Beer and Pavement

Making Lists

Posted in Records by Zac on November 30, 2010

When a blogger is struggling for material[1], his best friend is the list. Just come up with a list of best/worst of or whatever, and you’re bound to produce a coherent message and definitive opinion surely to strike up a conversation[2]. When they’re good, the comments fill, Facebook notes are written in response, and traffic numbers spike. Even when the list is dumb or lame, there is sure to be no less than five comments[3].

The list is my slump-buster[4] as it were. I haven’t posted in over two weeks for various reasons. Someone contacted me and asked me to post a top-ten records of the year. So, I’m working on that. When we’re all done, a bunch of us will post it on Tumblr or something. In the meantime, I have a list to create.

Making a fine, thought-provoking list requires several things. First, there’s the preliminary list off the top of your head. If you can just think up items to include on a list without any reference, said items probably deserve at least some consideration. Of course, something will be left off and it behooves the list-maker to search out some forgotten gems before submitting the final draft.

As mentioned above, I’m sorting out my list of top ten albums of the year[5]. In the past, I’ve asked others to make my lists or have written lists for the number of days in December and beyond. Sticking to ten requires commitment and no fudging. I will pick ten, no more or no less. It will be ten definitive albums for 2010. Of course, one will have to take this list into context. I am a working stiff in his mid-thirties with a two-year-old[6]. So, my scope is a bit limited despite my credit card debt and hours logged at P4k this year. That said, here’s the preliminary list with which I’m working, eventually to chisel down to ten. Let me know where I’m going wrong and what’s missing[7].

The Walkmen’s Lisbon was not an obvious choice on first listen, but it has grown on me. No other band sounds like mid-August quite like the Walkmen do on their last two albums. Hazy evenings. Crickets. Drinks on the deck. I am a bit biased when it comes to this band[8], but they are incapable of making a bad record.

Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest has honestly not received the attention it probably deserves, so this one is still under review. However, knowing Bradford Cox’s typical output, I will find something that will sneak Halcyon Digest into the top-ten.

Pavement didn’t release a proper album of new tracks this year. What they did do is answer my prayers with a reunion tour and released maybe the single greatest best-of album I’ve ever heard[9]. Besides, how could I leave my favorite band off the list, especially with them in the name of this blog?

Arcade Fire’s Suburbs is the safe call, but is it too safe? This album is solid from front to back and possibly the group’s most complete effort thus far. Sure, it doesn’t have the hits like on Funeral or the complimentary pieces of Neon Bible, but it is something neither of those albums could be. Sometimes, the most obvious pick for a top-10 list is the best one.

Let’s Wrestle snuck into my consciousness through a compilation created by my sister for my daughter[10]. That and their name comes from a Joan of Arc line I can’t believe I haven’t tattooed on my arm yet[11] makes them all the more enticing. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s is maybe my surprise hit of the year as I had discarded any pop-punk from my collection long ago. It’s juvenile and poppy, but I love it. It’s easily my sing-along album of the year.

The Tallest Man on Earth just sounds like Dylan if he were still around[12]. The Wild Hunt is something fresh, something new in a very familiar package of rhyme, grainy vocals, and acoustic gee-tar. That’s hard to do and should be appreciated whenever we hear it.

Liars’ Sisterworld is dark and brooding and somehow punk. I can only listen to this record once in a while, because it angers me so. It’s good to reserve a place at the table for such a record.

Broken Social Scene disappointed some with Forgiveness Rock Record. For me, the band has taken on a new persona after seeing them a couple of times in the past couple of years. Before that, they were always a studio band for me. Then, once I put a face to the group, I began to hear them more sonically. This is the record that brings the live show to fruition. It’s their Wilco album[13].

Real Estate’s self-titled debut sat on my shelf for a bit, but then I heard the band live and gave them another chance. It’s a nice gem among the P4k’d crap. I don’t know that it will make the final 10, but it deserves a mention. Update – I just realized Real Estate was released last year. So, I only have to eliminate nine records.

Wolf Parade’s Expo 86 is another one of those albums that disappoints, but I’m not entirely sure why. It’s more complete, coherent than previous releases and therefore is often seen as boring or conventional. I don’t know how long it will stand the test of time, but it’s here, on this list for a good reason.

