Beer and Pavement

Best Records of 2012

Posted in Records, Review by SM on December 30, 2012

Here are ten of the best records I heard this year, in no particular order[1]

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Man, I loved last year’s Wye Oak album and needed more this year. Luckily, Sharon Van Etten came through this year. Similarly to Wye Oak, Van Etten seemed to come from nowhere[2] to unleash a haunting rock record that grips you from start to finish. It didn’t hurt that half of Brooklyn collaborated it behind the scenes or in the margins to help Van Etten deliver a punch to the gut. Still, it’s defining moment for a musician I hope to hear more from in the coming years.

The Walkmen – Heaven
Nothing new here. The Walkmen release a record and I love it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that their records are always this good. Somehow a band known for songs about going out and drinking have eventually written one of the best albums about adulthood, having children and all that. There’s a simplicity to The Walkmen formula that allows them to adjust to their current living conditions. These are just working stiffs trying to put some food on the table and clothes on the backs of their children. I can get behind that.

Titus Andronicus – Local Business
I’m not gonna lie. I really didn’t care for this record upon the first listen. I was having buyer’s remorse as I listened to it stream on Spotify, knowing that the new local record shop was holding a copy for me. Then, I gave it another try as the record popped up on several year-end lists. It’s really a fantastic record as Titus Andronicus does what every New Jersey band does eventually: they all turn into Bruce Springsteen. There’s nothing wrong with this of course. It’s just a fact.

Cat Power – Sun
Yes, this has been a shitty year for Chan Marshall. However, that may mean she’ll have to put out more records and tour whenever she can scrounge up the dough and good health to hit the road. Cat Power has evolved from record to record. Now, after some faux-bravado, one gets the sense that Marshall is becoming comfortable with her station in life, embracing her demons, health issues, and apparent financial stresses in making what is maybe her most honest record in years[3].

Believers – Believers EP
Someone will surely give me a hard time for praising Believers again, but the praise is legit. Although this EP feels somewhat incomplete[4], it brings with it the promise of great things to come. I fully suspect several of these tracks will reappear – possibly re-recorded/remastered – on an LP via some high-profile indie label.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Honestly, this would be my record of the year. It’s a bit more uneven than 2009’s Post-Nothing but it still contains that raw energy that only Japandroids can bring without an ounce of irony. This band makes me want to hit the bars and dance all night before the reality of my middle-class-mortgaged-parenthood comes crashing down on my fantasies. Still, it’s nice to dream/reminisce once in a while.

Best Coast – The Only Place
On one hand, I don’t know why I like this band. On the other, I don’t know why I ask the first question. Like Japandroids, Best Coast has found a recipe that works. Unlike the “live like there’s no tomorrow” message in a Japandroids’ song, Best Coast wears their California lovin’ on their collective sleeves. I appreciate this love for one’s home state. Like Jenny Lewis and The Eagles, Best Coast won’t let you forget where they’re from and they’ll make you want to live there as well.

Dinosaur Jr – I Bet on Sky
How is it that Dinosaur Jr. is writing and recording better music after they’ve reunited? Maybe it’s that Lou Barlow has been allowed to come into his own. Maybe it’s because J Mascis has mellowed his ego. Whatever it is, I hope they never stop making loud records.

Hospitality – Hospitality
Last year, it was Eleanor Friedberger. This year, it’s Hospitality. Last year’s Friedberger joint Last Summer had me longing for some straight girl pop rock from the City. Hospitality filled that void admirably. And when you close your eyes, you think it’s Belle and Sebastian.

Dirty Projectors –Swing Lo Magellan
I really expected a letdown from Dirty Projectors, but this record – more straightforward than previous efforts – did not disappoint. I knew this as soon as I dropped the needle to reveal the opening track.

Discovered too late to form a proper assessment, but they’re pretty great: Tame Impala, Diiv, Grizzly Bear, Metz

Overall, this year wasn’t nearly as inspiring as last year’s onslaught of great records. However, most of these would rank among last year’s best. So, take that for what it’s worth, which is basically nothing.

1Ranking art just seems to be so archaic, so overdone. So, I will refrain from it this year. Instead, I’ll just tell you about ten records I liked.
2Meaning that, like Wye Oak, she hadn’t released anything of note until this latest album which is great.
3In Cat Power years, that’s maybe two records a decade.
4Let’s face it, every EP feels imcomplete. They are akin to the 20-minute set. You get a taste of the very best, maybe with one stinker. Just when you’re into it, it’s over.

Pitchfork Recap

Posted in Live by SM on July 20, 2010

Aluminum Stage - LCD Soundsystem

I had a lot of ideas for blogging post-Pitchfork, but figured most of you would just want a rundown of the bands. Included are a few of the pictures that actually turned out. I’m decent with close-up angles and whatnot, but I can’t get the hang of the zoom, holding still, or context from a distance. So, there are very few good pictures to share [1].

So, without further ado, here’s my take on this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival…

Broken Social SceneFriday
The train actually arrived somewhat on time for me to catch a cab to my hotel and make the Metro with enough of a window to make The Tallest Man on Earth’s set (or at least part of it). However, I soon realized my ticket was still in my hotel room. So, I missed the first performer on my list to see. No worries as it gave me time to figure out the festival layout, grab some food, drink a beer, and buy a Pitchfork t-shirt for my child[2].

