TV Diary

Thursday, April 26, 2018

a) "The Last O.G."
Tracy Morgan has had a few supporting roles since he recovered from his accident a few years ago, but it's nice to see him really come back with a starring vehicle. "The Last O.G." is about a guy from Brooklyn getting out of jail after 15 years and coming back to his gentrified neighborhood, and finding out he has two kids. So a lot of it is that fish-out-of-water stuff with a guy getting his family back, it's kind of sweet, I wish it was laugh-out-loud funny more often but it has its moments. It seems like kind of a waste to put Tiffany Haddish in a straight man kind of role just as she's becoming a major comedy star, though.

b) "Trust"
There's a weird Armageddon/Deep Impact thing going on where this miniseries about the abduction of John Paul Getty III debuted 3 months after the release of All The Money In The World. It makes me kind of wonder if instead of recasting Christopher Plummer in Kevin Spacey's role they could've just combined these two projects and inserted Donald Sutherland's footage from "Trust." Of the episodes I've watched so far, Brendan Fraser was only a major presence in one of them, and that was by far the best episode, it was really fun to watch him hog the spotlight in a way he hasn't in a long time, a really entertaining performance. Mostly, though, the Danny Boyle direction is really indulgent, the show is good but I have mixed feelings.

c) "Rellik"
Another dark Cinemax series, with the same female lead, Jodi Balfour, from another dark Cinemax series, "Quarry," that was canceled last year. Given the rash of attacks and killings in recent years of people being splashed with acid, which is really terrifying, doing a series about the hunt for an acid serial killer is a pretty good premise. And Richard Dormer plays a detective who survives an attack, so he's doing the whole series with his face made up to look really badly scarred. Pretty intriguing, well directed show, but man that title is cheesy.

d) "Lost In Space"
Doing a modern update of a campy '60s show like "Lost In Space" half a century later seems like an odd prospect to me, especially if you're going to have state-of-the-art special effects and a cast of respectable actors like Molly Parker and Parker Posey. A lot of the time, it looks and feels like a 21st century prestige sci-fi show, and then you get a fan service nod like "danger, Will Robinson," and it kind of feels like they're trying to have their cake and eat it too. I think I'd prefer a completely new show with this cast and crew about a group of people lost in space that's not called "Lost In Space," or a reboot that more fully embraces the tone of the original "Lost In Space."

e) "Howards End"
Hayley Atwell is really delightful and I'm glad to see her back on TV after she had 2 series canceled back-to-back, even if it's just for a 4-episode miniseries. I've never read Howards End or seen any other adaptation so I have no real frame of reference, but I was a little surprised how involving it's been so far.

f) "The Letdown"
This Australian show is kind of a dark comedy about motherhood. But for what it's worth, the mother in the room, my wife, got up and left about 10 minutes into the first episode, so maybe it's a little too dark, at least for her taste. I can't say I found it particularly funny even at the times when the scenes about what it's like to have a newborn in the house were relatable.

g) "Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas"
When I heard that Wyatt Cenac would be doing a topical weekly series for HBO, I kind of assumed that it would hew close to the format of "The Daily Show" or the several other shows currently hosted by "Daily Show" alumni. But there's no desk, no green screen, no studio audience, and in the first two episodes, he mentions Trump just once to say he's going to focus on other topics. It's also a lot quieter, with a kind of quirky, droll sense of humor -- tonally it reminds me more of NPR or a more highbrow podcast. I don't love it, but I like it and feel like I actually heard some stuff that I don't hear in 5 other shows, so it's a welcome addition to the late night landscape.

h) "Rapture"
A Netflix series where each episode is a 1-hour documentary about a different rapper. Pretty well done stuff, feels more like a casual snapshot of a recent moment in Nas's or T.I.'s career rather than an overview, which is probably smarter than if they were trying to tell their whole life story.

i) "For The People"
Shondaland's latest entry in the endless parade of sexy lawyer shows is nothing special, although those lawyers certainly are sexy (Jasmin Savoy Brown took off her glasses from "The Leftovers" and got a little glammed up and, I mean, wow). I like the focus on the SDNY Federal Court, though, it leaves a lot of potential for more interesting than usual legal stories.

