Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This week the Baltimore City Paper published its annual Big Music Issue. In it, I wrote a feature about rap duo AK Slaughter, who are releasing their final EP and playing a farewell show next week, and I also wrote The Short List as usual.

(photo by Josh Sisk)

Monday, July 28, 2014

My lists of the biggest summer songs of each decade for Rolling Stone continue with the '90s.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Sunday, July 27, 2014

This week, Tom Petty is releasing his 16th album (and 13th with The Heartbreakers), Hypnotic Eye, so I figured it was a good time to finally dedicated a deep cuts playlist to one of the acts I've been promising to cover since the first installment. In fact, there were 2 previous points in the series when I intended this one to be next, and decided to delay it because I just needed more time to comb through Petty's huge catalog and familiarize myself with the non-hits. Their first best-of compilation, Greatest Hits, was released in 1993, when I was 11. And though I was always a pretty classic rock-friendly adolescent of the grunge era, it is true in a broad sense that Petty was pretty much the hippest boomer rock icon still making music at the time (outside of maybe Neil Young). And as one of the 7 million people who bought that Greatest Hits collection, I was just bowled over by how many perfect singles the guy had written, and took a couple decades to properly educate myself in his albums.

One of the central theories or questions of this series is the chicken-or-egg aspect of hit singles. Out of an album with a dozen songs and just a couple hits, did the best songs naturally, inevitably become the popular favorites, or would any song the label promoted as a single have performed more or less similarly? If Tom Petty can write 17 songs as perfect as the ones on Greatest Hits, it stands to reason that there'd be dozens more on the albums, right? But as consistent and frequently excellent as his albums are, it took longer than usual to pick out favorite album tracks. Often, Petty's voice gets in the way -- he puts his unique instrument to ideal use on the hits, but frequently on the album tracks it's too whispy, or too guttural, or too much like a bad imitation of Dylan. Slowly, though, the standouts emerged.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. We Stand A Chance
2. A Thing About You
3. You Tell Me
4. A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own
5. Too Much Ain't Enough
6. The Wild One, Forever
7. How Many More Days
8. Finding Out
9. Shadow Of A Doubt (A Complex Kid)
10. Straight Into Darkness
11. Hope You Never
12. Insider
13. Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)
14. Southern Accents
15. Wildflowers
16. Turn This Car Around
17. The Trip To Pirate's Cove
18. No More
19. Dreamville
20. The Dark Of The Sun
21. Alright For Now

Track 6 from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976)
Track 5 from You're Gonna Get It! (1978)
Tracks 3 and 9 from Damn The Torpedoes (1979)
Tracks 2 and 12 from Hard Promises (1981)
Tracks 1, 8 and 10 from Long After Dark (1982)
Track 14 from Southern Accents (1985)
Tracks 7 and 13 from Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) (1987)
Tracks 4 and 21 from Full Moon Fever (1989)
Track 20 from Into The Great Wide Open (1991)
Track 15 from Wildflowers (1994)
Track 11 from Songs and Music from "She's The One" (1996)
Track 18 from Echo (1999)
Track 19 from The Last DJ (2002)
Track 16 from Highway Companion (2006)
Track 17 from Mojo (2010)

It bears mentioning that three of those albums (Full Moon Fever, Wildflowers and Highway Companion) are technically Tom Petty solo records, although I consider the distinction to be fairly pointless. Mike Campbell plays all over all of those albums, several other Heartbreakers are on two of them, and really there's little to no aesthetic difference.

One of the refreshing things about Petty's catalog is that you never really know where the gems will be found, and going by the strength of the singles isn't necessarily the best clue. The self-titled debut has "American Girl" and "Breakdown," but nothing else on it can even hope to compete with those songs. Meanwhile Long After Dark has way more quality deep cuts than I would've expected based on the good but not quite transcendent "You Got Lucky" being its biggest hit. And while Damn The Torpedoes and Full Moon Fever are deserving of their status as Petty's most fertile crops of hits, their long singles campaigns didn't leave as many great album tracks to pick over.

Once I started finding the good stuff, there was suddenly far more than I could fit here. "The Insider" is another great Stevie Nicks collaborations from the same sessions that yielded "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." "Hope You Never" is the best thing to ever come out of the damned Edward Burns filmography. And while the last half dozen albums are less essential, they're all pretty listenable. Well, except for The Last DJ, that's a pretty insufferably cantankerous concept album, even if it comes from a place of love for the rock radio, the medium that Tom Petty is an uncontested champion of.

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
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic

Fall Out Boy and Paramore @ Merriweather Post Pavilion, July 17

Saturday, July 26, 2014

(photo by Jennifer German-Shipley)

A few songs into Paramore’s set on a recent Friday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, singer Hayley Williams recalled the first time her band played the Maryland shed venue: as part of the Vans Warped Tour nine years ago, performing on a side stage attached to “a little pink truck.” This time, however, Paramore were on the main stage, co-headlining their so-called Monumentour with another band of Warped veterans, Fall Out Boy.

In 2013, both Fall Out Boy and Paramore released albums that brought them roaring back from the commercial downturn that beset nearly every other pop punk and emo band that broke through in the last decade – many of them were at Merriweather four days later for the 2014 Warped Tour. Both albums debuted on Billboard at #1, and spun off monster singles: Paramore’s bouncy pop crossover “Ain’t It Fun” recently became their first top ten hit, while “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” has catapulted Fall Out Boy into jock jam immortality, soundtracking countless sporting events and playoff broadcasts over the past year. In an age when major label rock is rarely both good and successful, their success is increasingly rare.

