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The Top 25 Songs of 2014

songs

It’s no secret that I’m an albums guy. One look at my extensive year-end “Top Albums” list, and it’s clear that I’m a purist at heart, almost always listening to an album from start to finish. However, there is the rare occasion where I’ll queue up a specific song to fit the mood or raise my spirits. The list below contains 25 of those songs that I found myself searching out (why 25? Because I couldn’t cut it down to 20). You will not find many songs from albums on my “Top Albums” list simply because if it’s a great album, I’m probably not going to skip tracks. Instead, you will mostly hear songs that were stand-outs on albums that didn’t quite make the grade. If you are expecting a list that is of the same caliber as my “Top Albums” run-down, you are about to be greatly disappointed. But if you’re up for checking out some of those songs that got multiple replays on my iPod in 2014, the following list should provide you with an entertaining mix.

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Thurston Moore, Beck, and Mike D on “120 Minutes”

 

Last Saturday night I found myself caught up in one of those time-wasting YouTube loops that usually spiral into another wasted evening.  It all started with me searching out the 90s MTV show “Squirt TV,” a late night talk show that was filmed in the bedroom of teenager Jake Fogelnest.  What originally started as a cable access show was turned into an interview show that brought the likes of GZA, Liz Phair, and Sean Lennon into Fogelnest’s bedroom.  I thoroughly enjoyed this shortly run program. Maybe it was because I was around the same age or maybe it was because I liked the idea of having my music heroes visit my bedroom. Whatever the case, that strange little show has stuck with me after all these years (as a side-note, Fogelnest is a great follow on Twitter: @JakeFogelnest).

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Top 100 Tracks of 2010 (75-51)

 

75. “Doubt”

The Corin Tucker Band

I always thought Carrie Brownstein was the more punk rock of the ladies in Sleater Kinney. I always thought she had the fire, the anger, and the edge that counteracted Corrin Tucker’s more feminine approach. I was wrong. So wrong.

 

74. “Stranded”

The Walkmen

I’m a sucker for trumpets, especially when they sound this damn dreamy.

73. “Theme From ‘Cheers””

Titus Andronicus

Looking back on my year, one memory that stands out the most is when me and BDWPS contributer PtheStudP visited Cheers in downtown Boston.  After a two-hour marathon at a beer festival, our tour guide Steph led us to Cheers where her friend Justin was bartending.  What I thought was going to a quick tourist visit turned into hours of drunken splendor. Soon the variety of beers and shots somehow turned into a night of boisterous chanting of  “U-S-A!”, “Lord-By-ron!”, and “Tom Arn-old!”  This song brings me back to that night, not necessarily because of the reference to Cheers in the title, but the chorus that could have easily been one of our chants that night: “So let’s get fucked up, and let’s pretend we’re all okay, and if you’ve got something you can’t live with, save it for another day. Save it for another day.”

72. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”

The National

After carrying The National’s Matt Berninger to Ohio, I’d like that same swarm of bees to visit Jim Tressel’s house.

71. “Tame On the Prowl”

The Medications

In most cases, my adoration of The Medications stems from trying to untangle the vine of intertwined guitar licks in each song.  “Tame On the Prowl” continues this tradition, but also features a melody that will quickly wrap around your Hippocampus.

70. “Whores; The Movie”

El-P

Not only is “Whores; The Movie” a stellar song, but it would also make a great movie (preferably in 3-D).

69. “Leave You Forever”

Cloud Nothings

I could never leave this song forever.

68. “Apartment Wrestling”

Maximum Balloon (featuring David Byrne)

If you’ve ever wondered what TV On the Radio would sound like if they joined forces with The Talking Heads, it’s as amazing as you expected.

67. “Grief Point”

Destroyer

This is not really a song, rather an audio-short-film, or an audio-psycho analysis, or maybe just the ramblings of a confused artist. Whatever the case, this eight minute insight into the mind of Dan Bejar and his view of music at this point in his career is fascinating.  Earlier this year, Bejar discussed ending his recording career altogether (fortunately he didn’t with a new album coming out soon), and this B-side to his “Archer on the Beach” EP captures him in the midst of this confusion of what role his music plays in both his life and his listeners.  Plus, I just like the imagery of “picnic baskets filled with blood”.  Call me a hopeless romantic!

66. “Fresh Hex”

Tobacco (featuring Beck)

“Maniac Meat” is such a fun fucking album and on “Fresh Hex” Beck joins the party, giving the album his own fresh take on their energetic sound.

65. “Pop Culture (revisited)”

The Ponys

The Ponys originally formed in Chicago back in 2001, and one of their earliest songs was “Pop Culture”.  For whatever reason, this song never made it onto a major record, only being heard during live performance.  I can still remember them playing this song when I first saw them live four years ago.  But in 2010, with the release of their song EP “Deathbed Plus 4”, “Pop Culture (revisited)” was finally released from captivity, and it sounds as lively as ever.

64. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”

Frightened Rabbit

Water has always represented rebirth, and on “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” singer Scott Hutchison swims not only for a renewal, but also to feel alive again.

