Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Today is the last time albums come out on Tuesdays in America, before we adopt the new international standard of Friday release dates in July. I wrote a eulogy for new music Tuesdays on Noisey.

Monday, June 29, 2015

I wrote many words about Meek Mill's career and my early impressions of the album he released today, Dreams Worth More Than Money, for Noisey.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Creedence Clearwater Revival are like air to me. They're literally the earliest memory of music I can recall: riding around the Blue Ridge Mountains in my mom's Subaru, hearing "Down On The Corner" on the radio and being young enough to think that the band was out there somewhere right then, playing the song for a live radio broadcast. And even though they're ostensibly a kind of one dimensional band, they racked up one of the more impressive catalogs in rock history in a very short period of time, one that in some ways I think is richer and more varied than it gets credit for. John Fogerty's current 1969 World Tour is a testament to one of the more amazing facts of the band's run, that they released three classic albums in one calendar year.

Creedence Clearwater Revival Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Wrote A Song For Everyone
2. Ramble Tamble
3. It Came Out Of The Sky
4. Born To Move
5. Get Down Woman
6. Bootleg
7. Lookin' For A Reason
8. Don't Look Now
9. Pagan Baby
10. Keep On Chooglin'
11. Tombstone Shadow
12. Ooby Dooby
13. Need Someone To Hold
14. Door To Door
15. Rude Awakening #2
16. Poorboy Shuffle
17. Feelin' Blue
18. Graveyard Train

Track 5 from Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968)
Tracks 6, 10 and 18 from Bayou Country (1969)
Tracks 1 and 11 from Green River (1969)
Tracks 3, 8, 16 and 17 from Willy And The Poor Boys (1969)
Tracks 2 and 12 from Cosmo's Factory (1970)
Tracks 4, 9 and 15 from Pendulum (1970)
Tracks 7, 13 and 14 from Mardi Gras (1972)

Usually the relative quality of an artist's albums is reflected in how many songs I use from each for these mixes, but that's not so much the case here. Cosmo's Factory is an amazing album, the one I've listened to the most of theirs, but it's also so heavy on singles and covers that there's not many deep cuts. "Ramble Tamble" is one of the greatest deep cuts of all time, though, and "Ooby Dooby" is the only one of the many covers on the band's albums that I saw fit to include, it's just a great CCR cut to me.

Some of these songs -- "Don't Look Now," "Wrote A Song For Everyone," "Ramble Tamble" -- feel almost too famous to be deep cuts, but they're not among the dozen or so charting singles that still get played on the radio every day. It really speaks to how much great work they got done in that little 4-year window that you've got that many hits plus some songs that could've been hits.

Meanwhile, I wanted to include a lot from the band's last two albums, their commercial decline, because it's an interesting chapter in their career. Pendulum is kind of a glimpse at the AOR band that Creedence might've become in the '70s if they stuck together, an album of all originals, with more organ and horns and slightly slicker production, and odd experimental moments on "Rude Awakening #2." The whole album is kinda deep cut paradise.

Mardi Gras is the infamous swan song, recorded after Tom Fogerty left the band and John passive aggressively gave in to the rhythm section's demands to share creative control. He called their bluff and made the whole band write and sing and equal number of original songs, with his bandmates failing to rise to the occasion. I won't defend the album, it's clearly a fiasco and their worst by some distance, but since none of the other guys' songs were hits, it seemed worth showcasing some of their deep cuts. "Need Someone To Hold" is Doug Clifford's best vocal and "Door To Door" is Stu Cook's best song, and they don't touch even the weakest of Fogerty's songs, but I wanted to give those guys their props.

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
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara

Friday, June 26, 2015

I wrote about the 10 craziest things that ever went down at music festivals for Complex.

Thursday, June 25, 2015
This week's Short List.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My first piece for The Fader is about Rihjects, the many songs pitched to or intended for Rihanna that wound up recorded by other artists.

Movie Diary

Monday, June 22, 2015

a) The Cobbler
This review was one of those pans that was so entertaining it kind of made me curious about just how bad the movie could be, even known how uniformly awful Adam Sandler movies tend to be. And I mean, wow, this is terrible in a very unique way. It's not even a Punch-Drunk Love type deal where you can see why this auteur type wanted Sandler for the project, it's just a wrongheaded quirky indie movie colliding into a more wrongheaded than usual Sandler movie. There's a whole section in the middle of the movie where Sandler's character mostly uses his newly discovered magic power to assume the identities of multiple black men and commit crimes while looking like them. And then a bunch of less offensive but highly ridiculous other things happen.

b) Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal has never quite been convincing as the sympathetic protagonist he's usually cast as, so this movie is a big step forward for him just in terms of putting his giant eyes and innate off-putting screen presence to use as a real nasty antihero. The movie succeeds at being stomach-turning but maybe isn't quite as devilishly satirical as it wants to be, and falls flat in some of the moments where it seems like they want a surprised scream or laugh. Not bad, though, certainly pulls no punches with the premise.

