Deep Album Cuts Vol. 108: Led Zeppelin

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

I've always wanted to feature Led Zeppelin in this series, but I saw it as a daunting task because it can be so difficult to even say what's a 'deep cut' in their catalog. Most Zep albums only had one or two officially released singles with charting A-sides, but so many other tracks that were never singles have become some of their most famous songs, from "Stairway To Heaven" to "Ramble On." They've got more songs in classic rock radio rotation than any other band (Van Halen and the Rolling Stones come closest but still trail them by quite a bit). And many stations have a nightly 'Get the Led Out' block that often includes favorite album tracks that don't get played in the daytime. So I feel like I've probably heard almost every song Led Zeppelin ever made on the radio at some point, which makes this playlist a challenge. But I think I managed to pick out the best songs that are among the least played tracks from each album.

Led Zeppelin deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):
1. Celebration Day
2. Four Sticks
3. The Rain Song
4. Night Flight
5. Out On The Tiles
6. Bring It On Home
7. Hots On For Nowhere
8. Custard Pie
9. Your Time Is Gonna Come
10. Black Mountain Side
11. Hot Dog
12. The Crunge
13. South Bound Saurez
14. The Battle Of Evermore
15. Royal Orleans
16. That's The Way
17. Moby Dick
18. Ten Years Gone

Tracks 9 and 10 from Led Zeppelin (1969)
Tracks 6 and 17 from Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Tracks 1, 5 and 16 from Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Tracks 2 and 14 from Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Tracks 3 and 12 from Houses Of The Holy (1973)
Tracks 4, 8 and 18 from Physical Graffiti (1975)
Tracks 7 and 15 from Presence (1976)
Tracks 11 and 13 from In Through The Out Door (1979)

Part of the challenge here is representing every album even though arguably every song is pretty famous on certain records. The 2 least popular tracks on IV/Zoso might be more familiar to most people than the biggest songs on Presence. And the records that there was the most to choose from aren't necessarily my favorites: III grew into a good reputation among fans, but at the time a lot of people who wanted an album full of "Whole Lotta Love"'s thought there was too many acoustic tracks, so there are plenty of songs on there that aren't too overexposed (ironically I think Presence is their least popular album for the opposite reason: by then people expected a variety of quiet and loud Zep songs by that point and instead got their heaviest record). And Physical Graffiti is the only double album in the band's catalog, so it had a lot of tracks to choose from.

I think it says a lot about Zep that I'd have to rank them high in the list of artists with the best recorded output of the 1970s even though 2 of their most hit-filled albums were released in the '60s. I remember the 1995 album Encomium: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin ended up being my weird introduction to some of their less famous songs via covers like "Out On The Tiles" by Blind Melon and "Custard Pie" by Helmet with David Yow.

Houses Of The Holy is my personal favorite, and "The Rain Song" is a big part of that, one of those songs that I'd only hear occasionally in nightly radio Zep sets and then finally figured out what it was called. It's funny to learn that Jimmy Page only wrote it in response to George Harrison telling them that they didn't have any ballads, hence the song opening with a nod to "Something." But I also really find the album's most criticized parts, the funk and reggae pastiches "The Crunge" and "D'yer Mak'er," to be really enjoyable examples of the range and elasticity of their rhythm section.

I have a lot of favorite drummers, but when it comes down to it, it's pretty hard to put anyone above John Bonham. Like Biggie Smalls, virtually every recorded performance he left behind is flawless and inspired. There are days when I feel proud of myself as a drummer, and then I'll hear something Bonham did and just feel awed by his combination of power and precision, of swing and propulsion, and think about how hard it is to measure up to that. I think Jimmy Page deserves a lot of credit for purposely putting the drums at the center of the mix on records that are typically thought of as being driven by guitars, and finding the acoustics and the ambiance to give Bonham that booming sound that really redefined how everyone recorded rock drummers from then on.

I think a lot about the old yarn that 'critics hated Led Zeppelin' and how it must have felt for a lot of rock fans, as the Beatles era was closing, to see this brutishly unsubtle, unapologetically misogynist heavy blues combo quickly becoming just about the biggest band in the world. I can certainly see how people saw them the way I look at Imagine Dragons or something now. But in retrospect, of course, Led Zeppelin invented and perfected so much in addition to the things they borrowed and stole and amplified, and their catalog is so dense and varied and emotional, especially when you compare them to the hundreds of metal and hard rock bands who based their entire careers on specific Zep songs.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

In 2014, I wrote a list of the 25 hardest rap beats for Complex. Four years later, they asked me to update and expand the Hardest Rap Beats of All Time list to 35 songs, so I got to change up the order and add some new songs. I also finally got "Who Run It" into the top 10, which is what I unsuccessfully lobbied for the first time I wrote the piece.

