Friday, December 31, 2021

Best Music of 2021

Well, 2021 was a little better than 2020. 

Actually, it was probably quite a bit better, but the thing that brings it down a notch is that "Is this thing ever going to end?" question that keeps hanging over our heads. I honestly don't know the answer, but that's all I'm going to say about it. 

I do, however, want to point out one more pandemic upside that I neglected to mention last year. I really bonded with my sister, to the point that she pretty much texts me about the Yankees every night during baseball season. In fact, I'm not really sure if she realizes I live out of market and don't have an MLB.TV subscription -- although maybe I should -- so I don't watch every game. But, beyond her newfound baseball obsession, she really has become my best friend. Not that we weren't close before, but I really feel like we've become even closer and that's pretty awesome, because she's my only sibling. 

2021 was also the year Little Chuck really developed an interest in music. Well, in one band, that is. He's become an AC/DC fanatic, and he and I have really bonded over that. He's even helped me decide that, while I've always been partial to Bon Scott over Brian Johnson, I like the latter as a singer better. It's just that the Bon Scott material is more consistent and stronger overall. 

While I'm on the subject of AC/DC, another thing I missed last year was that Power Up, AC/DC's 2020 release, was probably their best album since Back in Black, and probably year-end list-worthy. 

Anyway, on to the music of 2021. I'm only ranking the top 20 this year. My philosophy for the past I-don't-know-how-many years has been to just cut off the rankings at the point where I feel the albums are worthy of acknowledgment...although I have to admit a predilection toward round numbers, so that's why it's not a top 18 or a top 21. 

As I've done in recent years, I'll present this as one continuously updated post, so be sure to check back for more. Oh, and I hope you and yours have a happy and healthy new year. Thanks again for paying attention. 

20. The Black Keys - Delta Kream



19. The Hold Steady - Open Door Policy



18. The Weather Station - Ignorance



17. Middle Kids - Today We're the Greatest



16. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - New Fragility



15. Sturgill Simpson - The Ballad of Dood & Juanita



14. David Crosby - For Free

I was as surprised as you are. 



13. Hiss Golden Messenger - Quietly Blowing It



12. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Way Down in the Rust Bucket (Live)



11. Lucy Dacus - Home Video



10. CHVRCHES - Screen Violence



9. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - Carnage



8. The Reds, Pinks and Purples - Uncommon Weather



7. Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last? 



6. James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds



5. Julien Baker - Little Oblivions



4. Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview on Phenomenal Nature



3. Pinegrove - Amperland, NY

My pal el squared says I turned him on to Pinegrove back when Cardinal was my #3 album of 2016, but his early year obsession with this album influenced me to become somewhat obsessed with it as well. It spent most of the rest of the year as my #2 album, although I occasionally considered bumping it up to #1.
 


2. The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings

At one point during the pandemic, I decided I should mail order some albums from a different indie band each month. The each month thing didn't last, but The Besnard Lakes were the first purchase I made, and this album was my frontrunner for album of the year from the day it was released until it was bumped from the top spot by a late October release. 



1. The War on Drugs - I Don't Live Here Anymore

The aforementioned late October release puts The War on Drugs in a category with Pernice Brothers and Cloud Cult as the only bands to reach album of the year status twice in the 26 year history of my list. 



Wednesday, September 01, 2021

All-Time Teams #21: Philadelphia Phillies

This is part of a really long ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises.

Franchise History


Philadelphia Phillies (1890- )
Philadelphia Quakers (1883-1889)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

Starters
C - Darren Daulton (1983, 1985-1997)
1B - Ryan Howard (2004-2016)
2B - Chase Utley (2003-2015)
SS - Jimmy Rollins (2000-2014)
3B - Mike Schmidt* (1972-1989)
LF - Ed Delahanty* (1888-1889, 1891-1901)
CF - Richie Ashburn* (1948-1959)
RF - Chuck Klein* (1928-1933, 1936-1944)

A bunch of fairly obvious choices here. The advanced stats like Bobby Abreu over Klein in right field, but I decided to give the nod to the Hall of Famer who played most of his career in Philadelphia. 

Rotation
Steve Carlton* (1972-1986)
Robin Roberts* (1948-1961)
Pete Alexander* (1911-1917, 1930)
Cole Hamels (2006-2015)
Jim Bunning* (1964-1968, 1970)

The top three are obvious, but Hamels was a pretty easy choice as well, with his 2008 World Series MVP boosting his case.

