Friday, December 26, 2014

Music Friday: "Brass Ring"

One album I failed to showcase in my "Top Twentysomething Albums of 2014" is Mellencamp's Plain Spoken

It's a good album, one possibly worthy of the top twenty, but I'm not going to revise the previous post.

One of my favorite songs on Plain Spoken is "Brass Ring," so it's below. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Top Twentysomething Albums of 2014

It's that time of the year again.

Like I did in 20102011, 2012, and 2013, I'm providing my top twenty albums that came out this year. After the top twenty, there's a list of albums that deserve honorable mention. 

As for the year in music, from my perspective, this year didn't produce the quality of albums that I have gotten accustomed to from the past few years. Maybe it's just my personal music tastes, but the previous four years seem stronger in quality and quantity. 

That's not to say these twensomething albums aren't good. They are. However, there weren't many albums that really blew my doors off. 

If there are other albums you would recommend, please let me know in the comments section.

1. Drive-By Truckers, English Oceans

DBT is somewhat cursed by their past success. While The Big To-Do and Go-Go Boots have a number of solid songs on them, Truckers fans are prone to think about the glories of Pizza DeliveranceSouthern Rock OperaThe Dirty South (which I would argue is the band's best album), and Decoration Day. Fortunately, this year saw a DBT album that offers a roughly equal number of Cooley and Hood songs. I like that change because I've always felt Cooley has been under-appreciated as a lyricist. 

When I first made a draft of the top albums, I had this album further down the list. Then I listened to it a bit more and moved it up to 1. "When Walter Went Crazy," "The Part of Him," and "Pauline Hawkins" have become three tunes to add to my favorite Patterson Hood songs. "Grand Canyon," written for one of their friends who passed away, is majestic. Cooley's "Primer Coat" is a sober recognition of the passage of time. 

Favorite songs: "Seeing Jimmy Loud," "Primer Coat," "When He's Gone," "Grand Canyon," "The Part of Him," and "When Walter Went Crazy"

2. The Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams

It was good to see this band come out with a solid album this year. I liked Craig Finn's solo effort, but I prefer the more raw, straightforward rock-n-roll of THS with Finn's narrative-based lyrics. "Big Cig" is one of my favorite songs of this year. Some of the songs aren't as brawny as what I consider some of the band's classics like "Stuck Between Stations," "Chips Ahoy!," "Constructive Summer," "Sequestered in Memphis," and "The Sweet Part of the City." However, the band provides a strong offering here, a well rounded album. 

Favorite songs: "Runner's High," "Oaks," "On With the Business," "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You," and "Big Cig"

3. Centro-matic, Take Pride in Your Long Odds

I am a big fan of the band's previous album, Candidate Waltz. But this one has really stuck with me. It's been a go-to listen since I picked it up. It's just a solid album of Centro-matic doing their Centro-matic things. I rarely can figure out what the heck Will Johnson is singing about, but the arrangements and melodies are addictive and hypnotic. 

Favorite songs: "Through the Fog, Then Down," "Salty Disciple," "Academy of Lunkers," and "Cynthia Glass"

4. Hard Working Americans, self-titled

So Todd Snider, Dave Schools (bassist of Widespread Panic), Neal Casel (guitarist of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood), Chad Staehly (keyboardist of Great American Taxi), and Duane Trucks (drummer) got together and created an fine album of covers. Check it out. Support these hard working Americans. 

Favorite songs: "Stomp and Holler," "Straight to Hell," "The Mountain Song," "Welfare Music," and "Run a Mile"

5. Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways

I got sucked into this album because I started watching their HBO show that showcased them recording the songs at famous recording studios. As the show makes us want to believe, they would go to a certain city, talk to influential people there, lay down the tunes, and then Grohl would pen lyrics based on the time spent in the location. I don't know how accurate that method is, but I don't see why they would lie. They might fudge the truth a bit, but Sonic Highways is strong hard rock album with songs that become pleasant ear worms. 

Favorite songs: "Something from Nothing" (about Chicago), "I Am a River" (about New York City), "Outside" (about Joshua Tree, CA), and "Feast and The Famine" (about D.C.)

