Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A couple months ago, I was tracking drums for some new songs with engineer Doug Bartholomew, and I put out an offer on Twitter to record drums for anyone who wanted live drums on a song or wanted some drumming to use for loops.

A couple of people took me up on it, and one of them, Pennsylvania-based MC/producer Doc Heller aka Darko The Super, put out a record today called What Up Duderino?!! that features loops of my drumming on 2 songs. One thing that was cool and unexpected is that I ended up on the same song (albeit different parts of the song) as Baltimore rapper Height Keech, who I've been listening to for 15 years and have interviewed several times over the last decade.

Movie Diary

Monday, October 29, 2018

a) Game Night
After a decade of various young actors have been taken under Judd Apatow's wing to write, produce and/or direct films of their own, John Francis Daley (Sam Weir from "Freaks & Geeks") seems to have slowly worked his way up to being a mainstream comedy filmmaker, along with frequent colllaborator Jonathan Goldstein, without really ever being part of the Apatow farm team system. I was never a big fan of the Horrible Bosses movies that were there breakthrough as screenwriters and that Vacation reboot was not a great step forward as a directors, but Game Night really hits the mark, one of the best big mainstream comedies in recent memory. It's crazy how little comedy Rachel McAdams has done in the last decade considering her breakthough in Mean Girls, hopefully this will make comedy a little more part of her niche.

b) Smallfoot
One of the better movies I've taken my son to see in recent memory, although as with most of them I ended up napping for some of the middle of the movie (the chairs in our local theater are really comfortable). Really enjoyed the cast and the basic concept was pretty clever, all the stuff about the Yetis having their own belief system and not wanting to divert from it ended up being kind of interesting and well done for a kids' movie.

c) The House With A Clock In Its Walls
I never thought I'd take my 9-year-old son to an Eli Roth movie, but I always thought his best stuff was the more overtly comedic Cabin Fever, so I'm cool with him making a silly family friendly Jack Black movie. Cate Blanchett seemed to have a lot of fun with her role, it was cool to see her in something like this.

d) When We First Met
Groundhog Day may be a movie that's aged well in terms of replay value, but the idea that you kind of root for the guy stuck in a time loop to basically use his situation to manipulate a woman into falling in love with him gets more troubling with each passing year. And When We First Met, in which a guy discovers a way to go back in time to the night he met his best friend and tries to use it to get out of the friendzone, feels almost like an entire movie built around that troubling conceit. Fortunately, it (spoiler alert) ends up mostly subverting that premise and criticizing it, albeit with the very Hollywood flourish of the average-looking dude giving up on chasing one gorgeous friend and ending up with another friend he'd ignored this whole time who's literally played by a former Miss Teen USA.

e) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
As someone who goes to the movie theater without their kid maybe 3 times a year, I always follow the Oscar race vicariously, kind of rooting for or against movies based on my opinions of the cast and crew's previous work or how convincing I find the positive or negative reviews and then finally seeing the movies 8-16 months later. So I was vaguely anti-Three Billboards all this time just on the principle that I thought Martin McDonagh's first 2 features were fairly empty, derivative dark comedies and I didn't think he had the depth to handle this movie's subject matter, even if I was happy that 3 actors I love got career boosts and Oscar wins or noms off of it. And for the first half of Three Billboards, I found myself enjoying it and maybe thinking I'd too hastily decided to root against it, but the end really just brought home how aggressively vacant the whole thing was.

f) Phantom Thread
I don't understand the whole thing where Paul Thomas Anderson is more revered than ever. Seems like a weird remnant of the '90s, like if people still took Beck super seriously or something. This one at least felt a little more straightforward and simple in its charms, and a little interesting and ambiguous in what it's saying about relationships and artists with demanding temperaments. I don't really understand the affectionate cult around the movie, though.

g) Next Gen
A pretty fun Netflix animated film, felt like a slightly lower quality Big Hero 6 but still pretty charming in its own right. I loved the opening montage where you see the protagonist grow from a sweet innocent child to a pissed off jaded teen, set to a Bikini Kill song, it was like a new twist on the Up montage.

h) Proud Mary
Taraji P. Henson headlining a throwback action movie where she plays the kind of role Pam Grier would've played back in the day seems like such a no-brainer awesome popcorn movie on paper. But in reality, this just doesn't quite pop as a fun movie or as a compelling serious movie.

i) Murder On The Orient Express
I just kind of put this on in the background as a pleasant period piece with a bunch of actors I like (and also Johnny Depp), didn't really pay much attention to it, seemed alright. 

j) The Quiet Ones
I came home from work late one night and my wife was watching this, so I only saw like the second half, but the ending was really intense and kinda stuck with me. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

I premiered the video for "Get Right" by Baltimore rapper Starrz on Noisey today.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

This week I made my first guest appearance on the podcast 808s And Bars, where I discussed the new Sheck Wes and Lil Baby/Gunna albums with hosts Porter and Jayson and was really surprised at what an interesting and wide-ranging conversation we ended up having.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Woodfir has another show in Baltimore this weekend, I'm happy that we're on the same bill with War On Women doing an acoustic set, still very proud of my collaboration with Shawna from some years back.

