Pizza Tree is back. For those of you who do not live in Middle Missouri, this means nothing. However, if you do live here or ever plan on visiting, this might be the most important news ever. Well, for pizza enthusiasts.
See, Columbia, Missouri has been dominated by a pizza juggernaut named Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s pizza is fairly conventional, but it’s sold in one of those college hangouts like you see on TV or movies. It’s got character and that goes a long way to cover up so-so pizza. Still, folks here feel nostalgic for their own college days and want to relive those days with a slice or whole pie from Shakespeare’s.
Shakespeare’s isn’t terrible pizza. They just haven’t had to make their pizza better over the years. Since I moved here almost ten years ago, I have wanted fresh garlic on my pizza. That entire time either their website or employees would assure me that they were working on getting garlic. Seems simple, but when no one is pushing you to improve your game, things like adding garlic go by the wayside.
So, there was a hole in the pizza scene here that needed to be filled. There was cheap, industrial pizza and several mediocre local alternatives. Plus, the aforementioned Shakespeare’s and its nostalgia. What we lacked was interesting, sometimes off-beat, but always good pizza. And that’s when Pizza Tree first appeared.
In what used to be a Jamaican jerk kitchen and sometimes the green room at local music venue Mojo’s, John Gilbreth was making pies. He make Detroit style, shipped in special pepperoni, created “pizza art”, and grew the mother of all sourdough mothers. Despite being named Columbia’s best new restaurant, the Tree had to shut its doors. Possibly due to high demand and an inability to meet said demand or maybe due to a lack of visibility… Either way, Pizza Tree was no more.
Then, they Kickstarted a new effort to move to the heart of downtown, into a space more suitable for a fully functional pizza joint. And the opening has been slow and steady with new hours and delivery services added. Now all they have to do is get the word out.
Why Pizza Tree?
John uses the best ingredients. I mentioned the insanely good pepperoni and sourdough crust, but it’s hard to forget Sriracha-glazed pork belly, truffled crimini mushrooms, and house-stretched mozzarella. These are decadent pies that border on gourmet. And now they are functioning like an old-school pizza shop.
Of course, the pizza to end all pizzas is the famous Bánh Mì. Imagine the Sriracha-glazed pork belly I mentioned before with kimchi, chile aioli, and fresh cilantro… It’s as good as it sounds. Hell, this pizza was good two nights later when I finished it. I am not afraid to say that it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had.
One thing a pizza joint needs is an aesthetic, some character. With a focus on 1980’s/90’s iconography, Pizza Tree is the pizza place we all wanted to hang out in when we were kids. The only difference now is that our tastes have matured to accept pizzas like Maple Butternut or Charredachoke. To add to this aspect of the mystique, local artist/musician Justin Nardy has joined the team to add his touch to the place.
Pizza Tree is yet another example in a long line of examples where someone’s ingenuity and craftiness creates something so unique. Corporations with teams of marketers can’t come up with what Pizza Tree does. And if they did, they would ruin it. While I’m sure John would like to make a living, he won’t be so greedy as to ruin his product for an extra buck. Even as much of a hard time as I give Shakespeare’s, at least they have kept it local and authentic.
A theme of this blog for a long time has been to celebrate businesses like Pizza Tree. I can’t imagine anything better than washing down a Pizza Tree Bánh Mì with a Logboat Snapper IPA followed by some Harold’s doughnuts and Fretboard Coffee (review still to be written). It’s a good time to be into all things epicurean and indie. May Pizza Tree and their brethren live forever!
Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Momofuko’ David Chang had a spat. That’s a story, I guess. Or at least it’s GQ drumming up some page views with an internal disagreement from contributors, contributors who happen to be at the top of their respective fields.
Basically, David Chang hates snobbery in food and especially beer. That said, the dude runs with a crowd that hangs at restaurants you nor I will ever enjoy. (Although, my wife did eat lunch at Noma once. Whatever.) It seems that he draws the snobbery line at beer. Guy hates himself some beer geeks:
Beer snobs are the worst of the bunch. You know the old joke about cheap beer being like having sex in a canoe? I will take a beer that’s “fucking near water” every night of the week over combing out my neck beard while arguing about hop varieties.
