GIRLS AND BOYS DANCE TOGETHER
LITTLE DAYLIGHT — Hello Memory
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie pop trio Little Daylight offers up a decent self-produced debut.
THE BAD: Memory is pleasing but predictable.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Little Daylight falls in with a lot of other current female-fronted electronic-leaning outfits. They’re an Americanized Chvrches, a heavier Echosmith and a more spaced-out Colourist.
Front woman Nikki Taylor and her boys have managed to carve out their own little niche within the genre while not exactly overflowing with innovation. Thankfully though, Memory isn’t short on solid tracks. No unforgettable anthems, but no duds either. Cuts such as the instantly fetching “Overdose” and “Mona Lisa” are big on thick backbeats and kicking choruses.
And the band really shines when they bring in some dreamy ambient (“Be Long”) or seamlessly danceable (“Runaround”) elements. The entire collection is varied enough to avoid falling into a repetitious rut while still retaining a consistent agreeable vibe. Memory ends up being nothing more than very good rhythmic pop … and sometimes I guess that’s enough.
BUY IT?: Why not?
THE ASTEROIDS GALAXY TOUR — Bring Us Together
THE GOOD: Danish indie pop duo Asteroids Galaxy Tour (vocalist Mette Lindberg and songwriter/producer Lars Iversen) are back with a stupendous interstellar third.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The pair brings back their heady psychedelic (and very danceable) mix of retro rock and the electronic. Truly a wild seamless set. Disco gets sprinkled atop certain cuts (“Navigator”) while vintage soul permeates others (“My Club”). “Choke It” and “Rock the Ride” are funky party anthems. “I Am The Mountain” and “X” are darker and more serious. Yet even these possess an undeniable spirit both giddy and intoxicating.
Just like AGT’s first two outings, Together is an album designed for pure pleasure, but it’s not a “guilty” pleasure. No, this is quality stuff, extremely well conceived and executed (sometimes even sophisticated). The band’s entire catalog also displays no signs of diminishing quality. So of course, once again, the pair leaves us craving more.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
BROODS — Evergreen
THE GOOD: New Zealand electronic pop duo Broods (brother and sister Caleb and Georgia Nott) give us their full-length debut.
THE BAD: Evergreen is a slick enough set but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Broods is yet another outfit blurring the lines between indie pop, electronic music and modern R&B, with a female vocalist purring and wailing over rhythmic mechanized backdrops. If you think the record sounds an awful lot like Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine, that’s probably because Evergreen was produced and co-written by Joel Little, the same guy behind Lorde’s entire musical output (so far).
Still, tracks like “Bridges” and “Mother and Father” are not without their strengths — fetching melodies and buzzing humming keyboards carried by liquid beats. Georgia also possesses the right voice for the material. But we’ve been here before and very recently. And since pop music is cyclical, we’ll probably be here again more than a few times in 2015.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
A STEADY PULSE
ERASURE — The Violet Flame
THE GOOD: British synth-pop duo Erasure (producer/instrumentalist Vince Clarke and vocalist Andy Bell) are still going strong after almost 30 years and 15 albums.
THE BAD: Flame is a record from a group past their creative prime.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Like their synth-pop counterparts Depeche Mode (a band Clarke co-founded well over three decades ago), Erasure is falling into that comfortable rut of releasing a decent album every few years. It’s nothing that would overshadow past triumphs, but good enough to prove the guys are still relevant.
Flame picks up where other releases since the turn of our century (Nightbird, Light at the End of the World, etc.) left off. That is, we get ten songs riding liquid beats while Bell’s soaring falsetto belts out more of Clarke’s precious melodies. Tracks like “Elevation” and “Reason” joyfully bounce around the room while more subdued pieces such as “Be the One” add a touch of blue-eyed soul to the mostly electronic proceedings. Earth shattering? Hardly. Enjoyable? Tremendously.
BUY IT?: Why not?
ELECTRIC YOUTH – Innerworld
THE GOOD: Canadian synth-pop duo Electric Youth (instrumentalist Austin Garrick and vocalist Bronwyn Griffin) gives us a sparkling debut.
THE BAD: Don’t expect perfection. However, Innerworld is a damn fine launching point.
THE NITTY GRITTY: No, the two didn’t take their name from the old Debbie Gibson album (“Lost In Your Eyes” anyone?), but EY do often find themselves drifting through the more synthetic sounds of the 80s. Innerworld is a slightly retro album celebrating all things digital and somewhat gentle, harkening back to the feel of Yazoo, OMD and Xymox.
The two first made a splash a couple of years ago when their dreamy “A Real Hero” (included here) popped up on the Drive movie soundtrack (awesome flick, BTW). Innerworld is now more of the same, breezy hypnotic pop gems riding steady, yet subtle, beats. Tracks like “We Are the Youth” and “Without You” pull us in with Griffin’s delicate vocals guiding quaint melodies. The pulsating backdrops then keep us locked in place.
BUY IT?: Yep.
ALT-J — This Is All Yours
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Alt-J release a low-key second effort.
THE BAD: Yours suffers from not necessarily a sophomore slump, but rather a slump in general.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Most listeners can’t help but call Alt-J a “new Radiohead.” However, in this case, that’s not really a term of endearment, more like “this is what the band is aspiring to, but it’s just not happening.” For Yours does possess the muted vocals, low burning guitars and heavy atmosphere. But this record is sorely lacking in a reason to come back for a second listen. The melodies are flat and the entire affair drags after a few cuts.
There are times when Yours almost takes off. “Choice Kingdom” is hauntingly pretty. “Hunger of the Pine” is quirky, built around an unexpected Miley Cyrus sample. “The Gospel of John Hurt” almost latches onto a subdued groove … not quite. There are glimmers of hope, yet they all feel like lost opportunities.
BUY IT?: Your decision.
