Friday, January 25, 2019

I have a new single out today, "Conditional Love," from Western Blot's forthcoming second album Materialistic. You can hear it on Bandcamp, Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube, Amazon, and all the other usual places.

Kathleen Wilson of Thee Lexington Arrows sings on "Conditional Love," she was also on the first Western Blot album, including the one we shot a video for, "Dull Dark Side."  "Conditional Love" is the shortest song on the album but one of my favorites, we'd done basic tracks for every other song on the album when I was going through demos from 10+ years ago and was reminded of this great chorus I never did anything with and realized it fit thematically with the rest of Materialistic, and put it all together really quickly so it could be on the album. This is the second single after "Zeros All The Way Down" in November, with more to come before the album's release.


Monthly Report: January 2019 Singles

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

1. Maren Morris - "Girl" 
I never pegged Maren Morris as someone who'd fully go Taylor Swift after her first experiment with dance pop, "The Middle" with Zedd, became one of last year's biggest hits. But her idea of country has always had a fair amount of rock and pop influences, so I was curious to see where she'd head with her second album. And the lead single hits a nice sweet spot of being a little glossy but also twangy and guitar-driven. Greg Kurstin has been one of the most versatile producers in popular music for a decade now, and in the past couple years alone he's really diversified even more, producing singles for Kendrick Lamar, Zayn, Foo Fighters, and now his first entry on the country charts. I'm also a little amused by the title because lately there have been more songs by men with the word "girl" in the title that songs by women on country radio (where there are currently 2 of the former in the top 10 and zero of the latter). Here's the new 2019 singles playlist that I'll be updating with 10 new songs every month this year.

2. The Bonfyre - "Automatic" 
I rolled my eyes at the name, it's like a parody of what R&B singer names are like after The Weeknd. But this song is really good, nice relaxed throwback slow jam, another win from Yung Berg's unlikely comeback producing under the name Hitmaka. 

3. Sara Bareilles - "Armor" 
I've always loved Sara Bareilles's stuff with a simple piano/bass/drums sound the most, so I'm happy that her first non-Waitress record in 5 years is being produced by T-Bone Burnett and has a bit of a more live stripped down sound. I love the left hand piano riff that Bareilles has described as her homage to Tori Amos. 

4. YG f/ Quavo - "Slay"  
From my first spin of Stay Dangerous I thought this song deserved to be a single, and I feel like that means something because the last thing I think about rap radio right now is 'needs more Quavo.' 

5. Lloyd - "Caramel" 
I kind of feel bad for Lloyd and Mario that they're going to be on B2K's 'Millennium' tour this year getting that mid-2000s nostalgia money when they're both still making good contemporary-sounding music, unlike the rest of the bill. So I'm glad that Lloyd's Tru album is belatedly starting to pick up some spins for this song. 

6. Young Dolph f/ Key Glock - "Major" 
Young Dolph released this song about a week after claiming that he turned down a 22 million dollar contract from a major label and stay independent with distro from Empire. And at a time when more rappers with large cult fanbases should be steering clear of major labels and for the most part still aren't, I think it's great that he's really trumpeting that decision with an anthemic single. And I think it's notable that this song, whether the only feature is one of Dolph's proteges from Memphis, has done better than a more calculated crossover single like "Go Get Sum Mo" featuring Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz and Ty Dolla Sign (though I liked that song too). It's kind of funny that the chorus sounds like an accidental rewrite of "Law" by Dolph's nemesis Yo Gotti, though. 

7. Moneybagg Yo f/ J. Cole - "Say Na" 
After a few years of J. Cole getting bigger while eschewing collaborations (the much admired and mocked "platinum with no features" era), he's started to reach outside his bubble more. And while I think his recent guest verses aren't the Moses-coming-down-the-mountain Andre 3000 events he seems to think they are, it is fun to hear him rub elbows with a wide variety of rappers, and I like hearing him kind of get into Moneybagg Yo's comfort zone more than hearing 21 Savage edge into more of  J. Cole sound on "A Lot." 

8. Hailee Steinfeld - "Back To Life" 
I don't know if Hailee Steinfeld will ultimately be remembered more as an actress or as a pop singer, but I've liked a lot of her singles, and this little '80s-style gem that plays over the credits of Bumblebee was pretty enjoyable. 

9. Robin Thicke - "Testify"
The whole up-and-down saga of Robin Thicke's life and career before and after "Blurred Lines" was so crazy and I kinda feel bad for him that a very stable non-crossover career and a decade of marriage just went up in smoke in the space of a year or two, even if it mostly seems like his fault. "Testify" kind of feels like a good first step forward at trying to resume the career he had before, it reminds me a bit of Lloyd's "Tru" in terms of being this low key autobiographical R&B comeback single. 

10. Florence + The Machine - "Patricia"
I didn't know this song was about Patti Smith until I saw Florence live last year and she preceded "Patricia" with a cool little story about her telling Patti about the song. I think High As Hope is my favorite album of 2018 that I left off of my year-end list sheerly by accident and oversight, I should admit. 

The Worst Single of the Month: SWMRS - "April In Houston" 
SWMRS are from California but sing with a weird fake British accent, which in a funny way seemed to make a little more sense when I learned that the band's rhythm section are the two sons of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong. I don't superficially begrudge them for being second generation rock musicians, though. But I do superficially begrudge them for the played out all-caps-no-vowels band name. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 130: Maroon 5

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Next month, Maroon 5 will perform the halftime show at the Super Bowl, which seems like a culminating moment of their long journey to become one of the biggest acts in pop music (or, at least, the biggest one that wouldn't say no to the NFL out of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick). And they're kind of a classic example of a singles-driven act whose albums aren't necessarily taken seriously, which, despite some mission drift towards more credible album artists over the years, is kind of the point of this series.

