Saturday, May 30, 2015
This week's Short List.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Snoop Dogg is easy to take for granted. The Chronic and Doggystyle were like somebody winning the Super Bowl in their rookie year, and it's hard to go anywhere but down from that. For a while, it felt like he did lose his way pretty quickly -- he was too big to fail on Tha Doggfather, but having to make it without Dr. Dre all but ensured a sophomore slump. Hopping to No Limit was a shrewd survival method to get away from the sinking Death Row ship, and in retrospect it's probably what saved his career and allowed him to still be a star today. But at the time, it just seemed like the west coast's biggest rapper was jumping on the southern bandwagon and switching his style up.

But even as Doggystyle looms over his career, Snoop has been impressively resilient. Doing TV and movies and guesting on pop records for Katy Perry and others has helped him transcend rap to just become an avuncular hip hop celebrity almost completely apart from his solo career. But he released 7 albums after Doggystyle that went platinum or better, which is a pretty long tail, far better than other rappers who started their career with a blockbuster debut and then slid from prominence like 50 Cent or Nelly. And even if none of them are classics, a lot of them are better than their rep suggests.

Snoop Dogg Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Gs And Hustlas featuring Nanci Fletcher
2. Ain't No Fun (If The Homies Can't Have None) featuring Nate Dogg, Warren G, Kurupt and Nanci Fletcher
3. Tha Shiznit
4. Serial Killa featuring The D.O.C., RBX and Tha Dogg Pound
5. Freestyle Conversation
6. Snoop Bounce featuring Charlie Wilson
7. Snoop World featuring Master P
8. Game Of Life featuring Steady Mobb'n
9. Buck 'Em featuring Sticky Fingaz
10. Buss'n Rocks
11. Set It Off featuring MC Ren, The Lady Of Rage, Ice Cube, Nate Dogg and Kurupt
12. The One And Only
13. The Bidness
14. Crazy featuring Nate Dogg
15. 10 Lil' Crips
16. Press Play featuring Kurupt
17. SD Is Out featuring Charlie Wilson
18. 2 Minute Warning
19. Pimpin' Ain't EZ featuring R. Kelly
20. The Way Life Used To Be

Tracks 1, 2, 3 and 4 from Doggystyle (1993)
Tracks 5 and 6 from Tha Doggfather (1996)
Tracks 7 and 8  from Da Game Is To Be Sold, Not To Be Told (1998)
Tracks 9 and 10 from No Limit Top Dogg (1999)
Track 11 from Tha Last Meal (2000)
Track 12 from Paid Tha Cost To Be Da Boss (2002)
Track 13 from R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece (2004)
Tracks 14 and 15 from Tha Blue Carpet Treatment (2006)
Tracks 16 and 17 from Ego Trippin' (2008)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Malice n Wonderland (2009)
Track 20 from Doggumentary (2011)

Snoop's discography is messy, in every sense. He hopped around different labels, worked with vastly different producers to keep up with the times, and did genre exercise albums as 'Snoop Lion' and 'Snoopzilla' that I won't even try to cover here. He has an album with both "tha" and "da" in the title, for no apparent reason. But the up-for-anything attitude that's defined his post-Death Row career makes for a pretty entertaining and wide ranging catalog.

I like Snoop's new album Bush because it's so cohesive, 10 songs with Pharrell all mining the same basic sound. But what made trawling through his back catalog enjoyable is that most of his albums are all over the place, and never quite what you expect. The No Limit albums don't all sound like No Limit beats, he's worked frequent collaborators like Charlie Wilson and Kurupt into all sorts of tracks over the years. "The One And Only" is way better than I ever would've expected from Snoop and DJ Premier collaborating well past their respective primes.

Some of these songs are more interesting than great. "Freestyle Conversation" is the bizarre flow experiment on Tha Doggfather that begins with Snoop being asked if his beats will be "delicate" without Dre and defensively responding "I don't give a fuck about no beat." It's also weird to hear a sample of Ma$e's voice on "Snoop Bounce" from late '96, at the height of Death Row/Bad Boy tensions. But a lot of these tracks are just great and show that Snoop had a strong sense of his sound with or without Dre and Death Row. There were long stretches of his career when he was pretty much the only west coast rapper making music at the level he was, and it feels like he took that seriously and never stopped updating the G-funk sound, even as he messed with the Neptunes or whoever to keep afloat.