 

63. “You Must Be Out of Your Mind”

The Magnetic Fields

This past year I’ve had to learn how to forgive others, and also tried to gain forgiveness for those I’ve hurt.  In both cases this isn’t the easiest of tasks.  As the person who was wronged, there is some agitation with the idea that by simply saying “I’m sorry” that everything goes back to the way they were. They don’t and they never will. But as the person asking for forgiveness, you can’t “simply press rewind” and things will be they way they once were no matter how bad you would like them to.  Stephin Merritt’s snarky lyrics take on the persona of the one burned, and his stance can be either an anthem for moving on or a eulogy for a relationship (depending one what side of the forgiveness fault-line you stand).

 

62. “Waterfall”

Fresh & Onlys

The Fresh & Onlys are time travelers, but instead of going to the past, they’ve come to us from the 60s, bringing with them a sound that has been long forgotten. Amazingly, a song like “Waterfall” grows out of the oldies, yet sounds like nothing else on the radio.  This is the type of song that would lead Marty McFly to say, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your grandparents loved it.”

 

61. “Below the Hurricane”

Blitzen Trapper

At first this seems like a beautiful little folk song, but halfway through the band kicks it up a notch with Doobie Brother’s persona that is sweetened with a couple drops of harmonica.

60. “I Learned the Hard Way”

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

The only thing I don’t like about this song is the fact that she never defines exactly what this guy did to turn her into such a bitter old maid.

 

59. “Mr. Peterson”

Perfume Genius

This eerie song tells the story of a teacher, Mr. Peterson, leaving a note on a student’s paper telling them to meet him at a certain time and place. For some reason, the narrator meets up with the teacher, smokes weed with him, and possibly has sex with him (although this event is only inferred).  When the teacher goes on to kill himself, the narrator doesn’t necessarily hold a grudge toward him. Instead, the speaker hopes that Mr. Peterson can find a place where he’s wanted, even if that place be hell.

So yeah, this songs kinda depressing.

 

58. “Moves”

The New Pornographers

After their lackluster 2007 release “Challengers”, I’d kinda written The New Pornographers off.  It just seemed like their sound had run its course and had no where else to go.  But on their latest release, “Together”, the band has found new ways to eek a little more life out of their collective, especially on a song like “Moves” that amps up their classic sound with a driving orchestral addition.

57.  “Suffering Season”

Woods

I made the mistake this summer of defining Woods as the next Neil Young. The falsetto vocals do conjure up images of Sir Neil, but a song like “Suffering Season” shows the band is influenced by many other voices of the past (possibly the Mamas and the Papas?).

56. “Girlfriend”

Ty Segall

In just two minutes, Ty Segall will have you singing along.  That has to be some type of record.

55. “Favourite Food”

Tokyo Police Club

Getting old stinks, a point this song pounds into the ground.  Not only have I had to face the facts that I’m no longer young, but my parent’s aging has become apparent, a notion that scares me.  When the lyrics say “cause it’s sweet getting old” followed by “Let the hospital be your home”, I can’t help but feel that Tokyo Police Club are being morbidly ironic. I would like to believe that there is some hope hidden within the metaphors of this riveting song, but I can’t seem to find them.

54. “Written in Reverse”

Spoon

With all that screaming and punching of piano keys, something must have really pissed Britt Daniels off. But unlike the Incredible Hulk, you’ll like Britt when he’s angry.

53. “Relief”

Sam Amidon

I really should start listening to some R Kelly.  A couple of years ago I couldn’t quit listening to Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of R. Kelly’s “The Word’s Greatest”.   This year Sam Amidon, who is known for his modern interpretations of classic folk songs, switched his routine by taking R. Kelly’s “Relief” and giving it a more classic ambience. On second thought, I’ll just stick to people covering R. Kelly.

52. “POWER”

Kanye West

Even though it’s the third track on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, “POWER” is the introduction to the Shakespearan tale found on this album.  In it, Kanye portrays a man dealing with the struggles of being in power. At times he seems arrogant and aloof, but near the end of the song the listener begins hearing a man realizing that the one thing he doesn’t have power over is himself.  By the time the outro arrives, the speaker is standing on a ledge envisioning himself jumping, saying, “This would be a beautiful death”.

Oh, and did I mention it samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”?

51. “He Would Have Laughed”

Deerhunter

A lot of great musicians died in 2010 (Captain Beefheart, Ronnie James Dio, Mark Linkous), but the most devastating loss in my view was the death of Jay Reatard simply because Jay had so much left to create, so must potential.  Being friends with Jay, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox wrote “He Would Have Laughed” in dedication to the lost genius.  I’m not sure if the song is necessarily about Jay with its abstract lyrics, although there is something there within the lyrics “Where do all my friends go?” and “What did you want to be?”.  I think the connection to Jay’s life is found within the music its self, with the slow progression that eventually goes into a euphoric swell, but then, just like Jay’s life, the song just suddenly stops. Fuck.

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Top 100 Tracks of 2010 (100-76)

 

Just like every other year end list I’ve done for 2010, I decided to up the anty with my top tracks list by taking it from 50 to 100 songs. I know…I know…it may seem like a bit much. I can explain. Every year I compile my best songs list while making the 18 hour, cross-country drive to my parent’s house for the holidays. As I drive, I explore my i-Pod for the year’s stand-out songs and jot down titles into a notebook when I feel one is worthy of the list (not the safest driving method, I understand). By trip’s end this year, my list totaled 114.  I had a lot of fat to trim, and as I reached the 100 mark, it became more and more difficult to cut great song after great song. As a result, I’ve doubled my workload, but I don’t mind. These tracks have meant a lot to me this past year – the least I can do is give them the recognition they deserve.

