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Top 40 Albums of 2011 (40-21)

Here we are again. I’ve been writing this lists for so long that I can’t recall the first year I did it (2002?).  At first it started as just being one album of the year, then it moved to 10 per year. It jumped to 20 once I moved my blogs over here to BDWPS.com, and of course last year it peaked at 40, the number I’m going with again this year.  Although this may seem like a bit much, I can promise you that if it weren’t 40, I’d feel guilty for all the great albums that were left out.  It’s a strange obsession, obviously, but I love music. If I can spread that love to others, it’s worth all the effort. And so it begins…

Honorable Mention: 

Julianna Barwick “The Magic Place”

Havok “Time is Up”

Paul Simon “So Beautiful Or So What”

Six Organs of Admittance “Asleep On the Floodplain”

Thurston Moore “Demolished Thoughts”

Times New Viking “Dancer Equired”

UV Race “Homo”

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Top 20 Albums of 2011 (So Far…): 20-11

Around this time last year I posted the “Top 20 Summer Albums of 2010.” I understand this may sound like an awkward, convoluted list, but it essentially consisted of 20 albums that had been released to that point in the year, all featuring upbeat, summer-y songs. Readers generally enjoyed the list, and now in 2011, I feel I should follow it up with a sophomore effort. Yet I can’t.

At this point last year, dozens of upbeat albums filled my shelves (Vampire Weekend, Fang Island, Surfer Blood, etc). I had so many “summer albums” to list that several great releases didn’t even make the cut.  But this year? Nothing. Setting out to write the summer list, I struggled to even make a top 10 list, let alone a top 20. For those that care, here’s what it would have looked like:

1.    Toro Y Moi “Underneath the Pine”
2.    Beastie Boys “Hot Sauce Committee Part II
3.    Go! Team “Rolling Blackouts”
4.    Ponytail “Do Whatever You Want All the Time”
5.    Akron/Family “The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT”
6.    Dirty Beaches “Badlands”
7.    Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues”
8.    Danielson “Best of Gloucester County”
9.    Davila 666 “Tan Bajo”
10. Cloud Nothings “S/T”

Even though I’m able to come up with this list, writing it would probably be painful simply because few of the albums are as near and dear to me as the ones that made up my list last year (although two of the albums above did make the list that I’m about to unleash on you…).

Don’t worry though. My love for great albums hasn’t waned. There are many albums that have already hit a chord with me, so much so that I feel I must write about them so that others can share in my joy.  I’ve come up with a much more logical mid-year list: “The Top Albums of 2011 (So Far…)”.   This will not only serve as a mid-term report on the year’s best, but it will also bring forward some great albums that probably won’t make the final cut on my year-end list (it pains me to leave wonderful albums out every December).

The rankings for this list are not to be treated as the end-all-be-all (I just don’t want to be held accountable if an album is 17th on this list and ends up in the top five at the end of the year).  As you know, our experience with an album ebbs and flows; sometimes our adoration grows with time while in other cases, the thrill is gone after a month.  Enough of this babbling. Time to get down to business.

20. BOAT

“Dress Like Your Idols”

[Magic Marker; 2011]

The cover to “Dress Like Your Idols” says it all: a collection of album cover parodies,  mostly focused on albums of the 90s.  Yes, there is an homage to the Ramones and Velvet Underground, but you don’t have to go beyond the 90s to find BOAT’s biggest influences.  A quick listen to BOAT’s music and the first band to come to mind for most is Pavement due to Crane’s everyday lyrics and straight-forward, disaffected vocal approach.  If he needs to pay his electricity bill, he sings about it.  If he is walking past a convenience store, he sings about it.  If he’s listening to his walkman, he sings about it.  But within these tales of commonplace, everyday occurrences, he weaves in heartfelt themes of isolation, helplessness, and loneliness. Instead of going full-emo, Crane uses humor to defuse the sadness of his stories, in turn, creating intelligent power pop that is immediate and reassuring.

