Halftime Report: The 25 Best Albums Of 2017 So Far…

While the world is seemingly devolving into a chaotic mess more so each day, great new music is thriving at seemingly an alarming rate in 2017 and it only looks to get better in the 2nd half of the year.

We’ll get to that 2nd half in moment but let’s not diminish the incredible albums there have been in the 1st half. I enjoyed doing this Top 25 Halftime Report in 2016 so I’m back with it again as June winds down. We’ve seen some phenomenal encores by Father John Misty, Japandroids, Jason Isbell, and Royal Blood after their breakthrough albums proving they’re no flukes. Fleet Foxes returned after being away for more than six years with the superb Crack-Up and Strand Of Oaks is currently the the front-runner for the “Dark Horse Album Of The Year” with Hard Love. Spoon once again delivered the goods with Hot Thoughts proving they’re as dependable as anyone in the game right now however they cling to the that last spot in the Top 10 and are precariously placed for the onslaught to come in the following months. This could be the first year since I started these lists in 2008 where a March album doesn’t make it into the Top 10. That’s a pretty impressive run for a month so early in the year regardless.

With all of that said let’s preview the insanely tantalizing 2nd half now. Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy has had the #1 spot on lock-down since early April and has already held off some pretty stiff competition but if it survives the rest of this year at the top it would be the most remarkable feat I’ve seen since starting these lists. As I stated earlier 2017 looks to be arguably the best year overall for new music in awhile including the 2nd half beginning July 28th with Arcade Fire’s highly anticipated Everything Now. Other high profile acts expected to drop albums look like a “Murderers’ Row” including: Queens Of The Stone Age, The War On Drugs, Iron & Wine, LCD Soundsystem, The National, Foo Fighters, Deer Tick (Two!), Prophets Of Rage, Wolf Alice, MGMT, Liam Gallagher, and The Killers. That doesn’t even include heavily rumored albums by titans like Noel Gallagher, Bruce Springsteen, Black Country Communion, and U2 along with others sure to be unveiled in the next few months. Yikes.

I have no idea how the year-end Top 50 will shake out but one thing I can surely guarantee is that like last year’s Top 25 Halftime Report and final Top 50 it will be drastically different than what’s presented now.

For now though check out these 25 great albums of the 1st half of 2017 below:

  1. Father John Misty- Pure Comedy
  2. Ryan Adams- Prisoner
  3. Japandroids- Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
  4. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit- The Nashville Sound
  5. Portugal. The Man- Woodstock
  6. Royal Blood- How Did We Get So Dark?
  7. Fleet Foxes- Crack-Up
  8. Strand Of Oaks- Hard Love
  9. Dan Auerbach- Waiting On A Song
  10. Spoon- Hot Thoughts
  11. Craig Finn- We All Want The Same Things
  12. At The Drive In- in • ter a • li • a
  13. Kendrick Lamar-DAMN.
  14. Conor Oberst- Salutations
  15. The Shins- Heartworms
  16. Cheap Trick- We’re All Alright!
  17. Ty Segall- Ty Segall
  18. Phoenix- Ti Amo
  19. Alt-J- Relaxer
  20. Roger Waters- Is This The Life We Really Want?
  21. Cory Branan- Adios
  22. British Sea Power- Let The Dancers Inherit The Party
  23. White Reaper- The World’s Best American Band
  24. Body Count- Bloodlust
  25. Dropkick Murphys- 11 Short Stories Of Pain & Glory

 

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2016

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2016:

glennhughes-resonate

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.

 

pinegrove

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.

 

neil-young

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.

 

sea-of-noise

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.

 

1470862641_1470851357_cover

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.

angel-olsen-my-woman

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.

pete-yorn

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.

 

46181-lonely-is-a-lifetime

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.

 

proust

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.

51hmqzvqunl

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.

 

the-lumineers-cleopatra

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.

53707-life-in-the-dark

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.

 

head_carrier_pixies

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.

005475515_500

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.”

 

e5cac5240b01fbfd376ad248ac286aa9

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.

 

andrew-leahey

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.

 

57674-never-enough

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.

 

bones-of-jr-jones

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”).

 

wolfmother-victorious-album-cover-art-500x500

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.

55153-away

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.

local-natives-sunlit-youth

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.

ryley

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.

51297-a-sailors-guide-to-earth

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.

 

shelters

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.

 

dinosaur-jr-give-a-glimpse-of-what-yer-not-album-cover-art

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.

 

frightened-rabbit-painting-of-a-panic-attack-album-cover-art

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.”

 

little-seeds

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.

 

conor-oberst

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.

cheap-trick

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).

 

wilco

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.

0004571286

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.

 

dawes

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.

 

parker-millsap

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.

 

drive-by-truckers-american-band-album-cover-art

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.

 

mudcrutch-2

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.

 

005085597_500

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.

 

54836-why-are-you-ok

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.

 

butch-walker

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.

 

brian-fallon

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.

 

kyle-craft

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.

 

iggy-pop

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.

 

green-day

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.

 

david-bowie-blackstar-2016-billboard-1000

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.

 

radiohead

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.

 

kings-of-leon-walls-2016-2480x2480-500x500

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.

 

cohen

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.

 

black-pistol-fire

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.

 

rhcp

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.

 

Metallica-HardwiredToSelfDestruct-Cover

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.

NOVEMBER REIGN- LEGENDS OF THE FALL: CHICAGO CUBS 2016 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS

World Series Cubs Indians Baseball

(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!

cubs-suits

  • 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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2015

silversun-pickups-better-nature-album-art

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.

Radkey-Dark-Black-Makeup

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.

what-a-terrible-world-what-a-beautiful-world

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.

Waterboys

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.”

ELO

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.

Titus Andronicus

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.

ivan-alyosha-its-all-just-pretend-500x500

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.

The-Winery-Dogs-–-Hot-Streak

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.

Clutch

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.

Bingham

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.

Florence_-_The_Machine_-_How_Big_How_Blue_How_Beautiful

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.

FoalsCover

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.

motorhead-bad-magic

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.

brandon-flowers-album-artwork

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.

Wolf_Alice_-_My_Love_Is_Cool

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.”

28176-valley-of-the-snake

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.

