Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Short List in this week's Baltimore City Paper.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 27: Jackson Browne

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My enjoyment of Jackson Browne, much like my enjoyment of several other dad rock artists, can be traced directly to my own personal dad (I've never felt much urge to rebel against my parents' music -- I like their stuff, I like my generation's stuff, I hope I'll like some of my son's favorite music someday). So appropriately, this past Father's Day I got him tickets to see Jackson Browne at the Hippodrome, and went with him and reviewed the show in August. At the show, he previewed songs from his new album Standing In The Breach, which wasn't released until a few weeks later, and is pretty good. Growing up with the hits and a couple particular albums, the show and the album prompted me to dig deeper into the catalog.

Jackson Browne Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. My Opening Farewell
2. The Road And The Sky
3. The Road
4. Late For The Sky
5. These Days
6. Daddy's Tune
7. Say It Isn't True
8. Lawless Avenues
9. Disco Apocalypse
10. For A Dancer
11. Rosie
12. Ready Or Not
13. Linda Paloma
14. Before The Deluge
15. Song For Adam
16. Sleep's Dark And Silent Gate
17. Of Missing Persons

Tracks 1 and 15 from Jackson Browne (a.k.a. Saturate Before Using) (1972)
Tracks 5 and 12 from For Everyman (1973)
Tracks 2, 4, 10 and 14 from Late For The Sky (1974)
Tracks 6, 13 and 16 from The Pretender (1976)
Tracks 3 and 11 from Running On Empty (1977)
Tracks 9 and 17 from Hold Out (1980)
Track 7 from Lawyers In Love (1983)
Track 8 from Lives In The Balance (1986)

Sometimes, when an artist's career spans a few decades, I restrict myself to a particular period just for the sake of trying to fit the best possible stuff into my self-imposed faux compact disc 80 minute time limit. In Browne's case, it was easy enough: he's been making albums for over 40 years, but I cut things off after Lives In The Balance, which contained his last Hot 100 hit (the sublime "In The Shape Of A Heart"). After all, the idea of this series is to celebrate the deep cuts overlooked on albums known for hit singles, and this way I get to focus on Browne's '70s peak with a light dip into his '80s work.

His Reagan era work suffered a bit from two things that befell a lot of his contemporaries -- glossy gated snare production trends, and a turn towards stridently political songwriting. Still, there's some interesting stuff from those years -- I never would've imagined that Jackson Browne wrote a song a song called "Disco Apocalypse," much less that it's a really good song. "Say It Isn't True" has a cheeseball spoken word section, but the main riff is too stately and gorgeous to deny.

The '70s stuff is where it's really at, though, obviously. Previously I was primarily familiar with the first album (ostensibly self-titled but popularly known as Saturate Before Using because of the humorous label on the cover) and The Pretender. But one early album I'd never heard before, the one that had no charting hits, is Late For The Sky, which I didn't realize was a fan favorite. Browne played three deep cuts from it at the Hippodrome show (all on this playlist, along with "The Road And The Sky").

Another thing that I noted in my show review was that he played a lot of Warren Zevon covers at the show (and of course, was good friends with Zevon and produced some of his albums). And while Zevon had more of a dark, satirical sensibility, you do get Browne's sense of humor here and there on songs like "Rosie" and "Ready Or Not." Even though the stereotype of Browne as a gentle piano-playing balladeer is mostly accurate, I think he's a much more interesting character than that. There's nobody else in the world who can say they wrote one of The Eagles' signature songs as well as one of Nico's signature songs (and both her "These Days" and his version, included here, are sublime for different reasons).

But for the most part Jackson Browne is great for those somber, emotional songs. I ended the playlist with a trio of songs dealing with death. "Song For Adam" was about his friend Adam Saylor. "Sleep's Dark And Silent Gate" is one of several touching songs written about Browne's first wife, who committed suicide. And "Of Missing Persons" is about one of my musical heroes, Lowell George, addressed to his daughter Inara George, written just after the Little Feat frontman's death (with a title taken from the lyrics of Feat's "Long Distance Love").

