Beer and Pavement

The Publishing Bug

Posted in Intersections, Life, Pavement, Records by SM on February 1, 2012

I’ve come to the realize that all I’ve ever wanted to do was write. There’s some regret that I didn’t use my college years to develop my writing more than I did. Instead, I decided teaching children was a better use of my skills. Boy, was I wrong.

Blogging has only been a hobby of mine for the past five years. Aside from a few posts picked up by the local paper, I’ve generally only seen my words in digital ink and not the soy variety. However, this is the closest I’ve come to both developing my writing and actually publishing what I wrote.

That’s about to change. As some of my regular readers are aware, I’ve often contemplated turning what I do here into a book of some sort. Obviously, these posts are a long, long way from being published, but the growth I’ve seen in my writing has me thinking that I could do this with some polish here and there. Plus, I am never short on ideas. Yeah, I go weeks with barely anything to say, but I’ve maintained several blogs at once over the years, sometimes able to post on a daily basis. Although I lack polish, I more than make up for it with ideas. I’m like the Bob Pollard of blogging. Sort of.

Although, I have been talking about writing for a while, I really got serious a couple of weeks ago while having beers with a friend. He’s “dabbled” in publishing and suggested that I should just start contributing articles or reviews to magazines. I don’t know whether he was a little drunk, actually enjoys what I have to say, or was seducing me, it made me realize how easy it would be to submit writing to a publication. Actually getting published might be another story, but the idea was to put something out there, to at least try.

So, I started considering publications to approach. I know a guy who wrote every-other record review for the year-end issue of Magnet. (Yes, they’re publishing Magnet again.) He’s an excellent writer, but he seems to appreciate some of my ideas now and again. It make me feel as if I could do what he does, or at least a fraction of it. It may be time to write a record review for submission beyond this blog.

Then, I flipped through to the last page of the March issue of All About Beer. The magazine closes with a feature called “It’s My Round” where people briefly tell their beer-related stories. This particular piece was written by a daddy blogger about his first sips of beer and how he wants to wait to share beer with his son. I could have written those words, but I didn’t. Then, I saw a note at the bottom explaining how to inquire about submissions. That was the opening I needed. I’ll write about beer and Pavement in a beer magazine. It might not get printed, but at least I’ll be able to say I tried.

Finally, the other night, semi-frequent commenter Holly sent me a link to a call for submissions. The venerable 33 1/3 series which features short book on some seminal albums is asking for submissions for new projects. The books are simply memoirs about some of the greatest albums of the last 30 or so years. Some editions just tell the story of the recording of said albums. Others tell a band’s story, focusing mostly on one moment in their history. Still, others tell the story of the listener’s relationship to the album. Whatever, I decide to do, this is a project I must try!

I had to drive for 90 minutes after learning of the call. So, I had time to think. My mind raced from album to album, trying to pinpoint the album most deserving of a 33 1/3 edition. I then had to consider my angle as the call implied that unique stories would receive preferential treatment. Maybe I could write about an album in relation to the rise of craft beer. Maybe there’s an angle I could consider that I’ve already explored on this site. Maybe I have a perspective no one else has…

So, I came up with a list of possible proposals for the series, but the publishers will only accept one. Feel free to submit your own, but all I ask is that you don’t steal any of my worthy ideas (if there are any). Tell me which I should pursue in the comments. I have an idea which one will stand the best chance of being accepted and actually completed, but I want to see what you all think. I also welcome any ideas you may have for me that I’m completely missing.

Terror Twilight – Pavement
This isn’t even my favorite Pavement record, but I feel there’s a story that hasn’t been told. For those who aren’t aware, this was Pavement’s last record. Between my experiences throughout the nineties with the band, my attendance at their final North American show (the first time around), my attendance at two of their reunion shows in 2010, and the stories swirling around their inevitable breakup during the recording of Terror Twilight, I think there is easily an entire book to write.

The Body, the Blood, the Machine – The Thermals
This album carried me through a tough time in my life and is just so ridiculously good. I thought that I might connect it to the rise of craft beer in Portland (or the rise of Portlandia in general). Plus, I have established a rapport with head Thermal Hutch Harris. Still, it might be a stretch to make the connections I’m trying to do here. That, and I’ve never been to Portland. I also considered albums by Cursive and Spoon during their brief sojourns to Portland or the transplanted albums by The Shins or Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.

