Beer and Pavement

On “Boring”

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on November 17, 2011

How are beer and music boring, or rather, “boring?” There’s been a discussion online over what makes something both artistically significant and boring. Now, months too late, I’m joining the fray.

Instead of rehashing the entire saga, I’ll point to the two pieces that inspired this post. First, there was Dan Kois’ “Eating Your Cultural Vegetables” where the author had the gull to suggest that the critical darlings of film are actually rather slow, boring even. Other film critics did not agree. Then, his good buddy, Steven Hyden, over at AV Club said basically the same thing about music. I suspect the AV Club piece will garner less vitriol than the film piece. Still, both critiques are spot-on. The most critically-acclaimed film and music can be a bit tedious.

Hyden differentiates the boringness of film and music. In music criticism, he writes, “…we have no problem classifying art as boring.” Eventually, he differentiates the boring from the “boring.” Hyden writes:

Any kind of music can be boring depending on the listener. No song is inherently not-boring—not even CCR’s “Ramble Tamble”—because boring is obviously based on subjective perception. This makes boring music hard to pin down. In a sense, all music is boring. The same, however, can’t be said about “boring” music. “Boring” is its own genre. It is a code word that instantly conjures artists with clearly definable attributes. “Boring” music is slow to mid-tempo, mellow, melodic, pretty in a melancholy way, catchy, poppy, and rooted in traditional forms. It is popular (or popular-ish). It is tasteful, well-played, and meticulously produced. (Or it might sound like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom under the influence of weed and Sega Genesis.) It is “easy to like”—or more specifically, “easy for white people to like” (“white people” being a sub-group of white people singled out by other white people). It is critically acclaimed (perhaps the most critically acclaimed music there is), and yet music critics relish taking “boring” musical artists down a peg more than any other kind of artist.

He continues by naming BICTBAP favorites Fleet Foxes, The National, ST. Vincent, among others whom he considers to be “boring.” I can’t really argue with that assessment. I’m white people. I like that music.

Then, I consider whether or not I still like that music. Sure, it’s fine, but I haven’t listened to the last National album since well over a year ago and that’s because I rode in a car playing it on the way to seeing them in St. Louis. Hyden argues that “boring” is not necessarily bad. I’d argue that it’s not necessarily good either. “Boring” has the same effect as boring. The only difference is that we can’t figure out how to dislike some art when it’s “boring” until one day, it just occurs to us. With boring art or music, we know right away.

So, I considered what the effects of “boring” music on my musical tastes are. Well, I think not too long ago, I proclaimed (more like hinted) that the Fleet Foxes album, Helplessness Blues was the album of the year. I did the same for Bon Iver. While I still think these are very good records (I am still a white guy), they have long since been passed by more-immediate-but-just-as-deftly-performed albums by Wild Flag and Stephen Malkmus. Those last two records contain so much more urgency and soul (more on this tomorrow).

“Boring” music may impress me at first, but it doesn’t stay with me for long. I get, well, bored after a while and need something to properly get me to move my feet. Records by Cults, Tune-Yards, and Eleanor Friedberger are not boring. I get up and dance with my three-year-old when these records play. Bon Iver? not so much.

And since this is a music and beer blog, I considered the “boring”-ness of craft beer, because it’s out there. I’ll refrain from naming breweries as I want to support all craft breweries and recognize that they have a certain clientele that enjoy “boring” beer. I will also brace myself for the inevitable backlash from beer critics who, like their counterparts in film and music criticism, will be outraged* at the thought that traditional styles such as British pale ales, ESB’s, American wheat ales, or amber ales could possibly be “boring.” Well, they kinda are. I recognize that a well-made beer in any style can be enjoyable, but “boring” beer just doesn’t do it for me.

To be clear, a “boring” beer isn’t necessarily bad. The run of the mill pale ale at your local brewery is probably a fine brew, but sometimes we want more than fine. Typically, but not always, “boring” beers are your basic styles with little variation in traditional ingredients. They are true to customary recipes and are often executed well. However, they’re just “boring.” I don’t often reach for “boring.” I’ve had it and now I want something else.

