Beer and Pavement

The Matador 100 Project: H.P. Zinker’s …And There Was Light (Olé 001-1)

Posted in Challenge, Matador 100, Records by SM on February 26, 2016

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This is less of a restart for my blog than it is just something I wanted to do. See, I wanted to focus my vinyl collection beyond “that sounds good” or “this one is seminal” or “I have money in my pocket that needs to be spent.” So, I poked around a bit and decided that Matador was the label that meant most to me in the 90’s alongside maybe Sub Pop. If you know anything about these two labels, despite both being really successful to survive nearly 30 years, Sub Pop became the “most indie of all the sellouts” by being associated with grunge. Old Sub Pop records are out of the reach of someone with a meager public school teacher salary. Matador, however, released a lot of material by some pretty obscure bands. Plus, their lineup and catalog is honestly more interesting to me.

Anyway, I had this idea to collect the first 100 (maybe 200) Matador releases. Vinyl-wise, I probably own 10% of those releases already (closer to 20-25% on CD, but who listens to CD’s?). What I’m really missing is the early Matador stuff, the obscurest of the obscure. There are some well-known acts like Superchunk, Unsane, Railroad Jerk, Teenage Fanclub, etc., but most of the really early releases is completely new to me. Despite the obscurity of this material, the records are priced pretty afford-ably. I mean, that Unsane record with the decapitated guy on subway tracks and maybe the first Superchunk record are twice as much as a new release, but it’s still within my grasp.

The only place to begin was at the very start of the Matador empire. 1989’s H.P. Zinker EP …And There Was Light (Olé 001-1) is everything I wanted for this little project. It’s obscure enough. Who’s ever heard of H.P. Zinker? I hadn’t. According to Wikipedia (after I translated it from German), the record was recorded as a two-piece with a drum machine. The band formed the same year they released this record in NYC. Over time, they performed with several other bands of the day, namely Sonic Youth, Lemonheads (Dando later recorded with them), Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, etc.

The record opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days” which is kinda ominous, almost sinister. It’s bass-heavy and the singer sounds like Elmer Fudd. It’s actually a pretty good cover, fairly straight-up, but it has H.P.’s unique aesthetic without completely fucking up what is a good, classic rock song. The second track is an 8-minute, meandering slow jam. Again, despite the somewhat distracting cartoon-like vocals, it’s not a bad song which builds to a grungy crescendo.

The overall sound of the record is pure-1989 indie. It’s that tinny production with the oncoming onslaught of feedback and bass which made Nirvana rich. That said, Wharton Tiers did more to bring underground rock – particularly NYC rock – into its own come the 1990’s and this record is no different. His fingerprints are all over it, giving it more girth than similar-sounding records of the day.

“Sip of the Day” picks up the pace and ends the first side. It has some aesthetics in the guitar sound that reminds me of Dinosaur Jr. and early Pavement. The vocals aren’t nearly as Elmer Fudd as the rest, but it’s there. I’ll cease to belabor this point from here on out.

Side 2 kicks off with a fun grungy dancer in “Hurdles on my Way.” This would have been the hit. The production is somewhat cleaner and less-tinny. (Maybe all that tin is actually from the drum machine…) It’s basically just a song about a girl. So, there’s that.

“Sunshine” and “Down in the Basement” close out the EP. “Sunshine” uses the drum machine with the speed way up, sounding like some EDM then transforming into a hardcore anthem/ballad. Lots of space in this one to showcase what sounds like a shitty drum machine, but it somehow works.

This is a pretty solid first release from my favorite 90’s boutique label. It certainly points to the quality Chris Lombardi cultivated for his label and later championed by partner Gerard Cosloy. The second release was also by H.P. Zinker, so you have to assume Lombardi liked the band a lot. I’ll write about that 7″ as soon as it arrives in the mail. In the meantime, enjoy this video for “Sunshine.”

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Kim Deal Solo Series

Posted in GenderBender, Records, Review by SM on October 3, 2014

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I realize that I’m probably late to this party, but I just acquired the first four installments of Kim Deal’s solo series and had to write about them. In the post below, I’ll wax poetically about Kim Deal’s importance to music, the songs in this series, and the 45.

