Beer and Pavement

The Official Stephen Malkmus (Solo) Oeuvre Series, Part 1

Posted in Pavement, Records by Zac on February 14, 2014

This is not my first lap around the oeuvre track. I once attempted to write a post for every Pavement track on a single blog dedicated to the Pavement oeuvre. I’m considering starting this up again, but that’s another project for another day. On this blog, I once wrote three posts discussing the complete catalog of Archers of Loaf. However, today, I intend to take on the oeuvre of one Stephen Malkmus and his ever-faitful Jicks. This is part 1 of a series in which I hope to break down every SM track post-Pavement.

Stephen Malkmus

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Black Book
I have no idea what that mess in the beginning: a tribal call of a new era, perhaps. Whatever. This was a clear break from Pavement and a typically lazy stroll of a song for Malkmus to make in the first track of his first venture outside the previously mentioned indie legends. Anyway, the “black book” of which SM is referring seems to be the Bible – literally or metaphorically. By calling the black book “perminently-diversified”, he seems to be addressing the commodified nature of the Bible and possibly the Christian religion in general. Could it be considered a prediction of the hipster Christian megachurch future? Who knows. Either way, it’s a fairly serious song with that familiar, Pavement-esque, lazy hook and feedback flourishes with sloppy layering.

Phantasies
If you lived in Alaska, you would have fantasies about far away, tropical regions as well. Still, the protagonist stays in his winter wonderland where the temperature reaches 99 below and he spends his time fishing through a hole in the ice. Someone –  I suspect someone native to the land, maybe an Eskimo – tries to talk his friend out of a move to the tropics. Still, fantasies persist. (Interesting side note is that this song was used for a Sears commercial. I tried to find video proof, but you’ll just have to trust me.)

Jo Jo’s Jacket
A track of Yul Brynner talking about the freedom enjoyed from shaving his head opens “Jp Jo’s Jacket” perfectly as Malk goes into a Brynner-inpired soliloquy about his role in Westworld as a robotic cowboy. From there, it gets fairly absurd, including crap house music, a Christmas-y innuendo, and a Dylan quote. It’s a fairly Crooked Rain-era track that made for a good single in true Pavement fashion. The line about being his candy cane hints at a sexual advance, a theme that pops up now and again in SM’s solo/Jicks work now and again. The Dylan quote and the following bit reminds us not to take any of this too seriously. In the end, it’s just a Pavement Stephen Malkmus song about Yul Brynner.

Church on White
“Church…” is the first track that just reminds me of Terror Twilight/Brighten the Corners era Pavement. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, Pavement. Anyway, this song for me is Malk’s memoir. He was the spokesman for a generation (or at least the white, male, educated portion of said generation and not exactly by his choosing) and all we ever wanted from him was that he stayed true to form. Whether he sings “I only poured you half a line/life/lie” doesn’t really matter. He admits to only giving so much whether it was a half-finished lyric, a small piece of himself, or a partial deception. Whatever. He’s given a lot. It’s a marathon and not a spring, but I feel as though I’m digressing…

The Hook
One of two narrative songs on the album – a totally welcomed aspect of Malkmus’ new direction. As it turns out, the dude can spin some yarn. This particular story is about his adventures as a pirate. No one should over think this one. It’s a pirate tale and not some allegory for his time with Pavement or some commentary on class. He’s kidnapped by some pirates and eventually becomes one of them, to the point that he is their leader. It’s just a fun, fun song.

Discretion Grove
Discretion happens after hours in an anonymous locale. You sneak around like French freedom fighters in World II, fighting for a sort of freedom not everyone needs to know about, an affair, perhaps?

Troubbble
We don’t find trouble; it finds us. No matter how much we try to avoid it, entropy happens and people are messy. Hell, we can’t even spell “trouble” correctly.

Pink India
This one feels like another Terror Twilight leftover. Continuing Malk’s interest in history, he tells the story of Mortimer Durand and the line he drew between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I almost wish he had titled the song “The Great Game” as this was the term that described the conflict between Great Britain and Russia fighting for supremacy in central Asia. I don’t know my history well enough to tell you everything, but it’s interesting how the lasting effects of this conflict still remain. Also, the lines “Tension grows in Afghanistan / Carbine bullets could settle the score / I had a crap gin tonic it wounded me / Send my way off on one” are pretty great. It causes me to wonder about Durand’s experience and whether or not he succumbed to the pressure accumulating in the region. (Also, is it “carbine bullets” or “car-Bible-ets”? I always sing it as the latter which is way more interesting and may not be that far off.)

Trojan Curfew
An expertly described scene of a locale where Trojans once prevailed… Now, it’s a hotspot for vacationing Swedes and the like. At moments I’m sure it retains the majesty it once held when Troy was on top at certain times of the day. Once again, Malkmus is able to write a fairly straightforward song that simply describes a nice moment in time and the centuries of history that can overtake you when standing on historic ground.

Vague Space
Ever been in a relationship where you kinda get off by calling the whole thing…er…off? Well, I haven’t. I imagine this as one of those love-hate relationships where making up after regular fights is more fulfilling than being nice to one another. Some relationships need to blow up just to find the spark. They exist in a vague space where relationships rarely flourish except when the threat of ending it is always there.

