TV Diary

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

a) "Future Man"
I'm only 4 episodes into this new Hulu show (and am generally irritated with Hulu for starting to adopt Netflix's strategy of releasing entire seasons at once, I like getting one pellet to digest per week). But it's really great, "Misfits" and "Crazyhead" creator Howard Overman making his first show with an American cast and crew. The premise of a modern day loser finding out that the video game he's been playing is real and that he has to go on a special mission to save the world is not terribly original, but the execution of the idea, with Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson in insanely committed performances as video game warriors named Tiger and Wolf who have come to life.

b) "SMILF"
I've never been a single parent, but as a parent I kind of look at single parents with a sense of awe and respect and think they don't get enough respect in our culture, so I appreciate shows like "SMILF" or "Better Things" that give a sympathetic, funny warts-and-all portrayal of single parenthood. Frankie Shaw made a short film about her experiences as a mom, and then adapted it into this Showtime series that she stars in, which is pretty impressive, but the show has a low key charm, I'm still kind of waiting to see if it has legs beyond a strong pilot.

c) "Godless"
I think it was a bit of a mistake for this Netflix miniseries to be promoted as being principally about an 1880s mining town populated almost entirely by women after a mining accident, because you don't really meet most of the female characters until the 2nd episode, and the male characters still drive most of the action and dialogue. But otherwise, I find it really engrossing and well acted, and after 3 episodes I'm still not entirely sure what the arc of the whole 7 episodes is going to look like.

d) "Damnation"
This show about 1930s Idaho has better than average production values for the USA network, and the first couple episodes were promising, but I have to admit that I lost a lot of interest in it after I started watching "Godless," which is a little similar and a lot more gripping.

e) "She's Gotta Have It"
The idea of Spike Lee going into series television is interesting, although I'm not sure why he went for an update of one of his first films instead of a new idea. It's pretty odd to see someone besides Spike play his 'Mars' character, especially in the present day but still wearing Mars's extremely '80s outfits, I don't know if we're just supposed to process him as a big retro dork now or what. There have been some funny and bold moments in the episodes I've watched, but Lee's directorial style and sense of humor are I think more suited to features, it really wears thin as a serialized show that purports to have some kind of plot.

f) "Marvel's Runaways"
Between Marvel's half dozen shows on Netflix and the other half dozen on networks, the MCU is officially way harder to keep up with on TV than it is in the movie theater. And while the Runaways aren't entirely like The X-Men, I'm not really chomping at the bit for another team of superpowered angsty teens, and have really gotten very little out of the first couple episodes of the show.

g) "Marvel's The Punisher"
I will forever associate Jon Bernthal with the Tony Danzaesque sitcom meathead he played on "The Class," so I wasn't really impressed with him when he popped up as The Punisher on "Daredevil" last year. And The Punisher in general is kind of a bland character by Marvel standards who they've brought to life in a very self-serious way for this series. I like the supporting cast,though, particularly Amber Rose Revah.

h) "There's...Johnny!"
I never subscribed to Seeso, which I guess means I'm part of the problem of Seeso recently shutting down, but this show was produced by Seeso and then Hulu picked it up when it ended up with nowhere to air. Paul Reiser created this show as kind of love letter to Johnny Carson, about a teenager who writes a fan letter to Carson and then moves to L.A. to work at "The Tonight Show" in the '70s And Ian Nelson, the kid, is the kind of bland 'new kid in town' protagonist who I always roll my eyes at, and the show is totally dull and earnest for the fist ten minutes or so until he gets to the studio and meets the wonderful Jane Levy (from ABC's "Suburgatory") and the rest of the cast and the whole thing livens up considerably. One of the things I really like about the show is that they recreated the "Tonight Show" set so faithfully that they can weave footage of actual Carson-hosted episodes of the show in and kind of tell fictionalized backstage stories about those episodes in a clever, seamless way. It beats the hell out of "I'm Dying Up Here" having a Carson played by someone who looks and sound nothing like Carson.

