Sunday, October 19, 2014

Emotional Listening #50

For Your Own Special Sweetheart
For Your Own Special Sweetheart - Jawbox (Atlantic, 1994)
In my senior year of high school, my journalism and yearbook teacher, who happened to be into indie rock (if I remember correctly, Sleater-Kinney was his favorite band), let me borrow Jawbox's For Your Own Special Sweetheart and their 1996 self-titled swan song. He knew that I was into emo, and though he wasn't, he liked Jawbox and thought I would too. I have no idea why, but, I totally didn't get it then. Perhaps it was a little too heavy for me at the time, or, I didn't like the parts with the yelling. I'm not really sure. Listening to For Your Own Special Sweetheart now, I recognize it for the bad ass album that it is. This is what has come to be known to me as Quillen Rock: beefy, angular guitars, big, technical drumming, and strong melodic vocals. The back-and-forth between chaos and loud (guitar-wise) pop on opener "FF=66" is the general thesis for this record. "Savory" continues that trend, and on and on it goes. For Your Own Special Sweetheart is more Chavez/Swervedriver than emo, though, you could certainly draw some parallels to the heavier side of that genre. This record kicks my ass.
Top jams: "FF=66," "Savory," "Ls/Mft," "Cooling Card," "Green Glass," "Chicago Piano," "Reel," "U-Trau," "Whitney Walks"



Better Can't Make Your Life Better
Better Can't Make Your Life Better - Lilys (Che/Primary, 1996)
I remember my buddy Will telling me about Lilys' 1999 Sire full-length, The 3 Way, a few years ago, and not long after that coming across three earlier records by the band on the internet. 1994's Eccsame the Photon Band was one of those, which I posted about earlier this year. 1996's Better Can't Make Your Life Better was actually the first one I got really into, and for some reason I'm just writing about it now. Lilys genre-hopped for the first few albums, from shoegaze to indie slackerdom to a more sparse, dreamy sound, and on this record landed on a straight-up 60s guitar pop style. I think the most prominent influences here are The Kinks, The Zombies and The Byrds. In fact, it's pretty derivative, but, the songwriting, melodies and surprising complexity of the songs makes it very easy to forgive that. Kurt Heasley's vocals are perfect, and his melodies are untouchable, particularly in "A Nanny in Manhattan" and "Can't Make Your Life Better." The guitars shimmer, chime and jangle in all the ways that I love, the bass is bouncy and McCartney-esque, and the drums ain't foolin' around either. It all comes to a head on closer "Returns Every Morning," with the most gnarly and memorable of guitar riffs. Better Can't Make Your Life Better has most definitely become an all-time favorite.
Top jams: "Cambridge California," "A Nanny in Manhattan," "Shovel Into Spade Kit," "Can't Make Your Life Better," "Who is Moving," "The Tennis System (And Its Stars)," "Bring Up the Stamp," "Returns Every Morning"



I Could Do Whatever I Wanted if I Wanted
I Could Do Whatever I Wanted if I Wanted - Snowing (Count Your Lucky Stars/Square of Opposition, 2010)
As far as I understand, Philadelphia's Snowing were one of the more popular, important bands when emo first hinted at getting popular again between 2008 and 2010. They rose from the ashes of Street Smart Cyclist (who's small discography is being reissued by Topshelf Records), and have since disbanded and split into what seems like a plethora of bands (the details of which I am entirely confused by). Currently, I think one of the Snowing guys went on to be in Glocca Morra as well as a new band with former members of Algernon Cadwallader (probably the second best band to come from the Philly punk scene in the last several years) called Dogs on Acid. Anyway, I Could Do Whatever I Wanted if I Wanted is Snowing's one and only full length record, and while there are difficulties (lead vocals not always being in key, so-so production), it is one of the best entries in this fourth wave of emo. The musicianship is top notch, with noodly, twinkly guitars, fast, complex drumming, and all sorts of structural and time signature trickery. Similar to Algernon Cadwallader, these songs are upbeat and showcase some nice punk energy; the twinkly-ness isn't the slow, boring kind. Also, amidst all stops-and-starts and other intricacies, there are some really catchy melodies. It's a shame that this band was so short-lived, as they had a ton of potential.
Top jams: "I Think We're in Minsk," "Mark Z. Danielewski," "So I Shotgunned a Beer and Went Back to Bed," "It's Just a Party," "Memo Yeah That's Fine Man," "KJ Jammin'," "Damp Feathers"



