Deep Album Cuts Vol. 24: Foo Fighters

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Foo Fighters are an easy band to like, and a hard one to love. A lot of people can admit grudging respect for "Everlong" and some other hits from their pretty remarkable run of singles, and maybe either or both of their first two albums, but things tend not to go much further than that. Mostly I think it just irks a lot of people that such an important band with such a dark story as Nirvana was followed by one of its sidemen embarking on a long career the most happy-go-lucky frontman in mainstream rock. And sure, Foo Fighters songs are mostly just lyrically slapdash excuses for riffs and drum fills, but they're pretty great riffs and drum fills.

With their 8th album Sonic Highways and a whole HBO series of the same name about to roll out this fall, it feels remarkable that Dave Grohl has done so much to successfully brand himself in the mainstream as rock's last true believer. But I really don't think he would've been able to do that, even with the lingering Nirvana fame, if he hadn't consistently churned out shiny, brutally effective radio singles for over a decade. And while the albums are often patchy outside of the singles (although One By One is I think the only one Grohl will cop to being filler-heavy), I have a soft spot for deep cuts on pretty much all of them. It wasn't difficult to assemble this, other than cutting out a few songs I really like. And really, Wasting Light turned out to be one of their best albums ever, so I have kind of high hopes that the new one will have value beyond the whole over-the-top concept they used to record it.

Foo Fighters Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. My Poor Brain
2. Good Grief
3. The Deepest Blues Are Black
4. Hey, Johnny Park!
5. Aurora
6. Wattershed
7. Hell
8. A Matter Of Time
9. Summer's End
10. Enough Space
11. See You
12. Overdrive
13. Up In Arms
14. Tired Of You
15. Doll
16. Miss The Misery
17. I Should Have Known
18. Weenie Beenie
19. Razor
20. Word Forward
21. February Stars

Tracks 2, 6 and 18 from Foo Fighters (1995)
Tracks 1, 4, 10, 11, 13, 15 and 21 from The Colour and the Shape (1997)
Track 5 from There Is Nothing Left To Lose (1999)
Tracks 12 and 14 from One By One (2002)
Tracks 3, 7 and 19 from In Your Honor (2005)
Track 9 from Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007)
Track 20 from Greatest Hits (2009)
Tracks 8, 16 and 17 from Wasting Light (2010)

I tried to be very strict about deep cuts here, which was touch because a ton of the best Foo Fighters songs are minor hits and UK-only singles, stuff that didn't appear on their Greatest Hits album and don't get any radio play today but aren't full-on deep cuts ("For All The Cows," "Stacked Actors," "No Way Back," "Cheer, Up Boys," "Arlandria," the list goes on).

It was inevitable that The Colour and the Shape would dominate the playlist, and I actually left off a couple songs I love just to keep it from total overkill. But what really speaks volumes is how much I leaned on that album for songs that gave the playlist variety. There just aren't songs like "My Poor Brain" or "See You" or "Up In Arms" on their other albums, and having that stuff in here I think helps break up the more monolithic idea of the band's sound that's been fostered by the more homogeneous later albums. Grohl is a more interesting, idiosyncratic songwriter than he gets credit for. Another thing I love about Foo Fighters albums that's lacking from their singles is the brevity of a lot of songs. Their Greatest Hits features only one song that's under 3 minutes, and I've got seven on this comp.

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
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Thursday, August 28, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I reviewed Kix's first album in 19 years, and it's really good! "The best butt rock album of 2014," that's my quote for the sticker. Also wrote The Short List as usual.

Meanwhile, over on the City Paper's Noise blog, I reviewed Jackson Browne's show last weekend at the Hippodrome.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I did a piece for Complex called The Realest Shit I Ever Wrote: 20 of Your Favorite Rappers' Realest Songs, with some help from Insanul Ahmed and Angel Diaz.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I recently appeared on the latest episode of my brother Zac's podcast No Topic Required. Just a lot of talking, about some stuff I've written recently, a lot of silly stuff, some serious stuff about what's happening in Ferguson, Missouri. This is only I think the 3rd time Zac's had me on there as a guest, although he uses one of my Western Blot songs as the theme song for the podcast.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I wrote a post on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog about "A-List," Sisqo's new single featuring Waka Flocka Flame.

Sunday, August 24, 2014
The latest Short List.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The other day I contributed to a VMA-themed Rolling Stone list, and here's another one, the best opening performances in VMA history.

