Saturday, May 25, 2019

My band Woodfir is back at The Crown for the second time this month on Wednesday, May 29th, this time as local support for the Ohio-based Big Bend and the NYC-based a&h. More info on Facebook.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 139: DJ Khaled

Monday, May 20, 2019

The other day someone asked for an explanation of DJ Khaled's whole deal, and I replied, "it's kind of like when half the music industry would band together to make sure Ringo Starr's solo albums were successful, except instead of a former Beatle it's a loud silly former Miami radio personality."

DJ Khaled released Father Of Asahd last week, and it's a testament to his unique place in hip hop and pop culture that he's now 11 albums deep. Only a handful of the dozens of rappers he's worked with have released so many high profile albums, and he's outlasted a lot of the artists who were on his early hits (hi Akon). And while Funkmaster Flex and DJ Clue were the trailblazers that brought the concept of "retail mixtape" compilation albums into major label hip hop, DJ Khaled has really been the one who's done the most with the idea, dropping yearly albums with incredible guests lists and hit singles, and becoming a mainstream celebrity who pops up in Pitch Perfect movies and hosts the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards. I have a love/hate relationship with DJ Khaled's albums, but I always check them out just to see who's on them, and over the years I have really enjoyed some tracks on these things.

DJ Khaled deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. I Ain't Worried f/ Ace Hood and Rick Ross
2. Bitches & Bottles (Let's Get It Started) f/ Future, T.I. and Lil Wayne
3. Brown Paper Bag f/ Dre, Young Jeezy, Juelz Santana, Fat Joe, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne
4. Can't Stop f/ T-Pain and Birdman
5. Rep My City f/ Pitbull and Jarvis
6. Nas Album Done f/ Nas
7. Good Man f/ Pusha T and Jadakiss
8. They Ready f/ J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar
9. Freak N You f/ Lil Wayne and Gunna
10. Black Ghost f/ Vado
11. Bitch I'm From Dade County f/ Dre, Trick Daddy, Trina, Rick Ross, Brisco, Flo Rida and C-Ride
12. I Swear I Never Tell Another Soul f/ Future, Yo Gotti and Trick Daddy
13. Bring The Money Out f/ Nelly, Lil Boosie, Ace Hood and Schife
14. Weather The Storm f/ Meek Mill and Lil Baby
15. She's Fine f/ Sean Paul, Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes
16. Don't Ever Play Yourself f/ Jadakiss, Fabolous, Fat Joe, Busta Rhymes and Kent Jones
17. That Range Rover Came With Steps f/ Future and Yo Gotti
18. Standing On The Mountain Top f/ Poo Bear and Ace Hood
19. Before The Solution f/ Beanie Sigel and Poo Bear
20. Suicidal Thoughts f/ Mavado
21. Never Surrender f/ Scarface, Jadakiss, Meek Mill, Akon, John Legend and Anthony Hamilton

Tracks 3, 11 and 19 from We The Best (2007)
Tracks 15 and 18 from We Global (2008)
Tracks 5 and 13 from Victory (2010)
Track 4 from We The Best Forever (2011)
Tracks 2, 8 and 20 from Kiss The Ring (2012)
Tracks 10 and 21 from Suffering From Success (2013)
Tracks 1 and 12 from I Changed A Lot (2015)
Tracks 6 and 16 from Major Key (2016)
Tracks 7 and 17 from Grateful (2017)
Tracks 9 and 14 from Father Of Asahd (2019)

So what really pisses me off is that DJ Khaled's first release, 2006's Listennn... The Album, isn't available on streaming services. I'm not even sure why, since it came out on Koch/E1 just like his next 3 albums that are all readily available. But it's easily my favorite album of his career, he started out strong with that one. Over the years Khaled's albums have gotten away from really representing Miami and Florida heavily, with lots of Rick Ross/Trick Daddy/Pitbull verses and T-Pain hooks over Runners/Cool & Dre/Diaz Brothers beats. Flo Rida's verse on "Bitch I'm From Dade County" was so good that I was always kind of bummed out when he turned into a pop rapper.

