Beer and Pavement

An Open Letter to Sleater-Kinney

Posted in An Open Letter, Records by Zac on October 23, 2014

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Dear Sleater-Kinney,

So, you’re back. Like several of my favorite nineties’ bands – Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc. – you took some time off from each other for other projects, but you’re back. And we’re all so happy.

I remember the day I found out your were no more. It was in Hawaii on the Molokai. I had on my t-shirt from the All Hands on the Bad One tour, browsing the aisles at the only grocery store when another tourist stopped me to say that you had broken up. “Hiatus” would have been a better descriptor, but the news hit me just as hard either way. All the bands of my youth were nearly gone, causing me to fear for more than just my record collection.

Either way, I don’t want this letter to be about my relationship with your career and output. Rather, I want to celebrate the fact that you are back and to make a request.

In terms of reunions or coming out of hiatus, you all did it right. First, there was the little surprise of the box set. I preordered mine instantly and it was totally worth it. The packaging and accompanying book is beautiful. I don’t have all of your albums on vinyl until now and they’re all colored, 180-gram vinyl to boot! In terms of remastering, from what I’ve had a chance to hear, this too was done the right way. Instead of just turning everything up, many tracks were balanced out and the effects of cheap recording sessions is wiped out with a professional’s expert hand.

Of course, the coup de gras was the 7″ with the new song “Bury Our Friends” which is huge track filled to the brim with power and emotion. This new song – the first in 9 years – is how you announce your return. No fanfare. No announcement. “Let’s just toss a new 7″ into our retrospective box set for shits and giggles!” And of course there will be a tour and a new album – January 20th according to the 7″.

You are doing it right, friends. Most bands wait until they need the cash to get back together. Most bands don’t release new music. Most bands overdue their own box sets with loads of rarities (read: “junk not good enough to release the first time”) or completely over-produced versions of the originals. But not Sleater-Kinney. This is how a band gets back together. This is the blueprint from now one.

Now for the request.

You are one of my six-year-old’s favorite bands. Sure, that list includes Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Kidz Bop, but it also includes anything Kathleen Hanna touches, Wild Flag, and Blondie. She needs to see a live Sleater-Kinney performance and I can’t really drive/fly her on a school night to Chicago or Omaha. It would be ideal if Sleater-Kinney finds their way to Columbia, Missouri. (Of course, I would settle for STL or KC.)

In the spirit of transparency (and in case it wasn’t already clear), I am a huge Sleater-Kinney fan. I too would benefit from your band stopping in Middle Missouri. I won’t front.

We have a nice venue in the Blue Note who just hired two women as manager and assistant manager. There’s Pizza Tree and their bánh mì pizza(!) or baked goods, records, films (on the screen or to go), and drinks in the Uprise/Ragtag complex on Hitt Street. There’s vegetarian at Main Squeeze and two doughnut places by the time you would arrive. I can tell you more, just write back with requests.

In closing, I wish you the best of luck with the record and tour. It’s great to have one of the greatest rock bands of my life back at it – especially one my kid likes. I hope you find it in your heart of hearts to stop in COMO. It’s worth the stop.

Best,

Zac

P.S. – Will the whole band make an appearance on Portlandia next season?

P.P.S. – Will Pearl Jam open for you? I don’t really care if I see Pearl Jam. I just think it’s fair that they support you since you supported them the last time you were out.

P.P.P.S. – Carrie and Janet, my daughter wrote a letter to Wild Flag a while back. Are you planning on responding? She wrote one to Kathleen Hanna and Hanna wrote back. Just saying.

Ex Hex – ‘Rips’ / An Ode to Mary Timony

Posted in Records, Review by Zac on October 9, 2014
I don't have my copy just yet. So, this pic will have to do.

I don’t have my copy just yet. So, this pic will have to do.

Something woke up inside of Mary Timony. Although she wasn’t sleeping, her name wasn’t nearly as prominent as it once was in indie rock circles when the super group Wild Flag was formed. Helium had dissolved. Autoclave was long forgotten. Her solo work – although solid – was generally ignored and mired in dragons and unicorns. While Timony may have been fine personally, she was slipping from the radar.

