Deep Album Cuts Vol. 38: T-Pain

Thursday, April 30, 2015

This week saw the debut of Bigger Than Pain, Worldstar Hip Hop's 20-minute documentary about T-Pain. And I wouldn't really recommend it, unfortunately, you couldn't get a blander telling of his story from a middle schooler's book report. But it's good to see another piece of the concerted effort behind a comeback for T-Pain, or at the very least an opportunity to see him in a new light, to appreciate perhaps more fully than when he was a ubiquitous pop culture presence 5-10 years ago. In October, NPR's Tiny Desk Concert gave the world a chance to hear T-Pain sing without AutoTune, and in March he released a well-received mixtape, The Iron Way. His long-delayed 5th album Stoicville: The Phoenix is hopefully on the way soon, although it's not clear when.

I feel like even now that the public is primed for more T-Pain, what they want is more hits. But I also think that he made a lot of good music already, and most people haven't even heard anything beyond the hits. 2007's Epiphany was a #1 album and sold almost a million copies, but I was one of only 4 critics to vote for it in the Pazz & Jop poll that year. Maybe we'll never get to the point where he's back on top like Pharrell is right now, but it'd be nice if when he drops an album people listen to the whole thing.

T-Pain Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. "Backseat Action" featuring Shawnna
2. "Rappa Ternt Sanga (Intro)"
3. "Put It Down" featuring Ray Lavender
4. "Dance Floor" featuring Tay Dizm
5. "Reality Show" featuring Musiq Soulchild, Raheem DeVaughn and Jay Lyriq
6. "Sounds Bad"
7. "I Don't Give A Fuk"
8. "Studio Luv"
9. "Long Lap Dance Song"
10. "Default Picture"
11. "Suicide"
12. "I'm Hi" featuring Styles P.
13. "How To Hate" by Lil Wayne featuring T-Pain
14. "Give Her The Keys" by E-40 featuring T-Pain
15. "Serious" by E-40 featuring T-Pain
16. "Go Home With You" by Kardinal Offishal featuring T-Pain
17. "I Fucked My Aunt" by The Lonely Island featuring T-Pain
18. "So We Can Live" by 2 Chainz featuring T-Pain
19. "What's Wrong (Go Away)" by Jennifer Hudson featuring T-Pain

Tracks 2, 4, 8 and 12 from Rappa Ternt Sanga (2005)
Tracks 1, 3, 6 and 11 from Epiphany (2007)
Tracks 5 and 9  from THR33 RINGZ (2008)
Tracks 7 and 10 from rEVOLVEr (2011)
Track 13 from Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV (2011)
Track 14 from E-40's The Ball Street Journal (2008)
Track 15 from E-40's Revenue Retrievin': Graveyard Shift (2011)
Track 16 from Kardinal Offishal's Not 4 Sale (2008)
Track 17 from The Lonely Island's The Wack Album (2013)
Track 18 from 2 Chainz's B.O.A.T.S. II #METIME (2013)
Track 19.from Jennifer Hudston's Jennifer Hudson (2008)

I diverted a little from my formula for these playlists, which usually consist of just tracks from the artist's albums and maybe the odd compilation track here and there. T-Pain guested on so many dozens of albums by other artists, and while people rarely went into the studio with him without trying to make a hit single, occasionally those collaborations remained album cuts. And sometimes they were really good, so I thought it'd be fun to showcase those, since his 4 major label albums really don't capture how prolific he's been.

Some of these songs, like "Backseat Action" and "Studio Luv," got a little pinch of airplay at the time, but they weren't the big promoted singles like "I'm Sprung" and "Bartender" and whatnot so I still wanted to include them. But mostly I wanted to show the variety in his albums that you didn't necessarily get from the wall to wall club songs that were released as singles. The more goofy, down-to-earth songs like "Sounds Bad" and "Reality Show," even the weird maudlin narrative about contracting HIV, "Suicide," all those make him a more interesting songwriter than he gets credit for. And he produced most of these songs, his beatmaking skills are really underrated.

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
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants

TV Diary

Monday, April 27, 2015

a) "Daredevil"
I was pretty skeptical about this show, just because I've never enjoyed any superhero TV show a fraction as much as a halfway decent superhero movie. But, after watching about half of the episodes, this has grown on me pretty quickly. It's dark as hell and lays on the crime epic Hell's Kitchen stuff pretty thick, but it's also pretty stylized and pulpy and entertaining and not just a Nolan Batman knockoff or whatever. The storytelling is just pretty sharp, too, just the way each episode pivots from the previous one and leaves gaps in the story to keep the tension high. Also happy to see Deborah Ann Woll in a big role, always loved her on "True Blood."

b) "Happyish"
I wish Phillip Seymour Hoffman was still alive, acting in good stuff or bad stuff or not acting at all. But I have to say, I am a little glad that his death stopped him from starring in this awful show. He shot the pilot, and then it was ultimately re-shot with Steve Coogan in his role. And I'm kind of amazed they bothered either time, it's another painfully facile, unfunny, unmoving dramedy from Showtime, with some special effects fantasy sequence gags that fall flat and remind me of the worst new show of 2015, "Man Seeking Woman."

