Beer and Pavement

Reviewing 2014: Tracks

Posted in Records, Review by SM on December 29, 2014

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I will skip the pleasantries and get to what is typically the easiest of easy blog posts: lists of videos. These videos are of the 20 best tracks of the year according to me. Most are found in my favorite albums, but a few outliers are there as well. Also, keep in-mind that I typically like to keep these lists to one-per-artist/band. So, here are 20 separate efforts by 20 separate entities.

Taylor Swift “Shake It Off”

Let’s just get this one out of the way right now. Look, that beat is killer and my daughter loves her some Taylor Swift. Plus, it’s a good message for my kid. So, I stand by it.

Viet Cong “Continental Shelf” (Warning: video NSFW)

Mark these dudes as my most anticipated full-length debut of 2015. It’s dark, dank, foreboding… Reminds me of a ridiculous black IPA. Man, I’m thirsty.

Ought “Today More Than Any Other Day”

I could have chosen so many songs from my band of the year, but I went with the one that has everything. There’s the stripped-down, slow build. Metacognition. Disillusionment with modern society and commercialism. A rousing chorus. Danceability. Da-da-da’s. Entropy. Everything.

Parquet Courts “Instant Disassembly”

A sloppy rocker – almost Pavement-esque – with a touch of faux Britishness, “Instant Disassembly” is the best kind of ear worm. Not only does the melody stick, but the singer’s problems aren’t too far from the listener’s own.

Your Friend “Tame One”

I almost went with “Bangs” for this one, but I don’t think I could go wrong with either. The voice, the drone, the build all make Your Friend a band/solo artist to watch this coming year.

Alvvays “Archie, Marry Me”

I like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura, but while the former messes around with pop music and that latter has somehow fallen off my radar, Alvvays will have to do. “Archie Marry Me” is all kinds of John Hughes angst and is a standout for the year.

Angel Olsen “Forgive/Forgotten”

SO MANY SONGS. I could list all the songs off Angel Olsen’s excellent Burn Your Fire for no Witness, but I will stick with my arbitrary rule to only list one song per artist/band. For this list, you get a rocker.

The War on Drugs “Red Eyes”

I honestly did not like the direction The War on Drugs took this year. It’s way more Springsteen than Vile, but they’re still a pretty good band as evidenced by the moving “Red Eyes.” That Springsteen-esque “woo” is pretty nice, but I sorta wished there was more of this on the entire record.

Sharon Van Etten “Your Love Is Killing Me”

I sort of lost touch with Sharon Van Etten this year until the above video for “Your Love Is Killing Me” crossed my path last month. It’s sprawling and Van Etten’s voice holds up as a powerful accomplice.

Ex Hex “Don’t Wanna Lose”

When an album kicks you in the teeth, it should do it from the first moments of the first track. Congratulations, Ex Hex. This album rawked like we all rawked in 1984 at a drunken high school party in a corn field. Thank god for Mary Timony finding her muse.

Sun Kil Moon “War on Drugs Suck My Cock” (NSFW)

The most interesting thing Sun Kil Moon and The War on Drugs did this year was to have a pseudo-feud. I actually appreciate Mark Kozelek’s crankiness as we are misunderstood curmudgeons. The song is actually quite funny despite its dark tone.

Caribou “Can’t Do Without You”

I know all the words to this song and they just repeat over and over in my head. Hit play and you’ll understand. It will cause you to either love or hate me.

Future Islands “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

One of the moments of the year for indie music was when Future Islands debuted this song on Letterman. The official video is good as well, but you needed to see why Future Islands broke this year and “Seasons (Waiting on You)” will land on many, many year end lists, often at the top.

New Tongues “El Condor Pasa”

The best covers are usually covers of misappropriated songs. I have no other evidence of this fact outside of this track. New Tongues flat-0ut destroy Art Garfunkel’s afro and strip the blood diamonds from the soles of Paul Simon’s tiny shoes.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks “Lariat”

“We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever. Talkin’ ’bout the 80’s!” All kinds of nostalgia in this one and it perfectly summarizes Mirror Traffic.

Swearing at Motorists “Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role”

Love, regret, drugs, faking it are all common themes Swearing at Motorists squeeze into every 2-minute anthem.

Tweedy “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Misunderstood”

I could have pulled several tracks from the Tweedy record, but I liked how this one encapsulated the project’s effect on the elder Tweedy. It’s not quite a punk rock banger, but it’s certainly a step back toward the cow punk of his past. Spencer’s work on the skins is pretty impressive as well.

Peter Matthew Bauer “Latin American Ficciones”

I like a good stripped-down rocker now and again. I had no idea that the dude playing keys and bass for the Walkmen had this sort of frontman, guitar-licking persona inside him. This track alone made the record a must-buy for me.

The Afghan Whigs “Algiers”

A nice take on the “Be My Baby” drum beat opens The Afghan Whigs return. I don’t even mind the auto-tune.

Hospitality “Inauguration” (Merge 25 version)

Trust me. The version they released via the Merge 25 Or Thousands of Prizes is superior IMHO to the LP version. I couldn’t find it online, so I give you the version above.

Reviewing 2014: Music

Posted in Records, Review by SM on December 28, 2014

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Crap. Where did the year go?

All I have done is taken several hiatuses in between some fairly mediocre blog posts. I would like to tell you 2015 will be different, but why lie? It won’t. I’ll be a sporadic blogger as it seems to be my ultimate destiny. So, you’ll forgive my momentary lapse in judgement when I thought a PhD was a good idea. You won’t mind when I prioritize my job and career over my hobbies. And you’ll give me a pass for being a parent of two who rarely gets a full night’s sleep.

That said, I still found a way to consume and as you well know, consuming indie rock records and craft beer are what I do best when I’m not parenting or working. I didn’t listen to nearly as much music as year’s past, but I did drink a shit-ton of beer as my waist will attest. So, I have something to say about both topics.

The format will be a bit different than years past. Usually, I write a list of records and/or beers. Last year I opted not to rank my choices for the year. This year I will simply name some arbitrary categories to fill with some sort of commentary. Do with this list what you will. However, I hope you can find the time to comment and even throw some money at the good people I’m about to praise.

The 2014 Beer and Pavement Recognitions and Such – Indie Rock Division

“The Next Sharon Van Etten or Courtney Barnett of 2014”

Well, this could have been Sharon Van Etten as her Are We There is yet another stellar album from the songstress, or it could have been Courtney Barnett’s as I listened to The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas on repeat after discovering it a year too late. Hell, I didn’t even get my hands on Barnett’s physical artifact until this year.

Still, there was one woman I listened to more than any other this year or at least that’s according to Spotify. Angel Olsen dominated this year with her Burn Your Fire For No Witness. This is one of the few albums on my personal list I am finding all over year-end lists. It’s an incredibly haunting, Patsy Cline-esque, fucking great record. Had I not been so busy this year, I would have written ad nauseam about this singer who could channel a lo-fi Roy Orbison on one track and turn around with something more akin to a Kristin Hersh rocker the next. She’s a phenomenal talent and from right here in Missouri. Who woulda thunk it?

