A hiatus means that one misses a lot of opportunities to write about all kinds of things. For me, beer is one and records are the other. With the epic bender to empty my cellar, I don’t know that I have the time to tell you all the beers I missed blogging about. (Really, I’m a little embarrassed how much high-ABV I’ve consumed recently.) So, I’ll stick with my favorite records of this year so far. Some may still be there when I inevitably do a year-end list, but I’m not there yet. Be sure to scroll to the bottom for the Spotify playlist.
Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
I actually reviewed this record in this calendar year, proving that I was alive as late as late January. Additionally, we took our older kid (6.5 years at the time) to her first real concert when S-K hit middle Missouri. (I really should have returned to blogging then as there were so many Carrie sightings by my family and friends. Alas, I was not feeling it.) And nothing has changed how I feel about this band or their latest album.
While it is up to debate whether or not this is S-K’s best effort (I prefer different S-K releases for different contexts), it is hard to argue that this isn’t their most complete album. From the first fat notes (“Price Tag”) to the anthemic ending (“Fade”), this record never lets up. Riding themes of feminism and activism (“New Wave”, “Surface Envy”), the rush from performing (“Fade” again), the evils of capitalism and debt (“Price Tag” again), life on the road (“No Cities”), and being an aging rock star (“No Anthems”, “Bury Our Friends), etc., No Cities does the whole “personal as political” as well as or better than any other S-K record. And the instrumentation (guitars, drums, vocals – gawd, the vocals) are just a whole other level hinted at in The Woods but never quite realized. No Cities to Love hits all the notes…no, more like pummels all the notes only to build them back again into something new and inspiring.
Viet Cong – S/T
Viet Cong are this year’s Joy Division, but that somehow seems limiting. Nah, this band is this year’s Joy Division as blended with a bunch of other Canadian bands. Take the raw power and energy of Japandroids, the anthemic dissonance of Godspeed You Black Emperor, the acidic take on modern life a la Ought, and maybe the awareness of Broken Social Scene and then toss in some lazy Joy Division bits and you’ve got yourself a review for Spin!
Twerps – Range Anxiety
I feel like Twerps just sounds like every band I liked from the 90’s as played through a filter of The Sundays. There’s lazy afternoons and meeting strange, exotic love interests, and even a bit about getting married. This is a nice, easy record to like. It’s pleasant, has a good pace, and hits all the right spots. I want every summer drive to have this album as the background music.
Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching
Ever had a dream that goes at a persistently fast pace and no matter how you wish to take the controls and change the direction it’s going, it continues to move in a direction you’re not completely comfortable with. Then, you realize that’s how your day is actually going and it’s no dream. To me, that’s what Krill sounds like. It’s bluntly honest and downright immature at times, but it gets at that helplessness when your life is a runaway train and somehow you just reside yourself to sit back and
enjoy accept the ride.
Yowler – The Offer
This year’s quiet, earnest, female singer-songwriter seems to be Yowler. It doesn’t hurt that Maryn Jones is from my old stomping grounds in Columbus, OH of course, but this little solo record (Jones is in Saintseneca) was a pleasant surprise. Quiet and haunting, Jones knows what contemplative first-year college students want to listen to alone in their dorm rooms. Or so I’ve heard. Anyway, the production is stripped down but not exactly lo-fi. It feels less experienced than Cat Power did 17 or so years ago. It’s quieter than, well pretty much everything. The only drawback is that Yowler is not yet available on vinyl. So, it’s all Spotify for me until someone imprints this on a black circular piece of plastic with crackles in between laments.
