Beer and Pavement

Where am I with Hopslam in 2015?

Posted in Beer, Hopslam, Meta, Uncategorized by Zac on January 20, 2015
Not Hopslam

This is not Hopslam.

 

I often talk about my craft beer epiphany as happening the first time I cracked open a bomber of Stone Ruination IPA. Sure, that’s technically when it happened, but I didn’t realize how far my own insanity could carry me until I discovered Hopslam. Bells of Kalamazoo, Michigan makes some nice beers, but Hopslam has a reputation all its own.

Let’s review.

I started this blog with the intention of focusing on the intersections of craft beer and indie rock. The first post was about that intersection and how release days had become so important to both cultures. In this case, Tuesdays were the main release days. This is common in the music industry, but Tuesday became a day when most big beer releases hit our burg in the middle of Missouri.

The annual posts about the grapefruity one continued. I marked a year at the blog with a more sensible opinion and mature perspective of the brew only to follow that with gratuitous pictures with stories of social networking actually paying off. And even more that same year, I tried the infamous Hopslam vertical.

It used to be fairly common to see me participate in this thing called “The Session” where beer bloggers from all over wrote on the same topic. That same year (2011), I wrote fondly of Hopslam’s iconic artwork. What can I say? I was obsessed.

The following year is basically missing. I’m sure I drank some Hopslam, but there’s little-to-no proof here. I was in the midst of this whole Royal Rye Wine thing. (FTR, there is some proof.) And I assume I had some in 2013 as well. Of course, maybe I wasn’t blogging much at the time. Man, I’ve been doing this for a while.

Anyway, I know I had some last year. In fact, I wrote how I was beginning to temper my expectations. If I remember correctly, the hassle of finding the stuff was beginning to not be worth it. And that’s kinda where I am today.

In fact, I don’t have any Hopslam at this moment. Rumors suggest it will be out tomorrow or later in the week. The many beer joints we’ve accumulated over the last few years are somewhat hush on their official tappings. There are whispers we’re getting way less than ever and I’m sorta meh about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll drink me some Hopslam. My name’s in at a place and I’m supposed to be at some event on Friday where it will be on tap. Plus, I may sneak out one other night for a pint (or probably not – babies). However, even that reservation’s only going to be like 1-2 bottles and Friday’s event will probably amount to one glass as there will be some other tasty beers on tap. So, whatever.

I don’t know whether I’m tired of the craft beer geek game as it’s embodied by Hopslam or if I’m just tired. I can’t get the latest and greatest releases anymore. I can’t maintain a huge collection in my cellar (now beer fridge). My liver and checkbook can’t really handle it. So, I guess you could say that I’m HopslammedTM. Well, not really. It just has a better ring than “craft beer slammed.”

Now, this is not the moment when I swear off drinking beer. I have just tempered my enthusiasm. I still buy a couple of new beers every week. I make it out to events and beer releases when parenting two small children allows me. I still plan to brew again. Craft beer is still a part of me and it will be written about ad nauseam in this blog. However, my lifestyle isn’t one of the obsessive beer geek, they guy who’s ticking every beer and spending all of his resources on increasing his Untappd numbers.

In fact, I hope to write soon about the glorious new Craft Beer Cellar downtown. It’s a dangerous place for me, but it’s akin to a quality record store only with beer instead of records. More on that later and I’ll also let you know when I finally sip on this year’s Hopslam.

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Reviewing Early 2015 Releases: Sleater-Kinney, Viet Cong, and Belle & Sebastian

Posted in Records, Review by Zac on January 20, 2015

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Yeah, I’m still here. I’m drinking all the beer and listening to all the records, but how are you to know this? Time to share what I know.

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

No Cities to Love might be the most anticipated album I have… er… anticipated in a long, long time. That’s why it was a little disappointing it didn’t strike me upside the head on the first listen. What is this? I thought. I didn’t know what to make of it. There was already the commitment of a preorder to the deluxe version, so I needed to give it a chance. Thank god for streaming.

After maybe five or six listens, this record is starting to make sense to me. It opens fat and heavy with “Price Tag”, but this is also where I first had questions about the keyboards/organ. But those riffs and the development of the vocals from their screaming in the nineties… I came to realize that this just happens to be the most ambitious album of the band’s 20+ year run. The songs are fleshed out with the aforementioned keys and add the dance thing they were doing on All Hands and the power they instituted on One Beat and The Woods. Throw in side projects with Quasi, The Jicks, Wild Flag, and a solo gig and what you have is a band with history and chops to make a pretty great rock record. That sharp bite that was always part of Sleater-Kinney remains, but now there’s some distance and perspective and some kind of reverence for an arena rock anthem. Sleater-Kinney can still kick some ass.

I mentioned the first track as a great opener, but the album doesn’t let up from there. All of these songs are big and full of attitude. Sleater-Kinney doesn’t record bad or timid music. What they have done is accumulated all kinds of depth over the years without losing any of the angst or urgency they had as young riot grrrls. They sing better. They play better. They write better. They are actually better than what I once considered one of the 3-5 best rock bands of the nineties.

“Fangless” follows “Price Tag” and I’m now ready to dance. The control Corin Tucker has over his voice is really evident and the back-and-forth with Carrie Brownstein’s voice is classic Sleater-Kinney. The only difference is that both women know how to use their voices, complimenting contrasting aesthetics like few others can. This is what hardcore and riot grrrl co-screamers wish they could do with their tired, ragged vocal chords.

Then there’s “Surface Envy” with its steady drive and beat, leading to one of the better S-K choruses in their catalog. “We win/We lose/Only together do we make the rules!” The infectious title track follows with its own catchy chorus. “A New Wave” sounds like it could have been pulled from the never-happening Wild Flag follow-up. My god. Is there a bad song on this record? What was I thinking on those first few listens?

“Burry Friends” is a hit if the title track doesn’t catch on. (I say this with tongue planted in cheek. I mean, what’s an indie hit, really?) Again, there’s another solid chorus and some ambitious, big-sounding production. “Hey Darling” is almost as straight-up a classic rock song as I’ve ever heard from the band. It really reminds me of a Pearl Jam song I can’t place. Weird, but Tucker’s vocal performance carries it. The record closes with a slow, heavy rocker appropriately named “Fade.” I think this last sonically matches the majesty of The Woods.

There’s so much more I could tell you. For one, I’ve mostly written about the vocal prowess, but all instruments are as polished as ever. Janet Weiss is as amazing as ever on the skins. She can pound and subtly keep the beat like few others. I would differentiate between Brownstein’s and Tucker’s guitars, but that’s pointless. They are both amazingly aggressive and loud players. The production as with the remastered albums in the box set bring all this to life. I don’t know how much staying power the songs will have, but this record as a whole just sounds great.

