Top Tunes of 2016
2016 was a great year for Weird Rap and Middle-Aged Rappers.
Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition might be my pick for Album of the Year if I were so inclined. Yet, there’s a lazy side to me that doesn’t feel like picking an exclusive winner. Atrocity Exhibition is one of the weirdest albums, of any genre, that I’ve heard in quite some time. Might have the year’s dopest posse cut in “Really Doe”; that beat is a total banger.
Meanwhile, Aesop Rock continues to hone his craft, both behind the mic and smithing beats, on The Impossible Kid. It makes me really happy that Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic are spearheading the dope-ass middle-aged rapper movement, which really just came together by happenstance.
Speaking of middle-aged rappers. Alaska (of The Atoms Family crew heritage) and some other cranky 40-somethings formed Words Hurt and put out Fuck That Pretty Boy Shit. Acerbic cultural criticism abounds.
J-Zone continues to get it done with Fish-N-Grits. Still sharpening his chops on a drum kit, it’s clear he was listening to a bunch of Meters’ records when he made this album. And that’s always a good thing.
For some wacky British HipHop, look no further than Don Pong’s Stinkin Slumrok.
Johann Johannsson just doesn’t quit and I hope he never does.
Johann Johannsson released his first non-soundtrack album in nearly six years. Orphee is a very meditative, contemplative album, but is somewhat understated and almost feels lacking in direction compared to his soundtrack work of late. That brings me to his Arrival OST. This soundtrack veers into the haunting edges of alien contact, but remains romantically adherent to the interpersonal threads of the movie’s story. The somber, low-plodding strings we’ve become accustomed to with Johannsson’s soundtracking are there, but are morphed and translated into far more intergalactic tonalities. Arrival functions on a high level throughout the movie as almost a character of its own, somewhat of an extra layer of language spoken between humans and heptapods. Gorgeous in concert with the film, it also faces no handicap at standing alone as an album.
Lots of good, weird, dark Techno
Max Cooper’s Emergence harkens back to a glitchy 2005 vibe. Murcof & Vanessa Wagner produced Statea, which is a slick compilation of piano pieces, played by Wagner, treated and tweaked by Murcof. Well, 2016 is officially the year I finally heard an Autechre release that I absolutely loved and felt validated all the hype over the years. Elseq 1-5 is Autechre at their pulsatingly darkest and best, not to mention lengthy. Looking for hypnotic beats and shearing synthesizers? Not Waving’s Redacted will do you just fine.
There are three really superb entries into the realm of Dark Techno in 2016. Raime’s Tooth, and Kane Ikin’s Modern Pressure and Sensory Memory.
Lakker continue their unique sound on Struggle & Emerge.
Nebulo Safari Suites, Vol. II is almost as if you were just suddenly extracted from an ayahuasca trip into the astral plane just neighboring the one you were dancing through.
Pye Corner Audio had a great year, gifting our ears with his best album yet, Stasis. How this dude is still relegated to Ghost Box – no offense to such a lovely label, but how does PCA not demand a bigger platform – still kind of shocks me. Martin Jenkins also put out the Head Technician Zones EP, which is a nifty little side project that mostly sounds like…hey!…this is Pye Corner Audio!
Math Rock will never die!
Radian’s On Dark Silent Off could just as easily fit into the above section of Electronica and Techno. It is a sharp, angular album built on a foundation of thumping rhythms and clanging percussive stabs. Might take a while to grow on you, but well worth your patience to get to know this album. Radiohead return from the brink of irrelevance with A Moon Shaped Pool. And then there’s Tortoise, dropping The Catastrophist in the midst of a year that could also go by the same name. “Shake Hands With Danger” is my new favorite Tortoise track, but the goofy nostalgia of their cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” steals the show.
Wacky Beats that felt out of place in any of the previous categories
Tobacco continues to program the musical memoirs of a sex life I’m currently living in another dimension. Sweatbox Dynasty is dripping with the requisite effluvia of eroticism and lust that has made Tobacco a staple in my musical rotation for years now. Egadz – a HipHop multi-instrumentalist from Los Angeles – delivered with Bad Keys Drip. Without being stuck in the quicksand of the past, this album acts as recall to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing and the renaissance of collage and pastiche it was the calling card for. Last, but not least, Samiyam’s Animals Have Feelings provides another volume of wonky, chopped-but-not-diced beats from the seemingly endless talent pool of LA beatmakers.
