Mike Mitchell's 'Star Wars' portraits turned into background images

Mike Mitchell's 'Star Wars' portraits turned into background images

I haven't posted in a while -- been a little busy with some wedding planning and some work things. But since last week was May 4 and all of my social media feeds were ablaze with Star Wars appreciation, I took some time to turn a few of my favorite Mike Mitchell portraits into backgrounds on my desktop. Which, side note: All of the Mitchell portraits are amazing and while you may be currently kicking yourself for missing all of them and not having $300 to blow on eBay right now, rest assured they'll (probably) make more. Sign up for the Mondo newsletter if you want to find out when they're released.

Anyway, that Instagram post got enough likes, and enough people asked about the backgrounds, that I decided to turn the rest of Mitchell's portraits into desktop backgrounds as well. Then I made backgrounds sized for iPhone 7 screens and iPhone 7 Plus screens to boot. Here are all of those for download.

I will note that I'm not the best at Photoshop, and I didn't dedicate too much time to any single one of these. If you notice anything odd, feel free to let me know and I'll update the image in Dropbox.

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Just read: Monte Burke's 'Saban'

Just read: Monte Burke's 'Saban'

Seeking out long-form work about a subject I generally dislike isn't really my normal bag. Nick Saban, the head coach of the University of Alabama's football team, is an exception to this usual rule for only one main reason -- he seems like a total lunatic at surface level. His celebrity presence as college football's most successful coach has driven media and fanbases across the country to adopt a pretty agreed-upon stance on him, and that stance is generally that he appears to be an asshole.

Saban's success and seeming lack of happiness to accompany that success is what stands about most about him from a bird's-eye perspective. People always repeat the same things -- he doesn't smile, he wins the national championship then gets right to work recruiting, he doesn't take any vacations, doesn't spend as much time as he should with his family, he's too hard-nosed and businesslike for the college game, which is rife with tradition and character.

Saban: The Making of A Coach, by Monte Burke, sheds a ton of light on how Saban ticks. For me, the book was especially illuminating in two fashions. It takes a deep dive into Saban's relationship with his father, Big Nick, and the circumstances of his upbringing in a coal mining town in West Virginia, and it also fully explains the evolution of his "Process," which he brought to life with the help of a psychology professor at Michigan State University.

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Déjà nostalgia: A whole life, plus two nights, with The Menzingers

Déjà nostalgia: A whole life, plus two nights, with The Menzingers

The Menzingers occupy this specific space in rock music. They aren't the only band that live in this space, but they're one of the best at doing this thing within it. There's no hard definition for this space, no concrete rules or regulations that determine its residents; it's not marked by a specific sub-genre or even a certain execution of a familiar sound. The space they fill is more recognizable by the way a Menzingers song can make you feel.

This feeling was all around me when I listened to "Lookers" for the first time. Released in August last year, the track was the first single dropped from their upcoming album After the Party. Friend of the program Dan Ozzi wrote, in Noisey's premiere of the song, about The Menzingers' affinity for nostalgia within their songwriting. This affinity is of paramount importance to The Menzingers' membership in this space, and that space is where the term déjá nostalgia will apply most directly. He called on the band's past records, On the Impossible Past and Rented World, for their nostalgic vibes and commented that "Lookers" feels like an instant Menzingers classic, which I very much agree with.

Nostalgia is a prominent feeling when listening to this band, especially to OTIP, due to the imagery in which The Menzingers often deal. The scenes from that album are well known by now: American muscle cars, American diners, American waitresses, a non-zero amount of American drunkenness, driving without aim, getting nowhere (the plot does not develop / it ends where it begins), etc. The Menzingers are amongst the few bands that pull this off without being corny, which is the highest risk run by bands who operate in this area, lyrically. And the nostalgia factor comes into play because diners, muscle cars and other settings or objects like those don't feel particularly of this era, though all of them still exist; there's a wistfulness, a vignette tinge, a haze and romanticism to it all. On the Impossible Past feels simultaneously new and old, even on first listen.