The Other Guy: Soundgarden's Ben Shepherd

Friday, August 22, 2014

I've always been an "other guy" guy when it comes to my favorite bands. When there's a clear pecking order, in terms of the one or two members of the band who front the band, and write and/or sing most of the songs, I always find it interesting to see what the other members bring to the table beyond just playing an instrument. You don't have to argue that George Harrison is a better singer or songwriter than Lennon or McCartney to take an active interest in his contributions to The Beatles (although hey, some have). And those kinds of dynamics are always interesting to me. In the past, I've made a mix of all of Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo-sung songs, and I kinda wanted to do more stuff like that.

Ben Shepherd is a relatively minor presence in Soundgarden -- of the four members of the best known lineup of the band, he was the last to join, and the least famous or recognizable (especially after Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam). He didn't write any of the band's biggest hits, although he sing parts of all the verses in "Spoonman," which he didn't write, and his only full-on lead vocal in their catalog, "Half," is a weird little 2-minute piece with pitched-up vocals. He led a band, Hater, during Soundgarden's hiatus, but has kept a relatively low profile, and has said he was sleeping on couches and struggling to get by before the recent reunion.

But I've always been intrigued by Ben Shepherd, perhaps because two of his few solo writing credits, "Somewhere" and "Head Down," were standout tracks on the first two Soundgarden albums I heard. He also, I think, has a pretty fantastic bass sound that has really come to be a big part of what I love about the band, that huge lumbering low end beneath the wall of guitars. Bassists never have an easy time standing out or being recognized for their worth in a band with more than one guitarist -- think about it, pretty much every particularly revered or well known rock bassist ever was in a one guitar group. No disrespect to the band's founding bassist Hiro Yamamato (who also had some vocal and songwriting contributions on the early albums), but to me the Soundgarden I love started with Shepherd joining the group. So I thought it'd be interesting to stack all his songwriting credits together and see how they sound, an alternate vision of Soundgarden where he's the primary creative force.

Soundgarden: The Ben Shepherd Writing Credits (Spotify playlist)

1. Somewhere
2. Head Down
3. An Unkind
4. Attrition
5. Half
6. Zero Chance
7. Face Pollution
8. Dusty
9. Never Named
10. Taree
11. Switch Opens
12. Ty Cobb
13. Non-State Actor
14. Been Away Too Long
15. Slaves & Bulldozers
16. Rowing
17. Black Rain
18. By Crooked Steps
19. Exit Stonehenge
20. Jesus Christ Pose
21. Jerry's Garcia's Finger

I arranged the mix by the order of what songs Shepherd had the most to do with. Tracks 1-5 were written solely by Ben Shepherd (the only 5 songs in the Soundgarden catalog that he wrote lyrics for). Tracks 6-13 had music written entirely by Ben Shepherd. Tracks 14-17 had music co-written by Shepherd and one other member of the band. Track 18 had music co-written by Ben Shepherd and two other members of the band. And tracks 19-21 were collaborations between all four members of the band.

There is one Soundgarden song co-written by Ben Shepherd missing from this playlist, the compilation track "HIV Baby," which was lyrically regrettable enough that I'm not too bothered about being unable to include it. A couple of the tracks towards the end are clearly just loose jams that the whole band shared songwriting credit for (including "Exit Stonehenge," a goofy metal track with the lyrics "Jesus I can't feel my penis"). But "Jesus Christ Pose" is pretty amazing and Ben Shepherd definitely deserves some royalties for that bassline.

Still, I think some interesting stuff emerges by hearing all these songs together. I don't know if the guy would be able to write hits like Chris Cornell does routinely, but his stuff always tends to bring in different textures to their records -- the dueling drums on "Head Down," the viola and cello on "Half," the piano banging on "Never Named," the synth horn bursts in "Face Pollution," the mandolin and middle eastern scale-sounding melodies that pop up in a lot of his songs.

I'd started putting this mix together a couple years ago, before the band released King Animal, which of course added a few new songs to the playlist. But I didn't even realize until this week that Ben Shepherd actually released his first solo album, In Deep Owl, under the name HBS in 2013. Having heard only bits of Hater and his other work outside Soundgarden, it's pretty interesting, and definitely expands on the sound of tracks like "Dusty" -- he's worked a lot with Mark Lanegan, and at times he can sing almost just like him. Still, it's cooler to hear his songs with the full force of a great band like Soundgarden behind them.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I contributed a bunch of blurbs to Rolling Stone's list of most outrageous MTV VMAs moments.