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
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I did a piece for Complex called 10 producers accused of making the same beat over and over again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
This week's Short List.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 26: T.I.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This week T.I. released his 9th album, Paperwork, and it feels like a good time to remind myself how great he was at his peak. It's already easy for people to forget just how big or how good he was at his peak. He's the only rapper in the past decade who released 3 platinum albums three years in a row (from 2006 to 2008), but the drop from Paper Trail to No Mercy and all the attendant legal bullshit remains one of the biggest commercial or creative fall-offs in rap history. He's still a major star who can drop hot singles like "About The Money" or jump on smash hits like "Blurred Lines." But all the drama that drove his early career and kept the stakes high eventually got tiresome to everybody, and now he's kind of an inconsequential figure who stars on VH1 reality shows and breaks up Instagram beef between Snoop Dogg and Iggy Azalea.

But man, I'll stand by T.I.'s catalog. He's still more consistent than nearly all of his mainstream southern rap contemporaries over the past decade, and really I'll take his worst music over Rick Ross's best. And while he's released some great mixtapes and has guested on a billion hits, he's one of the few rappers of his generation whose career you can really trace pretty comprehensively just through major label solo albums.

T.I. Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. No More Talk
2. You Know Who
3. Prayin' For Help
4. T.I. vs. T.I.P.
5. Tell 'Em I Said That
6. Salute
7. I'm Talkin' To You
8. Dope Boyz
9. Who Want Some
10. On Doe, On Phil featuring Trae Tha Truth
11. Every Chance I Get
12. What They Do featuring B.G.
13. Stand Up Guy
14. Be Better Than Me
15. You Ain't Missin' Nothing
16. Goodlife featuring Pharrell and Common
17. Still Ain't Forgave Myself
18. Doin' My Job

Tracks 8 and 17 from I'm Serious (2001)
Tracks 1, 4, 14 and 18 from Trap Muzik (2003)
Tracks 3 and 12 from Urban Legend (2004)
Tracks 2, 7, 13 and 16 from King (2006)
Track 5 from T.I. vs. T.I.P. (2007)
Track 11 and 15 from Paper Trail (2008)
Track 6 from No Mercy (2010)
Track 9 from Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head (2012)
Track 10 from Paperwork (2014)

I could've easily filled this with great street hits that never got proper videos or label pushes like "Poppin' Bottles," but I stuck with true deep cuts (except "Dope Boyz," the I'm Serious track that T.I. self-funded a video for to build his buzz in Atlanta after the label struck out with Neptunes productions). I always could've filled this with the superstar collaborations that take up the majority of a lot of his albums. Instead, I just kinda stuck with T.I. being T.I., whether it was aggressive bangers like "I'm Talkin' To You" or reflective, introspective tracks like "Prayin' For Help," or just all those great creeping DJ Toomp tracks (which take up tracks 8-11 here) That stuff is the reason I'm a T.I. fan, and that's the music he still does pretty well pretty often, even now when he spend a lot of his time chasing that Paper Trail crossover money. Don't get me wrong, though, I do have a soft spot for some of those pop records, especially "Goodlife."

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
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows

Movie Diary

Monday, October 20, 2014

a) Oculus
This is one of the best horror movies I've seen in a while, for two reasons. One, they do everything that modern movies go out of their way to avoid to suspend disbelief, like letting the characters use cell phones and cameras to try and document the supernatural thing going on or call for help. Two, Karen Gillan gets to play a rare horror movie heroine that you can really root for, clever and funny enough to give the movie some comic relief and make you hope they figure it all out and survive. Even the back-and-forth between flashbacks and the present day storyline, which I usually dislike in movies, worked well and eventually became disorienting to great effect.

b) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I don't feel much investment in these Marvel movies, if they're good I'm happy and if they're just okay I forget them like the hundred other superhero movies. But they've been on a roll lately, this is up there with The Avengers and the best Iron Man flicks. Even with Chris Evans being kind of straightjacketed into such an earnest character, he gets to show a little more personality in this one and the action and conspiracy stuff works pretty well.

c) American Hustle
Depending who you ask, David O. Russell either used to be an interesting director who sold out to Oscar bait, or someone who just became a major filmmaker recently. I don't really have a dog in that fight -- I saw and enjoyed a few of his earlier movies but they all seemed kind of messy and idiosyncratic but not necessarily great, and thought Silver Linings Playbook was just kinda lame. This movie was maybe not worth all the fights between the two schools of thought, though -- if anything it feels like a merging of his odd early movies and his recent awards-friendly approach. Because it's really only a faux-Scorsese period piece crime movie on the surface, it's really closer to a farce and reminds me a bit of Soderbergh's The Informant! more than anything else. It just has so many ridiculous moments: Christian Bale yelling "oh God I love gettin' to know ya!" or narrating "she was the Picasso of passive aggressive karate" or delicately arranging his super fake-looking hair into a combover on his super fake-looking bald cap, Amy Adams screaming on the toilet, Bradley Cooper exhaling cartoonishly and holding her foot. I've long been indifferent to a lot of the actors in this movie but they won me over, especially Cooper with his hysterical Louis C.K. impression.

d) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Smaug was pretty cool, although I didn't like this as much as the first movie just by virtue of Serkis/Smeagol being by far my favorite thing about all of Jackson's Tolkien adaptations. It's definitely kinda silly that there's still another long movie left in this story, but I'm not mad about it like a lot of people are, it is what it is, I'm glad Jackson got to do The Hobbit whether it was one movie or two or five.

e) Afternoon Delight
I seem to do this every month or so -- stumble upon an indie movie on cable that stars a bunch of people I know from TV comedy (in this case, Kathryn Hahn and Josh Radnor and Jane Lynch) and then get bummed out that it's this really depressing mumblecore dramedy.

f) Adult World
This is another movie that I thought was gonna bum me out like Afternoon Delight but it turned out to be the rare gritty indie comedy that's actually funny. Emma Roberts throws herself into this satirically unsympathetic protagonist and really has some hilarious moments that make me think she should do more comedy, and John Cusack gets to bounce off of her with a lot of dryly impish, sarcastic reactions that make her performance funnier. The movie doesn't entirely come together, but it was enjoyable enough.

g) Killer Joe
I checked this out since it seemed to be one of the more well regarded recent McConaughey flicks. Started out with a bunch of annoying redneck stereotypes yelling at each other and just got more ridiculous from there, but most of the time I was never really sure what to make of it, like it was clearly going for a black comedy thing but it was more weird than funny. But then the last five minutes of the movie, and the song that played when it cut to the credits, were so batshit crazy and hilarious that it kind of justified the whole movie's existence for me.

h) The Last Boy Scout
I'm kind of a Shane Black stan, more for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Long Kiss Goodnight than the movies he's best known for, but I was never in a rush to check this out since it's kind of known as the screenplay he sold for an insane amount of money that ended up not being very good. But it was on TV recently and I watched about half of it, just to see if it had some good Shane Black banter in it, didn't really hear much.

Friday, October 17, 2014

My quarterly Remix Report Card for the 3rd quarter of 2014 is up on Noisey.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In this week's City Paper, I wrote The Short List, and a feature about Baltimore rapper Damond Blue, a guy with a lot of talent and an interesting story who's releasing the album Blessonz on November 4th.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

This week marks the 15th anniversary of Mos Def's Black On Both Sides, and I contributed some words about the album to a piece on The Boombox, alongside a number of other writers and celebrities.

