Movie Diary

Thursday, June 04, 2020

a) The Lovebirds
I'm not saying this is as good as the new school classic Game Night but it definitely mined the same "rom com characters dropped into an action movie" territory well. I thought it was overall better than the previous Nanjiani/Showalter movie, The Big Sick, and the funniest Issa Rae performance I've seen to date. Not especially memorable but good for an afternoon's distraction. 

b) Uncut Gems
There's a certain kind of A24 movie that people get kind of insufferable about, but I will say, this is a much better movie than Spring Breakers, I don't want to dismiss it like that. That said, the flourishes that made it not just a straight up crime thriller, like the overbearing score and the psychedelic microscopic zoom-in shots, didn't really add much to it for me. It all just felt like window dressing on a simple story of a kind of pathetic, self-destructive character who's made life worse for everybody around him circling the drain for 2 hours. Adam Sandler's performance was fine, maybe other people root for Howard Ratner more because they have happy associations with Sandler's face and voice, but I just heard him yelling the same way Happy Gilmore yelled at Bob Barker or whatever and felt no particular fondness for this shitheel of a protagonist. 

c) Rocketman
Bohemian Rhapsody made more money and got more awards. But Rocketman is a far better movie, despite Dexter Fletcher essentially directing both (although John Reid, who managed both Elton John and Queen is, oddly, played by two different "Game Of Thrones" actors in each respective movie). Both movies played fast and loose with the facts and the chronology of the artists' catalogs, but Rocketman's more fanciful heightened reality excuses it more -- although I was irritated by them shoehorning John Lennon into the origin of Elton John's stage name, and someone saying "this is the best thing I've heard since Let It Be" before signing Elton to release his first album, which predated Let It Be). And while a few sequences made me roll my eyes, the bolder and somewhat more cartoonish approach paid off, it really felt like the movie was a celebration of Elton and Bernie's songs that captured the spirit of their records better than most music biopics (and made room for less overexposed tracks like "Amoreena" and "Take Me To The Pilot"). I never thought any movie star would have enough physical resemblance to play Elton John convincingly (Tom Hardy, laughably, was at one point attached to star in this), but Taron Egerton looked the part and sang in Elton's distinctive style pretty impressively too. 

d) Zombieland: Double Tap
The original Zombieland kind of felt like a mainstream tipping point for horror comedy and zombie movie satire that became really oversaturated with diminishing returns in the following years, and I always say that a decade is way too long to wait to make a sequel for a comedy. But I never really stopped enjoying the original whenever it popped up on cable, and this is a solid sequel, I will watch Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone play stock Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone characters anytime and if they're shooting zombies at the same time, all the better. Zoey Deutch was really funny, too, the new additions to the cast were all pretty welcome. 

e) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
For the first hour or so this was about what I expected, a charming little British movie from the director of Four Weddings And A Funeral about a group of book lovers who bond together on a small British island occupied by Germans during WWII. But the second half of the movie is all about how one of them fell in love with a Nazi captain and how he was one of the good Nazis and all the people who were opposed to their star-crossed romance are the bad guys in the story, I really have no patience for that bullshit. 

f) Monster House
My 5-year-old loves this movie and has watched it so many times, even though it really is pretty creepy for a kid's movie, it kinda gives me hope that he's gonna watch a lot of horror movies with me when he's a teenager. Not a bad movie, Dan Harmon co-wrote the screenplay years before creating "Community," but I really do dislike the aesthetic of the animation. 

g) Rock-A-Doodle
I grew up in the era of Don Bluth's weird movies competing with Disney features and I have vivid if not always fond memories of them, but I somehow have no memory of this one, which my son found on Netflix, where Glen Campbell voices a rooster who dresses and sings like Elvis Presley and a human boy is transformed into a kitten. A lot of these Bluth movies just feel like a childhood fever dream to me so it kind of makes sense somehow for this one to just kind of seemingly surface out of the fog of the past.

Monthly Report: May 2020 Albums

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

1. Hayley Williams - Petals For Armor
I liked Paramore just fine as Paramore, in every incarnation the band has taken over the years, and kind of assumed Hayley Williams would continue to just pilot that ship in interesting ways. The band already broke the Warped Tour mold of their early years pretty impressively already on the self-titled album, and I didn't think Williams would go even further beyond that to necessitate reinventing as a solo artist, much less something so handmade and unpredictable that it feel like she's moving into Joni Mitchell/Kate Bush territory of idiosyncratic genius and radical vulnerability. But Petals For Armor feels like a big creative step forward for her, even with the other members of Paramore tagging along thoughout the record, the synthy new wave stuff has a different feel from After Laughter. "Cinnamon" and "Pure Love" and the way those two songs are tied together is probably my favorite part. But there's so many good songs, "Leave It Alone" is incredible. Here's my 2020 albums playlist on Spotify that I fill with every new record I listen to. 

2. The 1975 - Notes On A Conditional Form
I was excited when The 1975 announced, with typical pretentious panache, that they were going to release two back-to-back albums as part of the same 'era.' But I also wondered if the second album would invariably be a shorter and less essential collection of leftovers, like Amnesiac after Kid A. But there were enough delays that Notes On A Conditional Form now arrives 18 months after A Brief Inquiry, and it's the band's longest album to date, a big varied and unwieldy record that feels more like it's own whole than half of anything. As usual, a lot of the big moments on the album already trickled out as singles, but a lot of them didn't really feel like singles and make more sense in the context of the album (particularly "People" and "Jesus Christ"), with George Daniel's increasingly ambitious soundscape pieces forming the connective tissue that ties it all together. "Guys" hits me hard as the closer because playing in a band really is a special kind of friendship that few bands have ever really expressed well in a song, and obviously "If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)" is one of their best songs ever. But of the new songs, "Then Because She Goes" and "I Think There's Something You Should Know" are the ones that are really grabbing me. 

3. Beauty Pill - Please Advise EP
This is a short release, but Beauty Pill have always had a knack for making an EP feel like a meal in and of itself, dating back to The Cigarette Girl From The Future. I've already written about this record a couple times for Spin, although ironically the only song I didn't mention in either piece is "The Damnedest Thing," which I think is the real gem that makes me excited for their next full-length. And when I did my interview with Chad and Erin, we probably talked for 10-15 minutes just about the Pretenders cover that I should probably publish somewhere at some point, "Tattooed Love Boys" is one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums and Chad put a lot of thought into doing it justice. 

4. Ro James - Mantic
I love the way Miguel kind of melds Prince influences with modern post-hip hop R&B influences. And Ro James, who's the nephew of Prince protege Rosie Gaines and got a foot in the industry co-writing Miguel's "Use Me," is continuing in a similar vein, especially on his second album, which features Miguel on "Too Much." I think my favorite song so far is "Be Mine," but the whole thing has a great moody atmosphere. 

5. Future - High Off Life
At this point, I'm comfortable saying that Future's prime (the pretty incredibly fruitful 5 years from Pluto to HNDRXX) is over, but we're still getting a long tail of pretty good records from him as he kind of coasts along. I've heard a lot more grumbling about High Off Life than I did about The WIZRD, but I think they're pretty close in quality and at the moment I prefer the new one. It's his longest album to date, but the 5 previously released tracks are all bunched together at the end, and the stuff before that flows together pretty nicely. People who are invested in Future being an avatar of toxic masculinity don't like the earnest lyrics about his current girlfriend, "Accepting My Flaws," but it's a great song, not another saccharine "I Won" type thing. "Up The River" is another good introspective one. And I feel like Future was kind of trying to awkwardly chase the "Sicko Mode" beat switch trend on "Life Is Good" but I really like the beat switch on "Ridin Strikers." 

