Saturday, August 29, 2015
This week's Short List.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

I did a post about guests we hope Lil Wayne brings out at Weezyana Fest for Complex.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I made a designated drive-themed playlist for Complex. 

TV Diary

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

a) "Blunt Talk"
I grew up watching "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and have long thought that Patrick Stewart is one of the most hilarious actors who doesn't often do comedy, and that little piddling stuff like a recurring role on "The Family Guy" hasn't been enough. And I'm glad that he's finally headlining a property comedy vehicle, even if it is exec produced by Seth MacFarlane, who thankfully seems to be pretty hands-off with this. Instead, it's created and written by Jonathan Ames, and is pretty similar in tone to "Bored To Death," a show I didn't think much of at first that ended up really growing on me, and which I regard pretty highly in retrospect. Stewart's character is sort of like Ted Danson in "Bored," a weird old media guy living in his own little world, which means mostly that the difference in the shows is that character went from a supporting role to the main character. I'm not sure yet if that shift is necessarily a good thing, and the first two episodes have been kind of a slow start. But so far, I like it, and the supporting cast is strong -- glad to see Karan Soni getting more work, he was so good in "Other Space." If anything, Stewart needs to tone down his delivery and act a little less 'in on the joke.'

b) "Show Me A Hero" 
David Simon has a pretty unique knack for making the dullest depths of bureaucracy into compelling television, without even sexing it up to much into a procedural formula. But this, a 6-hour miniseries about Yonkers public housing in the 1980s, still really stretches the limits of that facility. Paul Haggis only directed, so I don't really hold him accountable for the story, but there is something weirdly deflating about having this stuff shot so handsomely instead of the straightforward, almost documentary-style cinematography of "The Wire," gives it a very different feel.

c) "The Comment Section" 
I've been watching "The Soup" for years, and the E! channel generally puts on something terrible directly after it, so I was happy to hear that they were going to start following it with a show exec produced by Joel McHale that is kind of a "Soup" spinoff about social media and internet comments. But I had no idea that they were going to feature one of my tweets in the first 5 minutes of the first episode, which was nice, although I was probably going to like the show even before they bought my affection so efficiently. The host, Michael Kosta, mostly reads/responds to comments with a super snide delivery that reminds me of Dennis Miller back when he was funny, and in a way it seems like the only way to talk about ridiculous internet comments. But mostly I like that the humor on the show is mean, not in a crass or cruel way but just sharp and unforgiving.

d) "Documentary Now" 
Bill Hader and Fred Armisen are both pretty talented, but I remain consistently impressed with Hader's chops and versatility whereas I started getting really tired of Armisen about halfway through his "SNL" run. But putting these guys together to satirize documentaries is a pretty good idea, and the first episode, with Helen Mirren introducing a Grey Gardens takeoff, was really entertaining.

e) "Kevin From Work" 
I grew up in the '80s and '90s, inundated with shows and movies about wimpy guys who pine for the hot girl with the dumb jock boyfriend, and more and more in recent years it's seemed increasingly clear just what a toxic male wish fulfillment that stuff is that has fed into a lot of entitled fedora-wearing dude mentalities. So seeing a new show like this walk through all those friendzone cliches once again in 2015 is kind of depressing, especially since there are tiny bits of charm and wit in this otherwise pretty unpromising show. At least it's cordoned off on ABC Family where nobody will be see it.

f) "Mr. Robinson"
This show is even more anachronistic than "Kevin From Work," it feels like such a corny '80s sitcom, where a comic's standup act is grafted onto a premise about them teaching elementary school. Craig Robinson is a pretty entertaining comic actor in the right context, but the songs in his standup act have always been kind of corny, and work even worse here. But it's really the rest of the show that's just a total shitshow of bad sitcom cliches and stereotypes. I thought the episode guest starring Gary Cole might be good but then he did the hackiest British rock star character and I just felt bad for him. The 6 episodes of the first season were burned off already in 3 weeks in August, and hopefully it will never come back. At least it's cordoned off on NBC where nobody will see it.

g) "Humans"
This show started out slow, but it was intriguing and eerie. As things started to ramp up towards the end of the season, though, it just started to feel like a lot of boilerplate sci-fi thriller stuff, and the show's idea about humanoid robots who'd gained some degree of sentience or emotional capacity just felt increasingly vague and inconsistent. By the end of the finale I didn't really care what was going on at all.

h) "The Brink" 
I had a certain indifference fall over me very early in "The Brink"'s run, and it never really let up even as I watched all 10 episodes. By the end, I got the sense that it might've been a bit rewarding if I'd paid it closer attention, but it really just never grabbed me, something very inert about it even with a fairly charismatic cast.

i) "Ballers"
The way the first episode of "Ballers" ended, with Dwayne Johnson's character finding his account overdrawn at the ATM, gave me hope that the darkness and desperation at the edges of the show would move it forward and keep it interesting. But by the end of the finale, when he's celebrating a big office and a promotion and there's absolutely no sense of tension whatsoever, it seemed clear that this show just wants to leap to tidy resolutions and be the blander "Entourage" we always suspected it'd be.

j) "Why? With Hannibal Buress" 
This show is even more loose and laid back than I expected it to be given Hanibal Buress's whole personality and approach to standup. But it's cool, he was never gonna be a dynamic performer who does an amazing sketch show, it's just not his style, and there's nothing wrong with basically let him riff on current events every week. A lot of the scripted segments are hit or miss, but the one last week reenacting his text messages with a guy who stole his laptop bag was amazing. Also he's been getting away with just putting whatever rapper he wants on TV every week, which is the one way that he's kind of filling the niche Chappelle occupied on Comedy Central 10 years go. Last week he had King Los on there, and it was exciting to see someone from Baltimore that I go way back with perform on TV.

k) "Killjoys" 
One of the seemingly countless Canadian-produced shows about pretty people in space that airs on the SyFy network. It's been OK but I think my wife likes it more than I do.

l) "Dark Matter"
This is the other Canadian pretty space traveler show that debuted on SyFy this summer that I liked a little more. Kind of became more of this character-driven ensemble thing with a group of people stuck on a spaceship together, instead of the usual interplanetary adventures.

m) "Geeks Who Drink" 
Basically just your garden variety Tuesday night bar trivia quiz, but on SyFy and hosted by that boring guy from "Chuck." One of those shows where everyone's making a big deal about how much fun they're having but it doesn't translate to the viewer's experience at all. I did like the game where they matched actors to characters they voiced in animated movies, though.

n) "Reactor" 
"The Soup"-style green screen clip shows aren't quite the fad they were a few years ago, but a lot of channels still want their own, especially SyFy. Last summer they had the short-lived "Wil Wheaton Project," and this summer they've got basically the same show with some random podcast dude hosting who doesn't even have the modest charisma or nerd culture cachet that Wheaton has.