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
Vol. 38: T-Pain

TV Diary

Sunday, May 24, 2015

a) "Wayward Pines"
It feels like there's been a lot of shows lately that follow a murder investigation in a creepy small town where everyone seems to be hiding something. "Gracepoint" and "Secrets And Lies" were suffocatingly serious (as was "The Killing," for that matter), but "Wayward Pines" is the first one to lay on enough eerie elements to maybe get a "Twin Peaks" thing going. Unfortunately, it's just laying it all on way too thick, so many strange things happening so rapidly that there's not even any veneer of normalcy to puncture, no time to even get curious about the explanation to anything that's happened (pretty much the same thing that turned me off the first season of "American Horror Story"). I don't even feel like you can blame M. Night Shyamalan, who directed but didn't write or create it, and does about as much as you can do with the ridiculous source material. There are occasional playful performances, like Terrence Howard's menacing sheriff who always seems to be eating an ice cream cone, but not enough to make it entertaining. I feel bad for most of the actors in this, but especially Juliette Lewis, who did this back-to-back with "Secrets And Lies."

b) "The Jim Gaffigan Show" 
Apparently TV Land is now making original sitcoms that are not all old-fashioned laugh track shows starring people who were in hit shows decades ago, this is a single camera thing that feels like it could've been on FX or NBC or something. It doesn't start until July but the pilot is streaming on Jim Gaffigan's website so I checked it out, I've always enjoyed his standup. It's hard to get a great idea of what the series will be like just because the first episode was such a one-off story that they can't really do anything like again. It's fun, though, Gaffigan's standup persona has always seemed ripe to build a sitcom around and I'm surprised it took this long.

c) "Big Time In Hollywood, FL"
Comedy Central tries really hard to make this show look outlandish and entertaining in the ads, and a lot of crazy stuff happens, but somehow it's just never very funny or memorable. These guys I've never heard of got a decent budget to make an expensive-looking, fairly ambitious show, and Ben Stiller is in the pilot, but nothing they do with the premise makes me feel like it was warranted.

d) "Grace And Frankie"
Netflix's new show from the co-creator of "Friends," in which Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin grudgingly become friends after their husbands, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, reveal that they're lovers. So basically, old people quipping in a beach house and grappling with divorce, which is something a lot of people will avoid on principle. But I've watched about half of the episodes so far and it's been really engrossing, both as comedy and drama, mostly avoiding easy gay jokes and getting by on the natural charm of the cast and even giving the secondary cast something to work with.

e) "Bosch"
I was musing recently how depressing it was that the only thing I'd seen Titus Welliver in is an ad campaign for Comcast, when it was pointed out to me that he recently starred in an Amazon Prime show. And that's funny in its own way, both because isn't Amazon trying to compete with cable? And because I have Amazon Prime and hadn't even heard anything about the show to check it out until months after it premiered. A few episodes into "Bosch" and I like it -- Eric Overmeyer from "Homicide" and "The Wire" adapted it from a novel series, and there are several more "Wire" folks in the cast and writing staff, so it's got some of that feel and pacing. But it's also one of those cop shows that's centered on a flawed anti-hero figure, and the show opens with Bosch going on trial for basically murdering a suspect on shaky grounds. And given current events it just gets harder and harder to watch these kinds of shows, even if they're dealing with the subject matter with intelligence and moral gray areas, I'm kind of like yay thanks more killer cop anti-heroes, how fascinating.

f) "Mozart In The Jungle"
Another Amazon Prime show, one that tries to make the world of gigging classical musicians in NYC seem sexy and exciting, and I guess it kind of succeeds. But it's one of those half hour dramedies that is never funny and never has any real dramatic stakes and after a couple episodes I have little desire to go on.

g) "Schitt's Creek"
Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara have done so much great work together in the past, fun to see them do a new show together. The whole thing is goofy and rides out some jokes as obvious as the show's title, but it's still pretty funny, Levy's son Daniel is surprisingly good and Chris Elliott has a supporting role. I only got through a few episodes of it, though, dunno if I'll finish watching the season.