i) "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
This was the clear standout of the 5 pilots Amazon released in March, so I'm happily unsurprised that it's the one that got a full series order. And I've ended up kind of sitting around today watching almost the whole season, Rachel Brosnahan is really just a sensational performer and almost makes it plausible for a 1950's housewife to walk onstage at a comedy club and kill the crowd just free associating. She finally bombs in the 5th episode, which seems like a long time for the other shoe to drop. But it's a very snappy, entertaining show, and I say that as someone who never took to "Gilmore Girls."

j) "Hot Date"
I always had an enormous crush on Emily Axford when she'd appear on "Adam Ruins Everything," so I was happy to see that she got her own show on the POP network. It's sort of a sketch show but in a "Portlandia" format where 2 people, Axford and Brian K. Murphy, play virtually all the characters in a series of vaguely overlapping narratives. It's a pretty entertaining show, both of the stars just throw themselves into every character and the wigs are good enough that sometimes you forget that it's the same actors over and over.

k) "If You Give a Mouse A Cookie"
I've read all these books to my sons, "If You Take A Mouse To School," "If You Give A Moose A Muffin," all of 'em. So I was really happy to see Amazon make a series out of them, retaining the aesthetic of the book and casting voices for all the characters perfectly for some new stories. It's cute, my toddler watched every episode in the course of a couple weekends.

l) "Alias Grace"
This is quite good but also an inadvertent argument for why Zachary Levi should never be in a period piece. Everyone else in the cast is great and helps immerse you in the place and time, and then Levi comes in with his beard and period garb and sounds totally wrong and is really just a distractingly bad actor.

m) "S.W.A.T."
CBS was able to make modern "Hawaii Five-0" reboot into a cash cow so that should probably be able to do the same with this. Shemar Moore looks like Sheriff Clarke with that beard, though, ugh.

n) "Drop The Mic"
A James Corden spinoff where you get ridiculous staged celebrity rap battles like Rascal Flatts vs. Boyz II Men. You can tell that they pretty much have a rapper on staff who writes everything the guests say and coaches them on how to say it, which is fine, that's obviously the only way to make a show like this work. But it really takes all the fun out of the idea of a rap battle when someone responds to something their opponent said 30 seconds ago with the perfect comeback because the same person composed it all.

o) "Scared Famous"
A VH1 reality show where 'celebrities' you probably have never heard of unless you watch other VH1 reality shows stay in a hokey haunted house and try to 'survive' to win cash for the charity of their choice. It's kind of entertaining but it would be better if anyone on this show besides New York from "Flavor of Love" had any real screen presence to fake act their way through this nonsense. Method Man hosts "Drop The Mic" and Redman hosts this show, which feels like a pretty strong cautionary tale about what happens to great rappers when they start dabbling in television and comedy.

p) "Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes On Television"
Ryan Hansen was hilarious on "Party Down" and "Veronica Mars," so I'm happy to see him get his own show, even if it's on YouTube Red and I'm not gonna pay them to keep watching after the free first two episodes, funny as they were. It's kind of a meta thing where Hansen plays himself in a program where young actors work as cops, and it's all knowingly ridiculous with lots of self-deprecating jokes about Hansen's career and references to people confusing YouTube Red with the porn site RedTube. And Samira Wiley is a really great straight man foil for Hansen.

q) "Most Expensivest"
I have questions about how Vice was able to take Action Bronson's online show to the Viceland cable channel without changing the name of "Fuck, That's Delicious," but 2 Chainz had to change "Most Expensivest Shit" to just "Most Expensivest" in the transition. It's a fun show, but as much as I love 2 Chainz as a rapper, he's not as engaging as a host as I'd hoped.

r) "The Mick"
This show is really solidly in the middle of the pack of network sitcoms right now, I'll probably never stop watching it until they cancel it, but I'll never be that thrilled about it. "The Haunted House" was one of their best episodes to date, though, it's more interesting when they delve into how the kids are seen by classmates at school.

s) "Search Party"
The first season of "Search Party" was an entertaining little neo-noir comedy about some aimless millennials convincing themselves that they're in a missing person mystery story. Then the season ended with a character dying, which I respected as an artistic decision. having this dark turn of events at the end of a silly shaggy dog tale where suddenly shit gets real. But the problem is, now season 2 opens with these goofy characters being traumatized and having to bury a body and keep an awful secret, and it's a totally different show and the genie can't just go back in the bottle. John Early and Meredith Hagner are still capable of being really funny at surprising moments, but I'm not sure if the show can totally sustain itself from here.

