Saturday, April 12, 2014

2014 Emotional Listening #3

Buffalo Tom
Buffalo Tom - Buffalo Tom (SST, 1988)
I stumbled upon a used copy of Buffalo Tom's 1988 self-titled debut LP at a record store in Toledo this past fall, and I figured it was finally time to spend some time with it. Bravender tells me that 1992's Let Me Come Over and 1993's Big Red Letter Day are THE ONES, but,I felt obligated to start here since I actually own it on vinyl. This is not a mind-blowing debut by any means. It sounds like a mix of Husker Du's poppier moments and Dinosaur Jr. (which is convenient, as J. Mascus produced this) minus the noodly guitar solos and melodies that aren't quite as good. I was sort of bored by this at first, but, after a few times through, I've really come around to it. "Sunflower Suit" is a fantastic opener, and the album chugs along at such a pace that pretty much every-other-song is totally great. This album couldn't end in a better way than the "Flashing Stars," "Walk Away" and "Reason Why" combination.
Top jams: "Sunflower Suit," "Impossible," "In the Attic," "Flashing Stars," "Walk Away," "Reason Why"



Japanese Whispers
Japanese Whispers - The Cure (Sire, 1983)
While Japanese Whispers is a short collection of singles and B-sides, it really follows like a proper studio LP. The Cure were in an interesting place in 1983, somewhere between their jangly, guitar-driven post-punk beginnings and the orchestral, shoegaze/new wave marriage that is 1989's Disintegration. The songs on Japanese Whispers are full of fake drums, awesome sounding synths, and Robert Smith's usual melodrama combined with his penchant for dark, goth-y pop hooks. "The Lovecats" has always been a favorite Cure song of mine thanks to the more expansive 1986 singles collection, Staring at the Sea.  However, "The Upstairs Room" has really come out of the woodwork as a new all-time favorite. I'm really liking "Let's Go to Bed" a lot more now than ever before, too. Japanese Whispers is almost on par with The Head on the Door, for me.
Top jams: "Let's Go to Bed," "Just One Kiss," "The Upstairs Room," "Speak My Language," "The Lovecats"



Me and Mr. Ray
Me and Mr. Ray - Miracle Legion (Rough Trade, 1989)
I realize that Me and Mr. Ray probably isn't the Miracle Legion record to begin with, but, oh well. In case you didn't know, Miracle Legion is Mark Mulcahy's pre-Polaris (band from The Adventures of Pete & Pete) project. They released four full-length albums from 1987 to 1996. Me and Mr. Ray is the second, and it is a sparse affair, consisting mostly of jangly acoustic guitars, light drumming and Mulcahy's terrific voice. The album opens up awesomely with the one-two-three punch of "The Ladies From Town," "And Then?," and "Old & New." The middle and end aren't nearly as memorable, but "You're the One Lee" and "Even Better" are nice little peaks to contrast with those valleys. "Even Better" is especially great.
Top jams: "The Ladies From Town," "And Then?," "Old & New," "Sailors and Animals," "You're the One Lee," "Even Better"



If It Weren't for Venetian Blinds, It Would be Curtains for Us All
If It Weren't for Venetian Blinds, It Would be Curtains for Us All - Piebald (Big Wheel Recreation, 1999)
Oh, Piebald. Why has it been that not until now I am giving their 1999 LP, If It Weren't for Venetian Blinds, It Would be Curtains for Us All, its due attention? I've been very much interested in this band since high school, and have spent plenty of time with their 2002 album, We Are the Only Friends We Have. Also, Bravender put "Location is Everything" on a fall mix for me quite a few years back, and that's been either my favorite or second favorite Piebald song since (along with "American Hearts"). Anyway, Rise Records gave both of these albums plus the one prior, When Life Hands You Lemons, the deluxe package vinyl reissue treatment in 2010, and I purchased that for a mere $30 and haven't looked back. I have finally been putting the appropriate amount of focus on If It Weren't for Venetian Blinds... because, let's face it: It's the best Piebald album. There are certainly elements of emo and pop punk here, but, overall, they sound like no one else. I have always been a fan of guitar harmonies, and their are quite a few instances here (most prominently in "Rules for Mules" and "Location is Everything"). There is plenty of pop sensibility on If It Weren't for Venetian Blinds..., but, you won't hear your traditional pop song structure. Thankfully, Piebald is more complicated and demanding than that, and Travis Sheffel's funny, clever lyrics are icing on the cake. If you're looking for the best moments, there are too many to detail further in this already lengthy blurb, so, just reference the "Top Jams" section. Every single one of those songs is worthwhile.
Top jams: "Grace Kelly With Wings," "We Believe in Karma," "Mess With the Blues," "Dirty Harry and the Thunderbolts," "Rules for Mules," "Giddy Like a Schoolgirl," "If Marcus Garvy Dies, Then Marcus Garvy Lives," "Location is Everything"



Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 Emotional Listening #2

Alight of NIght
Alight of Night - Crystal Stilts (Slumberland, 2008)
2008 was pretty much the year that lo-fi punk-infused music re-broke. I didn't quite get the appeal back then; it took me until 2009 to truly catch on to the brilliance of Vivian Girls, No AgeWomen, Crystal Stilts, etc. My passion for the latter was pretty deep for a couple years, thanks to the strength of tracks like "Love is a Wave," "Silver Sun" and "Half a Moon." Now that I'm revisiting their breakthrough debut LP, Alight of Night, I'm noticing that this might be their best release. The band has since shed most of its doom and gloom, but here, it's wonderfully formed into a mix of Joy Division-style post-punk and psychedelic 60s rock inspired by The Velvet Underground. Alight of Night is both haunting and gorgeous, and well worth coming back to.
Top jams: "The Dazzled," "Crystal Stilts," "Graveyard Orbit," "Prismatic Room," "Shattered Shine," "The City in the Sea"



Eccsame the Photon Band
Eccsame the Photon Band - Lilys (SpinART, 1994)
Eccsame the Photon Band, the second full-length record from Lilys, isn't quite shoegaze, but, it is close enough to start the descriptions there. There's a lot more going on here than just warped, bendy, overdriven and effect-laden guitars and soft, buried vocals. I mean, there is some of that, but those aren't the defining characteristics of this record. There is a whole lot of space on this record, which, is fascinating because at the same time, there are some huge sounds here. Just listen to how big and roomy the drums sound and pretty much every song (that features drums). "Day of the Monkey" and "FBI and Their Toronto Transmitters" are prime examples where the music overall is very subtle and the drums nearly overpower. "The Hermit Crab" is easily the album's best track, with its clever melodies, droney and jangly guitars, and forward-moving groove. Lilys resident weirdo genius, Kurt Heasley, can really write a melody, and, this becomes even more apparent on later albums Better Can't Make Your Life Better and The 3-Way. Heasley did a lot of genre hopping from album to album, and, Eccsame the Photon Band is the release I've spent the most time with thus far. However, it seems that pretty much every style he has touched on, whether it's this more unique combination of things, or full-on shoegaze, or Kinks-referencing 60s pop, he has done a tremendous job.
Top jams: "High Writer at Home," "Day of the Monkey," "FBI and Their Toronto Transmitters," "The Turtle Which Died Before Knowing," "The Hermit Crab," "Overlit Canyon (The Obscured Wingtip Memoir)," "Kodiak (Reprise)," "Radiotricity"