 

100. “2012”

PS I Love You

What better way to start a 2010 list than with a song titled “2012”? Okay, it doesn’t make much sense, but I couldn’t help but squeeze this song on as the caboose to the list.

 

99. “Who Fingered Rock n’ Roll”

Cornershop

Back in the mid-90s Cornershop scored a hit with “Brimful of Asha”, a groovy track saturated with sitar and lyrics about using bosoms as pillows.  Unbeknownst to me, Cornershop survived the 90s and are still kicking out strange middle-eastern versions of the theme to “Wonder Years”. And they do ask a great question: who did finger rock n’ roll? My bets on Richard Marx.

98. “Arkansas”

Damien Jurado

Its nice to see Damien still thriving in the music world. His 2010 “Saint Bartlett” shows him taking his sound back to the sparse environs of “Ghost of David”, but the stand out song of the album, “Arkansas”, is probably the most produced. In the tradition of love songs to states, Jurado focuses his break-up with Arkansas.  It doesn’t necessarily have the double meaning found in a “Georgia On My Mind”, but then again, I did once date a girl named Rhode Island.

97. “I Don’t Believe You”

The Thermals

“I Don’t Believe You” is one of the only songs on The Thermals 2010 release “Personal Life” that features distorted power chords and – SHOCKER – it’s the best song on the album. A lesson in not straying from what works.

96. “Thank You For Your Love”

Antony and the Johnsons

A few months ago a fellow BDWPS contributer, PtheStudP, asked me if I’d purchased the new Antony and the Johnsons. I replied by saying, “Nah, I think I’m kinda done with Antony and his voice.” He of course berated me and called me a fool.  His verbal beating forced me to give The Johnsons one more chance, and I was quickly humbled by my disrespect.  Antony and the Johnsons – I want to thank you for your music.

95. “Racer X”

Japandroids

The Japandroids covering the Big Black song “Racer X”? YES PLEASE!

94. “What To Say”

Born Ruffians

2010 was a rough year for Born Ruffians with their disappointing release “Say It”.  Amidst the sloppy collection of songs, “What To Say” is a stand-out due to its memorable melody and its discussion of the age old inability to talk to women. Is it sad that a 32 year old man still relates to this teenage dilemma?

93. “Ain’t No Grave”

Johnny Cash

Would it be wrong of me to accuse Rick Ruben of manipulating Johnny Cash near the end of his life? I understand that Ruben’s production helped give Cash a rebirth in the music world, but now that Cash has died, more and more music keeps coming out from their sessions together, and it seems lik 90% of the tunes are about dying. I’m just saying… Despite the discomfort associated with listening to the ghost of Johnny sing on the 2010 release “American Recordings VI”, I can’t deny what an excellent song “Ain’t No Grave” turned out to be with its layers of dragging chains, spooky organs, and creaking piano keys. “Ain’t No Grave” is more evidence that Rick Ruben, manipulator or not, can make a good song great.

92. “38 Souls”

Bottomless Pit

Although I loved the music of 2010, I have to admit that the year was truly defined for me by Pavement. I spent most of my life scoffing at the suggestion of Pavement, but this year I opened up to the possibility that they may actually be good, and damn it, they were! As a result, I spent a large portion of the year searching for the modern equivalent of Pavement. I thought Bottomless Pit could fill that void, but I found that they are influenced by more than just Pavement.  For example, on “38 Souls”, a song about capturing souls, the band is able to conjure the ghosts of the 90s, channeling the sounds of Jawbox, Sebadoh, and even Dinosaur Jr. Now if they could just capture the soul of Stephen Malkmus.

91. “One Polaroid a Day”

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

This song stood out to me simply because it shows Ted Leo trying something new.  Instead of his usual falsetto rantings, this is a slow groove with Leo exploring his lower register.  He’s no Isaac Hayes, but the change of pace was welcomed in 2010.

90. “Threshold”

Beck

Doesn’t Beck sound happy on this song? That’s the sound of a man escaping the clutches of Danger Mouse. Rejoice!

89. “Be Yourself”

Robin Pecknold

I’ve always thought that Fleet Foxes sound a lot like CSNY, so it’s probably fitting that the best song on the tribute album to Graham Nash be by Robin Pecknold.

88. “Jail La La”

Dum Dum Girls

Only the Dum Dum Girls could make being “covered in shit” sound adorable.

87. “In Every Direction”

Junip

If I were to make a year end list for video games (which I have no right attempting), I would put “Red Dead Redemption” at the top due to its never ending landscape that I wasted hours of my life exploring.  My favorite part of the game’s storyline though is when you first enter into Mexico – the game shifts from its annoying harmonica music to an actual soundtrack of Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away”.  A month after passing the game, I purchased Junip’s 2010 release “Fields”, and everytime I listened to it, Jose’s voice would bring back the image of John Marston entering Mexico where there is nothing but desolation “in every direction”.

86. “General Patton”

Big Boi

When your nickname is General Patton, you better have a song that lives up to Patton’s legacy, and Big Boi steps up to the challenge with this song, an operetic-orchestral chaos that is more fit for Darth Vader than Patton.  It’s possibly the only song that will have you nodding your head to the chants of a concert choir.