j) "Station 19"
Amidst all the sexy lawyer shows, sexy firefighter shows are really starting to be everywhere, and this is the ABC/Shondaland addition to "Chicago Fire" and "9-1-1." I didn't even realize when watching this that it's actually a "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff, it didn't occur to me that that was likely since it also takes place in Seattle. I guess it's nice that Jaina Lee Ortiz quickly got another network job after the cancellation of "Rosewood," but that was a better show.

k) "Deception"
Another fairly dopey ABC procedural with the twist that the guy from "Cooper Barrett's Guide To Surviving Life" plays a disgraced famous magician who uses his expertise in creating illusions to help the FBI solve crimes. The pilot was actually better than the goofy premise deserves, but the ceiling for a show like this is just not very high. 

l) "In Contempt"
Another sexy lawyer show, this one kind of feeling to me like BET's answer to "Ally McBeal." Kind of knowingly lightweight but pretty funny when it wants to be.

m) "Troy: Fall Of A City"
I like that the second sentence in this show's Wikipedia entry is "The series has received an overwhelmingly negative response from users on the IMDb website." It has a decent amount of visual flair, but yeah, not good.

n) "The Boss Baby: Back In Business"
As someone who took his kid to see The Boss Baby in the theater, and actually had nice things to say about it, I was not thrilled to see that Netflix made a series of the show. None of the voice cast from the movie is involved, and the quality of the animation is a bit lower, but I was pleasantly surprised that the show more or less retains the wit and comedic sensibility of the movie.

o) "Craig of the Creek"
A new Cartoon Network show that my kids and I both adore, really charming and funny and does a great job of evoking that phase of childhood where you go out exploring the neighborhood and everything feels like an adventure.

p) "On My Block"
This is kind of a good, perceptive coming of age show, but it's also kind of a soap opera that I'm not interested in enough to watch more than a couple episodes.

q) "McMafia"
This is probably the best possible time to be doing a show about the Russian criminal underworld, but I dunno, this feels kind of boring. Also, I know it got the name from the book it's based on, but "McMafia" is a terrible name.

r) "In Ice Cold Blood"
It's so weird to think that Ice-T has been a TV cop for almost 20 years and it's basically the defining feature of his public profile at this point. This show is basically a boilerplate TruTV true crime thing telling the story of a murder with news clips and reenactments, the presence of Ice-T doesn't really do much to make this genre of TV more interesting to me.

s) "Brockmire"
This show's main appeal is Hank Azaria stringing together obscene but strangely literary monologues together in an old-timey baseball announcer voice, which is really something I never get tired of. So I'm glad the second season just kind of rebooted the story and put him in a slightly different context but still is pretty aware of what makes the show work.

t) "Mary Kills People"
This show got off to a strong start last year but my interest dwindled a little by the end of the first season. I've only just started the second season, but it seems pretty promising, Des's storyline with the introduction of Rachelle Lefevre's kind of manipulative femme fatale character should be good.

u) "The Arrangement"
My wife reads romance novels sometimes for kicks, and one thing she's told me is a pitfall of those books is that they'll often throw some plot device in there to endanger the relationship or make the guy seem dangerous that actually just turns the reader's sympathies against him so that the story ceases to be romantic. And I feel like that's a little bit of the balancing act that "The Arrangement" is dealing with, the first season did a good job of making it seem like Kyle could either be an unwitting pawn or a villain while still making Megan's relationship with him feel kind of real. But increasingly in the second season I kind of want them to stop playing coy with that and let the other shoe drop.

v) "A Series of Unfortunate Events"
I liked the first season of this, but it can be a little exhausting to watch so I've only watched a little of the second season so far. The addition of Lucy Punch and Nathan Fillion is promising, though.

w) "Westworld"
I grew up with network shows usually only going on hiatus for 3-4 months in the summer, but nowadays cable shows run for maybe 10 weeks and then you wait 9 months for the new season. So when a show like "Westworld" takes 16 months to follow up the first season, it really just feels like a lifetime ago since this show had me glued to the screen and I'm still kind of easing back into it. The premiere this week had a few cool scenes but I'm still waiting to see if it'll really hold my attention again. I'm a little bummed that there'll be a lot less of Anthony Hopkins and Jimmi Simpson.

