Top Albums of 2018

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The advent of streaming services for music has drastically changed the way I consume music. And honestly, I think it’s made me more apt to settle into familiar music rather than venture out looking for new music from band I don’t already know. Or maybe that’s more a measure of my age than the technology. Either way, while this year had some great new releases, I spent more time listening to older stuff. As such, it felt more difficult to make a list this year and feel set on it. In any case, here are my top 20 albums with just some quick notes.

1. The Decemberists | I’ll Be Your GirlImage result for decemberists i'll be your girl

Just a great, great album from these guys this year. The song Once in My Life was one of my favorites of the year.

2. Low | Double NegativeImage result for low double negative

Probably my favorite album Low has released in about 10 years. So moody and wonderful.

3. Hammock | Universalis Image result for hammock universalis

Hammock puts out an album almost every year and they are all spectacular. I love the way they compose music.

4. Snail Mail | Lush
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Hey! A new band! This year had some great albums from women who play guitar. Of that crew, Snail Mail was my favorite. Lindsey Jordan’s songs sound a bit like indie music from the 90’s and they’re great.

5. Spiritualized | And Nothing HurtsImage result for spiritualized and nothing hurt cover

It’s been 6 years since we got a new Spiritualized album and over 20 years since what I consider to be their magnum opus Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space. This is a wonderful album front to back, proving that Jason Pierce has still got it.

6. Beach House |7
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When it comes to dream pop, it doesn’t get much better than Beach House. Their 7th album keeps the winning formula going.

7. Mogwai | KIN (Soundtrack)Image result for mogwai kin

It’s a soundtrack, but it’s also just a new Mogwai album. Great cinematic noise from these guys. I’d like to see the movie based solely on the great music.

8. CHVRCHES | Love is Dead

Man I love this band. I’d say this album is a slight step down from their previous two, but still some really great anthems here. And Lauren Mayberry’s voice is one of the most pristine in the game right now. I just love it.

9. Death Cab for Cutie | Thank You For Today

Their last album, Kintsugi, is when they finally returned to writing great guitar-based music to go with Ben’s lyrics. They continued this winning approach on their 9th album here and there are some great songs to show for it.

10. Olafur Arnalds | re:memberImage result for olafur arnalds remember

Arnalds is an Icelandic composer and this album is a wonderful neo-classical collection that makes for perfect reading/working music. No new Sigur Ros this year, but Iceland is well represented with Arnalds.

11. Thom Yorke | Suspiria (soundtrack)

No new Radiohead this year, but Thom Yorke was busy as always. He composed a longform score/soundtrack to the remake of Suspiria and it’s super great. Treat it as a solo album and it might be his best one ever.

12. Jeff Tweedy | Warm

Jeff Tweedy also went solo this year with a new album of original songs that serves as a supplement to a new memoir he also released this year. As such, it’s a very personal album, full of ruminations about life and death.

13. Soccer Mommy | Clean

Here’s another new band with a guitar playing girl at the front. I file this one along with Snail Mail as fuzzy, indie rock that just really suits my ears.

14. Mitski | Be the CowboyImage result for mitski be the cowboy

Mitski’s album is (rightfully so) all over year end lists this year. This album has some great tunes on it, including a stellar lead single with “Geyser”.

15. POLICA / s t a r g a z e | Music for the Long
Emergency
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Minneapolis band Polica collaborated with a German orchestral collective for this album, changing up their sound to incorporate the string section. It’s a cool turn for this ultra cool band.

16. Aaron Strumpel | Mighty Refuge

Aaron Strumpel released a new record of hymn arrangements that expand and contract in just the right ways. It’s always fun to hear the timeless lyrics in new ways and Strumpel is one of those people that has a real knack for it.

17. Paul McCartney | Egypt Station

Paul released a new album this year and it’s… pretty good! I find his solo albums usually bat about .500 for me and this one is right in there. I’m just so glad he’s still making music though! And his appearance on Carpool Karaoke was a complete joy.

18. Metric | Art of DoubtAlbum cover of Art of Doubt by Metric

Metric released a new album this year, sticking to the formula they do so well. Big rock anthems with great guitar tones and synth leads. Emily Haines’ voice is still great and this band is always worth listening to.

19. Mumford and Sons | DeltaImage result for mumford delta

I’ll be honest, I found the last Mumford album to be pretty bland. This one definitely has a bit more character to it, but I actually miss their folk sound quite a bit.

20. Big Red Machine | Big Red Machine

Justin Vernon stepped away from the Bon Iver moniker to make this experimental collaborative project with Aaron Dessner from The National. The album itself sounds like a creative process – experimental and exciting and open-ended.

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Top Television of 2018

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I definitely think that the ideal medium for good storytelling has moved to television for now. In the arms race for quality content, the major streaming platforms and channels are throwing money at gifted creators and letting them run. There are cool limited series that are not tied to the conventions of long, serialized shows. And there are amazing genre shows that make you think. Here are some of my favorites.

1. The Haunting of Hill House

The new gold standard for a horror-based television show. It’s full of scary stuff, jump scares and creepy imagery. But really this (like A Quiet Place) is a family drama. It’s about a family of adults still dealing with the trauma of their past, the loss of a parent, depression, addiction, marital strife and money. It just happens to all get intertwined with ghosts and stuff. A truly amazing show.

2. The Good Place

This show keeps viewers on their toes season to season. The basic premise has been flipped so many times now and yet doesn’t feel like it’s been rebooted or anything. The goofy characters, whip smart dialog and the trojan-horsed philosophy courses make this one of the most unique sitcoms ever. And the acting this season has been incredible.

3. Atlanta

Atlanta is less of a TV show and more of an ultra-creative theatre troupe that puts on new shows every week without telling anyone what’s on tap. Horror? Sure. Relationship drama? Yep. Slice of life comedy? Why not? This crew can do it all and some of the most unforgettable TV moments this year were on this show. Teddy Perkins anyone?

4. Narcos: Mexico

Netflix’s drug cartel drama evolved out of the Colombian chapter and is now a completely new show about the birth of the Mexican drug trade. The new cast is amazing and the mood is still perfect. As of this writing I’m half way through and completely engrossed.