Viet Cong – S/T (video is NSFW for a second, but mostly okay)

So, I stumbled upon this band and knew I had to buy their… cassette tape. Wait. I don’t own a working cassette player anymore. Luckily, I knew this album was coming out in more consumable formats and that day has finally arrived.

Viet Cong is a band for me that sort of takes over and fills my speakers constantly with urgency and feeling. There was that year I discovered Japandroids and last year was Ought’s year. Viet Cong is different by repeating what’s been done before from distant drones, lo-fi production, and a youthful energy I only see in my children, not adults playing music.

The opener is all messy and amateurish, but it promises something cohesive and purposeful. I hate underground and lo-fi acts that just fuck around. Sure, the sound and execution don’t have to be perfect, but I just forked over some cash for this here record. At least act like you care. And to be clear, there’s the definite impression Viet Cong are not fucking around and maybe care a little bit about what they’re doing.

Those tinny drums come back and a groove sets in with “Pointless Experience.” At this point, I feel like this must have been what Joy Division sounded like in their bedrooms on 4-track. “March of Progress” is all over the place and you feel as if you’re off to the races. “Bunker Buster” does a stripped-down rocker thing and “Continental Shelf” is all 80’s/John Hughes anthemic. The pace picks up again with “Silhouettes” before “Death” ends the LP too soon with some jangle.

This was the record Interpol should have recorded instead of going all polished after their masterful Turn on the Bright Lights. Lou Barlow should have produced their follow-up and this record would have happened 15 years ago. Don’t leave the room or you’ll miss the meat of these seven, beautiful recordings. This record will be somewhere in my top-3 for sure. It’s that good and that much fun.

Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

I don’t know if we’re in peacetime, but this might be the most danceable album of the Belle & Sebastian oeuvre. That’s good and bad. Still, of the three albums here, this is the one I’m most ambivalent about. On one hand, it’s much better than the previous 2-3 records. On the other hand, I don’t think B&S will ever recapture the magic they had pre-Storytelling.

(Side note: I often debate whether or not U2 went downhill with the release of The Joshua Tree or after it. Could Storytelling be Belle & Sebastian’s Joshua Tree?)

To be honest, this album is split into thirds with all the tracks sticking fairly close to the idea of girls dancing through peacetime. If I had time, I’d piece together the imagery and themes, but this review is done on the quick, but I digress.

I’ll start with the third that gives me hope for B&S. I loved, loved those first four albums. They are full of old-school folk wonder and some stripped-down, recorded in a church kind of shit. The songs were smart and as forlorn as anything Joy Division ever attempted to vocalize. “The Cat with the Cream” is a bit more embellished with strings than these early records, but the muffled vocals and sad lyrics scream early Belle & Sebastian all the way. “Ever Had a Little Faith” is classic even with a tiny nod to Velvet Underground. (I love it when B&S go into Velvet mode even when it’s brief.)

A third of these songs certainly fit the 80’s dance vibe B&S seem to be going for. Tracks like “The Party Line”, “Enter Syvia Plath”, “The Power of Three”, etc. are fairly synth-heavy and really danceable. Of course, some of the best B&S moments are danceable (see “Women’s Realm”) but they rarely venture into New Order territory.

Another third represent the pristine pop Stuart Murdoch has been striving for over the last few records (post-Storytelling). I’m not gonna lie. I don’t normally like this part of the B&S oeuvre, but tracks like “Nobody’s Empire” and “The Book of You” (a little T Rex-y with female vocals) combine some of the witty songwriting of those early albums with the band’s sonic expansion.

Overall, I like this record, but I don’t know if I love it or not. I might have to Spotify it for a week or two before breaking down and just buying it.

Reviewing 2014: Tracks

Posted in Records, Review by Zac on December 29, 2014

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I will skip the pleasantries and get to what is typically the easiest of easy blog posts: lists of videos. These videos are of the 20 best tracks of the year according to me. Most are found in my favorite albums, but a few outliers are there as well. Also, keep in-mind that I typically like to keep these lists to one-per-artist/band. So, here are 20 separate efforts by 20 separate entities.

Taylor Swift “Shake It Off”

Let’s just get this one out of the way right now. Look, that beat is killer and my daughter loves her some Taylor Swift. Plus, it’s a good message for my kid. So, I stand by it.

Viet Cong “Continental Shelf” (Warning: video NSFW)

Mark these dudes as my most anticipated full-length debut of 2015. It’s dark, dank, foreboding… Reminds me of a ridiculous black IPA. Man, I’m thirsty.

Ought “Today More Than Any Other Day”

I could have chosen so many songs from my band of the year, but I went with the one that has everything. There’s the stripped-down, slow build. Metacognition. Disillusionment with modern society and commercialism. A rousing chorus. Danceability. Da-da-da’s. Entropy. Everything.

Parquet Courts “Instant Disassembly”

A sloppy rocker – almost Pavement-esque – with a touch of faux Britishness, “Instant Disassembly” is the best kind of ear worm. Not only does the melody stick, but the singer’s problems aren’t too far from the listener’s own.

Your Friend “Tame One”

I almost went with “Bangs” for this one, but I don’t think I could go wrong with either. The voice, the drone, the build all make Your Friend a band/solo artist to watch this coming year.

Alvvays “Archie, Marry Me”

I like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura, but while the former messes around with pop music and that latter has somehow fallen off my radar, Alvvays will have to do. “Archie Marry Me” is all kinds of John Hughes angst and is a standout for the year.

Angel Olsen “Forgive/Forgotten”

SO MANY SONGS. I could list all the songs off Angel Olsen’s excellent Burn Your Fire for no Witness, but I will stick with my arbitrary rule to only list one song per artist/band. For this list, you get a rocker.

The War on Drugs “Red Eyes”

I honestly did not like the direction The War on Drugs took this year. It’s way more Springsteen than Vile, but they’re still a pretty good band as evidenced by the moving “Red Eyes.” That Springsteen-esque “woo” is pretty nice, but I sorta wished there was more of this on the entire record.

Sharon Van Etten “Your Love Is Killing Me”

I sort of lost touch with Sharon Van Etten this year until the above video for “Your Love Is Killing Me” crossed my path last month. It’s sprawling and Van Etten’s voice holds up as a powerful accomplice.

Ex Hex “Don’t Wanna Lose”

When an album kicks you in the teeth, it should do it from the first moments of the first track. Congratulations, Ex Hex. This album rawked like we all rawked in 1984 at a drunken high school party in a corn field. Thank god for Mary Timony finding her muse.

Sun Kil Moon “War on Drugs Suck My Cock” (NSFW)

The most interesting thing Sun Kil Moon and The War on Drugs did this year was to have a pseudo-feud. I actually appreciate Mark Kozelek’s crankiness as we are misunderstood curmudgeons. The song is actually quite funny despite its dark tone.

