Friday, March 31, 2017

Pearl Jam is being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in a few days, and one of the previous members of the band that won't be inducted with them is drummer Dave Abbruzzese, so I made a playlist for The Dowsers of his brief but very fertile 3 years with the band. 

Muscle Memory Liner Notes, Part 8

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Previously I wrote about tracks 1, 2, 3, 456, and 7 on the Western Blot album

Track 8: How Can I

One thing I’m proud of with Muscle Memory is that every song on the album feels somehow essential to its character for me. Your mileage may vary for any given song, but nothing felt to me like it was redundant or included as padding, which is the main reason I’m primarily interested in making records that run under 40 minutes.

Still, it’s impossible to make a record without having your excitement about different tracks and different elements wax and wane. And one thing that was interesting about assembling an album so slowly over the course of a decade is that some songs gradually came into their own as favorites, while others felt like they had the most potential from the beginning and ultimately kind of staggered to the finish line.

“How Can I” was one of the first songs, along with “ETC,” that I wrote on a keyboard with what felt like a complete song structure with musically distinct verses and choruses. It was also one of the 3 tracks (along with “Sore Winners” and “The Power Let Me Down”) that sounded so good as we recorded it in Mat’s basement at Takoma Park that we simply added vocals and minor instrumentation to it at Mobtown Studios instead of starting over from scratch (as we did with “ETC”). And I know it was always a favorite of Mat’s as well. We’d be working on it and he’d say things like “this is the single.” It was, I think, track 1 or track 2 on the CD-r of rough mixes we threw together at the end of the Takoma Park sessions.

In the end, though, “How Can I” wound up being track 8, and one of the only songs that I never separated from the album for any kind of single or compilation release. That’s not to say that being the second to last song on the album is a bad thing, though; I’ve always thought that the penultimate track should be kind of a special spot in the album. And “How Can I” is in some ways the most personal song on the album, certainly the most personal lyrics I sing on the album. But it was the last one we finished recording, one of the hardest to figure out lyrically and vocally. And it’s also one of the last songs we figured out how to play live, and one that remains pretty difficult, on a technical level, for me to play and sing at the same time.

The song started with the keyboard line in the first half of the chorus (the one that runs under the lyric “How can I love you for so long without writing you a love song?”). I’d done a drum machine demo with that keyboard line, really it was probably one of the best hip hop beats I’d ever demoed, it was this funky syncopated wannabe Rick Rock kind of beat, I’ll still probably use the drum pattern in something someday. But once I came up with the verse keyboard line that kind of went with that bit, it became a rock song.

A lot of Muscle Memory is about me trying to make synths sound or feel like guitars in some way or another, and “How Can I” was probably the most deliberate example of that. I always loved the way Keith Richards used his guitar to imitate a horn sound on “Satisfaction,” and I kind of wanted to do a bit of that, a synth imitating a guitar imitating a horn. I was also really into the guitar sound of Dionne Warwick’s “You’re Gonna Need Me,” as sampled on Usher’s “Throwback” and State Property’s “Want Me Back.” And one of the few times in the making of the album that I brought a song to Mat and said “I’m thinking something like this” was when I played the Usher song for him as kind of an indication of the keyboard sound on “How Can I.”

So we went through Mat’s synths, and I think it was one his Korg that we found this buzzsaw sound that became the driving force of “How Can I.” One of my favorite bands of all time, one that I think has always been a major songwriting influence on me in weird little subtle ways that probably only I can hear, is The Posies. And “How Can I” is a song where I hear a lot of Posies. Even the drum fill transitioning from the first chorus to the second verse is very “Solar Sister.”

There were a lot of songs where I toyed with different lyrics and titles before settling on the final idea. But “How Can I” was the only song where I completed one set of lyrics, recorded a scratch vocal at Mobtown, and then scrapped them and rewrote a whole new set of lyrics. And that original lyrics was much darker. The period in which we finished the album was really one of the hardest times in my life, I got laid off from my job a month after my first son was born, it was a struggle to make ends meet, a lot was going on. So I had this incredibly dark lyric that, one of the only ones I really felt weird even tracking in the studio with Mat. And if it had worked a little better musically and melodically, probably would’ve been on the record (and honestly I still might use that lyric somewhere down the line if I find a new musical arrangement for it).

