'm still kinda stuck on some of the songs from their first album as their most memorable tunes, but the production and performances on this are really outstanding. The dynamics of just the first three tracks, bouncing from the jagged, hyper "Haircuts Uniform" to the anthemic "Caught In The Brights" to the piano ballad "Landfall," really set up the great way this album hits all these peaks and valleys.

6. Future - Honest
This album has a few joints and I'm glad it's finally here, but I'm kind of surprised by how many people are enthusiastic about such a total archetypal sophomore slump. It reminds me of Tha Carter III, one of those albums recorded over such a long period of time, while so much great material was thrown out on other projects or for other artists, that the final product feels almost like an outtake (except Carter III, flawed as it is, was still way better). I like "I Be U" and "Side Effects," and "Honest" is still great, but really it's the multitude of so-so songs like "Look Ahead" that drag this down. Also, it's kind of amazing, after what happened with Lil Wayne's "Karate Chop" verse, that Future had the balls to beat the China like Kunta Kinte on "Move That Dope."

7. The Both - The Both
As a big Ted Leo fan and a casual Aimee Mann fan, I was intrigued by this pairing, and overall liked the results, which sounded more like a lower fidelity Leo album with Mann throwing in her two cents here and there, when I might've actually liked to her some of her polish in there too. It's funny to think of them finding this common ground a couple decades after he was playing in hardcore bands while she had big poofy hair on MTV. I need to pick this album up and give it more listens, though, I only heard it streaming on NPR pre-release and it hasn't been on Spotify, and I'm lazy about hearing stuff I can't stream these days.

8. Mobb Deep - The Infamous Mobb Deep
I did my phone interview with Prodigy a couple months ago, which was really pleasant if not exactly riveting conversation, before this album was out, so I kinda wrote about what was known about the project without being able to offer any kind of opinion on it. Now that the album has been out, and it's gotten at least one middling review that made Prodigy wild out on a critic on Twitter, I mean, it's neither as bad as some as written about nor good enough to go to war over. I like it, though, for some reason new Mobb music doesn't seem to hit the spot like Prodigy's solo stuff, especially with Alchemist, but not through any fault of Havoc, who in a way sounds more like he always has than P. Some nice low key bangers like "Say Something" on here. Packaging it with some hot outtakes from the group's undisputed masterpiece was maybe not the best way to get people excited about Mobb Deep's new stuff, though.

9. Repelican - Pall Mall Blues
I've already written a lot about Jon Ehrens's various bands, and almost didn't write my recent Repelican feature until an opportunity came out and the article turned out really well, so I'm always happy to spread the word about his stuff. This is maybe one of his weirder, more insular and lo-fi records, not as much of an entry point as the White Life and Dungeonesse albums, but it's still got some jams. Check the album out on Bandcamp.

10. Iggy Azalea - The New Classic
I already admitted to enjoying "Work," but that was a year ago, back when it didn't seem that plausible that Iggy would shortly become legitimately famous in America, and now that she has, the pushback from most rap fans has geared up into overdrive. And on balance, I'm pretty much okay with saying that her rise is kind of depressing and predictable and follows a whole disheartening trend in pop music with the careers of white rappers and R&B singers. That said, she makes pretty solid pop rap, if someone more acceptable like Nicki made an album with these beats and hooks everybody would bow down. That doesn't exactly excuse the cringe-inducing aspects of her rapping and her persona, but I'm just saying, this album has clear aims and succeeds at them, and I kinda respect that. I don't really fuck with "Fancy," but "100," "New Bitch," "Fuck Love," those are jams.

