TV Diary

Friday, March 30, 2018

a) "Barry"
I tend to be pretty cynical about the whole weird genre of 'hitman comedy' that's survived pretty persistently in the two decades since Pulp Fiction spawned its first wave of imitators. But Bill Hader's track record is pretty much spotless in my book, and I really enjoyed the first episode of this. He's always had this vibe of being the consummate character actor guy who thrives with impressions and oddball supporting roles, so it's been fun to see him try on stuff like a straightforward love interest in Trainwreck and now a lead role in "Barry" and see him very quickly get comfortable outside his niche. The pilot had some really great little moments that set up the tension between the violent drama and the comedy, obviously that's going to be the main engine of the action but I think there could be more to this show eventually.

b) "Life Sentence"
The first episode of "Life Sentence" opens like one of those sweet inspirational movies where a young woman has a terminal cancer diagnosis and lives every day she has left to the fullest. And then, her treatment works and she's healthy, and she basically has to live with the long term implications of the things she didn't think she'd be alive to worry about, like marrying someone she barely knows, and she founds out how much her family put their lives on hold to take care of her. It's a really entertaining, creative show, I didn't enjoy the second episode as much as the pilot, so I'm not sure just how much they'll sustain the spark of the initial premise, but it's still pretty promising.

c) "Alexa & Katie"
"Alexa & Katie" is kind of more like the sweet inspirational cancer stories that "Life Sentence" satirizes, but done as a family sitcom about a teen girl with cancer and her best friend who's helping her through it. I mean, the humor on the show is a little cheesy, but it's nice, I'm glad it exists and there's probably someone out there that could really use a show like this to relate to.

d) "Here And Now"
I have always regarded Alan Ball with a lot of suspicion. American Beauty was a shitpile, "Six Feet Under" was kind of off-putting to me, and "True Blood" worked for me because the whole idea was so over-the-top and entertaining that anything ludicrous about the dialogue or characterization just kind of suited it. But "Here And Now" is a somewhat straightforward show about a somewhat normal human family, so Alan Ball not being able to create realistic characters that behave believably is more of a problem here. There's a whole mysterious aspect of the show where one character either has some kind of mental illness or hallucinations or there's some magical or supernatural explanation for what he's experience, which is kind of intriguing, but I can't imagine it's going to be explained in any satisfying way.

e) "Rise"
Jason Katims is another creator I have mixed feelings about. I enjoyed "Parenthood" well enough, but I always had a distaste for the solemn tone of "Friday Night Lights" (my reaction to the pilot inspired perhaps the biggest reader backlash this blog has ever experienced). "Rise" is tonally pretty similar to "FNL," and people have had a lot of criticisms about Josh Radnor's character (that he's a straight guy based on a real person who was gay, that he strongarms a job from the more qualified Rosie Perez character) that seem like they could be fatal flaws for the show. It has some degree of earnest charm, though.

f) "Champions"
"The Mindy Project" just ended, kind of on an underwhelming note, a few months ago, and now Mindy Kaling is launching a new NBC sitcom, with some of the same supporting players and her in a recurring guest role. It's cute and has some snappy dialogue but it feels like the kind of forgettable thing I stop thinking about the moment an episode ends.

g) "The Looming Tower"
This is a miniseries about FBI and CIA counterterrorism efforts in the years leading up to 9/11, and Jeff Daniels plays John O'Neill, a guy who was trying to warn everyone about attacks from Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and died in the WTC. The Jeff Daniels portrayal of O'Neill in "The Looming Tower" is pretty layered and ambivalent, you see him have a romantic night with his girlfriend before you see him go home to his wife and kids, so he's not painted just as a saintly tragic hero. But the whole cast is really good, I loved Bill Camp in "The Night Of" and he's excellent here as well.

h) "Krypton"
Given the success of the show about Gotham before Batman, a series about Krypton without Superman is a decent idea. But the space epic aspect of the Superman origin story has never really interested me and this has a pompous stuffy air to it that reminds me of one of the worst comic book shows in recent memory, "Inhumans," even if there's slightly more going on in the acting and writing to make it mildly entertaining.

i) "Alex, Inc."
I tend to be a bit cynical about podcasts, and I remember laughing derisively when I heard that there was a podcast called StartUp that existed to document the host's own podcast business. So that podcaster's life being adapted into a sitcom starring the extremely punchable Zach Braff just seems designed to be insufferable. But Braff brought along a writer/producer from "Scrubs," Matt Tarses, who gives the show a similar breezy silly tone that really works well, and the show co-stars Tiya Sircar, who was recently hilarious on "The Good Place," so I'm enjoying this a lot more than I expected to.

j) "Instinct"
A show where an author and former spy's books are used as the inspiration for a serial killer, and he gets enlisted by the police to try and help catch the killer. Kind of an interesting premise and fun to see Alan Cumming headline a CBS procedural, but not really that eager to keep watching.

k) "Collateral"
It was already announced that this 4-episode BBC series wouldn't be returning for a second season before it hit U.S. Netflix, and while it puts a lot of work into making the murder of a pizza delivery guy into a gripping mystery, I didn't really feel compelled to finish it after a couple episodes.

