Tuesday, March 31, 2015
This week's Short List.

Monday, March 30, 2015

I did a piece for Complex selecting highlights from Questlove's Twitter feed.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 36: Ludacris

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ludacris is about to release his first album in 5 years, Ludaversal, and it doesn't appear likely to reverse the depressing direction he's been headed in, for, well his whole career. But it's hard not to disappoint people eventually when your career started as strong as his. His first 4 major label albums all went multi-platinum, something only a handful of other rap acts can claim (Eminem, Kanye West and the Beastie Boys). And those early records really hold up, and he hasn't completely lost the skills or sense of humor that made those songs great.

So what happened? In a way, I think Ludacris is like LL Cool J -- a born entertainer who used his skill and charisma to make some of the loudest, hardest, most memorable rap hits of his time. But once a different, more street cred-oriented strain of aggressive rap came into fashion, he started to seem kind of quaint ('90s gangsta rap for LL, Atlanta trap rap for Luda). They'll both be famous forever, and will always be able to make music and stay in the spotlight with acting. But they'll never have the kind of major hits they used to have, just the occasional mild R&B cut like Luda's current single, "Good Lovin'."

Back To The First Time is one of my favorite albums of the 2000s, but even with diminishing returns his career managed to have a pretty long tail. Luda had the frustrating tendency of seeming to try harder and harder to make a classic album that would please everybody and falling further off the mark than he was to start with. It kinda reminds me of what Nicki Minaj is going through right now (and yes, The Pinkprint is Chicken-n-Beer in this analogy and her next album is Red Light District, accept it, you know it's true).

Ludacris Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Game Got Switched
2. Get Off Me (f/ Pastor Troy)
3. Ho
4. 1st & 10 (f/ I-20 and Lil Fate)
5. Stick 'Em Up (f/ UGK)
6. Coming 2 America
7. Word Of Mouf (f/ 4-Ize)
8. Go 2 Sleep (f/ I-20, Lil Fate and Three 6 Mafia)
9. Freaky Thangs (f/ Twista, Jagged Edge and 4-Ize)
10. Screwed Up (f/ Lil Flip)
11. Teamwork
12. We Got (f/ Chingy, I-20 and Tity Boi)
13. Child Of The Night (f/ Nate Dogg)
14. Spur Of The Moment (f/ DJ Quik and Kimmi J)
15. Hopeless (f/ Trick Daddy)
16. Do Your Time (f/ Beanie Sigel, Pimp C and C-Murder)
17. Everybody Hates Chris (f/ Chris Rock)
18. Feelin' So Sexy (f/ Shawnna)

Tracks 1, 2, 3 and 4 from Incognegro (1999)
Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 from Back For The First Time (2000)
Tracks 6, 7, 8 and 9 from Word Of Mouf (2001)
Tracks 10, 11 and 12 from Chicken-n-Beer (2003)
Tracks 13, 14 and 15 from The Red Light District (2004)
Track 16 from Release Therapy (2006)
Track 17 from Theater Of The Mind (2008)
Track 18 from Battle Of The Sexes (2010)

I wanted to acknowledge Incognegro because in retrospect it's pretty impressive that a local radio personality in Atlanta was able to put together an independent album, with the help of Pastor Troy, Organized Noize, Jermaine Dupri and Timbaland. And then 17 months later he re-released pretty much the same album on Def Jam (with "Southern Hospitality" and "Stick 'Em Up" added), and went triple platinum with it.

Back For The First Time might be the biggest rap album that only had 2 singles -- I remember Luda going on Rap City at the time and saying that "Ho" was going to be the 3rd single, but that never ended up happening, probably because you can't really say the title phrase repeated over and over in the song on the radio. It's kinda one of the best ho songs in rap history, though, partly because it doesn't entirely let men off the hook.

Luda always seemed like a true fan of music who worked out his own sound and persona early on but tried to incorporate a lot of different types of rap into his albums. He was one of the first non-Houston rappers to really acknowledge screw music on a major album back in 2003, Red Light District had dope west coast tracks with Nate Dogg and DJ Quik, and a 'theme' track like "Do Your Time" really gets elevated by the guests.

I feel bad for Luda that he kept such a good stable of talent around him early on but most of them never got that much shine -- it says a a lot that Tity Boi only became the 2 Chainz we know today once he left Disturbing Tha Peace, and that Shondrae "Bangladesh" Crawford produced the bulk of Luda's first two albums but didn't really become a brand name until Lil Wayne's "A Milli." Luda/Bangladesh really was a dynamite combination, though, I wish they did a lot more music together.