Beers that push the limits are beers that won’t qualify as “boring.” Now, that doesn’t mean all these beers have to be imperial or extreme to be considered not “boring.” Non-“boring” beers challenge the palate and wow the drinker with each sip. These beers will make you excited to be a craft beer convert. These beers inspire blog posts and cause one to try their hand at homebrewing. No “boring” beer for me, thankyouverymuch.

What’s interesting to me, is that in both the case of “boring” music and “boring” beer, they both appeal to middle-aged, white guy (says the middle-aged white guy). We like our Boulevard Wheat and our Wilco. We watch baseball and may even be caught with a baseball cap on now and again. We too are “boring.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes (more often for some than others), we need to break free of “boring.” Let’s have a La Folie, listen to some Japandroids, and squeeze into a pair of jeans that fit you for christ’s sake.

As you may have noticed “boring” begins to take on a value for me, making it seem more like the other boring. I cannot lie. “Boring” music and beer… well… bores me. Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of it. I just find “boring” to be boring at some point. There may be moments when “boring” is fine, but I prefer to look for anything but “boring.”

What are your thoughts on “boring?” Am I right on or way off base? Are there good examples out there of “boring?” Is this blog becoming “boring?” As usual, leave your thoughts and/or self-righteous indignation in the comments below.

*Outraged might be a bit too strong. Mildly annoyed? LOL? This blog’s title is too long.

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Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor

Posted in Records by SM on October 19, 2011

Eric Bachman, like Stephen Malkmus, is one of my generation‘s gracefully aging rock heroes. For previous generations, that may fall upon the likes of Paul McCartney, David Bowie, or Bruce Springsteen. These musicians create a huge buzz when they’re young, creating art that is immediate and loaded with energy ideal for the times. Then, they get older and develop into better musicians along the way. Lost is some of that urgency, but they gain a certain proficiency in their craft that keeps their die-hard fans interested.

Bachman fronted one of my favorite bands of all-time, Archers of Loaf. The music he has created since their late-nineties demise is far from the blue-collar, Carolina indie that spoke to me in my 20’s. Instead, he opted for darker, more textured songs about drunks and hurt. I gravitated to this new direction as it was a chance to still hear and see one of my favorite artists. Even though Crooked Fingers albums tend to not resemble anything on a Loaf record – aside from Bachman’s growl – the live show reminded me why Loaf was so engaging.

The Crooked Fingers discography is an odd lot. The first two albums (Crooked Fingers and Bring on the Snakes) are nice companion pieces, telling stories of drunken depression and back alley romance. Red Devil Dawn brought together the bar band Bachman had created in filling the void left by Loaf, capturing the live energy for what is a powerful record. Things began to get shaky with the adventurous concept album Dignity and Shame. Projects like these either spur on huge crossovers or signal the end of a band. At the time, it seemed to mean the latter.

Then, Bachman recorded a solo record from a van in Seattle. The naked craftsmanship of To the Races helped me to appreciate his talent sans the Loaf hangover. The songs are expertly written and the subtle production and arrangements help create one of the most intimate records no one listens to.

Instead of building on the rawness of Races, Bachman continued to go down the path Dignity led him in recording the forgettable Forfeit/Fortune. The feel of this record was one of Bachman searching for something new or a direction he could embrace. Although it contained elements from his earlier Crooked Fingers projects, it had this forced aura of eclecticism and variety. Honestly, I haven’t listened to that album in a couple of years and I don’t feel the need to do it now.

Then, something unexpected happened. Archers of Loaf, the last holdout in the 90’s reunion/revival circuit, did the unthinkable and reunited for a tour this year. The original plan was to tour in support of reissues of the band’s four albums, but now there’s talk of recording. We’ll see.

An unexpected result of that reunion might be the moving Breaks in the Armor. This record is a return to the darkness enjoyed on the first two Crooked Fingers albums while somehow capturing the energy and urgency of Archers of Loaf the way Red Devil Dawn couldn’t quite achieve. Additionally, the raw beauty of To the Races is present as is an improved musician in Bachman.

