Shuffle Lessons, Volume 3.

It’s been a long time since I posted a Shuffle Lessons. My last SL post came on August 18, 2012 – back when I still wrote in lowercase letters and the Royals hadn’t made the playoffs in my lifetime. A few nights ago I got into a conversation about various artists from my teenage and college years – Green Day, Simple Plan, The Rocket Summer, Linkin Park to name a few – and I got a hankering to do a quick shuffle through my iTunes.

Plus I have a LOT of other writing to get done today, and things like this always provide a nice way to break through the writer’s block and get the blood flowing in the fingers a bit.

A refresher on how this works: I open iTunes, select my “Top 2000 Most Played” playlist, click “shuffle songs” and write a paragraph on the first five songs that come up. It’s very random, but with a few caveats. If another song off the same album comes up, I’m skipping it and going on to the next one. If the song provides nothing substantial out of context, I’m skipping it. Example: the track “The Library (Intro)” opens the new Childish Gambino album – It’s a 5 seconds long snippet of some spinning machinery…I’m not writing a paragraph about that despite it having 11 plays and breaking in near the bottom of my Top 2000 Most Plays playlist.

If you want to listen to the songs, the titles are all linked to each of them.

Okay. That’s all the caveats. I’m giving myself 20 minutes here so lets get started, shall we? Lettuce.

Say You Will – Kanye West

In the wake of his sample heavy and insanely popular third album, Graduation, Kanye’s mom passed away from a botched surgery and his long-time fiancé broke off their engagement. This was around 2008. We all wanted another installment of the academic-themed College Dropout/Late Registration/Graduation albums, but instead we got 808s and Heartbreaks – a stripped down emotional auto-tuned album that was mostly disappointing. I guess I should’ve expected Kanye to trek into new territory after he “graduated” from his first three works, but this was too different and not remotely revolutionary. Although, looking back on this album after Dark Fantasy and Yeezus makes me realize that 808s was simply a stepping stone toward what the sound would eventually become.

“Say You Will” is the opening track to the album. Subtle piano and choir-esque “ahhs” accompanies the “beep…boop” and drum cadence that loops throughout the track. The song is fine – a perfect example of what is to come on the album.

Related: I prefer this Dido/Kanye mashup of the song…

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – Amy Winehouse

Continuing the “preceding album is one of my all-time favorites but this album was forced in another direction” theme with this one – Back to Black was one of my all-time favorites and a death caused the followup to drastically move in another direction. It was the death of Kanye’s mother that changed his direction, but the death between these albums was Amy’s own. I was on vacation in Europe in the summer of 2009 when I found out Amy Winehouse had died from drug use in Camdentown. I had been in Camdentown just two days earlier exploring the shops and pubs of the London neighborhood. It was shocking and breaks my heart still.

Thus, this track comes on her posthumous work, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. She had been recording and working on another album at the time of her death, but it’s obvious she didn’t have much work done on it because this album feels far from complete. The album is mostly covers and remixes of her old stuff with a couple new tracks. “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” is a cover of a track by the same name by The Shirelles from 1961. Here’s that song…

It’s a good cover – true to the original, so nothing really earth-shatteringly special. But it’s still beautiful. “WYSLMT?” has horns and backup Dreamgirls-esque vocals. I just love Amy’s voice. I can picture her in a smokey lounge sitting on a stool with a spotlight on her while she melts the hearts of everyone present. If only. RIP Amy.

Necromancer – Gnarls Barkley

Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo made a wonderful team their three years of making music – way too short. They put out two albums. I love them both.

In the past, I’ve asked myself this question: which Gnarls Barkley album do I like more, St. Elsewhere (2006) or The Odd Couple (2008)? St. Elsewhere has some of my favorite Gnarls tracks – “Crazy” and “Smiley Face” and “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” and “The Last Time” – but The Odd Couple is a better album from start to finish. It lacks the real stinkers that St. Elsewhere has. About 75% of the time I think I like The Odd Couple more. But then “Crazy” comes on and I get thrown back to the summer of 2006 and it’s St. Elsewhere instead.

“Necromancer” is one of those stinkers. Tracks 7-12 make up the desert portion of the album, and it’s track 12. Honestly, the only time I listen to this track is when I fail 6 consecutive times to skip these tracks and go straight to track 13, “Storm Coming.” The song features distorted static vocals with a ominous dark feel to them. There’s no chorus. Just a few verses with synth solos between verses. Danger Mouse really kills it with these solos, but they’re lost between Cee-Lo’s weird verses. Moving on.

Daria – Cake

“Man, why don’t I listen to more Cake?!” – me, this past Saturday morning when I woke up and listened to two and a half of their albums – Fashion Nugget (which this song comes from), Prolonging the Magic and some Pressure Chief since I didn’t have class.

John McCrae is the vocalist for Cake. I only know his name because Ben Folds announces him following McCrae’s backup vocals on the live album version of “Fred Jones, Part II.” As you probably know, his style is unlike anything else around. Is he singing, or is he just talking? Hard to say, but I really enjoy it.

I always assumed that “Daria” was about the MTV show by the same name – Daria was a spinoff of Beavis and Butthead, which I was never allowed to watch as a kid but nevertheless quoted at the lunch table with the kids who did. But upon further research I discovered that Daria first aired in 1997 and Fashion Nugget came out in 1996. Maybe they were singing about her before she had her own show. The show featured the Cake song a couple times though, so maybe MTV and Cake were in talks about it? I sure don’t know. Anyone out there have the answer to this conundrum?

This isn’t my favorite song on the album, but only because Fashion Nugget is so strong. It’s good fun just like the rest of Cake’s stuff though. Big fan of Cake.

Pusher Love Girl – Justin Timberlake

Rounding out this Shuffle Lesson is the ultimate Vacation Track – the strings that open “Pusher Love Girl” and the entire 20/20 Experience immediately transport me to a boat in the middle of the Miami intercostal waterway. I just can’t help it. The memories this song triggers are just way too strong.

Justin is singing about Mary Camden (aka Jessica Biel, his wife) being his drug that takes makes him “so high [he’s] on the ceiling, babe” and “all [he] want[s] is [her].” The strings guide this song along with Justin’s falsetto, backup horns and a snappy cadence that immediately forces a strange and uncontrolled response of weightless arms. It’s light and airy and somehow the arms just start floating away from the sides of my body. Is it a dance? Hard to say. Again, I can’t help it. This song just gets into my bloodstream like Jessica gets into Justin’s.

I will say – this song is three minutes too long. Justin loves his extended tracks these days and this song just goes on and on about being a “junkie” for her love. I can do without part two of this track.