There are other 90s elements at play here, whether it be the guitar squeals of Built to Spill or the quaint jangle of Folk Implosion, but I can’t simply tag BOAT as a 90s rehash. A band like Yuck! would better fit that category (as much as I love their music, their borrowing from Dinosaur Jr and Superchunk borders on criminal). BOAT on the other hand have learned from the music of their youth, and taken it into the 21st century, bringing their own fresh, slacker take on the new millennium.

“Landlocked,” just one of many slacker tales of seclusion:

19. Twilight Singers

“Dynamite Steps”

[SubPop; 2011]

The Twilight Singers frontman Gregg Dulli is the epitome of the anti-auto-tune. No, his voice is not always perfectly on key, it is prone to crack, and at times he strains for notes that are just out of reach. Despite these deficiencies, he remains one of the best vocalists of the past 20 years due to his soulful approach, his shouts and howls that resound with anger, pain, and bitterness.  His mistakes always further the vulnerability of his narrative, adding the forlorn character found within the tattered, frail city of “Dynamite Steps.”

While other voices of the 90s have faded, Dulli’s has only strengthened over the years. He has been keeping busy since the break-up of Afghan Whigs with the Twilight Singers, his solo work, and his collaboration with Mark Lanegan, the Gutter Twins. Despite this mass of music production, “Dynamite Steps” is the closest Dulli’s dipped back into the world of the Afghan Whigs in a while, more specifically, “Black Love” and “1965” era Whigs.  These songs are just as funky, emotional, and dark as Afghan classics.  Even the story on “Dynamite Steps,” lovers held back by the confines of their decrepit city, is eerily similar to the one found in “Black Love.”  The only difference is that their answer isn’t to burn it all down as Dulli once suggested on “Going To Town”; instead, from what I can gather, he kills his lover so he can see her in his dreams where everything is beautiful again. So yeah, I guess you could say Dulli has matured.

Singing off-key has never sounded better than on “Last Night In Town”:

18. Times New Viking

“Dancer Equired”

[Merge; 2011]

I’ve been saying it for years now, “If only Times New Viking would clean up their production value…”  Well, with the slow move away from the lo-fi movement, TNV finally granted my wish with “Dancer Equired.”  Not to say that the production value is pristine, but the band has wiped away a bit of the fuzz to allow the listener a step closer into their pop palace.

TNV has always written infectious pop melodies, and finally they allowed the songs to be the centerpiece of an album.  No longer is it about how bad we can make a great song sound, rather “Here’s a great song. Take it as you will.”  One may suggest that the band has sold out by moving away from lo-fi, but they still keep their cred with most of “Dancer Equired” sounding like it was all recorded in one day.  And really, that’s what makes TNV so great. In the past TNV’s songs were in your face: either the hook caught you or you got lost in the noise.  On “Dancer Equired,” with much of the lo-fi trappings gone, the band takes time to unreel songs that aren’t as instantaneous. Instead, they allow their organ riffs and energetic shouts grow on you with each listen.  I never want to hear a polished TNV album, but “Dancer Equired” has just enough shimmer to allow the melodies to shine their brightest.

This song is called “Fuck Her Tears”; I don’t think we need to worry about TNV selling out:

17. Panda Bear

“Tomboy”

[Pawtracks; 2011]

For those that have followed my blog over the years, seeing a Panda Bear album this low on a best of list (let alone a mid-year list) is probably a bit alarming.  “Person Pitch” is one of my all-time favorite albums, and I’ve conveyed my admiration of both Panda Bear and Animal Collective fervently over the years.  So “Tomboy” at #17 might be a strange site on BDWPS, but then again, “Tomboy” is a pretty strange album. The first half is filled with the types of Beach Boy style melodies we’ve grown to love, all filtered through Panda Bears arsenal of squeaks and echos.  Songs like “You Can Count On Me” and “Slow Motion” are just as enjoyable listens as anything on “Person Pitch.” I could listen to side A of “Tomboy” again and again (and I have).