h) "iZombie"
This show has been up and down, I was totally into "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas doing another show about a girl solving mysteries with a zombie twist, but after a few episodes my interest started to dwindle. But somewhere in the last few weeks it's gotten really good and they've really explored the limits of the premise, and I finally got my wife, who was the person who got me into "Veronica Mars" in the first place, hooked on it. I'm glad it got renewed for another season.

i) "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver"
John Oliver's show was good from the jump but it really just feels like it keeps getting better, as they find new ways to differentiate it from "The Daily Show" besides just being able to curse and only having to do a show once a week. Those are definitely part of it, though, the fact that he can be looser with the language here and there, and that they can put a lot of work into covering one topic really thoroughly for most of the show every week, instead of just chugging along four nights in a row.

j) "Silicon Valley"
I had mixed feelings about this show in the first season, especially since my favorite character was played by Christopher Evan Welch, who died during production. But the second season got off to a really strong start and has held my attention more than I thought it would. The Martin Starr/Kumail Nanjiani bickering feels far more repetitive and tedious than it is funny, and feels like it belongs in a different, more boring show, so I hope they give those guys better material in the future (Zach Woods, meanwhile, keeps getting funnier). And it still feels like they're bending over backwards to create an "oh no our business might fail!" crisis in every episode, but at least now I'm convinced that there's enough story possibilities in this premise that they can keep doing so entertainingly.

k) "Undateable"
Now that NBC has finally canceled "About A Boy," but has renewed "Undateable" for a 3rd season, Chris D'Elia has officially replaced David Walton as the network's pet cause that they're quixotically dedicated to making into a star. The weirdest thing, though, is that the next season will be all live, when the one live episode they did this season was a near-disaster. I loved the "30 Rock" live episodes, I think it's a decent idea if a sitcom can pull it off, but the "Undateable" live episode was just kind of ragged and sloppy and did very little to use the format to its advantage.

l) "New Girl"
My dream of all the cast members from "Happy Endings" winding up on other shows was briefly a reality, and then it all came crashing down in the last few months, with the cancellation of "Marry Me" and "Weird Loners" and "Benched" and "One Big Happy" and Adam Pally leaving "The Mindy Project." And while those were all understandable losses, I am actively bummed about Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving "New Girl," him coming back to the show really brought it to a new level, it won't be the same without him. Hopefully the next gig he has lined up is worth it.

m) "Childrens Hospital"
This season has been hit and miss (the episode with the laugh track was kind of smug, as parodies of laugh track shows usually are), but the Cyrano episode was insane, one of their best to date.

n) "Community"
I suppose there's some irony to the fact that "Community" had to become an Internet-only show in order to finally become underrated by the Internet, but that's mostly because nobody watches Yahoo Screen. And Yahoo Screen really does suck, it always manages to fuck things up and put the ad breaks a few seconds off of where the scenes begin and end. But this season has been really good, still missing something from the cast changes but Keith David has been a hilarious addition. Even wen I rolled my eyes at them doing a new paintball episode, or spinning the Subway native advertising plotline into one about Honda, those episodes were so relentlessly creative and funny that I was ultimately won over. The RV episode was really the only one that reminded me of the show's old obsession with having the characters unpleasantly argue about their feelings.

o) "The Late Show With David Letterman"
I already wrote a big sentimental thing about Dave last week, but I'll just say that the last few months of farewells were really enjoyable. Seeing people like Chris Elliott and Julia Roberts on the show one last time was fun, or George Clooney handcuffing himself to Letterman, who then interviewed Tom Waits while handcuffed to Clooney. And it really bummed me out to tune into CBS the night after the finale and see that they're not even showing Letterman reruns, just old episodes of "The Mentalist." I mean, I feel bad for James Corden, he was gonna have to follow reruns for the next 5 months either way, but now he doesn't even get to follow Dave reruns. I guess that's a contractual thing.

p) "Saturday Night Live"
"SNL" is like life, in that people you like are always going away and it'll be ages before you have any idea if the new people replacing them are as good or possibly even better. But they haven't really lost anybody indispensable in a while (unless some big cast shakeups get announced over the summer), and I've been really enjoying seeing people like Taran Killam and Cecily Strong become the show's unlikely pillars. I even think I kind of like Colin Jost now? Don't tell Lorne I said that.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

In this week's City Paper I wrote about the success of the Towson pop punk band All Time Low, who headline Pier Six Pavilion on Sunday, and The Short List as usual (also didn't post here at all last week but here's the previous Short List).