6. The Soft Pink Truth - Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?
This album is really beautiful, I particularly like the parts where a little rhythm pattern gets going like on "We" and "Grace," but the whole thing is lovely and soothing to take in. As with some other Soft Pink Truth releases, Drew Daniel of Matmos brought in a whole supporting cast of Baltimore musicians, including Jana Hunter and Andrew Bernstein. And I was pretty happy to see that my friend Koye Berry played on Shall We Go On Sinning, which was released just a few days before my album that Koye also appears on. 

7. Dee Dave - Good Vibes EP
East Baltimore rapper Dee Dave was murdered in January, really sad situation, I didn't know him but I had been familiar with his music since he did a song with Al Rogers Jr. last year, seemed like a good dude. I'm happy that 20 minutes of unreleased music was just put out as this posthumous release, and that it's really high quality stuff to help him leave behind a musical legacy when his career was just getting started, "We Are" is my favorite track so far, the guy really had a great ear for rhymes and had this plainspoken, openhearted way of writing. It's sad to hear him talking about losing friends on songs like "Not In My League" knowing that he's gone now too. 

8. DDm - The Ballad Of Omar
DDm has been one of my favorite rappers in Baltimore for like 15 years, and when he said last year that Beautiful Gowns was gonna be his last album, I hoped it wasn't true. And I'm happy to say it wasn't, and it's cool to hear him do a 180 from the last project and show his range, getting back with Headphones from Mania Music Group to make some harder-edged stuff with. The last time I interviewed DDm in 2014, we talked about how he'd shelved a similarly themed project called The Omar Tape back in 2012, I don't know if this has any of the same music but I can tell from some of the recent references in the lyrics that at least some of it is totally new, so maybe he figured out a better way to pull of the concept than what he had in mind before. "Boys Don't Cry" is a great song and Miss Kam's verse on "Rachacha" is awesome. 

9. Charli XCX - How I'm Feeling Now
In the 5 years since Charli XCX briefly grazed serious pop stardom in America, she's put out a lot of music and moved in an increasingly niche direction, and I've enjoyed some of it, but I kinda wish she'd become a big star here, I liked when she was swinging for the fences on Sucker more than the recent glitchy bedroom pop stuff. I like How I'm Feeling Now the most out of her last few projects, though, there's a bit more melody and emotion pinning down songs like "Forever" and "Detonate." Charli was kind of the first high profile artist to announce they were making an album at home in coronavirus quarantine and put this thing together in about a month and put it out right away, which is a great publicity hook, but it doesn't sound rushed or lo-fi or anything compared to her other stuff, I wouldn't have really known if she hadn't said that's how it was made. 

10. Superchunk - Clambakes Vol. 10: Only In My Dreams - Live In Tokyo 2009
I recently posted my Superchunk deep album cuts playlist, for no particular reason other than that I'm always listening to Superchunk. And about a week later they released the latest live album in their archival series, with several of my favorite deep cuts on there. I like that they're always trying to cover different eras and places and songs with the shows they pick for Clambakes, and this show is distinct for a cover of Telekensis's "Tokyo" that they learned for the occasion of playing in Tokyo. The best Superchunk show I've ever seen was in D.C. less than a year after this with some of the same setlist, so listening to this brings back great memories. Superchunk ripping into "Detroit Has A Skyline" and "For Tension" on a good night, it doesn't get much better than that for me. 

The Worst Album of the Month: Butch Walker - American Love Story
Usually in this space I end up taking easy shots at artists I'm not really a fan of, but it pains me to pan this record, because I really enjoy most of Butch Walker's albums, one of them was pretty high on my best of the 2010s list. And I want to respect the good intentions of what Walker tried to do on this album, criticizing right wing white supremacy and making an unabashedly political record. But so much of the album is devoted to a "conversation" between both sides, including a lot of skits and weird dramatized interstitial pieces that feature, like, slurs and hate speech, it kind of feels like Joyner Lucas's "I'm Not Racist" as a rock album. I think he really swung for the fences and missed on this one. Even the songs that have catchy melodies have a lyric that makes me cringe or a heavy-handed title like "Torn In The USA" or "Divided States of America." 

TV Diary

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

a) "The Great"
The "Catherine The Great" miniseries HBO had last year was soapy and tawdry, not a particularly dry historical epic, but "The Great" is nonetheless kind of an entertainingly silly funhouse mirror version of Catherine The Great's story. I wasn't sure if it was going to be just kind of playfully irreverent 2006 Marie Antoinette vibes or something, but it's really pretty funny and over-the-top. I always thought Nicholas Hoult was kind of a dull leading man type but he really gives an entertainingly ridiculous performance. My wife's a history buff and can point out all the random points where they departed from the facts that weren't even necessary to service the plot or a joke, which is odd, but obviously they're not going for historical accuracy.

b) "Betty"
This show about girl skateboarders on HBO kind of reminds me of "High Maintenance," aimless little NYC slice of life narratives, some of the characters are likable but there hasn't been enough humor and/or plot to hook me yet or leave much of an impression.

c) "Reckoning"
"Rectify" was the most dour show in TV history, one that I couldn't bring myself to continue watching no matter how well made or well acted it was. "Rectify" star Aden Young is in "Reckoning" and it's not quite so dour, or at least it's dour but also a bit pulpy and suspenseful. The most interesting thing to me about this show is that it's produced by an Australian network and completely filmed in the Sydney area, but the show takes place in California and all the characters are Americans. It feels just the tiniest bit off to watch, whether you know that or not, that it's not really America.

d) "Gold Digger"
Julia Ormond, who's still a babe like she was in the '90s, plays a wealthy woman who starts dating a much younger man in this BBC miniseries. The one episode I watched was pretty promising, just because every character's intentions are pretty ambiguous and I don't know if her son is going to be the villain that he seems to be or what.

e) "The Eddy"
"The Eddy" is a lot like "Treme" if it was set in France rather than by the French Quarter, a gritty and rambling story of contemporary jazz musicians scraping by. Damien Chazelle executive produced it and directed the first couple episodes, and he has a great eye for filming musicians at work, there are a couple moments where Andre Holland is an intensely demanding bandleader much like Simmons in Whiplash. But over the course of the 8 episodes of the miniseries, some of which feel like a whole movie unto itself, there are a lot of tangents and character studies about different members of the ensemble cast, some of which work better than others. The idea of these underdog musicians making uncompromising jazz kind of clashed with the dippy pop jazz songs that Glen "Jagged Little Pill" Ballard wrote for the show. And (spoiler alert), the show climaxes with a terrorist attack during a concert in Paris, which, I dunno, seemed in poor taste less than 5 years after the Bataclan attack.

f) "Valeria"
This show from Spain is about the love lives of a writer and her 3 friends and has perhaps inevitably been described as 'Sex And The City in Madrid.' I don't think "SATC" has aged very well but the writing on "Valeria" feels fresher and more contemporary so the comparison doesn't loom over the show too much for me. Diana Gomez and Silma Lopez are just gorgeous, the dialogue is sharp, the stories aren't too soapy, definitely one of Netflix's better recent imports.

g) "White Lines"
Another Netflix show from Spain, a murder mystery about a DJ who disappeared in Ibiza 20 years ago, kind of interesting to have a neo noir set against the backdrop of beautiful people partying to dance music on the beach.

h) "Into The Night"
This Belgian series has a cool concept about sunlight suddenly killing people and destroying the world, and a plane that has to keep flying east to stay in permanent night. It's not bad but I kinda wish it was one as a big budget movie, and some of the dialogue is a little cheesy, particularly at the end of the first episode.

i) "Harley Quinn"
I had heard good things about this when it debuted online last year but I wasn't gonna subscribe to DC Universe, so I'm glad SyFy has started broadcasting it. And man, it's really fucking funny, and makes great use of the whole ridiculous deep bench of Batman villains for the endless voice cast of notable comedians and comedy actors. I don't compare anything to "The Venture Bros." lightly because that's one of my favorite shows of the last two decades, but at its best "Harley Quinn" gets into "Venture" territory.

