2014 was the year of the doughnut for me. I mean, I’ve always loved doughnuts, but this year, I really sought them out. There was Strange Doughnuts in STL (and soon here as well) on a daughter-daddy weekend a while back. There was Revolution Doughnuts (twice) in Decatur this summer while I was there for a conference. I tried to detour my entire family vacation back home to Ohio just for some craft doughnuts, but was unsuccessful. However, we did score fresh cinnamon-sugar doughnuts at the Ohio State Fair. Then Harold’s Donuts came to town. And since Harold’s magically appeared, I’ve ordered boxes of their doughnuts thrice. I would eat more, but their shop isn’t yet open.
Last weekend, Harold’s (really, it was owner Michael Urban) was divvying out maple-bacon and pumpkin doughnuts at Logboat Brewery for a sort of after-brunch event. Also on hand was Fretboard Coffee, making it a hat trick of local foodcraft providers. Of course, the doughnuts were good, only adding fuel to my doughnut fire.
At this moment, let me step back and say a few words about all this doughnut madness before telling you more about Harold’s…
As my regular readers can attest, this blog focuses a ton on artisanal and craft products and the people who make those glorious consumables we love. I’m decidedly anti-corporate, a localvore, grassroots kind of consumer. I love to use this blog and other social media to promote my favorite businesses. Doughnuts just happens to be one of those craft industries that’s really taken off in the past few years. It started with Voodoo in Portland and quickly spread. Now, every city in the Union has a bacon doughnut of some kind. (Thank you, Voodoo.)
And how are these doughnuts better than run-of-the-mill industrial doughnuts? Well, first of all, they are typically made with the best ingredients. Plus, being local, there are not a lot of preservatives. So, eat them fresh. Throw in that the people who work at these doughnut dispensaries are our neighbors. People working in the community to provide for said community trumps corporate entities every time. Yes, our neighbors also work for Dunkin and Crispy, but those dollars eventually go back to their corporate overlords. I like my doughnuts steeped in the local flavor.
In terms of the doughnuts themselves, I am an equal-opportunity consumer. I have always preferred cake varieties, but the more yeasty cousins are winning me over. The best yeast doughnuts I’ve had on the planet are in Decatur, GA at Revolution Doughnuts. Yes, they have vegan versions, but why suffer? Eat the shit out of those living, breathing doughnuts! Our local Harold’s also does a nice yeast doughnut that writing about it makes me want another…
Toppings and fillings are secondary to the doughnut itself, but they are important. The aforementioned bacon doughnut is maybe the most revelatory thing to happen to the deep-fried dough confectionary. Of course, it’s not the only way to top a doughnut. There is simple sugar in its various forms or a variety of icings. What’s going on inside the doughnut might be the most exciting option as jellies and creaming fillings shoot out the other side as one bites into their breakfasty dessert…I could go on, but you get the picture.
All that is well and good, but the single-most important doughnut issue is the spelling. Now, I am not a stickler for ancient, grammatical dogma, but I have my limits. I mean, I do give a fuck about the Oxford comma. So, it should be stated here – in case you didn’t already notice – doughnut is spelled with “dough” and not “do.” The last time I checked, it’s made form dough as well. So, shouldn’t the spelling reflect this characteristic of breakfast gold? Just my two cents.
All of this leads to what I really need to write about: Harold’s Donuts. This is our new doughnut dealer. They are all about the craft aspect. They feature local ingredients when possible. There will be locally-owned-and-roasted Fretboard Coffee at their shop. Harold’s is the doughnut of choice in Middle Missouri.
While the doughnuts are great, it’s the business model that has me really stoked. In addition to the things already mentioned above, Harold’s is making a real effort to embed themselves in the community. Despite not having a storefront yet, they have made their presence known. Whether it’s through collaborations with coffee roasters, brewers, or ice cream parlors, Harold’s is not afraid to make friends. Again, despite no actual store, they deliver all over town. And business has been so good that one often has to order doughnuts several days in advance.
I tried to order doughnuts for today (Friday), but was sad to see they were already sold out on Wednesday. I politely made my feelings known on Facebook and Harold’s took care of me. Well, Doughnut Daddy Urban took care of me. Filling an order of two dozen various doughnuts so that I could say thanks to my co-workers for completing a huge job was the thing that helped me decide that Harold’s is where I will always go for a big doughnut order.
Long story short, doughnuts are king in 2014. I realize we are behind on this development in the Midwest, but I prefer to think of it as a sign that we know what’s what. I mean, we have doughnuts today and some on either coast have already moved on. How sad for them.
I drove the long two hours to STL Friday night to see what has been the most pleasant surprise of 2014 for me: Ought. The Montreal quartet ventured to the Show-Me state to play the art space known as The Luminary. Locals Volcanoes opened on an evening when they were officially releasing their new full-length effort, Future Sorority Girls of America.
Volcanoes opened to celebrate their new opus about sorority girls or something. I’m about to get critical, but keep in-mind this is just one old guy’s opinion. A guy with probably 13 readers for what is suddenly an outdated format. So, take it with a grain of salt. That said, I’ll tell you the good parts first…
Volcanoes are, if nothing else, fantastically skilled musicians. They play a frantic style of rock music that’s a cross between Japandroids and Lightning Bolt. It’s a two piece which finds the players rotating between bass, drums, and keyboards. Nothing is lost as the two Volcanoes move from instrument to instrument. There was a moment when the bass player switched to the drums and he struggled to find the beat, but he quickly recovered and there was never another moment when the two did not click. The vocals are a powerful yelp that somehow stands out over the cacophony of drums, bass, and squealing keyboards. The music is loud, fast, and danceable.