Kim Deal is no fool. She doesn’t make (or at least release) a bad record. The Pixies, The Breeders, (Tammy and) the Amps, The Pixies again, The Breeders again, and now this solo work is all joyous noise. She crosses the basement tape his of Guided by Voices with the percussive drive of Tom Waits mixed with loopy Pavement guitar solos and that voice. Kim Deal’s voice is unmistakable. Yes, it’s a bit more raspy from years of smoking, but it’s still Kim Deal’s delivery that sets her music apart. It’s approachable without being easy. I want Kim Deal to sing at my kids’ wedding and my 40th birthday bash. She could sing Nickleback and it would sound wholesome, warm, and somehow a bit sexy at the same time.

I have always hated the idea of “women in rock” as if the music women play is somehow a subset of the real stuff spewed by men. However, that label is rarely placed on Kim Deal. She transcends the gender divide in rock music. Her songs for the Pixies are as important to their oeuvre as any Frank Black-penned anthem. The Breeders broke through this divide when everyone was listening to grunge bands hopped up on testosterone. The Amps out-GBV’d GBV (for only one album, but a fucking great record nonetheless). At every stop, Kim Deal has defied the limitations of gender in rock and she hasn’t stopped.

The eight songs in this series of 7″ records are more of what you would expect from a Kim Deal-fronted project. It’s a bit more subdued than the typical Breeders’ record, but a songwriter and vocalist like Kim Deal can pull it off. “Walking With a Killer” has a slow, deadly bass line. I don’t know if it’s a metaphor for drugs or an abusive mate, but the lyrics sting and romanticize a dance with death. The B-side is “Dirty Hessians” which picks up the pace utilizing another sick bass line but now there’s some organ action picking up the intensity. This track is surfer rock instrumental written in a garage in Dayton.

“Hot Shot” has plenty of attitude and would have fit nicely on Pacer had it been written in the mid-nineties. Deal’s vocals are upfront with the bass taking a back seat this time around. “Likkle More” is a sweet, acoustic, lament-filled goodbye. Deal’s vocals are a whisper and more intimate than I think I’ve ever heard.

“Are Mine” continues the soft, whispery vocals in the previous track. the track is a cross between the aesthetic of “Drivin’ on 9” and the sentiment of “Do You Love Me No?” wrapped in a lullaby. Another instrumental makes an appearance with “Wish I Was.” It has a modern Amps groove as if Deal is writing soundtracks for movies now. The guitar work is pleasant and subtly complex.

“The Root” is her most Tom Waits bit to date and would have fit nicely on the last Breeders record. It’s about that moment when you see a former flame after your life has gone downhill and his/her life is just peachy. “I’m happy for you, but I feel like crying.” The eighth track is about Kim waiting for you at the “Range on Castle” which I believe is in Huber Heights. In true “Tipp City” fashion, Kim captures life growing up in SW Ohio better than anyone. It feels like home.

The best aspect of this series is the format. While we could have waited two years for a Kim Deal to fit this all on a single album, what we would have received would have been a somewhat disjointed effort. That’s not a knock on the music. I love these songs, but I don’t think they fit well on one album. However, pairing them on opposite sides of 7″ records as played at 45 rpm, they’re perfect. Format is everything. This is where the CD and now the MP3 miss out. A record (7″, 10″, or 12″) groups tracks on a side or on another disc entirely. The sequence and grouping is so important to the story or message an artist or band is trying to convey. (This, however, is a topic I should explore further in a future post.)

That said, I have never been much of a 7″ guy. I have a mild fascination with 10″ records, but 12″ is where it’s at. However, I’ve had a small change of heart this year. My wife bought me the Merge 25 subscription series where they send me two split 7″ records every other month on colored vinyl. The songs have been great and a lot of fun to get in the mail. Kim Deal’s solo series is just building on this rediscovered (or really discovered) appreciation for 45’s. It’s a fun format that usually offers a taste of your favorite music along with some extra, unreleased tracks. I will write eventually about the Merge 25 once I have them all and maybe some other prized or new 7″ records in the future.

