LIST: My 10 Favorite Songs of 2018 So Far

It’s time for my annual July 1 mid-year favorite songs post! There’s already been a ton of great music this year so cutting it down to 10 wasn’t easy.

Below you’ll find YouTube clips of my favorite songs of 2018 so far and an embedded Spotify playlist as well. You can also find that playlist here. The songs are presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Enjoy!

BEACH HOUSE – “DIVE”

CAR SEAT HEADREST – “BEACH LIFE-IN-DEATH”

FLASHER – “MATERIAL”

JIMMY EAT WORLD – “HALF HEART”

JOHN MAYER – “NEW LIGHT”

KACEY MUSGRAVES – “BUTTERFLIES”

LUCY DACUS – “NONBELIEVER”

ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER – “MAINLAND”

SNAIL MAIL – “PRISTINE”

SOCCER MOMMY – “COOL”

 

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LIST: My 10 Favorite Albums of 2017

After posting my favorite songs of 2017, I’m now ready to unveil my 10 favorite albums from another outstanding year of new music. For your reference, here are my favorite albums lists from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Before I get to my long-form thoughts on the 10 best albums I heard this year, here are albums 20 through 11 on my list, accompanied by one song from each.

20. Future Islands – The Far Field (“Beauty of the Road”)

19. Big Thief – Capacity (“Mythological Beauty”)

18. Passion Pit – Tremendous Sea of Love (“Hey K”)

17. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (“HUMBLE”)

16. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (“Continental Breakfast”)

15. Real Estate – In Mind (“Darling”)

14. Spoon – Hot Thoughts (“Hot Thoughts”)

13. Lorde – Melodrama (“The Louvre”)

12. The Courtneys – The Courtneys II (“Silver Velvet”)

11. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins (“Three Rings”)

Here they are, my 10 favorite albums of 2017:

10. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Julien Baker wrote and recorded Turn Out the Lights at 21. She approaches her music with stunning pathos and maturity for someone so young, asking lofty questions of herself and the world. It’s a recipe for a heart-wrenching record with 11 beautifully-crafted and extremely soft songs. As best I can tell Turn Out the Lights is completely absent any percussion, with the focus on guitar, piano and Baker’s expressive vocals. If I could sum up a theme, it’s Baker grappling with the pains of becoming a fully-formed person. “The harder I swim, the faster I sink” she sings over and over at the end of “Sour Breath.” It’s a battle everyone faces, but not everyone can enunciate it as clearly as Baker, and that’s what makes this record so special.

9. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

Lots of people claim to be, or have reputations to be, what Annie Clark really is: an artist. She uses music to paint vividly-colored pictures and puts on visually-captivating live performances providing a window into her mind. On MASSEDUCTION, her fifth album as St. Vincent and first alongside mega-producer Jack Antonoff, Clark reaches brave new places in pop, rock, electronic and everywhere else that interests her, with eclecticism recalling everyone from Bowie and Prince to Billy Joel and INXS. There’s massive power-pop on “Pills” and “Fear the Future”, galactic funk on the title track, gothic snyth slinks on “Los Ageless” and Killers-style loud/quiet fun on “New York.” There’s even devastating, tender country-tinged rock on “Happy Birthday Johnny.” Clark might fear the future, but her own is secure.

8. The xx – I See You

In the five years between the xx’s second album, Coexist, and this year’s I See You, the proverbial “other guy” in the trio, Jamie xx, became an indie star. His 2015 debut In Colour topped all the year-end lists and was hailed as a house/EDM masterpiece and made him more popular than the band he shares with Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. It’s no surprise, then, that I See You captured more of Jamie xx’s keen sampling talents than the band’s previous releases, while still showcasing the myriad vocal, lyrical and guitar/bass talents of Croft and Sim. We hear that awesome mix on many of I See You‘s highlights, like the rousing opener “Dangerous”, the sandblasting “Say Something Loving”, the dramatic “I Dare You” and the joyous “On Hold.” It’s a gorgeous mix, and a very promising one of them going forward.

7. Haim – Something to Tell You

The Haim sisters are everywhere now. This wasn’t difficult to predict after their debut Days Are Gone broke them into indie-pop superstardom in 2013. They’re accessible, not just in their personalities but their sound. Plus, how many other bands put out videos with choreographed dance moves these days? Second albums are always the toughest, but Something to Tell You lived up to the loftiest of expectations. Danielle, Este and Alana kick so much ass here: “Little of Your Love” is their most fun son to date; “Want You Back” crackles from the first note; “Walking Away” tests the waters of sultry R&B; “You Never Knew” is ’70s California rock redux at its finest. You can tell how much of their own hearts and souls they put into each of these songs. It’s all there, it’s all them: Something to Tell You doesn’t just succeed. It soars.

6. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Patiently, we waited for Japandroids to return. 2012’s Celebration Rock was truly something to celebrate, one of the best pure rock records of the decade, the ultimate cathartic expression. And then after a few years of tours, there was nothing from Brian King and David Prowse. For a long time. But they resurfaced late in 2016 and in January came Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Like Celebration Rock, it contains eight life-affirming rock songs, tying together a loose narrative about getting out there and experiencing the world. From short rockers, to epic rockers, to acoustic and electric road trip songs, to fiery love songs: it covers the gambit of emotions, and all of it feels so real. In a tough year, these guys provided a much-needed lift. That’s something to celebrate.

5. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

After turning 40, James Murphy decided he wanted to do something besides being the LCD Soundsystem guy. So in 2011 he broke up the band, played a sold-out farewell show at Madison Square Garden, and disappeared into the ether, occasionally resurfacing as a producer and doing weird things with sound. But all along, I suspected LCD Soundsystem wasn’t done. It took a while after the initial announcement of their reunion, but in September, the fourth LCD Soundsystem arrived. American Dream is an LCD Soundsystem record at its core: a genre-bending mix of indie dance punk, inspired by Bowie, Eno and Byrne, unstuck in time and not sounding like anyone but LCD Soundsystem. American Dream contains several pantheon-level LCD songs, including the star-soaring title track, the scathing, bile-filled “How Do You Sleep”, the synth-dance jam “Tonite” and the “All My Friends”-recalling, winding, world-beating “Call the Police”, my favorite song of 2017. You may ask: is American Dream as good as Sound of Silver or This is Happening? Here’s a better question: does it matter? This exists. And it’s awesome.

4. Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm

Perhaps my favorite development in indie rock these last few years has been watching Katie Crutchfield grow into an elite songwriter. Cerulean Salt was good and Ivy Tripp was even better, but Crutchfield and her Waxahatchee mates made the leap on Out in the Storm this year. She keeps her shit simple, sticking to guitar, bass, drums and the occasional keyboard. But what she gets out of that simple structure has grown increasingly impressive despite trying out many different kinds of songs. On Out in the Storm, she’s got breezy, summery rock on “Never Been Wrong” and “Silver”, harsher indie power on “Brass Beam” and “No Question” and soft acoustic tones on “A Little More” and closer “Fade.” But it’s the quiet, building drama of “Recite Remorse”, a mid-album showstopper, that hints at Crutchfield’s expanding prowess. She weaves an vivid breakup tale that socks anyone listening in the gut. “I saw you as a big fish / I saw you as a conquest / And I know it’s easy for you to walk away / You would never ask permission or rue the day.” Crutchfield may be Out in the Storm, but she makes it a place you want to be, too.

3. The National – Sleep Well Beast

Matt Berninger, the Dessners and the Devendorfs are now seven albums into their run as the National. They’ve cemented their place among the most acclaimed bands of this century, with a rabid following and the ability to headline festivals and sellout large venues. The easiest thing in the world for them, then, would’ve been to just make another National record. Instead, they made Sleep Well Beast. Sure, it contains their trademark broodiness and songs of deep melancholy and the debilitating, crushing depression of everyday humanity. But instead of relying on their typical sonic formulas and structures, they went a new, experimental route. The result is an eclectic mix that sounds simultaneously like a bold new direction and the National being the National. Cuts like “Day I Die”, “Guilty Party” and “Carin at the Liquor Store” are outstanding yet they don’t stray much from the band we’ve known the last 15 years. Things get weird, however, with the synths and odd voice effects on “Walk it Back”, “I’ll Still Destroy You” and “Dark Side of the Gym” among others. On lead single and album centerpiece “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”, the band completely goes for it, with strange vocals, synths, big-sounding choruses and, of all things, a guitar solo. Sleep Well Beast may not be the National’s best record, but it’s certainly their most ambitious. And that’s something to admire for a band that could’ve grown comfortable.

