Monday, December 31, 2007

Top 40 of 2007

40-39: December 16, 2007
38-36: December 17, 2007
35-33: December 18, 2007
32-31: December 19, 2007
30-29: December 20, 2007
28-27: December 21, 2007
26-21: December 23, 2007
20-16: December 25, 2007
15-11: December 28, 2007
10-6 : December 30, 2007
5-1 : December 31, 2007
5. The National - Boxer

The National's previous album, Alligator, showed a ton of potential, particularly in its best songs, but there were a few throwaways. Still, it garnered much critical acclaim and made its followup a highly anticipated affair. Boxer delivers on that potential, and even improves upon it to the point of being an almost perfect album.

"Fake Empire" is a brilliant opener, and perhaps the album's finest song, but that doesn't mean there's a dropoff in quality after that. There's not a single song here that isn't essential, with "Start a War" being its other major highlight, and the sum total is an intelligent and introspective album that leans towards indie rock's mellower, even more romantic, side.

4. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Let's just get this out in the open right away...this is a tremendous album. All of the Modest Mouse loyalists who think their last two albums are disappointing need to just get a grip and accept that the band is evolving, and that doesn't necessarily mean selling out. There are plenty of quality indie rock bands who maintain a sound that is still accessible to more mainstream ears. It's just that Modest Mouse didn't used to be one of those bands, and now they are.

This is a brilliant album, that is strong throughout its entire 60+ minutes. Despite being more accessible than its predecessors, the trademark Modest Mouse quirkyness is still present in full force. Not to mention that the versatility that has always made this band so great is still on display, combining indie radio-friendly tunes like "Dashboard" and "Florida" with thrashing rockers "Fly Trapped in a Jar" and "Spitting Venom", and the pleasantly mid-tempo "Missed the Boat" and "People as Places as People".

3. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Of Montreal's sound had shown some potential to my ears for a while, but on Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? they really deliver. The subject matter here are the difficult times that band leader Kevin Barnes has gone through in the past few years, most importantly the breakup of his marriage and subsequent depression. Despite this, it's an upbeat and infectiously catchy pop album, that still manages to capture the despair of Barnes' recent experiences.

Highlights include album opener "Suffer for Fashion", the pop brilliance of the curiously titled "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse", and the hilariously bitter "She's a Rejecter", on which Barnes sings "There's the girl that left me bitter, want to pay some other girl to just walk up to her and hit her...but I can't, I can't, I can't!" Pure pop genius.

2. Band of Horses - Cease to Begin

Band of Horses' debut, Everything All the Time, was impressive, but their sophomore effort, Cease to Begin, is outstanding. I don't know of another album that starts as strong as this one, with the first four tracks, "Is There A Ghost", "Ode to LRC", "No One's Gonna Love You" and "Detlef Schrempf" all being certifiable eagles.

Despite the strength of the first half, the remainder still does not disappoint, as every minute of this brief 35-minute affair is absolutely breathtaking, highlighted by Ben Bridwell's soaring falsetto, plenty of reverb, and more shimmering guitar hooks than one could ask for. Positively stunning and goosebump inspiring. If you don't love this album...well, there's nothing I can do for you.

1. Cloud Cult - The Meaning of 8

I won't make the same claim regarding The Meaning of 8 that I did about Cease to Begin. This is not for everyone, but it certainly is, without a doubt, the album of the year for me.

The album's liner notes discuss the album's title in the context of Carl Jung's philosophy regarding the universal meaning of the number 8. However, the album's true meaning is revealed on its seventh track, "Your 8th Birthday", as singer Craig Minowa repeatedly belts out the name Kaidin, his infant son who died of unknown causes in 2002. Kaidin would've turned 8 this year.

The Meaning of 8 isn't the first time Minowa has included his son's death as at least the partial focus of an album, but this loss is never shared so eloquently as it is here. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for such subject matter, but this is my album of the year on the strength of its music as overdose of cerebral, quirky and at times symphonic indie rock that is a pleasure for its entire 64 minutes.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

10. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha

For some reason, it took a few listens to really take to this one. I remember reading, earlier in the year on the Metacritic forums, that contributors were somewhat divided in whether or not to embrace Armchair Apocrypha's more guitar-based approach. The violin, Andrew Bird's primary instrument, while still featured, is not the primary emphasis, nor is his trademark whistling. But, these elements are all there, as are his cleverly odd lyrics with more than occasional scientific references, and they all come together to create another wonderful and cohesive collection of songs.

This is one of those albums that is so consistent that, it seemed everytime I listened to it, I changed my mind about my favorite songs. In the end, though, I'd say that "Imotosis", "Simple X" and "Scythian Empires" were the tracks that most frequently stood out, the latter two being among the songs with a greater emphasis on Bird's beautiful whistling.

9. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

I really thought my admiration of Sam Beam and Iron & Wine had run its course. The debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, was a masterpiece of stripped-down acoustic indie-folk. Nick Drake comparisons were thrown around loosely but not undeservedly. His work that followed, though, failed to live up to my expectations, partly because he had already perfected his formula, but also because the material just wasn't as good. The collaboration with Calexico, In the Reins, provided some hope, but I couldn't help but feel that Beam and Co. had run out of steam.

As it turns out, Iron & Wine have continued the momentum gained by In the Reins with their second best record yet, The Shepherd's Dog. Benefiting perhaps from the influence of Calexico, or from the fact that Beam replaced almost every member except himself, this album gets the full band treatment and pulls it off extremely well. While it still doesn't stray far from the original aesthetic of Iron & Wine, it is easily their most diverse record and I wouldn't even question anyone who considers it their best.

8. Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover

Spencer Krug is quickly climbing the ladder as one of my favorite musicians. If not for last year's Shut Up I Am Dreaming finishing at #11, this could have been the third straight year that an album on which he was featured made the top ten. Regardless, this is quite impressive, given it has all been accomplished in the post-downloading era.

That's what I've decided to call the time period from 2005 on. Just as Major League Baseball has the pre-segregation and post-segregation, and, of course, the pre-steroids and post-steroids, eras, music has pre- and post-downloading. Since the availability of massive amounts of music has become much more prevalent in this time period, making the top ten takes on greater meaning.

In the post-downloading era, only The Hold Steady, Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird and one other artist have made the top ten twice. Actually, that's quite a few, considering it's only three years we're talking about. Sunset Rubdown just misses that distinction, but no one has figured quite as prominently in all three years as Spencer Krug has, with Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary being the third album I'm referring to.

7. Two Gallants - Two Gallants

Two Gallants' last album, What the Toll Tells, was good, but the singer's voice was even a little grating even for my taste. So, after a few too many listens, I grew a little tired of it, although I still honored it in my top 50. The songs on this, their self-titled third album, while not necessarily earning better reviews from the critics, are so good, in my opinion, that they overcome the same pitfall. In fact, the nature and subject matter of these songs make Adam Stephens' voice a perfect fit.

I've certainly listened to a lot of music that has addressed the subject, but this has to be my all-time favorite breakup album. It so exquisitely captures the typically competing feelings of bitterness, longing and regret that I considered sending a copy to a friend who ended a six-year relationship this year. But, that would've been risky, so I didn't. Still, if I were him, I would have found comfort in this album, as strange as that sounds, although I probably would have done so while drinking. So, I guess it's a good thing that the only breakup I experienced this year was from a 2+ month relationship.

6. The New Pornographers - Challengers

I'm not sure what it is that fans of this band are so disappointed with on this album. The formula has changed a bit...the music seems to be inspired by a mellower brand of pop than its more powerful predecessors. A.C. Newman claims it is a salute to early Roxy Music. I don't know enough about that band to really say either way...I'd be more apt to say I hear a little nod to E.L.O., although I'll admit that I seem to throw around that comparison a little too often. Regardless, all the ingredients that make everything New Pornographers sound so infectiously catchy are still here, and it makes for another brilliant album.

I've never been a fan of Dan Bejar, or his main band, Destroyer, the indie darlings that they are. I've always loved The New Pornographers despite him, on the strength of Newman's material, not to mention Neko Case's compelling voice. Maybe one of the factors that makes this album so great to me is that I actually really like Bejar's contributions, even to the point that I'm considering putting one of his songs on my year-end mix.

Friday, December 28, 2007

15. Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City

I seem to have a tendency of discovering bands one album after their critical breakthrough. A few examples that jump to mind from 2006...Joanna Newsom, Cat Power, The Futureheads. The previously mentioned Beirut would also be a pretty good example of this, but Bloc Party would have to be considered an exception.

If I remember correctly, I wrote off Silent Alarm after one listen, but thankfully returned to it later in the year and had a decidedly different experience. I was captivated by their combination of hook-laden arty brit-pop and emotionally charged ballads. One of the common criticisms of A Weekend in the City is that it doesn't show off the band's versatility as much as the debut. Regardless, it's an impressive followup that builds on the their obvious strengths, the most important of those being wrapping heartfelt lyrics around powerful songs with gorgeous melodies. A prime example is Kele Okereke's declaration on "Waiting for the 7:18" that "If I could do it again, I'd make more mistakes, I'd not be so scared of falling...I'd climb more trees, I'd pick and I'd eat more wild blackberries". But, the album's most impressive moment, and possibly my song of the year, is the nostalgic "I Still Remember", which powerfully evokes images of the sadness of reminiscing about past regrets, but still somehow maintains a certain hopefullness.

14. The Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder

Ever since I first heard The Apples in Stereo, on 1997's Tone Soul Evolution, I've been waiting for them to make an album that combines the eclecticism and pop genius, respectively, of their Elephant 6 brethren The Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. Of course, my reference point wasn't that specific back then because I hadn't yet heard of either of those two other bands. However, I felt knew a little something about their potential.

