Friday, December 18, 2009

Hendry drunk at the wheel

Hendry drunk at the podium

Just kill me now. Jim Hendry is driving straight towards a cliff, and he's taking the team with him. The Cubs today announced that they have finally exorcized Milton Bradley, trading him to the Mariners for starter Carlos Silva. Not bad, right? Get rid of Bradley, get back a starting pitcher. You've probably heard of Carlos Silva, he's decent, I think? Well, the Mariners sure thought so when they handed him a four year $48 million contact going into 2008. Silva then proceeded to throw up ERA's of 6.46 in '08 and 8.60 last year (only 30 innings). Oh yeah, and there's a mutual option for 2012 for $12 mil that the Cubs would have to spend $2.5 mil to buy out. So, because Silva is somehow owed more money ($24 mil) than Bradley ($21 mil) the Mariners will give the cubs $3 million next year and $6 million in 2011. Take out the $2.5 million buyout and the Cubs get $6.5 million over two years while adding a hole to the outfield and overcrowding their starting rotation with a bad pitcher. A bad pitcher who is making $12 million and will likely start over a more deserving pitcher.

Which brings me to Sean Marshall. How does this guy pitch impressively year after year and always head into spring training with "a chance" to make the rotation. Yet, he never seems to get his fair shot because there's some reclamation project or overpaid/undeserving starter (can you say Jason Marquis?) who gets the fifth spot over Marshall. This year it'll be Silva. Oh and we have a hole in the outfield that needs filling. It's really too bad we don't have a gold glove caliber, up-and-coming outfield prospect who could play center field.

So lets recount the tale of Milton Bradley. Cubs trade away Mark Derosa to free up cash, and do not sign back Kerry Wood because money is needed for Milton Bradley. 2009 begins and Bradley is a bust, Aramis Ramirez goes down and the Cubs are left with no backup, second base is a black hole all year long and the season is lost. 2009 ends, and Milton is traded for a bad starting pitcher who is actually making more money than Bradley. Meanwhile, the Cubs have no need for a starting pitcher. The Cubs would have been better off by simply releasing Bradley rather than make this trade.

While Hendry is responsible for the majority of this mess, some of the blame also has to be placed on Lou. It is Lou who needed his precious left handed bat. Lou is the one who could not work with Felix Pie or deal with a player who needed time to fully develop. Lou also prefers Sean Marshall in the bullpen. Don't get me wrong, Marshall is good and reliable as a reliever, but he has so much more value to the team as a starter.

At the end of the day, at least the team is rid of Milton. A player who I was excited for when the Cubs signed him. Only the Cubs could sign the reigning AL OPS leader and have it blow up in their face.

The question now is, who is going to play center? The Cubs are rumored to be considering Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel and Marlon Byrd. I just threw up in my mouth thinking about Scott Podsednik on this team. Marlon Byrd is interesting, he hit 20 jacks last year with a slash line of .283/.329/.479/.808. The year before he was even more impressive, hitting .307/.380/.462/.842. The problem is that he'll be 33 this coming season and could have already peaked. Of the names listed, I would not mind seeing Rick Ankiel on the team. He has legitimate power and plays solid defense. He's only going to hit around .265 but throw him in the 6-hole and just let him slug and play good defense.

Or maybe Jim can give his old pal Andy MacPhail a call and see what it would take to get Felix Pie back, the O's were rumored to be listening to offers...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Favorite Songs of 2009

(click the song to listen to or download the mp3)

50. Deastro – Parallelogram

49. YACHT – I'm In Love With a Ripper

48. Girls – Lauren Marie

47. Atlas Sound – Walkabout

46. Florence + The Machine – You’ve Got The Love (The xx remix)

45. Discovery – Osaka Loop Line

44. Passion Pit - The Reeling

43. The Tough Alliance – A New Chance (Juan Maclean remix)

42. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Young Adult Friction

41. The xx – Crystalized

40. Fever Ray - Triangle Walks

39. White Rabbits – Company I Keep

38. Animal Collective – Also Frightened

37. Bear in Heaven – Lovesick Teenagers

36. Small Black - Despicable Dogs (Washed Out remix)

35. Animal Collective – Bluish

34. Here We Go Magic – Tunnelvision

33. Girls – Summertime

32. Grizzly Bear - Cheerleader

31. Miami Horror – Sometimes

30. Birds & Batteries – Out in The Woods

29. Girls – Hellhole Ratrace

28. Fuck Buttons – Surf Solar

27. Toro y Moi – Blessa

26. Phoenix – Lisztomania

25. HEALTH - Die Slow

The first Health song that you can really dance and (almost) sing along to, “Die Slow” hits hard and has a simple but solid drum beat keeping the pace. An experimental noise band, Health use electronic arrangements to give the song substance and it all breaks down at the 2:13 mark, with a delicious twenty second freak-out that I dare you not to freak out along to.