“Best Reissues (Multiple Categories)”

I didn’t know that I had missed Life Without Buildings the first time around and needed their über-rare Record Store Day until I discovered them in the “Best New Music” category on Pitchfork’s Spotify page. Well, one listen was enough to send me out to my local supplier for a preview of there RSD releases only to find out they had not ordered it. I waited a week or two and tried eBay. It was costly, but nothing obscene and I scored my record. LWB’s Any Other City was a forgotten/unheard of treasure with a danceable no wave sound that would have also fit well in mid-90’s Chicago, but what set this band apart was front woman Sue Tompkins erratic spoken-word lyrics. Although 14 years old, the record was maybe the freshest thing I heard all year. Too bad they only released this record, a handful of singles, and a live album.

The other reissue wins the box set division as Sleater-Kinney is doing this whole comeback thing right. Not only were all their albums reissued on glorious 180-gram vinyl on Sub Pop, but the band put all these albums into one box complete with a book of never-before-seen photos and a surprise 7″ of new material. Now that’s a way to announce a reunion. The best part of this box and the individual reissues is that all the music was remastered, giving them the treatment they all deserved, especially those early records recorded on a budget.

Oh, and that open letter I wrote worked.

“Favorite EP’s – short and long formats”

Funny thing about my two favorite EP’s is that both are from this region of the world. How does that happen? An overwhelming sense of depression caused from living in the middle of racists and corn fields? Yeah, that’s probably what it is. The first is really just a short LP – sorta missing the idea of an “extended play” format – and the other is a more traditional supplement to and earlier full-length effort.

Your Friend’s Jekyll/Hyde is a nearly perfect example of the form capturing atmospherics, chilly femme vocals, and some silly-good theatrics surrounding stories of sisters and awkward thirteen year olds living in Kansas. Rarely do EP’s feel like LP’s but this one does. The songs can come off as quiet and pretty, but the intensity comes through in a live setting as I was lucky to witness last spring. Look for this EP to launch Your Friend in the coming year.

My friends in New Tongues put out a short-form EP that kills, nay destroys. Three originals lead off before a cover of a Simon and Garfunkel cover completely floors you. Following up last year’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, this EP does what the format is meant to do which is extend what work has been done and in the best cases expanding said work. the production on this 4-song EP explodes from the speakers with all the post-hardcore clichés one can muster. (The music is not clichéd, just the reviews.) To add insult to injury, that aforementioned Simon and Garfunkel cover is maybe the cover of the year.

I also considered an E.P. by some other friends in Enemy Airship, but the hard copy has yet to arrive. Additionally, there was Ought’s E.P., but I have more to say on that later…

“Best Dad Rock”

I am a dad twice over. In fact, our little release this year might be is my favorite. His name is Theo and he should know that dads can rock. Right now, Theo’s favorite song is “Bird Is the Word.” We’ll have to work on that.

Dad rock can best be defined as the music by bands who dads probably listened to back in college. Bonus points go to bands and musicians who are actually dads themselves. This year, there were three releases that I think exemplified my own version of Dad Rock.

First and foremost, there’s Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. I crossed paths with Malk on his way to the venue where he was playing. I wanted to talk to him about fatherhood and his new record, but he didn’t have time to chat. I suspect he had to Skype with his kids from the tour van. Anyway, Wig Out at Jagbags is return to form after 2011’s Beck-esque Mirror Traffic. In Wig Out…, Malk and the Jicks get all nostalgic for the Grateful Dead and Lilith Fair-era Lesbians. It’s as goofy as they have been on a record which is quintessential dad behavior.

Then, there’s the Kickstarted project from Swearing at Motorists. S@M’s Dave Doughman is also a dad. This comes out in some heartbreaking-yet-sweet moments throughout While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth. Intermingled with laments and celebrations of parenthood is an obsession with acting and drama, escapes from the daily grind of being someone’s dad. It’s maybe Doughman’s most mature release yet, one I didn’t know or care if he could make. Still, it deserves a proper release once the Kickstarter money runs out.

The third Dad Rock honoree is the most obvious of the bunch. Jeff and Spencer Tweedy’s Sukierae under the band name Tweedy. This project comes from the heart as Jeff Tweedy’s creative juices seem to come alive after some so-so Wilco efforts. Honestly, I had written off Tweedy. I figured he was going to make the same Wilco record over and over and tour until his knees or liver gave out. And as a fellow dad with mouths to feed, I’m okay with selling out. However, that’s not what he’s done here. Spencer who is a gifted drummer has inspired something in his dad that I hope continues. Sukierae was a pleasant surprise and has made me look at my own life as a father and how I can rejuvinate my own creativity.

“Best Album by a Former Member of the Walkmen”

Three records were released this year by former Walkmen. There was Walter Martin’s We’re All Young Together which is a kids album and probably should have made the Dad Rock list above as it’s the most dad-like thing ever. Then there was Hamilton Leithauser’s Black Hours and Peter Matthew Bauer’s Liberation! which also came out this year. Kids music only goes so far with me. So, I figured Leithauser’s record would shine as he was the voice of the Walkmen and sort of personified their cool aesthetic. However, it was Bauer who impressed with his solo debut, a cacophony of religion, mysticism, and chic. The album is so good you wonder if maybe Bauer had more say in the Walkmen’s image than was typically let on. Either way, he put out a solid record that remained on heavy rotation throughout the year.

“Speaking of Nostalgia…”

The Afghan Whigs got back together. Well, two of them did, but those two put together a pretty tight group of musicians. Then the Whigs did the unthinkable in 90’s reunion etiquette and actually recorded an album. Do the Beast would have fit nicely after Black Love with its thematic leanings and dynamics. Plus, those old guys can still rawk.

“The One Album upon which the Critics and I Tend to Agree”

Ex Hex’s Rips is a swift kick to the gut. In much the same way Jeff Tweedy seemed to be recharged by working with his son, Mary Timony’s inner-guitar god rose from the ashes of 90’s indie rock anonymity when she joined Wild Flag, a one-off, super group who released one of the best records of 2011 and put on ridiculously great live shows. This record comes at you from the word go and it never lets up until you’re stunned to find it’s over. Mary Timony has quietly made great music for years, I’m just glad others are beginning to realize it as Rips finds a place on many year-end lists.

“The One Album upon which the Critics and I Tend to Disagree”

Well, that isn’t exactly fair. Trouble by Hospitality generally received good reviews everywhere. However, it didn’t make many (or possibly any) year-end lists. And I’m not really sure why. While it lacks the punch the Ex Hex record delivers, it certainly has its share of dynamics as well as subtle nods to that 80’s thing everyone is doing. This album might be the equivalent of Future Islands’ Singles which is getting all kinds of attention these days. However, Trouble lacks a career-making appearance on Letterman to put it over the hump. Still, the band did what bands with promising debuts are supposed to do with their sophomore efforts: expand and improve on said promise. The trouble is that most bands falter with their second release, not Hospitality. Synth, Belle & Sebastian sensibility, a bit of an edge… It’s all there and I’m not sure why no one else has noticed.

