Beer and Pavement

Beer Review: Stillwater Artisanal Ales Cellar Door

Posted in Beer, Review, Uncategorized by Zac on January 10, 2012

Beer: Cellar Door

Brewery: Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Baltimore/gypsy)

Style: Wit

Glass: tulip

Context: We had cod for dinner. Wits and Saisons are good to pair with most any fish. Why not pair a Wit brewed with Saison yeast? There was nothing special about the evening. We have a mouse infestation and I had spent the day cleaning out cupboards and finding places to put all the things we kept in said cupboards until our mouse problem was gone. The three-year-old has been a bit more challenging as of late. So, I needed a drink. Cellar Door, though really difficult to get in these parts, hit the spot.

Appearance: Cloudy orange with a lot of carbonation featuring foamy bubbles and loose lacing. Specks of yeast stuck to the bottom of the glass, a reminder of all the good things happening in the bottle.

Aroma: There’s a peppery spiciness to this beer which the carbonation helps to deliver. Also present is citrus and a hint of sage.

Palate: This is where the carbonation goes to work, attacking all corners of your mouth with aggression. I don’t think it’s over-carbonated, but this aspect of the beer delivers a full mouthfeel without the prerequisite thickness. Instead, that fullness is created with bubbles, delivering the best aspects of the pepper and citrus notes found in the aroma. Once it settles, the experience is quite enjoyable, soft even.

Flavor: The same things were sensed in my mouth as was in my nose. Pepper, citrus (lemon, orange), and a hint of sage.

Suggested Soundtrack:  Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground by Bright Eyes in all its triumphant, angsty glory would be the proper celebratory soundtrack for this beer. The dynamics of this album are all over the place, allowing the listener to enjoy all the aspects of Cellar Door from the light citrus aromas and flavors to that aggressive, palate-cleansing carbonation. Bright Eyes’ recognizes the strength he gains from friendship and lessons of loss to create what I think is one of his most overlooked gems. The story of this beer is in the soil…beneath the soil, in a cellar even. So, keep your ear to the ground and maybe some Cellar Door will make it to your market. (Or something like that.)

Thoughts: There’s word that Stillwater is doubling production. So, maybe we’ll see more Cellar Door and other brews from Stillwater. That’s really my only complaint about Brian’s beers. Of course, if that’s my only problem, I can deal with it just as long as some Cellar Door finds its way into my glass now and again.

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Top 5 Indie Band Tribute Beers

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Pavement by Zac on January 9, 2012

See? That’s Sam Calagione with a GBV shirt on.

In last week’s top-5, I predicted there would be some indie rock tribute beers this year. Since I want to be part of the solution and not the problem, I have decided to post five possible examples of beers that could be brewed as a way to properly recognize the chemistry that exists between indie rock and craft beer.

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

4. Stillwater Bright Eyes Angst-Ridden Saison, Aged in Red Wine Barrels – I once had a pretty in-depth discussion about Bright Eyes with Stillwater brewer Brian Strumke. So, I know he’s a fan and would totally be into this sort of thing. I also know that Conor Oberst loved some red wine. If anyone could figure out a way to brew the perfect beer involving a red wine barrel (Pinot Noir possibly?), it’s Brian. This is actually the beer on this list that I personally think has the best chance of actually happening.

3. The Bruery Pavement Pilsner, AKA Watery Domestic – Of course I had to figure out a way to work Pavement into a beer. I suspect The Bruery could tap into Pavement’s Northern California aesthetic from their early days and brew their first commercially-available pilsner in the process. Since it’s from The Bruery, expect some flavors and adjuncts that will throw you for a loop.

2. Shmaltz Brewing Company He’Brew Yo La Tengo Barley Wine – A better brewery and band pairing would be hard to conjure. Shmaltz calls NYC home and specializes in Jewish-themed brews with their He’Brew line, particularly their Hanukkah gift pack. Yo La Tengo hails from across the river in Hoboken, but they spend a lot of time in the City. Every year, YLT celebrates their Jewish heritage with a set of shows each night of Hanukkah. A huge barley wine that improves with age would be ideal.

1. Just About Any Portland Brewery to Brew an IPA in Honor of Just About Any Portland Band – I get that this will be seen as a cop-out, but how could one narrow Portland’s beer and music scenes to just one brewery and one band. The one thing that isn’t hard to figure out is the beer’s style. An IPA makes the most sense here as some of the best come from Portland. Their bitterness can be a turn-off for some at first, but eventually the joy that is a Wests Coast IPA is discovered. The same goes for the average Portland indie band.

Update: This happened today. Let’s get on this, Stillwater, Bruery, Schmaltz, et al.

Just Outside the Top 10 of 2011 (Albums)

Posted in Records by Zac on December 13, 2011

Coming up with one’s ten best albums of the year is tough. I’ve done more than that, but narrowing a list to ten is a much more difficult task than simply naming all the albums you bought in a year. Also, I have the terrible habit of proclaiming albums to be the year’s best long before I should. Then, there are all the albums that simply have not been given the time they deserve.

