Still Good and Loud …
THE MUFFS — Whoop De Doo
THE GOOD: California pop/punk trio The Muffs finally crank it up again.
THE BAD: Nothing!
THE NITTY GRITTY: Whoop De Doo is their first record in a decade (sixth overall) and not a damn thing has changed since the band’s first outing 22 years ago. Normally that would be a bad thing, but in The Muffs’ case, “Why mess with perfection?” Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kim Shattuck remains the brains behind this operation, even producing and engineering this time.
Past fans know exactly what to expect — three-minute, to-the-point, heavy pop tunes revolving around Shattuck’s raspy-yet-inviting vocal delivery, jagged riffs and grounded back-beats. Songs like “Paint by Numbers” and “Like You Don’t See Me” immediately go for the throat before heading upward to permanently lodge themselves in your grey matter. The murky sway carrying “Up And Down Around” and the gooey sentiments behind “Forever” may be more heartfelt, but that tough exterior remains intact.
BUY IT?: Yep. Whoop De Doo reminds us how much we missed this band!
THURSTON MOORE —
THE GOOD: Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore issues his fourth solo record.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Compared to his other solo outings, The Best Day sounds closest to an actual Sonic Youth album. It’s the first set he’s released since SY went on semi-permanent hiatus, so the collection doesn’t act as an experimental or acoustic outlet trying to distance itself from the core band’s style. The guitar tunings, instrumentation, textures and tempos are all very close to the Youth of 15 years ago. Steve Shelley plays drums, so technically HALF of SY are here anyway.
Songs run the gamut from extended steady jams (11-minute magnum opus “Forevermore”) to terse ragged rockers (blunt and violent “Detonation”). There’s also this undeniable feeling of exuberance running through some of the cuts. Moving on since his public divorce from bassist Kim Gordon, Moore now calls London home and the guy probably had a better time than usual making this album.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
JOYCE MANOR — Never Hungover Again
THE GOOD: California pop/punk outfit Joyce Manor makes the jump to Epitaph Records and comes back with a tight infectious third.
THE BAD: Ten songs make an album … but a total playing time of 19 minutes? Hungover is a DEFINITE case of quality over quantity.
THE NITTY GRITTY: And practically every song here leaves you begging for more. The record touches upon every pop/punk lyrical cliché out there, from the emotional break-up song (“Christmas Card”) to the parental tirade (“Heated Swimming Pool”). Musically, it’s all sing-song melodies and crunchy guitars; indie rock battling it out with echoes of emo. Vocalist Barry Johnson plays the part of tortured suburban geek with great relish …and punch. Yeah, we’ve been to this party before.
But the guys manage to make it all so satisfying again and again, always in about 100 seconds time. We feel the boys’ pain and we enjoy their small triumphs while those glorious hooks put an immediate stranglehold on our gray matter.
BUY IT?: Yep.
Mike Evans is a super cool radio guy who doesn’t mess around when it comes to music. Sounds appears weekly in electric city and diamond city. Send email to: email@example.com.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
February is tough. Everyone has had more than enough snow. The cold has lingered long enough. Most everyone just wants spring, with its warm nights and sprouting greenery. All the dark, heavy beers have been great, but the heart yearns for something lighter, something more celebratory and less conciliatory.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Saisons, the Belgian farmhouse-style ales that herald the coming of warmer weather. They are traditionally brewed and aged in the cooler months of the year, as to avoid the possibility of spoiling during the hot summer months. This also gave the farmworkers something to do during the off months, keeping the full time staff employed brewing these beverages. These bottles would be stored until summer, where they would be consumed by the workers.
Saisons today are generally spicy and carbonated with a good deal of variation between them. There isn’t much that actually defines the style other than a vague idea. They’re usually around 7 percent ABV, making them stronger than a lot of spring fare. Most also have that Belgian funk to it that wild fermentation can bring, though they are not necessarily wild fermented.
This week, for my Saison fix, I’m turning to Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown, New York. They’ve been making great Belgian style brews since 1997, with perhaps Three Philosophers being they’re best known offering, though there are others of note. Their beers are always complex and have a certain refinement to them.
Today I’m drinking their Hennepin, a Farmhouse Saisson of 7.7 percent ABV. It poured into the pint glass with a beautiful golden, straw, yellow color. It was a striking contrast to the dark stouts and IPAs I’ve been drinking as of late. It was a bit cloudy and topped with a white fluffy head that left lacing all the way down the glass. Bubbles rose vigorously through the liquid reminiscent of champagne. It looked like a good drinking beer.
The scent was pleasant, combining a good deal of fruit with yeast and pepper. There was ample citrus, like the rind of a lemon. I could also catch notes of sweet malt and spices, such as clove. All of this, combined with its perceived effervescence, promised a really nice brew.
The taste certainly did not disappoint. A moderate amount of sweet malt comes in the foreground. This gives way to savory spice like clove and ginger. The citrus notes are present throughout. It ends with a peppery bite and alcohol, both of which being accentuated by the champagne like bubbles. The result is this great crisp and dry finish that leaves you wanting more.
