Deep Album Cuts Vol. 57: Beyonce

Wednesday, February 24, 2016























It's been 18 years since "No, No, No," 16 years since her first masterpiece, "Bills, Bills, Bills," and 13 years since her solo debut. So it's pretty amazing that Beyonce is arguably at her artistic pinnacle right now, coming off of probably the best album of her career (it's tied with B'Day for me personally), and able to command the world's attention with a song and video like "Formation." It's exciting to think about what she could do next, and how many musicians can you say that about that you've been listening to since the '90s?

I've long hesitated to do a Beyonce deep cuts playlist, for logistical reasons. Do I combine her discography with Destiny's Child just to cram in my favorite The Writing's On The Wall tracks? So many of her songs got airplay without being singles, were released as singles outside the U.S., or had videos (including every song on B'Day and Beyonce) that it can be hard to even say what the deep cuts are. After the release of Beyonce, it was clear she had enough songs to fill out a great playlist, but I wanted to wait until its long singles campaign played out to see what deep cuts were left. I was incensed that "Rocket" was never released as a single, but the upside is that at least I can include it now.

Beyonce Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Freakum Dress
2. Schoolin' Life
3. Rocket
4. Scared Of Lonely
5. I Care
6. Blue featuring Blue Ivy
7. Signs featuring Missy Elliott
8. Kitty Kat
9. Disappear
10. Jealous
11. End Of Time
12. Suga Mama
13. Yes
14. Haunted
15. Flaws And All
16. Resentment
17. No Angel
18. 1 + 1

Tracks 7 and 13 from Dangerously In Love (2003)
Tracks 1, 8, 13 and 16 from B'Day (2006)
Track 15 from B'Day deluxe edition (2007)
Track 9 from I Am... Sasha Fierce (2008)
Track 4 from I Am... Sasha Fierce deluxe edition (2008)
Tracks 5, 11 and 18 from 4 (2011)
Track 2 from 4 deluxe edition (2011)
Tracks 3, 6, 10, 14 and 17 from Beyonce (2013)

Looking back on her catalog, I'm impressed that almost every album (except probably I Am... Sasha Fierce) represents a noticeable step forward in Beyonce's creative process, how she wrote and who she wrote with, the aesthetic she pursued, how much she was willing to defy radio trends. Critical narratives might say that those kinds of growth spurts only happened on the last two albums, but I think there was an especially big one on B'Day.

One of the things that I think sets Beyonce apart in history is that big voiced R&B stars often score a lot of hits with ballads and slow jams, but most of her biggest moments have been danceable. I think there's a lot of reasons for this, but it also leaves a lot of slower or more introspective material to mine on the deep cuts, and I love songs like "Blue" and "1 + 1." But there's still a lot of bangers, you can practically play all of B'Day in the club, and songs like "Freakum Dress" got a fair amount of spins without a single release.

Most of these albums reportedly had dozens of songs recorded for them and most of them went unreleased, but it was interesting to hear what got relegated to bonus tracks. "Schoolin' Life" is one of her clear greatest songs and in some ways it's the most insightful thing she's ever sung about herself, but it didn't make the main tracklist of 4 for some reason. I never liked 4 as much as some people because I thought there were a few too many duds and a terrible running order, so I actually prefer the 2013 re-release that reshuffles the order and adds "Schoolin' Life" and "Dance For You" (I don't recommend the reshuffled 2007 version of B'Day, though, it totally ruins it).

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
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles

Monthly Report: February 2016 Singles

Friday, February 19, 2016




























1. Maren Morris - "My Church"
One thing about country radio being extremely homogeneous and male-dominated in the last few years is that it really helps the more atypical songs from female artists stand out more. I can remember vividly the first time I heard Kacey Musgraves on the radio, or Maddie & Tae, and Maren Morris's "My Church" similarly demanded my attention a few weeks ago. And really, "My Church" is up my alley because it celebrates the car radio, something that my daily life revolves around and also the thing that introduced me to the song itself. Morris's whole EP that came out in November is really good, I like "'80s Mercedes" and "I Wish I Was" about as much as the single. Here's the 2016 singles playlist I add to every month, although only 8 of this month's songs are even on Spotify.