That said, I have narrowed my list to nine. All I need is one more, but the list that follows is what I have left to consider. Sure, I might miss a few when it’s all said and done, but these are albums I’m still considering for one spot. Feel free to comment on what’s here and what isn’t. Keep in mind that I already chose nine to make the final cut. I just need one more…

The Albums I Haven’t Listened to Enough Even Though I’ve Had Them for Awhile: So, I’ve had some of these records almost since they were first released this year, but for whatever reason, I just haven’t had time to give them a proper listen. All of the albums in this group deserve serious consideration as I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks trying to get reacquainted.

Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
As I was considering my favorite tracks of the year, I rediscovered “Wake and Be Fine” on another list of top songs. It made me want to rediscover this album just to make sure I didn’t overlook it. I had. While the narratives and poetic flourishes Will Sheff normally demonstrates in his songwriting is somewhat subdued in order to make room for more hooks, the production and instrumental dynamics more than make up for it.

Joan of Arc – Life Like
Honestly, I could write something up that just tells you all I know and/or think about previous JoA records prior to this one and it might be somehow accurate in describing this record. However, I won’t tell you anything. Just know that it’s long overdue a sit-and-git. Maybe I’ll pour a beer also deserving my attention. Either way, I remember loving portions of it, but I never listened to it and it landed on the island of forgotten LP’s.

BOAT – Dress Like Your Idols
The poor man’s Yuck, possibly, deserves more listens. I’ve actually been playing the shit out of it lately, giving it a hard look for the final slot in my list. It’s loaded with all kinds of nods to my heroes and theirs (apparently). The aesthetic reminds me tons of the sort of nineties retro indie that The Soft Pack and Surfer Blood play. It’s good stuff but nothing earth-shattering.

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
What a massively great album this is. Why isn’t it in my top-10 already? I really haven’t listened to it enough to make that decision. Maybe I’d hear that one bit that put it over the edge or make it unworthy of top-10 status. I don’t know. I blame the fact that Sub Pop’s digital download system didn’t work and I never bothered to follow up.

Low – C’mon
I loved this album a lot from the beginning, but I worried that I wasn’t giving it enough distance. Then, I gave it too much distance and nearly forgot. It seemed too perfect of an album to be Low’s and maybe I was missing something. That’s not saying Low doesn’t make great albums. I’m just surprised a Low album could contain so many memorable songs. Albums are their thing, not singles.

The Albums that I, for Whatever Reason, Did Not Purchase This Year: I know these bands are good. I’ve read and heard enough to know that these albums should be considered. Why I still haven’t purchased them is unknown to me. Luckily, there’s Spotify. I’ve been trying to catch up on some material I missed over the year. More than likely, I will own all of these albums by February. Still, they sit collectively just outside my top-10.

War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
I don’t know how one determines Spotify statistics, but I’m sure I’ve played this album more than all others over the past month while at my computer. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy this album, nor did I go see them when they came to town. It makes no sense and this record is pretty good.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
See above, aside from the not seeing him even though he was in town, because he was not in town this year. I loved his set at Pitchfork last year and loved whichever record I do own. The crime of not owning this record will be rectified soon enough.

Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
I own the other two Moore solo efforts plus a handful of weird records he’s done over the years. I have been loving anything Beck produces as of late – maybe my producer of the year. I am a Sonic Youth fan of like 20 years. So, why don’t I own this record? I have no idea. Now, I’m seeing it pop up on lists and I’m wondering what I’ve missed. Better give it another listen on Spotify.

I Saw These Guys and Was Impressed, So Their Albums Deserve Another Look: The following two acts were among those I saw play live. Somehow, I don’t own either album they were supporting. Upon considering the shows I’ve seen this year, that was an egregious oversight on my part. I’ll rectify it at least by giving them props where props is due.

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
I made sure to see Callahan while in DC earlier this year, but I didn’t buy the record. Even his track “America” made my top tracks list. It’s a crime that I don’t yet own this record.

Jay-Z/Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Going to see Jay-Z and Kanye West forced me to play this album a ton on Spotify as a way to prep myself. Typically, I don’t like hip-hop records because they are single-heavy and loaded with filler. This album was different as it was complete from beginning to end. So, it deserves some consideration.

The Bands I’m Just Not Sure About at this Juncture: For various reasons, a few bands fell into this category. Some I loved right away, but I don’t know that it’s a long-lasting love, like for life kind of love. These albums still deserve some consideration, though.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
At one point, I was ready to name this “album of the year”, but something made me reconsider. It may have been seeing so many bros in the Fleet Foxes camp or my general distaste for hippies. I don’t know. It’s still very, very good. I’m just not ready to commit to including it in the top-10, yet.

Beirut – The Rip Tide
This might be the most complete and realized album of Beirut’s string of excellent albums, but I don’t know that it qualifies this year. In year’s past when I’ve had a hard time thinking of ten albums I like, it would have held down a seven spot. However, I have found an embarrassment of riches in this year’s crop. Beirut’s record is good, but it might not be top-10 good.

