TV Diary

Friday, January 26, 2018

a) "Counterpart"
This show has already had two seasons ordered and based on the first episode I'm already pretty down for at least a couple years of J.K. Simmons playing dual roles as parallel universe versions of one character. I really like the way the first episode unfurled this high concept story in the context of stuffy government bureaucracy, and then ended with a nice little twist that let you wonder what else The Other J.K. is lying about.

b) "The End of the F***ing World"
I've never read the graphic novel this is based on, but this British series is easily one of the best new shows from Netflix in recent memory. It starts with a teenage boy who kills animals and thinks he's a psychopath dating a girl with the intentions of making her his first human victim, and it kind of spirals out of control from there in a strangely heartwarming way. The episodes are really quick, like 18 to 21 minutes, which is really refreshing and I think enhances the odd rhythms and unpredictable nature of the show.

c) "Happy!"
I feel like Christopher Meloni has long been wanting for a star vehicle that lets him cut loose from his "SVU" image, and he's really gotten it in this SyFy show where he plays a crazed ex-cop who talks to a tiny imaginary blue horse voiced by Patton Oswalt. I have found the show's constant contrast of dark violent themes with loopy absurdity a little less entertaining over the course of the first few episodes, but still, they're pulling off the concept pretty well with some spirited performances.

d) "The Assisination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"
The degree to which the second season of "American Crime Story" cares about the murder victim, when you think about how little it cared about the victims in the first season, really underscores how much more Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are interested in celebrity than anything else in these stories. That's not necessarily a bad thing in the case of this season, which is a pretty detailed character study of both Gianni Versace and the serial killer who shot him, Andrew Cunanan (but I must say it doesn't bode well for "Crime Story"'s delayed season about Hurricane Katrina, where most of the victims lacked fame or sympathetic media portrayals). I don't know much about Versace or Cunanan so I'm appreciating the amount of detail and emotion they're putting into a story that doesn't have much in the way or mystery or suspense to move it forward.

e) "9-1-1"
Since I've seen Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk mishandle so many different genres of television over the years to different degrees, I was skeptical about what they would do with this procedural about first responders. But Angela Bassett, Peter Krause, and Connie Britton is about as good a trio of lead actors as you could hope for for a network drama, and I like the way they kind of jump between the 911 switchboard and police officers and the fire department with interlocking stories. Some of the dialogue and plotting is really clumsy and bad, though.

f) "LA To Vegas"
I'm a fan of workplace sitcoms in general, and in particular shows about transportation and a workplace that always has colorful characters passing through (this might seem like a painfully specific niche, but I mean, "Taxi," "Wings," "The John Larroquette Show," it's a very particular vibe to me). This show is a little bit broad and sleazy, but it's got a fun cast including Peter Stormare, it might grow on me if the writing doesn't stay too formulaic. And it's kind of nice to see Nathan Lee Graham, so memorable in his tiny role in Zoolander so long ago, get a good series regular gig like this.

g) "Alone Together"
This show is so funny in a very acerbic adult way that I'm kind of surprised Freeform made it. It's about two platonic friends who are looking for more attractive people than each other and argue way too much for you to hope they end up together, in a way it does the anti romance thing better than a lot of contemporary sitcoms have tried to. And Esther Povitsky is as odd and entertaining here as she has been in her small recurring role on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,"

h) "Mosaic"
"Mosaic" is one of those weird formal experiments that Steven Soderbergh is so fond of: it came out as a mobile app, where you kind of choose scenes as an interactive movie where you try to solve a murder mystery, for about 2 months before it aired as a series on HBO, which has aired 4 episodes so far this week and airs the last two tonight. I was apprehensive that the app aspect would weaken it as a traditional TV show, but I have to say it's been pretty engrossing. Soderbergh goes overboard with his signature color palettes almost to the point of self parody, but I'm finding it more interesting than the average TV murder mystery miniseries (maybe because the victim is Sharon Stone as a famous children's book auther and not the small town adolescent these shows are usually about). Soderbergh always has a great eye for actors and this thing is full of memorable performances by people I haven't seen much of before: Devin Ratray, Jennifer Ferrin, and Bridey Elliott in particular.

i) "Black Lightning"
There are, I suppose, some benefits to The CW rolling out show about D.C.'s first black superhero show on the eve of Marvel's Black Panther hitting theaters, but I almost feel like the timing does it a disservice; "Black Lightning" doesn't get to have its own little cultural moment, and the ads soundtracks to Kendrick Lamar invariably bring to mind the Black Panther marketing. It's kind of like if "Super Girl" had premiered a couple weeks before Wonder Woman came out. That said, they're very different characters, and I like the way Black Lightning's story arc begins with him as a retired hero-turned-school principal who reluctantly puts the suit back on, the show is really well cast. It's trippy to see Krondon from Strong Arm Steady as a bad guy on here. I don't watch much of The CW's superhero shows in part because the production values tend to look a little flimsy, but I like the aesthetic of the costumes and stuff here.

