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.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
Lets talk about that magical wizard that lives inside every beer — yeast.
Yeast takes the sugar that exists in a liquid and turns it into alcohol. It’s a divine sort of alchemy that has resulted in every brew you’ve ever had. These organisms have been getting us drunk for as long as we have been drinking. Where do they come from, however?
Originally, all yeast was wild. It existed in the air and inside organic material where it would feed. To make alcohol, one just had to leave something sweet out long enough. The yeast in the area would eventually find it, eat those sugars and leave it bubbly and boozey.
Nowadays, such is not the case. We’ve made it much more difficult. Instead of relying on just any old yeast to do the dirty work, we select strains based on all kinds of qualities. Different yeasts impart different flavors and can even affect the alcohol content of a brew. We’ve seriously upped our quality control game since it all began.
All of these yeasts were also once wild. We’ve since learned how to farm them. When one of those wild guys settled down in a brew and added some awesome flavor, we wanted to know how to keep that yeast around. Sure, any yeast would get us drunk, but some didn’t taste quite so good. If we found one we liked, we’d feed it to keep it around. Feeding it would make it reproduce, which would mean more yeast for more beer. It’s a never ending cycle of awesome.
Different yeast strains are at least partially responsible for the different types of beer. Lager and ale yeasts even ferment beer in different ways. With all these yeasts, who would want to go back to wild fermentation?
The answer? A lot of breweries. Some styles, such as Lambics, count on the wild yeasts that exist in the regions they are brewed in. There is something exciting about the rusticness of it all. It’s like eating wild game — except, you know, it’s beer.
This week, I am drinking Riserva, an American wild ale brewed by Weyerbacher. It promises an ABV of 11.4 percent, making for an exceptionally boozey brew. This is paired with raspberry puree and oak barrel aging to produce an exceptionally promising beer.
The pour was a pink-tinged amber with a decent amount of head. It left some rather nice lacing down the side of the glass. The scent was slightly musty with definite notes of raspberry and a bit of an oaky scent. There was just the slightest funk to the smell, which promised some sourness.
The taste certainly delivered. At first, all I tasted was the sour. It wasn’t overbearing, but it did drown out the more subtle flavors. As the tongue quickly acclimated, the raspberries hit full force. There was no telling where the sour ended and the tart berries began. This was all laid down upon a great oak backbone that lent a great amount of sophistication to the brew. There even existed a slight bit of black pepperyness on the back end.
This was an exceptionally smooth drinking beer for the amount of alcohol in it. The wild yeast imparted complexities to the brew that one would be hard pressed to find in other brews. As with every beer they brew, Weyerbacher has made another great one. Riserva — with its raspberry and oak pairings — really lets the wild yeast shine.
JJ — V
THE GOOD: Swedish duo JJ is back with a more ambitious third album.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These two (producer/instrumentalist Joakim Benon and vocalist Elin Kastlander) feel like a modern indie folk act upon first listen. Their music is low-key and tranquil, soft and inviting. Go below the surface though and you’ll find many strange flavors to savor. A pinch of the electronic and twinges of hip-hop weave in and out of the darker passages with an unpredictable yet harmonious mix as the end result.
Now on V, it appears the two are reaching for a bolder and bigger sound. Tracks like “Dynasti” and “Fagelsangen” are fuller and more layered than past efforts with the melodies soaring higher than ever before, the rhythms more pronounced. Kastlander is also coming out of her shell more as a vocalist, bringing her charming personality more to the forefront.
All elements combine to create an album that is both gorgeous and achingly romantic; an emotional rush turning on tears of joy.
BUY IT?: Surely.
MUSIC GO MUSIC — Impressions
THE GOOD: Bodies of Water side project Music Go Music returns with their second.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Anchored by married couple David and Meredith Metcalf (under the pseudonyms Torg and Gala Bell), Music Go Music could be considered the ultimate indie guilty pleasure. Their records are nothing but seamless beats, chugging guitar riffs, rolling keyboards and big, beautiful hooks. Galloping tracks like “Tell Me How It Feels” and “Part of Me” sound like contemporary takes on Abba classics. Soaring pieces such as lead single “Love Is All I Can Hear” and “Never Get Over You” are emotional roller coasters colored with deep shades of melancholy.
Impressions is the kind of record you go into only for pure pleasure. There’s no depth and there isn’t supposed to be. Music Go Music seems completely unapologetic about what they do — but that’s what side projects are for. The band has all the fun and we as listeners bask in the glory.
BUY IT?: Yes.
TENNIS — Ritual In Repeat
THE GOOD: Colorado duo Tennis (husband and wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore) get bolder on their third.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: What started out as a quaint little study in gorgeous indie pop has remained so, only the sound has progressively gotten bigger. On Ritual, there are even moments with muscle; the forceful push of opening cut “Night Vision” immediately comes to mind.
