Wednesday, July 15, 2009

2009 Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team

Simple rule: If I’m forced to go three consecutive days without watching a baseball game (I’m ignoring the fantastically pointless Midsummer Classic), I’m allowed to post about the preeminent performers in fantasy baseball thus far this year. It’s in the Constitution, look it up.

Anyway, I won’t waste time with a detailed methodological explanation; check out last year’s post if you’re interested in the minutiae. I will, however, highlight a few minor changes from last year’s calculations. First, I’ve applied linear weights to all denominator-based stats (OPS, ERA, and WHIP), since these measures are averages rather than raw totals. Essentially, if two players have the same OPS but one has 200 at-bats while the other only has 100, the first player receives more weight for his OPS (either positive or negative, depending on its position relative to the mean). This is, I believe, an important improvement – kudos to my buddy Pat for the suggestion.

Second, I’ve adjusted the steals multiplier to vary per position, so it’s now higher for speed-prone positions (shortstop, outfield) and lower for catcher and first base, where steals are virtually inconsequential. For the record, I tried eliminating the steals multiplier altogether but didn’t like the resultant data. The problem with steals is that the standard deviation is extremely high relative to the mean, so they wreak havoc with Z-scores; still, I think this accounts for them as appropriately as possible.

Finally, the sample comprises 168 batters, 87 starters, and 44 relievers. For batters and starting pitchers, I used the standard qualifying metrics as provided by FanGraphs and ESPN. For relievers, I got a little creative and selected players who were either primary closers or frequently eligible for save chances, since saves are all anyone cares about from relievers in fantasy leagues (for the same reason, I applied a substantial multiplier to the saves category).

Everybody got that? Good. Here we go with the Manifesto’s 2009 Fantasy Baseball All-Star Team:


CATCHER

Brandon Inge, Tigers. But wait, you’re thinking – where’s Joe Mauer? Surely the selection of Inge is the result of the Manifesto’s anti-Mauer bias rather than any actual mathematical precision, yes? No. Mauer has been an absolute force thus far this year since he returned to the lineup … but he didn’t return to the lineup until the beginning of May. As a result, Inge leads Mauer in all categories other than OPS, and while Mauer holds a significant advantage in that area (1.069 vs. .876), it isn’t enough to prevent Inge from possessing the dominant Z-score. It’s a bit absurd, of course, since Inge isn’t a catcher, but he’s eligible at the position in fantasy leagues, and his 51 runs scored (second among catchers), 21 homers (tops at the position, and 21 more than he hit during Monday’s agonizingly long Home Run Derby), and 58 RBI (one behind Victor Martinez for the position lead) clearly place him at the top.

But just in case you think I’m all about hating Joe Mauer, let me point out the following: Mauer has currently played in 64 games. Just for fun, let’s pretend that he wasn’t hurt earlier this year and was capable of producing at his current level for an entire season. If we prorate his numbers out to 146 games (his career-high games played), we have the following: 112 runs, 34 home runs, 112 RBI, and a 1.069 OPS. Not bad for one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

Apologies to: Mauer, Victor Martinez (position-leading 54 runs and 59 RBI, 14 homers, .859 OPS).













FIRST BASE

Albert Pujols, Cardinals. O.K., so I didn’t exactly need the Z-scores for this one. Albert the Great (don’t call him “El Hombre”, he claims that insults Stan Musial, and you wouldn’t want to make him angry, would you?) leads the majors in runs (73), homers (32), RBI (87), and OPS (an unsettling 1.179, which if it holds would stand as the highest mark since Barry Bonds’ record-breaking 1.422 in 2004). Just for fun, he also leads all first basemen in steals with 10. This guy is the Viktor Krum of baseball.

Apologies to: Nobody. Pujols stands alone.
















SECOND BASE

Chase Utley, Phillies. Ian Kinsler has had an impressive season, but Utley’s position-leading 1.004 OPS (sixth-best in baseball) makes him untouchable. He also leads all second basemen in RBI (61) and homers (20, tied with Kinsler and Aaron freaking Hill) and is tied for third in runs scored (62), plus he’s chipped in with nine stolen bases. All told, he ranks as the third-best hitter in the big leagues, behind only Pujols and Prince Fielder. Not bad for a middle-infielder.

Apologies to: Kinsler (62 runs, 20 homers, 18 steals), Hill (20 homers, 60 RBI), Brandon Phillips (60 RBI, 12 steals).















