Monday, December 16, 2013


Here is my list of "Best Albums of 2013", for what it's worth.  Those who know me won't be surprised by any of these picks.  There was a lot of good stuff put out in 2013, and my list just represents a small sampling of it.  But these were my favorites.  This is a revised list, and I think it's probably the final version.  :-)

1. Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze - Simply superb.  All kinds of wonderful sounds in here.  This is my review:

2. The National - Trouble Will Find Me - I think this might be my favorite album of theirs, and I'm a big fan.  "I Need My Girl" and "Slipped" are a couple of the more eloquent readings of personal devastation I've heard on record in a long time.  Matt Berninger's lyrics and vocals are in the forefront, but don't forget the rest of the band...  they provide muscle, orchestration, and mood upon mood.  Intricate and detailed, but also straight from the gut, this album may be their masterpiece.  "I Need My Girl" is here:

3. Midlake - Antiphon - Wonderful folk- and prog-influenced album of mythical rock sounds.  I hear some Moody Blues in it at times, and some of the drumming echoes early King Crimson.  Very good stuff.  Here is "The Old And The Young":

4. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold - Late entry for me, but wow...  they capture all the energy of the early Eighties punk and CBGB scenes and marry it to some of the slacker stuff from the Nineties like Pavement... and enough of the home-recorded Guided By Voices ethos to make you shake your head and think "Huh?" as you giggle out loud and snort your beer. This is full of wide-eyed wonder and garage-band primitivism.  It is definitely NOT for every taste, but I love it.  The highlight of the album is "Stoned And Starving".  Video of that one here:

5. Arcade Fire - Reflektor - Favorite tracks are "You Already Know" and "Joan Of Arc".  Both are awesome, and the rest of it is all pretty danged good!  If you don't like disco, don't be put off by the first track (the title cut).  Most reviews focus on that song, and I find it one of the lesser achievements on the record.  Arcade Fire delves into some Haitian rhythms, some glam rock and some Motown via New Wave in my album highlight, "You Already Know".  I review the album here:

6. Phosphorescent - Muchacho - Matthew Houck is Phosphorescent.  He's been compared to Leonard Cohen and Elliott Smith, with orchestration that some people compare to Philip Glass.  But he is entirely his own animal.  Soft tones, cool melodies, interesting lyrics.  Video for the exquisite "Song For Zula" here:

7. The Purrs - The Boy With Astronaut Eyes - A Seattle band that I believe deserves wide recognition.  Makes me wish I lived there so I could go hear them play live! This is the leadoff track from the album, "The Promises We Made".  Enjoy:

8. Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 - Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) - Nothing much needs to be said, especially if you like this somewhat overlooked period of Dylan's career as much as I do.  This is an amazing collection of rarities, outtakes, different looks at familiar favorites, and just plain good music.

9. Shpongle - Museum Of Consciousness - More electronic-based psychedelia that is guaranteed to tickle your amygdala!   Simon Posford is the guy behind this wonderful electronica.  The music is hard to describe, but it's designed for the mind.  Here is a good video for the track "Further Adventures In Shpongleland":

10. Gary Numan - Splinter - I never realized until recently that he was still recording, and that his stuff was so good.  I review this one here:


11. John Scofield - Uberjam Deux - A fusion jazz guitar master leads a highly-capable band through a series of delightful groove jams.  No vocals necessary.  Great music in here.  Audio tracks for "Endless Summer" and "Al Green Song" are here:

12. Yo La Tengo - Fade - I usually like about half the songs on a YLT album.  This time, I like all of them!  This is one of their best.

13. Queens Of The Stone Age - Like Clockwork - Lots of glam swagger and theatrics in this one from Josh Homme.  I love it!  Heavy, dirty, and dangerous.  Party time!

15. Todd Rundgren - State - Very nice stuff from a wizard...  he IS a true star!!  He never ceases to amaze me.  Lots of electronic sounds this time, some of it sounds like me might be using some analog stuff (or at least he's making it sound like he is...  hard to tell, but nothing surprises me with Todd because he can do anything!)

16. They Might Be Giants - Nanobots - Typically well-crafted, and typically full of off-the-wall humor...  but I think it surpasses some of their other recent efforts.  Lots of fun, and a great listen!

17. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing - Very nice effort from the Porcupine Tree front man.  Full of atmosphere, excellent musicianship, and heartfelt lyrics.

