TV Diary

Monday, July 30, 2018

a) "Castle Rock"
I'm not an avid Stephen King reader, but I was still really intrigued by the idea of a series set in the same Maine town as many of his stories, weaving together various King characters and settings and themes into a new story. And really I'd love nothing more than for this to be 10 times better than the King pastiche "Stranger Things," but 3 episodes in, I'm a little underwhelmed. I like the cast (I'll watch Jane Levy and Melanie Lynskey in anything), and I'm curious to see where the mysteries go and enjoy looking for the little allusions to famous King books, but it's kind of lacking a spark, I wanted more from it.

b) "Sharp Objects"
I really liked the film of Gone Girl and my wife who's read the Gillian Flynn novels says Sharp Objects is her favorite, so I've managed to not let her tell me anything about the book so I can just let the story unfurl in the series. It's funny, though, I've watched 4 of 8 episodes now and I feel like it's mostly been scene-setting at this point, my mind is still kind of reeling at what this is all leading up to. Like another recent HBO miniseries full of movie stars and based on a bestseller, "Big Little Lies," every episode was directed by Jean-Marc Vellee, and it has a lot of the same texture and rhythm, but in a way it highlights the contrasts between them: "Biggle Little Lies" was crowded with characters and plot, "Sharp Objects" is slower and more impressionistic, with lots of scenes of Amy Adams just driving and listening to Led Zeppelin. I don't consider that a problem, but I gather that some people do.

c) "Who Is America?"
I've never really enjoyed Sacha Baron Cohen's work, any of it, the combination of the Balki Bartokomous-grade accents and the shock humor and pranks, it just never appealed to me. So when I heard he had a new show called "Who Is America?" I just went 'oh fuck off.' But this show has already gotten one Georgia representative to resign in disgrace and has convinced Dick Cheney, Roy Moore, and others to humiliate themselves on national television, so I have to admit it's growing on me. The show is wildly inconsistent as it goes from scene to scene and alternates between the 5 characters Cohen plays, but so far every episode has featured at least one or two absolutely insane scenes.

d) "Mostly 4 Millennials"
As with Sacha Baron Cohen, I tend to feel a little old and uptight when it comes to certain Adult Swim programs like "The Eric Andre Show" where I feel like I 'get' the humor but also find it exhausting and repetitive after more than 5 minutes. "Mostly 4 Millennials" is exec produced by Eric Andre and kind of feels like a spinoff of his show, with host Derrick Beckles as a host who is consumed with being a hip millennial who entertains hip millennials but kind of looks like Guy Fieri and literally has Fred Durst as his in-house DJ. There are sharp moments of satire here and there, but for the most part it feels like this endless cycle of loud, transgressive 'random' moments designed to cynically appeal to millennials who are uninterested in traditional comedy -- in other words, it kind of ends up like a very unflattering satire of the Eric Andre/Adult Swim sensibility itself.

e) "Burden Of Truth"
This Canadian show, picked up to run on The CW in the summer, is about a lawyer who comes back to the small town where she grew up to litigate a class action suit for a pharmaceutical company. So the show kind of sets up the main character, played by Kristin Kreuk, as being this reasonable person who's going up against paranoid anti-vaccination activists. But I really have no idea where this show is going, it seems like people who took this fictional company's fictional HPV vaccine are indeed getting violently ill, so I don't know if this show is going to ultimately try to make anti-vaxxers look good or make big pharma look good, I'm kind of uncomfortable with either.

f) "The Outpost"
I grew up in a time when all fantasy shows on TV were campy low budget syndicated shows like "Xena: Warrior Princess." So in a weird way it's kind of refreshing, in a post-"Game Of Thrones" world, to see The CW air something like "The Outpost" that feels like a throwback to "Xena," completely corny and slapdash but still takes itself and its mythology kind of seriously.

g) "Bobcat Goldthwait's Misfits & Monsters"
I'm aware that Bobcat Goldthwait has a long career as a writer/director of dark cult comedies like Shakes The Clown but I haven't actually seen much of that stuff, I mostly know him for stand-up and Police Academy and whatnot. But this is basically an anthology series where he does a different story each week, each of them kind of a weird half hour morality play. My favorite of the first 3 episodes so far is about Dave Foley managing David Koechner's presidential campaign, which succeeds even after Koechner is revealed to be a werewolf. But I also liked the mockumentary about a Justin Bieber-like singer, even if it (perhaps unintentionally) mirrored Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping a bit.