j) "Solar Opposites"
This show from "Rick And Morty" co-creator Justin Roiland is really just a lesser "Rick And Morty." I don't know if it's lesser because Dan Harmon isn't involved or if there's just diminishing returns to doing a whole new show and new set of characters where the stories and jokes are 99% the same stuff, like Seth MacFarlane doing all those different samey shows at once. It's not bad at all, but I think it'll take some time to grow on me. I'm amused that the show was originally developed for FOX before it ended up on Hulu, because they really haven't toned down the language or the gore much at all, I can't imagine how much they'd have had to bland down this show to get it on Sunday nights after "The Simpsons."

k) "Rick And Morty"
I might not be as harsh on "Solar Opposites" if it hadn't debuted right at the same time that "Rick And Morty" was back with some new episodes. But I've really enjoyed these last few, maybe more than the ones last year, particularly the vat of acid episode.

l) "Dead To Me"
The second season of "Dead To Me" seemed to lean into the show's soap opera qualities right off the bat, with a character who died in the first season seeming to return but wait! No! They have a twin brother that was never mentioned before! Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini give such great performances in this show and there are so many great moments in the second season, but I also found myself dreading whatever plot twist they were working toward to set up the third season, and was relieved that it wasn't too over-the-top (if still a little ridiculous and coincidental).

m) "What We Do In The Shadows"
This show has just continued to be consistently great in the second season. I particularly like how the bit from the season 1 finale where Guillermo finds out he's a Van Helsing descendant who's destined to kill vampires has become a recurring plot thread. The Mark Hamill episode was excellent, and Kayvan Novak as Nandor might be line for line the funniest character on TV right now.

n) "Run"
I've never seen a show burn off its goodwill with viewers as quickly as "Run" did, from the excitement around episode 1 to the widespread disappointment with episode 7. I didn't hate the finale like a lot of people did, but it definitely left me wanting. Like, when the last shot faded to black, I couldn't believe there wasn't going to be some kind of epilogue and the credits started to roll. Some finales go over-the-top with a big speech or action sequence or plot twist but this is the first time I've felt like something like that was coming and there was just...nothing. It was almost like they were trying so hard to set up a second season that they left nobody wanting it. I still really liked the majority of the show, though, Merrit Wever was great as usual, and I enjoyed Archie Panjabi, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Tamara Podemski's characters so much that I wish they were in more than 2-3 episodes apiece. It just felt like the show was full of good ideas and performances but it wasn't assembled satisfyingly.

o) "Killing Eve"
"Killing Eve" has kind of settled into familiar rhythms in its third season, perhaps the most novel thing they've done this year is have a confrontation between Eve and Villanelle in the middle of the season instead of keeping them apart until the finale. But I feel like the over-the-top Villanelle stuff, as entertaining as it is, has kind of taken over the show a little too much, would like to see the show center a little more on Eve again.

p) "Homecoming"
The first season of "Homecoming" was one of my favorite things on TV in the last couple years, and I was intrigued by the idea that they'd do a 2nd season without Julia Roberts, and with more focus on Hong Chau's character. But lately so many shows have disappointed me by becoming an anthology in the second season or pivoting to a new story or protagonist that I was a little worried that they'd just abandon the original storyline when there was still more to explore. So I'm pretty pleased that "Homecoming" picked right back up on the original story, focusing on Janelle Monae's new character and kind of working backwards to show how she fit in with everything and returning to Stephan James's character. Not quite as gripping as the first season (the new director follow's Sam Esmail's template but isn't as creative with framing and camera movement), but Chris Cooper and Joan Cusack were great additions to the cast and I love the way the story ended.

q) "Vida"
The third and final season of "Vida" has been good so far, I like how much the show has evolved and changed since the beginning. It kinda felt like you met these characters in a time of upheaval and crisis but now you're seeing them find their way and you've gone on the journey with them, it's actually oddly rare how often a TV series really gives you that feeling.

r) "The Last O.G."
This show has never really lived up to its promise, and it's still weird to me that Tiffany Haddish is just there basically playing the straight man while she's the comic relief in several movies a year. But the bits with Tray giving walking tours of Brooklyn with these funny 'hood legend' anecdotes are great, some of the best stuff the show has done to date.

s) "Workin' Moms"
Still a really consistently entertaining show in its 4th season, I don't know how much people are watching it but I really recommend it. The stuff with Jenny and the dad the playground has been hilarious, and the storyline with Anne and her daughter has gone to some interesting places that TV rarely goes about raising a teenager. 

t) "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. The Reverend"
I'm so glad they brought back "Kimmy Schmidt" for an interactive special in the style of "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch." I think this format is actually kind of better suited to comedy than mystery/sci-fi. The writers really seemed to delight in being able to just come up with ridiculous options and a new set of jokes for every path you could go down. The only thing I didn't like is that after we'd played the game like 2 hours, it got to an ending where we'd chosen the 'wrong' answer and it kicked us all the way back to the beginning, and tried to make us watch a lot of the same scenes all over again, which was annoying.

u) "Asian Americans"
Have only watched the first couple hours of this PBS docuseries so far, but it's pretty interesting. It's kind of crazy to think that the subject matter is migration between two of the most populous continents on Earth, like it's a really huge story with millions of participants, but they're threading the needle and putting the narrative together well.

v) "Celebrity IOU"
I don't like that this show is hosted by the Property Brothers, who in my mind are named Steve Property and Roger Property. But it's a pretty charming little show where you see celebrities do little renovation projects to surprise people they know, like Brad Pitt doing something the woman who's been his makeup artist for over 30 years, it's pretty wholesome.

w) "Alaskan Animal Rescue"
I'm just so fascinated by Alaska and may never get to see it in person so I will always check out shows like this and "Alaska PD" where you get a little slice of life in Alaska.

x) "Jungle Animal Rescue"
This is another NatGeo show that premiered around the same time as "Alaskan Animal Rescue," same basic idea in a different location, a little less inherently interesting to me but I have a lot of respect for people who work with animals, cool to see how they do it.

y) "Chico Bon Bon: Monkey With A Tool Belt"
A cute little new Netflix show that my kid is enjoying. I like the animation style, I also like saying "monkey with a tool belt" to the toon of "Girlfriend In A Coma."

z) "Mira, Royal Detective"
A charming recent show on Disney Junior about a little girl in India (or an India-like fantasy land I guess?) who solves mysteries, I wish my kid watched this show more than once.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 187: The Killers

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

I wasn't sure what artist I'd have in the 187th volume of this series, especially since I already did Snoop and Dre playlists, so you can imagine my excitement when I realized I was working on a playlist of The Killers, who are releasing their 6th album Imploding The Mirage this week, and they'd be appropriate for 1-8-7. So let's go visit Jenny, Jonny, Andy, Natalie, and of course, Sam.

The Killers deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Believe Me Natalie
2. This River Is Wild
3. Battle Born
4. Move Away
5. Losing Touch
6. Change Your Mind
7. Heart Of A Girl
8. Sam's Town
9. Neon Tiger
10. Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf
11. Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine
12. Midnight Show
13. Have All The Songs Been Written?
14. My List
15. Andy, You're A Star
16. Glamorous Indie Rock And Roll
17. Uncle Jonny
(I've had it with this game!!)
18. Joy Ride
19. Life To Come

Tracks 1, 6, 11, 12 and 15 from Hot Fuss (2004)
Tracks 2, 8, 14 and 17 from Sam's Town (2006)
Tracks 4, 10 and 16 from Sawdust (2007)
Tracks 5, 9 and 18 from Day & Age (2008)
Tracks 3 and 7 from Battle Born (2012)
Tracks 13 and 19 from Wonderful Wonderful (2017)

The Killers are a band I have kind of a love/hate relationship with. They came out of the gate with a huge ubiquitous album, I don't know if any rock band since has had the kind of reach they had circa "Mr. Brightside." And Hot Fuss was an alright album, I remember my wife playing it a lot until her copy got stolen out of her car with some other CDs. But even then it felt like Brandon Flowers was this total weirdo who wrote really weird lyrics and happened to have a pop star look -- sort of like he was not just an '80s fanatic but a real Duran Duran-type vapidly deep guy himself. It's weird to think that 3 of the most popular bands of the last couple decades (The Killers, Imagine Dragons, and Panic! At The Disco) all came out of Las Vegas, a place that had produced few bands of note before that.