18. Guided By Voices - English Little League - Not as good as the three albums they released in 2012, but still pretty good if you like fun rock and roll with a low-fi feel.

19. Blue Cartoon - Are You Getting On? -  Nice melodic stuff that is not hard on the ears and has a bit of prog in it in places.  I hope they gain recognition and put out a lot more albums.

20. CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe - It's synth pop and sounds like it would have been at home in the Eighties, but it's more than that.  This has lots more muscle and mathy synths to go with the excellent vocals.  Check out "Lies" here:

21. Disclosure - Settle - What sounds like a lot of house music and pop vocals at first turns out to be lots more than just that.  Check out the electronic treatments and moods this British duo creates, and you'll realize it's full of all kinds of musical headtrips.

22. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II - Nice psychedelia from New Zealander Ruban Nielson (who has relocated to Portland).  He does most of the playing himself, and it's very trippy in places.  There is some nice pop music too, as in the tracks "Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)" and "So Good At Being In Trouble".   Audio for "Swim And Sleep" here:

23. Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest - A nice return from hiatus by this Scottish electronica duo.  Sleepy, dreamy textures and meditative moments abound.

24. The Besnard Lakes - Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO - A very odd title, and rather surreal music that is deep, beautiful and orchestral.  Great vocals that make me think of what it might have sounded like if the Beach Boys had gotten into some really heavy drugs.  This is a band worth noticing!

25. Minus The Bear - Acoustics II - A mathy modern rock band goes all wooden on this one in a very pleasant way.  Relaxing, nice production, and good songs.  I love the singer's voice.

26. Deerhunter - Monomania - This is a good album, but I was hoping for something more like their last one, "Halcyon Digest".  This one is garage-ier than that, but still has some good moments, like "Back To The Middle".

27. Guy Clark - My Favorite Picture Of You - Very nice and relaxing.  A great, untrained older voice winds its way through mellow tunes that will touch the heart strings.

28. The Boxer Rebellion - Promises - Pretty modern/alternative pop-rock music.  Great vocals, atmospheric guitars, sometimes with ethereal arrangements.

29. The Prog Collective - The Prog Collective - Billy Sherwood has put together an excellent record on which prog rock legends such as Alan Parsons, Steve Hillage, Gary Green of Gentle Giant, Jerry Goodman of Mahavishnu Orchestra, and others.  Good tunes, great playing, and a mentally stimulating listen.

30. Johnny Marr - The Messenger - Overall a pretty impressive production, and I think Marr is a very good vocalist as well as a great guitarist.  I guess that one of these days I will just have to get over the fact that The Smiths are no more!

I like these, but was hoping for a bit more:

31. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - "The record gets stuck" more than a few times on this one, but it's fun and it's VERY dance-worthy!  Kick back, put your mind on cruise control, and have fun with this one.

32. Atoms For Peace - Amok - More outerstellar and sterile than some of the most out-there Radiohead.  I happen to like that kind of music, but didn't like this as much as I like Radiohead.  Flea is billed as playing bass but I don't hear him in here too much.

33. Sigur Ros - Kveikur - This one didn't seem to have as much emotion as some of their others.

34. The Foals - Holy Fire - As far as I'm concerned, simply not as good as "Total Life Forever" and "Antidotes".   Some good dance tunes on this one, but not as "mathy" as their earlier albums.

Jim Marquis for turning me on to the albums by Steven Wilson, Johnny Marr, The Purrs, Queens Of The Stone Age, Todd Rundgren, Blue Cartoon, Besnard Lakes and Prog Collective...  and maybe the one by They Might Be Giants too...  I forgot!
David Downing for turning me on to the albums by Bob Dylan, Yo La Tengo and Guy Clark!  I would have put "Sueno De La Maquina" by Kinky on here too, but it's from 2012 (and it's a good one!)
Rank Knapp for turning me on to Shpongle, and for getting me to a real-live String Cheese Incident at Horning's Hideout, where I got to hear John Scofield play the Uberjam Deux album live in its entirety!
Katie Evans for turning me on to Phosphorescent!
LoRee McCollum for reminding me that Gary Numan is still alive and making great records!

All right, I confess, I haven't heard any of these yet and I am curious about them:

Bill Callahan - Dream River - I don't get what the big deal is about this guy.  Do you?  If so, help me out a bit here!  LOL

Neko Case - The Worse Things Get... - Neko is always pretty good.

My Bloody Valentine - m b v - I have been curious about this one, since I love the stuff they did years ago.