Caribou “Can’t Do Without You”

I know all the words to this song and they just repeat over and over in my head. Hit play and you’ll understand. It will cause you to either love or hate me.

Future Islands “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

One of the moments of the year for indie music was when Future Islands debuted this song on Letterman. The official video is good as well, but you needed to see why Future Islands broke this year and “Seasons (Waiting on You)” will land on many, many year end lists, often at the top.

New Tongues “El Condor Pasa”

The best covers are usually covers of misappropriated songs. I have no other evidence of this fact outside of this track. New Tongues flat-0ut destroy Art Garfunkel’s afro and strip the blood diamonds from the soles of Paul Simon’s tiny shoes.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks “Lariat”

“We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever. Talkin’ ’bout the 80’s!” All kinds of nostalgia in this one and it perfectly summarizes Mirror Traffic.

Swearing at Motorists “Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role”

Love, regret, drugs, faking it are all common themes Swearing at Motorists squeeze into every 2-minute anthem.

Tweedy “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Misunderstood”

I could have pulled several tracks from the Tweedy record, but I liked how this one encapsulated the project’s effect on the elder Tweedy. It’s not quite a punk rock banger, but it’s certainly a step back toward the cow punk of his past. Spencer’s work on the skins is pretty impressive as well.

Peter Matthew Bauer “Latin American Ficciones”

I like a good stripped-down rocker now and again. I had no idea that the dude playing keys and bass for the Walkmen had this sort of frontman, guitar-licking persona inside him. This track alone made the record a must-buy for me.

The Afghan Whigs “Algiers”

A nice take on the “Be My Baby” drum beat opens The Afghan Whigs return. I don’t even mind the auto-tune.

Hospitality “Inauguration” (Merge 25 version)

Trust me. The version they released via the Merge 25 Or Thousands of Prizes is superior IMHO to the LP version. I couldn’t find it online, so I give you the version above.

Reviewing 2014: Music

Posted in Records, Review by Zac on December 28, 2014

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Crap. Where did the year go?

All I have done is taken several hiatuses in between some fairly mediocre blog posts. I would like to tell you 2015 will be different, but why lie? It won’t. I’ll be a sporadic blogger as it seems to be my ultimate destiny. So, you’ll forgive my momentary lapse in judgement when I thought a PhD was a good idea. You won’t mind when I prioritize my job and career over my hobbies. And you’ll give me a pass for being a parent of two who rarely gets a full night’s sleep.

That said, I still found a way to consume and as you well know, consuming indie rock records and craft beer are what I do best when I’m not parenting or working. I didn’t listen to nearly as much music as year’s past, but I did drink a shit-ton of beer as my waist will attest. So, I have something to say about both topics.

The format will be a bit different than years past. Usually, I write a list of records and/or beers. Last year I opted not to rank my choices for the year. This year I will simply name some arbitrary categories to fill with some sort of commentary. Do with this list what you will. However, I hope you can find the time to comment and even throw some money at the good people I’m about to praise.

The 2014 Beer and Pavement Recognitions and Such – Indie Rock Division

“The Next Sharon Van Etten or Courtney Barnett of 2014″

Well, this could have been Sharon Van Etten as her Are We There is yet another stellar album from the songstress, or it could have been Courtney Barnett’s as I listened to The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas on repeat after discovering it a year too late. Hell, I didn’t even get my hands on Barnett’s physical artifact until this year.

Still, there was one woman I listened to more than any other this year or at least that’s according to Spotify. Angel Olsen dominated this year with her Burn Your Fire For No Witness. This is one of the few albums on my personal list I am finding all over year-end lists. It’s an incredibly haunting, Patsy Cline-esque, fucking great record. Had I not been so busy this year, I would have written ad nauseam about this singer who could channel a lo-fi Roy Orbison on one track and turn around with something more akin to a Kristin Hersh rocker the next. She’s a phenomenal talent and from right here in Missouri. Who woulda thunk it?

“Best Reissues (Multiple Categories)”

I didn’t know that I had missed Life Without Buildings the first time around and needed their über-rare Record Store Day until I discovered them in the “Best New Music” category on Pitchfork’s Spotify page. Well, one listen was enough to send me out to my local supplier for a preview of there RSD releases only to find out they had not ordered it. I waited a week or two and tried eBay. It was costly, but nothing obscene and I scored my record. LWB’s Any Other City was a forgotten/unheard of treasure with a danceable no wave sound that would have also fit well in mid-90’s Chicago, but what set this band apart was front woman Sue Tompkins erratic spoken-word lyrics. Although 14 years old, the record was maybe the freshest thing I heard all year. Too bad they only released this record, a handful of singles, and a live album.

The other reissue wins the box set division as Sleater-Kinney is doing this whole comeback thing right. Not only were all their albums reissued on glorious 180-gram vinyl on Sub Pop, but the band put all these albums into one box complete with a book of never-before-seen photos and a surprise 7″ of new material. Now that’s a way to announce a reunion. The best part of this box and the individual reissues is that all the music was remastered, giving them the treatment they all deserved, especially those early records recorded on a budget.

Oh, and that open letter I wrote worked.

“Favorite EP’s – short and long formats”

Funny thing about my two favorite EP’s is that both are from this region of the world. How does that happen? An overwhelming sense of depression caused from living in the middle of racists and corn fields? Yeah, that’s probably what it is. The first is really just a short LP – sorta missing the idea of an “extended play” format – and the other is a more traditional supplement to and earlier full-length effort.

Your Friend’s Jekyll/Hyde is a nearly perfect example of the form capturing atmospherics, chilly femme vocals, and some silly-good theatrics surrounding stories of sisters and awkward thirteen year olds living in Kansas. Rarely do EP’s feel like LP’s but this one does. The songs can come off as quiet and pretty, but the intensity comes through in a live setting as I was lucky to witness last spring. Look for this EP to launch Your Friend in the coming year.

My friends in New Tongues put out a short-form EP that kills, nay destroys. Three originals lead off before a cover of a Simon and Garfunkel cover completely floors you. Following up last year’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, this EP does what the format is meant to do which is extend what work has been done and in the best cases expanding said work. the production on this 4-song EP explodes from the speakers with all the post-hardcore clichés one can muster. (The music is not clichéd, just the reviews.) To add insult to injury, that aforementioned Simon and Garfunkel cover is maybe the cover of the year.

I also considered an E.P. by some other friends in Enemy Airship, but the hard copy has yet to arrive. Additionally, there was Ought’s E.P., but I have more to say on that later…

“Best Dad Rock”

I am a dad twice over. In fact, our little release this year might be is my favorite. His name is Theo and he should know that dads can rock. Right now, Theo’s favorite song is “Bird Is the Word.” We’ll have to work on that.