Number Seven Uptown – Swearing at Motorists
I always felt that this album just sounded like growing up in Ohio. Dave Dougman has an interesting story cutting his teeth in Dayton, before heading to Philly and eventually Berlin. He also seems really approachable. However, I don’t know that this album is known well enough for it to garner its own spot in the series. It’s certainly seminal to my experiences, but that might not be enough for 33 1/3. Other possibilities could include a Guided By Voices album not yet featured (Alien Lanes?), The Amps’ record, or Brainiac’s Hissing Prigs in Static Couture.

Other records I would consider but would probably just research the band, possibly leaving out my own experiences…

Perfect from Now On by Built to Spill
The Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse
Come On Feel the Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens
Any album by Archers of Loaf
Funeral by Arcade Fire (Seriously, no one has written this book yet.)

Please come correct with your suggestions or your take on what I’ve cooked up here. Particularly, I’d love to hear the perspective of my beer enthusiast readers who know of a beer/music connection I must explore.

My “Interview” with The Thermals

Posted in Live by SM on May 30, 2011

As mentioned before, I have a little side project over at The CoMo Collective where I cover the local music scene. I’ve tried my best to parlay that into opportunities to interview national acts. So far, I received a half-hearted reply from The Walkmen and no answer from The New Pornographers and Yo La Tengo. I won’t quit as the follow interview (done over email) demonstrates just how fun this little gig can be. Hutch Harris was super cool in taking time from his busy touring schedule to not only answer my lame questions, but he also responded to the follow-ups. I just wish I was in town to see them play…

Which brings me to the next topic. For the first two weeks of June, I will be in Spain. I’m not taking a computer. So, the posting around these parts should be scarce. I’ll try to update when possible, but I’m not promising anything. In the meantime, search through my archives. I’m sure there’s something embarrassing there you can call me out on.

Poster by Justin Nardy

The Thermals are touring and said tour makes a stop at Mojo’s this Wednesday. The tour is in support of the threesome’s latest release, last year’s Personal Life, the rare punk rock record about relationships. While the band has taken a bit of a break from the somewhat political messages typically associated with their previous work, fans are still sure to find vintage Thermals pop-punk that will induce pogoing for an entire hour-long set.

Recently, The Thermals’ Hutch Harris and I sat down (in front of our laptops) and chatted (via email) about touring, records, and dating. Take a moment and read what he had to say about these topics. Then, be sure to catch The Thermals Wednesday at Mojo’s.

TCC: For people with non-rock ‘n roll jobs, we often have to explain what we do for a living in a short, concise manner. I call this the “elevator talk.” You have to explain what it is you do in the time it takes for the elevator to reach your floor. So, how would The Thermals’ elevator talk go?

HH: we play in a rock band for a living. we make money playing shows and putting out records. (now we’ll just stand here in silence uncomfortably until we reach our floor.)

TCC: The Thermals hail from Portland. What’s that like? Do you bump into indie rock royalty (other than yourselves) every time you go to the grocery store or library? Does every Portlandian survive on craft beer-only diets?

HH: portland is the best. we’ve lived here for thirteen years now. yes, indie-rock royalty is everywhere. but you won’t find them at the library because it’s not cool. and yes, we survive on craft beer, as long as it’s organic and gluten-free. which isn’t cool either.

TCC: Is someone in the band gluten intolerant? That sucks. How do you make that work on the road?

HH: no, none of us are gluten-free. it’s just very popular in portland.

TCC: Speaking of Portland, have you seen *Portlandia*? What do you think of it?

HH: of course we’ve seen it. we played the premiere in NYC, it was awesome! we love the show – fred and carrie are both friends of ours, we’ve done a lot of shows with both of them over the years.

TCC: 2006’s The Body, the Blood, the Machine was a breakthrough for the band in a lot of ways. It received a fair amount of critical acclaim and was a pretty charged political statement in some uncertain times. How did that record and the response it received from critics and fans change or support how you felt about this band? Can you see another political album like The Body… in the band’s future?

HH: TBTBTM was the first record that kathy and i made just the two of us. we were very proud of it but had no idea what people would think of it. the response it received was amazing! it was great that so many people understood what i was trying to say, and responded so positively. that’s really the most you can hope for as an artist. most records we’ve made have been political in one way or another. i’m not sure we’ll ever make a record quite like TBTBTM. But we may try.

