SPORTS | The New Wolves Order is Officially Here

NBA Draft Night 2017 didn’t take long to get crazy. There had already been a trade atop the draft with the 76ers and Celtics swapping top three picks. All week there were rumblings that more moves were coming and that top shelf talent like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s Paul George would be changing jerseys. Then a major chip fell:

My Wolves splashed! As far back as last year’s draft there were rumors that Chicago and Minnesota were close to pulling the trigger on a trade like this. It took a full year, but it finally came to pass. Coach Thibs stole one of his former players from the Bulls and handed over some building blocks in a “win now” move. And the NBA is sent spinning again.

The Wolves were streaky last year, but showed definite signs of improvement. Drafting Kris Dunn threw the future of Ricky Rubio into question, but Rubio had one of his best seasons ever. Meanwhile, Dunn struggled mightily in his limited minutes (while 3rd PG Tyus Jones showed some real flash at times). Wiggins and Towns were solid all year and Lavine was showing some breakout potential before he tore his ACL. What the team was really missing was a veteran scorer who could also provide some legit defensive play. Thibs seemed convinced that Jimmy Butler was that missing piece, but surely the Bulls would demand a king’s ransom for him, right? It was always somewhat assumed that Wiggins plus parts was the asking price. Still, when the trade was finally announced, it was the 7 pick/Lavine/Dunn for Butler. No Wiggins! I was a little worried as that deal started popping up on Twitter. But then it came out that the Bulls’ 16th pick was also part of the deal and everything changed. This was a lopsided deal in favor of the Wolves.

Here’s the thing about the NBA in 2017: the Golden State Warrior exist. In the ’14-’15 season, they won it all. In the ’15-’16 season, the Warriors posted a best-ever 73-9 regular season record, but ultimately collapsed in the Finals to LeBron James and the Cavs. After that failure, they added Kevin Durant – one of the top 3 players in the NBA – and gave up very little to get him. From that moment, it was almost assumed they would win the title in ’16-’17 – and they did, losing only 1 playoff game in the process.

All of that led up to this off season where teams needed to decide how they were going to compete with one of the most dominant NBA teams ever. How do you beat a super team? With another super team? The Cavs are clearly the next best team, having three extremely good players in James/Irving/Love, but they just got beat. So do they add another all star? Actually, they started by firing their GM. Not a good look. How about the Celtics? They were angling for Jimmy Butler, but lost out. Will they add a big chip like Paul George? The Spurs? Will they move Lamarcus Aldridge and try to add a piece? That’s not really their style, is it? Who else even has a prayer?

What’s really fascinating to me is how teams decide if they should try to win now against teams like the Warriors and Cavs or if they should quietly build a young core and time it to explode as the Warriors and Cavs are aging out. The problem is that some teams might feel like their young core could compete now with a little help and then they might mortgage part of their future to take their shot now against an almost unbeatable superteam. The question boils down to this: how much do you believe in your young stars? For Coach Thibs – he believes.

By all accounts, as the dust settles a bit, the Wolves should be a near-lock to end their playoff drought next season (the longest active playoff drought in the league). That alone is exciting. But Coach Thibs wouldn’t have made this deal if he didn’t think this group could actually challenge in the West at some point in the next few years. He’s cutting the fuse on this bomb and accelerating the timetable. It’s a bold move, but when you’re giving up the 7th draft pick in a year when there are 6 players considered sure things plus an underwhelming PG and an injured sparkplug guard – you don’t hesitate.

I’ll surely miss Zach Lavine. He was a great player and a great guy. I’ll be rooting for him to splash in Chicago. That’s the one bittersweet part of this deal for me.

But I’m excited about the future of the Timberwolves with Butler on board along with Towns and Wiggins! It’s been a long road since Garnett/Spreewell/Casell lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals in 2004. We’ve suffered through a LOT of tough times.  We’ve watched Al Jefferson and Kevin Love move through as our franchise stars without reaching the playoffs. We’ve endured David Kahn’s incompetence (which cost us Steph Curry). We’ve celebrated Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders returning to the franchise and then mourned the Flip’s death and seen KG retire in a huff. Has it all been building to this moment?

I sure hope so. I can’t wait for next season!

 

ALBUM REVIEW | Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (50 Anniversary Remix – Deluxe Version)

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Ask any music fan worth his salt what the best album of all time is and chances are they would at least make mention of The Beatles’ seminal record: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though it’s hard to pick the one Beatles record that stands above the rest, there’s clearly something special about hearing the band really coming into their own on this album. It’s a concept album (sort of), it stretches the creativity of the band and it showcases their musicality like never before. Now, on the album’s 50th birthday, a new remix edition has been released. Is it just a standard attempt to cash in on the anniversary or is this actually a worthwhile purchase? I’m happy to tell you that this new release is the new standard for listening to the album.