THANKS FOR THE MELODIES
THE RAVEONETTES — Pe’ahi
THE GOOD: Danish indie rock duo Raveonettes release a noisy (as usual) melodic (of course) seventh.
THE BAD: No complaints, but prepare for a change in focus.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Named after a Hawaiian surfing spot and partly inspired by the death of guitarist/vocalist Sune Rose Wagner’s father, Pe’ahi explores the usual dark territories of any Raveonettes album. However, there’s a little less sarcasm and humor this time and a bit more instrumental experimentation with the band moving beyond the usual rudimentary beats and Jesus and Mary Chain guitar fuzz.
Though most of its melodies are strong, the album’s distinct and abrasive beauty can be found within the backing tracks. Underneath all the harmonies and Sharin Foo’s haunting wispy solo turns, there’s an array of funky (sometimes recognizable) drum loops, pretty little countermelodies and even the occasional delicate harp or choir arrangement. Longtime fans shouldn’t panic. There are still mounds of buzzing six-strings. However, this album hails from a more “somber” place than past records.
BUY IT?: Surely.
NEW PORNOGRAPHERS — Brill Bruisers
THE GOOD: Canadian indie supergroup New Pornographers are back together after a four-year hiatus.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Led by power pop and melodic mastermind A.C. Newman, the band finds themselves getting over some trying times personally and looking ahead to a future that’s so bright they gotta wear shades. There’s an undeniable exuberance to Bruisers, easily the most multi-colored and “new wave” of all the bands albums.
Swirling synths never dominate the guitars, but make their presence known more than ever before, recalling that delicate balance found by The Cars decades ago. Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and alt-country goddess Neko Case both return and take on some lead vocal duties — Bejar also composing his usual small handful of songs. And even these crew members sound livelier than ever.
Little gems like “War on the East Coast,” “Marching Orders” and the title cut are sharp and infectious while the album’s momentum never trails off, even during the softer bits. Stability has been achieved.
BUY IT?: Yep.
THE VASELINES — V for Vaselines
THE GOOD: Scottish indie rockers The Vaselines return with their third.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After forming almost 30 years ago, The Vaselines released a couple of EP’s and one full-length album before unceremoniously imploding around 1990. But the band’s core (the boy-girl duo of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee) wrote enough catchy post-punk tunes to become a major influence on Nirvana and a host of other 90s acts, thereby securing a place in rock history.
2010 saw the pair reform to give us Sex with an X, an infectious gritty collection that picked up right where the band left off 20 years prior. Now V for Vaselines is yet another dose of that formula so tasty, you wouldn’t dare ask them to change it. Tracks like “High Tide Low Tide” and “One Lost Year” are big on bold melodies, slick harmonies, shaking tambourines and plenty of “Ba Ba Ba Bas” — joyous noises that leave you hungry for more.
BUY IT?: Yes.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
If you’ve picked up an alcoholic beverage before, you probably know that the night before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest party nights of the year. Everyone you know is back in town for the holiday and you are doing one of two things. First, you may be hanging out with every old friend you’ve ever had and drinking beer like the bar is going to run out of them at any second. Secondly, you could just be sitting at home, washing your bitterness down with whatever strong beers you happen to have sitting in the back of the cupboard, glad to not be involved with all of the amateurs.
Well, good for you, black-out party animal/ smug, high horse-riding loner. I bet you had fun/ cried in your beer.
Now, however, it is Thanksgiving and you are hungover. Any second now, hordes of your relations are going to be descending upon your well being and assault what little peace you had left floating around in your alcohol sodden brain. Sure, you could just give up now and await the impending doom upon your soul. You’re better than that though, right?
It’s time to cowboy up and get the job done. You’ve been hungover before and you’ve lived (if you can call your current state of being “life”). Sure, you can’t decide if you’d rather puke or die, but you’ll get through it. Thankfully, I’m here to help. Just in time for the holiday, I bring you James Crane’s 2014 hangover guide. You’re welcome.
Now is most likely the time you expect me to give you some sensible advice like “pop some ibuprofen and drink a lot of water.” Luckily, I know you better than that. You’re no sissy and if there is one thing I know about water, it’s for sissies. If you’re going to tough your way through this day, its not going to be because you were “hydrated”— whatever that means.
The first step is an easy one. Go back to sleep. Whatever is happening can probably wait for you. A few more hours won’t hurt. Enjoy the peace and quiet while you can. When you do wake up, grab yourself a good strong cup of coffee. Or coffee stout. Whichever.
The second step is also an easy one. If you want to feel better, get your food on. Your body is craving all kinds of calories right now. When the feast is ready, immediately start stuffing yourself. If you want to get some extra credit, Google “bacon turkey recipe” and give your turkey a little extra love in the form of pork. Bacon has all kinds of properties that help with that hangover. You don’t have to believe me. Believe science.
The third step is what will really bring it together. I imagine it goes without being said, but just in case, I submit to you the following: keep drinking. Sure, you’re trading your hangover for plain ol’ drunkenness, but where is the harm there? If you answered potential liver failure, you might be right. We can worry about that in January. Until then, tip back another bottle. You will not only be getting rid of your hangover, but you’ll also be washing away all that holiday stress.
I’ll say it again. You’re welcome.
MORE THAN A TIGHT RHYTHM
BEAR IN HEAVEN — Time Is Over One Day Old
THE GOOD: Brooklyn-based indie rockers Bear in Heaven are back with an interstellar fourth.
THE BAD: Time isn’t tight. The band lets the music breathe and fill large spaces. Not “bad,” but keep an open mind and go with the flow.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Combining neo-psychedelic electronics with guitar fuzz, BIH’s music lands deep within a canyon surrounded by the Flaming Lips’ quirks, Animal Collective’s hyperactive sense of melody and the Beta Band’s laid-back tendencies. Vocalist/lyricist and primary producer Jon Philpot is still steering the ship, keeping things multi-layered and unpredictable.