85. “Heartbeat Song”

The Futureheads

When I posted my list of the “Best Summer Albums of 2010”, my friend Tim emailed me, pointing out that I once made fun of him for liking The Futureheads. I was forced to admit defeat writing, “Yeah, that’s because I’m a pretentious douche”.  Not even a pretentious douche can deny the melody of “Heartbeat Song”.

84. “Angry World”

Neil Young

Neil Young was a bit misleading with he called his new album “Le Noise” a folk metal album.  Lyrics about the plight of polar bears and bison aren’t necessarily the most metal of subject matter.  If only the album had more songs like “Angry World”, matching the wave of distortion with lyrics that delve into the darker side of the human psyche.  I’d like to believe “Angry World” presents what it may have sounded like if Neil had joined Black Sabbath when Ozzy left.

83. “Roman Candles”

Suckers

I present to you the Seven Dwarves of indie rock!  “Roman Candles” is a reminder that whistling was fun before Andrew Bird came along.

82. “July Flame”

Laura Veirs

Most depressing 4th of July song ever.

81. “Norway”

Beach House

I don’t necessarily love this song. It’s more of an addiction to the disorientation felt while listening to the sickly guitars.  Not even Robitussin can save you from the nausea of “Norway”.

80. “ONE”

Yeasayer

Yeasayer’s “Odd Blood” pissed me off. When did they become a dance band? Unfortunately, “ONE” made it very difficult to hate them for long.  I would be lying if I said I’ve never danced to this song while cooking pork chops with a plum-ginger sauce. I’m straight, I SWEAR.

79. “Early Warnings”

Love is All

What if John Lennon woke up and didn’t fall out of bed, rather knocked his head on a bookshelf? What if instead of dragging a comb across his hair he almost choked on his toothbrush?  Yes my friends, we’ve discovered the anti-thesis to The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.

78. “Odessa”

Caribou

The actual city of Odessa, Texas is not nearly as fun as this song would suggest.

77. “Kids On the Run”

Tallest Man on Earth

With “Kids On the Run”, Kristian Matsson ditches his acoustic guitar for a piano, and surprisingly it’s the best song on the album.  It could be due in part to the poignant lyrics that reveal a story of two scorned lovers, still running away from their past like children. Basically, it’s “Born To Run” except in this version Wendy is trying to escape Bruce and his velvet rims.

76. “Fuck You”

Cee Lo Green

Yesterday I was riding in the car with my mom when this song came on the radio. Even though I’m a grown man, I still felt uncomfortable as the chorus arrived, knowing the YouTube sensation lyrics of “Fuck You!” were just ahead. Then, just when it arrived, the lyrics “Forget you!” came out the speakers as my mom sang along. I took comfort in knowing my mom was oblivious to the actual lyrics, and it made me realize this song is great, with or without the cursing (although I’ll take the cursing version if I must choose).

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6. Road Trip 2008, Day 4 (continued): Brew Masters and Boy Bands


“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.”
Carl Sandburg

Since I needed caffeine to ease my aching head, we decided to seek out a coffee shop. Driving around Bozeman, I finally settled on Rockford Coffee, an upscale joint on the edge of town. Once inside the pristine cafe, we ordered breakfast burritos and one steaming hot mocha. We sat on the patio and talked about, what else, music. We began discussing how we each discovered rock and roll; I’m not sure how the topic came up. I explained to him that I hated butt-rock growing up. I loathed everything that I knew as rock: the bad hair, the make-up, the spandex, and the thinly veiled lyrics about sex.

“So what did you like then?” Paul asked.

“Eh, I guess R and B. In 7th and 8th grade, some friends and I sang in a quartet. We’d always perform Boys II Men and stuff like that.”

“Whoa, wait a sec. You were in a boy band?” Paul chuckled.

“No, we were just stupid kids. We’d sing at like the fair and shit.”

“Did you do dance moves? Have costumes?”

I moved on with my story, knowing if I didn’t Paul would obsess over my boy band days. My musical outlook changed on a frigid January day. I went snowboarding with my friend Mike Edmondson. He had these generic plastic “snow boards” with weak velcro straps. We’d ride Joe Hoye Hill, which usually resulted in us rolling down to the icy river. After a day of boarding and crashing, we went back to my house to warm up. Inside, my brother Nick had the “Singles” soundtrack playing on the stereo. I walked in and couldn’t believe my ears. It didn’t sound like rock, yet it wasn’t R and B. The guitar made strange bleeps and squawks over the rumblings of a tom drum. Then the smooth voice began singing, comparing love to a waterfall as the guitar emulated water cascading over a ledge. By the time the chorus kicked in with a charging riff, I asked my brother who we were listening to: Jimi Hendrix. At the time, I had never heard of Hendrix, and I actually thought he was some new artist since most of the “Singles” soundtrack contained up and coming grunge bands. A few weeks later I bought “Jimi Hendrix: Smash Hits” – the album that changed me forever.

The song that changed everything:

 

"Here's Ozzy!"

 

Paul said he always liked rock music growing up, most of which being the classic rock he heard on the radio while tending his dad’s fields. The problem was that he couldn’t let his parents know that he enjoyed rock and metal. His parents were fervently religious and saw rock music as one of the devil’s gateways. Since they would confiscate and dispose of his tapes and CDs, Paul began hiding his Black Sabbath and Neil Young around the old farm house: a hole in the wall, behind the book case, or under a ceiling tile.

