2017: Year of the Rooster

SO, THE WORLD DIDN’T END — though, not for lack of trying.

But before jumping into next year and resuming the daily, emotional Peloton of outrage, despair, escape, and exhaustion — here’s a 50-minute respite, eleven songs that I discovered, rediscovered, or put on repeat in 2017.

More like a quiet interlude than a “best of” list, this year’s mix is tidier than last year’s, with fewer, shorter tracks. And even though it wanders from 19th-century French poetry to shoegazing black metal to oddball Hollywood musical, it’s also more cohesive. (Well, to me, at least.) Most of the picks are collaborations and/or covers. Bowie still bookends (and overshadows). Matt Johnson makes a comeback. Eno and Cale are always hanging around. And while the love songs seem somewhat anachronistic today (more desperate than romantic), the death songs feel as relevant and immediate as ever.

So, here I count my end-of-year blessings, one through 10 — plus a bonus track — an upbeat coda to 2017, in which we can drink a lot of wine and pretend everything’s fine, despite all the news we’re carrying.

1.

David Bowie & Nine Inch Nails, “I Can’t Give Everything Away (Farewell Mix)” (2016)
Anonymously released with DB’s vocals last year on SoundCloud. Performed live by NIN over the summer. Blackstar bandmates Tim Lefebvre and Jason Lindner both give Reznor’s tribute a thumbs up.

2.

The The, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven (But Nobody Wants to Die)” (2015)
After a decade hardly making any music at all, Matt Johnson has mostly been composing soundtracks since 2010. This was written for the 2014 movie Hyena, directed by his brother, Gerard Johnson.

3.

Hector Zazou & John Cale, “First Evening” (1992)
John Cale turned 75 this year and remained as difficult to pin down as ever. This particular oddity, part of an ambient concept album based on the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, is 25 years old and still has it going on.

4.

Deafheaven, “Irresistible” (2013)
No. 94 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time.” When the list came out over the summer, I plucked this album from the rest because of the awesome cover art, like it was 1997 and I was browsing the bins at Tower Records.

5.

The The, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming” (2017)
The first proper The The song in over a decade. Officially released at this year’s vinyl shitshow (aka Record Store Day). Features Johnny Marr, James Eller, and Zeke Manyika. Written in memory of Matt Johnson’s brother, the great Andy Dog.

6.

Harry Nilsson & Shelley Duvall, “He Needs Me (Demo)” (1979)
I missed a chance to rewatch/reappraise Robert Altman’s Popeye when it played at the Metrograph earlier this year. As a kid, I remember being weirded out by its adult tone. As an adult, I think I might adore Shelley Duvall more than ever.

7.

Michel Legrand & Tony Bennett, “Watch What Happens” (1964)
I had no love for January’s multi-Oscar-winner, La La Land. But The Next Picture Show paired it up with Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, so that led me to finally watch that, and it is wonderful. This is Tony Bennett’s rendition of one of the songs, with English lyrics by Norman Gimbel. Here’s a crappy YouTube version of the original, which has totally different lyrics/meaning in the movie.

8.

Brian Eno & John Cale, “Spinning Away” (1990)
In October, Chris O’Leary wrote an in-depth review of Wrong Way Up, one of my all-time favorite albums. Featuring some of Eno’s best singing, it’s unexpectedly upbeat (especially for Cale) and largely overlooked — possibly because it also has one of the all-time ugliest album covers.

9.

Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno, “Motion in Field” (2017)
A more recent Eno collaboration. Sparkles.

10.

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet, “Where Are We Now?” (2017)
I gained a new appreciation for this song while watching Michael C. Hall perform it in Lazarus. And I think Guiliana’s quartet does a great job capturing the essence of it, as well — letting the song fall away to almost nothing in the middle before building up to the monumental end.

11.

Bruce Dickinson, “All the Young Dudes” (1990)
Bruce and Janick introduced me to this song even before Bowie or the Hoople did. I think this version still rocks. And the dorky music video makes me irrationally happy.

Leftovers:

Great stuff that didn’t quite fit the mix, but all are definitely worth checking out.

