Beer and Pavement

Okkervil River’s ‘I Am Very Far’ vs. Schlafly’s AIPA

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records, Rock vs. Beer by SM on May 11, 2011

I haven’t done one of these reviews in a while. In fact, I once thought I’d do them all the time, but the timing just never worked. There have been a lot of records to review recently, but beer has been neglected. The recent arrival of Okkervil River’s new album and Schlafly’s AIPA came at the perfect time for me to throw down one of these ill-conceived reviews. I won’t bore you with the old template. Instead, I’ll bore you through my prose.

Why these two in this particular challenge? Well, aside from the timing of their releases, both record and beer share a decidedly American aesthetic. And in this time when America feels particularly good about itself, celebrating things that are very American just seems like the right thing to do. Okkervil River with its take on Americana and Schlafly’s attempt to make a big IPA like every other American craft brewer connect these two loves of mine, but which one wins out in the end?

I Am Very Far is not what we’d expect from Okkervil. It’s slick without losing heart. The emphasis is on the sound and production over the words, yet it’s impeccably written. Even the emotive qualities of a typical Okkervil record are absent without the album being dull and dry. It’s a great record without being a great Okkervil River record.

When I think of their progression, I think of a few other bands with similar trajectories. Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst is a lot like Okkervil’s Will Sheff in that they are the primary piece in bands that feature the most confessional lyrics delivered in the most recognizable of voices. However, Sheff has placed more burden on a band that has not changed as much as Bright Eyes.

My Morning Jacket also comes to mind as a similarly positioned alt.country act that tried to step out with a new sound. In my opinion, MMJ flopped with Evil Urges, an album that saw the band take a major leap in aesthetic. It may or may not have sold well and did decently with the critics, but the project seemed to dash a lot of the momentum the band was building. Conversely, Okkervil River scores a huge success that both achieves a new direction without changing who Okkervil River is.

One cannot use the phrase “wall of sound” too often when describing this album. Will Sheff put his efforts into the production end rather than weaving intricately detailed narratives throughout his songs. The lyrical content is not lacking, but it’s not the typical, literary Sheff we’re used to. Where Fleet Foxes made the leap forward by saying something pointed and specific, Okkervil River made a similar leap by withholding some information. And this slick production is surprising for a band known more for folksiness and emotion-laced tales of woe. This is not your father’s confessional emo/alt.country.

Schlafly’s American India Pale Ale takes a similar path to enjoyment. It’s not the hop bomb so many us become accustomed to when there’s a yearly release featuring a hop-forward style. The American craft brew industry prides itself on upping the IBU ante with each new release, but this beer didn’t participate in such a hoppy arms race. Nope. The ABV in this year’s batch is actually lower than last year’s and the hop bill was also altered.

The AIPA has a few peers in these parts. There’s Bell’s notorious Two Hearted Ale with it’s Centennial-induced bitterness that packs quite the wallop when fresh. There’s also cross-state rival Boulevard Single-Wide IPA and its decidedly dry finish. Although all three are in the same category, none are exactly alike. Schlafly’s AIPA is sort of sweet at first taste. There’s certainly a bitter finish, but the middle is lacking that intense strain often associated with an American IPA. As the beer warms, however, a complexity is revealed. The aroma is straight-up hop pellets (so says the homebrewer) which is always pleasing to the nose.

Schlafly’s yearly stab at an American craft beer classic may not be the most overwhelming beer out there, but it’s balance is something sorely lacking in today’s market. Although not the hop bomb I expected upon first sip, the beer expands and satisfies as it warms. It’s not your everyday American India Pale Ale, but it’s a good one nonetheless.

Both the Okkervil River album and Schlafly AIPA surprised by not meeting my American expectations, but that might have been the most American thing to do. If there’s one thing people do in this country when perfecting their craft, it is doing the unexpected with said craft, pushing expectations. Sometimes those expectations are pushed to extremes where the product no longer resembles the original. In the case of this record and this beer, the product resembles the original in ways we did not expect. Okkervil River didn’t make another emo rock opera over folksy guitars and Will Sheff whines. Schlafly didn’t overdo it with the hops. Instead, both made calculated moves in creating balanced, enjoyable final products I will continue to enjoy.

Who wins this round? I call it a draw. The lesson I learned to not expect the expected from American craft means that we all win or something equally cheesy.

*Sorry for the lack of footnotes, footnote fans. Familial duties didn’t leave time for such supplements. Maybe next time. I also had no time to read this over. Make revision/editing comments below or just tell me what you generally think.

Tagged with: ,

A Beer, A Record

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records, Rock vs. Beer by SM on February 2, 2011

Monday night, we all sat around waiting for the #snowpocalypse/#snowmageddon to happen[1], so I busted out some beer[2] and turned on some tunes. What follows is an account of those two indulgences. I’m not sure what either has to do with the other except that this blog is about beer and indie rock and that’s enough.