As Paul told me his story, I wondered if the evil spirits of Ozzy and Tony Iommi still haunt the walls of the Peterson household. He told me he’d give me a tour of all his hiding spots when we stayed with his parents in a couple weeks. I looked forward to finally seeing where he grew up, although I feared what his parents might think of me.

We sat talking for a couple hours, which is kind of amazing considering we had spent the entirety of the past three days together. Afterwards, we made a stop at a gas station to refuel, get ice, and restock our water supply. Paul went to the restroom to finish what he started behind the dumpster, so I roamed around the beer cooler, examining the six packs from local breweries. Most of the beers were made in Montana, including one called Salmon Fly Honey Rye. Earlier in our trip, driving through Iowa, Paul pondered why brew masters didn’t experiment with Rye, and here was proof that someone had. I looked at the label to see what brewery it came from and found that it came from Madison River Brewing Company in Belgrade, Montana (a brewery I had somehow missed in my pre-trip research).

 

Now I'll begin my search for a pumper-nickel beer.

 

When Paul re-emerged relieved, I rushed over to tell him about my rye discovery. He held the bottle of beer in his hand like he had just unearthed the Holy Grail. Back in the car, he checked the atlas to see that Belgrade was only 10 miles west of Bozeman. Our afternoon plans were set.

Since it was too early to start drinking, we decided to waste some time roaming around downtown Bozeman. Tons of little shops lined Main Street, although most were of little interest. We finally made a stop at Cactus Records and perused the aisles. I couldn’t find anything because the place had CDs organized by very distinct genres: new wave, punk rock, hard rock, jazz, blues, swing, country, bluegrass, etc. I wondered if Beck’s albums were located together, or if “Midnight Vultures” sat in the dance area while “Sea Change” lay in the alterna-country section. It almost seemed like the store owner wanted to show off how many genres of music he knew. I’m still trying to figure out the difference between indie rock, alterna rock, and modern rock.

Empty handed, we returned to the car and began driving aimlessly . We had a couple hours to kill until the Bozeman Brewing Company opened. As we rolled by a park, Paul had the great idea that we should go take a nap. Neither of us slept well in the VFW parking lot, and I still hadn’t caught up on the sleep lost in Spearfish. We parked the car, ate some ham sandwiches, and headed out into the sprawl of green grass with pillows under our arms. I found a nice shady area away from the road and laid down.

 

"Never mind the homeless guy sleeping by your presents."

 

I fell asleep quite easily and remained in dreamland for a couple hours. Eventually, I awoke to the sounds of children laughing. I lifted my head to see a birthday party in progress just 20 feet from my resting place. I wondered what the parents thought about the two homeless dudes sleeping in close proximity to their little girl’s party. As I walked back to the car, Paul appeared from behind a tree; it looked like the festivities woke both of us from our slumber.

Back in the Element, the clock read four o’clock – drinking time. At the Bozeman Brewing Company, two dirty gray mutts greeted us with wagging tails. After a quick scruff of their hair, we made our way toward the brewery. The dogs wanted more loving, so they decided to follow us all the way to the doorway of the brewery, which just so happened to be propped open. Paul tried shooing the pups away, but they saw his arm movements as a gesture of play. No matter what we did, the little mutts remained on our tails.

With no other choice, we entered the brewery with the two dogs in tow. I walked up to the bar, trying to act like I didn’t notice the animals running around the brewery sniffing patrons. The female bartender scowled when she saw the canines terrorizing the brewery. She came from behind the bar and began chasing the puppies around tables and couches. She couldn’t corral the both of them and finally seemed to give up, marching outside and disappearing for a few minutes.

Paul and I exchanged guilty looks as our invited guests meandered over and at our feet, tongues flapping, tails wagging. She returned with a disheveled, shirtless man who looked like he just finished smoking a bowl. Visually flustered, he called the dogs names and they both ran to greet him. As he walked out, a dog in each arm, he apologized to the bartender. She glared at him as he left, and then turned her evil eye to Paul and me, still waiting for our beer.

“Uh, sorry about that,” Paul said sheepishly. She didn’t seem amused. We ordered our beers and took a seat as far away from the bar as we could. I had decent Amber while Paul drank an excellent Irish Red. We talked about student teaching for a while, with Paul sharing some of his experiences from the spring. I gave him advice, which is always weird. I never thought I’d give anyone advice – a task synonymous with being old and wise.

For our second round I had a Belgian Whit and Paul had the Plum Street Porter. The porter was definitely a standout with its chocolaty aroma and strong coffee undertones. It even had a little bit of a plum taste to it, a hint of sweet fruit freshness. At the time, we thought this was intentional due to the “plum” name, but after doing some research, the beer is actually named after the northeast area of Bozeman. The website mentions nothing about the purple fruit, leading me to believe that our beer tasting abilities may still need a little work.

 

We also enjoy the chicken flavor in Chick-O-Sticks.

 

As much as we were enjoying the Bozone beers, Paul couldn’t quit mentioning the rye beer from Madison River. We decided the time had arrived to venture to Belgrade. Paul apologized one more time about the dogs, she scowled once more, and we headed west. The Madison River Brewery was located in the back corner of a large warehouse, alongside a mechanic shop. Inside, the bar had a cozy log cabin vibe.

