R.I.P. Chuck Berry

Music has lost some true legends over the past year and a half. Yesterday Chuck Berry passed away and his loss is seemingly incalcuable. The tributes have already come pouring in from all over and his influence is impossible to comprehend I believe. There will always be a debate who started Rock & Roll but to me Chuck Berry was the truest pioneer. More than Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis no one played guitar like that before him and his songwriting was so precise, it encapsulated the very essence of Rock & Roll. All of the platitudes of the genre can be traced back to year zero and Chuck Berry songs.

I’ll leave an excerpt here of a quote from Bob Dylan from a RollingStone interview back in 2009 regarding Chuck Berry. He says it better than I ever could:

“Chuck said to me, ‘By God, I hope you live to be 100, and I hope I live forever,'” Dylan says with a laugh. “He said that to me a couple of years ago. In my universe, Chuck is irreplaceable. All that brilliance is still there, and he’s still a force of nature. As long as Chuck Berry’s around, everything’s as it should be. This is a man who has been through it all. The world treated him so nasty. But in the end, it was the world that got beat.”

 

R.I.P. Chuck Berry

 

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2016

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2016:

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50. Glenn Hughes- Resonate

Although it may serve as a placeholder for the impending return of Black Country Communion in 2017 Glenn Hughes’ solo effort Resonate is uncompromising in its cocksure classic rock approach.  It’s a collection of sturdy always reliable songs from Hughes and his continuously stunning vocals that belie his age.

 

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49. Pinegrove- Cardinal

Pinegrove’s Cardinal is one of the better debut albums of 2016. With warm rustic melodies and singer Evan Stephens Hall’s creaking tenor they recall elements of The Shins albeit with a more rural roots sound to them. Looking to the future perhaps the best part of Cardinal is the subtle restraint that shows bigger and better things could be coming from Pinegrove.

 

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48. Neil Young- Peace Trail

One thing you can’t accuse Neil Young of is resting on past accolades and glories. Peace Trail is his ninth (!) studio album of original material in the past 12 years and that doesn’t even include the myriad of live sets, covers albums, and archived releases. These albums have been wildly uneven in quality and while Peace Trail has its diamonds in the rough (The title track, “Indian Givers,” “Terrorist Suicide Hang Gliders”) perhaps Neil would be better served to take 2017 off (Maybe 2018 too) to recharge the batteries. That and getting back together with Crazy Horse.

 

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47. St. Paul & The Broken Bones- Sea Of Noise

St. Paul & The Broken Bones have grabbed the baton for the neo-soul scene with Sea Of Noise. It’s a passionately retro spiritual shakedown sounding like a heated southern tent revival with a democratic tilt. Sea Of Noise finds a way to be sultry and socially poignant at the same time.

 

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46. Jeff The Brotherhood- Zone

Jeff The Brotherhood achieved a significant breakthrough in 2015 with the superb Wasted On The Dream. An album palpable enough to enjoy even without using the enhanced assistance of herbal supplements (Although everyone probably still did). They retreat to their roots a bit with Zone, shrouded in narcotic clouds and dripping with murky bong water. While its admirable that they are more interested in identity than fame it may do them some good in finding a balance between fidelity and hazy experimentation.

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45. Angel Olsen- My Woman

Angel Olsen continues the linear career arc of bolstering her sound on My Woman. After the organic augmentation of 2014’s critically lauded Burn Your Fire For No Witness Olsen pushes the boundaries even further here with several arrangements consisting of electric guitar and a full band. Olsen still retains her razor-sharp songwriting wit while sounding perfectly at home in the realm of indie-pop.

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44. Pete Yorn- Arranging Time

After a six-year hiatus Pete Yorn returns with Arranging Time. While its ethos is bathed in the melancholia of Yorn’s lyrics it’s the opulent production that leaves the most resounding impression. Yorn seems like he’s coming out of the wilderness, rejuvenated to recapture some of his turn of the century stardust and making up for lost time.

 

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43. The Wild Feathers- Lonely Is A Lifetime

After The Wild Feathers 2013’s noteworthy self-titled debut it sounded like they were bound to be part in a southern rock revival. With Lonely Is A Lifetime however one look no further than the album cover itself as the template for their evolving sound. Although they still empower guitar-driven rock they trade in the grittiness for wide-eyed wonder aiming for the heavens.

 

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42. The Jayhawks- Paging Mr. Proust

The Jayhawks have been an institution on the alternative country scene in a career that has now spanned over three decades and founding member Gary Louris leads the band back to the promised land in Paging Mr. Proust, their best outing since 2003’s Rainy Day Music. Proust has all of the classic hallmarks of The Jayhawks: Jangling guitars, saccharin harmonies, and Louris’ unmistakable world-weary warble. Louris and company still sound energized 31 years and counting.

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41. Rival Sons- Hollow Bones

Rival Sons are unapologetic classic rock throwbacks hearkening back to a time when bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath roamed the earth in their heyday. Great Western Valkyrie saw them achieve a Valhalla apex and they build off of that momentum with Hollow Bones. The slow-burning intensity of cuts like “Fade Out” display Scott Holiday and Jay Buchanan’s Page/Plant –like alchemy that sounds most importantly authentic and not like imitation.

 

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40. The Lumineers- Cleopatra

While it’s not a sophomore slump by any means The Lumineers’ Cleopatra feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Their excellent 2012 self-titled debut seemed like America’s answer to Mumford & Sons. While the irresistible indie-pop/folk-rock hooks are here for the first half of Cleopatra (“Sleep On The Floor,” “Ophelia,” “Cleopatra,” “Gun Song,” “Angela”) they seem to let their foot off the gas for the back half. This more than anything is a learning curve for a band that shows they possess the songwriting chops to create something great again.

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39. The Felice Brothers- Life In The Dark

After their rather pedestrian effort of Favorite Waitress The Felice Brothers return to form with Life In The Dark. The band’s organic sound recalls ‘70s-era Bob Dylan; not only because of Ian Felice’s uncanny nasally croon that mimics Dylan but the band itself has a ramshackle quality to it. The spaghetti western murder ballad “Diamond Bell” sounds like something that could’ve easily been on Dylan’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack or even his masterpiece Desire.

 

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38. Pixies- Head Carrier

After the uneven Indie Cindy legendary indie-rock group Pixies restore the faith with Head Carrier. Although it’s not as lofty as their late ’80s career peak it does have the vibe of a band dusting off the cobwebs and sharpening their focus. “Classic Masher,” “Talent,” “Bel Esprit,” and “All I Think About Now” show that Black Francis’ crew still have the prowess to create memorable hooks.

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37. Jake Bugg- On My One

Jake Bugg had praise heaped on him after his first two albums, anointed as “The chosen one” and rock’s next great lyricist/poet. Then some of the air was let out of his balloon when it was discovered he used co-writers on most of his songs. A determined Bugg shows he doesn’t want any crutches on the aptly titled On My One where he takes the songwriting and producing (Mostly) reigns by himself. Results however vary as Bugg shows glimpses of solo promise in “Put Out The Fire” and “Bitter Salt” while there are moments where he could’ve used guidance in restraint. We did not need to hear the clunker “rap” song “Ain’t No Rhyme.”

 

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36. The Head And The Heart- Signs Of Light

The Head And The Heart have continually grown and shifted their sounds gradually in their early career. With Signs Of Light they aim big and trade in their more acoustic Americana moments for a sun-kissed radio-friendly sound. Their strength has always been in their harmonies and with Signs Of Light they go all in for the sing-a-longs.

 

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35. Andrew Leahey & The Homestead- Skyline In Central Time

After a brain tumor nearly derailed his entire career (And life) Andrew Leahey may be the best comeback story of 2016. The health scare seems to have sharpened and invigorated Leahey’s music as he pulls from the best sentimentality of Jackson Browne and dusty songwriting akin to that of Tom Petty’s rural side. Skyline In Central Time is the sound of life-affirmation, after conquering a hurdle like a brain tumor the sky(line) is the limit for Leahey.

 

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34. Public Access TV- Never Enough

After a lengthy build-up of hype Public Access TV’s official debut Never Enough does not disappoint. Their sharp guitars and spiraling hints of danger recall their New York City brethren The Strokes, albeit on a more jovial level. It’s hard telling what the agenda is for The Strokes, but Public Access TV sound like they’re more than ready to pick up the torch for NYC guitar rock.

 

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33. The Bones Of J.R. Jones- Spirit’s Furnace

Johnathon Linaberry (aka The Bones Of J.R. Jones) has become a force to be reckoned with on Spirit’s Furnace. The bluesy soul of the multi-instrumentalist is brisk just barely eclipsing the 30-minute mark but that stoutness is actually a strength for Linaberry as he whittles things down to the essentials like a fine craftsman. One moment he’s sounding like The Black Keys caught in a chain gang (“The Heat,” “Hammers and Nails”) the next he’s creating beautiful lilting tearjerkers in the vein of Iron & Wine (“Wedding Song,” “I’m Your Broken Dog”).

 

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32. Wolfmother- Victorious

While Wolfmother seems to have continuous roster changing two things remain the same: 1.) Chairman of the Wolfmother board Andrew Stockdale remains its most paramount member 2.) They will always churn out a riff-fueled unadulterated slab of primal rock. With Victorious it feels like Stockdale has earned tenure in Valhalla.

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31. Okkervil River- Away

Okkervil River’s mastermind Will Sheff continues with his elaborate narratives on Away. Sheff takes us to the deep end with a somber yet ardent collection of mostly ballads. Six of the nine songs wind and weave for over six minutes to give the listener proper digestion time, even occasionally unfolding to reveal layers as serene as the album cover.

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30. Local Natives- Sunlit Youth

After stumbling a bit on their sophomore effort Hummingbird Local Natives return with their third album Sunlit Youth and also re-calibrate their vision closer to their outstanding debut of Gorilla Manor. Disarming harmonies and delectable shifting dance floor rhythms and melodies populate Sunlit Youth and remind us all why we fell in love with Local Natives in the first place.

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29. Ryley Walker- Golden Sings That Have Been Sung

Ryley Walker is a pub poet that can find enlightenment in some of the most mundane situations and occurrences. On Golden Sings That Have Been Sung Walker’s precision finger-picking bathe his meditations on blurred nights and hazy mornings. Its centerpiece is “The Roundabout,” a hymn for all of our favorite rundown watering holes on the outskirts of downtown. A place where the older, grayer, balder crowd can share a cigarette, self-diagnose health issues, and reminisce about the golden years while ripping on the youth.

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28. Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

There’s a new group of Highwaymen on the country scene. Outcasts making outlaw country that goes against the grain of the plop/bro country sewage that’s being churned out. Names like Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle, Ryan Bingham, Robert Ellis, and perhaps their champion in Sturgill Simpson. With A Sailor’s Guide To Earth Simpson eclipses new peaks adding his rich timbre to scenic storytelling and swells of Motown brass provide a swagger to make Nashville undulate. To say this is strictly a country album may be a disservice considering its inclusion of so many genres.

 

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27. The Shelters- The Shelters

The Shelters no doubt got a great jump-start to their careers thanks to a famous fan you may know by the name of Tom Petty. But hype and connections only get you so far. With their self-titled debut (Also produced by Petty) The Shelters sound like seasoned veterans effortlessly creating ‘60s pop and garage rock nuggets with a modern sheen.

 

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26. Dinosaur Jr.- Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not

Dinosaur Jr. continue their distinguished latter-day run with Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not. The grunge rock pioneers play to their strengths of tunes that veer between driving grit and sludgy distortion without ever feeling too calculated. J Mascis leads the charge with unorthodox vocals and his tasteful yet blistering solos.

 

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25. Frightened Rabbit- Painting Of A Panic Attack

Frightened Rabbit are probably not the band you turn to for a Friday or Saturday out. Painting Of A Panic Attack continues their holding pattern of bleak despondency contrasted by elegant production. There is beauty to be found in the darkness here, none better than album closer “Die Like A Rich Boy.”

 

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24. Shovels & Rope- Little Seeds

Shovels & Rope married couple Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst have found a way to continue their winning streak with Little Seeds. Their ability to integrate forms of Americana, folk, and rock into single songs and the natural chemistry found in their infectious harmonies place them in a territory with few peers. Whether it’s taking a song called “Botched Execution” and making it sound like a Top 40 pop gem or tackling the racial uneasiness in America with “BWYR” nothing is off limits for this dynamic duo.

 

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23. Conor Oberst- Ruminations

Conor Oberst’s Ruminations is the sound of isolation and introspection synthesized down to the basics with just acoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica. It’s no surprise that this was recorded while he was holed up during an Omaha winter as most of the subject matter is sparse and bleak but Oberst’s nearly peerless songwriting is triumphantly pushed to the forefront.

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22. Cheap Trick- Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello

Let’s get the one negative thing out of the way right now about Cheap Trick’s latest album: Yes, the name is terrible. But you would be wrong to dismiss it simply on the title because Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello is Cheap Trick’s best album in a decade. The godfathers of power pop pull off songs as only they can with heavy riffs, delicious guitar solos, and catchy sweeping hooks that sound like a match made in heaven (tonight).

 

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21. Wilco- Schmilco

Wilco’s 10th studio album, the tongue-in-cheek nod to Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson finds Wilco at their most comfortable. Like, slippers by a fireplace dad-rock comfortable, at least musically. Although it’s their least engaging and boldly adventurous album since their debut AM, Schmilco is less concerned with preconceived expectations than just creating an enjoyable thoroughfare.