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.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's

Movie Diary

Thursday, March 26, 2015

a) Chef
Swingers has maybe not aged terribly well but I think remains a pretty charming movie, and I've always kind of admired Jon Favreau, an unremarkable actor by any standard, for writing the best possible starring vehicle he could or would ever have and putting himself on track to eventually directing big budget movies like Iron Man and Elf. But after he decided to scale down and make a relatively small, personal movie with a lot of his super famous friends in it, I dunno, somehow he ended up with something nice and watchable but actually bland compared to his blockbusters. I mean, it's a comedy that takes 2 hours to tell a story that could be summarized in one sentence and doesn't really get any real laughs along the way.

b) Trust Me
Another actor getting behind the camera, Clark Gregg, who I've always liked in various movies and shows. This movie started out as an amiable show business satire, like a slightly more earnest and less mookish look at the same world depicted in "Entourage." But at some point it gets in some decent plot twists and starts too seem a little deeper, and then blows it with an incredibly saccharine, overdone ending.

c) Are You Here
I started watching this goofy, unambitious Owen Wilson/Zach Galifianakis buddy comedy before I realized that it was the debut feature from "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, which surprised me. By the time the movie ended I kinda saw it, but it's still a pretty minor thing that gets laughs out of letting Owen Wilson do his best Dignan-style smooth talking oddball and then kinda goes off the rails whenever it tries to say anything serious about family or relationships or mental illness.

d) I Am Divine
There are at least like 3 documentaries about Divine and/or John Waters and this is just the most recent and the only one I've seen. It's pretty great, though, those guys are basically folk heroes in Baltimore and I enjoy hearing stories about their early days about as much as the movies themselves. I didn't realize just how soon after Hairspray was released that Divine died, really such a sad story.

e) Inside Llewyn Davis
I like to think about how many O Brother soundtrack dollar signs people had their eyes when the Coens told people they wanted to make another movie about folk music, and then delivered this. These guys are unimpeachable geniuses to me, so I give anything they do the benefit of the doubt, but this felt a bit like A Serious Man in that there was probably some level it was operating on that I just didn't understand. I liked the parts that were just kind of a bumbling comedy about a failed musician, though.

f) Her
Man I just hated this. Doing a near-future sci-fi movie about smartphone apps and artificial intelligence and the changing nature romantic relationships is definitely difficult territory, and I respect that Spike Jonze didn't take the easy cynical dystopia way out. But after a while it just kinda felt like an Apple commercial and I felt depressed by the way the movie even when it wasn't nudging you towards identifying with Joaquin Phoenix's moronic ridiculous character's point of view. It seemed like they tried hard to make it all plausible and not that far removed from the present day but so many things ran false about the way people talked and felt and reacted to things.

g) Side Effects
I somewhat expected this to be Steven Soderbergh's companion piece to Contagion, playing out a real life public health issue to its logical extreme. It turned out to be something else entirely, just taking a basic ripped-from-the-headlines premise and then building a whole intricate plot on top of it, although it still ended up somehow making everything about Jude Law just like Contagion did. There were a few really brilliant scenes and twists that I didn't see coming, and Rooney Mara's performance really walks an interesting tightrope, but I dunno somehow it didn't dazzle me like I wanted it to.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote The Short List, and the final Rap Sheet column, with news about Dirt Platoon, Wordsmith, and more.

Monthly Report: March 2015 Singles

Sunday, March 22, 2015

1. Jason Derulo - "Want To Want Me"
Jason Derulo has always had kind of an anonymous quality -- no matter how many hits he has, he still feels more like a male Rihanna stand-in, or some kind of weird halfway point between Jeremih and Bruno Mars, or Chris Brown and Nick Jonas, or something. The first couple times I heard this song, I couldn't quite place who it was, and there were a couple moments were he sounds just like Trey Songz but it sounded a little too pop to be him. Unfortunately, I missed the intro -- the first verse starts less than 2 seconds into the song, but he still squeezes a whispered "Derulo" in beforehand. So I finally figured out what it is the other day, because a couple of my friends were also freaking out about it. An unusually perceptive YouTube comment described the sound of this song as "the current direction of pop music, funky, euphoric, slow electropop," and compared it to recent songs like Ariana Grande's "Love Me Harder" and Taylor Swift's "Style." And I like all those songs and this one as well, so that trend's alright with me. Here's my running favorite 2015 singles playlist, by the way.

2. K. Michelle - "Love 'Em All"
I already said a lot about the album a couple months ago and this song kind of puts the whole thing in a perfect little nutshell, an anthemic but vulnerable response to slut-shaming. The production almost has this '80s pop rock Pat Benatar vibe that might've been a little too much of a left turn, really wish R&B had embraced this song more than it did.

3. Nicki Minaj f/ Drake and Lil Wayne - "Truffle Butter"
I remember people kinda freaking out over the song when The Pinkprint came out, but I didn't hear it at first because I wasn't listening to a version with the bonus tracks, and it was a little underwhelming once I did hear it. But it's really grown on me, and I understand why this song sounds like a breath of fresh air in the context of that album, and especially in relation to the other Nicki/Drake/Wayne single released right before it, the dreaded "Only." Sampling some bleepy minimal house song and putting drums that sound like "The Motto" over it is really kind of inspired as a way to subtly advance the calcified Young Money sound. Also Wayne's career hasn't gone as well as Nicki's and Drake's over the last few years but he's still such a better rapper than they've ever been, and his verse is better than theirs on this and "Only" and almost every collaboration he's done with either of them (save for, well, "The Motto").