Then, the aforementioned collab with Carry Brownstein and Janet Weiss formerly of Sleater-Kinney and the Minders’ Rebecca Cole happened and one of the best, most rocking albums of the last decade hit the scene. Wild Flag hit the road and blew audiences away. Although lacking in quantity, these sets were fairly notorious for their energy and aggression. Oh, and they were fun.

I learned of Timony when Helium was hitting stride. I don’t remember if it was before or after the Beavis & Butthead “breakthrough”, but I saw Helium on a shared bill with Archers of Loaf. If I hadn’t been such a young, male into aggressive dude, guitar rock, I might have better appreciated what I saw from Timony that night. Helium’s output in the 90′s was legendary and as influential as anything else. Timony blended math rock, post-punk, and the electro-hybrid stuff the kids so prefer these days to make something that truly stood out among all the aggressive guitar rock of the day. Her breathy vocals hid the darkness in the lyrics, but the aesthetic was so different than anything else you might hear in 1995.

I didn’t see Timony again until she was on a solo tour and stopped in Columbus, OH a couple of years later. It was my sister’s first club show. So, that was a big deal. It was cool to take my teenage sister to see a such a strong, confident woman perform her craft. Timony’s music had really evolved during this time. She seemed to bounce from genre to genre and the subject matter changed almost as much as anyone. While her solo albums were cohesive individually, there was little overlap aesthetically from one to the next.

Another 2-3 years later, I saw Timony open for Sleater-Kinney in Amsterdam. While the show was fine, it felt as if her influence and notoriety was heading in the opposite direction as Sleater-Kinney’s. Timony more than held her own, but it wasn’t where I would have expected her career to be at that point, for whatever that’s worth. I bought her CD Mountains, but for me, I just wasn’t as interested in Mary Timony. The album was fine, but it wasn’t as impactful as those Helium records, causing me to wonder where this was all going.

She played here in Columbia several years ago and I just flat-out missed it. Of course, it was after the fact when I rediscovered Ex Hex (her album and not the new project). This was some guitar rock that felt like a harsher, more raw version of the Helium materials. Her vocals were less breathy and the lyrics had a bite. This record was on heavy rotation for me for a while. This record painted Timony in a different light – one as rocker. Of course, I might have thought of her that way had I paid more attention to Autoclave, but anything after that usually didn’t rock. There were moments in Helium, but that band was more complex than your typical rock outfit. I hoped more would come of Ex Hex, but Timony fell off my map a bit. I missed her next solo effort. Basically, I revisited Helium now and again as well as Ex Hex but that was about it.

The next thing I know is that 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney were teaming up with Timony and others to form a new band: Wild Flag. I have expressed my admiration for Wild Flag on many occasions – both live and recorded. On record and video performances leaked on the daily leading up to their s/t release, Wild Flag was meeting the expectations most had when we learned of this new collaboration. Then, they did the unthinkable and actually delivered said album that met those unrealistic expectations all super groups carry. Before seeing them live, I wasn’t really sure whose songs were whose (Brownstein/Timony), but it didn’t matter. They were all great. Finally, seeing them live reminded me of what a fantastic musician Timony is. I knew she could rawk on occasion, but this was something else entirely. She shared that stage with Brownstein, which is something especially that it took a voice like Corin Tucker to balance the Portlandia star’s pogoing antics and stellar performances.

Then, I waited for the next Wild Flag LP and tour, thinking they were an unfinished product with tons of potential. However, it never came. When I heard that Timony had started playing in other bands and even formed her own (Ex Hex), I assumed that was the end of Wild Flag which was disappointing.

Thankfully, Timony’s Ex Hex was unleashed to fill that gaping hole left by Wild Flag. Rips is Mary Timony waking up during the Wild Flag days and picking up where that group left off. This is the record a mature Runaways would make. Remember the Donnas? Had they had some complexity and maturity, this would have been their high point. However, this album belongs to none of these other bands. It’s all Timony (plus bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris) and it’s quite revelatory. Rips is 2014′s Wild Flag, Light Up GoldPost-Nothing, and Tramp rolled into one cacophony. (Make of those comparisons what you will.) The record is a happy substitution for Wild Flag and it may even have more staying power than Timony’s old band.