Stephen Malkmus
Stephen Malkmus - Stephen Malkmus (Matador, 2001)
I know, it's weird and sad that I'm just now fully familiarizing myself with the great Stephen Malkmus' debut solo LP. I'm already well versed in 2008's Real Emotional Trash, 2011's Mirror Traffic and even this year's Wig Out at Jagbags. Why is it that Stephen Malkmus didn't come until now? Good question! Now, my thoughts: It is a totally great record. I don't know that I'd consider it the Malkmus record that sounds the most like Pavement, but, it does pick up pretty much right where Terror Twilight left off. It's got a lot of the usually Malkmus-isms: Awesome sounding guitars, surprisingly complex melodies, and clever, often times non-sensical lyrics. "The Hook," "Discretion Grove," "Troubbble," and "Jenny & the Ess-Dog" are all great, but, "Pink India" is the best.
Top jams: "Phantasies," "Jo Jo's Jacket," "Church on White," "The Hook," "Discretion Grove," "Troubbble," "Pink India," "Jenny & the Ess-Dog"



We Love Life
We Love Life - Pulp (Island, 2001)
My girlfriend Sara is a huge Britpop fan, and has been diligently convincing me that, much to my surprise, the 90s classics in that genre are not all cheesy, overwrought, arrogant exercises in trying to be the biggest band in the world. What I'm trying to say is that, yes, that seems to be an element of the style, but, that's not all there is to it. There actually are really good songs and albums. Now, there's no real rhyme or reason to why I decided to start with Pulp's 2001 swan song, We Love Life. Back in January, Sara and I were driving back from a weekend in Traverse City and I had my iPod on random, and, a song from this record came on and I really liked it, so, I decided to go with it. There is quite a diversity of sounds here, and, I would consider them grandiose, due to the slightly more expanded orchestration on a good number of the songs. Still, We Love Life is generally a huge guitar pop album at its heart. Opener "Weeds" and "The Night That Minnie Timperley Died" are both excellent, but, "Trees" is the true jam of the album.
Top jams: "Weeds," "The Night That Minnie Timperley Died," "Trees," "Bob Lind (The Only Way is Down)," "Bad Cover Version," "Sunrise"



Colour Trip
Colour Trip - Ringo Deathstarr (Club AC30, 2011)
Ringo Deathstarr aren't really the most unique or forward-thinking band around, but, they do a really great job at paying homage to shoegaze heavy hitters My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride. There is a more modern lean in the production, focus on groove, and more intentional drumming on their debut LP Colour Trip.  Otherwise, this is pretty much a straightforward, poppy shoegaze record that is done so well that any lack of originality is completely forgiven. Colour Trip may be a little too top heavy, but, you couldn't ask for it to start in a better way than with "Imagine Hearts."
Top jams: "Imagine Hearts," "Do It Every Time," "So High," "Kaleidoscope," "Chloe," "You Don't Listen"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2014 MLB Preview

AL East
1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. New York Yankees
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. Boston Red Sox
5. Toronto Blue Jays

It seems that Joe Madden and the Tampa Bay staff know what it takes to win under any lineup situation. Thus, in spite of having a relatively quiet off-season, in my eyes, the Rays are the class of the AL East. The rotation will be great (especially since it appears that David Price is staying put for the time being), the bullpen will be good enough, and if Desmond Jennings can finally live up to his potential, even partially, plus a full season of Wil Myers, the hitting should be better.

The Yankees are looking to be in way better shape than they did at any point last year. Their high profile additions should help big time, and they very much could win the division this year. They coulld win 92 games and nab a Wild Card spot, but, they could also win 88 and entirely miss the playoffs.

I don't know that any team will hit better in 2014 than the Baltimore Orioles. The Markakis/Machado/Davis/Jones/Wieters side of the batting order could be incredible (once Machado is healthy again), and they're even more dangerous now that they've added Nelson Cruz. The issue is definitely with pitching. I think the signing of Ubaldo Jimenez was an ok move, but, that's just not enough to win the division. Still, they should at least compete moderately for a Wild Card spot.

The Red Sox also had a very quiet off-season, and are probably inserting some youth into the lineup in Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., which, rules for them in the long term. It seems like a lot of people are pretty high on the BoSox this year, but, not me. Sure, their rotation killed in the post-season. I think it's just asking a lot to repeat their 2013 magic.

Now, I was incorrectly high on the Blue Jays last year, and I won't make the same mistake twice, despite their heavy hitters. Something is off with this squad. They have two fantastic power hitters (Bautista and Encarnacion), one of which can't stay healthy anymore, and Jose Reyes, who also is known to get injured, and that's about it. The starting rotation is unpredictable (aside from Mark Buerhle, who has had the exact same season 10 times in a row, it seems) in spite of the potential it should have. It's always awesome when a team attempts to buy a championship and then that plight is squandered.

AL Central
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Minnesota Twins

The Detroit Tigers' off-season started with a bang thanks to the blockbuster Kinsler-for-Fielder trade. I was happy with that move, along with the Joe Nathan and Rajai Bell ones. The verdict is still out on trading Doug Fister away, but, if it makes it so that the team can afford to keep Max Scherzer, I am into it. The way the Tigs lost Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras, and yet signed Joba Chamberlain is questionable, if not just plain stupid. That being said, this team is trying to move away from the all-out power ball towards more of a small ball approach, and that is exciting, as is the improvement of their defense (despite the fact that Jose Iglesias is looking at possibly being out for the season). I also am intrigued by the idea of Drew Smyly being in the starting rotation this season. Regardless, 2014 should be another year in which the Detroit Tigers win the AL Central, and compete for the AL pennant.

I am loving the resurging Kansas City Royals. At the expense of losing Wil Myers, James Shields led the way for a vastly improved starting rotation in 2013, and, while it's not lights out, it should be even better in 2014. Their bullpen is quality and features possibly the best closer in the AL in Greg Holland. The team plays excellent defense, and they have a core group of batters that have really come around in Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez. Adding Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante at the top of the batting order is icing on the cake. The Royals should seriously compete for a Wild Card spot.

The Cleveland Indians had a magical season last year thanks to Terry Francona's managerial smarts, breakout campaigns from SPs Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar and the continued upward trajectory of Jason Kipinis and Carlos Santana. If things remain aligned, they could compete for a Wild Card spot. I see them more as a team that finishes barely over .500.

The Chicago White Sox are an interesting squad this year in that they're bringing out a youthful batch of position players with some exciting potential. The newly acquired Adam Eaton could be their lead-off hitter of the future. Jose Abreu will try to be the latest in the trend of Cuban-defectors coming to the MLB to find success (following Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig). And, acquired in the Peavy/Iglesias three-way trade last year from the Tigers, Avisail Garcia is another up-and-comer. Then there's Chris Sale, who, after only two full seasons as a starter, is already looking like one of the absolute best pitchers in the AL. Good things could be on the way in the future, but in the meantime, the White Sox don't have much more going for them after these four building blocks. They will still finish toward the bottom of the AL Central.

The Minnesota Twins are in for a sad year. Joe Mauer will be Joe Mauer, and they have an excellent closer who will be eventual trade bait in Glen Perkins, and that's it until they can unleash two of the highest ranked prospects in all of baseball in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano (who will be unable to play for the entire year thanks to Tommy John surgery). Their mediocre attempt at improving their starting rotation surely will not lift Minnesota's title as second-worst team in the American League.

