Around this same time last year I threatened to shut down this blog, or give it a break at the very least, and although certain aspects of life have gotten in the way of regular updates, I have somehow found time to keep it alive. I might not go to quite as many shows as I have in years past, but when I do, I make it a point to share my experiences with those willing to follow along. What I haven’t been able to do is share my thoughts on other aspects of pop culture. It’s true that my (not-so) new employer is a much larger force in my life than my previous one, but that does not mean I have completely abandoned my usual vices. Beer, books, movies, television and music are still a large part of my life. This post is a (not-so) quick rundown of how those vices have played a role in my world over the past 3 months. This is not my year-end list — this just covers the ‘stuff’ I’ve been into since October.
Sticking to the same format that has worked well this year, I’ll start things off with beer. Q4 saw quite a few newsworthy events in the ever-growing craft beer scene. Crooked Stave found a new home in The Source and it’s quite a step up from their old location. They might have left the graffiti on the brick walls, but there’s no bars on the windows and there is actually room to move around. Utah’s Epic Brewing opened their $2M facility in the heart of RiNo — part brewery, part tap room, part sports bar…Epic has something for everyone, but it’s the Big Bad Baptist that keeps me coming back. I believe there were a few other breweries that opened their doors and taps over the past few months, but it’s becoming impossible to keep up.
The Hops & Pie (mini) Pumpkin Fest was a great way to kick-off the season, and TRVE’s beer and cheese pairing with Marczyk proved that beer-drinking metal fans can be just as sophisticated as the wine snobs. TRVE previewed a couple sours that night and the results were incredible! If we all weren’t friends, I’d be warning Crooked Stave to watch their back! But it was the big daddy of beer fests that dominated October — GABF came to town once again, and once again it brought the good, the bad and the ugly. I played it a bit differently this year…only hitting the Members Session of the festival itself, but also hitting at least one smaller event every night of the week. The Falling Rock Kick-Off didn’t have as many special surprises as years past, but the Cigar City 5 x Jai Alai was a fun event with some interesting flavors. Overall, it was another intoxicating GABF week…and once again it took a week to recover.
I’m all about buying local, but I also count it as buying local when I buy out-of-state beers from local liquor stores. This past few months have seen quite a few selections that weren’t available before. Jester King out of Austin and Prairie Artisan Ales out of Oklahoma were two highlights — especially the hopped-up black saison, Funky Galaxy. But it was the return of Bourbon County that had me running around town on Black Friday. My personal taste test proved every flavor to be incredible this year. Goose Island might be owned by Anheuser-Busch, but that takes nothing away from the Bourbon County line of stouts and barleywines.
When it comes to film, I spent most of my time looking back and introducing my family to movies they hadn’t seen before, but I did get around to a few new features. Gravity blew my mind…I literally thought I was going to get sick watching it. Never before has a 3D experience been so realistic. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie in the theater twice, but I did just that with Gravity. It was definitely my favorite film of the year. I also saw Dallas Buyers Club, and although it was a poor choice for date night with the wife, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto were both extremely convincing. McConaughey has been on a role lately! I wish I could say the same for Baby Goose. The Place Beyond the Pines was intriguing enough to keep me interested until the end, but Only God Forgives was pretty awful. What was up with the mom? I really don’t ever want to see that movie again. I finally got around to watching Warrior as well. I will watch that movie again — holy crap! The Conjuring was ok, but not as good as I expected. The Way Way Back was entertaining. Catching Fire was better than I ever expected. I think they really stepped it up from the first Hunger Games film and it did nothing to subdue my infatuation with Jennifer Lawrence. But once again, it was TV that dominated my viewing experience in Q4…
(warning, spoiler alert for The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy and Homeland)
The Walking Dead got pretty sluggish during the whole flu epidemic arc, but the return of the Governor and the evacuation of the prison during the mid-season finale was pretty epic. Although it was child’s play compared to the Sons of Anarchy finale. I had just about given up on the Charming family, but when Clay got shot in the throat and Gemma pulled her shit at the end, I have to admit it got to me. I am very much looking forward to the seventh (and final) season. Homeland went a little too far this season, but it still kept me hooked despite Claire Danes. Although now that Brody is dead, I don’t really know where the show has to go. Even the 15 minutes after he died sucked pretty bad. Parenthood is still the only drama on network tv that I can watch (and I don’t care if that makes me old). Modern Family is still funny, but The League, New Girl and The Mindy Project are better.