But now I’m turning off this vacation track so I can be productive. This was fun. On to writing some papers and some book.

-apc.

Beyoncé – Beyoncé

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Look. This is Beyoncé’s world and we ought to just be thankful we get to breathe the same air she does. Beyoncé – the album and the artist – is going to win Album of the Year, and it’s not really close.

First thing I need to bring up about this album is it’s release. Sometime in the middle of the night on December 13, 2013, it just appeared on iTunes. There was no build up. No pre-release single. No rumors or leaks. One moment it wasn’t there, and then the next moment it was. After 3 days, 800 thousand people had downloaded the album. In 10 days: 1.3 million downloads.

Apparently writing and recording had begun as far back as 2012. It’s a visual album, with 14 songs and 17 videos, and the collaborator list extends to something like 50+ individuals – from big names like Pharrell, Drake, Sia and Justin Timberlake to relatively unknown names like Boots, who produced the bulk of the tracks. And obviously her husband, Jay-Z.

How is it even possible for 50 different people to stay completely silent on the project for well over a year?! How does no one say anything for that long?! What kind of power must an individual possess in order to keep a group that large so silent for so long?

Somehow, Beyonce has risen to that level of power. This is NOT the girl from Destiny’s Child. This is not even Sasha Fierce. This is NOT the leotard wearing, hand waving diva from Single Ladies. She and her husband have managed to transcend all others on this planet. I have no hesitation in dubbing them the most powerful couple in the world.

I suppose it shouldn’t be shocking, then, to imagine that Queen Bey is capable of such a release. It really sparks the conspiracy theorist in me – what sort of power are we dealing with when it comes to Beyonce? Does she know whether the Apollo 11 mission actually landed on the moon? Does she know the truth behind the Denver Airport construction conspiracy? I mean, in the same year that her husband released an album with “Holy Grail” in the title, Beyonce manages to sneak a complete visual album on to the internet without anyone noticing or anyone saying a word? This is some serious Illuminati ish, if you ask me.

I mean? Who is she even competing with for Queen at this point? Taylor Swift? Lady Gaga? Next to Bey, these two seem off-brand. At one point on the album, Bey tells us all to “bow down, bitches,” and we basically respond, “yeah, sure…I mean, yes, ma’am.”

But here’s the other thing about the surprise release: it only worked because this album was so daggum good.

“But Adam, it’s dirty! Have you listened to the lyrics? It’s like super sexual and dark and graphic in places.”

Isn’t it though?! Yep, this isn’t the Beyonce we’re all familiar with. This Beyonce is deeper and darker and harsher than ever before. This isn’t Bootylicious or Jumpin’ Jumpin’. This isn’t Irreplaceable or even Crazy in Love. This album is hot and heavy and borderline voyeuristic in spots. This album gives us a peak inside Beyoncé’s marriage that we probably shouldn’t be allowed to see.

Beyonce is trying to say something about marriage. In a culture where the sanctity of marriage is rare, the divorce rate is skyrocketing and promiscuity is borderline applauded, suddenly there’s Beyonce and Jay-Z. She’s telling us that marriage can be ultra sexy and desirable. Sex isn’t only attractive when it’s promiscuous – marriage can be steamy too. This isn’t a message we receive often in our culture.

It’s actually refreshing to listen to an album and know exactly who the artist is singing about. When she sings about how she’s “Drunk in Love” and the last thing she remembers is “our beautiful bodies grinding up in that club” – you know exactly who she’s dancing with. Jay-Z is the focus of every love interest-focused lyric. It’s an interesting twist we don’t see often in music these days. This is like John Lennon and Yoko Ono only instead of breaking up the Beatles they basically rule the entire planet.

But its not just about Bey and Jay – it’s also about motherhood. The last track on the album is called “Blue” after her daughter and future destroyer of worlds, Blue Ivy Carter. Blue undoubtedly has achieved genetic superiority over the rest of mankind. (It’s also been rumored that Beyonce is pregnant with #2. Or, should I say, they’ve hired another surrogate for round two.) Blue even gets her first vocal spot at the end of the album: “Hold on to me! Hold on!” Beyonce is positioning herself as a wife and mother – and one with all sorts of power.

This whole album exudes power. There’s even a track titled “Superpower” with Frank Ocean (naturally, my favorite track on the album since I’m a sucker for anything Frank does). It’s a feminist album. Women are powerful, and Beyonce the most powerful of them all.

Flawless” incorporates a spoken feminist speech from Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that questions how we have taught women to view themselves – as lesser, smaller, less powerful and less free to be sexual and ambitious as men. There’s no mistaking the agenda here. Beyonce ought to be applauded for her willingness to unabashedly fight for how her gender is represented. The album reframes multiple aspects of womanhood – marriage and kids, sure, but power and influence and sexuality too.

The album took a risk and moved Beyonce away from being a poppy, Top 40 artist and toward the heart of the hip-hop/rap genre.

The tracks are occasionally disjointed – longer tracks, seemingly two song in one at times – and there are a half dozen jarring moments into audio clips of musical competitions from Beyoncé’s childhood or paparazzi crowds. The tracks are structured in completely different ways. It’s tough to find a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure on this album. “Haunted” – for example – incorporates multiple movements: an intro audio clip, an opening verse and a spoken section all lead up to the actual track which doesn’t really begin until 3 minutes into the song. It’s a journey from movement to movement rather than a typical pop album from track to track. The exceptions are “XO” and “Drunk in Love” – the first two singles for the album – which are probably the most well known tracks but the ones I’m the least jazzed about.

Let’s take a quick track-by-track look at the album and wrap this thing up…

Pretty Hurts – Written by Sia. It’s a song about beauty and self worth. Not my favorite. Also, I can’t stand that the open to the whole album is some guy asking Beyonce (aka Miss Third Ward) what her aspiration in life is at some beauty pagent. Meh.

Haunted Already mentioned the structure of this song, but it’s one of my favorites. Eerie and ominous.

Drunk in Love – Surfbort.

Blow – An upbeat Pharrell and JT track. It’s basically the same lyrical content as Justin Timberlake’s “Strawberry Bubblegum” and just as awkward in spots.

No Angel – Least favorite song on the album. I usually skip it. It’s the only one I can say that about. Lots of breathy vocals from Bey. Just not a fan.

Partition – The most explicit track on the album, hands down. Things get hot in the back of a limo and “we ain’t even gonna make it to this club.” The intro percussion was conceived by JT.

Jealous – Interesting conflict in the marriage conversation. The wife is home cooking dinner for her man in the buff…”so where the hell you at!?” But seriously, Beyonce gets jealous? Doubtful.