The Future Sorority Girls of America is the album (and play script, apparently) Volcanoes were releasing and featuring in their set. They made sure to remind the crowd the album was for sale throughout the set. Telling us once would have done the trick. From what I could tell, the songs revolve around sorority sisters and their prerequisite superficiality. The songs quoted phone conversations and diary entries of the lives of vapid, bleach-blonde coeds on drunken nights out and whatever sorority girls do. The subject matter is low-hanging fruit, really. It didn’t help that the band continually promoted the album for sale and its accompanying script. It’s a sprawling effort to write a concept album, but who really gives two shits about sororities. Plus, many of the songs come off as misogynist in their critique and mockery of the culture. It’s too easy except when you try to make it seem deep, which Volcanoes are not.
So, there was a lot going on for an opener and this clouded the mood at The Luminary a bit. Since it was Volcanoes’ record release night and their home town, many of their buddies and several older friends and family members were on hand to celebrate. So, this was their show. As the crowd grew and all of them seeming to be very excited, I expected a raucous night, but that didn’t happen. Despite the energy and familiarity in the room, no one danced. I got the distinct feeling that the people were there to be seen and it was an added bonus that they all knew the band. They didn’t give a shit about sorority girls either. The gentrification going on up and down Cherokee was palpable, but nowhere more apparent than inside the Luminary as Volcanoes’ people ventured in from the suburbs to have a mild Friday night. Meh.
As Volcanoes cleared their massive collection of amps and high-end instruments from the stage, I grew worried. Would Ought be turned off by the mood or even the bro culture filling the venue? Would the lack of energy affect their set? Would the crowd even know what to do with music that was much more subtle and personal in its politics than Volcanoes obvious schtick?
Thankfully, Ought seemed unfazed as they set up their modest pile of equipment, making small talk with the people running sound and a somewhat exuberant fan. They were chill and didn’t appear to have an elaborate configuration. This is a small band in the infancy of what could potentially be an amazing run. They were confident in their place and my anticipation for their set grew exponentially.
Despite a non-egaged audience and some vocal sound issues, Ought put on an intense, urgent set. Frontman Tim Beeler made a statement about the strange feeling that they were coming to St. Louis to play a show instead of joining the fight for justice in nearby Ferguson. This seemed to fall on deaf ears which added to the tension of suburbanites hanging out in an art gallery in a gentrified neighborhood. A video projector played images from the Ferguson protests in the front window of The Luminary. The air was thick and finally Ought played.
These four Montreal transplants are as ferocious on stage as they are on record. More Than Any Other Day is a cross between Talking Heads and The Feelies but with an angry edge just under the surface. On this record, the political is personal like it was for early REM and Minor Threat/Fugazi. It captures the tension of our times like few other albums do these days. All of that comes alive on stage and despite the strange environment, Ought delivered.
In contrast to the recorded material, the keyboards are a more pronounced feature. This fills the sound out for live sets in a way that a produced and remixed album probably doesn’t need. Conversely, the vocals were not nearly as clear as on record. As proven several times throughout the set, this was mainly due to a failing of the venue’s equipment. Also, it felt as if Beeler was holding back as a way to save his voice over the course of a tour during flu and strep season. Still, he delivered his lines with the drama and urgency they dictate.
Ought is a dynamic and tight group. They commented a few times on the odd calm in the room – considering that it was a Friday and this was rock and roll. Still, that didn’t matter. Ought could have looked for the audience to supply them energy, but they sensed that these were the same capitalist suburbanites they sing about in their songs and played their hearts out to them anyway. The coldness of the art gallery setting didn’t help either, but I suspect Ought plays the same in a living room, hole in the wall, or shopping center.
The score of the night was Ought’s new EP Once More with Feeling…, sold at the merch table. One or two of the songs played in Ought’s set were off this EP. It comes in the all-too-rare 10″ format and is set to be officially released later this month.
It rough driving 4 hours roundtrip for two bands, but Ought made it worth it. They met expectations and I hope they find their way to Missouri again, only closer to the middle of the state where I dwell.
BeerNote: For $5(!), I drank Urban Chestnut’s excellent Zwickel Bavarian lager out of a red plastic cup. Although not a lager fan, I really like the Zwickel. It’s smooth without that harsh, cheap lager bite. The sweetness makes the beer particularly palpable without being cloying. Urban Chestnut does a lot of traditional European-style beers and they do them all really well. It’s hard to make it as a craft brewery these days without a lineup of IPA’s and imperial stouts, but Urban Chestnut does it. I was thankful to have a decent beer upon which to sip as I took in Volcanoes and Ought.
Something woke up inside of Mary Timony. Although she wasn’t sleeping, her name wasn’t nearly as prominent as it once was in indie rock circles when the super group Wild Flag was formed. Helium had dissolved. Autoclave was long forgotten. Her solo work – although solid – was generally ignored and mired in dragons and unicorns. While Timony may have been fine personally, she was slipping from the radar.
Then, the aforementioned collab with Carry Brownstein and Janet Weiss formerly of Sleater-Kinney and the Minders’ Rebecca Cole happened and one of the best, most rocking albums of the last decade hit the scene. Wild Flag hit the road and blew audiences away. Although lacking in quantity, these sets were fairly notorious for their energy and aggression. Oh, and they were fun.
I learned of Timony when Helium was hitting stride. I don’t remember if it was before or after the Beavis & Butthead “breakthrough”, but I saw Helium on a shared bill with Archers of Loaf. If I hadn’t been such a young, male into aggressive dude, guitar rock, I might have better appreciated what I saw from Timony that night. Helium’s output in the 90’s was legendary and as influential as anything else. Timony blended math rock, post-punk, and the electro-hybrid stuff the kids so prefer these days to make something that truly stood out among all the aggressive guitar rock of the day. Her breathy vocals hid the darkness in the lyrics, but the aesthetic was so different than anything else you might hear in 1995.