o) "On The Record with Mick Rock" 
Mick Rock is a veteran rock photographer, and his show on Ovation is kind of a small scale "Sonic Highways," where he spends each episode in a different American city with a different artist. Mick Rock wears sunglasses, a jean jacket and a scarf 24/7 and is kind of a hilarious British rocker stereotype, but he has some good stories and is a decent host. The episode with Patti LaBelle in Philadelphia is good, but so far my biggest problem with the show is just that I don't really care about whole episodes centered on Kings Of Leon or The Flaming Lips. You spend an episode in L.A. and the best person you can talk to is Josh Groban!?

p) "Another Period" 
I was afraid of this show being kind of one joke with diminishing returns, but they really fit a lot of ridiculous and funny stuff into the basic concept, which is kind of like a "Real Housewives" show set 100 years ago, but also has kind of grown into its own weird beast over the course of the season. The ensemble just seems to grow with every episode and give them more characters to work with, and Paget Brewster is really one of the unsung MVPs of the show.

q) "The Hotwives of Las Vegas"
Last year this show debuted as "The Hotwives of Orlando," and this year they changed cities, with most of the cast returning as different characters. That seems kind of unnecessary -- not much about the change of scenery or character names really has much effect on the jokes or storylines. But the whole thing is an over-the-top satire of Bravo's "Real Housewives" shows and basically is better when it makes no sense, so it's fine.

r) "Real Husbands of Hollywood" 
This show has been satirizing "Real Housewives" for longer than either of the other shows, but they flipped the gender of the characters so it's not too similar anyway. I thought this was pretty funny when it debuted a couple years ago, but I never really kept up with it. Watching the first episode of the new season, it kinda felt like they'd abandoned the original premise for increasingly wacky gags.

s) "Rick And  Morty"
I was a little on the fence about this show last year, as good as it clearly was from the jump. But it's really been fantastic this season, I think there's even been less of Rick burping and vomiting and being kind of over-the-top misanthropic, which was one of the things I found off-putting about it initially. The multiple timeline episode almost felt like Dan Harmon deliberately doing a better job with the concept behind a popular (imo overrated) "Community" episode.

t) "Review" 
I like this show in theory more than in practice. As someone who reviews things professionally, it's fun to see Andy Daly take his straight laced persona into bizarre scenarios, but it also kinda feels like every episode goes to similar extremes, and already in its second season they've kinda stretched the premise as far as it can go and there's nothing 'new' or 'shocking' left to try. A half hour leaves a lot of slack in some episodes, too, it might've been better as one of those 15-minute shows on Adult Swim.

u) "Playing House"
I've always liked Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham and I'm glad they've kind of funneled their sensibility into a show that's now in its second season (there was another similar one on NBC that only lasted a few episodes). This show is almost like a WASP-y suburban mommy blogger version of "Broad City," there are these really unexpected hilarious moments within an ostensibly mundane framework.

v) "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore" 
I think the true test of how good this show has gotten is that I still want to watch it now that "The Daily Show" is in reruns until Trevor Noah starts, and I'm actually wondering if Trevor Noah will have to compete as much with how Larry Wilmore covers the same news cycle as he will with people's memories of Jon Stewart. I still kinda wish so much of the show wasn't taken up with panel discussion, but as much as I've tired of that format "The Nightly Show" easily has some of the best panel discussions on TV.

w) "Late Night with Seth Meyers" 
I remember how awkward Seth Meyers seemed the first night he hosted "Late Night," standing up to tell the monologue with no "Weekend Update" desk. And so it doesn't surprise me at all that after over a year of struggling with that tradition, he's finally just given up and is doing the monologue behind his desk. I hope they keep tinkering with the format, Meyers isn't really that bad -- really one of the better interviewers in late night right now, he actually interacts with people and improvises -- but there's such a weird stale air around the show. Fred Armisen is on there even less than I thought he'd be.

x) "Hannibal"
I guess all hope of someone else picking up this show after NBC's cancellation has dissipated, which means there's only one episode left of this show, which I have spent the summer devouring all three seasons of. The third season has been a very different beast from the other two, with the really funky abstract stretches in the first half and then the last few episodes going through the Red Dragon storyline, which has made for a pretty interesting shift. The only big bummer for me was that Joe Anderson's Mason Verger was barely any better than the awful Michael Pitt performance that I was so eager for the show to rid itself of. A shame they won't get to Clarice and Buffalo Bill now.

y) "Key & Peele"
I'm kind of relieved that these guys are gonna be done with the show after the 5th season. That's like 20 hours of television, hundreds of short sketches where 2 guys wear every wig imaginable and run through every scenario they can think of in their kind of small array of topics of interests. Every now and again they do something hysterical, and the production values and costuming/wigs are some of the best in sketch comedy ever, but it also feels like they've completely exhausted the show's potential. Also the weird "True Detective"-inspired interstitial sketches they started doing in every episode last year feel like an odd choice to stick with this year, I guess they got really sick of doing the interstitials with a live studio audience in the early seasons. Maybe they can go off now and do something fresh with a movie or whatever and come back and do another season a few years down the road.

z) "Suits" 
Another show in its 5th season that has kind of hit a wall, but will keep going for at least a couple more seasons. It's always been less of a law procedural than a show about the relationships between the characters, and it's getting increasingly hard to sustain that without getting repetitive or soap opera ridiculous. I'd love to see them drop some kind of real game-changer plot development by the end of the season (and not just something obviously temporary like Mike and Rachel breaking up again). Or maybe get back to a little more of the procedural stuff that was in the early seasons.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 44: Prince

Monday, August 24, 2015

I recently started trying out Tidal, but there's not a lot of music on there isn't also on Spotify, which I'm more used to using. And one of the major exceptions is Prince, who took all his music off of Spotify and put (some of) his catalog on Tidal recently, with a new album, HITNRUN, scheduled to debut on Tidal next week. So I end up listening to Prince on Tidal a lot, and decided to put together one of these deep cuts playlists. This series is largely reserved for acts who are not revered as 'album artists,' people who are not necessarily taken too seriously beyond their singles. But now and again it's fun to dig into a really absurdly rich catalog like Prince's and try to cram as many great deep cuts as possible into 80 minutes.