AL West
1. Texas Rangers
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Los Angeles Angels
5. Houston Astros

The AL West race is going to be really fun in 2014. It could go either way between the Texas Rangers and the Oakland Athletics, and, I think the Rangers have the slight edge in the regular season. This lineup is stacked, especially in the #1-#5 spots in the batting order (Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios), and their #8 and #9 hitters (Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin) are eyeing breakout seasons. This team will get on base a lot, steal a lot of bases, and hit a lot of home runs. Pitching is a different story. Injuries have derailed this rotation, and Yu Darvish is the only SP looking like a true stud these days (and, what a stud he is; he has to be the preseason favorite to win the Cy Young award, right?). The bullpen is sort of a mess at this point, but, could end up being one of the team's strengths if Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are truly healthy.

It would be awesome to see the Oakland A's win the AL West three years in a row, and, I'll probably be rooting for them to do so, but, I think they're more likely to land the first Wild Card spot, thanks to how both Texas and Seattle have improved. If Josh Donaldson can repeat his 2013 season, Brandon Moss can improve on his average and continue to hit home runs, and Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick return to their 2012 form (or better, ideally), this team is dangerous on offense. That's a lot of ifs, though. he starting rotation is overflowing with potential, and it will be interesting to see if Sonny Gray becomes their ace. However, Jarrod Parker is out for the season and A.J. Griffin is missing at least the first few weeks, so this team has certainly been dealt some blows. An insanely great bullpen (Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Eric O'Flaherty, when he returns from injury, make this by far the best bullpen in baseball), will help immensely.

I was shocked that the Seattle Mariners were the team to "win" the Robinson Cano sweepstakes. Eventually they'll be kicking themselves for the long contract, but, this team needed a big name, let alone simply a high quality position player. That being said, I am much more excited about the way this starting rotation is shaping up. Felix Hernandez is one of the best in the game, and Hisashi Iwakuma has been masterful in his short stint in the MLB thus far. In 2014, the Mariners should be unleashing highly rated prospect Taijuan Walker, which at some point will make this one of the more formidable rotations in baseball. All of that is to say that the Mariners are being set up to finally compete again, but, it won't happen this season.

Before the start of the 2013 season, I predicted the Los Angeles Angels to lose to the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. Embarrassing. After their hilarious plunge to a 78-84 record, I think it gets worse in 2014 before it gets better. Sure, they  have the best player in the world in Mike Trout, and maybe we'll finally see the Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton the Angels payed hundreds of millions for (and that better happen fast if those transactions are going to end up being worth the trouble at all). Losing Mark Trumbo's power does not help, and adding David Freese surely does not make up for that. The real kicker, though, is that their pitching is in shambles. Jered Weaver's greatness seems to be diminishing, and while closer Ernesto Frieri strikes a lot of guys out, he's also relatively unpredictable.

The Houston Astros are yet again looking to be the worst team in all of baseball, but, they have a lot of highly rated prospects coming up in the next couple of years that should help eventually. Until then... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...........

NL East
1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves
3. New York Mets
4. Philadelphia Phillies
5. Miami Marlins

I thought the Washington Nationals had a World Series birth on lockdown last season. And, then, they only won 86 games, missed the playoffs, and the St. Louis Cardinals happened (again). This team is stacked with young, extremely high quality players offensively and defensively, and I'm going to consider 2013 a fluke. The Nats didn't really need to make any major adjustments, but, they traded for Doug Fister, making their starting rotation the best in all of baseball. As long as they can stay healthy, Stephen Strasburg is on the verge of a Cy Young season and Bryce Harper will only get better, eventually leading up to an MVP campaign or two. Aside from some bullpen concerns, the pieces are in place for the Nationals to win now, and, probably for several years to come.

A couple weeks ago, I would have said, "Of course, you can't count out the Braves, though." Forget the Yankees/Red Sox, the Nationals/Braves is the powerhouse rivalry in modern baseball. Atlanta's lineup is similar in the overwhelming amount of talent in spite of youth. Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons are yet to tap into their full potential, and the same could be said for starting pitchers Kris Medlen, Julio Teheren, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood. The kicker, though, is that Medlen and Beachy are now most likely going to miss the season thanks again to Tommy John surgery, and, Minor is possibly going to start the season on the DL. Unless Wood becomes the new Medlen, and, new addition Ervin Santana has the season of his career, this essentially crushes the Braves hope of winning the division, IF the Nationals perform like they should. Craig Kimbrel, the best closer in baseball, and the rest of the bullpen will be a big help, but, I feel for the Braves right now.

Beyond that, the NL East is just sad. The New York Mets had a lot to be excited about last year with the incredible seasons Matt Harvey and David Wright were having pre-injuries (Cy Young and MVP-caliber, respectively) and bringing Zack Wheeler up from AAA. Then Harvey had to go and get Tommy John surgery, and now the Mets' 2014 season is for naught. The addition of Curtis Granderson is nice, but, certainly not enough to turn this team around. It will be fun to see what kind of personal follow-up to 2013 David Wright will have, and it will also be interesting to see the development of Wheeler and former top prospect catcher Travis D'Arnaud.

The Philadelphia Phillies are in shambles. Whether Cole Hamels ends up being healthy or not, this will not be a good year for them. A.J. Burnett was a good pickup, but, I'd wager come trade deadline time he and Cliff Lee will probably be trade bait. The first half of Domonic Brown's 2013 was tremendously exciting, it just doesn't seem like that can carry over into 2014. Otherwise, this team is made up of old dudes with terrible contracts, and, it will be a while before any kind of recovery.

Three guys make the Miami Marlins interesting in 2014: Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez and Steve Cishek. The only real question regarding Stanton is not if, but, when he will have a 40 home run season. The answer is, simply, when he is healthy for the entirety of one. Take away Fernandez's rookie innings limit, and, he could have won the NL Cy Young last year. It's hard to imagine him being quite that amazing this year, but, it's not entirely out of the question. Cishek could end up being the closer on a competitor in need come the trade deadline. Aside from all of that 2014 is looking to be a season of developing young talent while sitting in the cellar of the NL East.

NL Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Chicago Cubs

As much as I want the Cincinnati Reds to win this division, it's going to be incredibly difficult to overcome the St. Louis Cardinals. The three Matts (Carpenter, Holiday, Adams), Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina are going to produce a ton of runs. Once Kolten Wong learns how to run the bases and if Jhonny Peralta hits like he did last year before his suspension (despite being a liability in the field), it's scary to think how good this team is. They have an impeccable young rotation and bullpen with guys who are just getting started (Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal), that Adam Wainwright had a return to form is a crime.

The Reds have some questions on offense, but, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are safe bets to repeat or even improve on what they did in 2013. Leading off with Billy Hamilton is a little bit of a risk due to his inexperience, but, he also could be a much needed lightning rod for this group. That being said, the bottom of the batting order isn't awful, it's just nothing to be excited about. Now, I am very into this starting rotation. A healthy Johnny Cueto would do wonders for this club. If Homer Bailey can keep decreasing his ERA and increasing his strikeout totals each season, and Tony Cingrani can learn another pitch or two after his impressive 2014 debut, these guys are really in business. Oh, and, they also have Mat Latos in addition to Aroldis Chapman and hopefully a healthy Sean Marshall coming out of the bullpen. It's really not fair.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were a wonderful story last year, and they are essentially returning the same team to do it all over again. However, this team misses the playoffs in 2014 because of the Nationals. They'll still win 85-90 games with Starling Marte coming into his own and Andrew McCutchen doing his thing. The rotation could be great, or could be completely normal. There are a lot of if's there regarding Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez. It will be fun to see what former #1 overall pick Gerrit Cole does in his first season, and this bullpen is stacked.