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Just read: Nick Offerman's 'Paddle Your Own Canoe'

Just read: Nick Offerman's 'Paddle Your Own Canoe'

Last year, I wrote about three (3) books which I didn't read, but listened to via Audible. The idea was to listen to audiobooks read by their authors, and all the works I chose were by relatively funny people whose work I enjoy as comedians or actors. The first was Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance, which was followed by B.J. Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories and Tina Fey's Bossypants.

Toward the end of 2016, I transitioned mainly into reading comic books and only a few occasional IRL books outside of my podcast listening. But since I recently discovered a way to better destroy my podcast backlog, I had room for listening to Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living.

Offerman is best known as the actor who plays Ron Swanson in NBC's Parks and Recreation, which is going to be a show that goes down as having one of the best casts of all time probably. I knew this book was memoir-ish, and subsequently expected some type of detailing of life similar to Fey's Bossypants. Instead, Offerman takes on a single thesis: Tips for how to live a delicious life, as the title puts it. These tips are presented in the context of his own life story, of course, but the driving through-point made the book a remarkably easy and enjoyable listen. As a side note, early on: If you've never seen Offerman's stand-up production, American Ham, it's well worth your while, and serves as a bit of a companion to this book if you're still considering whether to read it.

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'S-Town' takes 'Serial' learnings seriously

'S-Town' takes 'Serial' learnings seriously

It didn't seem to me like S-Town, the new podcast from Serial and This American Life, had an abundance of hype leading into its release. The announcement of a new show from one of the world's most popular podcasts (TAL) and the perhaps world's most recognizable podcast (Serial) was obviously newsworthy, and coverage of it made the rounds across all the outlets that regularly cover podcasting, as expected, and all the outlets that never cover podcasting, but do cover Serial, also as expected.

The end of Serial's first season didn't seem to sit well with listeners who treated it like it was a House of Cards-type drama that would come to a nice, neat, conclusive ending. Of course it didn't -- real-life stories don't end like fictionalized ones. Sarah Koenig's expert narration and hosting ability was almost too good, making the story in that first season feel more like high-budget, dramatic entertainment than on-the-ground reporting. Adding to that, the second season of the show wasn't met with as much fanfare; the result, hypothetically, was that maybe people got burnt out by Serial's flame as quickly as they ignited it.

I was, clearly, wrong. As of March 30th, in iTunes Podcasts, you'll find the following data points that prove me incorrect: S-Town occupies the first banner slot in the Podcasts homepage promotional carousel; it occupies the first slot in the "New & Noteworthy" list; it's No. 1 on the Top Podcasts chart; each of its seven episodes are ranked No. 1 through No. 7, in the order of their chronology, on the Top Episodes chart; Serial is No. 3 on Top Podcasts, which, wow; and This American Life is No. 4 on Top Podcasts. It's safe to say that S-Town will be the most anticipated podcast release of the year. I'm interested to see, come year's end, how highly its seven episodes ranked amongst the most-listened-to episodes of the year in iTunes Podcasts' database, if they provide such data.

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Just read: 'Hatching Twitter' by Nick Bilton

Just read: 'Hatching Twitter' by Nick Bilton

Loving Twitter is a difficult thing to do in 2017. It's no secret the company has been plagued with tons of issues since its initial public offering in November 2013 -- and while some issues are nerdy and technical, like their inability or (seeming) disinterest in truly improving their product, the worst of these issues are basic and human. Twitter still hasn't publicly unveiled a way for users to effectively filter harassment on the service, making any Tweeter (but especially marginalized persons) easy targets for awful online abuse. There are plenty of cases to highlight this, both high-profile and non-, but there's no real need for me to re-hash them now. It seems like there's always a conversation at Twitter about "fixing" this in general terms, but very minimal action to help the average (i.e., non-verified, non-celebrity, non-"famous") user. This is trash.