h) "Paid Off With Michael Torpey"
This TruTV game show, where contestants answer trivia questions to pay off their student loans, has earned a lot of attention for basically being an illustration of how terrible the student debt crisis is in this country. But that's very much the point and I appreciate that they're actually doing this and helping people and not just making a joke about it. Also it's pretty entertaining just as a game show. People can actually earn the right to say "I knew that!" when someone else answers a question first and the host will take their word for it and give them partial credit, which is kind of an amazing innovation considering that probably every game show contestant in history wishes something like that existed.

i) "The Grand Hustle"
This BET reality show features a bunch of aspiring entertainment industry movers and shakers competing for the the privilege to work for T.I., mostly by jumping through a bunch of crazy hoops that bring to mind Diddy sending rappers out for cheesecake. I'm not a big fan of these kinds of shows but at least there's a lot of T.I. speaking in flowery language that people tend to get such a kick out of.

j) "Summer Camp Island"
A new Cartoon Network show about anthropomorphic animals at a magical summer camp, with a really cutesy drawing style that contrasts nicely with a sharp sense of humor. My kids didn't seem to take to the show much but I think the wit of the dialogue is a little over their heads.

k) "The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants"
My son who loves the Captain Underpants books and the movie was a little underwhelmed that the animation is more low budget on the new Netflix series, but then that didn't seem to bother him with the "Boss Baby" series. Anyway it's funny, they've definitely retained the tone and humor of the books well and as far as I'm concerned Nat Faxon is as good as Ed Helms if not better to voice the title character.

l) "Succession"
With the first season almost over, this has really been probably my favorite summer TV discovery this year, I've just loved every minute of it. It's nothing groundbreaking in the cable drama world, but it really wrings great character moments out of corporate backstabbing as well as "Billions" (and Eric Bogosian has recurring roles on both shows, if he doesn't have to choose neither do I). I was a little skeptical about Adam McKay and Will Ferrell exec producing a show like this and not giving into the temptation to make everything a joke, but they do a great job of ratcheting up the drama and then letting Kieran Culkin or Alan Ruck deflate it hilariously. I don't know what to say about HBO airing an episode of "Sharp Objects" where a redhead puts a man's hand down her pants 2 weeks after airing an episode of "Succession" where a redhead puts a man's hand down her pants, but maybe that's the network's new creative direction.

m) "Preacher"
Just as I think McKay/Ferrell have brought something to "Succession" that the show might otherwise lack, I like Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have brought "Preacher" to TV with a unique tone without letting the over comedic sensibility of their movies take it over entirely. I mean, the show is often really funny, but they don't overdo it. The amount of flashbacks and background mythology in the show can sometimes bore me a little but this season has had a lot of great stuff with the core trio of Dominic Cooper/Ruth Negga/Joseph Gilgun that I really watch the show for.

n) "Reverie"
I wouldn't say I think highly of this show, but it has kind of grown on me and I've been impressed at how dark they've been willing to go with the tone and the story, even if it ultimately does have a lot of the trappings of a network procedural.

o) "The Four: Battle For Stardom"
I didn't think much of this show when it premiered in January, but they're already back for a 2nd season and I feel like I'm hearing about it more and more, so it might be here to stay. One of my big criticisms of the first season was they made much ado about 'the four' they started with being hard to beat, and they were all long gone by the time the show got to the finale. There's been a lot less turnover in the second season -- 3 contestants have been in 'the four' for at least half of the season, one of them went unchallenged the entire time. So I've found myself more actively rooting for and against the contestants as I've seen more of them, at the moment I'm really hoping Whitney Reign wins and James Graham loses.

p) "Harlots"
I liked this show well enough in the first season but I didn't entirely know what to make of it, in that it's got one foot in 'gritty realistic period drama' and one foot in 'tawdry soap opera that happens to be about brothels in 18th century London.' But it's really grown on me in the second season, although I'm not really sure why they bothered to add Liv Tyler to the cast in a minor role, maybe she's going to figure more into the plot as it goes. I'm really just so smitten with Jessica Brown Findlay though.

q) "Trial & Error"
I loved this show last summer, which was like a goofy "Parks & Rec"-ish single camera comedy about a small town murder trial. So I was pretty thrilled to hear it would return with Kristin Chenoweth as the new defendant replacing John Lithgow from the first season (although there's a hat tip this season in the form of a character naming their pet goat John Lithgoat). Chenoweth is predictably great by Jayma Mays is still a pretty consistent scene stealer on this show.