2. Jay Som – Everybody Works

Melina Duterte came out of nowhere (OK, she came out of the Bay Area, but still) over the last year to dazzle us with her talent as a songwriter, guitarist, singer and performer. Her profile has risen exponentially thanks to her Jay Som project’s near-perfect major-label debut, Everybody Works. Like Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker on my favorite album of 2015, Currents, Duterte plays every instrument on Everybody Works herself, a stunning accomplishment for a work of such shimmering complexity. This is the literal definition of bedroom pop: Duterte turned her bedroom into a studio and recorded Everybody Works there. The result is a beautiful statement melding dream pop, baroque pop, alt-rock, shoegaze, R&B and so much more that makes it hard to believe Duterte is only 22. You hear different influences throughout: My Bloody Valentine-inspired fuzz on “1 Billion Dogs”, Wild Nothing-style dreaming on “Remain” and Smashing Pumpkins-like dirge on “(BedHead)”. But these songs are undeniably part of something new Duterte is working to perfect, best exemplified on album centerpiece “Baybee”, which starts slow and builds to a gorgeous, ’80s-style pop jam. Beyond the music, Everybody Works is a work in stunning maturity. When she closes the album on “For Light” by singing over and over “I’ll be right on time / Open blinds for light / Won’t forget to climb”, her longing is painfully real. It’s a fitting sentiment to end Everybody Works, an intimate portrait of an artist as a young woman.

1. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

When Adam Granduciel and his War on Drugs cohorts released Lost in the Dream, I named it my favorite album of 2014 and wrote that it was an outlier for the times as a great guitar-driven rock record. Three years later, that pronouncement feels happily out of date. Each of my 10 favorite albums this year could be classified as a “rock” record. Maybe that says more about my own tastes, but I’d like to think guitar rock has made a resurgence. At the center of this is Granduciel. When we look back on this time in 30 years, the War on Drugs could stand out strongest. I say that because my favorite album of 2017, A Deeper Understanding,  blazes its own trail and builds on the band’s legend. It’s not just that all 10 songs here are knockouts; they’re confident yet vulnerable, layered sonically but relatable lyrically, and sound like no one else besides Granduciel could have made them. It’s so successful because of the care, attention to detail and emotion Granduciel, a noted studio perfectionist, puts into them. You feel it on the propulsive opener “Up All Night”, the expressive guitar journey of “Pain” and the high-flying circus act of “Holding On”. You experience it throughout the 11-minute opus “Thinking of a Place”, with the monumental hook that detonates early on during “In Chains”, or on the tender moments of “Knocked Down” and “Clean Living”. And you cannot avoid it on the album’s emotional center, “Strangest Thing”, a slow-burner that becomes a towering inferno with Granduciel’s blistering guitar solo 4:30 in. I don’t know yet if A Deeper Understanding is as good as Is This It, Funeral or High Violet. But it’s in the conversation among the best rock records of this young century so far.

LIST: My 25 Favorite Songs of 2017

All year, I keep track of my favorite music and now that it’s December, I’m ready to share with you what made the cut for my favorites of the year, starting with my 25 favorite songs of 2017.

Like last year, this has been such a great year in music I’m doing 25 songs instead of 20. Keeping with tradition, I’ll let the songs speak for themselves in this post and reserve longer thoughts for my 10 favorite albums post later this month.

I considered songs for this list that had any kind of release (be it on a single or an album) in 2017. And, as always, I only included one song per primary artist to ensure no one artist dominated the list.

Here are my favorite songs lists for 2012, 201320142015 and 2016.

Lastly, I created a Spotify playlist of these songs here and embedded at the bottom for your listening pleasure (the playlist is meant to be listened to as a 25-1 countdown, despite the numbers next to each song).

Enjoy these awesome songs and stay tuned for my albums post.

25. U2 – “YOU’RE THE BEST THING ABOUT ME”

24. FLEET FOXES – “THIRD OF MAY / ODAIGAHARA”

23. PASSION PIT – “I’M PERFECT”

22. THE SHINS – “NAME FOR YOU”

21. PINEGROVE – “INTREPID”

20. BEACH HOUSE – “CHARIOT”

19. SPOON – “CAN I SIT NEXT TO YOU”

18. KENDRICK LAMAR – “DNA”

17. BIG THIEF – “SHARK SMILE”

16. REAL ESTATE – “STAINED GLASS”

15. GRIZZLY BEAR – “MOURNING SOUND”

14. THUNDERCAT FT. MICHAEL McDONALD & KENNY LOGGINS – “SHOW YOU THE WAY”

13. ST. VINCENT – “MASSEDUCTION”

12. THE COURTNEYS – “MINNESOTA”

11. JULIEN BAKER – “TURN OUT THE LIGHTS”

10. COURTNEY BARNETT & KURT VILE – “OVER EVERYTHING”

9. THE XX- “I DARE YOU”

8. JAPANDROIDS – “NO KNOWN DRINK OR DRUG”

7. HAIM – “YOU NEVER KNEW”

6. THE NATIONAL – “THE SYSTEM ONLY DREAMS IN TOTAL DARKNESS”

5. WAXAHATCHEE – “SILVER”

4. JAY SOM – “BAYBEE”

3. LORDE – “GREEN LIGHT”

2. THE WAR ON DRUGS- “STRANGEST THING”

1. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – “CALL THE POLICE”

RED SOX: A Team at a Crossroads

Earlier today the Red Sox season came to an end after a fun, tense but ultimately disappointing ALDS Game 4 at a rainy Fenway.

I have a lot of thoughts about how the 2017 season went down and what’s to come next, so here we go:

IT WAS FUN. REALLY.

This particular incarnation of the Red Sox was a study in interesting contrasts. There were a lot of young players making their first impression in MLB playing alongside numerous longtime veterans. They only equaled their win total from 2016 but managed to win (and generally play in) an absurd number of close games, including going an unimaginable 15-3 in extra inning games.

And, for the first time in recent memory, the Red Sox saw consistency in their pitching staff while failing to join the MLB-wide trend of increased power, finishing dead last in the AL in home runs (168).

But I never understood how people could call this first post-David Ortiz Red Sox team boring or “unlikable” as was the narrative after the David Price/Dennis Eckersley kerfuffle.

The young core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. was joined this year by Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers, plus Christian Vazquez finally came into his own as an everyday MLB catcher. That’s six guys 27 years old or younger who will be starters on this team going forward barring any trades.

Chris Sale was either the best or 2nd-best starter in the AL this year and Drew Pomeranz came out of nowhere to finish 10th in the AL in fWAR (3.1). Craig Kimbrel genuinely had one of the best years for any closer in baseball history, striking out just shy of 50 percent of all batters he faced.

And Price, who dealt with a significant elbow injury and a major PR disaster, was redeemed by returning healthy and pitching extremely well in relief late in the season and into the playoffs. Hopefully he can put what happened this past year behind him as 2018 presents a quasi-walk year for him.

But there was much to celebrate this season when it came to individual moments and performances.

I got to be in the park Aug. 1 for one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen, the one that included Austin Jackson’s unbelievable catch. I saw Vazquez hit a walkoff and I can recall few times ever hearing Fenway that loud.

Devers hitting that home run off Aroldis Chapman in Yankee Stadium to silence that crowd is something I won’t soon forget. Nor will I forget that catch by Bradley in the triangle to rob Aaron Judge.

Dustin Pedroia had a tough year injury-wise but he turned in the signature defensive play of his career with this play in Texas in July.

Benintendi showed us this year I believe a fraction of how good he can truly be. Sale wowed us every start and became the first appointment-viewing starter for the Red Sox since Pedro’s heyday. The bullpen, constantly tested by long and close games, came up big game after game this year.

I know this season didn’t end the way we wanted. But for those of us who watched night in and night out, it was memorable. And I’ll miss not watching this team every night. They were fun, and good. They just were.

WHAT WENT WRONG, AND WHAT’S NEXT

As I touched on above, the team’s biggest weakness was on offense and in particular a lack of power (they still finished 5th in team OBP and 6th in runs in the AL).