t) "Stan Against Evil"
The second season has been quite good, I think they've figured out that when you have John C. McGinley on your show you just gotta give him weird rambling monologues as much as possible.

u) "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency"
If Douglas Adams came back to life, you could show him this series and he'd recognize absolutely nothing from his novels besides the name of the character Dirk Gently and the vague concept of him being a 'holistic' detective. And that's a shame, because those books were pretty good, and I think it can be generally agreed upon that Douglas Adams had a better imagination than Max Landis.

v) "Lady Dynamite"
Toward the end of the first season of "Lady Dynamite," Maria Bamford started dating a guy, Scott, and in the second season he's basically the second lead and they live together and get married. So it's a slightly different show now, but still pretty funny and unique. I had trouble placing Scott's accent and it turns out the actor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, is Icelandic, it's really interesting to hear his actorly take on playing an American.

w) "The Girlfriend Experience"
The first season of "The Girlfriend Experience" left me a little cold as this bleak half hour drama. But I'm much more on board with the second season, which is now an hour long with each being broken up into two stories that have nothing to do with each other or the first season. One of them has a bit of political intrigue with Louisa Krause as an escort who helps a Democrat operative blackmail a Republican operative, and the other features Carmen Ejogo as a woman who gets placed into witness protection and starts seeing a weird, untrustworthy John played by Harmony Korine. I don't care for Korine as a filmmaker, but as a character who's supposed to give off unsettling vibes, he's really well cast. And Carmen Ejogo gives a really impressive performance, I'm looking forward to her starring in season 3 of "True Detective."

x) "The Last Man On Earth"
I've been let down by this show for longer than I was ever entertained by it, but this season has been quite good, especially the run of episodes with Kristen Wiig and Chris Elliott. It's like they finally figured out that they don't need to make every character besides Will Forte a straight man. But even the episodes since then, I feel like they've kind of worked out the relationships between the characters a little better than they have in the past.

y) "Shameless"
When other shows get more cruel and puerile over the years, it's depressing, but with "Shameless," it kind of feels like part of the point to see how low they can go, and this season they're dealing meth and calling ICE on people. I miss Fiona being a ho, though.

z) "MythBusters"
"MythBusters" really always more about what cool stuff they could prove or learn than the cast of the show, but it is weird to see Discovery just plug a different pair of weird nerdy dudes into the show and just carry on as if it's all the same. I liked the experiments they did in their first episode, though, there's probably still a lot of subject matter left for the show to explore.

Friday, November 24, 2017

I contributed a few blurbs to Rolling Stone's list of Eminem's 50 greatest songs. That's an awfully hot coffee pot!

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 99: INXS

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

This week, November 22nd marks the 20th anniversary of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence's death. And I wanted to take a moment to look at the legacy of both Hutchence and the band, who were absolutely ubiquitous when I grew up, because I've really come to value them more in recent years and appreciate the unique sound and cultural niche they achieved. When I was recording an album a couple months ago, I remember spending like half of a day in the studio ranting to my producer and a bandmate about how we really don't value INXS enough. Every time I hear "New Sensation" or "Don't Change" or just about any of their hits -I don't think there's really much in the way of duds in the whole bunch -I'm just amazed at how well their stuff has aged, and have taken more of an interest in their albums beyond the singles.