Radical Dads – Universal Coolers
Steve Keene covers (multiple!) don’t hurt, but this band fills my need for jangly 90’s guitar rawk to a t. Like many of the bands on this list, Radical Dads would have easily fit on a bill in the mid-90’s. What can I say? I’m a one-trick pony. The band continues its egnagingly feedbacked guitar onslaught I first discovered in 2013’s Rapid Reality. Additionally, it’s yet another example of the effect women in rock bands of the 90’s have had on modern performers. There’s just a better, richer space for women to occupy and I believe (well, probably a lot of people believe) this is directly due to the bands and performers of that era. Where am I going with this? I mean, Rad Dads just happen to have a woman fronting the band, but they are a powerful, 90’s indie-esque rock band and now I’ve pigeon-holed them. Whatever, the band works and Universal Coolers is a fun romp through my college years. (I feel a little cheap for that description. Just know that if you like what I like – 90’s indie rock – you’ll appreciate Radical Dads who will surely not quote any of this on their Facebook page. Of course, they just became actual rad dads and a mom or something. So, the bump they are certainly going to get from this awful write up is for nothing.)
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Sometimes I Just Sit
It’s Courtney Barnett’s world and we just live in it. Somehow, after two impressive EP’s, Barnett has followed up with a record that should be on many, many year-end lists. She’s somehow Evan Dando, Bob Dylan (yeah, you read that right), Curt Cobain, Ben Lee, and Sheryl Crow (you also read that right) all rolled into one. Look, she’s fun and hits all the right notes while maintaining some personality. The record is solid from beginning to end. This is your album of the year. Next.
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Or this is your album of the year. It feels as if Sufjan Stevens is back to doing Sufjan Stevens type things. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Age of Adz, but it wasn’t about a state and it wasn’t all whisper-y and/or whimsical with the most gut-wrenching lyrics about Jesus. This is record is that and maybe Stevens’ most personal record. There’s some things one would only expect to hear as Sujan Stevens’ therapist, not anyone with an iTunes account. As usual, the record is immaculately arranged and recorded. There are so many stories so personal, I’m almost surprised he released this album. I get the sense SS has been sitting on this album for years, waiting for the moment he was ready to put these songs to tape. And if you don’t feel it when listening to Carrie & Lowell, you are soulless or a cynic.
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
Another female-fronted band that sounds like 1995, but this one is different than the others and this record is really good (as well). Katie Crutchfield nails that indie, cowpunk, alt.country thing that kept slipping into rock music and she lets on the feedback and heart-on-sleeve lyrics to boot. Crutchfield continues with that formula as perfected on the excellent Cerulean Salt with a few interesting interludes (in particular, opening track “Breathless” and “La Loose”). All that said, “Summer of Love” is the obvious choice for song of the summer.
Built to Spill – Untethered Moon
I bought Built to Spill’s latest on Record Store Day when it was released out of a sense of loyalty. When you buy a Built to Spill record, you know what you’re getting. And that’s fine. I loved early Built to Spill gems like There’s Nothing Wrong with Love and Perfect from Now On, but everything since has been hit or miss – certainly more hit, just not what those early records meant to me. That said, Untethered Moon is a look back at those years in a way in terms of both subject matter and music. This record is more than just the same old from a cherished band. It’s a reward for sticking around and buying yet another release.
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
All I read about is how Alabama Shakes don’t sound as good on record as they do live. Well, if that’s truly the case, their live show must kill every single night. There’s so much range on this album yet it’s so precise in its delivery. I don’t get what people want Alabama Shakes to be. Do they want more blues, punk, jam band, throwback, southern, etc.? Well, those people are wrong. There’s nothing wrong with this record and there’s nothing wrong with Alabama Shakes.
Don’t believe me? I encourage you to buy all these records or go see these bands when they hit your locale.
I’ll write something about beer soon enough, but this needed to be posted.
Granted, Goose Island is now owned by a decidedly non-craft beer brewing company, but it’s still craft beer. The video below captures that craft beer spirit and pairs it with an obvious Sufjan Stevens track. If only all craft brewers would do this sort of marketing. I could get behind a Stone promo with The Soft Pack playing in the background or maybe a Portland brewer paired with The Thermals. Sufjan Stevens now lives in Brooklyn, but his music probably shouldn’t be used for any brewery outside of Illinois or Michigan. Music about a locale should go with beer from that same city or region. (H/T BeerNews.org)
I debated waiting to post this until the 19th, but I thought you’d all like a chance to set up your Spotify play lists or go record shopping. Know that the following albums should fill your Xmas with happiness and joy and they won’t suck too badly. Also, I tried to focus on only those albums that have a decidedly indie slant to them. All the artists may or may not be currently on indie labels or even considered indie, but the sentiment is pure indie and the execution is all craft.
