Friday, December 30, 2016

Best Music of 2016, Part 6

A lot of people have called 2016 a horrible year, because of all the high-profile musicians who passed away, as well as another significant event that could have repercussions for years to come. The latter could probably downgrade the year all by itself, but my family created some great memories in 2016, so I'm going to give it a mixed review.

This year's top five includes three artists brand new to my list and two old favorites.

5. The Besnard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum
Considering the consensus is this is only their fourth best album (out of five), I'd say I've got some back-catalog exploring to do with this band.

4. The Jayhawks - Paging Mr. Proust
The "Comeback Kids" return for their fourth appearance in my top ten and first in 13 years, breaking Ryan Adams' record of 10 years between top ten finishes.

3. Pinegrove - Cardinal
These guys are the best thing to come out of Montclair, New Jersey since Stephen Colbert.

2. Lydia Loveless - Real
This year's female musician count is eight solo artists, one duo, one trio, one male-female duo, and two male-female co-fronted bands. None even came remotely close to this one, which was an album-of-the-year contender until last week.

1. Cloud Cult - The Seeker
Cloud Cult's fourth top ten album is also their second to claim the top spot, tying them with the legendary Pernice Brothers as the only band to every accomplish that feat.

Happy New Year and the best of luck in 2017!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Best Music of 2016, Part 5

This year's top ten includes three artists making their fourth appearances here in the 21 year I've been doing this, plus seven newcomers.

10. Shearwater - Jet Plan and Oxbow
I've been a fan since 2004's Winged Life, and they've released some good albums in that time, but this is their first truly great record.

9. Frightened Rabbit - Painting of a Panic Attack
While not their most highly acclaimed, it's the one that made me want to listen to it over and over earlier this year.

8. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon - Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
At this point, you either love or hate Mark Kozelek's confessional songwriting style. This is his third appearance in my top ten in past four years, and fourth overall for Sun Kil Moon (which places them in a 7-way tie for seventh most overall with two artists still to be revealed). You can probably guess which camp I'm in.

7. Maren Morris - Hero
I didn't hear this album until it was named Rolling Stone's country album of the year. It's also the most critically acclaimed among my top ten, but probably the one I'll get the most flak for from my pal Afshin.

6. Eleanor Friedberger - New View
Her old band, the Fiery Furnaces, made my top ten twice, but this is Friedberger's first as a solo artist and perhaps her best album yet.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Best Music of 2016, Part 4

Only the top ten to be revealed between Christmas and New Year's. Happy Holidays!

15. Loretta Lynn - Full Circle
My Christmas tradition is to buy my Dad the year's best country CD (in my opinion) that wouldn't otherwise be on his radar. This year, I went with this and Margo Price.

14.Tegan & Sara - Love You to Death
I'm a sucker for this sister duo's infectious pop songs.

13. Eric Bachmann - Eric Bachmann
The former Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers front-man continues to be one of my favorites as a solo artist.

12. Okkervil River - Away
In addition to landing in my top ten three times, this is this band's third #12 finish.

11. Drive-By Truckers - American Band
These guys already hold the record for most times in my top ten with five, even if they fell just short of extending that mark.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Best Music of 2016, Part 3

Seven of my top 33 made the top 25 on Metacritic's aggregation of critical year-end lists. Two of those, plus two others which I'm sure came close, are in this round of five.

20. ANOHNI - Hopelessness
I saw Antony and the Johnsons live back on the I Am a Bird Now tour and she was an amazing performer. Not sure why that surprised me, but I guess the tone of her music made me think she was the introverted type. I sure was wrong about that.

19.Hiss Golden Messenger - Heart Like a Levee
The first of two albums in this round of five that explore themes of being an absentee father due to the demands of the profession.

18. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
While most of this album was written before Cave's 15-year old son died, if you listen to it with that knowledge in mind, it takes on a whole new meaning.

17. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth
A more diverse set of songs than Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, but not quite as good, in my opinion.

16. Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter
If you guessed this would be my country album of the year by a female performer, I wouldn't blame you, but you'd be wrong.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Best Music of 2016, Part 2

There will be newcomers to this list in every post except this one... that is, unless you count Neko Case's co-conspirators.

