Movie Diary

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

a) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
My brother and I spent a night out over the weekend while he was in town, and we couldn't think of much to do and just went to the movies and saw this, which he'd already seen but was happy to see again. I watched the first Guardians movie at home and felt a little ambivalent toward it, but I think if I'd seen it in the theater, I would've enjoyed it a lot more like I did this one. Or maybe it was just a really good sequel, I dunno, Dave Bautista just really cracked me up every time he opened his mouth.

b) War Machine
This is a pretty well done little movie about a particularly aimless period in America's endless aimless military occupation of Afghanistan, with Brad Pitt as a particularly pompous, ill fated general. But after watching movies like this and Our Brand Is Crisis and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I kind of feel good and sick of droll, dry satires of America's shitty treatment of the rest of the world, it kinda feels like it's a symptom of us being too easy to reduce this awful stuff to a cheap cynical laugh. Still, it was interesting to watch one of the first period pieces of the early 2010s, probably the first of many that will use the music of Lady Gaga to help set the scene.

c) Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates
All the leads in this movie are some of the most reliably funny people you can put in a movie these days (even, I say grudgingly, Zac Efron!), and this really came together pretty well as a goofy rom com that recalls Wedding Crashers and even explicitly references Wedding Crashers as a movie the characters have watched. In the second half it kinda feels like they try to hard to escalate the laughs by leaning on gross out gags but for the most part it's pretty consistent. 

d) A Bigger Splash
I kind of like how this movie is about Tilda Swinton being a huge rock star but almost the entire movie depicts her offstage and on vacation, resting her voice and barely able to speak. But beyond that, it just feels like an aimless pointless movie about rich people on vacation, and it doesn't really get any better in the last quarter when a major character dies violently and it briefly becomes something a bit different.

e) Hardcore Henry
This movie's big distinctive flourish is that the entire movie is shot from the unseen main character's first person POV. And while I respect that the movie stuck to its guns with that aesthetic, and had lots of fun with the idea and made it as fast and thrilling as possible, it's also inevitably a little wearying, and perhaps feels cheaper than it should because the look is so closely associated with 'first person shooter' video games. I quibbled about one of the music choices in the movie and the directer personally responded to me, so that was kind of fun.

f) The Death Of "Superman Lives": What Happened?
Tim Burton nearly making a Superman movie starring Nicolas Cage in the '90s is one of those great development hell stories that people have whispered about for years, and it was interesting to see a documentary filmmaker dig into the details and find out just how close they got to actually making it happen, in the days before there were several superhero flicks every summer. You come away from it not really thinking it would've been a great film, but I'd still like to have seen it, and would prefer Cage to the bland Clark Kents we've had since then.

g) Apartment Troubles
I feel like this movie could've been good as a light hearted female buddy comedy or a kind of sweet realistic dramedy, but it split the difference between the two and never really took off. A decent directorial debut from costar Jennifer Prediger, though, I feel like she has potential if she keeps writing and directing features.

Monthly Report: May 2017 Singles

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

1. Niall Horan "Slow Hands"
The Harry Styles album is, justifiably, getting all the attention at the moment. But Niall's 2nd single has quietly become, I think, my favorite solo single to come out of One Direction so far (to be fair, Louis and Liam have released absolute crap, but still). "This Town" was a nice little song continuing in 1D's folky side, but "Slow Hands" has this sleazy bass-driven light rock groove with a weird gated vocal effect that I just love, and Niall's voice even drops that cutesy tone that he usually sang in with the group. Here's the Spotify playlist that I update every month of favorite 2017 singles. 

2. Trey Songz "Nobody Else But You"
For over a decade, nearly every single Trey Songz has released has gone swiftly into heavy rotation on R&B stations, but for some reason Tremaine has been very slow to yield a hit, and I think it's a shame, because this is one of his better singles from one of his better albums. And it has this gentle romance to it that, for whatever reason, he rarely does well on his oversung slow jams. 

3. Rick Ross f/ Young Thug and Wale "Trap Trap Trap"
The interchangeable parade of 'trap' songs that Rick Ross has made since "B.M.F." usually bore me, but the song where he literally just says "trap trap trap trap trap trap" for the hook switched up the sound enough that I really enjoy it. Young Thug and Wale was a weird awkward combination way back on the "Stoner" remix so I'm pleasantly surprised that this lineup works as well as it does. 

4, Tee Grizzley "First Day Out"
This song wants so badly to be Meek Mill's "Dreams & Nightmares" that it cracks me up. But that's maybe my favorite rap song of the last five years, and there's not much else that has that vibe, so I appreciate the attempt. 

5. Dua Lipa f/ Miguel "Lost In Your Light" 
For most of this decade, R&B has disappeared from pop radio, replaced by clubby EDM pop, sometimes by R&B singers who are just adapting to maintain their career. But lately there's been an odd phenomenon of R&B singers who haven't crossed over with their solo work guesting on hits by pop artists (Frank Ocean with Calvin Harris, Ty Dolla $ign with Fifth Harmony, etc.). I don't know if that will happen with this record, but I really love it and feel like it puts Miguel's voice in an interesting new context that I'd love to hear more of, I wouldn't mind him trying to really do the Prince thing and make a pop star move. 

6. GoldLink f/ Shy Glizzy and Brent Faiyaz "Crew"
This song has been running D.C. and Baltimore radio for months and I'm annoyed that even with a good amount of national attention for GoldLink's album, "Crew" hasn't climbed the charts at all. Great song, though, I had no idea someone named Brent could ever sing an R&B hook this smooth. Shy Glizzy tried to change his name to Jefe shortly after "Crew" was release, and I think its success, with him credited as Shy Glizzy everywhere for it, really killed the name change, which I don't mind, I don't really wanna call him Jefe, Great verse, though, I like how he kinda takes Gucci's "I Think I Love Her" flow and makes it his own.