Monthly Report: October 2014 Singles

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

1. Charli XCX - "Boom Clap"
I hated "I Love It" with a passion and thought that the braying hook on "Fancy" was the annoying part of the song, not Iggy. So I was a little mystified about what so many critics seemed to love about Charli XCX, and they even seemed kind of nonplussed about this song, which has really grown on me. Initially I just felt pedantic about the fact that "Boom Clap" has a much more prominent snare drum sound than a handclap, so it's really more 'boom bap,' but whatever, this is definitely one of the best things on pop radio the last few months, glad it blew up and she's getting a shot as a solo artist outside of "Fancy." Have been catching up on her previous stuff a bit more and I like it but very little of it hooks as hard as this song. You can listen to this and all my other Monthly Report lists for this year on my favorite 2014 singles Spotify playlist.

2, DJ Khaled f/ Chris Brown, August Alsina, Future and Jeremih - "Hold You Down"
Khaled's softer R&B-tinged singles have typically been his worst, and the occasional cuts on his previous albums that put a bunch of R&B singers into his posse cut formula have been a mess, so this song is a pretty shocking and decisive success. Just a great use of everyone's voices, mixing them all into one melody in a way that makes sense and gives each of them some nice moments. And the moments where Khaled screams random phrases like "ANOTHER ONE!" and "REAL LIFE!" somehow fit perfectly within the fabric of the song.

3. Maddie & Tae - "Girl In A Country Song"
A hilarious, perfect feminist response to bro country written by a couple of teenage girls. It's actually glossier than the stuff it's lampooning, which in a way makes it better, that it's not a smug alt-country thing but a pop country song by people who remember when pop country artists wrote about women with more emotion, respect and nuance.

4. Kendrick Lamar - "i"
Over a year after "Control" and on the heels of a lot of much less impressive guest verses, Kendrick really set himself up to deal with even more loaded expectations for a new single than he already would've had following up Good Kid. But it's almost kind of hilarious how unexpected this song was, and how confounded a lot of people are by it. I think most of the hate it's getting is misplaced, though, for reasons that were summed up pretty well by this Fader piece. Not that it's a perfect song -- Kendrick is a great rapper, but sometimes he says things like "how many times my potential was anonymous?" in a weird serpent voice and you just wonder how this guy became a universally respected superstar. But the song sounds better on the radio than I expected when I first heard it, and it's been racing up the airplay charts. If anything the tactical mistake was that he's like "I'd like to release the album this year," when he shoulda just dropped the single with a release date in a month and just let the chips fall, treat this like a power move.

5. Fergie - "L.A. Love (La La)"
Part of the reason I can chill out and enjoy the Kendrick song for what it is is that I was probably anticipating the return of Fergie more. It's been 7 years since The Dutchess (and 4 years since the last BEP album), and her run of solo singles was so good, and pretty much anticipated this whole era of sketchy white girl pop rap, that I've really wanted to see what she'd do now. And jumping on a Mustard track is almost too predictable, but it works. Those cool triplet accents on the drums in the prechorus and chorus sound like something new for Mustard, but it's also got the first "Rack City"-style bassline he's used in forever, interesting combination of sounds.

6. Kim Cesarion - "Undressed"
I'm amazed this guy is from Sweden and this song has already been a pop hit in a dozen different companies before I even heard it on the radio once here in the states. Really just a fantastic funky pop soul thing that fits in perfectly with what's going on on American pop radio right now, hope it blows up soon.

7. Nick Jonas - "Jealous"
I've always rooted for Nick Jonas -- he was the clear talent in Jonas Brothers from the beginning, and also wrote song great songs for Demi Lovato's first album. I even liked the flop single from that first solo album he did backed with a bunch of New Power Generation guys. After the JoBros reboot imploded, though (how does a family band break up, that shit is depressing), his decision to do a sexy synth pop thing seems vaguely desperate, but it's working, people love this song. I don't think his voice is completely suited for this kind of thing, and it's full of really awful lyrics ("I turn my cheek, music up" and "it's my right to be hellish" are IN THE CHORUS). But it's still a pretty great-sounding track, hits the same spot as the Kim Cesarion song.