THIRD BASE

Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks. Reynolds may swing-and-miss with alarming frequency (he’s already compiled a whopping 123 strikeouts, meaning he’s whiffed in a preposterous 37.8% of his at-bats, behind only the loathsome Chris Davis), but when he makes contact, the ball takes off. His 24 home runs tie him for second in the majors. But lest you perceive him as a pure power hitter, his 15 steals are the third-most among any player manning the hot corner. He’s also second among third basemen in RBI (62) and fifth in runs scored (55) and OPS (.888). His strikeout rate may suggest a regression in the second half, but he’s been a masher thus far.

Apologies to: Kevin Youkilis (56 runs, 53 RBI, position-best .985 OPS), Evan Longoria (66 RBI, .898 OPS), Russell Branyan (22 homers, .956 OPS).












SHORTSTOP

Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. No surprise here, although it is a bit shocking that A) It’s a close battle between Ramirez and another shortstop, and B) That other shortstop is a virtual unknown. That would be Ben Zobrist, and all he’s done this year is smash 17 homers to the tune of a 1.012 OPS – both tops among shortstops. He’s also managed to swipe 11 bases while driving in 52 runs and scoring 50. (He’s eligible at second base as well, but I elected to place him at shortstop since the pool is weaker.) Ramirez, however, has been no slouch; he’s third among shortstops in runs scored (53) and homers (14), fourth in steals (13), second in OPS (.979), and first in RBI (61). The all-around production gives Ramirez the nod – but it’s close.

Apologies to: Zobrist, Derek Jeter (56 runs, 17 steals), Troy Tulowitzki (16 homers).













OUTFIELD

Jason Bay, Red Sox; Torii Hunter, Angels; Raul Ibañez, Phillies. Outfield is always an unpredictable position in fantasy baseball, with many lower-round picks outperforming projected studs. This season’s All-stars aren’t quite as surprising a group as last year’s ragtag bunch, but Ibañez (whom many had pegged as washed-up) lasted until the eighth round in my draft, while Hunter didn’t leave the board until the eleventh – after 31 outfielders had already been selected.

Still, the numbers don’t lie. Bay leads all outfielders in RBI (72) and is one of six with at least 20 homers; he also sports a strong .908 OPS as well as 10 stolen bases. Ibañez spent some time on the disabled list, but he nevertheless ranks second at the position in homers (22, tied with Nelson Cruz and one behind Adam Dunn) and fourth in RBI (60), all while compiling a 1.015 OPS (tops among outfielders and fourth in the majors). Until his recent injury, Hunter was displaying an impressive combination of power (17 homers) and speed (13 steals), while he trails only Bay in RBI (65). More importantly, his .938 OPS far and away surpasses his career best of .858, set with Minnesota in 2002. I’m skeptical he’ll be able to keep up that pace when he returns from the DL, but for now it earns him a spot on the team.

Apologies to: Jayson Werth (60 runs, 20 homers), Ryan Braun (61 runs, .921 OPS), Carl Crawford (44 steals), Nelson Cruz (22 homers, 13 steals), Justin Upton (.918 OPS), Jermaine Dye (20 homers, .942 OPS), Johnny Damon (62 runs, 16 “Yankee Stadium is Coors’ Field East” home runs), Adam Lind (.928 OPS), Dunn (23 homers, 62 RBI, .943 OPS).
















STARTING PITCHER

Dan Haren, Diamondbacks. Zack Greinke stole the headlines early, and Tim Lincecum has been unhittable late, but Haren has been a monster all season long while toiling in Arizona. Though he’s managed just nine wins (five coming in his last six starts), Haren leads all hurlers in both ERA (2.01) and WHIP (0.81) while racking up 129 strikeouts (tied for fifth among starters). If the Diamondbacks had scored some more runs for him earlier in the season (the team combined for a paltry three runs in his first four starts), he’d be having a fantasy season for the ages. As is stands, he’s just been really fucking good.

Apologies to: Lincecum (10 wins, league-leading 149 strikeouts, 2.33 ERA, 1.05 WHIP), Greinke (10 wins, 129 K’s, 2.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), Justin Verlander (10 wins, 149 K’s), Felix Hernandez (2.53 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), Roy Halladay (10 wins, 1.10 WHIP), Josh Beckett (11 wins, 1.15 WHIP).












