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.

Ten at the Middle of ’10

Posted in Beer, Records by Zac on June 17, 2010

Sorry for the inadvertent two-week layoff. Time just got away from me. I did start about three posts in that time period which is my typical schedule1. Now, on with the post…

Usually I like to list the best records at the midpoint of the year. So, below, you will find a rather pathetic list as I’m not sure I’ve purchased ten good records2 to include at the midpoint of 2010, but I must keep up with the Jones or whatever. This list is in no particular order and is surely missing something, but I’m sure you’ll tell me what that is in the comments.

Spoon – Transference
I know some people don’t like Spoon. They’re too whorish. They smirk too hard. They demand attention. They only put on a good show half of the time. Their frontman is named “Britt”. This is all forgotten as one puts the needle to the record. Britt Daniel writes how I think. It’s not always PC, but it’s brutally honest. The production on a Spoon record is like nothing else3. It’s sparse and it echoes. It’s textured without being too much. Spoon doesn’t make bad records and Transference is just another example of this fact.

Let’s Wrestle – In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s
I love naiveté in my indie rock and these boys bring it wrapped nicely in a Billy Bragg package. It’s punk without being cliched. It’s fun without being too stupid. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’smakes me feel young. I sing to it in the car. My 21-month-old likes it. It’s on Merge. How can you hate this record? The answer is that you can’t. No matter how hard you try not to, you love this record. This is the album you will grow to love soon.

Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
So emotive Brits singing anthem after anthem about sex and getting drunk and dancing doesn’t do it for you? That’s fine. This record is big and fun without losing touch.

The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack
There’s not enough straight-up college rock anymore4. This was what they called music before alternative and indie that wasn’t hardcore or on the radio. The Soft Pack have hit that nerve. They’re like a post-90′s-indie Smithereens5. It’s nothing flashy. It’s just good.

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
I went into this one with low expectations and came out happily surprised. The pleasure from this record has carried over the last month or so since the record was released. Sure, it’s not the best BSS album, but I’ll listen to it a ton more than that outtakes record. Really, it is one of the top ten albums this year. However, I still contend the last two tracks are two of the weakest in the BSS canon.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86
Like BSS, these Canucks6 are graded by a different set of criteria than everyone else7. Though this is their third-best record, it’s better than 99% of the crap that passes for music these days8.

The National – High Violet
Everyone’s album of the year had to make my list. It really is that good. I can’t guarantee that it will finish at the top of the heap by year’s end, but it will certainly be on the list. That and there’s something there to which I’m connecting. It could be the Ohio-centric narrative or the album’s struggle to break free of the limitations of adulthood or it’s just a really cool-sounding record.

Quasi – American Gong
I was close to writing this band off. Then several folks in my circle saw them live and reported that the band was doing well. It seems adding a bassist and replacing the keys with some strings has worked. American Gong is maybe the band’s best work in 10 or 15 years.

The Tallest Man on the Earth – The Wild Hunt
The new Dylan has arrived9. I don’t mean to make it sound like TTMONE writes songs as timeless and inspiring as Dylan, but he comes close. That and he sounds a shit-ton like the old man10. That has to count for something in this post-pop, post-hip-hop world.

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Rock ‘n roll did not die. Bruce Springsteen has seen to that if not in his own material it happens in his influence on music. TA is maybe the most Springsteen-like band making music right now. They don’t always sound like the Boss or write like him, but the feel and urgency of a Springsteen album is here. They’re like Arcade Fire with balls or Cono Oberst with a PBR11. It’s guttural. It’s meaningful. It’s Jersey12.

Bonus: Pavement – Quarantine the Past
I hate including compilations. They typically suck and leave out so much great material while including the worst in a band’s discography. That said, this is maybe the best best-of I’ve ever heard. Of course I’m biased, but I couldn’t have put together a better comp that fills my need for nostalgia13 while properly educating the masses to the greatness that was Pavement. Seriously, it’s worth a listen and your dollars.

Before the year’s out, I need to check out albums by The Besnard Lakes, Midlake, and The Black Keys. I am also awaiting deliveries/releases from the likes of Arcade Fire, Superchunk14, Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Here We Go Magic, and Kurt Vile15. Are there others I’ve missed?

As a super double bonus, here are my top five beers of the year so far. Again, this list is in no particular order and your comments are welcome.

Russian River Supplication
It was too bad I only had one of these beauties. The guy who organized the order said that it was one of his favorites was right. It was just the right amount of sour. The balance and complexity of flavors made the $20 I laid down for 12 ounces16 worth it. It’s made me somewhat obsessive about spending more time with this brewery…even considering their inappropriate use of Comic Sans.

Great Lakes Brewing Lake Erie Monster DIPA
This beer was found by accident. In a drive-through17 in Bellefontaine, Ohio, there were four-packs of this beauty. I tried desperately that night to drink all four, but my morning the flight the next day told me to leave it and dream fondly of the citrus and pine with which this divine concoction graced my tongue. Hopefully, Mom finds some more for me when she drives out here next week.

