Deep Album Cuts Vol. 60: Cheap Trick

Thursday, March 31, 2016



















This week, Cheap Trick are releasing their 17th studio album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello, and next week they'll be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. And it's interesting to me that they got the Hall Of Fame nod now, when so many other bands that started in the mid-'70s haven't gotten in yet. And I think it's because they managed so well to not fit in too perfectly anywhere, but work well enough everywhere. They were too old-fashioned to be punk or new wave, too modern to be just a power pop band, not heavy enough to be metal, too populist to be a cult band, too weird and funny to be a cookie cutter Top 40 band, and too old to be alternative (a few weeks ago, I heard someone call into the local alt-rock station and request Cheap Trick -- the DJ played 30 seconds of "I Want You To Want Me," then cut it off, told the guy he had the wrong station, and put on Muse). And yet, they managed to carve out a niche that combined bits of all those niches. So here's a look back at their first dozen or so albums, the era in which they had their greatest successes as a singles act.

Cheap Trick Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace
2. He's A Whore
3. Clock Strikes Ten
4. Big Eyes
5. Oh Caroline
6. Oh Claire
7. On Top Of The World
8. Auf Wiedersehen
9. On The Radio
10. Hello There (live)
11. Come On, Come On (live)
12. Lookout (live)
13. Need Your Love
14. I Know What I Want
15. Just Got Back
16. High Priest Of Rhythmic Noise
17. Oo La La La
18. Next Position Please
19. Heaven's Falling
20. Standing On The Edge
21. Take Me To The Top
22. All We Need Is A Dream

Tracks 1 and 2 from Cheap Trick (1977)
Tracks 3, 4 and 5 from In Color (1977)
Tracks 6, 7, 8 and 9 from Heaven Tonight (1978)
Tracks 10, 11 and 12 from Cheap Trick At Budokan (1979)
Tracks 13 and 14 from Dream Police (1979)
Tracks 15 and 16 from All Shook Up (1980)
Track 17 from One On One (1982)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Next Position Please (1983)
Track 20 from Standing On The Edge (1985)
Track 21 from The Doctor (1986)
Track 22 from Lap Of Luxury (1988)

I usually restrict these playlists to studio records. But it seemed fitting to include some of At Budokan, the live album that sold more than twice as much as their biggest studio albums, effectively broke them in America and spun off one of their biggest singles. Plus "Lookout" is a great song that didn't appear on any of their other albums. "Clock Strikes Ten" from In Color was included because while it was never a single in America, it was their first song that went to #1 in Japan and set off this whole unusual turn of events that led to At Budokan.

The fact that the band took off in Japan before it was popular anywhere else, and was able to leverage that into popularity in the U.S., is a crucial piece of rock lore that I think fits in perfectly with the way Cheap Trick snuck through the backdoor for a lot of their biggest successes. Just look at how the cover art for several of the band's best known albums only feature Robin Zander and Tom Petersson, the two skinny long-haired rock star-looking members of the band, effectively hiding the goofier-looking Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos.

I make these playlists because I think sometimes it's hard to find a point of entry for a band's catalog when you already know their biggest hits and want to hear more. And I remember probably a decade ago trying to get into Cheap Trick and initially failing, by trying to listen to their early albums in chronological order and being frustrated that I didn't instantly hear any songs that grabbed me like "Surrender" or "I Want You To Want Me." Trying again more recently, it was easier to appreciate the band's unique sensibility, the fact that Zander isn't an amazing singer and there aren't any really outrageous guitar solos but their records just explode with a certain sneering, mischievous energy.

As a drummer, I've also become a huge fan of Bun E. Carlos, who really lets loose with some powerful and inventive drumming on the band's best records. One of the reasons I haven't really had much interest in checking out Cheap Trick's new album or recent tours is that the band has ousted Carlos, apparently against his wishes, from the band's current lineup, with Rick Nielsen's son Daxx filling the Wolfgang Van Halen role. It's my hope that Carlos will at least get to perform with the band at their Hall Of Fame induction and get his due as part of the classic lineup.

Since these playlists are meant to provide a flipside to a band's popular singles, I followed their career up through 1988's Lap Of Luxury, when they managed to keep their record deal by recording the power ballad an Epic executive handed them from a couple of pro songwriters, and "The Flame" became their first and only #1 single in America. Tom Petersson left the band for most of the '80s, and the four albums they recorded without him represent the band's commercial slump before he came back in time for "The Flame." One of those less successful albums, 1983's Next Position Please, wound up impressing me the most of the post-'70s albums, featuring some bright and playful production from Todd Rundgren, and the Rundgren-penned highlight "Heaven's Falling." What amazed me was the band's only had two top 10 albums in their entire career, both in the same year (1979). Cheap Trick have been underdogs at pretty much every step of the way, which is why their Hall Of Fame induction seems so unlikely and remarkable to me.

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
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest

TV Diary

Friday, March 25, 2016
























a) "Hap And Leonard" 
This Sundance show is 4 episodes into a 6-episode season, and so far I really like it, it's been one of the more interesting surprises on TV lately. I'm not familiar with the novels that the show is based on, but the show is pulpy noir kind of thing about an ex-con and a Vietnam vet in Texas in the '80s, getting mixed up in some sordid crime stuff. It's interesting that Michael K. Williams playing a gay tough guy might look like typecasting on paper, but Leonard manages to be a pretty distinct character from "The Wire"'s Omar. Jimmi Simpson and Pollyana McIntosh as the show's villains bring this weird surreal energy to the show, though, Simpson has impressed me in a few roles over the last few years and here he's doing this crazy scenery-chewing Jeff Goldblum kind of thing.