j) "Jean Claude Van Johnson"
I was on the fence about the Amazon pilot season episode of "Jean Claude Van Johnson" that was circulated over a year ago, and I remained on the fence as I watched the full season of the show. It kinda felt like one episode would hit the right comic notes and realize the potential of the project, but then the next episode would just revert to a straight-up dumb action movie. Jesus Christ Venereal Disease has his moments as a comedic performer but the show really could've used more of the excellent supporting cast that included Kat Foster, Phylicia Rashad, and the always underutilized Richard Schiff. But it doesn't really matter, Amazon has already canceled it.

k) "Wormwood"
I really dislike the genre of docudrama that mixes real footage and interviews with dramatization, and I hesitate to say that because "Wormwood" director Errol Morris is extremely revered for doing films in this style. But honestly, there's just something about intercutting acted scenes with documentary scenes that makes it all feel like an upscale version of reenactments on shows like "America's Most Wanted." The story depicted in "Wormwood" is one that I've heard about and been fascinated by for decades and I really probably would've enjoyed a straight up doc or a straight up drama way more.

l) "Dark"
This German series from Netflix was compared incessantly to "Stranger Things," and as no particular fan of "Stranger Things" it is very little trouble for me to say that "Dark" was better. I didn't love it or anything, but it had some pretty cool visuals and the concept, though it sometimes went over my head, was interesting.

m) "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman"
It's been less than 3 years since David Letterman's retirement, and I've been happy to see that he's not entirely ready to withdraw from the spotlight. I really enjoyed the episode of the climate change NatGeo series "Years of Living Dangerously" where he did field reporting from India and got to interact with everyday people, so I kind of hoped if he did another series that it would be in that vein, but a Netflix series where he interviews extremely famous people works too. The Barack Obama interview was interesting because these are 2 guys who you've only seen interact before in those little bite size network talk show interview segments while Obama was president or a candidate, and even with an audience present there was still a new looseness you get in this format and with both of them freed from their old jobs.

n) "Black Mirror"
I've always been a big "Black Mirror" skeptic, obviously speculative fiction is a very useful way to talk about the new forms of communications and surveillance technology that are rapidly changing our world, but I'm not a huge fan of Charlie Brooker's particular approach. That said, season 4 was the first one I watched every episode of, so it's starting to grow on me. I thought "USS Callister" and "Black Museum" were among the more memorable and engrossing episodes, but I was struck by how much they hinged on the idea that you could put human consciousness into a computer and its feelings would be so real that human morality applies. Maybe it will be possible someday, I don't know, but it felt like a logical stretch that was handwaved with compelling performances by human actors. Douglas Hodge in the latter was a really memorable, charismatically horrifying performance, I'm surprised I've never seen him in anything before.

o) "Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams"
It's either good or bad timing for a Philip K. Dick anthology series to come out at a time its format seems similar to or inspired by "Black Mirror," even though obviously Dick has influenced so much these days including "Black Mirror." The first episode was pretty good, with the whole concept of two people played by Terrence Howard and Anna Paquin who both think the other is their virtual reality alter ego (and Howard at one point being told "you're not really a lesbian supercop in the future in a flying car"). My interest really waned in the second episode, though, I still need to check out the rest.

p) "Dope"
This is a Netflix documentary series about the drug trade that puts cameras with cops as well as dealers in different cities. Obviously I was more interested in the episode about heroin Baltimore than the ones about other places, but even that one kind of rubbed me the wrong way in little ways, and also I hate the narrator, who struggled to pronounce 'Anne Arundel County' in a really hilarious way.

q) "The Toys That Made Us"
This is another Netflix documentary series, about the history of the toy industry. An in depth look at the history of Star Wars licensing or Barbies is interesting but after a certain point it just became background noise to me.

r) "Rotten"
This is yet another Netflix documentary series, about crime in the food industry. Some really unsettling stuff in here, I have a strong stomach and I still don't think I'll finish it.

s) "Devilman Crybaby"
A Netflix anime series based on a manga, really nasty violent dark comedy, on some level I enjoyed the shock value of it but I didn't really feel like sticking around long enough to figure out if there was some kind of point or redemption or if it's just straight up nihilism.

t) "Erased"
A live action Netflix series based on a manga, this one became background noise to me pretty quickly, I just don't really understand the genre that much.