5. Little Drummer Girl

After hitting a home run last year with a limited series based on a John le Carre novel, AMC went back to the well and brought us another one. This time it’s the wild story of an actress who gets recruited by Israeli spies to root out Palestinian terrorists. It’s a beautiful show to watch as the costumes and scenery are breathtaking and the choice of shots is incredibly artistic.

6. Glow

Glow is such a treat. The character drama, the setting, the performances, everything. The show leaned into more 80’s issues this season, including some great nuanced depictions of the AIDS crisis.

7. Barry

This show is crazy. It’s a super, super hilarious comedy one minute and then a super, super dark crime show the next. Bill Hader is amazing on the show that he created. I can’t wait to see where they take this story next.

8. Better Call Saul

What can I say? Better Call Saul is a doctorate level course in long form storytelling. The slowest of burns that still has you on pins and needles at times. As we march ever closer to Saul Goodman, we also march towards Breaking Bad and ultimately Cinnabon.

9. Dark (2017 release)

I’m cheating a little bit here, because DARK was released on Netflix in December of 2017. But I didn’t watch it until 2018. It’s a German show that is part Stranger Things and part Primer. Multiple timelines, dark woods, murder, mystery – checking lots of boxes that I care about. This was a total surprise of a show that I really fell in love with.

10. American Vandal

American Vandal has now business being as good as it is. It’s equal parts a spoof of true crime docs and actual commentary on the smart phone generation in high school. Hilarious, straight faced talk about poop pranks give way to the sad culture of bullying and social media shaming that really exists for teens. It’s a shame this series got cancelled, but the two seasons Netflix gave us are golden.

11. The Last Man on Earth

Speaking of cancelled, this was the final year for Fox’s absurd post-apocalyptic sitcom The Last Man on Earth. The show was on top of its game all the way to the cliffhanger ending. Childish antics, insane people, death, childcare and guest stars were all part of the winning formula for Will Forte’s show. I’m sad to see it go.

12. Sharp Objects

This HBO limited series was based on a book of the same name. The stellar cast and the disorienting directing created a moody, dark murder mystery that wasn’t too concerned with the mystery itself most of the time. It was the dark drama and mommy issues that propelled the story. Amy Adams, as always, was really great and the music was outstanding as well.

13. Star Trek Discovery

Hey! Star Trek came back to TV this year and it was … decent most of the time! I wrote about it awhile back, so I won’t rehash all my thoughts here. It wasn’t perfect, but I’m interested in where they go next with some new blood behind the scenes and a season under their belts.

14. Wild, Wild Country

This is a Netflix documentary series that I careened through while travelling for work last Spring. I had never heard of this cult that built a city in Oregon back in the 70s, but the story is completely crazy. This series was fantastic in it’s examination of the events and the interviews with some of the major players tied it all together. Just a fascinating story.

15. Legion

Legion is keeping things weird, as it should. This “superhero” show is marching to the beat of its own drum, using dance numbers as fight sequences and flipping allegiances around. It’s sometimes disorienting, which is why this is a little lower on my list, but the look and feel of the show is amazing.

16. Homecoming

We’re getting TV shows based on podcasts now and prestige TV shows at that! Here’s a show from Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) starring Julia Roberts about a government conspiracy and it’s on Amazon Prime. It’s based on a podcast of the same name that I did listen to a year or two ago. I think I would have liked the show more if I hadn’t already heard the podcast. Still, it’s good and the direction is really creative.

17. Trial and Error

This summer sitcom from NBC is positively hilarious. The writing is great and the cast is just superb at portraying these completely wacky characters. I don’t know if we’ll see a season 3, but I really hope we do. NBC passed on a renewal, so it’s up to the studio to shop the show around. C’mon, guys! We need more Murder Board!

18. BodyguardImage result for bodyguard netflix

This BBC/Netflix co-production was a massive hit in the UK. It’s basically like a British 24 starring the guy from Game of Thrones. It was really great at time and a bit frustrating at others. I did like the first half a bit more than the second. Still, a great ride!

19. ManiacImage result for maniac netflix

I thought this might end up higher on my list, but I guess it didn’t connect with me as much as I’d hoped. It’s an ambitious show to be sure, full of world-building and complicated people. I think it just got a little too weird for me at times (which is saying something). The look and feel though? Fantastic. And Emma Stone is always great.

20. Counterpart

Sort of secretly one of the best spy shows on TV right now. Part Fringe and part Mission Impossible, this show takes a really strange sci-fi premise and spins it into a story full of intrigue. It’s all about identity, betrayal and fidelity. And trans-dimensional terrorism. If you’re interested in any of those things, you should watch Counterpart.

Top Films of 2018

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My list of movies I want to see is very long right now, so this list is definitely subject to change once I get to those. Still, I did see some good flicks this year. Here are my ten favorites:

1. A Quiet Place                                 Image result for a quiet place poster

This movie is amazing. It’s not really horror, Krasinski calls it a family drama, which is a very apt description. The atmosphere, the emotion, the tension – it’s all pitch perfect. And the central conceit that everyone has to stay quiet or risk being killed is so, so effective. But it’s that family drama element that really elevates the film and gives it a huge heart.

2. Mission Impossible: FalloutImage result for mission impossible - fallout poster

I love the MI franchise and this is one of the best entries of the series. Just enough continuity to keep it interesting (even a reference to Max from the very first film!), yet still an easy entry point. And my gosh, the action scenes are so great in this. Visceral, kinetic and still easy to understand what’s going on! Great, great movie.

3. AnnihilationImage result for annihilation poster

The book is a fantastic trip through disorientation and mood. The film adaptation could have been terrible, but director Alex Garland is a genius. It’s still a brain bender and a sci-fi thriller and it maintains a lot of what made the book great.

4. Black Panther  Image result for black panther movie poster

One of the best Marvel films ever. A lot of ink has already been spilled on this movie, so I don’t have to rehash everything. It’s just a really great story and the performances are spectacular.

5. Isle of DogsImage result for isle of dogs movie poster

I pretty much have a spot reserved on this list for Wes Anderson any year he makes a movie. This was another great entry into his canon and doesn’t deserve any of the flack that was aimed at it. I loved it.

6. Avengers: Infinity WarImage result for infinity war movie poster

The much anticipated beginning of the end for the MCU’s first 10 years was everything we hoped it would be. And yet it left some story left to be told. It was a stroke of genius to make Thanos the central character here.