Time begins as a focused yet otherworldly pop album; songs like “Autumn” and “If I Were To Lie” built with bold melodies and more traditional structures. Moving on, the record mellows a bit (“The Sun and the Moon and the Stars”) before switching on more electronics (“Demon”) and then finally sliding into way-out experimental territories (the inviting drone of “Dissolve the Walls”). It’s a fascinating journey.
BUY IT? Yep.
SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO — Whorl
THE GOOD: British electronic duo Simian Mobile Disco return with a very spacey set.
THE BAD: No real complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: SMD began life as the technology obsessed side project of James Ford and Jas Shaw from the now defunct Simian. For the past decade, the two have been creating boundless electronic works that have flirted with just about every sub-genre there is; some records noisy and heavy, others more restrained and “pop friendly.”
Whorl is the guys’ dedicated step into ambient techno territory. Recalling that genre’s mid-90s heyday, the album begins in swirling “beatless” territories, resembling some long forgotten Orb EP. Once the liquid beats kick in, we suddenly find ourselves remembering dark nights spent grinding to the Future Sound of London.
The album spends a little over an hour bouncing between these two not-so-extremes, pulsating cuts with well-defined grooves and pieces more than willing to melt into the background. A delicate balance is maintained, and the set is better for it.
BUY IT? Yep.
CARIBOU — Our Love
THE GOOD: Canadian writer/producer/performer Dan Sanity (current stage name Caribou) gives us a very personal sixth.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Sanity started making records under the moniker Manitoba around the turn of the century. At first, albums were made up mostly of sound collages (some tranquil, others abrasive) and quirky electronic pop tracks. As things progressed and further records came together, and after he switched names to Caribou, Sanity brought in hip-hop elements and more traditional song structures. All of this progression came together on 2010’s stunning Swim; still the man’s finest and most commercially successful to date.
Our Love is now Sanity’s “thank you” of sorts; the guy out to show his fan base a funky good time. Tracks like “Silver” and “All I Ever Need” wrap their subtle blips and bloods around solid clicking rhythms and Sanity’s own soulful falsetto. Other constructed moments such as “Dive” and “Julia Brightly” prove the more experimental side of his music remains intact and intense.
BUY IT? Yes.
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
I listen to Spotify from time to time, mainly to revisit an old record that has been lost in a move or an old cassette that my car stereo decided to eat at the end of a long road trip. Spotify is great for listening to an artist’s back catalogues. I find it also great for discovering new music. Unfortunately, the new bands don’t really make enough money from its royalty pay outs to make ends meet, as it is such a small fraction per play.
So why the hell did Taylor Swift decide it was time to pull her entire catalogue from the music service earlier this month? Let’s look a little closer …
Taylor Swift claims: “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”
Dave Grohl, the new self-appointed spokesman for “big rock,” countered: “You want people to (bleeping) listen to your music? Give them your music. And then go play a show. They like hearing your music? They’ll go see a show. To me it’s that simple, and I think it used to work that way. When we were young and in really noisy, crappy punk rock bands there was no career opportunity and we loved doing it and people loved (bleeping) watching it and the delivery was completely face to face and personal. That’s what got people really excited about (bleep). Nowadays there’s so much focus on technology that it doesn’t really matter.”
Easy to say if you’re in the hottest rock and roll band in the world (Foo Fighters) and the former drummer of one of history’s most recognized anti-establishment bands (Nirvana).
That brings us to Billy Bragg, who scoffed at Ms. Swift’s move as “nothing more than a corporate power play.”
“She should just be honest with her fans and say ‘sorry, but Sergey Brin gave me a huge amount of money to be the headline name on the marquee for the launch of YouTube Music Key and so I’ve sold my soul to Google. If Ms. Swift was truly concerned about perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free, she should be removing her material from YouTube, not cosying up to it. The de facto biggest streaming service in the world, with all the content available free, YouTube is the greatest threat to any commercially based streaming service.”
The enemy of my enemy is my … I’m still confused.
All of this back in forth between musicians not only brought back images of local artists going at each other’s throats time after time (which still happens today), but forced me to dig up some legendary musician-to-musician bashing.
David Lee Roth on Elvis Costello
“Music journalists like Elvis Costello because music journalists look like Elvis Costello.”
Kurt Cobain on Guns N’ Roses
“They’re really talentless people, and they write crap music, and they’re the most popular rock band on the earth right now. I can’t believe it.”
Noel Gallagher on Jack White
“He looks like Zorro on doughnuts.”
Robert Smith on Morrissey
“If Morrissey says not to eat meat, then I’ll eat meat — that’s how much I hate Morrissey.”
Anton Newcombe (Brian Johnstown Massacre) on Eric Clapton
“People talk about Eric Clapton. What has he ever done except throw his baby off a (bleeping) ledge and write a song about it?”
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Damien Rice My Favourite Faded Fantasy (Vector Recordings/Warner Bros.) 2014
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
The V Spot Celebrates Four Years of Chuggin’ Beers
Vinnie Archer, co-owner of The V Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton, can never be described as “a man of few words.” I’ve known Archer for quite some time and when he’s not busy blessing someone’s dinner rolls, filling up multiple shot glasses or telling someone a story of his infamous “Rock and Roll days,” he’s a dedicated family man who recently took time between running some errands for his wife and operating a leaf blower to sit down and talk to me.
Here’s what Archer had to say about four years of The V Spot.
Talk about The V Spot being open for four long years.
It’s true what they say about the bar business — you’ll be married to it. It’s a fact. It’s been mostly a lot of ups and very few downs. The joy of the business is the customers. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t want to continue, but it is fun because of the customers who come to see us. I’m certainly not interested in opening The V Spot 2 or another location. One bar is enough for me — that’s for sure! We’re open seven days a week, which creates a distraction in regards to my personal life, but I’m very grateful for being as successful as we have been.