For more information and ordering options of the Kim Deal solo series, check out her website.

On Cans and Vinyl

Posted in Beer, Intersections, Rock vs. Beer by SM on May 31, 2012

Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend, the first of the three summer holidays most noted for BBQ and beer. (Well, and remembering those who died in war, our country’s “independence”, and labor’s many accomplishments.) Much of the beer I consumed came from a can; a little bit of beer nostalgia delivered the good stuff to my gullet.

In recent years, BPA-coated, aluminum cans have become the container-du jour for craft beer fans and brewers. Cans keep out more sun than bottles and arguably more oxygen. While some only see cans as a hipster novelty, most of us realize the importance of these vessels to the portability and preservation of our favorite brews.

I, like most beer geeks, prefer not to drink my beer from cans (nor bottles). I often say that one would never attempt to smell a flower through a straw. So, pour that beer into a glass, let it open up. However, for the holiday, I succumbed to drinking my beer straight from the can without shame.

There are certain contexts for which such pretensions over drinking beer not from the prescribed glass are called. Poolside, floating lazily down a river, camping, and bicycling are a few of these moments. Considering the conditions of the holiday, I enjoyed my Tallgrass beers from the cans, coozy included.

Context dictates how we should consume beer and even the kinds of beer we drink. I don’t feel guilty for drinking from the can. I was in the midst of a 60-mile bike trip with a night of camping in between. Cans were were a practical drinking option. Even bottles were unwieldy and potentially dangerous. The can is much like its close relative which is used to house such camping delicacies as beans or corned beef hash. Enjoyment of the moment was wrapped in an aluminum cylinder. I was not about to soil the moment with a glass and make the beer more important than the enjoyment of the event and those around me.

Vinyl records, like cans, have their own ideal contexts when their less-than-ideal delivery trump advancements in technology and actually add to enjoyment. The context in which a vinyl record is preferable to more digital formats are times when devouring an entire album in the confines of your home is paramount. When I am relaxing in my finished basement with a record, very purposefully spending time with the music, a record that requires me to drop the needle and flip sides now and again is better than simply pushing a button. Vinyl engages the listener physically while delivering a soft, familiar sound.

Unlike cans, vinyl is less portable and arguably auditorily inferior to its digital counterparts. It’s not easy to take a record with you. Digital music is so much more portable, like canned beer. The sound debate is a good one, but I won’t get into that here. Simply, for sharper, more precise sound, go with digital. However, vinyl feels different. It’s softer, warmer, and preferable for those of us who just prefer a more analogical existence.

Both cans and vinyl had good runs that ended too quickly. Newer and better technology arrived. These creature comforts of our fathers became obsolete. Then, retromania hit. People found ways to improve upon old technologies while recapturing lost nostalgia. The can never really left, but craft beer’s adoption has bumped its cred. New can lining technology hasn’t hurt either. Vinyl is better produced than ever and many new records come with digital downloads, giving you both the high quality sounds and artifact in one, neat package.

The comfort and sentimentality of beer cans and vinyl records just feel right in the right context. It’s hard to put a finger on it (as you can probably tell from the rambling above), but they just feel right in the right situations. I don’t always go can or vinyl. However, it’s nice to know that they’re there and are ready for the perfect situation.

Speaking of vinyl, if you’re anywhere near Middle Missouri, come out to Uprise on Monday to see/hear me play some records. The set list will be posted here, but you should come and have a beer with me while I play the “hits.” Also, both images were totally lifted from the great Tumblr better known as Dads Are The Original Hipsters. Go read it now.

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Nice Package

Posted in Beer, Intersections by SM on May 16, 2011

Although some are discovering the beer can and others obsess over it, the bottle is still the primary way we get our craft beer. Beer typically comes in 12 oz, 22 oz, 750 mL, and even the rare 7 oz bottle. Occasionally, one will encounter the seasonal release in a magnum bottle, but only if you plan on sharing it with a host of friends and family.