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20. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds- Skeleton Tree

Only Nick Cave can take the darkness of the worst situations, like tragically losing a child and turning it into something enduring and a testament to the human condition. Out of that despair with The Bad Seeds he concocts Skeleton Tree, a frosted landscape of icy synths and Cave’s rueful baritone blanketing the horizons like a billowing cumulonimbus. Though some losses are irreplaceable Cave is able to escape into his art and is gracious enough to at least let us peer into the window of his complex mind.

 

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19. Dawes- We’re All Gonna Die

Dawes have built a career of honest and earnest music and their “Good guy” reputations. So they naturally decide to throw a bit of a curveball with an album titled We’re All Gonna Die with an ominous tornado in the distance. The curveball however is not in theme as this may be their most vibrant album yet but rather expanding their palates beyond some of their Americana banalities. They incorporate drum machines, orchestral flourishes, fuzzed-out guitars, and back-up female singers cordially into their blueprint suggesting to never underestimate what they are capable of.

 

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18. Parker Millsap- The Very Last Day

Parker Millsap is a fresh-faced singer/songwriter from Oklahoma with songwriting chops and wit that defy his youth. His latest album The Very Last Day finds Millsap operating on a new level hitting on all forms of early American music whether it be blues, rockabilly, folk, or gospel. Visions of the apocalypse never sounded so sublime.

 

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17. Drive-By Truckers- American Band

In terms of civil unrest and social divides no one had their finger on the pulse of America more firmly or astutely than the Drive-By Truckers.  American Band is one of their best albums yet but personal achievements take a backseat to the ultimate message the band is trying to convey. Specifically poignant topical and political songs find a balance between their standard rowdy southern rockers and the meditative slow-burners contemplating the darker labyrinths of American culture and conscience.

 

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16. Mudcrutch- 2

With his main act with The Heartbreakers on hiatus from recording Tom Petty choose to revive his side project and original band he broke into the business with Mudcrutch. It’s no surprise that on the aptly titled 2 that most of the strongest songs are Petty’s (“Trailer,” “Dreams Of Flying,” “Beautiful Blue,” “Save You Water,” “Hungry No More”) but there are also surprisingly vibrant contributions from the unassuming duo of guitarist Tom Leadon (“The Other Side Of The Mountain”) and drummer Randall Marsh (“Beautiful World”) that suggest Petty is more than willing to share the load creatively with Mudcrutch while maintaining his ringleader status with The Heartbreakers.

 

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15. Joe Bonamassa- Blues Of Desperation

Joe Bonamassa is a blues purist at heart and it’s a genre he’s willing to fight for and maintain at all costs. Blues Of Desperation is an expansive piece of work the best electrified blues album to come around in years with top-shelf production, cranked up amplifiers, and the symbiosis between Bonamassa and his guitar at times achieves levels of blistering transcendence. The deluxe monster “No Good Place For The Lonely” with its nearly three-minute scalding outro solo channels the ghosts of some of his fore-bearers from his mentor B.B. King to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

 

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14. Band Of Horses- Why Are You OK

Band Of Horses have been carving out an alcove of music for themselves that’s so celestial and sparkling it may as well be called champagne rock. Their latest output Why Are You OK continues along that seraphic trajectory with big sky ballads and chiming dreamscapes all swathed in front-man Ben Bridwell’s tender creaking croon. As long as Band Of Horses continue to release albums so elemental and astral they can do no wrong.

 

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13. Butch Walker- Stay Gold

Butch Walker had the surprise hit of the summer with Stay Gold in 2016 as it plays like a lost southern-fried Bruce Springsteen album from the Bible Belt. “Irish Exit” is like a distant cousin to Springsteen’s “Glory Days” while other standouts like “East Coast Girl,” “Wilder In The Heart,” “Ludlow Expectations,” and “Record Store” intersect with The Boss and the grungy yet well-intentioned heart-on-sleeve of The Gaslight Anthem. Though its creator hails from Georgia Stay Gold with its blue-collared narratives is a heartland rock knockout.

 

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12. Brian Fallon- Painkillers

While The Gaslight Anthem lay low for a while front-man Brian Fallon decided to occupy the time with his debut solo album Painkillers. While there are still the undeniable piston-firing Gaslight Anthem archetypes (“A Wonderful Life,” “Rosemary”) it’s his forays into alt-country and cinematic storytelling that shine brightest. If the curtain ever does close on The Gaslight Anthem for good Fallon shows that he’ll always have a 2nd act life in a solo career.

 

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11. Kyle Craft- Dolls Of Highland

Kyle Craft’s Dolls Of Highland is the best proper debut album of 2016. Craft finds a singing style somewhere near the compartmentalization of feelings from Ryan Adams with some of the wild thin mercury imagery of Bob Dylan. Seemingly conjured from the bayous of his native Louisiana it’s like a glam rock version of Blonde On Blonde drunk on bourbon and full of gumbo Dolls Of Highland sounds like it’s out of step with other contemporary albums and that’s part of what makes it so alluring.

 

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10. Iggy Pop- Post Pop Depression

Iggy Pop and David Bowie have been linked together since the early ‘70s both as creative pioneers and friends. And in an incredibly cosmic way both of their recording careers seemingly came to a close in 2016. Bowie tragically passed away and Pop stated, “I feel like I’m closing up after this. That’s what I feel.  It’s my gut instinct.” While Bowie opts to go to back into the nebulas of outer space for his final journey Pop instead decides on a sabbatical into the desert with fellow waste-lander and Queens Of The Stone Age front-man Josh Homme to find his spirit animal. Post Pop Depression is as dilapidated as it is sensual and provocative. Iggy’s disheveled baritone snarls while Homme’s backing vocals add a ghostly augmentation over guitars sharp and biting. The centerpieces are “Sunday” with its vamping strut before giving way unexpectedly to sweeping strings and the finale of “Paraguay” with a rant/meltdown from Pop for the ages (“You take your motherfucking laptop/ And just shove it into your goddamn foul mouth/ And down your shit heel gizzard/ You fucking phony two faced three timing piece of turd”). There have been a lot of great albums made out at the famous Rancho De La Luna studio and now Post Pop Depression is added to that list. If this is Pop bowing out then bravo but it still sounds like he has plenty left in the tank.

 

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9. Green Day- Revolution Radio

When Green Day dropped their landmark album American Idiot in 2004 they afforded themselves a career renaissance that few bands get to enjoy. The band enjoyed a popular resurgence until they crumbled under their own bombast and ambition in 2012 when they literally and figuratively exhausted themselves. Not only did they release three (!) albums that year (¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!) but front-man Billie Joe Armstrong had a very public onstage meltdown at a music festival and later checked into rehab for abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol. Four years later they return with Revolution Radio and their attempt at regaining their prominent relevancy. Though it’s not really a comeback album it is a return to form pulling from all of the strongest points of their career. Combinations of the politically-charged tension from American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown with the youthful rough ‘n’ tumble angst of Dookie and Insomniac. They tackle America’s problematic infatuation with guns and sensationalizing mass shootings with the relentless thrasher “Bang Bang” while the militant timpani-style romp of “Say Goodbye” is a kiss-off for an increasingly violent society. They balance out the harsher moments with songs like “Youngblood” a snotty but affectionate ode to Armstrong’s wife and the sparse acoustic closer “Ordinary World” is as close as Green Day has ever come to a lullaby. Green Day prove they can still be a galvanizing force and like American Idiot with the Bush administration we will definitely need more albums like Revolution Radio for the Trump administration.

 

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8. David Bowie- ★

Davie Bowie’s ★ may not top this list but it may end up having the longest lasting prestige due to the circumstances surrounding it. Bowie had been concealing his battle with liver cancer for 18 months from the public and two days after his 69th birthday and the release of ★ Bowie tragically passed away. As if an exercise in spectral macabre theater ★ seems to serve as an epitaph of sorts by Bowie to himself. It stands as an astounding achievement for Bowie and one of his best albums in decades, brooding with intergalactic noir and frigid alien soundscapes. Bowie experiments with off-kilter forms of jazz, electronica, and avant-garde rock. The title track itself is a monumental testament, a nearly 10-minute monolithic spiritual obelisk. It’s almost an album within itself rife with tempo changes, fluctuating vocal stylings, and shifting timbre. “Lazarus” is easily the most haunting song sounding as if Bowie wrote it like a shaman forecasting his demise would intersect with the album’s release (“Look up here, I’m in heaven/ I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/ I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/ Everybody knows me now.”). There is a euphonious comfort in the velvet orbit melancholy of “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” that suggest Bowie is finally at peace in the ether. Released deep in the doldrums of winter pontificating on mortality ★ is a morbidly perfect match with Bowie’s untimely death.

 

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7. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool

It is not hyperbole to say that A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead’s best album since Kid A. Although they’ve had some great releases since 2000 this still beats them, it was definitely easy to surpass its immediate predecessor 2011’s The King Of Limbs which was abysmally bad. Luckily A Moon Shaped Pool is in a completely different stratosphere and Radiohead get back to what they do best. While there are still electronic pulses and android hisses percolating throughout the album this is perhaps the most organic and instantly accessible the band has sounded since OK Computer. The real experimentation comes in the form of orchestral arrangements informed by guitarist Jonny Greenwood and his exceptional and jarring scores of multiple Paul Thomas Anderson films. The impact is immediate with opener “Burn The Witch” and its agitated, frantic strings in a col legno battuto style set the backdrop sounding like a paranoid air raid befitting of its lyrics which are a scathing indictment of religious sects and condemnation of authoritarian figures and parties. “Daydreaming” has a sterile metallic drone that pluviophiles could warm up to as “Decks Dark” huddles in the closet from an extraterrestrial invasion. There are divergent paths to placidity (“Desert Island Disk,” “Glass Eyes”) to turbulent palpitations (“Ful Stop,” “Identikit”) and the sweeping “The Numbers” tackling a topic as weighty as global warming. “True Love Waits” is a gorgeously portentous closer more than 20 years in the making. Though it has been performed and arranged differently in live incarnations throughout the years it finally gets studio treatment as a sparse piano ballad accompanied by Thom Yorke’s lonesome and longing lament attempting to salvage a disintegrating relationship. Radiohead continue pushing boundaries while being lauded critically for over two decades now, something that is nearly impossible to do.

 

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6. Kings Of Leon- WALLS

Kings Of Leon have had a lot heaped on their plate in their nearly 15-year career. They will perhaps always have a fan base divided that will choose to create a fault line between Because Of The Times and Only By The Night. Some of the older stalwarts siding with Because Of The Times and everything that came before while newer fans may side with their commercial breakout Only By The Night and everything that proceeded it. There’s even a third contingent that recognizes them for what they really are: A consistently great band that has given the middle finger to expectations and pretensions. With their seventh album WALLS (An acronym for We Are Like Love Songs) the attack is still set to maximum impact for the biggest stages but it has less bloat then some of their previous efforts. There’s a lean yet muscular sound, cut to kill. Some of the credit goes to new producer Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons) for taking core elements from Kings Of Leon’s previous six albums and incorporating them into the double helix of WALLS. Look no further than opener and first single “Waste A Moment” complete with meteor shower guitars, Caleb Followill’s longing howl (Only his drawl could sound as good on a line like, “All the way from Waco to WE-HO with a rabbit on her chain”), and cavernous WHOA-OH’s. “Reverend,” “Find Me,” “Over,” and “Eyes On You” all have high drama aura as guitars glide, collide, and jangle about with cinematic expanse. More than anything there is room to breathe sonically you can hear all of the distinct parts from all four members of the Followill clan working in familial synergy. The nocturnal dulcet ballads (“Muchacho,” “Conversation Piece,” and the title track) showcase a growing plaintive maturity that they may not have even dared in their early 20’s. At one point they were christened as the “Southern Strokes” but Kings Of Leon were never content with solely being scruffy swashbuckling rockers. The hard-charging snarling angst will always be there in some form but they’ve allowed the vulnerability that naturally comes with aging to alloy with that testosterone. They’re not interested in burning out or fading away.

 

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5. Leonard Cohen- You Want It Darker

The year 2016 began with the devastating death of David Bowie and ended with the catastrophic loss of Leonard Cohen. Like Bowie, Cohen seemed to have an empyrean sense of his mortality and where its finite conclusion would be drawn. Cohen doesn’t pull any punches here and there’s no easing into it, You Want It Darker delivers on all of its intentions. Due to his ailments Cohen was confined to recording the album in his home with the assistance of his son Adam. Although Cohen’s antiquated baritone has corroded over the years it still carries a distinguished resonance that few others can match. There are orchestral accents but the overall sound is sparse in comparison to some of Cohen’s other work. The title track itself is an arraignment of the unbecoming conduct in humanity’s bleakest moments (“They’re lining up the prisoners/ The guards are taking aim/ I struggled with some demons/ They were middle-class and tame/ I didn’t know I had permission/ To murder and to maim/ You want it darker.”) that sets the tone for the rest of the journey. Pain and regret pour out in palpable poetry as Cohen carries himself like a regal Prospero with his past, present, and future suddenly tangible in his immediate periphery. There are moments in this austere affair of sincere beauty and delicacy that seem defiant, much like the man crafting it. “Traveling Light” and “Steer You Way” navigate through the mire with a perseverance and resilience that is extremely admirable for a man so restricted physically but was undeterred and completely impassioned mentally. While You Want It Darker is a stark eulogy for Cohen’s career and life it will be remembered most as a stunning landmark in his already legendary oeuvre.

