Beer and Pavement

Making Lists

Posted in Records by Zac on November 30, 2010

When a blogger is struggling for material[1], his best friend is the list. Just come up with a list of best/worst of or whatever, and you’re bound to produce a coherent message and definitive opinion surely to strike up a conversation[2]. When they’re good, the comments fill, Facebook notes are written in response, and traffic numbers spike. Even when the list is dumb or lame, there is sure to be no less than five comments[3].

The list is my slump-buster[4] as it were. I haven’t posted in over two weeks for various reasons. Someone contacted me and asked me to post a top-ten records of the year. So, I’m working on that. When we’re all done, a bunch of us will post it on Tumblr or something. In the meantime, I have a list to create.

Making a fine, thought-provoking list requires several things. First, there’s the preliminary list off the top of your head. If you can just think up items to include on a list without any reference, said items probably deserve at least some consideration. Of course, something will be left off and it behooves the list-maker to search out some forgotten gems before submitting the final draft.

As mentioned above, I’m sorting out my list of top ten albums of the year[5]. In the past, I’ve asked others to make my lists or have written lists for the number of days in December and beyond. Sticking to ten requires commitment and no fudging. I will pick ten, no more or no less. It will be ten definitive albums for 2010. Of course, one will have to take this list into context. I am a working stiff in his mid-thirties with a two-year-old[6]. So, my scope is a bit limited despite my credit card debt and hours logged at P4k this year. That said, here’s the preliminary list with which I’m working, eventually to chisel down to ten. Let me know where I’m going wrong and what’s missing[7].

The Walkmen’s Lisbon was not an obvious choice on first listen, but it has grown on me. No other band sounds like mid-August quite like the Walkmen do on their last two albums. Hazy evenings. Crickets. Drinks on the deck. I am a bit biased when it comes to this band[8], but they are incapable of making a bad record.

Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest has honestly not received the attention it probably deserves, so this one is still under review. However, knowing Bradford Cox’s typical output, I will find something that will sneak Halcyon Digest into the top-ten.

Pavement didn’t release a proper album of new tracks this year. What they did do is answer my prayers with a reunion tour and released maybe the single greatest best-of album I’ve ever heard[9]. Besides, how could I leave my favorite band off the list, especially with them in the name of this blog?

Arcade Fire’s Suburbs is the safe call, but is it too safe? This album is solid from front to back and possibly the group’s most complete effort thus far. Sure, it doesn’t have the hits like on Funeral or the complimentary pieces of Neon Bible, but it is something neither of those albums could be. Sometimes, the most obvious pick for a top-10 list is the best one.

Let’s Wrestle snuck into my consciousness through a compilation created by my sister for my daughter[10]. That and their name comes from a Joan of Arc line I can’t believe I haven’t tattooed on my arm yet[11] makes them all the more enticing. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s is maybe my surprise hit of the year as I had discarded any pop-punk from my collection long ago. It’s juvenile and poppy, but I love it. It’s easily my sing-along album of the year.

The Tallest Man on Earth just sounds like Dylan if he were still around[12]. The Wild Hunt is something fresh, something new in a very familiar package of rhyme, grainy vocals, and acoustic gee-tar. That’s hard to do and should be appreciated whenever we hear it.

Liars’ Sisterworld is dark and brooding and somehow punk. I can only listen to this record once in a while, because it angers me so. It’s good to reserve a place at the table for such a record.

Broken Social Scene disappointed some with Forgiveness Rock Record. For me, the band has taken on a new persona after seeing them a couple of times in the past couple of years. Before that, they were always a studio band for me. Then, once I put a face to the group, I began to hear them more sonically. This is the record that brings the live show to fruition. It’s their Wilco album[13].

Real Estate’s self-titled debut sat on my shelf for a bit, but then I heard the band live and gave them another chance. It’s a nice gem among the P4k’d crap. I don’t know that it will make the final 10, but it deserves a mention. Update – I just realized Real Estate was released last year. So, I only have to eliminate nine records.

Wolf Parade’s Expo 86 is another one of those albums that disappoints, but I’m not entirely sure why. It’s more complete, coherent than previous releases and therefore is often seen as boring or conventional. I don’t know how long it will stand the test of time, but it’s here, on this list for a good reason.

Best Coast gets ripped daily on Hipster Runoff. So, I was ready to write them off before even listening to a single track. Then, I caught them live. This is a nice record that fits well between my stacks of mid-nineties indie rock[14].

Beach House lost me with their first two records and I didn’t want to bother with this one, but that was my problem. Again, seeing the band live helped me get them and for that I’m thankful. There’s not a bad track on this record. That’s just not done anymore.

Here We Go Magic was suggested to me and I listened. I listened a lot, but then I became busy with other records. So, before this one makes the list or doesn’t, I will have to listen to it again[15].

Los Campesinos!’s Romance Is Boring is pretty fun and probably deserves a spot next to Let’s Wrestle. It’s good that the Brits[16] are listening to our indie rock and doing all they can to replicate it. This has worked out well for them (the British) in the past (see The Beatles, Rolling Stones).

