Friday, July 30, 2004

I liked Kerry's acceptance speech last night. This could be wishful thinking, but I really think he will win in November, barring some unforeseen circumstances like a terrorist attack or some huge skeleton in his closet coming to light. A lot of super-left wing people, including a pretty huge number of my friends, need to chill on Kerry. He's not perfect. He's not even great. He's just good. And good is fucking amazing compared to what we have right now. Don't talk up Nader to me right now if you don't want me to go off on you.

The Young Buck track with T.I. and Luda going at each other is OK. It's pretty obvious that T.I. recorded his verse before Luda; his dis is a pretty weak semi-subliminal. He's going to have to do better than "me getting beat down? that's ludicrous." Luda kept it pretty light too, but I love it when he says "you're worth a couple hundred grand and I'm worth meeeeelyons!" T.I. should maybe consider not dissing people who are going to destroy him. With the Lil Flip beef, it's at least conceivable that he could beat Flip. But if this Luda beef continues, Luda is going to eat T.I. for breakfast and still have room left for a big bowl of Golden Grahams. Young Buck is from Nashville. I wonder if he's ever met Cowboy Troy.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Before Sunset just killed me. It's rare that a movie, even a good one, will have me on the edge of my seat for its entire running time; I'll usually zone out for at least a couple of minutes. This one, I didn't even want to get up and go to the bathroom until it was over. And it did all this with just dialogue and characters. In a lot of ways, it was really similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it achieved all the same things without the benefit of dazzling narrative whizjets. And I like dazzling narrative whizjets. I was completely in love with these characters after seeing Before Sunrise, and now it's worse. I want more movies about these people now. The movie manages to be competely romantic but still bitterly observant of the passage of time and the inevitability of regrets. And Ethan Hawke may look kind of like a rat now, but Julie Delpy is even more breathtaking. Can I have a sequel to Reality Bites now, please?

Also killing me in a completely different way: Crunk Classics. Actually, it's not a totally different way; both Before Sunset and Crunk Classics remind me real seriously of college - Before Sunset because it reminds me of the super-long, intense, involved conversations I'd have with housemates at like 4 in the morning when we had class in a few hours, and Crunk Classics because it reminds me of spending countless hours watching BET and seeing the Iconz' "Get Crunked Up" video like 40 times. ("Get Crunked Up" is a rare example of the edited-for-airplay version of a song being better than the dirty version. It sounds so much better than "Get Fucked Up"). There are some questionable inclusions ("Raise Up"? The version of "Bia Bia" without Ludacris on it?), but the whole thing maintains this continuous stark and aggressive but totally fun and inclusive feel. I will so be bumping this in the car. Also, how had I never heard "Knuckle Up"? "Knuckle Up" is amazing!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Here's me on Starscape, Baltimore's big huge annual outdoor rave thing, in the City Paper. Never again. And here's me on Nina Sky in Neumu. Don't tell me how hard I rocked these pieces. I already know.

Ragga Ragga Ragga 2004 is hot and all - the new beats just continue to be ridiculous incredible. But the vocals on most of the tracks are mixed way too high, and they usually just kind of grate and get in the way of the music. It's like, hey Vybz Kartel, shut up, I'm trying to hear this beat! It reminds me of how the worst thing about Elephant Man's Good 2 Go was Elephant Man himself - the beats were amazing, but Elephant Man wouldn't get out of their way or even work with them. He had to sort of run all over the place on top of them, almost ignored them. One of the things that made, like, late-90s Cash Money so great was the way the vocals were mixed low enough that they ended up being just another gear in a huge, slick machine - you could pay attention to Lil Wayne if you wanted, but it was just as easy to tune him out and just listen to the laser noises. Ragga x3 2K4 seems to be going for hardcore bluster, but I'll take Sean Paul/Wayne Marshall smooveness over Vybz Kartel splutter any day of the week. The best tracks on the comp are the ones where the MCs stay low and get in the pocket. You know who's really good at doing that? Bounty Killer! I'd forgotten how great that guy is; he's got a more compelling presence onstage than just about anyone I've ever seen live, and he keeps his growling from overwhelming the tracks. The new jacks just don't seem ready to do that. One of the frustrating things about the current dancehall boom is that it generates great single after great single but seems totally unable to come up with a classic album, not even a compilation. Or if it has, I haven't heard it. Is Ragga Ragga Ragga 2003 better?