7. The Incredibles 2

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The only Pixar movie that you immediately wanted a sequel to right away when you first saw it was The Incredibles. Well, it took a loooong time, but Brad Bird delivered the next chapter of the story. And it’s great! My whole family loved it.

8. Ant-Man and the WaspImage result for ant man and the wasp movie poster

After Infinity War, we needed this movie. The winning formula from the first one was successfully duplicated and the gags were so great. I couldn’t get over the Paul Rudd is the size of a 5th grader bit. Just a fun, light superhero movie.

9. Solo                    Image result for solo movie poster

Again, Solo isn’t nearly as bad as you’ve heard. Sure, you could clearly see some seams between the early version that Lord & Miller were making and the final version that Ron Howard put together. Sure, there were some “does that even make sense?” moments. And yeah, Harrison Ford is the real Han. Still, this movie was fun and had some great set pieces. Star Wars fans are just really tough to please these days.

10. Game Night   Image result for game night movie poster

A total surprise entry here! Game Night is awesome. I love mistaken identity movies like The Man Who Knew Too Little and this took that trope to adult game nights perfectly. The cast was hilarious and the action just kept getting crazier and crazier. My wife and I laughed a lot.


My Watchlist:

Here are a few movies that I have on my list to see from this year that may or may not have made their way into my top ten.

  • First Man
  • Roma
  • Hereditary
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Deadpool 2
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
  • Three Identical Strangers
  • First Reformed
  • Overlord

TV REVIEW | Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1

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Star Trek: Discovery, the latest television entry in the 50 year old franchise, wrapped up its first season on Sunday night. That in itself is an accomplishment for a show that had a fairly messy road to the airwaves. Initially pitched and run by Bryan Fuller, the show’s crew experienced a significant shake-up during the production process which included Fuller ultimately leaving the project entirely. New showrunners took over and the episode order actually grew from 13 to 15. All that turnover resulted in a season that was sometimes rough, sometimes great and always messy.

SPOILERS FOLLOW


Bringing Star Trek back to its television roots in 2017 was a tricky task. For one thing, Trek has historically been an optimistic look at the future of humanity where conflict-free teams of people work together to fight for justice and peace and explore new worlds in hopes of adding to their knowledge and diversity. But the era of Peak TV was built on the stories of difficult men (Mad Men) and complicated conflicts (Game of Thrones) and suffering (The Walking Dead). Then you’ve got the latest era of gritty reboots (Justice League) and distrust of established institutions like our own government and justice system (the United States of America). These ideas seem rather antithetical to those of Gene Roddenberry and yet Gene always wanted to use his stories to challenge us to be better. Watching the original Star Trek series you’ll see loads of allegory about 1960’s America, race and war. JJ Abrams rebooted the movie arm of the franchise almost a decade ago and many would say he strayed too far outside the lanes (especially with Star Trek Into Darkness) with the grittiness and distrust. Would “Disco” follow suit or try to course correct a bit by attempting to be relevant while still optimistic? The answer is complicated.

The storyline of Discovery centers on Michael Burnham, a female first officer on the USS Shenzhou. They are drawn into a conflict with the Klingons and Burnham becomes convinced that they must fire first and display their strength to these warrior aliens. Her captain, Phillipa Georgiou, disagrees. Burnham is so convinced of her position that she commits mutiny in order to fire on the Klingons. In the end, Georgiou is killed by the Klingons and Burnham is court martial-ed and sent to prison. It’s a compelling start to the story.

We finally meet the USS Discovery and Captain Lorca, a brooding captain who is hellbent on winning this new war with the Klingons. He intercepts Burnham’s shuttle on its way to prison and takes her on as a sort of consultant for some reason. And we finally have our main crew set for this season. From there, things diverge and get complicated.

The writers of Discovery have so many interesting ideas for stories and basically decide to use all of them in these 15 episodes. We’ve got the Klingon war, we’ve got dangerous new technology that comes with a human cost, we’ve got Harry Mudd, we’ve got Klingon double agents and PTSD, we’ve got secret Starfleet warmongering and we’ve even got Mirror Universe shenanigans. Some of these things work better than others, but as the season winds down it all gets tangled and rushed to conclusion. They probably would have been better off trying to stay a bit more focused than to try all these different scenarios out at the same time.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some really great things in the first season. Michael Burnham is a great character. The one thing that worked really well in the season finale was closing her loop. In the end, she stands up against genocidal tactics to beat the Klingons in the war, displaying the growth she’s experienced this season. And they even wrote in some backstory about her birth-parents being murdered by Klingons while she hid in a cupboard as a child. And there was that bit about how she fell in love with a guy who turned out to be a Klingon in disguise… sort of. So her standing up to authority by advocating for a more peaceful resolution to the war with the Klingons was an on-the-nose depiction of her growth as a character.

Captain Lorca was also a very nuanced and interesting character and the reveal that he was from the Mirror Universe was pretty cool (even though a lot of people figured it out ahead of time). The Mirror stuff was definitely some of the strongest of the season and the visuals were great. I would be interested to see if we got more Lorca in Season 2, because although he perished we didn’t see his Prime Universe counterpart at all.

I also really, really liked Saru as a character. We saw lots of captains and acting-captains, but he was the best of the bunch, especially towards the end of the season. He showed firm resolve and level-headed thinking that most other characters really struggled with. Not sure why he wasn’t going to be promoted to captain in the final episode.

Of course we have to talk about Stamets, the scientist who piloted the spore drive. Much digital ink was spilled about how great it is to have a gay character and a gay couple (with Dr. Culber). And then they had Dr. Culber get killed, triggering a backlash that was swift and incredulous. I was more concerned about how Stamets basically disappeared for the final couple of episodes as his arc wrapped up early. Lots of people got killed in this season so it’s not that unfair that one of them was Dr. Culber. It’s a standard trope in TV to make the audience grow to love a character only to kill him/her off to trigger that emotional response.

Shazad Latif did a great job as Ash Tyler / Voq. His tortured character really tore up the screen a few times during the season and the way he performed the Klingon dialog was the best I’ve ever seen in the franchise. The conclusion of his arc was pretty lame though. It just doesn’t seem plausible that after everything he would go off with his Klingon torturer to attempt to unite the Klingon empire under her leadership. The writers probably weren’t quite sure what ending would make sense for him, so the threw this one against the wall. Meh.

