Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Portland: Take Five

This past week, I made my fifth trip to KJ's hometown of Portland, Oregon, and it was our second involving Little Chuck. Considering the latter part of that sentence, these trips are no longer the brewery tours I originally envisioned them to be, but I still managed to visit three new (to me) brewpubs this time.

Prior to my first trip to Portland in the summer of 2009, I fantasized about a city where every other tavern brewed their own beer. In reality, the greater Portland area is a strange hybrid of charming urban neighborhoods and modern-city suburban sprawl. But, honestly, the more happening areas aren't that far from my romanticized ideal. I still vividly remember, on more than one occasion, driving past several brewpubs I'd never heard of on our way to our ultimate destination.

Of course, not being from the area, there were bound to be places I'd never heard of. But, you'll have to believe me when I tell you I'd done enough research to be familiar with the majority of the city's brewing operations.

On that first trip, I tasted close to 40 different local beers in a 10-day span. This time around, although the trip was a little shorter, the list paled (not a reference to the beer style) in comparison:

Eager Beaver IPA (4th Street Brewing Co.)
Black Hearted Ale (Migration Brewing)
Black Rabbit Porter (McMenamins)
Sunflower IPA (McMenamins)
Sahalie (The Ale Apothecary)
India Session Ale (10 Barrel Brewing Co.)
Shocks of Sheba IPA (Fire on the Mountain)
Red Headed Stranger (Fire on the Mountain)
Lunatic Fringe (The Rock Wood Fired Pizza & Spirits)

Yup, that's it. 1-2 beers per day is all I can handle at this point. Well, when I say handle, I'm really talking about what I'm able to consume and still feel comfortable with my parenting ability. But, like I said, three additional brewpubs (4th Street, Fire on the Mountain, The Rock) visited brings my Portland total to 17, if my count is correct. I'm not sure if I'll ever reach the "goal" of eventually making it to every one in the metro area—there are around 40 according to beermapping.com, but I know of at least two that aren't on that list, so I suspect the total is maybe 50 or more—but I sure as heck will enjoy trying.

The real highlight of the trip was a bottle of Sahalie a friend and I shared during a brunch get-together of KJ's crew. It's brewed at a small operation called The Ale Apothecary in Bend, Oregon.

When our friend purchased it at a local beer store called Belmont Station—which he raves about—he was told it smells like bubble gum, but tastes like a horse smells. This might sound a little peculiar to you, as it does to me, but he honestly meant that to be a good thing.

I'll admit my sense of smell isn't the keenest, but I didn't pick up any bubble gum in the aroma, so it's possible my friend misunderstood the description. In fact, I thought its creamy head imparted a faint, but funky, scent (of horse manure?) into my nose.

Despite this, it tasted fantastic. Described as an American Wild Ale, it's not a style I would necessarily consider my thing, but its combination of fruitiness and tartness, and slightly woody champagne-like essence went down easy, despite being around 10% ABV. I suppose it didn't hurt that I drank most of it on an empty stomach, giving me my first pre-noon buzz in I don't know how long.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Best of 2012

I missed posting a Best of 2011 last year. Not best music, of course, but best of everything else. I guess that's because there was one best-of moment in 2011 that trumped them all, and that was the birth of my son.

So, I thought I'd resurrect this annual thing by offering my best of 2012 awards. Of course, all of these awards pertain to something that I've talked about here at some point this year.

Best Concert
I went to two shows last year. That might be an all-time low, or at least the fewest number of concerts I've seen since 1980, when Cheap Trick's Dream Police Tour got it all started for me. It's definitely the least since I moved to the Boston area 15 years ago.

I'm not going to rehash the reasons why. You already know, and if you don't, the first paragraph of this post provides a pretty good clue. What goes hand-in-hand with being out of the concert-going loop is that the crowds are even more difficult for me to deal with than they once were.

So, I'll admit that the Scud Mountain Boys' Brighton Music Hall show gets an added bonus in that it was at a small, fairly uncrowded venue. Not that the Paradise is huge, as that's where the other show took place (Jay Farrar/Will Johnson/Anders Parker/Yim Yames). That was a great performance in its own right, but it was definitely one of those tightly-packed-like-a-chicken-coup events.

The overriding reason I chose the Scuds show is probably nostalgia. (In case you haven't noticed, nostalgia usually trumps everything in my book.) I hadn't heard these songs played live since the first time I heard them played live, 15 years ago. Plus, I attended the show with the friend I've attended more concerts with than probably everyone else combined, including a few that came shortly after the aforementioned Cheap Trick concert and the first Scud Mountain Boys show.

Best Ballpark
I didn't make it to a major league game for the first year since I don't know when, but we did make it to two minor league games. As with most of the other awards here, the idea is really to recognize things new to me. That distinction only applies to one of the two, but Portland, Maine's Hadlock Field is worthy of the honor regardless. Besides, it was my son's first ballgame ever. Hard to top that.

Best Beer
I drank 176 different beers in 2012, many of them for the first time. To be honest, there's not one that really stood out as the best, but there were many I considered great among those new to me. So, the ones in bold on my Beers of 2012 page share the award this year.

