Deep Album Cuts Vol. 121: Phil Collins

Sunday, September 30, 2018

This week Phil Collins is kicking off the U.S. leg of his Not Dead Yet Tour, a long-awaited and perhaps final return to the stage. After his incredible ubiquity throughout the '80s, Phil Collins's solo work got a pretty bad rap for a long time, compared to his work with Genesis and especially compared to his former bandmate Peter Gabriel's solo career (I did a Peter Gabriel deep cuts playlist a while back and want to do one of both eras of Genesis at some point).

Collins's reputation has bounced back somewhat over the years, but I think a lot of it has to do with "In The Air Tonight" and little else, much in the same way the long pop culture shelf life of "Don't Stop Believin'" lifted Journey's overall popular standing but ultimately hasn't been about much more than that song. As we get decades and decades out from the time period in which an act had many many hits, I think they tend to get boiled down more and more to one particularly beloved song. Someone will even call them one hit wonders someday. But Phil Collins had a lot of hits, and the songs that weren't hits were more interesting than they're often given credit for.

Phil Collins Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Thunder And Lightning
2. Behind The Lines
3. The Roof Is Leaking
4. Droned
5. Hand In Hand
6. It Don't Matter To Me
7. Like China
8. Do You Know, Do You Care?
9. Only You And I Know
10. Inside Out
11. Who Said I Would
12. I Don't Wanna Know
13. Find A Way To My Heart
14. Saturday Night And Sunday Morning
15. We're Sons Of Our Fathers
16. That's What You Said
17. Don't Get Me Started
18. Blame It On The Sun

Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 from Face Value (1981)
Tracks 6, 7 and 8 from Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982)
Tracks 9, 10, 11 and 12 from No Jacket Required (1985)
Tracks 13 and 14 from ...But Seriously (1989)
Track 15 from Both Sides (1993)
Track 16 from Dance Into The Light (1996)
Track 17 from Testify (2002)
Track 18 from Going Back (2010)

As someone who grew up exclusively playing drums in bands, and then eventually started messing around with keyboards and drum machines and making music on my own, I relate heavily to Phil Collins. But I don't think any drummer-turned-frontman besides maybe Dave Grohl can really identify with just how unlikely the ascent of Phil Collins was. This is a guy who joined a rising prog rock band for their 3rd album, reluctantly took over lead vocals from their departing frontman for their 7th album, quietly put together a solo album after their 10th album, and then spent the next decade juggling two phenomenally successful careers. And all this without what anyone would consider the voice or face of an obvious pop star.

The Phil Collins solo records started out pretty musically distinct from Genesis records, although the differences got more and more negligible by the time that No Jacket Required and Invisible Touch ruled the pop charts throughout 1985 and 1986. The best example of that is "Behind The Lines," a song first recorded by Genesis on Duke and then again by Collins a year later for Face Value. Working on the Genesis track, Collins said, "we ran the tape back at double speed, and suddenly this other song appeared." Reimagining it as an upbeat funk track, he hired Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section for the Face Value version, and "Behind The Lines" kind of helped create the funky minimal Phil Collins solo sound.

I wanted to preserve the whole run from "Behind The Lines" to "Hand In Hand" because it's a really cool, ambitious little suite for side 1 of a big multiplatinum album. In 4 tracks, you go from the disco revamp of a prog rock song to a desolate ballad featuring banjo (and guitar from Eric Clapton) to an odd experimental track with violin and tamboura to a big uplifting instrumental featuring a children's choir. A lot of different stylistic ground is covered throughout Collins's records, but that stretch on Face Value is really the best showcase of his unique talents. "Saturday Night And Sunday Morning" is another one of his best jazzy instrumentals. ...But Seriously was released in 1989, the year after CDs began to outsell vinyl, and the album's CD release featured 2 songs not available on the LP. That means that nearly half of the people who bought the album at the time didn't hear "Saturday Night And Sunday Morning," making it a particularly deep cut.

"Hand In Hand" and "It Don't Matter To Me" are the biggest Collins live staples out of his album cuts, and "Who Said I Would" has appeared in a lot of setlists this year. "Like China" amuses me a lot because his British accent is so pronounced on just that song that you realize how much he's singing in a fake American accent on nearly everything else. "Inside Out" was one of my favorite Phil Collins songs growing up, and I was surprised to realize that it was not one of No Jacket Required's 4 huge official singles. It just charted in the top 10 of the U.S. rock chart as a non-single, when I supposed rock stations considered it a more palatable alternative to pop-leaning singles like "Sussudio" and "Don't Lose My Number."

Of course, as Phil Collins's career went on, a lot of the criticisms about his music being bland or overly sentimental started to be a little more true. But there are some pretty nice songs on the later records. The only album he's made in the last 15 years, Going Back, was an album dedicated entirely to '60s soul covers, much to the chagrin of people who always hated his "You Can't Hurry Love" cover. But I think Phil Collins has always come across as really genuine in his love of R&B and put his own personal spin on it, and it felt right to close the mix with "Blame It On The Sun," which was also on my Stevie Wonder deep cuts playlist (much like another song appeared on both my Stevie and George Michael playlists).

Monday, September 24, 2018

I wrote a piece for Vulture about Young Thug's On The Rvn EP and the odd state of his career in 2018.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 120: Kix

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Baltimore hard rock legends Kix recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of their biggest album, 1988's platinum-selling Blow My Fuse, with a deluxe reissue.

Kix deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. The Kid
2. Poison
3. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
4. Kix Are For Kids
5. Mighty Mouth
6. For Shame
7. Burning Love
8. Lie Like A Rug
9. Sex
10. Layin' Rubber
11. No Ring Around Rosie
12. Piece Of The Pie
13. Boomerang
14. Dirty Boys
15. Rock & Roll Overdose
16. Luv-A-Holic
17. Rollin' In Honey
18. Tail On The Wag
19. Love Pollution (live)

Tracks 1, 2, 3 and 4 from Kix (1981)
Tracks 5, 6 and 7 from Cool Kids (1983)
Tracks 8, 9 and 10 from Midnite Dynamite (1985)
Tracks 11, 12, 13 and 14 from Blow My Fuse (1988)
Tracks 15 and 16 from Hot Wire (1991)
Tracks 17 and 18 from Rock Your Face Off (2014)
Track 19 from Can't Stop The Show (2016)

Unfortunately, the last album of the band's original run, 1995's $how Bu$ine$$, isn't available on streaming services, but I did include a bit of their latest reunion release, their comeback studio album Rock Your Face Off and their latest live album Can't Stop The Show. Since Kix were arguably Baltimore's biggest musical export for about a decade, and most music writers didn't deign to take them seriously, I ended up writing about them quite during my time with the Baltimore City Paper: reviews of live shows in 2007 and 2008, a 2012 interview with Steve Whiteman, and a review of Rock Your Face Off.