8. Eric Church - "Cold One"
Eric Church's The Outsiders was, for about half of the year, the highest selling album released in 2014 (until the Coldplay album caught up to it a couple weeks ago). That's not remarkable because Church is a country singer, or even because he's one that's not really a household name. It's remarkable because the album hasn't had remotely as much radio success as his previous album -- four singles have been released so far, and only one of them ("Give Me Back My Hometown") has been a major radio hit on the scale of all five singles from his previous albums. And maybe that's because songs like this and "The Outsiders" have tempo changes and all sorts of weird instrumental textures that you don't usually hear on country radio. This one is light and funny, too, shoulda been bigger.

9. Juicy J f/ Nicki Minaj, Lil Bibby and Young Thug - "Low"
One of my favorite things about 2014 has been Juicy J's infiltration into the upper echelons of pop. It's given us the Juiceman on a chart-topping Katy Perry single, and now we've got Young Thug on a Dr. Luke track. The weird thing is that Thugger is only on the hook, and he talks about the price of his guest verses on that hook, would've been nice to have a verse from him in place of Lil Bibby, who's talented but kind of dull. Still, a great track, wish it had done better on radio. I really like the other new Juicy J songs ("You Don't Know" and "Ice"), hopefully he gets to push another album out.

10. Trey Songz - "What's Best For You"
After Trigga's second single, the hilariously stupid "Smartphones," became the least successful single from a Trey Songz album since he became a big star, there's been kind of a weird scramble to restore the album's momentum with multiple singles hitting the radio around the same time. "Foreign" got airplay for a minute and disappeared, right now "Touchin', Lovin'" is getting bigger, but my favorite is "What's Best For You," a bonus track from the deluxe version that's one of the best traditional R&B songs he's ever done.

Worst Single of the Month: iLoveMakonnen f/ Drake - "Tuesday (Remix)"
I feel like Drake has been building an OVO roster comprised entirely of acts who will only ever be moderately famous for having a song with Drake. Which might be respectable in the sense that he's interested in using his profile to boost niche artists and Toronto guys, but it also seems like an insecure Drake thing where he'd never sign anyone who could be as big as him the way Lil Wayne did with him and Nicki. But this iLoveMakonnen guy, yikes, what the hell is with his voice? And why did all these great producers work with him even before he started to get legitimately famous? I don't understand. This song is a nightmare.

TV Diary

Monday, October 13, 2014

a) "Black-ish"
It was interesting to watch the chatter around this show online, especially on Twitter -- a lot of people disliked the name, and seemed to pre-emptively dislike the show based on it. But after the first episode aired, the buzz was overwhelmingly positive, even from some of the same individuals who objected to the name. And it really is good -- there's a lot of material there, about a black suburbanite's identity crisis, that hasn't really been touched on in a sitcom before. Anthony Anderson's narration is kind of flat, I hope they drop it or minimize it eventually, but the cast is strong, especially Tracee Ellis Ross and the kid that plays their daughter.

b) "Mulaney"
John Mulaney has always seemed like a talented writer who happens to be a really stilted awkward performer, both as a standup and in his Weekend Update segments on SNL. So framing the show around him being a comedian and shoehorning actual scenes of him just randomly doing standup into the show is just not a great device. The cast is good but I don't know if they can carry Mulaney through his awkwardness, and Nasim Pedrad and Elliott Gould in particular seem kind of wasted (although Martin Short always gets some good scenes).

c) "A To Z"
This is a show about a guy who's a hopeless romantic who thinks he's met the girl he's destined to be with who's played by  Mrs. Ted Mosby (Cristin Milioti), and it's narrated by a familiar voice from a late '80s/early '90s sitcom (Katey Sagal) who teases a mystery about whether they'll end up together. So yeah, this show is going to get incessantly compared to "How I Met Your Mother." It's not actually that similar beyond those almost laughably obvious parallels, though. It has some potential, I got a couple big laughs out of it, but I think it maybe needs to be at least half as charming as it thinks it is to succeed, and it's just not remotely there.

