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, alt.country 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.

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Reviewing 2014: Music

Posted in Records, Review by SM on December 28, 2014

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Crap. Where did the year go?

All I have done is taken several hiatuses in between some fairly mediocre blog posts. I would like to tell you 2015 will be different, but why lie? It won’t. I’ll be a sporadic blogger as it seems to be my ultimate destiny. So, you’ll forgive my momentary lapse in judgement when I thought a PhD was a good idea. You won’t mind when I prioritize my job and career over my hobbies. And you’ll give me a pass for being a parent of two who rarely gets a full night’s sleep.

That said, I still found a way to consume and as you well know, consuming indie rock records and craft beer are what I do best when I’m not parenting or working. I didn’t listen to nearly as much music as year’s past, but I did drink a shit-ton of beer as my waist will attest. So, I have something to say about both topics.

The format will be a bit different than years past. Usually, I write a list of records and/or beers. Last year I opted not to rank my choices for the year. This year I will simply name some arbitrary categories to fill with some sort of commentary. Do with this list what you will. However, I hope you can find the time to comment and even throw some money at the good people I’m about to praise.

The 2014 Beer and Pavement Recognitions and Such – Indie Rock Division

“The Next Sharon Van Etten or Courtney Barnett of 2014”

Well, this could have been Sharon Van Etten as her Are We There is yet another stellar album from the songstress, or it could have been Courtney Barnett’s as I listened to The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas on repeat after discovering it a year too late. Hell, I didn’t even get my hands on Barnett’s physical artifact until this year.

Still, there was one woman I listened to more than any other this year or at least that’s according to Spotify. Angel Olsen dominated this year with her Burn Your Fire For No Witness. This is one of the few albums on my personal list I am finding all over year-end lists. It’s an incredibly haunting, Patsy Cline-esque, fucking great record. Had I not been so busy this year, I would have written ad nauseam about this singer who could channel a lo-fi Roy Orbison on one track and turn around with something more akin to a Kristin Hersh rocker the next. She’s a phenomenal talent and from right here in Missouri. Who woulda thunk it?

“Best Reissues (Multiple Categories)”

I didn’t know that I had missed Life Without Buildings the first time around and needed their über-rare Record Store Day until I discovered them in the “Best New Music” category on Pitchfork’s Spotify page. Well, one listen was enough to send me out to my local supplier for a preview of there RSD releases only to find out they had not ordered it. I waited a week or two and tried eBay. It was costly, but nothing obscene and I scored my record. LWB’s Any Other City was a forgotten/unheard of treasure with a danceable no wave sound that would have also fit well in mid-90’s Chicago, but what set this band apart was front woman Sue Tompkins erratic spoken-word lyrics. Although 14 years old, the record was maybe the freshest thing I heard all year. Too bad they only released this record, a handful of singles, and a live album.

The other reissue wins the box set division as Sleater-Kinney is doing this whole comeback thing right. Not only were all their albums reissued on glorious 180-gram vinyl on Sub Pop, but the band put all these albums into one box complete with a book of never-before-seen photos and a surprise 7″ of new material. Now that’s a way to announce a reunion. The best part of this box and the individual reissues is that all the music was remastered, giving them the treatment they all deserved, especially those early records recorded on a budget.

Oh, and that open letter I wrote worked.

“Favorite EP’s – short and long formats”

Funny thing about my two favorite EP’s is that both are from this region of the world. How does that happen? An overwhelming sense of depression caused from living in the middle of racists and corn fields? Yeah, that’s probably what it is. The first is really just a short LP – sorta missing the idea of an “extended play” format – and the other is a more traditional supplement to and earlier full-length effort.

Your Friend’s Jekyll/Hyde is a nearly perfect example of the form capturing atmospherics, chilly femme vocals, and some silly-good theatrics surrounding stories of sisters and awkward thirteen year olds living in Kansas. Rarely do EP’s feel like LP’s but this one does. The songs can come off as quiet and pretty, but the intensity comes through in a live setting as I was lucky to witness last spring. Look for this EP to launch Your Friend in the coming year.

My friends in New Tongues put out a short-form EP that kills, nay destroys. Three originals lead off before a cover of a Simon and Garfunkel cover completely floors you. Following up last year’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, this EP does what the format is meant to do which is extend what work has been done and in the best cases expanding said work. the production on this 4-song EP explodes from the speakers with all the post-hardcore clichés one can muster. (The music is not clichéd, just the reviews.) To add insult to injury, that aforementioned Simon and Garfunkel cover is maybe the cover of the year.

I also considered an E.P. by some other friends in Enemy Airship, but the hard copy has yet to arrive. Additionally, there was Ought’s E.P., but I have more to say on that later…

“Best Dad Rock”

I am a dad twice over. In fact, our little release this year might be is my favorite. His name is Theo and he should know that dads can rock. Right now, Theo’s favorite song is “Bird Is the Word.” We’ll have to work on that.

Dad rock can best be defined as the music by bands who dads probably listened to back in college. Bonus points go to bands and musicians who are actually dads themselves. This year, there were three releases that I think exemplified my own version of Dad Rock.

First and foremost, there’s Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. I crossed paths with Malk on his way to the venue where he was playing. I wanted to talk to him about fatherhood and his new record, but he didn’t have time to chat. I suspect he had to Skype with his kids from the tour van. Anyway, Wig Out at Jagbags is return to form after 2011’s Beck-esque Mirror Traffic. In Wig Out…, Malk and the Jicks get all nostalgic for the Grateful Dead and Lilith Fair-era Lesbians. It’s as goofy as they have been on a record which is quintessential dad behavior.