Rocket – Oooooo a slow jam?!? Smooth and sultry. Beyonce has even said it reminds her of D’Angelo’s “Untitled.”

Mine – This song features Drake. I’m not a big Drake fan, but this song is beautiful. “I just wanna say, you’re mine all mine” the chorus croons.

XO – The single. If this was all you heard off this album, you might think this is the same ole Beyonce.

Flawless – The feminist track. Coined the phrase “I woke up like this.”

Superpower – In a world starved for more Frank Ocean, this track feels like a Godsend. Amazing how similar their voices are – nailing the insanely low end of the register but able to go high too. I’m praying for a new Frank Ocean album in 2015.

Heaven – A song about death?! Woah. Sad and dark, but freeing at the same time.

Blue – A song for and about her daughter, Blue. But don’t be fooled by the sappy subject matter – this song is legit.

There you go. The album that I believe is a no brainer for Album of the Year. And deservedly so. When someone inevitably makes some comment about how the Grammys just give awards to the biggest names, I’ll be here to remind you that the biggest names are huge for a reason.

This album is insane, and deserves any award it receives.

My Top Tracks: Superpower, Haunted, Flawless, Mine

-apc.

The other albums up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

RETURN TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

Morning Phase – Beck

81coqLBpCWL._SL1400_Beck is up for Album of the Year at the Grammys? File that one under, “didn’t even know he made an album in 2014.”

My scope for Beck is admittedly narrow. I know his biggest hits – namely “Loser” and “Where It’s At” – as well as anyone, but the rest of his catalogue is basically foreign. I know two of his albums, really: I got into Guero (the songs “E-Pro” and “Girl” specifically) back in college for a few months, and his fifth studio album, Odelay, is more of a word I’ve heard before than an album I’ve listened to at all. Overall, I’d say I’m clued into about 4% of the music Beck has put out. Why so low? Mostly because his discography includes TWELVE STUDIO ALBUMS. He’s putting out music like he’s U2, only instead of forcing it upon anybody with an iTunes account, he never told anyone.

It’s pretty amazing a guy who was worried about becoming a one-hit-wonder back in the early 90’s has suddenly had three different albums nominated at the Grammys for Album of the Year (Odelay, 1997; Midnite Vultures, 2001; Morning Phase, 2015). Beck keeps making music and it keeps getting critically high praise.

Beck’s real name is Bek Hansen. He was born Bek Campbell but his parents divorced and he took his mom’s name. He dropped out of school after 8th grade. At 19 he moved to New York with a guitar and eight dollars. He was basically homeless on both coasts for many years, living on friends couches that he met in NYC. His transient upbringing led to a variety of influences. Sometimes he would play gigs at bars or coffee shops and people wouldn’t really be paying attention so he’d start making up ridiculous lyrics to see if anyone would notice.

Beck wrote “Loser” as a goofy side project that he didn’t really think much of. When he moved back to LA it got released as a single and blew up on the radio. Still essentially homeless, he thought it was a mediocre song, but suddenly record companies were in a crazy bidding war over him. He signed with Greffen Records which basically just told him to do whatever he wanted – probably why he picked them over others.

I can’t figure out who Beck really is. I get the vibe he’s an anxious songwriter who fears getting labeled as…anything really, but especially a one-hit-wonder. It seems like any time Beck begins to get pigeon-holed as some sort of genre or “type” of artist, he pushes back and becomes anti-that. His time in New York found him heavily involved in the anti-folk movement, and he seems to have adopted the “anti-” mindset all the time.

Name a music genre and I bet he’s associated with it. Most of the awards he has won or been nominated for are in the “alternative” or “rock” categories – which basically means nothing anymore – but he sites hip-hop as a major influence as well as Latin music. Both are likely due to the neighborhoods where he grew up in poorer areas of LA. He’s electronica. He’s folk. He’s anti-folk. He’s funk, and soul, and blues. He studied R. Kelly (insert Trapped in the Closet reference here) and his R&B style. Pitchfork said his album Midnight Vultures “wonderfully blends Prince, Talking Heads, Paul’s Boutique [by the Beastie Boys], ‘Shake your Bon-Bon’ [by Ricky Martin], and Mathlete.”

Beck seems to have much higher standards for himself than the rest of the public does for him. He thought Loser was average, but the public loved it. He writes dozens of songs and then scraps them all and only uses 1 for the final record. There’s a story of Beck writing something like 40 songs, recording them on to cassettes and then leaving a briefcase full of said cassettes backstage at a show and losing them forever. Seemingly every record is a hodgepodge of old songs he’s recorded that he throws together when he feels it’s time to release more content. It’s like he’s Apple or something – he has everything everyone wants already locked and loaded, it’s just a matter of the rest of the world reaching the point where they’re asking for it.

All that to say, Beck’s all over the place. His transformation album to album is insane. Even back to back releases are can be night and day. His last album, Modern Guilt was produced by Danger Mouse (!!!) and sounds like it was produced by Danger Mouse. It’s funky and electronic. It’ll make you bump and groove.

That was 2008 and it’s been 6 years. So I had no idea what to expect when I picked up Morning Phase for a listen and a review. Only 29 more days til Grammy night. Gotta toughen up.

But wait – this isn’t the quirky, all-over-the-place Beck I was expecting. This is mellow. Chill. Subdued. This album is more like Iron and Wine or Sigur Ros or Guster than it is any of those bands Pitchfork mentioned back in 1999. Morning Phase is deep strings and sustained piano chords. It doesn’t jump around like Beck’s early records do, this one is cohesive throughout. It’s easy listening – an acoustic record you might put on after you wake up while you work on a sudoku or read the sports page and sip on coffee – especially if the temperature is in the single digits. It feels like a sunrise over a chilly pasture. I bet the directors of Pride and Prejudice wish they could go back in time and use this album for that juicy emotional scene when Darcy tells Elizabeth that his affections have not changed. (“You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I luh…I luff…“)

Apparently the foundational tracks for Morning Phase were written in 2005 – that’s nearly a decade ago, by the way – but Beck tabled them until 2012 when he began to expand on “Blackbird Chain” and “Country Down” (featuring a harmonica solo) and “Waking Light” which hold down the back half of the album, the latter coming at the end. Interesting that the songs that drive the whole album would end up on the B-Side. Here’s “Waking Light” the song that concludes the record…

Beck kinda looks like Michael Cera.

It’s hard to pick out other favorite tracks off an album that is so solid from start to finish (I’m having the same problem with D’Angelo’s Black Messiah too – love em all). I suppose “Blue Moon” is the single for a reason, so I should probably share it next.