First up for me was Liars. Something can be said for a man in a sleeveless Men At Work t-shirt providing deep, foreboding vocals over a dark, punk rawk onslaught. Well, the t-shirt was a one-time thing, me thinks, but the rest of it was all Liars. They absolutely assaulted the crowd with their uneasy, tension-heavy, Slint-like dirges. I don’t know what it is, but dark, ominous bands like this work for outdoor summer music festivals. The contrast is striking. They don’t give a shit as their pale skin burns in the sun and the band expects nothing less than for the audience to pay attention, bobbing heads to the beat of their somber message. To say the least, it was a quite a start to the weekend.

For something lighter, I headed to the Balance stage for the comedic stylings of Wyatt Cenac – yes, that Wyatt Cenac. Before the Daily Show correspondent came on, Hannibal Burress[3] was wrapping up. He was comfortable and fluid, even at ease with the crowd of music fans and hipsters. Then, Cenac came out. He started slow and built some momentum before he completely flopped. Something changed[4]. I don’t know whether a joke missed or what, but Cenac just sort of stuttered through the rest of his bit. I chose to move on instead of watching this sinking ship.

I opted to skip Robyn[5] and wait over at the Connector stage for Broken Social Scene to commence. And commence they did as the current line-up bounced around their catalog seamlessly. They were much more focused than the last time I caught them. Of course, the set times at a festival such as Pitchfork mean more concise setlists. Still, BSS were a lot of fun. That was apparent as they started with new rocker “World Sick” but followed it with the BSS classic “Stars and Sons”. The set was about as perfect as could be expected[6].

Modest Mouse closed out the first day on the main stage, also known as the Aluminum. I was beat from the day’s travel, so I hung back to for the set. As I wore a 13-year-old Modest Mouse t-shirt[7], I remembered the days of seeing this band in small clubs. I appreciate those opportunities so much more now as Modest Mouse has long ago made the transition to this sort of stage and spot in a festival lineup. Funny, the one song that probably put them in that position (“Float On”) was not a part of the setlist[8], but “Dramamine” was and I was taken back to the show where I bought that t-shirt in a club with washing machines in Cincinnati[9]. It reminded me that I still like Modest Mouse, possibly more out of a feeling of nostalgia than anything they record these days. Either way, it was a nice way to close out the evening.

I beat the crowd[10] and searched out a bar with a nice tap and bottle list. I sipped a Two Brothers Hop Juice which was the perfect antidote for a road-weary traveler. I liked the beer so much that I made a point to bring a bomber home, among several other select brews. More on all that in a future post[11].

This was my first full day in the city, so I intended to take advantage. Near Union Park where the festival was being held, there was a restaurant/bar called Twisted Spoke. A graveyard of motorcycles sat out front, but inside was an impressive bar with even a more impressive beer selection. The list was so good that I contemplated hanging around for a late morning beer[12] or at least a return for beers in the evening. However, it was not in the cards. Instead, I loaded up on calories with a passable breakfast burrito. Still, the Twisted Spoke will be on the list for my next Chicago trip, whenever that is.

There were a lot of early performers on Saturday’s lineup I wanted to at least catch a glance so as to form a more complete opinion of their work. First up was Netherfriends, a Chicago band whose releases are put out on the Columbia, MO label Emergency Umbrella. They were much sharper in my opinion than last summer’s EU showcase. I made sure to catch Free Energy over on the Aluminum stage and just couldn’t get into the cheesy hippie vibe they were selling. Think of every cheesy pop-rock hit of the 70’s and 80’s and there you have Free Energy. It’s funny how recycled sounds in music are often confused for innovation[13].

Real Estate[14] took over Connector. What came out was a pleasant surprise as they recalled my entire college years of going to see bands trying to emulate Pavement with their oddly hooky melodies and odder guitar tunings. They were good enough to make my list of bands with LP’s to purchase. Part way through, I caught a moment or two of Sonny & the Sunsets at Balance…but I really don’t remember much. They were poppy, entertaining, sort of doo-wop retro or something. They weren’t as annoying as Free Energy, but they also weren’t as memorable either. So, I returned for the rest of Real Estate’s stellar set.

I watched a couple of pointless minutes of Delorean[15] before heading to Balance for Kurt Vile. Where Real Estate reminded me of the local bands I used to see and love, Vile reminded me of many of my nineties heroes. With his long hair in his face, shoegazing, I was reminded on several occasions of another Kurt. His form of garage rock made me think of everything from the hinted-at Nirvana to Guided By Voices to Dinosaur Jr[16]. Kurt Vile’s catalog certainly deserves a closer listen than the one EP I currently own[17].

Sadly, I had to leave Vile’s set early in order to catch the opening of Titus Andronicus’ Connector performance. Although leaving before Vile completed was unfortunate, it was well-worth it as Titus put on one of the more impassioned sets of the festival. I knew they would be a great live band, but it was even better than expected. Luckily, the next act on Connector was another rawk outfit[18] in The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. JSBX was in mid-nineties form and quite possibly was the best-dressed act of the weekend[19]. The band ripped through a mixture of the old and newish, showing the kids what rock ‘n roll is all about. The last two times I had seen them, they played too little (about 10 minutes) and way too much (somewhere in the ballpark of 2.5 hours[20]). So, it was great to hear/see a blistering sub-hour-long set from the old men of rawk.

I quickly made it over to a rather crowded Aluminum stage for Wolf Parade’s turn. I’ve loved this band for a while and have greatly anticipated seeing them. Keeping the pace set by Titus and JSBX (sans a brief and awkward interruption from former Wu Tanger Raekwon[21]), Wolf Parade did not disappoint, opting for little banter and preferring to just play. The cool synth sounds of Spencer Krug balanced perfectly with Dan Boeckner’s  rock licks. This was something I’ve always known, but it actually translated live in the early evening sun.