7. Switch "Pull Up"
This song started to get spins around the same time as "Crew" and for a minute those two songs got kind of intertwined with each other in my head, they just sound similar to me. "Pull Up" kinda disappeared, though, I thought it was about to be huge. 

8. Chance The Rapper f/ Knox Fortune "All Night"
This always stood out to me as one of the most immediate and fun songs on Coloring Book, I'm glad it finally got a single release more recently. Maybe it only being 2 minutes long held it back, but I dunno, "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" was even shorter.

9. Maren Morris "I Could Use A Love Song"
Maren Morris recently wrote a pretty interesting essay about what it's like to be a woman in country music, and one of the things she mentioned is that she'd been told "girls can't successfully release ballads to country radio." And it hadn't even occurred to me, but it's true that in the overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly uptempo country radio landscape, there are practically no big ballads by women in the last few years. I was hoping that "Once" would be Maren's next single after she performed it at the Grammys, but perhaps her label was worried about that and instead chose "I Could Use A Love Song," which is a little more tender than her first two singles but less of a ballad than "Once." Either are great choices, though.

10. Charlie Puth "Attention"
I hate Charlie Puth and his stupid simpering voice so much, but I kind of feel like it's a good indication of my open mindedness or my ability to separate artists from their material when I can be impressed with something by an act I usually hate. I still kinda wish he'd given this track to someone else, like when Trey Songz redeemed "Slow Motion," but it works, that bassline jams.

Worst Single of the Month: Dreamers "Sweet Disaster" 
Mainstream alt rock radio had gotten pretty decent to my ears in the last few years, but I feel like now the floodgates are just open where we've got all these shitty new bands who sound like lesser versions of bands who weren't that great to begin with like Foster The People and Imagine Dragons. And this song is just the most horrifyingly bad one in rotation lately, the opening lyrics are actually "Drifting like it's 1974, dressing like the Rolling Stones/ hey ho let's go get some more like young Ramones."

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 92: Soundgarden

Friday, May 19, 2017

I've long wanted to do a Soundgarden playlist in this series (in fact I'd done one focusing on Ben Shepherd's writing contributions), and with the recent reissue of Ultramega OK, I was excited to finally do it soon with all the band's albums now readily available. But now, as I often find myself doing for this series, I'm doing it to mark a much sadder occasion than I'd planned, with the death of Chris Cornell earlier this week.

Like a lot of kids of my generation, I came around to Soundgarden after first taking notice of their more famous peers. But they quickly came to mean a lot to me, particularly after Christmas 1992, when my brother received Badmotorfinger as a gift and I received Temple Of The Dog. It's hard to think of many people who wrote two albums that good and that different in the same year as Chris Cornell did in 1991, particular when you consider that he made a 3rd album, an acoustic solo record, as a goof in the same timeframe while working on the film Singles (and the movie's soundtrack, as it happens, was reissued this week with some more of those Cornell songs from the batch that begat "Seasons").

But a couple years later, Superunknown really was what made me a rabid fan of the band. I'd still probably single it out as the best giant multiplatinum blockbuster rock album of the '90s, which is a pretty competitive field to say the least. At a time when I was just starting to play drums and understand time signature besides 4/4, Soundgarden was one of the bands that made me excited to decode the rhythms behind the riffs. But they never got bogged down in the complexity of their time signatures and alternate tunings, there was always a beautiful melody and a striking lyric to go with it. I still most love rock records that are loud but also pretty but also strange and surprising, and that's one of the albums that set that standard for me.

Chris Cornell's passing especially saddens me because I always thought of him as the dogged survivor of Seattle rock, the one who lived to pay tribute to Andrew Wood and to mourn Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. He'd had his own addiction issues and there was an undeniable darkness to his music, but even compared to Eddie Vedder's reluctant dance with fame, Chris Cornell seemed like the well adjusted grunge frontman who openly embraced rock stardom. Out of his peers, he was the guy made the most bombastic, stadium-friendly music, had the most conventionally beautiful singing voice, performed shirtless, and looked so much like a perfect central casting rock star that he probably would've been regarded with suspicion and resentment if he wasn't such an undeniably prolific, inventive songwriter. It just goes to show that we don't know that much, out here looking in on someone's life.

Soundgarden Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Holy Water
2. Superunknown
3. Slaves & Bulldozers
4. No Attention
5. Fresh Tendrils
6. Uncovered
7. Kingdom Of Come
8. Mind Riot
9. 4th Of July
10. Never Named
11. Mood For Trouble
12. Big Dumb Sex
13. Nothing To Say
14. Dusty
15. A Thousand Days Before
16. Head Down
17. Searching With My Good Eye Closed

Track 13 from Screaming Life EP (1987)
Track 7 from Fopp EP (1988)
Track 11 from Ultramega OK (1988)
Tracks 6 and 12 from Louder Than Love (1989)
Tracks 1, 3, 8 and 17 from Badmotorfinger (1991)
Tracks 2, 5, 9 and 16 from Superunknown (1994)
Tracks 4, 10 and 14 from Down On The Upside (1996)
Track 15 from King Animal (2012)

There are really too many great songs that were never singles, on Superunknown and Badmotorfinger in particular, that I really just had to go with my mood this week to make picks. I put Superunknown on in the car on Thursday and screamed along at ridiculous volumes, but that's something I do about once a month anyway, that album never leaves my car.

I snapped up the band's early records after falling in love with Superunknown, and while there are some scattered great songs on there, the Ben Shepherd lineup is really where everything falls into place for me. But it's fun to go back now and hear Chris Cornell's ear for a hook developing early on, even when they were overall a darker and heavier band. And even if Down On The Upside is one of those records that feels like the band had already undeniably reached their pinnacle and couldn't top their last album, it's an incredibly generous and enjoyable record, far more full of textures and ideas and personality than the albums that accompany a sales slump. I saw the band live once, at Lollapalooza 1996, and they were fucking incredible. I'm mad at myself today for not catching one of the band's recent reunion tours, but King Animal was a pretty good record, and I was just so happy to see the band get a few more good years in. Chris Cornell made plenty of good music outside of Soundgarden, but they were absolutely his crowning accomplishment.