At its core though, the album is still an inviting set of precious melodies delivered by Moore’s tight soothing harmonies (one part gothic Cocteau Twins, one part vintage Andrews Sisters). Musically, we roll from the swaying “Bad Girls” to the pre-Beatle vibes coloring “Timothy” to the Baroque flavored “This Isn’t My Song.” The atmosphere rarely changes, but the sounds and styles do. The record never falls into a rut.
Lyrically, the tales told are more personal and not completely carefree (the duo’s first record was largely inspired by an extended boat trip). So changes abound.
BUY IT?: Yes.
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.
NOISE FROM THE SHADOWS
SPOON — They Want My Soul
THE GOOD: After taking time off to recharge their batteries, Texas indie rockers Spoon return with a rock solid eighth.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman/songwriter Britt Daniel and his crew could take their blend of no-nonsense soulful rock with its airtight rhythms and bruised guitars, make the same album over and over again and not too many people would complain. Their stuff always turns out sneakily intelligent and incredibly infectious.
Perhaps the secret to Spoon’s longevity though is the fact they could keep making the same record, but don’t. Every jewel in the catalog has its own unique twist. On Soul, the band sounds more aware (proud?) of its identity than ever before. Songs like “Knock Knock Knock,” “Let Me Be Mine” and the title cut buzz and hum like a well oiled machine yet still retain a slightly dangerous spontaneity. This train can spin off the rails at any time, but we’re still grooving.
BUY IT?: Oh yes.
INTERPOL — El Pintor
THE GOOD: New York indie rockers Interpol have regrouped and now offer their fifth.
THE BAD: The band has yet to top their first two records (2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights and 2004’s Antics). El Pintor also doesn’t, but it’s a step in the right direction and comes in at a not-too-distant third.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Now a trio, the band took time off after touring behind their weakest, 2010’s maudlin self-titled effort. They sound re-energized. While El Pintor doesn’t reek of innovation or much progression, the songs are certainly better.
There are moody bits harkening back to the band’s haunting debut; slow burns like “Breaker 1” and “Twice and Hard.” For the most part though, the set is big on jagged guitars and rhythms stacked with forward momentum. Cuts like “All the Rage Back Home” and “Everything Is Wrong” retain the dark atmosphere, but also pack on the forceful backbeats and killer hooks.
BUY IT?: Yes. Then dig in deep or just enjoy the ride.
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 — The Physical World
THE GOOD: Canadian dance/punk duo DFA79 (drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger and bassist/keyboardist Jesse F. Keeler) return with a blistering sophomore effort.
THE BAD: Ten years is a long time to wait for a second album. Expectations may be too high.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The guys broke up due to “creative differences” after touring for 2004’s genre-bending You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. The two later shook hands in 2011, played some shows and finally got around to recording the Physical World with producer Dave Sardy (Cold War Kids, Nine Inch Nails, OK GO).
We get 11 fiery anthems in 36 minutes, with the record’s sequencing frantic and leaving little room to breathe. Tracks like “Right On Frankenstein” and “Gemini” blur the lines between punk and the electronic, garage rock and even nu metal. The duo madly jumps amongst the varying styles with wicked abandon. The end result is punchy, loud and catchy — not necessarily a bold step forward, but it gets the job done.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
The Apple of My Eye and the U2 in My
At least it’s not a free @Fergie record lurking inside your device. #itcouldbeworse #freeU2
U2’s Bono is a charitable man. Over the years, he’s lent his support to causes such as Amnesty International, Chernobyl Children International, Clinton Global Initiative, Every Mother Counts, Food Bank For New York City, Global Fund, Greenpeace, Keep A Child Alive, Live 8, MusiCares, NAACP, Not On Our Watch, ONE Campaign, Oxfam, (RED), Red Cross and War Child, just to name a few.
But the man who puts so much of his time and effort into impacting the lives of others may have overstepped his rock star boundaries earlier this month by inserting himself and his band of Irish brothers into your Apple device, all without your much-needed consent.
On Sept. 9, Apple inserted the band’s Songs of Innocence into the online accounts of half a billion iTunes users. Like most, I really would have preferred being able to choose whether or not to add the new record to my account. Instead, it automatically shimmied its way into my library without my permission. To say the least, people were not too happy with the stunt.
Are we so jaded as a society that we don’t even like free stuff anymore ?
Is music still valuable and do you expect to pay for it?
Is the music industry so damaged that they can’t even give away music theses days?