Best Brewery
When we visited Oregon in June, our friends there had a brew pub they wanted to take us to that they were sure I'd never been. You see, it's pretty well known among KJ's crew that my quest is to eventually visit every brew pub in the greater Portland area. (Actually, I just made that up, but I think it's now one of my new goals.)

Anyway, Burnside Brewing was/is fantastic. They feature some interesting experimental brews that aren't completely over the top, and use ingredients that don't always float my boat when it comes to beer, but in subtle ways. Plus, they brew an excellent IPA, an absolute requirement, as far as I'm concerned.

Best Trip
Looking back on 2012, I realized we did pretty well in the travel department, taking LC on two weekend trips to Maine and one to Vermont, as well as flying with him across country to Oregon and on a shorter trip to Baltimore. There were also several trips to visit my family in New York mixed in as well.

While our favorite trip is a tough call, I'm going with our long weekend in Baltimore in October. We got to really appreciate what I now consider an under-rated city (especially the inner harbor area), spend a lot of quality time with KJ's core group of friends, and I got in some quality time exploring the neighborhood with just me and LC, including taking him to a brew pub.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Music Project

What happens when five baseball bloggers with fairly distinct backgrounds—Dave and I grew up in the '80s, but he's from Texas and I'm from New York; Bryan and Adam both grew up in the northeast in the '90s, but looking at their picks, you'd think they're from completely different worlds; Dalton...well, he's now of legal drinking age—decide to collaborate on a project sharing their favorite/most important/whatever albums of all-time?

A nearly 7000-word blog post is what happens. 

Since I've already introduced you to my esteemed guest writers, I'm basically just going to (try to) cut to the chase here. But first, I should point out that we expanded the project a little.

In addition to blurbs about our top 25 albums, each of us have included an unannotated list of our #s 26-40. Because of some overlap, it all adds up to 175 albums (if I've counted correctly), many of which you'll be familiar with, but I'm sure you'll find a few you need to check out or spend a little more time with than you previously have.

Not to give too much away just yet, but I also want to mention two albums were listed in three different writers' top 25: The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (Bryan, Dalton, Dan) and The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (Dave, Bryan, Dalton). A third album (Nirvana - Nevermind) appeared on two top 25 lists (Adam, Dan) as well as Bryan's top 40. More than a few other albums were picked twice. 

Dave England (@juniusworth)

If Uncle Tupelo Was A Gunslinger, There'd Be A Whole Lot of Dead Copycats

"The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail." - William Faulkner, 1950

"Trying not to wear hearts on sleeves / But that's the way it seems to always be / The salt and the steel of the breath / Of those not keeping still." - Jay Farrar, 2008

On February 4rd, 1959 a seventh grade boy sat at his kitchen table and did math homework while listening to the radio. The DJ played  "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly. When the song was over he mentioned the bad news from the previous evening in Clear Lake, Iowa. He was my father's favorite and he was devastated.

My father told me that story when I was about the same age as he let me dig through his record collection and I saw the only three albums Holly had made before his untimely death. As a kid I played those albums nonstop.

That's what music is supposed to do. Take us back, whether it was good or bad, to a particular moment, a stop frame in time.

These albums here are exactly that.

1-3. Buddy Holly - The Chirping Crickets (1957); Buddy Holly (1958); That'll Be the Day (1958)
My dad introduced me to him, these were in his record collection. Holly set the template for the standard rock and roll band: two guitars, bass, and drums. He was one of the first in the genre to write, produce, and perform his own songs. His influence is still felt today and I'm forever grateful to my dad.

4. Sam Cooke - The Best of Sam Cooke (1962)
Yes, I know, a best of but it was the one my old man had in his collection. I later branched out to other Cooke albums but this was the one I put the needle to first.

5. The Kinks - The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
Continuing through my dad's collection as a boy I remember being transfixed by the psychedelic cover. The record is widely considered one of the most influential and important works by The Kinks. And I think more important than the Beatles.

6. Simon and Garfunkel - Bookends (1968)
My parents married about seven weeks after this album came out. I was immediately drawn to it out of my dad's collection when he told me. Besides, "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?"

7. Big Star - #1 Record (1972)
Without Alex Chilton, Chris Bell and this band, there would be no power pop today without it. This is their first album.

8-9. Jimmy Buffett - A1A (Feb. 1974), Living and Dying in 3/4 Time (Dec. 1974)
I remember hearing him on the radio in my dad's crap brown Chevrolet car in the late 1970's. I didn't connect who it was until I heard "Margaritaville" at a high school party. I quickly became a "Parrothead." Think what you want he's much more than "Cheeseburger in Paradise." The early records have really good stories on them. These are two.

10-11. The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (1986); Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)
I started high school. I got out of my dad's record collection. This band had a huge influence on my high school days. These albums blew me away at ages 14-15. They still do.

12-14. The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me (1987); Don't Tell a Soul (1989); All Shook Down (1990)
This band obviously had been around but I was listening to my dad's records. Once I was in high school the branches grew long, there was much to discover. They continue to be one of my favorite bands even today. A documentary on them, "Color Me Impressed," was just released.