Monsanto

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.

ladylamb_afterlpart-e1425331373450

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.

ike-reilly-born-on-fire

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.

editors-11

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.

frank-turner-500x500

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.

craig-finn-faith-in-the-future-album-cover-art-500x500

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.”

mciii

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.

thearcs_yoursdreamily

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.

28459-untethered-moon

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.

courtney

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.

Lord Huron

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.

of-monsters-and-men-skin

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.

All_Across_This_Land_Blitzen_Trapper

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.

Currents

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.

Alabama_Shakes_-_Sound_&_Color_album_cover

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.

33501-poison-season

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.

Desaparecidos-Payola-album-cover-art

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.

jeffthebro

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.

26035-carrie-lowell

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.

JR_SOTR_LP-2

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.

William-Elliott-Whitmore-2015-Radium-Death

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.

Jason-Isbell-Something-More-Than-Free-Album-Review-Spotify-Stream

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.

Iron Maiden

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.

gary-clark-jr-the-story-of-sonny-boy-slim-album-cover-art

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.”

allyourfavoritebandscoverjb

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.

mumford-sons-wilder-mind

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.

wilco-star-wars-album-cover-art

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.

27653-dark-bird-is-home

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.”

 21752-chasing-yesterday

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.

My Morning Jacket The Waterfall

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.

22669-i-love-you-honeybear

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.

 

muse-drones-2015-album-art-billboard-510x510

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.

TOP 50 RECORDS OF 2014

Justin-Townes-Earle-Single-Mothers50. Justin Townes Earle- Single Mothers
Single Mothers sees Justin Townes Earle stripping elements away instrumentally without dialing back the 3am heartache. Pedal steel supplies a morphine drip of comfort to the audience as they try to cope with the Earle’s fragile songs of lament. As far as the new age of Nashville songwriters/storytellers is concerned, he remains near the top.

PallbearerFoundationsofBurdenalbumcoverartworkpackshotThrashHits49. Pallbearer- Foundations of Burden
In terms of rafter-rattling monstrous riffs in 2014, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more monolithically menacing record that Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden. With four of the six songs clocking in over 10 minutes (Plus another at 8:41) it’s easy to get into sucked these massive slabs of metal as visions of Sabbath course through your brain.

favorite_waitress48. The Felice Brothers- Favorite Waitress
After 2011’s experimental Celebration, Florida The Felice Brothers return three years later with more of a return to their roots with the folk rock-tinged Favorite Waitress. With refined melodies and Ian Felice’s early Dylan-esque nasally croon, Favorite Waitress is a warm-hearted record that rewards the listener with repeated listens.

13992-half-the-city47. St. Paul & The Broken Bones- Half The City
Half The City is like a jubilant liturgical service for castaways and ragamuffins. Born out of the same Alabama neo-soul that saw the ascension of Alabama Shakes (Even produced by Shakes’ Ben Tanner), St. Paul & The Broken Bones have created a righteous debut that makes the grit and sweat of the streets seem like salvation.

51dZ6+j5dqL46. Robert Ellis- The Lights From The Chemical Plant
While awful plop country/bro country continues to be bafflingly successful in America there is a movement of genuine-article country artists trying to save the genre. Names like Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle, Jason Isbell, and now Robert Ellis are reminding us why country music used to be such an earnest and respected art form. Ellis acts as a craftsman on The Lights From The Chemical Plant with frayed songs that are both raw yet slightly polished. More records like this could go a long way in restoring the fortitude of country music.

softwhite45. The Soft White Sixties- Get Right.
The Soft White Sixties start breaking down the walls with a radiant debut in Get Right. With nods to retro rock and pop, The Soft White Sixties mine similar territory to that of Dr. Dog. Churning, chattering organs and buzzing guitars make for a blissful alchemy with just the right amount of edge.

cold-war-kids-hold-my-home-album-cover-art44. Cold War Kids- Hold My Home
After the astounding breakout success of Robbers & Cowards, Cold War Kids’ momentum cooled. With 2013’s stellar Dear Miss Lonelyhearts and this year’s even better Hold My Home it appears that they’re back on the map. Pounding pianos and strutting grooves are the perfect pillars for Nathan Willett’s warbling falsetto to soar into arena rock territory.

14003-eagulls43. Eagulls- Eagulls
These ain’t The Eagles your Dad listened to. The self-titled debut from Eagulls is a hungry and fierce entrance into the world, a cross section of howling punk blended with eighties left-of-the-dial guitars making it a record that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go.

wig-out-at-jagbags42. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks- “Wig Out at Jagbags”
Former Pavement front man Stephen Malkmus continues the 2nd stellar act of his career with his backing band The Jicks and 2014’s “Wig Out at Jagbags”. Jangling, wiry jolts of guitar play off of Malkmus and his wry delivery of lyrics. So when he invites us to, “Come slam dancing with some ancient dudes” the answer is of course, yes.

chi-goldplay-ghost-stories-review-20140519-00141. Coldplay- Ghost Stories
Coldplay return after a three-year hiatus to deliver their most experimental endeavor yet with Ghost Stories. Icy synths and hip-hop rhythms supply a velvet undercurrent to many tracks but if you think they’ve forgotten about their stadium-sized theatrics guess again as they shoot for the moon on the Avicii-produced, EDM-inspired “A Sky Full of Stars” proving that they still haven’t lost their taste for celestial theatrics.

16239-dereconstructed40. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires- Dereconstructed
With a band name like Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires you better damn sure be a shit-kicking act. Bains and company do not disappoint on Dereconstructed. Part soaked in southern comfort, part motor oil from the garage, and crushing riffs on the level of AC/DC; this is a record meant for hard-charging weekend nights. Really, any night you feel like killing a bottle of bourbon or case of beer yourself.

20140401_jack_white_9139. Jack White- Lazaretto
With the release of his sophomore solo effort Lazaretto, ever-mercurial Jack White is clearly trying to cut his own individual swath and be redefined as something other than the garage rock guitar god of The White Stripes. White stretches further into exploration with uneven pianos bobbing and weaving throughout and a sense of matured restraint. It’s quieter than his usual amplified racket but he still wonders back occasionally into realms that put him on the map as indicated by the screeching instrumental “High Ball Stepper.”