INXS deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Wild Life
2. Biting Bullets
3. Love Is (What I Say)
4. On My Way
5. Guns In The Sky
6. Soul Mistake
7. Follow
8. Same Direction
9. Doctor
10. Tiny Daggers
11. Strange Desire
12. Johnson's Aeroplane
13. The Stairs
14. Good + Bad Times
15. To Look At You
16. Calling All Nations
17. Full Moon, Dirty Hearts
18. Communications
19. Lately
20. Deliver Me
21. The Loved One
22. Shine Like It Does

Track 9 from INXS (1980)
Track 7 from Underneath The Colours (1981)
Tracks 6 and 15 from Shoobah Shoobah (1982)
Tracks 3 and 12 from The Swing (1984)
Tracks 2, 8, 14 and 22 from Listen Like Thieves (1985)
Tracks 1, 5, 10, 16 and 21 from Kick (1987)
Tracks 4, 13 and 19 from X (1990)
Tracks 11 and 18 from Welcome To Wherever You Are (1992)
Track 17 from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts (1993)
Track 20 from The Greatest Hits (1994)

INXS's career is, like many other careers in popular music, a nice little symmetrical mountain: over the course of their first 6 albums, they climbed up the charts, first in Australia and then the rest of the world, culminating in the multiplatinum Kick, and from there they continued to make hits but gradually slid from prominence. Although they had roots in new wave and post-punk, and rose to the mainstream more or less parallel with Depeche Mode, The Cure, and U2, their success was always seen much less as a triumph of any particular subculture. INXS was a dance band with a saxophonist and a charismatic Morrisonesque frontman, and they just never seemed tortured or earnest or political enough to be part of the alternative rock canon. They were caught between worlds a bit like Duran Duran (who, incidentally, went in the studio for Notorious not long after INXS did for The Swing). I loved The 1975's last album, but I could tell that the frequent comparisons to INXS that they got weren't always meant as compliments, and they annoyed people precisely for straddling that same pop/alternative divide.

Even though I think people generally remember how big INXS were circa 1987, the fact that they aren't R&R Hall of Famers like U2 or pop icons like Madonna and MJ or a hard rock crossover act like Def Leppard or GnR has left them in that odd middle ground. Michael Hutchence was, alongside  George Michael, the preeminent sexy white man of the era, but even George Michael was canonized more as a beloved icon by the time he passed away last year. And I think it's been forgotten that right up through about 1993, you usually couldn't watch MTV or listen to a rock station for an hour without hearing a new or old INXS song. But by Welcome To Whenever You Are, their wave had crested, and it felt a bit like they were trying to stay current by following the lead of Achtung Baby (dig the vocal effect on "Communication"). And it certainly didn't help their legacy that INXS took the tacky approach of creating a TV game show to select a new frontman, a Hutchence soundalike. Or that the press really never knew how to address Hutchence's death, which was ultimately ruled a suicide after lots of nervous tittering about an auto erotic asphyxiation accident that made his tragic death at 37 years old into a dirty joke.

For some reason, INXS's final album with Hutchence, 1997's Elegantly Wasted, is missing from streaming services. So the latest recording on here is "Deliver Me," one of two new tracks recorded for 1994's The Greatest Hits. Another song that appears on the U.S. edition of that compilation is "The Stairs," despite the fact that it was never released as a single outside the Netherlands, and despite the fact that bigger hits from X like "Bitter Tears" were left off the compilation. But "The Stairs" is a great song that the band was proud of, so it warrants inclusion here. Likewise, "Shine Like It Does" provided the title for the 2001 best-of collection Shine Like It Does: The Anthology, but it was never a single and seemed like a perfect closer here. I remember the first time I listened to Kick and being surprised by "Guns In The Sky," one of the shortest and weirdest opening tracks on any career-defining blockbuster album. And as I've delved into the rest of their albums, I've continued to find those kind of odd and interesting outliers that I've tried to collect here alongside the tracks that sound like they could've been massive hits.

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
Vol. 96: Shania Twain
Vol. 97: Squeeze
Vol. 98: Taylor Swift

Movie Diary

Sunday, November 19, 2017

a) Split
For all his shortcomings and his patchy track record, I have enough fondness for M. Night Shyamalan's better films and his odd, fairly unique sensibility that I tend to root for him. But Split, his most critically and commercially successful movie in about 15 years, is a total piece of shit and I'm kind of disgusted that people were okay with it. The central tenet of the movie, that James McAvoy is a crazed killer with 23 distinct personalities, is by itself just an offensively stupid and irresponsible depiction of mental illness and disassociative identity disorder. But James McAvoy's actual performance is just a laughable waste of his talent and his commitment to the poorly conceived role. One personality is a macho New Yawk guy, one is a lisping 9-year-old boy, one is a fancy lady, he wouldn't run through this many simplistic stock characters in a night of hosting "Saturday Night Live." And the final scene of the movie, the one that ties the story into one of Shyamalan's actually good films, is so painfully awful and poorly executed it actually makes everything that precedes it seem even worse. 