Dad rock can best be defined as the music by bands who dads probably listened to back in college. Bonus points go to bands and musicians who are actually dads themselves. This year, there were three releases that I think exemplified my own version of Dad Rock.

First and foremost, there’s Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. I crossed paths with Malk on his way to the venue where he was playing. I wanted to talk to him about fatherhood and his new record, but he didn’t have time to chat. I suspect he had to Skype with his kids from the tour van. Anyway, Wig Out at Jagbags is return to form after 2011’s Beck-esque Mirror Traffic. In Wig Out…, Malk and the Jicks get all nostalgic for the Grateful Dead and Lilith Fair-era Lesbians. It’s as goofy as they have been on a record which is quintessential dad behavior.

Then, there’s the Kickstarted project from Swearing at Motorists. S@M’s Dave Doughman is also a dad. This comes out in some heartbreaking-yet-sweet moments throughout While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth. Intermingled with laments and celebrations of parenthood is an obsession with acting and drama, escapes from the daily grind of being someone’s dad. It’s maybe Doughman’s most mature release yet, one I didn’t know or care if he could make. Still, it deserves a proper release once the Kickstarter money runs out.

The third Dad Rock honoree is the most obvious of the bunch. Jeff and Spencer Tweedy’s Sukierae under the band name Tweedy. This project comes from the heart as Jeff Tweedy’s creative juices seem to come alive after some so-so Wilco efforts. Honestly, I had written off Tweedy. I figured he was going to make the same Wilco record over and over and tour until his knees or liver gave out. And as a fellow dad with mouths to feed, I’m okay with selling out. However, that’s not what he’s done here. Spencer who is a gifted drummer has inspired something in his dad that I hope continues. Sukierae was a pleasant surprise and has made me look at my own life as a father and how I can rejuvinate my own creativity.

“Best Album by a Former Member of the Walkmen”

Three records were released this year by former Walkmen. There was Walter Martin’s We’re All Young Together which is a kids album and probably should have made the Dad Rock list above as it’s the most dad-like thing ever. Then there was Hamilton Leithauser’s Black Hours and Peter Matthew Bauer’s Liberation! which also came out this year. Kids music only goes so far with me. So, I figured Leithauser’s record would shine as he was the voice of the Walkmen and sort of personified their cool aesthetic. However, it was Bauer who impressed with his solo debut, a cacophony of religion, mysticism, and chic. The album is so good you wonder if maybe Bauer had more say in the Walkmen’s image than was typically let on. Either way, he put out a solid record that remained on heavy rotation throughout the year.

“Speaking of Nostalgia…”

The Afghan Whigs got back together. Well, two of them did, but those two put together a pretty tight group of musicians. Then the Whigs did the unthinkable in 90’s reunion etiquette and actually recorded an album. Do the Beast would have fit nicely after Black Love with its thematic leanings and dynamics. Plus, those old guys can still rawk.

“The One Album upon which the Critics and I Tend to Agree”

Ex Hex’s Rips is a swift kick to the gut. In much the same way Jeff Tweedy seemed to be recharged by working with his son, Mary Timony’s inner-guitar god rose from the ashes of 90’s indie rock anonymity when she joined Wild Flag, a one-off, super group who released one of the best records of 2011 and put on ridiculously great live shows. This record comes at you from the word go and it never lets up until you’re stunned to find it’s over. Mary Timony has quietly made great music for years, I’m just glad others are beginning to realize it as Rips finds a place on many year-end lists.

“The One Album upon which the Critics and I Tend to Disagree”

Well, that isn’t exactly fair. Trouble by Hospitality generally received good reviews everywhere. However, it didn’t make many (or possibly any) year-end lists. And I’m not really sure why. While it lacks the punch the Ex Hex record delivers, it certainly has its share of dynamics as well as subtle nods to that 80’s thing everyone is doing. This album might be the equivalent of Future Islands’ Singles which is getting all kinds of attention these days. However, Trouble lacks a career-making appearance on Letterman to put it over the hump. Still, the band did what bands with promising debuts are supposed to do with their sophomore efforts: expand and improve on said promise. The trouble is that most bands falter with their second release, not Hospitality. Synth, Belle & Sebastian sensibility, a bit of an edge… It’s all there and I’m not sure why no one else has noticed.

“Artist/Band of the Year”

I opted not to pick just one album as I have played the shit out of those praised above. I do plan to do a singles list if I get a chance, but I digress. I have a band of the year and it might not be who you think.

Let’s get a few of the normal artists up for this kind of consideration out of the way. The War on Drugs and Sun Kil Moon don’t make the list as the most interesting things they did was get in a non-feud. And since we’re on boring, white dude music, I’m not bothering with Real Estate, Spoon, or Mac DeMarco.

Oh, there’s more. I don’t care for dance music. So, most of that stuff doesn’t get much of a listen from me, even in a year when Caribou released an album, but I haven’t enjoyed them since 2007’s Andorra. Same goes for most rap and hip-hop. While I have an appreciation for them, I just haven’t been able to get into Vince Staples or Run the Jewels. Grouper’s record was nice, but a bit too quiet for me. (And if you like that sort of thing, check out my friend C. Vadi’s latest here.) Please don’t get me started on Ariel Pink, Todd Terje, or Taylor Swift.

There were records who probably deserved more of my attention. St. Vincent, Perfume Genius, Parquet Courts, Cloud Nothings, or Ty Segall. I’m okay with this. I have limited time and whatever art you make has to grab my attention. The bands and records I’m recognizing here did that, but none more than Montreal’s Ought.

And Ought hit my trifecta for 2014. They blew me away with an album I did not see coming. Impressed onstage in front of way too few people. Plus, they released an EP that just made me want more. This was done while sounding like a fresher, more meaningful reincarnation of the Feelies and Talking Heads. They look like Joy Division and sound like Television and the Violent Femmes. And I don’t even think they’ve scratched the surface of what they can do.

I’m not sure what else I could tell you about them. The songs are written and performed with feeling every time. They unloaded More Than Any Other Day with its critiques of the mundane and commercialism. Sonically it called back to those New and No Wave days of NYC. The live show could happen in front of 10 people or 10,000. It’s captivating and raw. They drone and jam on only to break it with sudden impulses of noise and general disruption. The EP, Once More with Feeling, supplements the LP’s material but introduces something new. “Pill” is a song I’ve obsessed over as it suits their ages better, but the simple chord structure is an ear worm by itself. The EP provides promise that this band has more to offer and I can’t wait to see what it is.

Reviewing 2014: Beer

Posted in Beer, Eats, Mikkeller, Review by Zac on December 27, 2014

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Crap. Where did the year go?

All I have done is taken several hiatuses in between some fairly mediocre blog posts. I would like to tell you 2015 will be different, but why lie? It won’t. I’ll be a sporadic blogger as it seems to be my ultimate destiny. So, you’ll forgive my momentary lapse in judgement when I thought a PhD was a good idea. You won’t mind when I prioritize my job and career over my hobbies. And you’ll give me a pass for being a parent of two who rarely gets a full night’s sleep.