r) "The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale"
After debuting Joel McHale's new show, essentially "The Soup" in every respect but the title, a few months ago as a weekly show a few months ago, Netflix has basically decided to test it out as a show for binge watchers, and this month released 6 episodes at once. This doesn't really have any practical impact on the show, since they were already basically pulling back from commenting on current events and zeroing in almost exclusively on reality show clips, so there's no much of a difference from the early episodes. I do feel like they've narrowed what the show is about to its detriment a little, but it's not a big deal.

s) "Rachel Dratch's Late Night Snack"
This TruTV show in its second season is basically a collection of sketches from different writers and actors, strung together with some quick host segments with Rachel Dratch. I've always really liked Dratch, I don't know if she has a big hand in picking contributors for the show or producing the sketches but I wish there was really more of her in the show. The sketches are hit and miss but there have been a few great ones, I particularly enjoy the recurring 'ghost stories' ones.

t) "Killjoys"
I always say that this is my wife's favorite SyFy show and that my affection for it is relatively minor by comparison, but it's really grown on me over the years, I'm glad it got picked up for a 4th and 5th season to wrap up the series. I think over time the show has gotten better at exploiting the contrast between the look of the show -- serious gritty space epic with lots of Dutch angles and color filters -- and the unapologetic goofiness of a lot of the dialogue.

u) "The Affair"
There's a lot of darkness in TV drama these days, and some shows just get to be so much that I don't want to watch them -- I may have finally tapped out to stop watching "The Handmaid's Tale" recently. But I have to say "The Affair" is the most consistent feelbad show on TV -- all these adult problems, all these complicated and strained relationships and storylines involving drowned children and vehicular manslaughter and terminal cancer, it's really a lot. I feel like the show has even eased back from letting Dominic West being a funny fuckup like he was on "The Wire." There has been a little levity in the 4th season -- at one point two of the main characters summarize the first 3 season to a sassy black teenager who literally says "white people are crazy." But it's still depressing to me in a way that few shows are, and yet I still feel drawn to it, and the quicksand of constantly seeing scenes from 2 characters' perspectives and not knowing what the 'real truth' of the scene is.

v) "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee"
I felt bad for Crackle when I heard that their one hit show, "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," was headed to Netflix. But I really only felt pity, because Crackle has such a shitty user interface that it's already made me enjoy the show more to be able to watch it on Netflix. Almost every episode has a moment where Jerry and/or his guest says something totally asinine, but it kind of feels like part of the relaxed bull session atmosphere of the show that's so different from other talk shows. Also Tracy Morgan asking Jerry Seinfeld "remember Kramer from Seinfeld?" was just one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 112: Smashing Pumpkins

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Like Guns N' Roses a couple years ago, Smashing Pumpkins are currently on a partial reunion tour, with some if not all of the band's classic lineup playing together for the first time in many years, which is enough to generate a decent amount of excitement around a band that's been burning bridges with fans for longer than its peak era ever lasted. I have a lot of affection for the band's old records, though, no matter how embarrassing Billy Corgan becomes. And believe me, I will refer to them without the 'The' that started regularly appearing in the name around the time of Mellon Collie when possible; it's just a better name if it's evoking the act of smashing a pumpkin rather than some pumpkins that just look smashing or whatever.

Smashing Pumpkins deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Hummer
2. Jellybelly
3. Geek U.S.A.
4. Snail
5. Here Is No Why
6. Soma
7. Daphne Descends
8. Stumbleine
9. Frail & Bedazzled
10. Bury Me
11. Love
12. Mouths Of Babes
13. Wound
14. Mayonaise
15. Bodies
16. Starla

Tracks 4 and 10 from Gish (1991)
Tracks 1, 3, 6 and 14 from Siamese Dream (1993)
Tracks 9 and 16 from Pisces Iscariot (1994)
Tracks 2, 5, 8, 11 and 15 from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)
Track 12 from The Aeroplane Flies High (1996)
Track 7 from Adore (1998)
Track 13 from Machina/The Machines Of God (2000)

"Hummer" felt really good to me as track 1, even before I saw that last month it was the opener for the band's first full show with James Iha in nearly 20 years. I think Smashing Pumpkins' '90s output stands shoulder to shoulder with pretty much any of the decade's biggest bands, and in some ways the sheer variety and ambition really dwarfs their peers, even though 90% of the hits you still hear today are from just 2 albums. Of course, Billy Corgan's unapologetic '70s classic rock vibes and desire to make a big ridiculous double album is tied up with a lot of the things people justifiably hate about him, so your mileage may vary. But I think their stuff has aged pretty well, I'd put Siamese Dream against just about any alt-rock blockbuster. I'm pretty weary of the overly calculated angst anthems like "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" that sounded so amazing to me as a teenager, though -- nowadays I feel the most nostalgia for the minor singles that don't get played on the radio anymore, like "Muzzle" or "Drown" or "Rocket" or "Perfect."