Of course, Kix aren't terribly well known outside of Maryland, and to the extent that they are, it's for their requisite '80s power ballad "Don't Close Your Eyes" (although I think it's kind of a touching song, with more in common with Aerosmith's "Dream On" than the schmaltzy love songs that populate 'monster ballads' compilations). And that's of course kind of an outlier -- there's one other great ballad in their catalog, "For Shame," but most of their material is very uptempo and often has a sense of humor. In Baltimore, you can turn on 98 Rock and hear a more representative assortment of Kix songs, most frequently the singles "Girl Money," "The Itch," and "Blow My Fuse," as well as the deep cut live staple "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah."

Kix aren't well regarded by many critics besides Chuck Eddy, who famously loves them and ranked them high in his book Stairway To Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe. But their records hold up really well to me. Kix started out before 'hair metal' got really codified, so there's a real sense of individuality there, especially in the first couple albums. It's easy to imagine them going down a slightly different path and being seen more like, say, Cheap Trick. But I would say anyone who has a favorite AC/DC or Aerosmith album should make some time for Kix.

A band like Kix doesn't have many progeny among current bands (that's not entirely true -- one of Steve Whiteman's students as a singing teacher was Lizzy Hale, who went on to form the very successful Halestorm, who do a great cover of "Blow My Fuse"). But while this series has covered a lot of beloved canonical album artists, a big part of my mission with Deep Album Cuts has always been to champion the albums of people who are primarily remembered for their singles, and '80s hard rock is one of those areas that evades respectability that I enjoy covering just say, it's really boring and wrong to say that Guns N' Roses was awesome and everyone else sucked.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 119: Nirvana

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Friday is the 25th anniversary of the release of In Utero, so I thought it'd be a good time to do this one, especially since I've already covered the other really big Seattle bands.

Nirvana deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. On A Plain
2. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
3. Breed
4. School
5. Very Ape
6. Been A Son
7. Drain You
8. Big Cheese
9. Dumb (live)
10. Polly (live)
11. Serve The Servants
12. Negative Creep
13. Scentless Apprentice
14. Territorial Pissings
15. Downer
16. Floyd The Barber
17. Hairspray Queen
18. Paper Cuts
19. Milk It
20. Endless, Nameless
21. Turnaround
22. Oh Me (live)
23. Lounge Act
24. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle

Tracks 4, 8, 12, 16 and 18 from Bleach (1989)
Tracks 1, 3, 7, 14, 20 and 23 from Nevermind (1991)
Tracks 6, 15, 17 and 21 from Incesticide (1992)
Tracks 2, 5, 11, 13, 19 and 24 from In Utero (1993)
Tracks 9, 10 and 22 from MTV Unplugged In New York (1994)

I feel like so many people have the same anecdote about hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time and how it changed everything. But I didn't really care about popular music until around early 1992 when I turned 10, so I remember hearing "Come As You Are" first and kind of looking at Nirvana as an already ubiquitous band when I started paying attention, not these new rebels storming the gates. In any event, my passions ran more toward Guns N' Roses at that moment, and then Pearl Jam, and I kinda came around to Nirvana gradually. "In Bloom" was the first one I really really loved, I had just started playing drums and adored those big bombastic fills and would practice them banging my drumsticks on pillows.

So somehow I never picked up Nevermind during the period that I was obsessed with Ten and beginning to build up my CD collection in earnest. But I very clearly remember hearing a radio DJ announce that they were about to play the new Nirvana single, turning down the lights in my room and carefully listening to "Heart Shaped Box" for the first time, and buying In Utero the week it was released. When Kurt Cobain overdosed in Rome, I remember announcing to friends in one of my 6th grade classes that if he died I was going to build some kind of shrine to him. But then he survived, and then died a month later, and I think I kind of forgot about the shrine thing.

But at that point, when Nirvana suddenly ended, I only had In Utero, and then I bought Incesticide, and then Nevermind. So I kind of got this funny backwards education in the band, listening to the sludgier weirder records before I got the big era-defining pop breakthrough. And even though I now regard Nevermind as their best album, In Utero was definitely more important to me personally in terms of being something that primed me for noisier music. At the time I still was more into Pearl Jam, but Nirvana was the one that was actually my gateway to bands like the Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth (to this day probably my favorite band of all time). After reading about Kurt's adventures searching for Raincoats albums in the Incesticide liner notes, I had all these romantic notions about how cool it was to go back and find old '80s SST albums that influenced my favorite bands instead of just buying current major label records.

The fact that Nirvana had such a brief career and such a small, celebrated catalog has led to me taking them for granted a little bit. Once they had turned me onto other bands, it kind of became, like, why listen to Nirvana again when there's always another Sonic Youth record for me to discover? But as the years go on and Nirvana gets further boiled down to the symbolic power of a t-shirt, a tragic story, and 6 songs you still hear on the radio, I have a greater appreciation for their body of work. I usually don't do a deep cuts playlist for an artist with less than 4 albums, but between 3 very different albums, an iconic live record with lots of stuff that wasn't on the studio albums, and platinum-selling rarities compilation, it definitely feels like enough.

I feel like I've heard every song from Nevermind on the radio at some point, with "Breed" the most of the non-singles. I think at some point "On A Plain" has usurped "Drain You" as my favorite Nevermind deep cut, but they're both way up there. And "Endless, Nameless" remains one of the all-time great hidden tracks, something loved or hated by Nevermind listeners depending on how much they were ready for what the band's other records sounded like. Since I bought the album in 1994, I got one of the late pressings with out the hidden track and envied people whose version had it.

I always liked "Very Ape" but I think it's just in the last few years become one of my very favorite Nirvana songs. My wife was playing The Prodigy's "Voodoo People" around the house a while back and I realized I'd never listened to the song closely before to notice that it sampled "Very Ape," that kinda blew my mind. There are parts of In Utero that I'm kind of sick of but it was fun to pick out the songs I still love and revisit them in this context.

Even with my love of In Utero and Incesticide, I really just never got to deeply into Bleach. "School" and "Negative Creep" are the only top shelf Nirvana songs on that record for me. But mostly I just love the sound of the Dave Grohl lineup so everything else pales in comparison, although Chad Channing has his moments. I thought it'd be cool to put 4 of their songs with Dale Crover on drums (out of 7 total on Bleach and Incesticide) in a row on tracks 15-18, kind of an alternative universe where Nirvana sounds a little more like the Melvins -- the same way Dan Peters on "Sliver" gives a glimpse of Nirvana if they'd sounded a little more like Mudhoney.

Unplugged is the one record I'm really really sick of and think has kind of developed an outsized role in the band's legacy. But those Meat Puppets covers still mean a lot to me. But my favorite Nirvana cover is the one of Devo's "Turn Around" ("Turnaround" as it appears on Nirvana's record), which is such a great song and kind of an unexpected choice at the time, wasn't even on a Devo album, it was just a b-side. That really helped awaken me to how much more interesting and diverse Cobain's taste was than the stuff he's primarily associated with.

