Beer and Pavement

The Matador 100 Project: Dustdevils’ Struggling, Electric, & Chemical (Olé 014)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Pavement, Records, Review by SM on June 30, 2016

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Jointly released by Teen Beat in 1991, Dustdevils’ second Matador release was the Wharton Tiers produced Struggling, Electric, & Chemical. The Sonic Youth comparisons remain, but there’s a separation into something that sounds much more like future releases from Pavement. Of course, it doesn’t hurt Mark Ibold is the string between all these bands, but even he would admit he had little to do with any aesthetic any of the three groups produced.

The opening track was best described by Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot, who for all I know just listened to said track:

The Devils’ 10-minute cover of the Fall’s “Hip Priest” is a mind-blowing masterpiece of corrosion and decay: A female voice clings desperately to a thread of melody; huge, ghostly edifices of sound emerge from the sparest guitar chords; drums and bass collide, fall back and collide again as if auditioning for a Cecil Taylor session. More noise and disruption follow, even a wretched blues, all reportedly recorded in a single bleary day.

It is a case of the cover being just as good or better than the original and the original was pretty damned good.

The second track screams of a Sonic Youth onslaught. Again, where other bands’ influence is apparent, Dustdevils certainly hold their own. With this record, Dustdevils firmly plant themselves in the annals of noise rock. From there, Dustdevils rarely let up. And when they do, it’s for fits of noise and distortion. This record sounds like it was from the 90’s but somehow remains fresh 25 years later.

A quick note about Ole-013: Toys Went Berserk’s last LP was set to be released by Matador but it never came to fruition.  The Australian outfit put out the album on Aussie imprint Aberrant Records despite recording here in the States with Pixies’ producer Gary Smith. It seems unclear as to why Toys Went Berserk never released on Matador. I suppose it was in talks and Matador moved on with other releases and it just never happened.

On a side note, I am still doing this project. I gathered a few records to review but just haven’t had the time. I need to figure out where I am with the discography and get back to collecting so that I can continue putting out these posts. It’s not that I’m adding anything to the discography. I just wanted something to do and to find some way to honor my favorite record label.

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The Matador 100 Project: Teenage Fanclub’s A Catholic Education (Olé 012)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on May 19, 2016

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I just missed the Teenage Fanclub bandwagon. That’s to say that I got into independent music right after the band’s major breakthrough release – 1991’s Bandwagonesque – rolled onto the scene. Of course, I was into label mates (Geffen) Nirvana, so it would be a couple of years before I would dive into indie labels like Matador and their infinite discographies. This was actually Teenage Fanclub’s third release and, as stated above, I missed the whole thing.

Luckily, I did get into indie rock and indie labels. And even luckier, I found time and enough income to go back through these discographies and catch up. This little blogging project helped me find Teenage Fanclub’s first (possibly) US release and now I’ve been fully introduced to 1990’s A Catholic Education.

Now, I have seen Teenage Fanclub in-person, once. They played with Bettie Serveert (also of Matador) at the Crocodile Club in Seattle in the summer of 1997. It was a great show and what I remembered about Teenage Fanclub was that they were a great bar band. This was sort of a thing in the early and mid-90’s among indie/alternative acts. Bands like The Lemonheads or Buffalo Tom had these catchy rockers that filled LP’s and setlists. They rarely disappointed as this is the kind of music one likes to hear at a bar or rock club. Sometimes they didn’t inspire if you didn’t pay attention. I honestly wasn’t paying attention as I missed them in my Nirvana days and was kinda over bar bands not named “Guided by Voices” in 1997.

A Catholic Education is a perfect example as to why I should have paid attention. This sludgy collection of rockers is a nice blend of that rocker aesthetic, a touch of pre-Nirvana grunge, as well as some nice melodies that have stuck in my head ever since this record arrived in the mail.

“Everything Flows” is a great opener, one that has wormed it’s way into my brain as I play those riffs over and over in my head. The vocals have that pleasant Evan Dando tone over a steady, mid-tempo rocker. This is followed by the familiar “Everybody’s Fool” – another mid-tempo pleaser. When “Everything Flows” isn’t running through my head, the refrains “I don’t fucking care…” and “I’m laughing at you all the time” from “Everything…” are filing the void. This was a pretty great start to the band’s LP output.