TV Diary

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

a) "Sweetbitter"
I'm a big fan of workplace shows, things that bring you into the world of a particular professions and all the jargon and rituals. And "Sweetbitter," based on an autobiographical novel about a woman's experiences waiting tables in an upscale NYC restaurant in the mid-2000s, really excels at that. I spent a lot of my high school/college years working in kitchens in less fancy joints so it brings me back a little bit to the rhythms and the hours of that work. And they made a point to set it in 2006 partly to maintain the pre-smartphone era, which in a weird way really is kind of a crucial distinction, especially when you're telling the story of a young single city dweller.

b) "Vida"
I've long been skeptical of the burgeoning 'half hour drama' trend in TV, but Starz is really doing good things with the format, first with "The Girlfriend Experience" and now with both "Sweetbitter" and "Vida." This show is about two latina sisters dealing with the fallout from the death of their mother, and even though the show is largely about queer and gender fluid characters and gentrification in east L.A. and a whole lot of other big subjects I don't necessarily have any personal experience of, I relate a lot to the aspect of two siblings grappling with losing a parent. And it's really just impressive how many things are going on in a fairly 'small' story with a handful of characters, it's really dense. But also, like, there's been at least one oral sex scene in every episode so far. The pilot was directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios and I wish he'd done more episodes for the first season because there were some novel shots and camera movements that made for really memorable scenes.

c) "Patrick Melrose"
This 5-part miniseries is based on Edward St. Aubyn's five autobiographical novels about a character, Patrick Melrose, who struggles with heroin addiction in the '60s after the death of the abusive father who made him such a screwed up person. Benedict Cumberbath plays the character as manic and verbose, always joking too much and trying to talk his way out of his ridiculous situations. I feel like the odd combination of tones probably works well in a novel but the TV version, I don't know, it falls a little flat for me, like the dialogue just isn't as dazzling as it thinks it is.

d) "Killing Eve"
Phoebe Waller-Bridge created and starred in two of my favorite British comedies of the last few years, "Fleabag" and "Crashing" (and is also, like, the voice of a robot in the new Star Wars flick?). So I was very curious to see this spy thriller that she created and writes for but doesn't appear in, and it's really fantastic, maintaining her comic voice in this drama that has lots of violence and clever plot twists and some surprising emotional moments, really one of the most exciting and unique new shows of 2018 so far.

e) "Safe"
I don't think there's anything wrong with Michael C. Hall or his acting, but I've just about never enjoyed anything with him him it. Maybe he just consistently picks projects I'm not interested in, I don't know. But he has a British accent that I don't find very convincing in this Netflix thriller, so that's a strike against him personally, I guess. I got so disinterested in this show from the jump that I started washing dishes in the other room during the first episode, which is never a good sign.

f) "The Crossing"
This show's very intriguing premise is that hundreds of refugees wash up on shore at a small coastal town who are actually from America 200 years in the future, and some of them have superpowers. The execution isn't that great, though; ABC has already cancelled it, although I might curious enough to keep watching the show through the episodes they've produced.

g) "Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist"
The Duplass brothers have produced so many shows in the past few years, none of which I've loved: mumblecore dramedy ("Togetherness"), low budget animation ("Animals"), anthology horror ("Room 104"), and most recently true crime doc series for Netflix ("Wild Wild Country," which I skipped, and now "Evil Genius"). I think the worst thing about "Evil Genius" is the title, because that's a weirdly congratulatory thing to call an IRL murderer. But the 'pizza bomber' story has long been a source of morbid fascination and it's interesting to find out just how complex the backstory really is.

h) "It Was Him: The Many Murders of Ed Edwards"
The newly minted  Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV)'s contribution to the burgeoning 'true crime' genre is this show where a retired detective John Cameron makes the case that one deceased convicted killer, Ed Edwards, is actually also responsible for the Zodiac murders as well as famous murder victims ranging from JonBenet Ramsey to Laci Peterson and even the 'Black Dahlia,' who died when he was 13 years old. It's such a blatantly impossible theory that it seems irresponsible, if not downright cruel, for Paramount to give this guy a show and drag Edwards' grandson around the country trying to 'prove' this nonsense. The show is well produced and from moment to moment you can let yourself get caught up in how reasonable Cameron makes it all sound, which I think really underlines the danger of true crime shows, that the audience is very susceptible to whatever narrative the producers want to advocate for, whether or not it's right.

i) "Splitting Up Together"
This ABC sitcom looks to find humor in the premise of a couple deciding to continue raising their kids in the same house after their marriage is over, which mostly makes me bitter that ABC canceled a better show that dealt with some of the same issues last year, "The Real O'Neals." I'm a weirdo who never really watched or liked the U.S. version of "The Office" but I always thought Jenna Fischer was cute. I'm beginning to suspect she's just not funny at all, though, there's something really bland about her screen presence.

j) "The Terror"
In this AMC show, and the novel it's based on, the true story of a failed Arctic expedition is embellished with the presence of a monster who killed some of the crew members. But you don't actually see the creature until like the 5th of 10 episodes, and I got as far as 3 episodes where I just got impatient and googled to see what it looks like and stopped watching the show. So that mystery and delayed gratification didn't really work for me. Maybe it would work in a movie where it's not revealed for the first hour, but 5 hours is a long time to wait.