c) Gone Girl
I'm certainly not gonna whine about 'spoiler culture,' because hey, I'm the one who never read the book and waited until the movie hit HBO to see it. But it kind of amazed me how quickly people started openly talking about stuff that wasn't in the trailer, if not necessarily at the very end of the movie, even Rosamund Pike's Oscar clip was like wait woah I didn't wanna see that yet. But there was still a lot in this movie that I didn't expect and that kept me on the edge of my seat. My wife read the book so she was able to tell me a bit about the adaptation, but it really held together well just as a movie, a really surprising number of moments that made me laugh, And just the whole cast was great, especially Rosamund Pike but even the numerous memorable supporting parts (even Tyler Perry!). I was irritated that Carrie Coon's character Margo goes by 'Go,' though, that's one of those stupid quirky nicknames people only have in novels.

d) Get On Up
I'm openly hostile to most biopics, especially ones about musicians, at this point, mainly because it's so hard to watch someone play a familiar public figure without obsessing over how much (or how little) they get the physical resemblance and the voice and the mannerisms right. And James Brown is just one of the most distinct, unique people to ever stand on a stage, this was just a thankless job no matter who took it. And I went ahead and stacked the deck by watching a doc of Brown interviews and performances on TV One before watching this movie, just to throw Get On Up into stark relief with reality. I swear there were chunks of this that were taken straight out of Walk Hard. It seemed like they tried to make a decent movie but just didn't have the resources to even get halfway there.

e) Sex Tape
It's obviously a sex comedy but mostly it's about the characters' neuroses and shame about anyone seeing them fuck, and there's accordingly this weird embarrassed air around the whole thing. They never even successfully play the characters' feelings for laughs, after a while it's just stressful watching these people be stressed out.

f) Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
I liked Rise Of The Planed Of The Apes a lot, it really did what many prequels of familiar franchises try and fail to do: reverse engineer the beginning of the story with lots of ominous storm clouds gathering but also make you think differently about everything that you know will happen in later chapters. But shouldn't that movie have been Dawn and then this second one would be Rise? Those titles should really be switched. Anyway, this movie had to progress the story to the next phase, and they execute it well enough, but it was just less interesting to me. By the end a lot of it was just playing out standard action movie beats with apes instead of humans, and there was something about the ape dialogue (mostly in sign language/subtitles) that felt kind of condescendingly stilted, like these super intelligent apes wouldn't be totally fluent masters of the English language.

g) Begin Again
This movie was kind of sweet and ingratiating, and the songs weren't bad. But the plot was mostly just a weirdly of-the-moment music industry fable that will seem terribly date in, like, two years, and already feels kind of hokey and pie-eyed about 'making it.' But Keira Knightley can actually sing pretty well, and Adam Levine's changing facial hair over the course of the movie just keeps getting funnier.

h) Lucky Them
Really good little movie I hadn't heard anything about, with Toni Collette as a veteran rock journalist tracking down a reclusive rock star, and Thomas Haden Church tagging along for comic relief and plot complications. It's more moody than it is funny but does well at both, and while I wasn't crazy about the ending, or the perfunctory cameo performance by the big name actor who plays the recluse, Collette was as always so good and so compelling that she made the story more resonant than it probably was on the page.

i) Fruitvale Station
So many police shootings have commanded national headlines in the years since Oscar Grant that it feels like it happened it a different era, a long time ago. But watching this still felt very powerfully, just in how simply the movie set out to tell a story of this guy's last 24 hours, how it didn't sugarcoat things or try to bend the viewer's sympathies, it just showed what happened and let you feel like, no matter how or why the situation escalated, that this normal imperfect guy didn't deserve to die. And just how graphic and drawn out the ending was, more than I thought it would be, really drove that home and made it stick with me more.

j) The To Do List
I liked how this was basically a raunchy '80s/'90s coming of age high school movie, except directed by a woman and about a woman and still really raunchy and goofy. It seems like this movie got bad reviews from people who really didn't get what a unique accomplishment it is, how it combined different tones and satirized some predictable plot points and did some really weird, unexpected things within the story.

k) Defendor
Another meta/satirical superhero movie, a really low budget one that I hadn't even heard of, even though Woody Harrelson and Kat Dennings are in it. The premise is pretty unique and pumps some life into a pretty overdone type of action comedy, but it also feels like very risky subject matter that doesn't entirely pay off.

l) Eden Lake
One of those horror movies where a couple just gets stuck out in the wilderness and terrorized by locals, in this case in England, and the locals are teenagers. There are some really jarring, horrifying scenes in this, by the end it's just totally bleak and kind of pointless, but still, I give them credit for some well made suspense.