TV Diary

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

a) "You"
This Lifetime show is interesting because it feels like it's molding the dark/smart sensibility of their recent move into scripted dramas like "UnReal" but it's also kind of a deconstruction of tropes of all the Lifetime original movies about women in releationships with obsessive and abusive men. The entire show is narrated from the perspective of Penn Badgley's character, a book store clerk who has a meet cute encounter with a customer and starts cyber stalking her, and then starts actually stalking her, and by the end of the episode he's bludgeoned and imprisoned the girl's on-again-off-again boyfriend. There's a meta moment where a kid in the bookstore is reading Frankenstein and musing about how you get to read the story from the monster's perspective and they kind of wink to the audience and acknowledge the possibility that telling the story from the bad guy's POV, and giving him a sense of humor and some selective emotional intelligence is risky or irresponsible. I don't know, though, this show might turn out really clever but it's really on a tightrope where it could turn out awful or simply not sustain itself beyond one season.

b) "Kidding"
I've long been kind of a skeptic of Jim Carrey's serious roles -- it's not so much that I think he can't pull them off as that I think what he does in comedy takes as much skill as any drama and at a certain point he seemed to be chasing Oscar roles that didn't suit his abilities or his screen presence. But "Kidding" is an ideal vehicle for him at this point in his career, playing a Mr. Rogers-type veteran children's entertainer who's dealing with the death of his son and the end of his marriage and a kind of professional crisis. Unfortunately, it kind of feels like I'm marking off squares on a sad prestige cable dramedy bingo card when I talk about the plot of the show, even with Michel Gondry direction on the first couple episodes, it feels like something I've seen on TV many times before. I like the cast that includes Judy Greer and Frank Langello, though, it has potential.

c) "Sorry For Your Loss"
I can't deal with all these new 'portals' for TV shows, like even Facebook has scripted programming with famous actors now? But OK, this Facebook series is pretty good. I mostly know Elizabeth Olsen from the Marvel movies where she seems kind of dour and out of place, but she's got the acting chops for a show like this about a young woman a few minutes after her husband's death, this raw nerve performance with little unexpected moments of levity that keep it from being overwhelming.

d) "Forever"
I adore Maya Rudolph and am, frankly, a little tired of Fred Armisen, but they generally bring out the best in each other and in this show they both play kind of normal nice people for once to surprisingly good effect. It's a little funny that a couple years after the premiere of "The Good Place," we have another sitcom that takes place in a wacky imagining of the afterlife created by some other people who wrote and produced "Parks & Recreation." Not that it's otherwise too similar a show, "Forever" definitely has its own unique concept and comedic rhythm. One thing I found refreshing is how long "Forever" takes to basically reveal its premise -- the 3rd episode is essentially where a lot of people would've started the pilot episode at, and I kind of like that you got the slightly confusing first two episodes first setting the stage instead of getting that stuff as flashbacks later.  Noah Robbins could be the breakout star of this show, his character is so strange and funny.

e) "The First"
I can't stand Sean Penn so it pains me on some level how much I like this Hulu show about the first manned mission to Mars in the near future. I worried it would be too similar to The Martian but tonally and in terms of where in the story they are, it's plenty different. All the little issues of procedure and personnel and mishaps and tragedies that kind of undo one attempt at the mission and then set them on the course for another are kind of gripping. The last episode I watched, the 5th episode, was really kind of a drag and had a different director with a much slower, more portentous sensibility than the other episodes, though.

f) "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan"
The various Jack Ryan movies were ubiquitous pop culture wallpaper in the '90s and I don't really have any opinion on them or John Krasinski assuming the role. What I've seen seems like a decent enough spy show, though.

g) "Rel"
Lil Rel is part of the new generation of standups who have rapper names and you just kind of wonder if they fell into comedy because they couldn't rap. I liked him in small supporting roles in things lik e"The Carmichael Show" and Get Out but I was skeptical about him getting a starring vehicle and this is really not it. The premise of the pilot with his wife leaving him for his barber is funny on paper but they just run it into the ground, and it's a single camera show with a really loud laugh track, so it just feels like it's trying to force you to laugh along with every lame joke.

h) "The Purge"
I've only watched the original Purge movie but generally I don't much care for the franchise. The idea of doing it as a series is not a bad one, since you get a little more time to set the scene and get to know some characters before they're plunged into danger, but so far the series hasn't really hooked me.

i) "Mayans M.C."
Given the sketchy racial politics of "Sons of Anarchy" and a lot of its characters, there's something pretty cool about FX doing a big spinoff series with pretty much an entirely latino cast. That said, I'm not chomping at the bit for more of this world after 7 seasons of "Sons," and without any of the characters I liked from that show I haven't really latched onto any of the stories here so far. I do like that it seems like Kurt Sutter is running out of obvious rustic Americana for the soundtrack and set a biker brawl to a Devo song, though.

j) "The Innocents"
I watched a couple episodes of this but I feel like it's already just blended in with my vague memories of every other dreary European supernatural drama on Netflix.

k) "Rob Riggle's Ski Master Academy"
Sony's streaming service Crackle seems more pointless than ever now that they've lost their one well known show, "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," to Netflix. But just as "SuperMansion" was an animated series that gave them an attempt at grabbing the Adult Swim demographic, they seem to be emulating Adult Swim's wacky loud live action sitcoms with "Rob Riggle's Ski Master Academy" (originally developed under the title "Rob Riggle's Jet Ski Academy," because what an important difference). I think Rob Riggle is still Rob Riggle the actor in this show, but he's also known for jet skis? I don't know. There's a lot of funny people in the show like Eliza Coupe and Samm Levine and it's enjoyable enough but it's all just so self-consciously ridiculous and forgettable.

l) "The Miniaturist"
This BBC adaptation of a 2014 novel about 1680s Amsterdam aired on PBS in America as part of "Masterpiece" (formerly "Masterpiece Theatre"), I only got through the first episode, I guess "Masterpiece Theatre" things are still a little too stuffy for my tastes.

m) "America To Me"
This Showtime docuseries from Hoop Dreams director Steve James is really interesting, they took cameras into a very 'progressive' and 'integrated' public school in a Chicago suburb and looks at the problems with race and inequality that exist in that environment. But what I really like is how they don't tackle these issues in a dry clinical way, they let the cameras roll so much that eventually people stop being self-conscious about being on TV and they get these great slice of life moments of teenagers being teenagers and that's when you really start to see some of the truth of the situation.

n) "Norm MacDonald Has A Show"
Norm MacDonald's unique comedic voice has kind of been in need of a good stable venue for 2 decades since his "Saturday Night Live" tenure was cut short. Getting his own show on the famously hands-off Netflix seemed promising, and then he managed to give an interview that stirred up the biggest backlash of his entire career a couple days before the show premiered. The most positive thing I can say about this situation is that "Norm MacDonald Has A Show" is not the vehicle that MacDonald's fans have been waiting for, so if it becomes a casualty of the controversy, it's really okay. It's such a totally half-assed attempt at a talk show that it makes most no-name podcasts seem polished by comparison. I'm so used to seeing MacDonald go on talk shows and kind of flummox the hosts with his odd digressions that's disorienting to see MacDonald play the host while his guests try to hold the show together.