b) "Flaked" 
Between the "Arrested Development" revival, that overrated cartoon horse show, and now this, Netflix really seems determined to keep Will Arnett busy. I've always kinda thought the guy had a limited bag of tricks with serious diminishing returns, and this show is just the pits, just this orange middle-aged manchild being sold as a compelling protagonist for this aimless dramedy. I always hate TV love triangles and the one at the center of this show is just exceptionally forced and stupid. And I adored Ruth Kearney on "Primeval" but I dunno, she looks weird as a blonde, almost didn't recognize her. Also terrible white rapper T. Mills is in this show for some reason. I kind of like how the 'unglamorous underbelly of a sunny California beach community' vibe reminds me of "Terriers," but they don't do much with it.

c) "The Characters" 
I really like the concept of this, where Netflix gives 8 different comedians each a chance to make a half hour sketch show. They're all kinda rising semi-well known people who aren't at the level to have their own Comedy Central series or something, so it's cool to see less familiar comics show off their stuff in this way instead of just a standup special. Of the 4 episodes I've seen, the episode with Henry Zebrowski (the annoying bearded friend from "A To Z") was absolutely awful, disgusting, frequently racist garbage, but the episodes with Lauren Lapkus, Kate Berlant and especially John Early had some pretty enjoyable moments.

d) "Damien" 
Clearly this show exists because "Bates Motel" has been such a hit for A&E, but it's interesting that instead of doing another prequel for an iconic horror film, they look at Damien from The Omen having grown up as more or less a normal adult living a normal life. Crazy things start happening around him again and so he basically has to start grappling with the idea that he might be Satan, even though he hasn't done anything evil. I like the gloomy gory vibe of the show but the actor is almost too bland and normal to make the role as interesting as it should be, so I'm kind of on the fence about it.

e) "The Family"

I'm not wild about the spate of dramas about missing or murdered children in small towns that have been all over TV the last few years (that's right, I'm calling a spate a spate). But this one has an intriguing twist, in that the kid who was presumed dead returns 10 years later as a teenager who finally escaped his captor, and the guy that was convicted of killing him (played by Andrew McCarthy) is let out of jail. There's a lot of plot threads here that could pay off interestingly -- McCarthy gives an incredibly creepy, gripping performance, Joan Allen as the power-hungry politician mom is great, and I really have no idea how the central mystery is going to be resolved (my wife things that the kid who showed up saying he's their son is actually a completely different kid, but I'm not so convinced).

f) "The Real O'Neals" 
This is a pretty charming family sitcom, based on an idea by Dan Savage, about a Catholic family whose teenage son comes out as gay. The whole cast is pretty solid and it's a little more broad than it needs to be but mostly works, and Martha Plimpton was one of my favorite TV moms in recent memory on "Raising Hope," so it's kinda nice to see her in a role like that again.

g) "11.22.63"
I've only gotten through one (very long) episode of this Hulu mini-series about a guy who finds a time portal and goes back to the '60s to prevent the Kennedy assassination. It's an interesting premise from Stephen King and I'm curious where it will go, but I'm not sure if I'll keep up with it, it's just a little dour. And even though it's kind of nice to see James Franco playing it straight as a lead actor without a bunch of wacky postmodern schtick, he's really just not that compelling of an actor.

h) "The Internet Ruined My Life"
This new show on SyFy is basically about people who have been harassed on the internet, which is a very timely topic. The format of the show kind of flattens the complexity of the subject into a formula, though, where people tell the story from their perspective and bits of it are shown in cheesy dramatizations with actors playing them. One segment is about the woman who started the #CancelColbert hashtag, one is about a chef who lost his job for arguing with animal rights activists on Facebook, and it was interesting to see a GamerGate victim tell their story on TV, but it kinda felt like they didn't come remotely close to really explaining that whole situation or how many people have been chased off the internet by it.

i) "Seperation Anxiety" 
This is a clever game show where one person is in a little soundproof room playing what they think is a low budget internet game show for small cash prizes, while next door their boyfriend or girlfriend is watching and knows they're playing for way more money. Then, at some point the wall comes up and they find out the truth and play the big game show together, and of course they've already done a dramatic episode that ends in a proposal. Iliza Shlesinger is the host and it's all pretty hyper and goofy and fun, although like most game shows I dunno if I'd have any desire to watch it more than twice.

j) "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson" 
This show has gotten enough right, and brought enough things to life in surreal, entertaining ways, that I try not to focus on what it's gotten wrong. But the repeated in-jokey Kardashian kid stuff, David Schwimmer saying "Juice" a billion times, and the horribly hammy fictional version of William Hodgman's heart attack have kind of shaken my faith in this show to rise above the usual Ryan Murphy nonsense. It's still really good television, and I hope Courtney B. Vance gets some awards, I just have some misgivings now.

k) "The Magicians" 
This show has really taken some dark turns, I like how it basically treats magic as a lethal weapon that can often have terrible consequences when misused. Eliot in particular has gotten to be a more nuanced character than I thought he'd be.

l) "Billions" 
Still probably my favorite new show of 2016 so far, really redeems the whole tired "powerful men doing bad things" subgenre of cable dramas with some great performances and unpredictable plotting. The Metallica episode was pretty weird but kind of helped build the world, which really exists out there in real life, that this show takes place in. Maggie Siff has just been fantastic, and pulled off probably the first successful non-satirical "dramatic slow clapping before a dramatic speech" scene on television in decades. There's still a few episodes left and I'm kind of excited that they've already played out the main conflict a few steps beyond where I thought they'd take it in the first season, they're not pulling any punches.