Schlafly No. 20 Vol. 1 Imperial Pilsner
We were supposed to have a cellared beer tasting this evening, but the (threat of) inclement weather caused us to postpone. I considered breaking out one of those cellared beers, but a bomber of a 10-12% barley wine is not always the best beer to have alone. Of course, the beer I pull out sits at 9% ABV, but it’s just a lager, right? Anyway, this beer provides me with a lot of topics to cover…

  • It’s semi-local, as in it’s from St Louis. Schlafly makes a lot of your regular, everyday kinds of beers, but they venture out and brew something truly tasty now and again. Between their hoppier fair (APA, AIPA[3]), barrel-aged monsters (Imperial Stout, Barley Wine), and delicate Belgian facsimiles (Tripel, Dubbel, Biere de Garde[4]), I know Schlafly can brew a tasty beer. It makes it easy to support the Saint Louis Brewery when they do such fine work[5].
  • It’s a special release. The Saint Louis Brewery is 20 this year and they’re releasing some special brews to celebrate. Most likely, this will be the only chance I’ll get to try such beers, so it’s good to snatch them up whenever they’re in stock.
  • Although it’s a lager, it’s imperial, which means it’s big on flavor in one way or the other. The beer looks like a pale lager and smells bready like a lager. The head is rather thick and creamy, but not unusual for some lagers. Then, I tasted it…tons of bready sweetness in this beer, almost cloying[6]. Still, it’s way more satisfying and interesting than your run-of-the-mill pale lager.
  • Speaking of lagers, there’s something about them that just doesn’t agree with me. I was never as sure of this as the time my beer club had an all-lager tasting. I felt so rough despite most of the beers measuring in at 5% ABV or less. I had that same feeling last night. Sure, it’s 750mL of a 9% beer, but I sipped it slowly as the evening passed and during dinner. Lager yeast just doesn’t agree with me[7].
  • Not enough breweries paint labels directly onto bottles. While this is a pain for homebrewers, they make for excellent souvenirs[8]. Plus, it gives sort of an old-school feel to the drinking experience. It’s a little thing that has little to do with the beer itself, but it’s a nice touch.

KC Accidental – Captured Anthems for an Empty Bathtub/Anthems for the Could’ve Bin Pills
This re-issue of pre-Broken Social Scene material came out some time in 2010, but it fell off my radar somehow. I finally ordered it and the double-LP arrived late last week. Monday was really my first chance to give it a proper listen. I had heard this stuff before but never was able to spend time with it. And, like the beer above, this record gives me some topics about which to write…

  • As mentioned above, this double-LP is a re-issue of two releases by pre-Broken Social Scene band KC Accidental. So many bands record and release material before they break big, and that material is often lost[9]. Eventually, bands are often able to give the material a proper release that allows fans to dive into their discographies even further. I am a sucker for this sort of material, especially when the original project is as good or possibly better than the current band.
  • KC Accidental was more along the lines of a Rachels or Sea & Cake than what BSS currently represents. This worked out well in my house as my partner prefers Rachels and Sea & Cake to almost anything else I might play. The comparisons are uncanny. I was surprised at how much anyone could sound like Rachels[10]. Punk rock chamber music is hard to replicate, but KC Accidental did it. There are some rock songs, but expect Rachels-like indie if you pick this record up.
  • This record is worth it for both BSS die-hards as well as people new to the Toronto collective. It’s certainly an important part of the canon for sure.

What have you been drinking or listening to? Please share in comments.

Notes:
1It did, something like 16.6 inches of snow as of 6 pm on Tuesday night. I haven’t heard the final tally, but they were talking in the ballpark of 20 inches of snow.
2I also wanted to note that I polished off a Great Lakes Nosferatu Stock Ale, Founders 2010 KBS, Boulevard Dark Truth Stout, and a 2008 Bell’s Old Ale Tuesday night. Let’s just say that I was plenty warm.
3One of the more underrated IPA’s I’ve had in the last year. I sort of expected it to always be around, but I haven’t seen it since its short run last year.
4All three of these beers are good to keep on hand for dinners and such. They store well, look nice, and pair with a variety of foods.
5Unlike a certain other industrial adjunct lager producer also found in St. Louis.
6That one’s for David. He uses “cloying” all the time. That and “vegetal.”
7I don’t know what it is, but it’s not because I drink too much. One lager can make me feel crummy. 750 mL certainly didn’t help. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s the sweetness, something I’m starting to pick up in every pale lager I try.
8I collect Stone bottles, but this will lose its luster once they begin distributing to Missouri. I have all their regular releases and am just missing a few of their one-off bottles. Still, they are cool bottles to collect with their gargoyles and unique narratives.
9Sometimes that’s for a good reason. Sometimes it’s too bad.
10There’s more rock instrumentation (drums, bass, guitar) than Rachels incorporate, but the influence is certainly heard.

Freshness Matters

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Records, Rock vs. Beer by SM on November 12, 2010

In both beer and music, freshness matters. As a hophead, I understand that the fresher the beer (particularly IPA’s and DIPA’s) the better it is. You can smell the hops. The citrus and pine flavors really stand out. In the case of music, the latest album often feels like the best until the newness rubs off[1]. Even better is a new album from an old favorite, especially when the musician is trying a new direction.

A fellow beer enthusiast returned from a trip to Minneapolis with a four-pack of Surly Furious for me. These beers come in cans, meaning that their freshness stays locked in for a long time as virtually no air nor light can ruin the beer. I was excited to get another taste of this particular beer[2], but my middle-man had me even more excited when he informed me the beer was merely three weeks old. Now, that’s fresh.