Speaking of smooveness, how slick was Bill Clinton on Monday night? He is like the white Jay-Z. I have no particular love for the guy, but it already seems like millions of years ago when politicians had that kind of effortless charisma. The TV presentation of the convention was just fucking terrible, by the way. One of the things I don't like about going to protests is the way I know I'm not going to get my picture in the paper unless I wear Kiss makeup and ride around on a unicycle. If five hundred thousand perfectly normal people and one guy dressed like Uncle Sam on stilts show up to a protest, Uncle Sam is going to be the guy on the front page of the paper the next day. You'd think the networks would get their shit a little bit more together to cover a major-party political convention, but no. The camera always manages to find the idiots in the Dr. Seuss top hats. Or Michael Moore sitting all stoney-faced and stroking his beard and wearing a blanket, looking like Rasputin or something. Or fucking Jerry Springer. Jerry Springer got on camera. Come on now.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Fun with Statcounter! Since the Freaky Trigger link yesterday, almost half of the people reading this blog are British. Hi, British people! Also, hi, Australian, Dutch, Argentinean, Spanish, Japanese, and, um Iraqi people! The one guy from Iraq was Googling "Rancid + Murs", though. Good luck with that! Keep ya head up, dude! Also, a lot of people end up here by Googling "Lance Armstrong + Sheryl Crowe". I don't have any inside information to offer these people. Oh, my aunt went to college with Sheryl Crowe! They were in the same sorority. My aunt used to buy beer for Sheryl Crowe when she was underage. That's an exclusive scoop!

Other incestuous blog stuff: Government Names takes Catchdubs to school. Clap back, Nick!

Also, Jess Harvell has a new blog. Jess is an amazing writer, and it looks like he's actually going to be updating this one, so act like you know.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

"Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)"! That is my shit right there! I was outside Lexington Market, Baltimore's enormous, sprawling, ghetto-as-hell food court, and I heard it blasting out of a passing SUV! It was a white guy driving and everything, but still! Lexington Market! SUV! "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)"! That's what the fuck I'm talking about! Official summer jam!

The album is pretty good, but it doesn't really come close to approaching the heights of the single. Chuck Eddy's review in the Voice had me expecting some kind of country Kish Kash, and it's nothing like that. (Fun anecdote: my brother, who lives in New York, skimmed the review and decided he wanted the album, so he went looking for it at Other Music because he figured it was some crazy underground experimental ish.) More than half the thing sounds to these untrained ears like standard modern country, albeit very good standard modern country. The rapping, when it appears, is mostly really bad (Hey Cowboy Troy! Don't brag about being tall when you are only 6'4"! You will be taken to school!), and a few of the other parts are way hokey, but it's still the best soundtrack to cleaning the kitchen of the year, and it sounds pretty effing great between Andrew WK and Bubba Sparxxx.

Hey NYLPM Mafia! Thanks for the link! But what does it mean that this blog is breezy? That's good, right? Like Cover Girl?

From the new Baltimore City Paper, here's me on the current explosion of neo-avant-folkish bands in Baltimore, an article that I spent fucking months writing. The final product has been severely cut for space, and it's kind of marred by the photo of some of the principals acting like dicks. E-mail me for the O.G. version if you're interested. Also in the new City Paper: my photo! Sort of. There's this article on all the different dance nights, and you can see my face in the first photo in the article, from Taxidermy Lodge at the Talking Head. I'm all blurry in the background, upper right to the left of the dude's hat. At least I think that's me. It's nothing special or anything, but I've never had my picture in the paper before, and it's kind of weird that it would appear so unwittingly close to an article that I wrote.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I had somehow managed to avoid hearing Big & Rich before this morning, when I read the NYLPM Mafia losing their shit over "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)". I've since spent the better part of the day dredging the internet for their stuff. Holy shit, dudes, Big & Rich totally own! I am so buying that album on the way home from work today.
Artscape, the City of Baltimore's annual big, sloppy free summer kiss to its population, was this weekend, and it was way awesomer than usual, mostly because the temperature remained under 90 for the better part of the weekend and most of the nostalgia acts actually existed as artistic entities during my lifetime. De La Soul's greatest-hits set was sort of disappointing - those dudes don't exactly crackle with charisma onstage. They brought out Busy Bee, who looked sort of ridiculous in wraparound sunglasses and dreads and bounced after doing absolutely nothing for two seconds. Dudes, if you're going to bring out my favorite old-school rapper, like, ever, please let him rap! Thank you! The Violent Femmes may be the second-whitest band in the world ever (after They Might Be Giants), but their greatest-hits set was totally generous, inclusive, and enjoyable. "American Music" is my jam! And most of the frat boys didn't even storm off in a huff when they did a song dissing Bush! Yeah Artscape!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I got a nice little package in the mail from a couple of days ago with some a couple of expensive-ass little platters. The Junior Boys album is, like, chillout electopop Coldplay. I like it! But I don't quite get what the big deal is. A lot of very, very smart blog heads are all over them, but it just kinda sounds like pretty microhouse to me. I'll keep listening to it, but it hasn't popped out at me as a work of genius yet, and I have no idea where all the Timbaland references are coming from.