Well, while 2017 is sure to be another year of shit dribbling from the lips of sociopathic, aged white cis male politicians caked in Cheeto dust, here’s to hoping there’s at least some great tunes to sooth our boiling psyches and skyrocketing blood pressure. Cheers!
As a fan of sports, I’m prone to watching highlight shows. There’s SportsCenter on ESPN or MLB Tonight on the MLB Network; just two to mention, there are many more. The concept has long been a smart, effective way to disseminate in-game action to fans without them having to DVR 47 hours of action every day to try to keep up on. It’s an impossible task, so the highlight shows have distilled all that action down into a palatable, succinct hour (or more, potentially) to keep us up to speed.
There’s one problem that has been gnawing at me for quite some time, however. Why do highlights have to be accompanied by Sports Rock? What was the evolutionary process that led to this point where we are watching touchdowns and home runs and slam dunks all with an incessant soundtrack?
Who thought that we, the viewing public, needed a hype track to keep us glued to the highlights? If we’re already interested in sports and we already want to watch the highlights, then why do we need to be amped up by cookie-cutter Jock Rock?!?
Now, programming intro music is not problematic here. John Tesh’s theme for the NBA Playoffs is a memorable, slightly corny bell for the Pavlov’s Dog in almost every basketball fan that watched the playoffs through the late 80’s and into the 90’s. It may even still be in use, I wouldn’t know, as I stopped watching professional hoops after my Sonics were torn away from me. But that intro theme served to get us focused, there’s basketball about to be played!
So, is that where this all started?
Nowadays, you can’t watch a game recap and highlights without relentless riffing guitars in the background. I understand we live in the age of constant and layered noise, but why is this deemed necessary? The cacophony of life, surrounding us, engulfing us, invading us at every turn is oppressive. Why do we need to actively choose to be in this state? It’s a huge turn-off. It makes me not even want to watch the highlights.
Particularly as a baseball fanatic, this barrage of added, unnecessary noise seems counterintuitive to the aesthetic of the game itself and how we view and enjoy it.
I know what you’re thinking, this motherfucker is one of those “purists” who clutches to the notion of “the integrity of the game.” That couldn’t be further from the truth, with the one massive exception that the sounds of the game, the crowd, and the announcer are all I see as needed as far as the sense of hearing goes to enjoy the game. Now, I’m certainly talking about attending a game and being bludgeoned over the head with at-bat music, between inning jumbotron games and trivia accompanied by a perfunctory rock concert. Yes, that drives me absolutely batshit crazy. But I have been training myself to ignore that as much as I can. The highlight shows, on the other hand, seem to be an exercise in the impossibility of escape.
So, I would like to encourage ESPN and MLB Network to try out the occasional highlight show sans the MTV vibe. I really don’t think Jock Rock is what gets people to watch these highlight shows anyways. Maybe focus on the plays and analysis and in educating the fanbase even further.
I watch a lot of baseball; primarily the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners. Yet, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility I could watch any number of games – in any given week – not involving either of those teams. I do pay Major League Baseball for the privilege of MLB.TV every season, as well as purchasing tickets to attending games in a stadium partially funded by public taxes.
Last night, I watched the Mariners take on the Toronto Blue Jays. A shameful game for the fact it was played in Seattle, but sounded like a pep rally led by Justin Trudeau. Those wacky, yet amenable neighbors from the North. They buy up almost 80% of the tickets for games played in Seattle. Hey, I can’t blame them for actually caring about and supporting their team. It’d be nice if M’s fans would come out in force for their playoff-contending team. Not much you can do about that. I guess Seattle sports fans are much more endeared to sports where you get to wear a stylish scarf while in the stands.
Okay, enough of my acerbic wit.
Including last night’s game, I have seen Marco Estrada pitch exactly 15 innings of baseball this season. That’s 7 shutout innings last night (of which 6 were the no-hit variety) and 8 innings of 2-run ball back on June 5th at Fenway Park. The Sox lost that June contest 5-4 and last night the M’s fell to the Jays 3-2. His respective game scores were 72 (June 5th) and 80 (Sept. 19th). Both of those scores indicate that he contributed to his team’s fairly good odds (about 82-90%) of winning those games, which they did!
As far as opposing pitchers go, Estrada is not conjuring up comparisons to peak Pedro Martinez anytime soon. Maybe a slightly more electric Jamie Moyer (yes, Doug, I’ll give you credit for the fact you said “Jamie Moyer Clone” this morning when I got coffee from you). That comparison might be due mostly to the heavy reliance on changeup use. According to Brooks Baseball, Estrada is using his changeup 28.43% of the time this season; second only to his four seam fastball.