Furious is about as good an IPA you’ll find. Citrus. Pine. Caramel. Malt. That’s probably all you need to know. If one needed a perfect or near-perfect example of an American IPA, look no further than Furious. It’s good to know that brewers in the Midwest continually hold their own versus the much more glorified West Coast hop bombs[3]. I’m sure it helped that the beer is so fresh. I’m curious as to how long it will last around here. Luckily, I have other beers to drink…

Fall is a time when many breweries come out with their freshly hopped harvest ales. They buy loads of fresh hops from the fall harvest to make one-off or seasonal brews whose hop characters vary from year to year. One of my favorite harvest ales is the one produced by another Midwest brewery: Founders. Founders Harvest Ale is yet another monster of a hop bomb. FHA doesn’t contain the same blast of Simcoe aroma Furious unleashed from its can, but it did satisfy the nose the way a nice IPA should…Of course, it’s just an APA. This beer is easily in Alpha King territory[4] when it comes to an overwhelming hop presence for an American Pale Ale. Again, the freshness of this beer is felt and one can fully appreciate the full 70 IBU’s[5], realizing that this beer will be gone soon when the winter winds come and I empty my cellar.

These two beers present the ideal of freshness as something new and at its peak aesthetic potential. Another kind of freshness might apply to a new and challenging idea or concept. An artist might create something never seen or heard before, at least not by him/her previously. When an artist switches direction and tries something new, it is even more challenging as the artist has created a following with an established aesthetic, choosing now to throw that niche to the wolves in favor of fresh material.

Sufjan Stevens did this. Long gone are albums about states (Midwestern ones at that). The orchestral pop with ambivalent religious messages are no longer as prevalent as they once were. Abnormally long song titles even fail to make an appearance in the liner notes. Sufjan is going for a fresh start and it sounds like The Age of Adz.

And unlike fresh beer, no one knows what to make of Sufjan Stevens’ fresh offering. However, like the freshest IPA, the freshness of Stevens’ material ignites the senses and makes you aware of opinion, emotions, etc.

The imagery on the album is particularly perplexing. Strange sci-fi images with even stranger messages written throughout the artwork elude to something sinister yet beautiful inside[6]. When I look at the packaging for the beers, they give completely different messages. Furious is a fiery, slick can and its Founders counterpart provides an image of the freshly harvested hops contributing to the flavor and aroma. However, all the images are robust and full of meaning and life. All three are a lot to take in and their packages hint at this headiness.

How is The Age of Adz fresh?

Say goodbye to traditional, pop orchestral arrangements – those created by humans and analogue in nature – and hello
to blips, bleeps, and mashed up sounds. However, once the listener gets past the striking change in aesthetic, he realizes this electronic noise is delicately arranged and as orchestral as anything he’s ever done. It’s also intricately weaved with more familiar Stevens’ fair[7].

Say goodbye to Sufjan’s trademark falsetto, or at least for the most part. In fact, Stevens shows incredible range and control of his voice, jumping from octave to octave, utilizing his voice as an instrument in a way few can match. It’s not so much that the whispers and elevated notes of his past performances is gone; there is more range and complexity to his vocal work. Adz showcases an incredible vocal talent, rarely recognized[8] and even less often imitated.

At first, the musical arrangements and electronic noise is off-putting. It’s annoying, almost disappointing in its obvious nod to current musical trends[9]. Hell, he uses auto-tune in the album’s 20-minute long closer[10]. Then, you pay attention to the music and find that the electronic masturbation is purposeful and subtle. As with all Sufjan Stevens albums, he’s so careful in crafting an exact-sounding album that doesn’t stray from the core but expands upon itself with each advancing track.

Now that he’s free from the fifty states project and the need to experiment, Stevens has written a record focused on himself. One probably shouldn’t read too much into some of the lyrics[11], but he very obviously seems to have turned the songwriter’s lens on himself in creating some of his most engaging songs to date. The songs don’t seem to have anything to do with the others, but that works, which must be a relief for a guy who once thought writing an album for each state would be a good idea[12].

How did he get here from those highly conceptualized, state-themed records to this electronic mish-mash of personal tracks? The evidence is there throughout Stevens’ catalog and life. Had he released a complete album mixing the best tracks from his first two efforts (A Sun Came, Enjoy Your Rabbit) The Age of Adz would seem a perfect follow-up. Of course, the orchestration and subtlety of his state albums help set up the intricacies found in this latest effort. Much the same way these works create a base for The Age of Adz to stand, The BQE[13] and All Delighted People EP bridge the gap in their incomplete and perplexing results. Stevens’ strangely religious Michigan upbringing, Brooklynite hipster status, and the time he had to give up music due to a viral infection helped create the uneasiness, introspection, and dramatics of this album.

This is Sufjan Stevens’ Odelay. Like Beck, Stephens was pigeon-holed with an early hit. For Beck, it was Mellow Gold with its infectious “Loser”. In Stevens’ case, his hit came later in the form of Come On Feel the Illinoise, featuring the brilliant “Chicago”. Both artists diverged only to collect the pieces that would become uniquely magnificent long-play records. Beck’s was Odelay; Sufjan’s is The Age of Adz.

Is it fresh? Hell yeah! Like the beers mentioned above? Sort of.

Freshness breaths life into its consumer. The Simcoe on the nose as I poured the Furious or the sharp bitterness on the back tongue caused by every mouthful of the Harvest Ale enlivened my senses. Left out was my sense of hearing, until I put on The Age of Adz. Ever since, I’ve been pouring over every detail of the record, trying to get a grasp on what Sufjan Stevens has done here. And every time, I get something different[14].