TV Diary

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

a) "The Strain"
This has been a real thrill ride so far, just not knowing exactly how far they're going to take the premise and being impressed by how many tiers they're moving the story forward on. I knew when Guillermo Del Toro was producing a show that it would look great, but thankfully there wasn't a huge difference between the look and quality of his pilot and of the subsequent episodes directed by other people (which was a huge issue with Alfonso Cuaron's "Believe" and some other shows where the pilot was done by a big film director). I just hope the story keeps spreading out interestingly instead of becoming a dull sci-fi soap opera like "The Walking Dead."

b) "You're The Worst"
The pilot was really funny and did a good job of establishing the leads as horrible people that are still watchable and even kind of likable, in a way that's more broadly satirical than, like, the post-"Seinfeld" sitcom formula. Aya Cash had a thankless role in the short-lived FOX show "Traffic Light," but she totally pulls off an unusual kind of character in this. Also, I really enjoy the whole subplot about her being the publicist for a rapper character who dresses like Tyler, The Creator and skateboards and gets in trouble for throwing around gay slurs. The kind of very specific meta gag that I feel like only a few people are going to find as funny as I do.

c) "Married"
FX has paired this show with "You're The Worst" as kind of a block of comedies that are deeply cynical about relationships. But this one is a little more situated in reality, while also being one of those overly bleak depictions of marriage that, depending on how charitable you want to be, could be put in the same lineage as "Married With Children" or "This Is 40." But Judy Greer is the best, I refuse to believe that being married to her would be anything but wonderful. So I dunno, sometimes this show has a lot of promise, sometimes it just feels like it's marking time and trying harder to be depressing than funny. Also, a little awkward that they didn't have the supporting cast in place in the pilot so they just kinda show up in the second episode. The whole thing with the really old guy Jenny Slate is married to turning out to be married to Paul Reiser is funny, though. I could see the ensemble coming together and this becoming a strong show eventually, but they've already pretty quickly started lazily doing A plots with Faxon/Greer and B plots with the rest of the cast that never meet up, which feels really lazy to me given.

d) "Legends"
I'm amused that Sean Bean's latest starring vehicle has a whole "Don't Kill Sean Bean" marketing meme, and I'm also amused that his hacker sidekick is played by the girl who was Mac, the hacker sidekick on "Veronica Mars." The show itself, not especially amusing, though, don't know if I'll stick with it.

e) "Outlander"
A show in which a super hot World War II era British lady has lots of sex, then magically travels back in time to 1743 Scotland, and has more sex. It wasn't until I watched an episode that my wife informed me that it's based on a popular series of romance novels, which I suppose I should've saw coming. Not terribly compelling, but it is a cable show with lots of sex, so it's got that going for it.

f) "Rush"
The USA network seems to be trying to ramp up the explicit material in their original programming -- I'm pretty sure the latest season of "Suits" has had an uptick in swearing, and the pilot for this show has a scene full of a guy yelling the word "cock" several times. This really feels like the usual USA bullshit, though, handsome guy is some kind of special secret doctor for rich people and of course his last name is Rush. I hate that shit, shows where the title has a double meaning based on the main character's last name. Except for "Masters of Sex," that show's based on a true story so God wanted that pun to happen.

g) "Satisfaction"
Another envelope-pushing USA show, about a regular guy who becomes a prostitute. Except HBO already did that a couple years ago, and while they really don't want you to compare the two shows, "Hung" was a pretty funny, underrated show and this is just kind of earnest and stupid.

h) "Black Jesus"
Truth be told, I was never that big a fan of "The Boondocks," as a comic or as a TV show, it just felt like Aaron McGruder was more interested in being subversive than being actually funny. But this show is just the pits, lacking even the merits of "The Boondocks." I'm sure there's someone somewhere that finds this offensive, or find it refreshing and edgy, but it feels like the weak-ass juxtapositions of LOL JESUS AS A BLACK MAN IN MODERN COMPTON get run into the ground in the first five minutes and after that it's just the longest comedy sketch ever.

i) "Garfunkel And Oates"
I'm getting pretty sick of the latest crop of comedians getting TV shows and just make it about their lives as comedians, so my hopes weren't really high about this. But it's not as twee or obnoxious as I expected, and the 2nd episode in particular was just great, the whole Chris Parnell plot as well as the bit about them meeting the porn parody version of themselves.