RELIEF PITCHER

Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers. Broxton has stumbled of late, allowing five runs in his last two innings of work, including an ugly three-walk performance in San Diego. As such, his ERA has risen to a less-than-stellar 3.10. But even with those outings he’s been fantasy’s best reliever, primarily on the strength of his incredible 65 strikeouts (only Andrew Bailey and Rafael Soriano are close, with 60 and 58 K’s, respectively). That number translates to a sterling 14.4 K/9IP ratio, easily tops in the class. Broxton also leads all relievers in wins with six while having amassed a solid 20 saves and a nifty 0.93 WHIP. Assuming he can snap out of his current slump, he’s likely to remain a fantasy stud in the second half of the year.

Apologies to: Joe Nathan (23 saves, 1.31 ERA, league-leading 0.73 WHIP), Heath Bell (23 saves, 1.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), Huston Street (22 saves, 0.99 WHIP), Mariano Rivera (23 saves, 0.89 WHIP), Ryan Franklin (21 saves, absurd 0.79 ERA, 0.79 WHIP), Francisco Rodriguez (23 saves, 1.90 ERA), David Aardsma (20 saves, 51 K’s, 1.96 ERA).
















And there you have it. Sound off in the Comments if you feel I neglected anyone in particular, though be prepared for a response that is condescending, stat-heavy, and artfully jumbled. Till next summer.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Three Movies from 2009 You Need to See

I was originally planning on publishing a mid-year Top 10 list for movies of 2009 as cousin my Best Songs list, but after thinking about it, I decided such a compilation would be dishonest. To me, a film’s appearance on any type of Top 10 list – even one constructed halfway through the year – implies an earnest recommendation, and if I told you that I earnestly recommend 10 distinct movies that have already been released thus far this year, I’d be lying.

Not that I’m lamenting the state of cinema in 2009; given that Hollywood studios systematically backload their release schedules more than the Yankees back-loaded Derek Jeter’s contract, it’s only fair to assume that the best of the year have yet to come (in my Top 10 list of 2008, eight of the 10 selections were released in the latter half of the year). Nor am I denying that I’ve already watched a fair number of perfectly decent movies this year; in fact, of the 28 films I’ve seen in theatres thus far, I at least enjoyed roughly two-thirds them. But with apologies to entertaining, well-made fare such as The Brothers Bloom, Coraline, The Hangover, I Love You, Man, The Soloist, Star Trek, and State of Play (sadly, I’ve yet to see The Hurt Locker), none of those perfectly respectable films dazzled me enough to warrant a Must-See label.

Unlike these three. When I say that the following three films are Must-See, I mean that literally: You must see these films. Until you do, your life will be incomplete. I am a happier, more fulfilled human being for having experienced these movies. And that’s that.

(Note: The jury is still deliberating on whether Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is a Must-See film. We intend to return a verdict following our second viewing of the picture. Thank you for your patience.)


3. Up. I know what you want to ask, so I’ll just get it out of the way now: No, Pixar’s Up is not as good as Wall-E. Please don’t mistake me, however; my feelings on this matter say far more about my unadulterated love for Wall-E than they do about my heartfelt enthusiasm for Up. A light, fanciful, consistently pleasing, often breathtaking adventure film, Up solidifies Pixar’s position (not that it needed any fortification, but no matter) as the preeminent animation studio in the movie business. As Pixar pictures go, Up is fairly conventional (well, insofar as a movie about a grizzled widower traveling to South America by way of a flying house can be termed conventional), but it is nevertheless a delight. With well-rounded (or in Carl Frederickson’s case, well-squared) characters, a suspenseful plot, dialogue that veers from dependably funny to downright uproarious, and vibrant, beautifully textured animation, Up is a prime example of everything a major Hollywood production can be.

I should also note that the first 15 minutes of Up are, quite simply, transcendent. It’s almost unfair because the majesty of the movie’s first quarter-hour can tempt viewers into the perception that the remainder of the film is inferior, even if that remainder is beautiful, funny, and just damn good. But the introduction simply operates on another plane. The projectionist could have set fire to the reels 15 minutes in, and I still would have received my money’s worth.