What is remixing anyway? Usually, a producer takes the original stems of the songs on an album (if they’re available), tweaks a few things to give it his or her own signature flavor and bounces it back out again. Remastering is taking the finished recordings and tweaking those without really working on individual tracks. The conversation that Beatles audiophiles often have centers around the mono versus stereo mixes. In the 60’s, mono was the preferred mix because most people didn’t have stereo capability at home. The Beatles focused their efforts on mono mixes for the most part (and definitely on Sgt Pepper). A stereo mix existed, but it was thought of as the weaker mix and not truly Beatles-approved. Even a remastered stereo version from recent years is not held in as high a regard as the original mono version. Enter Giles Martin.

Giles Martin is the son of George Martin, the original producer of almost every Beatles track you’ve ever heard. George Martin was a phenomenal musical mind and is often thought of as “the fifth Beatle” owing to his stellar contributions to the sound of the band — the orchestral elements in particular. When George recorded the Beatles, he was limited to the technology of the day, which was four track recording. He could only record 4 things at a time onto a tape. If more tracks were needed (and on this album, many more were needed), he would have to bounced the original four tracks into one and then record three more against that and then repeat the process. With each track bounced, a little fidelity is lost. Plus, if anyone wanted to do a proper remix, they had to actually locate the original, individual tape takes to split out all the stems. No one had ever been able to locate those tapes, until Giles did. Giles took all the original tracks and used those to produce a real, thoughtfully mixed stereo version of Sgt Pepper. Clearly incredible effort went into this project.

So how does it sound? Is there a difference? You better believe it. Listening to this version with headphones is like being in the room as the band is recording. It’s amazing. The sound is just so, so clear. The vocals are centered and crisp. The guitars are panned appropriately and sound so live. But the real difference is in the drums and bass. Giles boosted Ringo’s drums in ways that simply weren’t possible in 1967. In fact, since vinyl was the medium of the day, drums couldn’t be pushed to far up in the mix because heavy hits would actually cause the needle to bounce out of the groove on the record! Now the drums are mixed right into the songs and it’s a joy. The bass, likewise, gets a bump and the hidden notes are suddenly revealed. I’ve heard this record many, many times, but listening to it like this was a completely new experience.

Of course, the album comes in a deluxe version that also includes a bunch of bonus content. You get some other studio takes of various songs and even some instrumental tracks from the sessions. They probably aren’t for everyone, but I really appreciated them. One real treat was the orchestral instruments track from “She’s Leaving Home”. Gorgeous. And you can hear George Martin counting the players in.

So I’d highly encourage you to pick up or stream this new mix of Sgt. Pepper! You’ll be happy you did.

And if you want to dissect it a little more, there’s a great Beatles podcast called “Screw it, we’re just gonna talk about the Beatles” that took a deep-dive into the differences. It’s pretty great.

Libsyn Link:

 

Apple Podcast Link:

MOVIE REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Remember back in 2014 when Marvel was set to release the first Guardians of the Galaxy film? Back then, it was seen as their biggest risk to date. A sort of “heat check” to see if their blockbuster franchise had grown big enough that audiences basically went to see the films regardless of the characters they centered on. Sure, Guardians was an established comic book property, but most of the general movie-going public had no idea who Star Lord, Groot and Rocket Raccoon were. Still, guided by the vision of James Gunn, the movie became one of the most loved films in the canon (and one of my personal favorites). It was a wild comedic sci-fi romp that pumped the 70’s music and leaned on the likability of the characters and their wise-cracking dialog. It was fantastic. Everyone knew there would be a sequel and this time there was a lot less uncertainty about it’s reception. We were all excited to see where the team would go next.

Spoilers follow! Come back after you’ve seen the film!


The great thing about sequels is that you don’t need to spend so much of the film getting to know the characters – you can jump right into the action and get moving with the plot. Here, we begin with a flashback to the 70’s and a budding romance. The first film spent some time exploring the origins of the hero Peter Quill – a human who was taken from Earth by space pirates as a young boy moments after  his mother died of cancer. He never knew his dad, but the pirates (led by Yondu) raised him aboard their ship. In volume 2, Quill will finally meet his father and learn about himself. In fact, his father and mother are the young couple in our opening prologue. Quill’s father is a celestial alien. A god-like being named Ego.

After a crazy opening battle and chase scene, Ego finally finds Peter and announces his identity as his father. He invites Quill to come to his own, personal planet to learn who he really is. Ego explains his own origin and then Peter’s, telling him that his destiny to to join him on this world as a celestial. You see, Peter has some of the same powers as Ego to create and control matter. But it’s what Ego what’s Peter to use those powers for that turns everything into chaos.

Ego, as it turns out, is a mad god-like being intent on bulldozing the galaxy to expand himself into everything. He always needed a partner to accomplish this goal, so he has been sleeping around the galaxy hoping that he would produce an heir to assist him with his plan. Peter is that heir, but he and his friends are ready to fight to save the galaxy … again.

In the meantime, there are some B and C plots going on that figure into the overall theme of family and what that means to a person’s identity. Gamora and Nebula are sisters who were raised by an evil alien who forced them to battle each other. When Nebula lost, a part of her was “upgraded” until she was as metal mosaic and angry with her Gamora for always winning. Would these two reconcile or split again? And Rocket is dealing with an inferiority complex he’s had all along and realizing that he and Peter, who often at odds, are very similar. So can they co-exist on the team?