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
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes

TV Diary

Thursday, May 18, 2017

a) "American Gods"
I regard any Bryan Fuller show as a major TV event, and this really seems like a good vehicle for going even further out with the imaginative visuals and abstract storytelling of "Hannibal" was headed towards in its last season. I do miss the impish the light whimsy of earlier Fuller shows like "Pushing Daisies," but Kristin Chenoweth is showing up soon so I'm looking forward to that. My wife read the Neil Gaiman book so I'm kind of relying on her to make sense of it for me when I get lost, but mostly I'm just enjoying the odd disorienting thing and the occasional coherent scene or memorable line of dialogue, hoping it eventually coheres a bit.

b) "Anne With An E"
I've never read Anne of Green Gables or seen any previous adaptation of it, so I have no idea how this rates. I got pretty bored by the endless 90 minute first episode, though.

c) "I Love Dick"
I enjoyed the first episode of "I Love Dick" that Amazon released as part of its pilot program last year, and was glad it became a full series. I don't think I'm much of a fan of Jill Soloway, but I like this more than "Transparent" or Afternoon Delight, and it really feels like an ideal vehicle for Kathryn Hahn, kind of a weird, textured, abstract meditation on sexuality and fantasy more than a straight up narrative show.

d) "Dear White People"
I thought that Dear White People was a flawed but impressive debut from writer/director Justin Simien and I was pretty interested to see what he could do in his second movie. So I feel a little underwhelmed by him following it up by just expanding it into a series for Netflix. Between the original short film in 2006, the feature in 2014, and now the series in 2017, he's basically spent over a decade mining this one idea. Obviously, campus racism is not a subject that's going to go away or stop providing material for commentary or satire anytime soon, so I was at least pretty optimistic that there was a lot of potential for the series. But in the episodes I've watched so far, it just kinda feels like they're going over the same subjects with the same tone and a slightly less impressive cast, and some extremely forced-sounding dialogue that sounds like it was cribbed from "woke" tweets from a few years ago.

e) "The President Show"
Comedy Central airing a weekly show depicting the sitting Republican president as a cartoonish buffoon is not exactly unprecedented, but I doubt Trey Parker and Matt Stone's "That's My Bush" has aged well. "The President Show" doesn't follow the same sitcom format, instead depicting Donald Trump as a talk show host, and Anthony Atamanuik has his own take on Trump that's distinct from, say, Alec Baldwin's that zeroes in a little more on his manic body language and abrupt mid-sentence shifts in grammar and intonation. It's an impressive performance but also kind of wearying and annoying. There are moments reminiscent of "The Colbert Report" where he manages to embody and comment on the 'character' in a really cutting way, but the whole format and concept of the show is genuinely hard to watch.

f) "The Handmaid's Tale"
This is a show that's hard to watch, but in a way that I respect more, because its depiction of a society that oppresses women isn't that far fetched and it really doesn't flinch from carrying out the premise to its logical extremes and implicating various aspects of our world as it is now. But I'll say it's one of the rare TV shows that benefits from voiceover, just because Elizabeth Moss gets to vent and say all these angry, sarcastic things that she'd never be able to say out loud, and kind of let you know what her character would be like in a less restrictive society. Some of the show's tone and directorial choices are really odd and disorienting, particularly the music, but sometimes I enjoy something like, say, "Don't You Forget About Me" being used without any overt nods to The Breakfast Club.

g) "Great News"
This show is created by longtime "30 Rock" writer Tracey Wigfield and has a bit of the feel of a more grounded "30 Rock," taking place in a newsroom with John Michael Higgins as the conceited on-camera talent. But I could already feel a bit of the manic pace and heightened reality of "30 Rock" seeping into "Great News" by the fifth episode, and I imagine it will only increase from there. Wigfield has a really funny recurring role as a meteorologist that makes me think she could've been in the cast, but I like the main cast as is, I've been kind of in love with Briga Heelan since the first season of "Love" and she's a good Mary Tyler Moore straight man for this goofy newsroom sitcom. I worry that Andrea Martin's role in "Difficult People" will be smaller because of this show, though, it'd be weird if a Tina Fey production steals her away from an Amy Poehler production.

h) "Genius."
Albert Einstein is one of those major 20th century figure who's been depicted onscreen much more often in comedic and satirical ways than in anything resembling a historically accurate biopic. This show intends to be more of the latter, but it still states its intention not take itself too seriously from the first scene, which features an aging Einstein fucking a lady against a chalkboard. Apparently he was a bit of a womanizer in real life, though, which is something interesting to learn through this show, I suppose. The way the show jumps between different eras of his life is interesting, although I dunno how much I love that as a format for every episode of a series.

i) "Problematic With Moshe Kasher"
The extent to which Comedy Central has become a hub for liberal/progressive comedy that addresses racism and sexism often seems kind of accidental, like they don't really care if they have Jon Stewart or Carlos Mencia as long as people are watching. So I approached their discussion panel show "Problematic," hosted by a comedian who's pretty clever and relatable but also has the most annoying hipster haircut in the world, with some trepidation. The show does a decent job of handling delicate topics while also finding the right places to slip in a joke, it's not great so far but I think they're avoiding some of the most obvious pitfalls a show like this could fall into.

j) "The White Princess"
I've watched a few episodes of this but I'm really just over all these period pieces and medieval England in particular is just not very interesting to me.

k) "The Arrangement"
I really thought this unlikely little show on E! turned out to be one of the stronger new cable dramas of the last few months, but the back half of the season wasn't quite as interesting as the first, and it kinda felt like it got a little humorless as they ramped up the drama. I liked the direction they took the plot in, though, and the finale set up a second season pretty interestingly.