o) "State Of The Culture"
Joe Budden ending up with a better career as a professional talker than he ever had as a rapper is a weird little media narrative that people love to talk about. But at the end of the day he's just a moderately polished bullshitter who people love to watch yell and rant, he doesn't really have anything of value to say. And his show on Revolt is especially awkward because he seems to have decided he needs to reign in the persona that got him there on the podcast and "Everyday Struggle" and be more of a proper host, so the other people on his panel, particularly Remy Ma, kind of get to lead the discussion and actually

p) "The Shop"
Beyond his incredible athletic career, LeBron James has been so disciplined in how he's navigated his life as a public figure, always choosing his words carefully and sidestepping or capably addressing every controversy that pops up. So it's very interesting to see him take these progressively bigger steps towards really embracing his celebrity and doing more film and TV projects, especially this HBO show where he kind of holds court in a freewheeling barbershop conversation with other celebrities. The one episode they've aired so far was pretty enjoyable, with some predictably awkward moments centered around Jon Stewart being the group's token white guy. It was better than I expected, honestly.

q) "Warriors Of Liberty City"
Another recent LeBron James production, this Showtime documentary series follows a youth football program that produces a lot of NFL recruits. It's not especially interesting subject matter to me, but I like how they're telling the story and looking at these kids as people and not just as athletes and potential NFL stars.

r) "Unspeakable Crime: The Killing Of Jessica Chambers"
I don't remember ever hearing about the 2014 murder case this Oxygen miniseries is about, a white teenager who was burned to death in Mississippi, but it's a pretty crazy story with a lot of layers to it, I'm kind of over the 'true crime documentary' genre but it was pretty interesting.

s) "American Vandal"
Probably my favorite thing to come out of the whole true crime doc trend was the satire of it in the first season of "American Vandal," so I was delighted to hear they were coming back for another season. I like that they kept Peter and Sam as the documentarians and had them go to someone else's school to solve a different crime, so they kept a foot in the first season with a mostly new cast. I've only watched a couple episodes but I like it so far, it's hard to top Jimmy Tatro's performance in the first season but the prime suspect in this season played by Travis Tope is really great so far.

t) "Transformers: Cyberverse"
I've been watching Transformers cartoons since I was a kid and they keep making new ones every couple years that my kids watch now. I don't think they like "Cyberverse" as much as "Robots In Disguise" or "Rescue Bots," but it's been getting some play in my house, I think from an animation standpoint it's one of the best-looking Transformers shows to date.

u) "Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"
Likewise, I've been watching Ninja Turtles stuff since I was a kid, and they keep making new versions. The last "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" that ran on Nickelodeon from 2012 to 2017 was by far the best incarnation of TMNT to date, so I was skeptical about it being succeeded by anything. "Rise" is a lot more cartoony and while it has some funny moments and there are some changes I like about it (April O'Neil is black for the first time since the original Mirage comics), the animation style is just too weird. Also Raph and Donny have masks that go over the top of their heads like durags, it's weird.

v) "Total DramaRama"
Apparently "Total Drama" is a Canadian cartoon that has been running with various spinoffs for the past decade, but I never heard of it before "Total DramaRama," which turns the characters from the original show into toddlers and puts them in a daycare. So it's kinda confusing, like watching "Muppet Babies" without ever having seen the Muppets in any other context. But my kids love it and quote it constantly, go figure.

w) "The Deuce"
The first season of "The Deuece" took place in 1971/72 and the new season jumps forward to 77/78, which is interesting because I kind of assumed it was always gonna be a show about the '70s when it might end up eventually having half or most of its run in the '80s. Mostly it just means you get to see everybody a few years down the line and also get some perfunctory punk rock era cultural context, which is kind of tired to see at this point, but I like that they made Elvis Costello's "This Year's Girl" the new theme song of the show. There's a loose theme of the female characters having more agency in this season, which is cool to see, but, as with the later seasons of "Halt And Catch Fire," I wonder if there's a historical basis for that or if it's kind of like a wishful thinking take on a male-dominated industry.

x) "Atypical"
I came away from the first season of "Atypical" with very mixed feelings about it, but coming back for a second season, I do like these characters, it's kind of nice to see them again.

y) "Killjoys"
My wife has always loved this show but she was saying the other night that she kind of misses the early seasons. I kind of get it, they did more goofy space bounty hunter adventures early on. Maybe next year they'll get back to that for the final season.

z) "Shameless"
I always thought it was ridiculous that William H. Macy consistently gets Emmy nominations for his one-note top billing role in "Shameless" why Emmy Rossum thanklessly carries the show. But now Rossum is officially leaving the show after this season so I'm sure I'll never get my wish that they kill off Frank and let Macy go back to his superior film work. It's funny though, for such a bawdy unsentimental show, it's kind of sweet to watch all these kids on the show grow up over the last 8 or so years.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 118: Lil Wayne

Saturday, September 15, 2018

This Friday, we're reportedly going to finally get Tha Carter V, the long-delayed 5th chapter in rap's answer to the Bat Out of Hell series, a moment when Lil Wayne either regains some of the superstar glow that the earlier Carter albums gave him or at the very least returns after a few years of legal limbo. So it's a good time to look back on his catalog, or at least the side of it that's readily available on streaming services.

Lil Wayne deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Remember Me (featuring B.G.)
2. Fuck Tha World
3. Grown Man
4. Bloodline
5. BM J.R.
6. I Miss My Dawgs (featuring Reel)
7. Walk Out
8. Fly In
9. Best Rapper Alive
10. Receipt
11. 1st Key (with Birdman)
12. Don't Die (with Birdman)
13. Let The Beat Build
14. Dr. Carter
15. Comfortable (featuring Babyface)
16. Ground Zero
17. I Am Not A Human Being
18. President Carter
19. Wowzers (featuring Trina)

Tracks 1 and 2 from Tha Block Is Hot (1999)
Track 3 from Lights Out (2000)
Track 4 from 500 Degreez (2002)
Tracks 5, 6 and 7 from Tha Carter (2004)
Tracks 8, 9 and 10 from Tha Carter II (2005)
Tracks 11 and 12 from Like Father, Like Son with Birdman (2006)
Tracks 13, 14 and 15 from Tha Carter III (2008)
Track 16 from Rebirth (2010)
Track 17 from I Am Not A Human Being (2010)
Track 18 from Tha Carter IV (2011)
Track 19 from I Am Not A Human Being II (2013)

Of course, boiling down Lil Wayne's output to his proper retail albums without his mixtape work and guest verses is a bit like only talking the Grateful Dead's studio albums without their live recordings. You're just not getting the full picture and how he set a new standard for how rappers release music and how much they can release. But that's alright, because he has a pretty damn good catalog of albums, in a way I'd say it's underrated because so many people just wanna talk about singles and mixtapes.