l) "Final Space"
This TBS animated series opens with a guy pretty much alone on a ship hurtling through space with two non-human sidekicks, one of whom is a man-sized cat. So I immediately thought of "Red Dwarf," whether or not that was a genuine inspiration for this show. It's not very funny or very sci-fi though, it's just kind of a cartoon sitcom in space.

m) "Living Biblically"
Someone wrote a stupid book where they tried to live a year by all the rules in the Bible, and now it's been adapted into a doofy CBS sitcom where a guy tells his wife that referring to Beyonce as a "goddess" is worshiping false idols. I'm bummed that Jay R. Ferguson got the lead in this after the cancellation of "The Real O'Neals," a much better and funnier show about a family struggling to uphold traditional Catholic values in the complicated modern world.

n) "Apple & Onion"
I have raved before about "The Amazing World of Gumball," one of the best shows on the Cartoon Network, and one of their artists created this show which has a less dazzling visual aesthetic but a similar surreal approach and voices by Richard Ayoade and Eugene Mirman, pretty good.

o) "Counterpart"
This show would be great even if it had nothing going for it besides those great scenes where J.K. Simmons plays two versions of the same character from parallel universes, meeting each other and figuring out all the little ways they differ. But all the spy intrigue is as cleverly structured as any show with less of a sci-fi concept, and because you're still figuring out the rules of this world as you go, there are all sorts of weird surprising revelations along the way, every couple episodes it feels like they pull back the curtain and change the way everything works. I also love how one world is Alpha world and the other is Prime world, like people on both sides think they're in the 'real' version of Earth.

p) "Santa Clarita Diet"
The first season was my #3 favorite show of 2017, and so far the second season is even better. I just love the way Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant manage to ground this insane, gorey story in a really warm, realistic, loving family dynamic.

q) "Love"
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with "Love," even when it's really enjoyable and watchable, it can be frustrating and not all that funny to watch a show that's so reliant on awkwardness and embarrassment and misunderstanding as the engine for almost every store. And Paul Rust isn't like a realistic nerd at this point, he's more like a white Urkel. And it feels like they're really ramped up trying to make Mike Mitchell's character more pathetic and undeserving of Claudia O'Doherty's character. I haven't finished the third season yet but I'm kind of glad it's the last season.

r) "The Magicians"
This show was very good from the jump but I really think it's grown the beard in the third season. Even my wife who's read the books has started to admit that it's a good thing that the show's writers have kind of allowed themselves to take the characters and the stories into some new directions. Some of the one-off experimental episodes, like the musical episode and the one with 6 short stories from the perspectives of 6 different characters, including a soundless story from the perspective of Marlee Matlin's character, have been really cool and ambitious. I'm glad Jade Tailor has been in this season more, too, I have such a crush on her.

s) "Superstore"
This show has been really one of the most dependable network sitcoms lately, it was probably a mistake that I left it off my year-end list. And I tend to be really weary of TV love triangles, so I've been surprised at how well the plot with Kelly Stables has worked, I kinda hope she becomes a permanent addition to the cast.

t) "Ash vs Evil Dead"
I feel like this show has always been kind of silly and underwhelming even as it's created its own little world and cast of characters beyond what was in the movies. But I've been enjoying it lately, I like when Bruce Campbell gets to amp up the ego and absurdity of the Ash character.

u) "UnReal"
The first season of "UnReal" was a classic and the second season was kind of a textbook sophomore slump, so after a longer than usual hiatus, it's been fun to have the show back and trying really hard to right the ship. If season 2 went off the rails partly because of how it handled the 'first black suitor' plot and season is much more comfortable handling the story possibilities of the 'first suitress' plot, then perhaps that's kind of a predictable situation where a show made by white women is better at addressing gender than race. But in any event, the dark, sickly twists of this show are as addictive as ever, and Caitlin FitzGerald from "Masters of Sex" is really perfect for what her unique role requires. Brennan Elliott is so good as the cheeseball host, too, it's not an important character but it's just one of those little details where he nails every corny monologue.

v) "Silicon Valley"
I have always been kind of neutral on "Silicon Valley," it's good at what it does but I kind of roll my eyes when people say it's the best comedy on television or whatever. But I really enjoyed the season premiere, excellent use of their usual seesaw between optimism and humiliating defeat. I think that TJ Miller's whole ridiculous interview last year about how him leaving the show was going to be good for the show was all lying and mock humility, but he may have been right anyway, removing Erlich from the equation just gives them one less repetitive element to run into the ground.

w) "The Garfield Show"
Over the years the rapper Curren$y has tweeted many times about how much he hates "3D Garfield," which I assume means this awful 3D animated show that aired 5-10 years ago. Recently one of my kids found the show on the Netflix menu and started watching it, and it really is just ghastly to look at, and I'd like think the old "Garfield & Friends" cartoons were funnier as well, so every time they put it on I just think about Curren$y.

x) "The Voice"
A few months ago Kelly Clarkson released her first album that doesn't directly profit the producers of "American Idol," some 16 years after she won the show. So I'm not surprised that as the show is coming back, she's decided to go be a judge on the show that helped kill it off. I haven't had any interest in "The Voice" in a while but I watched some of the new season just to see Clarkson on there. But it just made me so sad to see them all have to act like there are any stakes in the show when nobody has ever gotten a real consequential career out of "The Voice."

