Sunday, September 14, 2014

Emotional Listening #48

Hunky Dory
Hunky Dory - David Bowie (RCA, 1971)
I did a weird thing with David Bowie. Instead of starting with the albums that featured his most popular hits (Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, even Station to Station), when I finally decided to be super interested in his music, I went right for the weird ones (Low, Heroes). I don't regret that, because his late-70s experimental albums are fantastic, but, honestly, it certainly didn't help develop any further appreciation for Bowie's more straightforward glam and psychedelic pop. Don't get me wrong - I still like his more classic sound (he was obviously still an incredible songwriter and musician in the earlier stages of the game), and, regarding this specific album of focus, "Queen Bitch" has always been one of my favorite Bowie songs. I just strongly prefer Bowie's more insane side. Anyway, Hunky Dory is still a great early-70s pop record that heavily nods toward psych and folk rock. I used to think "Changes" was obnoxious because you'd hear it way too much at the bar or karaoke, but, man, it is a really good song and the perfect opener. I was an idiot. "Oh! You Pretty Things" and "Fill Your Heart" sound like cheezy Paul McCartney tunes to me, but, Bowie-fied. I still like 'em. "Life on Mars" used to sort of annoy me, but, I know it's another totally good pop song. Maybe it's just a little too dramatic? Lastly, "Queen Bitch" is still my favorite song on the record. It's fun as hell.
Top jams: "Changes," "Oh! You Pretty Things," "Life on Mars," "Kooks," "Fill Your Heart," "Song for Bob Dylan," "Queen Bitch"



Whirlpool
Whirlpool - Chapterhouse (Dedicated/RCA, 1991)
I don't know a ton about Chapterhouse. As I'm working on this blurb, I've learned that they were from Reading and only released two albums: 1991's Whirlpool and 1993's Blood Music. My girlfriend Sara tipped me off to them by sharing with me "Breather," the opener from Whirlpool. "Breather" is without question THE jam of the record with its pretty, dreamy, drawn out female vocals, catchy and chimey guitar, and completely insane drum part (still trying to figure out if its real or sampled). Nothing else on the record even comes to close to this song, but, the overall quality is still high. Whirlpool showcases some truly solid tuneage in the realm of shoegaze and dream pop, and it has me interested in checking out that 1993 follow-up.
Top jams: "Breather," "Pearl," "Treasure," "Falling Down," "Guilt," "If You Want Me"



Zenyatta Mondatta
Zenyatta Mondatta - The Police (A&M, 1980)
It's no Synchronicity, but, The Police's third LP, Zenyatta Mondatta, is pretty good. I know, I know, there are definitely some elements of it that are terribly corny, such as the title and chorus of "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" (though, I can't deny that it's a catchy tune). However, the good outweighs the bad. Mega-hit "Don't Stand So Close to Me" is still great, considering the fact that I've heard it way too many times in my life. "When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around" and "Voices Inside My Head" groove in a way that I don't know The Police were capable of. "Canary in a Coalmine," for better or worse, is the most reggae moment on the record, and is unquestionably the surprise top jam here. Cheezy or not, The Police were one of the more unique bands at the time, and were incredible musicians. I will always appreciate them for that.
Top jams: "Don't Stand So Close to Me," "When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around," "Canary in a Coalmine," "Voices Inside My Head," "Bombs Away," "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," "Man in a Suitcase"



Let It Be
Let It Be - The Replacements (Twin/Tone, 1984)
Okay, so, I've spent time with Let It Be (not the Beatles album, but the third album by The Replacements, often considered their seminal work). It's always seemed to be on in the background, usually while hanging out with friends or something. So, I hadn't really put in the amount of focus that I typically like to with an album until these past few weeks. Wonderfully, it's even better than I had at first realized, even borderline perfect. Sure, "Gary's Got a Boner" isn't a great song, but, at least it's funny! I'm not really a fan of "Black Diamond" either, but, I love every other song. The awesomely jangly "I Will Dare" is the perfect opener, and has always been my favorite Replacements song (though over the past year, "Asking Me Lies," from Don't Tell a Soul, has given it some competition). "Favorite Thing," "We're Comin' Out," and "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" are bad ass, boozy rock songs, with the latter two riding the line of straight up punk rock. "Androgynous" is a piano tune that is a weird fit, but, really works as a sort of intermission. "Unsatisfied" and "Sixteen Blue" are great almost-ballads, both featuring excellent melodies and guitar chords. "Seen Your Video" is another balls-out rocker, and "Answering Machine," the hidden gem, closes things out. That song has always been weird to me, because the first time I ever heard it, I thought it really could have used drums and bass instead of being the bare bones entity that it is. But, that's also part of the charm of the song. It gives off so much energy and raw emotion with just a guitar, vocals, off-time tambourine shaking and, of course, and answering machine message. Anyway, I ridiculously just gave a quick rundown of the whole album, which was not my originally intention. But, whatever. If you haven't already listened to this record, I'm guessing you probably won't. But, you should.
Top jams: "I Will Dare," "Favorite Thing," "We're Comin' Out," "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out," "Androgynous," "Unsatisfied," "Seen Your Video," "Sixteen Blue," "Answering Machine"



Mezcal Head
Mezcal Head - Swervedriver (Creation/A&M, 1993)
Mezcal Head, Swervedriver's sophomore LP, has quickly become an all-time favorite record. My interest in started when both Travis and Sara (again, my girlfriend) described the band as something I would love quite a long time ago. I had listened to the album a handful of times with Sara, and maybe once or twice with Trav, and I could tell that once I put in the proper amount of time with it, I would have a life-long relationship with it. Well, it's happened. Mezcal Head is an incredible album, wrongfully being lumped in with the shoegaze genre. Swervedriver hail from Oxford, but, they sound  much more like an American band, perhaps from Chicago. The songs here are big and surprisingly melodic considering how technical they can get. Adam Franklin's vocal melodies are top notch (and he has a fantastic voice, to boot). The dueling guitars are the stuff dreams are made of. The bass guitar tone is thick and the parts are just right. I will say that the production on the drums does sound a bit more Brit Pop than anything else on the record, but, they sound fantastic, and Jez Hindmarsh's playing is awesomely tight and complex. Overall, I'd say that Mezcal Head is comparable to Chavez, Shiner and Hum, perhaps with even bigger production and a bit more pop sensibility. While "Duel" is definitely an all-time favorite song, in the context of the album, I had a hard time picking a favorite, so I decided to additionally share "Harry & Maggie" and "You Find It Everywhere." Now, question: Where do I go next with Swervedriver? Do I go back to their debut, Raise? Or, do I move ahead to Ejector Seat Reservation?
Top jams: "For Seeking Heat," "Duel," "Blowin' Cool," "MM Abduction," "Last Train to Satansville," "Harry & Maggie," "Girl on a Motorbike," "You Find It Everywhere"





Friday, September 5, 2014

2014 NFL Preview

Here comes my annual preview of the impending NFL season (already one game under way), which will eventually be embarrassingly incorrect.