“Artist/Band of the Year”

I opted not to pick just one album as I have played the shit out of those praised above. I do plan to do a singles list if I get a chance, but I digress. I have a band of the year and it might not be who you think.

Let’s get a few of the normal artists up for this kind of consideration out of the way. The War on Drugs and Sun Kil Moon don’t make the list as the most interesting things they did was get in a non-feud. And since we’re on boring, white dude music, I’m not bothering with Real Estate, Spoon, or Mac DeMarco.

Oh, there’s more. I don’t care for dance music. So, most of that stuff doesn’t get much of a listen from me, even in a year when Caribou released an album, but I haven’t enjoyed them since 2007’s Andorra. Same goes for most rap and hip-hop. While I have an appreciation for them, I just haven’t been able to get into Vince Staples or Run the Jewels. Grouper’s record was nice, but a bit too quiet for me. (And if you like that sort of thing, check out my friend C. Vadi’s latest here.) Please don’t get me started on Ariel Pink, Todd Terje, or Taylor Swift.

There were records who probably deserved more of my attention. St. Vincent, Perfume Genius, Parquet Courts, Cloud Nothings, or Ty Segall. I’m okay with this. I have limited time and whatever art you make has to grab my attention. The bands and records I’m recognizing here did that, but none more than Montreal’s Ought.

And Ought hit my trifecta for 2014. They blew me away with an album I did not see coming. Impressed onstage in front of way too few people. Plus, they released an EP that just made me want more. This was done while sounding like a fresher, more meaningful reincarnation of the Feelies and Talking Heads. They look like Joy Division and sound like Television and the Violent Femmes. And I don’t even think they’ve scratched the surface of what they can do.

I’m not sure what else I could tell you about them. The songs are written and performed with feeling every time. They unloaded More Than Any Other Day with its critiques of the mundane and commercialism. Sonically it called back to those New and No Wave days of NYC. The live show could happen in front of 10 people or 10,000. It’s captivating and raw. They drone and jam on only to break it with sudden impulses of noise and general disruption. The EP, Once More with Feeling, supplements the LP’s material but introduces something new. “Pill” is a song I’ve obsessed over as it suits their ages better, but the simple chord structure is an ear worm by itself. The EP provides promise that this band has more to offer and I can’t wait to see what it is.

The Official Stephen Malkmus (Solo) Oeuvre Series, Part 1

Posted in Pavement, Records by SM on February 14, 2014

This is not my first lap around the oeuvre track. I once attempted to write a post for every Pavement track on a single blog dedicated to the Pavement oeuvre. I’m considering starting this up again, but that’s another project for another day. On this blog, I once wrote three posts discussing the complete catalog of Archers of Loaf. However, today, I intend to take on the oeuvre of one Stephen Malkmus and his ever-faitful Jicks. This is part 1 of a series in which I hope to break down every SM track post-Pavement.

Stephen Malkmus

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Black Book
I have no idea what that mess in the beginning: a tribal call of a new era, perhaps. Whatever. This was a clear break from Pavement and a typically lazy stroll of a song for Malkmus to make in the first track of his first venture outside the previously mentioned indie legends. Anyway, the “black book” of which SM is referring seems to be the Bible – literally or metaphorically. By calling the black book “perminently-diversified”, he seems to be addressing the commodified nature of the Bible and possibly the Christian religion in general. Could it be considered a prediction of the hipster Christian megachurch future? Who knows. Either way, it’s a fairly serious song with that familiar, Pavement-esque, lazy hook and feedback flourishes with sloppy layering.

Phantasies
If you lived in Alaska, you would have fantasies about far away, tropical regions as well. Still, the protagonist stays in his winter wonderland where the temperature reaches 99 below and he spends his time fishing through a hole in the ice. Someone –  I suspect someone native to the land, maybe an Eskimo – tries to talk his friend out of a move to the tropics. Still, fantasies persist. (Interesting side note is that this song was used for a Sears commercial. I tried to find video proof, but you’ll just have to trust me.)

Jo Jo’s Jacket
A track of Yul Brynner talking about the freedom enjoyed from shaving his head opens “Jp Jo’s Jacket” perfectly as Malk goes into a Brynner-inpired soliloquy about his role in Westworld as a robotic cowboy. From there, it gets fairly absurd, including crap house music, a Christmas-y innuendo, and a Dylan quote. It’s a fairly Crooked Rain-era track that made for a good single in true Pavement fashion. The line about being his candy cane hints at a sexual advance, a theme that pops up now and again in SM’s solo/Jicks work now and again. The Dylan quote and the following bit reminds us not to take any of this too seriously. In the end, it’s just a Pavement Stephen Malkmus song about Yul Brynner.

Church on White
“Church…” is the first track that just reminds me of Terror Twilight/Brighten the Corners era Pavement. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, Pavement. Anyway, this song for me is Malk’s memoir. He was the spokesman for a generation (or at least the white, male, educated portion of said generation and not exactly by his choosing) and all we ever wanted from him was that he stayed true to form. Whether he sings “I only poured you half a line/life/lie” doesn’t really matter. He admits to only giving so much whether it was a half-finished lyric, a small piece of himself, or a partial deception. Whatever. He’s given a lot. It’s a marathon and not a spring, but I feel as though I’m digressing…

The Hook
One of two narrative songs on the album – a totally welcomed aspect of Malkmus’ new direction. As it turns out, the dude can spin some yarn. This particular story is about his adventures as a pirate. No one should over think this one. It’s a pirate tale and not some allegory for his time with Pavement or some commentary on class. He’s kidnapped by some pirates and eventually becomes one of them, to the point that he is their leader. It’s just a fun, fun song.

Discretion Grove
Discretion happens after hours in an anonymous locale. You sneak around like French freedom fighters in World II, fighting for a sort of freedom not everyone needs to know about, an affair, perhaps?

Troubbble
We don’t find trouble; it finds us. No matter how much we try to avoid it, entropy happens and people are messy. Hell, we can’t even spell “trouble” correctly.

Pink India
This one feels like another Terror Twilight leftover. Continuing Malk’s interest in history, he tells the story of Mortimer Durand and the line he drew between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I almost wish he had titled the song “The Great Game” as this was the term that described the conflict between Great Britain and Russia fighting for supremacy in central Asia. I don’t know my history well enough to tell you everything, but it’s interesting how the lasting effects of this conflict still remain. Also, the lines “Tension grows in Afghanistan / Carbine bullets could settle the score / I had a crap gin tonic it wounded me / Send my way off on one” are pretty great. It causes me to wonder about Durand’s experience and whether or not he succumbed to the pressure accumulating in the region. (Also, is it “carbine bullets” or “car-Bible-ets”? I always sing it as the latter which is way more interesting and may not be that far off.)

