Big 12 Hoops: The Beginning

A new Big 12 basketball season has begun. In a very strange first night of the year, there were three road wins. The only team to win at home? The Mighty Jayhawks of Kansas.

When the balls were first rolled out back in November, consensus was KU would have no problem rolling to their 15th-straight Big 12 title. Kansas State and West Virginia might challenge a little, but KU was supposed to be just too good to be caught.

That expectation has changed a bit. KU is not the juggernaut many expected them to be.

Kansas State has struggled to recapture their March form of last year and now face two key injuries. They lost at home by 20 last night and travel to Lubbock this Saturday. Starting 0–2 was not in the dreams of Purple fans.

I didn’t understand why people were so high on WVU. Jevon Carter was one of the most unique, disruptive players in league history. You can’t just plug someone in and replace him. Predictably – to me at least – the Mountaineers are 8–5 and were another team to lose at home last night. They will beat some good teams if they get healthy, but they are not contenders.

More surprising is who the challengers actually appear to be. Everyone figured Texas Tech would fall off after last season’s Elite 8 run. They’ve been really good through the first month, losing only to Duke in a game they kept close until late. The Red Raiders continue to be fantastic on the defensive end. The question is can they score enough over an 18-game schedule to get the 13+ wins needs to claim the title?

No one expected Oklahoma to be very good after losing Trae Young and a few other rotation players. But Lon Kruger always finds a way. They were in the game at Kansas last night until the final moments, and that came on a night when they were not hitting shots. Are they a true contender? I’m not sure. They’re deep, athletic, and full of interchangeable parts. Plus they have the second-best coach in the league. They look like a third-place team to me.

TCU is always on the verge of something, it feels like. They’re 11–1, have some really nice pieces, and have built up some scar tissue in recent years that teams about to break through often have to manage. But they’ve also played no one in the non-con season, so we have no idea who they are. In the end, they’re TCU, and until they actually string together good wins, I don’t see them being true contenders.

Then there’s Iowa State, who are 11–2 despite dealing with a rash of personnel issues. They’re beginning to get those bodies back and the only question to me is how quickly they can integrate everyone into the rotation without messing up their chemistry.

What about Texas? They had three very good wins before waxing K-State in Manhattan last night. Tons of athletes. But they also have three terrible losses. I figure there’s not a team in the conference they can’t beat on the right night. And there’s also not a team in the conference they can’t lose to on the nights they go 2–43 from 3. That’s a recipe for fifth place. Fortunately all Texas fans are now focused on getting their arguments together why the Longhorns should be preseason #1 in football next year instead of how the basketball team is doing.

KU is in a somewhat similar situation as Iowa State. Losing Udoka Azubuike for four weeks meant revamping pretty much everything Bill Self wanted to do. Getting him back last weekend means adjusting again. They weren’t exactly playing smoothly before his injury. So I think they’re still three weeks away from figuring it all out. Udoka makes KU much better on defense and he’s un-guardable on offense, but I think Dedric Lawson has a tougher time finding his spots when he plays with Dok.

In the backcourt, thank goodness for Devon Dotson. He’s stepped right into the void filled by Devonte Graham and Frank Mason III the last few years, playing about as well as you can ask a freshman to. He’s not the scorer or distributor those other two were yet, but he’s already a better defender. And they were both pretty solid on the defensive end.

I think the key to KU is whether Quentin Grimes can ever get comfortable. He’s looked better the last few games, but still often looks lost or slow. He’s athletic, but not a great athlete, if that makes sense. It would be great if he could suddenly morph into a 13 ppg player. But if he can just get to where he’s hitting two 3’s and not making five dumb turnovers each game he will make the team so much better.

KU is still the favorite. They have the most talent, the best coach, the biggest home court advantage, and all those bags of Adidas money that get slipped into the referee locker room before games.[1] But do they have the Devonte, BIFM, Thomas Robinson on this team that will refuse to lose in big games in February?

Stuff always goes KU’s way in February. Shots crawl in for the Jayhawks and rim out for opponents. A team with an inside track on the title will blow a winnable game. Another team will suffer an injury that wrecks their chances. West Virginia will blow a double-digit lead against KU in a game that swings the entire race.