2. Adventureland. It’s almost odd that I felt such a personal connection to Adventureland, Greg Mottola’s quiet, sneakily great coming-of-age dramedy. It’s not like my late-adolescent life mirrored that of James Brennan, portrayed perfectly in the film by Jesse Eisenberg (soon to be a household name if there’s any justice in the world). Sure, I get the whole “nerdy Jewish kid is incredibly horny and awkward around girls” thing, but I never smoked pot, never suffered through a degrading summer job, and never had anywhere near the success James manages when working women. But the emotional truths revealed in Adventureland are universal, and Mottola’s screenplay relays them with effortlessness and nimble wit, as do his lead actors. Eisenberg continues to refine the quirky personality he first authored in Roger Dodger into a youth of both vulnerable innocence and world-wise intelligence, while Kristen Stewart has proven to be an actress who can say a great deal while speaking very little – the exquisite hesitancy and self-doubt she displays in Adventureland is heart-wrenching. Here is a movie that appears unassuming only to establish itself as a cornerstone of its amorphous genre. And shame on all of you for not seeing it in theatres when you had the chance.

(Seriously, $16 million at the box office for something this great? Meanwhile, motherfucking Monsters vs. Aliens is making a push for $200 million domestic gross. I give up.)










1. Duplicity. Just pure pleasure. An unapologetically slick exercise of unparalleled elegance, Duplicity is coy, wry, and shamefully self-indulgent. It is also utterly exhilarating. One would think that a playful spy flick – Non-linear storytelling! Double-crosses! MI6 vs. CIA! – with such a self-aware spin would reduce itself to something wispy and ephemeral, but that would discount writer-director Tony Gilroy’s unimpeachable command. Ruthlessly formal yet impossibly breezy, Duplicity keeps viewers engaged (dare I say breathless?) by combining a light, jovial air with calculated, precision filmmaking. Gilroy composes every shot with nuance and care, and his screenplay coils and snaps, but his sense of atmosphere is so enchanting that there is no dogged, film-school air about the proceedings. The chemistry between Julia Roberts (in her sexiest performance since Pretty Woman) and Clive Owen (who is, let’s face it, sexy in everything) positively crackles, and the terrifically complicated plot teases the viewer with gradual revelations only to double back on itself for another surprise. The result is an invigorating motion picture, one that pleases without shame. Here’s a movie that made me happy that movies exist.

One other note: Gilroy, for my money, seems to be the American answer to Britain’s Joe Wright, a man whose first two movies – the captivating Pride & Prejudice and the devastating Atonement – immediately granted him status as an auteur. After 15 years as a screenwriter, Gilroy’s directorial debut was Michael Clayton, one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen. Now we have Duplicity. I, for one, cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Best 25 Songs of 2009's First Half

My buddy Brian – a music aficionado if there ever was one – once told me, “Any joker can make one or two catchy songs … it’s so much more difficult to make a cohesive album that is strong from start to finish”. He’s right. That’s why ever since I finally joined the iPod revolution 16 months ago, I’ve been listening to albums in their entirety rather than shuffling through songs from different artists.

That said, there’s something rather irresistible about combing through singles, sampling the best offerings from different bands in a short span. Besides, it’s easier – it might take me months to decide just how much I admire a particular album, but I can get sucked in by a single as quickly as anyone.

Which is why the Manifesto’s mid-year analysis of music is focusing on singles rather than albums. Frankly, I’ve legally purchased (as far as you know) so much music this year that I haven’t yet had sufficient time to parse everything, so any attempt at a “Best Of” album list at the year’s halfway would be pure folly. But I can say, with some degree of certainty, which individual songs have stood out to me through the year’s halfway point.

And so, what follows is the Manifesto’s list of the Top 25 Songs of 2009 thus far. Am I taking the easy way out? Absolutely. Is it foolhardy to individually rank 25 songs? Of course. But it’s fun this way.

One caveat: I selected a maximum of one song for any band/artist – it’s my damn blog, and those are the rules. I’ve also included links to videos (or unofficial Youtube clips with appropriate audio) where possible, so feel free to sample, and certainly let me know in the Comments if you’re aggrieved about any songs I’ve excluded. (I offer my own apologies to the following artists for their omission: Antony and the Johnsons, Arcade Fire, Beirut, The Decemberists, Dirty Projectors, Discovery, Handsome Furs, O+S, and St. Vincent.)

Let’s get to it.


25. Wilco – You and I. The lovely Leslie Feist guests on a simple, elegant duet. Sometimes all you need is a guitar and a woman’s beautiful voice.

24. Yo La Tengo – Gentle Hour. The first of five songs on this list from the extraordinary Dark Was the Night compilation, indie rock legends Yo La Tengo offer an achingly gentle love song befitting its title. The sincerity of the lyrics – “It’s such a pleasure to touch your heart / I can hardly wait” – is unmistakable.

