Friday, January 27, 2017

Village Voice's annual music critics poll was published this week, and is still called Pazz + Jop, despite the fact that they'd appeared to ditch the poll's 40 year old name when they sent out ballots a few weeks ago. Here's my ballot of my top 10 albums and singles of the year, which of course is a shorter version of the top 50 albums and top 100 singles lists I posted in December. As usual, the Furia site is full of interesting stats, and my page is here.

TV Diary

Thursday, January 26, 2017

a) "The Young Pope"
I'm glad that I watched one of Paolo Sorrentino's films, Youth, a few weeks ago, because I really enjoyed his strange sense of humor and surreal visual sensibility. And it really primed me for "The Young Pope," which I think most people are checking out because it's an HBO show with a big movie star headlining it or because the title/premise is funny and are just kind of confounded or turned off by. But after watching four episodes, I'm really enjoying it so far even if I really have no idea if it's ultimately headed somewhere dark, funny, profound, or stupid, or all of the above.

b) "The New Edition Story"
I'm generally allergic to biopics, but a nice low stakes miniseries about a group with a pretty action packed history is some good TV, and I've enjoyed watching this after spending so much time lately listening to New Edition. It's stupid, but I really enjoyed that Michael Bivins's mother Shirley was played by Yvette Nicole Brown (aka Shirley from "Community").

c) "Throwing Shade"
This new TV Land series got a lot of advance bad publicity from people generally reacting to it being a bad look for a show called "Throwing Shade" to star 2 white people. The hosts, a woman and a gay guy, basically do a pop culture-heavy 'Weekend Update'-style report at a news desk, and kind of come off like a poor man's Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner. There were a few pretty sharp jokes in the first episode, and Will Ferrell surprisingly showed up for one of the scripted sketches thrown into the show, but they'll have to ditch the annoying laugh track and maybe have a real audience for this show to really have some potential.

d) "A Series Of Unfortunate Events"
Barry Sonnenfeld has a pretty spotty resume, but he's done a handful of things I love, and this series kind of feels like a pretty perfect melding of two of them, the Addams Family movies and "Pushing Daisies," the whole cartoony morbid vibe. I kinda feel like this show doesn't have enough of a plot to be an hour long, but Neil Patrick Harris and Patrick Warburton are hilarious and get a lot of great lines.

e) "Sneaky Pete"
Gritty antihero prestige TV drama icon Bryan Cranston co-created this Amazon show, which feels like a catalog of all the increasingly tiresome tropes of gritty antihero prestige TV. The whole premise with somebody stepping into someone else's life to get out of trouble has been done better on other shows, particularly "The Riches," which made much better use of Margo Martindale than this show does.

f) "Taboo"
I am, for whatever reason, one of the only people in the world who doesn't think much of Tom Hardy. He seems to have a different face and accent for every role, but never any discernible personality, and the FX period piece series he wrote with his father seems to confirm every feeling I had about him being kind of dull and pretentious. The production values are nice, I guess, but I am just not into this shit.

g) "Emerald City"
Tarsem Singh is one of the most visually creative and distinctive directors working today, probably best known for the not great but gorgeously filmed The Cell (although I prefer his far lesser known second feature The Fall). But given that he's increasingly failed to live up to his potential as a filmmaker, it's probably for the best that he's moved into TV, directing every episode of the first season of Wizard of Oz series. Rendering Oz as a dark gloomy Game of Thrones/Narnia mythology is kind of an iffy basis for a show, but there are enough colorful and grandiose sets and outfits and creatures and effects to make it one of the richest feasts for the eyes on TV, so I'm just kind of going along with the ride and hoping I eventually care about the story.

h) "One Day At A Time"
I only have the vaguest memories of the show with the Schneider guy being in syndication when I was a kid, so I don't have much investment in a reboot. But I do enjoy the Norman Lear style of sitcoms and appreciate that they're pretty true to that here, although the laugh track is pretty loud and it's more charming than it is funny most of the time.

i) "Big Fan"
A pretty goofy new game show hosted by Andy Richter where fans of a celebrity are quizzed on trivia, and then compete with the celebrity themselves to see who knows more about them. The debut episode with Matthew McConaughey was pretty entertaining but I have my doubts about most other celebs making for a good episode.

j) "Beyond"
I try to give sci fi shows on Freeform a chance because I like "Stitchers," but I dunno, this is kinda bland, not too into it.

k) "The Mick"
This show has been pretty funny so far, the whole rapport between Kaitlin Olson and Carla Jiminez is hilarious.

l) "Chasing Cameron"
Netflix made a documentary series about one of those Vine/Instagram stars and the stupid meet and greet event tours they do, I could only stomach one episode but it's really kind of a gripping, horrifying portrait of this odd little cottage industry that sprang up a few years ago. It's so weird because it's like Beatlemania without the music, it's just a free floating social media version of a bazillion teenage girls idolizing some random guy from the internet but it's really almost more intense than if this guy actually did anything or had a skill.

m) "Trollhunters"
The idea of Guillermo del Toro creating a kids' show sounds like a joke, but this Netflix animated series turned out to be pretty charming, with a voice cast including Kelsey Grammer (in a great turn as a six eyed troll) and the late Anton Yelchin in one of his final performances. My 7 year old loved the show, he watched all 26 episodes in the week he was home for Christmas and the last episode made him cry.

