Archive for the ‘album reviews’ Category

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The Secret Lives Of Pets (2016) and 2017 Album Ratings

May 16, 2017

Added my rating for The Secret Lives Of Pets to the 2016 Movie Ratings page. I gave it a 5.5 which is somewhere between “Watchable” and “Recommended.” It was a cute, charming, and very short (80 minutes) kid’s movie, but make no mistake, kids are the target audience here. It’s not totally unappealing to adults, but it’s not nearly as clever or as funny as the Toy Story movies and it’s pretty obvious this movie wanted to be the pet version of Toy Story.

I have added a number of ratings for recent music releases to my 2017 Albums page and this seems to be the best way to organize them. I’m not really interested in writing full album reviews, but this is an easy way to see what I think the best albums are. I usually have to listen to an album two or three times to know how I really feel about it, so a number of new releases either take a while to get to that point or never do.

Thanks for all the awesome feedback on my DMX and Biggie profiles. The next artist I’m going to highlight is Brother Ali, one of the most overlooked emcees of all-time, fresh off another solid album release this month. I’m heading to Vegas for the WSOP in June and I’m going to try and be distraction free while I’m there, so the Brother Ali update won’t be published until July and it will be unlikely I make any posts while I’m in Vegas at all.

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May 2017 Entertainment Preview: movies, hip-hop, and T.V. shows!

May 2, 2017

Sorry for posting this a day late, but it took me longer than expected to write.

THEATERS

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5th) – Marvel’s follow-up to their surprise 2014 hit, a film that made my top ten list that year. I’ve managed to avoid pretty much all the promotion for this movie, so everything should be fresh when I see it on Friday. It’s sitting at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, so that’s a good sign, and I have every expectation that this will be another hilarious and entertaining film. The original opened to $94 million and wound up grossing $333 million in the U.S. total. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this open to $150 million and gross over $400 million.

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (May 12th) – This movie has some good things going for it: King Arthur and his sword is a good story, Charlie Hunnam should be a star some day, director Guy Ritchie has some pedigree, and the film seems to be cashing in on the popularity of “Game Of Thrones.” Unfortunately, the trailer looked pretty suspect and I have a feeling this movie is going to disappoint, both critically and at the box office. I predict Guardians holds the top stop for the second weekend in a row and King Arthur opens around $22 million with a $70 million total gross.

Snatched (May 12th) – Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn star as a mother/daughter combo that go on an exotic vacation and wind up having an adventure in the jungle. I listened to and enjoyed Schumer’s book as recently as last year, but it seems like she is already wearing out her welcome. Her recent stand up on Netflix was undeniably lackluster and general chatter about her tends to be more negative than positive. Plus the trailer for this movie didn’t look good. This movie has bomb written all over it. Schumer scored a hit with Trainwreck and that movie opened at $30M and grossed $110 domestically. I really expect Snatched to open around $8M and fizzle out around $26 million total. I’m still an Amy Schumer fan, but this is going to be a dud.

Alien: Covenant (May 19th) – Ridley Scott, director of the original Alien in 1979 and its 2012 prequel Prometheus, returns for the prequel sequel (pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever typed that!). Rather than try to act like this is something it’s not, the powers that be decided to just come out and directly label it as an entry in the Alien franchise because that makes the most sense when it comes to cash money. Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, xenomorphs? Can I buy my ticket yet? This film should gross better than Prometheus simply because it’s being marketed as an Alien movie. I say $70 million opening weekend and $230 million total gross, the latter of which could approach $300 million if the film is actually really good.