I don’t know that this post on freshness does either beer or album any justice, but I cannot put into words how these sorts of experiences help me freshen my perspective. The change of season, a new flavor or smell, something that catches my eye for the first time… Experiencing something new and fresh helps us get up in the morning. Great craft beer and a new record does that for me (along with the many new things my daughter discovers on a daily basis, of course).

The important thing to walk away with is that freshness matters. It’s what sustains us, motivates us. That’s probably why I still buy records and have to have the newest beers. When the freshness dies, things go stale, become inconsumable. So, we go out looking for more. I found two beers and a record that are fresh, fresh enough to satisfy me…for now.

Notes:
1Unless, of course, it doesn’t. Then you’re talking about a classic, desert island kind of record.
2I say this because it’s a rare occasion when I can enjoy some Surly and even rarer when I actually possess my own cans as Surly is canned in Minnesota and only sold in a few other states, not including Missouri.
3It’s been suggested to me that Midwest brewers brew IPA’s and DIPA’s that better represent hops than their Northwest counterparts. The person who suggested this blasphemous idea is from Seattle. So, there’s that.
4For the craft beer noobie, Alpha King is largely considered to be the best APA on the market, produced by possibly the best brewery in the world: Three Floyds. So, to say that Founders’ Harvest Ale is in the same class is a huge compliment.
5That’s huge for a pale ale. Of course, this is an American Pale Ale. Also, the Furious weighs in at a whopping 99 IBU’s. That’s bitter.
6From what I understand, the images are by an outsider artist who creates strange sci-fi images along with semi-literate messages as a sort of social commentary or some shit like that.
7I like my share of blips and bleeps (see Joan of Arc), but I think they’re overused as well (see the last Archers of Loaf record).
8Why isn’t Sufjan Stevens more recognized for his vocal prowess? I have never understood this. Sure, his songcraft and arrangements are second to none, but the most amazing skill he may possess are his vocals.
9How much do you want to bet that Stevens leaves a spot on his already crowded stages for a MacBook or two?
10That final track is more of a 4 or 5 song EP than it is one song. It has definite parts and even pauses. I don’t know what the thinking was for this sort of formatting. I wonder if he didn’t know where to put these tracks individually in the sequence and simply decided to combine them for one epic closer.
11Although I am terrible at picking out lyrics (I often sing made-up lyrics that maybe rhyme or sound similar without much attention to meaning, much like the Japanese), I did make out the chorus directed at Sufjan in “Vesuvius”.
12I still contend that the 50 States Project should live on. Even if he maybe does ten or twenty, the stories found in a state’s history has proven to be pretty remarkable for Sufjan Stevens.
13Aside from the cool comic book included, this was hugely disappointing for me.
14This shouldn’t be so remarkable for such a new album (doubly, since my copy was on backorder), but the new discoveries are striking every time. I imagine finding surprises for a long time with this one.

Matador and Dogfish Head

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto, Rock vs. Beer by SM on October 10, 2010

When I first started this blog 52 posts ago, I had this idea that indie record labels and craft breweries were very closely related. There’s an independent way that these two industries operate in the face of gigantic corporate overlords. However, despite the odds and the crappy economy, they are succeeding. It goes to show that good products that aren’t mass produced and actually still represent some quality, a little pride are worthy of folks’ dollars no matter how bad things are economically.

So, to demonstrate this relationship between labels and breweries, I worked out in my head parallels in both industries. I go back and forth on a few, but a few others have stayed constant. I debated a long time ago laying out all my correlations in one post, but have decided that a post to feature each label/brewery relationship would be best. For my first installment in what I hope to be a regular series, I’ve chosen Matador Records, just coming off their 21st anniversary, and Dogfish Head, makers of off-centered beer for off-centered people.

Founders: Chris Lombardi (later joined by Gerard Cosloy) and Sam Calagione
Matador was started by Lombardi in 1989, while Dogfish Head got its start in 1995. Both of these time periods are significant in each industry’s history. While 1989 for indie labels and 1995 for microbreweries were not the genesis for each industry, they were the moments when something big was about to happen. In 1989, the buzz from the underground was just starting to be heard by the mainstream. Indie bands were starting to garner attention from corporate labels and the timing in the culture was ripe for a bunch of kids to pick up guitars. The groundwork had been laid by seminal labels and bands of the eighties for this moment in time. Matador was founded at just the right moment to be part of a movement in the record industry.

The same can be said for 1995 in the craft beer scene. The early to mid-90’s saw an influx of brewers breaking out on their own. Dogfish Head was part of this boom, steadily growing through the end of the century until they saw a boom in growth the following decade (400% between 2003 and 2006). Calagione led the way with a unique take on beer-making. He’d design the conventional as well as the not-so-conventional brews for folks to devour. Some of his beers enjoy near-mass-market production and distribution, while others a featured in limited runs.

Calagione is a star of the craft brewing world. Although Lombardi started Matador, his eventual partner became almost the indie rock equivalent of Calagione. Gerard Cosloy has made some noise over the years due to his stints as DJ, zine writer, and manager for Homestead Records. His connections to the underground were what built those early Matador lineups that have made them such and integral part of indie rock. In Calagione’s case, his efforts to write books, do special beer-food events, and brew beers that challenge conventional brewer thinking have made him the star of craft brewing. Without this strong and unique leadership, neither enterprise would have gotten off the ground.