n) "Travelers"
This is a weird high concept show about people from the future kind of inhabiting people's bodies in the present at the moment they're about to die, interesting premise with some creepy ambiance, but then it kinda feels like Eric McCormack stepped out of a totally different, somewhat lighter show.

o) "Crazyhead"
My wife was a big fan of the British series "Misfits," though I never really saw too much of it myself. I really enjoyed this new show from "Misfits" creator Howard Overman, though, kind of a fun demonic horror comedy that in some way was a lot more creative and unpredictable than some of the similarly themed American shows that have been going around lately.

p) "The OA"
Netflix premiered this show with a very little information or advance notice in December, and kinda let people be allured by its mysterious aura and strange story. But I thought the first couple episodes were pretty rough going, and it pretty much never got better as I got to the ridiculous conclusion that felt like it was manipulating my emotions and insulting my intelligence. I was not a particularly big fan of "Stranger Things" but all the pieces comparing "The OA" favorably to "Stranger Things" came off pretty desperate, this really felt like a failed experiment.

q) "Star"
"Empire" had the right cast and caught the zeitgeist at the right time to be a pretty fun show to watch, but "Star" kind of mashes the "Empire" formula together with the lurid misery porn of Lee Daniels's other work like Precious and Monster's Ball, and it all kind of becomes an ugly mess, particularly in the pilot episode. It's a shame, because the production values and the staging on the musical scenes can be pretty impressive. But I don't know what they were thinking with this goofy show about a white R&B star, it plays like a Fergie origin story.

r) "White Rabbit Project"
I watched a lot of "MythBusters" back in the day, and apparently the show kept going on and on until less than a year ago. So now the people from the show are moving on to vaguely similar new projects, and this one on Netflix features the 3 members of the 'build team' testing out technology hacks and heists and things like that. I'm kinda over this whole style of show, I guess, but I'm still all about Kari Byron.

s) "Medici: Masters Of Florence"
It's weird that a Netflix series featuring Dustin Hoffman has gotten virtually no attention, but he's not really a very big part of it, and the one episode I watched moved pretty slowly and was kind of cheesy and melodramatic.

t) "Hip Hop Evolution"
From the moment "Hip Hop Evolution" starts, with the no name rapper who created it shoehorning his career and clips of his videos into the intro, I just have a very strong dislike for the guy and his perspective. But, I appreciate this documentary's focus on the early days of rap and they went to the source and got some interesting interviews out of the early generations of hip hop, so it's worth a look.

u) "3%"
Yet another international Netflix sci fi show, this one from Brazil. I don't think I have the attention span to watch an entire series with subtitles, though.

v) "Glitch"
Yet another international Netflix sci fi show, this one from Australia, with the great creepy premise of a bunch of people crawling out of a graveyard after being dead for years and having no idea why. I'm almost through the whole series now but it really hasn't held my attention much since that first episode.

w) "Paranoid"
More Netflix international fare, a British crime drama, didn't care much for the first episode. But damn Netflix is churning out a lot of content these days, half of the shows in this post are Netflix, and really most of them are pretty subpar television.

x) "Son Of Zorn"
My friend Josh is the only person I know who watches this show, and he seemed to hate it at first and now is its biggest fan. I'm kind of indifferent to it, it's had some funny moments but it kinda feels like they're just trying to squeeze too much out of a premise that would barely sustain a sketch.

y) "The Affair"
I really thought this show had developed into something pretty unique, if depressing, in the second season. But now the third season is almost over and I feel like it's maybe just descended into total pointless misery, they just keep plunging these characters further into heartbreak and betrayal and prison and addiction, and it's kind of gone way beyond what once felt like a fairly realistic look at the fallout of an extramarital affair and a divorce.

z) "Saturday Night Live"
I left "SNL" off of my year-end TV list the last two years, in part because of general lack of enthusiasm about the show but also pretty pointedly because both years I was pretty pissed about Donald Trump hosting after his campaign began. But now that Trump is actually president and "SNL" is the only show making fun of him that he actually watches and gets pissed off at, I'm kinda glad it's there and hope Alec Baldwin keeps poking the bear for as long as he's president, he's really been great. It was depressing that one of the few recent episodes Trump didn't tweet about was the one where Aziz Ansari asked him to denounce hate crimes, though. And that whole thing with a writer getting suspended over a tweet is pretty awful, too, the entire entanglement between NBC and Trump is just kind of shitty. Melissa Villasenor is growing on me out of this season's new featured players, though, she was hilarious in the sketch role playing in bed with Ansari.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My latest Remix Report Card for Noisey.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 86: New Edition

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Next week BET will air the 3-part The New Edition Story, Bell Biv DeVoe have a new album coming out this month, and the whole group reunited on a recent Johnny Gill single that was on my top 20 R&B singles of 2016. So let's talk New Edition.