Destroyer – Kaputt
This was another album I was ready to crown early in the year, but it seems its eighties aesthetic finally rubbed me the wrong way. Bejar writes a pretty awesome song and somehow harnessed bad Casios to sound cool and even contemporary, but I lost my patience for this record over time. Then, I saw it make a few lists of people I respect, causing me to pause for a moment. Should I reconsider Kaputt?

WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain
This album popped up on my radar since its June release or sometime shortly before that thanks in large part to their underground marketing schemes online. It’s big, epic, and incoherent in ways I’ve never heard before. That usually means that it goes directly to my top-10 list, but this year’s list is loaded and I only just laid my hands on this record, maybe six months after its release. So, it may still take time to decide on this one.

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
Bright Eyes has gone down hill, but this album grew on me for a while, especially after seeing the band on its final trip across the country. Also, it’s been receiving some recognition, making me think that I need to revisit. Of all these records, it may have the longest shot, but it’s still a worthwhile album.

Albums by Locals That Were Really Good and Maybe Could Use a Bump from the Coalition: I don’t often hear local releases that

Ptarmigan – The Forest Darling
I said it back in May and I’ll say it again, Ptarmigan put out a great record that stands out locally or beyond. Read what I thought here and I’ll let that stand on its own.

Dubb Nubb – Sunrise Sleepeyed
It’s hard to believe sometimes that Dubb Nubb are so young as their songs demonstrate a wisdom well beyond their years. On top of that, they have an infectious sound that’s hard not to notice. I’m looking forward to seeing them play again at True/False in 2012.

Jerusalem & the Starbaskets – Dost
Dost is getting some good press and deservedly so. Lo-fi and blues revivalism with a touch of country seem to be coming along at just the right time. The band is touring extensively, but I have to believe that their one big opening gig from breaking. People eat this shit up. I do.

That’s not even the final list. As mentioned before, I have nine other albums I love more than these, but I felt they all deserved some mention and the benefit of 100 page views. Which one would you pick to add to my top-10? Did any of these make your list? Comment freely. My top-10 will hit eventually. There will probably be something similar for beer as well.

Twenty Best Songs of 2011

Posted in MoL, Records by Zac on December 7, 2011

I don’t always do lists for best song, but I’ve paid particular attention to a few that have drilled holes into my brain and set up permanent residence. Most are the regulars but some might surprise. Also, I’m ranking art, y’all.

1. “Senator” – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – This, unsurprisingly is a sign of things to come, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why no one is on this bandwagon. Just listen to the song.

2. “Another State” – Dee Bird – Here’s a local song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head all year. It’s simple, lovely, and connected to this past summer’s visit from the cicadas. One-half of the twindie duo Dubb Nubb creates easily my favorite local track in years.

3. “Rubber” – Yuck  – Shoegazing, drugged, grungy, feedback-riddled, slacker rock just makes me feel 18 again. Yuck are great nineties revivalists that have captured the decade of my youth and for that, I am eternally grateful. BTW, the video is NSFW. Also considered “The Wall”

4. “Gangsta” – Tune-Yards – Tune-Yards has masterfully figured out how to make dance-able indie rock, utilizing big beats, emo vocals, and the essential loud-quiet-loud dynamic. Although I came into possession of this album late, the songs have been running in my head all year. “Gangsta” is a standout. Also considered: “Bizness”

5. “Michael Jackson” – Das Racist – I like humor and weirdness in my hip-hop. I also like a hook. “Michael Jackson” has it all. After 3 hours of Jay-Z and Kanye West, all I could hear in my head was this track.

6. “Future Crimes” – Wild Flag – This song is just so full of angst and urgency. It makes me uncomfortable in my skin. It makes me want to dance. For me, this is the highlight of one of the year’s best albums. Also considered: “Romance”

7. “Mother” – Wye Oak (cover) – This one was from the A.V. Club’s Undercover series where bands passing through would record a song from a list of suggestions. Wye Oak eventually released this one as well as their first Undercover appearance playing a Kinks song. Also considered: “Holy Holy”

8. “Go Outside” – Cults – For my money, this was the song of the summer. Isn’t going outside all we want to do when it’s so nice out and we have to sit inside working all day?

9. “Ni**as in Paris” – Jay-Z/Kanye West – This is a pretty wicked song that the duo played like three times to close out their show in Kansas City.  There’s also the perfectly timed and placed sample from Blades of Glory. (NSFW) Also considered “Otis”

10. “Helplessness Blues” – Fleet Foxes – Epic and sprawling, the title track from this year’s Fleet Foxes release all of that and a bag of granola. The sentiment is a bit sappy, but as with most FF tracks, it’s all in the vocal performances. This album faded for me down the stretch, but this track stood strong.

