Thursday, August 30, 2018

Taylor Swift is performing in Minneapolis this weekend, so I did another City Pages update of my deep cuts playlist of her songs.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 116: Alice In Chains

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Last week, Alice In Chains released their 6th album, Rainier Fog. And that news brought about the strange realization that Alice In Chains has now released as many full-length albums without Layne Staley as they released with him, and that singer/guitarist William DuVall has been an active member of Alice In Chains for longer than Staley was. I acknowledge that Jerry Cantrell was always the band's primary songwriter and certainly has a right to continue playing his songs under his band's name if he wishes to (and the music is pretty faithful to the band's classic sound, although I think the only one that I ever wanted to listen to more than once was "Check My Brain"). But I also have the right to only care about Alice In Chains in its original Staley-fronted incarnation or include it in this playlist.

Alice In Chains deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. It Ain't Like That
2. Real Thing
3. Confusion
4. Brother
5. Right Turn
6. Dam That River
7. Rain When I Die
8. Dirt
9. God Smack
10. A Little Bitter
11. Swing On This
12. Nutshell
13. Sludge Factory
14. Shame In You
15. So Close
16. The Killer In Me
17. Died

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from Facelift (1990)
Tracks 4 and 5 from Sap EP (1992)
Tracks 6, 7, 8 and 9 from Dirt (1992)
Track 10 from Music From The Original Motion Picture Last Action Hero (1993)
Tracks 11 and 12 from Jar Of Flies EP (1994)
Tracks 13, 14 and 15 from Alice In Chains (1995)
Track 16 from MTV Unplugged (1996)
Track 17 from Music Bank (1999)

Alice In Chains had a relatively brief run in the '90s, but practically everything they made sold like hotcakes, including 3 multi-platinum albums and two EPs, one of which also went multi-platinum. In fact, Jar Of Flies was the first EP to debut at #1 on Billboard's album chart, certainly the first EP I ever bought and probably the first time I heard the term 'EP.' It seemed kind of novel to pay a little less for a shorter but still fairly And the fact that they chased each album with an acoustic EP and then their MTV Unplugged special/album kind of made for a cool pattern in their discography, alternating the band's heaviest music with their quieter side. Sap isn't as strong as Jar Of Flies, but "Right Turn" is a great moment, with Chris Cornell and Mark Arm singing backup for a one-off 'Alice Mudgarden' supergroup.

While Alice In Chains weren't the first grunge band to get a major label contract and album (Soundgarden) and were kind of seen more as a metal band until after Nirvana and Pearl Jam cemented grunge as a mainstream buzzword, they still represented something of a breakthrough moment. Facelift was a lot more successful than Louder Than Love, was released over a year before Ten and Nevermind, and was certified gold around the time they came out. Ultimately, Alice In Chains kind of remained a cornerstone of '90s hard rock in a way that the other big Seattle bands didn't -- they have a ton of tracks in recurrent rotation on active rock stations still, and influenced a lot of big bands (including Godsmack, who were of course named after the Dirt deep cut "God Smack").

I went back and bought Facelift after becoming a fan with Dirt and Jar Of Flies, and I think it was an early experience in delving into a band's early work and being underwhelmed. I think I listened to it a couple times before abandoning it for not having more songs as good as "Man In The Box." Returning to it now, though, it holds up better than I expected, especially "It Ain't Like That." But it's funny to think now that the first Alice In Chains album ends with Layne Staley yelling "Sexual Chocolate, baby!" But I definitely think Dirt looms over the other studio albums as the band undeniably operating at the peak of their powers, and a lot of tracks on their are as good as the hits.

I was always a big fan of "What The Hell Have I," the band's single from the Last Action Hero soundtrack, so I was pleased to see that Alice In Chains had a second song on the album that's pretty good. I also wanted to include something from their 1999 box set Music Bank and came across "Died," the final song the band recorded with Layne Staley in 1998, about his girlfriend who died in '96. I find it unbearably sad to contemplate not just how young Staley was when he died at 34 in 2002 but also how much of his final years seemed to be given over completely to addiction. He played his last show with the band almost 6 years before his death and recorded "Died" almost 4 years before his death, and by all accounts he spent his final years mostly alone, wasting away to nothing. It's very easy to romanticize the tragedy of rock stars who died young, especially when it comes to the grunge bands whose gloomy music seemed to foreshadow their fates, and I'm wary of that. But it's definitely hard to listen to Alice In Chains without thinking of how Layne Staley suffered.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 115: Michael Jackson

Sunday, August 26, 2018

I've long wanted to do a Michael Jackson playlist and just kept putting it off. But Wednesday is his 60th birthday, and next summer is the 10th anniversary of his death, and given the choice I'd always rather celebrate the occasion of birth than death.

Michael Jackson deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Girl Don't Take Your Love From Me
2. What Goes Around Comes Around
3. Up Again
4. Cinderella Stay Awhile
5. Workin' Day And Night
6. I Can't Help It
7. Burn This Disco Out
8. Get On The Floor
9. Baby Be Mine
10. The Lady In My Life
11. Just Good Friends featuring Stevie Wonder
12. Speed Demon
13. Why You Wanna Trip On Me
14. Can't Let Her Get Away
15. Money
16. This Time Around featuring The Notorious B.I.G.
17. Morphine
18. Heaven Can Wait

Track 1 from Got To Be There (1972)
Track 2 from Ben (1972)
Track 3 from Music & Me (1973)
Track 4 from Forever, Michael (1975)
Tracks 5, 6, 7 and 8 from Off The Wall (1979)
Tracks 9 and 10 from Thriller (1982)
Tracks 11 and 12 from Bad (1987)
Tracks 13 and 14 from Dangerous (1991)
Tracks 15 and 16 from HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I (1995)
Track 17 from Blood On The Dance Floor: HIStory In The Mix (1997)
Track 18 from Invincible (2001)

One of the reasons I've taken this long to do the playlist is that Michael Jackson's solo career is such a hodgepodge of wildly divergent eras. His first four solo albums, released between the ages of 13 and 16, were moderately successful, but very much live in the shadow of The Jackson 5's early burst of hits and his superstar adulthood. The brilliant, era-defining Off The Wall and Thriller are cut from the same cloth and feel like a distillation of his musical essence. But he only made 4 more albums in the last 25 years of his life that each have great songs but also feel like increasingly bombastic attempts at staying current, and those albums sit awkwardly together as the often disappointing output of the King of Pop after he received his crown. Plus, Michael made albums with the Jackson 5 and then The Jacksons in between all of his solo albums up through Bad, so isolating his solo career kind of loses the connective tissue of his parallel work with his brothers (might have to do a Jacksons deep cuts playlist at some point).

