Beer and Pavement

Twenty Best Songs of 2011

Posted in MoL, Records by SM on December 7, 2011

I don’t always do lists for best song, but I’ve paid particular attention to a few that have drilled holes into my brain and set up permanent residence. Most are the regulars but some might surprise. Also, I’m ranking art, y’all.

1. “Senator” – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – This, unsurprisingly is a sign of things to come, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why no one is on this bandwagon. Just listen to the song.

2. “Another State” – Dee Bird – Here’s a local song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head all year. It’s simple, lovely, and connected to this past summer’s visit from the cicadas. One-half of the twindie duo Dubb Nubb creates easily my favorite local track in years.

3. “Rubber” – Yuck  – Shoegazing, drugged, grungy, feedback-riddled, slacker rock just makes me feel 18 again. Yuck are great nineties revivalists that have captured the decade of my youth and for that, I am eternally grateful. BTW, the video is NSFW. Also considered “The Wall”

4. “Gangsta” – Tune-Yards – Tune-Yards has masterfully figured out how to make dance-able indie rock, utilizing big beats, emo vocals, and the essential loud-quiet-loud dynamic. Although I came into possession of this album late, the songs have been running in my head all year. “Gangsta” is a standout. Also considered: “Bizness”

5. “Michael Jackson” – Das Racist – I like humor and weirdness in my hip-hop. I also like a hook. “Michael Jackson” has it all. After 3 hours of Jay-Z and Kanye West, all I could hear in my head was this track.

6. “Future Crimes” – Wild Flag – This song is just so full of angst and urgency. It makes me uncomfortable in my skin. It makes me want to dance. For me, this is the highlight of one of the year’s best albums. Also considered: “Romance”

7. “Mother” – Wye Oak (cover) – This one was from the A.V. Club’s Undercover series where bands passing through would record a song from a list of suggestions. Wye Oak eventually released this one as well as their first Undercover appearance playing a Kinks song. Also considered: “Holy Holy”

8. “Go Outside” – Cults – For my money, this was the song of the summer. Isn’t going outside all we want to do when it’s so nice out and we have to sit inside working all day?

9. “Ni**as in Paris” – Jay-Z/Kanye West – This is a pretty wicked song that the duo played like three times to close out their show in Kansas City.  There’s also the perfectly timed and placed sample from Blades of Glory. (NSFW) Also considered “Otis”

10. “Helplessness Blues” – Fleet Foxes – Epic and sprawling, the title track from this year’s Fleet Foxes release all of that and a bag of granola. The sentiment is a bit sappy, but as with most FF tracks, it’s all in the vocal performances. This album faded for me down the stretch, but this track stood strong.

11. “Shell Games” – Bright Eyes – It’s been a long while since I would have ranked a Bright Eyes song so high on a year-end list. The album is really uneven, but when Conor Oberst gets a song right, he really gets it right. The song’s so upbeat for a Bright Eyes track that it’s almost a pop crossover hit.

12. “Ice Cream” – Battles – I can stand Battles in small doses, but those doses are pretty incredible. This song is so bizarre that it appeals to that teenage, indie geek inside me. (NSFW)

13. “Video Games” – Lana Del Ray – OK. Let’s ignore all the hype and debate over her authenticity. This song took the world – indie and otherwise – by storm this year. It’s haunting and beautiful with a highly contemporary narrative. Yes, I’ve fallen for it as well. I probably won’t buy the album, but I’ll listen to this song whenever possible.

14. “America!” – Bill Callahan – I got to see Bill Callahan this summer in Washington, D.C. and this song stuck out. For some reason, I haven’t picked up this record. That may have to be rectified in the coming weeks.

15. “Perth” Bon Iver – Justin Vernon outgrew his cabin in the woods with this one. I mean, there are actual electric guitars in there. Some of his latest effort strayed from the cabin fever he spread across the land his first time out, but even with some electric guitars this track shows Vernon at his atmospheric best.

16. “My Mistakes” – Eleanor Friedberger – This song should describe the conversation I had with Eleanor Friedberger . Nonetheless, this song translates well live, but it doesn’t have to as it’s just a great rock song.

17. “Wake and Be Fine” – Okkervil River – Somehow, I’ve forgotten about this album over the course of the year. Luckily, I remember being pretty excited for its release when this video was released. The big sound played well with the video’s cinematography.

18. “Try to Sleep” – Low – Low really hit it out of the park with this year’s release. “Try to Sleep” was probably the closest they’ll ever come to a hit. It’s sleepy and melodic, much more upbeat than their usual shtick. Also considered “Witches”

19. “For the One” – Waters – Port O’Brien broke up and another narrative was born when Waters was thought up. “For the One” is what Port O’Brien sounded like had they wanted to rock. The Waters album as a whole does not always deliver, but the first single does.