It's a frustrating place to be in many ways, because the lack of policing and individual freedom on Twitter lends the service to be absolutely invaluable in some aspects -- the best real "coverage" of protests against police brutality have come via first-hand Tweets, as an example. I remember following the protests in Ferguson, MO almost exclusively on Twitter, both via activists like Deray and via civilian reporters who were on the ground to share raw footage of the events. Twitter and Periscope were so effective at enabling people to share their experiences that it seemed like almost every video shown on TV via traditional news networks like CNN were sourced from the service.

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Two short, binge-worthy podcasts

Two short, binge-worthy podcasts

Two weeks ago I started listening to podcasts somewhere between 1.1x speed and 1.4x speed. Depending on the host, the music, and the style of the show, listening on enhanced playback makes surprisingly little difference compared to "normal"-paced playback. It takes you a while to get used to some mostly infrequent, semi-chipmunk voices -- then you're used to it.

One thing that isn't the same? The amount of time it takes to get through your podcast queue, obviously. Playing a 60-minute episode at only 1.1x speed saves you more than five minutes and will almost certainly not bother you while listening. If you're listening to something with slow talkers, and you're playing closer to 1.4x speed, you can fit two 30-minute episodes into your 45-minute, door-to-door commute. Playing John and Merlin at 1.3x speed on Reconcilable Differences saves you 30 minutes in a two-hour episode. This leaves a lot more room for activities. I recommend Overcast, per usual, as a podcast player.

Since I more or less cleared through my queue for the first time in a while, I finally got around to downloading the two branded podcasts that Gimlet Creative has put together. One is called Open For Business, which is for eBay, and the other is called DTR, branded by Tinder. I haven't paid any attention to these shows despite the fact that I listen to almost every Gimlet podcast without fail -- despite my own knowledge that I greatly enjoy Gimlet's style and trust their output.

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Just read: 'Batman: Blind Justice'

Just read: 'Batman: Blind Justice'

This one was a bit of a wacky left turn. Blind Justice came about as DC was looking for a way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Batman -- the three issues that comprise this arc originally appeared in Detective Comics Nos. 598-600 in 1989. They turned to Sam Hamm, who wasn't a comic book writer at the time, but the man who had written the screenplay for the 1989 Batman film that was directed by Tim Burton and starred Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

That choice proved to be an interesting one, because while Hamm was a fan of Batman's, he wasn't a bonafide geek about the hero when he sat down to write the arc. He wrote in his intro to the story, which is featured in the trade paperback release, that he was intimidated by the size of the task -- a standard single issue bookended by two 80-page giant issues. He claimed it was about double the wordage of a standard screenplay, and that he had a much more difficult time writing the comic than he did the movie. 

Anyway, onto the subject at hand. I loved Blind Justice way more than I expected. I didn't really have much anticipation for this book, and pretty much viewed it as a side-step from my main Batman chronology, but I'm very happy I read it. Hamm's story focuses on Bruce Wayne more than it does Batman, and features the most Wayne action of any story I've read so far. I'm finding that multiple of my favorite Batman stories dig into the psychological relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman, and that proves to be the bedrock of Blind Justice

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Super Bowl nachos recipe Super Bowl nachos recipe Super Bowl nachos recipe

Super Bowl nachos recipe Super Bowl nachos recipe Super Bowl nachos recipe

You see that headline? Super Bowl nachos recipe. I once took a class in journalism school that covered search engine optimization during one of its lectures. Super Bowl nachos recipe. They told us it was important to have your target SEO keywords (Super Bowl nachos recipe) in the headline and then repeated in your first paragraph, so Google might put your result first on the list. Super Bowl nachos recipe. Time to get rich off Super Bowl nachos recipe!

Alright, anyway. The Sorry, Internet kitchen is back at it again with the good eats today, creating nachos for you to devour during The Big Game™. I made nachos for my own consumption during two recent weekends of the football season, after I realized that football would soon be over, and becoming dismayed and worried that I hadn't yet reached a respectable amount of nacho consumption during the course of the season to date.

I ventured forth and created two different types of nachos on these weekends, sampling two different recipes that I mostly at least kinda invented myself, knowing full well that one of them might end up on this blog. After the huge popularity of my pizza soup recipe blog, which drew one of the largest crowds in presidential inauguration history (real and unedited photo proof of this is to your immediate right, or below if you're on mobile), I knew I could not wait too long to post another recipe, lest my followers riot. 