I'm still partial to the other earlier ones, although Kiss The Ring is definitely my favorite of the ones from this decade. And I appreciate that he's always kind of covered all the regional bases and gets NY and west coast rappers, there's some great Jadakiss and Kendrick verses on Khaled albums. "Black Ghost" producer Beewirks and I follow each other on Twitter, shout to him for that great beat. Some of these songs were pretty well known with promo singles or videos ("Brown Paper Bag," "Bitches & Bottles," "Nas Album Done") but weren't really hits on the level of "All I Do Is Win" so it seemed fair to include them. People love "Brown Paper Bag" for the verses but it's honestly got the worst hook of DJ Khaled's entire catalog, Dre from Cool & Dre should never ever sing.

Inevitably, there's kind of a repertory cast that you get over and over on these albums, it only seemed right to include one of the token Mavado tracks and "Suicidal Thoughts" is really good. Ace Hood has always been kind of a punchline, especially since he stopped having hits and his watch self-destructed on live television, but the guy can rap. And Kent Jones really shocked me on "Don't Play Yourself" when he came in at the end of a posse cut full of NYC legends and held his own, I'd only heard him sing up to that point. But even though Khaled leans on certain superstars over and over and is often pretty slow to bring newer artists into the fold, he occasionally gets some interesting combinations. I never thought Boosie and Nelly on the same song could sound good.

One of the ironies of DJ Khaled's career is that, even with all the jokes about how he doesn't do anything, he pantomimes 'working hard in the studio' so much people have an outsized idea of how much he produces on his album albums. On some albums he's credited as a co-producer on several tracks, but it's hard to say how much he really did on those songs, and he only has a handful of solo production credits across all his albums, including "Standing On The Mountain Top" and "Before The Solution" (both of which feature Jason "Poo Bear" Boyd, who appeared on those 2 early Khaled albums, then disappeared from Khaled's next 6 albums and returned on the last couple as Justin Bieber's go-to songwriter). It's kind of a shame, I actually like Khaled's beats and wish he produced more often, he did more (usually as 'Beat Novacaine') in his Terror Squad days.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park
Vol. 96: Shania Twain
Vol. 97: Squeeze
Vol. 98: Taylor Swift
Vol. 99: INXS
Vol. 100: Stevie Wonder
Vol. 101: The Cranberries
Vol. 102: Def Leppard
Vol. 103: Bon Jovi
Vol. 104: Dire Straits
Vol. 105: The Police
Vol. 106: Sloan
Vol. 107: Peter Gabriel
Vol. 108: Led Zeppelin
Vol. 109: Dave Matthews Band
Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails
Vol. 111: Talking Heads
Vol. 112: Smashing Pumpkins
Vol. 113: System Of A Down
Vol. 114: Aretha Franklin
Vol. 115: Michael Jackson
Vol. 116: Alice In Chains
Vol. 117: Paul Simon
Vol. 118: Lil Wayne
Vol. 119: Nirvana
Vol. 120: Kix
Vol. 121: Phil Collins
Vol. 122: Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Vol. 123: Sonic Youth
Vol. 124: Bob Seger
Vol. 125: Radiohead
Vol. 126: Eric Church
Vol. 127: Neil Young
Vol. 128: Future
Vol. 129: Say Anything
Vol. 130: Maroon 5
Vol. 131: Kiss
Vol. 132: Dinosaur Jr.
Vol. 133: Stevie Nicks
Vol. 134: Talk Talk
Vol. 135: Ariana Grande
Vol. 136: Roxy Music
Vol. 137: The Cure
Vol. 138: 2 Chainz

TV Diary

Friday, May 17, 2019

a) "Dead To Me"
Linda Cardellini has certainly worked steadily in the two decades since "Freaks & Geeks," but after such a great start to her career, "Dead To Me" is one of the first things I've seen her in since then that's a comparably meaty role. "Dead To Me" reminds me a bit of last year's "Sorry For Your Loss" in how Christina Applegate's character grieves her husband and grapples with the expectations of being a 'perfect widow,' but there's a whole added suspense element to the show that drives the story forward. I would say that the show almost relies on it too heavily -- at least once an episode and often several times, Cardellini's character and/or the viewer think that her secret is about to be revealed, and the frequent fake-outs become kind of predictably, when really, it's the depth of the characters and their complicated relationships that really makes it so watchable. I didn't think that there was any way to keep that story going for more than one season, but I really liked the way they ended the last episode and set up the next season.