DIVISION PREDICTIONS

AFC East
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
2. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
3. Miami Dolphins (6-10)
4. New York Jets (5-11)

Per usual, Tom Brady and angry mad genius Bill Belichick will lead the New England Patriots to an AFC East title, probably a trip to the AFC Championship, and maybe even a chance to lose to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. With an improved defense and more time spent gelling as a team overall, the AFC Championship appearance is that much more of a lock. For some reason the Miami Dolphins seem to be getting some hype. Maybe it's just because I haven't been reading too much about them, but, I don't understand why this is. I think between defense and young, talented weapons on offense (regardless of NFL experience), the Buffalo Bills are the better team. Not that they're going to be good. I expect the New York Jets to be atrocious this year due to drama and lack of true talent, and that should be really fun.

AFC North
1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
3. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
4. Cleveland Browns (5-11)

The Cincinnati Bengals have a very good defense and capable offense that could really blow up if Andy Dalton can decrease the number of mistakes. This makes them the best team in a mediocre AFC North, albeit not a great team. A.J. Green is probably the best wide receiver in the conference, right? With a .500 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens both could legitimately compete for one of the Wild Card playoff spots along with the Kansas City Chiefs. It's always a fun race between these two AFC North teams, but, over the past few years it has gotten less and less interesting as their overall quality has diminished. It makes me sad. Also, fuck Ray Rice. That Josh Gordon is suspended for the whole year is a crime compared to what Ray Rice did, and it makes me sick. That being said, Gordon's absence makes the Cleveland Browns a lock for being terrible once again in 2014. The Johnny Manziel thing will be fascinating, however, I'm not sure if I should hate him for being an obnoxious douche-hole, or root for him because he is an entertaining obnoxious douche-hole.

AFC South
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
2. Houston Texans (7-9)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
4. Tennessee Titans (4-12)

Andrew Luck is a much different quarterback than Peyton Manning is (and was when he was the Indianapolis Colts' golden boy), but, I believe that he will eventually have the same effect on the team as Manning did, and may even win more championships once he and Brady retire. The Indianapolis defense seems to be improving, and once they can acquire a competent running back, they will be very good. The Houston Texans certainly have a giant uphill battle after their 2-14 2013. I don't follow college football or the NFL Draft very closely, so I don't know a ton about Jadeveon Clowney, but, apparently he is a once-in-a-generation stud on defense. Perhaps he alone will help them to be the second best team in the AFC South again, like they were in the conference's latter Manning days. I have no idea what to say about the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans, aside from the fact that they will be god-awful.

AFC West
1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
2. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
4. Oakland Raiders (3-13)

Obviously Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos are the team to beat. Last year's record breaking offense will simmer down a smidge thanks to the Wes Welker suspension, the loss of Eric Decker (though his replacement, Emmanuel Sanders, is probably a more dangerous weapon), and simply NFL defenses catching on a little bit. That being said, like New England, the Broncs defense is improved, and that should go a long way. Only the Pats and the Broncs have the talent enough to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It's almost a toss up, except that it's not, because the Broncos are still better. I'd say that Demaryius Thomas might actually be tied with A.J. Green as the best wideout in the NFL, but, Thomas has one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time throwing to him, so, that helps. Anyway, the San Diego Chargers will probably have pretty close to the same season they had in 2013: great passing offense thanks to a brilliant offensive-minded coach and a habitually pissed off, underrated QB, a surprisingly serviceable running attack, and one of the absolute worst running defenses in the entire league. They are on a fast track to a Wild Card playoff round exit. The Kansas City Chiefs will not be as good as they were last year when they inexplicably were undefeated for forever (incredible defense at the time, I know, but, they really fell off). They'll still be an entertaining, competitive squad, but, it pretty much ends there. As long as he's healthy, Jamaal Charles will be the second or third most exciting player to watch. I will be surprised if the Oakland Raiders aren't the most embarrassingly terrible team in the AFC, if not the entire NFL.

NFC East
1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
2. Washington R------s (8-8)
3. New York Giants (7-9)
4. Dallas Cowboys (7-9)

Can there be a more mediocre division than the AFC North? Yes, and that is the NFC East. Defenses will finally be catching on to Chip Kelly's ridiculously uptempo offense, but, the Philadelphia Eagles will still be a blast to watch. LeSean McCoy is a true stud, and I believe Nick Foles to be a darkhorse MVP candidate despite his small sample size. Not sure how effective his receivers will actually be, though, after the loss of DeSean Jackson. Should be interesting. Also, that defense isn't going to be very good, is it? They're still the best team in the division. I firmly believe that the Washington R------s will be the second best team in the NFC East as that offense has potential to be pretty amazing if the coaching staff learns how to use RGIII. I really want to root for the guy. I like him a lot. But, the racist team name makes it hard to not wish for the worst for them at this point. I look forward to another laughable season from Eli Manning, and really the whole New York Giants team. They really are a consistently bad to mediocre team who somehow limps into a Super Bowl victory every four years. And, oh, the Dallas Cowboys. I want to sort of like them now that they picked up Michael Sam after the St. Louis Rams cut him (fuck you Rams, you totally deserve the Sam Bradford season-ending injury). I also don't hate Tony Romo, and think he is a very good regular season/fantasy QB when he's healthy. His instances of choking are charming and hilarious to me. I also really like DeMarco Murray, but, maybe that's only because I ended up drafting him for one of my fantasy squads this year. However, Jerry Jones is the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and he is an evil goblin who deserves the worst. I cannot wait for the day that he says some racist Donald Sterling shit and loses his ownership.