Every. Single. Year.

KU began the season as the #1 ranked team in the country. They clearly aren’t at that level yet, and may well not get there. The Big 12 was supposed to be down. It looks like there may not be the depth at the bottom of the conference that has been there in the past. But there are likely six really solid teams. The question that will get answered over the next two months is just how big that gap between KU and the other five contenders is, and whether there’s a team out there strong enough to shake off 14 years of history to break through and end the streak.

  1. Not really. The bags are sent directly to their off-shore accounts.  ↩

Starting Off Strong (In Theory)

Happy New Year! Hope your celebrations were safe, happy, and the headaches/stomaches that resulted have passed.

Our New Year’s Eve went well. The Pacers game was good. Well, other than spending 15 minutes to travel three blocks right before our parking garage. Not sure what the hell was going on but traffic was a nightmare. The Pacers won by 8, the girls seemed to enjoy it, and our seats were decent. We were actually in the same section I sat for the KU-Michigan State game in November, just 17 rows higher and slightly to the side. Still low enough to clearly see the game.

IMG 1074


New Year’s Day was our standard, put away the Christmas decorations while watching football day. Always weird to see your home after six weeks of having a tree and decorations fill the open spaces. Our house feels much bigger today.

Ah, but the highlight – to me at least – of the week has been a musical discovery. Or rediscovery, rather.

I had forgotten there is a station on iHeart Radio that plays nothing but old American Top 40s. I haven’t checked it in months, maybe over a year. I don’t listen to it often because the countdowns are random. Unlike the ones on local radio or SiriusXM, they do not correspond with the same week back in the day as the current calendar shows.

For some reason I decided to check it Monday afternoon before we left for the game. The song playing was something not immediately familiar, but likely from the late ‘70s. So I decided to listen until the end of the song to place it properly. That’s when I heard Casey say he was counting down the top 50 songs of 1979. Nice! I enjoyed the next 90 minutes or so of listening to the end of that countdown. There were some great songs in there.

Anyway, the 1979 countdown ends and they roll straight into the 1980 countdown.[1] You might see where this is going…

I listened to a little of 1980 before we left. I caught a little of 1981 later in the evening. And we listened to a big chunk of 1983 while taking the decorations down. With 1984 coming up, you might think I would huddle up for six hours and listen to the entire thing. Somehow I resisted that urge, and only listened to a couple bits here-and-there, along with a longer stretch when I went to the gym. And I listened to a long chunk of the ’85 countdown while reading before bed. As I write this I’m in the middle of the 1987 countdown, which was right when my listening preferences were beginning to separate from what was on AT40 each week.

As you will expect, I’ve really enjoyed listening to these countdowns. Lots of fun trivia. Several songs I’ve mentally flagged to write about if I hear them later this year. Plenty of notes I’ve texted several of my brothers in music about. And tons of great songs. To be fair a lot fo really shitty songs, too.

I was going a little crazy when I couldn’t matchup the songs Casey was playing with the lists I found online of the Billboard Hot 100 from each year. It took some digging, both online and into my memory as I think I’ve battled this issue before, but turns out the radio show’s top 100 was based on a December 1 – November 30 year, while the official top 100 was based on January 1 – December 31. I was going crazy especially in 1984, when Casey insisted “Say, Say, Say” was the top song while every list I’ve ever seen lists “When Doves Cry” as the #1 song of that year. Knowing the radio show cut back into 1983 made that make perfect sense, as “Say, Say, Say” was huge at the end of ’83.

I suppose, when much of the countdown was put together without the use of computers, it was a huge effort to count the songs, gather interesting tidbits about the list, and then record the show in-between the regular December shows in time for its late December release. Makes sense that they had to start several weeks early to meet that deadline.

The more you know…

Finally, I was reminded yesterday about how I’m getting older.

I consistently go to the gym 3–5 times each week. I’ve been on that schedule since the girls went back to school in August. I’m on ok shape, although I haven’t switched my routine up for awhile. I have been on a medium weight, high repetition program since mid-October.