b) "Chernobyl" 
An infamous and terrifying event in human history like Chernobyl seems like a good subject for a miniseries on paper. But after a couple episodes, I'm realizing that the whole story is so devoid of potential for moments of levity or joy or thrilling heroism that you might otherwise get in a tragic story that I find it hard to really get wrapped up in it. It also kind of makes you feel like Chernobyl was a pretty drab and unhappy place before the disaster, which, I dunno, maybe that's fair, but again, it doesn't leave a lot of room for the kind of dramatic arc that sustains a few hours of television. But it is really well made, the director Johan Renck has made a lot of really and memorable music videos so he brings a lot of visual flair to a fairly dark and shadowy show.

c) "Warrior"
In 1971, Bruce Lee pitched a wild west martial arts TV series called "The Warrior," and 48 years later, a show loosely based on his idea is on Cinemax. I'm not a big martial arts guy but this is incredibly fun to watch, you don't see this kind choreographed fighting with really artful prestige TV direction very often, it's an exciting combination. Andrew Koji and Olivia Cheng have such great onscreen chemistry.

d) "Bless This Mess"
I really enjoyed actress Lake Bell's directorial debut In A World... a few years ago, so it's cool to see her co-create a series with "New Girl" creator Elizabeth Meriwether and direct the first episode. "Bless This Mess" is kind of a hoary old fish-out-of-water comedy about an urbanite couple who decides to go live on a farm in Nebraska, it's more light and amiable than funny per se, but that's not to say I don't enjoy watching it, glad to see that it got renewed for a second season.

e) "The Fix"
This ABC drama has already been canceled, and I won't miss it. Marcia Clark created a weird wish fulfillment series about a lawyer who failed to prosecute a black celebrity who committed murder, and then gets another chance when he murders again. Just a terrible idea for a show, frankly. Robin Tunney looks great for her age, though.

f) "Whiskey Cavalier"
This ABC drama has already been canceled, and I think I will actually miss it a little (although apparently the door hasn't closed on another network picking it up). The formulaic "Moonlighting" thing of 2 attractive spies working together and having will-they-or-won't-they chemistry is goofy but it works, Lauren Cohan is a fox and she's a good unsentimental foil to Scott Foley's ridiculously named title character. Bill Lawrence (of "Scrubs" and "Cougar Town" fame) is an exec producer and the show's banter is a little funnier than it needs to be for the show to work, which is fine by me.

g) "The Code"
A very serious military legal drama where every episode seems to build to some kind of climactic A Few Good Men thing, fine for what it is but not really something I like to watch.

h) "Osmosis"
This French series, dubbed in English on Netflix in America, has a very "Black Mirror" premise about a near-future dating app that predict true love matches with a high degree of accuracy. I feel like this would be a big watercooler show if it was just a straight up American show, it moves a little slow but it's interesting.

i) "Unspeakable"
A miniseries about the AIDS crisis that focuses on how it effected blood banks in Canada and how they unintentionally spread the virus before they understood it. Some really sad stories, a bit dry but well acted.

j) "Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men"
I've only watched 1 of the 4 episodes of this miniseries so far but it's pretty impressive, there are so many stories between these 9 guys that you know they're just scratching the surface, but there's still a lot of new details surfacing.

k) "Selection Day"
One of the kind of fun things about Netflix branching out internationally is that you have access to multiple shows about a topic you never thought you'd see one show about, like cricket in India. In the last few months alone there's been both the documentary series "Cricket Fever: Mumbai Indians" and the scripted "Selection Day."

l) "Made In Heaven"
Amazon's "Made In Heaven" also takes place in India, but the dialogue is in English and it feels like a very polished mainstream rom com kind of thing about wedding planners. It's pretty charming and entertaining.

m) "DC Super Hero Girls"
My 9-year-old son is unfortunately already at the point where he will veer away from shows and movies that have a female protagonist or are in any way outwardly 'girly,' but I'm glad that my other 4-year-old son hasn't gotten any such hangups yet and can really enjoy a show like "DC Super Hero Girls." The series was previewed in a short before Teen Titans Go! To The Movies last year and it definitely follows a bit in the footsteps of "Teen Titans Go," if a little less over-the-top silly, but still pretty funny.

n) "Ultraman"
A new Netflix anime series of the classic character, I like the animation style but I don't know if it's something I would want to watch a lot.