Spacey and big, “Don’t Wanna Lose” kicks in the door which is what you want from an album like this. It sets the tone for the aggression to follow.”Beast” picks up the pace, intensifying the album’s tone. If you’re not won over by this point, you don’t have a pulse.

Things shift a bit with “Waste Your Time” a 70′s rocker which again implores a lover to take a shit or get off the pot. Well, it’s not quite that vulgar, but it does rock. And the rocking continues with the moving “You Fell Part” which is the moment in an Ex Hex set where the crowd is whipped into a frenzy.

The Runaways and Joan Jett specifically would have loved to have penned “How You Got that Girl” which feels a little like a woman’s version of “Jessie’s Girl.” And again, the tempo speeds up to keep pulling you into the record, realizing at this point that it’s Mary Timony’s world and we’re just existing here. “Hot and Cold” follows nicely, giving you a groovy, head-nodding break. While much of the record screams late 70′s, early 80′s, “Radio On” reminds me of music from that era when musicians harkened back to the early days of rock and roll. It doesn’t sound like the 50′s, but it certainly wants you to think as much.

“New Kid” is so Joan Jett, it’s silly with all it’s faux 80′s greaser. I’m fairly sure it describes an episode of Freaks and Geeks. “War Paint” pushes the aesthetic ahead a few years to some Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth atmospherics and teenage attitudinal angst. “Everywhere” rolls with a big T Rex sound before “Outro” closes the LP with all kinds of foo-wop attitude and Elvis Costello jerkiness.

This record is the kind of recording that has you smiling from beginning to end. It hits all the nostalgic points of rock ‘n roll without sounding clichéd. So many records in the past couple of years have tried so hard to sound like they were recorded 30 years ago, but Rips achieves this milestone effortlessly without sounding contrived.

Mary Timony didn’t have to do anything for me to admire her legacy (she also doesn’t need me to justify it), but Rips solidifies that admiration and makes it an easier case for the nonbelievers. When I suggested that she woke up, what I meant was that she woke up something stirring inside her. Her work spans several genres and now a couple of decades, but the energy and urgency isn’t something that’s usually discovered so far into a career. Still, Timony found it in Ex Hex (or possibly Wild Flag before that) and we are all the beneficiaries of said discovering.

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A Daughter’s Request

Posted in Life, Records by Zac on July 19, 2012

Studying Wild Flag.

Most of Sunday, my daughter and I spent our time together watching YouTube videos of Riot Grrrl bands and listening to Wild Flag. Of course, there were several renditions of “Call Me Maybe” in between, but the day belonged to rock. This sudden interest into Daddy’s music was spurred on by a couple of screenings of School of Rock, a film where Jack Black pretends to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious elementary school where he discovers his students to be gifted musicians he convinces to play in his band. Thanks to this one film, the grrrl is all about the rock music right now.

The obsession has continued through the week as every evening is filled with more YouTube videos and bedtime is dominated with Daddy sharing his exploits as a live music fanatic of the last 20 years. She is particularly fond of videos in which Kathleen Hanna pogoes. Her requests for more stories has me searching the recesses of my brain for G-rated rock show tales. It’s an interesting time to be Lucia’s father.

What it all has led to is a request from my daughter to see her first rock show. Apparently, seeing Dubb Nubb several times has not fulfilled her need to rock. I am now faced with finding the right situation where I can make this dream come true.

I was a late bloomer. My first rock show didn’t happen until I was 18. We lived an hour from any city featuring rock concerts and even then I wasn’t interested in the hair metal and country most of my classmates were going to see. Then, one St. Patrick’s Day, my brother and two or three other guys drove the hour to the Newport Music Hall in Columbus to see my first rock show: Soul Asylum with Vic Chestnutt and The Goo Goo Dolls (when they were punk-ish). From that night on, I was hooked. I can understand my daughter’s longing to see music performed live.