m) The Tao Of Steve
Donal Logue is a G for life off the strength of "Terriers," so I figured I should finally get around to seeing one of his best known roles. This movie came out in 2000 but it reminds me a lot of '90s movies like "Swingers" and "Beautiful Girls" that are kind of vulnerable bro comedies that aren't as deep as they want to be about relationships but are still, in their own ways, kind of sweet and insightful.

n) Manhunter
Between becoming a devotee of "Hannibal" and rewatching the Anthony Hopkins movies, I decided to finally see the first Thomas Harris adaptation from back in the '80s, when Brian Cox played Hannibal Lecter. It's interesting where this movie differs from Red Dragon, but also how Cox doesn't really play Lecter that differently from how Hopkins later would.

Monthly Report: June Singles

Saturday, June 20, 2015

1. Omi - "Cheerleader"
I often reminisce about the early/mid-2000's when dancehall and reggae regularly crossed over to the American pop charts, and there have been some encouraging signs lately that it could happen again. This song is really sweet, obviously it sticks to a pretty stereotypical idea of a cheerleader as being a woman who applaud's a man's accomplishments, but I've always kinda felt like as long as that feeling runs both ways in a relationship, it really is great to be a cheerleader for your partner, I always try to be my wife's biggest cheerleader. Here's the Spotify playlist of my favorite 2015 singles that I add to every month.

2. Maroon 5 - "This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like A Motherfucker"
Phase 2 of Maroon 5 has quickly erased whatever coolness phase 1 had achieved, although when you look at Adam Levine's tattoos or his new song with "motherfucker" in the title, you wonder if he's deep in denial about how much of a mom band Maroon 5 has been from the very start. But this and "Sugar" are their two best singles since the band basically took a backseat to The Adam Levine Multimedia Empire, so they're on a roll right now, for better or worse.

3. Chris Young - "Lonely Eyes"
This was big on country radio throughout the spring and it really took me a while to catch onto it and realize it was one of the good ones. Great guitar leads on this.

4. Jeremih f/ J. Cole - "Planes"
This song sounded so incredible when Jeremih debuted it live with Chance The Rapper and the Social Experiment last year that it was hard not to be disappointed when the studio version was finally released, with a truly awful J. Cole verse in place of Chance and none of the Social Experiment horns. But the song has been a real grower, even with Cole, that big loping bassline and the way Jeremih darts around the beat just sounds so cold.

5. Silento - "Watch Me"
One of the things that interests me about regional dance rap hits is that they kind of follow one of the customs of dance craze records back in the '60s, where a song like "Land Of 1000 Dances" could be bigger than several of the previous songs it references. That happened a few years ago when "Teach Me How To Dougie" was way bigger than "My Dougie" or "Teach Me How To Jerk," and it's happening now with "Watch Me," which incorporates everything from "Crank Dat Soulja Boy," a huge record from 8 years ago, to smaller recent hits that "Watch Me" has already surpassed on the charts. I heard a radio interview with Silento where he answered a question about his influences by mentioning Ne-Yo, Usher and Rich Kidz, two huge crossover singers and one group that people outside of Atlanta have barely heard of, which seemed like an apt way of explaining this kid's appeal.

6. Rich Homie Quan - "Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)"
Much like "Watch Me" has its roots in the ringtone rap of yesteryear, it interests me that "Flex" is the biggest song Nitti has produced since Yung Joc's "It's Goin' Down," which is 9 years old (man, time flies). I think my favorite part of this song is "I'm a bad boy but I don't wear big clothes like Ma$e," partly because Rich Homie Quan is wearing way wackier stuff in the "Flex" video than those "Mo' Money" shiny suits. The rape lyrics on a couple of leaked Quan tracks have really cast a shadow over him lately, though. Those were some shitty and alarming things for him to write, although to be honest I'd feel more strongly if he'd chosen to publish those songs instead of leaving them in a pile of dozens of unreleased songs that got stolen.

7. Big Data f/ White Sea - "The Business Of Emotion"
I hated Big Data's first big hit "Dangerous," so the follow-up single was a pleasant surprise, really feel like this song has a huge hook and should've been bigger. It seems like his stuff varies wildly in quality depending on the guest vocalist, the song on the album with Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak is really great too.

8. Royal Blood - "Little Monster"
This album has been out for 10 months and just reached a new peak on the Billboard 200, so it feels like they're really becoming a sleeper hit in the U.S. Not a terribly original band, I dunno if I'd care to listen to the album, but they're 3 for 3 as far as singles go.

9. Mariah Carey - "Infinity"
This is the best single Mariah has made in a while, but she's too far gone commercially for this to do much, unfortunately, and she did it no favors but tacking it onto a compilation of all her #1s. I feel like people are way too hard on here these days. She's gonna be 50 in a few years, of course she's not gonna have the vocal range or the figure she had in the '90s, she should still be able to make records and perform and shit.