2. Jeremih - "Oui"
One of the odd little side effects of the Late Nights album's incredibly long journey to getting released in December is that it's now spun off significant radio hits in three consecutive calendar years -- "Don't Tell 'Em" and "Planes" were #1 on R&B radio in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and now "Oui" is rising up the top 10. And I love that they're all pretty distinctly different-sounding songs, "Oui" isn't unprecedented in terms of what's been on his previous albums but I didn't really think he'd ever have a single that sounds like this, all sweet and floaty and piano-driven.

3. DNCE - "Cake By The Ocean"
I've always been strongly partisan about Nick being the superior Jonas brother, and I thought the matter had been pretty decisively settled back in 2014 when "Jealous" hit. But Nick's singles since "Jealous" have been pretty underwhelming, and Joe has unexpectedly staged a comeback with a funk band called DNCE and a sleeper hit that's been steadily rising up the charts for months. I still have no idea if "cake by the ocean" is a euphemism for something and I kinda don't wanna know, somehow it just plays into the song's goofy appeal. Maxwell has been teasing a song called "Lake By The Ocean" for years that's supposedly his next single, and I feel like he's gonna really regret waiting to release it after "Cake By The Ocean" was a hit.

4. Thomas Rhett - "Die A Happy Man"
Thomas Rhett has been on a run of chart-topping country radio hits throughout his first and second albums, but "Die A Happy Man" has been the biggest, and actually the longest-running country #1 in like 8 years. It's not as good as "Make Me Wanna" or "Crash And Burn," but it's a pretty sweet little ballad. "Die A Happy Man" is actually on the Hot 100 twice right now, because longtime country dilettante Nelly released a pretty regrettable cover of it, hopefully that won't ever get bigger than the original.

5. Eric Church - "Mr. Misunderstood"
Eric Church is country's only major star these days who's ornery enough to release lead singles that aren't an easy fit for radio and save the hits for later in the album cycle. The title track of The Outsiders peaked at #25 on Country Airplay before a couple of the album's other singles went to #1, and now Mr. Misunderstood's title track has only done a little better at #15. It's not even that odd a song, really catchy even, but a self-mythologizing country song that talks up Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy instead of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash probably counts as a curveball.

6. DJ Luke Nasty - "Might Be"
Now that rappers like Bobby Shmurda, T-Wayne, and even my friend Tate Kobang have launched careers off of mixtape freestyles over other rappers' beats, there's really no rules any more about how that works. But it's still pretty strange and surprising that, as Anderson .Paak's buzz continues to rise after two independent albums and a deal with Aftermath, that a relatively unknown artist is getting huge radio spins for a re-recording of his 2014 song "Might Be." It's got new verses but more or less the exact same beat and hook, and it's a really catchy song in either iteration but I don't really see any logic in why Luke Nasty's one became the hit other than that he chose to push it. But who I really feel bad for is Styles P, whose 2002 hit "Good Times" also revolved around a loop of the word "high," but in more chaste times Styles needed a radio edit that changed it to "by" and Luke Nasty doesn't.

7. Prince - "1000 X's & O's"
The two albums Prince released exclusively on Tidal last year didn't make much of a splash, but one of the better songs from them has become something of a radio hit, lurking around the lower reaches of the R&B charts for a few months now. It's actually a very old song from his vaults, though, initially written for Rosie Gaines way back in 1992 under the title "A 1,000 Hugs And Kisses," played live once in 2007, and then unexpectedly revived with a whole new arrangement in 2015. It's frustrating that his odd mercurial career path in the last couple decades hasn't included more R&B radio hits since it's so clear he has a ton of songs that would sound great on the radio, and this is the first one to make any impact since "Call My Name" and "Black Sweat" a decade ago.

8. Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello - "I Know What You Did Last Summer"
I was pretty content to hate Shawn Mendes, the biggest pop star thus far whose career has been launched through Vine, based on his first hit. But I actually really like his second hit, even though the chorus is ridiculously just reading the title of I Know What You Did Last Summer, a terrible movie released a year before Mendes was born.

9. Taylor Swift - "Out Of The Woods"
Taylor Swift is one of the last pop stars left who can do the endless 18-month album promo cycle. And it's illustrative of just how long the 1989 cycle has dragged on that the video for the 6th single, "Out Of The Woods," features subliminal Harry Styles references in response to One Direction's "Perfect," which was itself a response to 1989's third single "Style." It's a good song, though, I'm glad she's winding down with a good single after the awful "Bad Blood" and "Wildest Dreams." And I really liked that Bleachers record, so I'm glad one of the Jack Antonoff co-writes finally got a single release.

10. One Direction - "History"
Made In The A.M. is full of songs with a sense of finality, often bombastic and tearjerking, and several of them would've been appropriate picks for the band's last single before a long hiatus. But I'm glad they went with "History," which has a playful lightness to it that the other songs lack. Also it's a reminder that even One Direction's minor singles are generally better than that big corny blockbuster Zayn just released.

Worst Single of the Month: Justin Timberlake - "Drink You Away"
Now that the nightmarish second 20/20 Experience album is 2 and a half years in the rearview, it's been nice to put that lousy chapter in Timberlake's career to bed. But then, Timberlake went on TV and performed a medley with Chris Stapleton that included the awful clunky 'country song' from his last album, and the damn thing wound up on the pop and country charts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016



















I wrote the obituary of Reggie Reg, a Baltimore DJ and radio legend who passed away recently, for this week's Baltimore City Paper. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016






















Noisey asked 41 writers, including me, to dash off quick first impression reviews of Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo. I mostly just talked about Walk Hard though.

Movie Diary

Monday, February 15, 2016



























a) Unfriended
13 years ago J.G. and I got snowed in and spent our first Valentine's Day together watching horror movies and eating Chinese food, so that's been our annual tradition ever since. This year, we got Lucky Fortune for dinner and watched Unfriended, the movie where a girl who committed suicide after being cyberbullied comes back to haunt her tormentors through their computers. Extremely of-the-moment horror movies like this can go either way, but I'm glad movies like this and Paranormal Activity and even Oculus are incorporating technology into the plot and just having the supernatural elements override them. The whole conceit of this entire movie taking place on someone's screen seems risky, but it kind of contributes to the claustrophobic vibe that makes you feel the characters' anxiety.

b) Tomorrowland
Brad Bird is in a very small club of filmmakers who've directed multiple major animated as well as live action films (in fact, I don't even know who else is in the club besides George "Mad Max AND Happy Feet!?" Miller). But with this one, I get why it was live action, but it seemed so obvious how easily this could've been an animated feature with a few minor tweaks, and honestly if it looked as good as The Iron Giant or The Incredibles I would've liked it way more.

c) Get Hard
Will Ferrell past his peak still has a pretty strong sense of what a Will Ferrell movie is, and Kevin Hart movies don't have a very high ceiling of quality, but he also knows his lane pretty well. So it's depressing to see these two huge comedy stars actually find common ground that's relatively close to both of their niches, and it just all goes pretty wrong with a lot of tacky, crass, boilerplate stuff that anybody could've done.

d) The Boy Next Door
I'm amazed that '80s-style erotic thrillers are still a thing that studios want to make and audiences occasionally want to see, in this day and age, this weird guilty pleasure fetishistic treatment of stalking and abusive relationships. This one piles on icky teacher/student stuff and trendy 'cougar' undertones, and does a pretty good job of being kind of innocuously lurid. But then, it builds to a third act that kinda got crazier than I expected it to, with some nutty dialogue and gorey twists that I kind of want to spoil -- okay, fuck it, here's a spoiler, the bad guy gets stabbed in the eye, it's awesome. 