New Edition Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Gimme Your Love
2. Pass The Beat
3. Ooh Baby
4. I'm Leaving You Again
5. Baby Love
6. Delicious
7. Hide And Seek
8. Whispers In Bed
9. Who Do You Trust
10. Singing Merry Christmas
11. Since I Don't Have You
12. Intro
13. That's The Way We're Livin'
14. Boys To Men
15. Where It All Started
16. Skit 2
17. I'm Comin' Home
18. Shop Around
19. Hear Me Out
20. One Love Interlude
21. Last Time

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from Candy Girl (1983)
Tracks 4, 5, 6 and 7 from New Edition (1984)
Tracks 8 and 9 from All For Love (1985)
Track 10 from Christmas All Over The World (1985)
Track 11 from Under The Blue Moon (1986)
Tracks 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 from Heart Break (1988)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Home Again (1996)
Tracks 20 and 21 from One Love (2004)

There's an argument to be made that New Edition has influenced pop music history more than almost any group in my lifetime. They invented the modern boy band template for a couple generations of male vocal groups, from NKOTB and the other white boy bands that followed in their wake to the various R&B groups including Boyz II Men, mentored by Michael Bivins and named after a New Edition deep cut. Bobby Brown was arguably the first R&B star to routinely rap on his singles, and he and BBD helped make New Jack Swing a pop phenomenon, plus Johnny and Ralph had pretty respectable solo careers. If you removed New Edition from history, a huge chunk of popular music might not even exist.

The hits on New Edition were penned by outside writers, including Ray Parker Jr., but members of the group began writing deep cuts, including Ricky Bell and Ralph Tresvant's "I'm Leaving You Again," which was sampled on Bow Wow and Ciara's huge 2005 hit "Like You." And that basically established the pattern for most of the band's career, where many of their songs were written by group members but almost never the singles (with the exception of the 1996 comeback single "Hit Me Off," co-written by Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe well after they penned several Bell Biv DeVoe hits). So deep cuts are really where you get a bit more of the group's perspective and some foreshadowing of their solo careers and offshoot groups.

It made the most sense to organize the group's catalog chronologically, since their sound changed with the times and you also hear their voices gradually deepen (well, except Ralph Tresvant's, I think he's had the same range since the first album). 1988's "If It Isn't Love" has always been my favorite New Edition hit and Heart Break follows suit as easily my favorite album of the bunch, great Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis work during that fertile period between Control and Rhythm Nation. I'm surprised by the number of skits on Heart Break, because it doesn't seem like skits become customary on rap albums until 1989.

One of the most interesting things to me about New Edition's on again, off again relationship with Bobby Brown is that they both initially flopped after the split, with his solo debut and the remaining quartet's ill conceived doo wop covers album Under The Blue Moon both coming out in 1986 (and I was amused that it features "Since I Don't Have You," covered on another major group's footnote covers album, The Spaghetti Incident? by Guns 'N Roses, 7 years later). And then they rallied and came back big separately in 1988 with Heart Break and Don't Be Cruel, both multi platinum career high points. The two reunion albums haven't aged as well as the '80s stuff, but there's some solid circa 1996 and circa 2004 radio R&B on those records.

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
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!

Monthly Report: January 2017 Singles

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

1. The Weeknd f/ Daft Punk - "I Feel It Coming"
I've spent a lot of the last few months trashing Starboy in general and "Starboy" in particular for the waste of Daft Punk on a terribly generic (and inexplicably popular) track. But I'm a lot more impressed by the album's other Daft Punk collaboration, which still sounds a little they're on autopilot but makes much better use of some of their signature sounds. The Weeknd always wilts under all those Michael Jackson comparisons, but this at least lets him touch on a previously unexplored capacity for sugary "The Lady In My Life"/"Human Nature" balladry. Here's the 2017 singles Spotify playlist I'll be adding to every month.

2. Ed Sheeran - "Castle On The Hill"
Ed Sheeran released two singles from his upcoming album simultaneously, and the embarrassing trop house one he wrote for Rihanna, "The Shape Of You," is naturally far and away the bigger hit, debuting at #1. But I much prefer the #6 debut "Castle On The Hill," which is produced by Benny Blanco and kind of manages to subtly combine a folky clap stomp beat with an EDM pulse but still actually sounds like the kind of song Ed Sheeran should sing instead of some corny cod dancehall bullshit.

3. DJ Esco f/ Future and Lil Uzi Vert - "Too Much Sauce"
I love the combination of Future and Zaytoven and am happy that the sequel to Beast Mode seems to finally be on the way in 2017 (presumably no longer called Beast Mode 16). Project E.T. had a lot of jams but seemed to get kind of dismissed last year in the flood of Future music that it followed, so I'm glad one of its best songs has stuck around on the charts. Lil Uzi Vert is actually good on "Too Much Sauce," so it's nice to occasionally hear this song instead of his shitshow of a verse on "Bad & Boujee."

4. Usher - "Missin' U"
I always love hearing Steely Dan sampled on rap and R&B songs, regardless of how Donald and Walter feel about it. And here Pop & Oak pretty brilliantly turn "Third World Man," one of the darkest tracks on Gaucho, into a sexy Usher jam.

5. Dreezy - "Wasted"
No Hard Feelings is 3 for 3 on radio singles, was really impressed that she did a track with Greg Kurstin that puts his sound into an R&B context that works surprisingly well.

6. Beyonce - "All Night"
"All Night" is the sweet reconciliation song at the end of Lemonade so it was appropriate that they released it as a single toward the end of the album cycle. I was surprised they credited the horns as a "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" interpolation, it's not nearly as close as the "Flawless" remix horns were, but I guess they wanted to cover their asses in these litigious times. I don't say nice things about anything made by Diplo very often so here's the grudging compliment I'll give every couple years I guess.

7. Dae Dae - "Spend It"
I think it's odd that Dae Dae dropped a solid album with London On Da Track but keeps pushing singles with different producers that aren't on that project. But Nitti Beatz is enjoying a nice little career resurgence with this and Rich Homie Quan's "Flex" hitting so many years after his best known work with Yung Joc.