I finally got around to Orange is the New Black. What a great show! I just hope it doesn’t go down the drain as quickly as Weeds did. Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown just isn’t as good as his past shows (something about the format bothers me), but the Detroit episode was one of the best things I’ve seen on tv in awhile. It was so depressing, but it also left you with just a little bit of hope. I skipped Masters of Sex in favor of going back through Battlestar Galactica, but I do have it DVR’d, so I’m looking forward to catching up. I also killed a little time on Ink Masters this season — pretty sure it’s the first reality contest show I’ve ever seen. I doubt I’ll watch it (or any other show like it) ever again. I just can’t handle that crap for very long.
Dave Eggers wrote one of my favorite books of all time, The Circle is not that book. The concept of a modern-day 1984, based on a ‘tyranny of transparency’ that can occur when social media takes it too far, is a brilliant one. Unfortunately, the concept was not executed well in this novel. I realize this was supposed to be satire, but the technological leaps Eggers assumed in this book made suspension of disbelief almost impossible. The man is amazing when writing about his own experiences, but when it comes to fictional characters, he makes them one-dimensional — unknowable and unlikeable. I only got through this book because I was at home sick.
The ideas of The Circle have stuck with me since I read it. I talk to people about it all the time, but it doesn’t change the fact that it wasn’t a good read. In fact, it made me go back and read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius again to figure out why I liked Eggers so much in the first place. That was a mistake. I will always love that book, but it was written by someone in their early-20’s for people in their early-20’s. To someone who has really experienced life, the problems presented in the book just don’t seem all that intense anymore. The book will always be special to me, but I just don’t need to revisit it again.
Another author who I liked a lot when I was younger has been on a late career role. The last few Stephen King novels have been extremely entertaining. Doctor Sleep is no exception. I started the sequel to The Shining (right after re-reading the original) with a sense trepidation, but I was set at ease pretty quickly. It is a whole new story (which is a good thing), but it does tie things back to the original pretty well. I am glad this book exists and I wouldn’t have changed a thing (except for maybe leaving out all the pop culture references). Well done Mr. King, well done!
The only other book I got around to reading was Lowside of the Road – a Tom Waits biography that Tom Waits did not want written. It was pretty awful and not worth talking about…except to warn you against it.
Speaking of Tom Waits, I got to see him perform live…again. It was my sixth time seeing the legend — it was my third time seeing him perform at the annual Bridge School Benefit Concert at Shoreline. I made a special trip, and despite my hangover from drinking with my sister in Napa the night before, it was one of those life changing experiences. If you ever have the chance to see the man perform, you cannot pass it up!
And coming back to things I liked when I was younger, I also saw Mazzy Star, Nine Inch Nails and Nas perform — all in the same week…in 2013! Talk about seven days of nostalgia! Each show was better than it should have been, in many different ways. Trent Reznor managed to mix that old intensity in with his mellower material. Nas performed a greatest hits set at Cervantes. And Mazzy Star proved timeless at the Ogden. It was one of my most memorable run of shows in recent history.
Future Islands. I missed them last time they were in town, but I was able to catch them in San Francisco on that run. This time around took some effort. The band from Baltimore opened for Phantogram on the same day that I attended the afternoon session of GABF. Needless to say, I should have taken a break in between events. Instead, I drank my way through the intermission of my day. I’m happy to say I held it together for Sam’s schizophrenic performance, but things started to get fuzzy around the time Phantogram took the stage. I remember a seizure-inducing light show and then I remember waking up with a pounding head and a sense of accomplishment (mixed with self hatred) the next morning. Party.
There were so many shows over the past three months — too many to go into here, but highlights included In Solitude with Watain, Two Cow Garage at Lion’s Lair, Jessie Ware acting like she wasn’t too big for Larimer Lounge, Sleigh Bells with a full band, Morbid Angel performing a death metal masterpiece at Bluebird, Kanye (I don’t care if you hate him) West and Kendrick Lamar in Kansas City, and Nathaniel Rateliff with the Night Sweats at the Gothic. Third Eye Blind were quite a (sold-out) surprise and Patterson Hood brought an unplugged Trucker experience to Denver for two nights. It was a perfect way to wrap up another great year of live music in the Mile High City!