24. Vitalic – Flashmob

“Flashmob” is a dizzying dance track meant to have the bass cranked to floor-thumping levels. Tension builds, as electronics and pounding beats spiral deliriously, though never out of control.

23. Grizzly Bear - I Live With You

“I Live With You” feels immediately epic as a host of strings lead into haunting, spoken lyrics. The tame opening quickly turns sinister as the music shifts from creepily subdued to acutely alive. The climax of this song is one of the highlights of the year.

22. Dan Deacon – Of The Mountains

Tiny, ringing bells flow perfectly from “Snookered” into “Of The Mountains” as tribal chants of “ooooo hey-hey-hey ya hey-hey-hey ya hey-hey-hey ya hey-hey-hey……hey hey oooo” steadily increase in intensity until at two minutes forty five seconds the song takes off, and the tribe really starts to go nuts. That may seem ridiculous, but it sounds unreal.

21. Destroyer – Bay of Pigs

Destroyer, aka Dan Bejar, has an indelible vibe all his own, and on his most forward thinking and experimental song to date, that vibe is ever apparent. While almost every Bejar song is a treat, this thirteen minute thirty-nine second gem is his crown jewel. Four and a half minutes go by and it feels like less than half that time with the way Bejar can sit the listener down and make him or her lean back and simply bask in music. Atypical for a Destroyer song, processed beats and synthesizers enter the mix. The introduction of electronics is casual at first, however, before you realize it, Bejar is playing his own brand of disco-folk. Approaching the halfway mark of the song, signature Bejar strums of guitar begin to coalesce with the electronics and a new Destroyer is born.

20. Fuck Buttons - The Lisbon Maru

On their second full-length, FB pared their sometimes grating sound into a more danceable and welcoming form. “The Lisbon Maru” combines the good from the first album and lays it down on the blueprint of Tarot Sport to spine-tingling effects. As with the rest of the songs on the album, “The Lisbon Maru” evolves throughout its 9 minutes 19 seconds, ultimately releasing into a shower of knob-twisting glory.

19. Girls - Laura

“Laura” seems effortless in its construction, however, so catchy at the same time that one may think there must be more to this perfectly produced pop song. This seeming simplicity is merely a testament to Girls’ craftsmanship as songwriters.

18. Bibio - Fire Ant

Arguably the most unique song on one of the most unique albums of the year, “Fire Ant” opens with candid and oddly sampled children’s voices leading into a slow, R&B-style groove. Vocals are cut and pasted over a tastily appealing beat, leaving you with an impossible-to-ignore impulse to dance.

17. The Big Pink – Velvet

Big, angry, mean guitars rule the day on “Velvet.” At times during the song, the guitar feels so vigorous it’s as if they have a dozen all playing at once. It’s that punch of the guitar reverberating in your chest that really makes this song stand out, but it’s the raw emotion seeping out of lead singer Robbie Furze that makes those guitars work so well.

16. Animal Collective – Brothersport

Brothersport” takes the bass that’s been droning along during the course of Merriweather Post Pavilion and uses it as a dance mechanism. The electronics the band has thrived on during live performances also finally shows up on record, as “Brothersport” blitzes on by in a joyous conclusion to arguably the year’s best album.

15. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks

“Two Weeks” sounds like both the future of pop music, as well as a throwback to music of the past. Immediately catchy, though simple in construction, this song shows off the unique harmonies of Grizzly Bear and their keen knowledge of how to affect the listener, seemingly effortlessly.

14. Phoenix – 1901

Cadillac is close to ruining this song, but it just may be that “1901” is incorruptible. I could have this in my head all day long for a week and love it every time. This is Phoenix at their finest, an undeniable track.

13. Washed Out - Feel It All Around

Gloriously chill, “Feel It All Around” instantly calms the nerves and relaxes one’s entire body into a state of submission. Sampled drums are sparse but essential, checking in throughout the song, while Ernest Greene’s reserved and reassuring voice shines through the haze. Though the song is an extended sample of Gary Low’s “I Want You”, one could not ask for more from a borrowed riff.

12. Neon Indian - Terminally Chill

By the time the first ten seconds of this song are over, you can immediately recognize “Terminally Chill” as a sure-fire winner. Alan Palomo makes strikingly stoning electronic pop music and “Terminally Chill” is the best example of his ability to relax and stimulate the listener simultaneously.

11. Micachu - Golden Phone

In a way similar to “1901,” “Golden Phone” is an undeniable track. Just take one listen to this song. Go ahead, download it.