o) "Mission Declassified"
I feel like there are a lot of cable shows about historical myths and mysteries, but the Travel Channel's "Mission Declassified" feels a little more serious and research-based than a lot of them, with an experienced investigative journalist looking at old cases like D.B. Cooper or the Lindbergh kidnapping and, while not necessary finding any blockbuster new revelations, looking at it all pretty thoroughly and coming up with plausible theories.

p) "Mental Samurai"
As funny as Rob Lowe was on "The Grinder" and "Parks And Recreation," he seems to be kind of a dickhead in real life. So I mostly find it a little sad but mostly funny that his career of perpetually bouncing around from one TV gig to another has finally led him to hosting a ridiculous game show, which reminds me a lot of the fictional game show Matt LeBlanc hosted on "Episodes." "Mental Samurai" is actually kind of cleverly devised, aside from the stupid name. But FOX already has another gig lined up for Rob Lowe, starring in a "9-1-1" spinoff next year.

q) "Single Parents"
Of all the shows that the broadcast networks rolled out last fall, I'm only still watching about 3 of them now at the end of the season, and "Single Parents" is by far my favorite. I think I'm slowly converting my wife to the show too. The really remarkable thing is not that the main cast is funny but that the children in the cast, particularly Tyler Wladis, get some of the biggest laughs.

r) "Killing Eve"
Sandra Oh deservingly got all the awards for the first season of "Killing Eve," but there's no show without Villanelle, and I've really enjoyed Jodie Comer in the second season, where you see her not just as a psychopath but as someone really clever and resourceful about deceiving people and becoming whoever she needs to be for the situation.

s) "Good Girls"
This show has really settled into its 2nd season confidently, thrusting a trio of suburban mothers into the usually male-dominated genre of 'person embarks on a life of crime while trying to maintain some normalcy in their family life' television. As with most of these shows, there's a balancing act of how far their misadventures can go without hitting some point of no return, especially since "Good Girls" is on NBC and is a bit lighter than it would probably be as a cable drama. And they're managing that balancing act pretty well, the Beth and Manny affair is kind of the right perverse twist the show needed to get more interesting.

t) "Happy!"
The novelty of this show kind of wore off for me by the end of the first season, I like it fine but I don't find it as subversive or funny as it seems to think it is. But making Christopher Fitzgerald's role bigger in the second season is a good call, he's an entertaining villain.

u) "Brockmire"
"Brockmire" took its entertaining misanthropy and debauchery to an absolute extreme in the 2nd season, so it seems right for them to reset a bit with Jim Brockmire getting sober and starting over, fun to see Richard Kind and Martha Plimpton and J.K. Simmons added to the proceedings.

v) "The Tick"
It's hysterical that there's a villain on the 2nd season named Edgelord, but I'm starting to wish there was a little more of The Tick in this iteration of "The Tick," I get wanting to center the show on the more three dimensional characters and not overuse him, but Peter Serafinowicz is so great in the role and sometimes I feel like I'm waiting too long for his scenes.

w) "Billions"
It was perhaps inevitable that "Billions" would flip the dynamic between its 2 main characters, but I'm glad that the 4th season finally did it so that we get to see Chuck and Axe as allies against everyone else, instead of just doing the cat-and-mouse thing against each other forever. The writing has been really sharp, I feel like everyone involved in this show is having so much fun with the characters and stories, particularly David Costabile.

x) "Superstore"
This season has been really funny, particularly the blizzard episode. That said, "Superstore" really pissed me off this season with the episode where Amy is forced to go to work the day after giving birth. It's treated as a bad and unfair thing by the characters but it's also kind of tolerated and accepted and played for laughs, and for a show that's generally been pretty good and realistic about the realities of retail work, I felt like that was a huge misfire that made a few characters seem like worse people than they did before.

y) "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
I'm happy that the show didn't mess a step in the transition from FOX to NBC -- I hated to see Chelsea Peretti exit the show mid-season, but the ensemble is so big that it hasn't made too much of a difference. The episode where Terry Crews shaved off his eyebrows was a particular favorite.

z) "Saturday Night Live"
It was surreal to finally see Adam Sandler come back and host "SNL," almost a quarter century after he was fired. I liked that he did a whole song about getting fired just to kind of stick it to Lorne, there were a couple other fun moments but I kinda hate Sandler so it was more of a curiosity for me than anything else. I think some of my favorite hosts this year were Emma Stone and, surprisingly, Halsey.