20. “Santa Fe” – Beirut – For several albums, I’ve been curious what Beirut would sound like when not emulating the music and culture of wherever his muse was residing at the time. “Santa Fe” is that song.

As always, what did I forget? What are you favorite songs of 2011?

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Eleanor Friedberger at the Luminary

Posted in Life, Live, Travelog by SM on November 1, 2011

Those pants.

I won’t attempt to write a review of this show. Too much weird and surreal happened. So, I’ll attempt to just tell you how it all went down Friday night in St. Louis.

My friend Andrew has a college buddy who’s playing bass for Eleanor Friedberger and so he was on the guest list with a +1 (me). The venue was The Luminary, a convent-turned-art space. The basement is a large, open room with a stage that was both wide and shallow in front of a projection screen. To better illustrate the stage’s layout, the drum kit couldn’t sit behind the rest of the band. Rather, it had to be moved to the side.

As Andrew and I waited to meet up with his friend, Matt, we enjoyed a beer. Said beer was a Zwickel from Urban Chestnut, a newer brewery in St. Louis. I have to say that it was a nice beer. I’m not much of a lager drinker, but this beer is smooth, just sweet enough, and features a decent hoppy bitterness I wasn’t expecting. It was nice to have a good beer in a convent-turned-art space, totally unexpected.

Matt introduced us to the rest of the touring band, including Eleanor. No rock star pretensions or snobbery here. Eleanor was a lot of fun to chat with. She and Andrew had several mutual friends and hit it off right away. The entire band was like that, just really friendly and easy-going.

After I let Eleanor try my beer to see if she wanted one of her own, I promptly texted my sister who proceeded to freak out via MMS. She’s a big Fiery Furnaces/Eleanor Friedberg fan and was properly jealous. In fact, I purchased her record based on my sister’s recommendation. My only task as assigned by my little sister was to tell Eleanor that my sister loved her.

In case you weren’t aware, Friday night also happened to be when the seventh game of the World Series was to be played. If you were unaware of this, you also probably didn’t know that St. Louis was hosting said game versus the Texas Rangers. Being the baseball town that St. Louis is, even a joint like the Luminary was showing the game. As you’ll notice below, the game provided some avant-garde, performance art backdrop to the bands playing. We were in no danger of missing game seven despite our indie rock leanings.

Via @EleanorOnly

As a decent local alt.country act played (Pretty Little Empire), Matt asked us if we wanted to hang out in the green room which was actually green. The best part of the room was the high-quality selection of LP’s to keep us busy. Andrew and Matt caught up, I sat and figured this was my chance to relay my sister’s message to Eleanor. She seemed flattered and even offered to add my sister to the guest list for her next show in Ohio. (I watched her enter the name into her phone. So, I assumed she was serious.)

I saw the opportunity to tell Eleanor how much I really like her new record…

[It’s really an oversight on my part that I have yet to write about this record. I purchased Last Summer weeks after its release. So, I didn’t feel the need or opportunity to write-up a proper review. It will surely make my year-end list. I figured I’d say what I was going to say about it at that point. It’s a really great record. Some might even say that it’s more accessible than her Fiery Furnaces material. Either way, this is a fantastic collection of rock songs. The production reminds me a ton of the Destroyer record, but it’s far more tolerable than Dan Bejar’s eighties-inspired Kaputt. Highlights include “My Mistakes”, “Heaven”, and “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight.” You can get an idea an idea by watching the video for “My Mistakes” here.]

That’s when my filter quit working.

Here’s a tip for any of you if you ever get to meet an artist whom you respect and really enjoy their work: Don’t tell them about why it’s so hard to like their music.

After telling Eleanor how much I liked her new record, I proceeded to tell her that it was more accessible than a lot of the Fiery Furnaces stuff. I expanded this thought by telling her how there’s some stuff FF recorded that I can’t stand, but I loved other material. The part about how much I loved some of the music was lost as everyone in the green room gave me a hard time over this social faux pas. I quickly tried to back out by explaining that I played Last Summer for my wife who promptly told me to shut it off. This didn’t help.

For whatever good karma I earned sharing my beer, relaying my sister’s admiration, and complementing Last Summer, it was all lost as I inadvertently insulted the artist I was excited to see perform that night. Ugh.

That was the moment when a kid working for the venue informed the band that it was time for them to set up. Andrew and I had to leave before I could explain my way out of the mess I had just made. At that moment, I hoped my sister’s invite to attend the show in Cleveland was still on. Either way, I had to pull my foot from my mouth so that we could return to the basement for the show.