TV Diary

Thursday, October 18, 2018

a) "Maniac"
There's something very 2018 about two movie stars who launched their careers together in a goofy high school comedy a decade ago reuniting for a pretentious dystopian Netflix miniseries. This got off to a slow start for me, as someone who mainly watched it for Emma Stone, since she's barely in the first episode and the fun doesn't really start until the half of the show that takes place in fantasy dreamworlds. But then it gets pretty entertaining to watch Stone have a ball playing 4 or 5 wildly different characters. Jonah Hill too, I guess, I just kind of don't care about him or ever get anything out of his performances? The show wound up being a little more emotionally and narratively cohesive than I expected, but I still enjoyed it more from the standpoint of being a weird conceptual thing. I was really amused by Justin Theroux's character doing voiceover in the opening episode because basically doing his Lord Garmadon voice from The LEGO Ninjago Movie.

b) "Single Parents"
"New Girl" creator Elizabeth Meriwether's new show is pretty promising, I like the cast and the premise and it kind of puts a new enough spin on a show about parenting, being largely about the parents but also having some charming moments centered around the kids that aren't too cutesy. It's a show I have a hard time seeing surviving the first season, but I'm kinda rooting for it.

c) "The Neighborhood"
Back when "New Girl" started, Schmidt was the early breakout character and I kind of always assumed Max Greenfield's career prospects would be bright after the show. Instead, Jake Johnson is getting all the roles in big movies and Greenfield is on a hacky CBS sitcom where he does a more straightlaced version of the energetic overachiever Schmidt character in an 'odd couple' kind of dynamic with Cedric The Entertainer.

d) "Happy Together"
Likewise, Damon Wayans, Jr. was someone who was so entertaining as a member of an ensemble in both "New Girl" and "Happy Endings" that I was excited at the prospect of him starring in a new show, but "Happy Together" just has the CBS stench of formulaic lameness all over it. Wayans and Amber Stevens are funny together, but the whole premise where they're friends with an Australian pop star who looks like Harry Styles, it's weird, and that kid's just not funny.

e) "Mr Inbetween"
I already wrote quite a bit about this show in my Complex piece about TV hitmen, but I feel like I avoided saying too much about whether I thought the show was good. It's growing on me, but 6 episodes for a season is pretty short, so I feel like there's more to explore about this character that I guess they can get to in the next season. The finale was interesting because all these things were happening to Ray that he'd kind of done to other people, but then he just gets out of trouble in a badass tough guy way and it felt like there was no dramatic tension or redemption, just a tough guy pulling off a daring escape.

f) "The Good Cop"
A cop show starring Tony Danza and Josh Groban doesn't seem like the most promising thing on its face -- although I've always been impressed by Groban's sense of humor in his TV appearances, and he's good here even though I was initially disappointed that he's more of a straight man to Danza than a comedic presence. This show from "Monk" creator Andy Breckman is really well made and entertaining, though (I always liked "Monk" but kind of held it at arm's length, the cartoonish depiction of OCD irritated me). Danza, once again playing a character named Tony because he seems to like the running joke that he's too dumb to answer to another name, is really pretty great as the dirty cop who gets out of prison and is kept in line by his by-the-book cop son, the whole cast just has really good chemistry.

g) "The Haunting Of Hill House"
This show is kind of what I wanted the first season of "American Horror Story" to be before I realized how uninterested Ryan Murphy was in typical moody horror tropes. But a more slow-moving, ominous kind of horror series is maybe not as great an idea as it was in my head -- movies in this style require you to be on edge and uneasy for maybe 2 hours at most, and keeping that up over a 10-episode series can be kind of exhausting (I think -- we've only watched 3 episodes so far). It's growing on me, though, I liked that certain things that other shows would have put in episode 1 aren't really revealed until episode 3.

h) "The Romanoffs"
I never had especially high regard for "Mad Men" and kind of gave up on it after one season, and Matthew Weiner's debut feature Are You Here kind of solidified my impression that he's not actually much of a storyteller. So I'm not surprised that his expensive anthology series for Amazon is a big weird bust. All 8 episodes of "The Romanoffs" are standalone stories than run about 85 minutes, loosely connected by the conceit that the characters are or claim to be descendants of the Romanov family -- it makes me wonder if, after the failure of Are You Here, Weiner realized that he wouldn't get many more chances to direct feature films and basically tricked Amazon into giving him $70 million to make 8 mid-budget movies. I always made the charitable assumption that "Mad Men" was about inveterate womanizers because of the setting, but the first two episodes of "The Romanoffs" are both about guys bored with their relationships who have wish fulfillment affairs, so maybe that's just what Weiner is interested in. 

i) "A Million Little Things"
This show reminds me a lot of "13 Reasons Why," in both its premise and how I let the first episode or two pull on my heartstrings a little bit until I started to feel really repulsed by them. In a weird way, these shows about people committing suicide and leaving behind breadcrumbs to communicate with people they knew from beyond the grave are like a microcosm for emotionally manipulative TV, the way you've just been laid out this plan for how someone wants you to feel that you can still, ultimately, rebel against. And beyond that, I just think it's a really awful and irresponsible way to depict suicide.

j) "God Friended Me"
"God Friended Me" is the most widely ridiculed new show of the fall, just based on its title, but I'm pretty sure if the people making fun of the title watched it they'd have plenty more to make fun of. Brandon Micheal Hall, who last year played the bright-eyed idealistic young rapper-turned-politician in the cheesy but likable "The Mayor," is now the bright-eyed idealistic podcaster whose life is changed when God friends him on Facebook. And they do a decent job of turning this absurd premise into kind of a sweet inspirational little fantasy show like "Early Edition," it's still just so goofy. Violett Beane is really lovely, though.

k) "FBI"
This show is notable in the sense that Dick Wolf has finally taken up all of the available programming real estate on NBC and no has no choice but to bring a show to CBS. So it's kind of in his formula but that's never really been my thing. I feel like I'm beating up on CBS a lot because there are 6 of their shows in this post and I don't have anything positive to say about any of them, but all the jokes and stereotypes about CBS are pretty much true. They have exactly one primetime show I like, but I fell behind on "Mom" and haven't watched it regularly in years.