The music on the song sounds kind of ominous and brooding to me. But when I wrote the second set of lyrics, it ended up really I think contrasting with the music more with something kind of loving and romantic, really just it’s a song to my wife about how we met and what it means to be devoted to someone for the rest of your life. And kind of by coincidence, the session where we recorded the vocal ended up being on Valentine’s Day. And on our wedding anniversary a few months later, I gave my wife a flash drive with a rough mix of the song, and a 2nd version of the song, a stripped down keyboard and vocal version that I did at home later, kind of a reverse engineered ‘demo.’

I don’t like the idea of putting a lot of effects on vocals, at least in terms of the Western Blot project. But I had an idea of there being this weird muddy ethereal sound to my vocal on this song, so Mat and I tried some different effects and landed on this one. I think if it wasn’t the last song on the album we finished, I might’ve gone back and changed it. I wasn't even that happy with the title "How Can I," although I decided after the fact that I like it as an homage to the title of Superchunk's "What Do I." I still think this is the song I’m most likely to remix or rerecord someday and try and get it close to my ideal of what it could be. But I’m happy with it overall, I feel like at a certain point, you just have to lock down the mix, stop tinkering with things, and live with the record as it is. 

Movie Diary

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

a) Table 19
My wife and I recently had our first date night without the kids in like a year when my mom was visiting and babysat for us. And there were some good movies playing, but she suggested this Anna Kendrick movie which I hadn't even heard of, and I'd almost always rather see a comedy than anything else, so we went with Table 19. Turns out the movie was a flop that got terrible reviews, but I really enjoyed it, it's one of those movies that all takes place in the space of a few hours and throws a few characters together to meet each other and have an odd experience with each other. There were a few eye rolling elements but it got the balance of funny and sweet pretty well. 

b) Lights Out
I hadn't heard of this movie either when I decided to put it on one day, but apparently it was a giant success? A horror movie where the monster only attacks in darkness is a nice simple, potent premise, and there's a few pretty good visuals there, and I liked how abrupt and sad the ending was, it really kind of packed a surprising punch. But I didn't think much of it, I'm surprised that it was a big deal. 

c) Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Seth Rogen and his little crew have been making hit comedies for almost a decade now, but for better or worse they're usually one-offs with no real sequel potential. But they've finally hit upon a formula for franchises, based on the 21 Jump Street movies and now the Neighbors movies: pair up one of their schlubby guys with some muscular heartthrob dude. The first Neighbors was a decent if forgettable little comedy, this one hits a lot of the same notes but is mostly missing what I liked about the original, the sorority cast was just not very funny. 

d) The Boss
Spy hit the mark so perfectly as the best Melissa McCarthy vehicle to date that I think I'm doomed to now compare all her other movies to it. This one was pretty fun, though, Kristen Bell and Peter Dinklage were a good supporting cast. 

e) Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
I've enjoyed almost everything Tina Fey has ever done so uniformly that I watched this reflexively, but I kinda knew before I even watched it that it was probably a dud and barely paid attention to it. 

f) The 5th Wave
Another movie I kinda put on as background noise while listlessly working on a writing deadline, seemed okay as Young Adult adaptation dystopia movies go, I liked the premise. 

g) The Hateful Eight
I think of Quentin Tarantino movies as always being worth watching, but the more I think about it, the more I kinda place his first 3 movies (first 4 if I'm feeling generous toward Kill Bill that day) on a pretty high platform above the others. And the one really just felt like he didn't get the N-word out of his system enough in Django Unchained and came up with a post-emancipation era story that hits a lot of the same notes. I loved Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance in spite of how much it gratuitously relied on her saying the N-word in every scene, and Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson have some great moments, but the whole thing felt like a curdled collection of Tarantino mannerisms unnecessarily narrated by Tarantino himself. Also, it kind of bummed me out to hear a White Stripes song in a Tarantino movie, he used to really dig in the crates. 