Maroon 5 deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Pantry Queen
2. Shiver
3. Through With You
4. Tangled
5. Not Coming Home
6. The Sun
7. Little Of Your Time
8. Nothing Lasts Forever
9. Can't Stop
10. Not Falling Apart
11. Kiwi
12. Secret (DJ Premier Remix)
13. Hands All Over
14. Out Of Goodbyes (with Lady Antebellum)
15. How
16. Lucky Strike
17. Ladykiller
18. Coming Back For You
19. New Love
20. Best 4 U
21. Closure

Track 1 from The Fourth World by Kara's Flowers (1997)
Tracks 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 from Songs About Jane (2002)
Tracks 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 from It Won't Be Soon Before Long (2007)
Track 12 from Call And Response: The Remix Album (2008)
Tracks 13, 14 and 15 from Hands All Over (2010)
Tracks 16 and 17 from Overexposed (2012)
Tracks 18 and 19 from V (2014)
Tracks 20 and 21 from Red Pill Blues (2017)

A year or two back, I saw a billboard for a Top 40 radio station bearing the names and faces of three people: Adele, Taylor Swift, and Adam Levine. No mention of Maroon 5 whatsoever despite the fact that Levine's musical output under his own name consists of like, a couple hit feature appearances and a soundtrack nobody bought. And it wasn't even that surprising, because Levine was always the movie star-handsome frontman, the only recognizable member of the band, and since he began starring in NBC's "The Voice" in 2011, he's basically a household name.

Maroon 5's career can effectively be bifurcated into the period before 2011, when Levine began appearing on "The Voice," and after. Maroon 5's third album Hands All Over had just more or less bricked, and they saved it with a new bonus track single, launched on "The Voice," that was less a band recording than Levine backed by programmed track from a team of pop producers. Since "Moves Like Jagger," Maroon 5's records have more or less followed the formula of that song, with a band that used to write and perform all its tracks ceding most of its work to Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Benny Blanco, Dr. Luke, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins, Sia, Charlie Puth, Julia Michaels, Diplo, Ricky Reed, Cirkut, and many, many more. It's weird to think that a band that entered mass consciousness as a glossy Top 40 act would someday become so much more of an assembly line of cheesy pop hits that the early stuff would retroactively be considered far more authentic and well made, but that's where we are.

I wanted to kick things off with a song from Kara's Flowers, the band featuring 4/5ths of Maroon 5 that released one failed album a half decade before the Songs About Jane reboot (although The Fourth World's "My Ocean Blue" is literally a song about a Jane, I don't know if it's about the Jane). I always knew about Kara's Flowers but didn't listen to the album until recently, and I think I'd built up in my mind that they were probably actually really good back then, but it's very much one of those undistinguished bright shiny major label alt-rock records from the year that was ruled by Smashmouth and Sugar Ray. The video for the band's one single, "Soap Disco," gives off the vibe that somebody wanted them to be The Oneders from That Thing You Do! with modern production, and it's kind of embarrassing and doesn't fit Levine's voice very well. Perhaps if McG had directed their video they would've been as big as Fastball for a year, but it's definitely better for them that that didn't happen. The Fourth World has some good songs, though, "Pantry Queen" chief among them. 

Songs About Jane looms large over Maroon 5's career as their biggest selling album and is often held up as an example of 'when they were good,' but I have mixed feelings about it. The songs that weren't ubiquitous are still enjoyable, though, "Shiver" and "Tangled" kind of feel like superior versions of the taut funk rock aesthetic they were introduced to the world with on "Harder To Breathe." Totally weird trivia: before her acting breakthrough, Rashida Jones sang backup on Maroon 5's first two albums, appearing on "Tangled," "Secret," "Not Coming Home" and "Kiwi."

By far my favorite Maroon 5 album is It Won't Be Soon Before Long (and for that matter "Makes Me Wonder" is my favorite single), they were still writing and performing their music as a band but Dr. Dre/Eminem producer Mike Elizondo was an inspired choice to produce the record and give it a bigger, more bass-driven sound than Songs About Jane. And it has "Nothing Lasts Forever," the work-in-progress that Levine had used a couple years earlier as the hook for one of my favorite Kanye West songs, "Heard 'Em Say."

I also think the Mutt Lange-produced Hands All Over was a really solid record, but they were having trouble keeping the hits coming after "Makes Me Wonder"; six consecutive singles missed the top 10 before the hail mary "Moves Like Jagger." At that point, they were just firing blanks, rewriting "Every Breath You Take" on "Won't Go Home Without You" and rewriting their own "This Love" on "Misery." I'd like to play armchair A&R and say some of these deep cuts could've been better singles that would've allowed Maroon 5 to keep making records as a real band, but I'm not sure that's true outside of maybe "Not Falling Apart" sounding like a hit to me. "Little Of Your Time" is one of my favorite Maroon 5 songs precisely because it doesn't feel geared towards radio. I also wanted to show some love to Call And Response, which featured a really interesting array of producers remixing songs from their first 2 albums, kind of offering a more interesting alternative version of the band's future where maybe they made original songs with ?uestlove and Deerhoof instead of Max Martin and Shellback.

Since "Moves Like Jagger," Maroon 5 have become a lot more consistently successful but a bit more anonymous and formulaic. It's funny to think that they'd had five top 10 hits when they released an album cheekily titled Overexposed, but now they have fourteen. They're basically up there with Rihanna as one of the pop charts' few sure things. So there's a lot less to love in the later albums, but I did find some tracks that I enjoy, particularly "Lucky Strike" and "New Love." And believe me, it brings me no pleasure to report that Ryan Tedder is the MVP of Maroon 5's all-star writing/production team. And one of the few real surprises of their later albums was "Closure," the 11-minute groove workout that closes Red Pill Blues, one of the moments that suggests they're still interested in what goes on the records outside the big hit singles. 