It’s a sad and melancholy album, but there’s no denying that this album is beautiful and deserves to be nominated for a Grammy. If history has anything to say about it, Beck will probably lose out to a more mainstream album (read: Beyonce), but should take home other categorial honors instead. Morning Phase is up for Best Rock Album, Song and Performance (for “Blue Moon”) against the likes of Ryan Adams, Jack White, The Black Keys and Utoo.

If I were voting, I’d pick it for Best Rock Album of the year and give Song/Performance to Ryan Adams/Jack White for “Gimme Something Good” and “Lazaretto.” This album ought to be critiqued as a unit and not as an individual song. Blue Moon is nice, but the entire 47 minute album is where its at (see what i did there?).

-apc.

For other reviews up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

RETURN TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

Christmas Board Games, 2010-2014. This year’s purchase: Camel Up.

Does anyone else buy Christmas gifts for themselves?

No? Nobody?

Well, I do. That way even if everyone else really bombs the gift giving, I still have the gifts I got myself to fall back on. It’s foolproof. It’s never resorted to that though, so instead I just get some bonus gifts for myself.

Typically these gifts come in two forms: baseball cards in my own stocking and board games.

I’m just now realizing this, but 2014 will mark the 5th consecutive year of buying myself a board game for Christmas. I always write our cats names on the To/From tags as if they’re not actually gifts “To: Adam, From: Adam” – but the jig is up, and even the cats probably know the truth by now.

I thought I’d share the past 5 years worth of board games with you all. They’ve actually all been a hit up to this point. Maybe this tradition will continue and I’ll post a new game every December. Who knows. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Here are the 5 board games I’ve picked up over the past 5 years dating back to 2010.

***

2010: Ticket to Ride – Europe

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Ticket to Ride is an game of railroad expansion. It’s probably the most well known game on this list – I had already played the United States version prior to this purchase. If you’ve only played the US version – you gotta grab the Europe version. It’s way more difficult and has a few extra quirks thrown in that make the game more interesting.

Each player gets cards with a few destination routes on them and the goal is to complete as many routes/railroads as possible. You get more points for the degree of difficulty in the route. For example, if your two route goals are London to Paris and Constantinople to Edinburgh, you’re goal is to create a rail path that connects those cities. Obviously, London to Paris is not a long trek, so it’s easily accomplished, but you don’t get many points for it. Constantinople to Edinburgh is corner to corner across Europe, so it would be one of the most rewarding routs to complete.

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The catch is that opponents are utilizing the same routes and once someone plays in a location, you can’t go there anymore, so being strategic, secretive and methodical is important if you want to keep your opponent from blocking your routes.

The wrinkles in this game that make it different from the U.S. version: there are tunnels and depots to make the game a bit more difficult. Tunnels are harder to build than normal rails and require more of a risk/reward if you can pull one off. They’ll get you there faster, but if the cards don’t fall your way it could set you back a turn. Depots are necessary in the European version – since the continent and cities are way more compact, the game allows you to build up to three depots so you can utilize opponents rails to reach your destinations.

Overall, it’s a more cutthroat version of the United States game as it’s much more difficult to maneuver around the tighter terrain. It’s a fun strategic game that is relatively simple for anyone to figure out. A game lasts about 45 minutes too, so it’s the perfect length to get involved without people getting bored. Great family game. I’d recommend it for anyone.

2011: Wits and Wagers

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We play this game nearly every time we go to my parents house for an evening. It’s a party trivia game – super simple, somewhat educational and a game where winning or losing doesn’t feel super important.

Each full game lasts 7 rounds. Each round centers around a different trivia question, and every question has a numerical answer. Examples: How many Grammys did Kanye West’s debut album, “The College Dropout” win? Or, How many total hours did the Apollo 11 mission spend on the moon? Or, How many rat tails are in minkerfoils? Or, What year did Babe Ruth allegedly “call his shot” before hitting a home run at Wrigley Field?

I’m just spitballing here though. These may or may not be real questions.

Players have tiny dry erase boards to write their guesses to each question. These answers don’t have to be remotely correct, they simply become the boundaries for the betting round that follows. Answers are spread across the game mat from smallest to largest number as seen here.

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Then players have an opportunity to bet on which of the players answers is closest to the correct answer without going over (a.k.a. The Price Is Right wagering). Players each begin with two betting tokens and can increase their bets by 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, etc. – each round they can bet on either 1 or 2 different answers and can risk as many of their chips as they want.

This game is all about smart betting based off educated guesses. Older players likely have an advantage in this game as they have a greater bank of facts and years in their brains, but that can also work to their detriment when they think they know the right answer rather than betting the right answer.

For example, the answer to the Babe Ruth question above is the year 1932. People generally know that I know a lot about baseball, so they might intentionally bet on my answer or around it even though they have no idea who Babe Ruth was. In fact, they might even guess “1999” and be no where close, but simply follow my guessing or betting.

I might intentionally write “1970” on the card as a way of duping my opponent into betting the wrong place, even though I know that’s not even close to being correct. Individuals who know more than others at the table about a question sometimes get so caught up in knowing the answer that they forget that isn’t how the game is won. You don’t get any points for guessing the number correctly, your only reward comes from successful betting.

It’s a super fun multigenerational game to play together as a family. The questions are diverse and level the playing field for the group. Extremely fun game. Lasts about 15-20 minutes total and playing multiple games in a sitting is totally an option.

2012: Alhambra

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I first learned what the Alhambra was when my wife got to visit the real one when she studied abroad in Granada, Spain, in the summer of 2007. Well, she wasn’t my wife yet, but I was really hoping she’d want to be someday. I’ve since gotten to go back with her on two separate occasions. Just writing that paragraph gives me the itch to go back and visit again.

The Alhambra was in the voting for one of the modern wonders of the world. It’s a Moorish defense castle located in the Sierra Nevada mountains in southeastern Spain. It’s a gorgeous structure with detailed intricate architecture, fountains and (my personal favorite) enormous hedges.

This game is a bit of an anomaly on the list because I actually bought this as a gift for my wife as much as myself. We are both super nostalgic when it comes southern Spain and when I discovered this game and read it’s overwhelming positive reviews, I was really excited to get it.

In the game, each player builds their own “Alhambra” by drawing money cards of four different currencies and paying for tiles corresponding to that currency. Tiles are then constructed in front of each individuals by placing the tiles adjacent to one another. Some tiles have gardens on them, others have turrets or fountains or ornate hallways. Points are awarded for the most tiles of each color-coded category and to the player with the longest exterior wall.