Jenny and the Ess-Dog
The second narrative track of the record is a classic. “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” is your basic May-December romance that fizzles once the younger member of the couple out-grows her companion. In this case, Jenny goes off to college, does well, joins a sorority, and does what we’re supposed to do. Her boyfriend the Ess-Dog is an old hippy-type. His life isn’t going anywhere and Jenny’s move to college makes the distance between them and their years too much to overcome.

Deado
Yet another post-Terror track with that same lazy easiness which has allowed the final Pavement record to fair well over time. Something about this song reminds me about “Ann Don’t Cry“- maybe the chorus? I don’t know what the song is about. It could be about a slow road trip to Vegas for an impromptu wedding that takes a week to happen. There’s only one appealing person in a room of old people, possibly at a wedding or wake. A prom scene with full-on 80′s feathered hair… It doesn’t matter. It’s a sleepy way to end Stephen Malkmus’ first post-Pavement endeavor.

Pig Lib

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Water and a Seat
Pig Lib is the beginning of Malkmus and his Jicks playing around with some bluesy yet edgy jamband ish. From the beginning riffs, you get the sense that Malkmus doesn’t care and has no interest in making this Pavement, Part Deux. And what better way to invite this new era than with a song inviting the madness the way “Water and a Seat” does? The listener is now prepared for what’s about to occur…

Ramp of Death
Jazzy slacker rock takes over with what seems to be a pleasant pop moment in the form of a chorus… Just as SM has embraced this new leap into a new chapter in his career, he’s encouraging his listeners to do the same. I was in my mid- or upper-20′s when Pig Lib came out and it was time to move forward into adulthood. I took this record with me.

(Do Not Feed the) Oyster
Despite Pig‘s departure from his Pavement past – now a full album removed – this song does the mellow jazz docents right, mixing this newfound infatuation with blues-inspired jammy-ness and art house aesthetic. Lyrically, it’s a mess trying to cling to a theme that only loosely holds the song together. Still, that’s how we like it. What does it mean to not feed the oysters? Fuck if I know. It’s just a nice song to jam to. Amirite? Somehow it all concludes with a mail-order bride. Why not?

Vanessa from Queens
Bob Packwood was a Republican Senator from Oregon who was eventually forced out thanks to some sexual harassment and assault. Bob was dirty old man which explains so much about this track. One of the best lines ever has to be “Bob Packwood wants to suck your toes.”

Sheets” (Sorry, there’s no Youtube video for this one for some reason.)
Sexy Stephen Malkmus makes another appearance in “Sheets” and the instrumentation wreaks of two people going at it over and over again. For me, the song is about getting into a club or party, just getting through the coolness gates or whatever.

Animal Midnight
It is rumored that this song is about Steve Kannberg. I’ll go with that. Spiral Stairs – like most Pavement members – seemed to not be nearly as serious as Malkmus. SM tried to push that band as far as he could and they just dragged their feet. The band was great for so many reasons, but as I’ve written over and over, it always felt as if Malk had outgrown the band. Sure, in this context, the song comes off as cold, but that’s just how it’s played out.

Dark Wave
And now for a complete departure in the form of some New Wave, something you won’t see coming at this point in the catalog. I feel as if this song is about Miami Vice for no other reason than that’s just what it sounds like: ocean-lined highways, neon suits, fast livin’, cocaine, etc. You know, Miami Vice things.

Witch Mountain Bridge
I do love the Led Zeppelin-like, medievalist narrative. I get the sense that Malkmus is playing a bit with genre and aesthetic, much like the rest of the album. What really brings the Game of Thrones storytelling together is the extended jam at the end. I catch a lot of flack for liking Malkmus’ music while simultaneously hating Phish and their ilk, but songs like this hit just the right notes – all of them.

Craw Song
Want to demonstrate what Stephen Malkmus can do lyrically and vocally, point your friends to this track. Not only is it another narrative – a positive development over SM’s solo career – but this track actually captures some fantastic word play. First, there’s the love triangle (or is it a square) where one unrequited love is followed by another. The gem in the first verse is “he couldn’t commit to the mental jujitsu of switchin his hitting / from ladies to men.” The next verse finds two of the left-out lovers commiserating over dinner, wrapped up nicely with another great line – full of heart and humor: “they want to stay confined within the fortress of this day / stick that in your craw…check it out…” Yeah, he snuck in “crotch.” It’s one of the sweetest song in all of Malkmus’ oeuvre from Pavement on.

1% of One
The blues fest continues… I read somewhere that this song is about the Dutchman Remko Schouten, the sound engineer for Pavement. Much like his debut, it’s pretty straightforward: “Blind son man from Netherlands, he knew not what bands he mixed / They sounded a bit like a Zephyr and a bit like the Jicks.”

Us
The Grateful Dead thing that is hinted at throughout this record comes to fruition in the final song, “Us.” At moments, it reminds me a ton of Loose Fur, the side project featuring  Wilco members Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche, and Wilco collaborator Jim O’Rourke. It’s almost the Jicks theme song. I can’t remember how many of this incarnation stayed on, but it felt like they were writing their tour bio in the form of a jam. Lyrics are written to fit the space between extended jams that groove on and on. The song only clocks in at just over four minutes, but you kinda want them to play it out and see where it goes.

Bonus Tracks:

Dynamic Calories
This is the poppier counter to “Dark Wave” which paints a picture of high school days in the early 80′s. This song is dedicated to 80′s jangly guitars and John Hughes movies. Also, this was cute.