8. DJ Snake f/ Jeremih, Young Thug and Swizz Beatz - "The Half"
DJ Snake launched his run of pop hits by basically using Lil Jon's voice as a sound effect (which it kind of already was, but still). So I'm impressed that this track really makes good use of all its guests, although really it'd be a better song without that annoying warbling filtered vocal loop sound that's in every DJ Snake track, that shit is really played out now.

9. Rick Ross f/ 2 Chainz and Gucci Mane - "Buy Back The Block"
Rick Ross has already been a boring rapper with good taste to me, so the more guests he loads his tracks up with the better, and this has one of the best Gucci verses of the past year on it.

10. Kevin "Chocolate Droppa" Hart f/ Trey Songz - "Push It On Me"
Kevin Hart has been doing a comedy bit as his rapper alter ego Chocolate Droppa for years, more as a parody of bad rappers than a serious attempt at a second career. So I was surprised that he promoted his latest concert film with a companion mixtape where he apparently collaborates with all manner of huge stars. It's very odd because Trey Songz contributed one of his best tracks in recent memory and they've actually scored a radio hit with it, but the charm of a Trey Songz track is maybe a little undermined by having Kevin Hart yell things like "hey bitches, y'all better get a maxi pad and put it on because you about to get wet!" and "grab her ass booty butt now" all over it. Baltimore producer J. Oliver did a great job of putting that Carl Thomas sample over a drum pattern that has a little of that "Bank Rolls" Bmore flavor to it, I just wish there was an edit with no Kevin Hart on it.

Worst Single of the Month: Drake - "Fake Love"
I know I say this every few months, but Drake has really outdone himself, this might be the worst thing he's ever done. Even the 'relatable' aspect of the song comes off hollow after all the times he's talked about how he has to "act like I like" his peers but suddenly it's everyone else that's fake. And it felt like a pretty glaring example of his practice of hopping on other rappers' waves that he gathered 3 of the people who wrote "Pick Up The Phone" (who had previously only all worked together on that one song) for a similar sounding track, which rocketed up the rap radio airplay charts at the exact moment "Pick Up The Phone" lost momentum and basically ended up with a lower peak than most people expected.

Movie Diary

Friday, January 13, 2017

a) Sing
Last year I took my son to see Kubo And The Two Strings starring Matthew McConaughey, and a few months later we went to see another animated feature with McCounaughey in it, which means the AniMcConaissance is now in full swing. He didn't even really sound much like himself in Sing, he mostly spoke in this annoying chipper Mickey Mouse cadence. It's a cute movie, lots of fun musical moments, but it also kinda felt like a lot of the funny audition scenes were given away in the countless TV ads for the movie. My kid was happy, though. 

b) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
I had zero expectations for this since Man of Steel was one of the most unpleasant movies I've ever seen, but it wasn't much better with Bruce Wayne looking like Mitt Romney and Lex Luthor sounding like Martin Prince from "The Simpsons." Wonder Woman was at least introduced well, I regard this as just an overlong trailer for her movie. 

c) Captain America: Civil War
I watched this a couple nights after Batman v Superman expecting it would feel refreshing by comparison, and it was, but not by as much as I hoped. There was a whole lot of screentime taken up by the minor heroes introduced in the last Avengers movie that I never really cared about, and occasionally it used the ensemble well but it felt like a step down from the previous movies. The scenes with Spider-Man were funny and entertaining but the effects were so bad, it's like everybody in Hollywood forgot how to make Spidey flying through the air look cool and somewhat realistic. 

d) Keanu
We watched this a few days after George Michael's death, not knowing that a huge chunk of the movie was recurring references to George Michael, so that was kind of nice and appropriate. Key and Peele have always been hit and miss for me, and I kinda knew from the ads going in which parts of the movie would be eye rolling, but it held together and was funnier than I expected. 

e) Race
It's kind of a cliche at this point that any biopic about a famous black person needs to have a prominent white character shoehorned in as much as possible, and Race felt almost like an absurd parody of that. Jesse Owen's coach Larry Snyder is mentioned once in his 3,000 word Wikipedia entry, and yet Jason Sudeikis as Snyder feels almost more like the protagonist of Race than Stephan James as Jesse Owens. It was a fine movie in most respects, but that kinda stuck in my craw. 

f) Hail, Caesar!
One thing I've always loved about most Coen brothers movie is how well they use their casts and give memorable roles to lesser known character actors and only rely on big name A listers for one or two lead roles. So it's kind of bittersweet to see their clout rise to the point that they can or perhaps have to populate a movie like Hail, Caesar! with wall to wall stars. I'm not such a snob that I'm against seeing a Channing Tatum or Scarlett Johansson or Jonah Hill in a Coen movie, but all at once just felt gratuitous. But Alden Ehrenreich was a clear standout of the cast despite being not too well known yet, which bodes well for his turn as Han Solo, I guess. 

g) Hot Tub Time Machine 2
The first movie was goofy and fun enough that I was up for the sequel, where John Cusack opted out and they doubled down on the wackiness of the first movie. After a while it just felt like they're beating you over the head with every possible time travel gag and trying to be as bawdy as possible, hope they don't make a third. 

h) Bang Bang Baby
This little Canadian indie from first time writer/director Jeffrey St. Jules is an ambitious sci-fi comedy musical. And sometimes it swung so wildly from goofy camp to swooning romance to perverse gore that it never entirely hit the mark or knew what it wanted to be, but I enjoyed it, hopefully this guy will get to make more movies. 