l) "Shots Fired"
Jonathan Demme directed an episode of "Shots Fired," and by coincidence it was scheduled to air the day he passed away. So it was interesting to watch that episode kind of knowing that it was, in a way, perhaps the last film by a major director. But really it was just another episode of a pretty solid show, with maybe some slightly more artful camera angles than its other episodes. I really like it, though, Sanaa Lathan has this really captivating, volatile energy, which is interesting given that she's supposed to be the character investigating someone else's mistake.

m) "Making History"
This show has been canceled but FOX is still airing the episodes they produced, and it's really grown on me. It's such a self consciously stupid time travel show that doesn't shy away from the obvious jokes, but I enjoy what they've done with it. Leighton Meester has really revealed herself as a good straight man comic foil for someone as goofy as Adam Pally.

n) "American Housewife"
I'm glad this show got picked up for a second season, even if I kinda wish ABC would've kept "The Real O'Neals" instead. The cast has really started to gel, I feel like Ali Wong's character is deservedly getting more and more screentime.

o) "Chelsea"
For years I found it really irritating that Chelsea Handler was the de facto center of the "why aren't there more women in late night" conversation because she's really just not that good and there are dozens of other women who should have shows instead. And moving to Netflix hasn't really seemed to do her any favors, although to be fair talk shows are one format that may not be able to make the transition to streaming channels. Sarah Silverman recently signed to do a talk show for Hulu, and this Vanity Fair headline seemed to pretty directly refer to the idea that "Chelsea" is already a failure. I never checked it out when it debuted last year, but I gave the new season a try, and it really just feels as flat as her old show on E!, even when they're trying to be as edgy and political as possible with all the Trump material.

p) "Quantico"
This show is so ridiculous but I still watch and enjoy it. Lately they've gotten really topical, there have been episodes about 'fake news' and a Muslim ban, and it really just kind of felt so awkward and poorly executed, I feel like the show should probably stick to its more traditional spy soap opera elements.

q) "Rosewood"
This show is kind of goofy and slight but I've really enjoyed it, I'm bummed that they're canceling it. But also, the main character has a heart condition and could die at any moment so it feels like a cheat that they're ending the show with him still alive? Or maybe it's nice and optimistic? Yeah, I'll go with that.

r) "iZombie"
I'm happy that this show has gone into its 3rd season with the main character's secret finally being out in the open and known by most of the other characters, because really keeping a secret is kind of a boring played out way to drive drama in TV. Also I'm happy that Aly from Aly & AJ was finally upgraded to a main cast member, she's pretty adorable. But I'm not happy that The CW waited until April to start the new season. C'mon, it's The CW, it's not like you have many other decent shows.

s) "Once Upon A Time" 
My wife has been faithfully watching this show for six seasons, and she was really feeling like it had run its course and was ready to stop watching it even if they renew it. But they did renew it, with lead actress Jennifer Morrison departing, so she really felt like they were just dragging it out unnecessarily. But I watched the finale with her, and we were both pleasantly surprised at how they kind of dovetailed the story into what the new season will likely be about, it was a pretty good idea. That musical episode they did recently was not so good, though.

t) "Saturday Night Live"
I feel bad for Kyle Mooney that after 4 years they're still doing jokes about he's the weird guy in the cast who's not very famous and barely gets any screentime, I feel like he has a good niche that they should've found more room for by now. The Melissa McCarthy episode was good, though, it felt like a good possible cap on the whole Sean Spicer saga which always seems to be on the verge of ending.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Maryland rapper Logic's 3rd Def Jam album Everybody is the #1 album in the country, and I talked to him about the album for Rolling Stone. I'd been skeptical of this kid and his success for a long time, but I enjoyed this album more than his previous work, and really had a good conversation with him. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Some of my recent playlists for The Dowsers include a collection of Harry Styles's best work with One Direction, Metro Boomin's greatest hits, and guest spots by Hayley Williams of Paramore. I also reviewed the Obama Foundation's "Hometown" playlist of songs curated by notable Chicagoans. 

Movie Diary

Thursday, May 11, 2017

a) 10 Cloverfield Lane
It wasn't a perfect film or anything, but I really loved everything about Cloverfield, from the rollout to the relative lack of backstory to the open ended potential for a continuing franchise. When 8 years came and went with no kind of follow up, however, I assumed that it would just remain a great little one off. So I was pretty delighted to see even just the Cloverfield name come back even if the new film's connection to the old one if purposefully vague. But 10 Cloverfield Lane is an even better film and makes me even more excited for the supposed next film coming as soon as this year. The meat of the movie is the claustrophobic thriller you see in the trailer, with John Goodman summoning all of the unhinged energy he's only hinted at since Barton Fink. But the way it ends, how far it goes beyond what you see in the trailers, that really surprised and excited me.

b) Kicks
This is a little 'day in the life' movie about a kid in the hood who gets his Jordans stolen and tries to get them back, and it's very polished and stylish, with flourishes like title cards with the names of famous west coast rap songs popping up every few minutes even though you don't actually hear the song. It kinda felt kind of dull and overly impressed with itself, though, wasn't really feeling it.

c) Suicide Squad
After all the gathering storm clouds around this movie, and then everyone agreeing it was awful and it making a ton of money anyway, I felt pretty invested in the drama of just preemptively hating Suicide Squad and wanting to see exactly how awful it was. And it's pretty stupid, Jared Leto is basically playing The Joker as Ace Ventura, and there's just this relentless pop music score where every five minutes the needle drops on a different iconic 20th century chart hit. Will Smith was at least good in that I Am Legend way where he can deploy his usual charm in small doses while acting serious and grizzled. But it cracked me up how his character was basically "this man is extremely dangerous if you give him, like, ten guns."