1391438441_d8016922d83933daec546eae47e11f6038. The Family Rain- Under The Volcano
What an apt name like The Family Rain is for this band. Three brothers unite forming a potent power trio and Under The Volcano expertly displays their formidable prowess. A tight but not constricted set of catchy blues rock bangers similar to The Black Keys. Continuing a trend like this record ensures staying power.

5f94532b-e139831137097637. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart- Days of Abandon
2011’s Belong put The Pains of Being Pure at Heart on the map. Trying to keep the momentum going with their follow up, Days of Abandon they more than succeed. More dreamscape guitars swirl around singer/guitarist Kip Berman’s whimsical vocals. They bring the alternative side of the ‘90s into the new millennium with fantastic results.

17851-benjamin-booker36. Benjamin Booker- Benjamin Booker
Benjamin Booker arrives on the blues scene with a frenetic self-titled debut that is sure to put him at the forefront of the movement. A gritty, raw output that has the dirty, sincere feel of traditional blues blended with distorted, scuzzy guitars that you’d hear on punk rock albums. Booker’s wounds pour out in fervent feedback-fueled bliss.

drytheriver-artwork-album-small35. Dry The River- Alarms in the Heart
After a phenomenal debut in 2012 with Shallow Bed, Dry The River return with more gorgeous chamber pop while aiming for even loftier places with Alarms in the Heart. Chiming and ringing waves propel that band forward but the real weapon continues to be Peter Liddle’s haunting, wounded falsetto. It teeters on an improbable line of innocence and experienced heartbreak.

field report34. Field Report- Marigolden
Christopher Porterfield leads Field Report through opulent yet simplistic landscapes on Marigolden. Similar to that of Wilco, Field Report brings the best elements of Americana to the forefront and adds dashes of electronic flourishes and modernized production. As far as looking towards the future in a genre like Americana you’d have to look to Field Report as one of the front-running bands.

upside down mountain33. Conor Oberst- Upside-Down Mountain
Conor Oberst’s pedigree is well-known by now. A tireless workhorse as indicated by his discography with both Bright Eyes and as a solo artist. Also stunning is his prolific songwriting chops; one of the best around and Upside-Down Mountain is his finest solo effort yet. Oberst’s songwriting continues to be his primary strength but understated idiosyncrasies in the layers of neo-folk make this his best record since 2005’s Bright Eyes masterpiece I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning.

DBT english-oceans32. Drive-By Truckers- English Oceans
Drive-By Truckers have been the workingman’s blue-collar southern rock band since 1998, constantly cranking out quality records every year or two. A three-year break might’ve caused some concern, but English Oceans shows no signs of rust. In fact, if anything they emerge stronger than ever as Mike Cooley has emerged as a wonderful co-collaborator next to Patterson Hood writing six of the 13 songs here. Another fine batch of gritty southern-spun tales but none better than the powerful closer “Grand Canyon,” a cascading sunrise epic to fallen DBT family member Craig Lieske.

SR_swimmin31. Shovels & Rope- Swimmin’ Time
Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst have brought a refreshing angle into Americana music. A married duo creating some of the best music of the genre with the male/female dynamic which continues in Swimmin’ Time. Enchanting campfire sing-a-longs are met by boozy ramshackle burners. It’s an album that sounds rustic yet revitalizing at the same time.

california breed30. California Breed- California Breed
There are aging rockers with their weathered vocals losing some of their punch over the years and decades, then there’s Glenn Hughes whose pipes still have enough hurricane howl to level a stadium. After the dissolution of Black Country Communion, Hughes and drummer Jason Bonham regrouped and with 23-year-old hot shot virtuoso Andrew Watt. The trio formed California Breed and their self-titled debut picks up where BCC left off. Powerhouse bluesy rockers strut as they pummel their way into your cerebrum. And as for if Hughes has lost any amplification in that Golden God wail yet? Just listen to the chorus in “The Grey” and give your verdict.

jbrowne29. Jackson Browne- Standing in the Breach
Jackson Browne has always had a way of standing out from the pack regarding topical singer/songwriters because of his delicacy and reassured approach to his craft. Standing in the Breach is his first record in six years and one of the finest he’s ever made. His gentle California croon gliding effortlessly through a classic collection of songs that signal a probable resurgence for Browne.

ty-segall-the-manipulator-album-stream-npr28. Ty Segall- Manipulator
Ty Segall has built one of the most prodigious catalogs in a short amount of time and with Manipulator he’s made his best record to date. What a difference a little clarity and fidelity makes! Segall fuses elements of pop with his California garage fuzz all filtered through T. Rex-style guitar glam. Segall has the canon of someone twice his age and yet Manipulator shows that he may just be getting started.

rival sons27. Rival Sons- Great Western Valkyrie
Rival Sons are carved out of the granite of classic hard rock. With 2014’s Great Western Valkyrie they’ve seemed to finally reach their Valhalla destination. Their best record yet that could hold up against many of the monumental albums of ‘70s powerhouse acts. Front man Jay Buchanan wails and howls with impunity as the band weaves in and out of touchstones from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple. With a classic rock-leaning band like this not in fashion you certainly hope they don’t fade into obscurity.

neil young storytone26. Neil Young- Storytone
Neil Young is a man that doesn’t know how to stop working. He’s arguably been more prolific with releases in his latter-day career than at his creative summit in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some of it very frustrating (Fork in the Road, Americana), some of it good (Chrome Dreams II, Living With War) and even in some cases, still incredible (Psychedelic Pill). 2014’s Storytone fits in the middle of that pack and sees Young believe it or not putting yet another new spin on his musical footprint. Songs are split between the massive swells of a 92-piece orchestra and big band arrangements with surprisingly stunning yet focused results.