NFC North
1. Green Bay Packers (12-4)
2. Chicago Bears (10-6)
3. Detroit Lions (7-9)
4. Minnesota Vikings (5-11)

I know that the Green Bay Packers just got their asses destroyed by the Seattle Seahawks last night, but, they are still far and away the best team in the NFC North, without question. Aaron Rodgers is like Brady, Manning and Drew Brees in that it doesn't matter what he has to work with, his stats will be amazing and he will win 10 to 13 games single handedly. He's got some quality receivers, though, and a potentially the next great young running back in Eddie Lacy if he stays healthy. They certainly need help at tight end. Defense is definitely the only real question mark here, and it could go either way. I think the Chicago Bears will finally land that Wild Card playoff spot again, simply because of the incredible offense. It's funny to think of Jay Cutler leading an "incredible" offense because, let's face it, he's really not that great, and he is a huge douche. BUT, man, between Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte, dude has the best set of weapons. I feel like every year I predict my Detroit Lions to go 7-9. 2014 is no exception. Once again, the Lions are extremely talented in certain areas on both sides of the ball (and seriously, their offense is surprisingly kinda stacked now), but, somehow, they will find a way to screw everything up and be the definition of mediocre. Don't hate me because I'm being realistic. Of course I'm rooting for them to win it all, but, let's be real here. They still have some work to do. I will say that I am very excited about Joique Bell, and am pulling for him to be the guy eventually. The Minnesota Vikings will certainly struggle all year, but Adrian Peterson makes them relevant. Cordarrelle Patterson makes them more relevant. And, Teddy Bridgewater makes them even more relevant! He will be fun to follow over the next year or two.

NFC South
1. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
3. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)
4. Carolina Panthers (7-9)

The New Orleans Saints improved on defense, and Drew Brees is to Aaron Rodgers what Tom Brady is to Peyton Manning (incredible quarterback with mad scientist head coach and limited resources vs. incredible quarterback with meathead head coach and pseudo-studs). They are hands down the best team in the NFC South, and will compete for the NFC Championship, but, will fall short because of the Seattle Seahawks. My bold prediction for this season is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be 2014's Arizona Cardinals and go 10-6, just missing the playoffs. I believe in them. Not necessarily either of their quarterbacks (Josh McCown or Mike Glennon, though, they are both potentially fun stories), but, the weapons they have to work with are pretty impressive. Also, this defense has become pretty stacked, and it seems like defense wins NFC Championships. Not that I'll be going that far with this team, though. The Atlanta Falcons will be much better this season with Matt Ryan's every-other-year magic and a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White. Their TE and RB situations are UGLY, though, and this defense is still really bad. The Carolina Panthers will be this year's NFC South first-to-worst story, but, if Cam Newton can stay relatively healthy, he and the extremely talented defense will lead them to roughly seven victories. Who the hell is Cam gonna throw to, though? My friend Brian says Kelvin Benjamin. I'm not sure I even know who that is.

NFC West
1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
2. San Francisco 49ers (11-5)
3. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)
4. St. Louis Rams (5-11)

Russell Wilson. Marshawn Lynch. Percy Harvin. Essentially everyone on that defense. I am simply listing all the reasons why the Seattle Seahawks should fairly easily make it back to the Super Bowl. Despite all the drama, stupid mistakes and "distractions" (one of my least favorite NFL buzzwords), the San Francisco 49ers will still win 10 to 12 games and look like the second best team in the NFC coming out of what was (and should have been if it weren't for certain injuries) the toughest division in the entire NFL. I know there's a weird rape-y store regarding Colin Kaepernick that recently surfaced that's gonna make it hard for me to root for him, and Jim Harbaugh is a giant baby-gremlin. Otherwise, I would root for them over the Seahawks. But, I won't. Regardless, this team will run the ball like hell (regardless of Frank Gore getting closer and closer to being an NFL grandpa), and the defense will still be very good despite some critical injuries and suspensions and whatnot. The Arizona Cardinals were another hype team for a while there, and I understand why a little more than the Miami Dolphins. But, Carson Palmer will come down from his mountain and be mediocre and Larry Fitzgerald will eventually retire a depressed Cardinal. Bums me out. The defense will still be decent in spite of some critical injuries (sounding like a broken record... stopping soon), and maybe Andre Ellington is something special? Moving on, Sam Bradford's season-ending injury was preemptive karma for the St. Louis Rams cutting Michael Sam, and they also deserve another 10 years of being terrible. Their defense is pretty awesome, though, and I am hoping Zac Stacy and Tavon Austin end up being studs.

POST-SEASON AWARDS
Coach of the Year: Marc Trestman (Chicago) - Trestman for getting the Bears back to the playoffs with an incredible offense despite Jay Cutler. Lovie Smith (Tampa Bay) and Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco) were also considered.
Comeback Player of the Year: Julio Jones (WR, Atlanta) - He is the stud that got injured in the middle of an incredible season in 2013, and will come back to be pretty great for a whole season.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney (OLB, Houston) - He's really the only name I know, and like I said, is apparently a once-in-a-generation player.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sammy Watkins (WR, Buffalo) - I originally was thinking Johnny Manziel (QB, Cleveland), but, that was only if he was going to start the whole season. Watkins is supposedly the most talented offensiveman in this draft class, right?
Defensive Player of the Year: Earl Thomas (FS, Seattle) - I figured I had to pick someone from the Seahawks. Offenses are going to be too smart to throw Richard Sherman's direction, so he will essentially disappear and Thomas will get more attention.
Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy (RB, Philadelphia) - I like to pick an offensive player that is not a quarterback for this award, since a quarterback always wins MVP. McCoy is incredibly versatile, and though Matt Forte (RB, Chicago) and Jamaal Charles (RB, Kansas City) are similar players, I think he is slightly better.
Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers (QB, Green Bay) - I think this is essentially a toss up between Rodgers, Peyton Manning (QB, Denver), Tom Brady (QB, New England) and Drew Brees (QB, New Orleans). Rodgers gets the nod in my book, because he was injured for a healthy portion of last season and the Packers went 8-7-1 and still won the NFC North and made the playoffs, and this year he will be there for the entire season and they will go 12-4 and be a Super Bowl contender, proving exactly how valuable he is to that team. That said, in an MVP race, all four of these guys are interchangeable, and whoever has the highest QB rating, most passing yards and touchdowns will win the award.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

AFC Wild Card Round
(3) Cincinnati Bengals over (6) Pittsburgh Steelers
(4) Indianapolis Colts over (5) San Diego Chargers