c) "The Comedians" 
I am, I think, probably one of the only people of my generation who finds Billy Crystal funny in 2015. And given that, despite his starpower, FX basing a show around him seems like a hard sell, even if a lot of the whole meta premise revolves around making fun of how old and corny and out of touch he and his style of comedy are. Josh Gad, who has been irritatingly ubiquitous for the last few years, actually gets more mileage out of making fun of himself here, in that it's a little harder to pin down which of the several unflattering running gags about what he's like in real life is funniest, where the Crystal jokes are a little more obvious. This whole show feels kind of like the same showbiz satire with stars making fun of themselves that we've seen too many times, though. It's a lot like "Episodes" specifically, it even has a recurring gag about a useless assistant that's very similar to the one on "Episodes" except not as funny. But there are some fun scenes when Crystal and Gad get to bounce off of each other and just do goofy old school comedy schtick. The episode with Steven Weber as a transgender woman kinda felt like a minefield of bad ideas but I think they handled it well. And the line "I'm just trying to fit in with all these legends and Will Sasso" killed me.

d) "Sin City Saints"
One of the worst things about watching "Community" on Yahoo Screen is the constant ads for this show, which is a weird sleazy show about a Las Vegas basketball team that co-stars Tom Arnold (and makes itself seem every worse with Carrot Top and Penn Jillette cameos in the first 30 seconds of the pilot that they use in the ads). I even made fun of this on Twitter and poor self-hating Tom Arnold retweeted me. I would slander Malin Akerman too but she's at least been funny on "Childrens Hospital" and "Trophy Wife."

e) "Other Space"
The most annoying thing about Yahoo Screen constantly running ads for "Sin City Saints" is that they have another show that would actually appeal to "Community" viewers that they never advertise. "Other Space" was created by Paul Feig and feels a bit like his version of "Red Dwarf," just a really dark, funny show about a spaceship crew lost in space. Most of the actors are commercial actors that aren't famous at all (other than Milana Vayntrub, the girl from the AT&T commercials that everyone is in love with), but there's also Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu from "Mystery Science Theatre 3000," the latter of whom voices a robot not unlike Crow. It takes a little bit to get going, but once it got on a roll, I've been really impressed with the creativity of the show, they're really going as far with the sci-fi premise as they can and making it funny.

f) "American Odyssey"
This show is kind of drab and boring, even though the stakes are pretty high in the story, it just isn't very compelling. There is one scene in the second episode, however, where a guy is trying to hack into a computer, and when he fails, the Keyboard Cat video pops up. That was pretty unexpected.

g) "Lip Sync Battle"
As weary as I am of Jimmy Fallon and all the stupid mini-game shows he does on "The Tonight Show" instead of, you know, written comedy bits that require any talent, I do enjoy the lip sync battles the most of all those, and am in favor of cordoning them off into their own show. But then, taking a 10-minute segment and blowing it up into its own half hour show could either involve just doing that bit 3 times as much, or padding it out, and they chose padding. LL Cool J hosts, Chrissy Teigen does commentary (although she never really gets a chance to be funny like she always is on Twitter), and there's a lot of backstage stuff and trash talk. Here and there you get a really entertaining moment, like Anne Hathaway doing "Wrecking Ball," but there's a lot of waiting around to get to that.

h) "The Grace Helbig Show" 
Any popular YouTuber getting a job in real television is intrinsically suspect to me, but E! basically gave this one Chelsea Handler's spot on the schedule, which seems like a lateral move. Grace Helbig seems like a decent host, but I don't think I'll ever watch this show, because she brought that YouTube vlogger editing style with her, that unnerving thing where there are constant jumpcuts past every pause between sentences. I hated that before, and the idea of seeing that on TV regularly really pisses me off.

i) "The Last Man On Earth"
I loved this show off the bat and still enjoy it, but it has lost some luster for me as the season has worn on. I know they couldn't keep Phil the only character, or even just Phil and Carol, for any length of time, but as they've added more characters, it's mostly just ramped Phil up into cliche sitcom schlemiel behavior, rolling his eyes when his wife asks him to do chores and chasing the pretty blonde and making fat jokes about the guy she ends up with. I appreciate that putting this stuff in the context of a barren apocalypse environment is kind of the twist of the joke, but half the time the guy might as well be Alan from "Two And A Half Men."

j) "Fresh Off The Boat"
When I first wrote about this show I noted the ambivalent and critical things that the show's creator/narrator/subject Eddie Huang had written about it. And since then he's just ramped that up in tweets and interviews, and it's frustrating to see, because it's a good show but I totally get what he dislikes. Making a TV show about your life story just seems like a minefield, though -- at least with a movie you have a chance of depicting things accurately, but TV shows need new storylines every week and will keep embellishing until some really untrue things come out. Something's gotta give -- either he's going to have some kind of ugly break with the show, or he's going to get more control over it and make it into a more nuanced, honest show, or it'll get canceled before either of those things happen. I hope they let him do what he wants with it.

k) "Black-ish"
This show kinda mines similar territory as "Fresh Off The Boat" without all that angst and autobiography to worry about, but it works, they've really settled into a good groove as one of the best shows to survive the 2014-2015 season. I am a little bummed, though, that Laurence Fishburne has had such a small, sporadic role. I thought he was gonna be a breakout character of the show but there are whole episodes he's barely in or not in at all.

l) "Inside Amy Schumer"
I always feel like a namedropper when I mention my brief acquaintance with Amy Schumer in college, but it still just trips me out to see her become famous, especially right now when she seems to be everywhere, the Judd Apatow movie on the way and hosting the MTV Movie Awards. I always thought her standup was really sharp and enjoyed this show's first two seasons, but I have to admit that I was starting to worry that she was kinda falling into being another comic who takes a lot of cheap shots for shock value. So it was good that the first episode of this season just felt really solid and focused, as this post pointed out, she's really doubling down on her perspective on gender and finding funny ways to approach it from different angles.