Closer
Tug McGraw (1975-1984)

Reserves
C - Carlos Ruiz (2006-2016)
1B/3B/LF - Dick Allen (1963-1969, 1975-1976)
2B - Nap Lajoie* (1896-1900)
SS - Larry Bowa (1970-1981)
3B - Scott Rolen (1996-2002)
OF - Billy Hamilton* (1890-1895)
OF - Bobby Abreu (1998-2006)

I was as surprised as you about Nap Lajoie, but his five seasons in Philadelphia were enough to earn a backup role over the likes of Juan Samuel and Mickey Morandini. Billy Hamilton is another Hall of Famer who didn't play in Philadelphia long, but the team needs a backup center fielder and he's the best choice for that role. 

Sherry Magee is easily the toughest omission here. I think he's a highly underrated player who only falls a little short of being worthy of Hall of Fame discussion, but Dick Allen gets the nod as a guy who can backup at both 1B and LF. 

Bullpen
Curt Schilling (1992-2000)
Chris Short (1959-1972)
Ron Reed (1976-1983)
Curt Simmons (1947-1950, 1952-1960)

Manager
Charlie Manuel (2005-2013)

I figured a team that's been around as long as this team has would have a more celebrated manager, but I was wrong.  

Next Up: Pittsburgh Pirates

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Best Music of 2020

So, 2020 is almost over. 

You don't need me to remind you of what a crappy year 2020 was, especially in the context of a post about my favorite albums of the year. 

But, here's the thing I will tell you about, and which you can feel free to skip over if you just want to get to the music. 2020 had some redeeming qualities. More than anything, it made me realize what I have to be thankful for, and it helped me and KJ teach Little Chuck the same. 

So, before I get to the music, that's what I'm going to talk about. The things that I truly am grateful for, some of which were actually the result of this god-awful pandemic we're all going through. 

First and foremost, I got to spend so much more time with my family than I have in years. Of course we drove each other crazy at times, but overall it was definitely a net positive.

Little Chuck's baseball season was cancelled, but back in the spring, he came up with the idea of designating two days a week for us to play baseball together. On those days, we rode our bicycles to a local field, and I pitched batting practice to him. Then, we played catch and kept track of our record of consecutive catches without a miss. 

I also seized the opportunity to get back in touch with some college friends that I hadn't spoken to in years, and my old pal Stein and I have been playing Strat-O-Matic baseball via Zoom once a week since May. 

Of course, just like everyone else, my lack of a commute has made managing the home life a little easier, but considering my wife is in grad school right now, it really has made all the difference in the world. 

Last, but certainly not least, I'm grateful that we're among the lucky ones who haven't been impacted financially by the pandemic. To this point, my one resolution for 2021 is to make sure my son appreciates how truly lucky we are. and to find ways to teach him how important it is to help others who are not so fortunate. 

Anyway, on to the music. 2020 was a pretty good year, probably better than last, in my opinion. This year, I feel like a top 25 is warranted, but I'll be honest the top seven are really the ones that made a huge impact on me. 

Since I'm usually inclined to reveal these as a countdown, I'm going to post a few at a time, but I'm just going to keep adding to this post as I do so. Once again, thanks for caring what I have to say, and I hope you and your family are healthy and safe, and that 2021 is a banner year for you by comparison. 


25. Bill Fay - Countless Branches



24. Bruce Springsteen - Letter to You



23. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Sideways to New Italy



22. Darlingside - Fish Pond Fish



21. Torres - Silver Tongue



20. Haim - Women in Music Pt. III



19. Mark Kozelek, Ben Boye, Jim White - Mark Kozelek with Ben Boye and Jim White 2



18. The Flaming Lips - American Head



17. Pinegrove - Marigold



16. Owen - The Avalanche



15. Woods - Strange to Explain



14. Fleet Foxes - Shore



13. Kathleen Edwards - Total Freedom



12. Matt Berninger - Serpentine Prison



11. Wolf Parade - Thin Mind


10. Adrianne Lenker - Songs



9. Nada Surf - Never Not Together



8. Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher



7. Waxahatchee - Saint Cloud



6. American Aquarium - Lamentations


5. Bonny Light Horseman - Bonny Light Horseman



4. Lori McKenna - The Balladeer



3. Nap Eyes - Snapshot of a Beginner



2. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Reunions



1. Hamilton Leithauser - The Loves of Your Life

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Best Music of 2019

I didn't listen to as much new music this year as I have in most years past. In fact, I spent a solid three months this year making a playlist called 1000 Songs By 100 Bands, basically my ten favorite songs by my 100 favorite bands and solo artists. Check it out if you're so inclined.