Originally, my plan at this point was to skip the last two acts and hit a brewery, but the long day took it’s toll. I opted instead to stay for Panda Bear and LCD Soundsystem. Panda Bear was interesting, even somewhat enjoyable. However, it was a bit of a snore for an outdoor music festival. LCD Soundsystem, on the other hand, were really pretty good, revealing to me their appeal. LCD is a rock band making dance music or DJ’s making rock music or something like that. Anyway, I enjoyed much of their set, but had to sneak out early in preparation for day 3.

Day 3 was easily the best day of the festival. Besides the headliner, the day was loaded with the best buzz bands and most eclectic mix. I spent more time at the Balance stage than the first two days as its lineup was packed with interesting bands all day long. At some point, sacrifices had to be made.

I saw very little of CAVE, a Chicago band with Columbia connections, due to a 20 minute thunderstorm which wreaked havoc on the stage’s sound system[22]. The stage was running behind for the rest of the day. With CAVE’s late start, I decided to head over to see Allá. Despite the Latin flair in their promotional material, I didn’t catch much of a Latin presence aside from three of the band member’s perceived ethnicity. What I did detect is some good, old-fashioned grunge. This band would have thrived circa 1992. Sunday, they were good enough to demand some attention. I later returned to see CAVE’s rather impressive finale.

At this point, the dance between stages had only begun. I moved between sets by Cass McCombs (think Elvis Costello pop sensibility in front of a garage band), Best Coast (surprisingly great), Girls (infinitely better than the last time I saw them), Local Natives (White Rabbits with more punch and harmonizing, if that’s possible), Beach House (more below), Lightning Bolt (freakishly entertaining[23]), and Surfer Blood (also see below).

I bought the first Beach House record and haven’t really gone back for more. The record was good, but I didn’t really grasp what they were doing that was so great. This year’s release was getting a fair amount of pub, so I made a point to check them out on Sunday. I’m glad I did as their sets was easily one of the top five of the festival. The music reminded me of Cat Power, pre-R&B obsession and without all the crazy. I get their appeal now. Beach House won me over this weekend.

Another band I was not sold on was Surfer Blood. Their debut was fine enough, but I wasn’t sure what it was doing. Was it Was it straight-up rock similar to Soft Pack? Was it bland adult-alternative crap? Their live show cleared up the confusion. More than almost any other band in this year’s lineup (along with Real Estate), Surfer Blood reminded me of Pavement. The vocals were more American-meets-Manchester and the musicianship may have been better, but it was very Pavement-esque. They’re not a Pavement clone, but they’ve gleaned enough to make some pretty compelling rock music.

This was the point in the day I made a decision. I didn’t need to see any other band besides Pavement. I skipped out on Here We Go Magic, a band I was really wanting to see. I did this just so I could set up shop 10-15 feet from the Aluminum stage where Pavement would play three hours later. From this spot, I “watched” St. Vincent tear up the Connector stage. She was really impressive, much more so than when I saw her open for Andrew Bird, but I didn’t leave my spot. I survived Major Lazer and waited through Big Boi just to stay near the stage.

Before moving on, I have to write something about Major Lazer. Major Lazer is a DJ, hype man, and various dancers. That hype man and the two featured female dancers simulated sex on stage while downing copious amounts of alcohol. I’m no prude, but this was some raunchy-ass shit. We’re talking doggy-style, legs wrapped around waists, and even sexual acts involving one participant launching himself[24] from a ladder onto his “dance partner”. Of course, the music is sexually charged as anything I’ve heard. Whatever. It was highly entertaining. I can’t say that I’m a Major Lazer fan, but it could have been worse.

Big Boi played the other stage and then there was Pavement.

It was as if they had never left. The band, somehow frozen in time, took the stage in their customary positions – SM on the left[25], Ibold center-stage, Spiral Stairs on the right, Nasty & West in the back – and promptly false-started their first song. The second try at “Cut Your Hair” went much smoother. This was exactly as I remember my favorite band even after eleven years of silence. They were perfectly imperfect from the beginning. There’s so much more for me to say about Pavement that won’t fit in this post. I’ll do another just on their set later this week. Just know that it was as good as advertised. I can’t wait to see them again in September.

That was my weekend. I had some time on Monday to wander Chicago and grab some more beer to take home. The train was over an hour behind schedule, but that didn’t dampen my mood. There will be more on Pavement and Chicago’s status as a beer destination later this week. So, stay tuned. In the meantime, read through the footnotes[26].