k) "Siren"
A Freeform show about mermaids, could be alright but I feel like it takes itself a little too seriously. I'm still mad that Freeform cancelled "Stitchers," that was a show that balanced the high concept stuff with a sense of humor.

l) "One Strange Rock"
Will Smith has been one of the more charming and engaging performers in the world for about 3 decades now, but there's something about him when he's just 'himself' on camera, not a character but still kind of performing the role of a folksy likable person, that I find kind of unnerving, particularly on his recently popular Instagram account. So parts of this NatGeo he hosts are annoying to me like that, but mostly it's a pretty cool look at Earth from the perspective of several NASA astronauts.

m) "Life Sentence"
The CW has already been canceled, but I'm still gonna watch the episodes they've made that air through June because it was one of my favorite new shows of the spring and I think it deserved better. It's kind of settled into a frothy family drama where the pilot was more pointedly satirical of the 'romantically tragic young cancer patient' genre of story, but it's still a pretty entertaining show with a good cast.

n) "A Little Help With Carol Burnett"
There's worse things an comedy legend like Burnett could do with her time than a cute family-friendly show where she and other celebrities elicit cute advice from little kids. But I think what really pushes this show from sweet to weird is co-host Russell Peters and how eager and ill-prepared he is to be on a show about kids and how he comes off kind of over-the-top and creepy, actually worse than Ricky Gervais on ABC's somewhat similar "Child Support."

o) "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman"
A better example of how an aging comedy institution can while away their twilight years on Netflix. I like that these episodes have been doled out once a month, that about fits with how much I want to see it, in a good way, it's a minor occasional pleasure. Every interview has been really good, particularly the Tina Fey one, although the way Letterman broached the subject of women in comedy and how few women writers he had on his shows really exposed his outdated thinking in that area. I'm kind of bummed that they're wrapping up the season soon with Howard Stern, what an anticlimactic finale.

p) "Billions"
I'm really glad that "Billions" finally seems to be catching on and getting the attention it deserves in the third season, it really feels like the show keeps managing to ramp things up and be more gripping when I thought it would be hard to top the first season without writing themselves into a corner. I also was amused by the what become of the show's Elon Musk-esque billionaire space explorer.

q) "The Handmaid's Tale"
This show is so much more bleak than anything else on TV that I always really hesitate to put it on and just be prepared for something emotionally wrenching. That feeling was okay for one season but going into the second season I wonder how long we'll be able to really keep up with it. The second episode was especially depressing, but in a way I like the episodes that are heavier on flashbacks that kind of show you how things were normalized and accepted as they were starting to get really bad.

r) "Legion"
When I dislike a widely acclaimed show, my habit is to stick it out through the whole first season just to see if it pays off or neutralizes some of my criticisms. And even if that doesn't happen, I'll usually at least start the 2nd season to see if there's more to it, or to diss it one more time before I give up. So here I am with season 2 of "Legion," still preposterously pretentious and overpraised. The latest episodes I've watched have been a little more tolerable, but I still watch an entertaining scene with Bill Irwin or Hamish Linklater or Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement and wish they were on a show that wasn't made by Noah Hawley.

s) "Imposters"
One of last year's most underrated new shows, I like how they kicked off the second season by showing how Richard's wife left him, it would've been redundant to show it in the first season that started with her leaving Ezra, but now it's interesting to see the parallels and differences in how it went down.

t) "Genius: Picasso"
This follows the format of "Genius"'s first season about Einstein in going back and forth between the subject's later years, when he's portrayed by a movie star (Geoffrey Rush as Einstein, Antonio Banderas as Picasso), and his younger years, when he's portrayed by a relative unknown. And in both cases I kinda feel like I just end up waiting through the flashbacks to get to the 'real' story with the big name stars, and I feel bad that maybe I'm not giving the younger actors a chance.

u) "Puppy Dog Pals"
It's been a couple decades since comic Harland Williams peaked in lowbrow comedies like Half Baked, and I hadn't really kept track of him much since then. Turns out he's been doing a lot of voice work in kids' cartoons, which I realized when my toddler wanted to watch this obnoxiously cutesy show about pugs that he created.

v) "Empire"
"Empire" still gets good enough ratings that it'll keep slumping forward for a few more seasons, but it's really clear that the cultural phenomenon around the show's first couple seasons is completely dead at this point, it's just another bad soap opera at this point. I think the weirdest thing about it this point is how much you're getting, like, Demi Moore and Xzibit getting more screentime than some of the main characters the show started out with.

w) "Quantico"
This show started off pretty strong but he third season kicked off with kind of a shrug and I'm not shocked that it's been canceled. Onto bigger and better things for Priyanka Chopra, I hope.

x) "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
This might be the most consistently high placing show on my year-end lists for the past 5 years that it's been on the air, so obviously I'm pretty pleased that NBC picked it up after FOX canceled it. A lot of my favorite shows never get up to 5 seasons so I usually think it's kind of greedy to want much more than that, but it really feels like "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is still at its peak or just reaching it, there have been some really brilliant recent episodes, particularly the one where Andre Braugher got in the interrogation room and evoked his "Homicide: Life On The Street" days. It's a shame that FOX seems to be ditching live action comedy these days, with "New Girl" and this off the network, they don't have any sitcoms from before 2017 now.

