Deep Album Cuts Vol. 111: Talking Heads

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Talking Heads have been one of my favorite bands since I was a teenager, but they've been on my mind more than usual lately. David Byrne released his okayish latest solo album American Utopia in March, and earlier this month Afropop singer Angelique Kidjo released a song-for-song cover of the Talking Heads album Remain In Light. Plus I've read a couple books in the last year that are primarily or partially about the band's '70s work: Jonathan Lethem's 33 1/3 book about Fear Of Music, which I have mixed feelings about, and Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years In New York That Changed Music Forever, an excellent Will Hermes book which takes its title, sort of, from an early Talking Heads song.

Talking Heads deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):
1. No Compassion
2. Who Is It?
3. I'm Not In Love
4. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
5. Stay Hungry
6. Paper
7. Memories Can't Wait
8. Heaven
9. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
10. Seen And Not Seen
11. The Great Curve
12. Love  → Building On Fire (live)
13. Making Flippy Floppy
14. Swamp
15. What A Day That Was (live)
16. Perfect World
17. Creatures Of Love
18. Radio Head
19. Mommy Daddy You And I

Tracks 1 and 2 from Talking Heads '77 (1977)
Tracks 3, 4 and 5 from More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978)
Tracks 6, 7 and 8 from Fear Of Music (1979)
Tracks 9, 10 and 11 from Remain In Light (1980)
Track 12 from The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads (1982)
Track 13 and 14 from Speaking In Tongues (1983)
Track 15 from Stop Making Sense (1984)
Track 16 and 17 from Little Creatures (1985)
Track 18 from True Stories (1986)
Track 19 from Naked (1988)

I grew up in a world where Talking Heads were kind of a ubiquitous staple of the burgeoning alt-rock pop culture, like U2 or R.E.M. except they hadn't stayed together to be present as an elder statesman band of the scene. And at a certain point it kind of felt like their influence was so pervasive as to be almost stifling; David Byrne's odd vocal tics and blank, affected style of writing about Americana and random nouns, the band's playfully stiff takes on funk and R&B and Afrobeat and avoidance of arena rock cliche -- so many dozens of bands took inspiration from Talking Heads, but if you followed their example too closely you could end up with a new set of cliches.

The 1999 DVD release of Stop Making Sense was a big moment of me really embracing the band and delving into their catalog, although it was bittersweet to realize that one of my favorite songs from the film, "What A Day That Was," was actually a Byrne solo track that wasn't nearly as good in its original studio incarnation. Remain In Light, being the band's most revered classic, was the first album I bought, but I had trouble really getting into it, and found it disappointing that none of the other songs had the pop sparkle of "Once In A Lifetime," and that side 2 felt like a long slow drift away from the high energy of side 1.

Even now, as I hold Remain In Light in fairly high regard, I think it's kind of a bad gateway album for getting into the band, and prefer the two Brian Eno-produced albums that preceded it. More Songs About Buildings And Food is my go-to favorite, and I could've picked 3 other songs from the album that I love just as much as the ones I used here. And Fear Of Music is such a great album to come out of writer's block, with Byrne resorting to zeroing into simple one-word concepts like "Paper" and "Air" to come up with lyrics. That running theme of the album, of course, makes the songs that don't follow the formula stand out more, and "Memories Can't Wait" is an amazing track that always leaps out at me. At one point I think it was the Talking Heads song I thought I'd cover if I was ever going to, before I realized that it was covered memorably on Living Colour's multiplatinum 1988 debut Vivid.

One thing that I was surprised to learn fairly recently is that Talking Heads ceased touring completely after early February 1984, several months before the release of Stop Making Sense, 4 years before their final album, and 7 years before their breakup became official. That places Talking Heads in a category I'm fascinated with: bands that became studio-only acts for a number of their active years and released some of their best-selling albums without touring in support of them, a small club that also includes The Beatles, Steely Dan, and R.E.M.

It's strange to think that Little Creatures is the band's best-selling album and topped critics' lists, because while its singles still get classic rock spins, it's really receded from the critical conversation about the band's best albums. The two less popular records that followed it are even more relatively forgotten, although I do like the polished Top 40-friendly incarnation of Talking Heads in the second half of their career. It's funny to think that Radiohead, a band that inherited the Talking Heads mantle of a hugely popular, acclaimed group by making dark, omnivorous music that recalls Remain In Light more than any other TH record, took their name from a True Stories track where Byrne sings "radio head, the sound of a brave new world" over a sunny melody from a Tejano accordionist. And "Mommy Daddy You And I" is notable to me as a rare Byrne lyric where he mentions Baltimore, where he lived for about a decade of his youth before fatefully relocating to Rhode Island and then New York City.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

a) The Incredibles 2
Pixar's track record with sequels is about even with its track record for original films (i.e. almost everything that isn't Cars is superb). But outside of maybe Toy Story 2, I have started to get the feeling that they've been kind of inessential and easily forgotten -- I found Monsters University and Finding Dory perfectly satisfying, but my kids never asked to see them again like the originals and I scarcely thought of them thereafter. So it's hard to say if the immediate afterglow of The Incredibles 2 will last, but I feel like it's a strong candidate for the best Pixar sequel to date and as good as The Incredibles -- I might even prefer it, simply because it also includes the madcap hilarity of the Jack-Jack Attack short. I also liked the way it moved the characters around into uncomfortable positions and got some comedy and character development out of it. I was pleased to see my 8-year-old son getting wise to superhero tropes enough that he saw the 'ally who turns out to be the villain' twist coming. 