The mouth feel on this brew was fantastic, like a dry ginger ale. It was invigorating and a great digestif. This would go great with some food off the grill, though it may be a bit early for that. Each quaff had ample amounts of spring in it, giving hope for warmer months. As with every other brew I’ve had from them, this one is a winner. Hennepin is crisp and delicious, which is everything a spring brew should be. Now we just need that warmer weather.
STRONG AND SWEET
THE DRUMS — Encyclopedia
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie rockers the Drums come back with a multi-dimensional third.
THE BAD: While Encyclopedia contains a few duds (“Bell Laboratories” a self-indulgent slice of weird), the record is far more awesome than misguided.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Shortly after Portamento (2011) came out, half the band quit and The Drums was down to its two core members, Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham. Those two spent the next several months working on side projects before deciding to give The Drums another shot as just a duo.
So they found a cabin and then a rehearsal space and banged out Encyclopedia, a daring experimental collection boasting more sharp slices of The Drums’ jittery indie pop along with layered introspective slower bits, showing off a side of these boys only hinted at before.
“Kiss Me Again” leaps madly about the room. The echoing “U.S. National Park” gets creepy around the campfire. The gorgeous flowing “Wild Geese” soars above the clouds (pun intended?).
BUY IT?: Sure.
STARS — No One Is Lost
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rockers Stars have fun on their eighth.
THE BAD: A couple of misfires, but nothing inherently bad.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Stars always treat their albums as a mash-up of styles and tempos; the band never stuck in one place for long. Yet each record seems to have its own overall personality; this new collection all about things that come alive after dark. Maybe it’s the neon-soaked roller boogie artwork or perhaps the lyrics of pulsating lead single “From the Night” — Let’s be young/Let’s pretend that we will never die. This record possesses an undying spirit that seems to grow even stronger after the sun goes down.
From the note-perfect power pop of “This Is the Last Time” to the grand spectacle that is “Trap Door” to the bass-heavy thumps carrying the closing title cut, Lost surprises at every turn (as usual). And the male-female interplay between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan adds even more flavor.
BUY IT?: Yep.
ALLO DARLIN’— We Come from the Same Place
THE GOOD: London-based indie poppers Allo Darlin’ (charming name, charming outfit) release a divine third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Modern twee meets ’80s jangle pop, what could be better or more emotionally moving? Take the usual batch of Scottish wonders like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura, and politely introduce them to the vintage sounds of very early R.E.M. and New Zealand’s legendary Bats. Want to go back even further? Sprinkle Four Jacks and a Jill over the top. That’s Allo Darlin’.
Fronted by the always achingly sweet Elizabeth Morris, the band is never short on heavenly melodies, fanciful bits of whimsy or gigantic bouts of melancholy. Tracks like “Heartbeat” and “Half Heart Necklace” can either be gentle or punchy, but those unabashed young heartaches and/or feelings of jubilation are constantly present. And by the time “Another Year” brings us in for a soft landing, we’re emotionally spent, perhaps cleansed, and it feels oh-so-spectacular.
BUY IT?: You must.
ELEPHANT STONE — The Three Poisons
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rock outfit Elephant Stone returns with a trippy third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Fronted by Rishi Dhir, a guy well versed in both Indian classical music and ’60s pop, Elephant Stone churn out a unique blend of vintage psychedelics and jangle pop; songs big on bright melodies and tight harmonies. Keyboards, sitars and old-school tape effects add vibrant color and tasteful textures to ambitious tunes such as “Knock You from Your Mountain” and “Worlds Don’t Begin and End with You.”
Poisons feels more accessible than past works; the guys possibly attempting to turn the usual mind-meld into a more instantly gratifying affair. But don’t panic. Those hoping for a virtual freak-out still get their brief patches of droning meditation and crashing rolling rhythms a la “Tomorrow Never Knows.” One could see this record as the band finally finding that balance between both worlds. The atmosphere is powerful yet it never overshadows the songs.
BUY IT?: Surely.
OK GO — Hungry Ghosts
THE GOOD: L.A. based indie rockers OK GO give us a more-than-OK fourth.
THE BAD: The album (almost) slows to a crawl during its final quarter. Up until then though, it’s bold banging high-flying indie pop.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Call this band what you will, but OK GO are damn reliable. None of their albums are exactly big on innovation or unexpected sounds, but the guys make tight tunes where guitars meld with patches of the electronic and rock-solid driving backbeats. And since Ghosts is their second album produced by Dave Fridmann, you can bet most of those backbeats are thicker and tougher than usual.
Better bits include the mad flow carrying lead single “The Writing on the Wall,” the fist pumping “Turn up the Radio” and the delicate yet still slightly explosive “The One Moment.” But there really isn’t a BAD moment here. Even the quieter cuts towards the end are not without their subtle melodic charms.
BUY IT?: Yes.
THE TWILIGHT SAD — Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave
THE GOOD: Scottish indie rockers Twilight Sad come back with a dense fourth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These Scots have explored everything from post-punk to delicate and exquisite acoustic work; always melodic yet always with one foot stuck in the oppressive moors. You don’t turn on a Twilight Sad record expecting an uplifting experience.