Garret Oliver who is one of those epicurean snobs with which Chang eats and imbibes took issue with the jab. He calls Chang’s shit out:
It’s not the fancy beer you don’t like. You don’t like us, your people. You have a “tenuous relationship with the Epicurean snob set?” You are the epicurean snob set! I’ve seen you with champagne in one hand and a Noma lamb leg in the other, chatting up celebrities. Why you frontin’? You spent your first three paragraphs insulting people just like you…is the cash, fame and luxury not working out?
So, a maker of snobby things doesn’t like some other snobby things. In this case, it’s beer. Fine. Like your shitty beer. More good, craft beer for me. Except that his snobby beer friend points out the hypocrisy of such an opinion coming from said maker of snobby things.
I’ll come back to this.
In other signs of the craft beer apocalypse, The New Yorker just figured out that craft beer is suddenly fancy stuff. This realization is due to beer-centric restaurants getting respect in foodie circles, not because the beer is good (which it is). Beer is big in Brooklyn, so now we have to pay attention to it.
This third anecdote is not necessarily about snobbery, but stick with me. Martha Stewart has a certified cicerone. Said in-house, beer expert/blogger did this little post selling the sour beer to soccer moms worldwide. Hops didn’t win wine drinkers over, but maybe open fermentation will. The sours in the post are presented as the sophisticated subset of craft beer, not like brutish IPA’s and imperial stouts.
And this is where beer is in 2014.
No longer do beer enthusiasts need to advocate for their favorite beverage. Craft beer has arrived, but is this what we wanted? Did we want beer to be unreachable? Did we want to turn beer snobs into just snobs? Did we need New York to discover craft beer?
What attracted me to craft beer was the accessibility. Here, in my glass, could be one of the best beers in the world. The best anything in the world usually demands a hefty price tag, but my beer didn’t cost me more than $5 at the bar or $10 for sixer.
Maybe this is what Chang is arguing. He would rather drink cheap, rice-adjunct, industrial swill than succumb to perils of beer snobbery. However, if you’re the kind who washes down your Noma lamb leg with champaign, what’s the point? Why not wash down that lamb with a barley wine or IPA
made brewed by a local brewery? If you eat fine food, you should wash it down with a fine beer.
Still, the perception of beer has changed. Sure, there are still beer evangelists and those who think craft beer doesn’t get its due respect, but the need for craft beer promotion is dwindling. A craft pint in this town has gone from $3 to $5 with some beers demanding $7-10 a glass. Beer dinners and tastings are becoming as common as wine events, possibly even more. Beer has arrived, but is this what we wanted?
When I watch craft beer grow and evolve this way, it reminds me of the indie rock/alternative boom of the 90’s. Hardcore punk and indie rock of the 80’s was underground and of a certain accessible quality that mainstream rock could not replicate. Eventually, Nirvana happened and every band was signed. That or the audience grew for those still on indie labels, making it possible for a band like a Pavement to travel in tour busses as opposed to broken-down vans. The music was still as accessible as ever, but suddenly, it was held to a higher standard. The indie snob became a thing. It ushered in the age of Pitchfork where suddenly an organization primarily covering independent music was the trend setter and not MTV, FM radio, or major labels.
And then there’s the backlash. Pop music and less sophisticated forms of hip-hop became popular again. Ironically, this shift back to the superficial mainstream has meant a decline in profits for the industry as a whole. I don’t need to link to the endless number of Billboard articles to prove this point. Still, the indies that rose in the nineties are still going strong.
This brings me back to beer. Is Chang merely calling attention to craft beer’s inevitable backlash? Is this part of our collective beer evolution? It certainly seems to mirror the evolution of modern music. Even as some return to cheap American lagers, beer sales as a whole are down, except for the craft brewers who continue to succeed.
