Sunday, December 31, 2006

Best of 2006 - Part 5

10. Built to Spill - You in Reverse
It's probably not their best, but I think I was just in the mood for a new BTS album this year.

9. Damien Jurado - And Now That I'm in Your Shadow
2006 was the year of Denton, Texas. In addition to Damien's song named for this small north Texas city, Centro-Matic came in at #24 and....well, read on.

8. Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
This is an album of outtakes and extras from last year's phenomenal release, Illinois. Despite this, I found myself almost as enamored with this as with its predecessor. Sufjan is one of two artists to land in my top ten two years in a row.

7. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
Indie rock dorks experimenting with 70's influenced prog rock. Could it get any nerdier? Could it be any more magnificent?

6. The Flaming Lips - At War With the Mystics
Conspicuously absent from most critics' year-end lists, this one was all over the place, but still great.

5. Drive-By Truckers - A Blessing and a Curse
One day they will be inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. You heard it here first.

4. Joanna Newsom - Ys
I highly recommend this, unless you're one of those people who are easily annoyed by quirky voices, extremely long songs, or music that takes a little time and patience to let sink in.

3. Mates of State - Bring it Back
I probably rated this album higher than anyone else did, but maybe that's because I'm a sucker for infectious indie pop.

2. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
The second artist to make my top ten in both 2005 and 2006. I'll have to check the archives to see if this has ever happened, even in the days when I only listened to 50-60 new releases a year.

1. Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
I'd never even heard of these guys until I was searching on for the new album by The Drams. One of Amazon's "customers who bought this item also bought..." recommendations was this masterpiece by their fellow Denton, Texas brethren. Is it the Eagles meet E.L.O. or an America/Alan Parsons Project hybrid for the new millenium? Either way, it was easily the most compelling record of the year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Best of 2006 - Part 4

20. Wolfmother - Wolfmother
Sometimes a band that so obviously wears its influences on its sleeve just plain hits the nail on the head.

19. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
Up until last year I only did a top ten, but even if I'd been doing a top 50 all along, this would be the highest charting hip-hop album yet...unless you count The Streets, which I suppose you could...but that's a whole other debate.

18. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
Some say they're not quite the same without Isobel Campbell, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

17. Cat Power - The Greatest
To all of you who thought this was too polished, I don't know what else to say except that this was the first album of the year that I really got into.

16. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
I'm not ready to crown these guys the new kings of indie rock, but this is a really good album that reminds me of the direction I wish My Morning Jacket would have gone...if they hadn't met up with Dave Matthews.

15. Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope
The first half of this could have won album side of the year, if records still existed...well, they do, but you get the picture. Side two leaves a bit to be desired, otherwise this one could have finished top 5.

14. Mojave 3 - Puzzles Like You
A bit of a turn towards a poppier sound for this band...maybe not as good as Spoon and Rafter, but no complaints here.

13. Neil Young - Living With War
I went nuts over this when it first came out. Upon repeated listens, it revealed its shortcomings, but this is still a tremendous album from an icon who at 61 is as vital as ever.

12. Anders Parker - Anders Parker
I feel no obligation to rate Anders' album as high as this...especially not because my Edison Motor Inn team beat his Wallace Insurance squad in a one-game playoff to capture the 1982 Town of LaGrange Senior League (13-15 yr old) baseball championship. It's just that Anders is a much better musician than he was an athlete.

11. Sunset Rubdown - Shut Up I Am Dreaming
Not quite as good as last year's Wolf Parade debut, but a pretty impressive side project nonetheless.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Best of 2006 - Part 3

The top 30 is where it really starts to get good...

30. Golden Smog - Another Fine Day
A fine comeback album for the so-called alternative Traveling Wilburys. Will this be Gary Louris' primary outlet now that The Jayhawks are history?

29. Jason Collett - Idols of Exile
A really great rootsy effort from the Broken Social Scene sideman.

28. Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
This one would've been better with a little editing, but there are some really great moments here.

27. Editors - The Back Room
26. The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off
25. The Futureheads - News and Tributes
Critics and fans of these three bands seemed to be mostly disappointed, but I enjoyed all three, although the Walkmen album was a little weaker than their last.

24. Centro-Matic - Fort Recovery
The AllMusic entry for Varnaline refers to them as a "crunch rock" band, but in my opinion Centro-Matic's sound embodies this description more than any. This one starts strong and tails off near the end, but overall is a very solid effort.

23. The Long Winters - Putting the Days to Bed
One of my absolute favorite power pop albums of the year.

22. Asobi Seksu - Citrus
One review I read referred to this album as "music for summer days driving around with the top down" or something like that. I absolutely agree, although it is surprising that I like it so much, given my general distaste for Japanese female vocalists.

21. Tres Chicas - Bloom, Red & The Ordinary Girl
While my taste seems to be drifting from the purely alt-country (whatever that is) stuff, it's the female vocalists in this genre who are keeping my attention. I liked this one so much, I bought it for my Dad for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Best of 2006 - Part 2

The second ten includes mostly first-time honorees, many of whom I'd never heard of prior to this year, and a couple ridiculously long album titles...