I didn’t see Timony again until she was on a solo tour and stopped in Columbus, OH a couple of years later. It was my sister’s first club show. So, that was a big deal. It was cool to take my teenage sister to see a such a strong, confident woman perform her craft. Timony’s music had really evolved during this time. She seemed to bounce from genre to genre and the subject matter changed almost as much as anyone. While her solo albums were cohesive individually, there was little overlap aesthetically from one to the next.
Another 2-3 years later, I saw Timony open for Sleater-Kinney in Amsterdam. While the show was fine, it felt as if her influence and notoriety was heading in the opposite direction as Sleater-Kinney’s. Timony more than held her own, but it wasn’t where I would have expected her career to be at that point, for whatever that’s worth. I bought her CD Mountains, but for me, I just wasn’t as interested in Mary Timony. The album was fine, but it wasn’t as impactful as those Helium records, causing me to wonder where this was all going.
She played here in Columbia several years ago and I just flat-out missed it. Of course, it was after the fact when I rediscovered Ex Hex (her album and not the new project). This was some guitar rock that felt like a harsher, more raw version of the Helium materials. Her vocals were less breathy and the lyrics had a bite. This record was on heavy rotation for me for a while. This record painted Timony in a different light – one as rocker. Of course, I might have thought of her that way had I paid more attention to Autoclave, but anything after that usually didn’t rock. There were moments in Helium, but that band was more complex than your typical rock outfit. I hoped more would come of Ex Hex, but Timony fell off my map a bit. I missed her next solo effort. Basically, I revisited Helium now and again as well as Ex Hex but that was about it.
The next thing I know is that 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney were teaming up with Timony and others to form a new band: Wild Flag. I have expressed my admiration for Wild Flag on many occasions – both live and recorded. On record and video performances leaked on the daily leading up to their s/t release, Wild Flag was meeting the expectations most had when we learned of this new collaboration. Then, they did the unthinkable and actually delivered said album that met those unrealistic expectations all super groups carry. Before seeing them live, I wasn’t really sure whose songs were whose (Brownstein/Timony), but it didn’t matter. They were all great. Finally, seeing them live reminded me of what a fantastic musician Timony is. I knew she could rawk on occasion, but this was something else entirely. She shared that stage with Brownstein, which is something especially that it took a voice like Corin Tucker to balance the Portlandia star’s pogoing antics and stellar performances.
Then, I waited for the next Wild Flag LP and tour, thinking they were an unfinished product with tons of potential. However, it never came. When I heard that Timony had started playing in other bands and even formed her own (Ex Hex), I assumed that was the end of Wild Flag which was disappointing.
Thankfully, Timony’s Ex Hex was unleashed to fill that gaping hole left by Wild Flag. Rips is Mary Timony waking up during the Wild Flag days and picking up where that group left off. This is the record a mature Runaways would make. Remember the Donnas? Had they had some complexity and maturity, this would have been their high point. However, this album belongs to none of these other bands. It’s all Timony (plus bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris) and it’s quite revelatory. Rips is 2014’s Wild Flag, Light Up Gold, Post-Nothing, and Tramp rolled into one cacophony. (Make of those comparisons what you will.) The record is a happy substitution for Wild Flag and it may even have more staying power than Timony’s old band.
Spacey and big, “Don’t Wanna Lose” kicks in the door which is what you want from an album like this. It sets the tone for the aggression to follow.”Beast” picks up the pace, intensifying the album’s tone. If you’re not won over by this point, you don’t have a pulse.
Things shift a bit with “Waste Your Time” a 70’s rocker which again implores a lover to take a shit or get off the pot. Well, it’s not quite that vulgar, but it does rock. And the rocking continues with the moving “You Fell Part” which is the moment in an Ex Hex set where the crowd is whipped into a frenzy.
The Runaways and Joan Jett specifically would have loved to have penned “How You Got that Girl” which feels a little like a woman’s version of “Jessie’s Girl.” And again, the tempo speeds up to keep pulling you into the record, realizing at this point that it’s Mary Timony’s world and we’re just existing here. “Hot and Cold” follows nicely, giving you a groovy, head-nodding break. While much of the record screams late 70’s, early 80’s, “Radio On” reminds me of music from that era when musicians harkened back to the early days of rock and roll. It doesn’t sound like the 50’s, but it certainly wants you to think as much.
“New Kid” is so Joan Jett, it’s silly with all it’s faux 80’s greaser. I’m fairly sure it describes an episode of Freaks and Geeks. “War Paint” pushes the aesthetic ahead a few years to some Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth atmospherics and teenage attitudinal angst. “Everywhere” rolls with a big T Rex sound before “Outro” closes the LP with all kinds of foo-wop attitude and Elvis Costello jerkiness.
This record is the kind of recording that has you smiling from beginning to end. It hits all the nostalgic points of rock ‘n roll without sounding clichéd. So many records in the past couple of years have tried so hard to sound like they were recorded 30 years ago, but Rips achieves this milestone effortlessly without sounding contrived.
Mary Timony didn’t have to do anything for me to admire her legacy (she also doesn’t need me to justify it), but Rips solidifies that admiration and makes it an easier case for the nonbelievers. When I suggested that she woke up, what I meant was that she woke up something stirring inside her. Her work spans several genres and now a couple of decades, but the energy and urgency isn’t something that’s usually discovered so far into a career. Still, Timony found it in Ex Hex (or possibly Wild Flag before that) and we are all the beneficiaries of said discovering.