I was born the year Thriller was released, so I don't remember a world where Michael Jackson didn't feel like the center of the universe on some level. One of my earliest experiences with music as a tactile object was when my brother had a cassette of Bad, and if memory serves I may have stolen the tape from him and broken it, because I was a crappy 5-year-old little brother. But I definitely remember finding "Man In The Mirror" kind of boring and being entertained by "Smooth Criminal" and "Speed Demon" with its zany synth bass 32nd notes. So I feel like my lifelong preferences for hyperactive grooves over schmaltzy sentiment, both in Michael Jackson's music and in music in general, were ingrained in me from the very start.

Picking MJ deep cuts is a little funny because his 2 biggest albums, Thriller and Bad, each only had two songs that weren't released as singles, so there's not much choice in what to include. I love "Baby Be Mine," though, I hate when it gets disrespected as somehow a weak link of the album. In a way it's the only track on Thriller that didn't touch the top 10 in any form, since "The Lady Of My Life" was sampled on LL Cool J's 1995 hit "Hey Lover." Those two songs and "Burn This Disco Out" are more top shelf work from Rod Temperton, the British songwriter famous for penning "Rock With You" and "Thriller." And having so few '80s songs to include at least gave me plenty of room for songs from his best album, Off The Wall.

Listening to R&B stations like D.C.'s Majic 102.3 has given me an appreciation for Michael's best work put into a proper context -- they regularly play deep cuts like "Workin' Day And Night," "The Lady In My Life," and the Stevie Wonder-penned "I Can't Help It" alongside his more romantic hits and a few disco-era Jacksons singles. Cherry-picking through the minor early albums turned out to be a lot of fun, too, I particularly like "Girl Don't Take Your Love From Me," which has tricky verses that are partially in 7/8. I always kind of assumed there was some awkward adolescent era where Michael didn't sound as good as he did as a child prodigy or as an adult, but his vocals never really faltered.

It's easy to think of our current era of daily microcontroversies and Kanye tweetstorms as the most surreal time in popular music. But I don't think people of my generation have entirely reckoned with just how odd it was to grow up in a world where a superstar recorded the top-selling album of all time, and then over the next 10 years completely changed physical appearance with little explanation, and was accused of pretty much the most heinous crime short of murder. You can't talk about '80s music without Michael Jackson, but in the '90s he kind of felt like a strange, sad tabloid sideshow to the real narrative of popular music. It's taken a couple decades for me to really gain some perspective and appreciate his catalog in its entirety. I like some of the music where MJ angrily shot back at the public and the media like "Leave Me Alone" and "Scream," but deep cuts like "Prvacy" and the infamous "D.S." haven't aged as well.

The post-Thriller stuff has its virtues, though. "Just Good Friends" with Stevie Wonder is kind of a "The Girl Is Mine" sequel where Jackson banters with a fellow music legend about competing for the affections of the same girl, except it's way way better than the McCartney duet. Michael and Teddy Riley were a killer combination, I love the "South Bronx" sample on "Can't Let Her Get Away." Biggie was really just starting to impact the top 10 when he appeared on HIStory, and it's kind of an underrated verse in his catalog. It's weird to think that maybe MJ bumped Ready To Die a lot. And the new material on the remix album Blood On The Dance Floor includes some of his very best later tracks like "Morphine."

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 114: Aretha Franklin

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

After Aretha Franklin passed, I was asked to write something for Vulture and did my piece about notable B-sides to Aretha singles. But I still wanted to do my more customary tribute as well with a playlist of deep album cuts. And other than one song and an alternate recording of another song, I ended up with a completely different set of music from a wider range of her discography.

Aretha Franklin deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Good To Me As I Am To You
2. First Snow In Kokomo
3. Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)
4. Without The One You Love
5. If You Don't Think
6. Sister From Texas
7. I Wonder (Where Are You Tonight)
8. School Days
9. He'll Come Along
10. Integrity
11. I Wanna Make It Up To You (with The Four Tops)
12. When You Love Me Like That
13. I Get High
14. When The Battle Is Over
15. It Ain't Fair
16. You're A Sweet Sweet Man
17. I Can't Wait Until I See My Baby's Face
18. Sweet Bitter Love
19. Love Is The Only Thing
20. Night Life
21. Climbing Higher Mountains
22. You Grow Closer

Track 22 from Songs Of Faith (1956)
Track 19 from Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo (1961)
Track 4 from The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin (1962)
Track 7 from Laughing On The Outside (1963)
Track 17 from Runnin' Out Of Fools (1964)
Track 18 from Soul Sister (1966)
Track 3 from I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967)
Track 20 from Aretha Arrives (1967)
Track 1 from Lady Soul (1968)
Track 16 from Aretha Now (1968)
Track 15 from This Girl's In Love With You (1970)
Track 14 from Spirit In The Dark (1970)
Track 2 from Young, Gifted And Black (1972)
Track 21 from Amazing Grace (1972)
Track 6 from Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky) (1973)
Track 5 from Let Me In Your Life (1974)
Track 13 from Sparkle (1976)
Track 8 from Aretha (1980)
Track 11 from Jump To It (1982)
Track 12 from Get It Right (1983)
Track 10 from Who's Zoomin' Who? (1985)
Track 9 from Aretha (1986)

That's 22 songs from 22 different albums, which I believe breaks my previous record of 21 tracks from 21 Gucci Mane projects. She made over 40 studio albums, so that's still only scratching the surface (with a bit of her classic live album Amazing Grace as well). But I wanted to kind of cover the whole range from the gospel album she made at 14 to her last album that was all over the pop charts, 1986's Aretha (which was also notable for cover art that was Andy Warhol's final work).

