Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Beer and Music, Music and Beer, 2017 Edition

Overall I thought 2017 wasn't as strong a year as 2016, as last year's top 5 is still in my regular music rotation, but hey, we got Radiohead's remastered OK Computer with magnificent studio version of b-sides, OKNOTOK, and that Black Thought freestyle. I'll take it. Here's my clear number one.

1) The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding: Adam Granduciel's masterpiece, a flawless album that updates 80s rock tropes with textured, processed guitars and everything-in-its-right-place layered studio perfection. Yeah, it'll remind you of Bruce Hornsby and Dire Straits, but it'll also remind you of Kraftwerk's Computer Love.

Two through four are also easy choices.

2) Slowdive - s/t: Songs of love aboard an interstellar space station. The vocal interplay between Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead is reminiscent of Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubble and Ira Kaplan's coos, and the rhythm section keeps Slowdive a poppier affair than their first go around. Unsurprising that the band would use Beach House's producer to make a spacey, slow burning album.

3) Bjork - Utopia: Bjork has been threatening to make an album surrounded by small woodland creatures pretty much her whole career, and so here we are. Birds chip and strings swell, but there's more beats on this album than you'd expect. Along with Bjork's increasingly direct lyrics, the result is a surprisingly tight and focused album.

4) MC Eiht - Which Way Iz West: An absolute banger for old heads like myself, with all the 90s west coast touchstones guesting in top form. There's something to be said for a hip-hop album with a few chefs in the kitchen; it leads to a more cohesive and coherent listen. Overseen by Executive Producer DJ Premier, Producer Brenk Sinatra's drums hit, the scratches and cuts are well-placed, and ain't a damn thing changed for a whole bunch of dudes who were gruff and gravely-voiced twenty years ago. And yes, Lady of Rage bats leadoff on a track, with a Rakim-esque internal rhyme scheme.

Next, rounding out the top fifteenish.

5) Los Campesinos - Sick Scenes: This is about where these albums usually end up on end-of-year lists, so why stop now?
6) Cloud Nothings - Life Without Sound: Up to the Surface and Enter Entirely were two of the better rock songs of the year, and the rest of the album is pretty good, too.
7) Ryan Adams - Prisoner: Mining similar territory as The War on Drugs, Adams updates his Heartbreaker album for 80s synth-rock.
8) IDLES - Brutalism: A sneering, searing piece of post-punk that's alternately witty and too clever by half, propelled by near-industrial drumming.
9) Jay Som - Everybody Works: Literally bedroom pop since that's where it was recorded and full of indie hooks. Like Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville and more recently Waxahatchee? Odds are good you'll like this, too.
10) Fleet Foxes - Crack Up: Predictably gorgeous.
11) The Horrors - V: The Horrors update the dance-punk of the aughts with zero-gravity guitar sounds from shoegaze revivalists, vocals that hearken back to Julian Cope, and more than a little Depeche Mode. Notes bend, shimmer, and fade into synths.
12) Algiers - The Underside of Power: If Hank Shocklee's Bomb Squad met TV on the Radio circa 2004 it might sound something like this.
13) The National - Sleep Well Beast: An update to their sound that is particularly American in its lack of subtlety. Matt Berninger's red wine-soaked croon is backed by what passes for blasts of noise and sonic departures for the rest of the band, and we're all the better for it.
14) Rihannon Giddens - Freedom Highway: The only album I've put on one of these lists from a MacAurther Genius Grant winner.
15a) Kronos Quartet - Folk Songs: The Quartet backs Rihannon Giddens, Natalie Merchant, and more on nine folk songs. Their restrained and subtle interpretations anchor, but don't upstage, the singers.
15b) Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet - Ladilikan: Same, but with singers from Mali.

Singles: Alvvays - Dreams Tonite; Grizzly Bear - Mourning Sound; Mogwai - Party in the Dark; Ryan Adams - Do You Still Love Me?; Cloud Nothings - Enter Entirely and Up to the Surface; Perfume Genius - Slip Away; Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit - If We Were Vampires.


The number of breweries in the US has doubled since 2013, tripled since 2011, and quadrupled since 2007, as such I can't keep up with the growth. This is especially true in the exurbs - there's breweries in Columbia, Maryland and Sterling, Virginia I've never heard of!