m) "Veep"
I almost got to work the teleprompter on a first season episode of "Veep," and then a couple years ago actually did go to the set and do prompter for a PSA that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was doing (sorry, more namedropping). So it amused me that the season premiere this year was basically a whole episode of teleprompter problems, except instead of doing it for real they just CGI'd words onto the prompter glass. I'm not gonna humorlessly fact-check what they got right and wrong, though, it was a funny episode and they did capture some of the anxiety of last minute revisions and technical problems on a teleprompted speech. Also, it feels pedantic to say this, but is she actually going to be VP again in the show at some point or is the title just going to not make sense anymore?

n) "Justified"
Thoughout the six seasons of "Justified," FX made a lot of promos for the show that weren't actual clips from the show but these kind of high concept video game cutscene-looking setpieces of Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder aiming guns at each other and stuff like that. And I always thought those were kind of silly and misleading, almost admitting that the show was delaying the payoff of their conflict because, while Walton Goggins is great on the show and deservingly the second-billed actor, the show would just be stupid if it was the two of them dueling every week. So they filled the show with a revolving lineup of temporary villains (my favorite being Margo Martindale and Neal McDonough), and by the last season they just had this amazing repertory of good character actors being grizzled badasses. And by the time all the brush had been cleared away and it was time for Raylan and Boyd's climactic final showdown, they really took an interesting path that gave the show a much better and more satisfying resolution than if it'd gone out with guns blazing.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I wrote a Baltimore City Paper blog post about the cover of Lungfish's "Ann The Word" on Beauty Pill's new album, kind of a little Baltimore-centric outtake from my longer Beauty Pill piece for Noisey earlier this week.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

This week, They Might Be Giants are releasing their 16th or 17th (or something like that) studio album, Glean, which consists mainly of songs released in their 2015 revival of the Dial-A-Song project they started over 30 years ago. I also recently read a (disappointing) book about the band's most popular album, Flood, so I've kind of been in the mood to listen to the band.

I usually do 'deep cuts' playlists for bands with a lot of hits and little cult appeal, so in some respects They Might Be Giants are not the best fit. But I think they were a great singles band, who regularly got radio and video airplay, in their first decade, and I never would've checked out their albums if those hits hadn't hooked me. So I wanted to put something together that I think would appeal to someone who enjoys "Birdhouse In Your Soul" or "Ana Ng" but doesn't just want to be told that they need to hear Flood or Lincoln or their whole big clottered discography.

They Might Be Giants Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Rhythm Section Want Ad
2. Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love
3. Mr. Me
4. My Evil Twin
5. Whistling In The Dark
6. New York City
7. I've Got A Match
8. Sleeping In The Flowers
9. Women & Men
10. Working Undercover For The Man
11. Mammal
12. Your Racist Friend
13. She's An Angel
14. Santa's Beard
15. When Will You Die?
16. Memo To Human Resources
17. Dead
18. Careful What You Pack
19. Everything Right Is Wrong Again
20. Narrow Your Eyes
21. Sleep
22. They Might Be Giants
23. You Don't Like Me
24. Pet Name
25. Older
26. Put Your Hand Inside The Puppet Head
27. Turn Around
28. Hearing Aid
29. The End Of The Tour
30. Cage And Aquarium
31. Nouns
32. Till My Head Falls Off

Tracks 1, 13, 19 and 26 from They Might Be Giants (1986)
Tracks 3, 7, 14 and 30 from Lincoln (1988)
Tracks 2, 5, 9, 12, 17, 22 and 28 from Flood (1990)
Tracks 4, 11, 20 and 27 from Apollo 18 (1992)
Tracks 8 and 29 from John Henry (1994)
Tracks 6, 24 and 32 from Factory Showroom (1996)
Tracks 10 and 25 from Mink Car (2001)
Track 16 from The Spine (2004)
Track 18 from The Else (2007)
Tracks 15 and 23 from Join Us (2011)
Tracks 21 and 31 from Nanobots (2013)

For simplicity's sake, I didn't bother with anything from their 4 albums of children's music (although many of those songs very easily fit in alongside songs from their 'regular albums) or anything from the many compilations or EPs or live records (although they contain some of their best songs). Still, that leaves 11 albums to choose from, most of which have upwards of 20 songs. Brevity is a big component of They Might Be Giants' music, and 32 songs is easily the most I've ever fit into my (kind of anachronistic) self-imposed 80-minute black CD-style time limit for these mixes, beating out Blink-182 by 6 songs.

I balanced things pretty evenly between songs primarily written/sung by John Linnell and ones by John Flansburgh -- I'm always fascinated by bands with multiple singer-songwriters, and how their respective sensibilities kind of mix together to produce the band's personality. Linnell has always seemed to me to like the more effortless melodist, the one with the more arcane, mysterious lyrics, while Flansburgh's more overtly humorous songs have kinda nudged them both into the nerdy novelty act vibe they give a lot of people. But while I would credit Flansburgh with a lot of their worst songs, they're pretty evenly split on the band's very best songs.