11. “Shell Games” – Bright Eyes – It’s been a long while since I would have ranked a Bright Eyes song so high on a year-end list. The album is really uneven, but when Conor Oberst gets a song right, he really gets it right. The song’s so upbeat for a Bright Eyes track that it’s almost a pop crossover hit.

12. “Ice Cream” – Battles – I can stand Battles in small doses, but those doses are pretty incredible. This song is so bizarre that it appeals to that teenage, indie geek inside me. (NSFW)

13. “Video Games” – Lana Del Ray – OK. Let’s ignore all the hype and debate over her authenticity. This song took the world – indie and otherwise – by storm this year. It’s haunting and beautiful with a highly contemporary narrative. Yes, I’ve fallen for it as well. I probably won’t buy the album, but I’ll listen to this song whenever possible.

14. “America!” – Bill Callahan – I got to see Bill Callahan this summer in Washington, D.C. and this song stuck out. For some reason, I haven’t picked up this record. That may have to be rectified in the coming weeks.

15. “Perth” Bon Iver – Justin Vernon outgrew his cabin in the woods with this one. I mean, there are actual electric guitars in there. Some of his latest effort strayed from the cabin fever he spread across the land his first time out, but even with some electric guitars this track shows Vernon at his atmospheric best.

16. “My Mistakes” – Eleanor Friedberger – This song should describe the conversation I had with Eleanor Friedberger . Nonetheless, this song translates well live, but it doesn’t have to as it’s just a great rock song.

17. “Wake and Be Fine” – Okkervil River – Somehow, I’ve forgotten about this album over the course of the year. Luckily, I remember being pretty excited for its release when this video was released. The big sound played well with the video’s cinematography.

18. “Try to Sleep” – Low – Low really hit it out of the park with this year’s release. “Try to Sleep” was probably the closest they’ll ever come to a hit. It’s sleepy and melodic, much more upbeat than their usual shtick. Also considered “Witches”

19. “For the One” – Waters – Port O’Brien broke up and another narrative was born when Waters was thought up. “For the One” is what Port O’Brien sounded like had they wanted to rock. The Waters album as a whole does not always deliver, but the first single does.

20. “Santa Fe” – Beirut – For several albums, I’ve been curious what Beirut would sound like when not emulating the music and culture of wherever his muse was residing at the time. “Santa Fe” is that song.

As always, what did I forget? What are you favorite songs of 2011?

Top 5: Xmas Records

Posted in Records, Top 5 by Zac on December 5, 2011

I debated waiting to post this until the 19th, but I thought you’d all like a chance to set up your Spotify play lists or go record shopping. Know that the following albums should fill your Xmas with happiness and joy and they won’t suck too badly. Also, I tried to focus on only those albums that have a decidedly indie slant to them. All the artists may or may not be currently on indie labels or even considered indie, but the sentiment is pure indie and the execution is all craft.

Also, I considered compilations, but that just seemed too easy. These are full albums by indie artists that contain nothing but Christmas songs. An interesting fact about me is that I love Christmas music. I don’t necessarily get into most holiday traditions, but I love interesting Christmas music. I used to give mixed tapes as gifts.

Anyway, here’s a list of the five best indie Christmas albums. I may do one of my favorite songs next week or the week after. Also, be on the lookout for a beer post thematically similar…

5. Aimee Mann – One More Drifter in the Snow
Aimee Mann does mopey, sad music better than anyone. This is the type of thing I enjoy when countering all the happy joy joy that runs rampant this time of year. Sadly, her best Christmas song , “Christmastime,” is not even the best version of the song. You’ll have to hunt down the track with Michael Penn, appearing on the holiday compilation album, Just Say Noël.

4. She & Him – A Very She and Him Christmas
Some may be on Zooey Deschanel overload, but She and  Him partner M Ward do some nice stripped-down versions of Christmas classics old and new. Plus, your indie cred will go up when you put on a record from Merge.

3. Bright Eyes – A Christmas Album
I know folks have their issues with Conor Oberst, but this album released to raise money for a Nebraska AIDS charity (They have AIDS in Nebraska?) is valuable find if you can locate it. Other than the strange reading of the “A Night Before Christmas,” Oberst and friends put a rather stark and desolate holiday season. You’ll notice this trend in the odd-numbered albums on this list.

2. Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas
I have the free download of this album, as that’s how it was originally released. Since then, the Saint of Hipster Christians has released a 4-disc album of a pretty complete collection of Christmas tunes. This album was recorded during the manic, hyper-productive period for Sufjan Stevens when it seemed possible he’d actually write and record an album for every state. Oh well.

1. Low – Christmas
This EP just barely qualifies for the list, but for what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up in quality. Low somehow captures the dark, lonely side of Christmas while creating a record of both old favorites and original soon-to-be-classics. You may not care for all of the artists above, but you have to own this record.

Bright Eyes, Conduits

Posted in Live by Zac on August 8, 2011

Bright Eyes last go around is happening right now. Conor Oberst’s primary project is set to retire at the conclusion of this tour. His last two efforts under the Bright Eyes moniker have been less than stellar, particularly considering his much fresher work with the Mystic Valley Band and the Monsters of Folk.