e) Reach Me
I have a weird obsession with the last two decades' constant stream of generic middling post-Pulp Fiction "sprawling ensemble movie about the loosely connected lives of Los Angeles residents" movies. This one at least has a vaguely interesting angle that makes it feel slightly less pointless and rudderless than these movies often are, but all the different storylines seem to veer wildly in tone, and it never really makes use of having a totally batshit cast that includes Sylvester Stallone, Kelsey Grammer, Nelly, and Danny Trejo.

f) Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
I saw the first Sin City movie in the theater and found it to be a pretty enjoyable experience -- the aesthetic felt genuinely bold at the time, and it was a lot funnier than I expected it to be. But I don't think it's dated very well over the past decade, and they definitely waited way way too long to try to capitalize on it with a sequel. This didn't even seem bad per se, just kind of stale and anticlimactic. 

g) Hateship Loveship
I thought Kristen Wiig did a great job in The Skeleton Twins with a dramatic role, and holds down this fairly dark movie really well, with a couple of odd little moments in her performance that a more typical dramatic actor might not have been able to pull off. I didn't love the movie, but I don't know, I didn't dislike it, it was pretty good for what it was.

h) Wrecked
I dig movies like this, that kind of plunge you into the middle of the story and let you kind of figure out what's going on from there. This movie opens with Adrien Brody waking up in a car crash, the only survivor with two dead guys, in the middle of nowhere, and he can't really remember anything. So pretty much the entire movie is this grueling experience of him slowly getting out of the car with a broken leg, trying to get out of the forest, and slowly regaining his memory of how he got there. The movie keeps you guessing until the end about whether he's a sympathetic character or a pretty bad guy who deserves the situation he's in, and Brody manages to pull off the role so that it really works either way. It wasn't perfect but I really liked it and admired its dedication to the premise. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 56: The Beatles

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
























One of the vague missions of this series is to examine and uplift the album tracks by artists who are maybe only respected for their singles and aren't considered to have any classic albums. But as the series has gone on and on for dozens of installments, I don't feel as compelled to avoid the canonical 'album artists' that I tried to sidestep early on. But The Beatles always seemed vaguely off-limits just because their music wasn't on Spotify or other streaming services and, for a while, seemed like they never would be. So when The Beatles catalog finally hit Spotify in December, it became irresistible to not dig into the riches of their catalog.

The Beatles Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Misery
2. It Won't Be Long
3. Don't Bother Me
4. I Call Your Name
5. Any Time At All
6. I'm A Loser
7. I've Just Seen A Face
8. Wait
9. You Won't See Me
10. If I Needed Someone
11. She Said She Said
12. And Your Bird Can Sing
13. Good Day Sunshine
14. Good Morning Good Morning
15. Fixing A Hole
16. She's Leaving Home
17. Within You Without You
18. Your Mother Should Know
19. Dear Prudence
20. Glass Onion
21. Savoy Truffle
22. Wild Honey Pie
23. Rocky Raccoon
24. Oh! Darling
25. You Never Give Me Your Money
26. I Want You (She's So Heavy)
27. Dig It
28. Two Of Us

Track 1 from Please Please Me (1963)
Tracks 2 and 3 from With The Beatles (1963)
Track 4 from Long Tall Sally EP (1964)
Track 5 from A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Track 6 from Beatles For Sale (1964)
Track 7 from Help! (1965)
Tracks 8, 9 and 10 from Rubber Soul (1965)
Tracks 11, 12 and 13 from Revolver (1966)
Tracks 14, 15, 16 and 17 from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Track 18 from Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Tracks 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 from The Beatles (1968)
Tracks 24, 25 and 26 from Abbey Road (1969)
Tracks 27 and 28 from Let It Be (1970)

It's hard to call any song that appeared on any Beatles album "obscure," and a lot of songs that I would now consider their most famous works were never released as an A side on a single. So, as with some previous entries like Jay-Z, I kinda tried to avoid some of the album tracks that would probably be considered hits by any reasonable measure (and still, of course, there are some songs that you might consider to famous to be here, but it is what it is).