What I find interesting are the similarities between Breaks in Armor and Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic. Both come out and were record in the midst of reunions with the bands that made them famous. It’s easy to detect the new-found/reinvigorated energy in both. Also, the growth in songwriting and musicianship in both men is apparent. I have been impressed with Malkmus’ new insistence of  actually singing. Likewise, Bachman stretches his range, often ditching the Neil Diamond bravado demonstrated on previous albums. Plus, both featured female vocals that add much to their sounds. Finally, Crooked Fingers and the Jicks feature some incredibly solid work on the bass that fills out their sound and reminds you that there are other people in these bands.

What was often missing from the Diamond dirges of other Crooked Fingers records was the power of Arechers of Loaf-era Bachman. He seems to have rediscovered an aggressive guitar playing alternate guitar tunings that made Loaf records so unique. I have to think this has a lot to do with his time on stage with his Loaf mates. While I’m glad to see Loaf touring, I am even more excited to hear Bachman rediscovering his inner-rocker in developing Crooked Fingers as a group with a future.

“Typhoon” opens steady and low, much like the early material, but one already detects the change in sound as Bachman allows some room for female vocals and plays like he did in Loaf’s later years. The second track, “Bad Blood,” is a straight-up rocker that reminds me so much of Archers of Loaf in the way Bachman plucks the strings, bending them to his will. The melody and drama reveal a more mature version of what Archers of Loaf used to be. The tone quiets with “The Hatchet,” similar to To the Races. It’s a beautiful track with subtle touches that flesh out the mood created.

This is followed by what is almost a pop song with a huge bassline featured out front. “The Counterfeiter” is a song Bachman might have dirged-to-death, but instead he lets the melody flow in creating a real head-bobber. This is maybe the most rewarding song of the album just for the fact that it breaks away from anything I’ve heard from Bachman. If there was ever an opportunity for a stripped-down Crooked Fingers track to make a crossover onto adult alternative stations, this would be it.

“Heavy Hours” regains the quiet established before and is yet another beautiful track, something Bachman had in him but rarely exploited. That quiet is broken a bit by the marching of “Black Candles” and its eerie resemblance to a Low song. “Went to the City” builds on the piano that’s been hinted at throughout, thrusting the instrument to the forefront as Bachman stretches his considerable vocal chops, singing yet another pop song.

Crooked Fingers used to depend on a steady movement with the low end all filled out while Bachman growled on. “Your Apocalypse”  is a track that could have fallen into that trap had it not been for a quickening of the pace, a higher octave, and some incredibly well-crafted arrangements. Even the guitar solo is uplifting.

“War Horses” opens with a buzz and steady beat that suggest dirge, but Bachman’s soaring vocals carry the day once again. “She Tows the Line” follows in a similar manner, building on the momentum that’s been created so far. “Our New Favorite” is the bluegrass ending I didn’t expect but welcomed with open arms.

Though Breaks in the Armor doesn’t attain the same sonic levels as Stephen Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic, it is no less a triumph in its demonstration of an already-accomplished artist developing, even maturing. For me, albums like these are the albums with which I want to grow old. I don’t need Wilco and their brand of dad-rock. I need my heroes to continue their growth, recalling the glory days while building toward the future. It seems as long as musicians are still hungry to break through, they will continue to avoid complacency and grow.

Breaks in the Armor is easily the most advanced and cohesive Crooked Fingers album yet. This Bachman project quickly approaching the dad-rock equivalent of an Icky Mettle or Vee-Vee. And if this is what dad-rock is going to be, I’m okay with that.

Top 5 for October 16, 2011

Posted in Beer, Top 5 by SM on October 17, 2011

Another week, another top-5….

1. “Senator” gets the MTV treatment. – Maybe the year’s best single finally has a proper video. Somehow, Malk secured the services of Jack Black to make what must be the song’s narrative incarnate. Office Space‘s Gary Cole even makes a cameo. I really wish the narrative was more fleshed out to represent some of the nuances suggested in the song, but it’s as entertaining a video as one could hope.