 

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4. Black Pistol Fire- Don’t Wake The Riot

Rock & Roll can become quite a complex and contrarian beast in 2016, so much so that if can be difficult to define. What is considered rock music these days? The lines are blurred more than ever and show no signs of an oncoming clarity in the future. Then a band like Black Pistol Fire comes along and releases and album like Don’t Wake The Riot. It reminds us of the raw visceral power of Rock & Roll; the gristle, the sultry heat, voracity, volume, and uncompromising fortitude. Fans of The Black Keys need to absolutely get into this band and get this album immediately. As The Black Keys have moved away (Slightly) from their blues-based rock Black Pistol Fire are doing early bluesy Black Keys better than themselves. The Canadian duo by way of Austin, Texas of Kevin McKeown and Eric Owen are the engine powering this high-octane machine and they fit all of the muscle and might possible into this stout 37-minute haymaker. There are no standouts because every track is a can’t-miss fist-pumper, 11 stone-cold killers, leanly cut and ready to rumble. McKeown’s whiskey-soaked midnight-howl, savage riffs, and deep-fried licks are fueled and surge on the roadhouse back-beat of Owen’s while his cymbal and snare assault crash and batter like a torrential downpour. Only in the final moments do listeners get a bit of respite to catch their breath with closer “Blue Blazes.” A blue flame slow-burner that incites a tender comedown from the sweaty catharsis that came before as McKeown softly croons “Stumble through dark with these old heavy hearts/ Lights are fading but we’re still making sparks/ Burning tears of rage they slowly wash away with/ The rising tide if we don’t rock the boat.” A little bit of a personal editorial here and fourth-wall breaking but I was significantly disappointed in the lack of coverage by really any music publication or year-end best-of lists for Don’t Wake The Riot. It’s a back-pocket masterpiece, compact and concise but undeniably potent and it received pretty much zero fanfare. I’ve started adding a “Dark Horse” album winner to my year-end lists and this is the very definition of a dark horse, deservedly so. Black Pistol Fire is such a talented, gifted act and I wish these guys nothing but success and a lengthy career. We’d all be better off with more of their music in the future.

 

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3. Red Hot Chili Peppers- The Getaway

Over their 30+ year career the Red Hot Chili Peppers have become one of the biggest and most popular bands in the world. They’ve endured through the classic Rock & Roll pitfalls over the decades: Band member deaths, band members departing (Multiple times), addiction, and the inevitable pressure of father time. That last one may be the most pressing for the Chili Peppers who’ve built their brand off of a decidedly youthful distillation of rock, punk, hip-hop, and funk to make something uniquely authentic. They’ve certainly slowed their output in the 21st century, just four albums in 16 years and 2006’s bombastic and fully-loaded double album Stadium Arcadium felt like the culmination of something. It was to be the last with guitarist and creative enigma John Frusciante and it took five years for a follow-up, 2011’s I’m With You. Although another solid entry for their back catalog it felt slightly under-baked and uninspired. While 2016’s The Getaway isn’t quite considered a comeback it’s a reintroduction to how great RHCP can be when they’re truly reinvigorated. While all of their hallmarks are still here they’re given some modern ornamentation with producing wiz Danger Mouse at the helm. Indeed The Getaway provides some of the strongest melodies and choruses since their peak of Californication and By The Way. Songs like “Dark Necessities,” “We Turn Red,” “Feasting On The Flowers,” and “This Ticonderoga” display their ability to shift expertly and seamlessly from crunching heaviness to floating-feather nimbleness with all of the soaring sing-a-longs included. They get gritty in the garage rock tribute to the motor city in “Detroit” and sound irresistibly catchy and primed to dry-hump an android on the dancefloor in “Go Robot.” They still make love geographically to their golden state home, “The Longest Wave” sounds like it was written on the cresting swell of the Pacific Ocean and “Encore” rivals “Scar Tissue” as their best California road trip jam. Closer “Dreams Of A Samurai” lumbers along like a colossus, Flea’s bass rumbling along like massive footsteps while Anthony Kiedis spits surrealistic images in vintage RHCP form (“A peaceful storm is never hectic,” “Paint your face cause I’m a black foot,” “Taking acid in the graveyard,” “Slowly turning into driftwood”). The Chili Peppers may always be young at heart no matter their age, The Getaway is the sound of that and now the quartet may have also finally found stable footing in this incarnation.

 

Car Seat Headrest

2. Car Seat Headrest- Teens Of Denial

Although he released several albums via Bandcamp in true DIY fashion before this, Will Toledo’s (aka Car Seat Headrest) Teens Of Denial is the equivalent to becoming an instant Phenom after leap-frogging from rookie ball all the way to the major leagues. There hasn’t been a coming-of-age album this bold in scope in years it’s the most self-aware, self-deprecating, sardonic project since Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear. The immediacy of Teens Of Denial is intrinsic the sinewy electric guitar onslaught shows Toledo unrelenting and steadfast at his affection for ‘90s alt-rock bands. The breadth of Toledo’s genius is evident he makes something as daunting as a 70-minute debut opus feel intuitive. In some ways it is absolutely perverse that Toledo makes this feel like a greatest album and he’s just getting started. Great songs, the kind that withstand the test of time are able to engage its audience on a visceral level both musically and lyrically. Toledo’s hyper-literate 21st century millennial lamentations are on full display with satirical modernity, even name-dropping Wikipedia on “Vincent” (“They got a portrait by Van Gogh/ On the Wikipedia page/ For clinical depression/ Well, it helps to describe it”). The thundering “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” sounds like Pixies by way of Crazy Horse at their heaviest while “(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem)” is as witty and articulate as it is hilarious (“Last Friday I took acid and mushrooms/ I did not transcend/ I felt like a walking piece of shit/ In stupid looking jacket”).  “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is a tale of despair and debauchery and seems to be careening for the cliff until the life-affirming cloud-kissing chorus comes barreling in as Toledo yelps, “It doesn’t have to be like this/ Killer whales.” Bob Dylan drew from extremely specific contemporary events for some of his earliest subject matter and like Dylan Toledo chooses a cruise liner wreck from 2012 in “The Ballad Of The Costa Concordia” as a metaphor for life on the rocks. In a way this is his “Desolation Row” as it eclipses the 11-minute mark while it morphs from a dreary dirge to a caffeinated buzz saw and a crystalized manifesto forms in the middle section as Toledo attempts to shrug off the numerous platitudes and responsibilities of life (“How was I supposed to know how to use a tube amp?” “How was I supposed to know how to hold a job?” “How was I supposed to know how to not get drunk every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and- why not Sunday?” “How the hell was I supposed to steer this ship?”). This is an album for anyone pining and searching for something, but if you’re young enough it’s best to listen to it in the decade of your roaring ‘20s. It’s a fever dream for a decade that encapsulates both exhilarating emancipation and terrifying uncertainty of your future. The excessive alcohol-aided (And drug? Not judging) highs and self-conscious, maybe even self-imposed crushing lows. Toledo’s Teens Of Denial is a shoulder to lean on for anyone trying to bridge the gap from youth to adulthood. Life can be a drag but even in its darkest corners there are small victories that can feel divine.

 

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1. Metallica- Hardwired… To Self-Destruct

The early years of the 21st century were not kind to Metallica. The once-thought invincible metal legends were dealt a series of ruthless concussive blows that usually spell certain doom for most groups. The first major issue being their unceremonious torch-bearing war against Napster and illegal file sharing (A war that they were and still are right about) which caused a contingent of fans to ostracize their once favorite band and vilifying them for wanting money for their music (How ludicrous!). What followed was a departure from long-time bassist Jason Newsted in 2001 after clashing with James Hetfield and never quite being able to handle all of the baggage saddled on him by having to replace original bassist Cliff Burton. There was then the public and very messy near-dissolution of the remaining members documented in the film Some Kind Of Monster. This was all supposed to culminate in Metallica’s redemption and return to glory with the release of St. Anger… which landed with a resounding thud. By far Metallica’s worst album, it was horribly produced; Lars Ulrich sounded like his drums were recorded inside of a water-tower with a tinny echo and there were no guitar solos to be found anywhere as Lars and producer Bob Rock felt they were “Dated.” Oh yeah, and Bob Rock played bass on it… rotten. Though their popularity never really waned critically and personally they were at a nadir. Five years later they finally reclaimed the throne as greatest metal band ever with the modern thrash masterpiece Death Magnetic. But could they keep their momentum and creative rebirth rolling after that? Well, sort of. They had several side projects sandwiched in between but a full eight years after Death Magnetic Metallica finally return with a proper studio album and worthy successor Hardwired… To Self-Destruct.

Naturally the title could be much better (If it were simply called Hardwired it would’ve been so much less cringe-worthy) but the album’s name is where anything bad about it ends. At its core Hardwired… is a loose concept album revolving around a future fueled by the paranoia of man vs. machine. The impending inferiority of humankind against the rapidly advancing precision of technology nipping at our heels is a prevailing theme throughout. Metallica are better than anyone at crafting albums that deal with dystopian ruin both personally and worldly; the decaying blood of the land with the force of a Tsar Bomba. There is no reprieve here, Hardwired… is relentless and is at your jugular for nearly 80 minutes. There are no ballads. No “Nothing Else Matters,” no “Unforgiven,” no “Hero Of The Day” (Although all of those songs had their heavy moments too) to allow you to catch your breath. It’s a relentlessly pummeling behemoth. Opener “Hardwired” is pure thrash at just over three-minutes long with no frills snarling and snorting attitude, recalling the brash seek and destroy basics of Kill ‘Em All. “Atlas, Rise!” is an exercise in prog-metal muscle flexing that could stand with anything on …And Justice For All. Hetfield’s rasp has never sounded better as he howls lines, “How does it feel on your own?/ Bound by the world all alone/ Crushed under heavy skies/ Atlas, Rise!” Kirk Hammett’s spontaneous (Literally, he lost all of his ideas for this album when he lost an iPhone he had) and impassioned volcanic guitar bursts and lightning quick iron-melting solos prove that Lars and Bob Rock were gravelly wrong about them being dated. “Now That We’re Dead” has a stadium-size swagger reminiscent of Metallica/“The Black Album” that relies less on tempo and more on seismic brute force rumbling free tectonic plates. “Moth Into Flame” attacks with a frenzied bludgeoning riff as the subject matter tackles the more malevolent side of social media and celebrity as Hetfield pontificates, “Guarantee your name, you go and kill yourself/ The vultures feast around you still/ Overdose on shame and insecurity/ If one won’t do that fistful will” before giving way to a spiraling torrent of Hammett’s wah-wah wizardry. “Dream No More” is a hypnotic nightmare paying homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s monster Cthulhu (Again) that falls somewhere between “Until It Sleeps” and “Where The Wild Things Are.” The first act closes with the epic centerpiece “Halo On Fire,” at eight minutes it feels more like four. The hulking leviathan morphs into a galloping volitant outro worthy of Black Sabbath’s “Wheels Of Confusion/ The Straightener” or their own “Fade To Black” as Hetfield and Hammett’s guitars intertwine in blazing alchemy. “Confusion” stomps with combative indifference while “ManUNkind” showcases Rob Trujillo’s dexterous and surprisingly lithe bass playing in the intro. “Here Comes Revenge” and “Am I Savage” are predatory marauders and “Murder One” is an ode to late metal icon Lemmy Kilmister. Being the consummate showmen they are however, Metallica save the best for last with “Spit Out The Bone.” A hard-boiled hellscape surging with speed demon riffs worthy of Master Of Puppets that sees humanity pushed to the brink by their own inventions, being hunted into extinction. In this cold and callous world Hammett keeps us febrile with his conflagrating solos as Hetfield delivers his eschatological proclamation, “Long live machine/ The future supreme/ Man overthrown/ Spit out the bone.”

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is the best composite portrait of their career they’ve ever produced. They never settle in one area for too long whether it’s the blitzkrieg ascension of their ‘80s period, the global-conquering hooks of the black album, or the brawny grooves of the Load and Reload era. These are all fused with the modern aplomb of a band that now seemingly knows it’s in the middle of career revitalization. Metallica nearly completely derailed themselves at the turn of the century, now with back-to-back latter-day classics in Death Magnetic and Hardwired… To Self-Destruct the greatest metal band of all-time is once again acting like it.

2016

As the calendar year starts to wind down and reset there appears to be one overwhelming and inalienable narrative from pretty much everyone: 2016 was really horrible.

You’d be hard-pressed to make an argument otherwise. We lost too many great people to entirely list from musicians to sports luminaries, actors, actresses and so on. The ones that cut deepest with me were probably David Bowie, Prince, and especially Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s death felt like a cruel swift punch to the gut. I had been really reveling in his latter-day records over the past few years and he’s become one of my favorite artists. He released his final masterpiece You Want It Darker this year on October 21st, my wedding day. Thanks for the unintentional wedding gift Mr. Cohen.

Devastation was on a global scale with social unrest, mass shootings, and at its epicenter the American public flinched and elected (Not me) a petulant spoiled brat of a “man” in Donald Trump as their next President of the United States.

Work is still pretty horrible overall and I’ll definitely be ramping up the intensity of the job search in 2017 for a “career” and not just a “job.”

Those things make 2016 bittersweet for me and going forward I’ll choose to remember the good of this year and not the bad.

This year was one of the best years in recent memory for me as far as new music and albums go. Phenomenal personally rewarding albums were released by the likes of Metallica, Car Seat Headrest, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Pistol Fire, Kings Of Leon, Radiohead, and the aforementioned Cohen and Bowie along with many others.

I went and decided to do the most grown-up thing I’ve ever done and finally get married to Maggie. She’s one of the (very?) few people that truly makes me happy and understands me… and tolerates me! We decided to go to Ireland for our honeymoon and it was an incredible experience (Minus international flights). Plus they had a Tower Records in Dublin! How about that?