h) G.B.F.
A pretty fun new school teen movie that turns the cliche "gay best friend" character into both the protagonist and the satirized concept at the heart of the movie. Not quite as funny as it could've been, but pretty charming. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Last year, I started making playlists with accompanying articles for The Dowsers, and then the site went on a brief hiatus for the first couple months of 2017. Now the site has relaunched, bigger and better, with a larger wordcount for the articles, and my first couple pieces have run. A Tale of Two Miamis analyzes the career parallels between Rick Ross and Pitbull. And Produced by Jay Joyce is a tribute to perhaps my favorite producer currently doing old-fashioned things with microphones in front of instruments and amps.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 87: Chuck Berry

Friday, March 24, 2017

Chuck Berry passed away on Saturday at 90 years old, and I've spent a lot of the past week poring over his catalog, which was larger than I expected. We tend to think of pre-Beatles rock'n'rollers in these kind of one dimensional terms, and assume that they just made a bunch of singles with no albums of real consequence. But Chuck Berry's body of work is pretty well contained in albums. Other than 4 early sides that appeared on the soundtrack to the film Rock, Rock, Rock! (the first Chess Records album release), pretty much all of his important songs appeared on his albums. And the majority of his 19 studio albums are original compositions with just the occasional instrumental or cover, which is to say he wrote over a hundred songs in his distinctive, world-changing voice.

Chuck Berry Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Down Bound Train
2. Berry Pickin'
3. Havana Moon
4. Reelin' And Rockin'
5. It Don't Take But A Few Minutes
6. Low Feeling
7. Around And Around
8. Blues For Hawaiians
9. Betty Jean
10. Diploma For Two
11. Thirteen Question Method
12. Liverpool Drive
13. Go Bobby Soxer
14. You Two
15. I Got A Booking
16. One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
17. Right Off Rampart Street
18. Sweet Little Rock And Roller
19. Flying Home
20. My Tambourine
21. Ma Dear
22. Good Looking Woman
23. Christmas
24. Let's Do Our Thing Together
25. Viva Viva Rock 'N' Roll
26. I Will Not Let You Go
27. Got It And Gone
28. Too Late
29. Wuden't Me

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from After School Session (1957)
Tracks 4, 5 and 6 from One Dozen Berrys (1958)
Tracks 7 and 8 from Chuck Berry Is On Top (1959)
Track 9 from Rockin' At The Hops (1960)
Tracks 10 and 11 from New Juke Box Hits (1961)
Track 12 from Two Great Guitars with Bo Diddley (1964)
Tracks 13 and 14 from St. Louis To Liverpool (1964)
Track 15 from Chuck Berry In London (1965)
Tracks 16 and 17 from Fresh Berry's (1965)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Chuck Berry In Memphis (1967)
Tracks 20 and 21 from St. Louie To Frisco (1968)
Track 22 from Concerto In B. Goode (1969)
Track 23 from Back Home (1970)
Tracks 24 and 25 from San Francisco Dues (1971)
Track 26 from The London Chuck Berry Sessions (1972)
Track 27 from Bio (1973)
Track 28 from Chuck Berry (1975)
Track 29 from Rock It (1979)

I used a bit of every original studio album Chuck Berry's Golden Hits (which is entirely rerecordings of earlier songs for a different label). He did repeat songs on albums from time to time, though, most notably "Havana Moon," which appeared on his very first album, 1957's After School Session, as well as the last album released in his lifetime, 1979's Rock It.

Chuck Berry never really stopped writing what we think of as '50s style rock'n'roll, but that was only because he shaped that era so much that simply being himself started to seem old fashioned. But it's fun to hear him stick to his guns and let studio technology catch up to him and producers add a little more polish to his records. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. New Juke Box Hits and Chuck Berry In Memphis add horns to Berry's sound to great effect. The production on Rock It is absolutely abysmal, but I was pleasantly surprised that that was about the only of his '70s albums where he really lost a sense of his sound. The later albums are certainly less essential, but rarely unpleasant. And I have high hopes for Chuck, his first album in 38 years that he finished shortly before his death.