Best Coast gets ripped daily on Hipster Runoff. So, I was ready to write them off before even listening to a single track. Then, I caught them live. This is a nice record that fits well between my stacks of mid-nineties indie rock[14].

Beach House lost me with their first two records and I didn’t want to bother with this one, but that was my problem. Again, seeing the band live helped me get them and for that I’m thankful. There’s not a bad track on this record. That’s just not done anymore.

Here We Go Magic was suggested to me and I listened. I listened a lot, but then I became busy with other records. So, before this one makes the list or doesn’t, I will have to listen to it again[15].

Los Campesinos!’s Romance Is Boring is pretty fun and probably deserves a spot next to Let’s Wrestle. It’s good that the Brits[16] are listening to our indie rock and doing all they can to replicate it. This has worked out well for them (the British) in the past (see The Beatles, Rolling Stones).

The Soft Pack used to be Muslims before converting[17]. The result was a pretty angry record with intense focus and drive. The anger is felt and the focus and drive carry the record from start to finish. I don’t know that it will make the final ten, but it’s good enough to be considered.

The National’s High Violet is either the year’s best record or the best Coldplay record. I can’t decide.

Quasi is the Rodney Dangerfield of indie bands, make that indie super bands. American Gong will make no one’s best of list and that’s a shame. For that reason, it may have to make mine.

Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz is all I listen to at the moment. For that reason, it deserves consideration. Also for that reason, I need to step away to see if I’ll feel that way forever.

Spoon’s Transference is not the greatest Spoon record ever. Of course, 99% of the bands out there would love to make an album this good. I will have to think long and hard about this one[18]. I may leave it off, because, well, I have to leave something out.

Corin Tucker Band is a bit of a surprise in several ways. First, I never thought Tucker would do a solo project outside of parenting and whatever she currently does for a living[19]. Second, this record is so not a Sleater-Kinney-light record. Third, Corin Tucker can write a good song. I don’t know why all this surprised me. I think I just saw Tucker as a piece in Sleater-Kinney, something that was greater than its parts. I need to listen some more, but this album is streaking down the stretch.

A conversation on Facebook has me considering The Badus Band, Disappears, Weekend, Scarecrow Frequency, Jim O’Rourke, Born Ruffians, Tame Impala, Screaming Females, and Double Dagger. However, I doubt I will have time nor money to listen to all of those releases before my final list “goes to press”. So, in the meantime, comment on what you see here. Am I missing something? Am I way off on something? What should my final ten look like?

As always, comments are welcome and the footnotes explain so much more about my thinking.

Notes:
1Which for me is a lot. I haven’t finished a post here in over two weeks. And often when I do publish a post, it’s unfinished.
2However, I recognize how superficial a list can be. I hate that Rolling Stone just does lists now, lists that they often re-remember by conveniently forgetting that they panned Smells Like Teen Spirit or whatever. The list lacks depth, but it opens the door for more interesting discussion. Hell, I’m writing a list that will lead to another list.
3Even if a third of the comments are mine and another third happen on Facebook or Twitter. I suspect three of you (or hopefully more) will comment here; I’ll respond twice; and one or two of my FB friends who hate to comment on this blog will comment there.
4Typically, the term “slump-buster” is reserved for that one-night stand that ends a long slump without getting any action. Since I blog and am happily married, this is my slump-buster. I wonder how many hits I’ll get for using the term “slump-buster”?
5There will be a beer angle as well, just not a separate best of 2010 beer list. It feels forced to do both. Besides, I have a great idea for working in some great beers to this list.
6Oddly, she used to sleep a lot more and I had more time for blogging. Now, night time is a full-on major undertaking and I’m too exhausted to write.
7However, as will be explained later in this post (above the footnotes), I don’t have time nor money to listen to all of your suggestions. So, it may be best to just comment on what’s here and not much that isn’t.
8To some, this will sound blasphemous, but The Walkmen are my new Pavement. I haven’t worked out exactly why, but they do for me what Pavement once did and I suspect they will have the same staying power when I’m old and gray. This is surely a post to come.
9I’ve noticed that seeing a band live and in support of a current release often elevates said release in my estimation of its greatness. Half of these records would never be on my radar without seeing the bands live. Something can be said for that. I guess I just did.
10Who has impeccable taste for a two-year-old.
11First, I said “yet”. Second, that would have been cool/sexy when I was a skinny college kid with an indie addiction. Now, it’s probably just creepy.
12Such a lazy comparison, but every time I put this record on, someone inevitably makes the Dylan comparison. It’s more in the aesthetic than in the message, but it’s apt.
13Which means that everything they release from here on out will suck in that sort of benign al.country way and invite douche-bags in hats and granolas to dance drunkenly in endless circles in whichever arena they choose to play next.
14This has been an interesting time to listen to all these “new” bands that just sound like the bands I saw in clubs 15 or so years ago. It’s been nice to hear a familiar aesthetic in new music.
15And after working on all these stupid footnotes, I have had a chance to listen again. It really is a good, varied record. Considering it for the list as I type this.
16I think they’re actually Welsh, so “Brits” is not meant as an insult if it is an insult.
17It was just a name change.
18Someone described it as “Pop songs stripped to the core and made weird.” This simple phrase paints Transference in a new light for me. There is much about which to think.
19Because there is no way she’s living off Sleater-Kinney royalties, unless they made a shit-ton of money opening for Pearl Jam a few years back.

