Thursday, September 30, 2004

Upcoming events:

November 11-12: Morrissey, Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, CA.
November 18-21: Billy Graham Crusade, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. With CeCe Winans!

Presidential Debate #1
6:07pm PST: Bush is already avoiding questions, not answering Jim Lehrer's second question (Do you think a Kerry election would end up in more terrorism in the U.S.?), because "I don't think that's going to happen," saying that he'll be re-elected, and going off on 2 minutes of "we've gotta stop the terrorists."

6:10pm: I never noticed before how much Bush looks like Alfred E. Neuman.

6:11pm: In response to Lehrer asking what "colossal misjudgements" of Bush's Kerry was referring to, Kerry responded, laughing, "Where do I begin?" Whoa. That's kinda ballsy.

6:13pm: Mr. Hussein's first name is pronounced "sah-DOM," people, not "sodom." I'm embarassed to note that Bush is (tonight) pronouncing it correctly, while Kerry is not.

6:14pm: Jim Lehrer is hard-muthafuckin'-core, a real taskmaster asking tough questions. Why can't we have him moderate every debate, ever?

6:25pm: Bush to troops: "We'll get you home as soon as the mission is done." Funny, don't see you spending 18 months (or such) over there, Bushie. And wow - then Kerry refutes, using Bush I's words against Bush II. Nice one.

6:29pm: The first utterance of the word "Vietnam," by Kerry.

6:31pm: The first utterance of the word "Haliburton," by Kerry.

6:33pm: Bush, frankly, sounds kind of petulant, and increasingly pissed off. I think we're getting the "vs. Weld" Kerry, but not the "vs. Richards" Bush.

6:41pm: The first reference to "flip-flopping" by Bush, phrased as "changing positions."

6:42pm: Kerry seems to be doing a good job of being succinct. This really is a different Kerry than the one we generally see on the stump.

6:46pm: Kerry's first reference to

6:48pm: C-SPAN rocks. I'm watching the debate on their main channel, with their "Debate Podium Watch," a splitscreen with both candidates always on camera. [C-SPAN2 is only showing the candidate speaking at any given time.] Flipped over to NBC and ABC, and was glad to see that they're ignoring the "rules" regarding showing candidates from the back, et cetera.

6:54pm: Bush is holding up Libya as a U.S. foreign policy victory?!

6:55pm: I love Kerry's continued use of "outsourc[ing]" to refer to Bush's handing the job of getting bin Laden to Afghan warlords - nice way to tie it in with Bush's jobs policies here in the U.S.

7:01pm: Kerry is starting to seem to have a little swagger, almost like he knows he's winning this debate. Eager to hear what the CNN analysts think.

7:04pm: Kerry's doing a very nice job hammering away at the Bush administration's stance on North Korea.

7:06pm: Wow! Lehrer is asking a question about Sudan! Very impressive. I'm so glad that all of this debate, focusing on foreign policy, isn't about Iraq and Al-Qeida.

7:16pm: It just occurred to me that I don't think I've seen Kerry take a single drink of water yet. Does the man have bizarrely overactive saliva glands?

7:21pm: I like Bush's necktie more (it's bluish-green), but think Kerry's red power tie looks more presidential.

7:24pm: Bush needs to stop saying "We looked at the same intelligence," regarding the war. So?

7:28pm: Bush, in his closing statement, made a point of stating that under him, ours would continue to be "an all-volunteer Army" - interesting that he's apparently feeling the heat of those suggesting the draft would be reinstituted under his watch.

Senator Kerry so won this debate.

Who the fuck Googles this?! [Or should I be more concerned that I was the #1 result?]

See, the problem with Ciara's "Goodies" is that she brings no goodies of her own to the song whatsoever. The Lil' Jon beat (he produced) is nice'n'hot - especially that seemingly-random bluesy guitar lick planted in the song's bridge - but neither Ciara nor Petey Pablo (one of the world's most boring rappers) adds anything to these "Goodies."

Speed round:

Love love loving the video for Kanye West's "The New Workout Plan"; not only is it hilarious, but it makes Anna Nicole Smith seem almost, well, normal. [Have you seen it yet?] But it's a remix - read, adds a verse by Bentley Farnsworth of all people - which means my favorite line is missing:
"All the mocha lattes/you gotta do Pilates"
- Kanye West, "The New Workout Plan" (The College Dropout, Roc-A-Fella 2004)
Can't have it all, I guess.