NFC Wild Card Round
(3) New Orleans Saints over (6) Chicago Bears
(5) San Francisco 49ers over (4) Philadelphia Eagles

AFC Divisional Round
(1) Denver Broncos over (4) Indianapolis Colts
(2) New England Patriots over (3) Cincinnati Bengals

NFC Divisional Round
(1) Seattle Seahawks over (5) San Francisco 49ers
(3) New Orleans Saints over (2) Green Bay Packers

AFC Championship
(1) Denver Broncos over (2) New England Patriots

NFC Championship
(1) Seattle Seahawks over (3) New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl XLIX
(1) Denver Broncos over (1) Seattle Seahawks

Super Bowl XLIX MVP
Demaryius Thomas (WR, Denver)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Emotional Listening #47

Vee Vee
Vee Vee - Archers of Loaf (Alias, 1995)
I think I can say with confidence that Vee Vee has become my favorite Archers of Loaf record. 1993's Icky Mettle surely has some jams, mainly in "Web in Front," which is their second best song. And, I will forever love 1996's All the Nation's Airports, which is excellent for its own reasons ("Scenic Pastures" being the main one) for getting me into the band in the first place. Vee Vee has "Harnessed in Slums," though, which is not only the best Archers song, but, is one of the greatest songs of the past 20 years. Overall, this album maintains a similar sense of urgency and intensity as Icky Mettle, but, with a slicker sound, thanks to Bob Weston's production work (not TOO slick, of course). Here, the band is tighter and playing with a little more pop sensibility, which, in combination with with their innovative and gnarly guitar work (think Pavement, but, heavier and weirder), makes for an incredibly enjoyable, original sound. I totally get it if you can't get into Eric Bachmann's voice, however, Vee Vee is great enough that one should be able to get around that.
Top jams: "Step Into the Light," "Harnessed in Slums," "Nevermind the Enemy," "Greatest of All Time," "Underdogs of Nipomo," "Floating Friends," "Let the Loser Melt," "Death in the Park"



Hermit of Mink Hollow
Hermit of Mink Hollow - Todd Rundgren (Bearsville, 1978)
Todd Rundgren, baby. My first experience with him was the amazing placement of "Can We Still be Friends?" in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky. It has been an all-time favorite song of mine ever since. Next came his production work on XTC's Skylarking, which is wonderfully appropriate. 1978's Hermit of Mink Hollow is my first foray into a solo record of his. First, I'd like to draw attention to that album title. It is so bad, it's good. Now we can move on to the music, which is a unique combination of 70s power pop and forward-thinking space age prog. The song structures are definitely of the pop variety, but, the instrumentation and some of the intricate twists and turns bring to mind the poppy side of, say, Yes. "All the Children Sing" is a pretty bad ass opener. "Determination" and "Out of Control" are more straightforward power pop rockers, which, I sort of wish there were more of. I would consider "Onomatopoeia" the only real misstep due to its overt childishness. But, I even have a hard time admitting that because I kind of like it? Everything comes back to "Can We Still be Friends?," as it is not only the album's best song, but, it is one of those untouchable all-time greats. Where should I go next with this guy?
Top jams: "All the Children Sing," "Can We Still be Friends?," "Determination," "You Cried Wolf," "Out of Control," "Fade Away"



Heartbreak's Got Backbeat
Heartbreak's Got Backbeat - Six Going on Seven (Some, 1999)
This little known, underrated record packs quite a wallop. Six Going on Seven were a Boston band that existed in the late 1990s and very early 2000s. They put out three records, and as I recall, there wasn't a ton of fanfare for these guys, which is unfortunate, because they totally rule. Heartbreak's Got Backbeat was the band's sophomore LP, and I had discovered the album's opener, "Portsmouth," on some Doghouse Records/Big Wheel Recreation compilation CD I had in high school. I liked this song then, but, now I really love it, and it is the best song on the record. "How to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge" and "Reverse Midas" are almost as good, but, not quite. I've never listened to the band's 1997 debut, Self-Made Mess, or their 2001 swan song, American't (Or Won't). On Heartbreak's Got Backbeat, there is a nice mix of melodic punk and classic 90s alternative rock, with some truly memorable bass playing and a lot of awesome emo chords thrown in for good measure. The songs are super good, the musicianship is top notch, and this is totally a record worth checking out.
Top jams: "Portsmouth," "Southbound," "03:12:05," "How to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge," "New/Improved!," "Reverse Midas," "Proof Positive"

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Emotional Listening #46

The Good Earth
The Good Earth - The Feelies (Coyote/Twin/Tone, 1986)
The Feelies are THE great American jangle pop band after early R.E.M. 1980's Crazy Rhythms was a great herky-jerky intro to the band, while 1988's Only Life is one of the greatest records of that entire decade. 1986's The Good Earth is a nice bridge between the two, though it sounds more in line with Only Life than Crazy Rhythms. These songs are upbeat and poppy for the most part, though with a somber feel at times. The vocals aren't bouncy or catchy like those of The Bats or R.E.M. and have more of a Lou Reed tone, but, there are still some quality melodies. "On the Roof" is such a perfect way to open this record (sounds like definite inspiration to Yo La Tengo), and I love the chord progression in "When Company Comes." "Slipping (Into Something)" also is a fantastic six-minute jam. Without question, though, "Let's Go" is the best album's best song, as well as one of The Feelies' all time greats.
Top jams: "On the Roof," "The High Road," "Slipping (Into Something)," "When Company Comes," "Let's Go," "The Good Earth"



Who's Your New Professor
Who's Your New Professor - Sam Prekop (Thrill Jockey, 2005)
Sam Prekop is the lead vocalist and guitarist in one of my favorite bands of all time, The Sea and Cake, and Who's Your New Professor is his second solo album. It is essentially an extension of his 1999 self-titled debut, perhaps with some slightly more interesting sounds, and also doesn't sound that unlike the ballads that rear their heads on Sea and Cake albums. I can see how this could be boring or uninteresting to some, but, the quality of Prekop's songwriting and his level of talent easily make up for the fact that he isn't really doing anything new or different, at least for him. His solo work as well as The Sea and Cake's material has never sounded like that of anyone else, it's just that, like I said, they don't sound all that different from each other. Prekop's songs are just even more chill than those of The Sea and Cake (if you can believe it). So anyway, Who's Your New Professor is some chill, smooth tuneage; sometimes jazzy, sometimes more tropical sounding, sometimes a combination of the two. There's some great stuff here, with opener "Something," instrumental "Magic Step" and "C + F," which has more of a hip hop beat to it, probably being the best. I couldn't find "C + F" on YouTube, so, I had to settle for sharing "Something."
Top jams: "Something," "Magic Step," "Two Dedications," "Little Bridges," "C + F," "Density"