Prince Deep Album Cuts (Tidal playlist): 
* as of 2017, now on Spotify as well

1. The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker
2. Darling Nikki
3. Tamborine
4. Can't Stop This Feeling I Got
5. I Wonder U
6. Trust
7. Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)
8. Partyup
9. I'm Yours
10. Jack U Off
11. Strange Relationship
12. Love 2 The 9's
13. Dark
14. Sometimes It Snows In April
15. It's Gonna Be Lonely
16. D.M.S.R.
17. The Beautiful Ones

Track 9 from For You (1978)
Track 15 from Prince (1979)
Track 8 from Dirty Mind (1980)
Track 10 from Controversy (1981)
Tracks 7 and 16 from 1999 (1982)
Tracks 2 and 17 from Purple Rain (1984)
Track 3 from Around The World In A Day (1985)
Tracks 5 and 14 from Parade (1986)
Tracks 1 and 11 from Sign O' The Times (1987)
Track 6 from Batman (1989)
Track 4 from Graffiti Bridge (1990)
Track 12 from Prince logo.svg (1992)
Track 13 from Come (1994)

Prince has a long history of idiosyncratic, questionable decisions about how and where to make his music available on the internet. And one of the most frustrating things about his move to Tidal is that it includes very little of the many albums he's released in the last 20 years. For the purposes of this playlist, though, it has what I need: nearly all of the albums from the essential first 16 or so years of his career (with the odd omission of the blockbuster Diamonds And Pearls). I couldn't include anything from Lovesexy, because all digital releases of the album stubbornly maintain the annoying quirk of the original CD release, with every song run together on one track, but that's okay, I don't like that one all that much.

He has widely beloved B-sides and bootlegged rarities, so Prince songs that actually appeared on his albums barely even feel like "deep cuts," but still, he's a guy with a lot of hits, and a lot of great songs that were not singles. It'd be easy to stick with his peak period, or stuff it with songs from the really ripe albums like Sign O' The Times and 1999, but it was fun to dip into the early stuff and the post-peak stuff (his self-titled 1979 album remains one of my absolute favorites). "Darling Nikki" may be one of the most infamous deep cuts of all time, not because it was performed in a huge movie or covered by the Foo Fighters but because of the song's placement on the Parents Music Resource Center's 'Filthy Fifteen' -- I read about Tipper Gore objecting to the song's lyrics about "masturbating to a magazine" before I ever heard Prince sing those words. "The Beautiful Ones" is part of the canon of Prince songs that will live forever in late night "quiet storm" blocks on R&B stations, along with "International Lover," "Do Me, Baby," and "Adore" (which I adore most of all, but it was on Greatest Hits so it feels wrong to include on a deep cuts playlist).

Obviously, the diminishing returns hit after Sign O' The Times, but even when I only cover part of an artist's career in these mixes, I tend to cover the whole time in which they made hits, and he kept having hits for a while after that. And it was fun to dig into the highlights of that post-peak period. "Trust" was, along with "Partyman," such an enjoyable part of Batman and those are maybe the first Prince songs I ever enjoyed as a kid, even if I had no idea who they were by at the time. It wasn't until the early 2000's that my friend Mat, a card-carrying Prince fanatic, made me really appreciate the man's catalog. And I have a vivid memory of hanging out with Mat in Rockville when he had Prince logo.svg on in his car and being blown away that such an unhip, dated-sounding album still had really delightful songs like "Love 2 The 9's" and "Morning Papers." By far my favorite post-'80s Prince album, however, is Come, one of his final Warner Bros. albums that he kind of deliberately downplayed upon its release. It's really the only time he sounded kind of in step with '90s R&B, and just has so many awesome midtempo sex jams, I really recommend it, "Dark" is just one of many great songs on it.

One thing I inadvertently found myself doing a lot was including a lot of Prince's closing tracks -- 5 of the 13 albums represented, including all of his first 4 albums. That's somewhat inevitable -- Prince, like most artists, rarely closes an album with a single. But "Jack U Off," "I'm Yours," Sometimes It Snows In April," that's a pretty wide range of closers. One of the things I love most about Prince is that nearly all his albums run the gamut from screaming rockers to fragile ballads to sleazy sex jams to electro experiments to funk workouts. So I really tried to maintain that variety of styles more than necessarily just picking the absolute best songs, although I really love pretty much everything here.

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
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato

Thursday, August 20, 2015
This week's Short List.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Channel 10 Podcast, which is hosted by a couple of Baltimore rap dudes I go way back with, Articulate and Singodsuperior, asked me to come on as a guest, and Episode 20 went up this week. We talked for about an hour about in a wide ranging discussion about Baltimore, music, life, all that stuff. It was a lot of fun, thanks to go those guys for inviting me to participate.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang recently signed to 300 Entertainment off the strength of "Bank Rolls," his hit that features the beat from a circa 2000 Baltimore classic by Tim Trees. I spoke to both Tate and Tim Trees for The Fader.

Monthly Report: August 2015 Singles

Monday, August 17, 2015

1. K Camp - "Comfortable"
K Camp has always had an ear for a tuneful hook -- in fact the first time I heard him, on Mykko Montana's minor hit "Do It" about 3 years ago, all he did was the hook (hilariously, the Singles Jukebox post on the song that I contributed to features the comment "Incredible Feedback!" signed by K Camp himself). Since then, he's quietly racked up a decent number of solo hits (plus Snootie Wild's "Made Me," another song where he only does the hook), and finally has a major label album dropping, but I haven't really thought much of his stuff since "Do It." But "Comfortable" is just a revelation, one of those songs we get every once in a while (well, once a year for the last 15 years or so) where a rapper goes full-on R&B and the melody in their voice is disarming and beautiful. Big Fruit made an incredibly summery track with some surprising changeups in the beat, and I'm really immature so I'm always amused anytime Big Fruit gets a production credit on anything. Here's the Spotify playlist of favorite 2015 singles that I add to every month.

2. Demi Lovato - "Cool For The Summer"
Last week I did a little overview of Demi Lovato's brief career so far since this song has been blowing up and getting people more interested in her otherwise underrated music. I have mixed feelings about "Cool For The Summer" itself, though, it's such a big bombastic Max Martin production with all these distinct parts, sometimes it feels like too much, sometimes it hits just perfectly.

3. Sam Hunt - "House Party"
Sam Hunt is a good punching bag for bro country in general, a guy who you're more likely to see in a baseball cap than a cowboy hat, and I hatefully compared his big hit "Take Your Time" to Drake a few months ago. But this song, for all its embarrassing DJ scratching, is a winner with me. One of the things about unabashed crossover artists is that occasionally they do write a song that seems so broadly appealing that it's easy to imagine it being a hit in any radio format, if it was mixed a little different or covered by a boy band, an R&B singer, an alt-rock band, whatever.