The Lineups
This is where it gets fun. I look at the bands in a labels lineup as the equivalent of the beers in a brewer’s roster. Various albums or incarnations of the bands are like variations or vintages of certain beers. So, I’ve selected a few from each roster (current and former) to demonstrate how Matador is the Dogfish Head of indie rock and vice versa.

Guided By Voices and 60 Minute IPA
GBV could be compared to nothing else than a flagship “session” beer. Sure, Bob Pollard and company have been known to throw back can after bottle of the cheap stuff, but 60 Minute is the closest thing DfH makes to a mass-produced session beer. 60 Minute IPA packs as much punch as possible into the 60 minute boil of continual hop additions as GBV can pack into a 60-minute album. Hell, 60 minutes on record for Guided By Voices is an opus. Anyway, both band and beer are the most sessional and readily available members of their respective rosters.

Yo La Tengo and 90 Minute IPA
There’s a rivalry between GBV and YLT, much the same way some folks debate the attributes of the 60 versus the 90 Minute IPA. However, I’m not here to compare bands to bands and beers to beers. Yo La Tengo is more like the 90 Minute IPA in that while filled with moments of sheer joy and genius, both will often challenge the most novice consumer. YLT makes music for and by critics. 90 Minute does the same as it answers the giant hop-bomb bell rung by hopheads everywhere. Plus, YLT packs a ton of layers into a 90 minute set or album, featuring overwhelming power as well as a delicacy not often found in similar bands. 90 Minute IPA does the same as it can both make you pucker from hop fatigue and pair nicely with artisan cheese.

Pavement and 120 Minute IPA
Rounding out the holy trinities of both Matador and Dogfish Head are Pavement and 120 Minute IPA. Both made comebacks this year after long hiatuses. Both can be difficult to grasp as both redefined their markets. Both are highly sought-after as gateway white whales on many a record and beer collecting geek’s respective lists. What’s also interesting is that each batch of 120 Minute receives a ton of scrutiny, but is often appreciated only after it has aged a while. The same is said of Pavement records as we all hated each one upon its release to only come to terms with its greatness down the road.

Chavez and Oyster Stout
They were here and now they’re gone. Both were loved, but few got to know them. Hopefully, the Oyster Stout will return – even if for a short time – as Chavez did.

Cat Power and Palo Santo Marron
People either love them or they hate them. There’s very little room in between. Cat Power’s Chan Marshall used to record these hauntingly intense albums only to disappoint as she fell apart on stage. That doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. In much the same way, Palo Santo Marron is an intense beer that’s hard to swallow. However, it has so many characteristics we love about beer. It’s boozy (also like Chan Marshall), sweet, roasty, and it goes great with blueberry pie.

What do you think? For those of you who know the beers, describe one and I’ll try to match it to a Matador band. If you know the bands but not the beer, I can pair a beer with the band of your choosing. What do you think of my comparison overall? Can you come up with your own?

Look for more indie label/craft brewer pairings in future posts.

Tagged with: ,

Top 15 Albums/Beers

Posted in Rock vs. Beer by SM on September 20, 2010

Ah, the list. It’s the blogger’s best stand-by when he has nothing else about which to write[1]. Thankfully, Facebook provides a lot of ideas for lists.

Have you seen this one?:

The rules: Do this if it’s fun. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you’ve heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what albums you choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note — use the Tags box below the Body of the note.)

I have seen it over and over again. Of course, I didn’t want to do it in Facebook. I mean, I need blog ideas[1]. Screw Facebook and their notes. This is how I roll.

1. Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Some folks go for the album before[2] or the album after[3], but this is the quintessential Pavement album for me. I wore my dubbed copy out. I remember putting it in on a drive one summer afternoon to Columbus from my parents’ house and wishing the drive would never end. It’s such a perfect, perfect record. Makes me smile every time. “So drunk in the August sun/And you’re the kind of girl I like/Because you’re empty and I’m empty/And you can never quarantine the past…”

2. The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen
Cinematic and wretched from beginning to end, this was the one time the Whigs got everything absolutely right. It was the realization of a promise made on their early Sub Pop records that hinted at such greatness. However, the success of this one masterpiece caused the band to bloat with excess (particularly Greg Dulli). A highlight is Scrawl’s Marcy Mays on “My Curse” and the four minutes and twenty-one seconds of “Fountain at Fairfax.” God. I could scream to this record all night long.

3. Modest Mouse – This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Talk About
This record was so sad and depressing[4] that it was flat-out angry at that sadness. It described exactly where I was at that particular time in my life. Disillusion. Hopelessness. Sometimes we need art that makes us feel like we’re not the only one’s who feel the way we do. Modest Mouse was so fast, so immediate at this point in their history. There was an energy you could see in people’s eyes as we just talked about this band and the one or two times we were lucky enough to see them in-person. When I listen to folks near or just past the end of college discuss this unknown band or that one, I remember those days when I put this record on heavy rotation, dubbed it over and over for all my friends, and eventually bought the CD as well just so I could listen to it wherever I wanted. I feel sad that people don’t know this Modest Mouse[5], but that sadness also brings with it a sense of pride and ownership. 1996 Modest Mouse was my Modest Mouse.