He has a ton of songs that are themed around different cultures and locations, often with goofy accents and broad stereotypes about hispanic people or Native American people and so on. Of those songs, I think only "Blues For Hawaiians" has aged relatively well, partly because it's an instrumental with no opportunity for lyrical gaffes.

There's several songs here that are as perfect a rock'n'roll anthem as anything Chuck Berry was famous for, but also some really interesting curios. 1968's "My Tambourine" is basically a clean version of "My Ding-A-Ling," the phallic novelty song that became his first and only #1 pop hit 4 years later. 1958's "Low Feeling" is a reprise of the same album's earlier track "Blue Feeling" with the tape slowed down. It sounds cool and really surprised me, since I think of most rock experiments with tape speed not happening until the late '60s, to say nothing of how the track kind of beats DJ Screw to the punch by over 30 years.

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!
Vol. 86: New Edition

Friday, March 17, 2017

A couple weeks ago, I kicked off a new column for Noisey called The Unstreamables, dedicated to albums not available on major streaming services. This week the second installment looks at Aaliyah's One In A Million

TV Diary

Thursday, March 16, 2017

a) "Trial & Error"
I'm amused that John Lithgow's character in this show is named Henderson but it doesn't appear to be any kind of deliberate Harry & The Hendersons callback. I really like the first two episodes, though, I feel bad that NBC is kind of dumping its 8 episode season in 4 weeks from March to April. It's got a little of that "The Office"/"Parks & Rec" documentary aesthetic but it's not from the same folks and kind of has its own pace and sensibility that is used in service of trying to make a murder trial as ridiculous and funny as possible. The whole cast is funny but Jayma Mays doing a sultry southern accent is particularly hilarious

b) "Time After Time"
Even though TV audiences are more open to sci-fi and high concept shows than ever, it kind of feels like the big 4 networks have mostly responded to this with some hokey and hoary shows about time travel like "Timeless," which premiered on NBC in the fall, and "Time After Time," ABC's new show about H.G. Wells and Jack The Ripper running around in present day New York. The show's more watchable than it probably has a right to be -- Freddie Stroma and Genesis Rodriguez have genuine onscreen chemistry -- but it's just too goofy. 

c) "Making History"
The same night that ABC debuted their time travel show, FOX debuted their own time travel sitcom that is, at least, totally goofy on purpose. Adam Pally is always funny to me and Leighton Meester is surprisingly funny as the olden times straight man, but it kinda feels like they're going for a lot of easy jokes and it's a little more like an extended sketch than a series so far, dunno if it'll grow on me. 

d) "Feud: Bette And Joan"
This show is pretty promising but at this point I kind of just wait for Ryan Murphy to Ryan Murphy up his best ideas. I wish I knew more about the subject matter other than that I love Bette Davis in All About Eve, I should probably watch Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? at some point. But Susan Sarandon as Davis is pretty perfect. 

e) "TIME: The Kalief Browder Story"
The basic details of Kalief Browder's life that I'd seen in the news were always horrifying, but seeing a miniseries go into granular detail about his tragic story is just gut wrenching. I'm glad they're going about it so methodically, though, just showing how many ways how many different institutions failed him and need reform. 

f) "When We Rise" 
This 8 hour miniseries aired all in the space of a week and it seems like the ratings dropped off really sharply, I wish they'd spaced it out more, I'm still only about halfway through. I'm not super compelled by the dramatization of events, though, it kinda makes me wish there was a book version of this without all the light docudrama fictional scenes. 

g"The High Court with Doug Benson" 
Doug Benson is such a weird creepy comic with such a tired pothead schtick that I'm not sure why he gets so many opportunities to do it over and over, especially by Comedy Central. But this is an admittedly decent vehicle for him, it's just like 12 minute episodes and they actually settle a legal issue, I guess about as legitimately as any of the daytime court shows they're satirizing. 

h) "Taken" 
It seems like networks are adapting so many movies that I never thought should be TV shows lately, and sometimes it turns out great like "The Exorcist," sometimes it turns out like that "Lethal Weapon" show I guess. Doing a prequel series about Liam Neeson's character in Taken where I guess you find out how dude got so hardcore is not the worst idea, I guess, but it kinda feels like if you gave the show a different title, it would just be a generic spy show. Jennifer Beals deserves better. 

