Staff Picks: Best Music of 2015

Nick Alberico (@MeadowsLeague)

Favorite Songs of 2015

  1. Alright – Kendrick Lamar
  2. Reality in Motion – Tame Impala
  3. The Less I Know The Better – Tame Impala
  4. The Blacker The Berry – Kendrick Lamar
  5. Butterfly – grimes
  6. Cry For You (RAK Version) – Hot Chip
  7. Depreston – Courtney Barnett
  8. Elevator Operator – Courtney Barnett
  9. What Do You Mean? – Justin Bieber
  10. Realiti – grimes

Favorite Albums of 2015

  1. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

An eclectic album that utilizes many different musical elements, Kendrick Lamar has managed to put together the most engaging and substantive piece of work in recent memory.

Hip-hop’s new champion has demonstrated serious development from his last effort, good kid, M.A.A.D city. Artistically, Mr. Lamar has matured, opting for a less-accessible musical style that results in a more enticing product. While retaining much of the narrative elements of his previous LP, this time around they are significantly more ambiguous and feel less like a recount of events. (more…)


Best Albums of the 2010s

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

We’re already six years into the 2010s, so I thought it would be a good time to list my favorite albums of the decade, so far anyway. This is a tentative list, so as I hear new things and change my mind on other albums the  list list will be update. I’ll try to do it regularly,  but at the very least I’ll add new albums to it at the end of each year. (more…)

“The Big Short” Dives into a Worldwide Financial Meltdown–with Laughs

By Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

“The Big Short,” now in theaters, follows Oscar Wilde’s dictum that if you’re going to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.

If “The Big Short,” named one of the top 10 films of 2015 by the American Film Institute, didn’t make us laugh at the avarice and carelessness of those in the financial industry who brought on the most recent economic meltdown, we’d weep, or riot in the streets like the French Revolution.

This is a genuinely angry film, which has been nominated for most outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture by SAG, mad at the people who drove the country off a cliff, faced no real consequences, and now are essentially back to their old tricks.

Adapted from the Michael Lewis book of the same title–Lewis also had “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side” flourish on the big screen–we follow the few individuals who realized how insane the system had become and bet against, or shorted, the housing market. They understood that giving credit to people who didn’t deserve it so they could buy homes they couldn’t afford created an unsustainable bubble that was bound to burst, and when it did, it took the world economy with it. (more…)



by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

The lists are a bit longer than usual because I liked a lot that came out this year, but here are my favorite Alternative, Hip-hop, and Pop songs from 2015. (more…)



by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

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Carrie & Lowell is the year’s most personal album, and probably the darkest. Driven entirely by a folk guitar, a muted piano and Steven’s vocals, each track creates a portrait of the past, as he intimately whispers stories, his deepest thoughts and his fears. Obviously, many of the songs sound the same because they come from the same place, but there isn’t a weak song of the bunch and it’s rare to find an album that flows so seamlessly, and knows exactly what is it. Not one song is out of place, too long or too short. It just feels like one, complete story.

I’m more partial to the piano tracks, and the best is “Fourth of July,” a subtle and sipping piano backed by echoes and ambient harmonics and the album’s best moment is the outro to the title track, which sounds like a striped down version of the Inception soundtrack. But whether the song uses piano or is almost entirely an acoustic guitar, the complexity of sounds he’s able to create with the same instruments (and a handful of effects pedals) over and over again is impressive.

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To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t perfect by any means, and ultimately doesn’t reach the same heights as Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City, but these isn’t an artist out there as confident in their own product as Kendrick Lamar, who recreated his sound without sacrificing really anything that made us like him to begin with. Each song on the album is heavily detailed, layered in production and lyrically on point and culturally relevant.

You know you’re in for something new right away when you’re hit with a Flying Lotus jazz track with a funky Thundercat bassline. He follows that up with by spitting hot fire over a furious drum track on what, for all intents and purposes, should have been a throwaway interlude. Then we get into “King Kunta,” a throwback track that sounds like early Eminem and references the likes of James Brown. Throughout the album, you never know what’s coming next, as songs shift suddenly in mood and in style.

The album’s best tracks are “Alright” and “The Blacker The Berry,” but my favorite moment of the album might be the opening two minutes of “u.” There’s raw emotion, an unorthodox, ever changing flow, and unbelievable production. The screaming, the slow build of the virtuosic saxophone and piano, the female vocals echoing him in the background. It creates so much in such a short amount of time. Another strong moment is “Mortal Man”, which in an album littered with great production, might be the strongest and musically sounds like a part two to “Sing About Me”.

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Where Lonerism had vintage 60s charm, with garage-rocking single “Elephant” and tracks with psychedelic rock long form bridges reminiscent of The Doors, Currents is a new direction for Kevin Parker’s act, with dance synthesizers and computerized harpsichords replacing most of the guitar work and standard rock and roll sounds. The album is more polished, more upbeat and more modern.

The album is sandwiched by two epics that are over six minutes in length. The opener, “Let It Happen,” is a driving and ever evolving symphony made entirely of synthetic sounds, from the looping drum track to the vocodered vocals. The closing track, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” is similarly intricate, but much more plodding and baroque. There are also three simple interludes each under two minutes, two being electronic samples and a third short rock song, “Disciples,” which gives the album a nice variety of song lengths.

The only problem I have with Currents (which is the same problem I had with Lonerism) is many of the songs fill the same role on the album. While the lyrics might be a little different between them, “Love/Paranoia,” “Past Life,” “Yes I’m Changing,” and “Cause I’m A Man” are instrumentally all slow synth ballads. “Eventually” seems  similar on it’s surface, but stands out because it shifts time signatures, changes pace and transforms from beginning to end, making it one of the album’s best.