I grew up steeped in classic rock, but my '50s baby parents always had pretty '70s-heavy record collections, and I heard fairly little in the way of Beatles albums growing up, even if I obviously heard The Beatles about as much as can be expected in late 20th century America. What was nice about that is that in my late teens and twenties, I got to check out the albums on my own and kind of come into Beatles fandom and stop hearing them as pop culture wallpaper. The summer I was 19, I lived with a buddy who had The White Album on vinyl, and I remember putting on side A and just having my mind blown by "Dear Prudence" and "Glass Onion," just finally feeling excited about The Beatles in a way I hadn't been before, and that album remains one of my favorites of all time. So basically, these are mostly songs that won me over as a Beatles agnostic, and these are songs that I would play to try and shake a Beatles agnostic out of their indifference to the band.

I tend to look at Lennon/McCartney as one of the greatest songwriting teams ever instead of getting too caught up in taking sides or building one of them up to tear the other down. That said, I have little use for the way Lennon has been posthumously romanticized and think of him as a huge asshole whose post-Beatles work is a lot weaker than McCartney's. Within the Beatles, though, I think they were well matched talents and Lennon wrote a lot of brilliant songs. So while I picked songs for this without too much of a thought to who wrote what, I ended up with a little more John than Paul, particularly on the early albums. And of course there's a lot of George Harrison, who, aside from "Something," was pretty much always consigned to deep cuts -- here, I included "Don't Bother Me," "If I Needed Someone," "Within You Without You," and "Savoy Truffle" (things like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Here Comes The Sun" were in that category of album tracks that felt too famous to include 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
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles

TV Diary

Friday, February 05, 2016




























a) "The Magicians"
This is, along with "The Expanse," one of the more impressive-looking new shows that SyFy has debuted in the last couple months as part of an attempt to revamp their original programming and get some cool cable drama buzz. And like "The Expanse," the pilot featured a gravity-defying scene of people having sex in midair. But otherwise, they're both pretty enjoyable, smart shows that don't lean too heavily on cheap titillation like that. "The Magicians" is based on a book series about a secret college for people with magical powers, and it kind of sidesteps too much of a Harry-Potter-with-adults vibe, the first few episodes have set some interesting stories in motion.

b) "American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson"
After last fall's wearying one-two punch of "Scream Queens" and "American Horror Story: Hotel," I was ready to just stop even trying to give Ryan Murphy's goofy, incoherent shows a chance. But I'm glad I checked this out -- since it actually has an inherently fascinating real life story to draw from, a lot of the things that put me off of his other shows aren't very present. And his eye for casting and lurid mix of comedy and melodrama suits this subject pretty well. The O.J. saga unfolded when I was 12-13 years old and was a really surreal formative experience, and while there was a point where I would've been happy to never hear about it again, 20 years feels like enough time to revisit it in this way. The first episode had an interesting mix of reenactments of moments we've heard about a hundred times and some unexpected touches, like Darden and Cochran's relationship before the trial, which I never really knew about.

c) "Grease: Live!"
It's been interesting to see NBC experiment with live musicals over the past 3 years, and I guess it's officially a successful idea, since another network, FOX, has finally copied it. I've never been able to sit through any of these 3-hour monstrosities all the way through, but I watched more of this one than the others, mainly because I have something of a soft spot for Grease, it's such a ridiculous smutty retro exercise and there are some really good songs. And I thought that aside from kind of a bland Danny Zuko, the casting was pretty good in this, Vanessa Hudgens was a great Rizzo, and it was great to see my boo Kether Donahue from "You're The Worst" get some shine.

d) "You, Me And The Apocalypse"
Even though this show has a lot of American cast members and takes place partly in the U.S., it still feels very much like a British production with a British creator, and I wonder if maybe the British farce vibe just doesn't match my comedic sensibility. Like, the episodes are an hour long, and I don't think I laughed once in the first two. It's just treading the same territory as a lot of other recent satires about the end of the world, and the more unique touches just make it feel more loud and unfunny.

e) "Lucifer"
This is apparently based on a comic book, where the devil gets bored in Hell and decides to go to Los Angeles for kicks. The whole thing feels like such a goofy one trick pony, but at least it's put together pretty entertainingly and the actor playing Lucifer, Tom Ellis, is having a lot of fun with the role.