Pitchfork Recap

Posted in Live by Zac on July 20, 2010

Aluminum Stage - LCD Soundsystem

I had a lot of ideas for blogging post-Pitchfork, but figured most of you would just want a rundown of the bands. Included are a few of the pictures that actually turned out. I’m decent with close-up angles and whatnot, but I can’t get the hang of the zoom, holding still, or context from a distance. So, there are very few good pictures to share [1].

So, without further ado, here’s my take on this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival…

Broken Social SceneFriday
The train actually arrived somewhat on time for me to catch a cab to my hotel and make the Metro with enough of a window to make The Tallest Man on Earth’s set (or at least part of it). However, I soon realized my ticket was still in my hotel room. So, I missed the first performer on my list to see. No worries as it gave me time to figure out the festival layout, grab some food, drink a beer, and buy a Pitchfork t-shirt for my child[2].

First up for me was Liars. Something can be said for a man in a sleeveless Men At Work t-shirt providing deep, foreboding vocals over a dark, punk rawk onslaught. Well, the t-shirt was a one-time thing, me thinks, but the rest of it was all Liars. They absolutely assaulted the crowd with their uneasy, tension-heavy, Slint-like dirges. I don’t know what it is, but dark, ominous bands like this work for outdoor summer music festivals. The contrast is striking. They don’t give a shit as their pale skin burns in the sun and the band expects nothing less than for the audience to pay attention, bobbing heads to the beat of their somber message. To say the least, it was a quite a start to the weekend.

For something lighter, I headed to the Balance stage for the comedic stylings of Wyatt Cenac – yes, that Wyatt Cenac. Before the Daily Show correspondent came on, Hannibal Burress[3] was wrapping up. He was comfortable and fluid, even at ease with the crowd of music fans and hipsters. Then, Cenac came out. He started slow and built some momentum before he completely flopped. Something changed[4]. I don’t know whether a joke missed or what, but Cenac just sort of stuttered through the rest of his bit. I chose to move on instead of watching this sinking ship.

I opted to skip Robyn[5] and wait over at the Connector stage for Broken Social Scene to commence. And commence they did as the current line-up bounced around their catalog seamlessly. They were much more focused than the last time I caught them. Of course, the set times at a festival such as Pitchfork mean more concise setlists. Still, BSS were a lot of fun. That was apparent as they started with new rocker “World Sick” but followed it with the BSS classic “Stars and Sons”. The set was about as perfect as could be expected[6].

Modest Mouse closed out the first day on the main stage, also known as the Aluminum. I was beat from the day’s travel, so I hung back to for the set. As I wore a 13-year-old Modest Mouse t-shirt[7], I remembered the days of seeing this band in small clubs. I appreciate those opportunities so much more now as Modest Mouse has long ago made the transition to this sort of stage and spot in a festival lineup. Funny, the one song that probably put them in that position (“Float On”) was not a part of the setlist[8], but “Dramamine” was and I was taken back to the show where I bought that t-shirt in a club with washing machines in Cincinnati[9]. It reminded me that I still like Modest Mouse, possibly more out of a feeling of nostalgia than anything they record these days. Either way, it was a nice way to close out the evening.