Rewind three or four years, and the front part of the Milwaukee Brewers' starting rotation looks quite good. At this point, I'm interested in what Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta do in 2014. I'm really looking forward to the return of Ryan Braun, and truly hopes he proves that he can be an MVP without performance enhancing drugs. Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura took off last year, and, it should also be enjoyable to see if they can improve on their breakout seasons.There's actually a lot to like about this lineup, but, they're in a division with the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates, so, there's that.

Not really sure what to say about the Chicago Cubs. I guess there are some exciting elements about this offense. Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo and Starling Castro will be fun to follow, but, difficult to predict. Jeff Samardzija was supposed to be their ace in shining armor. Now, he's probably not going to be a Cub for too much longer. This club will be lucky if Travis Wood has half as good a season as he did in 2013.

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres

If everything lines up perfectly, the Dodgers are probably the best team in the MLB. I don't see this happening, but, I'm just saying, if it does... In a perfect world, the first five batters are made of dreams. Having Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp healthy for an entire season seems nearly impossible at this point, but, it's a really fun thought.  Remember when Matt Kemp used to put up Ryan Braun-type numbers? I guess that could be Yasiel Puig, now, who will be tremendously fun to follow in his first full season in the majors. Adrian Gonzalez is past his prime of putting up MVP-esque numbers. He's still pretty damn good, though. Then, there's the pitching. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu should all completely own it again this season. Adding a Dan Haren that could be healthier than he's been the past two season doesn't hurt, either. Lastly, Kenley Jansen has staked his claim as a dominating closer, and that is a great thing for this team.

Per usual, the San Francisco Giants are going to have some difficulty scoring runs, despite the talents of Buster Posey and the improvement of Brandon Belt. You don't know what you're going to get from Hunter Pence from year to year, and Pablo Sandoval is a perennial under-performer. This team will once again have to try and win with pitching and defense. The thing is, the starting rotation (Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong) and bullpen could either be amazing and take this team deep in the playoffs, or could be a complete disaster, aside from Bumgarner ruling.

 It seems that a lot of people are under the impression that if any time in the NL West is going to give the Dodgers any trouble, it's the Arizona Diamondbacks. I just don't see it. Sure, they have Paul Goldschmidt, who is quickly becoming one of the best all around players in the game. They added Mark Trumbo, who will hit plenty of home runs at the expense of his batting average. And, there are some solid vets here who can definitely play offense in Martin Prado and Aaron Hill. The bullpen is above average, but, the starting rotation is looking rough after the news that Patrick Corban will miss the entire season. This Trevor Cahill/Wade Miley/Brandon McCarthy/Bronson Arroyo/Randall Delgado line does not seem particularly damaging. When Archie Bradley is brought up, that should be a huge help, but, until then, I think the Giants have the slight edge, and an even greater edge if everything trends just right for them.

I'm not even going to touch on pitching when it comes to the Colorado Rockies, because, you can't really pitch in that air at that ballpark, and this team doesn't really seem to care about that aspect of the game. Hitting is definitely this team's strength, and they can be sneaky dangerous in any season that features Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez both being healthy for its entirety. Will this actually happen? Probably not.

The San Diego Padres ended the 2013 season on quite a good run. I don't quite understand how or why. Third basemen Chase Headley, who had a borderline MVP season in 2012, came back down to earth hard, ruining fantasy baseball teams everywhere. Carlos Quentin continued his penchant for being surprisingly really good for half a season, and injured for the rest of it. Will Venable can do a lot of things pretty well. Everth Cabrera is working towards up-and-coming lead-off man status. Andrew Cashner displayed good stuff on the mound, and Joaquin Benoit was a surprising and good addition to the bullpen. Does this all add up to a playoff contender? Of course not. Far from it.

AL Wild Card Game
Oakland Athletics over Kansas City Royals

NL Wild Card Game
Cincinnati Reds over Atlanta Braves

ALDS
Tampa Bay Rays over Oakland Athletics, 3-2
Detroit Tigers over Texas Rangers, 3-2

NLDS
Washington Nationals over Cincinnati Reds, 3-2
St. Louis Cardinals over Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-2

ALCS
Tampa Bay Rays over Detroit Tigers, 4-3

NLCS
Washington Nationals over St. Louis Cardinals, 4-2

World Series
Washington Nationals over Tampa Bay Rays, 4-1

AL Manager of the Year - Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
AL Rookie of the Year - Masahiro Tanako, New York Yankees (SP)
AL Cy Young - Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
AL MVP - Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (OF)

NL Manager of the Year - Matt Williams, Washington Nationals
NL Rookie of the Year - Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks (SP)
NL Cy Young - Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
NL MVP - Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (OF)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

2014 Emotional Listening #1

Outgoing Behavior
Outgoing Behavior - Crystal Skulls (Suicide Squeeze, 2006)
I believe it was my bud Julian who tipped me off to Crystal Skulls not along after their sophomore effort, Outgoing Behavior, was released. Aside from the title track and "The Cosmic Door," which are still far and away the best tracks here, I don't think I entirely got it until now. This is some nice soft rock (think Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates) with a mid-aughts guitar pop lean, showcasing some intelligent, moderately complex arrangements and extremely impressive musicianship. Fun fact: members of Crystal Skulls went on to join Sufjan Steven's touring band and Fleet Foxes. At this stage in my life, I prefer Crystal Skulls.
Top jams: "Outgoing Behavior," "Baby Boy," "The Cosmic Door," "Treat It Well," "Brigantine Castles," "Sedate & Satisfied"


Hashin' It Out
Hashin' It Out - Euphone (Jade Tree, 2000)
Euphone were a very bizarre act to be on Jade Tree Records. Not so much in personnel (the band was made up of Ryan Rapsys and Nick Macri, both former members of Gauge and Heroic Doses, and Rapsys had done time in Joan of Arc and Owls, while Macri also had been in C-Clamp), but, in sound. Hashin' It Out was the group's third LP, and it is all over the place. Opener, "Gyrations," sounds like the unfortunately dubbed "chillwave" subgenre that was big in 2009 (and, this record came out in 2000!). "Nick is Ryan" and "My Ladies Can't Remember the Eighties" are cool, modern takes on jazz music. "Honey, I'll be Home by Suppertime" is a moody Chicago-style post-rock ballad. The two best moments, though, are "Press On" and "Bad Ascending," which feature outright tropical vibes and sound like The Sea and Cake on speed. The instrumental, forward thinking music of Euphone might not be for everyone, but, I hope everyone can at least appreciate the awesome album cover.
Top jams: "Gyrations," "Press On," "Where's the B?," "Bad Ascending," "Shut It," "Nick is Ryan," "Honey, I'll be Home by Suppertime," "My Ladies Can't Remember the Eighties"




Quiet is the New Loud
Quiet is the New Loud - Kings of Convenience (Astralwerks, 2001)
I'm not going to argue if anyone thinks that some Kings of Convenience songs sound a little too much like Jack Johnson or something. Just know that those happen to be their worst songs, and they're few and far between, the rest of their material is SO MUCH better. Quiet is the New Loud was their debut LP, and the music within is essentially acoustic guitar and vocal duets (the harmonizing on this record is amazing), with sparse, but, slightly more extravagant arrangements thrown in periodically. Thus, the best and most obvious comparison is Simon & Garfunkel. The best songs are the first two: "Winning a Battle, Losing the War" and "Toxic Girl." The record loses it's way a little bit after that, but, it is still some downright gorgeous folk music.
Top jams: "Winning a Battle, Losing the War," "Toxic Girl," "Singing Softly to Me," "Failure," "The Weight of My Words," "Leaning Against the Wall," "Little Kids"