y) "The Last Man On Earth"
"The Last Man On Earth" got canceled after 4 seasons on the same day "BK99" got canceled after 5 seasons, to none of the same outcry, which I think underlined just how long this show kind of trudged along after peaking very early. But I've been pleasantly surprised that the last season was a bit above par, I've enjoyed the recent episodes.

z) "Suits"
I think the weirdest part about Meghan Markle becoming one of the most famous women in the world and 29 million Americans watching her wedding on TV is that the character she's played for 7 years got married on her final episode of the show a few weeks earlier and barely 1 million people watched it. This season was pretty good, but with two of the main characters leaving, a third going off to star in the dubiously named spinoff "Suits: Second City," and Katherine Heigl joining the cast for next season, it really feels like the show is over and USA is just in denial.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 107: Peter Gabriel

Friday, May 18, 2018

Today, the bulk of Peter Gabriel's discography, including all his studio albums, is on Spotify for the first time (although Apple has had it for a while, and Tidal still doesn't). Other than the original "Solsbury Hill" as it appeared on the soundtrack to the semi-forgotten 2002 film In Good Company, which has racked up 33 million plays on Spotify, most of Peter Gabriel's most famous songs have only been available on streaming services in later re-recordings and live versions, if at all.

For years, Gabriel had been one of the more high profile holdouts from Spotify, which had motivated me to start buying his albums on CD, since I grew up on So and his hits but didn't really know the earlier albums. In fact, I'd just finally finished buying all of the first 4 albums when I heard last week that they were coming to Spotify, which made me feel a little silly, but now I have them to listen to in the car. I previously made playlists in this series for PrinceThe Beatles, AC/DC, and Def Leppard when they finally joined streaming services, and Gabriel was one of the last big ones I was really waiting on (Bob Seger also started streaming his music in the past year but I haven't finished his playlist yet).

Peter Gabriel deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):
1. Start
2. That Voice Again
3. Slowburn
4. Flotsam And Jetsam
5. Kiss Of Life
6. Mercy Street
7. Fourteen Black Paintings
8. Intruder
9. Animal Magic
10. San Jacinto
11. And Through The Wire
12. Here Comes The Flood
13. A Wonderful Day In A One-Way World
14. Excuse Me
15. This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) with Laurie Anderson
16. The Drop
17. Family Snapshot
18. Lay Your Hands On Me

Tracks 3, 12 and 14 from Peter Gabriel 1 (Car) (1977)
Tracks 4, 9 and 13 from Peter Gabriel 2 (Scratch) (1978)
Tracks 1, 8, 11 and 17 from Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt) (1980)
Tracks 5, 10 and 18 from Peter Gabriel 4 (Security) (1982)
Tracks 2, 6 and 15 from So (1986)
Track 7 from Us (1992)
Track 16 from Up (2002)

A little confusingly, Peter Gabriel's first 4 albums were all self-titled, but the way people tell them apart, either by numbering them 1 to 4 or using words that describe their cover art, have emerged over time as more or less official titles that you even see now on Spotify. As usual, I avoided singles big and small, although several of these non-singles were picked by Gabriel to appear on his first and highest selling best-of compilation Shaking The Tree: 16 Golden Greats ("Mercy Street," "San Jacinto," "Family Snapshot," and a re-recording of "Here Comes The Flood"). Mostly, though, I just went with my gut on the stuff that leapt out to me the most, particularly "Kiss Of Life" and "Slowburn." I've always loved "That Voice Again," which got a moderate amount of radio airplay at the time but wasn't one of So's five big smash singles.

Gabriel's second album is kind of the odd man out in that it's the only one of the early albums that doesn't have a big radio song everybody knows. It doesn't even get a track on Shaking The Tree. The single that was released from the album, "D.I.Y.," is great, but I can understand why it wasn't as big as "Solsbury Hill" or "Shock The Monkey," and I don't necessarily know if there is a song that I can see having been a hit if it was released. But I love the album and it's unusual clash of sounds, particularly with Sid McGinnis evokes country music with the steel guitar on "Flotsam And Jetsam" and "A Wonderful Day In A One-Way World."

Peter Gabriel reminds me a bit of David Bowie, or for that matter a lot of contemporary pop singers, in that they're usually seen onstage just singing, and maybe don't get enough credit for how much they play and write the instrumentation on their records. It's cool to hear occasional stuff like "The Drop" that's just Gabriel singing and playing piano, but usually he's surrounded himself with great musicians like longtime sidemen Tony Levin and David Rhodes, and an incredible variety of guests. Some of the people playing on these songs include Stewart Copeland ("Mercy Street"), Paul Weller ("And Through The Wire"), Robert Fripp ("Slowburn" and "Here Comes The Flood"), John Paul Jones ("Fourteen Black Paintings"), Phil Collins ("Intruder" and "Family Snapshot"), Daniel Lanois, Nile Rodgers and Bil Laswell ( all three of whom are on "This Is The Picture").