A while ago, Nate Patrin said that vocals-wise Wiley was like Method Man to Dizzee Rascal's Ghostface. I think he's more like RZA to Dizzee's RZA. These grime guys are not so much about flow mastery; they seem to be more about gruff bursts of syllable explosion, and I can't understand what they're saying through the accent half the time (which still has them way ahead of most dancehall dudes). But the production is real, real serious. It's like Wiley stripped all the empty space and immersive bass rumbles from Timbaland tracks and then played everything else on 45. These are some incredibly dense, complicated tracks, and they have that sort of jittery feeling of when you're really tired so you drink way, way too much coffee quickly and your palms start sweating and your stomache hurts. When OK Computer came out, Thom Yorke said in interviews that Radiohead was trying to musically induce nausea in the listener. This Wiley shit is some crunk nausea. It's hot.

Please Hopper don't hurt em! That stuff about Stephin Merritt dressed like Orville Redinbacher just about made me spit out my tapwater. Anyone want to take bets on what band she's talking about? The Walkmen? Jets to Brazil? Um, like, Braid? Blow ya whistle, Jessica! Name some names!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Ew, yo. I will so not be buying the Infinite Livez album. Hey Simon Reynolds! The best hip-hop album of the year is called The Pretty Toney Album, and it's by Ghostface! And I didn't realize until just now, but one of the great things about Ghostface is that he isn't a British rapper who talks about lactating and having sex with monkeys. The Pretty Toney Album, Simon. You might want to check into it.

Low Budget from Hollertronix has been DJ'ing a lot around Baltimore lately, and I finally made it out to one of his things last night. I didn't stay long because the Talking Head is mad sketchy lately and I didn't hardly know anyone there, but Low Budget gets big props for playing "Ring My Bell" and Biggie in a room full of hipsters. I learned something when the other DJ played "At Home He's a Tourist" back to back with "Out of the Races and onto the Tracks": the Rapture is better than Gang of Four. More urgent, better baselines, thicker production. I know what I'm talking about; I bought Entertainment! on like Sunday and I've listened to it maybe three times! It's over! Sorry!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Have you guys seen Anchorman yet? Oh, dudes, that movie is fucking effing funny. It's really just about as good as I could possibly imagine it would be. Recent studio comedies tend to go in one of two directions: they're either driven by some lame attempt to be heartwarming or at least cute, or they're driven by fart jokes. Along Came Polly somehow managed to be both, which might make it the worst movie ever made. Anchorman does neither; it is pure, wicked comedy all the way through. It doesn't even worry about making sense, and it barely even has a plot. The reviews I've read (OK, that's just the ones in Entertainment Weekly and the Village Voice) completely miss something; it's like these people saw a different movie. They criticize the acting or the plot or whatever, but they don't seem to get that it's just a big anarchic joyful mess. You could probably draw a parallel to something like Zoolander, but I'm tempted to say that it's even better. This could be just because I've seen both Along Came Polly and Duplex in the past couple of months and now I sort of hate Ben Stiller, but the bear fight? The rumble between the networks? The a capella "Afternoon Delight"? What? Do yourself a favor and go see this movie. And maybe smoke a bowl beforehand.

I was walking from the bus stop to work this morning, and some dude looked at me all pissed off and spat out "You a bitch, man" when I was walking past. Baltimore has no shortage of crazy fucking people, but this one really sort of jarred me. Did I somehow offend that guy some other time and not remember? What made him think I'm a bitch? The glasses? The messenger bag? The dorky-ass work clothes? Is it because I'm tall and skinny? Or because I'm white? As a white guy who lives in a mostly poor-and-black city, should I just be expected to put up with stuff like that? Why didn't I just clock him in the fucking face as soon as he said it? Any help would be appreciated. Hit me up.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Once again it's on! It's the...
Quarterly Report

I should make the quick disclaimer that I still haven't heard all the records I wanted to hear in the past three months. So Brother Ali, Wiley, Junior Boys, 8 Ball & MJG, Jason Forrest, AC Newman, and Secret Machines will have to wait until October, when I will be the millionth person to blog about them.