b) Hereditary
I enjoyed the hell out of this, and yet I am casting a suspicious eye at lot of the praise for this movie as emotionally harrowing and/or that one horror movie every year or so that 'transcends' or 'reinvents' the genre. I've long loved Toni Collette and this was absolutely one of the best performances of her career and I hope she wins awards for it, but I feel like people have underestimated the comic edge of the movie, particularly the second half, the humor inherent in particular her and Ann Dowd's performances -- it's a credit to Alex Wolff and Gabriel Byrne that they gave the movie enough enough dramatic gravity that people didn't entirely read the ending as funny enough to cheapen the traumas of the first half. I'm not saying it was cheapened per se, in fact I liked the movie's sense of humor and the wildness of the story's conclusion. But I do wonder if I'd like it as much on a second viewing or find it as sad and gripping in those early moments, knowing what was coming.

c) Set It Up
This is a sweet, well-written rom-com with a couple big laughs and a novel conceit about two assistants who try to play matchmaker for their bosses and end up falling for each other. But mostly I think I just found Zoey Deutch totally adorable and got caught up in the movie purely based on that.

d) The Neighbor
William Fichtner is such a great, undervalued character and the perfect lead for a thriller where a married guy starts to develop feelings for his pretty young neighbor who's in a troubld marriage. Unfortunately, I thought it fell apart a little by the end, like they didn't know whether to go really dark but weren't about to have a happy ending, so they just wound up with something kind of sad. 

e) Last Flag Flying
Even though Richard Linklater has done some more polished mainstream movies like School of Rock before, it still surprises me, given the scrappy, handmade, almost amateurish and improvisational air of a lot of his work, that he can pull off something that looks more or less like generic studio fare. In fact, I put this movie on and watched a good amount of it before I glanced at the IMDb page and realized he'd directed it, which I somehow hadn't even heard during the entire promotional cycle for it. I kind of expected a dour, humorless movie about a trio of Vietnam veterans burying one of their sons, but I thought the story and the characters ended up having a little more light and life to them. 

f) The Mountain Between Us
I remember sitting in a theater watching a trailer for The Mountain Between Us and, knowing that Idris Elba was starring in The Dark Tower soon and not really having any idea what the Dark Tower books, thought that's what this was until the title came up at the end, which is, in retrospect, pretty funny. It's decent, but probably could've been an unbearably bland romance movie if it didn't have 2 exceptionally talented and attractive lead actors, on some level it's just fun to watch Elba and Kate Winslet, particularly since he actually keeps his British accent for once and she pretends to be American (although it was a weird little "The Wire" flashback for him to mention that he lives in Baltimore while looking but not sounding like Stringer Bell). 

g) Monster Trucks
This is a goofy movie my kids wanted to watch about a slimy space creature who eats oil and decides to live inside a truck. But it was kind of charming and I always like to see Jane Levy from "Suburgatory" getting work.

h) Only The Brave
This movie is about the true story of Arizona firefighters. I kind of expected a pretty boilerplate drama about real life heroism, but I was impressed by the writing and performances, particularly in the storyline about Josh Brolin and Jennifery Connelly's marriage and jhow it captured the emotional state of being with somebody who risks their life every day and learning not to rely on them or expect them to come home. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Here's my latest Remix Report Card for Noisey.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

For the past five years I have posted over a hundred 'deep album cuts' playlists on this blog, and a while back City Pages music editor Keith Harris asked me about repurposing some of those posts for the paper. Appropriately, we revamped the first playlist I kicked the series off with in 2013, so here's the new City Pages version of Brandy deep album cuts, with new text and additional songs, in honor of her performance at Twin Cities Pride this weekend. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails

Monday, June 18, 2018

This week, Nine Inch Nails is releasing Bad Witch, a 30-minute record that's nominally an album for commercial reasons, although it completes a trilogy started by the recent EPs Not The Actual Events and Add Violence. It's interesting to see Trent Reznor kind of stumble into the 'short album or EP' debate raised by Kanye West's recent run of 7-song albums. But he has a good history with EPs. 1992's Broken was the band's first top 10 record on the album charts and won them their first Grammy, which set a strong precedent that their shorter collections of new songs stand equal footing with the long ones. So I wanted to do an overview of all those records, short and long.

Nine Inch Nails deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):
1. Something I Can Never Have
2. Terrible Lie
3. Sanctified
4. Gave Up
5. Pinion
6. Last
7. Heresy
8. Mr. Self Destruct
9. Reptile
10. Please
11. No, You Don't
12. Even Deeper
13. Getting Smaller
14. The Beginning Of The End
15. 19 Ghosts III
16. 1,000,000
17. While I'm Still Here
18. The Idea Of You
19. This Isn't The Place

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
Tracks 4, 5 and 6 from Broken EP (1992)
Tracks 7, 8 and 9 from The Downward Spiral (1994)
Tracks 10, 11 and 12 from The Fragile (1999)
Track 13 from With Teeth (2005)
Track 14 from Year Zero (2007)
Track 15 from Ghosts I-IV (2008)
Track 16 from The Slip (2008)
Track 17 from Hesitation Marks (2013)
Track 18 from Not The Actual Events EP (2016)
Track 19 from Add Violence EP (2017)

As someone who never ventured too deeply into industrial or even metal, I've always had a lot of respect for Nine Inch Nails and their ability to bring some incredibly harsh and dark sounds to the mainstream. Much is made of how many soundalikes Nirvana had, but the mid/late-'90s a pretty huge chunk of rock playlists sounded like them. But there's a certain sexy brooding swagger to their music that really separated them from their contemporaries, a lot of times I think of NIN as, like, a really angry INXS. But I also consider Trent Reznor to be a really brilliant producer and musician, he has a great ear for a wide range of sounds, relative so his fairly narrow emotional bandwidth as a lyricist. As someone who loves to distort synthesizers and drum machines and try to make them sound as visceral as guitars and drums, I find myself being heavily influenced by Reznor.