I mixed things up yesterday, moving to a plan for men over 40 I found online. I would be using lighter weights, almost exclusively dumbbells, and focus on form. For example, rather than doing leg presses on a machine, I would do squats with dumbbells. Easy enough, I thought. Those had been part of my routine until October, when I went to pressing more weight on the machine.

I decided to throw in shoulder presses at the top of the squat, something I used to do in every strength session. It’s a great movement that hits your whole body. After the first set, my legs felt a little weird. After the second I thought all the supporting muscles in my upper legs were going to tear. On the third, my back seized up. Terrific.

This morning my back is still crazy tight, the legs are sore. All this just from doing different exercises with 15 pound dumbbells, much lighter than what I had been lifting last week.

Getting old sucks.

  1. 1980 seems to be the year that the year-end countdown went to 100 songs.  ↩


The always interesting final music stats post of the year. This year’s – or last year’s more properly – December numbers are even more out of whack than in the past thanks to our addition of the Sonos speaker to our household. In fact, December threw off the entire year’s numbers.

December 2018

  • Bing Crosby – 210
  • Frank Sinatra – 103
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – 66
  • Ella Fitzgerald – 64
  • Darlene Love – 45

So I subtract the Holiday tunes and my wife’s music and we’re left with some odd numbers for an odd year.


  • Ryan Adams – 205
  • The War on Drugs – 183
  • Frightened Rabbit – 164
  • Middle Kids – 159
  • Wild Pink – 156
  • Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – 141
  • Pearl Jam – 124
  • Julien Baker – 118
  • Lucy Dacus – 118
  • Restorations – 115

And, finally, updated All Time listening stats (Back to February 2005)

  • Frightened Rabbit – 3190
  • Pearl Jam – 2862
  • The War on Drugs – 2139
  • Ryan Adams – 2133
  • The Beatles – 1977

Complete stats available at my page

Wrapping Up 2018

Here we are, another calendar year about to end.

2018 was a wacky, wild year for us.

There were a ton of kid sports: volleyball, basketball, kickball, cross country, soccer, cheer.

There was our first family trip beyond the US borders for spring break in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

There was our first family visit to the ER, when C had a mystery issue in June that, thankfully, has never recurred.

S and I took a trip to New York City, a first for both of us.

Lots of books and music and sports on the TV in between.

We’re going to close the year by taking in our first Pacers game as a family later this afternoon.

Oh, and we bought a new house, moved, and sold two other homes.

Obviously the house thing is the biggest, most impactful event of the year. As I’ve written about often, it’s a big deal to change 15 years of habits. And despite being settled in comfortably it will probably be another six months – at least – before everything locks in mentally.

This was a year of transition for our family, and not just because of the move. It was the last calendar year our girls will all be in the same school, and the final we won’t have at least one daughter in high school or beyond for a long time. It was the last calendar year we had a daughter who was under 10 years old.

Put all that together and while 2018 was rather stressful at times, it was a jumping off point for a lot of (hopefully) great things to come in the years ahead.

As always, I must acknowledge that as I, and my family and friends, get older, it’s a bigger deal that we’re all around and healthy on January 1. Even for those of you I don’t get to see, or “talk” to, that much any more, I’m thankful you’re all still here with me. I hope each of you has a fabulous 2019, that our paths cross at some point, and a year from now we can all celebrate surviving another year.

Christmas ’18 Wrap Up

After a busy week, things are finally slowing down enough to share some details from our Christmas celebrations.

My in-laws came in from Florida last Wednesday. This is their second Christmas since going to Florida full-time, so Saturday my mother-in-law and the girls had their second annual baking day. They baked three kinds of cookies and a coffee cake for Christmas morning. S and I escaped to the gym and ran some errands, but it seems like fun was had.

Sunday evening we all went to see the light display at the former Indianapolis Museum of Art, now called Newfields. The grounds are all decorated and you stroll through at your leisure. Although we were told to allow 60–80 minutes to make it through the entire exhibit, the crowds were rather light that night and we made it through in about 40 minutes. It was a clear, cool evening, but dry and not so cold you were freezing body parts off. And the displays were beautiful. Even the cynical 14-year-old seemed to really enjoy it.

