Jan 4 2012

The Best Music of 2011 and, Of Course, Their Beer Pairings

It is time for the 2011 Best Albums of the Year and, of course, their beer pairings list. I know you look forward to this every year, lose sleep over my possible choices, and feel lost when your refrigerator is full of beer and your iPod won’t shuffle.

Don’t worry. Daddy’s home.

What are the ground rules? As usual, whatever fits my narrowing attention span. Like the music and beer pairings from 2009 and 2010, the music is whatever got the most spins in my player of choice. They don’t have to be the most groundbreaking and challenging albums of the year, but being so doesn’t automatically exclude them from the list. I really liked PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake but, to begin what is sure to be a slew of mixed metaphors in this post, it didn’t have the drinkability to make the top 10. Bon Iver and the Fleet Foxes didn’t make it either, so get the hate mail machine cranked up now. Honestly, those last two albums just made me sleepy.

In terms of the beer, I try to make the beers something new to me. Either they are brand new to the market, or distribution of them just came to my area, or I had them while traveling. Perhaps I hadn’t had that beer in a long, long time, so I had somehow regained my beer virginity for that brew.

These aren’t in order of greatness or ABV. You’ll notice that my musical tastes skew towards the alternative, and my beer taste is all “craft”. I do listen to other types of music and enjoy them. I do not drink macro brews unless I’m trapped at some formal occasion I can’t chew through my leg to get free.

Without further ado.

 

1)     Elbow –Build a Rocket Boys! and Boulevard’s Tank 7

Elbow is the kind of band may never receive the critical acclaim in the US that they do in Europe, and that is a shame. Build a Rocket Boys! was certainly one of the best produced albums from this year. Sparse in all the right ways, and subtle to the point of suspicion in many of the slower tracks. Garvey’s voice sounds harrowingly close to Peter Gabriel’s in both tone and fragility, and that just endears him to me further.

Jesus is a Rochdale Girl is a soft, watercolor of a song where Garvey sings “Nothing to be proud of and nothing to regret, all of that to make as yet.” Elbow effortlessly captures moments that are deep in emotion, yet simplified in details lost through the passing years.

During a trip up to Chicago and Munster for Dark Lord, I picked up a few bottles of Boulevard’s Tank 7 saison. In retrospect, if I had brought back 20 cases of that beer, it still wouldn’t have been enough. Perfectly balanced and infinitely drinkable. The saison style is hard to nail, and Boulevard has set the bar even higher for American breweries.

The pairing of a perfectly crafted saison and immaculate music seems almost too obvious. Fortunately, it is very easy to get Elbow’s latest, and unfortunately it is very difficult for me to get Boulevard beers. Good luck with that.

Below is the video for Neat Little Rows. For a more patient version of Elbow, (spoiler) go to the bottom of this post to see which one of their songs made it into my singles of the year.

 

2)     Wild Flag – Wild Flag and Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale

I’ve missed Sleater-Kinney as much as I expect to. Which is to say, a lot.

After much anticipation, Wild Flag appeared with a huge serving of Sleater-Kinney and equal parts Helium and The Minders in side plates. The result is infinitely catchy and filling.  Between Wild Flag and The Dum Dum Girls (which strangely sounded like Chryssy Hynde fronting the Go-Gos), I got a huge dose of grrrrl power and rock this year. And I need more. Wild Flag is brash and empowering, but still comfortable and familiar.

Lagunitas came out with a special seasonal beer this year called Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale when they knew they wouldn’t be able to produce Brown Shugga because of some brewing equipment that was destroyed in transit to the brewery.

While not revolutionary, and very much in the vein of many of their other beers, this one showed the amazing consistency with which Lagunitas can produce new beers and the sense of playfulness that endears them to beer drinkers around the country.

The ease with which the ladies of Wild Flag can, even after a hiatus, snap off a great album is only rivaled by Lagunitas’ ability to slip another winner into their rotation without missing a beat.