Then, there’s the Kickstarted project from Swearing at Motorists. S@M’s Dave Doughman is also a dad. This comes out in some heartbreaking-yet-sweet moments throughout While Laughing, the Joker Tells the Truth. Intermingled with laments and celebrations of parenthood is an obsession with acting and drama, escapes from the daily grind of being someone’s dad. It’s maybe Doughman’s most mature release yet, one I didn’t know or care if he could make. Still, it deserves a proper release once the Kickstarter money runs out.

The third Dad Rock honoree is the most obvious of the bunch. Jeff and Spencer Tweedy’s Sukierae under the band name Tweedy. This project comes from the heart as Jeff Tweedy’s creative juices seem to come alive after some so-so Wilco efforts. Honestly, I had written off Tweedy. I figured he was going to make the same Wilco record over and over and tour until his knees or liver gave out. And as a fellow dad with mouths to feed, I’m okay with selling out. However, that’s not what he’s done here. Spencer who is a gifted drummer has inspired something in his dad that I hope continues. Sukierae was a pleasant surprise and has made me look at my own life as a father and how I can rejuvinate my own creativity.

“Best Album by a Former Member of the Walkmen”

Three records were released this year by former Walkmen. There was Walter Martin’s We’re All Young Together which is a kids album and probably should have made the Dad Rock list above as it’s the most dad-like thing ever. Then there was Hamilton Leithauser’s Black Hours and Peter Matthew Bauer’s Liberation! which also came out this year. Kids music only goes so far with me. So, I figured Leithauser’s record would shine as he was the voice of the Walkmen and sort of personified their cool aesthetic. However, it was Bauer who impressed with his solo debut, a cacophony of religion, mysticism, and chic. The album is so good you wonder if maybe Bauer had more say in the Walkmen’s image than was typically let on. Either way, he put out a solid record that remained on heavy rotation throughout the year.

“Speaking of Nostalgia…”

The Afghan Whigs got back together. Well, two of them did, but those two put together a pretty tight group of musicians. Then the Whigs did the unthinkable in 90’s reunion etiquette and actually recorded an album. Do the Beast would have fit nicely after Black Love with its thematic leanings and dynamics. Plus, those old guys can still rawk.

“The One Album upon which the Critics and I Tend to Agree”

Ex Hex’s Rips is a swift kick to the gut. In much the same way Jeff Tweedy seemed to be recharged by working with his son, Mary Timony’s inner-guitar god rose from the ashes of 90’s indie rock anonymity when she joined Wild Flag, a one-off, super group who released one of the best records of 2011 and put on ridiculously great live shows. This record comes at you from the word go and it never lets up until you’re stunned to find it’s over. Mary Timony has quietly made great music for years, I’m just glad others are beginning to realize it as Rips finds a place on many year-end lists.

“The One Album upon which the Critics and I Tend to Disagree”

Well, that isn’t exactly fair. Trouble by Hospitality generally received good reviews everywhere. However, it didn’t make many (or possibly any) year-end lists. And I’m not really sure why. While it lacks the punch the Ex Hex record delivers, it certainly has its share of dynamics as well as subtle nods to that 80’s thing everyone is doing. This album might be the equivalent of Future Islands’ Singles which is getting all kinds of attention these days. However, Trouble lacks a career-making appearance on Letterman to put it over the hump. Still, the band did what bands with promising debuts are supposed to do with their sophomore efforts: expand and improve on said promise. The trouble is that most bands falter with their second release, not Hospitality. Synth, Belle & Sebastian sensibility, a bit of an edge… It’s all there and I’m not sure why no one else has noticed.

“Artist/Band of the Year”

I opted not to pick just one album as I have played the shit out of those praised above. I do plan to do a singles list if I get a chance, but I digress. I have a band of the year and it might not be who you think.

Let’s get a few of the normal artists up for this kind of consideration out of the way. The War on Drugs and Sun Kil Moon don’t make the list as the most interesting things they did was get in a non-feud. And since we’re on boring, white dude music, I’m not bothering with Real Estate, Spoon, or Mac DeMarco.

Oh, there’s more. I don’t care for dance music. So, most of that stuff doesn’t get much of a listen from me, even in a year when Caribou released an album, but I haven’t enjoyed them since 2007’s Andorra. Same goes for most rap and hip-hop. While I have an appreciation for them, I just haven’t been able to get into Vince Staples or Run the Jewels. Grouper’s record was nice, but a bit too quiet for me. (And if you like that sort of thing, check out my friend C. Vadi’s latest here.) Please don’t get me started on Ariel Pink, Todd Terje, or Taylor Swift.

There were records who probably deserved more of my attention. St. Vincent, Perfume Genius, Parquet Courts, Cloud Nothings, or Ty Segall. I’m okay with this. I have limited time and whatever art you make has to grab my attention. The bands and records I’m recognizing here did that, but none more than Montreal’s Ought.

And Ought hit my trifecta for 2014. They blew me away with an album I did not see coming. Impressed onstage in front of way too few people. Plus, they released an EP that just made me want more. This was done while sounding like a fresher, more meaningful reincarnation of the Feelies and Talking Heads. They look like Joy Division and sound like Television and the Violent Femmes. And I don’t even think they’ve scratched the surface of what they can do.

I’m not sure what else I could tell you about them. The songs are written and performed with feeling every time. They unloaded More Than Any Other Day with its critiques of the mundane and commercialism. Sonically it called back to those New and No Wave days of NYC. The live show could happen in front of 10 people or 10,000. It’s captivating and raw. They drone and jam on only to break it with sudden impulses of noise and general disruption. The EP, Once More with Feeling, supplements the LP’s material but introduces something new. “Pill” is a song I’ve obsessed over as it suits their ages better, but the simple chord structure is an ear worm by itself. The EP provides promise that this band has more to offer and I can’t wait to see what it is.