It's fun to listen to this stuff in chronological order because you get a good sense of how Lil Wayne evolved and developed over the years. There's probably nobody else in hip hop who had such a prolonged growth spurt, consistently getting better for nearly a decade. But contrary to what some might say, he was pretty good from the beginning, there aren't a lot of 17-year-olds who've made better rap albums than Tha Block Is Hot. That said, you do hear the biggest jump in his skill and presence as a rapper between tracks 4 and 5 on this playlist, that moment on the first Tha Carter when he really arrived.

It's funny to think how much Tha Block Is Hot is talked about in terms of Wayne obeying his mother's wishes to not curse on his first album when there's a song called "Fuck Tha World." But man, there's stuff on Wayne's very earliest songs two decades ago about how he shot himself accidentally at 12, and we're just now starting to hear that it was actually an intentional suicide attempt, wild stuff. I should note that I used the "Grown Man" from Lights Out, which is in my opinion one of teen Wayne's best songs and far superior to the more famous "Grown Man" with Curren$y from Carter II.

I love Wayne with Mannie Fresh on the first 7 tracks of this mix, though. I like to say that Mannie Fresh carried Cash Money for a decade, producing practically everything the label released, and then Wayne carried it for the next decade (and of course the Young Money artists Wayne signed continue to carry it to this day). And for Wayne's first 4 solo albums (plus 3 Hot Boys albums and countless features), they were a perfect combination. You could say that Mannie happened to leave Cash Money right at the moment that Wayne outgrew him and was ready for a wider variety of production, but Mannie kept up with him with darker beats on Tha Carter, I kinda wish we could've heard them work together longer.

I'm also a pretty big fan of T-Mix, the Suave House veteran who produced a couple of 8Ball & MJG's greatest '90s albums and became Cash Money's post-Mannie producers, helming a lot of the best of Tha Carter II and Like Father, Like Son, including "Hustler Musik" and "Stuntin' Like My Daddy." It bums me out a little that after that Wayne seemed to really not build lasting creative relationships with many producers and kind of treat beats as interchangeable, with a lot of the producers of his biggest hits having to sue Cash Money to get proper compensation.

My feelings are a little more mixed about the music Lil Wayne at the height of his popularity. Tha Carter III was not quite what it could have or should have been, and the quality of his rapping has varied pretty erratically from track to track in the years since then. But if you cherrypick the best stuff, as I did for this playlist for The Dowsers, he's made some really great tracks in the last decade. I surprised myself by even finding a pretty good track on his ill-fated rock album Rebirth, although I would say that "Best Rapper Alive" and "I Am Not A Human Being" are this playlist's best examples of rap/rock fusion.

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
Vol. 114: Aretha Franklin
Vol. 115: Michael Jackson
Vol. 116: Alice In Chains
Vol. 117: Paul Simon

Monthly Report: September 2018 Singles

Friday, September 14, 2018

1. Jeremih and Ty Dolla Sign - "The Light" 
I'm a way bigger fan of Jeremih than of Ty Dolla Sign, but there's a great logic in them hooking up for a duo project, since they're both often the glue that holds together other people's hits. Unfortunately, their album MihTy's announced release date last month came and went without any explanation, in the same space of a few weeks that Ty got arrested and  Jeremih was acrimoniously kicked off a tour with Teyana Taylor. So who knows what's going with them, but "The Light" is fantastic, and really balances their voices well, hopefully this record won't go missing for months and months like Late Nights: The Album. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. The Interrupters - "She's Kerosene" 
It's been a couple decades since ska punk was all the rage on alt-rock radio, so it was kind of refreshing and surprising to hear a song that sounded to me basically like Rancid with a female singer. And that description turned out to closer than I realized, because The Interrupters are on Hellcat Records and "She's Kerosene" is co-written and co-produced by Tim Armstrong. 

3. Daniel Caesar f/ H.E.R. - "Best Part"
One of my favorite kinds of R&B slow jams is the kind with elegant acoustic guitar and minimal percussion (I'm thinking, like, Tamia's "Officially Missing You" and Maxwell's "Whenever Wherever Whatever"). And "Best Part" really hits that sweet spot, with two of the artists who've been most responsible for kinda bringing quiet storm ballads back to R&B radio lately. "If life is a movie then you're the best part" is kind of a weak line, though, like everything has 'parts,' I feel like there could've been a more specific cinematic term in there to make the movie metaphor work. 

4. Khalid & Normani - "Love Lies" 
Khalid's first album was pretty successful, but I get the sense, given the nominations he was showered with at the Grammys and the dozens of features he's racked up in the past year, that the music industry kind of views him as a very important key to the young millennial demographic and that vague but fertile interzone between alt-R&B and top 40 pop. He's done records with rappers, EDM producers, rock bands, and seemingly every other major label female singer under 30, including Normani, probably the best vocalist out of Fifth Harmony. So I'm pleased that this song, released on a soundtrack 6 months ago, has just climbed into the top 10, more because it bodes well for Normani's career than that Khalid needs any help. 

5. Alessia Cara - "Growing Pains"
I kind of rolled my eyes when I heard this song, like this girl is 22 and still singing puberty carols. But the song really grew on me, Pop & Oak tracks sound so consistently great, even if the song doesn't really sound like a lead single and fell way short of the chart success of her first album's singles. I'm guessing they'll go back to the drawing board and release something different before the album to try to avoid a sophomore slump.

6. Pink - "Whatever You Want" 
"Whatever You Want" is kind of twinned in my mind with "Growing Pains" because they open with dialogue snippets I don't recognize from what sound like old movies from the 1950s. Even though Pink still sells album and tickets, it bums me out that she's kind of lost her grip on pop radio -- this, the 3rd single from Beautiful Trauma, missed the Hot 100 where the 3rd single from her last album went to #1. It's got a really lovely bittersweet melody, though, I've been really hooked on it lately. 

7. Twenty One Pilots - "Jumpsuit" 
Twenty One Pilots never struck me as a band that would feel the need to cater to rock radio after they became a huge crossover act, so I was a little surprised at how their first single was this kind of heavy track driven by a big bassline. I'm also kind of amused that one of the most popular bands in the world released a 2018 lead single that could pass for a Primus song.
8. Eric Church - "Desperate Man"
It's a well established pattern that big rock bands like Twenty One Pilots, and big acts in certain other genres, can get away with a less radio-friendly first single and then move onto the surefire hits, secure in the knowledge that their fanbase will appreciate the risk they took and still buy the album. And Eric Church is the very rare country artist who gets away with that, with almost alarming consistency. His last 3 albums all followed the same pattern: the first single missed the top 10 of the country airplay charts, and then the album yielded two or three top 10 hits. "Desperate Man," which is kind of a fun "Sympathy For The Devil" type track, peaked at #13 so it's right on schedule, and it's pretty safe to assume the album of the same will have bigger hits. 