Baywatch (May 25th) – I was never asking for a Baywatch movie, but then I saw the casting of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, and the decision to make the film an R-rated comedy, and I felt like genius might be at work. I’ve long been calling Baywatch the surprise hit of 2017 and the tone of the trailer – which I only half watched because they spoil so much these days – looks spot on. If they follow the blueprint set forth by the 21 Jump Street movies, this movie should be a big hit. I think it will open somewhat modestly around $40 million and get some legs through word of mouth and gross over $200 million total.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26th) – I remember being surprised by and really liking the first movie, but I can’t count myself as a big fan of this franchise. I’m not even sure if I’ve seen all of the movies to this point, but I don’t remember being too fond of any of the sequels, and the general public’s interest has waned too: the series peaked with Dead Man’s Chest in 2006 at $423 million, but the most recent entry, in 2011, On Stranger Tides grossed a relatively tame $223 million. I haven’t heard anyone talking about this movie, so I’m not sure a six year break has the public craving more Pirates Of The Caribbean. I will be at Disneyland a week before this film’s release, which is kind of cool, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to the movie. I suspect it will open solid around $70 million and probably gross around $260 million domestic.

NETFLIX:

While I didn’t watch either in entirety, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Gremlins were my go to films to fall asleep to in April and both titles are still streaming in May.

I watched three different comedy specials last month. Louis C.K.‘s 2017 Netflix show is hilarious. I also got around to watching the Jo Koy special that shot in Seattle and found it to be very funny. Lastly, I watched Kevin Hart‘s special and he continues to be absurdly overrated. I guess it was watchable… I didn’t turn it off or anything, but the funniest part was in the filmed intro interacting with Don Cheadle. The actual stand up wasn’t anything special.

Last month, my wife and I also completed “American Crime Story: The People Vs O.J. Simpson” and I thought it was excellent. While the case has been beaten to death, this show managed to bring something new to the table by offering perspectives from the various participants, rather than seeing everything through the media’s perspective. I had a hard time adjusting to seeing Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J., but Sarah Paulson was phenomenal as Marcia Clarke, and the guys that played Johnnie Cochrane and Darden also did great jobs. I highly recommend watching this show if you haven’t seen it yet.

And here’s what is new in May:

Chocolat (May 1st) – One of my favorite films of 2000, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, back when my tastes were more refined than they are now.

Don’t Think Twice (May 1st) – A solid comedy about an improv group dealing with one of their members becoming famous.

Forrest Gump (May 1st) – An all-time classic now available to stream whenever you want.

“Sense8”: Season 2 (May 5th) – Haven’t seen the first season and this series is pretty deep on my list of shows to get around to.

Norm MacDonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip, & Trickery (May 9th) – Seems like it’s been a while since we’ve heard from the old “SNL” alum, but I’ll give this a watch.

“Master Of None”: Season 2 (May 12th) – I really enjoyed the first season from comedian Aziz Ansari and I will definitely be watching this.

“Sherlock”: Series 4 (May 15th) – Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are back as Sherlock Holmes and Watson. I’ve seen the first three series, but I will probably rewatch them before getting around to this.

The Place Beyond The Pines (May 16th) – A highly touted film starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper that I didn’t like as much as the critics. I will give this another shot.

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt“: Season 3 (May 19th) – Still haven’t seen an episode of this yet, but it seems to be well liked.

Inglorious Basterds (May 22nd) – A Tarantino masterpiece that is always worth revisiting.

Southpaw (May 24th) – Haven’t seen this boxing drama starring Jake Gyllenhall yet, but maybe I will watch it now.

War Machine (May 26th) – A Netflix original film about war and starring Brad Pitt? That’s enough for me to be intrigued.

“House Of Cards”: Season 5 (May 30th) – After a disappointing season 3, the show came back strong last year and I’ll be tuning in again.

Doctor Strange (May 30th) – More Benedict Cumberbatch… this time as the mystical Marvel superhero. Funny and entertaining and definitely worth another viewing.

Sarah Silverman: A Speck Of Dust (May 30th) – I haven’t seen a ton of Sarah Silverman stand up, but I’d currently count myself as a fan so I’m interested to see how she does with this special.

MUSIC:

My entire April was spent listening to the new albums by Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick Lamar, both of which are highly enjoyable, at worst, and potentially classic, at best. Kendrick continues to keep a stranglehold on the #1 spot in the current hip-hop world with another incredibly strong release and Joey Bada$$ stepped it up a notch, rapping his ass off on a 12 track album where every song is either good or great. I did give The Chainsmokers album a full listen and while I found it to be pretty pleasant the only songs I remember now are “Paris” and “It Won’t Kill Ya.” As suspected, I didn’t get around to listening to much of anything else new, including the surprise release from Wale. When I wasn’t listening to K.dot or Joey, I was listening to The Notorious B.I.G. and DMX (write up coming soon) for my Rapper Profiles series.