Craft beer and its fans should realize that we are getting what we wished for. We wanted beer served alongside the finest wines in the finest establishments. However, it comes at a cost – literally. The backlash is in full swing and it was inevitable. Still, craft beer should weather the storm the way indie rock has.
Just quit your prosthelytizing and snobbery and enjoy another beer.
So, you’re back. Like several of my favorite nineties’ bands – Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc. – you took some time off from each other for other projects, but you’re back. And we’re all so happy.
I remember the day I found out your were no more. It was in Hawaii on the Molokai. I had on my t-shirt from the All Hands on the Bad One tour, browsing the aisles at the only grocery store when another tourist stopped me to say that you had broken up. “Hiatus” would have been a better descriptor, but the news hit me just as hard either way. All the bands of my youth were nearly gone, causing me to fear for more than just my record collection.
Either way, I don’t want this letter to be about my relationship with your career and output. Rather, I want to celebrate the fact that you are back and to make a request.
In terms of reunions or coming out of hiatus, you all did it right. First, there was the little surprise of the box set. I preordered mine instantly and it was totally worth it. The packaging and accompanying book is beautiful. I don’t have all of your albums on vinyl until now and they’re all colored, 180-gram vinyl to boot! In terms of remastering, from what I’ve had a chance to hear, this too was done the right way. Instead of just turning everything up, many tracks were balanced out and the effects of cheap recording sessions is wiped out with a professional’s expert hand.
Of course, the coup de gras was the 7″ with the new song “Bury Our Friends” which is huge track filled to the brim with power and emotion. This new song – the first in 9 years – is how you announce your return. No fanfare. No announcement. “Let’s just toss a new 7″ into our retrospective box set for shits and giggles!” And of course there will be a tour and a new album – January 20th according to the 7″.
You are doing it right, friends. Most bands wait until they need the cash to get back together. Most bands don’t release new music. Most bands overdue their own box sets with loads of rarities (read: “junk not good enough to release the first time”) or completely over-produced versions of the originals. But not Sleater-Kinney. This is how a band gets back together. This is the blueprint from now one.
Now for the request.
You are one of my six-year-old’s favorite bands. Sure, that list includes Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Kidz Bop, but it also includes anything Kathleen Hanna touches, Wild Flag, and Blondie. She needs to see a live Sleater-Kinney performance and I can’t really drive/fly her on a school night to Chicago or Omaha. It would be ideal if Sleater-Kinney finds their way to Columbia, Missouri. (Of course, I would settle for STL or KC.)
In the spirit of transparency (and in case it wasn’t already clear), I am a huge Sleater-Kinney fan. I too would benefit from your band stopping in Middle Missouri. I won’t front.
We have a nice venue in the Blue Note who just hired two women as manager and assistant manager. There’s Pizza Tree and their bánh mì pizza(!) or baked goods, records, films (on the screen or to go), and drinks in the Uprise/Ragtag complex on Hitt Street. There’s vegetarian at Main Squeeze and two doughnut places by the time you would arrive. I can tell you more, just write back with requests.
In closing, I wish you the best of luck with the record and tour. It’s great to have one of the greatest rock bands of my life back at it – especially one my kid likes. I hope you find it in your heart of hearts to stop in COMO. It’s worth the stop.
P.S. – Will the whole band make an appearance on Portlandia next season?
P.P.S. – Will Pearl Jam open for you? I don’t really care if I see Pearl Jam. I just think it’s fair that they support you since you supported them the last time you were out.
P.P.P.S. – Carrie and Janet, my daughter wrote a letter to Wild Flag a while back. Are you planning on responding? She wrote one to Kathleen Hanna and Hanna wrote back. Just saying.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly express how much True/False means to us in terms of providing that one yearly jolt of intellectualism, creativity, and life we need at the end of every winter. Really, it’s not just that. This is a hard place in which to live. True/False makes it bearable for one long weekend every year.
However, this past year brought us the birth of our son, Theo. He’s our True/False baby, born on March 1st. The doc fest didn’t happen for us. Sure, it went on, but it didn’t happen for us. Of course, we could have gone to the Boone Dawdle for the first time, but the film this year didn’t interest us enough to bike 20 miles in the heat. Maybe next year?