x) "Atlanta"
Another show where the 16-month break after the first season seemed almost like a luxury of the show's acclaim and popularity. I haven't caught up with all the new episodes yet, but it's been good so far. The first season had kind of an uneasy balance between the slice of life stories, the music industry satire, and the weird surreal breaks from reality, but now that they've established that kind of anything-goes ethos, I'm cool with it. Brian Tyree Henry has really been amazing this season in just being able to make scenes funnier just with little facial expressions, I loved the episode with the barber that was just one long farce with him being dragged along.

y) "The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth"
Showtime's "The Circus" was a pretty good document of the 2016 election because even if they treated it a little too flippantly like a horse race like most other media outlets, their weekly half hour documentaries at least dug in and showed you a slightly different perspective. The show has been less essential as a chronicle of the Trump administration, and last year one of the three hosts, Mark Halperin, got caught up in a #MeToo scandal. So now the show is back this year, with a woman, Alex Wagner, in Halperin's place, which is a good call they deserve some credit for. There was an awkward moment, however, where one of the other hosts kind of vaguely mentioned what's been happening in the country and "in society" since the show's last episode, and like, motioned toward Wagner, but they never really addressed it. But I liked what they did on Russia, which included actually going to Russia and speaking to people on the street and outspoken critics of Putin.

z) "New Girl"
"Parks & Recreation" did a 'jump forward' 3 years for its 7th and final season that mostly served as a platform for some silly jokes about the near future. "New Girl" is also doing a 'jump forward' 3 years for its 7th and final season. But here it feels like the point was that, since "New Girl" started out as a show about 30-year-olds living like college students, now they're kind of skipping forward to have them actually start living like they're almost 40. So Schmidt and Cece have a baby and Winston and Aly have one on the way, and so on. It sounds stupid, and it kind of is, but I would say the show is as good now as it's been for the last couple seasons that it's been past its peak while still enjoyable.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 105: The Police

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Every time Sting releases a new project, like last week's odd album-length collaboration with Shaggy, 44/876, I think about the classic The Onion op-ed where Sting mused "you know, I used to be kind of cool once." Some of my earliest memories of music were hearing The Police albums around the house, and Stewart Copeland was one of the first drummers I looked up to as a guy who didn't just do amazing things with his kit but also seemed to really be the engine that drove the band's sound and sensibility. My dad often recalled how much he loved "Roxanne" the first time he heard it, and remained a fan of Sting throughout his life. Lately I've been driving around with a folder full of Dad's CDs that includes the first few Sting solo albums but not any Police. And some of the Sting stuff is good, but hearing it really made me crave going back to the Police records.

The Police deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Truth Hits Everybody
2. When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What's Still Around
3. Synchronicity I
4. Bring On The Night
5. Next To You
6. Canary In A Coalmine
7. Secret Journey
8. The Bed's Too Big Without You
9. Walking In Your Footsteps
10. Man In A Suitcase
11. Too Much Information
12. Reggatta de Blanc
13. Murder By Numbers
14. Born In The 50's
15. Driven To Tears
16. O My God
17. Does Everyone Stare
18. One World (Not Three)
19. Peanuts
20. Tea In The Sahara
21. Behind My Camel
22. Omegaman

Tracks 1, 5, 14 and 19 from Outlandos d'Amour (1978)
Tracks 4, 8, 12 and 17 from Reggatta de Blanc (1979)
Tracks 2, 6, 10, 15 and 21 from Zenyatta Mondatta (1980)
Tracks 7, 11, 18 and 22 from Ghost in the Machine (1981)
Tracks 3, 9, 13, 16 and 20 from Synchronicity (1983)

I'm a big fan of bands with multiple singer/songwriters or moments when one of the sidemen steps out with an occasional great song. But The Police never quite had that dynamic -- they're a classic power trio where each member is brilliant and indispensable, but Sting is the clear frontman, and it often feels like Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers were writing songs mainly to get their own cut of royalty money, keep things from getting too pop, or simply to fill out LPs when Sting came up short. They were, after all, cranking out an album a year while touring all over the world.

