TV Diary

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

a) "In The Dark"
"Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and "iZombie" are the only shows on The CW that I liked and they're both ending this season, so I thought I was gonna be done with the network for a while, but I feel like they just hooked me back in with "In The Dark." In fact it reminds me a lot of my favorite CW show, "Veronica Mars," in that it's about a young woman investigating the death of her friend, and there's a lot of snappy dialogue and gallows humor. But it doesn't feel derivative, it's very much it's own thing, with Perry Mattfeld playing a blind woman who kind of becomes a despondent, self-destructive, drinking and having one night stands, and then has to overcome all that to solve her friend's murder. It sounds heavy, but it's really entertaining and character-driven, really happy that it's already been picked up for a second season.

b) "Ramy"
I'm weary of streaming sitcoms that mix comedy with drama and social commentary, but comedian Ramy Youssef's series for Hulu gets the balance better than most other shows in recent memory. It's really charming, some of the 'son of immigrants caught between his family/religion and assimilating' stuff is very familiar, but I haven't seen it done with a Muslim from an Egyptian family before so it doesn't feel stale.

c) "The Act"
"The Act" debuted less than 3 months after the conclusion of "Escape At Dannemora," so it feels like Patricia Arquette is really finding a niche in true story miniseries where she plays a really flawed woman who gets in over her head. By that standard, "The Act" probably isn't quite as impressive as a series or as an Arquette performance, but it's really good, I hadn't read about the story before so I'm just kind of going through it interested to see what happens.

d) "Fosse/Verdon"
Even though I knew "Pose" was Ryan Murphy's final new show before his Netflix deal, I somehow just assumed "Fosse/Verdon" was one of his, just because it's on FX and seems like a natural follow-up to stuff like "Feud: Bette And Joan." As it happens, Ryan Murphy has nothing to do with "Fosse/Verdon," which is a good thing, it's better than he'd be able to pull off. I love when it really feels like you're getting a loving, detailed depiction of great artists and what made them great, I don't know a lot about musicals or choreography, but it really pulls you into that world. I had started to think I'm kind of over Sam Rockwell and find his bag of tricks too familiar, but he's really got a deft touch in this.

e) "I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson"
I had mixed feelings about Tim Robinson's Comedy Central sitcom "Detroiters," which was good but kind of straightlaced. But I laugh harder and much more often at his new Netflix sketch show, which is really just deranged and unpredictable. I like that the episodes tend to be just 16-19 minutes long, it helps with the kind of Adult Swim style and pacing of the show.

f) "Lunatics"
"Lunatics" is another Netflix sketch show where one actor plays lots of different characters, in this case Chris Lilley. Lilley is a huge star in his native Australia and I've seen small amounts of some of his previous shows ("Summer Heights High," "Angry Boys," "Ja'mie: Private School Girl") and didn't find them to be to my taste, and after watching "Lunatics" I can confirm that I hate Chris Lilley's face and his entire approach to comedy.

g) "Now Apocalypse"
This Starz show is really intriguing, it's full of hot people fucking but there's all this weird mystical stuff happening, I'm not really sure where it's headed but I'm curious. One thing I keep thinking is that Avan Jogia's character almost seems like a spinoff of Daniel Zovatto's character from last year's HBO show "Here And Now," this young long-haired gay guy who has visions that are either hallucinations or psychic premonitions. But "Here And Now" was a terrible bloated drama and "Now Apocalypse" is this strange and promising comedy.

h) "Lazor Wulf" 
Vince Staples has such a great deadpan wit in interviews and on Twitter that it seemed like a good idea on paper for him to do an Adult Swim cartoon. But he sounds more bored than deadpan here and the whole thing has such an ugly animation style and has this kind of bland indifferent vibe that I hate about some Adult Swim stuff.

i) "Our Planet"
I'm glad the Attenborough/Silverback Films team that made "Planet Earth" and "Blue Planet" keeps making new series, I've only watched a little of this new one so far but it seems to be up to their usual high standard.

j) "Hostile Planet"
This series is not from the Attenborough/Silverback team, which I guess is fine, it's not like they can own the word 'planet,' and there's some great footage in this show too. But I can't help but compare it and I don't like it as much, I think I'm just annoyed by Bear Grylls. Plus every nature documentary will have occasionally dark 'survival of the fittest' moments but this is kind of premised on that, so it can be a lot to take seeing baby animals die and stuff.

k) "Reconstruction: America After The Civil War"
As I mentioned last week, I've been reading an Otis Redding biography that is surprisingly detailed about the post-Civil War deep south and the generations before Redding was born, so I felt very primed to learn more in this PBS miniseries and it's really impressive. I feel like it's important at this moment in time to take such an honest inventory of the Jim Crow era and how hard the road was for black Americans after emancipation instead of just living in the idealized fantasy of constant progress towards civil rights.

l) "Gone"
A procedural where a grown up survivor of a child abduction is recruited to join an FBI missing persons task force, kinda dark and intense. But I find it distractingly weird that Chris Noth's noble lawman character has the same name, Frank Booth, as Dennis Hopper's psychopath in Blue Velvet.