So, we are long overdue for our True/False fix, to put it lightly.
That fix was supplied in the form of Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, the documentation of Edward Snowden’s coming out as an NSA whistleblower. This was an intense way to get back into the True/False groove as the fest put together a one-time (well two times, actually) screening of the highly anticipated film.
Poitras is a bit of a legend in T/F lore. She won the fest’s True Vision award in 2010 given to “a filmmaker (or filmmaking team) whose work shows a dedication to the creative advancement of the art of nonfiction filmmaking.” Her arguably most popular film at the fest was The Oath in which Poitras hangs out with a cab driver who was once Osam bin Laden’s bodyguard. The cab driver’s life is contrasted with his brother-in-law’s who finds himself detained in Guantanamo Bay. It’s even more intense than it sounds. Poitras also made a film about gentrification in my old home of Columbus, OH. It’s very different from her recent works, but totally a good watch, especially if you keep in-mind that this was her first film.
Citizenfour was not exactly what I expected. I honestly did not read up on it except to realize that it was about Edward Snowden in some way. Like many documentaries, I assumed it was a collection of interviews and pieces of a puzzle put together in order to recreate the events leading up to Snowden’s whistleblowing, making us all acutely aware as to how our government invades our privacy on the daily. I also caught that this was the third in a trilogy including The Oath and 2006’s My Country, My Country. However, what I was not prepared for was the amount of access Poitras had in documenting Snowden’s story.
Usually when a documentary covers a story, it comes in after the fact. There are interviews with people about what they remember. There’s archival footage or recreations. Rarely is a documentary documenting major, historical events in real time. Citizenfour does this, however. Poitras is there, in the room when Snowden is spilling the beans on how the NSA basically watches and listens to every electronic transmission we make. She follows as Snowden’s identity is revealed and he has to make a mad dash for a friendly embassy and eventually Russia. Poitras is only physically in the room with Snowden while he stays in a Hong Kong hotel for interviews with Glenn Greenwald over the course of a week+. Then, as the chase is on, she documents the fallout for various players in the game to uncover how our government watches and collects data on our every move. She communicates now and again with Snowden until she finally provides evidence of his new life in Russia.
What’s interesting is how intimate Poitras is able to get with Snowden without being intrusive. The privacy of his moment is completely documented by Poitras’ camera. It would be ironic had Snowden not asked her to be there, but he did ask her. The difference between Poitras and the NSA is that Poitras was asked to be there and to document the whole thing.
The story which evolves is really quite breathtaking. No narrative is forced. All the drama is real and that might be the scariest part. Poitras typically crafts narrative with a heavy hand. This isn’t a knock. She’s good at telling stories. With Citizenfour, you get the sense that she lets this story tell itself. She’s just there to make sure it gets to an audience.
If Citizenfour screens in your town, go see it. Several of Poitras’ films end up on PBS. So, you might be able to see it there. And don’t just watch it to get informed about the NSA. Sure, there’s that part, but it pales in comparison to the story told. Watch it for the story and do your research on the NSA.
Now I feel like I’m on some sort of list.
Man, I haven’t done one of these beer/record reviews in a long, long time.
Above you will find an image of a record – a 10″ record to be exact – and a beer. The record is Once More with Feeling, the new EP by Ought I picked up at their show over a week ago. The beer is a little something from Founders I picked up before the show. It’s black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale called Dark Penance.
This is not your typical Ought release. Well, they have basically only released the stellar More than Any Other Day on Constellation and a self-released EP of mostly the same material, but this offering is neither of those. From what I can tell and have read, Once More… features older material that was rerecorded and slapped on some 10″ vinyl. Half is recycled from the mentioned EP, but it’s been completely reworked. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t measure up with what might be one of the best LP’s of the year. In fact, this 4-song EP perfectly compliments it and adds to the still-young oeuvre in a meaningful way.