TV Diary

Friday, January 18, 2019

a) "Project Blue Book"
"Project Blue Book" is a scripted drama on the History channel about the real Air Force investigations of UFOs and unexplained phenomena in the '50s and '60s. And it's kind of funny how even though this is kind of the real X-Files decades earlier, the show itself feels derivative of "The X-Files," with the two investigators kind of framed as the believer and the straight-laced skeptic. It's kind of weird to see Aiden Gillen play a sympathetic protagonist as Josef Allen Hynek after being trained to hate him on "The Wire" and "Game of Thrones." But I particularly like that the show kind of has a running B plot about Laura Mennell as Hynek's wife and her interior life that's kind of linked to the main story.

b) "Sex Education"
"Sex Education" is a teen comedy about British schoolkids, with the twist that the virgin (possibly asexual?) son of a sex therapist ends up becoming an amateur sex therapist for students at school. It feels very broad and quickly turns the premise into a formula for each episode to follow, and kind of annoying derivative of American high school comedies. But it's also totally charming with a great, charismatic cast and I totally get why it's one of the first breakout hits of the new year.

c) "Derry Girls"
"Derry Girls" is a teen comedy about Irish schoolgirls and it doesn't feel Americanized at all like "Sex Education," which of course means it's a little less entertaining and accessible to me but I think I respect it more, if that makes sense.

d) "Butterfly"
I've only watched one of the three episodes of this British drama about an 11-year-old trans kid coming out, but so far it's pretty good, a little melodramatic and heavy handed but one of the more sensitive and empathetic portrayals of a trans character that I've seen on TV. I'm so used to seeing Anna Friel in "Pushing Daisies" that it still surprises me a little to hear her speak with her actual accent.

e) "Nightflyers"
I kind of would expect a George R. R. Martin adaptation to get a bigger platform than, like, a miniseries that SyFy burns off in a week in December where the only fairly recognizable actor in the cast is Gretchen Mol. But then, it's not like a spaceship drama like "Nightflyers" would necessarily appeal to a huge number of "Game of Thrones" viewers. "Nightflyers" does that trendy horror movie thing of opening with a scene from the climax out of context, so basically you see a piece of episode 9 at the top of episode 1, and then they rewind and tell the whole story. And I don't think it really worked, it just took a lot of the suspense and tension out of a story that was pretty bleak to begin with. And it just kind of reminded me of the weaker spaceship disaster movies in recent memory like Life and The Cloverfield Paradox.

f) "Diablero"
A recurring and I imagine annoying theme of these posts is me watching one of Netflix's foreign language imports for a couple episodes and then listlessly declaring that I lack the patience to watch more with subtitles or dubbed dialogue. "Diablero" from Mexico is fantastic, though, it's basically the great show I've been looking for and hoping for while sifting through all the other okay Netflix imports. The demon hunter premise isn't that unique or anything, but the dialogue is really sharp and delivered well by the actors who did the English dub, and director Jose Manuel Craviato has a great visual flair.

g) "The Protector"
Another Netflix import, this one a fantasy drama from Turkey, that I've been enjoying, partly because the two female leads are gorgeous and total badasses.

h) "7 Days Out"
I really enjoy this Netflix doc series where each episodes covers the last week of planning and preparation before a major event or something like the re-opening of a popular NYC restaurant. I've been working at huge conferences and conventions and things like that for years and I'm always fascinated to see how these big fast coordinated setups come together, it's cool to watch this show and be a fly on the wall instead of participating.

i) "The Shivering Truth"
A lot of Adult Swim shows are driven by an awkward or absurd comedic sensibility but are still essentially about comedy and levity, so "The Shivering Truth" stands out as maybe the first Adult Swim series I've seen that's fully on the side of being dark and unsettling and only intermittently silly. There's kind of a "Twilight Zone" sensibility to some of the stories and the narration, except with very short vignettes done in stop motion animation, and a lot of it more outright gross and gorey instead of thought provoking. On paper, that sounds like unique, intriguing TV, but I kind of hated it, it was ultimately just a surrealist "Robot Chicken" that was unpleasant to watch.

j) "Trigger Warning with Killer Mike"
I've long kind of looked at Killer Mike skeptically as a rapper who's very good at saying provocative things but doesn't necessarily have a coherent worldview that people would agree with if he communicated it clearly, which culminated in that whole mess with him casting his lot with the NRA propaganda machine and then apologizing for it. So I really rolled my eyes when I heard that he was going to do a show for Netflix called (ugh) "Trigger Warning." The first couple episodes exceeded my expectations, though, they were kind of like extended "Daily Show" correspondent segments where he'd take a simple idea to its natural extreme, like what happens when he only wants to give money to black businesses for a few days, or tries to use porn as an educational tool.

k) "Tidying Up With Marie Kondo"
I don't really fuck with self-help shows like this but I was so confused by all the Marie Kondo memes after this show came out that I watched it just to understand the "spark joy" jokes. I can see where her method of organization can be useful but it's a pretty goofy, repetitive show.

l) "Stand Up And Away! with Brian Regan"
Brian Regan is one of those rare comics who got really big as a standup without ever pivoting to something else like starring in a sitcom. And that's probably by design that he's just not interested in anything but standup, particularly since his new Netflix series basically consists of him doing standup routines and then kind of illustrating or expanding on the premises with brief sketches. It's not the worst idea, Comedy Central has done a few shows over the years that try to combine standup and sketches, but I feel like nobody's quite found the successful formula for doing it yet and the execution here feels stilted.

m) "Watership Down"
I read and enjoyed Watership Down when I was a kid and have never seen any of the previous screen adaptations, so I was curious to see this BBC/Netflix miniseries. The animation was just too awful for me to watch more than one episode, though, I don't know why they would get a voice cast with stars like James McAvoy and Ben Kingsley but have such cheap substandard digital animation.

n) "Vanity Fair"
I've never read or seen any previous iteration of Vanity Fair before this ITV/Amazon miniseries, so I don't really know how to judge this as an adaptation, but I wasn't terribly impressed with the cast or the production values.

o) "Hymn Of Death"
A Netflix import from South Korea, very treacly and dramatic, wasn't really into it.

p) "The Fix"
This show is kind of Netflix's attempt to bring the British comedy panel show to America, with a British host, the oily and unlovable Jimmy Carr, and mostly American/Canadian guests. The premise is kind of clever because each episode addresses a societal problem and lets everybody pitch a solution, but since it's a bunch of comedians who are looking to score easy laughs every 30 seconds, it kind of feels like the whole thing is just a facetious lark that wastes the energy that might have gone into actually coming up with some good ideas.

