Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beer and Music, Music and Beer, 2014 edition

One of the better songs of the year, or any year

The backstory: Every year this guy and I trade top ten, or fifteen, or whatever lists and then make fun of each other. I usually spend the mornings with National Public Radio (and I donate to this station) on in the background, then switch over the music in the afternoon.

Here's a taste of what I spent last year listening to:
Sigur Ros - Kveikur: This band spent the last two albums in the wilderness, mistaking pretty sounds for cohesive, coherent records. Perhaps shedding a band member provoked an identity crisis. Like a grade school student trying on new personas, wondering where they want to try to fit in, Sigur Ros cuts an album that shows they spent the ‘90s listening to the pop-industrial stylings of Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins. The band drops its most aggressive record to date, polished to a slick studio sheen as if Mutt Lange was behind the boards. Heavy percussion, prog-metal tendencies, and actual verse-chorus-verse song structure, albeit at 6/8 time, make this perhaps the most accessible Sigur Ros record as well as the most unexpected. This is as tight, compact, and mainstream as this band will get, and the result is their only album you could credibly play on a road trip.

Savages - Silence Yourself: Politicized without being political, Savages are a thrash band that happens to play post-punk in the vein of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Pornography-era Cure. Jagged, angular guitar riffs, a tight rhythm section, and a snarling beast of a lead singer add up to one of the better debut records in recent memory. 
Deafheaven - Sunbathers: It’s black metal. It’s post-hardcore. It’s shoegaze. It’s post-rock. It’s screamo. It’s walls of guitar noise, piercing Neil Young-style solos, blast-beat drumming and then…. silence. It’s gravity-defying and earthbound. One of the best explorations of musical space from the new breed of smarty-pants metal groups out there. But mostly it’s uplifting.

Kanye West - Yeezus: Let’s get this out of the way right now: Kanye is the GOAT. There’s no one better, past or present. He’s not on the next level, he is the next level. There’s enough going on here to write a dissertation on, and I suspect that people will try.
Yeezus is an album full of self-loathing that reminds me of the controversy around Guns ‘n Roses’ “One in a Million;” Kanye’s misogyny says so much more about him than it does about anything else. “Dude misses his mom and lashes out” is the pop-psychology take I subscribe to. “The plan was to drink until the pain’s over, but what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” he asked on his last album. We still don’t have an answer.
He writes some of the most fascinating lyrics around: “She Instagram herself like ‘bad bitch alert / the Instagrammers watch like ‘mad bitch alert’” sums up so much of 2013 in terms of race, class, celebrity, and gender, and the cultural tourism that stems from those cleavages. But there’s more. The trappiest, trunk-rattlingest, DJ Khaled- est, “We tha Best-est” song on the album, the one you’d like to bump the loudest? It features a Nina Simone sample about lynching.
Elsewhere, dancehall menacingly interrupts songs, beats drop out, and the most soulful song on the record, “Bound 2,” was the subject of an embarrassing video/home movie leak. Absolutely fascinating, and the album spawned some of the best music writing of the year. To wit: 
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City: The greatest trick VW ever played was their first, applying African compositions to preppies and being in on the joke while too many critics weren’t. Now they’ve gone and made their most challenging album, both musically and lyrically. A mediation on growing old that shouts out my late night falafel joint and borrows from Souls of Mischief’s “Step to My Girl.”

My Bloody Valentine - m b v: An album that has no right to exist that sits comfortably alongside the rest of their cannon, twenty years after the fact. “Touched” and “To Here Knows When” from “Loveless” are the precedents for this album, which is less “pop” than their others.

Posted in full right here.

Photo by the author. 
A word about beer: I strive to list only beers that are new for 2013, or first reached the Washington, DC area in 2013. Here goes...

Franklins Munton Chuck Porter - A single malt, single hopped porter, flawlessly executed. Beer terroir.

Otter Creek and Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Dose - The latter makes a cult double India Pale Ale called Double Sunshine and this is as close as we'll get to that. It was still a magnificent beer three months after bottling. Mangoes, nectarines, corn syrup, and grass. Is there malt in here? Does it matter? White pepper spiced through the middle. A soft water finish with a bit of mouth-coating stickiness and tons of grapefruit and lemon pith. Dangerously drinkable for such an unbalanced beer and immediately in the higher tiers of DIPAs.

Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel - The first time in the US for this beer, the platonic ideal of what a dopplebock should be. Dark breads, like rye & whole wheat, a good amount of carbonation, but the bubbles are delicate. Massive sugars, caramel, toffee, & molasses. Plum & figgy pudding. A hint of noble hops give it some straw, hay, & grass. Finishes sweet, & the bread & sugar linger, but there's enough dryness from the carbonation to keep you going back for more.

New Belgium Hop Kitchen French Aramis IPA - Green apple, toasted walnuts, apricots, clementines, grass, crackers.

Allagash FV-13 - American Wild Ale - Like balsamic vinegar run through strawberries and cherries, and then the liquid is oaked.

The Bruery's Bois (strong ale), Smoking Wood (smoked, barrel-aged porter), and Sour in the Rye (American Wild Ale).

Terrapin Side Project 19 Mosiac Rye - A single-hopped pale ale.

3 Stars Harvester of Sorrow (barrel-aged saison) and Zombie Date Night (imperial porter with raspberries and cocoa nibs)

Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout (barrel-aged imperial stout) and Gillian (barrel-aged saison).

Westbrook Gose, because if they want to run lactobacillus through their canning lines, then I'm all for it.

Birrificio del Ducato Brett Peat Daydream - I have no idea what style this is. It's an ale refermented with a strain of brettanomyces yeast, then aged in Scotch whisky barrels.

Devils Backbone Striped Bass Pale Ale - A new classic.

Adroit Theory B/A/Y/S (Ghost 003 batch) Imperial Stout ages on chestnut staves.

An additional cheers to
  • DC Brau's On the Wings of Armageddeon Imperial IPA, as now we have our first DC-made "whale" beer.
  • Stillwater Classique, a sessionable hoppy farmhouse ale from an interesting brewery.
  • Evil Twin Bikini Beer, a 2.7% ABV IPA that is essentially a "lite" beer. Too hoppy and bitter to properly session, but great to have one or two on a weeknight or afternoon.
  • Heurich Lager, a collaboration between the Heurich Museum, homebrewers, and DC Brau. More on that here.
Bonus: Bluejacket has been open for less than three months and has already made thirty beers in that time. I'm partial to
  • Mexican Radio - A lower gravity take on what appears to be a new sub-style, stouts made with chocolate, chilis, and cinnamon.
  • Forbidden Planet - a Kolsch-style ale dry-hopped with Galaxy.
  • The Panther - A hoppy black lager that pairs well with red meat.
  • Birds of Prey on cask - A strong India Pale Ale that uses Falconer's Flight hop pellets, a la DC Brau's IPA mentioned above.
For more on what I liked last year, head over to, where my colleagues and I discuss our 2013 favorites and reflect back on the year that was. A sample of the latter:
I was very impressed with all the Craft Brewers Conference collaborations [More on the CBC here]. I usually view those as gimmicky, but the rye lager from DC Brau, Devils Backbone, and Brewer's Art; Yonder Cities from Brau and Union; and the rye gose from 3 Stars and Oliver Ales were all beers I'd love to see again.
The January, 2013 edition of this post
The January, 2012 edition of this post
The January, 2011 edition of this post

All beer coverage on this site available here.

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