However, being forever brooding works for this band. Frontman James Graham never hides his thick accent and that only heightens the drama. The band themselves construct impenetrable walls of sound that make the proceedings all the more murky. Yet the guys always come up with memorable songs, the heavy atmosphere never completely covering the brilliance underneath.
Here it’s tough to resist chilly yet resonating tracks such as “Last January” and “It Never Was the Same;” shafts of warm light piercing the darkness. Think of these lads as distant European cousins to the National or the Walkmen.
BUY IT?: Oh yes.
Soaking up the suds with James Crane
Fun fact of the day: beer was around before writing. That’s right. In the big grand scheme of human history, we figured out how to get drunk before we figured out how to communicate via written symbols. This fact says a lot about our priorities as a race. It might also shed some light on why so many great writers throughout history have been drunks. In the history of human time, we’ve never had to write sober. Beer has always been there, providing inspiration and the stories worth retelling.
It is generally agreed that the first instances of writing began in 3200 BCE in ancient Sumer, putting writing at about 5200 years old. Scientists have found ancient brewing vessels from 7000 years ago, meaning that humans had a good millennia of drinking before they thought to write about it. To be fair, while not writing, cave paintings have even earlier origins, dwarfing them both at 40,000 years old. As old as beer might be, the ancient origins of comic books are a lot older.
The brewing was a good bit different than it was today. As with most great things, it was likely developed by accident. It still started with malted barley, but the implementation was different. Similar to a Russian brew called kvass, it was brewed with bread instead of just the base grains. This bread was sweet, as it was baked from malted barley. Unlike bread we are used to, it was baked at a lower temperature. This is very important, as the lower temperature would have kept the yeast alive. This yeast is what changed the soggy bread into a liquid gold.
This first brew was likely sour, cloudy and a little bit vinegary. The Sumerians are thought to have included additives such as honey and dates to make it a little more palatable. It was served in large earthenware vessels and drank communally through reed straws. Just remember this next time you see someone drinking their beer through a straw. They’re just being historically accurate.
We know a lot of this from an ancient Sumerian poem called “The Hymn to Ninkasi.” The script also doubles as the first known beer recipe, detailing some of the techniques and ingredients used. Some adventurous brewers of modern day have used the script to recreate that ancient beer with mixed results. It was certainly more of an art than a science at the time.
Ninkasi herself was the Sumerian goddess of beer. Not only did they invent writing and possibly brewing, they had a goddess just for getting you drunk. The hymn to Ninkasi is full of praise and thanks, as well as the brewing process. The following is a short excerpt from the poem itself.
“You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date -] honey”
This is also the first instance of a poet writing about alcohol. The writer must have been the Sumerian Charles Bukowski. If history has taught us anything, the author probably drank before he wrote. Its a matter of priorities.
ROYAL PUB CRAWL
THE KOOKS — Listen
THE GOOD: British indie rockers the Kooks come back with a varied fourth.
THE BAD: There are no GREAT Kooks albums. You take the good with the slightly stupid, hoping the former outnumbers the latter.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Listen may not be the band’s best, but it is their most sonically interesting. Elements of gospel, hip-hop and soul seep into the usual Brit-rock mix, shaking up the foundations. Cuts like “Forgive and Forget” and “It Was London” come off like a more polished take on the Heavy. Tunes such as “Around Town” and “Dreams” float towards the sun; both somewhat mesmerizing and inspirational.
Then you have your painfully misguided pieces like the shallow attempts at funk “Are We Electric” and “Sunrise;” a one-two punch that languishes instead of making your body move. “Sweet Emotion” recovers somewhat in the soul department, but even that jam doesn’t ring completely true. However, the boys score points for trying.
BUY IT?: As always with the Kooks, that’s your call.
JOHNNY MARR — Playland
THE GOOD: Ex-Smiths guitarist and co-founder Johnny Marr returns with his second solo outing within two years.
THE BAD: Playland only hints at the greatness of the man’s past achievements, but it’s still a decent set.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Unlike his Smiths partner-in-gloom Morrissey, it took Marr over two decades to launch a proper solo career. Meanwhile, the guy kept busy floating in and out of other bands and doing studio work (his guitar style very distinct and influential). But it wasn’t until 2013’s The Messenger that we received an actual solo record.
Now the man’s recent burst of creativity continues with Playland. Marr used a lot of the same backing musicians and self-produced again so the new record is a logical continuation. We get another collection of smart guitar pop/rock with Marr’s bold sense of melody and tasteful six-string prowess. Okay, Playland may not be the next Meat is Murder or The Queen is Dead, but then again … what is?
BUY IT?: Sure.
JAMES — La Petite Mort
THE GOOD: British indie legends James return with an accomplished eleventh.
THE BAD: La Petite Mort loses steam across its second half, but the album never outright falters.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Tim Booth and the boys have been making records for nearly three decades now, but they refuse to simply “coast.” (U2 could learn a thing or two from these guys.) Mort is a wondrous set, filled with bright melodies despite many lyrical bits of loss and dread (some of the album inspired by the death of Booth’s mother).
The slowly building epic “Walk Like You” opens the set, completely enrapturing the listener. From there, the band delivers the makings of an underground dance anthem (“Curse Curse”), their usual brand of majestic pop (“Moving On”) and some pulsating bits of tranquility (“Interrogation”).