TCC: With the follow-up to The Body…, Now We Can See demonstrates a newfound maturity, an ability to see more clearly. From where did that perceived maturity come? Was it just a case of not wanting to do the same album over? Did anything really change? Was it related to your move from Sub Pop in any way?

HH: we are getting older and wiser, we can’t help it! we definitely did not want to make the same record twice. we wanted to make a record with no religion or politics, although both subjects did manage to sneak in there. it was totally unrelated to the label change.

TCC: Personal Life is your relationship record. (I know this because Pitchfork told me so.) What brought that on? Was there intent to make a record about love and love lost?

HH: every time i sit down to start lyrics for a record, i try not to have a theme in mind. i like to just start and see what comes out. although i did want to make a record that was more simple and down to earth than the last few records we had made.

TCC: The last time you played Columbia, Mojo’s was about half empty despite all the critical acclaim and media attention the band was getting at the time. Is it hard to get up to play for a crummy turnout on a weeknight in a midwestern town (although, I danced my ass off that night) or is it invigorating to play in such an intimate setting?

HH: i’m most concerned about how well we play. if we put on a good show, i’m satisfied. it doesn’t bother us so much if the turnout is small. although that hasn’t been a problem for a long time.

TCC: Do you remember where you ate last time in Columbia? Any other fond memories of Columbia?

HH: um, indian food i think? was this the show where we supported mates of state? you’ll have to remind me.

TCC: First, I apologize if you ate at India’s House. No one should ever have to eat there. No, you were the headliner that night. It was in Mojo’s, a weeknight, I believe. I actually almost approached you all, but you looked like you were on your way out, possibly to eat. So, I chatted up the girl selling your merch. She was studying for the GRE. Either way, your answer suggests that the stop in Columbia wasn’t all that memorable, but that’s understandable. What do you find to be the most challenging to stops in small, midwestern towns? Or is it a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city?

HH: oh yeah it was 2007. it’s coming back now. we play hundreds of shows each year so it gets hard to remember! any town can be fun, as long as the vibe is good and the people are friendly. there are few towns in the US we don’t like.

TCC: What’s next for The Thermals?

HH: we are supporting matt and kim for six weeks in june and july, then heading back to europe (we are touring here now) in august for festivals.

TCC: Finally, in reference to my earlier question concerning Personal Life‘s status as a relationship album, would you fill out the following (theoretical) dating site profile for The Thermals?

  • Relationship Status: Looking for… HOTT men and women.
  • Kids? we promise we will try to not knock you up.
  • Religious Views: nope.
  • Political Views: pro-fascism, as long as it’s done right.
  • Tattoos and/or Piercings: no cherries or birds please.
  • What do you like to do for fun? fuck you all night.
  • What would be your ideal date? yr bed.
  • If you were an animal, what would you be? kesha.

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but that was hot. So hot that I expect you to make it out to Mojo’s this Wednesday for The Thermals set. The openers are Morning Teleportation. Doors open at 8:00 and it’ll cost you twelve bucks to get in.

Three Records Reviewed

Posted in Records by SM on October 7, 2010

The Thermals recorded a record about relationships. There. I said it. And you know what? This record isn’t as bad as that might sound.

Personal Life is a record that lies closer to Guided By Voices[1]
and Weezer than it is to Billy Bragg or Fugazi. Sure, there’s politic in the personal, but this record deals with relationships in a real way, a way we can all relate. Melodrama is left behind as real emotion comes through in what must be the most mid-tempo record The Thermals have ever set to tape. It’s not completely poppy, but it’s approaching a pop sensibility not normally associated with a KRS act. Still, I like it. It’s relationship music at its finest. I’m a sucker for this and The Thermals did it right.

The biggest difference in this album and previous Thermals records is the aesthetic. Nothing creates more criticism or praise for an album than aesthetic. Which is too bad as the songwriting and musicianship usually remains relatively the same or improves over time. In The Thermals’ case, it’s a cleaner, ready-for-radio sound that mirrors a Weezer or a Ocasek-era GBV[2]. Still, Kathy Foster’s heavy bass lines are more in-front than I’ve ever noticed. All this is good in a lofi era that prefers more bedroom and less digital. The key is that The Thermals did not tweak their aesthetic too much. Personal Life is still unmistakably a Thermals’record. The production and new themes demonstrate a band who knows what they are and are simply growing. I mean, you can’t play punk rock forever, can you Billie Joe[3]?