15-18. Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (1990); Still Feel Gone (1991); March 16-20, 1992 (1992), Anodyne (1993)
This is my favorite band. The duo of Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy along with drummer Mike Heidorn, all barely legal drinking age were influenced by Woody Guthrie, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Replacements among others. This band with the release of their debut LP, the Belleville, IL, trio launched more than simply their own career—by fusing the simplicity and honesty of country music with the bracing fury of punk, they kick-started a revolution which reverberated throughout the American underground. The fact Farrar and Tweedy wrote so many powerful songs at such an early age is amazing.

19. Robert Earl Keen - Gringo Honeymoon (1994)
I was in college when this came out. Great storytelling. On the cover of this album is an old bar located in Bandera, TX. Once we discovered this we drove from school to Bandera and got drunk on Lone Star beer, played dominoes and crashed out in our car until morning. It was glorious.

20. Son Volt - Trace (1995)
Out of the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar formed this band. This, their first album is considered by some to be the perfect alt-country album. Having just graduated college, and my fiancé at the time cheated on me, I stopped into a record store bought this album, packed up a few things and hit scenic highway 281 for San Antonio, TX for a few days to get drunk. My friend and this album helped save my life for a few months.
[I could have listed most of their albums, but wanted to give top 25 variety.]

21. Wilco - AM (1995)
The other co-frontman of Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy formed this band. Same can be said about this album as the one above. It helped me get over a difficult time. I've gone on to love other Wilco records more but this one was first.
[I could also list most of their albums in top 25 as well.]

22-23. Centro-matic - Redo the Stacks (1996); The Static vs. The Strings Vol. 1 (1999)
Over the years these guys would become friends of mine. I champion their cause. Out of Denton, TX. I've probably seen them over 100 times in concert. Redo is their first album. A 23 song Cadillac ride. It is fantastic. Static was part of a recording session in Jay Farrar's studio in Millstadt, IL. This album came out when I was in the bar business and was heard many times at 4AM. They pay D. Boon a tribute on here as well. It's one of the first albums I recommend for someone who wants to try them out. Frontman Will Johnson has gone on to do 17 albums and 7 EPs. Including South San Gabriel, a Centro-matic side project. He has also played with Monsters of Folk [Conor Oberst, Jim James], New Multitudes [Jay Farrar, Jim James, Anders Parker]. Please give them a listen.

24. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday (2005)
Album-length of character sketches and triumphant bar-rock thump--Separation Sunday is the elegiac Biblical lost-innocence junkie odyssey that Tom Robbins never wrote.

25. The Decemberists - The King is Dead (2011)
I loved the band long before this but it came out the year my son was born and the song "June Hymn" off of it I dedicated to him so here it is. The album reminds me of Reckoning or Fables of the Reconstruction, early REM.

The rest of the 40 album roster:
26. Wilco - Summerteeth (1999)
27. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
28. Wilco - Being There (1996)
29. Tom Waits - Small Change (1976)
30. Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)
31. Slobberbone - Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today (2000)
32. Okkervil River - Down the River of Golden Dreams (2003)
33. Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964)
34. Bedhead - What Fun Life Was (1994)
35. Afghan Whigs - Black Love (1996)
36. Afghan Whigs - 1965 (1998)
37. Jay Farrar / Ben Gibbard - One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Music from Kerouac's Big Sur (2009)
38. Son Volt - The Search (2007)
39. The Jayhawks - Hollywood Town Hall (1992)
40. Andrew Bird - Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005)

Adam Darowski (@baseballtwit)
The most obvious thing about my list is that nothing came before Nirvana's Nevermind. I can't help it—hardly released anything before my music-listening lifetime speaks to me. I do, however, see Beatles, Byrds, Big Star, and/or Velvet Underground influences in just about everything I listen to.

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
This album was so important to me that everything before it doesn't really matter. I was 13 when it came out—probably the perfect age. I was young, impressionable, and in need of a real music hero. Thank you, Kurt.

The Lemonheads - It's a Shame About Ray (1992)
Short, sweet, and perfect in just about every way. This album was probably about as inspiring and predictive of my future musical tastes as Nevermind was.

The Posies - Frosting on the Beater (1993)
These power pop pioneers featured muddy guitars and gorgeous harmonies. They have several excellent albums, but tracks like "Solar Sister" and "Definite Door" earn it a spot on this list.

Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (1993)
Not many albums have stood the test of time like this one. I remember playing along to the tablature book on my cheap $75 Kramer guitar. This album would probably make my Top 5.

Nirvana - In Utero (1993)
While I would probably rank Nevermind ahead of this, I might actually like In Utero better today. It had a much edgier sound that has been much harder for imitators to replicate.

The Lemonheads - Come On Feel The Lemonheads (1993)
It's a Shame About Ray is more well-known, but this is probably the best album ever to come out of Boston. It is full of magnificent songs about nothing (for example, "Dawn Can't Decide").

Archers of Loaf - Icky Mettle (1993)
I discovered this gem 18 years after it came out. I wonder how much my life would have been different if that was not the case. An incredibly fresh sound, even nearly two decades later.

Weezer - Weezer (1994)
A flawless debut and probably a Top 3 choice for me. They had the potential to be the best band of all time. Then Matt Sharp left.

Radiohead - The Bends (1995)
I love OK Computer. But this album, to me, was clearly Radiohead's peak. This is the album where they were a fucked up rock band, not just fucked up.