2. Black IPA’s vs. Cascadian Black Ale – Really? There’s still a debate over this? Whatever. It’s a great beer style – whatever you call it. Why all the fuss? What I like is how so many can be so different. I had my last Stone 15th Anniversary Ale this weekend as well as a Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet. Both were incredibly different from each other. The Stone beer is so clearly a West Coast DIPA with some dark, roasted malt. The Hoppy Feet has a ton of cola flavor and doesn’t feature the aroma of Simcoe and whatnot as prominently as the Stone. Still, both were good beers.

3. Sports Ball – I planned not to write about Ohio State at all with what was looking like the worst season in 10 years, but they somehow pulled out a win versus an undefeated and raked team on the road…with one completed pass ( a 17-yard touchdown pass in the second half). The Buckeyes’ opponent, Illinois, didn’t score until just over six minutes left in the game.

Even if Ohio State hadn’t won, it’s been fun to watch the St. Louis Cardinals come out of nowhere this season. They were left for dead a month ago before going on a tear that’s seen them catch the Braves for the Wild Card, beat the unbeatable Phillies, and beat the Brewers who happened to beat the Cards for the division race. It’s been a hell of a run and I hope it continues.

4. Homebrew Update – I cracked open a Black Francis and it’s packing hear along with a load of bourbon. On top of that, I can sense the cocoa nibs just under the bitter. I’m hoping the vanilla flavors will emerge as it ages, but I don’t know how long it will be around. There’s also the Simcoe-dependency IPA which I have yet to open. It’s been in the bottle for a week and a day, but I’ve found that waiting at least 10 days insures there will be carbonation. I’ll drink one this week in order to make sure it’s ready for a party we’re attending on Saturday.

5. Gordon-Moore Separation – While some fret over Ashton and Demi’s breakup, I’m more concerned about the separation of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. For completely selfish reasons, I don’t want to see Sonic Youth end over this. Here’s to hoping they figure out a way to still make Sonic Youth work despite their separation. I suspect it’s not that big of a deal as the reality of such relationships rarely matches the ideals many of us hold concerning marriage.

Bonus: I am the 99% and I fully support the #OccupyWallStreet protests. I have chosen not to write about it mostly because I have tried (and sometimes failed) to avoid politics. Still, it’s everything I rail against with regularity on Facebook and Twitter discussion threads. I just hope it doesn’t get co-opted, leaving it powerless.

Top 5 for September 5, 2011

Posted in Top 5 by SM on September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day, y’all! I wanted to make a labor-themed list this week, but I wasn’t feeling all that creative. Labor Day and unions will get their due in the list, but there are other things to cover…

1. SM on Fallon
I originally wanted to share this show SM & the Jicks put on at San Francisco’s Amoeba Records, but this two-song set on Fallon was too much to resist. The image of all those kids on stage peeing themselves over the awesomeness in front of them can’t escape my mind. All the live videos of material from this album further confirms that Mirror Traffic is the best I’ve heard this year and I doubt that will change any time soon. (I would have embedded the videos here, but NBC’s and Photobucket’s embedding doesn’t seem to cooperate with WordPress.)

2. Founders 2010 Nemesis
Recently, both Draft Magazine and The Hopry suggested that last year’s Nemesis is ready to come out of the cellar. They were right. Gone is the hoppiness and bite. Present is a smooth, luscious black barley wine, aged to near-perfection. I still have two left that will wit for at least another 6-12 months. It should be interesting to see how this beer matures even more.

3. Reckids
I’ve had an influx of records arriving at my house lately (and still more to come). It seems an order of three albums was lost somewhere and finally arrived this past week. I’ve barely had time to listen to Let’s Wrestle, Boat, and Joan of Arc. The Joan of Arc is pretty wicked, though. Also, I ordered a couple records I missed along the way: Eleanor Friedberger’s new solo effort and Wye Oak’s latest. On top of that, I’ve been listening to a streaming Wild Flag all week. So, there’s music about which to write once I find a moment.