All of the music is achingly familiar yet this isn’t a group repeating themselves. James are simply further developing a tried-and-true formula that has kept us mesmerized since the late ’80s.
BUY IT?: Absolutely.
STILL (INDIE) ROCKIN’
PRIMUS — Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble
THE GOOD: American indie rock trio Primus does the unimaginable on their eighth.
THE BAD: Is Chocolate Factory wickedly brilliant or an indulgent experiment?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman, bassist and Primus mastermind Les Claypool and his crew takes every song from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and gives them the royal Prawn Song treatment. I guess if any band HAD to do this, Primus is that band; these guys always walking a fine line between high intelligence and the somewhat low-brow.
Now they’re taking warm and fuzzy pieces of your childhood like “Pure Imagination,” “Golden Ticket” and all four “Oompa Loompa” chants and turning them into “Pork Soda” and “John the Fisherman.” And the end results aren’t awkward like one might expect. Strange? Creepy? Disturbing? Yes, but never embarrassing. Still, it’s tough to look at this collection as anything but a cool little novelty.
BUY IT?: Your call. Chocolate Factory is sweet but it’s hardly Primus’ finest hour.
TV ON THE RADIO — Seeds
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie rockers TVOTR regroup, survive and give us a glorious fifth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After losing bassist Gerard Smith to lung cancer in 2011, the tightly-knit band did some soul searching, switched record labels and changed focus. Seeds is the end result of all that strife and change.
First, it’s their most personal work to date; politics dialed way down within the lyrics while relationships and life matters take over. Second, it could be TVOTR’s most accessible record yet. Adventurous? Yes, but you don’t have to work so hard this time. Yet the guys still play it far from safe.
Seeds retains that unique mix of indie, the electronic and soul we’ve come to expect. And there’s always an underlying sense of doom around the next bend. “Quartz” buzzes and screeches. “Happy Idiot” is catchy yet jittery. The title cut is more soothing but hails from a seemingly dark place.
BUY IT?: Surely.
SMASHING PUMPKINS — Monuments to an Elegy
THE GOOD: Smashing Pumpkins return with their ninth album, supposedly the second in the Teargarden trilogy.
THE BAD: You either think Billy Corgan is a genius or a bit loopy; no middle ground there. Elegy is good, but it won’t win over past detractors.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Corgan IS Smashing Pumpkins these days; the band comprised of whoever feels like playing with him (or vice versa) at any given moment. On Elegy, that would include guitarist Jeff Schroeder (who has managed to stick around since 2007) and Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee playing ALL drum parts.
Elegy’s biggest strength is its brevity. Clocking in at just over 32 minutes, there’s no fat. Corgan has never made a Pumpkins record so devoid of prog rock tendencies or heavy concepts. We get nine melodic succinct guitar-driven rock songs. Tunes like “Tiberius” and “Run2Me” are powerful without being angry, accomplished without being pretentious. Corgan hasn’t written anything this unassuming since the one-off Zwan record back in 2003.
BUY IT?: Actually … why not?
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Concerts: Church, Horror Metal and The Dead
• Country crooner Eric Church brings “The Outsiders World Tour” to Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre on Friday, March 13. Tickets go on sale this Friday, Jan. 23 at 10 a.m. at the box office at Mohegan Sun Arena and ticketmaster.com. Drive-By Truckers are slated to open the show.
Church’s current album, The Outsiders, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart and the Billboard Country Albums Chart earlier this year, featuring his No. 1 hit “Give Me Back My Hometown” and his current single “Talladega.” The Outsiders is the follow-up to Church’s Platinum-certified album Chief, (named the 2012 Album of the Year by both CMA and ACM, and GRAMMY-nominated for Best Country Album).
To learn more about Eric Church, visit ericchurch.com and facebook.com/ericchurch.
• Slipknot announced its “Prepare for Hell” world tour, featuring special guests Hatebreed, which features a stop at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton on Wednesday, May 13 at 8 p.m.
Tickets go on sale this Friday, Jan. 23 at 10 a.m., while presales are available now via slipknot1.com.
Slipknot will headline several major festivals this year, including Florida’s Fort Rock, Welcome to Rockville, Carolina Rebellion, Northern Invasion and Rock on the Range.
The “Prepare for Hell” tour follows last year’s release of .5: The Gray Chapter, Slipknot’s fifth studio album and first since 2008’s RIAA platinum certified chart-topper “All Hope Is Gone.” The album made a stunning chart debut upon its October arrival, entering the SoundScan/Billboard 200 chart at No. 1
The album was No. 1 on both Revolver’s “20 Best Albums of 2014” and Guitar World’s “50 Best Albums of 2014” rankings, while also earning inclusion on Rolling Stone and Loudwire’s “20 Best Metal Albums of 2014” rankings.
• To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir will reunite at Chicago’s Soldier Field, nearly 20 years to the day of the last-ever Grateful Dead concert, which took place at the same venue. “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead” takes place over three nights — July 3, 4 and 5, 2015 — and marks the original members’ last-ever performance together. The band will be joined by Trey Anastasio (Guitar), Jeff Chimenti (Keyboards) and Bruce Hornsby (Piano) and will perform two sets of music each night.