And oh yeah, last but not least… THE CHICAGO CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES! I’ll be sitting on that one till next Spring for sure. Sorry haters, you lost this time. The Cubs were the best team in baseball (Hell, all of sports!) from the start of 2016 until the end. Best record in baseball, NL Central Champions, National League Champions, World Series Champions. Checked everything off the list in 2016. The greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in my life as far as sports fandom goes. I’ll cherish that forever.

I’ll remember the good times more than the bad for sure. And now with a star pointing True North to New Year’s Eve let’s all have a room at the top of the world that night.

LEGENDS OF THE FALL: CHICAGO CUBS 2016 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS

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(Curses and history be damned: The Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series Champions. Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Now that I’ve a little more time to process what seemed to be impossible; I blinked and yes, the Chicago Cubs are still the 2016 World Series champions. For the first time in 108 years (And the first in my 20+ years of die-hard fandom) the Cubs accomplished something that many, and I’ll admit for a long while myself as well thought would never happen. It wasn’t easy of course, in true Cubs fashion it had to go the distance to a Game 7 and extra innings nearly ensuring an early installation of a pacemaker for my heart. Not to mention at one point the Cubs were teetering on the brink trailing the series 3-1 and for me personally I began to ponder my own sports fandom (again) with a sense of existential dread creeping back in. Would I ever see a favorite sports team of mine win a major world/national championship?

The only two sports teams I generally care for anymore are the Cubs and Notre Dame football. Yes Notre Dame did technically win a national title when I was four beating West Virginia but I wasn’t really cognizant of that obviously. When Notre Dame went 12-0 during the 2012 season on their way back to a national title game I didn’t know how to react during the build-up. I had never been in that situation as a sports fan, being the best team in football that year was on the line. Of course what transpired was (If I a may steal a title from a live album by the band the Drive-By Truckers) an “Alabama Ass Whuppin'” dished out by the Crimson Tide on Notre Dame as they rolled the Fighting Irish to the tune of 42-14. I began to ask myself, “Is this it? Is this as good as it gets for me as a sports fan? To see my team have a great regular season only to get stomped in a championship game?”

As Notre Dame got demolished in that national title game the Cubs were in the middle of a lengthy rebuilding process and were still at least a couple of years off from really being competitive. In the past 20 years or so though the Cubs have been no strangers to regular season success. You could’ve called them “lovable losers” I guess for not winning a World Series recently but they’ve been frequenters of the postseason since the late ’90s appearing in 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2015, and of course 2016 while coming close in 2001 and 2004 (The final week meltdown of the ’04 Cubs still leaves a sour taste in my mouth as they were poised for the NL Wild Card spot and it forever remains a big What If for what they could’ve done that postseaon) as well.

The results in the postseasons for the Cubs were heartbreaking on different levels. The devastating NLCS loss in 2003 (We really don’t have to recap that one do we?) followed by the unceremonious and extremely impotent exits in ’07 and ’08 getting swept in the NLDS twice even after winning the NL Central both of those years. Being a Cub fan a part of your composition is that of superstition and beliefs in curses so I always had a sense of pessimism and doubt (If you didn’t at least to a certain degree you’re not a real Cub fan or you’re in denial) and nothing seemed like it was going to change, like it was an exercise in futility. Things began to change though in 2015. Yes, the Cubs were also swept out of the playoffs but this time not until the NLCS. While that was unfortunate and one-sided there were building blocks of positives to be found. Up until the NLCS they had eliminated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card elimination game backed by a shutout performance by ace Jake Arrieta who had ice water running through his veins that night. The following NLDS series was far more important and seemed to be a path of destiny. If the Cubs were to ever make it to and win the World Series at some point they would have to go through their arch-rivals the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs dispatched the redbirds in four games and something started to shift it felt on a cosmic scale. The Cubs were swept next round by the New York Mets but things felt different than the ’03 NLCS. While I was disappointed to come up short again I had this sense that, “We’re going to be back in 2016 and we’re going to be even better.” I was never more confident in this team and organization than at the end of the 2015 season.

Obviously I’ll get to the 2016 postseason in a bit but let’s rewind things. The Chicago Cubs are better than any other team in baseball for the first time in 108 seasons. They accomplished something that is so rare to do in baseball now too: They were the best team in baseball the entire year from start to finish in 2016. Let’s look back at how they did it.

The Cubs dominated the NL Central from the beginning jumping out to a 25-6 record and after April/early May nobody really got anywhere close to touching them in the division. They finished with a league-best record of 103-58-1 and won the NL Central by a ridiculous 17.5 games. Baseball is by far my favorite sport and with Major League Baseball the journey is so much more epic than any other sport. Pitchers and catchers reported in February 2016 and spring training ran through March. The preparation of the season + the season itself ran from February through early November with Game 7 of the World Series. An absolutely unfathomable, magical season. There were numerous highs and yes some lows but the ultimate goal was finally realized. I thought I would use the rest of this post to riff on some of the spectacular highlights of the regular season and postseason for the Cubs:

  • February 25th- Dex Returns: Dexter Fowler was thought to be gone and reports started appearing of him signing with the Baltimore Orioles. Instead he surprised the team during a workout session and he had actually signed a one-year contract to return to the Cubs for the 2016 season. He was the catalyst to a potent Cubs offense all year and defined the term, “You go we go.”
  • April 7th- Cut down in the desert: The Cubs are dealt their biggest blow losing Kyle Schwarber for the rest of the regular season after colliding with Dexter Fowler in the outfield in Arizona tearing his ACL and LCL.
  • April 21st- Jake Arrieta paints another masterpiece: The Cubs crush the Cincinatti Reds (A recurring theme throughout the season) 16-0 and hit five home runs. The evening though belonged to Jake Arrieta throwing his 2nd career no-hitter. He claimed he was “Sloppy.” The Reds didn’t think so.
  • May 2nd- Leisure suits provide rocket fuel: The Cubs were already a league-best 17-6 at the start of May and it only got more ridiculous after that. Always one for themed road trip attire Joe Maddon mandated the team dress in leisure suits while heading out to Pittsburgh. The Cubs then rattled off eight more wins in a row running their record all the way up to 25-6 and never looked back after that. It had to be the suits!

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  • May 8th- Mother’s Day Marathon: The Cubs were going for a four-game sweep of the Washington Nationals at home and after a lengthy battle that went 13 innings Javier Baez stepped up and uncoiled with the pink Mother’s Day bat launching a ball into the left field bleachers to seal it (Feat. A little Sosa hop!). He was appropriately mobbed at home plate.
  • May- The Ben Zobrist Month: Ben Zobrist was probably the biggest free agent acquisition the Cubs brought in during the offseason after 2015 and it showed in May. Zobrist batted .406 in May with a .483 OBP and knocked in 25 runs. He’s one of the most consummate professional hitters in the game and as we found out down the road, his best heroics were still to come in 2016.
  • June 19th- Father’s Day fun with Willco’s Debut: The Cubs recent legacy of prospects turned stars continued. Following in the footsteps of guys like Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber white-hot catching sensation Willson Contreras finally made his big league debut and he did not disappoint. The first pitch Contreras saw in the Major Leagues was crushed out to right-center for a home run. It was a Sunday night game against division rival the Pittsburgh Pirates (Also another team the Cubs manhandled all year) and Wrigley Field came absolutely unglued and the future looked bright for the Cubs behind the plate with Willco (I am taking that nickname from a message board and running with it) getting a curtain call after his first at-bat.
  • June 27th- The Kris Bryant Game: He’s already proven he’s a phenom and won this year’s NL MVP but on June 27th Kris Bryant had a legendary instant classic of a game offensively. In Cincinnati Bryant had 16 total bases hitting three home runs and two doubles going 5-5 for the game with six RBIs leading the Cubs to victory. I can’t recall if the bat was definitely sent to Cooperstown or not. Either way, Bryant himself will one day be there.
  • June 28th- The Joe Maddon Game: Joe Maddon and conventional have probably never been used in the same sentence when it comes to his managerial style. One night after “The Kris Bryant Game” we had the even crazier “Joe Maddon Game.” The game went into extra innings and by the 12th all of the position players had been used up. Maddon utilized pitchers Travis Wood, Spencer Patton, and Pedro Strop to continually switch positions between pitching and playing left field. Eventually the Cubs pulled away in the 15th thanks to a Javy Baez grand slam but it will be remembered for Maddon once again out-foxing the competition and using whatever resources he had to get the job done. Albeit probably with a grin and a wink.
  • Late June/Early July- Dogs Days Of Summer: The Cubs looked nearly unstoppable for about 90% of the season but even they had a bit of a mid-season slump. It wasn’t the entire reason for it but the skid coincided with Dexter Fowler getting injured. Maddon tried to shuffle his lineup and find guys that could lead-off and ignite the team in Fowler’s absence but nothing really stuck. That coupled with no days off in over three weeks and the Cubs limped into the the All-Star Break losing 15 of 21 games. Much needed rest and recharging of the batteries was needed. That’s exactly what they got.
  • July 12th- The Cubs Take Over The All-Star Game: The All-Star Game took place in San Diego but it felt like the Cubs had the home field advantage. The Cubs had seven players named to the All-Star team including the entire infield of Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant starting in the game. Fowler was voted to play in the outfield but was still injured while Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were named to the pitching staff. The biggest highlight came early as Kris Bryant took White Sox ace Chris Sale deep in the 1st inning. Kris Bryant says hello! And all of the NL supporters who complained that there were too many Cubs in the All-Star Game and that was the reason the NL lost… well, look what happened! Everything turned out okay in the World Series anyway!
  • July 25th- The Chapman Cometh: As good as Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon performed in the first half of the season at the back end of the bullpen they had their inconsistencies. To take that extra step toward the playoff and World Series push the Cubs were looking for a dominant closer to shut the lights out on opponents. The Cubs acquired left-handed flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees. Chapman was the imposing gavel the Cubs needed for the 9th inning regularly blowing away opponents with effortless 100+ MPH fastballs.
  • July 31st- Rally caps sink the Mariners: The Cubs were still looking for the definitive 2nd half spark and on the last day in July they found it. Trailing 6-3 to the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth they put three on the board to force the game into extras. All position players were eventually used again so in the bottom of the 12th an unlikely hero stepped to plate in Jon Lester. With Jason Heyward on third base Lester dropped down a perfect bunt for a suicide squeeze as Heyward raced to the plate and scored for the walk-off win. Lester’s reward for his heroics? A face full of rosin.
  • August- How the Cubs got their groove back: The Cubs started August scalding hot eventually winning 11 in a row and did not lose a game until the 13th of that month. The Cubs had the NL Central all but locked up at the end of August going 22-6 in the month and leading the division by 15 (!) games.
  • September 15th- NL Central Champions: Despite losing to the Brewers the Cubs clinched the NL Central when the St. Louis Cardinals lost later that night to the Giants. That’s okay the next day Miguel Montero hit a walk-off home run in Wrigley to beat the Brewers and in a way that felt like it was clinching day instead. They certainly celebrated like it was.
  • September 26th- The Century Marks: For the first time since 1935 the Cubs had won 100 games in a season by clobbering the Pirates 12-2. Kris Bryant also clubbed his 39th home run of season and for the first time in his career reached the 100+ RBI plateau.

As the Cubs were winding down their regular season their dominance allowed them to sit everyday players and let the pitching rotation get some extra rest as well. The Cubs not only won the NL Central convincingly but also home field advantage throughout NL playoffs. A very distinct advantage considering they were 57-24 at Wrigley Field during the season.

Now that the Cubs flexed their muscles in the regular season it was time for “The Big Boy Games” in the postseason as John Lackey coined them. The postseason recap is only going to be of the games the Cubs won because, hey, no one wants to dwell too heavily on the losses right?

  • NLDS- Cubs vs. Giants Game 1: Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto were locked in an epic scoreless pitcher’s duel in front of a ravenous Wrigley Field. The bats stayed silent until the bottom of the eighth when Javy Baez hit a high towering shot into the left field basket. Aroldis Chapman came in to slam the door in the ninth preserving a 1-0 Cubs win as they took the crucial Game 1. This game and really all of the postseason was a coming out party for Javy Baez on the national scene. We as Cub fans knew how special he was, now everyone would.
  • NLDS- Cubs vs. Giants Game 2: The 2nd game of the NLDS I’ll always remember as I was in the rooftop bleachers across from Wrigley Field for playoff baseball. The Cubs seemingly had everything working this game. Kyle Hendricks even drove in two runs. Then a come-back line-drive at Hendricks knocked him out the game early. I thought that might be a momentum swing in the Giants favor but what happened instead? The Cubs bullpen completely shutdown San Fransisco’s offense and “The Super Athlete” relief pitcher Travis Wood even had home run! Couldn’t have written out that bizarre of a game if I tried. The Cubs took a commanding 2-0 series lead back to the bay area.
  •  NLDS- Cubs vs. Giants Game 4: In Game 3 the Cubs put up a valiant fight but eventually fell to the Giants in 13 innings as the series tightened to 2-1. One positive in that game was that the Cubs humanized postseason legend Madison Bumgarner as the Cubs knocked him around and Jake Arrieta even took him deep for a three-run bomb. For eight innings the Giants remained in control and I was already dreading a winner-take-all Game 5 back at Wrigley against Johnny Cueto. But in the ninth inning the Cubs’ postseason history book was torn up. Kris Bryant started the inning with a single and Anthony Rizzo was walked next batter. Ben Zobrist rediscovered his May magic and doubled home Bryant to cut the Giants lead to 5-3. Willson Contreras came up in a pinch-hitting role and delivered with a single up the middle driving home two and tying the game. After a botched double play attempt by the Giants Jason Heyward was standing at 2nd base with just one out. Javy Baez then continued his magical postseason and drove home Heyward with an RBI single and the Cubs stormed back to take a 6-5 lead. Aroldis Chapman then struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth and the Cubs were heading back to the NLCS for the 2nd year in a row.

