Friday, May 20, 2022

My first piece for Okayplayer is out, a look at new and emerging forms of album distribution in hip-hop, inspired by recent unorthodox releases like Black Star's album via podcast network and Kanye West's Stem Player. I spoke to the CEOs of Luminary (who released the Black Star album) and Moodelizer, as well as artist consultant Michael Stover and chart columnist Chris Molanphy for the piece. 

Monthly Report: April 2022 Albums

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

1. Vince Staples - Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Ramona Park Broke My Heart is the first Vince Staples project in nearly 5 years that's longer than 22 minutes, and it's gratifying to hear him stretch his legs and make something on a larger canvas. It'd be easy to say it's his best record since Summertime '06 simply because it's the longest and most substantial one he's made since then, but it really is on that level of quality, even if it's quieter and subtler. It's also fun to hear Vince nudge towards the mainstream in these small ways that he never had to to get to this level, he and Lil Baby find a great musical and emotional common ground on "East Point Prayer," and "Magic" with Mustard is fantastic, the other night it was probably the first time I heard a Vince Staples song on the radio and it sounded surprisingly natural in that context. I think Vince's music gets underestimated sometimes because he has this really funny, engaging personality as a person that he doesn't bring into the songs very often, but I think he's really purposeful about the songs he writes and what he's saying, especially on this album, and I don't think it's any loss that he's not trying harder to lighten things up. Here's my 2022 albums Spotify playlist that most of these records are in along with every other new release I listen to. 

2. Kehlani - Blue Water Road
The other day I put on this album, which opens with ocean sounds, directly after the Vince Staples album, which ends with ocean sounds, it worked out nicely. I've liked but not quite loved a lot of their music so far, but I knew when they released "Altar" a few months ago that this was gonna be the one that really hits me, Kehlani and Pop Wansel just got into the zone on this record, it's all so gorgeous and cinematic. The horns on "Shooter Interlude," the distorted drums on "Tangerine," so many great sounds, with Kehlani kind of getting into a more singer/songwriter mode in between the clubbier songs. The song with the chorus "it's the everything for me" makes me roll my eyes, but even that one has a great string arrangement. 

3. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Omnium Gatherum
Abundance is kind of the defining feature of the Australian band King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, who have released 20 studio albums in less than a decade. But Omnium Gatherum is their first 80-minute double album, which they made in a sort of Physical Graffiti fashion, taking a bunch of songs that had been left off previous records and then writing more to go with them. The 18-minute opener "The Dripping Tap" is obviously the starring attraction here, and the point around the 9-minute mark where the twin guitar lead section gives way to this funky riff with a wailing harmonica is just sublime, one of my favorite moments in the band's discography. The 9/8 riff on "Gaia" is also badass, one of their best hard rock tracks, which segues directly into the slap bass funk of "Ambergris," great transition. There's a couple songs with quasi-rapped vocals I don't love, but overall it's definitely one of their best records. 

4. Future - I Never Liked You
Pluto just turned 10, and it's gratifying to see Future, maybe the best artist of the 2010s, still reaching new heights, with his biggest first week numbers for a solo album ever, and his first two Hot 100 #1s in the past year (both with Drake, but ehhh okay fine). I Never Liked You doesn't uncover any real new ground, kind of in the same mode as everything he's done since DS2, but it might be his best project since HNDRXX, "Gold Stacks" and "Chickens" are early standouts to me. 

5. Jack White - Fear of the Dawn
I wrote my Consequence review of this album very quickly after a couple listens on the release date, and that kind of thing can lend itself to getting caught up in the newness of a record. But a month later, I'd say I still feel pretty much the same as I did, this is very much the record for people whose favorite White Stripes song is "Icky Thump" -- that is to say, me. 

6. Carrtoons - Homegrown
Ben Carr aka Carrtoons is a New York-based musician who plays bass, and creates these cool slinky funk tracks to showcase himself as a bassist. I did a little interview with him for Bandcamp Daily, seems like a nice dude, it was good to talk to him for a few minutes. "Lighta" with Rae Khalil is a definite standout, but the whole thing is such a breezy, enjoyable listen. 

7. 3rd Secret - 3rd Secret
One quiet Monday last month, a six-piece Seattle supergroup that included Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Matt Cameron and Nirvana's Krist Novoselic announced its existence to the world with a self-released debut album. And it's excellent, conjuring some of the members' past glories while feeling like its own thing thanks to vocalists Jillian Raye and Jennifer Johnson. In fact, this is kind of exactly what I was hoping for after Thayil and Cameron guested on a Pretty Reckless single last year and Soundgarden re-recorded a couple old songs with Brandi Carlile, there's not a lot of this 'classic grunge' sound with female vocalists. In a way 3rd Secret is even more Led Zeppelin than Soundgarden ever were with the alternating acoustic and electric tracks on this album, but I definitely prefer the songs like "Lies Fade Away" and "Diamond In The Cold" that feature weird tangles of lead guitar that are unmistakably Kim Thayil. 

8. Redveil - Learn 2 Swim
The album Redveil released when he was 16, Niagara, was really excellent and surprising, and the one he just released on his 18th birthday is a step up from that one, I really dig the live bass and other instrumentation on Learn 2 Swim. The Odd Future stuff never resonated with me a whole lot, but I can appreciate that their example led a whole generation of teenagers to make weird uncommercial rap. And Redveil is from Prince George's County, Maryland like me, probably 20 minutes from where I live, so his success is really exciting to watch. I think "Better" is my favorite track, great piano riff on that one, but "Mars" is great too. 

9. Willie Nelson - A Beautiful Time
I don't think people really appreciate how wonderful it is that at 89 years old Willie Nelson still makes an album a year, that he's lived this long and given this much and still has the drive to make more music. A Beautiful Time has a lovely leadoff track written by Chris Stapleton and Rodney Crowell, "I'll Love You Till The Day I Die," and covers of Leonard Cohen and the Beatles. But as usual I'm most interested in the handful of songs written by Willie, including the philosophical "Energy Follows Thought" and "Live Every Day" and the clever, flippant "I Don't Go To Funerals." 

10. The Regrettes - Further Joy
The Regrettes are kind of a low level major label band who keep getting slicker and more pop but haven't seemed to get any closer to a commercial breakthrough on their third Warner Bros. album. They cite influences like Bikini Kill and L7 but this is pretty Top 40-friendly stuff, and I'm not complaining, "Anxieties (Out Of Time)" and "Rosy" are great songs. 

The Worst Album of the Month: Ted Nugent - Detroit Muscle
Ted Nugent is an easy target because of his politics, but it's also fair to say that he's never been that good anyway, one of most inessential multi-platinum classic rock acts of the '70s. I mean "Stranglehold" is pretty cool but I wouldn't be that bothered if I never heard it again. And it's really pathetic hearing him try to spin his far right politics into cool rock star rebellion on songs like "Come And Take It," or make an attempt at his own version of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" that goes on for an endless 3 minutes. It's also annoying to hear him namecheck people like MC5 and Bob Seger on "Detroit Muscle" because those guys definitely don't share his bullshit views. 