Of course, Trent Reznor didn't do all this stuff himself, but in the context of the big alt-rock bands of the '90s, he was the closest thing to a one man band or a lone genius creating these big ambitious soundscapes largely on his own. Still, there's a pretty cool range of collaborators on this playlist, including Dave Grohl on "Getting Smaller," Dr. Dre on "Even Deeper," Adrian Belew on "Mr. Self Destruct," Page Hamilton on "No, You Don't," and Lindsey Buckingham and Pino Palladino on "While I'm Still Here."

Pretty Hate Machine has great songs but sounds a little dated now, partly because Reznor's production got so much more layered and sophisticated on the next couple records, and some of the PHM drum and synth sounds felt like they were just left back in the '80s. But even as much as I loved The Downward Spiral, I still feel like something was lost in taking 5 years to drop a double album follow-up. I still fantasize about if there had been a 1997 NIN album of more songs in the vein of "The Perfect Drug." So I never totally took the time to get immersed in The Fragile at the time, I mostly loved "We're In This Together" but found the album to be a little too much of the same stuff. So I enjoyed going back to the album when putting together this playlist and getting hooked on songs like "Please" that I didn't notice much at the time, and the instrumental tracks make more sense in the context of Ghosts I-IV and Reznor's film scores.

Reznor went nearly 6 years without releasing an album after The Fragile and it kind of started to feel like the band's legacy was sealed off and contained within the late '80s and '90s. And then he released 4 in the space of 3 years, spurred in part by the realization that he could self-release surprise albums like Ghosts I-IV and The Slip direct to fans, and there was some really exciting music in that run that really revitalized my appreciation for the band. Of all the A-list alt-rock bands that sold millions in the '90s, I'd make the argument that NIN has released the largest amount of worthwhile music since the '90s. I had to focus on the band's watershed early work for the bulk of this playlist, but I hope the last 7 tracks are a good representation of how excellent the later stuff has been and why I'm excited for Bad Witch.

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
Vol. 107: Peter Gabriel
Vol. 108: Led Zeppelin
Vol. 109: Dave Matthews Band

TV Diary

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

a) "Succession"
The most amusing description I've seen of this show is "Arrested Development" as a prestige drama but I've also seen it compared to "Billions," and it's kind of an unfortunate uphill battle for a new show to be compared with one that just finished a great 3rd season more popular than ever (kind of fitting, though, since "Succession" is produced by The Big Short director Adam McKay and "Billions" is made by people behind another 2008 financial crisis movie, Too Big To Fail). But it certainly is interesting to see multiple shows on TV right now about petty vindictive NYC billionaires while one is running the world, and I can see how that might rub some people the wrong way. I really really enjoyed the first two episodes of "Succession," though, a lot of shows, even good ones, take time for the characters to feel like people and not just archetypes, but everyone feels really fully formed already and often really funny. I particularly like the way the show gets at how adults interacting with their siblings and parents can often kind of revert to acting like children, and Kieran Culkin has this perfect bratty little brother energy ingrained in him. Sarah Snook's character, Shiv, might be the only somewhat likable character so far, but I feel like nobody's going to get through this season unscathed.

b) "Pose"
The recent New Yorker profile of Ryan Murphy helped me see him in a bit of a new light and appreciate what he's trying to do with his newest show, "Pose," and what he tried to do in some of his other shows that I had mixed feelings about. "Pose" is in some ways really ambitious and gorgeous and does an admirable job of making an era and a subculture accessible as a big lavish cable drama. But some of the dialogue has such an afterschool special blandness to it, like they're so consumed with sending the right message to teens who might really need a show like this to speak with them, that they're using the broadest strokes possible. Also it seems like kind of a sad compromise that the white cis cast members (Evan Peters, Kate Mara and James Van Der Beek) get top billing even though you can often go like a half hour without seeing any of them and the show is clearly not really about them.

c) "American Woman"
It's funny how period pieces can kind of shift actors into an era you wouldn't expect to see them in; Alicia Silverstone and Mena Sevari will probably always be primarily remembered as iconic '90s teenagers, so it feels weird to see them not just grown up but playing '70s housewives in "American Woman." It's good to see them again, particularly Silverstone, who certainly is overdue for a meaty adult role like this just based on the perfection of her performance in Clueless. The first episode of "American Woman" sets the stage well, although I'm not sure if it's going to lean more in the direction of a dramedy or the kind of half hour dramas I was recently praising Starz for excelling at.

d) "C.B. Strike"
Apparently J.K. Rowling has been regularly publishing mystery novels about a detective named Cormoran Strike for the past 5 years, and this is the BBC series based on them. It kind of feels like the 'eccentric detective and their normal even-tempered assistant trying to keep up with them' trope is so hoary that I don't know how much they can put their own stamp on it, although I like Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger in those roles, the first episode was promising enough.

