Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Stefan's Top 10 of 2017

Overall I think this was kind of a down year in music.  Maybe my listening habits have just changed but usually I have a much harder time narrowing my list to 10.  Here you go.

2017 Top Ten albums…

Honorable Mentions:

Francis and the Lights – Just for Us

This album only came out on the 29th of December so pretty hard to even put it on this list but I like it a lot.  Pretty simple songs without too much fuss.  Can’t wait for some music videos to come out.  I dig the song “Cruise”

10.  Brother Ali – All the Beauty in this World

I like Brother Ali more and more as he has gotten older.  I feel like his message has matured and changed as he has become a father and just experienced more life.  Smart hip hop.

9.  Hiss Golden Messenger - Hallelujah Anyhow

A band that sounds like it’s from a past era.  

8.  Haim - Something to Tell You

I generally am not a big fan of female singers but these ladies make fun music.  It sounds heavily influenced by a number of bands that I don’t really like but the way they do it makes it something I dig.

7. Elbow - Little Fictions

There are some songs that I absolutely love on this album.  I love Guy Garvey’s voice. He sounds like he should be sung in a different genre of music.

6.  Ryan Adams - Prisoner

I like the sound of this Ryan Adams phase albeit it I like his last album better.  A great song writer.

5.  Jay-Z - 4:44

A brutally honest record.  This album is the epitome of not needing to financially make a record like this but personally needing to make it.  Of course, it being Jay-Z, it is also a financial win.

4. Jason Isbell  and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound

This album has more songs that are my favorites of the year but as a whole I like his last album better.  He is a genius song writer.

3.  Cataldo – Keepers

This has been a rough year for our country and I’ve been listening to a lot more political podcasts in an attempt to stay woke.  Cataldo’s album is a great escape from that with fun synthesizers and pop tunes.

2. Kendrick Lamar – Damn.

A lyrical genius.  Kendrick Lamar is definitely on another level.  I have great amounts of respect for him and what he does.  Another gem of an album.

 1.     The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Yup, I am a father in his mid 30s.  This album may not have the same cultural impact as some of the others on this list but I can listen to this album all day.  Love the music and the lyrics. 


Thursday, January 12, 2017

On the San Diego Chargers Becoming the L.A. Chargers

On October 27, 1991, two weeks before my tenth birthday, I became a San Diego Chargers fan. It’s one of those childhood memories that is vivid but also patchy, as if I dreamt it last night and have to reconstruct some of the connective narrative to make it make sense. It’s also a story I’ve reluctantly had to tell to anyone who has ever asked me “why are you a Chargers fan?” to defend my decision not to support the Seahawks (the local team) or a more national team that was popular in the 90s, like the Cowboys, 49ers, or Packers.

 The day before I became a Chargers fan, I made my first start at middle linebacker in Grid Kids (peewee football) after our best defensive player broke his arm the previous game. There is only one play I remember, but it may be my most vivid pre-puberty memory. I saw a hole open in the offensive line before I ran headfirst into it as fast as I could, not even seeing the running back I hit before I heard a POP and fell on top of him. The crowd audibly gasped and waited for us both to get up before cheering. And I remember after the game my dad was so proud (neither my dad nor I remember if I actually had a good game outside of that one hit) that he told me we were going to go to Seattle to go to a Seahawks game the next day, just the two of us.

The game in Seattle is fuzzy, and I only recall a few things related to childhood anxiety. The steps of the Kingdome were steep and I didn’t want to fall down them (we had shitty seats). You had to pee in a trough in front of everyone instead of your own separate urinal stall. Drunk fans were yelling at each other and threatening to fight. But I couldn’t let my dad know that I was out of my comfort zone. After all, I was a linebacker now, and I wasn’t afraid of throwing my body at other kids who were older and bigger than me, so why should I be afraid of peeing in a trough? So I turned my anxiety into playful antagonism (as kids are apt to do) and started rooting against the Seahawks to irk my dad and the fans around us.

If a second year superstar named Junior Seau hadn’t worn the same number as my dad and I, I might not have remembered that game at all, and I definitely wouldn’t be writing about the Chargers today. It was one of those coincidences that hit at the right moment to make a lasting impression. Junior was a great player, and I identified with him because he wore 55 and had the same neck roll. My dad took the opportunity to bribe me into playing better, saying something to the effect of “if you play like him, then I don’t care that you’re a Chargers fan.” Until I looked up the date of the game today for this post, I thought the Chargers won (they lost 20-9). I guess it didn’t matter. We ended up going to every Chargers game in Seattle together until 2006.