Monthly Report: May 2019 Singles

Thursday, May 16, 2019

1. Shawn Mendes - "If I Can't Have You"
Shawn Mendes's last album was fine, but I was disappointed by, if grudgingly respectful of, his choice to not make any songs that followed in the footsteps of "There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back," in my opinion by far his best song. So I'm glad that he finally returned to that song's urgent tempo with something that differs enough to not feel formulaic, adding a little falsetto and a little more pop groove to the sound. Apparently it was initially written with Dua Lipa in mind and I think it would've been great with her too but I really don't know which I would've preferred. Here's the Spotify playlist of 2019 singles that I add my favorites to every month. 

2. Yo Gotti f/ Lil Baby - "Put A Date On It"
People only really talk about rap choruses if they consider them too repetitive, if a phrase like "Versace" or "Gucci gang" is said at least 5 times in a row. But not enough praise is given to how intricate a lot of hooks are these days, how something like "Put A Date On It" has about 120 words in the chorus with no repeated lines, basically 8 bars of rapping that are repeated in between the verses. "Put A Date On It" is also a great example of how muting drums can really make a verse -- Lil Baby raps over 4 bars of just the hi-hat, then the full beat for 4 bars, and then the drums drop out entirely for the last 4 bars, and those little dynamic adjustments do a lot to make his verse sound more climactic than it would otherwise be. 

3. Kiana Lede - "Ex" 
This is one of those songs that I really enjoy and savor every time I hear it on the radio and was hoping it would blow up, great lyric and gorgeous production, but it seems to have stalled in the 30s on the R&B charts. Don't think the French Montana remix will help. 

4. Old Dominion - "Make It Sweet" 
Country radio never runs out of catchy, heartwarming songs that are just a little dopey, and Old Dominion has supplied a number of them in the last few years. I roll my eyes when they sing "I never gotta wonder where my honey be," but that's still a pretty great chorus.  

5. 2 Chainz f/ Ariana Grande - "Rule The World"
It's weird to think that we're now at the point where it's nostalgic to sample songs from the early 2000s, but here we are. On paper, Hitmaka aka Yung Berg sampling one of Rich Harrison's greatest tracks and adding less distinctive drums should be infuriating, but this works, in large part because Ariana gave it a new hook that sounds really great. 

6. Meek Mill f/ Ella Mai - "24/7"
Another sample from the 2002-2003 era, of "Me, Myself & I," which was always one of my least favorite Beyonce singles, but seems to be a widely held favorite now. It's a little weird to see Meek Mill turn into the modern version of east coast rappers from 20 years ago that are great at loud aggressive music but mostly get on the radio with mild R&B tracks, but the songs he's done it with have mostly been pretty good. 

7. BTS f/ Halsey - "Boy With Luv" 
BTS's American fanbase has been getting really weird and aggressive lately (like, I had to block a few dozen of them on Twitter because I liked a tweet from another writer about them harassment campaigns against American writers and publications, and things started to spiral out of control from there). But their success in America is still really interesting and historic, and I'm curious to see if they ever really break through to U.S. radio or if they'll remain a sales/streaming phenomenon. I'm much more interested in the k-pop groups that just sing, I don't really get much out of hearing rapping in a language I don't speak, but this song is one of their melodic singles and it's pretty catchy. Obviously putting Halsey on a track helps make them more accessible here, but what I like is that "Boy With Luv" is more of a straight up bubbly pop song than what Halsey usually sings, it goes surprisingly well with her voice. 

8. DaBaby - "21"
I think it's kind of nice that a rapper blew up with a song punning on 21 Savage's name and 21's response was to take them on his next tour as the opening act. I know it's not technically a curse word but it's still kind of surprising to hear a rapper really lean into the word "guns" on the radio. 

9. Jonas Brothers - "Sucker" 
The Jonas Brothers coming back and hitting #1 took me by surprise, only because I didn't think "Sucker" was that much better than "Pom Poms," the attempted comeback single they released 6 years ago that flopped and led to them scrapping their planned reunion album at the time. Even stranger, "Sucker" sounds more like a 2013 pop hit than a 2019 pop hit. But it's grown on me, that's a catchy little melody. 