4. Beers
There’s always a constant flow of beer in my life. I recently tried and thoroughly enjoyed Dogfish Head’s Squall, which is a bottle-conditioned version of their 90 Minute IPA. This was the same beer without the bite, quite enjoyable. Also, over the weekend, I had the Schlafly raspberry coffee stout. Meh. Fruit in stouts doesn’t often work for me. In this case, the raspberry overpowered everything. Luckily, I have another to age to see if the raspberry mellows.

5. Ohio State is 1-0.
This is all that matters. The Buckeyes had a long, long off-season as wins were vacated, players suspended, coaches resigned, etc. Now, they’ve finally played a game. It was a 42-0 win over outmatched Akron, but it was a win nonetheless. First-time head coach  Luke Fickell starts off undefeated. The defense pitches a shutout (which is a big deal no matter who you’re playing). The quarterbacks looked good. There was a new-found killer instinct lacking in previous teams. They even left at least 10 points on the field, fumbling once inside the 5 and missing a make-able field goal. Now, they welcome a slightly tougher – but still a MAC-rificial lamb – test in Toledo. Hopefully, a week from now, I’m writing that they’re 2-0 and ready for Miami.

Top 5 for August 29, 2011

Posted in Top 5 by SM on August 29, 2011

Here we are again. Another week. Another top-5 list.

1. College Kids
I don’t know if they make the list because I’m glad they’ve come back or that I wish they’d all go home. Living in a college town means that the winds of change happen every year in mid-May and mid-August. Students cause overcrowding, dangerous situations on the street, and a lot of unnecessary noise. Conversely, they also bring with them energy, inspiration, and a sense of hope. There’s good and bad. Luckily, they don’t know enough about craft beer to drink it all up. Sadly, they don’t know enough about (good) indie rock to raise demand for such things in retail and entertainment. They are just what they are.

2. College Football
The season begins later this week. I will be happy to actually watch games instead of reading about a new scandal every week, especially for my Buckeyes. This season could be surprisingly great for Ohio State. They have more talent than any team on their schedule, they have been the best program in the nation the past few years statistically, and it’s the first year for a new era. That said, they will likely suffer a few setbacks as replacing your coach and starting quarterback in the same year is just too much, especially with a significantly upgraded schedule. However, if they find a way to grind out a 5-0 start, find an answer under center, and gain a boost from players coming off suspension, it could be a special year.

3.The Flaming Lips + Lightning Bolt, “I’m Working at NASA on Acid”
This track is from the collab the Lips did with Lightning Bolt, one of the most raucous and insane live bands you’ll ever see. The beginning and end do nothing to capture Lightning Bolt’s energey, but the cool, retro aesthetic is nice. In between, there’s a burst of what you’d expect from LB and about 45 seconds of noise with classic Lips imagery. Overall, it’s an entertaining clip.

4. Drink with the Wench Beer Blogger Interviews
The Wench is a pretty well-known beer blogger who is willing to share her sizable audience with struggling beer bloggers like myself. Late last week, she posted my interview. A few questions were left off (totally my fault). As a special treat for you, my dear readers, I have those missing questions here:

#. What is one of the coolest things that happened to you as a result of being a beer blogger? The week after Stone arrived in Missouri, I wrote a post on the event that is a Stone state-wide release. Greg Koch responded to my post as well as all eleven footnotes. He was super cool and gracious.#. What are you top 3 favorite beer blogs/beer websites?
It’s a Fucking Beer! (Great reviews with a potty mouth.), Hot Knives (Vegan hipsters with a penchant for matching brews with cheese and indie rock.), and Make Mine Potato (No reviews just existential ramblings about craft beer and lots and lots of beer porn you want to get with.)

(Plus, there was this mention from Appelation Beer.)

5. One more video…Here’s an unreleased track from Malk, “Independence Street.”

Bonus!
My beer club had a “Members Only” tasting in which we all wore Members Only jackets and drank a shit-ton of fantastic beers. Below is a picture of that lineup and you can always check my Untappd posts for the order of beers sampled.