u) "The Last Post"
A lavish historical BBC series about a British army base in the 1960s, I haven't taken much interest in the story but Jessica Raine is stunning.

v) "Gunpowder"
A lavish historical BBC miniseries about the 1609 'gunpowder plot,' a passion project of Kit Harington where he plays a guy who he's a direct descendant of. Pretty nice production values, but over the course of 3 episodes I kinda found it harder to hold my attention that a one off feature film would have.

w) "Trollhunters"
The first season of Guillermo del Toro's Netflix animated series "Trollhunters" debuted 6 months after lead voice actor Anton Yelchin died, and I kind of assumed they used all of the dialogue he'd recorded in those 26 episodes. But it turns out he did more, and is still the star of the 13 new episodes, which was a nice surprise. My kids love this show, I never thought del Toro would make something that children under 10 wouldn't be terrified of. Kelsey Grammer is so funny in this show, I mean you can basically watch his character like he's Frasier as a three eyed troll.

x) "Glitch"
This Australian sci-fi show had a really intriguing premise, but I feel like I lost the plot in the second season and didn't really know what was going on by the end.

y) "Easy"
Joe Swanberg's anthology series about the dating habits of a loosely connected array of Chicago hipsters doesn't get any closer to feeling like it has a point in its second season, but neither do most of his movies, so at least these are shorter and mostly more engaging slices of life. Often it feels like a thinly veiled excuse for him to shoot nude scenes of half the well known actresses he knows (and on that note, holy shit at the sex scene Elizabeth Reaser had in this season).

I kind of treat it as a self-deprecating joke that I love "Grace And Frankie," but this show really is wonderful and is possibly getting more laugh out loud funny in its 4 season. Jane Fonda is 80 and the other three principals are approaching 80 and it almost doesn't seem fair that people get to make something this good at that age. 

Monthly Report: January 2018 Singles

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

1. Bebe Rexha f/ Florida Georgia Line "Meant To Be"
Bebe Rexha is a pop singer who's made hits with EDM producers, rappers, and rock bands (I also only just realized when writing this that she was the singer in Pete Wentz's short-lived Black Cards project). Florida Georgia Line is a country group whos made hits with rappers, EDM producers, and pop singers. They're both basically native creatures of this weird one-size-fits-all median sound that the biggest or most commercially aspirational artists of every genre are congealing into. But "Meant To Be" is still a pretty good use of that sound, feels like a companion to FGL's other good recent pop collaboration, Hailee Steinfeld's "Let Me Go." But what's surprising is how well it's doing on country radio, even if it has more momentum on pop radio. I'm sure Jay-Z didn't coin "if it was meant to be, it'll be," but I like the line because it reminds me of one of my favorite songs, "This Can't Be Life." Also, on the subject of Dolores O'Riordan's passing, Bebe Rexha is probably the only current mainstream act who cites The Cranberries as a major influence, and I can kinda hear it. Here's the 2018 singles Spotify playlist that I'll be updating throughout the year. 

2. Cam "Diane" 
Calling your new single a companion piece to one of your genre's most beloved songs of all time is a ballsy way to get people's attention. But what I like about Cam's "Diane" is that you don't really have to know that it was written as a response to Dolly Parton's "Jolene," it has its own melody and its own energy and its own way of giving you a whole story from one character's perspective with just enough detail for you to fill in between the lines. 

3. Bruno Mars f/ Cardi B - "Finesse (Remix)" 
"Finesse" was one of my immediate favorites off of 24K Magic way back in 2016, and as 2017 came to a close I assumed the album cycle was winding down and it missed its chance to be a single. So I was pretty delighted to hear that Bruno drafted someone good and attention-grabbing for a remix to give the album one last burst of momentum to go into awards season. I like the "we got it goin' on" refrain at the end more with Bruno's vocals on the album version, but Cardi's verse really adds a nice energy to the top of the song. 

4. Derez De'Shon "Hardaway"
London On Da Track has been one of my favorite producers in rap since his work on a lot of the songs that made Young Thug a star in 2014, and in the years since he's kept pretty busy but hasn't really been on Thug's projects as much as I'd like or done a lot of really high profile songs with other artists. So it's been cool to see a couple of his productions, "Hardaway" and Kodak Black's "Roll In Peace, rising up the charts lately. Derez De'Shon reminds me a lot of YFN Lucci on this song but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I feel bad for all these new guys who are signing to Cash Money lately, though, when you have Lil Wayne constantly out there as a reminder that you can be one of the biggest rappers of all time and Birdman will still fuck you over if you let him. 