One of the things that I find interesting is that while Peter Gabriel made a pretty clean break from Genesis and never looked back, the one former bandmate who played on his records was Phil Collins, who drummed on 4 tracks on Gabriel's 3rd album in 1980. By that point, Genesis with Collins singing lead was well on its way to far greater success than it'd had with Gabriel, so the fact that they were working together is pretty cool. And "Intruder" became legendary for being the first track where Collins and producer Hugh Padgham first developed the distinctive gated snare drum sound later used most famously on "In The Air Tonight" that totally changed how drums sounded in '80s pop music. But for years, I mainly knew "Intruder" via Primus's cover of it.

One thing that really strikes me about Peter Gabriel's albums is what I once praised Prince for: every album is extremely varied, and he never picked a particular mood or sound and stuck with it for a whole record. You get the hard rockers, the slow contemplative tracks, the adventurous genre experiments, and the big gutsy pop singles all side by side on pretty much every album, with odd things you don't quite expect like "Excuse Me" often popping up. My dad who passed away about a year ago loved Peter Gabriel, so he's one of those artists who always reminds me of him, especially "Mercy Street."

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
Vol. 105: The Police
Vol. 106: Sloan

Movie Diary

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

a) The Hitman's Bodyguard
It's interesting to think about the career that Ryan Reynolds has had, how long he's been around and how any times I kinda thought he'd peaked, and then he came back bigger. He was one of the guys from "Two Guys, A Girl And A Pizza Place," then he was Van Wilder, then he was in a few forgettable blockbusters like The Proposal and Safe House, then he disappeared for a few years only to finally wind up with a pretty ideal starring vehicle in Deadpool. But Deadpool lays on the Reynolds snark and schtick a little too thick sometimes, I feel like this movie is a better use of him because it's a more straightforward action flick with another foulmouthed star, Samuel L. Jackson, as his foil, it's pretty enjoyable. 

b) Girls Trip
This was very good, although like Bridesmaids I kinda felt like the big pee/poop-themed scene felt like kind of an unnecessary over-the-top moment to make the statement that women can make gross bawdy laugh-out-loud comedies too. Also one of the most amusing things about the whole movie for me was that Queen Latifah's character was a once respectable journalist who'd been reduced to writing celebrity clickbait to get out of debt. 

c) Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets
Fifth Element is one of those movies that my wife watches a lot that I respect as a unique movie that manages to stand out in the samey field of space operas, but I kind of find it grating and don't enjoy watching it. Still I kind of wanted to root for Luc Besson to kind of build on that and do another space epic well, and Valerian mostly feels like a missed opportunity that continues Dane DeHaan's string of flops, he and Cara Delevigne look less like movie stars and more like sickly wet rats in this movie. But there is an entertainingly goofy sequence in the middle of the movie where Ethan Hawke as Jolly The Pimp introduces them to a shapeshifting poledancer played by Rihanna. 

d) The House
I should have known that Chance The Rapper was taking his hero worship of Kanye West too far when he started championing subpar Will Ferrell movies. This isn't bad, really, but it was interesting to see Ferrell and Amy Poehler just kind of clock in as the protagonists who are only intermittently funny and basically let a large supporting cast of mid-level comedy stars headed by Jason Mantzoukas really do all the heavy lifting. 

e) War For The Planet Of The Apes
I like how this reboot series has been executed, it does the 'start over from the beginning' prequel idea better than a lot of franchises have attempted. That said, I don't think any of the subsequent movies have been able to equal how well Rise of the Planet of the Apes was executed and now it kinda feels like I'd like to get on with it and see them redo the stories of the Charlton Heston movies. 

f) Before I Fall
One of the best movies I've seen recently was Happy Death Day, which was kind of a 'horror Groundhog Day' where a girl who's a freshman in college lives the day she's murdered over and over. So I was curious to see this movie, which came out a few months earlier and is similar, except it's about a girl who's a senior in high school, and dies in a car crash in the day she has to repeat, and it's more of an introspective drama than a horror movie. There was a lot I liked about the storytelling and the performances, but the ending was really just not good and felt like it didn't have the poignance they thought it would. 

g) Deep
My kid found this movie about an octopus on Netflix, it's kind of offbrand Finding Nemo but still pretty good, I feel like there's always more room for animated films about ocean life because there's so many cool colorful species that you can turn into characters. 

h) The Book Of Love
The fact that I couldn't remember who the star of this movie was and figured it was probably John Krasinski makes me really feel bad for Jason Sudeikis, who I usually like, but this was really a bland movie. 

Monthly Report: May 2018 Singles

Saturday, May 12, 2018

1. Ariana Grande - "No Tears Left To Cry"
Everyone knows that Ariana Grande self-consciously patterns herself over '80s and '90s divas like Mariah and Celine and Whitney. But back then pop stars would release ballads for every 2nd or 3rd single, whereas Grande has had to play the more consistently uptempo game of 2010s pop radio. And "No Tears Left To Cry" is kind of a clever way to get around that, opening like a schmaltzy ballad, then dropping in the dance beat and the chants about turning up, and then combining the flowerly melody with the funky beat. I'm a sucker for records that blur the line between ballads and uptempo songs, so I appreciate the experiment. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. Ella Mai - "Boo'd Up" 
I think I got a crush on Ella Mai just from hearing her voice when this started getting played on the radio a few months ago. It's cool how chameleonic and versatile DJ Mustard has become since the heyday of his signature sound, I had no idea he produced this until recently.