d) "Bad Judge"
It has seemed like Kate Walsh's passion has always been comedy, but by the time her career took off she was stuck in a medical drama franchise for 8 years, and is just now finally getting to star in a sitcom. The show is mildly funny, but title is probably the worst thing about it, it makes the whole thing seem like a spin-off of Bad Teacher, which had its own failed TV adaptation earlier this year. Who I really feel bad for Ryan Hansen (of the classics "Veronica Mars" and "Party Down"), who has this year been in both "Bad Teacher" and now "Bad Judge." I think he has a Bad Agent.

e) "How To Get Away With Murder"
I was pretty impressed with the pilot, it really hooks you right away and keeps you guessing. But the story it introduced, I dunno how they'll sustain it over a series, or if it'll just become an episodic procedural thing. But the second episode didn't really hold my attention, I don't know if I'll stick around to find out.

f) "Red Band Society"
This show takes place in a pediatric wing and is about a bunch of sad sick teens, and it's kind of cute and sweet, but it also feels kind of like "Glee" without the songs, which is still too close to "Glee" for comfort.

g) "Intruders"
Intriguing show on BBC America, which had a few really memorable scenes in the first couple episodes. But with all these new shows I'm trying to check out, I don't think I'll stick with it to figure out what the hell is going on.

h) "The Strain"
I knew this show couldn't keep up looking like a Guillermo Del Toro movie with a Guillermo Del Toro movie budget after he did the pilot and passed the other episodes to different directors. But I was really kind of disappointed by how hokey 'The Master' looked after they built up so much to unveiling him. For the most part, though, the show has been both wonderfully gross and engrossing, and I like how it's this big flashy multi-tiered conspiracy thing instead of, like, "The Walking Dead." Some of the characters and storylines didn't quite become interesting until the last few episodes, and some never really got there, but I'm still looking forward to how the story moves forward in the second season. One thing I liked about watching this show all summer is it's made it hard for me to really feel scared of Ebola, doesn't seem that bad by comparison to this show's imaginary epidemic.

i) "You're The Worst"
This show started out great and just got better, the cast really gelled by the end of the season. But I increasingly feel like the breakout performer of the show is not one of the two main stars but Kether Donahue, who I first saw in the Barry Levinson horror flick The Bay. In the last episode of the season she did the most amazing karaoke rendition of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" that functioned as both an impressive vocal performance and a funny moment for her character.

j) "Married"
I kept rooting for this show to be as consistently good as "You're The Worst" but it never quite was. Not bad, but also kind of a bummer sometimes.

k) "The Leftovers"
I gotta say, I just loved this show's total air of misery. The penultimate episode, which flashed back to before the rapture and showed that everybody's life was totally fucked up even back then, was probably my favorite development in the whole thing, and set up the finale really well.

l) "Tyrant"
They spent so much time building up the Godfather arc for Barry that I feel like they kinda wussed out by not letting him get even close to a Sonny Corleone-style turn by the end of the season. The finale didn't even feel much like a finale, they whole thing kinda ended with a whimper.

m) "Masters of Sex" 
Great show, one of my favorites all year, the second season had a few interesting choices but I thought it mostly built up the world more fully and made it all feel like more than a love triangle story. Having them hire Betty from the first season as part of their company seemed like kind of a forced move to keep an interesting character in the picture but it really was worth it, Annaleigh Ashford is fantastic in this show.

n) "The Bridge"
I fell way behind on the second season of this show and I'm still catching up -- I don't really do 'binge watching,' if I watch more than an hour or two of the same show in one sitting it starts to feel like homework. But I like this season so far, I'm impressed with how much it's just a continuation of the first season when I thought a lot of that stuff was going to be a self-contained arc. Emily Rios is great on this show, I worked an event recently where she appeared and I was kind of smitten to see her in person.