Often I can be a stickler for the album qua album and leave alone things like compilations of b-sides and outtakes in these playlists. But Smashing Pumpkins released 2 such collections at the peak of their popularity that both went platinum (although of course The Aeroplane Flies High didn't have to sell that many copies to go platinum, since it was 5 discs). I love Pisces Iscariot at least as much as Gish and any proper album after Mellon Collie (I've always had a hard time really getting into Gish, but "Snail" was probably the song that I really fell in love with the most making this playlist). "Starla" is clearly just one of the band's best songs period and even the minor experiments on there sound great. For ages I thought of "Frail & Bedazzled" as a single because WHFS played it a bunch before "Landslide" became the big hit from that record, but it turns out it was never an official charting single, so I was happy to be able to include it.

The amount of quality music Smashing Pumpkins released on Mellon Collie and the singles collected on The Aeroplane Flies High in the space of a little over a year is still kind of mind-boggling to me. We're talking CCR in 1969 or Lil Wayne or Future's mixtape runs, just a staggering amount of quality music coming out every few months for a while there. But that era came to such an abrupt and tragic end with the death of Jonathan Melvoin and firing of Jimmy Chamberlin that I don't think the band ever really recovered.

I know people who hold up Adore as a masterpiece but I've tried over and over to warm up to it but I still only like a handful of scattered songs. I don't even mind the more mellow electronic sound they pursued in Chamberlin's absence, but by that point I thought "Love" and "1979" were already as good as anything they'd ever make in that style. And they're just not half as exciting a rock band to me without Chamberlin; I kind of regret that the one time I've seen the band live was when they had some other drummer for a few years. I still haven't heard Machina II, which has never been properly released after it became one of the first internet-only releases from a major act, but I've heard good things about it, so that's something I'm happy I can still discover whenever they get around to reissuing it.

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
Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails
Vol. 111: Talking Heads

Reading Diary: 33 1/3 Edition

Monday, July 23, 2018

a) The Geto Boys, by Rolf Potts
As someone who's familiar with the Geto Boys' and Scarface's output from We Can't Be Stopped onward, I was surprised to see that 33 1/3 had a book on one of the group's earlier albums. I guess I didn't realize just how much national media coverage and outrage the Geto Boys whipped up for Grip It! On That Other Level and the subsequent remixed Def American re-release of the album as The Geto Boys. But Potts, who was so obsessed with the album in the early '90s that he actually made a pilgrimage to Fifth Ward, unfurls the history and context around the album really well, and I'm glad it gave me a reason to check out the album, which of course leans on shock value content but is musically much closer to the quality level of We Can't Be Stopped than I'd expected.

b) Horses, by Philip Shaw
As someone who loves music and is largely indifferent to poetry, I've never really thought too much about Patti Smith through the lens of poetry; to me Horses is just a great rock record that happens to have been made by someone who was a poet before she was a singer. But I found myself enjoying Shaw's literary analysis of Horses more than I thought I would. Smith's early music career was one of the main storylines of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire but the 33 1/3 book managed to flesh out her journey into music via poetry with a lot of background that I hadn't read before.

c) Fear Of Music, by Jonathan Lethem
I haven't read any of Lethem's novels and am wary of 33 1/3 books written by people who are well known for something besides music writing. But Lethem's recollections of hearing this album as an adolescent and his reflections on it as an adult are pretty passionate and enjoyable to read, even if I feel like he falls victim to a bit of the chronic throat-clearing about his subject matter that are one of the most common pitfalls of books in this series.

Friday, July 20, 2018

This weekend marks 10 years since Khia "DJ K-Swift" Edgerton's tragic death. The Baltimore Sun ran a lovely piece about her by Brittany Britto and Wesley Case, and Wesley quoted me a little bit in the article.

Monthly Report: July 2018 Singles

Thursday, July 12, 2018

1. Cardi B f/ Bad Bunny and J Balvin - "I Like It" 
Almost a year out from "Bodak Yellow" blowing up, Cardi B has another #1 and a pretty huge album, which is more than I think even the most optimistic fan would have predicted for her. I'm happy for her, though, this isn't even one of the best songs on Invasion of Privacy but it totally makes sense as a breakout hit. And even after "Despacito" it's still a little surprising to hear a song on urban radio where 2 of the 3 verses are in Spanish, I don't think that's ever happened before. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. Echosmith - "Over My Head"
I thought Echosmith's big hit from a few years ago "Cool Kids" kind of annoying and off-putting, but I liked their overall sound. So I'm glad that they're back with a much, much better song, I'm still hoping this blows up and they put out an album in this vein.