Worst Album of the Month: The Afghan Whigs - Do To The Beast
As a teenager in the '90s, the amount of music I was interested in inevitably exceeded my CD budget, and there were a lot of bands that wound up indefinitely on the perennial to-do list, until it was convenient and cheap to check out their albums on Spotify or whatever. One of them was The Afghan Whigs, who I'd spent a couple decades vaguely thinking were kind of awesome, until I heard the albums and decided they were kinda bullshit. They seemed intriguing at the time for being one of the few alt-rock bands with some kind of engagement with R&B and a sense of provocative sexuality and noirish drama, but beyond a couple ace singles, they're really just kind of hamhanded and lousy: borderline unlistenable singing and a band full of players with absolutely no personality or creativity. So in a way it was just an interesting exercise to hear how much worse they could be now, reunited, than they were in the so-so old days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
I wrote The Short List in this week's Baltimore City Paper of all the cool shows going on in town over the next week -- except for, of course, my show tonight, although it got recommended elsewhere on the City Paper site.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I wrote about the new Height With Friends track "Roxanne Returns (The War Continues)" on WAMU's Bandwidth site.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 19: Missy Elliott

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Missy has always been front of mind as a candidate for this series (in fact, I mentioned her in the first installment as a perfect fit). At her peak, she was one of the most acclaimed and popular singles artists of her era, and while the albums sold well and got good reviews, it always felt like nearly all the excitement focused on her singles and videos. Plus she was tied closely to a brilliant producer, Timbaland, to the point that she maybe didn't get enough credit for being as big a part of why Missy Elliott records were great as she actually was. Given the way she uniquely straddled rap and R&B may have hurt her, too (although, of course, that hasn't stopped Drake albums from being canonized, so things have clearly changed).

And consensus isn't too strong around Missy's albums -- Supa Dupa Fly or Miss E or Under Construction may be equally likely to be somebody's favorite, but none of them has emerged as a canonized classic album the way "The Rain" or "Get Ur Freak On" or "Work It" have been canonized as great singles and videos. In a way, I get it: Missy is a victim of her own consistency. I always have trouble naming a favorite album of hers because the first 3 are so good in different ways and at any given time any of them could be my favorite. And then next 3 are also really damn good, just on a slightly lower tier the early albums.

Missy Elliott Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. I'm Talkin'
2. Smooth Chick
3. Slap! Slap! Slap! (featuring Da Brat and Jade)
4. Play That Beat
5. Dat's What I'm Talkin' About (featuring R. Kelly)
6. Can't Stop
7. Dog In Heat (featuring Method Man and Redman)
8. Slide
9. Busa Rhyme (featuring Eminem)
10. Best Friends (featuring Aaliyah)
11. Is This Our Last Time (featuring Fabolous)
12. U Can't Resist (featuring Juvenile and B.G.)
13. Scream a.k.a. Itchin'
14. Stickin' Chickens (featuring Aaliyah and Da Brat)
15. Izzy Izzy Ahh
16. Let Me Fix My Weave
17. Don't Be Coming
18. Time And Time Again

Tracks 1, 10, 15 and 17 from Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
Tracks 2, 9, 12 and 14 from Da Real World (1999)
Tracks 3, 7 and 13 from Miss E... So Addictive (2001)
Tracks 4 and 8 from Under Construction (2002)
Tracks 5, 11 and 16 from This Is Not A Test! (2003)
Tracks 6 and 18 from The Cookbook (2005)

Of course, there's a 7th Missy album that's been in the pipeline for years, and at this rate we may never see Block Party. And I kinda blame the world's lack of faith in Missy without Timbo. The Cookbook was dope, tracks like "Can't Stop" and "Is This Our Last Time" are great examples of how good she can be with other producers, and even in recent years she's appeared on great hits by J. Cole and Fantasia. But the two Tim-produced Missy singles that dropped a couple years ago landed with such a thud that it seemed clear that their chemistry is dead. I'd still love a new Missy album, though, especially an R&B-heavy one.

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
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a BPM dance music column and The Short List.

I should note, by the way, that I started Government Names 10 years ago this week. It feels odd to say, but starting a blog really was a life-changing decision for me that has had a huge impact on the last decade of my life. Shout out to Dylan.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I've been working for Mobtown Studios for years, and writing articles to accompany their BSides series for the last few months, but a few weeks ago in April we had one of our most memorable days in the studio's history, recording a BSides session with The Dismemberment Plan. It was just crazy to hang out in the studio with one of my all-time favorite bands and watch them run through a couple songs with a camera crew rolling. As usual, the BSides feature includes audio of the two songs they played ("If I Don't Write" and "Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer"), a short YouTube documentary of the session, and my article about the band's visit to Mobtown.