Paul of course started off with the Honey Rye, while I ordered the Irresistible Amber Ale. The rye tasted like nothing I’d ever had before, with a hint of spicy rye blended superbly with the malt and honey sweetness. I was surprised by the beer’s light and refreshing finish. I guess I expected a rye beer to be dark, like rye bread.

“Why don’t more breweries make rye beers?” I asked the bartender.

He grinned and replied,” because it’s hard as hell to do well. Rye has a pungent flavor in beer, so you have to be very careful with the amount you use. I try to go about 15%.”

Obviously, this guy knew his stuff. I finally took a sip from my Irresistible Amber Ale and instantly knew where the name came from. The beer went down smooth with a multitude of flavors swirling around my mouth: nutty, chocolaty, biscuity…it all seemed too familiar.

“This tastes a lot like a Fat Tire!” I announced to Paul.

The bartender, who was ease dropping, smiled and said,” Great, that’s kinda what I was going for with the amber.”

What “I was going for”? Were we talking to the mastermind behind these amazing beers? “You’re the brew master?” I asked.

“Yep. I don’t brew the beers anymore, they’re just my recipes. I come in and work once in a while just to check the quality of the latest batch.”

He seemed excited by my reading of his Amber. I took another sipb and knew my first assessment had been correct. It featured all the qualities of a Fat Tire but didn’t have any aftertaste. Could I have actually found an amber beer superior to Fat Tire? I continued drinking the Irresistible Amber and felt both joy and remorse in finding a new favorite beer. “This is the best amber I’ve ever tasted,” I announced.

“Thanks!,” he grinned. “Here, let me give you guys a taste of some of our other beers.” Since there is a state law limiting patrons to three beer at Montana breweries, he began pouring us samplers of everything he had on tap. By evening’s end we tasted eight different beers, with all of them being just as delicious as the amber and rye (although Paul didn’t like the oatmeal stout). As we went through each beer, he’d give us a quick run-down of what he was aiming for with each. It felt like Inside the Brewers Studio, and I was James Lipton. He explained that the hefeweisen had a hint of banana flavor, a quality common with Bavarian wheats. The pale ale, his favorite, might have been the best pale ale of the trip with a unique citrus meets hops combination.

 

 

"After a distinguished career as a field grain, divine intervention stepped in when you took your biggest role as an exquisite amber ale. How does it feel to be the sweet nectar of the Gods?"

 

While enjoying all of the man’s creations, we told him about our brewery road trip. A guy at the end of the bar overheard us and joined our group, enthralled by our journey. The brew master recommended some breweries we should check out, including a little joint in Pinedale, Wyoming called Bottom’s Up. The barfly asked us about our itinerary for the next few days, and Paul explained that we planned to climb Lone Peak. Paul asked about the Montana Woman’s advice to climb up the back side.

“She told you what? I’ve never heard of anyone climbing the backside of Lone Peak. Just drive south from here on 191 to the face of the mountain; it’s a beautiful drive,” he replied.

 

My version of souvenirs.

 

The brew master pulled out an atlas and showed me where we should enter Lone Peak. I wrote down the directions on a napkin. We decided we’d better get going with the sun starting to set. On the way out, I spotted a cooler filled with six packs and decided I needed to make a few more purchases before leaving. When I brought a couple sixers to the counter, he told me they were six dollars.

The barfly interjected,”Six dollars? I thought your six-packs were $7.50?”

“Um…we’re having an unadvertised sale today,” the brew master responded with a smile on his face. Paul decided to also take advantage of the “sale”, buying a couple six packs and a t-shirt.

We said our goodbyes, and they wished us luck on our journey. The brew master seemed to enjoy our company; I guess it doesn’t hurt that we gushed over every beer he offered. And it wasn’t like we were just kissing his ass: his beers were all distinctive, delicious, and satisfying.

Pulling out of Belgrade, Paul told me I would want to exit onto highway 84.

“But the guy at the bar said to take 191 to get to Lone Peak,” I protested.

“I still think we should try climbing the backside. That lady said it was a beautiful climb with waterfalls and stuff,” Paul explained.

“You’re still trusting that weirdo’s advice? Those guys both said it would be stupid to go that way.”

“Dude, she’s a Montana woman who has lived here for 25 years. She should know,” Paul said.

I was feeling too good from all the brews to argue with him. If he wanted to try the path less traveled, I was game. Heading down highway 84, we took in the majestic scenery while enjoying The Walkmen’s “A Hundred Miles Off”.

We listened to “Another One Goes By” as the sunset on another great day gone by:

When we came around one hilly curve, we found a picturesque scene before us with the real Madison River weaving through the valley, leading to the mountains in the distance. People all around us were enjoying their 4th of July weekend, kayaking, white water rafting, and fly fishing. We pulled over and walked down to the water’s edge, soaking up the natural beauty around us. I looked up at the cloudy blue sky and finally understood why this was called “Big Sky Country”.

We decided we needed to find a camping spot soon and got back on the road. 84 turned into 287, leading us through McCalister. Eventually we passed through Ennis, and I couldn’t help but notice all the saloons that lined the street. I wanted to stop, but I noticed none of them had the swinging doors often associated with saloons, so we drove on.