Oh, and Tilly. Tilly was great. A sharp, funny and grounded character that was completely new to the Trek template! She had some great one-liners and her infectious smile and wide eyes were a great balance to Burnham’s constant angst.


The big theme throughout the season was “identity”. So many characters had dual identities either within themselves or thrust upon them or they came face-to-face with an inverse version of themselves.

Burnham is, like her foster brother Spock, split between her human nature and her Vulcan upbringing. She consults her Vulcan foster-father Sarek a few times throughout the season and is told to seek the logical solution to her problems. She also reckons with the fact that she’s naturally rather hot-headed and compulsive, which immediately gets her into trouble.

The Mirror Universe mini-arc gives plenty of opportunity to show us the evil twin (or good twin) versions of the characters and asks us to grapple with the idea that the propensity for evil is within everyone. Some people are able to operate very well in the hostile Terran Empire, so what does that say about them? It says that our heroes are really only a few decisions away from being villains. Captain Lorca, it’s revealed, has been living a double life ever since he and his Mirror version were swapped a few years back. He is able to function well in the Prime Universe because the Prime Universe is at war, something he’s all too familiar with. So the idea that war allows evil men to thrive when they otherwise probably wouldn’t is an interesting one.

And then there’s Tyler, who is literally inhabited by the person of Voq. When Voq finally begins to surface and torment Tyler, a real identity crisis happens. It breaks up all the relationships he had forged once he reached the Discovery from captivity – especially his romance with Burnham. In the end, he basically makes peace with the fact that he’s going to be both Tyler and Voq forever because Voq’s memories are going to be a permanent part of him.

In the end, Burnham’s speech puts a cap on the theme as she points out that “we are Starfleet” and that means something. They will not give reign to the base compulsions that rule the Klingon ideology and are latent in their own hearts and minds. They will not “drop the bomb” on Kronos. But the alternative they’re willing to allow is to install a leader who will unite the Klingon empire and potentially cause more problems for the Federation down the road. It’s a questionable decision, sure, but the alternative is catastrophic violence that that’s not an option. I wish they’d given more time to explore these wartime decisions as they are very interesting to consider and fit well with the big question of identity that faces nations today. Who are we? What are we willing to do to preserve our way of life? Is war always necessary to maintain peace? Etc. These are questions that are given some airtime in another great Trek series: Deep Space Nine.


So yes, I think the show suffered from too much story. Still, it brought Trek back to the small screen and did a pretty bang-up job of it all things considered. The show has been renewed for a 2nd season, so hopefully some stability behind the scenes goes a long way to settling things down a bit and making a good show with the remaining cast members. They kept plenty of the Trek DNA, but twisted it a bit to fit with the 21st century way of doing narrative television. Hopefully they come back with a more cohesive idea for the season.

And I know we don’t NEED so much fan service, but the final scene was really, really spectacular.

 

SPORTS | Stray Observations from Super Bowl 52

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My hometown of Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl this year and the city was buzzing all week. Sunday was finally the big day. Here are some stray observations about the event which featured a football game between the Patriots and Eagles along with some other stuff.

The Game

My Vikings got steamrolled by the Eagles in the NFC Championship game. No one expected that to happen, especially because the Eagles were playing with their backup QB after MVP candidate Carson Wentz tore his ACL. But Nick Foles sliced and diced the Minnesota defense, proving that head coach Doug Pederson was a QB whisperer and the Eagles were a good team. But could they be expected to hang with the Dynasty Patriots? I thought so and picked them to win the game with something like a 24-21 score. I was half right.

The game turned into the biggest offensive showing the NFL has EVER had and the Eagles walked away with a victory. Foles was the game’s MVP and Brady and the Patriots never had control of the game at any point (even when they led in the 4th quarter).

The Pats tried this trick play where Brady catches a pass, but Brady couldn’t haul in Amendola’s pass.

What’s crazy is that they Pats ran this play against the Eagles back in 2015, only the 38 year old Brady held on back then.

Then, if you needed any more proof that Coach Pederson is a madman, the Eagles tried a version of the same play near the goal line and Foles converted for a TD!

If anyone told you early in the season that Nick Foles would catch a TD in the Super Bowl, you’d have them committed. But he caught 1, threw 3 and won MVP. Insane.

The Patriots pride themselves on finding the other teams strength and taking it away from them, essentially making them play left handed. But the Eagles just are left handed by nature. They were the Pats worst nightmare matchup. They fast and loose, going for it on 4th down and just always finding a way to convert. It killed the Pats defense all night. So even though Brady kept putting points on the board, the defense couldn’t stop Foles and company at all.

Which makes you really wonder about why Bill Belichick never used Malcolm Butler on defense. Butler played on special teams, but his spot on the defense was gone. No explanations were given. It seems like either he was sick earlier this week and Belichick worried he wasn’t healthy or he did something to tick off Belichick and that was that. Either way, many are pointing to that decision as part of the reason the Pats lost the game.

It could also be that the Pats were missing one of their best offensive skill players because he was concussed in the 2nd quarter on a very hard (but legal) hit:

But the Pats also had some other uncharacteristic miscues, like some special teams errors that came back to haunt them later. A missed FG here and a questionable reverse attempt on the final kickoff of the game late in the fourth quarter that set them up for a very long field on their final drive.

The Pats had a chance late to take control of the game and that’s when the Eagles line finally got to Brady and made the biggest play of their night.

Even so, when Tom Brady got the ball again while down 8 with under 2 minutes to go, we all thought this game was headed for overtime. That’s what Brady does – works miracles in the 4th quarter. But his Hail Mary pass failed to connect and the game was over.

It’s absolutely insane to think that that Patriots had 613 yards of offense (most ever by a Super Bowl team), 505 passing yards from Brady (most in playoff history), never punted … and still lost the game. To a backup QB. Brady is now 5-3 in Super Bowls.

Does this mean the Patriots Dynasty is over too? With some turnover coming on the coaching staff, Brady’s age and some reported internal organizational strife, it could be.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have some decisions to make too. Their backup QB just won the Super Bowl MVP award. Do they keep him? Probably. As the backup? Probably. Or trade him? Likely. It will be interesting to see how they work the situation.