Monthly Report: May 2015 Singles

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

1. Tove Lo - "Talking Body"
I didn't care much for Tove Lo's breakthrough single, "Habits," which sounded like a person whose first language is Swedish doing this weird on-the-nose song about drug-addled heartbreak and depression. And the first half of the chorus of "Talking Body" has a similar vibe, spoiling the mood set by the song's evocative title with the horribly clumsy line "if we're talking body, you got a perfect one so put it on me." But the second half of the chorus, "if you love me right, we fuck for life, on and on and on" contains a big undeniable vocal hook, and Tove Lo's odd heavy-handed way with words manages to stumble on something that resonates with me. Pop music is often about sex and often about loving someone forever, but it rarely puts the two ideas together in any way that might suggest a monogamous long-term relationship with good sex. And as an old married dude, I dunno, that's nice to hear. Here's my running Spotify playlist of favorite 2015 singles.

2. Kendrick Lamar - "King Kunta"
Last year, when everyone was eager to hear Kendrick Lamar's next album and had little info to go on, there was a mild media feeding frenzy when Pharrell and the music supervisor from Entourage, of all people, both mentioned the song title "King Kunta" and whipped up anticipation about this track nobody else had heard. By the time the song finally emerged, a few days before the rest of the album was released, it sounded kind of underwhelming and not ready to live up to all the hype. But it sounds great in the context of To Pimp A Butterfly, and it also sounds surprisingly great on the radio, where "Uptown Funk" weirdly may have cleared a path for it. They still really need to release "Alright" as a single, though.

3. Miguel - "Coffee"
I accurately predicted a few months ago that the incomplete snippet of "Coffee" on the 3-song EP that Miguel released in December would eventually be fleshed for a radio single, just like "Adorn" was. What I didn't predict is how much would be added to the outro, and that there'd be a version with a Wale verse, an awful verse where he compares his dick to a scone, and an explicit version that removes all the subtlety from the "coffee in the morning" chorus and makes it "fucking in the morning." Thankfully, there is a clean version with no Wale, and I'm gonna pretend that's the only version there is and hope that radio doesn't choose the Wale one. Also coffee is just a really big part of my daily life, so I like hearing songs about coffee.

4. Kacey Musgraves - "Biscuits"
I don't like biscuits as much as coffee, but still, hey, they go together pretty well. Some people seem kind of underwhelmed by this song because of the chorus's similarity to "Follow Your Arrow," but I never quite cottoned to "Follow Your Arrow" like others did because its opening lines felt like a retread of her true masterpiece, "Merry Go 'Round." But this song is fun, can't wait for the album.

5. Trey Songz - "Slow Motion"
Trey has been putting in overtime lately -- this song dropped so soon after Trigga that at first I thought that it must be a cut from that album that I'd forgotten about. But it's actually a lead single from a new album (unwisely called Trigga Reloaded so people will think it's a re-release of his last album and buy it less, like Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded), and he just released a couple EPs that basically make up a whole album. This has really started to seem like one of his best songs ever, though. So many different, seemingly incompatible production styles get layered together, from the light jazzy guitar line to the DJ Mustard-style 'ay' vocal chant and claps to the trap music-style splatter of hi-hats to the '80s R&B vocoder on the chorus, it shouldn't work but it totally does. The fact that Charlie Puth, of "See You Again" fame, co-produced this song has really compromised by hardline anti-Puth stance.

6. Meek Mill - "Monster"
This song had just come out when I did my little Complex list of all the songs with "Monster" in the title in the last few years, and I stupidly didn't include it -- Meek had been dropping a lot of freestyles at the time and I kind of assumed he just rapped over the Future record. Meek remains maybe my favorite rapper of the last 5 years and is usually at his most potent with Jahlil Beats, this is not a 5 star "I'm A Boss" level classic but it's good, hope Dreams Worth More Than Money comes soon, it's been way too long.