TV Diary

Monday, May 12, 2014

a) "Silicon Valley"
In a way this is the closest anything Mike Judge has done to Office Space since Office Space, but as a TV show, which should be pretty promising in and of itself, but so far I'm not very enthusiastic about it. I like the cast, but T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, all those guys feel a little bit wasted, and the most memorable character, Peter Gregory, is played by Christopher Evan Welch, who died halfway through shooting the season, which doesn't bode well for the future.

b) "Penny Dreadful"
I love Eva Green so much that I watched the last unpromising historical fantasy cable series she was on, "Camelot" on STARZ, and so I will watch this one two. It even has Timothy Dalton. A Bond and a Bond girl! The pilot didn't really grab me, though, kinda felt like they set the story in motion without really having a lot of forward momentum to make me care what happens from here on out.

c) "Fargo"
The only thing odder than TV adaptations of successful movies is ones where they abandon all the actual characters and stories from the movie and just run with the basic tone and premise. It worked for "Parenthood" because they had a readymade template for heart-warming family drama; here, trying to replicate the vibe of one of the Coen brothers' signature films for serialized black comedy in the frigid, friendly midwest (and like "Parenthood," there was already one aborted "Fargo" TV pilot back in the '90s that hedged closer to the source material). After a while, I get a really icky uncanny valley feeling watching this -- it's kind of sort of like Fargo the movie, except you don't even feel a little bit of pity for Martin Freeman like you did for William H. Macy. And, honestly as great as the movie was, it's a little dated, and the soft fun it pokes at Minnesotans has curdled a bit -- in the pilot, you get a stripper saying "ohh yeah ohh yeah ohh yeah" in an exaggerated Minnesota accent while getting plowed by a customer, and another character saying "ah jeez ah jeez ah jeez" while murdering someone with a hammer. The whole thing is kind of gross.

d) "Bad Teacher"
Turning Bad Teacher into a TV series is probably not as hard as Fargo, just in terms of the size of the shoes you're filling -- the movie basically felt like a sitcom to begin with. But the moderate laughs Bad Teacher did get were basically only possible with an R rating, so the defanged version for network primetime just felt kind of sad -- plus Ari Graynor might be too likeable to pull off the heel turn required by the role. Not surprised it was canceled after 3 episodes.

e) "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" 
I was excited by the recent announcement that something as promising as "The Minority Report With Larry Wilmore" will take "The Colbert Report"'s place after "The Daily Show," because for a while there I was feeling kind of annoyed that because of the luck of timing, John Oliver's logical role as the successor of that timeslot had been missed because he happened to sign up for this HBO show just before Colbert got the Letterman gig. I'm still a little weirded out by Oliver doing a shamelessly "TDS"-like show once a week on another network, though -- he could've some SOMETHING to try and make it a less transparent reenactment of the same format. But needless to say, it's really funny, and he's already starting to stake out some territory than feels a little different than how Stewart covers the news. The show's biggest strength, though, might be that they have to jam-pack the best show they can do for the whole week into 30 minutes, and they do it on Sunday, when there's invariably been 3 whole days of news to talk about that Stewart and Colbert's Thursday shows didn't get a chance to cover -- sometimes it irritates me to see "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" struggle not to make the same obvious joke about the same breaking headline.

f) "This Is Hot 97"
Making painfully uncomfortable hip hop-themed reality shows is kind of what VH1 does now, and I'm comfortable avoiding them and hearing about the silliness on Twitter. I had to check this one out just to see what the fuck they're going for, though, and man, if there's any sadder than bad reality TV, it's bad satirical reality TV. You get a bunch of radio personalities who aren't quite as funny as they think they are together, and let them do some weird awkward sitcom bickering over obviously staged "plots," good god, it's terrifying. It reminds me a bit of that really bad Gene Simmons reality show. Plus, I mean, these are mostly all people who have a face for radio, as the saying goes.

g) "Playing House"
Two years ago, Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair had a show on NBC, "Best Friends Forever," for a few episodes, that was about someone moving back to their hometown to reconnect with their best friend. Now, they're doing more or less the same show on USA, except in this version one of them is pregnant. Both shows were charming and minor, the main difference being that this one is on cable and might last for more than 6 episodes.