Then there is side two. It’s far from bad, but the album definitely takes a peculiar turn.  To this day I can’t comprehend exactly what is happening on side two, and part of me really likes that about this album.  The alien approach makes it a challenge to figure out exactly what Panda Bear was trying to accomplish. It’s ominous, desolate, and almost frozen melodically.  With each listen, I feel myself slowly cracking the surface of what Panda Bear is doing, and this slow and steady process of discovery is the reason “Tomboy” snuck onto this list.  If all of “Tomboy” were like the first half, you’d probably find this album in the top 10, if not at number one, but as of now, I’m still familiarizing myself with the unexplainable hum of side two, with its obtuse offerings like “Scheherazade,” “Friendship Bracelet,” and “Afterburner.” Who knows, by year-end I might be singing a different tune (or chanting it like a Panda Bear monk).

“You Can Count On Me” is familiar territory from side one:

16. Thurston Moore

“Demolished Thoughts”

[Matador; 2011]

Kim Gordan is one lucky gal. Seriously, she’s married to Thurston Moore.  How cool is that? Sure, she’s an indie goddess in her own right, but Thurston Moore! Thirst N’ More!!! Not only are his contributions to the indie scene immensely significant, but based off the songs on his solo album “Demolished Thoughts,” he makes a pretty loving husband.  With exposed lyrics like “whisper I love you my darling” and “you stole his heart away,” Thurston holds back nothing when it comes to his gal Kim. I personally hate love songs, but with something this honest and forthcoming, I can’t help but feel an admiration for what this power indie couple has held together all these years (what is it now, 25 years?!).

While “Demolished Thoughts” sounds very similar to Thurston’s last solo album “Trees Outside the Academy,” both featuring an enchanting combination of acoustic guitar and strings, “Demolished Thoughts” has a production value that is far beyond his prior effort.  Beck produced this album, and it is easy to figure out that he took his prowess from “Sea Changes” and implemented it here.  The back-and-forth of the guitar and strings harken back to the sweet sounds of Nick Drake.  But Drake’s guitars never sounded this clear, this personal, this serene. You won’t hear a better sounding acoustic guitar in 2011, and I doubt you will hear a more honest, charming album of love songs.

Just one listen to the guitars on “Benediction” and you’ll fall in  love too:

15. Six Organs of Admittance

“Asleep On the Floodplain”

[Drag City; 2011]

A few years back, my friend SongsSuck burnt  me a book full of CDs, mostly bands I’d never heard before.  When presented with 200 new albums, it can be a bit daunting to trek your way through them.  One of the albums in the multitude of CD-Rs was Six Organs of Admittance’s “Dark Noontide,” and although I enjoyed it, the album got lost in the mix over time.  Upon seeing Six Organs had a new album this year, I jumped at the chance to revisit the band long forgotten. The problem is I didn’t recall what they sounded like, and for some reason, I got them confused with Godspeed You! Black Emperor (probably the long names caused my mistake). You can imagine my surprise when Organs experimental folk ramblings sounded nothing like GY!BE’s hypnotic chamber rock.  As much as I enjoy GYBE, my rediscovery of Six Organs was a stirring experience.

On the droning, 12-minute “S/Word Leviathan” Six Organs could have been confused with GY!BE, but the rest of the album is folk meandering at its finest.  You never know where Ben Chasny’s guitar will take you, but you know it is a warm and inviting place.  While some might describe Six Organs as psychedelic folk, I feel it is the style of folk that John Fahey finger-picked long ago.  This is an ancient journey, roaming about the fret board while staying grounded in Americana.  Songs stop and start without warning, but the voyage never really ends.  And when Chasny decides to offer up a traditional folk song with verses and a chorus, he shows that he could settle down if he wanted to. He just doesn’t want to (and that’s a good thing).

An acoustic guitar has never sounded as unpredictable as it does on “Above a Desert I’ve Never Seen”:

14. Dirty Beaches

“Badlands”

[Zoo; 2011]

Have you ever noticed how every Michael Moore film starts the same: the 1950s and 60s, American Dream, cheap health care, zero violence or poverty, and a booming auto industry? I enjoy Moore’s films as much as the next tree-hugger, but it does seem to be both an overused motif and an inaccurate portrayal of the time.  Anyone who has watched “Mad Men” or read On the Road knows that life wasn’t necessarily all picket fences and apple pie back then (although Sal Paradise does intake massive amounts of apple pie en route to Denver). The Dirty Beaches “Badlands” is just another artistic take on how the innocent 50s is all a sham.

