Movie Diary

Friday, September 29, 2017
It's funny how even if you don't go out to the movies often enough to have seen the nominated films, Oscar season has a way of getting you swept up in rooting for or against movies you think you'd like or dislike. I always rooted for Moonlight over La La Land, and having seen them both now I still prefer Moonlight and am glad it won. But I enjoyed La La Land more than I expected to. I am weary of musicals starring people who are not seasoned singers, I am weary of Ryan Gosling in general, and I am weary of 'white savior' narratives, particularly of jazz music of all things. But I love Emma Stone and this is probably her best performance since Easy A, and Damien Chezelle really expanded on the kinetic camera movement of Whiplash in some cool ways. I mean, it was really stupid in some ways and it lost my interest a bit in the second half, but I liked it more than I thought I would.

It seems like every other week now I'm complaining of an actor 'Winklevossing' in a film or series that didn't really need it. And What Happened To Monday ups the ante by having Noomi Rapace play identical septuplets in an overpopulated dystopia where people start having more multiple births and the government only allows one child per family. And honestly, I'm just tired of these kinds of showoffy performances and it feels like Rapace is just doing a watered down version of "Orphan Black" in this movie, it's not that impressive. I also hoped there'd be some more clever twists in the plot but I just kinda got bored. 

c) The LEGO Ninjago Movie
I took my son to see this, which he'd been anticipating ever since we saw the trailer before another movie many months ago. He watches Ninjago all the time, he has a Ninjago backpack and a bunch of Ninjago LEGO sets, he's having a Ninjago themed 8th birthday party, and so on. So he really enjoyed it, but I thought it wasn't as funny as the trailer had me primed for, it kinda paled in comparison to The LEGO Batman Movie.

d) Claire In Motion
I think I was trying to do too much while I had this movie on and didn't pay it enough attention, but it was a pretty sad story, told slowly and sensitively with a lovely color palette, I can tell you that much.

e) Jackie
The first thing that struck me about this movie was Mica Levi's score, so I was very happy to see she got an Oscar nom for it. Her score for Under The Skin was also very good but perhaps more of a predictably suitable fit, whereas the queasy undercurrent of her string arrangements for Jackie felt more striking in Jackie, perfectly summing up the film's atmosphere of just barely holding together in civil and ceremonial situations after an incredible trauma. I think we all kind of register on a surface level that Jackie Onassis went through an experience that few others could really relate to, but the way it's depicted in this film really makes it felt on a real visceral level, often with a light touch in terms of direction and storytelling. 

Every respected comic eventually does a talking animal voice in an animated movie, and some do it better than others, and sometimes it's not even really beneath them or out of step with their usual work. But usually there's a particular moment that gets burned in my brain, like Chris Rock as a zebra saying "crackalackin'." And The Secret Life Of Pets delivers that moment almost immediately, when Louie C.K. declares with unusual enthusiasm, "My name is Max, and I'm the luckiest dog in New York!"

I always thought Melissa Rauch could have had a more interesting and varied career if she hadn't gotten onto the "Big Bang Theory" gravy train for 160 episodes and counting. So I was happy to see that she took some of that sitcom money and put it into a little star vehicle that she co-wrote, about the dull and gloomy life of a grown up Olympic gymnast who stays in her hometown and revels in her local hero status. In some ways it feels like a Jody Hill movie, which is generally not my favorite kind of comedy, but at least having a woman in the Danny McBride antihero role is a little novel, and the execution of the story and Rauch's performance were better than I expected, the whole thing came together pretty well.

Going to see Eli Roth's debut feature Cabin Fever with a few college friends was one of my more memorable theater experiences, just us expecting this boilerplate horror flick and getting his weird zany take on the genre made for a really fun, surprising time. But that movie hasn't aged terribly well, and in the decade since then Roth has become a Tarantino sidekick first and a predictable filmmaker second. So I put on Knock Knock with some mild interest and then groaned upon realizing it was a Roth joint. The first third of the movie is basically a Penthouse Forum letter, and then it gets even less realistic once the dark twist comes along. Ana de Armas and Lorenzo Izzo are great as absurdly hot and deranged villains, but there's just so little grounding to the story that it kind of floats away into endless arbitrary torture well before the movie is over. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Today is Jeezy's 40th birthday, and I made a playlist of his 40 greatest songs for The Dowsers

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 96: Shania Twain

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Shania Twain is releasing her 5th album, Now, later this week, so I wanted to take a quick look back at her first 4 albums, 3 of which were enormous Diamond-selling blockbusters that are each among the most successful country albums of all time. A few weeks ago I wrote about Mutt Lange's other most famous work, Def Leppard's Hysteria, so it was interesting to kind of delve into these records and not some subtle similarities despite the different decade/genre/etc.