m) "The Enemy Within"
This NBC drama is about a high ranking CIA official who's jailed for terrorism and then enlisted to help catch a terrorist, it's very dour and pulpy, not really my thing.

n) "Mexican Dynasties"
It's kind of novel to see a Bravo reality show about rich families in Mexico and see how much it's the same as their shows about awful American rich people, but once I realized that that's what this is I stopped watching.

o) "Larry Charles' Dangerous World Of Comedy"
This Netflix documentary series is a great idea because "Seinfeld" writer/Borat director Larry Charles kind of goes out to look at how comedy and satire are done in other countries that often don't have great free speech laws and how people can be really risking their lives.

p) "Turn Up Charlie"
It's funny to think that while Idris Elba is this action star and international sex symbol that people wanna look at in a certain way, he's also this goofy DJ/musician whose passion project is a sitcom about him being a goofy DJ/musician. This show isn't especially funny but it's kind of charming to see him play against type while also kinda being himself more.

q) "Desus & Mero"
The rise of Desus and Mero has been interesting to watch, as someone who can remember when they were just a couple of funny Twitter accounts. Their jump from Viceland to Showtime has been interesting because it's the first time that a lot of their fans have seemed to have mixed feelings, whether about the format of the show or going from nightly to weekly. But I'm actually watching them more now because I can actually keep up with a weekly show whereas when I know I won't watch every episode, I just end up not watching it for a while. It's fine that they do more pretaped segments but obviously the kind of loose unscripted stuff really the point of the show.

r) "Vice Live"
Of course, part of Desus and Mero jumping to Showtime was that they wanted more money and a bigger network and weren't happy at Viceland. So they made the kind of surprisingly bad decision to roll out a new nightly show the same week that "Desus & Mero" premiered on Showtime, and a couple months later it's already been canceled. It was a weird show, they had 4 hosts, 3 of whom had 'comedian' in their job description, but it kinda felt like they were too cool to put on a show, it was like a bored hipster version of "TRL." The only host I'd heard of before the show was Zack Fox, who's also Twitter famous like Desus and Mero were, but it felt like he just had no desire to be there or be funny.

s) "Lorena"
After all the prestige TV dramas about OJ and the Menendez brothers, I joked that we were gonna get a Lorena Bobbitt miniseries. But the true crime docuseries trend got to the story first. And I was kind of interested to see this story from a new vantage point, but the first episode kinda felt like I was just back in the '90s and there was this nervous tittering handling of the story, like they really didn't get the right people to work on this.

t) "Roswell, New Mexico"
I never watched the original "Roswell" but I figured I'd check out the new reboot while The CW is bringing back all its old shows. It cracks me up that the show doesn't still take place in the '90s but there's this whole thing where the main character loves Counting Crows and all the episodes are named after '90s songs.

u) "Better Things"
I was fine with Louis C.K. experiencing consequences for what he's done and a bunch of his projects getting shelved or canceled, but I did worry that "Better Things" would get lost or harmed in that process, since it's probably my favorite show he's co-created and it's much more about Pamela Adlon's voice and story. Really, I worried that she would just wanna stick with him and suffer a backlash for it, so I'm relieved that she started writing the show with other people and the third season is as good as the first two.

v) "Fam"
This CBS sitcom is really hacky and bad, but one thing I do enjoy a little about it is Odessa Adlon, who's Pamela Adlon's daughter, so it's fun to see her resemblance to her mom and her natural comic timing, and it's also amusing because of course one of the kids on "Better Things" is based on her.

w) "Schooled"
"iZombie" is going off the air this year, so we're currently in a very brief window of time where both Aly and AJ have primetime TV shows. I never got too into "The Goldbergs," partly because the show took place in such a broad, vague cartoon version of the '80s, so I suppose I can't be disappointed that its spinoff is an even more confusing caricature of the '90s, deliberately vague about the exact year and sometimes outright impossible (like one episode revolves around a character having grown up with the 1999 movie She's All That).

x) "Barry"
I thought it was a little overly precious that some people suggested, after the near-perfect first season of "Barry," that the show should just end there and not continue. Now, we're well into an amazing second season, and it's been renewed for a third, and part of the fun is seeing Bill Hader maintain this highwire act of kind of painting these characters into a corner and then finding an insane and unexpected way out of it. This week's episode was one for the books, it may have been too over-the-top for some people but I appreciate how far they're taking this thing. I keep waiting for the novelty of NoHo Hank to wear off but he's still just incredibly funny and strange.

y) "A.P. Bio"
This show has grown on me, but the boilerplate 'mean' comedy of the Glenn Howerton scenes kind of bores me, it's really at its best when you get scenes with Paula Pell and the trio of other teachers, they're really the secret weapon of the show.

z) "Veep"
I feel like "Veep" is going out guns blazing with this last season, they've heard the speculation that the show might not be as funny now that the Trump administration is a bigger shitshow than the Selina Meyer team could ever be, but they're just going for it. It does make me think more about the whole alternate timeline of the last 40 years that the show exists in, though.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

I added some more songs and more words to my Snoop Dogg deep cuts playlist for City Pages.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 138: 2 Chainz

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

With this series I tend to focus on artists of the past or people who've been around a while. But as the 2010s wind down, I've been wanting to feature more of the artists who I've consistently enjoyed for most or all of this decade. And 2 Chainz, though he's never quite hit the absolute top of his field in the eyes of most, has really been consistently entertaining to me, even in an era where Atlanta has been full of pretty brilliant and unique artists. I remember first being impressed by a Tity Boi verse way back in 2005. So I wasn't shocked when he eventually rose to solo stardom, although he was one of rap's great late bloomers, exploding in 2012 at the ripe age of 34. But his second wind has lasted quite a while, I think he's hit his peak as an MC in just the last few years.