John Cale, “The Queen and Me” (1991)
O’Leary’s review of Wrong Way Up was a warren of rabbit holes for that time period. Also overlooked back then, likely overshadowed by Cale’s more famous Leonard Cohen cover, is this equally transformative take on Cohen’s “Queen Victoria”.

Brian Eno, “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (1988)
Likewise, Eno’s cover of this William Bell song was probably overshadowed by peak Michelle Pfeiffer.

De Beren Gieren, “Weight of an Image” (2017)
Caught this kooky jazz tune during the Bimhuis Radio broadcast of a Mark Guiliana show. The DJ said that the Flemish band name, translated into English, “must be something like ‘the bears are laughing out loud.’” Then she added, “Nobody knows why this trio has this name, and they won’t tell us.” Fair enough.

Mark Guiliana Quartet, “inter-are” (2017)
I worry a little that McCaslin/Linder/Lefebvre/Guiliana (and Monder) will forever be branded as Bowie’s last band, overwhelming their identities as individual artists. So maybe I shouldn’t have picked Guiliana’s Bowie cover for the mix, especially when Jersey was my all-around favorite album of 2017. Anyway, here’s the album opener — I particularly love the Reich-like handclaps at the end of it. (Hello again, Steve Reich?)

Town Portal, “Yes Golem” (2015)
Another solid recommendation from metal guru MathRawk, this trio of proggy Danes saved me from a bad music day at the office, where they like to pipe in “Hotel California” overhead on repeat, the open plan version of the world’s most uncool Gap.

Garden of the Ark, “Undone” (2017)
Speaking of MathRawk, his band just released a kick-ass four-track demo (“Heavy seventies meets noisy nineties”). The phrase “two peas in a pod” has never sounded so anguished.

PJ Harvey, 1995 TV Performances (1995)
Or, actually, forget everything I posted above. To take your mind off present-day troubles, just transport yourself back to 1995, and watch the coolest person on the planet do her thing for an hour.

Cover art:

James Jean, “Monkey With Two Roosters” (2016)

Tommy burgers of the world

LET’S TAKE A TOUR of the Tommy burgers of the world.

Tommy’s Double Cheeseburger (without pickles) is the Tommy burger of everything.

Los Tacos No. 1’s adobada tacos (with everything, on flour tortillas) are the Tommy burgers of tacos.

Xi’an Famous Foods’ N1 Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles (when they’re not served too watery) are the Tommy burgers of noodles.

And Tommy’s Chili Cheese Fries are the Tommy burgers of chili cheese fries.

These are the known Tommy burgers of the world.

(But what is the Tommy burger for what?)

2016: Year of the Monkey

AM I TOO LATE to take one last look back before it all goes completely to shit?

Whether this is the year’s end or the world’s, here are 16 from 2016 — a mixtape of songs that I discovered or listened to a lot this year, not necessarily stuff that was released in 2016. Every pick also has a B-side, so it’s actually 32 songs altogether, a double disc thing. And a few are really long (six break the 9-minute mark, one is almost 20 minutes), so it’s about three hours of music in total. There’s a lot of Bowie running throughout.

I have no idea if this is digestible to anyone else. Anyway, it’s been a year.

1.

Johnny Flynn, “Detectorists” (2014)
Theme song to a British TV series that only made it over here this year, via Netflix. There are only 13 episodes, but I’m on my fourth time through. Watching it has been one of the few things that can calm my anxieties after November 8, as I swaddle myself every night in its low-key (but truly brilliant) humor and warmth.

B-side:
Paul Simon, “Horace and Pete” (2016)
Another theme song to a favorite episodic series. But unlike the Detectorists, which I could watch over and over again (“Shut the fuck up, Paul!”), Horace and Pete is a total bummer and not recommended for bingeing or solace.

2.

Ann Peebles, “Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness” (1972)
“Have you heard Ann Peebles? Yeah, well Lennon’s right, ain’t he, best record in years.” — Bowie in 1974, talking about a different Peebles’ record, the follow-up to the one this is on. Man, I love this song, though. (Also, the three-note horn phrase reminds me of the saxophone in “Lazarus”.)