I also wanted to highlight Aretha Franklin as a songwriter, since she's rightfully celebrated as a singer and as an interpreter of others' songs but was a great writer as well. She wrote or co-wrote some of her hits -- most notably "Think," "Day Dreaming," "Who's Zoomin' Who," "Call Me," "Spirit In the Dark," "All The King's Horses," and "Sweet Sweet Baby (Since You've Been Gone)." But she wrote a lot of songs that remained relatively overlooked on her albums, so the first half of this playlist is 11 tracks that all have a Franklin writing credit, including some really lovely autobiographical songs like "First Snow In Kokomo." I've spent the last few days obsessed with that "here for the moment, gone forever" refrain from "Sister From Texas."

"Dr. Feelgood" was the one track I reprised from my B-sides piece, which is really an amazing song, and a staple of her concerts, live albums, and early best-of compilations, despite not ever charting or being an A-side. I also included the Soul Sister version of "Sweet Bitter Love" since my Vulture piece covered the re-recording that appeared on a more commercially successful album, Who's Zoomin' Who?, two decades later.

Some of the records I really dug that I hadn't heard much from before were her two Curtis Mayfield-produced albums from the late '70s and her two Luther Vandross-produced albums from the early '80s. She didn't do as well on the charts in that era, arguably because she didn't jump on the disco bandwagon, but she did manage to keep up with the times with some great-sounding music. Curtis Mayfield strings and horns always sound amazing on hip-hop tracks so I wasn't shocked to put on "I Get High" and recognized it from a sample on a Talib Kweli song.

One of my favorite discoveries for this playlist was that Aretha recorded "Night Life," one of the first country hits written by Willie Nelson (first recorded by Ray Price), years before Willie's success as a solo artist. I'm also head over heels in love with Aretha's 1970 recording of "When The Battle Is Over," a song penned by Dr. John and first recorded by Delaney & Bonnie a year earlier. One legendary session drummer, Jim Keltner, came up with a killer rhythm for the Delaney & Bonnie version, and then another legendary session drummer, Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section driving force Roger Hawkins put an incredible spin of his own on the Aretha version, which also features Duane Allman on guitar.

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
Vol. 112: Smashing Pumpkins
Vol. 113: System Of A Down

TV Diary

Monday, August 20, 2018

a) "Lodge 49"
AMC has been the home of big archetypal popular cable dramas that I have no particular interest in for so long that I was pleasantly surprised that they've aired 2 of my favorite odd, difficult to categorize new shows of the summer, "Dietland" and now "Lodge 49." Neither the creator nor anyone in the cast is especially well known (Paul Giamatti is an executive producer, and makes a tiny cameo in one episode where a character is listening to a book on tape read by Giamatti). But the lead actor, Wyatt Russell, is the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, though he has a bit more of an Owen Wilson vibe. The only thing I saw him in before this was 22 Jump Street, where her out-airheaded Channing Tatum, and in "Lodge 49" he plays a surfer who joins a strange fraternal lodge at a time when his life is adrift after his father dies and he's unemployed and injured. I feel like these characters and this story easily could have been a half hour comedy with a lighter tone on another network, which I ordinarily might mean as an insult, but I really like how "Lodge 49" imbues this strange and sometimes silly story with an undercurrent of melancholy and desperation.

b) "Disenchantment"
Matt Groening's new Netflix series being a fantasy satire seems like a good companion piece to the sci-fi of "Futurama," and it's easy to see, say, the little demon voiced by Eric Andre as the new Bender. But where "The Simpsons" and "Futurama" mimicked the episodic nature of family sitcoms and "Star Trek" by finding the most ridiculous way to hit the reset button at the end of every episode so they can start the next one where they started the others, "Disenchantment" is more serialized, which makes a bit of sense given the fantasy genre. I got a few chuckles out of the first couple episodes but I'm still getting a feel for the show.

c) "Random Acts Of Flyness"
Terence Nance is reportedly poised to make the jump from festival circuit buzz to directing the new Space Jam movie, but in the meantime he has this very unusual, difficult to categorize show on HBO at midnight on Fridays. It's almost like sketch comedy but there are these hairpin turns from silliness to gallows humor to dead serious social commentary, tonally it reminds me of De La Soul Is Dead more than anything else. But what I really like is that it doesn't hold your hand at all, a lot of the scenes don't automatically announce their premise, or announce it only to immediately subvert it or kind of let it gradually turn into something else entirely.

d) "Carter"
This Canadian show is similar to ABC's summer series "Take Two" in that it's about an down-on-their-luck actor who played a cop on TV and starts solving real life crimes. But the character is portrayed as a dimwit played by Jerry O'Connell who returns to the town where he grew up, so it had a bit of a vibe of my beloved short-lived "The Grinder" as well. It could stand to be a bit wittier and a lot more original, but it's kind of genial and mildly promising.

e) "Insatiable"
This show got a huge amount of pushback and protest from the moment the first trailer came out, and after watching a couple episodes and trying to give it a fair shake, I definitely get it. It feels like they tried to make a 'woke' 'meta' high school comedy that mimics a lot of the more problematic tropes of the genre but they hit the wrong tone and ended up with this shrill, obnoxious thing that's kind of knowingly shitty but not better than what it's made in response to. It's a shame, because I could see this being pulled off in a smarter way that would actually be funny, but they're still stuck on this broad, smug Not Another Teen Movie era of meta teen movies.