l) "I Feel Bad"
I at least expect hackneyed sitcoms from CBS, but "I Feel Bad" is almost shockingly bad by NBC's still pretty respectable standards. It feels like a full-length version of one of those commercials that's made to look and feel like a 30-second excerpt of a sitcom, just stock characters going through the most cliched sitcom situations with no real sense of timing or chemistry. And it only took like 3 episodes for the A plots and the B plots to feel like two different shows, where the main character is at home with her family and then they cut to some unrelated thing her wacky co-workers who you don't care at all are doing.

m) "The Cool Kids"
FOX has taken quite a turn as a network, because in the space of a few months they went from having a solid lineup of live action comedies ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine," "New Girl," "The Last Man On Earth" and "Ghosted") to an outright terrible one ("The Cool Kids," "Rel," and the return of "Last Man Standing"). "The Cool Kids" is full of comedy veterans playing irascible old folks in a retirement home, so it's not unpleasant in its predictability, but it's also pretty worthless. And David Alan Grier has that really bad fake gray hair that I associate with that one Tyler Perry TV show and rap videos where they pretend to be old people.

n) "Hilda"
A really charming Netflix animated series based on a graphic novel about a blue-haired girl in a Scandinavian fantasy world full of monsters. My 9-year-old only watched a handful of episodes before he lost interest but I really like it, might have to watch the rest myself.

o) "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat"
Interesting, different kind of food show that kind of takes a more elemental approach to cooking and how and why things taste good.

p) "All American"
Very boilerplate high school sports show on The CW, really didn't hold my attention. Taye Diggs has finally started to age, but he's almost 50, so good on him.

q) "New Amsterdam"
I think I only have room for at most one generic sexy doctor show in my life at any given time and my wife and I have been watching "The Resident" so I don't think I'll stick with this. It's a little weird to see Tyler Labine as a gray-haired head of psychiatry after the last decade or so of him playing every kind of goofy slacker.

r) "Magnum P.I."
With "Hawaii Five-O" and "S.W.A.T." and "MacGyver" reboots going strong, CBS is continuing to revive every campy old action series of the '70s and '80s. And since I have no reverence for the original show, I really don't care that the new Magnum is hispanic and doesn't have a mustache or that Higgins was rewritten as a woman, I mean, whatever, guys, go nuts. I feel bad that Zachary Knighton from "Happy Endings" is a sidekick on this show, though, he deserves better.

s) "Lethal Weapon"
This cheesy reboot of a hoary '80s franchise was humming along well for 2 seasons when all hell broke loose and their Riggs, Clayne Crawford, turned out to be as unstable as Mel Gibson and got fired. The third season kicked off with Riggs dying and Sean William Scott joining the cast as a new character, but the Stifler era may be short-lived, because Damon Wayans is such a good Murtaugh that he said he's too old to do this show and is leaving after they finished the 3rd season. Sean William Scott is way better than Clayne Crawford at this light-hearted action stuff, so I kind of like the new version of the show better, but it's still aggressively mediocre and unnecessary.

t) "The Amazing Human Body"
A cool PBS miniseries, I don't feel like I learned much new watching it but I liked the visuals and the way they presented the material, might be a good educational thing for kids to watch.

u) "The Hunt For The Trump Tapes With Tom Arnold"
Tom Arnold has always been kind of knowingly ridiculous, kind of acting like he knows he stumbled into a career in show business and hamming up his lack of polish. And so his weird 'investigative' show for Vice is kind of an exercise in self-deprecation where he just kind of stammers through interviews and monologues about finding any dirt at all on Trump that might possibly have the consequences that none of the other unearthed dirt has. It's depressing to watch and kind of realize just how desperate our situation has been that I feel any hope at all for Arnold to succeed in his mission.

v) "9-1-1"
The first season of "9-1-1" stuck 3 very talented lead actors (Angela Bassett, Peter Krause, and Connie Britton) with the worst, most clumsy and perfunctory dialogue the Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk meat grinder could give them. So I wasn't surprised at all to hear that one of them, Connie Britton, tapped out for the second season, and they brought in someone a little closer to the show's level, Jennifer Love Hewitt, to replace her. It's a fun pulpy little show and I like the cast, but man they really should hire better writers.

w) "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"
It's exciting to see "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" head into its 4th and final season and see just where they can still take the story at this point. Season 3 was really its darkest yet, but the rock bottom that the new season has opened with has a little more levity to the story, so I'm enjoying the whole ridiculous prison plotline.

x) "Fresh Off The Boat"
Constance Wu has been one of the funniest women on television for years now and I hoped that her huge box office success with Crazy Rich Asians would lead ABC to really value "Fresh Off The Boat" more. Instead, they moved it and another one of their best comedies, "Speechless," to Fridays, a longtime no-man's-land of network television, and I don't care if they're calling it 'TGIF,' it seems bad to me. I enjoyed the little nod to "Full House" in their season premiere, though.

y) "Last Man Standing"
Some of my music nerd friends side eye me blogging about TV, which I totally understand, and a while back one of them roasted me on twitter and told me to go write about "Last Man Standing," which I suppose is reason enough to actually do it because who cares, I'm not cool. I shamefully watched a number of episodes of this show in its original run on ABC, mainly because Molly Ephraim is a babe, and she's not on the new FOX version of the show, but I kind of respect that they just brazenly recast her character with someone who's a foot taller and has a different hair color and just made a meta joke out of it.

z) "Murphy Brown"
It seems like one of the recurring themes of old sitcoms being revived, from "Will & Grace" to "Roseanne," is that they're all very eager to timestamp the new episodes with constant references to Trump and jokes about "fake news" and so on. "Murphy Brown" was actually about politics and current events in its original incarnation, so it's at least not as forced here, but it's possibly the worst of all these reboots, just completely unnecessary and flattening the modest charms of the original show (and my favorite part of the old show was Eldin, but Robert Pastorelli died in 2004).