Shania Twain deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Nah! Green version
2. Whatever You Do! Don't!
3. If It Don't Take Two
4. Waiter! Bring Me Water! Red version
5. Black Eyes, Blue Tears
6. God Ain't Gonna Getcha
7. Is There Life After Love?
8. C'est La Vie Red version
9. In My Car (I'll Be The Driver) Red version
10. Raining On Our Love
11. If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!
12. (Wanna Get To Know You) That Good! Green version
13. Ain't No Particular Way Red version
14. Juanita Blue version
15. There Goes The Neighborhood
16. Leaving Is The Only Way Out
17. What A Way To Wanna Be! Green version
18. Forget Me
19. Crime Of The Century
20. I'm Not In The Mood (To Say No)! Blue version
21. I Won't Leave You Lonely

Tracks 6, 15, 18 and 19 from Shania Twain (1993)
Tracks 3, 7, 10 and 16 from The Woman In Me (1995)
Tracks 2, 5, 11 and 21 from Come On Over (1997)
Tracks 1, 4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 20 from Up! (2002)

Usually 4 albums is about the bare minimum for how big an artist's catalog has to be for me to be able to fill a deep cuts playlist, and Shania presents an unusual challenge because relatively few of her songs weren't released as singles. Out of 57 songs on those albums, 31 were released as singles, leaving just 26 to choose from that I whittled down to 21 for this mix. While i'm throwing out stats, those 57 song titles contain 14 exclamation points, and that punctuation that other songwriters would use sparingly that gets spilled all over her albums (especially, of course, Up!) really lends Shania's records this deranged quality, kind of the pop music equivalent of Tom Cruise's forced laugh.

Even with just those 4 albums, however, what did provide me with a lot of room to personalize this playlist was the fact that there are three versions of 2002's Up! that each have completely different mixes of every single song. By this point, it's not that novel for crossover artists to have one version of their hit single mixed to appeal to pop radio and then another one for country or rock or rap radio, etc. But Shania really went way beyond that, making 19 songs that each have come in three versions: country (Green), pop (Red) or a weird 'international' version full of tabla and other nods to Indian pop music and Bollywood soundtracks (Blue). Back around the time Up! was released, I remember a guy named Sean Carruthers made mixes of a few songs with the 'Green' and 'Red' versions played simultaneously, and it sounded really bizarre and wonderful, especially since some versions had longer intros than others so there would be a weird 'row row row your boat' quality to the vocals not lining up. I still have those mixes on my iPod and listened to them so much that I still really like "Nah!" and "Waiter! Bring Me Water!" in particular in any version.

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
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park

TV Diary

Thursday, September 21, 2017

a) "American Vandal"
I really adore this show, it's basically a spot-on parody of every recent "true crime" docuseries except it's about an asshole teenager who's been accused of spray painting dicks on all the cars in his high school's faculty parking lot. I wasn't sure if it would have legs after the initial joke was established but it's really just consistently hilarious because of the contrast between the subject matter and the execution, which is so beautifully detailed.

b) "The Confession Tapes"
It's kind of funny that a week before Netflix released "American Vandal," they released another show that's basically a perfect example of what it was parodying. It's an intriguing story but I really just can't watch too much of these shows.

c) "The Deuce"
I think that a big part of David Simon's television legacy has been that he's done shows about cities you haven't already seen a hundred shows about like Baltimore and New Orleans, full of talented, relatively unknown actors of color who went on to bigger things. So I have to admit I rolled my eyes really hard when I found out that his next project was yet another show about '70s New York, starring a pair of white movie stars as overexposed as James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. But once I got over that, I let myself enjoy the first couple episodes of the show, which have that great old "The Wire" pacing and style of using a whole big ensemble (with more than a few "Wire" actors) by bouncing between dozens of short scenes in a given episode. I really liked the scene where James Franco's character got stopped by people who he owed money to and convinced them that it was actually his twin brother that owed them...and then I was disappointed to realize he was telling the truth and that Franco is Winklevossing in this show.