These family issues (and, sure, daddy issues) give the film a personal depth that balances well with the quips and space battles. Daddy issues have become something of an eye-rolling trope in movies, especially sci-fi movies, but the bottom line is that these stories are affecting for audiences because everyone struggles with the underlying themes they bring up. The quintessential plot question of “who am I?” is given a new dimension with the question of “who is my father/mother?”. Star Wars owns the patent on “what if my father is evil?” and many films have played off that question. If my father is a bad guy, does that make me a bad guy? Can I battle my own father if he’s evil? Could I even kill my own father if I had to? And what does it mean that I have part of my evil father inside of me? These are deep questions that create lots of tension for movie characters and their audiences.

And that’s where a side character from the first movie becomes a surprisingly deep, central character to the story in volume 2: Yondu, the pirate who took Peter from Earth and raised him as a pirate. Yondu was a father-figure for Peter for years, but not always for the best. And we see Yondu shunned by his crew and other pirates for violating their code by transporting children at one point. We soon learn that Ego had employed Yondu to retrieve his progeny from across the universe and deliver them to his planet. There, Ego tested the children and killed them when they were unable to match his powers. Yondu lived with the reality of his role in those deaths and went rogue, keeping Peter on his ship and never delivering him as promised. Yondu served as a surrogate father, one that Peter didn’t always appreciate until the very end when Yondu gives his life to save Peter’s. Yondu’s somewhat goofy line was actually full of depth: “Ego may have been your father, but he wasn’t your daddy.”

There’s a profundity to that statement. And Yondu’s Christ-like sacrifice drive home a theological vision of a true father-figure who doesn’t abandon his people to sin and the grave (like our evil father would want), but gives his life to save ours and show himself as our true daddy.

And not only that, Yondu’s sacrifice galvanizes the troubled relationships among the team – the family. At one point, someone says that a good team wouldn’t be constantly yelling at each other, to which they reply that they’re not a team, they’re a family. And the family is brought together and peace is found when they see selfless sacrifice demonstrated for their own benefit. The sisters Gamora and Nebula realize that while they were often pitted against each other, they were sisters all along and that was a blessing. Rocket sees Yondu as a father-figure to himself and Peter and grieves the loss along with his “brother”. It’s beautiful.


So Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, to me, is a smashing success. Maybe not quite on the level of the fantastic first adventure, but definitely a worthy sequel (and that’s a hard thing to accomplish). I’m so glad that James Gunn is locked in for Volume 3 because it’s his vision and guidance that make these films what they are. I can’t wait to see what family theme they will under-gird it with.

And what songs are on the soundtrack.

And what Drax and Groot will do to steal the show.

Top Albums of 2016 – Part 2

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Onward to my top ten favorite albums of the year!

10. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

It sure seemed like Bon Iver was breaking up a couple of years ago. Justin Vernon even said as much at various times. But the truth was that he had another album in him, a very different album. Here, Vernon moves even further away from that cabin in the woods and into a dystopian, electronic future where cryptic lyrics and numerology are scattered around his strained falsetto. I think this album is a grower, but it hasn’t put its roots down too deeply for me yet.

9. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

Still one of the most musically talented indie artists today, Andrew Bird’s albums are master courses in the art of layering and writing. There are many lovely melodies here and his violin prowess never fails to impress. “Capsized” is a great single and “Roma Fade” is probably my favorite track.

8. The Album Leaf – Between Waves

The Album Leaf have returned. After letting the band lay rather dormant for a few years, Jimmy LaValle dusted it off and recorded this gem of an album. Leaning more toward the ambient side of the spectrum rather than pop, there is a sense of comfort and purpose here. It’s been in my rotation since it dropped in August. A great autumn record to be sure.

7. Minor Victories – Minor Victories

What makes a good super group, anyway? When you take members of bands you like and put them together, will they sound like one of their original bands? Or something different? Minor Victories features members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors, so that should give you an idea of what to expect. It’s a shoegaze affair with great vocals and interesting guitar work. I discovered them sometime in the spring and have returned to the album often, finding new things to like each time.

6. Wilco – Schmilco

Jeff Tweedy can’t or won’t slow down and we’re all the better for it. With the grinning title Schmilco, I thought this would be a bouncy, goofy album. There’s definitely fun to be had, but overall this is a sad Wilco album. Nice melodies, nostalgia and a lo-fi production plan make the album feel intimate and wonderful.

5. Hammock – Everything and Nothing

Hammock is a mainstay on my EOTY lists. I just love this band and their approach to music. On Everything and Nothing, there’s a sense of dissonance to go with the lush beauty of their walls of sound. This is an album I listened to many, many times this year, sinking further and further into the sea of sound they produce.

4. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness

After a 5 year absence, Explosions in the Sky are back with a full length record! As expected, it’s an epic journey through crushing guitars and pushing/pulling rhythms. I agree with those critics that said this is their best album since 2003’s now-classic The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. I sincerely hope that we don’t have to wait another 5 years for the next album!

3. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Soundtrack

I want to live inside this music. The perfect backdrop to the creepy happenings in Netflix series is this dark synth-filled tapestry that Dixon and Stein created. Evoking the scores of many great 80’s horror films (especially John Carpenter), they strike all the perfect tones and work hand-in-hand with the Duffer brothers to complete their vision for the show. The title theme music is a wonderful entry point into this analog universe.

2. David Bowie – Blackstar

It’s pretty rare that an artist is able to write and release his own eulogy ahead of his/her unexpected passing, but Bowie did that this year. He released Blackstar on his 69th birthday. He died two days later. He had been fighting liver cancer for months, but that fight was done in private. He recorded the songs of this album as his health allowed and he clearly knew the end was near. These songs are windows into the mind of a dying artist and a rarefied genius. The music video for the song “Lazarus” is breathtaking and heartbreaking and the lyrics of the album’s closer, “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, are a brilliant coda to a brilliant life.

1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

New Radiohead! I wrote a longer review of this one when it came out, so I won’t prattle on too much about it. It’s great and depressing and uplifting and everything a good Radiohead album should be. I spun this album a lot this year and never got old.


What did I miss? Did you have a favorite album that I didn’t mention?

Top Albums of 2016 – Part 1

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I thought it was a pretty great year for music releases this year, but 2016 will probably be remember most for what the music industry lost. The deaths of a few iconic musicians in the last 12 months were hard to grapple with. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jones were some of the all time greats and they will be fondly remembered through their wonderful music.

Anyway, here is part 1 of my top 25 albums of the year! Check back soon for the top ten!

25. Citizens & Saints – Through a Mirror Dimly

This electro-pop worship band has never disappointed me with their energy and creativity while also imbibing their songs with good theology. This album dials back the energy a bit and leans into the more somber tone. The members of this band were involved with Mars Hill Church in Seattle, which sadly imploded a couple years ago. These songs reflect some of the lament and doubt that grew out of that sad situation, but always turn towards Christ and the hope the gospel brings.

24. Lisa Hannigan – At Swim

Lisa started out as an integral part of Damien Rice’s music before spinning herself off into a solo act. Her voice is extremely lovely and her folk arrangements, while not as raw as Rice’s, are well crafted and satisfying. At Swim is another nice entry in her growing discography.

23. Gungor – One Wild Life: Body // Spirit

Michael and Lisa Gungor dreamed big with this project: effectively a triple album released over the course of about 1 year. They brought some politics, some liturgy and some struggles to the table and created a sprawling piece of art. Not every song is a winner, but when they hit they hit hard.

22. Conor Oberst – Ruminations

The Bright Eyes moniker has been dead for 5 years now, but Conor Oberst has been releasing music steadily since then under his own name and as part of some other bands. Ruminations was recorded live in the span of only 48 hours as Oberst was wintering in Omaha following a health crisis. It’s raw, somewhat bleak and very personal.

21. Weezer – The White Album

It’s crazy to think that this is Weezer’s 10th album! It’s also their 4th self-titled LP. They’ve been experiencing a creative renaissance of sorts over the last few years and this album continues that trend. It’s “good Weezer” and it was a great summer album this year.

20. Cloud Cult – The Seeker

Minneapolis-based Cloud Cult joined the crowd-funded album trend this year, raising support to release The Seeker, their 10th album. Fans obliged and the album dropped in February accompanied by a feature film starring Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother fame. I haven’t seen the film yet, but the album has a lot to like and doesn’t deviate too much from the established Cloud Cult sound. Which is a good thing.

19. Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere

Thrice is back. After breaking up in 2012, the band members kicked around other projects to varying success. Frontman Dustin Kensrue had a gig as the worship pastor at Mars Hill in Seattle. When that church imploded, Kensrue decided to reform Thrice and they recorded this album in short order. You’ll find themes of faith and culture, but also politics here as the band comments on the state of the union.

18. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

I love Jimmy Eat World, but I haven’t been blown away by an album of theirs in ten years (not since Futures). And frankly, their last two albums were big disappointments. With Integrity Blues, they seem to have gotten back to basics a bit and recaptured some of the magic of their early catalog. I like this album more every time I listen to it.

17. Polica – United Crushers

When a great Minneapolis band releases an album that references semi-famous Minneapolis graffiti, I like before I even hear it. Fortunately, Polica’s album is easy on the ears too. With a protest song bent to it, the album still oozes cool with the dark arrangements and the vocal work of Channy Leaneagh.

16. All Sons and Daughters – Poets & Saints

This Christian band decided to take a trip to inspire their new album. They visited various European cities and read the works of the various Christian writers who called those cities home. Working off those manuscripts, they wrote an album that is full of history and theology, but also the singable choruses they are known for. Worship leaders, like me, appreciate the effort.

15. James Blake – The Colour in Anything

Blake’s music is perfect for autumn, sparse and minimal melodies with piano and electronic elements beneath his wavering vocals. With guest appearances by Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean, this might be his best album to date.