7. Kevin Gates f/ August Alsina - "I Don't Get Tired"
I'm glad Kevin Gates finally has a song bigger than "Posed To Be In Love," or even just anything to be more famous for than various social media stunts and controversies. It is a little weird that "I don't get tired" was his Instagram catchphrase before it was a song, but I'm glad the song is good. I've been an absurd workaholic most of my adult life, in college I had two jobs while I was a fulltime student, a few years ago I juggled two jobs with freelancing, and my current job sometimes gives me 50 or 60 hours a week, so it's good to have an anthem for that lifestyle. Even now, being home from work most of the time with a newborn, I get tired a lot but it feels good to tell myself that I don't get tired.

8. The Pretty Reckless - "Follow Me Down"
Taylor Momsen's band becoming a legit rock radio staple is a surprising development, but this is their third big hit and probably their best yet. In the reliable soft/loud world of mainstream rock, having a quiet chorus in a big barnstorming anthem is a nice curveball.

9. Zac Brown Band f/ Chris Cornell - "Heavy Is The Head"
I wouldn't go so far as to say this song is better than the singles from Soundgarden's last album, but in a way Zac Brown has succeeded in writing something that sounds more like a crowdpleasing Soundgarden comeback song than the ones they actually put out. The chorus even has a little 7/8 time signature action.

10. Kid Ink f/ Dej Loaf - "Be Real"
It's so frustrating that Kid Ink gets handed all these great tracks that he had no idea what to do with. The most memorable line here is when he managed to even boast blandly ("lot of people tryin' to tell me I'm the next guy" -- the next guy, really?). But a DeJ Loaf hook over the best DJ Mustard track in recent memory, that's gold, really should've been her song.

Worst Single of the Month: T-Wayne - "Nasty Freestyle"
When the heretofore unknown Bobby Shmurda took a mixtape freestyle over a borrowed beat with no chorus and became a viral sensation and then an actual radio hit, it was spontaneous and strange and exciting, and the song sounded surprisingly good on the radio. But as with my recent Jordin Sparks/JoJo rant, last year's unlikely sleeper hit is this year's annoying copycat phenomenon. And this T-Wayne guy, running around using the name of the never-released Lil Wayne/T-Pain collaboration project, made a completely unremarkable freestyle that somehow lucked into huge chart numbers off of, I guess, Kylie Jenner's Instagram page or something? At least the original "Nasty," which features a dope Young Dro verse, is charting too.

Late Nights With Dave

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My wife Jennifer's due date is today, but our son Daniel was born nine days ago. And one reason I'm kinda glad that the kid showed up a little early is I got to take him home from the hospital and watch the last week of "The Late Show With David Letterman" with him. Sure, he's been sitting in my lap, asleep or looking around the room with no comprehension of the monologue jokes and interviews he's heard. But Daniel has been able to experience the end of the Letterman era the same way I experienced the beginning of it.

I was born in January 1982, weeks before the debut of "Late Night With David Letterman" on NBC. And my parents were early adopters to the cult of Letterman, checking out the weird new guy after Carson, partly because they had a baby, keeping them up after midnight. And my older brother Zac and I may have not been active Letterman watchers for years, but not that many years -- there are famous family stories of Zac sitting at our Crayola table and interviewing me, Letterman-style. There was even a little video, filmed on a borrowed Camcorder, that hasn't been seen in decades, of Zac-as-Dave interviewing me, who was in character as a dog (not a Stupid Pet Trick segment -- I was the guest and I was a dog). This was at the house we moved out of when Zac was 8 and I was 6, so we were at least that young.

So after Daniel came home from the hospital last week, Letterman became part of the routine (since I'm usually on baby duty around midnight while Jennifer gets well-deserved rest). My mom came to stay one night, and so we were able to come full circle, with three generations of my family dozing off to a Letterman monologue together (you can just barely see the couch my mom was sleeping on in the far right there). It's a tradition that has now spanned all 33 years of my life, and it will end when Dave signs off on Wednesday night.