I’ve been attending Bright Eyes shows for quite a while. One thing I can always look forward to is a quality opener, usually from Omaha. Saturday night was no different as Conduits opened with an impressive set.

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Conduits sound like the National, fronted by Hope Sandoval channeling Patsy Cline. Drones from keyboards and Hammond organs provide balance with vocalist Jenna Morrison as the rest of the band lightly fiddled and strummed the in-between. The last two songs of the set really proved Conduits’ sonic value and convinced me to buy some music. I look forward to hearing more from Conduits soon.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve seen Bright Eyes several times and figured this would be a nice farewell. I treat anything Oberst does as a guilty pleasure. I mean, he seems to mostly appeal to 14-year-old girls. Then, I listen to his songwriting and dissect the instrumentation of his compositions and recognize his talent as well-beyond the Bieber set. You don’t have to love Conor Oberst, but you can’t deny the man’s musical ability.

The set didn’t feel like a farewell. Oberst mainly packed the list with songs from the last seven years and not the last 12 or 15. For me, farewells and reunions feature gems from an entire catalog, not just the most recent material. The songs were well-chosen and sequenced. I even vowed to give this year’s The People’s Key another listen as a few of the tracks translated well live. Still, a last go as Bright Eyes suggested that we’d hear  “The City Has Sex”, “Neely O’Hara”, or “The Calendar Hung Itself…”, but none of those were heard Saturday night (assuming they didn’t play another song during the encore – I left three songs in when it was clear I’d hear nothing old).

The other way in which this did not feel like a Bright Eyes farewell was Oberst’s demeanor. Sure, he’s a passionate and captivating performer, but something felt…well…let me explain.

Conor Oberst owned the stage Saturday. However, he used to own it through a sense of urgency, drunken youthful exuberance, and the music seeping from every pore of his body. Now, his music, his persona are out there. He’s no longer selling us his soul. Now, he’s selling entertainment and possibly a few records along the way. His antics on stage were the typical – dramatic hand gestures, shaking his luscious locks, spitting, making political gestures, and pulling an onstage stunt (burning a religious leaflet and calling it his “review”), but  one got the sense he had done this before. It almost felt as if he had written on the setlist “complain about how the war has been going on for like eight years or something.” He’s been doing this for a while. This is what Bright Eyes does.

Now, I’m not saying it all was contrived. Someone more cynical would take it that way. I’m just saying Oberst’s actions on stage felt less spontaneous than they did so many years ago. That’s okay. That’s what happens to rock stars, even the indie kind. This might be why he’s dropping Bright Eyes after this tour.

I remember hearing of this brash young man, opening for Stephen Malkmus by playing “Summer Babe” on accordion and leaping off the bass drum at the Hard Rock Cafe in New Orleans. Or what about the time I saw him play the first three songs with a George W Bush mask on, even refusing to take it off when he took swigs from a bottle of red wine? There are stories about his first time in Columbia, sneaking off to get wine before a KCOU gig despite being underage. Another story has Oberst playing kickball (or whiffle ball) with some locals and members of The Faint. I remember seeing him continue to play for fans in the alley behind a venue who had cut the power in order to stay compliant with an arbitrary curfew.

The man has a history for doing the dramatic and unexpected. That’s why it was somewhat disappointing to see Bright Eyes the stage show. The musicians were uber-professional. Oberst played it up to the crowd, even reaching to shake hands or recite his lyrics as if rapping with Jay-Z. Bright Eyes is no longer bedroom tapes brought live by a skinny kid drunk on red wine. Of course, it hasn’t been that way for a while.

Still, that’s not Conor Oberst’s fault. He’s still really talented. His voice and musicianship have improved over the years as has his stage presence – it’s just more conscious now. I can’t say that it was a bad show. It wasn’t life-altering, but it was good. Bright Eyes put on a great set, worthy of the Blue Note’s 31st birthday celebration for sure.

I could go on and on about what it means that Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes have grown up and what that means to me. It still doesn’t change that a lot of people had a great time seeing Bright Eyes. I too enjoyed what I saw. It was sad to think that I won’t see the same Bright Eyes I used to see. It’s disappointing that his records don’t have the same effect Fevers and Mirrors had on me the first time I heard it. But that isn’t Conor Oberst’s fault and it shouldn’t take away anything from Saturday’s show. Those are my hangups. Like Oberst closing the book on Bright Eyes, I should close the book on this pseudo-rant and be glad I saw them one more time.

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Gypsies

Posted in Intersections by Zac on July 22, 2011

The gypsy is alive and well my friends. No, I’m not talking about those who wander southern and eastern Europe in search of an easy mark. The kind of gypsy to which I’m referring is that of the craft beer and indie rock worlds. Throughout those scenes, there are examples of loner craftsman wandering between breweries and bands and creating product that defies typical industry definitions.