b) 1922
This is by far the best of the three Stephen King adaptations that have starred Thomas Jane, but that's not necessarily saying a whole lot since the other two are Dreamcatcher and The Mist. As a story there isn't much to it, it's more or less a The Tell-Tale Heart kind of thing about a murderer undone by his own guilt. I love Molly Parker and she really kind of had a great role in this despite the fact that she was dead for most of the movie.

I feel like there's this whole weird little bubble of action movies like Drive and Baby Driver about men of few words who spend most of the movie behind the wheel of a car, which, I dunno, it's bordering on tiresome. Seemed fairly exciting but I was pretty tired when I watched it and might have managed to nod off a bit.

d) Fist Fight
A comedy where the entire movie leads up to a fight between a grown man and a co-worker is not a bad idea, despite the fact that Tim Allen did it over a decade ago. Anyway, it's pretty fun, particularly the scenes with lots of improv from Jillian Bell and Tracy Morgan. It's odd to realize that Ice Cube playing a blustery tough guy not unlike his '90s rap persona is not something you see in his film roles that often, he kinda got into a much more laid back niche from Friday onward. But it is very entertaining to just scream on people and intimidate them for the whole movie. It's interesting to me that Max Greenfield from "New Girl" came up with the idea for this movie and produced it but isn't in it, especially since it's really easy to picture him in the Charlie Day role, so I wonder if that was ever the plan and just didn't pan out for some reason.

e) John Wick: Chapter 2
I feel like this is one of those sequels like Magic Mike XXL where it capitalized well on the goodwIll and sleeper hit success of the first movie but isn't actually as good. It's perfectly fine, and adds Peter Stormare and Laurence Fishburne to the rogues' gallery of badass aging actors, I just didn't think it was as memorable as the first. One thing I will always remember, however, is how ridiculous the subtitles looked in the portion of the movie that took place in Rome.

f) Life
I found it refreshing how little the promotional campaign gave away of what happens in this movie. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a pretty boilerplate Alien-type movie where the cool creepy-looking space monster picks off most of the human cast one by one. It was pretty unapologetically grisly and pessimistic, which I respected, but it could've been executed better. It seemed to set up a good idea for a sequel, but this movie was really not profitable, so that won't happen.

g) Why Him?
I had like a half hour to kill in a hotel room recently and put on HBO and watched the middle of this movie, and then went back later and watched the beginning and the end. Obviously, that's a terrible way to watch a movie, but this was not a particularly good movie, so the stakes were low. But it was interesting to see that middle section first, because all the scenes where James Franco and Bryan Cranston talking about Franco dating Cranston's daughter and wanting to marry her but she was completely offscreen. She is in the rest of the movie a bit but still, it was interesting how little the woman at the center of the story was present for it.

h) What We Do In The Shadows
This is one of the low budget movies Taika Waititi made before he got the Thor: Ragnarok job. It's basically a mockumentary about ancient vampires living in a flat in New Zealand. Really funny stuff, felt very influenced by Monty Python movies in the way they kind of dedicated themselves to the premise while still being incredibly silly about it.

i) The Final Girls
This is about some teens who watch a fictitious cheesy '80s horror movie and then magically end up inside the movie, a summer camp slasher flick, and have to avoid being killed by the movie's villain. Like most horror comedies, it kind of veers from funny to scary and I prefer the first half where the comedy is a little more present, but overall it was pretty enjoyable, good execution of the concept. 

j) Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf
Speaking of cheesy '80s horror movies, this is a famously bad 1985 sequel to a well regarded Joe Dante movie. We haven't seen the original The Howling, which is really no matter because this movie has a more or less completely different cast and only tangentially related story. We watched Howling II because it was the subject of an episode of the podcast "How Did This Get Made?" that we went to a live taping of in D.C. (I'd never really heard the podcast before, but my wife is an avid listener, so I got tickets for her birthday). We missed the screening of the movie before the taping, so we watched the movie at home after listening to Paul Scheer and Tig Notaro talk about how terrible it was for a couple hours. And I think that worked out surprisingly well, the show was really funny even without having seen the movie yet, and the movie was funnier to watch after already hearing people point out all the strange terrible details. 