Also, I considered compilations, but that just seemed too easy. These are full albums by indie artists that contain nothing but Christmas songs. An interesting fact about me is that I love Christmas music. I don’t necessarily get into most holiday traditions, but I love interesting Christmas music. I used to give mixed tapes as gifts.
Anyway, here’s a list of the five best indie Christmas albums. I may do one of my favorite songs next week or the week after. Also, be on the lookout for a beer post thematically similar…
5. Aimee Mann – One More Drifter in the Snow
Aimee Mann does mopey, sad music better than anyone. This is the type of thing I enjoy when countering all the happy joy joy that runs rampant this time of year. Sadly, her best Christmas song , “Christmastime,” is not even the best version of the song. You’ll have to hunt down the track with Michael Penn, appearing on the holiday compilation album, Just Say Noël.
4. She & Him – A Very She and Him Christmas
Some may be on Zooey Deschanel overload, but She and Him partner M Ward do some nice stripped-down versions of Christmas classics old and new. Plus, your indie cred will go up when you put on a record from Merge.
3. Bright Eyes – A Christmas Album
I know folks have their issues with Conor Oberst, but this album released to raise money for a Nebraska AIDS charity (They have AIDS in Nebraska?) is valuable find if you can locate it. Other than the strange reading of the “A Night Before Christmas,” Oberst and friends put a rather stark and desolate holiday season. You’ll notice this trend in the odd-numbered albums on this list.
2. Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas
I have the free download of this album, as that’s how it was originally released. Since then, the Saint of Hipster Christians has released a 4-disc album of a pretty complete collection of Christmas tunes. This album was recorded during the manic, hyper-productive period for Sufjan Stevens when it seemed possible he’d actually write and record an album for every state. Oh well.
1. Low – Christmas
This EP just barely qualifies for the list, but for what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up in quality. Low somehow captures the dark, lonely side of Christmas while creating a record of both old favorites and original soon-to-be-classics. You may not care for all of the artists above, but you have to own this record.
Carrie Wade thinks she’s really funny, so funny that she posted this atrocity on my Facebook wall. Really? We’re supposed to believe that Pavement pairs well with 1 PBR? What, because they’re like hipster slackers of something? Eff that.
I’m taking it upon myself to pair some bands with beers that make sense. Comment freely or suggest your own pairings. The wrong that has been created on Drinkify must be stopped. I mean, we’re trying to build coalitions up in this joint.
Pavement – Saison
I considered choosing one beer for Pavement but settled on a style instead. With a band like Pavement, it depends on the record. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain might require the smooth quirkiness of a Boulevard Tank 7, but Wowee Zowee is a Boulevard Saison Brett all the way. The Saison is one of the more versatile styles out there. These beers can be loved or hated, depending on one’s mood, but they are generally appreciated. The range of flavors (earthy to citrusy to sour to bitter) is only equaled by the range of Pavement’s discography. Also of note is that Stephen Malkmus represents the entirety of the Stillwater lineup of artisanal Saisons.
Wilco – Schlafly American Pale Ale
What goes better with dad rock better than a slightly hoppier pale ale from the St. Louis area? Wilco, of course. This easy-drinking lesson in hoppiness is the perfect beer for the dad who wants to still show that he’s cool without drinking anything too bitter or high in alcohol. I mean, he does have to drive home. I also considered Three Floyds’ Alpha King, but figured it only paired with Wilco’s more obtuse work like A Ghost Is Born.