4. Archers of Loaf – Icky Mettle
This band was just so raw and punk-perfect in the mid-90’s and here’s the document to prove it. “Web in Front” is maybe the most cherished weed anthem never heard. I started throwing around the term “rawk” about this time as it was the only proper way to describe the sound coming out of my speakers. Eric Bachman has to be one of the top-5 or at least 10 frontmen to come out of this era of underground/college/indie rock[6]. He’s turned out to be a great songwriter, but those of us who played the shit out of Icky Mettle already knew that.

5. The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin
That shit I wrote about it being OK to love sad music because it helps us feel not so alone, I stole that and badly paraphrased Wayne Coyne for that bit of philosophy. He said something to that effect when I saw the tour supporting this record. In fact, I hated The Soft Bulletin when I first heard it. I wanted the rock band version of the Flaming Lips back, but I listened to this record over and over, trying to understand what I was missing. Then, I saw them play it live with all those silly theatrics they’ve made old hat[7]. It was super low-tech in those days as well, but the imagery and Wayne’s incessant narratives helped make sense of it all. This record is so big and heartfelt, you can’t help but smile as it tells its sad, sad stories.

6. Built to Spill – Perfect from Now On
In 1997, Built to Spill released a record on a major label, something none of us thought we’d ever see. I bought Perfect from Now On anyway. Expecting their new corporate overlords to reap the benefits of short, catchy pop-punk euphoria captured on earlier releases, I was completely knocked on my ass as three six-minute songs of spralling guitar godsmanship opened  me into another world of hurt, loss, hope, pain, and possibility. What a fucking great record they pulled off and all on Warner’s dime. Instead of 17 poppy tween anthems, Bugs Bunny’s company received eight monstrous tracks they didn’t know what to do with. And they’re still paying for it to this day.

7. Yo La Tengo – Electro Pura
Admittedly, this record might be sandwiched by two superior efforts, but neither have the context in which this record grew with me. Each song for me has a story that corresponds with my life. One track even bookends years of heartbreak before some emotional breakthroughs. There’s the soft-loud-soft dynamic, Hammond organs galore, and some gut-wrenching moments that still get me.

8. The Shins – Oh, Inverted World
“New Slang” was a great song before McDonald’s and Natalie Portman bastardized it. I don’t care what you say. Of course, the record is more than one track. The pop on this record is so rich and full, it had to be covered with some mystic production to make it all bearable to the indie elite. It’s short and to the point without being obvious. It’s a dancer and background music at the same time. It’s so many things to so many people and it should be in your collection.

9. Cursive – Domestica
I never thought I’d hear another album with as much hurt as Gentlemen until I heard this one. Cursive are largely overlooked as a great indie band at the end of the century, but this was a masterpiece. The hurt and pain one feels in a break-up, no matter the circumstances, is rarely realized. Tim Kasher wrote the absolute perfect break-up album…That is, if you hate your ex.

10. The Thermals – The Body, the Blood, the Machine
Nazis and the Bible. That’s the subject matter this great rock record covers. As far as the music, it’s easily the most awe-inspiring and complete record the Thremals have recorded to date. I like everything else they’ve done, but I LOVE THIS FUCKING RECORD TO SHREDS. And it only helps the imagery and energy in the music that it was written and recorded at the end of the Bush debacle[8]. I saw The Thermals support this record and danced my angry, liberal ass off with a bunch of teen-agers and didn’t feel weird about it at all.

11. Chavez – Ride the Fader
Ride the Fader is by far the biggest and best headphones record ever recorded. Period. I mean, it opens with a roller coaster’s roar leading into the opening guitar licks. The only thing that equals the power of this album is the musicianship which accompanies. I’m bobbing my head right now just remembering how this record feels.

12. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand
I remember slipping this cassette tape into my parent’s van’s tape deck to only be blown away by what must have been a long lost Beetles demo. Of course, it was not the Beetles, nor the Who. Guided By Voices were such a huge part of growing up indie in Ohio circa 1994. I have too many Bob Pollard stories to tell that wouldn’t fit this space[9]. Just know that this record is what started an obsession with GBV, lo-fi, and indie rock forever.

13. Liz Phair – Exhile in Guyville
I became a feminist on this record. Somehow, Liz Phair’s ability to say what only men had said before her made it all very clear to me. Sure, this record was pure titillation for a young man discovering his sexuality, but it was so much more. Liz Phair answered the mother-fucking-Rolling Stones with her first record. That takes balls…er…ovaries the size of basketballs. I understood that she had a right to take whatever stance she wanted. I understood that despite her male counterparts doing the exact same thing, she would be judged differently. I understood that this record would always mean something to me. It transformed me like few other records have.

14. The Breeders – Last Splash
As far as I’m concerned, this record blew away any and all Pixies efforts. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Pixies. It’s just that the Deal sisters made this album work at the perfect moment. It was a perfect storm of sorts. It’s simple, a shambles, and it rocks.

15. The Walkmen – You & Me
I don’t really know why this record hits me so hard or why I always turn to it when I need something good to listen to. It just works. I think it has something to do with the Walkmen finally recording the album we all knew they were capable of or putting together a group of songs that represent all the band’s promise. I don’t know what it is. i just know that it’s good.

Eventually, someone decided to list 15 Beers…

1. Stone Ruination
This beer was my gateway into craft beers. Those 22-ouncers with their imposing gargoyle painted directly on the glass dared me to try this beer. Then it dared me to ever taste beer the same way again. I relented and began my search for the hoppiest beers money can buy. Truly, this beer ruined me forever.