23. Matt & Kim – Daylight. Twin keyboards form the backbone of a rollicking clash between pianos and more ambient percussion. Check out the video for some indefatigable spirit.

22. Franz Ferdinand – Ulysses. It might seem odd that I’m championing a song whose most distinctive lyrics are, “I’m bored, c’mon, let’s get high,” but I can’t deny the propulsive power of the guitars.

21. Fever Ray – If I Had a Heart. Moody, creepy, and utterly hypnotic. It’s as if the low-bass gurgles up from its own self-made abyss. Warning: Do not watch the video unless you want to freak the fuck out.

20. Camera Obscura – French Navy. “I wanted to control it / But love, I couldn’t hold it.” The chorus of Camera Obscura’s enchanting single may also describe the band’s approach to their craft. They can’t help making giddy pop music. It’s not their fault.

19. Little Boots – Earthquake. Speaking of uncontrollable. Sure, it’s dopey, and sure, its lyrics aren’t exactly poetic, but here’s a challenge: Try listening to the techno-funk beats of the chorus (“Every little earthquake / Every little heartbreak going unheard”) without bobbing your head. It’s not possible. This song makes me want to dance, and trust me, I don’t dance. (By the way, the fan-made video is A) Hilarious, and B) Loaded with hot chicks. You can thank me later.)

18. Green Day – 21 Guns. It’s odd that Green Day buried this gem of a punk ballad 16 tracks deep into their rather bloated eighth LP, 21st Century Breakdown. There’s plenty of filler on that album, but “21 Guns” signifies everything Green Day can be – epic and intimate, rocking and melodic, bold and beautiful.

17. The Lonely Island – Jizz in My Pants. So we know it’s funny, and we know it’s a perfect parody of the modern-day bar scene, and we definitely know that the “One more thing, I’m gonna pay by check” line is comedy gold. But here’s my question: Does anyone else think that the dance-fueled music is actually, you know, good? Because I find myself admiring the sonic textures as much as the lyrics. Well, almost.

16. Bon Iver – Brackett, WI. My love affair with Bon Iver knows no bounds. It also seems to know no words, and I mean that literally – here’s another Justin Vernon song in which I can barely identify a single lyric. It doesn’t matter. The slow build, the pseudo-chorus, the bridge – it’s all majesty.

15. Neko Case – This Tornado Loves You. Only a siren with a voice as powerful and mesmeric as Neko Case could write a song about a natural disaster and make it beautiful. Yet here she is, singing in a fury about how she’s “Smashed every transformer with every trailer / Till nothing was standing 65 miles wide”, and all I can focus on is that magical voice.

14. Michael Giacchino – Enterprising Young Men. It may be a tad shady to make a list of pop songs and then throw in a track from a summer blockbuster, but Michael Giacchino’s score for Star Trek is the stuff of legends, most notably this epic, brass-laden track. Any time you compose a theme that rivals John Williams’ greatest, you merit a mention.

13. Animal Collective – My Girls. I don’t pretend to be capable of comprehending Animal Collective’s music at large, but I can appreciate the richness of this song, especially when its hazy sheen and imported-from-another-planet background percussion suddenly give way to a marvelous, direct chorus. Maybe someday I’ll understand the rest of the album, but for now this will do.

12. Lily Allen – Everyone’s At It. It was difficult for me to select one song from Lily Allen’s fantastic sophomore album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, especially given that the first six tracks are all single-worthy. “The Fear” received the first video treatment, but if forced to choose, I’ll take this opener, a witty but surprisingly earnest salvo aimed at the contemporary drug culture. “Why can’t we all, all just be honest / Admit to ourselves that everyone’s on it?” she asks, and the strange thing is that she sounds like she truly wants our attention. Maybe it’s the rainbow sirens or the unapologetic power-pop beat, but whatever it is, I’m inclined to give it to her.

11. Telekinesis – Coast of Carolina. I love pop music that’s unabashed, I-don’t-give-a-fuck pop music, and this is that. It isn’t revolutionary, just some guitars and a rhythm section backing a competent lead singer, but there’s something genuine about it. I don’t know how, but the sudden burst of “Turn it up!” midway through the song always compels me to reach for the volume button.

10. A.C. Newman – The Heartbreak Rides. “And so we ride the heartbreak slides … the heartbreak rides for free.” Now those, my friends, are motherfucking lyrics. Throw in the fantastic electric build while Newman murmurs “Ah yo hoh”, then tack on an explosive finish, and you’ve got one hell of a pop song.