I beat the crowd[10] and searched out a bar with a nice tap and bottle list. I sipped a Two Brothers Hop Juice which was the perfect antidote for a road-weary traveler. I liked the beer so much that I made a point to bring a bomber home, among several other select brews. More on all that in a future post[11].

Saturday
This was my first full day in the city, so I intended to take advantage. Near Union Park where the festival was being held, there was a restaurant/bar called Twisted Spoke. A graveyard of motorcycles sat out front, but inside was an impressive bar with even a more impressive beer selection. The list was so good that I contemplated hanging around for a late morning beer[12] or at least a return for beers in the evening. However, it was not in the cards. Instead, I loaded up on calories with a passable breakfast burrito. Still, the Twisted Spoke will be on the list for my next Chicago trip, whenever that is.

There were a lot of early performers on Saturday’s lineup I wanted to at least catch a glance so as to form a more complete opinion of their work. First up was Netherfriends, a Chicago band whose releases are put out on the Columbia, MO label Emergency Umbrella. They were much sharper in my opinion than last summer’s EU showcase. I made sure to catch Free Energy over on the Aluminum stage and just couldn’t get into the cheesy hippie vibe they were selling. Think of every cheesy pop-rock hit of the 70′s and 80′s and there you have Free Energy. It’s funny how recycled sounds in music are often confused for innovation[13].

Real Estate[14] took over Connector. What came out was a pleasant surprise as they recalled my entire college years of going to see bands trying to emulate Pavement with their oddly hooky melodies and odder guitar tunings. They were good enough to make my list of bands with LP’s to purchase. Part way through, I caught a moment or two of Sonny & the Sunsets at Balance…but I really don’t remember much. They were poppy, entertaining, sort of doo-wop retro or something. They weren’t as annoying as Free Energy, but they also weren’t as memorable either. So, I returned for the rest of Real Estate’s stellar set.

I watched a couple of pointless minutes of Delorean[15] before heading to Balance for Kurt Vile. Where Real Estate reminded me of the local bands I used to see and love, Vile reminded me of many of my nineties heroes. With his long hair in his face, shoegazing, I was reminded on several occasions of another Kurt. His form of garage rock made me think of everything from the hinted-at Nirvana to Guided By Voices to Dinosaur Jr[16]. Kurt Vile’s catalog certainly deserves a closer listen than the one EP I currently own[17].

Sadly, I had to leave Vile’s set early in order to catch the opening of Titus Andronicus’ Connector performance. Although leaving before Vile completed was unfortunate, it was well-worth it as Titus put on one of the more impassioned sets of the festival. I knew they would be a great live band, but it was even better than expected. Luckily, the next act on Connector was another rawk outfit[18] in The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. JSBX was in mid-nineties form and quite possibly was the best-dressed act of the weekend[19]. The band ripped through a mixture of the old and newish, showing the kids what rock ‘n roll is all about. The last two times I had seen them, they played too little (about 10 minutes) and way too much (somewhere in the ballpark of 2.5 hours[20]). So, it was great to hear/see a blistering sub-hour-long set from the old men of rawk.

I quickly made it over to a rather crowded Aluminum stage for Wolf Parade’s turn. I’ve loved this band for a while and have greatly anticipated seeing them. Keeping the pace set by Titus and JSBX (sans a brief and awkward interruption from former Wu Tanger Raekwon[21]), Wolf Parade did not disappoint, opting for little banter and preferring to just play. The cool synth sounds of Spencer Krug balanced perfectly with Dan Boeckner’s  rock licks. This was something I’ve always known, but it actually translated live in the early evening sun.

Originally, my plan at this point was to skip the last two acts and hit a brewery, but the long day took it’s toll. I opted instead to stay for Panda Bear and LCD Soundsystem. Panda Bear was interesting, even somewhat enjoyable. However, it was a bit of a snore for an outdoor music festival. LCD Soundsystem, on the other hand, were really pretty good, revealing to me their appeal. LCD is a rock band making dance music or DJ’s making rock music or something like that. Anyway, I enjoyed much of their set, but had to sneak out early in preparation for day 3.