4. Flo Rida f/ Sage The Gemini & Lookas - "G.D.F.R."
Flo Rida has always been on the cutting edge of weird watered down Top 40 versions of subcultures. And this song is kind of an interesting dance rap fusion in the same way "Truffle Butter" is, except it's co-produced by bay area rap producer P-Lo (the less famous progenitor of what we think of as the DJ Mustard sound) and a 'trap' electronic producer, Lookas. It's also got one of those obnoxious horn loops that have been so popular since "Thrift Shop," maybe my favorite to date (correction -- the song's Wikipedia entry hilarious clarifies "Despite many people's beliefs, this song was not played with an oboe. Instead, the song was made with an electric violin sound on a keyboard"). After years of him being commercially resilient beyond all logic, Flo Rida now finally has a song that is kind of this sneaky little sleeper hit that is still slowly drifting towards the top 10 after being out for five months, and I'm weirdly kinda rooting for it.

5. Ne-Yo f/ Juicy J - "She Knows"
Another horn loop song that's been out forever and is just now peaking on the charts. This whole wave of Dr. Luke/Juicy J strip club songs with this and Usher's "I Don't Mind" has been dope, I wouldn't mind if every R&B star took turns doing their own for the next year or two. 

6. Young Dolph - "Preach"
Almost a decade ago, one of the best beats in southern rap was Shawty Lo's "I'm Da Man" -- it was produced by K-Rab of "Laffy Taffy" fame and appeared on the same D4L album, but it was the first song that really distinguished Shawty Lo from the rest of the group as being more trap music than snap music and launched his solo career. It was never a huge crossover hit but had a long shelf life thanks in part to one of Lil Wayne's best mixtape tracks and maybe the best thing Yung Joc ever did. Now, after laying dormant for 9 years or so, the distinctive "I'm Da Man" drums have resurfaced in Young Dolph's first big national radio hit. "Preach" was produced by Zaytoven, who was already on the scene working Gucci Mane back when "I'm Da Man" hit, and to be honest I'm a little bothered by the flagrant beat bite, but it's also nice to hear those drums again.

7. Little Big Town - "Girl Crush"
Pain Killer was a really good album (#44 on my year-end list) and this song was a really arresting, gorgeous standout track. It might've been too bold for a single choice, though, hasn't really taken off at radio. I love how they just go all out on the languid noir torch song vibe, though, this song could've easily been done uptempo and be a little cheesy with the innuendo of the lyrical conceit instead of the compelling, dramatic way they executed it.

8. Zac Brown Band - "Homegrown"
In the past I've kinda held up "Keep Me In Mind" as the one really irresistibly hooky Zac Brown Band song I like. But this one really snuck up on me, one day recently I was feeling this really beautiful zen moment of total contentment, and this was the song that popped into my head and summed up how I felt in a cheesy dadrock way. Their other single that was just sent to hard rock radio featuring Chris Cornell is pretty good, too. It's amusing that this is currently on the country airplay chart right next to Darius Rucker's "Homegrown Honey."

9. Avery*Sunshine - "Call My Name"
A while back I wrote about another song on the R&B charts called "Call My Name," Morgan James's cover of the Prince song. This one is an original, but it actually has a weird uncanny valley thing going on with the Prince song where it's practically the same song but about a breakup instead of a relationship. Avery*Sunshine has the most annoyingly stylized neo soul singer's name since India.Arie, but this song is pretty dope.

10. Priory - "Weekend"
Over the years, a lot of songs have crossed over from alt-rock radio to pop radio. But it feels like this kinda flunked out of the former and is now being given a second chance on the latter. It spent a few months bouncing around Billboard's Alternative Songs chart last year as a moderate hit, before dropping off in November. Then, 3 months later, it showed up on the Pop Songs chart. It's a nice cheesy synth rock anthem, might make more sense as a Top 40 record really.

Worst Single of the Month: Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney - "FourFiveSeconds"
I really chewed on this song for a while and tried not to reject it outright, especially because I actually like Rihanna's vocal on it. But sometimes I don't know if I love or hate a song until it gets stuck in my head, and once this started bouncing around my brain it just felt like torture. This wave of songs Kanye is doing with no drums is interesting but the tunes are never strong enough to pull off that choice. "Groanly Grunt" oops I mean "Only One" at least had a seed of a nice song in there that hadn't been nurtured past the demo stage, but "FourFiveSeconds" is just aggravating, a trio of hugely successful pop stars' instincts totally failing them. I can't even figure out what's going on in the song. It's Tuesday and they're getting back from somewhere by Monday? Who's talking trash and making Kanye spaz and wild out, Rihanna? Why is he going to jail? I hate bringing this up but it almost sounds like some creepy allusion to the whole Chris Brown thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2015
This week's Short List.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

With Kendrick Lamar's cover story in the next issue of Rolling Stone, I contributed to a little sidebar piece for the RS site, along with Mosi Reeves and Christina Lee, about the impact of Kendrick's verse on Big Sean's "Control."