Trojan Curfew
An expertly described scene of a locale where Trojans once prevailed… Now, it’s a hotspot for vacationing Swedes and the like. At moments I’m sure it retains the majesty it once held when Troy was on top at certain times of the day. Once again, Malkmus is able to write a fairly straightforward song that simply describes a nice moment in time and the centuries of history that can overtake you when standing on historic ground.

Vague Space
Ever been in a relationship where you kinda get off by calling the whole thing…er…off? Well, I haven’t. I imagine this as one of those love-hate relationships where making up after regular fights is more fulfilling than being nice to one another. Some relationships need to blow up just to find the spark. They exist in a vague space where relationships rarely flourish except when the threat of ending it is always there.

Jenny and the Ess-Dog
The second narrative track of the record is a classic. “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” is your basic May-December romance that fizzles once the younger member of the couple out-grows her companion. In this case, Jenny goes off to college, does well, joins a sorority, and does what we’re supposed to do. Her boyfriend the Ess-Dog is an old hippy-type. His life isn’t going anywhere and Jenny’s move to college makes the distance between them and their years too much to overcome.

Deado
Yet another post-Terror track with that same lazy easiness which has allowed the final Pavement record to fair well over time. Something about this song reminds me about “Ann Don’t Cry“- maybe the chorus? I don’t know what the song is about. It could be about a slow road trip to Vegas for an impromptu wedding that takes a week to happen. There’s only one appealing person in a room of old people, possibly at a wedding or wake. A prom scene with full-on 80’s feathered hair… It doesn’t matter. It’s a sleepy way to end Stephen Malkmus’ first post-Pavement endeavor.

Pig Lib

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Water and a Seat
Pig Lib is the beginning of Malkmus and his Jicks playing around with some bluesy yet edgy jamband ish. From the beginning riffs, you get the sense that Malkmus doesn’t care and has no interest in making this Pavement, Part Deux. And what better way to invite this new era than with a song inviting the madness the way “Water and a Seat” does? The listener is now prepared for what’s about to occur…

Ramp of Death
Jazzy slacker rock takes over with what seems to be a pleasant pop moment in the form of a chorus… Just as SM has embraced this new leap into a new chapter in his career, he’s encouraging his listeners to do the same. I was in my mid- or upper-20’s when Pig Lib came out and it was time to move forward into adulthood. I took this record with me.

(Do Not Feed the) Oyster
Despite Pig‘s departure from his Pavement past – now a full album removed – this song does the mellow jazz docents right, mixing this newfound infatuation with blues-inspired jammy-ness and art house aesthetic. Lyrically, it’s a mess trying to cling to a theme that only loosely holds the song together. Still, that’s how we like it. What does it mean to not feed the oysters? Fuck if I know. It’s just a nice song to jam to. Amirite? Somehow it all concludes with a mail-order bride. Why not?

Vanessa from Queens
Bob Packwood was a Republican Senator from Oregon who was eventually forced out thanks to some sexual harassment and assault. Bob was dirty old man which explains so much about this track. One of the best lines ever has to be “Bob Packwood wants to suck your toes.”

Sheets” (Sorry, there’s no Youtube video for this one for some reason.)
Sexy Stephen Malkmus makes another appearance in “Sheets” and the instrumentation wreaks of two people going at it over and over again. For me, the song is about getting into a club or party, just getting through the coolness gates or whatever.

Animal Midnight
It is rumored that this song is about Steve Kannberg. I’ll go with that. Spiral Stairs – like most Pavement members – seemed to not be nearly as serious as Malkmus. SM tried to push that band as far as he could and they just dragged their feet. The band was great for so many reasons, but as I’ve written over and over, it always felt as if Malk had outgrown the band. Sure, in this context, the song comes off as cold, but that’s just how it’s played out.

Dark Wave
And now for a complete departure in the form of some New Wave, something you won’t see coming at this point in the catalog. I feel as if this song is about Miami Vice for no other reason than that’s just what it sounds like: ocean-lined highways, neon suits, fast livin’, cocaine, etc. You know, Miami Vice things.

Witch Mountain Bridge
I do love the Led Zeppelin-like, medievalist narrative. I get the sense that Malkmus is playing a bit with genre and aesthetic, much like the rest of the album. What really brings the Game of Thrones storytelling together is the extended jam at the end. I catch a lot of flack for liking Malkmus’ music while simultaneously hating Phish and their ilk, but songs like this hit just the right notes – all of them.

Craw Song
Want to demonstrate what Stephen Malkmus can do lyrically and vocally, point your friends to this track. Not only is it another narrative – a positive development over SM’s solo career – but this track actually captures some fantastic word play. First, there’s the love triangle (or is it a square) where one unrequited love is followed by another. The gem in the first verse is “he couldn’t commit to the mental jujitsu of switchin his hitting / from ladies to men.” The next verse finds two of the left-out lovers commiserating over dinner, wrapped up nicely with another great line – full of heart and humor: “they want to stay confined within the fortress of this day / stick that in your craw…check it out…” Yeah, he snuck in “crotch.” It’s one of the sweetest song in all of Malkmus’ oeuvre from Pavement on.

1% of One
The blues fest continues… I read somewhere that this song is about the Dutchman Remko Schouten, the sound engineer for Pavement. Much like his debut, it’s pretty straightforward: “Blind son man from Netherlands, he knew not what bands he mixed / They sounded a bit like a Zephyr and a bit like the Jicks.”

Us
The Grateful Dead thing that is hinted at throughout this record comes to fruition in the final song, “Us.” At moments, it reminds me a ton of Loose Fur, the side project featuring  Wilco members Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche, and Wilco collaborator Jim O’Rourke. It’s almost the Jicks theme song. I can’t remember how many of this incarnation stayed on, but it felt like they were writing their tour bio in the form of a jam. Lyrics are written to fit the space between extended jams that groove on and on. The song only clocks in at just over four minutes, but you kinda want them to play it out and see where it goes.

Bonus Tracks:

Dynamic Calories
This is the poppier counter to “Dark Wave” which paints a picture of high school days in the early 80’s. This song is dedicated to 80’s jangly guitars and John Hughes movies. Also, this was cute.

Fractions & Feelings
This song with the previous one and maybe “Dark Wave” are a bit of an 80’s trilogy. I can only imagine SM was studying his old yearbooks and zines while writing these songs. This is the weakest of the bunch, but it’s fun. (Later, “Lariat” joins the group but with much more sophistication in its message.)

Old Jerry
And back to the Grateful Dead. I deny the connection all the time to my wife, but it’s there – literally and between the lines. Aesthetically, I can’t think of another song like this in the catalog. There are the ever-Malkmus lyrical twists, but it has a danceable groove that’s almost conventional pop. Almost.

The Poet and the Witch” (live)
I only know of a live recording of this track. It hints at the direction Malkmus was heading, but I’ll save that discussion for the next post. Either way, this song is closely related to “Witch Mountain Bridge” in its attempt to connect with a flower child past with Led Zeppelin theatrics, or something. It’s fun and seems like a fun song to hear live.

Shake It Around” (live)
This is a real rocker and I’m not sure it’s about much of anything aside from rocking. Our mundane lives need shaking now and again and tracks like this do the trick.