It’s easy to say this was because of losing David Ortiz, but it was more than that. Take a look at the OPS+ figures for these Red Sox hitters from 2016 and 2017:

Hanley Ramirez – 2016: 126 2017: 95 (-31)

Jackie Bradley, Jr. – 2016: 118 2017: 89 (-29)

Mookie Betts – 2016: 133 2017: 108 (-25)

Dustin Pedroia – 2016: 117 2017: 101 (-16)

Xander Bogaerts – 2016: 111 2017: 95 (-16)

You can blame some of this on these guys getting pitched tougher now without Ortiz in the lineup, but I don’t have empirical data to back that up. The bottom line is these five guys significantly underperformed in 2017 to their 2016 levels and that had a real impact on wins and losses and their ability to hang with the Astros in this ALDS.

Much has been made about the Red Sox refusal last winter to delve into the free agent hitting market beyond Mitch Moreland. Edwin Encarnacion signed for a pittance (3 years, $60 million) compared to his expected contract. I was OK with not going that route because I expected the remaining hitters could maintain or improve on their 2016 performances to make up for Ortiz’s absence.

The opposite happened and adding Eduardo Nunez at the deadline, while an effective move for about a month until he got injured, and turning over 3B to Devers didn’t do nearly enough to make up the gap.

So, with luxury tax penalties lessened for 2018 since the Red Sox managed to stay under it this year, I fully expect them to add at least one power hitter to this lineup, most likely at 1B. They are most likely stuck with the final guaranteed year on Ramirez’s contract at $22.75M (his 2019 option at $22M would vest based on plate appearances). Depending on who the Red Sox get, it could be a DH/1B timeshare between Ramirez and a new counterpart.

I don’t personally think the winter’s big free agent 1B, Eric Hosmer, really fits the bill of what the club would be looking for (he doesn’t really hit for enough power and would be very expensive). JD Martinez makes a ton of sense from a hitting perspective but it’s hard to see where he’d fit in besides as a full-time DH (with Ramirez then as a full-time 1B, which presents a lot of issues). Logan Morrison, who just hit 38 HRs for Tampa, would be a great fit but he’s only 30 and may be more expensive than the Red Sox would like.

They could explore a trade for someone like Joey Votto, the hitting savant who’d be loved here after years of being unappreciated in Cincinnati. His $25M annual salary isn’t an albatross, but he’s guaranteed for six more years and may not be as great of a player at the end. Plus, who knows if the Reds would even entertain trading him.

You’re likely to hear a lot about a potential Giancarlo Stanton trade this winter with the Red Sox likely prime members of that rumor mill. I don’t see it for a lot of reasons, namely that the Red Sox and every other team could’ve taken his massive contract for nothing in August and no one bit. As good as Stanton is and as amazing as his LF pull power would play at Fenway, he always gets hurt, his contract is way too long and by all accounts he’s kind of a jerk. Pass.

I doubt very much the Red Sox will add much on the pitching staff this offseason, barring trades of the current guys. The health of Price, Steven Wright, Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg will play a role in what happens there. I do wonder if Dombrowski starts to think a little more about the long-term with Pomeranz, Kimbrel and (potentially) Price all in walk years in 2018.

OK, LET’S TALK ABOUT FARRELL

I’ve come to believe there is no more thankless job in the world of sports than being the manager of the Boston Red Sox. Even the most successful Red Sox manager of my lifetime, Terry Francona, was called “Francoma” by parts of the fanbase.

When it comes to John Farrell, I made my feelings known last year that I think the vitriol toward him is almost entirely unfounded. Do I think he’s a great manager? No. I think right now there are only two managers in all of MLB I’d call “great”: Francona and Joe Maddon.

But Farrell is at best good and at worst competent. The idea he should be fired for merely being good is one that only exists in Boston where every nanosecond of action for any of our teams is overanalyzed by radio blowhards and social media crazies among others.

These are the facts about Farrell: he won back-to-back AL East titles, taking 93 wins both years. He manages personalities in the clubhouse well by all accounts. He’s very good at his media responsibilities which is a big part of the job. The players like him, for the most part (there were some rumblings this year about his difficulty connecting with the younger players on the team). He’s accountable when things go wrong. He appears to have a good relationship with his direct boss, Dave Dombrowski, and the rest of the front office and ownership.

But, still, he’s not remotely safe in the eyes of many. It’s fair to wonder if Farrell has taken this group of players as far as he can go and if another manager could do better. It’s hard to say sitting here, not being there everyday, if that’s true.

Part of me wants the team to can Farrell just because I’m getting extremely sick of this storyline. He’d be fine. He’d get paid for the last year on his deal and would almost certainly get another managerial job as soon as he wants it. Red Sox fans are crazy if they think a team like the Mets or Tigers wouldn’t take him in a second.

If Farrell is let go, I don’t know who’s out there that would be better. For in-house candidates I’m sure the players would love to see Brian Butterfield get a shot. As much as he should be a big league manager, he’s also 59 and would likely just be a stopgap. If I’m the Red Sox, and the rift between Farrell and the younger players is actually an issue, I’d rather find a younger, analytically-driven manager who can connect and grow with those guys.

I’m not up on a lot of the possibilities that fit that description, but two former Red Sox World Champions come to mind. One is Alex Cora, current Astros bench coach, who is 41, has extensive experience running teams in Puerto Rico and as a player was someone I was certain would manage in the big leagues some day. The other is Gabe Kapler, 42, who was runner-up for the Dodgers managerial position heading into 2016. He’s managed in the minors and has a strong player development background.

I have no idea if either of those guys would be a better manager than Farrell. No one does. But if the team does decide to move on I hope it’s because they genuinely think they’d be better without him.

I think Red Sox fans should be prepared for news to break this week about a contract extension for Farrell. In the aggregate, it’s hard to say he doesn’t deserve it.

LAST THOUGHTS

As excited as I am for the future of this team, and as much as I’ll miss watching this group, I do have a twinge of uncertainty about them. It’s very clear both Houston and Cleveland are better than the Red Sox right now. Also the Yankees have a team on the rise and will have boatloads of money to play with over the next couple winters.

This Red Sox team is good. But will they be good enough to overtake those clubs the next few years? Dombrowski finds his team in a very similar situation to what Danny Ainge and the Celtics found themselves in this past summer. Sure, they had a good team that had just gone to the Eastern Conference Finals. But, were they great? Could they get over the hump to compete for a title?

Ainge decided to effectively blow up his entire roster in the name of putting together a great team. It remains to be seen if it will work, but he’s decided to take a risk.

The Red Sox have the aforementioned six young position players to build around. They have stars atop their rotation and an all-world closer. They have veterans in Pedroia and Ramirez who may be declining but aren’t necessarily albatrosses. All these things are good.

But what if Dombrowski decides that having a “good” team isn’t good enough? Then, once again, the Red Sox will steal winter headlines away from the teams actually playing.

I can’t wait to see what happens.

LIST: My 10 Favorite Songs of 2017 So Far

It’s time for my annual July 1 mid-year favorite songs post! I’ve kept track as always but like last year, no time for longer write-ups. There’s already been a ton of great music this year so narrowing this down to 10 was tough.

Below you’ll find YouTube clips of my favorite songs of 2017 so far and an embedded Spotify playlist as well. You can also find that playlist here. The songs are presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Enjoy!

THE COURTNEYS – “MINNESOTA”

JAPANDROIDS – “NO KNOWN DRINK OR DRUG”

JAY SOM – “BAYBEE”

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – “CALL THE POLICE”

LORDE – “GREEN LIGHT”

THE NATIONAL – “THE SYSTEM ONLY DREAMS IN TOTAL DARKNESS”

REAL ESTATE – “STAINED GLASS”

THE WAR ON DRUGS – “HOLDING ON”

WAXAHATCHEE – “SILVER”

THE XX – “SAY SOMETHING LOVING”

LIST: My 10 Favorite Albums of 2016

After posting my favorite songs of 2016, I’m now ready to unveil my 10 favorite albums from this unbelievably great year in new music. For your reference, here are my favorite albums lists from 2011, 2012, 20132014 and 2015.

Before I get to the long-form thoughts on the 10 best albums I heard this year, here are albums 20 through 11 on my list, accompanied by one song from each.