j) "Soundclash"
I appreciate that VH1 keeps trying to make shows that are actually about live music, but ?uestlove and Diplo getting together and making a show about acts from different genres doing a mini-festival together that culminates in a wacky cover collaboration/mashup thing, I dunno, it's just kinda trying too hard, whole thing feels stilted and silly. Also the first episode had Sia doing that ridiculous thing where she sings with her back to the audience and someone else wears a wig that looks like her hair and mouths the words, that shit is the worst.

k) "The Leftovers"
I guess this show has become pretty divisive, a lot of hate-watching talk around it, but I've been enjoying it a lot. Sometimes the episodes that turn into mini-biographies of certain characters feel a little too "Lost," but I've started to really appreciate the cast and how some of the actors have pulled off great performances as really strange characters in situations that haven't totally revealed themselves yet -- particularly Ann Dowd, Michael Gaston and Carrie Coon. And really, with all the scary shit like what's happening in Ferguson right now, it's kind of working for me right now to have something this bleak to watch, I'm just kind enjoying watching the situation escalate but not sure where it's going.

l) "Tyrant"
I still have a lot of misgivings about this show, which is basically all the usual gritty American cable drama tropes dropped into the middle east, especially since I watched The Godfather recently and this really feels kind of transparently modeled on that story too. But so far it's pretty compelling and I'm interested to see where the story is going. Ashraf Barhom's performance is pretty consistently great and increasingly complex and unpredictable, also Moran Atias is gorgeous, I kinda would just watch it for her.

m) "Halt And Catch Fire"
Now that the first season is over, I'm still kind of on the fence about it, which is not really a good sign. It feels a little like "Rubicon," one of those times when an AMC show avoids big moments so studiously that it risks being boring, and of course that one only lasted one season. I liked it overall, though, by the end of the season they really succeeded in making Gordon and Donna's marriage the most interesting story, but the rest of the characters, they never totally got fleshed out and felt kind of like archetypes.

n) "Drunk History"
I still love this show so much and am so happy that it's on TV. But it's also true that if you've seen it once, you get the idea, and there's a bit of a law of diminishing returns with it. There have been some great episodes this season, though, and the casting often makes things pop. "Weird Al" Yankovic as Adolf Hitler was just legendary.

o) "Suits"
Still one of my favorite shows on TV, although they've kinda hit that wall a lot of dramas get into where they're just moving around the chess pieces to keep it interesting. Mike was out of the firm, now he's back, he's mad at Rachel and then they're back together, now Louis is out of the firm. I would like a little less plot, some more of the character moments that made the show entertaining to begin with. Neal McDonough is always a great antagonist to throw into the mix of a show, though.

p) "How I Met Your Mother"
I tend to catch up on most shows On Demand at my leisure, especially since at 8 or 9 o'clock I'm usually giving my son a bath or reading him a bedtime story. And for some reason, "How I Met Your Mother" is the only show I watch that Comcast stopped putting new episodes On Demand in recent years, so I completely missed the last couple seasons. After the finale, though, my wife and I got the last 2 seasons and watched them all in a few weeks. And binge watching that last season was probably the right way to see it, since the whole weird conceit of cramming the whole season into one weekend was less irritating or difficult to follow that way. The show may have not ended at its peak, which is kind of inevitable when a show stays on for 9 seasons, but I'm glad I caught up. I liked Cristin Milioti as the mother, I liked the twist ending, I guess I see why some people hated it but it felt in keeping with the rest of the series.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer is almost over, and my series for Rolling Stone of the 20 biggest summer songs of every decade of the rock era recently concluded with the first 5 summers of the 2010s. Here are all the previous lists:

The 1950s
The 1960s
The 1970s
The 1980s
The 1990s
The 2000s

Friday, August 15, 2014
This week's Short List.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I wrote a list for Complex Magazine of The 25 Hardest Rap Beats of All Time. Had a lot of fun making this, happy with how it came out, got to fit in some less obvious selections along with some undeniable classics.

Monthly Report: August 2014 Singles

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

1. Clean Bandit f/ Jess Glynne - "Rather Be"
I first heard this a few months ago, when it was just one of those songs topping charts around the world that America was more or less ignoring. And it sounded really good then, but it didn't really grow on me until I finally started hearing it on the radio regularly. I like that it sounds really plush and detailed and modern, but there's something about the song itself that feels like a simple early '90s dance pop hit. I added all these songs to my running Spotify playlist of favorite 2014 singles, btw.