The beers were from left to right: The Bruery Hottenroth, Hoppin Frog Hoppin to Heaven, Pretty Things St. Botolph’s, The Lost Abbey Devotion, Terrapin Hopsecutioner, Brew Dog Dogma, Boulevard/Deschutes Collaboration #2, Allagash Black, Dogfish Head Hellhound, 08-10 Stone Old Guardian (vertical), Brewer’s Art Green Peppercorn Tripel, The Bruery Mischief, Hoppin Frog Mean Manalishi Double IPA, Nectar Black Xantus , The Lost Abbey Judgement Day, Brooklyn #1, Full Sail Old Boardhead Barleywine 2011, Smuttynose Baltic Porter, Green Flash and Pizza Port Carlsbad Highway 78 Scotch Ale, Weyerbacher Heresy, Pretty Things Baby Tree,  and The Bruery Trade Winds

Not pictured: Boulevard/Deschutes Collaboration #2 (the Deschutes version, aka Conflux 2), Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA, Trappist Westvleteren 12(!), Cascade Sang Royal, and Weyerbacher Double Simcoe

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Mirror Traffic

Posted in Pavement, Records by SM on August 24, 2011

Stephen Malkmus will never live up to what he did in the nineties. Of course, he shouldn’t have to. He said enough with the Pavement output that he has nothing left to prove, for me anyway. What’s most amazing about that material is that Pavement was actually not that great of a band. Sure the whole was greater than the sum of the parts and they had a certain chemistry, but the band was not technically that talented. Well, aside from Malk’s songwriting. Eventually, his overall musicianship surpassed those of his band mates, the band was unceremoniously dumped, and the Jicks were born.

The Jicks have been for the most part hired guns. Granted, they’re hired to help write and record and really be a part of the band, but they’re often still involved with their own projects. Also, in contrast to the ambiguity that was Pavement’s structure in the early days, there is no doubt from the beginning whose band this is. Still, SM finally has a group of musicians that can match his vision. Long gone are the days of Malk taking over the drum kit to show Westy how his part should be played. The parts of the Jicks make a pretty formidable band of professional musicians who can make whatever is going on in Stephen Malkmus’ brain a reality.

What also has changed is the necessity for Malk to fill holes all on his own. With Pavement (and to some extent early on in the Jicks era), SM would deliver his lyrics with a jazz musician’s impulsive stroke. He would bend and contort his words to fill space and make an otherwise forgettable sequence memorable. One has to assume that he also dumbed down  song structures to better match the band’s capabilities. This second point is hard to detect, but after watching Malk’s songcraft development over the last few Jicks albums, it’s hard to make an argument that Pavement was a better band of musicians.

Never had I fully realized how much further ahead Malkmus was from his band mates in Pavement until I saw them reunite last summer. During guitar solos, bridges, and moments of improvisation, Malk was lazily tearing away at his guitar, almost playing around. His playing was effortless and extremely tight. The gap between Stephen Mallmus and Pavement had grown over the decade. I always thought the gap was there, but it was way more apparent last summer.

I don’t mean to pick on Pavement. They are still my favorite band who produced my favorite records and some of the more memorable moments I’ve seen on a live stage. They hold a special place in my heart and will never be replaced. Of course, I sometimes wonder how much of that was Stephen Malkmus and how much was the entire band. I suspect a little bit of both. I also think it worked really well for a decade and went as far as it was meant to go before it ended.

In the meantime, Stephen Malkmus continued to grow past Pavement. His self-titled debut was just the next record. However, he was now writing for people who would be able to play what he wrote. The record is loaded with hits, but it never truly received the attention it deserved commercially. The break from Pavement continued as Malk became more comfortable with his somewhat regular/irregular lineup and produced Pig Lib, an album that nearly sounded identical to an SM & the Jicks live show rather than a studio album consisting of mostly Stephen Malkmus and the jicks (lower-case j).

