Deep Album Cuts Vol. 168: The Notorious B.I.G.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

When I covered the 2020 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few weeks ago, the artist I was the least surprised to see make the cut was the Notorious B.I.G -- it would just have been strange if they inducted 2Pac at the first opportunity but not Biggie. I usually look at 4 albums as the bare minimum to really be able to make a good 80-minute playlist in this series where I actually curate the selection and aren't just using every possible song, and Biggie really stretches the limit with only 2 proper albums. Even the posthumous albums are pretty hit-and-miss and largely remix previously released verses. But I decided to give myself the challenge of trying to make a good enough playlist to justify posting it, and ultimately it wasn't that hard simply because almost every verse Big ever put on tape was good or more often great, he was just insanely consistent.

The Notorious B.I.G. deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Everyday Struggle
2. Guaranteed Raw (demo)
3. Kick In The Door
4. Oh My Lord with Junior M.A.F.I.A.
5. Gimme The Loot
6. Come On featuring Sadat X
7. Biggie/Tupac Live Freestyle with 2Pac
8. Running Your Mouth featuring Busta Rhymes, Fabolous, Nate Dogg and Snoop Dogg
9. I Got A Story To Tell
10. Unbelievable
11. Love No Ho (demo)
12. Ten Crack Commandments
13. Ultimate Rush featuring Missy Elliott
14. Respect featuring Diana King
15. Notorious Thugs featuring Bone Thugs-n-Harmony
16. Suicidal Thoughts
17. Realm Of Junior M.A.F.I.A. with Junior M.A.F.I.A.
18. Lovin' You For Life with Faith Evans and Lil Kim
19. What's Beef?

Tracks 1, 5, 10, 14 and 16 from Ready To Die (1994)
Tracks 4 and 17 from Conspiracy by Junior M.A.F.I.A. (1995)
Tracks 3, 9, 12, 15 and 19 from Life After Death (1997)
Track 6 from Born Again (1999)
Track 7 from The Tunnel by Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap (1999)
Track 13 from Duets: The Final Chapter (2005)
Track 8 from Greatest Hits (2007)
Tracks 2 and 11 from Notorious: Music From And Inspired By The Original Motion Picture (2009)
Track 18 from The King & I with Faith Evans (2017)

Obviously, the 2 proper albums were gonna be at least half of the playlist, and there's an embarrassment of riches on those records. So I just kinda went with my gut of which ones I love the most or feel too undeniable to exclude or sound best in this context, but I probably could've picked 10 other songs from Ready To Die and Life After Death that are just as good as these. Ready To Die is a top 5 rap album for me, and a big part of that is because it's so much darker and meaner than its legacy as the blockbuster that made New York rap slicker and more R&B-friendly -- up until "Juicy" at track 10, it's a pretty aggressive record, including the original version of "One More Chance."

Biggie really isn't on the Junior M.A.F.I.A. album a whole lot besides the big singles everybody knows, but there were a couple good tracks worth including. I kind of ignored the Notorious biopic and companion soundtrack when they came out a decade ago, and was pleasantly surprised to hear the 3 demos at the end of the album that really capture Big's raw talent at that moment where he was rhyming with effortless ease and charisma but just beginning to get good at writing songs. I wish that the posthumous albums had more stuff like that and less remixed stuff with people Biggie never actually worked with, although I always really dug "Ultimate Rush." I imagine if Big had lived he almost certainly would've collaborated with Missy, probably by the end of '97, so it's just fun to hear them together and wonder.

"Biggie/Tupac Live Freestyle" is just one of the greatest live rap recordings ever, a brief glimpse of what we could've had if hip hop's most legendary rivals had remained friends and done proper collaborative songs together. So it was fun to throw that into the mix as a bridge between the studio track where Big used the same rhymes, "Come On," and a posthumous track that sampled the live recording for a hook, "Running Your Mouth."

Friday, February 21, 2020

I wrote about Lee Ranaldo's best solo albums, including the excellent Names of North End Women with Raul Refree that's out today, for Spin.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 167: The Strokes

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Strokes are releasing their 6th album The New Abnormal in April, and have been in the news a bit lately, announcing the record while performing at a Bernie Sanders rally in New Hampshire, so here's a look at their catalog so far

The Strokes deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Soma
2. Barely Legal
3. New York City Cops
4. When It Started
5. Take It Or Leave It
6. Is This It
7. The Way It Is
8. Automatic Stop
9. What Ever Happened?
10. Meet Me In The Bathroom
11. Under Control
12. I Can't Win
13. Razorblade
14. Electricityscape
15. Ize Of The World
16. Two Kings Of Happiness
17. You're So Right
18. Machu Picchu
19. Gratisfaction
20. Call It Fate, Call It Karma
21. Welcome To Japan
22. 50/50
23. Drag Queen
24. Threat Of Joy

Tracks 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 from Is This It (2001)
Tracks 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 from Room On Fire (2003)
Tracks 13, 14 and 15 from First Impressions Of Earth (2006)
Tracks 16, 17, 18 and 19 from Angles (2011)
Tracks 20, 21 and 22 from Comedown Machine (2013)
Tracks 23 and 24 from the Future Present Past EP (2016)

I was 19 when Is This It came out, and I felt like I was either a little too old or way too young to get caught up in the media hype about The Strokes. Maybe I just loved Television too much to tolerate the comparisons, but mostly I thought they were kind of over-the-top retro to the point of being campy, like The Black Crowes or something. And I like plenty of Black Crowes songs, I'm just saying, they are embarrassing. The songs grew on me eventually, though. I wound up really liking Is This It and thought Room On Fire was almost as good.

I think it's one of the appropriate ironies of Is This It is that the album finally went platinum in 2011, more like a classic alternative sleeper hit that takes a decade or two to sell a million like Violent Femmes or They Might Be Giants' Flood than a band that got breathless magazine coverage right out of the gate. Another is that the band who was heralded as bringing sex and danger back to rock'n'roll had to release the album in their home country without the more suggestive UK cover art as well as without its edgiest song, "New York City Cops" (although I always thought the song sounded a little silly, like they were The Monkees playing impish pranks on police officers). I think the song that replaced it on the US edition, "When It Started," is a little better, although it's a short album so it'd be fine with either or both. And yes, I deliberately sequenced the playlist to suggest there's some kind of recurring theme with the word "it" in the Strokes' song titles, particularly early on.

I think "Soma" is one of their best songs, but I also think the other "Soma" by Smashing Pumpkins is about ten times better. But my favorite Strokes album might honestly be "What Ever Happened?" which is just such a killer opener. I was surprised to see some late period non-singles ("Machu Picchu," "Threat Of Joy," and "Call It Fate, Call It Karma") among the band's most popular songs on Spotify. But then, I kind of wrote the band off after "Juicebox," still such a memorably awful nosedive from a band that had up to that point had a pretty solid track record. First Impressions Of Earth has better songs than that, but I think they still had to slowly recover from that falling off on the later albums and a good 2016 EP that I didn't even know about. The new "Bad Decisions" is pretty nice, so I'm cautiously optimistic that this band who I kind of considered to be on the decline from day 1 might still have some life in them.

