Upsets Abound in Album Tourney
— XOXO, Bunny Krzyzewski
Thanks for the note, Bunny!
When I was in college, I took a fiction writing class where we all produced whatever we wanted, and then we discussed each other’s writing in class. It was pretty typical writer’s workshop stuff. Every class, the instructor would ask for feedback and would inevitably turn to one slightly aloof student and say, “Well, what did you think?” The student would shrug his shoulders and say, “I liked it.” Science fiction story? “I liked it.” Postmodern drivel? “I liked it.” Eco-feminist undertones? “I liked it.” Every single time. Maybe he never really read the stuff. Maybe he panicked on what to say. Or maybe he just, well, really “liked it.” Sometimes we don’t need to defend our choices. I can go on about how Matt Berninger’s baritone enhances The National’s melancholic vibe. Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone”? I like it.
All this is to say that when I’m deciding which album I prefer in any given year, I have a listen-off. Whichever album I hum to more or want to listen to again later that day advances. It doesn’t have to employ a wall of sound, or show ingenuity. I just have to like it. Leo Rondeau writes catchy country songs about rebound love and wrestling alligators. It’s not groundbreaking stuff. He is just a dude with a guitar and some songs. I am a big fan of Arcade Fire and their ingenuity. The Suburbs made my top five in 2010. 2013’s Reflektor seemed overblown to me, and in the Cloud Cult region of my bracket to determine the top albums of 2013, Leo Rondeau’s Take It and Break It defeated Reflektor. Arcade Fire is Kentucky. Leo Rondeau is Eastern Kentucky. Arcade Fire will probably make my top ten again in the future. Leo Rondeau may never even make another album and may never advance to the tournament again. But this year? I liked it.
2014 Album of the Year Tourney: Vampire Region
2014 Album of the Year Tourney: Jason Isbell Region
Who’s in/who’s out: Speaking of Arcade Fire, every year in March pundits start talking about who’s “on the bubble,” meaning which teams are questionable to be selected to the field of 68 in the NCAA tournament. Then there’s talk of who was left out of the bracket that deserved to be there. If the selection committee passes over a bubble team, it is because the committee perceives that the team didn’t do enough on the court to deserve consideration. There are a few critical darlings of the 2013 music landscape that didn’t meet my expectations and therefore didn’t make my top-53 list, including: Savages, Silence Yourself; HAIM, Days Are Gone; John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts; Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium; and Arcade Fire, Reflektor.
2014 Album of the Year Tourney: Cloud Cult Region
2014 Album of the Year Tourney: Chvrches Region
2013 trend: Long-windedness. Speaking of Arcade Fire, it’s possible that Reflektor would have made my top albums of the year list if it were half an hour shorter. Some artists fell prone to wanting to cram every idea into an album, which may not be the best move for the end product. I know this rings hypocritical coming from a guy currently writing a multi-part series on a 128-album double-elimination, albums-of-the-year list. But consider this: I was going to write a whole dream sequence featuring Rick Pitino, Bea Arthur, and a bunch of goats dressed up as cheerleaders that went on for about 785 words, but I chose against it. You’re welcome.
Janelle Monáe is one of the most creative singers around, but if she would have cut out the radio skits and trimmed a couple of stagnant ballads on her latest album, Electric Lady would have easily been in my top fifteen. But when I have to forward through some tracks every time I listen to the album, it’s hard to place it higher than its No. 42 landing spot. And let’s not forget the Grammy-winning Daft Punk 73-minute Random Access Memories album. I don’t know how you say “brevity is your friend” in French robot language, but if I did, I would send it in a telegram to the electronic duo. Remember: there’s no need to push overtime if you can win the game in regulation. Il n'y a pas besoin d'aller à des heures supplémentaires si vous pouvez gagner le jeu dans la regulation.
Below are the latest final rankings of eliminated bands. I’ll whittle this down to 24 in a couple of days and then we’ll be down to the Sweet 16 Monday.
53. Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone
52. Rhye: Woman
51. Sturgill Simpson: High Top Mountain
50. BOAT: Pretend to be Brave
49. Of Montreal: Lousy with Sylvanbriar
48. Leo Rondeau: Take It and Break It
47. Milk Carton Kids: The Ash & Clay
46. Pure Bathing Culture: Moon Tides
45. The Last Bison: Inheritance
44. Mavis Staples: One True Vine
43. Pickwick: Can’t Talk Medicine
42. Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady
41. Radiation City: Animals in the Median
40. Atlas Genius: When It Was Now
39. Laura Mvula: Sing to the Moon
38. J. Roddy Walston and the Business: Essential Tremors
37. Jagwar Ma: Howlin
36. Frank Turner: Tape Deck Heart
35. Superchunk: I Hate Music
34. Amanda Shires: Down Fell the Doves
33. Boy: Mutual Friends
Matthew Kauffman Smith is a freelance writer and music critic. Last year he made a case for Weird Al Yankovic's inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.