3. Keith Urban f/ Julia Michaels - "Coming Home" 
On paper, Keith Urban seems like the exact kind of country star who would cross over to pop radio -- photogenic guy who's married to a movie star, did a few seasons of "American Idol," and makes music that often sounds like glossy pop/rock. But he never got into the top 20 of the Hot 100 or had a real crossover hit played outside country radio, even as every album features more and more collaborators from the pop world. "Coming Home" is produced by J.R. Rotem and is built on a guitar loop from one of Merle Haggard's signature songs, which seems like a terrible idea but totally works, and I love the vocals from Julia Michaels in the second half of the song. 

4. Fall Out Boy - "The Last Of The Real Ones"
Mania-era Fall Out Boy is a bit like Keith Urban in that they often reach out of their comfort zone to work with the latest hitmakers but it doesn't necessarily expand their audience. This song is produced by Illangelo, best known for helping The Weeknd originate his signature sound, but it mostly sounds like a good old fashioned Fall Out Boy anthem with a few cool keyboard riffs thrown in. 

5. Morgan Wallen f/ Florida Georgia Line - "Up Down"  
Florida Georgia Line has been on a surprisingly great run of collaborations lately, and they make a good combination with Morgan Wallen, who they wrote Jason Aldean's "You Make It Easy" with. I enjoy a good playful musical/lyrical parallel, and I like the way the slide guitar riff seesaws up and down between high notes and low notes on "Up Down." 

6. James Bay - "Pink Lemonade" 
Electric Light is one of my favorite albums of 2018 and it's a shame that none of its singles have taken off on U.S. radio like "Let It Go" did. But "Pink Lemonade" has broken him through a little bit to alt-rock radio and it's a good fit, wouldn't mind if they worked more singles to rock stations. 

7. Foo Fighters "The Line"
I had high hopes for Foo Fighters making an album with Greg Kurstin, but I think the experiment was mostly a bust, Concrete And Gold is likely their worst album and "The Sky Is A Neighborhood" their worst single. I love "The Line," though, it was always the track that redeemed the album and I'm glad it's finally a single, it's kind of a typical brooding Foo Fighters 3rd single but the piano and synth and violin and vibraphone in the mix really give it a nice unique texture. 

8. Meghan Trainor - "Let You Be Right" 
Two years ago, Meghan Trainor declared "I shit hits" to an interview, and that moment of hubris was timed perfectly to the moment when pop radio stopped eagerly embracing everything she released. I never liked her much anyway, so I was amused by her career downturn, but she's definitely talented and I wouldn't count her out yet. I don't know if "Let You Be Right" could be the one to get her momentum back, but I think it's one of her best to date. 

9. Blue October - "I Hope You're Happy"
Blue October have had almost a dozen songs on the radio charts since the memorably awful 2006 crossover hit "Hate Me," and I don't think I've heard barely any of them that I can remember. "I Hope You're Happy" is surprisingly upbeat and catchy, though, and doesn't remind me at all of "Hate Me" even if the singer still sounds like an angry Muppet.   

10. Red Sun Rising - "Deathwish" 
It's weird to think that the singer of one of the more popular young bands on hard rock radio in 2018 reminds me of the singer from The Scorpions. Not even their music at all, just a certain weird unique tone in the voice. 

Worst Single of the Month: Bryce Vine - "Drew Barrymore"
I really just fly into a rage every time I hear the lyric "you're the next Drew Berry, and I want more." I can't believe dozens of people heard this song, in the studio, at the label, and so on and so on and everyone was like, this is a good idea, let's put it out. Also, the guy's real last name isn't Vine, I don't know if he named himself after Vine the video platform but that really seems likely. 