Well, those overwhelming expectations may, in fact, be a little out of the Apples' reach, but New Magnetic Wonder comes about as close as they could possibly get. Since it's pretty obvious that they wear their Beatlesque pop influences on their sleeves, this would be their Sgt. Pepper' album with sounds all over the map, that combines catchy pop with psychedelic soundscapes, coming across serious at times and just plain fun-loving at others.

13. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away

Although it does seem that fans of The Shins are in different camps as to whether Wincing the Night Away is another blast of wonderful power-pop, albeit more slickly produced that its predecessors, or a disappointing sellout, about the only negative thing I can say about it is that it took four years to complete. Although not quite as good as Chutes Too Narrow, my personal favorite, or Oh, Inverted World, I would definitely fall into the former category. Despite a couple songs that I would consider throwaways, this album does not disappoint, especially on "Australia", "Phantom Limb" and "Turn on Me".

12. Okkervil River - The Stage Names

I knew Black Sheep Boy, my album of the year in 2005, was going to be a tough act to follow. The Stage Names proves that Okkervil River is more than capable of building on the momentum of that masterpiece...musically, at least. Conceptually is where this album falls way short of its predecessor, but that's really an unfair comparison. If you care to catch up on why I feel that way, you can do so here.

The highlights are impressive, and they include "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe", "Savannah Smiles" and "A Girl in Port". I could have done without the pseudo-cover of the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" that is "John Allyn Smith Sails", which closes the album. Given my affinity towards albums that start and end strongly, this may have prevented this one from cracking the top ten.

11. M.I.A. - Kala

After M.I.A.'s (aka Maya Arulpragasam) debut Arular, I figured she was a one-shot deal for me. Sometimes there's an intangible element that drives my enjoyment of a particular album or artist at a specific moment in time that can never be captured again. While I assumed that was the case with Arular, Kala turned out to be just as good, if not better.

Definitely outside of my realm, I have a difficult time describing what M.I.A. is all about, and it is certainly no easier to explain what it is I like about her music, but I do appreciate this description from

"Kala and Arular are similar in that they are both wildly vigorous and wholly enjoyable albums, generous with blunt-force beats, flurries of percussion, riotous vocals (with largely inconsequential lyrics), and fearless stylistic syntheses that seem to view music from half of the planet's countries as potential source material."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

20. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

Conor Oberst is either a precocious genius or a pretentious asshole, depending on whose opinion you're soliciting. I would've thought myself to be in the latter camp until I heard I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning in 2005. Maybe asshole is a little strong, but emo- followed by a very unflattering and non-PC term questioning his sexuality is probably more accurate. However, Wide Awake was an absolute indie-pop meets roots-rock masterpiece, and Cassadaga proves to be a worthy followup. I can understand how his overly emotional, sometimes quivering voice and occasionally self-important lyrics can grate on people, but both of these albums have simply got better and better with each successive listen.

I've often remarked about albums that are anchored by a few outstanding tracks that keep me coming back to it, and eventually the rest of the material grows on me and proves to be almost as good. I would consider this to be the case with Wide Awake, but in this instance that momentum carried right on through to the next album. Cassadaga's standouts, "Four Winds", "If the Brakeman Turns My Way", "Soul Singer in a Session Band" and "Classic Cars", while not as overwhelming as those from its predecessor, certainly served that purpose as well. I'm even a big fan of some of the somewhat overdone stuff here, particularly "I Must Belong Somewhere", making this album truly worthy of top 20 status.

19. Kanye West - Graduation

I would have to say that Kanye West now qualifies as my favorite modern hip-hop artist, with two year-end list appearances in the last three years...although falling a bit short of the #18 ranking of last year's Ghostface Killah album, Fishscale, and of the distinction as my highest ranked hip-hop album ever.

Late Registration made my top 50 in 2005, but didn't rank nearly as high as this. I don't have access to all of my files right now, so I'm not exactly sure, but I think it came in at #43. I'm not sure if Graduation is that much better, or if it's just a matter of Late Registration being the album that set this one up for me. I do think, however, that this is a more consistent effort, as the latter contained a few songs that I loved, but definitely some moments that I could do without as well. In this case, Graduation's highlights, "Champion", "Good Life", "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Big Brother", are only offset by brief dropoffs like "Barry Bonds".

18. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger

A sober Ryan Adams returns after a string of disappointing albums, or should I say from a spell of emphasizing quantity over quality in the past few years. Following the short-lived existence of Whiskeytown, Ryan's first solo album, 2000's Heartbreaker, was an absolute desert island disc, and it's followup, Gold, was quite good as well. Since then, it's been all downhill, with a few strong moments here and there, but with Easy Tiger, I'm ready to say he's returned to form and put out the second best solo album of his career.

Just about all of his talents are on display here, from the countrified "Goodnight Rose" and "Tears of Gold" to the rocking "Halloweenhead", but most of all on the tracks that are most reminiscent of his best work, "Oh My God, Whatever, Etc." and "I Taught Myself How to Grow Old". I'm sure Ryan isn't finished with his attempts to reinvent himself, but hopefully the increased focus he seems to have achieved here will continue. I'm fairly optimistic that it will.

17. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon's 2005 album, Gimme Fiction, was where I jumped on the bandwagon. It was a solid effort, but only scratched the surface in helping me to understand what the fuss was all about. This was another case of a record that loyalists considered a minor disappointment, so it might not have been the best starting point. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, despite its weak title, does a better job of putting all of this band's talents on display.

While probably not considered to be quite as good as Girls Can Tell, this album shows off the band's versatility, with songs like the brassy "The Underdog" and the exotic "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case" breaking some new ground, while "Don't Make Me a Target", "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "Finer Feelings" deliver the band's standard formula to near perfection.

16. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

All the hype that preceded the release of the Arcade Fire's 2004 debut, Funeral, was probably what ruined it for me. I'm sure, as has been the case with many of the artists billed as indie-rock's "next big thing", there were Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons a plenty. To me, their ambitious, emotionally charged sound simply failed to deliver.

Sometimes lowered expectations can prove to be a blessing in disguise, as Neon Bible is everything that Funeral was supposed to be, despite not receiving quite the attention and critical acclaim. "Keep the Car Running" is almost perfect, and easily one of my favorite songs of the year. The rest of the album simply flows where Funeral seemed to meander, making it easily the superior my opinion.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

26. Architecture in Helsinki - Places Like This

This album came out in the same month as the latest from Okkervil River and The New Pornographers, so in spite of the fact that Architecture in Helsinki's previous album, In Case We Die, finished in my top 20 of 2005, this was only the third most anticipated release of August. I think I first listened to it while driving through Western New York on my summer road trip to Ohio. I was not blown away at first, but this one proved to fall into the infamous "rewards repeated listens" category...otherwise known as "a grower".

Call me crazy, but I hear a bit of B52's energy in a couple of songs on this album. Well, at least these Australian indie popsters share one thing in common with those Athens, GA natives...the fact that both bands are co-fronted by male and female members. There isn't necessarily one song that stands out on this album, but overall it's a solid collection of catchy indie pop you can dance to.

25. Sigur Rós - Hvarf/Heim

For long standing fans of Sigur Rós, this year's release may have been less than satisfying, but since I'm a bit of a newcomer, it filled a void that has existed since 2005 top 10 entry Takk... drifted from my regular rotation.

This is basically two EPs that, when combined, make for an hour-plus long affair. Hvarf is a collection of rarities, while Heim is a live-in-studio acoustic performance of some of their past favorites. Among the new material, the symphonic "Hljómalind" is the highlight, proving the slow build to powerful chorus as another style of song that I'm an absolute sucker for.

24. Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala

The second Swedish contribution to this year's list, Jens Lekman is undoubtedly one of the most clever, funny and charismatic characters on the independent music scene...kind of the straight version of Stephin Merritt. To me, he has an unrivaled knack for writing and singing beautiful and catchy indie pop that somehow tows the line between being too serious and too silly. This sounds like a difficult task, but "A Postcard to Nina" is a perfect example. A hilarious song about meeting the father of his lesbian friend and pretending to be her boyfriend, it also delivers a not overly preachy "always be true to yourself" message.

23. Son Volt - The Search

By now, it should be apparent, if not perfectly clear, that I would side with Jay Farrar in any dispute between he and his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy. Despite this, there's no questioning the fact that Tweedy has proven to be more creative and versatile and has parlayed these talents into not only critical acclaim, but marginal commercial success as well. This year, however, is the first since the late 90's that I can honestly say that I like the direction Son Volt is moving in more than the path that Wilco has chosen. Maybe that's partly because Wilco's recent offering just didn't do it for me, but more importantly, Son Volt has followed their strong comeback album, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, with an even better effort. In fact, I consider The Search to be the second best album in the band's entire catalog, and that's saying something, considering #1, Trace, is one of my all-time favorites.

22. Beirut - The Flying Club Cup

I enjoyed Beirut's debut, Gulag Orkestar, but it didn't quite inspire me to want to listen to it repeatedly. Still, it was good enough for the band to still be a spot on my radar. Then, when the Lon Gisland EP, which included the brilliant "Elephant Gun", was released earlier this year, I knew I was quickly becoming a fan. Brilliant might be over-stating may have just been the best Neutral Milk Hotel influenced song I'd heard in a long time, but you get the idea.