AC-DC_-_Rock_Or_Bust25. AC/DC- Rock Or Bust
You’ve heard terms “The irresistible force” and “The immovable object” before? Well, the indomitable AC/DC can fit under both of those banners. AC/DC are Rock & Roll survivors, after first losing front man Bon Scott in 1980 all the way up until this year losing co-founding guitarist Malcolm Young due to dementia and drummer Phil Rudd due to legal troubles. The result of all of this attrition and internal strife leads up to Rock or Bust. A stout, guttural shot of classic visceral AC/DC. Clocking in at less than 35 minutes, it’s their shortest record ever but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack all of the meaty riffs and power surges from some of its masterpieces lead by guitarist Angus Young and front man Brian Johnson’s weathered banshee growl. It’s uncompromising, they haven’t changed a damn thing in 40 years… and thank these Aussie Gods for that.

el pintor24. Interpol- El Pintor
Interpol was one of the more prominent guitar buzz bands in the early 2000’s and after a four-year break they prove why they were at the head of that pack with El Pintor. Nocturnal and brooding in areas, luminous and energized in others as Paul Banks serenades with his melancholy baritone that could give The National’s Matt Berninger a run for his money.

temples23. Temples- Sun Structures
There are several bands who’ve tried to tap into the golden years of ‘60s and ’70s psychedelic rock with mixed results. English lads Temples feel more like the real deal than some cheap imitator. Their debut Sun Structures is brilliantly produced with echoing guitar tones, whimsical harmonies, and hooks a-plenty this band sounds like they’re at the beginning of something extraordinary. Songs like “Shelter Song,” “Keep in the Dark,” “Mesmerize,” and “Test of Time” sound like they could be hit singles from 1968 all the way up until today.

WNCC-500x50022. Wolfmother- New Crown
Wolfmother’s future seemed uncertain with a constant revolving cast along with leader Andrew Stockdale releasing a solo album in 2013 and in a roundabout way hinting that Wolfmother may be finished. Out of the blue though Stockdale dropped Wolfmother’s surprise third record New Crown as a digital download via website Bandcamp to no fanfare at all. New Crown finds Stockdale taking a more raw approach than the two predecessors while still maintaining all of Wolfmother’s strengths. Squealing, squawking guitars rip like serrated blades while Stockdale roars like an invigorated beast. No matter the cast behind him, whether he continues under the Wolfmother moniker or as a solo artist, Stockdale is going to continue moving forward on his own terms. He’s too talented not to.

seeds21. TV on the Radio- Seeds
Following the 2011 death of bassist Gerard Smith, TV on the Radio took a break from the action until the release of 2014’s Seeds. A requiem of sorts for the band it serves as a fitting eulogy to their fallen comrade. They continue to carve out their own niche of art rock with subtle washes of electronic accents. Arguably their best record to date, TV on the Radio has seemingly survived tragic loss and come out on the other side stronger than ever.

smashing pumpkins20. The Smashing Pumpkins- Monuments to an Elegy
By now The Smashing Pumpkins have really become nothing more than a glorified solo project of Billy Corgan’s as the lone-surviving original member. That doesn’t make newer Pumpkins records any less potent or rewarding as Corgan has always been the brain trust at the center of the matter. Monuments to an Elegy has more of the alt-‘90s guitars that buzz and hiss while liquid synths provide a glacial blanket to make this the most engaging record Corgan has released in years.

Tuff artwork19. King Tuff- Black Moon Spell
There’s no other way to put it: King Tuff is one of the weirdest and best artists out there right now. His style is almost unable to be categorized and his newest LP Black Moon Spell displays that. Psych pop, garage fuzz, glam rock, and metallic riffs all packed into an irresistible cauldron of eccentric magic. If you get lost in a swirling psychedelia while listening to this record, fear not as Kyle Thomas will ferry you safely across the river.

broken bells18. Broken Bells- After the Disco
It seemed at first like it may have been just a one-off side project but James Mercer and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) return under the guise of Broken Bells after a four-year absence with their sophomore effort After the Disco. Ever the production wiz with an ear for catchy pop hooks, Burton creates an atmosphere of flittering globes and fluorescent nebulas that dance around Mercer’s tantalizing falsetto. Inescapable grooves and melodies are like 2nd nature for Mercer and Burton; it’s as natural as breathing for them.

Band_of_Skulls_-_Himalayan17. Band of Skulls- Himalayan
With Himalayan Band of Skulls concocted a metallic-sounding record that is an amalgamation of truncated pop sensibilities and adventurous prog rock. You wouldn’t think something like the complex grandiosity of a band like Muse could be shaped and melded into a Black Keys style of bluesy restraint but that’s exactly what they manage to do. A record that is largely undefined, and that’s what makes it so alluring.

Strand-of-Oaks-Heal16. Strand of Oaks- Heal
Timothy Showalter (Strand of Oaks) has tapped into a rich reservoir of neo-folk similar to that of My Morning Jacket. Showalter drifts in and out of a sonic slipstream with a shaman’s proficiency on Heal. None more startling than the centerpiece simply titled “JM” for the late indie rock icon Jason Molina. It’s a transcendent, Crazy Horse-spirited tribute that would leave the likes of Neil Young and the late Molina awestruck.

the_orwells_disgraceland-500x50015. The Orwells- Disgraceland
In an era where everyone is trying to decide what’s next for popular music and attempting create state of the art futuristic albums with mixed results; The Orwells come crashing through the wall with a breath of fresh air in Disgraceland. With no frills and all thrills it’s a brash, middle finger double shot of rough ‘n’ tumble Rock & Roll. Front man Mario Cuomo sounds like he’s coughing up blood to get every last ounce of moxie into each song as the band shreds a jagged distorted path through Friday nights. Why over-think things when it’s so much easier hanging on the edge for dear life with The Orwells?

into the wide14. Delta Spirit- Into the Wide
Into the Wide is a fitting title for Delta Spirit’s fourth album as it’s a panoramic journey that sees them take their biggest creative leap yet. Sounding less like a band entrenched in Americana music and gliding towards a more ethereal template with visions of grandeur as evidenced by anthems like “From Now On,” “Live On,” “Take Shelter,” “For My Enemy,” and “Patriarch.” Delta Spirit continues to grow more ambitious with each passing record and their surging arc of creativity doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.

high hopes13. Bruce Springsteen- High Hopes
For his 18th studio album High Hopes Bruce Springsteen takes his most unorthodox path of constructing a record. A collection of castaways, covers, and reconfigurations providing a fusion that Springsteen thought had to see the light of day. Fueling Springsteen’s drive even further was Rage Against The Machine guitarist and E Street understudy Tom Morello. A genuine guitar hero, Morello’s amplified alien landscapes were a lightning rod of inspiration according to Springsteen himself. The results are startlingly synergetic as Morello’s tones and squalls sound revitalizing interwoven throughout the various rhapsodies of Springsteen’s. Retirement is seemingly the furthest thing from Springsteen’s mind at this moment; with plenty of material left to excavate and revive along with a continuous outpouring of new ideas, Springsteen made this keen observation, “It’s like that old story. The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”

spoon12. Spoon- They Want My Soul
Waiting over four years for a new Spoon record is far too long. With the arrival of 2014’s They Want My Soul however, Spoon shows it was well worth the wait as they’ve created one of their best records. Certainly their most accessible and engaging since 2007’s breakthrough Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. A concentrated set of songs with the perfect balance of staccato guitars and off-kilter pianos that have become a part of Spoon’s blueprint. “Rent I Pay,” “Rainy Taxi,” “Do You,” “Outlier,” and “Let Me Be Mine” all hold up against anything else in their sprawling back catalog. The finest moment however might come on luminous closer “New York Kiss” that sounds like Spoon taking a stab at new wave flourishes with outstanding results.