d) "Disjointed"
I have been a Chuck Lorre apologist from time to time and I think that his association with "Two And A Half Men" has kind of obscured how many of his shows have centered around women with big personalities ("Roseanne," "Cybill," "Grace Under Fire," "Mom"). So I thought that him teaming up with Kathy Bates for a Netflix series had some potential, but this show is just deeply, deeply lame, just a bunch of boring characters spitting pot jokes at each other that would be too obvious for even "That '70s Show." Also I feel bad for the music writer Maria Sherman that one of the characters on this show shares her name.

e) "The Orville"
I have never defended Seth MacFarlane to the extent I've defended Chuck Lorre, but I have some mild affection for some of the hundreds and hundreds of episodes of different shows he's churned out for FOX. But regardless of how profitable he's been for the network, it seems hopelessly indulgent for them to do an hourlong live action "Stark Trek" homage featuring his big unsettling face (granted, I actually thought A Million Ways To Die In The West was one of his better projects but it was certainly one of the least successful). There's a fair amount of his typical style of humor in this show, but it feels like they play it straight a whole lot of the time and there's just n reason this needs to have 60 minute episodes other than that that's how long episodes of "Star Trek" that had actual plots were.

f) "The State"
I'm a little amused that there's a show with the same name as the '90s MTV sketch show "The State" except it's a miniseries about ISIS. It's a little weird to see a dramatization of ISIS that has some nuance and some sympathetic portraits since that's kind of not allowed in our news or public discourse right now, but it's probably good to have something like this out there.

g) "The Vietnam War"
I like to think about how weird "a Ken Burns documentary about Vietnam, scored by Trent Reznor" would've sounded 20 years ago, but from what I've seen the score is pretty subtle and fits more than I would've expected even given Reznor's other excellent scores in recent years. It feels like a good time to look at Vietnam in this kind of detail, lately or maybe just since 9/11 I get the sense that it has receded from the national psyche, whereas growing up in the '80s and '90s it kind of hung over everything. I don't know how much of it I'll watch, I never get super far into these Ken Burns things, but the first part was interesting.

h) "Greenhouse Academy"
I was amused by Netflix's description of this show as "for ages 11 to 12" because, like, isn't that a really narrow demographic? But then I watched an episode of this adolescent soap opera about a kid who enrolls in an advanced school after his astronaut mom dies in space and I was like, yeah, a kid would really have to be an exact age to not be too young or too old to be interested in this, it really does have a narrow appeal.

i) "The Tick"
I never read the comic book they're based on, but at this point I've really enjoyed all 3 TV versions of "The Tick." This one's a little better than the previous live action attempt and not as classic as the cartoon, but they're all pretty close in sensibility. I've long thought that superhero satires are kind of more played out than serious superhero stories in terms of the same angles being mined over and over, but "The Tick" is one exception that really works, due in large part to the sheer creativity of the characters and The Tick's dialogue.

j) "The Sinner"
This really turned out pretty well, not quite on the level of "The Night Of" but I felt a similar level of satisfaction with the finale and how the miniseries resolved. I'm not the biggest fan of stories that hinge on memory loss, and memories recovered at a narratively convenient moment, but the way the whole thing was unspooled was well done, great performances by Biel and Pullman, and I also thought Joanna Adler was a real standout in a smaller role as a detective in the later episodes.

k) "Midnight, Texas"
This show is really not particularly good and kind of makes me miss "True Blood"'s better days, but there were one or two episodes where there were some good guest characters and it showed some potential.

l) "People Of Earth"
I thought it was a little odd last year when TBS had the cast of "People of Earth" appear on "Conan" last year minus the top billed actor of the ensemble, Wyatt Cenac. And then halfway through the second season, they abruptly killed off Cenac's character, basically cementing that his character was no longer the protagonist of the show. It's not a bad thing per se, although I've never had really strong feelings about this show, as unique and charming as it sometimes is, it feels a little rudderless with or without Cenac and I'm a little surprised it's been renewed for a 3rd season.