Alhambra - finished game

It’s not a super complicated game. Individuals with heightened spacial recognition excel at this game. It has less strategy than some similar games – Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are likely more strategic than this one. It’s a strategy game for those people who don’t love strategy games – takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Plus, when you’ve actually been to the real thing, it’s fun to get to imagine yourself strolling the halls of the Alhambra you’ve created.

2013: Puerto Rico

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This is the most strategic and complicated game on this list. The premise of Puerto Rico is that each player is a governor of San Juan, settling and developing the city by growing commodities – corn, wheat, coffee, etc. – and shipping the goods off to Europe for building supplies to further your development.

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I imagine this game as a zoomed in version of Settlers of Catan, actually. Rather than simply picking up cards on the corresponding spaces, each commodity must be purchased, grown, loaded and shipped in order to receive any further development. If products aren’t shipped out in time, they go bad and you lose them.

I’ve probably played this game a half dozen times in the year that I’ve owned it. It’s rare that it gets pulled out though because it’s a bit too meticulous for me. It’s about an 60-75 minute game. It’s still super fun, but I think I’d rather play something a bit more simplified – board games are fun, but at a certain point they start getting too technical and lose their excitement. This game flirts with that edge. Still, if you’re a Ben “Cones of Dunshire” Wyatt type, then this is your game.

2014: Camel Up

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Presenting the 2014 Christmas Board Game: Camel Up (which, my wife tells me looks like “Camel Cup” on the front of the box).

Camel Up is basically a trip to the racetrack. Five camels begin in the starting block together and move (slowly) around the perimeter of the board space by space. Players then win or lose the game by betting on these camels throughout the game.

Each camel has a color-corresponding die. The dice are placed inside the pyramid which then serves as a pseudo-Yahtzee cup, only this pyramid is rigged up to only let out one die at a time. Whatever die is rolled, that corresponding camel moves forward that many spaces. When all 5 dice are rolled, the betting round ends, money is won or lost, and the dice return to the pyramid for the next round.

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Players can bet on which camel is in first place after each betting round, but they can also place bets on the overall winning and overall losing camel at any point in the race. Whoever gets their bet in fastest (and is correct) gets the most money paid out. Whoever has the most cheese at the end wins.

The best part about this game: if the camels end up on the same tile, they are placed on the back of the camel that is already there. So it’s possible for all 5 camels to be stacked on top of one another on the same tile. If, for example, the yellow camel is the second from the bottom of the stack and the yellow die is rolled form the pyramid, the player would then pick up the yellow camel and all the camels on top of it. This means a camel is never out of the race. A last place camel could end up on the back of another camel and just ride it out to victory.

For example, in the game board image above, if the white die rolls a 3 or a 2 and then any of the orange/yellow/green dice rolls combine for at least 2, suddenly the white camel has plunged from last to first. In fact, if the right sequence happens (white 2, orange 2, blue 3, yellow 3, green 3) the white camel can move a combined THIRTEEN spaces and cross the finish line on that turn.*

* – Just noticed that the white die has already been rolled and that camel is done moving for this leg, so scratch that, but you get what I mean. Anything is possible.

I will say – and this is unabashedly juvenile of me – it’s a little awkward when one camel is “riding” the other camel. I’ll just let that comment stay right there.

As this game is brand new, I’m excited to work it into the board game repertoire. From everything I’ve read and the one time I’ve played it, I think it’s going to be a real hit.

It’s somewhat strategic, but with a lot of luck involved. However, unlike the bad luck you can experience in Settlers or Monopoly or Risk, this game doesn’t force you to hate your life while you sit there and fail at the expense of the dice. No, regardless of your status in the game, there is always a decent chance the camel you bet on will win it all, and the action doesn’t end until a camel has officially crossed the finish line. Plus, games only last about 30 min, so losing goes much faster (not that i would know…zing).

Rooting for the camels is hilarious. The drama builds with each leg as the camels get closer to the finish. Highly, highly recommend this game.

***

So there you have it. The Christmas Board Games I’ve picked up for myself from 2010-2014. I’m open to suggestions for 2015 and beyond. I have mostly made these decisions based on internet research and awards won, and I’ve done a pretty good job of picking them so far. None of them are busts, and a somewhat wide spectrum of gameplay involved.

Let me know if you want more information or want to get together and play. I love a good old fashioned board game night – although, Monopoly and Settlers of Catan are hard to trump for me.

-apc.

x – Ed Sheeran

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I’m not a musician.

I took piano lessons for something like eight or ten years when I was a kid. I started when I was 7 and quit sometime in high school. I never learned how to read sheet music without counting “Every, Good, Boy, Does, Fine,” so at a certain point (high school) the music got too difficult to play by ear. I don’t have many regrets in life, but dropping the piano instead of finding a jazz piano teacher who can teach playing by ear could be considered a regret. Maybe there’s still time. Life after seminary.

Today, I can play most piano chords – C, F#, D7, Asus2, G, Emaj7, etc. – throw it at me and I can look at the keys and play it. I understand chord progressions. I can sit down at a piano and play through most any song as long as I’m given the chord progression. I can even figure out the melody if I’ve listened to a song enough times. But I’m not a musician, and I don’t review albums as if I am.

I do, however, know how to groove.

I like percussion, cadence, chord progressions, samples and lyrical flow among other things. Strings are gorgeous. Gimme a dirty bassline (see: “Don’t” on this album) and I can’t get enough. The tone of an artist’s voice is more important to me than what they’re singing about. I don’t care much for actual lyrical content – songwriting is impressive and creative, absolutely, but for some reason my ear doesn’t hear the words themselves. I don’t know the words to some of my all time favorite songs.

When I listen to music, my mind is not tuned into the meaning or language in songs. I’m in it to experience the groove. I feel music more than I listen to it.

Friends who know me well will respond: “Whatever. You know all the words to all the songs we listened to on that road trip we went on that one time.” True. And some artists are easy for me to actually hear and internalize lyrical content – hip hop, boy bands, pretty much anything I digested between 1998 and 2004 – these are exceptions. When I take in an album for the first time (Ed Sheeran’s x, for example) I don’t hear the words themselves as much as I hear their sound and flow (both areas where Ed excels greatly).

I say all this to make sure we’re all on the same page for where these album reviews come from: I am a consumer. My angle is not remotely “expert” on anything besides my own personal experience of music.

If you’re purely a consumer like me, then these reviews are for you.

Disclaimer over. On to the review.

***

It’s pronounced “multiply,” which is an extremely annoying album title, but follows up nicely to Ed Sheeran’s debut album + (pronounced “plus”) which is equally goofy.