Rooting for a team can be as complicated as my story about the Chargers or as simple as “I like their logo.” It’s irrational. But my relationship with the Chargers is more than just an admiration for the big men running around in the homoerotic uniform. It’s a convoluted mix of nostalgia and male bonding, an attachment baked and hardened in hours of free time spent in frivolous but rewarding pursuits. I subscribed to Sports Illustrated so I could cut out every photo of a Chargers player and make a scrapbook. I recorded every Chargers game on VHS that was televised in Washington (did you know TNT used to have Sunday night football?!) and stat tracked every game live on the internet when stat tracking became a thing. If it wasn’t for the Chargers, I’m not sure I would’ve convinced my younger brother to apply to UCSD, where he ended up going and where he lives now. I’m sure it’s because I subconsciously felt compelled to share the Chargers and San Diego with my brother (who doesn’t like football) the way my dad shared football with me. Football, the Chargers, San Diego, and family have stewed together in a strange elixir that became part of my character. You can say sports don’t matter, but it’s hard for an adult to extract something that’s part of his or her identity and not be hurt.

It’s no wonder, then, that following the Chargers has taught me a lot about adulthood and the harsh realities of the world. They made the Super Bowl in the 1994 season behind Junior’s Defensive Player of the Year season, only to get crushed in the Super Bowl (a game that I still have not seen the second half of). They lost 15 games in a row behind the putrid play of Ryan Leaf. They had the best team in the league in 2006 and lost in the playoffs when Marlon McCree fumbled a game sealing interception. But that’s just on the field pain. Every fan has stories like that. The Chargers taught me more about disappointment than that. They exposed me to corruption, incompetence, and tragedy. They had a team doctor that was handing out pain pills like porn fliers in Vegas, feeding the addictions of players I grew up with. Incidentally, he’s now blacklisted by the NFL and runs a very popular sports medicine Twitter account. Archie Manning refused to let his son play for the Chargers because their ownership was so clueless, making the Chargers (and their fans) the biggest punchline in the NFL. And that all-pro linebacker whom I was supposed to play like? He ended up shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun after exhibiting symptoms of CTE for years.

The stadium saga and today’s announcement that the team is going to move to LA was a civics lesson in how rich men try to fleece governments. I’ve seen the drama unfold over almost two decades, with countless stadium plans, city hall meetings, and arguing lawyers. It was shitshow of spin and inept plans. It wore on me. I stopped buying Chargers merchandise. I quit going to games. I unfollowed every Chargers reporter on Twitter. People asked me why I cared, it shouldn’t matter since I don’t live in San Diego. It matters because a team becomes linked with its community. And I empathize with every San Diegan who feels the same way about the Chargers that I do. The same fans who messaged each other on every draft day, that were writers and Bolts from the Blue, that podcasted updates every week. They became part of my “fan elixir” just as much as LaDainian Tomlinson or Antonio Gates.

Today is especially sad because it is the official end of the hope I had that Dean Spanos would do the right thing. I thought that there was still a chance he could forget about the bottom line and stay in a bad stadium situation for a little while longer. That maybe there was a chance he could come up with a plan that would keep the Chargers in San Diego, instead of abandoning thousands of fans like me for whom the Chargers exist as part of their identity. Instead, they will just become the second tenant to an LA stadium, existing for tourists and transplants to go see when their actual favorite team comes to town. Spanos proved he was another mediocre rich man born into prosperity that America seems to be littered with, who ripped the guts out of regular people in order to take the team’s value from $800 million to a billion. So here I sit, reminded once again that unremarkable rich men can get away with whatever they want. Congratulations, Dean, on adding another comma to your net worth. Charger fans are only collateral damage.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Esteban's Top 10

There are a number of albums that almost made the list but had to be cut...some of these would probably be higher up there if I had just had a chance to listen to them more. Childish Gambino - Awaken My Love , Laspely - Long Way Home , James Vincent McMorrow - We Move , Kaytranada -  99.9% and Wet - Don't You.

Also, this is my favorite song that wasn't on any album on my list...

Blood Orange - Best to You

The other guys are better writers so don't expect some great explanation for each pick, just take what i give you.  Ok, here we go!

Honorable Mention

Jim James - Eternally Even

I love his blending of styles and sounds.  Some songs have an almost hip-hop type beat and other songs get all trippy and go out there.  This album is a fun ride.  Also a big fan of his pronunciation.

The actual list.

10. Night Moves - Pennied Days

Hipster rock with a bit of that 80s sound.  I think I randomly heard about this album from someone mentioning them in a tweet.  Sometimes you learn about new bands in funny ways.