Some Girls
Some Girls - The Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones, 1978)
Some Girls is The Rolling Stones' 16th American full length album (which is truly insane), and I'm assuming you probably know that it was considered a return to form at the time, being considered their best record since 1972's Exile on Main St. Unlike on that record, here, the band show some restraint by only including 10 songs (which is usually a good idea). Some Girls is a pretty dirty album as a good portion of the songs tend to be about sexual relations. Now I understand why my dad always kept this record hidden from me in my young days of living at home with my parents. You know what, though, Dad? This record rules. "Miss You" is the obvious opener, and I was pleasantly surprised by how great their cover of "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" is. "Lies" and "Respectable" are bad ass blues rock jams that would have fit in pretty well on Exile... "Before They Make Me Run" is a really good Keith Richards song, but, honestly, I've never been that into "Beast of Burden." The best song is the closer, "Shattered." It's got this nice groove that's a little more upbeat than the rest of the record, and I really like the repetition and aimlessness of it. This is the most half-assed review of Some Girls ever. Sorry. Trust me, I really like it.
Top jams: "Miss You," "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," "Lies," "Respectable," "Before They Make Me Run," "Shattered"



Sounds of Silence
Sounds of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel (Columbia, 1966)
Maybe Sounds of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel's second album, is cliche, and I am totally uncool for spending time with it lately. Well, screw you. Michigan has been in a stretch of weather that has been feeling pretty close to fall (with the exception of the past couple days), and these are some great fall jams. You know who Simon & Garfunkel are: the 60s folk duo that Paul Simon made up one half of (and pretty much wrote all the songs, right?). There are plenty of obvious classics here, and I feel like a Garden State-era Zach Braff or something, just now getting around to spending some quality time with them. I love pretty much every song, but, "Leaves That Are Green," "Somewhere They Can't Find Me," "Richard Cory" and "A Most Peculiar Man" are best.
Top jams: "The Sound of Silence," "Leaves That Are Green," "Kathy's Song," "Somewhere They Can't Find Me," "Richard Cory," "A Most Peculiar Man," "April Came She Will"

Friday, July 18, 2014

Emotional Listening #45

These Are Good People
These Are Good People - Little Big League (Tiny Engines, 2013)
For some idiotic reason, I was hesitant to listen to this last year. It got some favorable reviews from some trusted sources, including my girlfriend Sara, who doesn't even particularly care for the whole emo thing, and I still decided to skip it. I'm a dummy, and am publicly, formally admitting it to you now. After spending some good time with it, I realize that These Are Good People isn't really that emo at all, and is more in line with, say, Speedy Ortiz (though, even poppier, and still with some TINY hints at emo), and their modern take on the 90s indie guitar rock era. Little Big League do the interweaving, jagged guitar with bouncy rhythms thing really well, and they use some of those nice, dirty chords that I like. I can certainly understand if Michelle Zauner's vocals aren't your thing. That was the biggest hurdle for me to get over, and it helps that her voice is unique and not any sort of typical, pretty female vocal, and her melodies are totally good. It's the guitars that keep me focused on this baby, though. I look forward to what they do next. The two songs on their brand new split 7" with Ovlov seem to be a good indication, which essentially is more of the same, but, at an even higher quality.
Top jams: "Lindsey," "My Very Own You," "Dark Matter," "Summer Wounds," "Sportswriting," "Tokyo Drift"



Sign o' the Times
Sign o' the Times - Prince (Warner Bros./Paisley Park, 1987)
I'm not sure what even needs to be said about this record. This is my first foray into an entire Prince record, and needless to say, it is a trip. Sign o' the Times is his ninth album, which is insane to me, considering that his debut LP was released in 1978. It consists of 16 songs, and clocks in at just about 80 minutes, meaning it is way too long. This album is crazy, and I wasn't sure at first if it would not be my thing at all. However, there are a lot of things to love here. The amount of talent displayed, between the unique, fantastic production and Prince's skill at essentially every popular music instrument, is reason enough to be blown away. The diverse spread of musical genres touched on is pretty impressive, too. Funk, soul, R&B, new wave and straight up rock 'n' roll are all represented well here, often times bleeding over into one another. Oh, and the songs are really good, too, even if there are way too many. Lastly, there are some truly hilarious moments on this record that make it very difficult to forget. Case in point: all of the sped-up vocals (which, thanks to Wikipedia, I discovered was originally done as a Prince alter ego named Camille). This is a move that is so bizarre that I can't help but appreciate. It's this combination of Prince's outright talent, creativity and weirdo decisions that makes Sign o' the Times so good. Jam of the album? "Starfish and Coffee," for sure.
Top jams: "Sign o' the Times," "Play in the Sunshine," "Housequake," "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," "It," "Starfish and Coffee," "U Got the Look," "If I Was Your Girlfriend," "Strange Relationship," "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," "The Cross"



Reckoning
Reckoning - R.E.M. (I.R.S., 1984)
It took me a long time to finally spend time with anything other than R.E.M.'s 1983 LP, Murmur. Murmur had quickly become one of my favorite albums of all time when I first started listening to it, and, I could just never convince myself to listen to anything else by the band. I think it was in 2012 that I finally took a baby step and got into Chronic Town, their 1982 debut EP. However, being a precursor to and almost as good as Murmur, I'm not sure that really counts. So, here we have arrived at last at the follow-up to Murmur, 1984's Reckoning. Guess what? It's really really good. It does not have the same magic feel as Murmur (meaning that the songs just aren't quite as good, I guess?), but, there is not shortage of outright jams. "Harborcoat" is your traditional R.E.M. jangle pop opener, followed by blatant hits (and seriously fantastic songs) "7 Chinese Bros" and "So. Central Rain." Quite a one-two-three punch, huh? "Time After Time (AnneElise)" is a sweet ballad with some nice single guitar string droning (a move that a almost always like). "Little America" is a bad ass closer. I'm beginning to bore myself here. Just about every song on Reckoning is good, and it is about as good of a follow-up to Murmur as you can ask for. It's just more proof of exactly how excellent the 1982-1987 run for these jangly guitar pop behemoths was.
Top jams: "Harborcoat," "7 Chinese Bros," "So. Central Rain," "Time After Time (AnnElise)," "Second Guessing," "Letter Never Sent," "Little America"