Close to the Bone
Close to the Bone - Tom Tom Club (Sire/Warner Bros., 1983)
I bought Tom Tom Club's second album, Close to the Bone, a couple years ago, confusing the song title "Pleasure of Love" for "Genius of Love" (one of the greatest songs of the 80s), as well as the similarly cartoonish artwork to the self-titled album that song is from. When I discovered I was mistaken, I was a little disappointed. Now that I've finally listened to and spent time with this record, though, it's pretty sweet. As I'm sure you know, Tom Tom Club was Tiny Weymouth and Chris Frantz, aka the rhythm section of Talking Heads. Wikipedia refers to them as a new wave group, but I'd consider their sound 80s party pop. Close to the Bone features big, simple electronic beats, fun, mostly female vocals, funky soul-style guitar, and Weymouth's signature classy bass playing that drives the songs. While nothing here is quite as good as "Genius of Love," "This is a Foxy World" and "Measure Up" come close. The record definitely has a party vibe overall, but, these songs are totally smart and still arty in their own way. Also, I swear the lead vocals on "Atsababy!" sound like Jad Fair from Half Japanese, but, he's not credited on the album or anywhere on the internet. Totally weird.
Top jams: "This is a Foxy World," "Bamboo Town," "Measure Up," "Never Took a Penny," "Atsababy!"



English Settlement
English Settlement - XTC (Virgin, 1982)
As much as I love Skylarking, it's hard to imagine that XTC has cheesier songs than the cheesiest songs on it. Well, they're here on English Settlement, the band's 1982 album (their fifth). Thankfully, most of these songs are really good, though. "Runaways" is a nice, subtle opener with a similar beat to (though not quite as beautiful as) "Summer's Cauldren," which is the lead-off track to Skylarking. "Ball and Chain," "Jason and the Argonauts" and "No Thugs in Our House" are great, relatively standard guitar pop songs, but, then things get a little corny. Even "It's Nearly Africa," in all its Graceland-esque glory, is a little much. Things end on a really high note though, with "English Roundabout" (an excellent ska song) and closer "Snowman" (my favorite song on the record). Generally, I guess they could be considered a new wave band, or maybe some sort of cross between post-punk and power pop, but, XTC have a tendency to put a lot of variety on their records, and that is definitely one of their draws for me. The UK version of English Settlement (which is what I have in my iTunes) is entirely too long at 15 songs and 72+ minutes. If you cut out most of the cheesy songs in the middle, it might be on par with 1979's Drums and Wires.
Top jams: "Runaways," "Ball and Chain," "Jason and the Argonauts," "No Thugs in Our House," "It's Nearly Africa," "Knuckle Down," "Fly on the Wall," "English Roundabout," "Snowman"

Thursday, October 2, 2014

2014 MLB Playoff + Post Season Award Predictions

I'm going to quickly run through my my MLB playoff and post-season award predictions.

ALDS
Los Angeles Angels over Kansas City Royals, 3 games to 2
Detroit Tigers over Baltimore Orioles, 3 games to 1

Even though they have the best record in baseball and are pretty stacked on offense, I do not believe the Angels are the best team in baseball. Considering Kansas City's success with the small ball strategy, the quality of their starting rotation in relation to Los Angeles', and how nasty their bullpen is, I almost want to pick an upset. That Angels bullpen is pretty nasty too, and though their rotation is their greatest weakness, with home field advantage they should be able  to do enough damage to squeak this one out. I think the Royals will make it a challenge, though.

The Orioles also have a quality bullpen (unlike the Detroit Tigers, who's bullpen desperately needs to see the bare minimum of innings this post-season to do as little damage to their own team as possible) and are stacked on offense, but injuries and suspensions will screw 'em. Their starting rotation is the worst or second worst in the 2014 playoffs, and that won't help things at all. If the Tigers can get eight innings a game out of each of their starters and their bats simply don't go into their usual post-season slumber, this series should be cake. Even if they choose to make it difficult for themselves, like they've been doing all regular season, the Tigs should still take this series.

NLDS
Washington Nationals over San Francisco Giants, 3 games to 2
Los Angeles Dodgers over St. Louis Cardinals, 3 games to 2

The Giants continue their trend of making the playoffs every other year, but, this time they will fall short of winning the World Series. They'll certainly make it hard on the Nationals, but, Washington has the best or second best overall team in the post-season, and I think they'll end San Francisco's magic. This SF team is not as good as their previous two WS winners.