Sam's Town was a really divisive record at the time, and it's funny to think that a band caused such a stir by saying they were really influenced by Bruce Springsteen, something that became really ordinary and uncontroversial in the following years. But in retrospect, I really like Sam's Town and think it's their best album. Meanwhile, My Chemical Romance also took a big classic rock pivot a month later on The Black Parade with more success, and I really don't like that album as much as the MCR albums directly before and after it.

There are some bands where I like the drummer more than everything else about the band, and The Killers is an example of that -- Ronnie Vannucci Jr. just has a great feel, really gives them a loose and muscular arena rock grandeur where they could've just sounded like another stiff synth rock band with a different drummer. The fills and patterns he plays on songs like "Believe Me Natalie," "Battle Born," great stuff, he's a joy to listen to.

The band liked Stuart Price's remixes of "Mr. Brightside" and "When You Were Young" so much that they asked him to produce their third album, Day & Age. That's not the first time a rock band has worked with a dance producer after he remixed them -- that would probably be Happy Mondays and Paul Oakenfold on Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches -- but I think it's always pretty interesting when that happens and it speaks well of the band's adaptability. I hadn't listened to Day & Age beyond the singles before, it's better than I expected. And unlike a lot of rock-band-with-dance-producers stuff, Price doesn't just replace the drummer with loops and breaks, Vannucci is still in there doing his thing.

They released a rarities compilation, Sawdust, between their 2nd and 3rd proper albums, and in interviews they namechecked classic b-sides comps that '90s bands released at the height of their fame like Incesticide and Pisces Iscariot. I thought it was pretty cool that they were kind of consciously participating in a sort of alternative rock tradition. The comp included "Glamorous Indie Rock And Roll," a song with a very tongue-in-cheek title that was one of their most talked about tracks circa Hot Fuss even though it was only on the U.K. version of the album (in place of "Change Your Mind"), not the U.S. edition. I also really love "Move Away," which might have been left off Sam's Town because it would've been too much of an outlier but it's a great example of The Killers' more jagged post-punk roots.

Sawdust also included "Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf," which the band envisioned as the first chapter of their 'Murder Trilogy.' The other two songs, "Midnight Show" and "Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine," were both on Hot Fuss, but the full trilogy was never on one record (sort of like how "Footsteps" from Eddie Vedder's serial killer-themed 'Mamasan Trilogy' demo for Pearl Jam never got on Ten like the others). So it was fun to present those songs in sequence in this playlist, on tracks 10, 11 and 12.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Spin ran a couple of big lists of the best albums of 2020 so far and the best songs of 2020 so far. I wrote some blurbs for both lists, about Ashley McBryde, Beauty Pill, Roddy Ricch, and others.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 186: Lil Kim

Thursday, May 21, 2020

I almost posted this playlist last fall when Lil Kim released her 9 album and received the Icon award at the BET Hip Hop Awards. But it feels like Lil Kim has been more talked about in the last couple weeks than she was then, so I might as well post it now.

Lil Kim deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Back Stabbers w/ Junior M.A.F.I.A.
2. Queen Bitch
3. M.A.F.I.A. Land
4. Big Momma Thang f/ Lil Cease and Jay-Z
5. Drugs
6. Fuck You f/ Trife and Larceny
7. Lil Drummer Boy f/ Cee-Lo and Redman)
8. Suck My Dick
9. Custom Made (Give It To You)
10. Revolution f/ Grace Jones and Lil Cease
11. Don't Mess With Me
12. Came Back For You
13. Get In Touch With Us f/ Styles P.
14. (When Kim Say) Can You Hear Me Now? f/ Missy Elliott
15. Can't Fuck With Queen Bee f/ Governor and Shelene Thomas with Full Force
16. Durty
17. We Don't Give A Fuck f/ Bun B and Twista
18. Kronik f/ Snoop Dogg
19. Bag

Track 1 from Conspiracy by Junior M.A.F.I.A. (1995)
Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 from Hard Core (1996)
Tracks 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 from The Notorious K.I.M. (2000)
Tracks 12, 13, 14 and 15 from La Bella Mafia (2003)
Tracks 16, 17 and 18 from The Naked Truth (2005)
Track 19 from 9 (2019)

Obviously Hard Core is a classic from front to back, and outside of the official singles campaign for the album, "Big Momma Thang" and "Queen Bitch" are club/mix show staples. I remember the first time I heard of Lil Kim was actually when I was reading an issue of Rolling Stone in '96 and there was an article about how a lot of DJs were flipping over the "No Time" single and playing the B-side, "Queen Bitch." The song's clean version title obviously inspired Kim's 'Queen Bee' nickname, which was almost the title of Hard Core, and the song was flipped into Mary J. Blige's top 40 hit with Kim, "I Can Love You," a year later. I kinda forgot just how much Kim repped the Queen Bee thing and called her crew the Beehive, way before that became Beyonce's thing.

Biggie's pen deserves plenty of the credit for the quality of Hard Core, but the really impressive thing is that Kim kept the quality of her albums pretty high even after Biggie died. The first 3 albums are full of good shit, and The Naked Truth is just a small step down from those, which makes The Source stamping it 5 mics kind of silly. Unfortunately, 9 brought Kim's batting average way down, it's just not a good album at all. I hope she drops the AutoTune and gets back to rapping like she used to someday, though. I think Missy has the best discography of any woman in hip hop but Kim is probably not far behind at 2nd.

I remember hearing "Don't Mess With Me" and "Came Back For You" for the first time on Kanye West's early mixtapes where he'd include a lot of the songs he produced for other artists. I really like "Came Back For You" and didn't realize until much later that it got a video and was nominated for a Grammy, which surprised me since it never charted or got a proper single release. Kim got a lot of great production on these albums -- as someone who never thought Scott Storch was a great rap producer, he did 3 of his best tracks for Kim ("Can You Hear Me Now?" and the singles "Lighters Up" and "Thug Luv"). And doing songs with Grace Jones and Full Force before that kind of thing was hip, Kim really was ahead of the curve in a lot of ways besides just the obvious ways she influenced a lot of other artists.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 185: Soul Coughing

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Recently, I got to interview Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg about his work on the new Fiona Apple album. And it was great to see people react to the piece and talk about how much they love Soul Coughing, and then there was a larger wave of nostalgia for the band last week when "Super Bon Bon" popped up in ESPN's The Last Dance. The 20th anniversary of their breakup passed a while ago, and they're one great '90s band that just seemed to cease to exist at the end of the decade and will almost definitely never reunite. But I was happy to kind of break the news in my Sebastian Q&A that Mike Doughty is on better terms with the rest of the band than he was for a number of years, even if he'd rather do things like last year's Ruby Vroom 25th anniversary tour as a solo artist.