This whole debacle comes down to the power of choice. People didn’t choose to give up their own assumed personal space (iPhone or iPad storage) for U2 to simply mosey on in and put their digital feet on the coffee table.
The biggest problem I see is that Apple made a very personal choice for us. They decided that U2 was exactly what we needed and most people would be pretty pumped about a new free album. It’s like going home, opening your closet and finding that Apple has decided to equip you with 30 neon-colored Bananarama T-shirts when you really would have preferred more flannel prints and durable denim.
I made the joke earlier that it could be worse — at least it wasn’t a new Fergie record. I only use Fergie as an example because she annoys me and I would never want one of her records eating up my storage, but the point isn’t about the artist in the crosshairs. It’s about the choice that was made for us.
Wouldn’t it have been better for Apple to provide its users a credit on their account so they could actually choose music, movies or apps they wanted in their lives?
Was Apple prepared for the U2 backlash? It sure doesn’t seem like the thought even crossed the company’s mind as it was forced to quickly come up with a way to remove the unwanted album from our devices.
Now, who’s going to come over to my place and get rid of these Bananarama shirts?
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: David Garza Overdub (Atlantic) 2001
P.S. I like U2, but Songs of Innocence is not a great U2 record. I don’t blame the band for taking a huge iCheck from Apple and setting it “free.”
Editor Tom Graham is a musician and singer/songwriter rooted in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
FLIGHTS OF FANCY
BLEACHERS — Strange Desire
THE GOOD: Jack Antonoff, mastermind of Fun, starts a new band and calls it Bleachers.
THE BAD: Fun isn’t finished, so it’s difficult to look at Strange Desire as little more than an accomplished side project. Maybe forget all the “band parameters” and just go with it?
THE NITTY GRITTY: The album’s first half isn’t all that different from a Fun set with Antonoff churning out tight catchy indie pop anthems like the seamless “Rollercoaster” and fist-pumping sing-along “I Wanna Get Better.”
The second half of Strange Desire finds our boy stretching beyond previous boundaries, collaborating with the likes of electronic pixie Grimes (the liquid “Take Me Away”) and legendary avant-garde artist Yoko Ono (the ghostly “I’m Ready to Move On/Wild Heart Reprise”).
Antonoff ends up creating something miles apart from Fun and yet this new music somehow complements the work of his already established band. Longtime fans will find themselves challenged in spots, but they should all discover much to embrace.
BUY IT?: Sure.
BASEMENT JAXX — Junto
THE GOOD: British electronic duo Basement Jaxx (DJ’s/producers/composers Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton) are back with their seventh full-length (and first in five years) Junto.
THE BAD: A Basement Jaxx record has never sounded this “safe.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: The first half of Junto finds the guys stuck in a dance-pop rut, cranking out a half dozen house cuts with textbook rhythms and interchangeable guest vocalists taking the leads.
The second half sees the boys getting more adventurous so there is some recovery. Cuts like the off-center and cheeky “Buffalo” and the stomping exotic “Mermaid of Salinas” recall some of the more lively jams from earlier triumphs Rooty (2001) and Crazy Itch Radio (2006). But even those vast improvements might be too little, too late. Junto puts you in an indifferent mood early on, like being trapped at a party that just isn’t happening. Maybe dive into the record’s second half first?
BUY IT?: Your choice. Hopefully the next set will be more exciting.
LETTING UP DESPITE GREAT FAULTS — Neon
THE GOOD: Texas-based indie dream-pop outfit Letting Up Despite Great Faults returns with their ethereal third full-length.
THE BAD: A handful of the songs feel half-cooked — petering out before reaching their final glorious destination. After awhile though, Neon becomes more about an overall vibe anyway, with the individual parts forming a much greater whole.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman and founder Mike Lee keeps things beat-driven but airy. Annah Fisette adds more Technicolor to the proceedings by offering up female vocals of which Lee can play off; the two voices ending up somewhere between the Postal Service and vintage Book of Love.
One detects shades of early Cure during the faster jagged bits and snippets of mid-period New Order within some of the basslines. Then you have the obligatory comparisons to contemporaries like M83 and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
The entire brew becomes something very retro, melodic, rhythmic and hypnotic. So dance or drift — the choice is entirely yours.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Assorted Declarations from Editor Tom Graham
Ben is Back
It was announced earlier this week that the newly realigned Breaking Benjamin will play two all-ages shows this weekend. On Friday, Sept. 19 and Saturday, Sept. 20, the band returns to the stage of Gator’s Pub and Eatery (formerly Brews Brothers West/VooDoo Lounge), 75 Main St., Luzerne. The band recently announced its new lineup including founder Ben Burnley and new members Shaun Foist, Aaron Bruch, Jasen Rauch and KJ Wallen. Breaking Benjamin went on hiatus in 2010 citing Burnley’s heath concerns. Burnley has since been involved in a legal battle with former bassist Mark Klepaski and guitarist Aaron Fink over the rights to the band’s name. Both Klepaski, Fink and former drummer Chad Szeliga have kept very active within the local music scene since the band’s hiatus and breakup.