All in all, it was a great game! And when the Vikings aren’t playing in it, that’s about all I can ask for.

The Halftime Show

I’ll lump the National Anthem in here too. I don’t like Pink (and I refuse to spell it with a !) and when she came on screen and then pulled gum out of her mouth, I was not pleased. Then she sang an okay version of the anthem with (mercifully) not much flair. Her final note was a little sour. Later I learned that she’d been struggling with the flu all week and that was a cough drop she spit out before the song. As a singer, I’ve totally been there and it stinks. I’m giving Pink some grace on this one. There’s no good time to get the flu as a singer, but before singing on the biggest stage – ouch.

Okay, Justin Timberlake. Pretty pedestrian performance. Literally, he was walking and dancing through a Family Circus map of US Bank Stadium while singing some of his forgettable songs. That’s it. No big set pieces or anything. I think the Super Bowl could have used a little more spectacle.

And something just wasn’t right about the vocal mix. It sounded muddy to the point where I couldn’t understand what he was singing. Or maybe his lyrics are so processed and fast that no one could. I know US Bank Stadium is not the best venue for music, but the P.A. feed to TV should have been nice and clear and it wasn’t.

I really liked the University of Minnesota marching band being included. They were great.

And I totally want one of those mic stands for no good reason.

It was fully expected that he would play a Prince song. Every big act who swings through Minneapolis is seemingly required to cover our hometown hero. JT swore he wouldn’t do a hologram duet, but he ended up with a projection of Prince on a sheet anyway. Technically not a hologram, sure….

And this was cool – but totally a CGI insert.

My favorite was the kid in the crowd when JT went up there to sing. He took a selfie and then immediately got bored with what was happening and started checking his notifications or something.

Yep, cell phones and selfies were pretty much the biggest stars of the halftime show, from JT telling people to put their phones up to his final line of the show “Super Bowl selfies!”

Meh.

The Commercials

David Harbour in the Tide ads won the night in our house. His hilarious “No, Tide ad” was great. And the subversive nature of suggesting that all ads featuring clean clothes are secret Tide ads was brilliant. They even crossed the Proctor and Gamble streams a bit and got the Old Spice guy into one.

The Giants had a bad year and their division rival played against their recent Super Bowl opponent in the big game. That didn’t stop the team from putting out a series of very funny commercials for the NFL.

Another corporate behemoth crossed brands a bit when Doritos and Mountain Dew got into a rap battle with Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman. Picking the right spokespeople can make or break and ad and they knocked this one out of the park.

What I really liked were the movie trailers! Oh, and even TV had trailers now because it’s 2018! The coolest drop was the trailer for The Cloverfield Paradox, a new Clover-verse movie that Netflix scooped up when Paramount got gun shy. Netflix dropped the trailer and released the movie when the game ended. Amazing. This is truly the future. I will watch this movie.

The much-anticipated first look at the Han Solo movie also premiered during the game. There’s a LOT of speculation being thrown around about the quality of this movie and the trailer at least makes it look great. We’ll see if the cast lives up to the hype.

Seriously, some of that looks so, so cool.

The first trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was sort of cool I suppose. This trailer is way, way better.

I’ve always loved the Mission: Impossible franchise and it’s increasingly crazy stunts and action set pieces. Fallout seems to keep the tradition of maiming Tom Cruise going for another day. This will be a fun film.

Logic dictated that a new Avengers: Infinity War spot should be included in the Super Bowl. And yeah, they put one out, but it didn’t have quite the wow-factor that some of these other trailers did. And it probably didn’t have to have it. We’re all going to see this movie.

HBO must believe in Westworld and they probably have to since Game of Thrones is ending next year. They splurged and aired a trailer for season 2 of the messy and weird sci-phi-losophy show during the big game. I’m in.

Hulu is trying to get into the big streaming party by putting out some quality original shows. They decided to generate hype for their mysterious show that’s some kind of mash-up of Stephen King stories. No one is really sure what this show is going to be, but Stephen King is very hot right now so they’ll definitely get some eyeballs on Castle Rock.

And finally, The Rock is in a new movie. He needs to save people again. He needs to go into a building on fire to do it. Oh, and he’s got a prosthetic leg. A PROSTHETIC LEG PEOPLE!!

SPORTS | This Feels Familiar

After The Minneapolis Miracle, the Vikings seemed to have destiny on their side going into an NFC Championship matchup against Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. There was a palpable feeling that a “home” Super Bowl seemed to be there for the taking. But on Sunday night, the Vikings’ demons emerged and added yet another scar to the franchises legacy and subtracted another year from the lives of the fans. The season may have felt different, but this feels all too familiar.

When I was a camp counselor we would lead youths in team building activities to challenge and grow them. After each activity, we would sit down and help them process what happened using three basic questions called “The What, the So What and the Now What?” Today we’ll do some processing of what happened on Sunday, what it means for the team and what’s next for my beloved Vikings.

WHAT?

By now you know that the Vikings historically great defense got their butts kicked for 60 minutes on Sunday. The stats are astounding compared to the rest of the 2017 season.

The Vikings were uncharacteristically bad across the defensive board, getting manhandled in the run game and getting continuously torched by Nick Foles and his receivers in the passing game. Everyone from Harrison Smith to Terrance Newman played poorly. Xavier Rhodes was frustrated enough to get into shoving matches late in the game when the score was already out of hand.

It seemed like the defensive scheme from Coach Zimmer was ineffective from the jump. The Eagles spread out the defense with wide sets and picked on the nickle back a bunch in the early going. As the game went on, they didn’t need to pick on any one specific player as the entire defense got shell shocked. Instead of dialing up his signature exotic blitzes in an attempt to rattle Foles, Zimmer elected to mostly let his front 4 work on getting pressure by themselves – which didn’t yield any results. Credit the Eagles O-line for their ability to keep Foles upright long enough to find his open men downfield. Foles looked like a pro-bowler out there. Of all the things that went wrong on Sunday, the implosion of the best defense in the league was the most shocking to witness.

Then again, the Vikings seem to make a habit of letting their statistical strength disappear in the biggest games. The 1998 offense couldn’t score enough in their NFC championship game and Gary Anderson’s 100% success rate also failed. In 2000, the offense was stellar again, but scored 0 against the Giants in their NFC Championship game. And in 2009, Brett Favre’s incredible regular season and Adrian Peterson’s unstoppable running got the team to the NFC Championship game before an INT and a fumble contributed to the shocking loss.