The title track doesn’t disappoint. The band must have also thought so as they included it twice, once on each side. I honestly haven’t listened to the two tracks side-by-side to tell you what the difference is. I feel like the second version is faster, more rocking, and lacking keyboards. Either way, one gets the sense Teenage Fanclub was getting feisty and political with their title tracks.

The rest of the album pleases as much as the first three tracks suggest they should. Things slow a bit a mope about with “Eternal Light.” There are two instrumentals called “Heavy Metal,” the second being the darker, more interesting version in my opinion. “Critical Mass” almost jangles while the rest of the tracks round out what is an excellent debut album.

The production is a bit mucky, but the sequence of tracks is super enjoyable. I would pay way too much to see the band play this record in its entirety and in the sequence on the vinyl release, not the CD.

I don’t know if Teenage Fanclub were hugely influential, but one can’t miss that this record released in 1990 certainly was doing all the things bands attempted over the next 5-10 years. I’m glad I dug this record up just for the cause of collecting Matador’s first 100 releases. It paints a better picture of the scene for me and helps prove that Matador knew what they were doing when they put our records by the likes of Teenage Fanclub.

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The Matador 100 Project: Mecca Normal’s Water Cuts My Hands (Olé 011)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on May 4, 2016

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From 1990 (or maybe 1991), Mecca Normal’s third effort gets the full Calvin Johnson treatment as it was released jointly by Johnson’s K Records and Matador. Lo-fi and full of riot grrrl growl, Water Cuts My Hands (and Mecca Normal’s output in general) is a seminal release for 90’s indie rock. Aggressive, atonal, and rhythmic guitar onslaughts from David Lester balances with the Patti Smith-channeling poetic snarl of Jean Smith. In fact, I would argue Jean Smith’s performance bridges the gap between Smith and the riot grrrl movement of the 90’s, but what do I know?

A highlight is “20 Years No Escape” with it’s tape hiss, repeated guitar licks, and commanding delivery from Smith which meshes aesthetics from the previously mentioned lo-fi and riot grrrl subgenres with that special K Records twist. The song is simple, sparse, but it packs an intense punch. Lester’s guitar is hypnotic and perfectly clashes with Smith’s stream-of-consciousness yelps.

Gerard Cosloy describes Mecca Normal best…

A quick note about Ole-010: As I embarked on this project, it became clear that a number of the first 100 Matador LP’s listed on their discography were never released by the label. Some were released on other labels while a few never really saw the light of day. Either way, I decided not to include these records as they were never released by Matador. This means the list will go beyond Ole-100 and some will skip, like this current post. Also, I will throw in tiny blurbs so as to acknowledge their part in Matador lore.

Ole-010 was supposed to be Bailter Space’s Thermos, released on Flying Nuns Records in 1990. Eventually, Matador did reissue the New Zealand band’s second album on CD, but I’m limiting this list to vinyl presently.

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The Matador 100 Project: Unsane (Olé 009)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on April 10, 2016

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Let’s just get the most obvious part of this post out of the way: That fucking cover is…insane!

In a time before nearly every kind of image was readily available on the internet, somehow the band Unsane scored a photo of a man in a members only jacket with a decapitated head strewn across a subway track. Apparently, bassist Pete Shore had a friend on the police department who passed him the image. It’s quite striking and gritty. It puts to shame any staged or imagined death metal cover in my opinion. This is a record I’ll have to keep in the stacks when the kids are around.

To be honest, I didn’t fully appreciate Unsane at the time. Similar to how I felt about Superchunk, I perceived that a lot of bands doing the Unsane aesthetic and it all sounded the same to me. Plus, I had only heard single tracks out of context on MTV’s 120 Minutes or on compilations. Loud, acerbic, post-hardcore was not my thing. However, with some age and experience, I can hear why Unsane was their own beast. I don’t know that I’ll become an Unsane completest, but this record certainly has me intrigued.