Top 5 Albums

1. Ghostface - The Pretty Toney Album. I know I said a lot of nice things about Kanye earlier in the year, but there's just no way dude can compete with this fucking beast, this vein-popping, sweat dripping mic-ripping monster. Ghost's force and intensity are pretty much unparalleled in hip-hop history; he is one of the great ones, and this is his best album. A lot of people look at "Tush" and "Ghostface" as unnecessary commercial concessions. Bullshit, I say. The former is a blazing sex jam, and I'm not one to hate sex. The latter is simply a hot plastic synth beat, and Ghostface can do crazy things with one of those (remember the "Special Delivery" remix?). The other criticism is that he leaves off all his best mixtape work. Well, I haven't heard most of that stuff, so I can't say, but what's left doesn't sound like dregs to me. (Anyone want to tell me which mixtape I should cop? Hit me up!) "Run" is probably the most thrilling track in years. "Save Me Dear" just sparkles. The rest... I just can't come up with enough good things to say about this album. Too many incomprehensible skits. Other than that, pure gold.

2. The Hold Steady - ...Almost Killed Me. I miss the keyboard whizjets and unifying storylines of Craig Finn's work with Lifter Puller, but the Hold Steady album adds up to something powerful. Now Finn has an expert rock band, well schooled in every aspect of crowd-pleasing bar-band theatrics: the out-of-nowhere ringing guitar riff, the Clarence Clemons sax solo, the slow build. This sort of orthodox chuggery might seem like an odd fit for Finn's dense, tangled, refractory lyrical fragments and his rough nasal blurt, but Finn is the great poet of the suburban lowlife life, and he's made an album that his characters would love. You'd love it, too.

3. The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free. What else can I say about this album? How about this: my brother called me from New York last month all breathless. Him: "Dude, have you heard the new Streets album? I just bought it and listened to it for the first time and oh my God..." Me: "Dude, I know." I don't quite get all the pieces of the story (must be the whole English thing), but the part where he's playing with the ashtray and peeling the beer label? The swoosh when the E kicks in? The second part of "Empty Cans"? Dude, I know.

4. Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing in the Hands. My top three albums of the past three months (which are also my three favorites of the year thus far) are all dense with text, which isn't something I expected. But I love the specificity of the lyrics these guys come up with, the way they can evoke feelings not just musically but by describing the room they (or their characters) are sitting in, the contents of their pockets, the mosquito bite on their upper arm, whatever. Devendra Banhart is the furthest thing from this. I have no idea what he's talking about. His lyrics, his voice, and his music all seem to have emerged mysteriously out of the fog of an imaginary past, a hazy Narnia kind of thing. He looks and sounds like a muppet version of a dustbowl folksinger, but his arrangements are vaguely Eastern in their circularity, and the whole thing ends up being oddly but extremely comforting. There are all these new folkish bands in Baltimore, and I just got done writing an article about them. One guy I interviewed (Walker from Walker and Jay, heads) said that he believed the function of the artist in uncertain times was to ground people, to make them feel sane. I don't know if he's right, but a lot of this stuff is doing the trick. And Devendra is the best of these guys, so act like you know.

5. Erland Oye - DJ Kicks. This was a hotly contested spot. Sorry, !!!, On Air Library, Espers, and Ratatat! Better luck next time! This isn't a party record, obviously. It serves pretty much the same purpose as the Devendra Banhart album, which is to lull you into a blissful coma and occasionally slap you upside the head with a catchy-ass little part. Oye doesn't mix or beatmatch, doesn't take you on a journey, doesn't even particularly make you want to dance most of the time. He sings, which is cool but not incredible or anything. What he does beautifully is cultivate a mood, a hazy glossy swooshy 15-dollar-drink bleepy-bleep disco mood. Incidentally, how do you pronounce this guy's name? I've been saying "oh-yay", but I'm not sure that's right.

Top 5 Singles

1. Nina Sky feat. Jabba - Move Ya Body. You know it and I know it. This song is like ice cream on a hot summer day. Nicole and Natalie are breezy, proud, confident, sexy, utterly in control, completely owning a ridiculously hot beat. As David Drake has noted, the "can you feel the beat" part is lovely. The deal-maker for me is the gloriously redundant synth line at the end, which totally just repeats the chorus. Oh my God this song rules.