Fractions & Feelings
This song with the previous one and maybe “Dark Wave” are a bit of an 80′s trilogy. I can only imagine SM was studying his old yearbooks and zines while writing these songs. This is the weakest of the bunch, but it’s fun. (Later, “Lariat” joins the group but with much more sophistication in its message.)

Old Jerry
And back to the Grateful Dead. I deny the connection all the time to my wife, but it’s there – literally and between the lines. Aesthetically, I can’t think of another song like this in the catalog. There are the ever-Malkmus lyrical twists, but it has a danceable groove that’s almost conventional pop. Almost.

The Poet and the Witch” (live)
I only know of a live recording of this track. It hints at the direction Malkmus was heading, but I’ll save that discussion for the next post. Either way, this song is closely related to “Witch Mountain Bridge” in its attempt to connect with a flower child past with Led Zeppelin theatrics, or something. It’s fun and seems like a fun song to hear live.

Shake It Around” (live)
This is a real rocker and I’m not sure it’s about much of anything aside from rocking. Our mundane lives need shaking now and again and tracks like this do the trick.

That’s the first installment in the series. I hope to get the other albums covered in coming weeks. It’s already been tough to get blog posts out there these days. It’s way past my bedtime and I have…well, actually, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks tomorrow night (or is that now tonight?). Anyway, you can catch some of my thoughts as shared by an actual journalist here. In the meantime, stay tuned for the rest of the series.

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Tempering Expectations

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records by Zac on January 24, 2014

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Hopslam arrived here in frigid Middle Missouri and it brought along with it loads of hype and hops. My love for the beer has cooled but not totally gone cold. I have learned to temper my expectations, not lower them. This is a lesson learned from years of buying records and seeing rock shows. See, this blog’s original premise still works.

See, a beer like Hopslam is almost as much about hype as it is anything else. It’s released only once a year in limited quantities. It’s a beer geek’s beer, loaded with hops and booze. Those bright green labels picturing a poor bloke begin crushed by a giant hop calls craft beer consumers like voiceless sirens. (Can that even work?) The ~$20 makes you think that it’s a big deal. Oh, and it is a pretty good beer.

However, the next Hopslam doesn’t ever taste like the first one. This year’s version never tastes as good as last year’s or the one you drank seven years ago. I don’t know if it’s a problem of drinkers building it up too much in their own minds or something more akin to a heroin addiction. It’s probably a little of both. Either way, the hype and misperception leads to bitter disappointment every time.

Still, Hopslam is an excellent beer. I have come to expect a well-crafted beer that hides an incredible amount of booze while introducing my palate to some sweetness and bitterness without fail. What I don’t expect is the same burst of grapefruit or cat piss or whatever aromas the hops might unleash. It seems that big DIPA’s like this are really dependent on a large amount of hops. If one harvest or another is slightly off or just different in one way or another, the effects are magnified. The beer tastes different every year, but it is always well-brewed and worth a try.

I’m good with Hopslam these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Two or three Hopslams ago, the beer didn’t meet my expectations. I wanted that crazy honey-coated grapefruitiness that smelled of a cat lady’s house sweater I tasted just the year or two before. However, as explained above, the beer was different. On top of this disappointment, I really had to go out of my way to spend a lot of money on beer. Here in Middle Missouri, Hopslam lasts tens of minutes, not days or hours. So, if you want some, you better be prepared to stalk the local beer dealer. Then, you’ll pay $20 a sixer. I used to buy at least two, sometime more. If I had to work that hard and spend that much money on a beer, it better meet my expectations.

Hopslam didn’t meet those expectations. So, something had to change. Last year, I didn’t buy any in bottles, only on tap. The 2-3 Hopslams (plus a bottle from a friend) were more than enough. I didn’t overdo it. I don’t blow a wad of cash. It was a good beer among many. I was satisfied, but my exportations were not lowered as much as they were tempered. “Enjoy the Hopslam, not the Hypeslam” was my new mantra and it worked.

2014′s version rolled out this past week and I welcomed it. I wasn’t going to buy a sixer this year. I have a deal with my mom to grab one in Ohio where it sometimes sits on shelfs for weeks or months. Then, coworkers were running out in the middle of the day to see if the grocery nearby had some Hopslam. I joined them and scored a sixer. One’s enough.

I won’t write a beer review now. You should know that this year’s version is good. I’m glad I bought some and look forward to having more on tap or in a few weeks when my mom delivers the sixer she bought for me.

What I wanted to focus on was the idea of tempering expectations. As I mentioned above, tempering expectations is something I do. However, the ability to do such with beer has been a recent development. No, I’ve been tempering expectations for a long time in terms of what I expect to get from a new record or rock show.

I realize that it’s semantics and someone will undoubtedly argue that tempering expectations is the same as lowering them, but this is my blog post and I say it isn’t the same. Tempering expectations considers contexts and past experiences. It keeps me in the moment and more mindful of what I am experiencing. Tempering expectations doesn’t allow those expectations or preconceived ideas to taint reality. Instead, I can enjoy the experience in real time.

Take Stephen Malkmus’ new album Wig Out at Jagbags as an example. I loved, LOVED Mirror Traffic. My expectations were high for Jagbags, but I realized that this was going to be a different record and it needed its own opportunity to win me over. Of course, the album didn’t have to impress me at all. Malkmus has done enough in Pavement and with Jicks to earn my loyalty. Still, I listened with anticipation. To be honest, the first few listens didn’t impress. It took 3-4 concentrated listens for me to appreciate this record, but I did. Is it as good as Traffic? I don’t know. Does it have to be? All I know is that it’s a good record at this moment and I enjoy listening to it.