They Might Be Giants have a song or two on most of their records that have a surprising amount of pathos and/or a lack of overt conceptual weirdness, and those songs always kinda give you a glimpse at the more earnest, 'normal' alternative rock band they could've been -- "Narrow Your Eyes," "Pet Name," "She's An Angel," even "Dead." Those are some of their greatest tracks, but I wouldn't really want a world where that's all they did. I appreciate the whole range of what they do, even if I have to cherry-pick around the more annoying stuff to make a mix of songs I really like.

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
Vol. 36: Ludacris

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
This week's Short List.

Monday, April 20, 2015

This week, Beauty Pill is releasing a new album, Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are. It's a really amazing record, probably my favorite of the year so far, and I was honored to talk to Chad Clark and write a lengthy piece for Noisey about the band which also includes an exclusive stream of the album. Read my article, listen to the album, buy it, I really urge you to, and I don't say that kind of thing often.

(photo by Brian Libby)

Reading Diary: 33 1/3 Edition

Sunday, April 19, 2015

a) Dangerous, by Susan Fast
I've read a lot of books in the 33 1/3 series, and occasionally do roundup posts about them here, although I haven't done one in a while (see previous ones herehere, here, here, and here). Most of the books in the series are about the artist's most popular or most revered album or something with a strong cult following, and that makes sense. But I'm always intrigued when they publish something about a more unexpected choice, which is why I was very curious to read this one. I grew up in the post-Thriller world -- Bad was the first cassette of popular music I remember my brother and I having, and Dangerous was an album I kind of heard disinterestedly as I started to more actively listen to Guns 'N Roses or Pearl Jam or whatever. Fast really delves deeply into musical analysis that Michael Jackson's later music never really got amidst the lurid tabloid media coverage, and tries to construct some new narratives and insights about his persona, his emotional headspace, his sexuality and his musical influences that go beyond just the conventional wisdom about his ruthless commercial instincts and 'paranoid' lyrics. Sometimes I think she overcorrects a little and spends pages and pages just arguing with previously published reviews, but it's still a pretty compelling look at an album that's a little more ripe for reevaluation than, say, Thriller.

b) Flood, by S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer
They Might Be Giants are a great band that I think have always been wanting for good, insightful criticism instead of affirmations or denials of their 'nerdy' reputation. And while this book does attempt to put the bands' place in this in perspective, and makes a compelling case that this album, which eventually went platinum, representing a large scale mainstream breakthrough of nerd culture in the early '90s, it also does tackle some of the unique aspects of their songwriting without just boiling it down to wackiness. Unfortunately, I kinda hate the way this book was written -- there's constant throat-clearing announcements of what they will address in future chapters, and references on every page to their vague concept about the 'aesthetic of flooding' that have nothing to do with the actual origin of the album titles, which they reveal about a hundred pages in. By the end I was just rolling my eyes constantly and feeling very annoyed by how repetitive such a short book became.

c) Marquee Moon, by Bryan Waterman
A surprisingly small number of 33 1/3 books give you a really definitive story of the album's genesis or the artist's career -- usually it's taken for granted that you know that and want critical analysis or the author's personal angle. But this book is really an incredibly well researched and compelling breakdown of how Television came together, how they refined their sound and their repertoire for years before recording Marquee Moon, and some details of how it came together in the studio. You get really detailed remembrances of the CBGB's days, not just the big anecdotes everyone knows. I've read a lot about the band and that whole scene, but a lot of the things in this book were new to me. If maybe Television was a more famous band, this could've deservingly been a big hardcover book with photos, so it was kind of a pleasant surprise to get something of that caliber in a 33 1/3 book.

Thursday, April 16, 2015
This week's Short List.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I wrote about MCs who built their own empires for Complex.

Monthly Report: April 2015 Singles

Monday, April 13, 2015

1. Tori Kelly - "Nobody Love" 
Much like with my instant infatuation with the new Jason Derulo song last month, this is one I only heard for the first time the other day but felt strongly about right off the bat. I'd seen Tori Kelly's name on the charts for a while recently but had no idea who she was -- apparently she's one of those YouTube cover singers who got signed, and she already had one major label album that went nowhere. But now she has a Max Martin-produced single and it's pretty great without reminding me overtly of any past Max Martin hit -- he's never really done much with singers with big soulful voices and this song makes great use of Tori Kelly's, letting her build big to the last chorus. Listen to my Spotify playlist of favorite 2015 singles.

2. Foo Fighters - "Congregation"
If "Something From Nothing" was the weakest first single in the Foo Fighters' unusually strong line of first singles, then "Congregation" makes up for it a bit by being one of their best second singles. Just one of those big triumphant anthems that I always enjoy playing air drums to. I like the part of the bridge where Dave Grohl says "DO YOU HAVE BLIND FAITH!?" over and over because I imagine he yelled that at a record store clerk in a deleted scene from the "Sonic Highways" show.

3. Pitbull & Ne-Yo - "Time Of Our Lives"
Ne-Yo has had a really unnecessary amount of anxiety about doing dance pop -- his songs in that vein have been way better than Usher's or Chris Brown's, and you don't see those guys wringing their hands about it in every interview. There's even a song on Ne-Yo's latest album where a woman says to him, "I know your music, I prefer your old shit to your new shit/ That song with Pitbull that was kinda cool, but after that you went left and I couldn't fuck with you." Thankfully, that doesn't stop him from also having a new collaboration with Pitbull that's almost as good as the great "Give Me Everything." I like that both artists get enough of the spotlight on the song for it to be on both of their albums, it's mostly a Pitbull track but Ne-Yo's "everybody's goin' through somethin'" bridge really raises the whole thing to another level.

