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.