I like Copeland's vocals and lyrics fine in the context of his own stuff, like his Klark Kent solo project (which actually debuted on the UK singles charts a couple months before the first Police hit). But Copeland singing, or Sting singing Copeland's songs, invariably pales in comparison to Sting's fairly effortless ear for melody. And Summers' vocal turn on Synchronicity's "Mother" is probably one of the most infamous and widely disliked deep cuts to ever appear on a blockbuster album. One side effect of The Police being one of the biggest bands in the world is that even some of their least memorable tracks won major awards -- both "Behind My Camel" and Reggatta de Blanc's title track won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

The Police are a tricky band because they only made 5 albums and went out on top with their biggest record, so there's no period of decline and every album featured a couple of great classic singles, but their discography is by no means flawless. There's not even a perfect album in the bunch, whether you want to blame Copeland/Summers songs, filler instrumentals, or Sting's occasional embarrassing couplets like "hey Mr. Dinosaur, you really couldn't ask for more." This playlist was fun to make mostly because I could skip past both the overly familiar hits and the outright stinkers like "Be My Girl - Sally."

And while Synchronicity is often crowned as the band's classic, there's not really a strong consensus about the band's best and worst albums. It says a lot about Synchonicity that the B-side tacked onto later CD and cassette editions, "Murder By Numbers," kind of surpasses a lot of the proper album. I find myself in the minority when I vouch for Zenyatta Mondatta, which I think has the smallest gap in quality between the best and worst songs, and perhaps the most sustained mood of any Police album, with a focus on the trebly, jittery side of the band. Maybe it just gets lost in the shuffle among the people who like the punky energy of the first two albums or the growing pop sophistication of the last two albums. I always want Reggatta de Blanc to be better than it is but it's arguably derailed by filler more than any of their records. And Sting's brief infatuation with playing saxophone kind of makes Ghost In The Machine my least favorite in their catalog.

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
Vol. 103: Bon Jovi
Vol. 104: Dire Straits

Movie Diary

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

a) Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Looper is one of my favorite movies of the decade, and I've had very mixed feelings about Rian Johnson directing an installment of the current Star Wars trilogy, especially now that he's been subsequently hired to create an additional new Star Wars trilogy. If you consider someone to be a pretty original filmmaker and can't wait to see what they come up with next, the idea of them spending 5-10 years of their prime as the custodian of a big familiar franchise, I dunno, it bums me out. So even though The Last Jedi is really good, it just makes me think about the unfinished screenplay languishing on Johnson's laptop now. In particular I liked just seeing more of the new cast, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver are all so good in their roles, and Benicio del Toro and Kelly Marie Tran are great new additions. For months I had managed to avoid spoilers while hearing vaguely about fan backlash, and kind of expected there to be some kind of huge dark twist that pissed people off, but I was kind of surprised that the movie was so divisive. At most I thought it was kind of lame that [major character] pulled a cool trick to avoid a violent death and then just kind of voluntarily died moments later, but nobody even seems to care about that.

b) Coco
This was pretty wonderful. I have a hard time now evaluating kids' movies after one view because I the ones my kids like end up playing in our house a couple dozen times and I develop completely different feelings about them over that kind of repetition, for better or worse. But I really liked the story and the music and the way family and music were woven through the story, could very well wind up my favorite Pixar movie since Up.

c) Thor: Ragnarok
I like the Marvel movies most when they don't take themselves too seriously, and tend to most enjoy the ones that have a distinct comic voice (Iron Man 3, the first AvengersAnt-Man, though I'm a little neutral on Guardians). And Thor: Ragnarok is definitely the funniest and most offbeat movie in the MCU to date, I can see how it's not everyone's speed but it was so enjoyable to see Taika Waititi treat this huge budget and this big canvas of Marvel mythology as a ridiculous playground.

d) The Justice League
It's a good illustration of how Marvel movies have found and nurtured a sense of humor while D.C. has avoided figuring out that whole aspect of making a popcorn movie as much as possible that The Justice League only has a decent amount of levity because Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in for rewrites and reshoots. The movie was less of a mess than I expected, perhaps because I really expected a mess, but I think the fun of seeing the cast come together helped a lot, The Flash and Cyborg were good. Henry Cavill's weird CGI'd face was so distracting, though.