Below is a video for Romance. “We love the sound / the sound is what found us / the sound is the blood between me and you.” Believe it.

 

3)     The Roots – undun and Cigar City’s Big Sound Scotch Ale

The Roots are no strangers to this list, and I blogged recently about a ?uestlove quote that left me wondering whether looking at beer as simply good or bad is something I’ve moved beyond. But coming out with a concept album, influenced by Sufjan Stevens and named after a Guess Who song? Surely this where I get off the Roots train, right?

No, they nailed undun, too. While not as instantly likeable and hooky as How I Got Over, this one seeps into you like the porous thing you are.

In Kool On, Greg Porn raps, “Fuck a genie and three wishes / I just want a bottle, a place to write my novel,” and paints a more complex picture of the anti-hero Redford Stephens and his life as neither hero, nor villain, nor victim. A man too complex and (d)evolving for just one song.

In a random occurrence, I came across a Cigar City Big Sound Scotch Ale and it scratched an itch that I don’t often get. Big, malty beers are usually some of the last that I crave, but they can be amazing in the right situation. The Big Sound was big and sweet in a non-fatiguing way, and impressive in toffee and dark fruit notes. I’d love to see how this ages.

The Roots’ undun is not a hard listen, but it requires some time and thought to fully appreciate. Cigar City’s Big Sound is like that, too. Sit down to both and see how you like them as all three of you warm up.

 

4)     Yuck –Yuck and New Belgium’s Ranger IPA

I find that I’m less impressed by the next, big revolutionary sound as I am by the band that does normal things very well. Yuck came out of nowhere this year with an album that was completely dated and fresh at the same time. In the 90’s, Yuck might have gotten lost in the shuffle, but in 2011 they sound new again. Fuzzy, catchy, and immediate despite a seemingly lackadaisical delivery. They sound like putting down the top of your parent’s convertible and chasing the last bits of summer.

One of the big beer stories in Virginia this year was the arrival of New Belgium. For the lazy and puerile, that meant the coming of Fat Tire. For me, it meant easy access to their Lips of Faith beers. But the surprise was how much I’ve enjoyed New Belgium’s Ranger IPA. In a country rotten with IPAs and hop-bombs, Ranger was perfectly executed and it slipped into my list of no-brainer go-to beers. Assertively bitter and crisp with citrus rind and pine notes.

Sit on your porch and pair a Ranger and Yuck together, and remember how easy things used to be.

 

5)     Fucked Up – David Comes to Life and Founders’ Canadian Breakfast Stout

These albums are in no particular order but, truth be told, Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life might be my favorite of album in the year. That was a hard thing for me to process at first, because Damian’s shouting vocals haven’t always been easy for me to get past. The music is the first hook and it snags you with layers of sound, and that gives his feral vocals time to latch on, as well.

Fucked Up delivered a 78-minute concept album that they were ridiculous to even try delivering. But it works. I’ve seen them live twice and I think it is vital to do so to get an idea of the chaos, but undeniably positive energy that radiates from this group. Who else could make the repetition of “dying on the inside” by a feminine voice on “The Other Shoe” become an anthem? Fucked Up gives you what you need and even if you find them a tough sell, you’ll grudgingly agree that, “We need a Peter, we get a Paul; at least Judas had some balls.”

The Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout was bottled for the first time this year, and it became the belle of the scarcity ball. This imperial stout, brewed with coffee and chocolate, was aged in spent bourbon barrels that recently had been used to age maple syrup. This beer had every right to be ludicrous, over-the-top, and sweetly undrinkable, but it wasn’t. All of the ingredients and aging elements came through with a bittersweet finish. Was it worth the hoops that some people went through get it? I don’t know. I bought it off the shelf and thought it was juuuust right.

When you drag your fingernails across the surface of Founders CBS and Fucked Up’s David, there appears to be a ramshackle nihilism in both, but relax your mind and give them the time to take shape.