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Listen while you work: 'Narcos (A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack)'

Listen while you work: 'Narcos (A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack)'

A personal characteristic that bothers me regularly is my inability to listen to normal music while I'm doing any type of work that requires reading comprehension or writing. This didn't always used to be the case, but at some point in the last three years, it became impossible for me to have most music on via headphones while I was writing anything, and more recently, I don't like having music on when I'm reading, either.

Some quick tasks are exceptions to this rule, and I can definitely have music on when I'm doing more "drone-ish" work, like updating spreadsheets or the more technical parts of my job. But the general rule is that I'm not listening to any music with vocals while I'm working. This obviously rules out most of the music I like, and it also rules out listening to podcasts while I'm working.

This was my impetus behind getting more into instrumental post-metal recently (I'll probably have another blog about that at some point). But my recommendation for today is the Narcos original series soundtrack, which I will credit my friend Andy (who tweets once a year, about football) with turning me onto indirectly. If you haven't seen Narcos yet, it's a Netflix show about Pablo Escobar and his drug empire in Colombia. The first season was awesome, highlighted for me by the acting performances, and I'm planning on starting the second season soon.

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Just read: ' Batman: A Death In the Family' & 'A Lonely Place of Dying'

Just read: ' Batman: A Death In the Family' & 'A Lonely Place of Dying'

I'm really working my way through the classic Batman titles here! Not long after The Killing Joke, I read through a large trade paperback that collects A Death In the Family along with the follow-up-ish story A Lonely Place of Dying. The former is the more famous work, a four-issue run considered a classic for many reasons, so we'll start there.

A Death In the Family is best known for featuring the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. He took over the mantle of Robin after Batman caught him trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile -- an origin story which I read a version of in Nightwing: Year One -- filling the role after the first Robin, Dick Grayson, left Batman's side to lead the Teen Titans and eventually take on his new persona as Nightwing.

The storyline was met with a fair amount of criticism due to an interactive aspect in its release. DC Comics allowed fans to vote on whether Robin would live or die by dialing a 900 number (this storyline was published in late 1988 and early 1989 ... so taking a vote via Twitter hashtags wasn't really an option). A total of 10,614 votes were cast, with fans voting for Todd to die by the slim margin of 5,343 to 5,271. This close margin was heavily impacted by one fan who rigged votes for Todd to die, with DC saying (over a decade later) that this one person voted enough times that he swung the vote.

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I now love pizza soup

I now love pizza soup

Yesterday I made pizza soup at home for dinner. This is the second time Katie and I have had it -- she made a version of it a couple weeks ago and I tried my own stab at it this time. I shared my love for this meal on social media and several folks on the website Twitter.com asked me for a recipe.

This is a good time to note that I did not invent pizza soup. I would never dare to claim this, as the person who invented pizza soup deserves their own spot in the Official Soup Hall of Fame (OSHOF), which is probably headquartered somewhere in the midwestern United States, if I had to guess. I did, however, combine a few different recipes that I found on the web to wind up at the concoction below.

If you're not a meat-eater, I would recommend replacing the ground beef, pepperoni and beef broth with whatever you might use as substitutes in those cases. Or, you can search the web (Google.com is my personal favorite search engine) and other smarter people / better cookers than me have probably done vegetarian and vegan versions of this.

Without further ado, here is the first and perhaps last recipe I will ever post on my blog.

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Everything I read in 2016

Everything I read in 2016

At the beginning of the year I made a goal to read more than I had in the past. Since graduating college in December 2012, I had barely read any books at all -- choosing instead to spend my time listening to music, listening to podcasts or reading Twitter / articles / etc. So I used a conscious effort to seek out authors I had an interest in, and started down that road.

Ultimately I wound up reading 14 books in 2016, which isn't a ton, but that number probably represents the most books I've read in a single year since high school. Amongst the books I read was work by Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King -- the top three authors I had on my list when I started this effort in January. I know I'll read more by them next year, even as I expand into different things.