q) "Deadly Legacy"
This Discovery miniseries is about John Wayne Gacy, but it's really about a cold case detective who's trying to identify Gacy's 8 unidentified victims (he gets 2 of them by the end of the 3 episodes) and bring some closure to victims' families. It's kind of refreshing, in the era of lots of true crime docs and sometimes lurid stuff about serial killers, to see something a little more centered on doing right by the victims.

r) "The Innocent Man"
John Grisham's only nonfiction book, 2006's The Innocent Man, was kind of ahead of the curve of the whole explosion of true crime entertainment about wrongful convictions, so it makes sense that it's now a Netflix miniseries. But even though it's ostensibly an adaptaion of Grisham's book, it's also kind of continuation and commentary on it, with Grisham as one of the many talking heads. I thought this wove together the documentary aspects and the dramatized reenactment parts together a lot more satisfyingly than "Wormwood."

s) "Tidelands"
Kind of a cool Australian series with a weird mix of crime mystery and fantasy. I'd never seen Chris Hemsworth's wife Elsa Pataky in anything before, she's gorgeous.

t) "Pine Gap"
Another Australian show, kind of a dry political intrigue thing, found it boring.

u) "Bad Blood"
I always liked Kim Coates on "Sons of Anarchy" but his new series about a Canadian crime family is absolutely horrid, just some of the worst acting and writing I've ever seen, Paul Sorvino is laughable.

v) "1983"
This Polish series is kind of a "The Man In The High Castle" thing that supposes that a terrorist attack in 1983 altered the course of history and the Iron Curtain never fell in Poland, I don't think I know enough about Polish politics to find it interesting to be honest.

w) "Pete The Cat"
My kids and I didn't think much of the Pete The Cat books we'd read, but we enjoy the cartoon series based on the books a bit more, it's very charming. And the "go to sleep" song is my jam.

x) "Future Man"
"Future Man" is probably my favorite recent show that didn't make my last couple end-of-year TV lists (mainly because the first season came out in late 2017 and I watched most of it in 2018). And so far what I've watched of the second season has also been hilarious, with Derek Wilson continuing to be an incredibly funny breakout performer. The time travel storylines are starting to become dizzyingly convoluted, though. I feel like shows like this or "The Good Place" or even "Rick And Morty" are kind of leading us into this climate of comedies kind of fucking with your head with all these different layers of reality that are as hard to keep track of as, say, "Westworld."

y) "Angie Tribeca"
I've always enjoyed "Angie Tribeca"'s unapologetic throwback to wacky Zucker Brothers comedy, although over time I feel like its balance between jokes and reality has shifted to somewhere between "Police Squad!" and "30 Rock." The fourth season changed things up a little, with a nonsensical jump forward 20 years to explain a cast change, with Hayes MacAruther and Deon Cole out and Bobby Cannavale and Kiersey Clemons in their place.

z) "Friends From College"
"Two words: epic shitshow. People did not like it," is how Billy Eichner's character describes the events of the first season of "Friends From College" at the opening of the second season. And he might as well have been talking about the show itself, which got pretty terrible reviews and probably wouldn't have gotten a second season if Netflix was as cancellation-happy then as it is now. The show is slightly less aggraating to watch now, mainly because the characters who were getting cheated on found out about it, and the cheaters get to deal with the consequences. But it's not exactly pleasant either, even though the show is full of likable actors who've been fun to watch in other things, and even the customary scenes where the characters do something embarrassing or, like, get sprayed by a skunk and all start throwing up, are just kind of obnoxious and poorly plotted.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 129: Say Anything

Monday, January 14, 2019

Say Anything's 7th album, Oliver Appropriate, is out next week, 5 months after frontman Max Bemis published a 4,000-word letter to fans basically explaining that, among other things, this would be the band's final record for the time being, with no future tours planned. Bemis was one of the first rock songwriters who's younger than me that I found really impressive and inspiring, so it's strange to think about him possibly retiring from music at the age of 34. But he's been really prolific up to this point, all the while dealing with heavy personal stuff, and he's now writing comics for Marvel, so if he wants to step away from music for his own well being, I'm pretty satisfied with what he's already made.

Say Anything deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. The Futile
2. People Like You Are Why People Like Me Exist
3. Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat
4. Death For My Birthday
5. About Falling
6. Metal Now
7. Overbiter
8. Less Cute
9. No Soul
10. Woe
11. All My Friends
12. Sheep
13. The Church Channel
14. Spidersong
15. Crush'd
16. Died A Jew
17. 17 Coked Up And Speeding
18. Every Man Has A Molly
19. Cemetery
20. Lost My Touch
21. Sorry, Dudes. My Bad
22. Chia-Like, I Shall Grow

Track 11 from Baseball (2001)
Track 1, 3, 10, 14, 18 and 22 from ...Is A Real Boy (2004)
Track 6 from ...Was A Real Boy (2006)
Tracks 2, 5, 9, 13, 16 and 21 from In Defense Of The Genre (2007)
Tracks 4, 8, 15 and 19 from Say Anything (2009)
Track 7 and 12 from Anarchy, My Dear (2012)
Track 20 from Hebrews (2014)
Track 17 from I Don't Think It Is (2016)

I've always held emo kind of at arm's length, but in the mid-'00s, I fell in love with some of the bands were becoming platinum stars, and I really rooted for Say Anything to follow in the footsteps of My Chemical Romance and Paramore, whose singers guested on In Defense Of The Genre. Ultimately, the handful of minor alt-rock radio hits from Say Anything's 3 major label albums never led to anything bigger than a sizable cult following, and I still kind of blame the single choices -- I hear so many would-be hits on In Defense, and yet they went with "Baby Girl, I'm A Blur"? But the band's appeal was always a little niche compared to some of their Warped Tour contemporaries, all the unpredictable twists and turns and tempo changes of their arrangements, Bemis's neurotic sense of humor and verbose verses, and big ambitious albums.

Falling for "Alive With The Glory Of Love" and then picking up ...Is A Real Boy (with the bonus disc with several additional songs, ...Was A Real Boy) and the double album In Defense in the space of a few months in 2007 hit me hard, hearing almost 50 songs by a newish band and being bowled over by so many of them. It's probably the biggest moment of infatuation I've had with a band since I was a teenager.