3. Jay Rock f/ Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake - "King's Dead" 
I really like Jay Rock and think he had a shot at stardom on the heels of his appearance on "Money Trees." But it feels like everything Top Dawg Entertainment has done in the half decade since then to promote Jay Rock has mostly served to make him seem more like an also-ran on the label he helped launch. The long stretches without any new music, the ridiculous pre-order scam for 90059, and now the song from the Black Panther soundtrack that's ostensibly supposed to launch Jay Rock's next album and is technically now his biggest hit to date. But between Kendrick doing the hook and a showboating outro over a beat switch, and Future's absurdly funny cameo becoming one of the most quoted verse, it's oddly easy to overlook how great Jay Rock is on the song too.

4. Dorothy - "Flawless" 
Roc Nation is a funny label, their roster has a few of the most famous rappers and singers in the world, and then some acts you've probably never heard of, like the L.A.-based hard rock band Dorothy. I don't think I've even heard this on the radio at home, I was driving through Ohio recently checking out all these random rock stations and this was the song I heard that really struck with me. 

5. John Legend f/ BloodPop - "A Good Night" 
I remember when John Legend released "Green Light" and it seemed to really put his voice in this unexpected context of a big uptempo feelgood dance track and I thought it was a great moment that suggested a new lane for his career. But that lane has been left mostly unexplored in the decade since then, so it's nice to hear something that has a little of that vibe again. I only know BloodPop from the 2 songs that actually made me enjoy Justin Bieber, so I knew this was gonna be good when I saw his feature credit. 

6. Ball Greezy f/ Lil Dred - "Nice & Slow" 
A nice filthy sex rap radio sleeper hit for the last few months, from a guy whose name sounds like it means "sweaty nuts," took me a while to figure out if I liked the song or just enjoyed the Freddie Jackson sample. 

7. Chris Stapleton - "Midnight Train To Memphis"  
My local hard rock station only played this a little but it sounded really good in that context, Stapleton promoting one of his rowdier songs to rock radio is a good idea. 

8. The Lemon Twigs - "Tailor Made" 
I've been listening to my alma mater's college station, Towson's WTMD, a lot lately, and this is one of my favorite recent discoveries from the station. Apparently The Lemon Twigs released an album on 4AD a couple years ago, and "Tailor Made" is from a recent 2-song single, so hopefully there's a whole album in this '60s harmony-driven rock style on the way. 

9. Niall Horan - "On The Loose" 
I still feel like a big opportunity is being missed that Niall Horan's song with Maren Morris isn't a single while she's crossing over, but the opening song from Flicker is a solid single too. 

10. Drake - "Nice For What" 
When I enjoy a Drake song these days, I think "but is it 'stomach on flat flat'?" It's nice to hear him just do a solid pop rap song, after the Views era when his biggest hits were on some millennial Lou Bega tip. But "Nice For What" also feels like a good example of how even when Drake puts some different ingredients together in an appealing way, it feels like he's just playing catch-up with everyone else -- the disembodied Big Freedia vocal sample echoes Beyonce's "Formation," the nod to ringtone rap era hero Fabo echoes Young Thug's "Stoner," even the Lauryn Hill vocal loop is something did, or at least tried to do before he was famous enough to get the sample cleared. And then of course, the beat is homage to bounce music, but Drake got a fellow Canadian to produce it even though he's fucking signed to Cash Money and kind of knows a few people from New Orleans.

Worst Single of the Month: Bad Wolves - "Zombie"
Rock radio is full of so many bland bands doing clumsy retreads of overexposed '90s music that it's appropriate that two current hits are Five Finger Death Punch's even more butt rock version of the Offspring's most butt rock song, "Gone Away," and this reworking of The Cranberries' "Zombie." Bad Wolves got Dolores O'Riordan's approval of their version before she died -- she was actually going to appear on the track but never got the chance. But it's really just so awful, particularly because they update the lyrics, dropping "drones" and "2018" into the original lines of the song.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 106: Sloan

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Most of the artists I include in this series are household names, but now and then I stretch the parameters of inclusion for some personal favorite like The Posies or now another power pop institution, Sloan. But Sloan, though they've maintained a fairly low profile in America, are a moderately big deal in their native Canada. I fondly remember falling in love with One Chord To Another in high school and going to Toronto on a school band trip and geeking out to see the "The Lines You Amend" video on MuchMusic and get a sense that one of the little cult bands I loved was actually famous somewhere. Sloan released their excellent twelfth album 12 last month, and I started putting together this playlist just thinking about how impressively consistent they've been without every breaking up or changing members. If you don't know the band well already, the A Sides Win: Singles 1992-2005 compilation is a good entry point to a dozen or so of the songs that have charted in Canada, and this playlist is kind of a companion piece for that to dig deeper.