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 123: Sonic Youth

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

This Thursday, October 18th, is the 30th anniversary of Daydream Nation, and I don't like to throw around superlatives often, but I'll go ahead and call it the greatest album by my favorite band of all time. Sonic Youth are not what one might consider a singles act -- they only had a handful of minor rock radio hits in the '90s, and the closest thing they had to a career-spanning best-of compilation was called Hits Are For Squares. But interestingly I've found that because they were around for so long, and had so many entry points for different audiences and different generations, that they kind of do have a good canonical set of singles -- their top 10 songs on Spotify feature 9 singles (or the most famous track off a given album) from 7 different albums running from the mid-'80s to the mid-2000s. So even though they're a band that I think rewards obsessive consumption of their whole catalog, I think there are a lot of casual fans who really like one particular album or era of the band, and I always try to provide good gateways to appreciating more of their stuff.

Sonic Youth deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. The World Looks Red
2. Brave Men Run (In My Family)
3. Death To Our Friends
4. Catholic Block
5. 'Cross The Breeze
6. Hey Joni
7. Cinderella's Big Score
8. Purr
9. JC
10. Tokyo Eye
11. Skip Tracer
12. French Tickler
13. Renegade Princess
14. Rain On Tin
15. Paper Cup Exit
16. Reena
17. No Way

Track 1 from Confusion Is Sex (1983)
Track 2 from Bad Moon Rising (1985)
Track 3 from Evol (1986)
Track 4 from Sister (1987)
Tracks 5 and 6 from Daydream Nation (1988)
Track 7 from Goo (1990)
Tracks 8 and 9 from Dirty (1992)
Track 10 from Experimental Jet Set, Trash, And No Star (1994)
Track 11 from Washing Machine (1995)
Track 12 from A Thousand Leaves (1986)
Track 13 from NYC Ghosts & Flowers (2000)
Track 14 from Murray Street (2002)
Track 15 from Sonic Nurse (2004)
Track 16 from Rather Ripped (2006)
Track 17 from The Eternal (2009)

There's a nice symmetry to how their career wound up -- 5 proper full-length albums in the '80s, 5 in the '90s, 5 in the 2000s. And I would totally say they were one of the best rock bands of each of those decades (probably the best of the '80s). It's hard to say I could ask for more of a band that did so much for so long, but it does make a little sad that they broke up when they still had momentum and were making great music, that if not for personal differences they might have made 5 more excellent albums in this decade (incidentally, I thought it was gonna feel fun to end the playlist with a song as fast as "No Way," but actually listening to it I realized what a grimly appropriate breakup song from the band's final album it is). Each member of the band has done good stuff since then, but that would've happened anyway, there were tons of great Sonic Youth side projects and solo albums while the band was still going.

Given that some of their best songs are pretty long and I wanted to include something from every album in my 80-minute limit, it was pretty hard to pick and choose. So I'd kind of strategize and include my favorite 7-minute epics "'Cross The Breeze" and "Rain On Tin" and use multiple songs from just two albums where it seemed to make sense: the double album masterpiece Daydream Nation, and Dirty, which I don't think is one of their very best but is their top selling album and at 15 tracks there's a lot of really great stuff to choose from. "JC" was, like Dirty's big single "100%," dedicated to the band's murdered friend Joe Cole, but it's a much gentler and more beautiful flipside to the single.

For a band who only had a few true 'hits,' a lot of their best loved songs are album tracks, but I tried to mostly avoid the most popular tracks from albums and things that stayed in the band's setlists beyond the initial album cycle, with some exceptions ("Rain On Tin" stayed in the band's shows for many years and I think is kind of the essential deep cut of their last decade). While there are albums like Sister or Murray Street where I could've used practically any track, I really had the most fun cherry-picking from the albums that probably could stand to have better reputations. Experimental Jet Set was my odd introduction to the band and I still think it has so many cool interesting arrangements like "Tokyo Eye" that aren't quite like anything else in the band's catalog. I was horribly disappointed with NYC Ghosts & Flowers when it came out, even before I saw famous pans like the Pitchfork review, but songs like "Renegade Princess" can sound pretty awesome when taken out of the context of the album's unsatisfying whole.

I'd like to note that there's an annoying little issue with the Spotify version of "Skip Tracer" -- the first 23 seconds or so of the track actually belong on the previous track on Washing Machine (unlisted on the original album sleeve but known officially as "Becuz Coda"). I don't even know how the streaming version of an album would end up with tracks starting and stopping in different spots than they did on the CD, but that's pretty irritating. I love "Skip Tracer," though. I thought for 20 years about covering that song in 2015 and then I didn't and regret it. Several of my many Sonic Youth mixtapes and mix CDs over the years have been collections of Lee Ranaldo's relatively few vocal turns, so I tried to pick 3 good ones from different decades for this playlist.

As someone who plays drums in guitar bands but doesn't play guitar I always kind of look at Sonic Youth in awe for the way they took an instrument I already kind of found mystifying and did such different things with tunings and effects and textures that they kind of brought into the rock realm from the avant garde. The way they kind of started out just kind of making weird noise and writing these simple 'dark nursery rhyme' kind of songs and then gradually found their footing as a full-on rock band that wrote incredible songs is really inspiring to me, it's something like how the Rolling Stones were a covers band until Mick and Keith tapped into their songwriting abilities. In fact, I really see the Stones and Sonic Youth similarly in a lot of ways, the way they were able to take this relatively simple sound and get so much creative mileage out of it for decades, there probably have not been any other bands that were that good for that long.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Foo Fighters are playing Minneapolis this Thursday, so I did a piece for City Pages updating the deep cuts playlist I posted here a few years ago. 