As far as opposing pitchers go, Estrada has been a nightmare for me and my two favorite teams.
He is a nightmare of changeups. Changeups that actually induce swing-and-miss hacks from batters. By far his best whiff pitch, Estrada’s change induces air between bat and ball above 20% of the time. I shuddered during my early morning REM cycle to visions of Ketel Marte swinging through ball four to strike out.
He is a nightmare of weak fastballs (by today’s standards where 95 mph+ is the upper echelon, not 89 mph). Weak fastballs, that even when hit hard are somehow directed straight to an outfielder’s glove.
I awoke at 6 am this morning, in a night sweat. My second REM cycle of the night was ravaged by the infinite looping of all 29 fly balls (line drives, pop-ups, the whole fucking farm) induced over those 15 innings.
This is a journeyman pitcher with a .511 winning percentage (45-43) and he’s making me shit myself in my sleep like he’s Freddie Krueger.
the summer coats her in her own sweat
clothes become a wetsuit filled with silicone lubricant
the air is supplanted by some odd mixture
of steam and fog and has a tactile quality
she draws her finger through it
as if fingerpainting a creation mythos
there are generations birthed
in the viscous ridges and valleys
of her index fingerprint
they groan with coming and going
she strings time along molecules
of water and salt that owns a musk
a lifetime of work drawing to a sludge
the invisible anchor to weeping willows
she exhales a slow lizard of smoke
and lets her eyes cut through
all the static, listening for the echoes
of all those children she deigned
to bring alive and release back into the aether
– Jeremy Hazelbaker. n. – for centuries in the Netherlands, the Hazelbakers were minor lords, looked down upon by all the higher lords and royalty. they acquired their surname for their specialty of baking delicious breads and pastries, particularly their hazelnut scones. n. – the jerk who breaks up a no-hitter in the top of the 9th inning on Kyle Hendricks’s 95th pitch of the night, depositing an 81 mph changeup into the right field bleachers. colloquial phrase. – what is uttered while running the bases after that home run, “I just baked your bread.”
– Odubel Herrera. n. – an audible play call in professional football made on second-and-goal resulting in a game-losing interception to lose the Super Bowl, that will forever be second guessed by analysts and drunken armchair quarterbacks alike. v. – to yell out something in error.
I would cook for you,
the most delicately crafted nacho
the brunoise-cut toppings
so as not to discriminate
against any one chip,
like the way I would love you
zealously every day
In the top of the second inning tonight, Travis Shaw simply destroyed the first pitch he saw from Jarred Cosart. It was a 93 mph fastball located middle-in. That’s not a great place to pitch to left-handed hitters in general. Even a worse idea to a lefty with any kind of power and a baserunner on in front of him. Before Shaw’s 434-foot missile, the San Diego Padres were up 1-0. So, you really don’t want to pitch to the hitter’s strength in this situation.
Now, I’m not an idiot. Shaw is no David Ortiz, but they do share the tendency – like many left-handed hitters – to smack the crap out of that middle-in pitch. And by smack the crap out of it, I mean an exit velocity of 112 mph. For the unconverted, pretty much accept the notion that anything hit 110 mph or harder is considered elite contact and power through the swing.
Here’s a zone profile of Shaw’s slugging percentage this season.
The raw numbers themselves don’t look like Shaw is blistering much of anything, I’ll give you that. That middle-in zone where he’s slugging .304? David Ortiz slugs .803 there, so yeah, I’m not making a comparison, but more a generalization of where not to pitch lefties.
What about Shaw’s Isolated Power (ISO) numbers in that similar zone?
Yowzer! There are some seriously dangerous zones for a pitcher to venture into. One of them is middle-in, more specifically middle-in and down in the zone. Oh hey, that’s where Cosart’s mistake was. Again, for the uninitiated, some context is necessary. If you hop over to FanGraphs, you can read up on ISO and view the handy table that breaks down the values behind the numbers.
Okay, you’re back from reading up on ISO, so you know that an ISO of .250 is considered “excellent.” Shaw’s .243 ISO directly middle-in is scraping at being excellent, but holy balls look at that .500 ISO middle-in and down!! Shaw is out-classing Ortiz by 142 points in that zone, for more context.
Now you add in the factor that Cosart allows a .191 ISO middle-in and that homer was almost destined to be.
So, really, this is just me genuflecting to my beloved Boston Red Sox. Yet, it can still be a lesson in where not to pitch lefties, especially lefties with pull power, because they will pull the shit out of that pitch.
* it should be noted that the zone profiles were only on fastballs.