Sloan deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Penpals
2. Can't Face Up
3. Right Or Wrong
4. On The Horizon
5. Left Of Centre
6. It's In Your Eyes
7. I Hate My Generation
8. A Side Wins
9. You Don't Need Excuses To Be Good
10. Stand By Me, Yeah
11. Lemonzinger
12. Down In The Basement
13. Ready For You
14. Listen To The Radio
15. Cheap Champagne
16. 400 Metres
17. Wish Upon A Satellite
19. Snowsuit Sound
20. The Great Wall
21. Anyone Who's Anyone
22. I Was Wrong
23. Green Gardens, Cold Montreal
24. The N.S.

Tracks 5 and 11 from Smeared (1992)
Tracks 1, 7 and 19 from Twice Removed (1994)
Tracks 2, 8, 16 and 21 from One Chord To Another (1996)
Tracks 4 and 10 from Navy Blues (1998)
Track 24 from Between The Bridges (1999)
Tracks 6 and 20 from Pretty Together (2001)
Tracks 13 and 22 from Action Pact (2003)
Tracks 3, 14 and 18 from Never Hear The End Of It (2006)
Tracks 12 and 15 from Parallel Play (2008)
Track 23 from The Double Cross (2011)
Track 9 from Commonwealth (2014)
Track 17 from 12 (2018)

The last time Sloan released an album in 2014, I did a post here of an 'imaginary Sloan box set' with 4 playlists collecting the best songs of each member of the band, singles and deep cuts alike. And I decided to keep that concept in mind with this playlist and every four tracks cycles through the members of the band, since I think Sloan's greatest strength is that every member writes and sings songs on pretty much every album. Tracks 1 and 5 and so on are Chris Murphy, tracks 2 and 6 and so on are Patrick Pentland, tracks 3 and 7 and so on are Jay Ferguson, and tracks 4 and 8 and so on are Andrew Scott, so each guy gets six of their best tracks here.

Since Sloan had a bit of a shoegaze/Sonic Youth-influenced sound when they debuted in the early '90s, and slowly turned towards a more retro Beatles production aesthetic, I worried a little that jumping around their discography wouldn't sound right. But the first two albums fit together with the later stuff pretty well, it turns out. The Never Hear/Parallel Play/Double Cross era has a lot of songs that flow together from one track to the next, which makes for some abrupt beginnings and endings when you take the songs out of the albums for a playlist, but for the most part it's not too disruptive here.

One thing that surprised me is that I ended up picking songs that really complement their hits. Where a lot of their biggest singles have been Patrick Pentland hard rockers like "The Good In Everyone" and "Money City Maniacs," I gravitated to Pentland's mellower deep cuts like "It's In Your Eyes" (a strong candidate for one of the band's best songs ever) and "Listen To The Radio." And the band's albums have often featured some fun outliers in the band's sound like the the acoustic "Green Gardens, Cold Montreal," the punky "HFXNSHC," and the Dylanesque "Down In The Basement." And "Penpals," "I Hate My Generation," and "Anyone Who's Anyone" have been featured in their setlists as often as a lot of their singles. I should probably try to go to their show in D.C. this week, I've only seen them live once before.

Monthly Report: April 2018 Albums

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

1. The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations
Nels Cline has led many instrumental combos of different shapes and sizes over the past few decades, but the two longest-running bands, The Nels Cline Trio and The Nels Cline Singers, were guitar/bass/drums threesomes. So The Nels Cline 4 is a break from tradition in that he's now sharing guitar duty with Julian Lage. Cline and Lage's 2014 duo album Room was spare and minimalist, so it's cool to hear them now try out their intertwining guitar lines in a more uptempo context with a rhythm section. Television has always been a big influence on Cline and it's cool to hear him try out a quartet that's a little like the Verlaine/Lloyd interplay of two lead guitarists. Plus there's stuff like "River Mouth (Parts 1 & 2)," where Lage helps lay out this lush textured backdrop for one of Cline's best solos in recent memory. Here's the 2018 albums playlist where I put all the records I've been listening to this year.  

2. War On Women - Capture The Flag 
About 7 years ago, I asked Shawna Potter to sing on a song I was working on, because I was a huge fan of her old band Avec. And after the session, she was telling me about the band she'd just formed, which I believe she described as 'Bikini Kill meets early Metallica.' Soon after, I saw an early War On Women show and was blown away, and they've just been an incredible force for good in the world since then, making incredible records and advocating for feminism and fighting rape culture at places like the Warped Tour. And now, their second full-length actually features Kathleen Hanna herself, which feels like the perfect culmination of this whole thing, although I hope there's a lot more in store for them. "Anarcha" is the song on here that really hits me the most with just this powerful, righteous anger, this incredible scorched earth emotion that War On Women does better than anybody right now. 