m) "One Mississippi"
This show left a bigger impression on me in the 2nd season than it did in the first, but I think I also liked it less. It tackled a lot of big issues in just 6 episodes, often sensitively and admirably, but rarely with subtlety or humor, and the daydream/fantasy sequences seemed to stick out more as just unfunny and poorly executed. Plus the show increasingly became a will-they-or-won't-they story about Tig Notaro's character and the character played by Tig's real life wife, which just felt kind of indulgent. The John Rothman/Sheryl Lee Ralph storyline was pretty charming, though.

m) "Better Things"
I contrasted "Better Things" with "One Mississippi" when they debuted a year ago because they're both autobiographical shows created by women and exec produced by Louis C.K., and I liked "Better Things" more then but the contrast is really bigger now. Both shows are kind of unvarnished and bluntly realistic but "Better Things" has a lot more humor and acting ability powering it, the season premiere was so good. 

o) "Vice Principals"
The first season of this show made me increasingly uncomfortable with how it quickly turned into a show about white guys acting out resentment against a black woman who was their boss without really confronting that subtext in any self aware way. The second and final season seemed to be more or less resolving that storyline and leading the characters in a different direction, but still, I think I'm just tired of Danny McBride doing the same dumb asshole routine over and over and over.

p) "Con Man"
Alan Tudyk crowdfunded this a couple years ago as an autobiographical web series about an actor who was in a beloved sci fi series ("Spectrum" instead of "Firefly," etc.) going to Comic Con and other conventions, and SyFy just picked it up and started airing the episodes that had already been online. It's pretty fun, the episodes are brisk and short (SyFy fits 2 into a 30 minute timeslot) so it's a little more slight and silly than your average sitcom, but it works for the subject matter. I particularly like Sean Astin's frequent cameos as himself, I wish he did comedy more often.

q) "Ballers"
I continue to be kind of confounded by the existence of "Ballers" and the idea that the biggest action star in the world has made multiple seasons a middling HBO sitcom about advising pro athletes. Like, imagine if Arnold Schwarzenegger was also the star of "Arli$$." The show can be mildly entertaining in a pointless way, though. I liked the episode where Richard Schiff's character had a brother played by Steven Weber, as far as I'm concerned you could give those guys a spinoff.

r) "You're The Worst"
Almost any show that is centered on one relationship is gonna go through all the possible phases of the relationship in the course of the series, even a show as unusual as "You're The Worst." And the last season ended with a combo of two big phases, the proposal and the breakup, so now we're getting the main characters actually apart for once, and it's been kind of fun. And they finally got Edgar and Lindsay together, albeit in a pretty different way than what was teased at the end of the first season. Still a really insanely dark and funny show, it's just amusing to see them move the chess pieces around in the traditional way.

s) "Rick And Morty"
Dan Harmon clearly makes television that inspired a unique amount of passion, and I totally get that because I really enjoy those shows. But just as fan devotion got kind of obnoxious and smug over the course of "Community"'s run, it already feels like "Rick And Morty" has started to surpass that in its third season. But again, my complaint is not really with the show, recent episodes like "Pickle Rick" and "Morty's Mind Blowers" have been hilarious and impressive in the conceptual creativity and dialogue writing.

t) "Halt And Catch Fire"
TV used to be an all-or-nothing business where any show that wasn't canceled in its first year would try to go the distance for 7 or 8 seasons and the long tail of syndication profits and basically stay on the air long enough to fall off. So it's kind of refreshing to see cable networks increasingly let modest hits and critical darlings wrap up after a handful of seasons instead of, like, trying and failing to break them to a bigger audience and then abruptly canceling them without a chance for narrative closure. "Halt" using their 4th and final season to jump forward chronologically is at least pretty novel, and I still really enjoy watching these characters and appreciate the addition of Anna Chlumsky. But man, it's still just kind of goofy watching a bunch of fictional characters "invent" the internet instead of getting anything resembling the real story.

u) "The Strain"
"The Strain" is another show that wrapped up with its 4th season, and I think by the end I was just so burnt on the whole premise and was just watching it as a force of habit. But I did appreciate that the show ended with the death of the main character I found really dull and unlovable while the 2 main characters I liked a lot more walked off into a happy ending together.