40. Augie March - Moo, You Bloody Choir
39. Jennifer O'Connor - Over the Mountain, Across the Valley and Back to the Stars
38. Two Gallants - What the Toll Tells
37. The M's - Future Women
36. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Letting Go
35. Antennas - Sins
34. Liz Durrett - The Mezzanine
33. Oh No! Oh My! - Oh No! Oh My!
32. The Damnwells - Air Stereo
31. Sparklehorse - Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Best of 2006 - Part 1

Another year is almost complete, so of course that means it's time to start rolling out this year's list. It seemed to start out a little slowly, but I'd say it turned out to be a pretty good year for new music...not that many great albums, but a lot of good stuff. In fact, it was difficult narrowing this down to only a top 50, but here goes...

50. Califone - Roots and Crowns
49. Joseph Arthur - Nuclear Daydream
48. Pernice Brothers - Live a Little
47. Ms. John Soda - Notes and the Like
46. Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
45. Richard Buckner - Meadow
44. M. Ward - Post-War
43. Envelopes - Demon
42. Beth Orton - Comfort of Strangers
41. Roseanne Cash - Black Cadillac

Yes, there are three artists in the 50-41 range who used to be mainstays in my top 10, and who account for 3 of my previous 10 #1 albums. What can I say? Times change, my tastes change, and old favorites remain close to my heart despite the fact that new ones have grabbed most of the attention...kind of like when your parents told you they don't love you any less after your younger sibling was born. Actually, I wouldn't know, since I'm that younger sibling.

Stay tuned for the rest of the list...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The MVP is a joke

I'm not referring to Justin Morneau or Ryan Howard. I honestly couldn't care less. Maybe that's the point...I just don't care. The MVP has turned into nothing more than a debate over what the criteria should be...this guy doesn't deserve it because his team didn't contend, this guy isn't that valuable because he has too much of a supporting cast, pitchers have their own award, etc.

Speaking of pitchers, I'll give you an award that has meaning...the Cy Young. It goes to the best pitcher in his respective league. Sure, you could debate whether or not Brandon Webb was that guy, and maybe the team he's on enters into the argument a little. Webb won 16 games for a sub-.500 team while Chris Carpenter, for example, won 15 games for....well, never mind. That's another tangent all to itself. My point is that 50% of the time the winner is absolutely cut and dried (Santana - 2006, Carpenter -2005, Santana - 2004).

Alright, I'll admit that maybe that's because great pitchers tend to really stand out above the competition, but if we were discussing who was the best offensive player in each league this year, I would come down to these guys...Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols in the NL, David Ortiz in the AL. Travis Hafner would have given Ortiz a run for his money if he hadn't got hurt, and Lance Berkman and Jermaine Dye both deserve honorable mention, but those three guys were clearly the best offensive players in baseball this year.

What am I suggesting? Nothing really. Alternatives would be to redefine the MVP as the top offensive performer, do away with the award completely and replace it with something comparable to the Cy Young (I prefer the Babe Ruth award), or to add the "Babe Ruth Award" to the current system. MLB currently is toying with the fan-voted Hank Aaron award. Personally, I think it should be named after an iconic player from earlier in the game's history, but regardless, this seems the most likely possibility.

Anyway...I'm going to get down off my high horse and give out Charles Simone's first annual Babe Ruth Awards:

NL - Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
AL - David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

"It all adds up to a funky situation."
-W. Drayton

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I just don't get it...

$51 million just for the rights to negotiate with a player who probably won't be willing to sign for more than three years because he'll want to hit the free agent market while he's still young? I just can't seem to figure out how this could be a good deal.

I understand the value of keeping him away from the Yankees (and don't confuse my confusion with sour grapes), but let's do the math. If the Red Sox sign Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese phenom, to a three-year deal, they'll already be paying $17 million per year to his former team. He gets none of this, so even if they pay him "only" $8 million per year, that's a total of $25 million.

Johan Santana, inarguably the best pitcher in baseball, makes $10 million per year. How can this guy be worth 2 1/2 times what Santana is worth? I realize Santana signed his extension two years ago, after his first Cy Young (he wins his second tomorrow), and, of course, the market has changed since then, but I still don't understand this move. If they can get him to sign for four years, then maybe they can offer him as much as $10 million per, but if the guy truly is worth this much then this reinforces the fact that he won't sign for more than three years.

Of course, the Red Sox don't have to pay the money if they don't sign him, but I've read that they have to negotiate in good faith or else they'll do major damage to MLB's relationship with the Japanese leagues. My theory is that they're going to offer him more money per year the longer the contract he signs...something like $6 million per for three years, $10 million for four, $12 million for five. In each of these scenarios they're still paying him in the $22-$23 million per year range.