The 2017 offense wasn’t necessarily the strength of the team, but they were able to limit turnovers and use consistent WR play and solid running to capitalize on the defense’s high level of play. On their first drive, the Vikings looked like they were picking up right where they left off – with a nice drive and a TD to Rudolph. On their next drive however, everything changed.

Keenum’s pick six was so unexpected and rough that it threw the entire team into chaos. The Eagles scored the Blount TD on their next drive and suddenly it was 14-7 Eagles and they never looked back. Foles got aggressive, Keenum got tight and the position players all got nervous. And that’s when the Philly crowd started to become a real factor, whipping themselves into a frenzy and making things even more difficult for the Vikings.

As the game continued to get out of hand, the Vikings had no answers and no adjustments could be made to stop the bleeding. It was another Minneapolis Meltdown. The Eagles will play the Patriots in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis.

Gross.

SO WHAT?

So what does this all mean? For one thing, it means that the Vikings played their Super Bowl game a few weeks early when they beat the Saints in Minneapolis in miracle fashion. That game took something out of the Vikings and exhausted their supply of fight, it would seem. The coaching staff said they worked very hard to banish the euphoric memories of that game from their players’ minds to get them back to task on the Eagles. Still, I think the Vikings looked past the Eagles a bit by thinking that Nick Foles wasn’t going to beat them and they were headed to the Super Bowl. When Foles got off to a good start and the offense turned it over, no one was prepared for that. That’s on the coaches and also on the player leaders. When you get punched in the mouth, you’re supposed to shake it off and hit back harder. The Vikings just didn’t do that.

It means that Case Keenum is good, but he’s not great. In spite of an almost fairy tale season for Keenum, he showed that he’s not a franchise quarterback yet. Some of his throws were ill-advised and he should have been able to feel the pressure on the strip sack play. Of course some of the blame falls on the O-line for not being able to stop the pass rush of the Eagles. And injuries to the line were also a factor. But Keenum spent his capital against the Saints and went into some debt against the Eagles, raising questions about his future role with this team.

It means that the defense finally got solved a bit, probably by Drew Brees and Sean Payton. When the defense let the Saints back in the game in the Divisional Round, we should have known that something was afoot. We all attributed the comeback to Brees and his Hall of Fame talent, but the truth was there were chinks in the armor of the defense that the Saints found and exploited. The Eagles just watched the tapes and put their own spin on the blueprint. Zimmer will need to spend the next few months figuring out how that happened and how he can prevent it from ever happening again.

And it means that lots of changes are coming…

NOW WHAT?

The Vikings now set their sights a 2018 season that will look vastly different from 2017. For one thing, the offensive coordinator who used Case Keenum to get to the NFC Championship game, Pat Shurmur, is now the head coach of the New York Giants. His ability to pivot when Bradford went down before week 2 AND when Dalvin Cook when down in week 4 got all the teams interested in his acumen. So the Vikings are in the market for a new coordinator and are reportedly considering their long-time QB coach Kevin Stefanski along with outside candidates like Darrell Bevell (who coached here under Brad Childress).

Whoever the new coordinator is will also have to work with Coach Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman to decide who their QB will be in 2018. This is a big one. This year the Vikings seemed to have 3 QBs who could potentially start: Bradford, Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater. All 3 of these guys are now free agents. The Vikings need to decide if any of them are worth investing in and whether they should consider attempting to sign one of the bigger veteran names like Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins or even inquiring about trading for Alex Smith (whose time in KC may be up). It’s a real conundrum and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. With a defense that was otherworldly for most of the year and young talent on offense, a good QB could be the thing that gets them to the Super Bowl.

My sense is that the Vikings will have conversations with Keenum about returning, but not at the salary hit that he probably thinks he’s earned. Bradford is likely gone – who wants to deal with his injury history at this point? I could also see them being open to bringing Teddy back as a backup with incentives if he’s pressed into the starting role at some point. The Bridgewater comeback story is just too warmhearted to throw away.

But maybe Zimmer and Spielman realize that the window for the Super Bowl isn’t going to be open very long before these defensive stars need to be payed big, big money. Maybe they let all 3 of these guys walk, make a play for Kirk Cousins, keep Kyle Sloter in the organization (the upside practice squad guy they paid good money for) and draft a QB. Those moves would signal an “all in” for next year whereas retaining 2/3 of this years QB room would tell us they believe small changes are all that are needed (which I’m not convinced of).

The rest of the open questions surround the two lines. The offensive line was much improved this year, but depth was clearly an issue. Many lineman were asked to play out of position to cover the loss of another starter and that had very diminishing returns. On the defensive side, Everson Griffin played hurt for the second half of the season and had trouble producing. On the other side, Danielle Hunter didn’t make his presence felt as much as he should have. The schemes and personnel should be evaluated afresh because they NEED to have more pressure than they were getting in these last two games. They got the opposing quarterbacks very well when they were at home and they did very poorly on the road.

Oh, and we need to get better at the nickle back position. Mackenzie Alexander is decent, but was targeted far too many times because he’s been a weak spot compared to Rhodes and Waynes. I’m assuming Terrance Newman will hang it up (along with Brian Robison), so there’s room to add some fresh legs with talent for underneath coverage. And even though Andrew Sendejo was one of the most improved players this year (per Zimmer himself), there will always be talk of finding a new safety to compliment Harrison Smith (who some call the best player in the NFL).

At its core, this team is still young. Unlike the 2009 squad which featured some “last ride” type players, this team is poised to keep winning for a few more years. In fact, this will probably be the off season that Spielman will need to offer some contract extensions to these guys to keep them in the fold for future Super Bowl shots. It’s definitely going to be an intriguing off season.

As Mike Zimmer said on the radio this week:

“We keep knockin’ on the door, at some point we’re gonna kick that son of a b*tch down.” – Coach Mike Zimmer

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Thanks for a great season, Vikes. I’m mad it ended the way it did, but I’m not giving up. We didn’t make it to the top of the mountain this year, but in the end every team is back at the bottom putting a new plan together. Even the team that wins it all is back at the bottom, they’re just the team that got to walk down under their own power. One of these years, we’re gonna kick that door down and the 2017 season’s failings (joined by the myriad of historical failings) will only make that success sweeter.