d) Independence Day: The Resurgence
It's odd to think that Will Smith skipped out on the sequel to his first big summer movie to do something as sketchy as Suicide Squad, but obviously it worked alright for him given how much more money Suicide Squad made. Independence Day was barely a memorable popcorn movie to me at 14 years old and I doubt it's aged well, but this sequel didn't even rise to that level.

e) Finding Dory
This was a pretty strong sequel. I always loved just the look of the animated ocean life Finding Nemo and it was fun to see them introduce so many more species and characters and just have fun with the universe it was in. My toddler loved it, I told him we were gonna watch a fish movie and he just sat there the whole time, "fish! fish!" His older brother watched Finding Nemo a hundred times when he was younger but had no interest in watching this.

f) Eddie The Eagle
I remember when this movie came out and I couldn't figure out who the lead actor was because I didn't recognize Taron Egerton at all, was totally surprised it was the same guy from Kingsman. Nice little movie, sometimes it's nice to just watch an inspiring true story underdog sports flick.

g) The Boy
The strikingly beautiful Lauren Cohan joined the cast of "The Walking Dead" after I gave up on that show so I'm glad to see her in movies now and again. This was a pretty decent creepy movie with some supernatural implications but it ultimately had kind of a stupid twist to make it all 'plausible' that wasn't really that plausible in and of itself.

h) Jimi: All Is By My Side
In theory, I have no problem with rappers experimenting with rock music or acting, but in practice, I always thought Andre 3000's music got worse the more he played guitar and sang, and thought it was really tacky the way he seemed to audition to play Jimi Hendrix for a decade before they finally got him this crappy little movie without the rights to even use Jimi's songs. It reminds me of Greetings From Tim Buckley in how they focused on the early days to try to make the lack of famous songs a nonissue, but they still proceeded the movie up into the Are You Experienced? era only showing him play covers and random faux Jimi riffs, it was pretty laughable. Most biopics will smooth over the subject's shortcomings, but this movie actually manufactured a scene of Jimi beating a girlfriend who says he never hit her, weird stuff. And Andre's performance was really flat, really didn't get the voice right, just wore the clothes and tried to look the part.

i) Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
I have mixed feelings about "Twin Peaks" as a whole and kinda felt like it was a handful of really striking, memorable episodes surrounded by nothing special. So I'm ambivalent about this upcoming revival of the show, and decided to finally check out Lynch's prequel film from the '90s, which seemed to kind of gain a better reputation over the years after flopping initially. And man, I kinda hated it, really felt all wrong to me. 

Richard David Shipley, 1950-2017

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

It was sunny on Thursday afternoon when I went to work in a building where I have no phone signal. By the time I left work at 9pm, it was raining, and as I walked to my car in the rain, my phone came back to life, and I started to see a rash of texts and missed calls from family members. I called my brother Zac, who lives next door to our father in Wisconsin, and he told me pretty quickly, "He's gone." It rained almost constantly for the next 3 days. Sometimes weather is heavyhanded like that. 

My dad, Richard Shipley, was born on April 6, 1950. He was featured in the Baltimore Sun as an example of one of the newborn babies belatedly counted in the Maryland census. He went to high school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and then Towson University, which was then called Towson State University. I went to Towson, too, and my dad continued to call it "Towson State" for decades after the "State" was dropped from the name. In college and afterwards, he sang in a band and lived in a hippie commune, he worked as a bricklayer, and worked a few years of night shifts at Sheppard Pratt psychiatric hospital, before ending up in a long career as a government employee, working for the Department of Transportation at the Navy Yard in Washington.  In 1974, his band was playing a show in Baltimore County, and he struck up a conversation with a guy who was in town recording an album. Lowell George invited my dad to stop by the studio and watch Little Feat work on one of their greatest albums, Feats Don't Fail Me Now. My parents saw Little Feat many times, and they were my first concert, still one of my favorite bands. 

May 3, 1978 was designated Sun Day by President Carter, as an Earth Day-style day to advocate for solar power (the idea came from Earth Day founder Denis Hayes). There was a Sun Day concert on the National Mall with a performance by Jackson Browne, and that's where my mother and my father met (oddly, Sun Day was on a Wednesday). Their marriage lasted about 10 years, which I'd say is not bad considering that they got married a month after meeting. My brother was born a year and a half later, and I followed 2 years after him. 

Most of the first few years of my life, my family lived on a farm in Front Royal, Virginia. My dad grew ginseng and commuted into D.C. My earliest memories are of the farm house, of my mom and my bearded dad reading to me and walking through the forest with me and my brother. Dad traveled out of the country for work often, sometimes for weeks at a time. His favorite story was about returning from Australia with his beard freshly shaven off. For days, I refused to look at him or talk at him, until finally, when "Family Ties" was on TV, I got up, pointed to Michael Gross's beard, and said "you're not my dad, that's what my dad looks like." Dad stopped shaving immediately. 

I was 6 when my parents divorced. I don't remember knowing much about what was happening or why. I just remember getting into my mom's blue Subaru and leaving the farm, the only home I'd ever known, forever. I remember it was raining that day. Both of my parents were in dire financial straits after the divorce and moved to be closer to their families, my dad back to Baltimore and my mom to Delaware. I think they both sacrificed a lot for the necessity that they not remain married. I spent years wishing my parents stayed together, until I realized that it was for the best. They could barely be near each other for the next 20 years or so, until their kids started having weddings and children and they managed to be in the same room a few times a year. 

For most of my adolescence, my dad only got to see my brother and I every other weekend. On Friday he'd drive 2 or 3 hours from Washington to Delaware to pick us up, drive us 2 or 3 hours back to his house in Baltimore. And then on Sunday night he'd drive us back to Delaware. For over 10 years, he'd spend 8-12 hours in the car to see us every other weekend, and I'm pretty sure he would've done it every weekend if that was the arrangement. I believe in going the extra mile for the people I care about, sometimes literally, and it's because that's what my dad did for us. We'd often stay at Grandma Burma's house on Mayfield Avenue, and she'd make us blueberry pancakes or sausage and hominy with chili sauce for breakfast. 