10. Vance Joy - "Mess Is Mine"
"Riptide" was kind of a guilty pleasure for me and this gooey ballad follow-up is really catchy to, really gotta give this guy his props.

Worst Single of the Month: DJ Khaled f/ Chris Brown, Lil Wayne and Big Sean - "How Many Times"
As much as I can't stand Chris Brown as a person, I will still grudgingly admit when he's involved in a song I enjoy, and the last DJ Khaled single he was on was great. But wow, this song is just total garbage, and it actively reminds you of how terrible Chris Brown is in real life, since the whole song is him passive aggressively hectoring a girl to come over and fuck him, and dropped right before that whole creepy incident with him forcing his way into his ex's car. Lil Wayne's verse is more comically pathetic in how he's just whining that he'll pay for a girl's Uber to try to convince her to come over, but it's still all just awful. You know a song is bad when Big Sean is the least objectionable thing about it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015
This week's Short List.

TV Diary

Sunday, June 14, 2015

a) "UnREAL"
After watching four episodes, this show is so good it's hard to believe it's on Lifetime. Basing a scripted series behind the scenes of a "The Bachelor"-style dating reality show lends itself to easy laughs and easier cynicism ("Burning Love" already did a pretty perfect satire of the genre). But this manages to be a fully compelling drama that mocks the manufactured soap opera conflicts of reality TV while juicing up a straightforward look behind the curtain with some juicy storylines of its own. Constance Zimmer, who was always terribly underused as a cutthroat show business insider on "Entourage," gets to really sink her teeth into a much more complex and sinister version of the same kind of character, really fearless performance, but the whole cast is great at walking the weird tightrope that show with such a unique tone like this requires.

b) "Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals: Live At Brazos County Jail" 
I've always liked Jeff Ross, I can remember back in the '90s when he was just a really clever standup, before being good at celebrity roasts became the focal point of his career. I mean, he's funny with that stuff, but I can remember a time when he wasn't just an insult comic roast guy. When I first heard that he was doing a standup special in prison, I thought it was just gonna be another attempt to franchise the roast thing into a gimmick, like the short-lived Comedy Central series "The Burn" he had a couple years ago. But this special is pretty impressive, just for how he manages this perfect balance of actually respecting the prisoners as human beings and voicing genuine objections to the prison industrial complex, while also being totally fearless with his crowd work and roasting nutjobs with swastika tattoos.

c) "Mr. Robot" 
A few years ago, Christian Slater struck out with 3 quickly cancelled network shows in a row. Now he's back on TV yet again with a show on USA that has a slightly better chance of getting renewed. He's not really in the pilot much, though, despite being the title character. The show is mostly a brooding suspense thriller with Rami Malek as the protagonist/narrator, and it's one of the less cheesy shows or movies I've ever seen about a hacker. I dunno if I really care about the story yet, but the whole atmospheric vibe of the show is pretty interesting, it's by far the darkest, moodiest show USA has ever put on the air.

d) "Dark Matter" 
A sci-fi show where six people wake up on a spaceship and don't remember anything about themselves. At the end of the pilot they find out who they are, and it's a good twist, sets up the series interestingly, although I wasn't terribly impressed with the episode, so I don't know if I'll stick with it.

e) "Sense8"
I try to give any new show at least one full episode, but I've never wanted to bail out before the end more than I did with "Sense8." Theoretically it's admirable that Netflix let the Wachowskis do this ambitious sci-fi show with a lot of big ideas about identity and a big international cast of mostly unknown actors. But I've never had a lot of faith in the Wachowskis to do anything particularly well with little things like plot or characters or dialogue (I'm the guy who didn't even like the first Matrix), but it's still amazing what a total muddled, incoherent failure of storytelling this show is. There's so much going on and you can't even begin to care about it as a viewer.

f) "Clipped"
If the multicamera sitcom is dying, I think the problem is less that there are good single cam shows than that 3rd rate networks like TBS keep making absolutely half-assed multicamera shows. This one is an old-fashioned workplace comedy with people in a barber shop, and George Wendt is in it, but there's no '80s sitcom magic here, it's just kind of flat.

g) "Odd Mom Out"
Jill Kargman is some kind of Manhattan old money type who wrote a book about yuppie parents, Momzilla, and then Bravo had her adapt it into a sitcom. And the show is a pretty decent upper class satire, would probably have some potential if it didn't star Kargman, who has no previous screen acting credits and just isn't really equipped to carry a show where the supporting cast is equally unknown (the only person with any kind of career is Abby Elliott, who probably deserves to have better career prospects than this show). Kargman just has no poker face for comedy, she's walking around the whole time grinning about how funny what she's saying is, which makes even the lines that are actually funny seem off-putting.