Monthly Report: November 2017 Singles

Friday, November 17, 2017

1. Alice Merton - "No Roots"
Alice Merton's debut single has been a big top 5 pop hit in her native Germany and several other countries across Europe, but so far she's just slowly breaking into alt rock radio in the U.S., where I think it will ultimately do well but probably not become some "Royals" type crossover success. I really like it, though, it's got a nice driving groove to it and some weird squelchy synths, and I'm kind of interested in the idea of a young German making a rallying cry out of "I've got no roots" at a time when white nationalists are trying to sneak these shitty racists ideas into the mainstream in the form of taking pride in 'European identity' or whatever. Here's the 2017 singles Spotify playlist I update every month, although my proper year-end lists will be coming along shortly.

2. LANCO - "Greatest Love Story"
There are few things that grab my attention more when I'm perusing Billboard's country charts than a Jay Joyce production credit, so I was instantly attracted to the sound of the debut hit by this Nashville quintet he's taken under his wing. But it's really the song itself that has slowly grown on me, it's so sweet and simple and unadorned.

3. Gucci Mane f/ Migos - "I Get The Bag"
Both Gucci and especially Migos have been so ubiquitous this year, and already had one recent hit together, "Slippery," that I was skeptical about "I Get The Bag" being able to break out of the pack. The chorus even reminds me of "Slippery" a bit (particularly when Quavo says "in Italy"). But this has really stuck out and just sounds so much better on the radio than "MotorSport" or "Too Hotty," and opens with a great Takeoff verse.

4. Paramore - "Fake Happy"
Every time I get a Paramore album, there's some song that I instantly fall in love with and patiently hope and wish for it to eventually be released as a single (previously: "That's What You Get," "The Only Exception," and "Ain't It Fun"). I don't know if "Fake Happy" will wind up being a major hit for the band like some of those songs were, but I'm still pretty thrilled for it to get more exposure, it's really been one of my anthems of 2017.

5. Why Don't We - "Something Different"
A few years ago there was a lot of media hype about a new 'boy band era' that eventually shook out to be just One Direction destroying the competition. And now that One Direction has splintered into solo careers, there are a few baby boy bands on the horizon trying to kickstart that next wave. So far I haven't gotten much of a sense of any of those groups having really serious commercial potential, but I really like this song, wish it got more radio traction.

6. Lil Uzi Vert f/ Oh Wonder - "The Way Life Goes"
There's an odd little convention of Soundcloud rap where the official versions of singles often have a weird quick sizzle reel-like excerpt of a few lines from the middle of the song put at the opening of the track before the song gets to its proper beginning that feels like a simulation of how mixtape DJs will play a snippet before they 'run it back' (some famous examples of this are XXXtentacion's "Look At Me" and 6ix9ine's "Gummo"). "The Way Life Goes" is a very accessible crossover song for Uzi, but he manages to open the song like this and it's surprising to me how well it works. And I'm trying to enjoy the original version as much as I can as a brace myself for radio stations to possibly replace it with the entirely unnecessary Nicki Minaj remix.

7. Marilyn Manson - "Kill4Me"
It's probably for the best that Marilyn Manson didn't try to capitalize on his friendship with Lil Uzi Vert for his new album, that combination might be more interesting on paper than in practice. But I really like this song, it's got a little of that sleazy slithery glam thing that he's done pretty well in the past. But it's funny to think how him releasing a song imploring the listener to kill for him would have been an absolute scandal in the '90s and now it's just another song.

8. Olivia Holt - "Generous"
This song's beat is such a spot-on pastiche of 2010s Pharrell production that I actually had to check and make sure he wasn't involved. It's a really good, catchy song besides that obvious stylistic debt, though. Holt is one of those Disney Channel actresses making tentative steps toward proper pop stardom, and it's a shame that she's not there yet because I'd love to hear this one on the radio.