The Soft Pack used to be Muslims before converting[17]. The result was a pretty angry record with intense focus and drive. The anger is felt and the focus and drive carry the record from start to finish. I don’t know that it will make the final ten, but it’s good enough to be considered.

The National’s High Violet is either the year’s best record or the best Coldplay record. I can’t decide.

Quasi is the Rodney Dangerfield of indie bands, make that indie super bands. American Gong will make no one’s best of list and that’s a shame. For that reason, it may have to make mine.

Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz is all I listen to at the moment. For that reason, it deserves consideration. Also for that reason, I need to step away to see if I’ll feel that way forever.

Spoon’s Transference is not the greatest Spoon record ever. Of course, 99% of the bands out there would love to make an album this good. I will have to think long and hard about this one[18]. I may leave it off, because, well, I have to leave something out.

Corin Tucker Band is a bit of a surprise in several ways. First, I never thought Tucker would do a solo project outside of parenting and whatever she currently does for a living[19]. Second, this record is so not a Sleater-Kinney-light record. Third, Corin Tucker can write a good song. I don’t know why all this surprised me. I think I just saw Tucker as a piece in Sleater-Kinney, something that was greater than its parts. I need to listen some more, but this album is streaking down the stretch.

A conversation on Facebook has me considering The Badus Band, Disappears, Weekend, Scarecrow Frequency, Jim O’Rourke, Born Ruffians, Tame Impala, Screaming Females, and Double Dagger. However, I doubt I will have time nor money to listen to all of those releases before my final list “goes to press”. So, in the meantime, comment on what you see here. Am I missing something? Am I way off on something? What should my final ten look like?

As always, comments are welcome and the footnotes explain so much more about my thinking.

Notes:
1Which for me is a lot. I haven’t finished a post here in over two weeks. And often when I do publish a post, it’s unfinished.
2However, I recognize how superficial a list can be. I hate that Rolling Stone just does lists now, lists that they often re-remember by conveniently forgetting that they panned Smells Like Teen Spirit or whatever. The list lacks depth, but it opens the door for more interesting discussion. Hell, I’m writing a list that will lead to another list.
3Even if a third of the comments are mine and another third happen on Facebook or Twitter. I suspect three of you (or hopefully more) will comment here; I’ll respond twice; and one or two of my FB friends who hate to comment on this blog will comment there.
4Typically, the term “slump-buster” is reserved for that one-night stand that ends a long slump without getting any action. Since I blog and am happily married, this is my slump-buster. I wonder how many hits I’ll get for using the term “slump-buster”?
5There will be a beer angle as well, just not a separate best of 2010 beer list. It feels forced to do both. Besides, I have a great idea for working in some great beers to this list.
6Oddly, she used to sleep a lot more and I had more time for blogging. Now, night time is a full-on major undertaking and I’m too exhausted to write.
7However, as will be explained later in this post (above the footnotes), I don’t have time nor money to listen to all of your suggestions. So, it may be best to just comment on what’s here and not much that isn’t.
8To some, this will sound blasphemous, but The Walkmen are my new Pavement. I haven’t worked out exactly why, but they do for me what Pavement once did and I suspect they will have the same staying power when I’m old and gray. This is surely a post to come.
9I’ve noticed that seeing a band live and in support of a current release often elevates said release in my estimation of its greatness. Half of these records would never be on my radar without seeing the bands live. Something can be said for that. I guess I just did.
10Who has impeccable taste for a two-year-old.
11First, I said “yet”. Second, that would have been cool/sexy when I was a skinny college kid with an indie addiction. Now, it’s probably just creepy.
12Such a lazy comparison, but every time I put this record on, someone inevitably makes the Dylan comparison. It’s more in the aesthetic than in the message, but it’s apt.
13Which means that everything they release from here on out will suck in that sort of benign al.country way and invite douche-bags in hats and granolas to dance drunkenly in endless circles in whichever arena they choose to play next.
14This has been an interesting time to listen to all these “new” bands that just sound like the bands I saw in clubs 15 or so years ago. It’s been nice to hear a familiar aesthetic in new music.
15And after working on all these stupid footnotes, I have had a chance to listen again. It really is a good, varied record. Considering it for the list as I type this.
16I think they’re actually Welsh, so “Brits” is not meant as an insult if it is an insult.
17It was just a name change.
18Someone described it as “Pop songs stripped to the core and made weird.” This simple phrase paints Transference in a new light for me. There is much about which to think.
19Because there is no way she’s living off Sleater-Kinney royalties, unless they made a shit-ton of money opening for Pearl Jam a few years back.

5-10-15-20

Posted in Life by Zac on August 4, 2010

Pitchfork recently started does a cool little feature[14] where they ask an artist to identify their favorite songs at the ages of 5, 10, 15, etc. The first in the feature is the incredibly hard-rocking Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney fame. I’ve done something like this before[1], but I wanted to do one of these features for this blog. Of course, I don’t get to interview cool indie rockers. So, you just get me. Feel free to share your own favorites in the comments or write your own post in response.