Christmas Eve was the normal rush of preparing for the next day’s meals in the morning, then getting ready for church. Yes, after taking two or three years off from Christmas Eve mass, we finally made it. Amazingly, this was the first time we’ve ever gone to St. P’s. In the past we went to one of two other churches that were closer to where the family gathering would be after. We figured after nine years of being parishioners, we should probably check out St. P’s. We got there early enough to nab a great parking spot and claim good seats, so it was a success as far as I was concerned.

After that came family gathering #1 in our old neighborhood at S’s sister’s and brother-in-law’s home. Lots of good food and family hanging out. It is a little weird to have kids that you don’t have to worry about, while there are three two-year-olds running around that need constant watching. The days where I was on continuous alert at family events don’t seem that long ago.

Back home to wind down the night switching back-and-forth between A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation before bed.

Christmas morning, as always, was quick. The girls were all pleased with their gifts. M got a new Cathedral sweatshirt, an iPad, and a case and keyboard to go along with it. I was surprised she asked for the iPad, as we had to get her one for high school anyway. She said she wanted it now, though. C got a big makeup case, a hair-straightening brush, and a tripod for her iPhone. And L got Nikes – which don’t fit so we’ll replace them soon – a new headset for her XBox, and a pillow. Yes, she asked for an expensive pillow.

I think our girls are strange in their requests, but they were all very pleased. C even said this was the best we’ve ever done with gifts.

We also got, for our family gift, tickets to the Pacers game on New Year’s Eve.

After gifts came the two rounds of family gatherings at our house. First brunch, with the immediate family. This was probably the smallest one of these gatherings we’ve ever had. A few hours later some of S’s extended family popped in for dessert. Usually that visit tends to drag on forever. A couple years I’ve just gone somewhere and taken a nap, not because I don’t enjoy the company but rather because I’m exhausted. This year all the guests had cleared out by 3:30, by far a record.

The last three days we’ve been very lazy. The girls have spent hours watching shows, playing games, and communicating with friends on their devices. There have been a lot of lazy, eat-what-you-want, meals. Plenty of midday desserts. Lots of laying around doing nothing. S took the week off so she’s also been about as lazy as she can be. We’ve been talking about going to the gym for three days. We might get off our butts here soon and stroll over.

She took her dad and step-mother to the airport this morning. We took the leaves out of the table, put the high chair back into the basement, and washed all the guest sheets. I erased all the holiday channels from my SiriusXM favorites a couple days ago. We’ll keep the decorations up until Tuesday, but Christmas 2018 is officially over, I guess.

I hope all of you had excellent Christmases, and those of you who still have a few days off continue to enjoy your breaks.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 19

Chart Week: December 22, 1984
Song: “The Belle of St. Mark” – Sheila E.
Chart Position: #34, 9th week on the chart. Peaked at #34 for three weeks over December and January.

One last 1984 countdown to close out the year. And, holy crap, what a countdown it was! The summer of ’84 gets all the glory, but this week was pretty spectacular, too. “Like A Virgin,” “Out of Touch,” “Cool It Now,” “We Belong,” and “I Feel For You” in the Top 10. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Run to You,” “Born in the USA,” “Easy Lover,” “The Boys of Summer,” “Careless Whisper,” and “I Would Die 4 U” were all also in the Top 40. “Careless Whisper,” at #37, led a stellar group of debuts that also included “Sugar Walls,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and “Smalltown Boy.”

God damn!

With all those monster songs, why do I pick this one?

A, because I’ve always loved it.
B, because anytime I hear it, I think of Christmas Break of that year.
C, it demonstrates how deep music was that year.

This is a great, great song. And I bet to a lot of folks it has been totally forgotten.

My memories of so many songs on this list go back to point B. I can distinctly remember listening to several of these songs at various points during my two-week break from school that year. I remember hearing “The Belle of St. Mark” on that stretch of I–435 just west of the Grandview Triangle, where there are those two big hills with the valley between them, while we were on our way to a family dinner at some Chinese place.

I know, I’m weird.

Christmas 1984 was a huge point in my life. There was a lot going on then, much of which I didn’t realize the significance of until I was older. It was also the last real Kid Christmas I had, before the gifts under the tree all transitioned to the practical and mature.