Fiery Furnaces – New Belgium La Folie
They’re both difficult to love sometimes, but if you put forth the effort to find what’s good, it’s totally worth it. Because of this, both have the most loyal of fans who must learn to ignore all the judgmental stares from their peers for choosing to like something so difficult. I considered several more artsy, more difficult bands (Joan of Arc, Beat Happening) along with other Flanders red ales (Duchesse De Bourgogne, New Garus Wisconsin Belgian Red). The pairing just seems right.
Guided By Voices – Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
I realize that Bob Pollard drinks Bud, not sissy craft beers, but the classic IPA is perfect for macro-arena rock from the midwest. I was torn on several bands and IPA’s, but I settled on two classics. The best part of the IPA are all the variations it’s birthed along with other possible pairings. Dinosaur Jr ruins your eardrums like a Stone Ruination IPA (which is really an imperial IPA) ruins your tastebuds. Other Stone varieties also pair well with similar indie outfits such as Cali-Belgique (Yuck) or the 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA (Chavez). Of course, there’s always old standbys like a Modus Hoperandi (Superchunk) or Lagunitas Hop Stoopid (Archers of Loaf)…I could go on and on, but there are other beers and bands to pair.
Where was I?
Sonic Youth – Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout
There is a ton going on in a Sonic Youth record. Layers of rebuilt guitars and alternate tunings upon alternate tunings create a cacophony that’s all their own. And over the years, SY has grown into almost a completely different band. While they sound nothing like themselves 30 years ago, only they could have evolved the way they have. This is much like Canadian Breakfast Stout, the much hyped and oft-cited imperial stout of the moment. At the moment, there’s a lot of noise in that beer. The suspicion is that it will undergo a Sonic Youth-like metamorphosis while in the bottle that sits in my cellar. I’ve had a taste, but I can’t wait to have another.
Sufjan Stevens – He-Brew Genesis 15:15
Speaking of having a lot going on, this musician and beer pack a whole lota flavor in relatively small packages. Sufjan Stevens brings one layered opus after another from his home in Brookly, much like the brewers at Schmaltz/He’Brew. The religious imagery and connotations are undeniable…This is a pairing made in heaven.
Wild Flag – Avery/Russian River Collaboration not Litigation
The members of Wild Flag were never in any danger of suing one another, but they have collaborated to create one the year’s best records. The Avery/Russian River collab is nearly as caustic and full of riot grrrl power as Wild Flag is. Plus, at nearly, 9% ABV, it makes you as woozy as one might feel after a Carrie Brownstein windmill combined with a Mary Timony classic rock non-riff. Confused? You should be.
I think I have more, but it will take some time to sort them out. In the meantime, what are your favorite beer/music pairings? Do you like any of the pairings I suggested above? Do you have a better pairing for the bands and beers I listed here? As usual, leave some comments.
In both beer and music, freshness matters. As a hophead, I understand that the fresher the beer (particularly IPA’s and DIPA’s) the better it is. You can smell the hops. The citrus and pine flavors really stand out. In the case of music, the latest album often feels like the best until the newness rubs off. Even better is a new album from an old favorite, especially when the musician is trying a new direction.
A fellow beer enthusiast returned from a trip to Minneapolis with a four-pack of Surly Furious for me. These beers come in cans, meaning that their freshness stays locked in for a long time as virtually no air nor light can ruin the beer. I was excited to get another taste of this particular beer, but my middle-man had me even more excited when he informed me the beer was merely three weeks old. Now, that’s fresh.