f) "Recovery Road"
This show on Freeform (formerly ABC Family) is based on a Young Adult novel and threatens to veer into afterschool special territory, but so far it feels like a pretty smart, empathetic look at addiction. The lead, played by Jessica Sula, is a really smart, well written protagonist, but you also get to see her in denial and losing control and see her situation from the perspective of the people around her.

g) "Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands"
The production values on this show are kinda cool, I like the way the monsters look. But the idea of turning an epic poem into 13 episodes of television and creating a bunch of new stories and characters seems fraught with bad ideas, and there's a lot of stuff in here with people with modern-looking Macklemore haircuts,

h) "Baskets"
It's time that we admit, as a nation, that most of the ideas that Louis C.K. has that don't come in the form of jokes he tells onstage are pretty bad ideas. I don't really know what to make of this show yet, I'm still trying to give it a chance. But I've never really liked Zach Galifianakis's bit in standup specials where he has an effeminate twin brother, and I'm not wild about that concept being carried into this show. Louie Anderson playing his mother, like just playing a woman straight up like Divine in Hairspray, is interesting and probably the most successful aspect of the show but I'm still kind of ambivalent about it.

i) "The Circus: Inside The Greatest Political Show On Earth" 
Television news has basically played into the worst aspects of the modern presidential campaign and is completely unwatchable for me at this point, so I generally only follow this stuff online and in print. So it's pretty great to see Showtime attempt this ambitious weekly docuseries, with three journalists following around the candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire and so on. There's a little bit of big picture stuff about the emerging narratives of the election cycle but it's mostly a lot of interesting little revealing moments and surreal scenes at rallies and on campaign buses and quiet little private interviews with Cruz and Sanders and Rubio and others.

j) "The Greatest Party Story Ever" 
This MTV show, where a bunch of high school and college kids narrate animate animated depictions of their personal anecdotes, remind me of Comedy Central's many '90s and '00s-era attempts to meld animation with standup comedy. It's an interesting format, but they don't do it very well here, it's more "Shorties Watchin' Shorties" than "Dr. Katz."

k) "Angel From Hell" 
Jane Lynch's role in "Angel From Hell" strongly resembles her character from Role Models, which is in my opinion one of the funniest things she ever did, so it's on the right track in that respect. But the premise of the show, where she might be a woman's guardian angel or just a delusional drunk, is just so strange. I think they actually balance the dark, bawdy humor with the magical, sentimental undertones pretty well, I just have a hard time picturing this show as a long-running success.

l) "The Lion Guard"
After all the direct-to-video sequels and the "Timon And Pumbaa" show, Disney is still milking the Lion King cash cow with a new series, which my 6-year-old is predictably very excited about. It's okay for what it is, but I'm irrationally irritated about how the new comic relief sidekick is a honey badger -- even if there are honey badgers in Africa, that just feels like an unnecessary hat tip to an internet meme.

m) "Killing Fields"
This is a documentary series on the Discovery Channel about Louisiana detectives trying to solve a cold case from the '90s, which of course brings to mind the first season of "True Detective." But it's exec produced by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, and has a very cinematic "Homocide: Life On The Street" feel, was a lot more interesting to me than, say, "Making A Murderer," although I don't know if I'll be able to stomach watching every episode.

n) "Almost Genius" 
TruTV has made some encouraging inroads into comedic original programming lately with stuff like "Adam Ruins Everything," but wow, this show is just one of the worst things I've ever seen, it's just viral videos with annoying sketch comedy players inserting themselves into the videos with greenscreen.

o) "The Venture Bros."
"The Venture Bros." debuted over 12 years ago and only just began its 6th season. But the increasingly long breaks between seasons have always been worth the wait, and I'm so glad these guys are still taking the time to make hilarious, densely written episodes of one of my favorite shows on television. The first episode of the new season felt more like a reboot than anything the show's done before, with the main characters collecting a big inheritance and moving to New York, which is the kind of thing that would make most other shows terrible but really just opens up a lot of narrative and comedic possibilities here. But mostly I'm just glad that they finally seem to be putting Brock Sampson back at home with the Ventures, which they've really avoided too much in recent seasons.