TV Diary

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

a) "High Fidelity"
I thought it was clever casting when I heard that a series version of High Fidelity would star Zoe Kravitz, and wondered if they'd make her the daughter of Lisa Bonet's character from the movie. But she's the new John Cusack and it's really just as close as possible to the source material but grafted onto a new location (New York) and flipping the gender, race and/or sexual orientation of most of the characters. That really helps get the whole thing away from the sad bastard white guy cliches of both the story and the musical references, although everyone's taste is still distractingly Gen X-ish, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph and David H. Holmes in particular do great work reinventing the record store clerk characters even as they're saying a lot of the same lines near verbatim. The weak link is Kravitz, who I gotta say just doesn't have enough personality to really pull of the character who constantly addresses the viewer, or even her mother's effortless aloof charisma, but she's good enough that she doesn't get away when the show works, which is most of the time.

b) "Briarpatch"
I'm kind of glad this is actually pitched as an 'anthology series' in its first season (presumably future seasons will be based on other Ross Thomas novels), I'm starting to get tired of anticipating a second season of a show continuing the story and then getting a whole new cast and/or story. This is promising so far, though, I'm enjoying the southern noir vibes and there's some good flashy direction and music supervision -- the scene set to "High Pressure Days" by The Units was so good and memorable.

c) "Miracle Workers: Dark Ages"
Now this is something that I'm really glad turned out to be an anthology show. The first season of "Miracle Workers" was nice enough, but the 2nd season, where they do a Monty Python and the Holy Grail-style silly take on the dark ages, is just hysterically funny. And since it's the same cast from the first season, you get the rare story medieval period piece with colorblind casting. I still have a big crush on Geraldine Viswanathan but I feel very self-conscious about her character being named 'Al Shitshoveler' because it sounds like a mean nickname for me.

d) "The New Pope"
Another sort-of second season of a show under a slightly different title, "The Young Pope" continuing with Jude Law's character and John Malkovich playing his successor. People actually tell the new Pope that he looks like John Malkovich and the whole vibe of the character kind of feels like what Malkovich would be like if he was made Pope. But the broader moments like when the Pope meets with Marilyn Manson are always balanced out by a lot of more surreal and ambiguous moments, in a way this show is more like "Twin Peaks" than anything else on TV, it feels like there's a lot of strange subconscious level stuff going on under the surface.

e) "Kidding"
The fact that the 2nd season of "Kidding" was pushed back 3 months and is now being run with 2 episodes a week makes me wonder if Showtime has already given up on this show and is just waiting until it's done airing to announce its cancellation, which would be fine with me, I feel kind of ambivalent toward it all. I hate that Jim Carrey plays Mr. Pickles with the same dopey voice whether the character is performing on TV or living his day-to-day life, it reminds me of how his Andy Kaufman talked like Latka Gravas 24/7, it's like once Carrey commits to a stylized delivery for a character he can't modulate it at all.

f) "Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens"
Awkwafina has been in enough enjoyable movies now that I try not too judge her comedy rapper origins too harshly, but I really just wish she wasn't still calling herself Awkwafina, and they're really twisting the knife putting her stage name in the title of her new show (which, by the way, should never be done with anyone's name -- like, imagine if "Frasier" was called "Kelsey Grammer Is Frasier" or something, it's stupid). This show is okay but it kinda feels like Comedy Central said "hey we're losing 'Broad City,' can you do pretty much the exact same show?"

g) "68 Whiskey"
This show about soldiers in Afghanistan opens with two people fucking in a supply closet, and one of the main recurring storylines of the first few episodes is that the woman can only cum from being fingered and the guy trying really hard to give her a vaginal orgasm. So yeah, that's what this show is like. It can be kid of charming and character-driven but I can't tell if they're depicting what life is actually like out there or if they're just dropping "Grey's Anatomy"-type stories into that setting.

h) "Katy Keene"
This "Riverdale" spinoff seems mercifully tonally pretty different from "Riverdale," kind of reminds me of The CW's underrated previous Lucy Hale vehicle "Life Sentence." But mostly it's just a bag of "young people making it in the big apple" cliches that opens with the cursed Taylor Swift song "Welcome To New York," I relate to Katherine LaNasa's character more than the starry-eyed young folks.

i) "Outmatched"
It continues to blow my mind how quickly FOX went from having the strongest live action sitcom lineup of the big 4 networks to the weakest. Their latest "Outmatched" would be notably obnoxious even on CBS, with a canned laugh track braying at every joke on the overcooked premise that two parents are unreasonably distressed that all 3 of their children are gifted prodigies. It's annoying, too, because there's a kernel of a decent show in there, there will occasionally be a pretty cleverly constructed joke where a character confuses Captain Marvel with the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or something.

j) "Indebted"
Given the amount of nostalgia for Fran Drescher and "The Nanny" in recent years, it should be a no-brainer to build a new sitcom vehicle around her. But it feels like NBC dropped the ball with this cheesy show about grandparents who go broke and move in with their son's family. The whole cast, including Steven Weber and Adam Pally, is solid, it's just all kind of lazy and hacky and the 2nd episode even echoed the plot of "Outmatched."

k) "Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt For The Bone Collector"
I never read Jeffery Deaver's The Bone Collector or saw the 1999 adaptation, but apparently Denzel Washington's character was named Lincoln Rhyme, as I learned from the ungainly title of the new TV adaptation. Russell Hornsby has a great voice and kind of commands the screen even from the confines of a wheelchair, so the show is well cast considering that I'm sure most people saw the Denzel movie and would hold it up to that. I'm not finding the story very interesting, though.

l) "9-1-1: Lone Star"
The original "9-1-1" is the most ludicrous show on television with the most overqualified cast, so I was at least glad that nobody as good as Angela Bassett is embarrassing themselves on the Texas-based spinoff, but I still kind of feel bad for Rob Lowe and Liv Tyler anyway. All you really need to know about this show is that there was an episode titled "Studs" where the storylines included a fight at a male strip club, a fire at a bull semen factory, an incel protest at a women's shelter, and Rob Lowe suffering from erectile dysfunction.

m) "Deputy"
"Deputy" is not as ridiculous as "9-1-1: Lone Star" but it's not far off, and features Stephen Dorff telling higher-ups that they live in an ivory tower and need to get in touch with their "inner deputy." I'm kind of glad Dorff has found his level again after getting maybe a little too much prestige from that last season of "True Detective."

n) "The Expanding Universe Of Ashley Garcia"
It made a lot of sense when I realized this Netflix show was created by Mario Lopez, it's very much a teen sitcom in the "Saved By The Bell" mode, but not too derivative, with a pretty charming cast.

o) "October Faction"
This Canadian horror series on Netflix has potential, there's the bones of a good SyFy original series there, but the casting really falls flat and the visual effects are weak. The first two episodes were directed by Director X (the Hype Williams protege who directed Superfly and a million great music videos) but even those kind of look drab and low budget.

p) "Thieves Of The Wood"
A Dutch show on Netflix about 18th century highwaymen, I tried to watch it a couple times but could not get into it at all.

q) "Seven Worlds, One Planet"
The BBC and David Attenborough's latest docuseries about Earth is as gorgeous as ever, with one episode dedicated to each continent, and the first one that aired in America was the Australia episode, filmed before the wildfires destroyed some of the places depicted in the show. That really emphasized for me just how special these shows are and how much they're documenting a world that we are rapidly losing.

r) "Lego Masters"
I have kids who fill my house with Lego creations, so I enjoy watching this FOX show where adults compete in crazy elaborate Lego competitions. It's kind of like "Project Runway" where the Tim Gunn figures are professional 'brickmasters' who design sets for Lego, I really adore Brickmaster Amy and her Scottish accent. It feels like the contestants were cast for TV more than for skill and the producers have dressed them up to be different stereotypes and play into them as much as possible, though. 

s) "The Explosion Show"
There have been so many different spinoffs and derivatives of "Mythbusters" since the original show ended, and this one with Tory Belleci amusingly just zeroes in on the controlled explosions that were always a highlight of "Mythbusters" and does nothing but that. They still get some science content in there but it's mostly just things going boom.

t) "McMillion$"
I'm kind of glad I never read the big article about the McDonald's Monopoly scam back when it came out so I can enjoy the HBO documentary series without knowing the story already. The main FBI agent they talk to for this, Doug, is really entertaining, they kinda got lucky having such a goofy guy to tell a lot of the story.