i) "Patriot" 
This is a slightly less generic spy show with some impish touches of humor and a great supporting cast including Terry O'Quinn and Michael Dorman. But like most Amazon shows, I find it hard to stick with it and watch more than a couple episodes after they dump the whole season at once. 

j) "Sun Records" 
I'm amused that CMT's first original scripted drama was about an Elvis impersonator and its second is about actual Elvis. I feel like Chad Michael Murray as Sam Phillips is all you really need to know to understand that this is not operating on an especially high level of authenticity. But it's still fun to see them play around with all this amazing musical history and Johnny Cash and Ike Turner and all these guys showing up. 

k) "Big Little Lies" 
It's interesting to me that after producing hundreds of hours of network legal dramas, even David E. Kelley has one of those dark HBO miniseries that everyone wants to make now (his recent Amazon series, "Goliath," has a prestige TV aesthetic, but it's bones are classic David E. Kelley). I don't know anything about the novel Big Little Lies or where this story is going, but the way the story starts with community outrage over a kid getting hurt had me thinking this would be an upscale "The Slap." And I'm not crazy about the constant foreshadowing to some murder mystery this is all building up to, which reminds me of the first season of "The Affair." But I'm slowly shaking off my apprehensive first impressions of "Big Little Lies" and appreciating the texture of the direction and the strength of the performances. I just hope this doesn't all end stupidly. 

l) "The Pop Game"
I wasn't wild about "The Rap Game," where kiddie rappers compete to be Jermaine Dupri's next protege. But Lifetime's spinoff, "The Pop Game," where Timbaland coaches aspiring pop singers is a little more interesting to me. I kind of feel bad thinking about how bland Tim's music has become and how he just walks around on this show repeatedly saying he sold 300 million records and telling people they'll be the next Nelly Furtado or whatever. But he's a genius, I still worship his classics. 

m) "First Family of Hip Hop"
I thought a show about the Sugar Hill Records folks would be interesting, but of course, Sylvia Robinson is dead, and the show centers on her annoying family members who all want to be music industry players now, and there's minimal cameos from actual notable people like Melle Mel, who shows up and says some really crazy shit. 

n) "Crashing"
Pete Holmes really grew on me over the course of his short-lived late night show on TBS, so I'm happy that he wound up with a Judd Apatow-produced HBO series. And while comedians making sitcoms about the life of comedians have become really really tiresome to me lately, this one at least takes a bit of a fresh look at the unpleasant realities of gigging standups who are just starting out. And the structure of Holmes basically crashing on the couch of a different famous comic in each episode is clever. 

o) "Love"
Watching "Crashing" and the second season of "Love" lately has brought me to the conclusion that Judd Apatow's TV shows are quite often like that middle half hour of Judd Apatow's movies where everyone gets sick of each other and starts yelling and something physically painful or embarrassing happens. There are things that I like about "Love," but sometimes it just captures the ups and downs of relationships so faithfully and sometimes it feels like they throw the most contrived wrench into things to keep the conflict going. There was one episode where things felt really nice and comfortable but not boring, and then I thought "well, there's 8 episodes left of the season for things to get awkward and angry again." 

p) "The Mick"
FOX has picked this up for a second season and it's really nothing special but it's a pretty good example of the growing trend of kind of weird bawdy sitcoms where anything can happen, really felt like it hit its stride with the 10th episode. 

q) "The Detour"
This is another sitcom that feels like kind of a bawdy silly open ended show where anything can happen and that's kind of the point, which really kinda wore me down and bored me by the end of the first season. But the second season started out promisingly, I feel like the show is at its best when Natalie Zea is the unpredictable one and not the long suffering wife. 

r) "The Real O'Neals"
It was kind of funny how "The Real O'Neals" had this successful first season as kind of a sweet coming of age sitcom and then during the hiatus, the star Noah Gavin gave this really wild bitchy interview and caused a big scandal but then the show resumed being a sweet coming of age story and the extremely outspoken 22 year old Gavin continues to convincingly play a naive 16 year old. 