2 Chainz deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. U Da Realest
2. Money In The Way
3. Got One
4. Riverdale Rd
5. I Luv Dem Strippers f/ Nicki Minaj
6. Lamborghini Truck (Atlanta Shit)
7. Minding My Business
8. Dope Peddler
9. Momma I Hit A Lick f/ Kendrick Lamar
10. Beautiful Pain f/ Lloyd and Ma$e
11. Rolls Royce Weather Every Day f/ Lil Wayne
12. Trap Check
13. Boo f/ Yo Gotti
14. If I Didn't Rap
15. You In Luv Wit Her f/ YFN Lucci
16. Day Party
17. Netflix f/ Fergie
18. Statute Of Limitations
19. Goin Thru It
20. Sleep When U Die
21. Land Of The Freaks
22. Stop Me Now f/ Dolla Boy

Track 19 from Trap-A-Velli 2 (The Residue) (2010)
Track 13 from Codeine Cowboy (A 2 Chainz Collective) (2011)
Track 3 from T.R.U. REALigion (2011)
Tracks 5, 8 and 22 from Based On a T.R.U. Story (2012)
Tracks 1, 10 and 17 from B.O.A.T.S. II #MeTime (2013)
Track 14 from Trap-A-Velli Tre (2015)
Track 7 from Felt Like Cappin EP (2016)
Track 11 from ColleGrove (2016)
Track 15 from Daniel Son; Necklace Don (2016)
Track 16 from Hibachi For Lunch EP (2016)
Tracks 4, 12 and 20 from Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (2017)
Tracks 6 and 21 from The Play Don't Care Who Makes It EP (2018)
Tracks 2, 9 and 18 from Rap Or Go To The League (2019)

2 Chainz has a lot of hits, so there are some things on here that got a bit of club or radio play but weren't big official singles. "I Luv Dem Strippers" was the biggest non-single from his most successful album, "Boo" was his first charting solo track shortly before "Spend It" blew up, and "Got One" was the next biggest track from the mixtape that birthed "Riot." I tried to balance out the clubby crowd-pleasing stuff with the more introspective side of 2 Chainz here -- I don't like to go all the way "actually he's a conscious rapper" but I really wish more people knew songs like "Lamborghini Truck" and "Statute Of Limitations" and "Stop Me Now" that show him to be a more well rounded lyricist than he often gets credit for.

One thing I like about 2 Chainz in the last few years is that he's tried putting out releases of every conceivable size, putting out 2 songs (Hot Wings Are A Girl's Best Friend) or 4 songs (Felt Like Cappin and The Play Don't Care Who Makes It) or 7 songs (Hibachi For Lunch and FreeBase) or 10 songs (Daniel Son; Necklace Don) or longer full-length albums. Part of that was that after B.O.A.T.S. II underperformed, he kind of had to go back to the drawing board and build his buzz back up instead of doing more albums right away, which is a shame because I thought that album was really special, one of his best. Doing ColleGrove with Lil Wayne was a great move, too, I kinda hope they do another one of those records. Actually, as a skeptic of a lot of rap star team-up albums, I'd love to hear some more duo projects with 2 Chainz, he could be a great foil for Drake or Nicki or Future or Ty Dolla $ign.

Reading Diary

Monday, April 22, 2019

a) The Kids In The Hall: One Dumb Guy, by Paul Myers
The Kids In The Hall, both the troupe and their eponymous '90s TV series, are a big personal influence, they're like The Beatles of comedy to me. I own every episode of the show on DVD and have watched them all multiple times. When I quote something my wife doesn't recognize, she asks me if it's a Kids In The Hall sketch, and it usually is. So it was really gratifying to get their entire story, as individuals and as a group, in loving detail. I follow Paul Myers on Twitter but didn't realize until I got into the book that he's actually the older brother of Mike Myers -- one of the more fascinating revelations of the book is that when the troupe was thinking of adding a 5th member, they were considering both Scott Thompson and Mike Myers. It's fun to get a deeper context of Canadian comedy, how these guys grew up and how they got into comedy, and some of the behind the scenes moments of making the show -- I almost wish there were more anecdotes about specific sketches, but there was really plenty of that, I'd just be happy with even more.

b) Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, by Jonathan Gould
This is a really impressive book, in part because Otis Redding died young, had a relatively short career, and didn't have a whole lot of his personal life and family background documented at the time of the death. So Gould really goes digging deep, using Redding more or less as a lens through which to detail a whole century of black America and black music, from the end of slavery up through Redding's death. Songs that Redding mentioned hearing growing up will be zoomed in on for a whole history of an artist or a musical tradition. Sometimes it feels like for every page about Redding there are 10 pages about other people, which can be a little frustrating, but it's not exactly padding, it's researched and written well and I've been learning a lot from it.

c) The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, by Michaelangelo Matos
I've been in the same online circles as Michaelangelo Matos for a long time and have met him once or twice, always a really smart and impressive guy, and he may have made his masterpiece with this. The specificity of the title is useful because it's really as much about what it isn't about as what it is about -- the story basically starts after disco, when the template of DJ culture and modern dance clubs has started to set in, with the birth of Chicago house and Detroit techno. And then, when dance music and rave culture explodes in the UK in the late '80s, it becomes a story of how electronic music stayed more of a niche underground culture in America for much longer, very gradually bubbling up to become half as mainstream as it's been in Europe for decades. By setting those kinds of boundaries, he gets to really tell a lot of great stories that you wouldn't necessarily get out of a broader book about dance music.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Alice In Chains are playing Minneapolis on Friday, so I revamped my deep album cuts playlist for City Pages with some songs from the current lineup.

Monthly Report: April 2019 Singles

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

1. Young The Giant - "Superposition"
Young The Giant have long been the dark horse of the ____ The ____ bands that have dominated alt-rock radio this decade, trailing behind Foster The People, Cage The Elephant, Portugal The. Man, and so on. But after years of a slow decline from the success of their 2010 debut, Young The Giant came back recently with a big hit in the 2nd single from their 4th album, and it's a really gorgeous little midtempo track that feels like they finally found the right sound to frame Sameer Radhia's great voice (although there's this funny little moment when his voice cracks on the bridge that I used to think ruined the song but now I kind of like it). Respect to these guys for writing a song with the hook "I want you to want me" but not stepping on Cheap Trick's toes with the song title. Here's my playlist of favorite 2019 singles that I update every month. 

2. Ella Mai - "Shot Clock" 
With Ella Mai's album now notching its 3rd huge radio hit, I'm not sure why she's still worried about Jacquees having a popular remix of the 2nd one, but go figure. This song was an instant standout on her album for me, and it's somehow sounded even better as a radio single, even if I'm mystified that they didn't cut out that awkward spoken word interlude at the end. There's so many great little melodic nooks and crannies in this song, especially in the second verse. I didn't realize the chorus interpolates one of Drake's most annoying album tracks, though, oh well. 

3. Ariana Grande - "Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored" 
I love what a hilarious trifling-ass title that is, and the song lives up to it, by far my favorite of the Thank U, Next singles. 

4. Kelsea Ballerini - "Miss Me More"
A really cleverly constructed, well written song about the idea of getting out of a relationship with someone who didn't accept you as you are and getting yourself back. I don't particularly like the production or the arrangement, but the lyric drives it well enough that I don't mind. 

5. Thomas Rhett f/ Little Big Town - "Don't Threaten Me With A Good Time" 
I was kind of excited for Thomas Rhett to perform on "Saturday Night Live" last month because it felt unusual for them to book mainstream country star who doesn't have the critical cachet of a Chris Stapleton or Kacey Musgraves. And the second song he performed, "Don't Threaten Me With A Good Time," was a really great, fun performance, maybe the best "SNL" musical performance of the whole season. Unfortunately, the studio version doesn't have all of the same energy, and it's not being promoted to radio anyway, but it's still pretty good and Little Big Town sounds great on it. 

6. Lil Nas X f/ Billy Ray Cyrus - "Old Town Road (Remix)" 
6 and a half years ago, Billboard changed the formula for its genre charts to weigh streaming and sales more heavily -- probably an inevitable and necessary move, but as I wrote at the time, it had the side effect of Billboard giving itself more power to determine what songs qualified as what genre. And that decision ultimately resulted in the biggest, strangest chart story of 2019: a little-known Atlanta rapper made kind of a jokey pastiche of a country song, and Billboard let it appear on the country charts for one week and then took it off, which triggered a huge backlash which ultimately resulted in Billy Ray Cyrus appearing on a remix of the song that topped the Hot 100. I have to admit I'm a little annoyed by the hooplah -- Billboard making one decision about the song's genre and then reversing it a week later was a bad call, as was the larger policy change they made in 2012, but country music is a genre a lot of non-country artists dip their toe in, and I don't feel like the Lil Nas X decision was the smoking gun of Nashville bigotry that it was touted to be. Still, I enjoy a good weird pop phenomenon, a teenager from the Netherlands sampling the Nine Inch Nails instrumental album Ghosts I-IV for a blockbuster country rap song is simply a hilariously bizarre turn of events. 