h) "Aquarius"
I fell asleep during the first episode of this, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, I have a month-old baby, I'm constantly sleep-deprived. Still, this show is just terribly unpromising. There's probably something really cool and daring that could be done with a show about Charlie Manson, but this is just some bland timid NBC bullshit.

i) "The Whispers"
The premise of this show, from a Ray Bradbury story, with children's imaginary friends being a harbinger of some kind of alien invasion, is really wonderfully creepy. But this show is really lame, they just have no idea how to execute the idea in a way with any tension.  

j) "Halt And Catch Fire"
I got through the whole first season of "Halt And Catch Fire" still not totally sure how much I liked it, or if I even wanted it to do anything besides what it so pleasantly and unremarkably did. There's a lot of talk about the show being dramatically retooled for the better this season, and while there are some new storylines in the first two episodes so far, I can't say I feel a world of difference. It's good, though.

k) "Hannibal"
Bryan Fuller has been one of my favorite people working in television for the last decade or so, he's made some really wildly creative, high concept shows ("Wonderfalls," "Pushing Daisies," "Dead Like Me") that never stayed on the air for very long. And I was happy for him that he finally got a really acclaimed network show going that didn't get quickly cancelled, even if I'm a little bitter about the fact that he had to adapt an established franchise to do it while people continue to sleep on his original ideas. But I finally caught up with the first two seasons before the new one started and yeah, this show is pretty amazing. Visually it's by far the best thing on TV, and they've really explored and filled out the world of the books/movies in interesting ways. In some ways they've gone into a more implausible heightened reality -- like, there isn't a new serial killer in Maryland piling up bodies in Tumblr-ready artistic patterns every other week, you guys need to slow down (and man I wish they shot this show on location instead of in Canada, it'd be so cool if they actually made the show in Baltimore). I'm pretty interested to see where the third season goes, it has felt kinda slow so far but they're getting into some of the plots from the Hannibal movie now and could probably very easily do them better. Aside from Michael Pitt, who they've already mercifully replaced, the whole cast has been pretty fantastic, it's also so great to see Caroline Dhavernas from "Wonderfalls" back in a Fuller project, and Scott Thompson from "Kids In The Hall" being in a show like this is a delight.

l) "Inside Amy Schumer" 
I already raved about this year's season premiere, but really Schumer has been on fire this whole season. "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer" was maybe the single greatest episode of TV that I've seen this year, and while the show is still sometimes hit-and-miss, there've been a ton of other great moments (the Cosby trial, the "I'm sorry" sketch, the boy band video) that have really just focused her comedic voice into some really sharp and unsparing satire.

m) "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" 
A few years ago, my brother gave me this cool Internet TV player that I used to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime and stuff on the big screen, it's great and I highly recommend it. There's a bunch of other far more obscure online video services available on the player's menu, and most of them I'd never heard of, but I recently realized that one of them, Crackle, is what makes Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," so I finally got around to watching some of that show. It's a pretty knowingly frivolous show that is so clearly more about the entertainment of the participants than the viewer, but I kind of respect that about it. And I like that the episodes only run about 17 minutes, it'd be a much weaker show if they stretched it out to a half hour. Definitely a lot better than most of the countless TV shows and podcasts and documentaries we've had in recent years that consist of comedians talking to each other about their craft.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 40: Ciara

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ciara is not someone I ever really expected to have a catalog that I respect, but with the release last month of her 6th album, Jackie, she's really getting there. When she debuted a decade ago, she seemed like a classic singles artist who'd only ever be good for the occasional radio jam. But then she dropped a really impressive follow-up album, Ciara: The Evolution. And then she's been in varying states of career limbo since then, releasing four albums from which only "Body Party" has really emerged as something remotely as big or enduring as the hits from her first two albums.

That her last few albums have had a lot of unsuccessful and/or outright bad singles, while the albums themselves have been fairly consistent suggests one thing: a lot of good deep cuts and woefully neglected would-be hits. I wouldn't say she'd be a much bigger artist if she'd released some of these songs as singles, but she might have a better rep if she'd picked them over dogs like "Go Girl" and "I'm Out" and "Like A Surgeon" and ok I'll stop, I've made my point.

Ciara Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Bang It Up
2. Kiss & Tell
3. Hotline
4. Pick Up The Phone
5. You Can Get It
6. That's Right (featuring Lil Jon)
7. Tell Me What Your Name Is
8. I Don't Remember
9. C.R.U.S.H.
10. Girls Get Your Money
11. Next To You
12. Where You Go (featuring Future)
13. My Love
14. Lover's Thing (featuring The-Dream)
15. Ooh Baby
16. Addicted
17. Yeah I Know
18. Give Me Love
19. Make It Last Forever
20. Read My Lips
21. One Woman Army

Tracks 3, 4, 11 and 15 from Goodies (2004)
Tracks 1, 6, 9 13, 16 and 19 from Ciara: The Evolution (2006)
Tracks 7, 8 and 14 from Fantasy Ride (2009)
Tracks 5, 10 and 15 from Basic Instinct (2011)
Tracks 12 and 20 from Ciara (2013)
Tracks 2, 18 and 21 from Jackie (2015)

Ciara does two things really well: athletically propulsive dance tracks and sultry ballads. I never thought the latter would be possible when her first album came out, but then came "Promise," my #1 R&B single of the 2000s. She's not a terribly forceful singer or personality, but she does just fine when she stays in those two comfort zones.