m) "Marvel's Daredevil"
I'm only 3 episodes into the new season, because, once again, I'm just not really into the binge watching thing, particularly with dramas. I liked the first season, and Vincent D'Onofrio was such a good antagonist that I wasn't sure if the show would be as interesting to me without him, but so far it's off to a good start. I don't really like the actor they cast as The Punisher, who I've only seen in the terrible sitcom "The Class," but the whole thing with him and Daredevil arguing about their differing styles of vigilante justice was really pretty clever. I guess I still have the introduction of Elektra to look forward to, though.

n) "Black-ish"
This show has been very good at handling some heavy topics with a light touch and making it funny, but the inevitable Black Lives Matter-themed episode was really deft and had just the right amount of seriousness and levity, really felt like a moment where a very good show hit a new high.

o) "Mom" 
"Mom" is a show about recovering addicts that's full of gallows humor, and I think it's already handled a lot of stuff better than one might expect a Chuck Lorre production to. But the recent plot, where they introduced a younger character that the main characters were looking out for, and then she very suddenly and unexpectedly overdosed, was really kind of a shock and was handled really well.

p) "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee"
I was a few episodes behind on the most recent season, but after I heard the news about Garry Shandling this week, I decided to catch up since he was just on the show recently (on an episode titled "It's Great That Garry Shandling's Still Alive"). And it's really kind of a surprisingly fitting endcap to his career, one of this show's more introspective episodes, where Shandling and Seinfeld go to The Comedy Store and reminisce, and talk about the recent deaths of peers like David Brenner and Robin Williams. Shandling's bit about the blues is hysterical. It was also fun to see Kathleen Madigan on the show, she's really one of my favorite working standups these days that isn't super famous and doing sitcoms or movies or whatever.

q) "Impractical Jokers" 
My buddy Mike Bartolomeo has worked on this show for years as an editor, and every time I mention a TruTV show on here, he's like hey, you should write about my show! So I've been watching a few episodes, it's not really my bag but I like how knowingly silly the whole thing is, where is more about doing ridiculous improv that involved man-on-the-street bystanders than actually pulling a successful prank, in that sense it's a bit like "Billy On The Street."

r) "The Venture Bros." 
The 6th season of the show went by so quickly, in just 8 episodes, and there'll probably another very long hiatus before there's any more new episodes. So I really try to savor "The Venture Bros." -- it's one of the only shows that I make a point to own every season on DVD and rewatch every episode multiple times, just because the writing is so dense that I never catch everything the first time around. But this season was great on the first pass, making the Ventures into wealthy New Yorkers and the reveal with the Blue Morpho kind of put a new life into the old dynamics between characters. The last episode wasn't as climactic as their season finales usually are, but it was kind of relief that there was no huge twist or death, the show has been on for over a decade now and I'm always a little nervous that something will happen that will signal that the end is near.

s) "Saturday Night Live"
I was wary of the Ariana Grande-hosted episode, because as much I enjoy some of her music, the pop star-hosted episodes can be a really mixed bag. But man, she was Timberlake-level good, I wouldn't mind if she starts hosting every couple years. This season's been a real mixed bag, though, I love a lot of the current cast but the writing just doesn't feel very sharp. And I feel bad for Taran Killam that he botched Trump so badly that they inevitably had Darrell Hammond, who was hanging around anyway to announce and occasionally be Bill Clinton, do Trump again. A lot of their election sketches have just been kinda weak, though, just because it's so hard to make it more ridiculous than what really happened. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest

Thursday, March 24, 2016























A number of notable musicians have already passed away in the early months of 2016, some of which have prompted installments in this series. But I have to say, the news about Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor hit me the hardest. The Low End Theory is my favorite hip hop album of all time, and Tribe will always be close to my heart as one of the greatest groups of the '90s. Their catalog is relatively small and easy to distill to the highlights, but it's fun to dig past the hits like "Scenario" and "Award Tour" and strip it down to the songs that made their albums so exhilarating and thought-provoking and easy to revisit over and over.

A Tribe Called Quest Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts)
2. Ham 'N' Eggs
3. After Hours
4. Butter
5. Skypager
6. What?
7. Show Business featuring Brand Nubian and Diamond D
8. Vibes And Stuff
9. Excursions
10. 8 Million Stories
11. Midnight
12. We Can Get Down
13. Lyrics To Go
14. Steve Biko (Stir It Up)
15. Baby Phife's Return featuring Consequence
16. Phony Rappers
17. Keeping It Moving featuring Consequence
18. Word Play featuring Consequence
19. Da Booty
20. His Name Is Mutty Ranks
21. The Love

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm (1990)
Tracks 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 from The Low End Theory (1991)
Tracks 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 from Midnight Marauders (1993)
Tracks 15, 16, 17 and 18 from Beats, Rhymes And Life (1996)
Tracks 19, 20 and 21 from The Love Movement (1998)

I knew Tribe's singles but didn't really become a fan until around 1997, when one of my high school friends, Scott, put The Low End Theory on a tape for me (another classic album, Television's Marquee Moon, was on the flipside). I wore out that tape so much that I can still hear the tape distortion over the opening bars of the album every time I listen to "Excursions." By that point, hip hop was already in a different place and Tribe seemed kind of like part of the past. So it didn't feel that surprising the next year when The Love Movement arrived as their final album, and I didn't listen to it as much as the other albums that came out that day (particularly Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star, which kinda felt like it was getting that torch passed to it from Tribe). But from there I still got to catch up with their other albums and get my mind blown again by Midnight Marauders.

I've never warmed up that much to People's Instinctive Travels, partly because Phife is barely on it. Really, the tentative handful of verses on that album and then his huge leap in presence in confidence on Low End Theory is one of the biggest growth spurts in rap history. So I thought some of the reviews that People's got upon its reissue last year were I dunno, a little generous. It's a fine album, not a great one. And as his talent flourished on the next two albums, Phife became one of the great everyman MCs, a master of self-deprecation, of R&B and basketball references, of ejaculation puns. For a guy who was never the biggest star of his group, Phife had a real star quality, and was too talented to be merely a sidekick.