Brother Ali – All The Beauty In This Whole Life (May 5th) – Once upon a time Brother Ali was my favorite rapper in the game. This was probably circa 2004 to 2007, on the heels of three consecutive amazing releases. Since then, he’s released a couple of LPs, a couple of EPs, and a number of “loosies,” and while it has all been mostly good, it doesn’t quite compare to the amazing content he was releasing in the mid-2000s. Ali has been mostly absent from the music scene since 2012, so it will be interesting to see what he has to offer in 2017. I have heard one song so far and I really liked it.

Logic – Everybody (May 5th) – Logic has released an album every year since 2014 and all of his stuff has been pretty good, if not spectacular. I didn’t give his last album a ton of play, but he’s still on my list of emcees I’m checking for.

B.O.B. – Ether (May 12th) – I liked the Adventures Of Bobby Ray back in 2010, but I haven’t really been checking for B.O.B. since then. I’ll add this, but it will have to grab me pretty quick to keep it in rotation.

Faith Evans & The Notorious B.I.G. – The King & I (May 19th) – New Biggie content? In 2017? 20 years after he died? The album is supposed to have both well known and unheard B.I.G. verses, but I’d say the chances of this being any good are pretty slim. Still, I’m intrigued enough after looking at the tracklist that I’ll be checking it out.

Snoop Dogg – Neva Left (May 19th) – I really liked Bush and the Snoopzilla album with Dam-Funk, but I didn’t give Coolaid much play, as every song that came up randomly in shuffle was kind of weak. I wouldn’t consider myself much of a Snoop fan these days, but he’s still plenty capable of making good music. I’m not sure what the album cover featuring a picture of a young Snoop from 1992 is supposed to indicate, but I have to admit it’s pretty cool.

Some other notable release dates that I don’t know much about, but will probably add to my library: Harry Styles – Harry Styles (May 12th), Machine Gun Kelly – Bloom (May 12th), Linkin Park – One More Light (May 19th)

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April Movie & Music Preview

March 31, 2017

Now that March is over, April provides another slate of new entertainment options, so it’s time for me to give a brief preview of what I’ll be looking forward to next month.

Theatrical Releases: After a strong early start to the year that has already seen high quality films like Get Out and Logan be released, it looks like April is going to be a rather dull month in theaters.

Colossal (April 7th) – I’m not particular interested in this film, but anything that stars Anne Hathaway gets my attention. There’s some sort of monster on the poster and I guess she has some mental problems, but I don’t know anything else about this movie. It might be 2020 before I actually watch it.

The Fate Of The Furious (April 14th) – This has been one of the most surprising franchises of all-time. We are now on movie #8 (and there are two more sequels already announced!) and I don’t even know how many of them I’ve seen up to this point, but I do know that I’ve enjoyed almost all of them and I consider that to be rather shocking. Somehow this series keeps pumping out entertaining flicks, all while keeping it’s core cast together (R.I.P. Paul Walker though). This sequel adds Charlize Theron, Kurt Russell, and Helen Mirren to the mix, while nabbing Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray to run the show. I’m at least one movie behind – maybe two – so chances are I won’t be seeing this in theaters, but with such a slow movie month, maybe I’ll catch up and check it out.

The Circle (April 28th) – Just watched the trailer and it didn’t exactly grab me, but I’m a big Emma Watson fan and Tom Hanks has done pretty good work in recent years when he’s not playing Robert Langdon.

Sleight (some time in April) – Jacob Latimore plays a street musician that may or may not have some sort of superhuman power. One critic described it as “Chronicle meets Iron Man” and the trailer looks interesting enough that it’s on my radar, but again, this is a movie I might not end up watching for a while.

Netflix: In addition to the releases I highlighted last month, Dave Chappelle also released a two part comedy special and it was phenomenal. If you haven’t seen it already, I suggest you make it a priority immediately. Amy Schumer’s special was a total dud – after wondering if I was just being overly critical, I fell asleep during the second half and haven’t had any desire to finish it.

