This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while leading up to the release of Arcade Fire’s fourth album, Reflektor. Arcade Fire’s first three albums — 2004’s Funeral, 2007’s Neon Bible and 2010’s The Suburbs — have all been great. In my opinion, it’s one of the best three-album runs in pop/rock history.

What if their fourth album was also great? What kind of company would that put them in? I hadn’t really looked into it, but I figured there can’t be too many artists who have released four great albums in a row.

Well, after a Twitter discussion about this topic, I decided to finally look into it. As I suspected, there aren’t too many who have done it. I came up with seven who have definitely done it, and six more who could be argued against, but are probably still safe to put in the group. Then there are 33 more that are at least worth discussing, but ultimately don’t quite make the cut for me.

Unfortunately, Arcade Fire won’t be joining that elite group of 13 who have accomplished the feat. As much as I wish it was, Reflektor isn’t a great album. I’ve listened to it five times now, and I feel pretty confident saying that. I might eventually warm up to the shift in style enough to consider it a good album, but I can’t imagine ever calling it a great album. There are great moments for sure, but it tries to do too much and ends up being inconsistent as a result. Reminds me a lot of what The Clash fell victim to on Sandinista!

Anyway, here are the artists who have done it, and the ones who have come close.

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I knew hockey season would cause a bit of a delay in putting this together, but I didn’t expect to have a six-month gap between my 1980s list and this one. I don’t want to delay any longer, so let’s just review the guidelines: no live albums, no compilations, no more than two albums from any one artist. I shouldn’t really need to explain this one, but Foo Fighters and Nirvana are obviously considered separate artists. If you missed any of the first three entries in this series, here they are: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s.

Honorable Mentions
The Flaming Lips- The Soft Bulletin (1999)
Modest Mouse- The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)
Nas- Illmatic (1994)
Nirvana- In Utero (1993)
Red Hot Chili Peppers- Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

20. Guided by Voices- Alien Lanes (1995)
The first thing you notice about Alien Lanes, before anything having to do with the music itself, is that there are 28 songs. That seems like a lot, but the album is actually just 41 minutes long; the average song is less than a minute and a half. GBV comes at you rapid-fire, knocking out one catchy snippet of lo-fi indie rock after another. There aren’t any truly great songs here, but a lot are very good. “Watch Me Jumpstart,” “As We Go Up, We Go Down,” “Motor Away,” “Blimps Go 90” and “Little Whirl” are my favorites. There’s an argument to be made for Bee Thousand being GBV’s best album, but I think Alien Lanes is more consistent start to finish.

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One week ago today, I was driving out to Pittsburgh with three other writers, heading to the Frozen Four to cover college hockey’s national championship. There are a few different ways to get from Boston to Pittsburgh, but the road chosen by my GPS brought us through Newtown, Connecticut, and past signs for Sandy Hook. I remember thinking to myself that there was no way I’d ever be able to see those signs without thinking of the horrific tragedy that occurred there just four months ago.

Now I’m sitting here a week later, thinking the same kind of thoughts about Patriots’ Day. About the one day that is uniquely ours. The day that brings the entire city and state together. The day when we open our arms to people from around the country and around the world. The day that, for anyone who has ever experienced it in any capacity, is the best of the year.

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Top 10 Albums of 2012

Posted: December 22, 2012 in Uncategorized
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I just want to use this intro to note that 2012 was an awesome year for music. I definitely like this year’s list more than my 2011 list, and I’d definitely take the top of this year’s list over last year’s. That doesn’t mean I now think 2011 was a bad year for music; I just think 2012 was better. I could’ve easily gone to 20 and still really liked every pick.

Last year I had a “Notable Omissions” section, but I didn’t feel like doing that this year. Sorry. I decided to just give you three honorable mentions instead. I also wrote a little bit more about each of the 10 albums that made the list. As always, any and all comments are welcome. I’ve linked to my favorite song from each album, so check them out if you don’t know them.

Honorable Mentions
The Fresh & Onlys- Long Slow Dance
King Tuff- King Tuff
Mac DeMarco- 2

10. Hospitality- Hospitality
Hospitality is a three-piece indie pop band, but Amber Papini is the clear leader. She’s the lead singer, lead guitarist and lone songwriter, and she’s incredibly smooth and melodic in all three areas. The album’s best moments come when the infusions of electric guitar, synthesizers and saxophone ratchet up the energy. “Eighth Avenue” and “Friends of Friends” make for a great open, and “The Right Profession” and “All Day Today” stand out as highlights as well.

Favorite song: “Friends of Friends”

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Top 20 Albums of the 1980s

Posted: December 3, 2012 in Uncategorized
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This is the third entry in a five-part series that will take us through the 2000s. As with the previous lists, I limited myself to no more than two albums from any one artist (although that wouldn’t have been an issue here anyway), and I didn’t include live albums. If you missed the series’ first two installments, here is the 1960s list and the 1970s list.

Before we get started, I’ll address the most notable omission — Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It’s the best-selling album of all-time, but honestly, I can’t get through it without losing interest. “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” are both great, and “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and “Baby Be Mine” are both pretty good, but the other five songs just feel like filler to me. “The Girl is Mine” and the title track are downright terrible. So, apologies to any MJ fans reading this, but I’ve just never heard anything special here.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the albums that did make the cut.

Honorable Mentions
Beastie Boys- Licensed to Ill (1986)
Dinosaur Jr.- You’re Living All Over Me (1987)
Neil Young- Freedom (1989)
Pixies- Surfer Rosa (1988)
X- Wild Gift (1981)

20. AC/DC- Back in Black (1980)
AC/DC are basically a one-trick pony, and they didn’t really bring anything new to rock and roll, but they did straightforward hard rock really well, which is probably why they sold so many records. Back in Black, their first album following the death of original lead singer Bon Scott, is without question their best. “Hells Bells,” “Shoot to Thrill,” “Back in Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” are four of their best songs, and everything else here fits in seamlessly. Angus and Malcolm Young’s riffs are the album’s driving force.

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This is the second entry in a five-part series that will go through the 2000s. As with my 1960s list, I limited myself to no more than two albums from any one artist, and I didn’t include live albums. I won’t waste any more time on an introduction because the list itself is long enough.

Honorable Mentions
Carole King- Tapestry (1971)
David Bowie- Hunky Dory (1971)
The Grateful Dead- American Beauty (1970)
Led Zeppelin- Physical Graffiti (1975)
The Velvet Underground- Loaded (1970)

20. Neil Young- On the Beach (1974)
On the Beach just edges out Harvest, Tonight’s the Night and Comes a Time as my third favorite Neil Young studio album. It’s one of Young’s darker albums, but it still features all of Young’s usual styles (rock, country, folk), and it uses an all-star cast of backing musicians. “Walk On” and “Revolution Blues” are two great rockers, with the latter being my favorite song on the album. Slower country-influenced tracks like “See the Sky About to Rain,” “For the Turnstiles” and “Motion Pictures (For Carrie)” are all poignant. “Ambulance Blues” makes for a fitting nine-minute closer.
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When I read that Lance Armstrong was ending his fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, my first reaction was that no matter how he tried to spin it, this was basically an admission of guilt. But then I thought about it more, and when I woke up this morning I realized that isn’t at all how I feel.

In fact, Armstrong giving up doesn’t change how I feel about him one bit. I still don’t know how to feel. I’m still as torn as ever. Part of me wants to side with him and accept the fact that he never failed a drug test as evidence enough of his innocence. But another part of me isn’t naïve enough to think that definitely means he never doped. We know there are ways for cheaters to beat drug tests. Read the rest of this entry »