Paramore reemerged on last year’s self-titled album as a trio, after founding members Josh and Zac Farro left in a huff, insinuating that the band had been nothing but a star vehicle for Williams from the beginning, backed by shady industry forces even in their early Warped side stage days. But the punk cred dog whistle of their claims barely mattered to the band’s fanbase, nor should it. A recurring theme of 21st century pop music is female singers who’ve had to fight industry machinations to make rockier, guitar-driven music, from Avril Lavigne to Kelly Clarkson and Pink. If Williams simply muscled her way into rock stardom by starting a band, and forcing labels to accept her charisma and talent on those terms, more power to her.

Their set on Friday effectively showed the breadth and range of the new Paramore, which has transcended the pop punk limitations of its early lineup for a more omnivorous sound, even as they still kick out the early jams with aplomb. They draw from ‘90s alt-rock like Failure and classic new wave like Blondie, in addition to embracing their pop instincts more than ever. They merged the 2007 song “Let The Flames Begin” with its 2013 sequel “Part II” as a 10-minute gothic post-punk epic, with guitarist Taylor York battering a drum set and Williams holding court with a simmering a cappella breakdown. But when it was time to perform the hit power ballads “Decode” and “The Only Exception,” the band didn’t shy away from shameless prom night hooks.

The new trio form of Paramore, with Williams, guitarist Taylor York and bassist Jeremy Davis, stalks the front of the band’s brightly lit stage set for Monumentour. Meanwhile, three additional musicians (including York’s brother Justin) play on another level, on top of the wall of lights, visually separating the ‘core’ band from the auxiliary members much like, say, later R.E.M. tours. Typically Paramore’s three leaders are all animated stage presences, although Davies remained seated during Friday’s set; as was explained between songs, he’d been jumping around onstage so much earlier in the tour that he got a hernia. But the green-haired Williams made up for the difference, constantly racing from one side of the stage to the other, running in place, or hoisting her mic stand over her head like a weightlifter. At one point during "Ain't It Fun" she even crip walked for a few seconds.

Although the Venn diagram of Paramore and Fall Out Boy’s respective fanbases features so much crossover that their tour together felt inevitable and long overdue, both bands made an effort to accommodate the unconverted. For Paramore, that meant playing less of their latest album than they have on other recent tours, which is a shame; their self-titled opus earns its 70-minute running time more than any mainstream rock album since Superunknown, and many of its highlights went unheard on Friday. But Paramore still loves its back catalog, and so do the fans – one of the band’s least successful singles, the fist-pumping “That’s What You Get,” earned perhaps the single biggest crowd reaction of the night. But the finale of “Ain’t It Fun” was well earned, its rousing gospel refrain circling around for an ecstatic extra minute or two, one of the rare occasions where a rock band’s big pop crossover hit is also one of its best songs. 

As the slightly more established and successful of the two bands, Fall Out Boy fittingly closed the night, although they had to work hard to match Paramore’s energy. They mostly did so with spectacle, flames shooting up from the stage while screens showed elaborate videos synced to each song. Frontloading the set with some of their loudest, emptiest anthems like “The Phoenix” and “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race,” it felt a little like Fall Out Boy were pummeling the audience into submission after Paramore’s set navigated the peaks and valleys of varied songs and tempos. After a few songs, though, they found a groove, and the effect was more uplifting than off-putting.

Where Paramore’s frontwoman commands that band’s spotlight, Fall Out Boy has an unusual two-headed frontman dynamic in singer/guitarist Patrick Stump and bassist Pete Wentz. Stump sings the songs expertly and works the stage charismatically, but Wentz writes the lyrics and has often assumed most of the band’s rock star duties: he has a pop star ex-wife, he talks at length between songs, at the end of the show he rips his shirt off and tosses it to an eager fan. But he only occasionally gets on the mic during songs to tunelessly scream, and if he was Fall Out Boy’s lead singer they’d probably be an anonymous metalcore band in the vein of guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley’s side project The Damned Things. Patrick Stump’s impressive vocal chops and ear for huge choruses elevate the band, giving their best songs a power pop sugar rush.

Fall Out Boy took the latest-and-greatest formula to its logical extreme – all of the FOB songs heard that night appear on either last year’s Save Rock And Roll or the 2009 hits compilation Believers Never Die. This was kind of a bummer for me, personally; last year I made a playlist of Fall Out Boy's best deep album cuts that I thought made a case for why they're a much more interesting band than their singles let on. Pete Wentz even responded to it on Twitter. But the band are still bouncing back from the commercial failure of Folie a Deux now, five years later, of course they're not going to play more than one song from it, no matter how many critics tell them it was an unheralded masterpiece. 

They also pulled a song from another band's greatest hits collection: Queen’s “We Are The Champions,” played straight with Stump seated at a piano and doing his best Freddie Mercury. They then transitioned to their own triumphant piano ballad, Save Rock And Roll’s title track, which in its studio recording features an Elton John cameo, Stump once again effortlessly recreating a rock icon’s vocal style.

There were more stunts and bells and whistles, sometimes in places where perhaps a deep cut from the band’s back catalog might’ve been appreciated. Stump, who played every instrument on his tragically underappreciated 2011 solo album Soul Punk, jumped behind a kit to play alternating drum solos with Hurley over samples of hip-hop hits, stealing a page from the Travis Barker playbook. Then, Wentz and Torhman suddenly appeared at the back of the venue on a small stage, playing the hit “Dance, Dance” in the middle of the audience and a couple hundred feet away from the other half of the band. During Fall Out Boy’s rise to fame, Wentz and Trohman were known for their spinning leaps across the stage mid-song, and both seemed more stationary on Friday. But Stump made up for their lack of motion with his increased confidence in stalking the stage, putting his voice to full use in belting out hits like “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” and “Thnks fr th Mmrs.”