Finally, we came upon an inlet with a sign reading “Fish Hatchery”. We decided this could be considered public land, and made way up the gravel road. Eventually, we stopped next to a roadside tree, seeing it as a perfect cover for our fire – we still needed to cook supper. We set up camp quickly as the last glimpses of the sun peaked through the clouds, sending shafts toward the mountain peak we’d climb in the morning.

 

"Field of Dreams" has nothing on Montana.

 

Paul started a fire, then set a giant can of baked beans next to the red hot ashes. He explained their sentimental value. “I’ve had this can of beans for like five years. I’ve been saving it for when we finally took a road trip.” I don’t know if beans age like a fine wine, but my hunger at that point wasn’t going to be picky. To celebrate another successful day on the road, Paul pulled out a couple cigars. The combination of the aged beans and cigars brought back a memory from college, and I began telling Paul all about it.

As a 19 year old, I didn’t drink even though some of my friends did. With nothing to do in small town Iowa, we would head over to the “great” lakes region on Wednesdays to attend college night at a bar called The Marquee. Before we’d head out, my buddies would get shit faced while I smoked cigars, occasionally inhaling the black smoke to get just a hint of the buzz my friends were enjoying.

One of these nights, our driver disappeared from the bar (he either got kicked out or left with a girl) and my friend David Nitchals and I were left without a way back to Estherville. David talked Brian Bandow, a guy from our town, into driving us. Since he drove a little S-10 pick-up, I had to ride the 20 mile trek in the back. They made a quick beer run for the ride home (real safe), so I went in and bought a pack of “fancy” cigars, with each of the three stogies encased in test tubes.

Back on the road, I couldn’t get the cigar lit with the wind blowing me all around the trail bed. I was already in one of my moods, feeling sorry for myself and wondering what I would do with my life. At that point, I had no clue, attending community college just to push back the task of actually making a career choice. I looked down at my test tube cigars and decided I would smoke them when I did something with my life. I would smoke one when I got married, one when I had my first child, and one when I bought my first house. At that time, I had no idea what I wanted from life, so these three things seemed like the goals a person is supposed to have.

 

My test-tube babies.

 

After telling my story, Paul took the beans off the fire and opened them up. Inside laid a mushy cream, resembling refried beans more than baked beans. I had one bite and was done while Paul gobbled up the gruel. Looking up at the pink and purple mountain sky, I thought about those three goals, set 10 years ago and still unattained. If I had a wife and kids, would I be sitting here in Montana? If I had a house would I be able to afford to take this trip or even leave the place unattended for two months? My life priorities had changed a lot since that night in Bandow’s truck bed. I watched the mountain sky change colors before my eyes, and smiled. No, I hadn’t smoked any of those cigars, still encased in their glass tubes, lying in a night stand back in San Antonio. And at that moment, I took comfort in knowing that.

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Charlotte Gainsbourg “IRM”

Charlotte Gainsbourg
“IRM”
[Elektra/Asylum]

Rating: 8.5

Ten years ago Beck could do no wrong, moving effortlessly from one genre to the next, whether it be his sexual-funk fest “Midnight Vultures” or his somber, sad symphony on “Sea Change”. The latter part of the decade he had a few bumps in the road with “Guero” and “The Information” (SongSucks has always asserted that if you take half the songs off both albums and combined them, you’d have another Beck masterpiece).  I think the only real problem with these two albums was a lack of focus.  After exploring every nook and cranny of pop music, Beck seemed to be jumping around from sound to sound without any real guidance.

In need of a reset button, Beck turned to Danger Mouse for counsel, letting the Dark Lord of Production pull the heart out of Beck’s music, leaving the same monotonous, jerky stylings that have plagued anything that the Dark Lord touches. Although the album somehow got nominated for a Grammy (since when have Grammys mattered?), the album didn’t get as favorable of a reception from critics. PopMatters wrote:

“Whereas his preceding body of work surprised, soothed and flowed with resounding consistency, his latest unassertively lingers in redundancy…Part of the problem is that Danger Mouse’s strategy—his signature go-go rhythm (oom pah pa oom pa) over a simple but prominent bass line—is beaten to a pulp in its overuse here, and in pop generally.”

You mean to say Danger Mouse is a one trick pony? How dare they! The Guardian was not very friendly either:

“So richly scented is producer Danger Mouse’s take on late 1960s/early 70s psychedelic rock – a genre done to death, if not beyond – that you begin to wonder if Beck is flagging up the end of music itself…perhaps this is a good time to say goodbye.”

Good bye to Beck? How can we let go of this quirky genius so easily? There is still hope, isn’t there? Or did Danger Mouse ruin him for good?  Well, I think Beck took the hint. After a couple of years in hiding, Beck realized he couldn’t return re-hashing what he’d done before.  He had to re-invent himself.  And that’s exactly what he did.

Like the smoke monster in “Lost”, Beck had to find himself a dead John Locke, a vehicle to move his music forward, another voice to convey his art, a new point of view: he had to become a woman.  French songstress Charlotte Gainsbourg to be exact. She seemed the perfect choice; afterall, Beck basically plagiarized his “Sea Change” sound from Charlotte’s dad, Serge Gainsbourg (believe me, I love “Sea Change”, but try listening to it right after Serge’s ode to pedophilia “Histoire de Melody Nelson” and you can’t deny the influence).