From what I understand and attempt to oversimplify, post-hardcore is really just hardcore played with a greater degree of skill and artistic expression. Unsane demonstrates this perfectly. The bass lines are heavy and brooding and the guitar work is dexterous and almost classic rock-esque. The drumming is powerful and relentless. The vocals are loaded with feedback and static. I’ve heard this aesthetic a million times and have typically ignored it, but there’s some fantastic playing on this record.

It’s hard to see how this record fits the “Matador sound” (whatever that is/was) unless you look for it. I hear elements I’ve heard in Sonic Youth and the Melvins. The Wharton Tiers’ production is apparent and that seems to fit the scene. It’s aggressive music but not without a sense of intellect. Unsane is a unique piece in the Matador catalog and I’m glad this little project forced me to check it out. It provides another perspective on the music of this particular scene that doesn’t necessarily involve college radio smart asses.

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The Matador 100 Project: Teenage Fanclub & Fire in the Kitchen (Olé 007-008)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on April 4, 2016

Two seven-inch records to consider, or 45’s or singles as they used to be known. I suspect the 7″ era started with 80’s hardcore. Also, it was probably easier to get together a few hundred bucks to put out a 7″. It was maybe the most DIY thing to do outside of selling mixed tapes out of your trunk. These two releases have a particular DIY feel unlike the “polish” of the previous LP and EP releases. Matador put out some good seven-inch records over the years. These are the second and third of the format as we near the end of the first ten Matador records to hit shelves.

Teenage Fanclub – “Everybody’s Fool” (Olé 007-7)

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What I believe is Teenage Fanclub’s first release stateside (possibly second as they released a 7″ in the UK prior) is a perfect example of the TF sound: straight rock ‘n roll with touches of grunge and alt.country, off-kilter vocals. Side A features the title track that would one day close out Teenage Fanclub’s classic A Catholic Education. “Everybody’s Fool” is a beer-drinking rocker that surely closed out most of their live gigs and probably still should.

The B-side starts off with the drum machine cymbal lead-in of “Primary Education” which I’m sure was covered by someone at some point. I just can’t think of the band who did it. It’s simple and not nearly as mature a song as the first side, but it makes me think of Pavement more than Son Volt, unlike “Everybody’s Fool.”

More drum machine beats and a slide guitar are featured in “Speeder,” reminding me more of some Beck a la One Foot… or maybe even some Sebadoh/Folk Implosion instrumental. Again, the second side is sorta partially-realized – but no less enjoyable – tracks than a classic rocker.

Fire In The Kitchen – “The Fog” (Olé 008-7)

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I know virtually nothing about Fire in the Kitchen. The blog Willfully Obscure knows more than I and that’s still not a ton. I do know this is a post-punk outfit from NYC which I realize describes a lot of what has come out on Matador. They are similar to Teenage Fanclub in this sort of straightforward, early nineties’ alt/indie rock way. It’s an interesting addition to Matador’s catalog. I don’t know whether it would have been deemed interesting enough for Matador five years after this record was released, but it’s a decent document of the musical times.

“The Fog” is Fire in the Kitchen’s hit. Of course, I say this without really knowing much else about the band. As I found out with HP Zinker, these bands have small but dedicated followings and surely the minds of Lombardi and Cosloy have proven themselves knowing talent when they hear it. But I have digressed a bit. As I said before, “The Fog” is the post-punk rocker above other post-punk rockers to enjoy and play air guitar to.

B-side “Inspector Marais” is more the mid-tempo song to which your Morrissey lovers may choose to dance. To me, it sounds a bit out of place in 1992. At points it’s very 80’s Manchester while a little disco-influenced punk. Both songs, really.

The impressive thing at this point in the catalog is the variety of acts on the roster. Sure, they’re mostly guitar-based bands from in and around NYC, but they don’t all sound the same or are just some take on grunge or hardcore or whatever labels were trying to pull off in the early 90’s. There’s a sensibility even among the art noise of Dustdevils or blue-collar punk blues of Railroad Jerk to the post-punk of Teenage Fanclub and Fire in the Kitchen.