Lou Reed died. Kanye said some stupid shit and cancelled his Denver date, but still killed in KC on the Yeezus Tour. I got 5 days skiing in before Thanksgiving and made it to my first Broncos game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High (where I got to see my Chargers beat them in a major upset…sorry Denver). It’s been a good quarter. It’s been a good year. Now I’ll shut up about that and get on with the album recommendations…
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Reflektor is definitely a different side of Arcade Fire, but every album they have released has reflected a different side of the band. Coming off an unexpected Grammy win, the band from Montreal had a few choices. They could have renounced their newfound fame with a polarizing album that would leave radio DJs with little to air. They could have ostracised their longtime fans by putting out a safe album with nice clean corners and smooth edges. Or they could release a double-album of material that pushing the boundaries of their sound, while still appealing to the masses. I think they did the right thing. This might not be their best album, but it’s hardly their worst. I like it. I like how this band is handling their new status in the world. I like where they are headed.
Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners
(Black Numbers, 2013)
Road songs are a dime a dozen. Every band that makes (or doesn’t make) their living on the road has at least a dozen songs about how hard it is. So many of these songs are throw-aways. Arliss Nancy’s road songs are an exception to that rule. These kids from Ft. Collins drink hard, live hard and fuck up — and then they write songs about drinkin’ hard, livin’ hard and fuckin’ up — and then they take those songs on the road so people can see them performed in dive bars while drinkin’ hard, livin’ hard and fuckin’ up. It’s a beautiful cycle. I just hope it’s a cycle that keeps bringing them back home to Colorado.
Arliss Nancy – Vonnegut
Avatarium – Avatarium
(Nuclear Blast, 2013)
Avatarium are not the only female-fronted doom band in the game today — they are in good company among Utah’s SubRosa and Portland’s Witch Mountain on an expanding roster of impressive acts that are worth checking out. I will admit that Jennie-Ann Smith’s voice is what first attracted me to this brand-new project from Stockholm, but the Candlemass connection is what holds this album together — Leif Edling is a doom mastermind and that comes through clean on their no-frills debut. This is a solid album with crisp production and an all-encompassing sound. Definitely one of the best albums of the year — metal or otherwise.
Avatarium – Moonhorse
Beastmilk – Climax
You can’t describe Beastmilk to someone without mentioning the obvious influences — Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cure, Danzig — but to explain Climax in modern terms, I’d also say it sounds like early-Interpol if Paul Banks had a metal background. I understand how the band name and album art might turn some away (they are pretty ridiculous), but if you judge this book by its cover, you will be doing yourself a great disservice. The material found within is dark and brooding, but the presentation is not meant to be disagreeable. This album can be enjoyed in the light of day just as much as in a dark room. This is one of those rare December releases that prove end-of-year lists should not be completed before the year actually ends.
Beastmilk – Love in a Cold World
Burial – Rival Dealer EP
All I can really say about this surprise EP is that William Bevan has done it once again. He has produced another Burial EP that manages to sound exactly like every Burial release that came before, yet completely fresh and new. There is a message behind this one though, and the message comes from Bevan himself — “I put my heart into the new EP, I hope someone likes it. I wanted the tunes to be anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves, to not be afraid, and to not give up, and to know that someone out there cares and is looking out for them. So it’s like an angel’s spell to protect them against the unkind people, the dark times, and the self-doubts.”
Burial – Hiders
Celeste – Animale(s)
The latest album from this French band manages to weave elements of post-hardcore, sludge, emo and black metal into a quilt of pure heartbreaking aggression. Supposedly Animale(s) is a concept album about young lovers, but honestly I have no idea what Johan is screaming about for 70 minutes. I don’t understand French. I’m sure it would add to my enjoyment if I could follow the story, but losing the plot before it even begins is not a deal killer here. Like most extreme music, the delivery far outweighs the subject matter, and the delivery here is about as intense as it gets.