Or, maybe they're counting on the fact that Scott Boras is such a difficult agent to deal with, and they plan on playing hardball and hoping that whatever their final offer is, it doesn't get accepted. Then, they don't have to be on the hook for an "out of this world" salary, and they can rest easy knowing that the Yankees didn't get him either.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Re-thinking 2005 (well, sort of) ...

Sitting in the coffee shop this morning, I was motivated to turn off my iPod and listen to what they had playing on their stereo. It was Matt Pond PA - Several Arrows Later, one that barely made my top 50 last year. As I stuck around to listen to almost the entire album, I realized that there wasn't even a single moment that I didn't enjoy.

This got me to thinking...last year I may have been a little too wrapped up in what the critics liked. From what I remember (Metacritic's archives are down right now), that album was pretty much universally panned by critics of the indie-snob variety. I have to admit that I may have let this affect my evaluation of it. Although, in my defense (from my own self-induced criticism), I realize, looking back on the entire list, that there are quite a few that didn't receive good press. Also, the aforementioned Matt Pond PA album still made the list, despite the fact that it was "boring emo crap" or whatever, so I wasn't a complete slave to the critics' opinions.

I feel like this year, things have been different. My attitude has been "screw the critics and the music snobs, I like what I like, and that's that". I still read the reviews and sometimes the fact that an album is critically acclaimed might cause me to listen to it three times rather than dismiss it after one (if I feel it's worth it), but if something I like is not well received, so be it.

I have occasionally had to be veered back on course, though. A couple weeks ago, in describing the new Midlake album to my friend Jud, I called it a cross between America and the Alan Parsons Project, but better than any album those two bands had ever produced. He called me on my snobbery, and I want to thank him for this. I'm still not a big fan of "Muskrat Love", but a lot of those America songs were truly 70's folk-pop gems. An indie band that could reproduce that magic would really be accomplishing something. Well, this album is actually better (to me) than anything by America, but not because America wasn't good, but because "The Trials of Van Occupanther" is absolutely a tremendous album.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to go pick up the latest Killers album, but I'm not going to waste my time listening to Grizzly Bear several times wondering why I just don't get it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

With their Hometown Heroes promotion, Major League Baseball is asking the fans to vote for the greatest player in the history of each current franchise. I'm going to take a crack at this, a few at a time.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Not much of a history here...Luis Gonzalez is in his 8th year with the club, and is the franchise leader in most significant offensive categories, including Runs (687), Hits (1178), HR (209), RBI (701), and Batting Average (.302). However, Randy Johnson won 4 Cy Young Awards in 5 seasons, and leads all-time in the following categories: ERA (2.65), Wins (103), Innings (1390), Strikeouts (1832), Complete Games (36), Shutouts (14), and Won-Loss % (103-49, .678). He is clearly the choice.

Baltimore Orioles: You could make a pretty strong case for Brooks Robinson or Eddie Murray (who played less than 2/3 of his career for the O's), but to me it comes down to Cal Ripken or Jim Palmer. While Palmer had a tremendous career, with 268 Wins, 3948 Innings, 2212 Strikeouts, 211 Complete Games, 53 Shutouts (all franchise records), Ripken edges him out with the "Face of the Franchise" tag. Oh, and he also leads the club all-time in Games, of course (3001), Runs (1647), Hits (3184), HR (431), and RBI (1695).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I'm thinking that now is a good time to take my first crack at reviewing some 2006 albums. I'll start with the year's first highly anticipated release.

The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth

It seems that most people are at least mildly disappointed with this album. Count me among the majority. Don't get me wrong, it has its moments, but it's more than a slight drop-off from 2003's Room on Fire, which was a slight drop-off from their 2001 debut Is This It. This one does, however, owe much less of a debt to The Velvet Underground than the latter, but, in this case, that's not necessarily a good thing.

Overall, there's enough enjoyable material here to be only slightly disappointing, and there are a few gems, including the album-opening "You Live Only Once" and the hook laden closer, "Red Light". In between, we get the album's strongest track...the "Mandy"-inspired "Razorblade", with its "My feelings are more important than yours" refrain providing us with the opportunity to reminisce of Barry Manilow crooning, "Oh Mandy, you came and you gave without taking", with just a little more edge.

Unfortunately, most of what falls between "Razorblade", the disc's fourth track, and "Red Light" are tediously boring songs that are standard guitar based garage rock, although far more polished than what we've heard from this band before, and with far too few really great hooks. Maybe I'm being too harsh here, because in reality, after a couple of beers, many of these songs amazingly transform from mediocre to pretty good. In fact, my real beef with most of these songs is that they tease me by starting out a bit catchy, but later prove to be not inspired or interesting enough to hold my attention.

The lowlights of the aforementioned stretch of tedium include the organ based "Ask Me Anything", which would be more appropriately called by its much repeated refrain "I've Got Nothing to Say", and the album's most boring guitar rocker, "Fear of Sleep", in which we get to hear lead singer Julian Casablancas repeatedly exclaim "You're no fun!" sentiments exactly, about this song in particular, and this album in general.