In the tradition of the original Grateful Dead Ticketing Service (gdtstoo.com), tickets are now available via a mail order system, followed by an online pre-sale through Dead Online Ticketing Feb. 12 and will be available online to the general public on Feb. 14 via Ticketmaster.
There will be a general admission pit directly in front of the stage ($99.50). Reserved tickets range from $59.50-$199.50.
The Grateful Dead are considered one of the most important bands of the psychedelic era and among the most groundbreaking acts in rock and roll history.
The 1995 death of band leader Jerry Garcia abruptly put an end to the Grateful Dead, though various members subsequently regrouped as the Other Ones, The Dead and Furthur.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Ben Howard I Forget Where We Were (Republic) 2014.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
I’ve discussed my complicated relationship with Belgian brews before. Many beer people put them at the top of the alcoholic pyramid. While I do not in any way dislike them, I think they are largely overrated. The yeasts used generally impart certain characteristics on them that, while unique and tasty, are not particularly better than those you’d find in an IPA or Lager. Its a good style, but it is far from the only quality style out there.
There is also this kind of trend in the past few years to “Belgianize” a brew. I’ve seen a good few breweries do it. They take one of their regular beers but use a Belgian yeast and a few other additives to change its flavor profile. IPAs are a popular style to experiment with in this fashion. This has resulted in mixed results for me. Some I’ve tried are unique expressions of a style, full of subtleties and flavors not found in either of their parents. Others are gimmicky and different solely for the sake of being different. They are new and different in the way that a child pouring all the sodas in a soda fountain into a single cup is new and different. There is no main idea, no coherency. There is just a bunch of stuff in a bottle.
With this in mind, this week I grabbed a bottle of Victory Brewing’s Wild Devil. Its based off one of their more popular brews, Hop Devil, which is known for its blend of malt, spice, and lots and lots of hops. Wild Devil promised much the same, but with the added tang and funk of Belgian style brews. Victory has certainly churned out some great Belgians in the past (Golden Monkey, I’m looking at you). Could they do it with one of their hoppiest brews? There was only one way to find out.
The pour was absolutely beautiful. The beer was a gorgeous amber golden color topped with two fingers worth of creamy head that left all sorts of lacing down the side of the glass. Just looking at it made me quite excited. The scent was rather pleasing as well. It was sweet and malty with notes of citrus and spice. It was like ripe bananas and biscuits, imbued with a slight tang and sourness. By all outward appearances, this was going to be a great beer.
With such a great introduction, it was that much worse when the taste didn’t match up to expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad. It just was nowhere near as good as it looked or smelled. It seemed conflicted, like it didn’t know quite what it wanted to be. Up front was some malty sweetness and funk. It was quickly washed away in the bitter hop bite at the end. There were numerous subtle nuances in the beer, such as its slight grassy taste and citrus flavors, but none were allowed to shine for too long before being punched in the gut by its salty hops.
Wild Devil left me wanting a sweet, biscuity malty backbone that was strong enough to stand up to its bitter end whilst simultaneously carrying all those subtle undercurrents I previously mentioned. It did not have that. All in all, it was an okay beer, though it had the possibility of being great. Some more caramel malt to even it out, and I feel that it would have been outstanding. I still have nothing but love for Victory Brewing and all the great things they do. This just wasn’t their best offering.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Not all beers should be cellared. Most of our delicious brews should be drank within six months before quality starts to suffer. If you’re thinking about putting a sixer of Miller Lite in the basement for a special occasion, stop. Just drink it now. It’s not going to get any better.
There are some definite exceptions to this rule. Find yourself a big brew with some heavy flavors and a high alcohol? Buy yourself two: one for now and one for the future. Aging these beers mellow out some of the harsher flavors. The alcoholic burn softens a little. More subtleties, previously masked by the larger tastes, rise to the surface and allow you to taste more of the beer than you had before. Take notes on the first brew and compare it to the one you drink a year or more down the line. You’ll notice a difference.
I have a few I’ve been letting sit in a dark spot for a special occasion. Some are from Stone’s Vertical Epic line, which were brewed specifically to be cellared. Others have been gifts from friends that I’ve been holding onto for a special time, each one promising big, bold and boozy flavor. Others I just haven’t gotten around to yet, which is where I find myself tonight. After holding onto this beer for somewhere around two years, I decided to pop the top and share it with a friend.
The beer in question is Avery Brewing’s Samael’s, an English style strong ale aged with oak chips. Its a bit like barrel aging except the wood goes into the beer instead of vice versa. Though I had it for around two years, the bottle listed a bottling date of March 2010. I’d worried that perhaps I let it stay too long. Its pretty near the five-year mark. I’ve never knowingly drank a beer that old before.
Cautiously, I opened it. There was no explosion of foam or shrieking demons flying from its open mouth. The pour was thick and syrupy, topped with a rather thin white head. I’ve read in many places that no deadly pathogens can exist in alcohol, but I was still a bit guarded when I gave it a sniff. The scent was everything I could have wanted it to be, however.