TV Diary

Monday, May 16, 2022

The 5 seasons of "The Kids In The Hall" that aired in the late '80s and '90s are some of my favorite comedy that's ever been made, so the news that they'd produce a new season of sketches for Amazon Prime was huge news that I anticipated the same way some other folks anticipated "Twin Peaks: The Return." Of course, there were reasonable concerns that they wouldn't be able to recapture past glories, but I loved the live show I saw in 2014 and would definitely rather them do new sketches than another experiment in the vein of "Death Comes To Town" or Brain Candy. And this isn't classic KITH front to back, but it's got enough of that old magic to make me happy. I definitely prefer them performing sketches live with an audience, which probably was never gonna be an option post-COVID, but they made good use of their Amazon budget to make a lot of these sketches into ambitious little mini-movies that often feel more fully realized than the weirder season 5 filmed sketches were (Dave Foley's post-apocalyptic radio DJ who only has one record to play being a favorite). My biggest laughs were more from these unexpected little lines than the big concepts, and I could've done without some of the meta stuff, but I thought they struck a good balance of old and new (weirdly, the best returning characters from the original series were the waiters from the fancy restaurant). And it felt like they were still trying to push the envelope, sometimes creatively and sometimes just getting away with things they never were able before, like a lot of full frontal nudity (including two of the Kids). I don't like the "friends of Kids In The Hall" segments, though -- they aren't really funny, and just feel like a lame excuse to shoehorn in some celebrity cameos, mostly mid-level "SNL" people. 

"The Pentaverate" marks the return of another Canadian comedy icon that I kind of grew up on, Mike Myers (and they're not unrelated, of course -- Mike's brother Paul wrote the definitive Kids In The Hall biography). And like the Kids, Myers shows his dick in the new series! But my expectations were a lot lower, given that I haven't enjoyed much from Myers since the first Austin Powers movie. "The Pentaverate" mostly works, though, a long weird riff on a throwaway joke from So I Married An Axe Murderer. with Myers getting as perverse and esoteric and occasionally immature as he wants to be. Also, Orbital did a cool spy movie score for the show. 

c) "Shining Girls"
It's possible, likely even, that I'm kind of dumb, or just not paying attention, but it really took me a while to understand the concept of this show (and, I guess, the novel it's based on). There's a serial killer but he's, like, a time traveling serial killer? Who needs to kill to remain an immortal time traveler? But it's interesting to see Jamie Bell play a psycho, and to see Amy Brenneman play a punk rocker. 

d) "The Baby"
I love this British miniseries on HBO Max, it's this insane thing where this mysterious infant is somehow cursed and everyone who cares for him has a grisly death, except for this one hapless woman who's somehow immune. It's both really dark and kind of cute and charming, and I have really no idea where the story's going but it's a really funny and well paced sort of supernatural mystery. 

e) "Under The Banner Of Heaven"
I'm still kind of on the fence about Andrew Garfield, he was good in Tick, Tick...Boom! and The Social Network but is weirdly flat in a lot of other things, including this FX miniseries. But the rest of the cast (including Wyatt Russell from "Lodge 49," Daisy Edgar-Jones from "Normal People," and Billy Howle from "The Beast Must Die") is really compelling and I'm curious where this story is going. 

f) "Candy"
Like the recent "The Thing About Pam," Jessica Biel's new miniseries "Candy" is the true story of a suburban mom who murdered her friend. But where "Pam" felt like it was just irreverent to the point of being distasteful, "Candy" treats its characters and their tragic story a little more gravity, even with everybody elaborately costumed to look like they live in 1980s Texas. 

g) "Ridley Road"
This PBS miniseries is about a moment in early '60s Britain when Nazi sympathizers
Agnes O'Casey is really good in this, one of her first roles, looking forward to seeing more of her. 

h) "A Very British Scandal"
It was a little confusing for "Anatomy of a Scandal" and "A Very British Scandal" to debut within days of each other, and even moreso because the latter is a sequel to "A Very English Scandal" but it's about Scottish duke and duchess so maybe "A Very Scottish Scandal" would've been a better title? Claire Foy and Paul Bettany are excellent actors but I'm kind of lukewarm about this so far. 

This British show on Netflix is a gay coming-of-age love story, very charming stuff, excellent cast, although it kind of feels weird to have Olivia Colman kind of just there in the margins to lend name recognition but not do much. 

j) "61st Street"
Courtney B. Vance won an Emmy playing Johnnie Cochran, so it feels kind of like very specific typecasting for him to play a defense attorney for a star athlete accused of murder in "61st Street." But mostly this just reminds me a lot of Peter Moffat's last legal drama, "Your Honor," which started off pretty compelling but got kind of stupid at the end, so I'm not getting very invested in it. 

k) "How We Roll" 
Pete Holmes has this incredibly wholesome vibe that he always plays against interestingly and subversively in his standup and his HBO series "Crashing." But it seems kind of inevitable that he'd end up in a more straightforward CBS sitcom like "How We Roll," where he plays a guy who gets laid off and decides to gamble on supporting his family by becoming a professional bowler. It's a charming little show, definitely makes me cringe a lot less than other CBS comedies, but unfortunately it just got canceled after airing for only 6 weeks. I've never really watched "Scandal" so I wasn't familiar with Katie Lowes but she's adorable. 

This is probably the show I was most sad to see canceled last week, alongside "Pivoting," "In The Dark," "Dollface," "Queens," and "The Big Leap." So I'm savoring the last few episodes of the 2nd season, Holly Hunter and Vella Lovell are great in it. That said, "Girls5Eva" is the stronger of the two recent Tina Fey productions that carry on in the "30 Rock" tradition, so I'm glad that's the one that got renewed. 

This was one of the best mid-season replacements last year, I'm glad that it's been picked up for a 3rd season, the cast is really solid and it feels like they've found their footing and aren't shoehorning Topher Grace slapstick bits into every episode as much. My wife soured on the show during the first season and doesn't watch it with me anymore, she finds Caitlin McGee's character obnoxious, which I don't really understand. 

n) "The Flight Attendant"
The first season of "The Flight Attendant" was an excellent surprise, but I think I like it even more in the second season. Zosia Mamet and Denis Akdeniz get to be more part of the action and make a really entertaining trio with Kaley Cuoco, and the twist with the Griffin Matthews character and the end of the first season has turned him into a much more interesting character. And Cuoco's little 'mind palace' fantasy segments, which were not my favorite part of the first season, are much better when it's multiple versions of Cassie arguing with herself. 

A lot of shows had longer than usual breaks between seasons because of COVID, but "Atlanta" was an extreme case, off the air for almost 4 years. But they filmed both the 3rd and 4th (and final) seasons during the break, with Donald Glover periodically popping up to boast that he was making the best television since "The Sopranos." With the third season wrapping up this week, I would say his hype is pretty overblown, but it's been a good, interesting run. In the more traditional episodes, Brian Tyree Henry as Al and Lakeith Stanfield as Darius are two of the best characters on TV, and the former has gotten a lot of great moments lately. But there have also been 3 or 4 episodes that are little standalone morality plays about race featuring none of the show's regular players and center on white (or white passing) characters. Considering that "Atlanta" last aired around the time Childish Gambino's "This Is America" had been released, I wasn't really looking forward to Donald Glover trying to make more grand statements about racism, but these episodes have mostly avoided that kind of empty provocation and have had a pretty sharp satirical edge. I'm interested to see how they wrap up the series later this year. 

Season 6 has had some really interesting, unexpected storylines, but I kind of miss how the show used to have the whole ensemble together more often. Everybody is kind of siloed into solo storylines now and I haven't seen Dani Kind much at all in the first few episodes. 

It kinda feels like 3 seasons in this show hasn't really found a following at all. It has its moments, though, I feel like Robin Thede has this hammy, cheesy sort of performing style that reminds me of, I don't know, Billy Crystal more than anything else. 

"Saturday Night Live" has such a huge cast (21 people! On a show that started with a cast of seven!) that it feels like it can only ever change very slowly with the yearly trickle of departures and arrivals. And yet the 2021-2022 season feels like it's had the biggest change in a long time, mainly because so many of the new recruits had Twitter followings and brought kind of a younger sensibility to the show (James Austin Johnson, Sarah Sherman, and the Please Don't Destroy guys, although 2/3rds of them are offspring of '90s "SNL" writers). Maybe it's because Kate McKinnon and Pete Davidson have missed a lot of episodes this year, but it felt like those new people, and relatively new people like Bowen Yang, have gotten to really establish themselves this season. I think Chloe Fineman's amazing impressions still don't get enough credit or screentime, though. 