TV Diary

Friday, July 06, 2018

a) "Yellowstone"
Taylor Sheridan played a police officer on the first two seasons of "Sons of Anarchy" and I thought it was a character with a lot of story potential before they abruptly had him run over by a van in the first episode of the 3rd season. It turns out he was written out of the show so he could focus on other projects, and it's paid off: he's become a director and the screenwriter of a string of hits including both Sicario movies and Hell Or High Water. I kind of like these stories where a little-known actor became a big behind-the-scenes person, and those movies are pretty good, so I'm rooting for him. I was skeptical about "Yellowstone" before I knew he created it (my exact words, I believe, were that spending millions of dollars on 'Kevin Costner in a cowboy hat: the series' was a waste of money). But the first couple of episodes have been pretty good, despite the fact that there are few lead actors I'm less inclined to watch in something than Costner and Wes Bentley. The Trump administrations recent moves about the national parks and thought-provoking pieces like this make a show like "Yellowstone" kind of an ideal lightning rod for all the issues involved in a drama about local governments and residents and native communities fighting over land.

b) "Kiss Me First"
This British sci-fi show distributed by Netflix in America, about two girls becoming infatuated with each other in a virtual reality game, almost seems like a deliberate attempt to fulfill public desire for a series-length version of the San Junipero episode of "Black Mirror." More on paper than in practice, though, it has more of a hazy, mysterious tone to it, I'm not really sure where the story is going because I haven't gotten too far yet but it seems kind of interesting.

c) "Love Is ___"
This is kind of an interesting meta show for BET where Mara Brock Akil, creator of "Girlfriends" and "Being Mary Jane," and her husband tell an autobiographical story about the 20-year-relationship of a Hollywood power couple. The pilot's meet cute moment is good and there's a nice amiable rom com tone to the whole thing, I don't know if it will ever be a gripping drama, but I kind of think that serialized television is a uniquely appropriate way to explore the subject of marriage.

d) "Dietland"
A lot of films are based on novels, but TV shows not quite so often. And when I see a strange, original show like "Dietland" that so clearly resists the kind of arcs and easily explained premises that I'm used to from TV, I kind of understand why novels seem like unwieldy source material.

e) "Take Two"
This show makes me wonder if ABC really misses having "Castle" in their primetime lineup and decided to do a gender-swapped version with an actress who plays a cop on TV shadowing a private detective. There's an unintentionally amusing moment in the pilot where the actress's show-within-a-show scene is kind of deliberately ridiculous and then the scene of the 'real' detective at work is more or less the same.

f) "Deep State"
The words 'deep state' have become such an absurd meme in the past year that only the most right wing nutjobs use with a straight face that I think it won't wear well as the title of an earnest spy thriller TV show. The whole premise of a former MI6 agent getting pulled back into the field is good, but Mark Strong is so charismatic in stuff like the Kingsman movies and then just feels like a bore as a straightforward protagonist in something more serious like this.

g) "A Very English Scandal"
It's clever Hugh Grant to tell the story of a politician whose career was unraveled by a sex scandal. The actual story of a member of the British Parliament going on trial for attempting to have his gay lover killed is pretty crazy, though, hard to believe I hadn't heard about the story of Jeremy Thorpe before this miniseries. I feel like tonally it's hard to be sure about whether they're coming from, though, if they really want it to be a black comedy kind of having fun with the weird story or have some empathy with the characters.

h) "The Last Defense"
As with Showtime's "Wrong Man," this ABC miniseries seems to be capitalizing on the current booming interest in true crime docs that advocate for a convict's innocence, but it at least approaches it like a network newsmagazine with a little more traditional journalistic rigor than some of these Netflix docs that seem to be urging the viewer to draw a particular conclusion.

i) "Cloak & Dagger"
A moderately charming teen-themed Marvel adaptation on Freeform, but it doesn't really escape the doldrums of Marvel's TV projects. Also every time I see Olivia Holt I end up just listening to her excellent 2017 single "Generous" again.

j) "Luke Cage"
"Luke Cage" is kind of a classic case of the Marvel TV series doldrums, even though the first season started pretty strong, they killed off a great villain halfway through it and enthusiasm for the show and the character waned in the later episodes and in the spinoff "The Defenders." But I have to say, I'm enjoying the second season more than I thought I would, I forgot how great the whole ensemble of Simone Missik and Theo Rossi and Alfre Woodard is and the 2nd season features the great Reg E. Cathey's final performance as Cage's father.

k) "GLOW"
The beginning of the second season really is a moment of truth for whether a show is really loved or not, and even though "GLOW" got good reviews in the first season, I really wasn't prepared for how huge the buzz has been around the second season, it really feels like it's arrived, culturally. I like the first handful of episodes of the new season I've watched, but I feel like the little character moments that emphasize the cast chemistry really make everything else feel kind of secondary. Also I'm still a little disappointed at the reveal about Justine's character that kind of took her out of the wrestling part of the show and made her part of this boilerplate estranged parent subplot that I have no interest in. 