5. Bastille "World Gone Mad"
Bright may have been one of the most divisive movies in recent memory, but the soundtrack album is a pretty spectacular mess in its own right, a mush of unnecessary collaborations like Migos/Marshmello and DRAM/Neil Young and A$AP Rocky/Tom Morello. But there are two really good songs on the Bright soundtrack that happen when they stop trying to squeeze together different genres: a straight up gangsta rap posse cut with Meek Mill, YG and Snoop, and Bastille's single from the album. "World Gone Mad" is one of those dramatic apocalyptic pop songs we're probably going to have a constant supply of for a while until at least the next election, but it works, and I enjoy Dan Smith saying "you don't wanna fuck with us" in his pretty Prince Valiant voice. 

6. The Lumineers "Angela"
The Lumineers have had several alt-rock radio hits since their debut single "Ho Hey"'s massive crossover success a few years ago, and their more understated other material hasn't had that same kind of pop profile. "Angela" has really hit me way harder than any of their other songs, though, it's really quite beautiful. 

7. Harry Styles - "Kiwi" 
I get that Harry Styles very deliberately leveraged his fame and fanbase to have a hugely successful debut album without having to cater to the singles charts, and I respect that. But it still seems like a loss to me that his label hasn't even worked the record in the radio formats where it could get airplay, and let "Two Ghosts" kind of sap away whatever momentum the album had to spin off a radio hit. "Kiwi" would be a fun song to hear on rock radio hit and you'd probably hear it all over there if anyone else made it, but even the downtempo songs on the album are aesthetically right in the same lane as, say, The Lumineers. 

8. Kendrick Lamar f/ Zacari "Love"
When DAMN. was first released, "Love" and "Loyalty" seemed to stand out as obvious shoe-ins to be the album's big R&B hit, and I initially preferred and rooted for "Love." But now they've both been hits and "Love" actually turned out to be the bigger of the two, but I ultimately thought "Loyalty" sounded better on the radio. Both are pretty good tracks that put Kendrick in an R&B context better than he usually manages, though. And Greg Kurstin gets to add an urban radio hit by one of the biggest rappers in the world to one of the more varied resumes of any producer working today. 

9. Calvin Harris f/ Kehlani and Lil Yachty "Faking It"
This is one of the best things Kehlani has ever done, but even the best tracks from Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 seem to highlight in one way or another how Calvin Harris is out of his element or doesn't fully understand the artists he's working with, because this is just about the worst track he could've put Lil Yachty on, and his faux folksy tangent about putting pepperonis on his girlfriend's face really kind of deflates the vibe. 

10. Taylor Swift "New Year's Day" 
In the weeks after Reputation was released, it was announced that the closing track "New Year's Day" would be Taylor Swift's first single promoted to country radio in nearly 5 years. And given the Nashville establishment's general thirst for attention from the biggest possible stars, and the way they fell over themselves to give Swift awards for writing Little Big Town's "Better Man" last year, I assumed "New Year's Day" would take off. But it's a very quiet, almost threadbare little whisper of a song, and even though it's really grown on me, I'm not surprised that it never really got serious spins. 

Worst Single of the Month: N.E.R.D. f/ Rihanna "Lemon"
I already wrote a weary review of No_One Ever Really Dies, but I remain surprise that even among the album's detractors, there is still enthusiasm for "Lemon" and the song has done pretty well on R&B radio, often in the form of an edit that chops off the first part of the song and skips straight to the Rihanna verse. But even in that edit, you hear Pharrell spit the same verse afterwards, and it's a really really bad Skateboard P verse and Rihanna reciting it is just not the "omg Rihanna's spitting" moment some people have made it out to be. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I reviewed Fall Out Boy's new album for Spin.

I also made a playlist for The Dowsers of some of Fall Out Boy's odder adventures in blendingenres. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 101: The Cranberries

Friday, January 19, 2018

I thought I'd probably take a little break from this series for a while after the 100th entry, but as often has happened, I was spurred to explore an act's discography by a musician's death, in this case The Cranberries singer Dolores O'Riordan. They were a pretty ubiquitous band in the '90s who I've grown more fond of in the years since then; I think I've heard "Zombie" so many times that I kind of never want to hear it again, but their other singles, particularly "Salvation," have held up really well. A DJ on a local station, DC101, has a habit of playing "Linger" 3 or more times in a row sometimes, to try and relax listeners during rush hour, and when he did it just a couple months ago I gained a new appreciation for that song. He played it a few times again on Tuesday, after the news broke.