Dad bought a house in Fells Point for cheap at an auction in the late '80s, before the property values started to rise. Growing up, I'd go visit my dad in Baltimore, in one part of the city where kids could fairly safely walk around the neighborhood, and I built up most of my CD collection walking to the Sound Garden. We swam at Beaver Dam in the summers, he got us Easter candy every year at Glauber's chocolates, we went to the Maryland Science Center and the aquarium more times than I could count. I'm sure my mom hated that he got to be the fun weekend parent, but he didn't want to be just a weekend parent, and he did what he could to raise us as he would've if we lived with him every day of the week. 

My dad was a voracious reader, especially of sci-fi, and at one point he had a pretty huge personal library. Most of my favorite books were recommended (or given) to me by him, and I probably only read a small fraction of all the books he gave or offered to me over the years. In middle school I was devouring Kurt Vonnegut and Jersy Kosinski books like a weirdo. We'd go to dad's house on the weekend and he'd show us "Monty Python's Flying Circus" or "Mystery Science Theater 3000," or "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and in the car we'd listen to Steely Dan and Tears For Fears. We'd see "Homicide: Life On The Street" film crews in Fells Point all the time,and on a couple occasions he got hired as an extra: once he was a uniformed officer, once he was, um, a body in a morgue. We'd go see a new John Waters movie at The Senator, and then drive through the neighborhood where it was filmed. I got so much of my taste and my sense of humor from my dad, my way of looking at the world. He would talk our ears off every minute we were together. We'd stop at restaurants on road trips, and draw up fake menus for "The Roadkill Diner," full of punny names of dishes made from animals scraped off the road, and leave them at the table for the next customer to discover. He remembers me being embarrassed and grabbing the menus so people didn't see them, but I just remember finding them funny. 

When I went to Towson, I got to live a lot closer to my dad than I had growing up, and I spent a couple of breaks between semesters at his house before I got an apartment off campus. After college, my girlfriend Jennifer and I got our first place together right uphill from Fells Point, about 10 blocks from his house. My dad took early retirement in 2001, and spent most of the last 15 years of his life pretty much enjoying life and living by his own rules and his own schedule. He learned a lot about studying the stock market in his job, so he basically put a lot of his money in stocks and became a day trader, watching the financial channels during the day. The recession hurt his stocks pretty bad, but I think he recovered better than most, and he always got by. Around Christmas every year, he'd make these lovely care packages full of food and gifts, and go around Fells Point quietly giving them to the homeless.

Dad had a Great Dane named Shelby, and when she died, he quickly got another Dane puppy, Scarlett. Dad hadn't had a dog since he was a kid, and it made him so happy to walk around the neighborhood, walking the dog and striking up conversations with strangers. For 15 years, he was the guy who was always walking around Fells Point with his giant dog. If I took care of the dog while he was traveling, every time I walked her, people would recognize her and ask me if I was Rick's son. Over the weekend my brother-in-law John told me a story I'd never heard before: he was in Fells Point on his first date with the girl he's about to marry later this year. He saw my dad on the sidewalk, and had her pull over the car to stop and say hi. "Hey, that's...that's my father-in-law!" he said. She looked at him in shock: "YOU'RE MARRIED!?" 

My dad met someone around the time he retired who made him very happy, and she moved into the house and became a part of our family. And then she left him, very abruptly, after 10 years together, and he was pretty heartbroken. His social circle got smaller, he stopped throwing parties, and he drank more and was less cautious about taking care of his diabetes. But my first son was also born around the same time, and his grandchildren would always brighten his mood. 

I did what I could to help my dad through some rough times, and he was always there for me. When my car broke down on I-95 at 10pm in college, he came and rescued me. When I got laid off with a newborn son at home, he loaned me money when I couldn't make ends meet. There were a few times in life when I disappointed him, or when he disappointed me, but it was rare that we weren't on good terms. We went to lots of concerts together, Steely Dan, Little Feat. I think the last show I took him to was Jackson Browne, who of course was performing the day my parents met. 

My grandfather wasn't a very affectionate father, and he and my dad didn't speak to each other for a few years when my dad chose a different career than the one his father wanted for him. And I think my dad made an effort to avoid that, to tell us he loved us as much as possible, to not tell us how to live our lives, to support us unconditionally. My brother and I are devoted to our kids like he was devoted to us, and I think that made him prouder than anything. 

When my son James goes to bed every night, he hugs a bear that my dad gave him, and when my son Daniel goes to bed, he hugs a bunny that my dad gave him. Every baby gets a ton of stuffed animals, but for some reason, my boys chose the ones they got from their grandfather. He knows how to pick 'em. James will grow up with memories of his grandfather, but Daniel, who turns 2 this week, won't. And that makes me sadder than almost anything about this. Dad's dad passed when I was little, so I 'met' him, but I don't remember him. I wish I did. I wish I met Dad's older bother Wallace, who passed away before I was born. Daniel's middle name is Wallace because I spent my life hearing about the uncle I never met, the most brilliant person Dad said he ever knew. 

The last couple years of Dad's life were a little rough. He'd lost most of the feeling in his feet from diabetes, and became more and more prone to falling. Living in a narrow 3-story townhouse meant going up and down stair several times a day, which became more and more difficult and dangerous. He wanted to sell the house and move into a smaller place with no stairs, but property values in the area peaked years ago and there were renovations to be done. His feet were so numb that he didn't notice when he stepped on broken glass in November 2015, and got a Staph infection in his foot, and spent several weeks in and out of the hospital. 