l) "The Bold Type"
Even though this show's view of the magazine industry is frothy and inaccurate in plenty of ways, I feel like the way it's chasing the zeitgiest has yielded some good moments. I like that the way one character went viral by putting their employer on blast became a liability when they were interviewing for a new job, that felt like very perfectly of-the-moment problem to depict.

m) "Claws"
Another good show that debuted in 2017 returning for a second season this summer. I find it so interesting that "Claws" was developed as a half hour for HBO before ultimately getting on the air as an hour for TNT. It makes me wonder if there was an iteration that was quicker or lighter or more overtly comedic before it became an at times weighty comedy/drama. They still get away with some pretty odd playful moments, though, like the 'Brady Bunch' thing in the second episode of the new season. I don't know about the Virginia/Dean relationship, though, that whole storyline is so weird.

n) "The Opposition with Jordan Klepper"
I was disappointed to find that "The Opposition" ran its final episode last week and Comedy Central is kind of going back to the drawing board to develop a completely different weekly show for Jordan Klepper. Even though "The Opposition" never totally succeeded at present Klepper as a kind of Colbert-style alt-right alter ego of himself, I really found the show's writing and guests and cast of contributors to be more consistently entertaining than "The Daily Show" in the last few months.

o) "Drunk History"
I like that they broke up the latest season so that there were some episodes a few months ago and then more in the summer, a little "Drunk History" now and then goes a long way. The recent episode with Rachel Bloom was great, she's really an ideal narrator for this show. In fact one of my only criticisms of this show is that they could repeat the best narrators more often.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

I started revamping my old deep album cuts playlists for City Pages recently, and since Paramore are playing Minneapolis tonight, I made a new Paramore playlist with After Laughter tracks added to the version I made in 2014

Monthly Report: June 2018 Albums

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

1. Jacquees - 4275
I know a lot of people who I think primarly like R&B when it's rap-adjacent, which means they usually like certain artists, male singers who are signed to famous rap labels and make mixtapes and do hooks for rappers and constantly sample trendy '90s R&B songs, way more than I do. I've only liked a little of the Jacquees stuff I'd heard before his debut album for Cash Money, so I was highly skeptical of the praise I was hearing for this album and who I was hearing it from, but I was really impressed by 4275, the whole thing sounds great from front to back, Jacquees is writing songs that work well for his particular vocal range and he's doing the autobiographical thing with this album pretty compellingly. And then there are just all these sex jams like "Studio" featuring Young Thug and "House Or Hotel" that are just fantastic. Here's the 2018 albums playlist I add stuff to as I listen to it.

2. Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch
Apparently among the other things Trent Reznor has in common with David Bowie is a moderate ability to play saxophone, though where Bowie played sax on and off for years, brass of any kind is a totally novel texture to hear on a Nine Inch Nails record in a 2-decade career. When I first heard "God Break Down The Door," my first thought was that Reznor probably has been getting some inspiration from Blackstar, both because of the sax and because of the overall atmosphere and the vocal that affects kind of a Bowie croon. For the most part, though, Bad Witch feels very much like a late period NIN record in a good way, and kind of mimics the unhurried sprawl of the longer records even though it's only a little longer than the last couple EPs.

3. Jay Rock - Redemption
If you really think about how the members of Black Hippy rap and how long they've been doing it, it's pretty remarkable that Kendrick and to a lesser degree Q are genuine stars that the youth of America listen to in huge numbers. So even with Ab-Soul more or less declining to chase stardom, it's not surprising to me that Jay Rock has had a hard time getting the recipe right to cross over, although I feel bad that he even feels compelled to call this album Redemption after two perfectly good but commercial unsuccessful albums, but the storytelling on the title track is beautiful. This album is full of the exact kind of music I wanna hear from him, particularly "ES Tales," but even the outliers like the Jeremih feature work, and I'm proud to see D.K. The Punisher from Baltimore getting more TDE work on a couple tracks.

4. John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
As a teenager I played drums in my high school jazz ensemble and became something of a casual jazz fan, and of the couple jazz albums I had, the largest share was by Coltrane and I really adored his the rhythm section of his classic quartet. So I was very curious to hear this recently unearthed 1963 session, although I feel like a total dilettante for caring since I haven't listened to much jazz in recent years or explored Coltrane's catalog beyond a handful of the most famous albums. This sounds fantastic, though, I might have to start checking out some of the albums from this period that I don't have. 

5. Florence + The Machine - High As Hope
I was kind of a Florence + The Machine skeptic initially and then started to regard her as a solid singles artist, and my wife really loves her records so I started to appreciate it more fully. And the sound of this album is really hitting me nicely, cavernous percussive arrangements that kind of build empty space around her big voice, "South London Forever" and "Grace" in particular are just sublime.