I would like to see some reevaluation of the later albums, though, especially Beats, Rhymes And Life. There's a big disconnect between how revered Jay Dilla is today and how underrated his addition to Tribe's production team was at the time. And Consequence has also been pretty well vindicated by time as a skilled MC. I think Q-Tip was always so set on the collective mentality of A Tribe Called Quest that he pushed to include more voices, which is why Jarobi's involvement was always made up to be so much more than it was and Consequence became part of the team. But at the end of the day, the interplay between Q-Tip and Phife was the essence of the group, the way their voices and their styles contrasted, and it's just so sad to think that those guys will never rap together again.

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
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel

Monthly Report: March 2016 Singles

Wednesday, March 16, 2016




























1. Young Greatness - "Moolah"
Jazze Pha's productions were briefly inescapable a decade ago, and were probably better than he gets credit for. So it's kinda nice to see him come out of nowhere with a really great track launching a new artist. He always excelled at R&B and made unremarkable rap records, which is probably why Jody Breeze's solo career never popped, but this has such a bright, melodic, strangely wistful vibe, really my favorite thing to hear on the radio right now. Here's my running Spotify playlist of favorite 2016 singles.

2. Beyonce - "Formation"
"Formation" kinda feels like it accomplishes what Beyonce wanted to do with "Run The World (Girls)" or "Bow Down/I Been On," in terms of kicking off an album cycle with a really bold statement. The video helped a lot with that, but hearing the song on the radio the last few weeks has really cemented my opinion that it's also just a great song. The second time the horns come in and the drums drop out, and then that kick drum comes booming back in, is one of my favorite musical moments of 2016 so far.

3. Foals - "Mountain At My Gates"
I don't know much about this band, I've heard their name for years but hadn't really heard them until they got their first big American rock radio hit recently, it's pretty great.

4. Kelly Clarkson - "Piece By Piece"
Piece By Piece was released a year ago, and I assumed that it would go down as Kelly Clarkson's first (non-Christmas) album to not feature a top 10 single. But then she went on "American Idol" one last time, and performed a stripped-down version of the title track, and the song rocketed into the top 10. Thematically, the song is similar to one of her biggest hits, "Because Of You," and it makes a kind of sense to turn it into a similar piano ballad for the post-Idol re-recording. But I really prefer the more uptempo album version produced by Greg Kurstin, which is what I've been hearing on the radio since the song stormed the charts.  The first word in this song is "and," which is a songwriting flourish I always kind of enjoy.

5. David Guetta f/ Sia and Fetty Wap - "Bang My Head"
This is one of those songs where the combination of artists looks totally ridiculous on paper, but in practice it really works, Fetty falls into this kind of goofy EDM pop song surprisingly well.

6. AWOLNATION - "Woman Woman"
AWOLNATION's last single, "I Am," was the first one they'd ever had that I didn't really like at all. So I'm glad that the follow-up is one of my favorites from the album. Their sound really shouldn't work as well as it does but there's so many inventive things going on with the programming and the song structure.

7. Monica - "Alone In Your Heart"
Monica's latest album really should've gone over better than it did, the second single produced by Pop & Oak is great and it just kinda came and went without getting many spins.

8. Maddie & Tae - "Shut Up And Fish"
Obviously this isn't as good as "Girl In A Country Song," but it's a pretty enjoyable little comedy number. In a weird way, though, the song does bring to mind things like this article, just the idea that women can't go about their business without men trying to turn it into a romantic situation.

9. X-Ambassadors - "Unsteady"
I hated X-Ambassadors off the bat because of "Renegades," but I'm pleasantly surprised by the follow-up single, turns out the guy has a pretty nice voice for ballads.

10. Foo Fighters - "St. Cecilia"
After Foo Fighters recorded 8 songs in 8 different studios for an 8-hour documentary and wound up with Sonic Highways, possibly their worst album, it's kind of refreshing that they were able to toss off an EP of songs recorded on tour in buses and hotel rooms. The sound is a little less polished, but then it's kind of nice to get back a little of the fuzzed-out lo-fi vibe of the first Foo Fighters album. Incidentally, this song started getting played on the radio right around the time my old car Cecilia finally broke down for good.

Worst Single of the Month: The Weeknd - "In The Night"
I liked "Can't Feel My Face" enough that when the NYT profile of The Weeknd noted that his upcoming album had a song that his publisher likened to "Billie Jean," I was intrigued. But wow, this song is just awful, mainly because the swing rhythm of the backing track sounds really awkward against The Weeknd's extremely straight-laced phrasing.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, March 15, 2016



























a) Beasts Of No Nation
It surprised me how far you get into this movie before Idris Elba shows up, but it was really effective from a storytelling standpoint -- you get to see the child narrator living a normal life before the war starts, which makes everything that happens afterward that much more horrific. And I kind of liked how the story took place in an unnamed location, like they just let those details go unmentioned instead of inserting the story into history or making up a country. 

b) A Little Chaos
One of Alan Rickman's final films was his second directorial effort, where he played King Louis XIV and Kate Winslet plays his gardener. It's a sweet, playful little film about people practicing a craft, not at all a stuffy important historical movie, really kind of a nice swan song for Rickman to go out on. Actors dabbling in directing tend to be a mixed bag, but they often get together a good cast and get good performances out of them, and Winslet and Stanley Tucci are great in it.