u) "The Pharmacist"
A Netflix true crime show about a small town pharmacist who decides to solve his son's murder. Haven't gotten to the end of it yet but it's hard not to feel for the guy and admire his resolve.

v) "True Life: Crime"
I really rolled my eyes at MTV doing a spinoff of their old "True Life" documentary series to get in on the true crime trend and having Nev from Catfish present the show like Robert Stack on "Unsolved Mysteries." It's especially weird because since they usually pick deaths or incidents that were the object of social media fascination and kind of focus more on it going viral and speculation than what they know about what actually happened.

w) "Murdered By Morning"
Another true crime show, going moment by moment through the last hours of a murder victim's life. The first episode where they played a victim's 911 call really made me feel awful, I don't have the stomach for too much of this stuff.

x) "The Owl House"
This is probably both my kids' favorite new show of the last few months, really charming, creative fantasy show about a teenager studying to be a witch, has a bit of the same appeal as "Infinity Train." And now my 4-year-old loves one of my favorite songs, Madness's "Our House," because it was used in the Disney Channel's ads for "The Owl House."

y) "It's Pony"
Another show my kids are enjoying, some of the dialogue is really silly and funny.

z) "The Adventures of Paddington"
This animated series has the same voice actor, Ben Wishaw, as the great recent Paddington movies but is otherwise not really in the same style, but it's still pretty cute and charming, I've always loved Paddington Bear. 

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 166: Dru Hill

Sunday, February 16, 2020

I grew up going to the Maryland Zoo with my family, but I didn't know the name of the park where the zoo is located, Druid Hill Park, until four local teenagers -- Sisqo, Nokio, Jazz, and Woody Rock -- named themselves Dru Hill and became a platinum-selling R&B group in the mid-'90s. I vaguely remember snickering at a segment on the early fluffier iteration of "The Daily Show" where they were talking about music videos, including "In My Bed," and kept referring to Sisqo as Dru, as if that was his name.

And really, in my last 2 decades of writing about Baltimore music, I don't know if anyone has really made it big out of the city on the same level as Dru Hill and Sisqo since them. I've written quite a bit about the group's latter day activities -- the reunion that imploded live on local radio, the public audition for a new member, the triumphant headlining set at Artscape, the 2010 comeback album, and so on. But I've never really written about their back catalog before. This month, Dru Hill released "What You Need," the first single with two new members, Smoke and Black from another '90s group, Playa, who joined Sisqo and Nokio in 2018. The song is pretty good, hopefully the new album The Second Coming due out this year will be up to the same standard.

Dru Hill deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Nothing To Prove
2. What Do I Do With The Love
3. Do U Believe?
4. If I Could
5. Whatever U Want featuring Triip
6. Real Freak featuring Chinky Brown Eyes
7. Do It Again
8. Xstacy Jones
9. Fireplace
10. Below Zero
11. I Do (Millions)
12. Love's Train
13. Holding You
14. I'll Be The One
15. She Said
16. Men Always Regret
17. April Showers
18. Angel
19. Share My World

Tracks 1, 3, 5, 12, 17 and 19 from Dru Hill (1996)
Tracks 2, 6, 13, 14 and 18 from Enter The Dru (1998)
Tracks 4, 8, 15 and 16 from Dru World Order (2002)
Tracks 7 and 10 from InDRUpendence Day (2010)
Track 9 from Christmas In Baltimore EP (2017)

I've occasionally done playlists in this series combining a group's catalog with a member's solo work. And Dru Hill doesn't have that many albums, so I thought about throwing some Sisqo tracks in here. But I kind of feel like the group was and is great in its own right and sometimes gets a little unfairly overshadowed by its most famous member. I think because of Sisqo's big voice and loud look, people kind of imagined he wanted the spotlight all for himself, that going solo was as much an inevitability for him as it was for Beyonce or Justin Timberlake. But to hear Sisqo tell it in recent 20th anniversary interviews about Unleash The Dragon, he never really wanted to go solo and the group was his top priority. But after Woody Rock left the group the first time in 1999, Sisqo held out hope that he'd come back in time for the group's 3rd album (which he ultimately did, before leaving again in 2008), and Sisqo apparently did the solo album to keep the group's label from losing interest in them. And it was cool that Sisqo often incorporated the members of the group into his solo albums, videos, and TV performances. And the "your eyes, unique, your breasts, your feet" bit from "Thong Song" was actually a callback to the Enter The Dru deep cut "Real Freak."

And even though Sisqo sang lead more often than not on the group's hits, harmonies were always their bread and butter, and all the members of the group got the spotlight on album tracks. So towards the end of the playlist, I put together a block of tracks that showcase the other guys: Jazz on "Holding You" and I'll Be The One," Nokio on "She Said" and "Men Always Regret" (which he wrote and sings with Sisqo), and Woody Rock on "April Showers" and "Angel." Scola aka Ruscola, who initially joined to replace Woody Rock and stayed on as a 5th member for Dru World Order, never really got a lot of lead vocal shine, but he co-wrote 3 songs, including "If I Could" and the hit "I Love You," and had local hits on Baltimore radio as a solo artist.

I was curious who the female rapper Triip was who had a verse on "Whatever U Want" -- really I wanted to know if she was one of the group's friends from Baltimore. Turns out Saeida "Triip" Hall was from Brooklyn and had a brief career that included one solo single, a posse cut with Lauryn Hill and Bahamadia, and an appearance on Stretch & Bobbito, before she seemingly exited the music industry following her appearance on Dru Hill's platinum debut. I like her rapping, makes me wonder what kind of career she could've had.

One thing that surprised me about Dru Hill's catalog is that outside of the Babyface-penned "These Are The Times," most of their songs with notable outside songwriters weren't released as singles. Diane Warren wrote "What Do I Do With The Love," Bryan-Michael Cox co-wrote "If I Could," and Case and TQ co-wrote "Xstacey Jones." Keith Sweat produced 2 songs on their debut, "Love's Train" and "Share My World" (no relation to the title track of the album Mary J. Blige released a few months later), and later the InDRUpendence Day single "Remain Silent." 2002's "I Do (Millions)" was co-written and co-produced by Baltimore producer Sean "Moccaa" Banks, who I met a few years later when he was working with local rap star D.O.G. and Baltimore club music legend DJ Booman.

Friday, February 14, 2020

I wrote a piece for Spin about musical moments at the NBA All-Star Game including Marvin's anthem, Mariah's jersey gown, and Kool Keith rapping about John Stockton.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

I expanded my Sloan deep album cuts playlist for City Pages.

Monthly Report: February 2020 Singles

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

1. Billie Eilish - "Everything I Wanted" 
I was a little surprised when Billie Eilish released a new bonus track single 7 months after When We All Fall Asleep's initial release -- if anyone didn't need to keep churning out new product to stay relevant the last few months, it's her. But it's a good song, kind of feels like one of her drumless ballads with a gently pulsing beat put under it, responding to the shock of fame with a murky subconscious dream journal entry instead of the kind of boring unambiguous thing most other singers would put out after getting this big. Eilish has notched five top 10 hits on alternative radio in the space of 14 months, which is remarkable for a format with slow turnover and few back-to-back hits. Here's the 2020 singles playlist I add songs to every month. 

2. Maggie Rogers - "Love You For A Long Time" 
Another standalone single released on the heels of an album that probably had more singles in it, something I see too much of these days. But I guess Heard It In A Past Life didn't quite do what they were aiming for commercially, and this song feels like an attempt at something more accessible. The bridge kind of takes a melodic turn that feels more like Rogers's other stuff, but I don't mind hearing her do something brighter. 