9. The New Pornographers – Hey, Snow White. This is a bit of a cheat, as I’m doubling up on A.C. Newman material, but “The Heartbreak Rides” was part of his solo project, whereas this reunites Newman with his band (including Neko Case). Anyway, this track is about as straightforward as the New Pornographers get, with a tender opening (“Hey, Snow White, it’s gonna be alright”) followed by a fiery refrain, but just because it’s simple doesn’t make it any less compulsively listenable.

8. Morrissey – It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore. About seven months ago, I went through a phase where I listened to The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead at least twice a day. It’s a phase I plan on repeating as soon as possible. And while Morrissey’s latest solo album may lack the nuance of that 23-year-old classic, the songwriter still packs a powerful punch. “Did you really think we meant all of those syrupy sentimental things that we said?” he belts out in his British snarl, a voice both elegant and emphatic, full of passion and loathing. For the song’s part, it inspires naught but love.

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Skeletons. I can’t write about this song. Karen O.’s voice is just too haunting and painful. Suffice to say it’s beautiful. Let’s just move on.

6. The National – So Far Around the Bend. The National are simply a perfect band, and here’s a perfect song, marrying the bottomless depths of Matt Berninger’s voice with a hypnotic slow-burn intro, featuring resonant lyrics such as, “Take a bath and get high through an apple / Want to get high, but you can’t when you’re laughing”. There’s an effortlessness to The National’s music, and as they croon “Now there’s no leaving New York” during the song’s fadeout, we wonder why we’d ever want to.

5. Phoenix – Love Like a Sunset. Things get a little confusing here, as Phoenix appear to have split this spellbinding piece into two distinct parts after the record’s initial release. Indeed, there’s a clear break shortly after the five-minute mark – till then we’ve experienced little but brooding instrumentation and ambient noise. Still, that noise proves critical in appreciating the majesty of the moment when guitars suddenly break up the fray, in an unrelenting but crystal-clear stream of triplets. When vocalist Thomas Mars finally enters (“Day comes, visible horizon / Right where it starts, it ends”), it’s a moment more breathtaking than any sunset.

4. Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks. Jaunty, layered, rhythmic, inscrutable, arresting, buoyant, innovative, eclectic – pick an adjective. This song has it all. (The video, on the other hand, is, er, pretty weird.)

3. Bat for Lashes – Daniel. This song is so fucking beautiful – so desirous, so grand, so opulent – that it makes me wish I were in love, and my girlfriend loved me so much that she played it whenever she missed me. Of course, if that were the case, my girlfriend would likely be a meth-addled hallucinator who escaped from an asylum and imagined she had to defeat the demonic forces of evil while using only her voice in order to reach my side, but whatever. I mean, listen to this fucking chorus! “When I run in the dark, Daniel / To a place that’s ours, Daniel / Under a sheet of rain in my heart, Daniel / I dream of home.” Combine it with Natasha Khan’s exquisite voice, and it makes me want to weep. This may be the most horribly romantic song I have ever heard.

2. Yeasayer – Tightrope. After I finally convinced my aforementioned buddy Brian to listen to Dark Was the Night, he emailed me in ecstasy with the following declaration: “I can say without the slightest bit of hyperbole that the Yeasayer song on Disc 1 is the greatest song in the history of music”. He was probably kidding. Then again, maybe he wasn’t. Either way, it’s a pretty great fucking song.

1. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Stay Alive. Earlier this year, I started taking the Mass Pike to work. If I dodged a few 18-wheelers and ran a few red lights, I could usually make it to the office in about 20 minutes. I would then pause whatever was playing on my iPod, walk into my office, get settled in my cubicle, don my headphones, and press the Play button on my iPod to resume my music. This was my routine.

There was, however, a one-month stretch during which I listened to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s self-titled debut album – a glorious assemblage of shoegaze-tinged melodies – every day during my dreary morning commute. Invariably, I arrived in the parking lot approximately three minutes into the album’s sixth song, called “Stay Alive” and featuring a magnificent refrain of “Don’t you try to shoot at the sky … and stay alive”. Now, in these cases, once I got settled, I would not press the Play button; instead, I would press the Rewind button, thereby starting the song over again. I wanted to listen to “Stay Alive” in its entirety as often as I could. If I ever happened to unpause it in the middle, I always restarted it so I could listen to the entire beautiful, cohesive whole.

And that, dear readers, is how much I love this song.

Here’s to a good second half of 2009.