v) "The Mindy Project"
"The Mindy Project" opened its 6th and final season to a callback to the pilot's otherwise long ago forgotten premise that Mindy is obsessed with romantic comedies, which made me think of how many times this show has changed cast members and relationships while still more or less delivering a particular style of humor very consistently. Ultimately I'm just there for the one liners, but it is a little wearying to go through the latest relationship drama, this time with her most boring and unfunny boyfriend of the show's history, who she got married to and is now almost immediately divorcing.

w) "Episodes"
"Episodes" is another show that recently returned for a final season, and it may be the only one of these going out on a high note. The first 4 seasons were about Matt LeBlanc trying to revive his career and winding up stick in a terrible network sitcom called "Pucks!" and in the 2 years since the last season of "Episodes," the real LeBlanc has begun starring in a network sitcom called "Man With A Plan" that's possibly worse than "Pucks!" is made out to be. So "Episodes" has turned to having LeBlanc become the host of a ridiculous game show called "The Box" and that plot has been pretty hysterical. I'm increasingly weary of Hollywood satires where stars have their cake and eat it too by playing unflattering versions of themselves, but LeBlanc is just really funny in this show.

x) "Broad City"
I'm kinda glad this show took a longer than usual break between seasons, I needed to start to miss it a little. It's still really good but I feel like they've just kind of embraced their cultural cachet in that boring way where there's always celebrities getting cameos and there'll be a whole episode where RuPaul is in the A plot and Shania Twain is in the B plot and they really could just focus on the main cast.

y) "American Horror Story: Cult"
I have started most seasons of "American Horror Story" and have only finished one of them, the one last year, which I thought really ended in a self indulgent tailspin. And I don't think I'll last much longer with this one. The idea of tackling the political landscape of America in 2017 in this way has potential but Ryan Murphy just does everything with an incoherent, chaotic sensibility that I just don't enjoy at all, I still don't think he even really understands the genre of horror. The Billy Eichner role has at least been entertaining though.

z) "The Daily Show"
Jon Stewart has been proven right in the sense that he was right that if he left "The Daily Show" just before the election cycle, that would prove to be enough of a ratings boost to provide the next host with a launching pad for a long tenure. But I don't think Stewart has been vindicated much in his choice of Trevor Noah, but he's gotten ratings good enough that I think we're stuck with his lightweight approach for the foreseeable future as "Daily"'s various cousins and offspring run circles around it. I remember the other night he ended a pretty serious segment with the punchline "genocide Milli Vanilli," and I just felt like that was Trevor Noah in a nutshell, those flippant meaningless little pop culture analogies.

Monthly Report: September 2017 Singles

Monday, September 18, 2017

1. Luke Combs - "When It Rains It Pours"
The first time I heard this song on the radio I thought it might be Chris Stapleton, but then I remembered that Chris Stapleton doesn't really have a personality or a sense of humor. I like how the title and the opening lines set you up for a sad self pitying country song but then he flips the premise around and makes it celebratory. Here's the 2017 singles Spotify playlist I update every month.

2. MIKExANGEL - "One Time"
I don't consider predicting hits to be one of my strong suits, but sometimes I can call 'em, and hearing this for the first time recently and being immediately taken with the lyric and the intricacies of the drum programming reminded me of the first time I heard Khalid's "Location" a year ago and how I knew that would probably huge.

3. Future - "Incredible"
HNDRXX is one of my favorite albums of 2017, and it's been kind of frustrating to watch Future finally release the R&B album I knew he had in him and have it be totally overshadowed by the self-titled album he released a week earlier, which contained the biggest song of his career, "Mask Off." And then I got really pissed when he and his label started adding mediocre collaborations with Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj to the HNDRXX tracklist as if the album didn't have plenty of potential hits to begin with. So I was pleased to finally see one of my favorite songs on the album, "Incredible," finally show up on airplay charts in the last few weeks.