As a parent, I have to set some boundaries for the kind of show she can attend. I mean, she’s not yet four (9/11) and this puts some serious limits on what she can and can’t see. for example, she will not catch The Melvins for her first live rock experience, even if it is on a Friday night. I’m considering some basic criteria for this event, criteria that may put off her first concert experience for another year, but that’s okay. There’s plenty of time to rock.

The show will need to be outdoors, mainly for two reasons: not all shows are all-ages and the noise factor. It’s one thing to get your 16-year-old into a bar to see a band; it’s a completely different thing to sneak in a four-year-old. Besides, I’m not sure that’s the best environment for someone so young. The outdoors provide space for people to spread out and avoid awkward situations around small children and vice versa. Plus, sound doesn’t seem to do as much damage when it can harmlessly float to space and not bounce off the walls. My hearing is shit and there’s no need to put my kid through that before she attends elementary school.

Bedtime is an issue. I’ll have to find a show on a weekend or one that takes place earlier in the day. The trouble with this is that most of the outside shows here in Columbia are on weeknights. That makes for a rough morning getting her to preschool. An all-day even is the next logical step, but we’ve missed out on most of the festivals for the summer or at least their bargain pre-fest prices.

Finally, the band or bands to see have to be worthy. Although it is not for me to say which bands or musicians you should like, I do have a right as a parent to steer her toward whatever music I feel is acceptable. Of course there will be a time when my opinion won’t count, but until then, I control the stereo in my house and I have the credit card.

So, this adventure may have to wait a year. Next summer she’ll see her first rock show. I just hope I can deliver Kathleen Hanna or Wild Flag.

Late Night Loves Indie Rock

Posted in Live by Zac on January 11, 2012

There have been a slew of late night TV appearances by indie bands in recent years. The time slots after your eleven/ten o’clock news programs have been receptive to indie bands for a while now, but they seem particularly hellbent on giving indie rockers proper exposure recently. Do we blame the blogs? Are those in charge of such decisions the same kids at indie shows in the nineties? Who knows.

Now, I get that by the time a band lands on network television – no matter the time slot – that it’s long past being underground or cutting edge. However, as a kid who grew up in a rural community with no real outlets for musical discovery, late night appearances were all we had. Sure, with the internet, we can discover all kinds of music, but sometimes it gets too overwhelming and we need something easy and delivered to our television sets. Many of these bands don’t need a bump from a late night appearance, but the exposure to a few more households is not a bad thing.

Either way, there have been a few notable late night performances to share and digest…

Wild Flag on Fallon (skip to minute 37)

What’s funny is that when I watch this, all I can think of is how much Carrie Brownstein reminds me of Mic Jagger circa late 60′s. Jagger didn’t play guitar, but I imagine he’d look just as cool. The entire band seemed to have the mod coolness about them in this performance. Wild Flag is just so cool, strong, and they rock with ovaries to the wall which means they rock harder than most boys and their bored demeanor proves they don’t have to work as hard at it. I hope their spring touring finds them in the Show-Me state and maybe another record soon.

Guided By Voices on Letterman (Sorry. Embedding’s not cooperating. Just click the link.)

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Is there anything better than Greg Demos falling on his ass? No.

This song is so 1994 it kills me. Driving, fist-pounding progressions and typical Bob Pollard delivery would place this song and the performance on Letterman right alongside Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes GBV. The only thing that’s different is the geriatric-looking rockers performing. If you can imagine it, there was a time when Guided By Voices was considered old because the members were like 36. Wait. I’m 36 right now.

WU LYF on Letterman (Again, wonky embedding.)

http://www.cbs.com/e/kTPYKVZDqU2gJSnLiJasmse_rS_BaTGo/cbs/1/

I may have totally overlooked or over-thought including WU LYF in my 2011 best-of. Consider them #11 at the very least with this performance. There’s something about bands who are so unaware of their surroundings as they perform on TV or completely ignore the host once their gig is done. Unintelligible vocals combined with backing instrumentation usually reserved for instrumental outfits hailing form Texas or Canada make WU LYF an incredibly intriguing watch. I just hope they continue to be as lost in their music as they seem to be on Letterman.