As is usual with these sorts of things, the indie rock gypsy is way ahead of the the craft beer variety. Musicians have been using monikers normally reserved for bands of two or more people for projects with revolving members. The freedom to make all the major creative decisions for a band without worry of the band breaking down has to be a plus. And when they want to pick up and move, there are no band members holding them back. Then, when there is a creative problem to solve, they can call on hired guns to figure them out.

Take Bright Eyes for one. BE is basically Conor Oberst (later to include Mike Mogis) and whichever friends he could round up to fill spots on his roster. His sound and dynamic have generally stayed constant, but Oberst is able to create something new each time out by simply adding a few pieces while replacing others. Oberst could have gone it alone as a solo artist (which has done and probably will continue to do), but he must have liked the comforts and support a band provides. Fewer bands are as tight as an Oberst-led group and there always appears to be a great chemistry. As a gypsy, Oberst was able to move his operation to Brooklyn from Omaha without skipping a beat. Bright Eyes was not the first ever or only gypsy act in indie rock, but it has been an extremely successful one.

Interestingly, Brian Strumke, gypsy brewer of Stillwater Artisanal Ales, revealed to me that he is a big Bright Eyes fan, but their connection as gypsies in their fields don’t end there. Both have stayed true to their hometowns. Strumke brews in Baltimore and Oberst has done most of his work in Omaha. Both have traveled to “meccas” in order to continue their crafts with some Stillwater beers being brewed in Belgium and a Bright Eyes album or two written and recorded in Brooklyn. Both men have honed their crafts into something unique that often defies categorization while still giving a nod to their influences.

The gypsy is able to break free from the constraints and tradition of his craft. The typical indie rocker is stuck with the band structure that determines how many parts to consider in every song and even how many seats to provide in the tour van. Your average brewer must consider the additional costs of running and often upgrading brewing facilities. The gypsy is not bothered by either. His band can take any shape. He can brew in this brewery or travel overseas to brew at another. The gypsy is without the typical worries that dog their more sedentary counterparts.

And why is this gypsy-fication of indie rock and craft beer on the rise? Besides the freedoms mentioned above, we live in a world that is simply more conducive to the gypsy approach. For one, we are a more global society. Due to decades of migration and multicultural educational initiative, we no longer live in a …. society. There’s a reason American brewers make Belgian styles and popular music demonstrates influences from all over the globe. Secondly, technological advancements have made it possible to coordinate projects in multiple locations. Conor Oberst can work in Brooklyn while his Omaha label Team Love GM lives here in Columbia. Brewers can easily participate in beer scenes all over thanks to social media. The world is too small for these creative types to stay in one place. Bands and breweries will just keep them down.

It’s an interesting development that has produced some pretty great results. Below are a few other gypsies I admire.

  • Crooked Fingers is the “band” name Eric Bachman (Archers of Loaf) uses. He lives out of vans and people’s couches, but he finds time to round up some players, record records, and hit the road. What started out as a side project of woe has turned into a great bar band, no matter who’s backing Bachman.
  • Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project is one of the most sought after breweries in the scene right now. I don’t know all their particulars, but they make some artful brews and incorporate a nose for design.
  • Bon Iver started out as Justin Vernon, fresh from band and girl breakups, heading out to a Wisconsin cabin one winter to record one of the most textured and heartfelt records of this century. He seems to have a regular touring band these days, but no one questions who or what Bon Iver actually is.
  • Mikkeller is the gypsy from Copenhagen we American beer geeks adore. Not surprisingly, he has a connection to Stillwater as they have collaborated on several brews, some yet to be released.
Yes, the gypsy is here to inject a little life into your tired beer cellar and record collection.

Free Association Blog Post

Posted in Beer, Film, Intersections, Jock Straps, Life, Records by Zac on February 21, 2011

I have some things in the works and some other things I wanted to mention, but none of that is ready nor does it interest me at the moment[1]. So, for your reading pleasure, I will do a little free association blog post that will hopefully hit on some of the things not quite worthy of their own blog posts.

Looking for a new way to label my homebrew, I designed and ordered the following rubber stamp.

The plan is to stamp some big mailing labels, write in which beer is in the bottle, and slap those mothers on. It will save me from having to print out extravagant labels at Kinkos while providing me a uniform way to mark my own brews. A good point was made regarding the new name of my fictitious brewery: It’s better than naming it “Watery Domestic,” a name I never considered. For those of you not in the know, Treble Kicker was Pavement’s made-up label for their first few singles. They later just put it on every release, sort of for publishing purposes or something. I’m using it as the ideal moniker to connect my two loves into my homebrews[2].

Speaking of homebrewing, I did this collaboration with a friend. He used leftover malt to brew a pale ale and I supplied leftover hops[3]. We split the beer to see what we each could do with dry-hopping. I had several mishaps with bottling, making me label the caps “FML” or fuck my life[4].  The first bottle was opened seven days in at a homebrew tasting last weekend. It was awful, but the veteran homebrewers in the room assured me that waiting it out might result in a better beer. Well, I opened one last night and it is getting better. Hopefully it will continue to improve.