I like how Brian Robison put it into perspective:

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Been trying to gather my thoughts and emotions to say what I need to say….. Well this has been one great ride this year. It still hurts very much so and it’s hard to talk about or even think about how close we were. Even though we weren’t able to accomplish our final goal there are so many good things that created memories for a lifetime this season. Number 1, I want to thank God for the opportunities, the people and the gift of eternal life that I have. Number 2, I want to thank my family, friends, and everyone else who has supported me so graciously. •••2a••• thank you to the fishing world for showing such amazing support throughout this season Number 3, I want to thank the @vikings organization for putting together such an amazing Team and the opportunity to be here for it. Thank you to my teammates for putting up with me and being an extension of my family! I’d go into “battle” with you anyway! Number 4, I want to thank the Viking fans for being in full force this year and showing us so much support. I’m sorry we didn’t get it done for y’all this year as you deserve to be called champions. Last and definitely not least, I want to thank my wife and kids. You make it easy to go fight everyday for me to go out and strive for more. Y’all are my why and my everything for being who I am and doing what I do. I love y’all No one knows what the future holds, but one thing I know is I’ll cherish this season not only for the wins and losses, but for the men and women I shared it with. #nfl #minnesota #vikings #football #family #reelemin

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SKOL

SPORTS | This Feels Different

In 2014, I made a rather ill-advised prediction: that one of Minnesota’s four major men’s sports teams would win a championship within the next 4 years. Since then we’ve seen the Minnesota Lynx win some WNBA championships and become a real dynasty (appearing in the finals 6 times and winning 4 championships since 2011!), but there had been little movement for the Vikings, Timberwolves, Twins and Wild.

But ladies and gentlemen,

“I come back to you now … at the turn of the tide.”

Yes, the past year has featured some very exciting developments for the big four Minnesota teams. With time winding down for my prediction to come true, how are we looking? Let’s take a quick run around the Minnesota sports landscape for some updates.

Minnesota Wild

For a while it looked like the Wild were our best hope for a championship. The “Skate-riots” (a play on Patriots) were a budding NHL super team that would surely deliver some deep playoff runs and maybe even an appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. Well, the hype-train got switched to a much slower track and the buzz surrounding this team has turned into a murmur at best. They’re in the midst of a middling season again now and it would seem that our hopes for a Cup are not going to be realized this year without a significant turnaround. And that’s the extent of my attention on this team.

Minnesota Twins

Going into the 2017 season, a rebuild was underway. The Twins got some new front office voices and shopped some of their talent while betting on the futures of some great young players. It was the right thing to do after a disastrous 2016 season. Then something peculiar happened – this iteration of the Twins turned out to be good! Despite some lingering pitching trouble, the young players like Byron Buxton ascended to incredible heights and veterans bounced back from rough 2016 seasons. They even made it to the Wild Card play-in game, where they lost to the Yankees. Still, it was a completely unexpected success story of a season, giving hope that the retooled front office had a plan that would work rather quickly. Was the season a blip on the radar or an actual first step towards relevance? Next season will help answer that question. Could the Twins win it all in 2018? The odds are definitely not in their favor, but the future is a lot brighter than it was a year ago.

Minnesota Timberwolves

I wrote last year about the furious, win-now moves that Tom Thibodeau enacted in the off season. Bringing in a super star like Jimmy Butler and some grizzled veterans like Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford signaled that Thibs wasn’t ready to concede the next few years to the Warriors and Cavs. He thought his young guys just needed some more positive peer pressure to buy into his master system. So far, the season has proved that the plan can work at least in the short term. The Wolves are sitting in the 4th spot in the tough Western Conference and it seems almost assured that their long, long playoff drought will finally end this season. That in and of itself is a huge success for this franchise. But Thibs certainly won’t be satisfied with a playoff berth and a first round exit. He believes that this team can contend for a title and soon.

Based on the season so far, it’s clear that they are still a work in progress. They’ve dropped games to lowly opponents from time to time and streaky shooting and foul trouble have hampered Wiggins and Towns. Injuries have also be a bit of a problem in this young season. Still, as the team gradually begins to see Butler as their centerpiece, they will only get better. I see them reaching the playoffs (for the first time in TWELVE YEARS!) as a 4 or 5 seed and winning their first round series. From there, the rest of the West might be too tough to break through without an injury on the other side. I’m not predicting a Finals appearance this year, but it’s certainly on the table for 2-3 seasons from now.

Which brings me to the actual best hope for nailing my prediction by the end of 2018:

Minnesota Vikings

As a Vikings fan, I’m always ready for the other shoe to drop. This franchise, for whatever reason, has a way of dangling some hope out there and then knocking the wind out of you with a lead pipe to the gut when you finally decide to reach out for it. But this season feels different.

The team opened the season with a masterful win over the Saints led by Sam Bradford, the player we acquired at great cost last season after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic, non-contact knee injury in training camp. Bradford looked ready to pick up where he left off last year with pinpoint accuracy in his passes and no mistakes. Plus, rookie running back Dalvin Cook carved up the Saints and looked like a rookie of the year candidate. But it didn’t take long for the Vikings to slowly reach for the pipe in their back pocket. Bradford’s knee became a problem and he hit the IR, leaving the team in the care of technically 3rd string QB Case Keenum. Then Dalvin Cook tore his ACL on a non-contact play in a week 4 loss to the Lions at home.

But this season just feels different!

The Vikings didn’t crumble under the weight of these problems like they did last year. Case Keenum put together the best season of his career, doing his best Bradford impression with accurate passes and few mistakes, plus mobility that Bradford only dreams of. The re-tooled offensive line played extremely well and WR Adam Thielen broke out in a big way. And then there’s the defense, which is probably the best unit front-to-back that we’ve ever seen in Minnesota. The Vikings rang up a 13-3 record and earned a first round bye in the playoffs along with the Eagles (who became very vulnerable when star QB Carson Wentz tore his ACL late in the season).

And it just so happens that the Super Bowl is in Minneapolis this year.

Something about this season just feels different!