Speaking of vids, have you seen Alanis Morissette's "Eight Easy Steps"? [You can watch it here.] It's a must-see, and maybe not for the reasons you'd expect. It's a trip back through Alanis's career via video, in which some not-very-good effects are used to make her appear to be singing "Steps" in every one of her videos - and further back, all the way back to her birth. It includes her previous incarnation as a dance-pop diva in the early '90s, which is superbly fun to see, as well as her stint on You Can't Do That On Television in the '80s. But the effects are off somehow - there are points in the video when the lips singing aren't quite matched up with the face they're on, giving "Steps" a rather creepy quality which I find perversely delightful. Oh, and the song is the best single Alanis has put out there in years.

Speaking of good singles, in the shock and awe department, Fabolous has actually released one! As I've discussed before, I'm a big fan of his voice, and have always felt he's talented; he just hadn't released much to back that up, especially in terms of his singles. But "Breathe," from Fab's forthcoming Real Talk longplayer, is a certified smash, featuring excellent, cracklin' production and some ripping rhymes.

The new Travis Tritt/John Mellencamp duet, "What Say You," BTW, is the perfect record to spin in this nasty election year. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Marcello Carlin's blog, Koons Really Does Think He's Michelangelo, is back, thank goodness. And he's still smarter than most anyone in the blogiverse, as well, so you'd do well to read him.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Aretha's "Wholly Holy" is a wonder, one of her grandest, greatest singles, and sadly also one of her most overlooked. It didn't even crack the R&B top 40, so forget about pop - likely because "Holy" is (can you guess?) a gospel record. Taken from her 1972 back-to-church album Amazing Grace (recently reissued as a deluxe twofer by Rhino), "Holy," cowritten by no less than Marvin Gaye, is not only a clever bit of titular wordplay, but a towering monument to God's love. For us as listeners, it's also a monument to the Queen, as Aretha gives one of her more impassioned vocal performances - gospel brings that out in her, you know - soaring into the clouds on the wings of love. Now, I tend to find most of Aretha's gospel work triumphant (if you like Amazing Grace, definitely check for its "sequel," '87's One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism), but on this one song, everything counts in large amounts: choir, piano, arrangement, even crowd whoops and hollers all work together to augment and accent La Diva's performance. It's really pretty monumental, and, well, wholly holy to boot. [Couldn't resist.]

Whilst updating my resumé, et cetera, I was listening to my Launchcast for a bit (I still update it, you know. You should tune in sometime). Here's what it played for me:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Mystery Girl"
Transplants, "California Babylon"
The Cure, "Killing An Arab"
Meshell Ndegéocello f/Talib Kweli, "Hot Night"
Depeche Mode, "Dangerous"
LTJ Bukem, "After Hours"
Cocteau Twins, "Lorelei"
DJ Spooky, "Double Cross"
Luomo, "So You"
Underworld, "TwoMonthsOff"
Prince, "Adore"
Dizzee Rascal, "Imagine"

If "Party for Two" doesn't, finally, convince you that Shania Twain is the ABBA of modern times, nothing ever will. Similar to the way the Swedes' reputation has been resuscitated in the past decade, time will eventually be kinder to Shania and her husband/cowriter/producer, Robert John "Mutt" Lange. And boy-oh-boy is her forthcoming Greatest Hits absolutely stacked.

From the absolute opposite end of the C&W spectrum, George Strait's 50 Number Ones, out in 8 days, celebrates the fact that he's had more #1s on the country charts than anyone else - anyone. And its tracklisting, accordingly, is pretty damn undeniable.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Zhang Yimou's Hero is astonishing, a visual poem, lyrical like no film I've seen in years. An all-star roster of Chinese actors, including Zhang Ziyi, Maggie Cheung, and Jet Li, anchor the action in a film which is truly viewable, accessible art. Yimou is less concerned with narrative than visuals and tone here - but what visuals and tone! The colors are disgustingly rich, the sound appallingly brilliant. Hero's storyline is told very much in Rashomon style, from various viewpoints, and is never dull. Li plays a hero - or assassin - telling his story to the king of the Qin province, 2,000 years ago in pre-Chinese China. You don't know what will happen, period. This is a martial arts picture which takes lessons learned from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon even further, and is utterly gorgeous. Frankly, it's difficult to consolidate my feelings about Hero in the written word, chiefly because it's so sumptuous beyond words. A

I've moved my 2004 best-of lists to their own home (and updated them quite a goodly bit); right here's the spot.