With the thick layers of synths and pre-recorded backing tracks from their recent albums showing up in their live sets, Fall Out Boy and Paramore both worked hard to put on show with the intensity of rock and the polish of pop. They’re careerist rock stars in the mold of Born In The U.S.A.-era Springsteen, unafraid to dance and smile and earnestly connect with audiences in a way that’s been deeply unfashionable since the early ‘90s. But any indie-centric modern rock canon that turns its nose up at the pretty boys of Fall Out Boy or the tough girl fronting Paramore is narrower, and duller, without them.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I did a list of alter egos through pop music history, from Ziggy Stardust and Humpty Hump to Slim Shady and Sasha Fierce, for Complex Magazine. It looks really cool with the Complex site's new layout!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a few things, including a review of Young Moose's mixtape Out The Mud 2, a Rap Sheet column (with news about the Baltimore Crown Awards, Lonnie Moore and Skarr Akbar), and The Short List. I also wrote The Short List in last week's paper but didn't post a link because it never ended up online.

Monthly Report: July 2014 Singles

Sunday, July 20, 2014

1. Usher - "Good Kisser"
For the last couple years I've been singing the praises of Pop & Oak as a couple of the most exciting producers in R&B, but it feels like this might be the one that gets them some proper attention (previous hits: Elle Varner's "Refill," Alicia Keys and Maxwell's "Fire We Make," K. Michelle's "V.S.O.P."). Just such a crisp, funky song that makes use of the vocal acrobatics that a lot of Usher's supposed contemporaries constantly attempt but never seem to sound as good doing. By the way as usual I put all these songs in my running Spotify playlist of favorite 2014 singles.

2. Beyonce - "Rocket"
Officially the next single from Beyonce after "Partition" is "Pretty Hurts," which I assume is aimed at pop radio, which has been ignoring her for years. Meanwhile, 93.9 in D.C. has been playing my favorite song from the album, "Rocket," in hourly rotation since like April, and there's little that's made me happier to listen to the radio this year. Plus it's nice that they have to play the whole epic 6-and-a-half album version, since the video version that shaves the last two minutes off hasn't been serviced to radio. Just an amazing song, though. From this interview it sounds like Miguel provided the foundation of the song, but then there's the great segment of the YouTube mini-doc where Beyonce talks about how "it was a moment in the studio where I didn't wanna stop singing it and I just kinda zoned out" and did all those amazing ad libs at the end, and you see Justin Timberlake and Pharrell in the studio with their jaws dropping. One thing I like is how she does all these random little riffs that include quotes from Thicke's "When I Get You Alone" and Ms. Jade's "Ching Ching," both minor hits from 2002 -- the year Beyonce started seeing Jay-Z, as well as the year Timbaland's other beatbox waltz masterpiece, Aaliyah's "I Care 4 U," was on the radio.

3. T.I. f/ Young Thug - "About The Money"
I haven't really become a Young Thug fan to the point that I make an effort to comb through all the mixtapes and see how many songs he has that I love as much as "Stoner" and "The Blanguage," mostly because those tapes are full of old stuff and it seems like he's just hitting his stride. But this song, man, this song is incredible. The fact that it basically has two choruses that are both indispensible, fuck. Annoyed that "No Mediocre" is getting more burn between T.I.'s two current singles.

4. Rae Sremmurd - "No Flex Zone!!"
I wouldn't go far as to call this derivative of Young Thug, but this definitely feels like an early sign of his growing influence, just the way these kids yelp and twist their voices, probably we'll hear more and more teen rappers adopt those kinds of vocal tics if they can get their voices up into Thug's range. Also really the banger Mike WiLL Made It has been needing in what's been a pretty quiet year for him outside of "Move That Dope."

5. Demi Lovato f/ Cher Lloyd - "Really Don't Care"
Demi's last album wasn't that great but it had a few strong songs and I'm glad that it's had the legs to keep spinning off singles for over a year, she's finally on the radio as much as she always deserved to be. This song sounds like it probably was Cher Lloyd's to begin with (and would've worked well on her very underrated recent album), but it works really well with Demi singing most of it and then Cher popping in for a goofy 8 bar rap.

6. Royal Blood - "Out Of The Black"
Despite the name, I had no clue that Royal Blood might be British when I started hearing this song on the radio -- they're probably the most American-sounding UK band since Bush, although that's not a very flattering comparison to make, because this song knocks. Definitely a really impressive standout in a rock radio climate where few of the heavy, guitar-driven hits are from new bands and even fewer are any good.

7. Adrian Marcel f/ Sage The Gemini - "2AM"
With all the samey DJ Mustard R&B productions on the radio this year blurring together, this similar track from a Minnesota producer name Chrishan has just enough of a different texture to really stand out in a good way. And this Adrian Marcel kid is mentored by Raphael Saadiq so he's probably got some potential do something more than just trendy ratchet R&B if this song gets his foot in the door.

8. Ne-Yo f/ Jeezy - "Money Can't Buy"
Ne-Yo and (no longer Young) Jeezy are two guys who took the world by storm back in the '05/'06 era, and both have been on a slow, gradual commercial decline ever since, even as they've pretty consistently made good and occasionally great music. This song really sounded like a perfect little jam to keep them on the radio when it dropped (especially compared to the much weaker Jeezy f/ Ne-Yo single that was big a couple years ago), but it's already losing steam on the charts, which is a shame.

9. Mariah Carey f/ Wale - "You Don't Know What To Do"
Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse was commercially DOA, but this song has really grown on me, and I hope the Wale factor helps it become at least an R&B radio edit, really just an awesome summery disco throwback.