Several times I’ve tried to write something about the final weeks of 1984 and what they meant to my childhood. I’ve never been as successful as I’ve wanted to be. And I’ve never been sure if they are best shared through a blog post, or if they are a jumping off point for some kind of longer work. I hope someday I can find the correct path and method of getting them out of my head and onto some kind of text document.

For now, Sheila E. singing Prince’s words over his music – her percussion excepted, of course – will have to do.

Friday Playlist

Christmas vacation has begun. The girls had early dismissal yesterday and are now home for two-plus weeks of holiday bliss. Or hiding in their rooms staring at their devices. Christmas in 2018…

As a self-anointed connoisseur of holiday music, I thought I would share some of my favorite songs that aren’t jam-packed into every other Christmas playlist you may have been subjected to over the last month. Most of these are songs that never get played on the radio. I did squeeze in a few classics by artists that don’t crack most Christmas music radio station playlists. 

Merry Christmas!

“Santa Claus and His Old Lady” – Cheech & Chong. Not a song, but still a holiday tradition in my house.

“Christmas Time” – The dB’s – There are approximately one million goofy, original Christmas songs out there. Most suck. This does not suck.

“Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” – Jack Johnson. A refreshing break from tradition.

“Nutmeg” – John Legend and Stephen Colbert. A little winter warmer.

“Christmas with You Is the Best” – Jonathan Coulton & John Roderick. Cranking up the early ‘00s classic from the Long Winters.

“Father Christmas” – The Kinks. I probably heard this somewhere growing up. But I don’t think I really heard it, nor did it become part of my holiday playlists, until the 2000 holiday season. I heard it on KY-102 while driving home from work one evening and thought it was the greatest thing ever.

“2000 Miles” – KT Tunstall. The Pretenders original is an unforgettable classic. Yet I like KT’s more.

“Just Like Christmas” – Low. Simple and beautiful.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Phoebe Bridgers. She might tap into that melancholy part of the season a little too much for some. But I just love her version.

“Maybe This Christmas” – Ron Sexsmith. I think this should be on every radio station’s high rotation list this time of year.

“All That I Want” – The Weepies. Despite being part of a major jewelry chain’s holiday campaign for a few years, this remains an overlooked classic.

“Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo” – I’ve started eating my fiber, have you?

“Christmastime for the Jews” – Darlene Love. I just read an oral history of this SNL cartoon and discovered NBC has put the song on Spotify. A Christmas miracle!

“Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses. OK, this has become a classic that gets plenty of play. But it still feels like an underdog of a song because, oh, probably 10 years ago you never heard it. When C hears it she says, “Turn it up, this is my favorite Christmas song!” Coincidentally Michael Baumann wrote about why it is the best today.

Bah Hambug, Now That’s Too Strong: The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” Is the Best Holiday Song of All Time

Reader’s Notebook, 12/19/18

’Tis the season for quick reads. So some blurbs about a few (mostly) slim pieces I’ve rolled through recently.

Being Santa Claus – Sal Lizard with Jonathan Lane
A memoir by a Christmas season Santa who does everything from standard mall Santa gigs, to private events at homes, to visiting sick kids in the hospital. It’s pretty saccharine, but Santa really shouldn’t be edgy and controversial, right?

The Reservoir Tapes – Jon McGregor
I read this not knowing it was a companion piece to a previous, larger novel by McGregor, Reservoir 13. This is filled with quick sketches of several characters that are apparently involved in the longer book. That said, it’s hardly a throw away or writing exercise. It’s really kind of brilliant. I don’t know if it would have come across any better or worse had I read the book that came before it. I’ve added Reservoir 13 to my reading list so we’ll see.

A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd
My annual reading of the classic. L and I plan on watching the movie tonight or tomorrow.

Die Hard: An Oral History – Brian Abrams
A Kindle single that has been out a few years that I finally got to. It’s rather disappointing: no Bruce Willis, more concerned with how the movie came to be made than its actual making, etc. A good oral history has a bunch of “Oh, wow!” moments that you immediately want to tell others. This lacked those.

All These Beautiful Strangers – Elizabeth Klehfoth
Here is the one full-length book on the list, but I still raced through it in about three days. I discovered it in the Best of Indy edition of Indianapolis Monthly magazine, in a section dedicated to good reads by local writers. Klehfoth is from Elkhart, got her MFA at IU and then taught there. The blurb compared her favorably to Gillian Flynn, so I figured it was worth the read.