Louis C.K. 2017 comedy special (April 4th) – After watching the Chappelle and Schumer specials, I polled Facebook wondering if there was any comic that has been consistently top shelf for many years and the only answer I got was: Louis C.K. – and I couldn’t argue against it. All his stand up has been fantastic and I’ve really enjoyed the seasons of his show that I’ve seen. No reason not to expect more greatness here.

The BFG (April 6th) – I’m yet to see this Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, but I will now that it’s streaming next month.

The Get Down season two (April 7th) – I haven’t seen the first season yet, but show about the formation of hip-hop music in the Bronx is obviously something I need to be watching.

Kevin Hart: What Now (April 11th) – I really don’t consider myself much of a Kevin Hart fan – I’ve skipped his last five movies – but I will at least watch his stand up material.

The Secret Life Of Pets (April 22nd) – This movie made a heap of money at the box office and received solid ratings from the critics, plus it features a pretty solid voice cast, so I will be watching it while it’s streaming.

Netflix will also be adding A Nightmare On Elm Street, Gremlins, and Schindler’s List (all classics) on the 1st of April, as well as a Richard Pryor stand up. Two other solid films, Kubo & the Two Strings (April 8th) and Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (April 21st) will also be added later in the month.

Music: March saw the release of a number of good albums, with Khalid and Ed Sheeran providing my two favorite releases of 2017 so far. Rick Ross and Raekwon both surprised me by releasing albums I’m enjoying.

Kendrick Lamar – “Ya’ll got til April the 7th to get your shit together.” (April 7th) – Sounds like a release date announcement to me. Anyone that knows me knows that Kendrick is currently my favorite rapper by miles. MILES! I have him ranked #6 on my all-time list and with two classic albums, a fantastic mixtape, and a slew of phenomenal guest appearances under his belt already, my expectations for his next album are out of this world. If he can somehow manage a third straight classic, he’s right up there with Jay-Z and Nas as the greatest rappers of all-time IMO.

Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (April 7th) – If Kendrick is really dropping an album, this could be an epic weekend of hip-hop as Joey Bada$$ easily makes my list of my top 10 favorite rappers of the moment. His last album was very strong and I’ve liked all the songs he’s released in the past year, so my expectations for this album are pretty high.

The Chainsmokers – Memories… Do Not Open (April 7th) – I don’t know much about this group, but I do know they have a knack for crafting incredibly infectious music, so I will be checking out this album.

Talib Kweli & Styles P – The Seven (April 14th) – Hey, it’s the hip-hop collaboration nobody’s been asking for! There was a time when Talib Kweli was one of my favorite emcees, but it’s been about a decade since I felt that way. Kweli’s released a ton of music since then, but I’ve mostly skipped it and if it was stellar, somebody would’ve told me about it. I’ve never been much of a Styles P fan. With that said, I don’t have to be selective with Apple Music and I can listen to everything, so I’ll give this a chance.

Kamaiyah – Don’t Ever Get It Twisted (April 21st) – Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma are getting all the attention right now, but last year Kamaiyah released the best rap album from a female artist that I’ve heard in years. On the surface, her style seems really simple and her subject matter isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but Kamaiyah makes undeniably good songs. I’m curious to see if she can keep it up and build on the success of her debut album.

Other notable releases scheduled for April include 2 Chainz and Tech N9ne – neither of which I really like – on the 7th, Incubus on the 21st, and Mary J. Blige and Gorillaz on the 28th. I will probably check out the MJB album and skip the rest.