The EP opens with the slow burn that is “Pill” with frontman Tim Beeler’s vocals light but in front instead of his typical holler. This is a reimagined version of the opening track from their EP New Calm. It’s straightforward and sweet with some sad, sad lyrics before it unravels into a beautiful mess, Beeler demanding that you give it to him before he fades into oblivion. “New Calm Pt 2” is another rerecording of the final track of their self-released EP. Beeler’s talking, Byrne/Reed vocals are out front ahead of a Joy Division-esque groove and early U2 guitar onslaught. The experiment of “New Calm Pt 2” doesn’t stand alone, but it demonstrates the certain constraints and potential of the band to carry out a jam. It’s abstract musically and lyrically, featuring a rambling singer backed by a rambling band. The EP closes with “Waiting”, a more conventional track. Quick, moving, urgent, the band moves like a mid-nineties Chicago outfit in a hurry with that familiar David Byrne-like mumbling before breaking into his usual cries. This track could be described as the band’s “dance song” but I find a lot of Ought’s faster stuff danceable. Beeler asks, “How long have you been waiting?” over and over. I hope not wait too long before another release or live performance.
Up for the challenge is a first-time release from the Midwest’s best brewery: Founders. Intensely bitter, Dark Penance is painful to the tongue upon the first sip. The roastiness and extreme hop presence (100 IBU’s!) are unforgiving. But as one sips, the roast and hop flavors begin to separate themselves, allowing the drinker to take in the brilliance of this beer. There are two types of black IPA’s: the hoppy porter variety or dark hop bomb that’s really just an IPA in a cloak. However, this beer finds a balance in pushing the envelope – typical of a Founders beer. Founders just makes their beers overwhelmingly flavorful which somehow balances out. I wonder if as they were developing this beer, the brewers thought “oh, that’s too hoppy” or “the malt is too forward” or “it’s all roasted malt.” And instead of backing off any of those flavors, they brought up the other components to balance the whole thing out. And this works.
On the surface, both Ought’s EP and Founders black IPA are immensely pleasurable. As I sipped the beer, I wasn’t sure if I was nodding to the blackness spinning on my turntable or the one in my glass. Both are exceptional contributions.
However, I find it more interesting in how they differ. Ought builds from abstraction, a dance beat, a sweet ditty into something gorgeously chaotic. However, Dark Penance was the opposite in that it opened with a punishing onslaught only to eventually reveal a balanced, glorious drink, perfecting for sipping with a great record on the play. The pairing was a success in contrasting styles with similar elements. I may have to try it again.
Saturday night, local label/collective Yards and Gods threw their annual ball at a sci-fi-themed watering hole downtown known as Eastside Tavern. The musical styles represented were diverse, but all of it was original and from the region. For whatever reason, I usually miss the ball, but this year I was able to sneak out to catch some bands.
I walked in on Sea Machine mid-set. Brandon Michael plays lead guitar in this band and that’s the primary reason for me wanting to catch their act. He’s a cool guy who once played a benefit I put on for my kid’s Montessori school without knowing me at all. He typically plays a style of rock that contains loads of power-pop, post-punk, and 90’s indie influences. A friend commented that Sea Machine sounded like Dayton and I couldn’t completely disagree. Well, I thought maybe they sounded like what everyone thinks Dayton sounded like in the 90’s when everyone thought bands from the Gem City sounded like a cross between Guided by Voices and The Breeders. (However, the Dayton scene was much more diverse than this.) Sea Machine – sounding like Dayton or not – played straight power-pop with vocals provided by the drummer and some synth backing up the band’s sound. To me, the band sounded pretty young, but there was a confidence and craftsmanship that suggests they will mature and become more cohesive.