After a long break, Swearing at Motorists returned with a Kickstarter campaign in order to release their 8th full-length (sans a singles collection and several EP’s), While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth. I had assumed Dave Doughman sailed off into the sunset, landing in Berlin, never to be heard from again. Luckily, I was wrong and this record was funded. Now, what we have in front of us is this new record and an upcoming tour – which I’m hoping has time for Middle Missouri.
While Laughing… continues the S@M aesthetic of crunchy guitar licks and emotive lyrical delivery of life’s rawness. I once described the music from this twosome as lying somewhere “on the blue-collar side of lo-fi and the road-weary side of indie” and the description still fits. Although, the production feels like a clear step up from lo-fi, but the sparseness, quiet-loud-quiet dynamic still feels like those older S@M records. And this nostalgia is why I threw money at this Kickstarter – extending my long hit streak with Kickstarter projects reaching their funding goals. I guess I should tell you what I received…
Doughman liked to slip in some filler in his records now and again that were simple, stripped-down ideas of songs with layers of his own voice providing something orchestral lo-fi. “I Don’t Need Anyone” opens the album this way and it pulls you in just before the fully-developed pop groove of “Groundhog Day (Dam the Piper)” kicks in. The hard luck of a Doughman-described relationship makes sense to all of us. You bounce your head to the beat all the way through to the keyboard accompaniment that sound like Ric Ocasek-produced GBV records.
Layered Doughman vocals over simple acoustic guitar – another common feature of a S@M album – comes in as the previous track fades out. “Forever” pleads with his love to tell him anything, “just please don’t use the word ‘forever’.” The sentiment is repeated over and over, helping the listener feel the tension that must have been in the room. A rocker in “Academy Award for Best in a Supporting Role” knocks down the door. As with everything leading up to this point, it does not describe a happy talk between lovers.
“Friend of Mine” is slow and spacious. I always liked how Doughman’s voice – all deep and throaty – brings so much emotion and power to these quiet slo-core moments. The songs picks up its pace a bit as you hear a ring tone in the background. The music really kicks it up a notch and Doughman makes his grand gesture. I feel like a lot of S@M tracks are like either the beginning or end of this song, but here he’s covered a lot of familiar territory in just under 3 minutes.
Another stripped-down acoustic, emotionally-fueled, and hurt song takes over. “Famous Orange Sweathirt” is barely over a minute, but the narrative becomes clear by the end. It’s a lost-in-youth-on-the-run sort of song…until it abruptly ends. One thing that’s done masterfully on this record is the dynamic changes between tracks. This happens again at this point as the slow rocker “Time and Distance.” Narratively, it fits nicely. Whether or not this is intentional is not known, but it seems to look back those youthful days and where he and his love are today.
One thing I think Doughman does better than most songwriters is he can say all that’s needed to be said in a repeated chorus. “I was thinking about drinking, but I don’t have the energy” repeats over and over through “17th Last Cigarette (think’ bout drink in’)” and it tells you all you need to know. The layered vocals, acoustic guitar fiddling, strange keyboard atmospherics in the back… The song is as sad and depressing but somehow comforting as they come.
“Wrote You a Letter” continues with lyrics someone has actually said. “So, I wrote you a letter | A real one, on paper” is something we might say since no one does that anymore. The conversational lyrics Doughman writes have always been the most effective in my mind for both narrative and emotion. Here, he nails that aesthetic once again, much like “Flying Pizza” or “Can’t Help Ourselves.”
“The Darkest September” is a complete change of pace for S@M, at least in my experience. It’s certainly Doughman’s emotive lyrics and vocal delivery, but it’s backed by a simple piano line. The vocals are not layered, but Doughman demonstrates his incredible range – a range that I believe has improved over the years. It’s almost diva-ish how he bounces from low to high notes and back. The lilting delivery is quite striking and nails that feeling you get when you hear songs that just make you close your eyes and shake your head because you know that kind of hurt. It’s a comforting thing, really.
“Great Actress” carries a bit of a theme that’s carried on through this LP. All these songs could be about actresses or just one. I don’t know, but it is curious how actresses and acting come up a lot. This song is huge in terms of a Swearing at Motorist song. The emptiness is filled, in particular with more keyboards. The pace is picked up from the previous couple of tracks. Layered vocals are back. This song is almost hopeful as he says goodbye to his actress girlfriend, or at least that’s how it works in my mind movie.
“I Love You (liar)” features muffled, angry vocals and more aggressive instrumentation. Doughman repeats a series of lies and you’ve heard this story before. “Adjectives” opens with a sparse march and some percussive vocals before evolving into that loose, Doughman delivery, delivering more failed relationship descriptors. “Don’t Want to Dream (About You)” is the typical acoustic song you might picture Doughman putting together on the porch, but there are strings lingering behind. Some of the lyrics suggest he sees a lover (or former lover) in a son. Kids have that effect on us.
“I Likes Your Style” is a lo-fi filler with a surprisingly urgent guitar part underneath those layered, drawn-out vocals. The bluesy and loud “Wasting Your Time” is the last song of every prom where that one couple makes out like there’s no one around in the middle of the dance floor – giving zero fucks.
“It’s Love that Chooses You” is a rather sweet love song that seems somewhat out of place, except that you know that it all hurts so badly because that’s how love works. Again, not totally sure this isn’t about a kid rather than a lover. The sentiment is that we are powerless to avoid love as, well, it chooses you and not the other way around.