e) Atomic Blonde
This was fairly fun and stylishly directed. But it was also one of those movies that was just so obnoxiously on-the-nose with constant needle drops of iconic '80s pop songs to remind you that it takes place in the '80s, to the point that at one point they basically remade the Reservoir Dogs "Stuck In The Middle With You" scene with "99 Luftballoons." There's one particular scene in Atomic Blonde that I thought was one of the best, most impressively choreographed fight scenes in recent memory, uh, the one set to "Father Figure" for some reason.

f) The Sound
Christopher Lloyd has had dozens of the TV and film credits in the last 20 years, but a lot of it has been so low profile that it feels like he fell off the face of the earth after being staple of so much pop culture of my youth. So when I see that he's done a movie that's not, like, for kids, I get excited that it could be some late period gem. But this thriller with Rose MacGowan was kind of a letdown, I liked the concept but it involved a lot of people typing on phones/computers and the way the text splashed across the screen was really poorly executed and made the movie look cheaper and more slapdash than it otherwise was. 

g) Alien: Covenant
I kind of feel like Alien and Aliens are about as good, and as good for different reasons, as just about any 2 movies from the same franchise, but pretty much everything else from the franchise is a total wash, and every movie seems to fail to understand what worked about those movies in a new way. This one I didn't pay too much attention to when my wife watched it since I didn't much care for Prometheus, but it seemed maybe better than that. I'm kind of confused by Katherine Waterston, like she agreed to some Faustian bargain where she gets to be in major films but she often has the most terrible '80s mom hair bowl cut that makes her look older than she is. 

h) The Book of Henry
I remember seeing a trailer for this movie and rolling my eyes at another poignant movie about a precocious, near magical young child. But it wasn't until The Book of Henry came out a few months later that I started reading the awful reviews and realizing just how ridiculous the movie's plot was and kind of wanted to see it for myself. And it really is just fascinating to watch all these professional actors just soldier through this weird awful idea as if it was all gonna work out. But aside from the crazy plot twists it's really just insufferable how poorly the genius kid's dialogue is written to sound like neither a realistic child nor a realistic adult. Naomi Watts probably owes her career to the fact that she said yes to stories like Mulholland Drive and I Heart Huckabees where some actors might not have, so maybe it was a matter of time until her adventurousness ended up in a legendary farce like this. But it's also weird to see people like Sarah Silverman and Bobby Moynihan carry on like this is just a regular movie. 

i) Gifted
This is more like the kind of boilerplate poignant movie about a precocious child that I thought The Book of Henry was going to be. And while there were some obnoxious scenes that played like a Good Will Hunting about a 7-year-old girl. But I think I mostly enjoyed this for the extremely real chemistry between Chris Evans and Jenny Slate that turned into an IRL relationship after they made this movie. 

j) Allied
Much like Gifted was interesting partly because it sparked a romance between co-stars, this spy movie is largely infamous because of the gossip that Brad Pitt's marriage ended because of an affair with Marion Cotillard. Which is funny because his first marriage ended because of an affair with a co-star of a movie about spies. Anyway it's not bad, good ensemble, I was pleasantly surprised that Lizzy Caplan turned up in this with an enjoyable supporting role. 

Monthly Report: April 2018 Singles

Sunday, April 15, 2018

1. Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey "The Middle" 
Last week I worked on a video shoot for a media class for high school students, where a TV reporter taught media literacy and how to differentiate between different kinds of content. And one of the examples they used of how things can be deceptive is how "The Middle" video, which was premiered during The Grammys broadcast this year, was presented as entertainment but was really an advertisement, since the video is full of the Target logo and was placed in the commercial break as a Target ad. Kind of an obnoxious, insidious thing, but I do really like the song. At first I was annoyed that Zedd reused a lot of the percussion and synth sounds from his last big hit, "Stay" with Alessia Cara, in this song, particularly since the clock ticking sound was appropriate to the lyric in "Stay" but not "The Middle." But Morris is a great singer and it's kind of fun to hear her outside of a country context. And I could easily imagine her doing a twangy acoustic version of this for country radio. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. Justin Timberlake f/ Chris Stapleton - "Say Something" 
I remember "Say Something" and "The Middle" came out the same week and both instantly gave Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton their biggest Hot 100 hits to date. Now both are all over pop radio and the Bebe Rexha/Florida Georgia Line song I wrote about in January is dominating both pop and country radio, so it's a very interesting time for country/pop crossover, feels very distinct from the 'bro country with annoying hip hop references' thing of a few years ago. 