2. The Streets - Dry Your Eyes. I don't mean to get all emo on you dudes but the "there's things I can't imagine doing, things I can't imagine seeing" bit got me right here, completely tapped into the feeling of floaty helpless fear you can sometimes get when you give yourself entirely over to one person. Mike Skinner talks in the "dude talking on the phone to a girl" voice, a little bit whiney and mumbley, which is perfect for the song. And it has a hook! Apparently Chris Martin was supposed to sing the hook but didn't because of contractual weirdness or something. Fuck you, Capitol Records! Let the boy sing! (You guys know I really like Coldplay, right? I totally do!)

3. Mr. Vegas - Pull Up. Yes, the Coolie Dance rhythm pretty much owns the summer, but it's not like Diwali last summer. I didn't even realize that "Get Busy" and "No Letting Go" had the same beat until I read it somewhere. Coolie Dance is instantly identifiable; that ridonkulous bongo disco spazzout thing is just to great for any engineer to bury it in the mix. Nina Sky sounded cool and comfortable over the beat, but Mr. Vegas sounds frantic and horny, like he's trying to impress girls by running all over the place trying to keep up with this crazy thing. Hey! Hey, ladies! Look at me!

4. Yung Wun feat. DMX, David Banner & Lil Flip - Tear it Up. It seems like the most natural, obvious thing in the world to combine crunk with Southern black college marching band music, but as far as I can tell the only precendents for this track are Bubba Sparxxx's "Overcome" and the part of Drumline where the evil marching band comes out with Petey Pablo. It's a shame DMX doesn't rap on this; he sounds great on the amped-up chorus, especially when he yells "aaah-AAAAH!" Swizz Beats, of all people, produces, and the mix is weirdly muddy and grimey. David Banner spits game to your wife and robs your house and walks away with the track in his pocket.

5. Lil Scrappy - No Problem. That piano! Lil Jon sounds like he's flipping the Goblin/Argento score for the original Dawn of the Dead, and those synth stabs are straight-up Night of the Comet. The video might (brilliantly) bite Training Day, but this is zombie movie crunk. The track isn't nearly as over-the-top as most Lil Jon productions; it's spare, eerie, low-key, and unsettling. Scrappy keeps it underhanded, sounding more like Willie D than Bone Crusher or whoever.

Honorable mention: J-Kwon - Hood Hop. What Lil Jon is to Timbaland, the TrackBoyz are to Lil Jon, stripping his music of all flourishes and idiosyncrasies and stripping it down to its bare essence, an industrial boom-snap pulse. The only TrackBoyz productions I've heard are this and "Tipsy", but holy shit. J-Kwon is just fine and all, but can you imagine what Scarface or Jadakiss or Brother Ali would do to a beat like this?

John Edwards for VP? Oh. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I'll take that. OK, yeah. I feel the kid. I guess voting for him in the primaries wasn't quite so pointless.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Michael Moore can be really irritating and sanctimonious. Many of his points are unconvincing, especially all that stuff about the Bushes' relationships with the Bin Ladin family. He often makes it way too easy for his opponents to discredit him. His stunts are rarely funny and can often seem Hempstead or cruel. For some reason, his movies always have lots of annoying banjo music. He preaches to the converted. He is one fat, ugly dude.

None of this takes anything substantial away from Fahrenheit 9/11, a truly moving, maddening, powerful piece of work. I may not have learned anything new from watching it, but the film is impossible to dismiss. I knew that the things that our government is doing are pure insanity, but I hadn't been exposed to the costs of these actions in any sort of visceral way before this. The images in Fahrenheit 9/11 aren't leaving my head anytime soon.

When I was in high school, I worked for a few summers at this camp for people with disabilities in the mountains in Western Maryland. It's literally right across the street from Camp David; you pass the entrance on your way up. My brother Jim is two years younger than me, and he also worked there for a few years. A couple of years ago, Bush became the first president since Eisenhower to visit the camp. There are scenes in the movie of Bush shaking hands with veterans as Moore's voice-over talks about how he's tried to drastically cut veterans' benefits. And at the camp he smiled and played with these kids, and then worked to cut their benefits. I wonder if he even sees a contradiction there. I wonder if he notices. I also wonder what I would've done if I'd still been working there then. My brother stood in front of this guy, this piece of shit, and shook his hand. I wonder if I would've done the same thing. Probably.