The Cubs were able to enjoy a couple of extra days off while they waited for their opponents for the NLCS. The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers went the full five games in the NLDS which eventually saw the Dodgers prevail. The Cubs would have to continue wrecking their way through the NL West if they were to make it to the elusive World Series.

  • NLCS- Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 1: The Cubs jumped on the Dodgers’ Game 1 starter Kenta Maeda early as Kris Bryant drove Dexter Fowler home with a ringing double in the first inning and then they quickly tacked on two more the next inning. The Dodgers tied the game late and it was 3-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth. The Dodgers eventually loaded up the bases to get to Miguel Montero and forced a man who had struggled all year offensively to beat them. What did Miggy do? On an 0-2 pitch he smashed the ball deep into the right field bleachers for a grand slam and Wrigley Field was shaking to its foundations. The Cubs didn’t look back after that and took a vital 1-0 series lead.
  •  NLCS- Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 4: After putting up eight runs in Game 1 the Cubs offense stalled in games one and two. Clayton Kershaw lead the Dodgers to a 1-0 shutout in Game 2 and former Cub Rich Hill foiled his old team 6-0 in Game 3. The Cubs offense had been shutout in back-to-back games and didn’t score for 21 straight innings. But in the fourth inning of Game 4 the Cubs offense caught fire again in a big way. The Cubs plated four runs capped off by an Addison Russell two-run home run. The offensive surge continued next inning with an Anthony Rizzo home run and the Cubs added five more in the sixth to blow the game wide open. The Cubs won in convincing fashion 10-2 to even the series back up.
  • NLCS- Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 5: The game started off as a Game 1 rematch between Jon Lester and Kenta Maeda and was a pitcher’s duel into the sixth until Addison Russell broke a tie ballgame with another two-run shot. Russell had been struggling mightily offensively the entire postseason but he found his swing out in L.A. and added a much-needed offensive weapon to the Cubs arsenal.  The Cubs again piled more runs on late and won 8-4. They took a 3-2 series lead, one win away from the World Series and were heading back to Wrigley Field.
  • NLCS- Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 6: The Cubs had one last major hurdle to conquer in their quest for the World Series appearance, beating the best pitcher on the planet Clayton Kershaw. The Cubs meanwhile turned to the man that had been brilliant for them all season in somewhat surprising fashion, ERA champion Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs offense jumped on Kershaw early as Dexter Fowler doubled to lead off the game and was knocked in by Kris Bryant. The Cubs continued to chip away at Kershaw’s armor and in the fourth inning Willson Contreras tagged him for solo home run and Anthony Rizzo followed the next inning with one of his own as Kershaw sank on the mound and the Cubs took a 5-0 lead. Meanwhile on the other side of the mound Hendricks pitched the game of his life completely shutting down the Dodgers offense allowing only two hits and no runs in 7 1/3 innings of work. Chapman took the mound and got the remaining five outs and the party was on at Wrigley Field as the Cubs were on their way to the World Series for the first time in 71 years. Deservedly so Javy Baez and Jon Lester were named Co-MVPs of the NLCS.

I was nearly at a loss for words. The Chicago Cubs were going to be in a World Series for the first time in my life and the first time since 1945. I was heading to Ireland the next day with Maggie for our honeymoon so it couldn’t have worked out better. I didn’t have to be sitting on a plane across the Atlantic for Game 7 wondering whether the Cubs were going to the World Series or staying home. I can’t even imagine how excruciating that would’ve been. I wasn’t about to miss the Cubs in the World Series while in Ireland so I ponied up and purchased the MLB TV international postseason package, even if it was just for four games.

As for the Cubs themselves they would be facing the Cleveland Indians who looked nearly untouchable in the AL playoffs going 7-1. Unquestionably the two best teams in the majors with two major chips on their shoulders. The Indians themselves hadn’t won a World Series since 1948 and the Cubs, well… you know, 1908. The Indians had home-field advantage thanks to the terrible All-Star Game rule (Can we please change that?) but the Cubs unveiled another weapon for the war. Kyle Scwharber, thought to have no chance at playing in 2016 was cleared medically to at least be a DH for the Cubs on the road. His bat would prove to be a vital part of the World Series success for the Cubs.

  • World Series- Cubs vs. Indians Game 2: The Cubs were no strangers to facing some of the best pitchers in the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and now in the World Series it was Corey Kluber for the Indians. Kluber dominated the Cubs in Game 1 shutting them out 6-0. The Indians looked to take a 2-0 lead to Chicago but Jake Arrieta had other plans. Arrieta kept the Indians quiet offensively while the Cubs bats awoke thanks to a galvanizing performance from the returning Kyle Scwharber who knocked in two runs and helped the Cubs win 5-1 evening up the series and heading back to Wrigley on a positive note.
  • World Series- Cubs vs. Indians Game 5: The World Series had returned to Wrigley Field for the first time in 71 years and the electricity of the environment was palpable to say the least. But things didn’t exactly go the way the Cub faithful would want. The Indians came in and stunned the Cubs taking games three and four in a place where the Cubs had been so dominant all year. All of a sudden the Indians had a commanding 3-1 series lead and the Cubs were staring down the barrel of “Wait Till Next Year #109”. This couldn’t be how this unbelievable season was going to end was it? The Cubs postseason ace Jon Lester was not about to allow that. Despite giving up an early home run Lester settled in and waited for the offense to once again kick in. Kris Bryant woke up the echoes with his first World Series home run and the Cubs were able to tack on two more runs to take a 3-1 lead. Lester allowed one more run as the Indians closed the gap. Joe Maddon always one for the unorthodox brought Aroldis Chapman in for an eight-out save (!). Chapman was maximized and closed out the game to send the series back to Cleveland. The Cubs however still had serious work to do down 3-2 in the series. Either way it was great of the Cubs close out the last game at Wrigley Field in 2016 with a W.
  • World Series- Cubs vs. Indians Game 6: The Cubs once again turned to Jake Arrieta in an attempt to tie up the series. He would go up against Josh Tomlin who blanked the Cubs in Game 3. Things were different though this time as Kris Bryant crushed another home run deep into the left field stands. The Cubs then took advantage of some Indians outfield snafus and plated two more to take an early 3-0 lead. The night belonged to Addison Russell. With the bases loaded and down 0-2 in the count (Does this sound familiar?) Russell massacred a hanger deep to left-center for a grand slam to put the game to bed early. Russell ended up driving in six runs in the game. Anthony Rizzo tacked on a consolation home run late and the Cubs won in convincing fashion 9-3. Suddenly the series was tied up and heading to a winner-take-all Game 7. Streak vs. Streak, 108 Years vs. 68 Years. Something was about to give.
  • World Series- Cubs vs. Indians Game 7: I’m going to preface this summary by saying this was legitimately one of the greatest games ever played in baseball history. At times it was unbearable to stomach and others the absolute pinnacle of ebullience. Kyle Hendricks was once again the man the Cubs would hand the ball to. Winning the pennant for the Cubs is one thing, but winning the World Series for the Cubs? You can imagine how legendary of a feat that would be. The Cubs for the third time in the series would try to figure out Corey Kluber who had been a complete mystery to them in Game 1 and Game 4. To beat this mighty Cub team though three times in one series as an individual pitcher is quite a task to pull off. The Cubs jumped on Kluber immediately as Dexter Fowler lead off the game with a home run to give the Cubs an early advantage. In the fourth inning the Cubs took a 3-1 lead off of a double from Willson Contreras. The next inning Javy Baez hit a home run to drive Kluber from the game, the Cubs had finally got to him. Andrew Miller, arguably the best reliever in the game came in to try and stop the bleeding but the Cubs were able to get to him as well. Kris Bryant drew a walk and Anthony Rizzo followed it up with and RBI single, scoring Bryant all the way from first. Hendricks had a 5-1 lead and looked to be in control but was pulled after a walk with two outs in the fifth. Jon Lester made a rare appearance out of the pen to try and help seal the deal. David Ross had also come in as Lester’s personal catcher to replace Contreras. Things got off to a rocky start as the Indians were able scratch across two runs tightening the game to 5-3. As if to make up for some of his misfortunes behind the plate the previous inning, 39-year-old David Ross stepped into the batter’s box and took the once-thought impervious Andrew Miller out to dead center for a home run. Miller, like Bumgarner, Cueto, Kershaw, and Kluber before him was made mortal by the Cubs in the postseason. The Cubs were up 6-3 and Lester held down the Indians into the eighth and recorded two outs there. The Cubs were four outs away from the impossible. But as we know in Cubs lore, nothing is ever easy. NEVER. Lester gave up a single with two outs and Joe Maddon went to Aroldis Chapman for a third straight game. He served up a double and all of a sudden the Indians were trailing by just two with the tying run coming to the plate. As if the baseball Gods had one more thorn to stick into the Cubs and their fans Rajai Davis promptly hit a two-run homer to left off of Chapman and the game was tied 6-6. A little sidebar personal story here: I was watching this game in a bar which I was solidly against for fear of jinxing them by going out in public for any of the World Series. A few of my friends though goaded me into it and against my better judgment I went. When Davis hit that home run I was beyond devastated, I don’t have a word for it. My head sunk and I was completely deflated. I asked Maggie to whisk me out of the bar. I could no longer be sure of controlling my actions or emotions in public, especially if the Cubs were going to come this far only to have one more epic collapse. When I got home I was briefly despondent still not believing the dream season was trying to morph into a nightmare one more time. Back to the game, both the Cubs and Indians were unable to push across any runs in the ninth inning and as if there needed to be more stress added, this game was headed for extra innings. Something cosmic happened again though before the 10th inning could start. The heavens opened up and the rain fell as if to cleanse everything that had come before it in the game. A legit reset button. Meanwhile inside the visitor’s weight room the Cubs gathered as a team and Jason Heyward rallied the troops and reminded them who they were and why they were here. The 1oth inning began with Kyle Schwarber singling and Albert Almora Jr. pinch-running for him. Almora advanced on a sacrifice fly from Bryant. The Indians opted to intentionally walk Rizzo to get to Ben Zobrist. The biggest hit in Cubs franchise history came off the bat of Zobrist who slapped an opposite field double down the left field line scoring Almora and the Cubs reclaimed the lead 7-6. After an intentional walk to Russell Miguel Montero delivered another big insurance run with a single driving in Rizzo. The Cubs were leading by two and now three outs away from completing the dream. Young fire-baller Carl Edwards Jr. came in in the bottom of the 10th and retired the first two men. He then walked Brandon Guyer and who else but Rajai Davis drove him in and just like that the lead was back down to one with the tying run on base. The Cubs countered with Mike Montgomery, a mid-season pick up from the Seattle Mariners to try to get that precious final out. He faced Michael Martinez and on the 2nd pitch he hit a grounder to Bryant who fielded the ball. As he gathered himself he threw to first and slipped (Remember that rain?) but his aim was still true and Rizzo caught the ball in time. Everything stopped for me for a second. I realized it was over, the Chicago Cubs were the champions of the world. The curses: William Sianis, The Billy Goat, The Black Cat, Bartman, 108 years all erased in one night. But there was a wave that had been building for nearly nine months until that moment. The Cubs completed one of the most epic World Series comebacks in arguably the most epic Game 7 ever to end their title drought. I sobbed like I think I’ve never sobbed in my adult life and hugged Maggie. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing and experiencing. I couldn’t form full sentences and began to pace around the basement couch (Which has become a postseason tradition for me now the past two years). Ben Zobrist was appropriately named the MVP of the World Series and a celebration that was 108 years in the making was on.

Looking back on it I still can’t believe it happened several weeks later. I think about it multiple times daily and I’m still mystified by how it went down. I still smile every time I reminisce too. I’ll savor this one forever and I’ll be letting Cub haters and detractors hear about it until next Spring, maybe longer.

So many things in the regular season and the postseason that I’ve left out that I can’t possibly cover entirely:

David Ross’ “Year long retirement party” was great. His wisdom and guidance were so pivotal on a young team. Hitting a home run in Game 7 off of Andrew Miller and getting carried off the field after winning the World Series and sailing into retirement is better than anyone could’ve wrote it.

Kris Bryant’s otherworldly MVP season and watching him play so many positions without skipping a beat (3B, 1B, LF, RF). His first two years in MLB he’s won the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year, the 2016 NL MVP, and is a 2016 World Series Champion. Not too shabby of a start. The phenom is just getting started.

Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Jake Arrieta all emerging as NL Cy Young candidates. Lester’s brilliance spanning the regular season and postseason, Arrieta’s fierce confidence and his 2nd career no-hitter, Hendricks’ calm demeanor and ascendancy to the upper echelon of MLB pitchers on the way to an ERA title.

John Lackey’s outspoken attitude and unmatched competitive fire. And who could forget, “We’re trying to win a World Series. I didn’t come here for a haircut, you know what I mean? We’re trying to get it on. I came here for jewelry.”

Javy Baez and Willson Contreras becoming part of the Cubs’ essential core. Sometimes this game can get a little too bland and by-the-books. They brought a certain charismatic flair, a machismo/moxie to this team. I loved watching these guys play. Contreras wearing his heart on his sleeve and gunning out runners. A coming-of-age tale behind the plate becoming a defensive marvel and swinging the bat great as well. He had big hits in all of the series clinching games for the Cubs in the postseason. A two-run single in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Giants that completely swung the momentum of the game and series, a solo home run off of Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS, an opposite field RBI double off of Corey Kluber in Game 7 of the World Series. I can’t wait for him to be the Cubs’ prominent catcher next year. Baez finally showed he could be the All-Star he’s been touted as for years and lived up to his potential. A defensive wizard at any position. His tags that defied the laws of physics. His postseason heroics and that smile.

