The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Star Wars, Rogue One, and the Forever Franchise

Just as TV shows don’t really end anymore, the new platonic ideal for a movie series, at least for some fans and/or execs, is one that keeps going indefinitely, with no end designed or in sight. That’s what seems to have happened to the Star Wars series following its 2012 sale to the Walt Disney Company, resulting in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first Star Wars movie without an “episode” designation. Naturally, Rob and Sabrina and Nathaniel and Marisa and Jesse went to see it and naturally we all had some opinions.

Our second Star Wars podcast, then, examines Rogue One and our thoughts on it, along with how it fits into this new mass-media landscape of franchises that just don’t know when to quit. Glory to our thoughts on Rogue One as a prequel, the uncanny valley, our internal squabbling over the status of the various Extended Universes, and our many impromptu pitches for further Star Wars spinoffs, and that’s before we even get to talking about the Fox X-Men movies and the DCEU. It’s all very nerdy and spoilery and you’re gonna love it.

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The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Best Music of 2016

Though we’re all eager to put 2016 in the rearview mirror, Rob, Sara, Marisa, and Jesse nonetheless got together to discuss the year in music on its way out: musician deaths, long-awaited returns, scrappy little sisters, and everything in between. This is our Best Music of 2016 podcast and it’s a good one, but we are glad it’s over.

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The SportsAlcohol.com Album of the Year: LEMONADE by Beyoncé

In a fragmented, subgenre’d, and mix-heavy music culture, it’s notable whenever a full album is able to grab some attention for its full damn self, not just its killer singles or release strategy or guest stars or endless delays. Beyoncé’s Lemonade is such a record, showing up on all four individual SportsAlcohol Best of 2016 lists and warranting the kind of track-by-track exploration we last applied to the St. Vincent album in 2014. This does make us four white people talking extensively about Beyoncé, so we should preface this post, and our upcoming music-of-2016 podcast, by saying please go check this out. And then check out our albums six through two for 2016. And then enjoy four indie rockers drinking up Lemonade.
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SportsAlcohol.com’s Top Six Best Albums of 2016

The SportsAlcohol.com music core is small but passionate, which means rather than issuing a bloated Top 50 Records of 2016, we’ve gotten it down to a simple six. There were other good, very good, even great albums that came out last year, but these are the half-dozen that meant the most to us, that we kept coming back to throughout the year, even when said albums didn’t arrive until relatively late in the game. If there’s a theme here, it’s veteran musicians returning to the fold in new, exciting, inventive ways that validated our initial love for a diverse range of old albums. Maybe that means we’re all past our prime, looking to past favorites for comfort. But I don’t think anyone could listen to these six albums and come away thinking that any of these artists are relying on past glories. 2016 is over; let it live on in these albums (and perhaps no other ways).

The Top Six Best Albums of 2016

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TRACK MARKS, BEST OF 2016: “SHUT UP KISS ME” BY ANGEL OLSEN

This was a good year, musically speaking, for women on a tear (which is heartening, because we’re going to need them if we’re getting through the next four). In addition to the ones who made our albums of the year list (no spoilers here!), there was the spiky art rock of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, the electric alienating fuzz of Mitski, and the shimmering delicacy of Springtime Carnivore. It’s probably no great coincidence that many of these records were borne from painful separations, both from lovers and family, and Angel Olsen’s MY WOMAN might be the most surprising of them all for previous fans of her work: the album feels as much like a departure as the apex of her many talents, from the unexpectedly slinky opener “Intern” through the seven-minute sprawl of “Sister” and beyond. But on no track is this artistic volatility better exemplified than “Shut Up Kiss Me,” the most immediately arresting song on the record and also the most vulnerable.

