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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.)
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?
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.
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.
How are beer and music boring, or rather, “boring?” There’s been a discussion online over what makes something both artistically significant and boring. Now, months too late, I’m joining the fray.
Instead of rehashing the entire saga, I’ll point to the two pieces that inspired this post. First, there was Dan Kois’ “Eating Your Cultural Vegetables” where the author had the gull to suggest that the critical darlings of film are actually rather slow, boring even. Other film critics did not agree. Then, his good buddy, Steven Hyden, over at AV Club said basically the same thing about music. I suspect the AV Club piece will garner less vitriol than the film piece. Still, both critiques are spot-on. The most critically-acclaimed film and music can be a bit tedious.
Hyden differentiates the boringness of film and music. In music criticism, he writes, “…we have no problem classifying art as boring.” Eventually, he differentiates the boring from the “boring.” Hyden writes:
Any kind of music can be boring depending on the listener. No song is inherently not-boring—not even CCR’s “Ramble Tamble”—because boring is obviously based on subjective perception. This makes boring music hard to pin down. In a sense, all music is boring. The same, however, can’t be said about “boring” music. “Boring” is its own genre. It is a code word that instantly conjures artists with clearly definable attributes. “Boring” music is slow to mid-tempo, mellow, melodic, pretty in a melancholy way, catchy, poppy, and rooted in traditional forms. It is popular (or popular-ish). It is tasteful, well-played, and meticulously produced. (Or it might sound like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom under the influence of weed and Sega Genesis.) It is “easy to like”—or more specifically, “easy for white people to like” (“white people” being a sub-group of white people singled out by other white people). It is critically acclaimed (perhaps the most critically acclaimed music there is), and yet music critics relish taking “boring” musical artists down a peg more than any other kind of artist.
He continues by naming BICTBAP favorites Fleet Foxes, The National, ST. Vincent, among others whom he considers to be “boring.” I can’t really argue with that assessment. I’m white people. I like that music.
Then, I consider whether or not I still like that music. Sure, it’s fine, but I haven’t listened to the last National album since well over a year ago and that’s because I rode in a car playing it on the way to seeing them in St. Louis. Hyden argues that “boring” is not necessarily bad. I’d argue that it’s not necessarily good either. “Boring” has the same effect as boring. The only difference is that we can’t figure out how to dislike some art when it’s “boring” until one day, it just occurs to us. With boring art or music, we know right away.
So, I considered what the effects of “boring” music on my musical tastes are. Well, I think not too long ago, I proclaimed (more like hinted) that the Fleet Foxes album, Helplessness Blues was the album of the year. I did the same for Bon Iver. While I still think these are very good records (I am still a white guy), they have long since been passed by more-immediate-but-just-as-deftly-performed albums by Wild Flag and Stephen Malkmus. Those last two records contain so much more urgency and soul (more on this tomorrow).
“Boring” music may impress me at first, but it doesn’t stay with me for long. I get, well, bored after a while and need something to properly get me to move my feet. Records by Cults, Tune-Yards, and Eleanor Friedberger are not boring. I get up and dance with my three-year-old when these records play. Bon Iver? not so much.
And since this is a music and beer blog, I considered the “boring”-ness of craft beer, because it’s out there. I’ll refrain from naming breweries as I want to support all craft breweries and recognize that they have a certain clientele that enjoy “boring” beer. I will also brace myself for the inevitable backlash from beer critics who, like their counterparts in film and music criticism, will be outraged* at the thought that traditional styles such as British pale ales, ESB’s, American wheat ales, or amber ales could possibly be “boring.” Well, they kinda are. I recognize that a well-made beer in any style can be enjoyable, but “boring” beer just doesn’t do it for me.
To be clear, a “boring” beer isn’t necessarily bad. The run of the mill pale ale at your local brewery is probably a fine brew, but sometimes we want more than fine. Typically, but not always, “boring” beers are your basic styles with little variation in traditional ingredients. They are true to customary recipes and are often executed well. However, they’re just “boring.” I don’t often reach for “boring.” I’ve had it and now I want something else.