My brother Zac has lived in Wisconsin for most of the last decade, and Dad's closest friend in Maryland had health problems of her own. So when Dad got sick, I did everything I could, I drove him to the hospital and picked him up and walked the dog when he wasn't home. It takes me 30 or 40 minutes to get to his house from my place, and I was often coming from work way down in D.C., and he insisted on going to a hospital up in Baltimore County, so it was mostly a lot of driving around. I had a newborn baby at home, so I was exhausted, and one time I got mad at him because he asked me to come over just to put the trash on his front step. But for the most part, I was happy to do what I could. He went the extra mile for me, figuratively and literally, a thousand times before. You can never do everything for your parents that they did for you, but there's always something you can do. 

My dad had his foot surgery and came home from the hospital and recovered pretty well, considering that at one point a doctor told him he might lose his foot. We went duckpin bowling with my son James on his birthday last year, and Dad was so happy to hobble around and lose a game to a 7 year old. But he still had trouble getting around, and I was still limited in how much I could help him run errands. Last summer, he called my brother to vent about his difficulties, and he and Zac came up with a plan: Dad would move into their duplex in Wisconsin, where Zac would be right next door and could him get by and get healthy, and we'd clean up the Fells Point house and finally put it on the market. 

In the last week of September, dad put most of his belongings in a shipping container, and we rented an SUV, and I drove Dad and his giant dog Scarlett the 800 miles from Baltimore to Milwaukee. We listened to 11 out of 13 discs of my Little Feat box set on the drive. I was optimistic that he'd be much better off with my brother next door to look out for him, but he was going to be living a lot further away, and I had no idea when I'd see him again. I turned in the rental car, cried in the airport, and flew home. 

In November, Scarlett the Great Dane walked over to Dad's chair and laid down next to him one last time, and expired. In February, he had a pretty bad health scare and went to the hospital. The doctor essentially told him point blank that heavy drinking was putting a strain on his heart, and he finally stopped drinking. He spent the last 3 months of his life sober, and the last 7 months of his life spending lots of quality time with Zac and his kids, the kind of quality time that me and my sons had had gotten plenty of the last few years. 

He had some rehab in the hospital to get his legs back in shape to walk again, and his real estate agent finally found a buyer for the house. About a month ago, he flew out to Baltimore for 6 days, and we spent 4 of those days together, as we drove all over Baltimore running errands, finalizing the sale of the house, and going to his favorite restaurants (it's harder to find seafood in Milwaukee than in Baltimore). He missed Baltimore, and still talked about getting an apartment back in Fells Point, and getting another dog, and getting back to his life as it was. But he wasn't too steady on his feet. I wanted him to cancel the trip to Denver that he had planned later that month, and spend a few months really improving his diet and his health before he made any big plans. 

Dad went to Denver, and enjoyed lots of legal marijuana, and ate a lot of unhealthy food. By the time he flew back to Milwaukee in late April, he was sick as a dog and was soon back in the hospital. The last couple times I talked to him, in the hospital and after he got home from the hospital, I was a little terse with him. I kind of knew then that he was blowing his shot at getting better, that he was going to keep indulging himself right to the end, and I was mad on behalf of Zac, who he'd always wait until the last minute to ask for help. But I had no idea that it was the last time I'd speak to him. I told him I loved him at the end of the call, like I always do, but it wasn't one of the hilarious hourlong conversations that we'd had a lot of over the last year. I'm glad he went to Denver and got high one last time, I wish I hadn't been so mad about it. He probably wouldn't have lived much longer if he didn't anyway. 

If Dad had died in Maryland, I'd be dealing with the difficult stuff, finding the body, arranging the cremation, and my brother would be getting the news 800 miles away and feeling kind of powerless and disconnected. But Dad died in Wisconsin, so my brother is doing all of that, and I'm the one who got the call and then just went home and slept a lot and did nothing, because there was nothing much I could do. My brother gave me some tasks to take care of today, though, so I'm going to try to make myself useful as we plan some kind of memorial in Baltimore later this month. 

I've gotten a lot of love and support the last few days, but I'm still just letting the news seep in. The grief has hit me hard a few times and I've cried and screamed along to songs and had some good cathartic conversations, but when you're in mourning, it's 24/7, and you're mostly just inside your head. I feel really fortunate that it's only now, at 35 years old, that I'm really experiencing my first loss of this magnitude. Everyone loses a grandparent or a pet or a few when they're young, and those can break your heart but might be a little more expected, a little easier to accept. Losing one of your parents is like losing one of the basic building blocks of your life. On Sunday I celebrated my son's birthday and hugged my mom and celebrated life. But there'll never be a day that I don't think about my dad, that I don't hear a song that reminds me of him or hear his voice in my head. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

This Thursday my band Woodfir is playing a show at the Sidebar. I'm excited that we ended up on a bill with Thee Lexington Arrows, since I'm a fan from way back and had their singer Kathleen guest on the Western Blot album

Monthly Report: April 2017 Albums

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

1. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
To Pimp A Butterfly is still my favorite  Kendrick Lamar album, and the way the punchier and more concise DAMN. has spurred people to misremember TPAB as an impenetrable college history lecture over a free jazz odyssey irritates me to no end. Still, DAMN. was the slightly more crowd pleasing album Kendrick needed to make at this point in his career, and the revelation is that he's primed his audience for so many twists and turns in his verses and his production that he can get away with a pretty dense and intricate album being seen as immediate and accessible. Kendrick is a great rapper, but I think he's a bit more style over substance than people like to admit; if you scrutinize him for a second you hear word salad like "I can put a regime that forms a Loch Ness" or him pretentiously pronouncing the W in "sword." But if you look at him as the best case scenario of what a rapper like Canibus could've become and take it all with a grain of salt, he makes some awesome music, I like almost everything on here wholeheartedly except "Humble." I collect all the 2017 albums I listen to in this Spotify playlist.