10. Vega - No Reasons

“No Reasons” was my summer song. This track was essential to each and every day. I would play this on the way to work, on my lunch break, on the way home from work, and then probably at least two more times throughout the night. While simple and repetitious, Alan Palomo (Neon Indian) has produced a hook that buries its barbs beneath the skin and refuses to let go.

9. Little Dragon – Feather

Hair rises on my back just thinking about “Feather.” Dreamy synthesizers and a thick, sticky bass line open the first minute. A keyboard then joins the fray as the bass shifts into one of the catchiest grooves 2009 had to offer. Yukimi Nagano’s vocal performance is the story here, though, and this gorgeous track just itches to be replayed.

8. Phoenix - Love Like a Sunset, Pt. I

If you want to just have fun and sing along to a great Phoenix song, “Long Distance Call,” “Consolation Prizes” or “Sometimes in the Fall” cannot be beat. If in the dancing mood, “1901” is your song. However if someone wants to hear the immense talent of Phoenix on display, “Love Like a Sunset” is where it’s at. This is an arresting song and even more impressive given that this is not the pool of music Phoenix usually dips into.Entirely instrumental and electronic, this piece of krautrock steadily builds tension eventually imploding into a plume of scratchy, electronicly manipulated woodwinds that give way to a two-minute gallop of drums and effects to close out what could be Phoenix’s best song.

7. Japandroids – Young Hearts Spark Fire

Japandroids are not complicated. Just two dudes, rocking out as hard as they possibly can. The opening riff sounds like it was something that came off of your cassette-playing walkman in the early 90’s. While it’s a familiar sound, Japandroids pull it off nicely.Guitars ring and tumble out of your speakers as the drums are stuck in a vicious cycle of crash and tumble. “I don’t want to worry about dying, I just want to worry about those sunshine girls,” they cry out with such conviction, playing the song with so much intensity, that you can’t help but cry out the lyrics along with them.

6. Animal Collective - Summertime Clothes

Cut from the post below, "Summertime Clothes" is a joyous and surprisingly radio-ready jubilance of life. A recurring theme on Merriweather Post Pavilion and a large part of the band's progression is the deep, consistent bass that anchors this song. Grungy guitars give way to synths that bounce from ear to ear like Pong on crack as Avey Tare sings of sneaking out in the middle of the night with his lover, "when the sun goes down we'll go out again!"

5. Grizzly Bear - While You Wait For The Others

“While You Wait For The Others” is a well oiled machine, all of the parts of Grizzly Bear coming together, confidently and purposefully, everything in its right place. Guitars ring out, seesawing back and forth, as drums and vocal harmonies rise and fall precisely in sync.

4. Animal Collective - My Girls

Under cover of sparkling keyboards, chunky bass mixes with Noah Lennox’s contagious chorus during “My Girls” in a way that is irrefutably pleasing to the ears and dance-happy feet alike. The listener is compelled to sing along to what I believe should be the most universally enjoyed song of the year (if, somehow, everyone could hear it).

3. Fuck Buttons – Olympians

This song is amazing. If you’re interested in this band listen to “Olympians,” you will listen to the rest of the songs immediately. If you’re on the fence, listen to this song. The drum pace that holds “Olympians” together is flawlessly put together, driving the song and pounding home its breathless pace. Surrounding that unrelenting drum line is an array of effects that patiently, perfectly build the song towards an inexhaustible climax. Emotion pours out of “Olympians,” and it is nearly impossible not to get caught up in it.

2. Washed Out - Hold Out

Deeply rooted bass combines with a sharp, echoing keyboard effect that together carry a pointed sense of dread throughout the song. Ernest Greene’s distant delivery burns alongside the throbbing bass line and produces an arrangement that I was addicted to all year long.

1. Animal Collective - What Would I Want? Sky

A psychedelic two-minute opening of cascading vocals feels oddly right at home as the introduction to this uncharacteristically warm and uplifting offering from Animal Collective’s Fall Be Kind EP. Though the lyrics hint towards confusion, pure optimism seems to subliminally seethe through the song’s pores. One spin begs for an immediate follow up listen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Best Albums of 2009

If you are a fan of the Chicago Cubs or Bears, 2009 has been an insufferable year. After a swift exit from the '07 and '08 playoffs, the Cubs made us long for the chance to witness another three game sweep by gimping their way to a surprisingly respectable looking record of 83-78. Well, at least they're not the Pirates.

Conversely, 2009 was an incredible year for music. Animal Collective's demographic spanning triumph, Merriweather Post Pavilion dropped on us before January was over, with critics and fans alike pre-maturely hailing it as the album of the year.