Beirut's overall sound is not as inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel as that one song, and despite my affinity for NMH, I consider that a good thing. I don't think there's enough room in this indie world for all of the artists who unashamedly wear Jeff Mangum's influence on their sleeves. While NMH is certainly an influence of theirs, Beirut's sound is distinctive enough to be considered their own. While one reviewer called the debut "a kind of Neutral Milk Hotel-meets-gypsy field recordings", The Flying Club Cup takes this sound to a new level, employing a beautiful amalgam of wind instruments, strings, accordions, keyboards and organ.

21. Interpol - Our Love to Admire

I've already discussed Interpol a little here, and I may have to admit that I've rated this album higher than just about anybody else this year...but so what. This is another case of being a relative latecomer, so I don't have the same reference point as other Interpol fans who think this album is clearly a notch below their prior two efforts. Who knows? This may be analogous to all those people who never heard Being There and now think Sky Blue Sky is some kind of masterpiece. The positive side of this, for folks in the latter camp as well as myself, is we both now have the uncharted territory of the back catalog of a truly great artist to explore.

Friday, December 21, 2007

28. Loney, Dear - Loney, Noir

Very confusing band name and album title, I must admit. In fact, it could almost be a deal-killer if the music wasn't so good. Loney, Dear is Swedish singer/songwriter Emil Svanängen, and Loney, Noir was a big hit with me in a year that many of his fellow countrymen also made an impression. Actually, only two of the four artists who come to mind landed spots in the top 40, with Shout Out Louds and The Tough Alliance falling short.

Emil's ridiculously high falsetto might not be your cup of tea, but how can you not fall for his brand of infectious and sweetly melodious pop music? Highlights here are many, but my particular favorites are "Hard Days 1,2,3,4", "Carrying a Stone", and "I Won't Cause Anything At All". Slotting in at #28, this record holds the distinction as the highest ranking album by an artist I'd never heard of prior to this year, with Handsome Furs being the only other band in the top 40 to satisfy that criterion.

27. Editors - An End Has a Start

Editors' debut album, The Back Room, instantly grabbed my attention, despite the fact that the tougher critics generally referred to them as a poor man's Interpol. In a somewhat ironic twist, I can actually credit Editors as the band that turned me on to Interpol. I'd certainly heard small doses of the latter prior to this, but it wasn't until hearing these less than favorable comparisons that I figured it was time to give Interpol a solid listen.

Editors' sophomore effort, An End Has a Start, is nearly as good as their first. It may not break any new ground, but it's another 40+ minutes of anxious, dramatic hook-laden British indie rock. This band will probably never escape the Interpol comparisons, but they could do a lot worse in terms of reference points. They may occasionally veer dangerously close to Coldplay, but they seem to reign it in just in time to keep from falling over the edge.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

30. Feist - The Reminder

This being the third female artist (out of 11) on the list so far, you may think that this is the year in which females are more highly represented than ever. You probably haven't even noticed, but if you're thinking this, you're wrong. In fact, the opposite is probably true. If you've never heard me talk or write about my unintentional prejudice against women in music, start here. I'm not going to get into it further, except to say that I like a lot of music made by female artists, but I guess it's just very infrequent that I really love them.

This album is a good reference point for the statement made in that last sentence. Similar to Regina Spektor's 2006 offering, Begin to Hope, Feist's The Reminder is front-loaded with a few songs that make me feel optimistic that this is going to be a fantastic album..."So Sorry", "I Feel it All", "The Park". But, then there's a drop-off. The difference between this and Begin to Hope (fitting title, huh?) is that the latter has a solid handful of eagles, whereas The Reminder has a bunch of really good songs and a few that drag a little. Still, it's my second favorite album of the year by an exclusively female act, which may sound patronizing, but I say that's nothing to scoff at.

29. Pelican - City of Echoes

I've certainly listened to my share of post-rock (or whatever you call it) bands, thanks to a particular rock snob friend of mine. While were on that subject, "The Rock Snob*s Dictionary" defines post-rock as follows:

"Amorphous genre born of rock-crit necessity in the nineties, mainly to explain to the skeptical public that the free-form, slo-mo noodlings of such semi-smart strivers as Tortoise and Low were not lazy, unstructured cop-out jams but the music of the twenty-first century".

Well, it's the 21st-century, and I still find that most of the stuff that falls into this "genre" just can't hold my attention for an entire album. I generally find that it's good for a 15-20 minute drive home on a cold dark night in Poughkeepsie. That's its niche. Not much potential for commercial success there.

Pelican's City of Echoes, despite its 4.4 Pitchfork rating, not only held my attention for the entire 42 minutes, but it did so again and again, and this was during the summer. Its conciseness might very well be a good reason for this. Regardless, returning to it again as I write this, I'm still digging this band's brand of heavy instrumental rock, although I'd like to suggest to them that they release their next album somewhere between November and February.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

32. Rosie Thomas - These Friends of Mine

My co-worker and I were discussing the divergence in our respective tastes in music. We do have fairly similar taste, but she really dislikes what she considers to be pretentious sounding singers. I made a reluctant comparison that I'm more emo than she is. She agreed, but cut me some slack by re-phrasing my description to say I like sentimental music more than she does. This album, and one track in particular, perfectly embodies the feeling that I'm a sucker for sentimentality.

That track is "Songbird", Rosie Thomas' interpretation of the Fleetwood Mac original. I have to admit to not being that familiar with Christine McVie's version before I heard this one. That's probably why it really hit me. Then, to be able to listen to it back-to-back with the Fleetwood Mac version, and to realize the latter is even better, is really amazing. But, that doesn't detract from the beauty of Thomas' version. Hers is played to acoustic guitar backed by subtle strings, while the Fleetwood Mac song is a piano ballad, and Rosie's voice adds a certain down-home folky charm to the song.

But, the rest of the album, although only 33 minutes in total, is really special as well. In my regular frequent spins entry in my myspace blog, I called March the best month of 2007 to that point...which isn't really saying much, but it probably hangs onto that distinction even at year end. I ranked These Friends of Mine in a three-way tie with two other female singer-songwriter albums for 5th best album of the month. As it turns out, Rosie's effort is the only of those three to have the staying power to secure a spot in my top 40.

31. Mark Olson - The Salvation Blues

Depending on your interpretation, there may be a slight factual error in my post of December 17. I've been a fan of The Jayhawks a little longer than Dinosaur Jr. Of course, The Jayhawks didn't put out an album in 2007, but co-founder Mark Olson did.

Just as I favored Jay Farrar over Jeff Tweedy in Uncle Tupelo, and J Mascis over Lou Barlow in Dinosaur Jr., I initially was a bigger fan of Mark Olson than his co-leader in The Jayhawks, Gary Louris. This changed when Olson left the band and Louris proved to be a more talented songwriter who really stood out when fronting the band on his own. Olson clearly has his niche, and that niche is in straight-up country-rock and, sometimes old-timey, folk.

The Salvation Blues is technically his first truly solo record, after several albums with his now ex-wife Victoria Williams as The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, Mark Olson & The Creekdippers, and just the Creek Dippers. It's also the first album since their divorce. I'm not sure why, but I was more saddened to hear of their breakup than I would have thought possible.

I have no knowledge of their relationship, but for some reason I pictured them the perfect couple, living a simple life in the California desert, barely making a living from their music, and Mark taking care of Victoria when she had setbacks due to her M.S. But, I was wrong. She filed for divorce when she found out he was shacking up with an old girlfriend. Then, the old girlfriend dumped him too. It was a rough year for Mark, so I guess this is a bit of a different kind of comeback, and a good one at that.

Roger Clemens

Alright, I need to take time out from the top 40 countdown to get back to the steroids issue. I was beginning to believe that it was becoming less and less likely that Roger Clemens' name would ever be cleared, and possibly even more unlikely that he was, in fact, innocent of the accusations. Andy Pettitte's admission of HGH use not only makes it seem more likely that his best friend in baseball was also using, but also gives some creedence to the word of Brian McNamee.

Then, Clemens issued the following statement yesterday:

"I want to state clearly and without qualification: I did not take steroids, human growth hormone or any other banned substances at any time in my baseball career or, in fact, my entire life."

There's no clever phrasing here that could be used to defend himself from being called a liar at a later date. He has stated unequivocally that he is innocent of all accusations.

So what does this mean? I don't know for sure, and I certainly am not ready to say that I believe him. I want to believe him, but I'm still skeptical. However, I hold firmly to my opinion that he needs an opportunity to present his side of the story, i.e. to refute the charges.

He also stated, "I plan to publicly answer all of those questions at the appropriate time in the appropriate way." I don't have a problem with this, although some are criticizing him for it, saying he needs to defend himself publicly rather than by issuing statements. But, this is a complicated matter, and just as the defendant in a trial has a right to not talk to the press about his case, Clemens has the right to expect that he should be given the appropriate forum.

So, what is Clemens going to do? I don't know the answer to that question, but I have what I think is an ingenious idea about what he should do.

He should announce that he's not retiring, and sign a one-year contract with the Yankees for the major league minimum. He should make it clear that he plans to pitch an even smaller portion of the season than he did last year, maybe only the final two months; That he plans to stay in shape and then begin training in the Yankees' minor league system between one and two months prior to this, or however long it takes.

Of course, this contract will be a highly incentive laden contract that pays him generously should he crack the Yankees' rotation and make it back to the major leagues. He should state publicly that he is well aware that the Yankees, as constituted right now, have six capable starting pitchers competing for five spots and there is no guarantee that he will be able to unseat any of them. But, of course, that will be his goal, that and to help the team make it back to and win another World Series.