Face the Truth sounded like the next Pavement album, building off Terror Twilight‘s ominous laziness. However, as suggested above, the band was much more capable in carrying out Malk’s song ideas and the album quickly takes you beyond Pavement. Then, Face the Truth explores Malk’s bluesier side as his guitar heroism grew by leaps and bounds. It’s as if the time he spent playing with capable musicians finally allowed him to just play and explore. With Pavement, he often started the songs and the rest of the band received their cues from him. The Jicks are self-sufficient and don’t need the same amount of direction. This has allowed Malk to just play and even sing it straight.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks finally felt like a realized entity once Real Emotional Trash hit the market. Pseudo-blues and jazz jams from their live show combined with Malk’s lyrical wit made this a highlight in 2008. Songs meandered. Shit got weird, but it felt like this new band was fully realized and ready for something more.*

All of this comes together in the form of the excellently produced, written, and executed  Mirror Traffic.

Loopy “Tigers” opens with a sing-along rock edge that hints at the seventies-esque production that continues. The second track, “No One (Is As I Are Be)”, is your lazy Sunday, AM radio piece of gold soundz that even brings the French horn and piano to the party.

“Senator” is your customary third track that doubles as the album’s single. For my money, this is the most complete, best Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks song ever. Malk’s bizarre lyrical content, topical-ish subject matter, and cool delivery is matched by a rather rocking track that hits epic proportions without trying too hard. If it were not for all that blow job business, this would be the late summer’s college dorm , radio hit.

“Brain Gallop” takes things back down a notch with an easy, breezy tone that brings forward more of that subtle seventies production value. In case you hadn’t heard, Beck Hansen produced this album. Channeling the ghosts of John Lennon and Harry Nilsson and whatever rock/pop rockers he’s been listening to, Beck subtly adds nuance that was missing from previous Jicks records. He doesn’t do much. There’s reverb here. Echoes there. More organ over there. It’s a masterful work, really. It’s as if he was there but wasn’t really there.

Side 2 kicks off with “Jumblegloss” which recalls some spacier, janglier moments in the Pavement discography, but just intro’s the second half of the first disc. This cut-off works well to set the table for “Asking Price”, a Pavement-esqe mid-tempo, quiet track that tempts chaos without every really losing structure. Again, the careful playing of the Jicks backs SM’s signature lyrical delivery without him having to fill the holes with bends and turns.

“Stick Figures In Love” is a fun song a la SM’s debut. Plenty of seventies’ jangle and guitar heroism carries the track. It moves and causes toe-tapping one can’t help. Malk’s voice is almost too quiet, but you can make it out, suggesting a near-perfect mix and setting up the moment Malk hollers and echoes the song’s climax. The writing is almost Shins-like, something I’d rarely suspect from a Malkmus-penned song. Additionally, I love the groove coming through Joanna Bolme’s bass. It moves me.

“Spazz” reminds me a ton of earlier Pavement songs that fused punk, jazz, jangle, and the weird. Its herky-jerky movement is only accentuated by Beck’s expert dial-work and the Jicks’ collective musicianship. “Long Hard Book” is the (almost) country track a la “Heaven Is a Truck” or “Father to a Sister of Thought.” “Share The Red” closes the first disc with a steady ballad, Malk-style and lovely and comes to some parental truths and the rare moment of perceived emotion.

“Tune Grief” is the glam rocker to kick off what is a jam-packed side 3. (There is no side 4, just a bizarre etching. I suspect Malk’s kids were messing around with his records.) Malkmus makes a case for himself to play the lead in the sequel to the Velvet Goldmine that should never happen.

“Forever 28” is this record’s “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” without all the Volvos, toe rings, and discarded guitars.  The following track “All Over Gently” moves and grooves as only seventies pseudo-blues rock often tried to do while maintaining something more upbeat and relatively poppy. I could totally imagine Malk doing this song on an early episode of The Muppet Show with Gonzo doing something indescribable to his harem of chickens backstage.