9. Post Malone f/ Nicki Minaj - "Ball For Me"    
One thing that I've been preoccupied with in the last year or two is the quiet critical mass of white rappers we've reached, which you can often see all over the Hot 100 and pop radio but especially on the iTunes hip-hop charts. So I liked when Nicki Minaj posted a snide, totally justified caption on the iTunes hip-hop chart last year. It's tempting, then, to say she's a hypocrite to do a song with Post Malone after that, but "Ball For Me" is really good, maybe my favorite thing either of them have done this year. It's a shame it's kind of lingered in the lower tier of Post hits with the also great "Candy Paint" while (ugh) Beerbongs & Bentleys has enjoyed three ubiquitous top 5 hits. 

10. Jay Rock - "Win" 
"Win" has one of the worst radio edits in recent memory because every single explicit phrase in the chorus is replaced with a buzzy slang term like "curve" or "opps" or "lit" and together it all just sounds so forced and cheesy. Good song, though, it feels weird to have Kendrick just doing hypeman ad libs in the background of a song but it's really funny when he yells "mommy!" for some reason.

The Worst Single of the Month: Drake - "Nonstop"
Drake has multiple hits out at almost any given time, and I usually actively dislike half of them, but I'd rather avoid becoming a Big Ghost-style repetitive fountain of predictable Drake ridicule. But seriously, let's talk about "Nonstop," which epitomizes a trend of the streaming era: every track on a big album tends to peak high on the Hot 100 after its release, and inevitably the first track does well (or the first non-intro full song, in the case of "Nonstop") and gets some spins whether or not it would be considered a potential single under any other circumstances. "Nonstop" is now a top 10 radio record and I would like to go ahead and be hyperbolic and say it's one of the worst songs of his career. Even setting aside the weird muttering flow he does with the ad libs, it's chock full of lines that would each individually ordinarily be the worst line on the song: "bills so big I call 'em Williams," "like I went blind, dog, you gotta hand it to me," "they'll be mournin' you like 8am," this song is honestly such a turgid piece of shit it almost makes the more famously bad "I'm Upset" seem alright by comparison.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 117: Paul Simon

Friday, September 07, 2018

There was a time when I thought I might make a Simon & Garfunkel deep cuts playlist before one for Paul Simon's solo career, or even try to cram them together. But that was a time when I'd spent more time with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme and The Best of Simon & Garfunkel than any solo LP save for maybe Graceland. I'll go back to the duo at some point to honor their smaller catalog, but right now, I wanted to talk Paul Simon, since he's winding up his farewell tour this month, and releasing what may be his final studio album, In The Blue Light, this week.

Paul Simon deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Run That Body Down
2. Homeless (with Ladysmith Black Mambazo)
3. You're Kind
4. St. Judy's Comet
5. Insomniac's Lullaby
6. All Around The World or The Myth Of Fingerprints (with Los Lobos)
7. Wartime Prayers
8. I'd Do It For Your Love
9. Killer Wants To Go To College
10. I Know What I Know (with General M.D.Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters)
11. Think Too Much (b)
12. One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor
13. Love
14. Can't Run But
15. How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns
16. Pigs, Sheep And Wolves
17. Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War
18. The Teacher
19. Darling Lorraine
20. Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy
21. Question For The Angels

Track 1 from Paul Simon (1972)
Tracks 4 and 12 from There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973)
Tracks 3, 8 and 20 from Still Crazy After All These Years (1975)
Track 15 from One-Trick Pony (1980)
Tracks 11 and 17 from Hearts And Bones (1983)
Tracks 2, 6 and 10 from Graceland (1986)
Track 14 from The Rhythm Of The Saints (1990)
Track 9 from Songs From The Capeman (1997)
Tracks 13, 16, 18 and 19 from You're The One (2000)
Track 7 from Surprise (2006)
Track 21 from So Beautiful Or So What (2011)
Track 5 from Stranger To Stranger (2016)

In The Blue Light is an unusual project, new re-recordings of 10 songs from across Paul Simon's solo career, none of them hit singles and few from his most famous albums. So I decided to just go ahead and make the second half of this playlist the original versions: tracks 12 through 21 are the same songs that are on In The Blue Light, in the same sequence, for easy comparing and contrasting. The downside of that, of course, is that I let Paul make half of the choices for me, and I definitely would not have picked four songs from You're The One (although I happened upon a used copy of that album when it came out and listened to it a bit, so I do have some fondness toward it). "One Man's Ceiling" and "Some Folks' Lifes" and "Rene And Georgette" are great songs, though, I would've probably picked those anyway. It's kind of funny that Paul Simon chose to cap his career with a re-recording of "Question For The Angels," the 2011 song which features a weird tangent about a clothing billboard with Jay-Z on it.

I was glad to include music right up through his last original collection of songs, 2016's Stranger To Stranger, because I really enjoyed that album and marveled that he made it over 50 years after his earliest classics. As someone who sometimes has trouble getting his son to sleep and sometimes has trouble getting himself to sleep, I relate to both "St. Judy's Comet" and "Insomniac's Lullaby."

But what's really impressive is how long Simon's reign as a major artist lasted. From Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends in 1968 through 2000's You're The One, Paul Simon made 11 albums, and 7 of them were nominated at the Grammys for Album of the Year (3 of them won). Even taking into account that the Grammys are kind to artists of Simon's stature, that's a remarkable streak, particularly since most of those albums are genuinely great or at least pretty good. Of the remaining 4 that weren't nominated, 3 were kind of notable flops -- One-Trick Pony and Songs From The Capeman were attached to Simon's ill-fated ventures into feature film and Broadway, respectively, while Hearts And Bones failed to generate a hit at the time but eventually became a cult favorite of his catalog. The 1972 self-titled album didn't get a nomination either, but that one was pretty successful.

Of course, Graceland looms large over Simon's solo career. Increasingly I've been fascinated with the 1983-'86 period in which Thriller and MTV ushered in a new era of blockbuster albums and so many established stars from the '60s and '70s released comeback albums and/or their biggest sellers ever. Most of these albums -- Born In The U.S.A., Let's Dance, 1984, EliminatorSo, Invisible Touch, Brothers In Arms, Private Dancer, Who's Zoomin' Who?, Heartbeat City -- are bright and shiny and modern and dripping in synths and gated snare drums. So by that token Graceland stands out with its acoustic sounds and subtle fusions of folk sounds from different cultures (although there are some big snare drums here and there). There's still a lot of healthy debate around Graceland, dating back to when it was released, when South African apartheid was still in place and "I ain't gonna play Sun City" had just been a rallying cry for a lot of Simon's peers less than a year earlier. Of course, now, the biggest lingering scandal around the album is the Los Lobos appearance -- they came to Simon's studio, played a work in progress, and then were pissed to find that it was on his album with his lyrics and no writing credit for them (I have to wonder why they played a song in his session that they wanted to use on their own album, but hey).