And like a lot of Say Anything's teen fanbase, my love for the band has been tested by later albums. The self-titled album swings for the fences with big pop hooks and I've really grown to love it a lot, but Anarchy, My Dear moved toward acoustic and undistorted electric guitars and Hebrews replaced all the guitars entirely with big schmaltzy synth strings, taking a lot of the teeth away from the band's sound. I Don't Think It Is felt like an overcorrection in the other direction, loud and lo-fi and light on hooks. Revisiting those albums for this playlist, however, I feel a little more affection towards them than I expected to. Bemis's wife, Eisley frontwoman Sherri DuPree-Bemis, is a welcome vocal presence on the later albums, particularly "Overbiter," one of the band's catchiest songs ever. And "Lost My Touch," which felt at the time like Bemis overreaching with the meta eulogy for his own alleged creative decline, feels a little more poignant in light of him deciding to actually hang it up.

The tracks released from Oliver Appropriate so far are promising -- they don't swing too far in one direction or the other like the recent records, but it also doesn't sound too painstakingly like the sequel to ...Is A Real Boy that Bemis conceptualized it to be. Real Boy is a special record, probably one of my favorite rock albums of the last 20 years. Say Anything's self-released first album Baseball wasn't commercially available for a long time, and though it was finally released as part of 2013's rarities compilation All My Friends Are Enemies, I didn't listen to it until, like, last week. The song that gave the comp its title, "All My Friends," is good, but in general I feel like I don't need too much of the pre-Real Boy era.

While I try to present an artist's most popular album cuts in these playlists, sometimes I gotta go more with my personal favorites. That means I veered away from fan favorites like the album's most sentimental acoustic track, "I Want To Know Your Plans," and the album's most snarky punk anthem "Admit It!!!!" in favor of the more interesting and textural tracks that keep me coming back to the album like "Chia-Like, I Shall Grow" and "Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat."

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 128: Future

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Future's new album The Wizrd comes out later this week. And whether it's good or bad, it occurs to me that as we wind down the decade, Future is inarguably one of the major rappers, really one of the major artists in general, of the 2010s. And though I didn't think much of him when he started appearing on the charts with "Racks" and "Tony Montana," he's been so prolific in the last 8 years, with so many good and great albums and mixtapes, that there's easily enough there for a deep cuts playlist. And he's been so ubiquitous with singles and features that it's worth stopping to look at how many great songs never got major chart action.

Future deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Maybach
2. Thought It Was A Drought
3. Chek
4. I Be U
5. Damage
6. You Deserve It
7. Lay Up
8. Hate The Real Me
9. On 2 Us
10. Freak Hoe
11. Juice
12. Monster
13. Digital Dash (with Drake)
14. Maison Margiela
15. Straight Up
16. Made Myself A Boss
17. Deeper Than The Ocean
18. Mink Flow (with Young Thug)
19. Walk On Minks
20. Inside The Mattress
21. My
22. Afterlife
23. Feds Did A Sweep
24. Testify

Track 9 from Dirty Sprite (2011)
Track 16 from Streetz Callin (2011)
Track 17 from Astronaut Status (2012)
Tracks 6 and 15 from Pluto (2012)
Track 21 from Pluto 3D (2012)
Track 14 from No Sleep with DJ Esco (2013)
Track 4 from Honest (2014)
Track 12 from Monster (2014)
Track 7 from Beast Mode (2015)
Track 2 and 10 from DS2 (2015)
Track 12 from What A Time To Be Alive with Drake (2015)
Track 20 from Purple Reign (2016)
Track 1 from EVOL (2016)
Track 11 from Project E.T. with DJ Esco (2016)
Track 23 from FUTURE (2017)
Tracks 5 and 24 from HNDRXX (2017)
Track 18 from Super Slimey with Young Thug (2017)
Track 3 from Kolorblind with DJ Esco (2018)
Track 19 from Superfly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2018)
Track 8 from Beast Mode 2 (2018)
Track 22 from Wrld On Drugs with Juice WRLD (2018)

I had to be petty and use Future's one solo track from the album with Juice WRLD, but "Afterlife" is just so good. Some of these songs have been club and mix show staples or have been pretty influential without being mainstream hits. After all, what would Travis Scott say every 30 seconds on every song if Future had never made "Straight Up"?

Like one of his early mentors, Gucci Mane, Future has mastered the art of making multiple mixtapes a year with all original production, no remixes or freestyles. But it's only been in the past couple years of the streaming era that it's become customary for major label rappers' mixtapes to come out through their labels on iTunes and Spotify. So Future's catalog is a little spotty in terms of what is or isn't available -- some mixtapes like Astronaut Status and Beast Mode are readily available, while a lot of his most popular tapes like Monster, 56 Nights, F.B.G.: The Movie, and the original Dirty Sprite are not. I was able to include some tracks from Monster and Dirty Sprite and Streetz Calling and Purple Reign via bootlegged mixtapes uploaded to Spotify, but those are sometimes incomplete songs and could disappear at anytime. With artists like Wiz Khalifa and Gucci getting their classic mixtapes up on streaming services in recent years, it would be great to see Future follow suit, it just doesn't make sense that songs like "Codeine Crazy" and "Throw Away" aren't readily available.

One of the things that has really made Future's catalog great is that he's brought out the best in so many producers, helping them get their first or biggest hit or getting different sounds from them. So I wanted to highlight deep cuts produced by people who've done some of his hits, like "Mask Off" producer Metro Boomin ("Thought It Was A Drought," and "Freak Hoe"), "Turn On The Lights" producer Mike WiLL Made It ("Mink Flow"), "Used To This" producer  Zaytoven ("Lay Up" and "Feds Did A Sweep"), "Same Damn Time" producer Sonny Digital ("My"), "March Madness" producer Tarentino ("Juice"), "Fuck Up Some Commas" producer Southside ("Testify" and "Maybach"), "Throw Away" producers Nard & B ("You Deserve It" and "Inside The Mattress"),  and "Crushed Up" producer Wheezy ("Afterlife").