The Cranberries deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. No Need To Argue
2. Wanted
3. Twenty One
4. Forever Yellow Skies
5. Sunday
6. The Icicle Melts
7. Desperate Andy
8. Not Sorry
9. Joe
10. The Concept
11. Disappointment
12. Schizophrenic Playboy
13. Deliliah
14. The Glory
15. How
16. I Just Shot John Lennon
17. Copycat
18. The Rebels
19. Chocolate Brown
20. Fire & Soul
21. Daffodil Lament
22. I Will Always

Tracks 2, 5, 8, 15 and 21 from Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? (1993)
Tracks 1, 3, 6, 11 and 20 from No Need To Argue (1994)
Tracks 4, 9, 16 and 18 from To The Faithful Departed (1996)
Tracks 7, 13 and 17 from Bury The Hatchet (1999)
Tracks 10 and 19 from Wake Up And Smell The Coffee (2001)
Tracks 12 and 20 from Roses (2012)
Tracks 14 from Something Else (2017)

The Cranberries' first couple albums loom large over their commercial profile, so I figured they should for this compilation, and I think it is where a lot of their best songs are. "Daffodil Lament" is pretty epic; I'm not surprised that fans voted it as their best non-single to appear on the band's Stars: The Best of 1992-2002 compilation. It's interesting to hear them start as kind of this jangly dream pop band and then become this louder rock combo that was more suited to the huge venues they ended up playing.

Given my love of "Salvation," I was interested to hear For The Faithful Departed, which is kind of their record where they reached peak visibility and started to fade from view. O'Riordan will always be remembered for her gorgeous, unique voice, but I think she's pretty interesting as a lyricist, so passionate about several causes, sometimes seeming a little strident or humorless, but always putting a personal touch on things. "I Just Shot Lennon" is possibly the least subtle song you could possibly write about that topic, even before the song ends with the sound of gunshots, but I think it's kind of compelling and gutsy. You get a bit more variety in their later records, "The Concept" has almost a trip hop sound to it. And "Copycat" is kind of a funny bitter look at the radio landscape that they were at that point receding from. O'Riordan's last release with The Cranberries was Something Else less than a year ago, which was largely comprised of acoustic versions of old songs, but also included a few new studio tracks, and "The Glory" is pretty great.

Movie Diary

Thursday, January 18, 2018

a) Molly's Game
My faith in Aaron Sorkin's ability to make a good TV show has plummeted since "The West Wing," but his work in film has been pretty consistently enjoyable, with his screenplays often based on interesting true stories and filmed by talented directors. So I was cautiously optimistic about his first film as a director, Molly's Game, based on Molly Bloom's memoir of the same name. And while I could nitpick about some of his amateurish habits as a director, I mostly just enjoyed Bloom's whole strange story and Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba sinking their teeth into Sorkin's dialogue. But what really surprised me was the movie's parade of supporting actors having really good brief roles in the story, including "The Night Of"'s Bill Camp, Jeremy Strong, Brian d'Arcy James, and one of the most unlikely and compelling performances of Michael Cera's career where he plays an unnamed movie star who, I suppose, you're meant to believe could be Cera himself.

b) Paddington 2
I didn't see the first Paddington, but my son wanted to see Padding2n, so we went. And it was pretty enjoyable, the animation is great and Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant had a lot of fun with their roles. And there were some scenes that were just very cleverly orchestrated little blends of action and physical comedy, a lot of creativity went into this movie. Afterwards, my son wanted to try marmalade, naturally, so I bought some. He wasn't that into it, but I like having some marmalade in the house.

c) Bright
This movie was pretty rightfully savaged by almost everyone who saw it. But I will say that after you get past the really poorly executed social commentary laid out in the first half hour, it eventually just turned into a pretty capable generic action movie. But in a way it was even worse than Suicide Squad, where Will Smith was the best thing about the movie but it felt like anybody could have starred in Bright.

d) Pitch Perfect 3
My wife loves the Pitch Perfect movies and watches them all the time, so I took her to see the lates (final?) entry in the series over the holidays. I feel like them having to suspend disbelief more to keep the story going with each additional movie has led them to make each movie a little more cartoony and self-consciously ridiculous than the last, and I think that's kind of a good move, just let the cast have fun with it and throw music into a scene even when it doesn't make total sense.

e) Landline
Jenny Slate and writer-director Gillian Robespierre's follow-up to Obvious Child is every bit as excellent as their first collaboration, maybe better. I always love to see John Turturro just quietly inhabit a character, but Abby Quinn as Slate's sister is the breakout performance of the movie, and they really do look just like sisters. 

f) The Big Sick
I feel like this movie was getting puffed up like it was gonna be a real blockbuster and Oscar contender and then expectations slowly deflated, but it's a perfectly good and charming movie when taken at face value. The way Kumail Nanjiani depicts his family and the women they tried to match him with got a lot of criticism that I think was justified. But I found myself wrapped up in the story more than I expected, it was pretty enjoyable, the parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter really brightened up the second half of the movie.