Since Graceland, Simon has continued the album's globetrotting aesthetic, working with musicians from many countries and cultures (although there have been some great exceptions, like the Brian Eno collaborations on Surprise, where he returns to more of a pop/rock center). But I've come to appreciate both how much his voice as a songwriter remains indelible no matter what sounds he pairs it with, and how much rhythm has always been a part of his music. Even the '70s albums have a lot of rattling polyrhythms and latin accents, and it's clear that he uses drums as a guide to the meter and phrasing of his lyrics. I kind of think of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon as a yin and yang, two folk singers who became iconic pop stars, and they complement each other in a lot of ways: Dylan the raspy, mysterious midwestern student of Americana vs. Simon the cosmopolitan New York polymath who marries his sweet melodies and wry lyrics to sounds from all over the world. I often feel like I go to certain artists because they've got really brilliant lyrics, or really catchy melodies, or infectious rhythms, but it's usually one or the other, not all of the above. Paul Simon, though, he's got the rhythm and the rhyme and the tunes all down cold.

Movie Diary

Thursday, September 06, 2018

a) To All The Boys I've Loved Before
There's been a lot of handwringing about how Netflix is muddying the waters of traditional theatrical releases for major feature films, and also about how there's increasingly little room for movies that aren't big effects-driven event films in theaters. And while those are both real problems, I'm optimistic enough to think that one is kind of the solution for the other. That is to say, while Netflix's move into big effects-driven movies with stuff like Bright has been divisive, genres like rom-coms that thrive with smaller budgets and less famous casts are ripe for Netflix, as proven by the decent buzz around the recent Set It Up and the absolutely huge reaction to To All The Boys I've Loved Before. The latter is as charming as everyone says it is, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo have great chemistry and will get long careers out of this movie, but what I really liked was the light touch with both the romance and the comedy, the plot wasn't too hard to predict but they let each story beat fall in place in an interesting way. I'm really over teen movies referencing John Hughes movies, though, like we don't need to tip the hat to him every single time, it's just overkill at this point.

b) Black Panther
I tend to be a little cynical about the way all the big action franchises are kind of hoovering up any new filmmaker who shows some promise with lower budget fare and gives them a giant epic to direct. But Ryan Coogler seems like a best case scenario, it's been fun to watch him scale up from Fruitvale Station to something ten times bigger in Creed and then to something ten times bigger than that in Black Panther. I didn't love some of the big painted CGI backgrounds -- I'd love to see them film the sequel in Africa and build huge Wakanda sets -- but it didn't really matter because the fight choreography was awesome and it was such a good ensemble cast, so many enjoyable performances from Chadwick Boseman and Letitia Wright and Winston Duke and Andy Serkis and on and on.

c) Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
I barely even remember the first Jumanji movie, I feel like its something that would get played during class in elementary school that I'd put my head down and fall asleep during, but this was pretty fun. The movie went like 18 minutes with the 'real' characters, relatively unknown teen actors establishing the story, before you meet their video game avatars and get The Rock and the other actual movie stars onscreen, which seems risky. But it really paid off because most of the comedy was derived from how the avatars differed from the people and Jack Black and Kevin Hart in particular having a lot of fun with that. In the second half of the movie it became a surprisingly poignant Saving Private Ryan-lite with Nick Jonas as Private Ryan, but all around it was a good example of a movie that was better than it had any right to be.

d) Lady Bird
Is it unreasonable that I stan so hard for Jennifer Jason Leigh that I resent Greta Gerwig a little? Probably. This was good, though. Most of the music in the first half of the movie was from the mid-'90s, so I unconsciously assumed that's when it took place, and then felt a jolt of confusion when a Justin Timberlake song played. It really did a good job of capturing that moment of adolescence where you're aspiring to be someone you're not and your attempts get punctured by reality.

e) Blame
Blame, written and directed by actress Quinn Shepherd when she was about 21 years old, came out around the same time as Lady Bird and I wish Shepherd's accomplishment had gotten as much attention as Gerwig's (it was hard not to think of parallels since Nadia Alexander's hair in Blame is dyed similarly to Saoirse Ronan's in Lady Bird). Blame is a more serious movie, sort of loosely based on The Crucible through the lens of a high school production of The Crucible, pretty impressive for a low budget debut feature and I liked the artful, unexpected way the story resolved itself and played with your expectations.

f) The Snowman
It's easy to approach The Snowman as a horror flick with a slightly ridiculous premise that got terrible reviews and did okay at the box office, but it's kind of fascinating how it was clearly aiming to be something much more respectable and prestigious. After the success of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Hollywood wanted more Scandinavian crime thrillers and optioned Jo Nesbo's novels about a detective named Harry Hole (and listen, that name is your first problem), and at one point Martin Scorsese was attached to direct. Eventually The Snowman made it to theaters with Let The Right One In director Tomas Alfredson and a very respectable cast including Michael Fassbender and Charlotte Gainsbourg and J.K. Simmons without anyone apparently realizing that the story could easily be seen as silly with the wrong marketing campaign. The movie's not terrible but I kinda feel like Val Kilmer is the only person in it who probably saw what kind of movie it actually was.

g) Roman J. Israel, Esq.
I went into this movie for the big scenery-chewing performance by the star but ended up with kind of a surprisingly dour morality play. So when I realized that this was writer/director Dan Gilroy's follow-up to Nightcrawler it kind of started to make more sense.

h) Collide
Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley are both guys who, for all their justified acclaim and awards, seem to just say yes to all sorts of crappy projects. So it makes a certain sense that they would finally end up in the same movie and it would be something as undistinguished as Collide, which starred Nicholas Hoult and Felicity Jones after Zach Efron and Amber Heard dropped out. There's a big ridiculous Hopkins/Kingsley showdown at the end and Jones looks surprisingly cute as a blonde, but otherwise it's pretty dreadful. 

i) Jurassic School
My kids found this on Netflix and it's just as terrible as you can probably guess from the title. I would actually like to see "MST3K" or one of those types of shows. They actually go back and forth between depicting the baby dinosaur with CGI and with a puppet. 

Monthly Report: August 2018 Albums

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

1. The Lemon Twigs - Go To School
The Lemon Twigs are two 20ish brothers from Long Island who make doggedly old-fashioned pop/rock that often recalls Todd Rundgren and Big Star on a 4-track in their basement. But Go To School is their second album for 4AD and features cameos from Rundgren and Jody Stephens. I got hooked on the band earlier this year when I heard "Tailor Made," the B-side of a single they released in March. Neither of the songs from that single is on Go To School, a concept album (actually, 'a musical' per the album cover) about...a monkey going to school. So while I shake my head a little bit at them leaving my favorite song off the album to pursue a deliberately ridiculous storyline, I appreciate the chutzpah of the gesture, and the album is full of memorable tunes. After all, some of the best concept albums are parodies of concept albums, dating back to Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick. I put this and the other albums I've been listening to this year into a 2018 albums Spotify playlist

2. YG - Stay Dangerous
YG's third major label album seems to suffer from comparison to his first two, which were among the best of the decade. I have to wonder if it's more about narrative than music, though. My Krazy Life was this great underdog moment where a regional star who'd been kicking around the charts for half a decade and his producer lined up with the zeitgeist perfectly. And then Still Brazy proved that YG could still thrive without DJ Mustard in his corner. Now, YG and Mustard are back together on Stay Dangerous and there's little of the excitement that was generated when they first fell out at the peak of their respective careers. But they're both a little more versatile than they were 4 years ago, it's hard to imagine them pulling off something like "Bomptown Finest" as well in 2014. "Suu Whoop" is my personal favorite but "Slay" is the one that deserves to be a hit, and you know I don't just ask to hear more Quavo on the radio like it's nothing. 