6. Tom Petty, Hypnotic Eye

The past couple of years I've gotten back into Tom Petty and his fine Heartbreakers. Hypnotic Eye is a solid rock album. It didn't generate the hits like his old albums did, but now is a very different music industry/environment. "Forgotten Man" is reminiscent of a Bo-Diddley riff. "American Dream Plan B" provides some social commentary. And "Fault Lines" reminds me that I'm a  middle-aged man.

Favorite songs: "Forgotten Man," "All You Can Carry," "Fault Lines," and "American Dream Plan B"

7. Various Artists, Dead Man's Town

Yep, that's right. A tribute album to Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. Younger artists take on these iconic songs and make them their own. Joe Pug's rendition of "Downbound Train" is excellent. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires start off the album with a justly somber and haunting "Born in the U.S.A." Blitzen Trapper has fun on "Working on the Highway." And a band I didn't know about before I got this album, the Quaker City Night Hawks, provides a fabulous cover of "Darlington County."

Favorite songs: Ones mentioned above plus "I'm Going Down" by Trampled by Turtles" and "I'm on Fire" by Low. 

8. Nickel Creek, A Dotted Line

The band got back together and put out A Dotted Line this year. As for Thile's outfits, I prefer the Punch Brothers over Nickel Creek. If you like their work from the early aughts, you'll enjoy this one. It's a return to form although "Hayloft" seems a bit experimental. 

Favorite songs: "Elephant in the Corn," "21st of May," "Elsie," "Hayloft," and "Destination" 

9. John Mellencamp, Performs Trouble Now More at Town Hall

If you like Trouble No More, and I really do, then you'll really like the live album of the songs performed in 2003. There are also revised versions of "Paper in Fire," "Teardrops Will Fall," "Small Town," and "Pink Houses." 

Favorite songs: "Stones in My Passway," "Paper in Fire," "To Washington," and "Down in the Bottom"

10. Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes

Since Mellencamp came in at 9, I might as well follow it up for another aged rock star. Apparently, the skinny on this album is they recorded a bunch of songs that he and the E Street Band usually play live. It has a live vibe that makes me disappointed that I've never seen Springsteen in concert. Tom Morello was part of the recording of this album and he also was part of the tour. So the album presents a significant revision of "The Ghost of Tom Joad" since Rage Against the Machine revised it. 

Favorite songs: "High Hopes," "American Skin (41 Shots)," "Just Like Fire Would," "Hunter of Invisible Game," "The Ghost of Tom Joad" 

11. John Fullbright, Songs

Fullbright's debut album, From the Ground Up, is so outstanding that it was going to be difficult to live up to those lofty expectations. Songs is a slower moving affair than the first album, with only a few songs with drums on them. I prefer his more uptempo tunes. However, there are solid, introspective tracks on this album. 

Favorite songs: "When You're Here," "Never Cry Again," "Going Home," and "The One That Lives Too Far"

12. The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring

I was between either putting up this album or the band's other one, Inevitable Western, that came out this year. One of the best jazz trios out there takes on Stravinsky's famous work, an opus that people consider to one of the most influential pieces of music in the 20th century. The Bad Plus is considered to be experimental by some jazz purists, so it makes sense they reinterpreted this classic work that was seen as experimental in its day. Well done.

Favorite parts: "The Augurs of Spring," "First Part: Adoration of the Earth: Spring Rounds," and "Second Part: The Sacrifice: Sacrificial Dance" 

13. St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Half the City

If you're looking for some good old fashioned soul music, you need to get this album. These fellows from Birmingham (AL) do it right. The lead singer's voice reminds me of Otis Redding, and Redding is easily my favorite R&B/soul singer. Fun arrangements and soul butter slappin' you upside the head. 

Favorite songs: "It's Midnight," "Half the City," "Like a Mighty River," and "Call Me"  

14. Justin Townes Earle, Single Mothers

For me, because Harlem River Blues is such a strong album, it's difficult for subsequent JTE albums to impress me. I like this one better than the last, and I look forward to the follow up to Single Mothers, which is titled Absent Fathers. This album is standard JTE and worthy of the top twenty of 2014. 

Favorite songs: "Time Shows Fools," "Wanna Be a Stranger," "My Baby Drives," and "Single Mothers"

15. Keb' Mo', Bluesamericana

I hadn't bought a Keb Mo album in a good while. This year's album got good reviews, so I picked it up. Though it's a bit too polished for my taste at times, he offers a strong set of songs on this album. If you're hankering for some blues, this was a good option this year. On some songs, such as "Old Me Better," there are ragtime influences. 