g) Going In Style
How many movies have Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman done together now? Are they a package deal? Are they close friends IRL? But anyway, I like these movies where aging Hollywood legends get to be badasses, it's a good genre of minor films. Also, congrats, I guess, to Zach Braff on directing a serviceable movie that's not an indulgent starring vehicle for himself.

h) The Belko Experiment
I think it says a lot about The Belko Experiment that a successful director, James Gunn, wrote the screenplay and got it greenlit, but then realized how unpleasant it would be to film and begged off directing it until it was finally made with another director 5 years later. I mean, it's hard to make a movie about a sadistic experiment that forces people to kill their co-workers without the film itself ultimately seeming sadistic and cruel, and this is one of the goriest mainstream movies I've ever seen. That said, I actually kind of liked it, there were a lot of scenery chewing performances by character actors like John C. McGinley and Michael Rooker that made it watchable even as it progressively more ridiculous.

i) Get Out
Get Out seems like the kind of movie that benefited from the element of surprise, that it just seemed to come out of nowhere and become a huge hit. That is to say, seeing one of 2017's most discussed movies at the end of a year of having it spoiled for you is not a great experience, and it really felt like there was not a lot left to enjoy as a fresh experience once I finally watched it. But I do find it funny that people who often dismissed "Key & Peele" were offended that this movie was nominated in comedy categories at the Golden Globes, at times it felt very much like one long "Key & Peele" sketch.

j) Capsule
This was a really surprising little British sci-fi movie that I stumbled across while channel surfing, the whole movie is basically one early astronaut trying to survive some technical issues while in orbit, and the whole thing plays out really intensely with some surprising twists, very cleverly written movie. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 100: Stevie Wonder

Monday, January 08, 2018

On this day in 2013, I posted my first 'deep album cuts' playlist. So as I approached the 5th anniversary of that date as well as the 100th installment in the series, I decided to combine the two occasions. At any given time I've had a wishlist of dozens of artists I've wanted to dedicate a post to, and in many ways this series is aimed at celebrating those famous acts whose albums are not often celebrated. But for DAC 100, it seemed like I should go big, and it's hard to think of any albums artist held in higher esteem than Stevie Wonder, certainly outside of the 99 artists I've already covered.

Stevie Wonder deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Soul Bongo
2. Sunset
3. Music Talk
4. Thank You Love
5. Every Time I See You I Go Wild
6. How Can You Believe
7. Do I Love Her
8. Somebody Knows, Somebody Cares
9. I Gotta Have A Song
10. Do Yourself A Favor
11. I Love Every Little Thing About You
12. Blame It On The Sun
13. I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)
14. Too High
15. Golden Lady
16. They Won't Go When I Go
17. Too Shy To Say
18. Summer Soft
19. Knocks Me Off My Feet
20. Same Old Story
21. All I Do

Track 1 from The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie (1962)
Track 2 from Tribute To Uncle Ray (1962)
Track 3 from Up-Tight (1966)
Track 4 from Down To Earth (1966)
Track 5 from I Was Made To Love Her (1967)
Track 6 from Eivets Rednow (1968)
Track 7 from For Once In My Life (1968)
Track 8 from My Cherie Amour (1969)
Track 9 from Signed, Sealed & Delivered (1970)
Track 10 from Where I'm Coming From (1971)
Track 11 from Music Of My Mind (1972)
Tracks 12 and 13 from Talking Book (1972)
Tracks 14 and 15 from Innervisions (1973)
Tracks 16 and 17 from Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)
Track 20 from Journey Through "The Secret Life Of Plants" (1979)
Track 21 from Hotter Than July (1980)

With any artist with over 20 albums, I of course have to narrow things down, and in Stevie's case, it was easy enough to pick the point in the early '80s where his work stopped being urgently essential. But I really wanted to make room for his youthful '60s work, which can sometimes be a bit underestimated in the shadow if his enormously important '70s output. There's something about Stevie's voice in those early records that just embodies joy and love to me, and he maintained a lot of that exuberance even in his more emotionally complex later music. And it felt natural to me for this playlist to mirror my Beatles deep cuts playlist, where you start with the brief and simply recorded pop songs and then proceed into the more ambitious material as they become studio innovators.