5
I turned five in 1980. It’s honestly very hard to remember music when I was five. I do know that my parents were Rolling Stones fans. Mom was a huge fan and my dad saw them in the ’60’s at Dayton’s Hara Arena, the same venue I saw Nirvana many years later[2]. A particular song that resonates throughout my life is “Satisfaction”. It was so raw and powerful. That song was the opposite of sunny, top-40 pop. There’s a direct line from that track to the garage rock-turned-punk of the 1970’s and beyond. Whenever I listen to the Replacements or the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or Titus Andronicus, I think of the raw dissatisfaction of that one song. I took special notice when PJ Harvey and Bjork once performed “Satisfaction” together, Cat Power remade the song for a covers records[3], and even when I found myself singing the song to my infant daughter. That song will stay with me forever.

10
In the summer of 1984, my brother and I discovered Prince (and his/the Revolution). The little rocker from Minneapolis released a movie, Purple Rain, we were not yet old enough to see. Then, right after my tenth birthday, my mom went on this trip to visit family in California. Dad let us see some rather racy movies[4]. Purple Rain was one of them. We had the LP since September when my brother turned 8 and we quickly gathered as many of his records as Columbia House would allow[5]. Among those purchases was Prince’s classic 1999, another great album loaded with killer track after killer track. Among all the Prince songs we listened to over that two or three year period, I’ve gone back and forth as to which song made the biggest impact, but I’ve somehow landed on “Little Red Corvette”. It had the hook, a story, and well…It was all Prince. From the 1982 album by the same name, this was the hit we played more than any other.

15
Truth be told, my introduction to indie/alternative music was not Nirvana. That came a year later. No, the shit hit the fan in 1990 with Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual De Lo Habitual. That record came at a time when I was listening to a lot of classic/hard rock. Radio stations had picked up “Been Caught Stealing”, a track I was all over. I mean, it had dogs barking. However, even my gateway track was not the most memorable off the album. “Ain’t No Right” which might not even be the best track on the record touched on  a lot of anger I had stewing beneath when I was 15. It was the punkest thing I had at the time. Anything remotely punk was a rare thing in those days in West-Central Ohio. Somehow, Jane’s Addiction combined hippie-like politics, heavy metal heroics, and punk grit to everything they touched. It would be another year before the inaugural Lollapalooza and another three before I’d start even going to shows, but this was the track on the record that sent me on my way.

20
In 1995, I saw Pavement for the first time. I attended the third of three Lollapalooza’s. It was the middle of my college years, years that were greatly influential in shaping my musical tastes. Although Wowee Zowee was in full rotation for much of the year, I discovered another band on Matador that had been around for a while who was also playing Lolla that year. The band was Yo La Tengo and the album they released in ’95 was Electr-O-Pura. The track that has always given me a tingle was “False Alarm”. I saw the band twice that year[6] and “False Alarm” was easily the highlight of both sets. Ira Kaplan just seemed to fall all over his Hammond B-3 organ, choosing to play with his elbows or chest rather than the more conventional fingers. The song is so loaded with angst and lust and jittery goodness that I didn’t hesitate when I hit my 20th year on this list.

25
2000 was a strange year for me, musically. Pavement was out of the picture for a year, a reunion a long way off. I struggled to find that groove in the scene within I used to fit so comfortably. Modest Mouse was leaving their indie years behind and fully embracing their major label selves[7]. My music collection needed a swift kick in the ass. Enter The White Stripes. De Stijl was not a wickedly popular album at the time and Jack and Meg were still siblings/married couple. My sister turned me on to them. I still remember picking up the record in a tiny basement record shop in Athens, OH where she was living. “You’re Pretty Good Looking (for a Girl)” was the opening track that pulled me in[8]. Despite the fact that it’s nothing like the rest of the album, the song made the rest, which was the jolt I needed, so much more approachable for me. Anyway, say what you will about Jack White, but he made some pretty amazing music back in those days[9].

30
Thirty may have been the year of the greatest change for me. Within a week in July of 2005, I passed a Master’s exam, supported my partner as she successfully defended her dissertation[10], closed on our first house, married said partner, and moved 500 miles from the only state in which I ever lived[11]. It was stressful to say the least. I needed some music to address this uneasiness.

Spencer Krug’s “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son” hit me like a ton of bricks from the first listen. My sister had pushed Wolf Parade on me, citing the fact that Pitchfork loved them and they were from Canada, which at the time was a winning combination. Anyway, that song still gives me goosebumps. Instead of flipping the record on that first go around, I simply moved the needle back to the beginning just so I could here that song with that drum beat, those piano blasts, and those lyrics. Man. Goosebumps.

35
Oh, that’s now. Well, I’ve decided not to over-think this one. Easily, the song that has it’s stamp all over this year is “I Won’t Lie to You” by Let’s Wrestle. Again, my sister is to blame[12]. She put the track on a CD for my daughter. We played that thing into the ground for most of this year. Then I bought the Let’s Wrestle album and it was all over. The song is still the standout track[13], but the entire album has captured my longing for days gone by and that giddiness I used to get at rock shows or in record stores. The opening lines say all you need to know about me: “No matter how many records I buy, it still won’t fill this void.”