Soul Coughing deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. The Idiot Kings
2. Casiotone Nation
3. I Miss The Girl
4. Disseminated
5. Unmarked Helicopters
6. Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago
7. Maybe I'll Come Down
8. Paint
9. Mr. Bitterness
10. Lazybones
11. Houston
12. $300
13. Buddha Rhubarb Butter
14. Janine
15. A Plane Scrapped Its Belly On A Sooty Yellow Moon (with Roni Size)
16. White Girl
17. City Of Motors
18. Fully Retractable
19. Collapse
20. True Dreams Of Wichita

Tracks 2, 6, 9, 14, 17 and 20 from Ruby Vroom (1994)
Track 5 from Songs in the Key of X: Music From and Inspired by The X-Files (1996)
Tracks 1, 4, 8, 10, 16 and 19 from Irresistible Bliss (1996)
Track 15 from Spawn: The Album (1997)
Tracks 3, 7, 11, 12 and 18 from El Oso (1998)
Track 13 from Lust In Phaze: The Best of Soul Coughing (2002)

Obviously, Soul Coughing only had 3 albums, so a relatively small catalog to make a playlist from. But I love most of the songs on those albums, this was just fun to make. I was able to include a couple soundtrack songs, and one b-side that was featured on their best-of compilation, Lust In Phaze (which was the original planned title for Irresistible Bliss). It's a weird comp, skips a couple of obvious singles like "Down To This" and "Soft Serve" in favor of a lot of the same album tracks I used on this playlist.. But the bandhad a lot of other non-album songs not on streaming services that are worth seeking out ("A Murder Of Lawyers In Overcoats," "16 Horses," "The Bug," "212," "Lemon Lime," "The Brooklynites," "Blow My Only," "Rare Star Ball," "Wooly Imbibe," etc.).

I think the song that's grown in my esteem the most over the years is "Mr. Bitterness." Back then, I thought the four-on-the-floor house groove felt a little simple and obvious compared to the twitchier and more unique shuffles and virtuso drum'n'basss homages of their other songs, and I thought it was unnecessary that it was at the time the band's longest song (and still their third longest after 2 collaborations with dance producers). But now I'm just in awe of how perfectly the band leans into that beat, Yuval Gabay on "Mr. Bitterness" is one of my favorite performances by any drummer ever, just masterful. Another song that I'd point out that absolutely no band but Soul Coughing could have made is "$300," which is built around a sample from a Chris Rock comedy album.

Steinberg and Gabay were just an incredible rhythm section who brought a lot of swing and musicianship and Knitting Factory avant jazz creativity to the kind of rhythm tracks that had usually been made with loops and drum machines. Mark De Gli Antoni played the sampler like a piano in a band context in a way that nobody else has even come close to in the last couple decades of sample-driven music. And Doughty had this infectious and absurd but also densely literary way of putting together words, and treated his guitar largely as another percussion instrument. Just a really remarkable band that I think deserves better than to be sort of awkwardly lumped in with other hip hop-influenced major label alternative acts that flourished in the wake of Beck and the Beastie Boys.

I think at different points each of Soul Coughing's albums has been my favorite, right now it's Irresistible Bliss, but I could see it going back to Ruby Vroom at some point. El Oso has some amazing moments but maybe doesn't hold together in its entirety as well now, and I enjoyed some of those songs more live. I saw Soul Coughing live 4 times, one was a festival set with bad acoustics but the other 3 were pretty amazing, even the show I saw at the 9:30 Club a few months before they broke up, I just kind of thought they were going to keep playing that well and making increasingly weird records, and I'm still a little bummed out that they didn't. Back in those days I got to know Mat who ran the Soul Coughing Underground fan site, and now we've been friends for over 20 years and he produced and/or mixed every album I've made. And since Mat has kept in touch with the Soul Coughing guys he was able to help me set up that interview with Sebastian.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

a) Trolls World Tour
In a completely bizarre way, Trolls World Tour may go down as the most consequential film of 2020, since it became the hugely successful test subject for a COVID-19 quarantine digital release of a movie that was meant to have a traditional theatrical run, and created a rift between Universal Pictures and AMC Theatres that may change the entire cinematic landscape in the future. Like millions of other families, I rented the movie so my kids could watch it a few times, and was amused by its completely bizarre personifications of different genres of popular music as warring tribes of troll dolls. At least Rachel Bloom got to have fun singing some karaoke favorites in a huge hit movie, though.

b) Extraction
Chris Hemsworth's effortless movie star charisma as Thor rarely seems to translate to non-Marvel movies, and Extraction feels like a shrewd effort to give Hemsworth a traditional action movie vehicle that happens to be directed by Sam Hargrave and written by Joe Russo, both of whom worked on many MCU movies. This approach works to an extent, but Hemsworth's character peaks in coolness in his first 2 minutes onscreen and from there it's kind of a rote attempt at a Man On Fire-type movie. And Golshifteh Farahani upstages that later with the James Bond-level cool of the scene where she shoots a guy while wearing a glamorous gown. Also notable: this movie has like 13 minutes of credits, which is just insane, like it was a record when Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King had 9 minutes of credits.

c) Horse Girl
Alison Brie co-wrote this movie, which was really one of the more interesting projects I've seen from the rapidly growing "actors from popular TV comedies make a really dark depressing low-budget feature" genre. Brie's performance was really committed, it had some interesting things to say about mental illness and media, and the ending was pretty unexpected and I've thought a lot about how I felt about it. But a lot of the movie was just watching a sympathetic character who had trouble connecting with anyone around them have a psychotic break and lose control of their life, and it was really difficult to watch.

d) Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
This was great, definitely shouldn't have been shut out at the Oscars. I enjoy movies like this where the story is so simple, it really could've been told in like 15 minutes, but things play out between Marianne and Heloise in these small, slowly unfolding moments that really let you feel what they're feeling, the ending was really something.

e) The Report
This was directed by Contagion and The Informant! screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and exec produced by Steven Soderbergh. It was pretty good, but dry at times, I couldn't help but imagine it being a little more creatively or artfully directed if Soderbergh had done it himself. Adam Driver was excellent, though, was kind of a nice palate cleanser after that overrated Marriage Story performance.

f) Haywire
A minor Soderbergh that I missed when it was new and decided to go back and check out, Gina Carano is obviously kind of a novice actor but the stunt work and fight scenes were incredible and they stacked the supporting cast with good actors, nice quick thrilling movie, kind of pulled off what Extraction tried and failed to do.

g) Beyond The Brick: A Lego Brickumentary
My 5-year-old son whose primary interests in life are watching cartoons and building with Legos has taken the leap into non-animated TV to watch the show "Lego Masters," and he liked it so much that he also asked to watch this documentary about Legos, it really excited him to see adults build really complex Lego stuff, and it was pretty interesting for a breezy light doc.

h) Arctic Dogs
I'm allergic to all things Jeremy Renner and he seemed so ill-equipped to career a talking animal cartoon that I was kind of glad this bombed. But my kid watched it and it was charming and competent enough, not a disaster or anything.

Monthly Report: May 2020 Singles

Monday, May 18, 2020

1. Megan Thee Stallion f/ Beyonce - "Savage (Remix)" 
People have been rooting for a Megan/Beyonce collaboration all through Meg's rise over the last year or two, mainly because they're both from Houston. And while I was hoping for an original song rather than a remix, that will probably happen later, and this is pretty great for now. Definitely an improvement on the original "Savage," which I thought was alright but not one of Megan's best. It just really feels like Beyonce went all-out on this, like she often does. Jay-Z, The-Dream, Starrah, and Pardison Fontaine all have writing credits on the remix and it really sounded like she just got together some of the best writers she could find to make the verse something memorable. Here's the 2020 singles Spotify playlist I update every month. 

2. Dua Lipa - "Break My Heart"
Future Nostalgia is a great album and there's at most one or two songs on it that I don't think would sound particularly good on the radio if they were singles. "Break My Heart" wasn't one that leapt out as an immediate favorite, but it was a good choice, like most of the other songs on the album it's got a killer bassline. 