3. Roddy Ricch - "The Box" 
I'm interested in the mechanics of songs becoming crowdsourced singles after albums are released. Would "The Box" have broken out as the immediate hit from Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial if it wasn't the first (non-intro) track on the album? The "ee-err" vocal loop certainly might have made it stand out anyway, but I'm really not sure. But that quirk of streaming era music kind of means that sometimes we get giant chart-topping songs that don't really sound like premeditated crossover hits, which is cool. I gotta say, though, I get a little anxious when I hear a Jay-Z verse or a #1 rap hit that insinuates that somebody should off George Zimmerman, because you know if that fucker ever does get killed they're gonna try to blame a rapper for inciting it. 

4. Megan Thee Stallion f/ VicKeeLo - "Ride Or Die"
New Orleans bounce homages rarely get old to me and this single from the Queen & Slim soundtrack is one of the best in recent memory, Megan sounds so great on this beat. It's had a nice run on the radio charts for the last couple months but I wish it had become huge and become the launching pad for Meg's album, I like it so much more than her other recent singles. "He's smilin' like they brought the food out" is one of those hilarious and evocative one-liners that she just seems to have an endless supply of. 

5. Hayley Williams - "Simmer" 
I thought that all of Paramore's lead singles since they became famous -- "Ignorance," "Now," "Hard Times" -- undersold the albums, so I was kind of bracing myself to not feel strongly about Hayley Williams's debut solo single and just wait for the album to make any judgments. So I was delighted that "Simmer" feels like such a confident step forward, Williams bending her voice into melodic twists unlike anything she's sung before, enough of a different sound that it makes sense that it's not under the band name (even though Paramore's Taylor York produced and co-wrote it). The whole 5-song Petals For Armor preview she released after this single is great and weird and varied, looking forward to the full album. 

6. Pearl Jam - "Dance Of The Clairvoyants"
Pearl Jam have been releasing expectation-confounding lead singles for decades (I'm still annoyed about "Nothing As It Seems" being the single from Binaural), so they're another band where I try not to make any assumptions about the album based on the single. The weird ominous funky "Dance Of The Clairvoyants" is at least not a ballad and an interesting change of pace, though, one day I turned on the radio in the middle of the song and before I recognized the song it sounded a little like Talking Heads. Eddie Vedder doesn't quite know how to fit his voice into a track like this but I still enjoy it.

7. Zedd & Kehlani - "Good Thing" 
I feel like nobody is more divorced from their biggest hits than crossover EDM superstars, it really seems like labels are hooking them up with songwriters and singers and letting them put their name and a drum loop on surefire hits and they just do it because the visibility of the songs make touring more lucrative. But out of all those guys, Zedd has by far the best track record of pop singles, I mean, "Clarity," "Stay," "The Middle," c'mon. I really wish "Good Thing" was doing as well as those, because it's another gem. Kehlani writes R&B songs but her voice sounds so pop to me, so I feel like it makes sense for her to be on these recent Zedd and Justin Bieber singles. 

8. Lil Uzi Vert - "Futsal Shuffle 2020"
After all the delays and mystery and false start singles that faded quickly, I really thought "Futsal Shuffle" would be the big single that finally got Eternal Atake out. But it's really dropped out and away from the top 10 quickly after its debut, the weird manic anime EDM vibes combined with the social media-friendly dance craze really seemed like a good formula for a smash but no radio format is touching it. Good song regardless, though.

9. Eric Church - "Monsters"
Not as good as "Some Of It" but it's still nice to see one of the tender midtempo songs from Desperate Man get a single release.

10. DaBaby - "Bop" 
DaBaby and JetsonMade have a distinctive sound that they've continued to mine and make minor variations on, which gets a lot of complaints now, but that's basically how rap works, anyone who's got a signature sound has to really get all they can out of it until someone bites it or comes up with something better. I liked "Suge," and "Bop" and "Vibez" add enough new elements like the flute loop on "Bop" for it to still be fun. And if people wanted DaBaby to switch up as much as they say they do, "Intro" would have been as big as it deserved to be.

The Worst Single of the Month: Ed Sheeran f/ Camila Cabello and Cardi B - "South Of The Border"
Last summer when "South Of The Border" and Shawn Mendes's "Senorita" were released a few weeks apart, I joked that both Camila Cabello collaborations sounded like they came out of a Santana featuring Rob Thomas lyric generator. I thought we dodged a bullet when the Khalid song was picked as the second radio single from the Sheeran album, but now unfortunately "Border" is becoming ubiquitous.

Movie Diary

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

a) Honey Boy
I've regarded Shia LeBeouf as a really off-putting figure for a long time, a once charismatic and promising star who got really famous with a string of mediocre movies (not just Transformers, either, like every movie he made for almost a decade), then seemed to get perhaps justifiably bored of it all and spent years trying to become some kind of meme or camp icon. So when I saw praise for Honey Boy, an autobiographical movie LeBeouf wrote as therapy while in rehab, I was skeptical but curious. But it's really good, I must admit. Lucas Hedges handily carries the movie as the Shia-inspired character, while LeBeouf walks a riskier tightrope playing essentially his own father even though he's at least a decade too young to really look the part. There were things that I thought bordered on over-the-top, but it was overall pretty touching and visceral in moments that could have been self-indulgent. A pretty impressive debut (non-documentary) feature for Alma Har'el, I particularly liked how she pulled off some very convincing glimpses of life on the set of a big effects-driven movie within the reality of a small human-scale movie.

b) 6 Underground
Like I said, those Transformers movies really bummed me out, particularly because Michael Bay can make some pretty enjoyable popcorn movies when he stays away from giant robots and just lets some hammy actors yell at each other over all the carefully orchestrated chaos -- The RockPain And GainCon Air, pretty enjoyable movies. 6 Underground isn't quite on that level, it's a little bloated and runs out of steam, but it at least returns Bay to some of his neglected strengths, for better or worse Ryan Reynolds is a pretty ideal Bay star.

c) Midsommar
I was impressed by Hereditary and found it to be really original and memorable, while still having some misgivings about it. I'm less pleased with Ari Aster's follow-up Midsommar, in part because it felt like it took the same loose 'person traumatized by a family tragedy then becomes the victim of a strange cult ritual' concept and transposed it to a different kind of story, in some ways a more conventional slasher flick structure. It's rare that a horror movie's gore actually repulses me and makes me feel physically uncomfortable but this was one that did that, although I was really impressed by what Aster did visually and with some of the storytelling. Not really sure if my respect for this movie will increase or decrease as some time goes by and I think of it in hindsight.

d) Fighting With My Family
A biopic of a currently active entertainer's journey to fame is the kind of thing you assume will have a pretty low ceiling. But I really just adored Fighting With My Family, I laughed out loud and got misty-eyed and clapped and got caught up in every moment of the predictable yet moving story. It was about as funny as I'd expect from a movie directed by Stephen Merchent and featuring Nick Frost with a mohawk and a big bushy beard, but it also had a lot of heart and Vince Vaughn doing his usual motormouth thing more entertainingly than he has in ages. Florence Pugh was really a really impressive and magnetic performer in Midsommar and "The Little Drummer Girl, but man, Florence Pugh with jet black hair and a lip piercing and metal band shirts? I'm smitten.

e) The Last Black Man In San Francisco
I don't know why but I assumed the title of this movie was literal and it'd be like a near future tale of where gentrification is headed. But the title is merely provocative overstatement, and it fits the kind of dreamy heightened reality of lead actor Jimmy Fails's autobiographical screenplay. A really memorable, original film, I'm still not sure if every beat of the story 'worked' but it still held together pretty well, I hope Jonathan Majors gets a lot of roles off this movie.

f) Isn't It Romantic
You know how sometimes you come home in the middle of someone watching a movie, and you watch the second half of the movie with them and then later have to go back and rewatch it all or at least the first half just to piece it all together and get the whole experience? I did that recently after watching the end of Isn't It Romantic with my wife. I'm kind of weary of meta romcoms that are packed with references to all the famous old romcoms, but this one had some good jokes and I liked that the main character hated romcoms instead of being obsessed with them.

g) The Secret Life Of Pets 2
My kids watched the first Secret Life Of Pets a million times, and it's kind of loud and tiresome and all the best parts were in the trailer, but I was still kind of curious to see the sequel, where the disgraced Louis C.K.'s talking dog role was passed down to Patton Oswalt. Oswalt is obviously a better voice actor and less audibly embarrassed to be a voice in a cartoon, but most everything else that was irritating about the first movie seems to have gotten worse in this one.

h) Mune: Guardian Of The Moon
A kind of charmingly dreamy and surreal French cartoon that my kid found on Netflix, really liked the aesthetic of the animation.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 165: Huey Lewis and the News

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Huey Lewis and the News are releasing a new album, Weather, this Friday. And given the sudden hearing loss Lewis has suffered in the last couple years -- there was an excellent recent Esquire profile all about it -- it seems possible that his long career in music is coming to an end. As a child of the '80s, I'll always had a soft spot for Huey Lewis, and wanted to take a look back at his catalog beyond the singles.