That’s the first installment in the series. I hope to get the other albums covered in coming weeks. It’s already been tough to get blog posts out there these days. It’s way past my bedtime and I have…well, actually, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks tomorrow night (or is that now tonight?). Anyway, you can catch some of my thoughts as shared by an actual journalist here. In the meantime, stay tuned for the rest of the series.

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Tempering Expectations

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records by SM on January 24, 2014

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Hopslam arrived here in frigid Middle Missouri and it brought along with it loads of hype and hops. My love for the beer has cooled but not totally gone cold. I have learned to temper my expectations, not lower them. This is a lesson learned from years of buying records and seeing rock shows. See, this blog’s original premise still works.

See, a beer like Hopslam is almost as much about hype as it is anything else. It’s released only once a year in limited quantities. It’s a beer geek’s beer, loaded with hops and booze. Those bright green labels picturing a poor bloke begin crushed by a giant hop calls craft beer consumers like voiceless sirens. (Can that even work?) The ~$20 makes you think that it’s a big deal. Oh, and it is a pretty good beer.

However, the next Hopslam doesn’t ever taste like the first one. This year’s version never tastes as good as last year’s or the one you drank seven years ago. I don’t know if it’s a problem of drinkers building it up too much in their own minds or something more akin to a heroin addiction. It’s probably a little of both. Either way, the hype and misperception leads to bitter disappointment every time.

Still, Hopslam is an excellent beer. I have come to expect a well-crafted beer that hides an incredible amount of booze while introducing my palate to some sweetness and bitterness without fail. What I don’t expect is the same burst of grapefruit or cat piss or whatever aromas the hops might unleash. It seems that big DIPA’s like this are really dependent on a large amount of hops. If one harvest or another is slightly off or just different in one way or another, the effects are magnified. The beer tastes different every year, but it is always well-brewed and worth a try.

I’m good with Hopslam these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Two or three Hopslams ago, the beer didn’t meet my expectations. I wanted that crazy honey-coated grapefruitiness that smelled of a cat lady’s house sweater I tasted just the year or two before. However, as explained above, the beer was different. On top of this disappointment, I really had to go out of my way to spend a lot of money on beer. Here in Middle Missouri, Hopslam lasts tens of minutes, not days or hours. So, if you want some, you better be prepared to stalk the local beer dealer. Then, you’ll pay $20 a sixer. I used to buy at least two, sometime more. If I had to work that hard and spend that much money on a beer, it better meet my expectations.

Hopslam didn’t meet those expectations. So, something had to change. Last year, I didn’t buy any in bottles, only on tap. The 2-3 Hopslams (plus a bottle from a friend) were more than enough. I didn’t overdo it. I don’t blow a wad of cash. It was a good beer among many. I was satisfied, but my exportations were not lowered as much as they were tempered. “Enjoy the Hopslam, not the Hypeslam” was my new mantra and it worked.

2014’s version rolled out this past week and I welcomed it. I wasn’t going to buy a sixer this year. I have a deal with my mom to grab one in Ohio where it sometimes sits on shelfs for weeks or months. Then, coworkers were running out in the middle of the day to see if the grocery nearby had some Hopslam. I joined them and scored a sixer. One’s enough.

I won’t write a beer review now. You should know that this year’s version is good. I’m glad I bought some and look forward to having more on tap or in a few weeks when my mom delivers the sixer she bought for me.

What I wanted to focus on was the idea of tempering expectations. As I mentioned above, tempering expectations is something I do. However, the ability to do such with beer has been a recent development. No, I’ve been tempering expectations for a long time in terms of what I expect to get from a new record or rock show.

I realize that it’s semantics and someone will undoubtedly argue that tempering expectations is the same as lowering them, but this is my blog post and I say it isn’t the same. Tempering expectations considers contexts and past experiences. It keeps me in the moment and more mindful of what I am experiencing. Tempering expectations doesn’t allow those expectations or preconceived ideas to taint reality. Instead, I can enjoy the experience in real time.

Take Stephen Malkmus’ new album Wig Out at Jagbags as an example. I loved, LOVED Mirror Traffic. My expectations were high for Jagbags, but I realized that this was going to be a different record and it needed its own opportunity to win me over. Of course, the album didn’t have to impress me at all. Malkmus has done enough in Pavement and with Jicks to earn my loyalty. Still, I listened with anticipation. To be honest, the first few listens didn’t impress. It took 3-4 concentrated listens for me to appreciate this record, but I did. Is it as good as Traffic? I don’t know. Does it have to be? All I know is that it’s a good record at this moment and I enjoy listening to it.

See? It’s all about tempering those expectations so that we can enjoy what’s right in front of us. Stay in the moment. This year’s Hopslam doesn’t have to be last year’s or the version bottled six years ago.

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On Spotify

Posted in Records by SM on January 13, 2014

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Recently, Stephen Malkmus was interviewed by Rolling Stone, closing with the following question and answer after admitting that he doesn’t make playlists “on those evil Spotify places” for his daughters.

RS: You’re anti-Spotify, then?

SM: Definitely. I think it sucks.

I am one of those parents who has made a Spotify playlist for my kid – a mixture of songs I think she should like and songs she actually likes. I use Spotify all the time. It streams throughout my work day, at home, and sometimes on the road. I used to make a daily playlist with the help of my Facebook network and that has turned into its own co-op. And yes, I pay a monthly fee not to hear commercials and to have the service available anywhere I go.

Spotify really is ideal. I don’t have to worry about the longevity and capacity of my iPod. There’s no need to figure out a way to lug my records everywhere. I have a service available to me that pretty much will allow me to discover and peruse almost any artist or band on the planet. Spotify is a fantastic breakthrough in music and technology.

But why do I feel so guilty for using the streaming service?

Well, other than Malk’s reaction to Spotify, there are other reasons I question its ethics. As you may or may not know, I am a big proponent of craft and indie industries, indie-craft, if you will. It irks me to see large corporations like Spotify and record labels profit from the hard work of artists. At the same time, musicians get a tiny cut of what is a billion dollar pot. There are plenty of reasons not to use Spotify.

Lost is the record collecting culture that used to be a huge part of music. Even those brought up on CDs long for the days of owning something again. Although almost any album by almost any artist is available to stream, it’s never really yours or free of the Spotify interface.

There are the horror stories of artists getting fleeced by the Swedes via dinky royalty payments. Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi famously broke down his paltry payments from streaming services on Pitchfork. And it can be argued that Spotify is not the friend of new and lesser known bands as compared to the payouts offered to catalogued bands and their corporate overlords.

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. Consider what the rest of Malkmus’ quote stated:

That doesn’t mean my music isn’t on there, though. I’m against a lot of things that I do in life, and I still do them, so there’s a lot of self-deception in all our lives. At least in the life of an unprincipled musician.

So, based on this statement, Spotify can be seen as a necessary evil. It’s akin to doing radio interviews or promos at best and selling songs to corporations for commercials at worst.