Tickets are very limited and are on sale now through the links below. Tickets are $35, only available in advance and limited to 700 per night. Tickets are available through Ticketfly (Friday ticketfly.com/purchase/event/685837 and Saturday at ticketfly.com/purchase/event/686829.
Dragster Motor Kings celebrated the release of its new record with a special in-store performance at Joe Nardone’s Gallery Of Sound, Mundy Street, Wilkes-Barre. The band consists of Bill Lieback on vocals/drums and Eric Ritter on guitars, both formerly of local act, NewPastLife. All songs on the Dragster Motor Kings EP were written by Lieback and recorded at Windmill Agency Recording Studio in Mt. Cobb. Songs included on the debut include “Feels So Good,” “Morning Is Beautiful, “Bury Your Soul” and “Piggy.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/dragstermotorkings or dragstermotorkings.com.
An event in memory of Kathleen Cavanaugh Talerico, who died in January 2014 after falling victim to domestic violence, Kathleen’s Crusade takes place this Sunday, Sept. 21, from 3 to 7 p.m., at the Radisson at Lackawanna Station Hotel, 700 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton. Admission to the event is $20, with all proceeds benefitting the Women’s Resource Center in honor of Talerico. The day features music from EJ the DJ and a photobooth provided by Mike Walton Productions.
Here’s what’s in my headphones this week: My Brightest Diamond This Is My Hand (Paper Bag/Asthmatic Kitty) 2014
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
A lot of beer styles are named after the color of the brew. We have blondes and browns. There are black ales and ambers. The hue of these brews is a good indication of what you can expect from the taste. From the nuttiness of a brown and the light bodied maltyness of a blonde, the colors correspond with tastes that we know and love.
Today, I want to talk about a color of ale that doesn’t get enough respect. It has been called the color of love, seduction and violence. When we’re angry, we’re said to see this vibrant hue. It brings about feelings of fire and passion. I’m talking about the color red.
While it is relatively easy to find a brown or amber ale, finding a red ale isn’t quite so simple. The most well known is the infamous Killian’s Irish Red. Smithwick’s is perhaps a bit more traditional. Both are delightfully malty and delicious. Knowing the qualities of these two brews, it should be easy to pin down what a red ale is, right?
Unfortunately, not so much. They don’t really exist as their own style as far as the Great American Beer Festival, a sort of governing body on beer styles and quality is concerned. They’re lumped together with Ambers to create one overly broad group. Most people who have had a red ale can tell you that there is something that sets it apart from an amber ale. There is something distinctive about a red ale that makes it what it is.
They might just not be able to tell you what that thing is, however.
Despite the lack of official classification, there is a general consensus. The thing that makes a red ale a red ale is the malt. It’s not so much the variety of malt, though that plays into the flavor of any beer, but the process it undergoes. The malt in a red ale is toasted, just like that of a porter or stout. The difference is that the malt in a red ale is stopped earlier, when it has turned a toasted red color instead of that black of a stout or porter. This enhances the malt tastes with some tasty toasty roasted flavor.
This week, I’m drinking Stoudts’ Revel Red. The pour was a beautiful dark red color with a khaki head that left lacing down the side of the glass. There was the familiar scent of caramel and sweet biscuit in the nose. This was also accompanied by floral hops and a bit of pine. This was a bit more hop scent that I was used to in a red.
The taste was great. It led with the sweet toasted malt flavor. It was like honey and biscuits. This was followed up by a decent, but not overpowering, hop bite. It cuts through the sweetness in such a way that keeps it from becoming cloying and leaves you wanting more. The bitter hops linger slightly on the tongue.
This was a great take on the red style. The hops added a rather nice touch, adding both depth and drinkability. Whatever it was that makes a red ale a red ale, Revel Red has it. If you’re looking to travel farther into the world of reds, this is a good pick. In this particular case, red must indeed be the color of love.
THE INTENSITY VARIES
STAGNANT POOLS — Geist
THE GOOD: Indiana indie duo Stagnant Pools (brothers Bryan and Douglass Enas) give us a fiery, spontaneous second effort.
THE BAD: It takes a while for Geist to sink in — what seems one-dimensional at first sounds more fully realized later. Give it a fair shot.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After releasing their first album, Temporary Room, two years ago, the brothers were rightfully compared to a lot of noise-infused acts like Joy Division, Sonic Youth and especially the Jesus and Mary Chain. Those feedback-heavy elements are certainly present on Geist.