See? It’s all about tempering those expectations so that we can enjoy what’s right in front of us. Stay in the moment. This year’s Hopslam doesn’t have to be last year’s or the version bottled six years ago.

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On Spotify

Posted in Records by Zac on January 13, 2014

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Recently, Stephen Malkmus was interviewed by Rolling Stone, closing with the following question and answer after admitting that he doesn’t make playlists “on those evil Spotify places” for his daughters.

RS: You’re anti-Spotify, then?

SM: Definitely. I think it sucks.

I am one of those parents who has made a Spotify playlist for my kid – a mixture of songs I think she should like and songs she actually likes. I use Spotify all the time. It streams throughout my work day, at home, and sometimes on the road. I used to make a daily playlist with the help of my Facebook network and that has turned into its own co-op. And yes, I pay a monthly fee not to hear commercials and to have the service available anywhere I go.

Spotify really is ideal. I don’t have to worry about the longevity and capacity of my iPod. There’s no need to figure out a way to lug my records everywhere. I have a service available to me that pretty much will allow me to discover and peruse almost any artist or band on the planet. Spotify is a fantastic breakthrough in music and technology.

But why do I feel so guilty for using the streaming service?

Well, other than Malk’s reaction to Spotify, there are other reasons I question its ethics. As you may or may not know, I am a big proponent of craft and indie industries, indie-craft, if you will. It irks me to see large corporations like Spotify and record labels profit from the hard work of artists. At the same time, musicians get a tiny cut of what is a billion dollar pot. There are plenty of reasons not to use Spotify.

Lost is the record collecting culture that used to be a huge part of music. Even those brought up on CDs long for the days of owning something again. Although almost any album by almost any artist is available to stream, it’s never really yours or free of the Spotify interface.

There are the horror stories of artists getting fleeced by the Swedes via dinky royalty payments. Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi famously broke down his paltry payments from streaming services on Pitchfork. And it can be argued that Spotify is not the friend of new and lesser known bands as compared to the payouts offered to catalogued bands and their corporate overlords.

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. Consider what the rest of Malkmus’ quote stated:

That doesn’t mean my music isn’t on there, though. I’m against a lot of things that I do in life, and I still do them, so there’s a lot of self-deception in all our lives. At least in the life of an unprincipled musician.

So, based on this statement, Spotify can be seen as a necessary evil. It’s akin to doing radio interviews or promos at best and selling songs to corporations for commercials at worst.

Of course, the real problem in all of this is the record industry as a whole. Why are we blaming a streaming tool like Spotify and not the greedy corporate leaches known as major record labels. Billy Bragg – champion of the working class – thinks as much and I tend to agree.

In his critique of the confluence of Pandora and Spotify, David Marcias takes issue and makes it clear why Spotify actually benefits musicians. Essentially, he makes my argument in favor of Spotify for me. (Yes, that’s where I’m going with all of this.)

To compare the two in terms of what they’re paying out is a completely fallacious construct. When Mr. Krukowski complains about the amount that he got paid on his BMI statement for his song, what he should be comparing it to is how much he got paid for an equivalent number of spins at terrestrial radio on that same BMI statement. My guess is that he did not get 7900 spins on terrestrial radio; one of the great gifts of Pandora and other tech-based companies like them is that they give an opportunity for music to be heard that terrestrial radio has neither the bandwidth nor interest to play. Technology has been a boon to independent musicians. I would also like to ask what his compensation from Sound Exchange was, both as an artist and what his label made from those spins. Whatever it was, it was more than what was paid out by terrestrial radio, who pays no compensation to owners of recordings. If you want to protest THAT, I’ll grab my pitchfork and meet you in the town square.

Basically, artists are getting paid per play at a better rate than what they get for radio, which is basically nothing. Additionally, Spotify (and Pandora) offer artists exposure the marketing departments at their labels, radio stations, or MTV (LULZ) combined. They’re getting paid and exposed on a tool they despise? That doesn’t make sense.

Then consider the pirating issue. While pirating music does offer a certain amount of exposure, it offers nothing monetarily for artists. Pirating sites and participants are the real enemies of musicians, not Spotify. Although I don’t totally trust the correlation, Spotify has made the argument that their service has contributed to the decrease in pirating in the Netherlands. It’s a fairly weak argument, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to imagine Spotify or similar services making pirating obsolete or at least unnecessary.

I use Spotify and don’t have a problem with it. I pay a monthly fee so that I have access offline and don’t have to hear ads. I make endless playlists. Still, I generally listen to whole albums. Several recent discoveries have been via the service. And even then, I still buy a lot of vinyl or go to shows when I can. If anything, Spotify has improved my financial support of many great artists.

Is Spotify evil? Maybe. It is a corporation making money off of art. That said, I’m just happy I can listen to the music I love whenever I want and wherever I want.

BTW, most of what should be read on the Spotify issue can be found here and a playlist celebrating our corporate overlords is below via Spotify, of course.

I live here and so do these people, so just watch

Posted in Records, Video by Zac on January 13, 2014
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2013: What happened?

Posted in Beer, Life, Live, Meta, Mikkeller, Records by Zac on December 31, 2013

2013 Calendar from Never Sleeping

I have been absent from this blog and blogging in general. Honestly, I thought I was done with it. Life happened and time became scarce. It was time to move on…

…or so I thought.