c) Spy
This was really, really funny, definitely one of the best comedies of the last couple years and Melissa McCarthy's best work to date (always thought Bridesmaids was a little overrated, but Paul Feig really got the formula perfect on this and my expectations are higher for Ghostbusters now). Jason Statham was especially great, but really the whole supporting cast brought enough action movie gravitas for a really funny contrast with McCarthy

d) Adult Beginners
One of those aimless movies about an emotionally stunted manchild learning to do basic human shit. Nick Kroll has a certain baseline unlikable vibe that serves him well in sketch comedy but making him the lead character in a movie, as a pretty unsympathetic character, just comes off weird, but I guess that's what they were going for.

e) Song One
I know that comas are something that actually happen to people in real life sometimes, but it feels like any coma that happens in fiction is an emotionally manipulative contrivance. And this is one of those movies that starts with a character in a coma and then becomes about his sister's life and I dunno, it was just stupid. It did surprise and amuse me, however, that for a cliched movie about people who play earnest guitar music, the emotional climax of the movie happens during a Dan Deacon concert, and it's actually a pretty great scene. 

f) Big Eyes
It's nice to see Tim Burton do something that isn't a garish day glo cartoon, and the story is certainly inherently interesting. But there was a typical biopic flatness to the screenplay that kind of spoonfed the events in the most obvious and overexplained way and didn't really capture anything felt like the emotional truth of what was probably a pretty complex relationship. Amy Adams and Cristoph Waltz are pretty great, they're just not given much to work with.

g) Wind Chill
I'm fond of saying that I'll watch Emily Blunt in anything, and that she almost always picks interesting projects. So I had hope that this horror movie produced by Steven Soderbergh from early in her career would be good, but it was kinda dumb. It starts out with a premise that makes you think it's going to be a psychological thriller about two strangers stranded in the snow, but then all these crazy supernatural elements come in and they never totally work. It amused me that the movie is about driving from rural Pennsylvania to Delaware, since those are roads I've driven on many times myself, but there's nothing familiar about the scenery because they filmed it all in Vancouver.

h) To Be Or Not To Be
Even though this movie has a lot of themes in common with the movies Mel Brooks writes and directs, I was surprised by how obvious it is that he's merely the star and not behind the camera. It's not a bad movie, but I think I'm so used to seeing Brooks in a quicker, more broad comedy that it felt weird to me. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel

Thursday, March 10, 2016























This is the second playlist I've done in this series upon request (after Alicia Keys a few months ago). I tend to focus this series on artists who've had a lot of hit singles, and Beanie Sigel was never really a big radio staple. But he's got a strong catalog, and sometimes it's nice to have an excuse to dig into some great albums. So shout out to @YoungPapi_215 for requesting this on Twitter.

Beanie Sigel Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Everybody Wanna Be A Star
2. I Can't Go On This Way featuring Freeway and Young Chris
3. Nothing Like It
4. One Shot Deal featuring Redman
5. Mac Man
6. Bread & Butter featuring Grand Puba and Sadat X
7. Gangsta, Gangsta featuring Kurupt
8. Mack And Brad featuring Scarface
9. Mom Praying featuring Scarface
10. Rain (Bridge) featuring Scarface and Raheem DeVaughn
11. Da Rain featuring Mook Jones
12. Purple Rain featuring Bun B
13. Who Want What featuring Memphis Bleek
14. Shake It For Me featuring Diddy, Ghostface Killah and Peedi Crakk
15. Why Wouldn't I
16. Raw & Uncut featuring Jay-Z
17. Get Down
18. What Ya Life Like

Tracks 1, 5, 8, 13, 16 and 18 from The Truth (2000)
Tracks 3, 7, 9 and 17 from The Reason (2001)
Tracks 2, 4, 6 and 12 from The B. Coming (2005)
Track 11 from Still Public Enemy #1 (2006)
Track 10 and 14 from The Solution (2007)
Track 15 from The Broad Street Bully (2009)

I thought about just sticking to Beanie's big Def Jam albums, but since there are only four of them, I threw in tracks from two of his independent album/retail mixtape things that charted on the Billboard 200 and are available on Spotify. His career started with about as good a three-album run as anyone's had in rap in the 21st century, and his music since then has been pretty good too. So it's been sad to see his career and life decline over the past decade as he's kind of fallen back into the life that inspired some really harrowing, dark lyrics. A year ago he was shot, and it was reported and then retracted that he'd needed a lung removed after the shooting. And he sure sounds different on his recent guest appearance on Pusha T's "Keep Dealing," like the wind was permanently knocked out of him.

But back to the good old days: like most hip hop fans in the late '90s, I first heard Beanie Sigel on a couple of very good, very different albums that came out a few months apart: Jay-Z's Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life and The Roots' Things Fall Apart. Soon after that, I started reading about how Jay signed Beanie on the spot after hearing him rap, and he was featured on "Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)," and I have to admit, I didn't get it. The rhyme style Beanie used on that song and a lot of his early work, ending lines with the same word and embedding the rhymes in the middle of each line, seemed stupid or simplistic at the time, to me and some other people. But it's a completely accepted and respectable writing style now, and a lot of that can be directly traced to Sigel's influence.

In addition to influencing how people rapped, Beanie Sigel had a huge hand in shaping the sound of Roc-A-Fella and hip hop in general. The Truth was the first Roc-A-Fella release to feature beats by Just Blaze, Kanye West, and Bink, 8 months before all three would turn up on Jay-Z's The Dynasty: Roc La Familia and well before The Blueprint cemented that soul sample-driven sound as the label's musical signature. Kanye West once said "This right here is my favorite beat I ever did" of the opening track from The Reason, "Nothing Like It," which he lamented not being released as the album's second single.

Beanie Sigel was never a huge star -- three gold albums doesn't sound so bad at anytime, especially now, but he did that at the time when it was never easier to go platinum. Memphis Bleek sold more records, but Beanie was the one that brought the label its production stable, who brought his crew State Property and rappers that Jay-Z clearly valued like Freeway and Young Chris. If you have any doubt that Jay loved these grimy dudes from Philly beyond whatever commercial potential they had, think about the fact that Roc-A-Fella released 10 albums by State Property members without a single one of them going platinum.