What are some of your favorite memories at the bar so far?
Major highlights have been the holidays. Christmas time at the bar with all of the decorations seems to bring out the best in people. I also like to play “The 12 days of Christmas” by the Muppets and John Denver. That song can bring out the best in even the crankiest of customers. When we first opened, we had crowds. We would have 200 people paying to get in during the weekend. The turn outs for the bands, still to this day, continue to amaze me. The memorable things are the huge crowds that come out for all of the special events, the holidays and the bands.
I also love when we get the floors waxed because we don’t do that all the time. But every three months, we get the floor shined up real nice and that brings out the best in everyone too.
How important is it to you to have live music at The V Spot?
If we didn’t have live music, we would just be another corner bar. I believe that’s what separates us from the other bars. The V Spot has live entertainers six out of the seven days a week. People who have been to the bar before are coming back because they know they are being entertained. There is no cover four out of the six nights — the music is complimentary. Being a former musician, (I was known as “The Artist formerly known as Vince”), I love live music. If I was ever going to open a bar, it was going to have to be a rock and roll joint. I’m doing my best to fulfill the prophesy
Are you ever going to build a stage?
(Laughs.) Really great question! The answer is yes. We are in discussions with the people who built the World Trade Center to do something very special for us
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the last four years?
Save your money and build your business bigger and better. If you are always trying to do something to outdo yourself year after year, eventually you will. Look out for a revitalization of The V Spot in 2015. There’s a lot pressure in these questions.
Who would you like to see play at the bar?
2 Live Crew. They contacted me and their tour manager said they wanted to play at our place. I said “I don’t believe you understand what this club is all about.” They want to play it. I asked them if they were traveling through and they said, No. We’ll fly up from Florida.” It was the cutest conversation. I’d like Slipknot to come through, I know its tough to get eight guys on the stage.
You meant to say the floor.
Yes. The floor. We have the Jeffrey James Band play at the bar and they have eight guys in the band. If we can fit them in the bar, we can get Slipknot too.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: Shovels & Rope Swimmin’ Time (Dualtone Records) 2014
Editor Tom Graham is a musician and singer/songwriter rooted in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
LONE LADIES —
YELLE — Completement Fou
THE GOOD: French singer Julie Budet and/or the trio she heads up (the moniker “Yelle” refers to either one) comes back with a dynamic third.
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: As the group continues, their records are more varied. Completement Fou is easily the most “pop” of all their albums; a set about much more than just keeping a dance floor moving. Of course, you still get a satisfying helping of danceable anthems with Budet way out in front egging on the crowd in her native tongue and making the whole happening very lively.
This time however, you also move to a decent amount of low-key mid-tempo bits that show off Budet’s singing skills while demonstrating the woman is NOT just a one-dimensional club queen. This album is deeper than its predecessors, and while some detractors could claim Completement Fou loses steam during its final third, that very change in tempo makes repeat listens all the more alluring.
BUY IT?: Yes.
ZOLA JESUS — Taiga
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/producer Zola Jesus (real name Nika Danilova) creates a vast third outing.
THE BAD: Taiga, a Russian phrase for “forest,” feels like it’s more about filling a huge space as opposed to churning out succinct pop songs. Nothing wrong with that. Just prepare for a cool headphones record that has to “seep in” to your consciousness and not a collection that will immediately grab you on every level.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The album keeps you guessing, bouncing from the catchy electro-pop of “Dangerous Days” to the eerie echo-drenched “Dust” to the hectic drum-and-bass colored “Hunger” without flinching. Despite the changes in tempo and mood though, Taiga maintains an overall vibe of “wild” tranquility; harsh electronics used to create something that feels warm and organic.
Plus the songs themselves are just GOOD. Danilova paints each cut with the proverbial “whistles and bells” to add texture, but most of these tracks would be just as effective bare. Taiga ends up a natural and solid progression.
BUY IT?: Yep.
BANKS — Goddess
THE GOOD: Los Angeles singer-songwriter Banks (Jillian Rose Banks) offers up a brooding debut.
THE BAD: Goddess could use a good trim … or maybe a change in tempo?
THE NITTY GRITTY: Banks is yet another female singer born in the late 80s/early 90s, and fed a steady diet of Tori Amos and Fiona Apple while growing up in a musical landscape dominated by a whole lot of hip-hop and female-fronted R&B. Like predecessors Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Rey and Lorde, her music blurs the lines between indie pop, electronica and soul.
Goddess is an hour-long marathon of mid-tempo, R&B flavored, somewhat steamy songs guided by a girl who would probably rather be considered “misunderstood indie chick” as opposed to “white soul diva.” Too harsh? Sorry, but Goddess sounds too much like a bunch of records we’ve heard over the past year, a lot by those other aforementioned artists. And after awhile, the damn thing simply melts into the wallpaper.
BUY IT?: Maybe not.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
When you drink and discuss beer long enough, you start to understand its vocabulary — like being able to understand what it means for a beer to taste earthy and funky, or to have a certain spice or alcoholic burn in the nose. When you experience these sensations and hear the words, you suddenly have the way to describe what was formerly troublesome. Beer carries with it its own language.
Every so often, however, something happens outside the bounds of your known vocabulary. We deal with new experiences by relating them to previous ones. Some things are defined most aptly by their contrasts. What would sweet mean without sour? What would hot be without cold? It’s an easy comparison, but what happens when something is neither hot nor cold? What happens when it’s purple? These past experiences of hot and cold mean nothing to your present when your present is but purple.
