Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#1 The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

For the fourth time in five years, an artist's debut on my year-end list is my #1 album.

Adam Granduciel's brand of ambient Americana was this year's critical consensus album of the year, an opinion I'm totally on board with, despite the fact my #4 artist is not a fan [NSFW].

For those of you still reading at the end of this blog's slowest year in almost a decade, thank you and best of luck in 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best Music of 2014: #2 Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

If this album didn't make your list, you either don't put together an albums-of-the-year list or you have an irrational fear of country music. Or, perhaps, you simply didn't hear it.

Considering I'd never even heard of Sturgill Simpson until barely more than a month ago, the latter suggestion is a distinct possibility. If that's the case, and if you're open to country music at all, plan on adding this to your "best 2014 albums you didn't hear until 2015 list."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#3 Cloud Cult - Unplug

I've been saying for a long time live albums are eligible for my year-end lists, but I think this is the first time one has made it, or at least it's the first time one has been ranked so highly.

This album exposed me to older Cloud Cult songs I was unfamiliar with, offered most of the songs in a different format from their original versions, and was presented as a single one-off performance rather than a live compilation. 

Those are pretty much my three criteria for considering a live album as one of the best of the year. Unplug is clearly just that.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#4 Sun Kil Moon - Benji

The two artists with the longest streaks of consecutive albums in my top ten see those runs end this year, while Sun Kil Moon and one other band (to be revealed) join the ranks of acts with three top tens in my list's 19-year history.

On the heels of last year's #1 album, Mark Kozelek's fourth top ten overall puts him in pretty select company (more on that later, hopefully).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#5 Temples - Sun Structures

Speaking of retro-inspired music, this one goes back a little further than your typical classic rock reference point. Put simply (or not), this is 50+ minutes of incense and peppermints and McGuinnesque guitar jangle.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#6 Strand of Oaks - HEAL

It seems like there's a lot of indie rock inspired by classic rock in my top ten this year. Perhaps my taste has been trending that way for a while, but it seems more evident this year. I'd say three of the five I've revealed so far, including this one, fall into this category.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Music of 2014: #7 Anders Parker - There's a Bluebird in My Heart

Anders is a friend of mine, although I hadn't seen him in a year and a half until a mid-December show supporting Centro-Matic on their farewell tour. Still, I don't think of myself as biased when it comes to evaluating his music. I liked his album prior to this, but it didn't even make my extended list. His latest, in my opinion, is his best effort since his solo debut, 2004's Tell it to the Dust.

OK, perhaps I'm biased to the extent knowing Anders is what exposed me to his music in the first place, and I might be more willing to allow his songs to grow on me than with other artists. But, the latter point applies to all my favorite artists, and considering this is Anders' sixth appearance in my top tenthree Varnaline records, two solo and the New Multitudes projectI'd say he falls into that category.

Here's Anders and his band, Cloud Badge, playing four songs from the record on a live performance for Vermont Public Radio.

Best Music of 2014: #8 Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness of Dancers

Before I finalized these rankings, I felt like this was a year where artists who were new to my ears made a bigger impact than my old favorites. The final list doesn't necessarily reflect that, but Hiss Golden Messenger is the first of three artists I'd never heard of prior to this year and the second of six to crack the top tenDrew being the first, and Leithauser counting as a returnee because The Walkmen have been here twice beforefor the first-time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#9 Hamilton Leithauser - Black Hours

The Walkmen are on "...a pretty extreme hiatus," according to bassist/organist Peter Bauer, which perhaps means we've heard the last of them. That's too bad, and while this album is only capable of filling part of the void that potentially leaves, it did remind me how much my love for that band is tied up in Hamilton Leithauser's voice.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Best Music of 2014:
#10 Kevin Drew - Darlings

Last year, I paid tribute to this blog's roots by counting down my top ten albums for ten days beginning on the blog's tenth anniversary. However, I also ranked numbers 11-21 because ranking more than ten albums had been my thing for quite a few years.

This year, as my dedication to this blog and the hobbies that provide its motivation has waned a little, I'm fully returning to my top ten roots. Honestly, I've got several handfuls of additional records I enjoyed this year, but I don't have the time or the inclination to rank them any further.

Besides, ten is a good number and it's fairly representative of the number of truly frequent spins of mine this year. So, without further ado, let's begin this countdown of my favorite albums from this calendar year.