1And I use the term “good pictures” rather loosely.
2This is where I am in my life now. I buy rock concert t-shirts for my kid. It’s no longer about me proving to everyone how rock ‘n roll I am. It’s now about proving to everyone how rock ‘n roll my kid is. I don’t know whether it’s pathetic or sweet.
3He claimed to have a gig with Saturday Night Live. I believed him, but I thought for sure Lorne Michaels had a one-black-dude limit. I could be wrong though.
4I think it had to do with the noise from the other stages.
5If I want pop, I’ll go to a Brittney concert. Seriously, from what I could hear, it was downright awful. Of course, I know some dudes who would disagree.
6Although, Brendan Canning looked like a middle-aged woman with his slightly over-sized glasses, bright tank top, and feathered hairdo. Kevin Drew looked like a skinnier, younger Jeff Tweedy in his panama and sunglasses. Still, they were quite excellent musically.
7This breaks maybe the biggest rule in my concert-going rulebook. You should never be that guy who wears a band t-shirt for the band you are seeing. However, I considered two facts as exceptions to the rule. First, this t-shirt, along with JSBX and Pavement t-shirts worn the next two days, is more than a decade old, featuring bands from my college days. Second, outdoor summer festivals have different rules in general regarding such things. I believe I was well-within my right to wear these t-shirts.
8I will not lose any sleep over this fact.
9It’s called Sudsy Malones. I had a beard and wore a thrift store sweater like every day back then. We actually got to meet Isaac Brock that night. He offered us beers, giving three of us one and keeping one for himself as he hit on a female companion of ours and our brother’s roommate who had similar Buddhist-inspired tattoos as Brock.
10Encores were put in place for old people like myself to slip out before the kids clog the exits.
11My beer adventures were not that impressive on this trip, but I do have an impression as to what kind of beer city Chicago is.
12I really wanted a Founders Cerise, but figured 11:00 am was too early for a beer. And with the temperatures expected in the 90’s, getting an early start with the alcohol was not the best of ideas.
13Yes, I do recognize that many of the bands I praise on this blog do the same thing. However, they often emulate bands I also like. So, reinvention is great when it’s something worth recycling.
14Mentioning this band will undoubtedly get me some SPAM comments from real estate agents. I was able to Tweet one thing about Real Estate and I now have real estate agents from all over the country following me.
15In all fairness, Delorean played really hard. They just aren’t my cup of tea. I’m OK with synth music and music intended for dance clubs. I just don’t like a lot of it disguised as an indie band. Is that close-minded? Probably. Do I care? Not really.
16I realized that Vile toured with Dinosaur Jr upon purchasing a concert poster in the fest’s gallery of poster makers. It’s a Dinosaur Jr poster featuring a wine bottle just before it is de-corked. Kurt Vile is listed as an opener.
17The EP isn’t terrible. It’s just full of a tracks that sound like he’s fucking around. Vile’s live show is way more compelling than fucking around.
18Although I am not anti-keyboards, I grow weary of them after a while. Just play some guitar, dammit.
19I am particularly talking about Jon’s pants. He wore black vinyl with neon green stitching and he owned those pants.
20Oddly enough, that show was also a summer festival in a major city, sponsored by an entertainment rag. It was the inaugural Village Voice Siren Festival on Coney Island.
21OK. I am also not anti-hip hop. I love the Wu and a lot of other hip hop acts. I just often have a hard time with alt rock festivals throwing some hip hop acts into the lineup and then watching a bunch of middle-class white kids getting all gangsta for an hour. It’s fine if it’s your thing. I’m just not that into it.
22But it allowed me to check out some of the vendors a little more closely. I picked up the 33⅓ take on Wowee Zowee which I digested on the train ride back to Missouri.
23Lightning Bolt is two dudes. One plays bass. The other plays drums with some sort of mask. There’s a mic inside the mask which muffles everything the drumming screamed over their music. Oh, and they played ridiculously fast. If you ever get a chance to see them live, do it.
24And herself.
25Almost to the point that he was by himself, playing toward his band mates.
26I suspect this was a lot easier to read than past posts, given that I now have added anchored footnotes. Thanks David for the idea.

Ten at the Middle of ’10

Posted in Beer, Records by SM on June 17, 2010

Sorry for the inadvertent two-week layoff. Time just got away from me. I did start about three posts in that time period which is my typical schedule1. Now, on with the post…

Usually I like to list the best records at the midpoint of the year. So, below, you will find a rather pathetic list as I’m not sure I’ve purchased ten good records2 to include at the midpoint of 2010, but I must keep up with the Jones or whatever. This list is in no particular order and is surely missing something, but I’m sure you’ll tell me what that is in the comments.

Spoon – Transference
I know some people don’t like Spoon. They’re too whorish. They smirk too hard. They demand attention. They only put on a good show half of the time. Their frontman is named “Britt”. This is all forgotten as one puts the needle to the record. Britt Daniel writes how I think. It’s not always PC, but it’s brutally honest. The production on a Spoon record is like nothing else3. It’s sparse and it echoes. It’s textured without being too much. Spoon doesn’t make bad records and Transference is just another example of this fact.

Let’s Wrestle – In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s
I love naiveté in my indie rock and these boys bring it wrapped nicely in a Billy Bragg package. It’s punk without being cliched. It’s fun without being too stupid. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’smakes me feel young. I sing to it in the car. My 21-month-old likes it. It’s on Merge. How can you hate this record? The answer is that you can’t. No matter how hard you try not to, you love this record. This is the album you will grow to love soon.

Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
So emotive Brits singing anthem after anthem about sex and getting drunk and dancing doesn’t do it for you? That’s fine. This record is big and fun without losing touch.

The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack
There’s not enough straight-up college rock anymore4. This was what they called music before alternative and indie that wasn’t hardcore or on the radio. The Soft Pack have hit that nerve. They’re like a post-90’s-indie Smithereens5. It’s nothing flashy. It’s just good.

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
I went into this one with low expectations and came out happily surprised. The pleasure from this record has carried over the last month or so since the record was released. Sure, it’s not the best BSS album, but I’ll listen to it a ton more than that outtakes record. Really, it is one of the top ten albums this year. However, I still contend the last two tracks are two of the weakest in the BSS canon.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86
Like BSS, these Canucks6 are graded by a different set of criteria than everyone else7. Though this is their third-best record, it’s better than 99% of the crap that passes for music these days8.