o) "True Blood"
For all the talk of how far this show fell off, I thought they ended it surprisingly well. The last two episodes kinda got back to the emotional center of the early seasons, and gave Jason a lot of great moments. This comparison is probably gonna sound heretical to a lot of people, but Jason on "True Blood" ended up a bit like Jesse on "Breaking Bad": the dumb and often wrongheaded young dude who wound up the most sympathetic and likable figure in the whole mess, who you were really relieved to see survive the whole thing.

Friday, October 10, 2014
This week's Short List.

Monthly Report: September 2014 Albums

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

1. Rich Gang - The Tour, Part 1
There's something absurd and miraculous about this mixtape dropping out of the sky while "Lifestyle" (which isn't even on this) is dominating radio and Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan are having this incredible run. A year ago, I would've still dismissed Thug as a Lil Wayne disciple and Quan as someone who could make a hot single but would probably never step out of Future's shadow. Now both these guys are getting bigger and better seemingly every month with a new hit or feature, and totally inhabit their own musical space and can do things that the people they're most often compared to can't. And it's just kind of beautiful that out of all the chaos of Thugger's contractual situation, Birdman stepped in and oversaw a project that he presumably couldn't actual legally release on Cash Money and just gave it away as this beautiful gift for everybody, better than almost any album with a barcode in recent memory and a hundred times better than the first Rich Gang album released last year. London On Da Track is the real reason this thing cooks so consistently, though -- I love hearing stuff like "Keep It Goin'" that offers variations on previous hits like "About The Money," but then there's tracks like "Flava" that sound like nothing else and just stand out even in such a consistently excellent tape. This is on Live Mixtapes, but all these other albums are on my running Spotify playlist of 2014 albums.

2. Gerard Way - Hesitant Alien
It's kind of funny to me that My Chemical Romance carried so much stigma among 'serious' rock fans, dismissed as an eyeliner emo band for tweens and girls, because it was always so clear that Gerard Way was just curating a bunch of cool old influences in much the same way as Jack White or whoever. That aspect of what Way does is amped up on his debut solo album, which is a full-on dive into glam and new wave, but I really wouldn't want to boil down his talent to the ability to pay homage to his record collection -- the guy is just a great rock singer who has a unique way of biting into every syllable, and letting minor changes in inflection dramatically change the tone and intensity of the track. And he's always known how to build a whole album around a particular aesthetic. It's more impressive here because the other MCR guys are gone but the riffs and hooks are still there, although it remains to be seen whether I'll grow to love this as much as their best albums. I think "Get The Gang Together" is my favorite song right now, the back half of the album is really strong considering that all the advance singles were from the first half.

3. Sloan - Commonwealth
Sloan are another example of a band who shamelessly wear their influences on their sleeves, but don't let it stop them from writing songs that are uniquely their own. I recently made a 'box set' of Sloan playlists to pay tribute to the fact that each of the four members of the band has written dozens of good-to-great songs, and this is the first album where they've actually separated each member's tracks into its own block, four sides of a double album. Their other double album, 2006's Never Hear The End Of It, was one of Sloan's best albums and kicked off a late career renaissance, but this one is more of a slow burner -- it opens with a few light pop tracks by the wispy-voiced Jay Ferguson, and you don't get a block of strutting Patrick Pentland anthems until track 11. But what really makes the album click and realize its potential is the Andrew Scott's section, which is one 17-minute track called "Forty-Eight Portraits." It's easily the most experimental and ambitious thing Sloan has ever done, and those aren't qualities I would name as Sloan's virtues ordinarily, but it works.