 

6)     Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo and Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust

I caught Kurt Vile while he was opening for Deerhunter this year, but the full effect of his album, Smoke Ring for my Halo, didn’t sink in until months later. There’s a stoner vibe going through his lyrics that beg to be mumbled and, later, retracted in light of a hungover sunrise. But I haven’t yet.

But there is a dreamy logic to it all, and the simple layering of guitars is instantly engaging. Vile’s music can be brittle and meandering, and that is its charm.

At Dark Lord Day, my group set up camp at a table perhaps a dozen steps from a mobile bar pouring Three Floyd’s Zombie Dust. I honestly cannot tell you how many Dusts I had, but each one tasted as refreshing and wonderful as the last. Big, grassy, citrus notes dominate the beer, and perhaps only 3F would call this one an American pale ale, but it was the perfect beer for that day.

Somethings in life come too easy and we are, frankly, suspicious of them for that reason. Sit down with some Zombie Dust and Kurt Vile, and try to enjoy the rare oasis in the world. No, not the band Oasis. Screw those chumps.

 

 

7)     The Dodos – No Color and Victory’s Donnybrook

The Dodos’ No Color album dropped in February and it was easy for me to quickly forget about them by the time December rolled around. I instantly loved this disc with it’s hooks, staccato rhythms and Neko Case’s backing vocals (!?!?) on a few of the tracks. It was immediate and insistent, but that can also be exhausting.

But returning to No Color at the end of the year reminded me how easy it is to fall into that melodic persistence again. I have a primal need for music that is manic, quirky, and sparse. Without a new Spoon album in 2011, this one did the trick.

I enjoy stouts and darker beers, but I still tend to avoid them when the temperature is above 60 degrees. It is hard to rationalize, but that is just who I am. So it takes a special stout to have me enjoying one during the heat of summer, and Victory Donnybrook Stout was that. Beer Run, hands-down my favorite local pub, serves it occasionally on nitro and it is glorious. Dark, roasted, with hints of cocoa and only 3.7% ABV. You know this list had to include at least one session beer and the Donnybrook defies any simple definitions.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines and Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA

Telekinesis delivered a strong album of hooks, assisted again by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla. This was everything that DCfC’s latest, Code and Keys, was not. Ballast Point’s Sculpin is another solid IPA that makes you wonder if that style isn’t overplayed like you first thought. Both reflective, earnest and, worth your money and taste buds.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy and Avery’s Rumpkin

St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy is another fever dream of an album and it challenges you in ways that you wanted, and in ways that you didn’t think you needed. Every year I loathe the coming of pumpkin beers, but Avery’s Rumpkin made me re-think that if only for a few minutes. The rum barrel aging of this big beer was genius, and I am curious to see how it ages. Both sensual, lush and quirky.

Mastodon – The Hunter and Fantome’s Saison

Mastodon went out into another universe with their previous album, so I was interested to see where the The Hunter would find them landing. This album is smaller and much more controlled, and that was a welcome adjustment. This isn’t a perfect disc, but no one is making the kind of music that they are right now and they consistently deliver the goods. Fantome disappeared from the shelves for a long time in central Virginia, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this Belgian gem. Dry, spicy and perfectly acidic.Enjoy the nostalgia.

Ryan Adam – Ashes & Fire and Bells’ Oarsman

Ryan Adams’ Ashes & Fire was a welcome return, at least for me, to solid musicianship and some consistency. These songs are plaintive and brooding, but you don’t have to be in that mood to enjoy this album. The Bells’ Oarsman is a wheat ale with a underlying note of sourness. A light, American riff on the Berliner weisse style, and perfectly refreshing. Ryan and Bells take you through the melancholy, but they don’t linger and unravel.

 

 

SINGLES OF THE YEAR

Lippy Kids – Elbow and Barlow Brewing’s Fargin Eishole

Lippys Kids is equal parts cathartic, somber, epic and wearying. I could gush about this song, but watch the video below and make up your own mind. And, in 2011, my Fargin Eishole eisbock won 3rd place in the National Homebrew Competition. It was a fantastic beer, but it took years to evolve into what it finally became: boozey, deep and, a little bit, epic, too.