The National – High Violet
Everyone’s album of the year had to make my list. It really is that good. I can’t guarantee that it will finish at the top of the heap by year’s end, but it will certainly be on the list. That and there’s something there to which I’m connecting. It could be the Ohio-centric narrative or the album’s struggle to break free of the limitations of adulthood or it’s just a really cool-sounding record.

Quasi – American Gong
I was close to writing this band off. Then several folks in my circle saw them live and reported that the band was doing well. It seems adding a bassist and replacing the keys with some strings has worked. American Gong is maybe the band’s best work in 10 or 15 years.

The Tallest Man on the Earth – The Wild Hunt
The new Dylan has arrived9. I don’t mean to make it sound like TTMONE writes songs as timeless and inspiring as Dylan, but he comes close. That and he sounds a shit-ton like the old man10. That has to count for something in this post-pop, post-hip-hop world.

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Rock ‘n roll did not die. Bruce Springsteen has seen to that if not in his own material it happens in his influence on music. TA is maybe the most Springsteen-like band making music right now. They don’t always sound like the Boss or write like him, but the feel and urgency of a Springsteen album is here. They’re like Arcade Fire with balls or Cono Oberst with a PBR11. It’s guttural. It’s meaningful. It’s Jersey12.

Bonus: Pavement – Quarantine the Past
I hate including compilations. They typically suck and leave out so much great material while including the worst in a band’s discography. That said, this is maybe the best best-of I’ve ever heard. Of course I’m biased, but I couldn’t have put together a better comp that fills my need for nostalgia13 while properly educating the masses to the greatness that was Pavement. Seriously, it’s worth a listen and your dollars.

Before the year’s out, I need to check out albums by The Besnard Lakes, Midlake, and The Black Keys. I am also awaiting deliveries/releases from the likes of Arcade Fire, Superchunk14, Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Here We Go Magic, and Kurt Vile15. Are there others I’ve missed?

As a super double bonus, here are my top five beers of the year so far. Again, this list is in no particular order and your comments are welcome.

Russian River Supplication
It was too bad I only had one of these beauties. The guy who organized the order said that it was one of his favorites was right. It was just the right amount of sour. The balance and complexity of flavors made the $20 I laid down for 12 ounces16 worth it. It’s made me somewhat obsessive about spending more time with this brewery…even considering their inappropriate use of Comic Sans.

Great Lakes Brewing Lake Erie Monster DIPA
This beer was found by accident. In a drive-through17 in Bellefontaine, Ohio, there were four-packs of this beauty. I tried desperately that night to drink all four, but my morning the flight the next day told me to leave it and dream fondly of the citrus and pine with which this divine concoction graced my tongue. Hopefully, Mom finds some more for me when she drives out here next week.

Odell’s Saboteur
Brett and coffee in the same beer? Yes. And it’s good? Yes. What a great surprise this beer was. There was so much going on in this brown-with-brett brew. Perfect for pairing with almost anything. I wish I had another right now.

Mikkeller 1000 IBU
1000 IBU’s shouldn’t even be drinkable18. Sure, it will be hoppy as hell, but some balance is nice once in a while. Well, Mikkeller somehow figured 1000 IBU’s out a way to make it work. This beer is so smooth and drinkable. It’s quite surprising. They figured out a way to capture the actual taste of hops.

Ken Schmidt/Maui/Stone Kona Coffee Macadamia Coconut Porter
I don’t normally go for porters but this one is hard to resist. The coffee, macadamia, and coconut meld perfectly to brew a beer that is just sweet enough to delight. This beer and the black pilsner Stone also collaborated to make are two of my favorite beers of the last couple of years.

Bonus: My go-to beer of the year is Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
Everyone has to have that inexpensive beer they can pick up whenever from the store at a moment’s notice without spending a wad of cash. At $4 a pop, 22 0z. of this hop bomb is all I need. It seems every time I go to the store to buy some beer, I leave with a Hop Stoopid as well.

Look to see if any of the albums or beers on this list hold up in December. I figure most if not all of the beers and about half of the albums will make the year-end top-10’s. What have I missed?

1Plus, I have this Tumblr thing going and a kid, etc.
2Partly this is due to saving some money and partly due to chillwave.
3One of the two best Interpol tracks I’ve ever heard was recorded by Britt.
4Except that if you read this blog, that’s all I write about.
5For the record, I never really like the Smithereens that much. The comparison just fits, me thinks.
6My sister used to just buy records based on the fact they were reviewed in Pitchfork and the band was from Canada. The Pitchfork thing doesn’t work as well anymore, but the Canadian thing does…except for Nickleback and Barenaked Ladies.
7Possibly a Canadian indie band criteria?
8Cranky, old record store clerk line.
9I’m sure that I’m the first to say this.
10My father-in-law couldn’t get over how much this dude reminded him of Dylan.
11In this sentence, “balls” and “PBR” are interchangeable.
12I think I just wrote New Jersey’s new state motto/tagline.
13I wish someone had gone back in time with this album on cassette tape, handed me a copy, and told me that this would be my favorite band. It sort of feels like they did.
15The last two will join Pavement, TTMONE, Titus, Wolf Parade, and Broken Social Scene for P4k. I’m really looking forward to that weekend in July.
16I know. I know.
17These are big in Ohio. You drive through a building with beverages and snack items lining the walls. You order without getting out of the car, pay, and drive off with a load of beer. I used to think every state had drive-throughs. I found out I was wrong.
18It is thought that most people can only taste up to 100-120. Your hoppy beers start in the 50’s and usually top out in the 80’s. Crazy hop bombs usually claim 100 IBU’s. 1000 IBU’s is insane.
19I nearly forgot the footnotes. You’re welcome.