4. Rae Sremmurd f/ Nicki Minaj and Young Thug - "Throw Sum Mo"
I wasn't as big on "No Type" as a lot of people, but it's pretty inarguable that Rae Sremmurd are 3 for 3 with their first trio of singles, which is always a rare achievement but especially in rap these days, and it seems possible for them to get to 4 with this album ("Up Like Trump" is apparently the next single, I always hoped it would be "This Could Be Us"). When I first wrote about "No Flex Zone" last year, I mentioned that Rae Sremmurd sounded to me like the first new rappers that were probably influenced by Young Thug, so it's fun to hear them hold their own on a track with him. Slim Jxmmi's first verse is probably his standout moment in their catalog, but Swae Lee still manages to upstage him like he usually does with the crazy sing-song riff at the beginning of his verse. There's so much to enjoy on this song that it almost makes sense to limit Nicki Minaj's role to a bored-sounding hook girl, although that's still a weird decision.

5. One Direction - "Night Changes"
For all their success here, U.S. radio has really not had much use for One Direction -- this song is their 3rd biggest radio hit, distantly behind "Story Of My Life," which was itself a distant 2nd to "What Makes You Beautiful," and pretty much everything else has only charted from downloads. I initially didn't think much of this song and kind of resented it being a single -- I love so many deep cuts on Four and this is still only maybe my 9th favorite song on the album. But then the heartbreaking poignance of the lyric hit me ("everything you've ever dreamed of, disappearing when you wake up," holy shit that line makes me wanna cry), and I came to love it. And that was before Zayn, who sings the opening of the song, left the group, and it kind of became the swan song of his tenure of the group.

6. Calvin Harris f/ Ellie Goulding - "Outside"
Ellie Goulding isn't that big a star that she has songs out constantly, so it's weird that this is the second time she's kind of had a solo single in direct competition with a Calvin Harris collaboration. Before, I rooted for her "Burn" over Harris's "I Need Your Love," but now I'm rooting for the Harris track "Outside" over "Love Me Like You Do," which is currently the far bigger hit. EDM pop songs always have these big synth lines that seem to fight to justify the producer's equal billing with the singer, and Calvin Harris always has some of the best ones, this song's synth hook is almost as great as the instrumental parts of "Sweet Nothing." And I admit that very grudgingly, because Calvin Harris used to be the most embarrassing person in the world.

7. Mary J. Blige - "Doubt"
Rodney Jerkins has been turning out Mary J. Blige's blandest material for so long that it amused me that he still managed to muscle his way onto The London Sessions, an album all about her getting a fresh start with a new slate of collaborators from another country. I picture Darkchild hearing about the album and jumping on the next flight to London to make sure he doesn't lose a major client. But hey, "Doubt" is one of the clear standouts on the album, so he earned his keep.

8. Robert DeLong - "Long Way Down"
This song has been big on alt-rock radio for the last few months, kinda reminds me of the goofy synth pop that was big on alternative radio in the late '90s, but there are some production touches that feel very current.

9. Train - "Bulletproof Picasso"
I remain music criticism's biggest Train apologist, especially now that they've got Butch Walker producing and co-writing a lot of their stuff. It's easy to hear how it would've been probably better as a Walker track, but it's pretty good as is, love the piano line.

10. Action Bronson f/ Chance The Rapper - "Baby Blue"
I had a great moment a few weeks ago of leaving work, getting in the car, and immediately hearing Chance The Rapper's voice on the radio for the first time and feeling absolutely elated. 2 years after Acid Rap, I'd kinda gotten used to the idea that that would probably never happen, so it was interesting to finally get that moment from him on a song with a peer that he's worked with before as opposed to one of those superstar collaborations with Lil Wayne or Madonna or Justin Bieber that he's been doing. I still really have no use for Action Bronson, bleating "why you gotta act like a bitch" and sounding even more like Eric Cartman than before, but Chance just steals the track and singlehandedly makes it worthwhile.

Worst Single of the Month: Jordin Sparks - "How Bout Now (Remix)"
Drake makes some alright songs, but he continues to shit up the airwaves with so many of the worst songs on the radio that I could really put him in this spot almost every month if I had no restraint. And "How Bout Now" is possibly a career nadir, just the whiniest, pettiest, most annoying, most Drake thing he's ever done. But let me talk about a totally unnecessary remix of it instead. In 2011, there was something kind of fresh and exciting about JoJo getting radio spins with a remix of Drake's "Marvins Room" from a female perspective. But the Jordin Sparks version of "How Bout Now" feels like another former teen pop star trying to recreate that exact moment, much less memorably, and this version of the song has had its own chart entry and has been bouncing around the lower reaches of the R&B airplay charts for 2 months now.

Friday, April 10, 2015
This week's Short List.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

My latest Remix Report Card, for the first quarter of 2015, is up on Noisey.