Yo La Tengo - Electr-o-pura (1995)
Indie rock perfection. This master work from The Greatest American Band exquisitely illustrates the peak years of Matador Records. "I'll cover for you like a slipcover covers a chair…"

Teenage Fanclub - Grand Prix (1995)
This has a much different sound from Songs From Northern Britain.—much more of a power pop feel. Tracks like "Neil Jung" make you realize just how good this band is.

Buffalo Tom - Sleepy Eyed (1995)
My favorite by the underrated Boston legends. The band intentionally went for a more stripped-down sound on this record. It sounds like a straight-forward indie rock record, but it also sounds perfect.

Spoon - Telephono (1996)
Before they became indie legends, Spoon released one album on legendary indie label Matador Records. It is their best album and—to me—one of the ten greatest albums of all time.

Weezer - Pinkerton (1996)
There's nothing better than a depressed Rivers Cuomo. This album was originally panned, but now is lauded. So much raw emotion is captured on this classic record.

Teenage Fanclub - Songs From Northern Britain (1997)
I don't have any pre-1990s albums on this list, mostly because this album is a composite of everything wonderful before then. This is the master work from my favorite band ever.

Travis - The Man Who (1999)
Scotland is well-represented on my list. This was my introduction to Travis and from the haunting intro of "Writing to Reach You" I was hooked. They're damn near perfect.

Mogwai - Rock Action (2001)
This was my introduction to Mogwai, starting with the hypnotic "2 Rights Make 1 Wrong". My only issue with this album is that it is too short. I pretend it includes the epic 20-minute one-song EP My Father My King.

Travis - The Invisible Band (2001)
"Sing" is one of those incredible songs that will be with you forever. It used to be the only thing that stopped my first baby from crying.

Postal Service - Give Up (2003)
Simultaneously one of the greatest debut albums and final albums ever. I would give up Death Cab in a heartbeat for one more Postal Service record.

Mogwai - Happy Songs for Happy People (2003)
Mogwai can be a brutally loud band, but this album shows how gorgeous their music can be. For me, they are simply an modern take on classical music.

Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)
I remember the first time I heard this. It was like nothing else before it. Many have tried to copy it, but only they themselves have matched it (with The Suburbs).

Mogwai - Mr. Beast (2006)
From the twinkly intro of "Auto Rock" to the brutal guitar of "Glasgow Mega-Snake" to the epic finale "We're No Here", this album is a stunning post-rock gem. Nobody beats Mogwai at their own game.

Gustafer Yellowgold - Mellow Fever (2009)
This album (it comes with an animated DVD) is supposed to be geared towards kids, but Morgan Taylor is simply an incredible songwriter and storyteller for all audiences.*

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (2010)
This is the only time that the Grammys and I have ever been on the same page for Album of the Year. Beyond that, I'm still pondering its historical significance. Likely a Top 5… is it the best ever?

Mogwai - Special Moves (2010)
If I had to give a stranger any album ever recorded, this is the one I'd pick. Mogwai does delicate. Mogwai does deafening. Mogwai does ambient. Mogwai does epic. Mogwai does it perfectly live.

* Full disclosure: I run the website for Gustafer Yellowgold. However, I only started to after I was already obsessed and the band found a video of my kids dancing to a Gustafer tune.

Rounding out the Top 40:
Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary (1994)
Ash - Meltdown (2004)
Ash - 1977 (1996)
Yo La Tengo - I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (1997)
Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)
Yo La Tengo - And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000)
Trembling Blue Stars - Alive to Every Smile (2001)
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
Iron & Wine - The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002)
Yo La Tengo - Summer Sun (2003)
Mew - Frengers (2003)
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (2007)
Mussels - When We Had Nothing (2010)
GROUPLOVE - Never Trust a Happy Song (2011)
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong (2011)

Bryan O'Connor (@replevel)
I was excited to be asked for this list, in part because I was already working on it for a project I'll launch soon at Replacement Level. The only rule I made was a limit of one album per artist, since I don't think a 40-album list with three Beatles records, back-to back OutKast releases, and two self-titled Velvet Underground albums is all that interesting. If this turns out to be a decent cross-section of eras and genres, that's mostly coincidence, as these are my 25 (plus 15) favorite albums eligible per rule one above.

Frank Sinatra - In the Wee Small Hours (1955)
At once globally accessible and unpredictably challenging, Sinatra lets you into his world of gloom and heartbreak, but refuses to let you sing along once you're there.

Cannonball Adderley
- Somethin' Else (1958)
Mingus had the best seven-year peak. Miles had the most accumulated value. But Cannonball's 1958 was the best "season" in jazz history.

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue (1959)
The foremost masterpiece from the world's greatest trumpeter, but it's Paul Chambers' smooth bass that carries much of the album.

Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Within a year of plugging in his guitar and wreaking havoc at the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan wrote the document that may still stand as rock's greatest masterpiece.

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (1966)
Pet Sounds is whatever you want it to be- a pop album full of teenage whimsy, an album for kids with bells, whistles, and animal sounds, or a bottled-up psychedelic freakout waiting to explode.

The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)
It seems too easy to play on the "underground" theme in praising any VU album, but never has the voice of counterculture sounded so ethereal and so close to home at the same time.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland (1968)
The language of rock music probably never grew more on one album than this one, with the 14-minute mindf*ck of "Voodoo Chile" and the stereo-rattling redefinition of "All Along the Watchtower".