How Southern Californian can I get? After less than 2 weeks here, this morning I was doing some shopping at Trader Joe's whilst sipping a Jamba Juice - and the Jamba was a Coldbuster with VitaBoost, to battle some congestion I've gotten as a result of the first spate of this year's Santa Ana winds. I mean, really. Later, the bf (who called in sick today, as I inadvertently got him sick, too) and I went to breakfast at La Dona Rosa. Huevos con machacas, yum.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Speed round:

Damn, I've missed CMT. If I watch much more, that Toby Keith single's gonna end up in my '04 top 10, Shelly Fairchild's gonna challenge Gretchen Wilson for rookie of the year, and I'm gonna start buying Keith Urban albums. His latest single, "Days Go By," just shows him, still, going from strength to strength. It's yet another buoyant-without-being-cloying uptempo live-your-life country rocker (or is that rockin' country?). Is Urban the best import from Australia since INXS? His Be Here album, which streets today in the U.S., has a shot at entering the album charts at #1, and you'd better belive I'm rooting for him.

Speaking of CMT, they've finally sold me on Mindy Smith, whose "Come to Jesus" single is one of the year's most haunting records. Might she be the new incarnation, this generation's version of an Emmylou Harris? It's a thought.

But wait, there's more: it just hit me why I'm so feelin' Trace Adkins's "Rough and Ready" - it's a Western swing record! I mean, Bob Wills damned near coulda cut this one.

My ethnic cuisine tour of L.A. continues, with Boba World on last weekend's agenda. Boba is, essentially, Asian tapioca, and is added to smoothies and is delicious and chewy. Had my first bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup (pho) there, too. Last night, the bf and I took in a late dinner in Koreatown at Tofu House. Let me tell you, Soon Tofu is the way to go; I was even diggin' the Kimchi. Yum. Who's up for Persian?

Wednesday night, four words: America's Next Top Model. Holla!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Re: the new Destiny's Child single: Harvell nails it, as is so often the case, getting the essence of "Lose My Breath," or at least its production. [Exciting! Exciting!] The vocals, on the other hand, sound a little bland-ish and un-Beyoncé-like, but that's allowable. You think the same thing would/will happen if JT deigns to do an *NSync reunion? Anyway, the return of DC is fine, as you might have anticipated.

Friday, September 17, 2004

"You were everything, everything that I wanted
We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it
And all the memories, so close to me, just fade away
All this time you were pretending
So much for my happy ending."

- Avril Lavigne, "My Happy Ending" (Under My Skin, Arista 2004)

Those are, actually, really good break-up lyrics, delivered perfectly with just the right amount of piss and vinegar by Lavigne. I refuse the idea of her as some sort of punk, but buy her as a getting-better pop-rocker, certainly. [And if she'd cut the raccoon mascara look, she might actually be pretty.] It pains me to cop to liking one of Avril's singles, but this might be one of 2004's best.

I forgot one in last night's Single File, oops. This has been the year of the new artist in country music (just start with Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson, and then go with anyone from Josh Turner to Julie Roberts), and that doesn't look to let up, especially if Shelly Fairchild lives up to the promise of her debut single, "You Don't Lie Here Anymore." This is Wilson-style country with a soupcon of Dixie Chicks and a dash of - dare I say it? - Queen Reba, fiesty and fierce. Fairchild's got a fine vocal prescence, and this song has one of the best titles of the year. Here's hoping she can keep it up.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Single file:

Toby Keith's "Stays In Mexico" is interesting precisely because it's not country; this is the sound of Toby making a pop-rock record (and he wrote it himself, too). The chukka-chukka guitar riff and popping bassline put this one soundly in the pop camp - and good for it! "Mexico" is the best single Toby's made in 2-3 years.
Addendum: it's also a country song which speaks of extramarital affairs in neutral terms, not judging them or extolling how bad they are. What's up with that?!

"Breaking the Habit" is Linkin Park at their logical conclusion (though I suspect they're just getting started): true techno-rock. Hot stuff.

"Covered In Punk" shows that Portobella are Bow Wow Wow for a Britney world. That's very, very good. Oh, and it's sneakily dirty, too, which is always a plus.

Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Volume 2 is the one where Jill Scott gets her schwerve on, as it is. First single "Golden" is classically Jill, albeit a bit more uptempo than any of her previous singles. [The album's a grower, I think; full review soon.]

Trace Adkins's "Rough and Ready" sounds like what I've always felt a Trace Adkins single should sound like, which makes it pretty much his best ever. He don't need no stinkin' rowdy friends coming over - he's got his own damn self.