“Badlands” is all about its lo-fi production –  unassuming drum, and mechanical bass lines that all fit within the 1950s musical mold. If you were to play a song off this album to someone and said it was a “golden oldie” they would undoubtedly believe you. But Dirty Beaches aren’t simply a warm nostalgia trip down better times lane. These songs feature a darker tone than those that they are borrowing from. The vocals are cloaked in reverb, yet you can still discern the baritone croon that will make you wonder if Nick Cave found a time machine.  These are not songs of love and joy; they are songs of lust and despair. By the time the final two tracks arrive, “Black Nylon” and “Hotel,” there is little doubt that a film noir murder has taken place, although I doubt even Detective Samuel Spade could handle the dark depths of “Badlands” homicide scene.

“Horses” reminds me of Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing”, except Isaak wasn’t nearly as convincingly sinister:

13. Low

“C’Mon”

[Sub Pop; 2011]

Fans of old school Low might not like “C’Mon.” Not that it doesn’t resemble Low, but much of what made albums like “Long Division” and “I Could Live In Hope” popular are all but gone. The haunting spaces have been filled with sound, the instruments are no longer hiding in the shadows, and the self-loathing has turned slightly toward optimism. But the biggest difference are the vocals. In the past, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker were ghostly figures, a part of the atmosphere,. On “C’Mon” their voices are up front and center thanks in part to the lush production of Matt Beckley.  Not until first hearing this album did I realize what incredible vocalists the duo are.  Sparhawk’s baritone is thick and hearty, and Mimi puts forth the best female singing I’ve heard this year with her dark lullabies that somehow lull the listener into a comforting dream.

Low still ventures into the dark tones of the past, but it all seems more dramatic, more ambitious and persistent.  I’m not dogging on that slow core sound that the band mastered decades ago; I’m just celebrating a band who has found a way to continue thriving, evolving all the while.

Although it contradicts my portrayal of the album as a positive venture, “Majesty/Magic” is one of the most incredible tracks of the year thus far. Try not to get chills:

12. True Widow

“As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth”

[Kemado, 2011]

Don’t worry about slow core dying with Low my friends; others are now carrying the torch.  On first listen, the trio of True Widow may not resemble Low and others of the slow core variety, but upon closer look you’ll find the same wall of ethereal droning as the back-bone of True Widow’s sound.  True Widow refer to themselves as a “stonegaze” band, yet the approach is the same.  Like a slow, dismal march through a storm, “As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth” trounces from track to track at a steady pace, always teetering on the verge of a distorted explosion that never comes. This is what makes this album so great; it works like a Henry Ford era machine, constantly turning and grinding away with Nikki Estill’s angelic voice countering the crunching sludge of Dan Phillip’s guitar work.  The combination is both terrifying and rousing, causing one to feel both depressed and inspired at the same moment.

Last year I couldn’t get enough of Quest For Fire’s “Lights From Paradise,” and in 2011 True Widow have continued this obsession with this plodding sound. Maybe I’m just going through a stone-gaze-phase and this album isn’t nearly as incredible as I find it, but I doubt it.

“Skull Eyes”- always on the verge of an eruption that never comes:

 

11. Colin Stetson

“New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges”

[Constellation; 2011]

The fact that I loved “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges” before even seeing Colin Stetson’s incredible live show assures me that my judgment wasn’t blinded by the experience. Probably because “New History” contains some pretty magical, innovative stuff.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything like what Stetson does here. I don’t even need to focus on the difficulty found in his abilities to play a saxophone riff endlessly without taking a proper breath AND singing with his howling vocal chords at the same time.  Impressive, yes, but Stetson also writes some brilliant songs, both mystifying and enlightening.