h) "Friends With Better Lives" 
One of my favorite things about the "Community" finale was the riff on a potential spinoff that perfectly lampooned so many current hopeless relationship-themed network sitcoms ("something that would last 6 episodes and have a lot of bickering about tweezers and gluten, starring them an equally WASP-y brunette couple, with a title like 'Better With My Worse Half,' or 'Awfully Wedded,' or 'Tying The Not,' but 'knot' is spelled without a 'k,' or '#CouplePeopleProblems.'") I would almost say they were directly dissing "Friends With Better Lives" if not for the dozen other shows that are just as likely the target. I actually almost enjoyed this show, though, mainly for Zoe Lister-Jones, who will hopefully someday find a better show than this or "Whitney."

i) "Surviving Jack"
Chris Meloni has been ready to do a sitcom for a long time, but this really wasn't the one that was gonna work. Very similar situation to "Growing Up Fisher" starring J.K. Simmons, another "Law & Order" guy who everyone knows is funny and finally did a sitcom that just turned out to be lame.

j) "TripTank"
As long as "South Park" is making money, Comedy Central will keep trying to make new animated shows, and they will keep being awful. This one is animated shorts with a whole lot of different people involved, so it's inevitably kind of a grab bag of good and bad, but what little I saw was just kind of crass and lazy.

k) "Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey"
I really need to catch up on this, I've only seen one episode and it was really good. This is the kind of thing, though, that I look forward to watching with my son in a few years, when he can understand it, this seems really made to blow kids' minds and expose them to ways of looking at the world.

l) "Rick And Morty"
This really grew on me after a few episodes. Sometimes it's just a little indulgent in its high-concept misanthropy, but it's done with a little more intelligence than the usual Adult Swim willful absurdity and some of the episodes just pull off something really strange and unique.

m) "Believe"
I've never seen a show tank from the pilot to the second episode so badly, mainly because the pilot was directed by Alfonso Cuaron and the second just looked like another awkwardly directed TV action drama. But also, the great villain from the pilot didn't appear at all in the next couple episodes I watched, so I lost interest pretty quickly.

n) "Veep"
Still a great, amazingly sharp show, although they're clearly hitting that 3rd season point where they're trying to rearrange the dynamics between characters and some of it works, some of it doesn't (Jonah is still funny, but getting him fired from the White House and shifting around to different jobs every episode is getting weird).

o) "Funny Or Die's Billy On The Street"
I feel like this is one of the rare shows where an increase in celebrity cameos is a good thing, because Billy Eichner is just a maniac and finds a way to make it funny and unexpected every time. Looking forward to the sitcom with him that USA recently picked up.

p) "The Mindy Project"
I feel like this show really hit its stride and figured out the right cast chemistry this season (especially with the addition of Adam Pally), but the relationship between Mindy and Danny always worked better when it was teased as a hypothetical than now that they've actually gone there, kinda hoping that doesn't become the focal point of the show for the next season or two.

q) "New Girl"
"New Girl" was arguably hurt by the on-again off-again relationship stuff with Jess and Nick too, but so far it hasn't really bothered me, this season ended with some strong episodes.

r) "Raising Hope" 
This show really started strong and petered out; I wanted to feel outraged when FOX threw it on Friday nights to burn off episodes, but those episodes never really seemed as strong as the early seasons, so I couldn't muster much disappointment when they inevitably canceled it. The series finale barely even felt like a season finale.

s) "Parks And Recreation"
Now, this is a show where the season finale felt a little too much like a series finale, it almost feels weird that they're doing one more season now, it feels like they've got one foot out the door.

t) "Justified"
Another show that's now got one year left, and feels like it's already almost run its course. There were a few really cool moments spread out over a ho-hum season this year, but I kinda get the sense they're ready to go out with a bang and do a really good final season, so I'm glad I've stuck with the show.

u) "The Soup"
When Joel McHale was in town recently for the White House Correspondents' Dinner, they taped "The Soup" in D.C. at the NBC building, and my boss got to run Joel's teleprompter for the episode, which made me so, so, so jealous. That coulda been me! Oh well. Now that "Community" is done it's nice that dude still has a job, I'm glad he never got used to the network money and left "The Soup," at this point it's hard to imagine anyone else hosting.