e) "The Break with Michelle Wolf"
I was a huge fan of Michelle Wolf from her first appearance on "The Daily Show" (although that was barely a year and a half ago, which gives you an idea of how hungry networks are to give "TDS" alumni their own weekly topical shows). And I thought she handled the White House Correspondents Dinner and its attendant controversy really well, so I've been very excited to see this show. Its format feels a little stiff compared to Wolf's proudly brash sense of humor and delivery, but I think they're finding their footing quickly, the second episode was markedly funnier than the first and the third held onto those improvements.

f) "Reverie"
This show has an interesting premise, where people get 'lost' in an immersive virtual reality program and a former hostage negotiator takes a job where she goes into the program to get them out. The idea has a bit of "Westworld" to it, a bit of The Cell, a bit of my beloved canceled Freeform show "Stitchers." But it's not as good as any of those things, it just ends up feeling like any other slow, portentous NBC procedural. Sarah Shahi, as always, deserves a better vehicle.

g) "Picnic At Hanging Rock"
An Amazon miniseries about a group of Australian schoolgirls who mysteriously disappear circa 1900. I like the hazy dreamlike aesthetic of the show but it's also probably served to kind of distance me from really having much of an interest in the story or the characters, it feels very much like an aesthetic statement more than a story for a show based on a novel.

h) "Joe Pera Talks With You"
Joe Pera is a 30ish comic whose act revolves around him talking in a very slow, folksy way, like a grandpa. His Adult Swim show kind of puts his onstage persona into the context of him being a midwestern schoolteacher who hosts some kind of nature program, but the show frequently breaks format like it's being 'interrupted' by his day-to-day life that we get increasingly prolonged glimpses of. I spent a lot of the first few episodes trying to sort out whether Pera was supposed to be as old as he looks or as old as he sounds, especially since he hangs out with a bunch of middle-aged guys. But then there's a romantic subplot with another young teacher that kind of resolved that question. It's an amusing, creative little show but I'm glad the episodes are only 13 minutes long, it's very less-is-more.

i) "Just Another Immigrant"
"Just Another Immigrant" is about a comic who's popular in the U.K., Romesh Ranganathan, booking a show at the Greek Theater in L.A. despite being relatively unknown in the U.S. and then setting about trying to figure out how to sell tickets. In a weird way it's like an inverted version of the plot of Get Him To The Greek. Ranganathan is entertainingly deadpan and the concept of the show is charming, but it's also one of those 'reality' shows where a lot of the scenes and conflicts feel very plainly staged and to some degree scripted, which I tend to find a little grating.

j) "The Fourth Estate"
Showtime's 4-part miniseries about the New York Times embeds a camera crew in the newsroom for crucial moments during the first year of the Trump administration. And it's interesting to watch since a lot of NYT reporters have basically become celebrities in that time period without being on TV that much and now you kind of get to see them do their job. In the first 3 episodes you frequently see Glenn Thrush, just depicted as a good reporter doing his job, but you kinda know what's coming in the 4th episode when sexual harassment allegations against him come out and he gets reassigned (although of course he never lost his job and the show kind of lets NYT off the hook). I kinda hope Showtime keeps this going with more episodes in the future like "The Circus" and it's not just a one-off.

k) "Wrong Man"
This Showtime series follows a team of civil rights attorneys and experts who are investigating possible wrongful convictions and figuring out if someone is really innocent. A lot of the true crime docs and podcasts these days are about stories like this, purporting to get to the real truth beneath the law's version of events, but I find myself concerned about the journalistic rigor or lack thereof in a lot of them. This show seems to be doing its due diligence and letting experts and the evidence they find take the lead, though.

l) "The Who Was? Show"
This Netflix show is basically a cast of teens doing sketch comedy as historical figures like Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. I watched it kind of trying to sort out if it's something that might entertain and/or educate my older son, but I don't know, I don't think it would appeal to him anymore than it did to me.

m) "The Rain"
This Danish sci-fi series about an apocalyptic virus carried in the rain is of the better foreign language Netflix series I've watched, although I'm still kind of a lazy ugly American who doesn't like to watch stuff with subtitles that much and probably won't finish the season.

n) "The Four: Battle For Stardom"
The first season of "The Four" concluded in February a little chaotically, with one of the show's judges Charlie Walk abruptly leaving the show amidst sexual assault allegations, and we haven't really heard much from the season's winner yet. Nonetheless, the show got good ratings, so it's back for a 2nd season four months later, so they can keep cranking out TV whether or not they crank out pop stars, just like "The Voice." Last week's season premiere included Rebecca Black of "Friday" fame trying to redeem herself and become a real singer, and she's pretty good now,
The first challenger who knocked out one of the starting four this season, Majeste, was really impressive, one of the most engaging performers I've seen on the show so far. But last season, nobody who was in the first episode was in the finale, so I feel like it's kind of bad odds if you get in there early.

o) "Ghosted"
FOX has had a strong lineup of live action comedies for the last few years, but that seemed to abruptly change this spring, with "New Girl" airing its final season and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" surprisingly getting canceled by FOX and picked up by NBC. That leaves "Ghosted" as the only non-animated FOX comedy that's been renewed for the 2018-2019 season, but even that show hasn't been treated terribly well -- it premiered last October and ran 8 episodes through November, then one more in January, and now in June they have finally begun burning off the last 7 episodes of the first season in the summer. I like the show fine, but it's been a bit hard to really get attached to it with such a sporadic schedule. The two episodes that have run recently were really good, though, kind of ramped up the spy mystery aspect of the show in a clever way.