Huey Lewis and the News deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Stop Trying
2. Don't Make Me Do It
3. I Want You
4. Trouble In Paradise
5. If You Really Love Me You'll Let Me
6. Change Of Heart
7. Tattoo (Giving It All Up For Love)
8. The Only One
9. What Happened To True Love
10. Is It Me
11. You Crack Me Up
12. Finally Found A Home
13. Bad Is Bad
14. Honky Tonk Blues
15. Whole Lotta Lovin'
16. Forest For The Trees
17. Simple As That
18. I Never Walk Alone
19. Naturally
20. Old Antone's
21. Bobo Tempo
22. Don't Look Back

Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 from Huey Lewis and the News (1980)
Tracks 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 from Picture This (1982)
Tracks 11, 12, 13 and 14 from Sports (1983)
Tracks 15, 16, 17 and 18 from Fore! (1986)
Tracks 19 and 20 from Small World (1988)
Track 21 from Hard At Play (1991)

It was probably never easy to discuss the charms of Huey Lewis's music with any sincerity or affection, but it's a lot harder since the 1991 novel American Psycho and the 1999 film adaptation. Patrick Bateman's murderous insanity is undercut by the banality of his earnest soliloquy about the artistic merits of '80s hitmakers including Phil Collins and Huey Lewis. It's hard to tell if the more questionable lines in Bateman's verbose rock critic monologue are supposed to ring false (he thinks Huey Lewis has "a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor" than Elvis Costello, which is about as accurate as saying he's taller than Manute Bol). But the fact that this ridiculous character eloquently describes Huey Lewis's songs as a timely ode to "the pleasures of conformity" has kind of helped vacuum seal Lewis as more of a campy vestige of the '80s than one of the decade's most ubiquitous pop stars, at one point probably as recognizable as Prince or Bruce Springsteen. And it can be kind of stifling and annoying to me, as someone who thinks we should be able to talk about the most uncool corners of popular music without devolving into instant mockery and dismissal.

I was always amused that Patrick Bateman's spiel about Huey Lewis and the News included an aside that "their early work was a little too New Wave for my taste," because before I'd seen American Psycho, I had picked up a bargain bin LP of their 1980 self-titled debut and really dug it, as a teenager who was obsessed with new wave. Their flop single "Some Of My Lies Are True (Sooner Or Later)" is a classic to me, and most of the album is just as good. It's a little faster and snappier than their more famous later material, although "Trouble In Paradise" certainly sounds like it could've been on Sports. They particularly race through "If You Really Love Me You'll Let Me," which is under 2 minutes long and features one of my favorite Huey harmonica performances.

With all due respect to their mid-'80s blockbusters, Huey Lewis and the News is really my favorite album by the group, and the only almost entirely written by Lewis and his band (although the one they didn't write, "I Want You," is aces). As time went on, they recorded more songs by outside writers, and about half of their biggest hits were written by other people, although I feel like it all blended in pretty well with the songwriting of Lewis and his bandmates. Sports is a pretty damn good record, though, certainly the only multi-platinum '80s pop phenomenon that had a cover of "Honky Tonk Blues" by Hank Williams. There are so songs from the Sports/Fore! era that I included the minor rock radio hit "Finally Found A Home" and the UK-only single "Simple As That."

Huey Lewis had a pretty interesting career prior to pop stardom. His first band, Clover, relocated to the UK, where the other members of the band backed Elvis Costello on My Aim Is True. "Bluesy Huey Lewis" hooked up with Thin Lizzy and played harmonica on their classic Live And Dangerous concert album as well as both of Phil Lynott's solo albums. One of the Lynott songs Lewis played on, "Tattoo (Giving It All Up For Love)," was covered on the News's second album Picture This, and there's an endearing note in the Esquire profile that Lewis currently has a picture of himself with Lynott proudly displayed on his kitchen counter.

Obviously nothing after Fore! has really been remembered, but I like "Bobo Tempo," what a weird song. I ended things at 1991's Hard At Play, since 2 of the 3 albums The News have released since then aren't on Spotify, but certainly "Don't Look Back" (which has a nice Steely Dan namecheck) is a good place to end, right at the edge of the band's fade from commercial relevance, their last album to spin off any Top 40 hits.

One of the interesting things about Huey Lewis that the Esquire piece touches on is that his mother was a Deadhead who married a famous beat poet, and that his interest in blues and R&B was kind of his way of rebelling against the northern California hippie culture he grew up around. That really puts a different light on the way Huey Lewis became this business casual rock star with short hair, ties and suit jackets, which brings to mind what I wrote last year when Eddie Money passed away. It certainly gives some context to "Hip To Be Square," even if Lewis says he regrets that the song's intended irony didn't really come across to people.

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 164: Rage Against The Machine

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Rage Against The Machine's first reunion show after a 6-year breakup, at Coachella in 2007, was a watershed moment for the burgeoning band reunion festival industrial complex. And Rage will return to headline Coachella this April, more than 8 years since their last show, and then hit the festival circuit once again. With 3 albums of originals, another of covers, and a fairly small number of non-album tracks, Rage just barely have a big enough discography to do a playlist like this, but I still had fun picking through it and finding a good way to sequence the songs and highlight contrasts, find the variety in a catalog that was so singular and so purposeful that I sometimes forget that Rage really did their signature sound into a lot of different shapes.

Rage Against The Machine deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Wake Up
2. Mic Check
3. Year Of Tha Boomerang
4. Know Your Enemy
5. Beautiful World
6. Calm Like A Bomb
7. Without A Face
8. Darkness
9. Take The Power Back
10. Ashes In The Fall
11. Tire Me
12. Pistol Grip Pump
13. Snoop Bounce with Snoop Dogg
14. In My Eyes
15. Born Of A Broken Man (live)
16. War Within A Breath (live)
17. Revolver
18. Township Rebellion

Tracks 1, 4, 9 and 18 from Rage Against The Machine (1992)
Track 8 from the The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1994)
Tracks 3, 7, 11 and 17 from Evil Empire (1996)
Track 13 from the MOM III (Music For Our Mother Ocean) (1999)
Tracks 2, 6 and 10 from The Battle Of Los Angeles (1999)
Tracks 5, 12 and 14 from Renegades (2003)
Tracks 15 and 16 from Live At The Grand Olympic Auditorium (2003)

To the extent that Rage Against The Machine's politics seemed radical or fringe in a more complacent time, young people in America have moved further left and closer to Rage's causes and positions since the '90s, or even just since the last time the band played a show, a couple months before Occupy Wall Street kicked off. Given the increased relevance and resonance of the band's old songs, you'd imagine it'd be a good time for them to do a new record, but I'm guessing that won't happen.