I also picked up reading comic books, which I couldn't leave out of this post. Focusing on trade paperbacks for the sake of collectability and ease of reading, I read titles mainly with the Batman and Star Wars realms, coming to a total of 25 trade paperbacks.

A full list of all the books and trades I read this year is below. I made the effort of writing about everything I read this year as a way to keep myself engaged on my goal, so I've linked to all the blogs I wrote as well.

And, if you're so inclined, tweet me the best things you read this year and I'll start compiling a list of titles to look into.

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Just read: 'Batman: The Killing Joke' by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

Just read: 'Batman: The Killing Joke' by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

The Killing Joke is one of the biggest names on the Batman reading list that I'm working my way through. It's a story that I read when I was younger, one whose details I've been familiar with for years. The one-off book has grown into a role of maximal importance and controversy within the Batman universe (especially this year, with the release of a DC animated film based on the story), all of which I plan to touch on in this blog.

Author Alan Moore and illustrator Brian Bolland teamed up on the short story (it's only 48 pages long -- truly a one-shot that you can read in a single sitting) with the goal of providing an origin story for the Joker. The creative team implies, even in the actual dialogue of this book, that this is only one possible origin story for this character: The Joker says to Batman near the end of the book, "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another ... If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"). Moore and Bolland succeed in the origin story aspect -- presented via flashbacks -- in the sense that their work gives the Joker's character more depth and makes him more sympathetic. While the Joker is often considered Batman's greatest nemesis, he's often painted as a lunatic with no goal in mind other than destruction or devastation; giving him a backbone serves a real purpose in the Batman continuity.

The flashbacks in the version of the book that I read (a deluxe 2008 hardcover reissue) are black and white, which differs from the original publication of The Killing Joke. I chose to purchase the hardcover rather than a used copy of an out-of-print paperback after reading Bolland's thoughts on it: The deluxe hardcover is colored by Bolland himself, who regrets not being able to color the original release due to time constraints. He's said that he wasn't pleased with the original release, so I figured it made sense to purchase the version more heralded by the illustrator.

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Just read: Lee Bermejo's 'Batman: Noël'

Just read: Lee Bermejo's 'Batman: Noël'

This is a holiday-themed edition of "Just read," where I dove into an unplanned Batman tale that doesn't appear on my original Batman reading order. Batman: Noël is a one-off story featuring an older-aged Caped Crusader; while its place in the overall Batman continuity probably can't be fully hammered down, it's certainly toward the later years and definitely, at the very least, takes place after Death in the Family as it features a reference to a past Robin.

Noël is written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo, who is best known for his celebrated illustration of the graphic novel The Joker. Bermejo's style is gritty and ultra-realistic, to the point where shadows are super accentuated and play a large role in the overall aesthetic, and to the point where you can count the facial wrinkles on characters' faces. This story is based fully on Charles Dickons' A Christmas Carol, as we see a fever-ridden Batman receive visits from three "spirits" as he's out in Gotham on Christmas Eve.

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Looking back: Results of picking every Power 5 football game

Looking back: Results of picking every Power 5 football game

I have been lazy about tallying the results of the last few weeks of the final season, but in my blogging purge at the end of the year I've finally gotten around to it. Back in August, I decided to run the fool's errand of picking every Power 5 conference football game in 2016, with a few other teams' schedules thrown in for good measure. This resulted in picking a grand total of 842 regular season games! Also included were projections for conference championship games, a final Top 25 and a playoff picture.

With the regular season complete now, I can report that I finished with a record of 603-239, good for a .716 picking percentage. Not bad for picking straight-up (not against-the-spread), I think, but who really knows. When I checked on my progress after Week 4, I said that .600 or above would be a good job, and .700 or above would be surprisingly good in my eyes. Maybe I underestimated how many easy calls there were left on the schedule, but either way, my .716 picking percentage was higher than expected, and that's a good thing.

Here's a link to the spreadsheet where I picked all these games, in case you wanna see that.