The Vikings defense is the best in the game, from the line to the safeties. The offense is coolly efficient with a thunder/lightning RB combo, smart and athletic WRs and a QB on a hot streak. The fact that the Super Bowl is in their home stadium is just another incentive to get there and make history.

So I refuse to be the Minnesota sports fan who can’t enjoy the success because he’s bracing himself for a hit to the stomach.

These are not the 1998 Vikings (Gary Anderson missed FG at home against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game). These are not the 2001 Vikings (41-0 loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game). These are not the 2009 Vikings (Favre interception / 12 men penalty against Saints in the NFC Championship Game). These are not the 2015 Vikings (Blair Walsh missed easy FG against the Seahawks at TCF Bank Stadium in the Wild Round).

In the words of Kylo Ren:

These are the 2017 Vikings!

And they just might be headed to Valhalla.

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Top Albums of 2017 – Part 2

EOTY 2017 Albums

10. Elbow | Little Fictions

I wish more people listened to Elbow. Guy Garvey’s voice is so unique and their textures are always very interesting. This album is a great addition to their already great discography.

9. LCD Soundsystem | American Dream

LCD Soundsystem famously broke up back in 2014, but then James Murphy discovered he had more he wanted to say through the band. So they reunited and released a killer album with some more great LCD SS tunes. And it’s 69 minutes long. Yeah, he had more to say alright.

8. Mogwai | Every Country’s Sun

I’ve been a Mogwai fan for awhile and listened to each of their albums as they came out. This one is a great throwback to the hard guitar rock of their early 00’s albums. Plus, it gets a boost because I saw them live this year at First Ave and they were spectacular.

7. St. Vincent | MASSEDUCTION

Annie Clark is back with a bawdy, modern pop album that is clearly her most personal work yet. The songs are complex compositions of excess and simplicity. From a disjointed song about pills to a sad ballad about a burned out friend on Christmas, Clark doesn’t shy away from her demons.

6. Grandaddy | Last Place

Gone for 11 years, Grandaddy reunited this year to release this album. It’s like they never left! This album is a wonderful gem that tackles issues of love lost and moving forward.

5. The XX | I See You

I love The XX and this album might be the culmination of their sound. A crystallization of the dreams of the first two albums. Jamie XX brings his sampling acumen into play and gives the songs a dance edge that really works for them. On Hold is a highlight for me.

4. Hammock | Mysterium

Hammock’s albums always make my lists. This is another lush and beautiful entry in their catalog, inspired by the death of a family friend. This is a requiem and it’s amazing.

3. Sufjan Stevens, et al | Planetarium

A few years in the making, this album is a recorded version of a live show that Sufjan Stevens and friends performed awhile back. It’s a concept album based on the solar system and features lyrics by Sufjan. It’s a little overstuff, but has some really lovely passages. I have given it plenty of spins this year.

2. The Clientele | Music for the Age of Miracles

Yet another band returned from hiatus when The Clientele release their first album in 7 years. They picked up right where they left off with beautiful, hushed songs of wonder and an impressionistic view of the world. I’m so glad they are back.

1. Slowdive | Slowdive

 

The mother of all comebacks! Slowdive released their first album since 1995’s Pygmalion this year and it might just be their best album ever. The songs are perfect, the voices are amazing and the shoegaze sound is completely intact. I fell in love with this album on the very first listen and went back to it many times this year. Long live Slowdive!

Top Albums of 2017 – Part 1

EOTY 2017 Albums

25. Bjork | Utopia

Bjork is back! This is a romantic, almost giddy album of “being in love” songs. And it’s pretty great.

24. Phoenix | Ti Amo

Phoenix makes really great dancey album and this latest one doesn’t fail in that respect either. A great collection of quick hitting tunes clocking in at a brisk 36 minutes.

23. Beck | Colors

My favorite Beck albums are Sea Change and Morning Phase, the sad ones. So this album is good, not great in my mind. I love, love the song Dreams. The rest is just not my cup of tea.

22. Spoon | Hot Thoughts

It’s been three years since Spoon’s last album, so it’s pretty great to have another quality release from these guys. They just have a great style and attitude to their music.

21. Iron & Wine | Beast Epic

Sam Beam got back to what made Iron & Wine great right out of the gate: beautiful acoustic songs on a small scale. It’s a great little album.

20. The National | Sleep Well Beast

This is a great guitar album, which is becoming a rarity these days. Lots to love on the latest from Matt Berninger and company.

19. Feist | Pleasure

Feist has been on a 6 year hiatus of sorts, so when this album was announced I was really happy that she was recording again. It’s a sad album that feels very personal.

18. Wolf Alice | Visions of a Life

I loved Wolf Alice’s first album. Here they get a little more experimental, eschewing a cohesive album style in favor of trying some new sounds. Dreampop, punk and 80’s pop are all here. Not everything works, but I love Don’t Delete the Kisses so much.

17. Stars | There is No Love in Fluorescent Light

Stars is such a great band and this is probably their best album in the last 6 years. It’s danceable and happy with a ting of sadness underneath, which is pretty much the band’s calling card.

16. The New Pornographers | Whiteout Conditions

The NP are back with their best album in years! Great harmonies, prickly lyrics and fun arrangements featuring synths and hooks. Carl Newman and Neko Case are awesome.

15. Mew | Visuals

For some reason I keep expecting Mew to break up since they’ve undergone some personnel changes in the last few years. But Visuals shows that they still have some edge and some new ideas.

14. Derek Webb | Fingers Crossed

I need to write up some long-form thoughts on this release. It’s musically gorgeous and lyrically heartbreaking. Derek loves writing riddles and letting people untangle them. Here, he pulls no punches as he articulates his loss of faith and love. Beautiful art out of shocking pain.

13. Slow Meadow | Costero

It’s another beautiful release from Slow Meadow, full of ambient keys and strings that are tilted towards classical music. I have spun this many times while walking or reading.

12. Broken Social Scene | Hug of Thunder

How about a comeback from a 7 year hiatus with maybe your best album ever? That’s what BSS just did. Hug of Thunder is a wonderful group effort that is equal parts political record and friendly jam session.

11. Julien Baker | Turn Out the Lights

Julien Baker is turning into a pretty great voice in the music scene. Her Elliott Smith-style approach is so lovely and her personal, emotive lyrics are sung with such passion you can’t help but start to feel her feelings with her.