 

Jesus Fever – Kurt Vile and Bells’ Quinannan Falls Special Lager

Jesus Fever is wistful and simple, and I think I’ve listened to this track a billion times. Bells’ Quinannan Falls rolled through town, but only on draft. Beautiful, crisp and floral. There are songs and beers more complex, but do they make you smile?

 

Lotus Flower – Radiohead and Russian River’s Temptation

I really enjoyed Radiohead’s King of Limbs, but it isn’t an easy album to digest quickly or in one sitting. But Lotus Flower was perfectly restrained and hypnotic. I broke open a bottle of Russian River’s Temptation wild ale for a tasting at the beginning of the year. It was that paradoxical moment that was equal parts the joy of sharing  a wonderful beer with friends, and wanting to run from the room with the bottle screaming something about “my precious”.  Tart, smooth and vinous. I need this beer and song on an endless repeat.

 

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Dec 21 2011

There is no good or bad beer; or what I learned about brewing from Questlove

Inspiration comes from everywhere.

There may not be any obvious parallels between brewing and music, movies, and other art forms, but if you’re not looking you are missing out on the big picture.

In reading through the latest Spin magazine, I came across a feature with Questlove, from The Roots, as well as a few others doing  a Jukebox Jury on the singles of 2011. They went through the biggest and, in this case in particular, the most viral songs of the year. What caught my eye was his takeaway on one of the “worst” songs of the year:

About Rebecca Black’s Friday :

We played this on Fallon, and I remember the irony of us studying the song like a science. What does she do in the second verse? How does the rap go? Doing that made me realize that I no longer believe in good songs and bad songs. I now only think of songs as effective and noneffective. Even though as a technical singer she’s not “good,” this was one of the most inescapable songs of 2011. What does it say when a bad song is inescapable?…….This song reveals a primitive side of us that we’re afraid that we have.” – Questlove 

This, as many things do, had me rearranging my thoughts on brewing. Is there so such thing as a good or bad beer? Is there only effective or ineffective?

Let’s just segment out the beers that have obvious, technical issues. We can’t look at the beers that have unintentionally soured or are rotten with diacetyl. These need to be thrown out the window not unlike a recording session where a guitar string snaps or a microphone breaks. That is bad beer, and not worth talking about.

I’m just as guilty as others of labeling beers good and bad, although never in such black and white terms. But it is easier to apply these labels to beer and move on to the next. We all want to simplify life, but as with any Boolean metric, it doesn’t critique a beer with any depth or insight.

By changing my mental reviewing of a beer to effective or ineffective, I can address the intent of the brewer, my personal tastes, AND the palates of others. Surely this is a more complex method of reviewing a beer, but does it make it harder to come up with a short, definitive answer in the review process? I don’t think it does.

 

Example Beer #1: Big Freaking Bourbon Barrel Coffee Vanilla Bean Russian Imperial Stout

Brewer: The brewer knows what he wanted to make. Something huge, complex, ready for patience and somewhat absurd. All in equal parts.

Me: I like that sort of beer on occasion, but not everyday and almost never by myself.

Beer Drinker: I think the average beer drinker might be overwhelmed by this beast of a beer, so let’s be honest and address that the beer geek as the one who is really excited and into this huge RIS.

 

Example #1 – Effective?

Brewer: If the technical pieces are in place, then I we can assume that this is the beer the brewer intended. Unless it is severely under-attenuated and sickly sweet, or they threw too much coffee or too many vanilla beans in the pot and obscured the rest of the beer, hopefully they nailed what they were looking for.

Me: If those issues are kept at bay, I’ll probably find it to be a good beer, although I’ll like it less if there is too much coffee because I’m not a big coffee fan. Again, this is hypothetical.