Ben Zobrist as King Midas, anything he touches turns to gold. Winning a World Series title with the Kansas City Royals in 2015 then winning the next year with the Cubs in 2016. His inhuman month of May and the World Series MVP.

Addison Russell not only continuing his dazzling play at short stop but his burgeoning offense as well, hitting 21 home runs and having an astounding 95 RBIs in the regular season. Igniting the Cubs offense out on the West Coast in the NLCS clocking homers in back-to-back games. His grand slam and six RBIs in Game 6 of the World Series.

Jason Heyward’s defense in right field. Although he struggled mightily all season offensively and will definitely work on it in the off season his glove was never in question. Like Baez and Contreras, I loved watching him play defensively. Not to mention he added another Gold Glove to his trophy case as well.

Dexter Fowler’s million-watt smile and galvanizing the team as the best Cubs lead-off man I’ve ever seen. The “You Go We Go” mentality that he had causing a ripple through the entire lineup. I highly doubt he’ll be back with the team next year so whichever team gets him will be getting a great ball player.

Kyle Schwarber’s inspirational return in the World Series and immediate impact on the lineup. After that gruesome injury back in early April I can’t believe he’s walking right now. I can’t wait for his bat to be back in the lineup full-time next year.

Anthony Rizzo being the heart and soul of the team. He’s been through it all in this rebuilding process and was on some of the worst Cub teams in the history of the organization. Oh and he also ended up having a pretty incredible year too. In the hunt for the NL MVP all year and he raked in the awards after the season winning a Silver Slugger award, a Gold Glove, and the rare Platinum Glove award only given out to one defensive player in each league.

Joe Maddon being the Zen-master of the dugout. He was absolutely the right man to take the Cubs to the promise land and get the ultimate victory a World Series Championship. His experience and decades of baseball knowledge helped a young team show poise and have fun at the same time. His slogans, “Try not to suck,” “Respect 90,” “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” Those themed road trips. He’s immortalized now.

The front office of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod and the owners the Ricketts family for caring about this organization, its players, and its fans. They tore the organization all the way to the ground and built a championship kingdom in its place.

And let’s not forget, LET’S NOT FORGET… my Cubs tweeting throughout the year(s). I’m sure I annoyed a lot of people and I’m sure some people actually enjoyed it. It was therapeutic for me. A release of joy, confidence, celebration, frustration, anger, sorrow. The numerous and sometimes ridiculous nicknames and hashtags: #W #CUBS #FlyTheW #WorldChampions #CubsTwitterAfterDark #CardinalsLose. Li’l Z, Z, Zorilla, King Midas (Zobrist), Phenom, MVP, Bryzzo (Bryant/Rizzo), Russellmania (Russell),  3B (Baez Bein’ Baez), Machismo/Willco (Contreras), Miggy (Montero), Ross Sauce (Ross), The J-Hey Kid (Heyward), Hail Szczur! (Matt Szczur), 3 AM- Automatic (Tommy La Stella), Rodan (Rondon), Soler Power/Soler flare! (Soler), The General (Arrieta), Big Jon Studd (Lester), Big John Studd (Lackey), The Professor (Hendricks), The Super Athlete (Wood).

Well, this thing’s getting pretty long and has become and open love letter to the Chicago Cubs. This is a season, a team, a year I’ll never forget and I’ll make sure no one else does either. so hell, I’ll just leave you with some sweet pics.

But one more time…

#W #CUBS #WorldChampions

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2016 Halftime Report: 25 Best Albums Of The Year So Far

With the calendar soon flipping over to July already we’ve reached the halfway point of 2016 and with that comes my 25 favorite albums of 2016 so far. I did this “Halftime Report” a few years ago and thought I’d try it again. It’ll be fun to compare this list to the year’s final list (The year-end list will be the standard Top 50 albums) and see which albums change and which are strong enough to withstand the following six months of new ones. Confirmed releases in the 2nd half of 2016 by the likes of The Head And The Heart, Local Natives, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Okkervil River, Shovels & Rope, Beck, and Drive-By Truckers coupled with strong rumors of new albums from giants such as Metallica, The Rolling Stones, U2, Kings Of Leon, My Morning Jacket, Soundgarden, and The Stone Roses are sure to put this current crop of Top 25 to the test.

David Bowie’s ★ (Or Blackstar if you prefer) was the first truly great album out of the gate released deep in the doldrums of winter in early January, pulsing with intergalactic noir its ruminations on mortality were unfortunately an ominously perfect match with Bowie’s untimely and tragic death. ★ sat atop this list for the majority of the year until a slew of excellent albums in May eventually toppled it. It’s been a well-balanced mix of veteran acts returning to form (The aforementioned Bowie, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty’s side project Mudcrutch, and Cheap Trick), dark horse surprises (Black Pistol Fire, Joe Bonamassa, Parker Millsap, and The Bones Of J.R. Jones), and rookie record wonders (Car Seat Headrest, Kyle Craft, and The Shelters).

The year so far though belongs to Will Toledo a.k.a. Car Seat Headrest and his phenomenal debut with Teens Of Denial. Although he has technically self-released several lo-fi albums on Bandcamp (A subsequent compilation of those albums called Teens Of Style was also released) Teens Of Denial is his major-label debut of entirely new material. A 70-minute opus full of ridged guitars, angst, self-loathing, and sardonic wit showcases Toledo already in the form of an established world-class songwriter. It’s the most satirical and self-aware album since Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear came out early last year.

Here’s the list so far:

25. The Avett Brothers- True Sadness

24. Tax The Heat- Fed To The Lions

23. The Jayhawks- Paging Mr. Proust

22. Rival Sons- Hollow Bones

21. The Felice Brothers- Life In The Dark

20. The Lumineers- Cleopatra

19. Jake Bugg- On My One

18. The Bones Of J.R. Jones- Spirit’s Furnace

17. Wolfmother- Victorious

16. Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

15. The Shelters- The Shelters

14. Frightened Rabbit- Painting Of A Panic Attack

13. Cheap Trick- Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello

12. Parker Millsap- The Very Last Day

11. Brian Fallon- Painkillers

10. Joe Bonamassa- Blues Of Desperation

9. Mudcrutch- 2

8. Band Of Horses- Why Are You OK

7. Kyle Craft- Dolls Of Highland

6. Iggy Pop- Post Pop Depression

5. David Bowie- ★

4. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool

3. Black Pistol Fire- Don’t Wake The Riot

2. Red Hot Chili Peppers- The Getaway

1. Car Seat Headrest- Teens Of Denial

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2015

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50. Silversun Pickups- Better Nature

If there’s one band following the most in the footsteps of The Smashing Pumpkins it’s the Silversun Pickups. Brian Aubert’s whimsical Billy Corgan-esque vocals dance around guitars jagged like shards of glass shimmering with a metallic gloss of keyboards resulting in an album that could fit in with the alt-’90s crowd as well as the throng of contemporary guitar bands.

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49. Radkey- Dark Black Makeup

Whether you like it or not hard rock and heavy metal are mainly Caucasian-dominated genres. Then a trio of African-American brothers come along (From St. Joseph, Missouri?) and make such a revitalizing racket that it can’t be ignored. Their debut album Dark Black Makeup is an angst-filled lighting rod of bare-bones garage rock shot through a street punk aesthetic. Girls, guitars, amps. Youth and young manhood.

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48. The Decemberists- What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

Following the early 2011 release of the phenomenal The King is Dead the future of The Decemberists remained uncertain. After a hiatus lasting over four years they’ve returned with the sprawling What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World that builds on their ever-blossoming pop sensibilities and weaves them through their rich, worldly literate tales. The only thing The Decemberists need to be concerned about is maybe taking less time between records.

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47. The Waterboys- Modern Blues

Folk-rock stalwarts The Waterboys return with 2015’s Modern Blues. Though they’ve been around for more than 30 years this is an energetic and enthusiastic reaffirmation of their core strengths culminating in the driving finale of the 10-minute “Long Strange Golden Road.”

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46. Jeff Lynne’s ELO- Alone In The Universe

Jeff Lynne hasn’t released an album under the Electric Light Orchestra name since 2001’s Zoom. It’s follow up (Now under the moniker “Jeff Lynne’s ELO”) Alone In The Universe arrives 14 years later and Lynne shows no signs of rust as he sings with a clarity that percolated throughout the band’s high points in the ‘70s and with Lynne behind the control booth the production quality is unsurprisingly immaculate.

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45. Titus Andronicus- The Most Lamentable Tragedy

Titus Andronicus are no strangers to ambitious albums. Their 2010 breakthrough The Monitor was an epic based around the Civil War with a punk rock ethos. The Most Lamentable Tragedy looks inward at the instability of the human condition that can be equal parts thrilling and unnerving.

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44. Ivan & Alyosha- It’s All Just Pretend

Ivan & Alyosha’s debut record All The Times We Had established them in the realm of a delicate yet powerful celestial sound. Their follow up It’s All Just Pretend displays their effortless prowess for an aching majestic catharsis that few bands can seemingly achieve. Bigger stages and brighter stardom look to be on the horizon for this Seattle quintet.

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43. The Winery Dogs- Hot Streak

The Winery Dogs’ sophomore record Hot Streak sees the band remain on just that, a hot streak. The power trio super group consisting of the rhythm section of bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Mike Portnoy are rocksteady behind the star of the show singer/guitarist Richie Kotzen whose ageless wail and formidable guitar chops make you wish this gem was unearthed decades earlier.

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42. Clutch- Psychic Warfare

Veteran stoner metal band Clutch have been building a steady, loyal following for the past 20+ years. Psychic Warfare is another sturdy, muscular statement built on chugging guitars and Neil Fallon’s husky snarl. You can look at it as a loose concept album of the inner turmoil one is constantly raging against… or you can just prep the bong and let the headbanging commence.

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41. Ryan Bingham- Fear And Saturday Night

Ryan Bingham is known in many circles solely for his Oscar-winning song “The Weary Kind” he penned for the 2009 film Crazy Heart. Bingham however has been on a creative tear in the country world similar to the legendary Highwaymen’s blue-collared work ethic. Bingham’s fifth album Fear And Saturday Night continues that trajectory blending wounded warmth and a dogged, whiskey-logged restlessness befitting of its title.

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40. Florence + The Machine- How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Florence Welch is a championed siren with the world at her finger tips. Her gigantic anthems translate effortlessly to the massive stages Florence + The Machine now inhabit. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful may be their most commanding effort yet erupting out of the gate with four instant powerhouse classics “Ship To Wreck,” “What Kind of Man,” the title track, and “Queen of Peace” that are worth the price of admission alone.

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39. Foals- What Went Down

If Foals’ ambitions continue to be as big as their sound, they’ll be conquering the globe in no time. What Went Down builds off their previous work, expanding their sonic palate into something that can’t be categorized. Waves of metallic riffs, longing, soaring vocals, anthems for the sea and air. Foals’ grandeur ensures they’ll be a force to be reckoned with for years, if not decades to come.

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38. Motorhead- Bad Magic

You always know what you’re going to get with a Motorhead album. An indestructible, incomparable snarling document of heavy metal. Bad Magic is another reliable, sweaty, blaring triumph right up to the closing cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” which feels even more menacing with Lemmy Kilmister’s maniacal rattling growl powering the engine. Sadly, this will be the last Motorhead studio album released as the legendary front-man Lemmy passed away tragically at the end of 2015 due to cancer. Motorhead fans can at least take solace in the fact that Lemmy & crew went out like an ace of spades with a fitting coda in Bad Magic.

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37. Brandon Flowers- The Desired Effect

Say what you will about Brandon Flowers but he’s a very passionate man who refuses to rest on the laurels of The Killers. His 2nd solo record The Desired Effect has the similar pageantry of previous albums from The Killers but there’s a glossy hubris that radiates from it all. Most couldn’t pull that off but Flowers makes it seem charming.

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36. Wolf Alice- My Love Is Cool

Beginning as a buzz band Wolf Alice more than lived up to the hype with one of the best debut albums of 2015 in My Love Is Cool. A blast of ’90s alt-rock, powered by vixen Ellie Rowsell, she’s fearless as the front-woman roaring and raging through this infectious set of songs. A preview of bigger things comes in the gem “You’re A Germ.”

White Reaper

35. White Reaper- White Reaper Does It Again

Sometimes a breath of fresh air can be something as simple as stripping everything back to basics. White Reaper does just that on their debut record White Reaper Does It Again sounding like they’re plugging into their amps in a garage for the first time and banging out a glorious racket of over-driven electric organs and switchblade guitars. There are no frills with this album, just the way White Reaper likes it.

Modest Mouse

34. Modest Mouse- Strangers To Ourselves

Eight years is a lifetime in the music business but that’s the length of time it’s taken for Modest Mouse to release a follow up to their 2007 We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. Strangers To Ourselves is a re-introduction for most to a band that once conquered the indie-rock scene with their 2004 anthem “Float On” and they have retained their innate ability to make quirky music with catchy hooks as evidenced by cuts like “Lampshades on Fire,” “The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box,” and “Coyotes.”

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33. Ruby The Hatchet- Valley Of The Snake

Front-woman Jillian Taylor leads her marauding outfit Ruby The Hatchet straight into the boys club of heavy metal taking no prisoners. Valley Of The Snake is a lumbering Goliath full of Sabbath-worthy pillaging riffs, demonic organs, and Taylor’s haunting, soul-enchanting vocal. This is a beast the shan’t be tamed for awhile.