Those were the most meaningful songs to me every five years of my life. What were/are yours?
Notes:
1OK. So, it was nothing like this post. That older link is to a post where I picked an album for every year of my life using my current experiences and perspective. This list takes into account what I was into at each age.
2Normally, this would have been a footnoted item. Oh, wait. I did just footnote it.
3Which was OK, but way better than her last covers record, Jukebox.
4In retrospect, might have not been the best move. It wasn’t perverted or anything. We watched Purple Rain, Up the Creek, and Revenge of the Nerds. These films are pretty tame by today’s standards, but they did have an effect on my perspective of sex and women. The good thing my dad did throughout the weekend moviefest was remind us that none of this was real. It was pre-AIDS can infect straight people. It was a simpler time for sure. Where was I going with this footnote?
5I don’t know how many times we joined one of these clubs. It was always a penny plus shipping for something like 10 or 12 records/cassette tapes. We would just stock up, buy a few records over the course of the three year commitment, quit the club, and join another. The best was when one of them started offering Matador albums in the mid-nineties.
6The first was on the second stage at the aforementioned Lollapalooza. The second was a great little show at Stache’s in Columbus, OH.
7However, Modest Mouse did release Building Something Out of Nothing, a collection of rare EP and 7″ tracks from their indie label Up (RIP). I had all these songs on the original EP’s or vinyl, but it was a nice collection all together and helped expose a lot of major label Mouse fans to their earlier work.
8Very popular with the lesbians. I ran around with a lot of lesbians in those days. Of course, I’ve been called a “lesbian” before, but that is another post/footnote for another time.
9It could be argued that Jack White still does make good music, but I’m not the one to make that argument.
10Actually, I had very little to do with her successful defense and possibly less to do with her finishing her book earlier this summer. However, whenever she feels the stresses of the academy, I feel them too and remind myself why I never took that route.
11This does not count the summer I spent in Seattle. Of course, does a summer spent anywhere really count as living there?
12Actually, my siblings and I have influenced each other’s music collection than is normal. I love Swearing at Motorists and other Dayton, OH bands because of my brother. I still remember my sister sneaking my CD’s in high school and college so that she could dub tape-after-tape of her own mixes. Music is a huge connection for the three of us, maybe even more than that whole blood thing.
13Although, the version my sister sent us was from an earlier release which is superior to the one on the proper album. It’s rawer, more immediate, livelier.
14Thanks to Carrie the Wade for setting me straight on this one. Sometimes in my old age I get the facts mixed up or am totally out of the loop as to what all the kids are into these days. Had she not pointed out this grave error I would totally look like an out-of-touch, aging hipster. Just to be clear, Carrie Wade reads the P4k all the time, a pursuit my frail old body cannot handle anymore. For more information I am too old to share with you (I mean, I’m thinking of writing an Arcade Fire review next. What am I? NPR?), go to Carrie’s blog where she covers way cooler music than I do. See you at Pavement, Carrie!

Pitchfork Recap

Posted in Live by Zac on July 20, 2010

Aluminum Stage - LCD Soundsystem

I had a lot of ideas for blogging post-Pitchfork, but figured most of you would just want a rundown of the bands. Included are a few of the pictures that actually turned out. I’m decent with close-up angles and whatnot, but I can’t get the hang of the zoom, holding still, or context from a distance. So, there are very few good pictures to share [1].

So, without further ado, here’s my take on this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival…

Broken Social SceneFriday
The train actually arrived somewhat on time for me to catch a cab to my hotel and make the Metro with enough of a window to make The Tallest Man on Earth’s set (or at least part of it). However, I soon realized my ticket was still in my hotel room. So, I missed the first performer on my list to see. No worries as it gave me time to figure out the festival layout, grab some food, drink a beer, and buy a Pitchfork t-shirt for my child[2].

First up for me was Liars. Something can be said for a man in a sleeveless Men At Work t-shirt providing deep, foreboding vocals over a dark, punk rawk onslaught. Well, the t-shirt was a one-time thing, me thinks, but the rest of it was all Liars. They absolutely assaulted the crowd with their uneasy, tension-heavy, Slint-like dirges. I don’t know what it is, but dark, ominous bands like this work for outdoor summer music festivals. The contrast is striking. They don’t give a shit as their pale skin burns in the sun and the band expects nothing less than for the audience to pay attention, bobbing heads to the beat of their somber message. To say the least, it was a quite a start to the weekend.

For something lighter, I headed to the Balance stage for the comedic stylings of Wyatt Cenac – yes, that Wyatt Cenac. Before the Daily Show correspondent came on, Hannibal Burress[3] was wrapping up. He was comfortable and fluid, even at ease with the crowd of music fans and hipsters. Then, Cenac came out. He started slow and built some momentum before he completely flopped. Something changed[4]. I don’t know whether a joke missed or what, but Cenac just sort of stuttered through the rest of his bit. I chose to move on instead of watching this sinking ship.