After my parents split up, my brother and I would spend weekends at my dad's house in Baltimore. It became a morning ritual to watch the VHS of Letterman episodes that Dad had taped during the week. You might not think of "Late Night With David Letterman" as being especially accessible to prepubescent children, but there was a lot I enjoyed about the show from a very young age -- throwing food off of a roof, goofy broken glass sound effects every time Dave threw, and of course Stupid Pet Tricks. I didn't have any inkling of how Letterman's dry, ironic sense of humor represented some kind of sea change for the sense of humor of my parent's generation, how different his vision of a late night talk show was from Carson, who I only watched regularly in the final months before his retirement. I will never doubt Carson's importance and talent, and I've seen enough now to understand it, but I will never appreciate him as fully and innately as I love Dave.

Letterman vs. Leno was the first celebrity feud I can remember having any kind of personal emotional stake in. Dave going to CBS, and at least temporarily beating Leno in the ratings, felt to me like as much of an important cultural sea change of the era as, like, Nirvana knocking Michael Jackson off the top of the charts. I watched Letterman sidekick Chris Elliott's oddball cult show "Get A Life," and his even odder cult movie Cabin Boy (featuring Letterman's immortal 5-minute contribution to cinema history). The E! channel had "Late Night" reruns from 1993 to '96, and watching those regularly are really what got me acquainted with a lot of classic Dave moments from the '80s, once I was old enough to really appreciate them (granted, I was 14 in 1996, so I was still a fairly precocious late night television enthusiast). Later I started to tape both Dave on CBS and Conan on NBC every night.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of career David Letterman would've had if he hadn't been given that hour on NBC, or had lost it quickly. Doing a live show 5 nights a week for three decades doesn't really leave much time for anything else. And it's possible that he never would've done any job as well as he did hosting late night, but what if he'd become a legendary standup, or created a classic sitcom, or co-starred in movies with Bill Murray instead of just interviewing him? What we know Dave for is his reactive abilities -- the way he spontaneously responded to an interview subject, the jokes he told about current events, the way he played it off when the joke bombed. I wonder if he has any passion projects he never got to indulge, if he'll have any energy to do them now, at 68. Other aging broadcast vets like Larry King and Regis Philbin have 'retired' from their famous shows in recent years, only to continue doing other projects and staying in the public eye. I hope Letterman does that, and we get to see him loosen up in other environments, kinda for the first time ever.

Dave taught me how to watch late night TV, and it won't be the same without him. Jimmy Fallon is a grinning, vapid hack on par with Leno, and James Corden, though he's been a promising host so far, has increasingly followed Fallon's lead into pop culture dress-up games over actual comedy. Conan has always been the closest to my heart after Dave, and at least he's on TBS, and I'm curious how Stephen Colbert will do with "The Late Late Show." He won't fill his shoes, because nobody can, but he can fill his timeslot.

Monday, May 11, 2015

May 10 was Mother's Day, the 13th anniversary of my first date with Jennifer, our 7th wedding anniversary, and it was also the day our 2nd child, Daniel Wallace Shipley, was born. The kid's doing good, James is excited to be a big brother.

Movie Diary

Friday, May 08, 2015

a) Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck
I've already read and watched and absorbed an amount of Cobain memorabilia that far outpaces my actual interest in the guy and his music, so I didn't build up any particular expectations about this movie. Still, there were a few moments, the things he and Courtney say in home movies, the animations of his journals, that made me feel like I was seeing something I hadn't experienced before. It was a little long, though, and there were choices I didn't love (string quartet AND children's choir versions of "Teen Spirit"? Seriously?).

b) The Babadook 
Horror movies often use the fears and traumas of the real world as the emotional basis of their tales of magic and monsters, sometimes to profound effects. But this movie, I don't know, it just felt too real, too close to a straight up tale of family dysfunction and people losing grip with reality. And the kid in the movie, who gives a great, brave performance, is barely older than my son, and it's just greuling what he's put through. By the end it was just depressing and unpleasant, and not in a way that I'd consider an achievement for a horror film.

c) Let's Be Cops
I was super excited about the first ad for this movie, just seeing Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. make the jump to movies after being so funny in "New Girl" in "Happy Endings." But then, the movie wound up coming out right when the Ferguson stuff was happening, and I ended up watching it the day after I went to protests in Baltimore, and obviously thinking about all that stuff a lot can kinda sour you on the whole premise of a comedy about untrained idiots posing as police officers, which has its problems to begin with. They still have great buddy comedy chemistry and there are a few really funny sequences, but there's a bad air kinda hanging over it.