I don't love Kevin Drew's second solo effort for its lyrics, that's for sure, and it surely didn't get much, if any, love on critical year-end lists. Pitchfork practically referred to it as the Broken Social Scene frontman's Tunnel of Love. That's an interesting reference point, although the reviewer wasn't really comparing Drew to Springsteen. While "You in Your Were" leaves me wishing there was a little more Feist collaboration here, the album's standout track is its closer, "And That's All I Know."

Monday, December 08, 2014

Minnie Miñoso Belongs in the Hall

Circa 1995, I was on a work trip to South Bend, Indiana. One evening, I was in a retail store of some kind when an employee's voice came over the loudspeaker announcing a giveaway contest. They were awarding a prize to the customer who could produce evidence he or she had come the furthest to shop in their store.

South Bend is in western Indiana, bordering Michigan to the north and not far from Illinois to the west, so another customer was understandably convinced being from Ohio would prove good enough to win. That is, until I unearthed my New York driver's license with Albany address. (I suppose the fact I was from New York was enough, as I could've been from Jamestown and still won by a landslide.)

The prize was two tickets to a South Bend Silver Hawks game the following night. At the time, South Bend was the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the White Sox.

I don't recall if I successfully recruited a co-worker to accompany me to the game. In fact, my hazy memory is of going to the game solo, which is something I've done countless times without reservation.

I also don't remember much about Coveleski Stadium, the home of the Silver Hawks, which is named after Hall of Famer and 55-year South Bend resident Stan Coveleski.

What I do remember is that Minnie Miñoso was there signing autographs, for free. I've never been much of a memorabilia collector, but every once in a while I decide to seize an opportunity. This, of course, was one of those occasions.

I quickly popped into the nearest souvenir store and purchased a cheap Silver Hawks ball which, with Mr. Miñoso's gracious assistance, became this souvenir:

Of course, none of this, in any way, has anything to do with Miñoso's Hall of Fame case, which I admit I've come around on in recent years. That is to say I've gone from thinking he's borderline to believing he definitely belongs in Cooperstown.

Miñoso's chances of getting in seemed pretty close to zero after he fell short on the 2012 Golden Era ballot, receiving nine of 16 possible votes, three short of election. This came after he was passed over by the 2006 special election of the Negro Leagues Committee, which inducted 17 former players, pioneers and executives of black baseball.

Miñoso's Hall of Fame case is borderline at first glance, but when his late start in the minors due to segregation is factored in, I believe a strong argument can be made in his favor.

Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Minoso played his first professional baseball in the United States in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That year, Minnie signed with the New York Cubans of the Negro National League.

Minnie was signed by the Indians in 1948, but he was already 22, unproven at the highest level, and his road to the majors blocked by several veterans. So, he toiled in the minors for 2+ seasons, playing nine games at the major league level in 1949 and none in 1950, before being traded to the White Sox in early 1951.

In Chicago, he became an instant star, homering in his first at bat and finishing the year with a .326/.422/.500 triple slash line, a 151 OPS+ and leading the league in triples (16), stolen bases (31) and HBP (16), while scoring 112 runs. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and fourth in MVP voting that season.

Miñoso averaged 5 WAR per year from 1951 to 1959, 4.1 per year through 1962, his age 36 season. His 1963 season was a -1.7 WAR disaster, signalling the end of his career. I've said before I think 4 WAR per year over 15 years is a Hall of Fame career. Miñoso's productiveness falls three seasons short of that, but what do we make of his late start?

I normally don't cut a guy any slack for a late arrival to the major leagues, but the fact of the matter is Miñoso was already 21 years old when Jackie Robinson made his major league debut. Obviously, the majors didn't become fully integrated overnight, and we can't fault Miñoso for not being the guy Branch Rickey hand-picked to be the first.

So, it stands to reason that, given the opportunities white ballplayers had, Minnie would have been drafted younger and potentially would have fully broken into the majors 2-3 years earlier than he did.

Would this have been enough to make his Hall of Fame case that much clearer? I think so.

A lot of people my age know Minnie more for his distinction of being one of only two players in history—-Nick Altrock being the other—-to play in five different decades. Brief appearances with the White Sox, in 1976 at age 50 and 1980 at age 54, helped him achieve that notoriety. But, Minoso did put together what should be considered a Hall of Fame career.