Muscle Memory Liner Notes, Part 4

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Previously, I wrote about track 1, track 2, and track 3 of the Western Blot album, so here we continue.

Track 4: Sore Winners

"Sore Winners" kind of has the oldest roots of any song on Muscle Memory, and is the only one that was used in some form for a previous band. The main keyboard riff was one of the first things I wrote on the Casio I got for Christmas as a teenager, when I was starting to get really heavy into non-standard time signatures, and got really geeked out about writing something that's three measures of 7/8 and one measure of 5/8, or 26/32 is I guess another way you could say it.

I played drums in several bands before Western Blot (not counting school band, which I also did a lot of), but only 3 bands that I would call 'real bands' that wrote a set of original songs and performed in public. And even those 'real bands' were never of any renown whatsoever or left any kind of digital footprint. But the most notable semi-accomplished one was The True Human Motive, which I joined early in my senior year of high school in Lewes, Delaware, and played with for almost a year.

The True Human Motive, as I remember it, was led by my high school's one serious underground emo head, who roped in three of the only other punk-leaning kids in school who played instruments into joining the band. I wasn't into the whole screamo thing but it was my first experience of really grinding out regular practices and songwriting sessions with a band and being productive and I was really proud of my drumming. We only played a handful of shows, and once tried to book a tour that turned into a single show in Pittsburgh, which was still kind of fun crazy adventure for an 18 year old kid.

We journeyed upstate to Newark, Delaware on a couple of weekends to record an album at Clay Creek Recording Studio, where DE emo heroes Boy Sets Fire had recorded. The album, Hope, consisted of the 8 or so full-fledged songs in our repertoire and was padded out with a short improvised instrumental jams, some of which had spoken word vocals over them.

As we were doing these, I volunteered by little keyboard riff that eventually became "Sore Winners" and got to take over a studio session for the first time and do my thing. The Hope version was called "Stiff Legs," and it was essentially the same keys and 26/32 drums as the first section of "Sore Winners," and the same 4/4 drums as the second section. But I didn't have a keyboard part written for that section yet, so band's bassist and one of the guitarists improvised over it. Since I had a notebook full of 'lyrics' or pretentious poetry or whatever, I was going to try to do a spoken word track over it. I went into the vocal booth, with everyone in the studio watching and waiting, stared at the notebook page I'd decided to use, couldn't begin to even say a word, and just decided to leave the track as an instrumental.

That fall, I left for college, and The True Human Motive broke up, after one last little performance at my house when we threw a party while my mom was out of town (if I recall, she knew something went on because a potted plant got broken, but wasn't too mad). Hope was never released in any real capacity, although I think our singer, Ben, got pretty involved in the screamo scene and passed it around. Years later I'd see us mentioned in the 'favorite bands' bricks of text in MySpace profiles of people who weren't anywhere near Delaware.

That was in 2000, and I remember picking up Radiohead's Kid A a few months after we finished the album and feeling somewhat bummed to hear "Everything In Its Right Place" open with electric organ chords in a non standard time signature that reminded me a tiny bit of "Stiff Legs." Not that I think anyone would really hear my song all these years later and think of Radiohead, but anytime someone famous has an idea that resembles one of yours, you kinda feel like you missed your chance to plant that flag first. And as long as it took me to put out that record, that feeling obviously happened many times.

It was a few years later that I had more keyboard compositions and started recording with Mat Leffler-Schulman, first at his home studio in Takoma Park. And we laid down a far amount of stuff in those early sessions that made the final album, including most of the instrumentation on "Sore Winners" and two other songs ("The Power Let Me Down" and "How Can I"). I mapped out the song, with the completed ABA structure (as opposed to the sparer AB structure of "Stiff Legs") on a home demo with a drum machine, and then used the drum machine as my click track for the Takoma Park session. And then I took the 4/4 drum machine pattern and the 26/32 drum machine pattern, and put them on top of each other and ran them through the same funky effect heard on "As Friends," to get this weird flange sound with all those weird rhythmic accents that you hear at the very beginning and end of "Sore Winners."

I loved bands like Soul Coughing and Lake Trout that adapted the fast breakbeat rhythms of drum'n'bass to a live drum set, and "Sore Winners" was really the one track where I just went nuts with that style and tried to push it into something new with that unusual time signature. I have broken a lot of cymbals over the years, so something I have done since the True Human Motive days is put two or three broken cymbals on top of each other on a stand, to get kind of a harsh sound somewhere between an open hi-hat and a trash can lid. And the middle section of "Sore Winners" is pretty much the one time on the album that I use that a lot (besides a few measures in "The Power Let Me Down").

When we revisited "Sore Winners" a few years later at Mobtown Studios, we added a few synths, and it probably has the most different synths layered on top of each other of any track on the album. The synths on the middle section of "Sore Winners" that we did in Takoma Park mysteriously disappeared from the DAT when we came back to the project later on, so we re-recorded them. We also used the foot pedals from this cool old organ Mat had (also used more prominently on "Time And A Half") to record a bassline and gave the song such a monstrous low end. I put a lot of different synths on the final section, trying to thicken up the sound and make it feel climactic, including this one synth sound that reminded me of Van Halen's "Why Can't This Be Love" that I thought was kind of hilarious to put on my album but also sounds really cool.