Why would he do this when it seems ever so obvious that now is the time he should retire for good? To defend and protect his legacy, that's why. By doing so, he will be forcing Bud Selig's hand to take action based on the allegations in the Mitchell Report or not.

Selig has already stated publicly that he plans to investigate each active player named in the report and decide on any possible disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis. So, should he suspend Clemens for his involvement with steroids, Roger will utilize baseball's appeal system to its fullest extent. That will be his forum, his "appropriate time and appropriate way", to attempt to clear his name, preserve his legacy and ensure his place alongside baseball's greats in Cooperstown.

Should Selig decide not to take action, this will not allow Clemens the opportunity to make as strong a statement as if he does, but his defense will be that Major League Baseball didn't even seek to punish him for what the report claimed he was guilty of. Therefore, they determined that the case against him was weak. Why was the case against him so weak?...Clemens will ask rhetorically. Because the allegations are false, will be his answer.

Will this erase the doubts in everyone's minds, in the so-called "court of public opinion"? No, but he will have done what he said he would do, "...publicly answer all of the questions...", and it will be a much stronger statement than anyone has made in response to the steroid allegations. More importantly, it will eliminate any clearcut case against electing him to the Hall of Fame, and ensure his place in baseball history...on the basis of his performance rather than his enhancing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

35. Handsome Furs - Plague Park

Handsome Furs is the "other" Wolf Parade side project. I say other, because after two well received albums in consecutive years, Spencer Krug's Sunset Rubdown is maybe even bigger than Wolf Parade itself. In fact, is it really a side project when they've made more albums than the main band? But that's Sunset Rubdown, and I'll be writing more about them later, so I digress.

Wolf Parade's other (there I go with that word again) front man, Dan Boeckner, is the driving force behind Handsome Furs. While Boeckner's vocals make it difficult to consider this a major departure from the band from which this project spawns, there are some considerable differences. The music is generally more stripped down, but the presence of electronic blips and drum machines make it far from an organic effort. Not as upbeat and powerful as Wolf Parade, nor as drenched in layers as Sunset Rubdown, this is still an impressive debut from a worthwhile side project. Now, I look forward to a proper Wolf Parade album this year.

34. Malcolm Middleton - A Brighter Beat

I was never really a fan of Arab Strap, but only because I was never really exposed to their music, not because I didn't like them. I still can't really say either way, but judging from Malcolm Middleton's solo output, and the fact that I've heard them referred to as Scotland's answer to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (not just because they're both named after sexual devices), I'm pretty sure I could easily be swayed.

But, the problem is that Middleton is the Becker of Arab Strap, so who knows? Regardless, his solo albums have made me an instant fan, with 2005's Into the Woods cracking my top 20, and this impressive follow-up. You can never get enough songs about life's depressing and darker moments sung by a Scotsman as charming as Middleton. When he sings "when are you coming home...don't want to be alone" on "Fuck it, I Love You", it's hard not to want to venture out to the pub to drink a pint on his behalf. And then there's "Up Late at Night Again", as much this album's highlight as "Choir" was to Into the Woods. I dare you to listen this song without wanting a drink.

33. Radiohead - In Rainbows

I think I remember reading somewhere that this album was in danger of being overlooked musically because of all the hype surrounding it's unorthodox release. Well, so much for that. I already count it atop two critical year end lists and in 12 other top tens. That's out of 16 lists total, all aggregated on Metacritic, which leaves two in which it didn't crack the top ten. Those publications are Paste, my new favorite music magazine, and Slant, which I know little about.

In Rainbows is a good album. It's better than the new Wilco, the band I once referred to as the alt-country Radiohead. It's not OK Computer. It's not even The Bends. It's good, actually very good, with a couple weaker moments. That's all I have to say.

Monday, December 17, 2007

38. Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond

It just occurred to me that, among this year's top 40, Dinosaur Jr. is the artist I've been a fan of the longest. But, you can read about that here. As I've said before, I've always been a much bigger fan of the post-Lou Barlow Dinosaur Jr. of the early 90's than the more critically acclaimed earlier material. Well, Barlow returns, following the band's 10 year hiatus, on Beyond, and he fails to screw it up. Don't get me wrong, it's still J Mascis who gets most of the credit, but Lou's contributions aren't so bad.

While the album lacks a killer song, a la Where You Been's "Get Me" or the consistency from start to finish of Green Mind, there are still some killer tracks here, including "Almost Ready", "Pick Me Up" and "This is All I Came to Do". Overall, this is a pretty strong effort thats hearken back to the heyday...or, at least my opinion of their heyday.

37. Aqueduct - Or Give Me Death

My relationship with the music of Aqueduct could be described as a tenuous one. When I first heard 2005's I Sold Gold, I really took to it. Then, after repeated listens...maybe a few too many, in wore on me, and when it came time to elminate a few contenders from the year end list, it wasn't difficult to leave off.

The thing of it is, this is one of those bands where the vocals can really get to even a self-proclaimed lover of annoying singers, such as myself. Then, I heard Or Give Me Death early this year and I thought it was vastly superior to the last record. There was no way I was going to grow tired of this one. But, in going back to it later this year, I discovered I had. I bumped it down in the rankings from a lock to make the list to just a contender, and one that I really thought was going to miss the cut again.

Then, realizing I just wasn't in the mood for it the last few times I'd listened, I gave it another chance, and realized there is something special about this collection of quirky indie pop. There really are quite a few standouts here, including "Living a Lie", "Keep it Together", and "With Friends Like These", and it really would've been a shame to leave it out of the top 40. That's not to say, though, that I couldn't change my mind in a few months.

36. Levon Helm - Dirt Farmer

As I peruse the entire list, I notice that there are certainly a number of bands who were recommended to me at one point or another by a friend or acquaintance. But this is the only album of the 40 that was a specific recommendation by someone this year. Of course, I didn't need my friend Macee to tell me about Levon Helm, the only American member of the mostly Canadian roots rock progenitors, The Band. I knew of the album, and might have sought it out on my own, but it wasn't until she mentioned that it sounded like a really good Americana album that I decided to check it out.

I was not disappointed. The album is a collection of his interpretations of old folk and country standards, as well as a few written by more modern artists, including Steve Earle's "The Mountain" and Buddy & Julie Miller's "Wide River to Cross". Other highlights include "False Hearted Lover Blues", "Dirt Farmer" and "Got Me a Woman". All culled together these songs could represent a look back at Helm's Southern roots, but to me they're just a pure slice of Americana.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Upon finalizing my top 40 of 2007 this weekend, I have to say that this has to be the earliest I've ever completed the list. I usually spend a little more time obsessing over it, but maybe I've finally refined the process to the point that it doesn't feel like a chore. In the first few years that I did this, I wouldn't finish until a couple months into the new year. I guess I was determined to really evaluate every album and be certain of my final list. But, in reality, this is not an exact science, so I'm never really certain. And besides, my philosophy has evolved to the point where I think of my year-end compilation as the soundtrack to my year, so it just wouldn't be right if an album on my best of 2007 list was one I listened to mostly in early 2008.

A potential downside to finishing this early, of course, is that I could overlook something. But, there's always something that I'm going to overlook, and there are always going to be friends raving about albums like Sky Blue Sky and wondering why it was left off the list. So, since I've decided that nothing I've begun listening to in the past couple of weeks is a contender, I'm confident that my list is complete. So, without further adieu...

40. New Buffalo - Somewhere, Anywhere

2005 was the first year that I expanded the list beyond a top ten due to the sheer number of albums I listened to (approximately 300). Near the end of that year, there were a handful of records that I had just picked up that I labored over the decision of whether or not they would crack the list. One of those albums that eventually didn't make it, was New Buffalo's debut Last Beautiful Day. That album may actually have been a little better than this one, but the second offering from this indie folk/pop outfit does not disappoint.

I remember reading somewhere that Sally Seltmann, the singer/songwriter of New Buffalo, had written one of Feist's more popular songs. In fact, she co-wrote "1234", the song from the iPod Nano commercial. Most of this album is not as upbeat as that one, but with mellow folk/pop gems such as "Emotional Champs" and "It's Got to Be Jean", it makes for a really pleasant listen.

39. Art Brut - It's a Bit Complicated

Another case of a band whose debut may very well be the real highlight of their catalog so far, Art Brut's Bang Bang Rock & Roll made them one of Pitchfork's darlings in 2005. I listened to it once and dismissed it as solid but "not my thing". I may have been wrong.

A couple months ago, I saw this band open for The Hold Steady, and immediately sought out their sophomore effort, It's a Bit Complicated. Witty, sarcastic and simple but clever lyrics sung to hook laden guitar rock, art punk is the most common description associated with this music. Highlights include a couple of hilarious breakup songs, "People in Love" and "Post Soothing Out", and the difficult to take seriously sexuality of "Blame it on the Trains" and "Jealous Guy". It seems to me this album had the potential to be great, and I suppose I'll have to find out if the debut lives up to that potential, but in the end, it's just good clean fun...not that clean is that important to me.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Mitchell Report

It took me three hours to drive the 4+ miles home from work last night. So, between switching back and forth between the MIT and Emerson College radio stations, I listened to a lot of sports talk. That means I heard more opinions than anyone would want to on the Mitchell Report.

It's amazing how quickly Roger Clemens has been tried, convicted and sentenced in "the court of public opinion", a grossly overused phrase that, nevertheless, is almost perfectly fitting. I say this because, as far as I can tell, the Mitchell Report, released yesterday, is essentially analogous to the gathering of evidence to determine if there's enough to bring the accused to trial. Yet, it appears already that Clemens' legacy, and his status as a future Hall of Famer, is irreparably tarnished.