Furious is about as good an IPA you’ll find. Citrus. Pine. Caramel. Malt. That’s probably all you need to know. If one needed a perfect or near-perfect example of an American IPA, look no further than Furious. It’s good to know that brewers in the Midwest continually hold their own versus the much more glorified West Coast hop bombs. I’m sure it helped that the beer is so fresh. I’m curious as to how long it will last around here. Luckily, I have other beers to drink…
Fall is a time when many breweries come out with their freshly hopped harvest ales. They buy loads of fresh hops from the fall harvest to make one-off or seasonal brews whose hop characters vary from year to year. One of my favorite harvest ales is the one produced by another Midwest brewery: Founders. Founders Harvest Ale is yet another monster of a hop bomb. FHA doesn’t contain the same blast of Simcoe aroma Furious unleashed from its can, but it did satisfy the nose the way a nice IPA should…Of course, it’s just an APA. This beer is easily in Alpha King territory when it comes to an overwhelming hop presence for an American Pale Ale. Again, the freshness of this beer is felt and one can fully appreciate the full 70 IBU’s, realizing that this beer will be gone soon when the winter winds come and I empty my cellar.
These two beers present the ideal of freshness as something new and at its peak aesthetic potential. Another kind of freshness might apply to a new and challenging idea or concept. An artist might create something never seen or heard before, at least not by him/her previously. When an artist switches direction and tries something new, it is even more challenging as the artist has created a following with an established aesthetic, choosing now to throw that niche to the wolves in favor of fresh material.
Sufjan Stevens did this. Long gone are albums about states (Midwestern ones at that). The orchestral pop with ambivalent religious messages are no longer as prevalent as they once were. Abnormally long song titles even fail to make an appearance in the liner notes. Sufjan is going for a fresh start and it sounds like The Age of Adz.
And unlike fresh beer, no one knows what to make of Sufjan Stevens’ fresh offering. However, like the freshest IPA, the freshness of Stevens’ material ignites the senses and makes you aware of opinion, emotions, etc.
The imagery on the album is particularly perplexing. Strange sci-fi images with even stranger messages written throughout the artwork elude to something sinister yet beautiful inside. When I look at the packaging for the beers, they give completely different messages. Furious is a fiery, slick can and its Founders counterpart provides an image of the freshly harvested hops contributing to the flavor and aroma. However, all the images are robust and full of meaning and life. All three are a lot to take in and their packages hint at this headiness.
How is The Age of Adz fresh?
Say goodbye to traditional, pop orchestral arrangements – those created by humans and analogue in nature – and hello
to blips, bleeps, and mashed up sounds. However, once the listener gets past the striking change in aesthetic, he realizes this electronic noise is delicately arranged and as orchestral as anything he’s ever done. It’s also intricately weaved with more familiar Stevens’ fair.
Say goodbye to Sufjan’s trademark falsetto, or at least for the most part. In fact, Stevens shows incredible range and control of his voice, jumping from octave to octave, utilizing his voice as an instrument in a way few can match. It’s not so much that the whispers and elevated notes of his past performances is gone; there is more range and complexity to his vocal work. Adz showcases an incredible vocal talent, rarely recognized and even less often imitated.
At first, the musical arrangements and electronic noise is off-putting. It’s annoying, almost disappointing in its obvious nod to current musical trends. Hell, he uses auto-tune in the album’s 20-minute long closer. Then, you pay attention to the music and find that the electronic masturbation is purposeful and subtle. As with all Sufjan Stevens albums, he’s so careful in crafting an exact-sounding album that doesn’t stray from the core but expands upon itself with each advancing track.
Now that he’s free from the fifty states project and the need to experiment, Stevens has written a record focused on himself. One probably shouldn’t read too much into some of the lyrics, but he very obviously seems to have turned the songwriter’s lens on himself in creating some of his most engaging songs to date. The songs don’t seem to have anything to do with the others, but that works, which must be a relief for a guy who once thought writing an album for each state would be a good idea.
How did he get here from those highly conceptualized, state-themed records to this electronic mish-mash of personal tracks? The evidence is there throughout Stevens’ catalog and life. Had he released a complete album mixing the best tracks from his first two efforts (A Sun Came, Enjoy Your Rabbit) The Age of Adz would seem a perfect follow-up. Of course, the orchestration and subtlety of his state albums help set up the intricacies found in this latest effort. Much the same way these works create a base for The Age of Adz to stand, The BQE and All Delighted People EP bridge the gap in their incomplete and perplexing results. Stevens’ strangely religious Michigan upbringing, Brooklynite hipster status, and the time he had to give up music due to a viral infection helped create the uneasiness, introspection, and dramatics of this album.