There's a great clip from the new Future documentary released for the new album where Andre 3000 says "man, Future makes the most negative inspirational music ever." And he really has kind of created his own lane even though he kind of rose out of the same lean-and-AutoTune lane that Lil Wayne and a lot of other rappers were in at the beginning of the decade. His more emotional material like "I Be U" or all of HNDRXX, he's really put his own stamp as a songwriter on Atlanta rap, kind of part of the trap scene but not really talking about the trap in most of his songs. Sometimes I wonder to what degree the self-destructive self-loathing perspective of songs like "Hate The Real Me" is just a persona he writes from, but that's mostly because I hope he isn't miserable in real life.

Movie Diary

Friday, January 11, 2019
I like to joke that Bird Box is just Speed 2 with blindfolds. But actually, it reminded me of Gravity in how I was extremely tense for a good hour or 2 waiting to see how Sandra Bullock got through this ordeal. The most common criticism of Bird Box was that it doesn't show the monster, and it turns out the filmmakers wanted to, but the visual effect they came up with just looked bad so they ditched it, but honestly I was fine with it, I thought it fit thematically with the concept enough that they may as well have planned it that way. Unseen and unexplained things in high concept horror movies don't bother me if the story tracks. And as far as Netflix moving into event movies that get as many viewers in its first week as the biggest box office hits, Bird Box beats the hell out of that Will Smith orc cop movie. I especially liked the way the movie played with your expectations of certain characters, particularly John Malkovich's character.

b) Bumblebee
I like to joke that Bumblebee is just The Edge of Seventeen if Hailee Steinfeld filled the void left by her dead father with a giant yellow robot. My kids are 2nd generation Transformers fans, and it was fun to see my 9-year-old about as excited to see Bumblebee as I was to see Transformers: The Movie when I was a kid. Of course, the Michael Bay movies of my adulthood have not been kind to the franchise, but Bumblebee bests all of them simply by making the scale a little smaller and doing a better job of establishing the human/Autobot friendship that drives the story.

c) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
I think I was as excited to see this as my son was, and he was really excited, he watched all 3 trailers over and over in the weeks leading up to its release. I loved the animation, loved the story and the way it melded comic book mythology and cartoony humor with more grounded drama and this kind of surprisingly profound idea that if one of the main themes of Spider-Man is him feeling alone in the world because of his powers and his responsibilities, the only way for him to feel understood is to meet webbed crusaders from parallel universes.

d) Avengers: Infinity War
The first Avengers was, I think, pretty high up there among the best MCU movies, partly because it was the first time you saw a lot of these characters all together and things really gelled nicely. Age of Ultron kind of strained under the weight of adding even more togethers, so I was skeptical about Infinity War expanding the scope even futher. But it worked pretty well, I enjoyed all the setpieces in the first half of the movie where you get people meeting that you haven't seen together before like Dr. Strange and Tony Stark or Thor and the Guardins, before it all ramps up. I kind of roll my eyes at the big downer ending because it's still a fantastical comic book movie where death isn't death and most of those characters will be back in future movies, but it played out well.

e) Dumplin'
A pretty charming movie, I loved all the Dolly Parton music and the way there was kind of a twist at the end so it wasn't a too-perfect happy ending.

f) Traffik
A kind of pulpy thriller that reminded me of the Straw Dogs remake in parts, but I thought the ending was done well with the one survivor outsmarting the bad guys.

g) Rampage
Rampage was one of my favorite arcade games to play growing up, and I loved the idea of it being adapted into a big dumb action movie. But as ridiculous as it is to be purist about the movie diverting from the canon of the video game, I have no idea why they changed it from humans that become giant gorilla, wolf and lizard monsters to just three actual animals that get exposed to a pathogen and become giant monsters. That's a way worse story.

h) Tomb Raider
Speaking of movie franchises based on video games, this is probably one of the biggest, but even a slightly more serious reboot that frames Lara Croft more like a female Indiana Jones seems kind of beneath Alicia Vikander given the quality of her other movies. Kind of enjoyable, though, lots of scenery chewing from Walton Goggins and Dominic West. 

i) Pacific Rim: Uprising
I wasn't that into the first movie and invariably you're gonna take a step down in quality when Guillermo del Toro hands the reigns of a franchise to a first time director. John Boyega felt like a better fit than the stars of the first movie, though, I think you really feel how much he enjoys being in big crazy sci-fi movies.

j) Downsizing
I was surprised to see Matt Damon in ads for such a goofy-looking movie about people being shrunk down, and shocked when I realized that Alexander Payne wrote and directed it. Payne's other movies are all very much based in the world we live in and often finding humor in fairly normal situations, so it's so strange to see him make a movie with kind of a wacky high concept premise, especially since the movie quickly stops seeing the humor in the situation and becomes kind of thoughtful and downbeat. 

k) A Bad Moms Christmas
The first Bad Moms movie was an enjoyable enough little by the numbers mainstream comedy, and the sequel took Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell and upped the ante with Christine Baranksi and Susan Sarandon, so it was a decent thing to put on in the background one afternoon around the holidays. 

l) Deep Sea
My bro got my family a Maryland Science Center membership for Christmas so we went there recently with the kids to play around and check out what was playing in their IMAX theater. I was saying on the way that I hoped they'd have an ocean life documentary because those are often my favorites, so I was pretty thrilled that it was this 2006 short narrated by Kate Winslet and ugh Johnny Depp. Some really great footage, some of it of species I'd never head of before. 

Monthly Report: December 2018 Albums

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

1. Mila J - December 2018 EP
Mila J released an EP every month of 2018, and while I already picked one of my favorites, January 2018, to appear in my top 50 albums of the year, she finished on a high note with another strong EP to finish the series. I put a couple of songs from it, "Lookin Back At It" and "Let's Change The World," on my best of Mila J 2018 Spotify playlist skimming my favorites from the 60-something songs she released throughout the year.