The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)
To some extent, this one is a stand-in for the Beatles' entire catalog, as my favorite Beatles album changes regularly. The second half is perfect, though, so I feel good about this choice.

The Rolling Stones - Let it Bleed (1969)
Beggars Banquet was more raw and Exile on Main Street was more grand, but Let it Bleed was the Stones' most graceful, skillful statement.

Love - Forever Changes (1969)
So many of the great albums from the late '60s are played out and hard to get excited about 40 years later. Forever Changes sounds fresh and exciting after all this time.

Joni Mitchell - Blue (1971)
The only album on my list by a female solo artist is perhaps the definitive statement of the singer-songwriter era. All peace, all love, no regrets, no safe song structures.

Led Zeppelin - [Led Zeppelin IV] (1971)
Ok, I'm kind of over it too, but if you pretend you've never heard "Black Dog", "Stairway to Heaven", and "When the Levee Breaks", I'm pretty sure you can transport yourself to any time and place with this one.

Television - Marquee Moon (1977)
Punk would come to be defined by banging out the same chord over and over, but Television embodied the punk attitude with complex guitar duels and shudder-inducing crescendoes.

The Clash - London Calling (1979)
"The only band that mattered" during one of rock's darkest eras saved us all with this sprawling epic country-rockabilly-dance hall-punk album.

The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (1986)
In the middle of a decade rock and roll would rather forget, one band defied it all with tongue-in-cheek witticisms over catchy pop tunes.

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
In the 24 years since Public Enemy released ITaNoMtHUB, hip-hop has expanded its language and capabilities exponentially, but the raw immediacy and unforgiving menace of this one is still unmatched.

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991)
A sonically unique album, if such a thing exists. The soundtrack to several of the most peaceful, yet surreal naps of my life.

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang/36 Chambers (1993)
Dirty hip-hop. Spawned legions of imitators (and solo projects), but few if any were as loose, wild, and near-perfect as the original.

Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister (1996)
The last album to make the cut benefits from my one-album-per-artist rule, but I can't imagine the Scots' most clever and playful work missing any such list.

Radiohead - OK Computer (1997)
The defining album of my youth, the most poignant musical statement on the beauty and dangers of technology yet, and the best album I've ever heard.

OutKast - Aquemini (1998)
Their follow-up, Stankonia, is among my favorite albums of the new century, but Aquemini was a jazz-funk-soul-hip-hop masterpiece nobody saw coming.

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
Perhaps the definitive indie album, Jeff Mangum's tortured (and sometimes torturing) vocals make the literate and sometimes mysterious lyrics come alive.

Sigur Rós - Agaetis Byrjun (1999 UK/2001 US)
If I found out tomorrow that all these songs were actually about genocide or extending the Bush tax cuts, I'd still listen to it at least once a month for the divine percussion and Jónsi's angelic voice.

Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)
The best album since OK Computer proves that not only is the rock album not dead, but a topic as heavy as life and death can still be documented through this allegedly dying medium.

Madvillain - Madvillainy (2004)
I'm not sure what this album is supposed to be. A brilliant rapper and a top-flight DJ suggest a hip-hop masterpiece, but it plays more like The Who Sell Out than The Chronic.

Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um (1959)
King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
Stooges - Fun House (1970)
Neil Young - After the Gold Rush (1970)
Stevie Wonder - Innervisions (1973)
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (1977)
Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)
Pixies - Doolittle (1989)
Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville (1993)
Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise (2005)
Wye Oak - Civilian (2011)
Decemberists - The King is Dead (2011)

Dalton Mack (@dmack1291)
My top albums list is, I believe, an interesting one. Not because of the genres present or perhaps several albums you were unaware of, but due to the years that these albums were released. Twenty of the top twenty-five albums listed were released prior to my birth; sixteen of those were released fifteen-plus years before I was born. Granted, I am the youngest of the writers here, thereby giving me the most potential for such a feat, if you will, but I feel this speaks volumes about two things: First, the overwhelming influence of my father’s musical preferences, and secondly the (entirely subjective) decline of lasting power in music. But enough pontificating, enjoy the list!

1. The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (1966)
The pinnacle of pop music. Music that went above and beyond the traditional guitar, bass and drums setup, an album replete with gems that serves to influence countless acts from its release in 1966 to the present day.

2. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
Arguably the best flowing album of all-time, Pink Floyd’s 1973 magnum opus deserved every one of the 741 weeks it spent on the Billboard albums chart. Also sported one of the most iconic album covers in rock history.

3. The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
The Beatles’ other 1967 album, the bastardized one without the fanfare but with all the hits. Any album that can boast "Penny Lane," "Strawberry Fields Forever," and "I am the Walrus" is an instant top 3.

4. Steely Dan - Aja (1977)
A record of sonic perfection, intelligent lyrics and a complete absence of filler, this 1977 release was the peak of Steely Dan’s career, and their last great album.

5. Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On (1971)
A concept album, song cycle, etc. Call it what you will, this introspective, tuneful record has long been considered one of the greats, deservedly so. Only knock against it is the short running time (35:38 minutes).