Per usual, every team should be scared of the St. Louis Cardinals. They always find ways to win in the playoffs, and their lineup really is quite stacked. It's just been an off year for them, which shouldn't mean  that they can't make it to the World Series necessarily, I just don't think they have the stuff. I also kinda think the Dodgers are the team of destiny this year, and also, they're simply better than the Cardinals in pretty much every way.

ALCS
Detroit Tigers over Los Angeles Angels, 4 games to 2
MVP: J.D. Martinez, OF

Once again, I just don't really believe in this Angels team. They will score runs on this Tigers pitching staff for sure, but hopefully Scherzer and co. will keep the damage minimal. This offense should surely be able to beat up on the Los Angeles rotation, but, again, you know what usually happens to those Tiger bats in the post-season.

NLCS
Los Angeles Dodgers over Washington Nationals, 4 games to 3
MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B

This will be a beauty of a series. The Nationals have the best five-man rotation in all of baseball, and I firmly believe they could have success using all five guys throughout the playoffs. The Dodgers, however, by this point will be down to a three-man rotation, and they certainly have the greatest one-through-three starter combination. Between that and a more dangerous offense, I think the Dodgers have the slight edge. This would be an NLCS to remember, for sure.

World Series
Los Angeles Dodgers over Detroit Tigers, 4 games to 1
MVP: Clayton Kershaw, SP

Much like in 2012, the Tigers surprising magic run will end by them getting completely annihilated in the World Series. This time, it will be at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Considering the season Clayton Kershaw has had, the way teams dwindle down their starting rotations for the post-season, and how many weapons they have on offense, I'm just having a hard time seeing anyone else winning it all. Against this Tigers team, they will do so dominantly.

POST-SEASON AWARDS

Disregarding popular opinion, here's how I think things SHOULD, not WILL, pan out.

AL Manager of the Year
(1) Ned Yost, Kansas City
(2) Buck Showalter, Baltimore
(3) Mike Scioscia Los Angeles

NL Manager of the Year
(1) Matt Williams, Washington
(2) Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh
(3) Bruce Bochy, San Francisco

AL Rookie of the Year
(1) Jose Abreu, Chicago (1B)
(2) Dellin Betances, New York (RP)
(3) Collin McHugh, Houston (SP)

NL Rookie of the Year
(1) Jacob deGrom, New York (SP)
(2) Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati (OF)
(3) Ken Giles, Philadelphia (RP)

 AL Cy Young
(1) Felix Hernandez, Seattle (SP)
(2) Corey Kluber, Cleveland (SP)
(3) Chris Sale, Chicago (SP)

NL Cy Young
(1) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles (SP)
(2) Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati (SP)
(3) Adam Wainwright, St. Louis (SP)

AL MVP
(1) Michael Brantley, Cleveland (OF)
(2) Mike Trout, Los Angeles (OF)
(3) Jose Abreu, Chicago (1B)

NL MVP
(1) Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles (SP)
(2) Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh (OF)
(3) Buster Posey, San Francisco (C)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Emotional Listening #49

Ride the Fader
Ride the Fader - Chavez (Matador, 1996)
I got into Chavez's first record last summer, and now am finally doing the same with their second and final one, Ride the Fader. While I'm bummed that they only released two records in their existence, I'm not sure that I could have asked for anything else from them. Ride the Fader is more melodic, technical, angular guitar rock. It might be even more accessible than 1995's Gone Glimmering, but, I think I prefer the overall feel of that previous record. The drums here are huge and intense, as are the guitars, and Matt Sweeney's voice and melodies fit perfectly. I love the contrast of these heavier tunes with the melodic, well-sung vocals. This album opens up with a one-two-three punch that rivals The Dismemberment Plan's Change in "Top Pocket Man," "The Guard Attacks" and "Unreal is Here." The first two are heavy hitters, but, then "Unreal is Here" brings things down a notch, and is perhaps the band's most tender moment (and is also my favorite song). There are other great moments throughout, but nothing reaches the heights of the first three tracks until closer "You Must be Stopped," which features some gnarly guitar harmonics and, once again, some insane drumming. I'd consider Swervedriver, Hum, Polvo, Burning Airlines and Shiner all to be kindred spirits here.
Top jams: "Top Pocket Man," "The Guard Attacks," "Unreal is Here," "New Room," "Lions," "Our Boys Will Shine Tonight," "Flight 96," "You Must be Stopped"