The Matador 100 Project: New York Eye & Ear Control (Olé 006)

Posted in Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on April 4, 2016

First thing’s first. I apologize for not monitoring these posts. It’s been so long since I’ve blogged or watched blog traffic that I didn’t expect the two-day stretch of ~1000 views. I feel really bad for missing a couple of comments (one possibly from a musician on one of the records discussed). Of course, I barely blog anymore and haven’t really had much traffic when I do. This is more of a fun thing to do and not really a serious blogging project. Still, I’ll try to stay tuned into your comments and such.

Now, moving on…

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According to most internet searches, New York Eye & Ear Control was an experimental, free jazz compilation of improvisations from 1965, not a collection of arty, punkrock noise. There’s not a lot of information out there on this comp. It feels like a few singles (Dustdevils, Railroad Jerk, Unsane in particular) paired with a bunch of noise…sweet, sweet, beautiful noise. Had I ever been the kind of DJ who needed to clear a dance floor while appealing to a few nerds in the audience, this record would certainly come in handy.

I’m not sure all of the material is each band’s best efforts. Most feels like throwaways meant to fill out a side of a future release or some jam session that happened to land on tape. The opening track by Dustdevils is as good a song as I’ve heard from them so far in a Sonic Youth sort of way. I like the Railroad Jerk track as well, but the rest deserves several more listens before passing judgement. However, it’s hard to do that when you live with a spouse and children who don’t share your love for experimental noise rock.

This is Matador’s first compilation, something 90’s indies were so good at. I’m not sure if it was due to economics or just a culture of collaboration, but 90’s comps were the best way to get to know a label’s roster and related acts. At this point, Matador didn’t have a huge roster and a lot of what’s on here don’t make many appearances in the rest of the catalog (Timber, Cop Shoot Cop, OWT, Borbetomagus, Royal Trux, Rudolph Grey, Fitch). Basically, it’s a few bonus tracks from the actual roster and a lot of noisy contributions from some outsiders. This may have been an easier sell than a tri-split 7″ from Dustdevils, Railroad Jerk, and Unsane.

Without trying the little exercise in record collecting, I would have never considered this record. There’s not much known on the track list and the artwork is borderline atrocious. That said, it’s a cool footnote in the Matador 100 that will get a few more listens in the coming weeks…probably through headphones in order to keep everyone else in the house happy.

The Matador 100 Project: Dustdevils, Superchunk, Railroad Jerk (Olé 003 through Olé 005)

Posted in Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on March 13, 2016

This project continues to move forward and why shouldn’t it? Two self-titled releases as well as a record of older, unreleased material round out Matador’s first five releases. Let’s get to it…

Dustdevils – Geek Drip (Olé-003)

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The first controversy happens with this Dustdevils’ release of older material (circa ’88). The catalog number on the record sleeve says “Olé-02″ not the Olé-03 noted on Matador’s official discography. To complicate matters, this record was actually released after the HP Zinker 7”. Who knows why the switch happened? I’ll go with the discography for the purposes of this little project in hopes the surviving members of HP and DD don’t get into some kind of indi rock feud over it.

Some research I did on Dustdevils (read “read it on Wikipedia) revealed that Pavement’s Mark Ibold played with the band. There is a mention of a “Mark” on the album’s sleeve (“Hello to Mark & Rick”), but a “Keith” seems to be credited with playing bass. I don’t know if this means this Keith played on these early recordings and Mark later joined or what. That said, “Keith” seems to be Keith Gregory of The Wedding Present who later covered Pavement’s “Box Elder.” But I digress.

From the opening tracks, Dustdevils are an early missing link between Matador and Sonic Youth. I remember reading there were always flirtations between the label and SY until their eventual signing and plenty of Matador bands have toured with SY, but this record could have easily been recorded by Sonic Youth. The female vocals are a little more traditional than Kim Gordon’s growl, but everything else sounds like it’s in the same ballpark. An excellent discovery. I will have to check out more polished releases from Dustdevils.

Superchunk – S/T (Olé-004)

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This is a bit of the holy grail for me in the first 5-10 releases. It’s a legendary band’s debut release and proved that they were pretty great in 1990. I somehow remember not liking early Superchunk, but that may have been No Pocky for Kitty (another album to revisit).