3. Kendrick Lamar and SZA "All The Stars"
I really enjoy this song, it feels like they managed to do the big splashy action movie soundtrack anthem thing while staying within the TDE aesthetic and Sounwave's murky detailed production style. I'm always surprised that in these litigious times they didn't credit the opening lines of the song as an interpolation of Salt-n-Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex," though, it always reminds me of that. I only just noticed recently that the SZA verse on the album version is pretty different from the radio/video version, I think I like the latter better. 

4. Rae Sremmurd f/ Juicy J - "Powerglide" 
As much as I loved the first SremmLife, I've been quietly kind of indifferent to most of the stuff they've done since then and didn't even like "Black Beatles" quite as much as everyone else. So I don't really know about this whole 'triple album' thing they're doing and most of the songs they've released from it are whatever to me, but "Powerglide" is a good one. It's funny to think that the Three 6 Mafia nostalgia wave lately has advanced to the point that "Side 2 Side," the 3rd single from Most Known Unknown that people didn't really care about much at the time has been refurbished as another act's big lead single. The stations around here tend to play "Powerglide" without the Juicy J verse, which annoys me, that's really a highlight of the song.

5. Kent Jones - "Merengue" 
Kent Jones is this guy from Florida who's signed to DJ Khaled, I don't really understand if he has a sound or he's just a total opportunist chameleon. He had a big R&B crossover hit a couple years ago "Don't Mind," but he rapped like an east coast guy on a Khaled posse cut with Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes, and this new single is this really goofy fun latin pop pastiche with a great piano loop from an obscure '90s George Benson song matched to a killer bassline.  

6. Shawn Mendes - "Lost In Japan" 
The big thing these days is for artists to launch a new album cycle with at least 2 new songs at once, and kind of let them compete to be the 'hit.' When Ed Sheeran did it last year, I rooted for the rockier "Castle on the Hill," but of course the clubbier "Shape of You" turned out to be far far bigger. In the case of the new Shawn Mendes songs, the guitar-driven power ballad "In My Blood" has been the focus of radio play, but I prefer the funky piano pop of "Lost In Japan." 

7. James Bay - "Wild Love" 
James Bay is another earnest raspy-voiced young pop guy with a guitar with a pair of new singles, and I kind of think of "Wild Love" alongside "Lost In Japan" because it has lyrics about Tokyo. The other single, "Pink Lemonade," is also really good and doing well on U.S. rock radio, but "Wild Love" has this really interesting gentle, ethereal quality to it. 

8. The Killers - "Run For Cover"  
Brandon Flowers is the kind of bad lyricist who's at his worst when he's actually trying, and this song is just a weird grab bag of references to Sonny Liston and The Hollies and 'fake news.' But it's also probably the fastest Killers song I've ever heard and a pretty fun listen.

9. Dua Lipa "IDGAF"
It's always bittersweet when an album kind of gets its breakthrough hit well after it comes out, because attention is so geared to new releases that I don't know how many people actually went back and realized how good Dua Lipa's album is even after "New Rules" blew up. So I'm glad that her label is actually working a viable followup single instead of just moving quickly onto the next project as often happens these days. "IDGAF" is from the sassier 1/3rd of the album where I really like the more earnest emotional side a little more, but this song still bangs.

10. Offset and Metro Boomin - "Ric Flair Drip" 
So many pairs of rappers have teamed up for collaboration mixtapes in the last year or so that I'm amused that the biggest song to come out of any of those projects is the song from the Offset/21 Savage record that didn't have 21 Savage on it. I feel like Metro Boomin changed up from his usual tempo for the better on this beat, the first few times I heard that hi-hat pattern I thought Dorrough's "Ice Cream Paint Job" was coming on. 