One of the most interesting and original Korean shows I've seen on Netflix lately, sort of a musical fantasy drama, with some really impressive direction pulling off the weird fusion of genres. 

A Spanish show on Netflix where people go to a secret island for a launch party for a soft drink but things are not as they seem -- cool premise, I need to watch more of this. 

This is Netflix's first Nigerian series, which is kind of surprising that that took this long, a thriller about family secrets coming to the surface, haven't gotten too much into it yet. 

A charming Korean show on Netflix about three siblings in dead-end jobs, kind of feels more like a dramedy than a soap opera, I like the dialogue. 

w) "Wild Babies"
A nature doc show on Netflix that is just about animal babies, and since it's explicitly about babies you can kind of watch it without that stress of wondering whether it's gonna be one of those dark nature shows where you occasionally see a baby animal get eaten or something. 

x) "Meltdown: Three Mile Island"
This Netflix miniseries is one of those docudrama things that mixes straight documentary-style talking heads and archival footage with dramatizations with actors. I feel like this approach has become more in vogue and respectable in recent years but I still just do not like it, reminds me of shit like "Unsolved Mysteries." 

y) "Would I Lie To You?"
British TV has all these comedy panel shows that have never really thrived in the same way in America, but U.S. networks keep trying to adapt them. The CW's version of the long-running "Would I Lie To You?" features host Aasif Mandvi and two teams of comedians who try to guess when someone's personal anecdote is real or made up. It's pretty flimsy light entertainment, but I enjoy it, they've had a lot of comics on there that I like. 

z) "Ziwe"
I liked the first season of "Ziwe" last year but it felt a little like a one trick pony that I didn't necessarily need to keep up with. But then the second season kicked off with episodes with Charlamagne Tha God and Chet Hanks that really perfectly illustrated how clever Ziwe is as an interviewer, really entertaining stuff. The constant mocking chyrons are also such a great running gag. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

I did another Spin discography piece, this time ranking The Clash's albums, in honor of Combat Rock turning 40 today. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

I ranked and wrote about every U2 album for Spin

Thursday, May 12, 2022


I wrote another 'Whatever Happened To' piece for Consequence, this time about the Scottish band The View. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

I talked to Carrtoons about his new album Homegrown for Bandcamp Daily

Movie Diary

Monday, May 09, 2022

a) The Batman
I'm a little surprised that Matt Reeves, a guy who started out doing lighter stuff and made action movies with a sense of humor about themselves like Cloverfield and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, would do a Batman movie that makes Christopher Nolan looks like Joel Schumacher. The Batman is so reminiscent of The Crow that I kind of wished they'd gone all the way and made Batman play a guitar solo on a rooftop. I think my favorite part of watching this was when my wife came in the room and I pointed to The Penguin and I informed her that it was Colin Farrell, and she just said "why?" I mean I'm giving this movie a hard time, but it was fine, I thought the action scenes were pretty badass, sort of outclassed the rest of the movie. I will say, though, Paul Dano was one of the parts of the movie I was the most skeptical about but I liked his performance, he brought a little wired energy into his scenes that the rest of the movie was lacking. But the story wasn't much, it's weird to get to the end of a 3-hour action movie feeling like there was going to be one more big setpiece but instead they just shrug and it's over. 

b) Like A Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres
I really enjoyed this documentary, I feel like it was a lot more interesting to center a film on one key writer/editor from Rolling Stone's '60s and '70s heyday than, say, a doc about the Jann Wenner or the magazine as a whole. I really enjoyed the book Fong-Torres wrote about Little Feat but I haven't read as much of his classic interviews because it was before my time and the online availability of it is spotty, but I liked that the film got into particular pieces he wrote and what was special about them, and the parts about his family history and his brother's death were surprising and poignant.  

c) The Bad Guys
The Bad Guys is a book series that my 12-year-old son is a big fan of, and we decided to make the movie adaptation our first time back in a theater since the pandemic started. His 6-year-old brother was also up for going, so it also ended up being pretty much his first movie theater experience ever. Pretty good movie! The animation had a very interesting, unique aesthetic, very textured, there was kind of an Ocean's Eleven vibe to it all, and the voice cast was excellent, especially Sam Rockwell and Anthony Ramos. 

d) The Survivor
I've always thought that Ben Foster is one of the best actors of my generation and wish he'd really risen to real movie star status by now, I think he deserves to be at least at the level of a Ryan Gosling or Jared Leto. I was happy to see that The Survivor reunites Foster with the director of one of his best early roles, Liberty Heights, and Harry Haft is a meaty, compelling role for him, a boxer and an Auschwitz survivor. The story is pretty horrifying, even by Holocaust movie standards, but Foster gives a great performance, as do Billy Magnussen from "Made To Love" and Dar Zuzovsky. 

e) The Green Knight
This looked fantastic and had a couple standout scenes but I don't know if it really left much of an impression on me, maybe I just wasn't in the ideal mood but it just kinda came and went. 

f) Mixtape
A pretty charming movie, I'm a sucker for any movie where kids start a band. That said, I'm amazed this got 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, though, it wasn't exceptional even as a coming-of-age comedy. 

g) Metal Lords
I reviewed this for Consequence when it came out a few weeks ago, once again I'm an easy audience  for anything where kids start a band. I just wish it had a better director and made better use of its supporting cast, but really it was a pretty nice little movie. 

Friday, May 06, 2022

I wrote a piece for Stereogum about the new album by Max Creeps, which is probably secretly Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses, and the history of other mysterious bands with fictitious backstories. Shortly after the piece was published, we received a note from Max Creeps denying that they are a 'hoax band.'

Thursday, May 05, 2022

I did some analysis of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's class of 2022 for Spin

Wednesday, May 04, 2022
Cassowary Records · 5/4/2022


For the last couple of years I have made May 4th a day to celebrate the 5/4 time signature, and I continue that tradition today with a pack of music on Soundcloud: a new Western Blot song in 5/4, "Signal," and another DJ set of music in 5/4 like the one I made last year. 

TV Diary

Monday, May 02, 2022

After David Simon finished his run of "Homicide: Life On The Street," "The Corner," and "The Wire" 14 years ago, it felt like maybe he'd kind of said what he had to say about Baltimore and set about making shows that took place in Iraq, New Orleans, New York, and New Jersey. So it's interesting to see Simon finally return to Baltimore for a miniseries based on a book by another Baltimore Sun reporter, Justin Fenton, about the BPD's Gun Trace Task Force, who were indicted for racketeering in 2017. There's a lot about the show that feels familiar to "The Wire" fans, including a few returning actors, including Jamie Hector as Sean Suiter, the detective who died under mysterious circumstances in 2017, so I'm pretty curious how the show is going to play that out. But the big difference is where "The Wire" was all fictional characters loosely based on real people, "We Own This City" is all real names, real dates, etc. The first episode set things up pretty well, I've always been kind of a Jon Bernthal skeptic but I think his Balmer accent is pretty solid. And Josh Charles is one of my favorite actors from Baltimore who hasn't done a lot based in Baltimore since his bit part in Hairspray at the beginning of his career, so it's great to see him in this. The dialogue around David Simon's work has always been polarized, especially in Baltimore, between people who think he's making the city look bad and people who think he's actually too sympathetic to the police, a debate that's become more intense in recent years, and I think "We Own This City" will fan those flames even more. But so far, it's hard to say whether I think the show addresses or validates either side's criticisms. 