Sweetness, caramel and wood. These scents floated off the brew in abundance. Surprisingly, I could still smell ample amounts of alcohol, though at a 15.82 percent, I perhaps should have expected this. It smelled downright antiseptic. I didn’t have to worry about anything foreign living in there.
The first swallow was like smoking a cigar full of cherries and wood chips. It was sweet and full of oak. Each swallow left the wafting feel of burning alcohol rising through my nasal passage. Even after five years, its still full of big flavor. I could only imagine what this one was like right out of the vat. It was a bit sweet and cloying, making it a poor choice to drink in any sort of quantity as I feel I’d tire of it during the second glass. With such a big kick, however, a second glass is not needed.
Samael’s was an excellent big and smokey brew. Next time I get the opportunity, I’ll pick up a few and drink at least one of them right away. Its tasty enough that I suggest you do the same. It has some real staying power.
2014’S MOST INTIMIDATING 10.
Hey gang! We continue our look back at the 20 best albums of 2014. This week — THE BETTER TEN!
10. LYKKE LI — I Never Learn (May)
The singer/songwriter moved from her native Sweden to Los Angeles after a bitter breakup and proved that awesome albums sometimes come from great strife and emotional turmoil. Wallowing in someone else’s misery can indeed be sweet.
09. MARISSA NADLER — July (February)
Boston native Marissa Nadler remains one of the most criminally underrated singer/songwriters of our time. Combining elements of modern folk, alt-country and even a splash of the gothic, her albums are truly haunting and unique. July was simply her latest stirring unsung triumph.
08. TENNIS — Ritual in Repeat (September)
The Colorado husband-and-wife indie pop duo seems to redefine themselves (ever so slightly) on each album. Yet the core formula remains the same. That is, breezy (okay, a little less breezy this time) catchy tunes with just the right amount of sardonic wit.
07. OLD 97’S — Most Messed Up (April)
It’s rare that a band will release some of their finest work twenty years into a career, but that’s precisely what Texas’ ultimate roadhouse rockers did. Messed Up was a low down dirty collection of road tunes and blue-collar affairs dripping with authenticity.
06. LATERNS ON THE LAKE — Until the Colours Run (January)
Another great record stemming from much inner turmoil, Colours found the struggling band almost breaking up over financial difficulties and an uncertain future. But those conditions must have forced Hazel Wilde and her boys to focus because they made an exquisite British indie pop collection.
05. ALLO DARLIN’ — We Come from the Same Place (October)
Place was the finest twee pop 2014 had to offer; a cozy yet melancholy record brimming with precious melodies and Elizabeth Morris’ playful yet sincere girl-next-door cooing. Throw in some retro jangle pop along with the right amount of heartbreak and this emotional rush is complete.
04. NEW PORNOGRAPHERS — Brill Bruisers (August)
A.C. Newman, Neko Case and the entire NP crew NEVER let you down. They always come through with the bold melodies and full-bodied arrangements. Bruisers is easily the most jubilant and “new wave” record in the catalog thus far. So a pleasant time is guaranteed for all!
03. BECK — Morning Phase (February)
Just like the aforementioned Old 97’s, Beck is another artist releasing some of his finest music two decades into a career. Phase didn’t deliver the expected big beats and funky breaks, but it didn’t have to. It reminded us that Beck is multi-dimensional and capable of the gorgeous low-key stuff as well.
02. FIRST AID KIT — Stay Gold (June)
We might as well call Stay Gold the best country album of 2014 while we’re here. The Swedish Soderberg sisters delivered their third modern folk collection of bright harmonies and tear-stained melodies and blew every mainstream Nashville act right off the map when it came to authenticity.
01. ST. VINCENT — St. Vincent (February)
American singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark’s fourth album is a brave unique mix of indie rock, electronic and (in some instances) punk and soul; a wildly unpredictable affair that never falters and an album that strikes you differently every time you play it.
Assorted declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Lonely Songs re-released
An Autumn Sunrise is musical project of local musician Bryan Brophy. To date, Brophy has released three albums under the moniker — When Words Speak Louder Than Actions, Songs for a Lonely Night (acoustic) and Look Toward Tomorrow.
Brophy is reissuing his acoustic album, Songs For A Lonely Night, on Jan. 20 with the addition of bonus material and brand new cover art. He is currently taking pre-orders for the album on An Autumn Sunrise’s Bandcamp Site.
Brophy, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, provides all of the guitars, keyboards, piano, percussion and vocals on Songs, as well as on all of his other albums. All of the music was recorded in Bryan’s home studio in his parent’s basement in 2009 (except for the live tracks). Several tracks were engineered, mixed and mastered by Brophy, while several other tracks were mixed and mastered by Chris Hludzik. Several tracks were also mastered by Tom Borthwick from SI Studios in Old Forge.
An intimate acoustic show will be announced soon to celebrate the album’s release. Plans are also in the works for the release of a brand new full length album sometime next year.
To find out more about An Autumn Sunrise, visit anautumnsunrise.bandcamp.com.
If you pre-order Songs for a Lonely Night, you will be able to instantly download four tracks from the album.