TV Diary

Monday, March 16, 2015

a) "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
As a huge fan of "30 Rock," I think my favorite thing about this show is that the breakout star of it is Tituss Burgess, who was D'Fwan on "Queen of Jordan." The whole dark premise of this show, which mainly seems to exist so that they can have an implausibly upbeat "New Girl"-style heroine whose attitude, eventually gets funnier when they double down on it by the end of the season. But really I just enjoy the rhythm of the joke writing and that it takes that whole style of "30 Rock" and has applied it to a very different, slightly more open-ended kind of story. Also great to see Carol Kane being Carol Kane on TV again, she gets some amazing lines. There've started to be some thinkpieces about the humor on the show being racist, but aside from the whole Dong character, which came off kind of tonedeaf and old-fashioned, most of it struck me as jokes about racism that weren't afraid to implicate the characters (as was often the case on "30 Rock," which wasn't afraid to put Liz Lemon in a bad light).

b) "The Last Man On Earth"
I always liked Will Forte on "SNL" and thought he showed some acting chops in Nebraska, but I didn't really know what to expect from this show. It feels like all the possible gags involving being one of the last people left on a depopulated Earth were used up by Zombieland or even the comedic moments in I Am Legend or whatever. But this show just kills me, I expected something kind of dry that I would crack a smile at here and there but I laughed my ass off at the pilot. And I love Kristen Schaal, she's really been a great foil for Forte, even if I'm kind of unconvinced by the premise that being stranded with and married to her would be bad.

c) "Fresh Off The Boat"
Before watching a single episode, I read Eddie Huang's account of adapting his memoir into a TV show, and it was so incredibly funny and heartfelt and honest about the whole ordeal that I came away wanting to read the book more than to watch the show. The show itself is pretty great, though, even if I can sometimes see the seams of where it diverts from his book and his vision. The "Wonder Years"-style adult narration of childhood memories format has maybe been done a little too much by now with "Everybody Hates Chris" and the godawful "The Millers," but it works pretty well here. I love all the '90s rap fandom details, too, even if they occasionally get weird details wrong (the show starts in 1995, but the kid quotes "Mo' Money, Mo Problems" and wears a Wu Tang Forever shirt, which I will pedantically note are both from '97). Constance Wu is the real revelation of the cast, she has the most menacing mom deadpan.

d) "Dig"
My wife was way more interested to see this show than I was, the first couple episodes are intriguing but it could go either way, I think. I like that they haven't really explained how the different stories intersect yet and I'm hoping they're doing something ambitious with all the history and religion instead of just using it as a backdrop for a murder mystery.

e) "CSI: Cyber"
I just had to watch an episode of this to take in the trainwreck, and to find out what song by The Who they were going to use as the theme (it's "I Can See For Miles" -- I lol'd). I honestly feel bad for Patricia Arquette that her first role after winning a goddamn Oscar is in a "CSI" spinoff with fucking Bow Wow. Fire your agent, damn. Geena Davis being on "Grey's Anatomy" now might be even worse, though. I could make fun of the ways this show was ridiculous but you've seen the other "CSI"s, you know the deal, all that plus woah internet. Even Van Der Beek is depressing to see on here, he was good on the last couple sitcoms he did but they got canceled so now he's just taking whatever gig he can get.

f) "Secrets And Lies"
I feel bad for Patricia Arquette, but in a weird way I feel worse for actors who probably could've gotten onto a great TV show if they'd tried early in the nu-cable drama era, like Juliette Lewis or Ryan Phillippe, who instead waited until 2015 and ended up on this bland ABC show (although the champion of this sad category is definitely Uma Thurman on "The Slap"). I think after "Gracepoint" I've just had my fill of murdered child mysteries and probably won't stick with this one. The whole thing is all po-faced and somber, but then 5 minutes into the first episode Dan Fogler shows up and there's this goofy slapstick scene. I'm kind of hoping the whole show has intermittent bursts of broad wacky neighbor sitcom antics.

g) "This Is Not Happening"
Weird late night Comedy Central show where comedians get in front of a crowd and tell a true story instead of just their usual routine, and it's all handsomely shot with some more attention paid to the visuals than you're used to seeing with standup. But ultimately every episode I've seen has just felt like a single topic standup set and nothing really out of the ordinary, maybe because these people all know how to embellish the stories and make the crowds laugh no matter what. Fun but hasn't really fulfilled its potential in any of the ones I've seen yet.

h) "Empire"
I was pretty on the fence about this ridiculous show, but now I'm reveling in it and looking forward to it every week. My favorite parts are when Terrence Howard "plays" piano and looks like Keyboard Cat.