Outside of the lines for the Craft Brewers Conference events, one of my favorite things about 2017 was DC's new post-whalez environment. Multiple bars made 3 Floyds Zombie Dust a happy hour special, and it was around for about a month. Hill Farmstead's Edward could be had for $4 at the late Red Apron Burger Bar (RIP to that happy hour, though you can find something just like it at EatBar). And nearly two weeks after its release, you can still walk into both bars and stores and buy a bottle of Founders' Canadian Breakfast Stout (which remains a gloppy mess that needs at least a year in the bottle, but that's another story). I think it's a sign of a maturing market.

Anxo released the first DC-made cider and opened a 2nd location; The Sovereign cemented its status as the best beer bar in DC; DC Brau added a snazzy new brewhouse; Port City's lager series was a success and will continue into 2018 with a dopplebock batting leadoff; Bluejacket is doing some very good things with lagers and their cask game;... I could go on, but let's get the the beers, locals first, in something like alphabetical order.

3 Stars, Technicolor Dreamlife (IPA): A fuckton of Mosaic and the malt is smart enough to get out of the way. Here's hoping they bring it back, along with their session IPA, D is for Diamonds.
3 Stars, Trouble in Paradise (Fruit/Sour): It took them a while to get a first batch out, and then even more of a while to dial it in and get this right. Your 2018 beer of the summer is a slightly tarter take on the Florida Weiss that's garnered some press.

Bluejacket, For the Company (Helles): Their cask game is top notch and now they've got a lager to go with it. Moon Cabbage, Open Window, and The New Colossus are excellent IPAs, as well.

Burly Oak, Berry Cherry J.D.R.E.A.M. (Fruit/Sour): Peak 2017 in beer isn't a hazy IPA, it's a fruit-addled kettle sour with lactose that tastes juuuuuuuuuust enough like a beer to count here.

DC Brau, Barrel-aged Citizen (Belgian Golden Ale): The Citizen, aged in rye whiskey barrels that also held Langon Wood's maple syrup. The banana esters from the yeast and Old World hops play very well with the sweetness of the syrup, the rye spice, and the wood.

Manor Hill, Barrel-aged Grisette: Low ABV, full flavor, plus a sauvignon blanc barrel and whatever berries happen to be in-season on their farm. Here's hoping they've got more of it in 2018.

Any Ocelot IPA, and their collaboration IPA with increasingly recognized Triple Crossing out of Richmond.

One Eight Distilling, Rock Creek Bourbon: No, it's not a beer, but it is the first grain-to-glass bourbon made in DC since Prohibition, and it's already very good at two years old. 95 proof, high rye.

Any Port City lager in their rotating series, but especially that smoked Marzen. One of the more surprising things about beer in 2017 to me is that Colossal 6, a Russian Imperial Stout, didn't medal at the Great American Beer Festival.

Right Proper, et al, Soused (IPA): The hoppiest beer they've made got on the kveiss fermentation trend a few months before it blew up, and you can still get a hint of smokey juniper between all those stone fruit and citrus hops and esters.
Right Proper, Baron Elijah (Bier de Garde): Baron Corvo in a very wet Elijah Craig bourbon barrel is as close to a Manhattan as a beer is going to get. Cherry up front, whiskey in the back, and an oaky, dry finish.

Elsewhere, new to market, new packaging, and new to me: any Offshoot IPA, and that Pils, too; Upland's sours and Champagne Velvet; Crux's Gimme Mo IPA; Ommegang's Pale Sour; Left Hand's Saison Aux Baies Ameres; Suarez Family's porter and pils; Schlafly's reintroduction of their Scotch-barrel aged Scotch ale; Lodgson's Peche 'n Brett; being able to get Urban Chestnut's Schnicklefritz hefeweizen with some regularity; Otter Creek's IPA game remains strong with Daily Dose; Atlas putting Dance of Days in cans; Allagash's Brett IPA; Burial and Interboro's collaboration IPA with Run the Jewels, Stay G-O-L-D; Grimm's Magnetic Tape IPA; Bell's Uberon and Whiskey Barrel Cherry Stout.

Imports: Cadejo Brewing's witbier; Ayinger's new-to-the-US pilsner; Rodenbach in cans; Weihenstephaner Kristalweizenbock.

Here's hoping 2018 treats us better than 2017 did. Cheers.