This all might be a bit lofty for talking about beer, but perhaps not. The brew I am drinking now, Rhinelander’s Mystical Jack, falls a bit into the purple category. When I first opened the bottle, I was quite confused by the scent. It smelled slightly astringent. Once it sat out for a while, I could catch the sweet malt. It was almost like it was an afterthought, however. The yeast was in there too, but it just wasn’t … normal. I don’t mean to say it smelled bad or wrong. It just didn’t smell the way I’m used to beer smelling.
The pour was more what I was used to seeing. The liquid itself was a beautiful dark amber with a slightly thick consistency. There was a finger and a half of beige head that lasted just as long as it needed to. It left light lacing down the sides of the glass as it dissipated. Bubbles rose is a steady, lazy steam through the slightly hazy liquid, promising decent carbonation.
The taste was the biggest throw off. My first thought was of iced tea, but completely different. After a few sips, something like rye or maybe just a little bit like caraway settled on the tongue. Each sip was drowned out in a moderate amount of bittering hops, making it hard to linger on any certain flavor. After a while, the same sweet malt that I smelled earlier came out, but it was quickly attacked by slightly medicinal tastes.
Mystical Jack bills itself as a traditional ale, which means nothing in and of itself. Traditional is one of those words that is big and vague enough to not have any real meaning other than what the individual ascribes to it. In this instance, it invokes feelings of something old and rustic with rough edges that are quite necessary for its character. It is unfamiliar, yet something that exists deep inside the collective consciousness passed down to us from our ancestors. It smacks of ancient traditions, and ritual sacrifices, the fear of the unknown and goats that walked on the legs of men and …
Sorry — might have got carried away there.
The truth is, this beer is different. Everything I’ve said thus far means just that. It’s not a great beer, but it is far from terrible as well. Mystical Jack is worthwhile if only for the new experience it entails. I can already feel my vocabulary expanding.
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Halloween Beards are a Bust
Beards are not the best during Halloween.
There are so many costumes that simply can not be executed due to the fact that I have a ginger man mane planted on my face. Aside from the Bearded Lady, a God-fearing, homophobic character from Duck Dynasty and an assortment of wispy wizards, this beard has held up the stop sign on plenty of great costume ideas.
And I simply cannot bring myself to go as Walker, Texas Ranger every year.
If I shaved tomorrow morning and it was time to dress up for the Halloween season, here is what you would see me parading around town as. But I’m not shaving, so don’t worry.
I’d throw on the old throwback jersey and carry my gambling book whilst placing bets all over town.
The Apparently Kid
Remember when being a slightly pudgy, little awkward and a totally straight-shooting ginger kid was completely adorable? No. I don’t either. It never was. Until The Apparently kid took that microphone out of Sofia Ojeda’s grasp and became a national sensation. I’d find myself a WNEP microphone cover, talk incessantly about my grandfather and my adoration of dinosaurs and win every best costume prize in the 570. Bonus: One of my friends could dress up like Ellen Degeneres and interview me at each party.
Pee Wee Herman
Pee Wee with a beard? It doesn’t work unless you’re James Brolin, (pictured above). And even that was a pretty lame beard.
Super Mario Brothers
I’m not about to go shaving a mustache for one night of living out my Nintendo dreams. Come to think of it, real mustache costumes are much easier to think of: Ron Burgundy, Magnum P.I., John Waters, Albert Einstein, Hulk Hogan, Borat, etc.
Sugar Skull or Zombie
It looks amazing when people sport the Day of the Dead sugar skull look on Halloween, but beards never seem to fit the look. Let’s say a bearded zombie comes crawling your way. Normally, your first reaction is to run away or scream, not say “Hey! Look! That zombie has a beard! Never saw that before! (Snaps selfie with bearded zombie in the background). Sweet!”
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: The Allman Brothers Band Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas (Capricorn) 1976
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo
Jake Gyllenhaal first turned heads in the tender 60s drama October Sky and sophomoric comedy Bubble Boy, but the young actor looked destined to be forever associated with the title role in Richard Kelly’s trippy cult hit Donnie Darko in 2001. After establishing his star status with big budget extravaganzas for better (The Day After Tomorrow) and worse (Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time) as well as garnering an Oscar nomination for one particular critical favorite (Brokeback Mountain), however, he’s taken more artistic chances, mostly as offbeat characters in edgy crime thrillers (Zodiac, End of Watch, Prisoners). Nightcrawler, his latest crime thriller, perhaps showcases the actor in his most oft-kilter role yet. In the R-rated crime-thriller from, a driven young man (Gyllenhaal) stumbles upon the dangerous underground world of Los Angeles freelance crime journalism. The Plus: The material. Here, writer/director Dan Gilroy (screenwriter, Freejack, The Bourne Legacy) directs a cast that includes Gyllenhaal (Love & Other Drugs), Russo (Thor: The Dark World) and Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow). Based on early reviews, however, the screenplay is the thing. It seems that Gilroy’s dark violent though-provoker is an early favorite for awards season. The Minus: The odds. Lump this flick in with such other early contenders as Foxcatcher, Interstellar, Wild, Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Selma, American Sniper, Big Eyes and Unbroken and you have yourself a crowded group.
Before I Go to Sleep
Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth
In this R-rated mystery, a woman (Kidman) who remembers nothing as a result of a traumatic accident in her past begins to question everyone around her when truths emerge. The Plus: The genre. Whether the reviews are good, bad or worse, some thrillers just have that head scratching knack for becoming hits (No Good Deed). The Minus: The odds. Rowan Joffe, a screenwriter known for one decent hit (28 Weeks Later) and one marginal effort (The American), made his directing debut with a 2010 remake of 1949 British Cinema classic Brighton Rock … to little aplomb. As for Nicole Kidman, remember Rabbit Hole, Stoker, The Paperboy or Grace of Monaco? Didn’t think so. Not only has her output been spotty as of late, but two of her 2011 performances (comedy Just Go with It and thriller Trespass) even garnered several Razzie Awards, which “honors” the worst offerings in cinema.
Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto
*1/2 — Bored Games
Playing with the dark forces with such formulaic redundancy that they pretty much become dark farces, horrid horror movie Ouija follows Battleship into the abyss of poor board game movie adaptations. In this PG-13-rated horror flick, a group of friends (Cooke, Coto, et al) confront their most terrifying fears when an innocent game awakens the dark powers of an ancient spirit board. Well, here we groan again. Pretty young things get dead, like, bad. And, if we hadn’t seen these trappings so many times before in better thrillers, the unique supernatural plaything twist might’ve provoked some new thrills. Instead, it plays out as predictably as a Little Golden Book. Once the game offs one of the childhood group who innocently played Ouija as kids, the now-teenage players reunite for — wait for it — one more game. They act like it’s a way to help them grieve, but the goings-on meet such predictable ends that you wonder how these pretty libel liars walked into this scenario having watched so many similar set-ups on-screen. Granted, they set up their own closed-mouth ghost story, but its derivative stuff. Honestly, the two minutes of screen time dedicated to a Ouija board in The Exorcist generates more legitimate jumps and screams than the entire 90-minute running time of this flick. Emerging as a standout from the decent scarer The Quiet Ones, Olivia Cooke’s performance remains serviceable even if the dialogue comes off as pure stock. The rest of the cast can’t act their way out of a paper bag, which the mostly recycled script seems to have been written on. As for first time feature director Stiles White. Most of the actual thrills come from people walking in on the POV unexpectedly. This doesn’t count as horror; it simply counts as bad timing.
**** — Apex Reloaded
Brilliantly burning at a fast clip toward excellence, John Wick lights a ridiculously exciting fire under the action genre. In this bloody R-rated actioner, an ex-hitman (Reeves) comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him. Remember the Christmas morning level of excitement building toward the sequel to the techno-charged adrenaline rush known as The Matrix? Yeah, that deuce never fully delivered. It’s star’s latest, however, fulfills the kickass promise of that moment in spades. Boasting swivel-armed battle-grip fighting, quick fingered gunplay and a loaded chamber of wit to a nearly perfect degree, this flick takes the well-worn revenge thriller and turns it on its cauliflower ear. It puts forth a purposely streamlined simple story and turns it into a locomotive payback thriller of the highest order. It’s the intricacies that make this flick so exciting. Shaded (and the movie is not so much black and white, but colorless) with a great degree of vision and wit, the story unfolds in a slow progression of precise detail, then unleashes in a double barrel fury of Hong Kong ballistics. An original spin on the retired-killer-works-one more-job angle, this far-from-average John pits the hit man culture in a unique Gentleman’s Game society that converges as a hotel-cum-nightclub. Someone breaks the rules, of course, but a lightbulb has already appeared above the heads of weary action fans. Lighting struck. Moreso, fists and bullets fly and land in nearly all of the right places. Of course, because it follows a traditional action storyline, there are some all-too-familiar beats amid the fresh bedlam. The fact that this John-on-the-spot purposely means to build the better actioner out of there same rusty pieces can’t totally forgive all of the formulaic moments. Like a misfiring handgun that’s stripped down, cleaned and rebuilt for precision, however, the sportsmanship feels fun and new again. Even as Neo, the reluctant hero of The Matrix’s virtual reality, Keanu Reeves never wowed with his acting so much as with his martial artistry and wirework. Here, however, he keeps emotion restrained in a clenched fist until just the right incendiary moment in his best performance yet. Reeves’ former stuntman Chad Stahelski deserves most of the credit though. All of those years taking bodily abuse were good for more than a paycheck. This laser-sited Hal Needham obviously took notes, doling out a slick, vervy, original shoot-‘em-up for the ages.
**** — Glorious Bastards
Gutsy, gritty and grippingly gun-toting, Fury powers forward at a rousing and realistic clip that won’t win it any Oscars but will accumulate many audience accolades. In this R-rated war drama set in 1945, a battle-hardened army sergeant (Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew (LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal) on a deadly mission behind enemy lines during the Allies’ final into Germany. The World War II period details ring harrowingly true. This is not just a nod to the brain-splattering fighting but to the Sherman-borne camaraderie as well. Yes, Fury is a buddy flick. In fact, it’s a very solid buddy flick. Believable and brutal (in the case of the embattled situation presented, these ‘B’s’ must go hand and hand), these relationships truly ground you when the spit starts to fly … and it flies from the get-go. True, it becomes sentimental at some predicated points, but that’s why it’s a rewarding but violent history lesson and not a guaranteed award designee.
The Universal Blu Ray Collection — Abbott & Costello
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948 (**** — Meet Cute): Reuniting the Universal Monsters to brilliant comic effect, Abbott & Costello saved the studio and cemented their appeal beyond simply being the team behind the classic routine “Who’s on First?” This success comes, of course, at a price. This motion picture also signaled the peak of their slapstick period where once the vaudeville-turned-radio stars used to be known for their once-genius back-and-forths. Thankfully, their awesome 1952-53 TV series restored this cerebral sparring, but Frankenstein emerges as a high point all of its own. It shouldn’t have worked. The biggest comedy team in film sharing the title with the classic creature features that established Universal Studio? Bonkers…until it strangely worked. Sure, director James White dealt horror AND humor as a winning hand with The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein, but this juvenile 1948 vehicle got played chiefly for laughs. Energetic and entertaining, the spoof is neither as funny nor as thrilling as it needs to be. Still, this is a freewheeling and fun forebearer to all of the classic horror comedies to follow (Fearless Vampire Killers, Evil Dead II, Gremlins, Zombieland and TV’s Buffy the Vampire Killer).
Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man, 1951 (*** — H.G. Well Done): The best of Abbott & Costello’s follow-ups to meeting Frankenstein and way superior to most of the Invisible Man sequels, Meet the Invisible Man actually boasts the most laugh-out-loud moments from their monster team-ups. Oh, like the film before it, the story and action play out at an almost childlike level. Still, the boxing match alone demonstrated the high points of each franchise: great special effects and hilarious visual gags.
Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy, 1955 (** — Mummy Merest): Repetitive more than rascally, Meet the Mummy sadly captures the classic comedy team near the end of their long road toward breaking up. Funny enough, they re-ignited interest in the classic Universal monster franchises even while they were losing popularity. Not only was their brand of humor going out of style, but they show pretty much zero interest in performing their craft well. Throughout the film, the Mummy actually shows more energy than this once-great duo. He even gets the most laughs with a bandaged outfit that looks less convincing than those worn by most pint sized trick or treaters.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Pumpkin ales grace our shelves a little earlier each year. Sometime before Halloween, this ever- growing demographic of autumn brews promises all the pumpkin spice you can handle along with the added benefit of alcohol. There’s a reason they’re so popular.
This year, however, I’ve locked on to a different track this Halloween season. I call them the dessert beers. They’re not any particular style. Generally, they are sweet and carry flavors of caramel, chocolate, creme brulee or candies. These delicious brews are a great way to satisfy that seasonal sweet tooth, and just like the pumpkin beers, they’re alcoholic.
This week in particular, I’m trying Spring House Brewing Company’s Lil Gruesome Peanut Butter Jelly Stout. If you are amazed that such a thing even exists, you are not alone. My mind was a little blown when I saw the bottle. The promise of peanut butter, raspberry puree and the roasty notes of a stout all thrown together? Halloween just started looking a lot more like my own personal Christmas.
I’ve been a fan of stouts for almost as long as I’ve been drinking. The roasted malt flavor lends itself so well to so many combinations. Most craft beer drinkers have had a coffee or chocolate stout at this point. There are more exotic stouts out there as well that have such delightful tastes as creme brulee and creamy milky stouts. Peanut butter and jelly is an area I’ve had yet to traverse yet, however.
The pour was a chocolatey black topped with a finger’s worth of peanut butter-brown-head. The first sniff presents a good deal of roasted malt in the nose, just like any stout should. Lingering within it is the unmistakable scent of peanut butter like one would find in a peanut butter cup. After a while, I noticed the jelly aspect lurking beneath it. It was slightly fruity and sweet, but relegated to the background.
The taste followed suit with the scent. The savory roasted malt gave way to peanut butter. It held a hint of chocolate as well. If I really looked, I could find the jelly underneath it. At first, I was a little disappointed by the lack of a strong fruit presence. As the beer breathed, however, it started to become much more apparent. I became more appreciative of the brew as time went on, as too much sweetness would have killed it. Lil Gruesome managed to stay away from that problem, however.
The brew wasn’t overly thick or cloying either. Instead, it was a bit silky, feeling rather good on the palate. It also had just the right amount of carbonation, making it quite pleasing to drink. It did indeed have sweetness to it, but not too much. There are seemingly multiple traps this beer could have fallen into that would have made it gross, but it managed to avoid every single one of them.
The flavor isn’t overly complex or subtle. That isn’t the point of this beer. What you get is a stout that tastes like peanut butter and jelly. It might just be a novelty, but its a good one. I’d even say its a worthwhile one. When you’ve had enough pumpkin beers, give this one a try. Lil Gruesome is the right kind of sweet.
LONE LADIES —
JENNY LEWIS — The Voyager
THE GOOD: Indie singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis is finally back.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s been six years since Lewis’ last solo outing and four since her collaboration with Jonathan Rice. Last year saw a Rilo Kiley rarities collection (that band now officially and sadly defunct), but new music from the indie goddess is more than welcome.
Produced by Ryan Adams, The Voyager is easily the slickest record in Lewis’ solo catalog. Rabbit Fur Coat (2006) and Acid Tongue (2008) both leaned heavily in the realm of alt-country and modern folk — rock albums at their core but with a dominating homespun charm. This new record is more straight-forward indie pop and the closest Lewis has ever come to her past in the aforementioned Rilo Kiley.
Adams’ precise production helps make confident tunes like “Head Underwater” and “Just One of the Guys” cool and breezy, but the end results never feel over-produced. We end up with a simmering West Coast collection that rarely falters.
BUY IT?: Surely.
SINEAD O’CONNOR — I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss
THE GOOD: Indie legend and Irish bad girl Sinead O’Connor is back with her tenth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: If 2012’s How About I Be Me (And You Be You) was seen as the singer/songwriter’s return to form, I’m the Boss is its logical follow-up. When taken together, both records find the quality of O’Connor’s work on an upswing.
Lyrically, O’Connor breaks away from the politics and social causes (for the most part) and focuses on her (or someone’s) sexuality, relationships and life experiences. Musically, the set is the usual mix of cathartic pop, slightly funky pieces and gentle yet stirring moments. The new album has more teeth though; O’Connor not holding back the raw emotion on jagged cuts like “The Voice of My Doctor” and “Take Me to Church.”
BUY IT?: Yes. More than 25 years into a truly eclectic career, the woman still possesses one of the most haunting and seductive female voices on the planet.
KAREN O — Crush Songs
THE GOOD: Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O offers up a solo record.
THE BAD: Practically an album of finished and unfinished demos, Crush Songs is a very off-the-cuff intimate affair. Don’t expect a fully realized studio effort.
THE NITTY GRITTY: According to the liner notes, O wrote and recorded these songs in private when she was “crushing a lot.” So there’s a sense of urgency, perhaps getting the tunes on tape before the current crush dissipated and all of the emotion disappeared. Most of the tracks are lo-fi studies of just O and her acoustic guitar, yet some boast rudimentary drum machines, echo and double-tracked voices. A couple even sound finished to the point that they would probably make decent YYY cuts (“Day Go By” has definite potential).
