With the acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, the Raptors finally have the defensive flexibility to be great on that end. Where does this leave Jonas Valanciunas, though? On Raptors HQ, I explored the new, more specialized role for the Lithuanian big, and how he's become more efficient in the games since being slotted in.
Power Forward Friday: Renting Serge Ibaka - February 3
Power Forward Friday: Believing Charles Oakley - February 10
Power Forward Friday: We Did It! - February 17
NBA All-Star 2017 Preview: Lowry shoots threes on Saturday night - February 18
NBA All-Star 2017: Lowry exits Three-Point Contest early - February 18
Trade Deadline Roundup: Raptors gear up, Celtics stand pat - February 24
Kyle Lowry to Undergo Surgery on Wrist, Out 4-5 Weeks - February 27
Raptors beat Nets over Sunday brunch, 103-95 - February 5
Water is wet, Bulls beat Raptors 105-94 - February 14
DeRozan's Jumper Seals 92-91 Raptors Win Over Knicks - February 27
The supersized trade of DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento to New Orleans represented a power shift in the Western Conference's race for the eighth seed. While it hasn't played to script for the Pelicans, I reviewed the early impact of the trade, and how Denver might still surprise all of us. It's over on PRESS Basketball.
Originally published on Same Page Team - February 10, 2017
Last month, I bought George Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass. Very heavy thing. I’m a converted Beatles stan — my mom used to play #1’s on repeat while cooking — but I hadn’t committed much to their solo careers (apart from Paul McCartney, who still tops my Beatles Power Rankings).
All Things Must Pass is, of course, the 1970 debut of Harrison as a solo artist. He had a whole pile of ideas stacked in the corner for this album, having been silenced as Paul and John pioneered much of the Beatles catalogue. All these ideas came rushing out on All Things Must Pass, which plays like a gorgeous summer day; Harrison is teeming with brilliance here, as every track sounds more freeing than the last.
George Harrison created joyous music under the right circumstances. Nothing else in his solo career quite stood up to that impassioned post-Beatles period, where years of ideas culminated into one album. For many artists, it’s the same deal: you need the right inspiration to make music that sounds good, but feels good too.
For The xx and Julie Byrne, that inspiration has arrived; both artists created beautiful, jubilant albums this month, and both did it in very different ways.
The xx became darlings for something more shrouded, and less joyous, than what they’re putting out now.
Their debut xx came out in 2009, enticing listeners with precise guitar and breathy interplay between Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. It was an album built on the sum of its parts. Croft and Sim didn’t just trade lyrics, they sounded like they were deep in conversation — the push and pull of a relationship acted out convincingly by friends.
On their new album I See You, this relationship is as present as ever. On standout “Say Something Loving,” Croft coos “Here come my insecurities / I almost expect you to leave” as Sim inflects beautifully in response: “I wasn’t patient to meet you / Am I too needy, am I too eager?”
The two are crystal clear lyricists, turning phrases with coy skill. When Sim slowly intones “The thoughts flow through my mind / and it’s growing all the ti-ime,” you hold on to the last note and feel the drama he’s intending to create.
The third piece to all this is Jamie xx, who has gone from third wheel to top billing on I See You. His solo debut in 2015 was his breakout, the lauded In Colour — a stunningly bright turn that will go down as one of electronic’s great long plays.
Jamie isn’t shy about applying the rainbow sheen of In Colour to I See You, either. Lead single “On Hold” samples Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” with unapologetic commitment — the sample acting as a chorus for a gorgeously upbeat track.
It adds up to an album where, as Croft puts it, the band “opened windows and let some light in.” Maturity has a big role in this evolution. Croft recently got engaged to her long-time girlfriend. Sim had a notable bout with alcoholism, which he addresses on “A Violent Noise.” Jamie xx has become a superstar, working with the likes of Four Tet in the wake of In Colour. Their natural interplay is good enough to reflect this growth, and I See You feels like a big step forward for the British trio.