Re: Britney's cover of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative":

1. It's got a tough, muscular groove akin to "Toxic," courtesy of the guys who made "Toxic."
2. Brit's singing is the same as ever, not so great, but you don't listen to a Britney Spears record for great singing, do you?
3. The choruses are better than the verses. The bridge might be the best thing.
4. It's got tablas!

Overall, it's pretty good.

Hands up, those who hear lots of connections between (black) gospel and drone, as Paul Morley so likes to call it. I'm reminded of the pull between the two by R. Kelly's new album, particularly the second disc of Happy People/U Saved Me - hell, in instrumentation-not-just-repetitive vox, "Peace" could practically be from a Ladysmith Black Mambazo record, making this one not-just-drone-but-vaguely-kinda-sorta-Afrobeat as well (though that's qualified; I mean, no one's gonna confuse this with Fela).

Did I digress, or am I just getting started? Happy People/U Saved Me makes completely explicit (pun intended) R.'s spiritual side; no artist since Prince as been so brazen about his sex/God thing, and no one's gone quite this far with it - i.e., releasing come-to-Jesus records of this nature, let alone while being under some ugly child porn charges - this side of Al Green. Though of course, the natural comparison is with Marvin Gaye. For me, that's mainly because neither Robert nor Marvin were afraid to get naaaasty. But nasty is what Mr. Kelly most certainly does not get here; for the first time in nearly a decade, this album of his requires no Parental Advisory sticker, as it's 100% clean (not to mention 50% about God, natch). Of course, in the cake-and-eating-it department, he's currently in the R&B top 20 with not only "U Saved Me," but as a guest on Twista's "So Sexy," which Kelly proudly proclaims is "for the girls that be ridin' the D[ick]."

But back to the album. About 2/3 of U Saved Me is close to brilliant, really smashing gospel, the kind of record I thought Kirk Franklin'd be making by now (and where the heck'd he go, anyway?). This is not only R. Kelly at his best, but gospel seems to by and large bring out the best in him (cf. Trin-i-tee 5:7's "God's Grace," which he wrote and produced). "How Did You Manage," for one, could nearly be a straight-up love song, and is one of Kelly's best ballads in years, heartfelt like his songs of pure romance haven't been of late. "U Saved Me" is effective if a bit on the preachy side, while "When I Think About You" is lyrically a bit reminiscent of dc Talk's "Just Between You and Me," but underpinned with a lovely piano line. Kelly himself should know he can do better than "3-Way Phone Call," which even with guest spots from Kelly Price and Kim Burrell is just barely thisside of bathetic, however, and "Diary of Me" is built around one of those obnoxious dripping-water sound effects Stevie Wonder was so fond of in the late '80s, and little else. All of this pales, though, in the light of "Peace." One of Kelly's career high points musically, its stripped-down arrangement is unlike anything he's done before, and sounds like it - and is all the better for it. R. should break out of his self-imposed musical straitjacket more often.

Of course, U Saved Me is only half of this double album. The first disc, Happy People, exhibits a new R. Kelly, one not sex-obsessed but interested in relaxed good times centered around stepping. Stepping, of course, is a style of dance found in Chicago's (adult) black community, and most of the songs here utilise somewhat same-y stepping rhythms. One critic recently suggested that Happy People was essentially 11 different variations on "Step in the Name of Love (Remix)," and in a way, he wasn't far off the mark. But more importantly, Kelly sounds so damned happy, so calm, in a way he hasn't in eons. Perhaps he's simply putting on a brave face - but perhaps he's found some sort of inner peace in the light of his legal problems. Happy People, basically one big groove, is like a new Frankie Beverly and Maze album - and I mean that as a compliment. Smooth as the day is long, this may end up being R. Kelly's most-played full-length in years, and deservedly so. It won't change the world, or even R&B, but it plays up all of his strengths (and a few weaknesses at times) expertly. A-

Told you I was back. And not just here, either.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

"You go to L.A. on a dare and you go it alone."
- Steely Dan, "Kid Charlemagne" (The Royal Scam, ABC 1976)

Except that I didn't go on a dare, and I'm not alone. I have, however, up and moved to the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles, for some sunny skies, lots of opportunity, killer food, and love. I've been here nearly a week, and am so damned happy that I am. Southern California is showing lots of love as only it can, and the bf's doing so even more.

Here's something I wrote 08.21.04:

So I'm sitting on a bench in the center of Jaffrey Center, listening to Jane's Addiction's "Just Because" and thinking to myself how JA is really not New Hampshire music. Yeah, it's sunny out today, but that doesn't matter. It's too green here, too grassy, too not-sandy. Jane's has always brought to my mind surfing, in CA. Sunny beaches, bronzed bodies, sand in uncomfortable places. So I guess I'd better work on my tan and break out Ritual de lo Habitual, 'cause California, here I come.