Favorite songs: "Old Me Better," "The Worst Is Yet to Come," "Do It Right," and "Move"

16. The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down

Their debut album was widely lauded by critics. I think their sophomore album is even stronger. In contrast to the old timey feel of the first album, these songs sound more original and a bit more dark. Nice work, ladies.

Favorite songs: "Black and Blue," "Rattle My Bones," "Let There Be Lonely," and "I Cannot Find a Way"

17. Trampled by Turtles, Wild Animals

The bluegrass dudes from Duluth scored another fine album this year. In comparison to other releases, Wild Animals is, in general, a slower paced affair. But it's good. 

Favorite songs: "Western World," "Are You Behind the Shining Star?," "Repetition," and "Winners"

18. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

I don't have Simpson's first album, but this album is a definite breath of fresh air for country music. It contrasts, thankfully, to the bro-country offerings of schmucks like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, et al. This is country music that's old school, and that's a very good thing. 

Favorite songs: "Life of Sin," "Turtles All the Way Down," "It Ain't All Flowers," and "Living the Dream"

19. Counting Crows, Somewhere Under Wonderland

Yes, these guys are still around. I hadn't bought one of the band's albums since Hard Candy (2002). I doubt any of these songs were big hits on the charts like how the band captured the music industry's attention with August and Everything After, but if you yearn for good poppy rock music, this album is worth your time. 

Favorite songs: "John Appleseed's Lament," "Scarecrow," "Dislocation," and "Palisades Park"

20. The Barr Brothers, Sleeping Operator

If you missed their first album, you should start with that one. Sleeping Operator is a good second offering, but I think I could sum up this album in one word: atmospheric. It's a good listen if you're in the mood for that kind of music. 

Favorite songs: "Valhallas," "Even the Darkness Has Arms," "Wolves," and "Static Orphans"

Honorable Mentions

The Bad Plus, Inevitable Western

Delta Spirit, Into the Wild

The Afghan Wigs, Do To the Beast

Rod Picott, Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail

Shovels and Rope, Swimmin' Time

Friday, December 19, 2014

Random Notes from a Crank

Since the US normalized relations with Cuba this week, I'm contemplating going back to smoking cigars, so I can get my hands on some Cuban stogies. Regardless, The American Conservative has a detailed article about the President's smart decision: "Obama's Cuba Opportunity." 

If you like visuals, check out "100 Diagrams That Changed the World" via Brain Pickings.

How can anyone deny the wondrousness that was/is Ginger Spice/Geri Halliwell? You know you can't. 

Bowl games start tomorrow. Thank the Gods. 

Music Friday: "We Looked Like Giants"

I'm in a Death Cab for Cutie kind of mood. So here's a good video of a live version of "We Looked Like Giants" with Gibbard explaining his motivation for writing the lyrics about halfway through the song.  

"God bless the daylight, the sugary smell of springtime, 
remembering when you were mine
in a still suburban town. 

When every Thursday I'd brave those mountain passes,
and you'd skip your early classes,
and we'd learn how our bodies worked.

God damn the black night with all its foul temptation.
I became what I always hated
when I was with you then."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Random Notes from a Crank

After the Cubs acquired Jon Lester shortly after my last post, Bovada moved the Cubs' odds of winning the World Series to 12-to-1. To me and probably others, moving from 50-to-1 odds to 12-to-1 seems like the folks at Bovada are drunk on Cubs-brand Kool-Aid. "The Chicago Cubs Still Have a Lot of Work to Do" takes a more realistic approach about what went down at the MLB Owners' Meeting this week. And Rob Neyer has a realistic evaluation of where the Cubs with "Even with Lester, Cubs Won't Contend in '15." 

If Ross gets signed, Castillo will get moved for sure. From what I saw of Baez last season, I was impressed with the power and frustrated with the lack of plate discipline, strikeouts, and batting average. The first of that series caused the other two. Whatever happened to hitters shortening their strokes when they have two strikes? Just make some solid contact without jumping out of your shoes. 