Stateside, Julie Byrne has created joy in a more subdued way. The New York native’s new album Not Even Happiness comes from a singer-songwriter who lives in the world’s biggest city, but whose inspiration comes from the American countryside.
Byrne’s finger-picking and deep, sultry singing make her a natural heir to Leonard Cohen’s brand of folk. Her music has all of Cohen’s subtle intonation too. On “Natural Blue,” a quiet strings arrangement gives way to guitar and her lyrics on the lonely journey of touring. “Driving through southwestern towns / that I had been in before” she muses, before the song opens into a more loving turn: “But when I first saw you / the sky it was such a natural blue.” As it was with Cohen, you can’t always make out what Byrne is saying on Not Even Happiness, but her music gives away her inspiration — an organic, peaceful quest for quiet.
It’s kind of perfect that Byrne is a part-time park ranger. Her music, in lyric and in sound, is like a hike through a wooded forest. You can close your eyes, turn on this album, and imagine her playing an acoustic guitar under a 100-foot pine. Her reference to nature is at times coy, but other times direct. On “Follow My Voice,” she sings “To me, this city’s hell / but I know you call it home / I was made for the green / made to be alone.”
For some, joy is finding that time to be alone. The xx might be in opposition to that — I See You comes together best when Croft, Sim, and Jamie are all present and exuberant. Byrne, on the other hand, has created beauty and bliss in life’s more quiet moments.
Jamie xx – Loud Places (feat. Romy)
The xx – Say Something Loving
Sharon Van Etten – Afraid of Nothing
Beck – Blue Moon
Sufjan Stevens – Should Have Known Better
Julie Byrne – Natural Blue
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
George Harrison – My Sweet Lord
In the vein of dudes I used to cheer for, I wrote about Phil Jackson this much. The Knicks are a tire fire right now, and much of that can be traced back to Phil's apathy and... unique approach to basketball operations. I wrote about how his belief system helped him achieve coaching greatness, and how the same beliefs have the Knicks floundering today. It's on PRESS Basketball.
At the peak of the Bulls dysfunction, I attempted to dissect what's gone wrong with the team, who's at fault, and how to fix everything. Of course, there are no easy answers. That's part of what I explored in this feature for PRESS Basketball.
Don't sweat the small stuff. Here's a collection of my other news articles, game previews and recaps from the month of January.
NBA Trade Rumour: Raptors among teams making offers for Paul Millsap - January 6
Power Forward Friday: Taj Gibson, because we already did Millsap - January 6
Power Rankings Week 11: We've Seen Better Days - January 9
Power Forward Friday: The cost of Carmelo Anthony - January 20
Power Forward Friday: The return of Larry Sanders - January 27
Originally published at Same Page Team - January 3, 2017
It’s a new year, which means the music industry is collectively waking up from its December snooze. With end-of-year lists spinning (this guilty party included), the holidays are no time to be putting out an album or try to avert eyes from nostalgia season.
Unless you carry the clout of Beyoncé, who put out her self-titled album a week ahead of Christmas in 2014, there’s little reason to release something at the end of year. Not even the changing industry –- the emergence of streaming, the self-empowerment of free releases, the surprise album –- is likely to change our collective apathy to new music in December.
Of course, the trends of pop and alternative music don’t do much to affect the electronic world. In a single-driven ecosystem, changing seasons do little to change the churn of progressive house – so what better time to spotlight the turntable segment of the music-making population?
My focus this time around is the Anjunadeep 08 compilation, the latest in a line of, you guessed it, eight deep house compilations from Above & Beyond’s Anjunadeep label. A two-disc LP mixed by label manager James Grant and 90’s house pioneer Jody Wisternoff, Anjunadeep 08 is an overarching look at the deep progressive sound — one that’s become a favourite of BBC and the London DJ scene.