Beer Drinker: The rest of the beer world? Well, that is select group and they are not your average macro drinkers. They know what they are getting, and they are willing to jump through hoops and pay more money for a beer that is likely to be scarce.

Example #1 – Answer: Yes, that monstrous RIS was effective. It was well made, it was priced and distributed to a limited group that would appreciate it, but it had a little too much coffee flavor for me. So, big picture, it was good and effective.

None. None More Black.

“None. None more black.” 

 

Example Beer #2:  American-Style Light Lager

Brewer: Did the brewer intend to make this beer? Good lord, how do you make this beer on accident? Seriously, you can’t. Corn and rice don’t just fall into the mash on accident. I don’t want to get shitty here, but you only go wrong if it tastes too much of adjuncts, or hops, or doesn’t have a healthy fermentation. These beers are really hard to make and there is a lot of equipment and back-watering that goes into balancing these beers.

Me: This is a “when in Rome” beer for me. I don’t dislike them, per se. They are just nothing that I want to pay money for and I’d rather drink water. If I’m at a party and that’s all there is, I’ve have a few, but not notice that I am having a few since they aren’t really challenging or interesting. Fringe case: I might pay for one or two at a ballpark on a hot day when there aren’t better options.

Beer Drinkers: The average beer drinker (and, no, I have no idea what that really means anymore) is probably into this beer. Unless it is too low in alcohol and they have to drink a million of them to achieve a slight buzz, they are going to enjoy it and its price point.

 

Example #2 – Effective?

Brewer: This is a hard beer to make and, if the brewer nailed it, he/she should be proud. Pabst and other breweries win medals at GABF every year for this style. That is critical praise.

Me: I don’t want this beer and I don’t want to pay for this beer. Water is free and much better for you. But I do appreciate the skill required to make this beer.

Beer Drinkers: Increasingly less of the US drinkers want this beer as the years go, but they are still the vast, vast majority of the drinking population. The price point is right for them and this is all that they (know that they) want.

Example #2 – Answer: Yes, that thin and highly carbonated beer is a success. The brewer made something difficult, the crowd will drink it, and it wasn’t made for or with me in mind.

 

Pulp Fiction Diner

“Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ’cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherfucker.” 

I could bring up many more examples and it would be very easy to come up with examples of what would be an ineffective beer. Those are beers that veered from the brewer’s vision and/or beers that no one wants to drink for a multitude of reasons. This post isn’t about changing minds or working out all the scenarios. I just think that I need to take a more complex and faceted view of beers, and maybe you do, too.

I imagine the best brewers out there steal from the world around them, and not in the physical sense. You can learn from disparate masters and, sometimes, Questlove can give you a different angle on beer.

I know the more primitive side of me is brought out by my love of sours. But that is another post.

What do you think?

Questlove

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Jan 4 2011

The Best Music of 2010 and, Of Course, Their Beer Pairings

Better late than never, it is time for my annual best CDs of year and their beer pairings list. Lots of hacks write end of year articles about what they deem are the best albums. The problem is a) their lists suck, and b) they don’t bother to tell you which beers should be paired with the discs. But I care about you more than that. Yes, you. I’m a giver.

And, just like my Top CDs of 2009 (and their beer pairings), these are the albums that simply freaking worked for me. They got the most spins, and were worth my time in 2010. Lighten up.

The beers were under the same loose and sloppy rules, too. They might be brand new beers or, through distribution, they might have just been new to me. They might not be the *best* I tried on 2010, but they were great and pair amazingly with the right tunes. It’s my list. I can make up whatever shit I want to.

In no order, my top 7 CDs and top 4 singles of 2010 and their beer pairings:

No Age – Everything in Between and The Bruery – Hottenroth Berliner Weisse

No Age’s Everything in Between got a lot of plays in my iWhatevers this year. This band rumbles through a bunch of genres without getting too loose and messy. Dean Spunt and Randy Randall deftly deliver punk and noise with a gooey center of ambience, despite the inherent oxymoron of doing so. “Fever Dreaming” feels frenetic, but somewhat mainstream, until the screeching guitars spread a thick layer of noise over your ears. Just what you didn’t know you needed. But you did.