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32. Neil Young + Promise of the Real- The Monsanto Years

There’s one thing Neil Young can never be accused of and that’s being complacent. His latest affair The Monsanto Years is an all-out assault on big corporate farming and GMOs. Young finds himself a new backing band in the Promise of the Real lead by Willie Nelson’s sons Micah and Lukas. The unlikely pairing has a delightfully ragged and sloppy charm, similar to synergetic magic he’s had in the past with Crazy Horse with the crown jewel being the squalling tirade of “Big Box” which can stand up alongside some of Neil’s best epic jams.

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31. Lady Lamb- After

Aly Spaltro aka Lady Lamb is more than just a pretty face on the indie-rock scene. Her formidable guitar chops and her even more impressive lyrical prowess make her a force to be reckoned with. Her album After is a buoyant affair on the surface that cuts much deeper in an introspective manner embracing personal moments both painful and pleasurable.

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30. Ike Reilly- Born On Fire

Look for the crossroads of Americana and you may end up in Libertyville, Illinois with the voice of Libertyville belonging to be singer/songwriter Ike Reilly. He’s by no means a fresh face, getting his start in 1992. With a blue-collar relentlessness he’s been working away under the radar for nearly a quarter of a century. That all could change with his latest release Born On Fire blending a gritty Springsteen “every man” ethos with Reilly’s tense sandpaper croon akin to some of Dylan’s more gripping moments. Reilly may finally be pulling out of Libertyville to win.

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29. Editors- In Dream

Editors continue to be one of the more fascinating paradoxes in music. Their sonic blueprint is steeped in profound melancholy yet their big yearning sound can fill arenas. In Dream is a total immersion of the senses, you look no further than the album cover itself as to how it will make you feel.

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28. Frank Turner- Positive Songs For Negative People

Positive Songs For Negative People is Frank Turner’s oddest album yet. No, he’s not doing anything necessarily groundbreaking or dropping a punk rock version of Kid A, but he actually seems… happy? If not that he at least seems content. The rave-ups are still present but there’s an underlying sense of optimism that has seemingly evaded his roster of damaged characters over the years. Turner has finally realized he can smile every now and then and still be a poet for the punks.

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27. Craig Finn- Faith In The Future

Craig Finn’s 2nd solo album Faith In The Future has the streetwise elation of The Hold Steady but on a more personal level. Finn’s downtrodden protagonists keep us fully invested throughout which is a testament to the peerless altruistic craft that goes into Finn’s lyrical detail. At many times it feels like a direct conversation with Finn himself, splitting a case over stories of old never-ending nights stating, “Well, at least we made it out alive.”

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26. Mikal Cronin- MCIII

Once a hired gun for musical wunderkind Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. On his third album MCIII he continues his evolution with a cocktail of garage rock nuggets and lush indie pop beauty. As good as MCIII is this feels like it could be just the tip of iceberg for Cronin’s potential.

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25. The Arcs- Yours, Dreamily,

Dan Auerbach may as well be given the nickname King Midas because everything he touches turns to gold. From his unstoppable force with Patrick Carney in The Black Keys, to his wizardry in the production booth, and now on side projects like The Arcs. Yours, Dreamily, is a bluesy, boozy prowler that will keep us in the deep end with Auerbach.

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24. Built to Spill- Untethered Moon

Built to Spill is built to last. Formed in 1992 they’ve never really broke through the glass ceiling to mainstream success but they’ve sustained a dedicated fan base. Their latest album Untethered Moon is another sturdy statement of jangling, ridged guitars and Doug Martsch’s snarling voice battling for attention. Closer “When I’m Blind” is a tangled cacophonous brier of a six-string workout not unlike some of Wilco’s best lengthy jams.

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23. Courtney Barnett- Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Australian spitfire Courtney Barnett was undoubtedly the rookie of the year in 2015. There was no debut record better than Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. A boldly literate document turning some of the most mundane moments of everyday life into an ebullient, gripping exposition.

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22. Lord Huron- Strange Trails

Lord Huron have become masters of the lush, opulent soundscapes that populate their albums. Strange Trails continues that trajectory, better served with starry nights in the wide open country. If there was a sound for the hopeless romantic internally, this full-bodied supernova would be it.

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21. Of Monsters And Men- Beneath The Skin

The Icelandic equivalent of Arcade Fire, Of Monsters And Men are less interested in living in the shadows of their Canadian peers and more focused on conquering the world themselves. Beneath The Skin strikes on the same gorgeous chords as their debut My Head Is An Animal but the breadth of their sophomore album is arguably even more ambitious. The dueling lead vocals of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson steer them to a horizon that looks brighter with each new album.

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20. Blitzen Trapper- All Across This Land

Blitzen Trapper have a tireless work ethic, cranking out albums and relentless road-dog touring. It’s fitting then that their eighth album in 12 years is titled All Across This Land. Their best work since their 2008 breakthrough Furr with the artful country skronk of Wilco and Grateful Dead melded with the piston-firing aesthetic of Springsteen.

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19. Tame Impala- Currents

There’s no getting around it, the future of psychedelic music is Tame Impala. Their boundary-expanding visions burrow to a bizarre fulcrum in Currents. It’s an alien alchemy of disco shiver synths and wormhole guitars leaving in its wake a nebulous euphoria that’s impossible to stop.

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18. Alabama Shakes- Sound & Color

How do you shake off the “buzz band” stigma from your debut album? Make your sophomore record far superior than the predecessor. That’s exactly what the Alabama Shakes accomplish on Sound & Color. A medley of neo-soul and arabesque charm tethered to the sweat-dripping gristle of southern-fried Rock & Roll. There’s no buzz here anymore, just staying power.

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17. Destroyer- Poison Season

Dan Bejar is a proven workhorse with multiple musical outfits but none more prolific or better than Destroyer. His tenth studio album under that moniker Poison Season is arguably his best yet. Swelling with the urban chamber pop of early ’70s Springsteen, Bowie, and Lou Reed makes it one of the best nocturnal requiems in recent memory.

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16. Desaparecidos- Payola

After 13 years, songwriting luminary Conor Oberst resurrected his hyper-charged punk rock outfit Desaparecidos. As expected, Payola is a scathing indictment of institutions in general, reaching anyone willing to listen. Galvanizing with its relentless fusillade of thrashing guitars and Oberst’s howling is so visceral you can almost taste the blood in your throat.

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15. Jeff The Brotherhood- Wasted On The Dream

That moment of clarity through the weed cloud and the cerebral haze can seem transcendent. That pocket of lucidity seems to be where Jeff The Brotherhood’s Wasted On The Dream is birthed from. From the primordial power sludge of tracks like “Melting Place” to the Weezer-styled power pop of “Karaoke, TN” this sibling duo has made a big creative leap, whether they’re comfortable with it or not.

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14. Sufjan Stevens- Carrie & Lowell

Of all of the albums in 2015 there was none more devastating and gorgeous than Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. Written as a paean of sorts to his severely troubled mother Carrie and loving stepfather Lowell, Stevens lays his soul bare and the results are astounding. Delicately sparse yet radiating with a deep elegance, look no further than the haunting pulchritude of “John My Beloved.” It’s not hyperbole to say that this is Sufjan Stevens’ greatest achievement yet.

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13. Josh Ritter- Sermon On The Rocks

The underlying themes of Josh Ritter’s Sermon On The Rocks obviously involve ample amounts of prophecy and preaching. The difference between Ritter and most of his peers though is rather than the presage of fire and brimstone he’s able to deliver his homily with tenderness, accentuating the light even in some of the darkest places. Ritter being the eternal optimist, it’s hard not to imagine him grinning and smiling even while writing some of the more scornful songs on Sermon.

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12. William Elliott Whitmore- Radium Death

William Elliott Whitmore is an old soul. His gruff, earthy voice and musical stylings often come off as antiquated while still remaining authentic. His latest output Radium Death is his most electrified effort yet combining his standard burnt-out porch songs with a roadhouse boogie that breathes some life into the dust bowl of Whitmore’s heart.

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11. Jason Isbell- Something More Than Free

Anyone practicing in the art of Americana music in 2015 had no choice but to take a backseat to Jason Isbell. More than any other singer/songwriter Isbell has his finger on the pulse of the western frontier. On his brilliant album Something More Than Free he culls tales of heartache and despair from the marrow of America. Isbell’s blue-collar grit and anywheretown lost souls on tracks like “24 Frames,” “How to Forget,” “Children of Children,” “The Life You Chose,”  and “Speed Trap Town” fortify his place as one of the greatest storytellers of the 21st century.

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10. Iron Maiden- The Book Of Souls

Although not necessarily a comeback album, Iron Maiden’s 92-minute juggernaut The Book Of Souls is impressive on multiple levels. Front-man Bruce Dickinson battled through a tumor found on his tongue during recording but you’d hardly know it as he is in full God of thunder wailing mode. Not only that but the breadth of this heavy metal rhapsody is their best since 1984’s Powerslave with epic pummeling atom-smashers like the eight-minute “If Eternity Should Fail,” the 13+ minute “The Red And The Black,” and the 10+minute title track. The real opus here though is the 18-minute closer “Empire Of The Clouds.” Their longest song ever, it’s an unimpeachable odyssey concocted from Dickinson’s masterful mind that feels like an expansive victory lap for the band. If anything The Book Of Souls refortifies Iron Maiden as one of the greatest metal bands ever, worthy of being in the same breath of Black Sabbath and Metallica. Up the irons.

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9. Gary Clark Jr.- The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim

The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim is the full realization of Gary Clark Jr. as a velvet gunslinger. What is that exactly? He’s carved out his own niche as a genuine guitar hero for the 21st century but it goes beyond that. His pith is one that’s also budding with the sensuality of soul and R&B. An amalgam that intersects somewhere between Albert King, The Black Keys, Prince, and Marvin Gaye. Sonny Boy is furnished with scalding guitar breaks, waterfall riffs, and collages of wah-wah torrents all bathed in Clark’s sumptuous and exquisite vocal delivery. Clark has found the precise melting point temperature, especially on the delectable murder ballad “Cold Blooded.”

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8. Dawes- All Your Favorite Bands

Dawes had an exceptional debut with 2009’s North Hills and followed that with one of the better sophomore efforts in recent memory with 2011’s Nothing Is Wrong. Stories Don’t End followed and while it was still a sturdy output it felt a bit stilted and restrained. Dawes remedy that on All Your Favorite Bands, loosening their chains with their most expressive, freewheelin’ album to date. Meant to capture the spirit of their live shows the quartet careen and propel each other forward with sincerity and symbiosis like a quest for the sunrise on a cross country adventure. The honeyed Laurel Canyon harmonies of Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith remain but it’s in Taylor’s poignant, earnest, and at times blistering guitar playing that the true hallmark lies. Whether Dawes remains entirely intact is uncertain but if they keep making music this good they’ll keep being one of our favorite bands.

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7. Mumford & Sons- Wilder Mind

Mumford & Sons have enjoyed one of the quickest ascents to Rock & Roll hierarchy ever. Their debut Sigh No More was an instant classic followed by the equally powerful Babel, striking while the iron was hot. Despite the prodigious success they opted to veer away from supposed complacency. For their third album Wilder Mind they sought the production assistance of James Ford and The National’s Aaron Dessner. While their sonic palate expands to include electrified nocturnal guitars and U2-sized luminous skyline soundscapes it’s not as big of a departure from their previous sound as it may seem. It’s the one inescapable quality that bridges their first three albums, the grand crescendo of bombastic arena-ready majesty. Mumford & Sons have become a big stage band that requires a robust sound. It’s something they should embrace not evade.

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6. Wilco- Star Wars

Wilco has stated in the past that they would always love us and it also seems like they are determined to never let us down either. Despite a title like Star Wars and kitsch kitten artwork it’s another vital chapter in their nearly unblemished back catalog. Simplistic in nature while still preserving the undeniable extraterrestrial Wilco touchstones it’s like they’re plugging into their amps in a garage on Mars. Off-kilter, awkwardly-tuned guitars spiral and carve through numbers like “Random Name Generator,” “Pickled Ginger,” “Cold Slope,” and “King of You” while they incorporate some of their dreary-eyed Americana pop on “Taste The Ceiling” and “Magnetized” with subtle flourishes of computer code dissonance percolating underneath the surface. The centerpiece however is the crackling static of “You Satellite,” a slow-burner conjuring imagery of shuttle fuselage floating out in the ambiance of space as an outro of jagged guitar shards beam one last transmission back to earth before finally going dark. Star Wars strips back some of the more ostentatious yearnings they may have had on previous records and it equates to their most jarring and boldest statement since 21st century landmark Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

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5. The Tallest Man on Earth- Dark Bird Is Home

Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man On Earth is one of the best lyricists on the planet. He’s drawn a rightful comparison to early Bob Dylan due to the integrity and potency of his lyrical prowess as well as his stripped back predominantly acoustic approach. It may be the essence of his fourth album Dark Bird Is Home though that Matsson shares the deepest kindred spirit connection with Dylan. The anguish and despair of divorce drove Dylan to create his masterpiece Blood On The Tracks and out the dissolution of Matsson’s marriage comes Dark Bird. While the subject matter may devote itself to despondency, this is Matsson’s realization of a more fully formed opulent palate musically. Full band arrangements augment many of the songs and bring a certain added vigor and potency to give a grieving Matsson extra shoulders to lean on. The quintessence though remains Matsson’s lifeblood pouring out in a deluge of poetic mastery. It’s an innate and vicarious heartbreak we’ve all experienced on some scale. However deep the sorrow burrows though Matsson seems determined to endure as he mutters in the closing moments, “But this is not the end no, this is fine.”