The album was recorded with dozens of microphones, located in various parts of the room and on different parts of his sax (including the innards). As a result, you are brought into an atmosphere never explored in music (to my knowledge): the belly of the beast; the heart of the saxophone.  The bass saxophone echoes and squeaks from within as the pads pound out a slurpy beat (spit valves are for wimps) while Colin’s constant circular breathing blows through the cavern like a chilling wind. This is an album for any kid in beginner band who ever wondered what it sounds like inside their instrument. The answer? Remarkable.

“Clothed In the Skin of the Dead” is just a taste of life inside a saxophone:

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2. Road Trip 2008, Day 2: Good Vibrations

“Sometimes the path you’re on is not as important as the direction you’re heading.”

Kevin Smith

We continued our trek up I-29 with the sounds of Thin Lizzy pushing us along. Since I’ve always panned Lizzy as garbage, Paul felt it important that I listen to something other than “The Boys Are Back In Town”.

“You’ve got to appreciate the double lead guitar harmony; they were like the first band to do that. Anytime you see a critic reference Thin Lizzy in a review, they are just basically saying that they use double lead guitar.” His lesson on Lizzy would explain why every Ted Leo review ever written mentions Thin Lizzy (I still don’t understand why they always mention Springsteen, other than the obvious New Jersey connection). For the remainder of the trip it became a game to point out Thin Lizzy’s double guitar influence on an artist: Wolf Parade, Iron Maiden, Turbonegro…who knew Thin Lizzy’s influence ran so deep.

Not only was Paul trying to coerce me into liking 70s double lead guitar rock, he also had the goal of convincing me to purchase a giant back-pack for camping up in the mountains. I kept trying to explain to him that I already had a backpack; the same backpack I hauled around in college filled with over-priced textbooks and Bruce Chatwin travel novels. When he began listing the items we would need to take with us, I gave in: water, sleeping bags, pillow, water, tent, food, and more water. We made a short stop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to pick up equipment at Scheel’s. I wanted to take him to Ernie November’s, the record store my friends and I used to visit as teenagers. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time, and I didn’t even where the new store was located. It’s pretty sad that back before the internet, poor little Iowa punks had to drive almost two hours to buy independent music.

My high school sanctuary.

Back on the road, we made way into the dismal sprawl of South Dakota, a land of vacant hills covered in yellowing grass. The only objects breaking up the monotony were the barrage of advertisements for Wall Drug. Every five miles a sign would appear amidst the bland scenery advertising “Wall Drug: Free Ice Water!” After a dozen signs stating the same sentiment I became annoyed shouting, “WE GET IT!” This didn’t seem to stop the signs from coming though.

At one point Paul asked me about Wall Drug, suggesting we might have to make a stop. That’s what these signs do to you: beat you into submission until you are drawn to visit likes zombies. “Must go to Wall Drug, drink ice water. Eat rock candy.”

Wall Drug: home of free ice water, steam baths, and blow-jobs from horses.

I explained to him that it wasn’t worth stopping for. I remember going as a six year old and being unimpressed, which says a lot. Six year olds are entertained by sandboxes for Christ’s sake. Wall Drug is basically a glorified gas station with lots of old timey souvenirs for Midwestern rubes to spend their money on.

My only fond memory of Wall Drug is when my brother and I got the chance to lay our heads on the plastic boobs of a mannequin.

To help wake us from our Wall Drug stupors, I decided to put the Pixie’s “Doolittle” on. Soon we were both caught up in the music, nodding our heads and screaming alongside Frank Black and crew. With the Kim Deal’s booming bass-line pounding out the speakers, Paul shouted, “I wish I could inject the Pixies into my bloodstream!”