6. 03 Greedo - God Level
Among hyperprolific mixtape rappers, I've found 03 Greedo a little hard to get into partly because he makes such long records. And while material often starts to get parceled out in smaller amounts when a rapper goes upstate, Greedo, who claims to have hours and hours of unreleased material, went ahead and put out the 98-minute God Level the week he turned himself in for a 20-year sentence. It's a ballsy move, particularly with a Makaveli-mimicking cover after he caught a lot of shit for criticizing 2Pac a few months ago. But I think it works well, I found this record more consistently enjoyable than The Wolf of Grap Street, even as a lot of songs just sounded like he was up all night rambling in the booth high out of his mind over whatever beat was put in front of him.

7. Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E.
The annoyed, exasperated, disappointed the way a lot of people feel about Kanye West's recent output is how I've been feeling about his recent output for almost a decade, so welcome to the club, I guess. I had modest expectations for his 5-week run of 7-song projects that it still managed to somehow fall short of -- we got the worst Kanye and Nas albums of their careers, and I'll admit Daytona and Kids See Ghosts came out pretty solid, but I'm just deeply bored of what Pusha T and Kid Cudi do. That leaves Teyana Taylor as the least established G.O.O.D. Music artist to be thrown into this weird project schedule. I didn't think much of her 2014 G.O.O.D. Music debut that Kanye didn't contribute anything to, and while I'm skeptical of the mentality that his involvement implicitly makes a record better, I think the soul sample style he returned to lately for these records really suits her sultry vocal style, "Issues/Hold On" and "Hurry" are great.

8. Black Thought - Streams Of Thought Vol. 1 EP
Black Thought is an incredible MC who's often been underestimated or obscured by the fact that he fronts the most prominent live band in hip-hop and the drummer is kind of the auteur/spokesman of the group. Even the one time Black Thought made a solo album, it ended up shelved and repurposed as a Roots album. So I'm glad that he finally got a little belated shine with a recent radio freestyle that went viral, and Streams Of Thought builds on the energy around that performance with similarly relentless flows over some simple, straightforward production by 9th Wonder, who I've never been a huge fan of but is a good fit for a project like this.

9. The Carters - Everything Is Love
For a long time I snarked that "Crazy In Love" was a fluke and that most Jay-Z and Beyonce collaborations are lousy crap like "Hollywood" and they have fairly little musical chemistry or common ground. But they've had enough records in the last few years that I really enjoyed ("Part II (On The Run)," "Shinin'," "Family Feud," etc.) that I thought maybe they could wind up with an album that's up to the standard of their best solo albums. Everything Is Love really ain't it, but "Boss" and "713" and "Friends" and "Black Effect" are good, I like the more relaxed side of the record over "Apeshit," which is barely better than "Top Off." I also thought Saturday afternoon was a good time for the surprise drop, I was online at the moment the news spread and put the album on right away and listened to it on headphones with everyone else online while I was sitting and chilling with my family, it was nice.

10. Roger Daltrey - As Long As I Have You
The Who did their first 'farewell' tour the year I was born and it's still not clear if their latest farewell tour has more dates to come. But it's clear that there's never going to be another new album from The Who, and it's kind of nice that closing that door has freed them up to do something like this, a surprisingly strong solo album from Roger Daltrey that features a little of his own songwriting and a an interesting mix of covers including Nick Cave's "Into My Arms," with Pete Townshend showing up to play guitar on several tracks. It's a nice way for them to work together outside of the burden of The Who's history and signature sound, and Daltrey's voice has taken on a nice weathered character at 74 that works for this material perhaps better than shouting out old Who tracks on tour.

Worst Album of the Month: Kanye West - Ye
Nasir will probably go down as the most reviled of the May/June 7-song projects, at least unless Kanye makes good on his promise/threat to make 52 of them in 52 weeks, but I thought it had flashes of the kind of inspired, competent bad ideas that have made a lot of middling Nas albums better than they deserved to be. But Ye is just a total shitshow, somehow distilling the chaos and unfinished last-minute thoughts of The Life of Pablo without any of the payoff moments that album had. A lot of Kanye's later records get spun as experimental, as if you're just being narrow-minded if you don't like them, but this really just feels like a smudged up reel of things he's done before, along with some really shitty fake deep lyrics that present a new spin on his regressive politics and love of shock value schlock like "Violent Crimes" and "I Thought About Killing You."