Moondance
Moondance - Van Morrison (Warner Bros., 1970)
Obviously, I've known about Van Morrison since I was a little kid mainly due to "Brown Eyed Girl." Moondance has really only been on my radar, though, since 2002, and I have the final scene and ending credits of The Royal Tenenbaums to thank for that. When the harpsichord of "Everyone" starts the transition from  film ending to credits rolling, it never fails to make me smile at one of my favorite films of all time. Anyway, I remember my friend (and roommate at the time) Abbott being really into Moondance during my freshman year of college, and that's where my interest in it was first planted. Then, during my sophomore year, Bravender put "Caravan" on a classic rock mix he made for me, and it has since become one of my favorite songs ever. I should have known that the rest of the record was just about as good. I won't deny that the title track is cheesy, but it's still a decent song! The non-"Caravan" or "Everone" best has to be "Into the Mystic," which is totally my type of autumn folk jam. Overall, Moondance is just about a perfect, wonderfully orchestrated classic pop record.
Top jams: "And It Stoned Me," "Crazy Love," "Caravan," "Into the Mystic," "Come Running," "These Dreams of You," "Everyone"




Rock Collection
Rock Collection - Pond (Work, 1997)
I don't know a lot about the 90s Portland, Oregon band Pond, aside from the fact that everything I've heard thus far has been awesome. Unfortunately, I started with their final album, Rock Collection, but, it happens to be really great. Like, so great that if the rest of their stuff is this good, they could come to be considered a "favorite band." They formed in 1991, and I'm not sure if they were thrown in much with the Seattle grunge movement, but, I guess you could say there is a slight grunge feel to their sound. That's only a tiny part of it, though. The rhythm section here is huge and drives the songs forward, while the guitars sometimes chug along and sometimes meander. The vocal melodies are extremely catchy, which is the main draw in places, but, it's a nice contrast with the unique guitar playing. "Spokes" is a great introduction to the band (probably the best, at least on this record), but "Greyhound" is my favorite song. On Rock Collection, I'd describe Pond as a mix of Weezer, Built to Spill and the more melodic of the Albini-rock bands. Check 'em out.
Top jams: "Spokes," "You're Not an Astronaut," "Scoliosis," "Flawed," "My Dog is an Astronaut, Though," "Forget," "Golden," "Greyhound," "Rebury Me," "Filterless"

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2013: #20-1

Big Wheel and Others
(20) Big Wheel and Others - Cass McCombs (Domino)
I find that if I have something to complain about regarding Cass McCombs, it is his tendency to craft songs that are way too long considering how repetitive they are (Catacombs and Wit's End, I'm looking at you). I was able to look past that on his second 2011 LP, Humor Risk, because the songs were THAT good. Now, on Big Wheel and Others he seems to have finally gotten back to what he did best on 2007's Dropping the Writ (which, I love): dark folk and sometimes bizarre guitar pop songs of reasonable length and with more of a typical structure. There's just one problem here. It is made up of 22 songs and is almost an hour-and-a-half long. 22 SONGS. AROUND 85 MINUTES. I have sworn off albums from bands that choose to be this indulgent. But, I can't shake this record. It is sad, and utterly gorgeous, and keeps me captivated the entire time. Maybe this will become my new thing instead of nine song full lengths that are under 30 minutes (nah!).
Top jam: "Morning Star"

MBV
(19) MBV - My Bloody Valentine (self-released)
MBV fans of all denominations have been waiting 20+ years for the oft rumored follow-up to Loveless. Was the wait worth it? I mean, sure, I guess. It is another My Bloody Valentine album, and it picks up where Loveless left off, and even progresses to some weird tribal dronings to close out the album. I'm sure this is a controversial stance, but, while there are jams (ESPECIALLY "New You") I don't view MBV as a necessary addition to the canon. But, like I said, it is a My Bloody Valentine album, and those guitars sound as strange and gorgeous as ever. So, it makes the list!
Top jam: "New You"

Kitchen Table
(18) Kitchen Table - Frank Schweikhardt - (Crossroads of America)
My Indiana friend Frank Schweikhardt used to play guitar and sing in an awesome emo/punk band called Away With Vega that an old band of mine used to play with. They were awesome, and so much fun to watch, and sounded like a cross between Braid and Small Brown Bike. Now, he's had this solo project (with assistance from some other Bloomington buds) going since 2006, and Kitchen Table is his third LP. The sound here could be considered slowcore in the vein of Sun Kil Moon, Idaho and Owen. The lush production works extremely well with the slow and mid tempos of the songs, smart instrumental arrangements and beautiful layers of guitars. And, Frank's subtle, hushed melodies top it all off. So proud of these boys.
Top jam: "Motel"

AMOK
(17) AMOK - Atoms for Peace (XL)
Ah, yes, the first full-length record under the Atoms for Peace moniker. I assume you know that this group is made up of Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich and... FLEA! This record rules. It sounds more like an extension of Yorke's 2006 solo record, The Eraser (but better), than Radiohead's The King of Limbs. The vocals and melodies are typically Yorkeian, and Flea's bass parts are surprisingly understated and fantastic. Throw that all in with a mix of sparse guitar, relatively difficult electro-pop and IDM beats, and you have AMOK. "Dropped," "Unless," and "Reverse Running" are all excellent.
Top jam: "Unless"

Long Enough to Leave
(16) Long Enough to Leave - The Mantles (Slumberland)
Thanks be to my girlfriend Sara for introducing me to this band. The Mantles sound like a beautiful mix of The Feelies and The Byrds, equal parts 80s jangle pop and 60s sunshine psych pop. Long Enough to Leave gets better with each listen. "Marbled Birds" and the title track are the best songs, but, "Rasberry Thighs" hits that fall jam sweet spot, sounding like a lost Real Estate song.
Top jam: "Long Enough to Leave"

The Distance is So Big
(15) The Distance is So Big - Lemuria (Bridge Nine)
I am an idiot, because I STILL haven't listened to what is supposedly Lemuria's best album, 2008's Get Better. Pebble was good enough to land in my top 40 of 2011, but my passion for that record wained as time went on. Now, this year's The Distance is So Big gets better every time I hear it. Sheena Ozzella's vocals and guitar chops are strong as ever, and the band seems more at home here than they did on Pebble (though, both being recorded by J. Robbins, I do like the production on the latter a bit more). Lemuria have reached that stage where they are much more than just emo or pop punk. This is technical guitar pop with smart hooks and plenty of hidden treasures. Listen to 'em, ya dummies!
Top jam: "Public Opinion Bath"

The Flower Lane
(14) The Flower Lane - Ducktails (Domino)
Matt Mondanile's Ducktails project started off as aimless, trippy, psychedelic bedroom music and had expanded to become the jangly guitar pop that was 2011's Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics. Mondanile took another big step on his fourth LP, The Flower Lane, by roping in a backing band made up of members of Big Troubles and adding a ton of keyboards. The result (aside from opener, "Ivy Covered House," which sounds like an awesome Real Estate song) sounds more in line with classic pop, soul and adult contemporary music. There's still an "indie" element to The Flower Lane (whatever that means anymore), but it seems like Mondanile was trying to channel way more MJ and Steely Dan than The Feelies, which makes for a more unique and surprisingly rewarding listen.
Top jam: "The Flower Lane"

10x
(13) 10x - Celestial Shore (Hometapes)
This record is INSANE. Imagine a less groove-oriented, even more technical Deerhoof. The songs are impeccably structured, yet, so intricate that their parts seem random. The complex musicianship and weird time signatures are mindblowingly impressive. There is a certain amount of pop sensibility here, as the melodies are gorgeous and some of the moments on 10x call back to the psychedelic sunshiney pop of the 60s. However, if you like straightforward pop song structure, Celestial Shore certainly are not for you.
Top jam: "Stairs Under Stars"