b) "Outer Range"
I'm enjoying this Amazon series where Josh Brolin plays a rancher who finds a big black portal in a hole in the ground on his property. I believe my wife asked if it was "a supernatural 'Yellowstone'" when I started watching it, and I objected, but that's pretty accurate actually. I've enjoyed that the show has progressively gotten weirder over the first few episodes, it felt like it started getting a little crazy when the editor did dozens of rapid cuts while Will Patton is naked having some kind of breakdown in front of a buffalo head mount while "Angel of the Morning" blares on the soundtrack.

c) "Killing It" 
I kind of assumed from the title of Craig Robinson's new sitcom on Peacock that it would be another one of those 'ordinary person becomes a hitman' shows that have been so common in recent years. So I was kind of pleasantly surprised when the first episode took a surprising turn halfway through and it turned out to be a show about the Florida Python Challenge, a real thing where people try to kill off the python population in the Everglades for a big cash reward. Claudia O'Doherty from "Love" is so funny in this show, kind of cheerfully deranged and barely aware of how ridiculous her life is, Jillian is just a great character. And episode 6 with Zach Grenier from "Devs" is so good. 

d) "Roar"
This Apple TV+ anthology series from the creators of "GLOW" is based on a short story collection, where each story is a weird little heightened reality fable with a title like "The Woman Who Ate Photographs" (Nicole Kidman literally eats photos and sort of experiences the moment in the picture) or "The Woman Who Was Kept On A Shelf" (Betty Gilpin is asked by her husband to sit on a shelf all day to inspire him while he works). Some of them have pretty clear social satire aims, some are a little more surreal and impressionistic, but it's a pretty interesting show that keeps me guessing where each story will go. 

e) "Slow Horses"
"Slow Horses" opens with a British spy botching a mission and getting exiled to a really boring assignment, which is a great premise. I like that it's sort of a droll parody of spy shows but also has a bit of action and intrigue. 

f) "Anatomy Of A Scandal"
I put the first episode of this on one night, and we kind of rolled our eyes mightily at yet another stuffy drama about an upper class white guy's misadventures in sexual misconduct, and my wife went up to bed halfway through. And then the episode ended with the introduction of the show's big stylistic flourish, which is completely absurd and laughably and became instantly infamous on the internet in the days after the show debuted on Netflix. I don't know if I should 'spoil' it with particulars, but it's fucking hilarious and kind of turned what was a pretty unpromising show into a campy disaster. 

g) "The Last Bus"
This British series on Netflix is about kids who are on a field trip when a robot apocalypse happens. A fun idea on paper but the execution didn't really do anything for me. 

h) "Hard Cell"
I'm not familiar with Catherine Tate, but apparently she's known for a BBC sketch comedy show, and "Hard Cell" is her new Netflix show where she plays multiple characters in a women's prison. And this is definitely one of those strains of British comedy that is just not for me at all, reminds me of "Little Britain," deeply unfunny stuff. 

I recently wrote about why "Russian Doll" is one of the best shows Netflix has ever made, and I stand by that. A lot of people thought the first season felt so self-contained that it should've remained a one-off, and the consensus about the 2nd season is that it isn't as good. And well, yeah, it isn't, but it's still great and I'm so glad Natasha Lyonne went back to this world and these characters and came up with another weird time wormhole for them to step into, there were some hilarious lines that went by so quickly I almost missed them and the ending was beautiful. 

I kind of like when family sitcoms end and you can look back and see at how all the kids on the show grew up on the air. It definitely peaked a while ago, though, I kinda put it on out of habit this year, 8 seasons is a good place to leave it off. 

I would say "Grace And Frankie" is going out on the top of its game, though, I've been watching a lot of the final season over the last couple days and it's still just hilarious, definitely gonna miss these characters. 

l) "Dirty Lines"
This Dutch show on Netflix about phone sex lines becoming a phenomenon in the Netherlands in the '80s, kind of a period piece sex comedy like "Minx" or, sort of "The Deuce." There's a lot of overly wacky sex scenes that get kind of over-the-top but it's otherwise pretty well written, one of the better recent imports on Netflix. 

m) "Pachinko"
This Apple TV+ series takes place in Japan-occupied Korea in 1915, which is pretty interesting, I really didn't know much about that chapter of history. Haven't kept up with it or gotten too into the story yet, though. 

n) "He's Expecting"
Junior, the 1994 comedy where Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cisgender man who gets pregnant, seems like a pretty bizarre little cultural artifact now. But the lead actor in the Japanese series "He's Expecting" actually watched Junior and studied Schwarzenegger's performance to prepare for his own role as a pregnant man. Obviously there's a minefield of ways this kind of story could be problematic or just plain stupid, but the show maintains kind of a balancing act of being charmingly silly about it. 

This French series is about a girl who finds a skeleton on the beach in the present day, and then finds herself transported into the body of the '90s teenager whose remains she found. Pretty strange and entertaining show. 

This Colombian show on Netflix has kind of a ridiculous premise where a crime syndicate kills a woman to transplant her heart to someone else, but it's otherwise pretty well written and acted and not as violent or soapy as I expected it would be. 

Another Netflix import I kind of put on as background noise while I was writing, that takes place in 14th century Barcelona, didn't really leave much of an impression. 

I didn't even realize when I started watching this Turkish show on Netflix that it's actually a spinoff of the Belgian show "Into The Night," taking place in the same apocalypse scenario in a different part of the world with a marine biologist as its hero. I'm not super into either show, but I love the idea of a big global storyline that's carried out in different shows that take place in different countries. 

A docuseries about the 2014 murder of a South African football player, I haven't finished it yet but I guess the case is still unsolved, sad story. 

This show, which has been on TV in Japan for decades and just came to Netflix recently, is kind of a game show where toddlers and young children are sent on errands to pick up or buy things, which has kind of prompted some reflection in America about how we keep our young kids more sheltered by comparison. I mean, my oldest son is 12 and this year was the first time I think he walked a mile or more away from our house, went to a friend's place and went to a store and bought things with his own money. The kids on this show are really cute, though, and y'know, they have a camera crew around in case anything bad happens, which the rest of us do not. 

u) "The Invisible Pilot"
This 3-part HBO doc is about a guy who faked his own death and then became a drug smuggler, pretty crazy that they have him sitting around explaining how he did it all, I feel like you rarely get to hear these kinds of stories straight from the person who did it. 

v) "Bullshit The Game Show"
I like the format of this Netflix game show where one person answers trivia questions, and three people try to guess if they're faking about knowing the answer or actually know it. After the round is over, whoever did best out of those three gets their turn answering the question, and the other two people have already heard them explain how they know when somebody is lying, which makes it all very weirdly psychological and interesting. 

w) "Conversations With A Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes"
Netflix's first "Conversations With A Killer" was about Ted Bundy, and now they've moved onto one of the other big serial killers of the '70s. I didn't know that much about Gacy, the details are pretty nuts, and it's wild hearing his actual voice on recordings. But the most chilling part is definitely a lengthy interview with someone who was nearly one of his victims, detailing a day he spent with Gacy and how close he came to getting killed. 

x) "Our Great National Parks"
Given that "Our Great National Parks" is hosted by Barack Obama and has 'our' in the title, I kind of assumed it was going to be all about American national parks, but it actually goes all over the world. And that's cool, because I know a lot less about other country's national parks and there's some amazing footage. 

y) "Ice Age: Scrat Tales"
The Ice Age movies were not masterpieces even by animated feature standards, but they were always pretty entertaining, especially the Scrat segments. These Disney+ shorts are just okay, though, I think I watched them all in about 20 minutes and didn't find them as funny as the bits from the movies. 

z) "Green Eggs and Ham: The Second Serving"
My 6-year-old loves Dr. Seuss books and he has really taken to this series and was excited to see that a 2nd season came out. It's a pretty clever little show, although the Rivers Cuomo theme song really gets on my nerves. I wish my kid took the Green Eggs and Ham message to heart and tried new things at the dinner table more readily, though. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 257: Primus

Friday, April 29, 2022

Primus released a new EP last week, Conspiranoid, and it's pretty good, put me in a mood to make a playlist looking back on their catalog. 