But that’s pretty much where my negativity ends with this album. Ed Sheeran is fantastic. x is predominantly acoustic guitar centered with strong percussion/piano parts, but what truly drives the sound Ed Sheeran’s work is his vocal cadence. He’s quick and clever with his flow. His crooning quickly gets into my shoulders and neck area and gets me bobbing around.

The only song I really knew off this album prior to my first listen this week was “Sing,” and I was already a big fan. It came across Justin Timbelake-ish. It’s the high range vocals that do it – every time he goes up, he sounds like JT. Turns out, that track is produced by Pharrell Williams and while I was doing some research I literally read, “Justin Timberlake’s debut album, Justified, was a favourite of Sheeran’s, which he consciously tried to channel for ‘Sing,'” on Wikipedia. Well, boom. Talk about stroking my listening ego.

Take a listen here…(warning: video contains puppets)…

Caveat here: Sheeran wanted to keep “Sing” off the album and work more exclusively with Pharrell and put it on a future album. It’s the only Pharrell track on the album, so it’s naturally one of my favorites. But let’s be honest: if Ed puts out a full album with Skateboard P he’ll win multiple Grammys. You heard it here first. We’ll revisit it in a couple or three years. #Grammys2017?

Also, I’m not sure everyone realizes just how impressive Pharrell Williams is. I mentioned this in my review of G I R L earlier this year, but everything the dude touches turns to gold. But this isn’t a Pharrell post, so moving on.

This album keeps me bringing me back to Adele. Not necessarily in the sound, but in the content. This whole album is about Sheeran’s heart being broken and drinking/drugging his sorrows away. He’s not happy with this chick, and it’s entirely to our benefit. I’ve often thought if Adele falls in love and gets married we’re going to lose out on a lot of quality music. I might feel the same way here. Nobody wants to hear cute love songs (okay some people do, but I don’t) – we want tales of heartbreak and anger and frustration. WE want songs that get under our skin and make us feel something strong. That’s how Ed is like Adele – okay, they’re both British too.

Sheeran clearly has a bent toward self-medication. The entire focus of “Bloodstream” is feeling the chemicals kicking in as he tries to recover from broken heart. Those are his words, not mine. He mentions drinking away his sadness in multiple songs – which ALWAYS reminds me of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”

Elton and Jamie Foxx get the most mentions on how Ed Sheeran hit it big. Now I’m picturing the three of them hanging out at the booth from Horrible Bosses drinking cider – Elton and Ed on one side of the booth and Motherf*cker Jones drinking from a straw on the other. I digress.

While the core of the album is groovy and fast-paced, “One” is an odd choice for an opener upon first take. It’s directed toward the same love interest from +, which feels opposite from the rest of the album. However, it makes sense when partnered with track 2, “I’m a Mess.” By opening the album with love, it actually manages to pull the listener into the heartbreak deeper. Ed’s like, “here’s this love that I had, and now I’m going tell you how I jacked everything up and now I’m broken hearted.” And I’m like, “thanks, but no thanks, Ed. I wish I’d never met this girl so I wouldn’t have to feel your heartbreak as much.” It’s better for it though. “One” is a cute lead track that I’m sure the sentimental ladies really swoon over.

Apparently “One” was the first track recorded too, which makes me believe the track layout is less about the ebb and flow of the album as much as mirroring the story of Ed Sheeran’s own life. I wonder…is the track list simply in order of when he wrote them? Hmmm.

I should also mention this nugget: Ed Sheeran can rap. “The Man” and “Take It Back” are both straight rap. Don’t let his lyrics convince you otherwise: “I’m not a rapper/I’m a singer with a flow,” he says in the latter track. Malarky, I say. This is acoustic rap and it’s so good. It is a bit strange to hear someone with an English accent rapping – just different. The sound has a subtle enough difference that it sounds like something fresh and new.

There’s a balance between up-tempo grooves and stripped down acoustic ballads here. I’m a huge fan of the former and kinda meh about the latter – shocker, I know. Overall, it’s a very strong album. Henceforth, I’ll proudly claim to be an Ed Sheeran fan.

Top Tracks (no particular order):
– Sing
– Take it Back
– The Man
– Don’t
– Bloodstream

x is up for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2015 Grammys. His competition for AOTY: Beyonce, Sam Smith, Pharrell and Beck. His competition for BPVA: Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, and Sam Smith.

As of this post, I think he’s the front runner for BPVA, but will lose out to Queen Bey in AOTY.

One last thing before I go: I’m planning reviews for all 5 albums up for Album of the Year. Potentially more than that if I really get into this. You can find the other links here (will update links as posts are released).

For other reviews up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

RETURN TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

-apc.

G I R L – Pharrell Williams

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Note: I wrote this track by track review prior to knowing it would be nominated for Album of the Year. So this may not follow the same pattern as the other 4 posts in this Grammys series.

There at least three possible arguments for why I completely missed on this album two months ago.

The first is the typical excuse: I was too busy and wasn’t paying attention to music enough in the wake of Grammy season and was focusing more on class, my book project and my impending pilgrimage to Burma. This sounds good, but it’s mostly just an excuse.

Second, where was the promotion for this album?! I never heard anything about it – heck, Billboard announced it’s release date less than two weeks before it dropped on March 3. It seems like it blindsided the whole industry: “Happy” was majorly circulated with Despicable Me 2 coming out in the fall, and his heavy collaborations with Daft Punk on R.A.M. and with Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke/T.I. on “Blurred Lines” didn’t really leave the possibility for a solo record. Besides, last time he put out any solo work – In My Mind, in 2006 – it didn’t necessarily dominate my iTunes.

The third reason is the most interesting. About two years ago, I started wondering if N*E*R*D – Pharrell’s band along with The Neptunes co-producer Chad Hugo and Shay Haley – would put out a new record to follow up their disappointing Nothing from 2010.

So I set up a Google Alert for any news on N*E*R*D’s new record.

I got weekly updates for about a year, but nothing substantial on the record front. Then, in 2013, I finally started seeing some stuff circulating about how they were working on a new record, but that it wouldn’t be released for a while because of Pharrell’s side work. I guess I just assumed that if N*E*R*D wasn’t putting out something new anytime soon, then Pharrell certainly wouldn’t put out something on his own. Just didn’t compute.

Then in late March someone, I forget who, asked me what I thought of Pharrell’s new album that I didn’t even know existed at that point. And then I got caught up in my excuses again and forgot to download it.

All that to say – and it’s a lot, in retrospect – I finally picked up the album last week and haven’t stopped to listen to anything else. All last week on The West Coast, this was my jam.