p) "The X-Files" 
I have fond memories of watching the early seasons of "The X-Files" on Friday nights with my dad and my brother, but I never really kept up with it in those later years or even saw the movies. And I have very mixed feelings about all the old cult shows that are being brought back these days. So far, the first 3 of these 6 new episodes have felt like a weird mixed bag, where they're trying to run through the whole variety of 'mytharc' and 'monster of the week' episodes as quickly as possible. And while I enjoyed Joel McHale's whole ridiculous Infowars-type character, the straight up comedy of the 3rd episode was maybe a little too wacky and on-the-nose. But again, I don't think I have enough of a sentimental attachment to "X-Files" anymore to be upset about it, I'm just kind of along for the ride until it gets boring, just like the first time.

Monthly Report: January 2016 Albums

Monday, February 01, 2016






























1. David Bowie - 
I'm glad that I listened to this album the weekend it was released, before Bowie passed away, so I could appreciate it at least once without the context of his death looming over it. Obviously, that context gives the album a different kind of significance, maybe some more weight, but it sounded pretty damn good without it. I liked The Next Day but this feels like a much bolder statement, belonging in that special subset of Bowie albums that are just of their own world. I really like jittery drums on the title track and "Sue," and "I Can't Give Everything Away" is a really beautiful, strange finale. Only David Bowie could have complete creative control over his own death. Here's my new Spotify playlist of all the albums I'm listening to in 2016.

2. Boosie Badazz - In My Feelings (Goin' Thru It)
When it became apparent that David Bowie had made his album while dying of cancer, I immediately thought about the fact that Boosie had released an album a week earlier that's all about his recent cancer diagnosis. It's really not clear what's going on with him health-wise, but his music's been pretty dark since he got out of prison, and this album is just harrowing stuff, 33 minutes of self-released music that he seemed to rush out while the feeling was fresh (there's apparently another album coming in February). My dad got a Staph infection in December, and I've spent more time in a hospital the past couple months than in my entire life before that, it's just been a really dark stressful time, and I appreciate having records like this that can kinda tap into what I'm feeling and put it in perspective.

3. Brothers Osborne - Pawn Shop
"Stay A Little Longer" was one of my favorite country singles of 2015. And the full-length version of the track, which ran past 5 minutes with half of it given over to guitar solos, set my expectations for an album that would establish John Osborne as a guitar hero. Instead, Pawn Shop has only one other song that goes past 4 minutes, and only a couple with particularly memorable guitar solos (the one on "Down Home" is pretty great). But T.J. Osborne has a great voice and Jay Joyce remains the best producer in country music, so this is a pretty enjoyable record. I'll still hope that they get comfortable enough to stretch their legs and jam more on a future album, though.

4. Kevin Gates - Islah
Atlantic Records has distributed four "retail mixtapes" by Kevin Gates over the last three years, minimally promoted projects that seemed aimed at growing a regional star's fanbase organically, just letting him do his thing and refine his dark, idiosyncratic sound and score a couple minor radio hits in the process. Islah is the big 'debut album' that Atlantic has ostensibly been building up to over the years, but it sounds and feels more or less like the mixtapes, with no guests (other than a bonus track on the deluxe edition that has three R&B stars stuffed onto it, like some kind of weird emergency back-up hit to use if needed). And it's refreshing to see them put that kind of confidence behind a guy with little crossover appeal, just letting him put his all into making songs as catchy as "Really Really" and "Kno One" but also rap his ass off on "Not The Only One" and experiment with different sounds on "Told Me" and "Hard For" and be a controversial, problematic figure on "The Truth."