I included songs from nearly all of Stevie's early studio albums and tried to trace his maturation as a songwriter (skipping only the two LPs comprised entirely of covers, 1963's With A Song In My Heart and 1964's Stevie At The Beach). So I got to select various milestones as he took more and more control, year after year: "Soul Bongo" is among Stevie's first writing credits on an instrumental, co-written with a rising young singer and drummer named Marvin Gaye. "Sunset" was his first writing credit for a vocal track. "How Can You Believe" is his first instrumental as the sole writer, and"Do I Love Her" is his first vocal track as the sole writer. Stevie was certainly fortunate to have his talent recognized early and to have it nurtured by a label like Motown, but there's still just no precedent for how much Stevie Wonder came into his own over the course of the first decade of his career and became one of the greatest to ever do it.

I remember when I first got a turntable as a teenager and started digging through my parents' vinyl collection and acquainting myself with Stevie's big '70s albums. One of my dad's best stories from college was when he and some friends got high listening to Innervisions, and the skit with sounds of police sirens and an arrest freaked them out so much that they'd flushed their pot down the toilet before they realized that there weren't any police in their building.

As with any artist of this caliber, some songs feel almost too famous to be considered deep cuts. It's crazy to think that songs like "All I Do" and "Knocks Me Off My Feet" and "Blame It On The Sun" weren't among the singles released from their respective albums, within the context of R&B they're practically standards.

Of the classic albums from Stevie's untouchable run, Songs In The Key Of Life is usually singled out as the best, but I always felt that it lags a bit. Like most double albums, it has as many great songs as the artist's other albums, but it also has a lot of other stuff of varying quality. I liked it more revisiting it recently, though. And it was fun to dig into Journey Through "The Secret Life Of Plants," perhaps the single strangest and most experimental album any superstar has made at the height of their success. I really think Fulfillingness' First Finale is something special despite its status as kind of the least revered of his classic run, and I thought I should include the original "They Won't Go When I Go" since I already had George Michael's cover on a previous deep cuts playlist.

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
Vol. 99: INXS

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Today I'm releasing a new 4-song Western Blot EP called Too 30 on Bandcamp.  As with previous releases from this project, I wrote the songs and played most of the instruments with some guest vocalists and musicians. Lizzy Greif of 20ooo and Wishing Rock sang one track, and Scott Siskind of Vinny Vegas sang another, and he also designed the EP's cover art. Koye Berry played some keyboards and Ishai Barnoy played some guitar.

Last summer I started planning out an EP that I wanted to record and release really quickly before making the second Western Blot album, but then I found out that my producer, Mat Leffler-Schulman, was closing down the Mobtown Studios building he'd been operating out for the last decade, where we made the first Western Blot record. So I booked some studio time and very quickly wrote a bunch of songs, and Mat has been traveling across Europe while mixing the stuff we recorded in August and September. An album will be out later this year of mostly different material (maybe one song from the EP will be on the album), but I wanted to get these songs out first. 

Monthly Report: December 2017 Albums

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

1. Miguel - War & Leisure
My little monthly posts are a fun way to keep track throughout the year, but of course the December posts are always a little awkward since I already did the big year-end list, which included a couple of these records, but I enjoy sifting through the stuff released at the tail end of the year. Wildheart was a good record but felt a bit like Miguel was delving a little deeper into the aesthetic he figured out on Kaleidoscope Dream and getting less out of it. War & Leisure feels like he's in it to win it and prove that he's still at the forefront of R&B and should be on the radio every day, while still pushing his own idiosyncratic sound into ecstatic new territory on "Pineapple Skies," one of my favorite songs of the whole year. The central metaphors of "Criminal" and "Banana Clip" imply that War & Leisure has some kind of overarching concept folding together sex and violence, but Miguel's wordplay tends to make me cringe a little so I'm glad that he doesn't lean on that theme too much. Here's the Spotify playlist where I dumped all the 2017 albums I listened to over the course of the year.

2. Boosie Badazz - BooPac
Boosie released 5 solo albums in 2016, an incredible and at times overwhelming run. In 2017, he basically saved up his output for one big 90-minute album. I've always been wary of most albums that pushed the 80-minute limit in the compact disc era, and I've skipped quite a few albums this year because they were just way too long, but I made an exception for Boosie. "Webbie I Remember" is by far the standout of BooPac, literally a piano ballad about his complicated friendship with Webbie, one of the most incredible and surprising songs Boosie has ever written. The other 23 songs are less essential but he's pretty incredibly consistent in terms of picking beats and having something interesting to say. Boosie was kind of born a cranky old man, but he's really playing the role now, rapping about his cancer scare and complaining that children "play on they damn iPod" too much and defensively attempting to defuse accusations of homophobia ("I got no problem with gay (never had no problem with gay!)").