Monthly Report: October 2018 Singles

Monday, October 15, 2018

1. YG f/ 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Nicki Minaj - "Big Bank"
"Big Bank" got a pretty negative reaction when it was first released, I think largely because of the beat, which sounds like DJ Mustard almost making a joke of doing the dinkiest Nerf version of his signature production style possible. But more than that, I think things like French Montana's "Pop That" and most DJ Khaled singles have kind of conditioned people to expect that if you have 4 rap stars on one track, the beat is going to be this big loud eventful thing. And I'm kind of happy that "Big Bank" kind of powered through early skepticism to become YG's biggest solo hit, the beat grew on me and every verse is good -- as someone who never wants to say anything nice about Big Sean, especially when he's on a song with 2 Chainz, I gotta give him credit, Sean did his thing. I also like how the really loud fire alarm klaxon sounds out at the end of the song that feels totally incongruous with the beat but for some reason works as a good closing. Here's the 2018 singles playlist I update every month. 

2. King Princess - "1950"
This song is on the pop charts all over Europe and Australia but just kinda grazed the top 20 of the alternative chart here and I'm annoyed that it didn't get bigger in America, it's really quite beautiful. 

3. Jacquees - "You" 
Jacquees's debut album 4275 came out in June and is one of my favorite albums of the year but it really feels like it didn't get much attention, his single that was big a year earlier "B.E.D." is on it but none of the new songs on the album made much noise. Instead, his collaborations with Dej Loaf and TK Kravitz got more airplay this year, and his remix of Ella Mai's "Trip" got a lot of buzz online, particularly after Ella's label had his version taken down. And people that apparently don't even know Jacquees just released the album have been roasting him about it and telling him to make original songs instead of remixing other people's songs, it's weird. Amidst all this, Cash Money decided to start promoting "You," one of several Jacquees songs from February's soundtrack to the Cash Money documentary Before Anythang, and it's not a bonus track on 4275 picking up steam at radio, so the album may not be DOA after all. And I'm kinda glad they rescued this song from obscurity, the chorus ("I'd rather be with you and all your bullshit") is kind of an oddly poignant observation about how when you fall in love, you'd rather have a complicated relationship with that person than a simple relationship with anyone else. 

4. 5 Seconds Of Summer - "Youngblood"  
When 5 Seconds Of Summer blew up a few years ago, it was kind of novel that this pop punk band who played instruments were touring with One Direction and being put in the same spaces as pop stars and vocal groups. But on their 3rd album, they finally gave in and went Maroon 5 and let a bunch of Top 40 producers and songwriters assemble a bunch of mostly programmed sounds for their records. And the album has mixed results but generally I think their factory-generated music is a little better than the band's true sound and "Youngblood" is probably one of the best things they've done, a deserving first top 10 hit in America.

5. Ari Lennox - "Whipped Cream" 
Ari Lennox is a singer signed to J. Cole's label who's from Washington, D.C., so I don't think this song gets played other places as much as it gets spins in D.C., but I like it, it's really grown on me lately.

6. Florence + The Machine - "Hunger" 
A couple weekends ago I took my wife to see Florence + The Machine and it was fantastic, I'm more of a casual fan than her but it was easily one of the best concerts I've seen in the past couple years, just an amazing vocalist with an 8-piece band building as much drama and catharsis out of her big orchestral pop songs as possible. And the show opened with the same 1-2 of "June" and "Hunger" as her latest album, with her practically running from one end of the stage to the other while singing the latter. The hardest working person besides Florence at these concerts is probably the guy who has to keep the spotlight on her while she's moving around. So that's what I'll always think of now when I hear "Hunger." 

7. Mary J. Blige - "Only Love"  
Strength Of A Woman was a great comeback moment for Mary and I'm glad she's coming right back with a new single a year later with a production team as good as Pop & Oak who I don't think she's ever worked with before. And it's cool that this song samples '70s Philly soul group First Choice, because "Pop" Wansel is the son of a Gamble & Huff staff songwriter from that scene and Mary J. covered one of their songs on one of her '90s albums. 

8. Kygo f/ Miguel - "Remind Me To Forget"
Miguel is such an incredible and versatile vocalist that I think it's almost a waste that he's merely a major R&B star and not a bigger crossover figure. So I like seeing stuff like the song he did for the Coco soundtrack and this song with EDM star Kygo create some little moments where he kind of reaches beyond his established fanbase. This song sounds a little too much like the crappy Kygo song with Selena Gomez but it's still pretty good beyond that. 

9. Meek Mill f/ Jeremih and PNB Rock - "Dangerous"
Once upon a time I thought Meek Mill's biggest selling point was how much volume and energy his biggest records had, how even his milder radio records like "Amen" weren't too soft and that he was letting Wale handle MMG's R&B lane. So it's amusing that a half decade later, Meek's R&B singles do better than Wale's or even Rick Ross's. PNB Rock's voice is so weird, I'm surprised and almost annoyed that he actually sounds good on here blending his voice with Jeremih's. And it's perhaps even more surprising that Yung Berg has kind of created a solid 2nd career as a producer (now called Hitmaka) and I hear his producer tag on the radio all the time. 