10. Brett Eldredge - "Beat of the Music"
Eldredge's breakout his "Don't Ya" was one of my favorite country singles of 2013, and the follow-up has been just as successful. But I didn't like as much, or at least I didn't think I did for a few months, until I recently had one of those experiences where I had this incredibly catchy tune in my head and couldn't place where I heard it, until I realized it was the chorus to "Beat of the Music." The song really got under my skin without me thinking about it, and I kinda love when that happens.

Worst Single of the Month: Ariana Grande f/ Zedd - "Break Free"
"Problem" is kind of aggressively lame but still retains a decent-sized kernel of what made Ariana Grande's debut album so refreshing. This song really feels like a full-on shark jump into the crowded field of Rihanna outtakes that "The Way" stood out from so well last year. It's a shame Zedd seems to be getting all the big opportunities off of the success from "Clarity" when he seems incapable of making anything else remotely that good, while the very slept on Foxes album I wrote about recently totally hits that mark. I actually had to watch the official "Break Free" lyric video to verify that the real words of the song are "I only wanna die alive, never by the hands of a broken heard / Don't wanna hear you lie tonight, now that I've become who I really are." Maybe the most incompetent and incoherent placeholder lyrics to make it into a pop hit in quite a while.

Friday, July 18, 2014

This week, I run down the 20 biggest summer songs of the 1980s for Rolling Stone. If you missed it, I already did the '50s, '60s, and '70s too.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

French Montana drops a load on my 2nd quarter Remix Report Card for Noisey.

TV Diary

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

a) "Extant"
It's weird that last year "I'm tryin' to give Halle Berry a baby and noone can stop me" was a Drake lyric and this year it's the premise of a sci-fi show about mysterious space pregnancy. The pilot for this was pretty intriguing but I hope they keep the story moving forward in some intriguing ways, it's hard to tell how enjoyable this will be to watch every week.

b) "Welcome To Sweden"
Apparently Amy Poehler has a brother and after he moved to Sweden he was able to get both NBC and a Swedish network to guy a fish-out-of-water show about his life there. So far it's just okay, but I like that they're not holding back on having everybody speak their own language with subtitles and letting the viewer in on the joke of what one side of a conversation or the other isn't understanding.

c) "Working The Engels"
Another show NBC is running this summer that's also running in the country it was produced, in this case Canada. I think this has some potential, I really like the cast and the whole thing is the kind of trad sitcom that doesn't get made by American networks much anymore anyway.

d) "The Last Ship"
This show reminds me a lot of "Last Resort" from a couple years back both in the title and in the way it's about a small group of people dealing with a worldwide catastrophe. That show had Andre Braugher and a strong pilot before it petered out, though, this just feels kinda hammy and boilerplate.

e) "Power"
I tried to give this show a fair shot and not assume that it being produced by 50 Cent guaranteed mediocrity, but then there were two different terrible recent 50 songs in the first five minutes of the first episode and the whole thing just kinda felt flat even when they were trying to juice it up with sex and violence and intrigue.

f) "Make Or Break: The Linda Perry Project"
This is being pushed as a corrective to other musical reality competitions, where someone who has industry clout and has written and produced a ton of hits sits in the studio with people and tries to make them create good songs and sound good on record so she can sign somebody to her label and put out their album. So far it's still pretty surface level about the studio process and has played up the reality show drama, but I still appreciate seeing a show that is at least somewhat about the studio process and not just doing karaoke onstage.

g) "Funniest Wins"
It amuses me that at the same time that Keenen Ivory Wayans is on the dullest season of "Last Comic Standing" to date, Marlon Wayans has another comedy competition on TBS that attempts to do something different. I like the idea of pitting traditional standups against internet people who've had viral videos and having them all compete in all these different comedy skillsets. But at some point you realize you're just watching the least funny people from "In Loving Color" and "Mad TV" try to train a bunch of YouTube and Vine comedians and it all gets pretty bleak.

h) "Reckless"
It's really really awkward how they try to pin this show on a big city Chicago lawyer moving to the deep south and then the old-fashioned southern lawyer she's up against is played by Cam Gigandet. Really just makes the whole show fall apart.

i) "Wil Wheaton Project"
I like Wheaton as an internet presence well enough but he's not totally confident enough to pull of a "The Soup"-style show like this, which I get the feeling is much harder than it looks. Still, the writing is decent and he's likable enough, it's a fun show.

j) "Masters of Sex"
So glad this show is back, really one of my favorite new shows of last year. I like the way they're setting things in motion to change between all the characters, since they have a real history to draw on they can just let the story expand instead of trying to keep everything static. Sometimes drifts into soap opera territory but the cast is great enough to make it work.

k) "The Bridge"
My interest in this show really waned over the course of the first season so I'm hoping they have something good up their sleeve. First episode was good, though, I always love seeing Abraham Benrubi turn up in different stuff now, he's really had a long career since "Parker Lewis Can't Lose."

l) "Nathan For You"
This dude's ultra dry sense of humor took a while to catch on with me but now I think this show is hilarious, all the little divergences from the 'main story' and running jokes in each episode really make it.

m) "True Blood"
I'm not really very invested in this show anymore but I'm not actively pissed about it like a lot of people are. Still, kinda glad they're wrapping up with one last season now. Jason Stackhouse is still hilarious as ever, at least.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic

Saturday, July 12, 2014

This week, "Weird Al" Yankovic is releasing his 14th album, Mandatory Fun, and I'm looking forward to hearing how he takes on recent hits by Iggy Azalea, Robin Thicke and Lorde. In the meantime, I wanted to look back at his long career thus far as the most successful parodist in pop music history. Like many people who were 10-year-old boys at some point in the '80s or '90s, I can remember the first time I cracked up at a "Weird Al" Yankovic video ("Eat It") or listened to one of his albums over and over (Off The Deep End). I've watched UHF more times than I dare to remember, and eagerly awaited his "Al TV" specials on MTV. I watched his short-lived Saturday morning TV show even though I was 15 at that point.