Beanie never needed guests to make his albums compelling, but he also had a knack for working well with veteran rappers, and a lot of '90s guys had one of their last great moments on a Beanie album. And then there's Scarface, who had incredible chemistry with Beanie on 3 of his 4 major label albums (I feel like we were really deprived of a Face verse on The B. Coming). plus the more well known tracks where they formed a trio with Jay-Z on "Guess Who's Back" and "This Can't Be Life." We'll probably never get that full-length duo album from Mack and Brad but I can dream.

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
Vol. 57: Beyonce

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


















I contributed to one of Rolling Stone's tributes to the work of the late George Martin, a list of 20 great non-Beatles productions.

Monthly Report: February 2016 Albums

Friday, March 04, 2016
































1. The 1975 - I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
The 1975 exists somewhere between HAIM and 5 Seconds Of Summer on the spectrum of bands that are not entirely pop but aren't very tied to any underground rock subculture, which means their existence vexes and infuriates a lot of people and the entire discourse around them is kind of poisoned and tiresome. I was on the fence about the first album, at least until "Girls" won me over, and the lead single to their new album "Love Me" was obnoxious enough that I wasn't sure what to expect here. This record is amazing, though, it's exhilarating to hear a young band just going all in on a self-produced 70-minute album, throwing in all the weird semi-ambient experiments alongside the big brash pop songs instead of splitting up their divergent ideas into side projects or concept albums, adding it all up into one big Tangering Teenage Dream whole.

2. KING - We Are King
Over the last few years KING released a handful of songs that some people flipped their lids for, but they never totally grabbed me and I'd been kinda waiting to hear their stuff all lined up together on an album and get the cumulative effect. And We Are King does that pretty wonderfully. I can't even tell if "Native Land" is my favorite song or if it benefits from being the closer that sticks with me after the rest of the album has gotten me into the groove. A couple of the albums this month aren't on Spotify right now, but KING and most of the others are on the playlist of 2016 albums I'm listening to.

3. Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo
I've kinda mentally divided Kanye's previous albums into the crowd-pleasing guest-filled maximalist albums (most of them) and the committed aesthetic statements that don't care whether you like them or not (808s and Yeezus). And if there's something I find confounding but also intriguing about The Life Of Pablo, is that it manages to be both and neither of those. I did my first quickie review of this album after one listen, and since then I've been impressed by how much this album has managed to grow on me, considering that he yells some eye-rolling punchline about other celebrities or bleached assholes that drags down almost every good song besides "Real Friends" or the one where you barely hear Kanye, "Ultralight Beam." As much as I dislike "Famous," Kanye's defense of the Taylor Swift line, about wanting to recapture the unpredictability of the DMX era, made a lot of sense -- '90s rappers leaned on shock value way more than they do now, and in some ways Kanye is right there with Eminem, trying harder and harder to shock with worse and worse results. I'm of the opinion that Kanye hasn't been in his prime as a rapper for almost a decade (and I'm not talking about the nice guy Kanye nostalgia he addresses in "I Love Kanye," I'm talking about the quality of his bars), so it's at least nice that he populates the album with rappers that are in their prime like Chance, Kendrick and Young Thug,

4. BJ The Chicago Kid - In My Mind
I've loved a lot of BJ The Chicago Kid's singles and features over the last couple years, so I was really interested in this album. In My Mind doesn't really hang together as well as I wanted it to, something about the sequencing and some of the more experimental productions that kinda holds it back from being a great R&B debut. But there's a few great songs and really creative moments, and it kinda feels like a good companion to The Life Of Pablo, in terms of having a lot of elements in common (Chicago, gospel, Chance, Kendrick).

5. Boosie Badazz - Out My Feelings (In My Past)
In January, Boosie released In My Feelings (Goin' Thru It), a dark and bracing 33-minute album that seemed to be a direct reaction to his recent cancer diagnosis. And a month later, he released a companion album, and I think the biggest surprise is that it's twice as long. I have no idea what's going on with Boosie's cancer, but Out My Feelings is kind of back to the defiant survivor attitude of his other post-prison records, which kinda gives me hope that he's doing better. Being much longer and less emotionally harrowing than its predecessor means it packs less of a punch overall, but the production is great and "Takem Back" and "New School / Old School" are great songs.

6. Young Thug - I'm Up
There doesn't seem to be any particular logic or strategy to how Young Thug releases music these days, other than that he just wants to keep throwing out records until he gets his buzz up enough to release Hy!¬£UN35 as the 'real album.' And this one only got the title I'm Up at the last minute after originally being Slime Season 3, which is apparently now still on the way, and the cover art even changed a few hours after it hit iTunes, somewhat like the weird last minute title shenanigans of The Life Of Pablo. But I'm Up ended up being a pretty hot record, partly because it's only 9 tracks and is bookended by great songs that make it feel much more like an album than most of his overlong mixtapes. I am a little irritated that "Fuck Cancer (Boosie)" has gotten so much more attention than Boosie's own recent music, though.

7. Repelican - Half Spasms
Jon Ehrens has long been one of my favorite Baltimore-based musicians and I've written a lot about Repelican and his other bands (White Life, The Art Department, Dungeonesse, etc.). He's actually based in Philadelphia now, though, but I'm always glad to hear a new record from him, and some of it was recorded at Baltimore's Beat Babies studio. Repelican has typically been one of his more lo-fi projects, but Half Spasms is the most polished Repelican album to date, guitar-driven with some nice new wave synth lines, and by far the best drumming I've ever heard from Ehrens. Check it out on Bandcamp.

