Beer and Pavement

Just Outside the Top 10 of 2011 (Albums)

Posted in Records by SM on December 13, 2011

Coming up with one’s ten best albums of the year is tough. I’ve done more than that, but narrowing a list to ten is a much more difficult task than simply naming all the albums you bought in a year. Also, I have the terrible habit of proclaiming albums to be the year’s best long before I should. Then, there are all the albums that simply have not been given the time they deserve.

That said, I have narrowed my list to nine. All I need is one more, but the list that follows is what I have left to consider. Sure, I might miss a few when it’s all said and done, but these are albums I’m still considering for one spot. Feel free to comment on what’s here and what isn’t. Keep in mind that I already chose nine to make the final cut. I just need one more…

The Albums I Haven’t Listened to Enough Even Though I’ve Had Them for Awhile: So, I’ve had some of these records almost since they were first released this year, but for whatever reason, I just haven’t had time to give them a proper listen. All of the albums in this group deserve serious consideration as I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks trying to get reacquainted.

Okkervil River – I Am Very Far
As I was considering my favorite tracks of the year, I rediscovered “Wake and Be Fine” on another list of top songs. It made me want to rediscover this album just to make sure I didn’t overlook it. I had. While the narratives and poetic flourishes Will Sheff normally demonstrates in his songwriting is somewhat subdued in order to make room for more hooks, the production and instrumental dynamics more than make up for it.

Joan of Arc – Life Like
Honestly, I could write something up that just tells you all I know and/or think about previous JoA records prior to this one and it might be somehow accurate in describing this record. However, I won’t tell you anything. Just know that it’s long overdue a sit-and-git. Maybe I’ll pour a beer also deserving my attention. Either way, I remember loving portions of it, but I never listened to it and it landed on the island of forgotten LP’s.

BOAT – Dress Like Your Idols
The poor man’s Yuck, possibly, deserves more listens. I’ve actually been playing the shit out of it lately, giving it a hard look for the final slot in my list. It’s loaded with all kinds of nods to my heroes and theirs (apparently). The aesthetic reminds me tons of the sort of nineties retro indie that The Soft Pack and Surfer Blood play. It’s good stuff but nothing earth-shattering.

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
What a massively great album this is. Why isn’t it in my top-10 already? I really haven’t listened to it enough to make that decision. Maybe I’d hear that one bit that put it over the edge or make it unworthy of top-10 status. I don’t know. I blame the fact that Sub Pop’s digital download system didn’t work and I never bothered to follow up.

Low – C’mon
I loved this album a lot from the beginning, but I worried that I wasn’t giving it enough distance. Then, I gave it too much distance and nearly forgot. It seemed too perfect of an album to be Low’s and maybe I was missing something. That’s not saying Low doesn’t make great albums. I’m just surprised a Low album could contain so many memorable songs. Albums are their thing, not singles.

The Albums that I, for Whatever Reason, Did Not Purchase This Year: I know these bands are good. I’ve read and heard enough to know that these albums should be considered. Why I still haven’t purchased them is unknown to me. Luckily, there’s Spotify. I’ve been trying to catch up on some material I missed over the year. More than likely, I will own all of these albums by February. Still, they sit collectively just outside my top-10.

War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
I don’t know how one determines Spotify statistics, but I’m sure I’ve played this album more than all others over the past month while at my computer. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy this album, nor did I go see them when they came to town. It makes no sense and this record is pretty good.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
See above, aside from the not seeing him even though he was in town, because he was not in town this year. I loved his set at Pitchfork last year and loved whichever record I do own. The crime of not owning this record will be rectified soon enough.

Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
I own the other two Moore solo efforts plus a handful of weird records he’s done over the years. I have been loving anything Beck produces as of late – maybe my producer of the year. I am a Sonic Youth fan of like 20 years. So, why don’t I own this record? I have no idea. Now, I’m seeing it pop up on lists and I’m wondering what I’ve missed. Better give it another listen on Spotify.

I Saw These Guys and Was Impressed, So Their Albums Deserve Another Look: The following two acts were among those I saw play live. Somehow, I don’t own either album they were supporting. Upon considering the shows I’ve seen this year, that was an egregious oversight on my part. I’ll rectify it at least by giving them props where props is due.

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
I made sure to see Callahan while in DC earlier this year, but I didn’t buy the record. Even his track “America” made my top tracks list. It’s a crime that I don’t yet own this record.

Jay-Z/Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Going to see Jay-Z and Kanye West forced me to play this album a ton on Spotify as a way to prep myself. Typically, I don’t like hip-hop records because they are single-heavy and loaded with filler. This album was different as it was complete from beginning to end. So, it deserves some consideration.

The Bands I’m Just Not Sure About at this Juncture: For various reasons, a few bands fell into this category. Some I loved right away, but I don’t know that it’s a long-lasting love, like for life kind of love. These albums still deserve some consideration, though.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
At one point, I was ready to name this “album of the year”, but something made me reconsider. It may have been seeing so many bros in the Fleet Foxes camp or my general distaste for hippies. I don’t know. It’s still very, very good. I’m just not ready to commit to including it in the top-10, yet.

Beirut – The Rip Tide
This might be the most complete and realized album of Beirut’s string of excellent albums, but I don’t know that it qualifies this year. In year’s past when I’ve had a hard time thinking of ten albums I like, it would have held down a seven spot. However, I have found an embarrassment of riches in this year’s crop. Beirut’s record is good, but it might not be top-10 good.