B-side:
Robert Wyatt, “Shipbuilding” (1982)
“A well-thought-through and relentlessly affecting song co-written by Elvis Costello, and Wyatt’s interpretation is the definitive. Heartbreaking — reduces strong men to blubbering girlies.” — Bowie in 2003 on his favorite records (which he probably played on this little Italian number). Though, I still think of the Suede version of this song first.

3.

David Bowie, “Win” (1975/2016)
For whatever reason, Young Americans became my go-to Bowie album this year. The parts that never clicked for me before finally clicked, and I love it as much as any of his other great ones.

B-side:
David Bowie, “Right” (1975/1997)
Something from the Leon suites deserves to be on here. After hearing stories about it (or something like it) ever since Outside first came out in 1995, it was a mind-blowing surprise to discover this year that it actually exists. But even I have limits on what’s appropriate for a mixtape. So instead of an excerpt from a leaked demo of an avant-garde, improvisational concept album, here’s another Young Americans track that I gained a new level of appreciation for.

4.

John Cale, “Dying on the Vine” (1992/2016)
The 2016 remastered version of one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite albums.

B-side:
John Cale, “Hey Ray” (2011)
While filling in the gaps in my Cale collection this year, I came across an EP with some hidden gems on it. Pitchfork liked the EP, but hated this song (“cringe-inducing silliness”). I disagree!

5.

Neu!, “Hallogallo“ (1972)
Of the “Germans who influenced Low” crowd, I like Kraftwerk and Can well enough, but Neu! is motorik-fic. Amazed it took me till now to get around to them.

B-side:
Can, “Vitamin C” (1972)
This song jumped out for me in Inherent Vice, another thing I watched over and over again in 2016.

6.

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, “White Horse” (2015)
I think this came from a list of 2015’s best jazz albums. Its goodness did not expire in 2016.

B-side:
Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet, “The Importance of Brothers” (2015)
The amazing drummer from Bowie’s Blackstar, playing in a more traditional jazz combo.

7.

Now vs Now, “Ancient Alien“ (2013)
Trio led by Blackstar keyboardist Jason Lindner, also includes Guiliana. Following the Blackstar band all over NYC, in their various configurations, was definitely a highlight of my year.

B-side:
Maria Schneider Orchestra, “El Viento” (1996)
Probably shares obvious connections to Gil Evans and Sketches of Spain (I’m still not totally familiar with that one, even though I’ve owned it for a while). It’s the brass chorus suddenly appearing under the trumpet solo (starting at the 7:15 mark) that really does it for me.

8.

Kate Bush, “Pull Out the Pin” (1982)
Over-the-top and full of crazy singing and shrieking, like the rest of The Dreaming, her self-professed “She’s gone mad” album. I was always apprehensive of the album, but then I listened to it, and now I love it.

B-side:
Kate Bush, “Leave It Open” (1982)
Picking another track from The Dreaming, it was either gonna be this one or the one where she hee-haws like a donkey.

9.

Roy Harper, “One of Those Days in England” (1977)
I still haven’t made it all the way through this massive, 324-track mixtape of songs from 1977 (or this slightly less massive, 170-track mixtape of songs from 1950), but Roy Harper seemed like a real find from the former. Now, of course, I see him everywhere. Johnny Marr called Harper’s Stormcock album Hunky Dory’s “big, badder brother”. It’s a Harper tune that Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush lip sync over tea in this wonderfully wacky BBC Christmas special. And Bowie’s Astronettes covered Harper’s “Highway Blues” in 1974. Anyway, catchy song.

B-side:
Roy Harper, “One of Those Days in England (Parts 2–10)” (1977)
Part 1 is nifty, but Parts 2–10 are where the real action’s at. I didn’t even know angry prog-folk rock was a thing, and here’s a solid 19 minutes of it. The first minute starts off imagining the two weirdest government-sanctioned jobs ever, and then it goes on (and on) from there.

10.

Shearwater, “Fantastic Voyage” (2016)
John Cale’s “Sorrow” was another cool Bowie tribute from this year. And something from Shearwater’s Rook almost made it on. But instead, here’s the opener to their Lodger cover album, and, as a friend noted, a strong contender for theme song of the Trump era.