However, there’s now another vibe running through this wicked live-to-tape album that was completely recorded and mixed in the span of about five days. I was reminded of the better American rock bands that were an offshoot of the grunge movement almost 25 years ago — rough-around-the-edges outfits like Screaming Trees, Paw and Jawbox. There’s a very effective “murkiness” flooding Geist; a fresh take on some long dormant sounds.
BUY IT?: Sure.
REIGNING SOUND — Shattered
THE GOOD: North Carolina indie rockers Reigning Sound come back sharper after a five-year hiatus.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Singer/guitarist/songwriter Greg Cartwright has always been the one constant in this band of revolving-door musicians; a slave to the garage-rock ethos since long before garage rock was the “new” thing at the turn of our century. Back in 2001, the White Stripes and the Strokes got the glory. Cartwright was just as authentic.
Subsequent years and releases have seen more roots and country elements sneaking their way into the tunes, but Cartwright has never sacrificed rawness. Shattered finds the band with a fresh lineup and a sound that’s equal parts contemporary (Wilco and Jack White) and a throwback to our distant blues/rock past (Canned Heat and Country Joe & the Fish). There’s even a dash of Memphis soul sprinkled over a few cuts.
Ballad (“I’m Trying”) or forceful rocker (“North Cackalacky Girl”) — Reigning Sound tackles them both with equal skill and passion.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
THE LAST INTERNATIONALE — We Will Reign
THE GOOD: Politically charged New York rockers the Last Internationale unleash a blazing debut.
THE BAD: No gripes.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This down-and-dirty power trio consists of newcomers Delila Paz and Edgey Pires, along with veteran drummer Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave). And while their music may not be quite as incendiary as RATM’s, there’s still a lot of fire (and a definite agenda) in tunes like “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Indian Blood” and “Killing Fields.”
Musically, Reign is straight-forward rough-and-tough blue collar rock ‘n’ roll — no frills, no B.S. The band, along with veteran producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, the Offspring), gives this lean, mean album plenty of muscle. The brazen bits show their razor-sharp teeth, while the more delicate pieces roll around in a nice bluesy swagger. Paz is already a fierce bad-ass rocker chick and the band itself is airtight.
BUY IT?: You must. We Will Reign is one of this year’s finest debuts.
ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?
NoNoNo — We Are Only What We Feel
THE GOOD: Swedish trio NoNoNo delivers a bouncy debut full-length.
THE BAD: Feel is catchy, but incredibly hollow.
THE NITTY GRITTY: We essentially have two producers and a female vocalist conjuring up modern indie pop in the sing-song folksy half-acoustic, half-electric tradition of contemporaries like Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This is the stuff wholly embraced by editors who cut movie trailers for teen flicks, ad men pitching ideas to cell phone companies and modern rock radio programmers who like to keep it dull and not too “edgy.”
You get by-the-numbers feel-good fluffy music that sets your toes-a-tapping and turns your brain to mush. The trio actually scored a genuine hit last fall with the joyfully whistling “Pumping Blood” (included here). Feel is nine more tracks cut from the same cloth — infectious little stompers that bleed into one another after about 15 minutes. Nothing disagreeable, but nothing very memorable either.
BUY IT?: Whatever.
BISHOP ALLEN — Lights Out
THE GOOD: Brooklyn indie rockers Bishop Allen return with their first proper record in five years.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Lights Out works on different levels. On the surface, it’s a damn infectious indie pop record. Songs like bright opener “Start Again” and the slightly melancholy “Good Talk” are built with decent beats and better melodies.
Listen again and complexities begin to bubble to the surface. Lights Out is much more varied than you initially thought. Amongst all the sheer pop bombast are tunes like “Black Hole” and “Shadow;” gentler emotional moments made even more distinct by Darbie Nowatka’s female vocals. Tracks such as “Hammer and Nail” and “Bread Crumbs” dial up the album’s quirky elements; nothing wrong with these off-center rhythms and weird lyrical images.
It all adds up to a mostly upbeat collection that can enhance your next intimate get together, Sunday morning lay-about or headphones session. Lights Out is worthy of your undivided attention yet doesn’t demand it.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
PHOX — Phox
THE GOOD: Wisconsin indie pop outfit Phox releases a decent debut.
THE BAD: The set loses momentum around its middle and never fully recovers. This is definitely a record of highs and lows.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Led by the low-key yet charming Monica Martin, Phox could cozy up to other modern folk-influenced acts like Lumineers and Mumford and Sons. They certainly use enough acoustic guitars and banjos to warrant the comparison. But Phox also injects a healthy dose of twee into their sound, recalling European female-fronted acts like the Concretes and Camera Obscura.