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J.Cole, A Tribe Called Quest, BJ The Chicago Kid, The League s3, Fuller House s2

December 14, 2016

J.Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only – I had immense expectations for this album, hoping J.Cole could cement himself as #2 in the current hip-hop chain of command. Instead, Cole opts for a concept album that tells a good, cohesive story, but is an undeniable step down from Forrest Hills Drive in just about every aspect, particularly the production. It’s a very subdued album, with ballads to a love interest and a baby daughter – in fact, half the album is Cole doing more singing than rapping. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I want from one of my favorite spitters in the game today. “Immortal” is the only true hip-hop banger on the album and “4 Your Eyez Only” does a great job of tying the whole concept together. It’s interesting that Cole attacks Kanye on “False Prophets” just before this album’s release implying that ‘Ye’s The Life Of Pablo is “half ass shit he dropped,” but there are roughly 4-5 songs on Yeezy’s latest that are better than everything on this Cole album. Initial disappointment aside, this album is growing on me and “Foldin Clothes” is the only track I don’t really like. It’s not what I wanted, but I’m appreciating it for what it is: a solid concept album from a rapper that is capable of much more.

6.5/10 (Recommended/Highly Enjoyable)

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service – 18 years after their last project, ATCQ manages to sound both contemporary and vintage at the same time. It feels like something they could have released in the 90’s but addresses topics of today, particularly Donald Trump’s run to POTUS. “We The People” is a great song with a catchy hook that tells all the minorities of the nation that “you must go.” Obviously Tribe is speaking for Trump here and don’t feel that way themselves (in fact, Q-Tip says “put so much in this muthafucka feel like we shouldn’t leave” on “The Space Program”). It feels dirty singing along uncontrollably with such a terrible message, but that’s how contagious the music is. The core members (Q-Tip, Phife Dog, Jarobi) all give great performances throughout the album, but Busta Rhymes might be the MVP as he seamlessly hops in and out on “Dis Generation” and then absolutely demolishes the best beat on the album on “Mobius.” Tribe also gets a short but fantastic feature from Kendrick Lamar on “Conrad Tokyo.” The big feature that didn’t work for me as well was Andre 3000 on “Kids.” I just can’t get into the production on that song. In all, it’s totally absurd that A Tribe Called Quest is putting out an album as good as this in 2016. It’s a project that is enjoyable all the way through, fits in perfectly with the rest of their discography, and is one of the best rap albums of the year.

8/10 (Essential Listening)

BJ The Chicago Kid – In My Mind – I finally listened to this from front to back a week or two ago and there is virtually nothing to complain about. I can’t remember a song I didn’t like and there are numerous tracks that have made my Best Of 2016 playlist, including “Shine,” “The New Cupid,” and “Church” – and really, I could just keep adding on. “Shine” has become the mantra for my marriage with its theme of a couple surviving through thick and thin and shining together. Having bottomed out multiple times in my life, the past few years have really been spectacular and things only keep getting better, so BJ’s lyrics of “when I shine, you shine with me baby” really resonate with me. It’s incredibly satisfying to succeed as a team with my wife and this song expresses those feelings perfectly. This album is very good from front to back and is probably my favorite R&B album of the year.

7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Essential Listening)

“Fuller House” s2 – This show is definitely a guilty pleasure that is mostly enjoyable for nostalgic purposes. The writing and acting are frequently cheesy. While it doesn’t seem terrible for DJ to say her catchphrase of “Oh Mylanta,” I cringe every time I hear Stephanie say “how rude,” it just feels so horribly forced. I can only imagine what it would be like if they actually got the Olsen twins to come back. Would they really have a fully grown Michelle saying things like “you got it dude” and “no way Jose?” Even though Kimmy Gibbler’s ex-husband Fernando can feel like a rip-off of Fez from “That 70’s Show” a lot of the time and her brother Jimmy looks and kind of acts like an Ashton Kutcher clone, I have to admit both characters are a good addition to the second season, with the former taking on a much bigger role this time around as he moves into the house. These two characters provided most of my laughs in the second season. There are a lot of call backs to the previous series that didn’t resonate with me because I didn’t remember them, but I imagine they are fun for serious fans of “Full House.” Danny Tanner’s mid-life crisis that found him living with reckless abandon and doing that whole old white person using hip-hop slang like no one in the world does routine was absolutely terrible. I really don’t get that. It’s never funny and it’s actually quite insulting. Kimmy Gibbler is probably the series highlight. Her character is usually the funniest and finds herself in the best situations – like co-hosting the morning show with Danny Tanner. I couldn’t help but note the Lance Bass reference in the high school reunion episode, saying DJ was voted most likely to marry Lance Bass or something of that nature. The girls graduated in 1995, but N’Sync didn’t become popular until 1998. Just a weird thing that the entire cast and crew overlooked but immediately gave me pause. I’m not disappointed with “Fuller House” because I know exactly what to expect and I’m watching it anyway. It’s a cheesy sitcom that is moderately enjoyable and offers some decent chuckles. I can’t imagine fans of the old series wouldn’t like it.