Primus deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. American Life
2. Pudding Time
3. Welcome To This World
4. Over The Electric Grapevine
5. Groundhog's Day
6. The Scheme
7. Golden Boy
8. Marry The Ice Cube
9. Here Come The Bastards
10. Erin On The Side Of Caution
11. Bob
12. Dirty Drowning Man
13. Behind My Camel
14. Intruder
15. Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride
16. Hennepin Crawler
17. Sgt. Baker
18. Del Davis Tree Farm
19. To Defy The Laws Of Tradition

Track 5 from Suck On This (1989)
Tracks 2 and 19 from Frizzle Fry (1990)
Tracks 1, 9 and 17 from Sailing The Seas Of Cheese (1991)
Track 14 from the Miscellaneous Debris EP (1992)
Track 3 and 11 from Pork Soda (1993)
Track 4 and 18 from Tales From The Punchbowl (1995)
Track 7 from Brown Album (1997)
Track 13 from the Rhinoplasty EP (1998)
Track 12 from Antipop (1999)
Track 8 from the Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People EP (2003)
Track 16 from Green Naugahyde (2011)
Track 15 from Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble (2014)
Track 6 from The Desaturating Seven (2017)
Track 10 from the Conspiranoid EP (2022)

Primus are kind of an acquired taste that people seem to love or hate, which I get --- there's a reason "Primus sucks!" became the tongue-in-cheek motto of Primus fans everywhere. But I've lived with and played in bands with two bassists who love Primus, my brother Zac and my college roommate Mike, and have a lot of fondness for the band. My brother and I got on board from "My Name Is Mud" and I have a great amount of affection for Pork Soda and Tales of the Punchbowl, but I kind of found out later that the first couple albums were really the ones that build their fanbase and Sailing The Seas of Cheese is definitely their classic. Definitely one of the strangest, most niche hard rock bands that's ever gone platinum. 

In the '90s, I was very conscious of who were "120 Minutes" bands and who were "Headbanger's Ball" bands, and Primus was one of the few who were regulars on both shows, along with Faith No More and most of the big Seattle bands. Les Claypool, Primus's frontman and weirdo bass virtuoso, went through a few different iterations of Primus before they wound up with their definitive lineup with Larry LaLonde on guitar and Tim "Herb" Alexander on drums. But Herb is kind of the John Frusciante of Primus who's left and returned multiple times, with drummers who were briefly in Primus in the '80s rejoining: Brain Mantia was with the band for the Brown Album, Rhinoplasty, and Antipop, and Jay Lane plays on Green Naugahyde

I think Brown Album gets kind of a bad rap but is a really cool record with a very raw, ugly sound. And it was recorded the same year Primus made probably the most famous piece of music of the band's career: the theme song for "South Park." But at the time I kind of dismissed Antipop, which was the last album the band made before an extended hiatus and felt like they were relying on the band's famous friends and fans: tracks on the album were produced by Fred Durst, Tom Morello, Tom Waits, and even "South Park"'s Matt Stone. But that album holds up better than I anticipated, and I particularly like the Stewart Copeland-produced "Dirty Drowning Man." 

It's also a lot of fun to hear the band reveal their influences on the covers-heavy EPs, I knew Primus's versions of "Intruder" and "The Family And The Fishing Net" before I ever heard the Peter Gabriel originals. And in recent years they've been engaged in some interesting tribute projects, including a recent tour where they cover Rush's A Farewell To Kings, and an album interpreting music from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The boat ride scene was always the creepiest part of that movie so that's the song that really makes the most sense with the Primus treatment. 

In 2006, Interscope released a Primus best-of compilation, They Can't All Be Zingers. And while it contains mostly singles, it had a few particularly popular album tracks, including "To Defy The Laws Of Tradition," "Marry The Ice Cube," and "Over The Electric Grapevine," which I always thought was a high point of Tales From The Punchbowl, I'm glad to see it's become an acknowledged classic and live staple. And I leaned pretty heavily on their most played live songs for the playlist, including "Groundhog's Day," "Here Come The Bastards," "American Life," "Pudding Time," and "Sgt. Baker." 

Reading Diary

Monday, April 25, 2022

a) Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, by Kelefa Sanneh
Kelefa Sanneh has been one of the best music critics for a couple decades now, so when I saw that he'd published a book last fall, I automatically put it on my Christmas wishlist, and soon after received it as a gift. I hadn't looked closely at the title and kind of assumed the book was about actual record labels, which would've been interesting too, until I sat down to read it and realized that it was about music genres, which is a topic a little more closer to my heart (every year I write lists of the year's best pop, rap, rock, R&B and country singles and look at how the main U.S. radio formats are doing). Because he's really attempting to synthesize the last 70 or so years into one digestible book, Sanneh isn't saying a lot here that I didn't already know, but he pulls all the disparate strands of the story together in fairly elegant and inventive ways to make these messy complex histories form a coherent narrative. 

b) Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Kory Stamper
When I was a kid, there was a gigantic dictionary in my mom's house where I'd regularly look up unfamiliar, and when I was a teenager I'd write in notebooks that invariably had a page or two where I'd just keep a list of favorite words that I found especially interesting or chewy or fun to say/write. So I'm enough of a word nerd to want to read about how dictionaries are written, but former Merriam-Webster associate editor Kory Stamper is young enough and has enough of a sense of humor about her work to write a book that's accessible and entertaining enough about the topic that I'd recommend it to just about anyone. I learned a lot of little nuggets of trivia and insight about the English language that I never knew, and laughed out loud a few times. Stamper was also by far the best talking head in the silly "History of Swear Words" thing on Netflix with Nic Cage. 

c) Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
Please Kill Me was published over 25 years ago and remains seemingly unchallenged as the definitive book about punk rock, so I finally got around to reading it. And it definitely lives up to the hype, I love a good oral history where the participants get to just tell things from their perspective (sometimes even contradicting each other) and the writer compiling it all never pokes their nose in to clarify anything or tie it together. I often get annoyed when books or articles about music focus too much on biography and too little on the actual music, but Please Kill Me is precisely great because it's so tawdry and full of weird tangents about hangers-on and torrid affairs and petty feuds, it helps deflate a lot of the stuffy mythology around the Velvets and the Stooges and the Ramones and so on and give you a really visceral sense of who they were as people and how that influenced the music. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

I reviewed the first 4 episodes of the new The Man Who Fell To Earth series, which premieres tonight on Showtime, for Consequence

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Spin ran a list of the 50 greatest albums of 1972, and I wrote about Music Of My Mind, Still Bill, and Amazing Grace

Monthly Report: April 2022 Singles

Friday, April 22, 2022

1. Tate McRae - "She's All I Wanna Be"
Last year after Olivia Rodrigo's "Good 4 U" hit, I wrote a Spin piece about one of my favorite topics, rock songs by pop singers, hoping that we'd get a wave of guitar-driven Top 40 confections like we did after "Since U Been Gone." So far that wave has been hit and miss -- I don't really like Gayle's "abcdefu" but her other songs are pretty good, the Machine Gun Kelly-adjacent pop punk revival has had a mild impact on pop radio, and the great rock songs on Halsey's album didn't get the attention they deserved. But "She's All I Wanna Be" is a gem -- Tate McRae's breakthrough "You Broke Me First" felt like MOR pop with a Billie Eilish-derived vocal style, but her voice sounds much better on a big gleaming Greg Kurstin guitar pop jam. Here's the 2022 singles Spotify playlist I update every month. 