“Fall Away” is as soft and pretty a Stephen Malkmus song you’ll find. Even so, it contains a bit of urgency wanting to break out that never quite arrives. “Gorgeous Georgie” closes things out Mirror Traffic with a shaky bit of finality and even a touch of the storytelling that’s become ever-present in Malk songs, post-Pavement. The song does what a good closer should do and just makes the listener want to hear more. So, you remove the record and return side 1 to the turntable.

As I’ve mentioned before, Beck’s fingerprints are all over this record, but you’ll need Vince Masuka to find them. The mixing is expertly done. The production takes nothing from Stephen Malkmus’ aesthetic. If anything, it supplements it well, even pushing it to some modest heights.

As for the Jicks, they are as professional as tight a band as you’ll find. Other than Malk and the already mentioned Bolme, keyboardist Mike Clark and drummer Janet Weiss (now moved on to Wild Flag, FTW!) round up what is a great, great band. Clark took subtlety classes from Beck and augments what would have been excellent songs anyway. Janet Weiss proves once again that she’s one of the best drummers alive. The woman just knows how to treat her skins.

There have been times I’ve been down on Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. I just wanted them to be another Pavement, but they are obviously not. And after revisiting Malk’s entire discography and spending a lot of time with Mirror Traffic over the last week, I am really getting to like what Malk’s done since 2k started. Now, he’s equaled the number of Pavement records he recorded and doesn’t show signs of stopping. What also won’t stop is his growth and I can’t wait to see how big he grows.

*Somehow, I forgot to write up Real Emotional Trash. I’m not sure how as the title track runs through my head all the time. Still, hat tip to Justin for pointing out my transgression.

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Gentleman Dabbler

Posted in Intersections, Manifesto by SM on July 25, 2011

In the August Spin[1], Stephen Malkmus shows off his living room. At some point, he describes his record collection…

I have all kinds of weird records that I could talk about – not as many as deep collectors, but as a gentleman dabbler, I have some stuff.

The part of that quote that caught my attention was the term “gentleman dabbler,” a term that seems to refer to someone who is experienced and knowledgeable on a particular topic but not as much as the “experts” of said topic. A gentleman dabbler has a nice collection with some unique pieces. His knowledge is vast enough to know what’s good and what isn’t, but it – like his collection is not comprehensive.

Take Malk’s record collection. It would be hard to believe that someone who has been in the business as long as Stephen Malkmus has doesn’t know a thing or two about records. However, he openly admits that he’s no completest record snob. Unlike Thurston Moore[2], Malk can openly admit that he doesn’t own every record.

It is tough to admit that one doesn’t own every essential record or hasn’t tried every beer when others look toward someone for blanket consciousness. Let’s imagine that someone publishes a blog on a subject…or two. Should he be required to know everything about those subjects? I don’t think so. It’s not possible.

The gentleman dabbler allows for holes in knowledge base or collections. These holes allow for learning and discussion. I feel as though I am a gentleman dabbler. No one comes to this blog for research purposes or expertise[3]. They come here for entertainment and discussion. If you want expertise, you’ll look elsewhere.

That said, I struggle to fit into the beer blogosphere. Anyone can write a music blog. We give our opinions with varying degrees of knowledge. On beer blogs, a certain amount of expertise is expected. This is troubling as I get a lot more attention for my beer posts than I do for music. Luckily, most people have been kind.

So, keep in mind that this blog is for the gentleman dabbler. I dabble in indie rock. I dabble in craft beer and home brewing. This is not a place for expertise. This is a place for discussion and entertainment. Thanks for dabbling with me. There’s more to come…

Notes:
1Yes, I read an issue of Spin. I had to fly this past weekend and left my book at home. This was the best choice on the airport magazine rack. Spin is my generation’s Rolling Stone. That should tell you all you need to know.
2The scope of Moore’s collection is legendary. He only keeps a small portion in his apartment, but there is a storage space somewhere that would be every indie geek’s wet dream.
2Well, except for poorly written SPAMbot messages I get from time to time. Something like: “I so hapy I find you blog. It will help with a reserch project I must compete. Keep up the good wok!”