s) "Billions"
This was one of my favorite new shows last year and so far the 2nd season has really cemented my love for it. It's so much the typical cable antihero drama about powerful men with big egos, but the way Maggie Siff's character negotiates that world is probably the most interesting part of the story. And they've introduced an enby character, Taylor, played by Asia Kate Dillon, who also subverts the testosterone-driven Wall Street atmosphere and kind of gets to be the smartest person in the room who doesn't share the same priorities as the other smart people in the room, I'm curious to see where that story goes. And I kind of like that the show takes place in this unabashedly upscale world where people quote "The Wire" and discuss Wilco. 

t) "Superstore"
I'm glad this show is doing well, it makes me happy that Mark McKinney has a steady gig on American network TV. The Garrett and Dina relationship was a pretty funny unpredictable turn for things to take

u) "The Expanse"
I think of this as part of SyFy's ambitious new era and I like the cast and the premise. But really there's too much going on in the plot and I haven't kept up, it's one of those shows I put on as background noise. 

v) "Humans"
This show's first season from the summer of 2015 was so long ago, and really seemed to kind of peter out at the end, that I almost forgot it ever existed. I'm trying to give it a chance, but the new stories and new characters haven't really grabbed me. 

w) "New Girl"
There's been some murmurings that the 6th season of "New Girl" may be its last, and I'm cool with that, It's settled into a comfortable decline where it's not way worse than it used to be but they've kinda taken everything as far as it makes sense to go, and I just want them to, I dunno, make Jess and Nick a couple again and wrap up the story. Unless Coach came back, then I'd want 3 more seasons. 

x) "The Amazing World of Gumball"
This is one of my son's favorite Cartoon Network shows, and it's really kind of mind blowing to me, that a show made by a French-British animator is so visually ambitious and unpredictable and creative but still wacky enough in a traditional kid-friendly way that a 7 year old would be into it.

y) "Dogs 101" 
My toddler is kind of obsessed with dogs, like we have cats but he's always excited to see dogs outside or watch dog videos. So most mornings, after his big brother gets on the school bus, we put on Animal Planet and watch "Dogs 101," which is kind of a fun educational show about different breeds and how to take care of them. And the other day there was this episode with the members of Shellac talking about Todd Trainer's greyhound, I never thought I'd hear the words "math rock" on Animal Planet. 

z) "Saturday Night Live"
I have mostly been pretty on board with "SNL"'s Trump sketches since Alec Baldwin started doing them, despite the show and NBC having this whole troubling history of enabling Trump. This past Saturday's opener about the aliens was the first sketch that I thought was really a dud, though. At least the Ivanka sketch was great. I hope they keep up the Melissa McCarthy sketches, though, I don't think Sean Spicer will have that job for very long so they may as well make the most of it. 

Monthly Report: March 2017 Singles

Monday, March 13, 2017

1. Migos - "T-Shirt"
I feel like Migos are just a magnet for hyperbole, and even when they're good, they're not half as good as people say they are. So "Bad & Boujee" isn't really anything special to me, particularly because Takeoff's if-MJG-was-Rick-Ross flow is one of my favorite things about the group and he's not on that one. So I'm glad that Takeoff gets a chance to shine on the follow-up single and that it's doing well, the beat is really amazing, just the way something resembling amp feedback kinda hangs over it. Here's the 2017 singles playlist I update every month.

2. Bruno Mars - "That's What I Like"
"24K Magic" has really held up well as a song I still listen to every time it comes on the radio, 5 months later. But it's also the first time one of the first 2 singles off a Bruno Mars album hasn't gone to #1, which doesn't bode well for him going whole hog on this campy retro player pimp aesthetic for the whole album cycle. But "That's What I Like" is a great 2nd single choice and I feel like he's selling it well with a standout Grammys performance and a music video that deserves some awards.

3. Jon Pardi - "Dirt On My Boots"
I feel like PardiNextDoor is really earning his country traditionalist cred by scoring two back-to-back hits with "boots" in the title. Plus this probably has the best prominent fiddle part I've heard on country radio in recent memory. I love the way he bites down on that "I can only get so fancy!" transition into the chorus.

