“Best of” lists are needy, pretentious and stupid.
Here is mine.
These were my favorite records from 2013. They were the ones I obsessed about throughout the year and could not stop humming and replaying. For each album, there is a beer pairing. These may be new beers, or simply beers that were new to me. But they all tickled my taste buds or pushed new boundaries.
In alphabetical order:
Arctic Monkeys’ A.M. and Cascade Blueberry Ale
I’ve been following the Arctic Monkeys since their debut and their growing up in front of an audience has been slow and unpredictable. A.M. is another huge step forward for them and a throwback in terms of melodies and harmonies. Brash pub anthems have evolved into confident glam and sugar-coated cynicism. More please.
Cascade’s Blueberry Ale gives you blueberries by the bucket and the perfect amount of carbonation and acidity to balance that sweetness out. I don’t know if I could drink a lot of this beer, but I do know I wanted the 750 ml bottle to myself. This is a hard score on the east coast, but the musk, fruit and sour of this beer is an orgy of flavor.
Mikal Cronin’s MCII and Deschutes’ Chasin’ Freshies
Power pop is a weakness for me, and Mikal Cronin delivered that this year. Big hooks and the garage-friendly fuzziness of MCII left a big, nodding smile on my face all year long. It had a very live sound for a one-man album and it felt like the purest memories of your high school crush.
Deschutes’ Chasin’ Freshies featured amarillo hops this year and it was wonderfully light and big in apricot. I’m not always a fan of wet/fresh hop ales, but this one walked the tightrope between sweet vs. bitter and hop presence vs. palate fatigue. Perhaps this was by design, perhaps due to aging and my transfer of it from California to Virginia. I don’t care. It was righteous.
Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and Three Notch’d Brewing’s No Veto Brown
To be honest, Jason Isbell’s Southeastern is probably the best album on this list. Solid from beginning to end. From heartbreak to catharsis. His storytelling is emotional and empathetic, and it sits like a perfectly worn rocking chair. Unfortunately it seems new found sobriety often marks the decline of many an artist, but what we’re hearing here is an artist hitting his stride.
Three Notch’d No Veto English Brown was one of the launch beers that came out of this new brewery in Charlottesville, and Dave knocked this malty one out of the park. The beer delivered balanced notes of cocoa, caramel and an echo of coffee, but none of these aspects overstayed their welcome and they wicked away fast enough to leave you ready for the next sip.
The National’s Trouble Will Find Me and Jester King’s La Petit Prince
My objectivity with regards to The National is gone. I can understand how others might not “get” them, but I fall helplessly in love with each new album. I sleep by the phone waiting for their 3 a.m. calls littered with drunken revelations. “God loves everyone, Don’t remind me.”
Jester King’s La Petite Prince weighed in a gentle 2.9% ABV, but this Austin brewery was bottling magic here. This farmhouse beer offered a light, barnyard brett caroming off a trampoline of lemon. In my perfect world, this would flow out of every tap in my house. Hunt this beer down and try not to be freaked out by the unsettling (OK, fucking creepy) label.
Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold and Barlow Brewing’s Bread Dawn
Parquet Courts offered a shambling sort of calculated sloppiness that didn’t undermine the smarts behind their music. They crisscrossed genres and contradicted themselves with utter abandon. This album was a fixture in my car stereo all year long and the cure for shiny, predictable music. Singing Stoned and Starving with my kids may not have won me Father of the Year again but, if that was the problem, I can do without that superlative.
Many of my most interesting home-brews would appear to have been based upon a dare. This year I decided to make a Russian Kvass, which is a low alcohol beer made from stale bread, raisins, and lemons. Barlow Brewing’s Bread Dawn was just as bizarre as it should have been and twice as refreshing. It was great fun to brew and it was nice to collaborate with a friend who baked almost all the bread for the beer. Mashing in pounds of swollen, mushy bread was a chore, but it also made me appreciate the simplicity of a normal all-grain brew day.
Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City and Night Shift’s Somer Weisse
Vampire Weekend was another band that took a big step forward in 2013. While always fun and catchy, nuance and variety was not something they always did well. This album was shockingly smart and loose, and I’ve no shame in being addicted to “Step” for months on end. Perhaps even still now. This was an album full of maturity, but they had the sense to make it fun, too.
Night Shift Somer Weisse came out of nowhere and blew me away. My love of the Berliner weisse style is still no surprise, but this brewery’s take on it was amazing. Tart lemon and bread notes dominated, but the perfectly placed ginger flavor was the game changer. Find this one if you can.
Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork and Surly’s Pentagram
My album of the year is likely the latest from the Queens of the Stone Age. Josh Homme’s near death experience on the operating table gave the Queens a rebirth with kalopsia. It contained all the swagger of their previous albums, but the drug chants were expertly cut with vulnerability. Homme still wants to “Blow my load over the status quo,” but heartache is a now a shadow following the bow-legged strut.
Surly’s Pentagram was a 100% brett dark beer that had moderate amount of sourness without the sweet tart flavor that I find distracting. Surly did a great job balancing the leathery funk of the yeast with the sharper fruit of this light-bodied sour. I harvested the brett and bugs for this and I am curious to see how it affects a batch of my homebrew.
Savages’ Silence Yourself and Crokeed Stave’s Hop Savant
It came to my attention last year that there is a term for the music I gravitate towards: Noise Rock. The Savages gave me my post-punk fix with piercing guitars and calculated intensity. But Beth’s vocals and the band’s power noise weren’t blunt weapons. There’s measure to the intensity and they don’t fall into the stereotypical misandry in their lyrics. I suspect this band will be a reckoning force in the future.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of 100% brett beers, especially brett IPAs. Crooked Stave’s Hop Savant was funky and delivered bright citrus over a dry, light body. I’d love to see this “style” catch on, but it isn’t an easy yeast to introduce into a brewery. I’m OK with these beers being like tattoos, because not everyone can handle them.
Thee Oh Sees’ Floating Coffin and Westbrook’s Gose
Floating Coffin is probably the Thee Oh Sees’ most accessible album, but that doesn’t undermine the power of it, or strangeness of the lyrics and fuzzed out psychedelic rock. The latest mutation from this garage band takes a step towards the mainstream, but maintains the sinister leer that makes them addictive. Do yourself a favor and get a little more weirdness into your life.
Westbrook’s Gose makes no sense at all. Gose is another resurrected beer style that a few smart breweries are beginning to make again. It was a wheat beer accented with the judicious use of coriander and salt, and Westbrook not only nailed the style, but also put these in cans. It’s nice to see some good beer coming out of South Carolina and I hope more goodness is to come.
Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt and August Schell Brewing’s Star of the North
Cerulean Salt was a simple, basement affair. Waxahatchee sounded like something I would have loved, without really understanding, in college. Earnest, stripped-down and wrenching songs confessed their way out of Crutchfield, and I look forward to her next disc but I fear this sort of crush might not survive subsequent albums.
August Schell’s Star of the North was a nice surprise coming out of that Minnesota brewery, and I’m always a sucker for a well done Berliner weisse. (Yes, I am a broken record as well as record player.) I laid down one bottle, but the other I drank with friends, and it was full of lemon zest and fruit skin dryness with a nice, rocky head. The bottling and labeling of this beer as stellar, too.
Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana – Noisy, nostalgic and full of swagger.
Chvrches – Bones of What You Believe – Upbeat, shiny and addictive
My Bloody Valentine – m b v – I cannot wait for their next disc in 2035.
King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon – Young, simple, and passionate.
Song of the Year: Divine Fits – Ain’t That the Way
I still don’t know what this song is about. And it is very unlike me not to care. It’s not as menacing as it sounds, but the uncertainty is spellbinding as you sing along. “Your mommy’s got all she’s got/Your daddy’s got Epsom salt/To help with the bruises/Your mother’s got places to go/And daddy knows all he knows/About replacing fuses.”