y) "American Idol"
"American Idol"'s death on FOX was well overdue, and I'm appalled that ABC has brought it back so soon, when nobody even had time to miss it, and they're just sticking to all the old formulas and standing by Ryan Seacret even though he should be getting fired by a bunch of people right now. The judges' table with Katy Perry is so uncomfortable, I feel bad for Lionel Richie that he has to sit with those clowns.

z) "Roseanne"
I think the last time I got nostalgic for "Roseanne" was less than a decade ago, watching hours of reruns while up with my oldest son when he was a  newborn. So I get why people are clamoring to have this show back, even if it ended with a legendarily awful season and its star has turned out to be a pretty awful alt-right conspiracy kook. In general I'm pretty against revived classic TV shows, but I will say this works better than most, partly because it's fun to see great performers like John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf return to their iconic roles. And the whole 2 Becky running gag has been amusing. But a lot of stuff just feels forced or off in little ways. One of my favorite old Dan Conner scenes was how he reacted when DJ wore a bunch of women's hairclips ("How do I look?" "Beautiful" "Boys aren't supposed to look beautiful" "Damn beautiful"). So made me sad that the new season has recurring jokes about how uncomfortable Dan is with a non-gender-conforming grandson.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 103: Bon Jovi

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Since my last installment in this series was Def Leppard, I thought I'd continue the '80s pop metal theme with Bon Jovi, since they'll be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame next month. It's interesting to see which bands get into the HOF from less respectable subgenres like hair metal. And as consistently huge as Bon Jovi has been, it's still a little surprising to see them get in ahead of pretty much all their contemporaries besides Guns N' Roses. They certainly have the sales and the hits, but I never think much about their albums or their catalog as a whole, so I wanted to jump in and see what was there. Plus, my mother-in-law is a huge Bon Jovi fan, so shout out to her.

Bon Jovi deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Wild In The Streets
2. Homebound Train
3. Breakout
4. I'd Die For You
5. If That's What It Takes
6. 99 In The Shade
7. King Of The Mountain
8. Let It Rock
9. Blood On Blood
10. Something To Believe In
11. Shot Through The Heart
12. Raise Your Hands
13. Just Older
14. Ride Cowboy Ride
15. Social Disease
16. Dry County

Tracks 3 and 11 from Bon Jovi (1984)
Track 7 from 7800° Fahrenheit (1985)
Tracks 1, 4, 8, 12 and 15 from Slippery When Wet (1986)
Tracks 2, 6, 9 and 14 from New Jersey (1988)
Track 16 from Keep The Faith (1992)
Tracks 5 and 10 from These Days (1995)
Track 13 from Crush (2000)

I always looked at the comparisons between Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen as more a nod to their shared New Jersey roots than anything else. But listening to their albums, the Springsteen influence really is palpable on "Wild In The Streets" and "Blood On Blood," which are perhaps not coincidentally the 2 most played deep cuts in the band's concerts. And, I just learned recently, the E Street Band's Roy Bittan was the session player who laid down the iconic keyboard riff on "Runaway," back when John Bongiovi was making his first demos and hadn't formed the band yet.

As with Def Leppard, I let the playlist run up to around the turn of the century, because I like to really acknowledge the fact that, despite usual alt-rock revolution narratives we hear, these bands kept selling and dominating rock radio well into the '90s. I remember how out of step Bon Jovi seemed when Keep The Faith came out, but I also remember those videos were in heavy rotation on MTV for months. Maybe the fact that Jon Bon Jovi was such an unnervingly perfect central casting rock star innoculated him against the changing fashions. But I was pretty impressed by These Days, even if I feel like Richie Sambora nearly ruins "Something To Believe In" with those "hey hey hey hey" chants that sound like he was making fun of the riff's passing resemblance to "Don't You Forget About Me" and then they just left it in the track.

I was amused to come across some deep cuts with titles that remind me of later hits -- "Shot Through The Heart" foreshadows "You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Raise Your Hands" makes me think of "Lay Your Hands On Me." I also wanted to highlight the ambitious epic "Dry County," a single outside the U.S., which is the second "Dry County" to appear in the Deep Album Cuts series after one of my favorite B-52's songs.

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
Vol. 100: Stevie Wonder
Vol. 101: The Cranberries
Vol. 102: Def Leppard

Thursday, March 22, 2018

I wrote a couple thousand words about Jay-Z for an update of Complex's 100 Best Jay-Z Songs list, most of which was written by Andrew Barber in 2011 before I revised the order and added some later songs and personal favorites.

Movie Diary

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

a) Logan Lucky
A Steven Soderbergh heist comedy can be simplified and spun as, say, "Ocean's 11 in Appalachia," and there are certainly a lot of story beats and moments of obfuscation and revelation in Logan Lucky that play out very much like the Ocean's movies. But it has a certain tone and a certain warmth here that I wasn't expecting, in the last half hour of the movie I was just smiling ear to ear and clapping and cheering on these characters and wishing there was more time to spend with them.

b) Spider-Man: Homecoming
They've still yet to have an actual teenager star in a Spider-Man movie, but Tom Holland is 6-8 years younger than Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield was in their first turns as Peter Parker, so he has a certain refreshing youthfulness. But mostly I liked that they finally got to put Spider-Man in a larger Marvel context and give the whole thing a little more of a playful cartoony context. The CGI of Spidey leaping through the air really sucked, though, it just didn't look anything like something happening with Earth's gravity. I feel like they didn't want to copy the special effects of the Sam Raimi movies but didn't know how to do it their own way.