i) "Suits"
Rick Hoffman always caught my eye in memorable bit parts before "Suits," and it's been fun to see him get an interesting character on a good show. Louis has always had kind of a fluid role within the cast, moving from antagonist to sidekick to comic relief at different times and being occasionally really sympathetic and occasionally downright villainous. This season has really done a good job of developing that aspect of the show and pushing him to the edge without tipping things over too far. The relationship between Harvey and Donna has played out interestingly, too.

j) "Girls"
I haven't finished this season yet, don't know if I will. There's been a couple good moments but mostly it's as annoying and unsatisfying as ever. I think I'm mostly just trying to keep watching in hopes that Natalie Morales's character kicks Marnie's ass.

k) "Parks And Recreation"
I've always had very mixed feelings about this show and have felt out of step with most of its audience. . I didn't even halfheartedly start watching it until the second season, mostly because I could never stand the U.S. version of "The Office" and this whole thing doesn't play to Amy Poehler's strengths. Eventually it grew on me, particularly in the Rob Lowe years, but I always held it at arm's length. I haven't finished the last season yet, but I've kinda enjoyed the novelty of them skipping forward to 2017 and injecting some weird sci-fi gags and future pop culture predictions into the show. In the middle of watching the last season, I went back and watched the first season that I'd never seen in the first place because of Sam Donsky's great Grantland piece in defense of it, and it was jarring to see what a totally different show it used to be. Post-Rob Lowe, it's okay, I guess, they've made good use of Billy Eichner. I may keep watching to the end in hopes that Natalie Morales's character dumps Tom's ass.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

I wrote a list of unexpectedly fire debut albums for Complex and got to talk about motherfuckin' Hood Hop.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 35: The B-52's

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I recently wrote about Kate Pierson's new solo album, which got me thinking about her band and revisiting their catalog. I've loved The B-52's for about as long as I've love music, mainly because I had the good fortune to be 7 years old when "Love Shack" came out. And even as I came of age in a decidedly more serious period of modern rock than the one they thrived in, I never stopped marveling at what a perfectly unique phenomenon they were. I might even appreciate them better now, as this group of queer and/or just plain odd young folks from Georgia who fused surf rock beehive retro camp with utopian sci-fi, and made a handful of deathless party jams in the process. As a weird straight dude whose culture heroes included Fred Schneider along with John Waters and Scott Thompson, The B-52's helped form an important little corner of my understanding of what was cool. I was pretty geeked a few years ago to interview Fred over the phone and finally saw the band live soon after.

One thing I've come to appreciate more and more about The B-52's is how they took an ostensibly limited and eccentric sound and used it to express an incredibly wide range of sounds and ideas. Some songs would be a long Fred Schneider monologue, some would be just Cindy Wilson and/or Kate Pierson singing dreamy melodies, sometimes they'd just groove out on an instrumental. And while it's easy to bifurcate their catalog into the Ricky Wilson era, and the records after his death, Keith Strickland really took command of the instrumentation and took it in impressive new directions. And they've managed to cover a lot of topics and moods, there's really this beautiful strain of environmental activism and sexual liberation and self-acceptance running through their catalog in addition to all the sci-fi absursity.

The B-52's Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Strobe Light
2. Lava
3. Trism
4. Quiche Lorraine
5. 52 Girls
6. Dirty Back Road
7. Dry County
8. Cake
9. Juicy Jungle
10. Revolution Earth
11. Junebug
12. 6060-842
13. Hallucinating Pluto
14. Hot Corner
15. Bushfire
16. Hero Worship
17. Queen Of Las Vegas
18. Ain't It A Shame

Tracks 2, 5, 12 and 16 from The B-52's (1979)
Tracks 1, 4 and 6 from Wild Planet (1980)
Track 8 from Mesopotamia EP (1982)
Tracks 3 and 17 from Whammy! (1983)
Tracks 9 and 18 from Bouncing Off The Sattelites (1986)
Tracks 7, 11 and 15 from Cosmic Thing (1989)
Track 10 from Good Stuff (1992)
Track 13 from Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation (1998)
Track 14 from Funplex (2008)

I started buying CDs in 1992, and Good Stuff was among the first dozen or so CDs I ever owned. It was also, along with Def Leppard's Adrenalize, one of my first experiences in trying to get into a band through one of their underwhelming later albums. A few years later, Time Capsule was one of my first experiences in picking up a greatest hits compilation that was so perfect that it lowered the impetus to check out more of their actual albums for a while...which ultimately led to me trying to stay away from best-of comps and do things like this deep cuts series. Time Capsule featured a new single, "Debbie," but it also featured another new song, "Hallucinating Pluto," which was never released as a single and has long been one of my favorites by the band.

The Mesopotamia EP is one of the more interesting moments in their career because it came out of aborted sessions for a full-length album to be produced by David Byrne -- a combination made in new wave heaven that for some reason didn't quite work out. It was maybe too soon for them to try to make a dramatic departure with their studio sound, considering that they'd just made two amazing albums with their early sound and it probably had plenty of mileage in it. But that EP remains an interesting experiment, and some of the songs, especially the horn-driven "Cake," kind of point towards the more lush sound they wound up with on later albums.