At first listen it seems all insouciant demands: “I ain’t hanging up this ti-i-ime/I ain’t giving up toni-i-ight” is the gauntlet thrown down at the very start and it doesn’t let up over its lean 3:22 runtime, with Olsen’s voice at its most seductive and rock n’ roll snotty. But don’t let her cheeky attitude and sparkly wig in the video fool you. As with many things in life, the brazen come-ons mask a deep well of insecurity and pain, and the posturing gradually gives way to exasperation. “It’s all over baby, but I’m still young,” she repeats desperately at the song’s end, backed by her own insistent wailing, and it’s unclear at that point if she’s even still reaching out to her fickle, frustrating lover. In a year that saw so much apocalyptic upheaval it’s as good a rallying cry as any, not unlike Janis Joplin’s exhortation to “get it while you can.” Intimacy is vital to our shared humanity, even when it’s begged for. And when it’s the end times, whether in your own world or the one at large, what point is there in waiting?

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2016: “Berlin Got Blurry” by Parquet Courts

Non-story of 2016: How good some regular ol’ dude-fronted rock bands were. (That is non-news of such little consequence I’m surprised the New York Times didn’t cover it.) I quite enjoyed the albums of Car Seat Headrest, Public Access T.V., Modern Baseball, and, of course, Parquet Courts.

Parquet Courts is a little different from the others in that half the time they seem like they’re just screwing around. Well, they always seem like they’re at least partially screwing around, but half the time it feels like the joke is on me. But then, when they get the chance to focus up, they come up with something like “Berlin Got Blurry,” and I want to shake them and ask them why they don’t write songs like that all the damn time.

It has, like the best Parquet Courts songs, references to food—fries, hot dogs, ketchup, and, since it’s about being a foreigner traveling in Berlin, döner. But between the travelogue of treats, the band drops really elegant bits of wisdom (“It feels so effortless to be a stranger/But feeling foreign is such a lonely habit”) or really well-crafted lines (love the internal rhyming of “Kind ears captive to the beers you’ve purchased”).

It’s not deep, but it’s upbeat, moving along at a jaunty pace. Like being a stranger in a strange land, it’s fun for a short time.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2016: “I CAN’T STAND YOU ANYMORE” by SLEIGH BELLS

Because even a post-digital music world can be a little cautious about writing off critically acclaimed music acts, it took until 2016 for Sleigh Bells to officially become unfashionable. Their almost universally acclaimed 2010 debut Treats machine-gunned through 2010 with gleeful abandon, and their swift follow-ups Reign of Terror (2012) and Bitter Rivals (2013) garnered the kind of respectable reviews that are retroactively called lukewarm later, like for example when Jessica Rabbit dropped this year. The newest Sleigh Bells album was damned with faint praise about it at least being more inventive than Bitter Rivals but never reaching the heights of Treats.

But what does? What in the world is ever as good as the first bunch of times you bump Treats with the windows rolled down as you cruise back into your hometown for a weekend? (Is that just me? The point is, Treats owns.) The Sleigh Bells formula of cartoonish thrash plus angelic pop vocals is malleable enough to sustain several records, and Jessica Rabbit mixes it up appropriate (and sometimes, OK, strenuously). Its best reconfiguration of the thrash-to-pop ratio comes in “I Can’t Stand You Anymore,” a kiss-off that might have, on their earlier records, been a full fuck-off. Singer and co-writer Alexis Krauss asserts herself on the vocal track, giving a sweet-and-spiky pop performance the dominates over Derek Miller’s somewhat less jacked-up guitars. Instead of killer riffs, the song rests on a full-on vocal riff as Krauss sings that “bombs don’t compare to the trouble you give me/I just can’t stand you anymore.” It’s dramatic, but not in the way that many of the other best Sleigh Bells tunes are dramatic; many of those sound like an emergency alarm, while this one sounds, dare I say it, almost diva-ish, except with a casual relatability not often found with practiced oversingers.

Yet Sleigh Bells hasn’t replaced itself entirely. Before the second verse, Krauss calls out in a slightly distorted vocal, “CONFESSION!” except it’s actually more like “CONFESSION:” — she’s prefacing what she’s about to sing. For a micro-moment, “I Can’t Stand You Anymore” recaptures that Treats sound, fae my shioning the tinest of hooks from their instantly recognizable style. It might be my favorite single second of music this year.