In their last 4-year stint of playing shows, Rage never seemed to get close to making a new record, and Zack de la Rocha has been I daresay almost impressively unproductive over the last 20 years. Talk of a solo record came and went a couple times, but he never pulled the trigger, and he's only sporadically made guest appearances and one EP with a short-lived new band, One Day As A Lion, that I really dug. So when Rage play shows this year, there probably won't be any new songs, but if their setlists resemble the 2007-2011 shows, there'll probably be lots of "Calm Like A Bomb," "Know Your Enemy," "Township Rebellion," and "War Within A Breath," in addition to the band's popular singles.

I think the debut will always loom large over the band's legacy, but none of their albums underperformed, and I get the feeling each of them has its fans. I'm partial to The Battle Of Los Angeles because I feel like they got better at editing their songs down to punchier, more succinct structures over time -- the average song length of their third album was 90 seconds shorter than that of their debut. That said, I do enjoy some of the extended jams on the first album, particularly "Know Your Enemy," which features both Maynard Keenan, well before Tool's mainstream breakthrough, and Stephen Perkins of Jane's Addiction back when he was L.A. rock royalty. "Tire Me" has the distinction of winning the band's first Grammy, in the Best Metal Performance category (the two big singles from Evil Empire were nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance and lost -- I guess "Tire Me" is a tiny bit heavier than those songs but the distinction is kind of silly).

Cover albums, specifically ones where bands that usually write their own songs cover a grab bag of favorites by different artists, have a pretty spotty history as quickly forgotten stopgap releases. But Renegades is the rare covers album that went platinum and feels like an essential piece of their catalog, in part because it was released just after they broke up at the peak of their popularity. It's arguably the greatest rap/rock band of all time revealing their excellent taste in both rap and rock, spanning old school hip hop, gangsta rap, classic rock, folk, proto punk, hardcore and new wave.

 I don't like everything about Renegades -- for instance they slow down "Kick Out The Jams" to a more typical RATM tempo and it feels like a slog, and I don't know why Tom Morello had to go full Space Invader sound effect mode for "Street Fighting" instead of playing some of the original riffs. But the album is a test test of de la Rocha s a vocalist as Morello as an arranger and they pull off some great moments -- taking away the sunny upbeat surface of Devo's "Beautiful World" means removing the irony and subtlety that defined the original, but it's still a really gripping performance, a rare moment where Rage got quiet without exploding into a big crescendo at the end. And one of the other non-album tracks I was amused to find on Spotify when putting this together was the band teaming up with Snoop Dogg and Charlie Wilson to re-record a deep cut from Tha Doggfather.

Some of Rage's best songs were released on soundtracks, including the Godzilla hit "No Shelter," and I was happy to revisit "Darkness" from The Crow, originally "Darkness of Greed" on the demo tape that got the band signed. I can kind of see why it wasn't on their debut because it has a slightly different sound, but it's great. "Year Of Tha Boomerang" was originally recorded for the Higher Learning soundtrack, but I went with the re-recorded version that closes Evil Empire, which is pretty similar anyway. As a big Soundgarden fan who often found Audioslave kind of stiff and unrelentingly 4/4 by comparison, it's fun to hear RATM tear into a 5/4 groove on "Boomerang," I wish they did that more often. And though it wasn't recorded for the movie, I had to open the playlist with "Wake Up" just because it always sounded so arresting when it roared in over the credits at the end of The Matrix.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition
Vol. 87: Chuck Berry
Vol. 88: Electric Light Orchestra
Vol. 89: Chic
Vol. 90: Journey
Vol. 91: Yes
Vol. 92: Soundgarden
Vol. 93: The Allman Brothers Band
Vol. 94: Mobb Deep
Vol. 95: Linkin Park
Vol. 96: Shania Twain
Vol. 97: Squeeze
Vol. 98: Taylor Swift
Vol. 99: INXS
Vol. 100: Stevie Wonder
Vol. 101: The Cranberries
Vol. 102: Def Leppard
Vol. 103: Bon Jovi
Vol. 104: Dire Straits
Vol. 105: The Police
Vol. 106: Sloan
Vol. 107: Peter Gabriel
Vol. 108: Led Zeppelin
Vol. 109: Dave Matthews Band
Vol. 110: Nine Inch Nails
Vol. 111: Talking Heads
Vol. 112: Smashing Pumpkins
Vol. 113: System Of A Down
Vol. 114: Aretha Franklin
Vol. 115: Michael Jackson
Vol. 116: Alice In Chains
Vol. 117: Paul Simon
Vol. 118: Lil Wayne
Vol. 119: Nirvana
Vol. 120: Kix
Vol. 121: Phil Collins
Vol. 122: Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Vol. 123: Sonic Youth
Vol. 124: Bob Seger
Vol. 125: Radiohead
Vol. 126: Eric Church
Vol. 127: Neil Young
Vol. 128: Future
Vol. 129: Say Anything
Vol. 130: Maroon 5
Vol. 131: Kiss
Vol. 132: Dinosaur Jr.
Vol. 133: Stevie Nicks
Vol. 134: Talk Talk
Vol. 135: Ariana Grande
Vol. 136: Roxy Music
Vol. 137: The Cure
Vol. 138: 2 Chainz
Vol. 139: Kelis
Vol. 140: Ben Folds Five
Vol. 141: DJ Khaled
Vol. 142: Little Feat
Vol. 143: Brendan Benson
Vol. 144: Chance The Rapper
Vol. 145: Miguel
Vol. 146: The Geto Boys
Vol. 147: Meek Mill
Vol. 148: Tool
Vol. 149: Jeezy
Vol. 150: Lady Gaga
Vol. 151: Eddie Money
Vol. 152: LL Cool J
Vol. 153: Cream
Vol. 154: Pavement
Vol. 155: Miranda Lambert
Vol. 156: Gang Starr
Vol. 157: Little Big Town
Vol. 158: Thin Lizzy
Vol. 159: Pat Benatar
Vol. 160: Depeche Mode
Vol. 161: Rush
Vol. 162: Three 6 Mafia
Vol. 163: Jennifer Lopez

Monthly Report: January 2020 Albums

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

1. Little Big Town - Nightfall
Making a Little Big Town deep cuts playlist a couple months affirmed for me that they're one of my favorite country acts of the past decade, and that they had their harmony-driven sound really well figured on the early indie label albums the group co-produced, before they had some of Nashville's best producers and writers helping them make hits (I really recommend the recent Rolling Stone profile of the group). Nightfall is the first mostly self-produced Little Big Town album, and it captures their gorgeous harmonies and lovelorn ballads as well as any of their records with Jay Joyce, which is high praise from me, I particularly like "Next To You" and "Questions." Here's the 2020 albums Spotify playlist that I'll be putting pretty much every album I listen to in for the rest of the year.

2. Lil Wayne - Funeral
The album after the comeback album is a tricky one, and after Carter V was just good enough and just big enough to officially end Lil Wayne's wilderness period but not so good or so big that the public was clamoring for more, my hopes weren't too high for Funeral. But this is a good album, better than Carter V by a decent margin while still having most of the same strengths (once again, 2 Mannie Fresh productions that make me wish they'd do a whole album together again) and weaknesses (way too long, halfheartedly trying to serve way too many demographics and radio formats). Aside from the de rigueur "Dreams & Nightmares" knockoff intro and Adam Levine power ballad, it's really pretty impressively consistent. "Not Me" is far and away my favorite truck but I also enjoy that the only Migos feature is Takeoff, and that Lil Baby shows up as basically Lil Wayne's musical grandson who doesn't actually resemble him much at all.