7. Maddie & Tae - "Friends Don't" 
The oddest thing about mainstream country that got lost in the "Old Town Road" controversy is that last year black men were more successful on country radio than women. In fact, there are far fewer female voices on country radio now than there were when teen duo Maddie & Tae released "Girl In A Country Song" in 2014 and kind of perfectly summarized the whole male-dominated climate of the genre. Almost five years later, they're still making really good singles like the lovelorn "Friends Don't," but struggling to get airplay. 

8. Lennon Stella - "BITCH (Takes One To Know One)"  
I thought the Canadian sister duo Lennon & Maisy were going to what Maddie & Tae became when they co-starred on "Nashville," but their country career never quite panned out. Now, "Nashville" is off the air and Lennon has started a solo career that is decidedly not country music. This song is particularly entertaining but all her solo stuff so far is pretty good.

9. Post Malone - "Wow" 
I hate to approve of Post Malone's stardom in any way, but if I have to occasionally grudgingly admit that he's got some good singles, then I guess he's earning his keep on the charts. "Get more bottles, these bottles are lonely" is a good line. Also I like that "Wow" and "Sunflower" are about a minute shorter than most of his earlier hits, brevity suits his stupid catchy little songs. 

10. Shaed - "Trampoline"
Shaed are from Silver Spring, Maryland near where I live, and have gotten a lot of local radio hype, they started out as an acoustic folk group and then transitioned into the brooding electronic alt-pop of Bishop Briggs and Marian Hill, both of whom they've opened for. I'm starting to get a little weary of all the music coming out in this style, but "Trampoline" is a pretty strong track, I get why it's blown up. 

The Worst Single of the Month: A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie - "Look Back At It"
I've always been mystified by the popularity of A. Boogward Hoodward more than most other young rap stars, he just seems like the most boring blank slate of amateur Drakeisms. And his latest and biggest hit is just total dogshit, interpolating Michael Jackson awkwardly over a So Far Gone type beat.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

It has been far too long since Woodfir, a trio I play drums for, has played out. But we are lining up a lot of shows in Baltimore over the coming months, starting with April 28th at The Crown with Lost Dog, Cool American, and Sugar Glass. Gonna record some of our new songs this week too!

Monthly Report: March 2019 Albums

Friday, April 05, 2019

1. DaBaby - Baby On Baby
One kind of Twitter meme or recurring trope of what people say about North Carolina's DaBaby is that he doesn't let the beat breathe, and it's true: where other rappers might leave at least the first couple bars of a song open as an instrumental or ad lib a bit before beginning their verse, he just hits the ground running more often than not. DaBaby's not alone among young rappers right now in favoring short 2 or 3 or even 1-minute songs, but he's one of the only guys who packs those tracks with a constant onslaught of rhymes, and only does a hook long enough for it to stick in your head. He's charismatic and insanely talented but I'm kind of pleasantly surprised at him becoming a star, he has such an unusually stripped-down no-nonsense approach to his songs and even his image that feels very out of fashion, even with his penchant for brevity. Out of southern rap contemporaries, he sometimes reminds me of a less melodic, speedier version of Rich Homie Quan (who guests on "Celebrate") but he's really just his own man. Here's the 2019 albums Spotify playlist I put all the stuff I listen to into.

2. Ex Hex - It's Real
I liked the first Ex Hex album but the second one is really hitting me harder, I might have to go back and contrast them a little to spot the difference, but Mary Timony's guitar leads are really standing out to me more, "Rainbow Shiner" and "Want It To Be True" just have the most killer riffs. The way they kinda combine '70s hard rock and '90s indie guitar swing is very close to my platonic ideal of a rock record.

3. Marvin Gaye - You're The Man
I've loved Marvin Gaye's What's Going On since I was a teenager, and I always kind of unquestioningly consumed the narrative that after Gaye fought Motown for creative control and won out with a hugely successful and acclaimed album, he was able to do whatever he wanted. So I was fascinated to learn that the unreleased album being released in 2019 was Gaye's shelved 1972 follow-up to What's Going On. He'd just signed a new million dollar contract with Motown, the biggest record deal ever for a black artist at the time, but he continued clashing with Berry Gordy over politics and the content of his lyrics, and felt the label deliberately underpromoted the "You're The Man" single (it peaked at #50 shortly after What's Going On yielded three top 10 hits -- I never even heard of it before this year, as someone who owns multiple Marvin albums). So he shelved the album rather than let the label bury it as they did with the single. 47 years later, we finally have You're The Man (the original 8-song sequence Gaye assembled, as well as 9 bonus tracks of remixes and other songs recorded during the same period), and it's remarkable and beautiful. It really does sound like the missing link between What's Going On and Trouble Man, following very much in the mindset of the former but with the sharper, funkier arrangements of the latter. The album was released in time for Gaye's 80th birthday and Motown's 60th anniversary, but it feels serendipitous to hear this record right now -- the title track is directly addressed to the Democrats who were running against Nixon in 1972. But the album is surprisingly wide ranging, less homogeneous than What's Going On, and "Piece of Clay" in particular stands out to me as just gorgeous.