The band certainly sounds like everything from the 90’s from Guided By Voices to Yo La Tengo, but it’s “Slack Motherfucker” that will always stand out as their anthem. One could argue that while Pavement represented 90’s indie rock as a band, “Slack Motherfucker” was the song that set it all off or at least made the official mixed tape. Of course, it’s easy to tell this is a Superchunk record from the get-go. Driving bass lines, aggressive, feed-back-laden guitars and that familiar Mac McCaughan struggle. It’s quintessential Superchunk, a sound I’ve had to learn to love, oddly enough. I think my only aversion to their sound in the 90’s was the fact I finally listened to them after knowing a lot of bands that sounded like them. In the end, no one does Superchunk like Superchunk and Superchunk is the start.

I looked for references to Superchunk and Matador for some backstory, but there’s not much out there. In Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, there’s a little bit of an error in describing Matador as a label mainly releasing 7″ records (30% of the first 10 releases are singles, only 1 of the first 5). Of course, the label had only released two EP’s and a 7″ by the time Superchunk came out. It seems as if the band fulfilled their contract for three LP’s before leaving the label when Matador signed a distribution deal with Columbia. So, that’s just a lot of words to tell you nothing about this record.

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Maybe the biggest development is the addition of the iconic Matador capote or cape. The logo shows up in the now-familiar red as well as the white on black for the track listings on the record label. There is no logo, however, on the sleeve. One of the things that captivated me most about Matador was the simplicity of their logo and how it stood out. It suggested a brutish sophistication and pageantry other record labels didn’t convey. While I realize releases on labels such as Sub Pop and Merge were plenty smart, they still seemed aggressive and appealing to the less subtle subset of the music community. Matador’s label always suggested something smarter and artier to me. Of course, this is just my perception of a piece of graphic design and has no basis in reality when one considers the music on Matador, but it’s part of what attracted me to the label.

In other iconic Matador packaging features… This is the first time I’ve noticed the words “All Rights Reserved All Wrongs Reversed” which seems pretty prophetic in relation to developments in music sharing in the decades to follow. At the time, the only pirating was in the form of dubbed tapes and the promo copies people bought at used record stores. (See below for one such example of a promo bought and paid for.) It makes me think of some copyleft ideal or something. Hopefully, it means Matador was encouraging of fans distributing their product via these blackmarket and pirated means. Of course, I’m sure they were not as keen on corporate entities trying the same thing. That or it’s just a funny play on words and sardonic sentiment intended to make you smirk.

Railroad Jerk – S/T (Olé-005)

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To be honest, I knew nothing about Railroad Jerk other than they seemed to turn up on every Matador compilation (or at least one, twice) and they kinda sounded like their name. Chugging along with jerky lyrics delivered by what sounds like a jerk… I don’t mean those guys are actual jerks. They just sound like jerks which works well for a rock band.

Railroad Jerk is another lost gem I was hoping to find in this journey through Matador’s early catalog. So far, I haven’t been let down and this record makes me think I should have explored Railroad Jerk much earlier. Their punk-blues aesthetic was unique among the lo-fi, college guy thing. There was an edge, aggression without being as show-boat-y as a Jon Spencer. I look forward to the next three releases from Railroad Jerk –  three more if I go on to the next 100.

The Matador 100 Project: H.P. Zinker’s The Know It All (Olé 002-7)

Posted in Matador 100, Records, Review by SM on March 4, 2016

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So, this little project where I listen to the first 100 releases (on vinyl) from Matador Records continues. It would have been cool to venture into new bands, but we’re back with H.P. Zinker’s second release, “The Know It All.” Actually, I learned via Twitter conversation that HP also released the first record for Thrill Jockey. So, they were fairly important to the ’90 indie scene. I didn’t realize as I was in high school in West-Central Ohio. The Yellow Springs NPR station didn’t reach us among the corn fields.

That said, this record is just a two-song 7″ to follow up Zinker’s EP debut. There isn’t much to say other that it’s a much more stereotypical release of the times with its sped up beat to match the crumbling end of hardcore punk and angry/agro sleaze of grunge and garage rock. I don’t particularly enjoy it like the EP, but it would fit with those songs to make a decent LP.

