A hiatus means that one misses a lot of opportunities to write about all kinds of things. For me, beer is one and records are the other. With the epic bender to empty my cellar, I don’t know that I have the time to tell you all the beers I missed blogging about. (Really, I’m a little embarrassed how much high-ABV I’ve consumed recently.) So, I’ll stick with my favorite records of this year so far. Some may still be there when I inevitably do a year-end list, but I’m not there yet. Be sure to scroll to the bottom for the Spotify playlist.
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
I actually reviewed this record in this calendar year, proving that I was alive as late as late January. Additionally, we took our older kid (6.5 years at the time) to her first real concert when S-K hit middle Missouri. (I really should have returned to blogging then as there were so many Carrie sightings by my family and friends. Alas, I was not feeling it.) And nothing has changed how I feel about this band or their latest album.
While it is up to debate whether or not this is S-K’s best effort (I prefer different S-K releases for different contexts), it is hard to argue that this isn’t their most complete album. From the first fat notes (“Price Tag”) to the anthemic ending (“Fade”), this record never lets up. Riding themes of feminism and activism (“New Wave”, “Surface Envy”), the rush from performing (“Fade” again), the evils of capitalism and debt (“Price Tag” again), life on the road (“No Cities”), and being an aging rock star (“No Anthems”, “Bury Our Friends), etc., No Cities does the whole “personal as political” as well as or better than any other S-K record. And the instrumentation (guitars, drums, vocals – gawd, the vocals) are just a whole other level hinted at in The Woods but never quite realized. No Cities to Love hits all the notes…no, more like pummels all the notes only to build them back again into something new and inspiring.
Viet Cong – S/T
Viet Cong are this year’s Joy Division, but that somehow seems limiting. Nah, this band is this year’s Joy Division as blended with a bunch of other Canadian bands. Take the raw power and energy of Japandroids, the anthemic dissonance of Godspeed You Black Emperor, the acidic take on modern life a la Ought, and maybe the awareness of Broken Social Scene and then toss in some lazy Joy Division bits and you’ve got yourself a review for Spin!
Twerps – Range Anxiety
I feel like Twerps just sounds like every band I liked from the 90’s as played through a filter of The Sundays. There’s lazy afternoons and meeting strange, exotic love interests, and even a bit about getting married. This is a nice, easy record to like. It’s pleasant, has a good pace, and hits all the right spots. I want every summer drive to have this album as the background music.
Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching
Ever had a dream that goes at a persistently fast pace and no matter how you wish to take the controls and change the direction it’s going, it continues to move in a direction you’re not completely comfortable with. Then, you realize that’s how your day is actually going and it’s no dream. To me, that’s what Krill sounds like. It’s bluntly honest and downright immature at times, but it gets at that helplessness when your life is a runaway train and somehow you just reside yourself to sit back and
enjoy accept the ride.
Yowler – The Offer
This year’s quiet, earnest, female singer-songwriter seems to be Yowler. It doesn’t hurt that Maryn Jones is from my old stomping grounds in Columbus, OH of course, but this little solo record (Jones is in Saintseneca) was a pleasant surprise. Quiet and haunting, Jones knows what contemplative first-year college students want to listen to alone in their dorm rooms. Or so I’ve heard. Anyway, the production is stripped down but not exactly lo-fi. It feels less experienced than Cat Power did 17 or so years ago. It’s quieter than, well pretty much everything. The only drawback is that Yowler is not yet available on vinyl. So, it’s all Spotify for me until someone imprints this on a black circular piece of plastic with crackles in between laments.
Radical Dads – Universal Coolers
Steve Keene covers (multiple!) don’t hurt, but this band fills my need for jangly 90’s guitar rawk to a t. Like many of the bands on this list, Radical Dads would have easily fit on a bill in the mid-90’s. What can I say? I’m a one-trick pony. The band continues its egnagingly feedbacked guitar onslaught I first discovered in 2013’s Rapid Reality. Additionally, it’s yet another example of the effect women in rock bands of the 90’s have had on modern performers. There’s just a better, richer space for women to occupy and I believe (well, probably a lot of people believe) this is directly due to the bands and performers of that era. Where am I going with this? I mean, Rad Dads just happen to have a woman fronting the band, but they are a powerful, 90’s indie-esque rock band and now I’ve pigeon-holed them. Whatever, the band works and Universal Coolers is a fun romp through my college years. (I feel a little cheap for that description. Just know that if you like what I like – 90’s indie rock – you’ll appreciate Radical Dads who will surely not quote any of this on their Facebook page. Of course, they just became actual rad dads and a mom or something. So, the bump they are certainly going to get from this awful write up is for nothing.)