3. Regard - "Ride It" 
"Ride It" has had one of those truly strange circuitous paths to chart success that fascinates me. The original song was by Jay Sean, and it was a minor UK hit around the same time his song "Down" topped the US charts in the late 2000s. And then a DJ from Kosovo remixed it like a decade later, it became popular on TikTok, and is now a hit in the US for the first time and bigger in the UK than the original was. And the original "Ride It" sounds incredibly dated, but the cool slowed down vocal and sleeker new beat just make the remix sound perfectly of-the-moment. 

4. Flipp Dinero f/ Lil Baby - "How I Move" 
When Flipp Dinero finally released an album a year after "Leave Me Alone" broke though, I thought maybe he'd waited too long to capitalize on his big single and wouldn't have another. But the album had a Lil Baby feature that's kept him on the radio, I'm glad I was wrong, he's got a cool distinctive voice and makes great hooks.  

5. Pop Smoke - "Dior"
When Pop Smoke died, it seemed like "Welcome To The Party" was going to go down as his most famous song, but "Dior," which is about as old, has started to really eclipse it in the last few weeks, and I think I do prefer it. It feels like Pop Smoke really made this sound mainstream in America and I'm glad a song is doing well posthumously before other artists inevitably get to enjoy success that he tragically didn't get to experience for very long. 

6. Kelly Rowland - "Coffee" 
I always wish Kelly Rowland was a bigger solo artist and released stuff more often, and this is great, hope she has an album on the way. The way it's barely over 2 minutes is kind of cool and refreshing, although it breezes by so quickly that sometimes I will just play it twice in a row.

7. Jacquees f/ Young Thug and Gunna - "Verify" 
This song is great, I wish Young Thug had done Slime & B with Jacquees instead of Chris Brown.

8. Morgan Wallen - "Chasin' You"
Mainstream country has become so fixated on whiskey to the exclusion of almost any mention of other alcohol in lyrics now that nobody bats an eye when Morgan Wallen can follow up one big whiskey-themed hit with another. I like "Chasin' You" a lot more than "Whiskey Glasses," though. 

9. Thomas Rhett f/ Jon Pardi - "Beer Can't Fix" 
There are still some beer songs on country radio, and this one has a similar easygoing tempo to past inebriated hits like "Drinkin' Problem" or "I Love This Bar," which makes it very comfortingly familiar.  

10. Gabby Barrett - "I Hope" 
There probably has not been a more universally popular country song than Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" since "Before He Cheats." So I'm a little amused that Gaby Barrett, a blonde country singer who rose to fame as an American Idol finalist, has broken through with a a vindictive song about a cheating ex that sounds like it was written by an AI program to mimic "Before He Cheats." It's pretty well done, though.

The Worst Single of the Month: Blake Shelton f/ Gwen Stefani - "Nobody But You"
Listen, maybe their relationship is great and they truly belong together, but I do not want to hear Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani sing together, it sounds like a match made in NBC reality show hell. I'm especially annoyed because one of Shelton's best duets was with a different Gwen S.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

I wrote a piece about Billions, and the role music plays in the show, for Complex.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 184: Betty Wright

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Betty Wright died on Sunday at the age of 66, a legendary soul singer whose career spanned over half a century. And even though she's remembered for hits like "Clean Up Woman," "Tonight Is The Night," "Girls Can't Do What The Guys Do," and "No Pain (No Gain)," I think her reputation as a vocalist, her incredible range and whistle register, and how much big stars looked to her for samples and for her production and backing vocals, in some ways transcended her catalog as a solo artist. She only ever got one plaque, a gold single for "Clean Up Woman," in her whole career, but she recorded a lot of great music, and I wanted to scratch the surface a little bit beyond the singles.

Betty Wright deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Cry Like A Baby
2. Watch Out Love
3. Circle Of Heartbreak
4. Don't Let It End This Way
5. Ain't No Sunshine
6. I'll Love You Forever Heart And Soul
7. Let Me Go Down
8. I Am Woman
9. If You Think You've Got Soul
10. A Sometime Kind Of Thing
11. Brick Grits
12. A Song For You (live)
13. Reggae The Night Away
14. Tropical Island with Bobby Caldwell
15. Miami Groove
16. Keep Love New
17. It's The Little Things
18. Why We Do (What We Do)
19. So Long, So Wrong with The Roots
20. Swan Song

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from My First Time Around (1968)
Tracks 4, 5 and 6 from I Love The Way You Love (1972)
Tracks 7, 8 and 9 from Hard To Stop (1973)
Tracks 10 and 11 from This Time For Real (1977)
Track 12 from Live (1978)
Track 13 from Wright Back At You (1983)
Track 14 from Sevens (1986)
Track 15 from Mother Wit (1988)
Track 16 from 4U2NJOY (1989)
Track 17 from B-Attitudes (1993)
Track 18 from Fit For A King (2001)
Track 19 from Betty Wright: The Movie (2011)
Track 20 from Living...Love...Lies (2014)

One unfortunate byproduct of Betty Wright not being a huge multiplatinum star is that a chunk of her catalog is out of print or unavailable on streaming services. Spotify only has 11 of her 17 studio albums, so there's unfortunately a lot I couldn't cover here, including half of her '70s albums (no Danger High Voltage, Explosion, or Betty Travelin' In The Wright Circle). Still, there's enough stuff around from each decade of her career that I felt like I could kind of cover each era and span the range of her output.

It's been pointed out how impressive it is that Wright recorded "Girls Can't Do What Guys Do" and the rest of her debut My First Time Around at the age of 14, an album where she sings stuff like "when I think about the good love you give me, I cry like a baby." But I think it's even more amazing that Wright wrote "Circle Of Heartbreak" by herself at 14 (and co-wrote "Watch Out Love"). Wright was a vocal prodigy from the beginning, but she definitely starts to really show off and become a virtuoso a few albums in. Some of my favorite songs that feature her whistle register are "Sometime Kind of Thing" and "Keep Love New." I can't believe "I Am Woman" was never released as a single, that should've been an anthem.

The bulk of Wright's albums consisted of original material written by herself and/or her producers and collaborators, which is pretty cool. A lot of soul albums from that era tend to be padded out with a lot of covers, but Wright's albums are pretty light on covers, outside of the Sonny & Cher hit "Just You" on her first album. And I really enjoy her take on "Ain't No Sunshine," particularly since she died just a few weeks after Bill Withers. Wright's first concert album, 1978's Live, featured renditions of some of her biggest hits, as well as a cover of the Leon Russell cut "A Song For You" that was a hit for Andy Williams, Ray Charles, and others.

Betty Wright's most famous singles were sampled on hits by big stars like Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Color Me Badd, and 2Pac. But crate-digging underground rappers have also sampled a lot of her album tracks: "Let Me Go Down" was sampled by Blu, "Watch Out Love" was sampled by Blueprint, "I'll Love You Forever Heart And Soul" was sampled by Tanya Morgan, "Don't Let It End This Way" was sampled by The Regiment, and "A Sometime Kind of Thing" was sampled by Sourface.

I like some of Wright's later boogie/quiet storm stuff from the '80s onwards, although Fit For A King has a song called "Pull Your Pants Up!!!" that's pretty ridiculous. In her later years, a lot of younger artists also sought out Betty Wright -- she produced Joss Stone's debut, and worked with a lot of rappers, most notably guesting on DJ Khaled songs with Kendrick Lamar and others. She appeared on the initial pressings of Lil Wayne's blockbuster Tha Carter III, but Cash Money didn't clear the Rolling Stones lyrics Wright sang on "Playing With Fire," so all currently available editions of the album have replaced that song with, um, "Pussy Monster." And The Roots backed her on 2011's Betty Wright: The Movie, which is definitely one of her late career triumphs.

Monday, May 11, 2020

I spoke to Sebastian Steinberg of Soul Coughing about his work playing on and co-producing Fiona Apple's Fetch The Bolt Cutters for Spin.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 183: Little Richard

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Little Richard died this morning at the age of 87. A true original and one of the great originators of rock and roll, really of American popular music as a whole. He'd been on my wish list to cover in this series for a long time, did a little tentative work on it when I did my Chuck Berry playlist and learned a lot about him when I read Jonathan Gould's Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, which contains a pretty substantial little mini-biography of Little Richard in illustrating how big an influence he was on Redding.