Next up was C. Vadi, a friend of the Coalition and librarian currently residing in Iowa. C. Vadi uses no instruments other than her voice and a collection of loop and feedback gizmos. Her real name is Carrie Wade and she has a sharp wit and the best glasses of anyone I know. Carrie sent me a copy of her new album, In the Realm of her Dark Guardian. Off-kilter keyboards, a slight tape hiss, layer-upon-layer of vocals… In the Realm… is a haunting opus of what I assume winters in Iowa sound like. (Hell, summer’s probably sound that way as well.) Look for it on Carrie’s Bandcamp site. It’s music to read or work by, but if you want to get immersed in it, put on some headphones. That’s the only way you’ll catch all the subtle textures she puts to tape.
That said, a live C. Vadi show is pretty intense, almost surreal. Sure, Carrie’s not doing much on stage as she sings part-after-part and loops one on top of the other, but the sound that comes out is hypnotizing. It’s not all angular and literal like Your Friend or as pop-influenced as STL’s Syna So Pro. Rather, one gets a pretty clear picture that Carrie listens to a lot of Grouper, but even then, C. Vadi isn’t nearly as obvious as that. Still, it was a cool set, leaving a lot of the crowd speechless, wanting more.
Farmington’s Mire Giants might have been the pleasant surprise of the night. Fronted by what I’d lazily call Frank Black’s bastard son in both stature and vocals, Mire Giants were a monumental blast that actually built on the intensity set by C. Vadi. This three piece was extremely tight and loaded with musicality. I’m not a stickler for musicianship always, but I can appreciate it when I hear and see it and Mire Giants was dripping with musicianship. The Frank Black offspring and bassist switched spots a couple of songs in and didn’t miss a beat. The drummer was on time throughout and tore through some skins like he hated them. They killed for 30 minutes but no more than how they finished as they tore the roof off Eastside, leaving smiles throughout the room.
Jowlz was up next. If I were a lazy hack – which I am – I would compare Jowlz to a cross between Uncle Tupelo and Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. I would also say that for a short set, Jowlz was just as good as those bands Saturday. I have no idea if their entire catalog stands up to that high praise, but those dudes were good. That probably says enough. But your should know that they finished their set with a ridiculously rousing rendition of “Bastards of the Young.” Yeah, that song kills every time and Jowlz nailed that shit to the wall.
I was most interested in seeing friends in Enemy Airship – sort of the flagship band of Yards and Gods. Well, their set got off to a decent start. I have always appreciated EA (and their former incarnations) as they willfully attempt to ape Television, Interpol (Turn on the Bright Lights Era, of course), and Broken Social Scene. Those comparisons are not meant to cheapen what they do. That’s just what I think of when EA plays and I enjoy what they do in the same way that I enjoy those other, better-known bands. Sadly, the set could not keep up with the first song as there were mic problems – pretty severe problems. Still, I sort of wish the band would have either continued to just jam out, turning their songs into drawn-out jams or whatever until someone figured out the mic issue. I would have been cool with them screaming the lyrics. The music EA plays is so good, I can deal with imperfection. However, that’s not how it went. To jam on would have been tough to do on the spot and the vocals in an EA song don’t usually lend themselves to screaming. Add in the fact that such a packed lineup means very little time to fuck around, the band cut their losses and packed up.
I won’t bash Eastside too much as it is a place for a lot of bands to play. Plus, it is a unique spot in the middle of a shitty downtown being taken over by frat bros and corporations. Still, the mic issue was a house problem. To their credit, owner Sal Nuccio apologized and took full blame for the mishap. Of course, that doesn’t do much for Enemy Airship missing out a chance to play for their friends and fans. Maybe next time, guys.
The night ended with a local favorite, Fliight. Imagine Pavement jamz (Crooked Rain era – California vibes, yo) with a Kathlene Hanna howl. Yeah, it was that cool. Double drummers. A steady groove, Full sound. A tamborine(!) It was a perfect ending for a pretty stellar night of local talent.
It’s good to get out again and see some local bands. For as much hubbub as I make for legendary acts or bands that are all over Pitchfork, the best part of any music scene is what exists inside of said scene. There’s nothing like the energy you get from local bands either playing their hearts out or even just fucking around. It’s often a lot more fun and surprising than seeing internationally touring acts. I’m glad I made it out Saturday. I may have to do it again soon.
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.