p) "I'm Dying Up Here"
The first season of "I'm Dying Up Here" was good but flawed, and I was interested to hear that the network wanted to retool it a little for the second season. The season premiere revealed that both of the female leads, Melissa Leo and Ari Graynor, both have children they're estranged from, which wasn't even hinted at in the first season, so that felt like kind of a forced way to give those characters more complexity. But those storylines have been handled pretty well. so it's alright. I think my favorite change from the first season is the addition of Xosha Roquemore from "The Mindy Project" to the cast, it took me a few scenes to recognize her in the '70s attire and hair.

q) "Westworld"
The season ain't over yet, but I feel like it's only really been grabbing me with interesting sort of standalone stories every second or third episode, the more the show zooms out for you to see the whole big chessboard of interlocking stories, the less interesting I find it. The show is full of great actors, just give them a bunch of juicy scenes in a row and let them fill the figurative and literal space of these big huge sets and long episodes.

r) "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
In my futile regular objections to the Netflix model of releasing whole seasons of shows at once, let me praise Netflix for breaking the 4th and final season of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" into 2 batches, with the first 6 episodes out now and the rest due later this year. I wish all their shows were rolled out like that. The new episodes are great as usual, Carol Kane or Titus Burgess line of dialogue is gold. But the episode that was a parody of true crime docs kinda felt like too little too late after "American Vandal."

Monthly Report: June 2018 Singles

Monday, June 11, 2018

1. Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa - "One Kiss"  
I never really thought much of Calvin Harris's Funk Wav Bounces era of making midtempo retro R&B tracks with hip rappers, so I'm kind of fine with him already retreating back to making house jams with other white people, especially since Dua Lipa is one of my favorite new pop singers in recent memory and this is a really nice track for her to get out between albums. Also there was a really funny blind item that indicated that Dua Lipa pegged Calvin Harris immediately after they made this song. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. 2 Chainz f/ YG and Offset - "Proud" 
A lot of artists these days, especially rappers, release little 4-song EPs these days as stopgap projects to build buzz or test out a single, and a lot of those records feel kind of disposable and forgettable. But The Play Don't Care Who Makes It was really a good one, and it speaks volumes that when it dropped in February I kind of ignored "Proud" because I was so into "Lamborghini Truck (Atlanta Shit)" and "Land of the Freaks." But the "Proud" video was fantastic and the song deserved a better run on the radio than it got. 

3. Jukebox The Ghost - "Everybody's Lonely" 
My first exposure to Jukebox The Ghost was a few years ago when they worked with my friends at Mobtown Studios and I wrote the text for the page on their website about it. And they seemed to be pretty talented and moving up in the world then, but I was still surprised one day to hear a great song on the radio, google the lyrics, and realize it was them. I love that little piano breakdown at the end where the song quiets down and then builds back up again. 

4. Kiiara - "Messy" 
Kiara Sualters and her pretentious extra i had the only really big solo hit, "Gold," about 2 years ago, and she's released a lot of singles since then. But "Messy" is the latest that I checked out on a whim and really quickly fell in love with. It really does a good job of conjuring this emotional story in a few words, reminiscent of Aimee Mann's "Deathly," putting you in the moment where a relationship is about to get real and someone says wait, we can still just stop and never see each other agian. 

5. Guns N' Roses - "Shadow Of Your Love" 
It's always interesting to see one of the biggest rock bands ever release an old old obscurity from their archives and kind of hear something new from their classic era on the radio -- Led Zeppelin's "Travelling Riverside Blues," Nirvana's "You Know You're Right," Pearl Jam's "Brother," and now this newly unearthed 1987 GnR outtake. "Shadow Of Your Love" would have been the shortest song on Appetite For Destruction had it onto the original album, and it also would've been pretty much the fastest, so it's an interesting vestige of the band's punkier side, the road not taken, and it's pretty awesome. 

6. Carly Pearce "Hide The Wine"
Carly Pearce's "Every Little Thing," won Breakthrough Video of the Year at the CMT Awards last week, which underscored the fact that country radio has kind of slept on her follow-up single, which is really charming and kind of an apt counterpoint to her big ballad hit. 

7. Maroon 5 - "Wait"
This song has really grown on me as a kind of relatively understated gem of Maroon 5's era of chasing big trendy pop sounds, I feel like if anyone else recorded it people would more readily admit how good it is. 

8. Lauv - "I Like Me Better" 
There are so many songs on pop radio these days that are like douchey fratty post-Maroon 5 Top 40 versions of R&B songs that I tend to dismiss a lot of them initially and figure out later if they're good. Bazzi's "Mine" gets worse every time I hear it, but Lauv's "I Like Me Better" gets better every time I hear it. Plus I have some affection for him since learning he co-wrote "No Promises" by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato. His album, the obnoxiously titled I met you when I was 18. (the playlist) is pretty decent, although nothing else jumps out at me like "I Like Me Better." 

9. Cardi B - "Be Careful" 
When this song first dropped in the run-up to Invasion of Privacy, I wasn't sure about it, and even now that it's doing well on the radio, a lot of stations are eager to play the more clubby album tracks "I Like It" or "Bickenhead" just as often. But "Be Careful" has really grown on me, it hits these really specific emotional notes really well and the fact that someone who you usually hear funny and full of bravado is softening her voice to say these words works really well. 