The B-52's are kind of a hard band to totally classify 'deep cuts' with. Like with The Pretenders, I found myself avoiding all charting A-sides but still including songs that were probably played a ton on KROQ and college stations in the '80s. To a lot of people, everything in the decade between "Rock Lobster" and "Love Shack" is obscure, but there were a good number of charting singles, and even some of the songs that didn't chart appeared on the band's best-of comps and have been concert setlist staples. So ultimately I went with my gut and made judgment calls like deciding that "Quiche Lorraine" and "52 Girls" are deep cuts but "Dance This Mess Around" and "Give Me Back My Man" are not. This was also a hard one to narrow down just because they have so many deliriously entertaining songs, with so many glorious vocal harmonies and insane Fred moments. In fact, trying to include more of those kinds of moments meant that I ended up cutting some of the really cool instrumentals that have appeared on their albums over the years, including "Work That Skirt," "Follow Your Bliss," and "The World's Green Laughter."

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.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson

Thursday, March 12, 2015

In this week's Baltimore City Paper, I wrote a big feature about Kane Mayfield and his debut album, The Return Of Rap, which just came out. I've known Kane and followed his music for years now and it's great to hear him put out a record worthy of his talent and get a chance to tell his story.

Also wrote The Short List and a new BPM column with news about DJ Technics, TT The Artist, Rod Lee, and more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I wrote a piece for Noisey called Blurred Laws: In Defense of Pastiche and Robin Thicke.

Movie Diary

Monday, March 09, 2015

a) Kingsman: The Secret Service
My wife and I went out for dinner and a movie, as we often do, without any real set idea of what movie to see. So this was our last minute "what the hell" choice, and I was really happy with it, easily one of the best popcorn action flicks I've seen in the last few years. I didn't really know anything about it, or its source material, other than that the trailer looked fun (and I didn't realize that it's done pretty well at the box office, which is good to know, I went in thinking it had probably already flopped). It's very much an old-fashioned spy movie romp, more like old Bond flicks than recent ones, and sometimes gets a little too self-referential about that, and sometimes the CGI looks kind of cheesy. But the action and the comedy are very well balanced, Colin Firth gets to kick a lot more ass than you'd probably expect, Samuel L. Jackson has more fun than he's had in a while, Taron Egerton is a surprisingly strong lead for a relative newcomer, and Sofia Boutella is a fantastic villainess.

b) Belle
I remember a few years ago when networks kept putting Gugu Mbatha-Raw in doomed shows like "Undercovers" and "Touch" and she seemed inevitably destined for bigger and better things, and I'm glad it's finally happening for her with movies like Beyond The Lights and this. It was an interesting movie, in that it extrapolated a whole fictional plot out of a famous painting, and made it a pretty thought-provoking examination of slavery-era history. Didn't find it especially compelling as drama, but it was well made.

c) The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Perhaps no major franchise reboot has ever worked less to differentiate itself from the story or overall style of the previous incarnation as Andrew Garfield's Spidey has from Tobey Maguire's. It's almost an uncanny valley. The most entertaining thing about these movies is that they were directed by a guy with the last name Webb. That said, Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborne is really intense and over-the-top, and a huge step up from boring-ass James Franco. DeHaan was also extremely creepy in Chronicle and I wouldn't mind him making a career out of angsty villains like that.

d) Grand Budapest Hotel
This didn't feel quite as much like a collection of Wes Anderson's habitual tics dancing around and pretending to be a "story" with "jokes" and "characters" and "emotions" as Moonrise Dorsal Fin Pajama Party or whatever did. But it was still pretty damn inert and devoid of personality. I'm starting to feel bad for any talented actor that gets hired to stand around in his movies like I do with later Woody Allen flicks.

e) Under The Skin
I knew this movie got a ton of good reviews and that it was directed by a guy who'd done some hip music videos in the '90s. But if I'd realize Jonathan Glazer was the guy who did "Rabbit In Your Headlights" and "Karma Police," I probably would've known to expect how elliptical and ponderous this movie was. It was pretty intriguing at times, and there were 2 or 3 incredibly odd, visually disturbing scenes that made the whole thing at the very least a pretty stirring aesthetic experience. But it also felt like 10 minutes' worth of story stretched across a movie that danced on the border between 'minimalist' and 'boring.'

f) One Direction: This Is Us
I figured that I might as well watch this movie, since I've spend so much time listening to One Direction's albums lately without having more than the vaguest idea of who these guys are, what they look like, or who sings what parts of what songs. So this was at least fun for getting a little of their polished backstory and a little of the group's personality and hearing some good songs live, although the movie is from after their 2nd album, and the 3rd and 4th ones are my favorites. The part where they cover "Teenage Dirtbag" is pretty unexpected and fun, and I don't even really like that song.