Set primarily at a prestigious prep school in New Hampshire, it is told through the voices of three characters: Charlie, a junior at the school; Allistair, her billionaire father; and Grace, her mother who disappeared a decade earlier without a trace. Charlie begins investigating her mother’s disappearance and slowly unfurls the truth, which eventually leads back to her father’s time at the prep school 30 years earlier.

It is taut, brisk, and entertaining. Klehfoth does violate one writing rule that I learned way back in my high school junior year creative writing class, which really kind of bugged me.

But the story is solid. It’s not quite as polished as a Gillian Flynn novel, but this was Klehfoth’s first attempt, and it was pretty solid.

I did feel a little duped. The library shelved this in the High School section. I suppose that makes sense since its main character is a high school girl. But there are some more adult scenes in it, so I’m not sure I agree with that classification. But I also probably wouldn’t have read it if I knew it was a “high school” book beforehand.

Favorite Songs of 2018

After about six weeks of hard work, here they are: my 22 favorite songs of 2018. Yeah, 22. Got a problem with that? I didn’t think so.

I’ve provided both a Spotify playlist that goes from the end of the list to #1, and individual videos for each song. These posts are always hard to get right with all the embeds, so please be patient if it takes awhile to load.

Most of all, enjoy!

Honorable Mention

“Notes On a Life Not Quite Led” – Mastersystem
This was my hardest song to decide whether or not to include. For several months it was on the running list I keep throughout the year. Then I dropped it late in the summer when I stopped listening to all Scott Hutchison’s music. Finally, at the last moment, I slipped it back in.

Hutchison’s final act was in a super group with his brother Grant and the Lockey brothers, also from Scotland, in a band with a much heavier sound than Frightened Rabbit’s. It was to be a shout out to the ‘90s alt rock and grunge they grew up on. Several of the songs worked quite well.

I imagine there is unreleased FR music that we’ll hear at some point, but these are likely the final recordings we’ll ever hear from Scott. There is an official video, but I decided to share this The Quay Sessions performance instead. It was recorded about a month before Scott’s death and he, honestly, looks kind of terrible, which makes it painful to watch. But the song sounds amazing. Like so many of his songs, I can’t help but pick apart the lyrics and connect them to how his life ended.

These words are meant for nothing
Hope is born of hopelessness
These thoughts won’t change the clocks
Notes on a life not quite lived

“What Are You Like” – Pugwash
As I mentioned the first time I shared this song, it sounds like 1970s, California, AM Radio pop. So of course this dude us from Ireland. It doesn’t have to make sense to be good.

“Toy Soldier” – The Menzingers
These Pennsylvania punks followed up last year’s After the Party album with two excellent singles in 2018. This one hit me the hardest, mostly because of that one line that can be applied to so many things right now:

There’s so much to be sad about these days

“Mistake” – Middle Kids
After a slow introduction that stretched over two years, Middle Kids finally released their first, full length album last spring. And it delivered on all the potential their early singles and EP suggested. I just went back and listened to the album about a week ago and was again surprised at how good so many of the songs are. They make my Favorites list for the third-straight year and are officially in the conversation for my favorite current band. I also enjoy watching Hannah Joy dance.

“Sugar & Spice” – Hatchie
Dream pop magnificence from Down Under. It sounds so bright and shiny, but there are hints of pain and regret in the lyrics. I just love the “But you don’t call me baby anymore,” line.

“One Day Left” – Stars
A different spin on the break-up song: rather than writing about the breakup or its aftermath, Stars instead wrote about the final hours before the breakup. As often is the case with their songs, it sounds epic and magnificent despite the rather melancholy lyrics.

The Americana Tracks

“Glass Jar” – Tristen
With a little help from Jenny Lewis, this Nashville artist splits the difference between poppy, 1970s country and psychedelic, 1960s pop. It’s quite a combination.

“Wake Up” – Chastity Brown
Another song that evokes 1970s AM radio, this with just a hint of country twang to back that driving beat that makes it a perfect road trip song.

