A Look at a Few Great Albums of 2012
By Brian Kaufenberg, Midwest Beer Collective
Musical tastes, like tastes in food, drink and favorite Star Wars episodes, change with the season and with the summer almost over it’s time to take a look at a few albums to relish in before the first snow arrives.
Album you may have missed:
JD McPherson, Signs & Signifiers
By now, JD McPherson has heard the label “retro” tossed around hundreds if not thousands of times in reference to his album Signs & Signifiers. The term carries with it a sense of being inauthentic—simply a modern iteration of the true original—but one listen to Signs & Signals and you will assuredly come to a revelatory conclusion. JD McPherson invented a time machine and traveled from 1955 to modern day to write this superb rock ‘n’ roll album.
Signs & Signifiers’ patina, derived from raw, gritty vocals and the warm, analog sound of the instrumentation, belies its recent arrival in today’s music scene, but while McPherson’s sound hearkens back to rock ‘n’ roll’s roots in the delta blues, country, and rhythm & blues, his song-writing is relevant for today’s teens and twenty-somethings, who instantly feel a nostalgia for a time period they have never known.
McPherson’s music speaks to today’s young adults in the same way Chuck Berry, Elvis and Fats Domino spoke to our parent’s generation—it’s the momentary break from the stuffy conventionalities of “proper” living. From the infectious opening track, “North Side Gal” to the muscle-car anthem “Fire Bug” to the soulful “A Gentle Awakening,” his music exudes the youthful energy of early rock ‘n’ roll and can cause a sudden urge to get up and dance. My advice: grab yourself a bottle of a 1950’s classic, Schlitz, and jitterbug your heart out.
Album worth the hype:
Beach House, Bloom
The beach sounds different in November than it does in summer. After the laughter fades and the crowds of summer depart the beach is bleak: the waves crash and recede, washing away all traces of past visitors and a lone bell on a buoy rings faintly on the water. Whereas in summer the beach is familiar, in the fall it is engulfed in strangeness.
These are the sights and sounds of Beach House’s new album, Bloom, which inhabits this strange paradise. The band’s sound is washed over and distant, intensifying the solitude of the lyrics, which speak of childhood memories and former lovers that continue to linger. The weeping guitars riffs and toy-store sound of the synthesizer meld with Victoria Legrand’s voice, which overflows with the sad beauty of Nico, to shape this masterfully textured album.
Bloom is an album of a self-effacing individual confronting memories that continue to haunt them in hopes of reconciling with the past. It is cathartic for those of us struggling with letting go of something in our own past—whether it be lost love or a falling out with friends or family members—and by the end of the album it leaves us feeling at ease.
Lakefront Brewery’s Rendezvous, a bière de garde brewed and aged by the shores of Lake Michigan, is the perfect beer to pair with this album, so savor a bottle by yourself and revisit memories from long ago.
Album to watch for:
There is something fascinating about a foreign rock band singing in English. With translations there is something lost—some meaning that doesn’t quite make it across the chasm between languages. Even though we try to bridge this gap as best as possible, the process of translating must face the inevitable question, “How do you say [blank]…?” The fascinating part is that the question is the very essence of what it is to create metaphors. How do you say something in another way to make another person understand its full meaning?
The question is more profound than it seems. People are complex and we can never know for sure if we are being fully understood by someone else. This divide between individuals is most troubling in love and Phoenix’s last album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which plays like the last moments of an intense relationship when the other is ready to walk out the door, hammers this point home. You need to let your lover know everything that is in your heart, but it’s difficult to separate the feelings and the moment of opportunity is fading with each passing second.
In this light Phoenix’s lyrics, which can seem broken because the band is French, are actually broken because heartache makes emotions hard to parse. The lyrics are full of self-editing, which speak to the difficulty in expressing your feelings: “So sentimental. / Not sentimental no! / Romantic, not disgusting yet.” Songs like “Liztomania” and “1901” are pop-rock anthems to everyone who has struggled with putting a feeling into words to save a relationship.
Phoenix’s new album, and all their English music, will of course be built on the same dilemma of language, so grab yourself a midwestern version of a French country ale, Two Brothers Domaine DuPage, and get lost in the translation.