I’m also hoping that the new Bright Eyes’ album will get better. It’s supposedly the last album to be released under “Bright Eyes” and that might be for good reason. Conor Oberst appears to be all out of ideas at the moment. When he did that pre-emo, cathartic thing he did in his late-teens/early-twenties, he was supposed to be the next Dylan[5]. Really, it was some good stuff. Then, he released maybe his best folk album alongside a semi-electronica record[6]. Okay. Then, after a live album and a rarities collection, he went down the alt.country[7] rabbit hole, seemingly never to return. This would have been acceptable as so many artists do the same. Plus, he typically aligned himself with some excellent musicians. Alas, alt.country Conor was not meant to be. He released the regrettable People’s Key last week. I’m holding off judgement to see if it will grow on me, but I’m not hopeful[8]. At least the artwork and design of the record sleeve is interesting.

Speaking of “interesting” album artwork, I finally unwrapped Tennis’ Cape Dory. This album is everything that Bright Eyes’ “effort” is not. It’s fresh, moving, interesting, enjoyable, etc. Of course, one has to get over the awful, awful artwork on the cover[9]. It’s low-fi with that echoey, Phil Spector-ish doo-wop feel and retro vocals[10]. It reminds me a ton of Camera Obscura if they recorded from bedrooms instead of studios. Still, this will be a nice record to enjoy as the weather turns.

And as the weather turns, March approaches. I try not to write too much about the sports-ball in these parts, but I have to address this at least one time before March Madness descends upon us. My boys at Ohio State are the best college basketball team in the nation[11] and early favorites to win it all in March/early-April. They are lead by a core of experienced players that seem to have played in Columbus for 15 years as well as three freshman stars. One of those freshman is Jared Sullinger whose ass[12] keeps defenders off as he puts up 18 and 10 on a nightly basis. Look for Ohio State to make a deep run this year in the tournament.

Something else happens in March…

The first weekend of March in these parts is dedicated to the True/False Film Festival. It’s our very own documentary film festival and it’s the best thing that happens here every year. We have reservations to see somewhere between 16 and 17 films[13] over the weekend (starting Thursday), plus a few parties and live music in between. There will be a full report here and possibly more somewhere else[14]. It’s going to be an incredible weekend this year. I can just feel it.

… feeling it, I feel as though I’m about to have my mind blown. I’ll be imbedded in said festival like never before[15], there are some interesting records coming my way, and there’s a ton of beer on the horizon. So, there will be a lot to discuss here. Come back, even if you noticed the lack of footnotes in previous posts. They’ll be back. Don’t worry[16]. Sorry for the filler. I’ll wrap up the Archers of Loaf oeuvre on Wednesday, plug in something interesting about either beer, indie rock, or both on Friday, an preview the film fest next week.

Notes:
1In other words, I have several barely-started posts sitting there in the dashboard and another dozen or so ideas I just don’t feel like posting. This three posts a week thing is getting tough. Still, dear reader, I feel you deserve better than filler. However, that’s what you’re getting.
2Plus, the design and name scream punk/lo-fi indie rock. There’s no way that there’s a better (fake) brewery out there, anywhere.
3Using leftovers should have been my first clue that the beer would be questionable, but we carried on the experiment anyway.
4I’m worried that there was too much oxygen pumped into the beer, which is not a good thing. Consider that there is a reason beer is sealed in kegs, firkins, casks, bottle, or cans and not just sitting out in the open. There could have also been some unwanted bacteria, but I hope not.
5This never made much sense to me. Dylan’s the superior songwriter; Oberst is the better performer, musician. Still, I hold Oberst in high regard as a songwriter. For me, they are two very, very different kinds of rock stars/folk singers. Any comparison is silly, even lazy.
6The songs were okay, but the musical direction was a mistake.
7I realize it is 2011, but I think I have a statement to make on alt.country in an upcoming blog post. Oberst’s turn to the cow punk is not surprising, nor is the demise of Bright Eyes. I will explain once I piece together an argument with examples.
8Honestly, I hate writing bad things about musicians I like. They work too hard at what they do to be ridiculed by a hack with a blog like myself. That said, I feel it disingenuous not to be honest. I just try to make it a practice not to go on and on about bands I like letting me down.
9Just look at it. It’s awful. AWFUL!
10Actually, everything about this release is retro. The cover looks like it’s out of the early 80’s. The music is 60’s pop and the aesthetic is 90’s lo-fi.
11Some would argue that this is not the case as they have dropped two of their last three games. However, both of those games were on the road to the 2nd and 3rd placed teams in the conference. This was the meat of the schedule where everyone knew they’d lose some games. All I know is the next four teams on the schedule better look out as Ohio State will be on a mission.
12It’s big.
13I suspect we’ll fall short of this goal. That’s a lot of documentary film to watch.
14I’ve taken on a project to help another local blogger get a Columbia blog thing going. I’ve written a post and am formulating the next. I only have to post twice a month, so that shouldn’t be too hard. There’s one in the can on The Foundry Field Recordings, another in the works on a seminal album by locals Bald Eagle, and another will happen covering the music of True/False. It should be interesting.
15There’s the Lux pass upgrade, my name on a guest list for an exclusive party, and a Twitter account that’s not mine. It’s not as exciting as it might sound, but it makes me feel like I’m on the inside of this thing.
16Man, I haven’t had sixteen footnotes in forever. This feels good!