"Weird Al" Yankovic is almost entirely known for parodies of recent pop hits, recreating the original music while substituting comedic new lyrics, and those comprise pretty much all of his singles that have garnered airplay on the radio or MTV (with some notable exceptions -- "You Don't Love Me Anymore," "Dare To Be Stupid," "Christmas At Ground Zero," etc.). But his albums are generally divided into 4 types of tracks: the aforementioned song parodies, original songs, polka medleys, and 'style parodies.' Those are the songs that mimic the musical and vocal signatures of a particular band but with original words and music, often the kind of alt-rock bands Yankovic himself likes (including R.E.M., Devo, Cake, and a Ben Folds Five style parody with Ben Folds himself on piano). I thought about doing a mix of just one of those categories of song, but it seemed more fun to mix it up just as he does on the albums.

"Weird Al" Yankovic Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Hardware Store
2. Theme From Rocky VIII (The Rye Or The Kaiser)
3. Polka Your Eyes Out
4. Yoda
5. Party In The CIA
6. Bob
7. Happy Birthday
8. I Was Only Kidding
9. (This Song's Just) Six Words Long
10. The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota
11. The Hot Rocks Polka
12. Confessions Part III
13. Frank's 2000" TV
14. The Plumbing Song
15. One Of Those Days
16. Everything You Know Is Wrong
17. Polkarama!
18. Albuquerque
19. The Check's In The Mail

Tracks 7 and 19 from "Weird Al" Yankovic (1983)
Track 2 from "Weird Al" Yankovic In 3-D (1984)
Track 4 from Dare To Be Stupid (1985)
Track 15 from Polka Party! (1986)
Track 9 from Even Worse (1988)
Tracks 10 and 11 from UHF - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff (1989)
Tracks 3, 8 and 14 from Off The Deep End (1992)
Track 13 from Alapalooza (1993)
Track 16 from Bad Hair Day (1996)
Track 18 from Running With Scissors (1999)
Tracks 1 and 6 from Poodle Hat (2003)
Tracks 12 and 17 from Straight Outta Lynwood (2006)
Track 5 from Alpocalypse (2011)

"Bob" is probably Yankovic's greatest conceptual masterpiece, a Bob Dylan pastiche with lyrics comprised entirely of palindromes. The 11-minute "Albuquerque" is the best and longest of the album-closing epics that have become a signature of later records (the new album apparently ends with a 9-minute track). "I Was Only Kidding" and "Happy Birthday" are both style parodies of Tonio K., and considering how much I like those songs I guess I should check out Tonio K. sometime.

What's surprising, listening back to this mix, is how personal my connections to some of these songs are. Poodle Hat was the first album he released after I started dating my wife, and her little brother and I bonded over a love of Yankovic listening to "Hardware Store" on a family road trip (and John and I remain good friends and bandmates today). The greatest experience I ever had of hearing a "Weird Al" song in the wild happened a while back, during one of the low points of the financial problems I was struggling with a couple years ago. I was in a pawn shop, trying to sell off some of my possessions to pay my bills, and "Eye of the Tiger" came on in the shop. But it wasn't, it was Al's parody, "Theme From Rocky VIII," cheering me up at a moment when I really needed it.

His catalog is not without duds -- "Truck Drivin' Song" is like a carbon copy of Monty Python's "Lumberjack Song" and sometimes he marries a tired premise to a parody of a song everyone forgets within months of its release like Soul Asylum's "Misery." My least favorite style parody is "Wanna Be Ur Lovr," which is kind of a half-assed attempt at Midnite Vultures-era Beck that is neither as funny as Midnite Vultures nor effective as any kind of meta parody of actual R&B music.

I love the polka parodies so much that I could've included all or most of them, but decided to just sprinkle in three. Shout out to "Angry White Boy Polka" and "Bohemian Polka," though. Ultimately I went light on hit parodies -- only 6 here, including a great plumbing-themed medley of Milli Vanilli songs. It's fun to listen to the other stuff and admire that the guy has put in so much work dissecting popular songs of the last 30 years that, when he wants to, he can write a great tune too.

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
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders

Friday, July 11, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote  BPM column about new club music releases by James Nasty and Mighty Mark, and also wrote The Short List as usual.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My series of the top 20 summer songs of each decade for Rolling Stone continues this week with 1970s summer jams.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

a) 22 Jump Street
I worked an event a few weeks ago that had a long mid-day break, so I went to the movies and saw this since I really enjoyed 21 Jump Street. Of course, I had just read this Forbes list of the highest grossing comedy sequels of all time, which had only a couple movies that weren't absolutely awful and was all movies that were a pretty big dropoff in quality from the first movie. This is on the way to making as much money as those, though, and I'd say it was pretty good by that measure (maybe not as good as Ghostbusters II). The first movie just had a couple meta gags, whereas this one it was pretty much the whole movie, but it worked. Jillian Bell in particular had some great scenes.

b) Edge of Tomorrow
My wife and had a night out to ourselves while my mom was watching the kid, and this seemed like the best option when we drove by the movie theater, and I'm really glad we saw it. I've been saying for years that Emily Blunt just has great taste in projects, and between this and Looper and The Adjustment Bureau I'd say she especially knows how to pick high concept sci-fi stuff that actually has an interesting female character her for to play. It's also kind of a funny movie for people who don't like Tom Cruise to see -- the movie starts with him as this total coward who tries and fails to charm his way out of a tough situation, and then spends the rest of the movie getting killed over and over trying to redeem himself. The concept gets a little crazy at some points but if you just kind of buy in and go along for the ride, I feel like it's pretty successful.