d) Guardians Of The Galaxy
For such a widely liked blockbuster, this fell surprisingly flat for me. Maybe I would've found it funnier if John C. Reilly was in it for more than 5 minutes. I'm also curious what the hell voice Bradley Cooper was doing, even if I appreciate that it didn't sound like Bradley Cooper. It was pretty charming overall, just not that charming. It's been a long time since a sci-fi movie tried to go with a color palette as bold as The Fifth Element, and I thought they did a decent job of getting a vivid, unique look.

e) Neighbors
As sick as I am of Seth Rogen movies, this one was pretty decent. The frat stuff was a lot more entertaining than the parent stuff, like Zac Efron and Dave Franco's characters actually got to have some depth, and ended up being less like villains than the trailers made them out to be.

f) Jobs
I tried to watch this just to laugh at it and maybe try to imagine it as 'Kelso in the '80s and beyond,' but I couldn't even finish it. Josh Gadd as Steve Wozniak was enough, I just couldn't deal. Opening scene was beyond ridiculous, though.

g) Mad Max
Mad Max is one of those weird franchises where the sequels are a lot more visible, in terms of being on TV all the time and stuff, than the original. So I was curious to see it, and now I kinda understand, this is a pretty quirky low budget movie all things considered. Not really that entertaining, though, just didn't hold my attention.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015
Last week's Short List kinda got scuppered by the Baltimore curfew that canceled a lot of shows, but it is back this week and the curfew is over.

Monthly Report: April 2015 Albums

Sunday, May 03, 2015

1. Beauty Pill - Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are
I already wrote 2,000 words about this album for Noisey, which accompanied a premiere of the stream of the album, the day before it was released. So my article was the way a lot of people heard it for the first time, which was really exciting for me (and I also did a shorter piece about the Lungfish cover on the album). But I've been anticipating it for a long time -- I interviewed the band during the Artisphere recording sessions in 2011, and wrote about the dolby mix of the album that was exhibited in 2012. And on Thursday I went back to Artisphere for the band's first show in over 7 years, and it was incredible. I never thought I'd get to see Chad Clark and Devin Ocampo play a Smart Went Crazy song live, that's some bucket list shit. It's so exciting to hear something so ambitious and so vividly one-of-a-kind on both a musical and lyrical level, the collective talents of the band are exploited really beautifully and Chad's acidic wit and hyperliterate sensibility have taken on so much gravity with the topics he's tackling in these songs. Read my article and stream it, and then buy it.

2. Dwight Yoakam - Second Hand Heart
I don't know everything he's done in between, but I love Dwight Yoakam's 1986 debut Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. and I also love 2012's 3 Pears, so I'm guessing this guy just doesn't make bad records ever. Great energy on this one, the "Man Of Constant Sorrow" cover is a barnstormer and doesn't just feel like an obligatory O Brother move. Even the slower songs just have this great, loud full band energy, belted vocals, no holding back at all. A lot of these albums this month aren't on Spotify to put in my 2015 albums playlist, but this one is.

3. JuegoTheNinety - Abandoned Mansions
Sonny September CD was my favorite Baltimore rap record of 2014, so I'm glad JuegoTheNinety is back with a new album already. I feel like a lot of times now, "weird" delivery styles and production kind of become this shield underground MCs can use to deflect any criticism, so you get these very eccentric, unique records that don't really have any decent rapping or enjoyable production. But with Juego, the beats actually knock even when they have odd, discomforting textures, and he's flowing like crazy and saying some interesting, perceptive things even when he's bending his voice in all these different directions and trying to sound unhinged. "When I Was A Boy" is a pretty impressive, ambitious song, how deep he goes into so many different issues in one track. Check it out on Soundcloud.

4. Rich Homie Quan - If You Ever Think I Will Stop Goin' In Ask RR
Rich Gang's Tha Tour Part 1 was so good, and Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug complemented each other so perfectly on it, that it's kinda raised expectations for their solo projects while also raising the bar for them to prove they can do as well on their own. I never thought I Promise I Will Never Stop Goin' In was very strong outside of the singles, but this one's a lot more consistent, and there's some really playful, wide-ranging production. Listen on DatPiff.