DFA197911. Death From Above 1979- The Physical World
Death From Above 1979 became the definitive buzz band with the unpredictable success of their 2004 debut record You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. As quickly as success found them it became all too taxing on the duo of Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger and they called it quits. 10 years later, burnt bridges are repaired and with it comes their hotly anticipated follow-up The Physical World. The results are incredibly dynamic as it sounds like they never split in the first place. With bizarro ragers dancing on a razor’s edge, killer cuts like “Cheap Talk,” “Right On Frankenstein,” “Trainwreck 1979,” and “Government Trash” make you wish more than anything that we hear more from DFA 1979 before 2024.

Royal+Blood+tumblr_n7mc8bsHqR1qcp7mao1_128-500x50010. Royal Blood- Royal Blood
2014’s best debut record was by far the self-titled effort from Royal Blood. Royal Blood is a pulverizing display of noise caused only by the menacing tandem of Mike Kerr on bass and Ben Thatcher on drums. You can hear a burly brew of influences flooding this 32:38 blitzkrieg including The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age and Muse amongst others. Frantic, uncompromising riffs keep rolling throughout like a seismic steamroller displaying Royal Blood’s vicious prowess, well beyond their years. You can literally feel the sweat and fuel drip from the pores of these brawny headbangers, there’s not one second on Royal Blood that isn’t explosive and adrenaline-packed. Royal Blood have already conquered the UK with their album going to #1 and they’ve got enough fire power to rattle the dominos and make them fall across the Atlantic too.

lc19. Leonard Cohen- Popular Problems
There’s no denying the latter-day genius of Bob Dylan. He’s in rarefied air that few can touch, save perhaps for Leonard Cohen. Continuing his brilliance now as an octogenarian, Cohen like Dylan has seen an unlikely creative resurgence with his latest output Popular Problems being the best of the batch so far.

Cohen continues to saunter through his twilight years under the guise of a smoky lounge-act bard; his calloused fathoms-deep vocal brings about a demanded reverence and awe. Popular Problems is nine psalms soul-crushing in dimension, their sorrow burrowing into the marrow of listeners. Cohen uses simple melodies, lilting arrangements, and choral female backing vocals to set the back drop for his phenomenal lyrics. Whether it’s the desolation of “Almost Like The Blues” (“I saw some people starving/ There was murder, there was rape/ Their villages were burning/ They were trying to escape/ I couldn’t meet their glances/ I was staring at my shoes/ It was acid, it was tragic/ It was almost like the blues”) or the emotional anguish of “A Street” (I cried for you this morning/ And I’ll cry for you again/ But I’m not in charge of sorrow/ So please don’t ask me when/ There may be wine and roses/ And magnums of champagne/ But we’ll never know we’ll never/ Ever be that drunk again”), Cohen’s capacity to find the genuine interpretations of personal heartbreak and worldly tumult are nearly unmatched. At 80 years old, how can you beat that type of authenticity?

lost in the dream8. The War On Drugs- Lost in the Dream
It may not top this list but there may have been no other album more beloved in 2014 than Lost in the Dream from The War On Drugs. Critical acclaim from countless publications and a general consensus (Well almost, sorry Mark Kozelek, you missed out) that this is indeed a sonic marvel.

It’s a hybrid of the familiar and extraterrestrial, a nebulous wonder with a cavalcade of classic rock influences wrapped in the cosmos. The gorgeous “Eyes to the Wind” sounds like Against The Wind-era Bob Seger fronted by Bob Dylan with mastermind Adam Granduciel’s nasally Dylan-esque delivery while tracks like “Red Eyes” and “Burning” are like long lost cuts distorted through a wormhole from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. with their radiant synths and restless spirit. There’s an underlying inflection of Dire Straits too as meandering, weaving passages of haunting guitar atmospherics sometime prove more effective than any lyric could do.

Shivering ambiance in areas, enthralling interstellar highways in others, Lost in the Dream defied everyone’s expectations securing 2014’s Dark Horse Record of the Year award for this list.

teeth dreams7. The Hold Steady- Teeth Dreams
You knew the hangover couldn’t last forever, The Hold Steady are finally back for the first time since 2010. Time to saddle up to the bar and try to make a good night last forever again with Teeth Dreams. Front man/preacher Craig Finn leads his Rock & Roll crusaders through more hyper-literate cautionary tales, and their collective sound is the biggest and boldest of their career.

That’s thanks in part to former Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz as well former Lucero guitarist Steve Selvidge joining as a full-time member to add even more muscle to the six string assault. With him, Tad Kubler, and Finn creating an interplay that make the guitars more towering, as evidenced by the masterful opening trifecta of “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” “Spinners,” and “The Only Thing” able to slash right out of watering hole dives and into arenas. Finn lets things simmer with the hypnotic waltz of “The Ambassador” really exploiting his superior songwriting prowess (“When you came back to us/ In South Minneapolis/ You said revenge exists outside of space and time/ Back behind The Ambassador/ Man it feels kind of magical/ I guess your friend can really move things with his mind”) He has an uncanny way of turning the tragic losers and downtrodden characters into the most beautiful. The true crowning achievement though may come in the nearly nine-minute mammoth closer “Oaks.” If there’s such a place as Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland” then The Hold Steady’s “Oaks” is the next borough over. It’s transcendental but not as ethereal. This is a sifting, a clawing through the drug-addled fog, chasing the ambulance lights in the distance. No one wins and everyone dies at the end of this West Side Story. Once again The Hold Steady have created a record that sounds like communal catharsis and feels like one big maudlin embrace.

artworks-000081350319-q8i9yo-t500x5006. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye
“I knew I wanted to do a Rock & Roll record,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone regarding Hypnotic Eye. “We hadn’t made a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end, in a long time.” Petty more than achieves that with a powder keg of feral virility akin to some of his earliest recordings with The Heartbreakers while also integrating their matured sense of self-awareness keen on craft. Flowing seamlessly like a blistering live set of Petty & The Heartbreakers, they bash out snarling rockers sounding like a band half their age.