10. YoungBoy Never Broke Again f/ Kevin Gates and Quando Rondo - "I Am Who They Say I Am"  
I have found NBA YoungBoy pretty disappointing musically, like the potential I heard on his early mixtapes hasn't really amounted to much, I thought he might be a young Kevin Gates, but hearing him next to Gates on their collaboration EP last year really highlighted that he's just not anywhere near that level. Still, YoungBoy is massively popular -- at some points this year he's been the #1 most streamed musical artist on all of YouTube -- and rap radio has been surprisingly slow to embrace him, it felt like they were throwing him a bone when they put a song with a familiar sample from a '90s Jay-Z track into light rotation. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Ava Max - "Sweet But Psycho"
It's odd to think that just as Lady Gaga has kind of entered this new stage of her career of dad rock ballads, we finally have a major hit from someone doing a really bad impression of early Gaga. I think the worst part of this song is that Ava Max has explained that the girl in the song is just strong and independent and she's being misunderstood and gaslighted, but there's nothing really supporting that in the text, it's just this poorly conceived song song about a girl being 'psycho.'

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Woodfir's next show is a benefit for Ride For The Feast on Friday, May 24th at Reverb, with Santa Librada, The Selkies, and Dreambush.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Vinyl Me, Please has a cool series profiling the best record store in all 50 states, and they asked me to pick a store to write about in my home state. So I put together a very nostalgic piece about why The Sound Garden is the best record store in Maryland.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

a) Avengers: Endgame
I've seen most of the MCU movies at this point, but rarely in the theater, so waiting for this to hit VOD would've been fine for me as a non-fanatical fan. But the Monday after Endgame opened, I was working on a video shoot that had a long break between locations with a few hours to kill in D.C., and I found a $6 matinee nearby, so I couldn't resist the opportunity. I think Infinity War was the better of the 2 movies, but I felt satisfied that they justified making it two movies, in terms of narrative and how much was going on in each of them. The time travel callbacks to various scenes from past movies wore on me a little bit, but some of them were entertaining enough that it didn't kill the momentum, I enjoyed the way some characters' arcs went (although the Black Widow/Hawkeye stuff, I didn't really understand narratively or dramatically, it felt like they were just giving the mere mortals something to do). I also left the movie with a renewed respect for Chris Hemsworth, he's arguably the biggest actor in the MCU who might not be a household name without it, but he's earned his keep, he's really funny when he needs to be but also nailed some emotional moments at times when Thor looked ridiculous, I'm glad that he's one of the actors who will probably continue making these movies for a while.

b) Shazam!
I was extremely skeptical about this movie being any good, but I'm glad my son wanted to see it, it was really enjoyable. I'm amused that between the recent releases of Little and Shazam!Big is now kind of a genre unto itself, much like Groundhog Day is. Zachary Levi had just the right goofball charm to pull off the role, but what really stuck with me about the movie was the foster home family, Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans and Grace Fulton and especially Jack Dylan Grazer were all just note perfect and kind of grounded the human drama of the movie better than the overwhelming majority of superhero movies.

c) Us
I don't know if seeing Get Out a year after its release just doomed me to enjoy it less because I had already heard so much about it, but I'm glad I saw Jordan Peele's next movie a bit quicker, and I think even on an even playing field, I'd prefer Us. It's just darker, more violent, more eerie, more to my taste in horror. I thought the way the various reveals in the story were unspooled throughout the movie were perfectly paced, there were a couple things I maybe should've seen coming but didn't at all. Lupita Nyong'o was obviously the powerhouse performance of the movie, but I also thought Winston Duke brought the perfect amount of levity to the movie with his dopey Clark Griswold vacation dad.

d) Native Son
I watched this HBO adaptation of Richard Wright's 1940 novel just off of the strength of it having a lot of actors I'd wanted to see more of: Ashton Sanders from Moonlight, Margaret Qualley from "The Leftovers," and Bill Camp from "The Night Of." I actually saw a lot of plot parallels between Native Son and The Night Of," but I didn't see the big pivot point of the story coming at all. And I got kind of angry at the protagonist about it, because he should've known what was about to happen, I felt like screaming at the screen, it's such an infuriating turn of events. But then I read a summary of the novel and I'm really curious why they chose to make the changes to the source material that they did, I don't know, the movie was really beautifully shot and acted but I have a lot of questions about the whole thing, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