Intentional or not, this band defies simple categorization and that keeps things interesting. While floating through this eponymous debut, one experiences many flavors, from the gently rolling “1936” to the intensely melancholy “Laura” to the more monumental “Raspberry Seed.”
BUY IT?: Give Phox a shot. Though not flawless, the record finds the band establishing an almost “international” style and laying the groundwork for even better releases further down the road.
LANA DEL REY — Ultraviolence
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Elizabeth Grant (stage persona Lana Del Rey) gives us a dramatic third album.
THE BAD: In essence, Ultraviolence is a “downer.” But there’s no denying the album’s overall quality and uniqueness.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Del Rey is a woman on a downward spiral, obsessed with bad relationships, the seedy underbelly of urban living, drugs and ultimately death. Most tracks are slow to mid-tempo explorations of these “indulgences” sung in Del Rey’s unaffected contralto.
Mostly produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Ultraviolence plays like a modern blues collection filtered through a thin layer of Hollywood gloss, not completely authentic but still gritty and grainy. One could compare the record to Cat Power’s more haunted works or the stripped-down bits of a Bat for Lashes collection.
Tracks like the title cut and “West Coast” keep things good and gloomy even when the tempos shift slightly upward. The retro fitted “Brooklyn Baby” is strictly for the East Coast hipster in all of us.
BUY IT?: Still … definitely.
ROYKSOPP AND ROBYN — Do It Again
THE GOOD: Swedish indie pop queen Robyn teams up with Norwegian electronic duo Royksopp (again) and the end results are nothing short of hypnotizing.
THE BAD: Do It Again falls into that “feels like a side project” trap. But it’s a damn accomplished side project.
THE NITTY GRITTY: These two not-so-disparate acts worked together before on each other’s albums so they were already past the awkward “getting acquainted” phase. But since those past collaborations were always limited to a cut or two, Do It Again really allowed all involved to stretch their collective creativity.
Tight cuts like the thumping title track and the more flirtatious (OK, robotic and sex-crazed) “Sayit” are textbook examples of pristine electronic pop. Longer pieces such as “Monument” and “Inside the Idle Hour Club” are more serious, introspective and seductive in a different way — the works fragile and dreamlike.
BUY IT?: Yes! A full album would have been better, but this 35-minute EP is a pairing that should be savored.
LA ROUX — Trouble In Paradise
THE GOOD: British electronic duo (now solo act) La Roux is back with their (her) sophomore record.
THE BAD: That’s right. Producer Ben Langmaid has left the building, leaving songwriter/vocalist Elly Jackson to go it alone — not that it makes much difference. The new music on Paradise is still slick, catchy and danceable. But was it worth a five-year wait?
THE NITTY GRITTY: That could be Paradise’s biggest problem. So much stuff has happened musically since “Bulletproof” was a hit, you sort of forgot about La Roux. Your inner critic may feel somewhat shortchanged by the new record after the long gap since Jackson’s debut.
In the end, Paradise is just a modern synth-pop record. Good? Yes. Amazingly innovative? Hardly. Tracks like “Cruel Sexuality” and “Silent Partner” are seamless and solid, built with airtight rhythms and big melodies. No bad cuts here, but no great ones either. One will want to visit Paradise without staying too long.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed I’m on a bit of an Abbey Ale kick. In the last edition of Liquid, I drank Althea. It was a delicious Dubel from Weyerbacher breweries that had flavors of plum and spice. This week, I’m trying out the Beerhive Tripel from New Belgium Brewing. If a Dubel is good, a Tripel must be three times as good, right? I’m not sure how beer math works, but it makes sense to me.
In all seriousness, the name refers to the amount of malt. A Dubel has twice the amount as a regular Abbey brewed Pale Ale. Thus, a Tripel has three times the malt. Not only does this affect the flavor, but it also affects the amount of alcohol in the brew. More malt means more sugar, which means more food for the yeast to turn into boozy goodness. They weigh in anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent ABV, which is certainly respectable.
There were more apparent differences as soon as the brew was poured. Where Althea was a ruby red color, Beerhive was a dark golden, almost brown color. The lacing was not as prevalent either. The brew produced a very slight amount of head and appeared generally thicker.
The scent was pleasing and complex. At first, I mostly noticed the alcohol and malt. It was a bit like sniffing an alcoholic biscuit. After that initial barrage came ginger and spice backed by sweet honey. It reminded me a bit of pumpkin pie, as there was some clove coming through. It was certainly inviting.