In much the same way The Thermals have slightly altered their aesthetic, The Walkmen continue to play with their own aesthetic that won them a Saturn commercial and our collective indie rock hearts so long ago. Lisbon is yet another boozy, late-summer gem[4] that not only furthers The Walkmen mystique but also plays with the formula a bit.

I’m a huge fan of The Walkmen. I’ve made no secret of this fact. They play a post-punk soul like no one since The Afghan Whigs fucked it up back in the mid-nineties[5]. The Walkmen have a recipe that works. They look good. They keep it simple. And they just put out good records.

Lisbon starts off a bit slow, but upon repeated listen, opening track “Juveniles” grows on the listener with nuance and feeling. This is how the rest of the record rolls. The band knows how to use their retro sound and sparse production to create one of the most engaging and sonic aesthetics in music. No one makes records like these. Soul, punk, sonics, feedback, nods to the past, booze, soft-loud dynamics, etc. This just works every time.

Most interesting in the transformation of The Walkmen sound is Hamilton Leithauser’s voice. It’s actually improved. I’m sure it’s from tour after tour of screaming himself hoarse every night or not. And the development feels authentic. This is not a classically trained singer by any means. I always appreciated his imperfections, but the steady improvement of his vocals are noticeable and welcomed.

This post is heavy on aesthetic. All three albums I’m reviewing here represent my tastes as far as aesthetics are concerned[6]. The Thermals represent a youthful punk exuberance. The Walkmen channel ghosts of rock n roll past as played over a sonic wall few can achieve. All three take advantage of some level of lofi, feedback heavy aesthetic, but Deerhunter comes to this most purposefully. Few bands represent the current trend in indie aesthetic more than Deerhunter. This is not to downgrade their material, it’s just how they represent on a superficial level. Of course, their music is anything but superficial or merely for aesthetics alone. This is just how they sound on first listen, without much investigation.

First, Halcyon Digest will never be confused for Microcastle. Or any other heavy-handed previous Deerhunter release[7]. Still, somehow, the band maintains its aesthetic of guitar jangle, muffled bedroom vocals, noise, malleable lyrics, etc. Aesthetic preserved.

Halcyon Digest is not at all what I expected, but it works for the most part. It’s loopy, laid back, and sloppy. There’s plenty of angst in the lyrics. It’s compact and whatever the opposite of sprawling is. It’s a ghost of an album and sometimes that’s all you need. The quieter moments in this record are the strongest and most satisfying for sure[8].

That said, I am having trouble finding some cohesion[9] in this record. At times, it challenges, then it invites air time on your favorite Clear Channel alt radio station. It lulls you to sleep and jerks you awake. I’d say the sequence is uneven, but I can’t figure out where…

OK. I’m nit-picking. There isn’t much wrong with Halcyon Digest, but I am having trouble grasping its brilliance and its folly. The trouble with this indecision is that I don’t think it’s a grower. Some albums tell you that over the course of the first three or so listens. This one doesn’t indicate to me that it will grow on me, but I don’t know that it’s supposed to.

Whatever. Deerhunter still records a better record than 99.9% of the bands earning 9+ on P4k. That should be worth something, maybe a little faith in their recipe. Like I said, at least the aesthetics are there[10].

So, there’s the three record reviews promised in the title. It’s as schizophrenic a post as I’ve done in a while, but the important thing to remember is that aesthetic tells us as much about the music we love as almost anything else. All three records present a different aesthetic, but all are worth your time and hard-earned dollars.

Please comment and make sense of what I just told you.

1More Tobin Sprout than Bob Pollard.
2Blinkerton Weezer. Also, Ocasek-era GBV is not the best era and did not involve Tobin Sprout. Yes, I contradict myself.
3Seriously, Billie Joe, hang it up.
4Although Lisbon and You & Me are the only two that have actually been released at the end of the summer, all their records sound that way.
5Seriously. The Afghan Whigs had something going with Gentlemen and even Black Love (to a lesser extent) until they sort of forgot what they were doing. Kids today don’t realize how good that band was.
6This post also represents my tendency to being repetitive. Repeatedly. Again.
7Honestly, I’m not that familiar with Deerhunter’s discography. I’m going by what I’ve heard and read.
8The sonic levels reached are quite enjoyable as well, but they don’t reach as high as the last time out.
9This is the point where this post loses its own cohesion.
10What a copout.