2. Kiesza - "Hideaway"
Another vaguely retro-but-not-too-retro house song that was huge all over Europe months ago that's just now getting traction here (same true of that okay Rita Ora song, although it's a bit more contemporary-sounding). I don't tend to be huge on this kind of stuff but I see why these songs blew up.

3. Bobby Shmurda - "Hot N****"
There's been a lot of justifiable skepticism towards the Bobby Shmurda phenomenon -- an NY kid does a video for a mixtape track over the beat from a Lloyd Banks song and then months later people notice how entertaining it is and the internet attention snowballs into a major label deal. It all sounds kind of silly, and it is. But at the same time, this very 2014 course of events has basically resulted in a kid spitting a bunch of bleak shit over a killer Jahlil Beats production with no chorus getting into mainstream radio rotation, which is fun. Rap songs that were clearly not written with radio in mind ending up there are a rare and precious phenomenon in this day and age. The fact that the label has already taken the original video off YouTube and thrown a completely unnecessary French Montana verse on the official single suggests that this could all get very boring and depressing very quickly, but at the moment it's a little fun and exciting to hear this on the radio.

4. Dierks Bentley - "Drunk On A Plane"
This is the kind of song title/premise that gets easy airplay in the era of bro country. But I have to hand it to Dierks, because he took the basic concept and teased it out with a backstory that makes the narrator into a sympathetic character, not just a drunken jerk, and it makes the silliness of the whole thing kind of winning and likable. I feel like this could and even should be adopted into a rom com.

5. AJR - "I'm Ready"
This is some kind of ludicrous would-be novelty hit that my local pop station has picked up a little bit -- a trio of brothers doing barbershop harmonies about "dancing 'til we're dumb in the dark" over squonky dubstep beats and a Spongebob Squarepants sample. I dunno if I would like this much if barberstep became a mainstream phenomenon, but as a weird little curio it's really catchy and kind of creative.

6. Migos - "Fight Night"
When Drake jumped on "Versace" a year ago and got Migos on the radio, it was widely assumed they'd forever remain in the 'biggest radio hit featured Drake' club, along with French Montana, A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, and (sigh) Meek Mill. But a couple weeks ago "Fight Night" surpassed "Versace" on the urban radio charts, which in a weird way is a major milestone for them, and I think they realize it -- when I tweeted something to that effect a couple weeks ago, it got RTed by a bunch of people, including the official Migos account (it has since climbed to #10 on said chart). This is probably my favorite song they've put out to date, partly because Takeoff has a unique voice and it's nice to hear him dominate the track instead of Quavo, who sounds more and more like Mike Jones every time I hear him. This song exists in that kind of uncomfortable continuum of rap songs that liken 'beating the pussy up' to actual acts of violence, but at least it's not as bad as when Jay-Z made it into an Ike Turner joke recently.

7. Jeezy f/ Jay-Z - "Seen It All"
Every Jay-Z verse continues to be treated like an event, but it's only maybe once a year now that one isn't completely dispiriting and underwhelming, and right now it's "Seen It All." Of course, it's kind of an old-fashioned dope game Jay verse, and he labors it a little bit ad libbing "real shit" over and over, and Jeezy's story about Jay supposedly tearing up when he recorded his verse is a little ridiculous. Still, pretty good song.

8. Jennifer Lopez - "First Love"
That A.K.A. is one of the best pop albums of the year is still an opinion I'm sticking to that I'm sure I will convince few of. The second single was my gateway to the album and I really think it could've been a huge hit for anyone else with more career momentum than J.Lo. This song really just resonates a lot for me personally, as someone who's still with their first love.

9. Phantogram - "Black Out Days"
"Fall In Love" is still one of the best singles of the year and Voices is a pretty solid album, this was a good follow-up single choice, wish it was getting more airplay.

10. Pharrell Williams - "Come Get It Bae"
I'm always fascinated when an artist follows a gigantic #1 hit with something people dislike so much that it misses the Hot 100 completely, which is what happened when "Marilyn Monroe" was released on the heels of "Happy." This one is good for getting the album campaign back on track, though, even with Miley in the mix I find it pretty enjoyable. I really hope "Brand New" becomes a single eventually, though.