6. Paul McCartney & Wings - Band on the Run (1973)
An album by Paul’s new band that could stack up against nearly any by his old one. Nary a weak track to be found, many are underrated gems ("Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five," "Mrs. Vandebilt" to name two).

7. The Clash - London Calling (1979)
The only double album in the top 25, The Clash’s third release went far beyond the borders of punk rock to incorporate reggae, rockabilly and jazz. Sorry, The Wall, the Clash had the best UK double album of late 1979.

8. The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle (1968)
This Zombies album would have been lost to history had it not been "discovered" by Al Kooper. A top baroque pop album, slotting below Pet Sounds, but above Love's Forever Changes. So great, I’m willing to overlook the misspelling.

9. The Beatles - Revolver (1966)
A Beatles record of near-perfection. Gave us backwards guitar, tape loops and Indian experimentation and a handful of classics. Drop "Love You To" and it might move up a spot or two.

10. Boston - Boston (1976)
Music snobs hated it, the record-buying public loved it. I side with the latter. The final track is the only misstep on an album with soaring vocals, crunchy guitars and a larger than life quality.

11. The Who - Who's Next (1971)
Born from the abandoned Lifehouse project and sandwiched between rock operas, this album is, as Roger Daltrey may have once exclaimed, "The best [they] ever haaaaaaad!" There’s a good reason all but one of the tracks are rock radio staples.

12. XTC - Skylarking (1986)
A life-in-a-day concept album produced by Todd Rundgren. While it didn’t boast their best song (1989’s "The Mayor of Simpleton"), it was pastoral in the vein of the Kinks and went criminally underappreciated in its time.

13. Yes - Close to the Edge (1972)
3 songs, 38 minutes. That’s all it took to change the progressive rock landscape and become an instant classic. The final 35 seconds of "And You And I" may be the prettiest music ever put to tape.

14. Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
I’m not someone who blindly worships the ground Robert Allen Zimmerman walks upon, but I grant that he is one of the most influential names in music history and this is the record where it all clicks.

15. The Jayhawks - Smile (2000)
There’s a reason this album was the focus of a New York Times piece called "What If You Made a Classic, and No One Cared?" The best album released in a year beginning with a '2.'

16. Mos Def & Talib Kweli - Black Star (1998)
The only rap album in my top 25 and the result of two geniuses collaborating. The best example of conscious hip-hop released to date, the message and beats stick with you long after you’re done listening.

17. Elton John - Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973)
The third album from 1973 on this countdown. The album begins and ends with a bang, kicking off with "Daniel" and ending with "Crocodile Rock" and "High Flying Bird," the latter of which is an unknown gem.

18. Weezer - Pinkerton (1996)
The critics slammed it upon release, the hipsters have given it legendary status. While I don’t frequent thrift stores daily, I agree with my tight-jean wearing brethren. Begins distorted, ends acoustic and goes down smooth.

19. The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (1986)
Some of the most literate lyrics of the day paired with one of the best English guitarists, the Smiths reached their peak with their penultimate studio album, one which held strong from start to finish.

20. Led Zeppelin - [Led Zeppelin IV] (1971)
Yeah, yeah. It’s the one that had "Stairway to Heaven." But it had much more than that, friends. Side one is impeccable hard rock, and side two wasn’t lacking in greatness either, highlighted by "When the Levee Breaks."

21. The Beatles - Rubber Soul (1965)
Not incredibly different from Revolver in terms of impact and quality, but held back from a higher ranking due to several weak cuts ("Wait," "Run For Your Life," "The Word"). It did give us "In My Life" though.

22. Green Day - Dookie (1994)
Catchy 3-minute assaults catapulted this album to RIAA Diamond certification and single-handedly revived a genre. This is, simply put, an incredibly fun album and I must say, it’s impossible to not sing along to "Basket Case."

23. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here (1975)
Pink Floyd’s follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon was both a moving tribute to former member Syd Barrett and a jab at the music industry. All five tracks are great (title track, simply stunning) and flow with great ease.

24. Oasis - (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)
Oasis may have lost the Battle of Britpop with Blur, but won the war easily, mostly off the strength of this record, one which gave us the brilliant "Don’t Look Back in Anger" and the admittedly overplayed "Wonderwall."

25. Paul & Linda McCartney - Ram (1971)
The second McCartney record on the list and fourth from 1971. Often light-hearted, but not lacking in tunefulness, Ram is a whimsical pop masterpiece. Indispensable cut: "The Back Seat of My Car."

26-40, ordered by year:
The Beach Boys - Today! (1965)
Yes - The Yes Album (1971)
Jethro Tull - Thick as A Brick (1972)
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - Born to Run (1975)
Tears for Fears - Songs From the Big Chair (1985)
The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die (1994)
The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)
The Jayhawks - Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995)
of Montreal - The Gay Parade (1999)
Eminem - Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Green Day - American Idiot (2004)
Frank Turner - Love Ire and Song (2008)
fun. - Aim and Ignite (2009)
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (2010)
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

Dan McCloskey (@_LeftField)
I've already written a half-year long series here chronicling my lifelong obsession with music, long before this blog had any real purpose (not that it really does now, either). Of course, since I prefer to write from a personal angle, especially when it comes to music, many of those artists are featured in my list below. I've hinted in the past about eventually producing a list of my top 100 albums of all-time. So, it appears it took a collaborative project like this to get me off my ass and at least get started on such an endeavor.