3. Shy Glizzy Quiet Storm
Shy Glizzy has always reminded me a bit of Boosie, and a year ago I thought he was probably on his way to a similar long tail of regional stardom. But then "Crew" happened and he's got a whole new wave of momentum to ride. And he's chosen to use that goodwill on a pretty heavy solo single, "Take Me Away," and an album that follows through on that vibe really well. I heard a lot of these songs for the first time when Glizzy went on WKYS the day of the release and kinda introduced each song as they played it and it was a really great way to hear where he's coming from with this record. It's got some fun moments, though, and "One Day" and "Get Jiggy" are worthy additions to the catalog of Glizzy/Zaytoven tracks.

4. American Pleasure Club - i blew on a dandelion and the whole world disappeared
This band used to be called Teen Suicide but had, quite understandably, grown uncomfortable with carrying on with that name in recent years. Last summer I had run into Sean and he told me about the new band names they were considering, and I remember telling him and Sam that I really liked one of the name ideas and really disliked one of the others. In October, they announced they were going with the name I didn't like, Dumpster, but then a few weeks later changed their minds and went with this American Pleasure Club, an alright name that I don't remember them mentioning over the summer. So this is their first release under that name, a cassette collection of Sam's lo-fi solo recordings, and it has a nice tape hiss intimacy to it, "I'll Get the Car Tonight" in particular is quite lovely.

5. K. Michelle Kimberly: The People I Used To Know
I don't think many artists, in R&B or any other genre, have made 4 albums in the last 5 years as strong as K. Michelle has. Unfortunately, she seems to be slipping away from prominence; after three top 10 albums, but this one charted at #56 on the Billboard 200. Even the reliable Hail Mary of a single featuring Chris Brown hasn't done much to get her back on the radio. But she's as much a force of nature as ever, big voice and bigger personality, most notably sticking her neck out on "Kim K" ("wish I could be a Kardashian, so I could be black") but her little nod to James Brown grit on "God, Love, Sex, and Drugs" is probably my favorite display of her musical range. The spoken interludes really don't work, though.

6. Lil Wayne - Dedication 6
Post-C3 Weezy can be pretty erratic in his output, and the weird strained delivery he favors lately really gets on my nerves. But Wayne still has one of the sharpest minds in rap and it's still fun to hear him run circles around someone else's track, perhaps moreso than his original songs at this point (although I still would love for him to drop Carter V and prove me wrong). And in a way it's fun to hear Wayne sound so relaxed and effortless in contrast to Eminem just getting so tightly wound and effortful that his overwritten rhymes become painful to listen to.

7. Craig Wedren - Adult Desire
I've long thought that Craig Wedren is one of the most unique and gifted songwriters of his generation, and that he hasn't been recognized as such in part because he's spent most of his time since the breakup of Shudder To Think doing score work for film and television. His last solo album, 2011's Wand, was a wonderfully omnivorous overview of all the different things he does well, and by comparison Adult Desire is a little quieter, more subdued, and homogeneous, which I found disappointing at first. But it's growing on me, the second half is more interesting than the first.

8. Lithuania - White Reindeer
When I interviewed Dom from DRGN King a few years ago, he mentioned kind of in passing that he had a new band with Eric Slick of Dr. Dog called Lithuania that was working on its first record. Now Lithuania has beefed up to a full on power trio with their second record, which sounds to me a bit like a slightly punkier DRGN King, I really love "5000 Year Leap" in particular.

9. Cordite Tracker - Autumn Cluster EP
I wrote about a different recent EP by Matt in this space 2 months ago, but I think I like this one even more, some really lovely wistful guitars over weird atmospheric instrumentals.

10. Brockhampton - Saturation III
I've generally approached Brockhampton with a lot of skepticism -- a rap 'collective' that formed on a Kanye fan site message board, whose entire public image consists of being compared to Odd Future, just seems excessively like not my thing. But I tried to give Saturation II a chance earlier in the year, and found it more forgettable than objectionable, and Saturation III is suiting me a lot more, some really playful and offbeat production choices that balance out my disinterest in the usually snarky deadpan tone of however many indistinguishable MCs are on this record. If anything they kind of strike me as a millennial Pharcyde or something.

Worst Album of the Month: Travis Scott & Quavo - Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho
December was a really banner month for deeply unnecessary collaboration projects. I already spent an entire podcast episode disrespecting the Big Sean/Metro Boomin record, but Kangaroo Jack, Jack Reacher is arguably even worse. And I think that's because Travis Scott and Quavo is just a bad pairing with no yin/yang match of strengths and weaknesses; they're both guys who get by on a lot of offhanded charm and melody but often seem to run out of words halfway through verses and just go on autopilot. They could've blown up the formula and done an album full of hooks, but instead they really try to make songs and it all becomes really dull and repetitive. At one point Travis seems to unconsciously remake "Butterfly Effect" on two songs in a row.