e) BlacKkKlansman
I loved the idea of this movie, just for Denzel Washington's son stepping into his old man's shoes in a Spike Lee joint and knocking it out of the park, and Spike finally getting an Oscar for a movie doesn't shy away from his bolder themes like some of his other late period crowd-pleasers (I mean Inside Man is great, but it's not gonna hurt a racist's feelings like most of his other movies). But I also loved the movie in practice, Spike really got a chance to take the story seriously while still having a lot of fun with playful and artful embellishments, and John David Washington turned in a great performance without distracting me with memories of his dad (although every time Michael Buscemi was onscreen I was very distracted by him being a dead ringer for his brother). Topher Grace as David Duke was a strangely inspired casting choice, Grace's underrated talent for playing a dumbass has never been more pointedly deployed. And I knew the documentary footage at the end of the movie was coming but I wasn't prepared for it to be a really effective and moving finale.

f) Papillon
I feel like I should definitely watch the 1973 version of Papillon, because there's just no way that Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman weren't way more entertaining in these roles than Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek are.

g) The Meg
I wasn't as excited as my wife was to watch the latest trashy killer shark movie, but once I saw that Jason Statham was in it I was on board, he rarely steers you wrong with ridiculous popcorn movies. It felt pretty predictable but sometimes the predictable deaths by shark are the most satisfying deaths by shark.

h) The Dark Tower
I've never had a clue what Stephen King's Dark Tower novels are about other than that there's a bunch of them and they're really long and involved and esoteric even by King's standards. So I was surprised to see they managed to translate it to a 90-minute movie, and after kind of listlessly watching it I feel like I don't really understand much still, other than that I understand why this got terrible reviews. Maybe the Amazon series will do a better job.

i) Penguins of Madagascar
My kids were watching this one day and I was really alarmed to hear John Malkovich voicing one the villain, that in and of itself made it a little more entertaining to me than it would've otherwise been.

Monthly Report: April 2019 Albums

Monday, May 06, 2019

1. Bailen - Thrilled To Be Here
Realizing that my alma mater's college station has gotten really good has really kind of pushed my taste towards college rock lately, WTMD has really turned me onto some good newer artists. I heard "I Was Wrong" by the NYC trio Bailen a couple months ago on the station and made a quick note to myself to check out their album when it came out, and I'm glad I did, this is really excellent. It's kind of a cliche to say that there's something special about siblings' vocal harmonies, but these two brothers and one sister really do sound incredible together, Julia Bailen has the most immediate striking voice, but Daniel Bailen sings my favorite track, "Not Gonna Take Me," which sounds like some kind of amazing lost Crowded House song. I put this and the other albums I've been listening to this year into one big 2019 albums Spotify playlist.

2. ScHoolboy Q - CrasH Talk
It's been almost 3 years since Blank Face LP and ScHoolboy Q had been saying he was '90% done' with the follow-up for 2 of those years. He recorded and discarded a lot of material to end up with the pared down CrasH Talk, which is barely more than half the lengh of Blank Face, and I'm inclined to say all the editing was worth it, this album breezes by and makes the most of Q's blithe shit talk and cranky charisma where his other albums have always kind of felt like a chore to me, like even he wasn't that happy with them. This really ends strong, too, the last 3 songs are easily some of the best tracks.

3. Sara Bareilles - Amidst The Chaos
Hearing that someone is doing an earthy stripped-down album produced by T Bone Burnett isn't necessarily something that gets me excited, but in the case of Sara Bareilles, it was pretty encouraging news. I've always really liked her back catalog but had a much stronger affinity for the stuff that consisted primarily of her voice and piano with maybe a minimal rhythm section, rather than the more polished and programmed tracks of her last proper album, 2013's The Blessed Unrest. And Amidst The Chaos is gorgeous, it's kind of her Carole King album, really puts her voice and melodies up front, with backing from world class musicians like Marc Ribot and Jim Keltner.

4. Shy Glizzy - Covered N Blood
This is the 3rd project Shy Glizzy has released in the last 18 months, and while the last 2 seemed to be very accessible and guest-heavy to capitalize on his renewed momentum from "Crew," Covered N Blood just sounds a little more serious, like he just had some things to get off his chest. "How I'm Coming" and "Ridin Down Slauson" are a couple of my favorites on this one.