c) The Counselor
It kinda fascinates me how Cormac McCarthy can write these spare, sparse, poetic novels like The Road but then he decides to write a screenplay that just feels like generic chatty action movie about drug cartels and shit like that. Except it's not, because it's also completely goofy and over-the-top, with Javier Bardem wearing crazy clothes and Brian Grazer hair, and Cameron Diaz fucking his car. It's pretty boring for long stretches, too, though. Is Michael Fassbender just a total non-presence or what? I feel like he's never made an impression on me ever, 5 minutes after he's offscreen I can barely even recall his face.

d) Enough Said
I really liked this. I feel like there are a lot perfectly good movies, some of them earlier efforts by Nicole Holofcener, that try to get at some small human details of a realistic story but end up being kind of unremarkable and unmemorable. This one really worked, though, in part because Julia Louis-Dreyfus was really great in a rare serious role, and James Gandolfini was sweet and likeable like he'd never really been in anything I'd seen him before, with the added poignancy of it being one of his final roles. When the big twist and misunderstanding that the movie pivots on comes around, it almost feels like an unwelcome plot device, like I'd rather it just keep ambling along pleasantly with these characters, but the way it all unravels and winds down is really well handled. There were also a lot of great little character moments with the supporting cast, particularly Toni Collette and Tavi Gevinson, that I feel like a lot of movies would not have made time for outside of the main story that made the whole thing resonate more.

e) The Wolverine
I guess it's cute to do a Wolverine movie with samurai and ninjas and stuff but it was all just too silly for me. I feel like Wolverine is only a good character when he's used in the right context, usually in a team with other X-Men, so putting him on his own for most of the movie is not as good an idea as it seems on paper. Viper was a good villain but it felt like she was barely in the movie.

f) Pain And Gain
This was so great, the first Michael Bay movie I've really enjoyed at all since The Rock. It incorporated some of elements of his other action comedies, but the true story source material and the way Wahlberg and The Rock really heightened the dialogue to the level of satire really just made the whole thing ridiculous and incredible. But I also like that what happened isn't 100% played for laughs and by the end, even as it gets more insane than I expected, you start to just feel how awful the characters feel right along with them, it's not one of those soulless 'dark comedies' where violence is transformed into pure slapstick.

g) Oz the Great and Powerful
It was so awesome when Sam Raimi liberated himself from the Spider-Man franchise and made Drag Me To Hell, and so depressing when he turned around and made this shit that makes me wonder if he could become the next Tim Burton, wasting his talent on big garish reboots of existing properties. There were a few scenes in this that were just great-looking and actually conjured some of the texture of The Wizard of Oz. But that movie is just one of film's great marvels to me, and the idea of doing anything with it with modern CGI just grosses me out. I totally hate watched this, fuck James Franco.

h) Vamps
As a reunion of Amy Heckerling and Alicia Silverstone, this is inevitably anti-climactic. But to call this Clueless with vampires really isn't too far off, and Krysten Ritter makes a great sidekick. It's very goofy and low budget and the story doesn't matter at all, but it gets in some decent laughs.

i) Curious George
This is the theatrical movie that came out years ago, which my son is now a fan of (along with the old Curious George cartoons and books). It's really weird to see a version of Curious George in which Will Ferrell voices The Man In The Yellow Hat, and David Cross and Eugene Levy are there too. It's actually pretty funny, but it just feels vaguely wrong.

Monthly Report: June 2014 Albums

Saturday, July 05, 2014

1. Chrissie Hynde - Stockholm
Per my latest deep album cuts playlist, I'm a huge fan of The Pretenders, and it's interesting to hear Chrissie Hynde finally make a solo album at the age of 62. In fact, I'm not really sure what even makes this a solo album, other than maybe she doesn't feel comfortable making an album without Martin Chambers and still calling it The Pretenders like she did circa Packed! or whatever. In any event, this is the most solid set of songs she's made in a long time, and more than that it just sounds better. I'm impressed with the production, which is by Bjorn from Peter Bjorn And John of all people. Here's the running Spotify playlist of all the 2014 albums I've been listening to.

2. Jennifer Lopez - A.K.A.
Even back when she was churning out the hits, I never thought J.Lo had more than one or two songs that were better than tolerable, and lately she's not even making hits anymore. But after the recent single "First Love" hooked me, I decided to check out this album and was kind of bowled over by how good it is. It's only 10 songs, and they all sound great from a production standpoint and have huge hooks and make the best of J.Lo's limitations as a vocalist. I'm not even sure how it came together so well -- the credits are a random hodgepodge of familiar and unfamiliar names, and there's a ballad co-written by Chris Brown and Chantal Kreviazuk. But it works. I'm even warming to the ridiculous "I Luh Ya Papi," especially after reading this piece by Jordan Sargent.

3. Priests - Bodies And Control And Money And Power EP
It's weird to even see a new D.C. punk band get national press attention, it being so long since that happened. No reason to question it, though, they're good. And considering the lineage they come from, it almost seems more right to see a 17-minute EP as their breakout record rather than waiting for a full-length album, which hopefully won't be too much longer than this anyway. I'm not wild about the way the drums are recorded on this, but I can see how it's kind of an '80s punk record style, might be a deliberate choice. Guitars sound great, anyway.

4. Foxes - Glorious
As great and as big as Zedd's "Clarity" was, it's a shame that the solo stuff Foxes has put out, which has been similar and very good, hasn't gotten the same kind of traction (at least in the US, the situation seems to be reversed in the UK). She's got one of those voices I could just listen to all day, but beyond that the production is a nice mix of dance stuff and kinda bombastic midtempo pop.