14. S U R V I V E – RR7349

Stranger Things arrested the cultural moment this summer and it launched a formerly-unknown band to internet fame. SURVIVE is a synth-wave band and some members contributed the score to that show. Their band work is similar, but more propulsive and crunchy. Listening to it stoked up my interest in this genre and I spent plenty of time searching around for me!

13. Amiina – Fantomas

We haven’t had new music for Amiina since 2010! Originally a string quartet, they’ve expanded their sound (and roster) into a diverse collection of unique instruments over the years. Their music is a wonderful collage of textures and melodies. This album just continues to prove that they are very, very talented.

12. Phantogram – Three

It’s kind of amazing that Phantogram’s sound is produced by only two people! Their music is a mutation of trip-hop that has a lot of energy and pop to it. Their single from this album, “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore”, was a great radio play this year.

11. M83 – Junk

M83 is coming off their most successful album to date with 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. There’s a sense that Anthony Gonzalez wanted to deviate from that pillar a little bit with this year’s album Junk. It’s not as radio-friendly, for sure, but there are some real jams here and I appreciate that they didn’t just clone their hits.

Top Television of 2016

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I thought it was a great year for interesting TV shows this year. Many established shows had stand-out seasons and some new, compelling shows made their debut. As the medium evolves, limited/anthology/miniseries have become a new form that can really pull viewers in. I enjoyed quite a few of these types of series this year, so I’m splitting this list into my top 5 limited series and my top 1o-ish regular series! Here we go!


Top Five Limited / Anthology / Miniseries

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5. The X-Files (Fox)

They decided to make more episodes of one of my favorites shows ever: The X-Files. Rather than order up another 22 episode season, they made this a limited run “event series”, which was probably a good call. This set of episodes was more “miss” than “hit”, though we did get a new classic with “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”. Beyond that, it felt tired and didn’t satisfy as much as I hoped. They left the door wide open for more story later, so we’ll see what comes of it.

4. Channel Zero – Candle Cove (SyFy)

SyFy ordered a horror anthology series based on an internet genre called “creepypasta”. Their first choice was a story called “Candle Cove” about a kids TV show that causes some very scary and violet happenings in a small town. The vibe was very skin crawling and the mystery was compelling throughout. It’s hard to do suspense/horror well on TV, but they did a great job on this one.

3. The Night Manager (BBC/AMC)

John Le Carre’s spy novels have provided some rich source material for movies in the last few years. Why not a slow-burning TV miniseries? This story of a hotel manager who gets embroiled in an operation to take down a crime kingpin was intense. The fact that they got A-listers like Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie made it fantastic as both actors nailed their roles. Great, great series.

2. 11.22.63 (Hulu)

I read the Stephen King novel this year that the series was based on and I fell in love with it. I new the adaptation couldn’t live up to the greatness of the novel, so I tempered my expectations for watching it. And that was the right decision. Still, it’s a great story and they did a great job bringing it to the screen. James Franco did well with his character and Sarah Gadon was great as Sadie. If you’re interested in a story about a guy going back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination, read the book first and then check out the series.

1. American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (FX)

This series got a LOT of press in the early part of the year and for good reason. Almost every cast member was amazing in their difficult roles (and they nabbed a bunch of Emmys to prove it). Culturally, the issues raised by this trial (and the writing on the series) became very relevant again this year. Race, gender roles, distrust of police, injustice in general, it’s all there. I loved this series, from the writing to the directing to the acting.


Top Ten  Eleven Television Series

11. Atlanta

Honestly, I haven’t watched all of the first season, but I’m tacking this show on here because it is pretty fantastic. It’s got a bit of a Louie vibe, which is great – meandering stories that focus on the characters as their experiences serve as social commentary. Donald Glover is just brilliant as the brains behind this show.

10. Preacher (AMC)

AMC needed another prestige drama on Sunday nights and decided to go back to the comic book well. With Preacher, they adapted a beloved book in a creative way. Basically, season one was a prequel of sorts to the book. Jesse Custer was perfectly cast and the supporting characters were a joy. You never know what this show is going to do next and that’s a very good thing.

9. Detectorists (Netflix/BBC)

I found this absolute gem of a show on Netflix this year. It’s like a melancholy Christopher Guest movie about a small town chapter treasure hunters and the people who love them. Mackenzie Crook is known for his role in the original UK version of The Office and he is the brains behind this delightful show. Gorgeously shot and scored, it’s a comfortable and enjoyable British comedy with a low cringe-factor.

8. Silicon Valley (HBO)

HBO’s lineup of Silicon Valley, Veep and Game of Thrones is one of the best in the business. I love Veep, but I loved Silicon Valley more this year. The guys keep trying to make it the biz and getting tangled up in the nitty gritty all the time. The frustration is so uncomfortable and real. And, of course, the supporting characters chemistry is amazing. More please.

7. Luke Cage (Netflix)

Marvels’ Netflix show to watch this year was Luke Cage (Daredevil S2 let me down a bit). With Luke Cage, a brand new vibe was so great to see. From the setting to the actors to the soundtrack, this show had an identity all its own. It did black culture in Harlem in a way that was organic and real. And once again, a strong supporting cast made it great.