Sunday
Day 3 was easily the best day of the festival. Besides the headliner, the day was loaded with the best buzz bands and most eclectic mix. I spent more time at the Balance stage than the first two days as its lineup was packed with interesting bands all day long. At some point, sacrifices had to be made.

I saw very little of CAVE, a Chicago band with Columbia connections, due to a 20 minute thunderstorm which wreaked havoc on the stage’s sound system[22]. The stage was running behind for the rest of the day. With CAVE’s late start, I decided to head over to see Allá. Despite the Latin flair in their promotional material, I didn’t catch much of a Latin presence aside from three of the band member’s perceived ethnicity. What I did detect is some good, old-fashioned grunge. This band would have thrived circa 1992. Sunday, they were good enough to demand some attention. I later returned to see CAVE’s rather impressive finale.

At this point, the dance between stages had only begun. I moved between sets by Cass McCombs (think Elvis Costello pop sensibility in front of a garage band), Best Coast (surprisingly great), Girls (infinitely better than the last time I saw them), Local Natives (White Rabbits with more punch and harmonizing, if that’s possible), Beach House (more below), Lightning Bolt (freakishly entertaining[23]), and Surfer Blood (also see below).

I bought the first Beach House record and haven’t really gone back for more. The record was good, but I didn’t really grasp what they were doing that was so great. This year’s release was getting a fair amount of pub, so I made a point to check them out on Sunday. I’m glad I did as their sets was easily one of the top five of the festival. The music reminded me of Cat Power, pre-R&B obsession and without all the crazy. I get their appeal now. Beach House won me over this weekend.

Another band I was not sold on was Surfer Blood. Their debut was fine enough, but I wasn’t sure what it was doing. Was it alt.country? Was it straight-up rock similar to Soft Pack? Was it bland adult-alternative crap? Their live show cleared up the confusion. More than almost any other band in this year’s lineup (along with Real Estate), Surfer Blood reminded me of Pavement. The vocals were more American-meets-Manchester and the musicianship may have been better, but it was very Pavement-esque. They’re not a Pavement clone, but they’ve gleaned enough to make some pretty compelling rock music.

This was the point in the day I made a decision. I didn’t need to see any other band besides Pavement. I skipped out on Here We Go Magic, a band I was really wanting to see. I did this just so I could set up shop 10-15 feet from the Aluminum stage where Pavement would play three hours later. From this spot, I “watched” St. Vincent tear up the Connector stage. She was really impressive, much more so than when I saw her open for Andrew Bird, but I didn’t leave my spot. I survived Major Lazer and waited through Big Boi just to stay near the stage.

Before moving on, I have to write something about Major Lazer. Major Lazer is a DJ, hype man, and various dancers. That hype man and the two featured female dancers simulated sex on stage while downing copious amounts of alcohol. I’m no prude, but this was some raunchy-ass shit. We’re talking doggy-style, legs wrapped around waists, and even sexual acts involving one participant launching himself[24] from a ladder onto his “dance partner”. Of course, the music is sexually charged as anything I’ve heard. Whatever. It was highly entertaining. I can’t say that I’m a Major Lazer fan, but it could have been worse.

Big Boi played the other stage and then there was Pavement.

It was as if they had never left. The band, somehow frozen in time, took the stage in their customary positions – SM on the left[25], Ibold center-stage, Spiral Stairs on the right, Nasty & West in the back – and promptly false-started their first song. The second try at “Cut Your Hair” went much smoother. This was exactly as I remember my favorite band even after eleven years of silence. They were perfectly imperfect from the beginning. There’s so much more for me to say about Pavement that won’t fit in this post. I’ll do another just on their set later this week. Just know that it was as good as advertised. I can’t wait to see them again in September.

That was my weekend. I had some time on Monday to wander Chicago and grab some more beer to take home. The train was over an hour behind schedule, but that didn’t dampen my mood. There will be more on Pavement and Chicago’s status as a beer destination later this week. So, stay tuned. In the meantime, read through the footnotes[26].