Given Ciara's charming, vaguely earnest blank slate persona, her records tend to rise and fall on the strength and compatibility of her collaborators. And she's made deep cuts with some of the same people who helped make her biggest hits, so you get things like "That's Right," a Lil Jon track I like more than "Goodies," or "Where You Go," a song with Future that foreshadowed the current state of their relationship better than "Body Party," and several The-Dream-penned songs that are much better than "Ride," and Polow Da Don tracks like "Bang It Up" that make a good uptempo companion to "Promise." There are also people she's only worked on album tracks with, like R. Kelly ("Next To You"), Bangladesh ("Hotline"), and Ne-Yo ("I Don't Remember"). I'm also really fond of the unjustly dismissed new album Jackie, which has some Dr. Luke tracks that suit her surprisingly well.

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
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg

Wednesday, June 10, 2015
This week's Short List.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

I'm juggling a few different musical projects these days, and one of them recently went public. Golden Beat is a new band with Dan Doggett (of Monument) on guitar/vocals, Chris Merriam (of Private Eleanor) on guitar, K.B. Blankson (of They Move On Threads) on bass, and me on drums.

Golden Beat's 3-song demo is up on Bandcamp, and it's very much a demo, just a few mics set up in my practice space with minimal overdubs, but I think it suits the sound of the band pretty well, I'm happy it's out there for people to hear. No shows yet but we're practicing and writing pretty regularly.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Maura Johnston and I wrote a fun list for Rolling Stone of graduation ceremony songs from the past 20 years.

Friday, June 05, 2015
This week's Short List.

Monthly Report: May 2015 Albums

Thursday, June 04, 2015

1. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - Surf
Acid Rap has just sounded and better and better to me over the past two years, and in the long run-up to Surf, I really began to appreciate how far Chance The Rapper has taken himself out of the "search for the next major label rap star" sweepstakes that his initial success earmarked him for. How many rappers at the peak of their buzz would set aside any immediate solo project to play a supporting role in his trumpeter's album? How many rappers even have a trumpet player in their crew? Sidestepping traditional expectations really frees this album up to be anything it wants to be, and it wants to do a lot. This big bright moments like "Slip Slide" and "Sunday Candy" just pop up out of these weird atmospheric stretches, and Chance feels more like a narrator than a star of the story. There's a lot of unexpected big name guests on the album, but they're all woven into the album's unique aesthetic really beautifully, it reminds me of Diddy-Dirty Money's Last Train To Paris in that sense.

2. Rico Love - Turn The Lights On
I liked Rico Love's Discrete Luxury EP two years ago, it was a nice glimpse at what Rico Love could do as an artist and why he maybe didn't deserve to just toil behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer, and "They Don't Know" was a great radio hit. But I'm still kinda shocked at what a huge step up in quality the album is, the production is just really on point and there's a little more emotional depth in the songwriting here than the EP had. He still raps like Ma$e on the bridge of most songs, but it usually works in the context of the song and keeps guest rappers from jumping in and spoiling the vibe. It's got a little of that dirtbag vibe that people love so much in R&B these days, but it's also really polished and old-fashioned in some ways that makes for an interesting contrast.

3. Boosie Badazz - Touch Down 2 Cause Hell
'Album vs. mixtape' is the great 'A-side vs. B-side' debate of our time, and these days it's pretty common for major label rap albums to pale in comparison to the mixtape the released shortly before or after. So when Boosie's Atlantic debut was pushed back last year and he released Life After Deathrow, a pretty perfect mixtape, it just set a high bar for the album to clear. And while Touch Down isn't the blockbuster event album I was hoping for when Boosie came home a year ago, it's a pretty best case scenario for a major label album for him, and it's at or close to the quality of the mixtape. The intro, "All I Know," "Hip Hop Hooray," even "Black Heaven," are all really dope songs that don't feel redundant with anything from his old projects. And closing the album with Boosie accompanied by nothing but piano seems like a risky move, but "I'm Sorry" really works.