I don’t know if the Pixies ever wrote a bad song (I’m sure you could find one in their rarities, but those don’t count). I’ve always felt they are hugely underrated. I know, it’s not like they are some unknown, underappreciated geniuses like Slint or Neutral Milk Hotel, but I still don’t feel they get the credit they deserve. I know their song “Where is My Mind” is known by pretty much everyone on earth thanks to “Fight Club”, but I doubt the majority of the public would be able to tell you who sings it. They are even featured on several video games, but that’s not saying much since game makers always seem to throw us indies a bone (only “NCAA 2006” could make me sick of Guided By Voices “Teenage FBI”).  I’m not claiming the Pixies are some little garage band that never made it, I just don’t think they get recognized for their genius. They are always referred to as influential, which is a nice sentiment and all, but they are more than influential; they’re fucking incredible.

Once the “Doolittle” greatness ended, we were forced to concentrate once again on the Wall Drug phenomenon, with signs coming every mile now. We had to escape this insanity.

Then, our savior appeared in the distance: The Badlands. Without much discussion, we pulled into the Badlands entrance, looking forward to an escape from the Wall Drug Menace. Despite the $15 dollar entry fee, we both agreed a change of scenery was in order. As we drove up to the first viewing area, we both sat quietly in awe. The bulbous rock hills of beige and crimson looked like something out of a Star Wars movie (pre-CGI). The sun was just beginning to set, which added to the grandeur of the land, casting a golden glow amidst the green grass, straining to grow at the foot of the mounds.

At one of the viewing points, there was a sign discussing how settlers used to try driving their stage coaches through the hilly terrain, hence the name “badlands”. After reading this tid-bit, I looked out onto the bumpy land and thought,” Damn our ancestors were stupid.”

I don't remember passing through these Badlands when playing Oregon Trail.

Back in the car, I put on some Neil Young (we didn’t have Springsteen’s “Badlands” on us) and soaked in the majestic terrain. Paul was so caught up in our surroundings that he suggested we just stop and camp for the night. I would have agreed, but I had a goal for the night. While researching micro-breweries for the trip, I came across a tiny little brewery called Crow’s Peak in Spearfish, South Dakota. My mind was set on the notion that we would end our first day of driving sipping on homemade brew in western South Dakota. Paul was concerned that we wouldn’t make it before closing time, but stubborn as I am, I stuck to my goal. “We will be drinking a beer by drive’s end.”

Paul said goodbye to the beautiful scenery by taking a piss.

As we were exiting the Badlands, still reeling in the brilliance of our surroundings, an antelope with antlers a foot long came running out into the road. As we sped toward the antelope, who decided to stop in the middle of the road, I suddenly awoke from my dream-land.

“AHHHH!” I screamed, swerving the wheel and slamming the brakes. The tires screeched in horror.  Once at a complete stop, the antelope calmly trotted to the side of the road.

“Dude, why are you screaming like that?” Paul asked. I tried defending myself, but it was futile: I’m a puss.

Pulling out of the Badlands entrance, we saw the epic-center of evil right before us: Wall Drug. I pushed the pedal to the floor, hoping to speed past its mesmerizing powers. For some masochistic reason, I still kind of wanted to stop to check it out. Luckily, the thought of sipping a foamy beer helped me escape the evil clutches of South Dakota’s blackhole.

As our drive continued the land became a little easier to tolerate. Paul threw on the Beach Boy’s “Friends”, which I didn’t know how to take. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great songs, but the lyrics were pretty miserable. For example, on “When a Man Needs a Woman” Brian Wilson sings in a falsetto:

You know it makes you nervous
When you wait for your boy
You wait nine months for a bundle of joy
There’s a baby
Yes, there’s a baby about to be born
When a man needs a woman,
They make things like you, my son

This is by the same guy who wrote “Hang On To Your Ego”! What makes it more baffling is that “Friends” was released just two years after “Pet Sounds”.  Those drugs really sunk Brian Wilson fast, at least the lyric writing part of his brain.

Around 7:30 we rolled into the Black Hills, with exits for Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Devil’s Tower popping up every few miles. Spearfish stood at least another 45 minutes away. Our chances of getting to the brewery in time were bleak (the website said it closed at eight). Paul asked if we should just camp in the Black Hills and do some sight seeing in the morning, but after eight hours in the car, I was becoming delirious and stubbornly stuck to my goal. “We’ve got to get to Spearfish,” I insisted.