g) Greetings From Tim Buckley
At this point, I hate biopics, and especially musical biopics, so much that I wouldn't wish them on any artist I actually listen to. But once upon a time, I kinda hoped that James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka from "The Wire") would play Jeff Buckley in whatever inevitable movie they made about him, both because of the physical similarity and because Ziggy had the kind of animated, obnoxious quality that Buckley always seemed to have in live recordings and various anecdotes about him. Penn Badgley, as it turns out, was not a bad casting choice, although I feel like he gets maybe 80% of the way to convincingly capturing Buckley's voice and personality in a way that just makes the other 20% more glaring and missed. There's a scene where he sings in a record store that is just painful. But that's really the least of the movie's problems, because the whole thing managed to feel both largely fabricated and really underwritten and dull. If you're gonna make up a bunch of dialogue and details and a whole love interest subplot out of thin air, you should at least make them compelling.

h) Hellbenders
For our annual Valentine's Day tradition of ordering Chinese food and watching horror movies, this year my wife and I looked around at the options on cable, and impulsively decided on this low budget horror comedy, in which Andre Royo was the closest thing to a known star. It was pretty gorey and had an entertaining, original premise. But in the unfortunate tradition of horror comedies, it wasn't especially funny or especially scary.

i) Serial Mom
Having seen a lot of other John Waters movie but somehow never getting around to this one until now, it's interesting to view it in retrospect as kind of a unique turning point in his career. It was the point in his career when he still had enough afterglow from Hairspray that people were willing to give him a fairly big chunk of money to make a movie, but he was starting to get back into doing really twisted, profane stuff, just with a bigger budget and bigger stars than before. I remember thinking the premise of the movie was kind of silly and one-note when I saw ads for it, but now I'm actually kind of shocked with how far they push the language and the violence and how insanely committed Kathleen Turner is to her performance.

Monthly Report: February 2015 Albums

Saturday, March 07, 2015

1. Butch Walker - Afraid Of Ghosts
Last time Butch Walker put out a record, 2011's Peachtree Battle EP, the centerpiece, "Coming Home," was written about the impending death of his father, who ended up passing right before the EP was released. And Afraid Of Ghosts is a continuation of that, with an even more heartbreaking song, "Father's Day," and a much more somber and restrained mood than his last few full-lengths. Butch Walker has made some of my favorite rock records of the past decade (particularly I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart), largely for the hooks and humor of the uptempo tracks. But Afraid Of Ghosts is an impressive and moving album and clearly one he had to get off of his chest, so it's cool to see him reach some new levels of success with this record (I actually had an amusing Twitter exchange with Walker recently about this).

2. War On Women - War On Women
Baltimore hardcore band War On Women's Improvised Weapons EP was a really astounding debut, one that established the band's sound and mission so completely that I almost wondered what more they could do with future releases. So it's exciting that they were able to take the same energy of the 17-minute EP and apply it to a 30-minute album and not lose any force. The confrontational way they write about feminism and rape culture and reproductive rights is just inspiring and feels really necessary these days, and the band rocks so hard that it never feels like the music takes a backseat to the message. There's a good acoustic version of the opening track "Servilia" here that really shows how solid the songwriting is. Of course, I'm a little biased -- I was a big fan of Shawna Potter and Brooks Harlan's previous band Avec, and Potter recorded an amazing vocal for the record I'm releasing this year.

3. Estelle - True Romance
I don't really have any frame of reference for Estelle's music beyond her two Hot 100 hits -- I thought "American Boy" was kind of annoying and that "Thank You" was a nice little fake Sade song. And I'm vaguely aware that she rapped before that. But I checked this album out on a whim and was really impressed by it. Just a really gorgeous, relaxed, subtly adventurous mix of R&B and dance music. Even the snap music sound of "Make Her Say (Beat It Up)" works well in the context of the album. Some nice expensive sounding production from DJ Camper and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. It's a shame this album has kinda flown under the radar, hopefully her appearance on "Empire" this week raised its profile a little. Weird of her to use an album title that a fellow Brit, Charli XCX, used less than 2 years ago, though.

4. TT The Artist - Art Royalty EP
The first time I saw TT The Artist was about 7 years ago, when I was at the judging table for a rap battle at Fletcher's (R.I.P.). Most of the competitors were male solo MCs, and then this woman comes out with a huge colorfully dressed army of backup dancers and put on a real show. I didn't get a great sense of what she was about musically or lyrically from that, but it made a big impression nonetheless. And in the last few years it feels like she's really found her sound by diving into Baltimore club music and fusing it with her style, collaborating with guys like Mighty Mark and Blaqstarr, and it's cool to hear a bunch of her tracks collected into a nice half hour package like this.

5. Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer
It's been almost decade since I first saw Dan Deacon after he moved to Baltimore, and I have to admit I wasn't hugely impressed with the guy when I first saw him live, and had to warm up to his records. But by this point he's really an indisputable genius and really deserves all the success he's had. And this might be my favorite one he's done since Spiderman Of The Rings, more of that mutant pop vibe I dig than the kind of epic neo classical thing that happened a bit on the last couple records. I also love that the closing track is called "Steely Blues," which probably makes it impossible to search for on YouTube without getting Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues" instead.