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Just read: Mark Titus' 'Don't Put Me In, Coach' and Stephen King's ''Salem's Lot'

Just read: Mark Titus' 'Don't Put Me In, Coach' and Stephen King's ''Salem's Lot'

Okay, so, I didn't "just" read either of these books. I read them both a while ago, but didn't write about either of them, and that's been bothering me because I've managed to write about everything else I've read this year. It seems impossible that I'll keep this up in 2017, especially since I plan to continue to read a heavier amount, but I want to tie the bow on doing this thing for a full year.

These books obviously have nothing in common, lol. Mark Titus is a former walk-on basketball player at Ohio State University who garnered some fame for writing a pretty cool blog called Club Trillion about his experiences playing for the Buckeyes. His book, Don't Put Me In, Coach, is an awesomely titled account of those experiences woven in with stories about his blog's success. He now writers for The Ringer. 

'Salem's Lot, meanwhile, is Stephen King's second book, and the second portion of my quest to read every single novel by him, which is set to be completed in the year 2043 at my current pathetic pace; but if King keeps writing at his current pace, and continues to write at that pace forever, without slowing down in his older years (he's 69 right now), I actually won't catch up to him until 2058 or 2059, my math probably isn't perfect. Stephen King would be 112 years old at that point and still writing books at a rate that's almost as fast as I am reading them.

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Just read: A few Robin / Teen Titans / Nightwing things

Just read: A few Robin / Teen Titans / Nightwing things

Back to the Batman front! The last time I checked in along my Batman reading order was following the Birth of the Demon trilogy, which introduced Ra's al Ghul but kinda left me hanging with nowhere to go. That book was immediately preceded by the combined Batgirl/Robin Year One volume, so I was left without a particular storyline to follow; I had just learned about several new characters, but the ends of these stories were nicely tied up in a bow in terms of not having immediate follow-ups. I wound up taking a short break from Batman, and instead of coming back and diving right into stuff like The Killing Joke and Death In The Family, I decided to get into something with a fair amount of continuity first. 

Turns out, this mini-tangent had a somewhat complicated continuity to it. I decided I wanted to read more about Robin (Dick Grayson) and his arc as Batman's sidekick before joining the Teen Titans and becoming Nightwing. I mistakenly started this with Nightwing: Blüdhaven (the first full graphic novel from the Nightwing run that began in 1995/96), without realizing that I skipped a bunch of stuff in the Robin chronology by doing so. In that book, Dick Grayson -- the Robin I read about in Dark Victory and The Gauntlet -- is already somewhat established in his role as Nightwing, taking up a Batman-esque-but-not-Batman mantle in a neighboring town called Blüdhaven, while Tim Drake is in the role of Robin. That means I managed to miss out on an entire extra Robin -- Jason Todd -- but obviously I wasn't the most concerned about spoilers.

So from there, I worked my way back and read Teen Titans: Year OneTeen Titans: Judas Contract and Nightwing: Year One. These arcs clash against each other at times, with two different "first appearances" of Nightwing.  The proper one comes in "Tales of the Teen Titans #44," which is part of the Judas Contract series; meanwhile, Nightwing: Year One serves as a bit of a reimagining of that character's origin story.

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AOTY Contender Series: Modern Baseball - 'Holy Ghost'

AOTY Contender Series: Modern Baseball - 'Holy Ghost'

Duh! Modern Baseball's Holy Ghost took the top spot on my mid-year albums of the year list, and has as good a shot as anything else of being #1 come EOTY time. Also -- side note -- oddly enough, I haven't really sat down and figured out my list yet, even though I've been writing these blogs for a few weeks. I plan on doing that Tuesday in preparation for recording an episode of Chorus with Jason about our favorite albums.

Holy Ghost (Apple Music / iTunesSpotify, YouTube embedded below, Bandcampvinyl) continues to stand head and shoulders above many of the albums I've heard this year. It has a great emotional range complemented by a big leap in songwriting from MoBo on an instrumental level. And though it has very focused inspirations, it manages to appeal broadly to a wide audience, whatever the listener is going through.

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