2019 was still a good year for new music, though, so I was still able to compile a list of my 30 favorite albums of the year. I'm going to document them here as usual, and roll them out in the same fashion I did last year, in one post that I'll keep adding to every couple of days.

If you're here, I want to thank you again for reading. I hope 2019 was a good year for you, and that 2020 is even better.


30. Jeff Lynne's ELO - From Out of Nowhere

It feels strange calling this band Jeff Lynne's ELO. Of course it's Jeff Lynne's ELO.



29. Steve Earle & The Dukes - Guy

If you enjoy Steve's version of "The Randall Knife" as much as I do, be sure to check out Guy Clark's original version.



28. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Colorado

Probably Neil's best album in a decade or more.



27. Andrew Bird - My Finest Work Yet

I don't really think this is his finest work, but it certainly lives up to his high standards.



26. Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains

This one didn't hit me at first, but it definitely rewarded repeated listens.



25. Craig Finn - I Need a New War

Another solid solo effort from the Hold Steady front-man.



24. Jenny Lewis - On the Line

Another one that just kept growing on me with each subsequent listen.



23. Pernice Brothers - Spread the Feeling

Not quite the return to form some have called it, but then again, I have very high standards for the first band ever to top my list twice.



22. The New Pornographers - In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

Another strong effort from A.C., Neko and Company.



21. The Hold Steady - Trashing Thru the Passion

Mostly old faces so far, I guess. I swear there will be some less than familiar faces in the top 20.



20. The Flaming Lips - King's Mouth: Music and Songs

I know I promised fewer familiar faces were coming, but this is the Flips' best album in over a decade, in my opinion. They're also the 8th (of 10) artists from my "1000 Songs By 100 Bands" project to appear on this list.



19. Georgia Maq - Pleaser

This was a surprising late-year release from the lead singer of one my top five albums from last year. It's a bit of a departure from her main band (Camp Cope), but she's still amazing.



18. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow

I'm not always a big fan of the critical darlings, but this one isn't all hype.



17. Beirut - Gallipoli

I don't really have much to say about this one. I just like it.



16. E.B. The Younger - To Each His Own

I'm not that big a fan of Midlake since Tim Smith departed, but this Eric Pulido side project does it for me.



15. Big Thief - Two Hands

This band released two critically acclaimed albums this year. This one is the most worthy of all the praise, in my opinion.



14. Tallest Man on Earth - I Love You. It's a Fever Dream

I haven't talked yet about the demographics of the artists on my list -- i.e. that I mostly gravitate towards North American artists with a few from the U.K. sprinkled in -- but this is only the second highest ranking Scandinavian artist this year.



13. Tegan and Sara - Hey, I'm Just Like You

I'm a sucker for this sister duo's brand of infectious indie pop.



12. Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing

Ever since Once, I've been waiting for him to make an album worthy of his material on that soundtrack. There's no "Falling Slowly" here, but this is his most cohesive album.



11. Bon Iver - i,i

Some serious accolades for this one, several grammy nominations and all. I'm still partial to the self-titled second album, but this is a great one as well.



10. Deerhunter - Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?

I could never really get into this band until this album.



9. Wilco - Ode to Joy

Quite possibly Wilco's best post-Jay Bennett album, in my opinion.



8. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride

This is probably this band's best album, period, which clearly isn't as big a deal as being Wilco's best since YHF.



7. American Football - LP3

Another band I'm a bit of a latecomer to.



6. Sigrid - Sucker Punch

Here's the aforementioned highest ranking Scandinavian artist.



5. Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center

This Pheobe Bridgers and Conor Oberst duet really hit the nail on the head.



4. Local Natives - Violet Street

This band's second #4 album in not quite as good as the first, but it's another tremendous album from a band that is quietly becoming one of my favorites.



