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.


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.


Jan 9 2010

Barlow Brewing’s Top CDs of 2009 (and their beer pairings)

I’m late with my superfluous addition to the three billion lists of the top *whatever* from 2009 and from the previous decade.  Sure many critics, most of them more knowledgeable about music than I, have reviewed the top CDs of last year.

BUT did they tell you which beers to pair them with?   Yeah, that’s what I thought.

And, to be clear, these are the songs and albums that I listened to the most during last year.  I not going to tell you that these were the absolute BEST discs of last year, but they are the ones that got the most airtime on my iPod.

In no order, my top 6 CDs and top 2 singles of 2009 and their beer pairings:

Them Crooked Vultures

I’m onboard with any side project from Josh Homme.  I love the Queens of the Stone Age, and the Desert Sessions are always amazing.  When you throw in John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, this became a much more interesting no-brainer.

Them Crooked Vultures is swaggering, sweaty and fully aware of their own absurdity.  To quote a music critic, this CD probably took as long to record as it did to write the songs. But that isn’t a slight.  It is a nod to a writhing handful of creation.  It is a night of ecstasy from a seasoned lover who is good about not waking you as they leave.  

Don’t think about this one too hard. You’ll fall off the tightrope suspended between self-loathing and clueless bravado over a chasm of muscular riffs and falsettos.

These songs call for something over the top. Extreme, but following a lust to absurd ends. They are the musical embodiment of the Imperial IPA.  But a balanced Imp IPA is not in order here, no complimentary meeting of malt and hops.  Them Crooked Vultures begs for Pliny the Elder which hits you with so many hops that the resins actually take the place of a malt backbone.

A little “Elephants” is post below. The 1:28 mark is when they lock into a groove.



Grizzly Bear – Veckamist

This was one of the critic’s darlings for 2009. Knowing this, I went into listening to it months ago preparing to hate it.  I was dead wrong.

Swelling harmonies and orchestrations are the backdrop to this soundtrack of a northeastern, gothic purgatory.  “Southern Point” was their only radio single (if you could call it that) that I heard, and that is the one I’m including at the end of this review.  But “Fine for Now” is the song that slays me. It inflates and fills your ears so quickly, convincing and effortlessly.  This sort of subtle genius is beyond their years.

This is the kind of disc that makes you feel insecure about yourself. Most of the songs on Veckatimest are genius.  And the ones that aren’t?  Well, they probably are, too, you just need to work harder to get them.

This isn’t an easy CD to immediately wrap your noggin around. Sour beers were like that for me, but once I “got” them, they really paid off.  Veckatimest is a glorious pairing with a bomber of New Belgium’s La Folie. It is hard to me to score that beer, but it is amazing.  If you don’t like it, you just need to work harder to “get” it.



The Japandroids – Post-Nothing

Garage rock still lives.  Someday, even when garages are full of flying cars and jetpacks, there will still be kids who want to rock and don’t give a fuck what you think.  This duo isn’t full of rage, they are full of impulses.  In “Wet Hair” they sing “Let’s get to France / So we can French kiss some French girls.” My GOD, that is so simple and perfect.

This duo is strong, simple and fuzzy in all the right ways. If you don’t love these guys, we are breaking up and gimme back my class ring you’ve been wearing around your neck on that braided string.

When I was in the same frame of mind as the Japandroids, I didn’t drink good beer. I drank decidedly bad, lager beer. Now that I’m older, I still favor ales over lagers, but I can come back to the lagers, with an older palette, and find something that young me and the old and wizen in me can both enjoy.  The beer that pairs best with Post-Nothing is Great Lakes’ Dortmunder Gold. This beer is a perfect balance between sweetness and bitterness. The CD is somewhere between your dreams and your dwindling optimism in the world.

Young Hearts Spark Fire



Flaming Lips – Embryonic

The Flaming Lips have released some amazing CDs over the last few years that were commercial yet were also genre piercing.  But the olde school fans thought that Wayne and the band had sold out and lost their edge.

Their Embryonic CD is an unsettling return to the Lips of old. Put bluntly, this thing is a brain fuck.  Fuzzy, wobbling and furry.  It is chaos, and an endless parade of friendly stink palms.  But once you let it congeal in your brain, it begins to take shape.  This is not an easy episiotomy, but my goodness you owe it to yourself to let this one come to life.  

This is a bear of a pairing. I can only assume that only spontaneously fermented beers could stand up to this beast of primal glory.  But, in this case, I’ll take a Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura, which is a soured imperial stout.   The soured, blackness with coffee notes is a perfect echo to the swirling strange of Embryonic.  When you stare into this abyss, it stares back.  And then you two get the munchies.  And there is a certain logic to 2 am molten, hot burritos and cherry Slurpees.

Convinced of the Hex


Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Yeah, this is a simple pick. You might think it is too easy.  Hell, they are using “1901” to sell Cadillacs.

I don’t care. This is pretty and hooky pop. (And from the dreaded French, no less.)  Every year I have a poppy CD that never leaves my CD changer.  If you spend months on end in my player getting sung to (very badly) by me during the summer with the windows and the sunroof open, you got something special, kid.  You’ve heard them by now. Give in to bliss, you pussy.

What goes with a smooth, summer CD?  It has to be the simple pleasure and easy going allure of a hefeweizen. For that, I’m going to go the local Starr Hill’s The Love. Both The Love and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix are unfiltered, shiny and clean.


Did Phoenix cleanse your palette? Good, because Mastodon is here to brilliantly punish you.

You can segment the music on my iPod into many pieces, and one of them ought to be “Workout” music.  I’m not proud of these songs. One of the bands in this group may or may not be Velvet Revolver.  Let’s just say that these songs get the job done. They are driving, rhythmic, circular and, usually, a bit lightweight. When I heard the critics falling over themselves early last year to praise these metal monsters, I figured I was getting some more “Workout” music.

I suppose you could workout to these guys, but they’ve done something here that deserves much more than your sweaty attention.  There’s shifting keys and there’s danger, but it is all wonderfully balanced.   They are heavy, dense, and they are going to write songs about Czar-era Russia.  Hell, they previously released a disc based entirely on Moby Dick. They aren’t playing games, and you can actually understand what they are singing which is a rare feat in the genre.

What do you pair with a disc that is refreshing a musical genre that has long entered into self-parody? I’m putting this one with something unlikely, but my favorite of Brooklyn beers: The Brooklyner-Scheider Hopfen-Weisse. If you want to rock out to Tsarist Russia songs through the lens of an American rock band, then dig into a spicy, dry-hopped weizenbock . This is solid German brewing capped off with American Amarillo and Palisade hops. Get ready for some truth.


Honorable Mentions:  

Neko Case –Middle Cyclone (with a Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale), Dan Auerbach – Keep It Hid (with a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout ), Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (with a Lagunitas Sirius Ale), and Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall (with a Three Floyd Alpha King)

And before I go, the SINGLE of the year:

White Rabbits – Percussion Gun

This is my favorite single from last year. Dueling and concurrent drums, and passionate singing.  Do they mention Lebanon during the song? Just put it on your iPod already.  And a Sierra Nevada Torpedo. Say it with me: CITRA!

White Rabbits “Percussion Gun” Music Video from White Rabbits on Vimeo.

Single Runner-up:

XX – Crystalised

This is my runner-up for the single of the year.  Laid back and intense. A stepchild of the The Cure and the Pixies at their most minimal.  “So don’t think that I’m pushing you away / When you’re the one that I’ve kept cloest.” Sip a Foothills Sexual Chocolate.