4. Justin Bieber and BloodPop - "Friends"
"Sorry" was pretty much the only song I liked out of that whole Purpose era that turned Bieber into one of those rare pop stars that people who look down on pop stars admit to listening to. So after the summer of "I'm The One" and the "Despacito" remix, it was something of a relief to finally hear him come out with something reminiscent of "Sorry" with the same producer. In fact, "Friends" may sound a little too overtly like a "Sorry Sequel," with the same distinctive drum fills at the end of every other measure and another semi-clever lyric about reconciliation with an ex that Bieber sings like he doesn't really understand it (right down to saying "alterior" instead of "ulterior"). Still, it's great, and it bums me out that it's shaping up to be one of the only unsuccessful singles he's had in the last couple years.

5. Hustle Gang f/ T.I., Rara, Brandon Rossi, Tokyo Jetz, Trae The Truth and Young Dro - "Friends"
Grand Hustle and the various groups T.I. has built out of rappers on the roster or in the label's orbit (P$C, Hustle Gang, Bankroll Mafia) have included some really solid music and impressive rappers over the years but for whatever reason T.I. never really put it all together to be a serious mogul who's been able to guide other artists' careers consistently. This song really stuck with me from the first time I heard it, I was impressed that it does a good job of showcasing 3 rappers I've scarcely heard before as well as Tip and a couple of Grand Hustle lifers, Dro and Trae, it just sounds like everyone is having fun with that flow and taking turns at the mic.

6. Tove Lo - "Disco Tits"
"Disco Tits" isn't an entirely unexpected title from an artist whose last album was called Lady Wood, but this song is really just wonderfully odd and presumably more of a teaser single than anything aimed for radio play. But honestly, I've always had mixed feelings about Tove Lo and it would really benefit her to have more filthy, funny, strange stuff like this to distinguish her from all the blander C-list pop divas she's in competition with. And that pitch shifted dog bark riff in the chorus is just about my favorite thing in the world right now.

7. LÉON - "Surround Me"
The Swedish singer LÉON's 2016 single "Tired Of Talking" was a great pop record that for some reason didn't break in America (perhaps just as well, since they remixed it with a G-Eazy verse). So I was happy to see a video for a pretty good new song on whatever they're calling MTV Hits now. Turns out she's released about 7 songs in the year since "Tired Of Talking" and they're all pretty good, so I'm really rooting for her now.

8. Vanjess f/ Masego - "Touch The Floor"
Another track I just kind of stumbled on while I had videos on in the background and this came on BET Jams, by the end of the song I was dancing around the house.

9. B.E.R. - "The Night Begins To Shine"
One of my son's favorite shows is Teen Titans Go! and there was an episode a while back in which the characters on the show were obsessed with this very catchy song by a fictional band called B.E.R. More recently there was a special "The Night Begins To Shine" miniseries of Teen Titans episodes, expanding the mythology around the song, with stars like Fall Out Boy and Cee-Lo performing it, which was fun, and an EP was released and the song actually appeared on some Billboard charts. The original is still the best, though.

10. Julia Michaels - "Uh Huh"
I never really got a handle on "Issues," I feel like it had potential to be good but didn't connect on some level. But I really like the followup single and how it takes the nervy edge in Michaels' voice in a completely different direction, really fun track.

Worst Single of the Month: Calvin Harris f/ Katy Perry, Pharrell and Big Sean - "Feels"
I have mixed feelings about Funk Wav Bounces and this whole era of Calvin Harris siphoning cool points from rap and R&B and retro funk, but most of the songs are at least pleasant. So it's pretty annoying that the worst song on the project has already surpassed "Slide" on the charts even while Katy Perry's career takes a nosedive. I think the worst part is that she could've said "feels" or "catch feelings" but nobody on earth says "catch feels," like Katy Perry just manages to make everything awkward all the time.

Friday, September 15, 2017

I wrote a piece for Stereogum about the complicated history of the Little Feat song "Willin'," which was covered by Mandy Moore on the This Is Us soundtrack album out this week.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Kanye West's Graduation is 10 years old today, so I collected 10 interesting things you may not know about the album for Rolling Stone.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

I was very saddened by the passing of Walter Becker this week, so I memorialized him with a playlist for The Dowsers of some great Steely Dan tracks and the times they've been sampled by other artists. I also did a Steely Dan deep cuts playlist a few years back. 