4. Jeezy - Seen It All: The Autobiography
On his 3rd and 4th albums, I respected Jeezy for having such a strong command of his aesthetic at a time when all his peers were kind of flailing around and jumping on bandwagons. But since then, he was so early on the Mustard wave, and it suited him surprisingly well, that I'm almost a little disappointed that this album doesn't have trendier production. It's solid, though, some huge-sounding anthems as usual.

Last time Prince put out new music, three albums packaged together in 2009, I felt like the only person who thought the best music of the set was on the Bria Valente album and not the two Prince solo albums. Similarly, he just released the solo album Art Official Age simultaneously with this album with his band 3RDEYEGIRL, and everyone's trashing the band album in favor of the solo record, and I feel the opposite. The other album has "Breakfast Can Wait," which is still amazing, but everything else pales in comparison, while this one feels more cohesive and energetic and I really just kinda dig the sound of the band. There are some bad ideas, because it isn't late period Prince without bad ideas, but it's all good. I only really dislike the pitched up vocal on "FUNKNROLL," which is on both albums, and sounds more like Cartman than Camille.

6. Counting Crows - Somewhere Under Wonderland
My little review of Counting Crows deep cuts last week was spurred by this surprisingly good new album, "Dislocation" is a pretty awesome song. It's a pretty frontloaded album, though, and I wish the production was fuller and sharper.

7. Snootie Wild - Go Mode EP
"Yayo" is still one of my favorite rap singles of the year, but it and "Made Me" were only kind of minor hits, so dude only got a EP, and I'm kind of annoyed at the uselessness of major label EPs as a tester product for new artists, especially rappers. But the 4 new songs on here are really solid, give a sense that he could have more hits in him.

8. My Brightest Diamond - This Is My Hand
Shara Worden's catalog has had some real diminishing returns for me -- the first album was great, and I still enjoy it on the rare occasions that I remember to listen to it, but the second was good but inessential, and I don't think I've listened to the third at all since its initial release three years ago. This one might be better than the last, or at least more lively and percussive, but I don't expect I'll be returning to this one much.

9. Luke James - Luke James
This guy seemed to kind of come out of nowhere and get a Grammy nomination and an opening slot on a Beyonce tour without being remotely famous, and listening to his music, I still don't really get it. His voice is good, but the songs don't grab me at all and the production is vaguely forward thinking in the blandest way possible. I'm gonna keep coming back to this for a minute and try and hear what other people are hearing, though.

10. U2 - Songs Of Innocence
I'm basically addicted to streaming music now and haven't regularly used the computer that my iTunes library is on in a couple years. So while everyone was complaining about having the new U2 album forced on them, I actually had to go out of my way to hear it compared to how I usually check out new music. It's an OK record, I think it's a shame that they had to go with trendy guys like Danger Mouse and Paul Epworth and try to make a current-sounding record when radio is completely ignoring them anyway and they should just double down on what makes U2 what they are and maybe take some risks. Like, this has probably the smallest amount of signature The Edge guitar sounds of any U2 album. But I don't hate it, it's pleasant.

Worst Album of the Month: Yung Lean - Unknown Memory
There have been a lot of reviews of this leaning very positive or very negative, and I won't get into linking or talking about those, but really what this album is to me is aggressively middling and useless. And it's not just that it's a white Swedish kid running through a bunch of southern rap tropes, anybody could've made this album and it would've been garbage. I've heard people in Baltimore make this kind of derivative AutoTuned-out mush and it isn't magically good just because they're from the hood. It speaks volumes that when Travi$ Scott, my last Worst Album of the Month honoree, shows up, the whole thing comes to life a little more and you don't feel quite as much like you're being awkwardly talked at by someone with no musical presence. Mostly I just hate the whole thousand-yard-stare blankness of someone with no personality or perspective being spun as an interesting aesthetic choice.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

My latest piece for Complex is called The Best Beats by Your Favorite Producers.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote The Short List, and a review of a very weird Baltimore rap album, Warehouse's The Destruction.