Maybe I'm overdoing it with this legal system analogy, but I personally think the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty shouldn't be completely disregarded when it comes to matters outside of the courts. Clemens, of course, is not the only person this applies to. He's just the one who stands to lose the most.

Consider Brian Roberts. The only mention of his name in the report is in reference to him having lunch with teammates David Segui and Larry Bigbie, and convicted steroids dealer Kirk Radomski. The following year, according to Bigbie, Roberts admitted to him that he had injected himself once or twice. That's it. In his report, Mitchell states, "I have not included every allegation that we received or the results of every interview we conducted or every document we reviewed. Inevitably, much of that information was cumulative, not relevant, or of only marginal relevance. None of it would have materially altered the account that is provided." So, based on a very weak piece of evidence, Mitchell apparently decided that it was materially relevant to include Roberts in his report.

This brings to mind two questions. First, how unsubstantial and irrelevant was the information he left out? Second, why did Mitchell consider the evidence regarding Roberts relevant? No one claims to have injected him, or to have seen him get injected, and he didn't influence anyone to begin taking steroids. Bigbie was already using on his own, according to his own admission. Was it because Mitchell considered the information relevant to the "case" (and I use that term loosely) against Bigbie? Unlikely, as Bigbie was offering him all the information he needed on himself. Or, was it that Mitchell decided to show no sympathy towards the players who declined to speak with him? I guess we'll never know. Honestly, I think it was a mistake on the part of the Players' Association to advise their members not to comply, but Mitchell's inclusion of Roberts' name is an irresponsible error in judgment, and damaging to his credibility.

Yes, I said it. I'm questioning George Mitchell's credibility. To that point, I find it interesting that there are two separate instances in the report that refer to the fact that the Red Sox front office inquired about the possible use of steroids regarding two players they were looking to acquire, Eric Gagne and Brendan Donnelly. How about that? The Sox front office should be praised for their due diligence in assuring that they fill out their roster with only players who are outstanding citizens of the game. I wonder what Mitchell's motives could have been for casting such a favorable light on Red Sox management? That's a tough one.

Who knows? I could be out of line on that previous accusation. I'd have to read the entire report to determine if there is even one mention of another team's front office making such inquiries. Or maybe it's because Mitchell has better access to the transcripts of Theo Epstein's email. But, I still find it curious.

Next, there is the matter of the type of evidence that the majority of the report is based on...statements by Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee. Statements that, in court, would be a matter of one person's word against another's, at which point the credibility of the witness comes into question. Would Radomski and McNamee be considered highly credible witnesses? I think not. Yet, I'm already reading and hearing Roger Clemens' name being instantly lumped in with Barry Bonds'. There is a mountain of evidence that has been piling up over the past few years against Bonds. Yesterday was the first piece of concrete evidence, other than the usual speculation about body type and improved performance, against Clemens.

Let's not rush to judgment here, folks. I'm not saying Clemens is innocent. In fact, my gut tells me that time will not bring forth the kind of evidence that will exonerate the Rocket and clear his name. I just think it's irresponsible to not take a step back, review the evidence that's been put forth and wait to hear what other information is out there that we have yet to hear, maybe even what Clemens has to say in his own defense.

The most rational analysis I've read or heard since this all came down is Jayson Stark's column on I urge every serious baseball fan who wishes to develop an informed opinion on the subject to start by reading what Stark has to say. In fact, I'm going to call this required reading of anyone who wishes to discuss this issue with me. This may sound arrogant, but if you haven't read Stark's column, then don't even bring up the subject with me.

Next, read some of the report. I realize it's a monstrous 400+ page document, and I certainly don't claim to have read the entire thing myself. But, it's not difficult to think about what points of reference you're most interested in learning more about, search within the PDF for a particular term, and start reading. I guarantee this will lead you to your next curiosity, which will result in you searching on another term, and on and on from there.

When Mark McGwire received such a lack of support in his Hall of Fame bid this past year, I thought that maybe he was getting a raw deal based on what little we knew about what he was guilty of. It's not enough to say, "Look at him! He must be taking steroids!" I don't care if it's painfully obvious to you, there has to be more than that to base a credible opinion on. At the same time, I didn't disagree with voters who said that they simply wanted to wait until there was more information regarding McGwire's alleged steroid use. In that sense, they were saying they weren't certain of his Hall of Fame worthiness yet, and I don't have a problem with that.

The same applies to Clemens. If he were up for vote this year, and if I had a ballot, he would probably not be on it, simply because there's nothing wrong with making him wait a year to see how things shake out. Fortunately, we'll have five years to consider what the truth is. It's looking increasingly likely that both Clemens and Bonds will be on the ballot in January of 2013. By then, we'll probably have a pretty good idea how they will fare, but one thing's for sure...if they are both denied entrance, it will be a sad reminder of how this era has left us with no idea of who is great and who isn't. Because if those two can't be considered legends, then who can?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Best of 2007

Well, it's almost time for the annual ritual of celebrating my favorite albums of the year. Let me reality, I spend the entire year obsessing over this process. Now is the time that I share my list with friends and whomever else might be vaguely interested.

This year I've only listened to 240 new releases. That's not necessarily the final number, but it pales in comparison to last year's 400 and doesn't really come close to the prior year's 300 either. For that reason, this year's list will be a top 40 rather than a top 50. Frankly, I feel that most of the records that would be filling out numbers 41-50 are really nothing to rave about, so I'm going to opt for a little more quality over quantity. Besides, there's something that just feels right about a top 40. I'm sure Kasey Kasem would agree.

I'm actually pretty close to completing this year's list...definitely a little earlier than usual. The most recent albums that I got a little excited about have already faded, and after sorting through...wouldn't you know it...50 contenders, I have it narrowed down to 42. In fact, I'm still deciding the final order of #s 1-7, but I also need to complete a final evaluation of #s 35-42 and my list will be complete.

But nobody really cares about this. If you care at all, it's about the actual list, not the process. So, as soon as I'm finished with the aforementioned final evaluation, I'll be counting them down...right here. I'm feeling ambitious right now (although there is still much Christmas shopping to finish), so I'm planning to do a brief writeup for each album. This could be a short review, a comparison of how the album stacks up versus the artist's prior work, or a description of my own experience with and/or enjoyment of the record.

I'm looking forward to getting started. Please check back shortly.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Curse Reversed?

For years prior to 2004, I'd observed the slogan "Reverse the Curse" all around Boston, include a "Curve" sign on Storrow Drive that was defaced to reflect the locals' favorite slogan at the time. I wondered to myself if they didn't really mean "Erase the Curse"...if they actually understood the significance of "reversing" the curse. Were they really hoping to turn "the curse" on the Yankees, or was it just a case of improper use of the English language? Now, I'm sure every Red Sox fan would love for the so-called "curse" to be deflected in the Yankees' direction, but I doubt if, prior to 2004, any of them would dare to set their hopes that high. I think simply winning a World Series of their own was all that they could have even dreamed of.

Then came the 2004 ALCS, and the greatest comeback in the history of post-season baseball. Notice that I choose to call it the greatest comeback, while most Red Sox fans choose to call it the greatest choke. You can draw your own conclusions, but I say that I'd rather give credit where it is due, while the Boston brethren choose to go the negative route, thus detracting, to some extent, from the accomplishment of their team.

But, that's just my opinion, and it's not my point anyway. What happened last night at Jacobs Field was beyond bizarre, and I have no intention of making any excuses for my team, just as Joba Chamberlain has decided to place the blame squarely on his own shoulders. I'm just throwing this out there for consideration. The Yankees are 2-12, I think, in post-season play since annihilating the Red Sox 19-8 in game 3 of the 2004 ALCS...and since Gary Sheffield made that ill-fated "they're a mess" quote following said game. But, again, the fact that Sheffield should just shut his trap and do what he does best isn't my point either.

I realize that the swarms of bugs that were flying around Jacobs Field last night weren't just harassing Joba, but they seemed to affect only him. And, they seemed to show up just in time for him to go back out for the 8th inning. And, with only 24 big league innings under his belt, making his first post-season appearance in an almost do-or-die situation for his team, he was the most likely candidate to be thrown off his game. Additionally, the Yankees were leading, and certainly stood to lose the most from a change in playing conditions.

So, I pose the question...are the Yankees now cursed? Or, are they just an uninspired collection of overpaid mercenaries who just can't seem to overcome the pressure of the win-or-else mentality? Or, will Roger Clemens earn his $20 million in game 3, pitch them back into this series and confirm that maybe it was his influence that turned this dismal season around in the first place?

We may begin to learn the answer to that last question tomorrow night. It may take longer to know the answer to those first two questions, though.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Midlake (2006)

I'm sure most of us can trace our influence in becoming a fan of such-and-such band through one particular friend who turned us onto them, to a show at which they opened for the band we were there to see, or to a connection by association to another band. Discovering a band on one's own, though, can be a much more satisfying experience. Does discovering one by accident qualify for this distinction, though?

That's what happened when, sometime shortly after the middle of last year, I went onto to search for the debut album by The Drams, a band consisting of three former members of Texas alt-country rockers Slobberbone. That album turned out to be nothing special, but one of Amazon's "Customers who bought this item also bought..." recommendations was Midlake's The Trials of Van Occupanther. The only real similarity between the bands is their hometown of Denton, Texas, an artsy enclave on the outskirts of the Dallas suburbs that is also the home to indie rock bands Centro-Matic and The Baptist Generals.