4. Florida Georgia Line f/ The Backstreet Boys - "God, Your Mama, And Me"
Country radio and especially country award shows are rife with stunt collaborations with non-country artists, and Florida Georgia Line are poster boys for that since they had their biggest success with a Nelly remix. So when I saw that they had a collaboration with Backstreet Boys, I rolled my eyes, but I kind of instantly fell in love with this song and have listened to it a ton, I guess the song would've worked with a more respectable artist but I can't complain.

5. Incubus - "Nimble Bastard"
There was a day recently that Linkin Park and Incubus released lead singles on the same day, so I listened to them back to back, to kind of see what some of the titans of early 2000s nu metal crossover are up to in 2017. And Linkin Park's "Heavy" is a really craven attempt to reconnect with Top 40 radio, where "Nimble Bastard" finds Incubus back in their late career groove of loud, guitar driven anthems. And I've always enjoyed their more aggressive stuff, so this song really hits the spot.

6. Ariana Grande f/ Future - "Everyday"
I never really listened to Dangerous Woman enough, because it was a good album but I never wrote about it and totally forgot how much I liked this song until it was released as a single. It's really kind of refreshing to hear Future on a Max Martin track with Ariana Grande and it actually works, a big contrast from that 2013 era when he was doing songs with Miley and Bieber and it just didn't work that well. The chorus "he givin' me that good shit that make me not quit" is kind of an awkward lyric, but I was so relieved to verify that Ariana Grande wasn't saying "make me nut quick."

7. Zara Larsson f/ Ty Dolla $ign - "So Good"
I don't know if Zara Larsson fits in this hip hop adjacent pop lane as well as someone like Ariana Grande, but I don't mind that her recent singles are leaning in that direction. I hope she gets to release an album soon.

8. Keith Urban f/ Carrie Underwood - "The Fighter"
I'd never heard of busbee before he produced and co-produced Maren Morris's great album, so it's nice to see him all over the country charts right now with singles by Lauren Alaina, Lady Antebellum, and this Keith Urban track. Keith Urban is always trying these stylistic flourishes that work better than they should, and I like the synth pop vibe of this song.

9. Wale f/ Lil Wayne - "Running Back"
Since I live near D.C. and have a couple of D.C. rap stations programmed into my car radio, I always hear a lot of support for whatever Wale's doing regardless of how it's doing nationally. And it's been kind of depressing to hear them hype every single he's released in the past year and give it lots of spins except for the one that was actually good, "Running Back." It's crazy to hear him on a song with Wayne and realize it's been 9 years since "Nike Boots." Wale has really had a good career that nobody wants to give him credit for, partly because he has so few singles like "Running Back" that play to his strengths.

10. Jeezy f/ Bankroll Fresh - "All There"
There's kind of an interesting history of artists who died young and then ended up with one of their biggest songs being a posthumous feature on a major artist's single (Soulja Slim on Juvenile's "Slow Motion," Static Major on Lil Wayne's "Lollipop," etc.). So it's cool that Jeezy put out a track with Bankroll Fresh that ended up being the biggest song on Trap Or Die 3.

Worst Single of the Month: Big Sean - "Moves"
I feel like just as I kind of came around to appreciating Big Sean for who he is, he started doing these singles with Future's producers like "Bounce Back" (which bites the chorus of Future's "Trap N*****") and "Moves," which is just maybe the worst song of his career, I really don't think Big Sean sounds good rapping in a lower register on ominous trap beats. And even worse is the "Moves" video, where Big Sean does a blatant wannabe "Hotline Bling" with embarrassing moves like miming the lyric "she made her titties move."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

This week, my newish band Woodfir is finally playing its first proper Baltimore show (after playing a private party last year and a D.C. show last month). We'll be at Joe Squared on Saturday, March 11th with Elias Krell & The No Good and Guided By Wire. Woodfir's debut EP is out now. 