Life happened in 2013 and sometimes there’s just no room for such frivolities like keeping a public journal or pretending to be a journalist. This is the year I started a PhD program – part-time, but a PhD nonetheless. It’s also the year we learned that we would be expecting another child around mid-February (2 months to go!). Throw on top of that a promotion to a supervisory role and a major expansion to our organization and you have a pretty busy year.

Normally, this hasn’t stopped me from writing. However, I needed to step back for a bit. This blogging thing gets in the way of living now and again. A break was in order. So, 2013 is pretty lame as far as blogging goes.

So, I’m thinking about doing this all again. Why? I don’t really know. It’s just an itch that needs to be scratched, I guess. I’m promising nothing. I won’t promise a certain quantity or quality of posts. I’m not promising anything in regards to topics. You know what I like. so, you can reasonably expect more of the same… for the most part.

I still listen to music. I have a favorites list for 2013, of course. It felt weird not tow write up a blog post on the subject, so I’ll include a bit about it. First of all, I won’t rank my favorites. I’ll just give you ten records you should check out.

The year was filled with old favorites as well as a running theme in my musical choices. Yo La Tengo released their best record in years with Fade. Especially amazing is the track “I’ll Be Around.” Another year and another Arcade Fire makes my year-end list. Unlike past releases, Reflektor is low on the thematic end, but it’s ueber-fresh. Kurt Vile’s Walkin on a Pretty Daze is my favorite KV record so far. Bill Callahan is Bill Callahan. Dream River is just another addition to what is becoming the best collection of songwriting in the modern indie era or something like that. I saw Thao Nguyen and her band The Get Down Stay Down earlier this year put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in Middle Missouri. Her record We the Common didn’t hurt either. The Chronicles of Marnia by Marnie Stern was a surprising discovery that fulfills my guitar noodling needs for another calendar year.

Then, there’s a list of records that continues a trend in my listening habits of recent years: grrl rock bands that sound like they’re straight out of 1995. Waxahatchee might be my most-listened to record of 2013. It sounds like my entire college years as seen through a small town lesbian. (I have no idea whether or not Katie Crutchfield is gay, nor do I care. I just imagine the main character in her songs to be this angst-ridden lesbian from 1994. It helps with the narrative, but it doesn’t have to be true.) Scout Niblett’s “Gun” was one of those songs I played over and over. The rest of the record isn’t filled with scrubs either. Radical Dads was a surprise find, but pretty aggressive in that 1994 kind of way. Marnie Stern is a one-womyn Van Halen. Lady and the Lamb was a last-second addition to the list, but Ripley Pine is certainly worth your time.

Of course, there are others that won’t make my list, but there always are. There are other lists I could add to this one, but I’ll just conclude with a list of memorable things and events from the year that saw me lose my blogging groove only to find it once more…

  • My beer fandom has faded a bit, but I’ve had some outstanding brews this year. Follow me at Untappd.
  • I went to Copenhagen and spent lots of time drinking my way through Mikkeller‘s lineup.
  • I watched a lot of TV. The League, Walking Dead, and Girls are highlights.
  • I don’t read enough books or watch enough films.
  • I saw Jeff Mangum perform twice, once with the rest of Neutral Milk Hotel and once solo.
  • I don’t remember whether or not I mentioned this, but we found out earlier this year that my partner is pregnant. Child 2 arrives in mid-to-late February.

Here’s to a fruitful 2014. I hope you all are well. Peace.

Best Records of 2012

Posted in Records, Review by Zac on December 30, 2012

Here are ten of the best records I heard this year, in no particular order[1]

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Man, I loved last year’s Wye Oak album and needed more this year. Luckily, Sharon Van Etten came through this year. Similarly to Wye Oak, Van Etten seemed to come from nowhere[2] to unleash a haunting rock record that grips you from start to finish. It didn’t hurt that half of Brooklyn collaborated it behind the scenes or in the margins to help Van Etten deliver a punch to the gut. Still, it’s defining moment for a musician I hope to hear more from in the coming years.

The Walkmen – Heaven
Nothing new here. The Walkmen release a record and I love it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their records are always this good. Somehow a band known for songs about going out and drinking have eventually written one of the best albums about adulthood, having children and all that. There’s a simplicity to The Walkmen formula that allows them to adjust to their current living conditions. These are just working stiffs trying to put some food on the table and clothes on the backs of their children. I can get behind that.

Titus Andronicus – Local Business
I’m not gonna lie. I really didn’t care for this record upon the first listen. I was having buyer’s remorse as I listened to it stream on Spotify, knowing that the new local record shop was holding a copy for me. Then, I gave it another try as the record popped up on several year-end lists. It’s really a fantastic record as Titus Andronicus does what every New Jersey band does eventually: they all turn into Bruce Springsteen. There’s nothing wrong with this of course. It’s just a fact.

Cat Power – Sun
Yes, this has been a shitty year for Chan Marshall. However, that may mean she’ll have to put out more records and tour whenever she can scrounge up the dough and good health to hit the road. Cat Power has evolved from record to record. Now, after some faux-bravado, one gets the sense that Marshall is becoming comfortable with her station in life, embracing her demons, health issues, and apparent financial stresses in making what is maybe her most honest record in years[3].