20. Wild Nothing – Life on Pause (“To Know You”)

19. Cullen Omori – New Misery (“No Big Deal”)

18. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered. (“untitled 03 | 05.28.2013”)

17. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (“All Night”)

16. Bon Iver – 22, A Million (“22 OVER S∞∞N”)

15. Lucy Dacus – No Burden (“I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”)

14. Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony (“Come On”)

13. David Bowie – Blackstar (“Lazarus”)

12. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (“Burn the Witch”)

11. Solange – A Seat at the Table (“Don’t Touch My Hair”)

Here they are, my 10 favorite albums of 2016.

local10. Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

Local Natives are the hardest-working band in the game these days. They tour constantly and all throughout the world. They did take a short break after finishing touring their second album, Hummingbird, but this year they returned with Sunlit Youth, which represented a departure from the more conventional sound of their first two records. They’ve gone in a slightly more electronic direction here, but the results are still outstanding. It starts with the synth-driven excellence of “Villainy” and then the best song here, “Past Lives”. Lyrically, Sunlit Youth is pretty political, with the already-dated “I have waited so long, Mrs. President” line in the frantic “Fountain of Youth” and the never-dated defense of feminism in “Masters”, an all-out rocker reminiscent of their best song, 2010’s “Wide Eyes”. The one song here that sounds generally like a classic Local Natives song is “Dark Days” which improbably features guest vocals from the lead singer of the Cardigans (remember them?). I always give bands extra points for trying new things, and the Natives deserve many for going down a bold new path with Sunlit Youth. I should mention here that I’ve had the chance to hang out with the guys in Local Natives a few times, including recently when they came to Providence and Boston, and I can’t say enough about how nice and generous they are to their fans. That makes their success all the more enjoyable.

parquet9. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

These four Brooklyn dudes have come a long way in just a few years. Human Performance is Parquet Courts’ third full-length record and with each record they’ve progressed from their punkish roots to a well-rounded indie rock band. Without a doubt, Human Performance is their best effort to date, leaving behind some of their screamy and atonal vibes for a truly cohesive work making ample use of melody and different sounds beyond the thrash of Light Up Gold and Sunbathing Animal. From the jump, there’s a different feel. “Dust” is a more organized, straightforward opener with a really strong guitar line. The title track comes next, with lead singer Andrew Savage’s echoed choruses adding something dramatic to the tune about a breakup: “It never leaves me / Just visits less often.” I love the spaghetti western feel of “Berlin Got Blurry”, which really feels like a song to listen to on a long road trip. On the lengthy, winding road of “One Man No City” Austin Brown takes over lead vocals, seemingly focusing on the end of the world over bongo beats before the band jumps into a Velvet Underground-inspired maelstrom of guitar and drums. There is really no telling how high Parquet Courts will fly now that they’ve discovered this new polish to their sound. With Human Performance, there is no longer a ceiling on what they can be.

freetown8. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

I was a bit late to Dev Hynes’ previous album as Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe, but was nonetheless enraptured by his ability write meaningful, soulful and funky R&B. These songs were deeply sexy but also brilliant examples of the form, textured with scintillating, jazzy beats, Nile Rodgers-like guitar work and vocals from Hynes and a variety of guests. Hynes keeps the beat going on Freetown Sound, another phenomenal exploration of all things R&B. There’ve been many excellent albums the last few years by black artists taking a focus on what it means to be black in today’s world, including Black Messiah, To Pimp a Butterfly and A Seat at the Table, and Freetown Sound joins that cadre with Hynes’ own experience as both a black man and an immigrant (he’s British and lives in Brooklyn). “All we ever wanted was a chance for ourselves,” he sings on “Chance.” Later, on the topically-titled “Hands Up”, Hynes describes the anxieties of the day for so many (“Are you sleeping with the lights on baby?”) Elsewhere, Hynes takes a backseat vocally to Empress Of on “Best to You”, a very different kind of love song but one that showcases her measured singing over a frenetic beat. There’s still time for fun on Freetown Sound outside the heaviness of subject matter, and that’s best heard on “E.V.P.”, which is far and away my favorite Blood Orange song to date. To say “E.V.P.” has a killer groove would be the understatement of 2016, a groove befitting the guest appearance here by new wave goddess Debbie Harry. Freetown Sound is an impressive collection from an impressive artist who continues to rise.

diiv7. DIIV – Is the Is Are

Zachary Cole Smith, the leader of melodic Brooklynites DIIV, has some issues. He’s been arrested for heroin violations, has various health problems, and pretty much every time I’ve seen DIIV in concert he’s acted like a dick. This year he introduced each song by name and then quickly said “We’re called DIIV!” before launching into them, asked people in the crowd for drugs and accused us of being boring and depressing. This isn’t exactly a great way to endear yourself to fans. But, musically, DIIV have ever been better than this year’s Is the Is Are, their sophomore LP. Smith is the dominant creative force here, and I appreciate someone with demons who isn’t afraid to confront them in their art. The ringing guitar work on Is the Is Are is perhaps its defining trait musically, with outstanding sounds on the gorgeous “Loose Ends” and the shimmering “Healthy Moon”. On “Dopamine”, Smith and company spin a bright melody while he sings candidly about fighting drugs. (“Would you give your 34th year / For a glimpse of heaven / Now and here?”) DIIV’s best track here, and probably their best to date, is the beautiful “Under the Sun”, which Smith said was about how love saved him. The melodious guitar riffs recall the late-’80s wonder of the Cure as Smith sings “Yes I’ll come back to you / No I won’t ask where you run / Under the sun” to his girlfriend, pop songstress Sky Ferreria. As a person, I hope Smith continues to heal himself and get better. I’d like to think Is the Is Are is a step in the right direction personally while also being the best step DIIV has taken creatively.

blond6. Frank Ocean – Blonde

I adored Frank Ocean’s 2012 solo breakthrough Channel Orange. It was a lengthy treatise on the world Ocean saw, and it helped bring me back to R&B after years on the sidelines. The world waited over four years to hear something significant from Frank again. After several false starts, he finally released a visual album, Endless, and an audio album, Blonde (although he wrote it as blond on the record, which sounds about right for Frank’s style). While I could care less about the former album, the latter didn’t disappoint. Blonde is a portrait of an artist at a crossroads. Frank very easily could have made a 40-minute record with songs like “Pyramids” or “Thinkin Bout You” (the most conventional song on Blonde is “Pink + White”, which also happens to be the best song here). Instead he followed his muse and created an hour-long journey populated with diverse detours, some of which even push the boundaries of what qualifies as a song. Some of these songs are insanely sparse, only accompanied by one or two instruments. But what fills in the gaps are Frank’s otherworldly vocals. He’s seriously the best male singer in pop music and his voice carries otherwise spare tunes like “Solo”, “Self Control”, “Ivy”, and “White Ferrari”. On the incredible harmonic outro of “Self Control”, a bazillion Franks sing achingly about a lost love. Blonde is an intense journey and shows how separate and unique Frank’s many talents are. This was worth the wait, and if we get more records like Blonde, he can take as much time as he wants between releases.

tlop5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

This album is a mess. The Life of Pablo seemed to take forever to complete, went through several name changes, has songs that seem like half-finished thoughts, and once it finally was released in the early morning hours of a bitterly cold Valentine’s Day, Kanye West couldn’t help himself and tinkered with the damn thing over and over. Despite all those problems, and despite being an aforementioned mess, The Life of Pablo is a beautiful, exciting mess, and rightfully in Kanye’s pantheon of great accomplishments. Musically, TLOP is on par with anything he’s ever done. Like Blonde, there is often sparse instrumentation but Kanye is brilliant at picking and choosing his spots. Here’s an artist trying new things, pushing his boundaries as a writer, composer and producer while challenging us to push our own as listeners. The biggest problem with TLOP, however is…Kanye. The dude just can’t help himself. The music and beats are beyond superb on tracks like “Father Stretch My Hands”, “Famous”, “Feedback”, “Highlights” and “Waves” but they’re all brought down a notch by his borderline-juvenile rantings about such things as wishing he could affix a GoPro to his penis and hoping he still has a chance to fuck Taylor Swift. The biggest exception to this is the haunting, excruciatingly personal “Real Friends”, his most naked song in years. The best Kanye is vulnerable Kanye, and on “Real Friends” that’s his default mode. Other highlights include the explosive duet with Kendrick Lamar “No More Parties in LA” and the heavily spoken-word, written-in-the-moment jam of “30 Hours”. I’ve resigned myself to the fact Kanye will never again eclipse what he did on 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But Kanye at 80 percent of his capabilities is better than almost every other artist on the planet, and that’s what we got on TLOP.