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Sometimes I Just Sit
It’s Courtney Barnett’s world and we just live in it. Somehow, after two impressive EP’s, Barnett has followed up with a record that should be on many, many year-end lists. She’s somehow Evan Dando, Bob Dylan (yeah, you read that right), Curt Cobain, Ben Lee, and Sheryl Crow (you also read that right) all rolled into one. Look, she’s fun and hits all the right notes while maintaining some personality. The record is solid from beginning to end. This is your album of the year. Next.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Or this is your album of the year. It feels as if Sufjan Stevens is back to doing Sufjan Stevens type things. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Age of Adz, but it wasn’t about a state and it wasn’t all whisper-y and/or whimsical with the most gut-wrenching lyrics about Jesus. This is record is that and maybe Stevens’ most personal record. There’s some things one would only expect to hear as Sujan Stevens’ therapist, not anyone with an iTunes account. As usual, the record is immaculately arranged and recorded. There are so many stories so personal, I’m almost surprised he released this album. I get the sense SS has been sitting on this album for years, waiting for the moment he was ready to put these songs to tape. And if you don’t feel it when listening to Carrie & Lowell, you are soulless or a cynic.
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
Another female-fronted band that sounds like 1995, but this one is different than the others and this record is really good (as well). Katie Crutchfield nails that indie, cowpunk, alt.country thing that kept slipping into rock music and she lets on the feedback and heart-on-sleeve lyrics to boot. Crutchfield continues with that formula as perfected on the excellent Cerulean Salt with a few interesting interludes (in particular, opening track “Breathless” and “La Loose”). All that said, “Summer of Love” is the obvious choice for song of the summer.
Built to Spill – Untethered Moon
I bought Built to Spill’s latest on Record Store Day when it was released out of a sense of loyalty. When you buy a Built to Spill record, you know what you’re getting. And that’s fine. I loved early Built to Spill gems like There’s Nothing Wrong with Love and Perfect from Now On, but everything since has been hit or miss – certainly more hit, just not what those early records meant to me. That said, Untethered Moon is a look back at those years in a way in terms of both subject matter and music. This record is more than just the same old from a cherished band. It’s a reward for sticking around and buying yet another release.
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
All I read about is how Alabama Shakes don’t sound as good on record as they do live. Well, if that’s truly the case, their live show must kill every single night. There’s so much range on this album yet it’s so precise in its delivery. I don’t get what people want Alabama Shakes to be. Do they want more blues, punk, jam band, throwback, southern, etc.? Well, those people are wrong. There’s nothing wrong with this record and there’s nothing wrong with Alabama Shakes.
Don’t believe me? I encourage you to buy all these records or go see these bands when they hit your locale.
I’ll write something about beer soon enough, but this needed to be posted.
As you may have noticed, life gets in the way of my blogging. Of course, it gets in the way of many things.
There was supposed to be a beer tasting to attend Saturday, but I promised to DJ the Hairhole benefit. That didn’t happen either as my kitchen sink decided to quit working. Saturday was spent trying every DIY method for unclogging a drain only to have to call Roto-Rooter on a Saturday night.
Then there was the birthday party for a five-year-old and friends came for dinner…
The heavens parted as we sampled some beer, including my two latest homebrews. The first was the New Slan Saison which after only one week in the bottle is fully carbonated. The same can’t be said for the scotch ale, but I’m hopeful it will turn out fine by this coming weekend. (Then again, I’m not 100% sure I added priming sugar. Never homebrew when you’ve had a few beers already, kids.)
And when these friends took off, I hit the Blue Note for a Built to Spill show. I’m not sure why I still go to BtS shows. It’s pretty much the same thing every time. Even the band seems to mail it in a bit, but at least it was something. A rock ‘n roll escape from life. They played all or at least most of the “hits.” It’s old hat for them, but they didn’t disappoint.
Maybe life will quit getting in the way and I’ll find some inspiration sooner or later.
After my lame attempt at filling digital space on Wednesday, I figured that I would go with the suggestion that provided the best chance to write the most epic Building International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement post ever. Then, I read the suggestions and decided to go with Carrie’s second suggestion anyway:
You are on a cruise ship that gets ambushed by Indonesian pirates. You gave them a watch so they will let you live, but they are going to deposit you on an island with a machete, a hand cranked cd-player and a magic eternally chilly beer cooler that automatically refills when you run out–the only catch is that this magical beer chiller can only replenish the supply of 3 beers. They tell you that you may take only three albums with you. There is a good chance you might be stuck on this island for the rest of eternity. What 3 beers and what 3 albums would you choose to be on the hot, possibly enchanted, uninhabited island with?