Festival Season is coming
Coachella 2015 — held in Indio, California in April — just announced it’s lineup. The unofficial start to the summer festival season boasts performances by AC/DC, Tame Impala, Interpol, Steely Dan, Alesso, Alabama Shakes, Jack White, Alt-J, Belle and Sebastian, Ratatat, Hozier, Flosstradamus, Bad Religion, Father John Misty, Drake, Florence + the Machine, Ryan Adams, St. Vincent and much more.
Hopefully, this means we will be getting the festival lineups for local festivals like Peach Music Festival, The Susquehanna Breakdown and the ever-popular Vans Warped Tour very soon.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Josh Rouse The Best of the Rykodisc Years
Assorted declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Docs that Roc
I’ll be looking at some much-needed downtime in January. Although my days will be peppered with dog walks and guitar cleaning, I recently re-upped my Netflix account for one reason and one reason only: music documentaries. As a devout fan of music docs, here are some of my favorites — some of which you can still stream on Netflix. To see some others, you may have to do some searching.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
The film tells the story of Daniel Johnston, a mentally ill singer/songwriter whose music has been recorded by Beck, Wilco, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam. Diagnosed with manic depression complicated by delusions of grandeur, Daniel battles the illness for decades — all while achieving great musical success and trying to stay out of mental hospitals. The film weaves his remarkable story through home movies, interviews, archived music tapes and live performance footage.
I Think We’re Alone Now
I Think We’re Alone Now is a documentary that focuses on two individuals, Jeff Turner and Kelly McCormick, who claim they adore ’80s pop singer Tiffany.
Turner, a 50-year-old man with Asperger’s syndrome, lives his life as Tiffany’s greatest fan, while 35-year-old McCormick claims to have been friends with Tiffany as a teenager. She credits Tiffany as “the shining star who has motivated her to do everything in her life.” Both are considered stalkers by the media and other Tiffany fans. The doc takes a look into the strange lives of these two somewhat lost souls.
The History of the Eagles
Featuring rare archival material, concert footage and unseen home movies explore the rise, fall and return of one of America’s favorite bands.
The documentary features in-depth interviews with Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit.
Shut Up and Play the Hits
Shut Up and Play the Hits is a 2012 documentary film that follows LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy over a 48-hour period, from the day of the band’s final gig at Madison Square Garden to the morning after the show. Live performances feature Reggie Watts and Arcade Fire (the film’s title is a reference to the moment Win Butler of Arcade Fire shouts “shut up and play the hits” as Murphy introduces the song).
A complete audio recording of this concert was released in April, entitled The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live at Madison Square Garden.
Beware of Mr. Baker
Best known for his work with Eric Clapton in Cream and Blind Faith, Ginger Baker has seen a bunch. The doc tells the story of Baker’s pattern of divorces, self-destruction and music. Chain smoking and on morphine, the 73-year-old reflects back on his life as we watch. In his own words, “God is punishing me for my past wickedness by keeping me alive and in as much pain as he can. I wasn’t planning on living this long!”
Use Your Van – Mason Jennings
Independent musician Mason Jennings brings cameras into the studio and onto the stage following the singer’s 11-month journey to bring his music to his fans. Concert performance footage features over a dozen songs including “Butterfly,” “Lonely Computer Screen,” “Fourteen Pictures” and “Killer’s Creek.”
Last Days Here
Bobby Liebling has spent more than 36 years as the lead singer of the band Pentagram. Broke and living for decades in his parents’ basement, Liebling is finally discovered by the heavy metal underground. With the help of Sean ‘Pellet’ Pelletier, his friend and manager, Bobby struggles to overcome his demons.
Glenn Tilbrook – One for the Road
This film follows a 2001 solo American tour by Glenn Tilbrook, lead singer of British new wave group Squeeze. One for the Road shows Tilbrook attempting a month-long US tour using an old mobile home instead of a tour bus and hotels. The film focuses on Tilbrook’s fantastic personality as he wows crowds and battles vehicle breakdowns. The film features Tilbrook performing “Tempted,” “Hourglass,” “Take Me I’m Yours,” “Up the Junction,” “Goodbye Girl” and “By The Light of the Cash Machine.”
Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?
The doc follows Harry Nilsson from childhood to death, chronicling the highs and lows along with him, from Grammy wins through divorce and substance abuse.
The film features original interviews Micky Dolenz, Eric Idle, Randy Newman, Yoko Ono, Paul Williams, Robin Williams, Brian Wilson and The Smothers Brothers. Also included are interviews with Nilsson’s family, including his wives and children.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid (Geffen Records) 2008.
THE BEST OF 2014
Before stepping into the New Year, we take one last look at the absolute best of 2014 — the 20 albums that mattered most. Sorry, but unlike most of my fellow critics, I didn’t hop on the Taylor Swift bandwagon and (oops!) One Direction didn’t quite make the cut yet again.
20. DROWNERS — Drowners (February)
Matthew Hitt moved from his native Wales to New York City in order to pursue a modeling career. The guy must have had a lot of down time because he formed a band, wrote some songs and churned out one of the year’s most infectious indie rock (with just a hint of glam) records.
19. BLONDFIRE — Young Heart (February)
This brother-and-sister duo from Los Angeles took about six years to churn out their second album, but the electronic-leaning stirring pop collection was well worth the wait. Hopefully, the two will make another one before 2020.