The ‘Sounds Like The War on Drugs’ All Stars

“Queens of the Breakers” – The Barr Brothers
“I Am A War Machine” – SONTALK
“Lake Erie” – Wild Pink
No band was as good as The War on Drugs to my ears this year. No band dropped an album I listened to as much as TWOD’s recent albums. But each of these songs carry a little of TWOD’s spirit within them.

The Top 10+

10 – “We Are All Going to Die” – Spielbergs. This song made me want to run through walls, destroy stuff, and punch people. My co-coach for L’s soccer team was also a fan, and kept saying we needed to make our team run out to it before games. I’m not sure it would have pumped the kids up as much as the coaches.

9 – “The Red Door” – Restorations. Sharp, intelligent music that kicks ass. Thank goodness for the Restorations.

8 – “Frame for One” – Jesse Marchant. I believe I heard this song, and the song that you’ll find at #1, the same week back in January. That was a damn good week, although may have set my expectations too high for what was to follow in the rest of the year.

This song begins warm and contemplative. The second guitar that comes in at the 2:42 mark takes it to another level. I can’t believe this hasn’t been used in like 80 movies and TV shows in very dramatic scenes.

7a – An Air Conditioned Man – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
7b – Mainland – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
For the fourth time in recent years, I’m including two songs from one band. RBCF had an amazing year. When I first heard them a couple years back, I described them as Australia’s answer to Parquet Courts: smart, hipster, art rock. However, where Parquet Courts remain very arty and snotty, RBCF have established themselves simply as a great band that invoke many of the traditional sounds of the best Australian pop and rock.

Ironically, for the second-straight year, it is an Australian band that I believe made the most profound political statements.[1] On “Mainland,” and others, RBCF blast the short-sighted, racist policies of Trump and others who hold similar views. And while “An Air Conditioned Man” is more about the dreaded post-relationship period of ennui, I find those frenzied guitars to be filled with political overtones. Yeah, they’re bummed they lost their girl. But what really pisses them off is the state of the world.

6 – “Just Goes to Show” – Eliza Shaddad
I damn near missed Shaddad’s first full-length album as it got very little run in the US. Thank goodness I accidentally stumbled across it, though, because the album is fantastic – showing strong growth from her 2016 EP – and this song soars. She said when she wrote it she imagined it playing in the final scene of some cheesy 1990s teen movie. When I read that I nearly shouted “YES!” because that is exactly the vibe I picked up the first time I heard it.

5 – “Me & My Dog” – boygenius
The second super group of the countdown, this one features Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers, who takes the lead vocals here. Bridgers has become one of my favorite new artists – see the next song – and Baker and Dacus slide in beautifully behind her, elevating the song without taking it over.

4 – The Gold – Phoebe Bridgers covering Manchester Orchestra.
“The Gold” remains one of the most remarkable indie rock songs of recent years. The various SiriusXM alt/indie rock stations kept the Manchester Orchestra original, which finished at #2 on last year’s Favorites list, in regular rotation for nearly eight months of 2017. And, amazingly, I still heard it often deep into 2018. One week this October I heard it five or six times; once twice within the same 15 minutes (on two different stations). It’s a great, great song.

And then Phoebe Bridgers did this to it… There’s no way I can say her version is better than MO’s. But it is still crazy good. It has all the elements of a great cover: pays proper respect to the original while still taking it in a direction that is consistent with the covering artist’s sound. Had I never heard the original, this would totally sound like a Bridgers-penned track. It sounds so good, in fact, that I’m putting a cover of a song that is only one year old by an artist who already appeared in the countdown at #4 for the year. Breaking all kinds of D’s Dumb Music List Rules here!

3 – “Pynk (feat. Grimes)” – Janelle Monáe
We don’t deserve Janelle Monáe. She makes shockingly good music. She’s the most natural heir to Prince’s sound; he assisted on some of the early work for her Dirty Computer album before his death. She makes amazing visual art. She’s a fine actress. And she takes bold social stances. My quote of the year is her proclaiming that she is a “free-ass motherfucker” when confirming her relationship with actress Tessa Thompson and describing herself as “Pan-Sexual.” We need more free-ass motherfuckers in the world.