TRACK MARKS BEST OF 2016: “1,000 TIMES” BY HAMILTON LEITHAUSER AND ROSTAM

This song has a lot going against it. It’s by that one guy from that one band, plus another guy (but not the guy) from that other band; surely it can’t be as good as the output of their real groups, right? It also has an uninspired title, similar to that song from Llewyn Davis or that catchy one-hit wonder. Worse, when you load it into iTunes, that title comes up as “A 1000 Times,” which I always read as “a one thousand times.”

When I actually stop and listen to the song, though, I don’t think about those things anymore. I don’t think about anything. “1,000 Times” brings me to a dead stop, and all I can do is feel longing. Rarely am I attracted to songs because they are merely beautiful; this one is pretty, to be sure, but also sad and lonely, though not exactly down for the count.

The speaker of the song is dealing with an unrequited love, the kind that has you wandering past someone’s house without consciously deciding to. I get that, but I’m mercifully long past my unreturned-crush days. Even so, the opening lines “I had a dream that you were mine/I had that dream a thousand times” can be felt by anybody who has something just out of reach, aka everybody on the planet.

Again, universality isn’t a requirement for me to like a song. But there’s just something so gripping about this one. You can feel the mix of hope and defeat. You get the sense of moving on (“I changed my crowd, I ditched my tie”) without really getting over. I know by now it’s a cliché to say that 2016 was a rotten year, but it’s one we’re closing the books on as we take its traumas with us. And one heartbroken voice, singing “The 10th of November, the year’s almost over,” is going to come with me into 2017.

TRACK MARKS, BEST OF 2016: “CRANES IN THE SKY” BY SOLANGE

Let’s get this out of the way now: whatever artistic debt Solange owed to her older sister Beyonce when she first started out is more than paid now. The two make very different kinds of music which, if it wasn’t apparent before 2016, was made clear by the very different albums the two put out this year. I may be in the minority in favoring the younger Knowles but that’s because I tend to prefer my girl power songs introspective over anthemic. While I probably wouldn’t put it on at a party, “Cranes in the Sky” gets more replay from me because it feels like a warm embrace from an empathetic friend, albeit one who is radically woke and wants to pass along her insights into years of oppression as much as she wants to offer comfort in shared pain (also, I don’t have very many parties).

There were several strong records that addressed the singularity of the black experience in America in 2016 (see Blood Orange, Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, among others) but none were quite as transcendently, painfully gorgeous as Solange’s A Seat at the Table and “Cranes in the Sky” is the album’s early peak. Like the titular birds the song evokes a delicate grace, the instruments and vocals unadorned but stealthily powerful. At the start Solange’s airy voice settles over a simple percussive beat and tentative strings, knitting together in a mournful funk that both enfolds and unsettles the listener. What at first sounds like a litany of post-break-up salves (Solange has variously tried to drink, dance, sex, and read “it” away) soon becomes a eulogy to all the things in life that can’t be changed, particularly for black women trying to make it in a world that, more often than not, devalues them. While the repetition of “away” in the refrain almost seems in danger of floating off, it’s the insistence that “Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds” that pins it all back in place. It’s self-assertion as origami, a folding up that also gives oneself shape. We’re all works in progress, and our best chance of surviving together comes from accepting that.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Disney Songs

In conjunction with our recent, definitive list of the Top 20 Disney Songs So Far, list contributors Marisa, Jesse, Nathaniel, Jonathan, Maggie, and Rayme got together to talk about our individual lists, our group list, and how it reflects our thoughts and feelings about all of these great and not-so-great Disney movies, rides, and TV shows from over the years. It’s a lively and insightful discussion of what we look for in a Disney musical, and also sometimes a baby pipes up with her opinions. Find out who doesn’t like The Jungle Book and who eloquently defends it! Find out how it is that Nathaniel didn’t vote for a Disney song sung by Vincent Price! Find out our feelings on Peabo Bryson! No need to wish upon a star for any of this; it’s just here, in this magical episode.

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