Posted in Records by SM on March 19, 2010

I have four records to tell you about1. They’ve been out long enough for you to shape your own opinions, but I’m here to give you mine. They range from the instantly great to the three listen minimum and a little something in between. This isn’t a March Madness themed review2. These are not the “final four” records by any means. They’re just the four about which I have to tell you.

Titus Andronicus recorded a concept album that’s either about a guy who leaves New Jersey for Boston as told through a metaphor of a Civil War battle or vice versa. It’s really good and rocks your socks off, but throughout I wondered how we got here.

Like TA, a guy named Springsteen rose from the polluted land and water of New Jersey to give his side of the story. This guy – I’ll call him “Bruce” – wrote a record called Nebraska about some kids on a killing spree. It’s really a good record. That and it’s a concept record of the highest order. Bruce tells a story or string of stories that are expertly-pieced together in a way that 99¢ spent at iTunes could never do for you.

From that same state of Nebraska is a Omahan named Conor Oberst3 who has been called the “next, next Dylan” by some. Bruce, of course, was the “next Dylan,” one “next.” Conor has recorded under several monikers and with a couple of bands. One of those bands was Desaparecidos4. In that band, Conor screamed over feedback-excessive guitars about all the injustices of suburban sprawl surrounding his beloved-Omaha. Where Bruce succeeded in telling a narrative about Nebraska from his Jersey perspective, Conor told a global story from his Nebraskan vantage point. Both recordings5 are prime examples of concept albums done right and done with real emotion.

So, when you have a band that sounds like Desaparecidos playing Bruce Springsteen songs, you figure it should work no matter the concept. And it does, sound-wise. The bombastic blue-collar anthems of Springsteen work when screamed over a punk rawk onslaught hard to deny. There are horns, guest speakers6, bagpipes, and a kitchen sink7 for good measure. The Monitor delivers a punch to the gut like few albums have for me over the last several years.

However, as a concept album, the record is a stretch. How a guy moving to Boston from Jersey relates to the most famous naval battle of the Civil War8 is beyond my comprehension. Of course, the band believes in the concept and makes it convincing enough for the listener to play along9. One cannot ignore such conviction, especially when it sounds this good.

To make it simple, go buy this record now. You can buy the other three records mentioned below, but buy this one first.

Quasi used to be be quirky and sad. Somehow, the bitterness in Sam Coomes10 has grown into an anger, nearly to the point of capitulation11. Of course, he hasn’t totally let go of his failures and the resulting anger, but the loss of the roxichord12 alone makes one question God’s existence all together. The anger suits Quasi. So, does a bass player.

I like Quasi’s new direction more with each recording. They’ve eased into a more traditional rock sound, leaving behind the whim and whimsy disguised as despair in their mid-nineties work. As they rock more, the strength of Janet Weiss‘ drumming comes to the forefront. Not since her final Sleater-Kinney album13 have I heard a kit endure more punishment. It’s good to hear, as is Coomes’ underrated songwriting. The roxichorded Quasi allowed Coomes the room to play with cliche and rhyme, crafting fine pop songs, but his adoption of a guitar turned to 11 has expanded their sound beyond the novelty of an organ and birds tweeting14. Even new bass player Joanna Bolme brings some wieght to the songs, making me think for a second that “Little White Horse” is a Mike Watt song15.

This album might just be a case of a must-have for a long-term fan, but I doubt it. Quasi rocks a ton and writes some good hooks. It’s not exactly what the kids are listening to these days with its nod to the Beatles and familiar culprits in the Blues and Punk eras. However, it contains just enough punch to surprise you. Totally worth a listen and absolutely worth a peek when they travel to your town.

The Morning Bender‘s sophomore effort, Big Echo, lost me from the beginning. Their influences are all over the place. It’s hard to pinpoint what they’re doing and whether it’s them or Chris Taylor’s (Grizzly Bear) production work16. So, I did what any self-respecting music fan would do: I listened to it again.

Sometimes the best albums are not fully understood right away. I didn’t get The Soft Bulletin or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot the first time around. Those albums are growers. They take time and effort to get, but when you figure it out, it’s worth it. The Soft Bulletin was such a departure from the Lips’ hardcore and grunge-esque days that I felt I had been duped. Then, I saw them support the album live. In the early incarnations of what is now an extravaganza of sorts, the visuals paired with Soft Bulletin material made it rather clear. Coyne’s dramatic, bloody performance and calculated explanations didn’t hurt either17. The Wilco record was just not as alt.country18 as I expected. They built an album out of conceptual tracks and dysfunction, not middle-class cow punk. It took a few listens to get past the limitations of their genre, but I did and was glad. Neither album was easy to hear the first time around. However, the pay-off for giving them additional listens was worth the time.

Now, I don’t think Big Echo is so good that the fourth or tenth listen will blow my mind, but I think it has room to grow. For certain are the lush arrangements and detailed textures within. As mentioned before, the influences are many, but they include Beach Boys, Shins, Lips, etc. So, it generally works. The album has components and complexity that makes the listener want to return in order to give it a fair chance. You should too.