10. Jack White - "Over And Over And Over"  
I was never really on board with The White Stripes and had the weird opinion that the ugly lurching "Icky Thump" was the best thing they ever did. So I haven't followed much of Jack White's solo career but I'm pleased to hear that he has at least one song that kind of has a similar sound to it, but even faster and more counterintuitive in some ways. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Childish Gambino - "This Is America"
My line on Donald Glover has long been that he makes nothing but exceptional television and mediocre music. But even I will admit that he's at least gained a little musical sophistication since the early days when he was doing this off-putting hyperactive "30 Rock" writer's room version of Lil Wayne punchlines. I always figured he'd return to rapping eventually after the success of "Redbone," and in some ways "This Is America" is his way of showing restraint as a writer and focusing on flow, except the kind of bland less-is-more lyrics feel like a cheat to just be as ambiguous as possible and shift all the significance to the video, which did all the heavy lifting in the song's viral ascent to #1. So it's not surprising that Glover's panache for visual storytelling exceeds his musical grasp, but it's still just shocking how much worse this song is without the video, and I get so annoyed every time I hear it on the radio.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

I recently worked on ranking all 43 of Kanye West's music videos for Complex, updating a piece that originally ran in 2013 with a new intro and blurbs about his videos from the last 5 years.

Friday, June 08, 2018

In 2015, I invited some friends and acquaintances over to my practice space in Baltimore to try making music together. Singer/guitarist Dan Doggett (formerly of Monument) had been writing some songs, and guitarist Chris Merriam (formerly of Private Eleanor) and bassist K.B. Blankson (also of They Move On Threads) started learning them, with me on drums. We took the name Golden Beat from a page of a 1982 Sears catalog, practiced almost every week for two years and played a handful of gigs, but eventually everyone's schedules got too busy to keep up with it and the band ran its course. But I really loved the stuff we recorded, 3 studio tracks produced by Tim St. Clair (of Soft Peaks, who we played a couple shows with), and a couple more from our self-recorded demo, so I wanted to assemble them into an EP, The Complete Works of Golden Beat, which I put up on SoundCloud today, enjoy.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 109: Dave Matthews Band

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

I don't think a lot of people have moderate feelings about Dave Matthews Band. Millions have a rabid love for them, they're considered bad and hated by perhaps even more people. Even at their peak of popularity, though, when I was in college and their music seemed to just waft through the dorms and many of my peers would refer simply to 'Dave' in a tone of reverence, I couldn't quite muster hate, there was always a mild affection that would only turn to annoyance in times of prolonged exposure. And since their 9th album Come Tomorrow is due out this week, and I had a nice time covering a Dave Matthews acoustic show a while back, I thought I'd look back at their catalog a little.

Dave Matthews Band deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):
1. Drive In, Drive Out
2. Pantala Naga Pampa
3. The Best Of What's Around
4. #41
5. Say Goodbye
6. Dancing Nancies
7. The Stone
8. Dreams Of Our Fathers
9. Rhyme & Reason
10. Bartender
11. One Sweet World
12. The Song That Jane Likes
13. Warehouse
14. Lie In Our Graves

Tracks 11 and 12 from Remember Two Things (1993)
Tracks 3, 6, 9 and 13 from Under The Table And Dreaming (1994)
Tracks 1, 4, 5 and 14 from Crash (1996)
Tracks 2 and 7 from Before These Crowded Streets (1998)
Track 8 from Everyday (2001)
Track 10 from Busted Stuff (2002)

I'm hot and cold with Dave Matthews as a songwriter -- he's one of the more overtly Peter Gabriel-influenced singers and songwriters of his generation, but he also quite often sings in weird guttural tones and/or says weird horny stuff, sometimes both at the same time. But the band's musicianship is, obviously, pretty impressive. I'm not always big on drummers who have double-bass drum pedals and a ton of different toms and cymbals, but Carter Beauford is pretty incredible and distinctive, and I didn't realize he was already almost 40 when the band started selling millions. "Drive In, Drive Out," man, that's my shit. If I could only hear one of their songs again for the rest of my life, it'd be that one.

One thing I particularly like about Dave Matthews Band is their unique palette. Where a lot of jam bands center around electric guitar solos, Matthews plays an acoustic guitar almost like a percussion instrument. Where horns and violins are often used in rock music in the context of big anonymous brass and string section arrangements, saxophonist LeRoi Moore and violinist Boyd Tinsley each add fairly distinctive individual voices to the bands -- or did anyway, since Moore died in 2008 and Tinsley abruptly left the band this year amidst a sexual harassment lawsuit.

I decided to cut things off after the first decade or so of their career, partly because they have pretty long songs, so I don't have room for that many in my self-imposed 80-minute cap, and partly because I just have way less interest in the later albums. I feel like you get a nice creative arc in the first 5 studio albums: the 3 career-defining '90s blockbusters, and then the two albums that came out of the muddled period where Matthews wrote an album, shelved it and wrote another with Alanis Morrissette co-writer Glen Ballard, and then went back and revised and released the shelved album. The album made with Ballard, Everyday, features a lot more electric guitar than any other Matthews album, which I find grating. But it was one of several Dave Matthews Band albums in a binder of CDs my dad left behind that I've had in my car since he died, and revisiting it recently I think it's more of a piece with the band's catalog than I'd thought, "Dreams Of Our Fathers" is great. That video for "I Did It" was definitely a nadir for the band, though.