2. Bruce Springsteen - Springsteen On Broadway
I like to joke that my ideal 'Springsteen on Broadway' show would be a dramatic staging of "Meeting Across The River." But this, both the Netflix film of the show and the album that is basically an audio track of the same thing, is really a treat for any Springsteen fan. I've never been that big on solo acoustic Bruce -- Nebraska is fine but not top tier boss in my book, and I'd just about always rather hear him with the full power of the E Street band behind him. But this expands on the charm of the format of his 2005 episode of "VH1 Storytellers," except much longer and more ambitious and with mostly different songs. There's a lot of self-deprecating standup comic in Springsteen's onstage persona, and as he talks and talks here, at least twice as much as he sings, he dismantles and criticizes his mythology as much as he buys into it. I'm also pleasantly surprised at his piano playing, I never thought he'd be able to pull off "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" in a solo show.

3. Zayn - Icarus Falls
Zayn Malik played his departure from One Direction and the launch of his solo career perfectly in terms of maximizing anticipation so he'd get a #1 single and #1 album right off the bat in 2016. But when the smoke cleared, it became readily apparent that the single, "Pillowtalk," was middling and had little radio staying power, and the rest of the album, Mind of Mine, was far worse. A couple of 2017 duets with Taylor Swift and Sia kept him on the pop charts, but it really felt like Zayn's momentum dissipated purely on the merits of his mediocre music. So while I was prepared to feel nothing but schadenfreude about his absolute flop of a second album (debuted at #61 in America and, shockingly, #77 in the UK), Icarus Falls is actually quite good. At 27 songs it's far far too long, but only a couple of those tracks have the kind of lyrical or musical missteps that filled Mind of Mine, for the most part he's singing beautifully and building an interesting, varied sound. He could've really had something if he'd just done a surprise drop of a much shorter version of this album that had "Imprint," "If I Got You," "I Don't Mind," "You Wish You Knew," "Scripted," and "Fresh Air," and dropped "All That" and the Nicki Minaj and Timbaland tracks.

4. Day Gone - Children, Dream
Day Gone is a Baltimore band whose drummer, Robbie Liberati, worked as an engineer on some of my recent Western Blot stuff, I thought he was a pretty cool guy from the couple days I spent with him in the studio, and he was the one who really got me into King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Day Gone's second album is really beautifully recorded and has this dreamy disorienting texture, the whole sound and texture of it changes from track to track.

5. Dave Fell - Floated The Beer Check
I'm always happy to hear something new from Dave Fell, he's had his hand in a lot of different stuff in Baltimore and I think he's got a very unique voice and sense of melody on display in his solo stuff. Floated The Beer Check is 7 songs, a little more fleshed out with drums and bass than his last record Modern Easy Favorites, but still pretty skeletal and trebly lo-fi in a way that I think works well with his songwriting. I think "Elis" is my favorite one on this record.

6. The Out_Circuit - Enter The Ghost
Rachel Burke was Beauty Pill's singer on their 2004 album The Unsustainable Lifestyle but moved to Seattle and left the band soon after. And I didn't realize that she had since continued to make music with her husband Nathan Burke's band The Out_Circuit until they released their new album, which also features Beauty Pill's Chad Clark. This record is and isn't reminiscent of Beauty Pill, a little of the same pursuit of hypnotic grooves and weird shiny textures, but very much distinctly its own thing in other ways with the mood and the pacing of the album, I like it.

7. Derez De'Shon - Pain 2
I feel like even though "Hardaway" and "Fed Up" did well on the radio, Derez De'Shon kind of didn't get his due as one of Atlanta rap's breakthroughs of 2018. But his melodic flow is a little more in the Rich Homie Quan/YFN Lucci lineage, so there's at least kind of a historical symmetry to him being overshadowed by the guys more influenced by Young Thug. There's a Russ feature on here that sticks out like a sore thumb, but other than that Derez is in his element

8. Boosie Badazz - Savage Holidays
Savage Holidays is the second recent Boosie album which features him wearing a Santa hat on the cover. But it's a much more faithfully on-topic holiday album than 2016's Happy Thanksgiving And Merry Christmas, almost every song has a seasonal theme. "Savage Holidays" and "This Christmas" are great bleak Boosie songs that happen to be about the worst things that happen in the dead of winter, while there are broader tracks like "The Bitch Who Stole Christmas." It's probably the best Christmas album that came out in 2018, even if he had the bad timing to release it on December 27th.

9. 21 Savage - I Am > I Was
There was a time when there was a real material benefit to releasing albums between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when kids wanted CDs under the tree and the holiday retail surge helped all popular albums sell more. Now, I feel like big rap albums still come out in December out of force of habit even though the financial upside has more or less disappeared, so December was packed with albums by 21 Savage, Kodak Black, Gucci Mane, XXXTentacion, NBA YoungBoy and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie that probably should've come out a month or two earlier or later. I am, I admit, predisposed against the idea that 21 Savage has made a great album -- partly because he raps in a blank, bored monotone that others find menacing or something and I don't, and partly because his indifference to making albums extends to him just moving the hit on Issa to track 1 after it took off. But I Am > I Was is, I'll admit, about as good as anything I could expect from him. The move away from trap beats on a lot of the tracks feels like an obvious play for him to be taken more seriously, but I never thought he sounded as good on Metro Boomin tracks as other people thought he did, so I think he benefits from the variety, and he actually tries some different flows and puts across a less one-dimensional personality.

10. Brett Young - Ticket To L.A.
Two country singers with near-identical voices, Nashville native Mitchell Tenpenny and Orange County's Brett Young, released albums a week apart in December. I don't particularly like that voice in either's body, but where Tenpenny offsets his occasionally catchy songs with obnoxious fare like "Bitches" and "Drunk Me," there are no such missteps on Young's charming second album. The single "Here Tonight" is by far the highlight but I also like "Where You Want Me" and "1, 2, 3 Mississippi."