Firewater
Firewater - Silkworm (Matador, 1996)
Between both bands that I have the pleasure of being in, three of my bandmates have preached to me the gospel of underappreciated indie rock legends, Silkworm, and especially their fourth album, 1996's Firewater. This past fall, with a stroke of luck, I found a used original pressing of the 2xLP at Flat, Black & Circular in East Lansing for $10, and, I now have a full understanding of how awesome that is. First off, the production, on Firewater, thanks to none other than Steve Albini, is unsurprisingly great: bare bones, big and roomy. The drum sound is interesting in that it showcases the big, roomy kick drum typical of Albini, but, the snare drum is a little more gentle than I'm used to from him in some places. Don't get me wrong, the drums, and everything else, still sound awesome. As for the actual songs, there are a lot of good ones. Firewater is another album that features a truly great one-two-three punch. "Nerves" is unquestionably my favorite song here and is the perfect way to open things up, and "Drunk" is a nice comedown with a cool, subtle build. Things get tense right away again with "Wet Firecracker," and the rest of the album continues this back-and-forth dance. There's no jam that reaches the level of "Couldn't You Wait?" here, and my complaint is that once again, this is an album that is too long and some fat could have been trimmed. There are a few too many jammy moments that I could do without. That being said, Firewater is still of a very high quality, and I understand why it is considered one of the great 90s indie rock records that deserves more love.
Top jams: "Nerves," "Drunk," "Wet Firecracker," "Cannibal Cannibal," "Quicksand," "Ticket Tulane," "The Lure of Beauty," "Drag the River," "Killing My Ass," "Caricature of a Joke"



More Songs About Buildings and Food
More Songs About Buildings and Food - Talking Heads (Sire, 1978)
I would say that I love Talking Heads, but, I consider myself a poor fan. I own quite a few of their records, and, I do not spend enough time listening to them. I'm trying to put an end to that, and have decided to start with 1978's More Songs About Buildings and Food, which is awesome. At this point, the band was yet to touch on the afrobeat rhythms of Remain in Light (1980), and provide a brighter feel than on Fear of Music (1979). I guess I would describe this as a good ol' arty guitar pop record with elements of funk and post-punk. "The Good Thing" and "The Girls Want to be With the Girls" were the first two songs that stuck out to me, but, now, "Found a Job" definitely takes the cake thanks to the speedy funk guitar work and especially the beautiful string-y synth part that comes in for the closing 1:45. I surely see a lot more time dedicated to Talking Heads in my music listening future.
Top jams: "With Our Love," "The Good Thing," "Warning Sign," "The Girls Want to be With the Girls," "Found a Job," "I'm Not in Love," "Stay Hungry"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Emotional Listening #44

Hoop Dreams
Hoop Dreams - Big Kids (Topshelf, 2010)
One of the earlier entries in this still on-going "emo revival," at least that I had heard of, I dragged my feet for a while with Big Kids. I purchased their 2010 debut LP, Hoop Dreams, at the Topshelf Records tent at Bled Fest last month, and, it's a hell of a time. There are some nods to Alkaline Trio and even Jawbreaker here and there, but, I'd say the bands' biggest influences are probably early Small Brown Bike and even more so Hot Water Music. On Hoop Dreams, Big Kids present a quality mix of raw punk energy with a pop sensibility that's just as rough around the edges as it is catchy and melodic. With this style of music, an LP only having eight songs means there's definitely something missing, but, I am usually quite content with records that leave me wanting me. Plus, I won't complain too much when a record opens with such a mega-jam such "Parents Are Still a Handful."
Top jams: "Parents Are Still a Handful," "Let's Make More Plans," "Remember the Silver Lion (48th St. House Too)," "Psychedelic Rock Dance Party or Something," "Get Motion!"



Armed Forces
Armed Forces - Elvis Costello and the Attractions (Columbia, 1979)
My experience with Elvis Costello thus far in my life has been quite good, albeit limited. I've listened to 1977's My Aim is True a handful of times and appreciate it, but, until now, I hadn't really been able to get past the awesomeness of 1978's This Year's Model. Then, it hit me: Costello's 1979 follow-up, Armed Forces, completely rules! With his backing band The Attractions back again, Armed Forces showcases more tuneful, intelligent, surprisingly complex power pop, this time with some more interesting arrangements (meaning, more synths and piano). The album is full of hooks, but, they never last as long, nor happen as frequently, as one may require. Being a fan of more intricate song structures, I am totally okay with this. What are my favorite songs, you ask? "Senior Service," "Big Boys" and "Busy Bodies," of course. I never thought I'd appreciate another Costello song quite the way I do the super bad ass This Year's Model opener, "No Action," but, I think these three have made it finally happen.
Top jams: "Accidents Will Happen," 'Senior Service," "Big Boys," "Party Girl," "Busy Bodies," "Chemistry Class," "Two Little Hitlers"



Into Lake Griffy
Into Lake Griffy - Good Luck (No Idea, 2009)
I'm not sure if Bloomington, IN's Good Luck even exist anymore, but,  their two full lengths have been quality additions to the realm of modern punk rock. Into Lake Griffy is their debut, and, I think it might have been self-released in 2008, but, I'm not sure. No Idea Records put it out in 2009, though. This is some noodly pop punk: technical guitar playing (finger-tapping and all), complex rhythms and song structures, interweaving boy/girl vocals, etc. This is certainly not heavy music. It is bright, upbeat, and surprisingly soft in some places. It's a good mix of things, and makes for a pretty unique sound all in all. I may slightly prefer their 2011 follow-up, Without Hesitation, but, Into Lake Griffy is a great debut.
Top jams: "How to Live Here," "Pajammin," "Man on Fire," "Hey Matt," "Come Home," "Stone Cathedral Hill," "Bringing Them Back to Life," "1001 Open Hands"