Beers that push the limits are beers that won’t qualify as “boring.” Now, that doesn’t mean all these beers have to be imperial or extreme to be considered not “boring.” Non-”boring” beers challenge the palate and wow the drinker with each sip. These beers will make you excited to be a craft beer convert. These beers inspire blog posts and cause one to try their hand at homebrewing. No “boring” beer for me, thankyouverymuch.
What’s interesting to me, is that in both the case of “boring” music and “boring” beer, they both appeal to middle-aged, white guy (says the middle-aged white guy). We like our Boulevard Wheat and our Wilco. We watch baseball and may even be caught with a baseball cap on now and again. We too are “boring.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes (more often for some than others), we need to break free of “boring.” Let’s have a La Folie, listen to some Japandroids, and squeeze into a pair of jeans that fit you for christ’s sake.
As you may have noticed “boring” begins to take on a value for me, making it seem more like the other boring. I cannot lie. “Boring” music and beer… well… bores me. Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of it. I just find “boring” to be boring at some point. There may be moments when “boring” is fine, but I prefer to look for anything but “boring.”
What are your thoughts on “boring?” Am I right on or way off base? Are there good examples out there of “boring?” Is this blog becoming “boring?” As usual, leave your thoughts and/or self-righteous indignation in the comments below.
*Outraged might be a bit too strong. Mildly annoyed? LOL? This blog’s title is too long.
Eric Bachman, like Stephen Malkmus, is one of my generation‘s gracefully aging rock heroes. For previous generations, that may fall upon the likes of Paul McCartney, David Bowie, or Bruce Springsteen. These musicians create a huge buzz when they’re young, creating art that is immediate and loaded with energy ideal for the times. Then, they get older and develop into better musicians along the way. Lost is some of that urgency, but they gain a certain proficiency in their craft that keeps their die-hard fans interested.
Bachman fronted one of my favorite bands of all-time, Archers of Loaf. The music he has created since their late-nineties demise is far from the blue-collar, Carolina indie that spoke to me in my 20′s. Instead, he opted for darker, more textured songs about drunks and hurt. I gravitated to this new direction as it was a chance to still hear and see one of my favorite artists. Even though Crooked Fingers albums tend to not resemble anything on a Loaf record – aside from Bachman’s growl – the live show reminded me why Loaf was so engaging.
The Crooked Fingers discography is an odd lot. The first two albums (Crooked Fingers and Bring on the Snakes) are nice companion pieces, telling stories of drunken depression and back alley romance. Red Devil Dawn brought together the bar band Bachman had created in filling the void left by Loaf, capturing the live energy for what is a powerful record. Things began to get shaky with the adventurous concept album Dignity and Shame. Projects like these either spur on huge crossovers or signal the end of a band. At the time, it seemed to mean the latter.
Then, Bachman recorded a solo record from a van in Seattle. The naked craftsmanship of To the Races helped me to appreciate his talent sans the Loaf hangover. The songs are expertly written and the subtle production and arrangements help create one of the most intimate records no one listens to.
Instead of building on the rawness of Races, Bachman continued to go down the path Dignity led him in recording the forgettable Forfeit/Fortune. The feel of this record was one of Bachman searching for something new or a direction he could embrace. Although it contained elements from his earlier Crooked Fingers projects, it had this forced aura of eclecticism and variety. Honestly, I haven’t listened to that album in a couple of years and I don’t feel the need to do it now.
Then, something unexpected happened. Archers of Loaf, the last holdout in the 90′s reunion/revival circuit, did the unthinkable and reunited for a tour this year. The original plan was to tour in support of reissues of the band’s four albums, but now there’s talk of recording. We’ll see.
An unexpected result of that reunion might be the moving Breaks in the Armor. This record is a return to the darkness enjoyed on the first two Crooked Fingers albums while somehow capturing the energy and urgency of Archers of Loaf the way Red Devil Dawn couldn’t quite achieve. Additionally, the raw beauty of To the Races is present as is an improved musician in Bachman.
What I find interesting are the similarities between Breaks in Armor and Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic. Both come out and were record in the midst of reunions with the bands that made them famous. It’s easy to detect the new-found/reinvigorated energy in both. Also, the growth in songwriting and musicianship in both men is apparent. I have been impressed with Malkmus’ new insistence of actually singing. Likewise, Bachman stretches his range, often ditching the Neil Diamond bravado demonstrated on previous albums. Plus, both featured female vocals that add much to their sounds. Finally, Crooked Fingers and the Jicks feature some incredibly solid work on the bass that fills out their sound and reminds you that there are other people in these bands.