4. Thomas Rhett - "Crash And Burn"
I'd dismissed Thomas Rhett before the 5th single from his debut, "Make Me Wanna," became one of my favorite country hits in recent memory, and I feel hopeful that that song set the tone for his second record. The lead single is a little goofy and the video features Rhetto ghost riding the goddamn whip, but musically it's still a step in the right direction.

5. Tyrese - "Shame"
One thing that I think has kind of been lost in today's pop landscape is studio backup singers -- the few stars, R&B or otherwise, that are good enough do a lot of their own backing harmonies, and sometimes have backup singers onstage to sing those parts live, but you rarely get a lead vocalist interacting with backing voices that are clearly not just them multi-tracked anymore. And the women singing backup on this song just put this perfect, spine-tingling dramatic touch on the song that serves as a good foil for Tyrese's velvety rasp. Ever since one of Tyrese's first videos went into rotation on MTV while Tyrese was a VJ, his music career has seemed like a big weird mirage to me. So him gradually becoming a steady R&B radio presence and kind of one of the last surviving traditionalists was surprising, but he's got some jams.

6. Ciara - "Dance Like We're Makin' Love"
I put this song on my Ciara deep cuts playlist, and it was bound to happen eventually that a song I put on one of those things would get released as a single soon after (I replaced it with "Give Me Love" on the playlist). I'm really glad it's a single, though, definitely makes a great case for the Ciara/Dr. Luke collaboration that Future got a lot of attention for turning his nose up at recently. Of course, putting out this single at this particular time with a sexy video takes on a weird overtone given Ciara's celibate relationship with Russell Wilson. It kinda takes the song's gist of "let's dance before making love" and makes it seem more like "let's dance instead of making love."

7. Meek Mill f/ Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown - "All Eyes On You"
Meek Mill is one of my favorite rappers of the last decade, and Drake is someone I barely tolerate, so it goes without saying that the past month has been a bummer for me. I still stand by pretty much everything I said in the Noisey piece I published when Dreams Worth More Than Money came out, him handling that beef poorly doesn't really effect my enjoyment of his music. One thing I in that piece that I will walk back a little is calling this song "boring" -- certainly singles like "Monster" and "Check" are more classic Meek Mill and this song is kind of a transparent bid for radio play, but it's really grown on me. Doing the "Notorious Thugs" flow over a slow jam was inspired, and out of all the hits featuring Chris Brown these days, this is one of the only ones where he actually adds something to the song and makes it better instead of just kind of showing up and making a cameo so that radio will play it.

8. The Struts - "Could Have Been Me"
There are a ton of British bands on American rock radio these days, and most of them get sent over here after they've already gotten huge at home. But it appears this band isn't popular in the U.K. at all, even compared to the moderate U.S. airplay they've gotten, which is surprising since this is a super British glam rock anthem with a scenery-chewing lead singer who rolls his R's.

9. Tori Kelly - "Should've Been Us"
Odd trivia: this song is produced by a team called The Struts, but it's not the band I was just talking about. After "Nobody Love" blew me away but fizzled on pop radio, it's nice that the follow-up single is doing better and the album even did decent numbers. Part of the chorus reminds me a lot of the unjustly forgotten Kelly Rowland single "Can't Nobody," which isn't a bad thing.

10. Tiffany Evans f/ Fetty Wap - "On Sight"
After having one minor hit ages ago, Tiffany Evans came out with a freebie EP a couple years ago that I really enjoyed, and then disappeared again. Now she's got a buzzing single buoyed by one of the big rappers of the moment, and I hope she's able to get a foot back in the industry again. I've kind of liked but not loved a lot of the songs Fetty Wap has had out since "Trap Queen," but I really dig his verse on this, he has this weird double-tracked vocal sound that I haven't heard him use on anything else that gives a different dimension to his voice. Also interesting that Yeezus is now being mined for hook ideas for singles.

Worst Single of the Month: Fall Out Boy - "Uma Thurman"
I really need to revisit American Beauty/American Psycho and reignite my fondness for it, because I really like that album, and my least favorite song on it becoming a hit is really bumming me out and souring me on the band right now. This is the worst thing Uma Thurman has been associated with in a year that included "The Slap."

Movie Diary

Sunday, August 16, 2015

a) I Am Chris Farley
In the last few months there have been new documentaries about Kurt Cobain (which I watched and had mixed feelings about), Amy Winehouse (which I haven't seen), and Chris Farley, and I wonder how many more docs about tragic show business figures who died young are in production right now. This one was produced in part by Farley's family and is more of a warm remembrance than anything else, but that's really what you want, he was just a sweet, talented guy whose vices got the best of him and I think they mixed the good and bad in appropriate measures (Bob Odenkirk's interviews in particular give a good sense of the overwhelming sadness and frustration that his friends must feel about the whole thing, the Spades and Sandlers tell good stories but don't really open up all that much).

b) Foxcatcher
I lived in Delaware, around the area where the du Pont family was a big deal, back in the '90s when John du Pont killed that guy in Pennsylvania, and it just seemed like such a big, weird news story at the time. But this movie really manages to draw it all out and make the entire affair seem as dull and pointless as it probably really was. Carell's prosthetic nose was the most famous misstep of the movie (although I still say he should hold onto it for a live action Despicable Me movie). But I really thought Channing Tatum was just totally out of his depth and just clenched his jaw in this weird way like he wanted to seem mad or mentally challenged or something, it was a strange unfortunate performance after he'd had a really good run of roles where he'd shown a little more range.

c) Inherent Vice
Early in his career I thought Joaquin Phoenix gave a lot of strong performances in flawed movies (8mm, Gladiator, The Village), but for some reason now I just dread seeing the guy in anything. Ever since I read that Robert Downey, Jr. was almost the lead in Inherent Vice, I had a hard time not distracting myself imagining how much more engaging the movie would be with him instead of Phoenix, who just seemed too bored and stoned even for a role that kind of was supposed to come off that way. I liked the dry, subdued humor of the movie and I feel like it could grow on me with additional viewings, but it didn't totally click with me. There were times when it felt like I was just watching an artier The Big Lebowski.

d) Horrible Bosses 2
I barely remember watching the first one and I'll barely remember this one either. Not terrible movies -- if anything they affirm what a strong screen presence Jason Sudeikis is even when he's bouncing off of bigger stars -- but pretty forgettable.

e) Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) 
For all the awards and rave reviews this got, a lot of people I know or whose opinions I respect really seemed to hate Birdman, so I was curious to check it out and figure out what side of the debate I would take. And I gotta say, I am mostly if not entirely pro-Birdman. I liked the long takes, I liked the stagey nature of the performances, I liked the nervous energy of the all-percussion score, I even liked some of the over-the-top touches that kind of took it out of the realm of realism towards the end. As much as I love Michael Keaton, though, I don't really feel like he carried the movie or this was a once-in-a-lifetime performance or anything, it felt to me like an ensemble effort. I'm glad it gave him a big comeback and hopefully more prominent roles, though.