I will get to most of the other suggestions eventually, but this is where I’ll begin. That said, expect another top-5 on Monday. Now, on with the exercise…
There are several factors to consider when choosing may three albums. First of all, I’m changing the rules so that it’s not a hand-cranked CD player and is instead a hand-cranked phonograph player. Just because I’m stuck alone on a deserted island doesn’t mean I won’t want to hear the warm crackle of some vinyl. That said, these three records better be so good that I won’t mind hand-cranking for my tunes, severely limiting my dance time.
Another factor to consider is the versatility of the music. My three favorite records might not be good for all occasions. What if I invite over a few head hunters for dinner and want some nice mood music? What if the party gets wild and I need music that we can thrash and dance to while cutting off the heads of our meal? What if we all enter a cannibal-induced coma requiring us to relax a bit? What if I get lucky? I need a soundtrack that meets many needs.
All that is true, but it has to be music with which I’ll never grow tired. We’re talking potentially an eternity. I have to be prepared. So, I picked mainly music from my favorite time period and favorite non-genre: 90’s indie rock.
- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement – I go back and forth whether this is my favorite Pavement album. It does fit the criteria I’ve laid out in that I love this record, it has a song for every situation, and I will never grow tired of it.
- Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair – I, like most men my age, love the idea of Liz Phair on Guyville. We like that she’s adventurous and just looking for a sensitive guy and we think we can save her. Luckily, the reality of Liz Phair isn’t so appealing. Still, this is a great record that is fixed into my eternal top five or ten albums.
- Perfect from Now On by Built to Spill – I will need mood music that will also feed my anger and blood lust. This record can do both and is really good.
Again, this might not be my top-3 albums of all-time, but they fit the criteria best. I’m also not trying to over-think this or – as I like to say – out-think the room. The goal was to pick three albums to take with me on a deserted island. Done. Easy. The beer portion of this post won’t be as easy.
The limitations are an unlimited supply of three different beers. I figure one of those beers could be a beer one could drink all day long, a “sessionable” beer, if you will. There should also be a beer that will get me schnockered with just a few sips. I will need more bang for my buck. And when drinking the same thing all day or getting wasted is not my thing, I will need something I will really enjoy drinking.
Then, there’s the issue of style. I tend to prefer American craft styles over all others. So, that eliminates the imports. It’s a tough sacrifice, but I think that I’ll manage. Styles I like are Saisons, imperial stouts, sours, and IPA/DIPA’s. There are other styles I like, but these are the ones I generally reach for. The challenge will be to find three beers that fulfill my four (or five preferred styles).
I think I know what to do…
- Surly Furious – This IPA fulfills many needs. For one, it’s a hefty IPA that makes the DIPA unnecessary. Bitterness and citrus comes in a can, a very useful container on an island.
- Bell’s Expedition Stout – This is a case of me filling a need with a favorite. It’s boozy and sweet and ages well if need be. There was a temptation not to include an imperial stout since deserted islands tend to be tropical, but I decided to make sure that this flavor profile was covered.
- New Glarus Belgian Red – I was so going to go with a Saison or some extreme Russian River sour, but I thought about what this sort of beer can do. I decided that I needed a beer that fulfilled the sour/tart flavor profile while possibly providing an alternative that doesn’t taste so much like beer. Plus, this is a relatively hard-to-get beer. Why not insure that I have an endless supply of a rare beer only sold in Wisconsin?
1Can I now tell you how much I despise the over/misuse of the word “epic?” I fucking loath the way this word is used in everyday conversation and especially online. Now, I no longer can use the term “epic” to describe a Built to Spill jam or a magnificently huge DIPA. The word has lost all meaning thanks to the improper overuse of the word. Thanks.
2Is it me or did this post just get kinda creepy?
3To fuck. I just went creepy again.
4For wild boar. Nothing creepy. A man has to eat. This all brings new meaning to “I would hurt a fly.”
5However, I suspect all three are in my top-10, if not top-5.
6Can limitations be unlimited?
7Particularly those frequented by Indonesian pirates and their kidnapped victims.
8Although, one is sitting in my cellar at this very moment. It’s a good thing I know people who head to Wisconsin on a fairly regular basis.