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4. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds- Chasing Yesterday

Following his departure from brit-pop titan Oasis it’s now irrefutable that Noel Gallagher accounted for almost the entirety of its creative driving engine. While his long-time rival (And brother too!) Liam Gallagher’s post-Oasis career has taken a major nosedive into irrelevance, Noel continues to travel the magniloquent path leading to his 2nd album under the Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds moniker Chasing Yesterday. On the surface it’s not as inclined on an orchestral scale as its predecessor NGHFB’s self-titled 2011 effort but to say this is “Stripped down” would be a misstep. Most other acts would consider this their grand symphonic statement but making music this euphonious is 2nd nature to Noel. Highlights are bountiful including the midnight ferry ride of opener “Riverman” with its twilight sax solo, the chiming disco of “In the Heat of the Moment,”  the Bowie-esque “The Girl with X-Ray Eyes,” stampeding Definitely Maybe-styled rockers “Lock All The Doors” and “You Know We Can’t Go Back,” and the hypnotic “The Right Stuff.” Noel saves his best stop-the-clocks song for last though with closer “The Ballad of The Mighty I” as he sounds as if he’s singing from atop a cumulonimbus equipped with a Gibson, a tall stack of Marshall amps, and his soaring voice raining down upon us. Noel was once quoted as saying, “What inspires me to write music? It’s just what I do. And I’m fucking brilliant at it.” Better take that as gospel.

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3. My Morning Jacket- The Waterfall

Not that they really needed a spiritual awakening or a momentous epiphany of any kind but My Morning Jacket have never played by anybody else’s rule book or guidelines. The band convened at the Panoramic House, a secluded hilltop mansion to which front-man Jim James raved, “There was nobody for miles and miles, like a deserted paradise. At night, it was like you were inside the sky, the stars right next to your head.” Out of these sessions The Waterfall was born, their best album since their 2005 groundbreaking moment of Z. “Believe (Nobody Knows)” and “Compound Fracture” is the best one-two punch to open a record in 2015, the former being a pivotal positive jam with guitars echoing off a mountain’s summit as James howls out his life-affirming clarion call while the latter saunters with a seismic funk with James upping his vocal register to his shape-shifting falsetto. They also incorporate more psychedelic whorls and hypnotic tendrils than any other album on standouts such as “Like A River,” “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall),” and “Spring (Among The Living).” The most exultant of a sound as they’ve ever had with “Big Decisions” clashes with the ominous Arabic-tinted lurching marauder “Tropics (Erase Traces)” bleeding into soothing closer “Only Memory Remains.” A psalm of acceptance and pressing on, even paying tribute to their time spent at the Panoramic House where they seem to have found whatever they were looking for. If Z’s elemental attachment was of the ocean, sounding submerged and aquatic, despite its H2O-inclined title, The Waterfall is an album of the skies, inspiring and sweeping with eyes to the horizon. James stated that it felt like the band was “Inside the sky” back on that California coast and somehow they were able to transmit that into art. My Morning Jacket still aren’t done sketching their ethereal American frontier.

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2. Father John Misty- I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty’s sophomore album I Love You, Honeybear can blow anyone away with the force of a category five hurricane that chooses to listen to it. It’s a decadent yet delectable expedition into the perverse, capricious, and even benevolent brain of one Josh Tillman. The record at times plays more like Tillman spouting satirical stand-up comedy as a philharmonic props him up from behind and holds his cocktail when necessary. The schmaltz runneth over on the opening title track, a provocative laudation to his wife (“Mascara, blood, ash and cum on the Rorschach sheets where we made love”) of whom Honeybear is structured around as a loose concept album. The carnal ecstasy continues in “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)” as he croons, “I wanna take you in the kitchen/ Lift up your wedding dress someone was probably murdered in” followed by Tillman lamenting the flaccid incompatibility of modern technology, dry-humping his way through the electro-tinged “True Affection.” The maudlin solipsism in “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow” rests its exhausted head on the bar, before Tillman gets behind the wheel totally sloshed and navigates recklessly through “The Ideal Husband.” He goes into lounge-lizard mode in the world-weary, self-deprecating “Bored In The USA” delivering some of the most hilarious lines in monologue mode (“How many people arise and think,/ ‘Oh good, the stranger’s body’s still here, our arrangement hasn’t changed'”) while strings swirl about. The global-catastrophe, meta-mind-fuck of “Holy Shit” gives way to the surprisingly saccharine coda of “I Went To The Store One Day” where he states he doesn’t want to die in a hospital bed but rather “Save the Big One for the last time we make love.” Honeybear is as invasive as it is romantic and affectionate. Tillman lets you peek through the blinds for this masterpiece running through the gamut of emotions with him.

 

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1. Muse- Drones

Rock & Roll often thrives when it remembers that the music and the enterprise was meant to be a spectacle. Muse have never been a band to dismiss their garish ambitions, proudly leading the syndicate of Sci-Fi infused apocalyptic hard rock/heavy metal. They never truly went away but 2012’s The 2nd Law was a bit of a stumble (Although underrated ultimately) breaking their string of four sensational records from Origin Of Symmetry through The Resistance. They rectify any sort of past transgressions with 2015’s return to glory Drones, their best album since 2006’s watershed mark Black Holes and Revelations. It’s a high-octane steamrolling leviathan of a concept album regarding the dehumanization of modern warfare with the aggressive advances in drone technology drawing inspiration from singer/guitarist Matt Bellamy after he read the book Predators: The CIA’s Drone War on al Qaeda by Dartmouth professor Brian Glyn Williams. The narrative follows an unnamed protagonist thrown through a gauntlet of physical and psychological manipulation. Many bands would shy away from such a monstrosity but Muse embrace it and to create such a behemoth they seek out legendary producer Robert “Mutt” Lange. The mammoth sound is instantaneous in the sheer torque and pummeling crunch of “Psycho” and Dominic Howard’s drums provide a gargantuan yet crisp thump. “Mercy” is a pulsating stadium-sized ballad worthy of “Starlight” comparisons, the vamping “Reapers” is a side-winder missile strike with Bellamy’s most scorching fret work ever while “The Handler” and “Defector” are raucous pile-driving bruisers. The Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms”-styled “Aftermath” sets up “The Globalist,” their most formidable and daunting track to date. A 10-minute saga that coagulates all of Muse’s virtues into an unparalleled dystopian rock opera. The closing title track is an inauspicious oratorio of Bellamy’s layered voice scanning the wasteland wreckage only to find the inevitable truth of death and decay. Drones proves to be Muse’s most industrious album yet, and that’s saying a lot. An Orwellian colossus, rife with paranoia for paranoid times.

Lords of Summer: Sweet Summer Sun

I’ve been pretty inconsistent posting on here so let’s see what I can generate. I’m going to attempt writing more random recollections on music, movies, and movements. I used to do it back when I was a lot more freewheelin’ and weirder. It also helped that I had a lot more free time on my hands. So let’s all get weird together again.

It’s arguably been my most eventful Summer yet, trekking to both places familiar and alien. An ocean? Holy shit. We’ll get to that…

The opening scene of Summer happened in late May in Chicago with Woodstock ’15 (Fagan term). First on the docket was a return to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs vs. Royals. This was my first time back in the friendly confines to see a Cub game since 2011 I believe (Checks facts, still hazy).

There hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer about over the past 4-5 seasons during this rebuilding stretch, but out of those ashes has risen a youthful, hungry 2015 Cub team. This has been the long-term plan ever since the new front office of President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer joined the Cubs in late 2011. They’re ruthless and cut-throat when it comes to analytical decisions and they will do whatever it takes to make the Cubs succeed and chase down that elusive World Series title. After what they did in Boston, I fully trust them to get it done.

It was a great time being out in the center field bleachers for the first time. I had far too many beers (I would not recommend drinking a 12-pack worth of beers at Wrigley alone, for both your liver and your wallet) and the crowd was a rabid mix of Cubs fans and Royals fans (Est. 2014). Unfortunately I think I legitimately went to The General Jake Arrieta’s last “bad” start (This was May 29th, almost three months ago) as the Royals ended up pulling away with this one. I anticipated retribution the following night but it was not to be as the game was rained out. I’ll have to wait until the make up game on September 28th, which could have huge playoff implications for both teams. If I would’ve known then what I know now just how great this Cubs team would turn out to be, I wouldn’t have been as disappointed in the loss. The young nucleus of this team is only going to get better too as the years go on. More importantly they make sure to keep it fun.

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After having a few more (unneeded) beers at Merkle’s it was up to my associate Matt Moss and I to stumble drunkenly through the Wrigleyville area in an attempt to find the Riviera Theatre to see “The Chief” Noel Gallagher. astonishingly we were able to find it (After a vital pit stop at Al’s Italian Beef) and Noel was able to pick us up with his impeccable, soaring anthems. A set that infused magnificent solo cuts (If you don’t have the new incredible Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds album Chasing Yesterday that was released in March, stop reading this post, order it, then continue reading) with timeless Oasis classics ending things with a majestic “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”

June brought with it a pilgrimage to Waverly, IA to experience the carnival feel of Mumford & Sons’ traveling Gentlemen of the Road festival. An interesting endeavor considering the current boom of stationary festivals. It was a diverse line-up that featured some of my favorite stalwart bands like Dawes, Jeff The Brotherhood, and The Flaming Lips as well as unfamiliar ones that were a pleasant surprise like Rubblebucket and The Maccabees. The two-headed dragon of My Morning Jacket and Mumford & Sons were to no surprise the best parts of the weekend. Mumford & Sons have seemingly made an effortless transition to the bright lights, big crowds, and main stages of the world. They were a well-oiled machine in Waverly and always an extraordinary live act. My heart however, belonged to My Morning Jacket pertaining to the live acts. They were operating on a totally different plateau than everyone else there that weekend both spiritually and physically. I’ll never tire of seeing them live, sonic transcendence at its best.

I had to pick myself up off the floor for the next weekend in Kansas City to see some band called The Rolling Stones. One of the bands I’ve definitely been pining for to see live and cross off my concert bucket list. It is astonishing what they are doing at their age but they still sounded incredible and Mick Jagger cemented his legacy as the greatest front man of all time. He strutted and preened like he was in his 20’s belting out classic after classic. It was like witnessing the Dead Sea Scrolls of Rock & Roll. They were in the rattling genesis of Rock music, like witnessing the Big Bang of the universe. I don’t know how long they’ll tour (Mick said he has no plans of retirement and Keith is going to live forever), but I’m glad I had a chance to see them live in person. What this had me salivating for more than anything was a new record from them. 2005’s A Bigger Bang was their best album in my opinion since 1978’s Some Girls and recent singles like “One More Shot” and “Doom and Gloom” came off as effortless blues rock instant classics. I’m sure they have enough fire power to churn out another batch of marvelous tunes. I’d love for them to work with Jack White or Rick Rubin as the producer, but I’ll take anything to be honest.

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I had been redlining at work for sometime and needed a lengthy break physically and mentally. I took the longest amount of time off I’ve had from work in 13 years, I whopping two weeks (For me that’s impressive!). For the first leg of vacation I headed to South Carolina, specifically Folly Beach for a relaxing few days. This was foreign territory for me, I’d never seen the Atlantic Ocean, it was a sight to behold. I am horrible at taking pictures so this was as good as it got (Look at that fuggin’ rad moon!).

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We left South Carolina a few days later and proceeded to trek across the countryside for nearly 19 hours. What was awaiting me on the other side of this road trip was Chicago and Lollapalooza. I’ve now been to Lollapalooza six consecutive times and I must confess although it’s a great time, I was considering sitting out this year. The way the festival has been trending in recent years was more towards EDM (Bull shit), abysmal hip-hop (Bull shit), and flavorless pop acts (Bull shit) rather than the guitar-centered Rock & Roll bands. Sure there’s always a strong undercard every year but the main stages have been getting less stellar. Well, when they announced the Friday and Saturday headliners I was all in. Paul McCartney and Metallica, I thought it was a hoax at first. No hoax at all. I saw McCartney back at Bonnaroo in 2013 and he was the best act there and he was brilliant again here. Meanwhile it’s been nearly seven years since I’ve seen Metallica live and they did not let me down. They’re still arguably my favorite band of all time and have been since high school (Okay, okay, I had a severe Guns ‘N’ Roses crazed phase in there too). Couple those monolithic acts with the other acts I saw: St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Father John Misty, The War on Drugs, Gary Clark Jr., Catfish & The Bottlemen, Death From Above 1979, Delta Spirit, Tame Impala, Circa Waves, Lord Huron, Strand of Oaks, Of Monsters and Men, TV on the Radio, and Florence + The Machine and it was one of the best Lollapaloozas I’ve been to. Next year? We’ll see.

There’s a lot of details I left out but I’m getting royally distracted by the blitzkrieg heaviness of Metallica’s Lollapalooza set I purchased from their website:

Metallica.Lollapalooza.Chicago.cover_.0801-15I’ll always be forever tethered to this band. For people that don’t like Metallica or don’t understand, I’m not sure what to tell you. It’s that chaotic angst the registers in your marrow, only Metallica is able to drill that deep for me I think. You could buy the physical double CD of this show (Which I did) or download it. Metallica does this for all of their live shows now and I wish all acts would do it. For one, an extra source of revenue for them and two it would cut down on bootlegging.

That’s it for now, more posts coming I believe. One on Sunday if I’m up to the task.

P.S.- I’m seeing The Tallest Man on Earth tonight at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City so let the live shows keep flowing! I’ve seen him a few times already live and he’s extremely captivating, one of the best lyricists on the planet. Cheers!