9. Fifth Harmony - "He Like That"
While the Camila Cabello solo career is suddenly, inexplicably thriving, I continue to root for her old group that's arguably better than ever without her. I tend to find the group's '90s interpolations to be their weakest moments, but I kind of love that Hammer's "Pumps And A Bump" has been dredged up by a 2010s pop group, and the bassline on this song is just killer.

10. Eminem f/ Beyonce - "Walk On Water"
Here are two superstars that nobody ever really expected or even wanted to work together. I've always been a little lukewarm on Eminem even back when he was good, and I never thought his big mawkish Rihanna collaborations were much better than the rest of his largely awful later work, so I braced myself for this to sound like that. But I have to admit, the whole restrained piano ballad thing works. The idea of a couple of huge stars like this talking about how anxious they are to keep their audience happy could come off really obnoxious or sappy, but there are enough little details in Em's verses and in Beyonce's delivery that I kinda feel the sincerity of it.

The Worst Single Of The Month: Baka Not Nice - "Live Up To My Name"
The idea of Drake rapping with his bodyguard like Nas on "Oochie Wallie" is really funny, and I'm entertained by Baka's claim that he gets drunk at a gun range so that he'd be able to Shyne up the club while drunk if necessary. But man is this song unpleasant to listen to.

Monday, November 06, 2017

This Saturday, November 11, my band Woodfir will be playing Joe Squared in Baltimore with The Meer, Cheshi, and Bad Robot Jones. We'll also have some new music out very soon. 

Monthly Report: October 2017 Albums

Thursday, November 02, 2017

1. Carly Pearce - Every Little Thing
busbee played a similar role in producing and co-writing Carly Pearce's debut album as he did with Maren Morris's debut last year, so it's not surprising that they're both excellent in similar ways, with busbee's ear for understated modern production touches that foreground the vocalist's classic country sensibilities. Morris has the bigger personality but Pearce has the richer, more expressive voice, equally good for wounded ballads like the title track, one of the best country singles of the year, and for playful uptempo tracks like "Hide The Wine." Here's my 2017 albums playlist that most of these records are on.

2. Robert Plant - Carry Fire
Robert Plant has long been one of the more interesting and restless classic rock icons, one of maybe a handful of guys whose careers started in the '60s who kept up with new music enough to make some surprisingly modern stuff in the 2010s (alongside David Bowie, Paul Simon, and Paul McCartney). And this album is just gorgeous from front to back, lots of familiar acoustic Zep type textures with the occasional gnarly synth line, Plant often sings just above a whisper but sometimes lets loose the ragged majesty of his aging voice, including on a duet with Chrissie Hynde.

3. Sabrina Claudio - About Time
I checked this out on a whim the other day and it really grabbed me, it kind of fits into the breathy moody alt R&B zeitgeist pretty well (6lack appears on a remix at the end of the album), but there's some pretty cool distinctive sonics going on and Claudio's voice is like silk, she might really be a star soon. "Wanna Know" is like a classic torch song, really beautiful stuff.

4. Brent Faiyaz - Sonder Son
Brent Faiyaz's voice on the hook of GoldLink's "Crew" has been one of the best sounds on the radio in 2017 that I've enjoyed hearing again and again. So it's nice to finally explore a little more from that voice, this is a really lovely understated album, feels very handmade and heartfelt, and this guy comes from just up the road from where I live in Maryland so I'm really rooting for him.

5. Microkingdom - Return to the Valley of the Jeep Beats
The Baltimore avant jazz trio Microkingdom have been doing some really interesting stuff for years -- I particularly liked 2012's Three Compositions of No Jazz, which we used a track from for a compilation I helped assemble. This is the first of 3 releases they have coming out this fall, and it may be my favorite thing they've done to date. The title Return to the Valley of the Jeep Beats is probably a bit tongue in cheek, but I feel like it gives an indication of how these guys are looking outside jazz for some of their rhythmic ideas and the kind of digital aesthetic of how they edit down their improvs into records.