This is not one of the songs that she worked with Prince on. But it has all the hallmarks of one of his early classics. It’s funky, sneakily nasty-as-hell, and is a total earworm. You can’t help but drop your windows, snap your fingers, and sing along.

2 – “Believe” – Amen Dunes
Damon McMahon defies defining. He doesn’t make bedroom pop, experimental folk, or straight indie but rather a hybrid of these three sounds, with elements of others thrown in as well. His album Freedom sounded different than anything else that was released this year. And its songs stuck with me throughout the year.

This one hit the hardest. Each of McMahon’s songs have a specific topic or point of inspiration. Here it is the final days of his mother’s life. As she was fighting a terminal illness they, for perhaps the first time in their lives together, sat down and had some hard conversations about the way she lived her life, how it impacted McMahon, and whether they could find a way to get beyond that and become close as her life wound down. The closing section sounds like one of those difficult interactions, completed in brief statements in the moments when her pain wanes.

Pretty heavy stuff. The song is haunting without diving into the lyrics and their inspiration. Knowing that background makes it unforgettable.

1 – “Night Shift” – Lucy Dacus
One of the other members of boygenius delivered the first great song I heard this year. One that was never topped.

I was a fan of Dacus’ work already, but on Historian she made a stunning leap in her craft. Almost every song is fantastic. Which they kind of had to be since this is track one on the disk.

It begins with one of the best lyrics of the year:

The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit I had a coughing fit.
I mistakenly called them by your name
I was let down, it wasn’t the same.

From there it evolves into a different kind of breakup song. It isn’t just about the pain of the relationship ending, or blaming either side for its failure. Rather it is about two people who still live in the same world trying to find a way to carry on as normal without bumping into each other. The choices we are forced to make aren’t always good ones, but sometimes they are necessary if you don’t want to upend your entire life.

You got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift
And I’ll never see you again if I can help it

Dacus delivers an absolute powerhouse vocal performance, one that is raw and full of every emotion that comes with attempting to move on.

  1. Last year it was Gang of Youths.  ↩

State of Music: 2018

Before I drop my favorite songs of the year on you, a few moments for my annual State of Music address.

2018 was tough. Regular readers know the biggest reason why I say this: the May suicide of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison. I was pretty emotional about Prince’s death, and felt a little strange because of that. I figured that was a one-time effect. But Scott’s death floored me, and in some ways I’ve still not recovered.

I’ve written about that several times this year, so won’t dive into too many details. Looking back the thing that strikes me about his death and its effects on me are how it keeps coming back. Every few weeks I’ll run across a seemingly innocent artist profile, tweet, podcast, etc. where someone mentions Scott and how his death affected them. And that brings it all back.

By mid-summer I had completely stopped listening to Frightened Rabbit’s music. It was too painful, hearing Scott’s lyrics and making direct connections between them and his death. It wasn’t until early December, when I finally decided to watch some of their old performances on YouTube, that I could listen to some of the band’s music. I’m still not ready to reintroduce my favorite band of the last decade into my regular listening routine. But I think I can finally not skip past their tracks when the algorithm randomly selects them.

Beyond that, I feel like there wasn’t a ton of great music this year. Plenty of good music, yes. But was there a classic track that I’ll still be excited about next year? In ten years? I don’t know. Same for albums. Some nice ones, but very few that I put on heavy rotation in the days after their release and then returned to regularly.

I’ve wondered if that was because it was, indeed, a bad year for music, or at least the music I like. Is the music I like getting squeezed out by other, more dominant sounds? Or, gasp, am I finally aging and it’s getting harder for me to connect with music written and performed by 20-somethings?

I’d guess it’s a little bit of each of those, plus some bad timing: very few of my favorite artists put out new music this year and there weren’t a bunch of bands that jumped up to fill those holes.

And then there was our move and stretch without cable/stable internet access, which totally threw off my listening habits for a bit.

As I’ve whittled down my Favorites list from the original 40 or so songs to its final number, I’ve become a little fonder of all the surviving songs. I think the top 10 is pretty solid. It just doesn’t compare to the top 10s from other, stronger years.

So, for now, I’ll hope 2018 was an aberration and 2019 will be better.