The Elmer Fudd affect is there, just not as pronounced. “The Know It All” is pretty fast and straightforward. It sounds as if they picked up a proper metal drummer as well as a thirst for Alice Cooper and his ilk. I also wonder if they were listening to a lot of Mudhoney at the time. The track certainly fits their MO.

“Sip of Death” is of a similar aesthetic. This record would easily fit on early Sub Pop releases. It’s not as Elmer Fudd-ish as everything else, but that doesn’t really separate the track from the rest. The band has certainly put together two more aggressive tracks with this little record.

The design of the packaging is much more stark and less dated that the EP. There’s nothing that screams “Matador” aside from the “olé” in front of the release number. I honestly never noticed that the “ole” was actually a “olé” which makes total sense since this is Matador.

Anyway, this is release number two. Sorry there’s not much to report. Number three will be out in a week. The third release is in the mail and I have to figure out how much I’m willing to spend for number 4 (Superchunk’s debut S/T LP).

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The Matador 100 Project: H.P. Zinker’s …And There Was Light (Olé 001-1)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records by SM on February 26, 2016

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This is less of a restart for my blog than it is just something I wanted to do. See, I wanted to focus my vinyl collection beyond “that sounds good” or “this one is seminal” or “I have money in my pocket that needs to be spent.” So, I poked around a bit and decided that Matador was the label that meant most to me in the 90’s alongside maybe Sub Pop. If you know anything about these two labels, despite both being really successful to survive nearly 30 years, Sub Pop became the “most indie of all the sellouts” by being associated with grunge. Old Sub Pop records are out of the reach of someone with a meager public school teacher salary. Matador, however, released a lot of material by some pretty obscure bands. Plus, their lineup and catalog is honestly more interesting to me.

Anyway, I had this idea to collect the first 100 (maybe 200) Matador releases. Vinyl-wise, I probably own 10% of those releases already (closer to 20-25% on CD, but who listens to CD’s?). What I’m really missing is the early Matador stuff, the obscurest of the obscure. There are some well-known acts like Superchunk, Unsane, Railroad Jerk, Teenage Fanclub, etc., but most of the really early releases is completely new to me. Despite the obscurity of this material, the records are priced pretty afford-ably. I mean, that Unsane record with the decapitated guy on subway tracks and maybe the first Superchunk record are twice as much as a new release, but it’s still within my grasp.

The only place to begin was at the very start of the Matador empire. 1989’s H.P. Zinker EP …And There Was Light (Olé 001-1) is everything I wanted for this little project. It’s obscure enough. Who’s ever heard of H.P. Zinker? I hadn’t. According to Wikipedia (after I translated it from German), the record was recorded as a two-piece with a drum machine. The band formed the same year they released this record in NYC. Over time, they performed with several other bands of the day, namely Sonic Youth, Lemonheads (Dando later recorded with them), Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc.

The record opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days” which is kinda ominous, almost sinister. It’s bass-heavy and the singer sounds like Elmer Fudd. It’s actually a pretty good cover, fairly straight-up, but it has H.P.’s unique aesthetic without completely fucking up what is a good, classic rock song. The second track is an 8-minute, meandering slow jam. Again, despite the somewhat distracting cartoon-like vocals, it’s not a bad song which builds to a grungy crescendo.

The overall sound of the record is pure-1989 indie. It’s that tinny production with the oncoming onslaught of feedback and bass which made Nirvana rich. That said, Wharton Tiers did more to bring underground rock – particularly NYC rock – into its own come the 1990’s and this record is no different. His fingerprints are all over it, giving it more girth than similar-sounding records of the day.

“Sip of the Day” picks up the pace and ends the first side. It has some aesthetics in the guitar sound that reminds me of Dinosaur Jr. and early Pavement. The vocals aren’t nearly as Elmer Fudd as the rest, but it’s there. I’ll cease to belabor this point from here on out.

Side 2 kicks off with a fun grungy dancer in “Hurdles on my Way.” This would have been the hit. The production is somewhat cleaner and less-tinny. (Maybe all that tin is actually from the drum machine…) It’s basically just a song about a girl. So, there’s that.