4. 2 Chainz - Rap Or Go To The League
2 Chainz has consistently been one of the best rappers in the world for the last few years, but he hasn't quite been able to recapture his 2012 buzz. But 2 Chainz is nothing if not a survivor and canny self-promoter, which is how Pretty Girls Like Trap Music had a very creative and successful rollout despite none of the singles really being blockbusters. After his guest-heavy 2018 singles stiffed (one even had Drake on it!), he went back to the drawing board with a clever angle to set up Rap Or Go To The League, bringing in LeBron James to executive produce the album. Now, I have no idea if LeBron's basketball prowess translates to music savvy or if he really had that much influence on the final product, but it's a fun idea, it's good promo, it helped 2 Chainz sell an album that wasn't preceded by a radio hit. And he played the situation with "7 Rings" sounding like "Spend It" really well, getting on the remix and getting an Ariana Grande hook for what will probably end up his biggest single in a while. But beyond all that stuff, this album is a quality addition to a discography I love, "Money In The Way," "Statute of Limitations" and "I Said Me" are outstanding, top shelf 2 Chainz.

5. Maren Morris - Girl
After her debut Hero spent 3 years spinning off country radio hits and "The Middle" established her with pop audiences, I feel like the bar for success for Maren Morris's second album is really high, and I already get the sense that Girl not setting the world on fire could be written off as a sophomore slump. But honestly, this album is really fucking good, if it's not as good as Hero, the gap isn't large. Morris and Busbee still have a great sound together and adding Greg Kurstin, Brothers Osborne and Brandi Carlile to the pot just make it better. "Make Out With Me" is probably the most striking song on here, partly because it's just 2 minutes 17 seconds.

6. American Pleasure Club - Fucking Bliss
I think the first time Sam Ray talked about this record publicly was in January, shortly before it was officially announced, when he tweeted at length about how the first mastering engineer who worked on the record quit. It was an interesting story, because it really demonstrated how there are these conflicts at times where the artist wants something to sound abrasive or ugly or 'wrong' and the people mixing or mastering the record are, y'know, ultimately trying to serve the record by not letting it go too far in that direction. It's not even necessarily about things being commercial or radio-friendly sometimes as you might expect in these situations, someone can have a pretty experimental background and still try to talk you out of certain things if they think you might regret it or not really know what you're asking for. I think the second mastering engineer they hired for Fucking Bliss got it right, though, it's not an especially noisy or aggressive record, but there's a lot of dynamics and peaks and valleys in these dark, blown out sounds, it's a really uncompromising thing but it works as an immersive headphones record.

I have really enjoyed every single and EP that Swedish singer LÉON has released over the last 3 years, and I'm a little disappointed that her full-length debut has arrived without any of her songs really catching fire in America (or in her home country for that matter -- she only had one song on the singles charts in Sweden and the album debuted at #58). This is an excellent album, though, the "pop that's not popular" crowd that celebrates later Robyn and Carly Rae records should definitely give it a listen. She has this lovely voice that kind of slides between a low throaty tone and soaring high notes in a way that reminds me of Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak at times. 

8. Meat Puppets - Dusty Notes
As wonderful as it was when Cris Kirkwood got out of jail and rejoined his brother Curt in Meat Puppets in 2006, I was always a little sad that drummer Derrick Bostrom didn't also return to the band for any of its next few albumms, even though he was always really accessible to fans online and oversaw a lot of Meat Puppets website and e-mail list stuff and reissue projects. So I was pretty thrilled recently to see the news that Bostrom was back in the fold and that their new album would be the first to feature the original trio since 1995. Dusty Notes is also kind of a throwback in that it has more acoustic guitars and banjos and twangy melodies than they've had on their records in a long time, which makes it all the sweeter to hear the original band together again.

9. Angel Du$t - Pretty Buff
It's been really cool to see Baltimore's punk scene make some mainstream inroads, with Turnstile releasing an album on Roadrunner Records last year, and Angel Du$t (who have 2 members in common with Turnstile) also make their Roadrunner debut this year. Of those 2 bands, Angel Du$t is much more my speed, I love the singer's voice and the unapologetically tuneful songs, the way some zip by in under 2 minutes but still feel like fully formed pop songs. And there are some really cool arrangement ideas, like the percussion track on "Take Away The Pain" being mostly tambourine witih a sax popping up in the chorus.

10. Stephen Malkmus - Groove Denied
I'm amused and kind of surprised that Stephen Malkmus could make an album that Matador Records, a label where he's been a key part of the roster for over 25 years, didn't want to release. You'd think that at this point in his career, they'd just kind of put out whatever he wanted to make. But apparently they didn't want to released Groove Denied when he submitted it a couple years ago, and have only quietly released it now, after he released a more typical, guitar-driven record in 2018. I have to admit, though, I've always been a casual Pavement fan and tuned out Malkmus's solo career after his 2001 debut. So just the idea of Groove Denied being this lost shelved record was intriguing enough to make me tune back in, and I actually really like it, it's fun to hear Malkmus play around with synths and drum machines and kind of play with weirder voices and uglier sounds than I've heard him touch since some early Pavement stuff. Certainly a less interesting story or album than the shelved Marvin Gaye album, but I'm still always fascinated by this kind of thing.