Indeed, the figurehead artists of Anjunadeep 08 were lauded by influential radio DJs throughout 2016. Yotto, a Finnish producer who broke out in 2015, enjoyed no less than four “Essential New Tune” titles from Pete Tong this year –- for “Personal Space”, “Aviate”, “The Owls”, and a remix of Rufus De Sol’s “Like An Animal”.
Yotto’s newer cuts, including the bouncing “Fire Walk,” have moved to a clubbier sound –- set-finishers rather than starters, but still with the dark, brooding undertones. It eschews the festival EDM drops for a subtle beat progression, one where the bass and melody drive the song, not a single build to a drop.
London’s Icarus are another up-and-comer. Their single “Home” resonated on radio airwaves throughout Europe, mixing the gorgeous melodies of London Grammar with a mainstream deep sound. They’ve earned praise from the likes of Kieran Hebden (Four Tet), and look to me as this genre’s Disclosure, able to take a niche sound and project it outward with melodic earworms.
These are just two examples of what’s become the norm among BBC heads. A few years ago, I was turned on to Essential Mixes by a friend –- using those 3 a.m. avant garde sets by Flying Lotus, Eric Prydz, Above & Beyond, and Nicolas Jaar to soundtrack my studying, my workouts, my commutes. It was the beginning of a BBC fling.
Their Radio One formula, which mixes pop in the daylight and dance after hours, is one that’s been copied by Apple’s Beats 1 here in North America. The online-only station even poached Zane Lowe, who’s now their Los Angeles-based DJ. His move, though, hasn’t changed the food chain. There’s still no taste-maker region topping London. In my experience: if you want to hear what’s next, you go to BBC Radio One.
What’s next for 2017 is a continued emergence of the progressive house sound. With its dark, villainous undertones, throbbing basslines, and flashes of vocal melody, it’s well-suited to the times. We all want something to keep us moving through the day. Deep house mixes like Anjunadeep 08 do just that.
Sam Smith – Like I Can (Jonas Rathsman Remix)
Boom Jinx & Soundprank – We Know (feat. Katrine Stenbekk) [Vintage & Morelli Remix]
Isaac Tichauer – I’ll Let You Go
Solomon Grey – Broken Light (J_Ashworth Diffraction Remix)
Icarus – Home (feat. Aurora)
Icarus – Hiding
Dusky – Skin Deep
Yotto – Fire Walk
At PRESS Basketball, our writers have started a series called "No Country For Old Men", a kind of memorandum for NBA vets and alumni who changed the game. My first contribution is on one of my weird childhood heroes, Dennis Rodman.
I (attempted to) write about the moments that fascinated me, how his eccentricities subverted his basketball life, and continued into retirement. You can read the piece at PRESS Basketball.
Originally published on Same Page Team - December 5, 2016
When Blonde came out, I was at a cabin somewhere outside of cell range.
I had pilfered some WiFi and read a tweet that the album was released. Fresh off an evening where I sat on my couch and watched Frank Ocean build a staircase, followed by a morning spent on the road, I scrambled to sign up for Apple Music and streamed it to the smallest Bluetooth speaker possible. Blonde sounded… bad. It was too slow. There was no melody to grab on to. Somebody told me to turn it off, and I didn’t put up much of a fight.
Then, listening on the drive back home at full volume, the album opened for me. The slow rise from “Skyline To” to Andre’s verse on “Solo (Reprise),” the disquieting outro on “Futura Free,” that little Beatles allusion on “White Ferrari.” Over the next week, I got into Blonde like I used to get into albums –- when I had more time, when I was alone on the back of a bus somewhere in suburban Winnipeg. I got into it through pure repetition.
That process of discovery, divesting myself of everything else to investigate the corners and blunt edges of a great album, is what I love about new music. It’s one of the few things that make me happiest. Even better, the July drive listening to Blonde was in the middle of a year that I’d be okay otherwise forgetting. We all shared restless feelings in 2016 — watching the news, waiting for the next disaster. The small moments, the ones where we could press play and forget everything else, felt a little more romantic.