“Sunshine” and “Down in the Basement” close out the EP. “Sunshine” uses the drum machine with the speed way up, sounding like some EDM then transforming into a hardcore anthem/ballad. Lots of space in this one to showcase what sounds like a shitty drum machine, but it somehow works.

This is a pretty solid first release from my favorite 90’s boutique label. It certainly points to the quality Chris Lombardi cultivated for his label and later championed by partner Gerard Cosloy. The second release was also by H.P. Zinker, so you have to assume Lombardi liked the band a lot. I’ll write about that 7″ as soon as it arrives in the mail. In the meantime, enjoy this video for “Sunshine.”

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Starting Over

Posted in Beer, Massachusetts, Travelog by SM on August 4, 2015
The Dirty Truth

The Dirty Truth

Over the course of the last 10 years, I was part of a burgeoning craft beer scene in Middle Missouri. I was there before a lot of great breweries distributed and several new breweries opened there. I was at the first ever Columbia Beer Enthusiasts‘ tasting and eventually became an officer (a position I guess that I still hold despite moving 1300 miles away). At the height of the international and national craft beer boom, I was fully embedded in my own scene.

And now, I’m starting over.

I am no longer part of a scene outside of the fact I’m the “new guy” on a local Facebook group dedicated to craft beer in the region. However, I’m no longer a regular…well…anywhere. There are no local breweries following me on Instagram and Twitter. No one’s giving me the inside scoop on releases. In fact, I haven’t a clue when any beers are hitting the shelves. I’m lucky to stumble upon beers I’ve never had that are actually fresh.

It’s weird having to start from scratch. I don’t know that I have the energy to hunt down white whales or hit tap takeovers or hit the road on the weekends to travel to a nearby brewery. I received word of a beer fest in nearby Springfield and I scoffed at the $45 price tag. I don’t really want to start over.

So, my other choice is to ease into the craft community. And if it happens that I become an integral part again, so be it. However, it will most likely mean that I know a thing or two about beer. I know what I like and generally know where I can find it.

Somehow, I’m okay with this. I guess I kinda have to be. I mean, weeknight drinking (including Sundays) now becomes a lot tougher to maintain as my daily commute has tripled (10 to 30 minutes) and the demands of my new job have increased with less flexibility. Sure, I’ll get my summers off, but the coming fall will mean that I need to have a clear mind and plenty of rest to be effective. This is what I want and it’s worth adjusting my lifestyle.

Of course, there’s always the weekends…to spend with my almost-7-year-old and 17-month-old. The second kid made my participation in craft beer and homebrewing tough enough, but now I have to attend to my kids’ needs more that my time and availability is tighter during the week. Will I enjoy a good craft beer? Yes. Will I be ticking away at an impossible list of options? Probably not.

It’s similar to my place in the music scene. The scene here is so much more robust with five significant campuses and a couple of smallish urban centers loaded with creative types. So, it’s probably too big for me to put a dent in it anyway and once again, I honestly don’t have the energy anymore.

And all of this is okay.

Maybe my 30’s was my time to get involved in a scene or two. My 40’s seem to be about my family and career with a little enjoyment on the side. Through all my efforts in music and craft beer scenes, I feel I have a handle on how to enjoy them without being a part of them.

So, where do I get my craft beer fix now? I have Spirit Haus which is nearby – like 2 minutes nearby. This area is loaded with these little beer/wine/liquor stores with an assortment of odds and ends. This is good for exploring the possibilities of the region as well as scoring a gem now and again. Plus, there’s usually a guy at each of these stores who knows everything. At Spirit Haus, they have a guy (Gary, I believe) who knows wine. I haven’t been there enough to know whether or not they have a beer guy, but someone seems to know what they’re doing. The shelves are stocked with a nice spectrum of craft beer and there’s some interesting Belgians as well. The cooler is a labyrinth you enter at your own claustrophobic risk. I was in need of some unique tripels for a pesto dinner and instead of going for Belgians, I wanted some New England fare. What I got was the tripel from Allagash (maybe the best of the style I’ve had) as well as a somewhat older Fluffy White Rabbits – kept in the cooler as an older, hoppy beer should be. Spirit Haus is my neighborhood stop, something I’ve not had for a decade.