B-side:
Girl in a Coma, “As the World Falls Down” (2010)
Another Bowie cover (via Chris O’Leary’s article on Bowie covers), this one recorded during Bowie’s fallow period.

11.

Thin Lizzy, “Sweet Marie” (1976)
Downloaded this on election night, and ended up playing it over and over again. Just a solid rock ballad that’s got nothing to do with nothing. I think the simplicity — and Phil Lynott’s sweet-ass, soothing tones — helped me keep my mind off things. Try listening to this one on repeat half a dozen times and see if you don’t feel better.

B-side:
Thin Lizzy, “Massacre” (1976)
Besides their Tony Visconti connection with Bowie, Thin Lizzy also has an Iron Maiden link — a strong influence on Steve and the band, with their harmonized twin guitars, rollicking bass, etc. Maiden released a cover of this song as the B-side to “Can I Play With Madness”.

12.

Iron Maiden, “Death or Glory” (2015)
Overall, I’d rate The Book of Souls Maiden’s least interesting “post-reunion” album. And the “climb like a monkey” pantomime at the concerts is a little embarrassing. But this is still a solid Smith/Dickinson tune.

B-side:
Iron Maiden, “The Red and the Black” (2015)
On the flip side, the live show in support of the album was one of Maiden’s best, and the guitar solos during this song were a highlight of the set.

13.

Megadeth, “Dystopia” (2016)
I’d say this is their best album since Youthanasia. Plus, I finally saw them live this year, and it rocked. And I read at least one interview where Mustaine didn’t sound like a complete jackass. So, maybe things are finally looking up again for Dave and co.

B-side:
Mötörhead, “Victory or Die” (2015)
I feel like Lemmy dying at the end of 2015 was just the warm-up act to all the terrible things in 2016. Here’s the opener to his final album, recorded 10 months before his death. He was a little ragged, but still giving it his all.

14.

Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” (2016)
More death and darkness, and another swan song.

B-side:
Brian Eno, “Fickle Sun: (iii) I’m Set Free” (2016)
But Eno’s still kicking — if kicking means making obscure, multi-part, semi-ambient conceptual pieces that incorporate Velvet Underground covers.

15.

Iggy Pop, “American Valhalla” (2016)
Iggy’s still kicking, too. Though, this wouldn’t make a bad swan song, either.

B-side:
Iggy Pop, “Break Into Your Heart” (2016)
The opener to Post Pop Depression, my second favorite album of 2016. I also really enjoyed listening to him on a couple of live recordings — an old Stooges show in Georgia and a new bootleg from Paris — demonstrating he’s as full of piss and vinegar in 2016 as he was in 1973.

16.

David Bowie, “Blackstar” (2016)
This time last year, this was on repeat, pretty much nonstop. Can’t remember the last time I was so excited for an album, staying up late just so I could download it and listen to it as soon as it was available. I was stoked that Bowie was back in top form.

B-side:
David Bowie, “No Plan” (2016)
Wouldn’t it be great if all the other outtakes from the Blackstar sessions were unofficially officially “leaked” — like what happened with Toy — instead of the record company packaging them up as Bowie’s “last songs” or his “lost album” or whatever it is they’re gonna do? Yeah, I know. Not gonna happen. And 2017 isn’t gonna be any better than 2016, is it? Ah, well, Happy New Year, just the same.

A-side cover art:

Tiffany Bozic, “Altruism” (2015)

B-side cover art:

James Jean, “Year of the Monkey” (2016)

AARON BOONE’S HOME RUN was the end of everything. His offseason injury was part of the beginning.*

Edgar Renteria has made the last out of a Red Sox season twice in a row: first, on one side of the diamond, then on the other side.

One season ended with 69 wins. The very next ended with all of them.

It’s spring (apparently); it’s Opening Day; and, like every season before, anything can happen, again.

*Imagine the 2004 season with Boone — and without this or this.

BIG PAPI FINISHED HIS SEASON with a curtain call — following a bunt single. In a (mostly) meaningless final game, it was something to cheer for. Jon Lester finished his season one win shy of 20. The Red Sox finished one win under 90. And, in what was possibly his final at-bat in a Red Sox uniform (the only major league uniform he’s ever worn), Jason Varitek drove a ball that was destined for the bullpen, but caught on the warning track. This season, a lot of things came up just a little bit short.