Movie Diary

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

a) Moana
When I put this on for my family to watch, we ended up watching it about 3 times in one weekend. And it wasn't just the kids who asked for it again, my wife really loved the songs. It's pretty crazy how Disney's current run of animated features (Wreck-It RalphFrozenBig Hero 6Zootopia, and Moana) is basically approaching Pixar's best streak at this point.

b) Keeping Up With The Joneses
My theory of comedy is that casting is everything, and a lot of comedies are hurt by the impulse to cast the most beautiful people instead of the funniest people. So Keeping Up With The Joneses is notable in how well it manages that balance; the 4 principal actors consist of 3 freakishly good looking people and Zach Galifianakis looking the best he's ever looked, and the only one of them who doesn't have an extensive resume in comedy, Gal Gadot, turns out to have some pretty good comic timing. That's not to say that the movie is an unqualified success -- it mines the same regular-folks-caught-up-in-espionage territory as Spy with fewer laughs -- but I found it notable in that regard.

c) Nerve
Somehow I totally missed this movie's existence when it came out a year ago but apparently it did decent at the box office. The guys who created the Catfish movie and series and transitioned into scripted film fairly well with a couple of the Paranormal Activity sequels directed this, and it's not a bad teen Internet dystopia fable, basically it feels like if "Black Mirror" was produced for Freeform. It's a well worn cliche that high school students are often played by adults, but it really amazed me how almost every principal cast member in this was in their late 20s or early 30s. Even the youngest actor was old enough to be a college graduate. But I kinda feel bad for actors like Dave Franco and Emma Roberts, no matter how old they get they probably get cast for younger roles because they're still looked at as "James's little brother" and "Julia's niece." 

d) Punching Henry
Movies and shows where comedians play versions of themselves with worse careers are one of show business's most plentiful natural resources, so I'm a little sick of them. This one was pretty well done, though, good balance of establishing Henry Phillips and his act and why it's funny, but also kind of mocking it and placing it at the center of an interesting story with a good supporting cast. 

e) Don't Think Twice
Yet another show business meta film made by comedians, this one Mike Birbiglia's ode to struggling improv comedy groups and what happens when one of them gets hired by "SNL" (here very thinly veiled as "Weekend Live"). Solid cast, nothing amazing but I liked it more than I expected to because they were willing to really play out a variety of different relationships between the characters with some smartly written little scenes.

f) When The Bough Breaks
I'm amused by the durability of the formula of psychological thrillers where the title and/or trailer often creepily invokes a nursery rhyme. OK movie but pretty predictable.

g) Miss You Already
This reminded me a lot of one of my favorite Toni Collette movies, In Her Shoes, except it paired her with a different Charlie's Angel and Drew Barrymore is in the Toni role and Toni is in the Charlize Theron role, if that makes any sense. A sweet, sentimental little movie but it fell short of my expectations.

h) The Conjuring
Somehow it wasn't until Anabelle: Creation came out recently that I had a clue that The Conjuring had been a huge hit and had birthed a franchise with 4 features, so I went back and checked out the first one. Really good, I was impressed at how they took the story's setting in the '70s as a cue to really evoke the mood and visuals of '70s horror like The Exorcist

Monthly Report: August 2017 Albums

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

1. Fifth Harmony - Fifth Harmony
Most vocal groups are a pack of frustrated solo artists, so it's never surprising when they break up or splinter, but I thought Camila Cabello's departure from Fifth Harmony was particularly abrupt and ill timed -- they'd just released a pretty successful second but weren't really established enough for either party to come out of the split with great momentum. And honestly, Cabello was probably the weakest vocalist in the whole group, so it's not surprising at all that her solo singles have flopped, and I'm glad that Fifth Harmony pulled together with Lauren Jauregui more deservingly up front and got out a new album quickly. Their songs are still a little goofy sometimes -- one interpolates "Pumps And A Bump" and another interpolates "It Wasn't Me" -- but I feel like they really stepped it up on this album, "Deliver" and "Angel" and "Bridges" are great and the album never wears out its welcome at 33 minutes. Here's the Spotify playlist I update with all the 2017 albums I listen to.

