Beer and Pavement

Early Favorites Records of 2015

Posted in Records, Review by SM on July 31, 2015

A hiatus means that one misses a lot of opportunities to write about all kinds of things. For me, beer is one and records are the other. With the epic bender to empty my cellar, I don’t know that I have the time to tell you all the beers I missed blogging about. (Really, I’m a little embarrassed how much high-ABV I’ve consumed recently.) So, I’ll stick with my favorite records of this year so far. Some may still be there when I inevitably do a year-end list, but I’m not there yet. Be sure to scroll to the bottom for the Spotify playlist.

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

I actually reviewed this record in this calendar year, proving that I was alive as late as late January. Additionally, we took our older kid (6.5 years at the time) to her first real concert when S-K hit middle Missouri. (I really should have returned to blogging then as there were so many Carrie sightings by my family and friends. Alas, I was not feeling it.) And nothing has changed how I feel about this band or their latest album.

While it is up to debate whether or not this is S-K’s best effort (I prefer different S-K releases for different contexts), it is hard to argue that this isn’t their most complete album. From the first fat notes (“Price Tag”) to the anthemic ending (“Fade”), this record never lets up. Riding themes of feminism and activism (“New Wave”, “Surface Envy”), the rush from performing (“Fade” again), the evils of capitalism and debt (“Price Tag” again), life on the road (“No Cities”), and being an aging rock star (“No Anthems”, “Bury Our Friends), etc., No Cities does the whole “personal as political” as well as or better than any other S-K record. And the instrumentation (guitars, drums, vocals – gawd, the vocals) are just a whole other level hinted at in The Woods but never quite realized. No Cities to Love hits all the notes…no, more like pummels all the notes only to build them back again into something new and inspiring.

Viet Cong – S/T

Viet Cong are this year’s Joy Division, but that somehow seems limiting. Nah, this band is this year’s Joy Division as blended with a bunch of other Canadian bands. Take the raw power and energy of Japandroids, the anthemic dissonance of Godspeed You Black Emperor, the acidic take on modern life a la Ought, and maybe the awareness of Broken Social Scene and then toss in some lazy Joy Division bits and you’ve got yourself a review for Spin!

Twerps – Range Anxiety

I feel like Twerps just sounds like every band I liked from the 90’s as played through a filter of The Sundays. There’s lazy afternoons and meeting strange, exotic love interests, and even a bit about getting married. This is a nice, easy record to like. It’s pleasant, has a good pace, and hits all the right spots. I want every summer drive to have this album as the background music.

Krill – A Distant Fist Unclenching

Ever had a dream that goes at a persistently fast pace and no matter how you wish to take the controls and change the direction it’s going, it continues to move in a direction you’re not completely comfortable with. Then, you realize that’s how your day is actually going and it’s no dream. To me, that’s what Krill sounds like. It’s bluntly honest and downright immature at times, but it gets at that helplessness when your life is a runaway train and somehow you just reside yourself to sit back and enjoy accept the ride.

Yowler – The Offer

This year’s quiet, earnest, female singer-songwriter seems to be Yowler. It doesn’t hurt that Maryn Jones is from my old stomping grounds in Columbus, OH of course, but this little solo record (Jones is in Saintseneca) was a pleasant surprise. Quiet and haunting, Jones knows what contemplative first-year college students want to listen to alone in their dorm rooms. Or so I’ve heard. Anyway, the production is stripped down but not exactly lo-fi. It feels less experienced than Cat Power did 17 or so years ago. It’s quieter than, well pretty much everything. The only drawback is that Yowler is not yet available on vinyl. So, it’s all Spotify for me until someone imprints this on a black circular piece of plastic with crackles in between laments.