That said, I still found a way to consume and as you well know, consuming indie rock records and craft beer are what I do best when I’m not parenting or working. I didn’t listen to nearly as much music as year’s past, but I did drink a shit-ton of beer as my waist will attest. So, I have something to say about both topics.

The format will be a bit different than years past. Usually, I write a list of records and/or beers. Last year I opted not to rank my choices for the year. This year I will simply name some arbitrary categories to fill with some sort of commentary. Do with this list what you will. However, I hope you can find the time to comment and even throw some money at the good people I’m about to praise.

The 2014 Beer and Pavement Recognitions and Such – Craft Beer Division

“My New Favorite Series of Special Release Beers”

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A year and a quarter ago, I made my the voyage to Mikkeller’s home base(s) in Copenhagen. While there, I discovered that my favorite brewer can do lambics. And they don’t just do your ordinary lambic. Nope. The “Spontaneous Series” from Mikkeller features tart beers flavored with not your average additives like the evasive species such as buckthorn or the elderflower which comes from the potentially toxic elder plant. There are more typical fruits such as peach and raspberries, but you shouldn’t forget your root vegetables like beets(!). Mikkeller is known for pushing boundaries and styles, but with this series the boundaries are both stretched and strengthened like few brewers can do. I am not a completist, so I have yet to try all of these beers as they are pretty expensive and hard to find in this part of the country, but I buy one when I can and have enjoyed each immensely.

Close second: Stone’s Enjoy By Series is the freshest DIPA’s you’ll find as long as you enjoy them by the date on the bottle. 4/20 was particularly good this year. Rumor has it there’s an Enjoy After Series on the way which should be fun.

“Beer Style I Was Almost Over. Almost.”

Bourbon barrel imperial stouts are a bit played out. I mean, bourbon is great. Imperial stouts are great. So, you can’t possibly mix the two too often, can you? Guess again.

I grew so tired of anything bourbon-barrel aged and I like bourbon. A lot. However, aging every imperial stout in bourbon barrels gets old. The flavor is rich and often too sweet. It’s an easy way to make a beer everybody wants, but I’m moving on.

Well, sort of. Tonight with roast beef, I cracked open Avery’s Tweak. This is the bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts of bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts at 17% ABV and actual chunks of bourbon barrels in every bottle. Still, I don’t know how much more bourbon barrel imperial stouts I can take.

“The Beer I Like With Food”

I once discovered the wonders of a Dogfish Head India Brown Ale and a Booches burger. Oh, the wonders of hops and malts with a greasy burger… Well, I found my new favorite beer with comfort food: Broadway Brewery‘s Backyard BBQPA. Yes, a smoked pale ale is not everyone’s favorite, but Broadway brewed a beer that works with most of their menu, particularly anything smoked or meaty. I’ve had it with their burgers, pulled pork, and meatloaf sandwich. The mixture of malty sweetness and the bitterness of hops and smoke make for a nice beer to pair with fatty meats. I honestly don’t know that I’d like this beer on its own, but it is fantastic with Broadway’s excellent menu of locally-grown comfort foods.

“That Said, This Is My New Favorite Food-Beer Pairing”

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Imperial stouts should be the only beer you ever serve with pie, especially a pie filled with berries. And don’t even bother with the a la mode bullshit. An imp stout has your creamy sweetness covered. I recently rediscovered the wonders of this pairing when a friend baked us some pie with blackberries and I showed up with a 2013 Deschutes Abyss nine months past its best after date. Whoa. What a brilliant pairing if I do say so myself. The glorious things going on in my mouth that night were enhanced by some killer Spiegelau Stout glasses.

A close second: The curried chicken pot pie we had before this pie was paired with Against the Grain’s Citra Ass Down DIPA and/or Stone’s Best By 12/26/14 DIPA. It’s hard to beat a perfectly balanced DIPA and spicy food. This isn’t a case of I got really drunk recently and wanted to include the experience in my blog. No. It’s an instance when perfect foods get matched with perfect beers and you all should know about it.

“2014’s Mikkeller – I.E. My New Favorite Brewery”

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I nearly chose Texas’ Jester King Brewery, but I’ve followed them for a while and have always felt they were kindred spirits with the likes of Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Stillwater, The Bruery, etc. I was lucky enough to try quite a few of their beers at the SECraft Beer festival here in town where I sampled Snörkel, Detritivore, and Atrial Rubicite to name just a few of their excellent brews. They are now one of my top 3-4 breweries to gather while traveling to other beer markets.

That said, my new favorite brewery for this year goes to Prairie Artisan Ales, Sure, they are know for their various versions of Bomb!, yet another barrel-aged imperial stout, but I love their take on the saison as if it’s the new “ale.” Yes, I realize a saison is an ale by definition, but they like Stillwater treat the saison like it’s a centerpiece yeast strain and not just a side-project. There’s the Cherry Funk which is, well, funky. And there’s the Birra Farmhouse Ale, Prairie Standard, Prairie Hop, Prairie Ale, Puncheon, and a silly number of other saisons. All of these beers are grassy and pair well with any white meat or salad.

“Best Session Beer”

We got ourselves a brand-new spanking brewery this year by the name of Logboat. They do some nice beers and throw some good parties. However, they do provide the parenting/driving beer enthusiast some nice options such as their (GABF silver-medal winner) Mamoot Mild Ale and Bear Hair Belgian Blonde. These beers come in just under 5% ABV, but the beer that I love is just over that mark. It’s a wheat beer which are not always my favorite (except when they are hopped to hell). This beer features loads of ginger to help settle the stomach and awaken the tongue. Shiphead Ginger Wheat is the best session beer I’ve had this year. Sure, I enjoyed the IPA’s put out by Stone and others, but this beer’s gingery bite sets it apart from the rest.

“My Favorite Beer of 2014″

I could name so many new favorites from this past year like the ones above as well as Four Hands Alter Ego Black IPA, 3 Floyds War Mullet DIPA, Logboat/Four Hands Loghands Saison, Four Hands Cash Money, Founders Dissenter, Prairie’s Bomb!, Crooked Stave Vieille Artisanal Saison, Three Taverns’ White Hops, my own Aaawrange IPA and Smoke without Fire, Stone Go To IPA, Cigar City Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout (2013), Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery Oil of Aphrodite, etc. I could also consider some old favorites that showed well again this year like Boulevard Saison Brett, Boulevard Love Child #4, Boulevard Rye on Rye, Bells Dark Note, Deschutes Hop Henge DIPA, Bells Hopslam, Mikkeller Citra, etc.