I opted to skip Robyn[5] and wait over at the Connector stage for Broken Social Scene to commence. And commence they did as the current line-up bounced around their catalog seamlessly. They were much more focused than the last time I caught them. Of course, the set times at a festival such as Pitchfork mean more concise setlists. Still, BSS were a lot of fun. That was apparent as they started with new rocker “World Sick” but followed it with the BSS classic “Stars and Sons”. The set was about as perfect as could be expected[6].

Modest Mouse closed out the first day on the main stage, also known as the Aluminum. I was beat from the day’s travel, so I hung back to for the set. As I wore a 13-year-old Modest Mouse t-shirt[7], I remembered the days of seeing this band in small clubs. I appreciate those opportunities so much more now as Modest Mouse has long ago made the transition to this sort of stage and spot in a festival lineup. Funny, the one song that probably put them in that position (“Float On”) was not a part of the setlist[8], but “Dramamine” was and I was taken back to the show where I bought that t-shirt in a club with washing machines in Cincinnati[9]. It reminded me that I still like Modest Mouse, possibly more out of a feeling of nostalgia than anything they record these days. Either way, it was a nice way to close out the evening.

I beat the crowd[10] and searched out a bar with a nice tap and bottle list. I sipped a Two Brothers Hop Juice which was the perfect antidote for a road-weary traveler. I liked the beer so much that I made a point to bring a bomber home, among several other select brews. More on all that in a future post[11].

Saturday
This was my first full day in the city, so I intended to take advantage. Near Union Park where the festival was being held, there was a restaurant/bar called Twisted Spoke. A graveyard of motorcycles sat out front, but inside was an impressive bar with even a more impressive beer selection. The list was so good that I contemplated hanging around for a late morning beer[12] or at least a return for beers in the evening. However, it was not in the cards. Instead, I loaded up on calories with a passable breakfast burrito. Still, the Twisted Spoke will be on the list for my next Chicago trip, whenever that is.

There were a lot of early performers on Saturday’s lineup I wanted to at least catch a glance so as to form a more complete opinion of their work. First up was Netherfriends, a Chicago band whose releases are put out on the Columbia, MO label Emergency Umbrella. They were much sharper in my opinion than last summer’s EU showcase. I made sure to catch Free Energy over on the Aluminum stage and just couldn’t get into the cheesy hippie vibe they were selling. Think of every cheesy pop-rock hit of the 70’s and 80’s and there you have Free Energy. It’s funny how recycled sounds in music are often confused for innovation[13].

Real Estate[14] took over Connector. What came out was a pleasant surprise as they recalled my entire college years of going to see bands trying to emulate Pavement with their oddly hooky melodies and odder guitar tunings. They were good enough to make my list of bands with LP’s to purchase. Part way through, I caught a moment or two of Sonny & the Sunsets at Balance…but I really don’t remember much. They were poppy, entertaining, sort of doo-wop retro or something. They weren’t as annoying as Free Energy, but they also weren’t as memorable either. So, I returned for the rest of Real Estate’s stellar set.

I watched a couple of pointless minutes of Delorean[15] before heading to Balance for Kurt Vile. Where Real Estate reminded me of the local bands I used to see and love, Vile reminded me of many of my nineties heroes. With his long hair in his face, shoegazing, I was reminded on several occasions of another Kurt. His form of garage rock made me think of everything from the hinted-at Nirvana to Guided By Voices to Dinosaur Jr[16]. Kurt Vile’s catalog certainly deserves a closer listen than the one EP I currently own[17].

Sadly, I had to leave Vile’s set early in order to catch the opening of Titus Andronicus’ Connector performance. Although leaving before Vile completed was unfortunate, it was well-worth it as Titus put on one of the more impassioned sets of the festival. I knew they would be a great live band, but it was even better than expected. Luckily, the next act on Connector was another rawk outfit[18] in The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. JSBX was in mid-nineties form and quite possibly was the best-dressed act of the weekend[19]. The band ripped through a mixture of the old and newish, showing the kids what rock ‘n roll is all about. The last two times I had seen them, they played too little (about 10 minutes) and way too much (somewhere in the ballpark of 2.5 hours[20]). So, it was great to hear/see a blistering sub-hour-long set from the old men of rawk.

I quickly made it over to a rather crowded Aluminum stage for Wolf Parade’s turn. I’ve loved this band for a while and have greatly anticipated seeing them. Keeping the pace set by Titus and JSBX (sans a brief and awkward interruption from former Wu Tanger Raekwon[21]), Wolf Parade did not disappoint, opting for little banter and preferring to just play. The cool synth sounds of Spencer Krug balanced perfectly with Dan Boeckner’s  rock licks. This was something I’ve always known, but it actually translated live in the early evening sun.

Originally, my plan at this point was to skip the last two acts and hit a brewery, but the long day took it’s toll. I opted instead to stay for Panda Bear and LCD Soundsystem. Panda Bear was interesting, even somewhat enjoyable. However, it was a bit of a snore for an outdoor music festival. LCD Soundsystem, on the other hand, were really pretty good, revealing to me their appeal. LCD is a rock band making dance music or DJ’s making rock music or something like that. Anyway, I enjoyed much of their set, but had to sneak out early in preparation for day 3.