2. Mary J. Blige - Strength Of A Woman
Mary J. Blige has spent her career making music that relentlessly documents her emotional ups and downs, which has led to the somewhat unseemly spectacle of people acting excited about how her recent divorce from Kendu Isaacs would influence her next album. But Mary's probably happy to play into this dynamic if it gets people to pay attention to her music, which has been a little underappreciated in recent years, and made a really searing, bold album that goes perfectly with that hilarious #DuDeadDay tweet that Mary sent and deleted a week before the release date. DJ Camper has been one of my favorite producers in R&B for the last few years and he just goes nuts on that opening trio that culminates in "Set Me Free." Every time you think the album is a little too dark and intense, the clouds part for an ecstatic track like "Find The Love" or "Glow Up." And the way the current single "U + Me" surprisingly unfolds into a suite with the next track "Indestructible" is really beautiful.

3. Arto Lindsay - Cuidado Madame
For the longest time I had only a passing knowledge of Arto Lindsay and DNA, and even now it's been hard to really explore his back catalog since there's just one compilation available on streaming services, so I really need to pick up some albums at some point. But Chad Clark has really been a vocal fan of Lindsay and covered "The Prize" on the great last Beauty Pill album, so I'd been taking an interest and listening to that compilation, and now Lindsay has a new album and is on tour with Beauty Pill (I'm really mad at myself for missing the D.C. show). And Cuidado Madame really feels like this intriguing look at the totally unique confluence of sounds and influences that Lindsay arrived at like it was the most natural thing in the world, these icy electronic textures and jagged post punk sounds rubbing up against his gently conversational voice and lovely tropicalia grooves, "Tangles" in particular is just gorgeous.

4. DJ Quik & Problem - Rosecrans
Last year's six song Rosecrans EP was really enjoyable, but I wasn't necessarily clamoring for more, and at first it seemed kind of pointless to me that they made six more songs and put them together with the EP tracks to make a full length album. But as soon as I put it on and heard new tracks like "European Vacation" and "Bad Azz" I was so glad they did, I love hearing Quik in a relaxed playful mood and this record just feels like such a fun jam session.

5. Future Islands - The Far Field
It's funny, when I interviewed Future Islands a few years ago during that crazy run they had with Singles, one of the things I was the most geeked to learn was that their new touring drummer was Mike Lowry, who I'd been worshiping as the drummer of Lake Trout and other Baltimore bands since the late '90s. So I'm happy to hear him on a Future Islands studio album, he's not playing as distinctively as he has in other bands and really just locks into Will Cashion's basslines, but he's great on "Day Glow Fire" in particular.

6. Rich Homie Quan - Back To The Basics
Rich Homie Quan has had a pretty impressive career up to this point, all of it on an independent label, but at every turn he seemed to get boxed in, whether as a one hit wonder or as a Future soundalike or as Young Thug's lesser sidekick, and would prove those criticisms wrong. But then he basically went silent for a year and let people underestimate him all over again, and returned, with very little advance publicity, with his first major label release. Back To The Basics is, true to its title, a short and straightforward record with little in the way of features or name producers, seems to be kind of an appetizer for a proper full scale Motown album, but "Heart Cold" and "Da Streetz" are great, I really feel like he's spilling a lot of emotions on these songs.

7. Wishing Rock - Keep It Wrong EP
I've been getting together regularly with guitarist Tim King for the last 2 or 3 years to play music, and we currently have a band called Woodfir, and I'm really a fan of him as a musician. So I was excited to hear this other project he'd been working on for a while with a few longtime friends called Wishing Rock that just put out a five song EP. It's produced by Doug Bartholomew, who also did the Woodfir EP, he really has a great sound, these are some catchy tunes.

8. Mack Wilds - AfterHours
Tristan Wilds was one of the standout teenage actors on the 4th season of "The Wire," and I feel like I've always been rooting for him over the past decade as his acting career has blossomed and he moved into music, and I even got to interview him last year when he landed his role on the backdoor pilot of "The Breaks." And he made the very interesting move to kind of merge his two careers together, dropping a surprise album while he has two series, "The Breaks" and "Shots Fired," on the air, which I thought was pretty shrewd. And the album is really strong, has a great moody downtempo vibe that feels a little more contemporary than the old school rap samples that dominated his first album (although my favorite track, "Crash," does have a Slick Rick sample).

9. Young Dolph - Bulletproof
2017 has been an eventful year for Young Dolph. In February, he released one of his most high profile mixtapes to date, Gelato. In March, he survived over 100 bullets being fired into his vehicle in Charlotte. And in April, he released the album Bulletproof, almost more like an act of defiance than a piece of music, and it feels focused and urgent in a way that a lot of his lackadaisical previous work never felt to me. Zaytoven really blessed him with some nice tracks on the second half of the record.

10. Talib Kweli & Styles P. - The Seven EP
When I heard that Talib Kweli and Styles P. made an EP together, I thought to myself, "who the hell is the audience for that?" And then, I realized that it's basically me: I've listened to over half a dozen solo projects by each of them, and have always regarded them as more consistent solo artists than their more lauded groupmates (Mos Def and Jadakiss, respectively). And Styles really has an underrated conscious side and says some pretty interesting things when you get him started on a serious topic, so this project really works out pretty well even though it might look odd on paper. I'm amused that Common is on the song "Teleprompters" ("teleprompters tellin' lies"), though, because I recently prompted an event Common hosted in D.C. and got along with him pretty well and talked about music a little.

Worst Album of the Month: Playboi Carti - Playboi Carti
Playboi Carti spends a lot of his debut mixtape talking about other rappers sounding like him, and while I haven't really followed his career closely enough to know if that's actually true, I have a hard time really distinguishing him from his contemporaries in any meaningful way. In a way it doesn't even matter who influences who, because it feels like no matter what, he's the Chingy to Lil Uzi Vert's Nelly. And there's just something really loathsomely half-assed about this project that he seemed to delay over and over for a year or two until he finally had enough buzz for a major label to back it. He didn't give it a title, the cover looks like crap, he didn't credit his producers, and the songs sound like the same anonymous shit a thousand other guys are doing on SoundCloud.