Worst Single of the Month: Big Data f/ Joywave - "Dangerous"
I think that alt-rock radio has been pretty good this year, as far as newer acts getting a lot of play that are generally pretty decent, but this song that recently topped the charts, has really irritated me both for the similarity of the bass/drums arrangement to "Only" by Nine Inch Nails and for how innocuous and half-assed the song itself sounds to me.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

One of the biggest project I've undertaken lately outside of my writing was running a poll of the greatest Classic Rock songs of all time for the I Love Music message board. These things are really just by and for the users of the board, but considering the amount of work I put into tabulating the 63 ballots and rolling out the results, and the fact that it came out pretty awesome, I wanted to post it here and share it with more people.

You can read the whole thread with all its chatter here, or go straight to the summary of the top 500. I also made a Spotify playlist of everything from the top 500 (that was on Spotify, anyway). The poll rollout also came with some amazing images this dude Grady cooked up, and you can see them all here.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

This upcoming Friday, August 15th, Boiler Room is bringing a bunch of folks from Baltimore up to New York for a live broadcast of Baltimore club music from Rod Lee, Scottie B, DJ Technics, Mighty Mark & TT The Artist. I've also been asked to come up to write about the whole thing for Boiler Room, so NYC folks, let me know if you want to come to the event and/or hang out while I'm in town for the weekend.

Movie Diary

Friday, August 08, 2014

a) Blue Jasmine
I've seen almost every Woody Allen movie in the last 10 years (except for To Rome With Love and the one in theaters now), and will probably never boycott them or stop seeing his new ones until he finally drops dead. That's not because I'm really that big a fan or because I believe strongly in his innocence or whatever -- I just kinda feel like nobody should be able to tell me to watch his movies as long as they're available to watch, even if they suck. And that's kinda the thing, pretty much everything he's made in the past decade is terrible. This one resembles quality filmmaking more than the others, mostly by virtue of Cate Blanchett's very committed, skilled performance of Allen's very facile, wrongheaded creation. And everyone else is doing those flat, rushed line readings of all later Woody Allen movies, Alec Baldwin almost undoubtedly forced into the most lifeless performance of his career while Louis C.K. and Bobby Canavale and Andrew Dice Clay stumble through Allen's weird tonedeaf idea of working class mooks.

b) Austenland
My wife was watching this recently so I saw most of it. Cute little movie, funny performances by Jennifer Coolidge and Georgia King.

c) Red 2
It feels like the baseline for movies to get sequels now is so low, like people used to have to really love a movie to justify it, now the first one just needs to turn a profit. This was one of a whole slew of recent sequels I was surprised existed and went into major theatrical release. But I liked the first Red well enough and this one was good, built on the comedic chemistry between the characters. It amuses me that between this and The Expendables, Bruce Willis has now been involved in two franchises that are basically meta action movies about people who are ostensibly too old to be action stars.

d) After Earth
This movie was always going to be a hilarious mess but I'm glad I didn't see it until after Jaden Smith became the king of Fake Deep Twitter, which makes it even funnier. His accent in this movie, I don't even know what the fuck that was. I have defended some of M. Night Shyamalan's more divisive mid-period movies, there's something I like about this style sometimes. But watching him just try to push Will Smith's weird vision for this movie through his aesthetic is torturous.

e) Django Unchained
I feel like Tarantino has always had a lot of questionable choices and uncomfortable undertones in his work, but it's mostly been transcended by the overall quality of the movies. But this movie just kinda feels like the final confluence of a lot of those elements -- the wishful thinking rewrite of history of Inglorious Basterds, the revenge movie tropes of Kill Bill, the "dead n***** storage" scene in Pulp Fiction -- into something that is a lot harder to defend or enjoy on any level.

f) Freeloaders
I saw that this was a Broken Lizard movie and checked it out thinking it would be all the Super Troopers guys, but it turns out they just produced it, and all make a cameo together in one entertaining scene. It's basically a movie about a bunch of friends of a rock star (Adam Duritz as himself) (that's right) living it up in his mansion until they can't anymore, which is not a bad premise for a silly comedy, but the execution was just so-so.

g) Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel
As a fan of Hitchhiker's Guide and the general genre of droll British sci-fi comedy, I felt obligated to give this a chance, and it wasn't bad, even if it often felt like an offbrand Edgar Wright movie with weaker visual effects. But the fun of this movie is how much they prolong really showing any of the high concept stuff going on in the time travel plot and just imply it while these guys hang out in a pub. A lot of movies like this seem to fall apart by the end but this one tied together pretty nicely and left me feeling like they got more right than not, even if it wasn't wall to wall laughs.