The Worst Album of the Month: Weezer - Weezer (Black Album)
The fact that Rivers Cuomo leads off his Black Album with a song called "Can't Knock The Hustle" makes me wonder if he's trolling Jay-Z on some level. But then I always feel like Weezer is trolling everybody on some level, that they crave any kind of good or bad attention so much that even writing about their record to say it's bad is sort of taking the bait. And I'm not someone who thinks Weezer fell from some high perch -- I have a love/hate relationship with their revered '90s work and think they had their best run as a singles act in the mid-late 2000s, and have notched some good singles as recently as 2015's "Thank God For Girls." This record is pretty obnoxious and charmless, though, just so many bad ideas and garish sounds. But I'll admit that I laughed when I heard the first verse of "I'm Just Being Honest."

TV Diary

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

a) "What We Do In The Shadows"
I really enjoyed 2014's vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, but I was apprehensive about the FX series basically transposing the whole concept from New Zealand to America with a new cast of similar characters. But Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement are still writing and directing a lot of the series, and they've really picked up right where they left off with the movie, which I suppose isn't that hard given that it was pretty low budget to begin with. But I'm still really pleased with the cast, Matt Berry is the perfect guy to hand things off to, and the first episode already had some hilarious riffs on the premise that weren't in the movie.

b) "Shrill"
Aidy Bryant has been such an entertaining, relatively underrated part of "Saturday Night Live" for so long that it's nice to see her star in her own Hulu sitcom while she's still on "SNL." I'm amused to see a show take place in the world of alt weekly papers that I have a lot of personal familiarity with, and John Cameron Mitchell's asshole boss character, loosely inspired by Dan Savage, is really funny. Most of it is more a relatable slice of life than a comedy, which isn't always my favorite kind of show, and Luka Jones from "People of Earth" is just the most infuriating character ever, but it's cool.

c) "Love Death + Robots"
One of the things that I find wearying about anthology shows lately is how episodes often feel like they're padded out to get to a 60-minute or even 90-minute running tie. So I find this Netflix anthology show really refreshing, because every episode is under 20 minutes. It's all dystopian animated stories, each one from a different creative team, exec produced by David Fincher, it's a total grab bag where I like some episodes way more than others, but overall I love the format.

d) "Abby's"
Natalie Morales starring in an NBC series created by a writer/producer from "New Girl" and "Superstore" looks really promising on paper, but "Abby's" is a painfully bland, traditional sitcom with a canned laugh track and no studio audience. I'm actually shocked it's not on CBS, everything about it screams CBS. The first episode wasn't entirely devoid of charm or laughs, but I didn't feel like the cast chemistry or the premise gelled, it was just a strained attempt at a new school "Cheers" dynamic.

e) "Proven Innocent"
I enjoyed Rachelle Lefevre's recent femme fatale turn on "Mary Kills People," and she's also good in this big ridiculous FOX legal drama where she's the righteous wrongful conviction activist lawyer whose foil is the state's attorney played by Kelsey Grammer.

f) "The Village"
This touchy feely show about the interwoven lives of the residents of an apartment building is like a wholesome "Melrose Place." I feel like in the wake of "This Is Us," this kind of tearjerking show is all the rage, "The Village" isn't as horribly emotionally manipulative as "A Million Little Things" but still not really my speed.

g) "After Life"
The movie Ghost Town was one of the only things Ricky Gervais has done post-"The Office" that I liked, so I kinda hoped given the premise that this would have a somewhat similar tone, but it doesn't really, don't really care for the premise.

h) "Boomerang"
I always think of the movie Boomerang in terms of the early '90s setting that I kind of assumed the new BET series of it would be a period piece, but it's actually a contemporary update where the characters are the children of the characters from the movie. I kinda feel like it kind of blends in a little too much with other shows like "Insecure" and "Grown-ish" that constantly take inspiration from Black Twitter trending topics. But it's not bad, might actually be the first Lena Waithe show where I was particularly impressed by the writing.

i) "Most Beautiful Thing"
This Netflix show about 1950s Brazil is aptly titled, it has this bright, distinctive, old school Hollywood look and is full of beautiful women. It's a little melodramatic, I feel like there's a lot of outright screaming, but that kind of also fits the aesthetic of it all.

j) "Alien News Desk"
Every time I think of this goofy cartoon on SyFy, I just think about how how Morbo the alien news anchor was one of my favorite running gags on "Futurama." It's not bad, though, they really commit to the absurdity of the concept.

k) "Shadow"
South Africa is a novel setting for a gritty crime drama, and "Shadow" is kind of fun with its over-the-top premise of an ex-cop who becomes a vigilante crimefighter and has a condition that makes him unable to feel pain. I almost kinda wish they went all the way to making the guy a superhero.

l) "Charlie's Colorforms City"
A really obnoxious kid's cartoon on Netflix, I played it for my 3-year-old and he was kind of enchanted with it for a few minutes but I think it's really more for babies.

m) "Cousins For Life"
My son loves this silly Nickelodeon sitcom, especially because they have a cute little pet pig named Arthur. It reminds me of how much I enjoyed watching Arnold Ziffle on "Green Acres" when it came on Nick At Nite when I was his age.