Believers – Believers EP
Someone will surely give me a hard time for praising Believers again, but the praise is legit. Although this EP feels somewhat incomplete[4], it brings with it the promise of great things to come. I fully suspect several of these tracks will reappear – possibly re-recorded/remastered – on an LP via some high-profile indie label.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Honestly, this would be my record of the year. It’s a bit more uneven than 2009′s Post-Nothing but it still contains that raw energy that only Japandroids can bring without an ounce of irony. This band makes me want to hit the bars and dance all night before the reality of my middle-class-mortgaged-parenthood comes crashing down on my fantasies. Still, it’s nice to dream/reminisce once in a while.

Best Coast – The Only Place
On one hand, I don’t know why I like this band. On the other, I don’t know why I ask the first question. Like Japandroids, Best Coast has found a recipe that works. Unlike the “live like there’s no tomorrow” message in a Japandroids’ song, Best Coast wears their California lovin’ on their collective sleeves. I appreciate this love for one’s home state. Like Jenny Lewis and The Eagles, Best Coast won’t let you forget where they’re from and they’ll make you want to live there as well.

Dinosaur Jr – I Bet on Sky
How is it that Dinosaur Jr. is writing and recording better music after they’ve reunited? Maybe it’s that Lou Barlow has been allowed to come into his own. Maybe it’s because J Mascis has mellowed his ego. Whatever it is, I hope they never stop making loud records.

Hospitality – Hospitality
Last year, it was Eleanor Friedberger. This year, it’s Hospitality. Last year’s Friedberger joint Last Summer had me longing for some straight girl pop rock from the City. Hospitality filled that void admirably. And when you close your eyes, you think it’s Belle and Sebastian.

Dirty Projectors -Swing Lo Magellan
I really expected a letdown from Dirty Projectors, but this record – more straightforward than previous efforts – did not disappoint. I knew this as soon as I dropped the needle to reveal the opening track.

Discovered too late to form a proper assessment, but they’re pretty great: Tame Impala, Diiv, Grizzly Bear, Metz

Overall, this year wasn’t nearly as inspiring as last year’s onslaught of great records. However, most of these would rank among last year’s best. So, take that for what it’s worth, which is basically nothing.

Notes:
1Ranking art just seems to be so archaic, so overdone. So, I will refrain from it this year. Instead, I’ll just tell you about ten records I liked.
2Meaning that, like Wye Oak, she hadn’t released anything of note until this latest album which is great.
3In Cat Power years, that’s maybe two records a decade.
4Let’s face it, every EP feels imcomplete. They are akin to the 20-minute set. You get a taste of the very best, maybe with one stinker. Just when you’re into it, it’s over.

A Daughter’s Request

Posted in Life, Records by Zac on July 19, 2012

Studying Wild Flag.

Most of Sunday, my daughter and I spent our time together watching YouTube videos of Riot Grrrl bands and listening to Wild Flag. Of course, there were several renditions of “Call Me Maybe” in between, but the day belonged to rock. This sudden interest into Daddy’s music was spurred on by a couple of screenings of School of Rock, a film where Jack Black pretends to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious elementary school where he discovers his students to be gifted musicians he convinces to play in his band. Thanks to this one film, the grrrl is all about the rock music right now.

The obsession has continued through the week as every evening is filled with more YouTube videos and bedtime is dominated with Daddy sharing his exploits as a live music fanatic of the last 20 years. She is particularly fond of videos in which Kathleen Hanna pogoes. Her requests for more stories has me searching the recesses of my brain for G-rated rock show tales. It’s an interesting time to be Lucia’s father.

What it all has led to is a request from my daughter to see her first rock show. Apparently, seeing Dubb Nubb several times has not fulfilled her need to rock. I am now faced with finding the right situation where I can make this dream come true.

I was a late bloomer. My first rock show didn’t happen until I was 18. We lived an hour from any city featuring rock concerts and even then I wasn’t interested in the hair metal and country most of my classmates were going to see. Then, one St. Patrick’s Day, my brother and two or three other guys drove the hour to the Newport Music Hall in Columbus to see my first rock show: Soul Asylum with Vic Chestnutt and The Goo Goo Dolls (when they were punk-ish). From that night on, I was hooked. I can understand my daughter’s longing to see music performed live.

As a parent, I have to set some boundaries for the kind of show she can attend. I mean, she’s not yet four (9/11) and this puts some serious limits on what she can and can’t see. for example, she will not catch The Melvins for her first live rock experience, even if it is on a Friday night. I’m considering some basic criteria for this event, criteria that may put off her first concert experience for another year, but that’s okay. There’s plenty of time to rock.

The show will need to be outdoors, mainly for two reasons: not all shows are all-ages and the noise factor. It’s one thing to get your 16-year-old into a bar to see a band; it’s a completely different thing to sneak in a four-year-old. Besides, I’m not sure that’s the best environment for someone so young. The outdoors provide space for people to spread out and avoid awkward situations around small children and vice versa. Plus, sound doesn’t seem to do as much damage when it can harmlessly float to space and not bounce off the walls. My hearing is shit and there’s no need to put my kid through that before she attends elementary school.

Bedtime is an issue. I’ll have to find a show on a weekend or one that takes place earlier in the day. The trouble with this is that most of the outside shows here in Columbia are on weeknights. That makes for a rough morning getting her to preschool. An all-day even is the next logical step, but we’ve missed out on most of the festivals for the summer or at least their bargain pre-fest prices.