"Danger Mouse; don't tell me what I can't do!"

The premise of “IRM” is Charlotte singing Beck’s songs and it works incredibly well.  Beck is free from the constraints of what his fans may expect of him and is allowed to experiment in new, refreshing ways. Unlike “Modern Guilt’s” stale drum tracks, Beck returns to the world of live percussion, embellishing his music with massive, building drum fills that rumble with attitude. The acoustic guitars natural reverberations return to the forefront, giving the album that raw, natural echo that got completely sucked out by that vacuum of chaos, Danger Mouse. On songs like “Me and Jane Doe”, this organic approach works beautifully alongside Beck’s sparing use of production, using only a dash of his ghostly voice oohing-and-ahhing in the back-drop.

This is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s just so happy and the lyrics are solid:

Beck doesn’t completely re-invent himself here. The Serge Gainsbourg orchestration returns to Beck’s repertoire, giving songs like “Vanaties” and “Voyage” a dramatic effect. Instead of creating an album that jumps from one genre to the next, Beck realizes he can combine all that he’s learned over the years, melding “Sea Changes” with “Mutations”, “Odelay”, and “Mellow Gold” in one fell swoop. The most Serge-ian track though would have to be the darkly haunting “Le Chat Du Cafe Des Artistes”, a song entirely sung in French.  When translated, the lyrics are disturbing and, in a strange way, romantic:

Put me in a trashcan
Let me rot for a month
And from there throw me to the cat
May he decline my spleen and my liver
But choose the right time so that he eats my heart

Okay, my idea of romance may be a little misguided. Regardless, check out this incredible song:

This album’s success is a result of Gainsbourg’s voice, providing a focus that Beck had lost and giving him a chance to have fun again. Only on the Mutations-esque sounding “Heaven Can Wait” does Beck step out of the shadows, providing back-up vocals to the upbeat melody. It is the most fitting choice for Beck’s reincarnation with lyrics that re-assure us that there is life after Danger Mouse:

Heaven can wait
and hell’s too far ago
Somewhere between
what you need and what you know

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Broken Bells “Broken Bells”

Broken Bells
“Broken Bells”
Columbia

Rating: 4.5

I thought James Mercer could do no wrong. I thought he was a musical Jedi, untouchable, infallible. With his serene tenor voice and wry, imagery laced lyrics, he seemed to be unstoppable.  Yes, the last Shin’s album “Wincing the Night Away” was their weakest to date, yet it still holds up and is filled with classic Mercer gems.  Then he met the Senator Palpatine of the music industry, the villainous Danger Mouse, sucking the soul out of artists, one song at a time.  And somehow, the indestructible Mercer gave in to the darkness, allowing the Mouse into his realm, tweaking and blurring anything that resembled Mercer’s music, slowly transforming them into a mangled mess of melodies.

If you haven’t figured out yet, the union of Mercer and Mouse via their musical project Broken Bells has left me angered and frustrated (“Bob Dylan Hates Danger Mouse Week” was created as a reaction to seeing another of my favorite artists allow this pest into their world).  First Beck. Then Damon Albarn. Now Mercer? Enough is enough! This is like allowing a street artist to add some touch-ups to a Van Gogh! As a result, these artists are now all left as shells of their former selves, an army of musical zombies, marching to Danger Mouse’s choppy, repetitive drum loops.

The first track on Broken Bell’s debut album (let’s hope it’s their last) gives hope that maybe the Mouse didn’t hold Mercer’s sound up for ransom.  Yes, it features the tinny drums and Mouse’s self-serving embellishments in the form of an annoying synth line, but Mercer’s voice is up front and center, belting out a catchy melody.  On first listen, I began to wonder if Mercer’s incredible vocals were too powerful to succumb to the Mouse. Track two continues the vibe that all may still be well for James Then 30 seconds into the song Danger Mouse shoots his load right in your earhole, letting you know who’s boss. The sixties vibe that has become the producer’s staple bursts onto the scene, and that plodding bassline returns. I HATE Danger Mouse’s basslines. HATE. They are always mechanical, choppy, and simply sterile. This is the bassline that made Gnarl’s Barkley’s “Crazy” so unique at the time. Instead of being the soulful bass common in R&B, Danger Mouse switched the flip, making the backbone of the song sound nerdy.  But you know what? It worked once. Stop going to the well of irritating basslines! This is also the same bassline that destroyed Beck’s “Modern Guilt”.  And on Broken Bells, it once again resurfaces, and resurfaces…and resurfaces.  Damn it!

From track two on you are taken on a disastrous journey that would make any Griswold cower in fear. With most of his other debacles, Danger Mouse at least finds a focus with his production. Not this time. Every song jumps from one style to the next, awkwardly moving from 80s dance to 60 psychedelia without any transition.  It almost feels like the Mouse is trying to upstage Mercer, to battle him, to take him completely out of the mix.  Often, Mercer is buried in reverb and filtered through distortion.

This is the biggest sin Danger Mouse has committed to date. Mercer’s best asset is his voice, yet you choose to mask it with so many effects that all that makes Mercer unique is completely erased.  This is like having David Lee on your Fantasy Basketball team and opting to start Eddy Curry instead. You just don’t do it. You just don’t.

If you're reading this Mr. Mouse, this is an open invitation to join my NBA Fantasy League next year.

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