Too Old for Music

Posted in Life by Zac on January 12, 2011

I’m 35, married, and a parent, but I somehow do alright when it comes to keeping up with music. I receive about a record a week. My pace of seeing bands live over the years has hardly slowed despite my move to a sleepy college town. My RSS reader is loaded with music sites and blogs. I keep up.

Still, I somehow feel music is passing me by. Many of the bands I follow are either from the nineties or sound like they’re from the nineties[1]. There are a load of shows set to fill the coming months, but I’m just not that enthused about any of them. Is this where I slow down with my music obsession? Is this where I grow out of it?

Granted, slowing down doesn’t equate giving up music forever. No one’s actually too old for music. However, it certainly becomes less important as one grows older. Plus, a downward trend has to start somewhere. Is this where I lose interest?

I was recently shopping in my favorite record store[2], Insound.com, for pre-orders coming out in early 2011. To my chagrin, few excited me. The records were either by bands I’ve purchased in the past who underwhelmed or bands I have never heard of. The first issue is an effect of buying so many records over the course of my fanaticism[3]. That, I can live with, but it does limit my options. The second issue is mostly a case of me no longer reading half the music blog posts that hit my Google Reader everyday. Sure, I’m paying way more attention to beer these days than I used to, but I’m just not that interested in buying new music.

Even the bands I did order, aren’t really that exciting. I ordered records by Danielson[4], Iron & Wine[5], Destroyer[6], and Bright Eyes[7]. All these bands have been around for a while. Danielson and Destroyer are difficult listens. Sure, they both can be brilliant at times, but I have to be in the right place to really connect with their music. Iron & Wine and Bright Eyes have been around forever and haven’t released anything that interesting for a long time. We’ll see, but I’m not expecting much.

Then, there’s the lineup of bands coming to town to play, not to mention bands stopping in nearby St Louis and Kansas City. Liz Phair[8], Tokyo Police Club, Cold War Kids, Tapes ‘n Tapes, Menomena, etc. are all playing town in the coming weeks and months. Meh. Most of these bands haven’t recorded anything worth listening to in years and the others are just plain uninspiring. Although I’m sure something worthwhile will come through town, I’ll at least save some money this winter.

So, what do I do? How do I regain some of that passion or at least my interest in music?

Well, the first step in this recovery is to return to what got me here: underground, often local, music. Someone was telling me about this motley group of musicians who get together and write songs in 48 hours just to turn around and have a shotgun battle of the bands. That sounded great, exhilarating. I had forgotten how many creative types and musicians just hang around college towns. Right after that, the same guy Facebook-invited me to a free show of locals at a club I frequent. Then, another friend invited me to a gig featuring his band. So, there are things to see and hear.

The hope is that I’ll regain my indie rock legs by going out to watch bands with a little more urgency and something new to say. That’s how I got into independent music. I went to crappy clubs and watched a lot of shitty local bands. Some of those bands were good or would have one good song. Still, the passion they put into playing for a sixer of PBR and a hangover the next morning was incredibly good for my soul.

Hopefully, I’ll have something to report in the coming weeks as I make myself go to clubs and watch some local bands for a change. It still kills me how out of touch I am with this scene. It’s time for that to change and for me to remember that I’m actually not too old for music[9].

Notes:
1Even when they’re from the past decade, I’ve been listening for 8-10 years. That’s hardly new music.
2OK. So, a website doesn’t really constitute as a record store. However, when you live in a town without a good, physical facsimile of a record store, you do what you can. I’ve found that I can get any record I want from one website. I’m cool with that as I know there is a small group of kids trying to make this thing work. I can support that. I want Insound to be around for a while, maybe long enough to build real stores across the country…
3I am way more efficient a music buyer than I used to be. Now, I can get a sample of pretty much any band I want via the internet. That and the numerous blogs and music sites keep me pretty informed. It was never this easy in the nineties when you had to read zines and go to shows or watch MTV. (MTV used to show videos with music.)
4Hipster Christian you’re the only one.
5The beard is back with songs that sound more like the Eagles with every passing release.
6Always weird and easily the best New Pornographer, but this video and song aren’t doing it for me yet.
7Don’t give me a hard time over this one. I have a history with this band and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
8This one has already been postponed. I predict it won’t happen. I’m convinced I was never intended to see Liz Phair as every opportunity has passed me by in one manner or another. Nowadays, I’m not sure I would even want to see her live just to hear her crappy new material.
9But maybe Liz Phair is. JK, Lizzie! BFF’s 4eva! <3 U!

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