What was often missing from the Diamond dirges of other Crooked Fingers records was the power of Arechers of Loaf-era Bachman. He seems to have rediscovered an aggressive guitar playing alternate guitar tunings that made Loaf records so unique. I have to think this has a lot to do with his time on stage with his Loaf mates. While I’m glad to see Loaf touring, I am even more excited to hear Bachman rediscovering his inner-rocker in developing Crooked Fingers as a group with a future.
“Typhoon” opens steady and low, much like the early material, but one already detects the change in sound as Bachman allows some room for female vocals and plays like he did in Loaf’s later years. The second track, “Bad Blood,” is a straight-up rocker that reminds me so much of Archers of Loaf in the way Bachman plucks the strings, bending them to his will. The melody and drama reveal a more mature version of what Archers of Loaf used to be. The tone quiets with “The Hatchet,” similar to To the Races. It’s a beautiful track with subtle touches that flesh out the mood created.
This is followed by what is almost a pop song with a huge bassline featured out front. “The Counterfeiter” is a song Bachman might have dirged-to-death, but instead he lets the melody flow in creating a real head-bobber. This is maybe the most rewarding song of the album just for the fact that it breaks away from anything I’ve heard from Bachman. If there was ever an opportunity for a stripped-down Crooked Fingers track to make a crossover onto adult alternative stations, this would be it.
“Heavy Hours” regains the quiet established before and is yet another beautiful track, something Bachman had in him but rarely exploited. That quiet is broken a bit by the marching of ”Black Candles” and its eerie resemblance to a Low song. “Went to the City” builds on the piano that’s been hinted at throughout, thrusting the instrument to the forefront as Bachman stretches his considerable vocal chops, singing yet another pop song.
Crooked Fingers used to depend on a steady movement with the low end all filled out while Bachman growled on. “Your Apocalypse” is a track that could have fallen into that trap had it not been for a quickening of the pace, a higher octave, and some incredibly well-crafted arrangements. Even the guitar solo is uplifting.
“War Horses” opens with a buzz and steady beat that suggest dirge, but Bachman’s soaring vocals carry the day once again. “She Tows the Line” follows in a similar manner, building on the momentum that’s been created so far. “Our New Favorite” is the bluegrass ending I didn’t expect but welcomed with open arms.
Though Breaks in the Armor doesn’t attain the same sonic levels as Stephen Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic, it is no less a triumph in its demonstration of an already-accomplished artist developing, even maturing. For me, albums like these are the albums with which I want to grow old. I don’t need Wilco and their brand of dad-rock. I need my heroes to continue their growth, recalling the glory days while building toward the future. It seems as long as musicians are still hungry to break through, they will continue to avoid complacency and grow.
Breaks in the Armor is easily the most advanced and cohesive Crooked Fingers album yet. This Bachman project quickly approaching the dad-rock equivalent of an Icky Mettle or Vee-Vee. And if this is what dad-rock is going to be, I’m okay with that.
Another week, another top-5….
1. “Senator” gets the MTV treatment. – Maybe the year’s best single finally has a proper video. Somehow, Malk secured the services of Jack Black to make what must be the song’s narrative incarnate. Office Space‘s Gary Cole even makes a cameo. I really wish the narrative was more fleshed out to represent some of the nuances suggested in the song, but it’s as entertaining a video as one could hope.
2. Black IPA’s vs. Cascadian Black Ale – Really? There’s still a debate over this? Whatever. It’s a great beer style – whatever you call it. Why all the fuss? What I like is how so many can be so different. I had my last Stone 15th Anniversary Ale this weekend as well as a Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet. Both were incredibly different from each other. The Stone beer is so clearly a West Coast DIPA with some dark, roasted malt. The Hoppy Feet has a ton of cola flavor and doesn’t feature the aroma of Simcoe and whatnot as prominently as the Stone. Still, both were good beers.