c) The Circle
This wasn't quite as bad as 'adaptation of a Dave Eggers novel about the pitfalls of social media' had me expecting, it was reasonably well done as a story and as a movie. But it was still striking to me, as we're looking at exactly how Facebook has demonstrably made the world a worse place, that the scenario The Circle envisions is so far away from any practical questions we're currently facing about the ethics and shortcomings of social network sites in favor of some fairly hoary scaremongering about 'oversharing.'

d) The Whole Truth
You'd think Keanu Reeves would avoid ever again playing a lawyer with a southern accent after all the jokes about Devil's Advocate, but he took this role when Daniel Craig dropped out days before shooting was to begin. I like the way this story was framed, with the whole thing taking case during a court trial and you slowly getting the backstory as things are revealed to the characters or flashbacks illuminate where they're lying. I'm still not sure how I feel about the big twist of the story but I think I like the way they came around to it.

e) Sleepless
I wasn't expecting much from this crime drama that got middling reviews and box office, but I was really impressed by it. German director Baran do Odar, best known for directing the Netflix sci-fi series "Dark," gives it a great grisly sleazy ambiance, Michelle Monaghan gets the rare project worthy of her talent, and Scoot McNairy plays against type as a really nasty, memorable villain. As a Jamie Foxx/T.I. collaboration, it ranks up there with "Just Like Me" and "Live In The Sky." 

f) Everything, Everything
This is one of those movies where the first I heard of it was in a theatrical trailer, which, even more than most trailers these days, gave away the entire story arc of the movie, which I really hate. So I watched it but my attention wandered because I felt like I'd already seen it, because trailers suck and ruin everything and I try to avoid them for good reason.

g) The Shack
This movie looked like such a ridiculous trainwreck of schmaltz in the ads but when I threw it on in the background for laughs I just got bored and never paid it any attention. 

h) A Cure For Wellness
Dane DeHaan has such a bad track record for either painfully hammy performances and/or disastrous projects that I would say this is a much needed win for him just in that it wasn't bad and there was nothing wrong with his performance, even if the movie wasn't much of a financial or critical success. I liked the odd atmosphere of the movie, maybe I missed something about the premise but it seemed like it took place in some kind of unspecified 20th century past, but a heightened reality dystopia. 

i) Rapture-Palooza
This is a movie came out the same summer as This Is The End, another apocalypse comedy co-starring Craig Robinson. That was a big hit and this one was a poorly reviewed direct-to-DVD obscurity, which is a shame, because I think this was a much better movie, a little more rooted in reality to make the absurd dark moments funnier. They really doomed it with that title, though, they could've called it practically anything else. 

j) Immortals
Director Tarsem Singh, best known for the painterly visuals and flawed storytelling of The Cell and classic music videos like "Losing My Religion," has maybe one great movie, The Fall. And given his recent trajectory, I don't know if he'll ever make another, but I still like to check out the stuff he's gotten studio paychecks for and see how they are visually, and this one has some absolutely gorgeous color palettes and vivid imagery, but as a fantasy epic it's nothing special. It's weird to think that Stephen Dorff got 2nd billing on a movie in this decade that grossed over $200 million. 

Monthly Report: March 2018 Singles

Sunday, March 18, 2018

1. Migos - "Stir Fry"
Back when the Neptunes had their first run of hits, major labels were still figuring out what to do with southern hip hop, and invariably a lot of guys who had a more regional sound got thrown into the one-size-fits-all Neptunes/Timbaland sound machine, sometimes for better and sometimes for worst. That phenomenon is mostly over, but Pharrell is as relevant as ever, so we still occasionally get ATL rappers with their own roster of ATL producers getting thrown in the studio with Skateboard P for something different. Pharrell isn't really as versatile as he's made out to be, you really just have to hope that whatever wonky groove he's peddling in the studio that day actually sounds good with whatever act he happens to be in a session with. But I feel like I've heard enough Migos songs in their core style to last a lifetime, so I'm really happy to hear a change of pace like "Stir Fry," it's almost as good as "Feds Watching" by 2 Chainz. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. Brothers Osborne "Shoot Me Straight" 
The first Brothers Osborne album was really good, but didn't have as many guitar solos as the lead single had led me to hope for. So I'm glad they're kicking their new album off with a killer 6-minute single with an extended outro jam, just so there's at least one if they don't have more songs like that coming. 

3. Darius Rucker - "For The First Time"
Hootie and the Blowfish were basically a country band anyway, so Rucker's transition into country stardom was pretty natural, and he has a great voice for it, but none of his solo singles ever really stuck with me before this one. It kind of feels conceptually like the flipside to Brad Paisley's recent single "Last Time For Everything." 

4. Troye Sivan "My My My!"
They put Troye Sivan on "SNL" to perform this right after it was released in January and I feel like he's getting the push to be a big star this year. But this song hasn't really been big on pop radio, which is a shame, because it's better than most of the stuff in heavy rotation, I love that gently pulsing groove and lilting melody. 