Destroyer – Kaputt
This was another album I was ready to crown early in the year, but it seems its eighties aesthetic finally rubbed me the wrong way. Bejar writes a pretty awesome song and somehow harnessed bad Casios to sound cool and even contemporary, but I lost my patience for this record over time. Then, I saw it make a few lists of people I respect, causing me to pause for a moment. Should I reconsider Kaputt?

WU LYF – Go Tell Fire to the Mountain
This album popped up on my radar since its June release or sometime shortly before that thanks in large part to their underground marketing schemes online. It’s big, epic, and incoherent in ways I’ve never heard before. That usually means that it goes directly to my top-10 list, but this year’s list is loaded and I only just laid my hands on this record, maybe six months after its release. So, it may still take time to decide on this one.

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
Bright Eyes has gone down hill, but this album grew on me for a while, especially after seeing the band on its final trip across the country. Also, it’s been receiving some recognition, making me think that I need to revisit. Of all these records, it may have the longest shot, but it’s still a worthwhile album.

Albums by Locals That Were Really Good and Maybe Could Use a Bump from the Coalition: I don’t often hear local releases that

Ptarmigan – The Forest Darling
I said it back in May and I’ll say it again, Ptarmigan put out a great record that stands out locally or beyond. Read what I thought here and I’ll let that stand on its own.

Dubb Nubb – Sunrise Sleepeyed
It’s hard to believe sometimes that Dubb Nubb are so young as their songs demonstrate a wisdom well beyond their years. On top of that, they have an infectious sound that’s hard not to notice. I’m looking forward to seeing them play again at True/False in 2012.

Jerusalem & the Starbaskets – Dost
Dost is getting some good press and deservedly so. Lo-fi and blues revivalism with a touch of country seem to be coming along at just the right time. The band is touring extensively, but I have to believe that their one big opening gig from breaking. People eat this shit up. I do.

That’s not even the final list. As mentioned before, I have nine other albums I love more than these, but I felt they all deserved some mention and the benefit of 100 page views. Which one would you pick to add to my top-10? Did any of these make your list? Comment freely. My top-10 will hit eventually. There will probably be something similar for beer as well.

The Oxford Companion to Beer Controversy and What it Means to the Rest of Us

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Six Degrees of Thurston Moore by SM on November 5, 2011

I’ve been watching the debate over the Oxford Companion to Beer from a distance. It seems that the largest single document of beer history and general information is wrought with errors. Some are historical inaccuracies while others are simply internal errors that should have been avoided. The book was heralded as major achievement in beer scholarship before it was released. Now, it’s being ridiculed all over the beer blogosphere.

There are a few places one can look for clarification, if you’re interested. Stan at Appellation Beer has started some interesting conversations on the topic, as usual. The resulting comments to Stan’s posts are always insightful. He has a knack of attracting such discourse. A new favorite of mine is Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile where some of the controversy has originated. (FWIW, Zythophile is an impressive blog documenting beer’s history in great detail by Cornell, a well-respected and accomplished beer historian/expert.)  However, the place to go for OCB controversy headquarters is this wiki. That’s where you’ll find every mistake as it’s revealed in addition to a rebuttal from author/editor Garrett Oliver and links to most of the important criticisms.

Regardless, it’s a hot topic throughout the beer community. (That’s right, I wrote “community.”) I’ve attempted to question the critiques and have been largely shot down as my enjoyment of beer is not nearly as dependant on beer’s history as it is for others. That’s fine. Beer history isn’t for everyone. Still, my main point is to not throw out the baby with the bath water. The OCB is an achievement with or without historical and editorial errors. Apparently, the technical articles (~400 pages worth) are impressive enough to warrant a read. Others disagree.

I’m not nearly as passionate about the history of beer as some seem to be. So, I had to think of something where the history does matter to me. To some degree, that would be indie rock. How would I feel if the Oxford Companion to Indie Rock was filled with historical inaccuracy and lazy editorial work?

Luckily, Michael Azerrad already took a stab at this with his seminal work Our Band Could Be Your Life. Granted, Azerrad only covered the independent years of thirteen bands, but they were probably the most important bands to indie’s history. As far as I can tell, his book contains no significant errors. I’ve read a ton about all of these bands (some of them whole books of their own) and I never noticed a problem. I guess that’s what the beer historian community wants as well. I get that.

Another book I’d add to the OCIR would be John Sellers’ excellent Perfect from Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life. This book’s detailed history of indie rock is told only from the perspective of the author. However, it covers a wider range of bands and sets a timeline for indie’s trajectory, culminating with some fantastic stories about Guided By Voices. Sure, it’s a memoir, but it’s an essential read for understanding indie rock.

Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery fame as well as the author of several great beer books of his own was the editor for OCB. The indie rock equivalent has to be Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. Moore has not only lived most of indie rock’s history, he’s curated it in one way or another, hence the six degrees of Thurston Moore. Accuracy would be assured with Moore at the helm.

When I consider the above books and Moore, I cannot fathom errors such as the ones people are finding in the OCB. If an OCIR revealed as many errors that I could identify, I’d be highly disappointed. I don’t know that I’d be angry, but I could imagine Chuck Klosterman being upset for being left out and not able to help fix rather avoidable problems. So, this helps me see the critics side of things.

All that said, I will wait for the second edition of the Oxford Companion to Beer as long as Oliver and his contributors take each criticism and error seriously. You all should probably do the same as it’s an expensive book. Otherwise, little will change, leaving us with a frustratingly flawed book. In the meantime, I’ll stay out of the debate (aside from this one post) and consider some other books in the meantime. Retromania anyone?