The taste did not disappoint. There was a great deal of sweetness, but not so much that it made it cloying or gross. This was placed upon a deep and delicious backbone of cereal like malt. The biscuit that was in the scent certainly followed through in the taste as well. There were flavors of ginger and clove, but they were subtle and well blended. They added to the whole of the brew, rather than being a distraction. There were hints of dried fruit, such as raisins throughout each swallow.
The carbonation kept this one from getting too heavy. The mouthfeel was somewhat similar to that of Althea — a bit syrupy, but not sticky or unpleasant. It’s semi-thick body has enough carbonation to pass if off as a summer or winter brew. It’s dense enough to be comforting, yet it goes down smoothly enough to be easy drinking. That is a beautiful combination.
It should be noted that this is quite the unique take on a Tripel. That being said, this was a contrast to Weyerbacher’s Althea. Althea was somewhat delicate, all the flavors being light yet interesting. Beerhive, however, was a bit heavier with very strong malt characteristics giving it a much hardier feel to it. At 8.8 percent ABV, its only slightly more alcoholic than Althea, which clocked in at 7.7 percent. Its extra presence was felt, however. While I’m certainly not saying it was a better brew, it was more robust.
Ultimately, I really liked this beer. There are two things I like in excessive quantities — malt and hops. This certainly had a great amount of the latter. Thus far, my Abbey Ale experience has been varied and rewarding. Next stop, the wondrous realm of the mysterious Quadruppel.
In the last Liquid, I wrote about Abbey Ales. I covered many thrilling topics, such as beer as grain preservation. I assure you — every moment was riveting.
Enough of the theory. Lets get to the practice. Its time to get down to the grueling work of drinking some of the Abbey-style ales. There are plenty on the shelves — some being from real Abbeys and others that are awesome imitations. I start with one of these secular brews this week. It comes from none other than Weyerbacher Brewery.
Weyerbacher certainly isn’t an Abbey. Sure, they have a brew called Merry Monks. They also have beers with such names such as Old Heathen, Heresy and Blasphemy. On occasion, after tasting their brews, I theorize that they may have made some deals with some darker entities to be able to make beer that is as good as it is. They’ve produced a lot of big, robust ales that aren’t afraid to leave a mark.
Nowadays, classifying a beer as an Abbey Ale depends more on how its brewed than where, however. For instance, a Dubbel is a type of Abbey Ale. They are characteristically quite malty. They taste a bit like alcoholic cereal in the best possible way. This is usually accompanied by some pronounced fruitiness, a bit of sweetness (at times accentuated by candied sugar) and a mild application of hops. They are moderately alcoholic, ranging from 6.5 percent on the low end to a very respectable 9 percent on the high end. This is a result of the large amount of malt they use to brew. More malt means more sugars, which means more food for the yeast to turn into alcohol.
This week, I’m drinking Weyerbacher’s Althea, a Belgian style Dubbel brewed with plums. This particular brew has been hanging out in my pantry since last October. This is worth noting as aging a beer tends to mild its flavors. Weyerbacher has not re-released this brew as of yet. If you find one, chances are it’s going to share similar characteristics to mine.
The pour was a beautiful Ruby Red color. It was topped with an inch or so worth of head that left a good amount of lacing as it dissipated. The smelll was quite pleasing, the scent of plums and raisins leading the way. This was backed by notes of molasses and brown sugar which lingered only slightly before giving way to black pepper spiciness and earthy yeast. There was a good deal of complexity in the nose.
The taste followed suit. At first, all I could taste was the sweetness from the plums and the malt. It was not at all displeasing, but it did mask the more subtle tastes that lingered within. As I drank more of the brew, my tongue began to acclimate. The black pepper spiciness and yeast became apparent. There was also an herbal quality to it that I believe could be from the hops. There was a bit of clove flavor lurking in there as well, which is common in many Belgian brews. It finishes up with a nice amount of carbonation, making it rather refreshing and a good summer drink.
This was a fun take on a Dubbel. It might be a little hard to find at the moment, but fear not. Weyerbacher plans to release Althea again. For a brewery that produces a few blasphemous beers, they do right by this Abbey Ale.
JACK WHITE — Lazaretto
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/guitarist Jack White returns with his second solo outing.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: All throughout his days with the White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather (those latter two bands are still together in some form), White has always done so much with just the basics. Blues with a definite rock slant is at the heart of the man’s work; White is an accomplished guitarist who keeps his playing pure as opposed to flashy.
Lazaretto is the guy’s first record without a succinct direction, but he manages to hold the set together and make it work. Instead of just focusing on the thunderous garage rock of the Stripes, or the raw male-female vocal interplay from the Weather, or even the folk and country flirtations that seep in on many occasions, Lazaretto combines all of these sounds to become a varied collection that rarely stumbles. The music seems to guide White this time, as opposed to the other way around.