Of course, the real problem in all of this is the record industry as a whole. Why are we blaming a streaming tool like Spotify and not the greedy corporate leaches known as major record labels. Billy Bragg – champion of the working class – thinks as much and I tend to agree.

In his critique of the confluence of Pandora and Spotify, David Marcias takes issue and makes it clear why Spotify actually benefits musicians. Essentially, he makes my argument in favor of Spotify for me. (Yes, that’s where I’m going with all of this.)

To compare the two in terms of what they’re paying out is a completely fallacious construct. When Mr. Krukowski complains about the amount that he got paid on his BMI statement for his song, what he should be comparing it to is how much he got paid for an equivalent number of spins at terrestrial radio on that same BMI statement. My guess is that he did not get 7900 spins on terrestrial radio; one of the great gifts of Pandora and other tech-based companies like them is that they give an opportunity for music to be heard that terrestrial radio has neither the bandwidth nor interest to play. Technology has been a boon to independent musicians. I would also like to ask what his compensation from Sound Exchange was, both as an artist and what his label made from those spins. Whatever it was, it was more than what was paid out by terrestrial radio, who pays no compensation to owners of recordings. If you want to protest THAT, I’ll grab my pitchfork and meet you in the town square.

Basically, artists are getting paid per play at a better rate than what they get for radio, which is basically nothing. Additionally, Spotify (and Pandora) offer artists exposure the marketing departments at their labels, radio stations, or MTV (LULZ) combined. They’re getting paid and exposed on a tool they despise? That doesn’t make sense.

Then consider the pirating issue. While pirating music does offer a certain amount of exposure, it offers nothing monetarily for artists. Pirating sites and participants are the real enemies of musicians, not Spotify. Although I don’t totally trust the correlation, Spotify has made the argument that their service has contributed to the decrease in pirating in the Netherlands. It’s a fairly weak argument, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to imagine Spotify or similar services making pirating obsolete or at least unnecessary.

I use Spotify and don’t have a problem with it. I pay a monthly fee so that I have access offline and don’t have to hear ads. I make endless playlists. Still, I generally listen to whole albums. Several recent discoveries have been via the service. And even then, I still buy a lot of vinyl or go to shows when I can. If anything, Spotify has improved my financial support of many great artists.

Is Spotify evil? Maybe. It is a corporation making money off of art. That said, I’m just happy I can listen to the music I love whenever I want and wherever I want.

BTW, most of what should be read on the Spotify issue can be found here and a playlist celebrating our corporate overlords is below via Spotify, of course.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

Posted in Live by SM on February 19, 2012

I’m too tired and too busy to post too often. So, this is what you’ll get for now. Things will get back to normal soon. I hope.

20120219-222009.jpg Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks entertained the CoMusic faithful starving for some nineties indie rock this past Saturday evening at the Blue Note. We didn’t get the opportunity to see Pavement when they made their reunion trek almost two years ago (aside from those of us who made the drive to KC on September 11th). So, Pavement’s primary songwriter and former front man’s trip to Middle Missouri would have to suffice. Playing mostly new songs from the excellent Mirror Traffic, the crowd was treated to what can only be described as “slacker prog”. Malkmus fiddled away at his guitar in numerous awkward positions as bassist Joanna Bolme and mulch-instrumentalist Mike Clark admirably filled holes. However, the most impressive Jick award may have gone to drummer Jake Morris who not only nailed all of Janet Weiss’s parts, but created a little niche of his own, particularly when he and Malkmus played off of each others’ need for some Zeppelin. All the while, the band jammed and screwed with pop structures the only way progressive rock and roll bands know how to do. Besides the prerequisite tracks and single from the latest release, several songs from throughout Malkmus’s solo career and beyond were featured in the set. There were at least two tracks from his first album (if my memory doesn’t fail me) and a decent number of songs from Real Emotional Trash, including the title track. Honestly, “Real Emotional Trash” is just an excuse to jam, but no one complained. This is something SM has cut from his current album, but the back catalog provides plenty of opportunity to explore his Dead Head leanings. Speaking of heads, Malk has an impressive mop of hair for a dude in his mid-forties. Just saying. Pavement, Malkmus’s former band – you may have heard of them, could have never put on a show like Saturday’s. For one, the Jicks seem to like each other, even sharing the stage in a way that would have never happened with Pavement. Sure, Malkmus is in his customary position on the left side of the stage, almost looking somewhat aloof. However, all the band members were relatively equally distanced from the audience, none really standing out. Most impressive once again was the stand that found Morris head and shoulders above the rest. That would have never happened with Pavement. I once watched Malkmus kick off drummer Steve West from his kit so that he could demonstrate how a part was to be played. One really gets the sense that all Jicks are equal even though one Jick’s name is out in front. There’s a reason the Jicks are respected as equals. They honestly are better players than those who played in Pavement and this is coming from a man obsessed with Pavement. Yes, the music is still lazy. Malkmus will never escape this. The difference is that the playing more effortless than just sloppy. Calling it “slacker prog” nails it. Portlanders Nurses opened. The aesthetic was awfully full of Walkmen and Born Ruffians, but they didn’t come with the oomph those bands typically bring. I will reserve judgement, however, until after I hear their recorded work.

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Top 10 Albums of 2011

Posted in MoL, Pavement, Records by SM on December 16, 2011

OK. I’ve waited long enough. Here are my top-10 albums of the year. Most should come as no surprise, if you’ve been reading this blog all year. To start things off, we have the #10 album that I picked from a list of albums just outside the top-10

10. War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

I currently do not own this record. I missed their show in town. Finally, at some point in November, I gave the record a listen on Spotify and was blown away. Ever since, I’ve been playing the shit out of this record. I don’t think it cracks the top-9 as they have stayed constant all year or at least since they’ve been released. Either way, this is a strong, strong record. It has that lazy garage rock mumble former member Kurt Vile does so well, but there’s an aura of shoegaze and shitgaze all in one album. It’s cool and hauting, even beautiful in some parts. I still regret not seeing this band when they came to town. Oh well. I’ll make up for it by propping their album up as one of the best of 2011, a year that has turned out a surprising amount of good-to-great music.

9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Although “boring”, there is nothing wrong with this album and that should count for something. After falling instantly in love, I soon decided that it was my mission to hate it. I couldn’t. Somehow, Justin Vernon achieves epic soundscapes, big noise, soul, urgency, and bitter cold in the most subtle of ways. I want to hate this record, but I can’t. It just feels right. Gone are the quiet, hushed log cabin recordings of yesteryear, but the intimacy is still there. This album is a major achievement and should be recognized as such.

 

8. Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer

I missed this album’s release somehow. Insound was having a sale on Merge albums and I grabbed it since I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of Friedberger’s material with Fiery Furnaces. Anyway, this record is incredibly more approachable than the FF’s stuff. It doesn’t hurt that she was so cool hanging out the night she played St. Louis. I have a soft spot for artists who are nice people. Anyway, the album held up that night and I haven’t stopped listening since. Equal parts Patti Smith, Stephen Malkmus, and Joni Mitchell. It’s a really strong album from beginning to end. I can’t wait to hear what Friedberger does next.