5. Future - Purple Reign
I was really anticipating Ape Shit as the likely next Future mixtape since he and Mike WiLL Made It have such a history together and haven't done a lot together lately (and funnily enough I predicted 5 different projects from Future in 2016 in this piece, none of which was Purple Reign). So this wasn't as exciting to me as another mixtape with pretty much the same production lineup as DS2 and What A Time. But this tape is pretty solid and I think keeps Future's streak going, even his streak has been going long enough now that people are eager to proclaim it over just to be the first to jump off the bandwagon. I like "Drippin'" and "Salute" the most so far although most of his projects since Pluto have been growers for me, it takes me a while to really find my favorites. Listen to it on DatPiff.

6. Rihanna - Anti
This album's long, strange gestation is, I think, more interesting to me than the album itself. For years Rihanna has been rejecting Rihanna-type songs pitched to her (I wrote about all of them here) and taking a long break between albums, and then last year she announced that Kanye West would exec producer her next album, and released 3 singles all co-produced and co-written by Kanye, none of them a natural fit for pop radio. Then, it appears that everything they did together was scrapped, and she made a whole new album while still pretty committed to the general mission of not doing another simple Top 40-ready collection of singles (and no Kanye credits, and only a small amount of credits from Kanye associates like Travi$ Scott and No I.D.). True to the title, Anti sounds like it was defined more by what Rihanna wanted to avoid than what she wanted to do, so the whole thing feels like it's been painted into an aesthetic corner. I love "Kiss It Better" and some of the other mellower tracks like "Close To You" and "Yeah, I Said It," but a lot of it just feels like trendy time-stamped 'alt pop' of the moment that isn't actually as enjoyable as the more measured experimentation of Talk That Talk and Unapologetic. "Woo" features writing credits from four major stars (The Weeknd, The-Dream, Jeremih and Travi$ Scott) and it's probably the worst dogshit Rihanna has ever released.

7. 2 Chainz - Felt Like Cappin
2 Chainz clearly has 9 lives, so I never count him out, but he had a couple quiet years and lately it feels like he's on the rise again, "Watch Out" is on the Hot 100 and this tape is getting a good buzz. I'm not always real into EP-length mixtapes, but 6 good songs from 2 Chainz seems like a good ideal length, this probably isn't way better than Trapavelli Tre but it feels a little more potent at this length. The "Mindin' My Business" beat is crazy. Listen to it on DatPiff.

8. Rowdy Rebel - Shmoney Keeps Calling
Back during Bobby Shmurda's brief, ill-fated stint in the spotlight, Rowdy Rebel kept impressing me on his tracks as maybe the member of the GS9 crew who has a little more long-term potential. So I'm glad he finally dropped a mixtape that captures his flow and personality pretty well. You can tell just by looking at the features, which include A$AP Ferg and 2Milly and French Montana, that he's in that post-Dipset niche of goofy gangsta rap that's dominated New York for the last few years, and that's not really my favorite sound, but I wouldn't mind him becoming a star in that scene. Check it out on DatPiff.

9. Jacquees - Mood
I'm really not a fan of Jacquees's voice, he sounds like the return of Pleasure P to me. But the production values on this tape are pretty high and there are some songs I like a lot more than "Like Baby." Listen to it on DatPiff.

10. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
Judging from the fact that the first time I heard him was on half the tracks on that Dr. Dre album, Anderson .Paak is well connected, and he's undeniably talented. But I haven't really warmed to this album too much yet, it's well produced and ambitious but not much really sticks with me besides maybe "Put Me Thru" and "Silicon Valley." At time I feel like I'm listening to Chance The Rapper if he didn't write as well, or Bilal if he had less confidence to be weird, or will.i.am if he made the music he really wanted to make but it still wasn't that good.

Worst Album of the Month: Rachel Platten - Wildfire
"Fight Song" was more annoying than bad and "Stand By You" was just awful but I still wanted to give this album a chance to be enjoyable MOR VH1 fare. But the first song that I really enjoyed, "Hey Hey Hallelujah," was wrecked by an Andy Grammer guest verse where he says "I'm singin' hallelujah when you touch me/ hallelujah/ Jeff Buckley!" And after there it just gets blander and blander.