f) John Wick
This is a classic "they messed with the wrong guy"-style action movie, way better than Taken. I love the pace of how the movie starts and how quickly the plot is set up and then they're just off to the races. It's also the rare action movie in which an absurd number of people get shot but there's something shocking and visceral about how the camera lingers on the victims and makes you process their death, I respect that.

g) The Book Of Life
The weird stylized look of the animation in this movie took some getting used to, but it grew on me. Interesting to see Guillermo del Toro produce a Dia de los Muertos-themed animated feature film that was still really light-hearted and silly and entertaining in the way other big budget cartoons are, really refreshing stuff. My son laughed a lot in the first half hour and then got bored and wanted to watch something else, so my wife and I watched the rest after he went to bed.

h) Horns
I got very irritated by the standard issue soundtrack this movie had that included The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind" and David Bowie's "Heroes," but the movie itself was pretty original. The plot and the tone were a little all over the place, but it was good.

i) Mercenaries
This is basically a gender-flipped Expendables, with a bunch of women who've been in big action movies (Kristanna Loken, Zoe Bell, Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica Fox, etc.). It's kind of a shame that it's only a direct-to-DVD mockbuster with really low budget effects, though, it'd be cool to see this movie done with a lot of money and some bigger stars.

j) Lucy
A lot of incompetent actors are out there thriving, but have people ever politely looked the other way more than they do with Scarlett Johansson? Granted, she's been in a fair number of good movies where her limitations somehow suited the character or her role was small enough that she didn't hurt the movie. But now and again she's put at the center of a movie like this, where you're really following one character through a whole journey, and it's just staggering how ill-equipped she is to carry a movie. I feel like this would've instantly been 10 times better with any number of other actresses in the role.

k) The Bling Ring
This came out around the same time as Spring Breakers and ended up kind of being its unofficial rival with vaguely similar subject matter. As much as I didn't care for Spring Breakers, though, its vivid style-over-substance is missed in something as flat as The Bling Ring, which felt very true to the real events it was based on but didn't do much to make it entertaining and filmic. Sugar & Spice remains easily the greatest teenage girl crime spree movie.

l) Movie 43
Everyone kinda knows this movie was an infamous bomb but it really does fascinate me how a bunch of huge stars got together, shot some sketches that would've been passable on Funny Or Die, and expected it to do well as a theatrical feature? With a completely unabashed "who cares" title? The recurring sketches that kind of strung the movie into a vague narrative might've actually been the worst thing about it, they shouldn't have bothered with that.

m) Adventure In Baltimore
I found myself watching this because of the title, but there's nothing at all specific to Baltimore about it, it's just a title, really. But it was interesting to see a movie made in 1949 that depicts a young woman campaigning for women's rights in 1905, to kind of get this weird perspective on feminism from before anyone was using the word, looking at an era even further back. Shirley Temple was 21 when she made this movie, and it feels weird to say this about one of the world's most famous child stars, but man, she was hot when she made this movie. It was one of the flops that led her to retire from films at 22, which is a shame because she was really turning into a babe.

Thursday, August 13, 2015
This week's Short List.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 43: Demi Lovato

Monday, August 10, 2015

Demi Lovato's new single "Cool For The Summer" is currently climbing the charts, and I feel like I've already heard more praise for it than all her previous singles combined. And that's kind of a shame, because ever since I was hooked by "Don't Forget" and "La La Land" from her first album, I've rooted for her. And she's finally become a pretty consistent Top 40 radio presence in the last few years with a string of really good singles like "Give Your Heart A Break," "Really Don't Care," and "Heart Attack."

Lovato is one of many pop stars who came into the public eye as a star on the Disney Channel, but she never really reached the level of fame of a Miley Cyrus or Hilary Duff. She was introduced to the world in the Camp Rock movies, which were kind of like a knockoff High School Musical built around the Jonas Brothers, and her career has kind of run parallel with erstwhile best friend Selena Gomez. For a while, Lovato's life took a dark turn and she seemed more tabloid famous than known for her music, but it really feels like at this point, with 4 gold albums and her 5th album on the way, she's finally starting to get noticed for the right reasons. 4 albums is a little soon to do an overview of anyone's career, but as with One Direction, I think it's a good time to look back on the catalog so far of one of teen pop's more consistent acts of the last few years.

Demi Lovato Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. The Middle
2. U Got Nothin' On Me
3. Gonna Get Caught
4. Solo
5. Mistake
6. Without The Love
7. Catch Me
8. Two Worlds Collide
9. Got Dynamite
10. Who Will I Be
11. Our Time Is Here (featuring Meaghan Martin)
12. Brand New Day
13. On The Line (featuring the Jonas Brothers)
14. In Case
15. Trainwreck
16. All Night Long (featuring Missy Elliott and Timbaland
17. Who's That Boy (featuring Dev)
18. Fire Starter
19. Unbroken
20. Believe In Me
21. Stop The World
22. Warrior
23. Everything You're Not

Tracks 10 and 11 from Camp Rock (2008)
Tracks 1, 3, 8, 13, 15 and 20 from Don't Forget (2008)
Tracks 2, 4, 7, 9, 21 and 23 from Here We Go Again (2009)
Track 12 from Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (2010)
Tracks 5, 16, 17 and 19 from Unbroken (2011)
Track 6, 14, 18 and 22 from Demi (2013)

Lovato's first couple albums came out at the height of the post-"Since U Been Gone" era, when most female pop singers were basically making glossy guitar-driven power pop. And Lovato was known for actually playing guitar and listening to metal bands, and made some of my favorite music out of that whole wave. Half of Don't Forget was co-written with the Jonas Brothers, and is better than almost anything they ever did for themselves, and Here We Go Again was maybe an even stronger album (aside from one really bad song written by John Mayer). Those albums have often been described as kind of a Radio Disney version of Paramore, but in a weird way I think that's actually backwards -- Demi Lovato has this kind of anxious mall punk edge in her vocal delivery where Hayley Williams sings like a natural born pop star.

Weird side note: I occasionally work with famous people in my teleprompting day job, and I've been in the same room with Demi Lovato a couple times, once meeting her and working with her for an hour or so. In those situations I generally just say hi and do my job, though, so I didn't take the opportunity to, like, tell her that I've listened to all her albums or that I champion her music to other pop critics. She seems nice, though.