Pretenders
Pretenders - The Pretenders (Sire, 1980)
I feel like this might be a silly thing to admit, but, my interest in the 1980s guitar pop group The Pretenders began with Guitar Hero. One of the games, and, I can't remember which one, featured "Tattooed Love Boys," which, to this day, is still a pretty bad ass song. Now that I've become quite familiar with the album, even better is instrumental jam "Space Invader," "The Wait," which is the closest the band comes to punk rock here, and album closer "Mystery Achievement."  Chrissie Hynde's voice works in a little of places here. In others, it is a little corny. But, the real hero here is the guitars, anyway. Not that they're doing anything mind-blowing, they're just bouncy and really fun, creating a unique atmosphere of outright pop music with some subtly punk edge. Pretenders isn't something to loose your shit over, but, it's a very solid 80s pop record.
Top jams: "The Phone Call," "Up the Neck," "Tattooed Love Boys," "Space Invader," "The Wait," "Stop Your Sobbing," "Kid," "Mystery Achievement"



A Better Version of Me
A Better Version of Me - Rainer Maria (Polyvinyl, 2001)
At a time (the early 2000s) when the overall quality of emo music was diminishing (discluding the likes of Small Brown Bike, The Casket Lottery, The Appleseed Cast and Red Animal War, to name a few), the Madison, WI then Brooklyn band Rainer Maria were keeping the dream alive. Their second LP, and first in the 21st century, A Better Version of Me, is just stellar. I really enjoy the mix of Caithlin De Marrais' powerful vocals and Kyle Fischer's flawed, innocent sounding ones. The melodies they sing aren't too shabby either. William Kuehn's drumming isn't mind-blowing, but, it's unique and fun to dissect all the same. My favorite aspect of this album is easily Fischer's bright, open guitar chords, with De Marrais' melodic bass playing underneath. I've loved opener, "Artificial Light," since high school, and, maybe four or five years ago came to the realization that closer "Hell and High Water" is definitely Rainer Maria's best song. Every song on this record is good, even the snoozer jams. It's just that the upbeat songs ("Thought I Was" and "The Contents of Lincoln's Pockets" in particular) shine through a whole lot more.
Top jams: "Artificial Light," "Thought I Was," "Ceremony," "Save My Skin," "The Contents of Lincoln's Pockets," "Hell and High Water"

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Emotional Listening #43

The EP LP
The EP LP - Best Practices (Tiny Engines, 2012)
I'm not sure if Best Practices are even a band anymore. I first heard of them on punk year-end lists at the end of 2012, and liked their 2013 EP Sore Subjects. Their previous release, The EP LP, has an album's worth of songs (nine), but the length of an EP (around twelve minutes), thus the clever, confusing title. It may be mainly because of the vocals, but, these songs remind me of a less technical, boozier, sloppier (in a cool way) Bear vs. Shark: Plenty of atonal yelling, upbeat tempos, and loud guitars that touch on emo and pop punk. It's nothing to get obsessed over, but, this is some good, fun stuff.
Top jams: "DeerHunter," "Welcome to Erf," "Triple Kittens," "All the Bull," "Future Cougar"



Camoufleur
Camoufleur - Gastr Del Sol (Drag City, 1998)
Gastr Del Sol were a 90s Chicago group on Drag City Records made up of Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs (whom I don't really know anything about). The Sea and Cake/Tortoise drummer John McEntire was involved at some point, too. I've been interested in these guys for several years now, due to the O'Rourke connection, and spotted Camoufleur, their final album, used on vinyl at Electric Fetus on my first weekend visiting my girlfriend Sara in Minneapolis back in March. My initial thought is that this is really cool to listen to for reference point of where O'Rourke went on his solo albums Eureka and Insignificance. I mean, they are all three very different albums, but, the overlapping is quite apparent. I'm not sure it is an appropriate descriptor, but, I guess you could call the music here post-rock. It's got that drawn out, aimless, dynamic thing going for it. There are no rock out moments though, which, actually is kind of nice. Camoufleur is most definitely sleepy time music. "The Seasons Reverse" is a terrific, jarring, yet, chill opener. If McEntire is anywhere on this album (and, I'm honestly not sure that he is), it would be on this jam. "Blues Subtitled No Sense of Wonder," "Each Dream is an Example" and "Mouth Canyon" are gorgeous, orchestrated, experimental chamber pop-esque ballads, the latter two coming close to Pet Sounds territory. "Black Hourse" and album closer, "Bauchredner," are weird acoustic ditties (with sort of rock band instrumentation in places) that sound the most O'Rourke-ian (though, after getting familiar with Eureka, I guess "Each Dream is an Example" kind of does, too). All the layered acoustic guitar tracks make for a truly beautiful soundtrack. I was expecting to like this record, but, am pleasantly surprised by exactly how hard it has hit me.
Top jams: "The Seasons Reverse," "Blues Subtitled No Sense of Wonder," "Black Horse," "Each Dream is an Example," "Mouth Canyon," "Bauchredner"



George Best
George Best - The Wedding Present (Reception, 1987)
My listening relationship with The Wedding Present began a couple years ago with 1994's Watusi. I have finally made it back to their 1987 debut, George Best, and I am loving it. Watusi still showcased the band's brand of guitar-centric jangle pop, but, perhaps in a more produced, angular, beefed up manner. If you can believe it, George Best is even more jangly. Like, some of the guitar strumming on this record is the fastest I've ever heard. Production-wise, it sounds very 80s, particularly in the huge, flat drum sound. Admittedly, some of my favorite Wedding Present songs, at least to my knowledge at this point, are on Watusi, but, as a whole, I may regard George Best in higher esteem, thanks to its consistency. David Gedge's vocal melodies are smart, complex and wonderfully catchy. And, I am in love with the unique, memorable bass parts, as well as that gnarly bass tone. There are a lot of great tracks here, but, "Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft," "All This and More" and "My Favourite Dress" take the cake, with "Anyone Can Make a Mistake" being best of all.
Top jams: "Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft," "Don't be So Hard," "All This and More," "My Favourite Dress," "Shatner," "Something and Nothing," "Anyone Can Make a Mistake," "You Can't Moan, Can You?," "All About Eve"