Finally, the band or bands to see have to be worthy. Although it is not for me to say which bands or musicians you should like, I do have a right as a parent to steer her toward whatever music I feel is acceptable. Of course there will be a time when my opinion won’t count, but until then, I control the stereo in my house and I have the credit card.

So, this adventure may have to wait a year. Next summer she’ll see her first rock show. I just hope I can deliver Kathleen Hanna or Wild Flag.

Anniversaries

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Life, Records by Zac on July 10, 2012

Man, it’s been quiet around here…

Last night was my seventh wedding anniversary. We opted to stay in and have a nice dinner, much to the chagrin of my three-year-old. After all, my partner is the best cook in this town (not counting chefs and even then it’s close). It was steak and loads of veggies from our CSA.

Normally, such an occasion calls for a ridiculously boozy imperial stout of sort or another, but I opted for the nice Port Brewing Anniversary Ale my friend Alex sent me. My wife had wine and the kid drank her milk and water dutifully.

Anniversaries are for reliving important moments in our lives. I attach conversations, food, drink, and music to these moments in time. I still remember the shot of Żubrówka I downed at the conclusion of the ceremony as well as the one I had after the pictures were all taken. Then there was that first homebrewed hefeweizen (courtesy of my FiL) and a blur of an evening. All these memories come rushing back every year on July 9th.

Breweries like to commemorate their anniversaries as well. As mentioned, my seventh was spent nursing one such beer from Port Brewing. With its fruitiness and boozy heft, the Imperial IPA stood up well to our top sirloin steaks. I may have held onto the beer too long to fully enjoy the hoppy nose I’m sure it offered when fresh, but the beer was so masterful in all other areas that it didn’t really matter. While it certainly was a proper brew for anniversaries - mine and theirs – I wouldn’t hold onto one until the next. Drink it now if you are lucky enough to find a bomber.

The music last night also hearkened back the days leading up to our wedding. My partner has particular tastes and isn’t always interested in what’s new. In those days, we wore out my copy of Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It in People. So, it seemed apropos to put the album on.

I like anniversaries. They don’t have to be big events. Sometimes a nice, quiet dinner with my two favorite people and a good beer is all I need.

[Previously...]

Come to my DJ night!

Posted in Intersections, Life, Live, Pavement, Records by Zac on June 4, 2012

Tonight, I am playing records at the Uprise Bar here in Columbia, MO for Monday Night Vinyl. If’ you’re nearby, stop in. The set starts at 9PM and will last until either they kick me out or I run out of records. The latter is more likely than the former as I have a pretty substantial list from which to work below as well as a plan to play through The Walkmen’s Heaven to finish off the night.

You may also follow me on Twitter where I will do my best to update records played and beers had. (I updated the list with what I can remember. I wrapped about two minutes past closing. It worked well and didn’t have to pay for one beer. Said beers: 4 Hands Pryus Saison, Avery 19th Anniversary Tripel, Bacchus.)

Track(s) | Band/Musician | Album

  1. Cut Your Hair | Pavement | 12 ” single
  2. Here | Pavement | John Peel Session 7″
  3. Baptiss Blacktick | Pavement | Summer Babe 7″
  4. With a Girl Like You | Condo Fucks | Fuckbook
  5. Stockholm Syndrome | Yo La Tengo | I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
  6. Autumn Sweater | Yo La Tengo | I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
  7. Little Honda | Yo La Tengo | I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
  8. The Wall | Yuck | Yuck
  9. Head to Toe | The Breeders | Head to Toe 7″
  10. Shocker in Gloomtown | The Breeders | Head to Toe 7″ (GBV cover)
  11. Auditorium | Guided By Voices | Alien Lanes
  12. Motor Away | Guided By Voices | Alien Lanes
  13. Try Harder | Times New Viking | Dancer Equired
  14. Mr. Superlove | Ass Ponys | Mr. Superlove
  15. My World Is Empty Without You | Afghan Whigs | My World Is Empty Without You
  16. If I Were Going | Afghan Whigs | Gentlemen
  17. Gentlemen | Afghan Whigs | Gentlemen
  18. Divine Hammer | The Breeders | Last Splash
  19. Boyfriend | Best Coast | Crazy For You
  20. Walk in the Park | Beach House | Zebra
  21. Go Outside | Cults | Cults
  22. Forward Forward Back | Believers | Believers
  23. Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away | Clap Your Hands Say Yeah | Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
  24. After Hours | Caribou | Andorra
  25. Desire Be Desire Go | Tame Impala | Inner Speaker
  26. Rock and Roll Will Never Die | Neil Hamburger | Hot February Night
  27. Sink to the Beat | Cursive | Burst and Bloom
  28. Going Back to Cali | LL Cool J | Less Than Zero
  29. Michael Jackson | Das Racist | Relax
  30. Scenario | A Tribe Called Quest | The Low End Theory
  31. Hey Ladies | Beastie Boys | Paul’s Boutique
  32. Gangsta | Tune-Yards | Whokill
  33. Eleven | Thao & Mirah | Thao & Mirah
  34. Bellbottoms | The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion | Orange
  35. Ditch | The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion | Orange
  36. Busted | The Black Keys | The Big Come Up
  37. Gloria | Patti Smith | Horses
  38. Born to Run | Bruce Springsteen | Born to Run
  39. A More Perfect Union | Titus Andronicus | The Monitor
  40. Xmas Trip | Run On | Start Packing
  41. You’re Pretty Good Looking | The White Stripes | DeStijl
  42. Indian Summer | Beat Happening | Jamboree
  43. Here She Comes Now | Nirvana | 7″ split w/Melvins (VU cover) She’s Real | Built to Spill Caustic Resin | Built to Spill Caustic Resin 10″ (Kicking Giant cover)
  44. She’s Real | Built to Spill Caustic Resin | Built to Spill Caustic Resin 10″ (Kicking Giant cover) Here She Comes Now | Nirvana | 7″ split w/Melvins (VU cover)
  45. [whenever you see fit] | 7MO6DES4T-HMOEURSEO | [whenever you see fit]
  46. Slap Me | The Folk Implosion | Take a Look Inside…
  47. You and Me | Archers of Loaf | Icky Mettle
  48. Might | Archers of Loaf | Icky Mettle
  49. Untitled | Interpol | Turn on the Bright Lights
  50. Obstacle 1 | Interpol | Turn on the Bright Lights
  51. Look out the Window | The Walkmen | Split EP
  52. Laminated Cat | Loose Fur | Loose Fur
  53. Farewell Transmission | Magnolia Electric Company | Magnolia Electric Company
  54. The President’s Dead | Okkervil River | The President’s Dead
  55. King of Carrot Flowers part two | Jeff Mangum | Live at Jittery Joe’s
  56. King of Carrot Flowers part three | Jeff Mangum | Live at Jittery Joe’s
  57. Oh Comely | Jeff Mangum | Live at Jittery Joe’s
  58. Heart of Gold | Neil Young | Harvest
  59. Waiting for Superman | Iron and Wine | Around the Well (Lips cover)
  60. Waiting for Superman | The Flaming Lips | The Soft Bulletin
  61. Inside the Golden Days of Missing You | Silver Jews | The Natural Bridge (and maybe something else from this album)
  62. Honk If You’re Lonely | Silver Jews | American Water (and maybe something else from this album)
  63. The Wild Kindness | Silver Jews | American Water
  64. Discretion Grove | Stephen Malkmus | Discretion Grove 7″
  65. Two Beck tracks that I’ve forgotten…
  66. Fall Away | Stephen Malkmus | Mirror Traffic
  67. Gorgeous Georgie | Stephen Malkmus | Mirror Traffic
  68. Billie | Pavement | Terror Twilight
  69. Fight This Generation | Pavement | Wowee Zowee
  70. Two States | Pavement | Slanted and Enchanted
  71. Stereo | Pavement | Brighten the Corners
  72. Fillmore Jive | Pavement | Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
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Hall of Snubs