5. H.E.R. - "Focus"
H.E.R. first appeared in 2016 as a mysterious 'anonymous' R&B act in the vein of early The Weeknd, before it eventually came out that she's Gabi Wilson, a former child prodigy who sang on "The View" and the BET Awards and has had her Sony deal since 2011. Which is fine, really, if a singer wants to reboot as alt R&B, I don't really care. But "Focus" is really nice, I feel like this and Daniel Caesar's "Get You" and even SZA's hits have kind of brought delicate slow jams back in fashion on R&B radio where for a few years everything that young acts were doing on the radio was pretty clubby and hip hop-influenced. 

6. Jason Aldean - "You Make It Easy" 
I've only liked a handful of Jason Aldean's many past hits, but it's hard not to root for the guy after one of his concerts became the site of a horrifying mass shooting last year. And I think it's probably for the best that his lead single coming back from that is just a very simple, beautifully produced bluesy ballad, one of the best songs of his career. 

7. Chris Stapleton - "Broken Halos" 
Chris Stapleton had a big 'arrival' moment in late 2015 when Traveller swept the CMAs and rocketed to #1 on the charts, but since then his stardom has largely been measured in awards, good reviews, and touring receipts, he hasn't been much of a hitmaker. So it kind of feels like early 2018 has been another arrival for him: "Broken Halos" is his biggest country radio hit to date, at the same time that Justin Timberlake's "Say Something" has been his big breakthrough on the Hot 100 and pop radio, and "Midnight Train To Memphis" has become his rock radio breakthrough, with all 3 of his albums doing well on the Billboard 200. 

8. Kesha f/ The Dap-Tones Horns - "Woman" 
Considering the circumstances of Kesha's long absence from the spotlight, I guess it makes sense for her to reboot her image with a song like "Praying." But I think it's kind of a shame that for the first 6 months or so of her comeback all that's really been on the radio is "Praying" and that bland Macklemore song, "Woman" retains more of the humor and personality she's known for while not resembling her earlier work that much, I feel like they dropped the ball by waiting until the momentum has slowed down to promote it to radio. 

9. Janelle Monae - "Make Me Feel" 
It's been a long decade of respecting Janelle Monae's undeniable talent and individuality but not really hearing what other people hear in her music. And I didn't necessarily want her to pursue bigger hooks and more accessible sounds, since "Yoga" was kind of terrible. But "Make Me Feel" feels like a breakthrough in terms of her going pop in a way that feels natural and exciting. Obviously the song is full of nods to Prince, who was apparently helping her 'collect sounds' for this album, and his DJ said he'd been playing "Make Me Feel" for people before he died. So I'm pretty curious if he actually worked extensively on this song, or if he just gave her some files of Prince-y sounds to make her "Kiss" homage with. 

10. Ne-Yo - "Good Man"
D'Angelo and Ne-Yo are on different enough ends of the R&B spectrum that the latter sampling "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" looks pretty weird on paper. This turned out really well, though, DJ Camper really doesn't get enough props. 

Worst Single of the Month: Blac Youngsta - "Booty"
Songs about booty are basically a cornerstone of popular music in my lifetime, and I feel sometimes like we don't acknowledge that most butt-themed hits are actually pretty varied and high quality. It actually makes me sad when we get something uninspired like "Anaconda" on the charts. Blac Youngsta is too much of a goofball for me to act like it's a pity that he's let down the genre of songs about ass, but this song really does suck.

TV Diary

Thursday, March 08, 2018

a) "Good Girls"
It feels like there's a whole genre of contemporary TV based on the "mild-mannered normie is drawn in to a violent life of crime" premise, with ones with female protagonists as a thriving subgenre with shows like "Claws" and "Search Party." But even as familiar as the story arc is, it feels a little like the "Good Girls" pilot kind of rushes into three struggling moms deciding to commit armed robbery with very little hesitation or deliberation. And in the second episode it already feels like they're just accelerating the action as quickly as possible, I kind of wish they'd just slow down. Still, with three lead actresses as engaging as Mae Whitman, Christina Hendricks and Retta, I feel like this show has a chance of finding its footing. And Manny Montana is a really compelling antagonist, volatile and unpredictable but with an intelligence and odd sense of humor, he really steals the show every time he pops up.

b) "Hard Sun"
This new one from the creators of "Luther" seems to stick closely to the hyperviolent British cop show formula -- the first episode actually opens with a vicious fight scene where, at one point, someone bashes someone else's head with a teapot. But what's at stake in the show is the revelation that humankind is about 5 years away from being wiped out, so it's interesting to see that kind of apocalyptic premise dropped into a show like this, even if it feels like it's mostly driven by pretty boilerplate violence and antihero tropes.

c) "Everything Sucks!"
There's a lengthy TV tradition of thirtysomething creators making nostalgic shows about adolescence that take place 20 or so years earlier, when they were growing up -- "The Wonder Years," "Freaks & Geeks," "The Goldbergs," and so on. And now that I'm in my 30s we're starting to get shows like that about the mid-'90s when I was growing up like "Fresh Off the Boat" and now this Netflix series "Everything Sucks!" which is about high school freshmen in 1996, the year I started high school. So I expected to identify pretty strongly with this show, but it really just feels like the constant '90s alt-rock music cues are doing all the heavy lifting of evoking the period. And as much as I like to make fun of high school shows that are full of actors in their 20s, the kids in this show are the right age for the parts but are just not seasoned enough as actors to carry the show, it's not compelling at all.