5. Priests - The Seduction of Kansas
The Washington, D.C. quartet Priests' second full-length album sounds a bit more stylized than their previous records, like there's kind of a phaser effect on most of the vocals and the guitars maybe sound a little more trebly too. It's their first record with John Congleton, a very seasoned producer who's done some great records with well known bands (including the Bailen album), so I'll accept the sound of The Seduction of Kansas as a deliberate creative decision, even if I kind of go back and forth about whether I really dig it or wish they'd gone in a different direction. "Not Perceived" is one great track where everything slows down and comes into focus and pull off the unique musical statement this album seems to be aiming for.

6. Abdu Ali - Fiyah!!!
I feel like Baltimore has always been a breeding ground for avant garde hip hop and Abdu Ali is really waving that banner proudly, this album sounds like he just kinda threw whatever sound he wanted to into the mix and let it all stand together. I really like the propulsive beats of "Gotta Get It" and "No, I Ain't Doing Dat" but the sort of free jazz parts of the album with saxophone and trumpet add a great texture too. 

7. Beyonce - Homecoming: The Live Album
I'm not the biggest fan of live albums (give me a concert or an album, not a halfway point between both, ideally) and outright dislike watching streamed footage of concerts. But I got caught up in enough of the excitement about Beyonce's Coachella set that I watched maybe half of it last year, and was properly amazed, but there was still plenty I didn't see/hear that there was the fun of discovery in listening to the album. There's obviously a whole underlying HBCU theme to the use of a marching band in this set, but it makes perfect sense in a lot of ways, since horns and marching snares are already a part of a good number Beyonce's best songs, and there's so many great beat switches and interpolations, it's really impressive to listen to even without watching the choreography and showmanship.

8. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Fishing For Fishies
The Australian septet King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released 5 albums in 2017, and then understandably took 2018 off, so Fishing For Fishies is the first record in a minute from an insanely prolific band. These songs feel a little more playful and concise than some of their other stuff, which is fine but I have mixed feelings about the band's vocals/lyrics. But there's still really impressive musicianship in there, I love the 11/8 time signature of "The Cruel Millennial."

9. Pink - Hurts 2B Human
I enjoyed going back through Pink's catalog to revise my deep album cuts playlist last week, and add some stuff from the new album, it's not her best but she's really approaching 40 much more gracefully than pop stars usually do, the acoustic sound of her You + Me side project has been integrated nicely into her solo stuff. And this album is still quietly very musically varied, collaborations with Chris Stapleton and Khalid and Beck all sound good alongside each other.

10. Anderson .Paak - Ventura
Like Scorpion, FUTURE and HNDRXX, or Sweat / Suit, rapper/singer Anderson .Paak apparently recorded Venture and last year's Oxnard together as a planned double album that would display both his hip hop material and his more melodic songs. But we didn't really hear about that plan when Oxnard was released in November, so it kind of feels like his Aftermath debut didn't really do what it was supposed to do and a follow-up was quickly dispatched 5 months later as some kind of course correction. Either way, Ventura is a better album that does a better job of displaying Anderson .Paak's skill set, even beyond the flex of having Andre 3000 and Smokey Robinson on the first two records, it's just very funky and relaxed and tuneful, I especially like "Good Heels" with Jazmine Sullivan, I wish that one was longer. I still don't entirely buy the hype about .Paak being some kind of Stevie Wonder genius and find his voice annoying, but he delivered on this record.

The Worst Album of the Month: Don Felder - American Rock 'n' Roll
Don Felder may not be a household name, but he's kind of a quietly important and fascinating figure in classic rock (founding member of The Eagles, got slide guitar lessons from Duane Allman and was Tom Petty's guitar teacher). So I checked out his new solo album hoping for the best ("Visions" from the first Eagles album still rules), but I just cringed all the way through it. The opening title track has lyrics like "Oh my, how Santana could play, the smoke and acid in our head, everybody trippin' to the Grateful Dead, oh Janis, you gave us a piece of your heart," it's just all such an on-the-nose and cheesy celebration of music, it's sincere but sounds clumsy and mediocre. 

Friday, May 03, 2019

Woodfir's next Baltimore show is at The Undercroft on May 14th with Mint Green, Dreambush, and Michelle Luong. We have new studio recordings on the way, but in the meantime we've been putting lo-fi demos on our Soundcloud.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

I updated one of my favorite deep album cuts playlists, Pink, for City Pages.

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.