However, this year’s favorite beer has to be the one I predicted almost three years ago. I wrote the following:

Dogfish Head Guided By Voices Heavy Lager – I once heard Bob Pollard proclaim on stage that he drinks “Bud Heavy” and not Bud Light. So, I think Dogfish Head needs to produce a “heavy” lager, maybe an imperial pilsner or high ABV bock of some sort and dedicate it to the reunited classic GBV lineup. I chose Dogfish Head because they’ve done this sort of thing before and there’s a picture of Sam Calagione wearing a GBV t-shirt out there somewhere.

I was pretty close in my prediction and although I didn’t correctly predict the name of the beer, I did name a two-episode web series the same as my beer of the year. This beer wasn’t necessarily the best or even my favorite for taste, aroma, etc. This beer captured the connection between craft beer and indie rock I have been preaching about here when I actually find time to post.

That beer, of course, is Beer Thousand, the imperial lager Dogfish Head brewed in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. Never has a beer more perfectly deserved recognition on this blog than now. And somehow with the help of my brother (who happens to live in Dayton), I was able to score a 4-pack. The beer is excellent. It hides the booze well and defies the style. While it may not rank high in tartness or hoppiness, it certainly tastes like Bee Thousand sounds: gloriously lo-fi and bound to get you drunk.

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And Pizza

Posted in Life, Review by Zac on November 3, 2014

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Pizza Tree is back. For those of you who do not live in Middle Missouri, this means nothing. However, if you do live here or ever plan on visiting, this might be the most important news ever. Well, for pizza enthusiasts.

See, Columbia, Missouri has been dominated by a pizza juggernaut named Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s pizza is fairly conventional, but it’s sold in one of those college hangouts like you see on TV or movies. It’s got character and that goes a long way to cover up so-so pizza. Still, folks here feel nostalgic for their own college days and want to relive those days with a slice or whole pie from Shakespeare’s.

Shakespeare’s isn’t terrible pizza. They just haven’t had to make their pizza better over the years. Since I moved here almost ten years ago, I have wanted fresh garlic on my pizza. That entire time either their website or employees would assure me that they were working on getting garlic. Seems simple, but when no one is pushing you to improve your game, things like adding garlic go by the wayside.

So, there was a hole in the pizza scene here that needed to be filled. There was cheap, industrial pizza and several mediocre local alternatives. Plus, the aforementioned Shakespeare’s and its nostalgia. What we lacked was interesting, sometimes off-beat, but always good pizza. And that’s when Pizza Tree first appeared.

In what used to be a Jamaican jerk kitchen and sometimes the green room at local music venue Mojo’s, John Gilbreth was making pies. He make Detroit style, shipped in special pepperoni, created “pizza art”, and grew the mother of all sourdough mothers. Despite being named Columbia’s best new restaurant, the Tree had to shut its doors. Possibly due to high demand and an inability to meet said demand or maybe due to a lack of visibility… Either way, Pizza Tree was no more.

Then, they Kickstarted a new effort to move to the heart of downtown, into a space more suitable for a fully functional pizza joint. And the opening has been slow and steady with new hours and delivery services added. Now all they have to do is get the word out.

Why Pizza Tree?

John uses the best ingredients. I mentioned the insanely good pepperoni and sourdough crust, but it’s hard to forget Sriracha-glazed pork belly, truffled crimini mushrooms, and house-stretched mozzarella. These are decadent pies that border on gourmet. And now they are functioning like an old-school pizza shop.

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Of course, the pizza to end all pizzas is the famous Bánh Mì. Imagine the Sriracha-glazed pork belly I mentioned before with kimchi, chile aioli, and fresh cilantro… It’s as good as it sounds. Hell, this pizza was good two nights later when I finished it. I am not afraid to say that it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had.

One thing a pizza joint needs is an aesthetic, some character. With a focus on 1980’s/90’s iconography, Pizza Tree is the pizza place we all wanted to hang out in when we were kids. The only difference now is that our tastes have matured to accept pizzas like Maple Butternut or Charredachoke. To add to this aspect of the mystique, local artist/musician Justin Nardy has joined the team to add his touch to the place.

Pizza Tree is yet another example in a long line of examples where someone’s ingenuity and craftiness creates something so unique. Corporations with teams of marketers can’t come up with what Pizza Tree does. And if they did, they would ruin it. While I’m sure John would like to make a living, he won’t be so greedy as to ruin his product for an extra buck. Even as much of a hard time as I give Shakespeare’s, at least they have kept it local and authentic.

A theme of this blog for a long time has been to celebrate businesses like Pizza Tree. I can’t imagine anything better than washing down a Pizza Tree Bánh Mì with a Logboat Snapper IPA followed by some Harold’s doughnuts and Fretboard Coffee (review still to be written). It’s a good time to be into all things epicurean and indie. May Pizza Tree and their brethren live forever!

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The Current State of Craft Beer in 2014

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Manifesto by Zac on October 29, 2014

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Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Momofuko’ David Chang had a spat. That’s a story, I guess. Or at least it’s GQ drumming up some page views with an internal disagreement from contributors, contributors who happen to be at the top of their respective fields.

Basically, David Chang hates snobbery in food and especially beer. That said, the dude runs with a crowd that hangs at restaurants you nor I will ever enjoy. (Although, my wife did eat lunch at Noma once. Whatever.) It seems that he draws the snobbery line at beer. Guy hates himself some beer geeks:

Beer snobs are the worst of the bunch. You know the old joke about cheap beer being like having sex in a canoe? I will take a beer that’s “fucking near water” every night of the week over combing out my neck beard while arguing about hop varieties.

Garret Oliver who is one of those epicurean snobs with which Chang eats and imbibes took issue with the jab. He calls Chang’s shit out:

It’s not the fancy beer you don’t like. You don’t like us, your people. You have a “tenuous relationship with the Epicurean snob set?” You are the epicurean snob set! I’ve seen you with champagne in one hand and a Noma lamb leg in the other, chatting up celebrities. Why you frontin’? You spent your first three paragraphs insulting people just like you…is the cash, fame and luxury not working out?

So, a maker of snobby things doesn’t like some other snobby things. In this case, it’s beer. Fine. Like your shitty beer. More good, craft beer for me. Except that his snobby beer friend points out the hypocrisy of such an opinion coming from said maker of snobby things.

I’ll come back to this.

In other signs of the craft beer apocalypse, The New Yorker just figured out that craft beer is suddenly fancy stuff. This realization is due to beer-centric restaurants getting respect in foodie circles, not because the beer is good (which it is). Beer is big in Brooklyn, so now we have to pay attention to it.

This third anecdote  is not necessarily about snobbery, but stick with me. Martha Stewart has a certified cicerone. Said in-house, beer expert/blogger did this little post selling the sour beer to soccer moms worldwide. Hops didn’t win wine drinkers over, but maybe open fermentation will. The sours in the post are presented as the sophisticated subset of craft beer, not like brutish IPA’s and imperial stouts.