A couple months earlier, Afshin and I had discussed what the album of the year thus far was. Actually, such a discussion generally consists of Afshin telling me what he thinks my #1 album is, me slyly saying "maybe" or "no comment", and the conversation going absolutely nowhere. He was convinced it was The Flaming Lips' The War of the Mystics. That certainly was a contender at the time, but I wasn't satisfied with its potential as an album of the year candidate. I recall thinking and saying to him that I thought I had yet to discover my album of the year. I just had a feeling something special was going to come along in the second half. It did.

Trials is one of those albums that comes along about once a decade. It's just that, in this case, it was the second year in a row that such an album materialized. So maybe I exaggerate a little. What I speak of, though, is an album that not only hearkens back to a musical era that most people never took seriously...that not only does this in a way that sounds modern and refreshing...but also ties it together as a wonderful concept album. And, not an overblown, pretentious and self important concept album, a la a few of the bands I've already written about. But, instead, one with timeless this case, that of the struggle of human beings who feel out of place in a world that feels like it has passed them by. People who long to live in a simpler time, one in which maybe they would be better understood. Yes, I agree that "sometimes I want to go home and stay out of site for a long time". And, of course, how could I be completely enthralled with an album that didn't cover the territory of unrequited love. Alright, so this kind of sounds like I'm describing America's "Lonely People", but maybe that's not just a coincidence.

In September, I was in New York to attend a Yankees' game with Jud. The day after the game, we made our semi-regular visit to Kim's Records, a truly independent record store that has actually survived the digital age. I was already pretty obsessed with the Midlake record. I pointed it out to Jud, referring to it as "...a cross between America and the Alan Parsons Project, only better than anything either of those bands have ever done". Jud called me out on this bit of indie snobbery, saying something about comparisons like that being ridiculous. He was right. How can you say something blows away its influences, when it might not exist if not for those influences? But, you have to draw the line somewhere. Obviously, bands can improve upon what has come before, and Midlake, in my opinion, is way better than both of those bands. Now, if I had made the comparison to Fleetwood Mac and ELO, that would've been a different story.

The main complaint most people have with this album is that the first half is incredibly strong, but it fades somewhat after that. I don't entirely agree. While the first half is stronger, and includes the album's best songs ("Roscoe", "Bandits", "Van Occupanther"), the second half, in fact, is just as essential. "It Covers the Hillsides" is just as worthy as those songs previously mentioned, and along with "Chasing After Deer" and "You Never Arrived", ties together the album's overall theme very nicely, particularly with the album's closing line, "...we'll pass by for the last time".

The Midlake live experience is just as magical as this record. I'll be seeing them live for the second time in just a couple of weeks. I'm happy to report that they've gone from playing a sold out show at the tiny upstairs room at the Middle East to the more reputable Paradise Rock Club. I think I could have sold my $10 ticket to that first show for somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 on craigslist, because their popularity had risen dramatically since the booking of that tour.

Midlake is the 40th band on this list only because they are my most recent discovery. As I previously said about Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy, this album could easily rank among my top ten of all-time, and since it was only their second album, Midlake tops my list of bands I most look forward to finding out what they have to offer to their listeners in the years to come.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Trivia Answers

Congratulations to Lee Mazzola for correctly answering the thorn-in-my-side trivia question. He wins a Collector's Edition first printing of the double-disc Fab 40 Companion, which is still in production as I write this.

Here are the answers:

1. Bill Bruford was the original drummer of Yes and the long-standing drummer of King Crimson, joining the band in 1972 and enduring several hiatuses and reincarnations until 1997. He was born on May 17, 1949, 18 years to the day prior to me.

2. Greg Lake was the lead singer and bass player of King Crimson on their first two albums, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) and In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), before leaving the band to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer.

3. Gram Parsons was born and raised in Florida, but after graduating from high school in 1965, he enrolled at Harvard, in Cambridge, where I lived for 5+ years. He joined The Byrds in 1968, and stayed only long enough to record Sweetheart of the Rodeo, before leaving to achieve success with the Flying Burrito Brothers and as a solo artist. He suffered a drug and alcohol related death in 1973.

4. Jud Ehrbar is the youngest of this group (born in 1970), was one of the founding members of Space Needle, and later became the drummer of Varnaline for their self-titled album and Sweet Life, as well as contributing to Songs in a Northern Key.

5. Anders Parker is the founding member of Varnaline, and later joined Space Needle for The Moray Eels Eat the Space Needle and the subsequent tour. He attended Arlington High School on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie, New York, graduating in 1986, one year after I did.

6. Jay Farrar was a founding member and co-leader of Uncle Tupelo, and after their dissolution, went on to form Son Volt. He also recorded a collaboration with Anders Parker in 2006, using the moniker Gob Iron.

7. Mike Heidorn was the original drummer of Uncle Tupelo, appearing on their first three albums before leaving prior to the recording of their swan song, Anodyne. He went on to become the original drummer of Son Volt, but is not part of their current lineup.

8. Jeff Tweedy was also a founding member and co-leader of Uncle Tupelo, and went on to greater post-Tupelo success than Jay Farrar by taking that entire band, sans Farrar, with him to form Wilco.

9. Ken Coomer joined Uncle Tupelo for their final album, Anodyne, and was the original drummer of Wilco, although no longer with the band.

10. John Stirratt played on the final Uncle Tupelo album, Anodyne, though his status as an official member of the band is debatable. Several sources say he was, while others say he and Max Johnston were just hired guns for that album. I emailed John at his web site, and his answer was "no we weren't full members at that time, and Max had played with them longer than me at that point...". He then became the original bass player and only remaining original member, other than Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco. His twin sister, Laurie Stirratt, was the bass player for Blue Mountain for their entire existence.

11. Max Johnston, as with John Stirratt, played on the final Uncle Tupelo album as a part-time member, according to Stirratt, and was part of the original Wilco lineup. He was their multi-instrumentalist for the A.M. and Being There albums, before leaving the band to become a full-time member of The Gourds. His older sister is singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Hold Steady (2005)

I first heard of these guys when they appeared on Smithwick's best of 2004 compilation. The album was Almost Killed Me, their debut, and the song was "Certain Songs". I liked it, but I didn't get really turned on to The Hold Steady until the following year, with the release of Separation Sunday.

Interesting story about Smithwick...I've only met him once, at Jud and Amy's wedding, but it seems like I know him better than that. After all, I've received copies of his last three year-end compilations, I've traded online barbs with him while debating the Hall of Fame worthiness of Steve Garvey, and I've heard Scott mention his name numerous times when telling stories about that infamous summer in Alaska. That probably stuck in my head simply because it's funny hearing Scott say "Smithwick".

But that's not the story. The first time I ran the New York City Marathon, in November of 2000, I was staying with Jud at his Upper West Side apartment. The Yankees had just defeated the Mets in the World Series and Jud hadn't spoken with Smithwick, a Mets fan, about it yet. While I was there, eating pasta, relaxing and hanging out with Jud, Smithwick called. He was trashed. Jud said something subtle about the World Series, and Smithwick proceeded to lace into him with an endless barrage of expletives. After a couple minutes of this, Jud handed me the phone, and Smithwick gave it to me as well. Of course, he doesn't remember this, but this was my first interaction with the guy.

Regardless, he gets some credit as the person who introduced me to The Hold Steady. Separation Sunday was an instant hit, and would wind up as my #7 album of the tremendous year that was 2005. Last year's Boys and Girls in America was a bit of a commercial breakthrough for the band, as it helped land them a spot in a Carnegie Hall Bruce Springsteen tribute concert. They performed "Rosalita", or so I've heard, following Jewel's rendition of "Born to Run".

Two of the members of The Hold Steady are in the baseball pool that Jud and I run annually. When John Agnello emailed to ask us if they could join, I was pretty psyched. Of course, this bumped John out of his spot as the biggest music industry name/pool participant. This also afforded me an opportunity to read a transcript of an email exchange among band members regarding the aforementioned Carnegie Hall show. Somehow Galen Polivka, the bass player, attached it to the end of the email he sent with his pool entry. Not sure how that happened, but I was happy to be privy to such information.

To me, The Hold Steady represent a fresh perspective on modern rock...bearing a slight resemblance to a lot of stuff I've heard before, but as a whole being unlike anything else out there today. Their lyrics also provide me a chance to live vicariously through fictional characters in a way that I previously only did through movies about decadent lifestyles. I guess deep down I really just want to be a gangster...that's gang-ster, not gang-sta.

Unfortunately, I'm yet to catch their live act, and it seems I've missed out on my chance to see them at a small venue. I procrastinated on getting tickets to a show at the Middle East last fall, thinking I'd have a softball playoff game that night, only to see our team make an uncharacteristically early exit. The next time they're in town, I'm sure they'll be playing some horrible venue like Avalon. Maybe as consolation I can weasel my way into backstage passes or something.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Trivia Hint #6a

In my five previous hints, I've covered all nine of the indisputable answers. My last hint(s) is(are) regarding the two disputable answers.

The two disputable answers were definitely official members of one of their two bands, but not necessarily the other. It depends on your sources actually.

Both of these guys have sisters in the music business. One of them has an older sister who is more successful and well known than he is. The other has a twin sister who would have to be considered less successful than her brother, although he isn't exactly a household name.