The Bruery’s Hottenroth Berliner Weisse is a great beer, but it is also a session beer. Despite much talk from the beer world, I’m still impatiently waiting for session beers to come into fashion in the U.S., but store shelves are still crammed with gigantic, high-alcohol beers. The Bruery certainly makes its share of ABV beasts, but they knocked one out of the park with this 3.1% beer. Lemony, crisp and tartly sour, this beer is infinitely drinkable and refreshing. The Hottenroth blends those pieces together seamlessly like No Age spins together disparate musical elements without ear fatigue.

The National – High Violet and 21st Amendment Brewery – Back in Black

The National’s High Violet got the most obsessive plays of any disc this year. From the start of its lo-fi opening track, High Violet is dark and subdued, and it grows a bit more expansive and disconcerting with each listen. But maybe it isn’t apparent at first.

One of my favorite tracks on the disc is “Lemonworld”, and it illuminates pathetic first-world melancholy: “With cousins and colors and somewhere overseas / But it’ll take a better war to kill a college man like me”. The clear single is “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and it captures that listless spot between youth and adulthood with “I still owe money / To the money / To the money I owe / I never thought about love / When I thought about home”.

Black IPAs (India Black Ales, Cascadian Dark Ales, or whatever-the-hell they are being called this week) blossomed and became a big deal this year. Is it a new style? Is it really a hoppy porter? What should it be called? Why should I freaking care?

I can’t get my hands on many Black IPAs in Virginia, but the one I most enjoyed was the 21st Amendment’s Back in Back. (Although I did enjoy my own Black IPA homebrew, in all humility, and the Brew Ridge Trail Collaboration BIPA). It was smooth, crisp, roasty and in a freaking can. A win on many levels. You don’t need to put on your thinking cap on to figure out why this dark and mysterious style pairs well with High Violet. Put these together and mope about your house in the way that only the overeducated can.

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening and Terrapin Brewing – Moo Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout

LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening opens with 9 minute track that is a clinic of everything you expect from them. “Dance Yrself Clean” trickles along for a few minutes with the social commentary (“Talking like a jerk / Except you are an actual jerk”) and cleverness you anticipate, then it erupts into full dance mode. James Murphy’s howl at the 5:23 mark is one of my favorite musical moments of the year.

I caught LCD Soundsystem live in 2010, and it was one of my favorite shows of the year. If I had all the money in the world, they could come to my sprawling estate and be the house band that never gets old or stale. And irony would only fuel them. But “Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut / It comes back, but it’s never the same”.

Terrapin’s Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout was a surprise late in the season for me. It sounds like it might be sickly sweet, but this brew is on a gyroscope. The balance between the mouthfeel, and deep, dark chocolate of the cocoa nibs, and the smoky bitterness and full sweetness is astonishing. What is even more amazing is that after having this glass of decadence, you want more. Sit back and put This Is Happening and Moo Hoo on repeat.

Sleigh Bells – Treats and Ballast Point – Sculpin IPA

Sleigh Bell’s Treats came out of nowhere, and I immediately liked them, and I immediately assumed that they had no staying power. Their initial assault of noise was like touching live wires and that couldn’t last, right? Wrong. Even now they still hit me like a sonic wave, and they backed it up when I saw them live late this summer. From the swagger of “Infinity Guitars” to school yard daydream of “Rill Rill”, the songs on this discs just sounded new. Isn’t that the most you can ask of an artist? My only question is how they are going to capture lightening in a bottle again with their next disc?

At least once a year, I feel like I’ve hit the end of the hoppy IPA road. That there is nothing left to be done and all the flavors have been had. Then Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA comes to town, and I’m wowed again. It slams your mouth with tons of hops delivered in handfuls of mango, pine and peaches. But there is a solid backbone of burnt sugar malt in there, as well. Just when you think there’s nothing new under the sun, here comes the Sleigh Bells and Sculpin.