The biggest characteristic of every beer bottle is the size. Basically, how much beer do you want to drink? The traditional serving is 12 ounces, but sometimes we are faced with a 22 oz or 750 mL bomber. This either means you have a commitment to make (especially with a beer in the 9+% ABV range) or you need a friend or two. The sixer of 12 oz bottles requires another kind of commitment, one that can be spread out over time. So, there are decisions to be made when choosing a bottle size.

Take the Maharaja I opted to open the other night. I’ve been cutting back on the weeknight beer lately, but we ordered out and rented a movie on Thursday, so I figured what the hay. My sandwich included some blue cheese, meaning that I needed a big DIPA that bordered on barley wine territory to stand up to the blue cheese. Avery’s Maharaja did the trick with its mouthful of bitter and booze. However, 22 oz was more than I intended to drink. Luckily, there are tricks. I would have used a European flip-top bottle that holds 11.2 oz, but I delivered a friend some Hopslam and haven’t been able to get my bottle back. The other option I like to use is the champaign stopper. It holds in much of the carbonation and keeps enough air out to avoid oxidation. The key is to finish the beer soon, particularly an IPA/DIPA. These beers need to be consumed fresh, no matter what some think. I did so at the end of the following day.

I don’t like to do this with a bomber of beer. I’d rather open and drink a bomber in one night. Again, a fresh beer is a beer at its peak, aside from a few notable exceptions. To do this, most beer nerds know that sharing is caring. The bomber encourages this even better than a six-pack of 12 oz bottles. Sure, it’s easy to hand your buddy a 12 oz bottle from your pack, but there’s no thought put into that share. A bomber requires a careful pour. One either pours out a sampling as to allow others to try the sweet nectar inside or there is the careful aligning of glasses when there’s two or three of you. Either way, the bomber pour demonstrates a true willingness and intention to share your beer.

Besides the bottle (and the beer itself), a large part of the experience is actually the label art. Some view labels with an artistic eye. Home brewers (myself included), put their own creativity to work with their own labels. A label can entice you to try a beer or completely turn you off, even with a poor font choice. A lot of care in creating a label that grabs the consumer’s attention, paints a picture of the experience within, and promoting a brewery’s brand is taken in the design process. Sometimes, when done well enough, the label can influence opinion about what the drinker is consuming. Even the prose on a label can create a brand’s image that lasts long past a beer’s influence.

So, packaging matters.

Then, there’s the packaging in which our music comes. Granted, one should not judge a book, beer, or record by its cover, but sometimes that’s a factor. This is especially true for record covers as they often reflect the artistic vision within or are even an extended work by the artists making the music. Sadly, this is becoming less and less of a factor as uglier record covers are produced every year, possibly due to the rash of kids downloading their music and completely forgoing the package all together.

Being that I’m in my mid-thirties, I still buy records for the the purpose of owning an artifact. Ever since someone brilliantly decided to attach MP3 downloads (and even CD’s) to vinyl releases, I buy all vinyl for my collection these days. I have purchased one or two CD’s since 2009. Since then, it’s been all vinyl.

The format is for lounging, sharing. There’s the soft tones not found on tinny digital recordings. There’s a slight crackle to lend some authenticity. You have to get up and flip the record, making you physically involved in the playing process. For what it lacks in transportability, records more than make up with the more tactile aspects of music listening. It’s the full experience, not just music.

Beer offers the same in its various formats, but it generally works in the consumer’s favor whichever format is chosen. Having a beer on tap or from a cask is usually preferable, but bottle conditioning has come a long way since craft beer went extreme and home brewers became a dime a dozen. However, I’d argue the 22 ounce bomber is the vinyl of beer packaging as it promotes sharing without encouraging you to get shit-faced (too quickly)…

And this is where I lose momentum from trying to write this over a three week period. I should have left space to address specific packages I like, but I just didn’t as I got a little long-winded with this one. Surely, it’s a topic which I will explore some more in the future, but today is not my day. Any thoughts on the subject are welcome. Keep in mind that this is an unfinished post I’m trying to get out of the way so that I can write more important things about beer and Pavement.

So, for Monday, you get two lame posts in exchange for no real post. Your ignored workload thanks me.

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