Little Richard deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Baby
2. True, Fine Mama
3. Can't Believe You Wanna Leave
4. Miss Ann
5. Oh Why?
6. She's Got It
7. Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey
8. I'll Never Let You Go (Boo Hoo Hoo Hoo)
9. Chicken Little Baby
10. Wonderin'
11. The Most I Can Offer (Just My Heart)
12. Lonesome And Blue
13. Directly From My Heart
14. I'm Just A Lonely Guy (All Alone)
15. Early One Morning
16. Just A Closer Walk With Thee
17. Search Me Lord
18. Joy Joy Joy
19. Going Home Tomorrow
20. Only You
21. Goodnight, Irene
22. Dancing All Around The World
23. I Don't Want To Discuss It
24. The Rill Thing
25. Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper
26. It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)
27. I Found My Way

Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 from Here's Little Richard (1957)
Tracks 7 and 8 from Little Richard (1958)
Tracks 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 from The Fabulous Little Richard (1959)
Track 16 from Pray Along With Little Richard (1960)
Track 17 from Pray Along With Little Richard (Volume 2) (1960)
Track 18 from The King Of The Gospel Singers (1961)
Tracks 19, 20 and 21 from Little Richard Is Back (And There's A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On!) (1964)
Track 23 from The Explosive Little Richard (1967)
Track 24 from The Rill Thing (1970)
Track 25 from The Second Coming (1972)
Track 26 from God's Beautiful City (1979)
Track 27 from Lifetime Friend (1986)
Track 22 from Directly From My Heart: The Best of the Specialty & Vee-Jay Years (2015)

As one of the great artists of the first rock'n'roll era, when singles reigned as the most important format, Little Richard's albums might be considered a secondary concern -- in fact he's maybe the first artist I've ever seen whose Wikipedia discography page lists the singles at the top at the albums below them. But the majority of Little Richard's body of work is actually pretty well contained in proper albums -- he only released a lot of standalone singles in the early '50s before he became a star, and in the '60s when only a handful of them charted. But pretty much all the original recordings ofthe important world-changing smash hits he made in the '50s can be found on his first 3 albums -- and the majority of the songs on those albums was a hit, I included almost every song on those records that wasn't on the singles charts. I enjoyed finally hearing "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey" after years of hearing Daniel Stern refer to the song in Diner.

Little Richard was at the height of his fame in 1957 when he had a religious awakening and began exclusively recording gospel music for a few years, although the rock and roll he'd already recorded at that point continued to be appear on new charting singles and albums well into 1959. We'll never know how differently rock music history might have formed if he'd kept right on at that 1955-'57 pace for even just a few more years. But obviously, Little Richard has always been one of the foremost examples of a popular music innovator who never quite got everything he deserved -- sure, he's in the Hall of Fame and he probably made a comfortable living, but the guy probably should've made billions.

I included stuff from his three early '60s gospel albums as just a taste -- it actually surprised me how different he sounds on them, but then occasionally he'll put a little of that wild Little Richard energy into something like "Joy Joy Joy" and just come alive. He returned to secular music in the mid-'60s, and recorded a mixed bag of studio albums over the next 3 decades -- sometimes originals and blues and rock standards he hadn't covered before, but sometimes gospel or Disney songs or re-recordings of his '50s hits. One of the surprises of his '70s albums is that some of the best stuff is the extended instrumental jams like the 7-minute "Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper" and the 10-minute "The Rill Thing," where you hear him just get to cut loose on the keys on these simple relaxed grooves. I ended things on a weird note with "I Found A Way," a very slick and almost quasi-hip hop track Little Richard co-wrote for his last album of new material in 1986, it felt appropriate to kind of show the wrote strange and surprising range of his catalog with that.

Jimi Hendrix famously played in Little Richard's backing band The Upsetters for a stint in the mid-'60s, and after his death a lot of recordings were erroneously labeled as featuring him. But the two Little Richard tracks that we know have Jimi Hendrix on them are "I Don't Know What You've Got (But It's Got Me)" and "Dancing All Around The World," and both are fantastic. The former was released in 1965 soon after the session for both songs, and was Little Richard's only Hot 100 entry in the second half of the '60s. The latter was only released later on, on compilations like 2015's Directly From My Heart: The Best of the Specialty & Vee-Jay Years, which I used extensively in this playlist to source tracks from albums that aren't on Spotify in their entirety.

Monday, May 04, 2020

My third Western Blot album 5/4 is out today, streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Soundcloud, and all the other usual places. You can buy it on Bandcamp, or get the whole Western Blot discography at a discount.

For years, I wanted to challenge myself to write an entire album in the 5/4 time signature and release it on May 4th someday. While I was working on the Materialistic album in 2017, my father Richard Shipley died, and I started writing a song about him in 4/4, but the melody seemed to work better in 5/4, so I went with it for "Sill Catch Myself." Then I realized that my dad passed away on May 4th, so I kind of took that as a sign to make that album and dedicate it to him.

Lizzy Greif sang on "Still Catch Myself," which was recorded with Mat Leffler-Schulman and originally released two years ago on the Too 30 EP. Then I wrote 8 more songs for 5/4 and recorded them with Doug Bartholomew, who I previously worked with on Woodfir's first EP. Mat mixed the album, and the session we'd scheduled to record more vocals was canceled by the COVID-19 quarantine. But Koye Berry stepped up and self-recorded vocals for "The Empty Space" and e-mailed them in just 3 weeks ago for the final album. Dan Coutant mastered it, and DeadmanJay did the cover art. I spend a lot of time working on these albums by myself, and do as much of it myself as I can stand to, even moreso on this album than the others. But every single thing that anyone has done to help me get to the finish line means a lot to me, thanks so much to all of these folks, and John and Ishai of the live incarnation of Western Blot, who I wish I could be out there playing some shows with right now.


Sunday, May 03, 2020

Matt Cameron released a new solo single, and I made a list for Spin of the 10 best songs with Cameron on drums, from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam to lesser known projects like Wellwater Conspiracy.

TV Diary

Saturday, May 02, 2020

a) "Hollywood"
When I heard that Ryan Murphy's next show was a period piece about post-WWII Hollywood, I imagined something in the vein of "Feud: Bette And Joan," a way for him to dramatize whatever old movie star gossip he wanted to. Instead, "Hollywood" is a weird historical wish fulfillment rewrite of history, something like later Tarantino movies, except instead of the good guys murdering the bad guys, the minorities win Oscars in the '40s and the bad guys who tried to stop them tearfully apologize. The weirdest part was the way most of the story's trailblazers were imaginary except for Rock Hudson, who in this story gets to come out of the closet but is still characterized as an untalented dope who caught a lucky break.

b) "Upload"
This show is about a future where dying people can have their consciousness uploaded to a realistic computerized afterlife that they can spend eternity in. It's a concept I've had a lot of trouble buying into when it was the premise of several episodes of "Black Mirror" (and also "Devs," kind of), but "Upload" is more of a comedy, and the pilot made me laugh quite a few times, so I'm a big more on board with buying into the idea. And it feels different enough in tone from, say, "The Good Place," and has a little element of foreboding and mystery to it, that I'm really curious to see where it goes.

c) "Mrs. America"
At this point, we're constantly seeing major movie stars do series television for the first time, and it no longer feels like the novelty or starpower of their presence is enough to carry it -- even Al Pacino can do a show that's still absolute crap, as "Hunters" was. Cate Blanchett gives a great performance in "Mrs. America," and there's an argument that Phyllis Schlafly doesn't deserve to be rendered as a complex prestige television protagonist by a major actor, and I dunno, that may be where I'm at by the end of the last episode. But so far, it feels like they're not letting Schlafly off the hook and are balancing her with a lot of figures on the left like Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisolm.