18. LUST FOR YOUTH — International (June)
This year’s first entry from Sweden, Lust for Youth is now a proper electronic outfit as opposed to just brains-behind-the-operation Hannes Norrvide in disguise. International was a gloriously retro throwback to the golden age of synthpop. 30 years too late? Hardly.
17. LAST INTERNATIONALE — We Will Reign (August)
Rock power trios still have their place, even the semi-political ones. Especially if they’re fronted by a tough-as-nails girl while the ex-drummer of Rage Against the Machine is laying down the tight foundation. Reign was super-fierce and (in 2014) super welcome.
16. ELBOW — The Take Off and Landing of Everything (March)
Perhaps the first semi-legendary act on the list, Britain’s Elbow continues to make intelligent guitar rock that’s firmly grounded in the long-standing traditions of Britpop, even though this record was mostly inspired by frontman Guy Garvey’s extended stay in NYC.
15. THE MUFFS — Whoop Dee Doo (July)
We thought they were done a decade ago. However, California pop/punk outfit the Muffs came back with a vengeance and a furious slab of pure ear candy. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kim Shattuck is 50 on this record, but she can still hold her own against any young hungry rocker chick out there.
14. BISHOP ALLEN — Lights Out (August)
Brooklyn indie rockers Bishop Allen finally came back with another subdued set big on huge melodies and a carefree vibe, but with just enough melancholy to keep the proceedings grounded. This one remains stuck in our collective grey matter.
13. THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART — Days of Abandon (May)
The New York outfit put another “retro” entry on the list. But when they’re clearly lifting elements form ’80s jangle pop and the finer points of New Order’s catalog, who are we to complain? Just embrace it and love it.
12. PAINTED PALMS — Forever (January)
It took awhile for this neo-psychedelic San Francisco outfit to do a proper full-length album. After teasing us with some superior EPs, the band made the slightly more sprawling multi-colored effort we always somehow knew was there.
11. REIGNING SOUND — Shattered (July)
Lead vocalist/guitarist Greg Cartwright’s been kicking around in various outfits and flirting with different genres for more than two decades now; RS has been an entity since the turn of the century. Shattered saw all past elements really come together; an unforgettable indie pop triumph.
Whoa! Out of room! We’ll regroup here next week for the TOP TEN.
THE BIG RAP STOCKING STUFFERS
WU-TANG CLAN — A Better Tomorrow
THE GOOD: After overcoming many obstacles, the Wu-Tang Clan regroups for a slick sixth effort.
THE BAD: The word “slick” should NEVER describe a Wu-Tang album.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Longtime member Raekwon criticized Wu mastermind the RZA for the direction this new album might take and longtime fans may end up agreeing with the former. The Wu was always known for its gritty production style; scratchy samples, sped-up backing vocals, chunky drum loops dripping with noxious noise and chopped up beyond recognition.
Better Tomorrow features some live instrumentation and jubilant R&B and, while there’s nothing wrong with either of those things, they simply don’t gel with the eerie foreboding inner city vibe that’s permeated all past albums. Maybe we’re supposed to accept these new directives as a logical progression, but they feel so awkward … and dull.
Thankfully, the grit and goofy kung-fu movie samples come back at enough points to warrant a listen, but Tomorrow should have been so much more satisfying.
BUY IT?: Your call.
GHOSTFACE KILLAH — 36 Seasons
THE GOOD: Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah releases his eleventh solo outing.
THE BAD: Ever since 2006’s Fishscale and More Fish (his final two GREAT albums thus far), GK’s catalog has been one of diminishing returns.
THE NITTY GRITTY: GK seems stuck on making concept albums, entire records that tell a cohesive story. Therefore, the individual parts suffer when taken out of context and we get a set far too ambitious for its own good.
Seasons finds GK continuing the saga of Tony Starks (the Iron Man character the rapper embraced on his first solo album, 12 years before Robert Downey Jr. brought the man to the big screen). Both versions of the character are similar in name only. I won’t go into the narrative here; read the comic strip in the CD booklet and you’ll get the entire gist.
Just realize Seasons is filled with uninspired backing tracks, half-baked ideas and a star whose absent on a third of the cuts.
BUY IT?: 36 Seasons is for Ghostface completists only.
EMINEM (and others) — Shady XV
THE GOOD: Eminem celebrates the fifteenth anniversary of Shady Records with something old and something new.
THE BAD: Shady XV is a wildly uneven compilation.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The first disc features new music from Eminem (about half) and a host of other artists on the Shady roster. We get new jams from Slaughterhouse, Bad Meets Evil, Yelawolf, D12 and Mr. Mathers himself. There’s nothing fresh here from Obie Trice or 50 Cent, but they show up on the second “greatest hits” disc.
Some tracks are funky and furious; others are flat. But there’s little here that doesn’t feel like B-side or leftover material. The title cut is fun with its blatant looping of Billy Squier’s “My Kinda Lover.” “Twisted” is spooky and surreal. “Detroit vs. Everybody” rounds out the new stuff with a banging all-star passing of the mic. Yet Shady XV still comes off like a cash grab released just in time for your holiday gift giving convenience.
BUY IT?: Your choice.