2. Columbus Pale Ale
This was the only beer I drank in Columbus, OH. It used to seem so heavy to me, but it’s always been a good stand-by. Pints and pints were consumed at Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Brainiac, Archers of Loaf…The list goes on and on. This beer’s residual effect has to be considered within this context.

3. Bell’s Hopslam
This beer helped me understand what a “big beer” was. God. Honey, Simcoe, grapefruit, malt, booze, etc. And it only comes out once a year, causing a frenzy in middle Missouri.

4. Bell’s Expedition Stout
This is absolutely the tastiest of the tasty imperial stouts. Sweet, boozy, hoppy, syrupy, thick. If this beer was an album, it would be a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion record. I’m thinking Mo Width or Orange.

5. Russian River Supplication
The dude who bought this for me said it was maybe his favorite. It certainly sets the standard for barrel-aged, cherry-soaked sours. Man, I want another one of these right now.

6. Great Lakes Lake Erie Monster
I feel like I discovered this beer. No one talks about it, but I know it’s greatness. It’s malty, hoppy, and so balanced for a big DIPA. And it’s from Ohio to boot.

7. New Belgium La Folie
This was my first sour. And while it’s not as good in the 22-ounce bottles as it was in the big 750-mL beasts, it’s still a palate-cleanser of the highest order.

8. Dogfish Head India Brown Ale
While I am not a huge brown ale guy, this beer goes perfectly with any dish. The sweet maltiness and balance provided by the enormous amount of hops works with nearly any food you can conjure, especially Booche’s burgers.

9. Three Floyds Alpha King
What a glorious stand-by this is. If you can get your hands on some Alpha King, do it yesterday. It’s certainly no pale ale as the label might suggest and it’s definitely more than your average APA (whatever that is). If you want hops, balance, drinkability, this is the beer you must have.

10. Mikkeller 1,000 IBU
This beer should be undrinkable. After the brewers added more hops than once thought possible, they added more. Then, they added hop oils when there was no more room for anymore hops. For a beer that bitter, you’d think the brewers would have to add so much malt and sugar that the beer would be approaching hard liquor territory. Somehow, they made it work. It’s a brilliant example of modern ingenuity for sure.

11. Avery Maharaja
Citrus and malty sweetness in this huge beer that changes with each edition. We go ape-shit for this beer in middle Missouri every time a new series is brewed. Then we spend hours debating which version is best. It’s like arguing which Pavement record is the greatest. There are no right answers. It’s variation from series to series is basically as close to a beer holiday as we ever get in these parts.

12. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
One would think that the quirky brewery from Delaware couldn’t brew a big, beautiful DIPA. One would be wrong. Much in the same way that Russian River defies its tradition of sour ales with its epic lineup of IPA’s and DIPA’s, Dogfish Head sets the standard for the hophead’s typical drink du jour. 90 Minute is a near perfect example of the style. It may very well be the standard to which others are held.

13. Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout
Most lists like this one have chosen Goose Island’s more popular and more abundantly available Bourbon County Stout, but this one nearly made me fall over upon the first sip. Normally, I am lukewarm  to coffee stouts, but this syrupy mess of a beer overwhelms the senses so much that I can still taste it months later.

14. The Bruery Saison Rue
I’m just getting to know The Bruery and haven’t even come close to trying all their beers. Their take on the saison is by far my favorite. It’s actually rich instead of just light or bombarded with brettanomyces. Balanced and thoroughly enjoyable, this beer just makes me want to try more from The Bruery.

15. #2 Brewing’s Wowee Zowee
Aside from a barley wine I brewed, this was my first foray into imperial beers. I put a pound of hops, including the citrusy goodness of Simcoe and Citri, in this bad-boy and it turned out great. It was just a sticky, bitter mess and I enjoyed every last drop, plus it was dedicated to the Pavement album by the same name.

Notes:
1No, I have plenty to say. Of course, my sudden 3-4 week break suggests otherwise. I’ve just been busy.
2Slanted and Enchanted is a freaking great album. It may have defined nineties indie rock in my humble opinion. That said, it is more of a lead-in for Crooked Rain than a strong debut. It is somewhat incomplete and lacking refinement. It’s a far cry from their lo-fi beginnings, but it doesn’t attain the sophistication and craft exhibited in its follow-up.
3Wowee Zowee is an album very near and dear to my heart. It might be described as “difficult” or “unapproachable” or “for stoners” by some, but it’s still a great, great record. I just feel Crooked Rain is a more complete, coherent record. That’s all.
4Yes, this is a theme. It’s for good reason. Sad and depressing music is just more interesting.
5Instead, you most of you know “Float On” era Modest Mouse. It just isn’t the same. Sure, I’ve enjoyed some of their recent records, but really is not the same.
6If not, he was at least the most imposing. Imagine a cross between Glenn Danzig and Thurston Moore. Bachman is like 6’5″ or something. He obviously liked to work out and was just a big dude.
7Well, sans giant, neon vaginas.
8Which I am sure was not an accident. The parallels of the Bush presidency’s abuse of religious zealotry closely resembles that of the Holocaust. Sure, Bush was no Hitler, but one can see similarities in both their approaches in using fervent nationalism as means to their destructive ends.
9And I’m not even going to use the footnotes to tell you stories either.
At this point, I’ll quit footnoting so that I can publish this post and move on.