"Sore Winners" was the first vocal track for the album that we recorded. I reached out to Shawna Potter because I was a huge fan of her old band, Avec, and since she sang over some pretty unusual time signatures in that band, I figured she might be one of the only people who could really handle the odd groove of "Sore Winners." I talked to her about a particular studio date, but then as the date approached and I wasn't sure the song was ready, I thought I just wouldn't remind her and would record with her at a later date. But she's pretty organized and got in touch a few days before the session and asked me for the final set of lyrics. So I ironed out the lyrics, and recorded a very rough scratch vocal in my apartment, with my young son babbling in the background.

Shawna Potter came to Mobtown and recorded with us for a few hours and was just amazing, I'm in awe of her. It's a very wordy song in a strange rhythm and she just navigated it like I think very few vocalists would be able to. There was one line that had an odd number of syllables and didn't roll of the tongue very well that we rewrote on the fly. She sang so loudly in the closing section of the song that her voice went into the red and the microphone clipped, so there was a little bit of natural distortion on her voice. I thought it sounded incredible and insisted Mat use that take in the final mix.

We recorded the vocals for the first and third sections, and then did the middle section. And Shawna sang the entire middle section, but didn't have the cadence I wanted for the "right there in the middle of it all" part. And at that point we'd been at it for a few hours, and my son, who I couldn't find a babysitter for that day, was in the studio and getting fussy. So I decided to just call it a day with the middle section. Shawna was so generous with her time that day that I didn't wanna both her with another session to redo anything, and just faded in my vocals for a few bars of that section to hit those lines the way I wanted them hit, which is the only reason my voice is on that song at all.

After the session, I grabbed a bite to eat with Shawna and she told me about the new band she had just formed, War On Women. And at this point, that band is much more well known than Avec ever was, and they're just amazing, I went to one of their early shows and volunteered to write some PR copy for their first EP. It's kind of funny now, to think that I thought of "Sore Winners" as the one quasi political song on my record, not realizing that the person that I asked to sing on it had just started a band that writes nothing but incredible, scathing political punk rock with a much sharper ideological viewpoint than my little song.

We recorded those lyrics a few months before the whole Occupy Wall Street thing happened, and over the past few years things kept happening that made me think about the words of "Sore Winners" in different terms. Mostly I just kept seeing all the inequality in the world, and seeing people who were on the winning side playing victim, and as a privileged straight white man I just felt mortified about people with some or all of the same advantages as me trying to act like the underdog and whining about everything. And then I kept building off of that thought and going into different tangents like "everybody knows that it's not easy to be the boss, but noone wants to hear that from their own boss," which was kind of a seed of a different song that I'd started to write about my old job.

I released "Sore Winners" as the last pre-release single from Muscle Memory in October, a couple weeks before the election, and by that point it had kind of taken on yet another meaning in my head. It was the only song from the album that we hadn't played live at all in the first couple of years of Western Blot shows, mostly because it was so hard to teach the crazy time signature to John and Andy. So at the release party in December, I performed the song for the first time as a solo synth-and-vocals arrangement, also the first time I'd played keyboards in front of an audience. It was nervewracking, but I'm glad I did it, it just felt important to perform the song now, which, as I said in introducing it, was written years ago, so "it's not a Trump song, but it's not not a Trump song."

Monthly Report: December 2016 Albums

Monday, January 09, 2017

1. T.I. - Us Or Else: Letter To The System
I already put this on my best of 2016 list, which takes the politically charged 6 song EP released in September and adds 9 more mostly likeminded tracks for what is easily Tip's best album since 2008's Paper Trail. The songs from the EP are the meat that holds it all together, but I really dig some of the new ones, particularly the track with Charlie Wilson.

2. JuegoTheNinety - True American Gun Lust
Juego really stands out to me in the current Baltimore rap landscape, I feel like there's a lot of gallows humor in what he does, which has come to the forefront more than ever in this project. I'll probably write something more substantial about him soon, in the meantime check this out on Soundcloud.

3. Trunkweed - You Are A Nice Surprise
Trunkweed are one of my favorite newer guitar bands in Baltimore the last couple years, and it really sounds like they're just getting more confident and getting a better sense of their sound on their 2nd studio album. "Offbeat" is my favorite track on here, has a good mix of really pretty melodic guitar with these intense sections where the whole mood of the song changes.

4. John Legend - Darkness And Light
John Legend came into the game with such a bland traditional piano man image that I think some people are still figuring out that he's a pretty interesting guy with some diverse influences, which I thought was shown pretty well on Once Again and Love In The Future. Darkness And Light features a few writing credits from Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney, a couple of indie rock veterans who are a little less current or visible than, say, the indie rockers credited on Beyonce's Lemonade. "Right By You (For Luna)" is my favorite song on here, the string arrangement and upright bass are gorgeous.

5. Jeremih & Chance - Merry Christmas Lil Mama EP
As much as I'd love to hear a 'regular' collaborative project from Chance The Rapper and Jeremih, I also knew that this was kind of a perfect idea from the moment it hit Soundcloud. I always have trouble getting into the holiday season and feeling the spirit and all that stuff, so listening to this on Christmas Eve really put me in the mood, Jeremih and Chance both have this natural gregarious warmth in their voices and the kind of impish irreverent style of Christmas carols works a lot better here than on, say, R. Kelly's recent Christmas album. Plus "Joy" has one of those perfect Chance verses where you get so much detail and life in a few bars.