Bookending their successful year, Animal Collective released the chilling five song EP Fall Be Kind digitally in November. Between these two releases the music community was treated to French indie rockers, Phoenix's most popular album to date (though not as good as 2006's It's Never Been Like That) with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.Released on the same day, Grizzly Bear followed up their critically acclaimed Yellow House with the delectable ear candy of Veckatimest. An impeccably crafted collection of songs.

These were just a few of the highlights of 2009. For the rest, here are my favorite albums of the year:

25. Vitalic - Flashmob

24. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

23. YACHT - See Mystery Light

22. Deastro - Moondagger

21. Passion Pit - Manners

20. Atlas Sound - Logos

19. Handsome Furs - Face Control

17. Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth

16. Micachu and the Shapes - Jewellery

16. HEALTH - Get Color

15. Silversun Pickups - Swoon

14. Fever Ray - Fever Ray

13. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

12. the xx - xx

11. Girls - Album

10. Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue

9. Dan Deacon - Bromst

8. Animal Collective - Fall Be Kind EP

7. White Rabbits - It's Frightening

6. Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms

5. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

4. Washed Out - High Times/Life of Leisure EP

3. Fuck Buttons (sorry Mom) - Tarot Sport

2. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

So yes, after being dubbed "album of the year" back in January, I still think Animal Collective delivered the year's best record. It is nearly impossible to pick between Veckatimest and MPP though, to be honest. Overall I was more impressed with Veckatimest, but that can be explained by fact that I was not a huge Grizzly Bear fan going into the album and was simply blown away, combined with my incredibly high expectations for Animal Collective.

Veckatimest stands apart because of its amazing instrumentation and attention to detail. The way the music flows and the perfection of its players will send shivers up your spine; the climaxing crescendo of "I Live With You," or the impossibly catchy harmony of "Two Weeks," to a seesaw of guitars trading places with the quiet peacefulness of "Fine For Now," the list is endless for what makes this album so good. However, from beginning to end I still preferMerriweather Post Pavilion.

Animal Collective created songs on MPP that are infinitely repeatable. "Summertime Clothes" is a joyous and surprisingly radio-ready jubilance of life. A recurring theme on this album and a large part of the band's progression is the deep, consistent bass that anchors this song. Grungy guitars give way to synths that bounce from ear to ear like Pong on crack as Avey Tare sings of sneaking out in the middle of the night with his lover, "when the sun goes down we'll go out again!"

Opener, "In The Flowers" sets the stage with synths gurgling to life, soon joined by a slightly haunting piano. Tare then sings softly for two minutes about seeing a "dancer in a field who was high from her movement" until at 2:31, the bottom of the song drops out as your speakers are pummeled with a thumping bass line that coalesces with simmering synths to ride the song home. The puzzled half-smile one will wear after hearing "In The Flowers" melts into a state of euphoria as Noah Lennox, aka "Panda Bear," begins the opening lyrics of the glorious "My Girls." This is simply a song that not one human being on Earth would not enjoy. There are many Animal Collective songs that are loved by fans but would be hated by 9 out of 10 listeners. This, however, is not one of those songs. Catchy as hell, pleasing to the ears and impossible not to tap your toes to, "My Girls" is the song of the year.

The rest of the album features the most gorgeous AC song to date, "Bluish" while also boasting the grooving "Lion in a Coma" as well as standout and perfect album closer, "Brothersport." Innovative as ever, and their most accessible album yet, Merriweather Post Pavilion is a natural and welcome progression for the band. That accessibility, however, may be the only gripe one may find as there is no "Grass" or "For Reverend Green" on this album, two of my favorite and, to some degree, more abrasive AC songs. It's a small quibble though, given the quality of the new material. From start to finish, Animal Collective consistently deliver on Merriweather Post Pavilion; not one song is a misstep. Download this now, if you do not have it already.

Nearly as unique sounding as Animal Collective, each of Dan Deacon, Micachu and Bibio released incredibly strong albums featuring multiple standout tracks. As far as debuts go, and there were a multitude of good one's this year, a band can't do much better than the xx or Girls who released vastly different sounding but equally easy to enjoy LP's. Continuing the theme, Karin Dreijer Andersson released her debut as Fever Ray, icily distilling the sound of her other band, The Knife, into a brooding yet pleasing collection of songs. Later in the year, Alan Palomo released Psychic Chasms, the Neon Indian debut that will hook you with one listen. Horribly named The Pains of Being Pure at Heart similarly released a debut filled to the brim with late 80's/early 90's sounding indie pop goodness. Finally, the sophomore effort of Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport, was one of the most cohesive and alarmingly attention grabbing albums I've ever heard. A truly great year for music.