Sunday
Day 3 was easily the best day of the festival. Besides the headliner, the day was loaded with the best buzz bands and most eclectic mix. I spent more time at the Balance stage than the first two days as its lineup was packed with interesting bands all day long. At some point, sacrifices had to be made.

I saw very little of CAVE, a Chicago band with Columbia connections, due to a 20 minute thunderstorm which wreaked havoc on the stage’s sound system[22]. The stage was running behind for the rest of the day. With CAVE’s late start, I decided to head over to see Allá. Despite the Latin flair in their promotional material, I didn’t catch much of a Latin presence aside from three of the band member’s perceived ethnicity. What I did detect is some good, old-fashioned grunge. This band would have thrived circa 1992. Sunday, they were good enough to demand some attention. I later returned to see CAVE’s rather impressive finale.

At this point, the dance between stages had only begun. I moved between sets by Cass McCombs (think Elvis Costello pop sensibility in front of a garage band), Best Coast (surprisingly great), Girls (infinitely better than the last time I saw them), Local Natives (White Rabbits with more punch and harmonizing, if that’s possible), Beach House (more below), Lightning Bolt (freakishly entertaining[23]), and Surfer Blood (also see below).

I bought the first Beach House record and haven’t really gone back for more. The record was good, but I didn’t really grasp what they were doing that was so great. This year’s release was getting a fair amount of pub, so I made a point to check them out on Sunday. I’m glad I did as their sets was easily one of the top five of the festival. The music reminded me of Cat Power, pre-R&B obsession and without all the crazy. I get their appeal now. Beach House won me over this weekend.

Another band I was not sold on was Surfer Blood. Their debut was fine enough, but I wasn’t sure what it was doing. Was it alt.country? Was it straight-up rock similar to Soft Pack? Was it bland adult-alternative crap? Their live show cleared up the confusion. More than almost any other band in this year’s lineup (along with Real Estate), Surfer Blood reminded me of Pavement. The vocals were more American-meets-Manchester and the musicianship may have been better, but it was very Pavement-esque. They’re not a Pavement clone, but they’ve gleaned enough to make some pretty compelling rock music.

This was the point in the day I made a decision. I didn’t need to see any other band besides Pavement. I skipped out on Here We Go Magic, a band I was really wanting to see. I did this just so I could set up shop 10-15 feet from the Aluminum stage where Pavement would play three hours later. From this spot, I “watched” St. Vincent tear up the Connector stage. She was really impressive, much more so than when I saw her open for Andrew Bird, but I didn’t leave my spot. I survived Major Lazer and waited through Big Boi just to stay near the stage.

Before moving on, I have to write something about Major Lazer. Major Lazer is a DJ, hype man, and various dancers. That hype man and the two featured female dancers simulated sex on stage while downing copious amounts of alcohol. I’m no prude, but this was some raunchy-ass shit. We’re talking doggy-style, legs wrapped around waists, and even sexual acts involving one participant launching himself[24] from a ladder onto his “dance partner”. Of course, the music is sexually charged as anything I’ve heard. Whatever. It was highly entertaining. I can’t say that I’m a Major Lazer fan, but it could have been worse.

Big Boi played the other stage and then there was Pavement.

It was as if they had never left. The band, somehow frozen in time, took the stage in their customary positions – SM on the left[25], Ibold center-stage, Spiral Stairs on the right, Nasty & West in the back – and promptly false-started their first song. The second try at “Cut Your Hair” went much smoother. This was exactly as I remember my favorite band even after eleven years of silence. They were perfectly imperfect from the beginning. There’s so much more for me to say about Pavement that won’t fit in this post. I’ll do another just on their set later this week. Just know that it was as good as advertised. I can’t wait to see them again in September.

That was my weekend. I had some time on Monday to wander Chicago and grab some more beer to take home. The train was over an hour behind schedule, but that didn’t dampen my mood. There will be more on Pavement and Chicago’s status as a beer destination later this week. So, stay tuned. In the meantime, read through the footnotes[26].