9.  St.Paul and the Broken Bones - Sea of Noise

That voice! Man has pipes.  This is just good music without all of the fuss of production etc.

8.  Drive-By Truckers - American Band

I haven't been listening to these guys as much as I used to but they still make amazing songs.  I am not one to really listen to the lyrics much but the way they tell stories always captures me.  Gun of Umpqua is a perfect example, I'm rocking out to the music when I realize its about a school shooting.  Also, the song What It Means has some of my favorite lyrics...

Astrophysics at our fingertips
And we're standing at the summit
And some man with a joystick
Lands a rocket on a comet
We're living in an age
Where limitations are forgotten
The outer edges move and dazzle us
But the core is something rotten
And we're standing on the precipice
Of prejudice and fear
We trust science just as long
As it tells us what we want to hear
We want our truths all fair and balanced
As long as our notions lie within it

7. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 3

The definition of bangers.  This is loud and aggressive rap while also being intelligent.  They are the only ones that make a sound like this.  I have been slower to like them than most but this album is great.

6.  Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book

This is one clever and positive man.  He goes in a difference direction than most and is original.  Every song has meaning and more layers than you initially think.

5.  Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth

Sturgill has such a badass voice.  He makes everything sound cool.  After making an album about tripping out on weird drugs why not make one full of life advice to your child?  I also really dig him embracing a full band sound.  Apparently he had this album for a bit but just didn't feel like releasing it for a few months.

4. Junius Meyvant - Floating Harmonies

Why not a singer from Iceland on here? Junius also uses a lot of horns and full band type sound.  It is fun, refreshing and just plain enjoyable to float along with.

3. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got it From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service

ATCQ are so good and despite the time between albums they didn't lose a step.  Also love the beats on this album.

2.  Bon Iver - 22, Million

This album didn't get nearly the hype of his last one as he went even weirder in sound and lyrics but I love it.  As I said before I listen more to the music and not so much to the lyrics and this album works perfectly for that.  I have no idea what any of the songs are about and I don't want to.  Each listen it means something different.  While the sounds got stranger and more random they somehow come together perfectly.  A great night time album.

1. Frightened Rabbit - Painting of a Panic Attack

Sad pants rock? Perfect for 2016.  This year has been a bit of a rough one with many people left asking a lot of questions of how did we get here and where do we go now.  This is a good album to listen to while thinking those thoughts.  This was produced by Aaron Dessner and I really like his influence giving it some of that National sound.

Ok, there you go.  My top 10.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Nathan's top 10

Posting for my brother...

10. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo - I remember when it came out that it felt poorly put together.  There were portions that I loved but it seemed like an incomplete thought or the work of someone beginning to lose their focus/mind.  Prophetic.

9. Childish Gambino - Awaken My Love! - If this had come out longer it would likely go up my list.  Creatively it is off the charts.  I just need more time with it.

8. Polica - United Crushers - These guys are an acquired taste but I dig em.  This album became a constant for me on my weekly drives to Portland.  Good road tripping tunes.

7. De La Soul - Anonymous Nobody - I used to love them but over the years stopped really hearing them.  This album was a beautiful mixture of influences, guests and message about the need for quality music.

6. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here...Thank You Very Much - Another older group that came back at the right time with the right sound.  They were perhaps the best group ever...

5. Coloring Book - Chance the Rapper - Most sincerely joyfull hip hop album since De La Soul's "3 Feet High and Rising."  Was a perfect summer record.

3-4. Weeknd - Starboy and Frank Ocean - Blonde - These two are interchangeable in order.  Both flip around the concept of R&B with varying tempos and moods.

2. (tie) Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth and Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool - Simpson album could have been my favorite of the year.  Radiohead also put out a consistently excellent album from top to bottom.

1. Run the Jewels - RTJ#3 - Absolute banger and will hold up as astute, powerful, soulful, mindful and exceptionally well crafted.


What a year. At least the music was good. See below.

10. Run the Jewels – RTJ3

I downloaded this album yesterday so it’s a late entry to the top ten. The protest rap that RTJ has virtually perfected has become therapeutic in the era of Trump, and this album is all flames and anger and intelligence. I need to listen to it more (and I will) to fully appreciate it (and I will) but for now, here it sits as the perfect close-out album to flip the bird to 2016.

Best line (so far) – “See, I'm a pervert with purpose that make you question your purviews”

9. DIIV – Is the Is Are

Every year I need a light, floaty album to rouse me out of the cold winter, and in 2016 it was DIIV’s latest album that woke me out of hibernation. This record evokes partial sunshine and chilly breeze. The reverb guitars and breathy, quiet vocals betray the dark lyrics and perfectly capture the specific shade of gray that colors late winter and early spring.

