Heavy Rotation

I’m not gonna call this my Top 10 Albums of 2012 (So Far), because if there’s anything geekier than posting annual Best Albums of the Year lists, it’s doing them in July for the first half of the year. So instead just consider this a Top 10 Best Albums I recommend you add to your rotation for the rest of the summer. And, in one way or another, all of these albums are heavy.

Jonathan Wilson Gentle Spirit cover art by Mike Sportes.

Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit
Okay right off the bat I have to cheat a little bit: this is the only non-2012 album on this list. This one was actually released in August of 2011, with some recordings dating another year or two older. But I’m using the “it’s new to me this year” rule, and it’s one of my favorite recent album discoveries. Phenomenal guitar tone with a voice smooth as silk. Born at the end of 1974, it’s like he was infused with the best of what Neil Young and Jerry Garcia had been offering around that same time. And “Natural Rhapsody” even ventures near Pink Floyd territory. Wilson, who just wrapped up an opening slot for Tom Petty’s European tour, also produced the Father John Misty Fear Fun album listed below, as well as both acclaimed albums by the band Dawes.

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – Kolexxxion
Premo drops a straight banger here, this time partnered with hard rhymer Bumpy Knuckles, aka Freddie Foxxx. It turns out to be a winning combo, roaring straight out of the hip-hop heyday of the 90’s: classic-sounding Gang Starr beats with Premier’s signature chorus cuts working along side Freddie’s aggressive but underrated wordplay.

Dr. John – Locked Down
Supreme grooves by the legendary master. These jams are fun for all ages. Whenever someone like Dr. John (as if there’s anyone else like him) drops an eclectic gem like this, writers like myself run to their blogs to use the word gumbo. It’s not that we’re lazy and predictable, it’s just that it’s so damn tasty.

Jack White – Blunderbuss
I’m gonna try not to wear my Jack White man-crush on my sleeve, so maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all. If you’d heard that Jack’s first official solo album in his own name was a successful blend of the sounds he cultivated with the White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather, then you heard right. It’s both nuanced and immediately likeable, and while most diehards would rank his White Stripes albums in the top few slots of his resume (in some order), dare I already claim Blunderbuss is Jack White’s best album ever, and let’s argue about where to rank the rest.

Killer Mike – RAP Music
Killer Mike mixes Chuck D’s booming clarity on the mic with a voice quality more akin to something between Ice Cube and Big Boi. This one jumps out of your speakers like an instant classic. Produced entirely by El-P, this is a brilliant collaboration that spawned something I would call futuristic/old-school hip-hop. El-P’s beats aren’t too frantic or busy and he somehow manages to make Rick Rubin-style 808 beats sound more like tomorrow than yesterday.

Chuck Prophet – Temple Beautiful
I reviewed this one when it came out, but just wanted to confirm it was not a flash in the pan. Still love this album.

Father John Misty Fear Fun cover art by Dimitri Drjunchin.

Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Singer/songwriter Josh Tillman follows his stint drumming/singing on the Fleet Foxes Helplessness Blues with this oddly interesting piece of art. I don’t know if “Misty” refers to mist and fog or if it’s shorthand for mysterious, but from the mellow to the catchy, Father John paints a beautiful-sounding picture.

KRS-One – The BDP Album
With someone as prolific as KRS, who inexplicably works just outside the spotlight, it could be easy to miss this ultimate return to form. The BDP Album finds KRS picking back up on the Boogie Down Productions vibe in more than just name only. His brother DJ Kenny Parker provides the back drop and Kris does his usual wrecking of the mics.

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
Another one I’ve already reviewed here that I’m still rocking several times a week. I know, I have a problem. But six months later, I’m still reveling in the crunching sounds of a happy, healthy, and sober Eddie Van Halen in top musical form, the surprising pulse of his son Wolfgang on bass, and the not-surprising thunder of drums from Wolfie’s uncle Al.

Dr. Dog – Be the Void
Sometimes I think the albums and bands I love the most “don’t sound like anything else” and have some unique, indescribable sound and quality. But that makes them the most difficult to write about, hence “indescribable.” The best I can come up with for Dr. Dog is that they are like a modern-day psych-folk revival of The Band; recommended if you like Felice Brothers.

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New Twist on an Old Game: Divisional Fantasy Football

So after winning my league Super Bowl following the 2006 season, I quit playing Fantasy Football these last few seasons. Honestly, I must say I have NOT missed it. It’s nice to enjoy football for what it is, and not end up screaming at the TV and ruining a Sunday over something stupid like “Damn, why did Brady throw it to Welker? I started Gronk!!!” That said, I’m still an idea man… and I’ve got a great idea to breathe new life into Fantasy Football for anyone getting bored or looking for a new twist:  Divisional Fantasy Football.

A new way to play might spice things up.