There’s the predatory riff of opener “American Dream Plan B” as Petty unspools his disintegrating future, “Fault Lines” is a roadhouse boogie chugging along like an 18-wheeler peeling across a desert highway as lead guitarist Mike Campbell interjects some piercing and scalding virtuosity while a gritty harp rides sidecar, and “Red River” is fueled by a brawny, swampy riff to cutting through the Everglades as Petty supplies plenty of faulty religious talismans. Petty and Campbell’s interlocking guitars continue to gallop and swirl like cyclones on “All You Can Carry” and take on a bluesy crunch for “Power Drunk,” “U Get Me High,” and “Burnt Out Town.” The closer “Shadow People” eclipses the six-minute mark and is arguably the album’s finest moment. It’s a brooding slow-burner, marauding in the moonlight until melding into a psychedelic trance middle section. Guitars dance around ringing ivory rain drops before giving way to another spiraling conflagration of Campbell’s ahead of Petty’s cautionary forecast, “And this one carries a gun for the U.S.A. he’s a 21st century man, and he’s scary as hell cause when he’s afraid he’ll destroy anything he don’t understand.” As the song simmers to a seeming finale there’s an added gentle acoustic coda as if a small glint of hope in Petty’s steely blue eyes stops the doomsday clock just before midnight as he muses, “Waiting for the sun to be straight over head till we ain’t got no shadow at all.”

Petty and The Heartbreakers are certainly not entering their geriatric years quietly and this further illustrates that they are an indispensable All-American institution. Nearly 40 years down the road, they’re still running down a dream.

FooFighters_Album8_Cover_l5. Foo Fighters- Sonic Highways
After the career apex of 2011’s instant classic Wasting Light many were left wondering how the Foo Fighters would respond. The result was a hiatus imposed by leader Dave Grohl which allowed him to concentrate on side projects. One of those projects being a documentary about Sound City, a paean to the legendary Los Angeles studio. After that the hiatus didn’t last much longer sparking the motivation of the Foo Fighters most daunting and experimental record yet, Sonic Highways.

Much like the Sound City documentary only far more encompassing, Sonic Highways is a love letter to American music of all forms synthesized through the filter of the Foo Fighters’ trademark sound. It’s literally an expansive journey across the American frontier taking place in eight different pivotal studios in eight different major U.S. cities. Although each track has the signature Foo Fighters’ caterwaul there are audible cadences from the different cities and studios alloyed throughout. An all-star supporting cast facilitates this whether it’s Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen providing an additional baritone guitar to the hulking opener “Something From Nothing,” Zac Brown “devil-pickin’” through “Congregation” leading to a “Freebird”-esque outro, blues gunslinger Gary Clark Jr. providing an escalating solo in “What Did I Do? / God As My Witness,” or guitar God Joe Walsh providing the sweltering desert distortion on “Outside.”

Although this doesn’t quite reach the same mountain top as Wasting Light it is a worthy follow up, aiming high and succeeding. There’s also comfort in knowing that with Wasting Light and now Sonic Highways the Foo Fighters have leveled up to what seems to be a new creative plateau while also becoming standard bearers for arena rock bands.

tga get hurt4. The Gaslight Anthem- Get Hurt
Hipster publications can criticize all they want but there’s still no one on the rock scene making music like The Gaslight Anthem. Going even further, no act has been as consistently dependable as The Gaslight Anthem with producing great records and Get Hurt is their darkest yet.

It’s a collection of jagged yet passionate songs, the emotional strife cloaked in pile-driving rockers, clarion-call choruses, bleeding metallic guitars, and piston-firing drums. Front man Brian Fallon continues to be an authentic heart-on-sleeve poet whose universe remains tilted to an alternate reality. It’s one where James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen all came into their prime a decade or so later. After filming their latest big screen epics they would hang out at CBGB’s in its golden years, down the bar Fallon would be sitting between Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen, trading tour stories over beers. The Ramones would be set to take the stage with gutter punks and greasers in the crowd unified in undulating anticipation. It’s that type of infused mythology that makes Get Hurt so rewarding beginning with opener’s “Stay Vicious” sledgehammer riff and Fallon sounding like he’s been chewing asphalt as he bellows, “And I feel just like a murder, and I feel just like a gun/ And I’ve been shaking in the hands of somebody who’s finally had enough.” Get Hurt continues heavy on the heartbreak and riffs throughout with “1,000 Years,” “Stray Paper,” “Helter Skeleton,” Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and “Red Violins.” The best moment is saved for last with closer “Dark Places” and even goes as far to rival the band’s summit song “The Backseat” which to put in Springsteen vernacular, is their “Born to Run.” This seems like the conclusion to “The Backseat” as a worst case scenario; a road trip that started out so promising with an open stretch of highway and optimism that ends in disillusion and separation, a gradual drifting apart.

Despite the disillusioned climax, there’s an enduring fortitude in Get Hurt, a restless and relentless heart beats in its chest. It’s earnest and genuine and if you’re going to bag on a record like that then there’s no telling what can move you.

ryan adams3. Ryan Adams- Ryan Adams
When Ryan Adams doesn’t release a record for three years it’s the equivalent to 10 years for most other artists. 2011 saw the release of Ashes & Fire after which Adams went dormant (again, relatively), largely in part due to a continuing battle with Ménière’s disease: A debilitating inner ear disorder that can affect hearing and balance. It was so crippling to Adams that it was uncertain if his career would continue.