Oh yeah...and, obviously, both are men. In fact, all 11 answers are male...not surprisingly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Okkervil River (2005)

I'd known of Okkervil River for a few years, assuming they were just another alt-country band, and I was long since over that genre. It was probably because they had received some press in No Depression that I was under this misconception, but in 2005 I learned I couldn't have been more wrong. Ironically, it was due to more press that I figured this out. Possibly the most influenced by a record review I've ever been was PopMatters' 2005 review of Black Sheep Boy. I think this is the part that drew me in:

Black Sheep Boy
is rife with insecurities, bad decisions, jealousy, cheating, and the alienation of always trying to force a connection with the wrong people...We feel alone, angry, or sad. We look for love and are rejected. We choose a quick or slow self-destruction. Perhaps there is a redemption, or at least short moments of it.


I instantly knew that I would love this album. It was about me, after all. I'm long since over embracing my own misery (and even that might be a slight exaggeration), but I still can appreciate the tragic comedy of one particular aspect of my life...well, sometimes. And, I'm a sucker for music that makes me think and feel something deep inside, as only subject matter I can relate to is capable of.

Black Sheep Boy hits the nail on the head, from start to finish. But, the beauty and intensity of this album kicks off from the moment Will Sheff creepily sings "Some nights I thirst for real blood, for real knives, for real cries" on the album's second track, and continues to his desperate closing breaths, "I am waiting, you know that I am, calmly waiting to make you my lamb", on the album's second to last song. The two songs these quotes refer to, "For Real" and "So Come Back, I Am Waiting" are both absolutely stunning, the latter being the greatest album ender that, unfortunately, is not the last song on the album.

I recall driving down the Taconic Parkway on my way to Poughkeepsie for a weekend, cranking that song and belting out the lyrics while tears attempted to escape my eyes (some succeeded). I'm not really sure why. That's just the way I am, I guess. Or maybe that song, or this album, reminds me of sometime, or someplace, or somebody...or some combination thereof.

I used that song to close out my 2005 year-end compilation, even if the boys in the band erred in their decision not to. I suppose a few song-sequencing choices would be my only minor complaint with this album. A couple of sentences near the end of the review pretty much sum it up for me:

Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy is a record that stuns on first listen, then manages the elusive—it sinks deep into your soul... If a finer record than Black Sheep Boy is released in 2005, it will be a very, very good year.

A finer album than Black Sheep Boy was not released during 2005, but it was a very, very good year nevertheless. It didn't take long for me to decide that this album would top my year-end list. There was still 5 or 6 months to go, but I still knew it. Although momentarily, on a somewhat delusional day in late December, I considered bumping it in favor of Sufjan Stevens' Illinois...a record certainly worthy of that distinction, but one that didn't come close to meaning as much to me as Okkervil River's did.

I've spent a little time with each of Okkervil River's older albums, and I've liked what I've heard, particularly 2002's Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See and the earlier songs they've played at the two live shows I've seen. Still, this band makes this exclusive list on the strength of just one album. One of these days I'll sit down and attempt the impossible task of ranking my top 50 or 100 albums of all-time. Whether this happens one year from now or 20, I'm pretty certain there will be a place reserved for Black Sheep Boy in the top ten.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Flaming Lips (2002)

As with many people, my introduction to The Flaming Lips was their 1993 alternative rock radio hit, "She Don't Use Jelly". I considered the song a bit of a novelty, and it was, but it was also pretty good. After a while, though, I got sick of it, and it certainly didn't give me any reason to consider taking them seriously.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve of 1999. As has become a bit of a tradition in recent years, and for all I know this may have been the year it started, Scott, Anders and I meet up at Scott's sister Julie's house. Yes, she's the sister referred to way back in the Styx post. That evening, when Anders remarked at how good the new Flaming Lips' album The Soft Bulletin was, it was difficult to believe he was talking about the same band who sang about spreading vaseline on toast.

Anders' opinion has always held a lot of weight with me, but I ignored this recommendation. That is, until three years later, when I heard some good press about Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. After listening to a few samples on (remember those days?), I bought the album and was hooked instantly from the opening moments of "Fight Song", an anthem of perserverance if there ever was one.

Yoshimi would go on to earn my album of the year honors. 2002 was also the year that I officially embarked on my new career and ended a 2 1/2 year relationship that went on at least a year and a half too long. Actually, it turned out to be one of those that wasn't over even when it was over, but I won't get into that.

Around Christmas of that year, having already completed my top ten, so I no longer had to devote all of my time to listening to music from the current year, I picked up a copy of The Soft Bulletin. Three years after Anders' initial recommendation, I finally realized what a masterpiece it is. For a while I thought it was better than Yoshimi, and most people agree it is, but now I'm not so sure. Soft Bulletin is more consistent, but Yoshimi is more varied and, therefore, more interesting. I highly recommend that you spend the requisite three months obsessing over both of these albums to decide for yourself.

Last year's At War With the Mystics made my top ten, but I still think it falls a little short of the brilliance of its predecessors. Nevertheless, their tour to support said album was fantastic, and if you've yet to share in the Flaming Lips live experience, what are you waiting for? I can honestly say this is the only show I've ever been to where I felt a bond with every stranger I came into contact with. And, given my fondness for well chosen live covers, the "War Pigs" encore was a joyful experience, especially with images of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld flashing on the screen behind the stage. Wayne Coyne is no Ozzy, but the band pulled it off admirably.

Venturing into the back catalog, I still prefer 1995's Clouds Taste Metallic to Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, the album that gave birth to their brief flirtation with commercial success. I'm not a huge fan of the older material, and I still haven't had that Zaireeka listening party that I've been talking about for years. In fact, that's one CD I own that I've never listened to, and I've refused to listen to the blended versions of this adventurous set of four discs intended to be played simultaneously on different CD players. Therefore, I still haven't heard it, not even a second of it.

The Flaming Lips and the remaining three bands on this list represent the new wave, so to speak, of music I'm into...the post alt-country period, if you will. The Lips are easily the most established band of the four. Still, I expect and look forward to future Flaming Lips material, while I'm also afforded the perfect opportunity for further exploration of the past work (i.e. Zaireeka) of one of my newer favorite bands.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Trivia Hint #5

I've given you hints regarding 7 of the 11 answers so far. I'm going to cover the remaining four in two more hints, for those of you who are still reading this, despite my decreased output of late.

Here goes...the final two indisputable answers also share both of their bands in common. Are you sensing a pattern here? Also, they share similar roles in both bands as the two answers that were the subject of hint #4. Am I making sense here?

Alright, I'll get even more obvious. Each of these pairs includes a guy who was the drummer of both bands shared in common. I don't need to give a further hint about the other two.

I'm not sure if that cleared anything up. Good luck.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Alejandro Escovedo (1999)

No Depression magazine named Sheila E's uncle, Alejandro Escovedo, their artist of the decade for the 1990's. The peculiar thing about this was that they awarded him this honor in mid-1998. Considering the magazine was named for an album by Uncle Tupelo, and that Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were both very relevant throughout the decade, I was slightly appalled. Still, I had to find out what the fuss was all about.

I started with the live compilation More Miles Than Money, released in 1998. I was quite impressed with a handful of songs, especially "Pissed Off 2 A.M.", but I wasn't blown away. I didn't give up, though, even after being quite unenthusiastic about his side project Buick MacKane's 1997 release, The Pawn Shop Years, which also had a few standout tracks, but overall was quite inconsistent.

1999's Bourbinitis Blues was the album that really pulled me in, and 2001's A Man Under the Influence more than reinforced my enthusiasm. Both would make my top ten in their respective years and led to some back catalog exploration with the purchases of Gravity and Thirteen Years.

The quality that made Alejandro stand out most to me was, and still is, his showmanship. He possesses a tremendous gift for engaging an audience, with his music and his storytelling. He's one artist I'd definitely like to meet. He also has a knack for selecting excellent covers to pepper into his shows of mostly originals. The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and Mott the Hoople's "I Wish I Was Your Mother" come to mind.

It was at my first Alejandro show that I was caught in a lie to a current employer. In 2001, I was working part-time as a Reference Librarian at Framingham State College, while working my way through grad school. I worked a couple weeknights from 5-10, in addition to Sundays. One particular weeknight that I was scheduled to work, Alejandro was playing Johnny D's in Somerville. I told the Head Reference Librarian that I needed to leave early that night, and gave some excuse related to my school work. I'm not sure why I didn't just ask for the night off, but I know I felt guilty about leaving early, because this workaholic supervisor of mine would end up working until 10pm after she had already worked a typical 8-5 day.

I met up with Len at this show, and who did I see there but the Library Director, otherwise known as my boss's boss. It was crowded so I was able to avoid her, or so I thought, but I was a little disappointed that I couldn't approach her and discuss our common admiration of the music of Senor Escovedo. As it turns out, I would get the chance. The next day, I received an email from Bonnie, the Director, asking if she'd seen me at the show the night before. I owned up to my mistake in judgment, not to her, but to the supervisor to whom I'd lied. She was surprisingly understanding. Bonnie never revealed that she had any knowledge of my dishonesty, and our Alejandro bond lives on. I've seen her at one show subsequent to this, and every time I talk to her his name comes up. She remains on my list of references to this day.

Last year, apparently I made an offhanded remark to another Director of mine, now my former boss. She had always expressed interest in learning about new and interesting music, of any variety except heavy metal, despite the fact that she is mostly familiar with classical. Near the end of my tenure at my old job, I made a casual mention of Alejandro, and when he played a show late last year at the Museum of Fine Arts, she attended. I showed up at my former employer's Christmas party weeks later, and my former boss Susan, after a few glasses of wine, went on and on raving about the show.