Radical Dads – Universal Coolers

Steve Keene covers (multiple!) don’t hurt, but this band fills my need for jangly 90’s guitar rawk to a t. Like many of the bands on this list, Radical Dads would have easily fit on a bill in the mid-90’s. What can I say? I’m a one-trick pony. The band continues its egnagingly feedbacked guitar onslaught I first discovered in 2013’s Rapid Reality. Additionally, it’s yet another example of the effect women in rock bands of the 90’s have had on modern performers. There’s just a better, richer space for women to occupy and I believe (well, probably a lot of people believe) this is directly due to the bands and performers of that era. Where am I going with this? I mean, Rad Dads just happen to have a woman fronting the band, but they are a powerful, 90’s indie-esque rock band and now I’ve pigeon-holed them. Whatever, the band works and Universal Coolers is a fun romp through my college years. (I feel a little cheap for that description. Just know that if you like what I like – 90’s indie rock – you’ll appreciate Radical Dads who will surely not quote any of this on their Facebook page. Of course, they just became actual rad dads and a mom or something. So, the bump they are certainly going to get from this awful write up is for nothing.)

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s Courtney Barnett’s world and we just live in it. Somehow, after two impressive EP’s, Barnett has followed up with a record that should be on many, many year-end lists. She’s somehow Evan Dando, Bob Dylan (yeah, you read that right), Curt Cobain, Ben Lee, and Sheryl Crow (you also read that right) all rolled into one. Look, she’s fun and hits all the right notes while maintaining some personality. The record is solid from beginning to end. This is your album of the year. Next.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Or this is your album of the year. It feels as if Sufjan Stevens is back to doing Sufjan Stevens type things. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Age of Adz, but it wasn’t about a state and it wasn’t all whisper-y and/or whimsical with the most gut-wrenching lyrics about Jesus. This is record is that and maybe Stevens’ most personal record. There’s some things one would only expect to hear as Sujan Stevens’ therapist, not anyone with an iTunes account. As usual, the record is immaculately arranged and recorded. There are so many stories so personal, I’m almost surprised he released this album. I get the sense SS has been sitting on this album for years, waiting for the moment he was ready to put these songs to tape. And if you don’t feel it when listening to Carrie & Lowell, you are soulless or a cynic.

Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Another female-fronted band that sounds like 1995, but this one is different than the others and this record is really good (as well). Katie Crutchfield nails that indie, cowpunk, thing that kept slipping into rock music and she lets on the feedback and heart-on-sleeve lyrics to boot. Crutchfield continues with that formula as perfected on the excellent Cerulean Salt with a few interesting interludes (in particular, opening track “Breathless” and “La Loose”). All that said, “Summer of Love” is the obvious choice for song of the summer.

Built to Spill – Untethered Moon

I bought Built to Spill’s latest on Record Store Day when it was released out of a sense of loyalty. When you buy a Built to Spill record, you know what you’re getting. And that’s fine. I loved early Built to Spill gems like There’s Nothing Wrong with Love and Perfect from Now On, but everything since has been hit or miss – certainly more hit, just not what those early records meant to me. That said, Untethered Moon is a look back at those years in a way in terms of both subject matter and music. This record is more than just the same old from a cherished band. It’s a reward for sticking around and buying yet another release.

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color


All I read about is how Alabama Shakes don’t sound as good on record as they do live. Well, if that’s truly the case, their live show must kill every single night. There’s so much range on this album yet it’s so precise in its delivery. I don’t get what people want Alabama Shakes to be. Do they want more blues, punk, jam band, throwback, southern, etc.? Well, those people are wrong. There’s nothing wrong with this record and there’s nothing wrong with Alabama Shakes.

Don’t believe me? I encourage you to buy all these records or go see these bands when they hit your locale.

I’ll write something about beer soon enough, but this needed to be posted.


10 Responses

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  1. Mike said, on July 31, 2015 at 8:33 am

    I saw the Alabama Shakes live at Red Rocks a couple of years ago and they were worthy of the venue. I’m really into their new album. Their first album fell a little flat for me on repeat listens. It was good, but a bit too literal in its revivalism. But they loosened up on the new one, and it hits all the right spots.

    For me, it’s been the year of D’Angelo. Even though he released Black Messiah in the last few days of 2014 I can’t get enough so I still count it. Kendrick Lamar and Tame Impala are getting a lot of play around here too.

    Any albums you’re looking forward to for the second half of the year?

    • SM said, on August 2, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      I tried to listen to D’Angelo and just couldn’t get into it despite what so many smart people have said about it. There’s something about the sequencing and crafting of modern R&B or hip-hop albums that just turns me off. There’s a lot more filler than I care to listen to. Same with Kendrick Lamar.