8. Willie Nelson - Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin
I'm always interested in albums that are basically "(iconic artist) sings (legendary songwriter)," and this one looks kind of surprising on paper but sounds lovely in practice. Willie's weathered voice and unpredictable phrasing translate to jazz standards really well, and he's always had an ear for interpreting songs and making them his own, the way you don't even think about how most of The Red-Headed Stranger is covers. I especially like "It Ain't Necessarily So," although the duets with Cyndi Lauper and Sheryl Crow are kind of campy and spoil the mood. Yesterday I worked with a woman who has a cat named Willie Nelson, which got me thinking about this record, and also how Paul Rudd has a dog named Willie Nelson in Our Idiot Brother.

9. Future - EVOL
Way back in 2014, right after Future and Ciara broke up, it was reported that he was working on a mixtape called EVOL, and obviously his next mixtape ended up being Monster instead. So I was intrigued that he finally used that title, and was kinda hoping it would be something more expressive than the kind of emotionally numb vibe he's been on since Monster. It's not bad, it's just a bit more of the same, and only "Fly Shit Only" really grabs me as a definite keeper so far. As for my obligatory hacky Sonic Youth reference, I'll say this: EVOL was a landmark Sonic Youth album because it introduced Steve Shelley as their new drummer and revamped their sound. EVOL is an unremarkable Future record because it's his 5th project in a row dominated by Metro Boomin and 808 Mafia beats, and he could really use a new drummer right now.

10. Foxes - All I Need
Glorious was a really good, underrated album that for whatever reason didn't really take off and make Foxes into the star I thought she might become after Zedd's "Clarity." So I'm glad she's back with another album less than 2 years later, I thought she might be one of those people who gets stuck in label limbo for years and comes back with a rebooted sound. Your mileage may vary on the weepy EDM power ballad thing she does, but she really has the perfect voice for it.

The Worst Album of the Month: Say Anything - I Don't Think It Is
It gives me absolutely no pleasure to diss this record, because ...Is A Real Boy is an amazing album and I've found a lot to love in Say Anything's albums since then, they were really the best rock band in America at one point. But this defiantly lo-fi surprise album that popped up a few weeks ago is just a huge bummer, sounding like an overcorrection to the polished orchestral sound of 2014's Hebrews. Max Bemis can write great rock songs with gnarly, surprising riffs and huge melodic hooks, but he also writes spleen-venting monologues like "Admit It!!!" that I'm a lot less interested in, and this album is mostly about focusing on that side of things.

TV Diary

Wednesday, March 02, 2016








































a) "Love" 
Netflix's new original series "Love" is about the unlikely relationship that blossoms between two 30ish white Los Angelenos with complicated lives. Essentially, the premise is a lot like one of my favorite new shows of the last couple years, "You're The Worst," except it defaults more to awkward charm than dark humor or absurdity. Gillian Jacobs is great in the show, it's exxciting to see her in a complex lead role after she seemed to be a smaller and smaller piece of the ensemble over the course of "Community"'s run, But Paul Rust is just this nerdy guy who you watch talk about '80s movies and jam on Wings songs with the guy from Eels. Like "Girls" or most of Judd Apatow's movies, there's just a lot of 'realistic' tedium and arguing padding out every funny or thought-provoking moment, and it can get exhausting. That said, I actually binge watched a Netflix show for once, watching more than half of the episodes last night while the baby was keeping me up all night, and I enjoyed it a lot.

b) "Fuller House" 

A lot of people have already written about how weird and pointless this show is (Richard Lawson had my favorite take), and in a way I had to watch at least one episode just to see how bad it is. The first episode is so packed with references and fan service that it actually ends with them recreating a scene from the old "Full House" in split screen with the original version of the scene. It's basically like "Girl Meets World," except Corey and Topanga were always way more the center of "Boy Meets World" than the girls on "Full House," so they're actually equipped to carry a new show, Candace Cameron and Jodie Sweetin are just awkward. Andrea Barber actually has great comic timing, though, it makes me feel kinda bad that she's never had any career outside of playing Kimmy Gibbler.

c) "Vinyl"
I always struggle with music biopics and fictionalized accounts of music history, the cliches and twisting of facts and bad impersonations, all the stuff that I love Walk Hard for satirizing. And this show feels just designed to irk me, using an actual fascinating place and time as the cardboard backdrop for another rambling Scorsese tale of coked up businessmen. It's a shame, because I've liked Bobby Cannavale in other stuff and wish he got a more compelling lead role where he wasn't just an unlikable mook hanging out with ridiculously bad actors dressed up like Robert Plant or Andy Warhol.

d) "Outsiders"
This show about a clan of mountain folk clashing with the law in Kentucky feels like a retread of a lot of better shows like "Justified" and "Sons of Anarchy" -- one of the leads is Ryan "Opie" Hurst from the latter. It's not bad, I just feel like it's so much the same macho violent cable drama thing I've seen a hundred times before, better than "Vinyl" but not by a huge margin.

e) "Animals"
I adore shows like "Home Movies" and "Dr. Katz" that let voice actors improvise dialogue for animated characters, so I thought "Animals" might have the potential to pull something like that off. But it's just so flat and half-assed, with even more perfunctory and basic animation and a couple of boring lead voice actors surrounded by a rotating cast of familiar comedians, just rambling like a bad podcast. Something like "Home Movies" had very character-driven humor, where every episode got funnier as you got to know the cast, but here, they're playing different animals every time and there's no story or continuity, just a bunch of disjointed little segments.