f) "Art Prison"
I thought this thing that aired on Adult Swim a couple weeks ago was a new series but I guess it turned to be just a one-off, which makes sense, since it's a Dan Harmon creation and basically a full 30-minute version of the 'pilots' he used to regularly make for Channel 101 and "Acceptable.TV." It stars Randall Park from "Fresh Off The Boat" so I should've known he wasn't taking on another series regular gig. I liked it, though, it kinda ran with the inherently ridiculous premise stated in the title and crammed every conceptual joke and '80s TV trope they could into it while still having a nice coherent procedural plot.

g) "Marching Orders"
This Netflix documentary series is about an HBCU marching band, and watching it really takes me back to doing high school marching band, and how exhausting and stressful it was and how I decided not to keep doing it in college. It's fun to see people do it at a high level like that, though, it really takes an amazing amount of effort to do this stuff. Plus I kind of like that the episodes are like 12 minutes long so they kind of tell the story in these little vignettes that don't go on and on like reality TV often does.

h) "All About The Washingtons"
Rev Run had a weird little second act as a reality star about a decade ago where "Run's House" made his whole family into celebrities. Now he's got a sitcom on Netflix that just feels like a thinly fictionalized version of his life and his old show where he plays aging rap pioneer Joe Speed. He even performs a faux-Run DMC song in it. I dunno, it's pretty mediocre, but I guess he just wanted to do more TV.

i) "Mega Man: Fully Charged"
I put on an episode of this for my son to check out, but he's never played a "Mega Man" game so he didn't really get it. He also kept asking me if Mega Man and the other characters were robots or people or cyborgs and I thought I knew but then I was wrong and it was really confusing.

j) "Ronny Chieng: International Student"
"Daily Show" correspondent Ronny Chieng apparently did a sitcom for a network in Australia that Comedy Central recently started airing, the first episode was pretty entertaining.

k) "Making It"
Nick Offerman and his "Parks & Recreation" character have become these avatars of folksy mr. fix-it DIY culture so it was a pretty shrewd move for NBC to have Offerman and Amy Poehler host a "Projecty Runway"-style reality competition show for handmade crafts. Not really my thing but I do like it better than most shows in this style because the hosts have the improv skills to say funny things on the fly and there's very little of the usual reality show backbiting, everyone is really nice to each other and it's refreshing.

l) "Castaways"
In the early 2000s there was this weird zeitgeist that sprung up around the 'desert island' trope where suddenly we had a blockbuster film (Cast Away) and one of the biggest reality shows ("Survivor") and one of the biggest scripted shows ("Lost") all playing with the public's imagination about the scenario of being stranded on an island. It's been a while since that happened, but ABC decided to revisit the genre with a "Survivor"-style reality show that essentially tries as much as it can to feel like "Lost." I actually thought it was a scripted show the first time I saw an ad for it, because they use pretty high quality cinematography, more like a drama than a reality show. They put each person on a different part of the island and don't tell them where other people are or how many there are, and before they get to the island they shoot some footage of their lives on the mainland, which gets used basically as very "Lost"-like flashbacks. It's an interesting show from a conceptual standpoint but kind of odd, I feel like any attempt to merge reality shows and scripted dramas tends to lose out on the best of both formats.

m) "Wrecked"
The TBS show "Wrecked," now in its third season, is also kind of a metacommentary on the desert island tropes of "Lost" and other shows, except as a broad comedy. It kind of reminds me of "The Last Man On Earth" in the way they can just strand a small set of characters and just put them through whatever ordeal has comedic potential, although both shows often fall short of that potential. I like this season so far, though, having the characters meet a friendly rich guy who turns out to be a 'most dangerous game'-type psycho has been pretty entertaining.

n) "Yellowstone"
This show has grown on me a little, all the ridiculous power struggles between some mostly awful people. I don't think I really hate-watch Wes Bentley, though, I just hate watching him period. It's pretty messed up that the most prominent Native American actor is played by an Asian-American, but Kelsey Asbille is gorgeous and she's really one of the only sympathetic characters in the show, what happens to her is so sad.

o) "Love Is___"
This show is sweet but Clarke Peters and Wendy Davis are much better actors than the people who play their characters 20 years younger, so sometimes the flashback stuff just feels like a cheesy romance novel.

p) "Kim's Convenience"
A pretty enjoyable Canadian sitcom about a Korean family's convenience store that recently came to Netflix, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is a funny dude.

q) "Swedish Dicks"
I think one of the most entertaining things about this show is that they really keep getting Keanu Reeves to show up for occasional cameos. Peter Stormare is such a charismatic weirdo, though, it's fun to see him ham it up as the star of something after decades of memorable supporting roles.

r) "Detroiters"
This Comedy Central sitcom struck me as really genial and likable in its first season but it rarely actually made me laugh. But I kept hearing enough praise for it to come back for the second season, and I'm starting to like it more, the Farmer Zack's episode in particular I thought was the funniest to date.

s) "The Sinner"
I get kind of annoyed with how often TV shows now are marketed as a miniseries or 'limited series' but then, if successful enough, return for multiple seasons and kind of admit they were just a TV series that didn't want to be called canceled if they didn't continue for more than a year. But I was happy to hear that "The Sinner" was returning, the first season wrapped up the Jessica Biel storyline pretty conclusively, but doing an anthology series where Bill Pullman's character investigates other cases is a great idea, especially since this one features current cable drama MVP Carrie Coon. The story is really creepy and I'm not enirely sure where they're going with it but it's pretty gripping so far.

t) "Snowfall"
I respect this show more than I enjoy it, it's ambitious and does a lot of things well but there are just so many different characters and storylines and they aren't all memorable. But the way you kind of always now the show is going go sink deeper and darker as the crack epidemic progresses makes for some compelling moments.

u) "Outcast"
Between his arc on "Luke Cage" and the return of "Outcast," we've ended up with a nice little summer of Reg E. Cathey's final performances. In fact I think I like "Outcast" most for all the great little character actor moments from Cathey and Brent Spiner and M.C. Gainey.