Tune-Yards on Kimmel

I had only read about a Tune-Yards performance and I have to say that it’s even more glorious than expected. It’s so exact and layered that I almost don’t believe how transparent the live performance actually is. And Merril Garbus is as engaging a stage presence as I’ve seen in a long time. It’s incredibly simple yet precise how she samples her own voice and drumming and builds a song from scratch, similar to Andrew Bird. However, the use of the drums and her incredibly unique voice just make her so much more fun to watch.

What have you seen on late night television (or replayed the next day on P4k/Stereogum/AV Club/etc. the next day) that’s caught your attention? Thoughts on the performances above? As per the usual, leave comments below and Like this blog with your Facebooking self.

Top 10 Albums of 2011

Posted in MoL, Pavement, Records by Zac 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 Zac 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?

Thanks

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Live, Records by Zac 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.

On “Boring”

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by Zac on November 17, 2011

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.

My Response to Drinkify

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Pavement, Rock vs. Beer by Zac on November 8, 2011

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.

Wild Flag at Record Bar

Posted in Live by Zac on October 7, 2011

I tend to repeat myself, sometimes within the same blog post.

I tend to repeat myself, sometimes within the same blog post. And as you all well know, I’ve been waving the Wild Flag…er…flag the entire month of September. Their album is easily one of my top-3 of the year and I’ve been looking forward to Wednesday night’s show for weeks. In fact, I think this might make at least one Wild Flag mention for three of this week’s four posts. I am fully on that bandwagon and won’t be getting off any time soon.

So, Wednesday’s show was sort of a big deal for me. I was driving two hours to see a forgettable opener, 40-45 minutes of pure glory, and two more hours to drive home and hope I don’t fall asleep at the wheel. I arrived early and waited patiently outside. Carrie Wade joined me, ready to take some photos. I promptly purchased a Ranger and a t-shirt printed by Janet Weiss (in her kitchen, I presume). And I waited.

Yellow Fever was the forgettable opener. The Austin duo featured drum, a box full of pre-recorded keyboards, a little guitar, and some jazzy/retro singing. Carrie described the frontwoman as “Kate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan” and I can’t say that I disagreed. They might have been good, but I didn’t give them a chance as I was here to see Wild Flag. It’s not Yellow Fever’s fault they had to open for Wild Flag, but that still didn’t mean I had to like them.

Throughout this waiting time, I had flashbacks of the few times I saw Sleater-Kinney as Carrie Brownstein and Weiss hung out at the merch booth. I’ve purchased a Quasi t-shirt from Weiss once. Sleater-Kinney always used to hang out at and around the merch table, at least in my experience. Wednesday was no different as fan-boys (or men my age) gathered around and chatted up the former S-K members. The atmosphere was gaining energy as Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole joined their band mates, ready to go on.

And this is what I was waiting for. I guess.

First, let me tell you that this band is loaded with talent and a big sound that’s unmatched. They indeed translate live the way their debut album would suggest. Plus, you have some pretty great musicians from some pretty great bands. Few bands have one strong personality out front. With Timony and Brownstein, Wild Flag has two, at least. Plus, Weiss on the skins and Cole covering the low end with her organ, the band is well-rounded, solid throughout.

So, with all of that, the show was good and worth the four-hour round trip. The songs are great. There was a good energy and they picked fun covers (Patti Smith, Tom Petty).

That said, it is easy to see that this is still a group that is young in band terms. They were off throughout the night, missing marks and notes. Often, Timony and Brownstein could be seen laughing it off. And to their credit, they were always able to pick up the slack. These are veteran rockers who have played in some volatile spots.

However, what seemed to be nagging the band all night was a case of road-weariness. I sort of wonder if Brownstein’s busy schedule doing everything but playing in a band the last few years is taking its toll during this long tour. Of course, the entire band seemed tired and a bit sloppy throughout.

Still, Wild Flag left everything on the stage. Despite their fatigue and relative newness, they played valiantly, usually overcoming these obstacles through shear will and effort. It was a gutsy show even if it was a bit imperfect.

I hope Wild Flag gets some rest when this tour is over. They certainly deserve it. I know they earned their money Wednesday and could use a day or two off. Hopefully, some R&R will find them ready to record again as well as return to Missouri.

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