Tagged with: ,

Caribou’s ‘Swim’ vs. Russian River’s Supplication

Posted in Rock vs. Beer by SM on May 1, 2010

The advancement of the internet and shipping options has made it possible for me to survive a somewhat ho hum lifestyle in Middle Missouri. If I want a particular record, I usually have to mail order it from Insound. Certain beers are only available through similar means. Unlike ordering records online, beer costs the consumer quite a bit of money on top of the price of the beer for shipping. So, I don’t order too many bottles online unless someone puts together a group order.

Such an order landed me a Supplication from Russian River. The beer takes all of eighteen months to create as it is dumped into Pinot Noir barrels full of cherries1. Brettanomyces yeast and Lactobacillus and Pedicoccus bacteria give the beer its flavor and overall character. This is one of those white whale or bucket list kinds of beers. I was lucky enough to get in on an order that provided me one bottle.

As I said before, records are easier to come by. Distribution of music isn’t policed by the government the way alcohol is. The problem is when you live in a town that only has two “record stores” that often run out of copies or never order certain records in the first place. I have no patience for this and so I order my records online.

Caribou’s latest Merge release, Swim, was dropped off late last week. The MP3 was downloaded immediately, but I’d have to wait for an opportunity to drop the needle on the record2. Earlier this week, my wait for both indulgences ended as I sat down with Swim as it should be heard and poured my beer in a proper glass.

The Stats:

Band: Caribou
Album: Swim
Label: Merge
Medium: Vinyl (although had been previewed using the digital version.)
Packaging: Gorgeous bi-fold with bright colorful artwork inside and out. Merge always comes through with some pretty slick packaging3.
Best Song: “Odessa”
Record Porn:

Let me get right to the crux of the situation. “Odessa”, the first track, is as good a song as I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s complex and shows off Caribou’s ability to make even dance music seem interesting4. It’s just really cool. Check out the video…

CARIBOU – Odessa from Caribou on Vimeo.

Then there’s the rest of the record. To be honest, I don’t really want to write about it at all. It doesn’t excite me. It doesn’t anger me. I feel pretty meh about the whole thing. So, in order to protect a band I like a whole lot5, I’ll just leave it at that. By the way, have heard Andorra6?

Beer: Supplication
Brewery: Russian River
Style: Sour Brown Ale
Beer Geek Stats: 7% ABV,
Packaging: A cool Belgian-style bottle with a cork that reminds you to use the proper glass7. The artwork is an woodblock print of an aeration device (I think), but for some unknown reason, RR persists to use COMIC-FUCKING-SANS8 all over their labels!!! I’ll revisit that later.
Glass: Tulip
Beer Porn:

Pop! Actually, the cork made more of a drippy faucet sort of sound as I slid it from its place at the bottle’s mouth. The pour left me a beautifully foamy, tan head that didn’t want to leave. Clinging to the sides of the glass, this beer produced legs…er I mean lacing that slowly slid down the sides of my glass. The color was a rich, mahogany. My nose sensed Brett, caramel, cherries, funk, Pinot, fig, oak…I could go on and on. In fact, I may have smelt this beer too long.

The flavors were even more varied as the sour quickly gave way to the tartness of the cherries. The malt backbone was pronounced and worked with the cherries as opposed to one overpowering the other. The mouthfeel is nice as it coats your mouth. It’s not syrupy, rather, this beer is thick and it blankets your mouth instead of sticking to it.

I don’t often address packaging for a beer, but I have to continue a meme I started a while back concerning Russian River. STOP USING COMIC SANS!!! They craft some of the most tasty and beautiful beers in the world, take great care in branding their products through classy illustrations, and market themselves as the must-have brewer in an otherwise overcrowded market9. So, why does Russian River undercut their efforts by using comic sans on their labels?

Well, the beer is good. So, maybe it really doesn’t matter.

Winner: Supplication
This really wasn’t even close. When I first thought to pit a beer versus a record/show, I thought this would be a good pairing. However, it was a blowout. In the future, I will try to do better. I have plans in the works to do a series of these posts with my homebrew Wowee Zowee against its namesake, Dark Lord versus the Liars’ record, and possibly a Mikkeller 1000 IBU versus another Pavement record or one of the three or so records I like from this year. Stay tuned and congratulations to Russian River. You have won the first ever Rock vs. Beer contest in BICTB&P history!

Notes:
1There’s a video here in case you’re interested.
2Sometimes a record doesn’t make sense to me until I listen to it on vinyl, at home. It’s too easy to not pay attention in the car.
3I think this is one thing that separates them from many indies. The label’s packaging is not overtly extravagant. They just do what they can to match the artists’ vision, price be damned. Funny thing is that it usually pays off.
4Despite being named “best dancer” in my high school senior class, I can’t stand dance music, primarily anything electronic. I find its appeal fleeting. I welcome any examples that might prove me wrong. Animal Collective doesn’t count.
5I once saw these guys play in St Louis with backup drummer Ahmed Gallab and was simply blown away.
6Unbelievably great album. It was number 25 in my best of the oughts list.
7I don’t know if I took a picture or not, but the sides of the cork feature an illustration of a tulip glass and a pint glass crossed out.
8Easily the worst font of all fonts. That’s a fact.
9So, maybe Russian River doesn’t market themselves this way and the craft beer market is certainly not overcrowded. Allow me some license for a little hyperbole.

Tagged with: ,