And this is where beer is in 2014.

No longer do beer enthusiasts need to advocate for their favorite beverage. Craft beer has arrived, but is this what we wanted? Did we want beer to be unreachable? Did we want to turn beer snobs into just snobs? Did we need New York to discover craft beer?

What attracted me to craft beer was the accessibility. Here, in my glass, could be one of the best beers in the world. The best anything in the world usually demands a hefty price tag, but my beer didn’t cost me more than $5 at the bar or $10 for sixer.

Maybe this is what Chang is arguing. He would rather drink cheap, rice-adjunct, industrial swill than succumb to perils of beer snobbery. However, if you’re the kind who washes down your Noma lamb leg with champaign, what’s the point? Why not wash down that lamb with a barley wine or IPA made brewed by a local brewery? If you eat fine food, you should wash it down with a fine beer.

Still, the perception of beer has changed. Sure, there are still beer evangelists and those who think craft beer doesn’t get its due respect, but the need for craft beer promotion is dwindling. A craft pint in this town has gone from $3 to $5 with some beers demanding $7-10 a glass. Beer dinners and tastings are becoming as common as wine events, possibly even more. Beer has arrived, but is this what we wanted?

When I watch craft beer grow and evolve this way, it reminds me of the indie rock/alternative boom of the 90’s. Hardcore punk and indie rock of the 80’s was underground and of a certain accessible quality that mainstream rock could not replicate. Eventually, Nirvana happened and every band was signed. That or the audience grew for those still on indie labels, making it possible for a band like a Pavement to travel in tour busses as opposed to broken-down vans. The music was still as accessible as ever, but suddenly, it was held to a higher standard. The indie snob became a thing. It ushered in the age of Pitchfork where suddenly an organization primarily covering independent music was the trend setter and not MTV, FM radio, or major labels.

And then there’s the backlash. Pop music and less sophisticated forms of hip-hop became popular again. Ironically, this shift back to the superficial mainstream has meant a decline in profits for the industry as a whole. I don’t need to link to the endless number of Billboard articles to prove this point. Still, the indies that rose in the nineties are still going strong.

This brings me back to beer. Is Chang merely calling attention to craft beer’s inevitable backlash? Is this part of our collective beer evolution? It certainly seems to mirror the evolution of modern music. Even as some return to cheap American lagers, beer sales as a whole are down, except for the craft brewers who continue to succeed.

Craft beer and its fans should realize that we are getting what we wished for. We wanted beer served alongside the finest wines in the finest establishments. However, it comes at a cost – literally. The backlash is in full swing and it was inevitable. Still, craft beer should weather the storm the way indie rock has.

Just quit your prosthelytizing and snobbery and enjoy another beer.

An Open Letter to Sleater-Kinney

Posted in An Open Letter, Records by Zac on October 23, 2014

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Dear Sleater-Kinney,

So, you’re back. Like several of my favorite nineties’ bands – Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc. – you took some time off from each other for other projects, but you’re back. And we’re all so happy.

I remember the day I found out your were no more. It was in Hawaii on the Molokai. I had on my t-shirt from the All Hands on the Bad One tour, browsing the aisles at the only grocery store when another tourist stopped me to say that you had broken up. “Hiatus” would have been a better descriptor, but the news hit me just as hard either way. All the bands of my youth were nearly gone, causing me to fear for more than just my record collection.

Either way, I don’t want this letter to be about my relationship with your career and output. Rather, I want to celebrate the fact that you are back and to make a request.

In terms of reunions or coming out of hiatus, you all did it right. First, there was the little surprise of the box set. I preordered mine instantly and it was totally worth it. The packaging and accompanying book is beautiful. I don’t have all of your albums on vinyl until now and they’re all colored, 180-gram vinyl to boot! In terms of remastering, from what I’ve had a chance to hear, this too was done the right way. Instead of just turning everything up, many tracks were balanced out and the effects of cheap recording sessions is wiped out with a professional’s expert hand.

Of course, the coup de gras was the 7″ with the new song “Bury Our Friends” which is huge track filled to the brim with power and emotion. This new song – the first in 9 years – is how you announce your return. No fanfare. No announcement. “Let’s just toss a new 7″ into our retrospective box set for shits and giggles!” And of course there will be a tour and a new album – January 20th according to the 7″.

You are doing it right, friends. Most bands wait until they need the cash to get back together. Most bands don’t release new music. Most bands overdue their own box sets with loads of rarities (read: “junk not good enough to release the first time”) or completely over-produced versions of the originals. But not Sleater-Kinney. This is how a band gets back together. This is the blueprint from now one.

Now for the request.

You are one of my six-year-old’s favorite bands. Sure, that list includes Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Kidz Bop, but it also includes anything Kathleen Hanna touches, Wild Flag, and Blondie. She needs to see a live Sleater-Kinney performance and I can’t really drive/fly her on a school night to Chicago or Omaha. It would be ideal if Sleater-Kinney finds their way to Columbia, Missouri. (Of course, I would settle for STL or KC.)

In the spirit of transparency (and in case it wasn’t already clear), I am a huge Sleater-Kinney fan. I too would benefit from your band stopping in Middle Missouri. I won’t front.

We have a nice venue in the Blue Note who just hired two women as manager and assistant manager. There’s Pizza Tree and their bánh mì pizza(!) or baked goods, records, films (on the screen or to go), and drinks in the Uprise/Ragtag complex on Hitt Street. There’s vegetarian at Main Squeeze and two doughnut places by the time you would arrive. I can tell you more, just write back with requests.

In closing, I wish you the best of luck with the record and tour. It’s great to have one of the greatest rock bands of my life back at it – especially one my kid likes. I hope you find it in your heart of hearts to stop in COMO. It’s worth the stop.

Best,

Zac

P.S. – Will the whole band make an appearance on Portlandia next season?

P.P.S. – Will Pearl Jam open for you? I don’t really care if I see Pearl Jam. I just think it’s fair that they support you since you supported them the last time you were out.

P.P.P.S. – Carrie and Janet, my daughter wrote a letter to Wild Flag a while back. Are you planning on responding? She wrote one to Kathleen Hanna and Hanna wrote back. Just saying.

CITIZENFOUR

Posted in Film, Review by Zac on October 22, 2014
Syna So Pro busks before the first Midwest screening of 'Citizenfour'.

Syna So Pro busks before the first Midwest screening of ‘Citizenfour’.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly express how much True/False means to us in terms of providing that one yearly jolt of intellectualism, creativity, and life we need at the end of every winter. Really, it’s not just that. This is a hard place in which to live. True/False makes it bearable for one long weekend every year.