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The other stops are not so close, but they offer a fix. Most beer folk know that to fully explore the range of a state’s distribution (if not always the complete breadth), you should hit a Whole Foods. The quantity is never amazing, but they feature locals, regionals, and some rarer, more expensive choices. If I want something local or high-end, I grab it at Whole Paycheck. (However, I’m going to avoid all the West Coast IPA’s that have been sitting there since last fall!) There’s also 44 Liquors which is a regional chain that’s just plain huge. They get everything and in large quantities. For a lot of special releases, places like this get a large share and it sits there for a while. There were so many 120 Minute IPA’s and World Wide Stouts not to mention a full lineup of Lost Abbey beers, that I was nearly overwhelmed. Of course, a place like this also has year-old IPA’s. I guess it’s all part of the learning process.

While Spirit Haus is in Amherst and the other places are in Hadley, my favorite place might be in Northampton. Provisions is one of those fancy food and drink stores that have everything. However, these stores often half-ass the beer and overprice everything. That is not the case with Provisions. They had the local breweries covered, including some rarer beers. I was even able to score several affordable offerings so that I could sample some beers from several breweries. Despite most of the beers being kept on shelves (there was a fully stocked cooler as well), the ages seemed appropriate. I suspect these beers move quickly. My only disappointing discovery was that the place with the largest number of bottles from Shelton Brothers (of nearby Belchertown who carry Mikkeller, Evil Twin, Jolly Pumpkin, everybody) was limited to a shelf in the corner. I opted not to check the dates of those beers as they looked to be not a priority to the store. Something I can overlook since the rest of the store is so amazing.

With unpacking and dragging a 17-month everywhere, I haven’t had time to check out local watering holes. That said, I enjoyed two. One was High Horse Brewing and the other The Dirty Truth in Northampton. I was told by a grad student that High Horse served great food, but the beer was so-so. The food was good, but I don’t know what beer these grad students must be used to. The Anti-Imperialist Session IPA was really good. If a brewery can do a good session IPA, they can certainly do most styles.

The other watering hole was sort of a spur of the moment stop. My father-in-law treated me to a beer at The Dirty Truth. After being carded and having to produce multiple forms of ID because my ID is still out-of-state (also, I’m 40), we slipped in at the end of a long bar to peruse the ~40 taps to try. I had the incredibly bitter Boom Sauce from Lord Hobo Brewing Company and my FiL sipped on White Lion’s Insane Mane (which I sampled as well). Nice, dark joint and they didn’t mind the antsy toddler at the bar.

And that’s about the extent of my beer adventures here in Western Mass. I feel so out of it not knowing any of the beers on tap (particularly local ones) or knowing where and when special releases hit the shelves. Just today I went looking for the Victory/Dogfish Head collaborative saison and two of the above places didn’t have it.

It’s either going to be a long time until I get fully acclimated with this beer scene or I just get back to enjoying the beer again. I mean, every time I go out or pick up something to take home, I’m having a beer I’ve never had before. So, that’s something right? It will be interesting to see how long I go before I start chasing white whales again.

For those who read this blog (assuming that you know it’s producing again) for the beer stuff, hang in there. I’ll find something to say. I might even go back to reviewing records with beers again which could be fun.

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Also, I forgot to mention that it helps to have good neighbors. There will be more to say about this later, but I feel two families have been particularly welcoming and it would be wrong not to mention them in my quest for a place in the new beer scene. First, one couple has an in with Shelton Brothers. We’re hoping to set up a tasting sometime. I don’t need to tell you how excited that makes me. If/when it happens, that will be a night of epic beer drinking proportions. Probably.

The other neighbor only had two beers in his house when I was over last. It just so happens they were both two-year-old brews from Brasserie Fantôme. The first was Saison D’Erezée – Hiver which somehow tasted like a peaty scotch. How does that happen?!? Then, there was  Fantôme de Noël which was also silly good. I suspect there will be more stories involving that guy when the only two beers in his house are two white whales of the highest order.

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