10. Imagine Dragons - "Natural" 
I've kind of resigned myself to the fact that Imagine Dragons are more or less the most successful rock band of the 2010s and probably aren't going away anytime soon. So as much as I hated all 3 of the big hits from last year's Evolved and feel like they've just continue to steamroll the charts with several new singles this year and "Natural," the lead single from another album due out in a few weeks, I actually like "Natural" more than almost anything they've done to date. It's kind of got a little more speed and propulsion to it than their other big loud drum-driven songs like "Believer." 

The Worst Single of the Month: Weezer - "Africa"
I thought Weezer kind of rode things out as a decent singles act in their second decade but in the last few years it felt like they finally became a really hollow, worthless self-parody. So it pains me so much that they managed to game the pop charts with a big comeback hit by simply appeasing the request of a viral tweet that asked them to cover a big cheesey '80s song. But at least they kind of trolled the idea by releasing a cover of the Toto hit that I actually like, "Rosanna," first. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

I wrote a piece for Complex called Humanizing the Hitman about 2018's crop of shows about contract killers (Barry, Mr Inbetween, Killing Eve).

Reading Diary

Thursday, October 11, 2018

a) It's A Long Story: My Life, by Willie Nelson and David Ritz
I found this marked down in a bookstore so reading it was kind of a whim, I almost didn't feel ready for it since I only know a relatively small amount of Willie Nelson's dozens of albums. But it turned out to be a pretty useful listening guide, Nelson goes into amazing detail about every period of his life, from his childhood up to his albums from this decade. He wrote an autobiography in the '80s before his big IRS scandal, so perhaps understandably that becomes the big pivotal event that a lot of this book is framed around, which gets a little tiresome at some points but I guess I understand, it was a huge news story. But I love how granular the details are, from the music he heard as a kid that inspired him to pick up a guitar to the songs he'd play as a radio DJ (including "Red Headed Stranger," many years before it became the centerpiece and title track of his greatest album) to lots of frank and interesting details about making many of his albums. Anybody would be lucky to remember this much of their life in their 80s, especially a guy who's lived such a remarkable life, Ritz did a great job of preserving Willie's spoken voice in the text and organizing the story.

b) Petty: The Biography, by Warren Zanes 
You might think that the 4-hour Peter Bogdanovich documentary Runnin' Down A Dream would be so comprehensive that there's not much more to tell of Tom Petty's story. But Warren Zanes published this book about 8 years after that film was released, so he had the chance to know exactly how to go deeper and in some ways react to the movie and be a little more frank about things like drug use (Petty's co-lead singer in Mudcrutch for a few months, pissed that the doc glossed over his involvement in the band, gets to air his grievances, although he doesn't necessarily come off better for it). The whole book is really wonderful and engrossing, though, I'm glad I was deep in it recently when the An American Treasure box set came out and the anniversary of Petty's death passed. Incidentally, I've started to take an interest in Leon Russell because he was never really someone I heard about at all, growing up, relative to other stars of the late '60s and '70s, but he's kind of a notable recurring figure in both the Willie Nelson and Tom Petty bios and you get a sense of what a big deal he was at the time.

c) Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, by Jeff Chang
This book was out for well over a decade and rightfully widely praised before I finally got around to putting it on a Christmas list and owning it, I think something about the title or cover was off-putting to me, I can't even put my finger on it. But this is really excellent, I love how deeply Chang gets into the social and political climate of The Bronx and Jamaica in the '70s to give you the context that DJ culture and hip-hop was birthed from. The detail about the accidental birth of the dubplate was by itself just such a cool nugget.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

I'll be playing drums with Woodfir at the Sidebar on October 12th, where we're playing with Bees and Ozmo. In related news, the 2 songs Woodfir released earlier this year are now available on Spotify and other streaming services!

Monthly Report: September 2018 Albums

Friday, October 05, 2018

1. Christine And The Queens - Chris 
I only heard my favorite album of the last month because I heard a cool-sounding song, "Doesn't Matter," while buying clothes for my kids in Old Navy and got out my phone and Shazam'd it, which makes me really feel lame and square (I also vaguely remember looking up Christine And The Queens' earlier viral dance video for "Tilted" after characters on "Better Things" reenacted the video on the show's last season finale). But in any event, I'm glad I checked out this album, it's fantastic. A lot of young acts these days are mining this particular vein of funky '80s pop, but Heloise Letissier's voice and lyrics are distinctive enough to cut through and feel a little more like individual expression. Letissier is from France and recorded the entire album in both English and French, I'm glad the U.S. release of the album has both versions, it's fun to hear the difference and I enjoyed hearing the songs in French more than I thought I would (also, the one song that's only on the French version, "Le G," is awesome. I put all the albums I listen to this year into this 2018 albums Spotify playlist

2. MNEK - Language
"Never Forget You" by Zara Larsson and MNEK was one of my favorite pop hits of 2016, but MNEK has largely bbeen writing and producing for big stars since then, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him release a new solo album. Language opens with "Background," a brief song where MNEK sings about coming out from his behind-the-scenes work to the spotlight, which transitions to a silly interlude where two girls sing along to "Never Forget You," one mispronounces MNEK's name, and the other sets her (and the listener) straight (MNEK is basically a way of tricking you into saying 'Emenike' correctly). MNEK's music is a nice fusion of EDM and pop and R&B with a little UK garage influence, kind of that lane that served Craig David so well, but MNEK really puts his own stamp on it with his personality and makes some fantastic-sounding beats. "Crazy World" with Becky Hill is a particular favorite.