Worst Album of the Month: The-Dream - Menage a Trois: Sextape Vol. 1, 2, 3
Terius Nash's name still rings bells because a few of the biggest stars in the world still call him when they're making albums, and because he was one of the first artists that made it okay for hipsters to like R&B. But he hasn't really written many memorable songs, for himself or anyone else, since his hot streak nearly a decade ago. So a triple album from him at this point feels more like a data dump than an ambitious artistic statement, especially because in nearly 40 horny slow jams he never manages to stumble on so much as a "Sweat It Out." But I didn't find myself outright hating this tepid album until disc 3, when "Super Soaker" seemed to turn his domestic abuse allegations into a sex punchline.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 127: Neil Young

Monday, January 07, 2019

Neil Young is one of those artists that I sometimes feel like I've taken for granted, because he was always right there. When I was becoming a rock fan in the early '90s, he was the coolest and most omnipresent '60s act who was out there touring with my favorite bands like Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth, universally revered and respected. Harvest Moon and his Unplugged album were staples in my mom's house when they came out, and my dad had a bunch of Neil, CSNY, and Buffalo Springfield albums and CDs that he left to me when he passed away. I went to the Horde Tour the year Neil headlined, and the only part of the show where a friend let me use their pass to go down to one of the front rows was during his set, which was awesome. And throughout my teens, I'd get into bands that I can't imagine existing without Neil Young, from Dinosaur Jr. to Sparklehorse and Built To Spill. So for whatever reason I never really made a point to buy his albums and spend time with his catalog like I have with some other canonical '60s/'70s artists, at least until streaming services made it a little easier to while away an afternoon with After The Gold Rush or Rust Never Sleeps.

Neil Young deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Don't Let It Bring You Down
2. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
3. Powderfinger
4. On The Beach
5. Barstool Blues
6. Alabama
7. The Old Laughing Lady
8. Cowgirl In The Sand
9. Tell Me Why
10. Harvest
11. L.A.
12. Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown
13. Look Out For My Love
14. Fontainebleu
15. Homegrown
16. Revolution Blues
17. Pocahontas
18. Cortez The Killer

Track 7 from Neil Young (1969)
Tracks 2 and 8 from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)
Tracks 1 and 9 from After The Gold Rush (1970)
Tracks 6 and 10 from Harvest (1972)
Track 11 from Time Fades Away (1973)
Tracks 4 and 16 from On The Beach (1974)
Tracks 12 from Tonight's The Night (1975)
Tracks 5 and 18 from Zuma (1975)
Track 14 from Long May You Run (1976)
Track 15 from American Stars 'n Bars (1977)
Tracks 13 from Comes A Time (1978)
Tracks 3 and 17 from Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

Neil Young is one of those major AOR acts for whom the line gets really blurry between hit songs and album tracks. Some of his biggest classic rock hits like "Southern Man" and "The Needle And The Damage Done" were never A-sides. And some of his most beloved songs that get played the most at his concerts and top any list of fan favorites are the 7-to-10 minute epics like "Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Cortez The Killer" that, with the exception of "Down By The River," never got cut down to single edits for radio play. And a lot of these songs, including "Cortez" and "Cowgirl" and "The Old Laughing Lady" and "A Man Needs A Maid" and "Tonight's The Night," appeared on 1977's platinum-selling triple LP Decade, for a long time Young's only best-of compilation. And of course "Alabama," along with "Southern Man," spurred a far more famous response in the form of one of Lynyrd Skynyrd's biggest hits.

Neil Young's catalog is also a bit complicated because of how he shied away from the spotlight at the height of his fame. His first four albums, culminating in the blockbuster Harvest, made him a household name. But, as Young famously wrote, "'Heart of Gold' put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch" (and let's be honest, Harvest is his most accessible record but it's still a pretty varied and interesting one, it shouldn't be dismissed). The 'Ditch Trilogy' that ensued -- Time Fades Away, On The Beach, and Tonight's The Night -- didn't produce any classic rock staples, but two of the three went gold, as did nearly all of his albums of the '70s. Time Fades Away was probably the first instance of a major artist releasing a set of new songs as a live album. And though it's the album Young himself has largely disowned, he's continued blurring the lines between studio albums and live albums, using concert recordings heavily on Rust Never Sleeps and Life as well as including live tracks on Harvest and Tonight's The Night.

Of the albums included here, only Everybody Knows This Is NowhereZuma and Rust Never Sleeps are officially credited to Neil Young and Crazy Horse, although members of his longest running backing band are also on tracks from Tonight's The NightOn The BeachAfter The Gold RushAmerican Stars 'n Bars, and Comes A Time, often in some configuration with other players, like The Band's Rick Danko and Levon Helm, who play on "Revolution Blues" (imagine if there was a whole band of them backing Neil, damn). Long May You Run is the sole album by The Stills-Young Band, so it kind of sits awkwardly at the cross section of the discographies of Young solo, Stephen Stills solo, Buffalo Springfield, and CSNY while really not quite belonging to any of the above, although "Fountainebleu" is I think the Young composition on the album that fit the best here (Stills and Crosby also sing backup on "Alabama").

Young's ability to turn his back on commercial appeal, within the major label system, at a time when 'corporate rock' and naked careerism were on the rise, are I think what really helped make Young a touchstone for every generation of rock musicians since his own. His continued industry battles, including Geffen taking him to court in the '80s for turning in 'uncharacteristic' and uncommercial albums, at a time when many of his peers were cashing in on slick MTV-friendly comeback albums, is probably a big part of why he was able to enter the '90s like a heroic alt-rock trailblazer. He's probably as foundational to indie rock as the Velvet Underground or anyone else. A year or so back I saw members of Mercury Rev, the Posies and Midlake on tour together under the name Tears of Silver, and one of their big singalong songs at the end of the night was "Don't Let It Bring You Down," and it struck me that a Neil Young song that's never really been on the radio could feel like kind of a universal standard in a room full of aging music nerds.  If you spend much of your time around guitarists and songwriters, you've probably known a lot of Neil Young devotees, mostly guys ("Last night I dreamt I kissed Neil Young/if I was a boy I guess it would be fun" remains Kim Gordon's funniest lyric ever). But as I've made my own music, I've found his influence to be a helpful guiding force, just in terms of feeling unafraid to make things that are flawed and vulnerable, things that sound wrong but feel right. I decided to cap this playlist at his biggest album of the late '70s, Rust Never Sleeps, because there are so many great songs just in his '60s and '70s work, but of course he did a lot of note after that.