v) "Insecure"
The outcry over Jay Ellis not being in season 3 of "Insecure" is kind of silly and overblown, but I get it, they made him a major character for two seasons and even "Girls" knew to keep Adam Driver in the show when he was not dating the protagonist of the show. It's cool, though, the new episodes have had some good laughs, although I still sometimes feel like Issa Rae has some of the overacting habits of a YouTuber. And I kind of roll my eyes at the Twitter fan service of stuff like last night, when they had a scene reenacting a popular video of how Chris Brown reacted when gunshots broke out at a concert.

w) "Casual"
I had mixed feelings about "Casual" for so long before I started to finally really genuinely like the show by the end of the 3rd season. So it was bittersweet to find out they'd be wrapping up the series with an abbreviated 8-episode 4th season. I rolled my eyes a little that they followed the example of "Parks & Recreation" and "New Girl" and did a time jump ahead 3-4 years for the last season, similarly in part to fast forward the lives of characters who were just starting relationships or marriages or parenthood. But "Casual" had an entertaining twist of some wishful thinking about life after the Trump administration, with characters making mention of news stories about cabinet members and GOP leaders turning up dead or rotting in jail.

x) "Ballers"
There's probably no show on TV that I make more jokes about than "Ballers," but I have to admit it's grown on me a little. Introducing Russell Brand as a wacky new antagonist is really the most "Entourage"-lite thing they could've done, though.

y) "Suits"
The last season of "Suits" ended with, obviously, Meghan Markle leaving the show, but it also marked the departure of two more major characters, played by Patrick J. Adams and Gina Torres. So they're now in the position of really trying to justify dragging the show into the 8th season, and I don't mind that they've been done it partly by giving more screentime to Dule Hill and Wendell Pierce and Amanda Schull. The big news, though, is that Katherine Heigl joined the cast, and I kind of like Heigl in spite of her terrible reputation and feel like she should be able to get into a new niche on TV after movie stardom didn't work out for her, but this ain't it, they just kind of introduced her character as an unsympathetic irritant to the characters you already like.

z) "The Venture Bros."
It breaks my heart a little that "The Venture Bros." is never really gonna have a zeitgeist moment like "Rick & Morty" or something, but it's still honestly one of my favorite shows ever and I'm so glad that after 14 years Adult Swim keeps bringing it back for new seasons. So far season 7 seems to be kind of taking the show back a little bit to the characters and settings of the early seasons a little bit, I love seeing more of the Order Of The Triad again. So far my favorite little one-off gag of the new episodes was a superhero called Mr. Fahrenheit The Supersonic Man who looks like Freddie Mercury.

Friday, August 17, 2018

My first piece for Vulture is a tribute to Aretha Franklin through the lens of some of her most notable B-sides.

Monthly Report: August 2018 Singles

Monday, August 13, 2018

1. Queen Naija - "Medicine" 
After a decade of women not named Beyonce or Rihanna gradually disappearing from mainstream R&B, it's been heartening to see a bit of a resurgence lately with SZA and Ella Mai and H.E.R. and a few others doing really well. Queen Naija doesn't sound quite as contemporary as some of those recent breakthrough artists, the first time I heard "Medicine" I thought 'is Ashanti making a comeback?' But it's a good song and I kind of like that it doesn't sound like it's trying too hard to sound of-the-moment. Here's the 2017 singles playlist I add songs to every month. 

2. Backstreet Boys - "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" 
One of my pet peeves is when people release a new song that shares a distinctive title with an unrelated pop classic. BSB's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" may not touch the Kiki Dee & Elton one, but it's pretty nice. I always liked AJ McLean's voice best out of the group and there's an interesting weathered, raspy quality now to his second verse. It amuses me that while a 'new wave' of US boy bands like Why Don't We and PRETTYMUCH has been getting hyped up the last couple years, the dudes in BSB who are mostly in their 40s now are charting higher than the new groups, doing all that goofy choreography with their dad bods. It's also really funny that Kevin Richardson dresses like white Snoop Dogg now. 

3. Lil Baby f/ Moneybagg Yo - "All Of A Sudden" 
There's something about the Drake-based rap economy that I find really depressing in how it just flattens the genre and all its regional stars and scenes into satellites of his empire. So, for instance, Lil Baby has had two really good sleeper hits from his 2017 mixtapes on the charts this year, "My Dawg" and "All Of A Sudden," but their success is dwarfed by that of "Yes Indeed," a barely there 2-minute track that opens with Drake's most monotonous verse in years. "All Of A Sudden" is incredible, though. 

4. Gallant - "Doesn't Matter"
Christopher Gallant is from Columbia, Maryland, just a few miles up the road from where I live, and I really enjoyed his 2016 debut Ology. But it still surprised me to hear his latest single on the radio, I thought of him as this critically acclaimed guy who toured with Sufjan Stevens and wasn't really being aimed at mainstream R&B, but "Doesn't Matter" really presents his voice and sound in that context well. 

5. Maggie Rogers - "Fallingwater"
Maggie Rogers is another Maryland native, who went viral a couple years ago for a clip where Pharrell visited with her NYU class and listened to her song "Alaska" and was reduced to tears. I somehow missed that whole thing, though, my entry point was her current single "Fallingwater," which is just gorgeous. Her music has done the best on 'adult alternative' type stations but she has a really distinctive production style and cites influences like Kim Gordon and Bjork so I'm really excited to see what comes from her next. 

6. Brent Faiyaz - "Gang Over Luv" 
It was so exciting to watch "Crew" bring platinum plaques and a Grammy nomination to 3 D.C./Maryland artists, GoldLink, Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy. And I would love for any or preferably all of them to continue having that kind of national success -- GoldLink's new single with Miguel is very good, Shy Glizzy has had about 3 local hits on D.C. radio in the past year that were all pretty good, and the single from Brent Faiyaz's 2017 album Sonder Son has finally started to chart nationally. 