Celeste – Laissé pour compte comme un bâtard
Crystal Antlers – Nothing Is Real
(Innovative Leisure, 2013)
Sometimes seeing a band live changes everything. When I first heard Tentacles back ’09, I thought it sounded alright, but it wasn’t until seeing Crystal Antlers blow the roof off Larimer Lounge that I was really sold. These guys have so much energy to share that it is impossible not to become unhinged in their presence. The great thing is that once you are exposed, you are always infected. Their recorded work sounds that much better after having seen them onstage. Nothing Is Real is no exception. Unfortunately, it seems this album has been overlooked in favor of new releases from The Men, Mikal Cronin and Ty Segall, and although those albums should not be ignored, Nothing Is Real should be taken seriously as well.
Crystal Antlers – Rattlesnake
Danny Brown – Old
(Fool’s Gold, 2013)
Like most rap albums, Old would have greatly benefited from an experienced editor, but the majority of the album presents some of Danny Brown’s finest work to date. Brown was at his best when at his most ridiculous on XXX, but the opposite is true with his latest album. The best tracks here are the ones in which you get to know the person behind the cartoon character. Maturity is not an attribute I’d ever think of attributing to Danny Brown, but he has grown up quite a bit in the last couple years. This album represents an artist who is starting to take himself seriously, but only when he’s not talking about sex and drugs in a completely juvenile way.
Danny Brown – Dip
Drag The River – Drag The River
(Xtra Mile Recordings, 2013)
The Colorado boys are back with their first proper full-length since 2009’s Bad At Breaking Up. A self-titled album coming 13 year into the band’s career is a statement — ‘we are Drag The River and this is what we do’. Chad Price and Jon Snodgrass both come from the punk world, but at this point they are more known for being pioneers of the alt-country scene. I’ve seen these guys play quite a few times and I’ve always been impressedby how good they are. So many bands I listen to owe a debt to what Drag The River have done. It’s nice to have new material to warm the winter months.
Drag The Rover – Wichita Skyline
Fuzz – Fuzz
(In the Red, 2013)
Ty Segall likes to record and release music — he really, really likes to record and release music. I think the dude has put out around 5,000 albums over the last 6 months. Well, maybe not that many, but you get the point. What sucks for me is that I don’t really like any of his albums. The guy has the effect of a natural disaster on stage, but his recorded work has always felt flat to me. Maybe it’s just that his live shows are so incredible that I’ve been spoiled. Whatever it is, I usually don’t make it a point to keep up on his regimented release cycle. That’s why Fuzz came as such a surprise. This album actually sounds like a live Ty Segall show. Hardcore fans will probably disagree, but I feel like this is his best album to date!
Fuzz – Earthen Gate
Haim – Days Are Gone
Haim are a pop group from Los Angeles made up of the sisters Haim. Alana, Danielle and Este have been making music since they were little kids, but their debut full-length as Haim was the first release to garner them instant acclaim from the “indie” camp. Honestly, Days Are Gone did nothing for me when I first heard it. There was nothing wrong with it, but I just didn’t get the hype. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth listen that I found myself on the right frequency — and once I found myself in sync with their insanely catchy melodies and hooks, there was no looking back. This album should have been a summer release — it would have played better under warm, blue skies — but overall, it might just be the pop album of the year.
Haim – The Wire
In Solitude – Sister
(Metal Blade, 2013)
It used to be impossible to write about In Solitude without mentioning a certain Danish band, but with their latest album, Sister, the Swedes have found their way into the light — well, not into the light, but from out of the shadows of those who came before. I have seen In Solitude perform live a few times and they’ve always been impressive for such a young band, but they’ve never left a lasting impression. Sister has changed all that. Not only have they constructed a near-perfect example of how goth, post-punk and metal can merge into something beautifully sinister, they have improved so much as a live act. 2013 has been a great year for In Solitude. They have come into their own and they deserve all the praise they receive.