n) "The Case Against Adnan Sayed"
Because I still stubbornly refuse to listen to podcasts, I felt kind of left out of "Serial" being this huge pop culture phenomenon all about something that happened in the Baltimore area. So I look at this HBO show as kind of my chance to catch up on all this stuff, both the murder and what's happened since the podcast came out. I can't relate to people who feel super confident that they know what happened and, like, advocate for or against Sayed based on the podcast or the show, though. I'm not on a jury, I don't have to make up my mind, so I won't.

o) "Finding Justice"
I was impressed by this BET docuseries about racial justice, just really high production values and really thorough, analytical examinations of things like Stand Your Ground laws.

p) "Action"
Showtime's docuseries about the aftermath of the legalization of sports gambling is pretty interesting, I hadn't really given it much thought since it happened but obvious there's this whole teeming world going on full of some memorable characters.

q) "Cricket Fever: Mumbai Indians"
Cricket is a really interesting game to me, I don't know if I actually understand it any better after watching this show but it's fascinating.

r) "Game Of Clones"
MTV is full of weird, repulsive programming, but this one is really something else. It's a bizarre dating show where people from other MTV shows, like "Jersey Shore" or "Teen Mom," pick out a celebrity they're attracted to, and then go on blind dates with 6 people who kinda look like them and have been all done up to look exactly like them. So, for instance, Pauly D goes on dates with 6 Megan Fox lookalikes, with the concept being that if all of his dates look like his fantasy girl, then the one who actually matches with him on a personality level will stand out all the more. It's almost a clever idea, but no, it's just completely insane.

s) "The World's Best"
I guess this is really just an international-themed knockoff of "America's Got Talent." I'm amused by how random the judging panel of RuPaul, Drew Barrymore, and Faith Hill is.

t) "Santa Clarita Diet"
I don't care if Drew Barrymore judges a goofy reality show as long as she keeps making new seasons of "Santa Clarita Diet." I have been just in love with this show from day one, and so far season 3 has been as funny and strange and unpredictable as ever. I talked my brother into checking it out a while back but I think he just kind of shrugged that it was the exactly the kind of show Al would like.

u) "SMILF"
When "SMILF" debuted a year ago, it was encouraging to see Frankie Shaw out there as a young woman creator/showrunner/star with her own impressive show on premium cable, especially while there were so many bad stories going around about male creators in show business. So it was a bummer this year when the second season of "SMILF" was preceded by controversies about Shaw's misconduct as a showrunner, and Showtime decided not to pick it up for a third season. The second season was good, though, I felt like it branched out a bit from the smaller scale of the first season, with standalone episodes including one without Bridgitte in it at all and that really weird dream sequence thing with Kevin Bacon.

v) "American Gods"
I don't think it makes sense to be too slavishly auteurist about television, but there are certainly some creators and showrunners I am particularly devoted to, and Bryan Fuller is one of them. So I was certainly pretty disappointed to hear he'd acrimoniously departed from "American Gods" after the first season. But I wanted to give the show a chance to still be worth watching without him ("Dead Like Me" was still good after he left, after all). And so far I really have enjoyed the second season, it feels a  little less overwhelming and ambitious but I like that it's become more of a linear TV show following the same characters from one episode to the next without as many one-off episodes and setpieces. The leprechaun and Dead Wife are a pretty entertaining pair of characters to watch bounce off of each other.

w) "The OA"
The first season of "The OA" built up a lot of eerie mystique, and then it culminated in one of the most ridiculous finales I've ever seen, I absolutely hated it. Still, I was curious what the hell they could do for an encore, and I heard a lot of enthusiasm about how the second season ends. So I'm back on board with this show, just out of curiosity, once again, but it feels even more slow moving than the first season so far.

x) "The Magicians"
Shows that kind of hit a giant reset button for a whole season and have the characters in different lives and sometimes with different personalities are dicey territory. But I seem to love "The Magicians" more and more every time they swing for the fences with a big ambitious idea, so I've really enjoyed this season, with Hale Appleman really doing an amazing job of playing a villain with Eliot's body and face, and there have been a lot of little entertaining subplots like the Margo/Josh relationship.

y) "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"
After a real rollercoaster storyline the last couple years, it really feels like "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" has returned to its strengths for the last batch of episodes, last week's bit with the betting pool was an instant classic. I also enjoyed that they brought back Audra Levine for one more episode. My wife is pretty invested in who Rebecca will end up with, but I'm kind of just happy to see how they tie it all up.

z) "You're The Worst"
It's a different kind of bittersweet feeling to watch the final episodes of "You're The Worst," which is also airing its finale this week, since it's always been this dark, nasty, anti-sentimental show. Of course, somewhere around the halfway mark of the show's 5 seasons, they kinda made the emotional core of the characters pretty undeniable, so I am interested to see if they end up together, just because I've never been sure how much the show is committed to insisting that they shouldn't. It's been an entertaining season, though, the Paul F. Tompkins arc had a good payoff.