4. Mac McCaughan - Non-Believers
I pretty much worship Superchunk, and have enjoyed a lot of the music Mac McCaughan has made without the band, usually under the name Portastatic, over the years. So it's interesting to hear the nominal solo debut by a guy who I've already heard a dozen albums by. I kind of expected this to be like one of the autumnal later Portastatic albums, but it's kind of like the laid back '90s ones with lots of cheap drum machine tracks and jangly guitar tones. "Our Way Free" is by far the most immediate song on the album for me but the rest is growing on me.

5. Diamond Youth - Nothing Matters
Diamond Youth are a band with members from all over that are primarily based in Baltimore. I remember a few years ago Brian McTernan from Salad Days Studio telling me how he'd been recording EPs with them and they were blowing up just off of the EPs and not even worrying about doing an album. I was impressed with the EP stuff I'd heard, but I'm glad they finally made a full-length, it really sounds like refined their sound into something unique, it's pretty punk but there's this smooth crooning vibe to the vocals and some woozy surf rock riffs that give it a different dimension.

6. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell - The Traveling Kind
I've always like Emmylou Harris, mostly just knowing Wrecking Ball and various collaborations. And then, in January, I got the most amazing crash course in her career when I got a gig running the lyric teleprompter for a big Emmylou tribute concert in D.C. I got to spend 2 days sitting next to the stage, watching her and a bunch of other big musicians up close, playing her songs, it was filmed and I believe is going to be on PBS or on a DVD or something eventually, I highly recommend checking it out. One of Harris's longtime collaborators, Rodney Crowell, was of course in the house, and it turns out they had just made another album together.

7. Ciara - Jackie
Jackie is kind of a reverse Pinkprint: where Nicki Minaj delivered a heavy-hearted breakup album after everyone expected something different, Ciara fast tracked an album on the heels of her split with Future and "I Bet," but it's a total outlier. "I Bet" might be my least favorite single in Ciara's career, but the rest of the album is a pleasant surprise, basically dialing her sound back to the breezy dance pop of "1, 2 Step" with several Dr. Luke-produced tracks. R&B singers 'going pop' has been a divisive issue in the last few years, and sometimes the stigma is justified and sometimes it's kind of kneejerk and meaningless. But as much as I love "Promise" and the occasionally slow jam from Ciara, she was really born for these uptempo records. It's a shame that people seem to be hating on this album when it's so much more solid than her last couple.

8. Camp Lo - Ragtime Hightimes
Uptown Saturday Night is almost 20 years old and remains a wonderful, underrated and unique album in rap history. So I'm glad these guys are still periodically getting together with Ski Beatz and spitting inscrutable slanguistics over lush sample-driven tracks. They're never gonna top the debut but they've managed to keep sounding relatively fresh when not many rappers that were dope in 1997 can still do anything of value without completely reinventing themselves.

9. Snoop Dogg - Bush
I never thought Snoop Dogg and the Neptunes was really that hot a combination, so I didn't have any expectations about Snoop and Pharrell making a whole album together. And I mean, they made 10 songs that mostly sound like the merely okay "Let's Get Blown" instead of, say, the awesome "Signs," but it works as a collection of playful grooves in the same vein as G I R L. And revisiting Snoop's old albums recently highlighted what a weird, unique little record this is in his catalog.

10. Jeezy - Gangsta Party
I hope that the success of Future's recent mixtapes leads a trend towards short mixtapes. This new 10-song tape from Jeezy is really the perfect length (although it's a fine line -- Kevin Gates just dropped a mixtape that's only 7 tracks and I just kinda feels like not enough to leave much of an impression, especially since he had a great long one 6 months ago). I feel like Jeezy always takes a lot of shit for falling off when he's been pretty consistent, like he's been as big and as big as Rick Ross or better for the last 9 years, but it's only a bad thing for Jeezy because he was multi-platinum in '05. One of the stranger dynamics in Atlanta rap today is all the friends and proteges of Gucci Mane who now collaborate with his longtime enemies. Obviously T.I. and Young Thug just had a big hit together, but Gangsta Party is so extreme with it that it almost seems deliberate: Offset from Migos, Rich Homie Quan, Zaytoven, Bankroll Fresh, Peewee Longway, and Young Dolph are all on here. It sounds good, but it speaks to the weird way Jeezy has to embrace Gucci's influence to sound current in 2015.