Odell’s Saboteur
Brett and coffee in the same beer? Yes. And it’s good? Yes. What a great surprise this beer was. There was so much going on in this brown-with-brett brew. Perfect for pairing with almost anything. I wish I had another right now.

Mikkeller 1000 IBU
1000 IBU’s shouldn’t even be drinkable18. Sure, it will be hoppy as hell, but some balance is nice once in a while. Well, Mikkeller somehow figured 1000 IBU’s out a way to make it work. This beer is so smooth and drinkable. It’s quite surprising. They figured out a way to capture the actual taste of hops.

Ken Schmidt/Maui/Stone Kona Coffee Macadamia Coconut Porter
I don’t normally go for porters but this one is hard to resist. The coffee, macadamia, and coconut meld perfectly to brew a beer that is just sweet enough to delight. This beer and the black pilsner Stone also collaborated to make are two of my favorite beers of the last couple of years.

Bonus: My go-to beer of the year is Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
Everyone has to have that inexpensive beer they can pick up whenever from the store at a moment’s notice without spending a wad of cash. At $4 a pop, 22 0z. of this hop bomb is all I need. It seems every time I go to the store to buy some beer, I leave with a Hop Stoopid as well.

Look to see if any of the albums or beers on this list hold up in December. I figure most if not all of the beers and about half of the albums will make the year-end top-10′s. What have I missed?

Notes:19
1Plus, I have this Tumblr thing going and a kid, etc.
2Partly this is due to saving some money and partly due to chillwave.
3One of the two best Interpol tracks I’ve ever heard was recorded by Britt.
4Except that if you read this blog, that’s all I write about.
5For the record, I never really like the Smithereens that much. The comparison just fits, me thinks.
6My sister used to just buy records based on the fact they were reviewed in Pitchfork and the band was from Canada. The Pitchfork thing doesn’t work as well anymore, but the Canadian thing does…except for Nickleback and Barenaked Ladies.
7Possibly a Canadian indie band criteria?
8Cranky, old record store clerk line.
9I’m sure that I’m the first to say this.
10My father-in-law couldn’t get over how much this dude reminded him of Dylan.
11In this sentence, “balls” and “PBR” are interchangeable.
12I think I just wrote New Jersey’s new state motto/tagline.
13I wish someone had gone back in time with this album on cassette tape, handed me a copy, and told me that this would be my favorite band. It sort of feels like they did.
14!!!!!!!!
15The last two will join Pavement, TTMONE, Titus, Wolf Parade, and Broken Social Scene for P4k. I’m really looking forward to that weekend in July.
16I know. I know.
17These are big in Ohio. You drive through a building with beverages and snack items lining the walls. You order without getting out of the car, pay, and drive off with a load of beer. I used to think every state had drive-throughs. I found out I was wrong.
18It is thought that most people can only taste up to 100-120. Your hoppy beers start in the 50′s and usually top out in the 80′s. Crazy hop bombs usually claim 100 IBU’s. 1000 IBU’s is insane.
19I nearly forgot the footnotes. You’re welcome.

The Benefit of the Doubt

Posted in Records by Zac on January 19, 2010

There are two ways one can earn benefit of the doubt status. The phrase means that one receives no judgment until all the evidence is in. This benefit is gained when previous experiences have been generally positive, leaving one to believe that current, questionable events are an anomaly or need time to sink in. This perk is earned either with with a short resume only displaying stellar production or a long history of mostly superior efforts.

Spoon has earned the right to always receive the benefit of the doubt. They suffered through a bad move to the majors in the 90′s only to emerge as one of the essential acts of the last decade. Their oeuvre is filled with way more good than bad. If Elvis Costello and Mick Jagger had a baby, they’d call it “Spoon.” That’s how highly I regard Spoon. I saw them play an atrociously boring set a few years back. Because of their history and past accomplishments, I gave Spoon another chance and was rewarded with a “best concert ever” kind of performance. Seriously.

So, when their latest effort, Transference, hit me in the face with made-up-on-the-spot, half-finished demos, I was taken aback. Then, I gave it another listen. Spoon, 16 years in, are still experimenting. They’re tinkering with their sound in an effort to grow and develop beyond “The Way We Get By.” The songs are different and minimalist. It’s an underwhelming record for sure, but when you hit “play” for a second go around, the groove hits you, makes you smile the only way a band like Spoon can. Then you remember why you gave Spoon the benefit of the doubt.

Vampire Weekend, on the other hand, deserves the benefit of the doubt solely based on 2008′s self-titled debut. Vampire Weekend was as triumphant an overly hyped debut as I can remember. They could have done a song-for-song response to Chinese Democracy featuring Miley Cyrus and Buckethead and it would have scored a 6.5 on Pitchfork. Instead, they opted to expand their sound and build on the Afro-pop that made them indie darlings for their follow-up. It’s as infectious and full of Google hits as the debut. Like Spoon, VW didn’t need the benefit of the doubt, but they’re earning it with each release.

Meh, we’ll see how long this Paul Simon-Afro-pop thing lasts to keep VW at the top of the so-called charts. Regardless, Spoon will be there to stay, always earning the benefit of the doubt, coming out on top in the end.

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