3. Lloyd - Tru
I loved Lloyd Polite, Jr.'s last album King of Hearts that was released over 7 years ago, and after his excellent 2016 single "Tru" and EP of the same name weren't immediate followed by an album, I started to think we'd never get another full-length from him. So I'm happy that he finally added 7 songs to the 4 he released in 2016 and completed the album, which maintains the kind of humble, wizened vibe of "Tru" but also gets some nice sleazy R&B slow jams in there. It's not often that singers who were stars as teenagers get to 30 seeming to have a pretty good head on their shoulders but this feels like an unusually relaxed and centered album from an aging R&B star. 

4. Troye Sivan - Bloom
It really seemed like Troye Sivan was being anointed as the next big pop superstar for a minute there but then they released half of this album as singles and none of them really took off. This album is really solid, though, I think the only time I'm not totally on board is when he briefly abandons the brooding synth pop thing for the folky "The Good Side" and it falls a little flat. "Plum" is great, though. 

5. Ariana Grande - Sweetener
Four albums in, Ariana Grande doesn't have any bad albums, but it increasingly feels like she'll never make a better one than her debut, 2013's Yours Truly. I have a real love/hate relationship with Pharrell Williams, who produced half of Sweetener with his typical one-size-fits-all style of making Ariana Grande sing over beats that sound like an outtake from G I R L or the last N.E.R.D. album half the time instead of crafting something that suits her voice. "Blazed" and "R.E.M" and "Get Well Soon" are decent, but really all the Pharrell stuff pales in comparison to the tried and true Max Martin/Ilya stuff that resembles the last couple albums more. "Breathin'" is almost too much like other Ariana tracks but I still love it, wish it was a single. 

6. Peter More - Beautiful Disrepair
Peter More is a young Austin singer/songwriter who fronted an obscure indie band called Oh Whitney who, it seems, by some twist of fate wound up befriending Steely Dan legend Donald Fagen on vacation in Mexico. So Fagen produced More's debut solo album, which is a bit more of an Americana thing than you might expect from the Fagen association, but has an appropriately pristine polish of old-fashioned session player magic and relaxed bluesy grooves. "Cuando" is probably the most Steely Dan-ish track. 

7. Moneybagg Yo - Bet On Me
Memphis is one of the great hip-hop cities and they've had a real moment lately. But it's kind of felt to me like the new stars (Blac Youngsta, Moneybagg Yo, and BlocBoy JB) all feel like they're following in the footsteps of the more established Yo Gotti and Young Dolph, when I'd love to hear some more unique voices and flows from the city that gave us MJG and Project Pat. But Moneybagg Yo has started to stand out to me more, in part because of Lil Baby's "All Of A Sudden," which I was just raving about on here recently. And Bet On Me is a really solid little 9-song project, with majority of the beats produced by Tay Keith, who I understand the hype around a little more after songs like "Wat U On" and "Exactly." 

8. T. Ali & Doowy Lloh - New Age Renegades EP
I haven't heard a lot previously by Baltimore rapper T. Ali and Baltimore producer Doowy Lloh but this 5-song collaboration is really good, there's kind of this subtle neon futuristic vibe to the production that sort of feels like it justifies the title. Haz2Real's 1993 is another Baltimore rap release from August that was really good. 

9. Fall Out Boy - Lake Effect Kid EP
On the eve of Fall Out Boy's first stadium show in Chicago, they released an EP of three songs dedicated to their hometown, and it's a pretty nice little chaser to Mania that, "Super Fade" aside, might go over better with longtime fans than the album did. "Lake Effect Kid" was first released as a demo 10 years just before Folie a Deux, an era that I basically consider the band's creative peak, so it's great to get a polished version of that, and "City In A Garden" is gorgeous too.

10. Travis Scott - Astroworld
Rap sales wars have long functioned as a symbolic changing of the guard, when one act that has always outsold another suddenly finds themselves on the losing side (most famously 50 Cent/Kanye). And that wasn't supposed to happen with Travis Scott and Nicki Minaj, since their albums didn't come out the same week, but when his 2nd week outsold her first week, it made for an unexpected contrast between two artists so different that nobody would've otherwise thought to compare them. It's interesting to think of their opposite sets of strengths and weaknesses, though: Nicki Minaj, for all her talent and all her hits, has never really known how to put together an album that didn't feel like a haphazard collection of hits and filler with no baseline aesthetic. Travis Scott, by comparison, can literally barely put together more than a couple coherent rhyming lines at a time, but he's the Best Aesthete Alive, and he's in total command of his audience and what they expect from him. You can feel him leaning into the unapologetic self-parody on the first 60 seconds of the album, when he lets loose an "it's lit!" and a "straight up!" But the less-is-more songwriting works for him, I'll admit -- the Kanye-penned verse on "Skeletons" sounds so awkward that the last thing I want is Travis Scott delivering lyrics by rappers who have more personality. Since he started his career as a producer, people tend to credit him with the sound of his records more than other rappers, and I think Astroworld gives lie to that -- he only has co-production credits on 2 tracks, and if he's trying to put his stamp on the tracks by combining beats from different producers, the beat switches on "Stargazing" and "Sicko Mode" sound awkward and pointless (in the latter case it sounds like 2 unfinished Drake collaborations got stapled together when it was album time, but of course people fucking love it). Still, Travis Scott remains a great curator of reference points, and the Goodie Mob interpolation on "5% Tint" is a refreshing addition to the more expected DJ Screw and Three 6 homages. So while Astroworld strikes me as mostly empty spectacle, it at least succeeds at being a spectacle far more often than Queen, so I understand why one album triumphed over the other.

The Worst Album of the Month: Trippie Redd - Life's A Trip
Travis Scott is kind of an unofficial forefather or elder statesman of the Soundcloud rap scene that Trippie Redd is one of the 2nd-tier stars of, and Travis appeared the lead single for Life's A Trip (also, on Twitter I joked that both of their albums have Insane Clown Posse cover art). But where Astroworld is kind of a successful argument for brooding melodic rock-influenced goth rap to rage to, Life's A Trip is a 'debut album' that sounds like a messy scattershot playlist. Some of the guitar-driven stuff actually sounds decent but is undercut by the fact that Trippie Redd's bleating 'rock' voice resembles Fat Mike of NOFX more than anyone else, and at one point on "Bird Shit" he stumbles upon a perfect imitation of the Howard Dean scream. Out of a crop of rappers that isn't necessarily prized for its musical talent, Trippie Redd might genuinely make the worst music out of the whole wave of Soundcloud stars, save for maybe 6ix9ine.