Random Access Memories
(12) Random Access Memories - Daft Punk (Columbia)
Return to form! Kind of, at least in that, unlike 2005's Human After All, Random Access Memories is not disappointing. I'm sure we've all come to terms with the fact that Daft Punk will never match nor exceed the glorious level they reached with 2001's Discovery, my second favorite record of that decade. RAM is not perfect; there are a few laughably poor decisions, and the record is WAY too long. But, there are a lot of charming aspects that I appreciate deeply, such as the way a variety of vocalists were used, as well as the live instrumentation. I also appreciate that it is not a collection of hits, but an actual album, even if its structured awkwardly in a few places. RAM is very much a Daft Punk album in the way that they knew exactly what they were doing, and they found ways to still catch their listeners off guard. I may not like to dance anymore. I may not listen to modern electronic music anymore that isn't Radiohead-related. But, I will always follow Daft Punk.
Top jam: "Fragments of Time"

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
(11) We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic - Foxygen (Jagjaguwar)
Foxygen may be made up of two young dudes that seem to hate each other, but, at least they provided some excellent music in 2013. Here are some swampy, sneakily complex guitar pop jams that call back to The Kinks and T. Rex. Great, very appropriate production, smart, quality songwriting, and the type of surprising changes that I have always loved. "No Destruction," "On Blue Mountain," "Shuggie" and "Oh Yeah" all rule big time.
Top jam: "Oh Yeah"

No Passion All Technique
(10) No Passion All Technique - Protomartyr (Urinal Cake)
It's been a little while since I've felt this excited about a newer Detroit band. I haven't had the honor to see them live yet, but on record, Protomartyr KILL.No Passion All Technique is a fantastic mix of jittery, post-punk and raw garage rock. Imagine Joy Division meets The Stooges? This record came out late in 2012, but, didn't come across my radar until half way through 2013. Regardless, I am stoked for their Hardly Art debut coming in 2014!
Top jam: "Hot Wheel City"

The Chronicles of Marnia
(9) The Chronicles of Marnia - Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars)
Marnie Stern's albums continue to get more poppy (which isn't a bad thing), but, that never takes away from her finger-tapping guitar heroics, nor the octopus drumming (formerly courtesy of Zach Hill, now Oneida's Kid Millions). Even moreso than 2010's self-titled offering, the musicianship here is extremely impressive. The songs may be driven even more by melody and not quite as zany, but, The Chronicles of Marnia is still very much Marnie Stern: ridiculous guitar riffage, mathy rhythms, etc. "Year of the Glad" and "Nothing is Easy" are typically awesome Marnie Stern affair, while the focus on groove in "East Side Glory" make it the top jam of the album.
Top jam: "East Side Glory"

Siberia
(8) Siberia - Polvo (Merge)
I have a few dude friends in their early-30s who have been encouraging me to spend time with Polvo for a while now. I had done so with 2009's In Prism (which I thought was pretty decent), and tried 1997's Shapes (I did not like it, but I do not remember why). It seems like last year's Siberia is generally considered a return to form record for the band. I don't know, I just think it's really great, technical, muscular guitar rock, with all the fixins of a real "Quillen" album (big, awesome guitars, complicated song structures, impressive, mathy drumming). I enjoy every song here, "Some Songs" taking top honor. I can't imagine how much better this record would be if the songs were shorter.
Top jam: "Some Songs"

Wakin on a Pretty Daze
(7) Wakin on a Pretty Daze - Kurt Vile (Matador)
I'm not going to pigeonhole Wakin on a Pretty Daze as a purely folk album; there is a lot more going on than just that. But, Kurt Vile is definitely the best thing going in folk music since early and mid-2000s Sufjan, and, at this stage of my life, I largely prefer Vile. Like on 2011's Smoke Ring for My Halo, Vile still has some Dylan/Young/Springsteen/Petty elements to his sound, but, the songs on Wakin on a Pretty Daze are more grandiose and epic in scope and length. This could be a bad thing, however, as is Vile's tradition, I easily get hypnotized and lost in the beauty of these songs. Once again, I could complain that they are too long, but, when they are this good, it is hard to do so. Simply put: Kurt Vile does it again, and I cannot wait for what is next.
Top jam: "Goldtone"

Fade
(6) Fade - Yo La Tengo (Matador)
Yo La Tengo have been releasing music since the dawn of time (or, 1986), and I am familiar/in love with their material from Painful (1993) onward. Based on my experience with them, they release an album every three-or-so years, and that album is always at least really good, if not absolutely great. Fade does not deviate from this pattern. It is their softest, slowest album since 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, but then again, it is incredibly dynamic like all of their records (that I've heard). There is a bit of variety from song to song in the first half, from epic folk rock to orchestral 60s pop to noisy YLT-style indie rock, etc. The second half seems to have more of a focus on the acoustic guitar, so I will dub it the "folk half" of Fade. I will not complain, as the songs are gorgeous (especially the huge, climactic closer, "Before We Run"), but, I would have loved a little more rockin' here. Otherwise, Fade is another YLT album that is pretty much on par with most of the rest (still up for debate).
Top jam: "Well You Better"

Light Up Gold
(5) Light Up Gold - Parquet Courts (What's Your Rupture?)
This record was originally released in 2012, and then What's Your Rupture? reissued it at the very beginning of 2013. Now that I have that out of the way, Light Up Gold RULES. Big time. I'll admit I didn't entirely get it at first; it just sounded like a pretty cool garage rock record. Then, I noticed all the subtle guitar nods to Pavement, which makes for a pretty interesting sound when combined with the simple, driving rhythms that make up these songs. The whole slacker feel here also calls back to Pavement, along with The Modern Lovers. Parquet Courts churn out 15 jams in under 35 minutes (love that) that sound like the two bands mentioned above rolled into one with some Television thrown in. I didn't like the 2013 EP Tally All the Things That You Broke nearly as much, but I am pumped for the next full-length.
Top jam: "Yr No Stoner"

Extended Plays
(4) Extended Plays - Cheatahs (Wichita)
Cheatahs are a newer London-based rock band that dabbles with elements of Britpop, shoegaze, dream pop, post-punk, and straight-up American indie rock, sounding not unlike an even poppier version Swervedriver's poppiest moments (with less technical drumming). As I'm sure you could have guessed, Extended Plays is not actually a proper LP, but a collection of two EPs originally released in 2012. Their proper full-length debut is to be released this month, and I cannot wait. Every moment of all eight of these songs are great, particularly "Coared," and I am expecting this 2014 LP to compete for album of the year status.
Top jam: "Coared"

Ideal Cities
(3) Ideal Cities - Roomrunner (Fan Death)
At this point, I feel like it's a disservice to Baltimore's Roomrunner to say they sound like a heavier Nirvana and other bands from the early 90s who ride the thin line between indie rock and grunge, but, they really do. Ideal Cities is loaded with atonal vocal melodies, big, roomy drums, beefy power chords and perhaps the most important sound on the whole record: TONS of feedback. It's hard to explain, but, Ideal Cities is much more than just a Nirvana knock off, even if I can't think of a more original way to describe it at this point. I am really into this record and love the way it sounds. Really looking forward to their follow-up EP (recorded by J. Robbins!), as well as seeing them at New Way Bar in Ferndale later this month.
Top jam: "Weird"

Am
(2) Am - Ovlov (Exploding in Sound)
Connecticut's Ovlov came out of nowhere for me. Well, they were recommended to me by a couple of trusted friends, so, not exactly nowhere, I guess. But, I had never heard of them prior. Anyway, their 2013 LP Am is fantastic in that lo-fi, Dinosaur Jr.-meets-My Bloody Valentine way. The vocals are understated and the guitars are huge and gnarly, combining early-90s indie rock fuzz with shoegaze's bending and warped tones. Every song is pretty much lights out, with "The Well," "Where's My Dini?," "Moth Rock" and "The Great Alligator" being the absolute best. Production-wise, this record is sort of a mess, sounding like it was recorded quickly in a basement or garage. This is probably perfect for these songs in particular. I'd be interested to hear them record in the future with Albini or something, though. It doesn't matter. Everything Ovlov did here makes Am my second favorite album of 2013. Now, on to #1.
Top jam: "Where's My Dini?"