Worst Single of the Month: lovelytheband - "Broken"
There's just so much here to dislike, from the band name, all lowercase with no spaces with the words "the band" in it, to the lyrics that take place in a 'Brooklyn loft,' and the synth line that MGMT could probably successfully sue them over.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

I reviewed the new Thirty Seconds To Mars album, America, for Spin. It's a bad album.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 104: Dire Straits

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is, by design, not focused on new and exciting music, since artists are only eligible after 25 years. But the 2018 is perhaps a little less exciting than usual, full of acts that have been around for longer, which also means the HOF was in no rush to induct them years earlier. The youngest act, Bon Jovi, had been eligible for nearly a decade, and the rest (The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, and Nina Simone) had been eligible for much longer. A bit different from last year, when Pearl Jam and 2Pac got in.

You might think a band like Dire Straits would be pretty excited to get into the Hall of Fame. After all, they debuted in 1978 London, at the height of punk and new wave, as a particularly traditional blues-based rock band, fronted by Mark Knopfler, whose Dylanesque voice and writerly lyrics and virtuoso guitar playing earned him a lot of fans in the classic rock elite, including Bob Dylan himself. But Knopfler is reportedly not attending the ceremony this weekend. Dire Straits co-founder John Illsley says he's just not interested in performing or giving a speech. So this will be a particularly low key induction for a band that's been largely defined by how it managed to sell millions of records and record a few timeless radio staples without seeming to care much about mass appeal.

Dire Straits deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. In The Gallery
2. Down To The Waterline
3. Wild West End
4. Single-Handed Sailor
5. Where Do You Think You're Going?
6. Expresso Love
7. Solid Rock
8. Hand In Hand
9. Telegraph Road
10. It Never Rains
11. The Man's Too Strong
12. Your Latest Trick
13. One World
14. Fade To Black

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from Dire Straits (1978)
Tracks 4 and 5 from Communique (1979)
Tracks 6, 7 and 8 from Making Movies (1980)
Tracks 9 and 10 from Love Over Gold (1982)
Tracks 11, 12 and 13 from Brothers In Arms (1985)
Track 14 from On Every Street (1991)

All 6 of their albums sold big and generated hit singles in the U.K., but in America, the Dire Straits legacy has been boiled down largely to their debut single, "Sultans of Swing," and the three big hits from Brothers In Arms. Going through their discography, I didn't register much recognition of any of the singles from the three albums in between, although I did surprisingly remember their final rock radio hit, 1991's "Heavy Fuel." The 14-minute non-single "Telegraph Road" was supposedly an FM radio staple at one point, but I'd never heard it, and it's pretty great, so it seemed fair game as a famous deep cut.

As I said, Dire Straits always struck me as kind of a low key band, not exactly bursting with personality or charisma. But going through the records, I started to like them more than before, particularly on the debut, which retains a lot of the storytelling and detailed descriptions of people and places that made "Sultans of Swing" so memorable. And Knopfler is certainly talented -- classic rock is full of singer-songwriters and guitarists, but not that many who are as revered for their lyrics as for their guitar solos. Brothers In Arms is kind of remembered as one of the big audiophile albums of the '80s, and though its aesthetic hasn't entirely aged well, I still work events sometimes where the soundman will play it on the PA as a soundcheck and it does sound pretty great on a hi-fi system.

Monthly Report: March 2018 Albums

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

1. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour
2015's Pageant Material was a very good album, but it captured the chipper, clever, subtly modern aspect of Kacey Musgraves's take on country music without a bit of that edge of sadness and frailty that made 2013's Same Trailer Different Park an instant classic in my book. So it felt really good to turn on Golden Hour and instantly hear that undercurrent of melancholy on "Slow Burn" and then again on "Lonely Weekend" and "Oh, What A World" and "Happy & Sad." There's some new wrinkles to her sound throughout Golden Hour before you get to the full-on disco groove of "High Horse" toward the end, which feels like the whole album is building towards that big gutsy move. Here's the 2018 albums playlist that I add records to as I listen to them throughout the year. 

2. Toni Braxton - Sex & Cigarettes
This is the lowest-charting (non-Christmas) album of Toni Braxton's career, and at 8 songs in 30 minutes I worried that it would feel slight or pass by too quickly to make an impression. It's really good, though, maintains the smoldering vibe of her last collab album with Babyface and makes great use of her unique voice. 

3. Hot Snakes - Jericho Sirens
I come to Hot Snakes via Rocket From The Crypt and have been trying to get into them more over the years and had been listening to the old records a bit before this one came out, and they really do have a great lean, sharp sound with an ominous undercurrent to it all, the guitars on "Have Another?" in particular just sound incredible. 