After a 2-plus year bout with Hepatitis C, he released his fine comeback album, The Boxing Mirror, last year. The illness almost killed him, but now everything seems back to normal. I can't think of anyone who is more deserving of a second chance.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tom Leach (1998)

One band that is noticeably absent from this list is Blue Mountain. They are one of a handful of bands that just missed the cut and were painful for me to leave off. That's not to say they don't have a place in all of this, though. They were definitely a significant part of the alt-country heyday and it was at one of their shows that Len and I made a great discovery.

Tom Leach was the opener at that show at TT the Bear's in Cambridge, obviously selected by the local promoter for his potential appeal to Blue Mountain's roots-rocking audience. Also on that bill were Leach's Slow River/Rykodisc labelmates, the Purple Ivy Shadows from Providence, another unfortunately underappreciated band that no longer exists...although there have been rumors of a reunion involving founding members Chris Daltry and Erik Carlson.

Back then, we likened Tom to the second coming of Johnny Cash. Of course, his sound definitely owed a debt to the legends of country music, but his influences turned out to be a little more varied than that. Regardless, he became my first and only favorite local artist of my days in Boston, and quite possibly the artist whom I've seen live the most times, although Shore Leave must be creeping up on that distinction.

I'm not sure if it's deserved, but I give Tom Leach the credit for inspiring Len's golf method of rating songs. Len and I played golf, albeit poorly, together during our high school years, at places we would later hang out late at night drinking, such as College Hill. Len's system was pretty basic, but it worked. Par was a decent song, with a Birdie being a very good song, and an Eagle was one of those songs that would give you goosebumps every time you heard it. We never really bothered to rate songs that were above par, except to refer to those we didn't like by artists we did, as Bogies. I suppose we could have gone further in that direction, considering a golf score can increase infinitely, just as a song can be infinitely bad.

There were a few songs that were identified as Eagles during those numerous Tom Leach shows that we saw back in the day. Unfortunately, I don't know the names of any, and none of them have ever seen the light of day on record. I own the only two official Tom Leach releases, as well as two homemade recordings, but none of them hit the nail on the head in the way that those Plough & Stars shows did. Well, maybe that's a good thing in that it makes them all the more special. I doubt if Tom would've made this particular top 40 otherwise.

He's still recording and playing today, although he moved to Brooklyn several years ago. On a recent visit to the Abbey Lounge, I told him that I haven't had a favorite local artist since he left town. It's sort of like missing a woman so much that you feel like you don't want anyone else, although that feeling eventually passes. Tom Leach still hasn't been replaced, and if my love life was a perfect analogy, it would be pretty sad. Sometimes it feels that way, but it's really not that bad.

The thing of it is, it wasn't just Tom himself that made those songs and those shows and those times so special. It was also the band he assembled and their cohesiveness and chemistry at that particular point in time. What I'm trying to say is, it's not the same without Dave Steele. His amazing guitar playing, background vocals, and Gram Parsons-esque good looks were a major factor in making those experiences so memorable.

And it's also not the same without the guy we called "The Ultimate Tom Leach Fan", an honor that may have been bestowed upon him at the expense of two more deserving fans.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Trivia Hint #4

I guess you could call this past week-plus another period of writer's block, although maybe it's more that I just haven't felt like writing at all. I'll get back on track, though I suppose the fact that it's over a month since my 40th birthday means it's starting to lose its luster.

Actually, the funny thing is (well, not really that funny) I started writing this because I wasn't going to give in to the usual dread that accompanies milestone birthdays. I was really doing a good job of that, or so I thought. However, in the time that has passed since I started this project, I met someone knew, started getting used to having her around, even if it was only a couple days a week, maybe even falling for her. This short-lived relationship has since come to an end, and over the past week I've found myself falling into the trap I was trying to avoid.

Well, fuck all that. I guess I'm going to have to have a good listen to Son Volt's "Drown" and move on. The ironic part, though, is that in a lot of ways, this recent attempt at romance reminds me too much of the initial circumstance that led to that song becoming an anthem of sorts. Whether or not this song still has the same effect on me, one thing I know for sure is that I'm not falling into the same extended funk that I did back in '96.

On to the trivia hint...the sixth and seventh answers to the question also share both of their bands in common. One of them also shares a band, not discussed at all in this blog, in common with one of the first five answers. That is, one of those for which I've already given a hint.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pernice Brothers (1998)

This is a little off topic, but it's still music related. My iPod died a couple months ago. It was pretty devastating, but I took it pretty well, despite the fact it was just short of its second birthday and I had neglected to purchase the extended warranty, so I was pretty much screwed. I tried at least a dozen times over the course of a couple weeks to resurrect it by resetting, but to no avail. It kept coming back with the frowny face that tends to indicate a hardware problem.

I read the online support information and tried everything they suggested, but I was convinced it was dead. However, just before I threw it on the cart, Sara suggested we go to the Apple store together, as hers had died recently as well. There was something about the strength in numbers that would come from the two of us accompanying each other to the dreaded Genius Bar. Little did we know when we arrived there were no more geniuses available that day, so I logged onto the in-store Mac to schedule an appointment for two days later.

Sara wasn't with me when I returned. While I was waiting in line, I pulled the source of my frustration out and started playing with it (that sounds bad, doesn't it?). I clicked the hold button back and forth a couple times, and saw the shaded Apple logo that usually appears as the thing is re-booting. I watched and waited for the frowny face to come back, but it didn't. In its place was the standard menu. When I clicked on Artists, there it directory of the 55+ GB of music on my iPod, all of it intact.

So, tonight I have it set up on the HomeDock I use to play it through my stereo, and I've been listening to my entire Pernice Brothers collection as I've been writing the following...

I discovered Joe Pernice at the previously discussed Wilco/Scud Mountain Boys Saratoga double bill. Both Len and I purchased their then current album, Massachusetts, at that show. Little did we know it would turn out to be their swan song. We were able to explore their back catalog, but it was limited, as the two-disc The Early Year would compile both of their prior albums, Pine Box and Dance the Night Away.

We were aching for more excellent alt-country at the time, and Massachusetts absolutely fit the bill. The two earlier albums were good, but a little too pure country for us to really embrace. When the somewhat ironically named Pernice Brothers (Joe's brother was only a part-time member of the band and his role has diminished since) rose from the ashes of the Scud Mountain Boys, we were a little disappointed there was very little alt-country twang on their debut, Overcome by Happiness. Even more ironically, a song from that album, "Chicken Wire", was recently named #1 on AOL/'s list of the "25 Most Exquisitely Sad Songs in the Whole World."

Overcome by Happiness would grow on me, though, and would close out my 1998 second only to Richard Buckner's Since. Scott second-guessed my ranking of this album ahead of Varnaline's Sweet Life, and in hindsight I agree. Len would also contend it wasn't as good as Massachusetts, but was an impressive debut. A more appropriate comparison would be to point out it couldn't hold a candle to the two masterpieces that followed.

I've often made the statement I might be the world's biggest Pernice Brothers fan, as few agree with that previous statement, and with my evaluation of 2001's The World Won't End and 2003's Yours, Mine and Ours as the #1 albums of their respective years. I might have some competition from the writer of Gilmore Girls, a show I've never watched for more than five minutes despite numerous Pernice references. Re-thinking my previous discussion about my second favorite artist, it's a sin of omission I left Joe Pernice out of that conversation.

The World Won't End is definitely still my favorite, but I'm sure Sara's is Yours, Mine and Ours, as that is the album that kicked off her obsession...thanks to me, of course. In fact, since Sara practically invented the concept of bludgeoning an album to death, I'm really surprised she never killed any of the Pernices' for me, given all the times she drove me to and from work.

Since Lee has already read me the riot act regarding Gillian Welch, I'm a little nervous about opening up this can of worms, but Joe Pernice is also on a non-music related short list of mine. That is, my favorite Red Sox fans. I can't even explain my criteria for this list, but there's something about these folks that makes me appreciate their love for a team I can't help but despise, thanks to all the idiotic yahoos in this town. And yes, they're more idiotic than Yankee yahoos, which there are plenty of, because they somehow believe in this ridiculous notion they're the most intelligent fans in baseball. I say with a great deal of confidence that the only Red Sox fans who know more about baseball than I do are Peter Gammons and Jerry Remy, and the latter is debatable.

Wow, I thought I was sympathizing with Red Sox fans here. Ok then, the list...there are only four of them. I couldn't even come up with someone to round it out to a top five. These are in no particular order, but obviously Joe Pernice is one. Then there's Sara's mother, she of the classic quote, "I really like Dan...even though he's a Yankees' fan." Apparently, she can't say the first half of that without adding her little qualifier. Third, there's Craig, Lee's college pal, who has to be the least confrontative Red Sox fan I've ever met. I still appreciate the story of how Lee mailed Craig his "1918" t-shirt after the Sox won the World Series...not only a great expression of sportsmanship, but hilarious as well.

Last, but of course, not least, is Gert. I still love to tell the story of the day I met Gert. It was my first day of work at Forsyth in March of 2002. Gert came into my office and introduced herself. I had no idea who she was, for all I knew she was a member of the Board of Trustees. After about a minute of small talk, she says "...enough about that, let's talk about baseball." I feel like from that moment forward, there was an instant connection. It's as if we'd known each other for a year rather than a minute. Gert and I are still close friends, despite the fact I left Forsyth a year ago and am not able to walk down the hall to talk with her about baseball or life (two somewhat interchangeable concepts) every day as I used to.

Though I haven't been as excited about their last two albums, both have been solid and predictably enjoyable efforts. Still, as the only artist to command the top spot on my year-end list on two separate occasions, the Pernice Brothers maintain a reverential status that is second only to Neil Young, and that's saying something.