5. Young Thug - Barter 6
Thug's always had more buzz around him than Quan and this project had a lot of hooplah that wasn't all positive or flattering. In a way it's kind of funny, but it's a shame that YT and Birdman doubled down on this Lil Wayne worship/trolling thing right at a time when he's outgrown that influence and really become his own artist. The guy who produced half the thing calls himself Wheezy, and his beats aren't even that good, the whole shit is just weird. And considering that Thug and London On Da Track made some of the best rap of 2014, their tracks together on here are just anticlimactic. The biggest issue it has, really, is that the 2nd half is so much better than the 1st, the record would probably have a better rep if "Just Might Be" and "OD" and "Halftime" were frontloaded.

6. Halestorm - Into The Wild Life
Jay Joyce is probably the best producer in the old fashioned 'placing microphones in front of amps and instruments' sense operating on a major label level right now. Eric Church and Little Big Town made my 2 favorite country albums last year, and he probably had a lot to do with how amazing and rich they sounded, and he's been working with indie-leaning alt-rock bands like Cage The Elephant and Sleeper Agent for a while. But Halestorm is I think the first straight-up hard rock band he's worked with, and I was really blown away with the production on this album even before I realized Jay Joyce did it. I always thought of Halestorm as a solid singles band with bland albums, but the variety here and the inventive sequencing and transitions really elevate the songs and give Lzzy Hale's big voice a great showcase.

7. Squarepusher - Damogen Furies
I have a limited appetite for heady instrumental electronic stuff, whatever we're calling it this year, but I've always really dug Squarepusher, there's just this restless physicality to his tracks that most of his contemporaries lack. I kinda lost track of him after I got my fill of a half a dozen of the earlier records, but this one is really strong, a nice concise 40-minute record with some really arresting textures.

8. They Might Be Giants - Glean
I recently read a book about TMBG and made a playlist of their best deep cuts, and I've been following along somewhat with the songs they've been releasing every week for the 2015 comeback of the Dial-A-Song project. So I've been primed to enjoy this album, but I dunno, it's just OK, not on the level of recent high watermarks Join Us and Nanobots. "All The Lazy Boyfriends" is one of the best songs they've ever written, though.

9. Yelawolf - Love Story
It's been 5 years since Trunk Muzik established Yelawolf as one of the more promising and unique white rappers to come along in a while. And then he quickly squandered that potential, and that opportunity to create his own lane, by signing with Eminem and doing a terrible single with Kid Rock. His second Shady album is a pretty big step up from the first, though. I heard the first single "Till It's Gone" initially on "Sons Of Anarchy" and then on alt-rock radio stations, and in some ways it's a predictable Everlast move, but his flow and his songwriting are still pretty impressive. And out of this whole long 80-minute album where he goes outside of his comfort zone several times, there's only maybe a couple notable missteps, everything is pretty good even if it is way way too long to be very digestible as an album.

10. Trey Songz - Intermission EP
Trey has never really had a great album, just the occasional great song scattered over spotty albums. I feel like his between-album EP and mixtape releases are at least a little more relaxed, though, less eager to please and better for it. I mostly just dig the sound of this one, the production is really impressive. But then I read Meaghan Garvey's review and it pointed out the odious running theme of the lyrics, so I can't really unhear that. Still way better than the EP that The-Dream put out, though.

Worst Album of the Month: Blues Traveler - Blow Up The Moon
I'm not gonna dismiss Blues Traveler out of hand. "Hook" is a classic pop song as far as I'm concerned, and I went to the HORDE Tour in '97 when the lineup was crazy good and I watched their set and really enjoyed it. So I don't pick on them as just an easy target, this is a genuinely bizarre and depressing album. John Popper has a great distinctive voice, but the overwhelming majority of vocals are by a random assortment of guest stars like 3OH!3 and Bowling Soup, not real current stars but acts whose Top 40 moment in the sun was 5-10 years ago instead of 20 years ago like Blues Traveler. It's basically Blues Traveler With Rome, quite literally, Rome sings on two songs. It doesn't even work as a sellout move -- the album didn't chart on the Billboard 200 (and their previous album did). Even when one song threatens to be kind of spirited and catchy, the refrain "I know right?" totally torpedoes it.