Best line – “Would you give your 81st year / For a glimpse of heaven, now and here?”

8. Glass Animals – How to be a Human Being

life itself

If I could only use one word to describe Glass Animals’ sound it would be “slippery.” It’s a glorious feeling to put on this record and feel yourself vibing to the tribal drum beats and smooth vocals. Then the electronic production comes in and coats everything in metaphoric audible KY Jelly and you just slide through the next hour or so.

Best line – “my girl eats mayonnaise / out the jar when she’s getting blazed”

7. St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Sea of Noise

Bourbon, pad thai, Nike sneakers, and Southern Rock. When done right those are things that I can’t help but enjoy. This album was so soulful and happy that it’s almost impossible for me to listen and not dance around or at least tap my toe and bob my head. The horn section and pipe organ are oh so nice and blend the rock structure with soul vibes, making me want to drink sweet tea and eat fried chicken and clap my hands.

Best line – “Can we use all this love we ooze / Let's try, but we always confuse it”

6. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

i know

The eighties vibe that Dev Hynes puts out through his music transports me to my first recollection of truly enjoying pop music when I was young. It’s a combination of dream and memory that I feel when listening to Blood Orange that makes me appreciate the music so much. Duran Duran, Hall and Oates, George Michael…the best parts are all captured and amplified and updated. And whenever he busts out a sax solo I am flooded with nostalgia in the best way possible.

Best line – “My father was a young man / My mother, off the boat / My eyes were fresh at 21 / Bruised, but still afloat”

4 (tie). A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

When an artist hasn’t released anything new in almost twenty years, my immediate response to their latest work is going to be skepticism. Add to that the unfortunate and untimely death of Phife Dog, and I was certain that this album was going to be a shell of what ATCQ was in the 90’s. You can imagine how blown away I was when I heard this album and it had all the catchiness and consciousness of peak ATCQ, with the bonus symbolic timing of being released right after Trump was elected president (and promised to make America great again). Like the following veteran band, the overtly political themes of the album are sad and poignant, betrayed by the celebratory, dance friendly music they are encased in.

Best line – “The fog and the smog of news media that logs / False narratives of Gods that came up against the odds / We're not just nigga rappers with the bars / It's kismet that we're cosmic with the stars”

4 (tie). Drive-By Truckers – American Band

I look at American Band as a spiritual cousin to Tribe’s album, being released right around the election and having similar political thrust coupled with catchy, almost cheerful music. There are few artists who weave stories with lyrics as well as DBT, and this album covers everything from Black Lives Matter to school shootings to the red scare and the band’s typical dissection of Southern culture. It’s the best DBT album in years and I pick up on more poignant messages in it every time I listen.

Best line – “If the victims and aggressors / Just remain each other’s others / And the instigators never fight their own”

3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead paints musical pictures that can be interpreted in infinite ways. A game I play is to close my eyes and listen to Radiohead and then create a “mind painting” of the song. To me, and probably no one else, Decks Dark conjures drone strikes in Syria. Identikit is a lonely man who spent too much money over the weekend and needs to get a payday loan. The Numbers is a peasant fishing beautiful goldfish out of a rich man’s koi pond at night, then using them to feed his starving family. The album is a hallway of murals.

Best line – “Efil ym fo flaH / Efil ym fo flaH / Efil ym fo flaH…”

2. Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

A seventies acid funk album from someone whom I relate to as much as Donald Glover is too much my shit. My first listen to this album was “no way. Did he read my mind and make something I wanted before I knew I wanted it?” And even that interpretation takes away from the fact that this album is mature, insightful, political, personal, and beautiful. Of all the BLM songs released this year, Boogieman is my favorite because the seventies vibe reiterates that this problem of racial discrimination in criminal justice has existed for decades. The songs about fatherhood surprised me because I didn’t realize that Donald had a son now, and that seems to be some explanation about why his most recent work feels so mature. One final point: the overarching theme of paranoia on this album sneaks up on you…which is crazily symbolic.

Best line – “Little hands, little feet / Tiny heart, tiny beat / Oh, thinkin' 'bout the time we spent falling in love together / I don't wanna leave you, I don't wanna deceive you / But oh, when mama cries from daddy's lies / Oh my, please don't take him away, mama”

1    1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

What I needed the most out of an album in 2016 was unbridled optimism. Thank you, Chance.

Best line – “When the praises go up / The blessings come down”