I go back and forth on the themes and subjects of this record. From past experiences, Doughman’s songs are about hurt and failed relationships (and the many vices that lead to such disaster), but there’s something even more heartfelt here (if that’s even possible). I wonder what the effect of his parenthood has had on his music. There are clues throughout and they add a certain complexity to some of the material. Either way, this dude feels more than most of us. It makes it okay to get a little pissed or shed a tear when someone so openly and clearly expresses his emotions.
It can be debated which Swearing at Motorist album is the best or which has the best songs, but this record gets my vote as most consistent and containing the most clarity. There’s a happy balance in the production between that lo-fi for which he and anyone from Dayton are known and something more purposeful, proficient. Either way, Doughman gave his Kickstarter investors a deal.
If you couldn’t tell, I am writing this as a fan. Of course, if it sucked ass and my Kickstarter funds felt wasted, I would either express disappointment or not write anything at all. This record is really good. Swearing at Motorists is really good and I think more people should know that so a gifted musician like Dave Doughman doesn’t disappear in Berlin again, leaving us for several years without the fruits of his gift.
If Swearing at Motorists comes to your town (I’m working on getting them here), be sure to see them. At the very least, find some live footage on YouTube. At the very, very least, listen to the catalog and find some way to score a copy of While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth. Feel the rock ‘n roll for once. Let them in. I have and will continue.
I realize that I’m probably late to this party, but I just acquired the first four installments of Kim Deal’s solo series and had to write about them. In the post below, I’ll wax poetically about Kim Deal’s importance to music, the songs in this series, and the 45.
Kim Deal is no fool. She doesn’t make (or at least release) a bad record. The Pixies, The Breeders, (Tammy and) the Amps, The Pixies again, The Breeders again, and now this solo work is all joyous noise. She crosses the basement tape his of Guided by Voices with the percussive drive of Tom Waits mixed with loopy Pavement guitar solos and that voice. Kim Deal’s voice is unmistakable. Yes, it’s a bit more raspy from years of smoking, but it’s still Kim Deal’s delivery that sets her music apart. It’s approachable without being easy. I want Kim Deal to sing at my kids’ wedding and my 40th birthday bash. She could sing Nickleback and it would sound wholesome, warm, and somehow a bit sexy at the same time.
I have always hated the idea of “women in rock” as if the music women play is somehow a subset of the real stuff spewed by men. However, that label is rarely placed on Kim Deal. She transcends the gender divide in rock music. Her songs for the Pixies are as important to their oeuvre as any Frank Black-penned anthem. The Breeders broke through this divide when everyone was listening to grunge bands hopped up on testosterone. The Amps out-GBV’d GBV (for only one album, but a fucking great record nonetheless). At every stop, Kim Deal has defied the limitations of gender in rock and she hasn’t stopped.
The eight songs in this series of 7″ records are more of what you would expect from a Kim Deal-fronted project. It’s a bit more subdued than the typical Breeders’ record, but a songwriter and vocalist like Kim Deal can pull it off. “Walking With a Killer” has a slow, deadly bass line. I don’t know if it’s a metaphor for drugs or an abusive mate, but the lyrics sting and romanticize a dance with death. The B-side is “Dirty Hessians” which picks up the pace utilizing another sick bass line but now there’s some organ action picking up the intensity. This track is surfer rock instrumental written in a garage in Dayton.
“Hot Shot” has plenty of attitude and would have fit nicely on Pacer had it been written in the mid-nineties. Deal’s vocals are upfront with the bass taking a back seat this time around. “Likkle More” is a sweet, acoustic, lament-filled goodbye. Deal’s vocals are a whisper and more intimate than I think I’ve ever heard.
“Are Mine” continues the soft, whispery vocals in the previous track. the track is a cross between the aesthetic of “Drivin’ on 9″ and the sentiment of “Do You Love Me No?” wrapped in a lullaby. Another instrumental makes an appearance with “Wish I Was.” It has a modern Amps groove as if Deal is writing soundtracks for movies now. The guitar work is pleasant and subtly complex.
“The Root” is her most Tom Waits bit to date and would have fit nicely on the last Breeders record. It’s about that moment when you see a former flame after your life has gone downhill and his/her life is just peachy. “I’m happy for you, but I feel like crying.” The eighth track is about Kim waiting for you at the “Range on Castle” which I believe is in Huber Heights. In true “Tipp City” fashion, Kim captures life growing up in SW Ohio better than anyone. It feels like home.
The best aspect of this series is the format. While we could have waited two years for a Kim Deal to fit this all on a single album, what we would have received would have been a somewhat disjointed effort. That’s not a knock on the music. I love these songs, but I don’t think they fit well on one album. However, pairing them on opposite sides of 7″ records as played at 45 rpm, they’re perfect. Format is everything. This is where the CD and now the MP3 miss out. A record (7″, 10″, or 12″) groups tracks on a side or on another disc entirely. The sequence and grouping is so important to the story or message an artist or band is trying to convey. (This, however, is a topic I should explore further in a future post.)
That said, I have never been much of a 7″ guy. I have a mild fascination with 10″ records, but 12″ is where it’s at. However, I’ve had a small change of heart this year. My wife bought me the Merge 25 subscription series where they send me two split 7″ records every other month on colored vinyl. The songs have been great and a lot of fun to get in the mail. Kim Deal’s solo series is just building on this rediscovered (or really discovered) appreciation for 45’s. It’s a fun format that usually offers a taste of your favorite music along with some extra, unreleased tracks. I will write eventually about the Merge 25 once I have them all and maybe some other prized or new 7″ records in the future.
For more information and ordering options of the Kim Deal solo series, check out her website.
Here are ten of the best records I heard this year, in no particular order
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 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.