      I need to give Tame Impala a listen. There’s some weird hippy vibe that always gives me pause. I think I bought their other albums at least 6 months after they came out and loved them both.

  2. Mike said, on July 31, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I also like that Built To Spill album quite a bit. I wanted to be mad at them because I tried to see them live a couple of years ago and they didn’t show up. The venue closed at midnight and the band wasn’t there at 11:30, when I left. But their last couple of albums have been solid front to back. So I’m not mad at Built To Spill for the no-show, just disappointed.

    And speaking of 90s bands still churning out good albums, the new Wilco is a nice surprise! I’m usually wary of free, but this one hit the spot.

    • SM said, on August 2, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      I have a very similar relationship with Built to Spill. I sorta forgot about the last LP before this one. It’s been like 5 or more years.

      Really on the Wilco thing? I just haven’t had time to check it out. I guess I will.

      • Mike said, on August 3, 2015 at 12:11 am

        The new Wilco album isn’t their greatest, but it’s definitely worth a listen. Tame Impala’s new one is significantly more synth-heavy than their previous efforts. I know it’s a turnoff for some people, but it’s hitting all the right spots for me these days.

        I figure you’re more into rock than rap, so I won’t try to sell you on the merits of Kendrick Lamar. I don’t know if it’s possible to write about To Pimp A Butterfly without sounding like a bad Slate column. But you should give the D’Angelo album another couple of spins. For me, it’s one of those albums that sounds modern and like it could have been released any time in the last 50 years.

      • SM said, on August 3, 2015 at 11:37 am

        It’s not that I don’t like rap/hip-hop/r&b. It’s that I don’t care for whole albums in those genres, including most dance and pop music. Those genres are built on singles. It’s really hard to write and record 10-12 hit singles. I prefer more album-based genres. I don’t think that makes these genres not as worthy. It’s apples and oranges.

      • Mike said, on August 3, 2015 at 11:56 am

        I get what you’re saying. Singles are good for what they are, but it’s unfair to hold a “singles artist” album to the same standards as someone who is consciously putting together an album. I suppose this is also why the indie station in town falls a little flat sometimes–a catchy cut from an album might not always translate to a radio hit. I think you would be surprised at how well the Kendrick Lamar and D’Angelo albums hold up from beginning to end…and in the case of To Pimp A Butterfly especially, how well it incorporates its smash singles.

      • SM said, on August 3, 2015 at 12:08 pm

        I will give them another listen each.

  3. Bill said, on July 31, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Here’s a case for being neither soulless nor a cynic when listening to SS and leaving dissatisfied! And it’s full of (hopefully not backhanded) praise for him. In some ways, I’m his target audience: I get the sense of loss and loneliness that comes through death or endings, and there’s a strong sense of “urge to communicate and get it EXACTLY right” with him that used to dominate my interactions with folks until I realized that the vast majority of the time, that’s more destructive than constructive (in actual relationships, not in songwriting!). Plus, he has a Neil Young-ish sense of seemingly dream-inspired lyrics that I can relate to, and make me accept the misfires. But. That urge to get across that sense of loss or regret or alienation or mix of emotions or sense of returning to regrets and if onlys and obsessions and and and — that urge to get this across in just exactly the right way means that way more often than not I find myself going “Wait, he missed it there”… and then I can’t ever un-hear it and can’t get lost in the whole sonic sense that could be carrying the emotions. Listening to him basically makes me angry or disappointed. So I’m massively engaged while listening, but wow it’s not enjoyable nor cathartic.

    Alabama Shakes — they went off in cool new directions, but it’s ok if fans of the first album decide not to follow! Love Courtney Barnett’s album. Liking the new Veruca Salt album a lot more than I cared for their stuff back in the day.

    • SM said, on August 2, 2015 at 8:58 pm

      To be fair, Sufjan’s shtick is an old shtick. You have a point. I find I get better responses to my posts when I make naive claims.

      I don’t think the issue for the Shakes is with the first album. In fact, the knock on them from day 1 is that they don’t sound on record (yet) like they do live. I think this is hipster bullshit, personally.

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