h) The Quiet
Weird 2005 thriller with a lot of cheap twists and a conspicuous amount of '90s indie in the soundtrack.

i) Love For Rent
Ken Marino has really become probably my favorite "The State" alumnus over the years, and after shows like "Party Down" and "Burning Love" it seemed like him starring in something was a good sign of quality. But it turns out this movie is just a totally generic unfunny romcom that he happened to be the male lead in.

j) The Godfather / The Godfather Part II / The Godfather Part III
Now that I'm well into my 30s, it's getting to the point where if I haven't seen certain famous movies it's a little weird or embarrassing, and these have probably been one of the most prominent examples. Just never got around to it, and they're all pretty long, so it also becomes an issue of blocking out enough time for them. But recently HBO had them all on demand so I managed to pack all three movies into my schedule in one week, which felt like a good way to process them all. The first one is pretty amazing just in terms of the visual language of how a lot of the scenes play out. I'm a big fan of Dog Day Afternoon so it's great to see more of Pacino and Cazale playing off of each other. I probably have to see the first two a couple more times to fully appreciate them, a lot of the time I was just constantly recognizing the various scenes and lines that have been parodied and quotes a million times in other things. The third movie didn't seem so bad initially, but there's something so awkward about all of the dialogue, there's zero subtext or subtlety, everything is spelled out to directly, that it feels like the actors can't overcome it with their performance. It really kinda helps you see all the things the other movies got right.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014
This week's Short List.

Monthly Report: July 2014 Albums

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

1. Marsha Ambrosius - Friends & Lovers
When Ambrosius dropped an EP back in March, all I wanted was an album-length expansion of its moody quiet storm vibe, and I'm glad it's finally here. None of the singles that ended up being left off the album, or even any of the ones that made the album, have hit remotely as big as "Far Away," but this is more cohesive and more enjoyable overall than her first album. The first 4 tracks practically bleed together into one long suite. Ambrosius has really become a fearless master of her upper register, doing all these sensual trembly runs that bring to mind Teena Marie or Minnie Riperton (although the "Lovin' You" interpolation on the album is maybe too on the nose). Other than the bum Dr. Dre track, the production from Da Internz and Eric Hudson and Pop & Oak is pretty consistently excellent, all these kind of trendy bleary slow jams with occasional more traditionally soulful cuts like "Shoes" and the Charlie Wilson duet. And I like how it doesn't beat you over the head with heartbreak songs and just just goes for maximum impact with the 1-2 of "Love" and "Run" towards the end. Really solid major label R&B album in a year when relatively few have even been released. Also, it amuses me how much the cover art to this resembles the cover art for my top July single. I put all the albums here that are on Spotify in my running playlist of 2014 albums I've listened to.

2. "Weird Al" Yankovic - Mandatory Fun
After revisiting his whole back catalog for a deep album cuts playlist, it was great to see "Weird Al" come back with his first #1 album and just take over the internet with the daily video series. But more than that, it was kinda shocking just how good this album turned out to be, easily his best since Poodle Hat, maybe even Off The Deep End. Even the hit parodies that don't seem to have especially strong premises ("Royals" as "Foil," "Fancy" as "Handy") end up being pretty great by virtue of the level of detail in the lyric writing. And between "Word Crimes," "Mission Statement" and "First World Problems," it feels like Yankovic has never been more on the mark as a cultural critic, finding comedy in the way people think and talk right now without leaning on timely references like the songs about eBay or TMZ on recent albums. It might seem silly to say something like that about a "Weird Al" Yankovic album, but he's always managed to somehow transcend what seems like a very silly and unambitious line of work. Also, great polka medley this time out.

3. Bleachers - Strange Desire
Obviously I'm a big fan of "I Wanna Get Better" and have been looking forward to this album. With any act that has a really strong hit debut single, you kinda listen to that album just to see if it was a fluke or if they have ten more songs just as good -- this is somewhere in between. Nothing quite as good as the single and a couple songs feel kind of slight or ill-considered, but it all hits that particular sonic and emotional territory really well and I could see it really growing on me. Very heart-on-sleeve neo new wave kinda thing with some cool of-the-moment production choices. Kinda says it all that he has both Yoko Ono and Grimes guest on the album.