3. Mac Miller - Circles
Few artists in popular music have earned nearly all of their respect in the time after they landed a #1 album, but Mac Miller worked his way into the hearts of his peers and discriminating rap fans in the 7 years between 2011's Blue Slide Park and his tragic death in 2018. Perennial white rapper skeptic that I am, I remember listening to Swimming before he died with my proverbial arms still folded a little, aware of his talent and his creative growth but not entirely won over, I'd see clips of him playing piano or guitar and be like see, I wanna hear more from that guy. A musician's death doesn't often change my perception of their work much, but I have to admit the vulnerability and sadness of Miller's later work sounds a lot more poignant to me now, particularly songs on here like the heartbreaking "Good News." Jon Brion produced and/or played on a lot of my favorite singer/songwriter records of the last 30 years as well as one of my favorite rap albums, Late Registration, so him being the guy who shepherded Circles to completion after Miller's death also does a lot to ingratiate the album to me, I didn't want to immediately do a 180 on Mac and suddenly become a fan of his whole catalog but I'm definitely ready to appreciate a lot more of it after this album.

4. K. Michelle - All Monsters Are Human
K. Michelle's always had a Memphis twang in her music and the occasional country song, which attracted more interest last year after "Old Town Road," and apparently she recorded an entire country album that Atlantic declined to put out. Now that she's off the label, All Monsters Are Human is her first independent album, and it's not the country record, but it definitely feels like she's relaxed and doing songs in any style she feels like doing, I particularly like "All The Lovers" and "Something New." "I Don't Like You" is classic K. Michelle, an angry and profane piano ballad like only she can do.

5. Moneybagg Yo - Time Served
It feels like the tide is still rising for Memphis rap right now, last week Yo Gotti and Key Glock dropped albums (as did K. Michelle) and earlier in the month my favorite of the new wave of Memphis guys, Moneybagg Yo, got his best first week numbers to date. I think it's kind of in the middle of the pack of his last few projects, but it's solid. "Protect Da Brand" has an amazing beat, "1 2 3" and "U Played" are hits, Moneybagg and Lil Baby is always a golden combination.

6. Secs - Doer
Rjyan "Cex" Kidwell has made so many records over the years that I've never been able to keep up with all of them, but I try to pop in and see what he's up to here and there, and a new one hit Bandcamp just the other day under his homonym alias Secs. It's a fairly short record with a really wide range of sounds packed into it, I particularly like the more bright, melodic, playful-sounding stuff like "4 Puny Periods" but there's some cool abrasive, borderline industrial-sounding beats too.

7. Halsey - Manic
I've always been a Halsey skeptic, but she's grown on me a little over the past year or two, she's both my wife's and my producer's favorite pop star of the moment, and the two (!) episodes of "Saturday Night Live" she did in the promo cycle for this album had some pretty impressive performances. Manic is still a little hit and miss for me, her voice still grates when she hits the stagey vocal affectations on "Clementine," but there are some great production here, I really dig "You Should Be Sad" and "I Hate Everybody."

8. Mick Jenkins - The Circus EP
I'm never sure how well regarded or well known Mick Jenkins is, feels like he doesn't get as much love as he should from the prestige rap crowd, or maybe his buzz has already peaked. But his shit is really consistently excellent, it's kinda nice to get a 7-song stopgap EP even if it feels like an appetizer for whatever full-length is in the pipeline, I particularly like "I'm Convinced."

9. Louis Tomlinson - Walls
The deck seemed stacked against Louis Tomlinson, the last member of One Direction to put out a solo album and the one with the weakest singles chart track record, even before the bad omen of an alpaca named after him being decapitated on Netflix on his album's release date. But Tomlinson is part of the faction of 1D that carries a torch for the group's jangly pop/rock side that I tend to root for, even if he's a bit more Britpop than Harry and Niall's solo stuff. This album was actually giving me heavy Oasis vibes even before I got to the title track and realized that it was written by Noel Gallagher. I kind of dig the lo-fi sound of the closing track "Only The Brave," I would've been fine with more tracks in that vein. The oldest single "Miss You" should've been included on the album, though, that was a good one.

10. Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By
After so many prolonged hiatuses and Eminem's general decline into self-parody, 3 albums in just over 2 years really seemed like overkill, but I have to admit, I think this one is pretty good, at least by the low standard of Revival and Kamikaze. The production is varied and playful, his delivery doesn't have that strained constipated tone too often, there's only one or two saccharine pop hooks and only one or two tastless punchlines about pop singers, and a pretty good posse cut with Q-Tip and Black Thought. I didn't think I wanted an Eminem/Young M.A collaboration but "Unaccomodating" is pretty good. It's not a great album or anything, but it's kind of in the neighborhood of what I'd come up with if I was executive producing an Eminem album.

The Worst Album of the Month: 070 Shake - Modus Vivendi
I didn't think much of 070 Shake's weird warbling on Kanye's 2018 projects, but I was kind of confused about what her whole deal is enough to listen to her album and read some interviews. And I've come away from those with the conclusion that she's yet another Kid Cudi disciple in the G.O.O.D. Music orbit who can't really rap well or sing well or write well and heard three rock albums and decided to make some half-assed underproduced gestures at making "alternative" music.

TV Diary

Monday, February 03, 2020

a) "Avenue 5"
I more or less assumed Armando Iannucci would continue to make shows in the vein of "Veep" and "The Thick Of It," and I can't say that "Avenue 5" isn't that at all. But setting the story in the future on a spaceship with fairly high production values is a big enough cosmetic change of pace that the familiar Iannucci themes of hapless leaders profanely squabbling behind closed doors and trying to avoid disaster at least have a new coat of paint. Zach Woods as always steals every scene he's in, and I'm amused by the meta aspect of Hugh Laurie as an American spaceship captain who's actually a British actor pretending to be a real captain who lets his accent slip when he's stressed out.

b) "The Outsider"
One of my favorite miniseries of the last few years that I really wished had become an ongoing series was "The Night Of," so "The Outsider" kind of scratches that itch by being another Richard Price murder mystery co-starring Bill Camp while also being a Stephen King adaptation with a whole eerie supernatural element to the story that is still slowly unfolding. And having Price's hard-boiled crime fiction treatment of a King story kind of grounds it in a way it might not otherwise feel like it's happening in the world we live in. As someone who's kind of been a skeptic of Jason Bateman doing dark dramatic stuff like "Ozark," he was the right person for this really ambiguous role and I was impressed by his direction of the first 2 episodes. I've loved Julianne Nicholson in everything I've seen her in so I appreciate the meaty role she's got in this, I'm really rooting for her to get major recognition and awards in the next few years. I'm more on the fence about Cynthia Erivo's very over-the-top quirky character, don't know where they're going with her.

c) "Sanditon"
I've always had a soft spot for Jane Austen and took an Austen class in college and thought I'd read all her novels, but I didn't realize there was an unfinished book she was working on when she died, which had been published in various forms with other writers trying to finish the story in her voice. So this TV adaptation continues in that spirit, using what Austen wrote as source material for the first episode, and then continuing the story from there. And it's pretty excellent so far, great production values and engaging cast, enough familiar Austen tropes and themes but the seaside resort town setting is kind of novel and distinct.

d) "Medical Police"
"Childrens Hospital" ended a long 7-season run on a few years ago, and now Netflix has an equally silly spinoff where Erinn Hayes and Rob Huebel's characters become government spies trying to stop a virus outbreak. It's pretty entertaining, although I kinda wish they'd stuck with Adult Swim-style 11-minute episodes instead of the more traditional half hour.

e) "The Stranger"
This British mystery series debuted on Netflix on Friday, and I was very amused to watch the first episode and note the subplot where an alpaca farmer named her animals after all the members of One Direction and Take That, and the Louis alpaca wound up decapitated (Louis Tomlinson's debut solo album was also released on Friday). The premise of the show, where this mysterious stranger shows up one day and tells a guy a crazy secret about his family and his whole life unravels as he tries to find out if it's true and who the stranger is, is pretty intriguing, I really have no idea where this story is gonna wind up.