BUY IT?: Yes.
FIRST AID KIT — Stay Gold
THE GOOD: Swedish duo (and sisters) First Aid Kit sign to a major label (Columbia), unleash their sparkling third album and offer up their most ambitious stuff yet.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s funny (or sad when thinking about the pathetic state of mainstream country these days), but one of the most authentic and American sounding records this year will be Stay Gold — written and recorded by two young ladies from Sweden and produced by indie rock workhorse Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, Tilly and the Wall, etc).
Once again, the sisters bring on their airtight and lilting harmonies over a steadily chugging backdrop of acoustic guitars, weeping pedal steels and glistening autoharp. The arrangements are fuller this time out, occasional orchestral elements adding color, but the basic aesthetic is still the same. First Aid Kit remains two girls singing about love, heartbreak, family and home; the music pure and relatable. And it’s all oh so good!
BUY IT?: You must.
THE ANTLERS — Familiars
THE GOOD: The Brooklyn indie rockers are back with a subdued fifth.
THE BAD: Be warned. Familiars is all about mood and texture; a low resonating album that builds oh-so-slowly.
THE NITTY GRITTY: But that moodiness is also the record’s greatest strength. While frontman Peter Silberman’s songs are good, they’re par for the course in the indie rock world. What sets them apart is the presentation. Familiars ends up being one of the most hauntingly striking records that’s come about in quite some time.
Smoky guitars and foggy piano combine with the most integral solo trumpet found in a rock band since the heyday of Cake. The rhythms are tight but never intrusive. Silberman’s vocals blend with the backdrops while not fading completely into them. It’s a noteworthy effect; all parts perfectly equal.
Familiars doesn’t have any weak moments, but the album peaks in the middle. Tracks like the mildly churning “Intruders” and the always escalating “Revisited” find the band at their most inspired.
BUY IT?: Yes.
TUNE-YARDS — Nikki Nack
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/performance artist Merrill Garbus brings her quirky brand of indie pop to a third full-length.
THE BAD: Expect the unexpected. Not “bad,” just a warning to those who can’t look outside traditional song structures or instrumentation.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Armed with a ukulele and a liberal agenda, Garbus creates rousing stomping sing-a-longs, children’s songs with a savage satirical wit and introspective bits where indie rock and tribal rhythms merge.
This time, Garbus went to Haiti for inspiration and came back with an underground version of Paul Simon’s the Rhythm of the Saints. The record feels that ambitious — certainly the most determined Tune-Yards set so far. One easily becomes wrapped up in the unrestrained shouts punctuating the infectious “Water Fountain” or the jingle-jangle pop embedded deep within the banging “Left Behind.” An odd moment like “Why Do We Dine on the Tots” adds even more flair to an already flamboyant collection.
BUY IT?: Be adventurous. Go for it!
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH — Only Run
THE GOOD: Philly indie rockers CYHSY return with a haphazard fourth.
THE BAD: Only Run is a record of extreme highs and lows.
THE NITTY GRITTY: After some drastic line-up changes, founding member and frontman Alec Ounsworth seems to be the last man standing. That’s probably fine with him. The guy’s now free to move in any whimsical direction he chooses.
That freedom is both a blessing and a curse on Only Run. On the one hand, we get an eclectic unpredictable set boasting some good music. On the other hand, the lack of direction makes a few moments feel half-baked or ill conceived.
Ounsworth also seems to be suffering an identity crisis. He could be a new Radiohead (“Beyond Illusion”). With producer Dave Fridmann behind the mixing board, our boy can’t help but echo MGMT (the title cut). When Matt Berninger of the National shows up, Ounsworth seems to be channeling … well … The National.
BUY IT?: Your call. Run is good, but far from flawless.
THE DONKEYS — Ride the Black Wave
THE GOOD: San Diego indie rockers the Donkeys embrace the sun and surf on their fourth.
THE BAD: Wave isn’t a tight affair; the record more about mood than tight songwriting. It also practically demands you simply “go with the flow.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Laid-back and steady opener “Sunny Daze” sets the tone. Here the central character contemplates a life change, but you can tell he’s perfectly content to stay sun-baked, buzzed and right where he is. From there we move onto the honky-tonk tinged “I Heart Alabama,” sitar-laced instrumental “Imperial Beach,” and darker yet melodically appealing title cut.
There are times when these guys come off as the ultimate cross between slightly noisy indie aesthetics and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty. Wave possesses an almost hypnotic ebb and flow, with the individual parts creating a greater whole capable of transporting you far away — but without that dippy Jack Johnson aftertaste.
BUY IT?: Sure. Summer will be over soon, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.