Beach BoysPet Sounds (1966)
Is Brian Wilson's magnum opus better than anything the Beatles ever recorded? I think so, but its status as one of two albums that shows up on three separate lists here might be have more to do with the breadth of the Fab Four's catalog than anything else.

The Beatles – [The White Album] (1968)
It's certainly not easy to decide on a best Beatles record, but their self-titled double album is my personal favorite, and the one that most reminds me of the days when they were the only band I listened to. If you haven't attempted to play "Revolution 9" backwards, you need to stay in more.

The ByrdsSweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)
Roger McGuinn never seemed to handle sharing band-leading responsibilities well—just ask Gene Clark and David Crosby—but somehow Gram Parsons came in and completely shifted the group's direction. It would be his one and only Byrds album, but his influence would remain even after he was gone.

Neil Young & Crazy HorseEverybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
Although Young and Danny Whitten are not mentioned very often in discussions of guitar gods, their interplay on epic tracks like "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River" elevate them to that status in my mind.

Big Star - #1 Record (1972)
There's no real consensus regarding Big Star's best album, but to me their debut—the only one that featured Chris Bell as Lennon to Alex Chilton's McCartney—is the definitive power pop masterpiece.

Electric Light Orchestra - A New World Record (1976)
If Eldorado was ELO's Sgt. Pepper's, A New World Record was their Abbey Road. Only better, in my opinion, and that of very few other people. Heck, I'll bet even Jeff Lynne doesn't agree. Still, it's simply an orchestral pop masterpiece by a very under-appreciated band.

Steely Dan - The Royal Scam (1976)
Aja is a more polished affair with more well-known songs, but its predecessor was the peak of Donald Fagen & Walter Becker's unique brand of cynical jazz/blues-infused pop/rock.

TelevisionMarquee Moon (1977)
With apologies to Allman & Betts, a nod to Young & Whitten and Angus & Malcolm Young (no relation to Neil), and a casual mention of Downing & Tipton and Murray & Smith, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd are the best guitar duo ever.

Neil Young & Crazy HorseRust Never Sleeps (1979)
There are a lot of dimensions to Neil Young, but Rust captures almost perfectly the two he's most known for: literate folkie on side one, pre-grunge rocker on side two.

Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (1990)
I'd been listening to music for over 20 years the first time I heard this album—almost fittingly while driving in rural Indiana—and it was unlike anything I'd ever heard. Almost 20 years later, although there have been many imitators, it's still unlike anything I've ever heard.

NirvanaNevermind (1991)
As the elder statesman of this group, I'm probably the only one who got to see Nirvana live, at the Springfield (MA) Civic Center just months prior to Kurt Cobain's death. I'm quite certain that show sealed my opinion that this was the greatest rock band of its era.

The JayhawksHollywood Town Hall (1992)
The less heralded alt-country pioneers were never better than on their penultimate effort before Mark Olson left and Gary Louris shifted the band's focus from Parsons-esque to Chilton-esque. Crosby and Nash wish they could harmonize like Olson and Louris.

Dinosaur Jr.Where You Been (1993)
Most critics and snobs consider their earlier material to be their best, but this record and Green Mind are the ones that prompted my roommate at the time to start referring to the band as Danosaur Jr.

Son Volt - Trace (1995)
By the time I first heard Uncle Tupelo, they were already over. But, this album was the first in the alt-country genre that I would listen to at precisely the time of its release. So, in some sense, this record best reminds me of an era of music discovery that would eventually lead me to branch out further.

Wilco - Being There (1996)
The first album that Jay Bennett contributed to is still Wilco's best. Bennett's presence in the band has been missed since he was kicked out following the completion of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and on this earth since he passed away a few years ago.

WhiskeytownStrangers Almanac (1997)
I saw Ryan Adams and Company play a free show at Bill's Bar on Lansdowne Street the year this album was released. That show sealed the deal for my love affair with the band No Depression magazine referred to as Country & Westerberg.

Old 97s - Too Far to Care (1997)
1997 might have been the year of the Old 97s if not for Whiskeytown. Still, it was the year I discovered the album and the band that would become synonymous with the term cow-punk to me.

Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
Known as the music industry's ultimate perfectionist, this record was six years in the making and well worth the wait. It's also just about the most perfectly titled an album can be.

Neutral Milk HotelIn the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
This is the album that inspired many whiny and nasally voiced nerds to form their own bands. There might not be an Arcade Fire or The Decemberists if not for the output of Jeff Mangum's reclusive paranoia.

Built to Spill - Keep it Like a Secret (1999)
This is the album that combines the pop sensibilities of There's Nothing Wrong With Love with the Neil Young-influenced guitar wankery of Perfect From Now On to yield a near-perfect result.

The Flaming LipsThe Soft Bulletin (1999)
Beyond "She Don't Use Jelly," Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was my introduction to the Flips. Hard to believe that great album led me to the discovery of a record that is an unrivaled sonic masterpiece, the likes of which hasn't been equaled since its release.

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker (2000)
Adams gets a lot of flak these days—although much of it relates to his name's similarity to a certain Canadian singer—but I'll stand on Jeff Tweedy and/or Jay Farrar's coffee table in my Dr. Martens and declare that Ryan Adams was the best alt-country songwriter from 1996-2000.