No one gets more out of a few songs and forty-three different pseudonyms than Will Oldham19. Sure, you probably have all these songs in some form or another, but you don’t have this record of a live performance just outside of his hometown Louisville. Oldham, who always seems to have a record out, released this LP under cover of darkness, almost causing me to miss it completely. The record is a grand document of a little gig that inspires reviewers to throw around terms such as “hoot-nanny,” “ramshackle,” and “ramblin’.”20 And it’s lovely. No one croons or writes a tune to croon to like Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy. The band he assembles to pull off the task isn’t too shabby either. When I first played it, I was afraid that I was actually enjoying a Prairie Home Companion. Luckily, there was no mumbling, rambling semi-jokes by Garrison Keillor21 or faceless men frantically trying to make sound effects with kazoos and hallow coconut shells. It was just Billy and his merry band of minstrels.

It’s not ground-breaking22. It won’t make you want everything Will Oldham has ever done. But it will comfort you when snow falls in mid-March or wake you when the sun shines in November.

1We’re up to six now, but those others will wait for another post.
2For two reasons: 1) I hate themed reviews. And 2) I’m avoiding sports as long as possible on this blog.
3I realize some folks have their issues with Oberst, but they really need to review his oeuvre objectively. He’s a hell of a songwriter, lyricist. The hype surrounding him has made this impossible to fairly assess, though. I don’t know that he’s the next Dylan or Springsteen, but he’s a talented wordsmith.
4Originally, this band was supposed to be a hip hop project, but it somehow evolved into hyper-political emo band.
5I’m really not trying to equate Conor Oberst’s side-project to maybe Bruce Springsteen’s greatest achievement on record, but thematically and aesthetically these are good connections in understanding Titus Andronicus.
6That one guy who talks over Hold Steady records about beat poetry and Springsteen utopias lends inside voice to a Whitman poem.
7Not really, but it could have worked.
8Typically, the Battle of Hampton Roads earns this honor. One of the ships involved in this battles was the Monitor. And now you know.
9It’s sort of like when you repeat a lie over and over, so much that it becomes the truth. You know who did that really well? Our last white president was a master at the repeated-lie-becomes-truth-trick.
10Primarily attributed to his divorce from Quasi drummer Janet Weiss, maritally-speaking.
11Judging from Quasi’s recent output and the state of the union, I blame this on our last white president.
12Arguably the best rock instrument that is not a guitar (including bass) or guitar. Sorry, keytar and Hammond B3.
13The Woods is as good a farewell album as there has ever been. Of course, they’ll be back soon enough.
14However, there is a track featuring a howling wolf.
15I mention this only because I have been listening to Ball-Hog or Tugboat? a lot lately.
16Which, by the way, is pretty fantastic. Orchestral, layered, textured, you name it. This guy should do this more often.
17I contend that the early portion of the Lips is by far their best live work. Finally, they were ripping off the Butthole Surfers without being so obvious. The three of them crowded in front of a relatively small projector as it displayed some of the same fractured footage they show today only without all the tomfoolery of bunny costumes and giant, inflatable balls. At that time, it was all about the music and imagery, not the shenanigans.
18This is a term I’ve had a love/hate relationship with for a long time now. Sure, I love me some cow punk/post-punk country music, but I just can’t place my finger on why this is an actual genre. What really constitutes these days? Magnolia Electric Co? Will Oldham? The reincarnation of Son Volt?
19Will Oldham, Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Palace, Bonny Billy, Bill, etc.
20None of which I will use here.
21Garrison Keillor is fine, I guess. I just know that when I hear his baritone delivery of a corny joke, half of my Saturday is gone.
22But it’s certainly better than that load of crap Old Joy Oldham starred in as an actor hiking through the woods with his buddy. Gawd! That thing was awful. And he didn’t sing.

Perpetually Living in the Nineties

Posted in Life, Pavement by SM on March 17, 2010

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am perpetually living in the nineties. I obsess over bands who did all their best work over ten years ago; my politic is mired in the discovery of some post-something-or-other during my college days1; and I sometimes think that I’m still 22. Maybe this is what every one goes through. We all sort of stick to that time period when life was fresh and exciting, when we experienced the most as adults2.

So, when it was rumored then announced that Pavement was getting back together, I have to admit that the 22-year-old in me got a little excited3. The band that defined a decade of independent music and much of my coming-of-age years was getting back together for what seems like the unlikeliest of reunion tours4. It was as unlikely as a Pixies reunion or Slint getting back together5. They started out scheduling and promptly selling out a few dates in NYC’s Central Park a year in advance and have slowly added Australia, New Zealand, Europe, nearly every American rock festival, and a handful of US cities. To boot, they’ve even released a best-of LP as an intro to younger audiences6. It’s been a full-on media onslaught ever since.

I first saw Pavement in the summer of ’95. In fact, I saw them twice that year. They were a favorite of mine since late ’93 or early ’94, but I was hooked after seeing them live7. Over the next few years, I would see them play maybe five or six times8. The last time was their final North American date at Cincinnati’s Bogart’s. They didn’t travel through Ohio9 often, so I had to jump on every chance I got.

Honestly, I was a bit slow to the Pavement bandwagon10. I wore out a dubbed cassette copy of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but I didn’t fully appreciate what I was hearing. Grunge bands dominated my CD collection more than anything else in those days11. It wasn’t until Wowee Zowee and the soon-to-follow shows in Cleveland and at Lollapalooza12 that I finally got what Pavement was all about.

Anyway, they’re still my favorite band. Their albums are littered among my lists of all-time favorites and I still listen to them regularly. I really haven’t moved far beyond the original lo-fi slackers of indie rock13 or their brethren. At least every other album I receive in the mail is by a band from that era or heavily influenced by SM and the boys. I like to think I’ve grown, but my taste in music suggests otherwise.