f) "Messiah"
I like Michelle Monaghan and think she doesn't get enough roles that show what she's capable of. I was frustrated when she spent 3 seasons on Hulu's "The Path," a somber and somewhat dull show about a cult. But now that that's over, she's jumped to Netflix's "Messiah," another extremely serious and kind of boring show about religion. Someone get her a gig where she gets to show the personality and comic timing she had in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, please.

g) "Party Of Five"
I never watched "Party Of Five" much in the '90s, but I thought it was interesting that the new version of the show, which flips the premise where a family's parents are arrested by ICE and deported rather than dying, actually came from the same creators as the original show. I mean, it's certainly a timely concept, although I can't help but feel like it's kind of a different show simply because the kids can still Facetime with their parents and argue with them.

h) "Everything's Gonna Be Okay"
I'm not sure how deliberate it was that Freeform debuted this show, which is about a twentysomething raising his younger siblings after the deaths of their parents in a story that can't help but recall "Party Of Five," a week after their new version of "Party Of Five." But that's not really a good lens to look through too much, since they're very different shows, and I much prefer "Everything's Gonna Be Okay," which is much more a comedy from Australian creator/star Josh Thomas, whose previous show "Please Like Me" seemed to be pretty well regarded. The father who dies in the first episode was a really genuinely likable, fully realized character which made the loss really feel tragic, and I'm also really impressed by Kayla Cromer, a young actress on the autism spectrum whose character, Matilda, is also on the spectrum, just a really winning and nuanced performance.

i) "Dracula"
This is from the same creators as "Sherlock," so it continues that series' very annoying habit of a season being divided into three 90-minute episodes. British TV is just insane, c'mon, those are feature films. This isn't nearly as good as "Sherlock," which I have mixed feelings about anyway, but there are things I enjoyed, particularly when a nun argued with Dracula about the silliness of his inability to

j) "Endlings"
I feel like shows that are 'for the whole family' sometimes end up not really appealing to kids or adults, this Canadian sci-fi show is kind of cutesy and centered on young characters, but I don't think my kids would like it at all, and I find it pretty bland and boring. Some of the alien creature design is kind of cool and novel, though.

k) "The Healing Powers Of Dude"
A cute little Netflix show about a kid who takes his emotional support dog to school. I'm perturbed by Tom Everett Scott playing the generic dad/husband since he's still the generic dad/husband on a much better show that I hope isn't going anywhere, "I'm Sorry," but this show does amusingly sort of reunite him with his That Thing You Do! co-star Steve Zahn (who voices Dude the dog).

l) "Dare Me"
After "Euphoria," I find something kind of refreshing about edgy teen shows that don't feel like they're trying quite so hard to be edgy. It's good to see Herizen Guardiola land a lead role after being a breakout star on "The Get Down," and the show is entertainingly tense and soapy and at times gets pretty real.

m) "Cheer"
I feel kind of bad for "Dare Me," a decent drama about cheerleaders, because it seems to have gotten a fraction of the attention that "Cheer," a Netflix docuseries about cheerleaders has gotten. People really seem to be obsessed with this show, I kinda don't get it, I guess it's alright though.

n) "Night On Earth"
There have been so many good nature docuseries in recent years but not a lot of novelty or technical innovation in the genre, so I'm really enjoying this Netflix series filmed entirely at night with really impressive cameras that don't make everything look like infrared night vision goggles. There's still kind of an eerie 'off' quality to the colors and lights sometimes but I feel like that adds to the ambience of the show, and they've gotten some amazing footage.

o) "Pandemic: How To Prevent An Outbreak"
A Netflix docuseries that kind of happened to come out at a timely moment with all the Coronavirus news. One thing that I like about this show is that it's much more about putting a human face on the people working in this field, their day-to-day experiences in researching and dealing with viral outbreaks in their own words, my wife does work in this area so I'm interested in that angle being taken.

p) "The Circle"
A deeply weird, sort of diabolical Netflix reality show competition where people live in an apartment building but never meet while interacting on a closed circuit social media network and trying to manipulate and catfish each other into winning popularity contests for a cash prize. I kind of admire the evil genius that it took to create this show but I don't actually enjoy watching it.

q) "Alaska PD"
Maybe it's because it's on A&E, the same network where I used to watch hours of "Northern Exposure" reruns, but I was vaguely hoping "Alaska PD" would have gently quirky slice of life scenes where a moose blocks the road, but apparently they're dealing with a real crime wave up in Alaska these days, shit is no joke.

r) "Sex, Explained"
It's kind of funny to hear Janelle Monae narrate a docuseries about sex with the same blank affected voice she uses for album interludes about androids and stuff. This show is pretty well done, though, I would actually consider showing this to my kids when they hit puberty to answer some of their questions.

s) "Kipo And The Age Of Wonderbeasts"
I'm really enjoying this Netflix cartoon about a dystopia 200 years in the future where humans live underground and some kids go up to the surface and meet all the talking mutant animals that live there, the premise is kind of dark but it's really charming and the neon anime aesthetic looks pretty cool.

t) "Go! Go! Cory Carson"
A very cutesy little Netflix cartoon about talking cars, my 4-year-old likes it but unfortunately not as much as he likes the far more annoying "Blaze and the Monster Machines"

u) "Evil"
CBS's was my favorite new fall show of 2019, and last week's finale was great and set things up interestingly for the second season. After several episodes of toying with whether the possessions and miracles in the show were real or illusions with rational explanations, they've pushed further out into wilder and wilder storylines while still having these realistic, funny, observational vignettes about modern media and the legal system, such a unique balancing act this show pulls off. 

v) "Shrill"
The first season of "Shrill" ended last year with such a eye-rolling wish fulfillment storyline where the protagonist tracked down her comments section troll and he went "I just hate myself and you're such a good writer" and hit on her (I vaguely remember the creator of the show, Lindy West, feuding on Twitter a lot, then deleting her account and writing about leavng Twitter). But the second season is a little bitter, I feel like the show has kinda found its footing, and also gave more screentime to the funniest character, Ruthie (played by Patti Harrison). Julia Sweeney is on the show less now, but I feel like her time is better spent on "Work In Progress" anyway. Watching woman-centered shows like this and "Girls" and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," I keep seeing shows open with these male love interests start out totally unlikable, continue to be really shitty, and the lead characters keep them around and it just gets so exasperating, I guess that's realistic and fuels drama but I'd love if Annie broke up with Ryan on this show and you never saw him again, he's just terrible.

w) "Sex Education"
The 2nd season opened with a masturbation montage set to a choral Divinyls cover, I dunno if I'm gonna stick it out with this ridiculous show. The cast is charming but it's just kind of silly, and often not enough Gillian Anderson.

x) "Diablero"
Of all the dozens of foreign language shows I've watched on Netflix with dubbed dialogue or subtitles in the last few years, the Mexican series "Diablero" is by far my favorite, so I'm really glad it's back for a second season. The balance of dark, surreal storylines and dry humor is pulled off really well, would recommend it to fans of "Preacher" or "The Magicians," even the special effects have a pretty cool look to them for not being super high budget.

y) "The Good Place"
Because "The Good Place" exists in a world where the characters can shake the etch-a-sketch and start over again and again, it kinda feels like the show is an open writer's room where you get to see the architects of the afterlife keep trying new scenarios and then hit the reset button. So the final season has kind of felt like they decided to do every finale the writers proposed in a different episode, and then they'd reset and try something else the next week, which can be a little exhausting. But I thought they pretty much stuck the landing with that last episode, it leaned a bit more on emotion than comedy at times but it felt earned.

z) "Grace And Frankie"
Now that we know "Grace And Frankie" is ending after the 7th season, it feels like the 6th season is traversing a predictable arc of the title characters being driven apart a little bit by Grace's marriage to Nick, so that they'll kind of return to the way things were by the end of the series. Or maybe not, I dunno, but I'm glad the show is still going strong after this long, I really just enjoy spending time with these characters and listening to them argue.