3. Tom Petty - An American Treasure 
I've been reading the Tom Petty biography by Warren Zanes lately and revisiting Petty's music a lot so I was really happy to hear that the first posthumous project would be a big 4 hour box set. An American Treasure has about a dozen previously unreleased songs that are woven into a semi-chronological collection of album tracks, alternate takes, live recordings, and other miscellany. It's a pretty fun and satisfying way to amble through Petty's career, with the hits only peppered through in different incarnations (like an alternate mix of "Here Comes My Girl" that has some great different Mike Campbell leads on the outro). A lot of favorites from my Petty deep cuts playlist are represented, including "Insider," "Southern Accents," and "The Wild One, Forever." And you get a good look at how one of his most underrated albums, Long After Dark, could've been different -- an alternate "Straight Into Darkness," the newly unearthed outtake "Keep A Little Soul," and the famous 'one that got away' outtake that Petty often regretted leaving off the album, "Keeping Me Alive."

4. Prince - Piano & A Microphone 1983
I'm glad that Tom Petty and Prince's respective estates have taken different approaches for their first posthumous releases -- mixing Petty rarities in with more familiar material works for him, but Prince has so much unreleased material that I definitely want to hear albums mined from specific sessions and eras (although I feel weird that Prince probably didn't want a lot of that stuff to see the light of day, but it's kind of on him that he never left any kind of will or instructions, so we get what we get). Piano & A Microphone 1983 is a promising start in that direction because they basically just found a 34-minute demo tape of Prince singing and playing piano and released it as is. So you get a few fully fleshed out, incredible performances, but also a lot of cool off-the-cuff stuff like a 1-minute sketch of "Purple Rain" and a great version of "Strange Relationship" made about 4 years before the song would end up on an album. It's by definition kind of a minor record, more exciting if you isolate the best performances than to look at it as an actual album, but it's hard to imagine any other musician messing around this casually for a half hour and it sounding this good. 

5. The Joy Formidable - Aaarth
Each of The Joy Formidable's 4 albums has gotten substantially less attention than the one before it, but they really haven't made a bad record and Aaarth is probably the best since their classic debut, 2011's The Big Roar. They still do the big epic neo-shoegaze thing well but there's a lot more to their sound, particularly on the opener "Y Bluen Eira." 

6. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter V
I think my piece about this album for Noisey came out well, but judging from some of the reactions to it, maybe I came off a little more negative toward the album than I could've been. There are some really great songs on here, particularly "Dope" and "Mona Lisa" and "Start This Shit Off Right," they're just kinda swimming in some less interesting stuff. All these 90-minute rap albums sound like they were sequenced a little indifferently, when really I think sequencing is more important when an album is longer, you can blunt the impact of good songs if you put them in the wrong place. 

7. Kevin Gates - Luca Brasi 3
Kevin Gates started 2016 with a great platinum breakthrough album, ISLAH, and ended it beginning a year in prison. So Luca Brasi 3 feels less like a big follow-up than just his first project getting back into the swing of things, he's always had his own particular sound and ear for beats and there's nothing too new or different here. I really like "Adding Up" and "Luca Brasi Freestyle," but there's also a poorly timed upbeat song called "Me Too" and a "make America trap again" song.

8. Noname - Room 25
I don't demand that every rapper be as animated as Busta Rhymes, but I definitely listen to a lot of my favorite MCs because of their expressive and elastic voices. So someone like Noname, who came from the poetry scene and has this kind of softly delivered spoken word flow, I don't vibe with it really heavily, even though lyrically and musically it's not far off from my favorite stuff from Chance The Rapper and other people in that Chicago scene. She's definitely really talented and at times funny in a really biting, incisive way, but it still sounds a little too much like an ASMR rap album for me.

9. The Band Perry - Coordinates EP 
In 2010 and 2013, The Band Perry released two very successful pop country albums that spun off 7 radio hits, and then they entered a very strange sort of career wilderness for the next 5 years. They released 3 singles that leaned further away from country and more toward Taylor Swift-style crossover pop, but they didn't cross over -- in fact each one was less successful than the last. They jumped from one major label to another, and then got dropped from that label and went independent. And now they've finally resurfaced with a self-released 5-song EP produced by Rick Rubin that is darker and more overtly electronic than their attempts at Top 40 singles, influenced by stuff like Yeezus and Trent Reznor. It's a little jarring, particularly because Kimberly Perry has the same clear and pretty voice she used to sing over banjos and fiddles with, but it works, I'm kinda rooting for their weird career pivot to thrive. 

10. Nile Rodgers & Chic - It's About Time 
It's been over 5 years since Nile Rodgers brought the classic Chic sound back to the pop charts with Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and announced that he was working on a new Chic album, and 3 years since the first release date for the ironically named It's About Name came and went. So it's hard not to feel like the album is a little anticlimactic, especially since its 10 tracks include 2 versions of the same song and a Lady Gaga-sung re-recording of an old Chic hit, "I Want Your Love." I'm just happy it's finally here, and there's a nice run of tracks like "I Dance My Dance" and "State of Mine (It's About Time)" that feel like a pretty perfect modern update of the classic Chic sound.

The Worst Album of the Month: 6lack - East Atlanta Love Letter
I've always enjoyed making fun of 6lack's name and calling him "six-lack," but I never really felt strongly about his music either way. Listening to this album, though, he started to sound less like the Bryson Tiller 'trap soul' wave to me that I previously thought of him as, and started sounding more like the white and racially ambiguous Top 40 singers that I've started calling 'Frat R&B' lately: Bazzi, Bryce Vine, MAX, Lauv, and so on. His voice just really sucks, and he closes the album with a somber power ballad about how he's "gonna love you like a stan."