Today, the standings show the Red Sox seven games out of first place in the American League East and six games out of the wild card, with zero games left to play. But back when there were still 130 games left to play, CHB was already on the ledge, just short of declaring the end of everything in early May. “I don’t want to panic or overreact,” he wrote, “but is it possible the Red Sox season is already over?” This was the outlook even before Beckett, Matsuzaka, Buchholz, Martinez, Varitek, Pedroia, and Youklis all went down with one kind of injury or another, two of them the season-ending kind.

And, of course, Papi was done for, we all knew that. (Never mind that he was done for last season, as well.) This time it really was the end — it certainly sounded like it: “I miss the old days, too,” he said. Yikes. No matter what time of year it is or where the team is in the standings, it’s hard not to take a gloomy view of the season when your affable, heroic, universally beloved DH starts talking like this:

“Do you understand that this is killing me?” [Ortiz said]. “Do you know when I’m going good I cannot sleep because I’m trying to remember everything that I did right so I can repeat it the next day and the next? And that’s when I’m going good. When I’m going bad, it’s even worse because everybody looks to me to be the guy who comes through for this ballclub. It’s like I never sleep anymore.”

So, the 2010 Red Sox season was ending before the spring would. Not just ending, but scuffling, crashing, breaking its ribs (twice), breaking its foot (also twice), catching mono, and developing mystery infections. And then getting up off the dirt to play again. Because despite the mess, somehow there was still plenty of baseball worth watching, right through the summer and even into the first weeks of fall when playoff chances looked more like lottery odds. As the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn said, “Can’t think of a Sox team that missed the postseason that I’ll remember as well as this one. Call it the D-Mac Effect.”

Last year, there was the improbable rise of Nick Green. This year, half the line-up was filled with D-Macs. After being hastily added to the 40-man roster and following a memorable pinch-hitting debut, Darnell McDonald kept showing up to the park and playing major league baseball all season long, even after nearly being designated for assignment halfway through. Daniel Nava, a 27-year-old rookie, played 60 games for the team, hitting exactly one home run. And Bill Hall, a utility player who turned into a 96-game starter, seemed to be everywhere, including the pitching mound, playing every position except catcher and first base.

Hall was also part of one of the most exciting half-innings of the season, in which the Red Sox stole four bases off Mariano Rivera, and rallied to take the lead from the Yankees in the bottom of the 8th. Of course, the Sox went on to lose that pivotal game in the 10th, following their own blown save, because that’s just the kind of season it was. Their record was 6-12 in extra innings, and they had 13 walk-off losses on the road — two statistics that add up to a lot of heartbreak and sleepy-eyed muttering. After 149 games, the team had used 133 different batting orders and 43 different starting outfield combinations – often filled with no-name journeymen, rookies, minor league call-ups, and banged up regulars.

In short, a great many things happened in this shortened season, and, as expected, none of it could be expected. That’s why they call it baseball. Fifty years ago, Ted Williams hit the very last major league pitch he ever saw for a home run. Fifty years later, Daniel Nava hit the very first major league pitch he ever saw for a grand slam. The very last major league pitch to Mike Lowell was dinged high off the top of the Green Monster, just another long Fenway single. Varitek’s last swing was just a loud out. And, Ortiz, he finished his season with a bunt.

But the once beleaguered big guy also ended up with 32 home runs and 102 RBI this season — and he’s just three short of the all-time RBI record for a DH (currently held by Edgar Martinez). The informed baseball watcher will tell you that RBI is a meaningless statistic. That may be true, but so was the last game of the season: a surprise bunt single, a frivolous curtain call; a well-struck ball by the team’s captain that might have made it out of the park, but didn’t; and one more win. None of it really adds up to anything. But just like the statistically meaningless RBI, at least it was still fun to watch.

We’ll get ’em next year.

ADDENDUM: Somehow I wrote an entire recap of the 2010 Red Sox season without mentioning how much fun Adrian Beltre was to have on the team.

First, a chart detailing the “Causes of Red Sox Injuries”.