We sped past the Black Hills, through Sturgis, and soon found ourselves at our destination around 8:15. Since I didn’t plan ahead and actually get directions to the brewery, we made a quick stop at a gas station where we were pointed in the right direction. After maneuvering through a residential area, we came upon what looked like a tiny barn sitting upon a giant clump of dirt. When we saw the sign, we knew we’d found the end to our day long journey. Once parked in front, we hopped out of the car and noticed the closed sign taunting us from the window.

“Damn it, it’s closed,” I said slamming my hand onto the hood.

“Wait, I think I see people inside,” Paul whispered. We tiptoed up the stairs and could see a bartender behind the bar and a girl sitting on a stool sipping on a mug of beer. I creaked open the door, realizing how ghoulish we must seem.

“Uh, hi. Are you guys open?” I asked shyly.

“Um, no, but if you guys want to have a beer that’s cool,” the young bartender replied. YES! Our goal had been attained after all! We didn’t haul ass for nothing. We both took a seat at the bar, and the bartender poured a couple of ice cold brews. Paul ordered up a stout and I asked for the IPA.

“You’re going to love the IPA, it’s the best I’ve ever had,” the girl said. I was so entranced by the beer that I had forgotten about the sole patron at the end of the bar. I looked over to find a cute brunette smiling over at us. She had a spunky, sophisticated look to her, reminding me of a young Parker Posey.

“Oh really? That’s saying a lot,” I joked. On cue, the bartender plopped the golden IPA before me. As I took a sip, the hoppy freshness soothed my parched tongue. This girl knew her beer. It wasn’t an over the top IPA with its perfect blend of hops and a crisp, fruity finish. I told her I agreed with her, and soon the four of us were chatting over our beers.

There was something about this girl I couldn’t put my finger on, a certain intensity. Whenever I’d talk she stare at me with the most captivated look, like she could see the words floating out of my mouth. I began to get the feeling she might be interested in me. Usually girls are staring blankly in the distance when I discuss beer, but she was unfazed by my rambling.  When we told her that we were from out of town and doing a tour of breweries, she seemed even more interested in these two stinky nomads from the Midwest.

A few brews in, she began listing bars we should check out in Spearfish, and I began to wonder if she was suggesting places for Paul and I to go, or if she was inviting us to go with her. Every time she’d take a drink, I’d catch her eyes glancing at me from over the edge of her massive mug. Like something out of a “Wonder Years” episode, our eyes met and I could hear the entrancing organ intro of “Good Vibrations”, followed  by Wilson’s voice:

Softly smile, I know she must be kind
When I look in her eyes
She goes with me to a blossom world
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations
She’s giving me excitations

I awoke from my dream-state when the bartender came around the bar and took a seat next to her. Right before my eyes, she stared at him with the same spellbound stare she had been aiming at me for the past 10 minutes. I was confused. Is she dating the bartender? Was she digging me until he cock-blocked me? Or is she just an attentive listener with everyone?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a boob I had been.  A girl gives me an inkling of attention, and I think she’s instantly fallen for me.  I let the beer wash away my internal embarrassment and continued with our conversation. In the end, I think that the bartender’s stomp upon my hopes was a good thing because I know longer had the need to be self-conscious: I could simply enjoying the South Dakota beer.

Our discussion went all over the place: beer, hiking, tourists, kayaking, and yes, even Wall Drug. Soon the bartender was enjoying our company so much he decided to let us have another round for free. We ordered a brown (amazing!) and a pale ale (only mediocre beer there), and continued our banter. He went on to tell us about the current hops shortage in the brewing community. I’ve heard about gas shortages but never a hops shortage. Due to the lack of affordable hops, we found out that the brew master at Crow’s Peak had been experimenting with spruce needles.

For the next hour, the four of us sat around sipping on some tasty beers and conversing like we’d known each other for years. I knew we’d be visiting many more breweries in the next few weeks, bigger and more well-known, but I doubted any would match the intimate experience we had at Crow’s Peak.

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