However, this past year brought us the birth of our son, Theo. He’s our True/False baby, born on March 1st. The doc fest didn’t happen for us. Sure, it went on, but it didn’t happen for us. Of course, we could have gone to the Boone Dawdle for the first time, but the film this year didn’t interest us enough to bike 20 miles in the heat. Maybe next year?

So, we are long overdue for our True/False fix, to put it lightly.

That fix was supplied in the form of Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, the documentation of Edward Snowden’s coming out as an NSA whistleblower. This was an intense way to get back into the True/False groove as the fest put together a one-time (well two times, actually) screening of the highly anticipated film.

Poitras is a bit of a legend in T/F lore. She won the fest’s True Vision award in 2010 given to “a filmmaker (or filmmaking team) whose work shows a dedication to the creative advancement of the art of nonfiction filmmaking.” Her arguably most popular film at the fest was The Oath in which Poitras hangs out with a cab driver who was once Osam bin Laden’s bodyguard. The cab driver’s life is contrasted with his brother-in-law’s who finds himself detained in Guantanamo Bay. It’s even more intense than it sounds. Poitras also made a film about gentrification in my old home of Columbus, OH. It’s very different from her recent works, but totally a good watch, especially if you keep in-mind that this was her first film.

Citizenfour was not exactly what I expected. I honestly did not read up on it except to realize that it was about Edward Snowden in some way. Like many documentaries, I assumed it was a collection of interviews and pieces of a puzzle put together in order to recreate the events leading up to Snowden’s whistleblowing, making us all acutely aware as to how our government invades our privacy on the daily. I also caught that this was the third in a trilogy including The Oath and 2006’s My Country, My Country. However, what I was not prepared for was the amount of access Poitras had in documenting Snowden’s story.

Usually when a documentary covers a story, it comes in after the fact. There are interviews with people about what they remember. There’s archival footage or recreations. Rarely is a documentary documenting major, historical events in real time. Citizenfour does this, however. Poitras is there, in the room when Snowden is spilling the beans on how the NSA basically watches and listens to every electronic transmission we make. She follows as Snowden’s identity is revealed and he has to make a mad dash for a friendly embassy and eventually Russia. Poitras is only physically in the room with Snowden while he stays in a Hong Kong hotel for interviews with Glenn Greenwald over the course of a week+. Then, as the chase is on, she documents the fallout for various players in the game to uncover how our government watches and collects data on our every move. She communicates now and again with Snowden until she finally provides evidence of his new life in Russia.

What’s interesting is how intimate Poitras is able to get with Snowden without being intrusive. The privacy of his moment is completely documented by Poitras’ camera. It would be ironic had Snowden not asked her to be there, but he did ask her. The difference between Poitras and the NSA is that Poitras was asked to be there and to document the whole thing.

The story which evolves is really quite breathtaking. No narrative is forced. All the drama is real and that might be the scariest part. Poitras typically crafts narrative with a heavy hand. This isn’t a knock. She’s good at telling stories. With Citizenfour, you get the sense that she lets this story tell itself. She’s just there to make sure it gets to an audience.

If Citizenfour screens in your town, go see it. Several of Poitras’ films end up on PBS. So, you might be able to see it there. And don’t just watch it to get informed about the NSA. Sure, there’s that part, but it pales in comparison to the story told. Watch it for the story and do your research on the NSA.

Now I feel like I’m on some sort of list.

Once More with Feeling vs Dark Penance

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records, Review, Rock vs. Beer by Zac on October 21, 2014

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Man, I haven’t done one of these beer/record reviews in a long, long time.

Above you will find an image of a record – a 10″ record to be exact – and a beer. The record is Once More with Feeling, the new EP by Ought I picked up at their show over a week ago. The beer is a little something from Founders I picked up before the show. It’s black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale called Dark Penance.

Once More with Feeling - Ought

This is not your typical Ought release. Well, they have basically only released the stellar More than Any Other Day on Constellation and a self-released EP of mostly the same material, but this offering is neither of those. From what I can tell and have read, Once More… features older material that was rerecorded and slapped on some 10″ vinyl. Half is recycled from the mentioned EP, but it’s been completely reworked. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t measure up with what might be one of the best LP’s of the year. In fact, this 4-song EP perfectly compliments it and adds to the still-young oeuvre in a meaningful way.

The EP opens with the slow burn that is “Pill” with frontman Tim Beeler’s vocals light but in front instead of his typical holler. This is a reimagined version of the opening track from their EP New Calm. It’s straightforward and sweet with some sad, sad lyrics before it unravels into a beautiful mess, Beeler demanding that you give it to him before he fades into oblivion. “New Calm Pt 2″ is another rerecording of the final track of their self-released EP. Beeler’s talking, Byrne/Reed vocals are out front ahead of a Joy Division-esque groove and early U2 guitar onslaught. The experiment of “New Calm Pt 2″ doesn’t stand alone, but it demonstrates the certain constraints and potential of the band to carry out a jam. It’s abstract musically and lyrically, featuring a rambling singer backed by a rambling band. The EP closes with “Waiting”, a more conventional track. Quick, moving, urgent, the band moves like a mid-nineties Chicago outfit in a hurry with that familiar David Byrne-like mumbling before breaking into his usual cries. This track could be described as the band’s “dance song” but I find a lot of Ought’s faster stuff danceable. Beeler asks, “How long have you been waiting?” over and over. I hope not wait too long before another release or live performance.

Dark Penance Imperial Black IPA – Founders

Up for the challenge is a first-time release from the Midwest’s best brewery: Founders. Intensely bitter, Dark Penance is painful to the tongue upon the first sip. The roastiness and extreme hop presence (100 IBU’s!) are unforgiving. But as one sips, the roast and hop flavors begin to separate themselves, allowing the drinker to take in the brilliance of this beer. There are two types of black IPA’s: the hoppy porter variety or dark hop bomb that’s really just an IPA in a cloak. However, this beer finds a balance in pushing the envelope – typical of a Founders beer. Founders just makes their beers overwhelmingly flavorful which somehow balances out. I wonder if as they were developing this beer, the brewers thought “oh, that’s too hoppy” or “the malt is too forward” or “it’s all roasted malt.” And instead of backing off any of those flavors, they brought up the other components to balance the whole thing out. And this works.

Intersections

On the surface, both Ought’s EP and Founders black IPA are immensely pleasurable. As I sipped the beer, I wasn’t sure if I was nodding to the blackness spinning on my turntable or the one in my glass. Both are exceptional contributions.

However, I find it more interesting in how they differ. Ought builds from abstraction, a dance beat, a sweet ditty into something gorgeously chaotic. However, Dark Penance was the opposite in that it opened with a punishing onslaught only to eventually reveal a balanced, glorious drink, perfecting for sipping with a great record on the play. The pairing was a success in contrasting styles with similar elements. I may have to try it again.

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