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, 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.
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.
I’ve dabbled here and elsewhere with writing reviews. The advantage of keeping a blog that focuses on both beer and music is that there’s plenty of material to review. Some of my better bits have reviewed both.
The trouble with writing reviews is that it takes some of the enjoyment from the experience. If I’m thinking ahead to my next blog post every time I place the needle on the record or pop the cap of a beer, I’m not staying in the moment. It becomes work somehow even though I fully realize that this here website is a hobby and not a source of income by any means.
Still, I’ve tried to write reviews. The music reviews have gone well… for the most part anyway. I’m pretty happy with the Believers review I just wrote. There was a pretty good Walkmen review I wrote a while back. Honestly, the music reviews are easier, even more fun to write.
Then, I considered why this might be. Stan has a list of newish beer rules somewhere. One of those rules suggests that one should drink a beer at least twice before passing judgement on it. This makes sense. However, I’d like to interject that some of the most rewarding discussions and reviews I’ve seen/heard/read have been based on one serving of a beer. The best beers can inspire mountains of content with a single serving. Still, I see the point.
To properly grasp a beer’s essence, once should spend some time with it. Drink the beer in a variety of glasses and contexts. Try it paired with foods or at different temperatures. I get this and endorse it. Write whatever review you want, but this is probably the best way to fully appreciate a beer.
What does this mean for RateBeer/BA fanatics? What about those blogs that review a beer a day? They should do what they want, but I probably won’t be writing many more reviews like that, if any. I tried a couple at the beginning of the year, but it’s time to move on. Reviewing beer is not what I do best. Enjoying beer? That’s another story.
So, how is this different than music?
For one, a record has a chance to be consumed over and over without consequence. I often have to drive for work and can give an album a good listen while driving 2-3 hours round trip. Then, there’s usually a session of listening once or twice on vinyl while my kid plays and we wait for dinner. When I write a record review, I’ve had time to let it marinade. A beer review is often a one-shot deal, especially with a rare brew.
Also, the beer review has a formula where record reviews can be whatever I want. In a beer review, it’s generally expected that one addresses the appearance, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. Even when I’ve taken some poetic license with this format, I still generally come back to the basic review template. With records, it’s easier to write whatever comes to mind and go off on tangents or address each track. Thankfully, music is easier to perceive as something that doesn’t fit within a neat category like beer. Maybe beer scholarship hasn’t come as far as that of music writing. Maybe it has. I just find music easier to write about.
So, expect me to continue writing record and show reviews and cut back on beer reviews. However, there will be exceptions. I’ll probably review a beer and you won’t even realize it. We’ll see.
Now, I have a deadline that’s already been extended. I need to get back to that project.
Believers‘ self-titled EP arrived just in time for True/False. It’s been a long time coming, like a whole year, but Believers finally have that tangible document of their struggles over their short run. It was at last year’s True/False that the band first entered the collective CoMo conscience. Now, there is a record with their name and recordings on it awaiting turntables all over Middle Missouri.
The songs on this new EP, funded by the generosity of true believers via a Kickstarter initiative, have become familiar to those who have been lucky enough to catch the ensemble around town. We’re now familiar with the percussive core, sampled bird songs, and the crooning that characterizes a Believers set. Additionally, those who have seen them in-person know of the energy they bring as normally-reserved CoMo crowds find the dancer within and shake what their mothers have given them in celebration of what these boys have crafted.
So, how about those songs?
Splashing water opens as the infectious basslines of “Sleeves” kick in just before a blast of guitar that carry enough power to almost resemble horns. The quiet-loud dynamic is in full-effect for this track and it’s used to its fullest potential. The space between bombasts and the build to a climax have the listener dancing as is the custom at Believers shows, anticipating the rest of the EP to follow. “You can’t ignore what’s going on all around you,” singer/guitarist Wesley Powell offers, “along the shore, such heavy progress.” Imagine the sun rising over a clear Missouri River at Cooper’s Landing just before a day of fun on the Big Muddy. Powell’s declaration rings true as this EP gets off to an impressive start.
A few sounds in this town are as commonplace in CoMo as the opening caws at the beginning of “Forward Forward Back”. At this point in the recording, I’m just ready to see Believers live again. The rhythmic trajectory of the song and it’s request “Won’t you dance with me?” causes once again what is typically unthinkable in this town: dancing. The chorus even provides some instruction that suggests forward movement with a bit of youthful caution.
“Far From Home” is the sleepy track that hints at the sacrifices the band has made to get to this point where they now have a record in-hand and a year of playing behind them with an eye to possibilities ahead. We’ll see what happens, but this song is sadder than you think as – like with every song on this EP – it just makes you want to dance. Still, the picture painted is somewhat dire as one huddles in a cardboard box, wishing to just be home.
“Finder” is the rare song that speaks both to those who long to love and those who have loved. We all at some point want to find someone or remember what it was like to find the one we’re with. This song captures that feeling perfectly. Additionally, it imitates that feeling of your heart pounding so hard that it makes that heart-shaped imprint on our chests like on those old cartoons when the intoxicating smell or sweet curves of “the one” passes by. There’s a real longing in this song, but it feels hopeful, almost encouraging. Even for cynics out there, this song will speak to you.
“Wandering” is the second-t0-last track. Over another infectious groove provided by bassist Travis Boots floats some spacey keyboards. The track displays a subtlety not always prevalent as the band often goes for whatever will move the crowd. (There’s nothing wrong with this.) Dreamy guitar strumming, ghostly vocals, and some well-placed horns make for a nice song to play when looking forward to summer nights on the porch.