Posted in Hall of Fame, Intersections, Manifesto, Records, Rock vs. Beer by Zac on April 17, 2012

Let me be clear[1]. I am no fan of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame[2].

Still, I’d like to see the hall recognize bands that should be inducted, like Sonic Youth, Alex Chilton, Brian Eno, etc. A nice list of snubs was printed in the Village Voice just last week. So, there are plenty of bands left out to fill its own hall.

Although I hate the R&RHoF, I worry that Pavement won’t garner an induction when they’re eligible in a couple years…

Not really, but I worry that some great bands will not get their due credit, whether that means a nod from the Hall or not. So, I’d like to propose an indie hall of fame. I’d probably start with bands represented in each chapter of Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life[3]and go from there. That would mean Black Flag, Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, (previously mentioned) Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Big Black , Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi (yes, Ian MacKaye gets in twice[4]), Mudhoney, and Beat Happening all get in for starters.

Of course, maybe craft beer should have their own hall of fame. As far as Americans go, there would be space reserved for Fritz Maytag (Anchor Steam), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Jim Koch (Sam Adams), Charlie Papazian (homebrewing), and Michael Jackson (beer critic). There’s room for brewers from other countries, but I’d avoid brands of beers. Let’s stick to inventive brewers and founders of various breweries or advocates of beer in general.

Someone needs to get on these halls of fame. Why there isn’t a craft beer and indie rock hall of fame, respectively, I shall never understand. If I didn’t have other, more important tasks at hand, I’d make my life’s work the establishment of one or the other. For now, I’ll leave this debate up to you, my dear readers.

Still, what I do here in terms of looking for the crossover appeal between craft beer and indie rock deserves its own attention. I can at least give over a post or two a month declaring a certain performer or brewer as deserving of my hall of fame. So, that’s what I’ll do…

As with any hall of fame, there should be certain criteria, criteria I will list below. Members of the International Coalition of Craft Brewers and Indie Rockers will…

  • …work independently from corporations for at least five years of their existance.
  • …maintain a sense of independence from corporate will and focus groups.
  • …stick to artisinal and/or traditional ways of practicing their craft.
  • …have at least one anecdote of crossover appeal with indie rock or craft beer.
  • …appeal to my readership and me.

What else? What other criteria should I consider for this hall of fame?

Also, let me know if you’d like to pick up the cause of either proposed hall. I would gladly lend a helping hand in making them happen.

Notes:
1 As if I’m ever clear.
2 That said, I visited the hall at least twice during its first year in business. It would be interesting to go back 15 years later to see how it’s changed. I would probably be disappointed like I was for the Experience Music Project in Seattle.
3 If I have one essential read in this world, this is probably it. No one reads nonfiction, especially nonfiction about indie rock. To fully understand independent music, one has to read this book. It’s so complete in both its variety of subjects and its depth of coverage.
4 Actually, I’d let him in three times. Once for each of the bands mentioned as well as a third time for his work with Dischord Records.

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