d) "Black AF"
I rolled my eyes at the trailer for "Black AF" because it really just feels so transparent that Kenya Barris made yet another version of "Black-ish," this time as "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with him playing a profane and unflattering version of himself. The show is better than I expected, though, Rashida Jones is pretty hilarious and it's a refreshing change from her being the bland straight man on stuff like "Parks & Recreation." But the whole thing is awkward, watching Kenya Barris and his TV wife bicker and call each other assholes in a funny TV way when in real life Barris is getting divorced and reportedly dating Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays the other TV version of his wife on "Black-ish."

e) "Normal People"
I usually think TV series are more suited than movies for adapting novels, simply because there's more room to get in the whole story without cutting corners. But, without having read the novel Normal People, I am kind of getting the sense that it probably could've been adapted satisfyingly into a 2-hour movie. And yet, I'm glad it's 6 hours of television instead, it feels like they're able to just tell the story of a young Irish couple in a really patient, textured way that feels lived-in, and Marianne is a great character.

f) "The Baker And The Beauty"
"The Baker And The Beauty" is kind of a Notting Hill-style romcom where a regular working class guy starts dating a big glamorous celebrity, with a Miami pastry chef hooking up with an Australian supermodel. The strength of the show is that it's really an ensemble show with subplots about all the other characters surrounding the main couple, who aren't terribly interesting and don't have a lot of chemistry. The show opens trying to make the baker's ex look bad, but the more the show follows her in subsequent episodes, the more I like her, I mean she's more my type than 'the beauty.'

g) "Never Have I Ever"
"Never Have I Ever" has a lot of the same tropes and comic rhythms as Mindy Kaling's other projects, but as a coming-of-age high school comedy about a girl who's anxious to lose her virginity. The first couple episodes have been pretty charming, the whole conceit of John McEnroe narrating the show is goofy but it works.

h) "Belgravia"
I've never really watched "Downton Abbey" but I get the impression that this show, a period piece about 1815 London from the same creative team, is pretty similar. I'm used to Tamsin Greig in comedies like "Episodes" and "Black Books," so it's a little weird seeing her in something more serious, although there is a little bit of dry levity in the dialogue here and there.

i) "The Midnight Gospel"
This Netflix adult cartoon from the creator of "Adventure Time" is basically a podcast with surreal animation, so this alien comes down to Earth and interviews the president (played by Dr. Drew) during a zombie apocalypse, but most of it's just a podcast conversation with Dr. Drew about recreational drugs with occasional references to the zombies you're watching them run from. Kind of a weird hybrid of "Dr. Katz" and Waking Life and "Rick and Morty." Which might sound really cool to you but I dunno, I rolled my eyes at the whole thing quite a bit.

j) "The Big Show Show"
I don't watch wrestling so I wasn't familiar with The Big Show, but his show on Netflix is a pretty decent family sitcom. He's got good comic timing and delivery, I could see him having a future in movies like some of the other WWE guys.

k) "Outer Banks"
My family would go to the Outer Banks sometimes growing up and I love that area, so I thought it was pretty brilliant to set a TV series there. This Netflix show is just kind of okay, though, lots of shirtless teens riding around on boats and trying to solve a mystery.

l) "Summertime"
"Summertime" is another sexy teen show on Netflix like "Outer Banks," but it's Italian, and has much better production values, the direction's really impressive, just a beautiful show.

m) "Breeders"
I was surprised at how intense the last couple episodes of this show's first season were. The early episodes dealt with mortality in terms of a grandparent's death, but then one of the kid's had a life-threatening illness, and even if there were moments of levity they barely landed because of how stressed out the storyline made me. Good show, though, I hope it gets renewed for another season.

n) "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist"
Another show that has been more emotional than I expected it to be, which I think has really been the key to the show working, that the actors are convincingly going through things like heartbreak and grief in the scenes in between the big surreal musical sequences. I think I'm actually more impressed with the choreography than the musical arrangements most of the time, they do an interesting job of using the characters' surroundings as props.

o) "The Last Dance"
I'm about as uninterested in sports as you can get, but I kind of passively follow the NBA through sheer social media osmosis, and I grew up in the age of Michael Jordan being, like, the center of the universe. So I appreciate something like this, seeing all the footage of the Bulls' last championship run, the amazing amount of candid footage they got at the time and how willing everybody is to speak frankly now, it's really engrossing stuff. And the sequence set to Prince's "Partyman" just ruled.

p) "Absurd Planet"
This Netflix show is, like, wacky clips of wildlife with a host cracking corny jokes on the voiceover like "America's Funniest Home Videos," it was so unbearably bad that I almost didn't get through one 20-minute episode.

q) "Too Hot To Handle"
A Netflix reality show where they put a bunch of hot people on an island and tell them it's a dating show, but then reveal that the only way to win the cash prize is to not hook up with each other or have any sex. It's kind of deviously clever but also definitely horrible.

r) "The Innocence Files"
So much of the true crime genre leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it's more about steering the audience towards believing someone's guilt or innocence but often still operating at the level of entertainment rather than journalism or legal analysis. So I like that this show about the Innocence Project really looks at the legal process of exonerating people, it's not some bullshit where someone's shouting that Carole Baskin murdered her husband.

s) "Cooked With Cannabis"
This feels pretty much like other cooking shows other than the fact that everyone's putting cannabis in the food and the hosts are Kelis and this total weirdo who seems like Adam Sandler doing a bit. Some of the food looks pretty good, but my only experience with pot cooked into food was the worst brownies I've ever tasted so I can't help but imagine this stuff actually tastes gross. Maybe people know what they're doing with this stuff now, though.

t) "True Terror With Robert Englund"
I feel like being a horror icon is a pretty cool gig, although Robert Englund is a classically trained actor so maybe he doesn't like being Freddy Krueger and only Freddy Krueger to the world? This show he hosts about creepy news stories from throughout history is a cool idea, but the dramatized segments are just not very well done.

u) "Niall Ferguson's Networld"
A thing on PBS kind of looking at things like the internet and social media from a historical and sociological perspective, interesting stuff but not really something I want to watch every episode of.

v) "Family Karma"
It's kind of funny to see Indian families on reality television through the lens of a glamorous Bravo show that takes place in Miami, it feels maybe a little more substantial and realistic than these shows often are but not by too much.

w) "Songland"
This show has really remained a favorite of my wife and I in its second season, even the episodes where the artist is someone she doesn't know and/or someone I don't care about, the process of hearing the songwriters present their songs and workshop them with the judges is really fun to watch. Often the songs we like the best aren't the ones that win, but usually you understand that it's really about what the artist is looking for and what fits them. All the songs in the H.E.R. episode were really good, I'm glad they put all the songs on streaming services whether they win or lose.

x) "Saturday Night Live"
I'm glad they've done the quarantine video chat "Saturday Night Live At Home" episodes more than once now, wouldn't mind if there were a bunch of them. It just forces the show to abandon so many of its formulas for sketches and try new things, and while sometimes the sketches cast members make on their own are like bad YouTube bits, they've gradually stepped up the production values from the first to the second and done some interesting conceptual things. Weekend Update with no audience is awkward, though.

y) "Shaun The Sheep: Adventures From Mossy Bottom"
This is basically just a new season of the previous "Shaun The Sheep" series with its own title, still pretty adorable. I'm so glad that my kids get to grow up watching Ardman Animation stuff, I wish they watched this more often really.

z) "True And The Rainbow Kingdom"
An extremely cutesy Netflix cartoon about a little girl and her cat sidekick, I didn't realize until just now that Pharrell's company produces it but that doesn't shock me. My 4-year-old loves this show.