In Solitude – Sister
Moonface – Julia with Blue Jeans On
(Jagjaguwar/Paper Bag, 2013)
Spencer Krug is one of my favorite musicians of all time. Whether he is the brains opposite Dan Boeckner’s brawn, the voice of Finnish Siinai, or the ringleader of Sunset Rubdown — his voice is something sublime. Moonface is not a band, it is a moniker that represents Spencer’s various personalities — a vehicle for his experimental flights of fancy. Julia with Blue Jeans On finds Moonface at his most vulnerable — just one man with one voice and one piano. And it is an incredible piece of work. If you are a fan of this artist, this album is for you. Rarely heard in a bare bones format, this might be his most experimental work to date.
Moonface – Barbarian
Neil Young – Live at the Cellar Door
Neil Young is one of those artists that I always wanted to like, but didn’t. Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Springsteen, Dylan, Cave and Costello all made my list, but for some reason Neil Young’s work never appealed to me. But then I saw him perform with Crazy Horse at Red Rocks. My mind was blown. That performance sparked an interest that led me to read his recent (scattered stream of consciousness) autobiography, which in turn led me into his back catalog. Maybe it’s just something that comes with age, but I have become a full-blow Neil Young fan, and this lost recording from his 1970 solo appearance at the Cellar Door is almost perfect. I wish I could’ve seen him back then.
Neil Young – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Live from KCRW
(Bad Seed Ltd., 2013)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds have had a good year. They have made my year better. Push the Sky Away is a serious contender for the top spot on my favorite albums list, and the show at the Ogden was one of the best performances I have ever witnessed. So Live from KCRW is nothing but gravy — a live recording of their radio session in Los Angeles. This record captures quite a few of the new tracks, but their are a few classics here as well. Listening to this album just makes me that much more excited for the Temple Buell show next year.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Higgs Boson Blues
Russian Circles – Memorial
(Sargent House, 2013)
Russian Circles came to my attention because of their association with Chelsea Wolfe and Deafheaven — all tied together via Sargent House. Thier last album, Empros, was pretty good, but if I’m being honest, I just don’t listen to instrumental rock music very often, and when I do, I listen to Explosions in the Sky, so I didn’t spend much time getting to know the band. It wasn’t until seeing them live that I realized how incredible they really were. Memorial has done more than remind me of how incredible they are, it has earned them a spot on my constant playlist. They have set a new bar by which I compare instrumental rock music.
Russian Circles – Memoriam
Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
Night Time, My Time is Sky Ferreira’s statement, so who am I to judge her choice of artwork? If she wants to stand there naked, all doe-eyed and victim-like, more power to her. I’m not sure what it has to do with her music, but it really doesn’t matter, because the pop songs contained within are some of the best this side of the 80’s. It seems growing up around Michael Jackson does wonders for pop sensibilities. Sky’s career had a rocky (non)start, so she reinvented herself as an indie darling — not a bad move for a 21-year-old who got her start by uploading songs to MySpace. It turns out she knew more about promoting herself than the ‘industry’ people did — which I guess is really not all that surprising.
Sky Ferreira – I Blame Myself
Two Cow Garage – The Death of the Self-Preservation Society
(Last Chance Records, 2013)
Two Cow Garage quietly released their latest album and I almost missed it. And although it is not my favorite album from these guys (I am not a fan of the production value), I am really feeling the lyrics. Seeing the songs live helped me understand what the band was going for as well. Shane and Micah are a couple of the hardest working songwriters in the business, and lucky for us, they love coming to Denver. I would like to see a return to the more country-oriented material next time around, but this album is a nice addition to their ever growing catalog of work.
Two Cow Garage – Stars & Gutters
Other recent albums that have been on rotation:
Armory – Empyrean Realms, Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe, The Builders and The Butchers – Western Medicine, Castavet – Obsian, Death Grips – Government Plates, Deicide – In The Minds of Evil, Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP2, Ghost – If You Have Ghost, Grave Miasma – Odori Speulcrorum, Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen, Inquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, Kevin Devine – Bubblegum, Kevin Devine – Bulldozer, Latyrx – The Second Album, Lissie – Back to Forever, Lodz – Something in Us Died, Lumbar – The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu, Polica – Shulamith, Protest the Hero – Volition, Ryan Hemsworth – Guilt Trips, Shearwater – Fellow Travelers, Toxic Holocaust – Chemistry of Consciousness, Vaura – The Missing