Major Arcana
(1) Major Arcana - Speedy Ortiz (Carpark)
I had a pretty good idea after my first or second listen that Speedy Ortiz's Major Arcana, would be my favorite record of the year. It's a very "Quillen" album: complex song structures, dual guitars intricately tangled together in jagged rhythms, smart, enjoyable melodies, etc. Major Arcana is too complex to be considered a hook-heavy album, but, after wading through all the dense trickery presented here, there are indeed hooks to be found after all. Speedy Ortiz have repeatedly been compared to a holy trinity of sorts in 1990s indie rock: Pavement, Archers of Loaf and Helium (I'd even throw in Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville, which I need to spend way more time with, and soon). Apparently, this is the best combination of sounds possible at this point in time, and Speedy O put an awesome, fresh twist on everything, keeping it from sounding dated, unoriginal or overwrought. Without question, this is the greatest of 2013.
Top jam: "Fun"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2013: #40-21

Knots
(40) Knots - Crash of Rhinos (Topshelf)
I was very skeptical of Crash of Rhinos, though, I'm not exactly sure why. Surprise, surprise, turns out, Knots is a good emo record, especially in a year that's pretty weak with the stuff (at least compared to 2012). It helps that there's a lot of variety in dynamics and vocal styles (between nice and yell-y) here. It gets a little too post-rock in some places for my taste, but that gets cancelled out by the noodly guitars and wanky drumming that pop up from time to time. Track two, cleverly titled "Opener," might be the emo jam of the year.
Top jam: "Opener"

The Constant One
(39) The Constant One - Iron Chic (Bridge Nine)
Iron Chic got the Pitchfork hype treatment at the very end of this year, and of all the like-minded bands that somehow Ian Cohen was allowed to write about on that site, they might be the most deserving. A couple complaints: all the gang vocals get a little tiring, and I'm not a huge fan of singer-guy's voice. BUT, these are some really great, huge sounding pop punk songs, and the element of unity is strong in this one, in a similar way to Japandroids' Celebration Rock. "Spooky Action at a Distance" is one of my favorite songs of the year, though I prefer the 7" version.
Top jam: "(Castle) Numbskull"

I Won't Hold This Against You
(38) I Won't Hold This Against You - Light Years (Paper + Plastick)
Obviously, I know that music is a subjective, personal thing, and I don't have to be embarrassed of anything I like or listen to. It is hard for me to admit to the internet public (the three or four of you who read this) that I am into this record. Light Years sound like New Found Glory, Blink-182 and MxPx. There are some really great moments on I Won't Hold This Against You (mainly when they shift from double-time to half-time in a variety of choruses), and the melodies are sooooooooo catchy. I have been suckered into this. Stop laughing at me.
Top jam: "Parking Lots"

The World is Real
(37) The World is Real - Lake (K)
Here's my selfish, pretentious hipster side (which I try to keep hidden most of the time) talking: I kind of love that none of my friends know about the K Records band Lake. Among the large number of people that I commune with over music, Lake are mine and no one else's! Seriously, though, it really is unfortunate that this band is by and large ignored. They are not just another twee band that has ties to K Records. There is an element of that to their sound, but I would say they're influenced more by adult contemporary legends like Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan. Their latest, The World is Real, even nods to some early-90s R&B (not sure if that's a turnoff or a bonus to anyone who reads this). Nothing else that they've done has come close to their wonderful 2009 record, Let's Build a Roof, but, this certainly will suffice.
Top jam: "Perfect Fit"

Anything in Return
(36) Anything in Return - Toro y Moi (Carpark)
With the release of his third Toro y Moi LP, Anything in Return, Chaz Bundick pretty much came right out and said, "This is a big, straight-up pop record." And, it is. Had this been the follow-up to 2010's Causers of This, I think I would have appreciated it more. But, instead, he threw a curveball in 2011 with the psychedelic R&B masterpiece that is Underneath the Pine, and then backpedaled to craft some straightforward, grandiose, expertly-produced pop jams. Don't get me wrong, Anything in Return is good, it's just a little bit of a come-down.
Top jam: "Never Matter"

Lucky Leaves
(35) Lucky Leaves - Krill (self-released)
Krill are part of the whole Massachusetts indie rock/Exploding in Sound scene, which really seems to have taken off this year. Lucky Leaves is pretty awesome (especially the first half), and the closest comparison I can make for it would be Built to Spill and Pavement, though these songs don't really sound like either of those bands. That probably doesn't make any sense, but it feels right. Intricate guitars, driving bass, shitty production, which is sort of charming, though I'd like to hear this record with a real producer behind it. The vocals sometimes sound a tad bit too Born Ruffians, but there's enough interesting stuff going on to make up for that.
Top jam: "Sick Dogs (For Ian)"

I Hate Music
(34) I Hate Music - Superchunk (Merge)
It's crazy to think that Superchunk have been churning out quality punk-infused rock music for almost 25 years now (give or take). I Hate Music is their 10th LP, and while I prefer 2010's Majesty Shredding, it proves that these seasoned indie rock veterans still have it in 'em (even if some of the songs can be a little boring). The highlights: "Void" is a badass rock song with the type of tricky structure that I love, "Low F" and its subtle emo undertones, the chord progressions and melodies in "Breaking Down."
Top jam: "Breaking Down"

Bankrupt!
(33) Bankrupt! - Phoenix (Glassnote)
Not quite the follow-up to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix that I was hoping for, especially after a four-year wait, but I'm over that now. The production on Bankrupt! is equally as appealing, even if the songs aren't (though "The Real Thing," "SOS in Bel Air," "Trying to be Cool," and "Drakkar Noir" are all great). There's just no "Too Young," "If I Ever Feel Better," "Lisztomania" or "1901." Which, is fine. If you already like Phoenix, there's plenty to enjoy here.
Top jam: "Drakkar Noir"

Always Whatever
(32) Always Whatever - Sundials (Asian Man)
Richmond, VA's Sundials are so good at this classic alternative rock/pop punk thing that this collection of b-sides, rarities and forgotten songs made my year-end list. Yes, there is most definitely some inconsistency in recording fidelity and quality of songwriting, but, that is to be expected. Plus, the great moments rival the best ones on When I Couldn't Breathe (which, in retrospect, should have ranked higher than #16 on my 2012 list). "Assailant" and "Shelter Girl" are true JAMS.
Top jam: "Assailant"