2. Lil Uzi Vert - Luv Is Rage 2
Uzi always seemed to me to be one of the more talented guys out of the nascent SoundCloud rap wave, but for a good long while I didn't think I had any time for what he was doing. Then "XO Tour Llif3" happened, and everything clicked and I started to really root for him and love how uncomfortable he makes people with his affinity for Marilyn Manson and various Lucifer/666 references. There's still some stuff on this record where his vocal affectations just get too over the top for me, but I feel like he's really becoming a strong songwriter and I like the emo relationship stuff like "The Way Life Goes" and "Feelings Mutual" and "How To Talk" and "X" the most.

3. Brett Eldredge - Brett Eldredge
Brett Eldredge has had one of my favorite voices in mainstream country, a big warm, raspy tone, since I heard his first hit, "Don't Ya." And his last couple albums have been really solid even without singles that were quite as immediate or memorable. This one has a particularly good 1-2 opening of "Love Someone" and "Superhero," and the song "Brother" really moved me and reminded me of my own brother.

4. Pale Spring - EP2
Baltimore rapper/producer Drew Scott featured Emily Wenker aka Pale Spring on his good recent album Ill Vessel, and I'm also really enjoying their work together on the two EPs she's released in the past year, some cool moody synth pop, check it on Bandcamp.

5. Filthy Friends - Invitation
I dislike the term 'supergroup' -- almost any new band is comprised of people who have been in other bands, and if those previous bands were hugely successful, you can't really expect people to ignore that, but you don't have to act all weird and put them in a special category. And Filthy Friends is really just the kind of thing I like to hear from people as established as Corin Tucker and Peter Buck; that Sleater-Kinney reunion record didn't have any enduring appeal for me and I doubt a theoretical new R.E.M. record would either, but as individuals they have plenty of gas in the tank and it's interesting to hear them together. I've always been a big fan of Tucker's vocals and she's in a particularly Patti Smith mode on this album.

6. Kesha - Rainbow
It was gratifying to see Kesha finally get an album out after years of court battles with Dr. Luke, particularly because she was in the odd position of basically saying that all her previously released music was someone else's vision being imposed on her and that she had yet to reveal her true musical identity. And Rainbow is certainly a lot more omnivorous and personal than her previous records, but it feels maybe more like a continuation of those records than I expected, the same mischievous kind of sense of humor cutting a little more loose, I particularly like "Learn To Let Go" and "Let 'Em Talk."

7. Mack Scott - Saturday Night Sermons
I feel like Mack Scott stands out in the context of Baltimore hip hop because he's drawing on some classic southern rap influences that most other people here haven't really done much with. I really liked the EP he released in 2013, Still Mackin', and this one feels a little more like he's finding his own take on that sound, and it's another nice brisk 20 minute project.

8. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard with Mild High Club - Sketches Of Brunswick East
A couple weeks ago I started recording an album at my friend Mat's studio, and the first day I came in and we started setting up drums and mics, Mat and his intern were listening to this new album by the Australian band King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. I'd never heard them before but this record is pretty enjoyable, nice laid back retro grooves.

9. YoungBoy Never Broke Again - A.I. Youngboy
Louisiana rap has turned out a lot of rappers who seem really weathered and wizened at young, and while NBA Youngboy isn't quite as sharp as a teenage B.G. or Boosie, he's got a lot of potential, and I like this tape at least as much as 38 Baby, and he's apparently releasing another in September.

10. Randy Newman - Dark Matter
I've always meant to get into Newman's albums more and this one is pretty entertaining, although I could really do without an extended version of the terrible "Monk" theme song.

Worst Album of the Month: Ugly God - The Booty Tape
Ugly God's entire schtick, right down to the name, is compulsive self deprecation, and The Booty Tape opens with audio from a viral video where a YouTuber's mom reacts negatively to an Ugly God video and features songs like "I'm A Nasty Hoe" and "Fuck Ugly God." The irony is that Ugly God is probably one of the more capable and likable new rappers out of the recent crop of XXL Freshman and SoundCloud weirdos. But this tape's reliance on post-Lil B quirk and tiresome self deprecation is harder to listen to than even the weird emo rap of recent XXXTentacion and Lil Peep projects, and the song "Stop Smoking Black & Milds" is particularly unpleasant as the one track that feels like it has a sincere message.