Notes:
1And I use the term “good pictures” rather loosely.
2This is where I am in my life now. I buy rock concert t-shirts for my kid. It’s no longer about me proving to everyone how rock ‘n roll I am. It’s now about proving to everyone how rock ‘n roll my kid is. I don’t know whether it’s pathetic or sweet.
3He claimed to have a gig with Saturday Night Live. I believed him, but I thought for sure Lorne Michaels had a one-black-dude limit. I could be wrong though.
4I think it had to do with the noise from the other stages.
5If I want pop, I’ll go to a Brittney concert. Seriously, from what I could hear, it was downright awful. Of course, I know some dudes who would disagree.
6Although, Brendan Canning looked like a middle-aged woman with his slightly over-sized glasses, bright tank top, and feathered hairdo. Kevin Drew looked like a skinnier, younger Jeff Tweedy in his panama and sunglasses. Still, they were quite excellent musically.
7This breaks maybe the biggest rule in my concert-going rulebook. You should never be that guy who wears a band t-shirt for the band you are seeing. However, I considered two facts as exceptions to the rule. First, this t-shirt, along with JSBX and Pavement t-shirts worn the next two days, is more than a decade old, featuring bands from my college days. Second, outdoor summer festivals have different rules in general regarding such things. I believe I was well-within my right to wear these t-shirts.
8I will not lose any sleep over this fact.
9It’s called Sudsy Malones. I had a beard and wore a thrift store sweater like every day back then. We actually got to meet Isaac Brock that night. He offered us beers, giving three of us one and keeping one for himself as he hit on a female companion of ours and our brother’s roommate who had similar Buddhist-inspired tattoos as Brock.
10Encores were put in place for old people like myself to slip out before the kids clog the exits.
11My beer adventures were not that impressive on this trip, but I do have an impression as to what kind of beer city Chicago is.
12I really wanted a Founders Cerise, but figured 11:00 am was too early for a beer. And with the temperatures expected in the 90’s, getting an early start with the alcohol was not the best of ideas.
13Yes, I do recognize that many of the bands I praise on this blog do the same thing. However, they often emulate bands I also like. So, reinvention is great when it’s something worth recycling.
14Mentioning this band will undoubtedly get me some SPAM comments from real estate agents. I was able to Tweet one thing about Real Estate and I now have real estate agents from all over the country following me.
15In all fairness, Delorean played really hard. They just aren’t my cup of tea. I’m OK with synth music and music intended for dance clubs. I just don’t like a lot of it disguised as an indie band. Is that close-minded? Probably. Do I care? Not really.
16I realized that Vile toured with Dinosaur Jr upon purchasing a concert poster in the fest’s gallery of poster makers. It’s a Dinosaur Jr poster featuring a wine bottle just before it is de-corked. Kurt Vile is listed as an opener.
17The EP isn’t terrible. It’s just full of a tracks that sound like he’s fucking around. Vile’s live show is way more compelling than fucking around.
18Although I am not anti-keyboards, I grow weary of them after a while. Just play some guitar, dammit.
19I am particularly talking about Jon’s pants. He wore black vinyl with neon green stitching and he owned those pants.
20Oddly enough, that show was also a summer festival in a major city, sponsored by an entertainment rag. It was the inaugural Village Voice Siren Festival on Coney Island.
21OK. I am also not anti-hip hop. I love the Wu and a lot of other hip hop acts. I just often have a hard time with alt rock festivals throwing some hip hop acts into the lineup and then watching a bunch of middle-class white kids getting all gangsta for an hour. It’s fine if it’s your thing. I’m just not that into it.
22But it allowed me to check out some of the vendors a little more closely. I picked up the 33⅓ take on Wowee Zowee which I digested on the train ride back to Missouri.
23Lightning Bolt is two dudes. One plays bass. The other plays drums with some sort of mask. There’s a mic inside the mask which muffles everything the drumming screamed over their music. Oh, and they played ridiculously fast. If you ever get a chance to see them live, do it.
24And herself.
25Almost to the point that he was by himself, playing toward his band mates.
26I suspect this was a lot easier to read than past posts, given that I now have added anchored footnotes. Thanks David for the idea.

Ten at the Middle of ’10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Bands Become Conventional

Posted in Pavement, Records by Zac on June 1, 2010

There was this funny phenomenon back in the day when Pavement would release an album. Fans and critics would complain that they were losing their edge and making conventional classic rock records1. Part of the “problem” was that each album’s production value improved as better recording studios became accessible to the band. They moved away from their lo-fi beginnings as they recorded on better equipment with better engineers2 turning the nobs. Also, Stephen Malkmus started crafting songs instead of just throwing sounds together over the hiss of the tape. All this growth coincided with the band becoming a proper outfit3. They left day jobs and became full-time indie rockers4.

The transformation into a conventional rock band spit in the face of everything for which their fans thought Pavement stood5. Of course, complaining about a Pavement album is a right of passage for every Pavement fan6. Those who knew them from the early Slay Tracks era hated the slick sounding Slanted and Enchanted. I remember every Pavement fan I knew hated Wowee Zowee when it was released only to love it as soon as “that piece of shit” Brighten the Corners hit the shelves. The phenomena even worked retroactively. I discovered Slanted after Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain thought it superior in every way despite my obsession with the newer record. A lot of us blamed this regression on the band giving in to traditional rock band structures, becoming a conventional rock ‘n roll band.

Of course, this was all ridiculous as each Pavement album stands on its own merit, regardless of the state of the band. In fact, one could argue that they were less of a cohesive band by their farewell album, Terror Twilight despite how so many die-hard fans complained of its adult contemporary-like accessibility. Regardless, that’s the impression fans and some critics had. Punk rock ruined us all. We love sloppy, ramshackle rock bands7. They always made us feel like we could do the same thing. We couldn’t, but the fact that our favorite bands were fuck-ups made them so attainable.

Wolf Parade is a different band. They were a combination of other bands those in the underground love(d). Each member has his share of other projects with nearly as much clout as Wolf Parade. However, none of those bands ever recorded an album as glorious as Apologies to the Queen Mary. That was their debut, relegating them to careers aimed at surpassing that achievement8. Every album the members release on their own or collectively is compared to Apologies which is too bad as each album should be judged on its own merit, within its own, unique context.