Fortunately for Adams and everyone else 2014’s self-titled record is not only a comeback, but it’s one of the best he’s ever made. Adams has made a career out of masterfully jumping from genres of music, throwing caution to the wind without batting an eye. Ryan Adams sounds like a record he was always born to make but couldn’t do so until reaching such an age of experience. At 40 he’s made assured adult-contemporary rock music. No deviating sharp turns or genre-jumping from track to track, just 11 masterfully crafted seraphic songs. Filled with visions of a man still cocksure and focused yet having a sense of maturity that belies the same man that had some pretty burdensome demons. The album is bountiful with anthemic ‘70s and ‘80s touchstones but perhaps the most prevailing influence whether deliberate or not is the fidelity of golden-age Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. With their classic chiming guitars and insatiable tenacity coursing through the sultry swagger of opener “Gimme Something Good,” the crepuscular lust in “Kim,” and the Damn The Torpedoes-sized drums in “Trouble” that sound like they could go round-for-round with “Refugee.” “Stay With Me” is so sultry it damn-near sweats and you’d half expect Stevie Nicks to come knocking on your front door, well, 1981 Stevie Nicks. Even Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench is credited with “Organ and Piano weirdness” in the liner notes. There are nods sonically to other statesmen of Rock & Roll, chiefly Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” being emulated on fist-pumping “Feels Like Fire” and the staccato guitar barreling down the darkened highway on “I Just Might.” There are moments of restrained solace as well none better than the astral envoi of “Let Go” as a summation of more than just the album but perhaps Adams’ entire career.

The once combustible, caustic troubadour is letting go of his reservations and instability. Taking the virtues he’s been bestowed with and getting out of the ditch and out onto the middle of the road, driving steady. If this is the sound of driving down the road sober, Adams is entering a new phase in his already prolific career with radiating affirmation.

U2_Songs_of_Innocence_cover2. U2- Songs of Innocence
U2 are arguably the biggest band on the planet (There’s still some band named The Rolling Stones around that might beg to differ), and with that they are also the most polarizing. U2 released Songs of Innocence to a firestorm of negativity due to the way it was delivered, being released for free to anyone that had an iTunes account. It was invasive to a certain extent but nothing more than a minor annoyance which U2 haters blew completely out of proportion. Unfortunately this is how it largely came to be defined as many publications panned it for its release tactics rather than on the merits of the actual record itself. Giving scathing reviews just a few hours after it was available on iTunes. How could you possibly absorb the record that completely? Better question yet, how could you possibly call yourself a professional? Delving deeper into Songs of Innocence reveals U2’s most audacious, ambitious, and cohesive record since Achtung Baby.

At the start or end of every decade U2 has had an innate ability to reinvent or at least reestablish themselves in part due to sheer fortitude but also out of necessity. Where 2009’s No Line on the Horizon missed this mark slightly, Songs of Innocence is an immaculate rebirth that valiantly stares down the future. Ironically U2 move into new frontiers sonically by looking to their past with an array of contemporary producers. Unleashing their classic rapturous sound of heaven as a modern cadence permeates the entire enterprise to create something astonishingly intrinsic. Opener “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” is like a call to arms as distorted shock waves of The Edge’s guitar rupture through Larry Mullen’s militant drums, Bono’s epiphany comes in the form of hymn (“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred/ Heard a song that made some sense out of the world/ Everything I ever lost, now has been returned/ In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard”). “Every Breaking Wave” is sweeping and devastating, it ranks as a peer amongst their biggest most opulent anthems while “California (There is No End to Love)” teeters more towards the rejuvenated rush of early 21st century U2 and “Iris (Hold Me Close)” is an epitaph to Bono’s late mother with the chiming allure of The Unforgettable Fire or The Joshua Tree. “Volcano” and “Raised By Wolves” have the virility and touchstones of War as The Edge’s virtuosity splinters into shards through the disenchanted angst while “Cedarwood Road” may have the heaviest riffing in any U2 song yet. “This is Where You Can Reach Me” has a disco-punk strut of Sandinista-era Clash buoyed by outer limit synths. “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and closing duet with Lykke Li “The Troubles” are ballads that pulse in the afterglow with electronic accents further pushing U2 into new territories while maintaining their rhapsodic essence.

Ultimately, Songs of Innocence embodies everything that makes a great U2 record; unbridled passion, spiritual sermons, eminence, and deliverance. With talk of an impending sequel in the works U2 may be in the process of a pertinent resurrection befitting of their stature.

The_Black_Keys-turn-blue_album_Review_Under_the_Radar1. The Black Keys- Turn Blue
Every year there are so many great records released. Everyone pining to put out their best statement but to be better than anyone else is no small task. Since I started this endeavor there has always been a different artist at #1, no one winning that coveted top spot more once. That is until 2014 as The Black Keys have earned the honor of Record of the Year once again with Turn Blue. Not only is this the 2nd time they’ve topped this list but they’ve done so with consecutive records dating back to 2011’s truncated masterpiece El Camino. Turn Blue for all intents and purposes is The Black Keys’ victory lap as the dynamic duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have executed another flawless opus. Co-producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) also deserves partial credit for helping Auerbach and Carney sculpt and hone a sound that’s been evolving ever since their first collaboration, 2008’s Attack & Release. It’s now become an undeniable sonic signature of theirs, so catchy and many have attempted to imitate but only The Black Keys can perfect it.

While El Camino was a short uppercut of their glam rock vertex, without sounding oversaturated, Turn Blue is their most indulgent record yet. Nowhere is this more apparent than opening track “Weight of Love” which is the most stunning as well as one of the best songs they’ve ever made. Rather than the concise numbers we’re so familiar with, this is an entirely different beast all together. By Black Keys’ standards it’s a roaming colossus at nearly seven minutes. It’s a deluge in ‘70s excess, looking into a snow globe and seeing the dunes as two figures appear in the distance. It’s like an intergalactic Spaghetti Western with The Keys trouncing through the alien landscape in their Chelsea boots like nomadic cowboys as a hazy narcotic blizzard of guitar God luxuriance is kicked up by torrents of Auerbach’s majestic solos. The slow-burning opiate flame of the title track feels like a pupil dilating process and Auerbach’s congenial falsetto nearly conceals the impending danger (“I really don’t think you know/ There could be hell below”), “Fever” bathes you in a hypnotic palpitating Farfisa-style organ and “Bullet in the Brain” begins as a kaleidoscopic rover before transforming into a clamorous cosmic stride. The trio of tracks to conclude Turn Blue is one of the best stretches on any of their previous works. “10 Lovers” is the best groove they’ve ever devised, ridiculously infectious like a lunar dance hall before giving way to the bluesy lava flow of “In Our Prime” which contains some of the darkest lyrics on the record (“Like every lover hovers in my mind/ We made our mark when we were in our prime./ The house had burned, but nothing there was mine/ We had it all when we were in our prime.”) Redemption however lies ahead in the beaming road trip closer “Gotta Get Away” as tantalizing guitar twang and euphoric organs explode out of the gate, not looking back in the rearview mirror. Rock & Roll as a cathartic release, what a concept.