d) "The Alienist"
For some reason someone wrote a novel about someone killing prostitutes in New York around the same time as Jack the Ripper, and for some reason TNT made a big lavish limited series about it instead of a Jack the Ripper show. The production values are impressive but I don't really care about the story and the cast is boring.

e) "Seven Seconds"
"The Killing" showrunner Veena Sud's new show, again a dreary thing about a dead child (you should see how often my wife gets mad at me because I put on a new show and there's dead kids in it, like it's my fault that people love to kill kids on TV now). It's not so much a mystery because the show opens with a cop running over a kid and his co-workers deciding to cover it up, so from there I guess it's just a matter of the truth running out, but it's all just really sad and dark and I don't think I'll get past the couple episodes I've watched.

f) "The Chi"
Another show where a kid gets killed in the first episode to set forward the action for the rest of a series. Every episode has a couple of charming little moments of humanity brightening it up, but I feel like this show just doesn't have enough of a sense of humor or a grasp of the scope of what it's trying to do to really manage all the characters and all the dark storylines going on in here.

g) "Channel Zero: Butcher's Block"
It's a shame that SyFy's anthology horror series "Channel Zero" doesn't have as many viewers as "American Horror Story," because it's 3 seasons in and consistently better at actually doing the horror genre justice in series form. This season has a lot of really gross cannibal stuff that they've filmed with great lighting and detail, I believe they actually hired a production designer from "Hannibal" for that stuff.

h) "The Oath"
Crackle, now Sony Crackle as of a few weeks ago, remains the runt of the litter of TV streaming services, recently losing their most famous show, "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" to Netflix (also they have ad breaks, and way more of them than Hulu, mostly for their own shitty programming). But they keep cranking out cliched gritty prestige TV dramas, and "The Oath," about a gang of corrupt cops played by Sean Bean and "True Blood"'s Ryan Kwanten, is reminiscent enough of "The Shield" that it's like 10 trend cycles behind. I don't know why they'd bother to make a show exec produced by 50 Cent that has a mostly white cast and holds little appeal to the "Power" fanbase. One scene in the first episode features a knockoff of "I'm Shipping Up To Boston," probably the 100th one that's appeared in a gritty cop show since The Departed.

i) "The Frankenstein Chronicles"
Sean Bean is also in this series that's aired two seasons in the U.K. since 2015 but just came to Netflix in February, meaning that two shows starring Sean Bean debuted in the U.S. just 16 days apart. Interesting twist on the premise but I don't really feel compelled to keep watching.

j) "Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G."
I'm amused that this show starring Josh Duhamel as a cop investigating the Biggie and Tupac murders is on at the same time as Duhamel's Taco Bell commercials where he's investigating the mystery of nacho fries with equal intensity. But really it just feels like Duhamel and Jimmi Simpson and all these other actors are wasting their time on a story that we all know doesn't come to any kind of satisfying resolution, we just get a bunch of unimpressive scenes of the umpteenth actors who don't convincingly portray Pac and Big along with flashes forward to detectives years later who still haven't arrested anyone for their killings.

k) "Death Row Chronicles"
I really wish that half of the resources for film and TV and book projects about Death Row/2Pac/N.W.A. were allocated to some other less overexposed chapters of hip hop history. But this BET docuseries is pretty well done, there's still some good anecdotes and footage being uncovered here that I haven't seen a thousand times before.

l) "The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale"
I watched "The Soup" faithfully pretty much the whole 11 years that Joel McHale hosted it, and really felt its absence in my weekly routine the last couple years since E! abruptly cancelled it. So I'm pretty pleased that Netflix basically let McHale pick up where he left off and go straight back into mocking clips in front of a green screen. It feels like they're leaning a little away from current events and more into reality shows, probably just so the episodes remain evergreen for Netflix bingeing, but that works. I think they're still getting back into the groove, because I laughed a lot more at the last couple episodes than at the first one, but Mini Black Mirror is already a classic.

m) "Sundays with Alec Baldwin"
This is also kind of a reboot of a show the host did previously, although MSNBC only aired "Up Late with Alec Baldwin" for about a month in 2013. And putting this on a nice simple set with a couple of people having a conversation in comfortable chairs really does a lot to make it feel more relaxed and inviting than the MSNBC show. I'm not sure when the series will really start airing weekly but I enjoyed the pilot that was aired after the Oscars this week where he interviewed Jerry Seinfeld and Kate McKinnon. It was kind of funny to watch a pilot on ABC that consisted almost entirely of people who've had their greatest television successes on NBC talking about "SNL" and "The Tonight Show" and "Seinfeld."

n) "Our Cartoon President"
The Trump presidency is kind of this gross vortex of things that are so inherently funny but also demand to be taken somewhat seriously that it's really hard to to know how to judge comedy about it. Comedy Central's "The President Show" grew on me more than I expected it to, and I still enjoy Alec Baldwin's "SNL" sketches more often than not, but at a certain point you spend so much time in a week thinking about Trump and hearing jokes about him and you just don't want to hear another word. And that's about where "Our Cartoon President" comes in, a pottymouthed Showtime series co-created by Stephen Colbert. I generally think Colbert has the best Trump material in late night these days, but I don't know why he felt the need to even do this clunky heavyhanded show. There have been a couple inspired moments but it mostly just feels unnecessary and grating, even if making Trump sound like Peter Griffin is more or less appropriate.

