By Brian Kaufenberg, Midwest Beer Collective
A Look at a Few Great Albums of 2012
This year has already seen plenty of notable albums drop and infectious singles conquer the airwaves—I think even Gotye is tired of hearing about somebody he used to know—so it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the number of options at your fingertips. Let’s walk through a few standout albums you ought to own—paired with the beers you should be drinking, of course.
Two albums you may have missed:
Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself
After a physically taxing 165-show tour in 2009 marked by an incessant fever Andrew Bird retreated from the stage to reclaim himself, settling at his family farm where he and his band recorded their latest album, Break It Yourself. What emerged is an album of Midwestern summers: a flighty, whimsical, self-reflective compilation of songs that is a more relaxed expression of Bird’s creative process.
While each song is the well-wrought Ovidian-esque narrative we have come to expect of Bird, there is not the same self-aware cleverness present in an album like Mysterious Production of Eggs. Instead, Break It Yourself is a quieter album full of rhetorical questions Bird not only poses to his listeners, but also to himself, and it exudes an air of unfettered mental and musical exploration.
The farm certainly served as a source of inspiration for the sound of the album as Bird’s picking and violin flourishes hum with the buzz of bees among prairie grasses, the chirp of crickets at dusk, and the play of the breeze on wind chimes. Break It Yourself is an idyllic album that grants each listener a break from the constant hustle of everyday life.
The Right Brew: Crack open a Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison, the perfect brew for a Midwestern summer, and close your eyes as this lovely album washes over you.
Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror
This is a love letter composed with an automatic shotgun. This is a jawbreaker with a soft chewy center. This is a heavy metal waltz. This is Sleigh Bells’ newest album, Reign of Terror. Relentless drum beats blowing out your speakers, crashing cymbals and Derek Miller’s distorted heavy metal guitar riffs populate this soundscape, while Alexis Krauss’ ethereal vocals ring clear above the raging chaos for a sound that is emphatically different to any other record on the shelves.
Their thrash-pop sound founded in Krauss’ pop melodies and Miller’s superb axe-wielding carries over from their critically acclaimed first album, Treats, to deliver a collection of short and furious songs that remind us what rock is supposed to stand for: fearless experimentation, hard-hitting, raw instrumentation, and lyrics packed with youthful energy itching to shatter tradition.
Krauss, a former elementary school teacher, and Miller, a waiter when the two first met, are modern rock’s every (wo)man and have lived up to the name of their album, continuing their reign of terror as one of rock’s most original bands.
The Right Brew: You’re going to need a bold brew to stand up to the aggressive guitars and drum beats, so crack open a Bell’s Hopslam Double IPA and enjoy the delightfully bombastic Reign of Terror.
Two albums worth the hype:
Jack White, Blunderbuss
You have the sneaking suspicion you’re speaking with a con man, but with every lie he tells you think you’re getting closer to the truth of who he is and what he’s after. You manage to get a firm grip on your billfold, but then he disappears out a backdoor with the keys to your car. The next you hear of him is in a newspaper article recounting a bank robbery four states away.
This is the legend Jack White propagates with each new musical project from The White Stripes, to The Raconteurs, to The Dead Weather, to his work as a producer for Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson and Insane Clown Posse. Right when we think we’ve got him figured out, he disappears and reemerges with a new identity to steal the show. His newest album, Blunderbuss, is released under his own name suggesting that maybe at last we’ll get to know the real Jack White.
At first Blunderbuss sounds like childhood romance met with a bloody nose and vultures circling overhead, but like its namesake, this album is loaded with anything and everything White has up his sleeve. There is 50s rock ‘n’ roll and southern soul. There are raw distorted guitars and dark gospel calls and responses. But no matter the ammunition White uses, the result is the same: pure, gut-busting blues-rock.
The Right Brew: The beer this album deserves doesn’t exist, but would be a black IPA, infused with chokeberries and aged in a bourbon barrel. Take a page out of Jack White’s book of endless creativity and brew it yourself.
Fun., Some Nights
Gravity, as a law of nature, is unrelenting. It brings us screaming back to earth when we attempt to leap out of its reaches. It is a constant reminder that life is filled with heaviness—of the physical body, of heartbreak and loss, of death. Some people can crumble under the sheer pressure of facing this heaviness day in, day out. Others, like Fun., not only confront it head on, but manage to laugh. Their newest album, Some Nights, is an anthem of the here and now, a personal manifesto on living authentically. It is an album about taking stock in life, questioning where a person’s priorities should lie, and it is electric with exuberance.
Fun. wears its heart on its sleeve, detailing painful break-ups, admitting that men cry too and bearing any and all insecurities, but does so amid the levity of pop melodies and Queen-like harmonies. At first listen, the lyrics could be mistaken for being youthfully naïve and optimistic, yet the unwavering attitude of lead singer Nate Ruess’ voice instills sincerity in the words.
The vibrant horns, sweeping piano movements and the playfully self-deprecating lyrics, which are emotional without being emo, show Fun.’s flare for the dramatic and keep the heavy themes from weighing down the mood of the album. Deep down, Some Nights is answering the question of how to keep your head up and carry on when faced with difficulty. The answer it gives is clear—have fun, period.
The Right Brew: Don’t take your beer too seriously when listening to Some Nights—a good ol’ Grain Belt Premium will keep things light and, of course, fun.
Two albums to watch for:
Night Moves, TBA
The Minneapolis-based band, Night Moves, has built a quiet following over the past year playing the local circuit and releasing a digital LP entitled, Colored Emotions. Now, the simmering buzz is reaching a rolling boil as the country-electro-soul trio penned a record deal with Domino Records and will be releasing their first physical LP later this year.
There is an edge to Night Moves’ music that lies deep within frontman John Pelant’s crooning vocals. It’s a howl that quietly builds until it can no longer be contained, ringing out above the supernatural guitar riffs and crashing cymbals. The most encouraging sign for Night Moves is the band’s sound on live recordings and at their live shows is full and refined leading me to believe their first record will live up to expectations.
The Right Brew: Grab a bottle of Surly Smoke to accompany the vaporous quality of Night Moves’ music and introduce yourself to the mysteries of the unfamiliar.
The Avett Brothers, TBA
In relationships, love and anger often go hand and hand. Whether it is a pair of high school sweethearts, a newly-wed couple or a couple married for 40 years, there will always be slammed doors and nights on the couch mixed in among the hand-holding. The Avett Brothers have portrayed this reality in each of their previous albums, both sonically and thematically, in a way that few contemporary artists dealing with love have done.
Although the Avett Brothers have been charged with using the same syrupy love metaphors as modern pop songs, they use them consciously knowing they are cliché and that they simply sound sweet. The true brilliance of the Avett Brothers’ music is the oscillation between those sweet melodies and metaphors and the angry, screaming harmonies of lovers trying to be heard over each other.
I and Love and You revealed the band’s creative range, so the expectations for the new album are high; however, the Avett Brothers aren’t about reinventing the wheel, they are about keeping it rolling. We know what we are going to get with the new album—great folk-country love songs with a true Southern twang.
The Right Brew: Capital Brewery’s Imperial Doppelbock with its malty sweetness and slight alcohol hotness is a perfect match for the Avett Brothers’ pendulum swings between love and hate, so crack one open and get ready for the new album coming out later this year.