Monthly Report: March 2015 Albums

Monday, April 06, 2015

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
good kid, m.A.A.d. city was a very good album, which I had to gradually come around to fully appreciate, well after its instant unanimous acclaim had died down. But even now, I think I'm more interested in what its success represented: the first new non-Young Money rapper to go platinum in years, the first non-Kanye rap album to hit the radio/sales/acclaim hat trick in ages, and a new West Coast superstar who had a sound of his own and didn't suffer from the same anxiety of influence as, say, The Game. When good kid ended with "Compton," it almost felt like a tease of what kind of boringly reverent Aftermath album Kendrick could've made but didn't. To Pimp A Butterfly is not remotely boring or reverent, but I'm struck by how much he leans into West Coast G-funk traditions that he avoided on the previous album -- George Clinton and Snoop and the blaxploitation grooves of "King Kunta" and the 2Pac hologram that he converses with at the end of the album. These are all things that Kendrick grew up immersed in, but they would've sounded like a predictable retro cliche on his major label debut. Here, those sounds and reference points and reclaimed and recontextualized in the service of all the things Kendrick wants to say right now. The whole album is incredible. "How Much A Dollar Cost," fuck. "Alright" is the hardest beat Pharrell has made since the Neptunes dropped the Triton preset drums. "You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)" is the one I'll be rooting to eventually be released as a single. I have mixed feelings about the 'live' version of "i" that appears on the album -- it sounds weird in the context of the album, and feels a little like he's retreated from the song in the face of criticism. But he also took a song that people decried as a safe crossover single and added the lyric "I put a bullet in the back of the back of the head of the police." The original album title Kendrick almost used is so hilariously lame that it makes me think of how often his good ideas veer close to being bad ideas, but all the risks he took on this album cohere into something that is, as a whole, really wonderful.

2. Kane Mayfield - The Return of Rap
I already wrote a long piece about Kane and his album for City Paper, so I won't repeat myself too much about that. But I'm really just proud to say that a Baltimore dude that I've known for a few years and is a really good guy made one of the most thought-provoking rap albums I've heard lately, something I can even honestly mention in the same breath as the Kendrick album. You can buy it here, or check it out on my Spotify playlist of 2015 albums I've been listening to.

"Sail," AWOLNATION's dark, lurching electro grunge 2011 single, is one of my favorite songs of the current decade and probably the weirdest and most unlikely song to sell over 6 million copies on iTunes. The band's second album arrived 4 years after the first, but only a year after "Sail" finally fell off of the Hot 100, and while the follow-up doesn't have another track as singularly strange and compelling, it has a lot of songs I like a lot, and the single "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)" has grown on me big time, and "Woman Woman" sounds like a future hit. A lot of alt-rockers have picked up synth and drum machines in the last decade with mixed results, but I feel like this guy has stumbled onto a really unique and effective sound that has guitar-driven heft and big pop hooks but some really offbeat production choices.

4. Dead Sara - Pleasure To Meet You
Dead Sara's 2012 debut and its single "Weatherman" was another one of my favorite mainstream rock radio breakthroughs of the last few years. And it's a bummer that they haven't built on that commercial momentum to continue making more radio hits. But the second album rocks as hard as the first, and Emily Armstrong's voice remains a force of nature. "Something Good" is my favorite on here, they're getting good at the tuneful midtempo stuff.

5. Trunkweed - Trunkweed Live, Man
Trunkweed are one of my favorite live bands in Baltimore at the moment, and I mentioned when I put their studio record in my top albums of 2014 that as much as I liked it, they're better live. So it was exciting to see that they put out a live record, just 22 minutes, which is probably about the same live set I saw from them a few months ago, and it sounds as great as I remember. It's a pretty lo-fi recording, but I feel like that's all you need for a band like them, you get a sense of the great guitar tone and the energy of their rhythm section. You can check it and their other stuff out on Bandcamp.

6. T-Pain - The Iron Way
I always thought T-Pain was way too talented to get played off as a fad back when he was making hits, and people continue to underestimate him. So it's been nice to see a revival of T-Pain appreciation in the last few months with his Tiny Desk Concert performance without AutoTune and now this mixtape. It's 20 tracks long so you kinda get a full helping of everything he does, which is sometimes just too much, especially with the swagged-out rap stuff. I prefer the more melodic stuff like "Sun Goes Down" and "Need To Be Smokin'," but there's enough of that here for me to enjoy it. Listen to the mixtape on DatPiff.

7. Tinashe - Amethyst
Her major label debut, Aquarius, was one of my favorite albums of 2014, and she's still touring and releasing singles from it. But Tinashe went and recorded a 7-track mixtape in her bedroom over Christmas vacation, and goes right back in with more high quality work. I would almost rather she'd saved up material for another full-length project, but I guess she just works fast and will probably have another album sooner than later. Some of the lyrics are kind of goofy but the vocals and the production are just so sublime, she's in total command of her sound right now. As with Aquarius, a couple of the tracks are produced by guys from DRGN King, who I wrote an article about a couple months ago. Mixtape is also on DatPiff.

8. Future - 56 Nights
At this point, it's a familiar career arc: a southern mixtape rapper graduates to a successful major label album, then the follow-up album performs below expectations, and they return to the mixtape circuit, sometimes never to return to the mainstream spotlight. It's too soon to tell if that's the case with Future, but he's dropped three mixtapes in the last five months to rebuild his momentum after Honest brought it to a screeching halt. And so far it's working, because one of those tapes birthed "Fuck Up Some Commas," which has jumped off to become an unlikely radio hit. 56 Nights is largely produced by "Commas" co-producer Southside, and there are a few too many "Commas" sirens on the songs here, but otherwise I think it's the strongest of these last three tapes. I'm still not thrilled with him neglecting his melodic side in order to take over the trap music lane again, but as far as that stuff goes this is dope. Once again, available on DatPiff.