"It's! Not! A! Game!" - DMX, "X Gon' Give It 2 Ya" (
Cradle 2 the Grave Original Soundtrack, Def Jam 2003)

I'm doing this for real; I'm not fucking around. NH, I can now admit, was kind of a half-assed move. I don't regret it, mind, but it might as well have involved throwing darts at a map. This is another beast (or more accurately, beauty) entirely.

I didn't move only for love, but it was certainly a major factor, and I don't regret it one iota. I'm crazy about my man, absolutely head-over-heels I-don't-even-wanna-look-at-anyone-else. Which anyone who knows me well knows is, frankly, fairly unprecedented.

Fuck, I'm happy. Any L.A. bloggers wanna meet? Holla. In the meantime, I'll keep jobhunting, and get back to writing (and posting) on a regular basis. I'm back, y'all.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Unreleased tracks? Rarities? Not a ton of awful ballads? Liner notes by Nelson George? That all makes this a Michael Jackson release worth getting excited about.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

"[A]rt-rock"?! What???

I'm on the jock of pretty much any record using marching band samples/beats/interpolations, which means I'm utterly on the jock of the Zone 4 remix of Mya's "Fallen," featuring Chingy (who I kinda-sorta like as a rapper, just not his records). You really should be, too.

Speaking of jock-riding, I've gotta give up props to Michael Daddino, whom I was more than pleased to host all of last week. He introduced me to a lot of new nuggets, including the J-Kwon and Mya tracks, a fab freestyle by Ludacris over the "Tipsy" beat, a great Kompakt mix (whose was it again?), and tons and tons of other stuff - plus I got my hands on his (in)famous 10-disc Generation Ecstasy CD-R set. And he's the only man I know, or could imagine knowing, who can rock both a pompadour and an Amish beard and pull it off. Holla! I never knew northern New England scenic drives could be so entertaining, really. [And trust, you have no idea how horrifying the Yankee Candle factory store in MA is unless you've been. Truly, delightfully horrorshow.]

I know, I know, I'm the last one to the party, but how did it take me until September 2004 to get nailed by the gamma rays that light from the brilliant banger "Tipsy" by J-Kwon? And the thing is - there's always a thing - it's not just about its beat, which is admittedly stripped-down genius, like Timbo and Lil' Jon's love child (completed by a handclap which "Mutt" Lange might wanna look for, 'cause it's clearly been stolen from his f/x library). No, it's just as much about J-Kwon's rapping, both his delivery of and the lyrics themselves. The whole "one, here comes the two," et cetera, riff, on which the boychild does myriad variations, works too perfectly. "Tipsy"'s "teen drinking is very bad"/"yo, I got a fake I.D., tho'!" opening is one of the funniest lines I've heard all year. And, frankly, I'm a sucker for "e'rybody," period. Club smashes which translate just as well at home are all too rare these days, so kudos must be given. A

From my last two nights at my (now old) job:

9/01/04 headtape
The Police, "Walking On the Moon"
Eurythmics, "It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back)" (where the hell did that come from?! Not that I'm complaining, mind you - I've traditionally felt that Be Yourself Tonight is an underrated entry in their catalog)
DMX, "Who We Be"
Bubba Sparxxx, "Ugly" (one of these days, I'll write a post about how fucking hot Bubba is)
Usher featuring Lil' Jon and Ludacris, "Yeah!" (becoming single of the year? Not mine, but that of the vox populi [though I'm rather fond of it, as well])
Nikka Costa, "Everybody Got Their Something"/"Like A Feather" (where'd she go?)
Girl Talk, "Bodies Hit the Floor"
Shania Twain, "I'm Jealous"
The Tubes, "Let's Make Some Noise"

9/02/04 headtape (my last night, very odd, and the headtape is all-male)
Kenny Rogers, "She Believes In Me"
Justin Timberlake, "Senorita"
JC Chasez, "She Got Me" (truth be told, 85% of that night's headtape was this one superb song)
Lou Reed, "I Love You Suzanne"
Bon Jovi, "Runaway" (ick)
Opus, "Live For Life" (double ick)

Monday, September 06, 2004

I had a dream last night in which Jessica Simpson, no longer married to Nick Lachey, married Beck. Beck had a lot of facial hair, and mouthed the words to "Take My Breath Away" as Jess sang them to him during the ceremony.

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