jew4. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

I wrote about what Jimmy Eat World means to me when Damage made my 2013 end-of-year list. To sum up: Jimmy Eat World is my favorite band of the last 15 years and I’ve marked the changing seasons of my life alongside their music. Dating back to Futures in 2004, however, even I’d argue the quality of their music has declined with each album. Every now and then a song like “Carry You” or “Stop” would emerge and remind me of their greatness. But they hadn’t really done it over the course of a whole album a long time. The wait is over. Integrity Blues is Jimmy Eat World’s best album since Futures, and I’m still leaving open the possibility it’s better than Futures (I may need 12 more years to determine that, however). The quality of the songwriting and music are amazing here, the vast majority hitting their signature sound with lyrical content focusing on heartbreak and picking up the pieces. Opener “You With Me” is an absolute revelation, a smashingly successful, huge-sounding table-setter. My favorite song of 2016 was album centerpiece “Sure and Certain”, a classic Jimmy Eat World song in the vein of all their best hits both musically and lyrically. The melodic beauty of “You Are Free” would fit on album they’ve ever done and features typically out-of-this-world drumming from Zach Lind. I love the bouncy guitar sound on “Through”, the quiet innovation of the title track, and the epicness of their traditional epic closer “Pol Roger.” There’s even some room for hard rock: the bone-crushing guitar outro of “Pass the Baby” is possibly the hardest these guys have ever rocked. I do wonder how much more music we’ll hear from Jimmy Eat World, as Jim Adkins said the guys asked themselves why they’d make another record before doing this one. I’d hope the experience of making Integrity Blues reinvigorated Jimmy Eat World. It has certainly reinvigorated longtime fans like me.

pinegrove3. Pinegrove – Cardinal

Imagine, for a moment, this alternative musical universe: after the mid-’90s dissolution of Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy links up with Jimmy Eat World and starts a new band (Jimmy Eat Wilco?) that plays country-tinged pop punk. That’s roughly the sound I would ascribe to Pinegrove, who this year dropped their major label debut Cardinal. It’s a simple comparison, but Pinegrove deserve credit for sculpting a sound all their own in 2016. You’re just as likely to hear eardrum-rattling post-punk power chords on Cardinal as you are light touches of banjo and mandolin. In total, this quick half-hour is the most full-of-life and carpe diem-eqsue collection of songs I came across this year. Their sounds aren’t reminiscent, but Cardinal reminds me a great deal of Japandroids’ Celebration Rock: a record you can pump your fist to while taking on the world. And similar to Celebration Rock, Cardinal focuses more on the intimacy of friendships than romantic love. This is highly apparent in the album bookends of “Old Friends” at the outset and “New Friends” at the end. The latter reminds me of what it was like going off to college with that uneasy confidence you experience as a teenager. “I resolve to make new friends,” sings Evan Stephens Hall. “I liked my old ones / But I fucked up, so I’ll start again.” Hall’s voice warbles with emotion from the outset of the record, a voice feeling familiar yet distant. “Every outcome’s such a comedown,” Hall yelps on “Old Friends,” while later managing to include the word “solipsistic” in a rock song. “Then Again” bursts at the seams with energy and every kind of guitar shit-kicking riff you can imagine; “Aphasia” and “Visiting” are awesome explorations of Hall trying to find that confidence to be the person he wants to be; “Size of the Moon” is the thoughtful, building, dramatic penultimate marvel that hints at years of future success for these kids. In a year so difficult for so many, I’d imagine Cardinal provided a shot of life at the right time. And if you need it as 2016 comes to an end, I’d suggest giving Pinegrove a chance.

whitney2. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

Two years ago, when Smith Westerns called it quits after just three albums, I worried the uber-talented Chicago kids wouldn’t find individual success. I’m happy to report those worries were unfounded. While frontman Cullen Omori put out a mostly-terrific yet overly-slick solo debut in March, lead guitarist Max Kakaceck and drummer Julian Ehrlich released their debut album as Whitney in June. With Light Upon the Lake, Ehrlich (who mans the vocals as well as the drums for Whitney) and Kakaceck have blazed their own trail in ‘60s-influenced guitar rock. While the soft touches of Smith Westerns remain in much of what’s here, it’s actually Ehrlich’s other previous band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, that provides most of the influence over the sound, feel and production of Light Upon the Lake. UMO has this incredible knack of making their records sound like they were actually recorded in 1968, and that’s a trick Whitney picked up, especially on the UMO-flavored short rocker “The Falls”. The filter on Ehrlich’s voice throughout the record also has this effect as well, a honey-flavored tone that teeters on falsetto from time to time, showcased on the horn-powered “Polly”, bouncy closer “Follow” and the crisp, string-backed opener “No Woman”. (Side note: when I saw Whitney this year, Ehrlich said “No Woman” was about not having a girlfriend and he seemed pretty down about it. Poor Julian…) My favorite song here is the acoustic-driven “Golden Days”, a lament for lost love that sounds huge with its singalong “na na nas” but maintains a simple beauty. And, overall, despite most of the songs being about the end of relationships, Light Upon the Lake has an unmistakable air of fun. This is no better found than on “No Matter Where We Go”, a rollicking and sweet song brimming with bright riffs and this whimsical chorus: “I can take you out / I wanna drive around / With you with the windows down / And we can run all night.” Smith Westerns may be dead, but Kakaceck and Ehrlich are soldiering on, brightly into the future, with Whitney as their vehicle for psychedelic wonderment.

cshr1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

In so many ways, 2016 was a disaster. But for new music, it simply was not. Most of our remaining pop/rock stars put out new material: Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Drake, the Weeknd, Radiohead, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, David Bowie. Several of my own favorite bands brought new tunes. And from newer artists, the volume of outstanding work was dizzying. In all, 2016 was quite possibly the best year of new music I’ve experienced in my 30 years. Yet with all that, the album standing above all others was the major-label debut of a lo-fi indie rock band with a stupid name led by a heretofore unknown Virginian millennial. Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial is the best rock album not named Lost in the Dream released this decade. Will Toledo’s band crafted 12 incredible songs touching a wide range of influences: the mostly-understated and occasionally-wild vocal style of Stephen Malkmus, the melodic guitar of the Strokes, the soft/loud dynamics of the Pixies and thoughtful lyrical overtures in the long line of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Tweedy and, more recently, Courtney Barnett. Toledo isn’t treading a ton of new ground here: he’s just perfecting it and coming across like a savvy veteran doing it. Teens of Denial has killer guitar work, like the klaxon call of opener “Fill in the Blank”, the bone-crushing power chords of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” and “1937 State Park”, and the start/stop chops of “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)”. But there’s room for more: “Drugs With Friends” sounds like a wayward Wilco song with Toledo lamenting that “I did not transcend / I felt like a walking piece of shit” after taking drugs. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is one of the best rock songs in years, hitting that loud/soft dynamic while Toledo sings starkly about his inner demons. And there are even epics like the 11.5-minute marvel “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” and “Cosmic Hero” which starts with plaintive horns and ends with wailing guitars and drums as Toledo screams: “I will go to heaven! / You won’t go to heaven! / I won’t see you there!” It’s the sound of a rock outfit leading the charge of a new generation, planting a flag in uncertain times. My three favorite albums this year are by young bands making either their major-label or full-length debuts. As difficult as 2016 was, bands like Car Seat Headrest give us one thing: hope. And man, do we need it.

LIST: My 25 Favorite Songs of 2016

All year, I keep track of my favorite music and now that it’s December, I’m ready to share with you what made the cut for my favorites of the year, starting with my 25 favorite songs of 2016.

This has been a mind-blowingly amazing year for new music, so much so that I expanded this list from my traditional 20 songs to 25. Keeping with tradition, I’ll let the songs speak for themselves in this post and reserve longer thoughts for my 10 favorite albums post next week.

I considered songs for this list that had any kind of release (be it on a single or an album) in 2016. And, as always, I only included one song per primary artist to ensure no one artist dominated the list.

Lastly, I created a Spotify playlist of these songs here and embedded at the bottom for your listening pleasure (the playlist is meant to be listened to as a 25-1 countdown, despite the numbers next to each song).

Here are my favorite songs lists for 2012, 20132014 and 2015.

Enjoy these awesome songs and stay tuned for my albums post next week.

25. TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB – “BAD DECISIONS”

24. WILCO – “WE AREN’T THE WORLD (SAFETY GIRL)”

23. KENDRICK LAMAR – “UNTITLED 06 | 06.30.2014.” (No audio in video, listen below on Spotify)

22. JOHN MAYER – “LOVE ON THE WEEKEND”

21. BON IVER – “29 #STRAFFORD APTS”

20. WILD NOTHING – “JAPANESE ALICE”

19. RADIOHEAD – “TRUE LOVE WAITS”

18. M83 – “GO!”

17. CULLEN OMORI – “CINNAMON”

16. CHANCE THE RAPPER (FT. LIL WAYNE & 2 CHAINZ) – “NO PROBLEM” 

15. DAVID BOWIE – “I CAN’T GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY”

14. PARQUET COURTS – “ONE MAN NO CITY”

13. LOCAL NATIVES – “PAST LIVES”

12. LUCY DACUS – “STRANGE TORPEDO”

11. BLOOD ORANGE – “E.V.P.”

10. SOLANGE – “CRANES IN THE SKY”

9. SUNFLOWER BEAN – “EASIER SAID”

8. KANYE WEST – “REAL FRIENDS”

7. FRANK OCEAN – “PINK + WHITE”

6. PINEGROVE – “NEW FRIENDS”

5. WHITNEY – “GOLDEN DAYS”

4. CAR SEAT HEADREST – “DRUNK DRIVERS/KILLER WHALES”

3. JAPANDROIDS – “NEAR TO THE WILD HEART OF LIFE”

2. DIIV – “UNDER THE SUN”

1. JIMMY EAT WORLD – “SURE AND CERTAIN”

RED SOX: Why Fire Farrell?

420px-John_Farrell_7-27-13

Up until the last six or eight months, I listened to Boston sports talk radio pretty regularly dating back to when I first moved to an area where I could easily pick up the signals of WEEI and the Sports Hub in my car. But, I gave it up and went back to music and podcasts for one, simple reason:

I refuse to be a sucker for bullshit, easily-disproven narratives meant to whip the already-rabid local sports fanbase into a frenzy.

Because that’s what virtually all of these shows do. They aren’t there to inform or enlighten. There’s no place for in-depth discussions like the one Bill Simmons recently had on his new show with Mark Cuban and Malcolm Gladwell about the business of basketball. Sports talk radio exists solely to get people like you and me to listen by taking an “everyone and everything sucks” position to get people talking and drive up ratings. That’s it.

In Boston, this attitude feeds into a sense of entitlement that, like it or not, makes the fans in nearly every other city in America hate our guts. Most of them think we should not be allowed to complain about anything for the next 50 years.

And I get very disappointed when people who I know are smart buy into these hot take narratives instead of thinking critically.

Just yesterday, several of these blowhards were discussing the Red Sox’ decision to utilize former big league pitcher Brian Bannister, who has served in the front office doing pitching analysis, in more of an on-field role. They railed against this move, calling Bannister a “nerd” and saying the pitchers don’t need more “numbers” to help them. This is the kind of anti-intellectual dreck that we do not accept in analysis of other mediums (like politics and business, for example) but seems perfectly acceptable when it comes to sports.

I still listen to Toucher & Rich most every morning because those guys are in on the joke. You can tell that neither of them take any of this stuff seriously. Hell, they even have a segment called “The Hot Take Police” where they mercilessly destroy professional and well-paid bloviators (like the ones who work at their station) for their absurdness.

On the rare occasion lately when I’ve unfortunately listened to non-T&R local sports radio, I’ve been bombarded with call after call after call for Red Sox manager John Farrell to be fired. To which I ask: why? And what purpose would it serve?

If the season were to end today, the Red Sox would make the postseason and appear in the Wild Card game. I know since June 1 the team hasn’t played well, going 13-18 in that time.

But given the low expectations of their pitching staff coming into the year, and the injuries they’ve dealt with that have mostly depleted their depth, doesn’t this feel like where you’d expect them to be right now? Within striking distance in the AL East and, at worst, in the postseason?

This isn’t to say everything is wonderful. While his peripheral numbers appear fine, on the whole David Price hasn’t delivered. Besides the surprising performance of Steven Wright and the decent, workman-like job by Rick Porcello, every other starting pitcher has been a flat-out disaster. Not one member of the bullpen, including Craig Kimbrel, has been consistent with the possible exception of Heath Hembree.

And while the Red Sox offense remains first in the AL in hits, runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, it has disappeared for stretches and undoubtedly has cost them games. Not to sound too much like Nick Cafardo, but it appears this Red Sox lineup “can be pitched to” and taken out of commission.

At times, Farrell has had to turn to the likes of Bryce Brentz, Ryan LaMarre, Deven Marrero and Mike Miller (not THAT Mike Miller) in key situations due to a constant stream of injuries to position players, primarily to left fielders. The devastating injury to Carson Smith, lost for the year and probably most of next to Tommy John surgery, left Farrell with few options he can consistently rely on in the bullpen. Plus, he’s had to parade out Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez, Roenis Elias, Sean O’Sullivan and various other assorted flotsam and jetsam as starting pitchers, all with varying degrees of ineptitude.

All of this is to say that I fail to see where any of the club’s struggles this year are directly the fault of the manager. He has done his best with the team he was given. It is not his fault his bench is almost always made up of guys who belong in AAA. It’s not his fault two-fifths of the starting rotation he’s been handed can’t get out of the 5th inning most nights. In turn, it’s not his fault his bullpen is so constantly taxed that he must option pitchers back and forth to AAA just to get fresh arms. William Cuevas, anyone?

The manager is always an easy target when a team struggles (again, the Red Sox are in the playoffs if the season ended today). But at what point do we pin blame on the actual big-league ballplayers themselves who aren’t performing, and the front office who didn’t identify these problems in the first place?

Sure, Smith’s injury was a surprise since he was apparently given a clean bill of health at the time of that trade. That injury fundamentally changed the bullpen’s structure, and Dave Dombrowski and Mike Hazen are still yet to address that change with help from outside the organization (although I have little doubt they will once the market settles).

However, in the offseason the front office seemed completely OK with going into the year with Buchholz, Kelly and Rodriguez in the rotation. Only an injury to Rodriguez in spring training opened the door for Wright’s unbelievably great season to date.

After signing Price, I’m not sure how serious the team was about adding more pitching either through free agency or trades. At best, this now appears to be a miscalculation by the front office, that the team didn’t put in an effort to sign Johnny Cueto or Jeff Samardzija or even Scott Kazmir or Doug Fister to complement Price and Porcello.

Now, none of this is to say John Farrell is the second coming of Earl Weaver or Casey Stengel. Nobody is above criticism. His usage of bullpen arms is often questionable (although some of his odd moves are out of necessity, as noted above) and in the past he’s stuck with veterans/players with big contracts too long when they’ve under-performed (although that hasn’t been the case as much this year, with Travis Shaw winning the 3B job over Pablo Sandoval an example).

I just don’t see how firing him is going to make the team play better. I’m guessing everyone would want bench coach Torey Lovullo to take over, since he did so well when Farrell was receiving cancer treatments last year. Yes, Lovullo did a great job when the team was well out of contention and there was no pressure on him to perform. Nonetheless, he did so well the Red Sox reportedly rewarded him with a contract for this year on par with that of first-year managers to keep him in Boston.

So that should make this decision all the more easy: fire Farrell, elevate Lovullo and we’ll all be happy, right?

Well, I hate to put in a pin in that particular hot-take-filled hot air balloon, but here’s a newsflash for you: in baseball, the bench coach’s job is to act as an in-game consultant for the manager. If a manager is smart, he bounces his decisions off the bench coach and they come to a consensus on what to do. In addition the bench coach often acts a conduit to the players regarding day-to-day decisions by the manager. So whatever decisions are being made by Farrell, and whatever messages he’s sending the players, are going through Lovullo as well. If they weren’t on the same wavelength, Lovullo would not be here. They’re basically bookends.

So if you’re going to fire Farrell, you might as well fire Lovullo too and start over completely. You’ll have to go outside the organization to find a new manager. And what you’ll have is a cadre of angry Red Sox players who’ll have to learn the tendencies of someone completely new in the middle of their season.

And besides, the history of firing the manager mid-season for a team expecting to make the playoffs isn’t pretty. Only one team since 1980 that’s done that has won the World Series: the 2003 Marlins. From what I can tell no other team who replaced their manager mid-season in that stretch has won a league pennant.

Firing Farrell won’t make the pitchers better. It won’t make the bench longer. It won’t make the offense more consistent. Dombrowski has to make make moves to fix what ails this team. Based on his history, I believe he’ll do just that. Addressing the bullpen and bench won’t be overly difficult. The starting rotation, however? He may have to get creative, with a total lack of arms available.

The failure or success of the 2016 Red Sox should not fall on the shoulders of the manager alone. He does not deserve to lose his job over it. It’s up to the front office to make the right moves, and the players to play up to their capabilities.