Worst Album of the Month: A$AP Rocky - At. Long. Last. A$AP
I disliked his first album, but it at least had some functional radio jams and mildly daring aesthetic flourishes. This mostly just replaces the trendy edgy elements of the first album with baby boomer dad rock vibes from Danger Mouse and Mark Ronson. Rocky is still the blandest rapper alive and 'curating' guest verses from guys with actual personalities isn't as impressive as it's supposed to be.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

a) Aloha
I occasionally have gigs where I have a long break between the rehearsal and event and I go catch a movie. When that happened on Sunday, I considered a few supposedly good movies I wasn't all that interested in, and instead decided to see just how bad Aloha is. I've been kind of morbidly fascinated with this movie ever since the hilarious leaked Sony e-mails about it, so it was partly just fun to find out what "The satellite makes no sense, the gate makes no sense" means. And that stuff really does not make sense, although it was pretty odd to realize that someone has made a comedy about people unwittingly working to weaponize a satellite that is not at all as good as Real Genius (the prominent placement of "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" almost felt like a direct acknowledgment of that). There are so many likable actors who usually pick good projects just flailing in this movie (and also Bradley Cooper, whose only mistake is thinking he could get away with something as stupid as Silver Linings Playbook twice). Emma Stone is as charming as ever, and does as much as she can with the source material. But her playing someone half-Asian plays oddly, and in general her character suggests that Cameron Crowe learned absolutely nothing from Elizabethtown inspiring the coinage of the term "manic pixie dream girl." I actually have a soft spot for Cameron Crowe, Say Anything and Jerry Maguire are pretty charming movies that are packed with odd tangents that give them a weird livewire energy. Aloha attempts that balancing act and just fails. There are several scenes where some pretty decent banter is thrown around but weird pacing or camera angles just won't let it land. And the subplot with Rachel McAdams's daughter just kind of pissed me off and also made me wonder if Bradley Cooper's character was supposed to be a total idiot.

b) Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets
I love Pulp, and I'm still beating myself up about not seeing their reunion tour (I saw them live once, when they did 3 songs at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1998, which was great but obviously not enough). So I'm glad they made a movie about it. But I feel like there could've been a great full-on concert movie about this tour, or a great full-on documentary about the band's history. And by combining a bit of both, I dunno, neither element totally satisfied it. Not bad, just could've been better.

c) Housebound
From Peter Jackson's early movies to the very underrated Black Sheep, I've come to expect great weird horror comedy from New Zealand. This movie isn't quite up to that high standard, but it is creepy and funny and has some nice twists and gore towards the end.

d) Maleficent
I think Sleeping Beauty was the old school Disney movie I saw the least or had the least interest in growing up, so I wasn't really drawn to this movie at all. But my wife was watching it one day and I got sucked in more than I thought I would, I enjoy how they took the aesthetic of the cartoon into the live action film, and it was really one of the best Angelina Jolie performances I've seen.

e) Walk Of Shame
For all the talk of movies like Bridesmaids making the world safe for R rated comedies starring women, this movie did terribly at the box office and even worse with critics. I thought it was pretty funny, though. It was written and directed by a Sandler, and in places leans on some puerile stereotype-driven humor, but for the most part it's a showcase for Elizabeth Banks throwing herself into a lot of physical comedy really impressively. She's been funny in a lot of supporting roles, and has mostly starred in dramas, so it was nice to see her headline a comedy, even if she's better than the movie.

f) About Last Night
The original About Last Night from 1986 is a decent movie, but it kind of doesn't seem popular or enough, or unique enough in terms of plot to be worth remaking. But I have to say, I was surprised by how much they maintained the comedic sensibility of the original -- they even retained the original names of the characters while changing their race, so you end up with Kevin Hart playing 'Bernie' and Joy Bryant playing 'Debbie.' In the original movie, Jim Belushi's storyline is very much secondary to the Rob Lowe storyline, but since Kevin Hart is in the Belushi role and he's way more famous than Michael Ealy, they kind of throw off the balance of the two couples in the movie. But it's a really solid rom com, probably Kevin Hart's best film role to date, and it's just kind of interesting to see him play a character created by David Mamet with some dialogue that still retains a little of Mamet's sensibility. The screenwriter, Leslye Headland, also wrote Bachelorette, which is a really smart, underrated rom com.

g) Carnage
I stumbled across this movie starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly, and was amazed I'd never heard of it. Turns out it was directed by Roman Polanski, which I guess kind of explains both the impressive cast and the low commercial profile. Pretty much the entire movie is these 4 actors in an apartment, talking and arguing and vomiting words and vomiting actual vomit -- I could tell it was based on a play before I looked it up. It's not bad but it falls kind of flat, which is disappointing given the cast. It's very easy to imagine it being great onstage, especially with this cast, but the movie has a very disjointed rhythm considering that it's supposed to be one long scene unfolding in real time.

h) I'll Do Anything
I remember when this movie was released, and came and went without much notices. But years later I was fascinated to learn that it was originally filmed as a musical, with original songs written by Prince and Carole King, and then after some bad test screenings they cut all the songs out and made it a quasi-normal James L. Brooks dramedy. They at least reshot and edited it to the point where the seams aren't showing, it's not like any scene abruptly cuts off as somebody's breaking into song, but there's still this weird vibe to the whole thing. In parts it's a funny satire of show business, but it also would kinda feel like it doesn't know what movie it wants to be even if you don't know the tortured backstory. I would love to see a cut of the musical version, though, just for comparison.