o) "Ugly Delicious"
A Netflix food show, kind of the same as other travel shows about food I guess except the hosts are not as hyped up as Guy Fieri. I haven't watched every episode but I heard they didn't even talk to any black chefs in the New Orleans episode, which seems odd.

p) "The Trade"
Showtime's docuseries about the opioid crisis, which is well made enough, but I have about the same problems with that this piece points out, in which it focuses on the victims and on criminal drug cartels and doesn't really look at how the pharmaceutical industry helped cause this crisis. It's basically a Trump administration assessment of the situation.

q) "Slutever"
Viceland's show based on Karley Sciortino's titular sex column, which is actually really refreshingly casual and plainspoken, Sciortino just finds a way to talk about this stuff without any hangups or playing up the kink factor while still being kind of playful and sex-positive and drawn towards pleasure and away from inhibitions or stigmas.

r) "Black Card Revoked"
A lot of big comedians have reasonably funny siblings that also get into the business, but man Tony Rock did not really get much of Chris's talent at all, he's just so boring anytime I've seen him. Now he hosts this goofy BET game show where people answer black culture trivia questions to keep their 'black card.' I feel like the show would be more entertaining if the contestants were white, but then it would just be the 'I know black people' sketch from "Chappelle's Show."

s) "Talk Show the Game Show"
TruTV's weird meta game show about talk show tropes is back for a second season and still very entertaining. I think the judges, Karen Kilgariff and Casey Schreiner, deserve a lot of credit for getting in odd little one-liners and being antagonists to the contestants.

t) "Unikitty!"
One of Cartoon Network's newer shows my sons watch, very hyper and weird and with surprisingly smudgy, amateurish animation. I like it, but Cartoon Network has a habit of just rotating 4 or 5 shows at a time and it's certainly not on the level of "Teen Titans Go!" or "The Amazing World of Gumball."

u) "The Tick"
I liked the 6 episodes of "The Tick" that Amazon released last year but thought it was kind of a short season, so I'm pleased that there turned out to be 6 more episodes to fill out the season this year, with a 2nd season on the way in 2019. My enthusiasm is dimming a little, though, I just haven't felt as engaged with these new episodes, they're still finding the right halfway point between manic cartoony humor and the earnest live action performances.

v) "Jessica Jones"
In the two and a half years since the first season of "Jessica Jones," Netflix has aired 5 other seasons of its Marvel shows that I haven't enjoyed nearly as much, so I'm glad to have it back. I'm only a couple episodes into the new season since it only came out today, but I've been enjoying it, particularly the big where Jones had trouble telling people with superpowers from mentally ill people who thought they had superpowers. This show really has some sharp, funny dialogue and abrupt plot twists, which I think will save it from having a sophomore slump in the absence of its memorable season 1 villain like "Daredevil."

w) "High Maintenance"
This show is pleasant but so fundamentally uninteresting to me. If anything the fact that the husband and wife who created the show are now divorced but still making the show together is more interesting that anything that's happened in the show's second season.

x) "The Path"
I can't believe I'm still even watching this show at all in its 3rd season, it has really been so consistently boring for a premise with so much potential and such an experienced cast. I hope it gets cancelled soon and Michelle Monaghan gets a better gig.

y) "Another Period"
I feel a little blase about this show at this point. But now and again there are episodes that just make me laugh out loud from front to back and appreciate what an odd, fertile little niche of humor they've created in this whole contemporary reality show-style sendup of the early 20th century.

z) "Drunk History"
I'm kind of impressed that this show still has gas in the tank in the 5th season, the season premiere with Tiffany Haddish and Amber Ruffin from "Late Night with Seth Meyers" was one of their best yet.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Woodfir just released EP 2, a pair of fast loud songs that we recorded at Mobtown Studios last year in between sessions for the new Western Blot stuff. We're playing a show in Baltimore on March 9th, if you want to come hit me up for directions.

Monthly Report: February 2018 Albums

Thursday, March 01, 2018

1. Superchunk What A Time To Be Alive
Superchunk were my, in my opinion, the best band of the 1990s, so I was pretty thrilled to write the Spin review of probably their best album since the '90s. And I'm glad that now that I'm done the review I can kind of back away from the big picture assessment of the record and just enjoy the hooks and the energy of the performances, that run of "Break The Glass" and "Bad Choices" and "Dead Photographers" is really killer. Now it's Drake's turn to use a Superchunk album title for his next record -- On The Mouth and Indoor Living seem like the best options for him. Here's the Spotify playlist of 2018 albums I've listened to that most of these records are in. 