7. Dej Loaf f/ Leon Bridges - "Liberated"
I've liked a lot of Dej Loaf's more melodic, pop-leaning material like "No Fear," but I was still pretty skeptical about the title track from her upcoming album being a collaboration with retro soul guy Leon Bridges. This song is really beautiful, though, and it's fun to hear Teddy Geiger do something so different from her work with Shawn Mendes. 

8. Little Big Town - "Summer Fever"
As far as I'm concerned, very few people in country music these days, or popular music in general, do summer jams better than Little Big Town, from "Pontoon" to "Day Drinking." I think it was a mistake for them to release "Summer Fever" in June, though, it didn't really have time to make an impact on the country charts when it should've, I've seen a lot of other country artists release their most summery songs early in the year so they can peak at the right time. 

9. Kacey Musgraves - "High Horse"
For all the currency Kacey Musgraves has with pop fans and other people who don't listen to a lot of country music, her music tends to be very intimate and acoustic and folky. And I love that about her, and wasn't particularly interested in hearing her change her sound at all, but one of the highlights of Golden Hour was the disco experiment "High Horse." I'm glad it's finally a single and video now, even if it probably won't much improve her standing on country radio. Maybe pop radio will finally give her a try. 

10. Sam Hunt - "Downtown's Dead" 
Sam Hunt's second album will, no doubt, be a blockbuster, but I've been puzzled by its extremely slow and disorganized rollout. Last year he released "Body Like A Back Road," a gigantic crossover hit, but didn't get the album out in time to really capitalize on it, and 15 months later finally squeaked out a follow-up single, "Downtown's Dead," that became his first real flop, peaking outside the top 10 on country radio and then disappearing, while there's still no news about an album release date or anything else. It's a shame, I don't like many of his singles but I enjoy "Downtown's Dead," the timing was just all wrong. 

Worst Single of the Month: Tyga f/ Offset - "Taste"
For a decade, I could easily blame Tyga's oddly resilient career on the more famous benefactors who always seemed to be there to keep him in the spotlight: his cousin Travis from Gym Class Heroes, then Pete Wentz, then Lil Wayne, then Chris Brown, then the Jenner/Kardashian family and Kanye. Now Tyga doesn't have Cash Money or a famous girlfriend, and while a Migos feature probably didn't hurt, it seems like "Taste" kind of just became huge because people like it, regardless of how they feel about Tyga. I try to keep an open mind to artists I don't like having good songs, but I just don't get it with this one, he's such an awkward and charmless rapper and the beat is nothing special. And he's still as full of shit as ever, opening this song with "Why you claim that you rich, that's a false claim" as if he's not the guy who's famous for getting luxury cars repossessed.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The On The Run II Tour is in Minneapolis tonight, so City Pages asked me to update another one of my old deep album cuts playlists, Beyonce. There's a Tidal version of the playlist with songs from Lemonade or a the Spotify playlist without them.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

a) Teen Titans Go! To The Movies
For years "Teen Titans Go!" has been one of my son's favorite shows, so I knew we'd be at the movie on opening weekend as soon as it was announced. But it can be hard for kid's cartoons to make the jump to movies and feel like a theatrical experience, especially a show like this that's more about the wit and unpredictability of the writing than the plots or the visuals. But Teen Titans Go! To The Movies wound up being almost on the level of The LEGO Batman Movie in terms of just being packed with all sorts of funny in-jokes and parodies of the DC Comics universe and superhero movies in general, including amusing stunt casting like Nicolas Cage voicing Superman. But as usual, a lot of the humor was silly enough to keep my 8-year-old entertained. 

b) Annihilation
My wife read the novel Annihilation is based on and had mixed feelings about it, but was really curious to see how the visuals were brought to the screen. I didn't like it as much as Alex Garland's directorial debut, Ex Machina, but I'm glad I went into it with very few expectations about what the story could or should be and just got to be surprised by its strange, elliptical second half. I particularly liked Gina Rodriguez's performance, she really got to play a role she hasn't done before. 

c) The Disaster Artist
I have never sat down and watched all of The Room, I've mostly experienced the whole phenomenon via memes and brief clips and stories. So I didn't feel so attached to the movie's unintentional comedy that I was opposed to the idea of James Franco making an intentional comedy out of its making-of story. After all the praise and awards season hype I thought it might be the rare eccentric Franco project I'd actually enjoy. But really, I thought it was just kind of worthless and managed to flatten everything that's genuinely strange and intriguing about Tommy Wiseau. Plus once the script supervisor character showed up, it really just felt like it quickly turned into a dozen other movies where James Franco is a flighty weirdo and Seth Rogen makes sarcastic quips about him. 

e) Blade Runner 2049
I feel like I'm taking crazy pills sometimes that people seem to have largely agreed that Ryan Gosling is a perfectly good movie star and not a drag on most of the movies he appears in. But as much as the addition of Gosling and Jared Leto to the cast can drain my interest in a movie, this got good reviews and I tried to give it a fair shot, and liked how they decided to continue to the storyline of the original Blade Runner. But Gosling, my god, I swear he can't even read lines well enough to be a believable replicant. 

f) White Fang
My toddler will pick just about anything off of the Netflix menu that has a dog on the cover, so it was inevitable that he chose to watch this recent Netflix animated film about a wolfdog's life in the Yukon. It's kind of a somber, realistic story from the animal's perspective, but it wasn't too scary for the kids to watch and the toddler found it pretty entertaining. My wife thought the animation style was a little too 'uncanny valley' but I thought there was a cool impressionistic aspect to the aesthetic that I liked. 

g) Battle Of The Sexes
As with a lot of fact-based movies and biopics, Battle Of The Sexes kind of left me wishing I'd just watched a documentary about the subject since the story was pretty interesting on its own and I had mixed feelings about the cast and crew's execution. Emma Stone is great but Steve Carrell sometimes pushes the movie a little too much toward broad comedy, even given the fact that the guy he was playing was a ridiculous clown, and then there are some scenes where Fred Armisen shows up and pushes it just over the edge. 

h) Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Kingsman: The Secret Service was a fun little sleeper hit that helped make Taron Egerton into a rising star, and it also killed off most of the characters played by older, more established actors. But for the sequel, instead of trying to put more of the movie on Egerton's shoulders, it seems like they made it even more of an ensemble movie, bringing one of the dead characters from the first movie back to life, and adding Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Jeff Bridges to the cast. It's still a lot of fun, though, I was skeptical but I think they made the right decision to kind of make it feel bigger and more overstuffed and star-studded. Julianne Moore and Pedro Pascal are particularly entertaining. 

i) It
I know some people who are too scared of It specifically or clowns in general to see this movie, but when I watched it I just didn't feel scared at all. That led me to the theory that the problem with It is either you're too scared of clowns to enjoy it or not enough, but that's probably not true given how hugely successful this movie was. I'm kind of glad they decided to break this up into 2 movies, though, the cast for It: Chapter Two looks promising and maybe I'll appreciate the first one more once they put it all together. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 113: System Of A Down

Thursday, August 02, 2018

In the last few weeks, System Of A Down guitarist and principal songwriter Daron Malakian released his second Scars On Broadway album, which I wrote about the other day. And that release led to some public back-and-forth between members of SOAD, summarized in this Rolling Stone piece, about the fact that the band continues to sporadically play together live but haven't made a new album in 2005, and probably won't get one together anytime very soon. It got me thinking about what a fantastic catalog System has, and how there are worse things to do than became purely a lively act after making a handful of great records.

System Of A Down deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Soil
2. Prison Song
3. Sad Statue
4. Bounce
5. Kill Rock'n Roll
6. Suite-Pee
7. Mr. Jack
8. Forest
9. Soldier Side - Intro
10. Soldier Side
11. War?
12. Shimmy
13. 36
14. Vicinity Of Obscenity
15. DDevil
16. Psycho
17. This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song
18. Suggestions
19. Cigaro
20. Deer Dance
21. CUBErt
22. Violent Pornography
23. Chic 'N' Stu
24. Tentative
25. Arto
26. Revenga
27. Know
28. Holy Mountains

Tracks 1, 6, 11, 18, 21 and 27  from System Of A Down (1998)
Tracks 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 and 25 from Toxicity (2001)
Tracks 7, 13 and 23 from Steal This Album! (2002)
Tracks 3, 9, 17, 19, 22 and 26 from Mezmerize (2005)
Tracks 5, 10, 14, 24 and 28 from Hypnotize (2005)

System Of A Down's discography is pretty small at 5 albums, but it's sort of even smaller than that since it's really three batches of material. Their two 2005 albums were recorded together and released six months apart, and they recorded two albums' worth of material for Toxicity, and after the outtakes were bootlegged on filesharing sites under the name Toxicity II, they decided to go into the studio and finish up the material for official release as Steal This Album! But the band is just frighteningly consistent across those records, even Steal is pretty solid. Creating this playlist was mostly about trying not to lose any favorites rather than cutting weak material -- I think only "She's Like Heroin" was the only track that actively annoys me enough that I made a conscious decision to exclude it for reasons other than making room for other songs.

But more than the size of their discography, I found myself thinking about how compact System's records are. The longest one is 44 minutes long, and on every album the songs average about 3 minutes, which is some incredibly brevity and restraint by metal standards. I think the band realizes on some level that the hit-and-run dynamic works well for their music, and they don't wear out their welcome. It almost feels wrong to make my compulsory 80-minute playlist, you could probably listen to half and then come back to it later to not get too overwhelmed, 28 songs of this stuff is a lot.

Of course, System Of A Down's relatively short songs are a bit longer than the Minutemen's, but that's one of the bands that SOAD reminds me of the most, the rapid twists and turns of their arrangements and the way the lyrics get this unusual power from putting bold and sometimes impressively specific political statements up against more absurd and whimsical ideas. "Prison Song" is still just incredible to me every time I hear it, and though George W. Bush-era protest music has developed a bit of a reputation for not aging well, it still means a lot to me that during the Iraq war one of the biggest bands in the world was releasing singles like "Boom!" and "B.Y.O.B." and not mincing words at all.

"Bounce" pops up a couple times in one of my kid's favorite movies, The Secret Life Of Pets, as the humorously scary metal music that a fluffy poodle listens to. But it's probably funnier than even the filmmakers intended, since the song is basically about an orgy. There's a lot of fun and funny moments in the System catalog, from "Cigaro" to "Shimmy," but the music that explores the band's shared Armenian heritage, from "Holy Mountains" to the traditional instrumentation of "Arto," really puts a lot of beauty and passion into a band that's own just brutally loud and silly. I don't know if there's any deep cut that shows both sides of the band as perfectly as "Chop Suey!" but there's a lot of songs that showcase each side wonderfully. I still have fond memories of the first album being this odd cult thing that high school friends turned me onto as the record made it's slow journey to going platinum almost 4 years after its release. And the Baltimore Arena show on the Mezmerize tour was probably one of the best rock shows of that size I've ever seen.

Monthly Report: July 2018 Albums

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

1. Future - Beast Mode 2
At any given time, Future has several rumored or promised projects in the pipeline; for a long time, the top of my wishlist was an R&B-leaning album, which I finally got last year in HNDRXX. Since then, I'd been hoping for a sequel to my favorite mixtape from his 2014/2015 run, Beast Mode, mainly because Zaytoven's sound is such a bright and melodic contrast to most of Future's go-to producers. In February I made a Future/Zaytoven best-of playlist for The Dowsers, but since then they've been pretty busy together with great tracks on the Super Fly soundtrack and Zaytoven's Trapholizay mixtape, but I was still pretty happily surprised that Beast Mode 2 materialized a few weeks ago. I seem to have different favorites every time I put this on but right now it's "Racks Blue" and "When I Think About It." Here's the 2018 albums playlist I add all the stuff I've been listening to this year.