The dreaminess of “Wandering” is balanced with some steady dance beats and that familiar Powell croon with “In the Water”. Then, the song breaks into what is one of the more powerful songs of a Believers set. The two-headed drumming tandem of Taylor Bacon and Pete Hansen beat the skins like there’s no tomorrow, inducing that now-natural sense to dance. (I know, in Columbia of all places!) There’s more of that quiet-loud dynamic the kids love so much. Sadly, this is where the EP ends, leaving the listener wanting more. As is true for most EP’s, the band’s best tracks made the cut and give a great taste of what they can provide in full-length albums (hopefully) to come.
At this point, I’ve failed to mention the other Powell brother, Tyler. His musicality and ease of playing comes through on these recordings. He fills space where the drums rest between beats and often carries songs where needed. The brothers Powell are certainly a strong duo and they’ve put together a solid rhythm section to carry their vision with this EP as proof.
Again, this record if filled with longing and hopefulness. It’s the kind of feeling that occurs at that first terror twilight of the summer. That moment when the possibilities of the summer ahead causes you to hold your breath. All the worries and unfinished projects of the past winter have slowly melted away. Spring brings with it new life and summer warms us and urges us to come from out of our hiding places. The terror caused at dawn is off-putting at first, but you are comforted by the fact that it will pass and tomorrow will be a beautiful day. A record like Believers is the record you play at that very moment.
Then, you dance.
Here is the post I published yesterday at the CoMo Collective. It covers the bands I saw and a couple I didn’t see much of. As you will see, True/False is more of a cultural experience than just a documentary film festival. That may be why we all love it so much…
As promised, here’s a complete rundown of the bands I was able to take in throughout True/False weekend. This year’s lineup was maybe the strongest I’ve seen. Between buskers warming up crowds, filling our streets with music, and rocking showcases around town, this fest became almost as much about the music as it did the films.
As a recap, I’m reposting my take on Wednesday’s Eastside Showcase. Scroll down if you’ve read it before…
This is the unofficial official start of the fest and it’s hard to believe that any showcase will outdo the one at Eastside Tavern last night. Three bands – two local, one from Milwaukee – whipped the crowd into a pretty good frenzy for Wednesday.
Enemy Airship opened the night and one could say the entire festival.If I wanted to hear Broken Social Scene, I’d probably watch them on Pitchfork TV, but this was a close enough facsimile. I certainly don’t mean that in negative way. The band is fun, even danceable, especially as compared to their previous incarnation, Nonreturner. The set was topped off with a particularly earnest cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent”. It’s too bad no one could hear the keyboards.
Another local, Hott Lunch, played second. I had heard a lot of good things and the band did not disappoint. From punk to classic rock, this band was all over the place aggression, hitting all the right influences. I’d like to hear them focus in on one thing, but they do so many so well. Maybe that’s not so bad. Either way, it was an enjoyable set.
The closers were Catacombz. With a light show few have witnessed in Eastside, the band beat the audience into submission and told them to dance without directly telling the so, yet they obeyed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band come in and just move the entire crowd into convulsions.
Mojo’s Showcase (Bassdrum of Death, Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, and Ming Donkey One-Man Band)
Regretfully, I missed Ming Donkey One-Man Band due to a film. This became apparent to me as I entered Mojo’s to find it buzzing. It seemed that buzz was about the dirty heaps of new age blues that was being thrust upon the crowd and would continue through the night.
Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, once of CoMo, played next. Besides frontman Jeremy Freeze’s occasional turn as a busker and drummer Kim Sherman’s turns at V/H/S Q&A’s, the band made a triumphant return to CoMo (as is their usual) with a roaring set of dirges and blues psychedelia. Interestingly, the band’s sound was filled out with the addition of John Garland on guitar. The set primarily featured material from their well-received Dost, a record you should own.
Bass Drum of Death is another Fat Possum band that sounds as if they’re from another era. They looked and sounded a ton like 1991-era Seattle, but sounded closer to No Age than Nirvana. This topped off what was an impressive roster for the evening. I’m not sure I’ve seen a T/F showcase demonstrate as much firepower as this crew showed… Well, until the next night.
Mojo’s A-Go-Go (Believers, Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?, Dark Dark Dark and Cassie Morgan)
Once again, I regretfully missed a Mojo’s opener. St. Louis duo Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine played what must have been a distant and haunting set of hushed melodies. Although described as folk, I’d place her stylings closer to something sleepier, with a bit of twang for good measure. I only know this because I luckily caught her set as a busker in the Blue Note. Still, I imagine her set fit nicely with the bands to follow.
Dark Dark Dark came on next. Gypsies with powerful female lead vocals rarely go wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, this is not Beirut with Sharon Van Etten. No, this is a rock band that understands a good pop song, something that would linger through the evening.
At this point, it was clear that the evening was building toward something. However, it felt as if we needed a way to traverse the gap between Cassie Morgan’s brand of folk and Dark Dark Dark’s gypsie spiel. A bridge would work, but a boat or ship would be better. Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship? made their way on stage and increased the number of accordions and French horns by at least one apiece.
The bridge or ship or whatever worked as the crowd was pretty amped for the Believers set. Believers just puts on a consistently great show and it doesn’t hurt that the songs are so good and danceable. For once, all the percussion was in the back of the stage as compared to the center, but it didn’t take away the percussive nature of the band by any means. The buzz that started the previous night lasted all the way through Believers’ set. If for no other reason, Believers should stay together just to play T/F every year. Either way, they will forever be linked to the fest for me as it just isn’t complete without a Believers show.
I remember Nature Walk busking before, but I don’t remember them being as engaging as they were this year. I got vibes from Violent Femmes and One Foot in the Grave-era Beck. Good, fun rock music to get us ready for the nonfiction about to be thrown our way.