This is Sufjan Stevens’ Odelay. Like Beck, Stephens was pigeon-holed with an early hit. For Beck, it was Mellow Gold with its infectious “Loser”. In Stevens’ case, his hit came later in the form of Come On Feel the Illinoise, featuring the brilliant “Chicago”. Both artists diverged only to collect the pieces that would become uniquely magnificent long-play records. Beck’s was Odelay; Sufjan’s is The Age of Adz.
Is it fresh? Hell yeah! Like the beers mentioned above? Sort of.
Freshness breaths life into its consumer. The Simcoe on the nose as I poured the Furious or the sharp bitterness on the back tongue caused by every mouthful of the Harvest Ale enlivened my senses. Left out was my sense of hearing, until I put on The Age of Adz. Ever since, I’ve been pouring over every detail of the record, trying to get a grasp on what Sufjan Stevens has done here. And every time, I get something different.
I don’t know that this post on freshness does either beer or album any justice, but I cannot put into words how these sorts of experiences help me freshen my perspective. The change of season, a new flavor or smell, something that catches my eye for the first time… Experiencing something new and fresh helps us get up in the morning. Great craft beer and a new record does that for me (along with the many new things my daughter discovers on a daily basis, of course).
The important thing to walk away with is that freshness matters. It’s what sustains us, motivates us. That’s probably why I still buy records and have to have the newest beers. When the freshness dies, things go stale, become inconsumable. So, we go out looking for more. I found two beers and a record that are fresh, fresh enough to satisfy me…for now.
1Unless, of course, it doesn’t. Then you’re talking about a classic, desert island kind of record.
2I say this because it’s a rare occasion when I can enjoy some Surly and even rarer when I actually possess my own cans as Surly is canned in Minnesota and only sold in a few other states, not including Missouri.
3It’s been suggested to me that Midwest brewers brew IPA’s and DIPA’s that better represent hops than their Northwest counterparts. The person who suggested this blasphemous idea is from Seattle. So, there’s that.
4For the craft beer noobie, Alpha King is largely considered to be the best APA on the market, produced by possibly the best brewery in the world: Three Floyds. So, to say that Founders’ Harvest Ale is in the same class is a huge compliment.
5That’s huge for a pale ale. Of course, this is an American Pale Ale. Also, the Furious weighs in at a whopping 99 IBU’s. That’s bitter.
6From what I understand, the images are by an outsider artist who creates strange sci-fi images along with semi-literate messages as a sort of social commentary or some shit like that.
7I like my share of blips and bleeps (see Joan of Arc), but I think they’re overused as well (see the last Archers of Loaf record).
8Why isn’t Sufjan Stevens more recognized for his vocal prowess? I have never understood this. Sure, his songcraft and arrangements are second to none, but the most amazing skill he may possess are his vocals.
9How much do you want to bet that Stevens leaves a spot on his already crowded stages for a MacBook or two?
10That final track is more of a 4 or 5 song EP than it is one song. It has definite parts and even pauses. I don’t know what the thinking was for this sort of formatting. I wonder if he didn’t know where to put these tracks individually in the sequence and simply decided to combine them for one epic closer.
11Although I am terrible at picking out lyrics (I often sing made-up lyrics that maybe rhyme or sound similar without much attention to meaning, much like the Japanese), I did make out the chorus directed at Sufjan in “Vesuvius”.
12I still contend that the 50 States Project should live on. Even if he maybe does ten or twenty, the stories found in a state’s history has proven to be pretty remarkable for Sufjan Stevens.
13Aside from the cool comic book included, this was hugely disappointing for me.
14This shouldn’t be so remarkable for such a new album (doubly, since my copy was on backorder), but the new discoveries are striking every time. I imagine finding surprises for a long time with this one.