24 Hour Revenge Therapy
24 Hour Revenge Therapy - Jawbreaker (Tupelo/Communion, 1994)
It's funny, I just realized that when I previously had written about Chavez on here, in the same post I also wrote about Jawbreaker's final LP, Dear You. I'm not sure how things lined up that way again this time around. Anyway, admittedly, I'm relatively new to the Jawbreaker game. I was dragging my feet for years until I stumbled upon a used vinyl reissue of Dear You at Underground Sounds in Ann Arbor a couple years ago and decided it was finally time to dig in. Dear You ended up hitting me pretty hard, and now I am totally in love with that record. Jawbreaker's previous record, the Albini-produced(!), 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, hasn't had nearly the same effect yet. There are certainly some jams, mainly "The Boat Dreams From the Hill," "Boxcar" and "Do You Still Hate Me?" The Albini production is an interesting thing, as the drums sound typical of him (big and roomy), but the guitars sound like garbage. Blake Schwarzenbach's melodies are fantastic, and overall, this is some really good, angry pop punk. The songs just aren't as good as those on Dear You. Can tell that I didn't grow up listening to the band?
Top jams: "The Boat Dreams From the Hill," "Indictment," "Boxcar," "Outpatient," "Ache," "Do You Still Hate Me?," "Jinx Removing"



The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (Silvertone, 1989)
I've known that The Stone Roses' self-titled debut (and their only worthwhile record, from what I gather) was deserving of my full attention for a good while now. I've dabbled with it here and there over the past couple of years, but, am finally giving its due devotion. Sure, there are songs I like considerably more than others, but, this is a near-perfect album. I mean, the first half, "I Wanna be Adored" through "Bye Bye Bad Man," IS perfect. A couple of the tracks toward the end lose me. That's entirely forgivable, though. Some of the deep cuts are incredible, especially jangle-popper "(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister" and the kinda sexy chill jam "Shoot You Down." "I Am the Resurrection" is definitely the perfect choice for closer, and I love the way it starts and eventually ends. However, I could do without the extended funk jam in the middle. Am I alone in this? Anyway, the first half of the record is truly untouchable and it overshadows any of the flaws later on. The guitars are absolutely gorgeous, and Ian Brown's vocals and melodies are as close to flawless as you can get. This will stick with me forever, I'm sure. Is it the best Brit Pop album? I don't know nor care enough about the genre to say yes with confidence, but, it has to be, right? Is it the best thing to come out of the UK? No, I still believe that OK Computer retains that title. Is it better than any Beatles record? Ummmmmm... maybe?
Top jams: "I Wanna be Adored," "She Bangs the Drums," "Elephant Stone," "Waterfall," "Don't Stop," "Bye Bye Bad Man," "(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister," "Shoot You Down," "I Am the Resurrection"



Laughing Stock
Laughing Stock - Talk Talk (Verve, 1991)
It takes a special album for me to like it when it's made up of only six songs and clocks in at almost 45 minutes. Talk Talk have achieved the unthinkable. If I recall correctly, Talk Talk spent most of the 80s as a popular new wave/synth pop group, then, for 1988's Spirit of Eden (their fourth LP), turned completely into left field with a more sparse, jazzy, experimental sound. I tried getting into that record a couple months ago, and it wasn't working for me. Back in 2007 or maybe 2008, I remember my friend Julian raving about their final LP, Laughing Stock. I had checked it out once or twice back then, thinking it sounded very cool and interesting, but, also sort of boring. While since then I have become more of a fan of short and sweet records (and songs), I have developed a tolerance, and even appreciation in a number of circumstances, for repetition. That is certainly one word I would use to describe Laughing Stock. Another would be arty, and yet another would be beautiful. I've never heard music like this before: simple, but, thick bass grooves and light, jazzy, ridiculously repetitive drumming make up the core. "Ascension Day" showcases some loud, rhythm-heavy guitar and Mark Hollis' spectacular vocals at their most intense. The two best songs, "After the Flood" and "New Grass," which are just under 10 minutes long each, are more of a collection of soft guitar fiddling, huge organ chords and spacious atmosphere. I didn't think my brain had the capacity for music like this anymore, but, after coming back to Laughing Stock and spending more time with it, that has been disproved.
Top jams: "Myrrhman," "Ascension Day," "After the Flood," "New Grass"

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"