4. Santa Librada - Santa Librada 
This is the debut album from a Baltimore band that I'm friendly with, I've appeared on Kelsi's podcast a couple times and was on a bill with one of Rahne's other bands last year. And I'm really proud of them, this is a vicious, righteous rock record, a lot of provocative, clever lyrics and heavy riffs.

5. Rich Homie Quan - Rich As In Spirit
Rich Homie Quan has had an unusual career in that he got his most mainstream attention with he was on an indie label, and now that he's with UMG, his profile seems a lot lower. Last year's Back To The Basics was a very good, short teaser project, and Rich As In Spirit is longer but feels in some ways similarly pared down and straightforward, with only one feature, Rick Ross, toward the end of the album. Quan has always had an earnest side but it really feels like this record is more somber and emotional than his previous records, I don't hear a "Flex" on here but it also doesn't feel like it needs one. "34" in particular is great.

6. Phonte - No News Is Good News
Little Brother came out at a time when I wasn't really checking for their style of rap and it kinda passed me by aside from a couple nice singles. But I enjoyed interviewing Phonte a couple years ago and subsequently developed more of an appreciation for his sense of humor and his way of writing, and I dig this album, it's brief and kind of takes itself lightly even he approaches some big topics. 

7. The Messthetics - The Messthetics
Fugazi hasn't made a record in almost 2 decades and probably never will again, so I'm glad that one of the all-time great rhythm sections, Brendan Canty and Joe Lally, are back in action together with guitarist Anthony Pirog for a set of live, beautifully recorded instrumentals. I'm not the biggest fan of instrumental rock, I'm often trying to imagine where a singer would've filled in the empty spaces, but Pirog manages to fill those spaces pretty well with a variety of textures. 

8. Ed Schrader's Music Beat - Riddles
I can remember a decade ago when Ed Schrader was known in Baltimore primarily for hosting his own live talk show, and eased into performing music with an odd solo act where he'd do this kind of a cappella thing and occasionally strike a drum. So it's been cool to see him slowly arrive as a recording artist people are excited about who makes odd art pop that makes good use of his intense delivery and unusual voice. 

9. Mozzy - Spiritual Conversations EP
Mozzy has had a rising national profile for the last few years, but he kind of got a big bump in mainstream recognition this year when Kendrick Lamar shouted him out in a Grammys acceptance speech and then featured him on the Black Panther soundtrack. And this 6-song EP seems like a good way to capitalize on that, it's a little more moody and downtempo with more religious lyrics than previous Mozzy projects I've heard, it's almost like what a Mozzy album on TDE would probably sound like, Jay Rock guest verse included. Mozzy kind of already has his own lane and sound but I wouldn't mind more music from him like this. 

10. 03 Greedo - The Wolf of Grape Street
03 Greedo is another west coast guy who's been getting the kind of buzz lately that Mozzy started getting a few years ago. The appeal was a little less immediately clear to me, though, once I heard him after all the excitement I was a little confused, like he sounds more or less like T-Pain when he raps without AutoTune, but less polished, and I really don't dig the production on this album much at all. I'm starting to warm up to it, though. The closer "Never Bend" is probably my favorite. 

Worst Album of the Month: Stone Temple Pilots - Stone Temple Pilots
Like a lot of people, the first time I heard Scott Weiland, I thought he sounded like an Eddie Vedder imitator trying to ride Pearl Jam's coattails to fame. But over the next few years, Stone Temple Pilots grew on me and I came to appreciate Weiland as a talented vocalists with his own set of influences that were pretty distinct from his grunge contemporaries. So it was pretty sad to see his former bandmates, who already replaced him once with the late Chester Bennington, rush to once again put a new singer in Weiland's place barely over a year after his death. And this time it's a runner-up from "The X-Factor" who seems to specialize in mimicking rock stars of the past, and settles well into doing his best Weiland imitation over some decent new Dean DeLeo riffs. There's just such an icky uncanny valley vibe to this record, the members of STP are talented enough musicians that I wish they'd just found a new band like they did with Talk Show and Army of Anyone, but the money's probably not as good if they don't use the name they're known for.