Pernice BrothersThe World Won’t End (2001)
Just the other night, my wife said to me about Joe Pernice, "his songs are just so easy to embrace." The World Won't End is the one that hugs you back for 40ish minutes of lushly orchestrated pop/rock, even as its lyrical content deals with somewhat depressing subject matter.

Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy (2005)
The beauty and intensity of this album reveals itself 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 straight through to his desperate closing breaths, "I am waiting, you know that I am, calmly waiting to make you my lamb", on the album's penultimate song.

The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday (2005)
I never saw The Replacements live (although I have seen Westerberg solo), but The Hold Steady seem to be channeling their Minneapolis legacy in their incredibly energetic (some might describe Craig Finn as manic) live shows. Without the sloppy drunkenness, of course.

The best of the rest:
The Band - Music from Big Pink (1968)
The Kinks - The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground (1969)
Neil Young - After the Gold Rush (1970)
Joni Mitchell - Blue (1971)
The Who - Who's Next (1971)
Rush - 2112 (1976)
The Replacements - Tim (1985)
Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
Joe Henry - Trampoline (1996)
James Iha - Let it Come Down (1998)
Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues (2000)
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)

As I've compiled these lists, I've enjoyed exploring the early catalog of Centro-matic (per Dave's recommendation), discovering that Teenage Fanclub's Grand Prix is one I've overlooked (based on Adam's endorsement), realizing I've never given Love's Forever Changes (a Bryan pick) much of a chance, and revisiting Wings' Band on the Run (thanks to Dalton), an album I probably haven't listened to from start to finish in 30 years.

I'm sure there will be more. I hope there are a few for you too.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Hall of Fame Something

I feel like I need to write something about the upcoming announcement of the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, but frankly, I'm struggling with what to talk about. Certainly enough has been said about PED issues, the character clause and the self-important and, in some cases, under-qualified "gatekeepers" of the Hall. So, I'm going to try to steer away from that subject.

I submitted my unofficial ballot as part of the Baseball Blogger's Alliance (BBBA) voting process. I probably should explain my choices, but it's hard to without getting into the aforementioned subjects. So, I'm going to go a slightly different direction and just see where it takes me.

That route is to predict that no one will be elected to the Hall of Fame this year, except for the three inductees (all of whom have been dead for three-quarters of a century) voted in by the Pre-Integration Era Committee: Deacon White, Jacob Ruppert and Hank O'Day. Honestly, as sad as this is to say, that's kind of what I'm rooting for to happen.

I love the Hall of Fame, despite the fact it's on the verge of becoming increasingly irrelevant. I've read many other writers who've said this before, but I just can't help but care about it. That's why I'll actually be happy, admittedly in a strange sort of way, if no one is elected by the writers this year. Of course, this is because I'm hoping that the lack of any kind of a drawing card to bring people to Cooperstown in late July will somehow effect some kind of change.

In the very least, this change has to come in the form of removing the limit on the number of players writers are allowed to vote for. Because if players as good as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and, in the future, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez continue to linger on the ballot, they will stand in the way of other worthy candidates as the battle rages on between PED blackballers and those who vote based strictly on performance.

Don't get me wrong. If I realistically thought Tim Raines—who I wrote about for this year's version of Baseball: Past and Present's 50 Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame—might get in this year, I'd certainly be pulling for that outcome. Otherwise, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell can wait. Their day will most certainly come in the next few years.

The BBBA's new President made the interesting decision to not place a limit on the number of candidates we could vote for in this year's mock election. Obviously, I'm in favor of this decision, although the one downside is it does not mimic the BBWAA's process, which I believe was the original intention of our vote. Still, I think it will serve as an interesting experiment to get an idea of how the process might play out if the voting restrictions are lifted.

Finally, here's who I voted for (in order of how deserving I feel they are): Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Kenny Lofton, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro. Of course, if I had to limit to 10, Lofton, McGwire and Palmeiro would be the odd men out.

This also means I voted no on Sammy Sosa, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, David Wells, Jack Morris and Lee Smith. Although the latter two have received pretty good support in the real voting process (and Morris, along with Biggio, has the best chance of actually getting in), the only omission I feel I have to justify is Sosa.

Despite the 600+ home runs, Sosa really only had a run of 10 good years, only a few of which were actually great. Because he was basically a one-dimensional player, the rest of his career rates as below average. If he was merely above average outside of his peak, I might be singing a different tune.

In the past, I've voted no on Palmeiro and McGwire, but I've changed my mind this year, although the lack of a voting limit is what allows me to do so. My basic explanation is I used to be a PED discounter, at least to the extent I previously decided not to give the benefit of the doubt to such players.

Frankly, I don't think it's anyone's place to decide to punish these players beyond Major League Baseball's collectively bargained policy. That is, since there is a disciplinary system for such violations in place, and unless the punishment goes so far as to ban a player for life, who is anyone else to decide to punish them further? As far as what happened prior to MLB's policy being in place, those "indiscretions" involved breaking the law, not the rules of the game. There's a more established system in place for dealing with lawbreakers, so that doesn't need to be dealt with in the Hall of Fame election process.

I've got more to say on the subject, but I'll leave it at that...for now.