3. Sports Ball – I planned not to write about Ohio State at all with what was looking like the worst season in 10 years, but they somehow pulled out a win versus an undefeated and raked team on the road…with one completed pass ( a 17-yard touchdown pass in the second half). The Buckeyes’ opponent, Illinois, didn’t score until just over six minutes left in the game.
Even if Ohio State hadn’t won, it’s been fun to watch the St. Louis Cardinals come out of nowhere this season. They were left for dead a month ago before going on a tear that’s seen them catch the Braves for the Wild Card, beat the unbeatable Phillies, and beat the Brewers who happened to beat the Cards for the division race. It’s been a hell of a run and I hope it continues.
4. Homebrew Update – I cracked open a Black Francis and it’s packing hear along with a load of bourbon. On top of that, I can sense the cocoa nibs just under the bitter. I’m hoping the vanilla flavors will emerge as it ages, but I don’t know how long it will be around. There’s also the Simcoe-dependency IPA which I have yet to open. It’s been in the bottle for a week and a day, but I’ve found that waiting at least 10 days insures there will be carbonation. I’ll drink one this week in order to make sure it’s ready for a party we’re attending on Saturday.
5. Gordon-Moore Separation – While some fret over Ashton and Demi’s breakup, I’m more concerned about the separation of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. For completely selfish reasons, I don’t want to see Sonic Youth end over this. Here’s to hoping they figure out a way to still make Sonic Youth work despite their separation. I suspect it’s not that big of a deal as the reality of such relationships rarely matches the ideals many of us hold concerning marriage.
Bonus: I am the 99% and I fully support the #OccupyWallStreet protests. I have chosen not to write about it mostly because I have tried (and sometimes failed) to avoid politics. Still, it’s everything I rail against with regularity on Facebook and Twitter discussion threads. I just hope it doesn’t get co-opted, leaving it powerless.
Happy Labor Day, y’all! I wanted to make a labor-themed list this week, but I wasn’t feeling all that creative. Labor Day and unions will get their due in the list, but there are other things to cover…
1. SM on Fallon
I originally wanted to share this show SM & the Jicks put on at San Francisco’s Amoeba Records, but this two-song set on Fallon was too much to resist. The image of all those kids on stage peeing themselves over the awesomeness in front of them can’t escape my mind. All the live videos of material from this album further confirms that Mirror Traffic is the best I’ve heard this year and I doubt that will change any time soon. (I would have embedded the videos here, but NBC’s and Photobucket’s embedding doesn’t seem to cooperate with WordPress.)
2. Founders 2010 Nemesis
Recently, both Draft Magazine and The Hopry suggested that last year’s Nemesis is ready to come out of the cellar. They were right. Gone is the hoppiness and bite. Present is a smooth, luscious black barley wine, aged to near-perfection. I still have two left that will wit for at least another 6-12 months. It should be interesting to see how this beer matures even more.
I’ve had an influx of records arriving at my house lately (and still more to come). It seems an order of three albums was lost somewhere and finally arrived this past week. I’ve barely had time to listen to Let’s Wrestle, Boat, and Joan of Arc. The Joan of Arc is pretty wicked, though. Also, I ordered a couple records I missed along the way: Eleanor Friedberger’s new solo effort and Wye Oak’s latest. On top of that, I’ve been listening to a streaming Wild Flag all week. So, there’s music about which to write once I find a moment.
There’s always a constant flow of beer in my life. I recently tried and thoroughly enjoyed Dogfish Head’s Squall, which is a bottle-conditioned version of their 90 Minute IPA. This was the same beer without the bite, quite enjoyable. Also, over the weekend, I had the Schlafly raspberry coffee stout. Meh. Fruit in stouts doesn’t often work for me. In this case, the raspberry overpowered everything. Luckily, I have another to age to see if the raspberry mellows.
5. Ohio State is 1-0.
This is all that matters. The Buckeyes had a long, long off-season as wins were vacated, players suspended, coaches resigned, etc. Now, they’ve finally played a game. It was a 42-0 win over outmatched Akron, but it was a win nonetheless. First-time head coach Luke Fickell starts off undefeated. The defense pitches a shutout (which is a big deal no matter who you’re playing). The quarterbacks looked good. There was a new-found killer instinct lacking in previous teams. They even left at least 10 points on the field, fumbling once inside the 5 and missing a make-able field goal. Now, they welcome a slightly tougher – but still a MAC-rificial lamb – test in Toledo. Hopefully, a week from now, I’m writing that they’re 2-0 and ready for Miami.