The band’s follow-up was the forgettable9 At Mount Zoomer. However, had their sophomore album been the debut of another band or a piece in any other discography, it would have hailed as a great record. It just didn’t measure up to Apologies.

Now comes Expo 86, maybe the band’s most cohesive effort to date. I still can’t tell if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. That’s why it’s taken me over a week to put these thoughts in a blog post. Despite my doubts, the album is good. I can’t wrap my head around it as of yet, but I’m working hard on this one10. I’m not getting that punch-in-the-gut feeling Apologies gave me, but there is a slight tingle.

Never have the writing and vocal styles of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner fit together so seamlessly. I always felt their albums were battles to see which style would win out. In the end, both would go back to their various projects dejected. There, Krug and Boeckner would find themselves again and return to the fight that is a Wolf Parade record. Not so on Expo 86. I had trouble keeping score between the two primary musicians, losing track as to who was singing and whose song they were hacking. The album fits itself from beginning to end. I can’t deny the cohesion11.

Then I wonder if this is a good thing. Should I not only feel that punch in the gut but also that slap to the face? Apologies grabbed me from the opening beats. It took me to the woodshed and had its way with me. I was hypnotized despite its uneven, two-pronged attack. Of course, the cohesion on that album was somehow created from Isaac Brock’s production in which he stripped both Krug and Boeckner of their identities…but I digress12.

Expo 86 is, at the very least, worth several listens before writing it off. Some will complain about its mediocrity, that it’s neither good nor bad.

At its very best, it’s a challenging album that takes time to appreciate, an album that stays in the rotation because it’s too interesting to dismiss and thought-provoking enough to garner discussion and debate.

Either way, the transformation of Wolf Parade into a conventional, cohesive band is having an effect. Expo 86 might not be the end of this story. It might just be the beginning. The direction the band takes from here will be telling as to whether this move toward a conventional rock band is a good or bad thing. For me, Expo 86 will appreciate if the conventional turns out to be the same thing that drew me rock ‘n roll in the first place13. However, this development might just give me fodder to complain about each successive album, only appreciating the previous release once Wolf Parade releases another. Then, maybe Wolf Parade will be a lot like Pavement.

Notes:
1Which is so laughable in retrospect. Pavement couldn’t make a classic rock record of they tried. And besides, what the hell is “classic rock”? I feel like it used to be the Beatles, Stones, maybe Zeppelin. Now it’s as if every hair metal band from ’83 is classic rock. Classic rock might be the worst moniker for a genre of music this side of indie, crunk, and slow-core.
2Sorry, Gary Young. You were a shitty drummer, gymnast, and record producer. Pavement was better off without your burnt-out California, gun-toting, plant man shtick.
3And by “proper”, I simply mean that they practiced a bit before they toured, maybe rehearsed before recording. I don’t think they ever all lived in the same city at the same time. Pavement might be more proper than ever just by simply doing this reunion thing.
4I believe that I read somewhere that Bob Nastanovich actually left another day job in order to join the reunion. He was maintaining some horse racing database or something.
5The emphasis should be on the what the fans thought here. I don’t think that it was ever Pavement’s collected stance to abstain from becoming a real band. They certainly toured a shit-ton in the mid-nineties and played nice with some alt-rock luminaries (sans Smashing Pumpkins, but who played nice with that asshole Billy Corgan?). Pavement were a vehicle for their fans to reject anything conventional even though the band was a pretty conventional rock outfit for the most part – dudes with guitars played loudly.
6Just wait for all the blog posts from their upcoming summer dates around the country.
7See Black Flag who was hated by their own fans once they started incorporating metal riffs and grew their hair long. Of course, we’re all thankful Henry Rollins stuck with the dirty gym shorts and didn’t discover spandex.
8Another band who did this but has failed miserably in trying to attain the same heights as their debut is Interpol. Turn on the Bright Lights is as perfect a debut as there has ever been, but when when the following two duds are taken into consideration. I haven’t heard the new Interpol record. I think it’s safe to say that it will be a dud as well.
9I only use this term because no one ever remembers this record. It had a really bad cover and strayed far from Apologies, ironically making a sound much closer to what the band members intended for their first go-around.
10I’m still listening to it constantly, trying to piece together a coherent thought beyond the coherence of the record. Is that coherent? Coherently coherent?
11Or overuse the term, apparently. That, I guess, is a characteristic/flaw of my writing. I’m redundant and use the same word over and over, in case you haven’t noticed. Good thing I don’t do this for a living.
12That’s what the footnotes are for. I actually really love what Brock did to Wolf Parade. A synth-heavy debut would have come off contrived, pretentious. Looking back, it’s actually quite surprising Brock stripped the music down so much considering his tendency to overdo it. Somehow, he made it work but at the cost of what makes the individual parts of Wolf Parade so amazing. A good topic to debate would be whether Isaac Brock ruined Wolf Parade or did he make them great?
13You know, rebellion, your parents hate it, has a good beat, danceability, etc.

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