5. Say Anything - Hebrews
Max Bemis's voice and lyrics are so much the defining characteristics of Say Anything's music that I feel sometimes like the music gets overlooked a little -- the odd song structures and creative arrangements and great, great guitar work are really a big part of what makes their albums for me. And while there have been some awesome songs in their catalog driven by synths and drum machines, abandoning guitars entirely for this album is still a pretty big left turn. Mostly it just sounds awkward to have a bunch of string arrangements and mild keyboard tones alongside bombastic drumming and some of Bemis's most aggressive vocals to date. The songwriting is still there, though, to an extent that makes it worth listening to.

6. Bobby E. Lee & The Sympathizers - The New Testament
These guys are a kind of rootsy punky Baltimore band that play around town a lot, this is a pretty enjoyable little record. The production is very straightforward, almost lo-fi, but the singing and the playing is strong and there's a good variety of sounds on here, they kinda run this whole gamut of traditionalist sounds and things that are a little more raw and idiosyncratic. Check it out on Bandcamp.

7. The Soft Pink Truth - Why Do The Heathen Rage?
I don't listen to black metal, so the idea of it being covered and twisted into electronic music is interesting to me but I also don't have a frame of reference to say much about what's being done with the source material. But Drew from Matmos is a brilliant guy, and as usual his work is intensely conceptual, so it's fun to just kinda get on board with the premise of the record and see where it takes you. As a listening experience it's a little hit-and-miss, but it's fun to just hear him run wild with the concept and pull other Baltimore people like Jenn from Wye Oak and Owen from Horse Lords into it. The moment when a sample from Snap!'s "Power" pops into a cover of Sargeist's "Satanic Black Devotion" is just sublime.

8. Mary J. Blige - Think Like A Man Too (Music From And Inspired By The Film)
Don't know if it's more depressing that Mary J. is at a point in her career where she has to attach herself to a blockbuster to get an album out or intriguing that she figured out that strategy -- we might just have to sign up a whole bunch of R&B singers to soundtrack various Kevin Hart movies just to get their albums out. This album came out pretty well, too, the middle section with "Kiss And Make Up" and the Little Feat drum break on "Cargo" are my favorite part of the record. About half of it is produced by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, who stopped working together for like 4 years and finally came back together recently.

9. Ed Sheeran - x
I rode for "Sing" pretty hard and generally approve of Sheeran's new sound, but he's definitely gone a little over the top with the Vibe cover and the Anthony Hamilton cover and the idea that he's an R&B singer now. Really this is just a nice little acoustic pop album with a handful of rap verses awkwardly shoehorned in.

10. Human Potential - Heartbreak Record
This is the solo project of Andrew Becker, who played drums pretty amazingly on the first Medications EP and album. His stuff as Human Potential is more atmospheric, but well produced and full of some cool arrangement ideas that make up for some kinda anonymous singing and songwriting.

Worst Album of the Month: 50 Cent - Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire To Win
Just look at that fucking title. I almost kind of understand people who swear 50 has made some good music in the last few years, but I don't even love his classic GRODT to even care to figure out if they're right. A couple of these tracks would've been solid album cuts in his peak period, but for the most part it feels like he's forgotten how to make a good hook or project his personality. "Don't Worry 'Bout It" and "Animal Ambition" in particular are just laughable, the exact kind of hookless flop indie shit sandwich he used to taunt his enemies for making. \

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy 4th of July! Here is the list of the biggest summer songs of the 1960s that I wrote for Rolling Stone, following up on the '50s list last week.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a feature about Femi The DriFish & The Out of Water eXperience, who just released a live album.

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

TV Diary

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

a) "The Leftovers"
I'd been pretty hyped about this show ever since I saw the first trailer, so now that it's finally airing I'm just trying to dial down my expectations and take it one episode at a time. The pilot was intriguing enough and I'm curious to see where the story goes. But the air of dread that made the trailer so riveting can wear thing over the course of an hour, so I'm hoping that there's more to the show than just dreariness and violence.

b) "Halt And Catch Fire"
Another show I was really looking forward to after the first ad, still feeling out what I think of it even after 5 episodes. Obviously, being an AMC period piece about a fictionalized company in a then-emerging industry, there are inevitably comparison points to "Mad Men," and sometimes I feel like these historical-but-not-quite shows have to talk a very fine line to work at all. If I think too much about whether the characters in the show are supposed to be like Apple or like some company that disappeared decades ago, it gets harder to care. But so far they've done a decent job of at least putting you in the trenches with the characters and making you care about what they're working on at that moment. Still not totally hooked, but I like it. It's also great to see Toby Huss in a dramatic role, that dude is a genius.

c) "Tyrant"
Another show where a fictionalized version of real life, in this case a Middle Eastern dictatorship, makes for good drama but kind of brings up a lot of potential problems of its own, in both storytelling and, well, stereotypes and simplifications of complex issues. I felt a little uncomfortable watching the pilot and getting a handle on how this was gonna go, even as it seemed really well put together as one of those gritty, edge-of-your-seat FX dramas about family and loyalty and violence,

d) "Dominion"
Almost five years ago, my wife and I saw an apocalypse movie called Legion, and enjoyed it well enough. Now, for some strange reason, SyFy is airing a series that is 'based on' the movie, but has a different title, takes place 25 years after the movie ended with only one major character reprised from it... At a certain point I don't know why they bothered acknowledging any creative debt to that moderately successful movie, they could've just changed a few details and had an original series. In any event, a lot of what I liked about the premise of the movie is dropped in this and I dunno if I'll have any motivation to watch it beyond the pilot, although the effects were pretty impressive.

e) "Girl Meets World" 
I've watched every single episode of "Boy Meets World" probably at least 5 times, so I had to watch this just to see some of the old cast together, and really, I'm grateful for anything that keeps Danielle Fishel on TV. There's not enough of Corey and Topanga to make me watch it regularly, though, and there might not be a world of difference between '90s TGIF and contemporary Disney Channel but it definitely doesn't seem as funny as the old show. Hopefully they find their footing, though, I kinda like that this show exists, cheesy as it is.