6. Juicy J - Blue Dream & Lean 2
Juicy J was one half of one of southern rap's greatest production teams, and I've always had mixed feelings about his solo career, which has been largely fueled by much younger producers and makes me wonder if DJ Paul was the driving force behind most of Three 6's classic beats. That said, Juicy J is in great command of his sound and aesthetic, and manages to get the best out of overexposed producers like Mike WiLL Made It and Jahlil Beats. At the moment, Juicy is more interesting as an unlikely crossover star with all his Dr. Luke-assisted features on Katy Perry and Usher hits, but the solo shit is solid. There's a political track that opens with a sample of Common's Golden Globes acceptance speech, which is pretty weird, but the song is good.

7. Kate Pierson - Guitars And Microphones
I love The B-52's, and have enjoyed Fred Schneider's solo albums and side projects, but nobody else from the band had ever gone solo, which is surprising given how Kate Pierson anchored hits by R.E.M. and Iggy Pop. But I'm glad she finally did. The album opener "Throw Down The Roses" kind of gives off the same vibe as Kim Gordon's recent memoir Girl In A Band, of a badass lady who's been a rock star for 30 odd years really owning it and being kind of frank and blunt about it. "Crush Me With Your Love" and "Time Wave Zero" have a little of that B-52's retro sci-fi vibe to them, but for the most part she just stakes out her own territory on here and it's all got that great familiar voice but its own homespun charm.

8. Fifth Harmony - Reflection
This album is like an extreme outpost of the post-Fergie era of swagged out girl pop, but instead of going all-out Miley obnoxious it managed to circle around and be kind of charming. In the first 90 seconds of the album, they quote Plies. The lyrics are like a musical translation of Karen Gillan's character on "Selfie," a constant goofy soup of Twitter memes and Beyonce references. 'Better than Little Mix' is not a high bar to clear, but for an album that threatens to be too bland to be memorable, it ends up being pretty entertaining.

9. Drake - If You're Reading This It's Too Late
I respect the level to which this project is just stunting and exploiting Drake's popularity -- he dropped a surprised 'mixtape' and outsold pretty much every rap album released last year, including labelmates like Nicki. He could've done a greatest hits collection of his loose hit singles like "0-100" and "How About Now," but instead went with pretty much all new music (the only previously released songs are the legendarily terrible "6 God" and "Used To," hilariously with the AutoTune taken off of Wayne's vocals from the version on his mixtape). There's some joints here but mostly it's pretty goofy. I know that we're living in the post-street cred Rick Ross era, but hearing Drake say shit like "cooking with the wrist motion" and "I pull the knife out they back and cut they throat with it" and "brand new Beretta, can't wait to let it go," even with some vague metaphorical distance implied, is just funny. He's making such a big deal of contrasting today with his early years of stardom, but "Miss Me" and "Money To Blow" were hard records that didn't try this hard to sound 'hard.' The PartyNextDoor and Travi$ Scott cameos do at least serve as harsh reminders that Drake is relatively talented at rap-singing, though.

10. Kid Ink - Full Speed
Kid Ink's career is, obviously, a ridiculous farce, and so many artists who can actually write hit songs on their own are roped into this album to donate hooks that it's practically a DJ Khaled record. But it works to some extent, "Be Real" and "Every City We Go" are some of my favorite songs out right now, even if mainly for Dej Loaf and Migos, respectively, instead of Kid Ink. And unlike that boring-ass Big Sean album, it doesn't have an unearned air of respectability with critics. It was pointed out to me the other day that Kid Ink produced an amazing song, Diddy-Dirty Money's "Sade," 4 years ago, well before he was a big major label rapper, and that kind of gives him some points in my book.

Worst Album of the Month: TeeFlii - Starr
Most of the Cali guys who were down with DJ Mustard early on got to catch the wave and ride it to some real mainstream visibility, but TeeFlii kinda arrived late with "24 Hours" sounding like a pathetic "Don't Tell Em" retread. And I can't even feel bad for him, because where Ty Dolla $ign is at least a moderately talented scumbag with something approaching a unique persona, TeeFlii is just this The-Dream wannabe who constantly says "Annie are you otay?" like he's Buckwheat covering Michael Jackson. I was even willing to chalk up his vocal similarity to The-Dream to coincidence until I heard "Change Your World," which features a Terius-style "Imma fuck up your hair, Tasha gon' have to do it over" lyric, and "Action," which is full of Dream-y ad libs and backing vocals. And since The-Dream has his biggest hit in years right now, the timing of this album makes it seem even more unnecessary. Nice DJ Quik guest verse, though.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015
This week's Short List.

Monday, March 02, 2015
Baltimore rapper and blogger Speed On The Beat recently invited me to take part in an e-mail Q&A for a 'roundtable' with a few other music writers and bloggers. In the last few days, Part One and Part Two were published, and I think it came out pretty interestingly, I tried to be honest and maybe a little revealing about my process, and it was cool to see how the other respondents answered the same questions.