Each of the 8 players gets one NFL Division and can field his team from any players in that division. So the person with the NFC East could choose from Eli Manning, RGIII, Michael Vick, and Romo at QB. Meanwhile the guy with the NFC West could pencil in the San Francisco defense and Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald every week. Whoever drafts the AFC West would have to choose between new Denver QB Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers of the Chargers. You get the idea.

It would sort of take the fun out of the draft, since there’d only be one round, but the guy with the first pick still has to strategize… does he take the NFC North so he’ll have Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Lions WR Calvin Johnson? Or take the AFC North just to get Ravens RB Ray Rice and pair him with Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Bengals WR A.J. Green, Browns RB Trent Richardson and the Pittsburgh Defense? And of course you’d still have week to week strategy of who to start/play.

Besides semi-killing the draft element, another stumbling block is the bye week. Usually the NFL schedule has most or all teams from one division on a bye at the same time. If one division does NOT have several teams on bye the same week, then that team would have an advantage. BUT, what if you had an active/inactive roster, so you could keep most of your top players active, but still leave plenty of “free agents” for other divisions to use one-time only when their division is on bye? Maybe you’d have to leave X number of QB’s available…. Maybe each week you could move players to/from inactive list.

So I have the NFC South, and they’re all on bye except New Orleans. Maybe I start the best of the Saints players and then fill in with the unprotected players from the other divisions. Maybe force everyone to leave 1-2 QB’s from their division on an unprotected inactive list so the talent pool was decent….

Not sure if this format would work in head-to-head style of play, or more suitable to a “rotisserie” format where you don’t play against anyone, just accumulate points each week. Maybe it could be done either way.

Not sure how this idea could make money. Unless you could have a website where people would play for $10 and just spread the word around until it’s really popular. Perhaps I could copyright the concept so I could cash in if ESPN and Yahoo wanted to start offering this. Probably not, who knows. But consider this date/time-stamped blog entry as my official claim on the idea; feel free to contact me with big-money offers.

This article is an updated reprint of my original idea previously published in 2008.

Roger Waters Performs The Wall in Washington DC

That’s my fucking pig!

If you were to judge by the chatter I heard around Chinatown last night after Roger Waters performed The Wall at the MCI Verizon Center then you would conclude that most people just witnessed one of the greatest rock concerts of their lives. “That is how a concert is supposed to be!” my friend said to me post-show. It was hard to disagree.

If you want your concert experience to include explosions, fireworks, flying pigs, puppets that drop from the ceiling, wild animations, flashing lights, surround sound systems that thunder in your ear, impeccable musicianship, and songs performed from an album that sold about 789 billion copies than The Wall did not disappoint in any fashion. Never one to short change his audience (at least when it comes to giving them a great show) Roger Waters produced the most fantastical, spectacular rock concert I have ever been witness to. It was Cirque de Waters.

If the punk rockers in the mid-70’s were back-lashing against the excess’ of their classic rock band brethren then this show would be the poster child for that movement. But isn’t that exactly what we, as an audience, want from The Wall? To this day, I still don’t understand how such a gloomy record became a staple of rock radio and embedded into our common musical collective. Songs about war, love lost, isolation, anger, madness, and megalomania don’t exactly jump off the shelves, eh, I mean, get downloaded in today’s market. Yet, when I looked around the arena I saw 65 year old tucked button down shirt into the shorts with socks and sandles on rocking out next to 16 year olds lighting up their first public joints. I saw metalheads and hippies, meatheads and squares, young and old all brought together by music that, when at it’s most uplifting moments, perhaps will get you to tap your feet a little bit. This is not Paul McCartney singing love songs or The Foo Fighters post-punk angst. It’s Pink Floyd‘s music as mass consumption. And it works brilliantly in this setting.

The note-for-note band (let’s face it, we want this album played note-for-note. Do you really want someone improvising the solo on “Comfortably Numb”?) was incredible and Waters can still hit all the notes. Was Gilmour missed? Perhaps, but the solid musicianship on exhibit made you quickly forget that this piece of music isn’t necessarily about the performers themselves. I would love to see this executed by high school theater groups around the country. Were there some overwrought moments? Yes. Do I really want to watch Roger Waters singing with mic in hand, bassless, roaming around the stage and “acting” out the lines from songs? Did the audience “understand the music” or the overall anti-war message? Were the loud claps for the Mercedez Benz logo dropping from a B-52 bomber pro or anti the company? I know Waters stance, but does his audience grasp what he is trying to say?

You know what? Who gives a fuck? People, including myself, went to this show to see one of the all time great pieces of music performed by it’s original author. Something you will probably never be able to do again on this scale. The show delivered in all aspects of the word. I was not going to see my favorite indie band shoegaze at The Black Cat. There is a time and place for that. This is one of those rare performances that you prefer to see in a large setting. I don’t want to see a pig flying around the 9:30 Club (but it would be quite cool). Floyd, whether they liked it or not, were eventually built for large audiences, large arenas. Though I still can’t fully understand how such a “weird” band became so mainstream I do understand why people loved this show so much.