3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen

The top three albums here really stood out to me this year, and were all contenders for the top spot right up until I made my decision last week. This one fell a little short, but it includes "Bright Horses," which was far and away my favorite song of the year.



2. Pedro the Lion - Phoenix

I didn't grow up in Arizona, but songs like "Yellow Bike," "Circle K" and "Quietest Friend" helped me wax nostalgic all-year long, just as living vicariously through my 8-year old son does.



1. The National - I Am Easy to Find

I don't do a best of the decade list, but I did select an artist of the decade for the '00s. With all due respect to Cloud Cult and The War on Drugs, my artist of the decade for the '10s was a much easier decision. With four albums in my top 5, and finally their first #1 album, the nod clearly goes to The National. This is not even their best album of the decade, but it's my favorite this year, and perhaps it's a bit of a lifetime achievement award.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

All-Time Teams #20: Oakland Athletics

I'm trying to revive this ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, but in the interest of time I'm abandoning the greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame part. 

Franchise History

Oakland Athletics (1968- )
Kansas City Athletics (1955-1967)
Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1954)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

15 Hall of Famers on this squad. Only the Cubs -- who added their 16th and 17th when Ron Santo and Lee Smith, respectively, were elected after I wrote their all-time team post -- have more. 

Starters

C - Mickey Cochrane* (1925-1933)
1B - Jimmie Foxx* (1925-1935)
2B - Eddie Collins* (1906-1914, 1927-1930)
SS - Bert Campaneris (1964-1976)
3B - Sal Bando (1966-1976)
LF - Rickey Henderson* (1979-1984, 1989-1995, 1998)
CF - Al Simmons* (1924-1932, 1940-1941, 1944)
RF - Reggie Jackson* (1967-1975, 1987)

Simmons was the regular center fielder for the first four years of his career, so he makes the position shift that avoids having to relegate one of this franchise's four or five best everyday players to the bench. 

Otherwise, I honestly can't see anyone taking exception with any of these starting picks, unless perhaps you're a Home Run Baker guy.

Rotation

Lefty Grove* (1925-1933)
Eddie Plank* (1901-1914)
Rube Waddell* (1902-1907)
Chief Bender* (1903-1914)
Eddie Rommel (1920-1932)

I suppose some will argue for Catfish Hunter over Rommel, which would give this team a rotation of five Hall of Famers, but a lot of those folks probably don't realize how good Rommel was, especially at the start of his career. Despite three consecutive top four Cy Young finishes -- some of which can be attributed to his win totals while pitching for the iconic 1972-74 dynasty -- nothing Hunter did with the A's can compare to Rommell's 1921-25 stretch while pitching for a mostly bad team.

Closer

Dennis Eckersley* (1987-1995)

Reserves

C - Terry Steinbach (1986-1996)
1B - Mark McGwire (1986-1997)
2B - Max Bishop (1924-1933)
SS - Miguel Tejada (1997-2003)
3B - Frank Baker* (1908-1914)
OF - Bob Johnson (1933-1942)
OF - Dwayne Murphy (1978-1987)

I was going to take Gene Tenace over Steinbach as backup catcher, but Tenace really was only a part-time catcher and Steinbach was an above-average offensive player and solid defender at the position for Oakland for nine years.

Advanced statistically speaking, Eddie Joost might deserve the backup SS spot over Tejada, but Tejada's league MVP and overall presence as a more dominant player wins out.

Henderson, I suppose, could backup Simmons in CF, but since neither of them played the position primarily in their career, Murphy's inclusion is almost essential.

Other tough omissions included Danny Murphy, Eric Chavez and Jose Canseco.

Bullpen

Rollie Fingers (1968-1976)*
Tim Hudson (1999-2004)
Vida Blue (1969-1977)
Catfish Hunter* (1965-1974)

I was seriously considering Barry Zito over Hunter, and he perhaps deserves the final spot on this staff on merit. But, Catfish is in the Hall of Fame, his uniform number is retired, and he's the team's leader in post-Depression era wins. So, despite his status as perhaps this franchise's most overrated player, he has to be represented here.

Manager

Connie Mack* (1901-1950)

It did take Mack five times as many seasons to win four times as many games as Tony LaRussa, but the latter will have to wait until St. Louis to get his due.

Next Up: Philadelphia Phillies