Haim - Days Are Gone

Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt

Phoenix - Bankrupt

Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks

David Bowie - The Next Day

Lorde - Pure Heroine

Paul McCartney - New

Local Natives - Hummingbird

Mikal Cronin - MCII - lots of good review of this one.

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City

Sunday, December 08, 2013


If you follow the Seattle Mariners major league baseball club even half as closely as I do, you will have noted that they just gave one of the best second basemen to ever play the game as astronomical contract.  Robinson Cano, the ex-New York Yankee, will make $240 million over the next 10 years to play for the M's.

The Good:  The M's have not had a player of this caliber on their team since the days of Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson.  The signing gives them an upgrade in their credibility among fans and throughout the baseball world.  Until this, the Mariners had been perceived as a team for which no star-quality free agent would want to play.  It is an overpay, but the team has come into some money now due to its new television deal.  Other free agent players will take notice of that, and some more of them may decide to come play for the Mariners, which in turn could help them climb in the standings and maybe even make the playoffs again.

The Bad:  Contracts like this have not been shown to work well.  Cano will be 41 years old and may not even still be playing baseball by the time the contract ends.  Second basemen tend not to age well in the majors.  The Mariners probably have 3-4 years in which Cano will hit well, so in order to maximize that (as well as the remaining few years on Felix Hernandez' contract) they need to bring in some more good players NOW.

The Ugly:  That last item may be much more difficult than usual, thanks to an article published in today's Seattle Times by Mariners beat writer Geoff Baker.

In his article, Baker points up a seemingly endless number of examples of how the team is being run by incompetent tyrants Howard Lincoln (the current CEO) and General Manager Jack Zduriencik.  Baker backs up assertions made in the article with quotes from ex-Manager Eric Wedge and statistical analyst Tony Blengino, among others.

Concern:  Geoff Baker is the outgoing Times beat writer for the M's.  He will soon be replaced with Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News-Tribune.  Baker's writing has been perceived by many as critical of the Mariners.  I won't argue that the organization does not deserve criticism...  it does, and in large doses.  So I am not questioning Baker's writing of the article.  It takes what many MLB fans and executives alike have suspected for years, and lays it out in black and white for the whole world to see.  And because it has been obvious to many (and for many years) that the Mariners' front office tends toward incompetence (or even incontinence, if you will), this article could be viewed as giving hope to all of us who would like to see Howard Lincoln gone and Jack Z. replaced.

Question:  On the heels of the Mariners' somewhat miraculous signing of Cano, why did the Times choose to publish Baker's article right now, with baseball's Winter Meetings set to begin tomorrow?  Among other things, the Winter Meetings have always been a time when all the General Managers in Major League Baseball get together and meet with each other and with players' agents.  It's a time for acquiring players to fill needs.  I see two answers to the question of "Why now?"

Answer #1:  Baker is self-serving.  He is on his way out from the Times, and this was an opportunity for him to be in the limelight.  The Cano signing has drawn the attention of the baseball world to the Mariners, so what better time to publish the article than during a time when the M's are the talk of baseball?  This way, Baker can share the limelight and boost his own credentials.

Answer #2:  Baker or his newspaper has some kind of ax to grind with the Mariners, and I explain this by saying that if he or his editor had waited a few weeks to publish the article, the Mariners might have had a better chance to convince some more good free agent players to sign to play in Seattle.  Fans want good players on the field.  Zduriencik has generally not provided good players on the field in the five years he has been the GM.  Signing Cano was signal that things might be changing, and it provided some hope for fans.  Are most fans not as concerned about whether the team is run by weirdos as they are about whether or not the team competes?  I submit that a team can win games if it puts good players on the field, sometimes despite having a crappy manager, and probably despite having a crappy front office.  I care more about the team winning games and becoming competitive again than I care about who's running it.

But I'm just a fan.  What would a prospective free agent think after reading the kinds of things in Baker's article?

While the article might help increase the chances of the team having better management in the long run, I believe it could serve to cripple the ball club in its current efforts to land better players on the free agent market.

So, to re-ask the question:  Why publish the article right now?

Seattle Mariners fans have been punished enough.  Punishing the franchise with a scathing article is one thing, but punishing the fans by poisoning the free agent well?  Sorry, I find that inexcusable.

The article is good, and it needed to be written and published.  But the only words I can think of as a reason for publishing it right before the Winter Meeings?  "Personal vendetta".   Why else would the Times print it right now?