That’s my hot take.

MUSIC: My 10 Favorite Songs of 2016 So Far

On this day each year I usually post 2,000 words or so highlighting my 10 favorite songs of the year exactly six months in. Well, this year I simply did not have time to write anything of appreciable length. But, I’ve still been keeping track of my favorite tunes and am happy to present them to you in truncated form.

Below you’ll find YouTube clips of my favorite songs of 2016 so far and an embedded Spotify playlist as well. You can also find that playlist here. The songs are presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Enjoy!

CAR SEAT HEADREST – “DRUNK DRIVERS/KILLER WHALES”

CHANCE THE RAPPER – “ALL NIGHT” (FT. KNOX FORTUNE)

CULLEN OMORI – “CINNAMON”

DIIV – “UNDER THE SUN”

KANYE WEST – “REAL FRIENDS”

M83 – “GO!” (FT. MAI LAN)

PARQUET COURTS – “ONE MAN NO CITY”

RADIOHEAD – “BURN THE WITCH”

SUNFLOWER BEAN – “EASIER SAID”

WILD NOTHING – “JAPANESE ALICE”

MUSIC: Pet Sounds Turns 50

The_Beach_Boys_-_Pet_Sounds

Today, Pet Sounds turns 50. It’s one of my favorite albums ever. And I have a few things to say about it.

It was sometime in the spring of 2000 when I first discovered Pet Sounds, the greatest ever achievement from the greatest American rock band of them all, the Beach Boys. I was in 7th grade, which needless to say, is an interesting time in one’s life. I had an affinity for ‘60s music going back to my Beatles obsession that started years earlier. But that spring ABC aired a two-part TV movie entitled “The Beach Boys: An American Family” that stoked my interest in the band (the movie was forgettable, yet the music was anything but).

Shortly thereafter I splurged my allowance money on a couple of Beach Boys greatest hits compilations and Pet Sounds. Inside I discovered a whole new world of pop music, one I never knew existed. Since then, it has been one of my three favorite albums ever, alongside Who’s Next and Abbey Road.

Pet Sounds was like opening a sonic Pandora’s box. For the first time, I experienced pop sensibilities in music alongside very sophisticated, very refined instrumental stylings. Most of all, though, I strongly identified with the words, mostly conjured by Brian Wilson and his co-writer Tony Asher.

I’ve always associated Pet Sounds with this overarching theme lyrically: the transition from youth to adulthood, and how hard it can be. But at the same time, the hallmark of Pet Sounds musically is so very rich and vibrant. And that’s what stands out to me most after so many listens.

Wilson was in the throes of a competition with the Beatles to reach creative heights in pop music that started after he picked up a copy of Rubber Soul in late 1965. He was also dealing with his own emotional issues and a taste for psychotropic drugs. Amidst this, he wanted to take his music in a more artistic direction. For context, the previous Beach Boys album was called Beach Boys’ Party! And that only arrived six months before Pet Sounds.

These were not simply boy-girl love songs, or songs about cars and surfing, which had dominated the Beach Boys’ catalogue up to that point. Wilson had started to dabble in introspective, self-examining lyrics with 1963’s seminal “In My Room”, but Pet Sounds was different. This was virtually an entire album dedicated to very specific feelings of youth, love, frustration, disappointment and desire. It was one of the key landmarks in creating the style of “concept albums” that would come to dominate the popular rock landscape.

Years later, the late Beatles producer Sir George Martin put it simply: “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper never would have happened…Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.”

The Beach Boys not only changed music forever with Pet Sounds but it changed how I thought about music forever. I love Pet Sounds just as much today as I did when I was a wide-eyed 14-year-old growing up in a small town. I hear so much of what Pet Sounds started in today’s music as well.

So in honor of its 50th anniversary, I’m taking a song-by-song look at 13 tracks that make up Pet Sounds. I’ll write more about some songs than others, but know that each has played a vital role in making this incredible album stand all tests of time. Enjoy.

“WOULDN’T IT BE NICE”

One of the greatest albums ever deserves one of the greatest opening songs ever, and that’s what we get with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Over the last 50 years, few songs have ever encapsulated the feeling of being young and in love, and the frustrations often associated with that feeling, better than “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”

From those opening harp plucks to the gorgeous, “Good night, sleep tight” ending fade-out, this song bursts with enthusiasm and joy from a sonic standpoint, supplied by legendary studio players the Wrecking Crew here and throughout the album. I imagine these lyrics have been recited by lovestruck youngins over the phone to each other for years, all the while hoping their parents didn’t pick up the phone to listen.

(You know, back when people had landlines. Work with me here!)

Although love is the prevailing theme, Brian Wilson’s words are also imbued with adolescent impatience. Note that Wilson and Love sing more about hypothetical joys than actual ones. Thinking and wishing and hoping praying that something might come true is all well and good, but won’t result in immediate happiness.

It’s that frustration that makes this song unique and worth so many listens.

“YOU STILL BELIEVE IN ME”

Really the only negative thing I can say about Pet Sounds is that “You Still Believe In Me” feels out of place as the second song. Coming off the sugar rush of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “You Still Believe In Me” is quite a downer. However, it’s still terrific for what it is, and it sets the emotional tone for much of what’s to come.

This is less of a straightforward pop song and gets more into the chamber/symphonic style Wilson was really going for, including its lilting guitar runs and harpsichord strums. The harmonies along with the percussion hits at just the right times make “You Still Believe In Me” extremely memorable.

But what really takes the cake here is the inclusion of a bike horn and bell near the end. This is not the last time on Pet Sounds you’ll hear something unusual.

“THAT’S NOT ME”

Mike Love doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to flex his nasally vocal muscles on Pet Sounds, but he took advantage each time, including here on the deeply-introspective “That’s Not Me.” On an album of so many favorites, this one has always stood out to me thanks to its unique subject matter.

Over the course of two-and-a-half minutes, Love and Wilson go on an interesting vocal journey. The speaker here isn’t talking so much about who he is, but what he is. He wants to be independent, but he’s scared. He doesn’t sound optimistic about what his self-examination has ultimately wrought. “What matters to me is what I could be / To just one girl.” The music takes soft and quiet approach while the speaker slowly loses his mind.

In addition, this is perhaps the only track on Pet Sounds where the Beach Boys actually got to play their own instruments (including Dennis Wilson on drums, which definitely didn’t happen on any other songs here). The internal journey for Love/Wilson is accompanied by some fun guitar licks by Carl Wilson and Glen Campbell, and Brian taking a whirl on the organ.

And, the song includes (and ends on) one of my all-time favorite vocal couplets.

“I once had a dream so I packed up and split for the city / I soon found out that my lonely life wasn’t so pretty.”

Love it. Always have, and always will.

“DON’T TALK (PUT YOUR HEAD ON MY SHOULDER)”

This is the first of several very sad-sounding songs here. “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” is expertly constructed by Wilson both lyrically and musically. Here’s a song about two people going through difficulty and hoping to find strength in each other. But the way Wilson sings, both the speaker and subject know it’s over, or at least close to being over.

So many of the lines sit with the listener for a while, punctuated by swelling strings throughout and big-sounding percussion late in the proceedings. “We could live forever tonight / Let’s not think about tomorrow,” the heartbroken Wilson sings. And the chorus that’s so earnest it’s almost painful to listen to, especially at the end when Wilson hits the high note on “heeeeaaaaaaaart-beat.”

There’s so much to the texture of this song that’s easy to miss because it’s so quiet. That includes a looping bass line and quiet guitar runs. When Wilson implores “listen, listen, listen,” he’s not just talking about his heartbeat. What a brilliant little song.

“I’M WAITING FOR THE DAY”

In terms of subject matter, “I’m Waiting For The Day” is more traditional and straightforward than many of the others here. Brian Wilson is simply offering his love and support to a young girl of his interest who was recently left heartbroken. With that, Wilson is biding his time and “waiting for the day when you can love again.”

But musically, “I’m Waiting For The Day” is a wonder, another Phil Spector-inspired Wall of Sound taking a simple song of love and longing into another stratosphere. Anchored by huge percussion, a full orchestra of strings and a flute solo midway through, “I’m Waiting For The Day” is a marvel. It’s the one song on this album that would not have felt totally out of place on the Motown releases of the day.

“You didn’t think!” Wilson shouts as the song closes and the organ sounds shoot out amongst the timpani blasts. “I’m Waiting For The Day” might be the most underrated song on Pet Sounds, one I love going back to every time to find something in the Wall of Sound I may have missed previously.