Friday, May 09, 2014

On Wednesday, May 21st, my band Western Blot is once again playing Club K, and I'm really excited about the show because it's part of a U.S. tour by two bands from Taiwain, OverDose and 晨曦光廊-Sun Of Morning (The Hsu-Nami and BoySpit are also on the bill). I think we're playing early in the night, should be fun!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

With the release of this year's XXL Freshmen list, I looked back on the past freshmen, ranking them from XXL to S for a piece on

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

This week in the Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a feature about the new album by Repelican, one of the many bands of Jon Ehrens that I've written about before (along with White Life, The Art Department, Dungeonesse and others).

Also wrote The Short List in this week's issue as usual.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 18: Elton John

Monday, May 05, 2014

As one of the most popular recording artists of the 1970s, or of all time, really, Elton John doesn't necessarily need an overview like this. And, as the recent lavish 40th anniversary reissue of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road can attest, he does have albums that are held up as classics beyond the hits. But as Robert Christgau once said, "when John is praised critically, it is usually as a singles artist." And having grown up with the same couple dozen singles everybody knows, it's been enriching for me to delve into the rest of his catalog in the last couple years.

Elton John Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Amoreena
2. All The Girls Love Alice
3. Tower Of Babel
4. Madman Across The Water
5. Theme From A Non-Existant TV Series
6. I'm Going To Be A Teenage Idol
7. I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself
8. Pinky
9. Sweet Painted Lady
10. My Father's Gun
11. I've Seen That Movie Too
12. Empty Sky
13. Burn Down The Mission
14. We All Fall In Love Sometimes
15. Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters

Track 12 from Empty Sky (1969)
Tracks 1, 10 and 13 from Tumbleweed Connection (1970)
Track 4 from Madman Across The Water (1971)
Tracks 7 and 15 from Honky Chateau (1972)
Track 6 from Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player (1973)
Tracks 2, 9 and 11 from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
Track 8 from Caribou (1974)
Track 3 and 14 from Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975)
Track 5 from Blue Moves (1976)

Although I enjoyed last year's The Diving Board, and am a fan of a lot of the '80s hits, I decided to limit this to just the first few years of his career. Elton and Bernie Taupin were so incredibly prolific and successful in that period that, even narrowing down the chronological period, by the time I trimmed this thing down to 80 minutes I didn't have room for anything from Elton John or Rock Of The Westies, to say nothing of any post-1976 work. This is definitely one of those artists I'll earmark for a possible second volume of deep album cuts sometime down the road.

Hearing "Amoreena" in the opening of Dog Day Afternoon was kind of my introduction to taking an interest in Elton deep cuts, and it remains a favorite. Tumbleweed Connection is probably my favorite album, and it fascinates me that it's platinum without any hit singles while Elton John, released 6 months earlier and featuring "Your Song," is only gold, something that really seemed to cement him as an albums artist. Caribou is a really good one from the peak years that always seems to get overlooked. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was my first Elton album, and I have something of a love/hate relationship with it, and don't hold it in the same esteem as a lot of other big double albums. "I've Seen That Movie Too" has always been a favorite, though, and I was amused to recently learn that it played a role in the creation of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Elton has always been a big champion of his deep cuts, playing non-hits like "Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters" (which is arguably not obscure enough to even be here -- the only deep cut that I've heard on the radio far too much to include was "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding"). In a Rolling Stone article during the press run for The Diving Board last year, Elton picked 20 songs to talk about while tracing the arc of his career, including deep cuts like "Empty Sky," "Madman," and "We All Fall In Love Sometimes."

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
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore

Friday, May 02, 2014

I wrote a list for Complex Magazine of 15 'soul-baring' artists.

On a somewhat related note, Pause Magazine is an iPad/iPhone app that curates some of the best music writing, and they recently picked one of my pieces for Complex, "Hustlin' Flow."