The Roots – How I Got Over and Odell – Deconstruction

Having a steady late-night gig should have made The Roots fat, lazy and complacent. And who could blame them? But they served up a lean disc with equal parts gospel, trip-hop, R&B and indie folk. No matter the guests that appear on tracks, it is all organic and, almost unfashionably, optimistic. They can keep their day, or rather night, jobs if The Roots can deliver this sort of CD every few years on the side.

Odells’ Deconstruction brings together a lot of disparate pieces. I got the opportunity to try this golden ale at the GABF, and I got back in line for it more times than I want to admit. It is a blend of “44% ale, 33% ale aged in oak barrels, 20% ale aged in bourbon barrels, 3% ale aged in wine barrels.” Could be a shitshow, huh? It isn’t. Fruit, citrus, vanilla and some sour get together and bumps uglies in your mouth. And you thank them for it. How I Got Over and Deconstruction fit together like jigsaw, and you don’t need any of those silly straight pieces.

Janelle Monáe – Archandroid and New Glarus – Raspberry Tart

If you’ve seen a “best of list” that’s worth looking at, I’m sure Janelle Monáe’s Archandriod is on it. If R&B ever went away, this futuristic concept album brings it back. Wait, let that sink in: a concept R&B disc. Everything about the Archandriod is sweetly addictive without the tunnel vision that precedes an insulin coma. I could not get “Tightrope” out of my head for days on end while she effortlessly shouted along sounding like the Jackon 5. Janelle is legit (“I tip on alligators and little rattle snakers / But I’m another flavor / Something like a terminator”), and made even more interesting by being on the Bad Boy record label.

New Glarus is an amazing brewery in Wisconsin that does not distribute beyond its state border. So getting their beers in Virginia is a show, but so very worth it. The New Glarus Raspberry Tart is berries, berries and more freaking berries. There’s a slight sourness and prickly fizziness, but it all serves to get all that raspberry goodness into your mouth. This is like drinking a Luden’s cough drop. It is as absurd and joyous as it sounds. Spin Janelle and this New Glarus together and see how close to a stomachache you can get with these cures.

c

Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz and Flying Dog – Raging Bitch

I thought Sufjan Steven’s Illinois was a masterpiece in no uncertain terms. As frail and honest and heartbreaking as a recording can be. I expected his next disc to be a disappointment, but it was horse of a different color. Ripping and ricocheting electronic beats surf on top of swelling orchestration. This feels like his Kid A, but without the themed or induced alienation. I think The Age of Adz (pron. Odds) will sink into to the collective critic consciousness sometime in the middle of 2011.

When hoppy Belgian beers became more mainstream a few years ago, I wasn’t on that bandwagon. In fact, I found them completely undrinkable. Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch was one of the first crossovers that made sense to me. This American IPA fermented with Belgian yeast and then crushed with a ton of Amarillo hops was remarkable everytime I tried it. The cask version, that I was lucky enough to try a few times, was transcendent.

Honorable Mentions:


The Budos Band – Budos Band III
and Dogfish Head – Bitches Brew

The Black Keys – Brothers and Flossmoor Station – Pullman Brown

Transference – Spoon and Tuppers – Pils

Superchunk – Majesty Shredding and Half Acre Beer Company – Daisy Cutter Pale Ale

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest and Stone Brewing – 10.10.10 Vertical Epic

Top 4 Singles of 2010

Cee-Lo Green – Fuck You and Shorts – Key Lime Pie or Copper Canyon – Apple Streudel Tripel

Seriously. Cee-Lo pulled off a hit called “Fuck You”. This is desperate, or a joke after a few seconds if it isn’t done well. Cee-Lo delivers because he has soul. He’s not imitating, he’s perpetuating. It reminds us of what are artist can get away with when he was the skills. Maybe even the skillz.