2. American Pleasure Club - A Whole Fucking Lifetime Of This 
A couple months ago in this space I wrote about American Pleasure's name change from Teen Suicide and their first release under that name. That record was really good but kind of a lo-fi precursor to this, the proper album, which is really ambitious and bursting at the seams with ideas and emotions, kind of this blissed out newlywed record with enough darkness on the periphery to not be saccharine. Sam Ray kind of gives me this millennial Lou Barlow vibe in both his voice and his vulnerability on record, and this album is like if Lou had kind of thrown a solo record and a Sebadoh record and a Folk Implosion record all together into one thing. Spotify and iTunes are missing a couple of key songs so make sure to check it out on Bandcamp

3. various artists - Black Panther: The Album
Kendrick Lamar is the kind of A-list rapper who doesn't need to do mixtapes or EPs or anything to keep in the spotlight between albums. But since guest verses are an oddly scattershot and often unflattering venue for him, I'm glad he's started to find good interesting stopgap projects that utilize his penchant for assembling and sequencing albums. And where untitled unmastered. was an understated solitary work, Black Panther: The Album is the opposite, a big star-studded blockbuster action movie soundtrack where he weaves together labelmates and friends and up-and-comers while still managing to always pop up and assert some authorship over it all. I think what I really like, though, is that Sounwave has more production credits on this than any Kendrick album and his sound really ties it all together, so you can throw 2 Chainz or Khalid or Mozzy in the mix and there's still kind of a sustained sound and mood. 

4. 2 Chainz - The Play Don't Care Who Makes It EP 
The way 2 Chainz cleared the path to Pretty Girls Like Trap Music with EPs and short mixtapes worked really well, so I'm glad that he seems to be doing that again, releasing this 4-track just before announcing that an album called Rap Or Go To The League is on the way. The big talk of this record is the last track, "Lamborghini Truck (Atlanta Shit)," a long autobiographical ballad, 2 Chainz has done several great songs like it over the years so I'm glad people are starting to appreciate them. "Land of the Freaks" is great too, if this record has a hit, it should be that. 

5. Nipsey Hussle - Victory Lap 
It's been about 8 years since Nipsey Hussle's first initial flirtation with mainstream fame, which included an appearance on a new version of "We Are The World," and a sketch on "SNL" that namedropped Nipsey as an example of how the song was full of "half-famous randos." It's been about 4 years since I made Nipsey Hussle mad by including him in a Complex piece about underachieving rappers. And after all that, Nipsey's major label debut has finally arrived as the album that genuinely cements his long-shaky status as a serious star. It's funny to think that someone's first proper album could be aptly titled Victory Lap, but that's just how careers are now, often albums come at the end of a long process, and over the years Nipsey has turned out to be a really shrewd, creative businessman who's pretty consistent with his music. I don't love it front to back -- the Marsha Ambrosius ballad is like Aftermath Records cosplay of the boring kind of west coast crossover rap album -- but it builds on the strenghts of Crenshaw and puts his flinty real talk in the perfect context. "Hussle & Motivate" is my favorite. 

6. Pianos Become The Teeth - Wait For Love
I don't know if the Baltimore quintet Pianos Become The Teeth are not as heavy as I remember or if the earlier stuff I had listened to was more aggressive, but I was surprised by just how pretty and tuneful Wait For Love is. They're a really powerful, loud band, but there's a lot of brooding slow burning beauty on this record. 

7. Turnstile - Time & Space
Turnstile is another Baltimore band that kind of used hardcore as a jumping off point to kind of find their own unique sound. It's hard to say you think a band that's on a major label now sounded better with less glossy production without sounding like a hater who begrudges their success or something, but the production really does make them sound a little more generic, the cheaper production of the earlier records may suit them more. 

8. Justin Timberlake - Man Of The Woods
I was always in the minority that thought all of Justin Timberlake's chemistry was with Pharrell and that the Timbaland-heavy albums after Justified were a snooze by comparison. So amidst although the bad advance buzz around this album, I was encouraged by the news that The Neptunes produced more than half the tracks. But I found that the Timbaland-produced tracks, especially the three co-written by Chris Stapleton, are really the glue of the album, kind of feels like Timbo brought some of that experience from Bubba Sparxxx's classic Deliverance of fusing his sound with country to this record. I mean, don't get me wrong, this album has a lot wrong with it, from "Supplies" to the weird interlude where Jessica Biel sounds like she's narrating a cologne commercial. But I found more to like here than I expected, more than the 20/20 Experience records. 

9. John Oates with the Good Road Band - Arkansas
I was amused by the fact that the same day Timberlake released Man Of The Woods, another icon of blue-eyed soul released his own tribute to rootsy southern music. Lately I've been really enjoying early Hall & Oates stuff from the Abandoned Luncheonette era, which is a little looser and folkier than the records they became famous for, and Oates has a great voice that you don't hear as much on their hits. So I enjoyed catching up with him on this album, it's got a really nice relaxed, unadorned sound. 

10. Mila J - February 2018 EP
I've always really liked Mila J's stuff but she's really on the edge of the radar of mainstream R&B and I haven't really kept up with what she's done since her last minor hit a couple years ago. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that she released a new EP and it's in fact the 4th EP she's released in the last 12 months, what I've listened to of this recent stuff is all really good, I hope she gets some momentum out of this prolific run she's on. This EP in particular is really restrained and intimate, not a lot of drums.

The Worst Album of the Month: Rich Brian - Amen
This kid is just kind of self-evidently lame in that way that it's almost not worth pointing out, he was until a few months ago known as 'Rich Chigga' and openly talked about how Macklemore was his gateway to listening to rap music. But now he's got a more palatable name and a polished album with trap beats and an Offset feature and it's all just awful. This is the most "if I say curse words in a deep voice nobody will wonder if I'm a virgin" album since early Tyler, The Creator, but without anything resembling a perspective or a personality.