Although Lovato has really only become a radio presence with the string of great singles off her last couple albums (the first two albums sold mainly off the strength of Disney Channel ubiquity), the albums themselves are a little spottier and lighter on good deep cuts. About half of Unbroken was saddled with an ill-fated attempt at clubby R&B, although there were a couple tracks I liked enough to put on the playlist, including one of the only Missy Elliott/Timbaland collaborations released in the last decade. Demi was something of a course correction to combine the guitar-driven rock of her early records with slick dance pop in the style of recent Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry records, and it worked fairly well, but "Cool For The Summer" seems like a good omen that she's really figuring out the ideal version of that sound for her next album.

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
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam

Saturday, August 08, 2015
The Short List in the latest City Paper, which includes an obligatory mention of my show on Monday.

TV Diary

Thursday, August 06, 2015

a) "Difficult People"
Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner are hilarious and I've been anticipating this show for a while, and watched the first episodes when the went up on Hulu last night, and the suppporting cast of James Urbaniak and Andrea Martin just sweetens the deal. Eichner and Klausner mostly play less famous versions of themselves and there's a lot of stuff about tweeting and writing TV recaps and making mean jokes about celebrities, which probably shouldn't be good sitcom material, but a few times each episode they get on a roll and it's hilarious.

b) "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll"
I loathe Denis Leary and his stupid little firefighter show that was on for a million years, but this ain't bad. There's a lot of comedic material in a story of an aging rock star trying to make a comeback, and though they go for a lot of the obvious jokes, there are also some decent music nerd references ("You understand him?" "I toured with the Pogues for 9 months, I speak Shane McGowan"). There's way too much of Leary singing, and even if it's kinda played as a joke it's just so unpleasant to hear. I thought Elizabeth Gillies would be some kind of boring straight man foil on this show, but she's probably the smartest character in the room, in addition to being gorgeous and actually having singing ability.

c) "Significant Mother" 
It's hard to think of a less promising context for a scripted series than a sitcom that The CW premieres in August. And the premise, about a guy who starts dating his best friend and roommate's recently divorced mom, is certainly kind of hacky. The show wasn't terrible, but I think they'd need a stronger cast to pull it off. The mom is the only cast member I've seen in anything before, and she was just the elevator girl in Liar Liar.

d) "Tut"
I watched this, or at least I had it on in the background and intermittently paid attention to it, all three nights it was on, which in retrospect was 3 nights too many. The actors and the locations and the costumes were all just 2 or 3 steps below what you'd reasonably hope a TV miniseries about King Tut would have, Ben Kingsley aside.

e) "Impastor"
This show started with a pastor trying to talk a guy out of jumping off of a bridge, and then the pastor falls off the bridge and the suicidal guy decides to start his life over by stealing the pastor's identity. And it's supposed to be a snappy 30-minute sitcom. It never really overcomes that weirdly dark premise, which seems to only exist to justify the show's stupid title, and there's a lot of the usual jokes and tropes of a show about someone who's supposed to keep up a complicated ruse for as long as the show is on the air. There was a decent show a few years ago with a similar premise, "The Riches," but that was a drama. Sara Rue deserves a better gig.

f) "The Jim Gaffigan Show"
liked the episode that was previewed on Gaffigan's site a couple months ago, but now that the show's actually on, I think it's one of the weaker episodes (along with the hotel episode last week, which was just a convoluted "Frasier"-style series of misunderstandings). The other episodes just feel more relaxed and rely on Gaffigan's natural appeal and moments that feel more plausibly taken right out of his daily life.

g) "Sex With Brody"
That Kardashian/Jenner money must be really good for the E! network because they gave a show to maybe the least famous member of the family. And it's not even really a TV show, it's a podcast and they just threw some cameras in the room, basically a "Loveline" knockoff sex advice show, except really stilted and chatty and rarely about the callers in any meaningful way.

h) "Kingin' With Tyga" 
Another person who probably only has a show because of their proximity to the really famous Kardashians and Jenners. I watched an episode of this, just in disbelief that MTV made a show about this guy, and it was terribly mundane shit about him getting a gold toilet installed in his house and painting a wall with Chris Brown.

i) 7 Days In Hell
HBO ran a 40-minute mockumentary in which Andy Samberg and some guy from "Game Of Thrones" play rival tennis players, and the whole thing just felt like an okay "SNL" sketch pointlessly stretched out into something more. There were a few solid gags, and Lena Dunham was surprisingly good doing something wacky and broad, but really nobody needs to see this.

j) "Uncommon Sense" 
MTV, or I guess MTV2 specifically, has spent a lot of energy in the last year or two trying to fit Charlamagne Tha God and various high profile Twitter users into TV shows. And the results have mostly been a bust, and it's just depressing to see Desus and Mero, easily two of the funniest people on Twitter, jump at the chance to be on some of the worst shows on television like "The Guy Code." This show at least kinda gives everyone a chance to do what they do best and say inappropriate things about current events, but the format's a little awkward, I think they'll have to keep retooling it to make it work. They have a lot of people hanging out in the background not saying much, usually people I followed at one point and then quickly unfollowed after I realized how lame they were.

k) "UnREAL"
This has easily been the best new show of the summer, perhaps of 2015. It started out strong and just kept getting better -- it actually kinda reminded me of the first season of "Homeland" or "Damages" in how it set certain expectations for the pace of the story and then just rocketed ahead of them and caught you offguard with increasingly faster, darker plot complications. The fact that it's about the crew of a fluffy reality show but they make you feel the drama and intrigue is all the more remarkable. But most of all, the characters were really well drawn -- you had to feel sympathy with someone and then watch them do something unimaginable, often in the same episode. The hero that you root for and the villain sit down at the end of the show and decide how alike they are.

l) "Stitchers"
Another one of my favorite new shows of the summer, although less bold in its vision. The first few episodes established the characters and dialogue really well, but now it's just kind of a light, character-driven procedural with a sci-fi twist, and that's fine, especially since Allison Scagliotti's role in the show grew over time.

m) "Mr. Robot" 
This show has gotten a lot of hype as being one of the more exciting new summer shows, and I'm still pretty skeptical. It's very dark and slow and moody, but the fact that the characters are working towards the same goal Tyler Durden had just keeps making me think it's some kind of self-serious Fight Club reboot. There have been a couple episodes where there's been enough emphasis on the other characters to make me think it could be a good ensemble show, but a lot of the time I feel like there's just way too much of Rami Malek's character narrating while he broods and stares into the camera.

