April 18, 2014
Does anybody remember October?
Standing here in mid-April with the lightning round of one NBA season settled, each month between then and now feels like one year in length. For Phoenix Suns fans the conclusion of year 2014 is nothing but bittersweet.
I wish I were the one on top of the hill screaming, I told you so!, driving a forefinger into everyone's face, but I'm not. And nobody is. The Phoenix Suns, after a total combustion in the 2012-13 season, where they finished 25-57, were picked to remain dead last in the Western Conference this year. Lower even than the Sacramento Kings! Equal with the 76ers! With no one older than 25 playing! The disrespect!!
The Suns were a complete non-thought by every basketball pundit in the land, projected to win ten games less than the previous year. Destined, we all thought, to grind aimlessly in the doghouse another couple of years before working back into playoff form.
Instead we were given one of the most surprising, whirlwind Phoenix Suns seasons in history and missed the playoffs only by the hair on Z-Bo’s chinny chin chin. It played out better than most “best case scenario” descriptions in preseason magazine previews. The Dragic/Bledsoe era came rushing in and the eyes did not cease their widening.
It all starts with Suns Executive of the Year nominee, Ryan McDonough. Since his hire last May he has expertly culled together a group of guys too used to playing second and third fiddle, ready to play with a purpose. Eric Bledsoe, surely anxious to step away from the Chris Paul glare, showed the potential fuel he can bring to the rapid-fire, two-guard tandem. Early tepidness of having two explosive guards run the floor at once quickly dissolved.
McDonough flipped Luis Scola for Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee, garbage time collectors behind an impressive Indiana Pacers frontcourt and All-Stars Roy Hibbert and Paul George. Green, who earned 41 points one night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it could be argued, had the most stunning turnaround season, adding layers to his flashy Slam Dunk skills. He was at times Phoenix’s number one three-point threat. And there was also the double-pump, triple-pump dunks. 360 windmill dunks. Two-handed from behind the head drunks. Selfie off-the-backboard bounce pass dunks. Green showcased the gauntlet.
When Bledsoe went out with a knee injury for two months midseason, Dragic showed the world he can carry a team, putting him on the scroll of valuable NBA point guards. “Plumdog” Plumlee put the numbers on the board. The brotherly Morris connection helped to sanctify team chemistry. Channing Frye made his successful return to action after losing last season to his big fat heart. PJ Tucker got even tougher. The Blur returned. Ish Smith zigged and zagged.
When the mighty Phoenix sun beamed down on their faces, they recognized an opportunity to make something of their budding careers. Put Suns alumni Jeff Hornacek in the nice suit from The Clotherie to draw out plays and you’ve got one magical season. The top Coach of the Year candidate had a grab-bag of talent and he worked it into fine form.
Each oncourt Suns lineup, no matter the point in the game, played hard. They fought back from games that seemed over with only minutes remaining, chopping down three 20-point deficits for comeback wins. They tuned out the negative preseason press and when it dawned on everyone they were too good to tank, and phrases like “Cinderella story” and “the surprising Suns” were bandied about, they adjusted their focus even more.
The chemistry oncourt is so good you'd think they'd all grown up in the wilderness together, killing their food and protecting each other. The team collected eight wins with a margin of 15 points or more (including battles with the Spurs, Pacers and Clippers). They finished with the best win percentage for a non-playoff team since the 1983-84 season, which...is...sort of cool, I guess.
Missing the playoffs is a deep hurt. It’s painful to see the purple and orange bursting basketball sun missing from the playoff bracket. The Suns, though, are in prime position going forward and can sit back in ninth place with a big bowl of oranges and watch the unfolding playoff drama.
With four potential draft picks this summer, a pocketful of cap space, plenty of valuable assets (and a GM proving himself a meticulous planner) the Phoenix Suns are sitting pretty atop Camelback Mountain waiting, preparing, for the summer to deflate into the fall.
April 17, 2014
Liars crack open the glowstick
on seventh album, Mess
One of the first things I did after pressing play on Mess, the new, seventh album from Liars, was take my pants off. Only because a voice with Satanic inflections demands it on the opening song, "Mask Maker." If you fail to comply, it's your face that'll get eaten.
Mess is the Liars' devilishly drugged-up descent into dance music. Thirty seconds in a sharp, popping drum beat inflates the track until you’re dancing like a horned demon, boxer-clad and with brown acid stuck between each tooth.
The first single, “Mess On A Mission,” is a joyously snotty punk whip with singer Angus Andrew gaggling the title in a panicked falsetto. It’s unhinged and almost clowny, but somehow sticks in your head. “Facts are facts and fiction’s fiction,” Andrew sings spitting each word.
Mess is more abrasive than the last Liars album, WIXIW, which saw Andrew and mates Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross diving blindly into electronic tinkering and atmospheric resonance. The experience of that experimentation has taken root and found a lavish coexistence with the street-trash rock-and-roll of their earliest work. This mash creates a surreal listening experience that thrives on the emotion of doom and anxiety.
The tall Aussie plank of wood that is frontman Andrew is the force keeping the album from devolving into a slipshod jam session with buttons and knobs. The desperate, black-out energy behind his voice goes from the lower depths of an entranced guard in The Wizard Of Oz to the manic-high pitch of someone being tickled to their limit. He has many shades of strange and delirium. On “Pro Anti Anti” he emotes like a down-and-out-of-shape Jim Morrison as a tremulous organ surges through zaps of electric bass.
Mess is also the most outright hallucinogenic Liars album. Each hit of bass is muggy and drills deep into the skull. Sounds trail in and out against smudgy organ drum loops. It could be found somewhere in the blurring shadows of The King Of Limbs and Drukqs. "Dress Walker" enters the space race with a Kraftwerk-esque downbeat and the squeamish monotone panderings of Andrew. It climbs on echoes, then side-steps into juicy, space-funk.
The voiceless "Darkslide" is a ball of loops gyrating and splintering up and out. “Perpetual Village” is body-lifting as it slinks along with cosmic sound-waves and pitched drum beats. The final song, "Left Speaker Blown," moves slow like a flickering candle. Low pulsing feedback is pulled from side to side and stretched beyond the periphery of sound until a warm peace overcomes. Could be one of their most beautiful compositions.
With each new record Liars rip the script of their previous creative outing, challenging themselves to discover a new floor in their apartment of sound. If Mess ever hits a snag, it's with the arduous noise explorations that sometimes threaten the flow of the full unit. Depends if you want to move to your music or zone out to it, either way, Liars allow both. This collection of dark, pepped-up dance tracks is a midnight burner for the long, weird, end-of-the-world basement party you may or may not be having.
Key Tracks: "I'm No Gold," "Pro Anti Anti," "Dress Walker," "Left Speaker Blown"