Copper Canyon and Shorts can get away with beers that taste like Key Lime Pie or Apple Streudel because their brewers are insane artists. They might not be the beers you want to drink all night long, but there are mouthgasms to be had in trying.

Gorillaz – Stylo and Surly Brewing – Bender

I’m Damon Albarn apologist from his Blur years through to today. Stylo starts with a club beat that finds Albarn and Mos Def trading vocals in the comforting, but too familiar, way that “Clint Eastwood” or “Dirty Harry” did. Until Bobby Womack shows up. Womack’s voice slices through the formula with a machete. He’s a long way from the 70’s, but his vocals have aged like worn leather. How could the video be anything less than a high-speed chase scene? “Yes, this love is electric.”

Surly Bender comes in a freaking can. I could stop there, but this oatmeal brown ale serves up a small twist on browns. It is malty and creamy with some assertive late hopping. Like Womack’s voice, it is experienced and worn to smoothness. Yeah, you like getting it in the can, don’t you?

Beach House – Norway and Drie Fonteinen – Oude Geuze

When Beach House begins to play, the fog machines turn on. Norway swells and ebbs, but is never displaced by Legrand’s smokey voice. It’s looking back at high school through Nagel paintings with the sharp corners worn away by letting go of regret. It is the way memory differs from the here and now. A comforting despair.

After the thermostat catastrophe at Drie Fonteinen in 2009, many of us assumed they were done brewing. But they have continued, although with a much different model and partners, but the quality is the same. This sour, acidic, yeasty beer lives on. It is drier and milder than other commercial examples of the style, but that is in no way a slight.

Grinderman – Worm Tamer and Brooklyn Brewing – Reinschweinsgebot

Confession: I’ve never gotten into Nick Cave. Friends, whose music taste I respect, love him. The Bad Seeds, to be cute, haven’t haven’t taken purchase in my soil.

But Ginderman is nasty. They’re that hot chick, with dirty fingernails smoking under the bleachers. A prototypical suicide girl making due with racoon-eyes until the needles can canvas her.  “Well my baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster / Two great big humps and then I’m gone”.

I’m not even sure I like Grinderman. But I might love them sometimes.

The Brooklyn Reinschweinsgebot was the inspiration for my homebrewed bacon (dry-porked) beer.  After having this at the Rare Beer Tasting during the GABF, my mind was open to the awesomeness and absurdity of fat-washing. So smoky, woody and reminiscent of BBQ. So decadent and good. Meat is delicious murder.

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Nov 4 2010

Four Loko Blue Raspberry Review

How can you not be interested in the Four Loko? A University Health Services administrator has called it “badness in a can.” It is known around college campuses as “blackout in a can.” It sounds amazing. In a can.

I’ve reviewed less than stellar beers before (my Bud Light Lime review), but this is another beast.  In fact, I apologize for mentioning the Loko in same breath as beer. Will I be able to drink the entire 23.5 ounce can? Especially since it is 12% alcohol. Do I even want to? What the fuck is wrong with me?

The Four Loko is named for its four main ingredients: caffeine, taurine, guarana, and alcohol. It comes in nine flavors: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony, watermelon and blue raspberry. I chose the blue raspberry, although I loved the colors of the envy can.

Appearance: Windshield wiper fluid. Aqua Velva Ice Blue. It is an unnatural teal with a fizzy head that lasts an entire 5 seconds before disappearing completely. I suspect this will permanently stain my urethra.

Aroma: The smell of the Four Loko is overwhelming. Fake raspberry dominates and dissolves into cotton candy woven by homicidal circus carnies. There’s a terrifying streak of medicinal alcohol that runs through the middle of this hate potion. It smells like that creepy uncle who used to sneak up behind you reeking of cigarettes, grain alcohol, summer sweat and failure.

Taste: The flavor follows the smell. It tastes of sweaty desperation and self loathing. The Four Loko is like filling up your mouth with daddy issues. It is Satan’s aftershave.

The burps aren’t half bad, though.

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