2015

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…)

YEAR IN REVIEW: My favorite songs of 2015

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…)

YEAR IN REVIEW: My favorite albums of 2015

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…)

“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.

(more…)

2015-2016 MLB Free Agency Review

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

Cubs re-sign OF Dexter Fowler
1 year $8 million

The Cubs brought in Jason Heyward to replace Dexter Fowler earlier in the offseason, and the only question was wether or not the elite defender would be able to make the transition to center field. Well, with Fowler still on the market into the last week of February, the Cubs decided $8 million was worth the piece of mind. Fowler, who led off 150 games for the Cubs last season, should be able to man center as admirable as he did in 2015.

Fowler’s always struck out a little more than what’s considered healthy, but his walk-rate helps mitigate the damage. Also, the important thing is he should power and an ability to stay on the field last season, both of which had been lacking before he go to Chicago.

I don’t expect Fowler to play 150+ games again this year, but he’s a much safer every day player than Jorge Soler, who now looks like a fourth outfielder and the left side of a platoon with Kyle Schwarber And at only $8 million, if Soler explodes and forces his way into a regular role, Fowler would be excellent outfield depth at a reasonable cost.

Orioles sign RHP Yovani Gallardo
2 years $22 million

One of my least favorite signings in the offseason. Gallardo doesn’t really add much more than depth to the team’s rotation, and they gave up a first round pick for a two year contract. Entering his tenth season in the league, he’s started 30 games in his last seven, but has never posted an ERA under 3.42. His K/9 has dropped each of the last three seasons, from 9 in 2019 down to only 5.9 in 2015; his FIP has slowly crawled up to over 4 in that same timeframe. With a walk rate historically above 3 BB/9, the declining Gallardo offers little upside other than durability, and doesn’t particularly make me think Baltimore will be any better off now than they were before the addition. (more…)

2016 MLB Free Agency Preview: Position Players

by Nicholas Cicale (@nickcicale)

The 2015 MLB season may have just ended, but free agency is about to begin. Here’s a quick look at the top players available at each position, with their 2015 statistics, and statistics over the last three seasons. A list of free agent pitchers will come out later this week. (more…)