2.5/5 (Not Recommended/Decent)

“The League” s3 – I thought this season started off terribly and I hope the show isn’t jumping the shark already with four more seasons to go. I honestly found it appalling that the group would conspire behind Ruxin’s back and neg on his #1 overall pick. First off, that is extremely foul play. Secondly, it’s not like a #1 pick even comes close to guaranteeing a league title. The season did start to pick up with the hilarious guest spots from Keegan-Michael Key in “Carmenjello” and Jeff Goldblum as Ruxin’s dad and Sarah Silverman as Andre’s sister in “Thanksgiving.” I thought Taco had some pretty funny moments in the first season, but he’s easily becoming my least favorite character on the show. Andre remains my favorite. Hopefully season four is a step forward because another step back and I might not be able to make it through this whole series.

3/5 (Decent/Good Stuff)

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Stranger Things s1, Atlanta s1, Krampus (2015), Childish Gambino, The Hamilton Mixtape

December 7, 2016

“Stranger Things” s1 – This is the best show that I’ve seen in 2016. It’s a throwback to 1980’s horror/sci-fi that felt like Steven Spielberg’s E.T. meets Stephen King’s It (the novel, not the movie). I was pretty much giddy the whole time I was watching it. The show manages to be incredibly fun while not taking itself too seriously, which makes its supernatural plot easy to swallow. The cast in this thing is phenomenal. I’ll be shocked if Wynona Ryder doesn’t get an Emmy nomination as she does arguably the best work of her career here, and Millie Bobby Brown is a child star revelation that probably deserves one too. David Harbour as the sheriff is also excellent. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of the members of the young cast go on to have solid acting careers – it’s a very well rounded ensemble performance. I honestly have no idea where the writers can go in season two, but I can’t wait to see what they do next. You are really doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t seen this yet. 5/5 (Must Watch)

“The League” s2 – I took a very long break between the first half of this season and the second half, so I’ll just comment on the latter, which gave us classic stuff like “Vinegar Strokes” and Andre’s appearance as an expert witness. Andre’s testimony is the hardest I’ve laughed watching T.V. in a long time. I like Jenny’s inclusion into The League as she fits in very well with the guys and her success is an added bonus in emasculating Kevin. I’m not sure if I like Ruxin or not – Nick Kroll is funny sometimes, but usually I just find him over-the-top and annoying. 3.5/5 (Decent/Good Stuff)

“Atlanta” s1 – Donald Glover is a genius. Seriously, I have tremendous respect for his work ethic. He’s as talented an entertainer as anyone in the industry right now. This show is his creation as he stars in it, as well as directs and writes a number of episodes. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from “Atlanta” and it still shocked me. This show is completely bonkers. On one hand, it’s a realistic look at what it’s like to be a young black man on the verge of stardom in the rap game (or in his entourage) and on the other hand, it’s whatever it wants to be. Seriously, anything goes. Glover is solid as Earn, Paperboi’s manager and cousin, and Lakeith Stanfield’s (Snoop in Straight Outta Compton) Darius is definitely a series highlight. I highly recommend this unique show; it’s smart and funny, but I advise keeping an open mind while watching it and multiple viewings are recommended.
4.5/5 (Good Stuff/Must See)