f) "Taxi Brooklyn"
It just amuses me that this show even exists, so I watched the pilot. A cop and a cab driver team up to fight crime? Sure, why not! The girl from Not Another Teen Movie looks cute with short hair, though.

g) "Undateable"
I feel like there's a whole class of actors that are being cycled around from one lousy sitcom to another. This one has a guy from "Whitney" and a girl from "Rules of Engagement" and a bunch of other unfunny people that will probably turn up on another terrible show about dating next year when this one gets canceled.

h) "Rising Star"
I'm always up for a new singing competition show, but with even "American Idol" and "The Voice" dropping in the ratings, any new entry into that genre seems doomed, even with this one working the 'real time results' angle really hard. Between Josh Groban, Brad Paisley, Ludacris and Ke$ha, the show theoretically has 4 people who can be really funny and/or unpredictable in the right situation, but they all feel locked in to the show's format with no room for spontaneity or personality.

i) "Sing Your Face Off" 
I appreciate that networks still bother to put ridiculous timefiller shows like this on the air in the summer instead of just airing repeats of popular shows. Granted, I don't need to see Jon Lovitz and Lisa Rinna embarrass themselves every week, but it was fun to watch once or twice.

j) "I Love The 2000s"
It's sad that I have actually watched and enjoyed this. But it's more sad how much of the show they've spent talking about reboots or sequels to things that they already talked about in I Love The 70s/80s/90s.

k) "Unusually Thicke" 
This show is actually kind of funny, because Alan Thicke is a pro and can engineer a reality show about his family into basically a functional sitcom, even with his barely-acting family. But it seems like dude should just be on a new sitcom, which he probably can't do at this late date, which is kind of a shame. He's like the dad jokiest TV dad ever.

l) "Fargo"
It's been a while since I felt as terrible about watching every episode of a show as I did about "Fargo," which I had major reservations about just off the first couple episodes, and which got worse and worse over time. But it was only 10 episodes, so after a while I just stuck with it to see if it redeemed itself. I appreciated that they tried to use the movie as a loose template for the overall approach of the show, but by the end of the 'dark comedy' had curdled into something resembling Very Bad Things more than Fargo, while Billy Bob Thornton's character essentially became Corky St. Clair the unstoppable killing machine. I've found myself getting really judgmental towards people who think this was exceptional television.

m) "The Maya Rudolph Show"
I love Maya Rudolph, I want her to be on TV as much as possible, especially if it's not in a sitcom as fundamentally weak as "Up All Night." The one test episode they ran of this didn't come off like gangbusters as I'd hoped, but it had a few killer sketches, I hope it becomes a regular thing, the variety show format could kinda use a revival.

n) "The Pete Holmes Show" 
This really turned out be a gem, such an odd little laid back half hour late night talk show with a guy who I never expected to like as much as I do now. I'm bummed that it's off the air already after just a few months, how bad can a show's ratings be if they can't even hack it at midnight after "Conan" on TBS?

o) "Enlisted" 
Another show that snuck up and briefly became one of my favorite things on TV, only to get canceled after 13 episodes. FOX never really gave it a chance, putting it on Friday nights after the also-doomed "Raising Hope." But I'm glad that at least they went ahead and aired all the produced episodes after deciding to cancel it, each one was really well done and made the characters grow on me a little more.

p) "Suburgatory"
Parker Young left "Suburgatory" to be on "Enlisted," and then came back for some episodes of what turned out to be the final season, so homeboy basically got canceled twice recently. "Suburgatory" had definitely kinda run its course, Jeremy Sisto was never gonna be that funny and was always gonna get too much screentime, maybe now Jane Levy can go off and do something else where she's as good as she was in this.

q) "Warehouse 13" 
Another show that recently ended with an anticlimactic shrug. I never watched it super faithfully, but I caught the last few episodes and it was still kooky and amusing, Allison Scagliotti is still a total babe.

r) "The Writers' Room"
I love the format of this show, but it's only interesting if you already watch the show they're dedicating the episode to, and out of the 6 episodes this past season, the only one I had any interest in watching was the "Sons of Anarchy" one. But that one was really great, and had some interesting interviews about the crazy last season and the final season they're about to do.

s) "Louie"
I've always had some reservations about this show, which is indulgent and boring or loathsome about as often as it is brilliant and hilarious, and this season really swung between the extremes harder than ever. The 80-minute flashback episode was basically a really dull, poorly acted coming of age dramedy, and if you ever sat down someone and said it was just a movie with Louis C.K. in a bit part they'd think it was a shitty movie. And the episodes with the Hungarian woman and Paula that had multiple sexual assault scenes that were ultimately played for awkward laughs and used as quirky plot points? Yikes. I kinda wish Louis just stuck to being a standup, he's so much better at that than directing or acting.

t) "Suits"
USA has made some pretty oddball scheduling choices with "Suits" lately. The third season was split into two runs with a 5 1/2 month break between, but then after it ended there was only a 2 month break until the fourth season. I'm not complaining, mind you, I'm happy that one of my favorite shows is back so soon, it's just funny because it felt like it never went away. And I'm relieved that they've finally broken out of the holding pattern of Mike pretending he went to Harvard being the main source of tension in the show, it's good to see him in a totally different dynamic with Harvey this season.

u) "Last Comic Standing" 
I'm glad NBC still revives this show every couple years, and the last couple seasons were fun, but I dunno, this one just hasn't pulled me in. There are a few funny contestants, but nobody I'm really rooting for, and the judging panel is just dull, even with Roseanne in there occasionally wilding out.