Notes:
1And I use the term “good pictures” rather loosely.
2This is where I am in my life now. I buy rock concert t-shirts for my kid. It’s no longer about me proving to everyone how rock ‘n roll I am. It’s now about proving to everyone how rock ‘n roll my kid is. I don’t know whether it’s pathetic or sweet.
3He claimed to have a gig with Saturday Night Live. I believed him, but I thought for sure Lorne Michaels had a one-black-dude limit. I could be wrong though.
4I think it had to do with the noise from the other stages.
5If I want pop, I’ll go to a Brittney concert. Seriously, from what I could hear, it was downright awful. Of course, I know some dudes who would disagree.
6Although, Brendan Canning looked like a middle-aged woman with his slightly over-sized glasses, bright tank top, and feathered hairdo. Kevin Drew looked like a skinnier, younger Jeff Tweedy in his panama and sunglasses. Still, they were quite excellent musically.
7This breaks maybe the biggest rule in my concert-going rulebook. You should never be that guy who wears a band t-shirt for the band you are seeing. However, I considered two facts as exceptions to the rule. First, this t-shirt, along with JSBX and Pavement t-shirts worn the next two days, is more than a decade old, featuring bands from my college days. Second, outdoor summer festivals have different rules in general regarding such things. I believe I was well-within my right to wear these t-shirts.
8I will not lose any sleep over this fact.
9It’s called Sudsy Malones. I had a beard and wore a thrift store sweater like every day back then. We actually got to meet Isaac Brock that night. He offered us beers, giving three of us one and keeping one for himself as he hit on a female companion of ours and our brother’s roommate who had similar Buddhist-inspired tattoos as Brock.
10Encores were put in place for old people like myself to slip out before the kids clog the exits.
11My beer adventures were not that impressive on this trip, but I do have an impression as to what kind of beer city Chicago is.
12I really wanted a Founders Cerise, but figured 11:00 am was too early for a beer. And with the temperatures expected in the 90′s, getting an early start with the alcohol was not the best of ideas.
13Yes, I do recognize that many of the bands I praise on this blog do the same thing. However, they often emulate bands I also like. So, reinvention is great when it’s something worth recycling.
14Mentioning this band will undoubtedly get me some SPAM comments from real estate agents. I was able to Tweet one thing about Real Estate and I now have real estate agents from all over the country following me.
15In all fairness, Delorean played really hard. They just aren’t my cup of tea. I’m OK with synth music and music intended for dance clubs. I just don’t like a lot of it disguised as an indie band. Is that close-minded? Probably. Do I care? Not really.
16I realized that Vile toured with Dinosaur Jr upon purchasing a concert poster in the fest’s gallery of poster makers. It’s a Dinosaur Jr poster featuring a wine bottle just before it is de-corked. Kurt Vile is listed as an opener.
17The EP isn’t terrible. It’s just full of a tracks that sound like he’s fucking around. Vile’s live show is way more compelling than fucking around.
18Although I am not anti-keyboards, I grow weary of them after a while. Just play some guitar, dammit.
19I am particularly talking about Jon’s pants. He wore black vinyl with neon green stitching and he owned those pants.
20Oddly enough, that show was also a summer festival in a major city, sponsored by an entertainment rag. It was the inaugural Village Voice Siren Festival on Coney Island.
21OK. I am also not anti-hip hop. I love the Wu and a lot of other hip hop acts. I just often have a hard time with alt rock festivals throwing some hip hop acts into the lineup and then watching a bunch of middle-class white kids getting all gangsta for an hour. It’s fine if it’s your thing. I’m just not that into it.
22But it allowed me to check out some of the vendors a little more closely. I picked up the 33⅓ take on Wowee Zowee which I digested on the train ride back to Missouri.
23Lightning Bolt is two dudes. One plays bass. The other plays drums with some sort of mask. There’s a mic inside the mask which muffles everything the drumming screamed over their music. Oh, and they played ridiculously fast. If you ever get a chance to see them live, do it.
24And herself.
25Almost to the point that he was by himself, playing toward his band mates.
26I suspect this was a lot easier to read than past posts, given that I now have added anchored footnotes. Thanks David for the idea.

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