In the end though, Crush Songs feels messy and self-indulgent —compelling only to those rabid fans that must hear absolutely everything this woman has ever recorded
BUY IT?: Meh … only obsessive Yeah Yeah Yeahs people need apply.
PHASED IN AND
CYMBALS EAT GUITARS — Lose
THE GOOD: New Jersey indie rockers Cymbals Eat Guitars bring the noise on their third full-length.
THE BAD: The guys make you work for it. Lose is good — maybe even great — but it takes a few spins to fully sink in.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After some line-up changes, CEG now feels more like an actual band and less like a group of temporary players subject to the whims of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Joseph D’Agostino. Lose is more cohesive than the first two records.
Bringing in elements of loud shoegaze, early Pavement and sprawling Built to Spill, the guys make a big noise that falls somewhere between post-punk’s sloppy urgency and progressive rock’s intricate unpredictability. Some tracks like soaring opener “Jackson” twist and turn, unafraid of changing textures and tempos, while others such as “XR” spit fire and get to the point. “Child Bride” is achingly tragic. “Chambers” gets down after dark. Who knows what’s next?
BUY IT?: Yes. If nothing else, Lose remains intensely interesting.
GRACES DOWNFALL — Change Adjust Continue
THE GOOD: NEPA’s own Graces Downfall releases their third full-length.
THE BAD: Fresh? Exciting? Maybe not.
THE NITTY GRITTY: OK, these guys are tight. The band fires off a scorching mix of what used to be “alternative” with a fierce layer of metal over the top. I suspect there are probably more than a few Staind, Tool and Papa Roach CDs lurking in these dudes’ old music collections.
But that’s the problem. GD is everything you hated about the late 90s and mainstream aggro-rock in general. Nothing here is as bad as … say … Puddle of Mudd, but it’s hard to take the heavy-handed social commentary of an angst-riddled song like “Scranton” seriously. And closing cut “Leah” is easily the most cloying ballad about a kid since Creed’s “With Eyes Wide Open.” Her smile so perfect/Without a tooth.
BUY IT?: I know the band has legions of local fans … so support them if you must. The rest of us will just move on and never speak of Change again.
ROYAL BLOOD — Royal Blood
THE GOOD: British duo Royal Blood studies the basics on their tough debut.
THE BAD: Nothing “bad” — just old fashioned blues-based rock ‘n’ roll. No innovation, but the record cranks.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Following other modern “revival” acts such as Wolfmother and Rival Sons, Royal Blood is simply the latest English collective supposedly saving “real” rock. You get a mix of those aforementioned acts along with some Raconteurs/Dead Weather Jack White-type stuff and a sprinkle of the Black Keys.
All the songs come in around three minutes so there’s no room for elaborate solos or progressive posturing. Tunes like “Out of the Black” and “Careless” make their point and get out of the way for the next blast of power-packed rocket fuel. Vocalist/bassist Mike Kerr cites Queens of the Stone Age as a major influence and you can hear that. Royal Blood is crunchy and tight, but also melodic in all the right places.
BUY IT?: Sure. The album may be flawed but it leaves us wanting more.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Its officially big beer season again. Summer is great for uber drinkable lagers, pilsners and blondes. In Autumn, on the other hand, its time to break out the big guns. Big, thick ales loaded with malt and hops are called for. Aggressive stouts, IPAs and the like come into season when the leaves start to fall.
This week, I’m sipping on Ballast Point Brewing’s Tongue Buckler Imperial Red Ale. While I’ve had plenty of imperial stouts and IPAs, this might be the first imperial red I’ve had. Imperial basically means that it’s high in alcohol content. While a regular red ale might have an ABV of 4 to 8 percent, Tongue Buckler clocks in with double digits at 10 percent ABV. This means it has quite the kick.
The brew poured a dark amber, murky red color. It obscured most of the light shining through the glass. The liquid itself was nice and thick. It looked like syrup pouring out of the bottle. There was about a finger and a half worth of head that lingered for quite a while. It left copious lacing down the side of the glass as it dissipated. Bubbles rose continuously through the liquid, promising ample carbonation. This was a very pretty beer.
First sniff was all malt. There was an almost overwhelming amount of sweet, roasty, toasty malt in the scent. It triggered the same pleasure centers in my mind as a big batch of fresh baked cookies would. There was more to the scent, however. It just took a moment to breathe and come out. The malt was accentuated by sugary caramel notes and contrasted by pungent and piney hops. There was a lot going on in the nose.
This beer was not for sipping. I would have dishonored it had I done anything other than take a big gulp. My tongue was instantly hit with a big sweet malt blast. I had expected this and relished it. Just as it started to fade, however, there was a wall of hops backing it up. It was certainly comparable to an IPA in that department. There was a slight bit of alcoholic burn mixed in as well, which is to be expected for a beer that strong. Honestly, it was a bit much at first. I like really malty beers and I like really hoppy beers. I also like milk and orange juice, but weird things happen when you mix them together.
In time, this faded. The tongue became acclimated and the larger flavors faded. The intricacies of the hops started to show. The sweet and bitter started to cut and tame each other perfectly. Without the huge hop wall, it would have just been too sweet and syrupy after a while. Instead, each sip made you want more so that you could keep chasing each side of the flavor equation with the other.
Tongue Buckler is a good one and aptly named. At first chug, the tongue does indeed wish to buckle. In time, however, it stands up to the challenge that is this beer and is greatly rewarded in flavor and alcohol. Its a great autumn brew and will leave you feeling all 22 ounces of its warm and fuzzy inside of you. With its 10 percent ABV, that’s a lot of warm and fuzzy indeed.