As I've noted before, I'm fond of Existential Comics, and this week's strip takes on the absurdity of Candyland. The main characters are Camus and Sartre. As Camus opines, "The contrast between the meaningless, fixed nature of the game and the narratives we tell ourselves as we are playing causes the feeling of the absurd." Exactly.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Music Friday: "Every Mission," "Academy of Lunkers," and "Relative Unto the Aces"

One of my favorite albums that came out this year is Centro-matic's Take Pride in Your Long Odds. It's likely to be placed somewhere in the top five in my top twenty albums of 2014 post later this month. 

Today I offer a trio of song from the album: "Every Mission," "Academy of Lunkers," and "Relative Unto the Aces." 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Random Notes from a Crank

I picked up the well received Sex Criminals the other day. It's an interesting, freaky story so far. The problem is this: Where do you store a R-rated comic book volume (vol. 1 collects issues 1-5) when you have kids? I just can't put it in the stack of comic volumes I have downstairs, which include various old and new versions of Daredevil, Fraction's Hawkeye, Gaiman's The Sandman, Fraction's The Immortal Iron Fist, Neurocomic, and Wood's Star Wars series. I found a hiding spot for the volume though, so it's all good. For a sound review of the series, check out Laura Hudson's "The Man Behind the Comic Book That Finally Got Sex Right" on WIRED

And now I'm thinking of checking out The Wicked + The Divine. 12 mythological gods come back every 90 years to inhabit the bodies of humans and then die in 2 years? I might be in. 

The Heisman ceremony is this Saturday. I hope Cooper wins and ends the tyranny of QBs winning the award, but I'm sure Mariota will take home the trophy. 

In the Monday Night Football game, here are the stats from Julio Jones's night: 11 receptions for 259 yards. Roll Tide. 

The MLB winter meetings are being held right now, and a great deal of attention is on which team Jon Lester will sign with. Apparently it's down to the Red Sox and the Cubs. Regardless of whether they sign Lester, the Cubs made some good moves by resigning Jason Hammel and trading for Miguel Montero, a much-need left-handed bat in the lineup. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Hangover: Mizzou--SEC Championship

As much as national championships are major feats for a football team, winning the SEC Championship is almost as sweet. Up until last year, the SEC champion was likely to become the national champion. 

Let's hope that trend reestablishes itself after last night's game. 

The majority of Mizzou's offense was created by Mauk scrambling out of the pocket and heaving it way downfield to that damn 88, Jimmie Hunt. Unlike the Iron Bowl, the nickel and dime backs played the goat on those plays, not Eddie Jackson, who got the start at corner. 

Looking at the stat sheet, you know your team played well defensively for the most part when the leading tackler was a defensive lineman. A'Shawn Robinson had nine tackles, three of which were tackles for loss. 

Blake Sims had an outstanding game. If I remember right, he went six for six on third-down conversions when passing. Overall, he went 23 for 27 for 262 yards and threw two touchdowns. That long touchdown to DeAndrew White a beautiful pass. As usual, Cooper was out there doing Amari-Cooper things with a SEC championship record 12 receptions.

Derrick Henry was another star of the offense with 20 carries for 141 net yards and two touchdowns. Once that guy gets in open space and starts picking up some serious steam, I would hate to be a defensive back trying to tackle him. He's a beast. 

Yesterday Alabama won its 24th SEC championship. Roll Tide.

Alabama will face the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl on January 1. The Big 10 champion is a hot team. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Music Friday: "Swimmin' Time"

The wife-husband duo Shovels & Rope has a new album out this year. I've listened to it a few times and am enjoying it. 

Here's the title track from the album. 

And here are a couple of stanzas from the song:

And you can't help but wonder
how long it will be
before the restless ocean
comes lapping to
the branches of the trees

The money in your eyes
has left you blind.
You'll be the one drowning
when it's swimmin' time

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Random Notes from a Crank

Maybe it's just me, but often when I sit and watch my son do taekwondo, I want to yell out, "Sweep the leg." 

The other week I got a new book: Zen Pencils. If you like comics and inspirational quotations, you should check it out. 

I think we all should try to dance like the kids in A Charlie Brown Christmas

Of all of the fictional characters out there, Snoopy has to be in the top twenty. 

As college newspaper editorials go, this is one I enjoyed reading even though Inhofe and a like-minded cohort of idiots make me angry and frustrated: "It's Time We Call the Science Deniers What They Are."