“LET’S GO AWAY FOR AWHILE”

Pet Sounds features two instrumentals, “Let’s Go Away For Awhile” being the first. It’s a quick jaunt, but I’ve always felt like it was like going on quite a journey. It’s a quiet song, but a warm one with a lot of different orchestral touches.

My favorite part has always been about 1:40 in when the drums and other percussion instruments kick in. It makes this quiet song all the sudden feel pretty big.

Anyway, it’s a good little interlude before heading into the second half of the album. I’ll have much more to say about the second instrumental later on.

“SLOOP JOHN B”

Popular at the time of its release, “Sloop John B” doesn’t really fit in lyrically with the rest of Pet Sounds–at least on the surface. It’s an old traditional island song Brian Wilson rearranges in the musical style of the album after he was introduced to it by Al Jardine. It’s the first song the Beach Boys laid down for Pet Sounds.

The lyrics here recount a maritime excursion gone wrong, but the feelings vulnerability and frustration to fit right in with Pet Sounds. “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on,” Love sings. “I want to go home.” That sounds a lot like the other first-person narrators on this album.

“Sloop John B” is also notable because of the funny “promotional film” aka music video embedded above. There were not many of these in the mid-’60s, and it’s memorable if nothing else for the image of Brian Wilson leading the guys fully-clothed in a pool while carrying a rubber dinghy. I think that video probably influenced this recent video by one of my favorite bands.

“GOD ONLY KNOWS”

You’ve heard it more times than you can count.

Thousands of brides have walked down the aisle to it. Hundreds of mixtapes have been anchored by it. It served as a TV show theme, soundtracked the end of one of the greatest movies of all time, and has been covered by everyone from Andy Williams to Elvis Costello to Mandy Moore to Paul Dano. It has provided strength to millions in times of both love and despair. Fifty years on, it feels timeless, note-perfect and indestructible.

“God Only Knows” is arguably the greatest pop ballad ever written. And it’s a song I’ve adored deeply since the first time it hit my ears.

It’s hard to believe Carl Wilson has been gone for almost 20 years. But well before he left this Earth in physical form, he laid down a perfect vocal track for “God Only Knows” that will live as long as people can hear.

No matter what’s been going on in my life since I discovered Pet Sounds, and no matter how many times I’ve heard it, “God Only Knows” always hits me the same way. It brings tears to my eyes. It is truly a piece of unimaginable beauty. From the incredible arrangement, to Carl’s vocals, to the lyrics of longing and love to the impeccably-arranged and dramatic closing vocal round with Carl, Brian and Bruce Johnston, this is just damn perfect.

Without “God Only Knows”, Pet Sounds would still be great. But maybe not iconic. Thank God for “God Only Knows”.

“I KNOW THERE’S AN ANSWER”

“I Know There’s An Answer” is not overly direct in its message, but the years have revealed that Brian Wilson intended the lyrics to be about drugs. The original title for the song was “Hang On to Your Ego”, which Wilson related to LSD users losing themselves when ingesting the hallucinogenic.

It would be a few more years before Neil Young would pen the ultimate anti-drug song of this era, “The Needle and the Damage Done.” That was a much more overt plea against drugs. But here was Wilson, in 1966, telling people to be careful with this stuff. And in the ‘60s, being a pop musician and singing anti-drug songs was decidedly uncool.

Among the songs here, “I Know There’s An Answer” has some of the most interesting and diverse instrumentation, including “bass harmonica” (which I never knew existed), tack piano and Glen Campbell chiming in with some banjo. Despite the message, this may have been one instance where the drugs were working for Wilson from a creative standpoint.

“HERE TODAY”

It starts with just a little glance now.

This is easily the most fun song on Pet Sounds.

Right away you’re thinking ‘bout romance now. (Oooooo-ooooo!)

Mike Love re-takes the vocal controls on “Here Today”, weaving a cautionary tale about that someone who catches your eye amidst a blaring maelstrom of instruments. Like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Here Today” bursts at the seams with energy and panache. It’s almost dizzying how many different sounds we experience here. Everything from the fun little guitar runs, the organ smacks, the brass section and the timpani hits all work in perfect concert.

But like with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, the giddiness of the music goes on behind the veneer of someone who has experienced hardships when it comes to love. “A brand new love affair is such a beautiful thing / But if you’re not careful think about the pain it can bring,” Love sings.

Toying with the loud/soft dynamic that Brian Wilson so expertly managed throughout Pet Sounds, “Here Today” is dramatic, exciting and an awesome ride for all three minutes. It’s one of the songs I always look forward to hearing most whenever I put the album on, and puts a huge smile on my face.

“I JUST WASN’T MADE FOR THESE TIMES”

As a teenager, this was the Pet Sounds song I identified with most closely. It was almost like Brian Wilson had written a song just for me, 35 years in the past.

It’s a song that everyone, no matter their station in life, can relate to at one time or another. The idea for this seemed to spring from Wilson’s own ambition to make an album no one believed would be viable.

When I was a kid, I was outspoken in class but shy around classmates. From a young age I had a wide range of knowledge of subjects like music, baseball, history and politics that made me very different from anybody else in my age range. I was so much like the person Wilson sings about, it’s scary. They said I had brains, but they didn’t do me good at least with the kids around me. I often felt I wasn’t made for those times. I found solace in this music at a time when I badly needed it.

“I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” is the quintessential Pet Sounds song, one that encapsulates everything Wilson was trying to do here, from the words down to the chamber-pop sounding music.

Matt Weiner also used this one during Mad Men’s pivotal Season 5 episode “Far Away Places” when Roger Sterling took his first hit of LSD. If there was ever a show where “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” was appropriate, it would be Mad Men, and I’m glad that show found use for something from Pet Sounds during its run.

One other note here: an unusual instrument for rock music called a theremin was included near the end of this track. The creepy-sounding instrument would later be used to much greater effect (and impact) on a Beach Boys single later in 1966.

“PET SOUNDS”

The second of the two instrumentals here is by far the more interesting, unique and weird. The title track to Pet Sounds is in fact the most out-there track on the album and for a lot of people at the time was probably the strangest thing they’d ever heard on a pop record. (My message to those people: just give it a few months.)

What the hell is going on here? How does it even make sense? How is it melodic? And, most importantly, how is “Pet Sounds” so good?

It turns out Wilson originally intended “Pet Sounds” to be a James Bond theme, and you can hear some remnants of that idea in the way the track slinks along. That uncanny percussion sound, which apparently came about after Wilson asked his drummer to smack his sticks on two empty Coke cans, helps keep all the wild sounds together.

There are bongos here. There is some oddly-distorted guitar. There are bass notes from brass instruments you didn’t really think would be possible. The only thing “Pet Sounds” doesn’t have is a vocal track. And in 2:38 it’s over, leading into the final track.

“CAROLINE, NO”

This song, man. Wow.

There can only be one word to describe it: devastation. Have you ever heard a sadder breakup song in the 50 years since? And, hell, the roughly 5,000 years before it?

In just shy of three minutes, Brian Wilson weaves a tale of woe about the end of a relationship in the starkest and most evocative terms imaginable.

“Where did your long hair go? / Where is the girl I used to know?”

“I remember how you used to say / You’d never change / But that’s not true”

“It’s so sad to watch a sweet thing die / Oh, Caroline, why?”

An album that starts with such hope and idealism as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” comes to a crashing end with “Caroline, No.” It’s even hard to listen to sometimes. The sadness in Wilson’s voice is just…devastating. I can’t really use any other words to describe this one. My gosh.

Of course, the album ACTUALLY ends with the actual sounds of pets. More specifically, dogs barking at a blaring train rolling by.

It’s a fitting ending, really, as that train carried with it the sounds a new generation would use to propel pop and rock into the next era. Sgt. Pepper’s and Electric Ladyland and Tommy and After the Gold Rush and Blue and Exile on Main St. and Dark Side of the Moon were all still to come. But in that moment, Pet Sounds stood apart.

When it was released, Pet Sounds was both a critical and commercial disappointment (at least in America). It did not take long for it to pick up steam and be considered the cultural landmark it is today.

For me, it will always represent something special, a time in my life when I began to appreciate things that took time, foresight and brilliant execution to create. Pet Sounds will always be special to me for that. And the music of course remains so affecting, so beautiful, so perfect and so damn good.

Happy birthday, Pet Sounds. Here’s to the next 50 years.