The other prominent song archetype is the upbeat synthpop tracks, like “The Moment,” and “The Less I Know The Better.”  “Disciples” also fits this mold, but is more guitar driven and helps transition into the next upbeat tune, “Reality In Motion,” the one song tied this album with their last. While completely fitting in with the modern, electronic theme of Currents, “Reality In Motion” carries drums and guitar reminiscent of “Endors Toi” and “Nothing That Has Happened…” (more…)


“Black Sea” Goes Deep and Dark

By Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

Black Sea,” released earlier this year, is a resolutely old-fashioned thriller that hearkens back to the many quality submarine films of the past and adroitly adds tenets of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

The setup is cleverly simple. Robinson (Jude Law) has spent his life on subs, both as a member of the British Navy and as a leader of salvage crews, but he’s unceremoniously sacked by his company; he’s told he’s redundant in their modern corporate culture. Depressed, he goes to drown his sorrows in a nearby pub, where a friend informs him of a get-rich scheme. Apparently, there’s a sunken German submarine in the Black Sea with millions in Nazi gold just waiting to be plucked by a crew with the will and the ability.

Robinson rounds up a rough crew of sailors who are just as down on their luck as he; the crew is half Russian and half British, which immediately leads to enmity and distrust. And, when Robinson informs them each man gets an equal share of however much gold they recover, slowly the men begin to work the math–the fewer men onboard, the larger my share. Some of these rogues even begin plotting the untimely demise of their fellow crew members. The corrosive effects of greed added to the psychological travails of being locked in a tiny, dilapidated sub deep under the sea lead to problems, as one might surmise. (more…)


Silverman Proves She’s No Clown in “I Smile Back”

by Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

With “I Smile Back,” Sarah Silverman joins the likes of Robin Williams and other standup comics who proved their alacrity with serious material in movies.

Laney (Silverman) is a despicable, self-loathing housewife who engages in repeated acts of debasement to punish herself for wrongdoing. Despite a devoted, loving husband, Bruce (Josh Charles), and two sweet children, Laney follows a spiral of self-destruction aided and abetted by drugs, alcohol, and adultery after she stops taking her prescribed Lithium.

The movie itself is a grim, harrowing tale of addiction and upper-middle class ennui, and it provides no real illumination. We’re led to believe Laney’s problems may stem at least in part from her father abandoning the family when she was nine; in the final act, she goes to see him for the first time since he left, discovering he has a wife and a young daughter. (more…)



by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

We’re one week away from knowing the answer.

Oklahoma is standing at #3 right now, but remember that their season is over. They won’t have any more chances to earn points because the Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game, and playing only 12 games instead of 13 will always hurt teams in the Big 12. A team can’t get credit for a game they don’t play.

This mean that the winner of Iowa vs Michigan State, as well as Clemson if they win the ACC should pass Oklahoma pretty easily.

Stanford also has a chance to squeak by Oklahoma (or even Alabama if they lose to Florida) if they take care of business in their game against USC.

The only other team that has an outside chance of cracking the top four is North Carolina. Doing the unthinkable and beating Clemson won’t be enough, but if they win and Stanford loses, they’ll have a shot.

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Update 11/29 2:50 p.m.: I double checked and went through every team’s points again for the whole season to make sure I had the math right. I found a few half point errors here and there, and as a result, Oklahoma moved down from #2 to #3, and Michigan and Northwestern swapped positions. Everything else stayed put.



“The Night Before” Supplies Impudent Laughs Before Lapsing into Traditional Christmas Sentiment

by Ryan Anderson (@randerson_ryan)

“The Night Before,” now in theaters, is very funny for much of its running time before undercutting its own subversiveness with a traditional, cliched, happy ending.

But, before reaching its treacly conclusion, “The Night Before” threatens to join dark, irreverent holiday classics like “Bad Santa.”

The parents of Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) both are killed in a car accident when he’s a teenager, but his best friends, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), ride to his rescue by taking him out for an evening of debauchery to take his mind off the tragedy and prevent Christmas from being ruined for him. Naturally, it becomes a tradition, as the three venture out in New York City every Christmas Eve for misrule that would make Caligula blush.

Alas, 14 years after their first Christmas Eve of merriment, the tradition is set to end, as two of the three grow into adulthood and responsibility. Isaac and his wife are about to have a baby, and Chris has become a major football star (with the aid of steroids). They no longer wish to engage in the risque ritual, even though Ethan remains in a state of arrested development–he’s just lost the love of his life because he refused to meet her parents, he’s a penniless singer/songwriter who makes music no one ever hears, and Chris and Isaac remain his only real family.




by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

There are only two weeks left in the college football season, but they’re the most important of the year and could cause the most movement in the ranks.

Rivalry week will bring up key games between ranked teams: Florida vs. FSU, Notre Dame vs. Stanford, Baylor vs. TCU, Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State, Ohio State vs. Michigan, UCLA vs. USC, Texas A&M vs LSU, and Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State. Also, one-loss Navy and Houston will square off to see which team was the best of the mid majors this season, and the winner will most likely find themselves in the top 25 at season’s end.

The most notable losses this week were Ohio State and Oklahoma State, but former undefeated teams that lost to games against their conference’s toughest competition. Oklahoma State still has an outside chance if they take care of business against Oklahoma, and some of the team’s ahead of them fall. Ohio State needs a lot of help from things out of their control and would have to win against two really difficult opponents to jump up into the top 4. It could happen, but it’s highly unlikely.

One team to keep an eye on is North Carolina. They haven’t lost since the first week of the year, and if they can somehow upset Clemson in two weeks, they would have a really strong resume. Probably not top-4 worthy, but it’s cool to see a new face near the top.

cfb week 12