A decent crowd showed despite the fact that the World Series game was going on at the same time. If I remember correctly, the Cards were up 6-2 at this point and were looking good going into the final few innings. Regardless, we would watch the end as Eleanor and her band mates played.

Like I said, I’m not writing a review, but this is basically what happened for the next hour or so…

The band opened with “My Mistakes” which is incredibly danceable and catchy. A new song was introduced and the night was off without a hitch. Backing Eleanor was a professionally smooth trio on bass, drums, and guitar. Matt played bass next to a drummer in hoody and jacket. I have never seen a drummer stay relatively perspiration-free while wearing so many layers, plus a full head of hair and beard. Still, he could hit some skins. That solid rhythm section was fronted by Eleanor and this kid from Tennessee (whose name I’ve forgotten) on guitars. This “kid” (he’s 21), told me later that he’s normally a drummer, but I would swear that guitar is his first instrument. He played effortlessly, even some of the more difficult parts appeared easy in his capable hands.

Eleanor was in synch with her band, holding the crowd’s attention with every word. She has a presence on stage for sure, something that would have been hard to imagine after hanging out with her prior to the performance, finding her relatively unassuming. Because I’m a lazy blogger, I’d compare her look and presence like that of Patti Smith, but it was even more like a Stephen Malkmus, sans the bratty attitude. She was easily the coolest person in the room. Even her attire suggested she was better than the rest of us despite her approachable demeanor. (I think Andrew said something like “Those pants!”)

Throughout, Eleanor and the band had fun and it encouraged those in the audience to do the same. They checked in on the band between songs. Sometimes they became transfixed with the commercials. At one point, Eleanor decided to sing to the screen only to find an American Idol commercial was playing. She nearly lost it mid-song.

Adding to the fun was the fact that 3-4 new songs were thrown in and none disappointed. If anything, these new songs added to what is potentially great oeuvre. Of course, the songs from Last Summer translated well live. A live show featuring newer material can make or break an album’s staying power for me. Friday night’s show assured me that Last Summer is good art and even better pop. Of course, good songwriting, charisma, and solid musicianship has that effect.

The set progressed as did the baseball game in the background. Eleanor announced the last song during the ninth inning. It was a perfectly timed selection “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight.” Watch…

Yep. That’s how it went down. The band did come back to play [enter song here that escapes my memory] in a rather Ramones-like way – you know, punk rock oldies. The song finished what was a pretty fantastic night of music and baseball.

We said our goodbyes to the band. I sheepishly went over to the merch table to say goodbye to Eleanor. She assured me that my sister would be on the list in Cleveland, demonstrating that she wasn’t sore about my unintentional insults. It was cool for her to offer in the first place, but even cooler to ignore my rudeness and assure me that my sister was still on the list. Nice girl, that Eleanor Friedberger.

Top 5 List for September 12, 2011

Posted in Top 5 by SM on September 12, 2011

Acer japonicum Vitifolium JPG1fu

I feel like this feature has to make it two more weeks for it not to be forced. This is number 3, I believe. Digest what I have to tell you and know that there will be a beer and record review on Wednesday.

1. Anniversaries
Yesterday was the three-year anniversary of our daughter’s birth. That’s right. She was born on September 11th. While not thee September 11th, it’s a pretty important day in our house. Eventually (or now), I will grow tired of every September 11th focusing on patriotism, terrorists, and fireman. For once, I’d like it to be a day my daughter can look at as her own. She’s too young to realize what a big deal everyone makes over this day. I have chosen to move on and remember this day for the life it has wrought instead of the death. Also, the Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA was pretty great and will be featured in Wednesday’s post.

2. The Womyn of Merge
Also featured in Wednesday’s post will be Wild Flag, but I’ve said too much already…I recently acquired albums by Eleanor Friedberger and Wye Oak. These were nice gets as both albums are really powerful and of the highest quality. However, since I was so late to their bandwagon, I’ll just mention them here. The Wild Flag will get a proper review with a beer (see above) on Wednesday.

3. Black Francis
Black Francis is the imperial stout I brewed that’s currently sitting on oak chips, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans all soaked in bourbon. It tastes pretty awesome at the moment, but I’ll probably leave it in the secondary for a little while longer just to let it acquire as much flavor as possible. The plan is to bottle by October so that I have it ready for the holidays.

4. Seasonal Beers
The stores are loaded with beers meant for fall: pumpkin ales, Oktoberfests, etc. However, I’m more excited for the beers featuring freshly harvested hops that will be slowly released all fall. These beers feature a sharp bitterness that is lost in your average IPA. I’ve grown a little weary of those who go on and on about pumpkin beers and just wait patiently for my fresh-hopped beers to show.

5.  OK. I couldn’t resist. Here’s some Wild Flag…