7. Thao & Mirah – Thao & Mirah

I loved Thao Nguyen’s We Brave Bee Stings and All and saw she and Mirah perform some covers online. That was all I needed to purchase this largely overlooked yet timely album. Aggressive, percussive, completely danceable, and very fun, Thao & Mirah was a strong contender for this list from the first time I listened to it. This is a powerful record by two accomplished female artists about which I want my daughter to know. If this album somehow missed your awareness this year, go buy it and have some fun.

 

6. Cults – Cults

I don’t know what it is with all the nostalgia for Phil Spector these days, but Cults captured that and more with this solid effort, turning in the song of the summer in “Go Outside”. The album was a breath of fresh air since its release last spring. There was a time when I considered it an outside shot at album of the year. It captured my imagination that much. I worry that the band will struggle to put out anything as good as their first, but this isn’t a bad legacy to leave either.

5. Tune-Yards – W H O K I L L

Something about Tune-Yards was rubbing me the wrong way. Not sure what it was, but it didn’t last long. Everywhere I went, this record was playing. In fact, my favorite hangout often had this record spinning. I couldn’t resist. It’s infectious, raucous, fresh. I love the mixture of a lo-fi, nineties, guitar thing mixed with this dance-centric, percussive aesthetic all the kids are going for these days. I could listen to this album over and over, something I could say for any of these records, but especially for this one.

 

4. Wye Oak – Civilian

Wye Oak’s earlier material did next to nothing for me. Then, they did a couple of those AV Club things where they played cover songs. Then, they released a video and I was taken back to some mid-nineties indie. Stuff like Throwing Muses or Madder Rose when all these female voices began to emerge above the feedbacked fray of that era. This album is pure retromania for me and it’s plain good from first track to last. Jenn Wasner’s deep voice over a cacophonous racket fills my nineties nostalgic needs, much like the following albums on the list…

3. Yuck – Yuck

I have gushed enough about the nostalgic love I hold for this band and this release, but I have to say more so as to justify its placement in my top-10. And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t actually like the bonus material on the deluxe version of the record. Not everything these youngsters touch is gold. So, with this in mind, one has to consider that it’s impressive how right they got it when they put together an album that should have come out 15-20 years ago. Feedback, angsty lyrics, more feedback… It’s as if they invented the 90’s indie aesthetic and not Pavement or Sebadoh. I love this record. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking, but it perfectly captures what will be some pretty perfect moments in the development of my musical tastes.

2. Wild Flag – Wild Flag

When I heard this group was getting together, my head nearly exploded at the thought of all the possibilities. Then, they toured and my head blew up again re-imagining the ruckus Sleater-Kinney used to cause back in the day. Then, the music began to trickle out. Early on, the urgency detected in “Future Crimes” made me realize that this band was going to blow away all expectations. Wild Flag’s self-titled (a lot of these lately) debut is the perfect mix of S-K riot grrrl, Helium-style classic rock, garage punk, Runaways barnstorming, and indie sensibility. This album may be an all-time top-10 pick forever, assuming their follow-up isn’t more awesome. The guitar and vocals interplay between front women Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein is only surpassed by the work Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss are doing with backing vocals and holding down the low end. This is the super group to end all super groups.

1. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Yes, I’m biased, but how is this album not on every end-of-year list. I either missed the memo or have yet to change out of my Pavement-tinted glasses. I’ve never thought a Stephen Malkmus solo album to be a top-10 record much less a #1, but Mirror Traffic is different. The prog wizardry and blues riffs have been taken down a notch with the perplexing and sly wit of Malkmus’ songwriting coming to the front. Plus, the accumulation of talent in this band is pretty insane considering the ramshackle band Malk fronted for a decade made some of the most memorable music of my lifetime. This is the first album he’s done that doesn’t feel like the continuation of Terror Twilight, a complete break from his former trajectory and an album that sounds like another band wrote and recorded it. Then, there’s the production which is quintessential Beck Hanson all over. This is the easiest Malk album to which to listen since those halcyon days of Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. In fact, I’d say Mirror Traffic falls somewhere between those two great albums and Wowee Zowee. Yeah, I said it. So what?

I’m rambling a bit now, but that’s the list and I stand by it. (BTW, it’s no accident Janet Weiss is part of the top-2 records of the year.)

Twenty Best Songs of 2011

Posted in MoL, Records by SM 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?

Month of Lists: Top-10 Nineties Revivalists

Posted in MoL by SM on December 1, 2011

For those of you who read this blog a lot, you know that I have a certain affinity for the nineties. It was the decade I attended high school, fell in love for the first time, graduated college, and started a career. So, a lot happened durning those years, making them rather significant for me. And the whole time, music was playing.

One thing I’ve noticed in the indie music scene is the resurgence of anything retro, especially nineties sensibilities and aesthetics. This agrees with me and my tastes. So, to start out the month of lists, I will begin with a list of those responsible for this nineties revivalism.

10. Fleet Foxes – Hippies were big in the nineties. The Grateful Dead were still a huge draw as was up-and-coming Phish. Blind Melon and Spin Doctors broke through at various points. Half of my friends were hippies. I played hacky-sack between classes now and again. Also, grunge label Sub Pop was beginning to turn into a folk label, well, not completely. Still, a band like Fleet Foxes would have done very well in those days.

9. Those who promote session beers – I had to work in a beer angle, but this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. My first craft beers (or any kind of beer for that matter) was consumed in the nineties. I remember Sam Adams and Pet’s Wicked Ale being the most accessible of the craft beers. There were even a few brew pubs popping up. One thing all these breweries had in common was that they pretty stuck to style and rarely shot for extreme IBU’s or ABV. This is basically what the Session Beer Project is all about these days. So, I tip my nineties era white hat to Lew Bryson and his minions for keeping an eye on tradition as we move forward with craft beer or something like that.

8. Every band of my youth that has to reunite – Every time I think this trend will en, another band announces a tour and/or release. This time, it’s the Promise Ring shortly after Archers of Loaf’s run. This is after recent reunions for Guided By Voices, Sebadoh, The Breeders (again), Pixies (multiple times), Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Pavement, etc. The nineties keep coming back through these bands that shaped the decade. Now, I’m waiting to see who else decides to reunite and take another run at it or even who’s left. Afghan Whigs? Sonic Youth (assuming they’ve played their last gig)?

7. Flannel – I actually searched out and purchased a flannel shirt for the first time in probably 17 years. The other night, Kanye West wore a flannel around his waste. The all-purpose, workman’s standby-turned-grunge-uniform is chic again. I always liked the comfort and warmth such shirts provided. Why shouldn’t they come back?

6. The Nevermind memorial parade – I too participated in this bit of nostalgia during Nevermind‘s 20th anniversary. While the merits of the album’s musical quality can be debated, it is hard to ignore the cultural impact it had, even beyond Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, and grunge. The efforts to remember Nevermind and consume it made me feel like it was 1991 all over again… or maybe more like 1992.