Contrary to what many may think due to the heavy psychedelic atmosphere, this is the bluesiest album The Black Keys have ever made. A testament to their prevailing tenacity, Turn Blue rose from the ashes of Auerbach’s bitter divorce. The heartache and personal turmoil is obscured by contagious hooks, soulful guitars, swirling organs, swooning falsettos and impeccable production. The Black Keys have stated that they love to make albums rather than just singles, if they continue to treat the process with this much aplomb and proficiency then we may have to start calling them the dynasty duo. The only ones that can seem to slow The Black Keys down are themselves.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye

TPATHCover1

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Hypnotic Eye

8.8 / 10

Anything that’s Rock & Roll:

Petty & crew return with a raucous Classic Rock marvel

 

Rock music has always thrived off conflict and disenchantment. Its rebellious nature at times leads to its marginalization from the mainstream conscience and yet it’s in that neglect that its enduring flame burns brightest at the core revealing a true indomitable spirit. One of its greatest torch-bearing crusaders has been Tom Petty who’s been raging against the dying of the light for the last four decades now.

It’s 2014 and American music is more plasticized and hollow than ever. It’s a landscape rife with cardboard cut-out homogenized pop country acts and computerized EDM manipulated by talentless hacks. What’s definitely not in fashion is substantial guitar-driven rock music. Cue Tom Petty sounding the battle horn galloping into this now foreign American frontier with his valiant knights The Heartbreakers armed to the hilt with six-string bayonets on their uncompromising slab of Classic Rock Hypnotic Eye.

“I knew I wanted to do a Rock & Roll record,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone earlier this year regarding Hypnotic Eye. “We hadn’t made a straight hard-rockin’ record, from beginning to end, in a long time.” Petty more than achieves that with a powder keg of feral virility akin to some of his earliest recordings with The Heartbreakers while also integrating their matured sense of self-awareness keen on craft. Guitars weaned off of the chiming sounds of The Byrds and new wave flourishes are alternatively soiled in the murky bayou waters from their home state of Florida. One of Petty’s earliest bands Mudcrutch (Which also included Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench) may actually be the largest influence. Dusty distortion and swampy blues borrowed from the early ‘70s outfit combine with the elderly statesmen proficiency making a crackling unapologetic racket.

Political undercurrents course just beneath the surface throughout the record only to come surging to the forefront in areas. None more prevalent than opening track “American Dream Plan B” in which Petty speaks on the disillusionment and the general disappearance of middle-class America. Backed by a prowling predatory riff, Petty sneers, “I’m half lit, I can’t dance for shit.” Lead guitarist Mike Campbell cuts a searing winding Creedence-y solo before Petty finally realizes the American dream is really just a fantasy singing, “Well my mama’s so sad, daddy’s just mad cause I just ain’t gonna have the chance he had. My success is anybody’s guess but like a fool I’m betting on happiness.” The perennially defiant Petty however wails in the chorus, “I gotta dream I’m gonna fight till I get it right.” “Fault Lines” is a roadhouse boogie chugging along like an 18-wheeler peeling across a desert highway as Campbell interjects more piercing and scalding virtuosity while a gritty harp rides sidecar. “Red River” is fueled by a brawny riff to cut through the Everglades and Petty supplies plenty of faulty religious talismans (Rosary, rabbit’s foot, tiger tooth, Gris-gris stick, etc.) with the river itself serving as a baptismal font, “Meet me tonight at the Red River and look down into your soul.” Titanic galloping guitars swirl like cyclones through “All You Can Carry” while “Power Drunk” is a sauntering gnarled romp commentary on egregious abuse within the hierarchy and the high-octane “Forgotten Man” is a perfect follow up as the lament of a disenfranchised soul lost in a world of moral decay. “U Get Me High” is the lewdest song sonically here with a crunch that sounds as if the band is plugging in for the first time together and getting their rocks off with dissonant levels of amplification in their garage, aiming for old haunts like Dub’s Lounge in Gainesville rather than the biggest arenas around the world. The mojo is definitely working on the bluesy “Burnt Out Town” as another quasi-political piece portraying a town rampant with corruption and dilapidation (“There’s ashes on Main Street and the mayor is cooking the books, why even my best friends are turning into crooks”). The closer “Shadow People” eclipses the six-minute mark and is arguably the album’s finest moment. It’s a brooding slow-burner, marauding in the moonlight until it melds into a psychedelic trance middle section. Guitars dance around ringing ivory rain drops before giving way to another spiraling conflagration of Campbell’s ahead of Petty’s cautionary forecast, “And this one carries a gun for the U.S.A. he’s a 21st century man, and he’s scary as hell cause when he’s afraid he’ll destroy anything he don’t understand.” As the song simmers to a seeming finale there’s an added gentle acoustic coda as if a small glint of hope in Petty’s steely blue eyes stops the doomsday clock just before midnight as he muses, “Waiting for the sun to be straight over head till we ain’t got no shadow at all.”

Hypnotic Eye sounds stubborn and audacious, much like the outspoken often cantankerous man at its epicenter. It’s out of place and time but it’s those very same reasons why it resonates with reassurance. While Petty could’ve taken a solo attempt at a record like this it wouldn’t have been as captivating as there is a certain synergy he has with The Heartbreakers that can’t be replicated by any other hired guns that give his music that added level of vitality. Hypnotic Eye is a galvanizing statement made on its own terms that aims to blast through the thick layer of commercialized sediment. These are destined to become road dog songs built for kinetic interplay during live shows. Petty and The Heartbreakers are certainly not entering their geriatric years quietly and this further illustrates that they are an indispensable All-American institution. Nearly 40 years down the road, they’re still running down a dream.