6. Nine Inch Nails - Not The Actual Events EP
I'm always a little more excited to hear what Trent Reznor is up to these days than just about any of his contemporaries from the '80s/'90s alt rock explosion, because he was remarkably ahead of his time as a producer, and has kept pace with new 21st century tools and approaches. Of course, as a songwriter he's only become more predictable, working from the same narrow band of gloom and rage that Nine Inch Nails has always been based on, but I'm fine with that. The only unusual thing about Not The Actual Events is hearing new NIN songs in the form of a brief EP, which hasn't happened since Broken, and obviously that's such a high bar that there's no comparison. But I like the dark lurching sound of these tracks, hopefully there's a full length in this mode coming this year.

7. Lloyd - Tru EP
"Tru" is a song that I appreciate more every time I hear it, such a disarmingly vulnerable song to hear on R&B radio in the current climate, and King of Hearts was so good that I've been looking forward to finally getting another new Lloyd album after over five years. This EP is a pretty small taster, only 3 new songs aside from the title track and its remix, and it kind of feels like those songs exist to prove that Lloyd can still do breezy radio bangers and not just stuff like "Tru." Of those songs, "Excited" is by far my favorite, but it all goes down pretty smoothly.

8. The Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome
It was exciting to hear 2016 releases from guys like David Bowie and Paul Simon who were still willing to try something new that many decades into their careers. But there's also something to be said for folks who stay in their lane, and at this late date I'd rather hear the Stones do a barebones set of blues standards than an ill fitting attempt to stay current like Bridges To Babylon. It really just affirms to their place in the lineage of bluesmen who kept doing their thing until they dropped dead, which really suits the Stones musically more than looking at them as an arena rock band. And I love the flat no nonsense texture of this record and how it feels like Mick Jagger is yelling across the room.

9. The Lox - Filthy America...It's Beautiful
I love The Lox and I've always been impressed by how well they've held up over the years, Style P's solo albums are consistent as hell and Jadakiss can still light up a guest verse as well as anybody, I always thought it was a shame that their legacy isn't as respect as, say, Dipset's. So I had high hopes that everything would fall into place for their first group album in over a decade, and unfortunately it doesn't really hit the mark, from the generic trap beat that opens the record to the weird faux Megadeth album title. But once you get past the clear missteps, there's a good amount of these guys doing what they do best, I love "What Else You Need To Know."

10. various artists - This Is A Challenge
Given the proliferation of dance rap songs going viral and climbing the charts the last couple years, often by artists who never end up releasing full length albums, it was pretty savvy for someone at Atlantic Records to put together a Now That's What I Call Music-style compilation of them. The execution leaves something to be desired -- you may as well put "Juju On That Beat" and "Do It Like Me" next to each other in the running order given their shared Crime Mob DNA, and the new Flo Rida single debuted on the collection sticks out like a sore thumb as a completely different strain of dance rap. And by the end they just pad things out with a whole other generation of tracks like "Cupid Shuffle" and V.I.C.'s "Wobble." And even when the collection succeeds at curating this music, it's still a lot of weird little novelty tracks that aren't much to listen to without the videos and memes that helped make them popular. Still, this is a pretty good snapshot of a strain of popular music that is only going to become more dominant in the next few years.

Worst Album of the Month: The-Dream - Love You To Death EP
Terius made enough essential music at his peak that I try to give his new shot, but it's increasingly clear that he had a 3 year hot streak followed by many more years of outright mediocrity. Last month he released a new solo EP and an EP from his latest protege, Justin Skye, and while I've always preferred his writing for female singers to his solo stuff, both records are pretty weak. And this one, where he sings about "susan so random," among other bad ideas, definitely sticks out as the worse of the two.

Dual Roles: The Busiest Actors of Peak TV

Thursday, January 05, 2017

This week, Kaitlyn Olson began her 12th season of FX's It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, as well as the first season of her new FOX series The Mick. In the age of Peak TV, with hundreds of scripted dramas and comedies being produced by dozens of networks and streaming platforms, acting talent is in high demand. And increasingly, performers are jumping from one project to the next with remarkable speed, whether they’re limited series or substantial guest star arcs, or beginning a new series before the last one has gone off the air. A few years ago, it was considered unusual for, say, Alison Brie, to be on both Community and Mad Men at the same time, but now it's almost routine. The busiest actors of peak TV may not be the biggest stars, but rather the emerging talents and veteran supporting players that casting directors eagerly compete for. 

So, as something of an addendum to my top 50 shows of the year, here are over a dozen actors who starred in full seasons, or the majority of episodes of a season, on more than one series in 2016, ranked vaguely from the best set of roles to the worst. .

Jimmi Simpson: Westworld, Hap And Leonard

Jimmi Simpson has quietly racked up an impressive career as a versatile character actor over the past decade, starring in the little seen A&E series Breakout Kings and appearing in recurring roles in everything from House of Cards to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But 2016 felt like a tipping point year, when Simpson stood out as probably the least familiar major player in Westworld’s cast full of movie stars. And he also chewed the scenery memorably as the villain on SundanceTV’s Hap And Leonard. Given the fate of his characters on both shows, it’s unclear if he’ll appear in the 2017 seasons of Westworld or Hap And Leonard, but it seems certain we’ll be seeing more of Jimmi Simpson on TV somewhere.

Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr.: American Crime Story, American Horror Story

Ryan Murphy is one of TV’s busiest showrunners, and he tends to stick with actors that he likes. Sarah Paulson has reaped the greatest benefits from an alliance with Murphy, appearing in all six seasons of his FX anthology series American Horror Story, each time as a different character, and racking up four Emmy nominations in the process. But this year she finally won for another Murphy anthology series, playing Marcia Clark in American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson. Cuba Gooding Jr. joined the Murphy repertory to play O.J. Simpson, and then reteamed with Paulson a few months later in American Horror Story: Roanoke, where both actually played multiple roles in the show’s dizzying layers of meta.

Hugh Laurie: Chance, The Night Manager, Veep

Veteran British actor Hugh Laurie became one of TV’s most watched leading men in his 8 seasons on the FOX medical drama House. And after a few years away from television, he recently returned in a big way, juggling several roles. On Veep’s fourth and fifth seasons, Laurie became a valuable recurring player as Selina Meyer’s new political foil Tom James. On the AMC miniseries The Night Manager, he was the villainous arms dealer Richard Roper (not to be confused with villainous film critic Richard Roeper). And most recently, he starred in Hulu’s new drama Chance as San Francisco neuropsychiatrist Eldon Chance.

Mahershala Ali: Luke Cage, House Of Cards

Few actors have had a better 2016 than Mahershala Ali, and that’s even if you only take into account his roles in two of awards season’s most celebrated films, Moonlight and Hidden Figures. On the TV side, he appeared in two Netflix hits, earning an Emmy nomination for his work on House of Cards and stealing scenes on Marvel’s Luke Cage as the villain Cottonmouth.

Hayley Atwell: Agent Carter, Conviction

Hayley Atwell has had something of a rough 2016, being canceled by ABC twice in the space of six months. First, Agent Carter, the spinoff series for her Captain America character, concluded its second and final season, and then her new fall legal drama Conviction failed to get a full season pickup. Don’t blame Atwell, who lit up the screen on both shows.

Deon Cole: Black-ish, Angie Tribeca

I can remember the first time I saw Deon Cole, a writer on Conan O'Brien's staff, step out on stage to do a bit with Conan, and it seemed so clear that he had this hilarious wild eyed that could take him from behind the scenes to more onscreen work. And this year he continued his third season of entertaining recurring appearances on Black-ish as well as co-star in 2 seasons of Angie Tribeca. 

Michael K. Williams: Hap And Leonard, The Night Of

Michael K. Williams has already had too rich a career to be typecast, but the actor remains best known for his iconic role as Omar Little on The Wire. And this year he took on another role as a gay tough guy, Vietnam vet Leonard Pine, in SundanceTV’s adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s 1990 novel Savage Season. A couple months later, Williams returned to HBO to play Freddy Knight, a Rikers Island inmate, on the miniseries The Night Of.

Abigail Spencer: Rectify, Timeless

This fall, the acclaimed SundanceTV series Rectify wrapped up its harrowing fourth and final season. But while it aired, one of the show’s stars was already moving onto lighter fare with NBC’s fall sci-fi hit Timeless. And amid all that, she also returned to USA’s Suits, where she’s had a recurring role for five years, for a couple episodes.

Natalie Brown: The Strain, Channel Zero

Canadian actress Natalie Brown has spent most of her career in horror and sci-fi projects, and this year she pulled double duty as the vampire mom on FX’s The Strain and the human mom on SyFy’s creepypasta-inspired anthology series Channel Zero.

Richard Schiff: Rogue, House of Cards, Ballers, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

2016 may have been the busiest year of Richard Schiff’s three decades of television work. He co-starred in the fourth and final season of DirecTV’s Rogue, and made appearances in several episodes each of Ballers, House of Cards, and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. And if that wasn’t enough, he reunited with West Wing co-star Alison Janney on an episode of her CBS sitcom Mom.

Rob Corddry: Childrens Hospital, Ballers

Rob Corddry wrapped up his 7th and final season as the creator and star of Adult Swim’s hilarious medical drama satire Childrens Hospital this year, presumably to make more time for the second season of HBO’s inexplicably successful Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vehicle Ballers.

Gabourey Sidibe: Empire, Difficult People

Gabourey Sidibe has shown impressive versatility in her TV work since debuting in the title role in the 2009 film Precious. But she’s also terminally underused both on Empire, where she plays the assistant turned A&R Becky, and on Difficult People, where her wisecracking café owner Denise got significantly less screentime this year than she did in 2015.

Dennis Haysbert: Undercover, Incorporated

Dennis Haysbert has long been on TV every hour of every day for years as the pitchman in Allstate’s ubiquitous ad campaign. But this year the former 24 star also took on multiple starring roles, appearing as death row inmate Rudy Jones on the BBC miniseries Undercover and as the mysterious head of security Julian on SyFy’s dystopian series Incorporated.

David Schwimmer: American Crime Story, Feed The Beast

In the decade since Friends went off the air, David Schwimmer is the only one who seemed to retreat somewhat from the spotlight, while Jennifer Aniston did films and the rest all starred in multiple series. But in 2016 he returned to TV in a big way, if not necessarily a good way. First, he was the weakest link in American Crime Story’s impressive cast, reducing the late Robert Kardashian to a simp with a skunk stripe in his hair. Then he starred in the absolutely irredeemable AMC drama Feed The Beast, which was rightfully canceled after the first season ended in a cliffhanger that nobody cared to see the resolution of.