Krampus (2015) – This is a fun horror/comedy that I overlooked until I walked through the maze at Universal Studio’s Hollywood Horror Nights and thought “okay, I need to watch that.” I’m not sure Krampus is going to join the elite horror movie monsters, but there is definite franchise potential here and the Christmas setting makes for a unique premise that really hasn’t been done well since Gremlins. A lot of times, horror movies will introduce a bunch of one dimensional and unlikable people (and one heroine) before systematically killing them off, but Krampus gives us more of the Home Alone/Christmas Vacation lovably flawed crowd, so when they start disappearing, it actually stings a little – and the kids aren’t off limits here. The movie has some solid visual effects and the makeup for Krampus himself is A+ stuff. This is a definite recommendation for fans of the horror genre – although it’s on the lighter side of scary – and an all around fun film. Sequels are inevitable. 6/10 (Recommended)

The Hamilton Mixtape – This is a solid supplement to the fantastic cast recordings of the Broadway phenomenon. There is great original music from The Roots, Common, Nas, and the mastermind himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda, plus standout covers by Usher and Alicia Keys. I was kind of disappointed with the Chance The Rapper and Francis and the Lights rendition of “Theodosia,” which I was really looking forward to, and there are a number of songs by lesser known artists that are definitely the weaker moments on the mixtape. Queen Latifah and Ashanti and Ja Rule make some nice throwback appearances. Overall, a good album with great moments.
6.5/10 (Recommended/Highly Enjoyable)

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love” – More Donald Glover brilliance. Yeah, the kid makes good music too. This album sees Glover’s transition from solid rapper into great musician fully realized – it’s not a rap album, it’s a tribute/cautionary tale to his baby boy disguised as a convincing Prince impression. “Redbone” is a candidate for my favorite song of the year, featuring possibly the best production I’ve heard in 2016 and a solid performance by Gambino that is greatly enhanced by vocal effects – it’s song-making perfection. “Zombies,” “Baby Boy,” and “Terrified” are other highlights, and truly, the more I listen to the album, the more it is growing on me. 7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Essential Listening)

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Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite! (2016)

November 12, 2016

I was scrolling through Twitter one day when I saw Chance The Rapper mention that he couldn’t stop listening to the new Francis and the Lights album. Now, I’ve never heard of Francis and the Lights, but Chance has been one of my top 5 musicians over the past year, so obviously I trust his taste in music. He didn’t let me down.

Farewell, Starlite! is labeled on Apple Music as hip-hop/rap but that’s incredibly misleading. I had no idea what to expect, but it’s safe to say that I was NOT expecting an album with literally zero rapping on it. It’s honestly hard to categorize what Francis and the Lights is – and it’s kind of odd for me to pick this as my first Album of the Moment because I’ve never reviewed a non-hip-hop album. But the music is so good on this short 10 track album that it just has to be recognized. I guess I’d say it’s folky pop. Is that a thing? Easy Listening? I’m not sure.

The band consists of Francis Farewell Starlite (his legal name, but not his given name) and, as he says: “there are no members… it is me and whomever else is involved. Including you.” As far as I can tell, Francis is the only vocalist in the band – if there even is one – and while his lyrics aren’t mind-blowing by any means, he is clearly a master at crafting incredibly infectious songs. For instance, “Comeback” has no business being as enjoyable as it is. If you were to read this song about a friend that had to stay home while his buddies went to a fun party, on paper it would look pretty corny, but Francis’ vocals bring it to life in a way that just makes you want to smile.

While I find every song on Farewell, Starlite! enjoyable, my two favorite tracks are “My City’s Gone” and “It’s Alright To Cry.” The former features hip-hop superstar Kanye West, but his vocal contributions are limited to harmonizing the chorus. The forlorn story of a man whose hometown has become unrecognizable to him is worthy enough of my Best Of 2016 playlist. “It’s Alright To Cry” is as addictive as it gets. It’s impossible to listen to this song and not absently sing the hook for days to come.

It’s always nice when an artist that is totally unknown to you releases an album that is one of the year’s best. Farewell, Starlite! is the rare album where every song is good. While Francis and the Lights certainly is not hip-hop music, the singer’s style blends seamlessly with rap as his previous collaborations with Drake and Chance The Rapper have shown. He also features with Chance on a song on the upcoming The Hamilton Mixtape, which is to be released later this year. Farewell, Starlite! is solid from top to bottom and ranks as one of my favorite albums of 2016. Francis is a star in the making and this album is an absolute must listen.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Essential Listening/Excellent)