n) "The Strain"
Ever since they started promoting season 2 of this show with the fact that it was the top rated new cable show last year, I've been kinda scared that it's going to be a cultural juggernaut like "The Walking Dead" and be on forever and that in 5 years every show on cable will be about zombies and vampires and stuff. I like this show, but there are a lot of silly things about it -- certain effects look more ridiculous than cool, and it's frustrating that there are still scenes where NYC cops are, like, surprised by an attack when you know everyone would've heard about the epidemic by then and be on their toes. In a way I think my favorite thing about this show is that for once Kevin Durand gets to play a likable, sympathetic character after a decade of thugs and villains.

o) "BoJack Horseman" 
People keep telling me this show is such a touching, realistic depiction of depression, hidden in the bawdy cartoon about a talking horse. And I got through the somewhat dark second half of the first season and the first few episodes of the new season in good faith, taking their word for it. But man, it still kinda feels like those "Family Guy" episodes where Brian has a drinking problem or relationship problems and there are these clumsy attempts to care about the talking dog's feelings. For every clever gag on here there's just a lot of hacky 'edgy' humor.

p) "Eric Jonrosh's The Spoils Before Dying" 
Having Will Ferrell, as an old gross novelist, host a satire of '70s literary miniseries, is a cute idea. But both this and the first one last year, "The Spoils Of Babylon," lost my interest really quickly. They never really commit to the concept and it just becomes an overlong Funny Or Die sketch. Ferrell's recent Lifetime movie, A Deadly Adoption, felt like a much more successful balancing act of homage and parody.

q) "Married"
Last year FX debuted two relationship shows, "Married" and "You're The Worst," as a block. I thought "Worst" was by far the better show, but it's getting shuffled to FXX later this year while "Married," which has better ratings and a more recognizable cast, returns to FX. That's a little annoying but ultimately I like both shows and am glad they're both continuing. "Married" initially seemed to fall into the same trap as This Is 40 of trying to be warts-and-all about marriage and ending up myopic and depressing, but I think the tone is better now and Judy Greer's innate likability is maintained a little more.

r) "True Detective" 
I like the second season more than a lot of people do, but I'll be the first to admit there's a lot about it that's a total misfire. My new theory is that Vince Vaughn says things just as ridiculous as anything Matthew McConaughey said last year, but this time everybody acts like what the guy is saying is completely normal and so the scenes just make no sense. The last couple episodes of tension ramping up have had some genuinely gripping moments, it just feels like they were built on the shaky foundation of the awkward, confusing early episodes.

s) "Halt And Catch Fire" 
It was kinda cool how the second season of this show ended up basically making the two female leads, Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe, into the protagonists, and made the male leads' stories consistently feel like B plots. It worked, I wouldn't mind if the show stayed like that.

t) "Golan The Insatiable" 
The Fox ADHD programming on Saturday night has mostly felt like a weird flailing attempt at catering to the Adult Swim demographic that has little to do with the animated sitcoms on Sunday night. But this summer Fox took one of the Saturday shorts and made it into a 30-minute Sunday show, and I dunno, it stuck out like a sore thumb. A couple good jokes in the episodes I watched but just such an annoying 'wacky' premise.

u) "Rectify"
I get that this show is a deliberately slow, morally ambiguous Southern gothic deal, and I respect the degree to which they've pulled that off as a TV series. I dunno if it's for me, though. There are times when it just feels like a parade of misery on the scale of, like, Monster's Ball. And sometimes the dialogue is just ridiculous. Someone will say "I've been thinkin' about time," and someone else will reply, with a straight face, "It hangs over all of us."

v) "Hollywood Game Night"
I have a theory that NBC only keeps this show on the air so that SNL can do parody sketches, because a game show sketch where they can throw in random celebrity impressions is the holy grail of lazy SNL writing. I like the sketches, though, and I even like this stupid show.

w) "Masters Of Sex"
One nice thing about a show based on people's real lives is that it actually moves through different phases of their lives instead of trying to remain in a holding pattern for as long as possible. So season 2 represented a small shift from season 1, and season 3 is a bigger one, and it's exciting to see. Josh Charles joining the show is a great development, don't know how much he'll actually be in it this season but I hope it's a lot.

x) "Comedy Bang! Bang!" 
This show is absolute garbage, Scott Aukerman is just horribly unpleasant and unfunny, and it always felt like he and Reggie Watts didn't even have enough rapport to pull off a host/bandleader rapport. Now, Watts is on James Corden's show on CBS, a real talk show (where the chemistry with the host is still flat), and "Comedy Bang! Bang!" has replaced him with Kid Cudi, which is just hilarious. Not hilarious because Cudi is funny, but because he thinks he's funny enough to be on a weekly comedy show. The guy's charisma has always been a polite fiction that he and the music industry agree to pretend exists, but TV cameras are a lot more unforgiving about that kind of thing.

y) "Last Comic Standing" 
It's funny that they opened this season just totally admitting that Amy Schumer is now the show's most famous alumnus. She only got 4th place, but I watched that year, she totally deserved to win. So far there's been some promising comics, I like that they go straight to the big live competition and don't do the "American Idol"-style cattle call episodes or make them live in a house together anymore. Norm MacDonald is a great addition to the judges' table, the guy is just so strange as always but he's actually had some interesting, brutally honest feedback for the comics. Keenen Ivory Wayans doesn't really ever have much of substance to say, though. I just picture him thinking "I wouldn't hire any of these people, they're not related to me."

z) "The Daily Show"
The end of the Jon Stewart era makes me sad, but it's not like Letterman going off the air where I'm really that sentimental about it. In fact, I'm ready to move on and see whether Trevor Noah can overcome the skepticism. I really hope Jessica Williams stays on the show, though.

Monthly Report: July 2015 Albums

Monday, August 03, 2015

1. Future - DS2
Rap has always been fickle, but it's been interesting to see in the last few years how an artist's buzz can wax and wane in incredibly quick and strangely subtle ways that you have to be really paying attention to really comprehend. Big Sean and Nicki Minaj also had career dips on their 2nd major label albums and then got back on track with the 3rd, but it was really dramatic with Future. It's always been this way; LL Cool J had one of the most storied comebacks in rap history ("don't call it a comeback" notwithstanding) but it wasn't that he stopped having hits, he just needed to get some momentum back. The same thing happened with Future (in this analogy, "Move That Dope" is "Jinglin' Baby"), and you have to give him some credit for how quickly he turned things around with the mixtapes. I wasn't the biggest fan of the tapes -- Beast Mode was my favorite but I wasn't playing any of 'em around the clock, they were just kind of refreshing after Honest ironically felt like Future not really being himself. This album just feels so confident, though, Metro Boomin isn't really my favorite member of his production team but he really went in here, everything sounds so full and bold, the drums and synths getting an even harder edge than on the tapes. The album starts out a little lacking in variety but by the end you start getting outliers like "Blood On The Money" and "The Percocet & Stripper Joint" and "Kno The Meaning" that tie it all together pretty well. Here's the Spotify playlist I put all the 2015 albums I'm listening to into.