2. Harry Styles - "As It Was"
One Direction was also very often in my beloved guitar pop niche, and Harry Styles's solo career has been a little more dad rock but also pretty consistently excellent. "As It Was" is notable as probably as maybe the fastest Hot 100 #1 with live drums in years, if not decades, kind of emulating the vague "Take On Me" '80s synth pop vibe of "Blinded By The Lights" with a slightly more low key, handmade aesthetic. 

3. Tems - "Free Mind"
I really liked If Orange Was A Place, the solo EP that Tems released last year after the success of "Essence" that made me wonder if it would be Tems rather than Wizkid that would become a longterm fixture on American R&B radio. But as it turned out, an older song Tems released back in 2020 has really become her big follow-up to "Essence." 

4. JNR Choi f/ Sam Tompkins - "To The Moon"
The success of Tems and other Afrobeats artists is just part of an interesting moment where American rap/R&B radio sounds more international than perhaps ever before right now. A big driver of that is drill, which started in Chicago, then took on a new form in London, which then became the current sound of New York. Brooklyn drill hits take a lot of their production cues from UK drill, which to my ears always sounded more like a descendant of previous British rap movements like grime than Chicago drill, but up to this point we've mostly gotten Americans like Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign rapping over those UK-influenced beats. So it feels notable that JNR Choi is from London and we've now got a full-fledged British rap song all over American rap radio -- there's a remix with Gunna that's definitely helping but I don't consistently hear that version on the radio as much as the original. "To The Moon" is also funny because it's built on a loop of unknown British singer Sam Tompkins covering a song from the first Bruno Mars album. So circa 2022 retro R&B Bruno is on the airwaves right alongside a remnant of early 2010s pop crooner Bruno. 

5. Kay Flock f/ Cardi B, Dougie B and Bory 300 - "Shake It"
A lot of established stars have jumped on drill beats right now with varying levels of musical comfort or commercial success, but Cardi B feels like one person who's still so well keyed into the energy of young New York that it just sounds completely natural for her to storm into the middle of a posse cut with 3 young drill rappers and steal the spotlight. "Shake It" is 1 minute 58 seconds and has 4 rappers on it, so the mic is getting passed around like a hot potato, but it somehow works for the whole thing to dart in and out so quickly. 

6. Florence + The Machine - "Free"
My wife loves Florence + The Machine and has made me a fan too over the past few years, especially after we saw them live in 2018 and it was just an amazing show. I was a little skeptical to hear that the ubiquitous Jack Antonoff worked on the new album, but all four of the advance singles from Dance Fever have been great. The one that's stuck with me the most has been "Free," partly because of the video, which co-stars Bill Nighy and is quite cute and charming. But then the song's bridge, and the final shot of the video, which is followed by a note that it was filmed in Ukraine last November, before the war broke out, really kind of hit me with this emotional gut punch. 

7. Shawn Mendes - "When You're Gone"
I don't know why Shawn Mendes stopped working with Teddy Geiger, that was really the magic combination behind all his best music. But "When You're Gone" is pretty good, a little mellower than his other uptempo songs but has a nice bittersweet melody. 

8. Jack Harlow - "First Class"
Fergie's "Glamorous" is a classic and I kind of like that she's finally being treated properly as white rap royalty being sampled on someone else's #1. Harlow still has this tedious careerist vibe that seeps out here and there in every verse but he's definitely found his footing as a hitmaker, I get why this is the one of his last few solo singles that blew up, although that "sweet sweet semen" line is pretty terrible. 

9. Yung Bleu f/ Kehlani - "Beautiful Lies"
A couple months ago I grudgingly admitted to enjoying one of Yung Bleu's many songs that have been ubiquitous on the radio, and another one has grown on me since then. I like how much empty space there is in this song in between the sections with drums, and his voice sounds good contrasting with Kehlani's. 

10. 2 Chainz f/ Moneybagg Yo and Beatking - "Pop Music"
"Pop Music" is not my favorite song from Dope Don't Sell Itself but it's a fun one, 2 Chainz is one of the few established rappers who has just the right energy for a Beatking track. 

The Worst Single of the Month: Bring Me The Horizon - "Die 4 U"
I'd seen Bring Me The Horizon's name around for years without actually hearing their music, but I'd seen descriptors like 'metalcore' and assumed there music was pretty heavy. So I was a little surprised when I heard a song on the radio that sounded like The Kid Laroi that turned out to be Bring Me The Horizon, this shit is terrible. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

I wrote about the fascinating history of She Wants Revenge, and frontman Justin Warfield's past life as a teenage rap star, for Consequence

Monthly Report: March 2022 Albums

Thursday, April 14, 2022

1. Lucky Daye - Candydrip
Lucky Daye's duets collection Table For Two was one of my favorite EPs of 2021, and I was pretty excited when it won the Grammy for Best Progressive R&B album last week (in fact it was a good night for R&B EPs in general, since Heaux Tales won Best R&B Album). Lucky Daye's frequent producer D'Mile also got to go up and accept a Grammy with Silk Sonic, he's been on a great run the last few years, it's really great to see these guys get some well deserved recognition. And with "Over" blowing up on the radio, it really feels like this is Lucky Daye's year, this album is fantastic, I love the balance between sort of old-fashioned soul and some slick modern textures, and the way the first three tracks run together is sublime. Alex Isley, who co-wrote and co-produced a couple tracks on Candydrip, also released a very good album, Marigold with Jack Dine, in March. Here's my 2022 albums Spotify playlist that most of these albums are in. 

2. Jarv Is - This Is Going To Hurt (Original Soundtrack)
Jarvis Cocker had been releasing music pretty sporadically since Pulp disbanded, but he's had a nice prolific run in the last two years: Beyond The Pale from his new band Jarv Is, a collection of French pop songs he recorded for Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch, and now a Jarv Is soundtrack album for a BBC series. I kind of assumed This Is Going To Be Hurt would be maybe a couple songs and a lot of instrumental stuff composed as incidental music for the show, but it's mostly full-only vocal songs. And it's really excellent, possibly my second favorite post-Pulp album he's made after Further Complications, my favorites so far are "Dare To Love" and "Just Another One Of Those Days." 

3. Maren Morris - Humble Quest
Humble Quest debuted on the charts significantly lower than Maren Morris's previous two major label albums, which is a shame, I thought she was on the verge of household name status after the success of "Bones." Like Carly Pearce, Morris made two albums with the late producer Michael Busbee and has a largely different team on her new record but didn't miss a beat, this is right up to the standard of her other stuff. "The Furthest Thing" is gorgeous and I think "Tall Guys" is the real surefire hit on here, they're nuts if they don't release that as a single. 

4. LÉON - Circles
I've been following the Swedish singer Lotta Lindgren aka LÉON since I heard her debut single "Tired Of Talking" back in 2016, and her third album is excellent stuff, really wish she got more recognition, in America or anywhere really. She has kind of an unusual voice and a great ear for these sort of gentle contemplative pop songs, "Soaked" and "Lift You Up" are standouts on this album. 

5. Rosalía - Motomami
I definitely feel too out of my depth to really say too much about what's happening in Latin pop, especially since I don't speak a lick of Spanish, but I still like to check what the biggest artists are doing and have really loved a lot of Rosalía's stuff the last few years. Her 2017 debut album Los Angeles produced by Raul Refree, who I interviewed a couple years ago, was largely acoustic and steeped in flamenco conventions, but she's very quickly moved into this cutting edge beat-driven reggaeton/pop sound. I don't know what to compare that kind of evolution to, maybe it's a little like the journey from Taylor Swift to 1989 but I dunno, a lot less dorky and MOR. Tracks like "Diablo" and "Bulerias" just sound so cool in terms of the production and the vocal arrangements. And I try to read translations of the lyrics sometimes just to get a handle on what she's saying, like, the piano ballad called "Hentai," that's some wild shit. 