Movie Diary

Monday, March 06, 2017

a) I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore
I love Natalie Lynskey, but she's had an odd career. She debuted alongside Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures, but then her greatest success for the next 15 years or so was a recurring role in "Two And A Half Men," and it's just been in the last few years that she's seemed to find a real niche, although I'm not crazy about "Togetherness" and some of the indie dramedies she's done. The Netflix feature I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore is fantastic, though. It kind of operates in the vein of a darker The Big Lebowski, where a regular person, in this case Lynskey as a nursing assistant, is the victim of a petty crime, finds that law enforcement is no help, and decides to go off on a vigilante mission for justice. Elijah Wood plays her weird neighbor who has a rat tail and owns nunchucks and throwing stars who ends up tagging along as her muscle, it's really kind of ridiculous and smart and funny and takes a few ingenious turns but also kind of stays pretty grounded. It gets a little more dark and grisly by the end than I would've expected or necessarily wanted, but David Yow from The Jesus Lizard plays a pretty nasty villain, really the role he was born to play.

b) Rock Dog
I took my son to see this at the movie theater on opening weekend, and it really did abysmally by animated kid's movie standards at the box office, but we enjoyed it. Apparently it's based on a Chinese graphic novel called Tibetan Rock Dog and end up kind of getting pretty whitewashed and Americanized in the process of becoming a movie, much like Kubo And The Two Strings last year. But I enjoyed, it was kind of trippy to watch a kid's cartoon where the main voice cast was Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons and Lewis Black, just in terms of those guys' careers and the things that made me a fan of theirs.

c) The Shallows
Movies where almost the entire running time is one actor going through some harrowing ordeal by themselves tend to be chances for big name actors to get Oscar nominations (Castaway127 HoursGravity, etc.). So I wonder if The Shallows sold itself short by casting an actress as undistinguished as Blake Lively in the lead role, but then I suppose it's already asking a lot to be position itself as a slightly classy, creative shark attack movie. Her performance was better than I expected, though, there were a few white knuckle moments in the movie that wouldn't have worked as well if she was giving a crappy SyFy original movie-quality performance.

d) Central Intelligence
Kevin Hart and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are each in so many movies every year that there was a sense of inevitability about them co-headlining a project. But this came out really well, I can only take Hart in small doses and they both got to play to their comedic strengths while also playing against type a little bit.

e) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
As a fan of The Lonely Island's albums and "SNL" shorts, I'd say this movie was a pretty successful attempt at building their songs into a ridiculous music industry satire. The sad thing is that even Conner4Real and his songs, as absurd as they are, aren't really that implausible as real pop chart fodder at this point in time, so the story kind of worked better than it had a right to. I don't know if this tops Hot Rod for me, but definitely a solid continuation of their work.

f) The Nice Guys
I was thrilled that Shane Black would be getting back into the neo noir vibe of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with a big budget and big stars after the success of Iron Man 3, but less thrilled that those big stars happened to be Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. They acquit themselves well, though, I enjoyed it, a good addition to the Black canon. Hopefully he gets to do more movies like this every few years in between all the franchises and adaptations on his plate.

g) The Jungle Book
John Favreau is, like Shane Black, a director whose trajectory was totally changed by doing an Iron Man movie or two. And it's still surreal to me to think that writing the Swingers screenplay 20 years ago set Favreau on this unlikely career path. I grew up on the original animated Jungle Book and this kinda hit the mark better than I expected in some ways but in other ways had a weird uncanny valley feeling. I'm very curious to see what the Andy Serkis Jungle Book will be like in 2018, although it certainly seems a little doomed coming out 2 years after another version as star studded as this one.

h) Our Brand Is Crisis
Apparently David Gordon Green has directed 5 features since his little run of James Franco and Jonah Hill comedies, but this is the only one I've even heard of, and it flopped pretty hard at the box office. I kind of class Our Brand Is Crisis in the specific little genre of movies like Wag The Dog and Charlie Wilson's War that make Americans interfering in international affairs seem like cheeky little capers but also kind of hint at the dark side of it. I like that Our Brand takes a dark turn at the end but they also kind of wrapped things up the redeem the protagonist maybe a little too neatly at the end.

i) The Winning Season
Kind of a boilerplate black comedy about a dysfunctional middle aged failure coaching a high school sports team, but I like Sam Rockwell, so I'm always trying to find the few films where he kind of makes good on his potential, and this had a few funny moments.