2. Lori McKenna - The Tree
Lori McKenna has had an odd winding career path, releasing many albums, mostly independently, getting briefly signed to a major label and then dropped a decade ago, and then surging back to prominence recently as the Nashville songwriter behind huge hits by Little Big Town and Tim McGraw. The Tree is a really beautiful and spare folk record, a lot of understated emotion and storytelling in songs like "Young And Angry Again" and "The Lot Behind St. Mary's," I don't gravitate towards albums like this very often but this is a good one.

3. Wilder Maker - Zion
This New York band and I follow each other on Twitter so I'm a little friendly with them and enjoy their music, and they recently had a pretty up-and-down run of releasing their debut full-length and then a few days later had a bunch of gear stolen in Cleveland while they were on tour. The album is good, though, 7 songs that stretch their legs with a relaxed confidence. I think my favorite is "Drunk Driver" sung by Katie Von Schleicher, but Gabriel Birnbaum's Randy Newmanesque vocal presence is growing on me as well.

4. Cowboy Junkies - All That Reckoning
Cowboy Junkies made their most well known music 30 years ago and have kept at it ever since without ever breaking up or changing lineups. And I haven't kept up with their career closely, outside of listening to singles or The Caution Horses here or there, but I just love their sound and was happy to check out a new album and see that they've still got that beautifully simple, spare sound.

5. Meek Mill - Legends of the Summer EP
The night that this and Beast Mode 2 dropped was so great, just getting some unexpected music from two of my favorite rappers of this decade. It's funny how the number of songs on albums is such a hot topic in hip hop, running the gamut from the 7-song G.O.O.D. Music releases to 25 Drake songs, but I think I'm looking more closely at the EPs and little clusters of songs that rappers have taken to releasing instead of singles. Aside from Drake's 2-song Scary Hours, I think 4 songs has been emerging as the most popular format, but there's a lot of semantics and technicalities involved -- if Chance The Rapper had packaged his 4 new songs as an EP and not as 4 singles, I might include it in this post along with Meek's 4-song EP. This was a good way for Meek to dip his toe back in after all the post-jail publicity, "Millidelphia" is insane and the R&B tracks are really some of his best stuff in that vein to date, it's still surreal to me that that's become a good niche for Meek.

6. Jumbled - You Don't Know!? EP
John a.k.a. Jumbled is one guy in Baltimore who I feel a kinship with as one of the other people who has a foot in the hip hop scene but also plays drums in bands like Soft Peaks, who I've played a couple shows with. His latest album is a tribute to Baltimore club music that puts his own spin on the club sound of the '90s with his a lot of breakbeats and samples of Miss Tony and old soul records, much in the same way his lo-fi hip hop records tend to evoke golden age rap. You Don't Know!? sprints through 13 tracks in 15 minutes and has a couple great cameos from Berko Lover of So Nice Yesterday, it's a fun and impressive little record.

7. Mila J - July 2018 EP
Mila J has had a pretty low profile since she released a couple minor R&B radio hits a few years ago, but she's become increasingly prolific lately, releasing in every month of 2018. Just since the beginning of the year she's put out 38 songs, and it's a pretty impressive output, ranging from spare guitar-driven ballads to clubbier tracks. July 2018, like most of the other EPs, has an appearance from a Trey Songz soundalike named Migh-X who sings a weird song about Desiigner, but otherwise this is one of the best EPs in the series, I love "We Don't Mix."

8. Daron Malakian and Scars On Broadway - Dictator
A recent Rolling Stone story about how and why System Of A Down haven't put out an album in 13 years, even as the band members remain friends and continue to occasionally tour, really kinda bummed me out. SOAD were such an exciting and strange group to be one of the biggest bands in the world, and I'd really love to get a new record, particularly because the solo records and side projects never quite had the spark of the full band for me. But guitarist and principal songwriter Daron Malakian decided to finally release the songs he'd recorded in 2012 and was hoping to use for the next System album. And while this probably wouldn't be up to the standard of their previous albums even if these songs had System's powerful rhythm section and Serj Tankian's incredible voice on them, it's still pretty enjoyable to scratch the itch of hearing Malakian's unique sensibility.

9. Body/Head - The Switch
Sonic Youth, however, is a band whose side projects I've always devoured and I really just enjoy hearing everyone explore their own particular paths outside the band. It's a lot more bittersweet, of course, to not also have any new full band Sonic Youth records to look forward to. But in a way I've come to appreciate how Body/Head has allowed Kim Godon to take her odd sprechstimme vocal style over the Sonic Youth's spacier noise passages and isolate that aesthetic as a project's entire output, it's dark and abrasive but I can kind of sit and zone out to it without thinking about how I want the drums to kick in for the next uptempo song.

10. Halestorm - Vicious
I loved Halestorm's last album, 2015's Into The Wild Life, where they got a more relaxed, varied sound with country hitmaker Jay Joyce. But I'm not surprised or disappointed that they went back to more traditional hard rock production with the new one, they have a signature sound and it works for them.

The Worst Album of the Month: Wiz Khalifa - Rolling Papers 2
Every form of physical music media came with time limits that put some productive restraints on artists -- in the vinyl era, an artist who wanted to release more than 40 minutes of music usually had to come up with some manner of artistic or commercial justification for the extravagance of a 'double album.' And even when CDs doubled that limit, you got some pretty gutsy double albums that tried to make it worth your while to take up more than 80 minutes of your time. But now, you can just put an album of any duration on streaming services and not have to even pretend it's anything but a data dump. Drake's recent 89-minute Scorpion at least made a little sense in terms of a huge star at his peak of popularity making a long album with two musically distinct 'sides.' Wiz Khalifa, on the other hand, made an 89-minute album half a decade past his commercial peak, just because he can, and even labeling the album as a sequel to his biggest LP doesn't really do much to bring a sense of importance to the proceedings. Wiz Khalifa has always shitted out bland, emotionless music, constantly laughing at himself but never saying anything funny, and very little breaks up the monotony of these 25 songs other than a welcome Bone Thugs-n-Harmony guest spot.