5. Shoegazers – M83, Yuck, Atlas Sound/Deerhunter, Wavves, and many more young bands I’m forgetting may not be straight-up shoegazers, but they all contain certain elements of what My Bloody Valentine made somewhat famous 20 years ago. Veterans Yo La Tengo, Mogwai, and Ride have also maintained a presence in 2011 along with their shoegaze leanings. As I get older, I see elements including sampled drones, feedback, loops, unintelligible vocals, and just beautiful noise coming from indie circles. MBV’s legacy is that every band sounds like them on at least one track per album.

4. Lo-fi – Unbelievably, many bands have somehow been able to attain the sonic heights of shoegaze while simultaneously maintaining a lo-fi aesthetic/ethic. I blame shitgaze and the return of the original Guided By Voice lineup. Still, the warmth provided by some tape hiss and feedback take me back to my lazy days in college. Thank you, Times New Viking and other lo-fi revivalists. Your screwed up recordings make me smile at the thought of audiophiles throwing fits at you leaving their expensive speakers ineffective and pointless. That and you sound great on vinyl.

3. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – I remember when all the old hardcore kids and eighties indie rockers would come back around in the nineties, making me wish I was old enough to have both seen them in their prime and as matured, fully-developed artists. Malk provides this for me today. And he hasn’t really changed much since his nineties hay-day.

2. Wild Flag – Besides smart-ass, white boy indie rock, the nineties were known for the riot grrrl movement. In the Pacific-Northwest, it was about sheer energy and youthful exuberance. In the East, it was about songcraft and esoteric guitar music that amazed even the boys with hands in their pockets. Wild Flag captures both. Besides that, it was great just to see 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony back on stage in an important band.

1. Yuck – More so than any other band or genre shift, Yuck epitomizes nineties indie rock. It’s surprising as most of the band members are barely old enough to remember what that was like. At times, they sound like Dinosaur Jr. and at others like My Bloody Valentine. Then, it’s just straight up indie a la Sebadoh, Pavement, [name of generic nineties indie band here], etc. It’s nothing new, but it’s done well.

More lists to come… Feel free to comment on what I missed or other lists I should write this month. Tomorrow is a Session post, so the next list might come out over the weekend but no later than Monday.

Thanks

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Live, Records by SM on November 24, 2011

I’m thankful for a lot. However, I won’t go into all that here. This blog is about craft beer and indie rock. So, I won’t go into my thankfulness for my health, family, home, etc. Those all go without saying. No, this post pays homage to the little extras that provide a little spice to life, the things for which I obsess over and blog about incessantly.

10. Improved Missouri Distribution – Since I’ve moved here and eventually became a beer enthusiast, the distribution in this state has increased dramatically. I don’t even think I can name all the breweries we’ve added in that time. Off the top of my head, I can think of Firestone Walker, Lagunitas, Stone, Founders, Ska, Jolly Pumpkin, Stillwater, and a bunch more I probably didn’t realize weren’t already available here. We currently get nearly all the important Michigan and Colorado breweries. Our west coast selections improve monthly. It’s a great time to be a beer geek in Missouri.

9. Two Clubs, Two Cities – It’s tough trying to see bands in a town such as Columbia. We’re not really gib enough for a lot of acts, but we do have options. Two clubs here are just the right size for most indie bands. There’s Mojo’s with it’s barn-like qualities and the Blue Note with its old-school dancehall/porno theater feel. And when bands don’t want to stop here, it’s not a huge deal to drive two hours in either direction to see them in St. Louis or Kansas City. This year alone, among others, I’ve seen Sebadoh (Mojo’s), Yo La Tengo (Blue Note), Beirut (St. Louis), and Wild Flag (Kansas City) in four different places. That’s not bad for an old man.

8. The Ohio Pipeline – Even though Missouri’s distribution is improving, there are still many breweries we do not get. I could do some online trading or simply buy online, but that gets expensive. Luckily, for every brewery we don’t get here, there’s a better than average chance they do get it in Ohio. Between my siblings (one who works at a Whole Foods) and my mom (who drives here once a month to see me her only grandchild), I have a steady flow of out-of-market beers to keep myself satisfied.

7. Insound – I’ve complained before that there’s no decent record store here. Thankfully, Insound is always a click away. At one point, they shipping so many records to me that the UPS lady asked my wife if I was a DJ. Hardly. No, I’m just a man with a problem, an addiction, an addiction to vinyl.

6. Glassware – A beer out of the wrong glass or even out of a bottle is just not the same as one served in the proper glass. Over the years, I have collected several different glasses in which I can enjoy some of the finest beers in the world as well as some tasty homebrew. I have various stemmed glasses for various styles of beer. I have enough conical pint glasses to serve a decent-sized party. There’s even the set of taster glasses for those who just want a small taste of a big beer. Over time and many bottles of beer, I’ve found the tulip to be the best, most versatile glass. The stem gives me something to hold onto if I don’t want to warm my beer. The bowl presents an option to make my beer warmer. The lip allows aromas to flow. Quite simply, it is the perfect beer glass.

5. The Nineties Are Still Alive – In case you haven’t figured it out, I am a child of the nineties and my musical tastes reflect as much. My favorites continue to be nineties mainstays and most of the new music sound so 20 years ago. The two best albums might be by Wild Flag and Stephen Malkmus, ambassadors for the decade. New, younger bands such as Yuck and BOAT have ’90’s written all over them despite their youth. It’s the decade that will never die. Spin and I will make sure of that.

4. My Bottle Opener – For whatever reason, I like to hold onto the bottle caps from the beers I drink. In the past, I’ve turned some into refrigerator magnets, but most just go into a drawer. Still, it’s a luxury to have an opener that opens caps without bending them. My opener does that. It’s fashioned from an old railroad spike. It’s heavy and rustic looking. My bottle opener is a conversation piece before we ever crack open a bottle.

3. 180 Gram Vinyl – I love to listen to vinyl, but I worry that it may warp or that the record won’t stand the test of time. However, with hefty 180 gram vinyl records, I don’t worry about that. One can feel the weight of a 180 gram vinyl record the way one should feel the resulting music from the grooves within. The record is so tactile anyway, it’s nice to feel some heft as you lift a disc to rest on your turntable.

2. Mikkeller, Stillwater, Jolly Pumpkin – I love breweries that push limits and don’t taste like any other brewery. These three do what they do at the highest level and often alone. Mikkeller, Stillwater, and Jolly Pumpkin are the kinds of breweries that keep my attention firmly set on craft beer. They’re always good and even when they’re not, they’re at least interesting.

1. This Blog and Its Readership – Seriously. This blog has really taken off since the Freshly Pressed moment last winter, but the continual participation and contributions from my readership have really moved me to post as often as I can. In fact, I’ve looked forward to finishing a post a day throughout November because I know that you all will respond in kind and often add to the discussion in a way that makes me think and motivates me to write again.

Thank you faithful readers and have a happy Thanksgiving.

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