In general, the music we heard this year matched our restlessness. Faced with the world around them, artists turned inward and created masterpieces.
Radiohead and Bon Iver made triumphant returns to the spotlight with powerful reminders of their talent. For Thom Yorke, it was a long return to the band after his side projects. The songs on A Moon Shaped Pool remind us how important Jonny Greenwood is to his music, and how his lyrics can still make us ache when the curtain is pulled back. Justin Vernon, meanwhile, identified a new way to deliver his balladry –- the Messina synthesizer –- and pushed his folk roots into the digital world.
Frank Ocean came from nowhere with Blonde, a gorgeous revelry in loneliness and introspection. Kanye West looked in the mirror too –- unsurprising, sure -– and found the scattered, but frequently brilliant The Life of Pablo. It’s nothing new to see West express his personal angst through music, but it was still rewarding to see his mental state reflected in this album. He’s been an open book his whole career, and this turn is no different.
Black artists more comfortable writing about social issues did their thing too. Blood Orange’s Freetown Sound and Solange’s A Seat at the Table are stunning –- the former a celebration of African-American life in the face of death, the latter a declaration of self-love through the struggles of black womanhood. Beyoncé approached a similar topic with a more energized approach than her sister –- framing feminism and ideology through marital issues on Lemonade.
These albums, palpable voices of black life, were so crucial in a year where the U.S. Election threw most of us into a permanent state of unrest.
The Life of the Party
Finally, lest we forget about music unconcerned with larger meaning, there was some fun to be had out there. Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book is primed to top a lot of lists this month, and for good reason. He so easily makes rap into undiluted caffeine, an instant pick-me-up when you have no other options. Anderson. Paak was everywhere, with features galore. His album Malibu shows off his assured Motown roots and is unabashed in its soulful nostalgia. Montreal’s Kaytranada finally got his dues with the Polaris Prize, as his beat tape 99.9% featured joyous R&B. Put it on at your next house party, and you’re guaranteed to win some friends.
Finding joy through music felt more important this year. You get it however you can –- whether it’s through a DIIV guitar wall or Obongjayar’s hum, whether it’s listening to Swae Lee talk about John Lennon lenses or Mitski going soft-to-loud. We needed music to help us find our joy when the world was stepping on our throats. We lost David Bowie, for god’s sake. Prince was only 57!
2016, man. Artists died. Racism won. Nationalism rose. Living in these times, you feel the constant need to self-identify as a decent person, someone with a moral code. This internal struggle is exhausting; I know I’ll still gets nausea waves when I remember who the next American president is. When we get tired, feel the need to turn off for a moment, we need music to be our catharsis.
Discovering a new track on a drive home, picking a new album out of a plastic crate at the record store –- that’s happiness. This year, more than any other, we needed that happiness to counter-balance our angst. 2016’s new music did that. We can put on our headphones, recover, and get set to face whatever the new year brings.
Kanye West – Famous
Beyoncé – Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Chance the Rapper – No Problem (feat. 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne)
Kaytranada – Got It Good (feat. Craig David)
Anderson. Paak – Am I Wrong (feat. ScHoolboy Q)
Frank Ocean – Pink & White
Blood Orange – Best to You
Solange – Cranes in the Sky
Drake – Feel No Ways
The 1975 – Somebody Else
James Blake – I Need A Forest Fire (feat. Bon Iver)
Radiohead – Daydreaming
Obongjayar – Creeping
Moses Sumney – Lonely World
Kanye West – Wolves / Frank’s Track
Frank Ocean – Ivy
DIIV – Under The Sun
Twin River – Antony
Japanese Breakfast – In Heaven
Mitski – Your Best American Girl
Car Seat Headrest – Destroyed By Hippie Powers
Rihanna – Work (feat. Drake) [Lost Kings Extended Remix]
Rae Stremmurd – Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane)
Kanye West – Ultralight Beam
Radiohead – True Love Waits
Bon Iver – 29 #Strafford APTS