The Things We Think We're Missing
(31) The Things We Think We're Missing - Balance and Composure (No Sleep)
I will forever associate this record with the Daylight record that also came out this year (SPOILER ALERT: that one is #23 on this list). I wrote the blurb for Jar first, and I guess I'll be elaborating more now, which might make things a bit disjointed. Continuing on, music that sounds like these two records has become quite the trend in popular punk rock in 2013. What do you call this? Post-nu-emo? Nu-post-alternative? Anyway, there were times this year where I thought I liked this Balance and Composure record more than the Daylight one. The Things We Think We're Missing is a bit more diverse, especially rhythmically, structurally and in vocal style. So, that should mean I should like it more, right? However, there are surely some outright duds here, which is not the case with Jar. Also, my favorite moments on Jar are probably more memorable than the ones on The Ts We Think We're M-ing. So, there's that. Oh, and in case I convinced you otherwise, this is still a good record!
Top jam: "Back of Your Head"

Jar
(30) Jar - Daylight (Run for Cover)
Sometimes I listen to this record and wonder: "Do I really like this? If so, why? Doesn't it sort of sound like the terrible radio rock you hated in the late-90s/early-2000s? This is almost nu-metal, isn't it?" Other times I listen to it and think: "Yes, this rules! It sounds like Deftones' Around the Fur and STP's Purple and Soundgarden's Down on the Upside and Title Fight's "In-Between" all rolled into one! This record is bad ass and huge!" So, as you see, I have a conflicted relationship with Daylight's Jar, and I'll just leave it at that.
Top jam: "In On It"

You're Nothing
(29) You're Nothing - Iceage (Matador)
I liked the idea of Iceage's 2011 debut, New Brigade, more than I actually liked the album (although it had two total bad ass jams). Their sophomore LP, You're Nothing, is more in line with what I was hoping for. The vocals still snarl in the most atonal way, and the drums are still primal as shit, but, thankfully, some melodicism comes out more in the guitars (which are still pretty discordant at times, of course), and that helps flesh these songs out in a way that I really dig. These melodic moments are few and far between, but they make the waiting for them well worth it. Especially when the album ends so strongly (the last three songs kill). In case this blurb has been confusing and uninformative so far, overall, I'd describe the sound of You're Nothing as heavy post-punk mixed with exotic hardcore. Something like that.
Top jam: "You're Nothing"

Shade Perennial
(28) Shade Perennial - Bottomless Pit (Comedy Minus One)
Admittedly, my knowledge of the classic 90s Chicago indie rock band Silkworm is at an extreme minimum. I've listened to some songs, and I know that they seem like a band I could get way into because of their guitars. I know that they were on Matador and Touch and Go at different points. I know that their drummer died in a terrible car accident. I know that three of my bandmates love them. I know that Stephen Malkmus loves them. I know that I love the song "Couldn't You Wait?," and that a documentary about the band with the same title was produced. And, I know that two of the guys went on to form Bottomless Pit, of whom I know even less about. However, knowing that I need to at least start somewhere, I have spent ample enough time with their latest, Shade Perennial, to know that an intense, longstanding love affair with both of these bands is bound to happen in 2014. Shade Perennial is a mellower form of Albini-rock, or at least it sounds like it was recorded by Steve Albini. My favorite moment is the stupid-long fade out and then sudden stop in closer, "Felt a Little Left."
Top jam: "Felt a Little Left"

Stop Breathing
(27) Stop Breathing - Donovan Wolfington (Community/Broken World)
Here's a band that came out of nowhere for me. Donovan Wolfington is a loud, noodly, super fuzzy, emo-y pop punk band from New Orleans, and Stop Breathing is their debut full length. 90s-referencing all around, they remind me of a sloppier Luther with more yelling, or a less technical Glocca Morra... somewhere along those lines. "Spencer Green," "Ryan Rowley," and "Hell" are JAMS.
Top jam: "Hell"

Uncanney Valley
(26) Uncanney Valley - The Dismemberment Plan (Partisan)
I will openly admit that my expectations for The Dismemberment Plan's reunion were completely unrealistic. I was really hoping for Uncanney Valley to rival Emergency & I and Change, but, I should have known that was not going to happen. I think Dinosaur Jr. spoiled us all by how awesome their reunion records Beyond and Farm were. Now, I will say that, as maligned as they were, I enjoyed Travis Morrison's two solo albums, and Uncanney Valley feels more in line with those than any previous D-Plan recording. Maybe if the band had chosen a different name for this endeavor, that would have helped things? Anyway, all of this complaining only to say that with each listen, Uncanney Valley grew on me, and I have come to appreciate it. It's still a smart, unique take on danceable guitar pop, and I'm very glad that it happened, even the regrettable moments.
Top jam: "Waiting"

X'ed Out
(25) X'ed Out - Tera Melos (Sargent House)
Tera Melos' most recent full-length, X'ed Out, was another one of those surprise albums for me in 2013. I had never really spent any time with the band, though based off things that I'd read, I assumed I'd like them. I didn't realize how much, though. They do noodly guitars and mathy drums well, and without overwhelming, as there is a strong sense of melody, especially in "Weird Circles" and "Sunburn" (best song). 2002-2006 Quillen would have lost it over this.
Top jam: "Sunburn"

Days Are Gone
(24) Days Are Gone - Haim (Columbia/Polydor)
It seems like almost everyone loved the Haim sisters' debut Days Are Gone, and I totally get it. While it didn't blow my brain out of my head, the talent these gals display is undeniable, as is their penchant for quality pop songwriting. My bud and bandmate Bravender tried to hook me by describing this record as 80s Fleetwood Mac mixed with Phoenix. I definitely hear that in the melodies, musicianship and especially the production, and, bonus that there is even more to it that drew me in further.
Top jam: "Honey & I"

Modern Vampires of the City
(23) Modern Vampires of the City - Vampire Weekend (XL)
On first listen, I was hugely let down by Modern Vampires of the City. Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut LP was my favorite album of 2008, and Contra was my fifth-favorite of 2010, so, maybe my expectations were a little unfair. I finally came around thanks to jams like "Unbelievers," "Diane Young," "Everlasting Arms" and "Finger Back" (and in spite of the annoying "Step"), and realized that M Vs of the C is just another VW record, perhaps more mature, and with a little more focus on production and changing moods. It's good, but not album-of-the-year good.
Top jam: "Everlasting Arms"

An Object
(22) An Object - No Age (Sub Pop)
No Age continue to do two things that I love on their latest, An Object: (1) Not sound like anything else going on in music, but, still somehow sounding punk, and, (2) show such restraint from song to song to the point that I feel like, to quote Arrested Development, they get off being withholding. Example: Album opener, "No Ground," is one of the louder songs on the album, and certainly is the one that calls for the most bad ass of drumming, and, yet, there are no drums. I hate that, but, I also love that. This is An Object. The first seven tracks are pretty much untouchable, the main highlights being the jangly guitars and chord progression in "I Won't be Your Generator," the general weirdness of "Defector/Ed," and how completely gorgeous (strings and all) "An Impression" is.
Top jam: "I Won't be Your Generator"

Clash the Truth
(21) Clash the Truth - Beach Fossils (Captured Tracks)
Captured Tracks' representation on this year's list is much thinner than the last two years, and that's kind of a bummer. I guess we have officially moved on from the 80s revival to the 90s revival. Beach Fossils' second LP, Clash the Truth was largely ignored, which, I kind of understand. It is a great collection of 80s-style melodic, poppy post-punk like earlier New Order, The Cure and The Wake, with a smidge more shoegaze thrown in. Lots of layered, chimey guitar leads, bored, reverb-y vocals and driving drums and bass. This is probably the exact same stuff I was saying about their 2011 EP, What a Pleasure. "Birthday" and "In Vertigo" = best guitar chord usage!
Top jam: "Birthday"