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Emotional Listening #42

Isn't Anything
Isn't Anything - My Bloody Valentine (Creation, 1988)
The depth at which I love My Bloody Valentine has been sort of a delayed reaction for me. I liked 1991's Loveless for the most part the first couple of times I listened to it, but, it took quite a few years for me to develop the level of appreciation I have for it now. I can't say the same for their 1988 debut LP, Isn't Anything, which I was extremely attracted to right away. I spent a teensy bit of time with it a couple years back as well as last summer, but, have really dug in very recently. It has its slightly difficult moments: The aimless ambiance of "No More Sorry" and "All I Need" isn't for everyone, but, with enough time, you catch on to the excellent melodies buried underneath the mess. "No More Sorry" in particular sounds like a gorgeous, haunting score to a film's darkest moment. Isn't Anything is loaded with straight-up jams, though. "Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)" was the first song from it that I loved (also, I am so into the laughably long drum + bass guitar fills), but lately, the clangy chords of "Sueisfine" and bouncier progression of "I Can See It (But I Can't Feel It)" have been my preferred MBV outlet. I've come across a lot of really good shoegaze music over the past couple of years, but, when they're at their best, these dudes and dudettes are virtually untouchable.
Top jams: "Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)," "Lose My Breath," "Cupid Come," "(When You Wake) You're Still in a Dream," "No More Sorry," "All I Need," "Sueisfine," "I Can See It (But I Can't Feel It)"



The Wild Heart
The Wild Heart - Stevie Nicks (Modern, 1983)
Surprise, surprise: Another excellent solo effort from a member of Fleetwood Mac. For some reason, I was somewhat skeptical of Stevie Nicks' sophomore record, The Wild Heart. But, of course, it totally rules. I mean, it basically sounds like the songs she sang on Mac records, minus that epic Lindsey Buckingham guitar work. The opener/title track and "Enchanted" are fantastic pop jams in the vein of the Mac's 1975 self-titled album, and, actually, the beautiful sort-of-ballad "Nightbird" has that feel too. My personal favorite song at the moment, "Sable on Blonde," sounds like Nicks' take on "Dreams" from Rumours, with a different backing band. In comparison to Buckingham's Law and Order, The Wild Heart is less awkward, anxious, upbeat and zany; it is a smoother, more serious affair, thus, I don't think I love it quite as much. Still, Stevie and collaborators pretty much nailed it on ever one of these songs, and I'm really glad this album ended up clicking for me.
Top jams: "Wild Heart," "If Anyone Falls," "Gate and Garden," "Enchanted," "Nightbird," "I Will Run to You," "Sable on Blonde"



Eureka
Eureka - Jim O'Rourke (Drag City, 1999)
Don't let the disturbing image on the album cover turn you away. Jim O'Rourke is a master at crafting gorgeous, mellow and weird guitar music, and 1999's Eureka is a prime example of this. Opener "Prelude to 110 or 220/Woman of the World" and follow-up "Ghost Ship in a Storm" are wonderful, noodly chamber-folk songs just dripping with fall vibes. Then, things get very Burt Bacharach-y. "Through the Night Softly" and "Something Big" in particular showcase some Bacharach-style strings, chord progressions and backing vocals. This may be a turn-off to some, but, I'm into it. Eureka is yet to hit me in the way that O'Rourke's 2001 follow-up Insignificance has (and, they are two very different records), but, I'm glad I've spent time with this lately.
Top jams: "Prelude to 110 or 220/Woman of the World," "Ghost Ship in a Storm," "Through the Night Softly," "Please Patronize Our Sponsors," "Something Big"

Friday, April 25, 2014

Emotional Listening #41

Show Me the Way to Go Home
Show Me the Way to Go Home - Cain Marko (Tapes Not Bombs, 2012)
Cain Marko were an excellent Grand Rapids, MI noodly pop punk band that just recently broke up, unfortunately. 2012's Show Me the Way to Go Home is their only full-length release, and it is on par with the best music that has been coming from this genre over the past few years. They do the shouty Gainesville punk thing with bright, melodic, technical guitars extremely well. It's a shame I discovered them so late in the game and only got to see them live once.
Top jams: "Four Dutchmen Walk Into a Bar...," "...Then Ride Into the Apocalypse," "Promises in Pen," "Show Me the Way to Go Home," "Kitchen Knife," "It's Just You and Me, Hemingway!," "Moonshine Aviation," "Three Word Graveyard"



Uomini d'Onore
Uomini d'Onore - Fireside (Startracks/Crank!, 1998)
I recall hearing of Fireside back in the high school beginning stages of my interest in 90s emo, but, never cared quite enough to further investigate. Last fall, a stumbled upon a used vinyl copy of their third LP, Uomini d'Onore, at Vertigo Music in Grand Rapids, and decided it was finally time to check 'em out. Apparently, Fireside were an award winning band that was part of the early 90s hardcore scene in Sweden before heading more toward the more melodic side of things on Uomini d'Onore. I have no idea what they actually sounded like before this record, but, I always assumed they were just another emo band due to their affiliation with Crank! Records and being featured on the (Don't Forget to) Breathe compilation. However, this is not accurate. The best way to describe them, at least on Uomini d'Onore, would be as a heavy, melodic rock band. Sure, there are subtle notes of emo sprinkled throughout, and a good portion of the time, the guitars and bass play with an urgency not unlike that found in hardcore music. But, with all of that combined with the pro production and Kristofer Astrom's quality singing, there are more than a few moments where Fireside sound like Shiner or even Swervedriver. While I could have done without the solo acoustic closing track, this record turned out to rule big time for me. "Sweatbead," "Dos" and "Layer" are especially awesome.
Top jams: "Let Rasputin Do It," "Happy Porno Living," "Sweatbead," "Dos," "Anywhere is a Resort," "Layer"



Nodzzz
Nodzzz - Nodzzz (What's Your Rupture?, 2008)
As far as I can tell, Nodzzz are no longer a band. This is a shame because their sound is a fun one, even if there wasn't really anywhere else they could take it. They play super jangly, lo-fi guitar pop to the extreme. The bonus is the hilariously nerdy, child-like singing and lyrics. I probably prefer 2011's sophomore follow-up, Innings, but, their 2008 self-titled debut (which, awesomely is 10 minutes clocking in at barely over 15 minutes) is almost as good. "Is She There?" is the best possible opener, and, well, I legitimately like every song that follows, I am just more partial to "Highway Memorial Shrine," "I Have Bad News," "I Can't Wait" and "City Has No Eyes."
Top jams: "Is She There?," "Highway Memorial Shrine," "In the City (Contact High)," "Controlled Karaoke," "I Have Bad News," "Losing My Accent," "I Can't Wait," "City Has No Eyes"



Saturday, April 12, 2014

Emotional Listening #40

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

Emotional Listening #39

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 Tanaka, 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)