f) "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee"
I was excited to finally see Sam Bee get her own show, since there's now this whole diaspora of "Daily Show" correspondents hosting late night shows. And Bee's show on TBS perhaps wisely used the same cheat code that John Oliver's HBO show used, doing a weekly show and basically packing in a really potent half hour instead of stretching out a similar amount of laughs over four nights a week. Her show isn't too similar from the others, though -- she stands in front of a screen for the whole show instead of sitting at a desk, and there's a nice satisfying mean streak to the writing that feels refreshing compared to the gentle sarcasm and earnest outrage of most of her contemporaries. The fact that she's spent sizable chunks of 2 of her first 3 episodes talking to Syrian refugees and finding humane, sympathetic ways to get humor out of the awful way American politicians talk about them is pretty impressive.

g) "Not Safe with Nikki Glaser"
A Comedy Central show about sex and dating has the potential to be a boringly bawdy parade of tired jokes about Tinder and porn, but Nikki Glaser has really put together a show that, at least for the episodes so far, has kept coming at the subject matter with fresh angles and maintaining a balancing act between not too dirty and occasionally surprisingly filthy. A lot of it in the way she just kind of talks about this stuff like it's not a big deal instead of laying on the shock value in an "ain't I a stinker" way like a lot of female comedians do now.

h) "Join Or Die with Craig Ferguson"
Craig Ferguson's decade of hosting "The Late Late Show" was so unlikely, such a strange little niche show even by late night TV standards, that when he finally left CBS last year and started hosting a game show, I kind of assumed he'd never get to do something like his "Late Late Show" on TV again, at best a podcast or something. So I was pleasantly surprised that the History Channel found a way to shoehorn him into their schedule, hosting a panel discussion show where he and guests debate a topic like 'history's biggest political blunder' and go over the options and pick a winner. Ferguson opens the show with a monologue, even using the same weird high camera angle from the "Late Late Show" monologues, and his guests are often people he had on his own show a lot, so it's all pretty familiar in a good way. And a panel show that isn't about current events is kind of refreshing.

i) "Great Minds with Dan Harmon"
After "Join Or Die" on Thursday nights, History Channel has this little cluster of comedy shows under the banner 'Night Class,' which kinda feels like their attempt at an Adult Swim-type programming block. Even the shows are only 10 minutes long like Adult Swim stuff, including this, in which "Community" creator Dan Harmon uses a time machine to interview historical figure. The first episode, with Jack Black as Beethoven, felt like the kind of thing these guys can throw together in their sleep, but it was still pretty funny and I feel like it has some potential if they get funny guests every week.

j) "The Crossroads of History"
This is one of the other 'Night Class' shows, and the first episode, which was just a scene of an art school rejecting Hitler, felt like such a predictable slam dunk of Hitler jokes we've all heard a billion times before, that I'm kinda waiting to see if this gets better.

k) "The Real Housewives Of Potomac" 
I never watch these shows, but I was kinda curious to see this one just because Potomac is like 20 minutes away from where I live and I kinda work among these fancy schmancy D.C. types. It was tedious, though, these shows are not for me.

l) "Those Who Can't"

This show on Tru TV is 3 guys from a no-name comedy troupe playing high school teachers, and there was some bad advance press about the fact that they struggled to write for the only female character in a show about a predominantly female profession. And it's a funny show, with some pretty well written moments, but it mostly just feels like some lazy sketch comedy bro stuff and Maria Thayer probably deserves better than to be the token chick in a show like this.

m) "Teachers"
This other recent cable sitcom about teachers, starring mostly women, feels like it should be a good corrective to "Those Who Can't" that I might want to recommend more highly. But they're both kind of middling shows that get by on the easy comedy of adults doing inappropriate things around children. "Teachers" has a few laugh out loud moments here or there, but I just wish the cast was stronger.

n) "Agent Carter"
If there was any show I neglected to include on my top 50 shows of 2015 that I probably should have, it's "Agent Carter." The first season was really good, but just held my attention a bit less than Marvel's darker shows on Netflix. But it's in that weird Indiana Jones/Brisco County niche of mixing real history with weird pulpy sci-fi stuff that I love, and I feel like the show has really gotten in a groove in the second season and has gotten better at when and how much to throw comedy into the mix.

o) "New Girl" 
I've always joked about how quickly "New Girl" became an ensemble show that abandoned the pretense of being a star vehicle for Zooey Deschanel, that her being the title character is basically the equivalent of if "Friends" had been called "Phoebe." She's not bad or dead weight, it's just that pretty much every other character is of equal importance to the show. But my thesis wasn't really decisively proven right until this season, when they did several episodes without Deschanel at all while she took maternity leave, and they just kinda said oh she's in jury duty and you barely noticed she was gone.

p) "Suits"
For most of the time that "Suits" has been on the air, USA has done this weird schedule where each season is 10 episodes in the summer, then a break for several months, and the last 6 episodes of the season early the next year. Obviously, it's somewhat arbitrary how these 'seasons' are divided up, but I've come to really dislike this schedule, particularly for the weird little 6-episode runs. The current one is kind of once again ramping up the tension of what will happen to Mike's secret being revealed, which is always kind of dumb because if anything too bad happens then there's no show, and they're definitely keeping this on the air as long as they can. But I liked the mock trial scenes, more than the actual trial, and I'm kind of hoping they can conclude this story well and then hit the reset button and do some new stories for the next season. 

q) "Shameless"
I've always had a love/hate thing with "Shameless," especially as it drags into the 6th season and has been renewed for a 7th. I don't think I ever even finished the 4th season, but decided to keep up with it again. Mostly I've just liked the last couple seasons for the Sasha Alexander arc, though, a lot of the show just feels like it's in a rut. And a recent episode ended with an unlikable minor character being burned to death onscreen, and it was basically played for laughs and then never acknowledged again in later episodes, which felt like a new level of callous and hollow for this show.