9. Prinze George - Prinze George EP
These guys are an indie pop trio from Prince George's County, Maryland (which is also where I live), and this is their 5-song debut EP. Their aesthetic isn't anything that strikes me as particularly unique these days, but the lead vocalist sounds great and they've got an ear for hooks, definitely showing some potential, will look forward to a full-length album from them.

10. AJR - Living Room
AJR are three college-age brothers from New York, and their Spongebob-sampling Hot 100 hit "I'm Ready" was one of the most strangely charming pop songs I heard last year, That song just barely managed not to be more embarrassing than it was entertaining, and a couple songs on their album tip over that line, particularly "Woody Allen" and "Pitchfork Kids," both of which have bizarre lyrics that never quite explain their titles. But these odd vapid little '90s babies stumble onto some strong hooks here and there and I wouldn't be mad if they became Top 40 stars.

Worst Album of the Month: Father - Who's Gonna Get Fucked First?
There are few critics right now that are breaking rank on the whole ridiculous hype over iLoveMakonnen and Awful Records and all that stuff, but Justin Charity had a really great withering dismissal of this record on Complex recently. Say what you will about the past generations of 'alternative' rappers that thought they were smarter than the mainstream, they at least tried to push different subject matter and maybe more intricate flows, Father just raps about watches and strip clubs in a detached, aloof monotone that I guess appeals to indie kids. Even the gallows humor at the end of the record on "Everybody In The Club Gettin' Shot" and "Suicide Party" just comes off as smug and shitty and sub-Odd Future. His website being 'Father Ain't Shit' is that mock humble self deprecation that's supposed to preempt any criticism, but fuck that, I'm criticizing, he put it out there and it's terrible. You can listen to it here if you're curious I guess.

TV Diary

Friday, April 03, 2015

a) "iZombie"
As a fan of "Veronica Mars," I'm already pre-sold on a new Rob Thomas show about a girl detective, even if she's a zombie. And while there are enough familiar beats to the narration and the dialogue to feel similar, the protagonist eating brains is probably enough to differentiate it. And just the idea of there being one zombie, trying to hold onto their humanity, instead of a zombie apocalypse, is intriguing in and of itself.  They're clearly having fun with the absurd premise, but I was surprised with how well they imbued the story with a kind of sadness and gave the show some unlikely emotional stakes. The last couple episodes haven't grabbed me as much as the pilot, but I'm still enjoying it.

b) "The Returned"
This show reminds me a bit of "The Leftovers," except instead of being run by Damon Lendelof of "Lost" fame/infamy it's Carlton Cuse, and instead of a world where people have mysteriously disappeared, it's a town where a small number of dead people have mysteriously returned alive. There's a lot of other creepy unexplained stuff happening, and 4 episodes in, no telling where it's really headed yet. But it's based on a popular French series, so hopefully they have a blueprint to follow and won't "Lost" it all up, but I'm not getting too invested. The whole thing is pretty compelling as far as acting and storytelling, though, even if they lay it on pretty thick --- there is, for instance, a woman who was pregnant on her wedding day when her fiancee dies, and the fiancee/father of her child rises from the dead right before she has a wedding planned with someone new. They're just really pulling the emotional strings pretty hard, and sometimes it works, but you can feel it a little too much.

c) "Weird Loners"
Lots of sitcoms are broadly about terrible, unsympathetic people with romantic problems (in the "Seinfeld" mold), but lately there's been a rash of shows where that's very explicitly the premise of the show -- "You're The Worst" is pretty great, "Undateable" is awful, and this show is almost guaranteed to be somewhere in the middle, although I don't know where. The pilot was pretty good, though, especially the lip reading bit at the end. Zachary Knighton was great on "Happy Endings" so I'm happy to see him land on something promising.

d) "One Big Happy" 
With Knighton on "Weird Loners" and Elisha Cuthbert on this show, we've now almost got everyone from "Happy Endings" back on TV (sort of -- "Benched" got canceled in January and Adam Pally finished his run on "The Mindy Project"). In fact there's still a little hope of "Happy Endings" coming back in some capacity. This is one of those sitcoms where the cast is really absurdly good-looking but not necessarily funny, which is generally not a good sign (Cuthbert is alright so far but not remotely as funny as her "Happy Endings" character eventually became). It's a show about a gay pregnant woman where scenes end with lines like "winner winner lesbian dinner," it's all just kinda toothless and corny.

e) "The Odd Couple"
There are still so many shows on TV that in some way or another owe something to "The Odd Couple" that it's almost kind of weird and on-the-nose to actually do a new version of the show (especially to take a spot on the CBS schedule that belonged to the most successful modern "Odd Couple" wannabe, "Two And A Half Men"). In fact, when I heard that Matthew Perry was going to be in a new version of "The Odd Couple," I wasn't really sure which role he was going to be in -- to the extent that Joey and Chandler had an odd couple dynamic, Chandler was Felix. But Perry makes a good Oscar, and Thomas Lennon is an effective but maybe too over-the-top Felix.

f) "The Royals"
The E! network's first scripted drama is kind of what you might expect, a tawdry sexy tabloid fictionalization of the British royal family. The pilot was kind of boring and low stakes in spite of everything, though. The whole premise also sorta requires the show to build this whole alternate history of an entire country just to function, and if that was a challenge for "The West Wing," it's certainly a struggle for this show.