Here we are again. Another week. Another top-5 list.
1. College Kids
I don’t know if they make the list because I’m glad they’ve come back or that I wish they’d all go home. Living in a college town means that the winds of change happen every year in mid-May and mid-August. Students cause overcrowding, dangerous situations on the street, and a lot of unnecessary noise. Conversely, they also bring with them energy, inspiration, and a sense of hope. There’s good and bad. Luckily, they don’t know enough about craft beer to drink it all up. Sadly, they don’t know enough about (good) indie rock to raise demand for such things in retail and entertainment. They are just what they are.
2. College Football
The season begins later this week. I will be happy to actually watch games instead of reading about a new scandal every week, especially for my Buckeyes. This season could be surprisingly great for Ohio State. They have more talent than any team on their schedule, they have been the best program in the nation the past few years statistically, and it’s the first year for a new era. That said, they will likely suffer a few setbacks as replacing your coach and starting quarterback in the same year is just too much, especially with a significantly upgraded schedule. However, if they find a way to grind out a 5-0 start, find an answer under center, and gain a boost from players coming off suspension, it could be a special year.
3.The Flaming Lips + Lightning Bolt, “I’m Working at NASA on Acid”
This track is from the collab the Lips did with Lightning Bolt, one of the most raucous and insane live bands you’ll ever see. The beginning and end do nothing to capture Lightning Bolt’s energey, but the cool, retro aesthetic is nice. In between, there’s a burst of what you’d expect from LB and about 45 seconds of noise with classic Lips imagery. Overall, it’s an entertaining clip.
4. Drink with the Wench Beer Blogger Interviews
The Wench is a pretty well-known beer blogger who is willing to share her sizable audience with struggling beer bloggers like myself. Late last week, she posted my interview. A few questions were left off (totally my fault). As a special treat for you, my dear readers, I have those missing questions here:
#. What is one of the coolest things that happened to you as a result of being a beer blogger? The week after Stone arrived in Missouri, I wrote a post on the event that is a Stone state-wide release. Greg Koch responded to my post as well as all eleven footnotes. He was super cool and gracious.#. What are you top 3 favorite beer blogs/beer websites?It’s a Fucking Beer! (Great reviews with a potty mouth.), Hot Knives (Vegan hipsters with a penchant for matching brews with cheese and indie rock.), and Make Mine Potato (No reviews just existential ramblings about craft beer and lots and lots of beer porn you want to get with.)
(Plus, there was this mention from Appelation Beer.)
5. One more video…Here’s an unreleased track from Malk, “Independence Street.”
My beer club had a “Members Only” tasting in which we all wore Members Only jackets and drank a shit-ton of fantastic beers. Below is a picture of that lineup and you can always check my Untappd posts for the order of beers sampled.
The beers were from left to right: The Bruery Hottenroth, Hoppin Frog Hoppin to Heaven, Pretty Things St. Botolph’s, The Lost Abbey Devotion, Terrapin Hopsecutioner, Brew Dog Dogma, Boulevard/Deschutes Collaboration #2, Allagash Black, Dogfish Head Hellhound, 08-10 Stone Old Guardian (vertical), Brewer’s Art Green Peppercorn Tripel, The Bruery Mischief, Hoppin Frog Mean Manalishi Double IPA, Nectar Black Xantus , The Lost Abbey Judgement Day, Brooklyn #1, Full Sail Old Boardhead Barleywine 2011, Smuttynose Baltic Porter, Green Flash and Pizza Port Carlsbad Highway 78 Scotch Ale, Weyerbacher Heresy, Pretty Things Baby Tree, and The Bruery Trade Winds
Not pictured: Boulevard/Deschutes Collaboration #2 (the Deschutes version, aka Conflux 2), Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA, Trappist Westvleteren 12(!), Cascade Sang Royal, and Weyerbacher Double Simcoe