It’s been referred to as a “pseudo-feminist” concept album, seemingly in response to his affiliation with the controversial “Blurred Lines” performance from the 2013 VMAs. It’s clear that he wanted to rebrand himself as…something else.

These days, it seems like anything Pharrell touches turns to gold. “Blurred Lines” was huge. I don’t think I’ve spent a day anywhere in this country over the past month without hearing “Happy” two or three times. And “Get Lucky” was the hugest of them all taking home top Grammy nods this year on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.

And yet, I did not expect this solo album to be as good as it is. Here’s a track by track look at G I R L.

1. Marilyn Monroe

First of all, Hans Zimmer did all the strings on this album, and this one is the stringiest there is. A gorgeous orchestral arrangement opens the album and is coupled with some Nile Rodgers-esque guitar riffs a la “Get Lucky”. The track opens the feminist theme, questioning why he would ever want to lose the girl that even Marilyn Monroe, Cleopatra or Joan of Arc can compare to.

2. Brand New (Duet with Justin Timberlake)

One of the perks of completely missing on an album is that you don’t build up any expectation for should-be killer collaborations. This track is a little cheesy, especially the bridge, but I guess that’s what we should expect from a song about how a woman makes a man a better person – a “brand new” man, if you will. And a little Timbaland beatbox intro really, because JT can’t go anywhere without him apparently. Also, did you know: Pharrell and Timbaland were friends as kids?

3. Hunter

Not my favorite track, which is surprising because it has a heavy N*E*R*D sound to it. Goofy lyrics. Simple looped guitar riff. The occasional heavy breathing in the background. It’s Pharrell doing his best impression of himself sans Hugo and Haley.

4. Gush

A transition song, but a strong one. Sure, Pharrell wants to respect and not abuse the woman that makes him better, but that doesn’t mean he’s doesn’t want to get a little dirty. The chorus here is strong. Zimmer returns with the orchestra.

5. Happy (From “Despicable Me 2”)

We all know this song. Not really necessary to write about it other than to say that it’s a super fun doo-wop that I still catch myself snapping my fingers along with. But c’mon man. Track 5? This song startles me every time I’m listening to the album. I skip it about 75% of the time.

6. Come Get It Bae (Feat. Miley Cyrus)

This song has the feel of a group drumming on 5 gallon plastic buckets on a street corner. Lots of claps. A hint of strings and guitar. But mostly a stomp-style groove. This song is all about riding a motorcycle. But it’s a metaphor, you guys. Surprisingly, I actually like what Miley adds to this song – although, the “hey!” that runs throughout the song gets really old really fast.

7. Gust of Wind (Feat. Daft Punk)

Not shocking, but this is in the conversation for my favorite track. Marilyn Monroe is the front runner, but this one is right there too. Those robot vocoder voices are just so mesmerizing. I can’t help myself.

8. Lost Queen

The album takes a turn here. This song feels like it should be the last track. It brings us back to the “taking care of you is my number one thing” theme. Tribal hums and bongos drums give the first half of this song a raw human quality, and it’s reflected in the lyrics. Earth is so messed up, but this “Lost Queen” is so perfect it has to be from some other planet. This track is 8 minutes long. The middle minute is nothing but the sound of crashing waves. The second half feels like we’ve moved off Earth and into outer space. Probably Pharrell trying to communicate where this woman takes him.

9. Know Who You Are (Duet with Alicia Keys)

Alicia Keys!? Woah. This feels surprising for some reason. They seem to be from different edges of the hip hop spectrum for some reason. Pharrell gets me moving and pumps me up. Alicia’s voice just melts everything. It’s a decent song, but I can’t get over that dichotomy when I listen to it.

10. It Girl

This song is a short lyrical wrap up with an extended outro to close the album. It also has one of the best moments on the album when Pharrell takes his voice as high as it’ll go – so high that I don’t really know what he says. It’s a song with a bunch of nautical terms in relation to how this “It Girl” just does it for Pharrell: seasick without her, she’s got his compass spinnin’, her waves crash over him and and her tide pulls him in. It’s a metaphor, you guys.

Overall, it’s a very strong album, and Pharrell’s gold-touch apparently works with his solo stuff too. He even makes that goofy Arby’s hat look good.

Side note: I’ve been told on two separate occasions that I look like Pharrell. I don’t see it, but maybe you do.

Another side note: nearly all these track titles would make terrific horse names for next year’s Kentucky Derby.

Top Tracks: Marilyn Monroe, Gust of Wind, Gush

-apc.

For other reviews up for Album of the Year…

Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Ed Sheeran – x
Beck – Morning Phase

Beyonce – Beyonce
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

RETURN TO GRAMMYS HOMEPAGE

2014 Kentucky Derby Cooper Family Live Draft

THE TRADITION

I think it all started 20 years ago.

The earliest memory I have of the Kentucky Derby is 1994. I was 8 years old, and I remember my dad making a big deal out of some horse called “Holy Bull” that was supposed to be the favorite that year. Holy Bull had won nearly every race to that point, and he entered the race at 2-1 odds – he was a certainty to win the Run for the Roses.

He finished embarrassingly in 12th place.

The next year, 1995, was probably the year that cemented the Kentucky Derby as a pseudo-holiday in the Cooper Family. That year, there wasn’t a “Holy Bull” type of favorite. Instead there were a handful of potential contenders, one of which was Thunder Gulch. I’m not sure if we picked horses or not in 1995, but as the horses turned the corner into the home stretch, I remember freaking out that Thunder Gulch was in the lead and pulling away.

“…and it’s THUNDER GULCH!!”

It was the last 10 seconds of the fastest two minutes in sports, the part when the announcer went crazy over Thunder Gulch, that’s probably what launched this Cooper Family tradition. Those two horses – Holy Bull and Thunder Gulch – have continued to live on in our family as staples for trash talking to this day.

“You’re picking California Chrome at number 1 overall? Mistake. He’s guaranteed to be the new Holy Bull.”

“I’m going with We Miss Artie. Can’t wait to hear his name being screamed as he pulls away down the final furlong like…Thunder Gulch!!”

These days, most of us don’t even realize the Kentucky Derby is coming up until it’s practically the day of the race. And then we frantically throw our names in a hat to determine the picking order, find the list of contenders, and make our choices with little or no information about any of the horses, jockeys, past races, owners or trainers. All we really see is the name, the odds, the gate position, and maybe a single sentence blurb in the newspaper or kentuckyderby.com.

If I’m totally honest, it’s a complete joke, really. We don’t really care about horse racing. But trash talking seems to be a family love language, so it’s one of my favorite events of the year. Don’t be fooled by my opinions, picks or comments in this blog. I know nothing about horse racing. But I know a lot about trivial trash talking.