2. SiR - Seven Sundays 
This is an R&B record from an industry songwriter dude who's worked with Tyrese and Jill Scott and went off and made his own music. And it's really lovely stuff, there's a warmth in his voice and the production feels gentle and homespun without going into any trendy alt R&B thing. `

3. Damond Blue - Blessonz
Writing about local and independent artists, you try to time your coverage to release dates but it rarely works out. I ran a City Paper story last year about this album on the premise that it was about to come out in November. 8 months later, it's finally here, and I'm just glad it's out. I saw Damond Blue for the first time when he was a teenager in the group Yung Huslas, and it's been great to see him come back and grow into one of Baltimore's better rappers. The album has a lot of pretty big guests (Bun B, Fat Trel, King Los, Young Moose) but Blue is really the focus, the storytelling track "Eddie" is probably my favorite. Listen to it here.

4. Diablo Flamez - Duct Tape & Coffee Grounds
The place where I first saw Damond Blue perform 10 years ago, Club 429, is also where I first saw this guy named Diablo perform an incredibly catchy track called "Jail Flick." Soon after, his production team Darkroom Productions released a mixtape inspired by "The Wire" called Hamsterdam, and that eventually snowballed into them doing music for "The Wire" and "Jail Flick" being featured on the show. I was always looking forward to Diablo making an album back when all that was happening, but for some reason it never did, so I'm glad he finally got one together, it's dope. "Same Way" is my favorite here, dude has such a great voice and unique flow. Listen to it here.

5. The Bird And The Bee - Recreational Love
Since the last time The Bird And Bee released an album of original material, one half of the band, Greg Kurstin, became a Top 40 hitmaker, and he's had singles by Sia and Beck and Kelly Clarkson on the radio in the last few months. Before, they were making quirky electro pop on Blue Note Records, but it's maybe even more odd that they're now on Rostrum, the label that launched Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. This album is delightful, though, it feels like they learned something from doing an album of Hall & Oates covers and the hooks are stronger and more immediate than on their earlier records.

6. Eleni Mandell - Dark Lights Up
Eleni Mandell is in a group, The Living Sisters, with The Bird And The Bee's Inara George and she's been consistently releasing great, unique records since the '90s and really never gets the attention she deserves. In fact I didn't even realize until this album was announced that she released another one last year that I never heard about, so I still need to catch up. This one is a little more jazzy and cozy and relaxed than my favorite stuff from her, but it's still charming stuff with great playing and production. "China Garden Buffet" and "Butter Blonde And Chocolate Brown" are the kind of textured, writerly songs that make Mandell one of my favorite lyricists out there.

7. Buddy Guy - Born To Play Guitar
I covered the Foo Fighters' big 20th anniversary concert for Rolling Stone last month, and one of the openers was Buddy Guy. He played late in the day and I kinda thought the crowd would ignore him, being the oldest guy on the bill and not even having any classic rock staples like Heart or whatever. But he just came out with incredible energy and that screaming guitar sound and everyone was on their feet, it was a great moment. I should really catch up on his older stuff, but the new album is good. I love hearing someone who's almost 80 and has no reason to make new music go out there and do something this lively, reflecting on his life with the kind of warmth and irreverence that he does on "Wear You Out" and "Turn Me Wild."

8. Gunplay - Living Legend
Timing is the most important factor in the success of rap albums now -- not hit singles, not the success of previous projects, not co-signs, just the matter of whether people feel like it's your time or a peak moment for you or if they think you're already part of the past. Gunplay had a moment around 2012-2013 when Maybach Music Group was launching major stars and it looked like he could be next, just off the strength of his vivid word choices and insane life. He was basically on the same level as Kendrick when they made "Cartoon And Cereal." So this album, which felt like it was never gonna drop, feels like too little too late -- even the single with YG and DJ Mustard is about a year behind when it might've made an impact. And it feels very much tied to the height of MMG as a brand a few years ago, compared to the last Meek Mill and Wale albums that felt like they had moved on to a more updated aesthetic. In spite of all this, though, this is a pretty solid album, captures a lot of what we liked about Gunplay to begin with. The Migos album only came out a matter of months after their buzz peaked, but it feels like it has way less of what people actually liked about them.

9. Lil Wayne - Free Weezy Album
In the last few months, Wayne seems to have finally lost the support of the weirdly loyal fans who tolerated the garbage music he was making most of the time in 2009-2012. In the last couple years I really think he's rebounded and is writing better than he was for a while, but again timing is everything in rap, and all that Carter III-era momentum has dissipated so it doesn't matter, he's been written off. This album is obviously not amazing, but I think it's better than it gets credit for, I like "Thinkin' Bout You" and "London Roads" and "I'm That N****" and "White Girl" in particular.

10. Sevyn Streeter - Shoulda Been There Pt. 1 EP
Sevyn Streeter's one of my favorite newish voices in R&B the last few years, and she really hasn't gotten a fair shake. She's had 3 good-sized radio hits now, but the biggest of them kind of got cannibalized by a remix with Chris Brown just as it was blowing up, and instead of releasing an album she's now on her second EP (which, judging from the title, will be followed by a third EP before there's an album). It's all aggravating, because she has such a dreamy voice, and she's written so many good songs for herself and others, she's the whole package, but the current climate is terrible for women in R&B. This EP only runs 24 minutes, but it has some great songs (including one of my favorite singles of the year, "Don't Kill The Fun"). And the interstitial skits really make it feel as cohesive and thought out as an album (they remind me, probably deliberately, of the interludes on janet.). I wish "4th Street" was on it, too.

Worst Album of the Month: Public Enemy - Man Plans God Laughs
I wasn't trying to be petty here, I checked out the album in good faith, because Public Enemy were amazing back in the day and this is certainly a time when political rappers have a lot to write about. Last year I participated in Rolling Stone's pretty diverse list of 2014's best rap albums, for which I was called out by name on Twitter by Chuck D for supporting "CORP low bar" music. But honestly I kinda wanted this album to kick my ass and make me feel apologetic to Chuck, and instead it just sounds awful. I don't know who these producers are that they got working on it, but the beats sound nothing like Public Enemy and even less like anything anyone wants to hear in 2015, and they just have no idea how to make Chuck's voice and flow sound good. Chuck D was one of the oldest rappers out when Public Enemy started, which means he's the first major MC to release an album at the age of 54 (he just turned 55 the other day), and I wish he could beat the odds and still sound great. Is it worse than the Confrontation Camp album that I panned in my embarrassing infancy as a music writer? No. But it's not much better.