6. Sonic Youth - In/Out/In
I really enjoyed ranking every Sonic Youth album for Spin last month and having an excuse to revisit my favorite band's discography, but a few people did express disappointment that I only covered the 15 'proper' albums. The thing is, I love their whole sprawling catalog of more experimental releases, but I don't see them as essential in the same way and would've felt weird including them just to rank almost all of them below almost all of the proper albums. And I love that they're still dipping into the archives and putting things together like In/Out/In, 44 minutes of previously unreleased improvisations from across the band's fertile last decade together. "In & Out" has some Kim Gordon vocals and "Machine" is a bit of a rocker, but mostly it just feels like you're in the studio with them one afternoon hearing them try to work out new material. Some of the later more conceptual and/or collaborative SYR releases were cool, but I feel like this is like if they'd just continued doing things more in the vein of SYR1 and SYR2, which is great. I'm such a huge Steve Shelley fan and I love hearing him sort of conduct the band and steer the rising and falling energy on pieces like these. 

7. Charli XCX - Crash
Charli XCX was a slightly left-of-center pop artist from the beginning, but after she couldn't quite sustain the chart success of "Boom Clap" and "Fancy," it felt like she took a very deliberate, critic-friendly pivot towards the insurgent 'hyperpop' movement. And I think that it was a sincere creative decision that suited her to an extent, but I've never really loved that stuff and thought Charli's records in that lane were some of the only music from that scene that I found even moderately appealing. So I was kind of glad when Charli sort of made this overt renewed bid for mainstream stardom with Crash, the last album on her Atlantic contract. Honestly, she should be a huge star and in the wake of Dua Lipa's success it feels like there's a clear blueprint for how she could be, so I'm glad she went for it. Some of the fans she picked up in the Number 1 Angel/Pop 2 era didn't seem to agree, though, and there were some tense exchanges between Charli and her snobbier fans in the run-up to Crash, it kind of reminded me of the way rock fans act when an indie band signs to a major label and makes a more polished record, which is hilarious given the context. But personally, it's my favorite Charli XCX album since Sucker, and I think the title track and "Yuck" are some of the best songs she's ever done. And even if she hasn't quite returned to Top 40 radio, it feels like the gambit has largely worked, Crash is her first top 10 album in America and her first #1 album in the UK. 

8. Juliet Class - Juliet Class EP
Joan Sullivan of the Baltimore band The Selkies has a new New York-based band, and I'm really enjoying their 4-song debut recorded by J. Robbins. In some ways it's got that classic '90s riot grrrl sound, but there's a surprising little theremin cameo on "Shut Off." And Niabi Aquena's voice is really striking on the midtempo stuff like "Next Week" that kind of builds in intensity off of how she varies her delivery. 

9. Pluralone - This Is The Show
I really enjoyed interviewing Josh Klinghoffer last fall while he was in the midst of putting together the album that would eventually be This Is The Show and had just become a touring member of Pearl Jam, he's a very interesting and musically adventurous guy. Of course, Red Hot Chili Peppers just released their first post-Klinghoffer album, but in the meantime he's just totally hit the ground running and has made three Pluralone albums since parting with the band. One thing that surprised me was when I asked about his songwriting influences and he named a lot of '80s and '90s British bands (Blur, Radiohead, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths), but now I totally hear it, especially on songs on this new record like "Offend" and "Any More Alone." 

10. Cannons - Fever Dream
"Fire For You," the breakthrough radio hit by the L.A. trio Cannons, was in my year-end top 10 for 2020. And their next single "Bad Dream" and its parent album hit the same sweet spot of hazy synth pop with big basslines and dreamily soft vocals. They don't throw many surprises in the mix but it works for them, I think "Goodbye" is the one that sticks with me the most so far. 

The Worst Album of the Month: Ghost - Impera
Given the way the Swedish band Ghost wears these elaborate face-concealing 'ghoul' costumes and gets respectful coverage from non-metal media outlets, I kind of assumed for years that they made some super heavy shit. So I was kind of shocked when I heard a Ghost song on the radio one day and these guys sound like total weenies. It's mostly the lead singer's voice, but even the music has these really mild arty or theatrical flourishes, it all just sounds unspeakably lame. And somehow they keep getting more popular with every album. And yes, I listened to Machine Gun Kelly's Mainstream Sellout, this is worse. 

TV Diary

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

I mostly like that Disney+'s Marvel series have run towards trippy parallel universe things like "WandaVision" and "Loki," but I'm not trying too hard to keep track of what's going on in "Moon Knight," I'm just along for the ride. Oscar Isaac is a great actor but despite the sort-of duel roles of him playing two guys who share the same body, one meek and British and the other brave and American, it doesn't feel like it's a very challenging project for him. The last couple episodes with May Calamawy from "Ramy" have been great, much better than the first episode in my opinion, but it also makes me really impatient for a new season of "Ramy." 

I don't know a whole lot about Julia Child, but I enjoyed 2009's Julie & Julia, with Meryl Streep as Child, charting her course to publishing her first cookbook. And I think "Julia," which sort of picks up the story from there, with Sarah Lancashire as Child as she was becoming a TV star, is even better. The cast is just fantastic, with David Hyde Pierce and Bebe Neuwirth giving the whole thing a bit of a 'Frasier without Frasier' vibe at times. And it's just very entertaining and at times touching to see Julia and her husband Paul slowly figure out her career and take this big leap. Fran Kranz doesn't feel especially convincing as the stodgy snobbish public television intellectual, though. 

"The Outlaws" is kind of a silly British dark comedy created by Stephen Merchant, with Christopher Walken as the token American, in a group of convicted criminals in a work release program who find a bunch of stolen money. It's kind of overly broad comedy with one-dimensional characters, but the cast is great and makes it work, especially Darren Boyd, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Rhianne Barreto. 

The case of 18-year-old Conrad Roy's suicide, and his girlfriend Michelle Carter's manslaughter conviction for encouraging him to kill himself, is one of the more horrifying and fascinating news stories of the past decade. But after 3 episodes of this series, which stars Elle Fanning as Carter, I don't know if I feel any closer to understanding who Carter is or why she did what she did, and I don't even know if I want to understand, it's just such an awfully sad story. 

Long before "Winning Time" debuted, we learned a few months ago that Adam McKay and Will Ferrell's longtime professional partnership had ended when Ferrell wanted the lead role and McKay gave it to John C. Reilly. However poorly McKay may have handled the situation, his instincts were correct in that Reilly is perfect as Jerry Buss and it's hard to picture Ferrell pulling it off as well. The first episode is exhausting with all of McKay's directorial tics, and the second episode directed by Jonah Hill is even more annoyingly directed (at one point he cuts a split second of a dog humping another dog into a scene of one guy dominating over another guy in a basketball game). But I feel like the show has found a groove over the last few episodes, Quincy Isaiah is fantastic as Magic Johnson, as are Solomon Hughes, Jason Segel, and Gaby Hoffman, just a ton of great performances elevating the show. 

"The Dropout" is so far the gem of this recent spate of shows about the rise and fall of various startups. "Super Pumped," like "Winning Time," is being set up as an anthology series where the second season will be about Facebook, which should be interesting because it feels like The Social Network is one of the main reasons all of these shows exist in the first place. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a pretty good performance but it feels, to his credit maybe, like he seems like too good a guy to be totally believable as someone who's as big an asshole as Travis Kalanick. I kind of wish "Super Pumped" stuck more to the creators' established style on "Billions," the Quentin Tarantino narration (???) and other flashy fourth wall-breaking bits feel a little too flashy. I already wrote about this show's frequent usage of Pearl Jam's music, which is a little hit and miss, sometimes the songs suit the scene and sometimes they don't. 