4. OOIOO - Gamel
I haven't listened to a ton of OOIOO, just a couple of the several previous albums, but it's always seemed pretty cool to me that Yoshimi has created her own project outside the Boredoms that has become pretty long-running and respected in its own right. The kinda shapeless improv-driven format of their records makes them hit and miss for me, and my interest waxes and wanes over the course of an hourlong album, but overall this is pretty cool sounding, there's always things to hear in the Boredoms universe that you're not really going to hear anywhere else. I especially like when the alien funk of "Kecupat Aneh" kicks in.

5. James Nasty - Calvert St. EP
I interviewed James Nasty 5 years ago, when he was just starting to make a name for himself around town, and it's been cool to see him emerge as one of the best younger Baltimore club producers out these days. The lead track from this, "Do It," has Pork Chop doing his first club feature since K.W. Griff's "Bring In The Katz" blew up, but the whole thing is really dope. Check it out on Soundcloud.

6. Mighty Mark - #Mighty EP
Mighty Mark (formerly Murder Mark, and the name change was highly appreciated) has been running Baltimore club for a while now, although I still haven't interviewed dude, crazily enough. This one has a lot of vocals where I might've preferred more of a focus on beats, but it's pretty dope. Also on Soundcloud.

7. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye
Another artist I recently enjoyed doing a deep cuts playlist of, Tom Petty's later albums have been light on big undeniable hooks, but the Heartbreakers still sound great. There are a few restrained, groove-driven tracks on here that I ended up enjoying more than the rockers, great keyboard work Benmont Tench is really the MVP of this album. His solo album earlier this year was good, too.

8. Jesse McCartney - In Technicolor
McCartney was one of the post-Timberlake pre-Bieber teen idols who never quite hit it big but I always thought he had a little something with some of those songs like "She's No You" and "Leavin'." This is the self-released album where he's given up on major label stardom, and there's no big name producers, but it's got this nice pop soul polish that hits more of a Michael McDonald/Hall & Oates zone than his contemporaries. Shame about "Goodie Bag," the song where he compares a girl to a sack of promotional swag in a green room, though.

9. Jeremih & Shlohmo - No More EP
Jeremih has had a very odd career that I think demonstrates some of the different narrative strands being woven through R&B right now. He released two very good, very polished major label albums that each contained a gigantic mainstream hit, and he guested on a few rap singles and generally was on a Trey Songz-ish career path. Then in the last 3 years or so, the albums stopped coming and he dropped a mixtape that was very slightly more edgy and Tumblr-y than his other work and suddenly people who never gave his albums the time of day were all over it, and those folks got very excited about him collaborating with Shlohmo, who I'd never heard of. I like this EP more than I expected to, Jeremih's voice is as great and unique as ever, but the production is still a little Weeknd-ish for my tastes. I'm not as concerned about Jeremih abandoning his initial career path anymore, though, since he has a DJ Mustard-produced track all over the radio and might conceivably release another major label album sometime in the near future. You can stream the EP here.

10. Common - Nobody's Smiling
I never totally count out Common, a couple times he's dropped albums so bad that it seemed like he'd never make decent music again and then the next one is dope. In fact, I thought The Dreamer/The Believer was pretty great, and it boded well that he stuck with No I.D. for this album and seemed to be sticking his neck out to make some kind of statement about what's going on in Chicago. It's really not remotely as good as the last album, though. There's a spark here and there, but it's just not No I.D.'s best work, and for every time Com says something interesting or insightful, he drops a few howlers like "I'm hearin' fuckin' voices, like when porn play" or "You in Iraq where it's war like Saudi/ youngins carry the iron, man, like Robert Downey."

Worst Album of the Month: Robin Thicke - Paula
Last year, I was Thicke apologist #1, writing a glowing review of Blurred Lines and a detailed overview of his previous albums. This is where I tap out, though. Paula Patton was his willing muse for 6 mostly good and great albums, appearing on the cover of one of them, and in a couple videos, while he wrote literally dozens of songs about her. Now she's gone, and he's still writing about her, and that can be poignant when done right, but here it's just stomach-turning. I don't know why he rushed to throw together 14 songs, making for a very long and drab, underproduced album when he could've maybe focused on 9 or 10 songs. But it's hard to say if even effort could've redeemed such a wrongheaded album.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

My latest Rolling Stone lists of the biggest summer songs of each decade, this time with the 2000s. Oh my God it's full of Fergie!

Friday, August 01, 2014

I wrote a big feature story about Baltimore rapper DDm for WAMU Bandwidth. Talented artist, good down-to-earth dude, really happy with how the article turned out. His new record Life On Sale is out this fall.