6. Narcos (Netflix)

In season 2, Narcos upped the stakes significantly by depicting the years that Pablo Escobar was on the run, ending with his final downfall. It was violent, gritty and engrossing. The terror of his reign was on full display, but also the questionable tactics of those who wanted to stop him. It looks like the show is headed for a major reset in season 3, but I’ll be there.

5. Westworld (HBO)

HBO is trying to plan for a post-Game of Throne world. They thought Vinyl would be a net tentpole, but that show was terrible. Westworld had a long and winding road to the screen as production was stopped and started a couple of times. In the end, a challenging first season set the table for a fascinating world. With their Memento meets JJ Abrams Mystery Box approach, they gave their viewers the task of untangling the story and gained a following. Now that that’s over with, they’ll need to move the story forward. I’m in.

4. Last Man on Earth (Fox)

It’s kind of amazing to me that this show is now in it’s 3rd season! Usually Fox kills my favorite shows before they get this far! Last Man on Earth is amazing in how it uses the apocalypse to make a silly show instead of misery porn (The Walking Dead). This year, they incorporated a PTSD narrative to ground themselves a bit, but they still lean heavily on the quirks of their players and Will Forte’s juvenile foolishness. My wife and I both love this show.

3. Black Mirror (Netflix)

Black Mirror returned this year to a new home at Netflix. The new set of episodes was a little bit scatter shot, but it still had all the elements that make this show so amazing. In a year when it seemed like the real world was an episode of Black Mirror, these stories reminded us that things could be much worse. Also, with the episode “San Junipero”, they gave us a story that actually contained some hope (and great music). No other show makes you think quite like this one.

2. Game of Thrones (HBO)

This was the season that fans had been most interested in from the very beginning: the one where the show finally pushed past the books in terms of storylines. Everything from here is uncharted and unexpected. Clearly the showrunners were ready for this and the pace of the action ticked up. As they move the chess pieces into position for the final game over the next couple years, nothing is certain and that injects a new energy into a show that didn’t even need it.

1. Stranger Things (Netflix)

For me, the year belonged to Stranger Things. This completely original Netflix show from The Duffer Brothers was everything I love. Cool story, great visuals, amazing (completely amazing) cast and incredible music. It had heart, goosebumps, thrills and comedy. It had kids riding bikes at night through the woods. It was the show we didn’t know we needed until we got it. I watched the series twice I loved it so much. I can’t wait for season 2 and I have to believe that the Duffer Brothers will be in high demand for the big screen soon!


What did I miss? What was your favorite show of 2016? Any recommendations?

Top Films of 2016

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As the era of “Peak TV” rolls on, the movie industry has lost a step. For me, I go to the theater for blockbusters that I think get a boost from the big screen. For the more independent films I enjoy, I wait to stream them later or see them second run. That’s just the way it is. But I did see quite a few good movies from 2016, so here are my top ten favorites!

10. X-Men: Apocalypse

First Class was excellent. Days of Future Past was good. Apocalypse was okay. With a stellar cast (again), you’d think that the stakes and the story would have been able to play up to their strengths, but it was a struggle. Oscar Isaac was under-served for sure and Lawrence/Fassbender/McAvoy just didn’t carry it. Franchise boredom? I am interested, however, to see if they push forward with the young generation they introduced here. What I really want is a proper Dark Phoenix saga.

9. Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers’ new movie was one of their screwball comedies, this time centered on old Hollywood. It was a bit scattered, but very, very funny with plenty of standout performances. After getting a lot of enjoyment out of the podcast “You Must Remember This”, which is all about old Hollywood, this movie was even cooler for me.

8. Zootopia

Lately it seems like the Disney Animation films have been even better than their Pixar sisters. While Pixar has leaned into sequels, Disney Animation has crafted some brand new and interesting stories. With Zootopia, they brought some nascent cultural talking points to the big screen along with colorful characters, action and funny gags. The kids enjoyed it and we adults mulled over the themes for a long time.

7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

What a surprisingly brilliant film! Taika Waititi is a genius and the cast of this film, particularly the young Julian Dennison, was amazing! Cast in the mold of a Wes Anderson movie, Wilderpeople has adventures, big laughs and plenty of heart. My wife and I fell in love with it quickly. Waititi’s next project is Thor: Ragnarok and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

6. Sing Street

John Carney is back, 10 years after making one of my all-time favorite movies: Once. Here, he presents a semi-autobiographical story of a misfit teenager with a crumbling family who forms a band to impress a girl. It’s a coming of age story with fantastic music and an amazing cast of young actors. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and I highly, highly recommend it. Especially if, like me, you were once a teenage musician.

5. Doctor Strange

I never got around to writing a full review of Doctor Strange, but I thought it was great. A somewhat cookie cutter origin story with predictable beats was redeemed with great performances and staggering special effects. It was a coup to get Benedict Cumberbatch for this role and he knocks it out of the park. Plus, Strange’s journey from being a great doctor who was completely self-absorbed to a mystic who was willing to suffer eternal defeat to save others had a lot of gospel in it.

4. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Oh man, this movie. It kind of came out of nowhere for me. Essentially a big “bottle episode”, the construction of the story and claustrophobic/panicked feel of this one evoked Alfred Hitchcock to me.  Winstead and Goodman were incredible in their roles and the mystery didn’t just take over the story (like sometimes happens in these Abrams-verse movies). If you haven’t seen this one, I highly recommend it.

3. Star Trek Beyond

While JJ Abrams was busy helping reboot another “Star” franchise, Star Trek soldiered on with a 3rd entry in the new series, but things didn’t go smoothly. Lots of internal problems led to restructuring the writing/directing team. Eventually, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung were the writers and Justin Linn of Fast and Furious fame took the directors chair. The result was a great Star Trek movie that is built on the chemistry of this young cast. It’s optimistic, fun, action-packed and a joy to watch. I loved how they handled the death of Leonard Nimoy and paid homage to franchise history. I’m hopeful for the future of this franchise with Simon Pegg in the fold and this cast (sadly, minus Anton Yelchin).

2. Captain America: Civil War

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a recurring problem with presenting worthy adversaries for their heroes to fight. With this entry, they pitted the good guys against each other! Based on a well-known comic event series, this movie did a great job of making the central argument as a difficult philosophical question that even the audience had trouble taking sides on. So while the stakes didn’t seem terribly high as the action unfolded, we still cared about everyone involved. And the airport scene is still one of the best action set pieces the MCU has put together.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

What can I say? This movie was amazing. I had tried hard to avoid any discussion or spoilers for this one and I’m glad I did. There were so many surprises that put big smiles on my face. And some moments that made my jaw drop. It is the best looking Star Wars movie ever, without a doubt. And I loved that they matched some of the characters looks to the 1977 looks of Episode IV. It had just enough connective tissue to the core saga, but really stood on its own as a great story. K2SO was an amazing character and totally stole the show. And the music throughout was astoundingly good, using the John Williams leitmotif templates but venturing out into original territory perfectly too. It depicted the complexity of war and politics and rebellion very well, making it quite relevant. I so badly want to watch this and Episode IV back-to-back. Actually, I just want any excuse to see this movie again.

Concert Review | Sigur Ros at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis 9/29/16

Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros is probably my favorite live act. I’ve seen them 3 times and each time has been different and beautiful. My first experience was 10 years ago when they played the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. They were one tour following the release of their album “Takk…” and they brought along their string quartet partners Amiina. Following that tour, Amiina struck out on their own, ending their longstanding tour partnership with Sigur Ros.

That meant that the next time I saw the band, in 2008 at the Orpheum again, the songs were doctored to cover the absence of the string parts. This tour was in support of their 5th studio album “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust”, which had some “poppier” elements than their previous, pastoral work. As my review stated, they closed their main set with a bouncy rendition of “Gobbledigook” and a hurricane of confetti. 

My 3rd experience was in 2013 and it was a sharp departure as longtime Sigur Ros member Kjartan left the band following the release of “Valtari” and their next tour included some of the crushing, industrial sounds of their album “Kveikur”. They played the Roy Wilkins Auditorium on that tour and showcased a magnificent video board show and backing musicians. It was a huge performance.

For the last couple of years, the band has rested a bit and regrouped. Now a trio, the band decided that they would tour again this year, but without any supporting musicians. For probably the first time, they would perform only as a three-piece ensemble. The band made it clear that this tour was something special:

the month long run is comprised primarily of theater shows, marking the band’s most intimate tour in a decade. in keeping with the scale of the venues, the group will be performing without the string and brass sections that have been characteristic of recent performances, opting instead to focus on the core unit of the band itself. the shows will give the group a chance to road test new music, the first time since the tour leading up to the acclaimed ( ) album in 2002 that the band has performed new material ahead of album recording sessions. alongside this experimentation played out in public, the band is also planning on attempting new interpretations of old songs that haven’t been played in a very long time.

though the scale of the venues and band will be reduced, the live production will be characteristically stunning, designed again by the team behind their previous knights of illumination award-winning tour

With the promise of intimacy and new songs, I couldn’t resist shelling out the dough for another chance to see these guys. Especially at the Orpheum, which I believe is the perfect Twin Cities venue for them.

A quick word about the current state of online ticket sales: it’s a complete disaster. The band offered a code for the presale of tickets. They also offered a number of tiers of prices, including a package that included orchestra pit seats and other goodies for over $100 a ticket. Still, all tickets sold out almost immediately during the presale. I selected the lowest price tier and got decent seats in the balcony and bought them. Just for kicked, I then tried searching for tickets in the next highest price range to see what would happen. All tickets were gone. Of course, scalper tickets appeared online almost instantaneously after the presale. Ticketmaster needs to get their act together on this or bands need to find alternate channels for fans to get to their shows without getting scammed.