One of my opportunities to see the reunited Pavement is at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival and the bands that have me most interested are bands from…you guessed it…the nineties. Modest Mouse, who I first saw in the fall of ’9614, open the fest on Friday night before an also-reunited Jon Spencer Blues Explosion15 takes over Saturday. Pavement headlines the Sunday lineup. Sure, there are other bands16 playing the weekend-long fest in Chicago, but I am most excited about the three bands with ties to last century.

What is wrong with me? It’s not like all my living happened between 1990 and 1999. I grew up in the ’80’s. I don’t want to look like the eighties or dwell on music from that decade17, but it is a big part of me. The aughts are even more wrought with life-altering experiences. The last decade has seen me switch jobs and careers, get married, move nine-hours from my home, and become a parent18. It’s as if the Y2K bug went off in my head, making everything since seem like a hallucination.

Maybe we just stick with what we know best. It gets harder and harder to expand our knowledge base or interests as we grow older. Some of us slow more than others, but we all quit trying to some extent as our responsibilities mount and youthful exuberance fades.

Then again, I think we gravitate to what comforts us the most. It may also be what we know best, but we return for that solace and control of a well-worn pair of jeans, ratty old couch, or warped and scratched LP quicker than learning something new. Is there anything wrong with that?

The trouble happens when we try to force the “good ole days” on everyone else. We reminisce ad nauseum  about how things were better back then, completely discounting the experiences of those who are not of our generation19 but, more importantly, our own experiences before and since. Pavement and other nineties’ indie bands meant a lot to me, but that doesn’t mean a Titus Andronicus20 shouldn’t be meaningful to you or me.

Our heads begin to swell at some point with knowledge and experience, good and bad. We no longer have any room for new information, so it pours out in an effort to keep anything new from entering our consciousness.

So, I will probably continue to live in the nineties. LeBron is no Jordan. Riot Grrrls are the new face of feminism. We’d right this country’s course if Bill were in charge again. Pavement is still the best band in the world…

Don’t give up on me, though. I still have room for something new. Hell, I am in for a whole lotta new as my daughter ages. That and I still follow music, read, and generally pay attention. I may be perpetually living in the nineties, but I do have the capacity to learn and grow.

1…and cooch-flavored cigars. Sorry. Apparently my humor is also stuck in the nineties. Who could resist a Clinton/Lewingsky reference? Not this guy.
2Perceived or otherwise.
3Let’s face it. The 18-35 year old in me was excited. Still is.
4This was meant to come off as sarcastic, cynical even. The trend seems to be start a band, record one or more memorable albums, release them on an indie, create some buzz, break up, reunite once all the “money” is spent, and make some major bank.
5First, see above. Second, these two represent the two extremes of the reunited indie band. The Pixies pieced together several classic records and toured the shit out of their livers and waistlines. Then, they reunited…twice. Slint, on the other hand, really only recorded one great album. Sure, it was Spiderland, but it was only one album and a smattering of shows. They were able to garner a lot of fame and cash from that one release. Of course, it was Spiderland.
6And, in all honesty, for pathetic losers like me who will buy said greatest hits collection even though I own a copy of every track on that comp.
7Despite the stories of terrible live shows which often featured sub-par drumming and SM chastising other band members for not playing their parts correctly, a Pavement set was a memorable rock show.
8I’m never quite sure of the number. I do know that I didn’t see them ten or more times and it was certainly no less than five. Similarly, I saw Guided By Voices well over ten, twelve times, but I’m not sure how many. It’s also like that for Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. I told you that I was stuck in the nineties.
9This explains the number of GBV shows in my pocket.
10So slow that I remember turning down a chance to see them in an art gallery in the spring of ’94. I either didn’t have any money (maybe a $4 cover) or was with a girl or a combination of the two.
11Remember, it was the nineties. Grunge cannot be held against me. That and the number of flannel shirts I wore.
12This was the Lollapalooza that they were blamed for destroying. However, I seem to remember a pregnant Sinead O’Connor playing either just before or right after Pavement. Just sayin’.
13Sorry. Somewhere it is written that the words “slacker” and “lo-fi” must accompany everything said on the Internet and/or glossy magazines concerning Pavement. I believe Spin proclaimed this in 1994.
14Completely by accident. A local band I liked was opening for this “mouse band” at Bernie’s. At a friend’s urging, I hung around to stand behind a pole, completely unaware of what was about to be unleashed. I know that it is hard for folks to imagine a time when Modest Mouse was edgy and punk, but I assure you, dearest reader, it happened.
15The Hipsters have no idea what’s about to happen to them. Jon Spencer will make them submit to his every whim. Judah Bauer will strike fear into every dude with a mustache and Russel Simmons will induce migraines with every blow to his kit. You’ve been warned, Chicago…in a footnote of a blog no one reads, but you’ve been warned.
16I’m most excited/interested to hear/see Broken Social Scene, Bear in Heaven, Titus Andronicus, Panda Bear, CAVE, Sleigh Bells, Here We Go Magic, Cass McCombs, Girls, Lightning Bolt, and St. Vincent.
17I’m not counting anything from the hardcore scene or Manchester, England. Those are things I discovered much later and still enjoy. My musical tastes were limited to whatever Casey Kasem brought me on Sunday mornings.
18All long stories which will more than likely not be discussed on this blog.
19That’s X for those of you who are keeping score. Technically, I’m on the tail-end of GenX, like my parents are barely Boomers.
20I am loving their new record. A review will follow shortly. Hopefully.