Second, one of my favorite Jerry Remy/Don Orsillo on-air exchanges, during a dustup with the Indians:

Orsillo: I tell you, one of the last people I’d throw at is Adrian Beltre.
Remy: The human destroyer.

WHAT’S THIS NOW, it’s spring again? Whatever happened to the winter? Not to mention the fall? Let’s forget about all that nonsense, and think back on happier times while we wait for a new season to begin.

The good eggs at YFSF.org have set their happy thoughts on October in March — a compilation of the most significant postseason plays ranked by their WPA, or the potential effect the play had on the outcome of the game. The result is a strange combination of analytical and emotional gooeyness that at once fills you with an appreciation for the role of stats in modern day baseball-ing and pure, old-fashioned reverie.

Ranked this way, Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS versus the Indians bubbles up as one of the top three most dramatic games in Red Sox postseason history. Watching the game on iTunes 10 years later, the lineup looks familiar, but any postseason game before 2004 still seems a parallel universe away. Certain scenes stick out as particularly odd/amusing: Pedro throwing to Tek, but with Manny at the plate. Manny sharing the outfield with Dave Roberts, who catches a towering fly off the bat of Trot Nixon. Plus, appearances by good ol’ Lou Merloni, Nomar in his prime (intentionally walked twice), and the Derek Lowe Face. The game itself is dramatic and fun; the intervening events since 1999 and the overlapping, wacky “what we know now” quality make it even more enjoyable to watch today.

Regarding events closer to the present, Sox first base coach Ron Johnson got to experience his own personal happy moment during spring training, in the form of an on-field reunion with his son. From the Sox-Astros game update on Boston.com:

Pre-game: The exchange of lineup cards had an interesting twist with Sox first base coach Ron Johnson (coaching third in today’s split-squad game) exchanging lineups with son Chris, who will play third base for the Astros today. Umpires seemed to get a big kick out of it.

Seems like simple, father-son baseball fun. But the next day’s follow-up by Nick Carfado hints at something a little deeper:

Johnson has been a baseball lifer, which means being away from your family. He probably missed most of Chris’s Little League and high school games. But yesterday he watched him as a major leaguer.

“I’ve been around the game for a long time,” said Johnson, “and I’ve seen everything and been around a lot of players, but I almost can’t explain it. It was a strange feeling.

“There were just a lot of things that kept sinking in during the course of the game. I know he’s been doing well, but I’m a developer and an evaluator for the last 20 years, and all of a sudden now I see my son on the major league field.

“I know he came up last year in September, but to see him with my own eyes . . . and I’m in the third base coach’s box . . . and there’s Terry Francona and Brad Mills and Roy Oswalt, Jason Varitek, and Jon Lester is on the mound . . .

“Obviously you’re looking at a guy on the other team who you have emotional ties to, and you realize that he moves around and he looks like he can play here. It was exciting. It was really very exciting.”

Baseball’s timelessness can also turn into a form of time travel: today’s games mingling with the memories of games past. There are always the same nine positions on the field – but it’s a little bit strange when you look back and one of them is played by a shortstop whose greatness you’d forgotten or when you look up and third base is occupied by your very own son. It’s baseball’s ability to keep telling stories across years and generations that lets us appreciate and experience the past and the present in new ways.

But enough of yesterday’s happy thoughts. As Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau once said, “On Opening Day, the world is all future and no past.” Right now, every team’s got a .500 record, and it’s anybody’s guess what happens next.

Happy Opening Day.

IT’S BEEN A YEAR-LONG PARADE of underdogs, resurrections, and redemptions, with many a misguided notion reconsidered, revised, and upended in its wake. We accepted Bay would never be Manny (but we didn’t know what a blessing that would be). The “faithful” were certain Varitek was done, or at least believed the Sox should be done with him. Nick Green was in AAA hoping to get signed in Japan somedaymaybe – if he worked at it hard enough. Wakefield was 41 years old and All-Star-less for every one of them. Brad Penny and John Smoltz weren’t even on the radar. And Big Papi was laid to rest. A lot’s changed since the previous All-Star Break, and more will change by the next one, making now a good time to savor the standings – which show the Boston Red Sox with the best record in the American League, leading their division by three games over the New York Yankees.