The Toughcats come all the way from Maine every year. It seems there’s a contingent that makes the trek every year and the Touchcats are part of that crew. To fully enjoy the Toughcats’s set, one has to pay particular attention to the drummer who works as hard and as enthusiastically as any drummer I’ve ever seen.
Run On Sentence featured the filmmaker of Gasland, a popular T/F entry and near-Oscar winner. Beyond that, Run On Sentence stands on their own, recalling a bit of Clem Snide. They certainly kept a large audience in the spacious Missouri Theater engaged with the energy they brought from Portland.
Bramble actually played my daughter’s preschool before they ever played the T/F box office, various street corners, or several film venues. They are fast becoming a favorite at the fest. Everybody tends to enjoy their special brand of roots rock, especially three-year-olds.
Another roots rock band to busk some films was Wine Teeth. However, where Bramble reminded me more of Fleet Foxes (musically), Wine Teeth are certainly big Elliott Smith fans, providing a bit of edge to their set.
The hit of the fest may have been Les Trois Coups. The four Frenchmen enchanted audiences, inspiring many to dance and others to fall under their gypsie charms. From what I heard and saw, I don’t think the boys ever stopped playing their songs and performing skits with a combination of French and bits of broken English. The boys played for a school in St. Louis and hit the streets as soon as they made it to CoMo, and were seen at showcases and in the basement of at least one house party at 3:30 in the morning. I’m not sure they ever slept as they had to catch a flight early Sunday morning.
It’s nice see some great bands return year after year. Pearl and the Beard can both fill any venue with their powerful voices while maintaining an uncanny ability to rely on subtlety to not overwhelm with every song. This has really been one of the better busker acts to make it to T/F over the years and I hope they keep coming back.
Prahlad is actually a folklore professor at the university. He plays his brand of folk on mbira and slit drum, traditional African instruments. The resulting music is calming yet stimulating and was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the fest.
Cindy Woolf told a story that went with a song that was about distilling moonshine. That may be all you need to know. This is country as it’s meant to be sung and performed. Sad, slow, and soothing.
There were others to play music last weekend, but this was what I was able to see/hear among the 15 or so films I was able to see. Still, it was possibly the strongest lineup the fest has featured since I’ve been attending. Music coordinators Billy Schuh and Amanda Rainey really deserve a ton of credit for putting together this year’s group of buskers and showcasers. For the complete list of musicians, including many of the better ones I failed to mention here, check T/F’s website while it’s still up.
Maybe I’ve over-extended myself, but this special occasion was reason enough to take this blog where it’s never been before. The Mikkeller collab Royal Rye Wine arrived a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been sitting on it, waiting for a brief moment in my schedule to review it properly. I don’t know that the video below does it justice, but we tried record the event and maybe we’ll get better with each episode.
My disclaimer is that this video beer review thing is not easy. The Hopry is the gold standard and now I understand why he doesn’t do it anymore. It’s a lot of work. Then there are those who consistently do professional-looking videos at New Brew Thursdays and 100 Beers in 30 Days… We’re just not at that standard just yet. I made the valiant effort of editing out a large portion of my “ums”, but you’ll notice I’m loaded with them. This is why I, um, blog.
Anyways, here’s the video. Below that, I’ll add some thoughts, what we did with the rest of the afternoon, and maybe even some additional media. Comment freely, but be constructive.
So, the beer was good and completely caught us off guard (in case you couldn’t tell). Normally, the three of us can talk forever on such things, but this beer left us speechless – something only Mikkeller can typically do. The rye was pronounced. The grape/wine flavors came and went as our palate was challenged by the rye and the beer warmed. There was a slight amount of carbonation, but as we drank, that dissipated quickly. However, the body of the beer did not suffer. This truly is a wine drinker’s beer. Typically, I think of sour beers as being the closest thing to wine a brewery can accomplish, but this beer actually attains a wine-like feel without wine barrels and the infections they carry. We weren’t just blowing steam up Mikkeller’s ass. This beer is both interesting and a lot of fun to drink.
Now, as far as the video, I’m hoping we’ll get better. You all should provide plenty of suggestions to make it better. I’m pretty happy with the opening and closing. Jeff and Jarrett were great. (Be sure to check out any out-takes I’ll post below. There’s good stuff there.) However, my stumbling, bumbling dialogue needs work. Maybe I’ll prepare a little better next time. Maybe we’ll do it live and you can see how it really goes down.
Anyway, there are some credits I forgot to include or didn’t make clear enough. Jeff took the pictures. You can find them here. Jarrett is a certified cicerone. So, he knows about which he’s talking. The opening credits song is “Hardcore UFO’s” from the Guided By Voices record Bee Thousand. If I missed something, let me know in the comments.
We consumed the three beers above, plus one a homebrew Jeff contributed. The Allagash Interlude was a beer I found in Richmond, VA this past summer. It’s a 2009 vintage and contained tons of tartness with a touch of oak, another wine-worthy brew. Really, it was a delicious beer. I had had a 4 Calling Birds from The Bruery once before, but it was lost in a tasting. My palate was relatively fresh this time around and I found the nutmeg to be almost toxically good. Jeff’s homebrew was called Hop Heaven after Avery’s Hog Heaven Barley Wine. It was a hop-forward barley wine that could use some time to age, but that probably won’t happen. There’s noting wrong with that either.
Before I close, below you’ll find a video of out-takes, the two videos from Mikkeller dealing with the contest, and a Russian video about the Royal Rye Wine release. Enjoy!
Pics in this post are also courtesy of Jeff.