25. Bon Iver - 22, A Million
I'm not as enamored with this change in direction as the critics were, but it's still top-25 worthy.

24.Regina Spektor - Remember Us to Life
I've been pretty lukewarm on Spektor since the amazing Begin to Hope, which was released a decade ago. Heck, it even took me a while to come around to the "Orange is the New Black" theme. This one is definitely her second-best full-length, in my opinion.

23. case/lang/veirs - case/lang/veirs
If I had to rank these three in order of how much I like them, it would probably be case/veirs/lang, although my initial impression of this album was that lang's star shone the brightest. That said, my favorite song is one where veirs takes the lead.

22. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Pushing forward in their career-long quest to prove a band can be over-rated but still really good.

21. Local Natives - Sunlit Youth
I didn't think these guys would ever make an album that I loved as much as 2013's Hummingbird, but this was a valiant effort.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Best Music of 2016, Part 1

As evidenced by the almost non-existent output of this blog over the last couple of years, time to write has been dwindling -- or, I'm just less inclined to make time, I suppose.

Either way, I'm still committed to counting down my favorite albums of the year over the remaining days of December, although there will be fewer words accompanying these than usual.

33. Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop - Love Letter for Fire
Lots of interesting collaborations this year. Even better ones to come...

32. The I Don't Cares - Wild Stab
Paul Westerberg teams up with Juliana Hatfield to release his best material in over a decade.

31. Leonard Cohen - You Want it Darker
This is not the only critically acclaimed album by an artist who died in 2016, but it's my favorite.

30. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam - I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
Probably Leithauser's best post-Walkmen release, although I ranked his solo debut higher.

29. The Avalanches - Wildflower
Albums that are over an hour tend to drag a bit, and this is no exception, but the high points really make it worth the effort.

28. Mitski - Puberty 2
Three of the first eight albums revealed here are by femaled-fronted acts or male/female duos. Stayed tuned, as 9 of the top 25 are by the fairer gender as well.

27. Matt Pond PA - Winter Lives
I like to think of this band as the musical equivalent of comfort food.

26. Nada Surf - You Know Who You Are
My friend Sara recently referred to Matt Pond PA and Nada Surf as both falling into a certain category of alt-rock easy listening...and I think she actually meant it in a good way.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

All-Time Teams #19: New York Yankees

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises. In an effort to revive this series after a long period of inactivity, I'm placing a little less emphasis on the discussion of the greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Here's an update of the Hall of Famer per all-time team tally I listed in the Cubs post:

Cubs - 15
Braves - 14
White Sox - 13
Indians - 12
Yankees - 12
Red Sox - 12
Dodgers - 11
Reds - 10
Orioles - 9
Tigers - 9

These numbers include all Hall of Famers, regardless of whether they're inducted as a player, a manager, or in the case of Clark Griffith, an executive. 

A couple teams (Cubs and Indians) have the same Hall of Famer as a player and manager. Of course, I only counted those guys once.

Perhaps it's surprising to some that the Yankees aren't really close to the top of the list. The simple explanation is quite a few Yankees Hall of Famers didn't even make this team, with some even losing out to non-Hall of Famers, although that hardly makes the Yankees unique.

Franchise History
New York Yankees (1913 - )
New York Highlanders (1903 - 1912)
Baltimore Orioles (1901 - 1902)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Yogi Berra* (1946-1963)
1B - Lou Gehrig* (1923-1939)
2B - Robinson Cano (2005-2013)
SS - Derek Jeter (1995-2014)
3B - Alex Rodriguez (2004-2013, 2015- )
LF - Babe Ruth* (1920-1934)
CF - Joe DiMaggio* (1936-1942, 1946-1951)
RF - Mickey Mantle* (1951-1968)

Ruth played a few hundred more games in right, but he's second in franchise history in games played in left field, and was essentially the Yankees' regular left fielder for four seasons. 

Mantle played right in his rookie season before eventually taking over the center field job when DiMaggio retired. This one's more of a stretch, but it's the best way to account for the fact that two of this team's four best players played the same position. 