I was very amused when I finished the "Super Pumped" finale and then put on the latest episode of "WeCrashed," which basically takes place at the same time and touches on Kalanick resigning from Uber. It feels like it's all connected in the Bad CEOS cinematic universe. I like and respect Anne Hathaway and neither like nor respect Jared Leto, but I have to say they're both kind of equally well equipped to play a pair of people with fragile egos who start to believe their own hype with disastrous results. I love how O.T. Fagbenie's character finally shows up and sort of says what the viewer is thinking in the last couple episodes. 

It's funny that Michael Mann is exec producing a show called "Tokyo Vice" but it's not a "Miami Vice" spinoff. There's definitely a big drop off in quality from the Mann-directed first episode to the second episode, though, and I wish major directors would stop working with Ansel Elgort, I'm tired of looking at his weird giant toddler face. It seems mildly promising but I dunno, do we still need these kinds of '(seemingly) the only white man in an Asian country' stories. Also, here's another show with some Pearl Jam on the soundtrack, nice use of "Release" in the first episode.

It's exciting to see Samuel L. Jackson star in a series, but I feel like it hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention since "The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey" is kind of a slow moving character study of an old man with dementia. Jackson is great in it, and the murder mystery aspect keeps it moving forward, but I have to admit it's kind of fallen short of my expectations. 

This French scripted series on Netflix is about comedians trying to get their careers off the ground in Paris. And it's interesting to see how the style of standup comedy developed in America is now a global thing and even the jokes in this show feel very contemporary to what a comedian would be doing in the U.S. in 2022. And it's a charming little show, some very likable characters. 

We liked this Canadian medical drama when it debuted on NBC in 2020 when they were short on fall programming right after Covid hit, less into it now that it's returned for a second season. 

I like that romcoms are flourishing on TV right now, although there's a reason it's a genre is more traditionally suited to movies: if you tried to draw out the will-they-or-won't-they break-up-and-make-up cycle over multiple episodes or seasons, it can feel kind of repetitive and exhausting. Despite those pitfalls, the second season of "Starstruck" is as good as the first, if not better, really glad this show returned, I just adore Rose Matafeo and her delightful New Zealand accent. 

m) "Woke"
Rose McIver has left "Woke" for a better show where she doesn't use her delightful New Zealand accent, but it's still a moderately entertaining show, although it's kind of hit and miss with its glib attempts at finding humor in progressive politics.

"Killing Eve" continued to be a pretty excellent show for a while after season 1 head writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge moved on to her many other projects. But as the show wrapped up its 4th and final season this week, it feels undeniable that the show had a steady decline as they cycled through a different head writer each season, and it's hard not to wonder what could've been if Waller-Bridge stayed on, or if they simply ended the series earlier. Anjana Vasan from "We Are Lady Parts" was a good addition to the cast this season, but I really just did not care about how the story ended. It was okay, I guess, it's pretty funny that anybody expected a happy ending enough to be upset about it. 

"Snowfall" is still pretty good, but it definitely feels this season that it's officially past its peak, I think everyone breathed a little sigh of relief at the recent announcement that the next season will be the last. 

At least "Better Things" seems to be going out at the top of its game with this final season,the episodes just breeze by as these little slice of life stories that end up sticking with me for a while. Mikey Madison's arc this season was handled really well, great performance by her, felt like the show's typically delicate way of approaching something other shows would turn into a big overblown 'abortion storyline.' Casey Wilson was great in this week's episode, and I've always loved Kevin Pollak, I'm glad to see so much of him lately on both "Better Things" and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." 

So many shows are coming back for 7-episode second seasons after there were more episodes in the first season ("Upload," "Space Force," "Russian Doll"), what's up with that? Anyhow, "Upload" was a moderately entertaining show the first time around, I'm glad it's back. The second season wasn't quite as good, but I feel like Allegra Edwards has grown into a really interesting sorta-villain, and Andy Allo is so super fine she was literally a Prince protege. 

The idea of "Bridgerton" was always that each season would follow a different set of main characters, just like the novel series it's based on. But the massive popularity of the first season inevitably set people up for a little disappointment if they didn't realize that, and it seems like there's already some consensus that season 2 is just not as good as the first. As a casual viewer, though, I dunno, it's fine, I'm happy to keep watching. 

s) "The Courtship"
Given the durable popularity of both dating shows like "The Bachelor" and Regency era romances like "Bridgerton," it seems like a potential slam dunk to just do a dating reality show where everyone wears fancy clothes in a castle. But "The Courtship" is a very silly show, and it doesn't seem to have resonated -- NBC aired two episodes that got such poor ratings that they moved the rest of the series to the USA Network. 

t) "The Ultimatum: Marry Or Move On"
Meanwhile the dating show everyone is buzzing about is this goofy Netflix 'social experiment' show where 6 unmarried couples kind of swap partners for 8 weeks before deciding if they want to go back to their relationship and get married. I saw a tweet that made the excellent point that "The Ultimatum" is full of super attractive people in their mid-20s but the show would make a lot more sense if they had couples in their 30s who've been together a decade or more but never married. 

u) "American Song Contest"
I've never really followed Eurovision but can understand the fascination with it, and was skeptical about an attempt at an American version. But I'm impressed with the effort NBC has put behind this -- they're putting on 50-something performances representing every state and territory, and just about everyone has the production values of a major awards show performance. In fact sometimes the creative staging and visual effects outshine the singers and their songs, the production team really went all-out. And I appreciate that because there are so many performances to get through, there's no judges' panel bits or other filler moments that a lot of these kinds of shows have, you just get these quick host segments where Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg keep the energy up. I still need to listen to the studio recordings of most of the songs on Spotify, but based on the performances, I think my favorite song so far is probably West Virginia's and my wife is rooting for Tennessee, and I really rolled my eyes at Oregon and Texas's songs. My wife doesn't like that a few states are represented by established stars (Jewel, Michael Bolton, etc.) but I think it's fine and so far they don't seem to have any particular advantage in the competition. I just hope Sisqo does a good job representing Maryland next week. 

v) "Becoming A Popstar"
This competition reality show on MTV where musicians who have a following on TikTok compete to become pop stars is the kind of thing that would be easy to make fun of. But honestly, TikTok has been a huge driver of pop music in the last few years and it's just a smart idea to pick some people from that platform and let them work with professional producers and choreographers and music video directors and try to make that leap to something bigger and more polished. I don't like everybody on the show and some of my favorites have already been eliminated, but I like the overall concept of the show.

w) "Domino Masters"
This isn't quite as entertaining as its predecessor "Lego Masters," but it is pretty exciting once they start toppling the incredibly complex domino arrangements and you get to watch the whole thing come alive. 

I've never followed sports at all but I feel like I absorb a lot more information about sports than I used to now because of Twitter. And Bomani Jones is one of the sports commentators who I don't even follow but he always seems really smart and reasonable on Twitter so I checked out his new weekly HBO show and it's excellent, kind of feels more like a counterpart to "Last Week Tonight" that simply has a sports emphasis. 

Netflix's interactive programs are still enough of a novelty that I like to try them out, this is apparently based on a popular mobile app called 'Trivia Crack' that they wisely renamed for the Netflix version. I found it really boringly easy at first, and then I tried the 'hard mode' and it was moderately more challenging but still pretty boring, just not the timekiller for me. 

z) "Pinecone & Pony"
A really cute animated show on Apple TV+, I was surprised my 6-year-old didn't take to it when I put it on because it definitely reminds me of stuff he enjoys like "Centaurworld."