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 122: Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Thursday, October 04, 2018

With Elvis Costello gearing up to release his first album in a few years, Look Now, next week, I had been thinking of doing this playlist for a few months. And then in July the worrying news came out that he'd be canceling some tourdates after undergoing surgery following a cancer diagnosis. I hope that he enjoys a full recovery and many healthy years to come, things sound pretty positive on that front, but in any event he's been in my thoughts a lot and I'm remembering all the great music he's made and how much it's meant to me. A few years ago I actually made a 'box set' of 4 Elvis Costello playlists, one for each decade of his career, so this is really more or less a pared down version of the '70s and '80s picks from those.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Waiting For The End Of The World
2. Mystery Dance
3. Blame It On Cane
4. Welcome To The Working Week
5. No Action
6. You Belong To Me
7. This Year's Girl
8. Lipstick Vogue
9. Party Girl
10. Green Shirt
11. Two Little Hitlers
12. The Imposter
13. Secondary Modern
14. King Horse
15. You'll Never Be A Man
16. Strict Time
17. Brown To Blue
18. ...And In Every Home
19. Beyond Belief
20. The Greatest Thing
21. Worthless Thing
22. I'll Wear It Proudly
23. Indoor Fireworks
24. Uncomplicated
25. I Hope You're Happy Now
26. Pads, Paws And Claws
27. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

Tracks 1, 2, 3 and 4 from My Aim Is True (1977)
Tracks 5, 6, 7 and 8 from This Year's Model (1978)
Tracks 9, 10 and 11 from Armed Forces (1979)
Tracks 12, 13 and 14 from Get Happy!! (1980)
Tracks 15 and 16 from Trust (1981)
Track 17 from Almost Blue (1981)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Imperial Bedroom (1982)
Track 20 from Punch The Clock (1983)
Track 21 from Goodbye Cruel World (1984)
Tracks 22 and 23 from King Of America (1986)
Tracks 24 and 25 from Blood And Chocolate (1986)
Tracks 26 and 27 from Spike (1989)

Three of the above albums are not with The Attractions -- My Aim Is True, King Of America, and Spike, although Attractions members play on some songs on the latter 2. Elvis Costello has made a lot of wide ranging music with a lot of different collaborators, but the music with The Attractions will always be closest to my heart. Even his band of the last 16 years, The Imposters, is basically just the Attractions' Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas with a new bassist in place of the Attractions' Bruce Thomas -- kind of a snide and clever way to preempt any criticism of the substitution, as well as a nod to the Get Happy!! deep cut "The Imposter" (and the alias he released the "Pills And Soap" single under).

There's an oft-quoted David Lee Roth quip that "The reason the critics all like Elvis Costello better than me is because they all look like Elvis Costello." That's a funny line, and I'll say there's at least a little truth to it for me: when I was a teenager who'd been recently saddled with corrective lenses, I began to gravitate to the short-haired bespectacled rock stars who were a little easier to relate to than glamorous long-haired rock gods. So I had a soft spot for Buddy Holly and They Might Be Giants and Talking Heads, and from the age of 16 forward, I absolutely worshiped Elvis Costello. I think part of growing up was learning to take Costello's (sometimes misogynist) nerd rage with a grain of salt, to acknowledge his mistakes like the Ray Charles incident and make no excuses for him. But he remains someone who really shaped my taste and showed how you could be both a sharp lyricist and an omnivorous musical adventurer.

I kind of put Elvis & The Attractions in a personal holy trinity with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, all acts that got started in the '70s and set great examples for what could be accomplished by a brilliant singer/songwriter when they assemble the perfect band to back them. Pete Thomas is just one of my favorite drummers ever, Steve Nieve brilliantly reinvented the role of the rock keyboardist, and even the contentious ex-bassist Bruce Thomas contributed countless great moments to the catalog, from "Party Girl" to "Beyond Belief."

I hemmed and hawed about whether to include "Beyond Belief," since it was never released as a single but is widely and rightly regarded as one of his greatest songs and has appeared on pretty much every best-of compilation covering the first decade of his career. So, not the deepest cut, but a deep cut nonetheless.

I could include virtually any deep cut from the first three albums, so I kind of narrowed it down by whim, although "Lipstick Vogue" and "Green Shirt" would make the cut any day of the week. I was recently pleased to hear "This Year's Girl" as the theme song to the second season of "The Deuce." Incidentally, there's a great story that Elvis Costello wanted to look pissed off on the cover of This Year's Model and asked the photographer to play "Hotel California" while he took the picture. Apparently white rockers flirting with reggae was an extremely territorial business in the '70s.

Elvis Costello's 1980s were such an up-and-down decade of successes and failures, albums that were given over entirely to genre experiments and production conceits. But he wrote a ton of great songs for 9 albums in all, and finished up with Spike, a comeback record that included his biggest U.S. chart hit, "Veronica," as well as another less revered Paul McCartney co-write, "Pads, Paws And Claws," so that seemed like a good point to end the mix, chronologically speaking.

I should note that famed Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick passed away this week, since Imperial Bedroom was his crowning achievement as a producer. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with both that album and King Of America, which are good but I feel like don't entirely deserve their reputations as Costello's best post-'70s albums. They obviously have great songs, though. That string arrangement on "...And In Every Home" always amazes me. And I love "I'll Wear It Proudly" with that beautiful Mitchell Froom organ refrain that, as Costello once pointed out in reissue liner notes, foreshadowed his similar work on Crowded House's hit "Don't Dream It's Over" later that year.

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
Vol. 118: Lil Wayne
Vol. 119: Nirvana
Vol. 120: Kix
Vol. 121: Phil Collins

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

I reviewed Mudhoney's Digital Garbage for Spin.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

I wrote about Lil Wayne's Tha Carter V for Noisey.