Since live shows are their bread and butter, I tried to cover a lot the most played non-singles in their repertoire. But true to jam band tradition, a number of their most popular live tracks never appeared on a studio album, including "Recently," "Granny," "Cornbread," "Help Myself," and "Minarets." So I included a couple of songs from their 1993 indie live album Remember Two Things, which sold a million copies after the band's later mainstream success.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

a) The Florida Project
Sean Baker's last feature Tangerine was a memorable, exciting low-budget movie shot on iPhones, and The Florida Project is a step up in production values that still maintains a lot of the same freewheeling energy, putting Willem Defoe opposite several child actors and an adult lead, Bria Vinaite, who'd never acted before and was found on Instagram. It's kind of funny to think that Defoe got an Oscar nom for a role that is practically a stock beleaguered landlord character, but he brings just the right amount of gravity to it and is a good counterpoint to all the inspired amateur performances. I would like to think that Baker's stories about people on the fringes are more empathetic than exploitative -- the end of the movie hit me really powerfully -- but the fact that Vinaite has been cast in Harmony Korine's next movie does arouse my suspicion that it's a little bit in Korine's more lurid lineage as well. Plus the title seems to just own up to the idea that this is part of that recent Magic Mike/Spring Breakers/Pain And Gain/'Florida Man' episode of Atlanta-style pop culture fascination with the trashiness of the Sunshine State. 

b) Show Dogs
I've been taking my eldest son to the movies for about 3 years now, and of the over a dozen kids' movies we've gone too, many of which I outright enjoyed, this was definitely the worst. It's a live action movie where a bunch of dogs' mouths are CGI'd so they speak with celebrity voices, and Ludacris is the grouchy police dog who has to solve a crime with a human partner played by Will Arnett. We saw the movie on its second weekend in theaters, when an offensive scene about genital fondling had been removed from the movie, although I dozed off in the middle so I'm honestly not sure if it was in our screening or not. 

c) Anon
Gattaca director Andrew Niccol and the star of his 2011 film In Time, Amanda Seyfried, reunite for another dystopian sci-fi flick where the main revelation is that Seyfried is very cute with dark hair. The premise is kind of interesting with the idea that in a future where there's no privacy and no crime, one woman starts murdering people while maintaining her anonymity, but in effect it kind of feels like a Minority Report knockoff.

d) Dunkirk
The most surprising thing about Dunkirk, for me, was its running time. Each of Christopher Nolan's last 5 movies had been longer than the last, with Interstellar topping out at 169 minutes. So when I hear 'structurally ambitious World War II movie,' I just assumed it would be an epic, not a tight 106 minutes. I'm glad he exercised that restraint, I just didn't know he had it in him. The idea that the movie is told through action and very little dialogue was a little oversold, there's a decent amount of speaking roles, but I do think the whole 'less is more' approach worked well, in terms of capturing a very specific moment in the war and why it mattered. 

e) My Cousin Rachel
This was interesting because it was basically the plot of a steamy erotic thriller murder mystery except it takes place in the 1830s and everyone remains very composed and fully clothed even when they're arguing or fucking or accusing each other of murder. 

f) Baywatch
It's interesting to think that 1987's Dragnet set the template for dozens of films over the last 3 decades: turn an old TV show into a movie with roughly the same premise but a new cast and either re-do the drama as a comedy or turn it into a much broader or more meta kind of comedy, as much a parody as an homage or adaptation. Baywatch was kind of a campy pop culture phenomenon that was ridiculed by everybody, including its stars, even when the show was on the air, so there's nothing new about David Hasselhoff showing up for a goofy cameo, but I thought the movie did a decent job of letting the comedy drive the whole thing, only getting too puerile a couple times. There's a running joke with The Rock's character addressing Zac Efron's character as things like 'One Direciton' or 'Bieber,' but then he calls him 'High School Musical,' which is so meta it gave me a brain cramp. 

g) How To Be A Latin Lover
I never heard of Eugenio Derbez's 2014 comedy Instructions Not Included, but it was the highest grossing Spanish language film in U.S. history, so How To Be A Latin Lover is kind of designed as his English language crossover. Ken Marino directed it and it's chock full of mostly white American comedy staples like Kristen Bell, Michael Cera, Ben Schwartz, and all the Robs (Lowe, Riggle, Huebel, and Corddry). Derbez's middle-aged wannabe playboy is kind of a predictable stock character, but he plays it really well. 

h) Pete's Dragon
One of my kids picked this movie off the Netflix menu and I found it kind of enjoyable, although it's also kind of an upsetting human Bambi story where the kid meets the dragon immediately after his parents die. I'm amused that Bryce Dallas Howard did this immediately after Jurassic World, like she decided to give her career over completely to big, scaly creatures. 

Monthly Report: May 2018 Albums

Friday, June 01, 2018

1. James Bay - Electric Light
Electric Light opens with an awkward scripted interlude where James Bay breaks up with a girl, and ends with a reading of an Allen Ginsberg poem. But in between those slightly pretentious bookends is one of the best pop records of the year, beautifully sung and deeply felt but a lot more varied and ambitious than I would've expected from the good but slightly anonymous hit from his debut, "Let It Go." I've enjoyed plenty of Paul Epworth productions before, but the sound of this record is really unique and surprising, with all these cluttered and fuzzed textures jumping in and out of the mix at just the right moments, these unruly songs like "Sugar Drunk High" and "I Found You" that tumble and swirl around in unexpected directions, I feel like it picks up a bit where The 1975's last album left off. All the albums I've been listening to this year are in this 2018 albums playlist. 

2. Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois - Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois
This is the kind of inspired pairing that I instantly pulled up the album and started listening to it as soon as I heard about it, even though there's a lot of Daniel Lanois solo records I haven't heard and I just have a faintly positive impression of Venetian Snares from hearing a little of his stuff in the early 2000s. But the idea of an intergenerational collaboration like this, of the distinctive and beautiful pedal steel guitar of Lanois over the spastic and unpredictable electronics of Venetian Snares, it really makes for a great combination.

3. Rae Sremmurd - SR3MM
The idea of Rae Sremmurd bundling their third album together with solo albums by both members was a clever way to appease the rising demand for a Swae Lee solo record while still benefiting the whole group and keeping Slim Jxmmi on equal footing. But I feel like Swae Lee's disc of the album falls short of both its potential and the rest of the project, it just feels underproduced and underwritten (incidentally, Mike Will Made It worked on just one track out of 9 on Swaecation versus 6 each on the group disc and Jxmtro -- never underestimate Rae Sremmurd's chemistry with Mike Will as a key to their success). Taken as one big 27-song album, though, the whole thing hangs together really well, even as a triple album it's actually shorter and more consistent than the overlong Migos record from earlier this year.

4. Parliament - Medicaid Fraud Dogg
The Parliament and Funkadelic discographies are incredible and though it's been decades since they did much of note besides influence and get sampled by more great records, it's great to see George Clinton get in the studio and turn out the longest album of his career, 107 minutes of cantakerous and opinionated funk that tackle the problems of American healthcare as ambitiously and lucidly as any of his political records of the past. P-Funk's peak is 40 years in the rearview, and whoever's in the group right now can't capture the sound of the late Bernie Worrell, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good and subtly contemporary this sounds for most of its sprawl.

5. Tee Grizzley - Activated
It's easy to position Tee Grizzley in contrast to other new rap stars in terms of him being the relatively grizzled (no pun intended) midwesterner with a heavy bay area influence who writes a little differently than the many colored dreads southerners in his peer group. But he established some chemistry with Lil Yachty on last year's "From the D to the A" that's repeated on two new collaborations on Activated, which also has a goofy Lil Pump feature and a pair of Chris Brown features to help Tee Grizzley seem more accessible. For the most part, though, Activated plays to his strengths, with "First Day Out" producer Helluva handling a lot of the tracks, so it's a good balance.

6. Gaz Coombes - World's Strongest Man
I have a lot of affection for Supergrass's In It For Money and even though I haven't really kept up with much of the band's output since then or the subsequent solo career of Gaz Coombes, I generally assumed he kept making excellent music, which judging from this album, he has. Maybe it only occurs to me because I've listened to a lot of Sloan lately, but what both they and Coombes have in common is that they are among the few contemporary acts really overtly influenced by The Beatles that I like, perhaps because they seem to get that elusive balance of craft and whimsy.

7. Charlie Puth - Voicenotes
I often congratulate myself for being open-minded enough to admit when an artist I haven't liked and don't particularly want to like has made a good record, and Charlie Puth's "Attention" was a strong example of that. The companion album released over a year later doesn't feel exactly like a revelation because "Attention" is still the best song on it, but I appreciate that Puth is proud of his mild Top 40 lineage and collaborates with Boyz II Men and James Taylor.

8. Lil Baby - Harder Than Ever
There's an interesting moment on Lil Baby's new album where his most obvious influence, Young Thug, shows up on "Right Now" and says something kind of frank about his recent output: "My last two years were the worst ones in my career but I'm still as rich as you." Now that it feels like Thug has already peaked creatively, a lot of fans are already angling to replace him with his suddenly numerous prominent acolytes, including Lil Baby, Gunna, and SahBabii. I think that's a little misguided, though; these guys are all their own men to varying degrees, and Lil Baby has his own more punchline-driven style and also has a bit of a YFN Lucci sound to his whiny melodic flow, and Harder Than Ever is really solid, better than I expected it to be, good production from front to back. 

9. Styles P - G-Host 
There are a lot of grizzled east coast rappers still making hard music, but one of the guys I've found it the most rewarding to actually continue paying attention to is Styles P, who is now vegan and runs a juice bar and still makes ice cold bangers. This record is good, "Wait Your Turn B" and "Different Shit" are early standouts for me. 

10. DJ Jazzy Jeff - M3
Rhymefest has kind of been in the news for things that don't have a lot to do with music lately, but I feel like he's always deserved more respect. Blue Collar was one of the best albums to come from any of the guys in Kanye's orbit, and Rhymefest probably had more to do with Kanye's early records than any of them. So I was happy to see that Rhymefest raps on nearly every track on DJ Jazzy Jeff's new album, which is kind of appropriate since Jeff is another talented guy who's kind of lived his life in the shadow of the superstar he came up with. This is a really enjoyable, relaxed record, lot of variety in the production, although I'm not too into the other MCs who are on it a lot besides Rhymefest. 

The Worst Album of the Month: Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

I never took Arctic Monkeys too seriously when they were a big deal in the UK and kind of a niche concern in the US, but their last album that belatedly broke them in the states had some jams, I don't begrudge them their success. I was surprised that they were willing to toy with the formula enough at this point in their career, but I can't respect the risk that much when the results are this bad. The combination of the weird loungey music and the more overtly audible influence in Alex Turner's new vocal style makes this sound less like a David Bowie record and more like 'if Vegas had Bowie impersonators instead of Elvis impersonators.