g) "The Slap" 
This was my favorite thing to tweet about for the last couple months, and now it's over. I'm still just kind of fascinated with this show, which was never exactly a trainwreck but just felt like a total miscalculation by everyone involved on some fundamental level. Of course the reason they got such an impressive cast of film actors is because it was only a miniseries, but that also means you've got 7 or 8 major stars on a show who, other than Sarsgaard and a couple others, only got one episode about them and bit parts in the others. The third episode, centered on Uma Thurman's character, was really shockingly compelling, and had the least to do with the slap of any episode on the show. But then she was barely in most of the episodes after that, and kinda shows up halfway through the finale like "oh, right, her." Also, this was probably the last thing Uma Thurman did before she got surgery, so it's kind of a sad swan song for her wonderful original face. There were also just weird decisions about, like, the narration, which seemed to be in some episodes a lot and barely in others. Thomas Sadoski deserves some kind of award for giving compelling performances in spite of everything on both "Newsroom" and "The Slap."

h) "Togetherness"
I've only muddled through a few episodes of this, but jeez, what a bunch of bland, pointless, cliche storytelling that smugly thinks of itself as daring and insightful.

i) "Agent Carter"
This show has been consistently good, and Hayley Atwell is just the best, but I'm never really on the edge of my seat. The first season was so short and so focused on the overall story arc that I feel like they didn't get much of a chance to do many one-off plots and maybe have more fun with the period and the premise, so I'm hoping that happens in the second season.

j) "Broad City"
Still probably the funniest show on TV. But I think where Ilana was totally hysterical from the jump and Abbi wound up playing the straight man a little before, this season Abbi has really stepped up and had a lot of amazing moments, especially the 'Val' episode.

k) "The Mindy Project"
It's kinda interesting to me that "The Mindy Project" has so quickly doubled down on the Mindy/Danny relationship and put them on the track to a baby and a wedding by the end of season 3, when it didn't seem like it'd be that kind of show and would just milk the on-again-off-again dynamic for a few seasons. It hasn't hurt the show at all, though, in fact it's kind of refreshing given how cynically a lot of sitcoms play out the 'will they or won't they' thing. Apparently it's on the bubble, so I really hope it comes back in the fall.

l) "New Girl"
Also still a pretty solid show, that's navigated the post-Jess/Nick breakup pretty well. The cast chemistry is so strong at this point that it's just fun to see what guest stars they throw in the mix every week. One of my favorite recent developments on this show was Schmidt's new girlfriend played by Zoe Lister-Jones, who was the only good thing about last season's short-lived show "Friends With Better Lives." Vote Moscato!

m) "Childrens Hospital"
This show is so consistently bizarre that it doesn't really make sense to say that it's 'back to normal' in season 5 after all of season 4 took place in Japan. But it's kinda fun to see it get back to the format of the earlier seasons, even if that still means nonsensical one-off episodes that take place in the White House or whatever.

n) "Episodes"
This show is all about disappointment and survival in show business, and seeing the characters continue to amble along and fuck up again and again for four seasons kinda takes the whole concept to new weird extremes. It's not as funny as it was in early seasons, I think, but still enjoyable.

o) "Cougar Town"
Courtney Cox's latest TV project limps off the air, Matthew Perry's latest limps onto the air, Matt Leblanc's latest limps along, Lisa Kudrow clings to one from a decade ago, Jennifer Aniston clings to some semblance of movie stardom, and David Schwimmer manages to retain the most dignity by doing the least. Ships passing in the night. I haven't watched this show much since it jumped to TBS, but I caught the finale the other night. It was okay, really a little too sappy, though, I think the show lost a little of what had made it funny early on. I'm impressed that they managed to do over 100 episodes all named after Tom Petty songs, though.

p) "Shameless"
It's interesting to me how this show went to the trouble of casting Dermot Mulroney and then barely doing anything with him, although the way they diminished his role ended up with one of the better scenes of the series, that kind of set Fiona on a path of self-examination that has kind of made this season more compelling than the last few. But then, this is the show that has been squandering William H. Macy for five seasons and running. I kinda wish they'd just kill the character off, let him do something else with his time. 

q) "Community"
There's something really depressing about watching new episodes of what was once, in my opinion, maybe the best show on TV, on 'Yahoo Screen,' with only 4 of the show's original study group of 7 still on the show. But I do it, because it's still a pretty damn good and unique show. And if you're gonna add new characters to replace the old ones, Keith David and Paget Brewster are pretty ideal people to throw in the mix in my opinion. The fourth episode from this week was really easily the best of the new season so far, just hilarious and kind of did something new with the Dean that really fleshed out the character and put him in a different life. 

r) "The Late Late Show"
I liked Craig Ferguson as a host a lot, but he had the show for 10 years, and I'm trying to keep an open mind to the new guy. I missed James Corden's first night, but his monologue on the second night made me laugh really, really hard. He's kind of got the super happy high energy late night host vibe of Jimmy Fallon, except, well, he can do a funny monologue. The interviews and comedy bits are kind of hit and miss, but they have time to work it out. It's a little odd to have all the guests sit come out at once and kind of converse together, not like a panel discussion but just a normal late night interview with multiple guests, but it works. Last night Corden did the show from a guy's house, like just knocked on his door and asked and then did the show there, and that was kind of a fun, awkward experiment. Like, he sat on this family's couch with them, and then brought out Jeff Goldblum and Beck for interviews in their living room, and then played hide and go seek with them in the house. I don't think they need to do stunts like that all the time, but it was fun to see them willing to try that so early on.