3. Brothers Osborne - Port Saint Joe
I'm kind of proud that Brothers Osborne are the biggest contemporary country act from Maryland because they're great, so I was a little bummed when I saw that they named their new album after the Florida beach where they recorded it, which is like a Kenny Chesney move or something. But apparently making the album in a relaxed beachfront environment was a great idea, because the whole record feels incredibly relaxed and inviting. Like their first album, Pawn Shop, it was produced by Jay Joyce, who I often call my favorite producer working today, but I was still bowled over by how good it sounds and how seamlessly each song dovetails into the next one.  

4. Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
The last time Wye Oak released a proper album, I interviewed Jenn and Andy (the site it was for is gone now, but it's archived here), and I wrote about how exciting it was that they'd kind of overhauled their sound for this 'difficult fourth album' and had survived some of the things that have broken up other bands. But I wasn't actually sure if they would be back for another album, and I'm really glad they are, because songs like "Join" feel like a really cool fusion of Shriek and the earlier Wye Oak albums with something new. "Lifer" in particular feels like this beautiful mission statement of what it means to kind of dedicate your life to something music and playing in a band and how complicated that can be. I really believe Wye Oak have been one of the best bands in the world of the past decade and am happy for every minute we get of them. 

5. Cardi B - Invasion Of Privacy
Even before "Bodak Yellow," I was impressed with how fluidly Cardi B translated her Instagram persona, and her ability to coin catchphrases that people instantly start repeating, to a rap career. But I was still kind of skeptical that what worked for a string of singles and features would translate to an album, and am pretty impressed at just how well this holds together and how it kind of hits all these different areas of her life and her persona and feels like a complete debut album. That's not to say that the songs that kind of expand on who she is like "Be Careful" and "Best Like" are as good as the straight up bravado and shit talking of songs like "Bickenhead" and "Money Bag," but they all work to some degree. Between "I Like It" and "Bickenhead" and "I Do" she could easily spend the rest of the year ruling radio even while she's chilling at home with a newborn. 

6. Sloan - 12 
There are a decent number of bands who've had great second decades, but I can think of very few who've remained as consistent as Sloan in their 3rd decade, and without ever breaking up or having any lineup changes. 2 of their last 5 albums were sprawling double LPs, but this is back to a more concise set, with more of a laid back AM gold vibe than the hard rock/power pop side of the band, "Wish Upon A Satellite" is probably my favorite so far.

7. various artists - Restoration: The Songs Of Elton John And Bernie Taupin
Tribute albums are a dime a dozen, and no matter how star-studded they are, they tend to be so hit-and-miss that the most you can say about them is that you can grab the couple highlights and skip the rest. But two collections of Elton John covers were released simultaneously in April, and while the one full of pop and rock artists, Revamp, is above average, the other country-leaning album, Restoration, is easily one of the best tribute albums I've ever heard (Miley Cyrus is the only artist on both albums, and a lowlight each time). Elton's always had more country in his records than he gets credit for, and '70s singer-songwriter pop is a big piece of contemporary Nashville's DNA, so it's fun to hear great deep cuts done justice like Maren Morris singing "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" and Miranda Lambert covering "My Father's Gun." Even the odder interpretations, like Lady Antebellum's self-consciously spacey "Rocket Man" that opens the album, are pretty enjoyable ways to approach some very familiar songs. But the one that could've gone either way that I really love is "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" by Dierks Bentley.

8. Willie Nelson - Last Man Standing
I've been reading Willie Nelson's 2015 memoir It's A Long Story lately and gaining a deeper appreciation of his remarkable life, career, and way of looking at the world. So it's lovely to hear him still playing and singing like nobody else and writing about his "weird mind" and his halitosis ("bad breath is better than no breath at all") on an album released just a couple days before his 85th birthday. "Something You Get Through" is pretty moving in particular. These old legends don't owe us any more music at an age like that, but there's something beautiful about the fact that he still wants to (I assume, since his mess with the IRS has been resolved).

9. Bishop Briggs - Church Of Scars
I liked or loved pretty much every song Bishop Briggs put out since her 2016 breakthrough hit "River" up until her current single, "White Flag," which I think is crap. So I feel like it doesn't speak well of this album that my favorite half is the stuff I already know from 2016/2017 and the new stuff is more hit and miss, but there's still some great songs on here and I'm trying to give the record as a whole a chance to grow on me. 

10. Tinashe - Joyride
There's been a lot of performative disappointment (or schadenfreude) about the commercial performance of Tinashe's long-delayed 2nd album. As good as Aquarius was, the many singles she released in the run-up to this record dimmed my enthusiasm. And I have to wonder if people are being a little naive, as if they just assumed that any photogenic singer with one hit and one well-reviewed album should be set for life, which really flies in the face of what's happened to what major labels have been doing with most female R&B singers in the decade since Amerie and Cassie got shelved. The title track to Joyride is the most Rihject-y Rihject ever, and that "no dramama" single blows, but once you get past those, this album is pretty solid, I really like "Ooh La La" and "Faded Love" and "No Contest." 

The Worst Album of the Month: Thirty Seconds To Mars - America 
I already covered why this sucks in my Spin review, but it really is quite insipid. Even as some of my favorite albums this year, from Superchunk to War On Women, have addressed current events head-on, it's instructive to hear what a truly useless, wish-washy resistance-bait album sounds like.