6. Niall Horan - Flicker
I always thought Niall's high, cutesy voice worked best in small doses in the context of One Direction, and kind of assumed that Harry and Zayn would have the only viable solo careers out of the group. So I was pleasantly surprised when Niall had my favorite run of solo singles, including the fantastic "Slow Hands," and actually sold more copies of his debut the first week than Zayn (in part thanks to including album vouchers with tickets for his tour). The album is a little lacking in more songs as upbeat as "Slow Hands," but it has a great sound, I especially love "Since We're Alone" and the Maren Morris duet "Seeing Blind." The 3 bonus tracks on the deluxe edition are really strong, as far as I'm concerned you're not getting the complete ideal album without listening to those.

7. Pink - Beautiful Trauma
Pink was always one of the best pop stars of her generation but I particularly like cool mom era Pink. There's a bit of the mellow folky sound of her 2014 side project You+Me on here but for the most part it's a really solid record with the usual suspects like Max Martin, Jack Antonoff, and busbee (whose work I first heard when he wrote Pink's 2012 hit "Try"). That song with Eminem is the one big weak spot, but at least she gets it out the way early.

8. YBS Skola - Only Hope 2
For most of the many years that I've followed and written about Baltimore hip hop, even the city's best and best known rappers have struggled to build the kind of young, enthusiastic local grassroots followings that viable careers are usually built on in other cities. So it's been promising the last few years to see a new generation rappers really start to do that, particularly the late Lor Scoota and Young Moose. And YBS Skola from Scoota's YBS crew has kind of been the next guy in that wave for a minute (no relation to early 2000s Baltimore rapper Norm Skola or Dru Hill member Scola, not sure why that name is so prevalent around here). YBS Skola's got this infectiously raspy whiny voice, best heard on his local radio hit "Shinning," which you hear local schoolkids singing at the beginning of Only Hope 2. This tape is a little overlong and inconsistent, but the production is strong and there's appearances from Meek Mill, Moose, and a posthumous Scoota verse. YGG Tay's Rich Before Rap 2, also out in October, is also a pretty good record out of this scene (for some reason most street rappers now, especially in Baltimore, have 3-initial names, like YFN Lucci, or JRR Tolkien).

9. Cordite Tracker - Six Systems for Post-Human Alienation
Some cool experimental synthesizer music out of Maryland that you can stream or buy on cassette on Bandcamp. The title and the description ("Six PureData patches, programmed by me with randomized parameters, then recorded & edited down to the most compelling parts") had me expecting something more cold and mechanical, and I was pleasantly surprised how warm and human the textures and bursts of melodies are.

10. Future & Young Thug - Super Slimey
Timing and chemistry are everything in these rapper teamup albums that have become increasingly fashionable, and What A Slime To Be Alive kind of seems like it just doesn't quite have the formula right on either count. Any fan of Future or Thug realizes that their respective styles aren't really that close despite some superficial similarities, and they spent the most exciting years of their careers either quietly feuding or simply competitively keeping their distance from each other after an early friendship where Thug nearly signed to Future's label. So this album kind of feels like too little too late to be the event it could've been, but there's plenty of enjoyable tracks, and Future's voice sounds incredible on "Group Home."

Worst Album of the Month: Lil Pump - Lil Pump
For a decade or two, self-titled albums where virtually unheard of in rap. Rich Boy's 2007 was one of the only ones I can even remember from that era. But in the last couple years, the new wave of rappers crawling out of SoundCloud seem to like them, with Fetty Wap, Playboi Carti, NAV, and Lil Pump all releasing self-titled albums. But the lack of a 'real' title mostly increases the sense that these albums are just careless data dumps of established online hits and a few new tracks, and Lil Pump's major label debut feels like one of the most haphazard of them all. The first viral hit I heard by him, the repetitive 2-minute lo-fi "D Rose," is here alongside some much more polished material, so you can ostensibly hear some growth or range, but even at his most sophisticated, he basically sounds like a braindead Mac Miller on "Gucci Gang." I used to get Lil Pump confused with Lil Peep, another racially ambiguous SoundCloud rapper with half pink hair, but now I know the difference, and I dislike Pump slightly more.