It was a gorgeous autumn evening when we ventured downtown for the show. The Orpheum was lit up as usual and fans were lingering outside, taking selfies with the marquee and smoking. There were little postings throughout the lobby stating that the show would begin promptly at 8:30pm, a subtle urging for people to find their seats before showtime. After scoping out the merch table, we went upstairs and located our seats in the balcony. The views in the Orpheum are great from almost every seat and we were pleased with our vantage point.

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With no opening act, the stage was empty and ambient music was playing overhead. The stage was dressed with semi-transparent curtains on all four sides, including the front of the stage. What looked like black PVC pipe constructions formed a sort of lattice around the edges telescoping to the back and creating a tunnel-like illusion from head on.

Soon the ambient music surged a bit and the anticipatory energy in the room surged with it. Still, there empty seats around us. Then the lights went down and the show began. Throughout the first few songs, people were still being ushered to their seats and talking as they got settled. “See, he plays his guitar with a bow!” shouted one person nearby as the band played. *sigh* Moving on.

The band opened their set with their newest, unreleased song simply entitled “Á“. It was a quiet number that wouldn’t feel out of place on Valtari. It was a somber start to the show, especially when followed by two more sedate numbers. Most of the crowd was rapt with attention, pulled into the sonic textures and mesmerized by the amazing light show set to each of the songs. Jonsi did have one vocal flub as he plucked a wrong note on this guitar and his voice went with the sour note. He’s human, after all. Soon the band took the energy up with some of their well-known loud numbers (Daudalagid and Glosoli) before closing the first set with a lesser known B-side from years ago called “Smaskifa”. It was a calculated bell curve of a set.

h/t to Lacey Hunt on Facebook

As I took a breath, I thought about how different this show really was than the others I’d seen. The 4th member of the band here was the light rig, which really added to the songs in a very tangible way. I also realized that the absence of Kjartan left a bit of an instrumental void that was mostly filled by Orri, the drummer. Jonsi and Georg stayed in their lanes for the most part and it was Orri who was tasked with frantic drumming and also pensive keys – sometimes on the same song. But it was working! Three guys, with some backing track help, were making a lot of noise!

It was in the beginning of the 2nd set that the missing member was acutely felt, however. Returning to the slightly redressed stage, the trio took up positions bunched together towards the back of the stage. They were surrounded on all sides by these transparent curtains and projections danced all around them. This gave the appearance that they were very tall and almost swimming in the projected smoke and cloud images. They played another new song “Ovedur” from this position as Orri drummed on an electric pad. Then they went into a crowd favorite from their catalog: “Staralfur”, made semi-famous for its inclusion in the Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The album version of this song features a gorgeous string arrangement as its sonic backbone, which they didn’t have. They did have Orri playing the shimmering piano part under Jonsi’s bowed guitar and Georg’s rhythm acoustic. Still, it didn’t feel quite the same and actually felt a little rhythmically off-kilter at one moment. Then as they were fading the song to a quiet finish, an abrupt accidental piano “plink” rang out. Oops.

After this interstitial arrangement, the band again took their original places and proceeded to bring down the house with the next two incredible songs. As the musicians hammered away at their instruments, the screens danced with color and light and strobe lights accented the snare and tom hits, blinding and thrilling the audience. This 1-2 punch of Saeglopur and Ny Batteri was an epic highlight of the night. The set oscillated again from there, taking a breather for a couple of quiet songs and cleansing the audience’s auditory palette. The final 3 songs brought the night to a triumphant close with the traditional closer Popplagid as the band frantically played and the light rigs really let loose (Orri even had to remove his shirt between songs). As the Jonsi and Georg threw their guitars to the ground and walked off stage with Orri, feedback and reverb still throbbing, the crowd leapt to its feet in euphoria. The boys returned to the stage twice for bows and “takk”s before venturing back into the darkness and the netherworld we all assume they reside in.

h/t to Lacey Hunt on Facebook

Much has been said about the music of Sigur Ros. Many, including the band themselves, talk about how the music is inextricably linked to their home country of Iceland. Iceland is a unique place with desolate, beautiful landscapes and rich, almost mythical local legends. There’s a mystique to it and a sense of magical unknown. The language is a beautiful nordic volley of consonants. And all of these descriptors can easily be applied to the music of Sigur Ros. Most of their songs are sung in Icelandic, with a healthy number sung in the proprietary invented language of “Hopelandic”, so 99% of the audience probably has no idea what the words are to these songs. But it doesn’t matter. The music is arresting and beautiful and the intensity with which it is delivered seals you in.

During intermission, a middle-aged man behind me commented, “This music, like, destroys my soul. And then recreates it.” And I think this gets at another thing that draws people into the music of Sigur Ros – it has a spiritual quality. That otherworldly nature of the sounds reminds us of heaven. It stirs up souls and elicits the kind of emotion that a good worship song might do in church. That’s another reason why the Orpheum suits this band far better than “The Roy”. It feels like an ancient, ornate church sanctuary.

Sigur Ros is, without a doubt, the best live band I’ve ever seen. Personnel and show design may change, but these guys and these songs are something special. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Setlist:

Were you there too? Have you seen Sigur Ros elsewhere? Share your thoughts!