THE FAMILY DRAFT ORDER

All the horses are picked each year, so the selecting simply cycles back through in reverse order to the beginning. Names are then re-picked to pick the remaining horses left after the first cycle through the picking order. Typically there are only a couple of these left, and they’re always the “also-rans” and it has no impact on the picking.

Okay. Time to introduce the family members and the picking order…

Picks 1 & 18: Karlie, my wife
Picks 2 & 17: Grandpa Jack, my mom’s dad
Picks 3 & 16: Holly, my younger sister
Picks 4 & 15: Quinten, my brother-in-law
Picks 5 & 14: Aunt Virginia, my mom’s older sister
Picks 6 & 13: APC
Picks 7 & 12: Anna, my youngest sister
Picks 8 & 11 & 19: Janice, my mom*
Picks 9 & 10: Greg, my dad

* – Randomly selected as the recipient of the final Pick 19.

I’m not thrilled about my picking placement this year. Barring a bizarre selection by those before me, the 6th pick takes me out of the running for one of the favorites (California Chrome, Wicked Strong, Danza, Intense Holiday).

However, the bright side is that the difference between pick 6 and 13 isn’t very different – I’ll end up with two horses with odds between 15-1 and 20-1 probably – which means I’ll have two good-not-great horses running this year. Unlike Karlie or Grandpa who will be putting all their stake in their first pick, I at least will end up with another horse who isn’t a guaranteed also-ran.

Assuming things fall as I’d expect them to fall, here’s who I’m targeting going into the draft…

Pick #6 Targets: Samraat, Wildcat Red, Ride on Curlin.

Pick #13 Targets: Medal Count, Dance with Fate, General A Rod, Vicar’s in Trouble.

…but who knows what will happen before me, and who knows if I’ll have a last minute change of heart when my pick comes up.

Okay, let’s to this. Commencing draft in 3…2…1….

THE DRAFT

Pick #1: California Chrome (Karlie)

The obvious first pick overall coming in at 2-1 odds. The clear favorite. Possibly another Holy Bull? Hope so. Otherwise this is a snoozer Derby Draft. Also, I have Paul Simon stuck in my head.

Pick #2: Chitzu (Grandpa Jack)

I could feel a wild card pick coming here, and I wasn’t disappointed. From everything I’ve read about Chitzu (which is tons) he sounds like a real loser. Grandpa takes a gamble. A pick of the heart.

Pick #3: Wicked Strong (Holly)

This is the horse I actually think will win. Tough position coming out of the farthest gate from the rail. Also, killer uniform with the diagonal red stripe across the chest.

Pick #4: Danza (Q)

Named after Tony Danza. No thanks. He’s starting right next to California Chrome out of the gate too, which makes me think one of the two will take the edge and the other will get pinned. Plus…Danza.

Pick #5: Candy Boy (Aunt VA)

Worst named horse ever. This could’ve fallen to #13 and I wouldn’t have picked him. Glad to get him off the list of names I have to stare at.

Pick #6: Samraat (APC)

My pick is still Samraat even though Intense Holiday fell to me.  The name means “emperor” in Sanskrit, so basically the rest of the horses have no chance. Honestly, I just like Samraat picking up the space after Kodachrome and Tony Danza take too much time jockeying against each other to the inside.

Pick #7: Wildcat Red (Anna)

I might have picked this horse, but my sister is a student at K-State right now, so I had a feeling she wanted it the pick after mine. You can have it Anna.

Pick #8: Intense Holiday (Mom)

What a miracle that a horse with 9-1 odds fell all the way to #8. However, he’s going to be starting out of Gate 17, and no horse has ever won the Derby from that position.

Pick #9: Tapiture (Dad)

Dumb name, but awesome uniforms: maroon with a white circle. So fresh.

Pick #10: General A Rod (Dad)

Some people are picking A-Rod to win the whole thing, but that seems like a dream to me. Clearly, my dad has been researching the “expert picks” and bought into the hype. Could’ve had two way better horses with his back-to-back picks than the two he ended up with, in my opinion.

Pick #11: Vicar’s In Trouble (Mom)

I really wanted Vicar’s. He’s a pace horse. With the scratch of two horses, they’ve shifted back starting gates one position outward. With two complete clods in the next two positions (Uncle Sigh & Harry’s Holiday), I think he’ll have a seamless break and pace the group. Maybe with no early competition he can hold the pace the whole way?

Pick #12: Vinceremos (Anna)

Terrible pick, but Anna is a sucker for Spanish names.

Pick #13: Medal Count (APC)

It was between Medal Count, Dance with Fate and Ride On Curlin here. But I can’t stand Calvin Borel, who is super whiney and obnoxious and is riding Ride On Curlin. And Medal Count is wearing my favorite number, 14, so duh.

Pick #14: Uncle Sigh (Aunt VA)

Should get pinched between California Chrome/Danza on one side and Vicar’s In Trouble on the other. With no speed, he has no chance.

Pick #15: We Miss Artie (Q)

Goofy name. Lovable, yet no shot at the Roses.

Pick #16: Dance With Fate (Holly)

This is a great pick here. Would’ve been fine with DWF instead of Medal Count. I think Holly had the best pair of horses this year for sure.

Pick #17: Ride On Curlin (Grandpa Jack)

You can have Calvin Borel, Grandpa. Also, your pick #17 was better than your pick #2.

Pick #18: Commanding Curve (Karlie) 

Better than Harry’s Holiday. Picking up the spoils, but having California Chrome is enough clout in this race to still be the favorite to win this year.

Pick #19: Harry’s Holiday

See “Uncle Sigh” only waaay worse.

The picks are in! The 140th Kentucky Derby runs at 5:24 PM CST on NBC. Check back later for the update with the results!

Here we go Samraat & Medal Count. Do it good fellas.

THE RESULTS: COMING SOON

UPDATE: Well. It was a snoozer of a Derby after all, and California Chrome won by a significant margin in the end. Sigh. So the winner this year was Karlie.

In more surprising news, however, Karlie’s backup horse, Commanding Curve, finished strong and passed both Danza (3rd) and Wicked Strong (4th) in the final stretch and ended second.

My horses…did okay, I guess.

Samraat looked strong and was positioned well entering the stretch – he was neck and neck with California Chrome – but couldn’t maintain the pace. He finished 5th.

Medal Count finished 8th. About as good as I could’ve picked with the options available to me.

But ultimately, the contest was over the moment Karlie’s name was drawn for the #1 pick. California Chrome looked as strong as he could’ve…could he win the Triple Crown?!

-apc.