Cano as the starting second baseman is probably my most controversial selection, and one that certainly would've been different five years ago. His cumulative WAR of 45.1 ranks third at the position, behind Willie Randolph (53.7) and Tony Lazzeri (48.3). But WAR/650 PA tells a different story: Cano - 5.6, Randolph - 5.2, Lazzeri - 4.9. 

While 0.4 WAR per year might not seem like a biggest enough difference to base such a decision on, especially since Joe Gordon's shorter Yankees career rates at 5.8 WAR/650 PA, but I'm skeptical enough of how much of Randolph's value comes from his defense to opt for Cano's offense instead. 

Whitey Ford* (1950, 1953-1967)
Ron Guidry (1975-1988)
Red Ruffing* (1930-1942, 1945-1946)
Andy Pettitte (1995-2003, 2007-2010, 2012-2013)
Lefty Gomez* (1930-1942)

You could probably quibble with the order, but otherwise I doubt there's much controversy here. 

Mariano Rivera (1995-2013)

C - Bill Dickey* (1928-1943, 1946)
C - Thurman Munson (1969-1979)
1B - Don Mattingly (1982-1995)
2B/3B/SS - Tony Lazzeri* (1926-1937)
3B - Graig Nettles (1973-1983)
LF/RF - Charlie Keller (1939-1943, 1945-1950)
OF - Bernie Williams (1991-2006)

Leaving Randolph off this team completely is tough -- I briefly considered expanding this team to accommodate him and a few other difficult omissions -- but I could probably put together a pretty great all-time team of players who didn't make my Yankees all-time team. That said, Lazzeri's flexibility to backup at SS as well was the deciding factor in his favor. 

Rich Gossage* (1978-1983, 1989)
Sparky Lyle (1972-1978)
Dave Righetti (1979, 1981-1990)
Mike Mussina (2001-2008)

I'm sure Gossage would choose himself as the team's closer, but everyone except him surely agrees Rivera is a no-brainer. Otherwise, it's a pretty short bullpen, but I've basically been going with 10 or 11 pitchers total depending on the worthiness of 25th man candidates. In this case, I felt Nettles and Munson were more worthy than any of the remaining hurlers. 

Casey Stengel* (1949-1960)

The Yankees really reinforce how difficult, and perhaps pointless, it is to decide who's the best manager in a franchise's history. Here are the choices:

Miller Huggins (1918-1929): 1067 wins, .597 W-L%, 6 pennants, 3 W-S titles. 

Joe McCarthy (1931-1946): 1460 wins, .627 W-L%, 8 pennants, 7 W-S titles. 

Casey Stengel (1949-1960): 1169 wins, .623 W-L%, 10 pennants, 7 W-S titles.

Joe Torre (1996-2007): 1173 wins, .605 W-L%, 6 pennants, 4 W-S titles.

Of course, it's not just comparing the level of success that makes choosing between these guys difficult, it's the age-old question -- which is especially pertinent to the Yankees -- of whether the manager makes the players great or the players make the manager great.

Obviously, it's probably a combination of those factors, but in the case of the Yankees, it's definitely more the latter than the former. In fact, the Yankees have won six World Series in the 61 seasons they were not managed by these four guys. By comparison, the second most successful franchise in baseball history (Cardinals) have won less than twice that many (11) in more than twice as many years (132), and the Dodgers have won six World Series in 130 years.

That said, Stengel gets the nod because of 10 pennants and seven World Championships in 12 years.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

More interesting (to me) than the aforementioned potential second team is a potential all-time team of Yankees eligible for, but not in, the Hall of Fame. 

Thurman Munson is the only career Yankee who's in my personal Hall, but not the real Hall of Fame, so he's my choice here. 

Somewhat surprisingly, Munson's Hall case didn't get the special consideration players with similar circumstances typically get. I suppose he has the double whammy of being a catcher and having an abbreviated career, two factors that, to differing degrees, adversely affect the counting stats voters love. 

Obviously, Roy Campanella had the same potential problem but was unaffected. The guy did win three MVPs. So, perhaps Campanella is the Rickey Henderson to Munson's Tim Raines when it comes to catchers with careers shortened by non-baseball factors. Perhaps that's a stretch, but I'll go with it.